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Six Things Yoshi Learned About the Drifter

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1

The drifter had shown up in Japan, on Yoshi's father's doorstep, a little over three months ago. In that time, he'd managed to convince Yoshi's father that he was a brilliant man. Yoshi wasn't there when he did it, but the way his father talked Yoshi was certain it had something to do with cards and the strength of the drifter's punch. However it happened, the fact of the matter was that it seemed the drifter had chosen Yoshi's house as a temporary dwelling, but wasn't leaving any time soon.

Yoshi didn't mind. The drifter's presence seemed to give his father new strength, if not much, and that was always a blessing. Though from different continents, and though they hardly spoke the same language, the two men seemed to get along very well. So Yoshi tended to leave them alone and go train or go to town to do a little shopping.

Then one day, he returned home to find his father asleep and the drifter nowhere to be found. He searched the entire estate, a rather large piece of property, but couldn't find him. None of his father's servants knew where he was either.

For a moment, Yoshi thought perhaps the mysterious foreigner had left without saying goodbye. The thought made him frown. He'd thought better of the man, and parting without a proper goodbye stung his insides.

Then he heard a soft grunt from somewhere behind him. He was in the main courtyard near the center of the estate. Looking around, he saw no one in the garden with him, but he knew he'd heard the sound. He also recognized it as the drifter's voice.

"Hello?" he asked, clearly if not loudly.

"…Hi," came a hesitant reply from above.

Yoshi turned and saw the drifter plastered to the roof just above him. It was two stories up right at this point in the wall. The drifter was clutching the tiles of the roof with the sort of strength he used to break men's noses and had his face pressed into the cool clay, hiding his eyes from view.

"What are you doing up there?" Yoshi asked in confusion. "Why are you on the roof?"

The drifter let out a huff of a breath, almost an ironic laugh, and shrugged. The motion upset his position and he slid two centimeters further toward the edge of the roof. With a gasp, he hurriedly clutched at any tiles he could get his hands on and seemed to press himself ever farther into the roof.

"Girl of yers lost her hat to the wind," he managed, his face now turned to the side so the roof wasn't muffling his voice. And now Yoshi took notice of the traditional Japanese hat clutched, along with the roof tiles, in the drifter's right hand.

Yoshi tilted his head slightly in a nod, accepting the reasoning. "So get down off the roof."

The drifter didn't move a muscle and Yoshi got the distinct impression that the younger man was embarrassed. "I….I can't."

"I do not understand," Yoshi said, crossing his arms against his chest.

The drifter lifted his head minutely, obviously trying to glare at Yoshi, but the expression vanished when he actually looked down at the samurai and he quickly pressed his face to the tiles once more. "I'm…I just can't, ok? Let's leave it at that."

And suddenly the truth hit Yoshi like a full sack of rice: The drifter was afraid of heights. It seemed impossible, since he'd jumped to the roof of the jail to free Yoshi, but it was also apparently true. Yoshi let a small smile creep onto his face.

"Throw me the hat," he ordered.

"What?" the drifter asked indignantly.

"Throw me the hat," Yoshi repeated.

For a long time, the drifter didn't move. Then he flicked his right wrist, tossing the hat backward. It floated down for a bit, then tilted too far to one side and dropped almost like a rock. Yoshi stepped to the left two steps and caught the hat with ease. He set it on a wooden bench a few feet away and then returned to the spot directly beneath the drifter.

"Now," he started simply, "jump off."

"What?" the drifter actually shouted, though it was muted by the tile he was staring at.

"Jump." Yoshi spread his feet and bent his knees, then held his arms out. "I'll catch you."

"You are plum crazy," the drifter accused. "There is no way in any world that I am jumpin' off this roof."

Yoshi smirked. "You jumped the jailhouse roof. This is easy. And I will catch you." The drifter just shook his head against the roof and didn't move. Yoshi frowned and let it seep into his voice. "Do you not trust me?"

The drifter tensed, Yoshi could see it from his spot on the ground. The jibe really seemed to get the cowboy. After a long minute, he sighed into the clay and nodded.

