Hothouse

It wasn't that Kazahaya liked breaking and entering, but in this case, it certainly would have been easier. Rikuou really was good at snapping locks. According to Kakei, that wasn't an option. Instead, they had been instructed to enter the greenhouse during regular business hours and then somehow hide their presence as the staff made their final check of the structure before closing. It didn't sound too terrible in theory, but as usual, there was a problem – the only space suitable for hiding that was big enough for one person, let alone two, was nowhere near big enough by Kazahaya's estimation.

They'd arrived fifteen minutes before closing and on the pretense of looking for some flowers for a roof garden, scoped out a place to hide. There was a metal cabinet along the far wall full of empty plastic potting containers and tiny biodegradable seeding pots. Kazahaya could have fit in the cabinet if there had been an inconspicuous place to put all the junk that was already inside. Rikuou would have been on his own, but he probably deserved that for one reason or another.

Other than the cabinet, the greenhouse was wide open. It was a permanent structure with the bottom half meter made of brick and the rest made of glass. A series of wooden support beams ran in a line down the center of the building. Tables were rigged up out of plywood and cinder blocks for easy modification to size and height. For now, they formed a circuit along the outer walls and one narrow row down the middle. The two aisles formed in the configuration were wide and a whole extra row of tables could easily be added without making the place seem crowded. The extra table space wasn't needed. Though the plants and seedlings were spread evenly, the selection of plants was limited and only half the available table space was in use.

The areas underneath the tables were kept clear and they weren't deep enough to provide sufficient cover if anyone looked down.

With only a few minutes left until closing time and the greenhouse already clear of all other customers, Rikuou called out with his find. It was the narrow space underneath a low bench next to the entrance. Said bench was covered in a decorative cloth that reached the floor, carefully arranged plants, and a small display of Nanoka Greenhouse business cards. Kazahaya had passed over the area immediately since the space was so small, but Rikuou had already pushed aside the fabric and worked his way back against the wall – laying on his side, since that was the only way Kazahaya would also be able to fit under the bench.

"I'll do the final check in Greenhouse 3." The woman's voice was on the other side of the structure but she was clearly visible through the greenhouse glass and it wouldn't take long for her to walk around. If she saw either of them, they'd be told, probably quite politely, that it was closing time and that they'd have to leave but please do come back again. Kakei would not be so forgiving.

"Kazahaya, get down here!" Rikuou spoke quietly enough that Kazahaya barely heard him. The approaching footsteps seemed louder.

"Kazahaya!"

Kazahaya took a look at the space he was supposed to fit into. Imagined how the fabric would have to lay in order to not give away his location. Judged just how close he would have to be to Rikuou.

"Are you trying to get us caught?"

A few seconds later, he still hadn't moved and Rikuou began rearranging the fabric to hide himself. That was all the motivation Kazahaya needed.

"Bastard!"

He knelt down, pushed aside the fabric that had already been restored to its proper place while Rikuou moved back as far against the brick wall as he could. Kazahaya first moved his feet into position, then encountered a problem. Because of Rikuou's ridiculous height, the lug had to bend his knees to fit in the space. Kazahaya shifted as best as he could around the extremities and slid the rest of his body into place. He kept a small distance to the body in front of him. It was only a few centimeters, but those were an important few centimeters.

Once in place, he tried to reach back around to pull the fabric down. It was an awkward reach.

"I'll do it." Rikuou was laying his head on his right arm which was bent so that his hand touched his shoulder. Leaving his right side anchored in that fashion, he rolled forward to reach over Kazahaya and straighten the cloth with his left hand.

"I could have done it myself."

"This isn't going to work."

"Why not? This was your idea."

"You're pushing the cover out. You'll be seen. You have to move closer." And without consent, that jerk moved his hand to Kazahaya's back and pulled him along as he rolled back to be fully against the wall.

"I could have done that myself," Kazahaya repeated, but this time, he was just sulking.

"It's still no good. Your whole backside is pressing the cloth out."

