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On to Chapter 2.

Author: Amy the Evitable
Rating: NC-17
Last updated: 23 October 2003

If you get too close to some things, you can never walk away.

Aya/Yohji. After the battle with Estet, Yohji finds himself haunted. But by what? Or by whom? Or is it all in his head? Follows the anime series, with the caveat that in this story, Aya-chan never woke up.

The OVAs, manga, and Gluhen are all gleefully ignored. The lyrics at the start of each Yohji point-of-view section are all copyright Chappell Music/U2, and are used without permission.

Event Horizon

Chapter 1: Love and Other Necessary Illusions
There couldn't possibly be ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall. The display was made up entirely of six-packs, and six just didn't go into ninety-nine evenly. They were probably three deep... four rows of 8, and four rows of two that bracketed the picture of the flavor-of-the-week spokesgirl... and multiply it by 6... With a certain sense of satisfaction, Omi determined that there were seven hundred and twenty bottles of beer on the wall. Unless some jerk had removed some bottles from six-packs in the back just to make his life difficult.

Though the annoying little song was caught in his head, Omi refused to count down from 720. If he did, and Yohji still wasn't back by the last bottle of beer on the wall, Omi really would have to kill his teammate.

Patience was the virtue Omi was best known for, but, really, how long did it take any literate person to fetch a few packages of ramen noodles? He resisted the urge to check his watch, but went ahead and rolled his eyes as he continued to 'just watch the cart' in the bustle at the front of the store.

Omi had been offering his usual bright smile to every person who looked his way. He counted himself lucky that none of the matrons had yet yielded to the obvious impulse to pat him on the head and tell him what a nice boy he was. For a time he'd had that prickling on the back of his neck that told him he was being watched, or rather, stared at. Stares of that intensity that came from only two sources. Either someone was about to launch an attack at him, or he'd acquired yet another adolescent female stalker. Working at the Koneko had been an education in the strength of the obsessions suffered by barely pubescent girls. Fortunately for Omi's safety and the safety of all the other shoppers, the watcher had eventually been dragged out of the store by her mother. Omi hadn't needed to join the conflict himself.

Instead, he got to continue waiting for Yohji.

Since Estet's plan to summon the demon had come to a bloody and waterlogged conclusion, Yohji had displayed a continuing excess of concern for all his teammates. Omi did from time to time wonder if he was being singled out for the worst of the overprotective behavior. Times like now, when the older man had decided to spare Omi the strain and wear of wandering down the instant-food-in-a-cup aisle of the grocer's.

Which was well intentioned, if not more than a tad ridiculous. At least Yohji had allowed Omi to accompany him on this trip, admitting that the pneumonia was more-or-less conquered and that a brisk walk was currently the best medicine for the mostly-healed contusions and stiff muscles. Yohji and Ken still were barely allowing Aya to get out of bed, much less allowing him out of the apartment.

And they were right to do so, too. Aya's pneumonia had been much worse than his own, and when you added in the rest of it...

Omi sighed. It was just a bit much. Ken's paranoia saw a vengeful Schwarz behind every noise and shadow. And Yohji-- Yohji seemed determined to protect his teammates' health and well-being from any possible threat, ranging from microbes to tension headaches to international associations of evil cultists bent on discovering Weiss's whereabouts.

Omi rolled his eyes again, and checked his watch. It really had been several minutes since Yohji had sauntered off; he'd almost certainly found some despondent pretty young thing who needed a dose of Kudoh charm to brighten her day. Almost certainly...

It was ridiculous to picture Balinese bleeding his life out next to the canned bean display. Totally ridiculous.

Perhaps Ken wasn't the only paranoid kitten these days.

So it was with a mixture of irritation and worry that he pushed the cart around the corner to see Yohji, alone, at the far end of the aisle, neck craning as he searched for something. Something that clearly wasn't the ramen, which was in plain sight on the shelves in the middle of the aisle.

Omi advanced on Yohji, irritation taking the lead. "Yohji-kun," he began, exasperated-- and then he took a closer look at his teammate, and the reprimand dried up inside his mouth.

"Omi! Did you see...?" Yohji's eyes were wide, stricken, and his shoulders were held high and tight to his body, like he was expecting someone to hit him.

"See who? Where?" Omi demanded, noting that his own voice was high and panicky. Anything that would set Yohji off like this... What had Yohji seen? There didn't seem to be anyone else back here.

