Ryo didn't always mind being alone. It used to be standard operating procedure—an apartment to himself, clean and tidy, with no noise or clutter to distract him from his work. He'd even go so far as to say he liked it that way. There was a certain serenity to be found in shutting the rest of the world out—an odd sort of reassurance that came with choosing solitude.
It was easy, predictable, safe.
And in retrospect incredibly boring.
Between Bikky, Carol and Dee—god, especially Dee—Ryo's not sure he even knows what the word 'solitude' means anymore.
Which makes tonight difficult. Bikky's on an overnight bus heading for Los Angeles—Ryo dropped him off at the station himself. Carol refused to come—said it wasn't really goodbye anyway, and that Bikky would understand. When Ryo asked, Bikky just shrugged and said, "She doesn't want me to see her cry."
Ryo might have cried a little himself at the time, and maybe Bikky's eyes were wet when the kid leaned down to hug him. Maybe they were both being total saps, but Los Angeles is a long way from New York.
The apartment is too empty now. There's nothing here but Ryo and his thoughts. And the dozens upon dozens of boxes holding his own carefully sorted and packed possessions. Dee will be here tomorrow—probably not 'bright and early', but early enough—to help load boxes and furniture into the rental truck Ryo plans on picking up first thing in the morning.
The quiet is making him feel melancholy, empty and morose, and he indulges in a moment of shameless self pity. He's had Bikky to take care of for a long time, and for all the kid's trouble and rebellion, the boy has never felt like a burden. What he's really been is family, and even though Ryo has always considered himself to be more of an older brother than a parental figure, he thinks this must be what an empty nest feels like.
He's got his pajamas on, ready to crawl in bed and spend a sleepless night staring at the ceiling, when a loud pounding at the door startles him.
"What on earth?" he asks the empty air, already crossing the room. The lock rattles before he even gets close, the door clicking and swinging open, and a familiar figure stands silhouetted in the doorframe, hip cocked to the side and arm braced high on the jamb. There's just enough light for Ryo to make out the smug smirk quirking that handsome face, the glitter of mischief in dark, lingering eyes.
"Dee," says Ryo, blinking in surprise. It's possible he needs to stop underestimating his partner. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Late," says Dee, stepping inside like he owns the place—they both know he's beyond the need for invitation. "Really late. But I figured you'd be awake and moping, so I thought I'd come over and distract you."
"Distract me," Ryo repeats blandly.
"Yes," says Dee, all serious intensity as he steps close. "Distract you. With my animal magnetism and sexual prowess."
The fact that he manages to say it with a straight face is actually pretty impressive. Or possibly just ridiculous. Ryo can't decide whether his expression wants to weigh down with appalled disapproval or brighten with amusement. He compromises by rolling his eyes and turning to walk further into the apartment.
"I'm not moping," he says, heading for the kitchen. He takes a glass out of the open cardboard box on the counter and fills it from the tap.
"Liar," says Dee, following him into the room without missing a beat. Ryo barely has time to take a sip of his water before Dee is there, right behind him and invading his space. Dee's arms bracket him, Dee's strong hands curling around the edge of the countertop. "Bikky will be fine in Los Angeles," says Dee, voice a heady rumble in Ryo's ear. "He'll be back visiting in no time. You'll barely even notice he's gone."
"I'm not sure I believe you," Ryo says, giving up on the water and setting it aside mostly untouched. There's still a stubborn sadness clinging to his thoughts, but it's hard to ignore the solid, reassuring heat of Dee's body pressing along his back.
"Trust me," murmurs Dee, voice warm with affection and laughter. "I'm distracting. Remember?"
Ryo isn't surprised by the touch of Dee's lips against the side of his throat, but the gesture makes his breath catch anyway. The hands that shift from the counter to his hips feel heavy with intent, hot with anticipation, and then they slide across his stomach, slip beneath his shirt, lay claim to his skin, and Ryo gasps and leans back against Dee's chest.
