There were snow-covered trees in all directions that Ren could see from within the confines of the car. He slumped slightly against the glass of the window. Shutting his eyes, he enjoyed the feel of the cold glass pressed against his forehead, his skin still carrying the last remnants of heat from the city from which he was escaping. Lightly tilting his head to the other side, he was able to press his cheek against the window. The combination of the chill air outside and the warm air emanating from the car's heater was enough to lull Ren into a light sleep. A light blanket of snow beginning to fall outside.
He had not been himself lately at all. He could not seem to concentrate on anything. Though perhaps that was not an accurate description. To say that Ren could not concentrate would be to suggest that he lacked focus, and that was anything but true. It would be far more accurate to say that Ren was failing to get anywhere with his training simply because he was training too hard. He had become so narrowly focused, so heatedly determined, that he was making no progress at all. In fact, he was becoming sloppier and weaker in his frustrations. Though still young, Ren was wise enough to know that if he continued down the path he was heading, all that would meet him would be needless obstacles, barriers that would keep him from reaching his true potential. It was then that Ren remembered a small mountain inn he had heard about a few times as a child. He heard it told that warriors who rested at the inn would be able to clear their minds of all that troubled them and as a result would be able to surpass all bumps and cracks in the road that lay before them.
Ren was not really one for superstitions and stories, but he figured that some time away from it all would not be a bad idea. After all, he knew strength was not always a physical game. That was how Ren justified his retreat into the mountains. It was not a vacation, it was a mental training exercise. He would study strategy and study himself. He had a lot to think about and just needed some time.
Of course, curled up in the warm car as he was, strategy and fighting were far from Ren's mind. Ren was somewhere strange, but familiar at the same time. He was a small child once more and he was kicking a ball into the air, trying to see just how high he could kick it. There were people he knew sitting nearby, playing Mahjong and telling boasts, trying to distract from the fact they were all cheating. There were other people he knew, his sister among them, who were sitting around, speaking in happy tones while eating snacks, occasionally calling out to Ren, asking how high he was able to kick that last time. He was dreaming of a childhood memory that he was aware had never happened. But he did not care. A comforting work of fiction made for a more welcomed dream than the life he actually lived.
Soon, the voices that were calling out to him seemed to change. The clear voice of his sister was warping into a voice that was deeper and almost muffled. Banging began to echo around him. He let the ball fall onto the ground and looked in every direction, trying to find the cause of the banging.
With a start, Ren was jolted awake, his subconscious finally able to realize that the banging was not part of the dream. Sitting up slowly, rubbing at the red mark left on his cheek by the window, he looked around, half asleep, before his eyes caught a sight out of the window. A sight of something blue. His expression was one of surprise. For about a second. Then it became an expression of frustration.
On the other side of his window of the moving car was none other than the most unwelcome of nuisances in his life, Horohoro. From the way he was peeking into the car upside down, banging on the window and crying "Oye, stop the car! Ren! Ren! Stop the car! Ren!" Ren deduced that Horo was probably clinging to the roof of the car like a cat trying not to drown. Ren did not quite know how Horo managed to no-doubt crash land on top of a moving car and in that moment, a part of Ren considered having the driver speed up and send Horohoro tumbling down the snowy mountain trail.
Perhaps because the calming effect of his dream was still hanging over him and relaxing him, but Ren did not order Horo to be punished. Instead he reluctantly had his driver stop the car. As soon as the vehicle came to a complete stop, Horo jumped off of the roof and climbed in beside Ren. The spirit Kororo preferred to stay outside on the roof of the car, seeming to enjoy the cold but more than likely not wanting to be too close to the perpetually foul tempered Ren. "It's about time you stopped the car! I thought I was going to fly off! Just my luck of all the cars I'd land on it would be yours," He said with a huff as the car began to move.
"Funny, I don't remember inviting you in," Ren said without hesitation as he went back to looking out the window.
Horo was about to toss back a snide remark when he slowly began to grin impishly. "Oh, I get it. You just didn't want anyone to see you with…that sort of expression on your face. I get it, I get it."
