Asami and a sort of modernized combination of Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. I tried not to let this fall into cliche.
"Merry Christmas, boss!"
His glare must have been frightful as he left the office building, because Suoh swallowed whatever he was about to say and simply bowed as he opened the limo door, then closed it more softly than usual behind him.
Kirishima waited for him in the back, papers ready to be signed at the upcoming meeting. Asami knew his secretary wasn't happy about working Christmas Eve. He'd had some big date set up.
His people needed to learn that it was just another day. That's how he was treating it. Takaba had hinted that he was planning a date, but Asami had squashed that by saying he was too busy with work. It wasn't that they weren't a couple; they were. It was that Christmas Eve dates were cheesy and emotional, and that was something he despised.
"Everything is prepared?" His eyes were focused on the crowds outside the car rushing about under the wet snowfall and multicolored lights. To him it was just another day of them bringing him more money.
The silence after his question had been brief but long enough to make him shift his gaze to Kirishima, who was looking rather offended. Asami prodded him. "I'd not ask, but you seemed distracted today."
"Asami-sama, it is all prepared according to your specifications." It was said very coolly.
He didn't particularly care. His expectations kept them all on their toes. Still, Kirishima was a valued employee, so he relented.
"After the meeting is finished, you may leave for the evening."
"Thank you, Asami-sama!"
Asami pretended not to notice as Kirishima quickly began texting someone. He wasn't really doing this out of generosity. There were simply no other meetings scheduled that night because everyone else, politicians and criminals all, had wanted Christmas Eve clear. He could make Kirishima work at the office, but weighed against the benefit of the good will he'd gain, the latter was the more profitable choice.
The car jerked to one side, throwing him sideways in his seat.
He touched the intercom. "Suoh?"
"Sorry boss, sleet." The uncharacteristic terseness of the reply told Asami the roads must be getting bad.
"Drive more slowly if you need to. It doesn't matter if we're late. In fact, it would be amusing, making them wait."
He felt the car slow, still sliding a little from side to side. He ignored it as he would turbulence in a plane. Suoh would get him there in one piece.
"Do you have plans this evening, Asami-sama?"
Surprise at the personal nature of the question left him momentarily speechless. But then he noticed that Kirishima's knuckles were white as he gripped his briefcase.
"I seem to recall you providing me with a number of reports to review," he said dryly. "They'll likely take well into tomorrow, especially the one dealing with the screw-up with that Bolivian shipment. Twice is outside of enough. I think it time we... replace those in charge."
Kirishima went into full assistant mode, forgetting the weather, making notes on his smart phone. "How deep do you want the sanitization to go?"
Sanitization. Kirishima always amused him with his euphemisms. "As deep as need be. I'll leave it to you. But it has to be quick and complete. We can't afford to be losing our shipments."
"There will likely be repercussions if we touch government men. Have I your permission to bribe liberally?"
"Not liberally. Within reason. Let anyone who fusses be made aware that we do them a favor by letting them live. Punish, then soothe with cash. But not too much. The yen fell against their currency again today?"
Kirishima touched the screen of his phone. "Yes, Asami-sama, for the fifth straight day. And against the US dollar for the past month."
He stretched his legs out. "We may need to move more funds overseas. Why don't we—"
The car suddenly slid to the left, spinning into an intersection. As Asami's eyes darted to the window behind Kirishima's head he was blinded by headlights racing toward them. He dove for his secretary, then the screech of metal being ripped apart was the last thing he heard before it all went dark.
His first thought upon awakening was that the rhythmic pounding in his ears was his blood, a sign that he was still alive. His second was the realization that he couldn't feel his heart beating. As his eyes flew open in shock, the sound coalesced into something more familiar, a driving heavy metal, and though he didn't understand it, he recognized the surroundings as one of his old dives from much younger days.
"I should have known this was the sort of place you'd frequent in your youth."
He turned, still slightly dazed, at the sound of the familiar voice. "Feilong? What the—?" He cut his question off, not wanting to sound completely at a loss. Feilong would take advantage of any weakness.
"Not exactly. I was just digging through your memories and thought he was exceptionally beautiful, and so decided to take his shape."
"To take his shape..." What game was Feilong trying to play? Asami stared hard at the person sitting across from him in the booth, trying to understand what was happening without giving his ignorance away. He rolled his shoulders slightly, trying to determine if he was wearing his gun. He was not.
"You think I'd let you have a gun? Not that it would do you any good anyway."
Asami froze. Did he just...? "Who are you?"
