Pairing(s)/Characters: Yohji Kudoh and Ken Hidaka
Summary: Ken is feeling the weight of his life with Weiss
Warnings: Post-OVA, Pre-drama CDs. May contain spoilers. Strong Language.
Author’s Notes: Prompt-free
Disclaimer: Weiss Kreuz is the creation of Koyasu Takehito and the production of Project Weiss. The characters, settings, and events herein are used without permission for fan entertainment purposes only.
It was too early to call it an evening, but too late to make other plans.
Well, that was not strictly true, but Yohji Kudoh did not feel up to trolling the bars a second time that night.
Stopping on a street corner, Yohji pulled out a cigarette and placed it thoughtfully between his lips. A few blocks away, the elongated shape of the RV sat in its parking space, half-enshrouded in velvet darkness like a whore in a rich man's den. Sordid thoughts, and Yohji wanted no part of them, but the smoke that twisted and clouded his vision as he exhaled only enhanced the image.
There was no helping it, he supposed, and decided it didn't matter. It was a fitting enough image for the place he now called home. If he could have no woman of flesh and blood by his side, a whore of metal and plastic would do. The question was would he have her alone?
Omi wouldn't share her; he had gone to the library and then to a friend's to study. He performed his school work by correspondence, it was true, but had managed to make study friends in most of the major cities that Weiss visited in their mobile flower shop. They kept him up to date on the local schoolwork and the nights he kept in their company were nights away from the oppressive presence of his teammates. Yohji did not begrudge him.
Aya wouldn't share her; he had no doubt left on one of his jaunts. The RV towed a vehicle behind it when it was on the road – its purpose was to take them from mission to mission – and Aya used it liberally to keep track of his sister's activities. Yohji thought the stalker-like activity was disturbing at best, but supposed that his evenings away helped him the way the nights of study helped Omi. And Yohji could find no fault with that either.
Ken was another matter.
Yohji had his own nights away, nights spent in the company of women, lost in warm flesh and sweet scents. This was to be one of them, but his companion was younger than she looked – in spirit, if not in age – and cold feet had driven Yohji from her bed. It was by his own choice, not hers, for she swore to deliver what she had promised with the liberal use of alcohol and marijuana, but Yohji had refused. It would never be said that Yohji Kudoh forced his dates, nor that he had settled for less than what he wanted, and what he wanted was a woman who wanted him in return.
Ken, on the other hand, went nowhere. Or, if he did, Yohji had no knowledge of it. Sometimes, if he found a park, Ken would take a battered soccer ball out and kick it around. When he was lucky, this would develop into a game of scrimmage that would last the afternoon. Some evenings, when there were no missions, he would stalk off into the night – a vessel of adrenaline and anger – and not return for hours. Even so, he always beat the dawn. Ken simply did not disappear overnight.
hich meant, Yohji decided as he walked slowly toward the trailer, that Ken was probably home. As he approached, a faint flickering of blue in the windows of the RV confirmed his suspicions. Yohji sighed and dropped his cigarette a few feet from the door, grinding it out with the toe of his shoe.
It was not that he minded Ken's presence – Yohji would have gone so far as to call him a friend – but he wasn't in the mood for company and the space between them had been decidedly...chill for quite some time. There was something wrong with Weiss, something that went beyond a lack of personal space, and a large part of it had to do with Ken.
It was not a matter of placing blame – Yohji knew that his own irritation and impatience was growing stronger by the day, and it was only thanks to his frequent 'dates' that he managed to keep them in check. He had no desire to fight with his teammates. And yet...
There was something especially wrong with Ken. Irritability and impatience were the least of it – Ken was never very patient to begin with – and he seemed to emit an aura of restless hostility that could be felt even when he was in a good mood. Smiles were strained and laughter sounded forced and brittle. Ever since that incident with Kaori and Akira... Ever since he killed General Powell...
No, Yohji decided. This had started long before Powell, perhaps even before their near death at the Ani Museum. It might have started as far back as Yuriko...Kaze...
It might have started the day he woke up in Kritiker's care.
It was a subject that Yohji supposed could be given over to philosophy – how does the soul die? – but he wasn't much of a philosopher and he was definitely not in the mood. Whatever it was, whenever it had started, Powell's death had switched its gears, pushing it into overdrive. Ken's mental health was declining rapidly, spurred, perhaps, by his lack of an outlet. The real joke was that Yohji was not entirely sure that anyone else had noticed. Aya was busy, Omi was busy, and he had so many things on his mind that only his instinct for things out of place had called his attention to it at all. They felt it, Yohji was sure about that, but whether they understood it was a different matter.