Those words made Ren's blood run cold. Just what on earth was Horo talking about. What sort of expression…? There was no way that Horo had seen Ren with some sort of obscene expression on his face. It wasn't even that sort of dream! Turning his head to look at Horo, Ren looked like he was somewhere between wanting to kill Horo and dump his body somewhere in the woods and playing nice by only maiming him. Luckily for Horo, when Ren caught a look at the strange face Horo was making at him, his nose pushed up , cheeks puffed out and eyes crossed, Ren was so taken by surprise that he trembled to keep from laughing, having to look away again.
Horo chuckled as he leaned back against the seat, stretching for a moment before settling in a comfortable stop, reaching up to dust off some of the snow that remained in his hair. "You don't have to look so mad when I bring up that particular expression. You actually look a little cute, sleeping so peacefully. You should show that side of yourself a little more. I mean, we're something like friends at this point right? Eh, eh?" he asked with a large smile, elbowing at Ren.
Setting his frown deeper, Ren was really trying hard to not loose his composure now. "…Shut up. Bringing something like that up. I don't want you telling anyone," he said with a huff. "Once we get to the inn, just go on with whatever it was you were trying to do anyway. I'll only take you all the way until the inn," He said, nudging Horo back.
Horo whined at that. "What? You're going to stay at that nice inn? All by yourself? Inns are real boring if you aren't there with someone, believe me! Come on, Ren, don't be such a cheapskate, let me stay with you," he said, pushing at Ren with a bit more force.
Ren could feel the edge of his eye twitching, but he tried to not let Horo get to him. "I said until the inn and not a second more. Don't be a leech," he snapped back, pushing Horo back roughly against the other door, having grown uncomfortably aware of the close proximity between them.
Laughing now, pressed against the other door, Horo gave Ren a smirk. "Oh, and I bet the others would just love to hear what I have to say when I tell them about what a cute sleeper you are. Smiling in your sleep, curled up like a cat. If I were in the car, I bet I could have heard you purring!" he replied, using his footto push against Ren's side.
"What?" Ren cried out, no longer able to keep his composure. "Do you have any idea who the hell you're talking to? About? Who do you think you are, comparing me to a cat!" Ren cried out, lunging at Horo now. Squirming away at the last minute, Horo just baring missed being tackled by Ren, having scampered away. The inside of the car was hotter now from all the activity and with Ren trying to get a good hold of Horo in order to beat him senseless, the once spacious car seemed strangely cramped.
For what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality only a couple of minutes, the game of cat and mouse continued. Horo would toss some insult at Ren and Ren would try to get a hold of Horo, missing him just barely for the most part. After a while, it was hard to tell who was supposed to be the cat and who was the mouse. Horo's constant laughing eventually proved infectious as even Ren seemed to be enjoying himself, rough housing with a friend. It had been a while since he was able to just play without having to worry about dire consequences. It was as if he were still dreaming, all of the weight that normally rested permanently on his slender shoulders having melted away. In another time and in another place, Ren might have enjoyed the innocence that comes from normalcy. If Ren had been unconnected to spirits maybe he could have experienced the serenity from his dream while awake.
Taking advantage of Ren's weak defenses in that moment of regret, Horo decided to finally assert his role as the cat in their little game. Grabbing a hold of Ren's wrists, he pushed forward against the surprised "mouse", pinning him against the soft car seat before Ren could figure out what just happened. Struggling against Horo, Ren arched his back, trying to squirm out of Horo's grasp. Ren would have never thought of Horo as the smartest of his acquaintances, but he was strong enough to compensate for it. "Let…let me go already, jerk!" Ren spat out as Horo straddled him.
Snickering, Horo shook his head. "Sorry, but no way. You should have seen your face. You were looking like you were starting to relax and have some fun when that sour expression you normally wear came back. I can't have that, now can I? Come on, give me a smile!" Hooking his forefingers in the corners of Ren's mouth, Horo contorted Ren's expression into a mock smile. "There! Now you're smiling! A…little on the scary side, granted. It's more…smile-like, really."
Ren squirmed against Horo, trying to buck him off, but after a few moments, he figured he'd at least get even. Hands shooting out, he grasped onto Horo's face, using his own fingers and thumbs to move Horo's lips open, making it look like Horo was barring his teeth. "Perfect. This is how a mutt like you should look," he said around Horo's fingers, actually beginning to laugh when Horo began to growl.
