"That was an interesting conversation."
Aya glanced over his shoulder. Youji was leaning against the wall behind him, frowning. "The question is," he continued, "Do we play along or call it quits?"
"Of course we play along," Aya answered.
"What for?" Youji crossed his arms, almost petulantly. "They're killing the emperor - so what? Who are we to say the man even needs to be killed."
"That isn't the point."
"Not the point?" Youji raised an eyebrow. "I'd say it's pretty fucking important. We could be altering history - and how would we know? I'm not what you'd call an expert on Roman history - are you?"
"Omi would know," Aya mused.
"Yeah, well, Omi's not here, is he?" Youji pointed out. "Partly because you decided we need to wait before dashing to his rescue - remember?"
Aya turned. "You're being irrational."
"I'm entitled." The blond frowned. "We're here, in a plot to kill an emperor, and Omi's probably being molested by some sweaty fat guy who calls himself a lord. Meanwhile, we don't even know where Ken might be. Irrational seems about right, wouldn't you say?"
"You're overlooking the obvious."
Youji pushed himself away from the wall, practically into Aya's face. "Fill me in, then," he said. "What's the obvious?"
Aya met the challenge. "We're dead if we don't."
The taller man looked a bit startled at that.
"For reasons you've already mentioned, you can be forgiven for not seeing it," Aya continued, keeping their gazes locked. "When you're involved in a plot, you learn details - who's involved, what's involved, when it's happening. If you're helping them, you're in danger as much as anyone else. If you pull back…" He shut his eyes briefly. "You become part of the danger."
"Fuck." Youji leaned back, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't see that. Sorry, Aya. My brain must've gone to sleep!"
Aya moved away. Being close was an almost shocking reminder of just what, in that time, they were supposed to be. It was one thing to play at being lovers, but entirely another to actually think about what it meant. Spending your life with a single purpose to focus on didn't leave a lot of room for curiosity, but…
No. Not as a cure for curiosity, not as anything.
"We'll be taking care of Siloneus," Aya pointed out. "We can rescue Omi at the same time. Then we'll have him tell us if assassinating the emperor is a good idea. Until then, we act as if everything is perfectly normal."
"All right already." Youji gave a long-suffering sigh. "No need to beat me over the head with my own stupidity. I get what we're doing, and why we're doing it. That doesn't mean I like it."
Exactly what I was thinking.
It wasn't as if he hadn't made countless decisions in the past that he still regretted. A million and one sacrifices for the greater good. Leaving Omi where he was, knowing what would happen to him, in order to keep them all alive. If he let himself think about it too much, it would drive him insane.
It wasn't what I pictured for myself. If someone had asked him, back when he was seventeen, if he wanted to be a murderer who casually sacrificed innocent lives, he would've laughed in their face.
Someone has to do it. We're all ruined for society, anyway. Youji… Ken… Omi… Ran… There wasn't any happiness waiting for them outside of Weiss.
The only option left was to find some satisfaction within it.
"I know," Aya said finally, in answer to what Youji had said.
"If we get a chance, we should try to find Ken," the blond mused. "I know, he could be anywhere, and he's probably got a different name here - but at least it'd give me something to think about besides emperors and Omi."
"If it helps," Aya agreed distantly.
Youji must've been calmer by then, because he didn't make another 'cold' comment. "I don't get you," he said instead. "It's obvious you care, and I've seen the times where you slipped up, but you're always so determined to keep it from us. I'm not going to think any less of you for actually being worried about what happens to Omi and Ken. You're allowed to care about us, too."
It isn't that easy. Aya wanted to tell him that. You can't just put it aside and take it back. "One of us needs to be rational when it's possible," he said instead.
"Great, but you're only human." Youji reminded him. "I saw you drop 'rational' more than once, remember?" He put a hand on Aya's shoulder, without thinking.
The physical contact was another acute reminder of what they'd both been trying to avoid thinking about. Aya felt like sparks were stabbing through him from that point. He met Youji's gaze squarely.
"Right." The blond took back his hand. "That's another thing we need to talk about."
It was getting dark.
Damnit! What a wasted day!
Ken scowled. He was, at the moment, trying to find the room he'd woken up in. He remembered the general area it was in, so it wouldn't take him more than fifteen or twenty minutes to search the whole palace for it.
