I wanted to be like you
I wanted everything
So I tried to be like you
And I got swept away

I didn't know that it was so cold and
You needed someone
To show you the way
So I took your hand and we figured out that
When the tide comes
I'd take you away

If you want to
I can save you
I can take you away from here
So lonely inside
So busy out there
And all you wanted
Was somebody who cares

    He dreams in neon and candy canes. His body keeps moving, but his mind is a thousand miles away. Club lights flash against his eyelids where he closed his eyes a minute or hour or day ago. He doesn't need to see, doesn't need to think. He lets his body do what it knows how to do, lets it twist and writhe in time to a bass deep enough to make his bones ache. He feels the heat and sweat-slicked velvet of someone else's skin against him and turns into the invitation. The sweet perfume tells him it's female, but he doesn't look. He doesn't want to. He knows whose face he'll see.

    He lets the music carry them both and presses his tongue to the roof of his mouth. The peppermint aftertaste is fading. Time for another drink. He reaches out, sliding his hands briefly up the girl's arms, making sure he has her attention. He offers her a flicker-short smile of apology and turns away. She lets him go, and he moves blindly through the crowd. He bumps into people, of course, but everyone's bumping into everyone here and no one really cares.

    He knows when he's reached the edge of the dance floor because he can finally breathe again, and he finally opens his eyes. The overhead lights almost blind him and he blinks spots and sweat out of his eyes. He makes his way over to the crowded bar and forces through the first clear path he can find. He lifts his arm, showing the bartender his wristband, and he doesn't have to ask. She already knows he'll take anything, anything so long as there's alcohol in it, so long as it burns him when he swallows.

    He makes it to the actual counter about the same time she finishes mixing it. She pushes it into his hand and their fingers meet on the glass. The glass is cold. Her hands are colder, from dealing with drinks and ice all night. It's a shock to his system, a little bit of wake-up call. He remembers to smile at her, or thinks he does, but she doesn't smile back. Neither says anything. They ran out of things to say months ago. He drains his glass in three swallows and leaves it on the counter.

    She has others to tend to, but she makes time to mix him a second drink in between orders. She slides this one across the counter to him, and it's gone just as quickly. He feels the ground dip beneath his feet, feels it right itself again, and feels the buzz of his phone against his hip. He flips it open to look at the number, squinting a bit to make it out, and sees Omi's name. He puts the phone back in his pocket without answering. He knows what Omi wants. Omi wants him home, like he hasn't been home at night in half a year now. Yohji's not ready to deal with it yet. Reality can wait.

    So Yohji thinks, but he turns away from the counter and reality knifes him the face.

    From here, he can see the door, and the man who's just walked through it isn't supposed to be here. Not in this club, not in this city, not in almost a year. His first thought is that he's seeing things, but he's only ever met one man with that distinctive shade of red hair.

    He starts that way instinctively, only to forcibly stop himself a few steps later. He rethinks his decision and turns away instead, making for the far wall. He finds a spot between two groups of drunken friends and stares across the club. His phone vibrates against his hip again and this time he opens it.

    "Why didn't you tell me Aya was back in town?" he asks roughly.

    The silence that follows that says he's caught his teammate off-guard, but it doesn't take Omi long to get his wits back. "No one told me," he answers.

    Yohji doesn't take his eyes off Aya's face. The man's sister is nowhere in sight, but he didn't come alone. Two unfamiliar men are close at his sides, both laughing and looking pleased to be here. The three wade through the crowd toward the bar and Yohji half-turns away, letting the shadows of the back wall hide him.

    "Don't," Omi says, as if he can follow Yohji's train of thought.

    "I know better," Yohji says, annoyed. He wonders if that's the truth, wonders if Omi really expects him to listen. It's been eleven months since little-girl Aya woke up and their Aya left Tokyo and Weiß behind him. They were a team for years and it came undone in a day. Less than twenty-four hours after the tower fell, the Fujimiya siblings were gone. Kritiker dropped them off in Shikoku and no one's heard from them since. None of them expected to see him again.

    Whatever Omi originally called for, it's forgotten now under the abrupt return of their former teammate. Aya's name has been a conversation-killer for months. Yohji gives Omi a few seconds to come up something else, then hangs up on him again. He knows Omi isn't going to call back, but he turns his phone off, anyway.

    The three are at the bar, taking their glasses from the bartender. Yohji has seen Aya drink once or twice, but not often. Aya's always been a miser, always been so careful with his money out of necessity. He only ever drank if someone else bought it for him. Yohji watches him drink now and knows that's changed. The bright yellow wristband on his wrist, his all-you-can-drink pass, is one hint. The easy way he drains his glass is more telling.