A list of possible enemies flitted through Omi's mind. Topping the list was Schwarz, but there were an unsettling number of other people in the 'Presumed But Not Verified Dead' category. He fumbled for the cellphone to warn Ken, fingers shaking too hard to pull the antenna up. "What kind of a threat?"

Visibly snapping back to reality, Yohji took hold of Omi's shoulders. "Oi, it's OK, Omi. Nothing to worry about." A weak attempt at a lopsided grin. "Put the phone away. Just thought I saw somebody I knew, nothing to worry about. Really. I just didn't expect... Oi! Breathe slower, chibi, don't want you to start coughing..."

But the hyperventilation had already set off a spasm of lung-wrenching hacking, agonizing in Omi's raw throat. Yohji sat him down on a bench, brought him a bottle of water, and flirted lightheartedly with several young female passersby who made concerned inquiries into Omi's health. By the time Omi had his respiration under control again, Yohji had collected a referral to a traditional Chinese herbalist, two phone numbers, and an invitation to dinner that night-- and Weiss's eldest had restored the easy grin to his face.

It wasn't until after they'd purchased the groceries-- including the ramen-- and were walking back to the apartment that Omi noticed that for all the easy manner and carefree grin, Yohji's eyes were constantly flitting from side to side. Yohji was subtly checking out every tiny movement on the periphery of his vision.

Would Yohji's notion of protecting Omi's well-being extend to lying to him? Or at least skirting the truth?

Oh, yeah. Without a doubt it would. And while Omi appreciated the sentiment behind the care (as well as the miracle that allowed the man who had never once been on time to his shift at the flower shop to deliver every dose of medication exactly on schedule, not one minute late), it was time to remind Yohji that Omi was back on his feet. Time to remind Yohji that they were teammates, equals, and that withholding data from the team strategist was totally unacceptable.

Yohji was even now stepping away from a vending machine, offering hot coffee with one hand while the other pushed the sunglasses back up his nose, trying to concealing that ceaseless searching.

"Wind's getting chilly-- can't be good for your throat, Omittchi." A ripple of amusement rolled across the Yohji's lips, anticipatory and smug. "No point in having another coughing fit when there's nobody but me to fuss over you-- not a pretty girl who'll come and try to make it all better in sight."

Omi couldn't hold back the blush, but force of will-- and long exposure to Yohji's practice of derailing uncomfortable conversations with a well-placed teasing comment-- kept him from squeaking out the expected protest. Face serious, if pink, he replied, "Somehow I don't think that pretty girls are what you've been looking for the entire way home, Yohji-kun."

"I'm always looking for pretty girls, Omittchi. Give it a year or two, and you might be joining me." The grin was the same, but if Yohji was escalating from embarrassing-but-only-slightly-irritating remarks to out-and-out provocation this quickly, he really was trying to hide something.

"Balinese."

The grin faded.

"What did you see, Balinese?"

"It was nothing. Just a woman. Someone I didn't expect to see. Took me by surprise."

Omi kept his gaze steady and his mouth shut.

"Look, there wasn't even anyone there. I thought I saw her, but when I tried to follow... You didn't see anyone there, did you? There wasn't anyone there." Yohji's free hand pushed hair out of his face, which promptly fell back. "Will you take the damn coffee, Omi?"

There was only one woman, or perhaps two-- Omi suspected the truth about Neu's identity never would be known-- who could leave Yohji this obviously unsettled. Omi accepted the coffee and took a long drink, searching for an acceptable way to ask what had to be asked.

"You saw Asuka, Yohji-kun?"

"No." Both hands this time, pushing the hair back, pausing to press at the temples as though Yohji were trying to restrain a headache. "How could I have seen her." It wasn't a question. "She's dead." A barely voiced whisper.

"But you thought you did?" Omi tried to keep his voice calm, tried to keep any hint of pity or worry out of the tone. He wasn't certain he'd succeeded. It was the risk to Omi's life that had brought Yohji to kill the woman Yohji still loved. Even now, Omi couldn't think about the incident without a flood of guilt for having been so careless as to put Yohji in that position. There was also a horribly wonderful feeling of happiness, of belonging, of security, that Yohji had chosen to protect him over that woman, which only made the guilt worse.

As fucked up as he knew his ideas of love, loyalty, and family were, Omi was certain that you weren't supposed to have your soul eased by an action whose commission nearly destroyed your adoptive brother.

That conflict had left him unable to speak to Yohji about the incident, unable to confront his teammate about his subsequent risky behavior both on and off of missions. Aya had brought the matter up with his usual lack of tact and empathy, so unsurprisingly the self-destructive behavior had continued.