His first day in the new place hadn't exactly put him in a good mood. First there was his inability to find any of the others, then there was that whole business about being a Senator, and then he couldn't even find his room! And he was too embarrassed to even think about asking one of the servants where it was.
Nothing had gone right!
"There it is." He was still muttering to himself. Well, no one else would talk to him, so what was he supposed to do? "Finally." Ken turned into the comfortable room he remembered waking up to. After a day of walking around in a pointless search, he was ready to stumble around the wall between him and the bed, collapse, and fall asleep.
That thought was interrupted by a noise from around the corner.
Immediately, all of Ken's senses were alert. An assassin? he wondered, and almost laughed. It'd be a fantastic twist of fate if an assassin were after him now. Still, he crouched down and moved silently to peer around into the other half of the room.
What he found wasn't what he'd been expecting - not even close.
There was a familiar figure sitting on his bed - eyes covered, mouth gagged, hands tied firmly to keep him in place, and desperately trying to pull himself free. Little panicked noises emerged from his throat as he struggled, muffled by the gag.
"Omi!" Ken was across the room and fumbling with the ties on the blindfold before he could even think about it. "Omi, it's me! It's Ken! Calm down!"
The younger boy was in full panic mode, trying to jerk away from Ken's hands even as his teammate tried to free him. His eyes were shut tight even when the blindfold was removed, and he continued to yank helplessly against his bonds.
"Omi." Ken tried to keep his voice level, cupping the boy's face and running his thumbs over the cheeks, smoothing back his hair in an attempt to soothe him. "It's all right. It's me. Open your eyes. It's okay. Calm down. Omi."
Slowly, the younger boy's breathing calmed, and he stopped struggling. Ken kept up his ministrations, almost able to feel how Omi's heart must be thundering against his chest. "It's all right," he said again, still stroking Omi's cheeks. "Look, see? You're safe."
The smaller boy opened his eyes, almost warily. They were huge and blue, almost too wide for his face, and they softened immediately when they met Ken's.
He untied the gag. "Are you all right?"
"Ken…" Omi gasped out, and leaned into his teammate's hands, rapid breathing slowing by degrees. "I'm fine," he managed in a more normal tone, after a minute. "Just… thank god you got here!" There was a bit of a hysterical edge to his voice. "They were going to… there's this lord…"
"Probably me." Ken continued brushing his fingers over Omi's face, without thinking about it. "I woke up in this room and now everyone thinks I'm a lord of some kind. I was looking for you and the others all day. What happened to you?"
"I woke up in a slave pen and they sold me to two men." Omi seemed calmer by then. "They took me back here and got me all ready, then tied me up and left me. I'm supposed to be a body-slave - yours, I guess."
Body-slave? That means… Ken was suddenly very aware of the fact that Omi was mostly undressed. He'd seen the younger boy fresh out of the shower, dressed only in a towel, and had been able to push the image out of his mind more than once. But here… sitting on his bed… was that same slight, sculpted body, almost pressed against his, with his hands still cupping his face. As a body-slave. As his body-slave. Meant for him to… And people expected them to…
It was suddenly hard to breathe. Ken found his eyes trailing down, over the slim, toned chest, tight flat stomach, long legs, slight hips… and where the loincloth covered…
"I think we're in ancient Rome," Omi said suddenly, interrupting his scrutiny of the younger boy's body. "One of the slaves seemed to think we were, and from what I've seen, it makes sense. People were more relaxed about this sort of thing then."
"What sort of thing?" Ken asked, trying to push himself back into the conversation. I can't think like that! He's a friend - it's not right. Besides, Omi is straight, isn't he?
The younger boy actually blushed. "You know… a male, having another male for… well." He blushed harder and shifted a little, unintentionally drawing Ken's eyes to the lower portion of his body again. "That."
"Oh." Ken wasn't sure what to say to that, but from the heat on his cheeks, he suspected he was blushing as well. God… how did he get so… god! Did I just not notice this? He had a sneaking feeling he had noticed; the lines of Omi's body seemed tantalizingly familiar in a way.
"Can you untie my hands?" the younger boy asked suddenly.
"Huh? Oh… sure." Ken fumbled with the knots, pushing aside any and all thoughts of 'kinky stuff' or other… physical… things.
And now, he added to his mental list of things that had happened to him that day, I'm lusting after my best friend. Great.
"What is there to talk about?"
Youji stared. Is he serious? That's going a bit far… He shook his head, and chuckled humorlessly. "What isn't there?"
