Yoji hit the mat with a resounding ‘thud’. Flat on his ass for the fourth time in a row, the breath knocked out of his lungs by the impact, sore muscles complaining of the assault and battery being perpetrated upon them. He was going to have bruises, of that he was certain. His ego had already been thrashed soundly, after a morning of ‘working out’ with Ken. Ken had insisted, claiming it would be great fun. Claiming that he’d missed mock sparing with Yoji, that Aya was no fun and that the rest of the members of Krypton Brand always took the whole thing too seriously.
“Like their lives depended on it, eh?” Yoji had asked with an arched brow and Ken had wholeheartedly agreed, missing the sarcasm entirely in his eagerness.
Yoji had been living under the misguided impression that he had not gotten that badly out of shape. That he was lean and mean and not far from what he had been once upon a time when his life had depended upon his reflexes and his skills. Ken showed him the error of that assumption and the only thing he could be thankful for was that unlike their old ‘sessions’ no live weapons were in use. Just bodies, and Ken’s was a great deal quicker and harder than his own.
“Jesus Christ, Yoji, what have you been doin’ with yourself? You suck.”
“Thanks a fucking lot.” Yoji groused, rubbing his backside sourly. “I worked in an office for a year, remember.”
“Yeah, but Geeze, even so, you forget how to block a punch.”
“Fuck off. I need a smoke.”
“The smokes aren’t helping. You’re in sorry shape, man. You’re just lucky it was me ‘stead of Aya down here.”
Yoji snorted, remembering well enough that Aya took his training damned seriously. The ‘down’ here was the basement of the third of the brownstone flats that Krypton Brand used as living, working and training quarters. It was a big open space, windowless and cool, floor littered with mats, walls lined with various training weapons and accessories.
“You’re just lucky I agreed to come down and endure getting my ass kicked by you for an hour.”
“Well, I didn’t know you’d let your self go to pot so badly.”
Yoji grimaced and flipped Ken the byrd in lue of vocally telling him what he could do. Ken grinned. At the very least, Yoji had made him work up a sweat. That was something.
“Next time, I’ll take it easier on you, ’till you get back in the swing of things.” Ken promised.
“Who says there’s going to be a next time. I don’t recall ever being that much of a masochist.”
“You slept with Aya didn’t you?” Ken shot back.
“Blow me.” Yoji said with a tight smile. “Besides which, who says I need to ‘get back in the swing of things’ anyways? Its not like I’ll need it. I’m not doing ‘work’ anymore, so who cares?”
“I care.” Ken said in all seriousness. “Aya cares. I thought you understood that we’re not necessarily the safest bunch of guys to hang around. Just being ‘you’ is living at risk, Yoji.”
“Well that sucks. Aya asked you to drag me down here?”
“Aya didn’t ask me anything.” Ken said. “But maybe he did mention that he noticed you were a little slow on the uptake back in Kyoto when the shit was hitting the fan.”
“Slow on the . . . I didn’t have my memories at the time.” Yoji snapped. “And besides which, I think I did damned good considering that.”
“I’m not saying you start training with the wire again. I’m just saying that maybe you ought to work on the self-defense aspect a little, case you . . . say, run into Farfarello in a dark alley or something.”
Yoji opened his mouth. Shut it, unwanted images popping into his mind. Even armed and in top form, running into someone like Farfarello in nasty mood would have been a risky venture. “Well, I guess I’d be fucked, wouldn’t I?”
“Trying to avoid that.” Ken waved an arm around the room to remind Yoji what this ass-kicking session had been all about.
“Yeah, whatever.” Yoji pushed himself up, wincing at the twinge of sore muscles. “Don’t you have something to do?”
Ken shrugged. “Tonight. I know the specs. No biggie.”
Which had always been Ken’s general feeling about most missions he’d been sent out on, as far back as Yoji could remember. There wasn’t much that could make Ken spend hours rehashing mission plans, after he’d gotten the gist of them the first time round. Hell, Yoji had been much the same way. It had always been Aya and Omi who scrutinized the details over and over, as if half the time missions didn’t end up being flown by the seat of their pants anyway.
