Tearing Me Apart

 

"Excuse me, sir?"

Ken glanced up at the voice of his assistant, barely seeing him. He tried to cover a yawn. didn't get much sleep last night... "Yes?"

"I've finished filing those reports. Was there anything else?" The young man's eyes wandered to the clock, which, Ken noticed, read 4:24. Six minutes until the office closed.

For some reason, that didn't excite him the way it used to.

But then again, he couldn't remember the last time he'd been excited. It seemed like a long time ago, but it couldn't have been more than a month at the most.

Ken shut his eyes wearily, and sighed. I sound like an old man! For Christ's sake, I'm not even twenty-five yet -- this is absurd! "You can go home, Paul," he told the assistant. "It's not that long until you're supposed to go, anyway."

The assistant nodded an left. Ken rested his head on one hand, feeling more than tired. Feeling... dead. It was time to go home. Daisuke finished class an hour ago... He looked over at the picture resting on the corner of his desk with the faint beginnings of a smile on his face. Daisuke... My Daisuke... The red-haired boy was laughing in the picture, his arms flung carelessly around Ken's shoulders, while Ken's hands rested on his forearms. There was a smile on the dark-haired boy's face too; he had half-turned to face his lover and was regarding him happily. It was one of those moments that always seemed to look great on film.

For some reason, looking at the picture made Ken's heart ache. I'm tired... I want to go home... Daisuke should be there; maybe I can get a back-rub. He smiled again at the thought, imagining those warm hands kneeding his shoulders, his lover leaning forward to steal a kiss or mischievously nibble at his earlobe. Daisuke knew all of his sensitive spots; he never settled for just a cuddle, even when Ken pleaded exhaustion.

And at the moment, all Ken could think of was getting home and having Daisuke in his arms. It seemed like forever since the last time...

He stood abruptly, and began gathering his things. Don't want to keep him waiting... Not when I need to hold him this badly. He closed his eyes again and could almost feel Daisuke's lithe body tucked against his. Heaven... He craved that feeling of one-ness; it was an addiction he could never fully satisfy.

As he stood in the elevator, fumbling for his car keys, he couldn't figure out why he felt so heart-sick... It was like a part of him was dead and gone, wasted away -- and it was a very important part...

