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So this is the end, I tell you; lights will be turned off
and the stage turned to darkness.




Sunlight crept along the bar. He watched the circling dust, head on hands on dark wood.
There are days... no, weeks
that can be distilled to a single drop of memory,
losing nothing.

And in that drop will be shown
this lost, infinite moment...

Perhaps it has been months.
Is there any difference?




Tomorrow is another day
(Tomorrow is today.)

Do you know what day it is?
It is tomorrow. Every... one.





When was I last home, he thought without interest. What is home, his thoughts asked him.
Not that empty, sterile house... the damn apartment...
Home is me, them - home was him--
A view of familiar walls will do nothing to quiet the shrieking dark.





How did you do it? Dreaming awake, staring through the sun... Was it like this? Did your hands betray you, or did you... betray... Shuffling footsteps. He raised his head. "What..." A glass of water slid across the polished wood. He looked away.




Light shone, indifferent, through the far window, which gave a view of lesser skyscrapers. He watched the dust spin through the spotlight and waited to die.




The barman grew tired again of hovering and turned on a television. It failed to disturb him. He checked, idly. No.

When he arrived here - or rather, where his memory of sitting here began - the light had been pale, the smallest wedge through the window. He thought that he was far enough to be safe this time. It should set before it reached him.

There was a familiar word from the television. He pulled at his thoughts, spinning back the scattered threads of intelligence.

What a terrible idea.




"--who passed away three months ago, was thirty-three. Speculation continues --"


"Turn it off," a raspy sound startled his frozen mind and he realized it was his own voice - "Turn it OFF!"

The shout echoed through sudden silence. He lifted his hands, held them before his eyes, marking that their pain must be from the glass shards. "I apologize," thin lips mouthed as gnarled hands pulled a cloth over the wood, the water, the shattered glass. He slumped back, head falling to his wrists. "Lay your hands out and I'll..."

He stopped listening. One hand was pulled forward... his view tilted to the glasses above, golden-shining. Two hands forward... his head dropped with a dull thud, and he stared into his arm. This was fine. There was no change in the cycle of earth // sun // dust. He could view it at any point and there would never be a change.

The barman finished cleaning the cuts. He brought his hands to his lap, one... the other. There was no change in what he saw, whether his cheek lay on slick wood or cool flesh.



The heavy doors clicked, far behind him.

"We're not open."

"I know."

His neck prickled.

"I was told I could find someone here." That voice...

"By him, or by someone who's got no business telling anyone a thing about him?" the barman said sharply, and he found himself grateful in some dim corner of his mind. If his lips weren't numb, he might have tried to smile.

"By neither." Footsteps again, heavier. "By a ghost." He tensed at the presence behind him. Do you care who it is?

Does it matter? Nothing will change for it.





A feeling of... almost pressure, and yet there was no touch - a soft, steady movement inward at the center of his back. Pressing, pressing... there was an odd knotted round bubble of - something - he could feel it now, and it was beginning to burn-

emotion --

"No," he mumbled, desperate to move but still too far from his body to try. The pressure grew and he tensed, it hurt - cold screaming voiceless make it stop make it stop--

"Make it stop," a cracked whisper on a sobbing breath. The pain expanded to a blazing shriek through his body, there was the faintest of touches immediately over its center and

a little pop, unheard, unseen





"You can't do this."

Dizzy in the lack of numbness, he could only shake his head for reply.

The stool by his side scraped out and a solidly built body slid on. "May I have two glasses of water and one of red wine, please?"

"Watch him with that water," was all the barman said.




"How have you been, Yoshiki-san?" The hands that had released him - doomed him - back to the world of feeling reached out for the peanut bowl, cracked one, cool as if they were chatting at a party.

"As you see," he tried to say, groping for the glass that he knew used to be near.

"I can see why he said to watch you," the man finally murmured. "Here, sit up a bit - " His shoulders were tugged higher, and one arm brought up, elbow set to prop him on the bar. He continued to stare into nothing, no existence of anything, anywhere-

Tears burned his eyes. He'd been better off numb.

A glass touched his lips. "Hmm, this is more of a challenge than I thought. Work with me, will you?" He tilted his head down, felt for the rim. His tongue crept forward and was pleased to meet the light burn of whiskey.

"Are you sure you should be feeding him more of that?" a quiet voice asked in front of them. Not the barman. The other one, who had been here when the barman wasn't. "He's had... I don't like to think about how much of that he's probably had, in the last three days - "

"Three days?"

"That's why we're closed."

