laila (sevendials) wrote in yoken,

Just Another Day

Title: Just Another Day
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Cursing, some mildly suggestive comments.
Comments: Thanks to orthent for the inspiration.
Status: Completed

Summary: Youji's looking for comfort in all the wrong places. Ken's stranded on the outside looking in. When you know what you want and know there's no way to get it, Christmas Eve just isn't that magical.

Obligatory Copyright Disclaimer: Weiss Kreuz and its characters, indices and associated whatchamacallits remain the property of Takehito Koyasu, Kyoko Tsuchiya, Project Weiss, TV Tokyo and several other individuals and companies I am certain I have inadvertently left out. This is a fan work written for fun and warm, vaguely seasonal fluffies rather than any notion of personal gain. I’m not even expecting to get an extra Christmas present out of this, still less financial reimbursement.

Author’s Notes: In which laila tries to write a seasonal fic in the hope of getting Youji and Ken to kiss and ends up having to settle for an angsty-fluffy character piece tangentially involving Christmas which includes a few mildly suggestive comments and a bit of arm-touching. I was plotbunnied for this fic back in June courtesy of an obscenely long rant on religion in fanfiction and wrote the opening paragraphs in October, then put it aside ‘for later’, only realizing in mid-December that ‘later’ had come and gone and if I didn’t want to wait until Christmas 2008 to post this I had better get my rear in gear. I apologize in advance for any inadvertent cultural slips I may have made as regards the way the Japanese celebrate Christmas. I did as much homework as I could, which considering how late I left it to start the assignment in the first place was probably nowhere near enough…
Thanks and Japanese Christmas Cakes must go to Orthent for lending me the plotbunny. I have a feeling that I totally failed to do it any justice whatsoever but oh well, at least I tried. There’s always next year except I’m never going to do this again.


The date had not gone well.

Her name had been Nanami. Or maybe it was Manami. Already she was fading, growing distant as a figure in a half-forgotten dream – not a pleasant dream, either. An unremarkable one, half stock footage: the mind filling in the blank hours between dusk and dawn. Pretty, but that meant nothing. They were always pretty. Another gaudy girl in a filmy and impractical dress, all bare shoulders and borrowed shine, standard as a photo-fit. And young; perhaps a bit too young, in mind if not in body. Her heady, expensive scent couldn’t conceal a hint of baby powder. Daddy’s little girl, she had never grown up because she had never needed to. She had, retrospectively, not been a wise choice.

Too ardent. Overexcited, camouflaging anxiety, as a child might, by acting up – Youji blamed youth. She had clung too close and laughed too loud, grown shameless on a glass and a half of red wine. Her lipstick smile had been an obscenity. She leaned in too close, murmuring low and insinuating into his ear, She had fancied herself shocking; she had only embarrassed him, and his embarrassment had been only for her sake—

I’ll drive you home, Youji had said. She smiled, lips parted, and her smile had too many teeth in. She had no idea what an abortion of an evening it had been.

Kanami, that was what her name was.

And hadn’t been in the mood, afterward, to try his luck with the strays, bold girls with an eye for the main chance: it would have been easy and almost too much so, on Christmas Eve, to be at all interesting. Just another meaningless conquest he wasn’t, if the truth were to be told, remotely in the mood for – another night, perhaps any other night he could have done it and thought nothing of it, but not tonight.

There always were those girls, but the encounter with Kanami had left him feeling decidedly out of sorts. Suddenly dateless on a night for lovers, and suddenly disgusted with the whole thing, Youji had headed home. Driven back slowly through still-busy streets hung heavy with lights, their pavements packed with lovers, hand in hand or arm in arm or not touching at all, and with strings of stumbling, shambolic drunks in evening clothes or office dress – it was a scene from a TV drama, and it had nothing to do with him. The chill night air stung his cheeks.

It wasn’t worth another Kanami just to say he wasn’t alone on Christmas Eve, and they’d all be Kanami tonight. She had been pretty, she had been stylish; another bottle of wine and he would have stopped caring about her gaucherie. Stopped caring that she wasn’t her and was nothing like her, not where it mattered. He hadn’t wanted to stop caring.

Kanami was no replacement. He hadn’t even wanted her to be.

(Well, Asuka, I hope you’re satisfied.)

