Part and Whole
by !Super Cat
Aya, weaving his way through the densely peopled streets, became remotely aware that Youji was following him. That meant that it was Monday. The routine never varied. Youji followed Aya until Aya lost him, every Monday, without fail. On the one occasion that Aya had turned and blankly demanded an explanation, Youji had said to him, "Hey, it's Monday. I don't date Mondays. So Monday is the day that I satisfy my curiosity. Where are you off to anyway, Aya?"
"I'm going home."
"You're going the wrong way, then."
Aya had paused and looked down the street. Verbal wrangling with Youji was pointless. It wasted time. Better to just keep walking, and lose Youji in the crowd. That was the simplest way. He was already wondering why he'd stopped and turned at all.
"I'm going home."
Youji had waggled a finger in front of his nose.
"Aya, you are a dark horse. There's some mystery at work here, isn't there? What could you be doing so secretively?"
"Stop following me," Aya had said, frowning. Brushing past Youji, he had kept walking. He had ignored Youji's protests, and they'd faded away behind him. Like the ocean slipping in over the bow of a sinking ship, the crowd had swallowed Youji up.
It was never that hard to lose Youji, who respected him enough to tail him at some distance. That polite formality was the only reason that Aya allowed his pursuit. He was aware that it was a game to Youji. To him, it was an irritation. Or it had been in the beginning. Now he barely thought about it. Youji was following him. It was Monday. The shop windows needed cleaning. Tuesday. Wednesday, a five a.m. start to sort through the new stock.
One evening, Youji had been so brazen as to wave when his car pulled up beside Aya's at a stop light. Aya had frowned, but when the lights had changed, he had floored the accelerator and lost Youji all the more quickly. Tonight it was simpler. There was no need to burn rubber; he and Youji were on foot now. The streets were long corridors of light, and the shifting crowds were maze-like, easy to get lost in.
He reached the hospital by dusk.
It was a large, anonymous building; eight stories, private rooms on the top floor. He usually went up in the elevator, his eyes on the floor numbers listed above the elevator door. They lit up, one after another, four, five, six, seven, then when the elevator reached eight, it was around the corner and past the staff desk to the third door. Visiting hours were over, but there was an agreement between the hospital and the shadowy person who paid for his sister's treatment that Aya should be allowed to come and go whenever he pleased. A great deal was being paid for her, after all.
Sometimes Aya stayed the whole night, sleeping in the chair by her bed. He didn't do that now as often as he had in the beginning, but sometimes. The hospital staff tolerated him, and some even liked him and said things to each other like, "He's such a kind brother to that poor girl."
Tonight, one or two of the nurses smiled and nodded, and one commented on the flowers. "How beautiful!"
Aya looked blankly down at the bouquet that he held in his hand. Nothing special, just small things, rosebuds, jasmine. He always brought his sister flowers. It was probably that fact that had first piqued Youji's interest. Youji thought he had a girlfriend. Youji had said as much, while sprawled in his usual designer disarray on the couch one afternoon. "Come on, tell me. What does she look like, Aya?"
"Youji-kun!" Omi had exclaimed.
"I'm just asking. We all want to know what kind of woman Aya is dating. It is a woman, right Aya?" From the couch, Youji's eyes had challenged him. "I mean, it's not another school girl."
Aya said to the nurse, "They're for my sister."
"Really? What a thoughtful gesture," she said, smiling. "Your sister must be very lucky to have a brother like--"
His last impression of the nurse was of her face, flashing a kind of hurt surprise. He left her behind and made his way past the staff desk. His sister's room was at the end of the hall.
Aya opened and closed the door quietly. Just a small click from the latch. He placed the flowers by her bedside. They rustled a little in their wrapping, then settled. He assumed that the nurse would come by later and put them in some water.
Dark hair fanned out on the pillow. Dark lashes resting against pale cheeks.
She looked like she was sleeping.
