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Yohji had been out. Late.
He came back smelling of booze and smoke, dark glasses worn even in the depths of night hiding whether he'd partaken of more potent stuff. He didn't stagger as if he were drunk, though. Just sort of ghosted upstairs to his room and shut the door and stayed there, peculiarly silent.
Aya padded down the hall, mindful of the creaks in certain floorboards, stood hesitating outside Yohji's door in uncertainty - - then changed his mind and skulked back to his own room. Yohji hadn't mentioned he was going out. He usually did. He'd just left without a word and the house had been empty of his presence - - never mind Omi and Ken - - for hours on end until he came back. It bothered Aya - - that Yohji's presence or lack thereof could effect him so. Could tie his nerves up in a knot and not let loose until that particular presence was back and accounted for. It was a weakness, Aya thought, that had come upon him unawares. Maybe it had been there before he'd began sharing Yohji's bed on a regular basis. He wasn't quite sure, somewhat baffled by the whole slip slid into a relationship that he hadn't been looking for and certainly hadn't expected. He been sorely bereft of mental balance there for a while, with Yohji tipping the scales on the one hand and - - other distractions on the other - - the last year of Aya's life had hardly been a placid one. Not that the years proceeding had been much better. Tranquillity was a foreign thing. It was hard to accept now, ensconced within this quaint apartment, over a boatmaker's shop, with a canal outside one's bedroom window and the versatile city of Venice surrounding it all. Hard to relax and let the tension go. Hard to fight off the nightmares.
He tried. He tried very hard to banish it from his mind. To push away the fears and the pain. Not so much for himself as for Yohji and to a lesser extent, Ken and Omi. They were all annoying, overprotective nuisance's when they put their collective minds to it. They all knew. And he hadn't wanted that. Had desperately not wanted to share that dark turmoil - - but Shuldig had been bitingly blasé about revealing it and Omi had heard and absorbed and put things together. And of course Omi had told Ken.
Yohji's knowledge had been all Aya's fault. Yohji had been a shoulder to cry on and in a moment of drug induced weakness, Aya had spilled the secret. So now he had the lot of them worrying over him. He hated it on most levels, except maybe in some deep, deep vulnerable place that was desperately grateful that at least there was someone out there that cared enough to take an interest.
That was the place that Yohji got to. That needy, shriveled part of his soul that thrived on human contact and human support and human protection. He'd gone a long time denying that part of himself existed - - longer still accepting that Yohji was the person to fill it. He still wasn't sure Yohji was, but it was hard not imagining him here, anyway.
That little light of philosophy made him bite his lip and glance over his shoulder at the door down the hall. Actions that might have been characteristic a year ago, were not so much now. His hair had been on end since Yohji had come back - - his nerves on edge - - and his senses rarely ever deceived him. It occurred to him that somewhere along the way he'd gained the right to be curious about late night sojourns and mysterious comings and goings. It occurred to him that it mattered, which in and of itself almost made him retreat into the sanctuary of his own room.
But not quite.
He walked back down the hall and knocked lightly on the door with its warped boards and garish yellow paint. It had been that shade when they'd come and Yohji hadn't bothered to change it to something less offensive.
Aya opened to the door to that query. Found Yohji sitting in the window sill over looking the canal, smoking. He blew out a breath of smoke and smiled.
"Hey. You still up?"
Aya didn't respond to the obvious, just shut the door quietly behind him and leaned there, staring across the shadowed room.
"I didn't hear you leave."
Yohji shrugged. "Just felt the urge to go out and dance. Haven't been for a while."
Aya tilted his head, frowning a little, not quite thinking that answer a lie, but not quite believing it either.
"You didn't say you were going." He pointed out.
Yohji's smile grew lazy and little mischievous. "Did you miss me, baby?"
Aya narrowed his eyes, not bothering with his usual rejoinder to that endearment. Yohji was too obviously looking for it. Too obviously trying to elude something else
"No." He turned for the door, irritated and angry at himself for allowing Yohji flippant attitude to get to him.
"Hey." Yohji was up, more nimble than he usually was when he was drunk and hurrying to the door before Aya could retreat through it. "Don't leave pissed off."
"I'm not." Yohji had a hand on the jamb before his face, blocking exit. Aya stared pointedly at the arm, then swung his gaze up to Yohji.
