Very early on after the appearance of the Green Hornet, Britt Reid decided that the masked vigilante was in love with his partner.
It was a logical decision, really, if somewhat cowardly. The Hornet was an outlaw. He was wanted for murder, sabotage, blackmail, collecting protection money and who knows how many other crimes. (Axford did. Axford knew exactly what crimes the Green Hornet was wanted for.) Adding one, just one more to the list couldn't possibly damage his reputation any further, even if this one was real. It also very conveniently meant that Britt Reid, the upstanding and well-respected citizen, didn't have to deal with it.
It was a secret within the secret, and Britt made sure that nobody knew. Nobody had to know. Not even Kato. Especially not Kato.
After all, it didn't affect their work in any way whatsoever.
The Green Hornet was a fantasy. An act. A ghost. So was the mysterious man in black helping him, of whom most people didn't even know. He liked to stay out of the fight when possible. Not that he couldn't handle himself. Not that he wasn't one of the most breathtakingly skilled fighters Britt had ever seen. He just wasn't that interested in direct action, and left the actual heroics to the Hornet .
After the Green Hornet stroke, the two men disappeared back into the shadows of the city, where they belonged. And if Britt Reid, editor of the Daily Sentinel, liked to fantasize about the Hornet putting his arm around his associate, pulling him close, and of that other man resting his head on the Hornet's shoulder… Well, nobody could read his thoughts.
Meanwhile, Britt Reid and Ikano Kato would go home, and carefully put away their equipment in the secret garage, making sure that everything was well maintained and ready for the next strike. They than went through the secret passage, took a shower and went to sleep. The next day, Britt Reid would go to work, to find an agitated Axford and Lowry telling an interested Miss Case all about the Green Hornet's latest crime, than arguing with her about whether or not the Hornet might possibly be a good guy. Britt would shut them down, and everybody would go back to their daily routine.
B ritt Reid was not in love with his valet Kato. He did not admire him from afar, did not watch him from the corner of his eye going after his daily business with such grace and perfection, he did not need to pay conscious effort not to stare into his eyes, or busy his hands with a newspaper to keep from reaching out. Britt Reid might have been a playboy and a little bit irresponsible, but he did believe in the law. Breaking it would not have occurred to him in his wildest dreams.
The Green Hornet however… The Hornet was free. He got to do all the crazy and mostly illegal things Britt secretly wanted to. He could scare people, threaten people, go after bad people and make them pay for their crimes. He could drive far above the speed limit in the most wonderful car ever built. And he could stand next to his partner, just a little bit too close, look at him just a little bit too long, rest his hand on his back for no real reason. Nothing big. Nothing suspicious, nothing that would have passed the limits of 'friendship' and crossed into another territory. Nothing that would draw Kato's attention. But they were still small luxuries that Britt Reid didn't dare to afford himself, and that he was eternally grateful for.
After all, no harm was done.
This was a secret that no-one knew.
After the creation of the Green Hornet, it was truly fascinating to watch how the masked vigilante and his associate in black slowly came to have a life of their own, found Kato.
There was of course the taking credit for crimes, that inevitably warped the public perception, making the Hornet far more ruthless and far more dangerous than the two men behind him ever were. There was of course the acting more threateningly when talking to crooks. But that was not all. Britt Reid and Ikano Kato actually became different when they were in costume.
T here was an aura of authority that the Hornet had, but Britt Reid did not. And it showed. He held himself with a confidence as if he owned the criminal underworld. His steps were lighter and more careful when they had to be, and he was amazingly gifted in melting into the shadows, in waiting motionless and disap p earing without a trace. However, when he was seen, he held his head up high and talked like someone who has all the rights to answers. He even made his voice deeper.
His attitude towards Kato changed, too. He was more at ease around him, and his eyes smiled every time he looked at him. Kato's body lang u age around the Green Hornet changed in response . He was more casual with him than with Britt Reid, stood closer to him and touched him more. The Hornet touched him more often, too, causing warm th to sp r ead from the point where his hands rested on Kato's body.
Maybe he leaned a little bit into it. Maybe he treasured these moments in the back of his mind, and recalled them later, trying to bring back the warm feeling magically spreading from under the Hornet's hands.
Maybe he looked forward to these moments, these nights. Maybe, after a while, seeing Reid dress up as the Green Hornet made his heart beat higher, and not because of the dangers that lay ahead.
All right, this had the potential to become a real problem.
Kato wasn't stupid. Too clever for his own good, maybe, but certainly not stupid.
He knew his place. He also knew Reid's place. And he was very grateful for the job that allowed him to be by his side, to use his brains and to do some good.
Also to be able to look out for Reid, both in his Hornet and his newspaper editor identities, because honestly… It wasn't that Kato didn't trust him to take care of himself, but… He didn't trust him. The scariest part really was that Reid was not only completely unable to perform even the most basic household tasks, but also utterly oblivious about his own inability to do so .