Rikuou might have been exaggerating somewhat but Kazahaya could feel the pull of the fabric along his lower half. "Maybe she won't see."

"Kazahaya, we're right by the door, she'd have to be blind not to notice."

"Well what the hell do you expect me to do? Your stupid knees are in the way. Wa— what are you doing?" That's what he said, the last bit in the equivalent of a whispered shout, but the answer was perfectly obvious. Rikuou was grabbing his co-worker's top leg and hefting it up over his own, finagling his space hog knees so they lay in a compact arrangement on top of Kazahaya's inner left thigh and under Kazahaya's right leg.

Kazahaya's mind went blank. They weren't just close, they weren't just touching, they were entwined. It didn't help that Kazahaya had his legs spread like… no he wasn't thinking about that now because even more importantly, there was definite contact between Rikuou's upper leg and—

Kazahaya shifted up as much as he was able and was relieved to find he could at least avoid that kind of closeness.

"There. Now shut up unless you think this is all just for fun." Maybe Rikuou was mad, but Kazahaya was good at reading people, and despite what the other boy had said and despite the measured breathes that seemed to indicate that Rikuou was either restraining or trying real hard to concentrate on something, he didn't think true anger had anything to do with it.

There were footsteps then and a, "Hello?"

When Kazahaya's heart beat faster, he felt grateful that it was out of the immediate fear of being caught and not something else. He tried not to move, but as the woman stood by the bench they hid under, he couldn't help but unconsciously move away from her. The fact that it just pressed him even further against Rikuou wasn't something he thought of until after he'd done it.

"Is someone there?"

He had the feeling then that any further movement would be a definite bad thing. Best not to be rustling around. Not when the woman was already suspicious.

Why did Kakei love to torment him like this? Wasn't he a hard worker? Wasn't he a good employee?

There were a few more footsteps, then a mumbled, "Could have sworn I heard…." as the woman moved away from the entrance and began a loop around the open walkway of the greenhouse.

Kazahaya tried to focus on where she was by sound but after a few more seconds, all he could hear was soft breathing from the body next to his.

As his immediate fear subsided, he told himself that his cheeks were hot because he was humiliated. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he was as close as two clothed people can be with his male co-worker. That their legs were a jumbled heap. That Rikuou still had his hand on Kazahaya's back. That he could feel Rikuou's warm breath on his forehead, could smell the clean scent of his roommate's deodorant and the minty evidence that the guy had brushed his teeth just before they'd set off for this job.

They'd never been so close before. Sure, there had been the chocolate debacle, but Kazahaya hadn't been himself so that didn't count. And okay, he'd also clung to Rikuou at the boy's school, but that had lasted for just a brief second, and Rikuou hadn't really done anything except stand there and be shocked.

It felt like an eternity before the woman's footfalls came back into hearing range. Kazahaya started pleading in his head. 'Walk by and leave. Please just walk by and leave!'

Just when the steps were the loudest, they stopped. Kazahaya held his breath. Based in the sounds, she had to be standing directly behind him. Kazahaya shifted his gaze up. His vision had adjusted well enough to the relative darkness of their hiding spot for him to make out Rikuou's eyes as they popped open. How long had they been closed?

They lay there for whole minutes, watching each other. Waiting through the sounds of thunk, thunk, slide as the greenhouse worker decided it necessary to arrange and re-arrange the items setting on the tabletop above them. Now and then, she would take a step back to look at her work, then step forward again to make small adjustments. Kazahaya didn't dare move – he could hardly blink – but he imagined that he felt Rikuou's arm tighten across his back each time the woman moved to stand unknowingly over them.

As much as he didn't want to admit it, the closeness itself wasn't so bad. That, of course, is what made it so bad. Stupid boy's school was still corrupting his mind months later. The only thing that could make this any worse, he reasoned, would be if they were caught. It would be far worse than being caught at any of their pervious jobs. As though Kakei didn't make the prospect sound frightening in any situation, people would assume things if they saw the way he and Rikuou were at that moment. Would think the two of them had some sort of bizarre kink – needed the adrenalin of public places in order to…to satisfy themselves. And the knowledge that his mind would even consider that possibility, even if only to think of other people coming up with the idea, was unpleasant.

