Chapter 3: Transfixed Before the Doors of Time
- by Ajora Fravashi
- Disclaimer - I see dead people. I do not, however, see anyone paying me for this tripe.
- Warning: Material may be considered disturbing for those unfamiliar with D/s (dominant/submissive) relationships.
- Note: I was iffy about adding the "Romance" subcategory to this monster because I don't really think of hormone-driven encounters to be very romantic, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
It would have been a nice ride through a beautiful countryside, if Jianliang hadn't been focusing on other things. With the way his mind was reviewing the recent conversation and his body was trapped between hanging on for dear life while trying to enjoy the position he was in, there was precious little time to acknowledge anything else. Of course, he would shuffle the physical sensation of closeness to the back of his mind to be used for later introspection while he pondered other things. At the very least, he could get away with using the bike's age and his natural distrust of the things as an excuse for clinging so closely to Ryo during the ride.
He had never been a touchy-feely type person. That was really what other people did, not him. He didn't even let people get too close unless he trusted them. Therefore, he had wondered time and again as a child why his personal space tended to disappear completely in Ryo's presence and he never even minded. Ryo had always been a mystery he had been unable to crack, and as far as he could tell at the time, trusting Ryo was the first step in getting the older boy to reveal more than he was hiding. It had been a logical assumption until he realized that Ryo was very good at hiding the more unpleasant facts under fabrications, half-truths, and words meant to reassure and thus take the attention off anything the older boy didn't want to reveal. By the time Jianliang fully noticed this habit, he had been vying with Juri over Takato's attentions and Ruki decided that dating Ryo wasn't such a bad thing after all.
In retrospect, it had been rather obtuse of him to ignore what had been the early traces of attraction, especially when the war started so soon afterwards. With the deaths of several of their own members, Takato's brush with death and Ryo's abduction during the war, all the relationships changed drastically. Takato sought comfort with Ruki, who seemed to be subconsciously adopting Ryo's protective streak and exacerbating it with her own experiences. While they grew closer, Jianliang felt even more like a third wheel than he had when Juri was... when she was still around. Hirokazu and Kenta were always doing their own thing. And when the trio of Ryo, Millenniumon and Monodramon had disappeared from this reality entirely, it had hurt too much for him to attribute it to the loss of just a friend.
At that point, Ryo had gone from just another enigma to someone he enjoyed being around. When they got to know each other a bit better after the D-Reaper fiasco, they had spent hours over an internet chat program just discussing game systems and what constituted a good strategy game. There was a surprising similarity in the kind of games they enjoyed, though Ryo's tactics tended to be of the "throw everything and the kitchen sink at the final boss" school of thought while he preferred to think things out and strike where the boss was weakest while still keeping his party members alive. In certain games, it was quite fun trying to demolish Ryo's defenses while the older boy focused more on targeting Jianliang's generals, and was thus surprised when his healers were gone and his opponent's armies were wiping his own all over the battlefield.
When Ryo had disappeared and Takato and Ruki were doing their little mating dance that neither would admit to until many years later, Jianliang was fairly certain that he and Ryo would have made a good couple. They got along well, had similar hobbies, Ryo was really quite attractive, and they were compatible orientation-wise. Funny that, Jianliang was much relieved when he admitted to being gay to Ryo during one of those chat session and Ryo had given him a virtual pat and confessed to being bisexual... After, of course, almost scaring him with the "I'm not gay" line. It was immediately followed up with "but I'm not straight, either." After so much doubt and knowing that practically everyone else in their group was straight or female, it was the easiest coming-out he'd ever have. It was, unfortunately, these things he kept obsessing over after Ryo's disappearance and his repeated failures to find anything more than a few one-night stands and futile semi-relationships in college.
There were so many reasons to explain why he was here, clinging a little too closely to Ryo on a banged-up antique motorcycle going at some undoubtedly dangerous speed down the national highway 405, but he wouldn't admit to the personal reasons quite yet. He would have even been content to have the older man more or less in his arms in such a manner had the spectre of Millenniumon not been hovering in the back of his mind. It just wasn't fair.