"Just like that," Dee whispers, mumble of lips against the shell of Ryo's ear. "Just for me."
"Yes," Ryo gasps, turning in Dee's arms so he can see his partner's face—so he can look him in the eye and feel the uneven gust of Dee's breath on his lips. "Only you."
They get to the bed somehow—stumbling and kissing and tearing at each other's clothes—and the frame and springs creak and groan in protest when the two bodies land hard and keep sliding against each other. Ryo groans and sighs, crying aloud when Dee's body meets his just right, and they move together in the still, slippery night.
- — - — - — -
Bikky catches a flight back to New York exactly one month and twelve days after the fall semester starts. It's fall break, and he doesn't take the bus this time—his work study at the cafeteria has left him just enough free cash for round-trip plane tickets, and he wants to spend as much time in the city as possible. He wants to hold onto Carol as long as he can before he needs to head back to school.
He wonders idly what the odds are of convincing her to transfer to California for her final semester of college. Probably slim to nonexistent.
Bikky has stayed in close touch, has made sure everyone knows when his plane arrives, but he's still surprised at the reception he finds waiting for him at the terminal.
There's Carol, of course—beautiful and smiling and just the sight he's been waiting for—and Ryo, who also isn't unexpected. Even Dee Bikky probably could've predicted, though the wide excited grin on his face seems somehow out of place. But behind the trio he sees two more familiar faces, Lai and Lass waving at him. Well, Lass is waving—and smiling and giggling and even bouncing a little—while Lai mostly looks put-upon. But his eyebrows are a little higher than usual, his face a little less bored, and Bikky knows that means the guy is happy to see him.
Bikky doesn't have long to consider his large welcoming party—just seconds, really, before Carol is squealing his name and throwing herself into his arms. He wraps her up in a tight hug, lets the rest of the world fall away to nothing, and breathes in her soft, familiar scent.
"Missed you," she murmurs, lips brushing the shell of his ear. He's heard her voice plenty since he left, they've barely made it two days without talking on the phone, but this is different. This is what he's missed more than anything, and he really, really wants to kiss her right now.
"Missed you, too," he says instead, behaving himself for the moment. He can afford to be a gentleman until later.
She pulls back to look him in the eye, and suddenly her soft, sweet smile turns a little bit scary. "I hope you've been behaving yourself," she says.
The hair at the back of Bikky's neck stands on end, his survival instincts kicking into high gear at the danger he sees threatened in her eyes. He knows he's got nothing to fear—he hasn't come close to stepping out of bounds, and he doesn't plan to—but it's still hard to ignore the terrifying potential in that look.
"Like I'd ever risk the kind of bodily harm you'd inflict if I step out of line."
She narrows her eyes at him, suspiciously assessing for a moment. In the blink of an eye she's back to grinning genuinely, bouncing up on her toes to lay a soft kiss against his lips. It's a promise of things to come later.
Everyone else is still hanging back when Bikky shifts his attention, waiting their respective turns to greet him. He smiles and waves, and they move in en-masse, all chattering and hugs and thumps on the back.
"Welcome back, monkey-man!"
"Did you have a good flight, Bikky?"
"We're so glad you're back, everything's been so boring without you, even Lai thinks so!"
Lai doesn't say anything himself, hovering towards the back of the group until Bikky approaches him.
"Lass made me come," Lai finally says when silence is no longer an option.
Bikky smirks and punches him in the shoulder, says, "It's good to see you, too, smartass," and watches a tiny, almost invisible smile spread across his friend's face.
Lai and Lass bid the rest of the group farewell in front of the terminal, and Bikky is surprised to discover that it's Dee's car waiting for them in the ramp. Maybe the guy really did miss him.
Carol climbs practically into Bikky's lap in the back seat, garnering a snort and a muttered, "Behave back there, you two," from Dee.