Until after that final confrontation with Estet. Yohji had pulled it together for his teammates. Had been a pillar of stability after the battle. He'd found Omi's scattered family, brought them to the refuge he'd created, and nursed them back to health.

Yohji pulled out a cigarette and lit it, taking a deep drag before he answered Omi's question. "Not really. Just thought I saw..." The gloved hand not holding the cigarette clenched. "Her... out of the corner of my eye, and I had to look." Another drag. "Stupid, I know."

Omi blinked back tears that wanted to leap into his eyes. "Oh, Yohji-kun, not stupid. Just..."

Voice terribly quiet but almost unrecognizably harsh, Yohji cut in, "Enough, Omi." A slow exhalation of smoke, and in a more normal voice, "Please."

Nodding, unsure what else he could do, Omi turned away from his teammate and slowly started toward home, a few blocks to the east. It was a high-rise apartment building, in terrible shape and scheduled to be demolished in a year or two. Not all of the neighbors were the nicest people, but none of them were the type to pry or ask questions. Yohji had apparently held a lease there under an assumed name for some time "just in case." Omi hadn't known about it; Kritiker hadn't known about it; and thus far it seemed that none of their enemies had known about it.

Yohji caught up with Omi in a few long strides, then ambled alongside him in silence for a few moments. Tapping the backpack Omi was carrying his half of the groceries in, he asked, "You sure you don't want me to take that bag for you?"

"It's OK; the groceries aren't that heavy, Yohji-kun." Omi risked a grin at his companion. "Besides, if I prove myself by getting these home without collapsing or fainting from exhaustion, you might actually believe that I'm not sick any more. I might even be let out of the house without a nanny watching over me."

Yohji ducked his head a little, wry expression acknowledging the zinger. "Been a little much, have I?"

"Well, maybe just a little."

"Sorry, sorry." Yohji's expression became solemn. "It was too close for a while there, chibi. It's hard to remember that you're almost back on your feet."

Omi's yelp of protest at the 'chibi' almost drowned out Yohji's next statement. Almost.

"But all of you-- even Aya-- are recovering quickly. In Aya's case, despite himself." The grin was back, and Yohji looked up into the evening sky. "Pretty soon, you won't be needing me for this anymore."

Foreboding sang a chill melody along Omi's nerves at one of his rare premonitions. He stopped dead in his tracks, staring at his teammate and adopted older brother. As Yohji took the last few steps to the door, he extended his arm, stubbing his cigarette against the wall. The light of the setting sun flared red around his hand and forearm, making them look as though they were coated with blood. Sick fear brought goosebumps to Omi's skin, and for the life of him, he couldn't move a step.

They weren't common. They weren't specific. They weren't often useful. But when Omi got a premonition like this, he was almost never wrong. Something bad was going to happen to Yohji.

"Oi, Omi! Get your recovering ass inside before you manage to catch something else!" Holding the door open, Yohji's teasing broke the spell. Omi followed him inside, trying to hide his worry, as well as the frustration at not knowing exactly what to worry about.

He was going to have to keep a close eye on Yohji.


Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all, but I want more
And I'm waiting for you
- With or Without You


I'd just slipped my bag of groceries off my shoulder and was setting it on the counter when Ken stomped out to our kitchen/dining/living room.

"Watch it, Kenken, you'll take the floor out if you keep that up." I was only half-joking; this place really was falling apart, and nobody stomps like our ex-J-leaguer.

Ken threw himself onto a chair, folded his arms and settled into a sulk. I took off my coat, grabbed the coat from a preoccupied Omi, and hung the coats up. Omi shook his head, which got the frown off his face but did nothing about the worry lines on his forehead that had appeared at the very end of our little jaunt. He started putting groceries away, deliberately avoiding conversation.

Well, it looked like it was up to me to beard the soccer player in his chair. In all honesty, I didn't mind. Give me a crisis, a fight, a complicated dinner to make-- anything to keep me from remembering that yet again, I'd seen her. I'd seen her, and she couldn't possibly have been there at the grocery store, any more than she could have been waiting for the light on the street corner, walking down the corridor at the hospital, reading in a chair at the bookstore, or standing in the crowd waiting for the train.

Stop thinking, Kudoh, I told myself, this isn't going anywhere good. I distracted myself by getting Ken even more worked up. We all have our little pleasures in life.

"What's got you so pissed? No hot water again? Neighbors blasting bad music again? You disagree with the draft picks again?"

He scowled at me, more at my tone than anything else. "It's not even the right time of year for draft picks, Yohji."