"Sure." Yohji agreed without agreeing, a lazy grin touching his lips. "Whatever you say, Aya."
The speech was light, playfully taunting, but still - - underneath it -- was something else. If he hadn't known Yohji so painfully well, he would have missed it.
If he wanted to hide things from Aya - - well that was fine. It was most certainly his prerogative - - it wasn't as if he knew all Aya's deepest darkest secrets. It wasn't as if there was some spoken agreement to honesty.
Trust was another matter.
Yohji leaned close, brushing his cheek against Aya's hair, murmuring that Aya should stay. He smelled faintly of some expensive perfume. It was hardly a fragrance that Yohji owned. There was a smear of red on his collar. It would have been nice if it were blood, but it had the shade and color of bold lipstick. Aya put a hand on Yohji's chest and forced him back.
"Not tonight." Aya said flatly, unwarranted visions of female hands and female lips hovering near Yohji's ear. He disliked having them. Intensely. Hated the notion of himself afflicted by jealously.
Yohji shrugged and let him go. Too easy. Too, too willing to give up that fight. Not like him at all. Too willing to let Aya slip away unchallenged. He stood at his door watching though, as Aya returned to his room. He felt his eyes on his back. Then he shut his door and stood there, not quite able to hear the sound of the other door closing down the hall.
Shouldn't have cared, really. Shouldn't have stood there wondering who Yohji had been out dancing with. Yohji did it all the time - - or he used to. Yohji had always been on the prowl. Had always come home smelling of women and wine and other things. It hadn't mattered then. It didn't now.
He flopped down on his bed, firming that notion in his mind. Just because they'd slept together - - it didn't mean they were - - shudder - - dating or anything that might elicit fidelity.
He threw an arm across his eyes, concentrating on nothing but the feel of cool skin over his face, and the sound of his whispering breaths - - because his thoughts were flying quite drastically out of control considering the proportion of the perceived sleight. Foolish, foolish, foolish to be upset over Yohji being Yohji. Foolish to let his imagination conjure things that might not have even happened. Foolish to let a night of wondering where he was, snowball into bald suspicion. Concentrate instead on the sound of the lazy ceiling fan. Of the soft feel of cotton under his back. Of the permeating sound of the canals that wove their way through this city like life giving veins.
It would hardly matter to him if Yohji decided to go back to his tomcatting ways. No reason it should - - save perhaps that he'd reached some sort of comfort zone in the past weeks and it was natural for a body to rebel against threat to such a rare state.
Fuck. Aya was pissed and for once of late, Yohji just didn't have the wherewithal to chase down the root of the irritation and try and soothe it. Not that he always could with Aya - - Aya having the tendency to hold onto his grudges with fatalistic tenacity. But more often than not of late, he could usually get himself out of the direct path of those cold glares and eternal silences by a bit of sweet talking, a little physical manipulation - - which Aya was surprisingly susceptible to - - and simple luck.
But not tonight. Tonight he had things on his mind that he didn't want or need Aya getting hints of. He didn't want any of them suspecting, because the particular deal with the devil he was contemplating didn't involve Aya or Ken or Omi. Just him. Pay a price and reap a reward. He'd wanted the reward without the favor in advance, but he should have known that wasn't how Krittiker worked. They didn't do favors for free. Not when the askee had resources they could plunder. And god, hadn't his timing been just grand. Approach them for his favor to discover they had a bigger one in the immediate works that he was just too perfectly suited for. Almost like they'd set it up - - but he knew that was impossible.
He didn't have to accept the job. He had no obligations to them - - that Weiss had made perfectly clear when they'd broken with the organization. They weren't on payroll. They weren't under anyone's command. If they took jobs for the organization, it was on their own terms and at their own discretion. And they worked as a team - - - Only they didn't want Weiss for this - - they only wanted Yohji. And it was no simple thing they wanted him for. No quick, easy assignment. They'd given him the bare details last night - - or tonight, he supposed considering he'd yet to shut his eyes. Enough information to let him know what he'd be letting himself in for, but not enough to compromise himself or anyone else if he chose to turn the offer down. He did have that option. He could look for what he wanted elsewhere - - and maybe find it if he turned over enough stones, or maybe not - - if his quarry were elusive enough. Krittiker had resources that he did not.
He settled back against his pillows, hunting for the stub of the cigarette he'd put out when Aya had come knocking. Stared out the leaded crystal windows at his bedside at the purpling shadows of dawn on the buildings across the narrow canal.