"I swear if I break my neck I'll be back to take you with me to the gates o' Hell," he threatened, but his fear had taken all the heat from his words.

They both ended up on the ground that day, with a few more bruises than they may have wanted, but Yoshi had caught him as promised and neither of them even broke a bone. The drifter pretended it hadn't happened by the next morning, but Yoshi tucked the information away for later use.

 

2

"Let's drift awhile."

Those were the first words the drifter said to him after Yoshi's father died. When the old man had been found to have died in his sleep, the drifter had kept silent as Yoshi mourned. The funeral came and went and the drifter said not a word, just watched. The other Japanese mourners that had come and gone had looked at the drifter like a strange, invading force: a foreigner where he didn't belong. But he didn't say a word to them, simply watching the procession with calculating and sad eyes.

Three days after the funeral, while Yoshi was sitting in his father's old dojo, the drifter knocked on the wood along the edge of the door. Yoshi looked at him, feeling a little bit sad and a lotta bits lost, and saw a solemn but determined man. And those were the words he spoke.

So Yoshi took a little money, which was a lot to most people but what he knew they might need, and left his father's house to the good care of the servants. It would be his to return to, but right now he needed to be free of it. They went to the train station together, he and the drifter.

"Where should we go?" Yoshi asked.

The drifter shrugged. "Yer choice," he said, sticking his hands in his pockets. "I usually ride until I feel I've hit the right city."

Yoshi let a little smile show. "A strange life." But he walked inside the station, leaving the drifter alone, to pick a destination.

He stood in front of a map with the train stops marked in bright yellow on it for several minutes before finally picking to just head west. So he stood in line to buy two tickets. It was a rather short line, as this city was very small and had nothing to interest tourists, but it still took him almost a half an hour to finally walk back outside.

Across the street were three little girls. They had a small sack that they were kicking back and forth to one another. They cheered whenever one of their friends caught it, and cried out whenever they dropped it, in unison. None of them could be over eight years old, and Yoshi knew each one by name.

Turning his gaze away from the children, Yoshi saw the drifter sitting on a bench to the left of the door. His forearms were on his legs as he leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees. His hat was lying on the bench next to him, and his gaze was on the children. The expression on his face, even from the side, was something Yoshi would never forget.

It was a look of innocence, a look of content. Yoshi had never seen the drifter look content before.

The samurai took a seat to the right of the cowboy silently, his arms crossed over his chest. The drifter glanced sideways at him and the look of content left his face. He leaned back against the wood of the bench and let his hands rest on his legs as he cleared his throat.

"So where we headed?" he asked in his normal tone of voice.

Yoshi's eyebrows came together a bit and he didn't answer. He kept his eyes on the children when he said, "You…like children?"

It was a simple enough question, but the drifter took a long time in answering. At length he sighed and Yoshi saw him run a hand through his hair. "I guess…Yea." He pat his legs once, stretching his arms simply by tensing them where they were, and then let out a heavy breath. "Never had quite a childhood myself."

Yoshi gazed at him sideways inquisitively. "No?"

The drifter shook his head. "A lot of fightin. A lot of driftin. Not a lot of friends," he revealed, clearly a bit uncomfortable. He glanced at Yoshi and then held his gaze. "You?"

Yoshi shook his head but didn't break eye contact. "No. No friends. I trained."

A silly grin crept over the drifter's lips. "Looks like we were both sort of fucked that way." He fished a cigarette from his pocket and slipped it between his lips. Yoshi frowned a bit, watching him pull a lighter out as well. He'd just gotten a flame out of the old looking contraption when the girls across the street let out shouts that were not related to their game.

Both men snapped their gazes across the street in an instant. One of the girls was lying in the dirt and four boys their age were laughing at them. Yoshi had no doubt the drifter couldn't understand a word the boys were saying, but the meaning was clear regardless. They thought it was funny to pick on girls. The girl on the ground tried to get up and the boy in front shoved her down again. Yoshi felt more than saw the drifter tense next to him, and the lighter clicked shut once more.

