tofsla_fic: (Default)
homsan toft ([personal profile] tofsla_fic) wrote2014-02-21 10:26 am

Silver Bullet (Yagyuu/Niou)

Prince of Tennis, Yagyuu/Niou, E
9,000 words
Niou is a force of chaos & the new year is a time for change. Futurefic.

The train ride home to Yokohama managed to create the illusion of taking longer and longer with each successive day of the week until, on Friday evening, Yagyuu felt as though the jolting journey across miles of twilight-grey city would never end. In reality the journey took perhaps an hour all told – Shimbashi, Shinagawa, out through places which had grown and grown until they jostled against each other, no room to breathe, no way to tell where one ended and the next began. It had seemed like the most natural thing in the world when he was growing up here – but he'd been other places since, and no country that he knew had cities which fought for space like Japan's, crowding themselves onto every piece of land flat enough for houses and train tracks.

Yokohama station meant a change of trains, making his way through crowds to make it to the steps down to the subway – somehow it gave a perpetual feeling of fighting against the tide, as though everyone else was always going somewhere else. Today it was worse than usual, packed with the first rush of people going home for the new year; on the mainline platform icy rain gusted its way onto the crowds, drawn along in the wake of the trains, and the subway smelled of damp. Yagyuu had been looking for nothing apart from the quickest route home, and he almost missed the slouched figure with a mess of bleached hair pushing his way across towards the exit. It was probably only a coincidence anyway.

Even so, the first thing Yagyuu did when he got home was phone Yukimura.

"Do you know who is likely to be back in Kanagawa for the new year?" he asked when he'd finally got through, trying number after number from the book of scribbled contact details he kept until he found the right one. "I was wondering. I haven't seen anyone but Yanagi in a while now."

Yukimura hummed thoughtfully. Yagyuu could hear him walking around, opening and closing cupboards. "Sanada will be, and I will be as well – but only for a day or two. Akaya is busy, and Jackal is still in Brazil for Christmas."

No mention of Niou. Just a coincidence, then, possibly. He could ask, but somehow the idea was mildly uncomfortable. Niou wasn't someone, something, he talked about.

He had a feeling Yukimura could guess at the intent behind his question anyway -- or at least a part of it.

Given a city with a population of three and a half million, a station the size of Yokohama's, the chances of seeing someone you knew twice in a few days purely by chance were unreasonably slim -- so it should have been with rather more surprise that Yagyuu realised, as he got off his train from Tokyo on Monday evening, he was being watched by someone who looked suspiciously like the man he'd caught a glimpse of on Friday. Who looked suspiciously like Niou.

It was almost certainly not a chance meeting, though, if it really was Niou. It seemed as though he was waiting for him (waiting for someone), leaning against the wall by the ticket barriers, hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Yagyuu had always thought he'd recognise Niou instantly, anywhere, but it was only when he got really close that he was actually sure.

Niou raised a hand in greeting -- same smirking expression, same sharp eyes, same chemically abused hair. That hair was longer and he was wearing more trendy clothes, but...

"Hey, Yagyuu," he said, drawling Yagyuu's name, just as though they'd last seen each other the day before to fit in some extra tennis practice. "Got time for a drink?"

The bar Niou found was small and almost empty so early on a monday evening. They sat together side by side, suited businessman and Niou, whoever the hell Niou was now -- even more of an odd pair than ever before, and they'd always been odd.

Yagyuu was less than certain that he wanted to be here. Niou played too many games, was too hard to get to – but wasn't that why you liked him in the first place? – and it had been a long time. People changed, sometimes. Usually. The memory of Niou, headaches and frustration and all, might be better than the reality of a man he just didn't know.

"What are you doing in Yokohama?" Yagyuu asked eventually, not expecting a real answer, not surprised when Niou's smirk sharpened to a knife edge, his eyes challenging.

"If I told you I'd have to kill you."



Yagyuu caught himself on the edge of sighing, gave Niou a long, hard look, and shook his head. Old habits, old games. Maybe this would be alright, for a while. "Are you certain you could?"

They watched each other, genuine wariness mixing with pretence until Yagyuu was not sure which was which.

Eventually Niou grinned, laughed, half the sharpness vanishing, the most jagged edges tucked away for the moment. "I just wanted to see your pretty face."

Lying, Yagyuu supposed, must become a force of habit if you did it for long enough. A compulsion, perhaps. Niou had always lied often, outrageously and convincingly, with the intent of being believed and the intent of concealing other lies or maybe even truths. The rest of the world had been left to struggle its way through the tangle of his words. Yagyuu had been good at it, in relative terms. For what that was worth.

"Charmed, I'm sure."

"You're so cold." Niou's fingers were in his hair almost before Yagyuu knew it, tugging through it, leaving a little more chaos in their wake. They curled around one arm of his glasses on their way out, as though Niou intended to pull the lenses away from his face.

Yagyuu caught his hand.


"Mm. Yagyuu? Not gonna let me see you properly?"

"You can see me well enough," Yagyuu told him, voice perfectly calm, perfectly steady. "You are causing a scene. Don't you have things to do?"

His voice sounded warmer than he had intended, but his hand did not relax on Niou's wrist - Niou could find weakness like a shark sniffing out blood, and Yagyuu had seen him do that often enough in the past. He had no wish to observe the process up close and personal.

It was Niou who gave. The flash of frustration on his face barely lasted an instant, but it was there. It might have felt like victory, and would have if Yagyuu's memories of Niou were less clear, but it was in all probability closer to a declaration of war.

"I told you," he said smoothly, "I just came to see your face."