“Well, unlike you, I don’t have anything on my agenda for the rest of the day, so first off, I’m walking round the block to enjoy a smoke, then I’m for a nice long, hot shower to ease the beating you just gave me.”
“Dude, it’s not my fault you’ve gotten slow in your old age.”
Ken grinned, shaking sweat dampened hair from his eyes. “Yeah, whatever. You want company?”
Yoji lifted a brow. He felt like he’d had a second shadow these last few days since he’d arrived in London. Hell, if Aya had been sticking half as close to him as Ken, he might have figured there was glittering hope for an uncertain relationship.
“Ken, I’m not going anywhere.”
Ken blinked, a faint blush coloring his cheeks. He snorted to cover it and stomped over to grab his bottled water from the floor beyond the mat. “I didn’t think you were.” He groused, scowling. “I was just being polite.”
Yoji grinned briefly, then squashed it as Ken glanced back his way. Being ‘Polite’ was not generally something Ken put much effort into. Being worried about a friend that had proved unreliable in the past about sticking to promises was a more likely scenario. Ken had had enough trusts broken to be particularly wary when it came to guarding what was precious to him.
“And you’re doing an admirable job at it.” He said, suddenly feeling a little embarrassed himself. He sat down at the edge of the mat and pulled socks and boots back on, then grabbed his jacket with the happy little bulge of cigarette box and lighter snuggled in the inside pocket.
“Anyway, luck tonight.” He left Ken in the basement, climbing wooden stairs back up to the pantry off the kitchen, and then outside and down the narrow alley between brownstones to the street. True to his word he pulled out a smoke as he walked, strolling down the street towards the little park at the end while he let his body cool down. By the time he’d made the circuit, his cigarette was down to the filter and he fought the urge to take out a new one to occupy him on the walk back. He tried – – he really tried to make a pack stretch several days, but sometimes the urge just got the better of him. The only way he’d been able to quit cold turkey the last time was traumatic injury and even then ghost cravings had snuk up on him now and again.
A shower took his mind off it. He let it run till the hot water started to go cool, then stepped out, slipping into cleanly washed jeans and long sleeve T-shirt. He almost forgot and left the towels on the floor, but caught himself before he could become a nightmare guest in Aya’s fastidious abode. Aya hadn’t said anything yet, but even at Yoji’s best, he tended to leave things a little too untidy for Aya’s tastes. Aya would just silently go behind him and straighten a pillow on the couch, wind the cord around the playstation controllers and place them neatly atop the game, or wash the stray glass that Yoji might have left in the sink. It made Yoji feel guilty. It made him think about getting off his ass and finding a place of his own. Only money was an issue and though he had enough for a few months rent, his funds were fast dwindling. Not that he regretted his generosity with Sister Hisa. He figured she would need his rediscovered nest egg more than he would. He had to fight the urge to call Omi and find out how she was. Omi would take care of things. Omi had promised to see that she was unmolested by the disaster that Yoji had left in his wake.
He sat in front of ken’s old TV, nursing a beer, watching one of the few channels that the set would pick up, only half paying attention to the somber voice of the newscaster on the screen. He would have preferred something mindless, like sports, or cartoons, but nothing so entertaining was on.
He was toying with the idea of cutting on the playstation when he heard the soft sound of Aya’s steps in the hallway outside.
“Hey.” Yoji watched Aya move into the room from under his lashes, watched the unfocused way Aya took note of him, and nodded the required greeting. Watched the automatic way he hung his jacket from the hook by the door. Aya’s attention was clearly elsewhere, no great surprise with a KryptonBrand mission that night.
“You want something to eat?” Yoji asked, doubting very much Aya would have an appetite, what with mission nerves and all.
“Humm?” Aya blinked at him, as if only taking note of him for the first time.
“Eat? You want I should run down the street and get something . . . you know, before you go out?”
“No. We’re leaving earlier than expected. I don’t know if I’ll be back tonight.”