Eventually, the bike slowed to a stop behind a weather-worn lodge that had apparently been retrofitted to serve as a cultural center and tourist trap. As reluctant as he was to do so, Jianliang unwrapped his arms from Ryo's torso to remove his helmet and hoped that Ryo wouldn't notice him watching while the older man did the same.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, the more logical part of himself was slapping his forehead with a palm in disgust over the ridiculous turn his thoughts had taken. "Romance" wasn't really what he wanted, except the concept seemed less and less like an impossibility. It would be so easy to fall in love with Akiyama Ryo, if he hadn't already. Things were complicated enough.
Once the helmets were placed back in the sidecar and a package was taken out, he followed as Ryo trotted up to the back door to knock and did his best to keep his eyes off of certain body parts. Better to not follow that particular train of thought at the moment, especially when embarrassing himself by acting like a hormone-driven teenager was the last thing he wanted to do.
Introductions were made to a fairly older staff as soon as they were inside, then the Akiyamas promptly dropped into their own dialect as the package was opened and medicine bottles were passed around. It was then that Jianliang noticed something peculiar: Ryo had been more or less on edge just before the war with Millenniumon, waiting for something to happen and covered up the stress with those fake smiles and reassurances of his. Here, where no one knew of his past or any fate more dire than a natural death, Ryo was free from having to hide his scars. No one here asked questions that would open up old wounds, and he was free to forget. That, therefore, was why he usually skirted the issue of his past around the other Tamers: they simply knew too much, and harder they pried the less he liked it. He usually faked happiness around them, and this never really disappeared.
It made a lot of sense. Now that Jianliang had a better understanding for why Ryo tended to be defensive when approached about his past, he could finally figure out a roundabout way to convince his friend that Millenniumon was bad for him.
When the last of the medicine bottles were passed around and Ryo excused them from the natives' presence, he followed as the older man walked towards an empty meeting room. Right now he would just talk like they had before it all went to hell. A harmless subject presented itself when he realized that he was staring again.
"Hey, Ryo," he said as he followed Ryo out to the open deck and stood nearby. He crossed his arms over the rail and turned his attention from the scenic view to Ryo's face. Well, at least Ryo seemed happy to be in his element. "When did you realize that you liked guys too?"
Ryo blinked in surprise at him, but didn't seem particularly bothered by the question. "Well, it's sorta weird, actually. When I was about eleven or so, Mom and I used to watch this show called Kamen Rider Kuuga." A sudden grin appeared on Ryo's face at the memory. "I had the biggest crush on one of the main characters, Detective Ichijou Kaoru. He was strong, handsome, intelligent, well-mannered, commanding, loyal, and went above and beyond the call of duty for Yuusuke. I got into the fandom and discovered yaoi doujinshi, which Mom actually caught me with."
Sorely tempted to snicker at the mental image of a young Ryo trying to hide pornography from his mother, Jianliang instead suppressed the urge with a question. "How'd she take it?"
"Surprisingly well after lecturing me about my choice of reading material. It was funny: there I was, scared to death that I'd be punished, and she went and told me that her brother was gay, so she'd be supportive if I was too. Then came the talk about the birds and the bees and all that. Dad wasn't too thrilled about it, but he always obeyed Mom." Ryo's smile faded a bit. "I even thought I was that way until I met Ruki. How about you? When did you figure it out?"
Jianliang frowned slightly. It wasn't something he would like to talk about, but he supposed it was fair. "My first crush hit when I was ten and oblivious to the notion that not everyone liked their best friends that way. He was sweet, considerate, creative, sensitive, and cuter than any boy our age had any right to be."
"Right." He grimaced at that. Some things just weren't good topics for him. "I kept wanting him to notice me, but there was always Juri. And he was happy with Juri, so I didn't say anything then." And when you came along, he wanted to say, I thought I could have had a chance.
Ryo had the good sense to wince at that. "First love, and it had to be on someone straight. I'm sorry."
"Why are you sorry?"
