The best part about this time of year was the smell, Youji decided, coming into the kitchen from the flower shop entrance. It was the twenty-forth of December, and the room was full of food - delicious, hot, well-prepared food.
Ken had outdone even himself with this meal.
Youji was a huge fan of Ken's cooking - and he wasn't the only one. Fights over the last plate of leftovers after it had been Ken's night to cook tended to get ugly. But this was a Christmas feast… and there would be more than enough for all.
"You're not getting any food ahead of time," Ken told him irritably, glaring at Youji from beneath the silly chef's hat that Omi had crammed onto his head. The words 'Kiss the Cook' were sprawled across the front of his apron.
And the kitchen was a mess.
That was the only down side to Ken's cooking nights. Especially since the rest of them had to clean up after him.
"I wasn't even thinking of it," Youji lied, casually walking over to where the food was being prepared. Most of it was ready by that point; it was almost time to start setting the table. And he just wanted a small taste before the main course…
Ken held up the mixing spoon threateningly. "Get the hell out of my kitchen, you lying son of a bitch." Despite the amusement in those words, there was an edge in Ken's voice. The brunet wasn't one to go halfway when attempting something, and cooking was no exception. Besides that, though, something had obviously been bothering him lately.
Youji sighed melodramatically, rolling his eyes skyward as if his teammate's suspicion were absurd. "Whatever you say," he agreed, in a flippant, casual tone. He didn't really care about the food yet, anyway.
He wasn't about to argue with Ken. The man might suggest that Youji cook the meal next time. And then not only would he be deprived of the better cooking, but Omi would be angry with him for depriving him of the better cooking.
And Aya… wouldn't care.
"You got a problem?" he asked instead, carefully. It was harder to tell what would set Ken off these days, but Youji was willing to take the chance. After all, it was a giving time of year - and he was in a giving frame of mind.
"No! Maybe… I mean no! I mean maybe… How is that your business?" Ken whirled again to glare at him, eyebrows twitching in that way they did when he was stressed out and on the verge of snapping.
Youji raised both hands, backing off a step. "Hey, take it easy. I'm just concerned. Isn't that my territory as a teammate? What's up with you these days, anyway? You've been bitchy as hell."
"Shut up!" Ken scowled. The word 'bitchy' was apparently not one of his favorites. "It's just…" He turned sharply back to his food. "It's Omi's fucking present, all right? I don't know if it's good enough. Happy now?"
"I'm in ecstasy." Youji leaned against a counter. "Why don't you get whatever it is off your chest? You'll feel better if you do."
Ken didn't look at him. "Yeah, right. Since when are you a psychiatrist?"
"Fine." Ken turned again. "I didn't know what to get him, so I thought it'd be more… you know, special… if I made him something instead. And I did. But…" He paused, fidgeting awkwardly.
"But?" Youji prompted, when it didn't seem that Ken would finish his thought.
"But then I started thinking… what if he thinks it's cheap?" The angry energy seemed to drain out of Ken at that point; his shoulders slumped. "I mean, I didn't go out and spend whole pile of money on him… and I would. I'd buy him everything. I thought making something would be… romantic." He flushed a little, embarrassed at making the admission. "But what if Omi went out and spent a whole pile of money on me, and then I give him this crappy homemade piece of junk?"
"He won't care."
"Maybe, but I would." Ken twisted the spoon in his hands, agitated. "If he didn't like it… what if he thought it was stupid, and was disappointed with it?"
"It's the thought that counts, Ken," Youji pointed out. "Omi would like anything you gave him. He's nuts about you."
"I know, but…" Ken growled a little, frustrated. "I can't make you understand! I still want to give him something that'll make him really happy. And… I'd feel really bad if he got me something great and I gave him something stupid."
"It's just part of being a couple." Youji shrugged. "You'll get used to it. All you need is experience. And to relax more." He sauntered out of the kitchen before Ken could get mad at him again, feeling smug for no particular reason.
After all, he already had Aya's present - and he knew it was the perfect gift. Nothing romantic, naturally… if he got something romantic for the man and then presented it to him in front of the others, he could probably count on sleeping on the couch. But, he did hope for some alone time the following night where they could… celebrate… the occasion in private.
