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A Price For Madness

by P L Nunn


Chapter Eight


Aya pressed his face into the pillow to escape the annoying rays of warm brightness that endeavored to pierce the thin flesh of his eyelids. He was not ready to wake. He fought gamely against it, but the sunlight was insidious and his bladder waged a rear guard action in the crusade to impede his slumber. He didnít quite open his eyes, as unconsciousness began to melt away in favor of wakeful thoughts. He lay, sprawled on his stomach, taking great pleasure in the lethargy of his sleep-numbed body. The world in general was quiet and peaceful, if one ignored the demanding light. The bed was soft, the pillow unusually luxurious. It smelled strangely enough -- of Yohji.

He lay there muzzily contemplating the whys and wherefores of that phenomenon. Rather curious that he recognized that subtle scent. Earthy and mellow; a combination of whatever aftershave or cologne Yohji preferred mixed with the essential essence of Yohji himself. Odd that it had made enough of an impression upon him that he recognized it on his pillow. Odd that Yohji had been using his bed. Of course he hadn't been making use of it himself recently. He'd been rather cowardly in his avoidance of it. He couldn't get the sight/feel/smell of the dead thing out of his mind. He couldn't get over the notion of the intrusion.

Lying here now with his eyes shut, vulnerable to the world, began to make him uneasy. As if he might be under inspection by some presence hiding in the shadows. He opened his eyes and blinked at the sunlight coming through unfamiliar windows. No. Not entirely unfamiliar. Just not his own. It took far longer than he was accustomed to for the sleep to leave his brain. It took several bewildered breaths for him to piece together just what room he was in. Which explained Yohji's scent on the pillow. It was Yohji's pillow. It was Yohji's bed, which was a far cry plusher than his own. Yohji did more entertaining in that area than Aya.

He pushed himself up slowly. He was still sluggish from sleep. He couldn't seem to find the vitality he usually felt upon awakening. He ran a hand through his hair, pinching the bridge of his nose. His head twinged a little, but not much. Not like the last time he'd woken up in this particular bed. Of course Yohji had been in it the last time. There was no sign of him now. He remembered most of that night but he was having a hard time focusing on this one. A pile of black clothing was tossed carelessly on a chair across the room. Since he was devoid of everything but underwear, he assumed they belonged to him.

God. It was bad enough to wake up hungover and clothed in Yohji's bed, but to find himself mostly unclothed --- that was unnerving. That made his palms sweat a little in an unaccustomed bout of panic.

He couldn't remember getting here. He couldn't remember a great deal of things. It wasn't until he pulled his pants on and his hand slid over the thin flat bulge of the fake police id that he'd carried with him to West River Wharf that he began to panic. He pulled it out as if it were a thing alive and stared at the solid proof of where he had been during the last bout of lucid memory he possessed. A good hundred miles at least from where he was now. He could not remember driving back. He could not remember making the decision to drive back, or meeting Yohji or finishing his business there. He glanced at the clock radio on Yohji's night table. It read 7:17. AM. He'd lost an evening and a night somewhere along the way.

The call of nature was too strong to allow him to stand there further contemplating the baffling situation. With a scowl he grabbed his sweater and jacket, padded out of Yohji's room and down the hall to the bathroom. He leaned with one hand on the cracked tiles over the toilet, scouring his memory for some faint clue as to what in the hell had happened last night. Methodically, he attempted to piece together what he did recall of the day. Questions, questions and more questions from people who either weren't interested, knew nothing or didn't want to help a stranger regardless of official looking identification. He'd talked to an old woman, who had been helpful. She'd sent him to a bar where Edward Phillipe's ex girlfriend worked. Her face swam in his memory, but it wasn't a concrete image. He couldn't remember if he'd talked to her or not. Maybe he had.

He finished up and went to the sink and the newly replaced mirror above it. There was a horrid taste in his mouth. He brushed his teeth with absent attention to the routine, still dwelling on those last lucid memories. He finished and ran fingers through thick, lank hair. Curious. From the state of his hair, it looked as if he'd gone more than a day without washing it. There was a light covering of stubble on his jaw. He never grew more than a sporadic covering of facial hair, but this looked more like two days growth than one. He ran a hand down his throat and quite suddenly froze. His eyes grew wide, the beat of his heart was a heavy, thick thing behind his eyes. There was a mark on his neck. A fading, but still painfully obvious set of what looked to be bite marks.

Tentatively he traced it with his fingertips. He shivered and stepped back, legs hitting the edge of the tub in his efforts to distance himself from the reflection of it. In doing so, he caught a flash of the red marks scouring his ribcage. With an in-drawn breath he looked down to that second set of marks. The obvious pattern remained where someone's fingernails had raked his flesh. And he couldn't remember it. Not even a trace of the pain it must have caused while it was being done.

There was a light rapping on the door. Omi's hesitant voice.

"Aya? You in there?"

He blinked stupidly. Then shook his head fiercely and snatched his sweater, pulling it over his head and down over the marks. He yanked the door open even as Omi was tentatively fondling the knob and glared down into the boy's startled eyes.