"Really?" I feigned puzzlement. As though anyone could live in the same house as Ken without picking up more than he ever wanted to know about soccer. "Well, that only leaves one other guess. What's our meek and mild teammate done to you today?"

"That idiot! He ignores everything I tell him about recovering from injuries. He needs to be resting, not pushing his body into doing anything but healing!"

I aimed a pointed look at Omi; I am not the only 'mother-hen' offender in this house. But he didn't seem to be paying attention to us, which was totally out of character. Maybe that trip to the store really was too much for him...

Stop it, Kudoh, I told myself again. This is exactly the sort of crap that gets on his nerves. Omi's a big boy, the only one of us bright enough to take a break when he needs one. Focus on Aya now, as you damn well can't say the same for him. "So what's he doing today?"

"Workouts with weights. Curls, lifts-- he found some handweights. I don't know where in hell he got them from."

I didn't say anything. I like to keep up the illusion that I maintain this body without any kind of effort. Let people know you're willing to work at one thing, and they'll start expecting work in all sorts of other endeavors... like, say, a totally lame cover job.

Time to pacify. "Ken, he has lost muscle mass, and as long as he's not using his injured leg, some activity shouldn't hurt. You've done the same yourself to keep from stiffening up after an injury. And you know how marvelously well that man takes to inactivity. At least he's not playing with his katana."

"Yeah, I have done the same, but I wasn't hacking up a lung every night at the time!"

Ken did have a point. He usually doctors us; Omi knows more about biology in theory, but Ken's got a working knowledge of sports medicine and cutting-edge rehab techniques. More than one of us would likely be crippled today if it wasn't for him.

"And he's been at it for hours, Yohji. I'd be OK with maintenance work, but he's really pushing things. That idiot's just going to slow down his recovery if he keeps this up."

"So you told him this, Kenken?" And I was sure he said it in about the same tone, too, which is not the way to get Aya to listen. He doesn't exactly take well to being told that he's wrong, much less being told that he's acting like a complete idiot. It just makes him dig in his heels all the harder.

"That ass had the nerve to accuse me of being a slacker! I'm just trying to make him take care of himself!"

I let Ken spew a little while longer. It's a small space, people weren't feeling their best, and our whole future was up in the air. Not to mention that we all had nearly died. Tempers were going to flare. No one was at his most stable...

Which might explain why I keep glimpsing a dead woman every time I leave the house. I know it's a lot more likely that I'm finally cracking than it is that Asuka has somehow been resurrected yet again. Or that she's haunting me, or that she managed to survive, or any of the other tabloid explanations I've considered. I know Kritiker always expected me to snap; I checked out my dossier, read the psych profile. It was a 'when,' not an 'if,' and they figured the best they could hope for was that I'd take a whole bunch of dark beasts with me when I self-destructed.

Making my death count would be nice, but after... Damn. I just don't want to take down any more people I care about with my own hands. You'd think that would be a manageable goal, even for me.

It really was a damn good thing that Weiss was almost back to fighting strength. A good thing that Ken was better, and Omi and Aya were almost well again. A good thing that they wouldn't be needing to depend on Kudoh the vice-ridden slacker anymore. I knew it was a good thing, but mixed in with relief at the thought was something uncomfortably like fear.

Soon they wouldn't need me anymore. What the hell was I going to do then? Weiss did not need a psycho on the team, especially with all the watchers and safeguards Kritiker once had to offer now gone.

The thought circled around in my head. Over and over again: What am I supposed to do once they don't need me?

The sudden intrusion of silence broke my brooding. Ken and Omi were both staring at me. Shit. I had no freaking idea what Ken just said, but apparently it required an answer.

I tossed my head, shaking the hair back from my face. "Yare, yare. So Aya's being a bad little patient."

Ken slammed his fist against the table, which rocked up on two legs at the force of the blow. I jumped at the sudden noise. "Damn it, Yohji, can you at least listen to me for two minutes? That's all I'm asking of you!"

All of Ken's previously existing anger, with a little more added in for that an extra kick, had transferred from Aya to me. Spectacular. Before I could even start to calm Ken down, Omi broke in, smiling from the pantry.

"Yohji-kun, Ken-kun was just hoping you'd be able to get Aya to stop. He's a bit overdue for cleaning and dressing his wound; he wouldn't let Ken-kun take care of it, or me, probably, but sometimes you have more luck with Aya."