Yohji opened the door to the RV gently, so as not to make a sound, and closed it just as softly behind him. – even old whores were worthy of respect. Its interior was lit only by the flickering images of the television, which traced in blue the outlines of take-out noodle bowls, a pizza box, and several cans of beer. It also cast its glow over Ken, who slumped back on the sofa, toying with the tab of his current drink.
"You're home early," he said, and took a sip.
Is that what you've been doing all day?" Yohji said. "Eating junk and drinking beer?" If so, then things were worse than Yohji could fathom. Binging, on anything, was not Ken's way.
"Ah, you forgot the trashy movies," Ken said, nonchalant.
"Everyone needs trashy movies sometimes," Yohji said. He considered going straight to bed, but one look at Ken changed his mind. It was bad enough that Ken was visibly drunk – something Yohji had never seen before – but there was a glassy dimness in his eyes that went beyond mere inebriation. It bore watching. "You mind if I join you?"
"Go ahead, it's your couch too."
Yohji settled in on the far end of the sofa and lit another cigarette. Ken scowled briefly in the flickering light, but said nothing. He was used to Yohji's cigarettes and had long since stopped complaining, no matter what he thought of the smell.
"No chance it's porn?" Yohji said, trying to lighten the mood. Ken scowled again, a flicker of expression in the television's blue light.
"Horror," he said. "That's all that's on. But there's...there's some nudity."
The slight falter made Yohji smile. Some things never changed.
"I was rattling your cage, Ken," he said amiably. "Don't take it too seriously. It's sad that I even have to tell you that. Are you turning into Aya?"
Ken snorted. "Yeah, right." He casually flipped open the pizza box and fished out one of the remaining slices. He caught Yohji's eye and gestured toward the rest, but Yohji declined. He wasn't in the mood for greasy take out.
Ken only shrugged. "Your loss," he said, taking a bite and turning back to the movie. "Going out again?"
"Not tonight," Yohji told him. "Mind if I grab a beer?"
Ken shrugged again, so Yohji helped himself to a can, sipping it as an awkward silence fell between them. Another might have felt the need to break it, but Yohji decided to watch and wait. So much could be learned by mere observation.
For one thing, his original jibe about Ken spending the day binging had been somewhat off the mark. Now that he'd had a chance to adjust to the darkness of the trailer, Yohji could tell that Ken had been out exercising. He was wearing one of the shirts he reserved for working out and beneath the beery haze that surrounded them was the faint smell of dried sweat. Whatever he had done, Ken had decided upon coming back that the rest of the day wasn't worth any effort on his part.
Or even a nod in the direction of good health, Yohji decided as Ken plunked down an empty can and picked up a full one.
"Better watch it," Yohji warned him, half in jest. "That stuff'll kill ya."
"And you would know," Ken said sourly.
It was a bitter, vicious reply, coming from Ken. It stunned Yohji more than it stung him. "That's right," he said, letting the words wash over him. "I'm a professional and my liver regrets it, but not my libido."
This startled a strained chuckle from Ken, which Yohji regarded as progress. Feeling daring enough to impart a bit of wisdom into his conversation, he added, "Buying a young lady a drink is a good way to say hello."
This didn't encourage the good-natured chatter he had hoped for. Instead of falling into the trap of master and student, Ken frowned. "Why did you come back, Yohji?"
"Bad luck," Yohji told him. "The lady was a hell of a flirt, but not ready for the big time."
"And you just left?"
"Well, I wasn't going to force her," Yohji said stiffly. Ken's tone was derisive and it rankled, calling up the frustrations Yohji thought he had laid to rest. "I didn't feel like going back to the bar, so I came home. I hope that's not a problem," he finished on a warning note. "At least I made an effort."
The reply was muted, almost sad, and it frustrated Yohji more than the barbed response he was expecting. The flipping from hot to cold, from disinterest to cutting remarks was an annoyance. Yohji considered asking him what his problem was, but Ken spoke first, breaking the silence between them almost shyly with a question that he couched in feigned boredom.
"Yohji, do you think we'll have a mission tomorrow?"
"Is that what's worrying you?" Yohji said. He was almost relieved. Ken was not the sort from whom he expected a case of nerves – not this late in the game – but misson anxiety was something he could understand. "It's up to Persia, so I couldn't tell you, but I doubt it's anything to worry about. We haven't had a big job since..." Yohji cut himself off before he could mention Akira or Powell. "Well, we haven't had one in a while. And with the new check system, it takes some time for the jobs to come through."
"I hate that," Ken said. "I was hoping we would."
