Author: Mirrordance

e-mail: mirror_dance@hotmail.com

Title: Next to Me

Type: one-shot

Warnings: language, angst, violence, yaoi

Spoilers: has references to entire series

Teaser: When one of Weiß dies at the hands of Yoji, his ghost gets stuck in the playboy's car...

Keywords: Yoji, Ken, Weiß

"Next to Me"

a WKff by Mirrordance

don't own anybody…

PROLOGUE

      The rule had been brutally simple: Kill or be killed.

      It was human gaming.  Two men in a rickety cage in a rickety building, to fight to the death under the scrutinizing eye of a bloodthirsty, betting crowd.  The only weapons each man had were courage and a small knife.

      The mission was to infiltrate and destroy the operation, which had once been small-scale, now grossing up to the millions when the matches started to reach more betters through the Internet.  The perpetrators used people who were in dire need of money as entertainment, and a means to earn. 

      The thought sent fire raging through the nerves of anyone who was part of Kritiker.  The mission was undoubtedly accepted by the members of Weiß.

      But something went wrong.

      "They should be back by now," Ran Fujimiya muttered, glancing at the doorway once every few seconds as he urgently awaited the arrival of two of his teammates.

      "I'm sure they're okay," Omi Tsukiyono said, though he himself sounded more than a little unconvinced.  This was duly noted by his older companion, who was sitting beside him, uncharacteristically slumped on the couch.  "Maybe you should go back to bed," Omi suggested, though he himself was aware of how futile it was. 

      When Manx, the Kritiker emissary came with a new mission, Ran, who was at the peak of a bad case of the flu, was more than willing to take it on.  It was only with Yoji Kudo's maneuvering that the redhead was finally convinced that he would only be a liability to the cause if he insisted on coming.

      "We could hardly wait for you to recover," Manx snapped.

      "We can handle it," chimed in Ken Hidaka, "It's pretty straightforward"

      Ran had frowned at the assessment, thought about the comprehensive report provided by the Intelligence area, and finally conceded.  There wasn't even a need to investigate anymore.  The target was clear, everyone would be busy watching the match, the owner was too stingy to even fix the area, much less hire the best bodyguards. 

      "Fine," Ran said, "I'll stay"

      After all, he had said to himself, he had to learn to trust in the abilities of his teammates.  It wasn't as if he was their Keeper. 

      "But be careful," Omi said meekly, his cheeks red with embarrassment because he couldn't help.  It had been a mission not more than a week ago that he had fractured his leg.

      At this reminder, Ken had looked at Yoji jauntily and said, "Hey, quit worrying. It's us"

      "That's what I'm afraid of," Omi commented wryly.

      It had been a joke.  But that was also hours ago.

      "If they're not here in ten minutes," Ran said, "I'm going--"

      "Who are you kidding?" exclaimed Omi, irritable because of his own anxiousness, "You won't be doing anyone any good like that--"

      Suddenly, they heard the familiar, stealthy sound of the arrival of Yoji's car.

      Omi shot to his feet and winced at the pain that nagged on his leg.  But it hardly mattered.  His friends were home.

      Ran headed for the door, opening it as he awaited for Yoji and Ken to disembark from the car.  He could see their shadows on the front seats.

      But they didn't step down.

      Ran inhaled sharply at the sinking feeling that was starting to come over him in a sickening wave.  With Omi in crutches limping behind him, Ran stepped forward and paused by the passenger door.

      Where Ken sat, head lolled and eyes closed, as if he were asleep.  As If, because Ran already knew, from how the shade of his skin, and from the look on Yoji's face, that he was already dead.

      Omi must have known it too.  Ran heard the younger man's strangled cry from behind, as he turned his attention to Yoji, who was staring blankly straight ahead, with a tight jaw.  The emerald eyes were tired and over bright in the night, beautiful but hollow.

      "What happened?" Ran whispered, could find no strength to say his words any other way.

      It took so long for Yoji to reply that Ran didn't think he ever would.  And when he finally had, Ran didn't think he would ever hear what it was he had just heard.

      "I killed him"

      The two of them had been caught.

      As they were ushered, unarmed, side by side to wherever it was their captors thought to take them, Yoji could only think of how embarrassing it was, for the two of them to return to Koneko later with a failed mission.  Which would make Ran and Omi right, as usual, which pretty much frustrated him.

