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On to Part 11.

Disclaimer: Weiss and Schwarz do not belong to me. I'm borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Warnings: Yaoi. Swearing. References to past child sexual abuse. Nonconsensual sex. Bondage. Although I'm setting this a couple of years past the main series, Nagi's age combined with his actions may squick some people. Also, I'm ignoring Gluhen and the drama CDs, so don't expect this to be consistent with them.

Rating: NC-17

Pairings: Nagi x Yohji. References to Crawford x Aya-chan.

Author: The RCK
Website: http://www.therck.org
Last updated: 14 October 2003

Thanks to Amy the Evitable, Yochan, Hope of Dawn and Tritorella for beta reading, suggestions and general support.

Rheotaxis

rhe-o-tax-is: the tendency of an organism to move in response to the stimulus of a current of water, either with the current or against it

Part 10

Omi stared at the television screen. Currently, the power was off, so all he saw was blackness. But that wasn't what he saw... Scenes from the tapes kept replaying themselves on the backs of his eyelids-- Yohji eating rice from Naoe's hand. Naoe arched over Yohji's body at the moment of orgasm. Yohji hanging, pinned against the wall by Naoe's power. Yohji curled up on the floor afterward, his body shaking. Yohji crying in Naoe's arms. Omi rubbed his eyes. Worse than I expected, but...

I should go back to bed. Instead, Omi sat and listened. Ran had retreated to his practice room as soon as the second tape ended, turning off the TV without even bothering to rewind the tape or remove it from the VCR. Or say a single word to me. It may be a while before he forgives me for making him watch.

It may be a long time before I forgive myself for it.

He waited, hoping that his sister would say something, offer some comfort, but she had gone silent in the middle of the first tape. She'd continued to watch. He'd felt her tremble and had known that she was crying. His own eyes had stayed dry. And now she's curled up, trying to pretend she didn't see.

I really should go back to bed. But he continued sitting, staring at the darkened screen. Yohji throwing up. Naoe spooning soup into Yohji's mouth. Naoe walking around Yohji, inspecting him. It's all for me. Ran said. Naoe said. Even... Yohji said. All to protect me! His hands clenched slowly, nails digging into his flesh. His stomach tightened. He felt as if he had barbed wire threaded through and wrapped around his intestines. That's why Ran didn't want us to eat... before... His shoulders shook. I... I can't do this. Not now. No. He looked around the room but found no distraction.

Yohji reaching orgasm under Naoe's power... No! Omi twisted his consciousness and dived into the computer, leaving body and guilt behind.


Ken did his best to lose himself in the action on the screen. "No! Idiot! Pass. Don't show off--"

The door to his room slammed open, banging hard against the wall. Ken sat up. What the hell-- He blinked once as an angry looking young man strode in. Shit. And me still chained to the bed. Ken started to throw back his blankets then, thinking the better of it, gripped the upper edge and tugged sharply. The blankets protested, hesitated and came untucked. Not a lot of weapons to hand, but a blanket over the head will slow him down.

The newcomer stopped about a meter away and stood glaring at Ken.

Ken glared back. What do you want? He sized up his opposition. Physically tough, certainly, but I can take him. Well... I could take him. If I weren't chained. If I didn't have unhealed broken bones.  He looks familiar. Ah, Naoe. Ken sighed in frustration as a cheer from the TV told him that somebody'd managed a spectacular play. "Why couldn't you wait for half time?"

Naoe blinked.

Unexpected attack. Ken let his teeth show in a smile and was pleased to see Naoe frown. Yeah. It's not a friendly smile. I scored a point. "So what the hell do you want?"

Naoe narrowed his eyes and moved in closer.

Ken tensed, trying to figure out the best defensive moves. I'd go offensive, but I'm a little handicapped.

The chair that Crawford always used shifted a little, moving back from the side of Ken's bed and turning so that its back was to the door. Naoe sat without taking his eyes off of Ken. "We have a few things to discuss."

He's acting like I'm dangerous. I suppose for a punk kid like him... Ken reached over and pushed the appropriate buttons to pause playback of the game. If I were watching live, I would have to kill him. "I can't think of anything I have to say to you."

Naoe smiled.

