Authors Note: Magic_Mind and Bratchild3 would like to thank you for your continued support of this fic.

Let's get to it! Enjoy!

Chapter 12

Genya, a cab driver who had a "special arrangement" with Soubi, was annoyingly chatty on their expedition across town. Because Genya was such a talker, it was revealed to Ritsuka that Soubi's arrangement was a free night with a client for Genya whenever he upheld a favor for Soubi—tonight being the delicate task of escorting Ritsuka safely into the home of Tokino Fujiwara for the evening.

Opportunely, Genya revealed that he also had a girlfriend—the sick bastard—and that she was pretty upset with him for taking up a job on Valentines day. Ritsuka was pretty certain she had no idea what the job actually entailed. Though that revolted him, it didn't concern him at that moment. He was preoccupied with the notion of sneaking away from Tokino's apartment and making the short walk to Seimei's penthouse on foot.

This girlfriend of Genya's seemed to be sending him near twenty texts a minutes, and Genya had actually been itching so badly to read them that he tossed his phone back to Ritsuka and asked him to read them aloud. This, in Ritsuka's opinion, sided in his favor because it meant that as soon as they were parked, Genya would be preoccupied with his cell phone.

Which is precisely what happened when the cab jerked to an abrupt stop at the curbside.

Genya reached backward blindly for the phone, and Ritsuka handed it over without a second's hesitation. As soon as he was sure that Genya had his nose buried in the lighted display, texting as fast as his thumbs would allow him, Ritsuka left.

Not wanting to draw Genya's attention, he tried to be as casual as he could. It was difficult to take graceful, easy steps. Ritsuka's insides were screaming for him to get a move on already, and not to the Fujiwara household. There was only one place he wanted to be right now - and as far as Ritsuka was concerned, Soubi could go screw himself if he didn't like it.

He looked back at Genya. The interior of the cab was still lit-up, his dark head bent. Cars were speeding by on the cross street, their headlights lighting up the entire courtyard of Tokino's apartments.

Ritsuka glanced up at the building. Like Seimei's, it looked beautiful and expensive, but not overdone. People in this part of town had class, that was for sure.

Several of the apartment windows were lit up. From the slip of paper in his pocket, Ritsuka knew that Tokino's was number 432. Fourth floor, front facing. His eyes scanned to the window he was almost certain was the one. Soft yellow light filtered through featureless curtains; Ritsuka couldn't see anyone watching for him.

He sprinted down the sidewalk, not stopping to spare a glance back at Genya. It was dark and cold again, and it had been raining on and off. The puddles were bright with the reflection of street lamps and a full moon overhead. Ritsuka misjudged his step once and soaked his left foot up to the knee with street water; it made him laugh. It was so similar to the day he had first met Seimei by the cruel vending machine that had eaten his money.

Ritsuka was going so fast that in mere minutes he was there. He paused to take in the sight, gasping for breath as he did. The sconces on the building walls were softly shining with a golden light. Various expensive cars were pulling into the driveway. The building was gleaming with polish, sparkling almost like one of the stars overhead.

Seimei's place.

God, he was so happy to see it. Nothing was going to stop him. Not Soubi's stupid probation or Kio's warnings or Kano's offers. Ritsuka was here because he wanted to be. He burned to know if Seimei wanted him to be too.

With that, Ritsuka raced to the front doors, a smile stretched wide across his face. He reached out for one of the glinting golden handles and pulled.

…the door didn't open.

Ritsuka yanked again, and again, over and over until it felt like his biceps would tear, but, each and every time, the door refused to yield.

Inside, Ritsuka could see a stout man dressed in a blue uniform. He looked to be standing inside a kind of lobby, and he was jabbing his index finger very sternly to the right. Ritsuka felt himself heat with anger. What did that guy want from him? He was trying to get IN, not go AROUND.

Then Ritsuka spotted a white sign with bold, black lettering, posted just to the right.


Ritsuka had no idea he would encounter any sort of problem getting in. But then the only time he had ever been there had been when Seimei brought him, and then they simply pulled into the garage and took the elevator.

Blinking, Ritsuka stepped back, but he looked at the man inside again with pleading eyes. The man's face tightened, and he hitched his thumb toward the sign again. Ritsuka was briefly visited by the wicked thought that if he were to flash what was beneath the Burberry duster jacket he was wearing, the doorman would probably think twice before turning him away.

But that wasn't Ritsuka. He used his body to survive, not to get what he wanted.

Instead, Ritsuka held up his right hand to the side of his face, using his thumb and little finger to make the shape of a telephone. He hoped the doorman would take pity on him and answer the door. Since that's his job, Ritsuka thought bitterly.

The doorman rolled his eyes quite conspicuously before getting up from behind his podium and walking toward the door. He certainly took his time doing it. Ritsuka shivered and rubbed his hands up and down his arms as he waited.

When the man got there, he opened the door only as wide as was necessary for him to stick his head out into the icy wind.

"What do you want?" he asked brusquely.

Several biting and quite snarky remarks popped into Ritsuka's head, but he dismissed them. If he were rude, it would only aggravate the doorman further.

"Please," he said, as kindly as he could. "I don't mean to be a bother. Could you ring the penthouse and let him know I'm here to see him?"

The doorman looked startled. "Mr. Aoyagi? He doesn't usually like to be disturbed. If he wasn't expecting you—"

"He's going to want to see me." Risuka sounded far more confident about that than he felt. In actuality, he was starting to get worried that Seimei would be annoyed at Ritsuka bothering him and tell him to never come back again.

But, no. Seimei wasn't like that. He wasn't. They had met in the middle of the city by chance and he seemed happier than ever about it. He had even introduced Ritsuka to all of his friends.

