Paul takes off his apron and hangs it behind the bar. Natsumi and Rena are long gone by now, heading off with a cheerful wave and skip and flip of their hair. Natsumi's eyes were wide and liquid with innocent trust, but Rena's were more nervous, still with that little flinch to them that she isn't going to lose for a long time yet. Their feet went down the street outside, and he listened to them as they ran away, talking, laughing, making their own little world around the pair of them.
The side-lights of the Honky-Tonk are turned off by now, and only the main light behind the bar still glows, pulling a hundred answering sparkles from the depths of the bottles. It catches on his glasses, and for a moment as he turns to look at the wide pane of the window, he's reflected in it as a long lanky creature, thin arms and long fingers, wide luminous blank eyes.
A shadow walks on the other side of the window. It comes to the door. There's a click as whoever it is tries the handle. It's locked now, of course, and the sign is turned to CLOSED, but the click comes again, and then a more solid splintering noise as the handle moves and turns, and the door opens on the night, and on the man standing there.
Nothing changes. The eyes are still the same - the eyes, the hair, the hands, the shoulders, the casual grace of a body whose owner has spent all his life killing people.
"Come in," Paul says, and he turns to fetch down one of the bottles.
Reflections flicker in the glass of the window as the man walks across the room. It's not the lazy arrogant strut of his son; it's the calm pace of someone who knows beyond all dispute that he can destroy anyone who gets in his way. He's smiling, though, and it's the same smile as his son. "It's been a while," he says.
Paul thinks of all those times that he's seen that smile in the last few years, but known that it was for someone else. Not this time. "It has," he says, and pours the whiskey. Two fingers for each of them. The same as it always used to be.
Der Kaiser takes a seat on one of the barstools, adjusting the knees of his trousers as he sits - such a smart salaryman's suit, so proper, so utterly improper on the man who wears it - and picks up one of the glasses. "Kampai," he says, and clicks his glass against Paul's.
"Kampai," Paul agrees, and takes a swig of the whiskey. It burns in his mouth and throat. He looks up from it to see that der Kaiser is smiling at him still.
"So formal?" the other man asks.
"I've seen Teshimine more recently than I've seen you," Paul replies. He keeps his voice quite neutral. There's not the least shade of blame in it.
"Teshimine has more freedom since he walked out," der Kaiser says flatly. He puts down the glass, and his hand moves quicker than Paul can follow, catching around Paul's bare wrist in a grip that feels gentle but isn't. His fingers are hard and hot. "Don't waste time on that."
Paul takes the glass from his right hand with his free hand, and puts it on the counter. "I suppose you'd know."
"You think that . . ."
"There's talk," Paul says, each word cold. "About you. And other things. Mirrors, you might say. I suppose it keeps you busy . . ."
Der Kaiser's eyes narrow, and now there's the same angry light in them that Paul's seen in his son's eyes, on those moments when Midou Ban lowers his glasses and tenses his shoulders and sparks into fury. "It sounds as if you've been forgetting things."
"Remind me," Paul says.
Der Kaiser leans across the bar, his hand forcing Paul's right wrist down and pinning it to the polished surface. He tilts his head and watches Paul for a moment, the room silent except for their breathing, and his other hand comes up to touch the hollow of Paul's throat, where the parted collar of his shirt bares skin and leaves the neck naked and vulnerable.
"I once told you I could never forgive you," der Kaiser murmurs. "Do you remember that?"
Paul can feel the pulse jump in his neck. He could answer softly, he could turn away the fury behind the other man's eyes, but instead he answers, "You'll have to remind me about that, too."
"I could take away those glasses of yours," der Kaiser says, each word measured and precise. "Do you ever look those boys in the eyes? Let them see the truth?"
Paul imagines their faces at yet another betrayal, Ginji's quick hurt, Ban's slower and more seething bitterness. "Someone had to be there for them. Has to be here for them."Has to be here for them, he thinks, because they're still so young and they don't understand and they've only got a little while left to be that in.
"Then you can take this for them as well." Der Kaiser leans in towards him, and brushes his lips against Paul's, quick and warm. It's an insult of a kiss, a gentle pat to a domestic pet.
Paul brings his left hand up and grasps der Kaiser's tie, holding it like a leash for a moment, then flattens his hand against the other man's shirt, sliding it across his chest, feeling the other's heart beat through the thin fabric. "Don't tease me," he says. "I don't like that."
Der Kaiser smiles. "I know you don't." He's all arrogance again, all swagger, just like his son.
Paul moves. He hasn't been this fast for a while. He feel the bones in his wrist complain as he breaks loose of der Kaiser's grip, as he grasps the other's shoulders and forces him back against the bar. The two men are the same height. Their shadows dance on the wall, separate, then leaning together, pressed against each other in a long leaning silhouette. "I don't care if you don't forgive me," he says, aware of the blood singing in his body, sweeping through him, carrying him on. "You came tome. You're on my territory now. You once told me what you'd do to me if I came to Mugenjou again."
Der Kaiser is still under Paul's hands, but there's a catch in his breathing, a hunger in his face. "I did," he breathes. "And I would."
"And yet you came here," Paul says, slow and amused, and his hands move to part clothing and push away the other man's jacket, slide down the smooth fabric of the shirt and unknot the tie, trace over bare skin and scars.
Der Kaiser sheds his clothes as though they were water, letting them crumple to the floor behind him. He is smiling, as though comforted, as he takes Paul in his arms and loosens the kerchief that holds Paul's hair back, strokes his fingers through Paul's hair; it's like a gesture of ownership, and Paul lowers his head, rests his chin on der Kaiser's shoulder in surrender, holds the other as der Kaiser in turn rids him of clothing, till the shirts and trousers on the floor are a jumbled pile.
Paul would lower himself to lie in it, but der Kaiser shakes his head no. His strong hands turn Paul to lean against the bar, to bend across it, and Paul submits - he was the first to move, the first to show true emotion, and this is the payment for it. He feels cold air and them warm flesh against his body. He remembers this before, in different times and different places. The harshness of brick against his face in a back alley. The cold metal of a car against his cheek. The rough cotton of a cheap pillowcase in a cheap hotel room, with sweat heavy in the air and noise drifting up from the street outside. He wants this just as much as the other does, however much it hurts, while it hurts, the closeness of body against body, the other man - ah - possessing him, taking him in this place which is his own, for this brief moment which is not forgiveness but which is still a way of saying -
I miss you
- without words, without speech, without even looking each other in the eye, but in these wordless murmurs, the slap of flesh against flesh, the tightness of hands and the close grasp that will not let go, even after the moment of release, but that holds him close, pinned between der Kaiser and the hard wood of the bar.
Paul's hair falls around his face, and he does not try to look behind him, as der Kaiser traces the lines of his shoulder blades and spine down through the flesh of his back. He realises with a pain that is physical that it's never going to be the same, that the two boys who will be sitting in the Honky-Tonk come the morning aren't who he and der Kaiser were, and that he and der Kaiser aren't who they will be. And if he could pray (despite the cross which marks his eye, he is no believer) then he would pray that those two boys will never understand this bitterness. They found each other. But the two of us - we only touch in the dark, and then go our own ways again.
"You are the person I cannot forgive," der Kaiser whispers in his ear. "Anybody else, but not you."
The night is thick outside the window, the shadows pool in the corners of the room, and there is only the two men in the glow of the bar light.