He needed that information. Badly. He needed Krittiker's help in utilizing it. Aya did, though he wouldn't appreciate Yohji taking steps to acquire it. Aya would be downright furious.
Yohji sighed. Took the last drag off the butt and stubbed it out in the ashtray on the window ledge. He shrugged out of his pants and his shirt, hesitating when he saw the smudge of lipstick on his collar.
Oh. No wonder Aya had gotten that narrow look in his eyes. It had been very loud at the club he'd met his contact at and this newest of Krittiker contacts had the tendency to lay hands and other parts of her body on a person in closer quarters. He wouldn't be surprised if he had lipstick on his jaw and ear from the number of times she'd had to press her lips against him just to be heard over the music. Wonderful. Just perfect. Six hours to make his decision - - time was that critical - - and that was damned little space in which to get Aya over a righteous pique. Not if Yohji were to take off to spots unknown for an indefinite period of time immediately thereafter.
"Breakfast?" Omi smiled cheerfully, spatula in hand, turning thick cut slices of bread on the grill while Ken seared a concoction of eggs, tomatoes and ham in a black iron frying pan.
"Breakfast Bruschetta." Omi clarified and Aya wrinkled his nose at the smell of the prosciutto. He waved a negative hand and went for a tea bag and the hot water in its pot at the back of the stove. The kitchen did not smell of cigarette smoke, there were no butts in the ashtray and no uncleaned coffee cup on the table, which meant Yohji hadn't been in for breakfast. It might be likely he was still asleep - - but Aya hadn't gotten the feeling of inhabitance when he'd passed his room. Of course Omi would know, Omi keeping track of the lot of them like a worried mother hen, even though the lot of them were perfectly capable of seeing to themselves. But asking would be - - awkward. It wasn't as if they didn't know what he and Yohji were up to behind closed doors - - and sometimes in the hall if Yohji got him in the right mood - - and occasionally in the shower and once on the kitchen table - - he shook his head to stop that looping train of thought and stared venomously into the darkening water in his cup. He didn't like to flaunt it. He didn't like to make Ken or Omi uncomfortable with the goings on in the room down the hall. They must have been scandalized. How could they not be? Aya was scandalized and he was a participant. Yohji said they didn't care, but Aya wasn't quite certain he believed him. Yohji said it didn't matter if they did, and Aya wasn't quite certain he held faith with that either.
"He left way, way early this morning." Ken glanced over to Aya and proceeded to inform him about things he hadn't actually asked. "If you ask me, he probably never went to sleep at all, him seeing this side of noon and all and looking like he'd been run over by a truck."
Aya took a sip of over steeped tea. "I didn't ask."
Ken slanted him a look. Shrugged and went back to cooking his egg mixture. Presently he spooned it atop the toasted bread that Omi produced and the two of them sat down to consume the stuff across the table from Aya.
"He didn't say where he was going." Ken said between mouthfuls.
"I'm not his keeper."
"You looked like you wanted to know."
"Are you guys fighting?" Omi asked, all wide eyed concern. Ken snickered. The temperature of Aya's gaze dropped about fifty degrees. He glared with icy disdain at the both of them. Ken grinned around a mouthful of Bruschetta, not overly concerned.
"There's a regatta today and there'll be festivals all along the Grand Canal." Omi said. "Come out with us."
"You're like, becoming a shut-in." Ken remarked. "You never go out. You just sit here and sulk - -"
Aya's eyes narrowed, offended by the observation. Very much offended by a criticism that hit so very close to home. To go and flaunt himself in the city - - would be - - unwise. He'd had a safe place before, in that last city they'd made their home and that had ended up as not so safe a place.
"If it wasn't for Yohji, you'd probably stay cooped up in your room like some - -"
"Let it go, Ken." Aya said softly. A dangerous softness. A dangerous stillness that seeped over him.
"It's okay. You don't have to go." Omi was perhaps more perceptive than Ken. Or perhaps merely a bit more cautious. "I just thought maybe it might be fun."
"Aya doesn't do fun." Ken said, not letting it go. Not backing down, which was no surprise. "Aya does moodswings and the occasional psychotic tantrum."
"Ken." Omi said warningly. "Leave him alone."
Ken bared his teeth, begging for retaliation.
