6 months later :

Yomada lowered the paper he'd been reading, musing as he drank his coffee. "I can't believe he actually did it. Amazing enough, his resignation from Hitsugaiya, but he actually went through with the divorce. Mei. She must have woken up, or Tomio finally lost control somehow... or... no. If she'd died, Ran likely would have too"

Sitting at the coffee table, he turned on the TV to listen to the morning news and blinked, startled, "Ran?" He quickly increased the volume, "...yes that's right ladies, hearts can melt anew. The elusive Ran Hitsugaiya, formerly of Hitsugaiya, is officially a free man once again. As of yesterday, the divorce is now final. Our team caught up with Ran briefly as he exited the courthouse yesterday. He gave no comment, quiet as usual, but our photographer caught this photo as he made his exit. Now the questions begin, will he return to music under another label? Break into to the club scene as rumored? Will he enter the dating scene as the sexy eligible bachelor he is, or will he remain apart, reclusive as he has been recently?

Either way, you may soon be able to catch a glimpse yourself. Sources report he has been seen often the last few weeks in the art district, frequenting the 9th Street Gallery. One rumor circulating seems to indicate there may be reservations in the works. This gallery, known for presenting the debut of many a budding artist, is booked as much as a year in advance. Has Ran found a budding young artist to sponsor now that he is no longer devoted to Hitsugaiya? Check back periodically for any updates regarding the social scene or information on the potential artworks. Moving on to sports..."

As the storyline changed, Yomada muted the television. Gods, he'd been surprised to see him. Big as life, in living color, standing there on the courthouse steps. He'd looked... good. More than good, beautiful, as always. But, tired. Eyes pinched, sunken a bit, like he hadn't been resting... The small archive photo in the paper with the note about the divorce didn't do him justice.

Yomada let his thoughts turn to what Ran might be doing now. He was looking at galleries? Could Ran have finally decided to pursue his dream? He'd always wanted to make a life of art he'd said. But his father wouldn't allow it. If Ran'd been willing to actually leave Hitsugaiya, flip his life upside down, maybe he was considering pursuing painting again. Or, he had a good eye. Maybe he had found a young starving artist to debut.

Yomada closed his eyes, again seeing the still shot from the news. He'd looked tired, but still so beautiful. Yomada felt the emptiness returning. He took a deep breath. "I can't do this now. Not today. Gotta get this show on the road. I promised the guys" He downed his coffee, lit his cigarette and grabbed his jacket. "Cross your fingers Yomada old boy" he thought, "if this works out you could finally be on your way to fixing the mess you made of things."


Ran could feel nails run across the sensitive skin of his hips, fingers in his hair, lips tracing down his body, hot breath raising goose bumps as it trailed across his belly. His name floated to him across the breeze, as it ran wispy fingers through his hair. He caught a scent in the air, and it was unmistakable. His body felt electric…ALIVE…

Ran was shocked awake by a loud clap of thunder. When lightning flashed he thought he saw emerald eyes hovering above his frame. He rubbed his eyes, and tried to shake away the cobwebs deep sleep always brought. He got out of bed, and opened the window, inhaling deeply, the water beating against his face harshly for a moment before he closed the glass again. He watched the rain pound against the window pane.

He'd dreamed of Yomada again, like he had almost every night, especially during storms. But this time, this time when he woke, it was different. When he woke this time it didn't hurt so much, he wanted this feeling. He wanted to remember.

Gods, he still missed him so much, but the pain, the broken glass shredding him from the inside, that had finally faded to a dull ache. An ache that told him he was still alive.

Yes, he still missed him, but he found he could think of him without wishing he wasn't. He sighed. Where was Yomada now? What was he doing? Was he happy? Was he well? Ran pulled the necklace from his neck, and slid the ring from its place on the tender leather string. He read the inscription again...

As the storm raged on he knew with certainty that he was a slave to fate no longer. Even if Yomada never came back, he would be okay. Not happy maybe, but maybe that wasn't meant for him. Even with Mei back...

He'd been happy, for a time, even as she'd slept he'd actually been happy, and not willing to fight for it. He'd let it go too easily.

He had happiness around him now, in a way. Happy for Mei anyway. She seemed to be truly happy, enjoying college, living life... At least Ran had the memories, he HAD been happy. He could keep that. No one could take away what had been. He wasn't really alone now. Not like he'd been before Yomada'd come into his life. Now he could look back on that perfect time, before things went off track, and even some of the time while things were falling apart, and know happiness. And he could be happy through Mei.

He pulled off his shirt, sliding the necklace back over his head, and walked around the room, choosing one of the paintings he was in the process of finishing. He pulled the cloth from the front of the canvas before him, and grabbed a paint brush. As the fabric drifted to the floor his breath hitched in his throat. Even after all these months, the sight of those warm green eyes tore every ounce of air from his lungs. He dipped the brush into the paint, stroked it over the canvas, and lost himself in his work.

Several hours later, his eyes started to drift closed, and fearing for the painting he was working on, he set his brush aside. He looked out the window and the sun was coming up over the bay, orange, purple, and blue streaking across the sky.

With a glance at the clock he realized it was after seven o'clock in the morning. Oh well… When the muse strikes I must answer his call….

A year later:

When Ran arrived at the gallery, he looked at his watch. He was about 45 minutes early. He pulled open the door before him, and froze. Seeing walls covered in his work, stirred something inside him, and he couldn't help the glowing smile that played on his lips.

When the doors opened to the public Ran was surprised to find that a crowd was already waiting to get inside. All this for my work? It was a little overwhelming. People shuffled in, and he heard voices of delight as they took in his hard work, his being... Whispers of "that's him, Rook. See the hair?"