Aya was the picture of studied indifference. "If there's so much to say," he began, voice almost bored, "then you'd been start talking about it."
"Christ… Well, excuse me for my lack of rational behavior, then." Youji sighed, frustrated. He's impossible to talk to. "Don't you find it just a little bit disconcerting to be told by someone else that one of your teammates is actually your lover? Because I'm having a few problems with the idea."
Aya's cold blue eyes met his - they were exotic, beautiful… but the gaze was like ice shooting through Youji's veins. "It's the same conversation we just had," he pointed out. "Do you really need to relive it?"
"How is it the same?" This was really exasperating. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd lost his cool so much in such a short time. "How does not pretending to be lovers put us in any danger?"
"We're in a precarious position right now," Aya reminded him. "Anything that might put us under suspicion also puts us in danger. Everything remains as they think it should be. Our dignity is more expendable than our lives. Do you understand?"
Youji gave up at that point. I don't know what's worse - not having a lover, or having a painfully gorgeous lover and being unable to do anything about it. "Fine. No cigarettes, no sex… You'd better not tell me I'm going to be giving up alcohol next, because there's no fucking way."
"Drink all you like," Aya told him, coldly. "But do your vomiting outside."
"Yeah, yeah." Youji waved a dismissive hand. "I won't make a mess."
He planned on drinking himself into insensibility that night, despite that.
I hate this. The blond watched his teammate out of the side of his vision. Those half-formed, mostly-for-amusement speculations on the redhead all seemed to be coming back to haunt him now. The idea of Aya as a serious lover was spinning around in his head and he couldn't get rid of it. It always seemed to be all or nothing with him - totally closed off, or passionately angry, or deadly determined. And the few times he'd let his guard down and showed actual warmth…
So many layers. Does he even know how to piece them together?
It was like trying to second-guess death. Impossible.
It's really too bad. Youji brought his fingers to his lips out of habit, a little thrown off when he remembered he didn't have any cigarettes. He could have any number of people begging for the chance to be with him. Sleek, strong and graceful was never going out of fashion in his mind. Aya had a body gods should envy - slim and muscled, hard and tight. And his hair… and his eyes… Everything about him was intense.
It's really too bad.
Youji sometimes wondered about his own thoughts. He was a womanizer, sure, and Ken sometimes irritably called him 'sex freak' - probably because he wasn't getting any himself - so he took some pride in having a sharp eye for physical beauty. True, women were his preference - women over eighteen - and as such it took something spectacular to catch his eye outside of that haze of admiration for pretty female things. For someone under eighteen, or non-female, to catch his attention, they'd have to have that striking… something.
Aya made it into the category. And then some.
As a rule, Youji didn't generally have impure thoughts about his teammates. There were reasons, besides the obvious 'being distracted on the job will get you killed'. Ken was too excitable, Omi was too emotional, and Aya was… Aya. The rule had worked out fine until just then.
"Do you know where to go for that drinking party?" Aya asked suddenly, snapping him out of that line of thought. "It would be pointless to wander around looking for it."
"Someone will stop by and see if we're coming." Youji decided to return the 'favor' Aya had done him in rational speech with his own nonchalance. "Let's just hope we're decent by then, Abalus." He slung a not-so-casual arm around the redhead's shoulders.
Aya shrugged out of that, and said nothing.
Hmm… friendly as ever.
"Tomorrow I'm going to have a look around for Ken," Youji said, completely changing the subject. "If I don't find him we won't have lost anything and if I do then we'll have help when we go to rescue Omi. Either that, or he'll just decide to murder us both for leaving the poor kid."
"If you find him, don't tell him about Omi," Aya replied.
Youji could see the sense in that. "As good as done. Unless I happen to find him right before we go after Siloneus. Otherwise we'd have to chain him to the wall. And that's only if we don't mind losing the wall."
Aya actually smiled faintly.
Now that's more like it. Looks good. Youji nodded mentally in approval, admiring the sight while it lasted. He really does need to open up more often.
And maybe this 'lovers' thing might start to get interesting.
"Why do you think we're here?"
Ken smiled, propping his head up on his hand. He was lying on his side, looking unconsciously attractive in the relaxed pose. "Is that a rhetorical question?"
"Stop joking." Omi smiled back all the same, appreciating the humor. "I meant why are we here in ancient Rome, not here on earth."