The item in question was a CD player for the porsche. Aya adored that car, though he didn't make it obvious. But he despised listening to the radio, and so tended to drive in dead silence. Youji didn't like silence when driving, even preferring the capricious nature of the radio stations. Aya was no music lover, by any means, but he did have his own collection of CDs, none of which Youji would have ever even glanced at, much less listened to. And he had been present on those days when Aya would reach over, try the radio, and then grimace and shut it off upon hearing the music.
The CD player would be appreciated. He knew Aya. Especially since, as it was a gift, the redhead would not have to admit to wanting it in the first place.
Youji smirked a little. There was some satisfaction involved in knowing that you had found the perfect gift for someone.
I've got nothing to worry about. This Christmas is going to be perfect.
"This Christmas is going to be a disaster." Ken hunched over his gravy, feeling no better for having talked to Youji. In fact, he felt worse. "Omi is never going to like my present; he's going to think it's the stupidest, corniest thing he's ever been given."
The biggest part of the problem was what Youji had pointed out: Omi would be happy with whatever Ken got for him. There wasn't a shadow of doubt in Ken's mind that his lover would open the package, smile a huge, grateful smile, and tell him it was the best present he'd ever gotten.
And he would never know for sure if it were true. How could he possibly know? He could get something that Omi absolutely couldn't stand, and he'd still be told that it was a wonderful present and Ken was a wonderful person for getting it.
Omi was so giving! It was part of the reason Ken had fallen head over heels for the younger boy in the first place, but it made things pretty damned difficult when it came to presents. He wanted to give Omi something that he would really like, something meaningful. This was their first Christmas as a couple.
Actually, this was the first time Ken had ever spent Christmas in a serious relationship with someone. He'd been dating a girl in high school over the holiday, but that hadn't been much, and girls who didn't mean anything were easy. You just had to find a bracelet or a necklace or something.
But Omi… Omi was special. He deserved better than a half-thought out present like chocolates or flowers. And making something was special. That meant you put thought into the present. He'd spent December figuring out something he'd thought was perfect, a gift that would show Omi he was worth all the effort Ken could summon up to put into the relationship. And he'd had everything put together days ago, wrapped up in a package hiding under his bed. Waiting was not one of the activities Ken excelled at. Waiting made him frustrated and antsy, and he started thinking. Which made him worry. Which made him even more frustrated, and then he snapped at just about anything that moved.
It wasn't just the waiting, though…
Yesterday had been Ken's birthday. And that had been when he'd come across the source of his anxiety.
Slender arms slid around Ken's waist firmly from behind him, and the brunet jumped, startled out of his thoughts. "I'm sorry," Omi's voice said, muffled against his shoulder blade. "Did I surprise you?"
Ken smiled, feeling some of the tension ease for a moment. "Sure, but I'm not complaining." He turned without breaking the circle of Omi's hold and draped his arms around the younger boy's shoulders. Omi always felt so compact in his arms; he fit against Ken like they'd been made as a set, not too big and not too small to snuggle with comfortably.
"Everything smells great, Ken." He could feel Omi smile. "I can't wait for dinner… Are you cooking breakfast tomorrow, too?"
"Hey." Ken nudged his shoulder blade. "One meal per holiday is my limit. Breakfast is going to be a group effort. I'll direct everything, if it's by mutual consent."
"Good." Omi moved his arms up and hugged Ken's upper torso. "I think I'm the only one in this house who can't even boil water without being very carefully watched. Better keep an eye on me."
"You can cook up the eggs," Ken promised him, smiling a little. "That's easy enough." He pressed his face into Omi's hair for a moment, then sighed and pulled back a ways. "Omi, you know… much as I wish I didn't have to, I'd better keep an eye on the food."
"I know." Omi looked up at him again, and smiled brightly. "I just came in to linger around for the smell in here, and needed an excuse."
"What!? Why, you - " Ken made a grab for his lover, but Omi was faster than him, ducking back out of reach.
"Getting slow, Ken," he teased, then offered another smile and a set of huge, adoring eyes. "Or maybe I'm just getting faster. We can make up for lost time later tonight, okay?"
Who could resist an offer like that one? "I'm going to hold you to that, you know."
"I'm counting on it." Omi grinned at him. "Call me when dinner's ready!" And he was off.