      It was an idle thought.  Something irrelevant and trivial that he couldn't get rid off.  When he and Ken come home later, they'll never hear the end of this one.

      They would get out of this scrape, one way or another.  That was a given.  They'd get out because they always got out somehow.  No matter what happened.

      The only time he started to fear was when he and Ken were pulled apart at a fork in some grimy corridor, and he was placed in a dark, cold cell.

      Omi had been the first one to really act and do something.

      He pushed his way forward and opened the door, pulling Ken's body to the floor, examining his injuries, his mind racing as he thought about how to resuscitate him, who to call, what to say, what to ask for...

      "Stop"

      Omi looked up from his place on the ground.  Yoji had stepped from the car and was looming over him.  It was the only time he had ever been afraid of the older man.

      "He's dead," Yoji said flatly, "he's been dead for awhile now.  I'd been going around town with a goddamn dead body.  You'll look stupider than I did"

      Omi tore his eyes away from Yoji, and looked at Ken.  But the sight didn't last for long.  It couldn't, because his eyes had blurred as the tears started to fall.

      He squinted as the door opened and the light assaulted his eyes, which had been accustomed to the darkness in his cell by now.

      Yoji was hustled out of the room, and shown into another, where the Target was sitting on a swivel chair in front of a series of television monitors.  The one which was predominantly a sick shade of green, undoubtedly because of night vision, caught his eye at once.  It was the room where Ken was being kept.

      Yoji almost smirked at his hot-tempered teammate, who was bouncing off the walls in frustration and boredom.

      The Target was a burly man about Yoji's age, but looked so much more old, so much more hardened.

      "Why are you here?" he asked.

      "I find that obvious--" Yoji said, when he caught a backhand in the face from an overeager bodyguard.  They had been wrong, there.  One could find worthy bodyguards on the streets, if one knew where to look.  And This Target surely did (after all, he ran a fighting syndicate).

      The Target raised a hand to stop his minder from doing more harm to the prisoner.

      "As you know," he said calmly, "I run a business, first and foremost.  I have a proposition for you"

      Yoji snorted, but decided it would be wise if he didn't say anything yet.

      "You are very skilled," said the Target, "and the only reason why you failed in jeopardizing my organization is because of numbers and arms, which we had more of.  Even then, you gave us quite a bit of trouble"

      "Thanks," Yoji said wryly.

      "I'm offering you a job," said the man, "for one night.  I want you to fight in my ring"

      "What do I get?" asked Yoji.

      "Your life," replied the man, "Your freedom"

      Yoji frowned, thinking it was too damn easy.  "What's the catch?"
      "A handicap," said the man, "You'll be blindfolded"

      "That's bullshit," Yoji was quick to say. 

      "Let me make the offer sweeter," said the man, "If you win, I'll let your little friend go too"

      Yoji glanced at the screen involuntarily, watching Ken.  "What if I disagree?"
      "I can have you both killed," was the answer, "right here, right now.  My offer benefits us both.  I can make money out of you, you can get your freedom out of me"

      Yoji clucked his tongue.  He wasn't fucking crazy.  But come to think of it, being blindfolded against one man in a ring was so much better than being unarmed with this Target's legions of bodyguards.  And with Ken's life placed into his hands, on top of that…

      "Fine," Yoji said tightly, "I'll go.  Freedom if I win, huh? How do I know you're not lying?"
      "I don't lie," the other said coolly, "It's bad for business"

      "When do I fight?" asked Yoji.

      "Tonight," said the Target, "You'd better fucking fight.  And just to make sure you won't remove your blindfold… remember.  We have your friend.  Once your hands touch that thing I'll kill him without a thought"

      "I'll play your goddamn game," hissed Yoji, thinking this was one heck of a way to go.

      "Manx," Omi said into the com in a lowered voice, "Ken's dead and his body's here"

      Ran heard it, somewhere in the back of his mind.  It was so plain, so straightforward.  It hurt to think about how simple it was to say, how simple it was to hear.  But not to understand.  Never to understand.

      Ken loved life, even in this profession which was, ironically, one hell of a thing.  He loved the sun, the wind, speed and sports and children too.  He couldn't die.  Everyone has tried but no one has ever succeeded, not like this.

