Cages, Revisited

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chapter three

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The sensation of warm hands stroking up and down his chest pulled Ran from an uneasy unconsciousness. Tired and left feeling anxious from a night of fitful, nightmare-plagued sleep, he moaned softly and at first tried to ignore the sensations.

Then warm, damp lips took to nibbling on the side of his neck and it suddenly didn’t seem so bad, being awake. Not when the pleasure slowly built from gentle kisses and teasing caresses to the feel of a hard erection pressing into the cleft of his ass and his own growing arousal.

"Yotan," he murmured and reached back to comb the fingers of his left hand through his lover’s thick, wavy hair. His eyes were still closed, partly from exhaustion and partly so he could better enjoy the wonderful things his lover was doing to him. The sheets covering him were pushed down a little as Yohji’s hand skimmed along his chest, giving each of his nipples a teasing tweak before going on its way. The faint bursts of pain made him suck in his breath and begin to squirm with desire.

"Ayan," Yohji whispered back, a puff of warm air against Ran’s now very sensitive neck. He continued to kiss Ran, seeming to choose the spots that made Ran shiver and gasp in response and oh hell, was Ran hard now. Unable to stop moving when there were so many sources of pleasure, Ran gasped again when Yohji’s hand wrapped around his cock.

In the back of his mind was a small, nagging voice of worry, something that urged him to stop this and go do something else, but he ignored it with growing ease. This was something he *needed* right now, to feel the man he loved cherish him with body, mouth and hands, to know that someone desired him and wanted him to feel good. He’d been too worn out last night to do anything other than try to sleep after Ayumi’s visit, but now… now….

Now he was so sick of worry, fear and heartache that it was heaven to give in to the ecstasy. That it was Yohji making him feel this way was only better, both with the expert touches that made his squirms increase and how much he loved the man. With the possibility of losing his sister, he needed to be reassured that Yohji was still there for him.

Pushing all thoughts of Aya-chan out of his head, Ran gave himself fully to his lover, allowing Yohji to do whatever he wanted. It was an act of trust and love, one that he knew Yohji would never take advantage of or toss aside, not with the way his lover murmured his name between kisses, taking care with the slick fingers sliding inside of him. Ran could only part his legs more and struggle to breathe evenly, wanting Yohji inside of him so desperately that it was a sharp ache in his chest.

Even teeth scraping along the back of his neck made him choke out Yohji’s name, the sound repeated as fingers curled inside of him. He felt as if a bolt of searing pleasure coursed from groin to throat, setting his nerves thrumming with the sensation. The ache grew stronger, not just in his chest but lower, too, stronger and stronger until he managed a raspy plea for Yohji to fuck him.

"Please, Yotan…."

"Anything you want, Ran." Yohji whispered the words to him and pulled out those tormenting fingers. He leaned over Ran enough for a tender yet ardent brush of lips against lips before the ache was slowly sated by the hardness pushing inside of him. Ran hissed a little at the sensation, one he was used to by now but always taken aback by; Yohji fit him so well, stretched him to his limits but never too much. It belatedly dawned on him that he hadn’t done much for his lover at this point other than make demands, so he tried to twist his head to the side and reach back for Yohji.

"Mmm, no," was Yohji’s amused response. He nuzzled the spot just below Ran’s left ear the same time he grabbed Ran’s hand and forced it forward, giving Ran’s cock a gentle squeeze. "Just relax, Ayan. This is all for you."

Ran moaned as he heard the words, his eyes closing under the triple wave of ecstasy as Yohji so knowingly manipulated his body. Lips and teeth against his neck, entwined fingers moving along his cock, the feel of his lover so deep inside of him, thrusting in and out with steady yet forceful strokes….

The room was quiet save for their ragged breathing and softly muttered names, the slide and slap of flesh moving against flesh, the faint squeaks of the bed. Even that began to fade away as Ran’s blood thundered through his veins, the frantic beats of his heart racing faster as Yohji continued to thrust inside of him and the pleasure soared. He was losing the sensation in his hands and feet, his fingers clumsy on his own cock yet kept there by Yohji’s firm grip. His eyes tightly shut, he pushed back against his lover as much as he could, wanting more of Yohji even as he began to lose control of his body. There was so much sensation, so much ecstasy, building and building with every thrust, every stroke, every kiss, every breath.

He felt his orgasm approaching and futilely railed against it, wanting to be suspended in this world of pleasure and love just a little longer. Yohji made him feel so good and took away all the heartache that he didn’t want to let this go. Yet his body turned traitor, the ecstasy too powerful to ignore as the orgasm finally tore through him to leave him trembling and gasping for air.

Sparks of exhilaration and satiation sizzled through his body as he heard Yohji yell his name and felt his lover shudder and pull him even closer while Yohji came. Ran smiled just then, grateful that it hadn’t been ‘all for him’ after all, that he’d returned the pleasure that Yohji made him feel. The hand holding onto his slowly relaxed as his lover panted against his neck.

"Oh hell, one of these days I’m gonna die from that and be an incredibly happy ghost." Yohji gave Ran another kiss and slowly withdrew from his body. "My heart can only take so much."

A little sorrowful to lose that intimate connection with Yohji, Ran kept their fingers entwined and hugged his lover’s hand to his chest. "Imagine how much more it could take if you give up your cigarettes."

Yohji made a clicking sound with his tongue. "I’ve already cut back a lot for you, love. Allow me a few vices or everyone will think I’m a wuss of a kitsune." He used his other hand to give Ran’s braid a quick tug before flipping it over his shoulder.

"I think you just believe you look sexy while smoking," Ran teased back, unwilling to relinquish this moment of peace. All that existed in the world was him, Yohji and the lingering sense of pleasure and love.

"I’ll have you know that I’m sexy doing *anything*." Yohji leaned over to give Ran a proper kiss, tongues seeking each other’s taste past dry lips. Moaning softly, Ran closed his eyes and did his best to not remember anything before waking up this morning.


Unfortunately, that didn’t work very well as he all too easily recalled the day before and its pain. He broke off the kiss and pressed his face against the pillow in an attempt to block out the memory of Aya-chan’s shamed expression and her cruel words.

"Ayan… I wish you’d listen to me and let it go." Yohji’s hand made soothing circles along Ran’s upper chest. "She didn’t mean the things she said, dammit. And even if she did, none of it’s true. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of, love."

"I know," Ran sighed. All last night, Yohji had assured him that he wasn’t ‘tainted’, that he was never the shameless whore that his sister made him out to be. She’d just spoken without thinking, hurling accusations to cover her own pain and sense of guilt. Upset that he had to think about this so soon after a wonderful way of waking up, he made a half-hearted attempt to clean himself before moving from the damp spot on the bed, unwilling to go wash off just yet when the bed was warm and Yohji’s arms were wrapped around him. "Thank you," he whispered as they settled into a comfortable position.

Yohji hugged him tighter and pressed a kiss against the spot just below his left ear. "For what?" Ran wasn’t too surprised that his lover had heard the words.


"For…." Ran waved his left hand about and tried to figure out how to say what he wanted. "For the best way to start the day?" That didn’t sound right and he was sure that Yohji would tease him about it later; it wasn’t about the sex, it was about how happy and loved he felt at this moment, after a night of pain and heartache.

Gifted with another hug and kiss, Yohji pulled him a little closer and gently stroked his hand up and down Ran’s chest. "Never forget how much I love you, Ayan."

"I won’t." Ran’s throat felt very tight and he had to swallow a few times before he could answer. "I love you, too."

Yohji easily broke the serious mood. "I know that, Ran. You don’t stand a chance against a really strong kitsune spell."

Now smiling because of the joke, Ran lightly knocked his elbow against Yohji’s side. "Just so you know, I do have a list of every Shinto priest who currently resides in Great Britain."

"As if that would help any," Yohji snorted. "Nope, you’re stuck with me until you die, and even then you’re not off the hook. We’ll go through countless reincarnations together, you as my happy little love slave."

"I’m going to tell that to Ayumi," was Ran’s quiet answer to that bit of absurdity, and Yohji’s terrified whimper made him smile. He hugged Yohji’s arm tighter against his chest as he thought about all those future selves spending their lives with some version of Yohji. Maybe they’d already shared several lives in the past, which would explain how inevitable their relationship had seemed. There hadn’t been much hope for either of them once they’d crossed paths, and Ran was eternally grateful for that fact.

They both were quiet for a couple of minutes, just enjoying the peacefulness of their bedroom and being able to hold each other close like this. Too often they had to rush out of bed for work, although Ran had some hope that things would calm down soon enough in the shop that he wouldn’t have to work too hard. More than likely, it involved hiring more people, but since the business only seemed to grow month after month, that thought didn’t scare him so much anymore. No, the only thing he was worried about was that when the shop seemed prosperous enough, Yohji would start his own business; he’d go back to being a private investigator. Ran had agreed to that in return for Yohji’s help with the flower shop, and was more than a little nervous about his lover getting hurt in such a risky business. However, he knew it would make Yohji happy.

"Are we going to stay in bed all day?" Yohji asked, the softly voiced question shaking Ran from his thoughts. "Not that I mind, but…."

Ran’s shoulders hunched forward as he thought about his answer. "No, it would be best if we didn’t." He needed to face his sister at some point and find out if she wanted to return to America early or not.

"Well, I’m thinking that Ayumi needs to feed us soon since we really didn’t eat a proper dinner last night, and there’s a Zen garden you keep meaning to visit. We’ll get a shower, be fed and then go on our way."

Turning around so he could see his lover, Ran frowned as he tucked back a lock of Yohji’s wavy hair. "Don’t you think I need to talk to-"

"No, Ran." Yohji was unusually serious for once, cutting off Ran with a stern tone of voice. "We need to get away from home for a little bit."

"But-" Ran started, only to be cut off again.

"We’re going out, Ran." Yohji pressed his right forefinger against Ran’s lips. "Look, I believe that you and Aya-chan need a little space right now. Some time apart will help you to think clearly and not just react to what the other is saying." He took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. "I’m not defending your sister, not after the way she hurt you last night when she was so damn insistent on knowing the truth, but even I’ll admit that she was shaken up by things and reacting emotionally. It’s a lot to take in, knowing that someone loves you enough to give away their own body, and I don’t think she ever envisioned you telling her such a thing." There was some anger to the words, but nothing like last night, when Yohji had verbally torn into Aya-chan.

Taken aback by the fact that Yohji was actually being a bit nice to his sister, Ran forced himself to think for a moment before speaking. "You feel there’s a chance that she’ll stop being so upset with me?" Ran sounded so damn pitiful that he couldn’t help but wince.

Yohji leaned forward to give him a sweet kiss. "I think if she has half your intelligence, which supposedly she does, then she’ll realize that she over-reacted last night." The smile vanished from Yohji’s face, to be replaced by a fierce scowl. "And by ‘over-reacted’, I mean she lost all common sense and did something she *never* should have done. You did the best for her that you could, as well as didn’t want to tell her something you knew would cause her pain, and she conveniently forgot about *both* those things. If she realizes how badly she acted then I’ll behave, but if she doesn’t…." He paused to shake her head. "Then maybe we should just send her back home."