Bullshit, Yagyuu thought.

But it still seemed natural to let Niou follow him home, invite him in before he had to ask, find him a set of pyjamas to sleep in and make room for him in the one – mercifully double – bed his apartment contained.

Years ago, Niou wouldn't have cared if he'd been invited or not. He used to climb up into Yagyuu's room if he had to, if he'd felt like it, and Yagyuu would wake up to find him stretched out on the floor, or curled on one corner of the bed, or (just once) sleeping beside him, pressed full-length against his back, an arm draped over him. Niou had made a joke out of it. Yagyuu hadn't pushed to find out what was behind the lie. At the time he had been young and a little afraid.

This older Niou still made jokes which hid the truth and needled for reactions -- but something about the way he was acting as they got ready for bed felt different, far more cautious. Less casual than they were used to. Had been used to.

It was hard to fall asleep, sharing a bed with someone who might as well be a ghost from his past. He didn't realise he was even close to managing it until he jerked awake in the darkness, starting out of a dream which was already slipping away from him.

Beside him, Niou shifted restlessly; Yagyuu couldn't tell if he was really asleep or not. Real or pretend, though, Niou looked different when he slept. It was more marked now than it had been, the way his face relaxed, but Yagyuu remembered that change. Perhaps he still knew Niou well enough.

Not that Yagyuu was watching him. Not that he'd watched him a whole lot of times in the past.

Did Niou know about that?

The next time Yagyuu opened his eyes it was lighter outside, but the glimpse of sky visible through his window was still blue-grey, fading towards dawn.

Niou wasn't lying in the bed beside him. There was a brief, disorientated moment when he wondered if his memories of the previous evening didn't belong to some fast-fading dream -- but the sheets on the other half of the bed were a tangled mess, and when he padded through to the living room he could hear the shower running.

Niou emerged ten minutes later, fully dressed, towelling his hair dry.

"You're an early riser these days," Yagyuu commented, passing Niou a cup of coffee.

Niou took it, moved past Yagyuu into the kitchen, began rummaging through cupboards until he located the sugar. "Sure. Disappointed you didn't get to wake me up?"

Yagyuu turned away, cradling his own cup between his hands, focusing on that rather than the man standing behind him – carefully reburying old wishes and desires.

"What do you really want, Niou?" he asked, the question directed at the tiled wall of his tiny kitchen.

Niou laughed. There was the sound of a cup being set down, and then he was there, right behind Yagyuu, leaning in close so that his breath was loud in Yagyuu's ear, his damp hair tickling the back of Yagyuu's neck.

"I would've thought it was obvious."

His fingers slid across Yagyuu's hip, tracing the line of the bone – and then he was moving away, back to a safe distance, probably ready to laugh it off, and Yagyuu had to remind himself to breathe normally.

"I see," he murmured. "Excuse me, I have to get ready for work. I will leave you my keys."

When he got home the apartment seemed to be empty again – but a large, surprisingly smart holdall had been dumped on the sofa, and there was beer in the fridge. That probably meant Niou was still around, although it could mean that he'd decided to carry out some impromptu subletting of Yagyuu's home. Anything, as far as Yagyuu could tell, was possible.

When Niou showed up again it was through the window in the living room, ducking inside from the tiny ledge that might have been meant to be a balcony once, phone and packet of cigarettes in hand.

"Some view you've got," he told Yagyuu. The phone was tucked away into a pocket; the cigarettes just seemed to vanish somewhere.

The block of flats was near the Shinkansen tracks, and Yagyuu lived on the top floor, high enough to overlook the earth embankment and the trains, racing along even this close to Shin-Yokohama. It kept the rent down, and he'd long since adjusted to the noise.

"You like watching the trains pass," Niou carried on, telling rather than asking. ""D'you ever think about just getting on a train and leaving?"

Yagyuu glanced away – that was getting to be a bad habit around Niou; not one he'd ever had before. He made himself look back again, expression calm.

He could go to Tokyo station, change - take the Shinkansen as far north as it would go, and then a slow, rattling train across the dragon's neck into Hokkaido. Mile upon mile of space, empty countryside, buried under snow. He could go to Shin-Yokohama and take a train for the long haul south, down to Kyushu - or take a ferry even beyond that, out into the blue where winter hardly existed at all. He had thought about it often, standing in a monochrome huddle of commuting businessmen on one platform or another, waiting for the train he took five days out of seven or sometimes more. His life was coming to be defined by trains.

"It would not do any good," he said out loud, because that was the conclusion he'd long since reached about that kind of impulsive behaviour.

"And it'd do less harm that you think. You love your job so damn much?"

"No." Sometimes he thought it might drive him mad to keep doing it, day on day, sitting behind a desk in an office, doing paperwork, keeping records.

"So do something different."

Yagyuu was tempted to say that the world didn't work like that, but it'd be the answer Niou expected. He'd have an argument ready, and another, and tomorrow Yagyuu would find himself sitting in one of the airplane-like seats of some Shinkansen or other. Nozomi, Hayate... that part, Niou would say, was not important. He could feel the shape of the future beyond that becoming more uncertain, less sharply defined.

"I'm not you," he said instead.


"Yes." No. I don't know. It was a long time ago and it was never supposed to mean that much. A practical joke played one summer more than ten years ago, there and gone, but somehow it had left echoes.

Why else had he let Niou come walking back into his life like this?

"I think you're a liar."

"I suppose you should be able to recognise one by now. What is it they say? It takes one..."

"Fuck you," Niou snapped, then shrugged, pushed whatever burst of emotion had just made it to the surface away out of sight. Yagyuu watched him, expression carefully still, but that was it.