Oops. Point for him.

"Crawford gave me the impression that you want a favor from me."

"Right." Ken looked dubious. "What the hell could a kid like you do for me?" Unlocking the chains would be great, but somehow I don't think so.

"Well, if you don't want to see Kudoh, I can just leave." Naoe started to get up.

Hell. Ken went still. "I won't cooperate unless I see all of them." Wait. Doesn't he work for Crawford?

Naoe settled in the chair again. He waved a dismissive hand. "The other two are Crawford's concern, but if you want to see Kudoh, you have to deal with me."

"So? It's a simple request."

"Simple? Yes, I suppose so." Naoe leaned back in his chair, keeping his eyes fixed on Ken. "Simple to make at least. But... Tell me why you think I should say yes."

"I'm not going to argue it with you. I've given Crawford my terms for what he wants." Ken looked up at the TV. "If you're done wasting my time, I've got a game to watch."

"Why do you want to see Kudoh?" There was a demanding intensity in Naoe's tone that drew Ken's attention.

Ken looked Naoe up and down, letting a certain degree of hostility leak out. "If you don't know, I sure as hell can't explain it to you."

"Try."

"Why the hell should I? Are you going to kill me if I don't? Go for it." Ken lifted his chin as if daring Naoe to move, then leveled a glare at his visitor. "Or are you just going to beat the shit out of me? Been there, done that. You don't kill me, I'll heal. I've even got those stupid little medical robots now, so I'll heal real fast."

Naoe's face set in an expression of uncompromising obstinacy. "Explain it to me." He shifted to lean forward a little bit. "Crawford's asked that I humor you, so I probably will, but it'll be on my terms. I don't have to let you into the same room with him to let you see him, and even if I do, there's no reason he has to be conscious."

Ken stared at Nagi for a moment then shrugged. "We're on the same team, him and me. You do understand about teams?" He let the tone of the question slide towards the insulting.

Naoe stood. "Oh, yes, I understand about teams. Quite well, actually. My team's won, and yours has lost. Congratulations."

Ken narrowed his eyes. "Not all the players have made their final moves yet. Don't count us out till we're dead." I might still win. Hm. If you're playing on your own, you might actually be more competition than Crawford. That's okay. I've got more experience. I can take you. Amateur. He curled his lip in just the slightest trace of a sneer.

Naoe leaned in closer. "Kudoh's mine. Whatever the hell Crawford thinks you can do for him--" He waved a dismissive hand. "I don't care. And--" Nagi's voice lowered to a near hiss. "If you cause me trouble, I will retaliate." His fingers curled around the back of the chair, and his knuckles whitened from the pressure he applied.

What the fuck is his problem? Ken smiled warmly, well aware that nothing else he could do would piss Naoe off nearly as much. He made a flicking motion with the fingers of one hand. "Been there, done that," he said softly. Do you really think you can face me down like this? I've faced tougher than you at friendly practice sessions. Amateur.

Naoe seemed to make a conscious decision to relax. He straightened and removed his hand from the chair. He tilted his head slightly to one side. "Do you even like Kudoh? Or is he just someone who's been useful and might be again?"

"Hey, why ask me? I'm just the goalie; I don't make plans or policy."

Naoe paused for a moment as if considering Ken's words then nodded slightly, narrowing his eyes slightly as if in thought.

I just gave him something. What? Shit. He's shifted the ground. That sort of thing's more Yohji's game... or Omi's. Ken bared his teeth a little. Okay, Naoe, you got one past me. Not going to happen again.

"Do you even like him?" Nagi asked again. He leaned on the back of the chair and regarded Ken with a serious expression.

"Yohji?" Damn. I suck at lying. "He... he smokes too much. He drinks too much. He eats crap." What are you after so I can keep you from getting it...?

"Does he practice safe sex?"

Ken gaped at Naoe but, after a moment, pulled his expression together. "How the hell should I know? He's stupid about everything else with his body." He knew that his eyes probably revealed his evasion. I know because Omi'd skin him if he were that dumb. They had enough fights over the smoking and drinking.

Naoe nodded as if he'd expected that answer. "You noted his other bad habits, and they bother you." He sat down again.