Abruptly, the footsteps were moving away and the sound of a lock turning and a door closing ended in silence.

Kazahaya waited a few moments and let out one long inaudible exhale, then waited a few moments more, before—

"Kazahaya, you can get up now." Rikuou's voice was annoyingly loud when compared to the preceding quiet.

"Ah… I just wanted to make sure she was out of hearing range, that's all." Kazahaya made sure to speak just as loudly if only to prove that he wasn't flustered.

"Uh-huh. You know, if you liked this so much, there's a whole world of more inter—"

"Don't! Finish. That sentence."

The bastard just grinned.

As much as he wanted them to be, the problems weren't over then. No, of course not. Because this was one of Kakei's jobs and that man delighted in making everything difficult. The greenhouse closed at eight and they were to wait until after dark to retrieve the plant that was the night's target. Kazahaya would have rather just bought the damn thing, but they had their instructions and they had to wait for something to happen before they could filch the little plant away.

Kazahaya took the free time to wander around the greenhouse, this time taking an actual interest in the plants themselves. Before, he'd been too concerned with finding a hiding spot to really notice them. It didn't take long to see a pattern. The camellia's waxy leaves were pale. The azaleas' flowers were losing their petals. The stems of the butterfly bush bent so that the pink blossom clusters were nearly even with the top of the pot.

Kazahaya made an obvious sniff of the surrounding air and picked out a slightly off smell. He furrowed his brow a moment before pinpointing the scent as mold.

"Rikuou, all these plants are sick." Water dripped steadily from the carton of four young plants when Kazahaya picked them up to get a better look. "They're all waterlogged. How is this place in business if they don't know how much they should be watering their plants?"

"They did contact Kakei."

"Come on Rikuou, preventing overwatering isn't exactly the kind thing we usually do. It's too…ordinary."

"Maybe."

"Hey, you noticed this earlier didn't you. Why didn't you say something?"

"What makes you think that?"

"Before. Under the bench… Well, you looked like you were thinking about something. Solving a problem maybe. I just thought maybe you'd noticed." Reading his co-worker's expression, the answer was clearly 'no.' "Ok, so what were you thinking about so intently?"

There was a long pause and Kazahaya was about to let it drop, convinced he wasn't going to get an answer. Then it came, "a kitchen."

There was only disbelief at first. "Why would you—" He cut off as Rikuou gave him that, 'It's none of your damn business,' look.

It didn't make any sense. If Rikuou didn't want to talk about it, he shouldn't have said anything. He didn't have to make up a blatant lie. It's not like Kazahaya was going to push him on it. The thought came suddenly. The image of a kitchen coated in blood. He froze. Rikuou couldn't know that he'd seen that memory. It wasn't his right to see something private like that. But the confusion only intensified. Why had Rikuou said something about it, even something so vague? And why had he been thinking of that in the situation they were in? Kazahaya's thoughts had gone somewhere completely different, even if they had done so against his will. Why hadn't Rikuou's gone the same place? It was almost insulting.

That was the topic of his thoughts as the ambient light from the setting sun was replaced with a hint of street lights filtered in from the front of the structure. The potted plants and tables cast heavy shadows on the floor but the change was gradual and Kazahaya's eyes adjusted with the changing light.

After a few hours, he took a seat on the floor. It was spring but still early enough in the season that nights weren't warm yet. Kazahaya had on a hooded t-shirt – the white one with the little leaf logo on the sleeve – under his thin gray jacket. He made good use of it – balled up the hood as best as he could behind his head, then leaned back against a table leg and closed his eyes.

He tried to remember to reopen them every few minutes to keep himself awake but he'd been up early to open the store, then put in a full day before being sent here.

Time slipped away and suddenly, Rikuou was kicking at his foot. Blinking his eyes open, he noticed his partner in crime was sitting across from him in a similar posture. "I think it's time."

