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The truth in a dream

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“Kyo, let’s go shopping at Shinsaibashi.”

“Huh?”

“I still need to buy you a present.”

“Why do I have to go with you? My birthday’s tomorrow, there’s plenty of time.”

“Don’t be like that, Kyo. Come with me and then we’ll have dinner. We’ll wait until midnight together. I want to be the first one to greet you on your special day.”

Kyo didn’t agree but, nevertheless, his girlfriend Yuki dragged him to Osaka’s bustling shopping street, where she planned to spend all afternoon looking for a proper gift.

The girl seemed really proud of having asserted her dominance over Kyo, and as a result, was livelier than usual.

That morning, while Kyo was lazing on the sofa absentmindedly switching between TV channels, Yuki had appeared holding a clothes hanger in each hand. Hanging upon them were identical outfits: immaculate white T-shirts and light pink checkered shirts.

The girl had smiled at him.

“What’s this about?” Kyo had said.

“Our matching outfits.”

“I’m not wearing that.”

“Of course you are,” she stated, fixing her light brown eyes on him in a severe stare. That look threatened to throw a tantrum if Kyo dared to refuse. “You’ll look cool. Do it for me,” she added, sweetening her voice. Kyo didn’t have time to reply, because Yuki handed one of the hangers to him. “Here. Get dressed. We don’t want to be late.”

Frowning, Kyo appraised the shirt. It didn’t suit his style, but Yuki didn’t seem to be aware of it. She had chosen the garring outfit even though she had lately begun enthusiastically browsing fashion magazines and bragging about her good taste.

She was intent on imitating Tokyo’s latest fashion trends. She wanted to stand out, hoping that a photographer who worked for those magazines would see them and ask if they wanted to appear in the section dedicated to showcasing street fashion. However, Yuki had taken offense because this hadn’t happened yet. Sometimes she confronted Kyo as if he were to blame, asking him if he wasn’t as famous as he seemed to believe. Why did no one recognize him, then?

It was a foolish thing to say, but Kyo knew better than to argue. Having to put up with Yuki’s temper tantrums was draining. The girl hadn’t changed one bit since school. She was still as stubborn and loud, and criticized everything he did.

Weary, Kyo changed his clothes following the girl’s orders. He prayed none of his friends saw him dressed like that.

 


 

It was almost seven o’clock in the evening and Kyo, tired of walking around in clothing stores, had decided to wait for Yuki at the Ebisu Bridge. As expected, Yuki objected, insisting that she had yet to find an adequate present. Kyo had kept his ground and, shrugging, pointed out that it was very unlikely that Yuki would find a present for him in the women’s clothing department. Yuki had mumbled something, but she couldn’t deny the overwhelming truth. Kyo had seized the chance to make a getaway.

It was a Tuesday, but the bridge, the streets and the river walk were teeming with people doing their Christmas shopping. Entire tourist families were noisily coming in and out of the stores. Kyo found himself surrounded by people of different nationalities taking selfies with the buildings, the Dotonbori canal, and the twilight sky. Most people were not moving. Groups of friends waited for the bridge’s main attraction, the tall Glico sign, to light up.

Kyo couldn’t avoid some couples who politely asked if he could take their picture against the backdrop of Christmas decorations installed on the bridge’s handrails, and the beautifully dressed shop windows.

Having nothing better to do, Kyo agreed.

Some minutes later, after he lost count of the number of people who had asked him to be their photographer, Kyo turned his back to the pedestrian bridge and the crowd, and rested his arms on the railing, sighing.

The sun had almost set, but the streetlights weren’t on yet. The buildings at both sides of the canal were submerged in the hazy half-light of the evening, contrasting with the intense brightness coming from the modern stores. The sky reflected on the calm waters of the Dotonbori, where a barge full of tourists was moving slowly along the canal.

Kyo looked at the vessel feeling bored. He didn’t want to be there.

He didn’t want to go home and spend the night watching TV either. He had been restless, looking for some excitement for days, but nothing had caught his attention.

This was a side-effect of the KOF tournament of that year. After intense battles and unforeseen results, after Verse and the brief reunion of Three Sacred Treasures, the event had ended and the fighters had returned to their respective cities. Life had become boring and tedious once more.

Kyo placed a hand on his chest, where he still had traces of the scars Iori had left him.

Yuki hated those scars, of course, but Kyo not so much.

He smiled faintly, his thoughts flitting back to the KOF XIV match, those orange and purple flames, the burning heat of the fire.

He looked at his hand, at the fingers that had been entwined with Yagami’s in front of the entire audience. He remembered the strength with which Iori had held on to him, as if he wanted to break his bones. He also remembered the redhead’s smile, his satisfaction at being able to face each other, at last. The purple flames burning viciously had been Yagami’s way of assuring him that he had fully recovered his power.

