Waking Onto Lantern's Bright
by Deena


'Blackened rushes fill the night 
Howling hopes as good as light 
Seeing illusionís empty sight 
Waking onto lanternís bright.'

Tightly closed letters packed onto the crumpled list, boldly marked in black ink over the faded blue of last weekís floral arrangements. The writing was small and nearly illegible, revealing nothing about its marker. Even the words were faintly surreal, saying nothing on the surface but forcing the reader to delve beneath the rhyme and discover what such a reticent being could see. The paper crumpled slightly as those enigmatic lines were pondered upon. A tear of ribbon uncoiling and the spray of water lightly hummed in the backdrop. A frown.

Chimes jingled above the glass door; ceased the examination of the black scribble and meaningless meanings. Dark hair fell into dark eyes as a glance reached up at the newcomer. Stony violet look that said nothing, raking dispassionately over the sun-splashed shop. Muffled strides over to those tattered, black aprons. Ends fraying, smudge of dirt on the pockets. Pale hands deftly began a bougainvillea arrangement. Lush fuchsia petals, vivacious against wan skin and that black apron. The back of his hand impatiently pushed back falling locks as he shuffled towards the redhead.

"Hey Aya? You wrote this?"

Hooded plum eyes met his, than waved briefly over the creased scrap of paper. Slight tilt of red hair as his attention plunged back to the flowers. That boy never said much, never wanted anything from anyone. Only pieces of poetry splashed over written lists. Black strokes seemingly empty with rhyme. Concealed thoughts burning in stoic isolation. Tired voice lost in the shiny wake. Only this. For now...

"Itís really good. Whatís it mean?"

Snip of the scissors as the flowers splashed onto the counter. Dying leaves were brushed aside, falling onto the dirty linoleum floor. Omiís cheerful laughs and Yohjiís throaty chuckles wafted from the other side of the room. The smell of lilies and roses and gardenias. Laughter outside and cars racing up the busy roads. Sunlight that wove around the glass buildings and into the net of the city. Wind twisting through the trees, crying like a bitter paradox.

"Nothing. It doesnít mean anything."

"But itís gotta mean something."

Silence, as was expected. Still snipping, still working. And nothing did matter for his redhaired teammate. Only the motions. Retreated onto scraps of broken paper. Killerís misery dying by the night. Fervent reprisal, the only true thing. Sometimes he just wanted to touch him.

"Could I have it?"

That darkly violet gaze grabbed him, eyes narrowing. A flash of emotion glimmered briefly, something dimly stark and latently pristine and than it was gone. The moment hung limply. Thin hands guided the bright flowers into a slim vase, amidst a stock of delicate ferns. White carnations were purposefully added for a splash of color. His voice was sullen.

"Do what you want."

********

Mops were a sad thing, Ken thought reflectively as he scrutinized the said appliance industriously. Tall and rangy with furly locks that were constantly being plunged into pails of watery, foamy cleaner. Then you dragged the thing out and flung it across the floor, rubbing it hard to clean the stained floor. What was the point? After one swipe of the floor, the water got dirty. The whole thing was cleaned with grimy water. And the poor mop was still dunked into the frothy mess. Oh it started out okay. Clean mop, fresh water and lemony-smelling cleaner. Lots of bubbles and a sanitary bucket. But somewhere along the way, it was the floor that won and the mop who lost. Who cleaned the mop? After a quick rinse, the poor thing was just shoved aside to dry, until the next time when it was forced again and again into mucky, filthy water. He really couldnít have conceived of a more depressing existing, well except for being the ground. Which, in retrospect, was pretty bad too. At least the floor got mopped and swept. But the ground was just a nothing. People trampled all over it, stomped on it in anger, spat on it, littered on it, the list went on and on. It was also quite the dreary existence.

Ken decided that he was the mop, not the ground. People didnít step all over him; it was his job to kill those who tried to. No, he was certainly a mop. Continuously being plunged straight into polluted and corrupt waters. Stepping onto the floor with pure, unsullied hands and ending up polluted and bloody while the world supposedly sparkled. A quick rinse had stopped being effective long ago. There were so many floors to clean and he didnít know how to remove the stains from his hands. Like a mop, heíd given in to his fate. Complaining was of no use but that didnít make his hands any less contaminated.

"Youíre gonna tear that thing straight to pieces."

Ken blinked in surprise and peered across the dark closet at his companion. The older boy was surrounded in a haze of smoke, the glowing cigarette clamped firmly between his lips. He sat sprawled on the floor with an artless grace that Ken could only envy. There was something decidedly catlike about the blond. His silver shades gleamed in the darkness.

"Huh?"

Yohji gestured to the mop that lay on his lap with long, elegant fingers. "The mop. Youíre shredding it with your claw. Some janitor is gonna be pissed."

Strands of the mop lay in his lap, torn. He hadnít even realized that heíd unsheathed his claw and had been unconsciously ripping the mop. Resheathing his weapon, he brushed away the shredded pieces but was unable to push the mop away. His fingers wove in between the lemony fibers, his thoughts unfinished and in quiet disarray.

The older boy chuckled as he blew clouds of smoke towards the ceiling, making the disgusting habit look utterly lofty. "Ditch the mop Kenken and let me find you someone real."

"Do you ever feel like a mop?"

A foolishly candid question that surprised even him. The words gushed out of his mouth, startling him, so long as heíd just thought them. His gaze swung to his shoe, feigning great interest in the scruff marks and dried mud, so as to appear unconcerned. He waited for other boy to jeer and ridicule his question. But perhaps heíd underestimated the sensitivity of his teammate for Yohji did neither.

A simple tone, not mocking, not jeering. "Why donít you ask Aya?"

Ken frowned, turning to look at the other boy. "Aya? Whatís he got to do with this?"

Flash of white teeth in the darkness. "Heís more the philosophical type, donít you think?"

He shrugged uncomfortably, not wishing to talk about the silent redhead, and resumed his avid shoe-scrutiny. "I wouldnít know."

"Ken."

"Yeah?"

"When are you gonna tell him?"

"Tell who what?"

"Tell Aya that you love him."

The mop slid off his lap and onto the floor with a sudden *thunk* that echoed unnaturally in the black closet. There seemed to be a serious deficiency of air entering his lungs. His vision doubled and tripled. The silence screamed in great gulps into his ears, drowning out reason. He was aware of nothing as he desperately commanded his voice to work. Only a meager croak exited his lips.

"What?!"

The faintest touch of a smile tinted Yohjiís throaty voice. "When are you going to tell Aya that you love him?"

Another minute passed as his throat convulsively worked but without sound. Finally Ken managed a reply, albeit stuttering and jumbled. ďI donít...Iím not...in the least...with, um, Aya...Iím not...Iíd never...oh God, how can you...SHUT UP YOHJI!Ē He was so stunned, so horribly mortified in his loss of clarity that he could only lash out in anger being as Yohjiís remark had reduced him to a puddle of babbling unintelligence. This absolutely, positively, no-holds-barred *sucked*.

