An attempt to kill Takaba lands him in the hospital and causes Asami and Takato to join forces to prevent the killer from trying it again. Written in 2007 (Note: we later found out Takato was marri...
He stared at his trembling hands as they lay upon his desk on either side of the police report. They vibrated like something living was inside them, a rattlesnake tail, waiting to lash out. He curled them into fists, trapping the fury. He would keep it, until the time was right. Then he'd unleash it upon the one who had caused this unprecedented thing to happen, this pain that ripped at his heart.
But first, he had to find out just who that was.
The waiting room was quiet despite the number of people in it. Takato sat with Akihito's mother and friends, trying to place what had happened into some kind of framework that made sense. The screeching tires, the headlights aimed straight for them, Akihito shouting and shoving him out of the way, and just when he'd thought they'd escaped, gunfire, and Akihito falling, holes in his chest, shock on his face. He'd froze, not able to dial his phone.
A passerby had called while he'd held his friend in his arms and watched the life slowly drain from him as he'd futilely tried to hold it in with his hands. Hands that now shook as he buried his face in them. Not to shed tears. Men don't cry, at least where people can see. But he cried on the inside where the tears burned him, their tracks tracing his failure.
An arm was gently laid across his shoulders. He recognized Akihito's mother's perfume, a very light floral scent, one he remembered Akihito picking out for her birthday. He was ashamed for wanting to turn his face into her shoulder for comfort when she was the one who needed support.
Her voice was soft, though her words were firm. "Stop beating yourself up, Takato. I'm glad you were with him. You couldn't have done any more than you did, and what you did saved him. The doctor said the fact that you put pressure on his wound kept him from bleeding to death."
"I should have –"
"Takato, my son would want me to punch you if you continued this."
He uncovered his eyes and saw the tiny fist she shook under his nose and it surprised a short laugh out of him. People always compared Akihito and his father because of the photography. But most didn't realize that his stubbornness and heart came from his mother.
His mouth opened to answer, when a hush fell around the room that made him pause. Glancing around he saw faces turned to the long hallway to the right, and he wondered whose surgeon had just shown up. But when he turned his head he didn't see the mint green of someone who held everyone's hopes in his hands, but the black of death.
Takato recognized the man of course, from that New Year's Eve. But even as frightening as he'd looked then, it was nothing like the ominous presence coming toward them now.
His long dark overcoat swirled about his legs like a living mantle of smoke, covering him in shadow. But that shadow was pale in comparison to the darkness in those eyes. They were pits, and Takato felt that if he were sucked into them he'd not stop falling until reaching the coldest depths of hell.
The man came to a halt before them, those eyes resting on Takato. Takato made himself return the look, feeling himself being judged, needing the harsh truth that would be measured out.
The mood was broken when Takaba-san gracefully rose to her feet and placed herself between them.
"You're a friend of my son's?" She softly laid a hand upon the man's arm. Takato tensed, sensing that touching this man was akin to touching a tiger. Those dark eyes retreated behind a façade of politeness, softening just a little as they turned to Akihito's mother.
"He probably wouldn't think so."
The man's eyes widened slightly and he nodded once. "Asami Ryuichi. He's mentioned me?"
Takaba-san smiled very slightly. "He talks about you enough that I got the picture. You're not easy on him. But then, he sometimes needs to be hammered to get an idea through his stubborn head. Not, however, to the point of breaking him."
Takato thought he'd never seen anyone as brave as she, hurling dagger-like words at such a man.
Asami didn't flinch. "I am what I am. And he is mine. If he doesn't yet understand that, he will."
"You believe in him then, that he'll survive."
Asami's eyes were hard. "He will live. There is no other option."
"Will you wait here with us then?"
"No." He was curt, but then relented. "Thank you, but no. There's no need to wait because he will get through this. I came to speak to Takato." Those dark eyes were focused on him again, demanding something, everything. "Come, we'll talk outside."
