LIGHT OF MY SOUL

CHAPTER 1

Ran watched the entrance of the club from the obscurity of the limo, brooding. He could do this. He could do this. He wanted to do this…. Mostly. He worked incessantly. At twenty one years old, his whole life lately was work, apart from the time spent with Mei. Surely he deserved this….this chance...didn't he? He'd visited with Mei earlier today, spending the morning with her. He'd wrapped up any outstanding emails for work this afternoon, despite it being his supposed day off. Tonight was his.

Ran took a deep breath, steeled himself, and exited the white Lincoln, ignoring the oppressive humidity of the New York summer night. He'd known Forbidden would be playing at the club, aptly named Indulgence, tonight. Known the blonde would be here. The lead singer and band leader, Yomada Kuchki. They'd performed well at the last contract competition. It really was too bad H.M.I. had signed Mercury to the contract instead, over Ran's protests. The other two members of the contract judge committee had chosen Mercury, and that was it. Although, really, perhaps it was for the best. Had H.M.I. signed Forbidden there would be no chance of this happening. Whatever this turned out to be.

Ran sighed as he was ushered through the VIP entrance. His distinctive pale, almost alabaster coloring, and deep, dark red hair, paired with his intense violet eyes, often tended to attract too much attention. He stood out, causing him to be quickly recognized as the face of H.M.I.. Particularly at musical events, Ran was unable to relax or interact. To just mingle without being semi-mobbed by hopefuls or rabid fans pushing for a shot, a demo, just a chance. Well, he wasn't here as H.M.I. tonight, just RAN. He was grateful for the concealment the VIP entrance and bouncers provided.

Again Ran considered the previous month's competition. Forbidden was good, very good. But he had to be pleased they had not signed with H.M.I.. If H.M.I. had signed with FORBIDDEN, he couldn't very well pursue this …. this …. attraction (there, he'd admitted it – attraction. There was just something about the blonde...). The impropriety would be too much. The assumptions that would follow,... the inevitable questions, the innuendo, a possible sense of obligation… It would surely get in the way. No, this was better. Forbidden was good, their music memorable. They would surely garner attention from another label soon. Thus, Ran was free to consider, to indulge, to hope. Another sigh as he entered the VIP lounge, pouring himself a glass of red wine and heading to the glass wall overlooking the club. Who was he kidding? Why get his hopes up? Did he honestly think the blonde would give this a chance? Give him a chance?... Sigh, No. He'd promised himself he would try this. He wouldn't give up before he'd even tried. He'd been alone for so long...

Ran had looked into Yomada a bit, once he'd realized he couldn't get the man out of his head. Yomada was slightly older than himself, 22 years old. He'd been involved with Forbidden since high school, working gigs, clubs, etc. They'd signed a new lead guitar about a year ago and had been steadily rising since then. It was only a matter of time before they secured a recording contract.

Ran knew Yomada was bi-sexual, at least in his dating habits, or at least as noted in various media. Whether that progressed beyond public dating to real life or not... Yomada had been reported as dating both genders several times, and seemed to have a penchant for redheads. Ran also knew, working in the industry as he did, that Yomada was well known for his loyalty, compassion, and a tendency to love too hard, if that was possible. Yomada was touted as a real friend by any who spoke of him. A little withdrawn outside of the public persona, but if you got close enough to be his friend, his loyalty and devotion were unquestionable. He was also known as a truly kind man, going out of his way to interact with fans, especially children or young people, and had a chivalry that was almost unheard of in this day and age. Yomada would not tolerate anyone being overly obnoxious or harsh with women. He seemed to see himself as a protector. It was reported he'd been in love a few times, falling hard, but none had become permanent at this point. There was some rumor of tragedy in his past, but no actual details floated around.

Regardless, what he'd learned was enough to convince Ran Yomada was worth the attempt. Old fashioned honor was hard to find now days, chivalry was dead. If Yomada bore some, even getting to know him, becoming perhaps friends, would be worth Ran's discomfort in coming out of his shell like this. If more developed, well... Ran wouldn't let his heart run away with him. Meeting the man would be the first step, let things progress as they would...

Ran watched from behind the smoked glass windows as Forbidden set up their equipment. There he was, the blonde Ran'd chanced so much to see tonight. His honey gold, shoulder length hair shining under the lights. His grace as he moved around the stage, connecting cords, testing equipment. Those long legs, well-muscled, captured Ran's attention as he watched the blonde stretching and climbing various step ladders to set up lights, microphones. His rich, warm voice filled the room as he did sound checks.

Yomada completed the set up and made his way over to the bar. Ran watched his easy laughter, his interaction with the staff and crowd. So open, so comfortable, so ... beautiful. Yomada truly was a handsome, beautiful man. Tall and lean, with whipcord muscle, (Ran'd glimpsed those washboard abs during last month's show), golden tan, firm jaw, broad shoulders, strong hands. Ran sighed again as he watched Yomada move, wishing yet again he wasn't so pale himself, so small framed, almost... delicate. Yes, he was strong, trained in Kendo and martial arts, well able to handle himself. His own wiry frame hid a subtle strength, both of body and will. He could out-glare just about anyone, except perhaps his father. His cold temper was almost as well known among those in the business as his coloring. But sometimes, sometimes he wished – wished he portrayed more... more strength in his appearance, more masculinity. He hated being mistaken for fragile, weak. Ah well, no sense wishing for the unattainable. He soon set to rights anyone who mistook his smaller frame and pale complexion for weakness or frailty.

Ran gestured, spoke briefly to the VIP attendant and watched as the man made his way to Yomada at the bar. He watched the man approach and introduce himself to Yomada. Took in the disdainful glance toward the upper floor, and Yomada's obvious declination, his sneer almost palpable. Ran watched as Yomada returned to the stage area, preparing for the set to begin. Yomada took his place at the mic and then that beautiful, warm tenor enveloped Ran's senses.

After the first few songs, Ran could no longer bear just watching, listening from afar. As always - alone, distant, an observer. He had to be closer, to be a part of the music. Ran removed his blazer, pulling on his 'blend in hoodie' he often brought along for his public excursions. An attempt at disguise, a small chance to let him be a part of the crowd. No one knew he was here tonight, if he kept a low profile it should work, at least for a short while. He threw the blazer over the sofa, and made his way out into the club. The cream colored hoodie and well fitted black jeans still presented an eyeful. Heads still turned to take in the man as he made his way along, but the hoodie's pale coloring made less contrast against his skin. With the hood up his fiery locks remained hidden from view. The long sleeves and his hands in his pockets concealed the paleness of his skin, his face shadowed under the cowl of the hood. There was little to draw the eye apart from the mouthwatering lithe figure, long legs, perfect ass, unconscious grace as he moved. Ran truly had no idea the sex appeal he radiated.

He made his way closer to the stage as Yomada continued to sing. He drew close enough to make out the intense emerald of Yomada's eyes. He felt his chest tighten as he watched Yomada sing. He was just so, so beautiful. So sexy. So open, happy. Ran swallowed. What right did he have, intruding in this life... this happiness? A part of him wanted to turn around right there and go, just forget all about Yomada and his damn... damn... attraction. But, a bigger part of him screamed inside, no – don't walk away – try...just ... try.

This was the first time Ran'd felt attracted to anyone strongly enough to actually act on it. Enough to not listen to that part that told him it wasn't worth it, he wasn't worth it. This man, he made Ran want to be worth it, made him want, period. Ran felt himself drawn closer, like a moth to the flame. Yomada radiated warmth, life, sensuality. The music was obviously a part of him. Ran was drawn closer still until he was directly in front of the stage, oriented to Yomada's every move, magnetized to Yomada's pull. His piercing violet gaze never left Yomada's face. Drinking in every nuance, every emotion. Finally, their gazes met. Clear bottomless emerald locked with stormy, intense violet. Recognition flared in those green orbs. Yomada obviously recognized Ran's face, but did he know who Ran was? He focused on Ran through the remainder of the set, watching, pondering. As the set ended, Yomada made his way down to where Ran stood.