They had devoted themselves to the fight. Kyo had matched the redhead’s determination. He had been eager too, after so many years waiting for Yagami to be at his level again.

But then, they had been interrupted.

They had been reminded that Yagami would never be free of the curse running through his veins.

Kyo had hated the creature who was interfering with their fight, but had done what was necessary to bring Yagami back. He knew what he had to do. He knew it better than anyone.

But, despite his success, the fight had ended.

Absentmindedly, Kyo traced the scars on his chest running his fingers over his white T-shirt.

He wanted a rematch, without interruptions this time.

“Kyo!”

He was startled by Yuki’s voice. The girl was there, carrying several cardboard bags bearing brand names Kyo didn’t recognize. However, if the pink and pastel colors were any indication, the bags probably didn’t contain his present.

“About time,” grumbled Kyo, a scornful smile on his lips. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s your birthday and not mine.”

Yuki punched him softly on the waist and handed him all the bags, expecting him to do the carrying.

Kyo knew by experience that he couldn’t refuse.

“Kyo.” Suddenly, a deep male voice was calling out to him.

Kusanagi looked up instinctively, searching for the owner of the voice. He knew who it was, and he felt a mix of anticipation and dread. The redhead’s timing wasn’t good, because Yuki was there.

“Yagami,” grunted Kyo, looking over the girl’s shoulder.

Iori was on the bridge, amidst the lively crowd. Standing there casually, his hands were in the pockets of his red trousers. He behaved as if he had found Kyo by accident, even though both of them knew that wasn’t true.  

Iori was wearing his cropped black jacket, and the stylized long white shirt Kyo hadn’t seen in a while.

Kyo was suddenly aware of his own inadequate light pink shirt.

However, Iori wasn’t paying attention to his attire. Or to Yuki, who had turned around and was glaring at him.

The redhead’s crimson eyes were fixed on Kyo. The anger burning in them was visible through the long bangs that covered half his face.

Kyo placed a hand on Yuki’s shoulder, telling her to move out of the way. He wanted to face Yagami.

“No, Kyo, don’t,” objected Yuki, standing her ground.

Iori noticed that Kyo wanted to come closer, and a wicked, cruel smile formed on his lips. He ignited an impatient purple flame in his hand.

He wants to fight me here?, thought Kyo, perplexed.

The people had noticed that something was going on and several faces turned to look at them with curiosity. After a moment of surprise upon seeing the violet flames burning in Iori’s bare hand, the crowd formed a semi-circle, pulling out their cellphones and starting to film and take pictures.

Iori stepped toward Kyo, without breaking eye contact.

“What the hell are you thinking, Yagami? This is not a good place to--”

“Iori-san, please stop!” commanded Yuki, dropping the shopping bags to the floor and opening her arms to block Iori from getting closer to Kyo.

The audience started to point and mutter: “What’s going on?”, “Is this improv?”, “A street performance?” Most of them were staring at Yagami, amazed at the convincing fire effect

Iori continued walking. Kyo narrowed his eyes. It had been a long time since he had last seen that expression on Iori’s crimson eyes. There was hatred in them.

“Iori-san!” insisted Yuki, louder this time.

With his free hand, Iori forcefully shoved the girl aside. He didn’t even deign to look at her. Yuki fell to the cobbled ground letting out a short, high-pitched cry.

The audience gasped appreciatively: “That fall was really convincing”, “She’s such a great actress!”

The cell phones turned toward Yuki on the floor.

Kyo glanced at Yuki quickly, confirmed that she wasn’t hurt, and then angrily faced Yagami.

“What’s wrong with you?” he demanded, moving toward the redhead. However, he didn’t plan on hitting him, because starting a brawl in the middle of a packed bridge was out of the question. He intended to make Iori put out the fire, and maybe agree on a meeting point to fight each other later. What was the point of exchanging blows in a crowded neighborhood, if the police were going to stop them anyway?

However, Yagami didn’t seem to share his common sense.

A hand surrounded in purple fire crossed the space between them, aiming for Kyo’s face.

Kyo blocked with his arm and felt the pain of the impact. The sleeve of his shirt was ripped open and caught fire. Kyo hurriedly snuffed out the flames and, when the next blow came, he gripped Iori’s fist tightly, immobilizing him.  

Iori pushed and made him take some steps backward. Kyo’s back hit the bridge’s handrail painfully.

The people started to wonder if the scene was a real fight.

Kyo didn’t let go of Iori’s hand, but rather clung to it, shoving his fingers into Iori’s skin.