Bikky spends the uneventful drive with his attention split between his girlfriend and the passing familiar scenery. It's amazing how homesick just the first month away has left him—how much he's missed the grimy, busy streets and rundown basketball courts and impossibly tall buildings. Not that L.A. doesn't have streets and basketball courts and buildings, but somehow they don't feel like this.
Dee parks the car and leads the way up to the apartment, and if Bikky's going to be completely honest, he sort of expects their destination to be a disaster area. The last time he saw Dee's place, it was in pieces—literal pieces, lumber in haphazard stacks across the floor and plaster crumbling everywhere. The natural first stages of renovation, sure, but Bikky didn't have much faith in the man to reinstate order out of that much chaos.
So he's surprised when Dee ushers him through the door with a bright, "Tadaaaah!" and instead of chaos Bikky sees neat walls and clean floors, construction finished and everything squared away.
"Wow," he says, staring.
"Bet you didn't think I could do such a professional job," Dee says proudly, pointing at himself with one thumb.
"Not really, no," Bikky admits.
"Why you little ape!" growls Dee, switching from smile to glower in the span of a blink. It's kind of funny, actually, being called a 'little ape' by someone who has to crane his neck up to make eye contact. Bikky towers over everyone in this room, Dee included, and it makes him feel smug.
"Easy now," says Ryo, suddenly standing between them. "Why don't we show Bikky his room."
"Follow me," Dee grumbles grudgingly, and turns to lead the way.
- — - — - — -
"I think he liked it," Ryo says the next morning, pressing a greeting kiss to the corner of Dee's mouth before getting out of bed and starting in on his morning routine.
"He better have," Dee mumbles sleepily. "It's a great room. Way bigger than the kid deserves." But for all his complaining, there's affection in his voice—grudging and warm—and Ryo feels his face spread into an amused smile.
"Come on," he says, and smacks Dee's foot on his way around the bed. "We're going to be late."
Despite the prediction, they make it to work on time. Their shared office is in the same disarray they left it in the night before—unfinished paperwork scattered and waiting across both their desks. Neglected for once by both of them, because they had more important things to do—like making it to the airport in time to meet Bikky's flight.
"How are we supposed to get all this done before that stupid staff meeting?" Dee grouses, flopping down into his chair with a heavily dejected air.
"Buck up, soldier," Ryo teases. "We're in big trouble if we don't finish, and I'm not doing all the work this time."
"But you're so much better at this stuff than me."
"And you're a lazy jerk," says Ryo, but he smiles as he says it—lets the amusement light his eyes before he turns to his own desk and settles in to work. "I wonder if Carol and Bikky are having fun today," he muses idly.
Dee snorts, and the sudden burst of sound is jarring in the quiet of the office. Ryo doesn't turn around, but he can picture the rolling eyes easily enough when Dee answers, "They're probably still zonked out. I'd bet good money they didn't get much sleep last night."
Ryo doesn't miss the intimation in those words, and his cheeks turn sheepishly pink as he asks, "You think so?"
Dee snorts again, dark amusement, and retorts, "Why do you think I built Bikky's room as far away from ours as physically possible? The only way I could've gotten more distance would be to put him on the roof."
"Oh," Ryo says dumbly.
A knock on the door interrupts his efforts to find a subtle way to change the subject, and there's not even time for a quick 'Come in!' before the door is swinging open and JJ's head pokes through.
Ryo hears wind and the rustle of paper behind him, and when he glances over his shoulder he finds Dee's chair empty and no sign of his partner. Not surprising, really. Despite the subdued demeanor JJ has begun to display lately, Dee has remained twitchy and paranoid. Ryo doesn't really blame him.
But as he turns his attention from Dee's empty desk and back to JJ, Ryo realizes they're nothing subdued about him now. If anything, the man's vivid, energetic light is brighter than ever. Ryo's eyebrows rise unbidden.
"What's up, JJ?" he asks cautiously.
"The chief wanted me to let you know the staff meeting's been moved back to nine."