Ken was about halfway to the apartment he'd shared with Daisuke when he finally remembered that he didn't live there any more.

~~~~~~

"I don't understand why you have to stay with me!" Miyako's irritated grumbling was about all that Ken got when he walked back into her apartment. It had been a month, and she still didn't bother with the customary "hello". It was a far cry from Daisuke' s warm 'welcome-back' hugs.

"I'll find another apartment," Ken promised weakly, just like he always did. He threw his bag on the couch, next to the pack he used for the days when he went to school instead of working. The office job was only two days a week, Wednesdays and Fridays.

It's Saturday tomorrow, he realized, feeling miserable rather than elated at the realization. He and Daisuke had always spent early Friday evenings planning their weekend. Miyako spent hers on dates with various random guys. And now Ken spent his alone.

"You aren't even looking!" Miyako 'hmmphed' when she noticed that Ken wasn't paying attention to her. "Honestly, why don't you just go back? You don't even do anything any more. I mean, it's obvious that you miss him..."

"It's over!" The words were perhaps a bit more harsh than Ken had intended them to be. "I don't need him; I never did. And he's better off."

"Oh yeah, sure." Miyako rolled her eyes. "Like I believe that. He's better off all alone than he was in a perfectly good relationship with a guy he's madly in love with? Sure, Ken, tell me another one!"

"It didn't work out." Ken turned away from her and stalked into the bathroom. "So just... drop it!" He splashed cold water on his face, not feeling better at all. And even if I did need him, it's too late. He's not mine any more. He probably moved on a week after I moved out. He'd never take me back.

With a weary sigh, Ken leaned his forehead against the bathroom mirror. "I do need you, Daisuke," he whispered, barely, hardly able to breathe around the painful lump in his throat. It was as if his lover -- former lover -- had carved out a huge chunk of him and kept it with him, refusing to give it back. Ken ached.

It was hard to believe how much there was about Daisuke that Ken had come to depend on just for every day life. It was the smallest things that he missed the most, like the way he was always having to remind Daisuke not to rest his feet on the table, or how they'd argued over who held the remote control when they watched TV. His life was so empty without his red-haired lover around to wake him every morning with a kiss, or to nuzzle the back of his neck while he was trying to study for an exam. To stare at him with such devotion in his eyes, or to preen when he knew Ken was watching. It had all seemed so commonplace when he'd had it. But now that it was gone, he'd have given his soul for just one of Daisuke's chocolate-still-melting-in-his-mouth flavored kisses. The memory of it hurt.

"God, I love you, Daisuke." His voice was hoarse, and it broke near the end. If I hadn't been so stupid, I'd be back in his arms where I belong, instead of crying in Miyako's bathroom over everything I've lost! "I need you..."

It was true, what they said: you never really knew what a brilliant thing you had until it was gone, and then you could never get it back.

"Hey Ken?" Miyako knocked on the bathroom door. "I've got a really hot date in about ten minutes, and we're meeting at the club. You're on your own tonight, OK?"

Surprise, surprise. "Yeah, sure." Sometimes he had to wonder what she'd do if he ever said that it wasn't OK. "Have fun." That didn't sound too bitter.

"Oh, I will!" she gushed, happily oblivious to his pain. "You know, I really think this guy could be the one!" Never mind that she said that about every guy, Ken reflected drily. "Well, you know the drill -- my cell number's beside the toaster if you need anything. See you!"

"Bye." Her footsteps echoed across the floor, the door opened and closed, and she was gone.

Ken sighed and left the bathroom to fall onto the cot he now called a bed. Maybe this time, he'd be exhausted enough so that the dreams wouldn't come...

~~~~~~

"Mmm... Ken..." Daisuke kissed his neck and laughed a little.

Ken leaned back slightly to stare into those smiling brown eyes, and the corners of his mouth turned up. Was it ever possible to look at Daisuke and not smile? Not any more, his mind told him. "What's so funny?"

"You taste like marshmellow powder." The red-haired boy snickered and licked his neck. "Mmm... yummy! Marshmellow-flavored Ken, my favorite!"

Ken laughed and tried half-heartedly to push him away, purposefully not succeeding. "Hey, who is it who thought they could toast a marshmellow egg in the microwave, hmm? It's not my fault I'm covered in the stuff!"

"I didn't know it would explode like that." Daisuke pulled back and gave him the most appealing little lopsided grin. "Besides, I cleaned it up. Except..." His eyes glinted and the smile turned devilish. "I think I missed a spot."

"And where's that?" Ken asked playfully, sliding his arms around his lover's waist and gazing into the seemingly bottomless depths of those deep brown eyes. He leaned forward until their foreheads touched, and smiled.

"Oh, just on... the counter!" Daisuke pulled away, laughing, as Ken took up the challenge and chased him around the small apartment, finally managing to tackle him into submission on their bed, the two alternately laughing and kissing each other as their hands began the familiar exploration of what lay beneath that annoying barrior of cloth.