“I don’t mind you having an issue with me, but we can’t fight here,” said Kyo in an angry voice. “You know that.”

A shadow of annoyance passed through Iori’s face.

Kyo smiled mockingly, gesturing with his head toward the gathered crowd. Some sensible adults looked like they were going to call the police.

“You’re gonna get us into trouble.”

“Your only concern should be that I’m going to kill you,” hissed Iori.

Kyo hadn’t heard such conviction in years. By the way Iori was glaring at him, he probably meant it.

Kyo’s heart rate went up. The threat made him eager to challenge the redhead.

Kyo leaned closer to Yagami, to show him that he wasn’t intimidated.

“I’ll let you try, but I don’t want any interruption this time,” whispered Kyo, without taking his eyes off Iori’s. “I’m sure you feel the same.”

Iori narrowed his eyes at Kyo’s confident words, but eventually the corners of his lips turned up in a nasty smile.

“Same place as last time, in one hour,” he said, staring intently at Kyo.

Kyo nodded, returning an almost imperceptible smile.

A second later, Iori backed off with an annoyed disdainful growl, and started to walk down the street, passing through the groups of people, hands shoved into his pockets, as if nothing had happened. The crowd let him through, confused about the whole ordeal.

“Kyo…” Yuki approached him. She was unharmed, but there was a worried expression on her face. “You aren’t planning to--”

“I’ll see you back home, Yuki.” Kyo cut her off before she could continue.

Yuki tried to object, but a single look was enough to make her fall silent.

She kept quiet. Kyo looked determined, and he wasn’t even paying attention to her anymore. His brown eyes were watching the street through which Yagami had disappeared.

 


 

Kyo walked briskly along the path Iori had taken. He looked over his shoulder only once to confirm that Yuki wasn’t following him. Fortunately, the girl had understood that, no matter what she said, he wouldn’t change his mind. She had stepped aside looking miserable and full of resentment.

Kyo pushed Yuki’s reproachful face from his mind and focused on dodging the people that swarmed the narrow street of the Ebisubashisuji shopping arcade. Despite his efforts, he continuously bumped against shoulders and earned himself several annoyed glares. Kyo considered taking one of the less packed backstreets, but soon he discarded the thought, because he caught a glimpse of Yagami’s broad back some blocks ahead of him. The crescent moon was clearly visible against the black fabric of his jacket.

Yagami didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Kyo picked up the pace, but he wasn’t able to catch up to him.  

Well, it didn’t matter anyway, because both of them were going to the same place.

Kyo sprinted down the stairs of the Nanba subway station. Down there, it became even more crowded. Dozens of commuters who couldn’t wait to get home filled the corridors and tunnels, forming perfect lines before the fare gates.

With no other alternative than to join the lines, Kyo glanced around and saw Yagami’s crescent moon once more, before it disappeared behind one of the tunnel’s pillars.

He suppressed a smile. Yagami was going to take the subway too? The meeting point wasn’t far from there. A trip in the subway would probably take only fifteen minutes. Was Iori as impatient as he was?

After crossing the access gate, Kyo hurried to the platform, but he was too slow. Helplessly, he watched as train closed its doors and departed.

The cars in front of him picked up speed and it was hard to make up the faces inside. He had the impression that one redhead was looking at him through the windows, but it could have been his imagination.

Kyo walked up and down the platform, waiting for the minutes to go by. He checked his cellphone and read Yuki’s concerned texts, but didn’t reply. There were other messages too, from friends who wanted to know what he was doing for his birthday.

It probably wasn’t a good idea to answer that he intended to fight Yagami.

Kyo boarded the next train, which was packed, as expected. He made an effort to avoid the briefcase that kept pressing against his leg, and to not bump against an old lady that was having a hard time keeping her balance every time the train swayed sharply.

I hope Yagami is as uncomfortable as I am, thought Kyo bitterly. However, he smiled to himself. Picturing Iori taking a train during rush hour was funny.

With nothing better to do, Kyo stared at the dark tunnels on the other side of the window. His boring shopping day had been unexpectedly improved thanks to Yagami.

It was true that he had been thinking about the redhead, but he didn’t expect Iori to come to a place as busy as Dotonbori. What was Iori doing there? Following him, perhaps? Looking for him? Did Iori endure the hours Yuki spent wandering around the stores?

Kyo recalled Iori’s intense gaze and no doubt was left in his mind. Iori had been there for him, to challenge him. He had been looking for him, just like in the old days, unconcerned about being aggressive in front of other people. Iori hadn’t been willing to tolerate Yuki getting in the way. He had pushed her aside without taking his eyes off him.