Of course she wouldn’t be satisfied, Youji thought as he pushed open the back door and stepped into the darkened break room, murmuring an instinctual I’m home for the benefit of nobody but empty air. Asuka would have wanted him to be happy. She’d want you to be happy and you aren’t. And what’s worse you feel guilty that you aren’t, because that’s not what she would have wanted at all.

Sighing, Youji shrugged off his coat and, draping it across one forearm, crept sly and stealthy up the staircase. Not because it was late, but because it was still so early. Not even half past eleven yet – to be back before midnight, on Christmas Eve, felt like the admission of failure that it was. Nothing left for him to do but to go to bed and yet to retreat to his room, stare at the same four walls, that felt like admitting defeat too. Simple solution, don’t go to bed. He’d put on a CD, something low and smoky and regretful, light a cigarette – sprawled out on the couch, alone with his memories and a bottle of heavy red wine, he’d be closer to Asuka than he would ever be, trapped in Kanami’s embrace.

Pathetic that he’d still want to be close to her, that he’d take a ghost over a flesh-and-blood girl whose only crime was not being her… She wouldn’t want him to be stuck here, either, but what could he do about that?

Draping his coat across the banister, Youji padded into the darkened kitchen, illuminated only by the incidental glow of the streetlights, finding a bottle and a corkscrew, quickly yanking the cork from the bottle and reaching into the cupboards for a wine glass – for two. Yeah, watch yourself drown in your own pointless symbolism, Kudou. You’re getting maudlin, man, should snap out of it—he didn’t put the glass back. Stepping away from the cupboards, Youji drifted away past the central table, the half-finished Christmas cake that Omi had brought home earlier that day still perched smugly just off-center, a single smeared, crumb-spattered plate resting a short distance away. So Aya had eaten his slice after all.

Women, they said, were like Christmas cake – Youji didn’t buy a word of it. He wondered what Manx was doing now, where she was, who she was with. He hoped she wasn’t alone. Whatever she was doing, he hoped she was enjoying it. Here’s to you, Manx, Youji thought, slumping heavily onto the couch and, placing the empty glass on the other side of the small, low table that stood before it, pouring himself a drink. Here’s to the unattainable…

Alone in the dark, Youji raised his glass in a silent, ironic toast.

He didn’t know long he had sat there before he heard a creak on the stairs; all he knew was it hadn’t been long. A matter of minutes, maybe – no, it hadn’t been long at all. Youji raised his head, peering into the shadows: half-hoping he would be overlooked, half-regretting leaving the lights off. Yet from the way whoever this was moved, stealthy as if he were out in the field, they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves either – why, Youji wondered, on earth not? And why stay indoors if they hoped to stay so furtive?

Whichever of his teammates this was, they hadn’t caught him move: might have done, if they had only been looking out for it. Stepping from the stairs, the newcomer – it looked most like Ken from the height and the build, dressed for the cold in scarf and heavy winter jacket – walked to the kitchen table, glancing quick and furtive about himself as if expecting, though he thought himself alone, to be reprimanded, then carefully plucking a strawberry from the top of the Christmas cake.

Definitely Ken. Unseen, Youji smiled.

Biting into his stolen strawberry Ken moved, with touchingly exaggerated, utterly futile care, back to the staircase. Headed down, headed out – Youji blinked as he watched the boy leave. Where the Hell did he think he was going, in the middle of the night? Did he have a date after all?

No, not Ken. Any of the others Youji might have believed it from, but not Ken. It was hardly like Ken hadn’t been given ample opportunity to find a date for the evening, if he had wanted one – the kid couldn’t even claim he had no idea the opportunity was there when at least two of the girls had asked outright. Are you free on Christmas Eve, Ken-san? Bold as brass those girls, for all their school plaid and pigtails, and him just as startled (and rather appealingly so, actually) the second time as he had been the first… Ken was Ken and he was twelve.

So where in Hell did he think he was going?

Hard for Youji to explain the impulse that stole over him then: why don’t you find out?

He didn’t think about it. There he was, there Ken was, playing futilely at furtiveness: placing his glass, still half-full, back on the table Youji got to his feet and crept over to the stairs to retrieve his coat. Downstairs, Ken's key scraped in the lock as, quietly, he let himself out. The door closed behind him with an almost inaudible click. Struggling back into his coat, Youji hurried down after him, and back out into the night.