Youji was not the first person to think that Aya's sister was his lover. Nurses and even doctors at the hospital made the same blunder. It was a misunderstanding that made Aya frown, but it was understandable. There was little to no family resemblance between them. Really, two people couldn't have looked more different than Aya and his sister. She was the image of their mother, a slender girl with long, dark hair and a sweet, heart shaped face. Whereas he was--what? He no longer thought of himself in physical terms. He was the man who would kill Reiji Takatori. Anything else didn't matter.
Their eyes were the same unusual violet colour, but no one would ever know that would they? Her eyes hadn't opened since that time on that day.
He reached out, touched her face, and said, softly, "It's all right. I'm here, Aya."
He drew up his chair and sat down beside her, watching the rise and fall of her breath. He stayed with her for an hour or so, not speaking. Occasionally his gaze wandered off to window, or the rhythmic pattern of the life support machine. He could feel a vague emotion, a pain that he recognized but distantly, like a feeling that belonged to someone else. Ran. Ran's pain. No longer his own.
He didn't intellectualize it even that far, he just knew that he was removed from the emotion. Ran had been an ineffectual revenger, he hadn't practised enough with the katana, and he'd thrown up the first time he'd killed someone. But Ran had been subsumed and replaced by a harder self, one that was more suited to the task at hand. Ran would not be mourned. He didn't exist outside of this room, and even here he was little more than the memory of a killer who had borrowed his sister's name.
Youji was leaning against the passenger door of the jeep convertible when Aya returned, the picture of playboy and fast car capped by his sunglasses and expensive clothes, and by the slim cigarette that he flicked away the moment that he saw Aya. He said, "This is my car. You led me back to my own car, you bastard."
Aya felt his brows rising, helplessly. He said nothing. It was so vastly typical of Youji to be indignant, to expect remuneration with such absolute confidence that he made you forget that he was the original transgressor.
Youji was looking at Aya over the top of his sunglasses in a way that caused them to slide almost all the way down his nose. Despite his words, he looked relaxed, unpiqued. His jacket was all the way unbuttoned, the white shirt under it casually untucked. His blond hair was falling into his eyes. A male model posing against a car in an advertisement, the same style.
"Just get in," he said, finally.
"Aya, don't be an asshole. Get in. I'll give you a lift home."
It made no sense whatsoever to get a lift home from the person who had been tailing you all night. Yet somehow, it was Youji, and it made perfect sense. Aya was clicking on seat belt before he knew it, and settling into the sleek leather interior of the car. Youji leaned in to key the ignition, his elbow on the window. Manoeuvring the car out of it's park with fingertips that barely touched the steering wheel. He drove in silence, which suited Aya. They'd be home in no time, the streetlights blurring, the long, long road disappearing under the car.
A sidelong look from Youji. "You gonna to tell me where you were tonight?"
Another glance from Youji before he perforce looked back at the road. "Your attitude sucks, you know that, Aya?"
Youji said, "If you keep it up, it's going to affect your performance during missions." Affably.
Aya said, "Nothing affects my performance during missions."
A flat statement of fact. Aya's kill ratio was higher than that of the other Weiss members. His executions were flawless, and he took every mission, no matter how dull or how dangerous. Unlike Youji, the Armani prince, who would bow out on a whim, if he was bored, or if he didn't like the set up, or if the mission didn't involve enough beautiful women.
Youji, unable to argue, made an indistinguishable noise that might have meant anything.
Night surrounded them; silence fell. Aya found his mind drifting.
Would his sister have liked Youji?
Yes. Some things were certain. The sun rose in the east. Women adored Youji. It had something to do with the way he adored them in turn, courted them, wooed them lavishly, passionately. It helped that Youji was blond and handsome and possessed of the kind of louche style that had him wearing sunglasses at night behind the wheel of a flashy sports car.
Would Ran have liked Youji?