The doorman still looked skeptical. There was a worried crease between his brow and he was gnawing at his lower lip.

"Really," Ritsuka went on, playing the man's nervousness to his advantage. "If he finds out I came by and he wasn't alerted, he'll be pretty unhappy."

Another moment of hesitation, and then the man nodded and disappeared back inside the lobby. Ritsuka could see him round a large desk and pick up the receiver of a white and gold French style phone.

It was still sprinkling; Ritsuka tried to squeeze the droplets from his hair and comb his fingers through the tresses. Seimei seemed to like looking at him, but every time they had seen each other, Ritsuka had been fresh and prettied-up.

The doorman came back quickly, far too quickly for him to actually have had a conversation. Ritsuka knew what he was going to say before the words even left his mouth.

"Mr. Aoyagi is either not at home or not inclined to take calls at the moment." And then, in what was a clear dismissal, "I'll let him know that you stopped by."

Ritsuka felt his eyebrows draw together. "Did you leave a voicemail?"

The doorman blinked slowly, as though the concept of voicemail was utterly below him.

"Our residents prefer not to use their limited time listening to disembodied voices."

Ritsuka had to really fight to keep the anger out of his voice. "Well, could I at least wait for him inside?"

"As the sign clearly states," the doorman replied pompously, gesturing once again to it, "no visitors are permitted without a keycard or permission of an occupant."

A sudden disturbing thought occurred to Ritsuka: perhaps the reason that the doorman was so rude was not Ritsuka himself, but how he was dressed. Sure, he was wearing a coat, but maybe the doorman could guess that only scantily arranged bits of fabric were underneath. Maybe the doorman could just SENSE that Ritsuka was a prostitute. Maybe the sign's entire reason for existing was BECAUSE prostitutes tried to get into the Montebello Gold, hoping to snag clients who paid handsomely.

"Okay, Thank-"

The door was slammed in his face.

Dejected, Ritsuka turned and began making his way slowly back toward Tokino's apartments. He had been feeling so hopefully about this, so elated. He was sure Seimei would be happy to see him. And now…

Now he was wondering how he could have been so stupid. It was Valentine's day, after all. Valentine's day, and Ritsuka had honestly assumed that Seimei would just be sitting around at home, and alone on top of it.

He was probably out on a date. A real date. With a real person. Not a prostitute he had paid for, but someone he was actually interested in as a human being and not just someone who was able to perform sexual favors.

Ritsuka clutched his stomach. It hurt so bad to think about. What kind of person was it, anyway? Probably taller than Ritsuka. More handsome. Or pretty? Maybe Seimei was in the market for a wife. Someone he could raise a family with and show off to his family. Not some lowly little rent boy who looked barely fourteen and fit for nothing more than a porn film.

He choked on a sob as Tokino's apartment came back into view. This was his life. A new apartment every night. A new client every night. Some good, some bad. Some disgusting. And one-Only one-who had enough in him to break Ritsuka's heart.

Not caring very much how he looked to this new client, he didn't bother smartening himself up at all. Hell, maybe this guy was into the just-beaten, smeary-eyed hooker look.

This building had a lobby as well, but he was able to get inside and look at a call box on the wall. He depressed the button for Tokino and was instantly met with a reply.

"Soubi sent me," Ritsuka said, realizing he sounded about as unenthused as he felt.

"Perfect. Please come right up."

The button for Tokino lit up green and Ritsuka heard the elevator off in the corner open its doors. With a sigh, Ritsuka got inside, pressing the button for Tokino's floor.

The elevator took him up gently, while pleasant but bland music filtered in through its speakers.

When Ritsuka arrived on the correct story, the doors opened with a chime. The hallway before him was clean and smelled like citrus cleaning products. The place seemed well-kept and reasonably priced. The kind of place Ritsuka always imagined himself in, back when he still thought his art could support him. Back when he still had dreams of a better life.

Tokino's apartment was number 432, the last door on the right. It was already standing ajar, and a man in some comfortable-looking slacks and a dark green sweater stood in the doorway. He smiled at Ritsuka, and his teeth were perfect. Just as expected—the man was an orthodontist, after all. The smile was real. It wasn't forced and the warmth of it reached his eyes. Though this eased Ritsuka's mind a little, nothing about it made Ritsuka's heart somersault or his stomach flutter with a single butterfly.

"Hi," Ritsuka said when he reached Tokino. He kept his hands deep in the pockets of his jacket. Beneath the folds was an ensemble fit to make a stripper blush. Thigh high fishnet stockings with a red garter belt and matching red micro shorts that were so tiny, the white belt with the heart buckle was nearly as wide as they were long. His top was asymmetrical—a tight, nearly see-through white which had a spaghetti strap on one side and a short sleeve on the other. It left his midriff bare. Kio had hooked a silvery chain across his navel, and the red heart-charm fell just below his belly-button.

"Hi, Ritsuka," Tokino said, it a friendly voice that made Ritsuka feel like he were a patient in a dentist's office. He stepped aside. "Please come in. It's extra cold tonight. I have it all warmed up inside."

Ritsuka nodded politely and stepped around Tokino into the comfortably warm apartment. The interior was all modern abstract; the furnishings were black iron with curly-cue legs, and every surface was dotted with some sort of mini-sculpture or vase twisted into unusual shapes, all of them in loud colors. The couches were hot red-they looked cushy, but were again an extremely unusual shape. Ritsuka had the impression he had just stepped into the pages of a Dr. Seuss classic.

"Can I take your coat?"

Ritsuka smoothed the surprised frown that had formed before turning around. He managed a smile that had Tokino's widening. "Sure."

