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Keep Your Enemies Closer

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Shin’s pace didn’t slow, trying not to think about the complex getting smaller in the distance behind him. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment his affection turned to resentment, or how it had happened, but it did and now it was the only thing he could think about.
Hatsumi’s face floated into his field of vision and he was horrified by the aggression that threatened to over-take him.
He knew that he needed to fix this and soon before his idiosyncrasies drove a rift between him and his sister.
He stopped suddenly, the full reality of what he had just said and done finally sinking in.

What the fuck?!

Just a few days ago he was normal.

He had dinner with his family, worked, went to school, and hung out with friends. Now he had nothing in his head but Azusa. Sure, the other man had been taking up a little more real estate in his thoughts lately but before, there had been room for everyone else. Now, something was different. Fantastic, body-numbing sex aside, his heart felt strange, like it was suddenly a little too big for his body and pumping like mad. And yet, despite it’s wild humming it felt contained, like it was leashed by some unknown force, which made the air stutter in and out of his lungs. His very breath sounded like Azusa’s name and he couldn’t help but resent it a little.

What was happening to him? His ears picked up the sound of distant ringing, breaking through the fog, and he looked around for the source. He had been too preoccupied to notice that he had stopped right in front of the convenience store doors. They opened and closed repeatedly, the bell welcoming him to work with absolute indifference to how upset he was.

“Damn Azusa,” he muttered.

He wasn’t there, but he could still smell him, hear his voice. He wanted him here right now.He sighed heavily and put the doors out of their misery. It was going to be a long day.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ryoki and Hatsumi sat together in their special place. The day was warming up, a sure sign that spring was arriving, but they still huddled together under the winter pretense. Ryoki found that he could cheerfully bear winter if it meant that Hatsumi would stay as close to him as she was now. She was there sitting right next to him, however, he had to say that at this particular moment in time, she was farther away than she ever had been. She was shaken up. Ryoki could tell and he could not figure out if he was worried or annoyed.
On one hand something was bothering her and she had taught him that being a good boyfriend meant that he needed to be supportive. On the other hand, SOMETHING was bothering her, which meant that she was thinking of something other than him, which he had learned from experience was something he just could not tolerate.
Now the dilemma. Though he considered himself wiser, after over a year of dating her, sometimes his decisions weren’t as educated as he believed them to be.

No.

He corrected himself.

His decisions were just perfect. Hatsumi could just be extremely unreasonable and unpredictable. That aside, the dilemma still existed, how did he separate his feelings and get what he wanted without upsetting her more or just making her angry at him again?
Throughout their relationship, Hatsumi had grown a lot more confident and he found that he loved her even more this way, even though she was a little harder to maneuver. She’s more assertive and he needed to learn to choose his battles and plan his strategy before even thinking about approaching the front. He needed to be prepared.
Not like he could lose a battle, he thought, then snorted behind his hand.
No, never, but, for the sake of balance in the relationship, he had to let a couple of slip, on principle. So now he was reduced to arguing over that dilemma with himself, squaring off against Option A, B and C. Which did he feel would defuse the situation and make her smile at him?

He played each formula over in his head:

Option A: Involved a caring smile, an arm placed around her shoulders and a flawless speech.
“Hatsumi, what is the matter? You can tell me, as your boyfriend I am here to help you.”
This would, of course, be followed by a lengthy discussion about feelings, from which there was no escape.
He shuddered...hmmm.

Option B: A caring smile, one arm around her shoulder. The direct approach.
“This better not be about that wimp brother or that bastard Azusa!”
Of course, this may bring up other things, mostly on Hatsumi’s part that were errr...perhaps better left alone.

Option C: Again, a caring smile, an arm wrapped around her shoulder, and that one happy hand settled happily on her breast, which was still a little small, but he learned to appreciate it.

Upon further reflection, he decided that Option A was kinda weak, he had dismissed it almost immediately and sorted through his other two options. Again, with careful thought and past experience, he eliminated option B, nothing good ever came from saying anything derogatory about her brother, no matter how true it was.
So, with his decision made to his satisfaction, his hand seemed to move on its own accord. It was stopped mid-way through his journey by Hatsumi’s own impatient hand.

“Not now Ryoki.”

His fingers twitched a little but his hand just rested on her shoulder.

“What’s wrong Hatsumi?”

She looked distracted, pale.

“Azusa was upset today, but seemed ok when he left. He is resting now. So, he isn’t the one that is really concerning me.”

She looked at him.

“But…”

Her eyes misted and his machismo withered. He didn’t care if she talked about Azusa or Shinogu, or even her feelings, as long as she stopped looking like that, he would listen.

“It’s Shinogu.”