Takato stood, pulled toward the man despite his fear. It would be a distraction at least, while he waited. He knew Akihito was strong, but he wasn't as sure that he would make it as this guy was. It was soothing in a way to be in the presence of such faith.
Asami turned to leave.
"Asami-san." There was steel in the deceptively gentle voice.
He paused and turned back.
"You wondered if he understood that he was yours. I believe he knows this inside. But I wonder if you recognize the inverse is also true."
Asami stared at her a moment and said nothing, then he nodded his farewell and strode down the hall, Takato in his wake. Takato wondered though, if that nod had just been one of dismissal.
Outside they stood in the chill night air while Asami retrieved his Dunhills from inside his cashmere overcoat and lit one up. He seemed to relax slightly just having it between his lips.
Takato stared at those lips as they pulled on the cigarette. Asami's eyes flickered to him briefly in amusement before they chilled again. He blushed slightly. He wasn't attracted to men, but this one made him wonder what it might be like if he were.
Asami finally pulled the butt from his mouth and let it dangle from one hand. "They're alike, he and his mother. That was unexpected." Then as he looked across the cars parked in front of the building, he simply commanded without further niceties. "Tell me what happened. I have the police report, but I want to hear it from you."
"I – I don't remember much."
"You remember more than you realize. What was the first thing you noticed amiss?"
He swallowed. "The car. It was coming down the street way too fast, and it looked like it was headed straight for us."
"A Mercedes, the report said."
He nodded. "I saw the hood ornament. It was a sedan. I saw two doors on the side. I didn't see any plates, but then I wasn't looking. We just thought the guy was drunk. At least, I did."
That got him a look. "Takaba didn't?"
"No. I think he sensed something else. He said 'Takato get out of here,' urgent-like. He knew trouble was coming."
"He knew who it was then," Asami mused, once again staring into the space in front of him.
"I'm not sure if he did. But he knew it wasn't good." He paused, not wanted to tell the next part.
Asami flicked his hand at him impatiently to continue. Takato thought about Akihito laying under the surgeon's knives, and tried to put aside his shame.
"I... froze. Like a deer in headlights. I couldn't move. If I had maybe we could have..." His voice trailed off limply.
"What's done is done." The terse response cut into his distress. "While you wallow in self-recrimination his attackers roam free. Continue."
That stung, but he recognized the truth behind it. Still, when he spoke it was with some temper behind it. "You weren't there. You don't know what it was like." But even as he spoke he knew that was a lie, and the hard eyes that turned upon him made him back up a step.
"OK maybe you do. But I bet it wouldn't be new to you and scare the crap out of you." The eyes on him were relentless. He gave in. "I'm only doing this for him, you know. Because I failed him before. And because he's my friend."
"I don't care why you're doing it, just talk."
"I can't imagine Akihito liking you."
He didn't know what to say to that, so he fell back into the report of what had happened earlier that evening. "Okay. Well, um, the car was coming toward us and I froze, but Akihito managed to drag me toward an alley and once I was moving we ran like hell. The alley was too narrow for the car and I thought we were safe but the back door opened up and this tall guy got out and reached into his coat for something and I didn't realize at first it was a gun, but then he fired, twice, and then for some reason he turned and shouted at someone, the driver maybe, and got into the car and left. I think he saw someone coming. And I was staring after them until I realized Akihito had jumped in front of me because then he fell toward me and I saw the blood on him. There was so much..." He wiped his hands on his jeans, still feeling the sticky liquid. "It was bad –"
Asami cut him off. It was a kindness, though Takato was sure he didn't intend it that way. "The man. Tell me about him."
Takato let his mind shift away from the horror he'd felt. "I didn't see much. He had short hair, kind of light. He looked foreign, Western."
Asami looked thoughtful. "What language did he shout in? Japanese?"
"No. No, I couldn't tell. It wasn't English, or anything like that. More like Eastern European. Russian maybe."