The reply so surprised Yohji that he froze with his mouth open, checking himself before he could offer a comforting reply. Ken didn't seem to notice and switched the station abruptly from bloodthirsty ghosts to the news. On the whole, Yohji found the ghosts to be less disturbing.
"These guys," Ken said when the news announcers switched from a major traffic accident to the case of a circle of scam artists preying on the elderly and draining their savings. "Do you think they'll be next? We could look into them now. To be ready, you know?"
Yohji hesitated. What could he say? The eagerness creeping into Ken's voice was unnatural and unnerving.
"That's Kritiker's job," he said, "or what's left of it. And fraud is something the police can handle. It's not our place to interfere. We could jeopardize their investigation."
"It isn't always something the police can handle," Ken pointed out. It was too dark for Yohji to tell for certain, but, judging by his tone, Ken was flush with excitement. "If one of the major families..."
"Ken," Yohji said sharply, trying to break the reverie before it went any further. "That is for Persia to decide. Sometimes the law can bring down even the rich and famous. Anything else..."
He didn't need to say it: anything else was mere murder. Weiss itself rode above the law, protected by Persia and Kritiker, but if they stepped beyond their bounds, no one would be there to save them.
"I know what it is!" Ken snapped, jumping to his feet as though a greater height could improve his argument. "I fucking know! I'm not saying go out and kill them, I'm saying look into them! Are we supposed to trust Persia or Kritiker after...after all that bullshit Powell put us through?"
Yohji looked up at Ken. With the television at his back, he was nothing but a looming shadow in the dark, but Yohji fixed a steady stare on the place where his eyes should be.
"Yes," he said simply. "We are supposed to trust Persia to learn from people like Powell. We are supposed to trust Kritiker's new check system."
"It's stupid!" Ken was swaying slightly on his feet, but it didn't prevent him from painting his vision with broad gestures. "How do we know they're right?"
"They have better training than we do, for one," Yohji said, neglecting to put forth his own investigative skills, "and we'll be given the chance to look into it on our own, after the mission has been given."
"Ken, you're drunk." Yohji said, resisting the urge to stand and impose his taller height on his teammate. He needed to make Ken back down without a show of force; to meet him on the field was to invite a longer battle. "I'm not going to argue with you when you're drunk. Talk to me about it in the morning if you want to and don't be so fucking anxious to take another life."
Ken hovered above him, breathing heavily in long, slow pulls, and Yohji braced himself for a fight. Either Ken's anger would get the better of him and he'd throw a punch or he would back away.
After an agonizing moment that felt like an hour, Ken straightened up and stumbled away. "Gotta take a piss," he mumbled, a half-hearted excuse.
"Do that and you'll be pissing all night," Yohji said, hoping to lighten the mood.
"If I don't I'll be pissing right now," Ken snapped in return and vanished outside, presumably to avoid filling the RV's holding tank, or perhaps just to get some fresh air.
Yohji let him go without comment. He knew better than to push his luck.
Once Ken had left, Yohji breathed a deep sigh and turned off the television. Then he reached up to flick on a light. The inside of the RV lit with a warm glow that helped to dispel some of the tension that had built up between him and Ken.
He lit another cigarette and was surprised to find his hands were shaking. He might have won the argument, but Yohji knew it had been a close call. They were both good fighters, but Ken fought best in close quarters, and if he had lost his temper...
Yohji breathed out a thin plume of smoke. Things were getting worse. Ken was getting worse. If he was thinking of jumping the gun and finding targets before Kritiker could have its say, then he was on his way to becoming a liability. The only bright side was that Ken's interest had only been in the field of investigation; he had yet to suggest a hunt without orders.
The mess Ken had left was starting to get on Yohji's nerves. He had never been the tidiest of the four, but his tolerance ended at the sight of empty food containers. Knowing Ken would be in no mood or condition to take care of it when he came back, Yohji started to clean. He even made an effort to separate the recycling from the regular garbage and put the leftover pizza in the fridge. If Ken really wanted the rest, he could eat it ice cold.
It occurred to him then that if Ken was in no condition to clean, he was apt to be in no condition to climb up to the sleeping berth. Chosen for functionality rather than comfort, the RV sported the kind of bed that was little more than a narrow space in the ceiling above the driver's cabin. There was just room enough for four people to lie down, provided that they could climb up in the first place. Yohji often slept on the sofa below simply because he couldn't be bothered to do that much crawling just to get to bed, not to mention the threat to his image if he was caught sleeping tucked in beside three other men. Even so, he would have to consider switching places. Ken was likely to be hung over in the morning, if not up and down all night, and that first step out of the loft was a big one.