Instinct was actually telling him to clutch his coat tighter, but he viciously stamped it down. Shyness would do nothing except delay the inevitable. So he undid the oversized buttons and casually pulled the garment from his shoulders, all inhibitions draining away in the face of defeat.

Tokino whistled lowly, in an appreciative manner which came off as more impressive than creepy. "Kio must be the genius behind this ensemble. He always likes to play devil's advocate."

It took Ritsuka a moment to decode what Tokino meant by that. Normally the phrase "devil's advocate" conjured images of his crotchety old grandfather (who had passed away several years ago), arguing with the rest of the family about politics, defending points of view he didn't even hold himself. Ritsuka didn't understand how such a phrase related to Kio and the wardrobe he had chosen. But then Ritsuka realized that maybe Tokino was actually twisting the words on themselves: treating them as a veiled slight on Soubi's character. If Kio was his advocate - his right hand man in the business of selling the bodies of young boys - then surely Tokino must mean that Soubi himself was akin to the devil.

Tokino seemed to know that Soubi wasn't an upstanding gentleman, not by any stretch of the imagination, and that put Ritsuka more at ease. Sometimes he couldn't stomach the thought that anyone could view Soubi as a good-hearted entrepreneur.

Ritsuka laughed ruefully. "Kio likes to do a lot of things where Soubi is concerned."

Tokino smiled knowingly. "Yes, I sort of figured that. He's not exactly…subtle about their relationship. If it can be called that. But anyway, let me show you to the bedroom."

With that, Tokino gestured toward a softly-lit hallway. He walked in its direction with a casual grace that Ritsuka could identify but not appreciate.

Ritsuka's heart pounded as he followed Tokino down the hall. Soubi had been right; Tokino was certainly not disgusting, and he held onto that small miracle, reminding himself of that over and over. He was a perfectly normal man and was treating Ritsuka with as much courtesy as any prostitute could hope to receive.

A small voice in the back of his mind whispered that Seimei always showed him MORE courtesy than a prostitute could hope for, but Ritsuka did his best to stamp it out. Seimei was off doing God knew what with God knew who, and Ritsuka wasn't doing himself any favors to think about him right now. Wherever Seimei was spending the night was none of Ritsuka's business anyway.

Ritsuka's business was here, in Dr. Seuss's apartment, unveiling himself for money.

"Soubi has me under strict orders to call Genya and assure that he is waiting outside before I allow you to leave my residence."

Ritsuka's fingers faltered on the coat button he had been doing up. He peered up at Tokino, trying hard not to scowl. It was quite a job. It wasn't exactly easy for Ritsuka to hide what he was feeling, and Soubi pissed him off far easier than anyone in his life at the present. But he couldn't tip off Tokino that he was beyond frustrated at this restraint.

"Did he?" He asked, pleased with himself that it came out so smooth and disinterested.

"He did."

"I see he has everyone firmly programmed to treat me like a prisoner. How typical."

"Indeed. He must prize you greatly to go to such lengths." A pause. "Would you like me to help you with that?"

"No, I've got it. Thanks."

In his frustration, Ritsuka had begun fumbling and it took him a few tries to get the rest of his buttons fastened properly. But he had managed. He smoothed down the front and cleared his throat.

"I thank you for your unswerving devotion to his majesty. Call Genya yourself and I will wait with you until he shows up. It's no problem."

Tokino smiled his clinical smile; a smile that suggested true kindness but was detached and impersonal.

"Please have a seat, then. I'll give him a call and we can have some drinks while we wait."

Ritsuka nodded and took a seat on one of the couches. The hot red color almost burned his eyes when he was this close, but it WAS as cushy as he had suspected. Tokino was bustling around the tiny galley kitchen, pouring something carbonated into two glasses.

Idly, Ritsuka reflected that this was the first time he'd gone on a job alone with a stranger. (With Seimei, he had been alone both times, but Seimei didn't seem like a stranger to Ritsuka, not even that first time. So he didn't count.) Ritsuka thought he had handled things as well as could be expected. He almost felt guilty at how calm he was right now. It wasn't right to start thinking of intimacy so….casually. But Ritsuka thought that was better than the alternative: to wretch and cry over what had just occurred. Nothing could take it back now – and nothing was going to keep food on the table for him besides this. He might as well accept it.

But despite his calmness…Ritsuka DIDN'T really accept it. Some part of him was still hopeful that this life wasn't permanent.

Tokino came back into the living room then, holding out a glass. "It's Perrier." he said. "Thought we could use some hydration after all the excitement." He smiled like this was a inside joke between the two of them.

Ritsuka took the glass and drank some, instantly deciding that he hated the taste of carbonated water. Fizz and bubbles were for soda. Water was supposed to be smooth, and simple, and pure.

"Want to watch some TV while we wait?" Tokino asked, not waiting for an answer before he switched on the flat screen.

Ritsuka didn't know what channel the set was on, but whatever it was showing was clearly a commercial. A glittering cartoon castle was towering over a lake. It was nighttime, with a gigantic silver moon in the background, and Ritsuka could see two slender figures on the screen – holding each other and kissing.

The very next thought in Ritsuka's mind was of Seimei.

But he was like a king, wasn't he? Handsome, as royalty always seemed to be presumed; surrounded by luxury; beloved by all who looked upon him; able to pick and choose his company and entertainment. Hired boys, Ritsuka thought savagely. The prettiest ones. And he didn't know really which was worse-Seimei with hired services, or Seimei with normal people doing normal things, like he was doing tonight. He looked at the clock above the mantlepiece, which was a twisting, wrought-iron nightmare that made Ritsuka think of Alice's bizzare Wonderland. Nearly midnight. Surely a proper date would have ended by now. Surely a proper date wouldn't end in certain intimate festivities.