"Russian. How interesting."
Takato couldn't believe it. "Interesting? You sound like someone commenting on flowers at a dinner party. I thought you cared about Akihito! You're standing there demanding facts like it's going to do something for him. He needs people at his side now. His mother needs his friends."
Asami turned on him with a ferocity that made him swallow any further words. "Just what do you think his mother would want of me?" he snarled. "For me to sit there holding her hand and making everyone uncomfortable? Or maybe instead finding the son of a bitch who did this so she didn't have to worry about him doing the same thing to Takaba next week? Takaba has the city's best surgeon now. His bills are paid for. Now it's his fight. Maybe you think you know her better, but somehow I think the woman I just met would rather I be doing what I am than trying to coddle her."
Takato was taken aback, not only to realize what the man had done for the family, but to see the cold exterior break and let out a fury that was even as he watched being tightly reined in again. The man's control was incredible.
Then it came in a flash of guilt. Asami was as upset as the rest of them, maybe more. He was just doing this for a distraction. The guy wanted to punish whoever did this to Akihito, sure, but he was doing it now because the sitting and waiting to see how Akihito would fare was unbearable. Action was better than helplessness.
"Let me help you."
Asami looked at him coldly. "Tell me everything you remember, and that's help enough from a brat like you."
"I'll know him if I see him again."
"So what? Where I'm going is no place for you."
"You could use me as bait. Put around that I got a good glimpse of the guy who did it. Then he'd come after me right?"
"Trying to assuage your guilt?"
"Trying to do the same damned thing you're doing and forget about what's happening in that hospital for a few hours. And if it helps catch the guy, even better."
"You do realize, Takato, that I'm not interested in simply catching him." Asami's voice had become silky smooth and it raised the hairs on the back of his neck. "Are you willing to be a party to that?"
He wasn't sure he liked the idea of it, but then, Akihito was fighting for his life because of that person and he didn't want to guy to succeed the next time. He took a deep breath and pushed his clamoring doubts away. "I'm willing. I'm tired of people hurting Akihito. Maybe this will make them think twice."
Asami turned his head to consider him, and he felt like the eyes drilled into his core. He raised his chin and stared back defiantly. He must have passed the test, because Asami nodded and walked away, saying, "I might be able to use you. Let's go."
He squared his shoulders and followed.
They rode in the limo toward Sion. Takato had heard of the place, everyone had, but he'd never imagined he'd be walking into it some day. Between that and the car, he was feeling a little out of place. From time to time on the ride over he glanced at his companion, but the man was usually on the phone discussing some detail about his business. He seemed to be shifting his schedule around. None of it was related to Akihito, so he stopped trying to listen and pulled his own phone out.
"Kou? It's Takato."
"Where the hell are you? Did that guy do something to you? He looked creepy, in a good-looking kind of way. Like that model last year."
Takato rolled his eyes. "I'm fine. I'm helping him with something and I'll be back as soon as I can. Just call if you hear anything, will you? I want to know..." he glanced toward Asami and saw that he was being watched, "we want to know if anything changes."
"No problem. But –"
"Thanks, Kou. Later."
He hung up and stuck his phone back into his pocket. For some reason he felt the need to defend his friend. "He isn't the brightest guy, but he means what he says, and he'll stand by you."
Asami merely said, "That would be important in a friend."
That was an odd way to put it. "Aren't your friends like that?"
Now the eyes considering him were amused. "I can't afford any in my business. You needn't feel sorry for me. I don't require any friends for my amusement."
It was a bit pitiful in his opinion, but he didn't say that. "They're not just for amusement. They're there to help you out and be supportive when you're going through rough times." But in looking at Asami he knew such support had never been needed. And the look he received told him Asami felt the same. "It doesn't mean you need to have their support. It's just, well, nice to know people care. Don't you feel happier knowing Akihito cares about you?"
But Asami appeared to no longer be paying attention, as he lit up another cigarette and stared out the window.
