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“This is Nakajima Yuto”, Takaki says. And Yamada waits, because that name explains nothing at all.

Takaki may be little bit too fond of strangers, but bringing one to the workshop is almost as intimate as inviting him home. Maybe more.

Yamada takes in the new guy. Tall, black-haired, handsome. He instantly hates the vaguely amused look of those pretty and dark eyes.

“Newly arrived from L.A.” Takaki points out.

And Yamada would never have guessed.

Nakajima’s skin glows under the colorful neon display of pachinko advertisements that line up the street; not the dark tan one would expect from sunny California but an almost translucent milky white.

“Long way from home.” Yamada’s voice is harsh, but Nakajima doesn’t engage in the aggression.

In its stead, the ghost of a crooked smile haunts the corner of his lips as he sighs, a cool whisper in the hot August night.

“Not really.” Not a trace of accent in his voice.

Takaki chuckles. “He’s from Tokyo, originally.”

Takaki leaves it at that and Yamada examines this prodigal Tokyo boy before him. Black skinny jeans wrapped around slim and long legs, clean-cut dark red leather jacket that accentuates his narrow waist and a plain deep blue T-shirt that looks haphazardly thrown in; but Yamada knows better.

Nothing about this Nakajima character is careless. There’s nothing random about him. Not in the way his hair looks a bit too perfectly ruffled, not in the way he stands up, either. His clothing and his attitude reek of money.

Pretty rich boy, and, Takaki’s words notwithstanding, too far away from home.

“And he is tagging along because...?”

“Well...” Takaki grimaces, but doesn’t elaborate. And maybe his boss has never been the most articulate human being in this world, but Yamada is getting more frustrated than usual about the lack of information.

He eyes Nakajima, who has the nerve to stare him down, even if he does look a bit appalled in his stubborn silence.

“He all but totaled the FTO.” Finally, it is Chinen who answers.

He had been so quiet while sprawled on the hood of Takaki’s red Miata that Yamada forgot he was there all along.

Takaki lights up a cigarette and takes a deep drag. Yamada just gapes, forgetting about giving Takaki a hard time for smoking when he said he was going to quit. Again.

“I am going to need the longer version,” Yamada finally manages to force out, resisting the need to pinch himself.

Because this has to be a nightmare. Or a prank. The Mitsubishi FTO is Takaki’s baby. He has invested more money and time in that car than he has on his hair and clothes during all of his life. A 1.8 base model from 1994 completely retrofitted, with a roaring Galant VR4 twin-turbo engine, remapped ignition chip, and fast road cams. Last time Takaki rode it, it got past 60 mph in just a bit over 5 seconds without even resorting to the first NOS charge. Beautiful, even if Yamada always thought the fire dragon paintwork was a little bit tacky.

This just can’t be happening.

“Hotshot here,” Chinen begins and nods in Nakajima’s direction as he sits up, “picked a fight with Hikka but didn’t have a ride to back up his mouth when he dared him to a race. So Yuya offered him the FTO.”

“With Hikka?” And now Yamada is pissed. He takes two quick steps in Nakajima’s direction, but Takaki is already there, and halts Yamada before he can punch Nakajima. “What the... Yuya!”

It’s one thing to be a newbie, and a stupid one to boot, but being an arrogant son of a bitch going against one very notorious gang leader is another story completely.

“Easy, Yamada,” Takaki admonishes, with a calm tone that makes Yamada want to punch him too.

“You are going to stand up for him?” Yamada’s voice breaks with anger and this, at last, seems to get the attention of the previously impervious Nakajima.

“Sorry, I missed the part where this is any if your business?” He snaps, defiance dripping from his words.

Chinen all but whistles and Takaki sighs, while Yamada just stands there, too busy trying to breathe past all of his indignation. Nakajima has the decency to look almost confused.

“Yamada is my head mechanic,” Takaki explains. “We spent years tuning that car, rebuilt it almost from scratch. It was his most dear project… his…”

“Masterpiece,” Chinen supplies, helpfully, when Takaki seems at loss for the right word.

Yamada doesn’t even look in Nakajima’s direction as he strolls past him into the street. He needs some air.

Chinen rushes to his side, a reassuring hand over Yamada’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry,Ryosuke. That guy is basically Yuyan’s bitch now,” Chinen whispers.

“Just make sure he doesn’t leave the country,” Yamada retorts as he walks away.

But that’s not what bugs Yamada. Nakajima could get lost in the ether and he wouldn’t give a damn about him not being punished for trashing their precious car at all. He would actually prefer it that way.

He knows how Takaki’s mind works and he knows what he was thinking when he handed the keys of the FTO to some tourist racer-wannabe.

And Takaki’s betrayal stings like poison.

***

“You don’t need a driver,” Yamada says, trying hard to unclench his fists, to relax.

Takaki smiles, that lazy, almost childish smile that once was able to melt Yamada’s insides like butter. But he isn’t that guy anymore, as much as Takaki isn’t who he was back then, either.

“He needs to learn. Just the basics, and then he’s on his own. He has potential, you know?” Takaki drawls, and Yamada tries to guess how Nakajima could have won Takaki Yuya over so little time.

“Potential?” Yamada retorts, his face twisted in a sarcastic grin. “Potential to do what? Trash every car we manage to put together?”

Takaki chuckles. “Well… there’s that,” he sighs. “He has to learn to drift. He owes me a car, has to race to get me one.”

“Can’t his daddy pay for his mess?”

“We all have our ghosts, Yamada.” Takaki reaches for his pocket, where he usually keeps his cigarettes, but Yamada’s pointed look stops him. He sighs, dropping both of his arms in defeat. “There’s a reason why he is working three part time jobs, you know?”

“You said making him your errand boy was punishment enough!”