Pseudo-Feilong rolled his eyes. "Christmas Eve? Supernatural guy, spending it with a cranky mogul? Read much?"
He was trying to puzzle out what that meant when a memory intruded. "I was in an accident... Kirishima, Suoh, where are they?"
A finely sculpted eyebrow rose. "So you're human after all. They're on their way to the hospital. Both injured but not too seriously."
Alive. Good... Good.
He gave his mind a shake. "Of course. They're two of my best men, hurt in my service."
"Of course, it's only good business. You can't fool me. Not such a hard case after all, hmm? How unexpected." Feilong v2.0 pulled out a cell phone and quickly punched a number in. "Yes, it's me. I think I can handle this one on my own. Can you let the others know they should just go on ahead? I'll meet up with them there. Future already knew? Of course he did. I hate when he does that."
He snapped the phone shut and shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, we're really busy this year, what with so many greedy politicians and all. So, where should we start? Generally I'd take you around to all the heartwarming places in your past, but how boring is that? Which I think you can't abide. And no wonder. I was really quite surprised to see how mundane your upbringing was. Average Japanese family, excellent student. You got bored too easily, fell in with friends who liked the darker side of life. Decided to see how far your cleverness could take you. Straight-laced businessman was never an option, was it?"
Asami wasn't in the mood to talk. He was still trying to figure out who, or what, and why. And how he was going to get out of it. "Why wasn't I injured? How did you get me here? I thought this club was torn down in the early '90s?"
Feilong sighed. "Do I really have to do this?" Meeting Asami's flat stare, he continued, "I see that I do. Fine." He waved his hands about in a vague pattern and the air around him started to glow. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
That was it. This had to be a hoax. "Ghost. Yeah. Right. Feilong, what kind of bullshit is this? I thought I'd made things clear between us. There's nothing there. There never has been, for me. And it's time you grew up, don't you think? Find another father figure to fixate your fuck fantasies on." If that wasn't nasty enough, nothing would be.
"Nice alliteration. Especially since I'm Faux-Feilong, but the faux part makes it all not work on me.... I know!" He snapped his fingers. The club disappeared, and Asami caught his balance before he fell to the... silk carpet. He slowly straightened, taking in the new surroundings, caught between disbelief and hard evidence.
They were in an apartment, in a high rise. He recognized the Hong Kong skyline outside the large windows. And he finally started to accept that something beyond his understanding was going on. Especially when another Feilong walked into the room. "Tao, I'll take my tea in here. And don't eat that candy. Arbatov probably laced it with something. Just throw it out."
"Yes, Feilong-sama," a dejected voice replied.
Asami took a step forward. "Feilong?" And shuddered as Feilong walked right through him. "What the—?" He looked back at the other Feilong in confusion.
"Do you understand now? You're a spirit. And I'm not the real Feilong, I'm just playing him on TV."
"I'm dead? I was killed in the accident? You're a shinigami?" He'd never believed in what he couldn't touch. But there it was, right in front of him.
"You're not dead. But in the accident you were knocked loose from your body. We've been after you for years, but you don't dream, don't do drugs, don't even let your mind wander. You know, there's such a thing as too much discipline."
"You're wrong. If I'd had more, this whole business down here wouldn't have happened."
"There are a number of opinions on that, and most say you're wrong. Actually, you don't have to take my word on it. Do you want to see what would have happened if you hadn't shown up here?"
Asami's mouth dropped open before he could catch himself, then he snapped out a reply. "Even if I could, it would be a waste of time. The only thing that matters is what is."
Feilong-spirit tilted his head, examining him. "You're afraid?"
"Never. Besides, what you're suggesting is just not possible."
"Neither is standing here talking to a ghost," the ghost said dryly. "As spirits we can access alternate time threads and watch that kind of thing. It's kind of like a U-tube of what-ifs. Universe-tube, but with holographic resolution so it's much cooler."
"Assuming you can do this, and I'm not admitting you can, wouldn't that mean you could just show me some universe where things turned out the way you wanted, just to prove your point?"
"True, and it can be fun to find threads where the most unlikely things imaginable happen. Last week one of the Futures found one where monkeys actually did randomly type a novel. Sadly, it was Twilight. But it was starring monkeys, very amusing. It went viral. But I can also choose the most likely outcome by the number of times it happens through all the possibilities. So if you're really not afraid..."
"Will it help me get out of this sooner?"
"Then show me. And throw in some monkeys for a laugh."
Feilong-redux glared at him, then played with his phone. "Ah... here it is." His expression sobered. "And I think you'll find that monkeys aren't appropriate."