Already it seemed colder than he remembered it, wisps of his breath coiling tendril-like before him before twisting away into nothing. Colder and quieter; a certain dampness had crept into the air. Hesitating in the doorway, Youji turned up the collar of his coat, glancing about himself for his teammate. At first he could see nothing: at first he thought that Ken had somehow got wise and was hiding, or had already slipped from view and if that was the case he might as well head back inside and cross-examine him about it tomorrow. Ken, small and dark and slender in a city full of small, dark, slender boys, was a study in charming anonymity – lose him in a crowd and that was him gone forever, unless of course he wanted to be found.

Unless of course you got lucky. There: Ken had rounded the corner and, head bowed, huddled in on himself, was walking quickly down the sidewalk, blowing on his bare fingers, then burying his hands deep in the pockets of his jacket. It isn’t cold enough for gloves, he’d say. Or, I lost one… He looked focused, he looked cold. Well, so much the better. At least he wasn’t as likely to notice his shadow.

Ken walked fast, he walked purposeful, hurrying like a child headed to class – it was almost as if he were running late for an appointment, or some obligation he had promised reluctantly to fulfill and now, reluctantly, he set about fulfilling it. Yes, very like a child: he traced a well-known route, moving quick and thoughtless against the current of the still boisterous late-night crowds, his mind quite firmly elsewhere.

Youji, Ken caught as if by merest mischance on the periphery of his vision, followed.

And the streets emptying, the cold driving the drunks indoors, and work tomorrow hanging over their heads: across the street a party broke up in a flurry of shouted farewells, the revelers splitting off to stumble, in twos and threes, toward bus stops or subway stations, a few stragglers drifting away in search of more drink, or a game of pachinko. A laughing college-age couple, their arms wrapped tight about one another’s waists, flagged down a crawling cab: headed for home, or perhaps a hotel. Somewhere to lie down, at any rate, and to do it together. Could have been you, Kudou, if only you’d wanted it to be – and here he was on his way to God knew where, stalking Ken Hidaka.

He almost lost Ken at an intersection. Youji saw the boy slip between a group of disheveled young men, refugees from some office party, splitting them neatly down the middle – then nothing. Gone… Youji stopped short, the crowd spilling about him – a drunken girl shouted loud and incoherent, another young couple brushed past, their heads inclined toward one another, talking in low, intent voices about nothing at all.

He found Ken again on the other side of the road, beneath the gilded and glittering trees: the boy was headed toward a smaller side street, away from the main drag. Youji hurried to catch up with him, recklessly darting over the crosswalk seconds before the lights could change. And nothing much of anything way: a small bookstore he went to sometimes, usually with Omi. A record shop, a noodle bar: yet another parade of small, neat shops not too dissimilar to the Koneko, all locked and shuttered for the evening. A girls’ middle school, small apartments. No, really, where did Ken think he was going?

Caught in the middle distance on the other side of the road, another group of people: a family this time. A father, a mother, a little girl in an indigo coat – eleven or so. Hurrying, just like they were.

Beneath the hum of voices and the intrusive roar of the traffic, Youji thought he could hear the tolling of a bell.

Another side street, skirting the perimeter of the girl’s school. (Odd name: Saint something’s, like a hospital.) Ken had slowed his pace, raised his head; something in his stance was painfully familiar, yet hopelessly at odds with their situation. He could have been following the boy through a target’s darkened office, or crossing the quad of a laboratory. Even from behind Ken looked tense, watchful and somehow deeply ill at ease.

The family turned through a gateway and disappeared from sight, the child dropping her father’s hand to walk ahead.

Ken hesitated.

He had reached the spot where the family had turned off – the same low wall, the same tree-lined courtyard – and now stood at the curbside and gazed across the empty street at the open gates, arms folded across his chest, one bare hand resting on his upper arm as if he were feeling the cold. Probably he was cold… Youji stole a little closer, ducking into the overhang of a shuttered store and losing himself in the shadows. He was sure Ken must have heard him, but the boy didn’t even turn. He glanced about himself, as if preparing to cross the street; motion stilled, he didn’t stir.

Should have stayed at home, Kudou. You know you shouldn’t be here. Oh, Kenken, Youji thought, and the thought felt weary as a sigh, what am I going to do about you?

Following Ken's gaze, Youji caught sight of a long, low barn of a building, wood-paneled and wide-windowed, with tiled eaves and an odd little afterthought of a bell-tower tacked on one end. A church, its doors flung open, warm, buttery light spilling out of them and a round-faced, sturdy-limbed barrel of a man in long vestments caught against the glare, like a puppet in a shadow-play. It didn’t look like much; it looked awkward, as if it knew it really had no business there. Amongst the storefronts and the clusters of low-rise, post-war apartments, the brick and concrete of the girls’ school, the church was an anomaly, plucked from the pages of a middle-American fairy story and dropped down, ready or not, in the middle of a Tokyo street.

