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by P L Nunn




Clomp. Clomp. Clomp. Through the snow, boots lodging in whiteness up to his calves, white, fluffy flakes clumping in his lashes, sticking to the wetness on his cheeks. He hardly felt the pain of the bullet wound through the cold and the shock.

Fool. Fool twice over. He'd known it wasn't her. Absolutely known and yet still, he'd hesitated and put himself in a tenuous situation for it. It was just the date. He'd been thinking about her, and the last time he'd been with her on this day. Her birthday when he'd tried subtly for something that she'd been oblivious to. She'd accepted his flowers and his gift and his attempt at a dinner meant to be romantic like she'd accepted everything from him - - openly and honestly and with a warmth that tended more towards consanguinity than romantic. But it had been okay, because he'd rather have her close to him in the capacity of a friend - - god, not the friend word - - if that's how she wanted it - - than not at all. The worst of it was, that before she'd died there had been a change and he didn't think he'd ever get over the what if's and what might have been's for as long as he lived.

A hand gripped his arm, hard and he whirled, reflexively slamming an elbow backwards to dislodge his accoster and Aya, who hadn't been expecting the attack, staggered backwards, boots slipping in the snow, going down, ass backwards into the white and sitting there, a splotch of jet black against the white, glaring up, pink checked, breath frosting the air and pissed off.

"Aya?" Yoji said stupidly.

"What the hell are you doing?" Aya hissed.

Yoji blinked, trying to focus. "I fucked up. M'sorry. What happened back there?"

He held out a hand. An offering of assistance. Aya ignored it, getting up on his own, mustering as much grace as possible in this situation, brushing snow off his coat in frustration.

"You're hit." Aya said, staring with narrow eyes at the growing patch of red at Yoji's feet. Yoji looked down numbly.

"They saw you. You let them see you."


"Sorry doesn't make it right. Sorry isn't going to fix things now that they know they're compromised."

"Ken and Omi still watching?"

Aya sniffed. "They're trying. They scattered."

"You came after me?" Yoji asked and really hadn't meant it as offense, but Aya's brows drew and he took it as one.

"Where are you hit?" he asked, teeth clenched, hand fisting over the sheath of his katana. Yoji had to think before answering, not quite sure. Where was the center of the dull ache? His heart? No, that was emotional, not physical. He lifted a hand to his side and felt a stinging tenderness. He fingered the rip in his coat.

"It just grazed me, I think. No big deal."

"You're leaving a trail of blood. Come on." Aya grasped his arm, glancing cautiously over his shoulder to scan the dark park. There seemed to be no one about but the two of them. The world was muffled in white, silent and pristine - - save for the singular stains of red marring the perfection.

They trudged across the expanse of the park, and across the road on the other side. There were no cars moving, only the parked ones and they were great hidden lumps under the snow. The light of the streetlamp illuminated a flurry of flakes and they passed it quickly enough, preferring the shadow. Down a block, past small shops and businesses, past the orifice of a newer office building and into an older section. Aya put a hand to his ear, listening to something Omi or Ken was reporting. Yoji didn't reach up to flip on his own com unit.

Aya murmured something into his collar about Yoji being hit, and that he was seeing to him and for Ken and Omi not to separate, even if they had to lose part of their quarry. Aya was spooked, Yoji could see it in his eyes, maybe because the mission had gone sour, maybe because one of his had been wounded - - maybe it was something else, something wrong in the air that had his hackles up and had him glancing over his shoulder every half a block or so.

"We being tailed?" Yoji finally asked, not quite getting that sense himself, but sometimes Aya picked up on things that the rest of them missed.

Aya didn't answer, lips pressed tight and eyes narrow. His hair was littered with delicate flakes of snow. The lobes of his ears were red with cold, as were his nose and his cheeks. Otherwise he was china doll pale.

"Listen, I'm sorry. I screwed up, okay. I - - I got distracted and lost my focus."