The room shimmered and disappeared. They were now outside, in the dark, high on a hillside overlooking Hong Kong island. A chill wind blew down from the top, whistling past them on its way toward the harbor. Asami didn't understand why it made him shiver, when the cold didn't touch him.
"What is this?" Asami asked, looking around, seeing little but vague unidentifiable outlines. "Where's Feilong?"
"He's right in front of you."
"I'm in no mood for games."
"Perhaps a light..."
A dim glow flickered then grew around the spirit's hands and shapes began to appear from the shadows. Familiar shapes. Gravestones.
Asami was a cold man, but this made his stomach clench. "What are you saying? He's dead?"
"I'm not making this up, Asami. It is what most likely happens to him. Evidently things didn't change all that much with you gone. Toh had been using you to help split Baishe. With you out of the picture, he simply used other tools. No, Feilong didn't get emotionally attached. But his brother still went nuts and killed his father in order to get him. And after Feilong rejected Toh's proposal, Toh shot and this time succeeded in killing him. Then he wiped out the whole organization to push his election bid. There's not even anyone left to remember Feilong in most universes."
Asami stared down at the neglected grave, his heart unsettled. He knelt and reached for some weeds growing around the base of the stone but his hand passed through. He couldn't even do that much for him here. The grief he felt surprised him, though like any other emotion he buried it. "Such a waste..."
"Yes, and you prevented that, because for one brief moment in your rage, you lost control and killed Toh."
He didn't really know what to say about that. As always, he tried to make it all fall into neat little columns to analyze. He had come to care for Feilong, though he'd told him otherwise. To him, caring was his key mistake. Hong Kong had always been unfinished business to him until this autumn, and rightfully so. But it had also been something he'd viewed with disgust, seeing himself as green, getting too involved, precipitating a massive failure. All brought on by emotion.
And now, the notion that he might have been wrong all these years was a hard one to swallow. He wanted to deny it, but the gravestone he knelt in front of wouldn't let him. But he'd never been one to shy from the truth, and he had to admit that he'd misunderstood. His analysis had been off. His cold self wouldn't have cared about Feilong being shot. It was only emotions that had prevented his murder.
Which would have been better? For business? Probably his death.
But somewhere in the deepest part of his heart, he felt a world with Feilong was preferable to one without. That was something he didn't care to dwell on too much. It was strange though, how it was so much easier for him to believe that emotions fucked things up rather than made them better. And maybe that was the point. It was something he would have to think on, later.
He got to his feet. "You've made your point. Let's go."
"You're pragmatic. I like that."
The view shimmered, and once again they were back in the room overlooking Victoria Bay. A young boy sat on Feilong's lap, and they were reading aloud. Though he didn't like to admit it, after the chill cemetery the sight was heartwarming. He found it possible within himself to be glad that Feilong looked happy.
"He really has no notion that we're here?"
"Animals usually sense us, but few people can. If you want to say something, you'll have to do it when you return to your body." Feilong-ghost looked at him speculatively. "What would you say to him?"
"Nothing. We're past that now. I was just curious." If it were I and Takaba's spirit were here, I'd sense him, no matter if death itself lay between us. He shook off the thought and made himself think of something more practical. "This would be a useful tool for information gathering. There must be something that I can do for you that would make a partnership feasible. Perhaps to lighten your workload? If more greedy moguls were dead, you'd have fewer to visit..."
The spirit looked appalled. "We're trying to save their souls! How do we do that if you kill them? Seriously, you need help."
That sounded like something Takaba would say. The thought niggled him again, and he asked what he couldn't help. "What about Takaba?"
"What about him?"
"If we hadn't met..."
Feilong-replicant looked at him slyly and snapped his fingers. "Why not? I've got an hour to kill. Looks like we're going back to U-tube."
The room abruptly disappeared and was replaced by a restaurant lobby. Asami recognized it as belonging in a large hotel in Tokyo, though he couldn't remember which one. Takaba was working to one side, taking pictures of couples on their Christmas Eve dates.
"And there you see him, working cheerfully away, without you ever in his life."
Asami wondered if one spirit could punch another. But he couldn't tear his eyes from Takaba. It might be what was happening in his own world at that very moment, because of his stubbornness.
Takaba's most recent couple had just walked away satisfied, and he was sticking their cash into a drawer with a gleeful expression. The phone in his pocket jangled and he answered with a smile. "Hi Kou! I'm almost done here. And I've made a bundle! Are we still meeting up?"