He couldn’t believe in that, either. The church, to Youji’s eyes, didn’t look quite real. It only seemed stagy, abruptly fake as a set from a play – and Ken trapped in the wings, an actor waiting to be fed a cue that would never come. God only knew what he was thinking. God, but the boy looked lost…

You shouldn’t be here but you are. What are you going to do about it? Youji straightened, took a pace forward and what the Hell was he supposed to say? An older couple, both tall and blonde and built to a heroic scale, brushed past Ken as if he didn’t exist, ducking through the gates and into the church. Americans, Youji guessed: they even looked like something out of a movie, him in a pale, expensive overcoat, her bundled up in furs, scolding her husband in querulous Hollywood tones.

The doors closed, the light winked out. Ever so faintly, Youji could hear organ music.

Ken sighed, breath streaming from his lips, and stepped back. Well, that’s that then – he didn’t walk away.

It wasn’t even surprising. He wouldn’t walk away. Eighteen years old—nineteen years and a day and yet Ken was Ken and he was a child with a child’s uncertainties, childish hopes. He shouldn’t have been, he wasn’t going to be any kind of child for much longer but something about Ken had Youji, unthinkingly, think of him as a boy. Ken made Youji feel much older than he was, and he wasn’t sure if he resented him for it or rather admired it. In spite of everything Ken was an innocent: God only knew how he’d pulled that one off.

And here he was, hands thrust in pockets to keep them from the cold, standing on a curb at midnight, gazing across an empty street at a church as the dampness in the air gave way to a fine misty rain. Rain soft as butterfly kisses, the droplets settling lightly on the strands of Ken’s hair, and the shoulders of his jacket. Poignant as an illustration from a picture book, the kind of thing that nobody would do for real: Youji had thought that, once. Then he had met Ken Hidaka.

Ken did it for real and, from him, it looked only natural. He wouldn’t have a date tonight, he wouldn’t even want one. He’d wait on the pavement outside a church, caught between the darkness and the light, losing himself in thought, or perhaps thinking of nothing at all – it was Christmas Eve, what else should he be doing?

Because this was the way he had always done things, and it didn’t matter if he couldn’t do that – not any more. Ken wrapped himself in the tatters of his life before, and tried to pretend he wasn’t freezing…

It was a girl called Kanami in a gaudy gown, and an empty wine glass on a low table. It was all that remained.

Ken wouldn’t go in but he wouldn’t walk away, not until it was over. That was just the kind of person he was.

It’s okay, Youji wanted to say. Wanted to walk to him, to stand by Ken’s side and touch his shoulder and say, just go, if that’s what you want. Nobody’s supposed to be unforgivable… and how was he supposed to convince Ken of that, when he didn’t even believe it himself? The words may have been different but Ken was singing to the same old tune. Maybe it was right they should feel this way – stood outside a church, or sat at home staring across a low table at an empty glass. Unforgiven and unforgivable, all four of them caught on the outside, forever…

I, Youji thought, really hate this time of year.

“You can smoke,” Ken said in a surprisingly normal voice. “It’s not like I’ll mind.”

Youji started as Ken turned, regarding him over the curve of one shoulder, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He looked perfectly ordinary, almost at ease; he could have been anywhere. The store, maybe, stood in a shaft of evening sunlight, or waiting by the pitches in the park – oh, it’s you, Youji. A slight quirk to his brows, a quizzical cant to his head; without saying a word, Ken was speaking to him. What the Hell, his stance was saying, are you here for? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I‘m mad, but what are you doing here, Youji? Why?

And Youji had no idea what he was supposed to say to that, either. A half-dozen things he could have said, cheap, clichéd lines he could have fed to anyone, things to make them laugh, things to make them melt – he knew Ken too well to think he’d buy a word of them.

All he finally said was, “How long have you known I was here?” Smooth, Kudou.

“Ages. Saw you when I crossed the road,” Ken replied, as if it were the most obvious thing on Earth. “You know, Youji, you totally suck at stalking people.”

Youji reckoned he was due a cigarette; his lighter flared briefly as he cupped his hands about the trembling flame, then guttered. “That long, and you didn’t say anything?” You didn’t try and stop me?

