and there's not enough room
in this world for my pain
signals cross and love gets lost
and time passed makes it plain
of all my demon spirits
I need you the most
I'm in love with your ghost


--Indigo Girls, "Ghost"




"You're moving to New York?"

"Yeah." Keiji was obviously not looking at Jesse. He stood with his hands in his pockets and looked somewhere off to the side, at a particularly interesting spot on the wall. "I've got too many ghosts here, y'know? I. . . I just gotta get away. I wasn't able to get far enough for college, so. . . well, I got a friend in New York and he can set me up for a while until I find my own place. . ."

Jesse wanted to grab Keiji by the shoulders and shake. You have family here! You have people here who love you! he wanted to yell. Stop bitching about your nonexistent 'ghosts' and open your eyes! But he didn't say any of that. Instead, he asked when Keiji was leaving.

Keiji licked his lips. "July 1st."

He must have had his ticket for a long time, Jesse thought, distantly. And he didn't tell me.

"I'm sorry." Keiji's voice was low.

"No," Jesse murmured. "It's okay."

---

Keiji stood at the airport window, one hand pressed against the glass. He could see his reflection just barely, a ghostly outline superimposed over the airplanes and runways outside. His breath misted faintly upon the smooth surface and faded just as quickly, without Keiji taking any notice of its ever having been there. Presently, he exhaled and bowed his head, pressing his forehead, too, to the glass. It was cool against his skin.

Jesse hadn't been able to see him off at the airport. He'd left for the Middle East for a dig, two weeks ago. Keiji had seen him off then; they'd hugged and kissed and said goodbye, and Jesse had promised to write.

Airports have such large windows, he thought. Why do they have such big windows? To afford you a better sight of the place you're leaving? Or is it to amuse the little children, who want to squeal at the planes as they depart and arrive? He could see some of them now, out of the corner of his eye, faces and palms pressed eagerly against the glass.

He didn't want to leave. But he had to.

---

Jesse sent emails, at first, because he knew Keiji preferred email, and he didn't want Keiji to be charged for roaming. Keiji didn't respond to any of them, and at first Jesse thought it was all right, because after all Keiji was finding his feet in a brand new city and he probably didn't have Internet access in his apartment yet. Or maybe he hadn't found an apartment at all. There were endless reasons. But Jesse continued to send emails, some of them just telling Keiji how his day had gone, and always ending with, "I miss you, write back soon." At first he sent them every three days, and then once a week, and then just whenever he sat down at the computer and happened to remember that he hadn't sent a letter to Keiji lately. For his part, Keiji didn't respond to any of them.

Keiji wasn't on AIM, either, as far as Jesse could see.

He tried calling Keiji, too, when it became clear that the emails weren't working. The phone would ring and ring, and then the voice mail would come on. Jesse left messages the first few times, but after a while he just hung up whenever he heard the recorded voice.

Then, one time he called, and a different voice--but still recorded--told him that the number had been disconnected and was no longer in service. Jesse turned the phone off without listening to the rest of the message.

---

One day, Mr. Amano opened his door and found Jesse on his doorstep. He looked taller, he thought. Or, no--he just felt taller. He was browner, too. Where had the young man spent his summer?

"Jesse!" Mr. Amano surprised him by smiling broadly. "It's been a long time! Why don't you come in?"

"Er--thank you." Jesse stepped into the house hesitantly and toed his shoes off first. Mr. Amano smiled; Keiji had taught him well. "I'm sorry to drop in so suddenly--"

"Never mind, never mind." Mr. Amano closed the door behind their unexpected guest. "It's a Sunday; who is going anywhere? Sit down. Would you like anything to drink?"

"N-no, it's okay."

He's so shy, Mr. Amano thought amusedly as he went into the kitchen. He was quiet whenever Keiji brought him over, too.

Mei-Hua was there, attending to her houseplants. "Who was it?"

"Jesse." Mr. Amano opened the refrigerator, wondering what Jesse would like to drink, and then suddenly remembered that Jesse had refused his offer. Oops. Nonetheless, he snagged two glasses from the cupboard and filled them both with water from the Brita.

"Oh? Keiji's young man? We haven't seen him for a while!" She wiped her hands on a pink-and-white dishcloth. "Do you--do you suppose he's heard from Keiji?"

Mr. Amano paused in the act of filling a third glass of water, since he had a feeling his wife wanted to join them as well. "I--I don't know. I wouldn't get my hopes up, Mei."

Mei-Hua tried not to look like she was wringing her hands in worry. "Oh, but--he hasn't called or written or anything since he left, Ken."

"He didn't say he would," Mr. Amano said grimly, putting the half-empty Brita filter back in its spot in the fridge. "You know that boy, Mei. He won't lie, so he just won't say anything. Come on, take your glass."