“Okay.” Yoji felt a cold little tingle of unease in his gut. Hell, he wasn’t even going and he felt the sting of pre-mission jitters. Maybe he was feeling them because he wasn’t going. Because he wouldn’t be there to back Aya up, because he had to trust somebody else to do it. He took a swig of luke warm beer and another, finishing off the bottle.
Aya disappeared into his room. Yoji heard the sound of the shower and hoped to hell the hot water heater had had the time to replenish itself enough to last out Aya’s shower. The old pipes creaked and the water shut off, an unusually brief period for Aya to spend beneath the shower, but then again, Aya had his mind on business.
The news went off and some sitcom that looked like it had been filmed in the early 70’s came on. Yoji couldn’t find the humor in most of the jokes, but maybe he just wasn’t trying hard enough, or maybe his grasp of the language wasn’t articulate enough to appreciate the fine details.
Aya came back out when the thing was almost over, a slice of darkness against the light from his bedroom lamp. Yoji didn’t bother to shield his stare this time. Aya wore an ash black pullover of some clingy, nylon make. The neck dipped just below his collar bones and the hem was untucked, covering the top of his pants. The pants themselves were black leather, but that sort of butter soft leather that felt like velvet to the touch and clung to the line of Aya’s thighs in all the right places and hung loose and comfortably below the knees, covering all but the very bottom of thick soled, black boots. The coat was made of the same material, save for stiffer leather panels across the shoulders and at the elbows. It was long and svelte, almost reaching the floor, swirling and shifting like something alive each time Aya moved. Yoji could see the hint of shoulder holsters under the coat. Aya held a black sheathed katana at his side. He looked like a damned dangerous wet dream.
Something needed to be said, it really, truly did. Yoji couldn’t come up with anything off the top of his head that didn’t sound like some sort of lascivious come on.
“Nice coat.” He finally said, managing through a great effort of will to keep an entirely uninterested expression on his face.
Aya canted a look at him, digesting that. The corner of his mouth quirked up a little in a smile. “Thanks.”
Aya moved to the door, hesitated with his hand on the knob and half turned, eyes sheltered under a soft fall of hair.
“Listen, I really don’t know when we’ll finish up with this – -”
“Yeah, I know the drill. Don’t wait up. Just – – just – -” come back safe. Don’t take chances. Be careful. All of those things that you just didn’t say in fear of jinxing a mission. All of those things that a man would try his damnedest to do regardless of being told on his way out the door.
“- – don’t wake me when you get in, then.” Yoji finished up lamely and Aya looked up, met his eyes for a moment, understanding, and nodded. Then he was out the door and gone.
Yoji slouched there, trying to discern the sound of Aya’s footfalls down the hall, but Aya had gone mission quiet, even before the fact and the only sound tainting the still air of the flat came from the old TV.
It wasn’t quite 9 o’clock and Yoji was alone and anxious and in no way prepared to watch the crappy English station he had the capacity to pick up for the rest of the night. He wasn’t particularly hungry, but acquiring food was an adequate enough way to take up time. He had discovered an Indian restaurant a block across and two blocks down that had sinfully good curry. If he was going to eat, he might as well eat something that would damn sure make an impression of itself on the way down.
He pulled on his boots, grabbed his wallet and jacket, set the alarm and made his way down the hall, concentrating on making as little noise as Aya had. He used to be good at this, the whole silent as a hunting cat thing. Used to be able to slink in and out of the shadows unseen and unheard like any good assassin. Better than most. The best of the best. He wondered if Aya and Ken’s new team was as good. But of course they would be. Aya wouldn’t be a part of something inferior. Aya had his standards.