Ritsuka's heartbeat began to accelerate. He could try one more time before going back to The House. This would be his sign. If Seimei was still gone, or worse, if he already had someone with him, then Kio was right, and Kano was right, and his highness Soubi was right and Ritsuka needed to give up the dream. But...

Ritsuka looked back at Tokino, who was casually sipping his drink, content as you please. But if Seimei was there, if Seimei was alone, if Seimei was happy to see him... He had to try. But how would he escape the ridiculous escorting to Genya? Maybe Genya would take him by Seimei's place if Ritsuka offered to give him a- no! Ritsuka sat bolt upright, terrfied at his own thoughts. What the hell was happening to him? He needed to snap out of it. This wasn't like him at all. This wasn't who he was. Soubi was changing him, and he couldn't let it happen. He would make it to Seimei's place, and he would do it without favors. Good old fashioned manipulation was the only way to go.

Somehow, he'd have to use evasive maneuvers. And if it came down to it, he'd simply go back to The House and get Kano to help him sneak out again. He wouldn't be deterred, no matter what.

As Ritsuka plotted, coming up with schemes that were unlikely and ones that might actually work, something miraculous began to occur. Tokino was drifting off. He had set down his cup and had engaged Ritsuka is light conversation in which Ritsuka had all but ignored, feigning interest in whatever television program had been showing, and suddenly Tokino had nodded off. Ritsuka watched him carefully out of the corner of his eye.

Yep…he was dead to the world. The man didn't snore, which didn't surprise Ritsuka. But Ritsuka could still tell that he was in a heavy sleep by his deep breathing. Just to test it, Ritsuka tapped his glass against the coffee table, balancing himself carefully on the edge of the sofa. He was extremely alert to even the slightest sound or movement. Tokino didn't move an inch.

And that settled it.

Ritsuka left the glass on the coffee table and stood up with the utmost care. The last thing he needed was to trip, or upend his glass, or cough. He tiptoed carefully toward the door. Ritsuka's coat was already on and he had brought nothing else to the apartment; there were no stray belongings to pick up along the way.

Opening the door as slowly and quietly as he could manage, Ritsuka spared one glance over his shoulder at Tokino – making sure that he was still fast asleep, and not just pretending in order to catch Ritsuka in the act of sneaking away. But no…Tokino was dreaming. His eyes were flickering back and forth beneath the lids.

Ritsuka didn't spare a thought to wonder what he was dreaming about. He slipped through the doorframe and was gone.

By the time Ritsuka reached Seimei's complex, he was panting. He had left Tokino's place at a run, and just in the nick of time. Genya had just turned onto the street as Ritsuka sprinted out of view. He had been sure that he hadn't been spotted, but that didn't stop him from doubling his efforts all the way to his destination.

He stopped on the doorstep of the lobby, hunched over with his hands on his knees until his labored breath was somewhat under control. As he unfolded himself and stood upright, there was a sharp tap on the glass door. He started, then blew out an irritated breath as he recognized the same doorman as before. He was staring, completely unimpressed, a "what now?" expression on his face.

Ritsuka raised his hands palm-up and shrugged, keeping his shoulders up to indicate his intended questioning. "Is he home?" he mouthed slowly.

The doorman shook his head, then made a shooing motion. Ritsuka nearly stuck out his tongue, but decided it wouldn't do him any good. Instead, he turned his back to the man and proceed down the first two steps of the porch. It was held up by Corinthian columns; Ritsuka sat on the second step and leaned against it.

Maybe the doorman was lying. Maybe he just didn't like the look of Ritsuka and was keeping him from Seimei because he didn't think he was good enough to be in his company.

Maybe he was telling the truth, and Seimei was still out with God-knows-who.

Ritsuka sighed. It looked like he had two choices: a) to leave immediately and go back to The House or b) stay and wait for Seimei to return, whenever that would be.

If he went back to The House it would all be for nothing. He'd have pissed off Soubi royally, basically admitting that he wanted to see Seimei even though he was on probation. Part of Ritsuka WANTED Soubi to know that. He was tired of operating under Soubi's assumption that Seimei was bad news. But in the end, nothing good would come from it (and probably, something bad would: Soubi would surely extend his probation). Plus, going back to The House now felt painfully like giving up. Didn't he have a dream he was chasing? Didn't he come here for a reason?

If he stayed and waited, though…

There was a possibility that Seimei would return WITH his mystery date. Ritsuka didn't know if he could stomach that. Seeing Seimei actually, romantically, interested in someone else, Ritsuka would probably throw up on the spot. Maybe he could throw up ON whoever it was, he thought with bitter humor.

But there was also a possibility that Seimei would come back alone. That he would smile at Ritsuka and be happy he came. At the very least, he might be flattered that Ritsuka cared enough to show up.

With this, Ritsuka felt resolute. As long as there was a chance of something good coming out of it, he would wait for Seimei to come back, no matter the risk.

Crossing his arms over his knees, he closed his eyes and leaned the side of his head against the column. Thoughts of Seimei chased itself around his brain until he was no longer sure where the thoughts ended and the dreaming had began. But in it, Ritsuka was caged and Soubi was standing in front of it, brandishing a set of keys and telling him he was on probation until he agreed to marry Kano.

Kano was nowhere to be found, but when Ritsuka turned his head, he saw that Kio was in the cage with him. At least, he had thought by his silhouetted profile that it was Kio—same hair cut, same lanky frame, same saddened, puffy-eyed face. But when the man turned his face to the light, Ritsuka saw that it wasn't Kio at all. It was himself, ten years older, and a hundred times sadder. The pain of disappointment and heartache was etched into every line of this grown-up Ritsuka's face.

"Seimei," Ritsuka whispered. This was because of Seimei. This was because Seimei never came for him.