Which was what Daisuke had planned for all along, of course.

~~~~~~

Ken's eyes slid open slowly, sleepy confusion coursing through him as the firm warmth of Daisuke's body dissolved into thin air. His hands were slung over his chest as if he'd been clutching something to him. Daisuke, he thought bleakly, and that ever-present ache rushed back full-force to greet him.

He was not in a comfortable bed with a generous and slightly over-enthusiastic lover, basking in the warmth of a love so real it almost seemed tangible. He was lying on a lumpy cot in the dark all by himself, and all he had left were painful memories.

I wish those dreams would stop. He rolled over, wincing as the cot squawked its displeasure at the movement, and buried his face in the pillow. It hardly felt like he had anything in him left to cry, no matter how much he wanted to. Every one of those special moments he relived made him all the more aware of what he could no longer call his. What he'd lost. What he'd pushed away.

What he wanted, more than anything else in the world, to have back.

God, I need you, Daisuke... He let out a strangled little sob, muffled by the pillow, and cried silently. No tears. Just those soft, soundless sobs that made his body shake and his lips tremble. "I love you so much," he whispered brokenly, irrationally wishing that his once-lover could somehow hear it. "Daisuke... I love you... I love you..."

As if fate were mocking him, he heard once again the echo of Daisuke's sobs as he walked out of the apartment, the whispered "I love you"s following him all the way through time to haunt him again and again.

"God, I don't deserve to ever touch you again!" he whispered, fingers clenching in the sheets. "After what I've done..."

I deserve to love you forever and never be able to touch you...

~~~~~~

Daisuke let out a soft sigh and collapsed against the pillows, breathing heavily. "That... was incredible," he managed to gasp, reaching up with shaking fingers to brush sweat-damp hair out of his lover's eyes. Ken rolled off of him before sagging against the bed, not wanting to fall on top of the precious boy beneath him.

"You're incredible," he managed, once he'd caught his breath. He traced Daisuke's jaw with gentle fingers, hardly believing that this... vision... had actually consented to share his body with him.

I'll always remember this, he swore to himself, smiling over at his lover's ecstatic, glowing face. No matter how many times... how many ways... I'll always remember the first time as being the best.

"Love you, Ken," Daisuke said happily, snuggling sleepily in next to him.