'So' he spoke as he approached. 'you can come out among the commoners rather than just hiding up in your castle, behind your glass walls hmm?' he tilted his head, 'I take it your man told you I'd declined your offer?' It seemed Yomada did know who Ran was after all.

'I saw you. I knew immediately you wouldn't come to me. Therefore, here I am.' Ran's deep baritone answered. 'As I hope my man explained, I am very intrigued. Both by your music, and by you – yourself. I would very much like to speak with you in some depth. Again, as I hope was conveyed, it is ... difficult for me to mingle, particularly in a venue such as this. I would prefer to get to know you in a more peaceful setting, rather than fighting off attention, as would be necessary if my identity were known.'

'Well, since you went to all this trouble, I guess I can cut you some slack.' Yomada smiled. 'lead the way.'

Ran nodded and turned toward the lift to the VIP Suites. 'I don't want to offend you or your bandmates in any way, feel free to extend the invitation to the others if you'd like.' Ran turned to Yomada as they entered the lift.

'It's fine. ' Yomada said. 'We actually agreed to split up and mingle a bit tonight. We're roommates - we get enough of each other, believe me.

As they entered the suite Ran dismissed the attendant, leaving them alone. 'Would you care for a drink?' he asked Yomada. 'I know you have another set later, will this interfere?'

'nah, it's fine.' Yomada scoffed. 'we got just over a half hour till the next set. A cold one would be nice. You have any Heineken?'

'sure' Ran drew out two cold bottles , gesturing Yomada to the sofa area.

Yomada noticed the wine bucket chilling near the glass panels. 'wine is fine too, if you prefer man. Really, either is fine with me.' Yomada accepted the offered bottle.

'It doesn't matter.' Ran said as he seated himself. 'whatever your preference. Really. It's just an excuse anyway, for the chance to talk with you.' Ran smiled a small (very small) smile. Inside he repeated to himself, over and over this is worth it, don't freeze, breathe, it's worth a chance... Ran sat on the edge of the sofa, placing his bottle on the coffee table near the fruit and cheese trays set up earlier. He turned to Yomada. 'please, take a seat. My name is Ran. Ran Hitsugaiya. You are Yomada Kuchki. I remember, from the competition last month.'

'Well, right to the point. I like that' Yomada laughed as he sat in the chair at the end of the sofa where Ran sat. 'So, Ran, what did you want to know? I know you're with Hitsugaiya Music, H.M.I., I remember you from the competition as well. H.M.I. signed Mercury. What? Got another contract open? '

'Sadly, no." Ran said, watching the bottle he was spinning on the tabletop. 'My...interest is actually... personal, rather than business related.' He glanced up just in time to catch Yomada s eyes widen with surprise.

'Personal huh?' Yomada grinned slightly, 'Well, I'm... flattered. So, not music or business related?'

"Well, I do enjoy your music, hearing you sing. You have a remarkable voice, but actually, I wanted to get to know... you. Who you are, apart from Forbidden, aside from music and the business. ' Ran paused a moment, then straightened his shoulders, sitting up a bit. 'Tell me something about yourself. Something not music related.'

'hmm...' Yomada mused, 'not music related.' He pondered a moment, and Ran worried... had he been too forward? Was Yomada regretting their talk, since it wasn't for a contract? Maybe he should-

'Well, I must admit, right now in my life the music is a big part, a very big part. Really. But, I guess, apart from the music...' Yomada smiled at Ran, 'Well, I love cars. Working on them, driving them, looking at them, much like women', Yomada smirked, missing the wince Ran failed to hide. 'I sketch a bit, still life or animals for the most part. I'm a sucker for the beach, walking it mostly, I don't like cold water' he grinned at that, 'and... well, I like corny movies, old westerns, sci-fi, some Anime.' He smiled a small smile, 'Is that what you had in mind?' Yomada's voice dropped, just a bit, his eyes warm, 'How about you? What do you like, Ran, apart from the music business?'

Ran almost smiled again, a half smile kinda ghosting around his mouth. Just a hint really. Yomada thought it seemed like something Ran wasn't really used to. 'Well, I enjoy cars as well,' Ran began. 'not working on them, I can barely change the oil, but driving... well. There's nothing quite like the feeling of a powerful engine beneath you, the smooth glide of changing gears at just that precise moment, the vibration, the power thrumming up through your legs.' Ran's eyes had a distant, almost dreamy quality, and that smile ghosted around his mouth again, almost there. Yomada found himself transfixed by that look on Ran's face. He frowned slightly as Ran shook his head and it faded.

Ran looked back to Yomada just as the frown faded, missing it. 'I sketch as well. Actually, I like to paint. and I'm do pretty well at it. Really. I don't have much time for it, but I truly enjoy it. Unfortunately, painting was something-' Ran suddenly cut off, reaching for his drink, stupid, he thought fiercely at himself. He couldn't believe he'd almost divulged to Yomada his conflict with his father about his art barely 10 minutes into their first meeting. He shook his head. 'Never mind that.' He reached for a cracker, 'I also enjoy the beach, especially at night. I have a weakness for the stars I must admit. Away from the city lights, over the ocean, they sky seems... endless.' He focused back on Yomada. Again that small smile hovered, 'as for movies, I'm afraid I'd much rather curl up with a book. I love to read, almost any genre, again a pastime which I rarely have time to indulge anymore.'

'Yah, H.M.I. keeps you jumping huh?' Yomada ventured, trying a slice of the melon himself. 'scouting, promoting, competitions. I've heard of you. I can guess you don't get to do the club scene too often. At least, not without getting glomped on. I saw you at the competition You had those security guys hopping. They always follow you around when you're out? Is it always like that?' he looked around as if trying to spot the security detail.

Ran's eyes hardened bit and his voice grew cold. 'People just can't seem to understand sometimes that I am not just H.M.I., sometimes I'm just me, just Ran. That event, or others like it, that's one thing. I'm there on business, working, but when not... sometimes it would be nice to just be able to go out-' again he abruptly cut off, taking a deep breath. 'I must admit, when I do go out, as rarely as it is, I tend to avoid places like this, the popular music scene. It's not that I don't enjoy rock n roll, I do. But, usually, if I go out, I tend toward jazz clubs, or themed clubs.' He smiled, that little half smile again, almost a little wider this time. "I have to confess, I enjoy American 40's music. Sinatra and the like. It's rich, soothing music, and I am rarely recognized in that environment, as H.M.I. works almost exclusively with rock n roll and popular music genres.'

'No way' Yomada gasped as his eyes widened, then narrowed, peering at ran. 'Are you telling me you're a Sinatra fan, really?'

'Yes,' Ran's confused gaze turned to Yomada. 'I am... why? Is that-'

'Are you sure you haven't...' Yomada stopped, ran his fingers through his hair and gazed intently at Ran, searching... 'OK, spill... look, I know with H.M.I.'s resources you have access to a lot of information. You been checking up on me, are you setting me up or something?'

'No! I... of course not, why would I?' Ran seemed genuinely shocked, indignant.