For a moment, Iori had looked the same as he was years ago, when his obsession led him to behave irrationally.

I wonder why he’s in such a foul mood. Well, that’s good, I guess. Maybe the fight will be more interesting.

The train’s speakers announced that the next stop was Shin-Osaka Station, and Kyo let other passengers push him toward the door. The trip had been quite short, but his impatience to see Yagami had increased.

Once outside, he all but ran across the station’s large parking lot.

Shivering in the cold night, Kyo walked through empty streets, holding his pink shirt closed with the empty hope that it would provide him with some warmth. He hadn’t dressed appropriately for the December weather because Yuki’s original idea had been to spend the day inside heated stores, then to return home in a comfortable and appropriately heated taxi. Kyo had teased her, saying she wouldn’t have the right to complain if she got sick. The girl’s reply had been a simple-minded ‘it’s the price of being fashionable.’

The Shin-Osaka neighborhood was comprised mostly of highways and overpasses surrounded by office buildings that loomed over the avenues. It wasn’t an ostentatious district, and it usually was deserted when office hours were over. The only businesses that remained open were restaurants, some konbini grocery stores, izakaya bars, and a couple of hotels.   

The thick concrete and metal pillars that supported the flyovers were dirty and looked menacing. Damp spots soiled the ground, and the dark space available under the wide bridges had been fenced in and turned into parking lots for motorcycles and bikes. The sound of vehicles racing along the highway reverberated against the cement, and the displaced air was chilling to the bone.

It wasn’t a nice area to walk by night and, thus, it was the perfect place to face Yagami without attracting attention.

Kyo crossed a street and made his way among the columns. The street lamps weren’t enough to penetrate the dense dimness.

His footsteps grew lighter as he approached the meeting point.

Yagami was already there, waiting for him leaning against one of the pillars, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

“You said one hour. It hasn’t even been twenty minutes,” quipped Kyo, getting closer, feeling the fire tingling in his fingers, asking to come out. “Someone was in a hurry,” he added, lowering his voice.

Iori stared at him coldly, moving away from the column.

“Speak for yourself, Kusanagi.”

“Well, you pushed my girlfriend. I can’t wait to make you pay,” replied Kyo sarcastically.

“Screw your girlfriend,” was Iori’s unsmiling reply.

Kyo blinked at Yagami’s somber tone. Apparently, Iori wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

Iori disposed of his cigarette in a brief purple flash, then rushed toward Kyo.

There was no warning, but Kyo wasn’t expecting any. This wasn’t a tournament in which the opponents greeted each other and waited for the signal to begin fighting. Here, there were no rules or time restrictions. They could devote themselves to this match, and they would be the ones to decide when it ended.

Kyo dodged Iori skillfully, and Iori’s claw only brushed his arm, without injuring him. The redhead struck again, giving Kyo no time to react, and for a brief second they looked each other in the eye. Kyo felt an intense, pleasant shiver running down his spine at the sight of Iori. The redhead’s crimson eyes had an inner glow. Iori was focused only on him.

However, Iori was oddly silent that night. Aside from some grunts when receiving a blow, or the wheezing caused by physical effort, the redhead didn’t talk to him. There were no taunts or accusations. Kyo noticed that Iori was gritting his teeth, and that he was relentless in his attacks. He reacted angrily when his blows didn’t connect, and looked annoyed when his fists or fire reached Kyo. Nothing pleased him. There was something upsetting his thoughts.

It didn’t take long for Kyo to find the rhythm of Iori’s continuous attacks, and he easily countered a blow and hit the redhead with such force that Iori flew backwards, crashing against one of the concrete pillars.

“What’s wrong with you, Yagami? You seem distracted,” said Kyo, wiping his own lips with the back of one hand. Earlier, Iori had been able to hit him on the face and now there was a faint blood aftertaste in his mouth.

“Shut up and fight,” replied Iori, summoning a purple blaze into his hand.

It wasn’t that Iori was fighting poorly, but Kyo could feel that there was something different that night. Iori looked as if he wanted to destroy him, as an obligation, because it was something he had to do. He wasn’t enjoying their match at all.

Among the flames mixing together and burning brightly in the dark, Kyo started to pay more attention. Iori was fighting in anger. He was using Kyo to vent his rage.

“Why are you so angry?” Kyo asked harshly when they backed off to collect themselves. “Someone pissed you off?” he sneered.

His harmless provocation angered Yagami even more.

“It’s your fault,” muttered Iori. “And I’ll make you pay.”