“And I ran out of errands to run!” Takaki says, and he can try and play the clueless-and-silly card all he wants, but Yamada isn’t buying it today and he makes sure his face shows it. “Look, there’s only so many people who owes me money or favors and I already hassled all of them. Nakajima did his time as my messenger boy, I have no use for him now.”

“So you’re going to train him to take over what was supposed to be my place!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re my head mechanic, he isn’t going to take that away…”

“Yuya!” Yamada halts him, exasperated. “It’s been years! I am ready to race again!”

Takaki expression darkens, and Yamada knows him well enough to read frustration as well as a bit of anger there. And the same intense fear that claims Takaki’s eyes every time something related to the accident comes up.

Takaki gets close, too close. Yamada can smell his imported shampoo and spicy cologne, feel the heat of Takaki’s body on his skin as Takaki’s hand darts towards Yamada’s hip, his touch harsh over clothes that cover titanium and skin, over wounds that never healed quite right. And Yamada flinches in spite of himself.

“You’re not going to die in one of my cars.” Takaki’s voice is a hiss; heated, pleading.

“You don’t trust me,” Yamada whispers, and even if he can hold Takaki’s stare until the other man walks away, he feels defeated.

“We all have ghosts.”

***

“I know that I blew it when we met,” Nakajima says one day, out of the blue.

Yamada and him are working in a new car, salvaging what they can from the FTO to tune up a shiny chromed Lexus that Takaki brought in some days ago. It’s tacky and old, as usual, but at least it’s from this decade.

The engine is a work of art in just enough decadence to make it fun, but the suspension is a rebellious bitch and it’s giving Yamada a headache. Stubborn piece of junk, just like its owner. Yamada sighs.

“What?” He answers at Nakajima, half expecting him to back down, because this is a conversation he doesn’t particularly want to have.

Nakajima lets out something that sound as a sad self-deprecating chuckle, stops fighting the perverse part he is trying to remove from the car, and reaches for a rag to clean his hands.

Yamada looks at him then, deep and assessing, the way he never let himself look at him in the first place. Nakajima looks a bit older, a bit worn down; a lot humbler. There is a little scar on his upper lip that Yamada doesn’t remember being there. And Yamada knows Takaki’s debtors don’t always make the job easy for his collectors.

Nakajima’s hair is ruffled for real now, from work, and his face has grease smudges where he carelessly dried his sweat with his sleeves. He looks really good.

“I am used to people thinking I’m a jerk,” Nakajima continues, and there’s that chuckle again, the one that scratches at Yamada’s sympathy and that he already hates because of that. “But I really plan to pay Takaki for the car I trashed and it would be way easier if we could be civil? With each other.”

There is a puzzling naivete in the way Nakajima looks at him, almost hopeful, and Yamada feels like grinning.

“Well, you are right... you can really be a jerk...” Yamada manages a deadpan through all the sentence, but his poker face cracks at the end.

“Can we go somewhere to eat? We have some time before she has to race.” Nakajima points at the Lexus with his head.

“Sure,” Yamada’s mouth articulates before his brain can catch up.

Then Nakajima smiles and Yamada hopes he’s not blushing.

***

They go for yakitori at a tiny joint in a gallery under the train tracks, and then for some beers at a standing bar. By the time they hit karaoke they are both a bit inebriated already, and Yamada knows more about Nakajima than just his name and his attitude problem, even if he still can’t figure out why the guy lives on a shitty apartment he rents out of the salaries of three part time jobs, but dresses in brands Yamada can only dream about owning.

They sing some idol pop songs, old ones, from Yamada’s and Nakajima’s childhood, then Nakajima insists in singing a Red Hot Chili Peppers song that Yamada doesn’t know the lyrics to, but says something about a girl named Dani. Nakajima’s voice is a bith thin, and maybe too high for the song in question, but Yamada can’t help but stare at him, through eyes blurred by alcohol and midnight.

It’s all-you-can-drink in cocktails at the karaoke place, at half the price because Yamada knows someone, and soon they are too trashed to keep singing. After strawberry daiquiri number who-knows-which, Yamada is so out of it that he forgets to complain when Nakajima pulls out a cigarette and lights it.

“Raiya loved karaoke,” Nakajima lets out slowly along with a cloud of smoke, after a long silence.

There’s sadness in Nakajima’s voice, all his body language broadcasting inner pain. Yamada doesn’t risk interrupting, so he only mumbles “un...” and nods, even if Nakajima isn’t looking in his direction at all.

“I hadn’t done this,” Nakajima makes a broad gesture with his hands that encompases the room they are in. “Since the last time I was at one of these with him.”

“Close friend?” Yamada asks, more to break the silence that follows than out of real curiosity.

“Brother,” Nakajima answers, his voice just this side of a sigh.

“Does he live in California?”

“He died. Two years ago.” Nakajima all but slurs, examining the end of his empty glass in fascination.

“I’m sorry,” Yamada whispers. He never knows what to say in these kind of situations.

“Cancer,” Nakajima mutters, after acknowledging Yamada’s condolences with an almost imperceptible nod. “Same as mother, when I was a child. He fought hard until the end, too.”

There’s a vulnerability in Nakajima’s voice that Yamada would never have suspected that existed, all his walls knocked down by alcohol, night and song, leaving only a grieving man behind. Yamada wants to kick his own soft heart for caring.

“Sounds like he was a great guy.”

“The best. He was the only human in the world who could deal with my father. He was smart, caring, talented. Everything I wasn’t.” Self-loathing drips from each and every one of Nakajima’s words. Then he chuckles, the saddest sound Yamada has ever heard. “It should have been me.”

Yamada knows the feeling, maybe with different words, different facts, but he knows all about it. He also knows that nothing he says can make Nakajima feel better, so he just downs what’s left of his drink and waits for a bit before talking again.

“Must have been difficult living in L.A. after that, with only your father.”