"Ritsuka," his older self said. "Ritsuka, wake up. Wake up now."

With a wrenching force, Ritsuka managed to extricate himself from the dream and open his eyes. Seimei stood before him, crouched to Ritsuka's level, both hands on his shoulders.

Disoriented, Ritsuka blinked up at him, confused about his surroundings. He managed a small sound that had the unmistakable rise of a question at the end.

Seimei smiled, and Ritsuka shivered. The cold from the pavement had seeped into him, bone-deep.

"But what are you doing on my front doorstep?" Seimei asked, not unkindly in the least.

"Waiting for you," Ritsuka answered simply, remembering suddenly where he actually was and what was happening. The upshot was that Seimei had indeed come home, and he didn't appear put out by Ritsuka's presence at all. The warmth in Seimei's eyes and voice was wrapping him in a toasty, comforting sensation. And suddenly he felt safe and like he was exactly where he was meant to be. It was the same emotion that enveloped him every time he saw Seimei, or thought about him, or heard his name. Ever since the first day they had met.

As if to prove Ritsuka's delusions right, Seimei removed his coat and pulled it around Ritsuka's shoulders. "You're freezing. Let's go to my car. I have the heater on high."

Wordlessly, Ritsuka allowed Seimei to take his arm and hoist him to his feet. Seimei took him around to the passenger side of the Rolls Royce and opened the door for him. He jogged back to the driver's side, blowing into his hands for warmth once the door was closed.

"How long have you been waiting there?"

Ritsuka shook his head. "What time is it?"

"Near two AM."

"Two hours then. I got here at midnight. The doorman was kind enough to lend me his porch." There was no mistaking the bitterness Ritsuka felt toward that man.

Seimei's eyes cut to his, then back to the forefront as he pulled into the garage. His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but Ritsuka noticed it.

"The next time you want to see me, the doorman will have been informed that you're always welcome. He'll show you to the penthouse. I'll make sure of that." Seimei said, and there was a hard edge to his voice. Ritsuka had never heard it before. Instead of feeling worried or scared by it, though, he felt reassured. He felt…protected. The image of that commercial on Tokino's television came back into his mind, only this time, the silhouettes were of he and Seimei, only this time, Seimei was a knight on a white horse, saving Ritsuka from the evil…doorman.

Ritsuka laughed to himself. He was unable to help it.

Seimei came to a smooth stop in his parking space, making a polite questioning noise as he did.

"It's just…" Ritsuka began, before deciding he didn't want actually share the image in his mind. "Thank you. I'd really like that."

Seimei's smile lit up the entire Rolls.

When they got into the penthouse, there was a fire going, same as before. It was the only light in the place, and red and gold light danced around the walls.

"Have a seat," said Seimei, busying himself with taking off his coat and gloves and setting his briefcase down in the entryway.

Ritsuka plopped down onto one of Seimei's couches – so much more refined and timeless than the ones Tokino had. He suddenly felt gloomy. Imaginings of where Seimei had just been flooded his brain. Who had he been with? What had they done? Was he eager to see them again? Had he had a good time?

Boldly, Ritsuka decided to inquire.

"So did you have fun on your date?" he asked, glumly. He couldn't keep that pitch out of his voice.

Seimei laughed, like Ritsuka had made some kind of joke. "Date?"

Ritsuka didn't understand why Seimei was trying to hide it. It's not like they were together and Seimei had been cheating or something.

"You weren't here earlier." Ritsuka told him. "I waited for hours, and it's Valentine's Day. You must have been on a date."

Seimei laughed once more, but this time, it sounded more baffled than amused. "No…I was at work. The law doesn't stop for February 14th, I'm afraid."

That was unexpected. "…oh."

Seimei was unfastening his cufflinks when he idly asked, "Why? Were you jealous?" There was a playful smile on his face.

"…maybe." Ritsuka muttered, half embarrassed and half sullen.

Seimei froze in place, one hand still raised. Ritsuka met his eyes and some kind of…something…passed between them.

Seimei looked away, though, and the moment was broken. He finished with the cufflinks and rolled his white shirtsleeves up to his elbows. If Ritsuka saw his hands shake just a bit at the end, it must surely have been his imagination.

"Is there something I can get you to drink?" Seimei asked. He seemed to be looking anywhere but at Ritsuka.

Ritsuka thought about the last thing he had drank. Tokino's not-so-pleasant Perrier. He could still taste its strangeness on his tongue when he swallowed.

"Something sweet?" He asked, tentatively. "No alcohol."

"I think I have just the thing. Make yourself comfortable." Seimei disappeared for a moment and returned with two bubbling glasses. "Sparkling cider?"

Ritsuka smiled up at him from the couch, where he had settled himself close to the fire. "Perfect. Thanks."

Seimei handed Ritsuka his glass, then sat beside him. It wasn't as close as Ritsuka preferred, but it was still companionably close; not the way two mere acquaintances would have sat. Seimei took a long sip of his own cider before setting it down on the coffee table. When he spoke, it was with his full attention.

"What was it you wanted to see me about?"

Ritsuka was immediately arrested by that perfect amber color of Seimei's eyes. They looked extra dark tonight, almost brown. He felt the warmth of it like the pleasant burn of whiskey in his stomach. Or at least, the way he had heard people describe whiskey. And with it, a nearly painful stab of sharp arousal. This, he thought in awed wonder, this is how Natsuo and Youji could work the streets and STILL be hard up for each other. One was work. One was honest desire. Neither were dependant of the other.

"Well, I..." he cleared his throat and blinked, snapping himself out of it. "I was just in the neighborhood so I thought I'd say hi."