      The body was on the floor, with a blanket hastily placed over it.  The blanket was soiled from the blood.  It had been Omi's blanket.  He'd been the smart one, always was.  Grieved but smart.  It had been their youngest who always had his head on straight.

      Ran leaned against the wall, watching Yoji who was slouched on the couch, head turned up to the ceiling with his eyes closed.  Ran wondered what Yoji had meant when he said he killed Ken.

      He practiced in the dark cell, where he was returned after his meeting with the Target.

      Yoji wondered if Kritiker would be partial to his having made a deal with the enemy, but it hardly mattered anyway, as long as he and Ken got out of here.

      He closed his eyes and started to re-familiarize himself with a kind of physical combat that he has long abandoned since he had discovered his wires.  He wasn't at all a stranger to combat sans the eyesight; it was considered a pretty useful form of training.  It's just that it's been awhile…

      He didn't know how long he had been practicing, until the doors opened.  Shadows came in, blindfolding him securely and hustling him out of the cell.

      Omi stared up at the ceiling.

      He couldn't sleep.  He doubted any of them could, tonight, except for Ken.  How ironic.  People who want to sleep but couldn't, people he wished would wake up but wouldn't.

      Kritiker acted quickly and had taken the body.  If any witnesses came along, Weiß would have a lot to explain, after all.  But practicality aside… they did what they had in all haste, because Manx believed they ought to take care of their own.

      There would be a funeral soon, Omi noted.  But first, the cover-up geniuses of the organization would dream up a pretty little staged death, so as not to arouse any suspicion.

      Morbidly, Omi wondered what kind of death they would say he had when his time comes…

      The cheers were wild, deafening.  One would almost feel welcomed by the sound of it.

      "As we all know," said the announcer, "this is in as a special bonus for all you folks.  If you haven't placed in your bets, be sure to do so within the next few minutes…"

      Yoji's blood was hot with anxiety and desire to get started.  He felt fear, excitement and a mix of mystery, an addictive mix that he hasn't felt in a long time, even with missions.

      He was handed a knife, positioned in the ring, then left alone.  It would begin very, very soon.

      The crowd fell into an anticipating hush, as the announcer exclaimed that the fight begins… "Now!"

      Ran pulled the covers up to his neck, and curled over to retain warmth.  It might have been that he was still very sick.  It might have been that this whole thing made him cold, shaky.  Empty.

      Ken had been a huge part of his life.  That was a given.  Very few people ever were, and yet, the soccer player just pushed and talked his way through.  Straight to Ran's heart.  He didn't think it was possible to stab through ice without breaking it, but Ken just slid through.  It was impossible not to love him.

      He had welcomed Ran into the group with a nice brawl.  He complained a lot.  He ditched a lot of the work at the shop, in favor of soccer games.  He stayed up late to hog the television, and always left it open when he finally falls asleep in the couch.  His room's a mess.  He's impulsive and quick-tempered…

      What was there to love?

      And yet here Ran was, missing it all.  He had been a friend, after all.

      Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead, Ken's dead…

      It couldn't possibly be real.

      It was a delirium borne of his greatest fear; of having to lose, again and again and again.  He was sick, and sick people get delusions all the time.  It was more logical than to say he died just because it was time.  He's dead only because Ran is sick.  When Ran gets better, when all the demons go away, he'll be alive again.

      That was it.

      Simple.  

      Yoji thought that maybe, with his handicap, his enemy would strike first.

      But he didn't.  Yoji awaited that first movement.  He awaited that abuse of an upper hand.  But it never came.

      As the two of them stood, each waiting for the other to attack, the crowd started to get impatient.

      They started to boo and to shake the cage that surrounded the two fighters.  It was a sound that grated on one's nerves.

      "Fight, fight, fight…" they chanted, as Yoji recalled the deal he had made just hours before.  What had the target said? 'You'd better fucking fight… remember… we have your friend…'

      Yoji attacked first, and hit thin air.  He knew that was precisely where his opponent was, because he could hear the slightest pant, even under the din of the noisy crowd.  His senses were sharp, especially when his eyes were blocked.

      Yoji attacked again, only to be cleanly dodged again.

      After that, his opponent made his move.  Yoji dodged, but it hadn't been in time.  But instead of the blow he thought he would receive, he actually felt a squeeze on his arm.