He strode over to one of his paintings marked as "not for sale" and let his fingers trace over the small blood red rook symbol on the bottom corner, up over the edge of the frame, then coming to rest on the gold ring hanging from his neck on a string of thin black leather. The light glinted off the bracelet dangling from his right wrist as he grasped the ring tightly.

He contemplated the chess symbol a moment. His reminder to himself in all things to look at every angle. Even if a situation seemed utterly hopeless, never to be backed into a corner again. Just like chess, he would see every possibility before he committed himself, his life, his soul to anything... ever again. He would not be forced, coerced, manipulated to make a choice that could destroy him, ever again. He would look at every possible outcome... and check every opportunity. If only he'd done that then... if he'd checked the doctors / hospital he wouldn't go down this path again. Not tonight...

Ran sighed and let his hand drop... 18 months... 18 months ago, he became one of the living dead. 18 months ago since he quit the job he despised. 18 months ago he left the wife he never loved. 18 months ago he got his heart's desire, only to immediately have life itself ripped from his chest. He found life, only to lose it in the same moment and be forced to live on ...

He devoted himself to Mei, fulfilling every wish, every desire she had. Carnivals, concerts, rediscovering music with her, plays, board games, school... everything. After Mei, he poured himself into pursuing his heart's dream to paint... It hadn't been easy, but he'd changed his life. In the end, though the sacrifice could never be worth it, to know Mei was happy, and to be able to enjoy his art, this was enough. He could live with it.

His eyes caressed the lines of the features he knew like the back of his hand. If only he could know that Yomada'd found peace, or love... He'd never been able to force himself to contact FORBIDDEN. He knew, they wouldn't tell him anything anyway... he listened to the radio, like wiggling a sore tooth he listened to FORBIDDEN's songs from the first two albums over and over, and he scoured the gossip rags for any hints of Yomada. But it seemed that he'd fallen off grid. No rumor of reunion, no solo career... he just wished he could know if Yomada found any of the solace he'd so badly needed.

He allowed himself one small moment of loss. He was lonely. Mei gone now in University, she had so many friends now. Not that much younger than he, but he felt... so much older. Yes, he was alone, and would remain so, but he felt he deserved it, this solitude. He had his art, and no desire to ever seek love again. He'd never desired anybody but Yomada, and couldn't contemplate the thought of someone else.

He'd made changes in his life, fixed what he could, supported Mei in everything she put her mind to... Then again, all the changes in the world meant nothing, if they came too late… The pain flared for a brief moment as flashes danced across his mind; the video, finding the ring, the desperate call to Schulton, the realization that... he was gone. … Yomada'd left, walked away, for good…and the ultimate regret that if he'd been only a bare few hours earlier, he could have... Ran sighed once more before taking a deep cleansing breath and forcing his thoughts to return to here, now, tonight.

Ran wandered through the gallery, marveling at hosting his own gallery showing, listening in on the conversations taking place. It seemed the general response was favorable, gasps and awe abounded, and he felt a bit of pride swell in his chest. He had finally become a man Yomada could be proud of, at least he hoped he'd be...

"Hey, Ran…"

Ran's heart skipped a beat as he heard that voice. The voice of his dreams, his visions. It was a little different, deeper, raspier maybe, roughed by too many cigarettes perhaps, but it still sent a warmth through his soul. He had to be dreaming. There's no way… It can't be… he turned around, and found to his dismay, that it could, and was.

"Uh… I…" Oh my god… what the hell do I say…

"How are you?"

"Uh… I…"

Slender tan fingers wrapped around his wrist, and forest green eyes implored him to follow. He moved behind the other man, the contact at his wrist spreading fire up his arm, straight to his heart, stealing his breath. When they were outside, off to one side away from the crowd Yomada finally spoke. "Ran, are you just going to stand there? Will you talk to me?"

He found Yomada's eyes and saw hesitation there, and... doubt. His own fear faded away, replaced by a desire to do anything, find any way to put Yomada at ease. "I'm sorry. I .. I was just so surprised, seeing you here. I didn't know what to say."

"It's alright. I'm nervous too. Ummm… Your work is wonderful. I knew you could do this Ran.."

"Thank you," Ran said with satisfaction. "That means a lot..."

"Your public seems to like them... Some are... you always did make me out to be more than I am, Ran"

"no Yomada. You are more than you realize." Ran took a deep breath and plunged on, "you are an incredibly handsome, beautiful, sexy, man Yomada. I told you that."

"An elf prince Ran? Really? And a ... swordsman, a cowboy?... And, what... an Angel, spirit?."

"You inspire me, Yomada. You always have. I... I didn't expect you here Yomada. I can take down the more... exotic ones, if you like."

"No. They're... fine. I was just, surprised." Yomada looked around before coming back to Ran, "I see some paintings are not for sale...those featuring ... well... me, including those of the "exotic" variety."

"Those are inspiration for future purchases. Buyers can get a feel for what I can do, and commission their own pieces. But your likeness, that is mine alone" Ran broke off, clearing his throat as he realized this conversation was going somewhere he doubted Yomada wanted to follow.

Silence followed for a bit, with neither able to look at the other for long. Finally, "So. How've you been? Aside from the art I mean" Yomada asked.

"Good, I guess. Tired. Working too much these last few weeks, getting ready for the opening. I've been really busy. Sorry, that is the art, but ... really, lately it's all been about this opening."

"You always did work too hard. How's Miko?" Yomada asked, light, off-hand, as though it was an everyday topic.

Ran froze for a moment, then shook himself, forcing his body to turn back toward the gallery window, looking away from Yomada, and to keep his voice under control, "I have no idea. I haven't talked to her," he said quietly. "Not since ... before our divorce was final," he added as an afterthought.

"Oh," Yomada said " ... and... your father?"