Like a trapdoor slamming, Aya's mind shut down on the question instantly. No. Aya didn't approve of Youji's lifestyle. A different woman every week, one that giggled, usually, as she teetered into the apartment, clutching Youji's arm to help balance on her stilettos. Youji was lazy and slept late and got out of every chore possible. Youji smoked in bed, which Aya knew because on those mornings when Youji's door remained shut long past the time that he was due in the store, the task fell to Aya to wake him. Omi and Ken insisted on this. They claimed they could set off firecrackers in front of Youji's nose and never budge him, whereas Aya could accomplish the miracle by simply walking into Youji's room, opening the curtains and telling him, "Get up."
"Nh . . . too bright . . . it can't be morning yet, can it?" Youji would groan. Then, "Aya, huh? Wow, it must be late if they sent you in. Pass me a cigarette, would you?"
Once Aya had walked in before Youji's date had left. He'd caught her getting dressed, buttoning a blouse closed over a lacy purple bra. His gaze had passed briefly over her body. Coldly, without much interest. She'd coloured angrily. "Don't your friends have any manners?"
"This one doesn't," Youji had said matter-of-factly, from the bed.
"You're an hour and a half late," Aya had told him, stonily, after the woman had left.
"Yeah. Sue me." Youji had pushed himself up on one elbow, naked and perfect from his sleep-mussed blond hair to the tanned musculature of his chest. The white sheet had slipped to pool in his lap. And Aya, who had confronted Youji's half naked lady friend without so much as a flicker of discomfort, had minutely averted his eyes before throwing Youji the robe that was hanging behind the door. Then he had turned and walked out.
In the distant past, Ran had been a little shy around other people. Shy. Awkward. Worse than Omi. Youji's flamboyantly physical nature, a touch here, an arm around your shoulder there, would have left Ran tongue-tied and confused. Youji, who dressed like a playboy outside of the house, but dressed like a boy toy while in it, in tight, sleeveless midriff tops and jeans that hung too low on his hips. Youji, who dated women exclusively, but willingly teased men with his looks, declaring that with a face like his he couldn't blame fruity guys if they were in love with him.
Those words might have damaged something invisible, if they'd been heard in the past, by Ran.
Aya felt it distantly, like the pain. It was not his own because he wasn't Ran. It was not even something he could empathize with, because he wasn't a creature who loved, or even felt pain, really, just this sense of purpose, and anger, and the strange understanding that despite everything, the world could still surprise him.
Sometimes, it did.
The car pulled up in front of the flower shop.
Youji said, "Normally, when I drive people home at night, it's because there's a chance they'll invite me in." He killed the ignition, and the car went quiet. He was joking, the same way that he joked with Omi, calling him heart-breaker, pretty boy, bishounen. He pushed it further with Aya only because with Aya he was more secure in the knowledge that he would be rebuffed.
"You live here," Aya said.
Aya unbuckled his seat belt, and felt it slide through his hands. A touch held him back. Youji's hand on his shoulder. Youji seemed closer to him than usual, thanks to the confines of the small car.
"Hey, Aya," Youji began quietly, in a different voice.
Aya felt the distinct pressure of Youji's fingers. The car engine had begun to make cooling noises that were faintly audible. He experienced an emotion that spread through him like growing tension. He said, blankly, "Let go of my shoulder."
Youji withdrew, but continued to watch him. Aya, eyes fixed on an unremarkable section of the dashboard, didn't move.
Finally, Youji said, "Aya, I don't wanna push it. I just wish you'd realize that you don't have to do everything on your own."
And Aya thought of watching a car speed off on a rainy night, of sitting by her bed listening to the rattle of her breath, and the soft electronic sounds of the life support machine. He thought of the way it would be, himself and his katana slicing away Takatori's future.
"Not everything," he said, detached agreement. Youji nodded. They exited the car with casual slams of the door. And as Youji fiddled with his keys to the shop, Aya paused by the threshold. He stood in the cold and looked up at the sky.
Just the important things.
The bell over the shop door tinkled when Youji pushed it open, and the two of them entered to the accompaniment of the expected sound.