      Instinctively, Yoji fought free and struck, feeling the satisfying hit of his free knuckle strike his opponent's abdomen.  His enemy reeled back, and Yoji could smell the distinct tang of blood in the air.  But the man he was fighting barely let out a strangled, muffled sound.

      Yoji knew exactly where his enemy was, and knew exactly that he was still handicapped by the blow.  It was time to end this now.

      Yoji plunged the knife straight into his opponent's stomach.

      "I'm sorry," he whispered to his opponent's ear.  I'm just buying my freedom.  Mine and my friend's.  And after that, we can avenge you, you who have been used, just as I have.  We will end this madness.  I'm sorry it has to be this way…

      The two of them stood in a tight embrace, a deadly dance.  Yoji knew it was a fatal strike, and lowered the dying man down to the floor gently.

      You had to fight.  So did I…

      The crowd was cheering madly for him.  It made Yoji both elated at having won, and deathly angry at them for being so goddamn bloodthirsty.

      "The winner may remove his handicap," the announcer said.  Yoji wondered; was there a touch of malice there?

      Yoji freed one hand, and started to do so.  But his enemy's weak one caught it, as if trying to stop him.  Yoji tried to shake free, but the grasp only tightened.  Eventually, the hand weakened and let go.

      Yoji pulled the blindfold off…

      "God…"

      He stared down in horror at the face of Ken, bleeding to death in his arms, by his hands.  Ken's eyes were wide as it stared back at Yoji's.  He looked young, and scared, and betrayed.

      "God…" he said again, trembling as he held Ken close.  His free hand touched the bloody cloth that covered his friend's mouth.

      Ken had a different handicap. 

      As if in explanation, Ken's eyes strayed from his and went past him.  Yoji looked over his shoulder to find a couple of men with guns trained his way.

      Yoji's eyes watered. 

      Ken had a different handicap.

      If he removed the gag and tried to speak, Yoji would be killed.

      No wonder he wouldn't fight…

      Yoji looked back down at Ken and shakily removed the gag from his mouth.  He was choking in his own blood, drowning in it just as Yoji felt, this sea of red surrounding both of them.

      He couldn't say anything.  He couldn't think, couldn't move.

      Ken let out his last breath, more of a sigh really, and those eyes stared up at Yoji, unblinking.

      Trembling with rage, Yoji held him tightly one last time, then laid him on the ground and closed his eyes for him.

      Rising, Yoji glared at the men who had trained guns his way, and at the Target who was laughing amidst them.  The cheering crowd hushed at the sight of the bloody man, banking potent rage.

      Like an animal, Yoji tore from the cage and struck anyone who got in his way.  It was like walking through smoke.  It was so fucking easy.  He never thought it could be this fucking easy.

       Bullets whizzed past his ear, but they ended up hitting anyone but him.  He wouldn't get killed.  It was impossible.  With this kind of anger through his veins, the only foreseeable destiny was success.  And death.  Lots and lots of death.

      No one could escape his wrath.

      But it was all over now.

      Yoji thought he stank with blood.  His own, Ken's and everyone else's on that god-forsaken place. 

      Anger gone, enemy vanquished, all he had left, alone in his room, was himself.

      He started to cry these shameless, pathetic, quivering cries that held nothing, spared nothing, did nothing. 

      All he had left was himself…

      He had nothing.

_______

"Love is like the wind,
Sometimes it blows your way,
And until now
It missed me somehow.


But when I turned around
I saw you standing there.
The sound of your voice -
I had no choice"

_______

      He hadn't been there at the funeral.

      Instead, he decided it would be infinitely more fun if he just caroused around town with a nice, voluptuous, academically challenged and very drunk woman in his arm.

      He stopped the car at the red light, and started to kiss her, desperately.  He was pathetically hungry for a distraction.

      "Oh, Yoji," she groaned and laughed, "Mmmm. Let's skip dinner.  My place is just around the corner…"

      "Good idea," he murmured as he pulled away.  As he started to move the car, his eyes managed to brush the rearview mirror.  What he saw there made him start, and look back again.

      It was Ken! Ken was there!

      But when he looked, he was gone.

      Beeps from the cars behind him made him start, and pulled him back to reality.