"That wasn't a question." Ken forced himself not to look away. I'm not giving ground to you.

"No, it wasn't. I didn't think it needed to be." Naoe paused and gave Ken an inquisitive look. "Unless you have something to add?"

And he's mostly good at showing me what he wants to. Mostly... Ken let one side of his mouth quirk upward. "Is there more you want to know? I'm not going anywhere right now." He gestured toward the chains. "You have the advantage." And you damn well need it. He did his best to convey his thought with his posture and expression. Punk kid. Think you're ready for the big league?

Naoe shifted uneasily in his chair then sat up straight and smiled. "I'd have the advantage even if you weren't restrained. I could just call in a telepath and dig those answers out." He leaned forward. "I have enough pull to get someone good. Not Schuldig-- He might damage that delicate brain of yours-- That's really all Crawford cares about anyway."

Ooh. Overkill. I'm so scared. Ken snorted his derision. "If it were that simple, you wouldn't bother talking to me." And if all Crawford was interested in was my brain, he wouldn't bother about my broken bones. Why the hell is he bothering?

"Actually, it's too simple to trouble someone else. You're not really that complicated." Naoe waved a dismissive hand. "You're not capable of being a threat."

That's not what you think or you wouldn't have to say it. Point for me. "If all your questions have been answered," Ken replied, "you can get the hell out of here and let me watch my game." That would be nice.

Naoe looked Ken up and down, his eyes lingering on the obvious remnants of Ken's injuries. "You've given me some new questions to think about. What a pity it's unlikely we'll have the opportunity for any deep intellectual conversations."

Ken met Naoe's eyes and held the gaze. Don't count me down until you're sure, brat. Assumptions cost you. Want me to shake in fear, do you? Not a chance. "I don't do deep intellectual. I've got better things to do with my time-- Like counting the speckles on the ceiling." He waved his hand, deliberately making the chains clatter. "You go ahead and start without me. I'm sure you can carry both sides of the conversation." He leaned back against his pillows and raised the remote. "Or are you going to threaten me again?"

"Oh, I'll let you see Kudoh." Naoe's eyes narrowed. "I'll even let you talk to him. Just remember, though, that he's mine. I won't let anyone take him away. Be very careful, Hidaka-san-- Insanity does not preclude misery."

Ken stared at the doorway for a few minutes after Naoe left. He's right, damn it. He forced himself to look at the television screen and pushed the button on the remote. I'll just have to pull this off. No room for mistakes. No room for weakness. No room for distraction.


Ouka might have continued looking inward if she hadn't felt her-- Omi's-- body lifted from the chair in which it rested. She stiffened reflexively, and the fact that the body responded told her that her brother was absent. He ran away. He couldn't face it either.

"Omi--" Ran's voice held both frustration and affection. "I thought you didn't want to risk being found out of bed." He pulled Ouka in close to his chest. "Sorry to wake you. Though how you could sleep after watching that..."

I must be rattled. I know better than to respond. But he knows I'm awake now. "I wasn't sleeping," Ouka responded, trying to capture Omi's inflections. "I was thinking." Yeah, and I'd better think fast now. With my luck, he's going to want to talk now, and I don't understand him the way nii-san does. "I can walk, you know."

Ran shrugged, and she felt the muscles of his chest move against her-- Omi's-- arm. Then he swung her down to her feet. She stumbled a little and grabbed at him for balance. He steadied her then stepped back. He regarded her steadily. "Thinking?" She thought she saw traces of anger in his expression.

But it's a lot less than it was. The workout must have helped. He's going to ask what my conclusion are now, isn't he? She blinked, realizing that she'd been staring at him for just a little too long. She sighed. "Nothing good, Ran-kun." She turned and started walking back to her-- Omi's-- bedroom.

She heard Ran following her. Great. He does want to talk. She decided to take the offensive. "I was imagining worse. Much worse." She sighed and straightened her shoulders. What would nii-san say? "It shouldn't have happened at all. If I'd just paid closer attention to what Kritiker was planning..." Then what? There wasn't anywhere to run.

Ran settled himself in the chair as Ouka moved carefully toward the bed. "Were there signs from Kritiker?"