He was aware how very lame that answer was, but it was as honest as he could make it without scaring Seimei off with talks of obsession and behavior that was borderline stalker-ish.

Something in Seimei's eyes seemed to freeze-but perhaps that was the wrong word. The warmth didn't leave, rather seemed to solidify and become brittle as glass.

"I see. Soubi had you working on Valentine's day." It was not a question, but there was a strain there in the honey-smooth tone. One perfectly manicured, masculine hand tightened around his cider glass.

Ritsuka had a sudden yearning to feel that grip tightening around more personal places. He looked downward, a blush heating up his face, and nodded.

There was an extremely heavy silence.

Ritsuka squeezed his hands between his knees. "But it's after midnight. It isn't Valentine's day anymore, and it's my day off. I'm allowed to do whatever I want, not whatever Soubi tells me to. So I came here. I thought maybe I could teach you to sketch."

Seimei blinked quickly several times, a small smile blossoming onto his face. His grip on the cider glass loosened.

"That would be… very enjoyable." he said. Ritsuka could hear the sincerity in his voice.

But a sudden worry struck him. "If you've been at work all this time, though, you must be really tired. I should let you sleep. We can always do the sketching again some other time, if you still want to."

Ritsuka was almost to his feet when he felt Seimei's hand on his thigh, holding him in place. The warmth of it burned through his bottoms, and Ritsuka's mouth went dry.

"I'm tired but the last thing I want right now is for you to leave," Seimei said. "There'll be time for sleep later. I promise the clock won't stop because we're sketching together." he added with a small chuckle.

Privately, Ritsuka felt like the clock DID stop when he was with Seimei, in some ways, at least. But that wasn't something he felt he should really voice. Instead, he smiled back.

"Have you got some papers and pencils?"

"Hmm. I may have to do some digging to find any pencils. You stay here and get warmed up."

In all honesty, Ritsuka would have killed to see more of Seimei's penthouse. He'd also love to search about in his drawers and see what sort of things he kept there. His mother used to always tell him that one could learn a lot about a person by what he kept in his drawers, and how he kept it. Ritsuka was pretty certain Seimei's was militarily organized. Probably filed by color as well. But then maybe not. Just because Seimei was tidy didn't mean he was borderline OCD about it.

His musings on the possible contents of Seimei's drawers managed to keep him occupied, and it didn't take long for Seimei to return with a thin stack of paper and a handful of plain yellow number 2 pencils. Each one was sharpened to perfect points.

"Okay, Ritsuka." He opened his fingers and let the pencils roll off his palm onto the coffee table. "What will we be sketching tonight?" He sat himself beside Ritsuka again and handed him one of the papers. He kept one for himself and laid the rest of the stack on the table.

Ritsuka searched about the living room, considering. "Hmmm. It should be something relatively simple to start with."

He paused on their cups, thinking that would probably be the best option. But cups were so boring. He wanted this to be fun for Seimei. Memorable. He wanted Seimei to look back on it and smile.

A grin overcame him. Seimei seemed to be unable to help but grin back. "Has the fine young artist decided on a subject?"

Without breaking eye contact, Ritsuka reached into the front pocket of his coat and produced a small square item, glinting blue in its foil packaging. "I have."

Seimei collapsed against the back of the couch, laughing louder than Ritsuka had ever heard him laugh before. "I see." he said through his amusement. "Is this the traditional way to begin studying art?"

Ritsuka giggled. "I wouldn't know. I never took a formal class."

Seimei made an impressed-sounding low whistle. "And to think that you can do all that without training."

To cover up his spectacular blush, Ritsuka reached for one of the pencils. "Well…you want to get the basics down first." he said, hoping to sound knowledgeable and scholarly. "You have to walk before you run, after all. A condom package is good for your first still life because –"

Ritsuka interrupted himself by glancing over at Seimei, who had recovered from his hilarity, and was watching Ritsuka with a mixture of contentment and interest. It was clear that Ritsuka had his full attention.

It was a heartbeat before Ritsuka realized he was still in the middle of a sentence. "It's good for your first still life because it has 90 degree angles while still having some decent opportunities for learning how to shadow 3D objects."

"I am your grasshopper, O Learned One," Seimei said with mock-solemnity, taking up his pencil. "Teach me The Way."

The teasing and jokes came easier as the lesson moved forward, and in barely any time Ritsuka had released all his inhibitions. Seimei was just so easy to be with, to talk to, to laugh with. He had to use his eraser a lot, and unfortunately he didn't have any of the neat white plastic erasers that Ritsuka liked to keep on hand. The end result was that Seimei's sketch had a cloud of gray surrounding it from so many erase-jobs, but it turned out rather well for a first attempt. He clucked his tongue when Ritsuka told him so.

"You're too kind. Really."

"Now you have to sign it," Ritsuka told him. He picked up Seimei's deserted pencil and handed it back to him. "Bottom right corner. Name and date."

"Anonymous won't suffice?"

Ritsuka shook his head. "No, it has to be signed and dated. It's important. Memories aren't accurate enough. You have to record things otherwise it can get skewed. You can forget."

Seimei stared at him, then nodded slowly. "Yes. I have photos that are dated, with names on them, for that very reason. You're extremely bright, Ritsuka. You think deeply about things."

"I care about my memories," said Ritsuka. "Shouldn't everyone?"

Another nod. "To memories," he said, and signed and dated the sketch.

Ritsuka itched to ask if he could keep it, but he didn't know how to say it without seeming too weird. Instead, he made Seimei promise to keep it himself.

"You need something to compare your drawings to as you get better. You'll see your progress. Keep it, okay?"

Seimei kissed his fingertips and crossed his chest with them, just over his heart. "I promise. I'll start a Ritsuka lesson sketching portfolio. How's that?"