As much as Ran hoped that wasn’t the case, he agreed with Yohji. "If she can’t stand either of us, then that would be for the best." If he was angry with his sister for anything, it was the insults that she’d hurled at Yohji last night. She barely knew Ran’s lover, and certainly didn’t know about all that Yohji had sacrificed for him, yet she had been so quick to blame Yohji for things. That wasn’t acceptable. Yohji was a huge part of Ran’s life now and would be with him when his sister returned to the States and resumed her education, so he came first.

"I just… I hope she’s happy, whatever she does," he said as he scooted closer to his lover. "I know you think she took advantage of a lot of things like the vacations and the gifts, but all she’s done in the last few years is studied and worked." He tilted his head so he could look at Yohji. "She only goes places during breaks from school and just has a couple of friends. I don’t think she’s ever mentioned a boyfriend to me, and I don’t think it’s because she’s worried about how her ‘big brother’ will react." In a way, they had both given themselves to the good of the family; Ran to his sister, Aya-chan to redeeming the Fujimiya name. Now that Ran had a life that made him happy and their father had been proven innocent, Aya-chan should find some happiness, too.

Yohji sighed and held him close. "You’re making me feel a little sorry for her, you know. I don’t want to, not after you barely got any rest last night and I know how much she hurt you, but…. I guess I need to remember that she’s still a kid."

Aya-chan possessed an innocence that Ran had sacrificed much for, doing his best to keep the darkness away from her. That made some of what he’d suffered bearable, because she’d been left mostly untouched. He wished that he could make Yohji understand it, but wasn’t sure if he could; Yohji had been an only child, after all, and was raised by an American mother. He didn’t seem to grasp the concept of family obligations; it wasn’t bloodlines that mattered so much to him as it was the people he loved.

"She’s my sister, Yohji. Even if she hates me, I want her to be happy." Ran sniffed a little and tucked his face into the crook of Yohji’s shoulder. They both deserved to be happy, and he felt a bit guilty that he’d found the person who mattered the most to him while Aya-chan hadn’t. That didn’t mean he’d sacrifice Yohji for her, though, not at all.

He felt more than heard Yohji’s quick, soft chuckle. "And I just want you to be happy. So we’ll go out, walk off some nervous energy and maybe see if the garden can work some magic on you, and we’ll leave Aya-chan to Ayumi. She offered to talk to your sister and I think it’s the best thing, really." He gave Ran a gentle squeeze. "The two of you are too close to things and need an outside perspective. Plus, Ayumi’s much better at remaining calm."

Everything Yohji said was the truth, and Ayumi had volunteered to talk to Ran’s sister last night when she brought them something to eat. Ran hated to ‘dump’ the problem in his dear friend’s lap, but he wasn’t quite sure what to do right now. If Aya-chan lashed out at him again, he’d probably just take the abuse until she got so upset that she left. If Aya-chan did the same to Yohji, he knew he’d lose his temper and probably say something he’d regret. Both Yohji and Ayumi were correct; he and Aya-chan were too tied up in their emotions right now to see things clearly and not hurt each other.

One thing that was clear from all of this was that Ran would *never* tell his sister the whole truth behind what had happened to their father. He’d given in on her demand to know how he’d paid for things over the years, but nothing else. Aya-chan was still too deeply affected by what had happened to their family and now had even more reasons to hate the Takatori. After seeing the way she’d handled the revelations last night, he couldn’t trust her to not try to hurt Omi in some way or rush back to Japan to take on Hirofumi.

The need for revenge against Hirofumi and Reiji had mostly faded in Ran, though he’d be quite happy to hear any news of their suffering. That Reiji had lost his exalted position and then his life was some consolation, even though Ran had wanted the man’s blood at one point. However, he’d come to realize that it was best to just stay away from Hirofumi. That had to hurt the bastard just as much as a knife to the gut, if Kikyou was to be believed, and Ran wouldn’t risk the life he’d created on something that wouldn’t bring back his parents. They were dead, but Aya-chan at least was alive and had a bright future in front of her. Ran had a future as well, one that included people he loved and who he wouldn’t risk on revenge. Not that he’d be at all displeased to learn that Hirofumi suffered an incredibly long, painful death one day. Oh no, he had quite a few pleasant fantasies about that, in fact.

The main thing was, he’d grown up, largely through Yohji and Ayumi’s influence. He didn’t think his sister had just yet, lost in the limbo of constant studying and the need to prove herself, but it would happen one day. Ran would keep the rest of his secrets and allow her that time – he just hoped that he’d be involved in his sister’s future.

"Life is so complicated," he mumbled against Yohji’s neck, beginning to feel the exhaustion from the lack of sleep. However, it would be good to get out of bed, enjoy a nice breakfast and walk around a garden or two. Lying in bed would only worsen the depression he felt over the situation until the point he was lost in despair. "You know me too well," he told his lover before giving Yohji’s neck a lingering kiss.


"What can I say? I do a good job of studying my prey," Yohji teased, deliberately making the moment light. His hands stroked up and down Ran’s back as he spoke. "And you’re worth every effort, if I may say. After all, you’re much sexier when you’re happy and smiling than brooding as if somebody had just shot your puppy right in front of you."

That last bit was so ridiculous that Ran had to pull away and look down at his lover. "You’re insane," he said after a few seconds’ deliberation. "What is that nonsense about a puppy?"

"Aw, come on, Ayan, you know you love puppies. They’re cute and fluffy and just want to lick you all over." Yohji illustrated the last by licking at Ran’s left ear. "And you do brood. You’re going to get wrinkles in the middle of your forehead, you brood so much." He had the silliest of smiles on his face, which made it impossible for Ran to glare at him for much longer.

"… I think Ayumi must have hit your head too hard with her fan that last time," Ran remarked as he reluctantly sat up. Lying in bed with Yohji was a heaven of sorts, but he wanted to take a shower and get out of the house before his sister left her room. Yohji had done a wonderful job of lightening his mood and he didn’t want to lose that right now, nor face Aya-chan before he was ready. "Come on and wash my back."

"And your hair, don’t forget that." Yohji was much too excited by the prospect of such a mundane thing, though Ran found it endearing. He was growing it long again for his lover, not minding the extra attention it required this time because Yohji was so pleased.

"All right, and my hair. We can’t do that in here, though," he pointed out as he pulled on a yukata. The butterflies were back in his stomach as he thought about leaving the room and possibly seeing his sister, and he couldn’t quite smile despite all the teasing. Yohji somehow knew this and pulled him into a tender embrace by the bedroom door.

"It’ll be okay, Ayan, I promise. You both love each other too much to let this drive you apart. Just…." Yohji sighed and kissed him again. "Don’t let her make you believe for a second that you did anything wrong. You’re the most generous, self-sacrificing, gorgeous man I’ve ever known," he whispered.

The reassurance as well as the love shining in Yohji’s eyes brought back Ran’s smile. "And to think you believed me to be a stick up the ass, sissified pretty boy when we first met."

"You still are a pretty boy, Ran, but one who can kick my ass so I won’t call you a sissy anymore." Yohji winked at him and ushered him through the door. "And we all know what’s up your ass these days, which certainly is a hell of a lot better than some stick!"

After all the pain and loss that Ran had suffered, as well as the shame and hopelessness, was it any wonder that he’d do whatever he had to in order to keep this man beside him for the rest of his life? He just wished that Aya-chan could see the real Yohji and not some stranger who’d become her brother’s lover or a man who had sold himself in the past. Their father had always told them that it was a person’s true self that mattered, not the face they showed the world. Ran had taken that lesson to heart and it had made his life one worth living. Now to hope his sister had learned it as well.

*******

Aya lay in bed and tried to decide if she should remain there for much longer or get up. She’d been awake for the past hour, hopeful of being able to return to sleep and not having much luck. If she’d managed two whole hours of sleep last night, she’d be stunned, and despite her exhaustion her body refused to cooperate.

All night long, she’d been unable to tear her thoughts away from Ran’s revelation and how she’d handled things. She’d been filled with a mixture of anger, shame and hurt, the emotions sometimes aimed at herself and sometimes at her brother. How could Ran have done such a thing? Why had he allowed himself to be taken as another man’s lover just for the sake of money?

But how could he not, she thought as she rolled onto her side and curled up into a ball. She’d left Japan for a reason; the Fujimiya name was utterly shamed and no one wanted anything to do with them. Those last couple of months at school had been a nightmare for her, shunned by the people who’d once been friends and taunted by classmates who took cruel delight in her social fall. Ran hadn’t had things any better, though he’d been past his college entrance exams and had been able to skip most of his classes. When the notice had come about his scholarship, he’d only attended school enough to graduate.

So why had she assumed that things had miraculously gotten any better? That Ran had found someplace willing to hire him and give him a good salary when he hadn’t been able to find anything for months? There’d been the money for Aya to move to the United States as well as the tuition for her new school, and after that there’d been so many presents. When she’d gotten into Harvard with a full scholarship, Ran had rewarded her with a brand new car, which had been replaced after that awful ice storm. She’d known that he didn’t have to pay for her tuition anymore, but there’d been all the vacations and presents that Yohji had accused her of taking for granted.

She’d felt guilty about the extravagant gifts at first, but Ran had told her not to worry and to accept them. Looking back, she realized that she’d been too eager to do just that, to enjoy an outlet from all the studying and feeling so alone in a strange country. In a way, she’d felt that she’d deserved them, too. All her life she’d been rewarded for her hard work, her parents spoiling her so often that it just… seemed natural when Ran did it as well.

That thought made Aya press her hands to her face and choke back a sob. If anyone had asked her before yesterday if she thought of herself as a good person, she would have said ‘yes’. After all, she didn’t drink, wasn’t promiscuous, studied and worked hard, loved her brother and struggled to not shame her family name. Yet now she couldn’t get the words that Yohji had spat at her last night out of her head, his accusations of her using her brother and not caring about Ran. That wasn’t the truth at all, yet it wasn’t a complete lie, either.

Was it so bad that she was used to Ran looking out for her? That she expected her older brother, the only family that she had left, to support her until she was able to do that for herself? All her life she’d been looked after and protected by her family, so she hadn’t really thought twice when Ran told her that he’d take care of everything.

When he’d insisted that she didn’t return to Japan and wouldn’t say much about his job, she thought at first that he was just trying to spare her the pain of coming home and being shunned. Then she thought that he was putting in the long hours and probably couldn’t take the time off to spend with her, which had strengthened her resolve to get that scholarship. Yet when Ran hadn’t had to pay for so much anymore, he still sent her money and gifts.

In the back of her mind a voice had whispered that he probably was a host or something, spending his nights with older, rich women who wanted a young, handsome man to pay them some attention. Or perhaps he was taking care of the accounting books for some yakuza or shady business. Never in a million years would Aya have thought that Ran would basically sell his body to another man for the money – or that the man would be Takatori Hirofumi.

Whatever jealousy she felt over the fact that her first real crush had obviously preferred her brother to her was long gone. No, what was left was a burning anger that someone who had claimed to be a good family friend, who spent so many nights at their family home and worked often with their father, had made such an offer to Ran. Hirofumi had no *right* to touch Ran, not after he and most of his family had shunned the Fujimiya after the first accusations had come out. At the time, Aya had told herself that the Takatori were just protecting their own name and would help in some manner, but other than Mamoru sneaking away to offer his condolences, that help never came.