He struggled to snuff out the annoyance, damn Shinogu, the jackass was everywhere!

His silence seemed to encourage her to talk more, and she seemed hesitant to divulge too much. He went on instant alert as she continued, fingering a crack in the concrete.

“He seemed so detached today. Normally he is so warm and always happy to see me but today was different. He only asked after Azusa, and then seemed angry when I told him to let him rest. I tried to talk to him but…” she whimpered a little and unconsciously rubbed her arms where Shinogu had grabbed her.

Ryoki zeroed in on the movement and that’s when he saw it, the small blurred edge of a purpling bruise peeking from beneath her short sleeve. He moved abruptly, seizing that sleeve and pushing it up to examine it. There were four more like it spanning the circumference of her arm. His look became grim as his eyes darted to the other arm, moving that sleeve also to revel a matching set of purple marks dotting her tender flesh. He looked at her, his eyes slanted in suspicion.

“But, what? Hatsumi?”

He was calm, almost cold, waiting for her to say something different from what he had already guessed, anything to quench the growing desire to maim that was brewing within. She pushed his hands away and busied herself with adjusting her sleeves.

“Hatsumi?”

She couldn’t look at him.

“It’s like he didn’t know who I was. He just looked straight through me. Usually he is so gentle, I- -he, just doesn’t know his own strength. He would never hurt me on purpose. I just don’t know what I did wrong”, her chin trembled as she fought back tears. She snuggled into his embrace, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in his chest.

Ryoki held her close, rubbing his chin on the crown of her head.

“Dummy, that’s why I said not to waste your time and energy on him or Azusa. You should just stay away from the both of them. They both cause you more pain than they are worth, and if you focus on me, well, let’s just say that I would never do anything like that to you!”

Hatsumi sniffled and looked up into his face, her eyes softened by affection.

“Oh Yeah? Well what about that one time you—", she was silenced by a swift kiss.

The contact was fleeting but so calculated, she smiled wickedly.

“Or do you remember when— “, another kiss, this time more lingering, insistent.

She sighed softly.

“It’s like the first time, every time, you can always make my heart thump.”

Pushing her forehead against his, her eyes locked with his, her expression serious.

“Promise me that you won’t confront Shinogu? I will try to talk to him later, when he is ready.”

She grabbed his chin when he snorted and tried to look away. She forced his gaze to remain trained on hers.

“Please Ryoki?”

He looked down at his clenched hands.

“This really pisses me off. I have told you repeatedly that you need to stick closer to me. If you don’t talk to him, then you don’t have to deal with the shit. But since you are absurdly determined to let him be your brother, I have no choice but to be o.k. with it, even if it does piss me off.”

Hatsumi’s mouth twisted.

“Tachibana that does not sound like a promise!”

Ryoki smiled and waggled his eyebrows before giving her a loud smacking kiss.

“That’s because it wasn’t one.”

“Bu- Ryoki…”

Another kiss, and she melted. The man certainly had a way about him. Holding her close, he looked down at her thoughtfully.

“Now that we have that squared away, the world isn’t ending, and we have irrefutably proven the fact that your brother is a dumb ass, I was wondering if you would be interested in a little Option C?”

Hatsumi looked curious and amused as she sidled closer to look at him beneath the long sweep of her lashes.

“Option C?”

He cleared his throat.

“Yeah, well, it’s currently under development, but I think that the results would be more favorable...that is to say, more enjoyable if you helped to finish it.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck and chuckled softly.

“Show me?”

Ryoki smiled as he bent towards her.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Shinogu looked at his watch. His shift at the convenience store was almost finished. The last hour dragged slowly on and though it was predictable, it still had the power to frustrate. He was currently finding ways to cope with it, once by lining up a row of canned fruit in a perfect line, and once by dusting the same magazine rack over and over. Guilt over the way he had treated Hatsumi took up residence in the front of his mind.

“Damn Azusa…”, he sighed, running his fingers through his hair roughly.

“Fuck me…”

He had been muttering to himself all night, no wonder he was getting strange looks. The hands on the clock seemed to stand still, increasing his agitation. When it was finally time to leave, the control he had spent all night building was ready to snap at any trivial thing that he may happen across.

“Suzuki, I’m leaving!”

Only slightly noticing the answering wave, he grabbed his jacket and left.

When the doors parted, they revealed an angry looking Ryoki, staring in from the other side. Shinogu could have cursed his rotten luck. He could feel his patience slipping, he had another job to do, and people to see. He glared, even as his head screamed silently at Ryoki to just let him go.

Azusa had to be awake by now, right?

He had tried reaching him again when he arrived at work, with no luck.