"Hey! That's no fair!" Horo cried out, his words badly garbled with his lips forced apart like that. "I'll beat you at this game, too," he declared as he squished and squashed Ren's face into increasingly absurd expressions, Ren returning the favor in his own style. In that moment, Ren and Horo had both let their guards down and were enjoying the moment of laughter and play while they had it. No spirits, no battles, no consequences. It was just two friends. Fight and play were melting together into an experiences where both friends were emotionally exposed. It was a little like how it was to fight a high stakes battle, tossing everything they had at each other, with the assumption that there would be no tomorrow and no reason to hold anything back. Their game wasn't deadly, unlike the normal battles they fought, but they both seemed to be aware of its transient nature. Soon, that carefree moment would pass and the reality of their lives would settle in and they would no longer be able to be how they currently were.
They had both come to that very realization independently, and soon, their game quieted.
Horo had been the first to stop his rough treatment of Ren's face. Loosening his grip of his cheek, he slowly moved his fingers along to the chin as he ran his thumb across Ren's lips. With his emotions so strangely raw, so exposed, Horo's suddenly soft touches were almost torturously gentle, but soon became only a deep tug in his heart. Ren's laughter died down as he laid there panting from the effort he had exerted just moments ago. Almost as if still in a dream, Ren's current experience had shifted from carefree to sober seamlessly. Ren was having a hard time accepting that what was happening was actually happening. Moving his fingers out of Horo's mouth, he moved them down slowly to Horo's jaw, touching his lips as he did so, able to feel Horo's softly panting breath rolling off of his wet finger tips.
For how long the two stayed like that, touching each other's faces and catching their breaths, neither of them was sure. To Ren, it felt like time had slowed down and he was becoming more aware of just how hot it had gotten inside of the car. It felt like he was experiencing the most intense head rush of his life, the world still spinning. It was no wonder that when he finally felt Horo's lips pressing against his, he couldn't seem to muster the strength nor the will to push him away. In a sense, it felt like he had been expecting the kiss as if it were the most natural progression to the events that had just transpired.
The kiss started out softly. Horo had cupped Ren's cheeks as he pressed their lips together in a caste kiss that lasted for only a few moments. He pulled away a centimeter or two he gave Ren a chance to reject him, to pull away, to slap him, but nothing came. He kissed Ren again, this time planting soft kisses against Ren's partially parted lips. As he felt Horo's eyelashes brushing shyly against his warmed cheek, Ren seemed to gain insight as to what was happening. Horo had gotten swept up in the moment and was now hunched over Ren, pressing inexperienced kisses against Ren's lips. Ren didn't seem at all surprised by what was happening, clear indication that he too had been swept along.
Whatever was happening between them, Ren didn't want to break the spell with words. Running his hands up the side of Horo's head, Ren raked his fingers through Horo's hair, the unexpected touch startling Horo until he felt Ren's fingers tangling his his hair. Spurred on by what he felt to be Ren's approval, Horo leaned close to claim Ren's lips once more only to have Ren raise his head up to meet his instead. Unlike Horo's cautious, nervous pecks, Ren's personality came through loud and clear in his possessive kiss, practically biting on Horo's bottom lip, eliciting a gasp from him. Taking advantage of Horo's parted lips, Ren deepened the kiss as he pushed up against him.
In that desperately raw moment, Ren wasn't Ren. He didn't know who he was, but he didn't care. All of the pressure that had been building up in his heart the last few months from impossibly high expectations and fear of failure and disappointment suddenly rushed out of him in a single kiss. He was acting reckless, with no thought to consequence or decorum and that excited him. He wanted so desperately what he shouldn't want. He knew that he was in a fragile, dangerous situation, but for the first time in a long time, Ren just didn't care. He didn't know if it had been because of the rough housing or the cold outside, but Ren couldn't hold onto his self restraint. All of the apprehension, hesitation and regret he had been feeling in his heart was welling up and out of him. Horo seemed to feel the same way, though for his own reasons, and he soon returned Ren's feverish kiss with full force. Tongues sliding past each other, tasting, exploring, the soft beginnings of a moan escaped from Ren's throat, followed soon by a wavering intake of breath as he felt Horo's hand sliding up his shirt, his hands surprisingly cold against Ren's heated skin.