To give it to him would have been predictable. Aya hated to fall into predictability. "Okay. I'll go."
Ken blinked. Omi smiled, those sky blue eyes of his bright with delight.
She was quite the grand old city, Venice. Old as time, and yet as alive and fresh as any newborn. The streets were narrow, the buildings tall and bright with banners and hanging gardens, the bridges that spanned the canals quaint little arches under which gondola's lazily drifted. You could walk almost anywhere in Venice if you knew the bridges. Tourists took the boats, the natives hoofed it for the most part.
It was a roundabout walk from their little apartment, but the morning was bright and warm and the crowds not so bad until they approached the teaming streets and waterways around the Grand Canal. Actually getting onto the Rialto Bridge was a distant dream. Everyone wanted to be there, to see the boats of the regatta drift by. They avoided that area, skimming the outskirts, where artisans sat up their booths, and performers danced, or juggled or accomplished magic in the streets. Skilled craftsmen showed their wares; blown glass, porcelain, decorative masks and intricate metalwork.
It was a morning pleasantly spent. One could almost forget the little irritations. Almost. Aya just couldn't shake the feeling of - - unease. Was that the proper word for the feeling that crept along his spine during that whole late night conversation with Yohji. Yohji expounded on the truth rather frequently, he stretched it if he thought he could get away with it - - though he never outright lied. And that was the feeling that Aya had. That the whole conversation last night had been designed to cover up something else. Aya didn't like being mislead. He despised being lied to.
When afternoon had turned to early dusk, they trooped back home, Omi and Ken excitedly talking about the festival and the food and the sport. Aya was a silent presence at their side, half listening to their conversation, half absorbing the sounds of Venice in the evening. Always aware of the goings on around him. Ken was right, he thought dryly, he was paranoid. He kept expecting a shot from the dark. He kept expecting to see enemies in the shadows and he couldn't shake the wariness despite all his efforts. Just as well they hadn't had a job in months - - he would have failed them. He felt it in the deepest part of himself - - that lack of something vital in himself - - or maybe the addition of something - - that marred his competency. That made him hesitate to pick up a katana and even practice.
Damaged. That's what Shuldig had done to him. Damaged him to the point of uselessness. He didn't know whether he could find the means to repair himself. He didn't know whether he ought to bother and try.
"Hey." Yohji was sitting in the kitchen, sipping at a beer and smoking what looked to be the latest cigarette in a series, if the ashtray was any indication. "Where've you guys been."
"There was a regatta today." Omi said. "It was great."
"Yeah," Ken added. "We even got Aya out of the house. Tell me that's not an accomplishment."
Aya ignored him. Ignored Yohji and breezed past, heading down the hall for the bathroom. Yohji caught up with him at the door, shouldering his way past Aya and inside before Aya could close the door and assert that thin barrier of privacy.
"Do you mind?" He gave Yohji a stare designed to intimidate. Yohji weathered it, using his weight to back Aya into the corner.
"Listen, Aya, about last night - -"
"Get out." Aya didn't shove him. That would have initiated physical contact and physical contact, even angry physical contact, always led to something more between them.
"You're pissed off - - but I can explain."
"Yohji - -"
Yohji grinned almost sheepishly. "I love it when you say my name like its the most blasphemous, dirtiest curse word ever concocted. Makes me feel all warm inside."
Aya narrowed his eyes and glared at Yohji's adam's apple. The fact that Yohji wasn't taking him seriously - - when he damn well should have, if he knew what was good for him - - put Aya off his balance.
"That lipstick on my collar last night - - it wasn't anything. It was a loud club and it was shoulder to shoulder and you had to get skin close to even talk."
"Fine. I don't care."
"Oh. And here I was worrying over nothing." Yohji wasn't moving.
Aya ground his teeth and looked up into expectant green eyes. "I need to use the bathroom. Please let me."
Yohji blinked, as if it had never occurred to him that Aya might have had a reason to come here other than be cornered by him. "Oh. Sorry."
He started to back off, then changed his mind of a sudden and pressed his mouth over Aya's. He didn't try anything serious, just a connection of lips that took Aya by enough surprise that he didn't try to break it until Yohji pulled back and retreated out the door.
Of course Yohji didn't leave it at that. He was rifling through Aya's CD case when Aya went to his room, sitting with a hip on Aya's dresser, and a cigarette dangling carelessly from his lips.