He watched as the drifter stood, slipped his hat on, and made his way across the street. One of the other girls shoved one of the boys, but he barely took a step backwards. The boy caught the girl's arms, and though she struggled he was clearly stronger than she was. The drifter stopped next to that boy and simply stared down at him. The shadowed effect his hat gave to his eyes seemed to scare the boy so bad that he immediately let go of the girl.

He jabbered at the drifter, demanding to know who he was. The drifter just scowled at them. The boys all flinched as a group and looked between each other. Then the boy who'd been at the front of the group told his friends the girls weren't worth it and they all fled down the street like dogs with their tails between their legs. The girls flinched as well when the drifter looked to them, but then he knelt by the girl on the ground and held out his hand, his expression as kind as he could manage.

The girl accepted his hand, shaking all the while, and he helped her stand on her own. "There," he said. "No harm done." He ruffled her hair a little and then used the same motion to brush it back into place. "Don't let them idiots ruin yer fun."

The girl who'd attacked the boys smiled at him. "Thanks to you sirs," she said in a thick Japanese accent. Yoshi smiled. "You strong man."

The drifter gave an ironic smile. "Strength ain't all that makes a man," he told her. "Remember that." He poked her in the chest where her heart would be before standing and making his way back over to Yoshi. "Now," he said, the gentle voice he'd used with the children already faded away. "Where to?"

Yoshi smiled at him knowingly but simply stood and motioned for the drifter to follow him into the station. "West."

The drifter grinned. "I like west."

 

3

They'd boarded a ship to take them to the mainland of Asia two hours ago, but they were still sitting in the harbor. It wasn't a large ship, and Yoshi could already feel his stomach rebelling at the thought of yet another boat ride so soon in his life, but this was where their wandering had led them. Yoshi was leaning against the railing of the ship when the drifter hurried over, looking a bit distressed.

"What's wrong?" Yoshi asked.

The drifter shook his head, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Nuthin."

A woman, obviously much richer than either of them in looks – though Yoshi had a fair deal of money on him, walked by them with her rather small dog and the drifter tensed. Yoshi looked from the woman to the drifter and narrowed his eyes. He didn't say anything, but his gaze was accusation enough. The drifter looked mildly confused.

"What?" he asked.

Yoshi frowned and looked away from him, as if that would sever their connection. "You stole from her."

"What?" the drifter gasped out. "Where'd you get that idea?"

Yoshi glanced at the drifter. "You did not steal from her?"

The drifter shook his head. "No." Yoshi gave him a piercing look and the drifter frowned, beginning to get angry. "I didn't loot her," he insisted, insulted with Yoshi's lack of trust. "What sort o' man do you take me for?"

Yoshi decided to take him at his word and gave an apologetic half smile. "Sorry."

The drifter shifted to lean against the railing as well and sniffed. "Apology accepted, I guess."

Several minutes passed with only the busy sounds of the dock to keep them company as passenger after passenger climbed aboard the ship. The drifter watched the people on the deck while Yoshi watched the ones on the dock. Yoshi glanced at the drifter and noticed his tense shoulders. His eyes were riveted on something across the deck and Yoshi looked over his shoulder to see what it was that had his friend so nervous.

A little girl and a cat.

Yoshi frowned in confusion. He'd thought the drifter liked kids, not feared them. Then he remembered the woman who had walked by, and her small dog. He glanced at the drifter again. It wasn't fear etched into his stature. It was distaste. The scowl on his face could practically curdle milk.

"Careful," Yoshi warned, catching his companion's attention. "You will scare the other passengers with that scary face."

The drifter scowled at the comment and slipped a cigarette from his pocket. He lit it with his simple lighter before hiding the metal case in his pants once more. He took a long drag and let the smoke out slowly before sighing. Then he turned and faced the dock, just like Yoshi.

"Damn pets," he grumbled under his breath, almost so low that Yoshi didn't catch it.

He chose not to comment.