Kyo narrowed his eyes when the violet flames became more intense and burned almost white-hot, taking him by surprise. Iori’s Ya Sakazuki launched toward him in the form of solid fire pillars that cracked the floor beneath them and made pieces of cement fly in all directions. Kyo was familiar with that technique and knew how to dodge it, but something changed during the last explosion. Iori gestured with his hand, as if he were commanding the fire to turn abruptly instead of continuing in a straight line, and the flames obeyed. The last pillar came from under Kyo, engulfing him in a massive detonation, so high it also hit the overpass, making it tremble.

Kyo was thrown sideways, while pieces of paint and concrete rained on them. His clothes were burning, but he rolled on the ground and made the purple flames subside. When he stood up, his shirt was a ragged, singed mess, and Kyo took the remains off and threw them on the floor. His shoulder and the arm that had been hit by the attack were hurting, but he welcomed the pain. Yagami had shown him a new technique, and Kyo let his orange fire burn stronger, ready to return the favor.

Iori was staring at him with a frown upon his face. It was impossible to say if he was pleased with the successful attack. His breathing grew difficult.

“New tricks, eh, Yagami?” smiled Kyo, coming closer. His thin white T-shirt was dirty and scorched at the hem, but Kyo wasn’t cold anymore. Yagami’s presence made his energy burn. “You’ll need more than that to defeat me.”

Iori gritted his teeth and growled something.

Kyo thought he was insulting him, but then he noticed the drop of scarlet blood on Iori’s lips.

“No,” grunted Iori, summoning his flames again and taking some steps in Kyo’s direction. However, he didn’t make it far. The violet fire disappeared abruptly and Iori took a hand to his lips, looking furious.

Kyo stopped.

“Yagami…” he muttered.

The redhead shook his head fiercely.

“Don’t stop!” he ordered in a muffled voice, but Kyo didn’t move. “You said there would be no interruptions--” Iori fell silent and closed his eyes tightly. He coughed against the palm of his hand, and droplets of blood stained his fingers.

Helpless, Kyo could only watch as Iori’s coughing turned into a painful fit that made the redhead’s body tremble, disrupting his breathing.

“Yagami…” repeated Kyo, but Iori moved away, turning his back to him, furious that Kyo would see him like this.

However, instead of subsiding, the coughing fit intensified. Thick drops of blood fell to the ground. Iori’s steps became unstable and the redhead lost his balance and fell on his knees, still coughing, his back arched with the effort of drawing his breath.

Kyo came closer, feeling powerless. It had been years since he saw Yagami like this. When was the last time? During the KOF’97 tournament, when Orochi’s presence had unleashed the Riot of the Blood.

Kyo thought Iori was better now, and that the years he spent without his flames had allowed his body to heal and repair the damage caused by the curse. However, he had been wrong. Iori had recovered his power, and the curse was affecting him again.

Kyo had no doubt that Iori himself had caused the fit. Using his modified Ya Sakazuki, he had consumed more energy than usual. And Iori knew this. But, in spite of it, he had decided to use the technique.

Troubled, Kyo took one more step. Iori had never been interested in facing other fighters. When someone challenged him, he treated them as nuisances and took care of them without a serious fight. It was as if Iori knew his body had a limit, and preferred to save his strength to face Kyo.

But, that night, his new technique had exceeded what his body could take.

Kyo hesitated. A part of him wanted to kneel next to Iori and put a comforting hand on his back, and just wait until the coughing was over. However, he knew that Iori would reject him. His compassion was more than the redhead could ever accept.

For that reason, Kyo waited, close by, but without touching him. After long minutes, the cough subsided.

Iori straightened his back slowly, looking confused, as if he didn’t understand why he was kneeling on the floor with his hands tainted red. When he gazed at Kyo, his eyes seemed dim and tired. His lips were covered in a scarlet sheen.

A shadow of frustration settled on Yagami’s countenance.

“Don’t worry. We can do this as many times as we want and maybe someday we’ll be able to properly finish a match,” Kyo said, forcing an arrogant smile. Without thinking, he offered a hand to help Yagami stand up.

The redhead looked at the offered hand with contempt. Kyo realized that this could also be considered a display of compassion, but he didn’t back down. Once more, he recalled Iori’s fingers holding on to his hand during the previous tournament. He wanted to feel them again.  

Iori shoved his hand aside and stood up without assistance.

There were no harsh words or a promise to kill him. Without looking in his direction, Iori took one unsteady step to walk away.

Kyo was right next to him, and noticed when Iori clutched his chest with a groan.

“Yagami!”

The redhead didn’t answer. He staggered toward the avenue, but his legs gave way beneath him.

Kyo was able to grab hold of him before he hit the floor.