"I love you too, Daisuke." Forever.

~~~~~~

"Wake up, Ken!"

Oh please, no. Ken groaned and tried to pull the pillow over his ears to block out the slightly shrill sound of Miyako's early-morning voice. Why can't she just let me keep sleeping until I die? Real life is so damn hard to live with...

"Oh, stop it!" Miyako snatched away the pillow, nearly sending Ken skidding to the floor. "It's time to get up. If you got to spend the whole day sleeping, then I would have to be quiet, and this is my apartment, so I shouldn't have to put up with that! Now, go have a shower and get dressed."

It was far too early to argue. Sighing, Ken reached for the top drawer of the place where he stored his every-day clothes. After picking out what looked like a shirt, pants, and a clean pair of underwear, he headed for the bathroom.

If anything, he could be grateful to Miyako for driving his memories and that horrible empty feeling away, at least for a moment or two.

As it turned out, Miyako had gone one step further and made him plans for the day. "We're going to hang out with the others," she explained. 'Without Daisuke' wasn't said. It didn't have to be.

"All right," Ken agreed dully, sighing. "Whatever you say." Distraction was probably a good thing, he decided. Whatever could make the pain go away, at least for a little while, would make his life easier.

"Great! We'll take your car." She grabbed his wrist and pulled him out of the apartment before he could protest. Miyako, he had noticed, was a lot stronger than she looked. "Let's go!"

Ken wound up letting her drive. He usually didn't like anyone else driving his car, but he was too distracted to follow directions. If I was driving, we'd probably end up at our -- Daisuke's -- apartment, he thought, feeling pained again for a moment.

"Iori! Takeru!" Miyako waved enthusiastically at the two boys, who were sitting at a table outside the fast food place they were meeting at. "How have things been going?"

"Not too bad." Takeru gave them the trademark friendly smile as Ken and Miyako sat down at their table. "Iori was just telling me about the scholarships he got this year."

"Wow!" Miyako gushed, as the youngest team member turned red. "Just a second-year college student and you're already winning awards! Nice job, Iori!"

"Thanks." Iori smiled a little, shyly. "I'll be moving out of the house this summer, too. I've already been going apartment hunting."

"It takes a while to find one," Takeru warned. "Hikari and I spent months finding an apartment we could live with."

"Don't worry, Iori," Miyako assured him, waving a negligant hand. "You can move into my place as soon as Ken goes back to live with Daisuke again." She seemed to realize what she'd said, and covered her mouth with both hands. "Oops! I mean..."

Ken felt a pang in the general vicinity of his chest. "I..." He shut his eyes against that onslaught of grief. "I will eventually be getting another apartment," he said softly. "Then you can move into Miyako's in my place."

"Oh. Thanks." There was a moment of awkward silence following.

"So," Ken began, pushing aside that hurt to concentrate on the moment. "Where's Hikari today?" He asked out of an attempt to make conversation rather than because of any real curiousity.

"Well, she's..." Takeru hesitated. "She's... um... at Daisuke's. He's been having some problems," he added hastily. "And he needs someone to talk to."

Again, Ken felt that clenching feeling around his heart. Daisuke was having problems? He felt suddenly and irrationally jealous of Hikari. What sort of problems? he wanted to ask. Is he OK? He's not sick or hurt, is he? Does she hold him and nurse him back to health and kiss his forehead to make him smile? All he said out loud, however, was, "Oh."

"She should be here later, though," Takeru added quickly. Obviously, he was hoping to get past that horrible moment of awkward silence. "In fact, she was supposed to meet us here right about now, but I guess she's running late..." His voice trailed off, and the silence returned.

"Hi everyone." Hikari's voice snapped them out of their trance, as the petite brunette made her way to the table. She kissed Takeru's cheek affectionately and slid into the seat beside him. "Sorry I'm late. I hope you weren't waiting long."

"No, we're fine." Takeru smiled at her, looking faintly relieved. "Is everything OK with..." He stopped and his gaze flickered to Ken briefly. "Well, you know."

Hikari looked at Ken as well. Her eyes were not nearly as friendly as Takeru's had been. "No, everything's not OK," she answered, probably a bit more sharply than she had intended to. "But things are as well as you can expect, considering the circumstances."

Takeru looked worried. "Oh."

Ken looked away.

"I'll go and order us some food, if you like," Hikari offered, standing. She looked across the table. "Ken, why don't you come with me?" Her oh-so-subtle way of saying she wanted to talk with him alone.

"Sure." Ken stood and followed her, not really caring.

Hikari just gave him the briefest of glances as they moved away from the others. "Do I really need to ask you why you're doing this, Ken?"

He didn't look at her. "Doing what?"

"Oh, I don't know." Hikari rolled her eyes. "Staying with Miyako for more than a month when you've got a perfectly good home waiting for you and a perfectly caring and agreeable partner madly in love with you?"

More or less what he'd been expecting. "I can't go back."

"Why not?"

"Because it won't work!" Ken felt like screaming. "We tried, and it didn't work out! So why do you people keep hassling me about it?"

Hikari turned fully toward him, and the expression on her face was complete frustration. "Ken, for goodness sakes, he doesn't even know what he did wrong!"

That did get Ken's attention. "What?"

"I'd probably give half my soul for the answer myself," Hikari told him, arms crossed over her chest. "I always wish I could answer him when he's sitting there staring blankly ahead and all he can say is, 'What did I do wrong?' Maybe if you actually told him, he'd have a little peace."

Ken opened his mouth to answer, but the girl behind the counter chose that moment to come and take their order, and Hikari had to turn away again. Closing his eyes, he let Hikari tell the girl what food to get for them while he slipped back into the memory of what had happened when he decided to leave.

~~~~~~

It had been a fairly bad day, right from the beginning. Ken's first class was Chemistry, and he'd managed to mix up the wrong lab assignment because of the way the papers had been cluttered together in his notebook. Then, in his Anthropology class, he found that his mark on a test he had thought he'd aced was significantly less than he'd been hoping for. At lunch, he called Daisuke for a bit of cheering up, and wound up spilling the whole miserable morning out. His lover was sympathetic, but really... what could he do? Ken finished the day in very poor spirits and, coming home, found himself looking forward to a night spent snuggling in Daisuke's arms.