Yohji went about bedtime preparations, digging up some extra strength pain reliever, pouring a large glass of water, and hunting up pillows and blankets. He was thinking that Ken was lucky he'd come back early, when he realized that Ken was taking a very long time to answer a call of nature. Even if he wanted to get some air, he wouldn't have gone too far, unless...
Yohji froze as a chill ran down his spine. Could Ken have run off just to prove his point? Surely he was too drunk to go out hunting tonight, but if the drink had impaired his reason, if he thought that he could show Yohji up...
The door of the RV opened just as Yohji began to curse his luck, his quick tongue, and the whole night that had left him wanting. Ken stepped back into the RV, grimacing against the light. He looked pale and slightly shaken. Yohji wondered if he had been sick.
"Christ, Kudoh," Ken grunted, shielding his eyes. "Just fucking blind me, why don't you." He fumbled for the light, but Yohji batted his hands away.
"Grin and bear it," he advised, cigarette tucked into the corner of his mouth. "You'll get yourself killed stumbling around in the dark."
"You didn't need to clean the place up either," Ken snapped, damned if he would let Yohji decide when he was finished complaining. "I was going to get to it."
"You should go to bed," Yohji said soothingly.
"I wasn't done with my movie."
"You weren't watching your movie, you were watching the news."
"I can turn back to the damned movie, Kudoh!"
There was anger in Ken's words and Yohji didn't doubt its sincerity. Gregarious and familiar, Ken never used anyone's family name unless he was truly irritated. His blood was rising too, Yohji noted as a deep flush drove away the paleness in his face.
"Just go to bed, Ken," Yohji said. "Take the aspirin, drink the water. You can sleep down here tonight. You'll feel better in the morning."
The words were meant to be gentle, reassuring, but they only fueled Ken's ire. His angry flush darkened to a thunderous purple and Yohji instinctively loosened the wire clasp on his watch, much to his embarrassment. Ken didn't seem to notice.
"And what the fuck would you know about it?" Ken roared. "What makes you the goddamned expert? How do you know what's going to be all right if half the time you aren't even fucking here? How would you even know..."
Ken clenched and unclenched his hands, tightening them into fists and then loosening them as if he couldn't decide whether or not he wanted to throw a punch. Yohji knew better; Ken was missing the weight of his bugnuks. He didn't just want to throw a punch; he wanted to kill. Yohji could see the rage rising in him although he couldn't fathom exactly what he had said to bring it on.
"Ken..." he said cautiously.
"Shut-up!" Ken snapped. "SHUT-UP!" He balled his fists and Yohji prepared for an attack, but instead of swinging at his teammate, Ken slammed his fist into a cupboard door with a splintering crack.
"Just shut-up," Ken said, his voice raw from shouting. He cradled his hand and flexed it carefully. Yohji could see it was undamaged, although it was undoubtedly sore. "It's not going to be better, okay? You think this is the first time I've sat around drinking and watching movies? You think it's the first time the rest of you have been gone all night? I don't need your help, Kudoh. You should'a just stayed gone..."
Ken reached out with his good hand and doused the lights, plunging the RV into velvety darkness until Yohji's eyes grew accustomed the light filtering in from the street lamps. He didn't say anything when Ken fumbled around in the refrigerator for another beer. He didn't say anything when Ken collapsed back onto the sofa, although he was relieved that the television stayed off. He didn't say anything because he didn't know what to say and couldn’t bring himself to fill the silence with nonsense. This time, it was the right approach.
"There was a kid outside," Ken said as he pulled the tab on the beer. His tone was hushed, almost frightened. "Teenager, I guess. Had some friends with him. He was just a kid, doing stupid kid stuff. Trying to act tough. Roughing up some other kid. You know...punk kid."
Yohji knew. He'd come across his share of gangs. Delinquent kids, making trouble, getting involved in petty crimes. None of which should make the beer can tremble in Ken's hands, fearful of his grip.
"I yelled at them. They went away. The other kid ran too." The can began to buckle in Ken's hand. "I wouldn't have gone out if you weren't here."
You wanted to kill them, didn't you? Yohji thought. It should have been appalling, but it only burdened Yohji with a heavy sadness. He wondered how many nights alone Ken had spent in front of the television, sedating himself with alcohol and food, trying to find reasons to stay indoors, pouring his rage into bad gore flicks. Too many, yes, but compared to the alternative...
Yohji sighed and allowed the clasp on his watch to click shut once again. He lit a cigarette with trembling hands and leaned back against the counter. "So you yelled at a kid, so what? Sounds like they deserved it."
