"I don’t see why you have to be so particular about it."
Touma sniffed at his blond-haired friend. Lover. Comrade. Whatever. Whoever he was, Touma was annoyed at him. He couldn’t very well tell Seiji that the mere sight of bird-shaped daikon reminded him of his first breakup. Not in a crowded restaurant, anyway, and certainly not in one owned by one of his good friends.
It was just a stupid memory. Touma knew that, but Seiji just had to rub it in. Sometimes Touma wondered how Seiji just glided through life, unperturbed by all its small turbulences.
"Here, Seiji." He snatched the daikon piece with his chopsticks and unceremoniously dumped it on Seiji’s plate. "You eat it. I don’t bother you when you get particular about anything."
The blond executed what was dangerously close to a sneer. With perfect grace he lifted the daikon into his mouth, chewing very slowly. His eyes were clear and curious. Touma had the impression that he was going to pry out those supposedly obsolete details before the day was through.
Touma resisted the urge to glare at him. ‘Once upon a time, I was attracted to the way he stayed above it all. Utterly unchallenged. Now it just bugs me.’
"Heya, guys! How’s the food?" Shuu hovered anxiously.
"It’s wonderful, as usual," Seiji said.
Touma nodded. Shuu looked at his full plate. "But you’re not eating anything!"
‘That’s because I was too busy arguing with Seiji.’
Then a familiar voice carried over the noisy restaurant. "...I’m telling you, Shin, that’s a classic! Whoever that guy was, he kept that thing tuned up. And here I thought that engine would stall when he passed us."
Shin was, as usual, listening politely to Ryo though he had no interest in the subject. He was also guiding him past waiters and customers, since the dark-haired man wasn’t looking where he was going.
"Hi guys! Sorry we’re late, but Ryo wanted to race this other madman." He rolled his eyes. Shin didn’t enjoy riding with ‘Speed-Demon Sanada’ but taking the motorcycle was better than getting caught in traffic.
Ryo grinned. "Man, what a bike! You should have seen it, Shuu. An older Shadow model, but it looked and moved like new. Purred like a kitten and what a pick-up!"
Touma shifted in his seat. Speaking of memory-triggers.
"...and you know what he did next?"
Shuu was practically salivating. "Nani?"
"He gunned it! Through four lanes of Yokohama rush hour traffic! I just about died."
Shin shook his head again. "So, how have you and Seiji been doing? With your new job, I mean?"
"Fine," said Touma. "The commute’s a little rough, but I get to work at the labs at night and be at home during the day."
"When you aren’t in class," Seiji murmured. "Or sleeping in."
Shuu reached over and liberated some of Touma’s untouched food. "I bet he had a leather jacket, right? With metal studs?"
"Yeah, he did, but he had this dark helmet on. Could be anybody."
Seiji loosened the collar of his formal jacket. Shin noticed. "Seiji, aren’t you warm in that?"
An odd look flashed on the crystalline eyes. Touma recognized the look as one of acute discomfort. ‘Well, what have we here? If he tries to get me to tell him something tonight, maybe I can make a trade.’
"A little. Maybe I should..." Seiji rose, undid the tie, and stripped off the jacket. Rumpled green silk came into view.
Touma swallowed, recognizing the shirt. ‘This is too weird. That first night...’ He watched Seiji sit back down, his uneasiness now quite palpable. Touma looked around. ‘What now? Are all the battered couches of my life going to start parading through the restaurant? Or am I just looking for him?’ He glanced at Seiji again. ‘I did dry-clean the shirt, right?’
"Hey, Touma." Ryo was talking to him. "I might stay at Osaka tomorrow. Wanna go out?"
Ryo’s bright blue eyes held more than a little temptation in them, but Touma barely noticed. Instead he shot an alarmed look at Seiji. It was true they were all free with each other, but Seiji had been so damned possessive lately.
The lavender gaze was trained elsewhere, the long fingers scratching absently at a cuff.
"Uh, yeah, Ryo. I work that night, at ten. We can have an early dinner."
Seiji squirmed again, and Touma nearly jumped at the movement. Seiji didn’t squirm. At most he’d raise an eyebrow or bite his lip. Or if it was really pressing, he’d leave the room. "Seiji?" Touma whispered.
"Is that shirt bothering you?"
Seiji nodded absently. He’d never change the shirt, of course, but he was admitting it. Touma grimaced at the nasty rash peeking through the collar. ‘Well, they were mortal enemies...’
"...and then he said, well, ’Kuso, my dogs don’t do that!"
There was laughter all around the table. Except for Seiji. As expected, he wasn’t going to give up the shirt, not until Touma brought him home and stripped it off him. Something told him Seiji wouldn’t be in the mood for sex just then.
Suddenly he sat up straight. There was a whisper of a mind in his, subtle as a shadow.
"Ah... I have to go check on something. Be right back."
Touma walked as quickly as he dared. He turned the corner, and instead of going to the restroom, he cut through the ‘employees only’ door: the kitchen. He wove through the cooks and waiters, acting like he knew where he was going. If any of them tried to stop him, he didn’t notice.