“We moved to California because of my father’s job, I stayed there because of Raiya. When he…” Nakajima clears his throat and Yamada can understand how difficult is for him to talk about this, understand a bit why Nakajima goes about life like he had a score to settle with the whole universe. “When Raiya passed away, I had no reason for keep on living in that house. Father and I couldn’t speak two words to each other without start yelling, so I just..”

“Came back to Japan to pick fights with gang leaders and destroy the work of brilliant mechanics,” Yamada quips, and Nakajima’s chortle has at least a tiny pinch of joy in it.

“Not right then. First I rented an apartment and basically spent the next two years wasting my father’s money in any way I could imagine.”

“Drugs?” Yamada isn’t judging, could never do so after so many years of tuning cars for illegal racing and all the other things he used to do before Takaki showed up in his life.

“Pills. Mostly at clubs. Then I got bored of both.” Nakajima closes his eyes and rests his head on the wall, his lips are pressed on a thin line and Yamada blames the alcohol for feeling so tempted to kiss them that he has to look away to stop himself. “After a while they just make you numb and I was numb enough already.”

“Then racing makes sense.” Yamada doesn’t notice he actually articulated his thoughts until he feels Nakajima’s questioning gaze on him. “The adrenaline rush is as far from numb as you can get.”

“Father would say I am trying to get myself killed.”

“Are you?” There’s such intensity when their eyes meet that Yamada’s heart skips a beat.

“I just like sports cars,” Nakajima says, dismissively, and looks away.

“I suppose your dad has no money left for you to waste on one,” Yamada drawls, changing the subject because there is no point in pressing the issue and he knows it.

“Actually, he disowned me. I guess I got into one too many a fight and he got tired of bribing cops. I used the money I had left to buy my ticket here.”

“You’re lucky you trashed Yuya’s car.”

It was providential even, in Yamada’s opinion. And it might even be funny someday; little boy blue comes back to Tokyo and messes with the worst gang in Shinjuku to cater to his suicidal tendencies… only to run into Takaki Yuya -notorious illegal racer with an habit to collect strays-, and blows every chance Yamada ever had of racing again. Yamada just grunts.

“I am sorry I destroyed your hard work,” Nakajima says, honestly. And even if it’s not the point, Yamada nods and accepts the apology.

“It’s not your fault that you are a crappy driver.”

Nakajima laughs. It’s a high-pitched laughter that borders on obnoxious, but is pretty contagious too, so Yamada joins him in spite of himself.

“I don’t know why Takaki lent me the keys. He didn’t know anything about me, had met me like five minutes before.” Nakajima puts out his smoke, still smiling. “But I guess you’re right, I was really lucky. I needed a purpose, needed it bad, especially at that point. Maybe Takaki saw that, maybe he didn’t, but... he saved me.”

For now, Yamada thinks, all the remaining laughter freezing off him at that, but he doesn’t say anything out loud this time.

Isn’t that just like Takaki, anyway? To attract people with some kind of deathwish like a magnet.

Yamada’s mind flashes back to the first time he ever saw Chinen, years ago; unconscious and bruised after being beaten within an inch of his life by some thugs. Yamada remembers Takaki at the door of Yamada’s apartment, carrying Chinen like he would carry a sleeping child, the rain pouring down hard over both of them, washing away the blood.

Yamada hasn’t craved nicotine this hard since that night.

So, when Nakajima lights another cigarette he gets to take two puffs out of it before Yamada steals it from his fingers and takes a long deep drag. Nakajima’s gaze fixes on Yamada’s lips until Yamada butts out the cigarette on the ashtray, then he stares straight into Yamada’s eyes.

The silence extends for an eternity of three seconds, while Yamada’s heart hammers wildly in his chest.

“Trains are already running.” Yamada hears his own voice say, at last, tight and faraway.

“I’ll walk you to the station,” Nakajima offers, finally averting his sight.

They don’t utter any other word until they part.

***

It takes a couple of days for Yamada to accept that he doesn’t hate Nakajima anymore, and then a couple more until he realizes he actually likes the guy. It isn’t until he finds himself offering to teach Nakajima how to drift that he worries, but maybe by then it’s too late.

“Really?” Nakajima is a bit skeptical.

“Yeah, well... Yuya asked me to.” Eons ago, and Yamada all but ignored his request, but Nakajima doesn’t need to know that. “Just get in the car, will you?”

The car is a 1992 Honda Civic that is in the workshop, not one of Yamada’s favorite works, but he thinks it would do. And If Nakajima crashes it, it won’t be that much of a sentimental punch in the gut for Yamada.

Soon enough they are at the outskirts of Tokyo, at the base of the winding road that goes up a hill.

“You can’t learn this out of textbooks, and no one can really teach you how to do it. It began here,” Yamada explains, looking at at the sharp turns of mountain roads. “And it’s supposed to be felt,” Yamada adds, as Nakajima grips the wheel. “So… feel it.”

Nakajima is terrible at it. Horrible. His sense of speed is wrong and he turns way too soon when he takes the curves. He might be a decent driver on mostly straight roads, or so Takaki had said, but zigzags are not his thing at all, and Yamada is getting crankier by the minute.

“Hit the brake when I tell you to!” Yamada yells at Nakajima after yet another failed attempt. “It’s no use half an hour later!”

“It would be easier if you just let me press the gas harder!”

“You get out of the road well enough at this snail speed! Or do you need a chance to fail harder?”

At that, Nakajima temper flares. His brow furrows and he hits reverse at a violent speed.

“Oi!” It’s the only thing that Yamada has time to utter before he has to find purchase on the bottom of the seat as Nakajima accelerates forward.

And then Nakajima is going for the next bend too fast.