"I… That is… Thanks, JJ. I guess we'll see you there?" Ryo is completely flustered by the fact that he doesn't have to cover for Dee—JJ hasn't even asked where he is.
"Yep," says JJ with a wide grin—a look Ryo is one hundred percent certain he's never had aimed at him. Usually it's nothing but jealous glares and narrowed eyes, or an occasional wide-eyed, appalled stare of shock. But before he can figure out what it means, JJ is disappearing back into the hall, door swinging shut behind him.
"Is he gone?" Dee stage-whispers, and when Ryo turns this time, he sees Dee peeking over the far corner of his desk.
"Yes," says Ryo. "He's gone. Did that seem weird to you?"
"When is JJ ever not weird?" Dee points out reasonably.
"No, I mean…" Ryo sighs. "Never mind. Let's just get this paperwork done."
"Are you kidding?" Dee says, rising from the floor with a victorious smirk on his face. "We have an extra hour before that stupid meeting. I'm going to get coffee. You want anything?"
"Dee!" Ryo protests, but Dee is already at the door, opening it and stepping through.
"The usual, then?" Dee asks, laughter in his eyes. "You got it, partner."
And just like that he's gone, leaving Ryo staring at an empty office full of paperwork, fully suspecting that he's about to do it all himself.
He sighs and buckles down to work, muttering under his breath about slack-off partners with no work ethic. Seriously, does Dee think he likes doing this crap? Ryo plans on giving his partner a piece of his mind later.
Just as soon as they slide in under the wire for these deadlines.
The days tick by too quickly, fall break disappearing through Bikky's fingers until it's his very last morning and he has to pack his suitcase for an afternoon flight.
"If you can make it to the precinct by noon, we can do lunch and then drop you off at the airport," Ryo had offered last night, and Bikky readily accepted. He meant to have his packing done by the time he crashed out, but of course it didn't go that way. Not with Carol over, and one last night to themselves before he disappears back to L.A.
He smiles now, thinking about last night, and doesn't for a moment regret that he has to rush to finish packing. There are way more important things than orderly luggage, and if he forgets anything vital he's sure Ryo will mail it to him.
He makes it to the precinct earlier than he means to, twenty minutes to spare and no idea how to kill the time. Dee and Ryo's office is locked, but Bikky breaks in easily enough and leaves his suitcase against the wall. He could stay and wait here, of course, but he heads back into the hall instead. There should be a coffee machine around one of these corners.
Bikky could really use some coffee right now.
The faces in the hall are mostly familiar—he's spent enough time in this building (and the predecessor building that's not standing anymore) to know his way around both the halls and the people—and he nods and smiles to cops and detectives whose names he should probably remember by now.
The coffee dispenses from the machine with an uneven gurgle, dripping lazily into the small paper cup. Bikky knows from past experience that it will taste more burnt than not, but the hit of caffeine is more important than the flavor. It hits his tongue and he instantly feels more awake, travel-ready nerves settling at last.
He nearly jumps out of his skin when he turns around and realizes there's someone slumped against the wall behind him, tucked behind the corner and just out of sight of anyone that might choose to glance down the hall. It's a dude, slouched forward with his arms draped over knees, and he doesn't seem to have even noticed Bikky is there. Or maybe he's noticed and just doesn't care.
"Um," says Bikky. "Are you all right?"
"Shh," the man mumbles, the sound coming out muffled from behind his arms. "Don't talk to me from there, someone might see you." When he raises his eyes, Bikky realizes he definitely recognizes this guy.
"Don't I know you?" he asks, edging around the corner to join the man, sitting beside him on the floor. He wracks his brain for a moment, trying to place the broad jaw, the chaotic spikes of hair, the heavy scowl. "Drake, right?" he finally guesses, and the man nods dejectedly. "Who are you hiding from?"
"No one," Drake mumbles. "It's stupid."
Bikky sips at his coffee and says nothing.
"It's just… you ever think you know someone—like really have them figured out—and then suddenly realize you just… don't?"