"Him..." Ran growled before he could catch it. He took a breath, clenched his teeth and closed his eyes briefly. He was rigid, fighting for control. "I don't really know... I haven't seen him since the day you-" he stopped, swallowing. He took a shaky breath, then opened his eyes as he turned to look at Yomada. Fighting for calm, looking steadily into Yomada's eyes as he said it, "the day you left." Still, his voice broke at the end. He looked away and ran his fingers through his hair. "I resigned that very afternoon. He disowned me, loudly. I haven't willingly spoken with him since."

"Ran, that same day? But, how?" Yomada whispered... "Mei?" Yomada asked curiously.

"She ... woke... that weekend..." Yomada hissed in a sharp breath of realization, "she's awake now Yomada. She's doing... well, she's happy. Tomio has no hold on me ... not anymore." Ran could feel himself being pulled towards the other man. He fought against the gravity reeling him in, even though he yearned to feel the heat of the other man's body, even just for a moment. "It doesn't matter anymore." He shook his head to hide the shudder that ran through him. "Forgive me, Yomada, but… what are you doing here?"

"I couldn't pass up the chance to come to your first opening. I saw the ad in the newspaper and I couldn't stay away. At first I wasn't sure it was you. Rook? You'll have to explain your choice. But, I recognized the painting in the flyer at the coffee house, the painting from the apartment. Even though I… I wasn't sure if it was a good idea, I wanted to come. I thought I might not be… welcome. I should have -"

"You're always welcome, Yomada. You should know that."

"But after everything…"

"Yomada," Ran said, "I mean it. You're always welcome in my life, in any way you see fit. In any way you find me deserving. Always, Nissho"

"It's been such a long time," Yomada mumbled, his hand reaching out for the other man hesitantly, Ran held his breath, but it fell back to his side.

"It has been a long time," he agreed. "How have you been? Are you... happy?"

"Oh… ummm…yeah. Life is good, real good. I... I reunited with FORBIDDEN...I figured, you'd know... but ... if you've left the music business...maybe not huh? We... actually, we just signed a record deal, a real one, and a big reunion tour contract. We head out on tour in April if it all comes together. We start recording the new album in a month or so, pushing for a Christmas release, and I'll be leaving for L.A. in a week. To relocate there. Permanently" Yomada said, his face glowing with pride.

Ran's heart stopped, just for a moment, *permanently* he forced himself to speak. "I'm glad to hear about the contract Yomada. You have so much talent. You deserve it. You all do" He meant it, god he still loved him... so much.

How did we end up a few inches apart? Ran thought, body pulsing at the proximity of the man who was his everything. His fingertips grazed the smooth skin of Yomada's arm lightly, and it only served to torture him even more. Ran's eyes closed, and he sucked in a shaky breath at the small, almost imperceptible, contact.

Stepping back, Ran turned away, back toward the gallery window. "That day... that's the day I left Miko's home too. I moved back ... to the apartment... with Mei. Once Mei started classes at University, I started painting. At first to try to capture, hold on to something." his voice dropped to a whisper. "I had to see you, this was the only way I could think how."

Ran's eyes had looked so lost for a moment as he described wanting to see Yomada again... the longing so plain... Yomada cleared his throat, "Ran, I think we need to talk. You said Mei is awake now. Is she staying with you, at the apartment? Maybe I could come by tonight after this is done, or we could-?"

Ran spun - hope briefly shining before he quickly mastered it. "Yes, Yomada. I'd... I'd like that." Ran's eyes had closed briefly, causing him to miss Yomada's own eyes widening at the *yes Yomada*.

"No, Mei isn't staying there with me. Not anymore. She... she started college and finally moved into the dorm this semester. She comes to stay on holidays... She couldn't make it tonight, has exams" he turned to the window again "Yes Yomada, I would like that very much. I'd be very interested in hearing how you've been these last-"

"Yomada?" a deep voice called from near the entrance, laced with curiosity and frustration. A handsome blonde young man came around the corner, "Hey man. There you are. What are you- oh." he cut off as he realized Yomada wasn't alone. "You ok?" the voice took on a slightly menacing tone as he looked Ran over.

"Yeah, Yu, I'm fine." Yomada said. He turned from Ran and gave the blonde a light kiss on the cheek. "I'll be back inside in a minute."

"...hmm, "k... if you're sure." The blonde gave Ran another glance, almost glare, "I'll go look around a bit more." He turned back toward the entrance.

Yomada turned back to Ran. Ran had his mask firmly back in place. His eyes were closed, and he was trembling slightly, but his face was blank - closed. He opened his eyes as he realized Yomada wasn't talking anymore. "Yukato?" he whispered, then swallowed, tried to not let it show, "Are you-?" he started to ask, but cut off.

Yomada could tell he was trying very hard not to let any emotion leak into that question, but he could hear it, feel it, emanating from Ran.

Ran's eyes closed again, briefly as he cut his own question short. He took a deep breath and when he looked at Yomada again, he was calm. The tension wasn't flowing from him anymore. He looked like he truly meant it as he said, "I'm so glad for you Yomada, really. You look healthy, excited. This contract is what you've always wanted, I know." He turned back toward the entrance, "Are you happy? Is... are the guys well? Yukato seems nice. A friend?"

"I'm as happy as I can be, I guess." Yomada replied. He grabbed Ran's wrist, stopping him. "Yeah, I have the band, my music again, a contract. But still... something is missing, has been for a while... the guys are good. Yukato is a good friend too" he felt Ran stiffen for a split second, "He's a keyboardist we signed on to FORBIDDEN. He's part of the reason we got this gig. But... we're not together, not like that. Not anymore." Ran stopped breathing.

"We were, for a while...I was... broken Ran... I ...needed... and Yukato was...young, happy, carefree... No drama, no baggage, no... worry. But, not now. He cares for me, but... he knows, always has, even before I did really -" Yomada let his voice drop, barely a whisper, "my heart isn't mine. Never can be." His voice grew stronger, "It belongs to someone else."