"You're joking, please... no? My god." He could feel the man turning to him again.

"I made him eat last night, but he hasn't slept that either of us have seen. Just sits and stares."

A long silence. "You were kind to keep him here." He felt a hand hover at his shoulder, then pull away. "If he left..."

"He'd wander into places that wouldn't know or care, and get himself in trouble," the barman filled in, beside the other voice. "Yes. He'd been coming here for a very long time, before - " An uncomfortable sigh buried itself beneath the shifting of feet.

"I have a great deal of respect and fondness for him," the - owner? it must be - said. "So we closed."

"Thank you." The body beside him shifted; with blurry eyes, he watched a pale hand reach across the bar. "Once he's himself again, I'm sure he'll return to thank you as well." The hand pulled back, found his shoulder, began drawing slow lines over it in a reassuring sort of way. "I'm giving him a few sips to keep him on his feet long enough to get him home. He's been drinking his way through the last three months. Little wonder it's come to this."

It took him a minute to trace what was wrong in those words. "Not home," he whispered.

"Not home?" the deep voice enquired. "You don't want to go home? Where do you want to go, then, Yoshiki-san?"

"It's not home," he said. "There is no home. Home left or died or... left. A place, that place, that isn't... anything. I don't want to go there, or to the other one -- " His voice cracked.

"I won't make you." Worry fought reassurance in the man's voice. "We can go to my apartment."

Resigned, he bobbed his head.

Whiskey and water was held to his lips and he swallowed. The stool beside him scraped along the marble floor, and a hand took his; an arm slid tight around his back. The barman came around in a hurry to pull the stools away as he was swung upright, arm anchored rather painfully around higher, larger shoulders.

"It's a good thing you cut your hair," he murmured, and slowly realized what he'd said, that it meant... he knew who this was. Somewhere.

"A few years ago," he could hear the flashing smile in the familiar voice, knew how it would light up that dark-angel face, "and, you know, I don't think we've seen each other since then, have we?"

"No," he agreed, trying to make his legs obey him.

"Only for that time, and you undoubtedly have no memory of that, at least for now." The grim sadness echoing through those words disturbed him and he clutched at the man's shoulder, shaking his head, desperate. No, no... bad enough to feel. Don't make me think of the things that would bring such a tone--

I don't want to know them again.




He floated in and out of awareness, catching small scraps of an elevator, a cab, a long, long drive... or perhaps it was only that he was slowing to a halt and everything was stretching. Half-caught speech, half-felt hands on his body. He moved weakly against them, but there was no good in trying to stand on his own, he knew it; he could hardly fight his eyes open. "It's all right, we're almost there," the sound tinny, echoing...




He woke with the sun creeping toward him over soft black sheets.

There was a moment of complete and utter disappointment at having woken at all. Then he sat up with a gasp, searching around wild-eyed, locks of dirty blond hair falling in his face. Oh, there, there were his clothes -

"Don't worry, I was the one who took them off; and there's no-one else here." The voice was amused, slow and resonant and known to him now without question.

"Acchan," he said. There was a cat at his feet, tawny-striped, napping in the sun. His eyes caught on tiny sparks of dust lit in the sunbeam, turning as they fell, so slow...

"Yes?"

"Nothing, I... I was only... I hadn't remembered who you were, before." He blinked at the violently color-slashed painting on the wall in front of him.

"Ah, I'm hurt." A creak as the chair was slid forward, a quiet laugh. "I'm not surprised. You hardly remembered who you were."

"Mmm... yes," he said, and collapsed with glacial slowness to stare at the ceiling. "I fucking feel like shit."

"And are you surprised by that?" A large, graceful hand took his and pressed a few small things into it. Pills, he discovered, turning to eye them blearily. "Sit up," Atsushi commanded, leaning forward with a glass of water.

"Do I have to?" He closed his eyes with a thin sigh, unable to even muster the energy for proper whining.

"I don't want you drowning on me when I'm trying to patch you up."

"It might be a blessing," he murmured, obeying in gradual stages. He cupped the pills into his mouth, swallowing the water with only a small trickle escaping the cracked corners of his painfully dry lips.

"No." There was a steely certainty behind the single word, which had him casting Atsushi a look of utter disbelief that was equally certain, if fresh out of steel. "You will not do anything of the sort. Not without killing me first, and if you didn't kill Toshi for destroying your dream..."