"It's probably the same reason."
"All right, sorry." The older boy grinned. "I don't have any idea why we're here, actually. I was kind of hoping I could find you, and you would have some idea."
Omi shook his head. "I'm flattered by your confidence, but I don't. Not anything concrete, anyway. It might help if I could remember more than being knocked out by that building and then waking up here, but…" He spread his hands helplessly.
They were sprawled comfortably on Ken's huge bed, with Omi lying on his back and propped up slightly by the cushions. Ken was on his side, facing the younger boy. One of Omi's wrists was still loosely tied to the block, in case someone dropped in unexpectedly.
It was a huge relief to have someone he knew there. And, Omi had to admit, it was even more of a huge relief for that someone to be Ken. The two of them were somehow closer than he was with either of the others - maybe because they'd known each other the longest.
Privately, Omi hoped the reason wasn't so… platonic.
"I don't remember anything else either," Ken admitted. "You have no idea how frustrating it was trying to ask for information around here. Everyone acts like they're afraid of me!"
"They are." Omi shifted a little and gave his friend a sympathetic look. "Back in these times, anything could warrant a punishment - nobles could have their slaves beaten just because they didn't like their faces."
Ken frowned. "But I wouldn't do that."
"I know that, Ken," Omi said reasonably. "But how are they supposed to know that? To them, you're this Siloneus person. You had a bunch of other body-slaves before me, you know."
Ken's face flushed. "That's ridiculous!"
"To us it is, but not to them." Omi paused to think for a moment. "You know what I think? These positions were created to give us a background - sort of to put us into the society and make us blend. I think we're here to do something, and once that's done we can go back home." At least, that was what he hoped.
"That's a good theory." Ken seemed to have recovered from the momentary shock, and he looked interested. "But what would we have to do here? Slay a dragon?"
"Dragons are medieval folklore, Ken," Omi corrected him. "We're in Rome, not Briton." He frowned thoughtfully. "That's a good question, though. What are we supposed to do here?"
"Well, you said we were put in these positions for a reason," Ken said. "If this is where we're supposed to be, we'll probably find out what we're supposed to do soon enough."
"That makes se - se - sen - " Omi found his words interrupted by a huge yawn. "Oi, I'm tired," he said, stretching luxuriously and flopping back onto the cushions with a sigh. "It's been a long day."
Omi glanced over curiously. Ken was staring at him - his gaze was fixed somewhere in the general vicinity of his ribcage. What? Omi glanced down. "Ken?" he said, finding nothing out of the ordinary. "Are you all right?"
Ken's eyes slid up to meet his slowly, as if they had to be pried away. Instantly, all the blood in Omi's body seemed to go rushing to his face. There was something in the way Ken looked at him… the strangest look in his eyes… Omi's breath caught in his throat. "Ken?" he repeated, feeling his heart start to pound against his chest. Maybe… maybe…
Somebody came running into the other room. "My Lord Siloneus!"
In an instant, Ken was off his side of the bed, and before Omi could open his mouth the older boy was on top of him, pressing him down with a hard grip on either wrist. His eyes went from normal to as wide as they could possibly open when Ken's lips mashed onto his - but he didn't see anything out of them.
The taller boy wasn't inexperienced by any stretch of the imagination, Omi realized dimly, as Ken drew him out of his shock and got him returning the kiss. That's good… that's so good… His body felt flushed all at once - his eyes shut and his chest arched involuntarily, pressing more of himself up against the older boy and straining against the delicious restriction at his wrists.
Ken broke away from Omi with a frustrated sigh that may or may not have been faked. "Do you mind?" he demanded, irritably.
"I'm sorry, my Lord!" The servant flinched visibly and bowed low. "You gave orders that you were to be told when your messenger returned with further information on the Senator's condition."
"I did? Oh, right." Ken waved a hand. "I'll be there in a bit."
"Yes, my Lord." The servant fled.
"Omi… sorry," Ken said quickly, face red as he hastily pulled himself up. "Uh… it… sounds like I have to get going. You can - you can take a walk if you want - come back here, or… I'll find you tomorrow." He seemed flustered; his words were almost tripping over each other. "See you later!" he added, and fled.
Omi still lay where he'd been left. His wrists were a little sore and he felt entirely too cold without Ken's solid body against his. He raised a shaking hand to his lips but stopped short of actually touching them, afraid it would wipe away Ken's kiss.