Jesse looked rather puzzled as the glass of water was set in front of him, but seemed grateful that it gave him something to do. He took a small sip and set the glass back on the coffee table. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Mr. Amano took a swallow from his glass and set it down. "So what brings you here, Jesse? This can hardly be a social call." He grinned to show he was joking, and was relieved to see Jesse relax a little.

"I guess you're right." Jesse rubbed the back of his neck in what was clearly a nervous gesture of some sort. "I--I wanted to ask if you'd, um, heard from Keiji or anything, actually."

Silence galloped heavily into the room.

It was Mei-Hua who sent it shying away. "No," she said regretfully. "He hasn't called, or sent us emails, or anything."

"We've been wondering ourselves, actually." Mr. Amano's voice was quiet. "You haven't heard anything from him, either?"

It was heartbreaking, the way Jesse seemed to deflate with the weight of disappointment. He must have been hoping very badly that Keiji had contacted his parents. "No."

Mei-Hua shook her head. "Don't mind him," she said. "Sometimes, Keiji, he's stupid. He doesn't see things."

The corners of Jesse's mouth lifted a little. "I know."

---

Jesse didn't know where Alicia lived. Keiji had introduced them, but they'd talked only once or twice. He didn't know her that well; she was much older than they were, and moved in different circles. But he had her email address. He hoped it was the current one.


From: inthewilderness@shike.org
To: ayamano@theregister.com
Subject: Have you seen Keiji?

Message:


Hey, it's Jesse. Remember me? Keiji's boyfriend? Well, Keiji moved to New York a few months ago, and I haven't heard from him since then, so I was just wondering if you knew anything.


Thanks,

Jesse Clarke
He wasn't expecting a reply so soon, but a few hours later, Jesse found a new message in his inbox.

From: ayamano@theregister.com
To: inthewilderness@shike.org
Subject: Re: Have you seen Keiji?

Message:

He moved to NEW YORK??? The little prick didn't tell me! Shit. Call me at 636-555-7283 after 7 PM tonight. Oh, and email me at yuki_chan76@yahoo.com from now on. This one's for work.

Alicia

Crap, Jesse thought. But he shot back a reply anyway.


From: inthewilderness@shike.org
To: yuki_chan76@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: Have You seen Keiji?

Message:

Sorry! I didn't know he didn't tell you! Um. You can call me, too, at 213-555-9461

Jesse


As it turned out, Alicia called him first. He jumped when his phone rang at 7 PM sharp and scrambled, frantically searching for the source of the electronic chiming. He had a little trouble fishing them out of his jeans, but managed to answer it just after the third ring.

"Hello?" he said, hoping he wasn't as breathless as he sounded and feeling a little silly.

"Hello?" The voice sounded familiar, though distorted through his cell phone. "Is this Jesse?"

"Yes! Yes. Is this Alicia?"

"Yeah. Hey, what's this about Keiji moving to New York? When?"

"Um. Yeah." Jesse felt guilty for no real reason. It wasn't as if this were his fault. "In the beginning of July."

"Fuck." Jesse blinked. "The little bastard. I thought he'd just disappeared again. Sometimes he does that. I mean. He just won't contact me for months, and then he'll call me out of the blue and won't shut up. I didn't think he'd actually moved. Why the hell didn't he tell me?"

Her relationship with her brother was very strange; she was used to him just dropping out of sight every so often? Jesse felt bad, though. It must suck to have a guy you barely knew tell you that your little brother had up and moved to New York for no apparent reason.

"So why the hell did he leave?"

"I don't really know. I mean, he said something about leaving his ghosts behind, and how he just needed to get away." Jesse missed having a phone cord sometimes. When he was younger, he used to play with the cord, twisting and twining it around his fingers. He wanted something to fidget with now. "I thought he'd tell you. I thought you were really close."

"Yeah, well, there's a lot of things he didn't tell me, I'm sure." It sounded almost like a growl. "I thought he'd at least tell me if he moved across the United States! I thought his family meant more to him than that."

"He hasn't contacted his parents, either."

"Shit. They knew? No, of course they knew. Why didn't they--never mind, they probably assumed I knew, too. Argh." There was a clattering, rustling sound in the background, and then what sounded like a meow. "Mephistopheles! Get away from the phone!"

She named her cat Mephistopheles? Jesse thought incredulously. Well, he supposed it could be a suitable name for a cat, if a bit long and unwieldy.

"Okay, the cat's getting jealous of the phone again. Mephisto!" There was another crash. "Shit. I'll call you later, okay? Just--damn. My brother's an idiot. Don't get too down about this, okay? He's a fucking selfish idiot."

The connection went dead.