Stepping into the apartment, though, he found quite a bit more. Daisuke had cleaned the entire place up, and a dinner that had probably taken hours of preparation was laid out on the table. His partner stood beside it, face flushed and a proud grin on his lips.

Ken surveyed all of his lover's work in astonishment. "What... but... didn't you have classes this afternoon?"

Daisuke shrugged, still grinning at him. "I took the day off."

"Why on earth would you do that?"

"Because, well, you sounded so frustrated and upset on the phone." Daisuke explained, looking up at him earnestly. "I thought I'd do something nice. So you'd be happy."

Ken frowned at him rather than returning the smile. This... didn't make sense. Daisuke had classes. He should have gone to them. It would have been simple enough to make Ken get over his bad day -- a back rub and a few comforting words from his love would have taken care of that. "Do you really think I need this to be happy?"

"It was just a thought." Daisuke looked nervous, obviously caught off-guard by Ken's less-than-thrilled reaction to his efforts. "I just wanted to put you in a better mood. I thought..."

"Daisuke, if I wanted a personal slave, I could just hire somebody."

The red-haired boy's mouth opened like he was going to say something, then shut, as though he couldn't make up his mind. His shock was obvious. "Ken," he managed. "I..."

A million different scenes replayed themselves through Ken's head as he looked at the distraught expression on his lover's face. Times when Daisuke would abandon the things that he was enjoying to do some simple little thing for Ken that could've been handled later. Times when he'd hear Ken get angry and come running in, desperately trying to soothe him. Times when he was upset and Daisuke sometimes hesitated to touch him, as though afraid that he might not like it.

It seemed to point to just one conclusion, and Daisuke's elaborate efforts that day only proved it. "You're afraid of me, aren't you?" Ken accused. "You're afraid because you think that I'll get angry and turn into some kind of monster, is that it?"

"Of course not!" Daisuke objected immediately. "I'd never -- "

"Then what!?" Ken practically yelled. "God damn it, Daisuke! You don't have to be afraid that I'll leave you just because you're not good enough for me!"

Daisuke winced at that, and took an involuntary step back.

He is afraid of me. Ken turned away and started for the door again.

"Wait!" Daisuke grabbed his arm. "Don't leave! You can't!"

"Can't I?"

"No!" The pleading look in the boy's eyes verged on desperation. "Come on, Ken. I love you -- You love me. That's all we need, right?"

Ken refused to meet his eyes.

"Right?" There was a quavering note of panic in the word.

Without answering, Ken roughly pulled himself free of Daisuke's hold, shoving him away and heading for the door again. Not even once did he look back at the young man he'd always thought that he would spend the rest of his life with.