Yomada smiled slowly, a full, open smile as he took in Ran's obvious distress. He leaned over, covering Ran's hand on the table with one of his own. 'I'm sorry. It just... took me by surprise. I love Sinatra. I have all of his music, and others of that era. I find that music very moving, romantic, full. Sinatra's the reason I started singing in the first place, school choir and such. My mom's American, a native New Yorker. He grinned – 'that's where I get the gorgeous blonde mane from'. He tossed his hair and chuckled, "She was a huge fan. His music was always playing at home. It wasn't until I was a teen that I learned how 'old' his music was. I discovered rock-n-roll then. I like it, the beat, the rush, the intensity, but just for quiet time, yeah – I prefer Frank.' Yomada tilted his head, taking in the soft expression of unbelief on Ran's face. 'I can't believe how much we have in common. Whoever would have believed it?'

Ran's brow wrinkled. 'Why? Why wouldn't any-'

Yomada cut him off. 'Well, we're not exactly from the same side of the tracks you know.' Seeing Ran's deepening confusion, Yomada began to explain. 'Ran, I'm not...' he sighed, 'Look. You're the son of Tomio Hitsugaiya, the CEO of Hitsugaiya Music Industries. H.M.I. is one of the wealthiest labels out there. I'd imagine limos and Armani are old hat to you, everyday things in your life, no big deal...Mine, well... not so much. I grew up in an apartment, went to public school. Nothing wrong with it, just...it's a different lifestyle than you are used to, I'm sure. I had a job by the time I was 14 so I could have pocket money and more than one pair of shoes. I mean, you can only wear one pair at a time right, frivolous to spend budget money on more than one pair...' his voice trailed off a moment then he cleared his throat and went on. 'my parents worked hard, they were good people and I loved them, but money was never ... it doesn't matter. Anyway, I've never been in a limo in my life, and I still don't own anything Armani. Someday, we'll have a contract, make it, and things will be different, but for now I share a townhouse with three other guys to make ends meet and so we can practice anytime. ...' he trailed off then looking into Ran's eyes, that deep, violet gaze.

'And yet,' he said softly, 'here we are, two completely different men, yet with so much in common, so much of who were are that is the same.' Again he found his eyes locked with Ran's. Those eyes that were so expressive, even as the face remained unreadable. Yomada wondered briefly if Ran realized he gave so much away through those eyes. He watched as the confusion faded, was replaced with ...hope? ... and more... appraisal, and if Yomada wasn't mistaken, desire.

Yomada's own eyes sparkled with mirth, and softened as Ran's began to show hope more prominently. Yomada found himself drawn closer as he saw the desire begin to build and develop. He leaned forward, trailing one hand over Ran's cheek, back to entwine in that amazing red hair, so soft. 'Ran' he whispered, mesmerized as the sound of his name caused Ran's eyes to widen, then darken and fall to half lid, the desire and hope both increasing. 'Ran' he murmured again, 'you said you wanted to get to know me, I'd like that' Yomada leaned closer until his lips just hovered over Ran's own. 'I'd like that, very much. ' he whispered now, feeling Ran tremble as their lips brushed with his words. Then, he felt Ran's hand clutch the back of his head as Ran lunged forward, claiming Yomada's mouth with his own.

Yomada let himself melt into the kiss, immediately opening his own mouth to give Ran entrance. The intensity of the kiss almost immediately faded to a light, shy feel and Yomada felt Ran tense under his hands. Yomada opened his eyes to find Ran's squeezed shit with a look of fear? or pain? on his face. A suspicion began to develop in Yomada's mind. Yomada brought both hands up to frame Ran's face as he took control of the kiss, maintaining contact, gently nipping, trailing his tongue over Ran's tasting the sweetness of the fruit Ran'd eaten earlier, the spiciness of the wine. He felt more than heard Ran's moan as he entered his mouth. He caressed the side of Ran's neck, trailing his fingers through Ran's hair as he slowly, so slowly, brought the kiss to an end.

His own breath had quickened, and Ran almost panted as Yomada slowed everything down, pulling Ran into an embrace, tucking his head into the crook of Yomada's neck. 'Ran' Yomada whispered, 'that, that was... unexpected.' He felt Ran begin to tense, 'but, oh so nice' he hummed, letting his voice convey his smile. 'I hope – I hope I didn't overstep. I'd like to get to know you better too.' He smiled openly and pulled back.

Ran gazed up at him solemnly, then reached up to trace the edge of Yomada's jaw with his fingertips. 'yes,' he cleared his throat and sat up, running a hand through his hair, seeming unaware of the hand still caressing Yomada's arm. 'yes, I'd, I'd like that, very much.' Ran looked back at Yomada with that small smile that Yomada already found himself eager to see. 'perhaps we could go for coffee? After you're done here tonight?'

'yeah, I'd like that,' Yomada smiled and leaned in for one small, chaste kiss. Just as he pulled back, there was a rap at the door. Ran sat up, straightening his shirt and stood. 'yes?' he called out as Yomada reached for his beer, taking a small drink.

'Mr. Hitsugaiya,' the attendant bowed as he entered the room, 'you have a call sir,' his eyes flicked to Yomada before dismissing him. Yomada stood, 'well, man,' he said as he sat his beer down on the table, 'this was nice, real nice, but I gotta get back and round up the guys for the next set.'

'wait a moment,' Ran asked, and turned back to the attendant. 'Thank you, Ichiro, I will take the call here. You may have the rest of the evening off, as well as tomorrow. I will see you Monday.' 'very good sir,' Ichiro answered, 'the call is holding on line 3.' With that, he left the room.

Ran turned back to Yomada, 'I'll meet you at the stage entrance, after the set, if that's alright?' he asked, a bit uncertain. Ran seemed unsure and Yomada's suspicions grew, combined with the hope he'd glimpsed before, the uncertainty of the kiss... he stepped forward, running the back of his hand against Ran's face, smiling as Ran unconsciously leaned into the touch. 'yeah babe, that's fine' Yomada answered softly.

Ran's eyes widened at the endearment, then closed as Yomada again took the chance for a soft, quick kiss. 'give me a minute after to help with clean up and tell the guys, ' Yomada kissed the top of Ran's head and stepped back. 'until later' he smiled and left.

Ran cleared his throat, then jumped as the phone beeped twice, a reminder of the call holding. 'this is Ran,' he answered as he picked up the receiver.

'About damn time boy,' a voce snapped back, 'what are you doing that is so important as to make me wait?' the caller growled.

Ran stiffened, his eyes hardening as he replied in a formal tone, carefully devoid of emotion. 'Father. I was not aware you were the caller holding. This is my night off, I am not on H.M.I. business tonight. I did not expect your call.'

'You are always representing H.M.I., I've told you that several times boy. I should not have to track you down like this. You have a cell phone, though fat lot of good it does if you turn the damn thing off.' His father answered disdainfully, 'I don't like waiting Ran, especially for you.'

Ran sighed, quietly, 'I did not expect to hear from you, Father. I explained that. I am scheduled to have tonight and tomorrow off. I left my cell phone in the car. What is so important that you felt the need to track me, as you put it.' Ran kept his tone formal, but inside he was seething... his father knew he was scheduled for the weekend off, his first in months.

'You have a meeting tomorrow morning, at your-'

'but, Father I -,'

"no buts Ran. You will meet with Hawkins and his young talent, that Colson kid. I want that boy signed Ran. Business doesn't stop so you can have a sleep in. You be there, 8am, no excuses. Sign that kid. Don't disappoint me. Any more than usual at any rate.' His father hung up, leaving Ran holding the receiver in frustration.

Ran took a deep breath and unclenched his fist from around the receiver. He fought against the tension settling in his jaw and shoulders from talking with his father. He closed his eyes and brought Yomada to mind, a smile taking over his features as he recalled their meeting. His hands flew to his lips, trembling as he remembered the feel of Yomada. His heart sped up, recalling Yomada's hands in his hair, on his face. He blushed as he remembered Yomada's taste, smell, feel.