The response, no, I don't think so, was right there on his lips, but he couldn't quite bring himself to say it. It would have been a very Niou sort of thing to say. He turned away, moving into the kitchen, putting the bags of food he'd bought on his way home down on the counter, rummaging through them for everything he needed, leaving Niou to decide whether he was in a bad mood or not.

"I thought we could have salmon tonight," he said, filling silence. Niou didn't answer., stayed silent in the next room while Yagyuu cooked, focusing hard on what he was doing, chopping ingredients with perhaps slightly more than the required force. They ate in silence, too. Yagyuu felt uneasy, thoughtful, confused.

He couldn't guess what Niou felt, not really. But he wasn't surprised when it was the sofa Niou chose to settle down on for the night. There wasn't really a way to ask Niou to share his bed with him which didn't sound like an invitation they probably weren't ready for, so Yagyuu left it, lay down by himself and tried not to think too much about the whole thing. About Niou, his mysterious reappearance and his confused advances; or about trains and journeys and leaving it all behind.

The phone was ringing in the next room when he woke up – 7:15 am, and cold enough that dragging himself upright and stumbling through to answer it took considerable willpower.

On the sofa under borrowed blankets Niou was beginning to stir, eyebrows pulled together in a frown – maybe at having his sleep disturbed.

Yagyuu picked up the phone, watching Niou while he could.


"Ah… Yagyuu-san?" a woman's voice, not one he could identify right away, though there was a hint of something familiar to it. The accent, perhaps.

"Yes. Who's speaking?"

"Niou Emiko."

"Niou-san," Yagyuu said out loud, for the benefit of the Niou half-asleep on his sofa. Niou's eyes snapped open, expression defaulting to wary – maybe not so half-asleep after all. If Yagyuu remembered correctly, Emiko was Niou's elder sister. He'd only met her once, for about ten minutes, but Niou had always sworn she was totally insane. It was the nicest thing Yagyuu had ever heard him say about a family member. "This is unexpected. What can I do for you?"

"It's about Masaharu," she told him. "I guess I don't even know if you guys are still in touch, but…"

"I haven't seen him in a very long time, " Yagyuu told her, eyes fixed on Niou's face. "Years."

"No phone calls? Nothing?"

"I'm afraid not. Is there a problem?"

"Ah… not as such. But if you hear from him, tell him to get in touch. He's got my mobile number."

"I will. I hope he is well."

Emiko gave a forced laugh. "When isn't he? I'd be more worried about the people around him."

"I suppose that's true," Yagyuu said, hoping he managed to sound more amused than bitter. "I'm afraid I have to get ready for work now. But I will contact you if anything comes up."

He hung up, still watching Niou.

"You don't have work today," Niou told him, yawning, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his palm.

"And you're hiding from your family. That was your sister, by the way."

"Yeah, I know," Niou muttered, pulling himself upright. "No-one else'd be smart enough to try calling you. Fuck, your sofa's like sleeping on a rock."

"I didn't ask you to sleep there."

Niou shrugged. "You didn't ask me not to."

" That's beside the point."

"Yeah? What is the point?"

"Why are you here?"

Niou fell silent, expression irritated, and turned away.


"Didn't you fucking answer that? I'm hiding from my family, apparently."

Yagyuu took a step forward, knowing he was pushing Niou's limits and not much caring. "There are a great many places to go where your family wouldn't think to look for you. But you came here. We haven't spoken in—"

"Whose fault is that?" Niou snarled, and suddenly they were face to face, Niou's eyes as angry as Yagyuu had ever seen them. "You made your choice."

There was so much tension in Niou that Yagyuu wondered if he was about to get punched, found himself bracing for it – but Niou stayed where he was, staring, angry, and maybe expectant.

"I went to study abroad. You knew I was going. I don't remember saying I never wanted to speak to you again."

He'd sent Niou an email with his phone number and postal address in London. Niou had never used either. It hadn't been surprising.

"But you—" Niou broke off, subsided a bit – not much. Yagyuu could see he was already beginning to put all his defences back up. Niou had never liked showing anyone what he was really feeling. He liked saying what he was feeling even less.

He knew Niou hadn't wanted him to leave, but he'd never said it out loud, and Yagyuu had been tired of guessing every single thing, constantly reading between the lines. "What did you want me to do?" he asked, reaching out instinctively to touch Niou, fingers brushing a line down his cheek. Niou flinched, eyes narrowing, but he didn't pull away entirely. It was Yagyuu who jerked his hand back, uncomfortable as he realised how intimate a gesture he'd made.

"You know what I wanted. You knew."

"Yes," Yagyuu said. "But I wonder if you did."

Niou looked away, and Yagyuu suppressed a sigh. "Perhaps you should phone your sister and tell her you're not dead."

"Huh," Niou glanced around, helpless and trying to hide it. "I guess it'd be a shame to piss off the only relative who actually gives a shit."

Yagyuu reached for the phone, handed it to Niou, turned away and made for the kitchen as Niou punched in his sister's number, giving him space. He could still hear Niou's end of the conversation, see him stretching out on the sofa again, phone cradled against his ear.

"Yo, sis."

A pause.

"Sorry, no."

"Yeah, I bet she will be. Don't tell her I'm ok, I'd hate for you to bring her bad news in her fragile state."

"Oh, him? Yeah, I told him to keep quiet."

"—hey! I don't."