Burdened by the stress of his confession, Ken chuckled bitterly. "That isn't..."
"I know," Yohji said, "but wanting and doing are two different things." He paused for a moment, savouring his cigarette while he had the chance. “Have you mentioned this to the others? To Kritiker?”
“No,” Ken said, tracing the rim of his beer can. “Not the others. Manx...she brought our food allowance once while you were all out. Caught me, kinda...like you did, but...”
Ken trailed off, lost in thought, Yohji let him wander a bit before calling him back. “But?”
“It wasn’t a good part of town, you know? Some guy was bugging her, so I hit him,” Ken said. “I thought, you know, she’s tough and could probably take care of him, but wouldn’t want her cover blown, so I’d do the gallant thing and all, only...I didn’t. Think that, I mean. I thought that after...when I needed an excuse. For hitting him. Again, I mean.”
And again, thought Yohji. The look on Ken’s face, a contortion of anguish and an anger that never seemed to fade, told him that a single blow would not have been enough to satisfy his ‘gallantry’. Again, and again.
Yohji mentioned none of this. Instead, he prodded gently, hoping that he was not misreading the faint relief that was creeping into Ken’s voice, his hands, the lines of his body, and Ken would keep talking. “What did she say?”
“She said I should hit something else instead,” Ken replied dully. “Anything else that will stop me being angry. She said Kritiker doesn’t have the resources for someone like me, not anymore. She said they shoot mad dogs.”
Yohji couldn’t bring himself to be surprised. Kritiker had lost a lot in the battles against Reiji Takatori and the elders of Esset. Manx might be sympathetic, but she was an intermediary and could offer nothing but her advice. The warning, though grim, was the best she could do. It was better than no warning at all.
“Ken, I...” Yohji began, but was quickly cut off.
“Don’t let them, okay?” Ken said. “And don’t tell the others. Just...if it gets bad...”
Yohji didn’t need to hear the rest of the sentence.
Just...if it gets bad...kill me yourself.
“All right,” Yohji said.
“Yeah.” Yohji stubbed out the last of his cigarette and promptly lit another. “Omi’ll ask about the cupboard, you know.”
“I’ll tell him I banged it accidentally. It’s worked before,” Ken said, eyes glassy and voice distant.
Yohji took this as a sign that his anger was abating and exhaustion was settling in. “Is it dangerous to suggest again that you go to bed? You’ll regret it in the morning if you don’t and we both know you’re not going to drink that now.”
Ken looked down at the beer can he was playing with and offered it a bitter smile. “No, I guess I won’t.”
“Have the aspirin and drink the water too. They won’t stop a headache, but maybe you won’t feel completely like shit.”
“All right, Yohji.”
Back on a first-name basis, Yohji felt emboldened. “And don’t make me keep my promise. What are you trying to do, you bastard? Kill me?”
Ken’s smile faded somewhat, but lost its bitterness. “Okay,” he said.
Yohji waited as Ken disposed of his beer can, obediently swallowed the painkillers and the water, and took a quick wash in the sink. He nearly protested when Ken began to climb into the loft, but he seemed steady enough, so Yohji let him be and waited until he had flopped over and rolled up against the outside edge of the RV before climbing up behind him. Omi – late to bed and early to rise – usually slept on the same side, near the ladder, but tonight Yohji stretched himself out in that space.
“No sofa?” Ken said, sounding genuinely curious. “There’s lotsa room on the other side...”
“I’m not going to tell the kid I let your drunk ass fall out of bed in the middle of the night,” Yohji told him. He heard Ken chuckle softly – a soft and almost broken sound – and thought that his teammate’s safety was only part of it. His earlier frustration had nearly vanished, but new worries had begun to surface and Yohji feared that they would not be as easily dismissed. Kritiker might have no time or patience for diseases of the mind, but...
“Even mad dogs are loved,” he said quietly. Ken, already asleep, did not reply.
Old whore, Yohji thought, trailing his fingers over the ceiling of the sleeping berth while Ken breathed deeply beside him. The metal shell meant different things to different people, he supposed. Lover, mother healer; he had met prostitutes that could be all three. We’ve given you flowers, we’ve brought you around the countryside. We bring you youth and beauty every day. If there’s anything in you that can heal a shattered soul, now’s the time...
Yohji did not consider himself a spiritual man and the semblance of a prayer offered no comfort. The dark, secure womb of the sleeping loft did not reassure him. Nevertheless, he drifted into sleep, his dreams interrupted by visions of moonlight glinting on wire and the blackness of blood under the street lamps.