"You can fool Omi, whoís just a kid and of course you can fool Aya whoís too damned preoccupied with guilt and his imouto to notice but you canít fool me Ken. Iíve seen how you look him. You love him." It wasnít a question but rather a statement.

The heavy breathing soccer player was poleaxed. Even subconsciously admitting to himself that he was attracted to a fellow teammate, a violet eyed, redheaded, silent, moody teammate that was a *boy* had been struggle enough but now another member was aware? Yohji the playboy, Yohji the ladyís man, Yohji the greatest lover since, hell since *ever*, now knew that Ken was *very* attracted to Aya? No, that was impossible. It couldnít be happening. It had to be a dream. Or a nightmare. Anything but reality. It couldnít...he hadnít even had the time to come to terms with what he felt for Aya. He didnít know what he wanted, whether he loved him or not. And now Yohji was saying things and he knew and it wasnít fair! Ken hastily decided that maybe death wouldnít be so bad. With his claw, heíd be a mushy mess in no time Dead but not humiliated. Surely, surely that was better than this horrid disaster...wasnít it?

"Iím bi Ken," the older boy remarked conversationally.

Thoughts of an elaborate suicide vanished. He stared blindly at the floor. "Huh?" Yohjiís words suddenly registered. "Youíre bi?" He gaped openly at the other boy. "As in bi...um...you know?"

Yohji couldnít help but laugh. "Yeah, bi as in...um...you know."

"Since when?"

"Since always. Before Asuka I had a boyfriend you know."

"I wish I was a mop!" Ken blurted out unthinkingly. Promptly, he felt his face heat with a blush. It was a good thing that the closet they were camped out in was dark. His face probably would have put a tomato to shame. Or at least Ayaís hair. Immediately, Yohjiís sexual preferences vanished at the thought of the silent redhead. Aya...ohGodohGodohGodIcanítbeinlovewithhimandnowYohjiknowsandohGodIdolovehim! This was mortification heaped upon mortification garnished with mortification and served with a side dish of mortification with mortification for dessert and darn it, he was mortified!

Yohji broke the silence. "Love doesnít come around so often that you have the chance to worry about something as trivial as gender," he advised in an uncharacteristically solemn voice. "You tried with Yuriko but it failed. She would never have been able to understand you and what you do. But Aya, he knows only too well."

Outside the shrill wails of the security alarms screeched, interrupting the blond. It was their signal from Omi to find the targets in the ensuing chaos and get rid of them. Yohji stood gracefully and watched as Ken shuffled to his feet. "Thatís our cue." The door opened, a slice of fluorescent light dripping into the closet. He could see the bright green of the gaze the older boy leveled at him. "Just remember one thing Ken. There is no shame in loving."

********

His fingers were trembling as they reached out to grasp hold of the doorknob. Every bit of logic and reason within him was screaming to run far away and never come back. It had been a long and strenuous mission and he was utterly exhausted. It wouldnít have been any effort on his part to simply turn away from Ayaís room and head back to his own. They shared an apartment afterall. But Yohji had extracted a promise from him before heading into his own apartment to clean up Omiís injuries. Heíd promised the lanky older boy that tonight he would go to Aya.

A sigh escaped his lips. He even had the excuse to play nursemaid to the redhead, whoíd been rather badly injured. The gauze was unnaturally white in his hands. Well let it not be said that Hidaka Ken was a coward. He kept his promises and he would tell Aya. Or at least die trying.

He took a deep breath, determinedly squared his shoulders and shoved the door open. The room was utterly chilled and dark, with only the moonlight drifting in from the open window to illuminate it. Aya sat shirtless on his bed, attempting to bind his wounds. Red ribbons of blood had dried upon his arm, looking stark against that pale skin. He was ethereally white in the streaming moonlight.

The redhead looked up, eyes narrowing slightly.

Ken ploughed forward, forcing cheerfulness into his actions and words, which was no easy feat since Aya was about as hospitable as a great spotted tundra leopard. "Hey Aya. I brought some gauze to bind your arm," he announced, heading towards the bed, his heart beating wildly. The enormity of his actions suddenly struck him. He was in Ayaís *room*, heading towards Ayaís *bed*. Oh dear God, how many dreams had he had of this moment? Holding back a nosebleed, he quickly added, "Why donít you let me do that for you?"

"I donít need you."

He swallowed thickly, trying to quelsh the poignant thrust of pain that burned into him at Ayaís curt words. Surely that couldnít be an omen of what he would say to the *other thing*, could it? Damn it, he knew this was a bad idea! Why couldnít he have just gone on watching Aya and loving him from afar? What was the harm in that? Why did he have to proclaim his love for the redhead? He didnít believe for a minute that Aya could reciprocate his feelings. Why the very idea of Aya saying, 'I love you too Ken' was simply ridiculous. He didnít care about anybody except his precious imouto back in Tokyo. Surely it wasnít too late to run back to the sanctity of his own room where he could go on as before? It didnít matter if Aya loved him or not.

But even as he thought that, he recognized it for the lie it was. It did matter and thatís why heíd promised Yohji. He was betting everything on a chance. A small, microscopic chance but a chance nonetheless. That maybe, since Aya had gotten his revenge on Takatori Reiji, just maybe he could open up and feel. His imouto was okay, Takatori was dead, there was nothing left for him to complete. Wasnít it possible that he could find love? Tomoe Sakura was out of the picture; Ken hadnít noticed Aya looking at anyone else. So perhaps...

He plastered a bright grin across his face. Now was *not* the time to wimp out. "Of course you donít need anyone. Youíre Fujimiya Aya, great katana wielder of death! You never need anyone!" He perched down on the bed next to the taciturn redhead. "But since Iím here, offering my humble assistance, why donít you just take it? Surely Iím not that bad, am I?"

Aya didnít answer and Ken didnít expect him to. But he didnít resist and so Ken took that as a yes. His fingers touched Ayaís as he took the cloth from him and they burned. One thing heíd never bothered to consider while tending to Ayaís injuries, was their close proximity. Already he was reacting to the other boy. His hands were shaking, his heart rattling furiously. He could feel those violet eyes trained upon him and he knew that he was blushing. This was going to be a long night.

Trying to keep his hands from trembling, he gently took Ayaís cool arm in one hand and the moist cloth in the other. Soothing stokes wiped most of the dried blood away. As he worked, he kept his gaze lowered beneath his bangs. The too long strands usually provided endless bouts of irritation for him but today he was glad that heíd never gotten around to getting them cut. They offered protection from Ayaís piercing plum scrutiny, one that surely couldnít miss his blushing cheeks. When the cleaning was done, he carefully applied some antiseptic to the wound and bound it tightly with the gauze.

"All done," he proclaimed, automatically brushing his bangs back as he looked up at the quiet redhead. That purple gaze stabbed him, vivid against the dark room like luminous orbs. Ken blinked and quickly began the process of re-wrapping the roll of gauze. Something, anything to keep busy. Otherwise heíd flee the room. Aya was completely unnerving. Why did he keep staring at him like that? What could he possibly be thinking?