Ken's helpless grin was just the slightest bit foolish as he turned back to the food. Omi had that effect on him sometimes. Well, all the time. He had this knack when it came to Ken, knowing just what to say or do. At least, that was what it seemed like. Sometimes he could be nervous, or less than confident, but still, every word he said, every little thing he did… it only added a new spark to that fire.
Ken loved Omi. Plain and simple.
The timer on Ken's wristwatch went off, and he shut off the heat on the stove, pressing the button to stop the beeping noise. He frowned at the watch for a moment. It was something he'd had for only a day, and it was already proving useful. And well it should, considering how expensive it was.
Ken did not actually know how much the watch had cost. It had been a birthday present.
And that's the problem…
The birthday present was from Omi - who had clearly refrained from spending in order to purchase the watch as well as his Christmas presents. Ken had had it on his wrist for only one day, and he already felt he couldn't survive without it.
Like with words, Omi could always seem to pick out the perfect present.
And it might be nice, but it doesn't do much for guilt.
Ken had pulled his Christmas present for Omi out from under the bed later that night and unwrapped it, just to look through his efforts again. And, next to the watch, it seemed pitiful. What would Omi think when he opened it?
Ken had promised to do the cooking, which kept him occupied almost all day, and he didn't have time to correct the mistake, even if he wanted to. Like it or not, he would now have to give the present to Omi.
He frowned. Well… maybe it's not such a bad thing. That thought brought some hope. Maybe it's good. Omi's the sentimental type… he'll probably like the idea of a homemade present. Maybe he'll think the same way I did, and consider it romantic. You never know…
That was what he had thought when he'd made the present in the first place. Now that he'd experienced doubt, he was having a lot of trouble putting it aside.
Ken stirred the gravy, thoughtful.
Dinner was delicious.
Youji leaned back in his seat with a satisfied smile on his face, savoring his last bite. It had been worth the wait, the anticipation. The food was absolutely fantastic. Just what he'd come to expect of Ken's cooking.
Now… if only he could trick Ken into doing the cooking all the time…
"That was perfect, Ken," Omi sighed, looking about as blissfully full as Youji felt.
"My compliments to the chef," Youji added, tipping his wineglass up. He hadn't drunk much. It probably wouldn't earn him any sympathy if he were hung over on Christmas morning.
Aya just made a non-committal grunt. That was about as much as one could expect from him. Youji was of the opinion that Aya had a problem admitting that Ken was a much better cook than he was. He wisely chose to keep this opinion to himself.
"And Ken told me he'd make breakfast tomorrow morning, too," Omi announced, smiling brightly at his lover. Seeing the softness in his huge, expressive blue eyes, Youji had to wonder how Ken got the idea that Omi would be disappointed with anything he gave him.
"I did not!" Ken protested. "I said I might direct you guys. I'm not making breakfast on my own - no way! I'll watch over it all, but you three are doing the work!"
That was the only problem with Ken being such a great cook - someone had to twist his arm to get him to do it.
Omi shrugged that distinction aside. "But you'll do that much, right?"
Ken gave in. Who could blame him? "Sure. But only because it's Christmas, all right?"
Youji smirked a little, but said nothing. He wanted Ken to direct breakfast the next morning too. "Well," he said instead, giving an over-exaggerated stretching motion. "I'm heading upstairs to put some finishing touches on my gifts. I'll probably see you two" - that with a glance at Ken and Omi - "tomorrow morning."
"Not so fast, Youji!" Omi called after him, in the tone Youji called his 'flower shop' voice. That instinctively made him freeze in his tracks. "We've got a table to clear and dishes to wash, remember?"
With three of them working at it - naturally, Ken was granted immunity, having spent the day cooking - the mess in the kitchen didn't take long to clean. Youji took on the cleaning and table-clearing, leaving the dish-washing and drying to Omi and Aya. Daring a brief nuzzle into his lover's neck, he left the kitchen to check on the presents he'd wrapped earlier. From the cursing behind Ken's door, he was just wrapping his.
Poor bastard. Youji had seen Ken try to wrap presents. Ken was fairly coordinated under most circumstances, but when handed a parcel, paper, and tape, he was lost. More than likely, he just didn't have the patience for it.