---

"Hey, so what do you do?"

"I fight fires."

"Really?" Keiji arched, grinning feline-sharp, his skin moon-pale in the darkness against the sheets. Bill or Biff or Kevin or whatever his name was had a moustache that tickled against his chest as he kissed his way down, divesting Keiji of his jeans along the way. He was experienced. Keiji liked that.

"Yeah, really," said Bill or Biff or Kevin. Maybe it was Bill. Or was it Kevin? It might be Jeff.

"That's hot."

"Y'think?" Whatshisname moved up to kiss Keiji. He wasn't used to kissing people with facial hair. It got in the way. If he stayed, maybe Keiji would ask him to shave it off.

"Yeah." Keiji purred. "It's sexy. It's really fuckin' hot."

The other man laughed in a low, easy manner that made Keiji think he got that a lot. He probably did. "What makes you say that?"

"The boots. The hat. The axe. Everything." Keiji peeled the man's shirt off, running his hands down his muscled torso. He thought his name might be Jeff after all; he had a dim memory of him introducing himself earlier that evening, in the bar. "You lay your life on the line for other people."

"I've always wanted to run into burning buildings for a living." Jeff's hands were cold as they traced their way down Keiji's belly, down down down into the nest of thick, wiry hair. "Ever since I was little."

Keiji caught his breath in a pleasurable inward hiss. "That's cool. That's really cool."

"What about you?" His hands were still cold, but they gradually grew warmer as he moved in light, teasing strokes. His skin was rough.

"You don't want to know about my job."

"Aw, c'mon."

Keiji's laughter was like barbed wire. "I work nine to five for The Man. I have to wear a tie. I hate my job."

"Why don't you quit?" Jeff was kissing him again, on his neck, across his collarbone. Keiji tilted his arms around Jeff's shoulders, rubbing the planes of his shoulders, feeling his muscles. Maybe his name was really Paul. He couldn't remember.

"It pays. It's what I went to college for. Oh, that's good." Jeff's hands had tightened, moving quicker. "That's good. Keep doing that. No, no, stop."

Jeff stopped, his voice full of concern. "What's wrong? Did I do something wrong?"

"No. No." Keiji's breathing was rapid-quick against Jeff's shoulder. Maybe it was Kevin? Or Bill? No, it was Jeff, right? "I want you to fuck me."

"Don't have to ask me twice." Jeff laughed. "Where's the lube?"

"Nightstand. Top drawer. Condoms are in there, too."

Jeff laughed as he moved in the darkness. "You're prepared for everything, aren't you?" Keiji said nothing, but he watched through half-lidded eyes as Jeff applied a drop of lube in the condom and rolled it on. It was forever before he twisted back onto the bed, running one hand along Keiji's thigh. Keiji closed his eyes.

A cold, slippery finger probed and tested, and Keiji hissed. Jeff murmured an apology and worked his way in slowly. Keiji muttered something that sounded like, "don't be a pussy" and clamped down. Jeff laughed and began to work in a second finger, his free hand stroking Keiji slowly. Before long he had three fingers in and Keiji was moaning and squirming, and he actually whimpered when Jeff's fingers left. He didn't have long to wait, because then Jeff pushed in and Keiji was left making weak, tiny sounds.

"Shit, you make any more noise and this won't last long." Jeff grunted as he pulled out and began to push in again in regular, rolling motions. Keiji moaned and bucked up, his cock rubbing between their bodies, locking his ankles together behind Jeff's shoulders. Jeff groaned and buried his face against Keiji's shoulder. "Fuck."

Keiji choked out a laugh as he rocked his hips up again. The mattress began to protest. "You are."

Jeff's chuckle turned into a moan as Keiji moved underneath him. "I've always wanted to fuck an Asian guy."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You're all so damn gorgeous." Jeff's broad hands clutched at Keiji's hips. He would probably have bruises in the morning. "And you don't have hair on your ass."

"I'm not gorgeous."

"Yeah you are. Don't argue. You're fucking beautiful." Jeff's moustache didn't tickle anymore when he kissed. Keiji's head was tilted up, his shoulders lifted, and he took advantage of the bared neck, tonguing and nipping and licking.

Keiji gasped and shuddered, and found he was beginning to lose coherency. Each stroke was hotter and hotter, hitting that point deep inside that made his head go light. Sparks began to flash behind his eyes--were they closed?--as everything began to coil tight, centering on his groin. And then he came, silently, as he always did, teeth clenched and hips bucking. He heard Jeff groan in the distance, and then he went limp.

There was a mess cooling on both their stomachs. Keiji didn't feel inclined to move, but somehow Jeff did, slipping out wetly and flopping down beside him. There was a slithering sound as he pulled off the condom, and then a splat as he threw it into the trash can by the bed.