He almost snorted. It would be easier to get blood from a shadow than to know what Aya was thinking. Now that Takatori was dead and Schwartz had been defeated, who knew? Most likely regret for leaving Aya chan back in Tokyo, but that had nothing to do with this moment. He wondered once again, what Aya thought of him. Could he maybe come to love him? He risked a peek at the older boy. Such dark red hair, falling carelessly into soulful eyes. Pale chest and smooth skin. He was beautiful, made of the darkest parts of the night. Didnít he know, didnít this silent, ethereal boy *know*, that he would do anything for him? He would give up his own life; watch the blood spill endlessly to see just one smile. Do anything, risk everything, be nothing just to hear those stolen words. For one night, one moment. Just to be his.

"Aya." His voice cracked, that one words so loud in the tired stillness of the room. An icy blanket of wind splashed into the room, ripping at the curtains and swirling around them. Goosebumps jumped upon his bare arms. "Itís cold!" he exclaimed, glad beyond belief for the brief reprieve. "How can you keep the windows open on a night like this?" Noisy shuffles took him to the window and he hastily shut it with an ear splitting *THUNK*. "Do you wanna get sick?"

"Why do you care?"

His throat bobbed in a swallow. Ayaís question was the perfect opening for him to express his feelings. Wouldnít it just be so easy... *I care because I love you. Donít you see it? Iíve loved you for so long, I canít remember a time when I didnít love you. Everything is nothing, without you. Say you love me, say Iím not making a fool out of myself, say-*...to walk away? "Youíre a part of WeiŖ. Weíll be at a disadvantage if you get sick." How fluidly that lie was spoken. If only he believed it.

"I wonít get sick Ken."

His quiet voice held anger and he was scowling darkly. Nothing that Ken hadnít heard or seen dozens of times. And yet...shivers rapidly zipped up his spine. The sound of his name on Ayaís cool lips, even in rage, was unexpectedly sensual. Aya sitting on the bed, bare-chested and looking entirely delicious, saying his name in a room wrapped by the cold wind; his fantasies couldnít have come up with a more erotic setting. The urge to fling reason and consequence into the night, to crawl into Ayaís arms and kiss him senseless, was poignantly overwhelming. The only alternative was to tell him. And then, if there was a God, maybe...

"Aya?" It came out as a weak croak. He cleared his throat determinedly, his hands automatically fidgeting behind his back. He wanted to touch Aya *so* badly.

"What?"

Hardly encouraging but it would have to do. At least he answered, which was better than his custom silence. Ken shifted nervously, poking at the carpet with his socked foot. Absently he noted that there was a hole near his big toe. His fingers were sweaty. How strange, that he could feel so hot in such a cold room. "I love you."

Even as the words slipped out, he began panicking. Now wasnít the right time, heíd said them wrong, he wanted them back! Fire bloomed into his cheeks and heíd never felt such an oppressive silence before. It flowed thickly around his trembling hands and into his tightly constricting lungs, falling like an extreme burden. And then the silence lurched into dizziness, as remaining standing grew labored. He now regretted shutting the window. The room had grown unexpectedly stuffy.

Ayaís face remained unchanged, his face impassive. "You love me," he stated, his voice bland.

They could have been talking about a mission or the weather or about flowers. The redhead looked as interested as a goat. Ken felt like an utter fool. Rage grew, not at Aya but at himself. Tightly, he nodded, not trusting his voice.

"Why?"

Ken blinked, his thoughts interrupted. "Wh-what?"

"Why? I donít understand. Why do you love me?"

He stared at the redhead, trying to determine if the older boy was mocking him. It didnít seem likely being as Aya was hardly one to mock and ridicule. No, he appeared completely serious, as always. But this question, Ken hadnít certainly expected him to ask him *that*. Why? Oh for so many reasons...if only he was brave enough to list them all.

"Why does anyone love somebody?" he asked lamely, tugging at the collar of his T-shirt.

"Iím not talking about anybody. Iím talking about you."

There was a silence that seemed to last hours. Ken fidgeted, trying to find the right words. But eloquence was Yohjiís specialty not his. And really, he had no idea of how to respond to Ayaís question. At length he answered. "It just, uh happened. I donít know why, Iím not God. People love each other, itís a fact."

"And you love me."

"Y-yeah."

"Why?"

Ken gave in to the urge to look at the redhead. He looked completely emotionless, though serious as ever. He couldnít be baiting him...could he? Or perhaps he was. Who knew what was beneath that cold mask? He could be laughing at him, laughing at the idea that he was begging for love. And suddenly Ken was angry. Angry with himself for coming to Aya, angry at the situation because it was going nothing like heíd envisioned and angry with Aya for asking him such puzzling, unnerving questions. Right now nothing mattered but letting go. His emotions were pure and had been hidden inside for so long. They deserved to come out. What did it matter? Aya couldnít possible hate him anymore than he did already. "Do you think I want to be in love with you Aya?" he bit out furiously. "Do you think this is easy for me? Youíre a *boy* for Godís sake! A cold hearted, insensitive, callous boy! You donít care about anyone but yourself! Your own loss is all that matters, youíre the only one who has pain! Everyone else is nothing to you. Youíre a goddamn statue and Iím in love with you!!"

Ayaís eyes narrowed and flashed with glowering ire. His body was taut with rage. "I didnít ask you to love me."

It was his words, not his wrathfully icy tone that abruptly neutralized Kenís anger. One minute he was utterly enraged at the coldhearted, silent boy and the next he was...tired. How could he possibly argue with Aya? He wasnít in a position to blame the older boy. He had come to Aya, confessing his love. It was all his own fault. What had he expected, what did he want? To hurt the one who had hurt him? To force the one who he loved to show some emotion, to feel something? What was the point? It was futile and had been from the beginning. How foolish that he should even try. And to be angry...the urge to leave the cold, dark room was overpowering. "I know," he replied quietly. "And Iím sorry for coming here tonight. I shouldnít have." He caught the older boyís gaze. "I just thought you should know." Ayaís eyes were hard and empty.

He turned and hurriedly rushed to the door wanting nothing more than to flee from this botched conversation and unnerving night. His hand gripped the cold metal of the doorknob when Aya spoke. "You never answered my question."

Again? What did Aya want from him? Why did he keep asking that? He was driving him to insanity! Tears bitterly stung his eyes as the wood grains of the door before him doubled and blurred. "Why?" he cried hysterically, his voice choking. "What do you want me to say Aya? What do you want to hear? That I love you because youíre special and perfect? That I want to see you smile and make you happy?" His forehead dropped, softly thudding against the door. His voice diminished from frenzied rantings to a strangled whisper, tears catching upon his lashes and falling to the floor. "That youíre so beautiful it hurts and I hate what youíre doing to yourself?"