"I'm not going. Look, they can go fuck themselves or drop dead or—"

Yagyuu busied himself heating water, getting cups out, anything to not just stand and stare at Niou talking about his family. By the time he'd made tea for both of them Niou had hung up and was curled up on the allegedly rock-like sofa, not looking inclined to move.

He left Niou's tea on the low table nearby and sat himself down in the small space left below Niou's feet, staring into his cup.

"That sounded as though it went well," he murmured.

"As well as it ever goes," Niou said, groping for the cup, almost knocking it over in the process. "Was home last week. Mum's really sick, but not too sick to hurl abuse. I didn't hang around."

Just abuse? Yagyuu thought, but didn't ask. "Ah."

"Emiko thought we should kiss and make up before mum dropped dead or something. She's still fucking insane, I guess."

It was a remarkable burst of communicativeness on Niou's part. Yagyuu took what he was given, and didn't push his luck any further.

Niou must've come looking for him after fighting with his family. Was that old instinct really so strong? Yagyuu wasn't entirely sure what he should make of that, or of the fact that Emiko had been able to guess where Niou would be. There was a definite sense that he was missing something.

"You want to get away from them," Yagyuu offered. Niou shrugged.

"Shouldn't have gone near them in the first place."

"Hmm." Tomorrow was the new year and train services would be difficult to negotiate today, packed with people going to see their families, going on holiday, travelling back and forth across the country. All with places to be. "I'm not going to see my family for the new year. Stay here."

Niou hummed what was probably an agreement, tugging the blankets back around himself and closing his eyes. Not always an early riser, then – or just in denial about the existence of the world for the moment.

The morning was slow to warm up, but Yagyuu set out on foot anyway, hands gloved, scarf covering his mouth. He walked close to the train tracks, rarely more than a block or two distant, working his way north; the embankment rising on his left, the sun hanging low in the sky on his right, pale and ineffectual.

Niou had been half awake again by the time Yagyuu had dressed and left, but not enough to want to join him. It was probably as well – the cold morning air felt as though it was clearing his head, making everything sharper and easier to understand, and he still had plenty to think about.

By the time he'd made his way slowly around the supermarket, trying to decide on food, a decision had cemented itself in his mind.

It was early afternoon when he came back, face flushed from the cold, to find Niou awake, upright, and on the verge of raiding the kitchen for whatever he could find.

"Thought you'd bailed," he told Yagyuu, smirking and sure – a world away from the way he'd been that morning. "Gonna feed me, or what?"

"If a bento is alright."


The quiet as they ate felt a bit more companionable, less strained.

"How do you feel about Hokkaido?" Yagyuu asked eventually, matter of fact.

"Never been."

"That can change, if you like."

Niou paused, put his food aside. "If that's meant to be a subtle hint—"

"Not especially. I've got train tickets to Sapporo."

There was another moment of silence, then Niou started laughing, a little too hard. "What the hell. Let's do something crazy. I knew you had it in you somewhere."

The train north from Tokyo was packed. Niou sat by the window, and Yagyuu sat next to him, holdalls shoved in the luggage rack over their heads, pressed side to side and pretending it was out of necessity rather than desire. Yagyuu had barely been to the north of Japan, and it didn't take long for the scenery speeding by outside the windows of the train in the fading light to become entirely unfamiliar. This didn't feel real – the train, the speed with which he was leaving all the places he knew, Niou's warm presence next to him. Niou was staring out of the window, and Yagyuu alternated between that and watching Niou himself. It wasn't a habit he had any wish to break, if he was honest; the only problem with it was the thoughts it left him with, warm and awkward and making him want to touch Niou more than ever. Eventually he had to lie back in his seat and close his eyes, willing his imagination to leave him alone; sleep would have been a good idea, but he only dozed, hearing the name of station after station, half-aware that the train was becoming more empty as they made their way north.

By the time they changed there were barely any people, and a lot of them left the station, hurrying to homes or to a place to stay for the night. It was late, dark, even colder now the sun was gone – and all Yagyuu was feeling was a sort of lightness, distance, as though the world couldn't touch him. There was just Niou, so familiar again now that it was hard to believe how wary he'd been only a couple of days ago, so easy to let back into the centre of his world.

They waited on the platform for the next train, huddled together. Niou lit a cigarette, took a drag, offered it to Yagyuu; he imagined, fleetingly, that he could taste Niou there, somewhere under the chemicals and smoke. When Niou reclaimed the slightly battered cigarette he took it straight from Yagyuu's lips, fingers brushing over sensitive skin so that Yagyuu had to fight down the urge to respond, lean in towards Niou, seek more. Niou's expression bordered on teasing, and Yagyuu was sure he knew the effect he was having.

The question was whether he still thought it was a game or not.

It was half an hour before the train arrived, stubby and sluggish after the bullet-nosed Shinkansen, and even at this time of year it was almost empty so late at night. Who wanted to arrive on the coast of Hokkaido at one in the morning on the first day of the new year?

The train journey, rattling through countryside, through tunnels under mountains, along the empty coast, felt like travelling to the end of the world – just them in a little cocoon of warmth and light, and the moon reflecting off the eerily still sea, and then a plunge into total darkness which didn't lift again as they left the mainland, diving down beneath the dividing sea.

Beside him Niou yawned, stretched, shifting around in his seat.

"What do you want to do after all this?" Yagyuu asked. Niou turned to look at him, eyebrow raised. "You can't run away forever."

"Watch me."

Niou didn't sound angry, just matter-of-fact.

"Perhaps I don't want you to."

"Fuck you, Yagyuu," Niou said – but almost, almost softly, so that it sounded like something else. "We're not kids any more. Don't tell me what to do."