Ouka used climbing into bed to cover her hesitation. "Nothing obvious." She went over the details in her head. I wasn't paying enough attention to what nii-san was paying attention to. Let's see... "Well, there were rumors of new alliances, of a new big player. I couldn't get anything solid, certainly nothing that hinted at-- This." She waved a hand around in a vaguely all encompassing gesture. "It was more like... Remember when Kritiker merged with that group out of Singapore? Like that but bigger." She snorted derisively. "Something to give them-- us--" She shrugged. "Them more reach, more resources." The irony appealed to her. "And it does, doesn't it?" She shook her head.

Ran did not look amused.

Well, he wouldn't, would he? She leaned back against the pillows and sighed. "Ran-kun, I'm sorry we had to watch that, but we had to. I needed the data." Do I sound like nii-san? Who cares? Nii-san's the one that ran away and left me. He can explain it if Ran-kun starts asking questions.  "And what I was imagining was worse..."

"Hn." Ran didn't sound entirely convinced.

"Once we get out of here--" Don't admit that we might not. Nii-san wouldn't. "I'm going to have to know if I'm going to help him recover, and... It affects our plans for escape. As it is... We still have a gap in our intelligence. I-- we-- don't know how damaged Yohji-kun is now." She twisted her hands in the sheets. "They were drugging him. I'm sure of that."

Ran frowned and shook his head slightly. Then he stilled for a moment. "What makes you think so?"

Ouka sighed. "He was too slow, made some stupid mistakes, and he over-reacted, was too emotional. Some of that was probably deliberate, trying to deceive Nagi, but some of it..."

"Nagi?" Sudden anger froze Ran's expression. "Since when are we on intimate terms with Naoe?"

Moron. "Yohji-kun thinks of him as Nagi," she explained carefully. "Whether we want to be or not, we're entangled with him. Yohji-kun is. By now... By the time we get out, he'll probably be quite dependent. We can't pretend he isn't or demand that it not be true." So help me, if you upset Yohji on this, I will kill you. I don't care what nii-san says. I don't think we need you that badly.

Ran shrugged. "So we kill Naoe. That'll take care of it." He stood and started pacing. "Killing him will be a pleasure."

"No." Ouka heard ice in her voice. "He's not yours to kill. Under no circumstances. Whether he dies or not is up to Yohji. Not you. Not me. Not-- Only Yohji."

Ran stopped and stared at her. "Omi?"

Oops...


Okay, Naoe's got home turf advantage. On top of everything else. Bet he decides how long I stay, too. As if I weren't already playing with a handicap. Ken looked down at his lap, carefully hiding his sour expression. He couldn't quite ignore the chair moving under him or-- My damn leg. Everything else is healing fine. Why the hell? I did not 'strain it excessively!' I don't care what the damn doctors say. He sighed. Okay. Maybe I shouldn't have kept trying to walk on it. He closed his eyes for a moment. At least, I persuaded them to hold off on the surgery until after I talk to the guys.

The chair shuddered and jumped a little as it passed over some invisible imperfection in the floor of the corridor, and the nurse pushing it murmured a soft apology in Taisken.

He didn't bother to respond. Compliment in a way, giving me an unpowered chair. Hints at thinking I could actually do something if mobile. He glanced quickly to either side, taking another opportunity to size up his guards. Tough but not impossible, especially when they're not supposed to kill me. Assuming I could stand... Even that wouldn't matter if I had, say, a handful of Omi's darts.

A sudden turn interrupted his thoughts. He looked up and found himself facing a closed door. The nurse stepped around his chair and pressed her hand against a colored spot on the wall. The door slid open silently, and she quickly pushed Ken's chair through. The guards remained outside.

He looked around quickly, trying to size up the room without surrendering the initiative, but before he'd gotten more than a general impression of a comfortable and definitely earth-like, in a rather Western style, living area, he found his attention riveted. Naoe sat on one end of dark blue couch. Yohji lay across the rest of it with his eyes closed and his head in Naoe's lap.

Naoe met Ken's eyes and smiled. Naoe's fingers moved lazily, possessively through Yohji's hair.

Ken's eyes narrowed. Thinks he's already won. He's definitely scored points. He didn't bother to turn as the nurse murmured a polite greeting and backed out of the room. She doesn't matter here, now.