      He stepped on the gas, and drove forward, breathing to control himself.  It wasn't real, it wasn't real…

      He glanced up again…

      The car braked to a halt.

      "Oh, fuck!" exclaimed his companion, cursing at him, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

      Yoji craned his neck to look at the backseat. 

      The EMPTY backseat.

      "You're crazy!" the girl exclaimed, stepping off the car.

      Yoji didn't bother to follow her, disturbed into thinking maybe she was right.

      Yoji started the car up again.  Maybe it would be wise to go home, before he killed himself or anyone else on the road.

      But just as he started the car again, he looked at the passenger seat beside him and found Ken's body there, head lolled and eyes closed.

      "God!" he exclaimed, stopping the car again and hurriedly getting off.  He started to run from his car before he could think of anything else to do.

      Finally realizing how stupid it was to leave a car in the middle of the road because there was a corpse inside (particularly, a corpse that was supposed to have been buried this very same day), he stopped running, and warily turned around.

      He could hear laughter.  Hearty, shameless, FAMILIAR laughter that couldn't have come from anyone else.

      Cautiously, he walked back to his car.

      Ken was still there, but he was alive and giggling and chuckling away.  His eyes crinkled at the sides, his shoulders shaking.

      Yoji stopped by his door and just stared at him.

      "That wasn't funny," he told Ken flatly.

      "Sure it was," the younger man giggled, looking up at Yoji.  "About time you ditched the lady.  I was making faces at you over the mirror, because she took my place"

      "That's not your fucking place," muttered Yoji, "You're supposed to be fucking dead!"
      "Stop complaining, Yoji," sighed Ken, "I'm here so we might as well make the best of it"

      "Best of it?!" Yoji exclaimed, "I can't believe we're having this conversation.  I'm going to stop talking to you.  You're a figment of my imagination.  If I stop thinking of you, you'll go away"

      Yoji closed his eyes and breathed, then opened them slowly to find the apparition still there, grinning up at him.

      "Boo!"

      "Fuck you," Yoji sauntered over to the driver's side and sat down, getting the car into gear and starting to drive around.

      "You're not real," Yoji said again.

      "Am too"

      "We are not going to have this argument," scolded Yoji, "I'm talking to myself, damn it"

      Ken sighed melodramatically.  "All right, fine.  Hypothetically, I'm not real, right? So what am I doing here?"
      "Because I created you," snapped Yoji, "Out of…of guilt or whatever.  You're here because I'm losing my mind"

      Ken rolled back his eyes.  "Yeah, yeah, whatever.  I still say I'm real.  But either way, I'm here, right? So just talk to me"

      --

      "This is stupid"
      "Come on, Yoji," teased Ken, "don't you miss me a little?"

      "I'm sick of this," grated Yoji, "I'm sick of everything"

      "Why didn't you come to my funeral?" Ken asked.

      "Is that why you're here?" retorted Yoji, "You're offended?"

      "Funerals are supposed to offer closure, Yoji," reasoned Ken, "you hadn't been there, which means you're definitely still bugged"

      "Can you fucking blame me?" snapped Yoji, "Damn it, where the hell am I going?"
      "Yoji, come on," urged Ken, "I'm here, right? For whatever reason.  So talk to me"

      Yoji pulled the car over to a stop by a curb.  "Get the hell out of my car"

      "I can't," Ken said plainly.

      "Why not?"

      "You know how ghosts haunt just this one particular place?" asked Ken, "this is my place"

      "It's not your place!" seethed Yoji, "It's my car!"

      "That's totally beside the point," said Ken, "I can't get out.  That's it, there's nothing I can do about it"

      "Why are you here?" groaned Yoji as he started the car again, for the nth time that crazy night.

      "I don't know either," replied Ken softly, "I couldn't seem to move on yet.  I thought maybe it was because of me, or maybe because of you.  But I couldn't go anywhere else.  And no one could see me but you, in this car"

      "That's bullshit"

      "Don't I know it"

      They drove down the familiar ways back to the Koneko, and Yoji parked his car where he always did, near Ran's.

      "I'm going to go to bed, now," said Yoji, "When I wake up, I pray to God you're gone"

      But he didn't mean it.  Ken smirked at him.