Even then, more than a month later, Ken could still hear Daisuke's wretched sobbing as he walked out the door, and the whispered promise of "I love you", repeated over and over again...

~~~~~~

"Well?"

Ken opened his eyes and stared at Hikari, who stared right back at him with that look of unyielding stubbornness on her face. "Well what?"

She sighed. "Are you trying to be difficult? Well, why did you leave Daisuke, Ken, that's what!"

He scowled and looked away. "Not that it's any of your business, but real relationships aren't based on fear, Hikari!"

She frowned. "What do you mean by that?"

"Simple. I know that he's afraid of me." Ken sighed. "I mean, he inconveniences himself just to try and please me. He winces if I even so much as raise my voice at him. Hikari, if he's so afraid, I can't possibly be good for him."

Hikari stared at him. "Ken Ichijouji," she hissed incredulously, finally taking in what he'd just told her. "That is such a load of crap!"

Ken shook his head stubbornly. "He's better off without me."

"You are such an idiot!" she exploded at him. "You're making Daisuke miserable, and you're making yourself miserable, and that's your excuse for it? Think again, Ken!"

The food arrived and Ken took the tray, coolly turning away from her to carry it.

"I can't believe you!" Hikari continued, following him. "You can't even admitt it when you're afraid!"

"I'm not afraid!" He flared up even though he'd been trying not to, quickening his pace. "I only want to protect him, because it's obvious that I'm not good for -- "

"Bull!" she snapped. "You're afraid! You know you were wrong, and you're afraid because you think that he'll reject you if you try to go crawling back! If you really cared about him, his happiness would be a hell of a lot more important than your pride!"

"Daisuke is afraid of me!" he shot back. "Could you build a relationship on that?"

"How long have you been going out with him, Ken?" she asked, instead of replying.

He scowled, but muttered an answer. "Six months. But what does that -- ?"

"Do you want to know," she interrupted coolly, "exactly how long he was in love with you, thinking it was totally hopeless, before the two of you got together?"

Ken frowned, not wanting to listen but finding himself caught by her words. "How long?"

"Five years. And that's just as far as I know." Hikari looked him straight in the eye, arms crossed over her chest. "He's not afraid of you personally, Ken. He's waited so long to be with you that now that he is, he's afraid he'll lose you. Just give him time, that's all. The two of you have your whole lives ahead of you, and you don't want to be wasting time acting stupid."

Ken snorted and looked away, but her words had shaken him. "How would I know that what you're telling me is really what Daisuke's problem is?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Why not ask him yourself?"

Ken's eyes widened involuntarily, and he felt his breath quicken. "I can't."

"Why is that?" she asked him immediately, not backing down even a little.

"Because..." He faltered, trying to find words that would make the violent surge of emotions he felt understood. "Because... I-I hurt him," was what came out instead. His voice was choked with suppressed tears, and he angrily swiped at his rapidly filling eyes. "He'd never take me back, and I don't deserve him even if he would!"

"You haven't even tried, Ken," she answered reasonably, her gaze softening slightly in respect for his pain. "He has a right to know why you've decided to give up on him, don't you think? I think you owe him that much."

Ken shook his head furiously. "He deserves a lot more than I can give him."

"He deserves what makes him happy," Hikari countered. "And you're out of arguments, Ken. Now why don't you take a little time off and go talk to Daisuke?" She turned and walked away from him, back toward the table that the others were sitting at.

Ken stood there for a moment longer, mind whirling, and then he followed.

~~~~~~

It was the same as it always was: Ken held Daisuke in his arms, stroking his hair and clutching him tightly against him. But the Daisuke in this dream was not laughing or smiling or returning Ken's kisses. He cried like his heart was broken, clinging to his lover as if to his own life.

"Daisuke -- love -- what's the matter?" Ken asked softly, holding his love closer and trying to calm him.

"I'm alone," Daisuke sniffled, between choked sobs. His voice was so small, so broken... "I gave all of my heart to you, but you took it and left me, and now I've got nothing!"

"No." Ken pushed him back and tried to brush away his tears. "No, that's not true. I still love you. I'll always love you."

"You left me," Daisuke said sadly. "You left me alone. I couldn't love you enough, and now you've gone..."

"It wasn't your fault!" Ken reached for him, to pull his love into another comforting embrace, but Daisuke seemed to slip away through his fingers -- unreachable.

"Then why aren't you here?" Daisuke's voice cried back to him, as his image faded into nothing and left Ken by himself...

~~~~~~

He sat up with a gasp, blinking in confusion. That dream... Ken stared down at the book he'd been resting his head on. Chemistry homework. He must have fallen asleep in the middle of trying to finish it. A glance at the clock told him that it was still just late afternoon. Daisuke would be home...

Ken stood abruptly and hurried into the bathroom to splash water on his face. The mirror by the sink reflected a haggard, weary-looking young man back at him, violet eyes full of pain. What happened to the boy who used to look so determined to be something in life? Who wanted to have meaning, something to make living worth it...

He knew the answer to that one. I had meaning in life. He'd had everything he wanted, all wrapped up into one person. The boundless energy that never seemed to run out... the fanatical love of all things sweet, especially chocolate... the big, deep-brown eyes that were always so full of love and adoration... the way he never got tired of touching or being touched... His Daisuke. His Daisuke, who loved him competely, unconditionally, as no other person possibly could.

And he had let that go. I'm such an idiot. I don't deserve to be with him at all.

Still, Hikari's words continued to haunt him. Even if he didn't deserve happiness, Daisuke certainly did. And Daisuke also deserved to know that Ken did love him, even if he no longer wanted to accept that love. He deserved every option for his happiness.

With his mind made up, Ken went back out into the room where his things were kept, to get his car keys.