"Aya, are you o---" was as far as Omi got before Aya shoved past him, heading for the stairs. He didn't know where he was going. He just had to get out. He heard Omi's voice at his back and didn't pay attention to what he was saying, or even if it was directed at him. It wasn't. Yohji showed up at the bottom of the steps and inserted his body in Aya's path of descent.

"Hey-- where are you going?"

"Get out of my way."

Yohji tilted his head curiously, refusing to give ground. "You okay, Aya?"

Aya glared at him. He had no wish to talk about this. No wish to do anything at the moment but escape and try to make sense of it.

"Move, Yohji." He said softly.

Yohji hesitated, and slowly shifted aside. Aya brushed past him and Yohji's hand snaked out to snag his shoulder. With a snarl Aya whirled, hand slashing out in a backhanded slap that caught Yohji off guard, that sent him staggering back a step into the banister.

"Don't touch me. Don't -- fucking -- touch me."

He barely registered Yohji's shocked face. Yohji raising a hand to a bright trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth. Aya took off towards the back , his thoughts floundering in chaos. He faltered a few steps from his car, staring in shocked incomprehension at the mutilated canvas of the convertible top. One more mystery to confuse the issue. He dug in his pocket for keys anyway, and found nothing but a few coins and pocket lint. Going back inside after them was out of the question. Admitting to having no earthly notion how he'd come not to have them in his possession was beyond his present capabilities.

So he walked. He stalked down the alley and out into the bright morning light of the sidewalk at the far end. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and glared at the cement under his feet. Trying to force a memory. Trying to break through the indomitable fog that shrouded everything that had happened from the time he'd sat foot in that tavern to now. And failed. Just came up against a brick wall that refused to budge. It stung. It hurt almost physically, that helplessness to command his own mind. It was terrifying and emasculating to wake up with bite marks on his body and no earthly idea who'd put them there or why or when or how.

"Omi, I'm out of here, mind the store." Yohji grabbed his coat and his sunglasses and headed for the door, licking the seeping trickle of blood off the inside of his lips. Aya had a mean backhand at the best of times. It had been backed by an adrenaline-pumped surge of hysteria this time. Yohji had seen it in his eyes. That flash of mindless panic that went through those long, amethyst eyes of his the moment Yohji made the mortal mistake of laying a hand on him. Stupid move on his part. Aya was touchy at best. Coming up off of a drug that had put him out for the better part of a day and a half, maybe even discovering the marks on his body -- laying a hand on him was unforgivable.

He trotted out the back door, looking both ways down the shadowed alley behind their building. He'd known Aya was grounded in his flight, otherwise he'd have been a bit more concerned. The keys to Aya's car were still jangling about in his coat pocket. To the left, he figured, because that way led out to a quieter, more residential street. Less foot traffic, less people to contend with for somebody in the mood to avoid human contact.

He stepped out onto the sidewalk and saw a slim figure in black half a block ahead. He took a breath and sauntered that way himself, in no great hurry to catch up. Just content for the moment to keep an eye out, while he got straight in his own head how to broach the subject that was burning a hole in his restraint. He closed the distance eventually, having a longer stride. Aya didn't seem as if he had any particular destination in mind. Yohji drifted up beside him, keeping enough distance between them to give Aya all the personal space he needed.

Aya ignored him. He might not have even noticed him, but Yohji didn't believe Aya could be that oblivious even at his most pissed. Aya just chose to pretend he didn't exist. He was good at that. He was good at blocking the whole of the world out if he wanted to.

"You remember what happened?" Yohji took the plunge and asked the question. He caught the twitch of a muscle in Aya's jaw, but other than that, no answer.

"Probably not, huh? The nature of the beast and all that."

"What does that mean?" A soft, angry question after a long moment's silence.

"With that type of drug, you don't generally remember what happened -- what you did --what was done to you -- who you slept with -- that sort of thing."

Aya's head went up, and the panic seeped back into his eyes. And dread. He wanted to ask the question, but couldn't form the words. Yohji answered it for him.

"Don't worry. You weren't in there long enough to get into any real trouble. He slipped you the Mickey, got close enough to get his hands on you -- but it didn't get any further."

"Who? Did you ---?" A hoarse whisper. It was a hard asked question, as if Aya were afraid to get an answer.

"What? Come in and stop it? No. Just showed up at the tail end. Didn't see damn thing. They remembered you in the bar though. Remembered him real good, too. He sent a lot of guys to the emergency room that night. Shed a lot of blood and walked away without a scratch. Guess he was pissed at losing you."

"Losing -----?" Aya snapped his mouth shut, eyes going cold and hard as he put two and two together and came up with an answer that scared him enough to put the mask back on.

"You wanna know what they remembered about him the most? Other than the green dye job and the expensive clothes? The German accent"

Aya stopped dead and stared at him, all the coolness drained from his eyes, all the color gone from his already pale face. Yohji didn't elaborate. Aya didn't ask him to. His hand crept to his side, over the spot where the nails had raked him. He took a step and Yohji almost put out a hand to steady him when it looked like his knees were about to buckle. Aya shored himself up with a hand on a metal porch rail and stood there with his face turned away, the slightest of tremors passing over his shoulders. The hand on the rail was white-knuckled.