Taking a cleansing breath, Ran turned to watch Yomada on stage, smiling as he took in the moves, the way Yomada so obviously felt the music. He watched, entranced by the look of bliss on Yomada's face as he sang a slow ballad. He gasped as Yomada obviously focused on the smoked glass panels above the club floor, seeming to sing to him from across the room. Ran lost himself watching Yomada. His voice, the music, and the memory of Yomada's smile enveloped him, washing him clean of his father's venom. Ran sipped his wine, allowing himself to relax. As things progressed, Ran took the time to change back to his blazer. The set ended and Ran gathered his things, sending a text to his limo driver to be ready in back in twenty minutes.

Ran made his way down to the stage area as the club began to clear out, staying near the exit. Yomada spotted him watching and waved, smiling. He finished up, patting the drummer on the back and turning toward Ran. 'See you guys later,' he called out as he made his way toward Ran. "so beautiful,' he crooned as he came closer, 'ready for coffee?'

Ran's eyes widened at the endearment, and that small smile ghosted over his face. He turned without a reply and led Yomada out the stage entrance. His limo waited near the back door. He watched Yomada's face as he came through the door, caught Yomada's eyes widening at the sight of the slick, white Lincoln, and the smirk as he turned to Ran. 'Yours I take it?' Ran nodded and turned toward the car. The chauffer opened the door as they approached.

Ran gave the name of a nearby overnight coffee house, and the two men seated themselves. 'So, was that ballad new?' Ran asked, 'I don't remember it from last month's show.'

'Yeah. It wasn't ready yet.' Yomada replied. 'we only got it synched up recently. This is only the second time we have performed it.' He turned toward Ran, 'did you like it?' his voice dropped, grew more husky as he took in the vision of Ran silhouetted against the window, with the flashing lights passing behind him as the made their way. Ran's eyes were intent on Yomada, darkening, dropping a bit as Yomada's voice lowered. Ran's gaze flicked down to Yomada's lips, then quickly back to those emerald orbs, so enchanting with the obviously Japanese features, the canted eyes, but such a deep, intense green... Ran cleared his throat and barely licked his lips. Yomada's small grin grew, spreading across his face.

'Yes," Ran murmured, 'Yes I did like the ballad. Actually, it was very...' he tilted his head, and smirked, just a bit. 'very... Sinatra-ish.' His eyes twinkled.

Yomada laughed. 'Sinatra-ish?' He chuckled again. 'Well, I guess you're right. It is reminiscent of Frank, isn't it? I guess I hadn't made the connection.' He smiled warmly, 'great, now every time I sing it I'll be picturing Frank.' His eyes softened, 'and you, I think.' He leaned forward slowly, raising one hand to cup Ran's face.

Ran cleared his throat and pulled back slightly. 'Yomada,' he started. Took a breath and began again, 'Yomada. I'd like to get to know you, as I said, but I think we should clarify some things before we go further.' He frowned slightly, and tilted his head.

Yomada sat back, dropping his hand. 'clarify huh?' he asked, his cynicism coming to the fore in a flash. 'like what Ran?' Ran's frown deepened as he heard the coldness creep into Yomada's voice, and the obvious disdain as Yomada said his name. He took in Yomada's crossed arms, the tightening of Yomada's jaw as he turned to look out the window. His eyes widened as Yomada's flat voice filled the car.

'OK. I get it, alright?' Yomada sneered, 'What's the offer huh? You said no contract, so what? A shot? An extra vote at the next competition? For what? Thanks. But no. Interested or not, I won't make the deal. We'll make it on our own. I'm not a whore, despite what you may have heard. Just drop me here Ran. Thanks anyway.' Yomada turned back to Ran, eyes hard. 'you could have shipped the bullshit upstairs, saved us both the trouble and just come out with it right off. Sorry you wasted your time.' Yomada glared at Ran and Ran felt his chest tighten as he took in the hurt filled voice, the bitter words, and began to understand.

'No.' he whispered. 'no Yomada, that's not-'

'oh cut the shit Ran' again Yomada used that tone as he said Ran's name. Ran decided he hated his name sounding that way. 'just stop the car man. I'm outa here. Go clarify that.'

'Yomada' Ran reached out to touch Yomada's arm, but flinched as Yomada pulled back. He dropped his hands to his lap and focused his gaze there as he began to speak. 'no Yomada, you've... you've misunderstood, I think' Ran cleared his throat, his hands now clenched tightly together. He felt Yomada focus his glare on him and shrank in on himself more. 'I'm... I'm sorry Yomada, i-' Ran clenched his jaw and closed his eyes. He was sorry. Sorry he'd wasted the evening. He could have relaxed, rested, spent some time on his bonsai, or more time with Mei. He should have known this wouldn't work. What the hell had he been thinking? He took hold of himself and sat straighter. Remember who you are, he thought. 'I meant' Ran growled, 'I meant to clarify that ... that this has nothing to do with H.M.I., or the music industry. That it can't have any connection, in any way. I meant if-' he took a shuddering breath, his eyes still closed, not seeing Yomada begin to loosen, his eyes intent on Ran's face.

Yomada's glance flicked down to take in those hands, clenched in his jacket hem, back up to the obvious pain on Ran's face as his voice dropped to a rasped whisper. 'if we...' he continued, 'were to pursue... anything. Get to know each other, there could not be any, any business involved.' Ran's eyes opened then. Growing cold, hard, they turned to his lap. Yomada was startled at the coldness he could glimpse, even from the profile. He started to uncross his arms.

'I wanted to clarify,' Ran went on, 'that you should look to other labels so... so there would be no...so no one would think' a breath, 'what you're obviously thinking.' Another small breath and the voice grew slightly colder, less... lost. 'I did not want anything of the business between us. I told you, I was interested in you apart from Forbidden, from music. I meant that...' Ran's voice trailed off for a moment. 'I never thought you were a whore.' His voice grew harder, flat. Not lost, shy, or cold now, just... empty. His eyes closed briefly, then raised to Yomada's confused gaze. 'nor, am I. I am not looking for a whore either, though, I guess that may be hard to imagine.' His eyes closed again missing Yomada's obvious bewilderment at that last statement. 'perhaps you are correct.' Ran's face closed completely now, a blank, dead mask that Yomada instantly hated. Not a shred of emotion there now, his voice flat. No glimpse of the fragile, almost scared young man from earlier, not a hint of the pain or hope. Just this cold, deadness. 'this was obviously a mistake.' The voice matched the face, dead, devoid of any inflection or emotion. 'I apologize for wasting your time. You are surely a busy man.' Ran turned to the intercom control on the door panel. 'Yuri, please return to the club. Mr. Kuchki will not be-'

'Wait.' Yomada cut him off, 'wait, please. Can... can we talk about this?'

' there is nothing to discuss Mr. Kuchki-'

Again, Yomada cut him off. 'obviously, we both misunderstood something. Please Ran, let's just talk about it for a moment.'

Ran considered Yomada, still that deadness in his eyes. 'very well Mr. Kuchki. We can talk.' He turned back, having not released the intercom, 'continue, Yuri, to the NightHouse.' He released the button and sat back in his seat without turning back to Yomada, his gaze forward.

Yomada took in the rigid posture, the formal use of his name, and the bleak deadness. He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. 'Ran I'm... I guess I'm wrong, obviously I'm wrong about... about what I thought. I'm sorry, please ... please let me explain.'

He leaned forward. Ran didn't flinch or pull away. He remained there, dead, empty. Yomada'd seen this bleakness, this hollowness, before in a person. It was almost as though Ran wasn't there anymore. Like this was just, just a shell. Yomada had hated it then, and he hated it now. He was determined to bring Ran back, out of this void.