Yamada tries to rein in the creeping terror, tries to not see the side of the hill approaching way too quickly, but Nakajima pulls on the hand brake at the wrong point, too soon for the wheels to properly grip the road. They skid over the pavement and the car starts spinning. And time freezes.

Yamada tries to scream, but he can’t get any sound past his closed throat, just as he can’t get any air in his lungs. He can feel the frenzied beat of his pulse drumming hard on his ears, the beat of blood in his veins choking him, sweat blinding his eyes. Somewhere, far behind his closed eyelids, he knows what’s happening, but it’s too late to try to stop it. He tries to bite down the fear, tries to breathe through the messy tightness his body has become, but it’s no use.

Darkness closes in, grabbing first Yamada’s feet then crawling upwards, paralyzing every joint of his body, engulfing him whole, until darkness is all there is. And he falls...

When he comes about he’s drenched in cold sweat and Nakajima is frantically trying to unstrap his seatbelt.

“Yama-chan! Are you okay?” Nakajima shouts in Yamada’s face the second he opens his eyes.

“You are too close…” Yamada slurs, because Nakajima is. And he smells too damn good too, a sugary smell that is not entirely perfume, as calming as it is intoxicating. Yamada tries to clear his head and breathe. His hands are still shaking. “And what the heck did you just call me?”

***

Nakajima calls it a day after that, and says he needs a beer. Yamada just needs to be left the fuck alone, but to drill that into Nakajima’s stubborn head would take an amount of energy Yamada simply does not have right now.

“What was that at the road?” Nakajima asks after downing half his glass of beer in one go.

“You won’t leave me be even if I say it’s none of your damn business, will you?”

“You blacked out back there, Yama-chan,” Nakajima scowls, and Yamada is too tired to even protest about this new ridiculous nickname that Nakajima doesn't seem intent on dropping.

He sighs. “Yuya must have told you about the accident.”

“Takaki didn’t breathe a word about you to me, except for saying you’re a stubborn son of a bitch and that he trusts you with his life.”

Yamada chuckles, a bit touched. And maybe he is still shaken up from the panic attack in the hills, but he feels he can trust Nakajima, with some of it at least.

“Some years ago, months after Yuya… and I met.” He had meant to say found me, but that would lead to questions about Yamada’s past, about Yamada’s life and occupation before Takaki, that he is not keen on sharing yet. “I was in a car crash. I was racing one of Yuya’s cars against Yabu.”

Yamada sees the recognition in Nakajima’s eyes.

“Hikka’s second man. Tall, thin, smiles a lot?” Nakajima describes, looking for confirmation, and Yamada nods.

“Well, Hikka’s gang isn’t famous for playing nice or fair. So they somehow messed with the brakes of the car I was driving, and…” Blood, Yamada remembers the smell of blood; and wondering why the world was spinning in slow motion. “The car rolled over on its side. Ugly stuff.”

“And you?” Nakajima asks, with careful concern that makes Yamada’s face feel warm to the tip of his ears.

“Broken leg. Broken arm. A nasty broken rib that took ages to heal… and I have a cool titanium hip joint!” Yamada tries to joke, but Nakajima’s frown is not easing.

“You almost died.”

“Yuya picked me up when they released me from the hospital,” Yamada continues, brushing off Nakajima’s concern because he just can’t deal with that right now. “He took me to his own house to take care of me. On the way there some guy missed a red light and Yuya had to hit the brakes too hard to avoid hitting him... and well... He hasn’t let me race again since then.”

“And Takaki told you to teach me about drifting? Even though he knew all that?”

“I don’t think he knew you’d suck so much at it…”

“We are not going to do this anymore,” Nakajima snaps. “I’m not putting you through that again.”

“Look, Yuto,” Yamada begins, and surprises both of them by calling Nakajima by his first name. “Cars are my life. Racing gave me a reason to live when everything else was meaningless to me. I have to go back. I have to. And I will never be able to do so if I don’t face this.”

Nakajima understands, Yamada can see it, clear as the day. And even if Nakajima wanted to, he couldn’t deny that Yamada is right.

“Okay,” Nakajima agrees. “We’ll keep this a secret between us.”

They entwine their pinkies to seal the deal, and even if Yamada giggles at the childishness of it, he knows Nakajima means it.

***

Race nights are a party, the only one that Yamada doesn’t mind attending.

There are hordes of girls in micro-skirts and body glitter, and whole tribes of men trying to get the girls’ attention, with varying degrees of success. There are mechanics too, racers, loud music, and lots of booze and cigarette smoke, all mixed up in basement number eight of some otherwise deserted office building.

Yamada glides through the crowd, greets some of the racers, and even makes time to chat and trade some tips with Mirai, head mechanic of an all-woman team that Yamada is really fond of.

He tries to not be nervous, to detach a bit of what is going to happen, but his stomach is knotted up so bad he hasn’t been able to swallow anything more than water since he woke up in the morning.

It’s been weeks of practice, and even though he knows Nakajima has improved his skills dramatically, he is still concerned about this night. With good reason too, because tonight Nakajima is betting the Honda Civic in a race against a 1986 Toyota Corolla. Yabu Kota’s Toyota Corolla.

Yamada triple-checked the Honda and all its systems at the workshop, then checked them again when they arrived to the building. Takaki and Chinen have been guarding it against any sabotage attempts since then. Everything should be fine.

As if conjured by Yamada’s thoughts, a tall, thin man with his arms covered in tattoos and a peaceful smile on his lips appears suddenly at Yamada’s left, so quietly that Yamada doesn’t notice his presence until the man speaks.

“So… you’re going after the Corolla, eh?” Yabu’s voice startles Yamada.

“Swift as a snake, Yabu,” Yamada greets the man beside him.

“Flattery won’t get you anywhere with me,” Yabu retorts, with a smile on his face that never fails to give Yamada the creeps no matter how many years go by.

“Good to know,” Yamada curtly replies, happy when his voice doesn’t quiver. “Anything else?”