They rolled to a stop in front of the club, a tall respectable-looking building for that part of town. Takato moved to get out, but Asami's hand on his arm stopped him. "You need to look more convincing for the part you're to play."
Before he could stop him, Asami's hand had moved up to the back of his neck and his lips were on Takato's. Shock made him immobile until the thought of him being kissed by a man sunk in and he started struggling with everything he had. But Asami's grip was too strong, and his kiss was relentless. His jaw was forced open and the man's tongue darted into his mouth, stroking it, taking it. Takato vowed then and there never to let a woman feel as helpless as he felt at that moment. He wasn't exactly repulsed, but it left him cold and angry.
Asami pulled back and stared at him in exasperation. "How exactly will we convince them that you're taking Takaba's place as my lover if you look like a cold fish?"
"I didn't know that was part of the deal! I never said I wanted to be kissed by a guy. Especially you."
A finely curved eyebrow went up. "You mean another man would be fine? Should I ask my driver?"
"I mean you're Akihito's...." It sunk it just what that meant now. His jaw dropped a little. He blushed at understanding the more intimate details of his friend's relationship with this man.
Asami watched him, eyes narrowing. "Or perhaps Takaba would be fine?"
Takato shoved away from him. "He's my friend. Do you like imagining the sexual escapades of your friends? Oh, I forgot, you don't have any. No surprise there. Well here's a newsflash. It's embarrassing. Goddammit you're annoying. How the hell does he put up with you?"
A slight shrug of the shoulders met the question. "He doesn't."
Nothing the man said made anything any clearer. "I don't get you. If he doesn't want you, why are you all he talks about? If you don't want him, why are you...?"
Asami didn't say anything, he just straightened his tie and got out of the limo. Takato saw him standing stiffly on the pavement and tried to understand. What the hell? Is it that you do want him, except that you just won't admit it? And neither will he really from what I can tell. So you guys just keep hurting each other? That sounded like Akihito. And from what he'd seen it wouldn't surprise him if Asami was the same way. The stiff back he saw told him he was on the right track. He wasn't one to interfere, but this was frustrating as hell. Maybe, this time, he would have do something.
But first, the reason he'd come along... Taking a deep breath and reminding himself this was for Akihito, he got out of the car and put his arm around Asami's waist and gazed up endearingly. "Let's go inside, sugar. I'll see if I recognize the man, and you'll give me all you promised."
Asami shot him a disgusted look and muttered, "You know, you suck at being gay. You're probably the last man on earth that I'd ever date."
"Sweetie, you should see the look of hope on your bodyguard's face now. You're such a tease."
Asami turned his head to glare at the monstrous blond man behind him, who raised his hands and backed away.
"Baaaaaby. I can't wait any more."
A devilish gleam appeared in Asami's eyes. "Of course you can't." He dipped his head and roughly kissed him, grabbing Takato's ass and grinding their hips together. Neither one was hard but it made for a good show.
Their lips parted by the merest fraction of an inch.
"Bastard," Takato whispered.
"Tuna," Asami murmured back.
Arms around each other, they walked into the club.
A pair of binoculars on a nearby roof were lowered, and their owner tried to puzzle out what he'd seen. But that wasn't his job, just to report it, so he placed a call and described it.
"It was the other kid from the alley. I'm sure of it. Did we get the wrong one?"
The man at the other end of the line hesitated, then told him to continue watching, that he'd send a couple more men over and if they had to shoot another one it was no big deal. He shrugged his shoulders and obeyed. It was no big deal to him either.
Inside the club Takato found himself settled in a corner of Asami's office and ignored while the man gathered forces. He decided to call Kou, but neither had anything new to say. Not about that.
"Kou. What do you think about Akihito and Asami?" he spoke softly, glancing across the room at Asami's desk, trying not to be overheard.
"What do you mean? Akihito's one of my best friends. I don't know the other guy."