 

4

Yoshi was frowning when the double doors opened before him. The drifter ambled out with an almost lazy gait, but paused on the steps to the jailhouse when he saw the angry Asian man before him.

"What?" he asked. Yoshi rolled his eyes and made to walk away. "They let me go." Yoshi kept walking, forcing the drifter to catch up with him. "What's yer problem, Yoshi?"

Yoshi stopped in the middle of the street and sent a glare at his traveling companion. "You got arrested."

The drifter frowned down at him in aggravation. "Last time I checked, your record wasn't quite so squeaky clean yerself," he accused. Yoshi's eyes narrowed a bit more and the drifter scowled. "They had me pegged for some other guy, anyway, so it's not like it was even my damn fault," he stated in angry exasperation, lifting his arms minutely before letting them fall to his sides. He immediately pulled out a cigarette and lit up. "Dammit," he let out with the smoke.

Yoshi let his glare slide off his face. "Let's just get moving." He led the way toward the train station, not once looking back at the dark man a step behind him.

They were almost to the station gates when the drifter grabbed Yoshi by the shoulder and spun him around, a bitter frown on his face. "What is wrong with you?" he demanded. "Yer poutin like a woman."

The glare jumped right back onto Yoshi's face and he poked the drifter hard in the chest. "I am not a woman."

"Then what's with the attitude? It was just jail," the drifter asked, taking the cigarette from his mouth.

"Just jail?" Yoshi asked, feeling disbelief crop up inside him. "How many times have you been in 'just jail'?" he asked.

And suddenly the drifter looked uncomfortable. He slipped the cigarette back between his lips and stuffed his hands in his pockets, his eyes sliding away from Yoshi's and looking around them instead. Suspicion joined the disbelief.

"How many times?" Yoshi asked once more, his tone harder.

The drifter watched the people walk by them, not caring about their confrontation in the slightest, for another ten seconds. Then his shoulders fell a minute bit and he let out a puff of smoke. "Roundabouts twenty times," he revealed with a shrug. "But what's it matter? It's a hard world and things don't always go your way when yer not someone's kid."

It was said flippantly, and that both angered and saddened Yoshi. Here was a man who grew up more or less an orphan. He deserved some pity. But he'd been arrested so many times that it no longer mattered to him, and that was wrong. No one should fall on the wrong side of the law so often.

Yoshi shook his head and locked eyes with the drifter, a stern message in his gaze. "No more jail," he told him definitively.

The drifter held his gaze for a long time, looking mildly shocked at Yoshi's determination. He pulled the cigarette from his lips and dropped it in the dirt before smudging it out with his boot. Then he nodded. "Alright then," he agreed. He smirked. "But yer still a woman."

 

5

Yoshi learned the drifter was surprisingly gallant. Upon first meeting the man, he'd struck Yoshi as a man that, though rather honest, cared only for his own interests. But at least he was up front about that part of his personality. The drifter helped others, but only when it directly influenced what he was doing for himself.

Or that's what Yoshi had assumed.

A year after their travels began, while on a train as usual, Yoshi realized he'd been wrong. This train had separate compartments in it, not just open seating, and he and the drifter had managed to get one all to themselves. The drifter was lying on one of the seats, his knees bent to allow his tall form to fit in the small area, with his hat on his head and his hands on his chest, seemingly asleep. Yoshi knew better. He knew the drifter never slept in public places, and slept lightly otherwise.

Yoshi was, himself, reading a pamphlet provided by the train service about the cities where it stopped. Apparently a lot of them were touristy, as far as tourism went in the world these days at least. Perhaps that was the reason for the better ride.

Suddenly shouting came from the hall outside. The drifter grabbed his hat and sat up, looking completely wide awake and ready to fight if need be. Yoshi looked to the door in mild interest. A woman's voice came through then, sounding distressed. The drifter stood and slid the door of their compartment open, and the noise came right in. Yoshi followed him into the hall.

"Is there a problem?" the drifter asked when he saw the people standing there.