"Please--" He ducked his head into his hands, clutching at streaked hair with fingers covered in small gouges. "Please, don't--"

"Talk about that?" A pause. "For now. You'll have to, but..." Atsushi sighed and picked up the empty glass from where it had fallen by Yoshiki's leg. "Go back to sleep, or take a shower. I'll help you, if you'll wait a minute."

"I don't think it's optional, my waiting." Sitting up twice had exhausted him.




"How did you know where I was?" he asked, a cup of tea held in trembling hands, the rest of him wrapped up in a thick crimson quilt. The apartment was cold and he had the shakes; Atsushi had pulled a chair to the open end of the kitchen then brought him out and sat him down, tucking the quilt around and fussing over him as if he were a small child rather than a not quite thirty three year old man with too much pride for his own good. "Why were you looking for me, I suppose should come before that."

Atsushi glanced over, then returned his attention to the cabbage he was chopping. "I was looking for you because I heard from a mutual friend that nobody had seen you in weeks."

Yoshiki stared into his tea. "Mutual friend?"

Atsushi nodded, scraping the contents of the cutting board into a pan. A small black cat walked past Yoshiki to rub against her owner's legs.

"In case it was unclear, there was a strong element of 'Who?' implied in that," he said, a hint of tartness entering his dulled voice.

"I know," Atsushi said with a demonic smirk, leaning down to scratch the cat's chin. Her eyes dipped closed and the purr was audible even over the hiss of frying vegetables.

"You haven't changed at all, have you... a hopeless case." Yoshiki choked on a laugh, dropping his eyes to watch his stiff fingers in their involuntary cycle of clutch-and-relax around the tea cup.

"Oh, I have... but not much in what you're most infuriated by." Atsushi's smile was incredibly sweet. Intense and beautiful, wicked and innocent at once in the way that had always sent a thrilled shock through Yoshiki and tossed his focus to the four winds.

He took a shaking breath, tried to remember what he'd been about to say. "I wouldn't call it infuriated so much as... stumped? You have this way of blocking my every move by simply stepping aside where there should be no space."

"That's unusual, for you, isn't it?" Atsushi murmured, tapping powder from a little brown jar into the pan. The black cat, affronted at her lack of attention, stalked away to sit at Yoshiki's feet and fix him with a speculative golden-eyed stare.

"Unprecedented."

"Even... no. Never mind. Ah, do you prefer sauce or no sauce, to your slumgullion?"

"My what?"

"Slumgullion. Long-venerated term for 'whatever's in the refrigerator.' Beef with vegetables, mainly." Pausing to consider the marked lack of beef, he amended, "Heavy on the vegetables." He turned to see the black cat about to jump on Yoshiki, and probably into his tea; scooping up the little monster, he dumped her into the other room, getting a dirty look before she took off down the hall.

"No sauce? I don't have a clue. I don't know if I can even eat without..." Yoshiki grimaced, shoulders rising.

"Probably not much, at first, no." Atsushi reached for a bowl. "I'm surprised you haven't been throwing up this entire time. They must have paced you very well... unless it's that your tolerance is that high by now. Three months - ah..." He turned away, acting as though he searched for another bowl, but Yoshiki could see that his eyes had squeezed shut; and when he turned back, his lashes were damp. "I suppose I'll put the rice beneath it..."

"And if I'd thrown up in the first day, I'd have not ended like that?" Yoshiki smiled without humor. "I don't think so."

"Hmm." Atsushi refrained from comment, taking the bowl out to a small table in the tiny living room. "Hold tight, I'll be back for you." Yoshiki ceased his unsuccessful attempts at rising, and simply waited, eyes on toes. Another set of toes came into view and he tilted his head up to meet the eyes of his... captor, rescuer... he didn't even know...

"What are you?" he asked on a quiet sigh. "I'm having trouble deciding just now."

Atsushi hummed somewhere above his downturned head, and spouted a long fanciful line of metaphysical and romantic bullshit. The only part that Yoshiki caught was when he said, "And I've never yet found a compromise between our wills that allows me to stay near you for long, but somehow I can't stop trying, even now." Yoshiki looked up and Atsushi grinned, a narrow flash of teeth, before taking Yoshiki's tea cup away. His lips fell into an automatic pout. "You'll get it back, stop that. I don't want it to spill when I do this," and Yoshiki's hands were pulled onto broad shoulders.

"What the hell?"

"Come here," Atsushi murmured in a deep low purr that sent shivers through his every nerve. Long, elegant hands moved from his knees to the back of his hips, sending him twitching forward on reflex-- perhaps an inch. The hangover of an extended binge was showing itself as something very much to be avoided, in particular if one also wished to avoid molestation.

