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Running in Circles

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There’s little argument that most people would consider getting released from prison after two years to be an excellent reason to go celebrate, especially those who were supposed to have a life sentence. However, Daughter, as it turned out, was not one of those people.

“Oh, come on!” Yvienne pleaded at him over the phone, clearly making her best effort to radiate charm even through the receiver. “How can you not want to go out? It’s your first night of freedom! This is such a huge thing, we’ve gotta get together!” She paused and added, more sincerely than he was expecting, “We were all really worried, you know. January wasn’t the only one who missed you.”

Daughter frowned and leaned back in his chair, caught between feeling touched and embarrassed. It continued to baffle him that he had murdered a man in cold blood, and yet somehow this had not frightened off a single one of his friends. Granted, he only had about three in the first place, but still . “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought, Yvienne, but I’m really busy right now.”

“With what?” No sign of that worry she claimed to have felt now , he thought to himself, just nosiness. His answer was a curt, “Just some things.” Although to be fair, Daughter supposed he really couldn’t blame her for being curious- it’s not like he should have anything to do. After all, he’d only been released that morning and was supposed to have been spending his time getting settled back into his living arrangements and ‘adjusting to the freedom’, or some other nonsense like that.

But rather than do any of that, he’d instead been spending nearly every minute since he first stepped foot back in Krohiten’s house trying to get in touch with January. The only reason Yvienne’s call had gotten through was because he had taken a break from yelling at the younger man’s answering machine to try and track down his work number. He sighed impatiently. “I really don’t have time to talk about this… maybe later?”

“…Hm…” Shit. He knew that tone. That tone said she already knew exactly how this conversation was going to go and it wouldn’t be the way he wanted it. “That’s too bad…” She continued, “After all, who knows when the next chance for all four of us to be together is going to come up?”

Despite seeing this for the obvious baiting it was, Daughter couldn’t stop himself from rising to it. “…What are you talking about?”

“Well, you know, with January moving in a few days, it’s not going to be that easy to meet up-”

Whatever she said after that was lost to him. Instead of listening, Daughter switched to replaying her last sentence over a few times in his head, his grip on the phone tightening to the point the plastic creaked slightly in his hand. “ Son of a bitch -!”

“Ah.” How could one little word fit so much smugness into it? “He hadn’t told you?”

“No,” he forced himself to admit through gritted teeth, “I haven’t heard from him at all.”

“Really?” That did seem to surprise her, but she paused for only a moment before carrying on as self-assuredly as before. “All the more reason to come out tonight! I’ll make sure he’s there, and you can get all the details from him then.”

Privately, Daughter wondered just how much he’d actually be able to get out of January with Lariatte and Yvienne right there too. But if January wasn’t answering his phone, then Daughter didn’t really have many other options short of going to his house and either breaking in or waiting outside like a stalker, neither of which were likely to end well for him if he was noticed. “…Fine. I’ll go.”

“Great!” She chirped. “We’ll meet at Base Herb, around eight-ish. Don’t be late!”

“I won’t.” He said, then hung up and slumped forwards, head in his hand. What had January done? He was the only person who could have possibly been behind the miraculous release, and Daughter couldn’t feel relieved about it while he was still so angry (and worried, but anger was so much easier to admit to) at the younger man for doing something this major behind his back. This sudden plan to move had to be related somehow… fuck , what was that even about anyway? Did January seriously think he could just slip away without Daughter noticing? It was infuriating, and the more he thought about it, the less sense it made. Especially when he thought about what he had said to January the last time he’d seen him. Which, of course, he was, almost all the time. It was impossible not to think about how January’s face had looked when Daughter told him to stop coming to the prison, to quit obsessing and just move on with his life. There was no way to forget the way January had stared at him, wordless hurt and confusion filling his eyes, like his heart had been broken.

…No, it wasn’t ‘like’. That’s exactly what had happened. Daughter could admit it- he was good at staring harsh truths in the face. Just like he’d known it was the right thing to do, the only thing he could do. He had waited nearly two years for January to give up on his own, to realize that there was no point to his actions, and yet every week, no matter what else was going on in his life, he was there yet again. And finally, Daughter just couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t keep watching January come back, time and time again, trying so hard to keep their bond intact when it would never amount to anything. He couldn’t bear to look at the gentle smile that seemed to say January really believed he was worth waiting decades for when Daughter knew better.

They were just friends. Daughter had never said or done anything to make January think otherwise, and all he did was remind January of that. To keep him from wasting any more time.
And then little more than a week after that, an order for Daughter’s release had been issued, and now here he was. Sitting alone in Krohiten’s house, his thoughts running in circles, trying to figure out what January had done to make it happen.

Well , he admitted to himself, I’m not going to get anywhere this way . With another sigh, he got up and checked the clock. Quarter of five. That gave him another three hours to work out what he was going to say to January when he saw him. One way or another, he was going to get to the bottom of this.

