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Nineteen

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Sitting and thinking wasn't entirely new for Ran. Sitting and thinking about Youji, however, was turning out to be surprisingly difficult. He leaned his head against the back of his chair and sighed.

It had almost been a week since Youji had taken him to his old office. The days had passed, for the most part, uneventfully. Ran would have been content to leave it at that, but he sensed that the older man was still holding back, still unsure of what Ran wanted, and unwilling to completely commit himself because of that. They had shared some quiet reflective moments together, gone to a movie, woken up next to each other in Ran's bed (but only once - Youji was a bed hog), but Ran knew he needed to do something more.

Or perhaps he should do nothing at all.

He was still torn, both regretting his words in the car, and pleased with them at the same time. It had almost taken him too long to find his voice that day, but the look on Youji's face, and his subsequent, almost palpable happiness had been gratifying. Gratifying, but ...

Was this really what he wanted? Aya-chan was still in a coma. Could he be with Youji and yet not betray his dedication to his sister? He wasn't sure. A true relationship with Youji was more than he had ever expected, and Youji's outburst at the office had surprised him into speechlessness. It wasn't every day that someone offered him practically forever on a plate.

Ran just wasn't sure he could do almost practically forever. Aya-chan would never cease to be the most important thing in his life, and he was sure that Youji wouldn't understand. And when she woke up ... he wasn't sure of the future after that.

One thing kept nagging at him, though. He knew, he knew, that if he didn't at least try, he would always wonder whether Youji would have been able to alleviate the solitude of his life, even just for a little while. That wondering would consume him, just as he had allowed his twisted hope of life for his sister drive him for so long. And there was that small bit of his heart left, that no one, not even Yuushi, had been able to touch.

Youji had almost reached it.

So he needed to do something. Nodding once to himself, Ran stood, grabbing his jacket and his car keys on the way out his bedroom door.

Shoving his car keys in his jacket pocket, Ran poked his head around the living room door. Youji was spread out on the couch, a forbidden cigarette held loosely in the hand dangling over the edge, an arm thrown over his eyes. He stole forward on silent feet, and plucked the burning cigarette out of Youji's tenuous grasp.

"Hey!" The blond sat up, making a grab for his stolen smoke.

Ran stuck it between his lips and gave an experimental pull. "Let's go," he said around the cigarette. After rolling the smoke around his tongue for a moment, he stubbed it out in the ashtray sitting on the coffee table. He preferred flavored cigarettes, he decided.

Youji raised his eyebrows at the thin stream of smoke Ran sent toward the ceiling. "Go?" he asked. "Go where?"

"Out," Ran said vaguely, turning on his heel and walking out of the room.

Obligingly following him, Youji said, "Out?" expectantly.

"Yes," Ran replied, digging through the closet and handing Youji his coat. "Out. Put on your shoes."

Youji trailed him to the kitchen, easily catching his boots as Ran tossed them over from their customary place by the door. Ran tugged on his own shoes, lacing them up as Youji sat at the kitchen table to shove his feet into his boots. "We're taking my car," he said when he saw Youji casting around for his keys.

"Are you going to tell me where we're going" Youji persisted, following close on Ran's heels as he headed to the garage where his Porsche was parked.

Ran shrugged. Youji fell silent after that, buckling himself in and staring out the window as Ran backed out of the shop and turned onto the street. Youji slouched in the low bucket seat, fingers tapping a quiet rhythm on one jean-clad thigh, every so often shooting a curious glance in Ran's direction.

"I want to show you something," Ran said, turning into a street that was very nearly an alley.

Sitting up a little, Youji looked around the neighborhood they were entering nervously. "Oh?" he said.

Youji had a right to look nervous. The section of town they were heading toward was very different from modern, bright Tokyo. This was where the young hopeful yakuza hung out, where the bums slept, where tourists, if they were so unlucky as to stumble upon it, died. The buildings grew grayer and more ramshackle, until at last, Ran drew up in front of an old apartment building, half falling down and covered in graffiti.

"You can't park here." Youji pointed toward the fire hydrant, paint chipping and peeling off its rusted sides.

"Don't worry," Ran said, slipping out of the car and slamming the door, not even bothering to lock it.

Youji shut his door much more quietly and stood on the crumbling sidewalk, shifting from foot to foot.

"Come on." Ran started to walk toward the condemned building.