"Huh? Why? What's—"

He cut off when Rikuou put a finger to his lips to signal for quiet. He was about to argue but there was a soft rustling coming from…coming from all around it seemed.

Rikuou shifted positions so that he was squatting as low as possible, balancing on the balls of his feet. Kazahaya followed suit, rising just enough to see over the top of the tables. What he saw took his breath away.

The entire greenhouse had completely changed. Foliage was everywhere – crowding over the windows, climbing the wood supports to the ceiling, covering the tables. The building seemed a bit less dim now as well. Kazahaya checked the time on his cell phone - 4:36. It was late, but not late enough for the sun to be rising.

In the time it took to look down then back up from his phone, the building was noticeably less dark. The light was coming from... He couldn't point out the source.

"Rikuou." He probably didn't have to whisper. He did anyway.

Rikuou followed suit. "Don't. Touch anything."

"Like I'm really that stupid."

Rikuou let out a wordless vocalization of disbelief but left it at that.

A soft splash to his left drew Kazahaya's attention but there was nothing to see when he turned his head to look.

"Ugh."

"What's wrong?"

"It's nothing. Just got a drop of water on my face."

Kazahaya was about to make a remark when he too was hit with one droplet of water, then another. In the space of a breath, the drops were falling constantly. Kazahaya quickly moved to put his hood up and noticed for the first time that Rikuou was too. They were defiantly spending too much time together if they were picking similar clothing. Kazahaya contented himself with the fact that Rikuou's was from his black hooded sweatshirt – which was, aside from having a hood, completely and utterly different then his shirt. That was followed by the disturbing realization that he knew the pattern on the front of the Rikuou's shirt despite the fact that the guy's green jacket obscured the design.

He gave up on keeping his voice down. "How can a man so lovely and gentle be so cruel?"

Rikuou snorted as if to indicate that the comment was more clever than Kazahaya even realized.

"He could have warned us about the sprinklers."

"Kazahaya."

"Maybe they're broken. Maybe that's why all the plants are drowning."

"Kazahaya, I don't think the water is coming from the sprinklers."

"Wha…?"

"Listen. Sprinklers make a distinct sound. Do you hear any?"

Kazahaya tried. Oh, he tried. He wanted this to be a natural occurrence. "No, but," In a last effort of defiance, he squinted up at the piping for the sprinklers, before finally acquiescing. "It's raining inside a glass building."

"You can actually see that in this light?"

"You mean you can't?"

"Man. Seriously." Kazahaya glared. "Your parents must both have great genes."

Rikuou has used the present tense…should he correct the error? "My parents…"

"Yeah, you know, dominate traits, natural selection, survival of the fittest. All your senses are ridiculously good. It's borderline freakish."

"Gee, thanks." Kazahaya commented without inflection but inwardly, he smiled. His parents, Rikuou said.

"Yeah, well, instead of standing around getting soaked, why don't we actually look for the target?" Rikuou was already walking way.

"Right."

"But don't touch it if you find it!"

"I don't need a reminder!" He shouted back then lowered his voice for a mumbled, "jerk."

It didn't take long to find. The leaves and vines covering the greenhouse were all coming from the same small pot. The container wasn't even as tall as Kazahaya's hand but there was no way they would be able to lift it with the amount of growth it supported.

"Maybe we should cut it."

"No!" Kazahaya splashed forward. Splashed, because the rain had only increased in intensity and was starting to back up over the floor drains. "Kakei said 'retrieve', not mutilate."

"Okay, what's your suggestion then? You do know it's this plant that's causing this rain, right?" Rikuou sounded grumpy. He looked grumpy too with the hood of his sweatshirt plastered to his head, his coat slicked down across his broad shoulder and chest… Not that Kazahaya was admiring or anything. It's just that he had never seen his roommate soaked to the skin like that before. Rikuou was the kind of guy that always had an umbrella when he needed one. Maybe that's what comes of reading the morning paper every day.

Kazahaya only had one idea. He stepped up to the edge of the table and reached out his hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Rikuou take a step closer as well, moving not toward the table, but toward him. His roommate didn't give any words of warning or try to dissuade his course of action. He never did when Kazahaya used his ability with intent.