Feilong-ghost did something and they could hear the other end of the line.
"...really looking forward to meeting you. She's had a crush on you for a while."
Takaba blushed. "Aw, Kou, you know I don't have time for that kind of thing. I need to get ahead with my photography. Girls just take money. Maybe in a couple years."
"Too late buddy, she's already coming, and bringing her hot friend with her. You won't make me turn them down, will you? I've been after this girl forever, and she's only coming along because her friend wants to meet you. C'mon. You owe me for carrying you home last weekend!"
Smiling ruefully, Takaba agreed. "Okay, but I don't want this girl to get attached. No double dates after this, got it?"
"Yes!! You're the best, Akihito! We'll see you in a couple hours."
The call ended, Takaba shaking his head but obviously not minding his friend's manipulations too much. Asami wondered if they used him often, annoyed because only he was allowed to do such things. But in this universe he wasn't there to do anything about it. A twinge suddenly went through him, like he was a string on a harp that had just been plucked.
"What the hell was that?"
"Crap. This isn't supposed to happen. Not unless..." Leaving the thought unfinished, the spirit looked at Asami with a strange expression. Asami hadn't time to think about that because just then he noticed himself walking into the hotel, a gorgeous red-haired woman on his arm.
"Asami-san, let's get our picture taken. Please?" She had a wheedling voice that annoyed the hell out of him. What was his other self doing with her? She must have some business interests he wanted.
His duplicate replied, "I don't like to have my photo taken," then he glanced over at the photographer's setup up and came to a dead stop. "Normally. But for you, I'll make an exception." He seemed fixated, like a hound trying to catch the scent of some elusive prey. Then his eyes lit upon Takaba, and Asami could see all the man's buzzers go off. He wondered if it had been so obvious with him that first time.
The other Asami moved unerringly across the room, towing his date almost as an afterthought. He stopped directly in front of Takaba, towered over him actually, his gold eyes running along the boy's body. "We'd like some prints, a special order." After scrawling something on a business card, he handed it to the boy. "Do you deliver?" he asked suggestively.
Asami admired his technique.
"Pervert," the spirit muttered.
Takaba looked down at what was written on the card and blushed furiously. Then his eyes filled with anger. Other-Asami peeled some large banknotes off a roll of cash. "Payment, in advance."
"I'm not for sale!"
"Aren't you? Then perhaps I'll just have to steal you."
"Hey, are we getting a picture or not?" the woman interrupted.
The two men looked at her as if waking up from a dream.
"I'm sorry, I'm closed," Takaba stated in a flat tone.
"And here I was going to triple your fee for your troubles..."
Asami couldn't help the grin that stole across his face as he watched Takaba wrestle with his desire for ready cash. He was always so cute trying not to give in to extortion.
"Triple my fees for just taking the picture? Not this so-called delivery?"
"Of course, the pictures will have to be delivered by someone, but I'm sure I can find someone else interested in bringing them to Club Sion."
Takaba's ears almost visibly pricked up. "Club Sion? That's not the address on the card."
"Isn't it? So you'll deliver to the club? Excellent. Call ahead and let my assistant know when you're coming so he can advise security to let you in."
...said the spider to the fly. This was just too amusing. It was almost like...
"Please stand over here, miss. And sir..." The blush that arose on Takaba's cheeks as he took Asami's arm and guided him was arousing. "If you'd stand here, behind her."
"My favorite position."
Takaba scowled and stomped over to his camera.
"Darling," The other Asami said, not the least genuinely, "Do you get the feeling the young man doesn't like us, or is it just me?"
"Smile, please," Takaba requested, and snapped the picture, obviously not caring if they did or not.
"Are you sure you got my good side?"
Asami watched himself, fascinated. He'd been aware of his obsession from the beginning, but not his emotional involvement. If he'd noticed it back then, he might have cut it off. But he'd always been so sure he was in control. Funny, how two of the most meaningful moments in his life came about because he'd let that slip. That made two times, he realized, where his emotions had saved someone...
The girl looked over her shoulder at the other Asami. "I've never seen you act like this. You're usually so serious about everything. You're almost giddy with excitement."
"Yes, it's interesting how you've never inspired this in me, isn't it?" Other-Asami said in his bored voice.
"What? You jerk! If you can't get turned on by me, then the problem is with you buddy. Maybe you and your boyfriend here should use our hotel reservations, because I sure won't be." She walked over and snatched a bill from Takaba's cash box. "Cab fare. Asshole." And she stalked out of their lives, no one caring.