So yes, he had a good job serving a good man, who had already given him much more than he'd ever could have hoped for , and wanting anything more was both stupid and selfish. Someone of Kato's social status hitting on someone of Reid's could only go wrong, even if it had been a woman. As it was…
Britt Reid was a good man. A kind man. If he ever found out about Kato's attraction to him, he wouldn't call the cops on his valet. Yes, he would fire him, but make sure that he got some proper medical treatment in a good hospital, and probably even put in a good word for him after he'd get out. What he would not do was to look at him with those warm eyes sparkling from energy that Kato knew from behind the Hornet's mask, or reach for him to find out just how much warmth his touch could cause without the Hornet's gloves between his hands and Kato's skin.
Putting him in that position would be both unjust and incredibly ungrateful, so Kato never even considered it for a moment.
And if he was looking forward to each Green Hornet strike for entirely the wrong reasons, if he stood a little too close to him or leaned into his touch, well, it wasn't as if any harm was done.
After all, Britt Reid never suspected a thing.
Britt rubbed his eyes, and tried to ignore the little voice in his head sounding exactly like Kato telling him that he needed to get more rest. There was a new crime ring in the city that was much bolder than the ones he usually faced, keeping both Britt Reid and the Green Hornet on their toes, and Britt was happy if he could get any sleep at all.
Normally, a racket operated in the shadows and did it's best to collect money without having to do much more than bribe some people and scare some others. But this one was different: It actually abducted people. And pets. And threatened to kill them if the ransom wasn't payed in time. They were highly organized and did an incredible job covering their tracks. So far, neither the p olice nor the Hornet had been able to find out anything about who worked for them. T he victims got released once the money was payed, and only could lead them to empty abandoned buildings. For those whose families refused to pay… Three dogs had already been found dead, and, much more tragically, so had two men.
I n time, the disappearance of pets became more and more rare, and that of people more frequent. The fear in the city went up.
Those crooks knew who to target. All of their victims were middle class, normal, hardworking people with families . They didn't go for the wives or the children if they could help it, they went for the husbands. The family fathers, The ones who kept everything running. Their desperate wives had to pay the ransom, not only out of love, but out of practical reasons, too: Jobs were few in between as it was, a recently widowed mother with children and no previous work experience didn't stand any chance.
« Mr. Reid? » Britt looked up to find Miss Lenore Case standing in front of his desk. « You really should get more rest, Mr. Reid. »
Britt groaned. « Not you too, Miss Case. »
His secretary shrugged. « Well if it's true. You are so tired that y ou are of no use to anyone any more. Frankly, I don't see why you care so much, you usually don't bother showing up for days, and than on others, I can't make you leave. »
Britt sighed. She did have a point. His working hours were a little chaotic. He was trying to build a good work ethic, but also didn't want to lose his reputation as a playboy, and than there was… This was entirely beside the point right now.
« Did you want anything specific, Miss Case, or did you just team up with my valet trying to make me keep the bedtime hours of an eight year s old? »
« I was going to tell you to go home early, Mr. Reid. The Sentinel won't collapse if you don't keep an eye on her around the clock, we have plenty of practice running things here without you. »
« But the kidnapping ring... »
« If there is anything new about it, I'll call you. But honestly, the way that things are going, I don't expect much to happen today. »
Britt sighed and buried his face in both hands. He felt even too tired to sit up straight. Which possibly could mean that Kato and Miss Case had a point. Maybe.
Anyways, Casey was correct, there probably wasn't going to be much news that evening. The police had promised them regular updates, but they were stuck at the same place.
You have to pick your battles, Mr. Reid., had Kato told him last time the subject had come up. That very morning? It seemed to have been longer. If you want to be prepared to strike, than you do have to take care of your body and of your soul. Please, rest a little more.
Kato was so very Asian. So polite, always. It was one of the things that Britt really valued about him. An American would have just sent him directly to go get some fucking sleep.
Which was more or less what Casey had just done, only put it a little nicer. She was his secretary, and had been just about as clear about her opinion on his private sleeping habits as a secretary possibly could be. Maybe a little bit more, Lenore Case never held back with her opinion.
And that was why everybody liked her.
« All right, Miss Case, I'll hold you to your word. If anything does turn up, than I expect to be the first person to know about it. »
A s things turned out, Britt really was the first person to know about the next abduction. But not because Casey kept her word. Because he was the one who g o t abducted.
Despite technically being rich enough not to have to, Britt Reid liked to d rive his car himself, just as he liked helping in the household. It was good to be self-sufficient, and he liked the idea that he saved Kato some time by doing part of the work that otherwise would have been his. Kato always made good use of this extra time, looking into one of his many interests, mostly mechanics and chemistry. They made him so happy. Britt could have spent entire days just watching Kato tinker around with machines.
His car (not the Black Beauty, his other car) was standing in the nearby parking lot, one that didn't pay any protection money, and took good care of the cars left there during the day. It was a short walk from the Sentinel building, and Britt also had to cross a good part of the parking lot to get to his usual place. It was a nice day, the nearby construction workers were maybe a little bit too loud, but perfect otherwise.
He wasn't paying any attention. Of course he wasn't, he knew the place inside out, and he was tired .
Stupid, so stupid. The man behind the Green Hornet really should have known better.