His fingertips brushed the thick stem leaving the pot and for a split second, nothing happened. Then an image flashed in his mind – an old man and a young boy working together in a small backyard garden. Somehow, the image of the boy merged with that of the man and Kazahaya was left wondering if they had ever been different people at all.

When he came back to himself, Rikuou had a hand across his back to steady him. He wobbled just slightly but didn't fall and probably would have been fine even without the help. He straightened and turned around to face a too close Rikuou. Unable to move further back, it was up to the jerk to step back, which he did, but only after an awkward moment of closeness – Rikuou looking down at him with a particular look…

"Well, what did you find out?"

"Not much, but I don't think this plant likes being here. We should return it to where it came from." And with that, the rain stopped abruptly and the odd light faded. Rikuou's eyebrows raised in surprise. He sidestepped Kazahaya and reached for the plant and came away with a small potted plant in his hand. All the foliage and the arm thick stalks that covered the greenhouse were replaced with a bush the size of Kazahaya's hand. There was no withdraw of the overgrown tangle, no shrinking, or dying off; it simply was one thing, then another.

"Was it all an illusion then?" They both turned to examine the state of the greenhouse, noted the water on the floor, the flowers and bushes knocked askew.

Rikuou's only answer was to say, "Let's get out of here."

Kazahaya produced a cloth bag from his jacket pocket, sodden, like the rest of him and held it open so Rikuou could conceal the plant from prying eyes on their way back to Green Drugstore. Once secured, the larger teen took back possession of their prize and headed to the door. Per instructions, they locked the door from the inside as they left.

Once outside, it struck Kazahaya just how hot it had been in the greenhouse. Out in the open, the light wind stung his wet cheeks and the water from his clothes began leeching his body heat. In that condition, it was a long 15-minute walk to the train station.

The booth attendant eyed them warily as they purchased their tickets back to Shimokitazawa but said nothing. They got similar looks from the few people in the station as they waited for the train.

It was a tossup as to which was worse – walking out in the open or standing still in an enclosed area.

Finally, he couldn't keep silent any longer. "It's so cold! I hate being cold."

"Oh?" Rikuou had a dangerous inflection in his voice. "Need me to warm you?"

"You are such a pervert."

Rikuou raised an eyebrow and returned to a normal tone of voice. "Don't say I never offered when you're dying of pneumonia."

Kazahaya wanted to complain more, but fear of how Rikuou would twist his words kept him silent until their train arrived.

At such an early hour, there were only a handful of other passengers. It meant there was wide-open space around Kazahaya – no obstructions to watching him, which everyone in the train car did. It didn't help that he elected to remain standing since sitting in a pool of water collected from his dripping clothes seemed wholly unappealing.

The suspicious looks were nearly intolerable. The passengers tried to ignore the two soaking wet boys for the most part but the constant drip, drip, drip tended to pull the eyes up. And each time they did, Kazahaya could practically hear the words, 'and what were you boys up to tonight?'

The upsetting thought came and it wasn't the fact that they'd stolen property, but that they had laid so close together during the course of their thieving they might as well have been lovers. Not that being dripping wet lent itself to theft or intimacy, but the mind doesn't always follow reason.

They weren't even halfway home when Rikuou said, "Kazahaya, you're shivering."

"Huh?" His brain was working a little slow, but so what? "N-not much I can d-oo about that." His chattering teeth didn't help. "Is the-ere?"

Except, his mind supplied him with the sense-memory of the heat of Rikuou's body. Even sopping wet, he imagined that Rikuou would be warmer to lean against than the metal wall of the subway car.

"I was only teasing before, but really." That was Kazahaya's only warning before Rikuou started manhandling him - turning him around and pulling him into Rikuou's chest. Right in front of all these people! He could feel Rikuou's hands – he knew they had to be cold as well, but they were definitely warmer that Kazahaya's – rubbing briskly at his arms and back. "You're going to catch the flu again, standing there like that. You don't even have enough sense to rub your hands together to keep them warm. Here," he pushed them apart and rearranged Kazahaya's arms so that his hands were stuck up between his upper arm and his torso, then pulled them together again and resumed rubbing at his back.