“Don’t even dream you’re getting my car, pretty boy.”

“We’ll see,” Yamada says, with a confidence he doesn’t really feel.

Yabu chuckles and pats Yamada in the shoulder. “Come talk with me after I defeat your little tourist pet. I wanna talk business with you.”

“Don’t expect me to nurse your ego back to health after the race,” Yamada deadpans and feels a twitch of anxiety when Yabu laughs.

As he watches Yabu walk away, Yamada discreetly dries his sweaty palms on his jeans.

***

Yamada only gets to watch the first seconds of the race before he has to run to the elevators to get to the ground floor, where the finish line is located.

There are, as usual, a couple of racing enthusiasts posted on the intermediate basement levels recording and livecasting the whole thing from their cellphones, so as soon as he gets to the ground level, Yamada glues his eyes to the screen of Chinen’s laptop and watches them go.

Nakajima’s lines are smooth and clean. He is used to the Honda by now, used to its weight and balance, and he works it to take the bends in wider turns, using the inertia and grip of the wheels to win an advantage of almost two tenths of a second from Yabu’s golden car.

Yamada catches a glimpse of Nakajima’s face at one of the straights in the last levels, gone too soon as the streaming switches to another source. It’s enough to burn it down in Yamada’s memory, though, and Nakajima’s fierce concentration does funny things to Yamada’s insides.

It ends not a second too soon, in a blast of cheering and kya-ing from the multitude assembled, Nakajima’s blue and black Honda screeching to an elegant halt in the middle of the ground level, a good whole second ahead of Yabu’s car.

Nakajima power-brakes for show, enveloping the approaching excited fans in smoke, and Yamada is so ecstatic that he doesn’t even think about nagging Nakajima for the damage he is causing to the transmission of the car.

Yamada can see Yabu getting out of the Corolla, and then walking briskly to the secluded place where Hikka is is waiting beside a goofily smiling Takaki. Yabu gets there in no time, and swiftly tries to hit Takaki. But Hikka stops his fist with a grimace, shouts a couple of rough-sounding words at him, and takes the keys of the car to hand them over to Takaki.

Yamada lets go of the breath he didn’t realize he was holding and looks away in time to see Chinen running, pushing past a petite girl with pinkish hair that almost loses her balance, to be the first one to hug Nakajima when he emerges from the car.

And then there’s Nakajima, with a handful of Chinen around his neck, almost tipping forward from the sudden weight, and laughing that high pitched, utterly obnoxious laugh. He is sweating, his hair is disheveled, and he looks almost ridiculous spinning Chinen around in his arms. And, for some reason, the sight makes desire ignite every cell of Yamada’s body anyway.

Yamada’s eyes meet Nakajima’s for one electrifying moment, and the pull Yamada feels is so strong as it is scary. So he walks away slowly, gets lost in the ever-shifting mass of human bodies, shouts, and music, towards the staircase on the back of the building and down the lonely dark alleyway it leads to.

He doesn’t get further than that though, and he doesn’t know how Nakajima could escape the crowd so fast or how he could find him. The only thing Yamada knows is that when Nakajima grabs his shoulder his touch burns.

“Running away from the celebration?” Nakajima teases, a little out of breath.

He ran there, Yamada realizes; Nakajima ran all the way there for him. And that’s enough, his self-control has a limit, and Nakajima has been testing it for far too long.

He turns around, facing Nakajima, and walks forward.

“I won’t run away anymore,” Yamada whispers when they are face to face.

It is surprisingly easy to get Nakajima to lower his head to level with Yamada’s, to bend over a bit so Yamada can cup the nape of Nakajima’s neck with his hand. He slowly guides Nakajima until their lips touch, giving him plenty of time to back away.

“What are you doing?” Nakajima asks, but he kisses back earnestly, and one of his hands is firmly set on the small of Yamada’s back, keeping him close.

Yamada doesn’t answer, he just presses his body closer to Nakajima’s, deepening the kiss as he does so, letting his hands roam Nakajima’s back, and his arms.

“You are crazy...” Nakajima moans, helplessly, when Yamada’s mouth detaches from his to kiss down Nakajima’s throat and bite his neck. Then he moans again, without words this time, when Yamada begins grinding his hips down on Nakajima’s.

It keeps building for a while, with rough kisses and clumsy movements, but Yamada gets impatient soon enough. Time to change gears.

He stops kissing Nakajima and steps back.

“Eh?” Nakajima all but whines at the sudden loss of contact, and his confused face is almost cute, but Yamada is already on his knees -cold, hard concrete underneath him in stark contrast to the fire inside-, and he has no time to appreciate cuteness. “Yam… stop…” Nakajima slurs.

But Yamada’s hand is working at the buckle of Nakajima’s belt. And it’s too late, just too late.

***

“It’s so rude to leave people waiting after setting an appointment,” Yabu says, speaking softly into Yamada’s ear.

Yamada curses, spooked, but manages not to scream out loud. He never can hear Yabu approaching, and it bugs him to no end.

“I swear I’m going to put a bell on you!” Yamada curses.

“Oh, you’re so kinky! Were you always that way or did you pick it up from your clientele?” Yabu drawls, tracing Yamada’s cheek with his index finger.

“Some day I am going to punch that smile away from your little face, Yabu…” Yamada snaps, backing away from Yabu’s touch.

“You are welcome to try…” Yabu sighs, shrugging. “But, I warn you, you don’t want to do it right now. I have a proposal.”

“Is this the business you told me about the night of the race?”

“Oh, you remember! I’m touched,” Yabu grins. Yamada has never known if Yabu is a really easy-going and happy dude or if he just knows how to get under Yamada’s skin. He suspects it’s the latter. “Does the name Yamada Chihiro ring a bell?”