Ran started to tremble harder, his breath catching. He put his hand out to the wall to steady himself. He didn't try to pull his other arm from Yomada's grasp, afraid Yomada would let him. He desperately wanted to keep it there. He took a deep breath as Yomada came closer.

"That's why he was glaring at you like that." Yomada said, his voice close to Ran's ear. "I – I needed someone, to talk things over with. Someone not caught up in everything. Yukato was more... objective than Mason or Schu. He listened to me... to everything... He let me lean on him for a while, but... he's the one who broke things off. Said it just wasn't gonna work and he didn't want to risk the friendship we'd made. We hit it off right away. Grew really close quickly. a kindred spirit kind of thing. We've talked a lot over these last months. He helped me make some decisions."

Yomada touched Ran's hair, trailing his fingers though the ends, feather light. "Look -" he stepped back and let go of Ran's arm. He took a big, deep breath and shook his head, "we do need to talk, but...not here, not right now. This is your night, your debut. You've been waiting for this your whole me." he smiled, "we'll talk after. I'm not going anywhere right away."

Ran let his forehead lean against the wall a moment. He turned to Yomada, not hiding anything. His eyes shone, hope budding there, "yes... Yomada. Let me show you..."

They went through the doorway to find Yukato waiting slightly inside the foyer area. The glower was gone, he seemed more relaxed. "Hey."

"Hello" Ran replied. "Yukato, right? So, you guys have signed a deal...that's great."

"Yeah, it is" Yukato turned to Yomada. "Sure you're ok?" he asked, looking Yomada over. "Ok then," he grinned, "I'm gonna blow this joint. Art's not really my gig. Gonna find some night life with some noise... call me tomorrow. Not too early mind. Hopefully it'll be a late night." his grin grew wider as he sauntered away.

Yomada watched Yukato walk away. He turned back to Ran. "So, show me your work."

They caught up on the happenings of FORBIDDEN while they toured the gallery. Yukato had

a crush on Roxy, unrequited for now. She'd stayed on with FORBIDDEN through the hiatus,

working with Will on media relations and royalty negotiations.

Will and Dale had reached an amicable split. Will burying himself in cyber space, especially after the latest rounds of classes, lost in the world of web design and the web. Dale grew more and more restless as he grew less able to talk with and understand Will, and Dale needing more physicality, more interaction. They'd agreed to grow apart rather than lose their friendship and remained best friends with no animosity.

No one had been more surprised than Yomada when Mason asked Dale out. He'd watched the growing split, seemed to know it was coming, and swooped in fairly soon after Dale moved out of the condo. Dale loved food, and Mason loved to cook. He made full use of the "way to a man's heart is through his stomach," and won Dale over completely. They sparred together daily, both taking up Kendo and martial arts, and Dale gladly tried all Mason's new recipes...

Will dated here and there, enjoying his new single status. Dale and he had been together since high school. For now, he was enjoying dating, men and women, and really just seemed happy with his laptop and his drums for now...

Schu was still with Chris. Christopher Mitchell. Architect, visionary, and devoted to Schulton. Yomada'd never seen him happier.


Ran turned to Tina as the last of the stragglers filed away. "You're sure you don't need me for anything else?" He was yet again very glad he'd convinced her to leave Hitsugaiya and come with him when he settled on this. She was a great assistant.

"No Ran - I'm fine - go. I'll call you tomorrow with the breakdown." she smiled, her eyes darting to Yomada and back. She took a glance around the room, stopping on the closest paintings tagged not for sale, those that figured Yomada's likeness the most fiercely, the ones that almost shone. Her voice dropped to a whisper, "I hope things work out... I hope you can be happy." she gave Ran a brief hug and a light push toward Yomada. "Now, go." she laughed.

"Thanks." Ran smiled at her. He turned and approached Yomada, suddenly nervous. "Do you have a ride or... do." his voice trailed off as Yomada turned to him. His fear returned, the uncertainty, the knowledge in the back of his head that he so didn't deserve things to come out the way he desperately, painfully, hoped they would. He clenched his teeth for a moment, rigidly closing off those thoughts. He offered a way out, a way to avoid the rejection he feared was coming, "are you sure you want to go back to the apartment? We could go somewhere for coffee, a drink..."

"I'm sure Ran, let's go. I'd like some privacy to talk" Yomada took his hand. "I didn't bring my baby, I rode with Yukato." he turned to the door, "you have a car, or are we cabbing?"

"yeah, I have mine."

They drove quietly, neither speaking at first. Yomada never took his eyes off Ran. He watched every move. Ran grew more tense with each mile until finally Yomada broke the silence. "Tell me Ran," he said

"what?" Ran breathed "tell you what Yomada?"

"Everything - start with the day I-" he swallowed "I know you called Schu that morning...?" he watched Ran intently.

Ran tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He almost closed his eyes. He wanted to. He took a deep breath, holding it for a moment before sighing. If Yomada needed this, well... He owed Yomada any penance he asked for. Yomada deserved anything ... everything. He'd bleed any way necessary if it brought Yomada some comfort, regardless of the eventual outcome.

"Yomada, the missed meeting at the cottage... Mei woke that Friday morning."

Yomada's eyes widened and he sat up straighter. "She woke at 4am or something that Friday morning after I'd dropped you at the airport. I tried to call your cell, but you'd dropped it in the car, so I called the hotel. I left messages... I was fixing everything Friday and Saturday, then I... I fell asleep Saturday evening and she didn't wake me, she didn't know...

I tried to call you all Sunday after... but you wouldn't answer. She's had a night terror and it took some time to calm her Sunday, they said it was normal, a period of adjusting... Anyway, I fell asleep again Sunday afternoon or evening, and when I woke it was really late, so I decided to wait for morning.

Then, I came Monday, as soon as I squared everything with the doctors that morning, but ... you were gone. I knew I didn't deserve you even with such a reason for missing that night. That was only the last in a string of ways I'd hurt you..."