"Listen, Aya," Yohji shifted nervously, knowing anything other than a clinical observation would be rebuffed. "This is getting dangerous. If it's him and what are the odds that it's not? --then we've got to do something about it. We were talking about it last night and ---"

"You were talking about it?!" Aya whirled, furious, both fists clenched in rage.

"Calm down." He thought there might have been serious danger of Aya blowing a fuse, he looked so ready to pop. An elderly lady walking her runt of a dog made a wide detour around them, urging the little mutt to hurry along as if she feared for its life.

"Stay the hell out of it." Aya could have cared less what audience he had. Aya was tunnel visioning and Yohji was the present focus of his anger. "How dare you talk to them about -- it -- him -- me." He floundered at the last, barely able to bring it up himself.

"I didn't tell them anything, you asshole. Not about that, at any rate. And you tell me it's not all of our concern when fucking Shuldig strolls into our house pretty as you please. I don't care if he was raiding your underwear drawer! He could have just as easy been planting bugs or poisoning the milk or what ever the fuck else his sick mind could think of."

Aya stood there and stared at him, tight-lipped and white-faced, having yelled more in the last five minutes than he'd probably done in the last four months combined. He was done. Yohji could tell he'd done all the talking he was going to do about this subject. Anything past this would turn nasty and violent. Yohji didn't want a fight. Not with Aya at any rate. He held up his hands and backed down. Took a step backwards and then another.

"If you're not back in an hour we're coming looking for you." He stood his ground that last bit, waiting for some indication that Aya understood, and finally sighed, stuffed his hands in his pockets and ambled back the way he'd come.

Aya hadn't felt --- unclean in a while. Months maybe since the last time he'd sat in the shower with the water running so hot it scalded his skin. Mindless, thoughtless, numb -- over things that he couldn't even openly admit to himself. Not even now.

Shuldig. Shuldig. Shuldig. Who haunted his nightmares and lurked insidiously in his subconscious. Who not only wanted to physically break him, but needed his emotional destruction as well. Who fed off it and got off on it and who had so gloriously succeeded in both.

He'd been afraid to think it was him, even though deep inside, he'd thought it possible. It was just something the sick bastard would do. Wait for him to heal, to start to forget, then come slithering back into the picture. The fact that he couldn't remember what had happened yesterday -- no two days ago according to Yohji -- only made it worse. Only made it all the more nightmarish and surreal.

He walked in a fog of self-doubt clothed in self-loathing. Something inside him screamed accusation for his weakness. Again. To fall victim again. The stench was clinging to him and this time it brought with it lurid flashes of images. Of sensations. Not from two nights ago, that was nothing but an empty void in his mind that would likely never be filled, but of months ago. Trapped in a dingy little room at the mercy of two sadistic madmen.

He stumbled on a crack in the sidewalk and came back to himself with a jolt of reality. He didn't know exactly where he was. In the city, surrounded by the mindless migration of the crowd. The sound of motors humming, the screeching of tires, the honking of horns filled the air with their inescapable pollution.

He hesitated on the corner, taking account of himself, centering himself in this place he found himself in. He knew where he was. He'd walked a good ways. Longer than Yohji's hour, probably. He hardly cared. Yohji's protectiveness was --- annoying. It put Aya off his balance trying to comprehend it. Like he was a creature that needed it. That deserved it.

He went back home. Just got tired of walking and headed back home . He passed Ken and Omi on the way there. Ignored the both of them as he did, but knew that they turned and tailed him back. The first thing he did when he got back was shed his clothes. He tossed them unceremoniously on the floor of his darkened room and found something looser and more comfortable to slip on before he went for the shower. He washed two days grime away and didn't even attempt to scrub the deeper ingrained filth that wouldn't come off anyway. He knew it was there to stay from past experience. He stepped out and stood naked on the tile floor, fingers brushing the nail marks on his side. The mirror was too fogged to see. He didn't bother re-wrapping his hand. The cuts were mostly closed now under new stitches. They itched a bit and for a moment he contemplated something hurtful that might turn the minor irritation into a greater one. He fought back the impulse, drying himself instead.

He went up to the gym afterwards to work himself into exhaustion. To force back a bit of discipline into an otherwise disorderly existence. For a while, it even worked.

Aya wasn't talking. Not to anybody. No word issued forth from his lips that possessed more than two syllables, and even those were rare and prompted only by direct confrontation. They had a job to do and he was damned focused on getting it done, even though they'd had no scent of their quarry for days now. He was either dead or gone seriously to ground.

Yohji was rooting for the first. He was hoping that Omi would come up with some police report of a body found fitting the description of Edward Phillipe and they could just close the books on this frustrating distraction from more important matters. Namely getting Shuldig off Aya. That was going to be a challenge. Yohji would have loved to get his hands on the bastard. Of course getting his hands on Shuldig and actually surviving to tell about it might not be one and the same. The German was good at what he did.

He and Ken had sat upstairs in the gym, downing beers that first day after he'd brought Aya back, when he'd still been drugged to the gills, and compared notes on just how hard Shuldig was to kill. Done a bit of tactical theorizing on the subject and gotten very, very drunk.