No, but Hirofumi could make Ran such a shameful offer and hide him away in that awful apartment building instead. What should have been freely given to Ran and Aya had come with a terrible price instead, and Aya could only lie here in wonder that Ran had agreed to it. She knew that her brother had never cared for Hirofumi as more than an acquaintance of their father, yet….

The anger she felt toward her brother was mostly gone. Now that the shock had passed, she was mainly upset that her brother had done such a thing in *her* name. Oh, she knew that Ran had done the best he could as the person responsible for Aya, but she wished he would have confided in her. If he’d told her *something*, maybe they could have worked out a better solution. At the very least, she would have insisted on no cars, no presents, no fancy vacations, unwilling to enjoy Hirofumi’s money after what Ran had to do to earn it.

She so wished he would have said something… but realized that it was just Ran’s way. He was always someone who did whatever needed to be done with no complaint. He would have seen it as his obligation to Aya and their parents to ensure that she had the best future possible. That he was throwing away his own at the time wouldn’t have stopped him in the slightest, the foolish, wonderful, loving man that he was.

A foolish, wonderful, loving man whom she had hurt terribly. She never should have said those words last night, to accuse her beloved brother of such things, but it had *hurt* so much, the truth. All she’d thought of was making others feel her pain, and then she’d run across Yohji and-

That was another thing that hurt, how her brother had found someone to love and care about, someone who came first in his life. She’d known that at some point Ran would find a lover – for most of her life she’d assumed it would be a woman he’d marry and start a family with – and that she wouldn’t be the main focus of her brother’s life after that point. It wasn’t so much that Ran loved a man as just… well, Yohji obviously *delighted* in the position that he’d stolen from her. He wouldn’t stop touching Ran, or fussing over him, or doing his best to make Ran laugh. Yohji was someone that Aya would like as a lover of her own, but she felt so incredibly jealous because Yohji had taken her place in Ran’s life that she couldn’t think too clearly around him.

Even that thought – that Yohji had ‘stolen’ her place – was absurd, but she couldn’t help her feelings. Over the past year she’d accepted that Ayumi seemed to have replaced their mother and grandmother in Ran’s life, and she’d been happy that he’d made friends with the mysterious Omi and Ken. But a part of her was so afraid of being left all alone, of losing the only family that she had left that Yohji’s presence set her on edge. That he’d known the truth that had been hidden from her for so long and had made it clear that he thought of her as someone who had just used her brother had been too much to accept.

She wasn’t happy with the thought that Ran was with someone who had sold his body for a living, but what was the difference between being a slut and being a whore? Yohji didn’t appear bothered by what he’d done, nor did Ayumi and Omi, and obviously Ran didn’t give a damn.

Aya didn’t want to lose her brother, the one person in the world who would give up everything for her, to some handsome, cocky, flirting man who’d once been a prostitute. Deep down, she knew that she didn’t want to give Ran up to anyone, and Yohji’s past was just an excuse to hate the blond man. Yet Ran had made it clear last night that if she planned to use Yohji’s past against him that her brother wouldn’t forgive her for that lack of manners.

What she wouldn’t give to turn back time and not have gone up onto the rooftop with the intent of forcing the truth out of her brother. Ignorance was so much better than this present agony, and it would make it easier to deal with Ran and Yohji if she didn’t know certain things. However, she still loved her brother, still wanted him in her life and so she’d have to deal with what had happened. She’d have to find a way to repair the damage from last night and hope that Ran still loved her back. And that meant she’d have to deal with Yohji, as well.

At least Omi had stopped by last night to talk and to bring her something to eat. It helped, knowing that she wasn’t hated by everyone in this house. He’d chided her a little when she’d begun to insult Yohji, insisting that he was a good man and more than worthy of Ran’s love, and Omi hadn’t seemed as if he thought of her as a manipulative, greedy bitch. He’d told her to take some time to think things through and to let Ran and Yohji do the same. Once they’d all calmed down and realized their true feelings, he’d said, then they could patch things up. Aya certainly hoped that was the case.


However, none of that could happen unless she left this bedroom. She wasn’t sure if Ran would come here to speak to her, not after the awfulness of last night, and he shouldn’t have to, either. She’d been the one to demand the truth and then to react so awfully to it, so it was her responsibility to make amends. Taking a deep breath, she pushed back the covers and began to sit up. There was no other way to resolve the damage that she’d done but to get out of bed, get dressed and go see her brother. As she stood up, she said a fervent prayer that Ran would be willing to listen to her.

*******

Ayumi was about to put away the leftovers from breakfast when she heard a hesitant, shuffling footstep that wasn’t in any way feline in nature. Unless a burglar had gotten past the building’s security or someone from the shop had come upstairs looking for help, she knew whose footstep that was. "Good morning, Aya-chan." She forced a gentle welcome into her voice, something that was much too easy to do after all these years.

She turned around to find the girl hovering in the doorway, looking around the room with bloodshot eyes. For the first time this morning, Ayumi felt some pity for the child; as much as she couldn’t forgive Aya-chan for hurting Ran, she realized that Aya-chan had been shocked by her brother’s revelation. One didn’t always behave as one wanted during times of such extreme stress.

"Would you like something to eat?" she asked as softly as possible while still being audible. "Perhaps some tea or coffee?" Omi had told her that he’d taken a sandwich and some biscuits to Aya-chan last night, and the girl held a tray covered with empty dishes in her hands.

"Uhm, yes please." Aya-chan’s voice was just as soft as hers had been. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a top that Ayumi had helped Ran pick out for her a couple of months ago, Aya-chan stepped closer to the sink. "I mean, breakfast and coffee, please. I think I need something a little stronger than tea." She blushed slightly and ducked her head so her hair covered her face as she put the tray on the counter.

"The coffee was brewed just a little bit ago. I can reheat the rolled eggs and put on a few slices of toast," Ayumi offered, busy doing just that since there was no way Aya-chan was going to leave the kitchen without eating something. With all of the emotions the girl must be feeling, coupled with the obvious lack of sleep, being hungry wouldn’t help the situation any. Aya-chan needed to be able to think properly so she could see how her actions were hurting her brother.

While the girl poured herself a large mug of coffee, Ayumi put together a plate of food that was placed on the table a couple of minutes later. Aya-chan offered a quiet ‘thank you’ and bowed her head over the food for a moment before picking up a fork. Going back to the counter, Ayumi poured herself some tea and took the cup, as well as the pot, back to the table and sat down.

Aya-chan took a couple of bites of the rolled eggs and nodded. "It’s delicious, thank you." She finished the eggs before speaking again, nervously tearing the thick white toast into pieces. "Did everyone else eat already?"

Taking that for a cautious inquiry on where Ran, Yohji and Omi were, Ayumi leaned back in her chair and cradled her cup of tea between her hands. It was from the tea-set that Ran had given her almost two years ago, one of the things that she’d refused to leave behind in Japan. "Ran and Yohji helped me make breakfast and had something to eat before leaving for the day. I believe that Yohji swore they wouldn’t be back until they visited the one Zen garden and consumed a ‘gloriously disgusting amount of fish, chips and cider’." She shuddered slightly upon repeating those words. "Omi had some breakfast and went on his way to run a few errands before picking up his friend, Ken." While Ayumi wasn’t too pleased with the timing of Ken’s arrival, she hoped the young man’s cheerful yet practical personality would help to calm things down a little here.

Aya-chan’s weak smiled faded when she heard that her brother would be gone all day, her expression turning into a frown at mention of Ken. "Ran mentioned him a few times." She looked as if she wasn’t sure if she should say anything or not. "He… didn’t explain how he’d met him, though."

Considering the revelations from the night before, Ayumi decided it would be best to tell the truth and not embarrass Ken or have Aya-chan think the worst. "Ken used to live in the same apartment building as Ran, Yohji and me." She deliberately left off the young man’s last name. "However, he didn’t sell himself for the apartment." That was about as blunt as she could put it, and it bridged the discussion that she and Aya-chan really needed to have right now.

The girl flinched at the words and dropped shreds of toast onto the plate. "So… only you, Yohji and Ran did that?" There was a flush to her cheeks as she spoke, and she couldn’t quite look Ayumi in the eyes.

"I guess it depends on what you think of as ‘selling’ one’s self." Ayumi had had several decades to come to terms with her life, as well as the support of friends and fellow geisha. In a way, it had been perfectly acceptable in her world and so she felt no true shame over how her life had turned out. She’d borne a son who was an important politician in Japan, had a grandson who was beginning a promising career in politics, and had spent much of her life with the man she’d loved. That he hadn’t loved her back; that her son had nothing to do with her other than an occasional inquiry into her physical and financial well-being; that her grandson probably didn’t know of her existence… these were things that she could ignore. The good memories outweighed the bad in her lifetime, and she had two sons now who made sure she was happy, healthy and safe.

"I was at the Hanabatake because that was where my patron told me I would live. He bought the apartment and it became mine, eventually," she continued, not a trace of shame or remorse in her voice. "I spent most of my life there and was very happy." She noticed that Aya-chan had taken to blushing again and paused to sip her tea. "There was a contract that spelled out my relationship with my patron, but can’t that be said for any woman who marries? She is expected to obey, to make her ‘husband’ happy and see to his needs, and in return he supports her. To some extent, that still exists in this day and age." So many people took offense at mistresses, considering them immoral people, but most times they were just little more than wives without the legal documents.

"What about his wife?" Aya-chan asked, the words sounding as if they were choked out. "How could you stand being his… his mistress?"

Ayumi thought this had less to do with herself than it did Ran. "Oh, his wife knew about me." She’d met the woman once, when she’d handed over her son. The thanks she’d been given in return were heartfelt, and while there had been no affection between them there had been respect and acceptance. "She took care of his house and raised his son, had the comfort of his name and money, the honor and status such things gave her. As it was an arranged marriage, I assume that she was grateful for the time allowed to herself when he spent evenings or weekends with me. You could say we both had a job to do and didn’t complain." Sipping her tea, Ayumi felt no bitterness toward that other woman. After all, *she* was the one who had been chosen as a companion, as the person who her lover had gone to for relief and comfort.

From across the table there was a choked laugh as Aya-chan pushed her plate away. "You truly had no problem with being someone’s kept woman? No shame?"

"None at all," was Ayumi’s instant reply. "I was awarded respect from my patron, more respect than many wives of my time received. It’s only been the last generation or two that has become obsessed with marrying for love and fidelity and so this concept of ‘shame’ has arisen."

Oh, now the girl didn’t look too happy to hear that, but she was listening. "So there should be no shame in what Ran did?" Aya-chan asked, cutting to what was truly bothering her. There was a soft, almost hidden plea in her voice, as if she desperately wanted to be reassured.