He took a deep breath. 'Ran. I ... well, I have... this reputation. I admit, in the rock world, it's almost expected... I've, let- let it be built up, but it's not accurate. I'm sure you've heard the rumors, the stories, the excessiveness. I admit, I've been with my share of women, and men, but, not nearly as much as is reported in the media. I allowed it to be blown up. The rep keeps expectations down, no one expects you to really care. Sometimes, people think it means... you're ...' he sighed, 'anyway. I've been approached before because of it. Some seem to think I'm willing to sleep our way along, I'm not. The band is not. We want to make it our way, for our music, not for favors. I'm...sorry Ran. I, I assumed when you began-'

'yes' Ran's clipped voice cut him off. 'yes, I gathered that.' Still that flat, deadness. 'you assumed I was one of those people, and wanted clarification of terms. I understand, I also get it.' Ran still had not looked at Yomada.

'Ran?' Yomada whispered, 'Ran, look at me.' Ran turned those hollow eyes and blank mask to face Yomada. Yomada winced, 'Ran, I'm sorry, i-'

'Kuchki,' Ran spoke, 'forget it. You're not a whore,' the venom broke through then into his voice, although the eyes remained unchanged. 'nor am I.' now the voice turned cold. 'I'm not H.M.I.'s whore, despite what you may have heard. Nor, despite the obvious, do I engage in seeking the services of whores.'

He turned back to the front, again missing the complete bafflement on Yomada's face at that statement. 'I do not enter into those types of contracts with any performers. Anyone endorsed by me has earned their chance through their talents in music, not the bedroom. I told you at the beginning there is not a contract available for Forbidden. Your band is talented, someone will offer soon, I am quite certain. H.M.I. will not. We have no other openings in this genre at this time.' Ran cut off as the limo slowed and stopped.

The driver approached the door, 'Here, the NightHouse,' Ran said as the door opened. 'Yuri will tell them you're on my tab, order whatever you like. Provision will be left for a cab to take you wherever you choose. It was-' Ran faltered. Just for a moment, closed his eyes, then continued, 'it was a pleasure to have met you Mr. Kuchki. Good luck in future endeavors.' He sat, eyes forward, obviously waiting for Yomada to leave the car. Yomada sat there, just waiting. Ignoring the open door, Yuri standing by. Finally, Ran turned to face him. 'yes Mr. Kuchki. Was there something else?'

'Yes.' Yomada answered seriously. 'Yes, there is. I want to go back.'

Ran blinked, that small wrinkle between his eyes, just for a moment, confusion flashing through his eyes briefly. 'Very well, the cab can return you to the club if you wish.'

'No Ran.' Yomada leaned over, placing on hand on Ran's shoulder, turning him to face Yomada. 'No. Not back to the club.' He looked intently into Ran's eyes, as though he could ignite life there in those violet depths by will alone. 'Back to where we were before. Before I was an ass, before I jumped to such a damning conclusion...Please Ran. Come back. Let me get to know you, the you I saw before. I don't like this' he waved a hand vaguely over Ran. 'This version, this robot. Come back. Please.' His eyes never left Ran's or he would have missed it, it was so fast. A flash of pain, then the mask slammed back into place.

'I'm sorry.' Ran spoke. 'there has been some miscommunication, a misunderstanding. This is me. H.M.I. representative, Ran Hitsugaiya. I regret if-'

'No Ran!' Yomada growled. 'I'm sorry. I screwed up. I admit it, I was wrong. Please.' His voice dropped, almost to a whisper. 'Please give it a shot. Us a shot. I know you felt it too Ran.' Again, his focus so sharp on Ran's face, he caught that brief flash of hope, that hint he'd seen at the club before when they were close. He pounced. "Ran. I know you did. The connection, this...pull. This feels right Ran, you know it does. Don't let my bullshit screw this up. Give me a chance. Please.'

Ran sat still a moment longer, then – slowly – his posture began to ease. He... thawed it seemed. His eyes closed, his tension easing off until his shoulders dropped ever so slightly. His head lowered and his hands again began to wring in his hem. 'I' he stopped, 'I don't think,' he rasped.

Yomada cut him off. 'No! Ran, no. I know this is right. We connected. I know, it sounds lame. But you felt it too., There's something there. There's a chance. We can start over, we can. Come with me. Have coffee. We can talk about whatever you want. I'm sorry. Don't throw this away, please Ran.'

Ran raised his eyes and Yomada gasped. There. There was that Ran again from the club. Vulnerable, lightly confused, fearfully hopeful. The desire too, just a hint. Not the sultry flash of desire from earlier. This was a desire for... what? Acceptance?

'Ku- Yomada. I don't think- it- I want- please.' Ran's voice dropped, almost breathless by the end, as one hand seemed to raise of its own volition toward Yomada. Yomada quickly grabbed the hand, bringing it up to the side of his face. He held Ran's hand there, leaning into the caress as Ran lightly stroked, his fingers barely tracing in to Yomada's hair. Yomada leaned forward, slowly so slowly. 'Ran,' he whispered 'please, please don't give up. Don't let me screw this up.' He leaned in and lightly touched Ran's lips with his own. A feather lite touch. He felt Ran's sigh and leaned in again. Slightly longer this time, light kisses tracing back and forth across Ran's mouth. He began to nip at Ran's lower lip, barely caressing with his tongue. He felt Ran's hand shift back into his hair, gripping tightly.

Suddenly, that passion he'd glimpsed briefly before resurfaced, full strength. Ran's other hand shot up to Yomada's neck and he pulled Yomada to him, opening his mouth with a gasp. He began to devour Yomada. Yomada was ready. He'd banked on this. He brought both arms up to cradle Ran. Crushing him closer, swallowing Ran's whimper, the moan that followed.

Yomada let his own moan escape and was delighted to feel Ran's heartbeat jump against his chest as he voiced it. Yomada wrenched his mouth from Ran's, launching to his neck. Nipping, kissing, taking in the panting, the clenched hands in his hair. 'Ran' he gasped. 'Ran, I-' Yomada ran kisses over Ran's neck and up his jaw. Back to that amazing mouth, forcing himself to slow it down he brought them back from the edge. Back to themselves. 'Ran' he whispered again. 'I want you.' He felt Ran shiver against him, then a hint of tension returned. 'I do Ran, but...' Yomada pulled back, taking in Ran's flushed face, closed eyes, head back, lightly panting. 'I want to do this right Ran. Let me. Let me do this right, whatever this is, please. Let me... date you, know you.'

Ran's eyes shot open and he froze. All movement ceased, even breath. Not in anger, or distress it seemed, but utter shock. 'what?' Ran's almost breathless query Yomada felt more than heard. He searched Ran's face. Such a look there, such fear, hope, disbelief. Yomada's heart broke. 'Ran' he stroked the side of Ran's neck, brushed bangs back from Ran's eyes. 'let me date you. Let's do this right. I... I think we can have something Ran, really. I wanna do this right. Let me.'

Ran seemed..lost. 'you, you want to... date me? Kn- know me? But, why?' '

'Ran.' Yomada pulled Ran close, holding him, relishing the feeling of this treasure in his arms. 'I think we can have something. Something... real. I don't- I don't want a quick fuck Ran, I'd ... I'd like to explore this... connection, this ... whatever this is. Maybe... maybe we can have... more. I ... I would like to have ...more, Ran. I, I'm ready Ran, ready to find... someone. With this, this... connection, with the common areas we have already, maybe... maybe we can find that.'

Yomada pulled back, 'let's start over. Talk, huh? Let's talk.' He watched Ran's eyes clear, watched him nod, straighten and run a hand over the back of his neck. Ran raised his eyes to Yomada's. 'o-ok. Start over.' He glanced past Yomada to the open door, knew Yuri waited out of sight. 'Ok, let's, let's have a coffee.'