Silence greeted him. *I love you Aya. Always and forever, even if itís unrequited* He pushed the door open, feeling the rush of warm air swirl around him. He couldnít bare to look back at the redhead and see the loathing expression that would paint his ethereal face. "I-I donít want anything from you. Just so you know," he said quietly and firmly closed the door behind him. As though closing the door on his only love...

He had left the radio on in his room. The piercing strains of Glayís 'Freeze my Love' engulfed him. He had never noticed how hauntingly depressing the song actually was. But had he ever felt so utterly forlorn and miserable before? Not even Kaseís death...that had been nothing like this. He hadnít loved his best friend with such mind-altering, soul-searing, flaming intensity. Nothing could ever come close to what he felt for Aya. Absolutely nothing.

He fell onto his knees, feeling exhausted so that he couldnít even remain standing. Gone was that tiny slice of hope, he was wholly defeated. Tears burned at his eyes and he gasped, unable to understand why he felt so lost. Why should it have ended in any other way? Was he that naÔve?

***Freeze my Love Ima mo mune ni nokoru ai Kioku wo nemurasete***

He had loved this song once. If only it were possible to freeze this miserable love he felt but he wasnít Aya. He couldnít simply shut off his emotions, it wasnít in him. *Love still lingering in my heart, Sleep with my memories, Freeze my love* Damn the fucking song! One volatile smash send the radio careening to the floor. His breath hitched as he buried his wet face into quivering hands. They didnít lie because it still *was* lingering and he *would* sleep with these memories. And sometimes, even that just wasnít enough.

********

He hadnít moved from his place on his bed. Two hours slipped by and he hadnít moved once. The cold wind didnít touch him, the throbbing wound on his arm didnít pain him, the darkness didnít faze him. Unaware of all reality, he only felt quietly numb.

*I love you.*

Numb with *that* phrase stuck in his mind. It played over and over again, like those old broken record players. Why did the inky shadows in his room remind him of the stark emotion in Kenís dark eyes? He had wanted to know why. What was love? Why should Ken feel it for him? So shocked that he couldnít even think of anything else to say. Ken in love with him. A fellow assassin in love with him. A *boy* in love with him! Why should he believe it? Kenís voice aching, his words candid.

*That youíre so beautiful it hurts and I hate what youíre doing to yourself?*

How could he say that to him? What did he know? He had no right to feel these things, to love him! How dare he! Ken had no idea of what he was, of what he felt. He knew nothing! And now...

*I-I donít want anything from you.*

"Bastard," he hissed, unaware of his fists tightly clenching. A bitter jeer splashed across his pale face. "What the hell do I do now?"

********

"Ken niichan?" A tiny hand tugged at his blue T-shirt. Receiving no reply, the little girl tugged harder and called his name in a louder voice. "Niichan!!"

Ken blinked a few times, clearing his thoughts and looked down into a pair of wide, eager brown eyes. "Keiko chan," he greeted, kneeling down beside the small girl. "What can I do for you?"

"How come youíre sad today?"

A startled cough forced its way from his chest. "Sad?" He cleared his throat. "Why would you think Iím sad?"

Keiko tugged on one of her long pigtails as she stared at him. "You always cheer real loud when anyone gets a goal. You run in the game and play too. But today youíre only standing on the side and not saying anything. And when Maki chan tripped Shiro kun, you didnít even blow your whistle and get mad!"

He rubbed at the back of his head guiltily. He should have known better than to try and hide anything from the kids. They were all too damn smart for their own good. "Maa maa, I canít fool you, can I Keiko chan?"

She shook her head solemnly. "Kaachan says Iím a wise owl."

A smile spilled across his face. He ruffled her hair playfully. "She sure is right about that."

"Sometimes if youíre sad, it can help if you talk about it to someone whoís not sad," Keiko informed him sagely. "And Iím not sad at all."

He repressed the urge to sigh. He had left the apartment as early as possibly, not wanting to risk running into Aya. He hadnít bothered to show up to work, not wanting to confront Yohji and all the questions the older boy would undoubtedly have. He never wanted to see any of them again. Well, with the exception of Omi. He was close to the younger boy. But beyond that... A small hand waved in front of his face. Keikoís eyes were expectant. He managed a small smile and before he knew it, words were tumbling out of his mouth. "Last night I made the mistake of telling someone that I love them. But they donít love me back."

"Thatís impossible!" Keiko cried with disbelief. "Everyone loves you, youíre Ken niichan!"

He laughed, a sound that was woodenly hollow even to his ears. He watched the children before him as they played soccer. So innocent, so unafraid to love. How openly they hugged and kissed him; how freely they cried and laughed. When did the transition from childish innocence to jaded cynicism occur? "Not everyone," he whispered softly.

"Well then you have to make them love you!"

He stared at the young girl, her face bright with artless optimism. "How do I do that?"

A frown wrinkled baby-soft skin. Keiko chewed on a lock of her dark hair as she thought. Finally she said, "You hafta smile a lot and say lots of compliments. Then you tell them that youíre gonna change into something more comfortable and kiss them. And then in the morning you can wake up in their bed and say 'I love you honey' and do the kissing thing some more."

Ken had to laugh. "You sound like you know quite a lot about love."

She rolled her eyes. "They always do that on those soap operas kaachan watches. Oh yeah, you also have to take your shirt off."

"My shirt!"

"All the girls like that."

"But what about the boys?" he thought wryly. He didnít actually think of himself gay. After accepting his attraction to Aya, accepting that he was in love with a *guy*, he had bought one of those popular J-Rock magazines that most schoolgirls read. Many of the stars in it were visual and dressed like women and he hadnít found himself attracted to any of them. Even guys on TV and in the streets, there was no one except Aya. Everyone he saw, he compared to Aya. There was no one else who had such vibrant red hair and ivory skin. Soulful, violet eyes shimmering with silent ire. The only one he loved and he didnít want him. He was doomed to remain alone forever.

"Ken niichan, Maki chan keeps kicking me and not the ball!"

"I am not! You keep hogging the ball!"

********

Keiko fidgeted, trying not to watch the people come out of the ice cream shop across the street. She wanted an ice cream cone badly but kaachan had told her not to go anywhere. Hopping from one foot to the other, she cast another look at the bank. Kaachan still wasnít coming out and it had been *forever.* A quick scan at the clouds showed that were no new shapes, just the same old sheep playing a flute, a cat walking on a tightrope, a man tying his shoe, a carrot reading a book and a unicorn.

"Iím booo~rrrredddd," she sang, swaying from side to side. "And kaachan is taking a real looooooo~nggggg tiiiiiiiimmmmmeeee." She giggled as she started to feel dizzy. Everything was moving upside down! She spun around fast, her new green dress billowing out around her. How funny she was being! Then abruptly all the fun stopped when she twirled straight into a tall figure. She would have fallen if the man hadnít caught her.

"Watch where youíre going," he snapped.