“Why the Hell should I?” Ken asked in what sounded like genuine surprise. “You want to be weird and chase around after me, I figure that’s your lookout… you didn’t get laid, then?”

“Your tact and subtlety amaze me, Ken.”

Ken tried, and failed, to suppress a guilty grin. “Heh. I’ll take that as a no…”

He didn’t press any further. Something in Youji’s eyes must have told him, no: Ken frowned briefly, in confusion or perhaps merely in thought, and he turned away. Ken let the thread of the conversation fall, let silence creep back: a look of touchingly inadvertent gravity stole across his face as he gazed back out across the road at that picture-book church, offering Youji nothing but the plane of one cheek, a hank of dark hair, heavy with moisture, falling before his averted eyes.

Youji wanted to go to him; he didn’t want to merely want. He slipped from the shadows to stand by Ken’s side: not touching, but close enough to touch. He could have touched, if he had chosen to. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to place a hand upon Ken's arm – he knew that Ken wouldn’t push him away. Youji knew himself wanted. Ken hadn’t driven him off or tried to hide, he wasn’t angry, or even trying to pretend that he was. God know why it should have been so but, somehow, the boy was grateful for the imposition and pleased to have him near. Simple emotions, bold as primary colors and painted in broad brushstrokes. I’m glad you’re here.

Youji wouldn’t ask, either; he didn’t have to any more than Ken did. Funny, Youji thought, how they could take such different paths yet end up in exactly the same place. Ken smiled, but he wasn’t happy either…

Moments like this, he could almost wish Ken smoked.

“Bitch of an evening,” Youji said, speaking only to break the silence; it was as close as he’d get to a confession. He took a drag on his cigarette, lifted it from his lips. Held it between thumb and forefinger, his palm cupped around the glowing butt, the smoke trailing from between his gloved fingers.

“Yeah.” Ken didn’t even sound surprised. “It does that, sometimes.” You’ve just got to move beyond it, Youji. What else is there to do?

That was Ken all over. He couldn’t believe, or wouldn’t let himself, but he still had faith. He was comfortable and comforting as a parent bending to calm a distressed child; he looked, as ever, forward. Tomorrow would be better and even if it wasn’t, there was always the day after that. Ken still knew how to hope and, hopelessly, he did. (And how could he do that? How, when he didn’t even know if he’d—) He made Youji look positively despondent, and feel strangely ashamed. Ken was still trying. Why couldn’t he?

(Because sometimes it just gets to you. A single moment of disillusionment on a no more than averagely shitty day and it feels like the world’s ending. Christ, Kudou. How adolescent do you wanna get?)

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Still sucks when it does, though.”

“Come on, man,” Ken said, “it’ll get better. There’ll be another day.”

It was a truism, but Ken said it like he meant it. From him, it sounded like it could have been true after all. Smiling, he clapped Youji companionably on the shoulder, gripping almost hard enough to hurt, his fingers curling tightly into the damp fabric of Youji’s coat. He let his hand rest there for a moment, warm and heavy. (You don’t have to be alone, Youji.) It was an anchor, and Ken was a rock.

They were singing in the church, something stirring and joyful – for unto us a child is born, all soaring voices and the throb of an organ, caught and carried on the chill night air, like perfume.

“So what in Hell were you doing, anyway?” Ken asked after a time that neither of them had counted had passed in an easy, companionable silence. He spoke simply and naturally, as if in response to something Youji was quite sure he couldn’t have said. As if they had been halfway through a conversation that had never begun. “Don’t tell me you ditched what’s-her-name just to come stalk me.”

“What would you say if I told you I had?”

“I’d say you were weird,” Ken replied. And, the look on his face murmured, I wouldn’t believe a word of it, Youji, and can you blame me?

“Good thing I was at home, then,” Youji said.

Ken blinked. “You were at home? I didn’t see you – wow, guess I have to take back that thing about you being a crap stalker, then. You’re… well, you’d be more kinda semi-crap, then. Good at first. Really bad,” he offered, “at intersections. I could have sworn you said you had a date though…”

“She wasn’t right,” Youji explained, and knew it was no explanation at all. “Thought I’d be better off cutting my losses…”

Because she wasn’t Asuka, Ken; it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault and I knew it wasn’t fair on her, but I resented her for it all the same. Youji hadn’t wanted a replacement and yet he had spurned Kanami for not being one, instead offering him nothing but what he had claimed to want instead: an evening of sweetness and light, firm young flesh and girlish laughter.