"I had it easy," Ryo stated simply as he gazed out at the scenery. His eyes took on a rare, soft quality now. "My first love was someone a year younger than me. He was a genius, though, so it probably wasn't any surprise that he caught onto my attachment and initiated the relationship. We experimented with things we really shouldn't have at our age, I was certain that we were in love, and then the universe pulled the ultimate prank on me and killed him."
There was little more to do than blink in astonishment at that revelation. "But how exactly was that easier than longing for someone who will never return the favor?"
"Because one moment of perfect beauty is worth it." Ryo's lips quirked at some in-joke Jianliang didn't catch. "Even when he's dead, I'll always have those memories."
Silence fell after a sigh from Jianliang, and this was punctuated only by the cries of local birds. This really wasn't turning out to be as easy as he had hoped, and the mention of the dead boy certainly didn't help his mood. Was that what Ryo meant when he said that the people he dated wanted what he couldn't give them? Even after all this time, was Ryo still pining for this boy? If so, that was depressing for both their love lives. Or lack thereof.
"I never did ask how your parents took it. Did you ever come out to them?" The older man glanced at him in a manner that suggested that having to bring up the dead boy hadn't bothered him in the least.
"They took it pretty well, and my parents were always pretty open minded about things like that. With three other siblings, there wasn't any expectation for me to carry on the family name."
"And the team? Last time I heard, you'd only told Ruki."
Jianliang smiled slightly at the memory. "Ruki was great about it. She'd even offered to kick my ass for me if I didn't tell Takato myself, and hired Shaochung to follow me until I did. You wouldn't believe the knot I tied my innards into until I finally told him."
"One of your endearing qualities," Ryo said with a decidedly impish look on his face. "You really shouldn't worry yourself sick like that, you'll end up looking older than you are."
After sticking his tongue out at the teasing tone, he continued. "Right. Anyway, Takato was supportive, but didn't panic like you always see in those yaoi manga you collect-"
"Hey, I don't collect yaoi manga. Just the doujinshi. They usually cut to the chase and I don't have to wade through entire books of silly angst written by a woman with no clear idea of how men really react." A vaguely disgruntled look crossed Ryo's face at that. "Sorry, it's something that annoys me."
"I'll keep that in mind for Christmas." Jianliang suddenly smirked at the thought of handing Ryo a copy of some insipid yaoi manga with all the worst stereotypes as a joke gift. They used to do that kind of thing as teenagers, and it would be nice return to that habit. He still had to pay Ryo back for the horrible dating simulation game. "But, Takato didn't panic, or break off the friendship. All he said was that it was sad that he couldn't feel the same way, but nothing else has changed. After that, telling the others was easy."
Ryo smiled as he leaned against the railing, it was one of those genuine types that washed away the subtle tension. "Your group always was the best."
The sun was setting now as they watched on in the comfortable silence that followed Ryo's words. Well, as nice as this was, Jianliang would have to hurry things up. "Ryo?"
He took in a deep breath before continuing. "What do you look for in a potential girlfriend or boyfriend?"
"Huh?" Ryo blinked in surprise at the question, then took a moment to think before answering. "Intelligence, level-headed thinking even when things are grim, a certain amount of detachment, spiky hair for some reason. Don't ask why. Strength, self-confidence, maturity, loyalty, the ability to stand up for him or herself." Though this all was very encouraging, Jianliang knew better than to be too hopeful about his chances. "Aggression, I guess. Quickest way to get my attention is to challenge me, or smack me. It's not that I really look for them, it's that those just seems to be the common traits the few people I've been with have had. Why'd you ask?"
"I'm just trying to figure out why you're in that kind of relationship with Millenniumon." And to make sure I'm anything like what you're usually interested in, though he'd never say that aloud.
Unfortunately, this elicited exactly the sort of response that he expected from Ryo: the tension returned to the older man's stance. "What do you want to hear? That he somehow coerced me into it and rapes me on a regular basis? It's already clear that you still think he beats me."
"Ryo, you're my friend. I just want to know you're safe and happy. Is that really so much to ask for?"