Youji chuckled to himself. He could take Ken's misfortune in stride. After all, his presents were all wrapped and ready. He had nothing left to worry about. Christmas was going to be perfect.
But, just in case, he was going to check his presents.
Youji had left the presents he'd just wrapped in his closet. Aya never looked for them anyway, so there wasn't much point in hiding anything. And they didn't even share a closet. Youji had seen the inside of Aya's closet; his clothes wouldn’t even blend in.
It might be time to put the presents under the tree, anyway. Then they'd be out of his hands, and ready to be opened. He could stop thinking about it.
I don't know why I should think about it, anyway. Everything's taken care of. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Youji started unloading his presents. There were only three of them - one for each of his teammates. Any others he'd had to give out were already with those he'd intended them for. So, there shouldn't be anything…
He stopped. He had been sure that there were three presents. But… there was a fourth lump in the darkness. Youji reached in again, and felt smooth cardboard. But I didn't buy anything else…
That was easily explained. Aya sometimes used Youji's closet when he had something that wouldn't fit into his own. It was usually something that would be removed in short order.
Well, what could it possibly be?
Youji smirked a little, and pulled the box out. It was extremely unlikely that Aya would store any presents in Youji's closet where he could stumble on them. So this was some personal purchase that Aya had happened to come across during his shopping and wanted for himself.
Naturally, Youji wanted to know what it was.
However, when he saw the package, he felt his face go completely white.
It was the exact same car stereo that he had just bought for Aya as a Christmas present.
Ken swore to himself, fumbling with keeping the paper held closed over the box he was wrapping while attempting to pull tape free from the roll one-handed. Why was this so hard?
He really wished he hadn't told Omi that he'd wrap all of his presents himself.
Still… he was feeling better. The talk with Omi while he was cooking, and then dinner afterwards, was buoying his spirits. Suddenly the gift didn't seem so ridiculous. Why had he thought that? He'd spent a long time on putting it together; Omi would see that, and he'd love it.
Ken ignore the mangled present for a moment and managed a smile. Omi would more than love it. In fact, he would be so thrilled that he'd jump into Ken's arms and shower him with kisses. He'd be so thrilled that he'd rip the clothes off the both of them and ravish Ken in a fit of insane passion.
The present fell out of his hands, unnoticed.
"Ken!" The door suddenly smashed open, and Ken nearly fell himself. Youji stood in the doorframe, eyes wilder than usual. "Get your damn coat, we're going to the mall!"
Ken stared at him. "What?"
"I said get. Your. Damn. Coat." Youji ground the words out through his teeth, looking more upset than Ken had seen him in a long time. "We're going to the mall to buy presents."
"Presents?" Ken frowned. "I thought you already did all your Christmas shopping. And besides, the mall's closed by now. It's too late."
"We're going anyway." Youji found Ken's coat and tossed it to him. "Put that on, and let's go."
"What the hell are you planning to do?" Ken demanded, still not getting up. "Break into the mall? Well, enjoy yourself. I think you're fucking crazy. There's no way you'd see me doing something that stupid."
Youji seemed about to snap something back, but then settled a little, eyeing Ken almost casually. "You know, I happened to overhear Omi telling Aya how much he spent on your present," he said, in an offhand tone.
Ken's head shot up.
"In was something in the nature of an apology," Youji continued, still watching the younger man out of the corner of his eye. "I guess he spent so much on you that he didn't have anything left for the rest of us. Kinda shows how much he cares about you, huh?"
Ken let out a long, agonized breath. "Just let me find my shoes," he said, miserably.
Omi was pacing.
He and Aya were both in the kitchen. Aya was reading a book, but he glanced up at Omi in annoyance every once in a while. The dishes were done, and the kitchen was cleaned. Everything was in its place.
But Youji and Ken were nowhere to be found.
"Where could they have gone?" Omi frowned, halting in his tracks for a moment. "It's too late for Christmas shopping; everything will be closed by now. What could they be doing?"
"If they're smart, coming up with a good excuse," Aya answered him, his eyes meeting Omi's. He did not look happy. This was the first thing he'd said all evening.
Omi didn't find this unusual. He crossed his arms and his eyes narrowed slightly. "You think they're out having fun?" He didn't have to wait for Aya's nod. "If so… well…" He left the threat unfinished. It was easy to act like he was angry.