"Yeah, but do you think Akihito likes him?"
"Well they must be friends, right? Or the guy wouldn't have shown up here. Akihito sure complains about him a lot, but you know how he is when someone gets under his skin. I guess they just fight a lot. That doesn't mean Akihito doesn't like him."
As usual, Kou didn't have a clue something else was going on. Well, he wasn't going to bring it up now. That was something Akihito could tell him.
"Kou, it's been an awful long time since surgery started. Isn't that a bad sign?"
"Nah, I don't think so. A new surgeon showed up right after you left and took over, so he might be doing things differently. The nurses said the guy's the best though. Akihito's mom started crying after she talked to him, but she just said he's a good man."
Takato knew she hadn't been talking about the doctor.
"OK, well keep me posted. Tell Takaba-san that we're there with her in thought."
"Sure thing. What are you doing, anyway?"
"Just trying to take care of Akihito in our own way."
"Need any help?"
"I just need to know that you're there and will let us know any news as soon as you hear it, and that you're taking care of Takaba-san."
"You can count on me!"
Takato smiled at his friend's enthusiasm. "I know I can. Thanks for being such a great friend, Kou."
"Yeah. You too, buddy."
There was a slightly awkward silence, because they just didn't say that kind of thing.
"I'll talk to you ..." /"I'll call you..." /they said at the same time, then they started laughing and said goodbye.
Takato glanced over at Asami only to see him staring at him. He tried to remember what he'd said exactly because he couldn't tell if he'd been overheard.
"Any news?" the man asked casually, his eyes not leaving Takato's.
"The new surgeon arrived. Akihito's still in surgery. His mother cried after talking to the surgeon and said you were a good man. Thank you for doing that for him. I know she'd thank you as well."
"I didn't do it for either of you."
"I know why you did it. I wonder if you do."
"You think I'm in love?" Asami scoffed.
"I think you care about him. From the way he acts I doubt you've ever told him though, because you think he'd throw it back in your face. It hurts, when that happens. So it's frightening to take a chance like that. I understand. But if you haven't told him and he doesn't make it, you'll hate yourself for it."
Asami folded his hands across his stomach and regarded him with no little exasperation. "Are you trying to goad me into a confession?"
"Yes. Is it working?"
Asami snorted. "No. You're very like him in some ways. Only he kisses better." His eyes softened slightly. "Much better."
"Why should I?"
"Doesn't his happiness mean anything to you?"
"It... does. But his anger is so entertaining."
"Hell, if that's all you can still tease him. We do it all the time because it's funny watching him go off on a rant. And what about your happiness? Wouldn't you be happier being honest?"
"Are you trying to be my friend, Takato?" Asami asked in apparent disbelief.
"Someone has to."
This time Asami genuinely laughed. "I have everything set up. Let's go over what you're going to do." His smile disappeared. "I can't guarantee they'll take the bait just yet, but the reports I've received suggest they're watching me. We'll see how foolish they are."
Takato left Sion an hour later. Once out on the steps he made a small scene.
"I don't want to go back to his apartment! He doesn't own me. I'm going drinking and I'll see him again when /I /want to." He tossed his head and strode briskly away from the club, toward an even darker part of town.
Several sets of eyes were on him, and one of the people watching placed a call.
"Give him some time to get further away. Make sure he's not followed, then grab him at the first chance," /he heard. /"We need to find out what's going on." He relayed the message.
None of Asami's men were going after the kid. It looked like they didn't care about some punk who was screwing their boss. He was probably an embarrassment they wanted to get rid of. For that matter, Asami didn't seem to care either. This would be a piece of cake.
Takato tried to look like he was just off to bar hop the rest of the night away as he followed the path Asami had made him memorize. It was almost 04:00 and the streets were pretty empty compared to how filled they'd been earlier in the night. He knew Asami's men were watching him, but he couldn't help be nervous. What if someone just shot him from somewhere? Sure, he was wearing Kevlar, but he hadn't really thought this through. Had he been an idiot or what? He stopped in his tracks, then quickly started walking again. A moving target was harder to hit. He wasn't walking so nonchalantly any longer though.