Keiko blinked and shook her head to get out all the dizziness. She looked up at the man. He had very red hair and a mean look on his face. Keiko would have been scared but she had seen the man before. Sometimes he came to see Ken niichan. "I Ďmember you! Youíre Ken niichanís friend!" she shrieked, bouncing up and down excitedly. Maybe the man would want to play the spinning game with her!

He stared down at her, his purple eyes narrowing. She giggled. Her touchan glared at her sometimes too but he was only joking. The red hair man must be joking too. "Is Ken niichan coming here? Huh?" She tugged at his hand eagerly. "Is he, is he? Huh?"

"No." His voice sounded like he had no manners and he pulled his hand away from hers.

Keiko frowned at him like kaachan did when she sometimes caught Keiko eating chocolates and candies before dinner. Her touchan didnít get a mean voice when he glared at her. He always laughed afterwards. "You donít have to get ants in your pants!"

He gave her another nasty look and walked away.

She glared back at the man and stuck out her tongue. He was nothing like touchan or Ken niichan! "You better not be rude to Ken niichan, heís already sad!" she yelled.

That made the man come back to her. "What did you say?"

Keiko didnít look at him. Instead she poked at a crack in the sidewalk with her shoe. "Youíre mean. You have no manners and I donít like you."

He took a deep breath. "Why do you say Ken is sad?" His voice sounded a lot like touchan when he was trying not to get angry.

"Am I trying your patience?" she asked looking up at him. She didnít actually know what 'trying your patience' meant but she only knew that she tried kaachanís and touchanís patience a lot. And they got mad after she did it. She wondered if Ken niichanís friend was going to get mad at her. She didnít do anything to him, he looked like he was mad all the time.

The man knelt down to her level. "Yes you are. Now answer my question."

Keiko stared at him. He had funny hair that she didnít notice before. There were long pieces hanging on the sides. She wanted to pull one of them but she didnít think that the man would like that. She didnít like it when boys at school pulled her pigtails. "Youíre really Ken niichanís friend?, right?"

He blinked and than nodded very slowly.

"Than you hafta make him feel better Ďcause heís real sad." She nodded importantly, just in case he didnít believe her. "He said that he told a girl he loved her last night and she didnít love him back! He was so sad that he didnít even get mad when Sayuri chan and Enji kun started punching each other!" Keiko decided that even if the man was rude and wasnít polite, she liked him. If Ken niichan liked him, than so should she! And she liked his funny hair too. "I donít know why the girl doesnít like Ken niichan. She must be a real baka. Ken niichan is so cool, when I grow up Iím going to marry him!"

"A real baka," he repeated, in a funny voice that sounded like he had a cold in his throat.

She nodded again, twirling her pigtail around her finger. "I donít know why she doesnít love Ken niichan, everyone loves him! Kaachan says that heís selfless. Selfless is when you help old ladies carry big bags of groceries and hug kids when they cry and bring candy to the soccer games. Ken niichan always does those things. Once he even fixed Hiroshi kunís puppyís leg. There was a thorn in it. But since Ken niichan is sad, we hafta make him happy again because weíre his friends." She leaned a bit closer to the man and whispered in a secretive tone, "Do you wanna know how to make him feel better?"

The man said nothing, just stared at her. He was a weird person. She took his silence to mean a 'yes'. "Ice cream."

He had a startled look on his face. "Ice cream?"

Keiko rolled her eyes. "Of course ice cream! Ice cream always makes sad go away. When Iím sick, touchan brings me ice cream and then I feel better. You should buy Ken niichan a big ice cream with lots of chocolate in it and sprinkles. With a cherry on top too!" She smacked her lips. "Yummy! And then Ken niichan will forget all about the girl, until he tries to kiss her."

"Kiss her?" he choked out.

She giggled. His face looked funny. There a was red blush coming into his cheeks. "Are you Ďbarrassed of kissing? Your face is getting red."

He scowled at her but she wasnít scared of him anymore, she liked him. "I told Ken niichan to kiss the girl. And to take off his shirt too. They always do that on TV."

The man suddenly stood up. He was glaring again. "I have to go."

Keiko grabbed a fistful of his pants. "Wait!"

He jerked away from her. "What is it?" he demanded, annoyed.

She looked way up at him. "You should get that grouchy look off your face. You should smile. Ken niichan always says that if you smile, everyone smiles with you but if you cry than you cry all by yourself." She frowned. "He didnít say anything about being grouchy though but I guess itís like the same thing." She blinked suddenly as a thought occurred to her. "Hey, I donít even know your name! My name is Keiko chan. Whatís yours?"

The man was silent for so long that Keiko thought he wasnít going to say anything. But finally he said, "Ran. My name is Ran."

She motioned Ran to kneel down. He did after a moment. "You know what else is a good idea Ran niichan?"

He looked very surprised. "Niichan?"

Her head bobbed in a nod, her pigtails bouncing. "Since youíre Ken niichanís friend than youíre my niichan too! You wanna know what I think? I think that you should test out the ice cream youíre gonna give to Ken niichan on someone else. To make sure that it will make Ken niichan feel better." She blinked at him innocently.

Ran smiled. "Now who could I get to test out the ice cream for me?"

Keiko gaped. He looked very handsome when he smiled! Then she remembered what he said. "Me! Me!" she cried, jumping up and down. "Iíll test the ice cream for you! I can eat a double scoop no problem!"

To her great surprise, Ran reached out and brushed her bangs from her face. "Youíre a lot like my imouto, Keiko chan."

She smiled happily at Ran. "I thought you were mean and scary at first but I like you a lot now!" She reached out and gently tugged one of Ranís long red eartails. "I like your hair very much. You look nice when you smile Ran niichan."

"Keiko chan! What are you doing?"

Keiko looked away from Ran niichan. Kaachan was coming down the stairs of the bank. "Thatís my kaachan," she informed Ran. "She was taking a real long time in the bank."

"How many times have I told you not the talk to strangers?"

"But kaachan, Ran niichan isnít a stranger!" she told her mother. "Ran niichan is Ken niichanís friend! I just met him right now! At first he was grouchy but then he was really nice and Ken niichan is sad so weíre gonna make him feel better with ice cream but we need to test out the ice cream and Ran niichan said Iím like his imouto and Ran niichan is going to buy me ice cream!" She giggled at how fast she had said all that and hugged her mother with glee.

Kaachan looked a little embarrassed. "Sheís quite the chatterbox." She looked down at Keiko. "Keiko chan, how many times have I told you not to bother-"

"Itís no problem," Ran niichan interrupted, standing up. His cheeks were red again.

"See? Itís no problem!"

"Keiko chan-"

"ICE CREAM!!!" she howled, grabbing Ran niichanís hand. "Letís go!"

********

"I knew Iíd find you here."

He looked up, shielding the dying afternoon sunlight from his eyes. Yohji moved into his view, peering down the length of his nose at him. Ken sighed, hugging his knees tightly to his chest. He knew that heíd have to talk to Yohji sooner or later but heíd hoped that it would be later rather than sooner. "How did you know Iíd be here?" he asked resignedly. May as well get this over with right now. Yohji could be surprisingly forceful when the mood struck him.