Damn if the chibi didn't blush at his own double-entendre. I'd wondered if Omi had noticed the occasional nocturnal visit between Aya and me; now I knew. Hell, if Omi didn't manage to stop blushing, even Ken would figure it out in a minute or two.

But it gave me an escape, and all Ken needed to cool down was a little time. Quick temper on that guy, but he doesn't hold a grudge. Even when he ought to.

"I'm on it." I tossed off a salute to the two of them, and made my retreat to the bathroom to gather supplies. In a moment, armed with soap, water, and medicinal goop, I knocked and entered the bedroom of the cranky redhead.

The same thought went through my head every time I saw Aya on that cheap futon, struggling against the weakness of his body: I took too long to find him.

That thought was a ceaseless whisper in my head the night I brought him back to the apartment, taking him away from the hospital against medical advice. The doctors had told me repeatedly, with great emphasis and some profanity, that I was likely killing Aya by not allowing him to remain in the hospital. If Aya hadn't been just barely capable of insisting that he wanted to leave, I would have been overruled.

I wasn't happy about taking Aya away from proper medical care, but I knew just how easy it was to find someone in a hospital. If I could do it, so could Estet. I'd already made arrangements for Aya-chan to be cared for privately; now I had to risk killing Aya myself to keep him safe from Estet.

I took too long to find him. I took too long to find him.

Aya was wheeled out to the car from the hospital. I had to carry him into the apartment, feeling his body tighten against pain with every jarring motion, his stoic silence more reproachful than a litany of complaints.

He'd been on intravenous antibiotics for 8 hours, but the fever was still frighteningly high. Every breath was a wheeze.

I took too long to find him. I took too long to find him.

I undressed him, laid him down on the futon, draped him in blankets, and gave him his dose of antibiotics and painkillers. Then I took the blankets off, and touched every inch of his body with my lips and tongue and fingers.

Of course I lingered on some areas more than others. I know that a blowjob isn't part of the recommended course of treatment for infected wounds and pneumonia. I can't say exactly what I thought I was doing.

Maybe I was trying to apologize.

Maybe I was trying to bring his attention back to his body, to ensnare his mind and soul within his skin so they couldn't escape.

Maybe I was trying to infuse my own life force into him the only way I knew how.

Maybe I was just trying to give him the only worthy gift I had. I know I don't have much to offer, but I am a master of physical pleasure, sensuality and sex. Can't ever say that the unique aspects of my childhood didn't teach me something.

The whole time, I whispered to him, "Stay. Stay, Aya, stay." I couldn't let myself babble; tired and frightened and lost as I was, I'd have said something unwanted. Something unallowable.

I anchored him to life as best I could, and swallowed his bitter climax when it came. I held him all that night, tight against me, my erection hard against his body. And somehow, he didn't die.

Ten days later, though, and still one look at him was an inescapable reminder. I took too long to find him.

Not entirely my fault, I guess. When the walls of Estet's cozy little demon-summoning temple came tumbling down, leaving us in the less than welcoming grasp of Tokyo Bay in February, Omi was the only one I could reach. Not trusting to the strength of my arms in the circumstances-- God, given my recent history how could I trust these arms, these hands, with anything precious to me?-- I bound us together with my wire. And somehow I got us to shore, got the chibi breathing again, got us to the bolthole apartment, and got our youngest settled in. That included medical treatment for the concussion and contusions courtesy of Naoe Nagi and for the rapidly settling-in pneumonia courtesy of the aforementioned bay waters.

That took some time.

Ken'd been easy to find. A few calls to nearby hospitals unearthed the young man who was taken to the hospital, drenched and suffering from hypothermia, by the people who'd nearly run him over as he'd staggered down the street. The guy's skull was sufficiently thick that Farferello hadn't done serious damage. Ken hadn't inhaled nearly as much water as Omi had-- one of those perks of remaining conscious-- and his bronchitis didn't look like it would turn more serious.

But Aya... All in all, it took me over 36 hours even to begin seriously looking for Aya. To begin doing more than just looking for recent hospital intakes suffering from hypothermia. I didn't have the excuse of injuries really worth noting, but I'm sure fatigue was a factor in just how long it took me to figure out the correct way to find my injured, hypothermic maniac who wouldn't under any circumstances let go of his katana.

Yeah, I even checked the jails before the truly obvious kicked in.

Find Aya-chan, and you've found Aya. Ran. Whatever. Forget the drop boxes, the safehouses, everything that Omi or Kritiker ever came up with to cover assorted disastrous contingencies-- find her, and you've found him.