At last he was in the back parking lot. "Now, where...?" The adjacent parking garage caught his eye. Searching the shadows, he finally made out a leather-clad figure leaning on a pillar.
A figure which seemed to vanish when Touma got too close. He squinted in the dim light, his eyes used to the glaring sun just a few meters away.
"Okaeri, stranger," a voice said behind his ear. Expecting the move, Touma whirled and easily pushed the larger man against a pillar.
"Konbanha, ’Rou-san," whispered Touma, before the gloved hands caught his collar, yanking him closer. Almost immediately the rough mouth was against his, the sharp teeth teasing his skin. Instinct took over and Touma was slipping his tongue into the warm cavern.
After a few moments, they drew back. Their bodies were pressed together. Touma remembered this was a public place, and his friends were waiting for him, so he stepped back. "What brings you to Yokohama?"
A teasing finger ran down his spine. "You."
Touma bit his lip. He couldn’t ditch Seiji. "Not tonight."
"Tomorrow night, then?"
"Aaah, I’ll be in Osaka then."
"Kujuurou... I promised Ryo I’d go out with him tomorrow night."
The blue-green eyes seemed pleased rather than perturbed. "Rekka? Hah. Saw him and Suiko earlier. I pulled a few stunts. Even through his helmet, I could see his jaw hanging."
Touma ran a hand down the muscled chest, certain the former MaSho of Darkness would shield them from onlookers. "Why do you keep calling us by our yoroi?"
"Well, I’m not on a first name basis with Rekka, just yet." Touma felt rather than saw the thoughtful scrutiny. "Can I at least join you for dinner?"
Touma’s eyes flew open before he realized they were closed. "You want to meet Ryo?" He blurted, even as a particularly interesting mental picture was forming in his mind.
"He has a nice bike. But not well-maintained. I could teach him a few things."
"And do you... want to..."
Kujuurou laughed. Touma liked the sound of it— not that different from when Kujuurou growled. "Oh, poor Tou-chan, everybody wants a piece of his ass." He squeezed his rear for emphasis.
Touma smiled at the taunt. "Well, do you? ‘Cause Ryo nearly wet his pants when he came in. Couldn’t stop talking about you and your Shadow."
/Touma. Where are you? We’re paying the bill. Or trying to, Shuu’s not having any of it./
He jerked away guiltily. /I’ll be there in a second./
"Hai." Gently Touma cupped the chin in his hands, feeling the rough bristles under his fingers. Kujuurou stiffened slightly as the young man kissed the cross-shaped scar beneath his left eye. It was a tradition of sorts, to mark each of their partings. Even though it clearly unnerved Kujuurou, he’d never stopped Touma from bestowing that kiss.
"I’ll find you," Kujuurou promised, before Touma took off for the restaurant.
They stood around Ryo’s motorcycle, exchanging the usual lingering goodbyes. Touma hoped the pungent smells of the kitchen would cancel out the bitter leather scent of Kujuurou. He was careful to stand downwind of Seiji, who had his coat back on. The blond was looking at him expectantly. Touma ignored him. He could have Seiji any day, but when was the last time all five of them had been together, after the war? They’d been so busy with their own lives.
"We’ll start planning on Thursday, right?" Shin was saying to him quietly. Touma nodded. Ryo’s birthday was in another month.
"Hey Seiji! You still planning on that trip to America?" Shuu leaned over the bike. "If you’re stopping by New York, I can give you my Uncle Chin’s number. He’ll let you stay at his place for free. And he’ll feed you too!"
"Thanks, Shuu. I’ll think about it." Seiji replied. Touma smirked. Seiji had no intention of taking Shuu up on his offer.
Then Touma stiffened. Kujuurou was pulling out of the parking garage. Ryo followed his gaze. "Dude! It’s that Shadow!"
"Where?" Shuu turned.
Touma forced his way through the weak psychic link between him and Kujuurou. /They spotted you./
Amusement. /I can see that./
The motorcycle was coming closer. They’d made love on it once, in some deserted park. /Please, don’t, Kujuurou. Not now./
The engine gunned. The helmeted figure gave a short wave and shot out of the parking lot.
"Wow, did you see that?"
/Domo arigatou, ’Rou-san./
Seiji nudged him. "Hey. What’s up?"
"Ah... nothing." Seiji just crossed his arms. Touma was in for it now.
Why did he feel this way? It wasn’t as though Kujuurou were the enemy anymore. And he knew as well as the others that the yoroi bond had a lot to do with their relationships. Kujuurou was another yoroi bearer. So why was he acting like a cheating lover?
Touma closed his eyes reflexively. He could still taste his hungry kiss, feel his whole body thrum with each throaty growl, the sheer intensity of his smell making his heart beat faster. They only saw each other when Touma had time and when Kujuurou was in town, but those few encounters were burned into his memory. After all this time, he was given to fits of shyness with Seiji. With Kujuurou, all his inhibitions flew out the window. Was it because they’d never defined their relationship in words? Or was it the sheer thrill of sleeping with an older, more experienced lover? Or was he just falling—
"Hey, Touma, wake up!"