Not that this likely counted. Earlier, the same hands had taken on most of the work of washing him... even if they'd been entirely neutral then, and were entirely not now. Now, their evident purpose was to pick him up, but his arse was being squeezed with far more enthusiasm than he thought necessary and--

Well.

He thought for a moment.

Honestly, after everything Acchan had done - if he wanted a harmless grope, who cared. Yoshiki sighed and let himself fall all the way forward into Atsushi's chest, head leaning down to burrow into his shoulder. Who cared about anything.

"Don't fall asleep on me. It would've taken two seconds to get you over here if I weren't shameless in taking advantage of the opportunity." Yoshiki puffed a silent laugh into his neck. "You're always a pleasure to feel up, but especially when you're incapable of fending me off. Does that make me a terrible person?" The amusement in his voice brought a matching little smile to Yoshiki's lips, and he shook his head. "I am grateful that you don't think so." Atsushi dipped down to set him on one of the chairs and helped him pull the quilt close again.




"Do you want to go back to bed?" Atsushi's hushed voice broke the stillness.

Yoshiki, staring into the lamp beside him, looked away from the light's thin spread of tiny hovering fibers, blinking himself into the present. Atsushi's eyes were on the cup in his hands, which had begun tilting with more and more frequency, unheeded. The black cat had returned and was rubbing her way like a living infinity symbol around his legs; a much larger brown and white cat occupied Atsushi's lap.

"No, I... not yet." Yoshiki glared at his hands, willing them to be steady and strong, to be less merciless in betraying him. "Do you know, I don't think I'd slept more than three hours in the entire week," he said, staring in hard focus at the cup, at his palms around it. "And not much more since... in several weeks prior. Perhaps an hour or two a day, or every couple of days..."

"Hmm." Shining dark hair obscured Atsushi's face above the purring cat.




"No, it's all right, truly. Go on, you're tired; I'll take myself to bed in a little bit. I'm feeling stronger now." A lie. He still had intermittent fits of trembling and could barely concentrate well enough to say this. "If I can't, then I'll sleep here in the chair, it's comfortable enough."

Atsushi looked at him.

After a moment, he began to fidget, eyes dropping from that too-knowledgeable gaze. He cleared his throat and said, "What?"

"If I'm going to bed, so are you. If you won't go to bed, I'll stay here with you. You'd wake me up stumbling in, even if I could get to sleep, so there's no point in being stubborn." Atsushi paused, drawing Yoshiki's reluctant eyes back to him. "You know there's only the one bedroom."

Yoshiki blinked. No, he hadn't. The room that he had woken in certainly looked like a guest room. It had practically nothing of Acchan to it, only the soft sheets and painting, nothing like the way he remembered Atsushi's room to have reflected the mind of the man who lived in it - and then he thought, When did he move? And why? He'd had that place for nearly a decade back then...

Didn't he... didn't he get married?

Where the hell's his wife?

He looked up, finding patient dark eyes fixed on his. "Let's go, then," he said roughly.




"You can close your eyes," a dark-velvet voice said from the pillow beside his, jolting him. "If I've managed to restrain myself thus far, it should be reasonable for you to consider yourself safe from violation."

"It's not that," he whispered to the ceiling, watching beams of dim light cross as cars passed.

"Then what is it?" The bed shifted, the dark mass that was Atsushi leaning up on an elbow.

He followed the tracks of headlights with his eyes, people going about their business...

"Why have you not slept in three months except when your body shuts down on you or someone forces a sleeping pill down your protesting throat?"

...ants, with an illusion of purpose and meaning in their endless, repetitive... going on.

"Is it the dark? I'll turn on the lamp, light candles, anything - "

"No," he whispered.

"Then... closing your eyes for so long?"

He flinched, glancing up at the dimly-lit face. "Not that, but... I'm getting warmer," Atsushi murmured, and sighed. "Are you going to make me keep playing twenty questions?"

There was a place on the ceiling that had sparkles in it. Glitter? He wondered idly how that had happened... it was like a little patch of random stars, a comforting thought. Stars on his ceiling, in every room that he'd had since leaving home, and to hell with what any visitors might think. He still had those from his first apartment, packed away somewhere... with everything else that reminded him of those people, that time, that--

He took a hurried breath, flinching, think think think of something else

"Ah... this, I think, is it. You're afraid to sleep because you have no control then. There's nothing... you... can do--"

Yoshiki gasped, felt his heart lurch, turned with hard desperation to put a clumsy hand over Atsushi's mouth, the other rising to push and scratch at his chest, shaking his head no, no, don't--

Don't make me... please...