Ayumi took her time before answering, finishing her tea and pouring another cup. "Would it be so bad if he was a woman? I think the answer is ‘no’. For so long, we’ve been conditioned by the belief that it is a man’s place to support a woman, to supply money and security that she repays with her body. If Ran had been born a girl… oh, I would have insisted that he be a geisha." She let out a slight sigh and shook her head. "Girls today with their ‘compensated dating’ and ‘hostess clubs’, there’s no respect in that and few see it as anything truly wrong. In a way, it’s certainly more honest than this concept of romance and marrying for love. No, I believe that it would be easier to accept what Ran had done if he wasn’t male."

That seemed to get Aya-chan thinking. "You believe I’m upset because he’s a man and he… allowed another man to look after him and me?" she asked, her dark eyes intent on Ayumi as if hoping for an answer that would ease the emotional strife she felt.

"I think that’s part of it." Only for Ran and Yohji would Ayumi so involve herself in another person’s affairs. "Your brother became the head of the family and promised to look after you. Isn’t that why you accepted him sending you to America and paying for everything?" While part of Ayumi agreed with Yohji that the child should have realized something sooner, she could understand why Aya-chan had trusted her brother and respected his wishes.

Aya-chan nodded her head several times, the motions so fast and jerky that her hair flew about her face. "Yes, I… he was the one in charge, I guess. I trusted him."

That comment made Ayumi frown and set aside her cup. "He did *nothing* to make you trust him less," she told the girl in as stern a manner as possible.

Aya-chan flinched at that and tightened her hands around the mug. "But he… no, he never did lie to me." Her lovely face wrinkled as she grimaced and laughed once, the sound bitter and pain-filled. "I never asked enough questions or demanded the truth. I was the one to choose not to pursue anything that might hurt us both."

"Your brother did what he had to do for your sake." The sense of sympathy from before returned; Aya-chan had been a mostly sheltered young woman whose happy life had been torn apart. She’d been given a chance to leave behind the pain and shame and had taken it. Could one blame a child so young for that choice? "I don’t think you understand how much Hirofumi wanted Ran and how far he was willing to go to get what he wanted." Ayumi didn’t think she was betraying confidences by mentioning this. "Ran told me how he searched so hard for any job that he could get, and he was always turned away or fired shortly after he started. I’ve no doubts that Hirofumi was behind that, ensuring that Ran had nowhere else to go. He’s one of the most manipulative, ruthless men I’ve ever met."

"And Ran lived with him… was his lover for five years." There was dawning horror on Aya-chan’s face. "But… Hiro loved him, right? That’s why he wanted Ran. Surely it couldn’t have been that bad?" It was clear that she wanted to hear nothing but reassurances.

Ayumi couldn’t tell her the truth, not when Ran wanted to hide the past from his sister. All she did was shake her head and buy time with a sip of tea. "Hirofumi did love Ran, if something so obsessive could be considered that emotion. However, your brother was still left with someone very controlling, and he did it for your sake." Ayumi’s expression and feelings hardened once more. "I do not care for the way you think about Yohji, now that you know about his past. While I doubt he can use the excuse that he had no real choice, such as I can, or that he did it for honorable intentions, like your brother, he did little different than what many women have done for *years*. He can at least say that he didn’t sell himself for an expensive purse or to cover an outrageous cell phone bill, unlike many girls your age." No, she wouldn’t allow this child to think ill of Yohji or Ran. "There is no nobility in what he did for a living, but there was *much* in the way he gave your brother hope and love, with how hard he worked to get him someplace where Ran could be free, happy and safe."

Once again, Aya-chan flinched and her chin rose as she stared directly at Ayumi. "Ran loves him, I know that, but you make it out as if he was Ran’s savior or something." She didn’t seem willing to hear much good about Yohji.

Well, that was a shame because Ayumi wouldn’t sit here and let someone she loved be slandered by jealousy. "If I were you, child, I would *always* remember that Ran loves him. There is much that’s not being said, for Ran’s sake as well as yours, but yes, Yohji did indeed save your brother. Those of us who were there, who knew what your brother endured, we all agree on that." She set her cup down on the table with a loud ‘click’. "*Ran* knows that. You are his sister, the child he loved and sought to protect, someone who he realizes needs to live her own life and who he’s willing to let go of. He wants you in his life and hopes that you’ll accept what he’s done, but if you don’t…. It will cause him pain and remorse, but he will survive. Yohji is his lover, the one person he’s chosen to willingly give his heart to, to take on all the responsibility, obligations and debts that are involved in sharing a life together, and Ran is *never* one to fail those things. You walking out of his life would cause him some hurt, while Yohji doing so would destroy him. Accept that fact and decide what it is exactly that you want from your brother, Aya." She had said things as plainly as she could, leaving no doubt in the child’s mind that Yohji was Ran’s foremost concern from now on.

 

Ducking her head once more, Aya-chan turned the mug in her hands several times before speaking. "I want my brother in my life. I… I didn’t mean to hurt him." She looked up as she spoke, her expression beseeching as if she hoped that Ayumi would understand. "I… can’t you imagine how it felt, to hear the person you love most in the world admit that he’d sold himself for your sake? Then to know that it was someone else who saved him? I swear to you that I would have given it all up, would have returned to Japan and dealt with the shame if it meant that he wouldn’t have had to do that."

"I know, Aya-chan." Ayumi rose from the table to fetch the pot of coffee and refilled the girl’s mug. Once that was done, she offered a caressing stroke against short black hair. "You’ve caused Ran pain, and that makes me very unhappy. However, I do understand what you’ve just said and believe you." She let out an unhappy sigh as she returned the pot and then sat down. "I’m afraid that there was no right way for Ran to tell you the truth and spare the both of you pain. What matters now is the truth is out and how you deal with it." Once more she gave the child a cold look. "So far, things have not been handled well, but that can change. Your brother will forget the hurt if you make it clear that you still love him and want to be his sister."

"And Yohji?" Aya-chan asked, showing off the intelligence that Ran was so proud of. Oh yes, this girl was a Fujimiya, if Ayumi was any judge. A bit soft because of how her parents and Ran had sheltered her, but strong beneath it. Even with Aya-chan’s reddened eyes and nose, the shadows that bespoke of little sleep and her youthful appearance, one could see that when she made up her mind, she wouldn’t be budged. Ayumi only hoped that the girl’s resolve was on mending the damage she’d done. "Will he forgive me?"

Ayumi decided to be honest. "No, I don’t think he will… at least not right away. He sees himself as your brother’s protector and will remember an injury done to Ran much longer than Ran ever would." She narrowed her eyes as she stared back at Aya-chan. "As well as Ran will remember the insults you gave to his lover."

To her credit, the girl didn’t say anything about Yohji’s harsh words to her. Instead, Aya-chan bowed her head for several seconds. "I will work hard to ensure that both of them forgive me." Then she looked directly at Ayumi. "And you as well. From what Ran has told me, I know you care for him just as deeply as Yohji."

"He is my son," Ayumi admitted, her lips curling into a true smile for the first time that day. "I care for him… not *quite* the same way as Yohji does," she couldn’t help but tease, and felt the urge to laugh at Aya-chan’s suddenly flushed appearance. "However, you are right that I won’t stand to see him or Yohji hurt. Apologize to them and I’ll be content."

"I will do that," Aya-chan promised, the words and her demeanor solemn. "I didn’t regain my brother to lose him again, especially to my own appalling behavior."

"Not so much appalling as shocked," Ayumi said, not wanting the girl to beat herself up too much over what had happened. She considered herself a good judge of character and believed that Aya-chan was truly remorseful about what had happened as well as truthful now. All of them were still so young, Ran and Yohji as well as Aya-chan, and had much to learn.

Moving from the table once more, Ayumi removed the plates from in front of Aya-chan. "Now, I suggest that you return to bed and get some rest. When you wake up, we’ll prepare a dinner for tonight in case Ran refuses to go along with Yohji’s despicable plan to ruin his taste buds and triple his cholesterol levels." Her hand rested briefly on the girl’s shoulder. "They’ll be back this evening, calmed down and willing to listen to reason instead of hurt emotions, I promise."

Aya-chan nodded and gave her a trembling smile. "Thank you, Ayumi-sama. You don’t know how happy I am that my brother has someone like you to look after him." She rose from her chair and performed a deep, reverent bow before leaving the room.

Ayumi watched her go before taking care of the dishes. Hoshi rubbed against her ankles as she finished washing the plates, and she bent down to pick him up once she was finished. "What do you say to us going downstairs, hmm?" The cat meowed, most likely asking for food or attention rather than giving her a proper answer, and his rumbling purr as she scratched beneath his chin made her smile.

Ran’s sister was calmed down and seemed to have made sense of her feelings, and Ayumi had every faith that the same could be said for Ran when he returned home later. Yohji would probably still be on the defensive as he didn’t suffer anyone hurting his lover, but shouldn’t be as antagonistic as he’d been last night. Ayumi had done what she could and felt that things were hopeful that the three of them wouldn’t let their pride or concern sunder the siblings’ relationship. That meant she could spend some time in the flower shop making certain that things went well during Ran’s absence and chat with a few friends. She would never begrudge giving the two young men she loved any help she could offer, but she had to admit that there were times when they made her feel every one of her years – even as she missed the passion that went along with youth.

*******

Yohji wasn’t too happy that Ran had decided that a shared basket of fish and chips and two ciders each was all that they’d indulge in that afternoon, but figured it would be best to face what was ahead of them sober. Still, he was upset that all the hard work he’d put into making Ran feel better was slowly being eroded with each step they took up the stairs to the kitchen. He could see his lover’s shoulders tense up and that awful, bland expression cover Ran’s face - the expression that Ran had worn when dealing with someone who knew about his relationship with Hirofumi and disapproved of it, carefully schooled to reveal none of the pain that the coming insults would make him feel.

"Love," he whispered as he hurried up the three steps that separated them. His arm wrapped around Ran’s shoulders to offer support and comfort as he pressed a hasty kiss to Ran’s temple.

Pausing on the steps, Ran leaned against him and sighed. "Please, Yohji, don’t fight tonight. If she wants to leave, we’ll call a cab and let her go, but I don’t want any fighting or yelling."

He seemed to honestly think that Aya-chan would want nothing to do with him. Yohji shook his head and hugged Ran closer. "I promise, Ayan." He’d be the first one to call the cab if Aya-chan chose to continue hurting her brother, but he’d behave himself on the off-chance that she’d come to her senses in the past day. Considering how smart the girl was supposed to be and that they’d left her in Ayumi’s hands today, he expected her to not be as much of a bitch as she’d been yesterday.

"Good." Ran hugged him back for a few seconds before pulling away, a grateful smile on his handsome face. "Let’s get this over with, hmm?" The smile turned bitter and his eyes filled with pain to such an extent that Yohji was perfectly willing to drag his lover down the steps and toward a hotel where they could stay until Aya-chan left. The only thing stopping him was the fact that it wouldn’t resolve anything; good or bad, Ran and Aya-chan had to know where they stood with each other.

They continued up the steps and went into the kitchen, which was brightly lit and filled with a drool-inducing aroma. Oh, no doubt about it – Ayumi had to have been making something truly scrumptious today, and Yohji’s stomach rumbled in happy anticipation. Focused on trying to figure out what she’d made, he was first surprised by the way that Ran came to a sudden halt and then by the sight of Aya-chan standing by the stove.