"It looks like you cost me my date. I think you need to take responsibility."
"What? She stole my money! You owe /me/. Pay up."
"Why? I don't want the pictures now."
"So what? I still had to do the work and waste the film."
"I'll pay you after you join me for dinner. My date walked out on me and I still want dinner. But eating alone now, on Christmas Eve..." ....wouldn't bother him in the least. But Takaba fell for it.
"Oh. Well, I guess that is kinda sad... Okay, sure, I'll eat with you. But just dinner, nothing funny. Let me make a phone call."
As Takaba called Kou and made excuses to his angry friend, Asami watched in amusement as his double arranged for dinner to be served in the penthouse suite upstairs. Takaba was in for a long night.
He looked sideways at the spirit and noticed he looked peeved. "You didn't expect this to happen..."
"No, I didn't. It wasn't supposed to. This was supposed to teach you a lesson about humility. But then it happened. Like there was nothing stopping it. I've only seen this happen once before..." The ghost seemed lost in thought.
Asami felt a great deal of satisfaction in that. There would never be any separating the two of them. "It was simply destiny."
"Yes, well, if that's the case then you're an idiot playing your games Christmas Eve when he wanted to see you."
"Well, yes," Asami mused, "I suppose I was. I don't suppose we could watch...?"
"How about you just put a mirror on your ceiling? I've had enough of this. You're going back, and I don't care if you've learned your lesson or not."
Asami still had the pleasure of seeing the look on Takaba's face when he was led past the entrance to the restaurant and toward the elevators. And as the boy walked by him, he paused and looked in their direction, then shook his head as he was dragged off to his fate.
Asami awoke in a hospital bed to the beeping of a heart monitor, steady and slow. His head was killing him, but other than that, he didn't feel all that bad. Opening his eyes, the first thing he looked for was Feilong, real or fake. Neither was there. But Takaba was, and when he saw Asami was awake, he grabbed his hand.
"Asami! How are you feeling? Are you OK? I was going to a job and I saw the limo get hit, and when I s-saw it was y-you..."
Tears sparkled in the boy's brown eyes, and he let his lover's emotions wash over him. They'd been hard fought for, and he'd earned them.
He reached over with his free hand and brushed the tears away. "You can never escape. And neither can I." He pressed his lips together. That shouldn't have slipped out. They must have medicated him.
"Huh? I... I suppose." Takaba was blushing a little. "Do you need a nurse or anything?"
Ignoring the throbbing pain, he shook his head. "Don't worry about it."
"Of course I'm going to worry about it!" His raised voice didn't help the pain.
Takaba winced. "S-sorry. No shouting until you're better." He looked around for another topic to change the subject to. "Someone left you a present. It's kind of weird. There's no card or anything." He nodded toward the table on the other side of the bed.
Asami turned his head to see a small figure of a monkey at a typewriter, and a small laugh escaped.
"What? Do you know who it's from?"
"Feilong's evil twin."
"Feilong?" Takaba sat up, alarmed. "What does he want? Do I need to call the guards?"
"No. Feilong doesn't mean us harm anymore." Asami wouldn't mind talking about Feilong, but he knew Takaba wasn't ready for that, and he certainly couldn't call Feilong and say something. "It's a long story..." With monkeys and redheads and ghosts of Christmas Past. He felt really tired, but there were a couple more things... "Kirishima? Suoh?"
"Oh, glasses guy is in another room. He said you saved his life." Takaba beamed at Asami, a sunny day in a small package. "Suoh walked away with just some bruises. The doctor said he's like a tank."
"Good. That's good."
"I'll tell them you were worried about them."
"No. No need..." His reputation... Ah well, that would likely be changing in the future anyway.
"Takaba..." He struggled for a way to say what he wanted, and failed.
Takaba just looked at him, then smiled a little. "It's okay. You don't have to talk."
No, he didn't have to. But he tried. "It seems we were able to have a date after all."
"Yeah. We've got to stop meeting like this."
"Can never stop..." Asami could barely keep his eyes open. "Destiny..."
"Destiny? I guess it is. Well, I liked my date plans better."
As he let his lids fall shut, he felt the bed sink, thenTakaba's warmth along side his body.
"You mean that?"
"Then it's a promise." There was a warm breath across his brow, followed by a soft pair of lips.
"More than a promise. Something like fate..." His defenses down, the truth of that finally struck him, and at last he understood that it was okay to be happy.
As he slid into sleep, he let himself smile, and he could have sworn he heard Feilong giggle.