    Yohji has to look away before Aya feels the weight of his stare. He looks at Aya's companions instead, wondering who Aya's replaced Weiß with. It makes his gut clench thinking about it, but he blames that selfish anger on the alcohol. This is what they want for Aya; this is why they let him go. Second chances, right? The thought tastes sour in his mouth and he wants another drink.

    The three stay at the counter through several rounds, and then one of the men tries to pull Aya onto the dance floor. Aya shakes his head at that, stubbornly holding his ground. His friend gets right in Aya's personal space, easing up against him as if he belongs on Aya's skin, and says something at his ear. Yohji knows the smile on that face because he's used it before. He recognizes the promise in it. He's just never seen it used on Aya before. Years ago, he remembers arguing with Ken over the what-if of Aya's sexuality. Their suspicions ended in a stalemate, because there was never any proof. Now Yohji gives himself a couple belated bonus points for being right.

    Aya shrugs the man off. Whatever he says, his friend just laughs. Aya is left at the counter while the other two disappear into the jumping crowd.

    Aya doesn't watch them go but turns back on the bar. It doesn't take long before he has another glass in his hands. Yohji studies his face across the distance between them, trying to read his expression. Alternating shadows and rainbow-colored lights make it difficult, but then, Aya's never been an easy read.

    Yohji's never been particularly sneaky, either, and he stares a little too long. Eleven months without Weiß haven't dulled Aya's instincts, and the man looks his way. Their gazes meet across the room and Aya's cup goes still halfway to his mouth.

    Yohji doesn't wave, doesn't smile. He stays where he is, no matter how badly he wants to go say hello. They're not a part of Aya's life anymore. He has no right to undo Aya's hard-won freedom. He has no right to get his blood and nightmares anywhere near Aya.

    For a moment he resents Aya for expecting them to be okay with that. It's not a new feeling, but he knows well by now how futile it is.

    Aya is the first to look away. Yohji turns as well and makes his way further down the wall, looking for an open chair. He wants a drink so badly his stomach hurts, but he sits himself down and refuses to budge. He watches the dancers but makes no move to join them. He thinks he should leave, but he doesn't want to. He doesn't want to go back home to his quiet room.

    He's been sitting there for an hour when red moves in his peripheral vision, and he looks up to see Aya on the outskirts of the dancers. His friends are close beside him and Yohji can see their hands move as they talk. Aya shakes his head at something they say, shakes it again when they press, and Yohji can see they're annoyed. Aya doesn't care. He turns and leaves them there, and Yohji watches him go back to the counter.

    As much as he doesn't want to go home, it's too dangerous to stay. He gets to his feet and weaves his way between the clumps of standing drinkers. He has to pass the bar to get to the door. He very carefully doesn't look at Aya on his way, and he eases past the bouncer. The elevator is on its way up from the first floor. He watches the numbers above the door so he doesn't have to think about the man he's walking away from.

    The elevator dumps eight people out and he's the only one who gets in to leave. He presses the button for the ground floor. The doors are almost closed when a hand snaps between them and forces them back open. Aya's standing on the other side and he doesn't even slow. As soon as the doors are open wide enough to fit his body, he climbs on, and he presses his thumb hard against the button to close them.

    Yohji moves to get off, but Aya plants his hand against Yohji's chest and stops him. The doors click closed and the elevator gives a small lurch before starting down. The two of them smell like alcohol and smoke and sweat. In a small car like this, it's almost overpowering, or maybe that's the weight of Fujimiya Aya's famous glare.

    "Don't run away from me."

    "Hypocrite," Yohji says unthinkingly.

    Aya lets his hand fall away and says nothing to that accusation. They study each other in silence, not really sure what to say next. It feels painfully awkward being together like this when there are lines drawn between them. There's so much Yohji wants to say that it chokes him, but he knows better than to open his mouth. Kritiker's orders are explicit: Aya is off-limits.

    Apparently no one told Aya that.

    Yohji is the first off the elevator and he squeezes past the line waiting for a ride up. Aya follows close behind him until there's enough room to fall in at his side. Neither says anything to each other and they keep their gazes pointed in different directions. Yohji thinks about calling a cab, since the trains stopped running hours ago. Instead he turns into Yoshinoya and ignores the hostess's greeting. He sits at the counter and Aya sits on the stool beside his.

    They're served water before Aya's even finished getting settled and Yohji tells the waiter that their bills are separate. The waiter calls their orders back to the cook and goes to wait on the bowls. Yohji's self-control lasts the entirety of sixty seconds. The waiter's barely set his food down in front of him before Yohji opens his mouth.

    "You're supposed to be in Shikoku."

    Aya pries his chopsticks apart and pulls his rice closer to him. "I don't care."

    Yohji stares down at the egg sitting on top of his own bowl of rice, trying not to be angry, trying not to be relieved. It feels so normal to be sitting with Aya again that it hurts; it feels so foreign after eleven months of separation that he's sick to his stomach. He forces himself to pick up a set of chopsticks and he pokes listlessly at his egg. It bursts on the fourth poke and oozes all over his rice.