She was wearing one of Ayumi’s aprons, a pale yellow one decorated with lounging black and white cats over a pair of jeans and a top he remembered Ran sending to America not too long ago. While he wondered if that was a good sign or not, she set the spoon aside that she’d been using to stir a huge pot that probably contained udon of some type and smoothed her hands over the apron. "Hello, Ran." Her smile just then was so brittle that he expected her to burst into tears at any moment. "Hello, Yohji."

He was surprised again by the fact that there wasn’t any obvious malice in the greeting, then shaken from the emotion when Ran rumbled out a greeting as well. Just as Yohji was about to do the same, Aya-chan did indeed start crying as she launched herself at her brother.


Not sure if she planned to attack Ran or not, Yohji stepped forward and had his right hand on her shoulder when he realized that the siblings were hugging each other tightly. Aya-chan kept sobbing Ran’s name and the words ‘I’m so sorry’ while Ran stroked his hand over her hair and told her it was okay.

For himself, Yohji wasn’t sure if this scene was at all what he’d expected, not after the hurt and nasty words of the night before. However, when Ayumi patted him on the arm and urged him to step away from the siblings, he sighed, shook his head and did as he was bid. "So everything’s all right now?" he asked in a hushed voice as he joined her by the sink.

Ayumi gave him a wistful smile. "Not ‘all right’, but much better." She glanced over at the two Fujimiya and her smile strengthened. "They’ll be happy again."

"That’s all I want," Yohji admitted, though it was truer for Ran than Aya-chan. He didn’t really wish the girl harm… he just didn’t want her to hurt Ran again. "But is this normal? I mean, last night…."

"You’re such an only child." Ayumi giggled quietly and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. "Yes, it’s normal." Then she resumed watching Ran and Aya-chan, who had let go of each other and stepped apart.

Aya-chan smiled at Ran, her face flushed and stained with tears, before turning toward Yohji. "I am truly sorry for my behavior last night," she said with a low bow when about three feet from him, her flush darkening and her smile embarrassed. "I shouldn’t have said those things to you, especially not when you were trying to protect my brother."

Ah hell, what was Yohji to do now? He’d spent the last day working up a shitload of anger toward the girl, and she went ahead and did this. Running his right hand through his hair, he looked back and forth between her and Ran. There really wasn’t a choice in the end; Ran loved his sister so Yohji would mostly forgive her. "It’s okay, darling. I wasn’t very nice myself last night." He reached out and pulled her closer for a hug, not stopping even when he felt the way she became tense for a couple of seconds. "But if you hurt him again, you’ll never get a second chance to make things better," he warned in a low whisper.

To his shock, she laughed and patted him on the back. "I feel the same," she whispered, and they pulled back to look at each other with what had to be identical expressions: polite smiles with slightly hardened eyes that promised that the threat hadn’t been the slightest bit idle. Then the coldness faded into warmth as they let each other go.

For his part, Yohji was willing to be nice as long as Aya-chan truly was sincere, and it wasn’t that hard to like the young woman again. After all, she was Ran’s sister and shared more than a few traits with the redhead, and Yohji knew that it would make Ran happy if they got along. Now that Aya-chan understood things a bit better, especially her place in Ran’s life now, Yohji would behave.

Deciding that he no longer had to hold back for Aya-chan’s sake, Yohji went to his lover and wrapped his arms around Ran’s upper chest. "This is a sibling thing, isn’t it?" he asked as he pressed his lips against Ran’s right temple.

Twisting a little to look back at him, Ran smiled and reached up to tug on a lock of Yohji’s hair. "Something like that." He rested his head back against Yohji’s shoulder. "Thank you, Yotan." The words were spoken in a soft tone filled with emotion, and Yohji didn’t have to ask what he was being thanked for. He guessed that he really did have to make an effort to get along with Aya-chan now, which shouldn’t be too hard. She left in another few days, after all, and he’d have Ran all to himself again – well, other than Ayumi, the cats, Omi, Ken and the shop workers and clients all scrambling for whatever bit of Yohji’s lover that they could get. For a moment, Yohji had the very strong impulse to kidnap Ran and go find some deserted island to live on for the next twenty or thirty years.

"You’re more than welcome, Ayan." Yohji looked up after another kiss to his lover’s temple to see Aya-chan staring at them in wonder. Realizing that he’d used Ran’s nickname, he hoped that she didn’t make things bad again by asking a question that would just hurt Ran. She didn’t need to know that her brother had taken her name during those years with Hiro, after all.


Instead, she managed a mostly warm smile and dipped her head forward. "So, did you eat a disgusting amount of fried food today?" Her tone was mostly teasing and light, her voice only cracking a little as she strove to be amiable.

Well, Yohji could certainly meet her halfway and make Ran happy. "No." Managing an exaggerated pout, he squeezed his lover until Ran actually squeaked. "*Someone* complained about wasting money on greasy food when we could allow Ayumi to stuff us silly with her awful cooking." He stuck his tongue out at his dear friend while Ran tugged frantically at the arms holding him so tightly.

Ayumi tsked and stepped closer to them, joining in once more now that they’d settled things between them. "Ah well, I see my plan to drive you away with terrible food isn’t working." She mostly stifled a giggle with her right hand, golden eyes gleaming with amusement and affection. "Perhaps I’ll try adding too much salt into tomorrow’s breakfast and you won’t ask me to cook again."

Ran’s elbow to Yohji’s ribs made him finally let go of his lover. While he winced in pain and Ran gasped for breath, Yohji shook his head and clicked his tongue. "I knew the food couldn’t be that horrid by accident. So, what are you poisoning us with tonight?"

Ayumi giggled again as she pulled Ran to safety – or saved Yohji from being hit, one of the two. "Oh, Yotan, we couldn’t resist! Aya-chan and I made kitsune udon!" Aya-chan joined in with the laughter and even Ran appeared amused – a bit flushed, but amused. Yohji figured that his lover would get back at him later and looked forward to that moment.

"If I didn’t actually like the dish, I’d be gravely offended," he sniffed. It looked as if he’d be getting some fried food tonight after all, even if it was tofu. That it was one of Ran’s favorite dishes made it even better, and he’d wait until they were alone to tease his lover about that fact. There was no sense in being too naughty in front of Aya-chan, not when peace had finally been established and Ran would throttle him for all that innuendo in front of the ‘little sister’.

Still laughing, Ayumi grabbed him by his right hand and tugged him toward the stove. "We made some yakitori for Ken as well, and baked some brownies! It’ll be a proper celebration for sure, and maybe I’ll be nice enough to let you have some of my sake." Her expression turned disdainful for a few seconds before returning to one of happiness. "That’s if you can behave!"

"For some of your special sake, I’ll sit still all night and be a good boy." When Ayumi began to laugh louder, he pouted again and tried to pull away. "Oh sure, keep on insulting me!"

"It’s not an insult if she honestly doesn’t believe that you’ll actually behave," Ran teased as he returned to Yohji’s side. "You don’t have a very good track record of doing just that!"


Yohji gave his lover a warm smile full of promise. "I do when you ask me." Ran’s smile was just as warm and he leaned against Yohji, body relaxed and the pain gone from his expression.

In the process of setting the table, Aya-chan cleared her throat and glanced nervously at her brother. "So, this Ken… all I know is that he used to live in the same apartment as you and that he’s into soccer. Should I… well, is it all right to ask for some more information?" She blushed a little as she spoke, the words halting and quiet.

Ran looked at Yohji, who considered the matter for a moment then shrugged. Even if Aya-chan didn’t seem to follow the sport very much, there was a chance she might recognize Ken when she saw him and it would be better to talk about things now than have her ask Ken some awkward questions. They wouldn’t tell the whole story about Ken and Kase, just enough that Aya-chan would know that Ken was innocent and should be left in peace as he rebuilt his life

"I don’t think that’s too unreasonable," he said as he gave Ran a hug. "But I think that we need a little something to wet our throats while we talk." Giving Ayumi his most beseeching look, he sniffed and whimpered a little. "Maybe some of your precious sake?"

Ayumi shook her head before removing her apron. "Well, the food will be ready shortly and we’re just waiting on Omi and Ken, so I suppose. But if you get drunk tonight, I’m tying you outside while you sleep it off!" she threatened.

"I’ll just gnaw my way through the rope and sneak into your bed," was Yohji’s salacious response, complete with waggling brows. Ran and Aya-chan laughed while Ayumi threatened to beat him with her fan, and it was a wonderful moment. Yohji knew that there was still some lingering pain from last night and that Aya-chan would probably press for more information one day, perhaps about how the Takatori had been involved in her family’s downfall, but that was later. Tonight, everyone would be careful not to bring up any painful topics and Aya-chan would be gone by the end of the week. Until then, Ran would have most of his family by him, a rare chance to take a break and just be happy. Yohji saw nothing wrong with that and would do his best to ensure that everyone had a good time.

Then he’d help see Aya-chan off and cheer up Ran’s inevitable sadness at watching his little sister leave. More than likely, Aya-chan would be very busy with school in the next few years and wouldn’t be able to visit often, which was fine with Yohji. He felt that the siblings would need time to take in what had happened and heal, and maybe Ran could let go of the past a bit more.

Japan was behind them now, and all the things that had happened there. The life that Yohji and Ran had built in England was a good one and it got better every day. While Yohji knew the past would never be forgotten, they were basically free of it now. The secrets that remained didn’t need to be brought up and it was time to focus on the future. That was something that Aya-chan needed to do as well.

However, tonight would be about the now; enjoying Ayumi’s delicious cooking and even better sake, laughing and trying to embarrass good friends with harmless stories and jokes. Yohji would put aside whatever doubts or ill feelings he possessed and ensure that Ran had a wonderful time.

*******

Omi stood outside the station entrance where he’d agreed to meet Ken and waited for his friend to arrive. The train should still be on time and rush hour wouldn’t start for another twenty minutes or so, but sometimes Ken forgot to leave in time or got off at other stations in search of something. Usually he texted Omi when that happened, but it wouldn’t be the first time that he’d forgotten to warn Omi that he was running late.

Fortunately, it was when the next song began to play on Omi’s MP3 player that he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. "You’ll go deaf like that," Ken proclaimed in a very loud voice with a huge grin on his face.

Grinning himself, Omi turned off the player, removed his earbuds and tucked them into the bag slung over his left shoulder. "So says the man who’s happy to take a football to the head!"

Ken laughed at the joke and motioned for Omi to walk with him. "What can I say? I like all the pretty colors I see whenever I get a concussion." He gave Omi a one armed hug as they left the station, the grin still on his face and his eyes shining with happiness.

"You’re a very strange man, Ken-ken," Omi replied, happy to have one of his best friends with him on such a sunny, lovely day. Since Ken had taken a job with the football team they hadn’t been able to see each other too much, but this should be a nice vacation for Ken and a break for Omi before classes resumed.

"I think that’s why we get along so well." Ken winked and let go of him to hoist up the bag that was slung across his back. His smile slipped a little as he glanced at Omi. "So, is it safe to go to the house yet?"