"I never told you what to do," Yagyuu pointed out, staring out at the darkness. "I made suggestions. Sometimes you liked them."


"I'm suggesting that you stay with me."

It was easier to say these things to the darkness, late at night; still hard enough, but easier.

Niou didn't laugh, but he didn't answer either.

Midnight brought them to Hokkaido, crawling along towards Hakodate, the stars more brightly visible even from inside the train than Yagyuu had ever been used to – at home, or in London, or in other cities he'd visited. Across Japan the bells in temples would be being rung, and people would be beginning to celebrate, maybe already travelling to watch the sunrise.

"Happy new year," Niou muttered, and when he shifted in his seat again Yagyuu became intensely aware of just how close together they were sitting, Niou's leg pressed against his, their arms jostling for space. Niou's fingers brushed across the back of his hand, and Yagyuu started, surprised.

It could be an accidental touch.

Niou was looking sidelong at him, smirking.

Not an accident.

"Don't," Yagyuu murmured, unsure why he was speaking so quietly. If he spoke louder, perhaps something would break. "You should take care who you tease, Niou-kun."

"Worried I'll get scared and run away if you touch me?" Niou said, practically purred, and there was the faintest hint of anger there now.

"You have given me no reason to believe otherwise."

"I'm not seventeen any more."

But have you grown up? Yagyuu wanted to ask. Perhaps Niou could pick up the unasked question, because his expression darkened and he leaned in towards Yagyuu, pushing into personal space – making a point?

Yagyuu made himself hold on to his calm exterior, though he had no idea how to act now, whether to reach out and take or push away. Knowing which he wanted was not the same as knowing what was needed.

Niou's breath was warm against his mouth.

He gave up, twisted around to press Niou back into his own seat, leaning in over him, their mouths almost touching. Niou took an unsteady breath, staring up at him.

"You had better be sure," Yagyuu murmured.

The train was beginning to roll through the outskirts of what must be Hakodate. Lights drifted past outside the windows.

"Fuck you," Niou breathed, curled a hand around the back of Yagyuu's neck, tugged.

Yagyuu barely remembered to breathe, lost and dazed and instantly more aroused than he'd thought possible from just a kiss. His hands tangled hard in Niou's hair until Niou let out a low hiss of what was probably pain – but he never tried to stop Yagyuu, never tried to pull away. If anything he tried to match him, fingers digging into Yagyuu's neck, into his shoulder, no gentleness there at all.

It was almost a shocking revelation – that they could do this, touch like this, and neither of them had to fall apart or back away. That it wasn't really so terrifying after all.

They only broke apart when the door of the carriage hissed open, the conductor walking through for one last ticket check. Yagyuu sat back in his seat, eyes closed, forcing his breathing to become more steady, not quite daring to look at Niou until they were alone together again.


"Don't even," Niou told him, smirked, settled back in his seat – and didn't speak any more for what remained of that leg of their journey.

Yagyuu shifted, restless, and tried not to think too hard.

Hakodate smelled of the sea – salt and ice and a definite but mercifully background hint of fish. They had hours to kill before the first morning train to take them the rest of the way north, and sleep felt a long way away, so they walked through the streets for a while, passing groups of people here and there, glancing around at the clusters of western-style buildings that dominated the town. They seemed out of place amongst Japanese sign-posts and shops, familiar and unfamiliar blended in a disconcerting way. There was a little snow on the ground, scraped carefully away from the pavements and roads, enough that Yokohama would have ground to a halt in confusion but obviously not enough to make much of an impression here.

Their breath clouded in the air. Niou, beside him, looked a bit like a ghost – white hair hanging around his face, pale grey coat tugged tightly around him. It was harder to avoid watching him than ever, and in the end Yagyuu stopped even trying.

It was too cold to stay put anywhere for long, but eventually they found themselves in a park surrounded by old, grand buildings, a few hours before dawn. The snow was coating the ground here, criss-crossed by footprints but still looking fresh and white. Snow at home turned to slush within hours of falling. Though it was hard to tell in the dark Yagyuu thought the slope of the park faced down towards the harbour and the sea; away to their left Mount Hakodate loomed as a darker patch against the horizon, the only piece of land as far as they could see which wasn't covered in lights from streetlamps, shop signs, homes. The viewing station on top of it seemed to be suspended in thin air, bright and isolated. It added to the surreal feeling which was beginning to take hold of Yagyuu, a product of too little sleep, too little caffeine, and all the other strangeness of the day.

In his mind he couldn't stop replaying that kiss, the two of them clutching at each other, the brief illusion that they'd never need to let go. Where might it have ended, uninterrupted?

What might Niou look like when he came, maybe with Yagyuu's hand on him, or Yagyuu's mouth?

If they had sex, what would it be like?

His imagination supplied a whole series of answers, shockingly clear – apparently something below the surface of his mind had devoted quite a lot of time and effort to this subject.

He glanced away from Niou, grateful that his eyes were mostly obscured by his glasses, grateful for the lack of light, and took a deep breath of cold air.

"New year's a time for change, huh?" Niou said. Yagyuu looked back at him to see him staring down the hill at nothing much. His eyes flickered across to meet Yagyuu's for a moment, mouth curling into a smirk. "I guess we've got that bit down."

It's a time for firsts, too, Yagyuu thought. It was hard to suppress the images that thought inevitably summoned back into his mind.

"Variety is an important part of life," he murmured, giving Niou a hint of a smile.

Niou laughed, smirk becoming something more like a grin. "Sure, mister nine-to-five."

