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Smoke and Mirrors

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Every day, Kudoh Yohji walked from his apartment to the supermarket to buy his cigarettes. His wife refused to include them with the main grocery shop, and if he left any lying around at home they were swiftly disposed of. She had not, she reminded him on a regular basis, nursed him back to health so that he could kill himself again.

He couldn't quit. Didn't want to, which gave him pangs of guilt because he loved his wife, and felt as if he was betraying her every time he lit up.

But that was also partly the point. Smoking was an act of rebellion. A choice. His choice.

Yohji supposed he must have smoked in his old life: the addiction, the calling was too deep for it to be otherwise. He was hanging on to a thread of the past, a tiny bit of continuity.

So it was that Yohji would come home from his respectable job to his lovely wife and their neat, pretty home, where he'd eat a pleasant meal. He'd kiss his wife on the cheek, lock the car safely in the garage, promise to do the dishes when he returned (although she'd always stack the dishwasher the minute he left), put on his jacket - casual smart - and leave the house. He'd amble the few short blocks, fists deep in his pockets, mind deep in thought, until he arrived at the supermarket. There he would buy cigarettes, matches, peppermint chewing gum and a can of coke.

Then he'd go around the corner from the shop, where there was a bench in a bus shelter. There Yohji would sit, unwrap the pack with shaking fingers, and tip out one smooth, long filter-tip. The first drag was pure heaven. The second was shoulder-dropping relaxation. The third was pleasant satisfaction. The rest were habit. Familiar, comforting, inevitable.

One day, while Yohji was sitting at the bus stop smoking, and Yohji was watching the passengers get off the bus and head in their various directions of home, one particular man got out who immediately grabbed his attention. He had red hair, incredible posture, and he turned and looked at Yohji as if he could see into his very soul.

"Can I help you?" asked Yohji.

The man looked pained, conflicted.

"D'you need directions? Don't worry, I'm not an axe murderer. Promise!"

The stranger closed his eyes for a second, a brief, sharp flash of pain. When he spoke, his voice was deep and rich. "I shouldn't be here."

"Ah, got off at the wrong stop, did you? I've done that so many times. Usually on the way back from a bar, some of us go for karaoke on a Friday after work, you know how it is. There'll be another bus along in a while. Come on. Sit down."

Yohji scooted up the bench and patted the space he had made.

"No," the stranger said. "I can't."

Yohji tilted his head to regard the man from a different angle. He was gorgeous: all sharp cheekbones and pale skin with eyes that held a world of misery and a world of stubborn loyalty and an unusual streak of kindness. Eyes so pretty Yohji thought he might drown in them. So pretty he wanted to drown in them.

"Come on," Yohji said. "It's starting to rain. You'll just get wet out there."

The stranger sat. He looked awkward: his knees were pressed tightly together, his hands clasped, white-knuckled, in his lap.

Yohji stubbed out his spent cigarette and stuck another into his mouth. He offered one to his new companion.

He shook his head. "Filthy habit."

"And that's why I'm sitting at a bus stop in the rain like a wayward teenager, instead of at home in a comfy chair." Yohji lit his cigarette and tossed the match out onto the pavement where it sizzled out in a puddle.

"Kudoh Yohji," Yohji said, and held out his hand.

The stranger hesitated, stared at Yohji's hand as if he were being invited to shake on a blood oath. But he did take it, in the end, with a firm grip and an offer, in his rich rumble of a voice, of a name.

"Fujimiya Aya."

It was on the tip of Yohji's tongue to say 'But that's a girl's name', but the words wouldn't form. There was something in his head, something chiming, echoing, cutting to the quick of him.

"Aya," he said instead, and as he spoke he knew he'd said that name before. Many times. To this man.

"Yohji," said Aya, and this time Yohji knew exactly what this was.

"I know you."

Aya looked surprised, panicked, even. But Yohji's mind was flooding with images: blood and pain and despair and guilt and lust and…. And…. And….

Yohji grabbed Aya's shoulder and pulled him in, kissed him on the mouth, hard and brutal, lost. Completely lost. Not entirely sure what was real and what wasn't, but knowing that this was right.

"Yohji, no!" Aya pushed him away. His lower lip was glistening with Yohji's spit: Yohji watched as Aya's tongue darted out to lick it. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come."

"You should have come sooner," said Yohji. His voice sounded harsh, alien. A voice from another time. Another Yohji.

The real Yohji. The Yohji who smoked and drank and killed people and drove fast cars and pretended with women and loved this man, this one, stupid, stubborn man, with all that was left of his dark, black soul.

Aya stared at him in anguish, and Yohji could see the usual struggle playing out in his head: desire, need, protection and that thick seam of martyrdom that made Yohji crazy.

"Aya," Yohji said, softly.

This time when he tugged on Aya's shoulder, Aya went willingly, warm against Yohji's body like an old, familiar sweater. He kissed Yohji just like always: half the commanding assassin, half the shy, hesitant boy.

Yohji's cigarette dropped to the pavement and glowed there for a moment before giving up its fire to the rain.