Part Five

    Omi's entire thought process shut down and his eyes slid shut. Later he would fret over the consequences and meanings of this. For now, his body reacted without him and he leaned forward, rocking up on his feet to meet Crawford. One hand darted up, cupping the smooth skin of Crawford's cheek. Crawford tasted like coffee, a spine-tingling mixture of sweetness and darkness.

    He was released slowly and he sank back onto his feet, eyes sliding open to stare dazedly up at Crawford's face. His hand slowly dropped to his side. Crawford offered him a faint smile. "And that," he said, "is as far as I see."

    Omi's mouth moved, but no sound came out.

    Reality was seeping through the haze around him, and it was painfully bright. He wanted to run away, he wanted to find himself a nice dark place to bury himself and hide away from this. He didn't want to think about this, didn't want to think about what this meant. He didn't want to think about the consequences. He didn't want to think about what his teammates and Kritiker would say if they found out.

    He wanted Crawford to do that again.

    His fingers twitched by his side. His palm was tingling, remembering the feel of skin against his own.

    ~Ohhhhhh God,~ Omi moaned mentally.

    Crawford must have seen the change in his expression. The American straightened. One hand lightly brushed along Omi's cheek. "The ball is in your court now," Crawford said. "What happens is up to you."

    Omi could barely manage an "Aa."

    Then Crawford was moving away. Omi watched him go. One part of him wanted to call the man back. The other was grateful that Crawford was acknowledging his need to think.

    What was there to think about?

    Crawford was Schwarz.

    No!! They had dropped that barrier.

    Crawford was another man. Start there. What was wrong with liking another man? He'd thought himself to be in love with his sister. Surely this was no worse. Crawford was older than him, but they were both adults. And Crawford...Crawford treated him as an equal. His teammates weren't able to do that...They could not see past the fact that he was youngest.

    Never forgive the bad ones, ne?

    But could someone who had extended such courtesies and kindnesses to him be bad? Could someone that made him feel so happy, made him feel so warm and accepted, be bad?

    "I don't know what to do," Omi whispered aloud. Wide eyes watched the people that passed him without registering any of them.

    A hand touched his shoulder, and Omi's first thought was that it was going to be Crawford. He looked up to see a woman's kind face, however. "Are you lost, honey?" she asked, tone sweet.

    'Honey'...She thought him to be a kid. Everyone was fooled by his young face and big eyes. Only one had seen through it to see the one beneath. "No," he told her, "but thank you." He stepped around her, letting himself mix in with the trickle of people. His feet knew where they were going, so he trusted them and stared straight ahead, hands closed tightly on his cup.

    ~Oh, what to do?~ he wailed mentally as he found himself in front of the Koneko no Sumu Ie. There were a few girls standing at the window, but he could see through the glass to confirm that no one was inside. Yohji wasn't in there anymore. Even though he was outside, Omi could feel Aya's rage. His eyes followed the man's angry movements as he put together arrangement after arrangement. Omi doubted they'd been ordered, but they gave the redhead something to do.

    "Omi-kun," one girl fretted, "is something wrong with Aya-san and Yohji-san?"

    "I-iya," Omi told them, managing a smile. "Yohji-kun isn't feeling well, so he didn't get much sleep. It makes him grumpy."

    "Ara~ Poor Yohji-san!" they chorused, exchanging distressed looks. "He needs some flowers!"

    They turned big, pleading eyes on Omi, and it was obvious that they weren't going to step into that store and try to handle the angry Aya on their own. He swallowed, pushing aside his problem for the sake of the Koneko. "If any of you would like to buy some flowers, I'm going on shift now."

    Technically, he was supposed to be on shift anyway, but he and Ken had cut after Yohji's outburst. He didn't say that.

    The girls showered him with grateful praise, as if him going on shift was a favor he was extending specially to them. Omi pushed the door open and stepped in, followed by the small crowd. Aya would not be happy to be ringing up flowers for a sick Yohji, but Omi hoped he would keep his tongue.

    "Aya-kun, customers," he said to get the redhead's attention.

    Aya looked up from his work, fixing the crowd with his evil eye. There were some nervous titters. Omi gave Aya a hard look when the older assassin glanced his direction. Finally Aya relented with an "Aa" and Omi knew the man wouldn't cause any more problems today.

    There was a God...

    Omi moved towards the peg where his apron was. As he turned to set his cup aside, he paused and took a last sip, savoring the taste. It had cooled off a little, but it was still good.

    Honey-brown eyes lingered in his mind as he turned to help the girls pick out their flowers.


    Omi slowly pulled himself from bed, yawning loudly and rubbing at his eyes in an attempt to wake himself up. He hadn't been able to sleep much last night. Crawford's kiss and words had kept him up. And he was on morning shift with Aya today. His heavy sigh turned to another yawn and he padded sleepily across the floor. Some coffee would do him good...


    "I see that you are going to taste like cafe latte."

    Well, he wouldn't look at coffee the same way again...

    He felt his face grow warm and he scrubbed at his pinkened cheeks. What could Crawford mean by it? How could someone like him be interested in someone like Omi? They were so different!

    It could be a game...But some part of Omi refused to even consider that possibly. He tossed it over one shoulder and made his way to the stairs. Yohji's door was shut; he was still sleeping. Ken's was wide open; he was already out and about. Aya's door was shut...well, Aya's door was always shut.

    He had to use the railing to get downstairs. Aya was already in the shop, giving all of the plants a cursory inspection. He didn't look up when Omi entered until Omi offered an exhausted "Good morning."