Yohji sank down upon the grass beside him, folding his long limbs gracefully. "You always sit under this tree after coaching a game. You come here to think."

"I didnít know you knew that," he remarked, surprised. He hadnít known that Yohji knew him so well.

"We live together, work together, kill together. After all this time, Iíd like to think I know you guys. Weíre friends, arenít we Kenken?"

He grinned at the older boy. "Cleaning blood stains together really has that bonding effect."

Long fingers reached out and patted his head. "Iím glad that you can still smile and make jokes. Thatís one of the things I admire about you."

His eyes widened. "You admire me?!"

"Takes a lot to be able to smile after ending up in all the shit life dishes out." He pushed up his sliding shades. "And we oughta know. One word Ken, 'angst'. You and Omi are lucky in that sense. Always smiling and cheerful. Not me. Half the time I never wanna see the light of day."

"Thatís cause half the time youíve got a hangover."

"Oi!" He whacked Kenís shoulder. "Iím trying to be serious here!"

"I know." Ken rested his chin against his knees, staring out at the quiet soccer field. The setting sun splayed impossibly long shadows upon the rumpled grass. "But sometimes itís just easier to be silly. That way you can pretend everything is alright."

"Is that what you wanna do Ken? Pretend?"

"No. I-I just want-" *Him to love me* He rubbed his cheek against the rough material of his jeans. "I donít know what I want."

"You want Aya."

"Heís not mine to have."

A flash of anger shone behind silver sunglasses. "I never thought you were a quitter Ken."

"What right do you have to judge me?" Ken demanded, Yohjiís taunting words kindling his own ire. "You donít understand this at all! Aya doesnít love me. He never will!"

"Did he say that?"

"He didnít have to," he muttered tightly. "It was very clear."

"And so youíre gonna give up? Just like that?" The older boy gazed up at the brightly colored sky. "One little confrontation and Kenken goes running. How sad."

"Donít patronize me Yohji," he hissed. "This is easy for you. Youíve never been rejected before. Everyone loves you. Everyone wants you. Well Iím not like you. Iím not some dashing ladyís man. Iím just Ken, the good olí boy next door. And if Iím not wanted than Iíll accept that. Iím not going to chase after Aya. I canít do that, itís not who I am."

There was no warning. One minute he was staring moodily at the flaming orange sun on the horizon, the next Yohjiís long fingers were under his chin, roughly forcing him to meet flashing jade eyes, hidden behind silver tinted shades. His eyes widened as he registered how close the older boyís face was to his own. The smell of cigarette and lime and exotic sensuality splashed over him. *Iím bi Ken.*

"If it werenít for Aya, I would make you mine Kenken," Yohji murmured huskily, tightening the hold on Kenís chin. His other hand came up and elegant finger swept sensuously across his cheek. "Donít say youíre not wanted Ken because you are. I love your naÔve, temperamental, clumsy ways. Everything about you is a *huge* turn-on. And believe me," Yohjiís fingers moved from his cheek to brush across his lips with agonized deliberation. "If I didnít see something in Ayaís cold eyes, if I didnít *know* that he *does* feel something for you, then I swear Iíd fuck you right here, right now." And with one last smoldering look, one last soft caress, the older boy was striding away, his body looking impossibly long in tight Jeans and close-fitting shirt.

"What the hell... "

His lips still tingled from Yohjiís fingers. Just twenty-four hours ago, one mere day ago and everything had been normal. He hadnít known Yohji was bisexual. He hadnít known that Yohji knew he loved Aya. He hadnít gone to Aya and made an utter ass out of himself. He didnít know that Yohji desired him physically. *Iíd fuck you right here, right now.* A shudder wracked his body at those drawled out, sensually raw words. How had everything suddenly gotten so complicated? Yohji of all people, wanted him! That had to be the end to end all ends.

He could feel a blush spill onto his face. Yohji had touched him so softly...but he loved Aya. Who didnít return his feelings, never mind what Yohji said. *If I didnít see something in Ayaís cold eyes...* What could that mean? He was bewildered. Last night, he hadnít seen anything in Ayaís eyes other than that rigid coldness. This was so complicated.

He sighed deeply. "Well shit."

********

The light pink envelope festooned with Hello Kitty and a multitude of hearts and stars lay among the other plain white letters. It was from Aya chan of course. She loved Hello Kitty. He picked the letter from the pile and opened it, careful not to tear the colorful envelope. Unconsciously, his eyes softened the sight of her bubbly hiragana, written in metallic purple and green ink alternatively. She had stuck stickers and drawn little doodles all over the paper. He read the letter carefully, feeling all his problems dissipate as he was immersed in the warmth and liveliness that was his imouto. Even from a piece of paper, her vibrancy sparkled through. And today, heíd been immersed in that same vibrancy.

The taste the chocolate mint ice cream still lingered in his mouth. A smile made its way across his face. He hadnít wanted to like Keiko chan, his mood had been entirely too dark to tolerate the antics of a hyper little girl. However she had won him over. Keiko chan so much like Aya chan when sheíd been young. Constantly chattering, sticking her nose into everyoneís business, doing her best to weasel ice cream out of everyone and anyone. So filled with life. Brimming with love to give. Even as a child, heíd never been able to give love so freely. How many times had he ever told his parents and Aya chan that he loved them?

*I love you.*

He sank down upon his bed heavily. Ever since his confession last night, Ken was all he could think about. The entire day had been filled with Kenís words echoing in his brain, his face etched in his mind. His presence surrounded him like a shroud. Even his dreams last night had been of Ken. Ken smiling so sweetly as he declared his love for him. Then the stark pain when he was rejected and finally the quiet acceptance. Aya had thought about it all day and he decided that nothing made him feel guiltier than that stoic acceptance. If Ken had shouted and yelled, he would have been able to handle it. He knew how to deal with harsh words and bitter reprisals, hiding emotions behind a faÁade of cold carelessness and cynicism. How unlike Ken to say nothing, to merely walk away after telling him in that achingly broken voice that he wanted nothing from him. What could he possibly say to that? He knew anger and scorn. And yet, something deep inside wanted to go to the soccer player and soothe the hurt in those innocent eyes. To make right everything heíd wronged. If only he knew how.

*I donít know why she doesnít love Ken niichan, everyone loves him! Kaachan says that heís selfless.*

Ken was selfless. Beneath his brash behavior was someone who was filled with kindness and caring. He was the sort of boy all parents wanted for their daughters, all old ladies loved, all guys wanted to watch the game and fix their cars with. But Ken was so much more than that. He fought for justice and peace, in the night as well in the day. He was the first one ready to hurl himself into a fight, no matter how unfavorable the odds, paying no heed to the consequences. How many times had he staggered into the shop, bloody from some fight heíd gotten mixed up in? How many children had he taken care of and taught soccer to? How many times had he brought food for all of them, making sure they ate properly? There were so many good things about Ken. The whole day had been spent thinking about them. And the rest Keiko chan had filled in. She adored Ken.