It started to rain a little bit on the way to the restaurant. Yoji sat down only a little damp. But, by the time he’d finished picking at a plate of Chicken curry over rice, the sky had fallen good and proper and the street and cars along the curb outside the restaurant window glistened in the wavering glow of streetlamps. He sat for a while, waiting for it to let up, but it showed no inclination towards going anywhere and the urge to light up a cigarette was becoming too strong to ignore. Since the Formica tables sported no ashtrays, Yoji pulled up his collar and plunged out into the weather, heading across the street towards the canvas overhang of a small club. There was a sign on the door claiming that there was no cover charge during weeknights and to come on in. The beat of some slow, gothic tune eased it way past the chipping paint of the wooden door. Yoji put his shoulder to the door and eased inside, the welcoming smell of smoke making him sigh a little in appreciation. He rustled in his own pocket before the door even swung shut behind him, tapping out a smoke and lighting up as he surveyed the interior of the club. Small. Long and narrow, a bar running up one side, booths lining the other. An open space at the end that probably served as a dance floor, though no one was on it now. A homemade platform nestled at the very far end and a black clad band played, entertaining the maybe 8 or 10 people taking shelter inside. They were in the midst of a Cure cover. One of their more depressing tunes.
Yoji nestled up to the bar, intending to get a beer and settle into one of the high backed, shadowy booths where he would while away the time in relative anonymity. A thick jowled, ruddy faced man approached from the other side of the bar and spoke at him with an accent so thick that it defied Yoji’s basic understanding of English.
Yoji blinked slowly, running over that collection of sounds in his head to try and make sense of them. The barkeep continued to stare, waiting and Yoji had to figure he was asking for an order.
“Umm. Beer? In the bottle.”
The barkeep nodded and reached under the counter for a chilled long necked bottle.
“Thanks.” Yoji said putting the appropriate money on the counter top. The barkeep chuckled and said something else in a low mutter that Yoji could not make out.
A woman chuckled beside him and he glanced sideways at what was obviously a waitress, who’d pushed a trey with several used mugs onto the bartop. “He was born just across the strait there, and he still mangles the English language worse than you.”
“What makes you think I’m not from around here?”
She canted her head, an ‘who are you kidding?’ look on her face. She was pretty enough that a reflexive, flirtatious grin spread across his face.
“That obvious?” he asked.
“Not by looking at you,” she moved around the bar to deposit the dirty mugs to a bin beneath it. “But you’ve got an accent going.”
“So I’ve been told.”
She chuckled, filling two mugs with dark ale from a tap to take down to one of the booths close to the band. Yoji took his beer and found booth midway between door and back. It was dark, the music wasn’t half bad and he occupied himself watching the waitress move back and forth, very occasionally exchanging a word or two as she brought him another beer.
He outlasted the band and most of the other patrons, content to sit there and wallow in a bout of nerves that was nothing if not irrational. Maybe it was the place and his newness to it. Maybe it the recent tidal crash of memory that had washed over him, bringing back most everything, good and bad in one fell swoop. Maybe it was too many uncertainties concerning the stability of his own life and the comforts and safeties that might make a man sleep well at night, that had his heart beating too loud in his chest and his thoughts winding down unsavory byways all to frequently. Aya could damned well take care of himself.
It must have been around 3 am when the waitress made a last call, and not wanting particularly to be the morose drunk who overstayed his welcome and had to be ushered out, he rose, leaving a hefty tip and stepped back out into the night. The rain had let up, leaving a damp, cold city in its wake. He took his time walking back entertaining the hope that KryptonBrand’s mission would have run quickly and smoothly, depositing Aya back home safe and sound. The lights weren’t on in the street facing windows when he reached their block. Neither where the other two KB flats illuminated.
Wishful thinking anyway. Aya had mentioned something about complications at the outset.
Yoji got inside, turning up the heat first thing to chase away the chill. The old fashioned radiators hummed reassuringly. He shed his clothing, dumping it in the wicker hamper, and donned a pair of soft sweat pants and went shirtless into the bathroom to clean his teeth and gargle mouthwash to get the stale taste of too much beer out of his mouth. He ran a hand over his chin, feeling the sandpaper grit of a fine stubble. It could wait till tomorrow to erase, his hands were a little too unsteady now to tempt tender skin with a trembling razor.