Naoe's hand stilled. "Yohji-kun, I have a surprise for you--"

Yohji's eyes opened slowly then suddenly flew wide as he spotted Ken. Yohji went white and struggled to sit up. Naoe flattened his hand against the side of Yohji's head and pushed him back down, holding him in place.

He didn't expect me, doesn't want to see me. Ken's chest seemed to tighten. I'm not welcome-- Yohji's sudden movement shifted the baggy sweatshirt he was wearing and revealed a fading collar of bruises. Ken's head jerked slightly as he started cataloging details. He's fucking skeletal. Given the nanites, those bruises can't be more than a couple of days old-- What else is that shirt hiding? He clenched his hands on the arms of his chair, looked at Naoe and gave an inarticulate snarl.

Yohji went utterly still. "Please--" His plea was barely audible.

Ken pushed himself up, preparing to lever himself out of the chair onto his good leg. Using the bad one won't hurt too much-- Just once. That's all it'll take to get my hands around that bastard's throat. He growled low in his throat.

An unexpected force slammed Ken back into his chair.

"Relax," Naoe said to Yohji. "You're still in bad shape."

Yohji craned his neck to look up at Naoe. "Please, Nagi-san."

Ken pushed hard against Naoe's power, trying desperately to free himself. Damn it! Let me at him--

Nagi barely spared a glance for Ken. "It matters that much to you, Yohji-kun?"

"Yes." Yohji's voice remained steady, but he spoke in a near whisper. He squeezed his eyes closed just for a second. "Please, let me up."

Ken clenched his jaw and struggled for words. The edges of his vision narrowed down so that all he could see was Yohji... and Naoe.

Naoe hesitated for a moment as if considering. "Very well." He used both hands to lift Yohji into a sitting position, pulling him close so that their thighs touched.

"Bastard--" Ken spat the word at Naoe. "What the hell have you done to him? Those fucking bruises--" He clenched his fists, almost feeling the solid grip of his claws.

"Ken! Ken, no--" Yohji twisted his hair between his fingers. "Ken, please calm down."

Behind Yohji, Naoe smiled, letting smugness show obviously.

Ken snarled and reached toward Naoe. If I can just get my hands on him--

"Ken--" Yohji's tone became more urgent. "It was-- The bruises-- Schuldig... hurt me. Nagi-san... rescued me. Really."

Ken hesitated. Something's wrong. Very wrong. He flattened his expression and looked sharply at Yohji. I am supposed to trust my instincts... Where's his confidence? Yohji doesn't play to lose. Not normally. "Shut up, Yohji." Ken tried and failed to gentle his voice. "You've got nothing to say as long as that smug son of a bitch is sitting next to you." Ken focused his attention on Naoe. "Well?" Why shouldn't I kill you? I doubt you've got a reason.

Naoe shrugged. "I'm sure Yohji-kun can speak for himself."

"I'm not asking him." Ken caught Naoe's eyes and held the glare.

"You're the one who demanded to speak to him."

Ken nodded slightly. Denying it won't win me any points. "I don't recall including you in the terms."

"You didn't expect to set all the terms, did you?" Naoe gave Ken an ironic smile and reached over to run his hand down Yohji's back.

Keep your temper, Hidaka. He's trying to get you angry so he can slip one past you. "That doesn't make me happy to accept them." He looked again at Yohji, wishing he were better at reading people. If our positions were reversed, he'd have a damned good idea what was going on. He's still, not objecting but... Not flirting either. I don't get it. No. He shook his head minutely. Don't look at Yohji. Look at Naoe.

Naoe put a hand on Yohji's shoulder and squeezed. Yohji's shoulder twitched slightly, but he didn't react otherwise.

Possessive. Like Yohji's something valuable, something I should envy Naoe for... owning. Ken's jaw clenched. I've seen this before. Some of our targets with their pretty ladies-- Oh. Fuck. That's what the son of a bitch meant when he kept saying Yohji was his. "Yohji--" Tell me I'm wrong. Please. He glared briefly at Naoe before focusing his attention fully on Yohji. Ken flicked his fingers briefly. Backup? If we coordinate, we can probably kill him, even with my bum leg. Hell, Yohji ought to be able to take him. Naoe's not guarding against Yohji at all. Ken frowned at Yohji. Why haven't you killed him?