"I'm not beautiful," Keiji muttered.

"Yeah, whatever."

---

One Sunday morning in late November, Jesse Elijah Clarke-Stevens opened the door to bring in the newspaper when he saw a ghost on the sidewalk. He blinked several times, rubbed his eyes with one hand, and looked again, fully expecting the ghost to be gone. It wasn't. It--or rather, he--stood uncertainly on the pavement, waiting.

"Don't just stand there," Jesse tried not to croak, "come in."

Keiji smiled. It looked like he hadn't smiled in a long time.

"Who is it?" A pretty strawberry-blonde woman peered over her husband's shoulder.

"An old friend," Jesse told her. "Can you get us some coffee, Laura? I imagine he's had a long trip."

"Your wife?" Keiji said, when he reached the front stoop. "You're a lucky guy."

"Thank you." Well, wasn't this awkward? Keiji's eyes kept sliding from one side to the other, never quite meeting Jesse's. How long had Keiji been standing in front of their house, anyway? And why was he here? No, no he shouldn't ask questions, otherwise he'd never stop. Just let him in and sit him down.

Come to think of it, Jesse wasn't sure why he'd recognized Keiji. His hair was neatly trimmed, for once, although not so terribly well-combed at this moment in time. He didn't have any earrings on. His jeans actually looked like they fit. But he was still very thin under his clothes. He probably still wasn't taking care of himself.

Jesse led Keiji into the tastefully-furnished living room and gestured for him to take a seat, and sat down opposite, with the coffee table between them. Keiji seemed to be admiring the living room. "The house looks great."

"Just the parts that guests see," Jesse said, smiling. "My office is a mess."

"You have to be kidding me. You were always the neat one in college."

Jesse chuckled. "Yeah, well, it's in the contract for a professor--you have to be messy."

Laura came back with two cups of coffee, cream, and sugar. Jesse, who could count quite well, said, "You're not staying?"

"I have some errands to run." Laura gave him a swift peck on the cheek. "I'm sure you won't even notice I'm gone, you'll be so busy chatting it up with your friend here." She turned and shook Keiji's hand before he had a chance to get up. "Don't get up, I'm just leaving. Pleased to meet you, Mr.--"

"Just Kim," Keiji said, smiling. "I'm sorry you can't stay; I was looking forward to getting to know you--"

"Just call me Laura," she said, smiling. "I hope you'll call again, when I'm not on my way out the door."

Keiji watched the door a few moments after it had clicked shut. "Does she--"

"Yes. Well, in a manner of speaking." Jesse added cream and sugar to his coffee and took a sip. "She knows about--me. But not about you."

"So she knows you were gay in college, but doesn't know that you slept with me."

Jesse flushed and tried not to choke on his coffee. "That's the long and short of it, yes," he said, when he was done coughing.

Keiji added cream, but no sugar, stirred, and tasted. "This is good coffee."

"Laura makes good coffee."

"No wonder you married her."

Silence padded into the room on feline feet and fixed its yellow eyes on the pair seated across from each other. Keiji seemed very interested in his coffee. Jesse looked at his hands.

"I thought you'd be angry," Keiji said at last.

Jesse shrugged. "I got used to it after fifteen years."

"Longer than that, hasn't it?"

"Maybe. I stopped keeping track."

Keiji was silent. ". . . all right. I've been an asshole."

Jesse took another sip of his coffee. "Yes. You have."

"I'm sorry."

The silence yawned and licked its lips. ". . . I think that's the first time I've ever heard you say those words."

"I've apologized before."

"Not like that."

"I've changed, too." Keiji's voice was far too still and quiet. What had happened to him? It'd been a long time, yes, but time in which Jesse had made money, gotten married, and settled down with a wonderful woman. Here Keiji appeared on his doorstep from nowhere after over a decade of silence, looking different yet the same, with tired eyes. Jesse bit back his questions.

"So what do you do now?" Keiji asked.

"I teach. History and archaeology."

One side of Keiji's mouth tilted up in something approximating a smile. It made Jesse's heart hurt. "Suits you."

"What about you?"

Keiji drank his coffee. "I sit in a cubicle from nine to five. It's boring as all hell. I hate it, but it pays."

"I'm sorry."

"There's nothing for you to be sorry about." Keiji's cup hit the saucer with rather more force than intended. "I'm the one who's sorry. Nothing was ever your fault."

"Keiji. . ."

"No. It's okay." Keiji laced his fingers together and bowed his head. "I've been stupid, I know. I said that already. But I meant what I said. I wanted to get away from my ghosts."

"Did you?" The question was quiet.

Keiji paused, then sighed and shook his head. "I did. But then I made new ones."



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