"Ayumi called me a little while ago and told me that Aya-chan’s come to her senses." Omi felt a wave of relief over the news, very unhappy at the way Ran and his sister were fighting. He hated it when the people he cared about were hurt; Ran was one of his best friends and he’d always thought fondly of Aya-chan. That she’d first been upset with him for living with Ran and then finding out how his older brother had been Ran’s lover made him rather nervous about going back home tonight, even with Ayumi’s assurance that things were fine. Well, mostly fine.

"She asked me if we could stay away from the house until Ran and Yohji came back," he informed Ken as they made their way down the crowded street.

Ken nodded and tugged Omi to the left, most likely toward a pub that he knew where they could wait for Ayumi’s call. "I think that’s a good idea. Let them make up and we can swoop in after all the fussing is over and guilt-trip Ayumi into feeding us. Until then, I get a chance to talk to you alone."

Omi laughed at that comment and his friend’s attempt at a leer. "Ken, you know that it’ll only give Yohji more ammunition to tease us about if we’re alone for a few hours." He batted his eyelashes and managed a simpering pout. "Are you trying to take advantage of me?"

"Only if I want Yuriko to gut me with a wooden spoon when I get back home!" Ken laughed, his good mood clearly restored. "But you know how much I love seeing Yohji dig that hole deeper and deeper."

Laughing as well, Omi thought about how Yohji was so convinced that he and Ken were lovers, no matter how many times he told Yohji that he was straight. It had gotten to be a game between him and Ken, thinking up ‘compromising’ situations for Yohji to go on and on about, playing along until the time that they’d finally admit that it had been one huge joke. Considering how much Ken had been talking about Yuriko lately, Omi had a sad feeling that the game would end sooner than he’d thought. Oh well - he’d just have to find another way to get one over on Yohji, then.

"How are things going with the two of you?" he asked as they walked past a very large, popular pub.

Smiling at the question, Ken waited about half a block before he answered. "Things are going well." There was a hint of a blush to his cheeks as he slipped into Japanese. "Ah, I must admit that it’s been a while since I’ve dated a woman so much, but it’s… different. I mean that in a good way." His smile disappeared, replaced by a look that was an equal mix of anger and pain. "You know, I always told Yohji that I wasn’t so much gay as I just liked Kase, and I certainly haven’t been interested in a relationship with any guy other than him."

Omi reached out and gave his friend’s right arm a reassuring squeeze. He knew that Ken didn’t like talking about his old lover, not after finding out about how Kase had ruined his football career in Japan. As often as he’d thought about the situation, Omi still couldn’t figure out how a person could do that to someone they claimed to love. In a way, Kase was a lot like Hirofumi, uncaring about the damage he did to his lover as long as he kept that lover trapped by his side.

They were quiet as they entered a small pub that Ken favored, and Omi sat down at a table while Ken ordered them each a pint of beer. The bartender reached over the bar to shake Ken’s hand and pat him on the shoulder, the two men talking quietly about something for a couple of minutes before Ken returned to the table, smile in place once more. "Anyway, back to Yuriko." He set one of the pints down in front of Omi. "She’s not talking about going back to Australia anymore." His smile became a pleased grin before he sipped his beer.

"Congratulations, Ken." Omi raised his glass and smiled at his friend. Yuriko had come down to London for a couple of days the last time Ken had visited, staying with friends so Yohji didn’t find out about her. He’d even accused Ken and Omi of going out on a date when they’d met up with the young woman for an evening. So much for the blond’s great detective skills, Omi thought with an amused snort.

He had a little of his beer before he asked another question. "So, is that what you want to tell everyone, that it looks like you’ve got yourself a serious girlfriend?" While he’d miss playing their little game, it would be fun to see the shocked look on Yohji’s face.

"Not exactly." Ken squirmed in his seat and groaned when Omi fixed him with a very serious look. "Okay, I’ll tell you now, but you better act surprised when I let everyone else know." He took another sip of beer and then a deep breath before continuing. "The team asked me to play for them. I’ll start when I get back from London."

"That’s great, Ken!" Omi yelled, then hunched down in his seat once he realized how loud he’d been. However, embarrassed or not, he couldn’t stop smiling. "That’s really great. We all know how much you wanted to play again and not just help coach."

Ken’s demeanor turned a little shy and he ducked his head as he slowly turned around his half-finished pint of beer. "Yeah, well, I think they’d been planning this all along and wanted to make sure I still had the skills and that it wouldn’t be too much of a fuss once I joined the team." He waved his left hand in the air a couple of times. "No one here really cares about what happened in Japan, and my new job didn’t even make much news back home."

Omi had to wonder just how much Ken had Kikyou, Shion and Omi’s uncle to thank for that, and he really didn’t care. What mattered was that Ken had a chance to do what he loved most in the world once again, and if it was on a small football team in Scotland then it didn’t lessen the happiness any. Ken’s previous career had been stolen by Kase, and now that Ken had his life back on track, it only seemed fair that he be able to play again. "I’m really happy for you, Ken, and I know how much this means to you."

Ken shrugged and finally looked up. "It’s not like I’m playing for Manchester United or Real Madrid, you know." He sounded a little embarrassed but the smile on his face was real.

"Not yet, you aren’t." Omi believed those words, too; Ken was really good at the sport and would only rise in its ranks once he showed off that skill to the world.

"Thanks, Omi, you don’t know how much that means to me." Ken smiled a little longer before having more beer. "But, you know, that means a few things will have to change." At Omi’s curious look, Ken sighed and shook his head. "This’ll be the last time that I’ll stay with Ran and Yohji while in London."

It took a minute for Omi to figure out what his friend meant. "Oh, okay." Some of his contentment vanished at that statement. "They’ll be a bit upset about it, but I know they’ll understand."

"Yeah, because they’ll be more upset if someone pries into their lives at all." There was a dark, protective note in Ken’s voice and he thumped his empty pint glass onto the table. "I mean, I doubt I’ll be as popular as Beckham, but the last thing I’d want for my friends is anyone writing up stories about a bunch of bullshit that goes on while I visit." He pushed the glass toward Omi. "And I’d hate for you to have to go home before you graduate from college."

Omi hadn’t thought about his own self and what might happen, not when he was more worried about Ran and Yohji. His uncle wouldn’t be too happy if people figured out that a Takatori was living in London under an assumed name so he could attend university there – and that wasn’t even taking into account who he lived with – but it wouldn’t be too big of a scandal. No, nothing like what could possibly happen if people found out that the Fujimiya heir was living with another Japanese man and running a flower shop. There’d been a lot of speculation about Ran’s whereabouts in the Japanese press since most of the truth had come out about his father being falsely accused of criminal activities.

"I think the main thing is not letting people find out the truth about Ran and Yohji," he said after a moment’s contemplation. They’d have to wait and see just how big Ken’s new career got and how much the paparazzi took to following him around.

"The last thing I want is to cause them any trouble," Ken sighed. "And I really hope things go well with Ran and his sister so I can enjoy this visit as much as possible. I’m really going to miss Ayumi and Ran’s cooking."

"I’m sure they’ll send you care packages or something," Omi said to make Ken feel better.

Still playing with the glass, Ken grunted softly and ducked his head once more. "Do you think they’ll be upset with me?" He asked the question in a quiet voice that was barely heard over the background noise of the televisions and other patrons talking.

"No, they’ll just be really pleased for you." Omi patted Ken’s hand in support. Yohji would probably complain a bit, nervous about anyone – about *Hirofumi* - tracking Ran down through Ken, and Ran would worry a bit about the same, but they’d be happy for Ken. After all, Yohji had brought up the topic a time or two, especially after Ken had moved to Great Britain to work as an assistant to the team’s coach. It was a possibility they all knew might happen one day, and had wished for to some extent because of how Ken deserved a bit of good luck.

The bar’s waitress came over to take away the empty glasses, and they waited for her to return with full ones before speaking again. "So, what’s new with you, Omi? Your last email said something about a girl." Ken’s smile took on a teasing edge that Omi was all too familiar with, thanks to living with Yohji.

It was his turn to duck his head now, as well as blush a little. "She’s the granddaughter of one of Ayumi’s old friends."

"British or Japanese?"

"Japanese on her father’s side." Omi looked up from the table and smiled. "She’s a lot of fun and is very smart; she’s studying economics." He couldn’t help but smile when he thought about Naomi and had plans to see her once she was back from a vacation with her family.

"And is she pretty?" Ken asked, dragging out the words to make the question sound almost obscene. Omi stuck out his tongue and tossed a chip from the basket on the table at his friend.


"Prettier than you, Ken!" was Omi’s retort, which made both of them laugh.

"Ah, I’ve been tossed aside for a pretty girl. If it wouldn’t mean showing up tonight drunk as hell and unable to eat Ayumi’s cooking, I’d drown my sorrow in beer." Ken managed a ridiculously forlorn expression for about three seconds.

"Sorry, Ken, but you just weren’t meeting my needs." They laughed some more and sipped their beers, Omi feeling a bit nervous despite the good mood. He was still a little unsure about having a girlfriend when he’d have to go back to Japan in a few years, not to mention when someone could discover who he really was. But Naomi was the first person who made him not care about the possible consequences and he just wanted some of the happiness that his friends had found. Taking a lesson from Yohji, he’d worry about the future when the future finally happened.

Mindful that they still had a couple of hours before dinner, possibly longer depending on when Ran and Yohji returned home, they flagged down the waitress again so they could order some snacks. Even if they had to spend most of the evening in here, it would be a great time spent chatting and laughing with Ken. A bit afraid that they might not have as many opportunities to do this in the future, Omi nonetheless was very happy for Ken and determined to enjoy the time they had left.

*******

Aya giggled as she watched Yohji and Ken fight over the television’s remote. She sat on the far end of the couch, a half-empty glass of sake held in her hands. Dinner had been wonderful, and everyone had moved to the living room after the dishes had been washed and the food put away.

"Weren’t you ever taught any manners, Yohji? It’s the guest who gets to decide what to watch!" Ken seemed to be trying for an angry or disappointed expression but was smiling too much.

"You lost your guest status months ago, Ken!" Yohji hollered back while lying on the floor, his right arm fully extended to keep the remote away from Ken’s reaching hands. "The first time you went through a six-pack of beer that I’d bought for myself, in fact!"

She leaned to the left side, closer to Omi. "Are they always like this?"

He nodded, his attention never wavering from the two men now rolling around on the floor. "Oh yes. Just wait – any moment now Ran will be back and he’ll take the remote from both of them."

They sat there and watched while insults were shouted and the coffee table almost knocked over, and then Ran and Ayumi returned from the kitchen with another bottle of sake and a plate of snacks. Proving Omi’s prediction true, Ran handed her the sake bottle and stepped over the wrestling men to snatch the remote from Yohji’s hands. "Ayumi, I believe you have the honors tonight," he said while glaring at his friend and lover.

Ayumi accepted the remote with a graceful bowing of her head and sat down on the padded leather chair. "Thank you, Ran. I feel that the best solution would be to leave the television off tonight." She sniffed in disapproval. "Imagine, having to talk to people instead of staring mindlessly at some silly movie or sport."

"Which is why we were gonna watch porn tonight," Yohji said, and yelped when Ran gave the back of his head a light smack. "Sheesh, I was only kidding."