"What would you do if the answer isn't to your liking?" Ryo cocked his head at his quizzical expression. "I can pretty much guarantee you'll lose all respect for me if you get those answers."
With a brow furrowing in concern over the clearly self-deprecating tone in Ryo's voice, he responded. "There is nothing you could do that would make me lose respect for you."
"Very well then." Ryo's eyes turned to the horizon and took on that far-off quality. "Think of it as a business deal. He gives me what I want, I give him what he wants." There was a brief pause as Ryo mulled over his thoughts. "Since you're going to ask about it anyway, I might as well tell you. Imagine being a soldier trained since childhood to fight and take orders without question. The superiors kept you too busy to worry about anything other than surviving. And when they're gone, there are no more orders. When the enemy has joined your side, there are no more battles. Without Gennai and the Holy Beasts of the other world, I was lost. With Millenniumon as an ally, I was without a reason to fight. Sure, this universe's Digital World and the D-Reaper gave me a purpose for awhile, but without a real authority figure to order me around, I just felt like a fish out of water. The ENIAC just isn't commanding enough. Ruki was nice, but ultimately she would never agree to what I needed and I really can't blame her. In the end, only Milek had the personality and willingness suitable for playing commander. He gives me direction, the opportunity to act without having to think, those fights that result in the bruises you guys are all too willing to dismiss as domestic abuse, and the feeling that someone actually feels enough to take care of me. I give him a capable soldier, the opportunity to order someone around within preset limits, and deflect the majority of his anger during those fights. Before you start thinking that he abuses the trust expected from our roles, I'll have you know that he has never intentionally hurt me. His minions have, yes, but even during the time I was working for Gennai and the Holy Beasts of the other world, he never tortured me."
There really wasn't much Jianliang could say in response to that. No wonder Ryo thought he'd lose all respect for him and was constantly evading the question of his relationship with Millenniumon: a taste for playing submissive wasn't something most people would be proud of admitting to. However, it did make sense, especially when Ryo had been trained for that kind of thing since he was eleven years old. Well, hell, at that age the only thing Jianliang was concerned with was school, Terriermon, and maybe sneaking a quick peck on the cheek with Takato. "If it's any reassurance, I won't tell anyone and my respect for you hasn't lowered."
"It must not have been very high to begin with, then." Thankfully, Ryo's voice had taken on lighter quality. "Anything else?"
"I don't suppose you're a switch, are you," Jianliang asked. Vaguely he wondered why he was still trying, but he did still like Ryo, even if the older man did have a kink that struck him as kind of creepy.
Ryo looked a bit befuddled for the moment. "Actually, I am. Milek isn't, though, so I haven't had much experience with the other roles."
If Ryo responded best to aggression, then he would simply have to play by those rules. Rather tired of being alone, irate over the fact that someone like Millenniumon could give Ryo what no one else would, frustrated that his feelings went unrecognized, Jianliang was quite willing to give in to his own desires. He steeled himself and slipped unusually close to Ryo. "I can't offer you what he does, but would you like some practice in the one thing he won't allow you?"
"Er." Utterly baffled now, Ryo couldn't really offer up anything in the way of intelligent conversation for awhile. "Since when did you..?"
Not bothering to answer, Jianliang leaned forward to pressed his lips against Ryo's and was only somewhat surprised when the older man returned the favor. Apparently he did use the right amount of aggression after all. One thing led to another, and eventually they pulled apart before things went too far for a rather awkward place like this.
As before, Jianliang followed silently as Ryo led the way to a nearby inn. Right, so the majority of the tasks he had come here to complete had ended in failure. While he knew what was going on now, Ryo and Millenniumon would not part while they needed what only the other could give them. However, Jianliang rather hoped their agreement was of a purely business nature, and Ryo would have stopped things earlier if 'cheating' was disallowed. And, at least for now, one moment of perfect beauty was worth more than having never gone through this at all.
- Note: All due apologies to JMS, whose "One moment of perfect beauty" line I stole from his "Babylon 5."
There's one last chapter/epilogue for this fic, which I hope to have at least partially done before NaNoWriMo season.