It was a woman and her son, and a train officer. It was the ticket collector and he looked angry. He shot a glare at the drifter. "It's none of your business."

"Please," the woman said, her hands clasped in front of her like she was about to pray. "I swear we bought them."

The ticket collector turned his attention back to the woman again. "If you cannot produce these tickets for me, then I have to assume you're lying. And you can't be on this train without a ticket," he said coldly.

The drifter walked forward until he was stood between the woman and the ticket collector. "There's no need to be so cold," he said, and it sounded like a challenge. "Maybe if you weren't such a prick, the lady could find her tickets."

"Are you challenging me?" the ticket collector asked indignantly.

The drifter cocked his head to the side. "Depends. What exactly are you implying I mean?"

Yoshi shook his head. They really couldn't afford to fight with the train workers. Just as the ticket collector was working up a good rage face, the son gasped loudly.

"Mommy! Mommy!" he called loudly. Everyone but the drifter looked at the kid. The drifter kept his gaze firmly on the ticket collector. "Look look! Our tickets!"

He was indeed holding up two tickets, but Yoshi's eyes narrowed. He checked inside his left sleeve, to the pocket where he'd slipped his ticket. It wasn't there. He narrowed his eyes further on the drifter's back. A relieved smile overcame the mother's face as she accepted the tickets from her son.

"Oh dear! Where did you find them?" she asked, kneeling to embrace her son.

He shook his head as she pulled back. "In my pocket!" He frowned guiltily. "Sorry, mommy. I didn't mean to take them."

She shook her head as well, but with a gentle smile on her face. "It's alright, honey. It's alright." She hugged him once more before standing and offering her tickets to the collector. The drifter stepped aside and out of her way. "Our tickets. I'm so sorry about all this."

The collector didn't look at all happy at this development, but accepted and stamped their tickets all the same. The woman led her son away, only stopping at the car door for a moment to look back and nod a thank you to the drifter and Yoshi before they were gone. The collector turned on them next and Yoshi resisted the urge to plant his face in his hand.

"Alright then, since you're here," the man said. "Give me your tickets to stamp."

The drifter smiled ruefully and held up his hands. "Sorry. Don't seem to have none."

They were tossed off the train at the next stop. When the drifter caught Yoshi staring at him, he at least had the decency to look mildly ashamed of himself.

He shrugged. "Sorry."

Yoshi let out a soft sigh and shook his head, slipping his hands into his sleeves. "It's ok. It was good." He shot the drifter a look. "But don't steal from me again."

The drifter pulled a cigarette from his pocket and slipped it between his lips, but didn't light up. It was the first time since they'd started drifting. "You got a lot o' rules, you know that? But I'm always up for a good challenge," he said with a sideways smirk.

Yoshi shook his head once, but couldn't keep a little smile off his face, and made his way toward the ticket booth to buy them some new tickets.

 

6

They'd stopped in to visit Momoko on their slow, twisting path back toward Japan. Yoshi was tired of traveling and the drifter had agreed to go back to Yoshi's estate. He'd even been picking up some Japanese from Yoshi along the way, so he would be able to actually talk to the servants and townsfolk.

"With a terrible accent," Yoshi said. It was almost a mean tone, but they both knew he was just teasing in his own way. But it was true. The drifter's accent was atrocious, with twang where it shouldn't be and drawl where it changed the meaning of the word unless taken in context.

The bartender was more than happy to see them and served them free drinks and sushi to celebrate. "You two both drifters now or what?" he queried with a grin. Yoshi and the drifter both grinned back.

"Something like that," the drifter answered simply, his elbows resting on the table. He hadn't brushed his hair that day except for a quick run of his fingers that morning and when he'd pulled his hat off, his hair had fallen into his eyes. It had a striking effect.

Momoko brought them some sushi and Yoshi frowned when her eyes trailed longer on the drifter than on him. Once she was gone, the bartender let out a low chuckle.