Yomada grinned. 'yep. Coffee.' He climbed out of the limo and turned to watch Ran exit the car as well. Ran turned to Yuri, speaking briefly. 'very good sir.' Yuri replied softly, and Ran turned and led the way inside.

'Ran!' a young woman bounced over from the back of the room as they entered the front door. 'hey Ran.' She breathed as she took his hand. 'long time no see. How are you? I, I saw Mei this afternoon. She looks... well.' Yomada caught Ran's wince as the girl spoke. Ran's obvious discomfort as she began to lock her arm with his. Yomada leaned a bit closer and threw an arm around Ran's shoulder. 'hey sweetheart.' Yomada smiled at her. An open, friendly smile that he let harden a bit as he lightly squeezed Ran's shoulder, making certain she took in the gesture. 'I'm Yomada.'

'oh!' Ran started. 'I'm, I'm sorry.' He cleared his throat. 'Jenny, this is Yomada. He's a...' Ran looked briefly to Yomada, obviously uncertain how to proceed. Was Yomada ok telling people he was Ran's date? Was this a date? Were they friends? Ran's uncertainty grew as the pause lengthened.

Yomada watched the play of emotions on Ran's face. Uncertainty, doubt. He squeezed again, briefly, and dropped his arm. He reached forward to shake Jenny's hand. 'I'm a new friend of Ran's. we've done some business. Just stopped for some coffee?' his smile grew slightly brittle again, and Ran blinked.

'Sorry!' Jenny gasped, 'of, of course. This, this way.' She led them to a back table and left, slightly bemused. 'I'll, I'll get yours Ran.' She walked away.

'so.' Yomada smiled warmly, discreetly taking Ran's hand in his own. They were shielded from the room. If Ran didn't want this it would be easy to not be seen. 'regular huh?' Ran's eyes widened as he felt Yomada's hand on his own, darting from their hands to Yomada 's eyes. Warm, beautiful, deep green eyes. So peaceful, so... accepting. No scorn, no disdain. Ran relaxed, and slightly turned his hand to entwine their fingers. Just as he began to smile, that small hovering smile from the club, the almost shy, happy smile with no falsity, the one Yomada had now decided was his smile-

'Ran, here- oh!' Ran's shoulders tensed and he flushed, about to pull away, but Yomada squeezed and kept his eyes focused on Ran until the smile ghosted in his eyes again. Ran squeezed back, lightly. Yomada turned his eyes to the girl. She was waiting, watching their hands. She looked... sad, resigned, as she raised her eyes to Yomada's. 'have you decided what you'd like?' she asked Yomada. Sullen, but not angry, just... yeah, resigned. 'yeah sweetheart.' Yomada smiled, 'I'd like a mocha cinnamon, thanks.' He watched as she walked away, dejected. She'd obviously had hopes for Ran, and seeing their fingers entwined had realized it was not going to happen. Yomada frowned lightly. He hoped she just dropped it. The whole woman scorned thing flashed through his mind. He turned again to Ran.

'So, regular enough that she knew your order without a thought. What are you having Ran?. Yomada smiled.

Ran glanced at his drink then back to Yomada. 'vanilla bean' he said 'Its an indulgence of mine.'

'Vanilla.' Yomada said flatly. 'your indulgence is Vanilla' he laughed lightly.

'what?' Ran asked, confused. 'what's wrong with Vanilla? I like it.' Ran's brow creased as Yomada chuckled a bit harder.

'nothing's wrong with it Ran, just –' he stopped laughing, smiling warmly he reached over to brush a stray bit of hair back from Ran's eyes, 'it's just' he went on, 'most people indulge a bit more…. extravagantly. That's all.' He let his eyes roam over Ran's face, memorizing. 'I'm guessing you don't indulge yourself very often though, do you?'

Ran blinked. 'Well-"

'Here's your mocha,' the girl was back. Her resignation now a bit colder as she turned to Ran. 'I'm off now Ran. Just settle up with Charlie before you go.' She turned to leave. 'Wait.' Ran reached for her, but she sidestepped neatly. She stopped and turned back half way. 'what Ran?' she asked, sullen.

'You, you saw Mei this afternoon?' Ran asked, his voice small and tinged with pain, Yomada noticed. 'She… she seemed well, you said?'

Jenny sighed and turned more fully toward Ran. Looking only at him, she failed to notice Yomada's intent gaze. 'Yes Ran. She… she seemed …ok. No … no change or anything.' Yomada took in the flash of anguish that flew over Ran's features, then the droop of his shoulders as though an intense weight were lain on them. 'no change, of course' he whispered. He raised his eyes back to Jenny, Yomada obviously momentarily forgotten. 'Thank you.' Ran whispered, 'thank you for being her friend, for not…. Not.. giving up after, after so long.'

Jenny melted at Ran's pain. She leaned over to lightly touch his face. 'I love her too, Ran' she cleared her throat and took hold of herself, closing her eyes. She turned to Yomada. He kept his face impassive, pretending he hadn't glimpsed the love shining from her eyes as she touched Ran, or the pain and defeat as she'd glanced at their hands entwined on the table. 'It was nice to meet a friend of Ran's.' she said, 'you're… you're the first I've, I've met. I'll' she closed her eyes for a moment, "I'll see you Ran. Take care of yourself.' She turned and left.

Ran turned back to Yomada as Jenny walked away. He cleared his throat and took a sip of his drink. He looked up to see Yomada watching him intently. 'what?' he asked without thinking.

Yomada narrowed his eyes, then smiled. 'are you okay?' he asked, tilting his head. 'it's been... quite an evening these last few hours.' He smiled again as Ran looked down with a slight blush. Yomada reached across the table to lightly caress Ran's neck. 'you look tired Ran. I'm sorry.' He dropped his hand down to trace circles over the back of Ran's hand still entwined with his own on the tabletop.

Ran sighed. 'it's been... a long day.'

'Tell me about it?' Yomada asked quietly.

Ran stilled a moment, his eyes searching Yomada's face. Finally, having seemed to see something he found reassuring, he nodded. 'I, I don't generally show so much emotion as has been displayed this night. I am... more... reticent, private, than you may believe from earlier. ' he coughed lightly. 'I... I knew that you would be playing at Indulgence tonight, obviously. I... had.. admitted to myself my... interest. I also knew that you are comfortable dating both men and women.' He cleared his throat. 'I was scheduled off this weekend, and... wanted to, to meet you. I-' he shook, just slightly, as he forced himself to look at Yomada steadily. 'I wanted to... get to know you.' Ran stopped, taking a drink from his latte. 'knowing you'd dated men before, I ... I asked around, just a bit, discreetly, as to your... personality. I ignore media for the most part. I wanted to know more about who you are personally. I, however did note, from media reports, that you are often... seen with redheads. This ... gave me an.. incentive to... try.' Ran couldn't talk anymore. He lowered his eyes to the table.

Yomada raised his hand and gently lifted Ran's chin to look him in the eye. 'Ran' he whispered, 'it's OK. I'm glad you came. I'm glad we talked and ... ' he smiled and traced the back of his hand over Ran's jaw. 'I'm very glad you agreed to let me get to know you. I know it will likely be different from what you're normally used to, but, I really think it could be worth it.'

'used to?' Ran tilted his head, then shook his head. 'Yomada, I-' suddenly, he sat up straighter, growled low, 'fuck it' , and, looking Yomada in the eye, stated clearly, 'Yomada, I'm not used to anything. I do social events for H.M.I., for work. I have no...' he stopped a moment, clenched his jaw and went on, 'I have no normal to be used to. No comparison to make. My father is vehemently opposed to my preference and thus far I have not had the nerve to openly defy him. There has not been anyone ... worth the risk, the... difficulty. Not discounting the obvious issues that I would encounter in the first place.' He ran his fingers through his hair. 'This, this probably shouldn't happen. At the very least we would have to be discreet, very discreet. There will be repercussions you are not aware of should it get back to my father. I, I understand if you want out-'

'No.' Yomada spoke at last.