"I'm here, aren't I?" Yagyuu said, still low, stepping closer to Niou again. It was… an experiment, maybe.

Niou didn't pull away, or even look away. So far, so good. Yagyuu hadn't thought to do much more, but it was tempting—

Niou's lips were cold and dry against Yagyuu's, but then he opened his mouth, warm tongue sweeping across Yagyuu's lips, and Yagyuu couldn't help groaning into the kiss, pressing his body full-length against Niou's. Niou made an urgent little noise, so quiet Yagyuu wasn't sure he'd heard it, and his hands were on Yagyuu's hips, holding, making sure Yagyuu didn't pull away. Yagyuu bit at Niou's lip almost reflexively, licked at the spot he'd bitten, was rewarded by Niou cursing under his breath and rubbing hungrily up against him.

It was quiet around them, but still, anyone could see – that thought should have bothered him more, been enough to make him pull away, stopped him running his hands down Niou's back, feeling the curve of it through layer upon layer of fabric it was far too cold to consider removing. All that stopped them, once they were nearly panting into each other's mouths, was the need to move before the cold worked its way any further into their bodies.

They walked back towards the station as the sun was beginning to rise, the horizon behind them lightening. The surreal feeling was growing stronger, making everything feel distant. It was so easy to let go, he was coming to realise, when Niou was right there and willing – easy to forget about the consequences, too, until they regained enough space to stop acting on instinct and hormones.

He was tired and aroused, and right now it was easy to forget about the consequences full stop. Just why they shouldn't do anything was becoming less clear in his mind – had been becoming steadily less clear since he had discovered just why Niou had taken up residence on his sofa, even though the logical part of his mind knew there were things they needed to resolve before any of this was a good idea.

The train was standing at the platform as they entered the station, feeling the shock of warmth after the cold of the town at night. There weren't too many people travelling today, not like the rush of the day before, but the train carriages had enough sleepy-looking passengers. They found their seats, settled gratefully into them.

Niou was asleep before the train pulled out of the platform. He could sleep anywhere, Yagyuu thought – but he was coming to realise that he was tired enough for his usual inability to sleep properly on public transport to be overridden. The only part of the journey he remembered was being woken by the conductor for their tickets, and then the chime of the train's speakers, Sapporo. The next stop will be Sapporo. This train terminates here…

Sapporo felt open, full of broad streets and pavements, and in summer it would obviously have been full of green – trees and parks and gardens. Right now it was grey-and-white, much of its life hiding in covered arcades or sprawling underground shopping centres, out of the cold.

They ate late breakfast together in the first open cafe they found, tucked away on a corner table, watching people come and go – almost everything was shut, but there was no feeling of being in a hurry to do anything. It didn't matter.

Niou seemed relaxed, and that relaxed Yagyuu.

They booked into a hotel early in the afternoon; a twin room in a place which was cheap and clean, though not a whole lot more could be said for it. Yagyuu wondered if Niou might comment about his choice of room, but he stayed silent as Yagyuu filled out his details and got the key. It was possible that this just meant he was choosing his moment.

However basic, the room was a welcome sight. Yagyuu hadn't realised how desperate for sleep he was until there was a bed right there.

"We really gonna sleep in separate beds?" Niou asked, just behind him, as Yagyuu put his bag down. His hand brushed against Yagyuu's neck, a hint of the teasing that had so often been common between them. Yagyuu suppressed a shiver.

"Yes," he told Niou, his voice almost entirely steady. "I need to sleep for a while." And then they needed to at least try talking. They probably wouldn't get far.

The light when Yagyuu woke up again was low, fading into evening. Niou was sitting on the other bed, legs stretched out in front of him, battered book in hand. It made an odd picture, though Niou often used to sit and read in Yagyuu's room when they were in school. So I don't damage my spotless reputation, he'd said.

A substantial part of Yagyuu's mind just wanted to go back to sleep; it was difficult to surface, collect his thoughts and make himself leave the warm cocoon of the blankets on his bed. Discipline was not a problem he usually had, but it had been a very strange couple of days.

Niou, though upright, looked dazed too – unfocused. Yagyuu had a suspicion that Niou wasn't so much reading right now as staring at a book. He looked up when he realised Yagyuu was awake.

"Huh, you're alive."

"Nominally," Yagyuu muttered, forcing himself to sit up and find his glasses instead of drifting back to sleep. At least the room was reasonably warm. "What time is it?"

"Fucked if I know."

Yagyuu fumbled around for his watch – a quarter past five.

"We should go out," he suggested. It would wake him up, and they needed to find food in any case.

They walked out into Susukino district half an hour later to find it full of neon lights, more populated now than it had been during the day, full of all sorts of people. A little like Shinjuku, Ikebukero West, a thousand other places across the country where legitimate and questionable businesses crowded together, sometimes barely distinguishable.

Niou seemed at home with it all. It wasn't surprising. He'd always liked Tokyo's busier districts – he wasn't a fan of people, Yagyuu knew, but he did enjoy watching them, in a detached sort of way. Sometimes when they'd gone out places together they'd sit somewhere with a good view and Yagyuu would listen to Niou make up stories about people passing by. Funny; he'd forgotten that. Strange things could be triggers for memories.

It was away from the main crowds of that district that they finally stopped to eat, though, in a bright little restaurant which served bowls of soup or curry, fragrant and so spicy Yagyuu wasn't sure he'd be able to taste anything else for the rest of the night. It was almost empty, strange quietness after the clamour of people just a couple of blocks away.

"What next?" Niou asked, part way through their meal. Yagyuu paused. It didn't seem as though Niou was asking about tonight.