"I came to the apartment that morning, planning to make things up to you. To explain, soothe things..." his eyes narrowed, "Not that I really could, but...I thought I was...

Anyway, you weren't there. When I saw the tape I-" he swallowed, cleared his throat. This hurt... "I couldn't believe it," he whispered, "but... I could too... I realized - realized what I'd done to you. How terribly wrong everything was. When the tape ended, all I could think was, Schulton might know where, if anyone would..."

He paused, looked at Yomada, "I called him, begged him to tell you... it could be different. Did he, did he tell you what I said, anything?..."

"No," Yomada said. Ran turned back to the road, "he didn't have to. The phone was on speaker. I was there, I heard you." Ran gasped, and Yomada looked out the window. "It was so hard not to give in, to come back. I wanted to, but...I had to get away Ran. I wasn't me anymore. I was some "kept woman" a whore, a shadow. We weren't us anymore either. I had to remember who I was before..." he turned back.

"I know, I'm sorry." Ran whispered, "Again, sorry of course can't come close... but I am. Sorry. Sorry for everything, for how it all just got so twisted."

"So, anyway, after, after the call. Tell me that." Yomada watched him again.

"Ok." Ran seemed to think for a minute. "Let's see... I went back to the apartment, changed, made a few calls, and-" he let out a short laugh, "I compacted my cell phone." he smiled, "it sure felt good."

"What?" Yomada looked at him with wide eyes. "You compacted it? Why?"

"Yeah. I didn't want to have any way for my father to easily contact me. I really enjoyed that satisfying crunch. It was like breaking the first wall down on my prison." he smiled, then it faded. "Then, I went to see Miko..." another sigh.

"I told her I was leaving, packed my things and left. She was... very gracious. I didn't deserve it. I hurt her as much as I'd hurt you, though it didn't hurt me that I had, the way it did that I'd hurt you..." his voice dropped to a whisper.

He shook his head. "Anyway. I went back to the apartment, put some things in order, drafted my resignation and went to face my father. " Ran turned to look intently at Yomada while at the red light. "I wanted to kill him... but I didn't"

He took a deep breath and began to drive again. "Anyway, ... it was ...very satisfying, to finally walk away from Tomio. Even though I was dying, I felt so alive... for that moment. Mei was awake, I could finally put the bastard in his place, and... I'd ended things with Miko...

But then ... I had to face life without you...

Even with Mei back... against all hope I got my dream, but... it was a nightmare ...

I was happy to have her back, she still loves me and it's been amazing getting to know each other again, watching her grow into a beautiful young woman, but..."

He sighed... "I was not... myself, I'm afraid. She's been... wonderfully patient. And then, now she's in school anyway. It's ... easier to be open for her during visits than all the time... Anyway, I know the resignation and the divorce were in the news, I couldn't keep them from it. Did you see...?"

"Yeah" Yomada grunted, "I was...surprised. Honestly, I never thought you would. Not either one, and certainly not both. I... I guess I never really... never really believed she'd wake Ran"

"I know." Ran whispered, "I don't think I really did either, no matter what I said... I hadn't thought I'd ever break away either. Yomada," Ran rasped, "when I realized you were gone, and I had no way to find you, you were really gone." Ran's voice broke a little, "I knew, there was NOTHING I could lose that mattered like you. I love Mei, but... you weren't second choice Yomada. I just didn't really realize it until it was too late.

It would kill me to choose Yomada, I know it would, but... I also know now,... if I ever had to choose, from anything, it would be you. Material things - what do they matter? Even if I end up on a park bench, in a gutter - so what? I would be losing nothing. YOU, you were everything. . It would...hurt ... to lose Mei, if I had to make that choice, but... nothing, nothing like losing you., you were, are everything."

He stopped, pulling into the driveway, staring straight ahead, determined to get this out. "You always have been, from the first night." Finally he turned to Yomada.

"There has never been anything or anyone in my life that meant what you meant Yomada. Mei is my sister, but... you... you're my existence. I was a fool to go along with my father when he told me to be with her - I should have walked away then. Found a way. I'm SO SO SORRY that I didn't - that I wasted all that time, that I hurt you so deeply, for so long..."

he felt the tears tracing down his face, powerless to stop them, terrified that Yomada would leave now that he'd heard Ran's confession, knowing there really was nothing he could give to Yomada that could make up for all those months... he closed his eyes, not daring to hope.

"Hey" Yomada whispered, reaching out to wipe Ran's cheek. "You're painting now, huh? For a living and all?"

Ran looked at him, confused, "well, yes - that was sort of the reason for the gallery display tonight" Ran held Yomada's hand against his face, trembling and completely unable to stop it.

"Well, it seems to me, you could paint anywhere, right? And you're not exactly on a schedule either" Yomada raised his other hand, tangling his fingers in Ran's hair slightly. "Like, if say you were to take a vacation, say to go on tour with someone."

Ran gasped, raising his eyes quickly to search Yomada's intently, "Yomada," he whispered "are you-"

"Ran," Yomada whispered against Ran's lips, his warm breath sending shivers up Ran's spine. "Come with me. Come back to me..." he mouthed, nipping at Ran's bottom lip. "Let me come back to you. I need you. I need us." his words ended as he captured Ran's mouth with his own, swallowing the moan that escaped from Ran's soul.

The kiss was gentle at first, relearning each other, but quickly grew frantic as Ran gripped Yomada by the hair, melting against him, "Yomada" he moaned, "oh God, Yomada..." he kept repeating his name, like a prayer, Yomada trailed his kisses down Ran's jaw, back up to his temple, kissed his eyes... "Yes Yomada, yes, anywhere, anything, just..." Yomada claimed his mouth again, effectively cutting off anything else Ran had to say.