So what should he do? Ken had been right, he *was* selfish. He only thought of himself and of Aya chan. He was the only one in WeiŖ who hadnít had to kill a loved one. He hadnít lost the most important person in his life. Even if heíd had to leave Aya chan behind, she still lived right? He was so much luckier than the rest of them. So how was it that he still couldnít smile? Still wasnít able to comfort his teammates? Couldnít even accept the love they gave? He remained frozen. Nothing had changed.

*Youíre a goddamn statue and Iím in love with you!*

Ken knew who he was, what a frigid personality he had and he still loved him. He had called him beautiful and perfect. How could he feel that way, knowing what he was? He couldnít understand it, why Ken loved him. And yet, if Ken could love someone as harsh as he, why couldnít he love in return someone was wonderful as Ken? There were so many questions, so much he couldnít comprehend. The whole day heíd spent thinking into circles that just didnít end.

Unbidden, Aya chanís last words in her letter came to his mind. *Follow your heart Oniichan and find happiness. I love you.* Perhaps he was making this harder than necessary. Could it be possible that it really was as simple as eating ice cream? He was tired of analyzing and angsting. He knew that he wasnít good with people, that he didnít know how to interact. Ken, Yohji, Omi, they were the first real friends heíd ever had. Could he really let his inhibitions spoil his relationship with Ken? Putting their initial meeting aside, Ken had only ever shown kindness and concern towards him. And now love. It was humbling, to know that he was loved. The initial anger heíd felt after Kenís confession had long faded into acceptance. It wasnít understood it, but it was accepted. Which meant what?

********

Ken stood on the balcony, his back to him. Aya stopped in the middle of the living room and watched the dark haired boy for a few minutes. His heart pounded rapidly. Why he was so uneasy was beyond him. Ah, but he promised not to think about anything. Just do, enveloped by action. A stupid phrase Aya chan used often. He could just hear her, urging him on.

Steeling his resolve, he stalked out onto the balcony. It was windy and cold, the kind of night he craved. The sky was cloudless, splattered with gleaming stars that appeared to mock him with their shining happiness. His mouth opened and not a word came out. Frozen he stood, commanding his voice to utter some sort of appropriate greeting as the icy air gushed around him. The stars laughed as he remained silent.

Ken must have felt his presence for he whirled around after a few seconds. Dark eyes widened, a stunned expression painting his face. He gasped his name, backing away sharply and stumbling in his haste.

Aya reached out and captured his arm, to keep him from falling. Kenís skin was cool and smooth beneath his fingers. And still no words came out.

That adorable, for heís seen it countless times in his mindís eyes over the past hours and he decided that it *was* adorable, blush was back, staining high cheekbones. Heíd never realized how much Ken blushed. Or how endearingly sweet it was.

"W-what are...what are you doing h-here?" Ken stammered, wrenching his arm away with more force than necessary.

"Itís too warm inside," he replied, feeling like a proper fool the minute the words left his mouth. What a lame excuse.

"Oh. Well Iíll...um leave you then I guess," he muttered, head down, chocolate colored bangs obscuring his eyes. He moved towards him, obviously intending to flee into the sanctity of his own room, when a scrap of paper slid from his fingers and fell onto the ground.

Aya picked it up. It was the poem heíd written yesterday morning, during a slow moment in the shop. He remembered Ken asking if he could have it. And now, he was reading it out on the balcony? "This is yours," he informed him coolly, holding out the tattered paper.

Ken didnít look at him as he snatched the paper away. Their fingers touched. He mumbled out a muffled thanks as he hastily stuffed the paper into the pocket of his khaki cargo pants.

"I didnít know you liked it so much," Aya continued quickly, not wanting Ken to leave. At least not until he finished saying what heíd come to say. Even if he wasnít quite sure of what he was going to say...

Coffee tinted eyes met his briefly before they hurriedly glanced away. "I-I liked the rhyming," he said hesitantly.

"I donít usually like using rhyme schemes," he explained, feeling more comfortable. Talking about poetry was something he could do with relative ease. He loved poetry. "It limits the language you can use. But Aya chan, she loves poems that rhyme. I guess sheís gotten me into the habit."

Confusion and bewilderment adorned the soccer playerís face. He looked torn between bolting for his room and hiding in plain sight. Ken was gawking at him, as though he didnít know what to make of his comments on poetry. Which he probably didnít. The only time he really ever talked was in regards to a mission. Aya felt a sharp twist of guilt. His moodiness and inability to handle emotions were playing hard on Ken. It was he who had inadvertently reduced this vociferous, impulsive boy to a shy, stuttering wreck.

"Um, well I d-donít know too much about poetry but I do like yours." Ken flushed, studying the ground diligently. "Even if you said that it didnít, uh, mean anything."

"Analytical poetry is vastly overrated. Not everything has a meaning behind it." He leveled a sharp look at the nervous brunette. "Words can come out without any type of consciousness behind them."

"Yeah." He shuffled his feet, the uneasy action deafening against the quiet night. "I guess so."

There was an awkward silence. Aya quelshed the impulse to sigh. This was not going well. If only Aya chan was here. She would know what to do. She was great with people. He, on the other hand, had no idea what to do. When a person was unresponsive, how did people talk to them? How did people manage to talk to him? He didnít know what to say to Ken, how to right irrepressible wrongs.

Finally Ken cleared his throat. "Itís getting late. Iíd better go." He took a step forward, meeting his gaze at last. His eyes, they looked black at that instant, glittering with bewilderment and uncertainty. "Iím sorry to bother you A-Aya." Such a quiet, un-Ken like voice.

"You arenít bother-" he abruptly cut his words off seeing a sparkle of white behind Ken. Without thinking, he grabbed hold of Kenís arm, turned him around and pulled him towards the balconyís railing. He pointed at the sweeping path of bursting light. "Look. A shooting star."

All the anxiety and embarrassment on the younger boyís face dissolved as his entire face lit up with joy. "Sugoi!" he cried, his eyes gleaming with delight. "Iíve always wanted to see a shooting star!"

Aya nodded abstractedly, not watching the shooting star. He was much more interested in the soccer player standing beside him. With that earnest expression of rapt fascination, he looked surprisingly sweet. It was a look of pure pleasure; one that he rarely ever saw but suspected that children like Keiko chan saw it all the time.

Aya gave in to the urge and carefully brushed away a lock of chocolate strands from Kenís eyes. He pointedly ignored the wide-eyed look of disbelief the younger boy threw his way. Instead, he studied the blazing star. "Donít forget to make a wish Ken."

"H-hai."

As for his own wish, he didnít know what he wanted. Before last night he would have wished for Aya chan to always be happy and for her to forgive him for leaving her alone in Tokyo. But now, standing at Kenís side, knowing what he felt for him...*I wish for eloquence, just for tonight*

The shooting star faded from their view, leaving behind only a pale crescent moon and a sea of broken stars. "What did you wish for?"