When Aya wasn't out prowling the night, looking for a sign of their prey, he was practicing in the gym. Endless, repetitive cycles of the same sword strokes for hours on end. It was exhausting just to hear the soft methodical footfalls on the floor over Yohji's bedroom. He'd lay there, smoking cigarettes or pot and stare moodily into space, listening to the rhythm -- knowing it would go on for hours. Three days of it and it was beginning to rub his nerves raw. Aya's anger was beginning to tell on all of them. Omi was skittish and wary when Aya was around. Ken was getting surly, starting to make sharp, smart remarks in response to Aya's icy vigilance. Aya of course, ignored him. At least on the outside. God knew what he was thinking inside that shell of his. It was like he'd been before. Before Aya-chan had woken up from her prolonged slumber. Before they'd broken from the hidden hands that had guided them for those few precarious years. Back when Aya hadn't really cared if he lived or died as long as his sister was all right, because maybe he blamed himself for her, as well. Maybe he'd always thought it should have been him; dead or comatose.

Aya had always been stupid in that respect, as far as Yohji was concerned. He had regrets in his life too. Painful, heartbreaking regrets. Things that had made him into the creature he was now. But he'd always had a care for his own existence. Always given a damn about his life, even though he was well aware of the possibility of him losing it on this mission or the next.

Aya not only didn't care, Yohji thought, Aya sometimes got that look in his eyes that hinted that he might welcome it. He hadn't had that look for a long time. Not since Aya-chan had woken up to reestablish her place in the universe. Now it was there for another reason. Guilt, self-hatred, self-loathing -- it could have been any of those. It could have been something even less rational, that Yohji, being the generally sane, generally sensible creature that he was-- at least compared to Aya -- couldn't fathom. All he knew was, he was getting fed up with it and he wanted it to stop. One way or another, it had to stop.

His wrist trembled a bit, wavering from the perfect stance he demanded of himself. He'd run this exercise a hundred times -- a thousand times tonight and only now, towards the end -- when it should have been so thoroughly ingrained into the natural patterns of his body -- did his body chose to fail him. Aya frowned, elegant brows puckering in distaste. It didn't matter if he'd been doing this for hours. It didn't matter how strained his muscles were, how much his body complained -- he should have been able to hold that stance under the worst of circumstances -- and he'd failed.

Typical. Typical of the unreliable flesh that encased his soul. If he had a soul. He sometimes wondered. He sometimes wondered if there was anything but void after death. Anything but rotting and decomposing and creating an unpleasant mess for someone else to clean up. He might have convinced himself of such years ago, if not for Aya-chan. For her, he'd hold out the hope that there was something beyond life. Something better. For her, he'd prayed daily to a god he'd stopped believing in, asking for her salvation. And truly not believing she'd ever get it. Believing in the depths of his heart that one day he'd come to her bedside and she'd just be gone. A shell that someone else would have to clean up. So he'd clung desperately to the notion that there was something beyond life for her to go to.

He mourned that if such a place existed, and weighed the sins of a soul, then he'd never be able to join her there.

If he couldn't even hold a simple sword stance right, he'd find out sooner rather than later. He began the dance again. The starting position, the flow of movement that took him to its conclusion, the katana held out at arm's length before his body, a perfect straight line from his shoulder. His hand shook and he took a hissing breath of frustration.

It was useless now that he'd let his thoughts wonder. His control was broken both physically and emotionally and there was little chance of getting it back this late into the night. Or was it even night anymore. The pale caricature of light seeping through the tall windows spoke of dawn. He ran the back of a hand across his brow, wiping back strands of clingy hair. He couldn't stop the shaking; had to clench his fist, so hard, in fact, in an attempt to control it, that he drew blood. Three little crescent-shaped gouges in his palm, a fourth fainter mark from his little finger. Like the scratches running down his side. They were almost gone now, but the image of them glared obscenely vivid in his mind. He didn't have to remember how they'd happened, his mind came up with a dozen repulsive images to feed his morbid curiosity. To satisfy that burning horrible need to picture the defilement and torture himself with it. His vision blanked for a moment, his skin twitched as sight/sound/sensation ran a wicked course through his mind. It came unbidden and was merciless in its assault.

"What the fuck are you still doing up here? Do you know what time it is?" The door banged open and Yohji stalked in, a shadowed silhouette against the dim light of the stairwell hall outside. "You've been stomping around over my room all fucking night. All fucking night for the last three nights and I'm damned tired of it, Aya. How am I supposed to get any sleep?"

Yohji wasn't dressed for sleeping. He looked like he'd just come in or had never settled down to rest in the first place, in black jeans and one of his tight black tops that left a good portion of his tanned mid-drift bare. His hair was mostly gathered up in a tail at the back of his neck, but long strands of it had escaped to curve haphazardly around his face.

"Well?" he marched over, his boot heels echoing sharply on the wooden portion of the floor, looking like he wanted some immediate response or some sort of capitulation. There was that faint, sweet smell of pot smoke clinging to him and Aya silently thought Yohji ought to just go back downstairs and roll himself a few more of the joints he was so fond of if he wanted to dull the noise the rest of the world was making. He wondered even as he thought it, if Yohji's drug of choice might be capable of chasing away his own torment. If it could make him ignore the stench that he couldn't wash off of his skin. Probably not. And even so, the fetor would be there in the morning when he woke up.