"There was a girl in the snow." Aya said, low and soft. "You left your position and followed her."

So Aya had seen that, had he? Wonderful. She'd drawn him like the warmth of a flame and he'd just had to get a little close and get a glance. Just a little closer look to make sure he wasn't being haunted yet again by her.

"Yeah. There was a girl. I thought - - she sort of looked like Asuka from one angle and - - and I just needed a closer look see, that was all."

Silence. Aya's lashes fluttered down, hiding his eyes. "You stupid son of a bitch." The insult hissed from between clenched teeth. "You compromise all of us because you thought a girl looked like Asuka? Again?"

" . . . . . . Yeah. Bad habits die hard, I guess." Yoji whispered. "So sue me."

Aya stopped in his tracks, glaring, angry enough at the moment, Yoji thought, to draw that sword he held so close to his body and spill a little more of Yoji's blood. "So was it?" He finally hissed. "Another incarnation of Asuka?"

Yoji laughed and shrugged. "No. It was just a girl out in the snow. She was cute. That's all."

Aya swore under his breath and started moving again. Yoji trudged after. "Where we going? Subway?"

Aya didn't answer, properly pissed off from the set of his shoulders. Yoji dogged his heels for a while in silence, then finally got tired of looking at Aya's slim, dark back and picked up his pace, catching up to walk beside him, hands under his armpits, face numb from the cold.

"You jealous?"

Silence as icy as the streets.

"Cause you know, it was just a girl, after all - - " Just a girl. Just Yoji going mental once more because Asuka's memory started weighing on his mind too heavily, as it did now and again. It might have been okay, if he'd just loved her and lost her the one time - - people recovered from that - - mostly. The second time had been the clincher. The second time with his hands around her neck - - that did it. That kept him up some nights and drove him to the bottle and the occasional harder diversion. But not so much lately. Not so much with other things to divert him. It was just - - he shouldn't have thought about it being her birthday. But how not, really? He wasn't so good at damming the emotional flotsam, not like Aya, who had a dam inside his psyche holding back an ocean's worth of emotions.

"Damnit, Yoji," Aya surprised him. Aya shoved him of a sudden towards the mouth of an alley and slammed one hand against his shoulder, knocking him backwards against a snow frosted wall. "It's not just a girl. It's you leaving your position and getting shot and consequently making me leave mine."

"Nobody asked you."

Aya hissed through his teeth, grabbing Yoji's jacket and shaking him hard enough to crack his head back against the wall. It hurt.

"Idiot! If you'd bled out in the snow, we'd have to cover it up."

"Oh, so that's what was worrying you. Covering up my frozen corpse. For a second I was thinking maybe you were a little concerned about me. A live me. Sorry. Forgot who I was talking to for a mom - -"

Aya pushed forward, pressing his cold lips over Yoji's, effectively cutting him off. And oh, though his lips might have been cold, his tongue was warm and the insides of his mouth slick and hot.

"Shut up, Yoji." He whispered, breath warm and moist against Yoji's lips.

There was no argument there, not at the moment. Yoji lifted his hands, sliding his gloved fingers up through Aya's hair, more than willing to continue what Aya had started. It drove the cold away for a brief moment. Made a body forget the snow and the stinging, distant pain and the melancholy over old lost loves in favor of the heat that stirred between a body's legs at the prospect of a newer one.

Aya broke for air, leaning with one arm braced on the wall beside Yoji's head, his forehead pressed against Yoji's, his breath a faint cloud in the shadows.

Something shifted at the mouth of the alley, a darkness against the pale glow of nighttime snow. Two something's. Maybe more.

"Aya?" Yoji murmured. "You see?"

"Yes." Soft breath against his skin. Aya didn't shift, just a slight movement of his hand, hidden in the shadow of their bodies, shifting from the sheath of the katana to the hilt.