Soft, clean sheets welcomed him, and he lay spread out atop them, waiting for his head to acclimate to the sudden horizontal position. The room gradually ceased its bobbing and he sighed, turning to press his face against Aya’s pillow, inhaling Aya’s faint scent. ‘I don’t know if I’ll be back tonight . . .‘ Aya had warned him. He hadn’t said don’t worry, but it had been implied. How was a man not supposed to, knowing the dangers that waited crouched in the darkness? The stuff of nightmares made all the more dangerous because they were rooted in stark, merciless reality.
He exhaled long and slow, feeling his breath warm the soft cotton of the pillow case. Pressed his cheek against that and shut his eyes, trying to get his mind off dark things. Think about how good Aya had looked in his mission gear. How much the loose swirl of that soft leather coat said about the change time had wrought in Aya. If the clothes made the man, then Aya had been one uptight, rigid bastard back in the heyday of Weiss, with his polished leather boots and stiff close fitting leather coat. There’d been no give in him then, no room for the casual pleasure of soft material clinging to a body, or undulating around his legs as he moved. Still the same black on black now, but the choice of soft, flexible fabric said something had given over time. The stiffness had faded to be replaced with something more flexible, something more inviting.
He drifted asleep on that more pleasant note, an uneasy, rocking sort of slumber at first, like he lay in the plush belly of a boat on choppy water. That was just the alcohol having its way with him. It wore off soon enough and a deeper slumber was achieved, pierced intermittently with lured dreams that must have come from the deepest, most curious part of his subconscious, for they held little meaning.
They dissipated entirely, fading from memory as if they had never been as he gradually swam back up towards consciousness. The warmth of sunlight was what had lured him up. Bands of it striping his body as it came in through the half shuttered shades above the bed. He lay for a moment, regretting the loss of slumber, staring dully at the hundreds of tiny motes revealed in their dance by the wash of sunlight. Then as his mind cleared of the dregs of sleep, he looked beyond the curious dust motes to the chair against the wall, over which was laid the very long black coat that he had thought about before sleep had claimed him. And boots haphazardly on the floor next to it, as well as a tangle of black clothing. The only thing not there were the various weapons that he knew Aya had departed with. Which meant that Aya had returned exhausted to the point of sloppiness, but never so weary that he didn’t take proper care of the tools of his trade.
Yoji shifted onto his back, immediately brushing against the weight of a body that slept mere inches from his back. He sighed, the serenity of absolute relief sweeping over him. Aya was back safe and sound. Solid and warm and no worse for wear.
Yoji glanced at the clock. 10:54. He’d gotten almost six hours sleep. God knew when Aya had gotten back, so he was loathe to wake him and steal much needed rest. The urging of his bladder made him rise, and he did so carefully, sliding of out bed and padding across to the bathroom. He laid his forehead against the glass of the mirror when he’d finished, thanking God for not making his worst fears into reality and chiding himself for worrying so much in the first place. He had just been silly. Aya would say as much, if Aya ever found out, which he damn sure wouldn’t if Yoji had a say in it.
He crept back into the bedroom, not feeling the least bit of guilt for climbing back into bed when it was an hour from noon. He slid under the sheets which he hadn’t been before, and eased close enough to Aya to feel the warmth of smooth skin. Aya didn’t move, which was clear enough indication of how exhausted he must have been. There was a very shallow scratch on his cheek, just below his right eye. A tiny bit of dried blood crusted around it. Yoji ghosted a finger across it, wondering who or what had gotten close enough to Aya to deliver it. He lay on his side, cheek resting on curled elbow and watched Aya sleep, denying the almost overwhelming urge to sidle close enough to pull Aya into his arms, to nestle into that oh so comfortable way that their bodies fit together. But any overture made really ought to be undertaken when Aya was actually conscious to rebuff or, God willing, welcome it.
He drowsed again, but lightly and woke the recipient of Aya’s half lidded, lazy gaze. Yoji started to smile then hesitated, realizing where his hand was under the sheet, resting very contentedly upon the taut muscles of Aya’s stomach. It was a quandary. Move his hand too quickly and it would seem an act of guilt. Move it not at all and what would that say?