      "I'll just crash down here for the night," said Ken, settling himself comfortably on the seat, "Good nighty"

      Yoji stepped out of the car, and headed straight up to his room.  As an afterthought, he grabbed a blanket and ran back down, to make sure the ghost stayed warm.

      Stopping by the passenger seat, he watched Ken sleep, thinking he looked just like that the night Yoji took his corpse back home, in that same chair.

      Yoji put the blanket over the sleeping form.

      It went straight through him, to the chair.

      Yoji took a shaky breath and stepped back, running away from there.  Running away from him.

      His footsteps alerted Ran, who was standing by the open door of his room, looking at Yoji down the corridor.

      "You didn't come," said Ran flatly.

      "Oh, don't let it bother you," snapped Yoji exasperatedly throwing his hands up in the air, "Ken doesn't mind, I don't see why you should!"

      Then he went to his room and shut the door behind him.

      What did he just say?!

      Morning came, which didn't really matter overly much because he didn't sleep anyway.

      "Yoji!" exclaimed Omi in surprise, most likely over the playboy's well-known sleeping habits.  "You're up early"

      "I'm going out," Yoji grunted, glancing at the breakfast the younger man and Ran were having.  It looked pleasant-- but distinctly only for two.  No one counted on him waking up early.  When Ken had been alive, he had been part of the equation, of course.

      Yoji stepped out before they could ask him anything else.  He headed straight for his car, slowed down, so Ken wouldn't think he was riled up because of the ghost.

      Coolly, Yoji strutted up the passenger side.  He found it empty.  The disappointment he felt was clear, a distinct pang.  Blinking back tears that surprised him, he stepped into the driver's side and sat down, thinking.

      Had it been real? He looked to the side to see if the blanket was there, and suddenly found Ken too, leering at him.

      "Missed me?"
      Yoji frowned at him.  "Go.  Away."

      "You're just saying that," chuckled Ken, "You really did think I was gone, didn't you, Didn't you? The look on your face, Yoj! Priceless"

      "I hate your game," retorted Yoji, "In case you missed it, you're totally turning my life upside down.  Go bug Omi or something.  Or Ran.  Yeah, Ran.  He definitely needs a little shaking down"

      "I tried that," said Ken, "they can't see me.  Whatever the hell I'm back down to Earth for, it's got something to do with you"

      Yoji stared at Ken.  They both knew what this was about.  How the hell couldn't they? But none of them wanted to talk about it.  Yet.

      "I'm hungry," Yoji said plainly.

      "What I'd give for a Mac Donald's," sighed Ken.

      "What I'd give to get you out of my hair," said Yoji pointedly.

      "You'd better keep it down, Yoj," Ken said in a sing-song way, "They might think you're crazy"

      Yoji, with widened eyes, looked toward the entrance to the Koneko building, where Ran and Omi were looking at him having a conversation with himself.

      "Shit"

      He started the car, not really caring where he went.

      "You know," Ken said, as they drove along aimlessly, "If you really don't like being with me, you could just get out of your car"

      "But there's a principle involved here," argued Yoji, "It's MY car.  Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine"

      "Come on, admit it," coaxed Ken, "I'm not so bad"

      "You're dead," Yoji pointed out.

      "Can we just forget about that for two seconds and have a normal conversation?" snapped Ken.

      "Forget?!" Yoji exclaimed incredulously, "Normal?! Do you even know what you're saying?!"

      Ken fell back against the seat, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly.  "You're not making this easy"

      "Because it's not," said Yoji, "You're dead.  And buried.  I'm alive.  You shouldn't be here.  I shouldn't be talking to you.  We shouldn't be together"

      "But we are," Ken said softly, looking searchingly into the other's eyes, "What do we do?"

      "This is disadvantageous in several aspects," Yoji thought aloud.

      "You've been hanging around Omi too much," Ken commented fondly.

      The car was parked along a vast field in the countryside, with all doors open.  The wind, Yoji noted, strangely enough, was ruffling the other's hair, even if he was a ghost and supposedly immaterial.  The sun was setting slowly over their heads, closing the pleasant day that they had had, doing nothing really but to talk and sit next to each other.

      "For one," Yoji continued, "I can hardly date, with you in here"

      "Maybe you should be chaste for awhile," smirked Ken, "It could hardly be bad for you"

      Yoji shook his head, chuckled.  "Maybe"

      A pleasant, companionable silence fell over them, broken only after quite some time.