"What do you mean?"

"Gonna go back to your job next week? 'Cause you know, if I've only got a few days to fuck you before you go and—"

"Niou-kun," Yagyuu said, sharp, reprimanding – and then calm and level again, "is that what you want? To fuck and then be free of me?"

They both knew it wasn't. That had never been what Niou wanted of Yagyuu, or what Yagyuu wanted of Niou. The idea of sex had been there for a decade, edged around and never quite touched, never spoken about – but there was more they needed. Wasn't there?

If there wasn't, Niou wouldn't have come to Yagyuu when he was having trouble with his family.

"Sure." Niou smirked. "If you're gonna go be normal I don't see why we shouldn't have some fun first."

Niou was a good liar but Yagyuu was good at dealing with Niou, and doing that was an impossible task if you couldn't pick up on at least some of his lies and half-truths.

"If that's really what you think," he murmured, noting the way Niou met his eyes a little too defiantly. "But I don't believe it is."


"Why was it me you came to, Niou-kun?"

Niou scowled. "You know that."

Yes. He did.

"Perhaps sometimes I want confirmation."

"Fuck you, Yagyuu. I'm not a girl, and you ain't a therapist, and we're not gonna sit around and talk about my feelings. Or my mother."

Yagyuu turned his attention silently back to his food for the next moment or two, stood, went to pay. Niou trailed behind him out into the hall of a shopping centre, footsteps a half-beat behind Yagyuu's, like an echo.

He rounded a corner to a side-exit and stopped abruptly. One step later, Niou's footsteps stopped too. Yagyuu turned to look at him, taking in Niou's wariness, the tension in the way he held himself.

When he stepped in close to Niou he almost expected Niou to flinch away, the way he had in Yagyuu's home. But Niou didn't give an inch.

"I have some advice for you," Yagyuu told him, breathing the words close to his ear. "If you are not prepared to tell me what you want, you should not be surprised when you don't get it."

He imagined he could feel Niou's anger, feel Niou trying to hold himself back from violence. Maybe he wanted to pin Yagyuu up against the wall, hit him, swear at him… maybe he wanted to do something entirely different.

All Yagyuu had really wanted, when he was making his plans for university, was for Niou to tell him that he shouldn't go; to make some kind of suggestion which included them both. All he had got was Niou closing up, refusing to talk to him, redirecting his frustration to other topics.

If Niou still couldn't tell him anything then perhaps he would go back to his job, make another attempt at having a normal life. He had been sure of that when he bought the train tickets to the north, but his certainty had faded since.

Niou pulled away abruptly, his expression unreadable even to Yagyuu, and turned on his heel. It was Yagyuu's turn to follow – out onto the street, back the way they had come, towards the hotel. Niou walked quickly, hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders hunched.

They stood silently side by side in the lift as it took them up seven floors to their room, and Niou leaned against the wall by the door as Yagyuu fumbled in his pockets for the key with cold, uncooperative fingers.

Everything shifted as the door closed behind them, Niou pressing forward to get close to Yagyuu, hands and mouth on him, bordering on desperate. Yagyuu pushed him back, heard the noise of protest he made, followed through until Niou was pinned up against the door, breathless and smirking.

"What do you want from me?" Yagyuu asked him, hearing the same kind of breathlessness creeping into his own voice. "Niou—"

Niou kissed him, harsh and urgent, biting at his lips. He tasted of chilli and lemongrass, sharp even over the lingering hint of spice in Yagyuu's mouth. Yagyuu found himself leaning heavily against Niou, keeping him where he was, trapping him.

"I want you to fuck me," Niou hissed, fingers digging into Yagyuu's hips hard even through his coat, the layers of clothing separating them. "I want you to stop acting like I don't know what I want. I want—"

His voice faltered, just short of saying—what? Yagyuu kissed him again, again, feeling his self-control sliding; his hands made it inside Niou's coat, pulling at the clothes underneath. This wasn't what he'd expected to do, but he wasn't sure he could stop now.

Niou groaned, arched against him, letting Yagyuu feel that he was already half-hard. Yagyuu ground against him, ducked his head to bite at Niou's neck. They were going to have sex, he realised hazily, and he wasn't sure if he even cared any more that it might be a bad idea.

"Fuck," Niou said, tilting his head, giving Yagyuu access to his neck – giving permission. "Fuck. D'you know how many times I imagined this, when we were—" his voice caught as Yagyuu's teeth found his earlobe, nipping lightly, "—when we were in school?"

"I have—some idea," Yagyuu admitted, and then they were kissing again, Niou's tongue pushing into Yagyuu's mouth, cool fingers lifting his shirt and dragging across his skin. Heat curled through him, settled low in his body; one of Niou's hands found its way between his legs, little touches that just hinted at possibilities, made Yagyuu want.

They ended up lying almost naked on Yagyuu's bed, Yagyuu on his back and Niou straddling his hips, leaning in over him, their bodies shifting urgently against each other. Yagyuu was achingly hard, though he'd barely been touched, and the friction felt amazing.

"I should suck your cock," Niou growled, leaning even closer to bite sharply at Yagyuu's neck, long strands of hair brushing against his skin. "You'd like that. I know you've imagined it."

He had, more than often enough – old fantasies and late-night thoughts, half-forgotten and buried for years. Niou on his knees in front of him, touching himself while he gave Yagyuu head. Niou tense and desperate, fucking Yagyuu's mouth. But—

"Later," Yagyuu breathed, reached up to tangle a hand in Niou's hair, pulled him in for a kiss. "I think there's something I would rather do right now."