Yabu barely has time to finish the sentence before Yamada is on him, grabbing him by the lapels of his jacket.

“Don’t you dare mess with her.” Yamada’s voice is low and dangerous.

Yabu lifts both of his arms in mock surrender, and laughs.

“I didn’t mess with her. I didn’t have to.” Yabu pushes Yamada away violently and dusts off his jacket with his hands.

“What did you do to her you son of a bitch…”

“Nothing… yet.” Yabu’s voice is gentle, and Yamada wants to kick him. “You know? It’s a shame Chihiro’s husband hasn’t been doing so well in his business. But she shouldn’t have asked for money she couldn’t pay back. Loan sharks are so heartless…” Yabu actually pouts. “Especially Hikaru’s.”

Yamada looks at Yabu, searching for the slightest of shadows, any tiny sign that he is lying. And he finds none.

“Name your price,” Yamada hisses through clenched teeth.

“Takaki Yuya,” Yabu singsongs, happily. “I want his territory. His contacts. Everything. I want him whole. And you are going to give him to me in a silver platter.”

“We have an agreement with Hikka…” Yamada babbles. Because this is his worst nightmare. This is his proverbial rock and a hard place.

“Hikaru is getting too fucking soft!” Yabu suddenly seems angry, darker, more dangerous. “And he has nothing to do with this! You bring me Takaki Yuya by the end of this week or by saturday you won’t have to worry about protecting your sister.”

“There’s got to be another way!” Desperation makes Yamada’s voice tremble.

“Yeah well… you can try to get me five hundred thousand yens by the end of the week, but who would you ask for money? Even you can’t fuck that many guys for money by Friday.”

Yabu walks away, leaving Yamada alone in the street, his knees so wobbly he has to find support on a light pole.

Yamada can’t betray Takaki, he can’t do it. He would rather die.

Takaki got him out of drugs, got him out of the street; Takaki gave his life a purpose and took care of him after an accident that could have ended his life. He owes him. Owes Takaki so damn much he won’t be able to pay him back in all his life.

And he can’t let Yabu mess with his sister. That smiling bastard can be vicious and Yamada knows it; he can’t let him destroy Chihiro’s life, not while Yamada is alive.

Yamada has friends that owe him money, not quite as much as Yabu is asking, but Yabu is wrong. Yamada already worked the streets once, and he can do it again. As much as is necessary.

***

Maybe Yamada shouldn’t be doing this on the workshop -and the sanest part of his brain is shouting at him that he shouldn’t be doing this at all-, but even though his living quarters are on the second floor of the same building there’s something here that makes him feel more at home, more protected. And he needs all the good feelings he can muster as he puts on some revealing clothes and applies the right kind of make up.

He looks at himself on the mirror and swallows the bile rising up his throat. He is doing this for his sister this time. Not for drug money, not for alcohol. He isn’t the same person he was all those years ago.

He closes his eyes and grabs his keys, ready to go. But a voice stops him.

“Yama-chan?”

“Yuto,” Yamada makes it sound like a curse. “What are you doing here?”

“You were acting strange all day, so I hung around to see what was the matter.”

“I’m just going out to a party…”

“Really? So I guess I can tag along then?” Nakajima drawls with a dark, arrogant smirk.

Yamada tries not to flinch but knows he has failed when he sees Nakajima moving slowly toward him with the calculated ease of someone used to settle things with his fists. He corners Yamada against a wall.

“You are such a lousy liar,” Nakajima growls, as he glances over Yamada’s snug leather pants and fitted tank top; the subtle eyeliner, the tinge of mascara. “Where are you really going?”

“Let me go...” Yamada hisses, pissed with Nakajima and with himself, for letting Nakajima trap him so easily .

He tries to get past Nakajima, but Nakajima grips his wrist hard and pushes Yamada backward with his body.

“You aren’t going to do this. I won’t allow it.” There’s heat in Nakajima’s eyes, but it’s different from the lust Yamada has seen before. There’s anger there too, and in spite of that, in spite of himself, Yamada’s body reacts. Yamada is beyond mad.

“You don’t fucking own me!” He likes Nakajima, maybe a little more than he should, but that doesn’t mean he has rights over what Yamada does with his body or his life. “And you are a little late anyway. This is what I used to do, Yuto.” Before Takaki, before cleaning up. A lifetime ago. Yamada’s voice is cruel when he adds, “don’t worry; you can still fuck me, for free even.”

“Is that all you think there is to it?” Nakajima’s heated contempt echoes on every fiber of Yamada’s body.

“Don’t try to make me believe it was anything more than an adrenaline fuck between us,” Yamada spits out, resentment boiling in his blood. “Aren’t you looking for the final high? Isn’t that what your life is about? Punishing the entire universe because your little brother died, and then go out in a blaze of fucking glory?”

Nakajima presses Yamada even harder against the wall, and it hurts; the old injuries from the accident, the scar tissue that runs deeper and uglier, all over Yamada’s soul.

“You are just trying to make me punch you in that pretty face and let you be gone, but I won’t do it.”

“Get out of my way, Yuto.” Yamada tries to push away Nakajima, but he doesn’t budge. “This has nothing to do with you!”

“It has everything to do with me!” Nakajima grunts. His face is so close to Yamada’s that he can feel Nakajima’s breath teasing his face. “Because I care about you.” Nakajima’s voice cracks and his eyes glisten; pained, and tired, and way too old for someone his age. “I’m not used to caring about people since Raiya died. But I care about you.”

Yamada is speechless, the surreality of the statement, and Nakajima’s harsh intensity, leaving him stunned, able only to blink.

Nakajima kisses him then, rough, desperate; and Yamada can’t help but kiss back, grabbing onto Nakajima’s leather jacket, holding onto Nakajima’s back for dear life. He wraps his legs around Nakajima’s hips for leverage as he tries to get closer, buries one of his hands in Nakajima’s silky hair, kisses him deeper.