Ran drooped, eyes closed. 'I understand.' He murmured. 'Thank you Yomada for-'

'No Ran.' Yomada's warm smiling voice penetrated Ran's despair, forcing him to look up. 'No, I don't think you do understand.' Yomada went on. ' I said no, as in don't push me away, don't back out already. Not No, you're not worth the trouble.'

He leaned over a little. 'I've told you Ran, you may very well be worth any effort it takes, very worth it.' He sat back and released Ran's hand. 'I can be discreet Ran, if that's what it takes. Let's see where this goes, hmm? We can figure it out as we go.' He tilted his head, 'and what is this 'obvious' thing you keep referring to when you talk about not having dated before anyway?'

Ran scoffed at Yomada, an obvious look of disbelief crossing his features. 'Yomada, please. At least let's be honest. I know my... appearance is not, not what you would likely be drawn to, other than the red hair. I'm not oblivious to my own drawbacks. I'm glad we were able to talk, and that you've been curious enough to go along-'

'Ran. What the hell are you talking about?' Yomada cut him off. 'are you sitting there trying to tell me you are unattractive? Is that what all those little comments were about? Who in the world told you that load of bullshit and why would you believe it?' Yomada's voice went from lightly confused to slightly angry at the end. 'look Ran. Don't sit there are degrade yourself, I won't listen to it. If someone filled your head with nonsense about you not looking good, it's just that, nonsense. You are a very, very sexy man Ran. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that was the reason I first agreed to even talk to you. I do have a thing for redheads. And you, you are delicious, really. But damn, Ran, you could have lime green hair and you'd still be incredibly sexy. Freaky, probably wouldn't talk to you, but still, very sexy.'

Ran's eyes flew open with shock 'What?'

'OK Ran, who was it, kids in school growing up? An early crush who wasn't interested? Who knocked you down so hard or so often you actually started to buy into it?' Yomada asked, seriously, concern and anger warring within him.

Ran dropped his eyes, not really wanting to answer, to get into the issues he had with his father this early. Surely, if Yomada realized what he was likely to really get into, he would just break it off just that much sooner.

'tell me Ran. Who was it? I meant it, it's bullshit, you are... incredible Ran. Just, breathtaking. I am very attracted to you, physically as well as more. Talking with you even this short amount of time tonight has shown me there is so much more. I am very interested in getting to know you better, to letting you get to know me. But, the physical attraction was there first. It's very there Ran.'

Yomada stopped a moment, taking in Ran's obvious skeptical gaze. 'Look, never mind, you can tell me when you're ready, but I want you to put whatever they told you out of your head and listen to me – sexy, sexy, sexy.' Yomada smirked by the end of his little tirade, and let the lust and desire show clearly in his eyes. 'now, I meant it earlier. Let's date. Start a friendship first. I know, it's old fashioned, a little off from the reputation, but like I explained earlier – most of that is hype anyway. Mostly.'

He smiled again, softly and sat back. 'So, where should we go on our first date, hm? You said you're off tomorrow, so am I-' he cut off as Ran's face fell. 'what now?'

'That call, earlier at the club, I have an early meeting tomorrow' Ran's face darkened. 'my father was calling to advise me of the meeting. It's...unavoidable.' Ran growled lowly, then softened 'I'm, I'm sorry.'

'Hey, it's ok' Yomada glanced at his watch. 'so, how early is early Ran. It's close to one now.'

Ran sighed, 'eight am at my office.'

'Well,' Yomada said, 'how long do you think it will be? We could get together later, after maybe.'

Ran smiled, a wider, brighter smile than Yomada had seen yet. An almost full smile. 'I'd like that Yomada, really.' Ran reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a business card, scribbling on the back. 'this is my cell. Call me say, around two, or three? I should be done by then. We can go wherever you like, and then, maybe dinner?'

'yeah, that sounds good.' Yomada answered. 'Maybe we should call it a night. Sleep on it. I don't know about you, but these last few hours on this little emotional roller coaster have about worn me out. What say we conclude this evening and start over tomorrow?'

'yes.' Ran stood. 'I'll get the check and we-' Yomada grabbed his wrist softly. 'wait Ran, just... just one more thing.'

'what?' Ran asked expectantly as he sat back down.

'Before we go our separate ways, I just have one last question.' Yomada said quietly, watching Ran.

'sure Yomada, ask me anything.' Ran answered, curious.

Yomada watched Ran's face closely as he asked softly, 'Ran, who's Mei?' Yomada was glad he'd been intent. Ran's eyes slammed closed, but not before Yomada caught a flash of anguish. 'Ran?' Ran had paled to an almost ghostly white and he tre

mbled slightly, his fists clenched tight and he swallowed. 'Are you ok?' Yomada felt like an idiot. He'd seen the pain earlier when the girl spoke about Mei. He should have just left it alone. 'Ran. I'm sorry. Forget it OK? Just-'

Ran kept his eyes closed, but spoke quietly, cutting into Yomada's reassurance. 'my sister' he rasped, voice laced with pain he obviously tried to contain. 'she's... she's my sister.' He took a very deep breath, then opened his eyes. 'Mei's my little sister. She-' his breath hitched briefly, and he drew his arms tightly about himself, as though to keep himself from falling apart. 'she's in a .. a coma.' He whispered, barely voicing that phrase aloud. 'She's been asleep for a...very, long time. Over a year.' His whisper grew in strength, but still quiet. He blinked and looked up to see Yomada's concerned eyes watching him closely. 'she and Jenny went to school together. They were best friends. Jenny, she's been ... very good to Mei, all this time.'

His voice faded at the end. He visibly shook himself and sat up straighter. Clearing his throat, he began again. 'Mei was...hit by a truck while we were riding bicycles on her, on her birthday. The guy was drunk, he... he said he never saw her. She ...flew quite, quite a distance. She hit her head. Her helmet kept her from being killed, but, well, she has not woken since. '

Ran's voice broke, and tears began to build in his eyes as he went on, 'They, they say...say she probably, won't-' Ran's grip about his body grew tighter as he tried hard to hold on. God, he hadn't said that out loud for a long, long time. Anyone who knew him, knew of Mei's situation. He visited her, he talked to her, but always with that fierce hope. He had not had to relive her injury or acknowledge the doctor's pessimism to anyone else for so long. He dimly registered a presence behind him, but rather than responding according to his martial arts training, acknowledging, preparing to defend, he barely felt it so intense was his pain in his gut. He could barely breathe...

'Ran.' Yomada soothed as he reached around, taking Ran in his arms, 'god Ran, I'm sorry, so sorry. I'm a real idiot, I shouldn't have asked such a question. Shhh, it's ok, I'm here Ran, you're not alone.' Yomada continued to soothe, whispering nothings, comforting as well as he could.

Ran's trembling began to ease and he took a shuddering, deep breath. He let himself lean into that strong, warm embrace, relishing the feel of Yomada stroking his hair, his back. This felt so wonderful, surrounded by Yomada's warmth and strength. Yomada's scent enveloped him, that beautiful voice calming and soothing. He took another full breath and sat up a little. Yomada let go slowly, still rubbing a hand over Ran's back. He reached around Ran and grabbed the small glass of water on the table. 'Here, take a drink.'

'Thank you Yomada, really.' Ran sat up more fully.

'Are you ok?' Yomada's obvious warm concern washed over Ran.

'It's just been a while since I spoke of it. I'm sorry, you really didn't need to see that. Forgive me, please'

'oh yes I did,' Yomada answered grimly and Ran looked up surprised. 'don't hide from me Ran, don't close up. I'd rather see that part of you, be able to be there for you, to hold you as you face it, to support you through it, than to see that cold deadness from earlier in the car. Locking up your pain will only make the deadness spread faster.'