---

The bar was almost exactly the way he remembered it; not-quite-too crowded, not-quite-poorly lit, the faint scent of alcohol and cooking food hanging in the air. The only difference seemed to be that they had reupholstered some of the booth seats and gotten some glasses with the bar’s logo on them. Daughter took another drink of his beer, eyes watching the door attentively from his seat at the bartop. The temptation to just down the whole thing and hope it would make the coming confrontation easier was there, but he ignored it. He couldn't risk getting sloppy. Not with this.

The door opened. Simple wire-framed glasses, red hair messily pulled back with a plain white ribbon, contrasted with a custom-made suit that practically reeked of money. January. It couldn’t be anyone else.

The younger man hadn’t noticed him yet, still glancing around the building, presumably for Yvienne, of whom there was still no sign. Daughter considered just waiting for January to notice him first, rather than going to approach him himself. But the idea that January might just turn around and leave if he saw that they were the only ones who’d arrived yet was convincing enough to get him up and halfway to January by the time the other man spotted him.

Their eyes met. January stiffened. He may as well have just run.

“…Daughter.” The smile that accompanied the word was that of a diplomat, reserved and polite, and made Daughter’s stomach knot. “It’s nice to see you-”

“Save it.” He snapped, but though January’s greeting faltered, the stiff, reserved expression on his face did not. “We need to talk.”

January watched him- for what, Daughter couldn’t tell- then gave a small nod. “I suppose we do, don’t we?” He turned a bit to gesture towards the door. “Somewhere quieter might be better, though.”

Daughter nodded, not taking his eyes off January. They stepped out into the street; dark and deserted, in spite of the streetlights and early hour. Still, they didn’t say anything until they had made their way to the alley beside the bar. It wasn’t the best place for a private talk, but it was empty except for a dumpster, and the light over the side door meant they could at least see each other, so it would do.

“What did you do?” He demanded the second they were off the main street. January kept his back turned to him, and answered far too calmly for Daughter’s liking.

“Nothing much. Nothing that you should be worried about.”

“Bullshit!” He exploded, grabbing January’s shoulder and making him turn around and face him. January looked at the hand on his shoulder, but in the poor light Daughter couldn’t make out his expression very well. He continued on regardless. In his frustration, it didn’t register that this was the first time he had touched January in two years. “Nothing is free. And I have a right to know what you paid for my sake. Now tell me.” His voice dropped to almost a hiss. “What did you do?”

January closed his eyes and shook his head. “I already told you, nothing much.” Daughter wasn’t sure what was more infuriating- his even tone, or the fact that he still wasn’t looking him in the eyes. “Starting Monday, I will be working for Mr. Etnas and the Royaume Corporation. That is all.”

Etnas? Tenial Etnas? It was a name Daughter was only barely familiar with, from conversations with Krohiten and snippets from the news, but nothing he had heard did anything to assuage the worry that continued to edge further and further into his mind. “I take it he’s responsible for my release?”

January nodded. “We’ve talked several times for business, but he only offered me the deal recently.”

“And your family’s company-”

“-Will do well enough under the leadership of my uncle Lukas. He’s a capable man.”

Daughter stared at January, whose eyes were still lowered. Most people wouldn’t think it was much to sacrifice, not for a favor of such magnitude. But it was still too much. January hated business- the self-serving, cutthroat atmosphere that made him feel trapped and miserable, only made worse by how it seemed to eventually corrupt everyone around him.  So many times they had talked about January’s plans to leave the Lightsphere family and find something else to do with his life. It was the only thing Daughter could remember January ever saying he wanted.

And he gave that up. Even after Daughter had hurt him and tried to drive him away.

It felt like he should say something, but the guilt had tied his tongue. He still wanted to try at least, but before he could January shrugged his hand off and took a step back. “Whatever you’re thinking, don’t.”

“But you-”

“I did this without asking you. It was my decision alone.” Finally he looked at Daughter, gray eyes steely in the lack of light. “You don’t owe me anything.”

There was a finality in his tone that Daughter found he could not challenge. This time he was the one to drop his eyes. “…So what happens now?”

“I’m going to move to Sierra for work. Mr. Etnas has generously arranged a place for me to live near the office.” January paused, and something shifted in his tone that made Daughter look back up at him. “You… can do whatever you want. Live your life freely.” There was a small smile on January’s face. Not the diplomat’s smile from earlier, but the one he had shown Daughter so many times over the past two years. The kind, gentle smile that was heartbreaking in its sincerity.

“…Do whatever I want?” What a joke. He almost laughed. There was only one thing he wanted- just one- and it was already out of his reach. He lost any right to it when he deliberately ignored and trampled on January’s feelings for the sake of his own stupid self-indulgent pity party.

What January said was the truth. They didn’t owe each other anything anymore.

But… he looked again at January, at the soft smile still on his face... and he made his decision.

January’s expression turned bewildered in the few seconds before Daughter closed the distance between them and pulled the smaller man into his arms. To Daughter’s surprise, January did not stiffen or pull away, though neither did he make any move to return the embrace. He seemed uncertain, unbelieving, and unwilling to act until he had an explanation.
“I know you don’t expect anything from me anymore. But I- I really don’t have anything else.” Daughter struggled to find the right words, but finally managed to blurt out, “Let me go with you.”