He blinked away the notion and turned away from Yohji, walking across the mat to the wall rack where he kept his practice katana. Yohji made a small, disgusted sound and followed, doing the unforgivable and treading over the mat with his boots on.

"Shoes." Aya said shortly and heard Yohji snort behind him.

"Fuck the mat. We're not gonna be here much longer anyway, what with your admirer's coming and going as they please"

Aya stiffened, a little flash of Shuldig's face -- Shuldig's smug, sly smile grating across his mind like nails down a chalkboard. He sat the sword in its place carefully, searching for that ration of control necessary to slip into the facade of indifference he so desperately needed to show the world. He couldn't find it. It slid from his grasp like so much water.

He shut his eyes, breathing deeply and for lack of a better response murmured.

"I'm sorry." For disturbing you. For not saving face when I needed to. For fucking up --- so many things. He settled for just saying I'm sorry.

Yohji blinked at him, surprised by the admission.

"For keeping me awake?" There was honest shock in his voice. Aya sighed and turned, ready to flee this conversation and find sanctuary elsewhere. He caught Yohji with one hand raised, almost as if he'd been thinking about touching Aya's shoulder or brushing his hair. He stared at the hand, quickly lowered, then up quizzically into Yohji's green eyes. There was something there he couldn't quite comprehend. Something quickly shuttered by Yohji's lashes, by the dipping of his head and the fall of light brown hair. No, not quite brown. Like the color of dark honey, streaked with strands of paler gold that caught the light and shimmered.

"Listen," Yohji said. "Never mind about it. It's okay. I'm just cranky. Haven't been sleeping much the last few nights and its got me all wound up. This whole goddamned serial killer fiasco does. I'm so ready to just say the fuck with it. The -- other --stuff isn't helping."

"Its my problem." Aya walked to one of the windows, leaning a hand against the sill, staring out into a sleeping city.

Yohji sighed behind him. A frustrated, weary sigh. Directed at Aya maybe. Maybe not. Yohji leaned his back against the narrow strip of wall between windows, tapping a cigarette out of the crumpled package he had stuffed in a pocket of his jeans. He offered one to Aya, then a light, and afterwards sank down the wall and sat there with the cigarette dangling from his lips, his head tilted back against the bare bricks.

"You're the single most stubborn individual I've ever met, you know that, don't you?"

Aya lifted a brow, drew a long, slow drag on the smoke stick, and said nothing.

"It doesn't really matter though, cause we'll back you anyway. So I guess you'll just have to learn to deal with all the annoying interference. Don't you just hate it when everybody's in your business?"

Aya snorted softly. He couldn't help it. Of course Yohji only spoke the plain truth. Whether he wanted it or not, he had this -- attached pseudo family -- that was easily offended and fiercely protective when outside forces threatened their little coalition. On a purely objective level, he thought he'd do the same for any of them. It still didn't make the tender bounds of his privacy any less sensitive when they prodded at them. It didn't make his secrets any less painful, knowing they'd probably understand and sympathize. Sympathy wasn't what he wanted. Pity was an abhorrent thing.

"You know," Yohji said. "I think I'd like to go someplace warm next. Someplace beautiful. Maybe southern Italy. We haven't been there. That'd be nice. Or Venice."

"Venice would be nice." Aya murmured, sliding down the wall next to Yohji. He had vague memories from that distant portion of his life before this. Before the killing and the lies and the flight, when he'd had a real family -- a mother and father and sister -- of making plans with Aya-chan of taking a summer trip to Venice after he'd graduated. They'd never gotten the chance to bring up such a roughish idea to their parents.

He brought the cigarette shakily up to his lips, aghast at himself for dredging up the memories. He'd not thought about that other life for a long time. It hurt. It was Yohji's fault, because Yohji had that insidious talent of making him -- comfortable. Of creating cracks in the protective shell that had served Aya for so long. Of making him forget to be on his guard. It hadn't always been that way. Yohji's constant womanizing and Blaise attitude had grated on his nerves for those first few years. But then again, during those first years of Weiss Kruez's conception, they'd been more weapons in the hands of the faceless bureaucrats that lurked in the shadows, than human beings anyway. There had been a time that he wouldn't have shed a tear if Ken or Omi or Yohji had gone down in the line of duty. If it happened now -- it would be -- he couldn't think up a word, took another lungful of smoke to blot out the train of thought.

"I haven't lived by the water in a long time." Yohji mused. "I think I'd like that. I like the sound of it outside when I'm sleeping."

"I don't think you'd hear it in Venice. Not like the rush of a river or the waves by the beach."

"Hummm. You don't think so?"

Aya rotated his neck, feeling so many hours of training in the sore muscles of neck and right shoulder.

"It serves you right, up here all damn night practicing." Yohji's hand snaked out, fingers sliding over Aya's shoulder, pressing into the curve of muscle below his neck. Like he had an open invitation to touch him. Like Aya wouldn't slap him down for the indignity.

He should have. But he couldn't. The moment Yohji's hands were on him, the moment that therapeutic touch grazed his skin -- his mind went blank.