Somewhere in the back of Ren's mind, distantly behind, a voice was screaming out that he was doing something that he would regret. Considering his position, he shouldn't have allowed Horo into the car at all. If his family found out, if anyone found out…no, Ren wouldn't think about repercussions now, not with Horo close to him, sharing a kiss that would have never happened in the "proper" world where Ren was used to living. But "proper" Ren had temporarily checked out and so Ren practically tugged Horo's shirt up, wanting to touch more. Tugging Horo's head back suddenly by his hair, Ren bit down on his bottom lip, drawing a startled cry from Horo, who squirmed but made no move to pull away completely.
When Ren would think back on that moment, he would wonder just how much further he would have gone had the car not come to a stop when it did, the swaying of the vehicle forcibly bringing Ren back down to reality. Suddenly freezing up, Ren could feel his blood turning icy. He was sure that he'd stopped breathing temporarily. He was being kissed. He was kissing back and with gusto. With Horohoro. The same Horo who pulled away now, confused but face flushed. "W…what's wrong? Ren…" Horo murmured, voice almost a croon, still caught up in the moment.
While the heat was still dulling Horo's senses, the moment had all by passed for Ren. His stunned expression slowly contorted to his normally irritated look. "Get off of me, you big idiot." Fist clenching, he suddenly punched Horo hard across the face, before squirming under him to be able to kick Horo off of him, foot connecting directly to his gut, sending Horo into a coughing fit as he curled up a bit on the floor of the car. "Whatever you think just happened… forget about it," he said with a snarl, grabbing a hold of the coat that he had put aside hours ago. Stepping out into the cold, he nearly bumped into Kororo who was fluttering around, face bright red, almost sounding like she was giggling. Batting her eye lashes a bit at Ren before going to check up on Horo who was struggling out of the car. Ren grew pale as the realization of what Kororo probably saw hit him. Who did she think she was giggling at him? It had been a mistake! It didn't even happen. It was all in their heads.
Putting a hand on his chest, Ren closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to relax after that rather unexpected jolt of adrenaline, blushing as all he got from his attempt at relaxation was the memory of Horo's lips against his. He explained away the "incident" as purely a manifestation of the negative feelings he'd been harboring lately. Nothing more. Clearing his throat a bit, he straightened up his posture to try and regain some sense of normalcy. He had only managed a few steps towards the snow covered inn when Horo finally spoke.
"Hey, Ren… mind if I stay with you? At least for the night. I mean it is getting a little dark… plus the snow storms around here," he trailed off, voice still strained from the swift kick Ren had given him. Momentarily, Ren considered just letting both Horo and Kororo take on the wildness of the mountain. Let mother nature take care of his "witness" problem. No, that was stupid. Ren knew that nature came with many variables and for the most part made a terrible assassin, even though it did make up for what it lacked in effectiveness with creativity.
Turning around to look at Horo, he was about to tell him to just sleep in some hole in the group like a dog, when he caught sight of his blue haired companion, leaning against Kororo in her snowboard form for support, rubbing at his stomach. Ren could feel the sides of his lips twitching. It had been a terrible incident and one that Ren would make sure was never spoken of again, but in the heat of the moment, it had been amazing, like an oasis in the desert. But he wouldn't help Horo because he had been a good kisser. Ren just figured that if he couldn't dispose of Horo and Kororo, the next best thing would be to buy their silence.
"Fine…you can stay at the inn. I'll even let you sleep in a bedroom like a guest instead of in the kitchen like a stray dog. But in return, I want your complete silence on…what happened. Is that understood?"
Horo grinned as he nodded. "Sure, sure. Now, is the "what happened" you're talking about that cute look on your face when you're sleeping…or that cute look on your face when you're being kissed?" he asked with an playful grin on his face.
"On second thought, please stay outside and freeze to death," Ren said nonchalantly, no change coming over his expression. Turning on his heels he walked towards the inn. Horo laughed behind him as he ran after Ren.
"Oh, come on, man! I was just joking. Slow down would you!" Horo called out, running after Ren who began to run as well, "because I was being chased" if one were to ask him why.
Running through the halls of the old inn, darting between bewildered inn workers with Horo close at his heels, Ren had a terrible feeling that his retreat to the snowy mountain inn would prove to be more stressful than he had previously anticipated.