There’s friction, and wonderful heat, and Yamada grunts into Nakajima’s neck when he feels Nakajima’s strong fingers clawing urgently at the button of his pants.

He lets Nakajima take him right there, against the wall, amidst sloppy kisses and needy moans that reverberate through all the workshop. Rough movements that push Yamada closer and closer to the abyss until there’s nothing else in the entire world.

***

They collapse on a heap on the floor afterwards. Sweaty and exhausted.

“Will you tell me what is happening now?” Yuto asks. His voice is soft but firm, and Yamada doesn't have energy left to keep on hiding things from him.

“They have my sister...” Yamada sighs. “She owes Hikka money and Yabu will destroy her life, and enjoy it, unless I give him five hundred thousand yens or betray Takaki. I need the money, Yuto. I won’t betray Takaki, I just won’t!”

“And you can’t ask Takaki for money..."

“He won’t be able to move that much money in so little time without Yabu noticing.” Yamada leans into Nakajima’s hand that is caressing his hair now. “Some people owe me favors, money, I have contacts… but I need more money and I don’t know what to do.”

“I can’t let you do… what you were going to do,” Nakajima cringes and holds Yamada tight. “We have to think of something else.”

Maybe it’s the post-orgasmic bliss combined with Nakajima’s warmth, maybe he is just too tired, but as he looks in Nakajima’s eyes, Yamada believes they can find a way.

***

“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Yamada whispers to Nakajima as they wait for Hikka to arrive at the meeting room of the house that serves as his headquarters.

Nakajima doesn’t answer, he just reaches blindly for Yamada’s hand and squeezes it once before letting it go.

For all his bad temper and his awful reputation, Yaotome Hikaru isn’t a big fan of great entrances. He just walks into the room followed by Yabu and Inoo, his second and third in command, and sits on a big old sofa that looks really comfy.

Hikka gets comfortable, the beautiful and intricate designs of his tattoos peeking under his white dressing shirt, from his neck down.

“I came here to challenge you,” Nakajima says without preamble. Yamada tries not to cringe. “To a race.”

“Really,” Hikka replies, mild interest in his voice mixed with some sarcasm. “You are becoming quite the addict to illegal racing, tourist boy.”

“Don’t listen to him, Hikaru,” Yabu says, trying to sound calm and pissed, but Yamada notes the tinge of anxiety in his voice. Interesting.

He side-eyes Nakajima, and hopes he noticed too.

“Yabu is blackmailing Yamada to betray Takaki,” Nakajima discloses, and this wasn’t part of the plan but Yamada is sure Nakajima is exploiting Yabu’s uneasiness.

Hikka barely flinches, and the sign is clear for Yamada. He didn’t know.

“Hikaru…” Yabu begins, but Hikka halts him with just one look.

“So,” Hikka begins, his poker face in place again. “What do you want to race for?”

“If I win, Yabu gets out of your gang, out of this town, and out of our lives,” Nakajima demands, his voice steady. And for the first time since he met him, Yamada is glad for Nakajima’s arrogance.

“And if you lose?” Hikka is leaning forward with interest now, his eyes shifting between Nakajima and Yamada.

“I leave the city,” Yamada says, serious and composed, but Hikka isn’t buying into it. So, he ups the stakes. “Or you can do anything you want with me.”

Hikka laughs, a mirthless, cruel sound.

“I admire your balls, Nakajima-kun, Yamada-kun,” Hikka drawls. “And I accept this absurd race of yours.” But before Yamada can breathe a sigh of relief, he adds, “on one condition.” Hikka fixes his eyes on Yamada’s eyes, his lips twisting in a crooked smile. “I want to race you.”

Yamada feels panic gripping his throat, making his face feel numb. But he forces himself to say, “Okay.”

And he manages not to crumble until they leave the house.

***

Yamada concentrates on his breathing as he grips the wheel of the Lexus, and he tries to think about the things he loves about racing, about this car that he rebuilt with Nakajima’s help, about each stubborn aftermarket piece that surrendered to his touch.

He is in control. He had one week to test the racecourse, to get used to the Lexus and each one of its kinks. He can do this.

He sees the lights of Hikka’s green Nissan Skyline approaching, but doesn’t look at him, not even when Hikka power-brakes beside him to get his attention.

Yamada’s eyes are fixed on Mirai. They picked her to signal the start of the race because she was a neutral party, but Yamada is grateful of seeing a friendly face in these moments.

READY!

Takaki found out about the race, of course. It’s not like they could hide something this big from him. Yamada was afraid Takaki would get mad, but he just handed him the keys of the Lexus and wished him good luck. No further questions asked. Yamada doesn’t know how much of the truth Takaki really heard, but he wills himself not to think about that right now.

As the one being challenged, Hikka choose this mountain for the race. Lonely sinuous roads with bad illumination and tree patches that hide the bends until it’s too late. Hikka has been driving here since he was a kid, he knows every inch of the road by heart, like the palm of his hand. This is Hikka’s mountain.

Nakajima was worried but tried to appear relaxed when they said good bye. Takaki was being his usual goofy self, so Yamada knew for sure his nerves were on edge and that he would light a cigarette the moment Yamada climbed on the car. Chinen had winked at him, his expression unreadable, before kissing Yamada on the cheek for good luck; Yamada can’t help but smile at the memory.

SET!

Yamada’s hand closes over the gearstick, and he lets the power of the car course all over his body.

He inhales, presses hard on the gas pedal…

GO!

The wheels of both cars screech as Mirai gets both of her arms down, signaling the start of the race.

Yamada accelerates and shifts the gear, but he is half a second too slow and Hikka gets the advantage right away, overtaking Yamada and taking the lead for the first two curves. The straight is too narrow for Yamada to do anything else than follow as close as he can, but thankfully is short enough for him to not have too much time to worry.