Truthfully, Omi was worried.
They could be hurt or dying! the nagging part of his brain seemed to scream at him. Omi sighed, and leaned against the counter, trying to push that irrational thought away. It was a bad habit of his, imagining worst-case scenarios. This was part of the reason he tried so hard to remain optimistic - to silence that horrible little voice at the back of his head that said maybe… just maybe…
The phone rang.
Instantly, Omi was across the room, and almost yanking it off the hook. "Hello?"
"Ken!" Omi sagged in relief. Across the room, he saw Aya lower his book. "Where are you?" he demanded, still breathless. "Is Youji with you? What on earth did you two have to leave the house for?"
"Uh… well… that's…" Ken seemed to flounder. "You see…"
"It's okay - you can tell me later." Omi smiled a little, too grateful to be angry at the moment.
"Actually, I'm calling from… I mean, we're in…" Ken hesitated, then muttered something under his breath.
"I'm sorry?" Omi blinked. "I didn't hear that last part. You're in… what?"
More incoherent muttering.
"Ken, you're going to have to speak up. I can't hear you."
"We're in jail," Ken managed finally, in a low tone.
"You're where?" Omi nearly dropped the phone.
"In jail," Ken repeated, voice almost too low to be heard.
"You're in jail?" He couldn't get over it. One of Aya's eyebrow's shot up, like a question. Omi recovered enough to ask the question they were both wondering about. "How did you get put in jail?"
Ken muttered some more under his breath.
"I didn't catch that." Omi was actually astonished. How on earth did two professional assassins get thrown in jail?
"We broke into the mall," Ken muttered, finally.
"You broke into the mall?" Omi wasn't going to get over this. Aya actually set his book down and stared at Omi, as if he thought that either he or Ken had gone insane during the phone conversation. This time, the younger boy needed no prompting. "What for?"
"To buy presents," Ken answered, managing to be understandable on the first try this time.
"You broke into the mall to buy presents." Omi didn't phrase this as a question. He sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. "Okay. I won't ask. At least not now. Do you need us to come and get you?"
"Yeah." Ken was clearly not happy about his current situation.
Omi could see why. "We'll be there in a little while," he promised, getting the address and writing it down on a spare sheet of paper.
He hung up and turned to look at Aya again. "Well," he said, with a weak smile. "You have to admit, that is a pretty good excuse."
"Crazy young people! Breaking into the mall to go shopping!"
Youji was never so glad - and so embarrassed - to see anyone as much as he was to see Aya when he and Omi came toward their holding cell that night. Two policemen came along with them, and one started to unlock the door.
"Gotta hand it to them, though," one of the officers answered his partner. "Just when you think they can't get any dumber…"
Omi was either past the angry stage or he hadn't reached it at all yet, because he went straight to Ken once they were released, and slid his arms around the brunet's middle. "I was worried," he said, quietly. Then he leaned back and gave his lover a look that was partly incredulous, partly amused. "Ken, why?"
Ken looked positively deflated. "I wanted to get you a present."
"I thought you said you already had a present for me."
"I wanted to get you another one." Ken looked at the ground, avoiding Omi's eyes. "Mine's just a homemade piece of crap; I know you're going to hate it, especially spending all that money on mine."
"You made me something?" Omi's eyes went wide. "I didn't think… Ken, you actually took the time to make me something?"
Ken was staring at him now, looking a little confused.
Omi pulled him closer and offered one of those devastating smiles he was so good at. "I think you're going to have to let me open this tonight. We'll need privacy for a proper thank you."
Ken's face flushed beet red at that, and he looked as if he were stumbling around for words but couldn't find them.
Youji turned, feeling impending doom behind him. He faced Aya, drawing his last defense up around him. "I had to go shopping!"
Aya's expression didn't change. "What for?"
"For a new present!" Youji was having trouble drawing his usual calm around him. "I found that new CD player you got for your car in the closet tonight when I was getting my presents out."
"And I had to get you a new present, because…" Youji lowered his head. "That's the exact same thing that I got you for Christmas."
Then something happened that made Youji's head shoot up, that made Ken and Omi break off whatever they'd been doing and turn to stare in shock. It was something that had happened only once or twice in all the time they'd been together as a group.