 


 

Kyo was aware that his actions were contradictory, and the rational thing to do was to leave his “enemy” to fend for himself. Other people probably wouldn’t understand. Why help Yagami if the redhead wanted to kill him? Why did he care?

Kyo hailed a taxi and helped the redhead climb in. The driver took a look at them in the rear-view mirror, but said nothing. Iori’s head hung low and his hair covered his face. The blood on his hands and white shirt wasn’t visible in the vehicle’s dim light. Iori looked like a drunken young man, and, from the driver’s point of view, that was perfectly normal.

Kyo gave Iori’s address. He was used to knowing the location of his rival’s apartment, as well as to having Iori’s number saved on his cellphone.

They had been meeting like this for years, bound by that strange relationship. Kyo was already used to Yagami’s presence in his life.

Kyo looked at Yagami, who was slumped in the backseat with a hand clutched tightly to his chest. His face was hidden, but Kyo could hear his laborious breathing. The cough hadn’t returned, and Kyo felt relieved.

At this point in life, Iori was like a friend who suffered a permanent desire to punch him. Of course, Kyo wouldn’t dare said this aloud. Iori would hate being called a “friend”.

The trip was quiet. When they arrived to the apartment building where Iori lived, the redhead ignored Kyo’s unwanted help and walked unsteadily to the door.

Fearing that Iori would fall again, Kyo stuck to him. He was sure that the redhead would try to shut the door in his face and leave him outside, but this didn’t happen. Iori entered the building’s lobby and went to the elevators in complete silence, dragging his feet and not looking at Kyo.

The seconds inside the elevator were uncomfortable. Kyo looked at Iori worriedly. Yagami was leaning against one of the elevator’s walls and his back was a little hunched. He hadn’t stopped clutching at his chest, as if the pain were unbearable.

This time, Kyo didn’t offer help. He knew Iori would reject him.

They got out of the elevator and Kyo followed Iori to the apartment. He let Iori take care of the keys, and went in with him quietly.

Iori allowed this. The redhead didn’t look at him and instead went to his room. He behaved as if Kyo weren’t there. This was a silent concession. Kyo’s presence was welcomed.

Leaving his shoes on the genkan, he followed Iori through the hallway that led to the room. The lights were off, but the city’s night glare was coming in from the windows. The apartment’s walls were white, without decorations. The furniture was basic and functional, not pretentious at all.

Iori lay face-down on a broad bed in disarray, over thick snow-white comforters. Kyo stood under the doorframe and stared at the redhead for a few seconds.

Was this Iori’s usual behavior after his attacks? Drag himself someplace and sleep?

Kyo’s eyes rested on the crescent moon on the back of Iori’s jacket.

Why had he dressed like that today? What had been his intention? To defeat him?

Kill him?

Kyo shook his head at the thought. Iori could repeat that he would kill him, but both of them knew that he would never do it. He enjoyed their fights too much. Looking for Kyo and challenging him were an important part of Iori’s existence.

After some hesitation, Kyo approached the bed without making a sound. Iori’s eyes were closed and his breathing was slow.

“Hey, are you gonna be okay? If it’s not serious, I’ll leave,” Kyo said, sounding a bit dismissive, but keeping his voice low. “Oi… you’re not gonna die, aren’t you?” he added.

Again, there was no answer.

Kyo placed his hand on Iori’s shoulder. The redhead didn’t move.

Bemused, Kyo realized that Iori had fallen asleep. As if he didn’t care about his being there.

“You jerk. You don’t even know how to say ‘thank you’,” muttered Kyo with a resigned sigh.

However, they both knew that he hadn’t accompanied Yagami home because he wanted gratitude.

Kyo let Iori sleep and went to the kitchen. The cupboards were fully stocked and in the fridge he found some bottles of imported beer.

Stealing one, Kyo sat on the living room’s couch and looked over the papers that covered the coffee table. There were some fashion magazines that would have made Yuki jealous, and some quickly scribbled music scores. Iori’s bass guitar was propped against the armrest.

Kyo considered leaving. If Yagami was alright, he had no reason to stay. Maybe he still had time to return home and have dinner with Yuki.

The plan wasn’t exciting, but it made more sense than to sit on Yagami’s couch doing nothing.

Kyo got to his feet and remembered that it was cold outside. He was wearing his burnt and ripped T-shirt. Surely Yagami would be angry if he borrowed something from his closet, but Yagami was angry all the time so it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Amused by the thought, Kyo returned to Yagami’s room.

While he crossed the space between the bed and the drawer on his way to the wardrobe, Kyo stopped in his tracks when he saw a large black obstacle on the floor. Puzzled, he looked around and found a small lamp mounted on the wall next to the drawer. He switched it on and a warm yellow light bathed the room. The thing on the floor was a broken television.