In a moment of unreality, or perfect clarity -- he had no idea which -- it occurred to Aya that the only times he had felt at peace -- shielded from that miasma of guilt and shame and stigma that clung to him -- for a very long time, was in Yohji's bed with Yohji's presence and Yohji's warmth close beside him; or under Yohji's hands that made him forget everything else but the feel of his rough palms and the gentle/strong pressure of his fingers.

It occurred to him in that moment of unreality and perfect clarity, that for a man drowning in a cesspool partly of his own making and partly thrust on him unwillingly by the malicious intentions of others, that he would be foolish to ignore an escape --- even a temporary one -- if it were available.

He let his lashes flutter down, breathing. Just breathing while Yohji half leaned in towards him, that one casual hand kneading the overworked muscles of Aya's shoulder.

"I can't get them -- him -- out of my head sometimes." He admitted it slowly, haltingly, the words choking in his throat. The rhythm of Yohji's fingers faltered.

"I want to kill him so bad that I can't think of anything else sometimes -- but -- I don't -- know if I -- if it came down to it -- if I could." It hurt admitting that. It hurt having that weakness in the air between them. Some unknown, unprepared for thing had wrung the truth out of him. And it was true. Just like at the mall the first time he'd seen Shuldig after the --- nightmare -- when he'd lost all hold of reason and control under the German's taunting. And Shuldig was too adept a foe to ever lose one's cool with. If you lost your professionalism with him, you were dead. Or worse.

Or worse. He shuddered, lifting a hand to rub at the cold flesh of his arm. Yohji sat there, silent. Waiting. If he'd have spoken, said something smooth or wry, Aya would have lost what impetus he had. He would have closed up and skulked away. Alone.

"I feel his -- hands on me. I hear his laugh." He rubbed a little more desperately at his skin. The place on his neck itched. "I can't get the stench of it off of me, Yohji."

Yohji caught his hand, pulled it away from his arm. There were scratches there. The faint imprint of his own nails tearing at his own flesh. Curious that he hadn't even felt he was doing it. He stared at the marks in distant repulsion. In a moment of panic, he rose, tossing the cigarette to the brick window sill. God, it was such a vicious cycle. He'd gain a moment of escape from it, then it would seep back into his mind. Like a disease. It felt sometimes like he was dying from it. He dug his fingers in his hair in frustration.

"Aya?" Yohji had risen, followed him worriedly, and hovered at his back, hands almost grazing Aya's skin. He wished he'd lay them back upon him.

"Yohji --" he turned, looked up miserably, exposed and precarious in his desperation. "--Help make it go away."

"Okay." Yohji said softly, not missing a beat, drawing Aya's hand up to his lips, pressing them against tightly clenched knuckles. "Okay."

A shuddery breath, a lurching at the pit of his stomach that felt like he'd been dropped from a plane without a parachute in sight. He couldn't move. He couldn't force his eyes away from Yohji's face. Yohji closed the distance between them. Just stepped up to Aya and engulfed him in the circle of his arms. And Aya stood there woodenly, like a puppet who's master had abandoned him, not knowing what to do, fearing to move because the situation had just veered beyond his scope of understanding. Who'd wanted this and now stood dumbfounded at getting it. Until Yohji's hand pressed his face into his neck and Aya felt the warm smoothness of his skin, smelled that familiar Yohji scent and the vague taint of smoke and pot. Yohji rubbed his face back and forth against Aya's hair as if he couldn't get enough of the feel of it. Then Aya began to loosen up. Then Aya felt the tightness in the back of his throat start to give and the tension in his chest began to soften. It felt good to lean there, against Yohji's strength, with Yohji's smell in his nose. With Yohji's hands on his back, gently stroking, or in his hair pulling his head back so that he could lay his lips against Aya's temple.

He wanted this. He needed this to erase the memory of the other. The desperation welled up and he lifted his hands, pulling Yohji's head down and pressing his mouth against his in an inarticulate kiss. It was awkward and ungraceful, Aya having little enough experience in the area. But it got the point across. Yohji was more artful. Yohji guided it along more sensuous paths once the initial clash had ended.

Yohji pulled back a little, letting his lips brush over Aya's, dry and soft as he nuzzled at the edge of Aya's mouth, a bit of moist warmth as he took Aya's bottom lip between his lips and wanted more. He built the fervor with the touch of a true master, covering Aya's mouth with his own, slipping his tongue inside again, this time slow and careful in his exploration of new territory. It was by far a more intimate kiss than the one Aya had initiated. By for more intrusive. It was surprising in its depth and in the sensations it provoked. Startled into uncertainty, Aya tensed, pulled back. There must have been something fundamentally wary in his eyes, because as Yohji blinked back into awareness guilt passed over his face.

"I'm sorry. I hadn't meant to do that. God -- god, I'm such an ass."

His hands slid away, nervous now, uncertain that he'd made some terrible mistake.

Aya reached up and caught Yohji's face as the taller man was teetering on retreat.

"Yes," he murmured. "You did. And you are. It's okay."

It's okay. It is o -- kay. Yohji juggled the words about inside his head like ice swirling in a glass. They clinked about awkwardly until Aya's hands on his face melted them. Until Aya stepping close to his body cleared up the uncertainty.