"Yohji - - what do you want?" Aya asked, since it was so painfully clear that Yohji had an agenda that was clawing its way to get out.
"What makes you think I want something?" Yohji got up, rotated his shoulders in a lazy stretch and slunk in Aya's direction like he was a big cat on the prowl. Aya narrowed his eyes warningly, not in the mood for Yohji's hands on him trying to convince him he wasn't annoyed when he damn well was - - and getting more by the moment.
"I was just thinking you've been a little tense lately and just wanted to - - you know - - help out."
Aya lifted a brow. It was a very Yohji-thing to say, but there was still something else behind it. There was still something in Yohji's eyes, some minuscule glimmer behind those half lowered lashes that made the hair on the back of Aya's arms stand up.
"Don't - -" He said when Yohji got close enough to slide a hand onto his shoulder. Yohji tilted his head, gauging. He frowned after a moment, seeing dead earnestness in Aya's face and pulled the hand back.
"Okay." He said finally, after taking a long drag off his smoke. "Okay. Listen, Aya - - something came up and I've gotta go home for a little while to take care of it. Shouldn't be too long, maybe a couple o' weeks, tops."
Aya blinked slowly, trying to get his mental balance after that abrupt shift in gears. Trying to absorb the meaning of those words.
"You're going - - home?"
Yohji shrugged, tilting his head down a little, so that hair slithered down, camouflaging his eyes. "Yeah. I just wanted you to know. Didn't want you to worry or anything."
He said the last rather hesitatingly, as if he weren't sure if Aya would worry if he were to take up and leave on the drop of a dime. He stood there, after, shifting a little in the faint vestiges of nerves that he was trying to hide, not explaining - - not doing anything, but perhaps waiting for Aya to demand an explanation.
Aya couldn't make himself. Something came up and I've gotta go - - if Yohji didn't bother to explain himself in that first startling announcement - - then Yohji wasn't going to explain himself at all. Yohji had no intention of enlightening Aya and anything that Aya forced out of his mouth would be less than the truth. And if he felt the need to hide things - - important things like why the impromptu trip home - - then - - then it was his prerogative.
"Fine." Aya turned his back on him, wanting out of that room and out of Yohji's presence. No use being a complete hypocrite. If he'd had some personal problem to solve, he sure as hell wouldn't have shared the details with Ken or Omi or - - Yohji. He understood the need for intimacy. He'd held fast to it for a good portion of his life. No reason to begrudge Yohji the same respect.
"Aya, listen, it's just - -"
Aya held up a hand, not bothering to turn and meet Yohji's eyes. "You don't need to explain. Do what you have to do, Yohji." And Yohji's jaw audibly shut, his explanation nipped in the bud. The justification he'd no doubt been waiting for Aya to demand - - that he'd been eager to get into the air to vindicate his departure. Yohji needed a veil to mask something and damned if Aya would give him the comfort of knowing it was in place.
"Aya - -" Yohji caught his arm, keeping him from fleeing the issue at hand, keeping him that much farther from safely avoiding whatever uneasy emotion was bubbling beneath the surface of his cool control. "- - its not a problem - - with us, you know." Yohji's generous mouth quirked a little in a grin. "I'm not going out to have a fling with some chick."
"Is that what you thought I assumed?" Aya asked coldly.
"I - - ah - - I don't know what you're assuming, because you're not talking."
"I didn't. Do what you want to. Your business is your business. Just don't compromise Weiss in the process, Yohji."
"Sure. Sure. Wouldn't do that." Yohji let him go, the grin melting away, his eyes a little hurt, but that faded too after a flicker of lashes and Yohji's relaxed, false face was back in place. Oh, they all had them, save maybe Omi, who didn't practice deception well. Aya's was icy, impersonal disinterest. Yohji's bordered on lazy amusement, like he didn't have a care in the world, and certainly wasn't thinking about slitting your throat or - - or contemplating betrayal. Not the sort that would endanger Weiss at any rate. Aya knew that. Knew it. Like he knew that Omi wouldn't. Or Ken. Sometimes he wasn't so sure about himself - - but then, a man might admit, after a bit of forced introspection, that he wasn't the soundest block in the foundation of their small organization. A man might admit - - tentatively - - after Yohji had given up and walked out of that room, that it did matter where Yohji was going and what he would be up to when he got there.
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