Yohji didn't respond for a moment. Then his eyes met Ken's briefly. He shook his head once, almost imperceptibly, then raised a hand to place his fingers lightly on Naoe's hand. "I'm fine, Ken." His voice was soft, almost flat, and his smile seemed forced. He lowered his hand to his lap.

Bullshit. "Even I'm not that dumb." Ken couldn't keep a certain bitterness out of his tone. But everybody always assumes I am. You'd think that'd change over the years. "You're not here by choice."

Yohji's expression sharpened briefly. "I do swing both ways, Ken, and he's not... unattractive."

Careful. Yohji's not the opposition here. Naoe... Ken spared a brief glance at Naoe. Yes. This is what we're fighting about. How can I shake him? Ah, yes. "He's too young for you, Yohji. Is he even 18?"

Naoe stiffened slightly.

Yes! A hit. Ken carefully concealed his triumph.

Yohji shrugged slightly and didn't answer. One of his hands crept to his hip, patting as if in search of a pocket. After a second, he snatched it back to his lap and wrapped his fingers tightly around his other hand.

That has to hurt.

"I'm old enough," Naoe stated.

"Really?" Ken let his tone emphasize how much he really didn't care. "You don't look it." That's right. You're a kid, an upstart puppy. You can't challenge me. I don't have to take you seriously. He looked Naoe directly in the eyes and smiled. I was playing these games before you started shaving.

Naoe smiled slightly in return, baring his teeth. "Your opinion isn't the one that matters here." He tugged on Yohji's shoulder. His face remaining blank, Yohji leaned back against Naoe and sighed.

He's not comfortable, is he? Naoe can't see his face right now, but... everything else... Ken kept his own face equally blank.

After a moment, Yohji half closed his eyes. He regarded Ken with a lazy half-smile, Kudoh the self-satisfied hedonist.

Ken couldn't quite keep his eyes from widening. He doesn't mean that! He fucking can't mean that! Not with the enemy! Not after how they've obviously treated him-- No, he never means it when he looks like that, but there must be a reason. He narrowed his eyes again. What's Yohji getting out of it? I don't think he enjoys being hurt. Or is he just making the best deal he can without the rest of us? Crawford said Yohji was different from Ran or Omi. Maybe... God knows how long Naoe's been working on him. Fucking Stockholm syndrome.

"I'm glad you're so sure of yourself." Ken inclined his head slightly trying to look unimpressed. "They say building self-confidence is an important part of growing up." Yohji wouldn't make a deal without the rest of us, would he? No. I know him better than that. But I've thought that before-- Ken shook his head slightly, trying to dislodge the doubts building there. Stockholm syndrome. Got to be.

Yohji turned his head away and stared at the wall.

"So how is your leg today, Hidaka-san?" Naoe's tone seemed innocent.

Too innocent. Ken glared at Naoe. "Still broken. Still not healing right. They'll operate tomorrow." He tried to split his attention to keep track of Yohji's reactions, but Ken's mind, honed by years of competition, focused on Naoe as the only other real player.

"Operate?" Naoe tangled his fingers in Yohji's hair. "That sounds bad, but I suppose," he said idly, "that the nanites can't work all the time." His fingers traced the curves of Yohji's ear.

Fake. He's after some damn thing. Why can't I see it? "The doctors say that it happens sometimes." Ken just managed not to spit the words. "Broken bones are tricky if they need setting because the nanites can't do that. Of course--" What does he want?

"Of course?" Naoe raised his eyebrows.

Damn. I've lost the advantage. It's his ball now. Ken shrugged. "The bone'd been set already, pretty damn carefully." He bared his teeth. "For some reason, Crawford cares." Did Yohji twitch? He doesn't look like he's listening. Of course, this is Yohji.

Yohji closed his eyes and seemed to sag against Naoe. Yohji's jaw slackened a little, and his hands relaxed their grip on each other.