    "Your sister's at the hotel," he guesses.

    "My sister is in Italy."

    Yohji stares. Aya doesn't return the look, and Yohji realizes he's playing with his food, too. As a rule, Aya doesn't fidget. Aya scowls a little at his food, and Yohji doesn't know if it's because of his palpable shock or because his food isn't quite what he wanted. "Italy."

    "For school," Aya says, as eloquent as ever.

    "Since when?" Yohji demands.

    "She left three months ago."

    "But she-" Yohji can't finish that. He digs into his food instead, eating more as a way to vent his sudden anger than out of any real hunger.

    Aya picks up on his disapproval easily, and he knows why Yohji's mad. "She was asleep," he reminds Yohji. "Those years never happened."

    It doesn't make Yohji feel any better. Aya sold his soul for revenge and his sister's sake. He killed and bled and suffered to see Takatori's death. He hinged everything he was on the chance of his sister waking up again. Eleven months ago, his prayers were answered. And now, just like that, she's gone again. She's awake, she's gone through her rehabilitation, and she's picking up her life right where it left off. Those years of dying hope and despair were nothing but a blink to her, something Aya lived through alone.

    Alcohol loosens Yohji's tongue. "Selfish," he says flatly.

    Aya glares at him. "It would have been more selfish for me to ask her to stay. She has her own life to live."

    Second chances. Aya's doing for his sister what Weiß did for him: he's stepping out of the way and letting her leave, no matter how much it might hurt to see her go. Yohji feels a twist of something too ugly to be satisfaction. He wants to say he's glad that Aya knows how it feels, now, but he's not. Aya left a gaping hole in Weiß when he left, creating a vacuum none of them expected. One prickly swordsman shouldn't have wormed his way that deep into their crooked little family.

    "That doesn't mean you can't resent her for being able to walk away," he says. Aya knows just by looking at him that Yohji's not really talking about his sister anymore. Surprisingly, Aya looks away. Yohji tries to stop himself, but he can't. The admission hurts. "We missed you."

    He expects Aya to ignore it, but Aya's had too much to drink to think about what he's saying. He answers with a quiet, "Yeah."

    Yohji wants to tell Aya to come back, but he knows better. They pick at their food some more. Yohji struggles for safer conversation topics. "In town with friends?"


    "Your companions at the club looked pretty friendly."

    "I met them at a bar down the street."

    "You didn't used to drink so much."

    "Things change."

    "Picking up bad habits?"

    "Picking up your habits," Aya says. He pushes his bowl away, unable to eat it. "How can you stand it?"

    Yohji tips his head to one side in a question. Aya turns on him, and he's had enough to drink that Yohji can see his frustration showing in the twist of his mouth. More than that, he can see shadows in Aya's stare. Desperation, he thinks, but he doesn't know how to answer that. If he knew the answer, he wouldn't be here now.

    "Being you," Aya says. "It's—meaningless. It's lonely."

    Yohji doesn't know what catches him off-guard more: that brutal honesty, or that disappointed accusation. "What?"

    "I wanted to be like you."

    Yohji can't think of anything to say to that. He stares at his former teammate, wondering just who he's looking at. He thinks about the Aya he used to live and work with, who lived a life of self-imposed seclusion, and tries to find remnants of him in the man sitting beside him now. He thinks about Aya at the club tonight, drinking like a pro and keeping company with overly-friendly strangers. It's too surreal.

    "That's not much to aspire to," he says slowly.

    "She left," Aya says.

    And Aya's been frantically trying to fill in the hole she left behind, it seems.

    "How can you stand it?" Aya presses. He needs an answer, needs the missing piece, needs to know what he's doing wrong. He's been trying to start life over, been trying to live for himself for three months. He took a page from Yohji's book and has done his best to make himself a sociable person. He's been going out and meeting people- taking them home?- and drinking, and none of it soothes that aching sense of loss. Looking at him, Yohji wants to give him that secret, but the only thing he has is honesty.

    "I can't."

    Because none of it has ever helped, not the drinking or dancing or faceless women, not the fast rides or easy lays. None of it has ever brought Asuka back to him and none of it has ever made him feel any better about losing her.

    Aya gazes back at him in silence, not expecting that response. It takes him some time to work through it.

    "The only thing that ever made it better was our team," Yohji continues after a few moments, "but then you left, too."

    Aya says nothing to that. They sit in silence for several minutes more. At length Aya pulls his wallet out. "I want a drink."

    It sounds unnatural coming from Aya, but Yohji needs a drink, too, so he doesn't argue. They pay for their unfinished bowls and go down the street to a bar. It's much quieter than the club they left. It's easy to get drinks and easier to find a table in the back corner. Words fail them, but that's all right, because somehow it's enough just to be here. Every sip Yohji takes helps melt that knot in his throat.

