A ficlet centered on Yoh that takes place a few months after NT18. Assumes the reader knows what happened in NT18. Written Dec 2008.
Those incompetent idiots! he raged inwardly. If he'd still been their boss, they'd have been dead. How dare they play with Feilong's life that way?
It had been months since the incident on the ship, and in that time he'd stopped three assassination attempts, each one coming closer than the last. This time he'd had to throw his body in front of the bullet. He hadn't minded doing it, but if Feilong's guards had been doing their duties it wouldn't have been necessary. Then again, he wouldn't have been necessary.
There was a bottle and a lone used glass on the table, and he poured himself a double shot. He didn't care what the liquor was these days, as long as it wasn't vodka. He swallowed it and poured another, staring through the dirt-streaked window at the blinking neon outside the bars below.
His cell phone rang, startling him out of his morose mood. It was that ring tone. He snatched it from inside his suit coat. "Feilong-sama?"
There was silence on the other end. His heart was pounding furiously against his chest walls.
"Feilong-sama? Is everything alright? Do you need help?"
"Yoh, how long do you intend to keep this up?"
His heart slowed to a non-panic level. What a nonsensical question. He never intended to stop. Surely Feilong understood that.
"As long as I live, Feilong-sama, my life will be spent protecting yours."
"And you expect me to forgive you because of that?"
"No!" He didn't deserve that. "No. I know you can't. But my life is yours, and if you won't take it, I'll give it to you this way."
He heard a sigh, and cursed himself for causing more pain. "Feilong-sama..."
"Seven years, Yoh. You were at my side seven years. You were the first, from the time you saved me in prison, to swear to me as leader of Baishe. But you were his from the beginning, weren't you?"
What could he say? It was true.
"And in the end, you betrayed Baishe. You deceived Tao. You used me to your ends."
There was a disbelieving silence.
He'd normally not speak, but the pain and the liquor and the ache inside pushed at the cracks in his walls. "I don't mean Baishe and Tao. I did that. I'm not happy I did that to the kid, but I had to and I'd do it again. But I never used you for gain. Never. Everything I did, Feilong-sama..." /...was for you/. It sounded lame even to him.
"Everything you did was in his best interests, and not in mine."
"If you believe that you're a fool. And you're no fool. Feilong-sama, he paid me to watch and protect you. But the choice to swear my loyalty to you was mine. The only real conflict came when you brought Takaba back. Asami wanted to kill you at first. I tried to make it business. He respects that."
"What hold did he have on you? Was it just money? Thirty pieces of silver?"
A dark night some nine years ago flashed through his mind. "I owed him my life. He saw something in me worth saving, and he gave me a purpose. That purpose was you. It's never changed. It will never change."
"And now? Now that he's thrown you away?"
He couldn't let that stand. "He offered me a life elsewhere under his protection. I refused it, and asked that he consider all debts between us paid. He agreed. There are no longer obligations between us."
"So now you're a wildcard, working for no one. What if I asked you to spy on him?"
The ache grew in his chest. His loyalties had been torn for so long, his hands tied for all those years, he couldn't do it again. "I... cannot. I'm sorry. When this started, I didn't understand what it meant to have to make such a choice."
"What's so difficult about picking one boss?"
"Nothing. But this was a choice between one who owned my life, and one who owns my heart, body, and soul. I can't ignore what he's done for me. And yet I can't ignore what you are to me. What would you think of a man who could?"
Silence hung between them. The neon lights outside his dusty panes flickered erratically, as if in tune with his heart.
"So you're going to follow me around like a puppy until you die of old age or a bullet? I should just put us both out of our misery and kill you now."
"That's your choice to make. As this is mine."
"You really annoy me."
"That seems to be a habit of mine."
There was a soft snort on the line. "Was that a joke?"
Was it? He couldn't remember the last time he'd made one. "I don't know, Feilong-sama."
"You're hopeless, aren't you?"
No, just very tired, and a little drunk. But he'd never tell him that.
"I can't let you back into Baishe, Yoh."
He'd known that. But the pain in his leg had nothing on the pain of actually hearing those words. "I understand."
"It would look bad to have you on the payroll. But you may continue doing as you are. I find it... useful."
"Consider yourself to be an outside consultant. Can you afford care for your wounds? I can send someone..."
What was going on? "There's no need. I can take care of it..."
"Make sure you do."
This time the seconds of silence after the question seemed to stretch into hours. When he finally heard Feilong speak, he too sounded tired.
"I don't know why. Perhaps because I understand being torn apart inside. Perhaps because I've been where you're standing. Only things didn't turn out so well for me. Perhaps I'm beginning to understand that even enemies can become friends, if they share some concerns in common. It would be nice to talk to someone on occasion who understands this."
"Nothing. Thank you."
Friendship would never be enough. But it would be a start.
"Don't mention it. Take care of your wounds. None of this martyrdom business you seem to like. How can you protect me if you're full of bullet holes?"
He almost smiled at that. "I will. I'll be at my best to protect you."
"Hnf. I've heard that before. See that you mean it next time. I have meeting at the City Club on Wednesday. Be there."
He did smile. "Yes, Feilong-sama. I'll always be there."
"Oh please. Stop with the sap." Feilong hung up.
Yoh sat there holding the phone, still smiling a little as he stared outside, as much as he could see of outside through the dirt. It was a bit disgusting, now that he thought about it. He leaned forward and wiped at the glass with the sleeve of his suit. It was already ruined so it wasn't like he'd have to worry about the dry cleaning bill.
He sat back, groaning a little at the pain in his thigh, but a bit pleased. Now the colorful lights outside shone into the apartment.
It looks a little like Christmas, he thought.
He began to tend to his wound.