He let his hand trail down the line of Niou's spine, pushing under his pants, down… and was rewarded by Niou's hips jerking sharply forwards against his own, Niou's expression shifting momentarily from a playful smirk to something much less controlled, a curse slipping past his lips.

"Fuck, yeah," Niou managed, pulled away, grabbing for something from a pocket of his bag – condoms and lubricant, Yagyuu realised when they were dropped on the sheets beside him, briefly unsettled as the reality of the situation caught up with him. But it was Niou, it was fine, they both wanted this; had wanted it for far too long a time.

When Niou settled himself across Yagyuu's legs again he was completely naked, kneeling up to finish undressing Yagyuu, daring, challenging.

Yagyuu shifted to allow it, and then pulled Niou closer, their erections pressing together, not a thing between them. Niou's eyes drifted half closed, and his lips were parted. It made for an… enjoyable sight, and when Yagyuu trailed his fingers over Niou's opening again the way that expression shifted was incredible.

He pressed a finger into Niou, slowly, carefully, and another; Niou never showed a sign of discomfort, just rocked his hips experimentally, shifting his weight, hurry the fuck up, Yagyuu. Yagyuu managed to find enough composure to smirk up at him as he curled his fingers inside Niou's body.

Niou's hands clenched around Yagyuu's shoulders, and the movements of his hips became more urgent. He was biting his lip now, Yagyuu realised.

"Fuck me," he hissed. "Just do it, Yagyuu. I—"

Yagyuu kissed him, grabbed at his hips, and twisted, rolling them until Niou was pinned to the bed, flat on his back. "Patience," he murmured, though he wasn't feeling a great deal of that himself.

Niou gave an unsteady laugh. "Yeah, 'cause I'm known for my patience."

"Perhaps you should learn," Yagyuu murmured, but he was already rolling a condom onto his cock, pushing Niou's legs apart, settling himself between them. "Some things you have to wait for."

"I waited ten—ah, fuck—ten years," Niou snapped, missing the tone he was aiming for by a mile as Yagyuu entered him, sounding closer to desperate than Yagyuu had ever heard him. "Shit."

"That," Yagyuu told him, trying and failing to keep his voice level, "was your own fault."

It was hard to concentrate on anything else when they were like this, tangled together; when he was thrusting into Niou, breathless and uncontrolled and, oh god, he couldn't stop if he wanted to – why had he been so reluctant in the first place?

Niou might've been going to say something else, but whatever words he had been trying to summon were lost, came out as meaningless sounds. He was jerking himself off, matching Yagyuu's pace, back arching off the bed with pleasure, his free hand clawing at Yagyuu's shoulder, urging him on, more, harder, I just need— until he was almost trembling under Yagyuu, body tensing and tensing until he spilled over into release. It didn't take long for Yagyuu to follow, thrusting blindly, more and more erratic, until he couldn't hold on any longer.

They lay side by side for a long time afterwards, crowded onto the narrow bed, covers pulled loosely over them. Yagyuu felt surprisingly awake, as though he'd gone through his tiredness and out the other side, leaving him alert but too relaxed to feel like moving. There were things he should be saying, questions he should be asking Niou, but they'd probably lead to an argument or to Niou retreating back into himself.

It could wait until the morning.

When he finally fell asleep it was with Niou's arm draped across him as Niou expanded into his usual untidy sprawl of limbs; when he woke up he had space to move again, it was light outside, and the shower was running.

A part of him had expected that Niou would actually be gone. Now that he thought about it, he wasn't entirely sure why.

Niou came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and another around his shoulders, his hair hanging limp around his face. Yagyuu gave him a small smile, you're still here, I wasn't sure, and walked past him to use the shower himself. He felt grimy, and hot water seemed like exactly what he needed to make him feel more like a human being.

"What next?" Niou asked him, as he was about to close the door behind him.

"That depends."

The hot water was every bit as good as he'd hoped.

Niou hadn't got dressed by the time he came out of the bathroom. It took them more than one attempt to leave the hotel.

They walked through the park that cut across miles of the city in a narrow strip, footsteps loud on the frozen ground. Things didn't feel so very different from the way they'd felt the day before – a little less tense, but the same questions, a lot of the same worries. Yagyuu wasn't sure how to begin talking about any of it.

"Let's go somewhere else," Niou said, into the silence. He was staring at the sky, kicking up little sprays of ice in front of him as he walked.

"You don't like it here?"

"It's a place. There're more."

Let's see as many of them as we can.

"You want that?"

Yes. "You don't?"

"I never said that. But—" I just wanted you to ask.

There was silence again, the unspoken words hanging between them as they walked.

"I always liked that we never had to say things," Niou pointed out, then laughed. Yagyuu wasn't sure if he was amused or bitter. Both? "Fuck, it sounds stupid when you say it out loud."

Mostly Yagyuu had liked it too. More than liked it. Sometimes he'd just… what? Doubted that he was reading Niou right?

Or maybe he hadn't wanted to be taken for granted. It was hard to remember now.

Niou seemed to understand, anyway. That was, in the end, the beauty of it.

"Running away isn't much of a solution," Yagyuu pointed out finally, just to make sure they had that absolutely clear.

Niou shrugged. Sure. It's pretty fun while it lasts, though. "But?"

"But I think you might enjoy South America," Yagyuu murmured, deadpan. "Do you have a passport?"

Niou grinned, more amused than sardonic for once, then laughed, and laughed. Yagyuu, watching him from the corner of his eye, found the corners of his own mouth twitching up into a smile.

Let's do it.

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