There was the metallic sound that might have been a gun clicking against a man's belt buckle as it was drawn. Aya didn't wait to see for certain. He pushed himself away from Yoji, whipping out his arm and flinging the loosened sheath with deadly accuracy at the closest figure. A man grunted, hit square in the face, and staggered backwards, loosing his grip on something small and solid that fell with a thump into the snow. He wasn't the only threat by a long shot. There were three more of them, bulky in their winter coats, cumbersome in the deep snow. But you didn't need that much grace to fire a gun. A bullet hit the wall next to Yoji and he dove out into the alley, flinging a length of wire as he did, snaring his quarry's gun arm and yanking hard. The wire lodged in the heavy material of the man's coat, but it tangled him long enough for Yoji to close the distance and slam the palm of his hand up under the man's jaw, and subsequently twin a wire about an unprotected throat.

Red splattered the trampled snow. Yoji leapt back, avoiding the spray, spinning and looking for another threat. Aya was taking proper care of it. Two still bodies in the snow, counting the one Aya had taken out with his sheath. One more that was backing away from him, aiming a stub nosed gun. He fired and there was the crack of impact against metal. Aya's sword arm jerked, the blade knocked briefly aside, before he brought it back into play with a swipe so fast the eye could barely follow it. The gunman's mouth gaped. The front of his jacket began to turn red. Legs gave out and the man fell flat on his face.

"Damn." Aya said, standing there, staring at the bodies.

"Yeah." Yoji echoed. "That last bullet glanced off your sword."

Aya looked down at the blade, inspecting it for chips, found a shallow score and frowned. "It was luck."

"I wouldn't call it that - - exactly." Yoji gasped the last, staggering back against the wall, bending down to press a hand against his leg. He hadn't even felt it at first. Just noticed a slight impact against his thigh. It could have been a clod of snow for all he'd known, until he'd felt the hot trickle of blood down his leg.

"I'm having a really, really shitty night." Shot twice, and once by a bullet redirected by the edge of Aya's katana. Wonderful.

Aya snatched up his sheath and slammed the blade home, then hurried over to Yoji, getting an arm under his shoulder to haul him off the wall.

"C'mon. We have to go. The shots will have been heard."

"Yeah, guess they didn't much like our attention, huh?"

They hurried down the alley, as fast as Yoji could with the growing pain in his thigh. He was trailing blood and that wouldn't do. They crossed the street and trudged down another alley and Aya veered him aside and up the steps to what looked to be the loading dock of an old building in the midst of being renovated, if the dumpsters full of discarded building material were any indication.

"Lock." Aya said, leaving Yoji by the door, trusting his skills to pick the lock while he hurried back down the alley to wipe away sign of their passage. Yoji went down on one knee, grunting in pain and dug in his pocket for his tool kit. He had to take off his gloves to get the thin metal picks out and have enough feeling to trick the lock. It didn't take long. He hauled himself up by the doorframe and inside. The building was dark and deserted on this snowy Saturday night. There was building material in the halls and a freight elevator to the right. He leaned against the wall next to it and waited for Aya to finish up and join him.

Aya did soon enough, bits of snow still clinging to his coat and his hair and his boots. His eyes were hooded in shadow, his mouth set.

"That work?" he asked of Yoji, jutting his chin towards the freight elevator.

"Yeah. Power's on." Yoji said. Aya pulled up the outer door, then slid open the inner one. Yoji limped in and jammed his thumb against the button for the top floor. All the way up in silence, save for the creaking of the elevator cables. It had barely jerked to a halt before Aya was pulling open the doors and darting out, making sure this building was as abandoned as they'd hoped. There were two unlocked, halfway finished loft apartments on this level. The one they invaded was spacious and white washed, with hardwood floors and high ceilings and a huge, round gothic window gracing the one wall that gave them a view of the rooftops across the street and the snow flecked night. The kitchen was only half finished, but the bath was in working order and the heat in place. Aya found the wall thermostat and turned the temperature up while Yoji went into the bathroom and turned on one of the only working light fixtures in the place.