Fuck. He thought hazily, hormones and libido rushing together to make a mess of coherent thought. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What's he doing? He wants --- this -- me?

Aya's mouth brushed his. Aya's fingers slipped back into the hair he'd pulled into a tail at the back of his skull. Aya hadn't a clue how to kiss properly. Yohji knew very well. Yohji had spent years perfecting the skill. Yohji wanted --no, he needed -- things that Aya was fluttering about the edges of. He wanted inside Aya in every sense of the word and what reason was left him screamed that even if his luck did hold -- even if Aya stayed this course he'd embarked upon -- to go too fast would be disaster.

But, god, how could he not, when every fiber of his body screamed with want. Plain, animal lust burned behind his eyes, thumped with every beat of his heart, seethed like something alive in his loins. He pressed his mouth over Aya's hungrily; plunging his tongue into that wet cavity and trying to absorb every nuance of the taste/smell/feel of him.

It was only when his hands pressed up under the edge of Aya's T-shirt, desperate for the feel of Aya's skin, that Aya flinched. Yohji realized he'd ran his fingers over the fading remnants of Shuldig's nail marks.

"It's okay. It's okay." He whispered Aya's words back to him. Detouring from that spot, running his hands up Aya's back and down again, coaxing him into accepting the touch as something other than an assault on his person.

"Just say stop and we will, all right?" His fingers made circles on Aya's skin. The scars on his back were very faint slick lines under Yohji's hands. A tremor passed through the muscles under Yohji's fingers. Aya lowered his face to rest his forehead against his chest. Accepting. Trusting.

Yohji let his hands glide up again and the T-shirt rode with them.

"Lift your arms." He said softly. Aya did, and the shirt hit the mat. The pale light from the windows made Aya's skin look ghostly. The vivid color of his hair and eyes, the bruised blush of his lips were the only splashes of color about him. Even his nipples were pale, pink things. Yohji had the overwhelming desire to put his mouth on them. To have his lips on the entirety of the pale body under his hands.

He forced a modicum of control on himself. "Wait a minute."

If he didn't lock the door, disaster was liable to happen. Omi or Ken would wonder in and he didn't think Aya could survive the embarrassment of that. He thought he just might be able to live with it. He thought he might be able to do quite a few things in exchange for a vital piece of Aya.

He trotted over and locked the door, took a moment to breathe, then padded back to Aya. His red-headed comrade had turned his back to the room. Was standing with his arms wrapped about himself at one of the big windows, staring out at the dawn. Yohji hesitated for one brief moment, thinking -- this is Aya. This is Aya and he's a guy and what the fuck is going through my head to want this so much and damn damn damn, if I don't get my hands on him I'm gonna explode.

Yohji slipped his arms about Aya's slim hips, lying his chin on Aya's shoulder, slouching a little to do it, bracing his legs apart to put them on more equal footing. He ran his hands over the skin of Aya's belly, between his crossed arms and the top of his sweat pants. Pressed his lips into the hollow of Aya's neck and shoulder and tasted the faint salt of sweat amidst the flavor of Aya's skin. He let his fingers dip beneath the band of the pants, a teasing trail of roughened fingerpads over that amazingly soft skin. Slipping his hand deeper, he brushed against heat. Velvet heat nestled in soft, curling pubes, semi-rigid even before his hand enfolded the girth of it. Aya dropped his head, a low hiss escaping his lips, digging his nails into his arms and this time Yohji was too distracted to pry them loose. Yohji had found a fascination for that hot, silken sheathed piece of flesh between Aya's legs. He wanted to see it. He wanted Aya's pale body on the black mat at their feet. He wanted Aya sprawled and naked and him over top of him, pressing the length of his own overheated body against Aya's. He wanted to make Aya moan. To make him scream. To make him lose every bit of that icy demeanor that he showed the world.

He couldn't think clearly. He couldn't practice the restraint he'd promised himself. He'd wanted this too long. He felt like a green kid with his first chance at sex. He pressed a knee against the back of Aya's leg, making the limb fold, drawing them both down in a slow, controlled descent. Slid his thumbs over the waist band of Aya's sweats when they were on their knees and drew them down over hips and long pale thighs.

"Turn." He said softly taking the both of them the rest of the way to the mat. Aya stared up at him, large eyed and breathing hard, just as luminously pale against the black as Yohji had imagined him to be. Yohji moved to discard the sweats bunched around his knees. Aya frowned up at him.

"You're dressed." A little indignant perhaps. A little wary.

"We can fix that." Yohji pulled his shirt off and carelessly tossed it in the direction of Aya's clothes. Reached down and pulled off first one boot, then the other. Tore of the buckle of his belt and his zipper even as he dropped to the mat next to Aya, catching himself with one elbow, mouth magnetically drawn back to Aya's. Aya rose up to met him, hands going to the waist band of Yohji's pants, helping him pry the things off his hips and push them down his legs. His efforts of wriggling out of them worked him a little ways down the length of Aya's body. He kicked the hindering things off the rest of the way, even as he took advantage of the new position. Of Aya's taut nipples so close to his mouth.

