Disclaimer: Gatchaman and all characters therein belong to Tatsunoko Productions. Song by Garth Brooks, from ďRopiní the WindĒ, and yes, I changed three words.

Which One of Them

Contrary to just about every bar in just about every country western song, the air isnít really smoky. A few patrons have lit their cigarettes, and their smoke drifts toward the ceiling in thin, wispy columns. It is dimly lit, and nearly empty. The stage is empty, the band long gone, and now the jukebox plays softly to the lone couple on the dance floor. It is a slow song, almost mournful, but they donít seem to notice.

A young man- not much more than a boy, really- stands with his back to the bar, his elbows resting on the bar top as he leans back. Ken looks young enough so that it is questionable whether he should have been sipping from the dark glass bottle he holds. He is tall and muscular, handsome in a way that could almost be called pretty instead. His dark brown hair flies away uncontrolled, brushing just past his shoulders. His vivid blue eyes are sad, fixed on the couple dancing.

Theyíre an average couple, a pretty young woman resting her blond head against her partnerís shoulder, smiling faintly, eyes closed. Her companion is slightly taller, good looking, jet black hair, dark brown eyes, well built. His cheek rubs lightly against the girlís hair as they move across the dance floor.

A movement at his elbow catches Kenís attention. He turns and sees a woman standing next to him at the bar, smiling invitingly. Slowly, he smiles back. It never reaches his eyes.

-Oh, the girl at the bar, she bought me a beer
-And sheíd like to know if Iím new around here
-And the girl that I danced with says sheís all alone
-Her friends have all left and she needs a ride home

Ken lets the dark haired girl wrap her arms around his neck as they dance. When he smiles down at her again, she sighs and tucks her head under his chin. His eyes close for a moment, and his face creases slightly in remembered pain.

When he opens his eyes, he stares at the other couple again. Only this time, in his mindís eye, the man is different. Heís slightly taller, much more muscular. His hair is a light brown, wavy, curling over the back of his neck. Heís handsome, in a rugged kind of way, with a nose that appears to have been broken, a cleft in his strong chin, eyebrows drawn close from a perpetual scowl. When he looks up, his eyes are blue, lighter than Kenís own.

Silently, Kenís lips shape his name. Joe .

Joe grins widely at Ken, his hands caressing the woman in his arms.

Ken turns away, blinking rapidly. When he glances back, itís the first man again, frowning at him. Ken gives him a lop-sided smile, and nods once in apology. The woman in Kenís arms pulls away just far enough to look up at him, and seems to melt at the smile he bestows upon her. She stretches up to whisper something in his ear. He nods and they leave, the woman latching on to his arm tightly.

-Oh, and there have been others who gave me the eye
-But if they only knew they were wasting their time
-Thereís only one lover I can give my heart to
-But you didnít want it and you broke it in two

Hours later, the sky is still dark, and the moon is setting. Ken and the woman are together in bed, asleep. The woman is curled up against his side, her fingers softly stroking his chest. Ken blinks in the darkness and is awake. He gently removes the womanís hand from his body, and she rolls away as he sits up. Carefully, he slips out of bed, gathering his clothes.

Before dressing, though, he glances out the window, at the fading starlight. That same grimace of pain crosses his face, is rapidly smoothed away as he shakes his head. Frowning, he jerks on his clothes, carrying his shoes in one hand as he tiptoes to the door.

Once outside the womanís apartment building, he pauses, glancing around almost automatically before walking down the deserted street to where he left his car. He climbs in and sits there, slumped behind the steering wheel, hands on the wheel, his head resting on his hands. He trembles, and just for an instant, it seems he might be crying. Then he sits up, eyes dry, his face a blank mask, and turns the ignition.

-So tell me, which one of them will be you tonight
-Oh, which one will hold me in your arms so tight
-Iíve forgotten whatís wrong, given up on whatís right
-Tell me, which one of them will be you tonight

Dawn is just starting to glimmer faintly pink on the horizon as Ken stops his car in front of his house on the small airfield. His eyes are shadowed, dark circles against his pale skin. Once inside, he locks the door and immediately starts to remove his clothes, leaving them in a careless trail behind him as he makes his way to the bathroom. The water is so hot that it fills the tiny room with steam when he finally decides to get in the shower.

Eyes closed, he turns his face up to the spray, his skin turning red from the heat. The water runs down his cheeks like tears. After a moment, he reaches out for the soap, and starts scrubbing his body furiously.

Flashback, a memory seen through mist. Ken and Joe are arguing. It is clear that this is an everyday occurrence, as neither of them are really shouting, but rather are trading insults over their shoulders, more or less. Without warning, Ken taps Joe on the shoulder. When the other turns around, Ken throws his arms around Joeís neck and kisses him deeply, his eyes squeezed shut, pouring his heart and soul into it. Joeís eyes are wide in shock as his mouth is devoured.

-So Iíll just smile and pretend and sheíll never know
-Who sheís up against when sheís holding me close
-Youíre all that I want, love, youíre all that I need
-And when I close my eyes, baby, youíre all I see

In the flashback, Joe finally reacts. Scowling ferociously, he pushes hard against Kenís shoulders. As Ken stumbles back, surprised, Joe lands a powerful blow on his jaw, knocking him down. Eyes brimming with hurt, Ken can only look up at Joe, stunned at what his kiss provoked. Joe glares down at him, and his lips move as he growls something that makes Ken turn white. Then he turns and stalks away, leaving Ken sprawled on the floor.

The flashback suddenly moves to Kross Karakorum, Joe lying bloody on the ground. Ken reaches for his hand, fingers trembling . . .

In the shower, Ken slams his hand against the tiled wall. Shoulders shaking, he slides down the back of the shower to huddle miserably in the cooling spray, arms around his knees. If heís crying, the tears are mixed with the water falling down on him and lost in the circle of the drain.

-So tell me, which one of them will be you tonight
-Oh, which one will hold me in your arms so tight
-Iíve forgotten whatís wrong, given up on whatís right
-Tell me, which one of them will be you tonight
-Which one of them will be you tonight?

***

July 14, 2002