His phone rang. A glance at the screen told him it was Asami. "Having second thoughts Takato?"
Takato tried not to glance nervously around. "Yeah, sort of. I just realized how vulnerable I was. But I'm going through with it. For Akihito."
"Good. You're coming up to the alley I told you about. Turn there and they should make a move. They've been following you since you left Sion. I didn't think it would be this easy, but they must be underestimating us. Fools. This will all be over with soon."
Takato felt better just for hearing Asami tell him that all this had been anticipated. He realized he trusted the man to get him through this. /He's a good leader/, he thought. "Asami.... thanks."
There was a pause, then a sarcastic "That's what friends are for," before the call was disconnected.
Takato smiled and hurried on, more confident. He was starting to understand, and knew the sarcasm for what it was.
Asami'd had it figured. Within seconds of Takato's strolling into the alley behind the designated clubs two men came up behind him. He glanced back at them in not-so-feigned alarm and took off running, trying to get to his destination before they decided to shoot instead of chase him anymore.
It had been a long night though and he was tired, more than he'd counted on. He could hear their feet pounding right behind him and he didn't see the building Asami had described.
A red light.
A single bare red light bulb above a door that would be open. His eyes scanned desperately as he felt his energy running out.
Red. He couldn't see it. The chill air was burning his lungs.
Light. Where? Sweat was starting to soak into his shirt. Where was it?
He saw it, and he felt like he was seeing the gates of paradise.
Energy he wasn't aware he had burst through him. His feet were killing him but he flew like death himself was after him and darted through the opening. A hand jerked him to the side in the dark and against a broad chest. "Well done," said a quiet voice he'd been looking forward to hearing again. He didn't feel the least bit ashamed for leaning against the man and catching his breath, and Asami let him lean there. He almost laughed when he realized death hadn't been behind him, but waiting. Luckily it wasn't waiting for him.
The door slammed behind his pursuers and a dim light flooded the room. Seven men with guns drawn stood around two, all of them blinking, and the two realized they'd been had. They stood there nervously, back to back, guns in hand, a temporary standoff.
One of Asami's lieutenant's, the one with glasses, stood outside the circle. "What you've done wasn't very wise. Now you have another choice. This can be as easy for you or as hard as you want to make it. We generously give you a minute to think it over before you'll give Asami-sama your decision."
Asami's quiet voice drew his attention. "Takato. You don't want to stay for this. My driver will get you a ride back to Sion or the hospital or wherever you want to go."
Takato stepped back and stood on his own two feet. "I earned the right to stay."
"You did. But what happens from here on out is something you're probably better off not knowing."
"You're going to kill them? They're not the ones who shot Akihito."
Asami didn't quite answer. "But they helped, and they know who did. They're not getting away with what they've done. They've not only hurt Takaba, but they've challenged me on my own turf. I can't let it go."
He understood then how naïve he'd been. "You're mafia."
"Not exactly. I follow no rules but my own. But if you want to think of me that way you may."
Takato briefly considered his situation. It didn't take long. He was angry and wanted some revenge for Akihito and himself, but organized crime was a world he didn't want to enter. It was too easy to get lost in it, and too hard to find a way out. It quite honestly scared the hell out of him. Looking up at Asami, who was gazing at him impassively, he nodded. "I'll wait for you at the car."
Asami nodded back. "This shouldn't take long."
He looked back just as he was leaving the building. Asami was walking toward the surrounded men with the smooth gait of a beast about to take down some prey. He shuddered and ducked out the door, and made his way to the BMW where he sat in the back seat and tried not to imagine what was happening inside that building. But the fact that he was half-erect hadn't escaped him. Akihito, I see the draw, I really do, but what have you got yourself into?