Kyo bent forward to move it aside, and he noticed that the screen seemed to have been punched. The black plastic frame bore melted spots. It seemed to have been set on fire for a few seconds.

“What the hell…” muttered Kyo, as he glanced at the sleeping redhead. “He’s more messed up in the head than I initially thought…”

However, despite his harsh words, Kyo felt a pang of concern. Was this related to Iori’s strange behavior? The Riot of the Blood, maybe?

Feeling uneasy, Kyo looked for more signs of violence around the room, but he didn’t find any. The white walls were pristine. With the exception of the television, Iori’s belongings, like cologne bottles, accessories, or the tablet on the nightstand, were intact.

But Kyo knew that he wasn’t imagining things. Iori had been different that night. Angrier.

Slowly, Kyo returned to the redhead’s side and scrutinized his profile. It wasn’t the first time that Kyo watched Iori sleep and, therefore, he knew that during those peaceful moments, he could enjoy touching Iori without being shoved aside.

Kyo stroke Iori’s red hair softly, uncovering his face.

Kyo sat down carefully on the edge of the bed, without taking his eyes off Iori.

Many years had passed, and Iori was still a constant in his life. During the tournaments, when Kyo had faced Rugal, Orochi, and NESTS, the one who had had his back, always, had been Yagami.

When Iori lost his flames, Kyo had been overcome with uncertainty. He knew that not having fire was beneficial for Yagami. No fire meant that the Yagami curse would not hurt him anymore. But, without fire, Iori didn’t consider himself to be a worthy opponent. The redhead could have seized the chance to forget about him, to turn his back to their families’ rivalry, and to start living his life in full, without worrying about a centuries-old grudge.  

But no. Iori had preferred to recover his fire, to restore the ties that bound them. Iori seemed to need it as an excuse to be closer to Kyo.

Despite all the time that had passed, Iori seemed to think that, if he approached Kyo for a reason other than to fight, the Kusanagi would humiliate him with a rejection.

It was an odd attitude coming from someone who always took what he wanted…

 


 

What am I still doing here?

Kyo was sitting next to Yagami, with his back against the bedhead.

Minutes ago, he had been ready to leave, but he had made the mistake of glancing at Yagami one last time. He noticed a crimson trail on Iori’s lips, and, upon closer examination, he realized that Iori wasn’t asleep, but unconscious. He had shook him by the shoulder, but the redhead hadn’t woken up.

Worried, Kyo made Iori lie on his back, to make it easier for him to breathe. He got one of the bathroom’s towels and took care of the blood, which, thankfully, was no more than a few drops.

But afterwards, he didn’t know what to do.

“Kyo…”

Iori’s tense murmur startled him. But Iori didn’t wake up. He seemed to be having a bad dream.

“Not even in dreams can you leave me alone?” whispered Kyo with a soft mocking smile.

Iori moved slightly, as if trying to locate his voice. Kyo placed a hand over Iori’s red locks and stroked him gently. Iori’s expression didn’t soften.

Kyo reached for Iori’s hand, which was holding tightly to the white comforter. Little by little, Kyo made those fingers relax. Yagami’s skin was cold to the touch.

Tenderly, Kyo locked his fingers with Iori’s. The memories of the tournament came rushing back. They had been in front of hundreds of spectators, but no person in the audience had known about the strength with which Iori had returned the gesture. Or the warmth of his skin against Kyo’s.

Iori had been smiling disdainfully at him, as if they were in a ridiculous situation, but even so…

In the room, Iori’s fingers closed over Kyo’s, making him smile.

“I knew it. You liked it,” whispered Kyo.

Kusanagi didn’t move for a long time. Yagami slept peacefully.

After a while, Kyo started to slip into a serene and peaceful state of relaxation. Even though he wasn’t doing anything, except making company to Yagami, the monotony of the previous days had disappeared. The apartment’s quietness was enjoyable, and the contact of Iori’s fingers was an intimate gesture, with no one there to see them, and without the excuse of it being a provocation to ignite a fight.

The minutes turned into hours, and, without letting go of Iori’s hand, Kyo started to doze off. Near midnight, he woke up with a jolt when his cellphone began to ring.

Cursing, he looked for the device with his free hand and quickly turned the volume down. He saw several texts from friends wishing him a happy birthday. They were followed by an incoming call from Yuki.

Kyo didn’t pick up. He felt a little guilty, but also a bit annoyed. The girl was probably worried because he hadn’t returned home. Maybe she thought Yagami had hurt him, or something worse. Why couldn’t Yuki show a little more faith in him? If she had had authority over the matter, she would have forbidden him from fighting ever again. Not only against Iori, but any other fighter too.

