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The Best

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Polar opposites were meant to attract—that was just basic physics.

The neat—taking "neat" to mean "freakishly straight-laced"—guy at the table in the corner was bent over his tea, abjectly gazing into it. The steam fogged up his glasses, and he took them off and set them aside, pinching at the bridge of his nose.

Matsuda had been drinking mediocre beer and admiring the ceiling, but admiring this guy was even better. This guy had gorgeous eyes and great hair, and he looked outward-hollow—he looked like he had a thousand things to say and no voice to speak them. He looked like he had the kind of conviction that would make men tremble, but his hands were tied.

Matsuda was empty on the inside. He papered it over with Christmas wrapping and topped it with a bow, but there was so, so little in the box some days.

They would fit together, wouldn't they? Positives and negatives lined up and slotted in and stuck.

Matsuda giggled, because that sounded like an elaborate dirty joke.

Then he heaved himself off of the barstool and charted a course for the other guy's table, because this was something that he knew, somehow, that he needed.

He sat down and placed his bottle next to the guy's teacup.

The guy looked up, all deep brown eyes and bewilderment.

"Do I know you?" he asked.

"Not yet," Matsuda reported cheerfully. He considered. "You look like hell. I mean," he amended hastily, "in a good way, but—what happened to you?"

The guy stared at him, swallowed, and picked up his tea, cradling the cup almost protectively in both hands, contemplating its surface again.

"I lost a case," he said.

Matsuda blinked and waited.

The guy glanced at him.

"That's all," he specified, the corners of his mouth twitching into a downward curve. "I lost a case."

"Well," Matsuda managed, "I'm sorry. Was it a big case?"

The guy set his tea down again and sighed.

"It was medium-sized," he answered. "It's not—it's not even losing that gets to me; it's that…" He tussled with the words, fidgeting with a napkin and aligning it perfectly with the table's edge. "It wasn't right. I should have won. The man was guilty; now he won't get what he deserved…"

Matsuda shifted, fighting the urge to tap his feet on the floor.

"I know what you mean," he told the guy. "I'm a cop. And we try really hard—well, I do; I work with all these… never mind—but sometimes, we just can't do it. Sometimes, the bad guys win. And—I dunno. You just have to focus on the good stuff, and on the times when things work out, and you have to appreciate that trying is all you can do, or else you'll lose your mind."

The guy looked at him, more appraisingly this time.

"What's your name?" he wanted to know.

Matsuda flung a hand out, narrowly evading knocking over the bottle.

"Touta Matsuda, at your service," he announced brightly.

The guy shook, less reluctantly than Matsuda would have expected.

"Teru Mikami," he returned, and Matsuda rolled it around on his tongue like a piece of peppermint.

"Nice to meet you," Matsuda said, truthfully.

Mikami offered him a thin smile—unpracticed-and-unsure thin, though, not thin because it was cold.

"Can I get you another one of those?" Matsuda asked, motioning to the tea. "I know that's sort of a weird question—like, nobody says that about tea—but you look like you could use more than what you've got. One of the guys I work with drinks tea all the time. Coffee, too. And he's got a sweet tooth that'd make a woolly mammoth jealous, honestly." He paused for breath. "I should shut up."

Mikami's smile was a little less thin this time.

"You can buy me tea," he permitted. "Thank you."

Within an hour, Matsuda had purchased two more cups of tea and five shots, four of which Mikami had knocked back with a startling, almost robotic precision.

Matsuda called a taxi at the end of that hour—whatever anyone else might have contended, he wasn't stupid, and he knew how to sidestep trouble when it he saw it barreling down the track he was standing on.

Mikami seized his hand as they settled in the backseat of the cab, glasses gleaming too much for Matsuda to see his eyes.

"Can I come home with you?" he asked, grip tightening.

Matsuda's head was swimming—backstroking confidently, at the moment, but the danger of drowning was there—and he sorted through the muddle for a response.

"Why?" was the best he found.

Mikami spread Matsuda's fingers, examining each of them in turn.

"Mine is empty," he said softly. "And you're warm."

Not-smiling was far from Matsuda's forte. He threaded his fingers through Mikami's.

"Sure you can," he said. "We can watch 'Law and Order.' Or no, wait. We can watch 'House' or something."

"We can watch the news," Mikami mumbled contentedly, clutching Matsuda's hand and leaning against the window.

"You could watch 'The Notebook,'" the cab driver, a young, unshaven man in a newsboy cap, suggested to Matsuda, grinning at him in the rearview mirror.

"Eew," Matsuda said eloquently.

It wasn't too long a ride back to Matsuda's place, which was an apartment seven stories up. It wasn't fancy, and it wasn't even all that clean, but the windows faced the street, and it was enough for his tastes.

Mikami was extremely pliable as Matsuda hauled him through the lobby to the elevator, which buzzed and beeped its annoyance at being summoned at such an hour. Discontentment aside, it lifted them up to Matsuda's floor with nothing worse than a slightly vindictive lurch, and Matsuda slid his arm around Mikami's shoulders to guide him down the hall. It wasn't that the other man was falling-down drunk—he wasn't, not quite. He was just… unstable. And… distracted.

Matsuda managed to get them both into his apartment without anyone ending up on the carpet, which he thought was quite an accomplishment. He sat Mikami down on the couch, where the man smiled nervously up at him.

"I'm not usually like this," he promised. "I'm not usually like this at all. I'm—boring."

Matsuda sat down next to him and patted his hand. "No, you're not," he said.

"You don't even—"

"You were still just drinking tea when I first saw you," Matsuda reminded him contentedly.

"Tea is less boring than I am," Mikami decided dejectedly.

"Well," Matsuda volunteered, "I'm obnoxious, drunk and sober."

The thin smile was back. "If you were genuinely obnoxious, I wouldn't have let you join me."

"I probably wouldn't have given you a choice," Matsuda told him, "because I'm obnoxious."

Mikami took his hand again, turning it over, and slowly traced the lines of his palm.

"I like you, though," he said quietly. "I like that… you believe in things. You're innocent, and you're generous, and you believe in right and wrong and in people. You believe that people are good—are instinctively good. And I just… can't. But I admire that. I like that. I like you."

Matsuda was so pleased—and embarrassed—and flattered—and touched—that he couldn't do much more than smile shyly for a long minute.

"I like you, too," he said, and fumbled on the coffee table for the television remote.

Mikami settled as the calm rhythm of the newscaster's voice washed over them, and he had dozed off against Matsuda's shoulder by the time the weather came on. Matsuda watched the drifting of the Doppler radar, vaguely resolved to find an umbrella, and then laid Mikami down on the couch, stroking his hair a little when he muttered incoherently. He took off Mikami's coat, rescued his glasses, and gently slid his tie out from his collar, laying everything on the nearest armchair, and then he struggled to undo the incredibly meticulous lacing of the man's polished shoes. He finished by tugging a warm fleece blanket up to Mikami's shoulder, smiling faintly as his guest curled into it, dark bangs sliding into his eyes.

This was probably going to be tricky in the morning.

But it wasn't morning yet—it was still the gently-muffled heart of the night, which meant that Matsuda could stand there with his hands in his pockets and watch Mikami breathing softly for another minute or two.

Maybe that was what Mikami had meant.

Matsuda would never be the the smartest, or the coolest, or the most appreciated, but maybe he could be the happiest. He could never be the best, but maybe he could make the best of it.

Maybe there was a lot to be said for seeing the best in others. Maybe believing in mankind wasn't naïve after all—maybe it was brave.

And maybe sometimes, somebody would see that, and like that, and like you for it.

And maybe that was enough for his tastes.