I had two possible strategies-- search the way Ran was likely searching, hospital by hospital, probably on foot-- or search the intelligent way with a phone and computer, find her, and just wait for the redhead to appear. Though I was more than a little worried about his condition-- oh, hell, I desperately wanted to find Aya before he managed to kill himself with exhaustion and neglect-- I was tired. I did the smart thing, the whole ex-private eye thing, and found Aya-chan first.

I was betting Aya's life that he would never die until he was certain she was safe.

It wasn't a stupid bet. Aya has that inexorable will thing going. Once he sets his mind to something, no matter how beaten and battered he becomes, that thing happens. Pesky little rules of physics are swatted aside. Pain and fear and impossible barriers leapt in a single bound. That will was focused on one thing and one thing only-- protecting Aya-chan. And since even the amazing Fujimiya needs to be alive to accomplish that, he won't give up to death.

That was what I was counting on, as I kept my vigil by her bedside, a vigil for both the remaining Fujimiyas.

Still a bet, though.

I'm amazed that his sister hasn't been awakened already by the sheer force of his conviction that she will wake up. Then again, maybe she's got that inexorable will thing going, too. It might be fun to watch them go head-to-head, albeit from very, very far away.

That will-- that stubbornness-- can make him infuriating to live with. I don't romanticize it, trust me. Once he's set his mind, even on a whim, it's fixed. You can never tell him he's wrong-- if you want him to change his mind, you need to give him subtle clues, lead him down the path, let it all be his idea.

That stubbornness was what made me buy us a new toaster. Watching Ran stare down our broken toaster, just apparently willing it to work again, I had this irrational conviction that, given time, he actually would manage to force it back into operation. That would have been too creepy. I couldn't handle the thought, so I feigned impatience and went out and bought us a new toaster.

If I had a fraction of that will, I'd never have allowed Asuka to die the first time. I think he despises me a little for that weakness of mine. Fair enough.

The visual treat in front of me finally overwhelmed my brooding, which frankly, not much else had been able to do of late. Watching a shirtless Aya doing curls is a powerful, heady thing. It wasn't so much the ripple of muscles beneath that pale skin, not the sweat catching the light to highlight each contour, not the bunching and shifting of sinew with each extension and retraction...

Ahem. Not to say I didn't notice that whole sinew thing.

But for me, the fascinating thing, the thing that caught me in my chest and made my bones start to melt, was the look of absolute command on his face. Ken was right, Aya really had been pushing it, and I could pick out elements of both a grimace of effort and a frown of concentration in that expression. But overshadowing both was the glare he was aiming at his arm, commanding it to continue, to work, to defy weakness-- to obey. Yeah, the demand for obedience is what that look is all about. He wasn't even directing the look at me, and it still made me want to collapse to my knees.

The irony of Kudoh Yohji, eternal rebel against authority in any form, being captivated by that commanding gaze was not lost on me. Trust me, I hadn't been replaced by a pod person-- if he turned that look on me, I'd fight him to the last inch. Fight him, fight the part of me that would want to obey him, and fight against the corrosive, seductive pleasure that would run through my blood at knowing that in the end, I would surrender to him.

But I would fight. He'd have to work for it.

It's still a damn good thing that he's never looked at me that way.

Aya ignored me in that effortless way he has until I shut the door behind me. Then, without ever once really looking at me, he said, "Sunglasses off."

I don't understand the vendetta against my shades; he'll tolerate them if we're in public, or even in private if Ken or Omi are around. But as soon as it's just the two of us, he'll make it clear that the shades went, or he went. This quirk has been a rich source of teasing, and usually I poke at him before acceding.

I just wasn't in the mood. The glasses went onto the table by the door.

Usually it's Aya who plays the silent routine on me; I like to talk, like to bounce words off people just to see which way they go. Maybe I was just tired. I watched in silence a bit longer. Beauty is rare and always transient; I would appreciate it while I could. Aya neither played to his audience nor seemed bothered by it. The will thing again-- he'd do what he thought he had to do and everything else was irrelevant.

Of course, the fun lies in finding a way to crack that will. It's a favorite pastime of mine. I also knew that if I didn't stop Aya soon, he'd shatter the beauty of that scene by really injuring himself.

I couldn't have that.

There was no point in arguing. Ken was the expert there, and if his arguments had no effect, what could I say to make Aya stop?

Watching Aya, watching that stare, gave me another idea entirely. One that ought to leave everyone satisfied.

Once Aya started doing something, it was hard to make him stop. But sometimes, you could make him want to do something else even more.

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