~~~~~~

"I'm home." The words were so dull. The apartment lights were out, and everything was bathed in muted black and grey shades. Dark. Dead. Daisuke remembered when his dreams had been such beautiful, vibrant colors -- when everything had seemed so bright and hopeful, and life had held so much for him.

All of it fell apart in the dark, lonely apartment room.

Daisuke tossed his bag on the floor, uncaring. Reaching automatically for the phone, he began his coming-home ritual of dialing the long-since memorized digits of Miyako's phone number. As always, he let the telephone slide from his fingers before it was done, afraid of speaking to the one he so desperately wanted to hear in case Ken was angry at him for calling.

He was so tired. It seemed like the simplest things exhausted him now, like all the energy he'd used to have had been sucked out of him when Ken left.

Ken. His eyes were already sore, and the familiar tears stung them. It seemed like all he ever did was cry any more. He could never escape that throbbing, ever-present ache in his chest, the reminder that there was a hole in his heart where his beloved used to be.

Collapsing onto the couch, Daisuke sobbed helplessly into the cushions until he was too exhausted to do anything but submitt to that blessed, welcoming oblivion.

~~~~~~

All the lights were out when Ken cautiously opened the door to his old apartment, but a rush of painful memories hit him all the same. Fighting down the lump in his throat, the violet-eyed young man shut the door behind him, peering about anxiously. "Daisuke?"

No answer. Ken looked at the familiar rooms. They were in a state of complete and total chaos, things strewn about, nothing in its proper place. Not surprising. The apartment had always seemed to get messy whenever Daisuke's almost defiant carelessness gained too much ground on Ken's meticulous need for perfection. But this...

A steady beeping sound led him to where the phone hung, off its hook, next to a counter full of discarded food. There were only a few bites, if that, taken of each item. Nothing was rotting at that point, so Ken had to guess that this was only what Daisuke hadn't dumped into the garbage yet.

What had happened to the red-head's never-ending appetite? It looked like he was hardly even eating at all...

Ken replaced the phone and moved on into the next room, feeling as if something was clenching in his stomach, twisting and turning and making him feel afraid. The room was a pigsty, the curtains were draped over the window to block out any form of light, and Daisuke was slumped across the length of the couch, one arm dangling over the side, asleep.

"Oh Daisuke." Ken moved to his love's side, glancing in horror at the bottle of anti-depressants spilled across the coffee table. Daisuke was so thin and pale... It was like he'd shrunk into himself, a shrivelled husk of what he'd once been. His beautiful face was marred by dry tear tracks, half of it mashed against the couch cushion. There were dark circles under his eyes, and red blotches from crying. "What have you done to yourself?"

He knelt down to brush away the remainder of those tears, and accidentally knocked over a pile of papers. Bending to pick them up, he caught sight of a small, crumpled envelope. The nearly-faded letters on the top spelled out his name: Ken. It was in Daisuke's handwriting, and the top had been ripped open, as if he'd decided to read it himself rather than give it to Ken.

The dark-haired young man reached down and carefully pulled a ragged letter from inside. The writing on the letter was blotched in quite a few places by tear-stains and the folds were creased. Daisuke had read through it quite a few times.

'Dear Ken,' (it read)

'I made a mistake. I *blotch* 'm just too stupid to have *blotch* tionship. But even though I know you m *blotch* ate me, I just can't stand not knowing any more. What did I do wrong? Was it bec *blotch* ou didn't care about me? Is it me? *blotch* are so many things wrong with me that y *blotch* *blotch* n't stand to have me around any more. Is th *blotch* he reason? I need to tell you that I love you, which I gu *blotch* u already knew, and I never wanted to lose you. But I think part of *blotch* new I really wasn't good enough to keep you. I'm still s *blotch* athetically in love with you that I'd do anything if you came back. I'll fix *blotch* istake, if you tell me what I did. I'll do anything, only *blotch* ease come back, Ken! I love you so, so much...

'Love always, Daisuke.'

The letter fell from limp fingers as Ken felt the world drop out from beneath him. Daisuke... you...

Hikari had been right after all.

A faint mumbling noise made Ken jump, snapping him out of his trance. Daisuke was stirring, he realized -- but before he could do anything or even think about it, those huge brown eyes slid open, a hazy confusion clouding them.

They settled on Ken, and the violet-eyed boy could think of absolutely nothing to say.