Ken blinked. Artful, but I've watched you at work before, Yohji. He wasn't sure if he was more annoyed or admiring. But it's not really believable here. Not unless Naoe's stupid, and I don't think he is. Yohji's not normally that... clumsy.

Naoe nudged Yohji. "Hidaka-san made a special trip to see you, Yohji-kun, even though he's not feeling well. The least you can do is stay awake." He sounded amused, as if Yohji were a child doing something naughty that only child might expect to get away with.

Yohji gave a shuddering sigh and opened his eyes. He looked at Ken. "Thank you for stopping by." His voice remained flat, just barely above a whisper.

Is he hurting? Well, obviously he is physically, but-- Ken forced a certain gentleness into his words. "I just wanted to see how you're doing." And I can't fucking tell...

"I'm fine, Ken." Yohji sounded both weary and annoyed.

Ken frowned then made his face as serene as he could. "I'm glad to hear that." And I might believe it if you didn't sound so much like you always do after a nightmare. You just don't want to talk about it. You never want to talk about it. Hell, Yohji, what do you think buddies are for? At least, Ran admits there's shit he's not talking about; you always pretend nothing's wrong.

"Well, now you know." Yohji looked away again.

He's pulling away again. Fuck. He's got about as much life as he did right after he killed Neu. Or is that an act? "Yohji..." Ken shook his head, unsure what to say next. He cleared his throat. "Have you talked to any of the others?" What am I supposed to talk to him about? Ken looked at Naoe, willing him to leave. Sadly, that's not my psychic power.

Naoe met Ken's eyes and showed no sign of moving. What the hell is he thinking? He set up the playing field, so he must know the rules.

Yohji didn't respond to Ken's words until Naoe nudged him again. Yohji twitched then shook his head. He looked at his hands. "That... hasn't been allowed."

"The other two are Crawford's," Naoe said, as if that explained everything.

Ken snarled, his frustration coalescing into anger at Naoe. "Stop talking like people are fucking things!" He clenched his hands into fists. Stop talking like my friends are just game pieces--

Yohji flinched, pulling briefly away from Naoe. Yohji froze suddenly and a look of almost panic flashed across his face. After a moment, he sighed and leaned back again.

What the hell was that?

"There's no reason to get so upset." Naoe sounded amused. "It's not as if you didn't already know that." He wrapped an arm around Yohji's torso, pulling him in close.

Ken couldn't quite suppress another snarl, and he wasn't sure if it was prompted by Naoe's words, Naoe's action or Yohji's acceptance of both. Whose side is he on? "You're asking me to act like I like it."

Yohji met Ken's eyes. "The situation is what it is."

"That's crap, Yohji! Fucking defeatist crap." You can't win if you act like you've already lost! Ken clenched his hands, gauging the distance between himself and Yohji. If I could get over there, I'd beat some fucking sense into you, Kudoh!

Yohji shrank back under Ken's gaze, and Naoe tightened his arm around Yohji's chest. "Don't worry, Yohji-kun." Naoe's tone was soothing, but his eyes widened in triumph. "Everything will be fine." He started massaging Yohji's neck and shoulders.

Ken felt his expression go flat. "Get. Your. Hands. Off. Him."

Yohji tensed slightly then relaxed under Nagi's hands. His expression didn't falter. "I'm fine where I am, Ken."

Naoe smirked.

Ken's fingers dug into the padding on the arms of his chair. The cloth covering ripped under the pressure, and he found himself with handfuls of foam.

"What, Hidaka-san? Would you rather have your hands on him?" Naoe raised his eyebrows, sharp mockery in his voice.

Ken's instinctive reaction pressed his body against the back of his chair. He fought to conceal his revulsion. I'm not giving him that. He sat up straight, leaned forward slightly and glared at Naoe. The suggestion's obscene. I wouldn't do that to a teammate. Even if we both wanted to-- Which I don't, and he--

Yohji had gone white. His face suddenly appeared even more gaunt. He huddled against Naoe as if seeking protection.

From me? What the hell did I do? "You got a problem, Kudoh?" Stop cowering against him, Yohji. It's not like he's taking good care of you, and-- You're a guy; you don't need him. Ken found he couldn't meet Yohji's eyes. It's not like I never thought about it, but... Too messy. I can't have sex just be sex, and anything else-- Kills the team. Ken meet Naoe's eyes, issuing a wordless challenge. He doesn't belong to you.