At that, January did turn rigid, and started to push Daughter away. “I- weren’t you listening? I already told you, you don’t have to-”

“That’s not why I’m asking.” He insisted, taking January’s face in his hands and making him look up, not missing the way January’s breath hitched when he caught those silver eyes with his own pair of green.  Only one thing he wanted. Only one thing he had ever let himself want. And if January didn’t want it too, if he had only acted out of a sense of friendship or duty, then fine. Daughter would let him go and never speak a word of his feelings ever again.

But if January did … then there was no way in hell Daughter was going to let him down and hurt him again just because he felt guilty. He let his hands slip back down to January’s shoulders and kept going.

“January, I… completely gave up.” He admitted, more softly this time. “I thought there was no way to have a normal life after what I did. When I saw you keep coming back to see me, it just reminded me of what I couldn’t have. What I… didn’t deserve.” The uncertainty in January’s expression only deepened, unsure if he could believe Daughter’s words. Daughter couldn’t blame him. “I know it’s no excuse for hurting you, and if you don’t want to give me another chance, I understand.” He squeezed January’s shoulders lightly; though more to keep himself steady than anything else. “But all I want… is to spend my life with you.” Without letting his gaze or his voice waver, he asked one more time, “Let me go with you.”

January’s eyes widened more than Daughter thought possible- it would’ve been funny if the situation weren’t so serious. Then he finally broke away from Daughter’s gaze and ducked his head, hiding behind his unkempt bangs. He muttered something to the ground.

“What?”

With a shuddering breath, January repeated himself, “I said… yes.” He looked back up, smiling. The lighting was still total crap, but even so it was hard to mistake the start of tears in his eyes.  “If that’s really what you want… then so do I.”

It took a moment for his words to sink in. “Really?” January nodded. Daughter looked at him, feeling stunned. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or cry and in the end he did both, giving a shaky bark of a laugh as his eyes watered (but only barely; he hadn’t cried since he was ten and he wasn’t starting now, not when he was so damn happy ) and he again pulled January as tightly to himself as he could. It was still a relief when he felt January smile against him and wrap his own arms around Daughter’s waist.

It occurred to him as he pulled back not too much later, leaving January to look up at him quizzically, that for the first time since he was ten years old, he really was completely free. He was here, with January, who knew about his feelings and shared them. There were no more reasons to hold himself back or hesitate.

Even so, his hand shook a bit when he cupped it to January’s face, and when he leaned down to close the few inches between them he found he couldn’t help but hesitate- just a little- before pressing his lips to January’s.

“I told you, Lari. Half an hour, that’s all they needed.”

…Oh. Fucking. Hell.

Daughter broke away from January to glare over his shoulder at the two young women chatting amongst themselves as they walked up to join the two of them.

“But in such a public location…” Lariatte glanced around is distaste, and shook her head. “They should be more aware of their surroundings.”

“Seriously.” Yvienne agreed, suddenly turning to properly address the two men by waving a scolding finger at them. “And you should’ve picked somewhere more romantic! The back alley of a bar is no place for a first kiss.”

“A-Ah, Yvienne, Lariatte…” January tried to sound friendly, but even he sounded rather disappointed by the interruption, to Daughter’s very private enjoyment. “When did you get here…?”

“Oh, about an hour ago.” She grinned, slinking an arm around Lariatte’s waist and looking far more pleased with herself than she had any right to. “We didn’t want to get in the way of your big reunion, so we’ve been doing some shopping nearby until we thought you’d be done.”

“So…” Daughter asked, moving a bit away from January and blushing a bit out of embarrassment, “How long have you been watching us?”

“Not long.” Yvienne assured, though Lariatte frowned a bit and continued with an almost accusatory tone. “Long enough to know you’re both planning on leaving.”

Daughter tried to tell himself he had no reason to feel bad about that when it wasn’t their place to have any say in his decision, especially when they’d been the ones eavesdropping. However, logic failed him with one look at Lariatte’s disappointed brown eyes. It just wasn’t fair. It reminded him of having to walk past a pet store with all those puppies in the front windows, all begging to be taken home. Not. Fair.

So it was no surprised that January crumbled almost immediately. “We’ll visit.” He insisted, “After all, Sierra is only about half a day’s travel by car.”

Daughter cocked an eyebrow. Only? But the reassurance did seem to relax Lariatte somewhat, at least enough to get the lonely puppy look out of her eyes, so he didn’t disagree.

“Oh, we’ll worry about all that later.” Yvienne insisted, grabbing Daughter’s arm with her free hand. “Tonight we’re celebrating, remember?”

Really, it was frustrating just how hard it could be to stay annoyed with either of them. At last, Daughter gave up trying with a sigh, a smile, and a nod. “Right.”

She beamed and let go of him to pump her fist in the air. “Then what are we waiting for? C’mon!” Lariatte allowed Yvienne to pull her along as the blonde woman turned on her heel and headed back towards the main street. Daughter looked at January, who was chuckling a bit to himself. Without a word, he took January’s hand in his own, tugging him lightly in the same direction. January smiled up at him and interlocked their fingers.

Yvienne was right. They had plenty of time to think about the future. Right now, the present was going to get his full attention.