      "I like having you here," Yoji admitted at last, "I don't understand it, but I like it"

      "I like being here too," Ken said, smiling slowly. 

      "What do we do?" said Yoji, reprising a former conversation that made Ken smile even wider.

      There was something unspoken there, like many other unspoken things that fell like air and smoke between them.  But this was so much more potent, so much more strong.

      Trembling inside, Yoji leaned toward him and closed his eyes…

      Then snapped them open.  To find that Ken was moving toward him too, but the only thing Yoji could think to do was reach out for the ghost's hand.

      His fingers touched nothing, going straight through it.  Like a mirage.  This wasn't going anywhere.  He wasn't going anywhere.  Ken would always be someone he could see but never have. 

      Ken opened his eyes, realizing at last that Yoji had abandoned what he had been planning to do.  It pained Yoji even more that the ghost had been oblivious to his touch.

      "You're not real," Yoji said, closing his car door with a sound of finality that jolted Ken, "I think… it would be so much better for both of us if you just left me the hell alone"

      Ken looked at him with wounded eyes. 

      Then vanished.

      Yoji reached over to the other side and closed that door, just before driving home.

_______


"Beneath the moon tonight
I see it in your eyes -
No more false starts,
No more broken hearts.

I used to have a wish
One day I'd feel like this.
Now I know love exists
Cause it's standing right next to me."

_______

      "Yoji," Omi told him once he stepped through the doors of his home, "I think you should seek help"

      Yoji looked at the earnest young man and laughed.  Hysterically, dismissing the suggestion with a careless wave over his head, as he walked toward his apartment.

      Morning came, which didn't really matter overly much because he didn't sleep anyway.

      That sounded familiar.

      Yoji stalked straight for his car, passing by Omi and Ran and their little breakfast feast.  As with yesterday, he found the car empty.  And like the day before, felt that pang of disappointment as he stepped into the driver's seat.

      But unlike yesterday, Ken didn't appear on cue.  He didn't suddenly pop out of nowhere to laugh at Yoji or tease him or cajole him or leer at him.

      The disappointment now was even greater.

      Yoji had first lost Ken to death, and now…

      Another loss.  He keeps losing the people he cared most about.

      "If Ran and Omi were smart," he declared boldly, thinking maybe Ken would be listening in, "they'd run"

      Ran stood beside Omi by the door, watching Yoji talk to himself, just as he was doing the previous day.

      Ran frowned.  And he thought he was the one having delusions.  Maybe Yoji caught his flu, now that he was almost completely over it.

      "What had happened to Ken," Omi said softly, "Really must have taken a toll on him"

      Ran nodded, considering.  Yoji, only because it was his duty to report, had said what had happened.  No one could blame him for Ken's death, though he surely blamed himself.

      "Think we should tell Manx?" Omi asked.

      "Give him some time first," Ran decided.  Yoji always seemed all right, with time.  An act, possibly, but he was never along the brink of madness.  Too practical.  And there was a lot of women to distract himself with.  Not like Ken.  Ken took Kase hard.  He had brushed madness.  Yoji had been one of those who had set him back on track.

      "I guess so," agreed Omi, who was thinking the same things.  But there had to be a limit somewhere.  Yoji had lost Asuka and Maki.  He had killed Neu.  Now he had killed Ken. 

      Who knew when time wouldn't be enough?

      Yoji drove.

      He drove as long as he could as far as he could, hoping maybe Ken would pop in suddenly.  Which was the damndest thing because he had been the one who had driven him off in the first place.

      "Come on!" Yoji yelled, "I give up already!"

      The sun was setting again, the day ending.  He'd be the tragic figure, driving around screaming for a lost love.  He'd lose his mind, and end up as some kind of an urban legend.

      Watch out kids, don't drive a lonely road.  You might come upon the mad, abandoned lover searching for the one who had left him.

      "The one whom he sent away!" Yoji muttered, correcting his thoughts out loud, "Ken, damn it, we have to talk!"

      At last, he stepped on the brakes and the car came to a screeching halt where he had parked it by a field just yesterday.

      He stepped out of the car and breathed in the cool air, just closed his eyes and breathed, trying to regain control of himself.  But it was a losing game.