Ken looked over at him, cheeks pink. "Youíre not supposed to tell your wish otherwise it wonít come true."

"Aa." His gaze shifted from the night sky to the balcony railing where Ken had rested his hands. There were no thoughts in his mind as his left hand moved up and lightly came to rest overtop of Kenís.

A strangled cry escaped from the younger boy as he choked out his name.

His own fingers were so pale in comparison to Kenís, as they laced through those tanned fingers. Such capable hands, that wielded weapons and made flower arrangements with the same deft abandon. "Was it worth it Ken?" he inquired, running his fingers softly over Kenís. He was smooth and quivering beneath his touch. Touching Ken felt unexpectedly right and shockingly sensual at the same time.

"Na-nani?"

He smiled inwardly. Ken sounded on the verge of suffocation and hysteria. "Seeing a shooting star today," he clarified calmly. "Was it worth the wait?"

"I-I guess," Ken wheezed, face bright red.

A particularly sharp gust of icy wind blew at that instant. He was reminded of last night and how Ken had closed the window in his bedroom, worrying that heíd catch a cold. Ken was so considerate, shouldnít he return the gesture?

Aya watched his fingers as they tightly seized Kenís wrist. One small pull and the younger boy was in his arms. "Cold?" he whispered, rubbing suntanned, goosebumped arms as he held the shivering brunette close. He could smell Kenís scented shampoo, could hear his harsh breathing against his neck, could feel the swift pounding of his heart against his chest, and it was decidedly delicious.

It didnít last. Ken was over his shock in seconds and he jerked away from Ayaís embrace violently. "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded, brown eyes flashing.

Ah, this was the Ken he knew. "Do you want to get sick?" he mocked, repeating the question Ken had asked him last night.

Eyes widened and then narrowed. "As if you really care!" he retorted angrily. "What is all this anyways? Your conscience got the better of you? You feel sorry for me and decided to condescend to talk with me? Well I donít need your pity Aya! I told you I didnít want anything from you!"

"Iím aware of that," Aya murmured quietly.

Before his eyes, Kenís temper seemed to die at his hushed tone. "Why are you playing games with me?" he asked, a wounded expression dominating his face. "What do you want from me?"

His words were nearly inaudible. Aya turned to look out at the night, unable to bear the hurt on Kenís face. Hurt that he had caused. How was he to make this right? He didnít know how to answer Kenís question. What should he say to soothe the soccer player? The enormity of this situation made it all the more nerve wracking. If he muddled this, there would be no more chances. Ken would be lost, haven given up on him for good. Was that what he wanted?

Ken mistook his silence for rejection...yet again. "I see," he whispered. "I wonít bother you again."

Instinctively, he clenched the other boyís arm. "Donít." The word burst out as a faint croak. "Ken..."

The boy was unnaturally still. "N-nani?"

His gaze caught Kenís. "Donít leave."

"Why?" he choked out. Chocolate eyes shimmered like liquid. "I c-canít just...with you n-not-"

Aya pulled the stuttering boy up against him and did the only thing he could think of to keep Ken from weeping. He kissed him. Ken gasped, his cool lips parting in shock. His hands moved up, tangling in silky brown locks. Ken tasted like mint toothpaste and oranges and something nameless that was incredibly sweet. He heard Ken moan against him, as the younger boy wrapped his arms around his neck. Aya kissed him harder, his tongue sliding over even white teeth, exploring the soft mouth of the boy against him. Kenís tongue hesitantly met his own. Aya hissed, roughly pulling Ken closer. Their kiss grew harsh as they both sucked fiercely at each other.

At length, they pulled away. Aya felt his forehead drop lightly against Kenís as they panted heavily. That was the most erotic experience of his life.

"W-why did you do th-that?" Ken huffed, clutching at Ayaís shoulders as though he was unable to remain standing on his own.

"Actions speak louder than words," he breathed, tilting Kenís chin up to meet his gaze. The soccer player looked adorable. His hair was disheveled from his fingers, his cheeks were flushed and his lips were red and swollen from their kiss. Aya wanted to kiss Ken again. It was strange, heíd never actually initiated a kiss before. A couple of girls had chastely kissed him at one point or another but they were *nothing* compared to the kiss he and Ken just shared. It was pure sensuality. It took one blazingly hot kiss to tell him what should have been blatantly obvious all along; he wanted Ken. A huge burden, the burden of not knowing, was lifted from his mind then. He knew now. And nothing else mattered.

Ken blinked up at him. "I donít understand."

He let go of Ken, his hands coming down to grip the balcony railing. "I never meant to hurt you. What you said last night shocked me. I didnít know what to say or how to react. I was angry."

"Why?" Ken asked in a small voice.

He shrugged, struggling to find the right words. Surprisingly, speaking of his emotions wasnít as difficult as he would have thought. It felt strangely...soothing. "I couldnít understand why youíd love me. Thatís why I asked you. Your answers left me stunned. I never imagined that anyone could ever love me. I didnít want to believe it. I prefer solitude. I-Iím not good at this sort of thing, talking and socializing and stuff. But I have thought a lot about what you said. And I..." he trailed off uncertainly, gesturing at nothing.

Ken was examining the vast array of city light and shadowy buildings, carefully averting his eyes. "You werenít disgusted? Because Iím a guy too?"

"Nothing about you disgusts me Ken." A thin smile made its ways across his face as he thought about Keiko chan. "Iíve spend the entire day extolling your many virtues."

"So what do we do now?" Ken questioned, tugging nervously at his bangs.

The moonlight splashed around the shadowy city. It was getting cold, as stars gleamed down luminously. *Follow your heart Oniichan and find happiness* There really never was an option was there? It was only for him to find out. And now he knew, without anymore thoughts. It was all emotions. Nothing had ever felt so right, so comfortable. "Iím not as easy person to love," he warned sternly. "I donít know--"

Ken didnít let him finished. The soccer player threw himself against him, arms winding tightly around his neck. "I already know that," he declared, as he buried his face into Ayaís neck. "And I still love you."

Now it was his turn to blush, as he enfolded the younger boy into his arms. Ken felt so perfect against him. This was the only complete thing.

Ken peered up at him through a mess of chocolate locks, eyes shining with joy and tears. "Do you mean it Aya?"

Automatically, he brushed Kenís bangs from his eyes and kissed his forehead. "How could I not? You look so sweet when you blush."

Ken promptly blushed.

Aya smiled, trailing one ivory finger down a red cheek. "This coming from the guy who punched me on our second meeting?"

"Well considering that you tried to kill me the night before, I think I was justified!" He grinned up at him. "And I think you look sweet when you smile."

His smile grew just a little bit more, only for Ken. "Aa."

"Ai shiteru Aya," Ken murmured, leaning up for kiss. "Always."

"I know," Aya responded quietly and the distance between them was breached as they kissed for the second time beneath the inky sky.

~*~OWARI~*~