Ran gasped, his eyes snapping to Yomada's 'how-'

Yomada's eyes softened and he again traced his fingers over the curve of Ran's jaw, his thumb caressing Ran's lips. 'How did I know it was spreading, taking over, becoming more frequent, easier to give in to? I think Ran, you need to let someone to see you, to feel with you, to see what you feel, and respond to you, with you, before it's too late and it does take you over. It's ok to feel Ran, it's important to feel. Pulling your pain out by the roots and abolishing it will not actually make it go away, it just feeds the deadness until it grows so big, so encompassing, it takes over completely.'

'How?' Ran whispered, eyes wide. 'How could you know? That it's, that it's growing? That-'

'That it's taking you over? That you're more dead than alive much of the time? That you're losing yourself or your ability to care about anything, to want to feel anything?' Yomada closed his eyes. He began to trace circles on the table top. Then sighing he answered. 'I've seen it before Ran. I hated it. I couldn't stop it, couldn't fight it. Right.'

He sat up straight, crossing his arms over his chest and looked Ran in the eye. 'Well, fair is fair I guess.' Ran looked so tired. A little confused. And heart wrenchingly beautiful. Yomada smiled softly, warmly. 'Man, these runaway emotional rollercoasters sure tend to exhaust their riders huh, Ran?' Yomada smiled a self-mocking crook of a smile and shook his head ever so slightly. 'my turn I guess, to take a short ride. To give you a part of myself.' Yomada closed his eyes, taking a short, quick breath, he kept his eyes closed as he began. 'I almost married, almost two years ago.'

Yomada felt Ran stir slightly, but kept his eyes closed as he continued. 'Mandy was beautiful, amazing. Loving, funny, smart, so smart... she was always so, carefree, so open, happy. She loved life and everyone around her felt that love rolling off her. You had to love her back. You just had to and, God, I did... so much.' He whispered at the end, then cleared his throat. His fists clenched as he went on. 'she ... she was, attacked, one night after work. I, I was supposed to pick her up, but I got sidetracked, picking out a stupid guitar.'

He growled that part, self-loathing evident in his tone. 'I almost quit music after, but, I know that's not what she would have wanted. She didn't blame me, but I sure did, yes... very much.' He shook his head and went on. 'I was late, just a little over twenty minutes or so. Rather than wait for me, being her independent self, Mandy decided to start walking, figuring I'd catch up. When I got there, they told me she'd gone ahead and I started after her. A bit down the way I heard,... heard her screaming.' He quickly opened his eyes, as though the sights in his own head were to be avoided. His voice dropped, low, pain lacing every word, 'she... she was in the next alley. They... they hurt her, were hurting..I ... I saw.'

He growled, 'I almost killed them. I wish I had killed them, all three of them.' He stopped, swallowed and took a breath. He swiped the palms of his hands over his stinging eyes and looked to Ran. Wide eyed, concern evident, one hand lifted slightly as though to reach for Yomada.

'she wouldn't let me help her Ran. She closed off completely. Wouldn't talk, wouldn't feel. She said once that if she didn't feel, she didn't hurt and it would go away. She began to turn dead, cold, almost exactly the same cold, deadness you showed in the car. Only, more... brittle, I think. Finally, it grew to be too much for her, I guess. About, five months after the attack, she... I found her...' Yomada couldn't breathe. He tried to catch his breath, to get some control, but he just couldn't.

This time it was Ran's strong arms pulling Yomada into his embrace. He held Yomada tightly in his arms. 'Yomada,' Ran's deep voice calmed Yomada's breathing, 'Yomada, it's ok. I know, I do. The helplessness, the pain. It's ok.' He held tighter, murmuring in Yomada's ear. 'it's ok.'

He felt Yomada's heart rate slow, his breathing even out. Slowly Yomada came to himself, but made no move to pull away. Instead he leaned back a bit, bringing his own arms down to lay along Ran's, entwining their fingers. 'it's been a while Ran, since I've told anyone. I'm ok. It was a long time ago. It just still, hurts. I loved her, very much.'

He sat for a moment, enjoying the feeling of being held, strong arms holding him securely. He sighed and looked up. 'Thanks Ran, really.' He sat up a little straighter. 'well, it has been quite a night Ran. And now, I feel as exhausted as you look.' He chuckled, 'and, from the little I've come to know you, I'm guessing if you look tired, you must be damn near dead, huh?' he smirked and pulled back, patting Ran's shoulder. 'so, let's call it a night, huh? We'll start over tomorrow. Do this the normal way.' He smiled.

'yes' Ran answered, standing, rolling his shoulders. As normal as can be, for us, at any rate.' He smiled a very small smile. 'let me get the check, I'll be right back.' Ran left Yomada a bit to collect himself. He returned a few moments later and held out to Yomada an envelope.

'what's this?' Yomada asked

Looking a little sheepish, Ran answered 'well, it's rather late. I sent Yuri home earlier, I figured we could take a cab. Do, do you mind?'

'no, that's fine. No problem' Yomada answered, perplexed, 'but still, what's this?'

'Well. That's fare, for the cab, and...' Ran dropped his eyes, 'and some cash, for.. for tomorrow's... date.' He took a quick breath. ' I figured, you pick, you... plan things, and ... I can pay for it.' He anxiously looked at Yomada. 'please, let me do this. Without it being awkward. Please? Money means nothing to me Yomada. It's a tool. A means to an end. I don't... don't want it to be a problem.' He dropped his gaze back to the floor.

'Ran.' Yomada stood and raised Ran's chin to look at him. 'it's fine Ran. That's a good plan.' He grinned. 'really. I'll plan the best dates ever. Leave it to me.'

Ran breathed easier, that small special smile making a quick appearance. They went out front, signaling for two cabs. Yomada was floored when Ran lightly cupped the back of his head, bringing him in for a soft, slow kiss. His tongue just barely tracing over Yomada's, both hands playing lightly in Yomada's hair. Just as Yomada began to heat up, considering taking the kiss a little further, Ran pulled back, nipping a bit at Yomada's lip, and pressing their foreheads together. 'Yomada' he breathed, and Yomada almost melted to hear his name sound that way, heat pooling in his groin. He moaned lightly.

'I've wanted to do that for... a long time.' Ran breathed, his sultry, breathless voice continuing as the fog began to clear from Yomada's mind. 'a very long time.' Ran leaned in, taking one more soft, light kiss, then pulling back. He looked up at Yomada with such a look as Yomada'd never seen before. A light of happiness sparkling in his eyes, a gentle blush over his face, his lips parted the slightest bit, and that special smile ghosting over his features. Behind the sparkle was a vulnerability, as though the boldness was engineered. A dusting of fear and worry, doubt, insecurity maybe, hovering deep in those eyes behind the shy sparkle.

'oh Ran' Yomada whispered, 'damn you're beautiful.' He kissed each of Ran's eyes, cupping his face in his hands. 'tomorrow Baby. Tomorrow will be so good, I promise.' He kissed the top of Ran's head and stepped back a full step. 'Ran.' He spoke firmly. 'if... If I don't go, now, I'm gonna take this budding friendship to a whole new level, way, way too fast.' He smiled. 'tomorrow. Tomorrow we date.'

He took his hands away from Ran and stuffed them in his pockets. 'let's go on home for now. I'll call tomorrow. Sleep well Ran, and think of me.' Yomada blew Ran a light kiss and entered his cab.

Ran watched the cab drive away, still not quite believing tonight. He shook himself and entered his own cab. 'The Garden Towers' he told the cabbie and sat back for the ride home.