~~~~~~

It felt like a dream. It looked like a dream. "Ken..." Daisuke whispered, hoarse. One hand reached out without his consciously willing it, toward the perfect, unchanging image of the love of his life, and then it all came crashing down on him.

"No!" He let out a strangled sob and jerked his hand back, burying his face in the pillow and willing the image away. "You're not real! You're just in my mind! And I can never touch you now, because I'll reach out and you'll just..." He broke off in a fit of crying, praying that this new hallucination would just quietly vanish.

"Daisuke..." Oh, how many times he dreamed of Ken saying his name like that, with the half pleading, half caring tone in his voice... But it wasn't real; it couldn't be. Ken had left him, after all; he didn't want him any more...

"Leave me alone!" He whimpered, trying to block this out of his mind. "I still dream about him... can't stop thinking about him... And I thought the hallucinations had stopped, but they didn't..."

A warm, hesitant hand on his shoulder shocked away his tears. "Daisuke," the voice said again. That beautiful, perfect voice -- Ken's. "I'm not a hallucination. I'm here. I found your letter." There was an uncomfortable silence, and the hand on Daisuke's shoulder trembled slightly. "I never meant to hurt you. I thought you'd be better off... But I had to come back, because you need to know that I love you. Always."

Daisuke looked up slowly. "Ken...?" The other boy didn't look as perfect as he'd first thought, he noticed. There were dark spots under his eyes, and he looked at least as tired as Daisuke felt... He also looked afraid, hesitant... His eyes begged for forgiveness.

With a wordless cry, Daisuke hurled himself into his beloved's arms, clinging to him with all the strength he had left and shaking with happiness as he felt those longed-for arms close about him as well.

~~~~~~

"Daisuke... can you ever forgive me?" Ken held his lover as close as he could without crushing the breath out of both of them. "I made the hugest mistake... I thought I was doing what was best for you, but all I was doing was making you miserable! I feel so bad... I..."

"Shh." Daisuke seemed to have gotten himself under control and leaned back in Ken's arms so that he could look at him in the face. His eyes were still shimmering, and he still trembled, but there was so much happiness in that gaze that it took Ken's breath away. "You don't need to apologize. I forgive you right now for anything you've done and anything you will ever do in the future. I'll love you forever, Ken."

Ken could hardly stand it any more. I can't believe how lucky I am... He met Daisuke's lips in a desperate, passionate kiss which, if they hadn' t both been so thoroughly exhausted, would have easily led to more. "I love you," he whispered softly, leaning his forehead against Daisuke's and staring almost worshipfully into his eyes.

"Me too." The red-head suddenly yawned and smiled blissfully. "So, now what?" There was a faint hint of mischief in his eyes.

Ken purposefully lowered them both back down onto the couch, not once looking away from those shimmering, happy brown eyes. "You're going to get some sleep," he ordered gently, then spoke over Daisuke's protests. "I'll stay right here with you. And then after that, we're both going to do some serious cleaning. This place is a pigsty!"

Daisuke's smile was like the sun coming up. "Welcome back," he said softly, and kissed him.

 

The End