"You're just going to leave your car here?" Youji looked over his shoulder at the Porsche, a shining beacon of money amidst the squalor.

Ran gestured sharply with his chin at a greasy young man loitering in the alley next to the apartments. "They won't touch it," he said. The man nodded and sauntered back into the alley.

"If you say so," Youji muttered, following Ran up the worn concrete steps to the entrance of the apartment building. What was left of the doors hung crazily on the few remaining hinges, splintered wooden squares still retaining some small shards of glass. Everything that was even remotely useful had been salvaged long ago, including the striped awning that had once hung above the door and the handles themselves.

Youji stuck close behind Ran as they picked their way through the halls of the broken down building. The stairs creaked ominously, as usual. Ran wasn't worried. This building was maintained - and made to look worse than it actually was. It came in handy for numerous organizations.

Shoving open the door to the third floor, Ran kicked some garbage out of their path and headed for the very end of the dilapidated hallway. The light blue door marked 302 was only a decoy. He pulled it open and the true recessed steel door was revealed. With the touch of the single button, a keypad slid out.

"Whoa." Youji raised his eyebrows, obviously impressed at the security precautions.

Amused, Ran pushed the door open and lead the way into the apartment. "I'll give you the code," he said. "Feel free to use it."

"How long have you had this place?" Youji asked, his voice bouncing off the bare walls and hardwood floors.

Ran shrugged. "A while," he replied. He had acquired the apartment shortly after Crashers, mostly through luck. He had simply been in the right place at the right time, and this apartment was the way he had chosen his favor to be repaid. That and the strict no prying rule.

The apartment was small, but it suited his needs. The living room was empty, except for a lone wooden chair kindly donated by the previous occupant. There was a small kitchen off to the left, and a bedroom on the right. There was a large bay window facing the street, but a ratty sheet hung crookedly over it, out of necessity. Even though it was on the third floor, Ran wasn't going to take the chance that someone would see in.

"This could be a really nice place, with some work." Youji opened the door to the bedroom, and Ran followed him, leaning in the doorframe as the older man slowly looked around.

Ran had torn most of the hideous wallpaper off the bedroom walls already. The walls underneath were yellow with old glue, but sound. The only furniture in the room was a large mattress shoved in one corner, and a hospital bed.

Youji touched the railings of the bed. "For Aya-chan?" he asked.

Ran nodded. "Kritiker doesn't know about this place," he said, finally entering the room and folding himself down to sit on the mattress.

"I figured," Youji said dryly.

Shuffling his feet on the floor, Ran thought about the safehouse. It had originally been a jump off point, but once he had settled in Tokyo, he had bought the hospital bed. He had gotten the mattress after he had killed Takatori. It had taken him that long that long to realize he needed a hiding place more than a way point, and that this apartment was perfect. He implicitly trusted the honor of his benefactors.

"Ran." Youji turned and looked him square in the eye. "Why did you bring me here?"

"I -" Ran was momentarily at a loss for words. He hadn't thought this through; it had been an impulse. "I wanted you to see it," he finished lamely.

"Ran," Youji said again gently, taking the two steps and sitting down on the mattress facing him. "Why did you want me to see it?"

Ran fixed his gaze on Youji's denim covered knees, struggling to put his dilemma into words. "Because," he said at last, "I don't know what will happen in the future. I'm not sure I can promise you anything, but this is a part of my life that no one else knows about, and I wanted to share it with you." He slowly lifted his eyes to Youji's face.

Youji stared off into space for a minute before smiling softly. His eyes were less wary as he said, "Thanks," and leaned in to kiss Ran.

Ran met him halfway, molding their lips together and bringing a hand up to thread through Youji's wavy hair. The kiss felt like an affirmation, somehow, and they were both breathless when it ended. Ran leaned his forehead on Youji's for a moment, their breath mingling. He felt ... alive, and, for the first time since Aya-chan's accident, connected to another human being. "This is good," he said.

"Yeah," Youji replied, and kissed him again.

They twined their fingers together, and Ran, opening his eyes without breaking the kiss, could see only the glow of Youji's skin, and the dust motes dancing their way to the floor in a shaft of golden sunlight.

end


A/N: Missa: Thanks for reading. I know I've been bad about replying to feedback, but each piece was read and appreciated. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Katherine: What she said. :D

See ya next time!