He was shrugging out of his coat by the time Aya came in.

"Anything in the cabinet?" Aya asked.

"First aid kit." The sort of stuff workmen might need to soothe the hazards of the job. The sort of hazards Yoji and Aya ran into generally were not curable by Band-Aids and peroxide. They'd have to do for now. Yoji winced as he pulled the weave of his sweater away from the score in his side. It was a shallow wound, but it was beginning to sting as much, if not more than the bullet hole in his leg.

"Pants." Aya said.

Yoji steeled himself with an in-drawn breath and complied. It hurt to bend his leg. He'd known once he sat down that the reality of being shot would really start to sink in. Aya helped, unzipping his ankle boots and pulling them off, then easing the pants off. Yoji's leg was stained red with blood, on both sides. He was still bleeding like a stuck pig. He looked down at the glistening flesh at the edges of the wound and winced, letting his head fall back against the wall behind the toilet. He was so much better at dealing with other people's wounds than he was his own.

"It went straight through." Aya said, gently prodding the wound, causing fresh blood to seep out.

""Owwww." Yoji complained, reaching out to clench his fingers around Aya's shoulder, since there was nothing else in range to take the pain out on.

"Let me have your shirt." Aya requested and Yoji moaned. It was a damn nice sweater. A new one and Aya wanted to rip it up.

"Use yours."

He got a look.

"I just got it. Its expensive." Yoji heard the whine in his voice and winced.

The look lingered. Yoji swore under his breath and yanked it off, and sat thereafter in his boxers, his arms folded across his chest, as Aya took his katana to the sweater. He poured peroxide over the wounds and wet a strip of cloth to clean them as best he could, then wound a few more thick strips around Yoji's thigh and used the small roll of gauze in the med-kit to fasten them tightly in place. He cleaned the score in Yoji's side and used the rest of it covering that. When he was finished he sat there, on his knees by the toilet with a hand on Yoji's knee, and stared blankly at some indefinable spot on the wall.

"Aya? You okay?" Yoji ventured, spooked by the blank gaze. He tentatively lifted a hand, skimming it over Aya's hair. Aya blinked and glared, pushing himself back.


"Don't what?" Yoji watched Aya disappear into the loft. "Touch you? Sorry.' He muttered the last part, disheartened and bordering on the beginnings of a nice depression. He hurt. He was having melancholy recollections of dead loves and Aya had decided to be in a mood. He pulled himself up by the sink and limped out of the bath. There was blood on the floor. They'd have to clean up before they left, or somebody would have the police here, looking for all the things police looked for with a multiple homicide right down the street.

Aya stood by the round window, staring down at the dark street. It was a damn fine window and a damn fine loft - - the sort that would cost an arm and a leg to rent when it was done. The sort of place he wouldn't have been able to afford a lifetime ago before Weiss, and not secure enough - - or discreet enough - - or whatever - - now that he had the money.

There was an old sofa, probably dragged in out of some dumpster by the workmen, sitting forlorn and lonely in the center of the hardwood floor, a full ashtray and a few discarded beer bottles scattered on the floor close by. Yoji eased himself down, back against the arm, injured leg stretched out the length of the sofa.

"So - - how long we gonna stay here?" he dared the silence.

Aya didn't answer at once. He had his hand to his ear, maybe in communication with Ken or Omi. Finally he shifted, gracing Yoji with more than his profile.

"The night at least. We'll slip out in the morning. Hopefully there will be more foot traffic by then."

"Yeah. Hopefully, I can walk by then. Leg's gonna be stiff as hell tomorrow."

"You'll walk."

That was Aya. No mercy. No pity. A cruel, cruel taskmaster. More so when he was miffed.

"They might have lost the target for good. Two weeks work wasted because of this fuckup tonight."

Yoji swallowed, preparing himself for a serious reprimand. "I know. It was stupid." He might as well get the ball rolling. "I didn't think.'