The kiss gentled as Yomada started to pull away, "Ran," he moaned, "let's go inside, I want you, and I want you in comfort, with plenty of time, no interruptions, and not crammed in a car..."

"Y-yes Yomada ," Ran tried to control the shaking, the desire to just hold on so tight. He sat back and got out of the car. "Let's go inside."

Ran's hands were shaking so, he could barely fit the key into the lock. Yomada was pressed up against his back, trailing kisses across the nape of his neck. "Ran" he moaned, "hurry and get that damn door open or I may take you right here in the hallway." Ran dropped the key.

He pressed himself back into the warmth that was Yomada. "Yomada" he slid up and down, "I can barely think as it is…" he stood straighter and took a small step forward. "I have to do this" he hissed. "just…. Hang on….." he bent slightly sideways as he bent down to retrieve the key. Yomada's hand trailing down his back.

"Here" Yomada growled, "let me do it." He wrapped his hand around Ran's, slid the key into the lock and opened the door. "I seem to have slightly more focus at the moment. But then, I have been planning this for a while,... while you, you were a bit surprised I'd say, hmm?" he smiled at Ran. "I did surprise you, didn't I?"

"Surprise is not even on the same radar as what you did to me. I still can't believe you're here….." Ran turned into Yomada's embrace as they entered the apartment and shut the door.

Yomada leaned against the door holding Ran for a moment. "When I read about the divorce, I started to think about calling you. I almost did but – I still wasn't sure. It took me a while to get things right. I found me again, and I can live with who I am – comfortable, confident, not a shell needing someone to make me worthwhile, but….. even though I've found myself, my old Yomada charm,… I've come to realize I'm not whole – not without you.

Then, I saw the add about the art show a few months ago. I figured you must have somehow found a way to get custody of Mei, an asleep Mei I'd assumed. But, I figured, maybe Tomio had really blown it. Given you some dirt you could use to make him let you go, and... I couldn't stop thinking about you again…. I began to plan. I'd hoped this would be the result, but I wasn't sure…it's been such a long time, and I never did call you…"

He lowered his eyes slightly, suddenly seeming unsure, "you could have found someone…." His voice trailed off. He heard Ran's sharp intake of breath, felt his grip tighten on his arms. He looked up into intense, burning violet.

"Yomada. There has NEVER been anyone but you .…never, since that first night. You know that" He glanced away from Yomada, closing his eyes, "Miko was never…." He couldn't go on, "No. I don't want to discuss her, anything of that….Yomada – you are the only one, ever that I have wanted…..come," he slowly smiled, beginning to believe this was real,

"please, let me show you how much I have missed you. Let me make everything up to you," his voice dropped to a sultry moan, "let me love you again…" He led Yomada toward the bedroom.

As they crossed the threshold, suddenly it was as though Yomada came out of his trance. He stopped, just inside the door, holding Ran's arm. He pulled slightly and Ran melted against him. He could feel the heat between them. He turned, pinning Ran against the wall and leaned in, hands on either side of Ran's head. He leaned down, closer…. swallowing each little gasp as Ran's breath started to come faster. He traced feather light kisses at Ran's temple, his jaw, behind his ear, down the side of his neck – this earning him a choked moan "God, Yomada, please…"

He pressed his knee between Ran's thighs, rubbing slightly. "I've missed you, Ran." He whispered against Ran's neck. He took a deep breath, inhaling as though it was the sweetest fragrance. "your smell," he licked up from the pulse point in Ran's throat to the curve behind his ear, "your taste." He ran his hands up under Ran's shirt, reveling in the tremble, felt it when Ran's legs gave slightly, "the feel of you, under my hands" he nipped at Ran's bottom lip.

Ran growled slightly in the back of his throat, "Yes Yomada. it's been so long," he rasped, suddenly forgetting how to breathe, never mind that he was breathing faster, whimpering, moaning. He couldn't think anymore, not with words….only feel.

He ran his hands through Yomada's hair, across his face, drinking in the sight of him, really here. He traced his hands across that perfectly taught abdomen, up across Yomada's strong, muscled back.

He arched against him, "Yomada," he gasped, "it really has been too long…." He could feel the ache building, the almost pain in the pit of his stomach. He was so hard, it was painful. He was about to burst and Yomada hadn't even touched him…"I …I …you… Yomada, please….." suddenly Ran grabbed the back of Yomada's neck, pulling him in for an almost violent kiss, thrusting his tongue into Yomada's mouth, desperate to taste him again, "I need you Yomada" he panted, "I ….so long….touch me," this almost soundless, "please…" a groan, "oh please" almost a sob.

Yomada tightened his hold on Ran's face with one hand, kissing him deeply, "Yes, Ran, yes" he growled, his other hand traced down Ran's side, dropping to the waistband of his pants, finally cupping Ran's hot, firm erection through the fabric. "Ngh, oohhh," Ran moaned, wordless, as he thrust almost fiercely forward, his head thrown back, his hands knotting in Yomada's hair. He arched again, "Yo-Yomada…. Yo-... ma...yo," his eyes half lidded struggled to open, "I ..NH, ahhh, oh – I… so long" he gripped Yomada's shoulders, "ahhh," he licked his lips.

"yeah Baby," Yomada deftly unzipped Ran's fly, easing the tightness, reaching in, just below the waistband to finally, finally feel hot silky skin in his hand. Ran's eyes flew open, "AH!," he bucked into Yomada's hand, "Yomada, Nissho," he choked, "I'm gonna -" his eyes slammed shut, his head hit back against the wall as he froze, squeezing Yomada's arms, locking his knees, "Y-Yo...Nnh" his moan came from deep, deep inside him as he erupted, warm wetness shooting between them.