"Um," says Bikky.
"Me neither," Drake mutters. "I mean, until a few weeks ago. One minute I think I've got my head wrapped around how the little freak's mind works, and then suddenly bam, it's all upside-down! He just up and changed the rules, and now he won't leave me alone! And you know what the worst part is?"
"What?" Bikky asks helpfully.
"I don't even know if I want him to leave me alone."
Bikky doesn't ask who 'he' is. He's actually pretty sure he doesn't want to know. As long as it's not Dee or Ryo—which it's not, he can already tell—it's none of his business anyway.
"Well," Bikky says abruptly, "It's been really interesting talking to you, but I'm going to be late if I don't get back." He stands in a single, not-so-fluid motion, and pauses before he turns the corner back into the main hall, taking a moment to throw a sympathetic look at the sullen detective still slumped against the wall. "I hope you figure things out with your friend."
"Yeah, yeah," Drake mutters, waving dejectedly. "Get out of here. Thanks for listening."
"No problem," Bikky says, feeling only a little awkward.
"Hey, do me a favor?" the guy says as Bikky rounds the corner. "Don't tell anyone about all this."
"Don't worry about it," Bikky says, flashing him a quick thumbs-up. "No one will hear it from me."
He tosses his empty coffee cup in a trash bin on his way back to the office, whistling distractedly and stuffing his hands in his pockets. The door is propped open when he gets there, and both Dee and Ryo are sitting at their desks when he walks in.
"You're late," Dee informs him immediately. The man's stomach rumbles loudly following the assertion, making it pretty clear why he looks so angry about it.
"Sorry," says Bikky, shrugging noncommittally. "I lost track of the time."
"You also broke into our office," Dee asserts darkly. "Do you have any idea how much trouble you could get in for that?"
"Maybe your bosses should invest in some better locks," Bikky smirks. "Haven't they ever heard of security?"
"Wise-ass little jerk," Dee mutters. For once, Bikky doesn't retort.
"So," Ryo chimes in, a little too brightly. "Who wants lunch?"
- — - — - — -
A week after Bikky flies back to California, Ryo is still pondering the kid's strange words of warning, offered on the drive to JFK.
"You know that Drake guy?" Bikky had said, almost idly. "You should keep an eye on him. Something weird might be up."
Something weird is definitely up, Ryo has decided since. Drake never seems to show his face unless he has to, ducking in and out of staff meetings as quickly as possible and avoiding JJ like the plague. Ryo has only ever seen one other person avoid JJ that way, but Dee hasn't had to do any avoiding recently now that Ryo thinks about it. JJ never comes dashing in, pouncing and clinging and yelling like usual.
When he does poke his head into Dee and Ryo's office these days, it's usually with a cheerful, "Have you seen Drake around?"
So, yes. Weird. Very weird. But Ryo doesn't know what it means, and it's not really his business. He shrugs it off for the most part. Mentions it to Dee once or twice, but Dee's response is usually limited to, "Long as JJ leaves me alone, I could care less what those two get up to."
The strangeness hovers there, just at the periphery of Ryo's awareness, like a connect-the-dots image that's not quite coming together. The fact that it's not his business doesn't seem to dissuade his brain from turning the puzzle over and over, trying to solve the mystery.
It comes clear one night in a dark hallway of the nearly deserted precinct—after hours, late into the night, and Ryo would've sworn he was the only person left in the building. He's surprised when the muted sound of earnest conversation finds its way to his ears, and he follows around a corner. There's a door cracked open ahead of him, a wedge of light creeping across the linoleum floor of the hall, and he realizes that's the door to Drake and JJ's office.
He should walk away. Not his business, he reminds himself. But for some reason his feet carry him forward instead of back, until he's close enough that the words reach him clearly and he can peer into the room through the narrowly cracked door.
He sees Drake leaning against a desk, arms crossed stubbornly over his chest and expression dark and clouded. JJ is standing close—too close, Ryo thinks idly—arms gesticulating expansively to match the bright insistence in his voice.