Doesn't he? Naoe's slight smile seemed to say.

Not if I can help it. Their eyes remained locked.

Naoe's smile broadened. Do you want me to prove it? He mouthed the words distinctly.

Without a conscious decision, Ken flicked his eyes sideways to look at Yohji. The other man was once again groping for a non-existent pocket. He wouldn't meet Ken's eyes. Ken frowned. What is he-- Oh. Cigarettes. "No cancer sticks?"

Yohji's questing hand stilled. "No." He looked away. "That hasn't been allowed either." He raised his hand in front of his face and looked at it intently.

Just a bit of a tremor there. Ken sighed, feeling a bit of his anger draining away. "At least, one good thing comes out of this fucking mess."

"Gee, thanks, Ken." Yohji didn't bother hiding his sarcasm.

That's the Yohji I know. Ken smiled faintly. "Any time." His smile widened a little as he noticed a slight frown on Naoe's face. Oh, yes, I know him. We can joke. Can you do that?

Yohji's expression went flat again. He sighed and let his head fall gently against Naoe's shoulder.

That's by choice.

"Give it some time, Yohji-kun. Eventually, you won't miss them anymore." Naoe shifted Yohji so that they could look each other in the face.

"Hai," Yohji responded softly.

Not so much agreement as acknowledgment. But for once I agree with Naoe. Except... Are they talking about cigarettes?

Naoe laughed softly. "If you disagree with me, you might as well say so. I'm not about to let you start smoking again, but... Having your own views is allowed." He lifted Yohji's chin and leaned in for a gentle looking kiss.

Yohji closed his eyes, turned his body and molded it against Naoe's.

Ken blinked. What the hell? Why is he-- He's cooperating. He can't be! He opened his mouth but couldn't think of anything to say. Come on, Hidaka! You look like a moron. He managed to shut his mouth just as the other two men broke off the kiss and turned to look at him. Ken cleared his throat. Calm. Act calm. "You two should get a room." The humor he'd intended was somehow absent. How can you do that, Yohji? With him of all people?

Just for a moment, a profound pain shadowed Yohji's eyes. Then he smiled. "We have a room, Ken. You chose to visit." Yohji's fingers moved quickly, carefully repeating the same signals just outside of Naoe's field of view. Fake a fight. Attack me.

How the hell am I supposed to do that? I can't fucking stand up. Oh. I'm an idiot. Words. But why? Screw it. Either I trust Yohji or I don't, and god knows I'm angry enough. Of course, he ought to know I'm no fucking good at this sort of thing. "Well, Yohji, I guess I thought you might be in trouble, might need help--" Ken spread his hands. Shit, Yohji! I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on. "But it looks like you've figured out how to take care of yourself," he added bitterly. "Good thing you found somebody willing to buy."

Naoe's eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth to speak. Before Naoe could make a sound, Yohji leaned forward and snarled at Ken, "You know what, Ken? Fuck you! You got no right to say anything about my choices. None. Just get the hell out of here!" He shook with rage.

Naoe put a steadying hand on Yohji's shoulder. "I think you should leave now, Hidaka-san." His eyes glittered with malicious triumph. "Perhaps this visit was a bad idea."

Is he trying to keep Naoe happy? Nothing else makes sense, but... Ken swallowed against a sick rage. He found he couldn't look at Yohji. "Maybe it was." He curled his lips in a bitter sneer. "I thought there was something worthwhile here. Guess I was wrong." If I could walk-- Yohji needs some sense knocked into his thick head. Damn it! What the hell is he thinking? If I stay, maybe I can do something. Damned if I know what, but... Something.

"Just get out, Ken," Yohji said firmly.

Ken opened his mouth to protest then felt his chair turning under him. Naoe's final move. Ken slammed a fist into the arm of the chair. Damn it! The little shit won. Ken looked back over his shoulder as his chair rolled toward the door. He forced his jaw to relax enough to speak. Give Yohji a little more for whatever the hell he's trying to do-- "I really thought better of you, Yohji. I really did."


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