"That's acceptable," Ritsuka said. He felt satisfied that there was an open end to these lessons, and that it wouldn't end here. He'd have a more solid excuse to come back next time.

"Goodness." Seimei was looking at his watch. "It's after four AM. Allow me to drive you back. I want to assure you get there safely."

Ritsuka's smile faded quickly. "But, um, I thought…," Shyly, he picked the packaged condom from the table and held it up. "Don't you want to use this before I go?"

"Use it?" Seimei repeated, almost absently. He was staring, very clearly thunderstruck. "But it's your day off."

Under ordinary circumstances, Ritsuka was pretty certain that he would take this reaction as an insult. He would think Seimei didn't want him and that was why he didn't immediately swoop Ritsuka into his arms and carry him off to the bedroom.

But fortunately for Ritsuka, he paid far more attention to Seimei than simply the words coming out of his mouth. He noticed the pulse point in his throat become more erratic, his warm eyes darkened, he swallowed audibly, and he seemed to be fighting to keep his gaze from straying downward.

Emboldened by these signals, Ritsuka pushed himself up to his knees on the couch. "I told you," he said, and began unbuttoning the coat. "I'm allowed to do whatever I want on my days off."

Seimei's eyes seemed to pop when he peeled back the coat and let it fall from his shoulders. He'd been in trampy outfits in front of Seimei before, but this one really seemed to take the cake. Perhaps it was all the red. Or maybe it was how decorative all the charms were-Seimei seemed to get stuck when he spotted the heart charm dangling around Ritsuka's flat navel.

"You can touch it," Ritsuka told him. He had no idea where this sudden ostentatious behavior was coming from, but it seemed to be working. Seimei reached out and pressed his index finger to the belt of the belly chain and slid it down the long charm, the metal pressing into Ritsuka's skin, heavy with promise.

Ritsuka swallowed back a moan. He was already becoming aroused. Heat had flooded into him from every angle, pooling low in his stomach. Breathing rapidly, he pulled down his micro shorts and tossed them away. Seimei's eyes became very round; but he seemed pleased. This only served to bolster Ritsuka's inexplicable confidence. He fisted his hands in the collar of Seimei's shirt and pulled himself into his lap, anchoring his knees on each side of Seimei's hips.

"I want to play," Ritsuka whispered against Seimei's lips. "I feel like I'm burning up inside and you're the only one who can make it better."

He was met with no resistance when he cuffed Seimei's wrists and pulled his hands up to his waist. Once Seimei had a secure hold there and Ritsuka was sure he wasn't going to let go, he lifted the condom and tore it open with his teeth, holding eye contact.

Seimei's eyes were glassy with what Ritsuka hoped was want, pupils dilated to twice their normal size. Suddenly Ritsuka felt him dip his fingers underneath the elastic band of his underwear. Seimei rubbed hot circles into Ritsuka's skin.

"Come closer," he murmured, voice deep, pulling Ritsuka forward in his lap.

Ritsuka scooted closer and felt their bodies touch. Seimei's heart was pounding. Ritsuka could tell, even separated as they were by their shirts. Seimei's chest was hard, neither overly muscled nor skin and bones, and he was looking down at the two of them, transfixed.

It was quite a picture they made, down at the bottom. They were hip-to-hip. Seimei's were shifting minutely back and forth; Ritsuka knew he was trying to create some friction there. It was clear that Seimei was as excited as he was. Ritsuka arched his back, pressing himself against Seimei's arousal even as he made the curve of his bottom more accessible to Seimei's hands.

Seimei exhaled sharply, like the wind was being knocked out of him. Ritsuka felt his hands caressing and clenching, caressing and clenching.

"Do whatever you want. I'll handle this part." Ritsuka told him.

Seimei's answering nod seemed to cost him a great deal of effort.

And with that, Ritsuka slid his hands down from Seimei's shoulders to the miniscule bit of space between their hips, and rubbed with slow, heavy strokes. He was pleased to see the profound effect it was having; the bulge there swelled beneath his touch, growing hotter and firmer. Ritsuka traced a line through the slacks from base to tip, his own blood spiking up several degrees at the whimper this earned him.

Seimei's hands-strong and gentle and teasing and just right-felt their way back to the front. He caressed downward, over the thin top, Ritsuka's bare midriff, pausing to tug at the chain, circle his belly button, tug his lacy underwear almost roughly to the side.

Ritsuka tore open Seimei's slacks, feeling around inside until he had a proper grip to pull him out through the opening in the front of Seimei's boxers. He rolled on the condom, then snapped his arms around Seimei's neck and pressed their mouths together.

The kiss lingered, moist and quivering. Seimei's tongue brushed briefly against his, and Ritsuka answered back with a determined thrust of his own. His arms relaxed, hands trailing along Seimei's collarbone to his shoulders. He ripped open the shirt, letting buttons fly, and felt the vibration of Seimei's laugh tickle his lips as the shirt was discarded. Ritsuka broke away from the kiss and pushed Seimei down onto his back.

He positioned himself, Seimei's hands gripping his hips again. It was hard, and fast, and deep. He found a position which angled Seimei into a spot that made Ritsuka cry out over and over and ended things for both of them with quick, blinding intensity.

Seimei was gulping for air when Ritsuka came back to himself, his dark head still resting back against the plush arm of the couch, his amber eyes closed. His curls were more defined around his hairline, and damp with sweat.

Ritsuka, his lingerie now twisted and bunched, fell forward onto Seimei's chest. His head found the perfect pillow on Seimei's shoulder, and he pressed his face against the side of his neck. The crown of Ritsuka's head just touched Seimei's jaw line. Softly, like a flower closing in on itself for the night, Seimei's arms enveloped him.