And it hadn’t been good enough. That, Youji, is what they call hypocrisy.

No wonder the evening had proved so abortive. Kanami had kissed him and all he had felt was cynical. Better for the both of them that he’d called it quits and come home. Better by far and no more than he deserved to sit alone in the shadows and lose himself in his regrets, than to spend the night entangled with a gorgeous vine of a girl. He would have smiled when she had smiled and said all the right things, kissed her soft and slow, his lips lingering on hers and, as she wrapped herself about him, he would have slowly come to hate her – all because she wasn’t Asuka. Kanami hadn’t deserved that.

Youji knew he couldn’t have explained that to Ken. It would have meant nothing to him even if he had. He felt Ken’s hand slip from his shoulder, trailing slowly down the length of his arm before the boy lifted his hand away.

He almost regretted it.

“So,” Ken said, persistent as a child, “where were you, then?”

“I was in the living room,” Youji said simply.

“With the lights off.”

“With a bottle of wine and, as you say, the lights off,” Youji replied, giving the boy an expansive grin. “Yes, Ken.”

Ken blinked. He hesitated. What’s wrong with this picture? He said, “What, by yourself?”

Well, apart from the bottle of wine, yes. “Kenken, fascinating though you and a church are I wouldn’t exactly have left a lady waiting simply to go and stare at them.”

“So what you’re saying is if I hadn’t dragged you all the way up here to stare at a stupid church for hours you’d just have sat in the living room and got wasted and not even turned the light on?”

“That’s about the size of it,” Youji admitted. He couldn’t quite hold back the smile.

Ken laughed. “Shit,” he said, and he sounded almost admiring, “what a pair of losers.”

And how could Youji have disagreed with that? A night that spoke in whispers of miracles and here he was standing on the sidewalk, chilled to the bone, in soft but drenching rain watching Ken Hidaka laugh. A young man dressed up for a date that could only ever have ended in failure; a boy out at midnight for a service he knew he would never attend; both of them damp and shivering and utterly, utterly lost.

At least they were lost together. Though there were plenty of places he could have spent the night, and plenty of people he could have spent it with instead, Youji was still glad he was here, and glad it was Ken he was with. Go figure that.

Youji chuckled ruefully, shaking his head. Yeah, Ken. Yeah. What a couple we are…

“Well, If you insist,” Youji said playfully. “But don’t expect this to become a full-time deal, Kenken. I’ve got an image to uphold, remember?”

“Oh,” Ken retorted, “don’t put yourself out for my sake…” But he was smiling, accepting the tease for what it was. “So, what’d we do now? Go home? Maybe—” he fought back another ripple of laughter. “If you’re gonna be a loser without damaging your image, maybe we better go do it in private."

And from anyone else that might have sounded suggestive, but from Ken it was only what it was. “You’re okay to head home?”

“Well.” Slipping his hands back into the pockets of his jacket, Ken stepped from the curbside, an awkward smile stealing across his lips. “I was going to just stand around and wait, but – well, it feels kinda stupid to do it for an audience and Omi’ll kill me if we both get sick.” It had probably felt silly enough to do it alone. “So, yeah. Sure, I’m good to go.”

There had been nothing for him here in the first place. This had been where he belonged, once: not any more. Why pretend? Ken never had been good at lying, not even at lying to himself. He clung to normality even as it slipped through his fingers soft as sand, because he didn’t know what else he should cling to, but he at least knew better than to try and repeat the past. All staying here would give him was a head cold.

Exiles, all of them, strangers in a strange land. They had each other; they had Omi, and Aya. It was better than nothing at all.

“Oi, Youji, quit looking so serious.” Ken touched him again, the tips of his fingers barely brushing against the fabric of Youji’s sleeve. A gentle, insinuating gesture, strangely at odds with the vexed tone that had crept into his voice: I keep trying to tell you that you’re not alone. Why aren’t you listening? “It doesn’t suit you.”

He wasn’t smiling. Hand on his friend’s sleeve, Ken looked up at Youji from beneath a curtain of rain-darkened hair, grave as a child at his first communion. I care, Youji. I don’t like seeing you like this, and I wish I didn’t have to… Ken was trying, in the only way he knew how, to reach out.

