Major (capital “M”) angst and have tissues at the ready for this story.
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Three of the solids and two stripes sank on the break. The bar was silent as he moved around the table, considering his move. Bill already looked unhappy, but the presence of the bartender kept him from saying anything yet.
Kane paused before the next shot to clear his head then sank the next ball. He followed up with three more and finally paused before the eight. He patently ignored the audience, ignored Bill, only glancing briefly at Ian who was standing up and obviously ready to run, should it be an issue. Kane called the pocket, lined up his shot and, after taking one more breath, sank the eight ball.
Predictably, Bill roared. “You son of a bitch! You hustled me!” He moved toward Kane, raising the pool cue, but it was Mitsuo who stepped up.
“Bill. I don’t take kindly to abuse of my property, you know that. Hand over the cue,” he said in a quiet and dangerous voice.
Kane glanced at Ian, who’d moved over to him, then back at Mitsuo. Bill rounded on him. “He hustled me!” he shouted.
Mitsuo looked from Bill to Kane and back again. “Seems to me, he won fair and square.”
Bill’s fists bunched as he swung around to take in the rest of the spectators. “Ya gonna take this? Some kid comes inta our place an’ hustles us?” he shouted, but several of the other patrons stepped back, including those that had initially looked hostile and went back to their own games.
“I think you’ve had enough tonight, Bill,” the bartender said and looked pointedly toward the door.
Bill’s eyes darted from the bartender to Mitsuo to Kane and finally to Ian, then back through the lineup. “Ya better hope I never see ya agin, brat,” Bill threatened, then stalked toward the front of the bar, slamming the door behind him.
Mitsuo turned to the bartender and waved his fingers. The bartender handed over the money and Mitsuo counted it out. He took fifty out, stuffed it into his pocket and gave the rest to Kane. “Bill’s been a pain in my ass for a long time. I don’t like him. But I don’t take kindly to hustling happening around here without my knowledge. In the future, you might consider avoiding Bill if your gonna hustle and I might keep it to a night that’s not the weekend.” That said, Mitsuo turned, headed back to his booth and sat down, sipping at the short glass of clear liquid that was on the table in front of him.
“I think you’ve probably had enough, too,” the bartender said and neither Kane nor Ian felt the slightest urge to argue.
They beat a hasty retreat to the front of the bar but before they opened the door, Kane turned to Ian. “Get the keys out,” he said, and Ian held them up with a grin. They were already in his hand.
Ian chuckled. “I had them out when you broke on the last game.”
Kane laughed. “Good thinking. Straight to the Jeep. I can take Bill if he comes after us. Get it started and get my door unlocked.”
Ian nodded and they stepped through.
Kane hated predictable people sometimes. Bill, apparently, was no exception. “I want my money back, ya little bastard.”
Kane sighed, spun on the ball of his foot and kicked out at Bill’s stomach. It knocked him back, but not down and he came at Kane again. Kane heard the Jeep start and moved backwards a couple of steps.
Bill apparently thought he was retreating because the rotten smile came back and he stalked forward. Another spin and a harder kick knocked Bill back again and onto his ass this time. He was already getting up when Kane rounded the jeep and jumped into the passenger seat. They heard incoherent shouting as Ian screeched out of the spot and drove away.
“It looks good,” Ian said, brushing his fingers over the ink on Kenji’s upper arm. The Chinese style dragon had a flat face, long twisting body and long snaking tongue.
“I’m happy with it. I like the one on your backs better,” he said. “Turn around.”
Ian and Kane dutifully spun again. “I know it’s not quite done, but it’s going to look really good. I wish I could have had them split it all three ways instead of the little one.”
They turned back around and Kane shrugged. “We’ve all got some. That’s what counts.”
Kenji nodded. “You’re right. Well…” he said, sighing.
“We’ll miss you” Ian said, hugging Kenji again.
“I’ll miss you, too.” Kenji returned the hug and turned to Kane. “You better write me.”
“You need to write us first and tell us where to send it. But we will.” Kane hugged Kenji, and then stepped back. “How long for basic?”
“Eight weeks. So, about the time you’re starting the fall semester, I’ll be finishing that part. I figure I’ll do the first two years and probably get out then.” He shrugged one shoulder and scratched at the back of his head. He made a face. “Already miss the hair.”
“It’ll grow back,” Ian said with a grin.
Kenji laughed. “Yeah, when I get out. Don’t think they appreciate long hair in the military.”
Kane and Ian both laughed. “Yeah, probably not,” Kane said. “Maybe by then you’ll get used to short hair.”
Kenji snorted. “Not likely.” He sighed and glanced over at where his mother was waiting. He gave her a pointed look and she turned around to face the car. He leaned in to Kane first. “Take care of him,” he said, glancing quickly at Ian.
“You know I will,” Kane said. “Take care of yourself, okay? Don’t… don’t get hurt or anything.”
“Don’t plan on it,” Kenji said then closed the last bit of distance and kissed Kane. It was bittersweet and threw Kane for a loop at what he thought was behind it. Their lips parted and the kiss deepened and Kane reached up to cup Kenji’s face. They both got lost in it, tongue sliding along each other’s, tasting and savoring. Finally, Kenji pulled back.
“Kenji?” Kane asked, confused.
Kenji just shook his head. “I’ll miss you. See you,” he whispered and moved over to Ian.
Ian looked him over. “Yeah, you better grow it out. And you better come home to us,” he said, swallowing hard. His lump had finally gone away and now it was back with a vengeance. He met Kenji’s gaze. “Don’t die.”
“I’m going to do my damnedest not to,” he said, his voice quiet. “Keep him in line.” He tossed his head in Kane’s direction.
Ian nodded. “I will. Someone has to.” Kenji chuckled then and leaned in to kiss Ian. Ian’s hands came up to frame Kenji’s face and their kiss deepened. Their tongues tangled, they nibbled each other’s lips, and Kenji pulled Ian closer. They broke apart briefly for air, then their lips met again and they got lost once more. Finally, they parted.
“I’ll miss you,” he whispered, then stepped back.
Ian stared at him, stunned. Kenji waved and took another step back. “Bye, guys.” After one more look, he turned on his heel and jogged to the car. They watched as he climbed into the passenger seat then waved and both raised their hands back to him. They kept their eyes on the car as it disappeared around the turn then looked back at each other.
“What… was that?” Kane asked.
“I have no idea,” Ian answered, shaking his head in shock, though he had a feeling he really did know. And he didn’t know how he felt about that. He turned back and stared at the spot the car had been a moment ago.
Ian and Kane looked at each other again for another moment, the stunned expression mirrored on each other’s faces. Finally, they turned and headed back into the house, together. Both were suddenly looking very forward to the Christmas holidays.