      "I don't win anything anymore," he commented lamely, shakily dropping to his rump on the grassy ground.

      He looked bleakly to the west.  The horizon was predominantly a wild shade of red-orange as the sun resisted with a last flurry of strength the conclusion of the day.

      "I can fucking sympathize!" Yoji spat at it, then pulled his knees to his chest and rested his forehead against them.

      He heard a familiar tsk behind him, but he dared not lift his head to look.

      "You really should learn to manage that temper, Yoj," it was a tease, but the joke had died in the gentleness, the fondness in the tone.

      "Look who's talking," Yoji muttered, lifting his head but refusing to face the apparition.

      Ken sat beside him on the ground.

      "Liar," said Yoji, "I thought you couldn't appear anywhere but inside my fucking car?"
      Ken shrugged, "Things change.  This is where you are, so this is where I'll be"

      Yoji nodded wearily, running his hands across his face.  "Where do you go, when I don't see you?"

      Ken frowned in thought.  "How do I explain this… it's kind of like a train station.  This last stop before moving on, in between one place and another.  It's like, I have to go back to Earth to buy my ticket to the one-way train"

      "Is it all right?" asked Yoji.

      "Yup," said Ken, "And what's beyond, Yoj, I don't know how to say how nice it is.  I'm surprised it's open to me"

      "I'm not," said Yoji, "You're kind of like this frustrated bad guy.  Sorry Kenken, you don't quite cut it"

      "Look who's talking"

      Yoji smiled a little at that. 

      "I think," sighed Ken, "the reason I came here was to tell you that.  That you're not a bad guy.  That it hadn't been your fault.  That it had been my choice.  That if I could go back in time I'd do what I did all over again"

      "You looked at me with these betrayed eyes, Ken," Yoji said shakily, "Scared and betrayed eyes.  Like you couldn't believe I could do it to you"

      "Yes," admitted Ken, "But that had been instinct.  I looked at you, and I felt the pain, and I saw Kase.  I think, I came back here to tell us both that it was different.  So much more different"

      "I'm still sorry"

      "I know"

      "About that," said Yoji, "And about telling you to get out of my life.  I like having you around.  I just didn't know what to do with it… what to do with you.  I can't even…"

      Ken cocked an eyebrow at him.  Yes.  It would be ironic for the sensual playboy to end up liking, first, another male and second, one that he couldn't touch.

      "I have to leave soon," Ken told him.

      "I know"

      "What do we do?" Ken asked, and the clear reference to an old conversation made Yoji stiffen.

      Ken leaned toward him, looked searchingly into his eyes, as if he was probing Yoji's very soul.

      "We couldn't--"

      "Yes, we could," urged Ken.

      Yoji stared at him.  A kiss is just a kiss, where'd that come from? But this kiss would seal the deal.  Close perfectly everything that they had lost and didn't have but could have had and now could touch…

      Yoji closed his eyes.

      "No," Ken whispered, "Open your eyes, Yoji.  Open your eyes and look at me.  I'm real. 

      "Believe in me.  Believe in--

      Yoji opened his eyes and captured the other's lips hungrily, desperately as the sun set.

      Flesh to flesh.  At first.  At last. 

      The warmth and the humanity of it was distinct and unforgettable in his lips, one moment forever.

_______

"Even in the dark,
Even when you're gone
I feel you in my heart."

_______

      And then nothing.

      Ken was gone.

      "As he should be," murmured Yoji.  He wished he were angry.  He wished he didn't understand that the parting was necessary.  That Ken's leaving was right.

      But he did.

      "It's like a total anticlimax," he muttered as he headed back to his car, to drive home.  Useless, half-hearted complaints, really.  "What happens after 'happily ever after,' right?"

      A drink would've been nice right now, but Omi and Ran worried, so he drove the familiar road toward home.

      He glanced sideways at the seat that Ken had occupied in life, in death, and then even after.

      Empty, but not quite.

      Kind of like himself.

THE END

April 26, 2001

NOTES:

1. The quoted verses that loosely separated one part from another all came from "Standing Right Next To Me" written by Karla Bonoff and Wendy Waldman, performed by Karla Bonoff.  It's one of my favorite songs ever.

2. Sorry for any inconsistencies or any ooc-ness.