Reading the messages, it took a while for Kyo to notice that Iori was awake. When he glanced toward the redhead, Iori had been silently observing him for several seconds, motionless.

Kyo put the phone down. Iori didn’t move or look away.

“How are you feeling?” asked Kyo, and his voice sounded loud in the quietness of the room.

“What are you still doing here?”

The question sounded like a recrimination, but there was no anger in Iori’s voice. Kyo wondered if Iori had noticed that their fingers were locked together.

“I had nothing better to do,” answered Kyo sarcastically.

Iori glanced at the cellphone’s screen, which was still on and showed the stream of incoming messages. The last ones were from Benimaru: “Yuki told me you fought Yagami??”, “Answer me!”, “Are you ok?”

Iori let out a low derisive laugh. However, he said nothing. He covered his face with his free hand and sighed, closing his eyes tightly.

Kyo jumped when Iori twisted his fingers without warning. However, when the pain subsided, their hands were still together.

“Listen,” spoke Kyo, leaning over the redhead. “I want an answer. Is something wrong with you? You weren’t yourself during the fight.” Kyo paused, but Iori didn’t reply. “You’re coughing up blood again, and I saw the broken TV. Is it the Riot? Is it affecting you?”

Kyo’s concern was sincere and Iori opened his eyes to look at him. The usual hardness was gone. He seemed tired.

“The Riot has nothing to do with this,” said Iori.

“Oh, so… You suddenly decided to punch the TV? What’s next? Are you gonna wrestle the fridge into subm-- Ow!”  Kyo’s words were cut off when Iori twisted his fingers a second time.

“I told you it’s your fault,” growled Iori.

“Why? What did I do?” asked Kyo harshly, twisting Iori’s fingers in retaliation.

Iori allowed it, averting his eyes. He was starting to look angry, as if Kyo had stirred unpleasant memories.

Kyo realized that he wasn’t going to receive a satisfactory answer, but it didn’t matter anymore. Whatever he had done wrong, it wasn’t serious, or else Iori wouldn’t have allowed him to sit on his bed, and hold his hand.

The cellphone texts kept coming.

“Thanks for looking for me today,” whispered Kyo with an apologetic smile, earning himself a confused look from Iori. “Was it on purpose?” Iori shook his head slightly; he didn’t understand what Kyo meant. “It’s my birthday,” said Kyo with a short laugh. “I was gonna have dinner with Yuki, but then you appeared and made me go fight with you instead.” Kyo let go of Iori’s fingers, only to place his hand on the redhead’s cheek, caressing gently. “How did you know what I wanted?”

“Did you want me to kill you?” asked Iori sarcastically.

Kyo laughed. It felt good when Iori replied.

With a pleasant shudder, Kyo noticed that Iori had lowered his gaze to his lips. One second later, Iori’s hand rested on his hair, pulling him until their faces were only millimeters apart.

The first brush was soft, but it soon turned into a slow kiss with a lingering hint of blood in it. Iori explored his mouth with unexpected gentleness, and then pulled away, staring at Kyo’s face as if he were looking for something. Kyo waited, puzzled, because they usually didn’t behave like that. What was the meaning of that slow, gentle approach?

Iori stroked his cheek once, his eyes never leaving Kyo’s. And then, tentatively, Iori put his arms around Kyo, pulling him toward his chest.

Kyo braced himself. What was going on? Yagami was hugging him, but… Yagami didn’t do that kind of thing. Was this a trick? A deception before an incoming blow?

While his thoughts became erratic, Kyo found himself lying against Iori’s chest, with the redhead’s arms around him, holding him tightly.

“Yagami…” muttered Kyo, perplexed, but he let the embrace continue, and he even looked for a better position that would allow him to hug Iori back.

Iori didn’t say anything. For a long time, they didn’t move and didn’t speak. Kyo could feel Iori’s breathing next to his ear, and the redhead’s heart beating against him.

Why was Iori embracing him like this? What had happened?

Kyo didn’t ask it aloud, because Iori wasn’t going to answer. However, he knew that there had to be a reason. Something had changed within Yagami. It was as if his reluctance to make a non-threatening gesture had disappeared.

“You’re tempting me to spend the night with you,” whispered Kyo.

“If you had wanted to leave, you would be gone already,” was Iori’s sarcastic answer.

Kyo suppressed a smile.

He didn’t understand what was going on, and he planned to figure it out, but not now.

For the time being, he was going to enjoy being in Iori’s embrace.

  

~ Fin ~


Happy birthday, Kyo-sama! ^^
MiauNeko
December 12, 2018