Because I want to live, Youji. Don’t you? They had been strangers, thrown together to fight for their lives: there had been no other choice if they wanted to survive. Weiss would pull together because the alternative didn’t bear countenancing, and simply to survive – that wasn’t enough, not for Ken. They should never have met; under any other circumstances he and Ken would have found nothing to say to one another. Life had seen to it that a single friendly gesture or an offer of companionship became, almost, a gesture of defiance. Weiss wouldn’t have chosen each other, but they had each other anyway. They might as well make the best of it: that at least was Ken’s theory.

You still have us, Youji – what a double-edged sword that was. I know you’re pretty much stuck with us and we’re none of us the guys you’d have chosen to spend the afterlife with. I know we’re little more than co-conspirators, but there’s nothing saying we can’t like each other. Weiss doesn’t have to be a wholly terrible thing.

“You think I’ll give myself wrinkles?” Youji placed one slender hand over his heart in a gesture of mock-horror. “God, anything but that… I had no idea you were so concerned about my youthful complexion, Kenken.”

Ken let his hand fall, taking a pace back; he looked as if he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do more: laugh, or hit him. “Oh, shut up. That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“Then what did you mean?”

“God dammit, Kudou,” Ken said testily, “I’m just trying to be nice! Why do you have to take everything the wrong way?”

Youji smirked at him – wide and irritating, a smile he knew full well would leave Ken itching to punch it. “Because I’m not so sure I am taking it the wrong way, Kenken.”

“Jesus fuck! Do you think the entire universe is after getting in your pants or something?” Ken was blushing.

“Well,” Youji said, gesturing simply yet eloquently down at himself, “who would blame it if it did? They’re damn fine pants.”

Their contents aren’t half bad either. His hands poised as if inviting Ken to see for himself, Youji – this is what I’ve got; now tell me, Kenken, do you like what you see? – stood and smiled at the boy, chin slightly raised and his damp curls falling back from his face. Calculatedly casual as a cover model, even stood proud and straight Youji was the personification of the word sprawl. Ken gazed at him, his too-eloquent eyes wide and baffled. What do you want me to do, Youji? What the Hell do you think you’re—?

And, unexpectedly, Ken smiled. Said, “That’s better!”

What was better? Ken, you’ve lost me… On impulse, he tapped Ken on the head. “Are you quite sure this is on right?”

“Idiot,” Ken said with what sounded like genuine affection, and swatted his hand away. “I told you, you’re weird when you’re moping. God damn, you had me going for a minute there. Stay like this, okay?”

“You sure you mean that?” And he felt, how strange, strangely flattered. “Because I’m gonna hold you to it.”

“Sure I am,” Ken replied, parrying neatly. “At least you’re not going round acting like Aya: The Sequel any more.”

(I’d rather be here with you.)

Youji pulled a face. “Aya The Sequel? I’m not wearing that sweater of his for anyone!”

“No,” Ken said, “he probably wouldn’t let you have a go with it, anyway.”

Youji laughed almost in spite of himself. No, Ken Hidaka didn’t have to be a bad thing at all. Weiss were all he could count on, but at least he could count on them.

At least they were there. He had no idea what Ken was offering: company, a shoulder to lean on, or a simple friendship – something more, something complex and uncomfortably nameless he couldn’t or wouldn’t define. Whatever it was, it came with an outstretched hand and an open smile, and a promise that, at least for now, he wasn’t alone. Whatever it was, Youji was glad of all of it, the rough and the smooth. Everything complicates, but someone was telling him he mattered. Someone still believed in him, even if it was Ken and he believed in everybody…

Ken was faith. He believed in the dawn, in something better caught just beyond the horizon and it barely mattered if he were never to see it. It would still be there. It’ll get better, Youji – you don’t have to believe me. I’ll believe it for you.

It had been a bad evening but Ken knew there would be better ones, if he could only remember to settle for life, or what was left of it. Maybe (and God damn it all but Youji didn’t have it in him to disappoint the kid, if Ken believed in him he guessed he was stuck) he’d call Kanami sometime – she’d forgive him, they always did in the beginning – or start over with some other girl, some Kaya or Maya or Saya. Maybe it wouldn’t be special, but there’d be no expectation that it would be. There would be other chances, other girls; to Hell with the fine print, there would be a next time. There was always tomorrow, and if not that, the day after for sure—

“Come on,” Ken said, “let’s go. I’ll make tea. We can finish Omi’s cake…”

And Ken would still be a child and stronger than he knew, and this too would pass.


Cross-posted to wk_fiction

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