"One can never tell with you," Ran muttered as he knelt on the floor across the table from Aya. He smiled and motioned for the bottle. "I can do the pouring."

"Oh! Let me!" She moved from the couch to kneel on the soft rug that covered most of the living room’s floor. Mindful of the opened bottle of sake, she held it out to fill the cups that were quickly placed within her reach. Teeth biting into her bottom lip, she made sure to not spill any of the delicious alcohol while she refilled everyone’s cups.

Ran smiled at her when she placed the bottle down and raised his cup in a silent toast. The affection and happiness she saw on his face made her blush slightly, and then she noticed the shadows around his eyes. She was certain that he’d had as restless a night as she’d suffer through last night and felt a stab of guilt. Bowing her head in gratitude, she raised her cup as well.

More than anything, she knew she was very lucky that he’d accepted her apology earlier. He’d hugged her so tightly, as if afraid he’d lost her, and that convinced her that her brother still loved her very dearly. If she could take back the words she’d said yesterday, she would, but such things could never be undone.


But they could be forgiven, and it seemed that she had Ran’s forgiveness at the least. Yohji, sitting behind Ran with his legs on either side of Ran’s knees and his left arm around Ran’s upper chest, still gave her cool looks from time to time, which was to be expected. Aya knew that she’d hurt him as well and had a ways to go before he forgave her for hurting her brother. That Yohji was more concerned for Ran’s pain than his own made Aya realize that her brother truly had found someone worthy to love him, no matter what Yohji’s past. She would have to do her best to prove to Yohji that she hadn’t meant to be so cruel and earn back his trust.

Which was fine; what mattered the most was to be given this second chance with Ran and the people he’d gathered around him as a new family. Aya felt perhaps that was why she’d been so quick to lash out at her brother upon finding out how completely he’d rebuilt his life, yet any jealousy or disdain she’d felt over the last few days faded as she watched everyone tonight. They truly cared for each other, and because Ran was their dear friend, lover or adopted son, they’d welcomed her into the fold as well.

Whatever had happened in Tokyo those last few years, Ran was still the honorable, loving young man she’d always imagined him to be; there was no way he’d draw these people so closely around him if that wasn’t the truth. She would do her best to not think about what he’d done for her sake, other than to know that she owed him a debt that would never be repaid. Ran didn’t seem to want to talk about the matter anymore and that was something she could easily accept. The knowledge was too raw, too painful for her to most likely ever be able to deal with in a calm, rational manner. How could she, when Ran had given up so much?

"You’re supposed to drink the sake, Aya-chan, not just hold it up to your lips."

Yohji’s lazy drawl startled her from her thoughts, and she looked at the man as if expecting to find him taunting her. Instead, his smile was amused but not mocking, so she nodded and sipped the drink.

"Thank you. I’m afraid that I am a rather shameful excuse of a partying college student."

"That’s okay, Omi’s here to pick up the slack for you!" Ken said while ruffling Omi’s short hair. He laughed when Omi batted his hand aside and shoved him off the couch as well.

"You’re the football player so I think you’re the drunken lout, Ken-ken!" Omi snatched the bottle of sake off the table and held it away from Ken. "I’ve been taking lessons from you all these years."

"Right, I think you mean that Yohji’s been the bad influence," Ken muttered, and winked at Aya when he picked his cup off of the table. "He’s the kitsune, after all."

"Kitsune, not kappa," Yohji pointed out. As if to prove Ken wrong, he didn’t even have a cup of sake in his hands, not when both of his arms were now draped over Ran’s shoulders. "Yeah, you definitely took one too many hits to the head."

"So I’ve heard." Ken raised his cup in the air before draining it in one gulp. "Ah, that’s really good sake, Ayumi."

"It’s better when you sip it," she replied with an offended sniff, but Aya believed it to be an act with the way she hid her lips behind the sake cup but didn’t drink.

Ken laughed again, his cheeks slightly flushed from all the alcohol he’d had with dinner. "I’ll remember that in the future." He leaned back against the couch, and Omi started tugging on his hair while whispering something too faint for Aya to hear.

She looked back in her brother’s direction to find him smiling at her. "I’m afraid that if you wanted some peace and quiet during your vacation that it’s come to an end with Ken’s arrival."

"I heard that," Ken muttered, but didn’t bother to look away from trying to catch Omi’s hands to keep his hair from being tugged on again.

"That was my intent." Ran’s reply was so droll that it took Aya a moment to catch it, and she started giggling again. After the pain and sorrow from last night and today, a wonderful dinner, a few cups of sake and a bit of silliness was just the thing to make her feel as if the world was set right. That Ran was sitting near her and still smiling was what one of her American friends would call ‘the icing on the cake’.

"I don’t mind it at all," she said while smiling back at her brother. "I’m happy to meet another of your friends."

"Ken’s more like a puppy that we can’t get rid of, but you can call him our friend if you want," Yohji teased, and laughed when Ken gave him the finger as a result. "You’ll do fine as a Scottish football player, Ken!"

That led to another round of congratulations for the dark-haired man and more toasts, and Aya wondered how her friends back home would react when she told them she knew a professional football player. Then it sunk in that she did think of her small apartment as her home, and that she truly was only visiting Ran. Soon enough she’d fly back to the States and wouldn’t see him again for perhaps another year.

At least she had the hope that she would see him, even after her awful behavior last night. The way he smiled at her and leaned forward to refill her cup and push the plate of snacks closer to her filled her with a warmth that she hadn’t felt for too long. It was time to accept that Ran had a life of his own, and that it didn’t mean she couldn’t be a part of it. That had been her biggest fear, and it had been proven untrue.

She’d make things up to him somehow, but right now, she needed this silliness and the chance to just sit near her brother and be a part of his life. As long as he was happy, she’d push any doubts she had aside and focus on how content he looked right now. She couldn’t be there for him like Yohji, Ayumi and the others could, but she was his sister and that was something they could never be to him. Or something like that… why was the room tilting back and forth a little?

"I think I might be a bit tipsy already." She giggled as she set her cup aside, determined to not make any more of a fool of herself than she had already this vacation.

"You’re not the only one, Aya-chan." Yohji was still smiling, although Ran now sported a concerned frown.

"Eat a few snacks," Ran urged, as always looking out for her. Aya nodded and obeyed, picking up one of the spring rolls. "Let me know if you’d like a glass of water or something."

"I’ll be fine," she assured him, not wanting him to move when he appeared so comfortable. It was the truth, too; she now was fine and so was he. There wasn’t much more that she could ask for the two of them, and she’d learn to accept the rest. Leaning against the couch, she smiled at Ran before taking a bite of the roll.

*******

"Here, I think you forgot this," Yohji said as he entered the spare bedroom with a stuffed cat in his hand. He’d found the toy in the living room and had mistaken it for Hoshi for a few seconds, its markings so closely resembled the black and white cat. That was why Aya-chan had bought the toy in the first place, and Ran had promised to keep an eye out for a stuffed animal that looked like Tsuki.

Aya-chan looked up from the suitcase she was packing and smiled, the expression grateful but a little guarded. "Thank you. I really should have packed last night, ne?" She reached for the stuffed animal and placed it in the luggage.

"I think that would have been a bit difficult with the way that Ayumi and Ran kept finding things for you to pack, and we still have a bit of time before we have to leave for the airport." He’d talked Ran into them using the shop’s van to drop off Aya-chan since her luggage would be very full and very heavy. Besides, after so many days of sightseeing and running around London, all of them were a bit tired to take the train. Ran had accused him of just feeling the urge to drive, which was partially true.

Her smile strengthening, Aya-chan nodded and resumed folding the football jerseys that she’d bought for her friends. "And we were having so much fun last night. Ayumi and Ran outdid themselves with all that food, while I’m surprised I’m not hungover." She rubbed her head and laughed, and Yohji wondered how he’d feel about her if it wasn’t for Ran. She was lovely and most of the time very fun to be around, but in the end she paled in comparison to her brother.

Since he hadn’t just come here to return the stuffed animal, Yohji sat on the edge of the bed and stared directly at the girl. "It’s not every day that Ran’s sister comes for a visit, and they’ll miss you." As much as he’d developed some sort of fondness for Aya-chan, he couldn’t exactly say that he’d miss her. No, he wanted her gone so he could have Ran all to himself and not worry about his lover being hurt anymore.

It seemed that Aya-chan must have picked up on what he hadn’t said. "I’ll miss them, too, and hopefully I’ll be able to come back next summer." Setting the jerseys aside, she folded her arms over her chest and returned Yohji’s direct gaze. "That is, if I’m welcome to visit again." She didn’t sound upset, just a bit wary.

As much as Yohji would like to tell her to stay in America, he knew that Ran would be very angry if he voiced those words. "Look, I won’t lie and say that I’d love to have you back, but you’re welcome here whenever you want to come. You’re Ran’s sister, after all, and he’ll be very happy to see you again." Despite all the pain she’d caused him during this visit.

Aya-chan’s eyes narrowed for a few seconds and she unfolded her arms so she could play with her hair with her right hand. "That’s awfully blunt of you, Yohji." There was no anger in her tone and a bit of amusement, but mostly the wariness of before.

"Yeah, well, Ran, Ayumi and Omi can talk circles around someone all night, but I consider that a waste of effort and time." He let out a slow sigh and shrugged. "Some of the past two weeks has actually been fun, and it’s nice to have an excuse to take off from work and see the city. Hopefully the next time you visit, there won’t be any need for so much drama." He did some eye-narrowing of his own and put a bit of heat into those last few words.

To her credit, Aya-chan blushed a little and ducked her head. "I never came here to hurt Ran, I swear. However, I think the truth needed to be told and now we can move past it." She straightened up and looked directly at Yohji as she spoke. "And there’s the fact that I had to meet the man that my brother loves."

"Never forget that, Aya-chan." Yohji got up from the bed since he didn’t want to be looking up at the girl during this discussion. For the past few days, he and Aya-chan had been very polite to each other and somewhat affectionate; he knew they were both biding their time until they were alone and things had cooled off from the one nasty fight. "Because that fact isn’t going to ever change."

"I know that, Yohji," Aya-chan replied, which was a bit of a surprise. What wasn’t a surprise, however, was the look of iron determination that settled on her delicate features; oh yeah, that was definitely the way Ran appeared when he was about to get down to a serious discussion. "Believe it or not, but I never came here with the intention of either making Ran choose between you and me or to make you two split up. I want my brother to be happy." The expression slipped a little as she bit into her bottom lip for a couple of seconds, then came back with a vengeance. "You better never, *ever* hurt him, Yohji. I’ll never forgive you if you do."

That wasn’t what Yohji had expected to hear when he came into the room. He’d thought she’d apologize a little and maybe try to make sure Yohji knew that her departure didn’t mean she wasn’t going to be a presence in Ran’s life anymore, not that he’d be taken to task over Ran. The new topic was almost enough to make him laugh out loud, something that wouldn’t be a good thing to do right now. No, he was going to prove just how seriously he took being Ran’s lover, instead.