Strong fingers closed over his wrist, over his hand that lay still on Acchan's bare chest while thin welts rose beneath it. Their hands were drawn together at his heart, their hearts, lying eye to eye...

"There was." Atsushi leaned his forehead against Yoshiki's, rocking it back and forth with gentle certainty. "Nothing." Enunciating with such care and clarity, unmistakable the words that tore at his mind, unraveled the carefully closed edges--

"There was nothing that you could do."


A stab, a blaze, a torrent sharp white blinding




The hand that had gently stroked his hair all this time slowed, settled to a stop, warm on the back of his neck. "For someone so dehydrated, you put out a lot of tears."

He raised his head muzzily from its home in Acchan's chest, eyes swollen, skin soaked. His head hurt... his entire body hurt, so badly. His stomach had tried a few times to turn itself inside out and sat in a hard sullen knot beneath his breastbone.

Dark eyes met his, tear tracks showing bright in the dim light from the street. He stretched, body straightening by degrees from its near-fetal curl, until his face was even with that of the man before him once more. With care and some reverence, he leaned forward, pressed a solemn kiss lightly to unmoving lips. "Thank you."

The hand at his neck slid up, cupped the back of his head, holding him as a warm return kiss was placed. "I know you're self-centered, Yo-chan, but I never realized you think you're the only one responsible for everything that has ever happened to anyone you've ever met." Yoshiki gave a teary snort, breath hitching, but too exhausted for the comment to set him off again. No doubt Atsushi had been banking on that.

"There are many things I've done and choices I've made, which... made differently, could have led to..." He closed his eyes, leaning to rest on Atsushi's shoulder, tear-dampened hair falling across warm skin. "So many better ends. But I cannot find a single one where I can state with honesty that, at that time, I could have made any other choice."

"Hmmm." Hands rose to trace his shoulder blades, sliding down his back. "So, do I have this right - if you weren't you, then none of this would have happened," Atsushi paused, fingers working on a row of knots in a way that had Yoshiki wincing, "but because you made the best decisions that you could at any given point, as the person you had managed to evolve into by that time..." He ran the base of his palm hard down each side of Yoshiki's spine, and Yoshiki groaned, helpless to stop himself from melting into Atsushi's chest. "Do I have this right..." Atsushi cleared his throat. "Absolutely everything is your fault?"

Yoshiki winced, hesitated for a long moment. "Um. Well." He tipped his head, with an embarrassed little laugh. "That's how it seems to work, yes."

"And now you're petrified of making any decisions, let alone being responsible for the fates of others -- never mind that they, too, have free will," Atsushi's hand dropped to pinch Yoshiki's butt, making him yelp, "and you're left wondering what the point of, well, all of this, anywhere, ever..." He stopped, hands still against Yoshiki's back, and then murmured slowly into his hair, "What the point is."

Yoshiki closed his eyes, nodding. "If we're all going to die anyway, too fucking early, and lose each other... lose our selves, our work, our... everything," he whispered into the hollow of Atsushi's throat, the throb against his lips counting away a life, "Yes. Why bother with living? But then I had to wonder... what is there in dying? More of the same, go around again? Complete dissolution and then nothing? Some perfect heaven and hell, where either option is absolute, nothing but black and white, and, well... absolutely boring?" That surprised a snicker out of Atsushi, his chest jumping beneath Yoshiki's spread hands.

"Only you. I swear, only you. Eternal happiness or eternal punishment, who cares, there's nothing but boredom either way..." Atsushi laughed quietly.

"So you see that... there's nothing but here, you know? The only game in town. But what's the fucking point of here, either?" He shook his head hard. "There used to be a point; there used to be a reason, once. Reason to work through endless nights, to wake on the shittiest of mornings, to exist - "

"And then it was stripped away." Arms tightened around him; his hands clenched, and he felt, through the choked tearless haze, soft lips pressed to his temple, warm hands stroking his back and hair.

After he had calmed once more, he found himself gathered close and pulled along as Atsushi shifted to lay on his back. Yoshiki rearranged his limbs automatically, sprawling halfway over, and began at last to allow himself to fall asleep.

As he drifted out to the remotest edge of consciousness, there was a soft whisper above him.

"After he told me to find you, and where -- there was a moment..." A long pause. "Don't lose yourself in all his talk of goodbyes. For you, it will always be, I'll see you again..."





Flowing tears mingle with blood, staining amber
the new dream that rises here in my heart.