As a result, he had thoughts of Azusa and Hatsumi together running through his head, making him crazy. Alright, he needed help but later, right now he just needed to get by and Ryoki looked far from complying. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted here, right at this moment, but the look in his eye promised that he wasn’t there to get coffee and chat about the old days.

“Ryoki?”

The younger man inclined his head.

“Shinogu.”

He didn’t know where the fist came from, the one that connected solidly with his mouth, ripping his lip open on his teeth and sending him in an ungraceful sprawl to the concrete. No, the source of that hand remained a mystery and as he lay amidst chewed gum, wrappers, and cigarette butts he found it really didn’t matter much. He was down here, Ryoki was up there and the situation being what the situation was, it did not seem equal. His tongue sought the rusted saltiness that stained his tongue. He could feel the slow seep out the corner of his mouth, but refused to be impressed.

“Nice shot…”

He struggled to stand and wiped at the blood at his mouth, only succeeding in smearing it across his lip and chin, not noticing, not caring.

“What the hell Ryoki?!”

The question was met with another quick blow, this time to his temple and although it was just as harsh as the last blow, he didn’t fall. Instead he was just forced against the glass door of the store, little lights danced in front of his eyes. The doors opened suddenly and Suzuki rushed out, a baseball bat raised in one hand.

“Shinogu? You all right? Want I should call the cops?”

Shinogu shook his head and stared at Ryoki, his hand extended.

“Ryoki, calm the fuck down.”

Ryoki’s hands were still clenched in tight fists but the presence of Suzuki and the baseball bat kept him from making any other move. It didn’t matter, Shinogu would not be caught unaware again. He looked at Suzuki.

“Go ahead and go back in, thanks for the concern Suzuki, but I’m alright. Besides, a couple of lame shots won’t kill me.”

Suzuki looked between the two men, as if unsure of Shinogu’s decision-making capabilities, before lowering the bat.

“Alright. Call me if you need anything.”

Shinogu thanked him again as he left, his eyes never leaving Ryoki’s face, which was cold despite the flush that was spreading up his cheeks. He was livid and seemed to grow even more so with every passing second. Ryoki seemed to be searching for words and when he finally spoke his voice was low, menacing.

“I have told you repeatedly that Hatsumi is my girlfriend.”

Shinogu blinked.

“Well...yeah.”

Ryoki stooped forward.

“Well then, since you know, logic dictates you would know that touching her is unforgivable. You hurt her, made her cry. Yet, she tries to justify what you did by trying to figure out what she did wrong. Tell me how that works, dickhead.”

Shinogu wanted to fight back. The accusations stung but weren’t false so, how could he?

What had happened to him?

When has he stopped protecting and start hurting?

He hung his head and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.

“You’re right.”

It was Ryoki’s turn to blink. What the hell?

“I crossed the line this morning, I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I never meant to hurt Hatsumi.”

He levered himself away from the wall, with a sigh.

“I’ll go talk to her now and apologize.”

He moved to step past Ryoki but his arm was seized.

“If you hurt her again…”

It was only after Shinogu acknowledged his threat that he was allowed to leave. As he walked, he pulled out his phone and dialed Azusa, reaching his voicemail again.

“Azusa, it’s Shin. We really need to talk. Hatsumi said you weren’t looking so well this morning. Are you o.k.? Call me back.”

After he hung up, he called the warehouse, making up a paper-thin excuse and begging off work the second night in a row. He would just have to take the loss. The situation demanded it. Only after this did he dial Hatsumi. She sounded nervous when she answered the phone after the third or fourth ring. He could have kicked himself for putting that uncertainty in her voice.

“Hatsumi? I need to talk to you. Do you have a moment?”

She stammered.

“I don’t know Shinogu.”

His temple had started to throb, it hurt like hell, but it helped to lend a certain amount of urgency to his request.

“Please Hatsumi.”

Silence. It seemed to stretch on for an eternity before she answered.

“Alright Shinogu, when do you want to talk?”

His relief was tangible.

“I’m on my way now, can you meet me at the park by the complex?”

When she agreed he hung up and turned up the street, picking up the pace.

He debated whether or not to try Azusa again but decided against it. If he didn’t answer again, he just might lose it. He couldn’t afford to be angry and talk to Hatsumi again, he just couldn’t trust himself anymore. His thoughts couldn’t help but linger on the recent change in his personality. It seemed to have everything to do with his feelings for Azusa. That thought stopped him short.

Feelings?

He couldn’t get past the confusion. Not on his own. After he spoke to Hatsumi, then maybe he would have a chance to talk to Azusa. His heart turned over in his chest. He wanted to see him…
He was almost jogging now; he would be there soon.

Soon
.