With that intriguing bit of flesh in his mouth, he was in heaven. With Aya's warm thigh between his legs, pressing tightly against his throbbing manhood, he thought he might make a fool of himself and cum before anything heavier than petting had been initiated. He worked his way down, leaving a wet trail of open mouthed kisses all along the way, following the passage of his mouth with the caress of his hands, reveling at the feel of the gooseflesh he raised and the rapid rise and fall of Ayaís chest.

Further down and he reached the heart of the matter. That straining bit of flesh and muscle that lay hard and hot against Aya's white stomach. Experimentally he pressed his lips against the heated tip of it. Oh -- velvet and soft and salty sweet. The flushed skin of Aya's taut ball sack was pleasant to the feel. Aya's sobbing cry echoed through the room as Yohji took the length of him into his mouth. His back arched off the floor, his fingers digging ineffectually at the mat and failing to find a clutchable surface transferred themselves to Yohji's hair and shoulders.

He was -- delectable and the passion Yohji was able to rouse from him made it twice as nice. He was as much of a novice as Aya in the arena of giving a proper blowjob. But he had the advantage of having had a long history of receiving them, and therefore knew intimately what drove him to distraction.

Yohji trailed his hands up Aya's sides, back down again, slipping under his buttocks and cupping them, kneading the firm flesh there, letting his fingers ghost along the crevice between them. Aya shuddered, long and hard and Yohji knew what was coming. The thought of pulling back briefly flashed across his mind and was just as quickly banished. He wanted everything Aya had to offer. Every nuance, every essential part of him. It hit the back of his throat, fluid and hot. Aya's cry came with it, as inarticulate as a wild thing. There had been no screaming of Yohji's name. He thought he could live with the disappointment. He thought as he worked the quickly softening member in his mouth that it was hardly as great as the disappointment that he'd not come prepared for anything other than oral sex and that he doubted he would get from Aya.

"Put your hands on me." He slid back up the length of Aya's body, staring intently into Aya's dilated violet eyes. Obediently enough, Aya's hands drifted across his taught tummy, fingers tangling in the hair around his penis, then slipping about that angry shaft of molten heat. Long, slim fingers encircled, testing his girth, his length -- stroking with growing confidence.

Aya added his other hand to the mix, lowering his head to see what he was about so that all that Yohji saw was the top of his fiery hair.

"That's good. Like that. Harder. Tighter." Yohji gasped, leaning closer in, stroking Aya's arms and shoulders. He came all at once, spurting hot seed over both their bellies. Aya's hands lingered, testing, exploring, trailing up over Yohjiís hip afterwards as if he'd never felt the texture of another person's skin.

"Is that -- all?" he asked, eyes veiled under hair and lashes.

Yohji almost laughed. He didn't. Aya sounded entirely too concerned. He would not have endured laughter well. Not now.

Yohji cupped his face, forcing his head up so that he could see those beautiful eyes.

"You didn't like it?"

A slow blink of thick dark lashes. Aya opened his mouth. Shut it. Flushed. Opened it again and admitted. "It was --- unexpected. It was nice."

"Just nice? You sounded like it was more than nice."

"It was more than nice. I thought -- I thought there would be more. That you would --- want -- more."

"Oh there's more, there's much, much more. But I didn't come up here expecting anything more than an argument. I wasn't prepared. It would have hurt too much otherwise."

Another curious blink. "I thought it was supposed to hurt. I thought that pain was a part of it."

It was Yohji's turn to stare. "Aya -- no. Maybe a little -- but it's supposed to feel good." It occurred to him, even as he said it, that maybe Aya had only ever had sex accompanied by pain -- and humiliation -- and forced submission. That maybe he expected it. Maybe even wanted it or needed it. Sometimes people that had been victimized got screwed up like that. They got their wires crossed and couldn't enjoy anything but the pain/humiliation/submission. Maybe he'd wanted pain from Yohji to chase away the memory of the pain he'd gotten from Shuldig.

"Its not gonna be like that." Yohji whispered, pressing his lips to the bridge of Aya's nose.

Aya looked at him, not understanding.

"If you want more. I'll give you more. But damned if I'm gonna hurt you in the process. I don't care how bad you want it."

Another blink. This time when the lashes fluttered back up, Aya's eyes were hard and offended. He sat up of a sudden, those lips that had been wonderfully soft and full under Yohji's, gone thin and tight.

"What does that mean?"

Aw, damn. He hadn't really meant to voice that thought. "Nothing. It doesn't mean anything."

"I don't want anything from you. This was a mistake"

"Oh for fucking Christ's sake, Aya!"

But Aya was already making a grab for his pants, rising to his feet even as he pulled them up, bending down to snatch up his shirt and stalking for the door with it hanging from his hand. Fucking, annoying, short-tempered, sensitive, thin-skinned -- bastard. For walking out on Yohji after -- that. After Yohji had fucking swallowed. Son of a bitch. He grabbed up his own jeans, hopping to get them up and around his hips. Ignoring the rest of his clothing in efforts to get to Aya before Aya could get downstairs and either lock himself in the dubious sanctuary of his room, or meld into Ken and Omi's company where he would be safe from any conversation concerning what they'd just done.

Damned if Yohji was going to let it end on that sour note.



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