    That caught the redhead's attention. He was used to a more cheerful greeting, one that he brushed aside. A tired Omi was usually a sick Omi, and a sick Omi might not be able to work. Omi saw this in Aya's eyes and managed a smile. "I'll be more awake after coffee. I was up late with schoolwork."

    It was a believable excuse, and Aya accepted it. He turned back to the plants and Omi headed to the kitchen. After the argument between Yohji and Aya yesterday, they had rearranged the schedule so that neither of the men had the same shift. It had taken quite a bit of juggling. Ken was originally supposed to be here this morning, but Omi had seen in his eyes the hungry need to get out of the shop. Omi wondered if he was going to visit Nagi.

    Ah, so what did Ken think of Nagi? That was the question...He made a mental note to ask Ken. Maybe it wasn't his business, but it would help knowing how Ken had handled this situation.

    So what was _he_ going to do? He couldn't deny that he had enjoyed the kiss. He couldn't deny that he enjoyed Crawford's company immensely. He couldn't deny the peace he had found at Crawford's side, couldn't deny the kindness the American had shown him.

    How to react to such a thing? How could he respond to such an offer? This was one door he hadn't expected to open, one path he hadn't expected to be invited to walk down. Yohji would probably know the answer...but he would never ask the older man. For one, this was Crawford Omi was talking about. For two, Yohji dated fast people. If Omi gave this a chance, he would want it to advance slowly.

    There were so many things to consider...

    He poured himself a drink and sipped at it slowly, trying to get his thoughts together. He studied his drink for a moment, watching the dark liquid inside swish around as he rocked the mug.

    "Is it really so hard?" Omi mused aloud. One part of him thought the answer was obvious. The other was protesting. The protests seemed to be quieter. He gave a rueful sigh and poured the rest of his drink out into the sink.


    Omi left Ken's room, feeling heartened by his talk with the older boy. He'd thought for a moment that the person he saw as his only ally would turn on him, but Ken had caught himself before saying anything discouraging. Things were cleared between the two boys; they had opened themselves about their relative companions. Omi had found himself smiling at Ken's evident confusion over what to do. Ken was running in circles in his mind as Omi had been doing for the past day and a half. Towards the end of the talk, though, Omi believed Ken had made his decision. It was clear to him what that was.

    There had been a warmth in Ken's eyes that Omi was happy to see. With their teammates locked in combat, they hadn't shown much of hope or happiness. Crawford had been right. Nagi and Ken were good for each other.

    He still had yet to figure out why Crawford had compared those two to Aya and Yohji. Perhaps he would ask him today.

    He glanced over his shoulder at Ken as he started down the stairs. The shop was closed for lunch but Aya was still in front room, glaring steadfastedly at some of the unluckier plants. "I'm going to the library, Ken-kun," Omi told his friend. "I have some studying to do," he added, since they were in earshot of Aya.

    A devilish grin flickered on Ken's lips. "Studying?" he responded. "Are you sure?"

    Omi gave him a backhanded wave, a gesture plainly telling Ken to keep it down, and sped up going down the stairs.

    "I know the riffraff you hang out with," Ken called after him. "I want you back in this house at eleven. No staying out all night, you hear?"

    Omi threw Ken a shocked look. "Ken-kun!" was all he could say, and he could feel his cheeks heating up at Ken's implication. "Hidoi!" With that, he vanished from the house. As he started down the sidewalk, he offered up silent thanks that it wasn't Yohji who was his ally...Yohji could have said worse things.

    The library was emptier than it had been in a long time, Omi noticed when he stepped inside. He hesitated for just a moment to gather his wits before slowly picking his way towards the cafe. A jacket easily recognizable as Crawford's- he'd seen the man with it a couple times- was draped over a chair. Crawford was at the counter, ordering drinks.

    Omi stood beside their table, trying to calm his racing heartbeat. Crawford collected their cups and headed in Omi's direction. He didn't look surprised to see the other boy- but then, he had no reason to.

    Omi sat when Crawford did, gaze travelling around the library in a short inspection. A cup was set before him and he murmured thanks, gathering the courage to look Crawford in the face. What if Crawford had changed his mind over the time that had passed? What if he had gone through all of that mental stress just for Crawford to decide he wasn't interested any longer?

    His thoughts must be plain on his face, for the corner of Crawford's mouth twitched faintly into the beginnings of a reassuring smile. For some reason, Omi felt his cheeks flush and he dropped his eyes.

    How did one go about something like this? It was a tricky situation.

    "You look tired," Crawford observed.

    Omi opened his mouth, closed it, and tried again. "I did not sleep well."

    "Do I disturb you so much?" There was amusement in his words.

    "No," Omi answered quickly, looking up with wide eyes. "It's just..." He borrowed Ken's words. "This changes everything."

    "Everything has been changing," Crawford told him. "The question is, do you wish to change with it?"

    Omi studied Crawford's calm face, searching Crawford's eyes for a long moment. Finally he lifted his drink, holding the cup carefully in both hands. "No...I think the question is, does the coffee taste good today?"

    Crawford smiled then, a ghost of a smile but one that curved his whole mouth. It changed his entire face and took years off his age. Omi could only stare for a few moments before Crawford's answer shook him from his thoughts. "I do not know," he murmured. Omi smiled back, wondering at his own boldness. He took a sip of his drink, then tilted his head to one side in what was either thoughtful consideration or an invitation. Crawford leaned across the table and Omi met him halfway. It was a soft kiss, and afterwards Crawford offered that faint smile once more.

    "Yes, it does."

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