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It's late, the clock in the corner of the screen reminds me. How late, I can't be sure- my eyes blurred as the time passed, and all I can tell is that the hour's back to a single digit. 2, 3? Maybe later...

I'd been drowsing for the past while, reading, but I was sure I wouldn't remember it tomorrow- or today, even. I'd snuck the occasional glance at the screen, too, but his shows didn't interest me, as usual- I made them background noise, phrases caught and released, and moved on.

Suddenly, the room closes in, empty. I glance down the couch- he sits there, bent toward the TV, his face away from me. Is he asleep? Fascinated by the overexcited combatants onscreen? Just thinking deeply? I don't know, and it makes me ache for a minute.

I wish I understood him. But all I can do is try to break him out of it; it may be bad, but somehow, it's the next best thing. I shift my weight and he glances over slightly, not really looking away. I swing my bare feet up onto the couch and into his lap. Idly, he rubs the left and looks away from the screen at me. It's a commercial now, in any case. After a moment, he speaks.

Trying to say something?”

“Aren't you tired yet?”

“Not really. I don't need to be up tomorrow, anyway. Are you?”

“Getting there.”

“Go to bed, then.”

I force a lopsided grin.

“But I'm afraid of the dark- I want someone to come with me...”

“Thought you were older than that.”

Sometimes I'm not.”

“Yeah.”

A lull. I let it hang for a minute, then wiggle my toes against his stomach and ask again.

“You coming?”

He sighs lightly.

“You'll be fine, kid. I checked for monsters earlier. All clean.”

“But...”

I'm going to have a smoke.”

I grimace a bit. He notices. The commercial break ends and I clutch at straws.

“This episode's not over, though.”

“I've seen it before. It's all right.”

He shoves my feet off (not roughly, but there's no chance to resist) and walks to the door, pulling his pack out. His hand on the knob, he turns toward me, one eyebrow barely raised; a hint. Or a question. I stand myself up and walk the other way, into the kitchen. Not tonight.

He didn't slam it. The door sticks, that's all. You have to push harder.

Not sure what I'm doing, I run a pot of water and put it on to boil. I've got the half-dozen tins of loose tea down before I recognize the sequence I'm in. Not a green- two of them out. This one's flowery- not what I want. The next tin's too fruity, but a little bitter, too... like a bad punchline. One I don't want to hear now. That's for breakfast, not this late, even if it's getting close to that time. The last one, though; it's dark and strong and tastes (I say) like a forest fire- all the complexity overlaid with hot, acrid smoke. He says, sometimes, it tastes like a cigarette. I say I wouldn't know. He glances sideways at me- hears an indictment I didn't mean.

I shake my head and look away from where he isn't, listen for a moment to the slow paces on the sidewalk outside. It's speeding up- he'll be hunched over, walking Groucho-like before he's finished; I always expect him to turn at that point, waggle his eyebrows and deliver some one-liner about an elephant. Or the moon.

I shut the other teas back in the cabinet and measure into the pot. A little strong. That's all right. I've gotten distracted, though, and the water's almost boiling- I snatch it quickly and pour in, then set the timer. I can't keep it in my head; never could. As it starts ticking, I seal the tin again and resettle it with the others.

In the next room, the TV's still on. People call to each other in Japanese, and I catch a fragment here and there, but most of it's just politeness phrases: “domo”, “gomen”, and the rest. They're most of what I know, but they're a lot of what's being said, so it's all right. I listen until the door opens, voices I don't understand washing over me, comfortable because they mean nothing.

“I smell tea,” he calls.

“Lapsang. Want the other cup?”

“Why not? It tastes the same!”

“Oh, bugger off. I'll pour.”

I look over the sink and sigh.

The cups are gone. Mugs too.

“It's all right. I've done worse than drink tea from a glass, I'm sure.”

He's crept up behind, puts his arms around me as he speaks. I start and look back. He's grinning. Bastard. He loves to do that.

He rests his chin on my shoulder and I'm confused again. Somehow he always seems taller- it's strange, the reminder that he isn't.

The timer dings. I push his hands away slowly, lingering in his palm, then get a pair of glasses. He ruffles my hair as I pour, murmurs in my ear.

“Don't worry about the dishes. I'll wash up when we've finished.

“I'd rather you didn't... I'm still going to bed.”

He smiles.

“Want me to tell you a story?”

“Maybe. Here's your tea.”

We drink slowly. For a few sips, neither of us speaks. The voices from the TV are enough.

His hair slips into his eyes and I brush it back: I want to see. He glances at me curiously, and I feel compelled to say something.

Would you mind terribly if I kissed you?”

“You have to ask, still?”

He tastes of sweet ash- they're cloves again. Then I feel his hands on my back and his tongue at my lips, and forget to worry about that.

After a long moment, the feeling pulls away, though I want it to stay. He laughs quickly, almost nervously.

“No sense wasting good tea. Can't let it get cold.”

Tease.”

“No, but the stubble... it rubs me the wrong way.”

“You and your excuses. Miss one lousy little shave...”

I pout, not meaning it. He pats my cheek, and the words seem to slip out of his mouth before he thinks of them.

I love you.”

My tea is gone.

“Go on to bed, kid. I'll join you in a minute- you'll just have to hide from the monsters 'til then.”

I throw my arms around him and he stumbles back against the counter; he laughs at me again.

“Calm down- we'll have time for that later. Excitable much?”

I kiss him on the cheek.

“I love you too, you know.”

He rubs a hand against my shoulder as I flee upstairs.

“I know.”

I hear glasses clink and the water starts running. Over everything else, he hums along with the closing theme from the TV.

...fureau nowa itami dake

Futari wo musunde kudasai...

 

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