"Over a year and that girl's still got such a crush on you, you stud," he said like a compliment, knocking the drifter's arm so hard he dropped his sushi back onto the plate. It bounced off and rolled off the bar onto the floor. The drifter frowned deeply at where it had vanished from sight.

Yoshi focused on his food. He didn't like the thought of his cousin with the drifter. It was a bit strange, because he'd learned the drifter was a good man at heart and he knew that, while quite unique in showing his affection, the drifter would treat Momoko well. But his gut twisted angrily at the thought of them together. The only reason he could come up with was that he didn't want to share the drifter's attention.

They'd been traveling for over a year now, all over the continent, and Yoshi had become used to the drifter grinning only at him, laughing only with him, relying on him. If the drifter stayed with Momoko, Yoshi would go on to Japan alone, without him…and the idea made Yoshi sick.

The drifter shook his head, finally looking away from his lost food, and fixed his gaze on the bartender. "She'd be best off finding someone better suited," he said.

The bartender frowned a bit, but then smiled gleefully and pulled one of his pop up funnies from under the counter. "Take a look at this beaut," he said. The cover made the drifter let out a soft groan while Yoshi smirked.

"Gang Busters," he read. The bartender nodded excitedly before flipping open the first page.

Over an hour, two bottles of whiskey, four sake bottles, and eight plates of sushi later, the drifter and Yoshi were sat outside the bar and restaurant and looking at the skies. Sometimes a person would walk by and recognize them, an ex-member of the PLOD most likely, but no one seemed brave enough to actually speak to them. And that was fine, because Yoshi was feeling pleasantly warm from the alcohol and didn't feel like talking to strangers.

The drifter leaned over from his seat on the side porch. Their shoulders brushed and it seemed to wake the other man up a bit because he sat up straight again. Yoshi saw Momoko pass by the window down the wall from them and frowned, the pleasant feeling retreating.

"You…like Momoko?" he asked.

The drifter looked at him like he was three sorts of crazy. "Huh?"

Yoshi nodded toward the front of the building. "She likes you. And you like her," he stated.

The drifter shook his head. "No I don't. I mean, she's a plenty nice girl, but she's just a child. What gave you that idea?"

Yoshi kept his gaze. "You do not like my cousin that way?"

The drifter shook his head. "No. She's not my sort."

Yoshi looked away from the drifter and up at the sky, and the drifter did the same. For a long while they sat in silence. Yoshi's foreboding feelings had lifted up as if to the stars. The drifter would not be staying here without him. He let himself smile.

"You're pleased," the drifter noted absently, leaning heavily on the wall of the restaurant.

Yoshi shook his head, crossing his arms to hide his hands in his sleeves. "About a lot of things."

The drifter let out a soft snort but said no more. Again the silence engulfed them, but it was companionable and comfortable. Yoshi watched people pass by at the front of the shop, but the night was falling and it was harder for people to see them in return, and so they received less and less stares themselves.

"You got a type, Yoshi?" the drifter asked after a long while.

Yoshi drew his gaze from the people to the man beside him with an inquisitive frown. "I'm sorry?"

"A type," the drifter repeated. "It's an outdated sort of idea, but yea. Yer type of woman," he expounded. "The kind you share a bed with."

"Oh." Yoshi stared at his knees as he thought. Sharing a bed? Well….His eyes trailed back up to the drifter and then shot back to his knees once more.

Was he seriously thinking what he thought he was thinking? But it was so inappropriate!

"I suppose," he said softly, unsure of his words. "My 'type' would be….you," he said, forcing himself to let the word out.

He was a man who didn't lie, and he didn't want to hide from the drifter. He only hoped his honesty didn't cost him everything.

Then suddenly there was a hand at his chin and another at his shoulder. The drifter spun him around to properly face him while simultaneously forcing the samurai to look up at him. The moment those goals were achieved, Yoshi found himself being kissed. The drifter was just as forceful in his kisses as he was in his life and Yoshi found he quite liked it.

"Good," the drifter said in a soft yet commanding set of voice, like he was laying his claim. "Because you're just my type too."

And he sealed the deal with another kiss.