    They go from tipsy to sloshed in three hours. Yohji doesn't remember last call, doesn't remember the bartender escorting them out. He dimly remembers stumbling against the taxi Aya hails. The hum of sliding doors tells him they haven't gone to the Koneko, but he doesn't care. He follows Aya into an elevator and up to a room, and Aya gets them inside with a key card.

    He doesn't remember Aya asking if it's okay. He doesn't remember saying yes.

    He remembers hands digging into him, needing something to hold on to in the wake of losing everything. He remembers a mouth on his and thinking that Aya's learned a lot in three months. The bed creaks when he pushes Aya down onto it, or maybe that's his common sense fleeing. He doesn't slow, doesn't stop to wonder what's going on. He doesn't need to think. He lets his body do what it knows how to do and lets Aya guide him through the parts that are new.

    For the first time in years, he doesn't see Asuka when he looks down. For the first time in years, he sleeps with someone who knows everything about him, who knows exactly what he's capable of. It's a release he never thought he'd get and he drags his fingers across Aya's skin, trying to soak up as much of that freedom as he can. Aya says nothing about his bruising grip, because nothing Yohji can do can hurt him.

    He falls asleep pressed against Aya's side, and it's afternoon before either of them wakes again. He squints a little against his headache and the too-bright room, wondering how so much sunlight can get through the curtains. Yohji considers getting up and subsequently decides against it.

    "What time is it?" Aya asks.

    Yohji glances down at him before looking for the clock. "Two. When's your train?"

    Aya says something dark that gets muffled against Yohji's chest and he pushes himself up. Yohji guesses that means he's missed it and he watches as Aya stalks to the bathroom. The shower cuts on almost before the door is closed.

    Yohji eases himself out of bed and digs his clothes out of the pile around the bed. His hands brush something hard and he leans over to get a better look. All it takes is a glance; Yohji recognizes Aya's sword anywhere. It's sheathed and wrapped in its usual black cloth. Yohji's heart skips a beat in his chest and he carefully picks the weapon up.

    He's still sitting there holding it when Aya gets out of the shower a few minutes later. Yohji stares at him, wanting an explanation. Aya moves over to his travel bag and pulls clean clothes out.

    "You didn't say anything last night," Yohji accuses him.

    "There's no guarantee Birman will say yes," Aya says, pulling his clothes on. "She doesn't know why I'm here."

    "You should have said something."

    "There was no guarantee Weiß would say yes, either."

    "Retard," Yohji says quietly.

    Aya sends him a cool look for that but says nothing. He gets changed in silence and comes to take his sword from Yohji. Yohji doesn't let go. "I have to go," Aya says. "I'm supposed to meet her in fifteen minutes."

    Yohji keeps a stubborn grip on the sword. "No. If you take it with you and she says no, you'll leave again. If I bring it back to the shop with me, it means you have to come pick it up. You owe Omi and Ken that much at least."

    He expects Aya to argue. He knows Aya is about to, but the man changes his mind at the last second. Maybe he doesn't have time to waste fighting with Yohji. Maybe he knows he'll lose. Maybe he doesn't want to win. He presses the key card into Yohji's free hand. "There'll be a late check-out fee."

    "I'll get it," Yohji assures him.

    Just like that, Aya is gone. Yohji's mouth is open to call after him, because he's already seen Aya walk out once. He clenches his hand tight around Aya's sword and stays quiet. Aya can't go anywhere without his weapon. He'll come back for it, come hell or high water. That's enough reassurance that Yohji can get cleaned up, and he pays the fee at the check-in desk like he promised.

    Omi and Ken are manning the shop when he shows up, but it's a slow weekday and they're the only ones there. They take one look at what he's holding and Ken almost falls off his stool.

    It takes an hour to get an answer. It's the most agonizing hour they've had to live through since Aya left. They know what Kritiker's decision is before Aya makes it to their doorstep, because Momoe shows up to take over their shifts. They're waiting downstairs when Birman drops Aya off at the Koneko, and the first tap of his shoes on the metal stairwell brings them to their feet. Omi pounces on Aya before he's even made it off the last step and Ken's right behind him. Yohji hasn't seen his teammates this excited in a year and he can't help but smile around his cigarette.

    They stay up late that night, too wired to sleep, and pass out on various furniture in the basement. Aya officially moves into his room the next morning, but by his second night at the Koneko, he's on Yohji's doorstep.

    They stop going out drinking, stop bringing home strangers. There's nothing out there that they can't find at home. They can't replace the people they've lost and they don't want to, but that doesn't mean they don't have room for new friends.

    Second chances, Yohji thinks, and for once he believes it.

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