Aya was laughing.
Youji stared at the box in perplexity, unable to come up with anything more intelligent than that two-word question. It was just so… so…
Yes, those were the words he was looking for.
"Yes, for you." Aya smiled slightly, holding out the CD player that had been in his closet. "It seems we came up with the same gift for each other."
Youji took the box, feeling a little shocked. He wished he had a cigarette - but then, Aya would probably not tolerate that while he was in the room. "How come you hid it in my closet?"
Aya shrugged. "I was going to wrap it today."
"Oh." Youji felt like a moron. He rarely had that feeling, and it wasn't a pleasant one. "Well, you might as well take your gift now, then," he managed to get out with some dignity, handing Aya the wrapped present meant for him. "I guess I've ruined the surprise."
Aya set the present aside. "I won't be any less pleased with it." He seemed amused to see Youji in this state of sheepish embarrassment. "Come over here," he ordered, sitting down on the bed.
That, Youji could handle. "I'll have to make it up to you, I guess," he said, feeling his old smirk tugging up the corners of his mouth. He joined Aya on the bed, sliding into his lover's arms with a practiced ease.
"You had better do a good job," Aya told him, sounding serious enough to fool anyone but his lover.
Youji smiled, lips pressing just slightly against the redhead's neck. "Oh, I plan to." He moved back and caught Aya's lips, pressing him back against the bed. Warmth drew them close together, like an old friend. It would be slow tonight, Youji knew. Slow and sensual, more potent than the times they'd made love hard and fast… and just as exciting.
And this was just the night for it.
"Merry Christmas to all, indeed." It was going to be perfect, just like he'd thought.
"A CD?" Omi pulled the first part of his present free of the wrapping paper. He turned the case over, looking for what songs Ken had burned onto it.
"That was the easy part to make." Ken smiled a little, ruefully. "But I had to make it; it goes with the rest of the present."
"Ken…" Omi was still staring at the songs on the CD. "This song… isn't it the one…?"
"Playing at the restaurant when we first went out." Ken nodded, then leaned over to point to the next one. "And that was our first dance, and that one was playing on the radio during our first kiss." He rested his hands on Omi's shoulders from behind, smiling a little as he remembered. That had been the nice part of making the present - remembering it all as he went along. "And then the others, too…" He let that trail off.
"Oh…" Omi was trembling a little; Ken could feel it. "Oh… Ken…"
"You still have to open the rest of the present." But that reaction had been a good sign… Ken had a feeling this was going over really well. Why on earth had he thought it would be a bad present?
"Yeah…" Omi pushed the rest of the paper aside. His hands were visibly shaking, Ken noticed. He lifted the scrapbook Ken had prepared, seeing both of their names scrawled across the front. "Is this…?"
"Open it," Ken urged, impatient for his response.
Omi opened the book. Ken had found the old pictures, ones that went along with the memories in the songs. Some of them, he'd had to get re-developed, and he still remembered almost giving up when he thought his search for the photos was hopeless. But he'd managed, and this was the result. Moving his hands down, Ken hugged Omi's waist, pressing himself against his lover's back.
He'd arranged the pictures the way the songs were arranged on the CD, making sure to label everything so that Omi knew which pictures went with which songs. There were two or three for each song, images of the two of them caught forever in a visual memory. Each one, he could remember vividly every time he looked at the picture.
Omi didn't say anything; he gave a low cry, and leaned back suddenly in Ken's arms, twisted his head around to press his lips with a startling violence to the taller boy's.
"How could you think I wouldn't like this?" Omi demanded, turning without breaking Ken's hold, pushing them both back against the pillows at the head of the bed. He was still kissing Ken between words, arms locked around the brunet's neck.
Ken was surprised and gratified by the strength of the response. "I just… I dunno… I thought…"
"Don't think." Omi smiled at him, backing off for just that one instant. "Let me show you how much I like it," he breathed out, and leaned down to cover Ken's mouth in another passionate kiss.
In his last moment of coherent thought, Ken found himself thinking that his present came in second best, after all. Opening Omi's was certainly more exciting.
He'd thought it wouldn't make it, but here it was: the perfect Christmas Eve.