Aya was not frowning however, or shifting out from beneath his touch in discomfort, so Yoji decided for the happy medium of very casually, sliding his limb back towards his own body where it belonged, trailing fingers across Aya’s skin as if he was in no wise embarrassed about where they’d strayed.
“Morning.” He said dumbly, mind furiously turning over the implications of Aya’s lazy gaze, of his lack of complaint at Yoji’s invasion of his personal space, wondering with a electric spark of hope if sleepy, warm and content that Aya might indeed welcome the return of Yoji’s hand or more.
“No.” Aya said simply and Yoji had to take a few precious, startled seconds to figure out that no, there had been no mind reading involved, simply Aya disputing the fact that it was anywhere near morning. The clock was ample enough proof of that. It was quarter past 1 and though Yoji had on more than one occasion lazed away the day in bed, Aya very seldom slept past the earliest sunlight hours unless he was sick or wounded or seriously deprived of his regular hours of sleep.
“Yeah. Guess not.” Yoji stretched, still thinking about the feel of Aya’s stomach, and wondering what, in Aya’s exhaustion and his hurry to fall into bed, he had gone to sleep in. Since Yoji had been sleeping here, he’d worn long pajama bottoms and the occasional tank top. Had he taken the time to get those out and don them, or simply slipped between the sheets in underwear . . . or less?
Fuck. His cock began to take notice of the direction of his thoughts, swelling accordingly and he could only thank God that he was lying on his side and not on his back where the tenting would be painfully obvious.
“So – – So everything go okay?” that came out a little strained and he smiled to cover it.
“Unh.” Aya grunted, shrugging, freeing a hand from the sheets to rub at his eyes, frowning when his fingers touched the scratch on his cheek.
“Get a little sloppy?” he asked glibly, all the while diligently instructing his erection to ‘move along, move along, nothing to see here’. It seemed reluctant to obey, what with the subject of so many wet dreams laying so close at hand.
“No.” Aya said flatly, narrowing his gaze just a little, some bit of indignant coolness crossing his face, which was exactly what Yoji had hoped for to cool his own rambling fantasies. Aya contributed even more to Yoji’s attempt at sexual anonymity by throwing back his side of the covers and getting out of bed. Yoji’s dreams of total nudity were dashed by clean white briefs as Aya walked towards the bathroom. Once the door was closed, Yoji sternly demanded his erection away, smacking the unruly thing once in emphasis, which it seemed to unfortunately like, before he managed to get it in hand and subdued enough to risk getting out of bed and into the living room to don a T-shirt and start water brewing for a much needed caffeine fix.
By the time Aya reappeared, damp from a quick shower and dressed in very casual worn jeans and loose white sweater, the water had long since heated and Yoji was halfway through his second cup of coffee. He had a tea cup out for Aya and a tin of what Aya usually drank in the mornings, even if it was technically long past that.
“So,” Yoji asked, after pouring water and setting the kettle back onto the stove top. “You free today?”
Aya tapped the side of his cup, patiently letting his tea steep, damp tendrils of hair clinging to the elegant bones of his cheek and brow. He had not looked this hot the last two times Yoji had been here when he’d come out of the shower, Yoji was almost certain of it. Or at the very least Yoji had not so desperately wanted to leap over the counter and kiss him into a puddle on the floor.
Fuck. It had been too goddamned long since he’d had proper sex. There was only so long a man could go without his brain starting to mush.
“Mostly. I have a few things to clear up with Mihirogi.” Aya sipped at his tea, shutting his eyes for a brief moment in appreciation of its warmth and flavor. “Actually, Yoji, I’d like you to come. Mihirogi has found something that you might possibly be interested in trying.”
“Ah, a job. Tired of me freeloading?”
Aya blinked at him, completely oblivious to the teasing note in Yoji’s voice. “Of course not. You’re the one who asked . . .”
“That was me being sarcastic, Aya. ” Yoji held up his hands in a gesture of pacification. “And yes, I desperately need something else to do other than watch crappy television, play video games and get my ass kicked by Ken. Let’s see what the lady’s got.”