He opened his eyes. ‘Great. Now Seiji’s really staring at me.’
Shin and Ryo were going to Shin’s apartment. Some part of Touma’s mind wondered why Ryo was so horny all of a sudden. Shuu was going to stay at the restaurant for a few days, then he was going on a surfing trip with Shin. And Seiji was coming home with him. Shin hugged him, Shuu clapped him on the back, and Ryo flashed him a blazing grin. Then they were gone. He let Seiji take his hand as the stars appeared in the dusk-grey sky.
It came out in the car. Touma kicked himself for it, later, but at the time he’d been lost in his thoughts, staring out the window. Seiji’s soft voice had floated over. "What are you thinking about?"
"Yami," he heard himself say.
The car jerked as Seiji floored it. "What did you say?"
Touma gulped. "I was thinking about the night."
"That’s not what you said. You said ‘yami.’ Darkness."
"So?" Well, look who’s being particular.
"Damn it, Touma!"
The words hit him like a physical blow. "Hey, slow down."
Seiji threw him a fiery glance. The light was dim in the car. Was that moisture in Seiji’s eyes? "Shimatta. I still have nightmares about Yami MaSho."
Touma paled. "I— Gomen nasai, Seiji."
The car fell silent. Touma wrung his hands on his lap. Seiji never admitted a weakness like that. He bore them stoically. ‘Since when has he been afraid of anything? And here I am, sleeping with the guy... I can’t tell him now.’ Touma squeezed his eyes shut, trying to smother the hollow feeling in his gut.
‘Wait a minute. What did happened between him and Seiji? Neither of them have ever told me. Then again, I’ve never asked.’ Touma shivered, looking over at his friend. Lover. Comrade. Kujuurou never talked about all the things he’d done in the service of Arago. What if...? He’d ask him next time. He’d have to tell Ryo to meet him at a later time, but he had to know if anything had happened, outside of the battlefield.
‘Touma, curious Touma... what if the answer is yes?’
Once the door of the apartment was closed, Touma grabbed Seiji’s arm. He pushed the jacket off his shoulders.
"Touma, not now."
"No. Just get it off you." His nimble fingers undid the buttons, knuckles grazing the smooth silk. He had a brief flash of Kujuurou doing the same for him, with the very same shirt, right where they stood.
These were very different circumstances. "Jesus, Seiji." The green silk fluttered to the ground. Seiji’s porcelain skin was marred by angry welts and a rash.
Seiji looked down at himself, equally bewildered. Touma took a step forward. Without thinking, Seiji backed up, bumping against the couch back.
Touma stared at him. They hadn’t turned on the light yet, so it was even harder to read Seiji’s expression. What was wrong? He glanced at the lump of green silk, lying there like a deflated skin. Then he realized he must still smell of Kujuurou.
Hastily stripping his own shirt, he towed Seiji to the shower. "Touma, I said not now."
Touma gritted his teeth. "We won’t, all right, but we need to do something about that." At least Seiji wasn’t putting up too much of a fight. He stripped himself and waited in the shower while Touma searched for the mild soap.
Armed to the teeth with soap, shampoo, cloths, and sponges, Touma entered the stall. He missed Seiji’s amused smile as he aimed the shower head at the offending rash. When Touma turned, what he saw was Seiji rigid, with his eyes downturned, his damp hair shielding his face. His hand traced the edges of the rash, leaving him in an almost protective stance.
‘What’s Seiji pouting about?’ Touma wondered as he rubbed soap over the swordsman’s body. ‘That is one mean-looking rash. Is it just some reaction to Kujuurou’s body chemicals? Or is it something psychosomatic? And if it’s that, how did Seiji get conditioned to react like that? Too many questions, not enough answers. I don’t want to push Seiji too far if it’s something really serious, but I should really talk to Kujuurou.’
When he came up to soap his neck, Seiji was finally forced to meet his gaze.
Touma stepped back involuntarily. Now he noticed Seiji’s posture: shoulders slumped, arms covering his torso, back almost touching the wall. His soggy hair and reddened skin made him look utterly vulnerable. With a soapy hand Touma touched Seiji’s face. "Koibito, what’s wrong?"
He could barely make out the whisper. "We used to look forward to showering together."
Touma stopped breathing. That was supposed to be his line, not Seiji’s. He wrapped his arms around him, not knowing what to say. Because it was true—Touma usually got a hard-on just thinking about showering with Seiji. Granted, the fact that they were usually ripping their clothes off probably helped. Touma realized with a start that he couldn’t remember the last time they’d showered together. He was glad Seiji couldn’t see his face.
"Touma, what’s happening to us?" The steamy water seemed to swallow the sound. "We don’t talk anymore. When we do, we argue. You’re never home..."
"I..." have to work, need these classes, let your nightmare fuck me when he’s in town "...know."
"I miss you."
Touma knew he should have said something. ‘I miss you too’ would have been appropriate right then. ‘I have something to tell you’ would buy him loads of trouble but it would be the truth.
What about ‘I love you’?
Nothing would come.
They finished showering in silence.
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