"But, Drake-Senpai!" JJ says plaintively. "It's a good idea! It's a great idea! We're a perfect match—who else would put up with me the way you do?"
Drake shakes his head sharply, but the gesture looks forced, even from the shadows where Ryo stands. There's a battle of wills going on here, one that looks like it's been going on for quite some time, and whatever victory might mean, Ryo is pretty sure Drake isn't winning.
"But you've been thinking about it, right?" JJ says, voice dropping suddenly softer. His arms fall to his side, his whole frame seeming subdued, and he peers up at Drake through his thick mop of bangs. "Otherwise why avoid me all the time? Why not just yell at me to back off? You know I would leave you alone if you asked me to."
Drake snorts as if that's funny, and Ryo kind of wants to snort, too—he's seen how well telling JJ to go away works when the guy is determined to make a point.
"It's not like that," Drake says, hunching in on himself like the words are hard to say. "You know I'm not into that stuff." 'What stuff?' Ryo wants to interrupt and ask. He hates feeling like he's missing the obvious.
"Okay," says JJ, and the cheerful energy drains out of him in a single, exhausted instant. His face falls serious and sad, his shoulders slumping as he takes a step back and out of Drake's space. "You win. I guess I was wrong. I won't bother you anymore."
"Oh, for the love of—"
Ryo watches in amazement as every hint of tension runs out of Drake's body just as quickly as JJ's abrupt change in mood—watches in even more amazement as Drake surges forward and drags JJ against him so fast they both stumble off balance for a moment. It doesn't even compute that they're kissing at first, just that they're standing too close, holding onto each other with startled, grasping hands.
When the pieces finally click together, Ryo has to slap a hand over his mouth to cover his gasp of surprise. Oh, this is beyond none of his business.
He backs away from the door quickly, not wanting to eavesdrop any longer than he already has. He's intruded enough, seen too much, he can't afford to make it worse now. He feels guilty enough as it is.
His feet can't carry him out of the precinct fast enough.
Dee is still awake when Ryo gets home, puttering around the kitchen despite the late hour.
"I made tacos for dinner," he says, as if one in the morning is a perfectly logical time for dinner—as if he's been waiting for Ryo to get home, which of course he has been—and Ryo smiles warmly at the pulse of affection that fills his chest. It's enough to distract him, for a few minutes at least, from the startlement of new revelations.
Dee sets the table, refuses to let Ryo help with the chore as he lays the array of food out between two plates and a tall, burning candle. From where he waits, watching and leaning against the kitchen counter, Ryo finally blurts, "Did you know Drake and JJ are an item?"
"They finally sealed the deal?" Dee asks jovially. "About damn time. I was starting to think they'd never get there."
"What?!" Ryo gapes. "Dee, how long have you known this was going on?"
"A couple weeks?" Dee says with a shrug. "I dunno, maybe longer. It was kinda hard to miss."
"I missed it!"
"Yeah, well," Dee starts, then seems to think better of whatever he was about to say. His mouth snaps shut, and there's nothing but quiet amusement shining on his face. "Let's just say there have been signs and leave it at that."
Ryo could argue, but he doesn't really feel like it. He's hungry, and the arrangement of taco-fixings on the table is making his stomach rumble noisily. Besides, Dee is smiling at him, stepping close and hooking his thumbs in Ryo's belt loops, and Ryo has never been able to maintain a train of thought with Dee in such close proximity.
"Come on," says Dee, leaning forward to nuzzle at that spot just behind Ryo's left ear. "Let's eat. And go to bed. And maybe I'll even let you sleep a little."
Ryo laughs, low and warm as a different sort of hunger washes over him.
"You're incorrigible," he murmurs, kissing Dee teasingly on the cheek.
"I try," says Dee, and the glint that lights his eyes tells Ryo that those tacos might be cold by the time he gets to eat them.
- — - fin - — -