There’s a sharp bend of the road, and the wheels of both cars skid on the pavement as they drift at high speed. Yamada keeps the Lexus under control, and even if his heart is beating way faster than normal, for now it’s only the adrenaline of the race doing his job. Yamada keeps breathing, in and out, steadily, and presses the gas harder when he catches a glimpse of an opening in Hikka’s driving.

He can’t overtake Hikka though, because the next curve is too acute and narrow, but Yamada makes the turn without problem and the inertia at the end of it is enough to push him forward and run parallel to Hikka’s car for the duration of the straight.

Hikka leaves him a bit behind in the next curve, when the road begins heading downwards at a more obvious angle, but Yamada keeps his speed steady. Hikka might know every turn of the pavement in this mountain, but Yamada also did his homework, and he remembers the next bend is the sharpest of the course.

Hikka takes the curve too fast, brakes at the wrong time and crashes the rear of his Skyline against the car of one of the bystanders, which slows him down enough for Yamada to pass him by.

Yamada cheers inwardly, but his happiness is short lived.

Hikka is pissed off, and he has never been a fair player anyway. As soon as he catches up with Yamada’s car, Hikka rams the side of the Skyline into the side of the Lexus, trying to get Yamada off the road.

Yamada manages to keep control of the car, but Hikka still gets past him, even if Yamada has gained enough momentum to follow almost at the tail of the other car.

They take the next set of double and triple curves with barely an inch between them, and Hikka’s angles are broad enough to make overtaking him impossible until he makes a mistake at a softer curve with a good foot of plain ground at each side of the road. Hikka’s tyres get off the road, where the ground is too soft for purchase and slows him down. Yamada accelerates past him and takes the next curve at the right speed to leverage the centrifugal force into the long straight ahead.

Hikka follows closely on the straight, and catches up with the Lexus just at the point in which the sides of the road fall abruptly down in a steep cliff. Yamada tries to escape, but the next set of curves closes in too soon, and Hikka has him trapped in no time.

Hika begins ramming his car into Yamada’s again, and at one of the curves Yamada is sure that Hikka manages to get one of the rear wheels of the Lexus off the road and spinning over the cliff, but he just keeps on going.

Yamada takes the following bend at an awkward angle, and his rear wheels skid forward faster than they should, leaving the Lexus almost at a right angle with the Skyline. Then, Hikka presses forward.

It happens. The car gets into something akin at a spin, and the world once again becomes a blurry movie in slow motion. Yamada blinks, bites down the nausea and the sudden ghost of the smell of blood that fills his brain. He feels his heart beating once. Twice.

And then, Yamada’s temper flares like it never has before. He shouts out, at the top of his lungs, and steps down on the gas pedal with all his strength.

He gets out of the spin, the tires gripping the road nice and strong, driving him forward at top speed, past Hikka, and well into the lead. All along, he is still shouting.

Yamada downshifts to take the triple curve he encounters then, slowing down a bit and losing some of his impulse for the next straight. His hands are shaking, but it’s not too bad; adrenaline is pulsing on his veins like a wild rave and his mind is crystal clear for now. He concentrates on his breathing again.

When Hikka closes in and goes for the ramming trick again, Yamada is prepared. He waits for the right time, just before Hikka smashes his car into the side of the Lexus, and pulls on the hand brake as hard as he can, turning the steering wheel hard to the left, and getting out of Hikka’s way.

Hikka can’t counter the inertia on time, and the car rolls off the road and down a slope of the hill, to land on its roof some feet below in a cloud of dirt, crashing sounds, and smoke.

Yamada sighs, feeling the air fill out his lungs as he accelerates once more, takes the final curve of the road and applies the brakes as he crosses the finish line.

It’s almost better than sex, Yamada thinks. And his whole body is shaking now but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters right now.

He exits the car when he feels his legs can carry him, and there is Chinen hugging him almost as soon as Yamada stands up. Then he feels Takaki by his side, patting Yamada’s good shoulder proudly and laughing out loud.

Nakajima is waiting a couple of steps ahead, eyes glazed over by emotion, and he laughs his perfect laughter when Yamada winks at him and gives him a thumbs up.

The fans and other bystanders close in on Yamada to congratulate him, and Yamada accepts their compliments with stoicism until the crowd parts to let in a badly hurt Hikka, who makes his way toward Yamada and his team, limping and with his right arm strung over Inoo’s shoulders to support himself. Three members of his gang follow suit.

Takaki immediately stands by Yamada’s right side and Chinen slides in to cover Yamada’s left. He can feel Yuto’s presence behind him. They are ready for a confrontation, ready to protect him. Yamada has to fight hard the emotion that fills him.

Then, Hikka chuckles, to everybody’s surprise.

“I didn’t know you had that steel in you, kid.” Hikka’s smile is bloody but amused. “Good race.”

“And your second?” Takaki asks, casually, and it dawns on Yamada that Takaki knows everything about this. They will have to talk about it, soon. And that is a conversation Yamada is not looking forward to.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hikka replies, with malice in his eyes. “Inoo-chan is my second.”

Hikka and his entourage leave then, leaving Yamada with shaky legs and all the relief a paranoid like him is able to feel. Because even if Yabu is out of Hikka’s gang and without access to their contacts and networks, he can still find some way to mess with Yamada. Maybe.

Yamada looks back at Nakajima and finds anchor in the vaguely amused look of those pretty and dark eyes that look at him with trust and care. He has Chinen and Takaki too, he tells himself. Yamada is far from being alone. And maybe that’s enough for now.

“Let’s go and eat!” Chinen proposes, and Yamada smirks without breaking eye contact with Nakajima, who smiles back at Yamada while Takaki cheers on Chinen’s idea.

It’s a good plan, after all.