"No, you didn't. And why? Because you can't stop mourning that woman. And how many times has it caused us trouble . . .?"

"Can we just let it stand at 'I fucked up', Aya?" Yoji clenched his fists.

"No. Because what happens next time?"

"Nothing happens the fucking next time - - because there will be no next time. So drop it."

"She's dead. Why can't you accept it?" There was something in the way Aya said it - - some derisive tone in his voice - - as if he were judging Yoji from some imaginary pedestal.

"Hypocrite." Yoji said softly. "Where the fuck do you get off telling anyone to get over anything? You're the most obsessive compulsive person I've ever met and you have the balls to lecture me? Like you never broke position for your own reasons." Yoji crossed his arms over his bare chest and turned away, not wanting to look at Aya at the moment, any more than Aya probably wanted to look at him. He hurt. He was feeling a little lightheaded from the wounds or blood loss or emotional backlash - - who the hell knew - - it was like he was one big bruise.

Aya didn't fling back a retort. Aya just stood at the window, forehead pressed against the glass, fuming maybe or preparing to switch on the "ice mode" that would make the streets outside look absolutely balmy.

"Listen," Yoji took a breath, wanting to break the ice before it started to thicken. If he didn't, no one would. Aya never initiated truces. He never made the first step towards de'tente. It wasn't in his nature - - or if it was, it was buried so deep - - under so much scar tissue - - that he couldn't reach it.

"I know I messed up. I admit it and I'm sorry as hell. I can't change it, so can we accept that I'm a fool and just go on?"

Silence. A shifting of leather and a slice of profile as Aya turned his head a little to glance at Yoji.

"You're not a fool. Not generally." Softly said. It must have been hard. "More - - impulsive."

Yoji's lips twitched in a grin. He felt the hard knot that had been crystallizing in his gut start to dissolve. "Impulsive. I like that. So what are you?"

Aya gave him a more direct look, then it softened and he shrugged. "If it had been her - - walking through the park - - miraculously alive - - what would you have done?"

So there it was. The real question at the heart of the matter. When Yoji had asked Aya if he were jealous of Asuka, back there on the snow-covered sidewalk, it had been a more potent question than he'd known. Maybe Aya was. Of a ghost. Maybe he had a right to be. Maybe Yoji would be the fool he called himself and throw away what he had for what he'd never really had a hold of. But - - more than likely not.

"What sort of favor would I be doing her, if I did anything but let her walk past? All I've ever given her is death - - why think it would be any different one more time around?"

"Because you - - love - - loved her?" Tentatively asked, very soft, very reluctantly as if speaking of love were so hard for Aya.

"Yeah. And because I've got other considerations now. Other loyalties. And I wouldn't betray them, kapesh?"

Aya would understand loyalty. He could accept that more than any silly declaration of love. Loyalty, honor, responsibility - - those were the things a man might speak of without stuttering and blushing and feeling the fool, even if warmer things lurked under the surface that were never spoken of or explored, except during the wordless dance of bodies under sheets, skin against skin, breath mingling with breath.

Aya mulled that over, lashes half-mast, white teeth, gnawing ever so subtly at bottom lip. He moved over to the couch, loose coat, bare hands stained with traces of Yoji's blood. He leaned over, serious and somber and said. "All right." Leaned further and grazed Yoji's lips with his, like a whispery seal of acceptance or benediction or forgiveness - - who knew what was in Aya's mind when he went quiet and pensive. He made to pull back and Yoji reached up and caught his sweater, keeping him there, a hand's breath away.

"Don't go away. It's cold in here and you tore up my clothes."

"Its not that cold and your jackets in there - - "

Yoji arched a brow. "Work with me here, Aya." He pulled harder, drawing Aya back down. Another soft kiss and Aya put a knee over the back of the couch. Slid down the other side to straddle Yoji, hand on his bare skin, careful of the bandages under his ribs. Careful of the bullet hole in his thigh.