He was helpless to do anything, unable to open his eyes, stars exploding behind his eyelids, his hands convulsing, clenching tighter, bruising he was sure, but he couldn't let go as he rode it out, moaning, thrusting forward once more, panting…. Finally his knees seemed to melt, he could feel it, he was going to fall, but Yomada was there, holding him, catching him.

"Ran…Ran" Yomada moaned into his mouth, wanting to drink in every whimper, every little sound. He held Ran closer, walking them backward toward the bed. As he felt the edge against the back of his legs he let himself fall slightly, bringing Ran down on top of him.

He brought his hands up to frame Ran's face. "well, that went rather well," he almost smirked as he looked up into Ran's glazed eyes. "I guess you did miss me, huh?" his eyes warmed, softened, "all this time Ran..." he whispered, "really?"

Ran's panting had slowed, he was in some semblance of control of himself now. "yes, I did miss you Yomada. And yes, all this time, really." He looked solemnly at Yomada. "there has never been anyone else Yomada, never will be... I missed you Yomada. Desperately. So much…I've missed your smell," he leaned down, breathing deeply of Yomada's hair, relishing the feel of it trailing through his fingers, "the feel of you, as you obviously noticed," he tilted his head with a self-depreciating grin as he raised himself up slightly and ran his hands across the planes of Yomada's chest, fingers teasing dark nubs, open palms caressing lower, lower, "your taste."

And Ran dropped to his knees at the edge of the bed, hooded eyes gazing up at Yomada as he reached to unbuckle Yomada's belt. "I want to taste you now Yomada." He slid the zipper down, allowing Yomada to spring free. He stopped for a moment, admiring, reaching out softly to trail his fingers up and down Yomada's hot, hard cock. He looked up.

Yomada was holding himself up slightly on his elbows, watching, eyes almost closing against his will. As he watched Ran lean forward, sliding his tongue from base to tip, he threw his head back with a cry, "Ah!...Ran….so good Baby." Then, the wet heat as Ran swallowed him, suckling, lavishing his tongue along the underside.

"Ran!" Yomada cried, his hands grasping Ran's hair, not quite pulling his head forward, but clenching with need. His hips thrust slightly up, "yes, Ran, oh gods!" Ran trailed one hand up and down the shaft, then dipped his tongue into the slit, humming in the back of his throat. "Ran!, I….. stop!...I'm gonna …..ah!"

Ran sucked harder, moaning, his other hand roaming up over Yomada's body. Yomada grabbed his hand, twining their fingers together, squeezing as he fell back on the bed, his back arching upward. He went rigid except for the sharp quick stutters of his hips as he came, his balls squeezing so tight, his cock throbbing with each pulse of hot juices. "R- Ra-Ran," he panted, "Baby, I love you, I love you," his hands blindly reaching, finding Ran's shoulders, dragging him up onto Yomada's body, "come here," he panted, "I need to hold you," he was shaking now, tears he hadn't known were there started to leak from the corners of his eyes, "Ran"

Ran let Yomada hold him close as he rode out the effects, squeezing back as tightly as he could. He kept his eyes on Yomada's face, watching everything play across his features. He saw the tear trail down the side of Yomada's face and leaned in to kiss it away. "Yomada," he breathed, "I love you so much."

He slipped over to the side, trailing his hands all over Yomada, he just couldn't get enough of touching him. He caressed his face, traced his hands over his chest, tweaking one nipple, then the other, leaning in to take them into his mouth, nibbling softly.

He felt Yomada's breath catch. "hmmm," he moaned, crawling back up, planting open mouth kisses along Yomada's shoulder, neck, up to his ear. He slid his tongue into Yomada's ear, blowing hotly, moaning. He felt Yomada's grip on his biceps tighten. His other hand reached down and found Yomada's reviving arousal. He gripped him tightly, slightly pulling, slowly….all the way up, swirling Yomada's seed around, using the wetness to glide as he slowly slid back down…..up…down. Suddenly, he felt himself flipped onto his back. Yomada's hot mouth trailing down his neck.

"Ran!" Yomada growled. He bit the juncture between Ran's neck and shoulder lightly, "too. Many. Damn. Clothes." He breathed, "Off. Now." He kicked his shoes off, and pushed himself up, raking his shirt off over his head, his long beautiful hair clouding around his face. He started to take his pants off, but Ran's hands beat him there.

"let me." Ran said, pulling them down, rolling Yomada onto his back and sliding his pants down off his calves, kicking his own shoes off while he was at it. Yomada reached over and pulled Ran's shirt off, popping a few buttons as he went, not caring, tossing the thing aside as it finally pulled loose from his wrist.

He pushed Ran down onto his back, reaching down to ease his pants off. He slowed as he pulled, watching the play of muscle across Ran's abs and thighs as he raised himself up to allow the pants to slide out.

He paused at Ran's feet as the pants fell down at the side of the bed. He let his gaze travel up Ran's body, drinking in the sight of him. "You're so beautiful Ran," he breathed, "so beautiful. I've missed looking at you too."

He ran his hands up Ran's legs, caressing, feeling. He traced small circles on the inside of Ran's thighs with his thumbs. One hand reached up, taking Ran's reawakened hardness in his hand, the other teasing his legs apart.

"Ran….beautiful….." he breathed against Ran's stomach, kissing, nipping here and there, tasting, sucking, he worked his way back down. He ran the tip of his tongue down Ran's shaft, down sucking one side of his sack into his mouth, feeling it, running it over his tongue, then the other side as Ran bucked up against him, his hands tangling in his hair.

"Yomada.…yo….unh, yes, there…ah" Ran was panting now, hips thrusting lightly, "come here, come up here, I need to feel you inside me, Yomada, please, at least….at least let me touch you" Yomada shook his head, taking a last firm pull, easing Ran out of his mouth. "It's been so long. I want to be inside you, but….I want this to be perfect, I don't want to hurt you, do you have any…" he looked around, at a loss, not wanting to leave the bed. Damn, he should have thought of bringing some.