"Let me make one thing clear, Aya." He stepped forward as he spoke, using his height to an advantage and making the girl look up at him. "I will *never* hurt your brother, not willingly. As I told you, I gave up a hell of a lot to follow him here, and I’ve never regretted it for a second." How could he, when he had Ran in his life? "All I want is for him to be happy, which makes me damn happy as well." His voice had roughened into an almost-growl by the end from the possessiveness he felt toward Ran.

Aya-chan nodded once and looked him straight in the eye. "I’m not implying that you would ever do such a thing, Yohji, not after seeing you with my brother the last two weeks. However, Ran is the only family I have left and someone I love with all my heart; I would be failing my duty to him if I didn’t make it perfectly clear that I will never accept anyone hurting him or playing with his emotions." She sounded just as possessive and serious as Yohji.

"Good, you made your point and I’ll tell you again that it won’t ever happen." Yohji ran his right hand through his hair and wished that he hadn’t cut back so much on the cigarettes. Hell, he wished that he hadn’t offered to drive today and could go have a drink or two, but Ran would kill him if he did that now. This heart to heart crap with anyone other than Ran and Ayumi just annoyed the hell out of him. "I won’t claim that I’m the perfect lover and that we never fight, but Ran and I know where we stand with each other and how much we care. Sometimes it takes having nothing at all to realize just how much you can love another person."


"That sounds like something Ayumi would say." Aya-chan’s lips curved into a slight smile. "All right, I believe you. Just… please look after my brother." She bowed low after she said the words and held the position for several seconds.

"I promise that I will," Yohji replied, and even bowed a little to show he was serious. Good thing Ken wasn’t here or his friend would be laughing his ass off right now.

"Thank you." Aya-chan straightened up and resumed packing. Yohji debated if he should leave things like this and decided that he might as well push a little further since the girl was leaving in another hour. He cleared his throat to make Aya-chan look at him again.

"Aya-chan… look, I know I’m not your brother and I’m not trying to take his place. And I don’t want to start another fight, but I think there are a few things that need to be said, okay?" He waited for her to nod before continuing. "You need to let go of what happened to your family."

She immediately went into that defensive position again, arms folded over her chest and her eyes shining with anger. "I fail to see how that’s any concern of yours, Yohji, or why I should listen to your advice. That is *my* family business, and you’ve no idea how it feels to have your family torn apart because of a lie." She sounded pissed off and it was a good thing that they were on the floor beneath everyone else with the way her voice had gotten louder.

He motioned with his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "Just listen to me, okay? No, I don’t know what it feels like to suffer the way you and Ran did, but I’ve a good idea because of your brother. Ran made a choice when we moved here to put as much of the past behind him as possible, which included a lot more than just his… ‘relationship’ with Hirofumi." Yohji detested saying that name, even after all this time. "He’s not forgetting what happened to your parents, but he’s not letting it affect his life, either."

That didn’t sound good, so before Aya-chan could argue some more, he started talking again. "What I mean to say is that he’s focused on the future now, Aya-chan. Your family’s name was redeemed, even if it didn’t bring back your parents or return all the things you’ve lost." He took a deep breath and managed a sympathetic smile. "You can’t ever get that stuff back, not what really matters. Ran finally accepted that and he’s determined to build a future that your parents could be proud of." Well, if they’d accept the fact that their only son was gay, living with another man in a foreign country and running something as plebeian as a flower shop, that was.

"What do you expect me to do, Yohji?" Aya-chan’s voice was quiet, yet he wasn’t foolish enough to assume that it meant she wasn’t upset. "I’ve spent the last six years doing my best to make sure that nothing bad could be said about at least one Fujimiya, to restore what little bit of honor to my family that I could." She wiped her left eye and sniffed, her face becoming flushed but her attention not wavering as she fought back the tears. "I can’t begin to express how I felt when they announced that my father had been framed, and you’re right, it didn’t bring him or my mother back. Neither did it negate everything that I’ve worked so hard for while at school."

Yohji nodded in understanding. "I’m not telling you to give up your dream of being a doctor, I’m just trying to tell you that you need to do it for *you*, not your parents." He waved his hand at the room’s ceiling and softened his voice so it didn’t seem as if he was lecturing Aya-chan. "Ran knows that your parents would be shocked over him running a flower shop; if he wanted to carry on the family legacy he’d have gone back to school and gotten a job at some financial institution or something. However, he feels that all they’d really care about in the end is him being happy, which he is. Don’t you think that’s true?"

She was quiet for a minute while she thought it over. "Yes, I do. My parents loved Ran very much and worried that he pushed himself too hard for their sakes." Then she sniffed again, which prompted Yohji to hope that she didn’t start crying; Ran would kill him if he noticed his sister with reddened eyes and a sad demeanor after talking to Yohji.

"So why don’t you think they feel the same about you?" Yohji didn’t know if he was saying this right and knew he was overstepping his bounds – which didn’t negate the fact that it needed to be said. After talking to Ayumi, he’d come to realize that part of Aya-chan’s reaction to Ran’s admission was because he was the only family she had left. She was so tied up in the Fujimiya name and how they were to restore it that she’d forgotten that both of them were merely human.

That question clearly took Aya-chan by surprise; she stared at Yohji with wide eyes and her mouth open. "I… what are you saying?"

"That you need to cut yourself a bit of slack." Yohji ran both hands through his hair and gave Aya-chan a sheepish grin. "I’m sorry for yelling at you about taking those vacations and stuff when I know Ran wanted you to take some breaks from all that studying and work. You have done a lot in the last few years, and he’s very proud of it. You got the scholarship to Harvard and now you’ll be going to med school. Just… look, don’t make Ran worry so much by not having a bit of fun, okay?" He felt like a failure over trying to get his point across, but he’d done his best. If Aya-chan loosened up a little, she’d have a life of her own and not need to rely on Ran so much. "Go out with your friends a bit more often, find a gorgeous guy or girl who’ll make Ran turn into an over-protective brother and fret over how late you stay out."

He had the feeling that whatever Aya-chan had expected out of this conversation, he’d shocked the hell out of her instead. Since she didn’t start yelling at him or crying, he took it as being a positive shock. "I…." She fell silent and seemed to think about something. "I always knew that Ran had to be working very hard for the money and sacrificing a lot, so I swore I’d never let him down with my grades," she admitted in a soft voice.

"Trust me, Aya-chan, you never once did that." He reached out and gave her left shoulder a squeeze. "However, you really do worry him with how focused you are on your classes and your job. It seems to be a Fujimiya trait," he joked, and felt a bit better when she smiled in response. "I’m not telling you this because I’m a wonderful guy, it’s just that I know Ran will worry a little less if you enjoy life a bit more."

Aya-chan sniffed again and rubbed her thankfully dry nose with the back of her left hand. "Thank you, Yohji. I never realized that I’d worried him so much, and it’s good to know that he’s proud of me." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I’ll try, okay? I’m not about to toss aside six years of hard work when I’ll soon start med school, but… there is this guy I really like." Her face turning a bright red, she ducked her head until it was hidden by her thick hair.

"Great, I can already hear Ran’s teeth start to grind together when he finds out that his baby sister has a boyfriend." Yohji looked forward to teasing the hell out of his lover over that fact, as well as having to sit on Ran to make him understand that Aya-chan needed this. Both siblings had to let go a bit more if they wanted to truly lead their own lives.

Aya-chan laughed at that and resumed packing. "I still remember the one time a male friend from school took to walking me home. After the second time, Ran stood by the front gate with his kendo sword. Anami was too afraid to be alone with me after that." There was a bittersweet smile on her face and a distant look in her eyes as she became lost in the memory.

Yohji gave her a few seconds before clearing his throat again. "Somehow, I’m not surprised. Now, it looks like you’ve a good bit of packing left to do and your brother’s upstairs worrying about you making your flight on time. I’ll leave you alone, unless there’s something else you want to talk about." He arched an eyebrow and waited to see if Aya-chan brought up another topic.

"No, a serious warning to never cause my brother any heartache was all that was on my agenda," Aya-chan admitted with a bright laugh. "Oh, just be good to him, okay? Not that I think you won’t be, Yohji."

Sliding his hands into his pockets, Yohji grinned as he shrugged. "I spent too much time and effort getting that boy under my spell to risk losing him, darling. He’ll be mine forever, and love every minute of it."

"I’m beginning to think that there’s some truth to those rumors about you being a kitsune," was Aya-chan’s amused reply. She waved goodbye to him as he left the room, feeling a lot better for having gotten a few things off his chest. Maybe one day there wouldn’t be a sense of jealousy and competition between him and Aya-chan, but they seemed to manage enough of a détente to be somewhat friends.

He went back upstairs and found Ran in the kitchen fiddling with the electric kettle. "I assume that you feel we’ve enough time for a cup of tea before leaving, then?" he asked as he embraced his lover.

Ran grunted once and leaned back against him. "At least one cup; Aya-chan’s flight is still on time and there’s no traffic yet." He gently nudged his elbow into Yohji’s ribs. "That means you can’t break all the speed limits on the way to the airport, you know."

"A proper kitsune pays no attention to trifling laws," Yohji snorted before he nuzzled Ran’s right ear. "And I’m *all* about being proper."

The sound of his lover laughing was just perfect and boded well for the day. "A proper what, I won’t go into this early in the morning," Ran answered in obvious amusement.

"Well, how about I show you?" Yohji’s voice deepened into an adequate purr before he took to nibbling on Ran’s adorable ears. He figured he had all of two minutes before he was either whapped by the elbow again, this time with a hell of a lot more force, or someone interrupted him. For the sake of his ribs, he hoped it was the latter.

He’d just managed to make his way down to that wonderfully sensitive spot on Ran’s neck when Ayumi walked into the room. "Yotan, do I really have to fetch my heavy fan right now?"

"Hmm, not really. You can just stand there and watch instead, which will be more fun for all of us!" was his teasing reply, and he barely managed to dodge Ran’s elbow in time. While he and Ayumi laughed, Ran shook his head and muttered something about over-libidinous kitsune and the foolish people who encouraged him. What mattered the most was the fact that he was smiling as he complained, in a good mood despite the imminent departure of his little sister.

Yohji exchanged a look with Ayumi and knew that they’d both work hard today to keep Ran in that good mood. It wasn’t as if Ran wouldn’t see Aya-chan again, and they were parting on good terms. Yohji would allow some sadness on his lover’s part but he wanted things back to normal, too. That and he just hated it when Ran was sad, as did Ayumi.

The three of them sat down at the table to enjoy the pot of freshly brewed tea, and Yohji knew that by the time they returned from the airport, Ken and Omi would be up. The day would be spent with friends before Ken had to return to work and Ran began to fuss about all the missed time in the shop, a rare break that was to be savored. Even if it meant that he’d be back to working in the shop tomorrow morning, Yohji was perfectly happy with that outcome. His loved ones would be beside him, something he’d never though to expect out of life and now needed desperately. If he was a kitsune, he had been decidedly tamed by a sexy as hell redhead and a fan wielding harridan. That thought made him laugh out loud, and despite all of Ran’s curious looks and Ayumi’s wheedling, he wouldn’t admit to what had set him off. He had more sense than that and no desire to be whapped.

*******

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