They lay there for long moments, Ritsuka listening to the sound of their heartbeats coming down, and Seimei's breath just riffling the top of his hair.

And for the first time in what felt like an insufferable amount of time, Ritsuka felt like he was exactly where he was supposed to be, and that everything was right with the world.

Hours later, Ritsuka was jolted awake by a loud banging sound. He jumped in Seimei's arms and found that Seimei had been just as abruptly pulled from sleep. His eyes were still dulled with fatigue, but he was looking around wildly. Seimei had fallen asleep shortly after their activities, totally exhausted. Ritsuka had watched him sleep for a few minutes, debating the merits of getting up and going back to the House. It wasn't long before he had decided fuck it, then closed his eyes and let sleep take him.

"What was that?" Ritsuka asked, trying not to look scared.

"I don't –"

The banging came again, louder this time. Ritsuka could place it this time: it was someone knocking on the door. They sounded insistent.

"RITSUKA! Get out here! I know you're in there!" the someone shouted. Scratch 'insistent.' They sounded pissed.

"That sounds like –" Seimei began.

"Kio," Ritsuka finished for him, dully. He slumped against Seimei's chest. "He's all in an uproar because I didn't go back last night."

"But isn't it your day off? Why does he –"

"Ritsuka if you don't open this door RIGHT NOW, I swear to God – " Kio shouted, and started pounding on the door over and over again without a pause.

Seimei seemed torn between uncertainty and faint amusement. "Perhaps we should answer that."

Ritsuka sighed. "Yeah. He might have a heart attack out there."

Seimei chuckled as Ritsuka got to his feet. His clothes were in absolute disarray: his shirt was bunched and wrinkled, underwear askew and half off, fishnet stockings rolled down to his calves. Ritsuka made an effort to straighten everything out into its proper place, doubting that he would be able to hide what had happened between them even if his clothes were immaculate. He was sure he reeked of sex.

Ritsuka couldn't help watching as Seimei stood up and tucked away everything below the waist. Whether he forgot to button and zip his slacks or simply didn't care to, Ritsuka couldn't guess, but Seimei did retrieve his shirt from the corner of the living floor. Only after he slid his arms through the sleeves did he seem to remember that the buttons had all been ripped off.

"Well," Seimei said, looking down at himself and laughing. "Maybe I can pull it off as some kind of fashion statement."

"Yeah…" Ritsuka replied distantly. Standing there half-dressed, Seimei was damn hot. Not that he wasn't always, but the deliciousness of him in such dishevelment made Ritsuka want to attack him all over again. Probably he would have, too, but he was out of condoms.

"RITSUKA!" Kio screamed suddenly. "GET OUT HERE NOW!"

Seimei moved to the door, not a lick of confidence gone. The dignity with which he opened it and said "Why, hello Kio. Good morning to you," was in such stark contrast to his obviously defiled appearance that Ritsuka had to cover a sharp burst of laughter with both hands. Seimei shot an amused look back at him, over his shoulder.

"Why do you hate me, Seimei Aoyagi?" Kio asked, with exasperated calm. "I've been a good artist, have I not? I've turned scores of droll little boys into beautiful butterflies. I've put in a good word for you. I've done all the dirty work for you, being the third party point of connection between you and Soubi so you don't have to talk to him yourself. So I just want to know. I just want to know why you hate me."

"I find hate to be a rather strong and distasteful word," Seimei answered. He leaned into the doorframe, supporting himself with a forearm. "And I fail to see what our neat little comradeship has to do with—"

"Save it," Kio snarled. "Just give me back Ritsuka. He's up to his cute little panda bear panties in trouble. Got it?"

Seimei looked interested. "Ritsuka has panda panties?"

Kio looked barely able to keep from slapping Seimei across the face. His hair was puffed up like an agitated chicken and his eyes seemed to flare up in purple rage.

Ritsuka appeared at that moment, ducking beneath Seimei's arm to dart through. He was fumbling his belt, trying to quickly refasten his micro shorts.

"I don't understand, Aoyagi," he snapped. "You have never had a favorite before. Why now?"

Seimei merely shrugged, looking colder than he did when he were alone with Ritsuka, but seeming unperturbed by Kio's foul mood. "Maybe there's just never been anyone good enough to gain my favoritism before now. Other clients have favorites. I'm allowed one as well."

"Wrong one, Seimei!" Kio squawked, flailing his arms about. "You picked the wrong favorite!"

"Forgive me if I disagree," Seimei said, and he flashed a smile in Ritsuka's direction. Ritsuka promptly smiled back, feeling like a co-conspirator with Seimei, the two of them against the world.

"Well, tell that to Soubi, why don't you?" Kio demanded. He yanked Ritsuka through the doorway by his sleeve. "He put Ritsuka on probation for spending so much time with you!"

One of Seimei's eyebrows arched up with a dangerous sort of calm. "Is that so?"

"It is so! Soubi wants you to stay away from Ritsuka!"

There was no trace of humor left in Seimei's features. "And if I don't?"

Kio boggled. Ritsuka could tell he was beyond infuriated at Seimei's response, and that he was also totally devoid of an adequate answer to the challenge.

"Soubi's personal feelings on the matter don't dictate the company I keep." Seimei said.

"That's the problem with you, Aoyogi," Kio said, sounding positively vicious. "Nobody's personal feelings matter to you."

Seimei only stared.

"Come on, Ritsuka," said Kio gruffly. "We're leaving." And he steered Ritsuka down the hallway in the direction of the elevators.

Ritsuka barely had a moment to look over his shoulder and shout "bye!" before the doors were closing on the image of Seimei, standing in the doorway and watching them go.

A/N: To be continued!