Kissing was nice. A long and leisurely exploration of taste and texture. Yoji pushed the leather from Aya's shoulders and Aya shrugged his arms out of the jacket, letting it fall to the floor, he broke from the kiss long enough to pull his sweater off, then bent back down. His hand slid down Yoji's tummy, under the waistband of his boxers and captured the hot flesh hidden within. Yoji groaned into his mouth, grinding upwards into Aya's hands, almost dislodging Aya in his eagerness.

"Don't tease." He groaned. "I'm injured. My stamina's shot to hell along with the rest of me."

Aya gave him a look, a faint curve of his lips, then scooted back, sliding down Yoji's legs to the other end of the couch, pulling Yoji's boxers with him, discarding them on the floor along with his coat and sweater. His breath was hot and moist against Yoji's skin. His lips soft, when they pressed against the skin of Yoji's thighs. Higher, grazing the most sensitive spot, teasing and cruel as they skimmed over the line of hair leading from Yoji's loins to his navel. Yoji cursed and shifted uncomfortably, and Aya moved to allow him to raise his injured leg, and trail the other one off the side of the couch.

Then Aya did what Aya didn't often do, at least not without much coercion and pretty begging - - he took Yoji in his mouth with slow, sure deliberation. It was a damn shame Aya didn't much care for the giving of oral sex, because he was good at it. He was creative and he took it seriously. Between his hands, his mouth and his oh, so wondrous tongue, Yoji flung his head back on the arm of the couch and tried to keep his heart from pounding its way out of his chest. He ought, he thought, in that portion of his brain still capable of intellectual function, to belittle himself more often, maybe garner an injury or two on occasion, for a little bit of pity seemed to go a long ways with Aya. And he'd called Aya a cruel taskmaster.

"Oh, god - - don't stop - -" he blurted when Aya lifted his head, removing all contact with Yoji's straining flesh. Aya cocked his head, violet eyes glinting, reached back and pulled off one boot, then the other, then unfastened his pants and managed to shimmy out of them without leaving the space between Yoji's legs. All of which left him gloriously pale and naked, his own livid erection bobbing from the patch of auburn hair from which it sprouted. He slid up Yoji's torso, a tantalizing connection of flesh, the electric jolt as hyper-sensitive erections pressed together.

"Condom - - in my jacket." Yoji gasped, as Aya pulled back from the kiss. Aya smiled slyly and held up a package between his fingers. "Oh, baby - I didn't know you cared." Yoji returned the grin, albeit with a little desperation. Of course he carried condoms on his person in any situation, but the fact that Aya had one secreted in his clothing was just - - encouraging. Yoji supposed they'd had enough circumstances, unexpected overnight stakeouts, and the like, where things had gotten out of hand - - or in hand, as the case might be, that Aya had thought to come prepared. Of course he would, Aya never left any of his bases uncovered.

"Don't call me, baby," Aya whispered, tearing the package open with his teeth, and pulling out the contents. He ran the tips of two fingers up the underside of Yoji's cock, tracing the big vein, circling the head with that same soft touch, then placed the condom over the tip and rolled it slowly down. He crawled forward, planting his knees on either side of Yoji's waist, then settled down, one hand behind him, still on Yoji's erection, as he seated himself, the other on the back of the couch for balance, fingers digging into the padding as the head of Yoji's cock stretched his body in its gradual migration inwards.

Yoji's fingers skimmed Aya's thighs, his belly, the straining flesh of his erection. It was hard to keep his mind on Keeping Aya's off the initial discomfort when his cock was screaming in appreciation at the feel of Aya's body closing in around it.

Aya made a sound. A little gasping groan as he settled firmly down upon Yoji's hips. He bowed his head for a moment, breathing. Just breathing and Yoji reached up and grasped his shoulder, drawing him down even as he ignored the stinging pain in his side and strained up for a kiss. Aya's kiss was hungrier now, a little more desperate now that the heated pulse of Yoji's erection was sheathed inside him.