"In the drawer…." Ran panted, "that last tube I bought before you-" he cut off, bit his lip, "it's still there – I never opened it."

Yomada looked at him, kissed his cheek, and reached over Ran to the table. He grabbed the tube out of the drawer, shivering as Ran ran his teeth across his chest as he pulled back across him. "hurry, Yomada… please" Ran whispered

Yomada leaned down and kissed him hungrily, one hand coated now reaching down to slick Ran. He pressed one finger in, twirling, slowly in and out, watching Ran's face for any hint of pain, "It's been a long time Ran. I am going to take my time, make sure you're ready. We have all night, no rushing. I won't hurt you any more than I can help." His hands continued to work, two fingers now scissoring, softly thrusting, the other hand slowly, so slowly working Ran's cock, with sure, firm strokes.

"Gah- Yomada …ahh, gods, you're real, I've dreamed so many nights of this," he gasped as a third finger entered him, "I –I don't know if…..ngh…uh…if I will last Yomada," he panted, "I – I'm gon…..ah….gonna cum again if you don't…YOMADA!" he cried out, arching up suddenly as Yomada swept across that spot. "Yomada, oh my-"

"Good, Baby, cum for me, cum hard for me again" Yomada breathed into his ear, pumping faster, "cum for me now, and then again when I'm inside you" he angled his hand timing the thrust of his fingers with the pumping of his hand. "cum for me… from my fingers, my Ran."

"YES Yomada!"Ran's eyes shot wide open, his body came up off the mattress as he thrust upward, back down, and up again in a bowed arc, and he went completely still, eyes squeezed shut, throat closing, his hands clamping down on Yomada's shoulders, blunt nails digging in, he felt it shooting from deep inside him, powerless to do anything. His hips started to stutter, he felt Yomada's fingers slowly start to slide in and out again, softly…

"holy hell Ran, oh baby," Yomada's stroking of his cock eased off, "I'm so hard right now Ran, you're so tight, you almost broke my fingers, I have to be inside you now." He positioned himself on top of Ran, his own panting increasing, "Baby…. Baby, let me in, love me… please"

Ran reached his arms up around Yomada's neck, kissing him with all the love, all the longing he'd pent up for these long, long months, "Yomada…I do love you….I've always loved you…..only you." He pushed his hips up in invitation. He felt Yomada penetrate him, and there was a slight burn, it was a long time, but it was so good, so right. He raised himself up toward Yomada, holding tight "I love you Yomada, I need you, take me….hold me."

Yomada held himself still for a moment once he was seated. Holding Ran tightly against himself. Afraid to move yet and lose himself completely. He slowly started to slide, back and forth, two three thrusts at this slow, deep pace and he did start to lose himself. He pushed Ran back down on the mattress, raining kisses down on him, "I will …. take you, and…. I will…. keep you." He ground out, thrusting as he vowed. "you are mine, only mine, always." His pace quickened, he angled himself, finding Ran's spot, causing Ran to begin to thrust back, bringing Ran's cock slowly back to life.

"Yes Yomada," Ran gasped, "yes… I am yours…. only yours… ever…. I ,,,I sw-swear… love you."

After forever, Yomada reached down to pump Ran, "one more time, baby" he breathed, "cum ….for me again…let me …hear you ….let me…..feel you" his hips canting, deeper, harder, "Ra-Ran … It's coming Ran…. oh god….I … I… cum for me… Ran" breathless now "I can't… I must …. ahh…. Ran!" suddenly Yomada's rhythm wasn't smooth anymore, quick staccato thrusts giving evidence to his release, he growled into Ran's neck, sucking, kissing, squeezing Ran to him.

"Yomada…ngh,…..ahh!" Ran arched into him as his control burst between them, showering them both in hot moist heat. "Yomada, don't let go," he cried, "Yomada, I love you!" he rode out the orgasm, repeating it over again, unable to think anything else "I love you, Yomada, …. Don't let me go... I love you…"

Yomada's arms were trembling as he held himself above Ran, he leaned down, a soft, tender kiss on his closed eyes, then at his slightly open mouth. "I love you too, Ran. Only you" he rolled over to lay beside Ran, languid, boneless.

After a moment Ran lifted up a little, laying on his side, looking down on a sated Yomada. "I…in the car, what you said about touring….. you want me to come with you?"

Yomada turned, cupping Ran's face. "Yes. Yes I do. I meant that. You said Mei's in school? And you can paint anywhere, right? Or just take some time off since you did so well selling your work. Come with me. Be mine again, let me be, let me be yours….."

He sighed, "Ran, what happened, the time apart….." he rubbed his thumb across Ran's face, wiping away the wince that those words brought, lightly tracing Ran's bottom lip before claiming a quick kiss and drawing back, "that needed to happen. We needed it, like… lancing a snake bite… we had to get the poison out."

He looked intently at Ran, "but now, we're healed, us, we arewhole. It's like we're waking up, taking the cast off, or the stitches out or something. From here, we start fresh, with healed hearts. He closed his eyes, "tell me you want us back as much as I do." He felt Ran's hand on his face and opened his eyes.

Ran leaned in, kissing him tenderly, thoroughly. "Yes Yomada, I do want us back. You are all I have ever wanted. I meant it that day I gave you my ring. I want us always, in all ways, forever. I- I never should have let anything interfere with that. We've lost so much time. But now, like you said, we can start over." He looked down, lifting the ring, "wear it again?" he asked.

"Yes," Yomada's eyes lit up, "yes…..forever." He slipped the cord over Ran's neck, removed the ring and put it on. "Forever. " he looked into Ran's eyes, kissed him, caressed his face. He smiled and slid down, holding Ran close against his side, tucking his head against his shoulder, drifting off to sleep, "From here, we go forward, together, forever…."