Kazahaya was too cold to push him away, too embarrassed to look anywhere but straight ahead at Rikuou's solid chest. It was hopeless. He could just imagine how his fellow passengers' looks were turning from suspicious to knowing. Maybe they would be too embarrassed by their display to watch them anymore. The thought didn't make him feel any better.

"You're taking a hot shower as soon as we get home."

As if the people on the train didn't already have the wrong idea about the two of them with Rikuou's little show, now they knew the two live together. He couldn't face it. He gave in and leaned forward into the Rikuou's cold, wet shirt. It only took a short time for the warmth of Rikuou's chest to soak through to the skin of Kazahaya's forehead. Somehow, that only made him feel worse.


They left the station by the north entrance and didn't even make it past the new supermarket before breaking into a trot. The added speed warmed the blood and brought a hot shower that much closer.

When they arrived back at the store, both Kakei and Saiga were waiting on the steps to their apartment. Dry, the two appeared completely relaxed, comfortable even.

"Did you complete the assignment?"

Rikuou handed Kakei the bag containing the plant but forestalled any additional questions. "Kazahaya needs to warm up before we do anything else."

"Of course. Make sure you take good care of him. We'll meet in my office in an hour."

"Rikuou," Saiga called after them, "make sure you take care of yourself too." It was an odd talent that Saiga had. That way he had with the tone of his voice that could make any mundane statement sound lewd.


Fifty-six minutes found the two of them warm and dry and standing in their boss's office. Notably absent was the one with the smart comments an hour ago.

"Where's Saiga?"

"Saiga is returning tonight's acquisition to where it belongs."

"With the old man?" Rikuou didn't bother asking for an explanation. One would probably follow, but in truth, he really wasn't that interested.

"Yes."

"There's still something I don't understand. My vision… there was a little boy too. Who was he?"

"The boy you saw was the old man, in a way. You would say that what you saw was a grandfather with his grandson. Over time, the boy became an old man himself. The being you retrieved this morning does not distinguish between them in the same way that you or I would. To one such as that, it has had the same caretaker for its life. A life spanning several generations. When the boy – now man – became ill, his family sold all his possessions to pay for his medical care. The man who bought this special plant was more interested in profit and sold several cuttings. Some have been destroyed, others, recovered."

"This was just a cutting. What about the original?"

"It has already found its own way back to where it belongs.

"You don't mean it…moved itself?"

Kakei stiffled a laugh. "No. There are other, more efficient ways of transport. Subtler."

Kazahaya looked confused, but that wasn't too unusual.

"Like making it rain."

"Yes, a good example, Rikuou. Now." Kakei's tone was a clear sign that the pervious topic of discussion was closed. "I want you boys to go back upstairs and get some rest. I don't want to see you again until this afternoon. You've had a long night."

They were outside the store and back to the stairs before Kazahaya spoke again. "Kakei was unusually forthcoming."

"You think so?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Kakei said rain was a good example. He didn't say it was the actual reason."

"What do you think it was then?"

"Something he wouldn't want to tell us. Something dangerous."

"Think we were in any danger in the greenhouse?"

"Maybe."

"That must have been why you were there."

Kazahaya walked ahead of him, up the stairs, no doubt ready to eat breakfast and head back to bed. Rikuou felt a small smile forming. Kazahaya was changing. Growing. What he'd just said, admitting that Rikuou served a purpose on these missions even when he didn't need to use his ability… His smile suddenly broke out into a full grin. So you finally admit that you need a protector? It always was fun to twist Kazahaya's words. A knight in shining armor?

Rikuou took the stairs two at a time and decided he would only tease Kazahaya to the point of blushing. He'd give over before the shrieks and insults began. Maybe he was changing too.


Author's Note: The inspiration for this story came from official CLAMP art. If you've seen it, you'll know which one I mean.