And when he began to move - - Yoji thought he might actually, honest to god pass out from the lack of proper blood flow to his head. He'd lost enough of it on the passage here to account for the faintness and the rest seemed to be pooling at his groin. He shut his eyes and let the wave of sensation carry him along with it. Let his fingers skin Aya's hips, his thighs, the soft, heated skin of his balls as they slapped against Yoji's belly.

Aya leaned forward, one hand on his own erection, one hand on the arm rest of the sofa next to Yoji's head. The ends of his hair tickled Yoji's face. The sound of his breath coincided with the rasp of Yoji's own. Yoji didn't have the stamina at the moment, in the shape he was in, to prolong it. His balls tightened, his hips thrust up sharply - - once - - twice - - thrice - - and he spurted the seed of his completion up into Aya's bowels.

It took Aya a little longer. He remained there, perched over Yoji, head bowed, hand gripping the sofa, pumping his own erection until Yoji felt his body jerk, heard him catch his breath and soon after felt the warm spatter of Aya's ejaculate on his stomach. Aya sighed, the strength in his arms giving out, his body settling against Yoji's. Yoji slid his hands around Aya's back, lazily skimming his fingers over skin faintly damp from the efforts of sex.

It was nice - - even with Aya's weight pressing down upon his sore side and the constant dull ache in the leg he had stretched out off the side of the couch - - it was just damned - - comfortable. Even with his moods and his bouts of glacial coldness and his obsessive compulsions which were every bit as distracting as anything that afflicted Yoji - - Aya was comfortable. He'd never once bedded Aya, finished the act itself and started thinking about how he was going to talk his way out of staying the night - - and there had been damned few women or men over the last few years - - hell - - ever, if he wanted to get technical - - that he just wanted to lay with and feel the texture of their skin and hear the rhythm of their breath. Sometimes nowadays, Aya was the only thing that made this life he'd made for himself tolerable - - whether Aya knew it or not. Whether Aya felt the same or not. Aya's use for him might have been more simple. A mere physical release that the body needed after so much stress. Aya wasn't much for expressing his feelings, so a man was left to wonder most of the time. But sometimes, with Aya's fingers in his hair and Aya's cheek grazing his and Aya's soft, warm breath against his ear - - well sometimes he thought it was more than physical need.

"So, I guess," Yoji murmured, fingers still skimming Aya's cooling skin. "You're not still mad at me, humm?"

Aya made a soft sound, an aborted snort that was lost in Yoji's hair, the he sighed and pushed himself up a little, hands on either side of Yoji's head, eyes serious and intent from under the shadow of his hair. "A little."

"A little? Still? I can't complain about how you show it."

"Maybe not at you - - as much as myself." Aya chewed his lip, ignoring Yoji's flippancy, looking towards the window over the back of the couch. "You broke position because of the girl - - I abandoned mine because of you. Because I saw you take a hit and - - and I stopped thinking. That's dangerous." Aya shivered, tiny goose pimples appearing on his skin

"So we work on it." Yoji said, pulling Aya back down where he could share in Yoji's body heat. "So we keep in mind that we need to be extra careful because maybe it'll hurt more than just one of us if something happened. Because anything else is not an option, okay?"

Aya didn't refute that. Aya lay there in silence and Yoji didn't want to think about all the morose, possible detrimental thoughts running about inside his head. So he admitted a truth

"I loved her, you know. But I never needed her the way I need you. Her being there never kept me - - alive - - from one day to the next. Just - - just so you know."

More silence. Long and thoughtful, until finally Aya's lips pressed softly into the skin of Yoji's shoulder and he whispered. "Okay."

Not much of a declaration - - but there was something in the word and the feel of Aya's body trying to conform with his on the narrow confines of the couch that made it carry more weight than those two spoken syllables.

Yoji smiled and mouthed three more words that Aya couldn't see or hear. But that was just as well, no need to get entirely melodramatic on such a dark and snowy winter's night.


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