As it was, he only noticed that there might be something amiss with the other people in the parking lot when one of the men cut off his way.
« Mr. Britt Reid? »
Britt blinked, shaking himself a little bit more awake.
« Yes? What do you want? »
« Come with us, please. »
Hearing the us , Britt finally looked around and saw that he was surrounded by a group of five men standing in a lose circle around him.
They were, for all intents and purposes, normal. White, wearing cheap, but clean suits, all of them under forty-five years old. No glasses. All of them muscular, even though that wasn't very visible at the first glance under the suits.
« Where to? », asked Britt. He hoped that he sounded afraid enough. He was afraid, that was not it, but crooks just didn't scare him as much as they used to, and even more importantly, he was far too tired to bring up much emotion about much of anything.
« You'll see when we get there. »
« No thank you. », said Britt, and showed the man in front of him out of his way, trying to make a run for his car.
Had he gotten that far, he would have found two of his tires cut open. But Britt Reid never made it to his car before the men caught up with him.
Britt always praised himself to be a good fighter. Not as graceful as Kato, but than again, nobody was as graceful as Kato. H e could hold himself well in a fight, even against uneven odds. But regardless of this , five against one at once was too much, even for him.
He punched one of the men, who punched back, and dodged two others trying to grab him. Meaning that he didn't have time to adjust for the third one, who tripped him. It took Britt a moment to regain his balance , which was enough for the crooks to collect themselves. He was surrounded once more. Britt used his briefcase to hit one of them on the head, who staggered back with a curse, blood running out of his nose. Britt spun around, swinging his briefcase, but while he took out one crook, the next one kicked him in the back of his knees, hard. Britt's leg gave out under him, and he went down on his knee, dropping the briefcase. Someone kicked him in his side, and he fell over, hitting his head on the concrete.
Before he could regain composure, a second kick landed in his stomach. Britt doubled over, breathless from the pain. Someone grabbed his arm and pulled him up, someone else grabbed his other arm and held him still.
The crook who'd received the first hit, the one with the bloody nose, was standing in front of him. He appeared to be the leader of the little band.
« Take… that! » He punched Britt a couple of times, in the face, in the stomach, and kicked his leg once. « That's for my nose, you fucker. »
Britt winced and gasped for air.
« Not so tough now, hey? All right boys, let's get going. »
He stepped back, and another man advanced, with a handkerchief in his hand. Britt realized what it was a fraction of a second before he got there, and tried desperately to free himself, but the two men held him tight. Than the third man was right in front of him, and caught his hair with one hand, steadying him. Despite of all of Britt's struggles, he pressed the handkerchief over his nose and month. Britt tried to hold his breath, but he could do that only so long before he needed fresh air badly enough to give up on his attempt. He gasped for air through the handkerchief, and smelled the sweet smell of chloroform, than darkness swallowed him. The men holding his arms caught him as he fell.
It was getting late, and Mr. Reid still hadn't returned. Kato wasn't worried. Annoyed, yes, but not worried. Despite of all his efforts to convince him not to, Reid had worked overtime ever since the first kidnapping, and, unless the racketeers just got bored of their gig and surrendered themselves to the police, this was not very likely to change.
Working late hours, that was no problem. What worried Kato was that after coming home from working late hours, Reid would often insist on going out as the Green Hornet at night, mostly on wild goose chases. As a result, both men were constantly tired.
Kato could get some sleep during the day. Reid couldn't.
And of course he refused to listen to his better senses, or at least to Kato, and cut down a little on the work. Kato had asked him to, on multiple occasions. Begged him, on one. Reid had just picked up his briefcase, and left for work, leaving his valet both very angry and very worried..
That had been in the morning. Since than, Kato'd calmed down, did the laundry, cooked dinner, pondered a little about what new weapons or equipment he could possibly build from scratch for the Green Hornet, than realized that they were running low on gas for the gas gun, and started to assemble the necessary equipment to synthesize some more.
Meanwhile, the dinner had gotten cold, and the kitchen slowly filled with chemical instruments. Kato was just finishing off his calculations. By now, he didn't exactly need them, he'd synthesized the gas often enough to know the ratios by heart, but better be sure. Maybe the gas was only an anesthetic, but that didn't make it by far harmless. The equation worked, like always. Good. He put down his pencil, and got up to put on his other apron, the one that was full of burn marks and chemical traces, that he wore when working on his experiments.
Than the doorbell rung.
Kato looked up in surprise. Reid was supposed to have his own keys. He couldn't have possibly forgott e n them, they were together with other keys that he needed during the day.
Kato put back his apron on the kitchen table and went to open the door. He found himself face-to-face with two police officers.
« Ikano Kato? », asked the taller one.
« I am officer Daniels, and this is my partner, officer Parker. May we come in? »
Kato's heart was beating in his throat, but he had enough practice in hiding his fear that it didn't show. The police was maybe Britt Reid's friend, but not Ikano Kato's, and certainly not that of the Green Hornet's associate in black. And Britt Reid was not there. As far as Kato was concerned, if he himself would never have anything to do with legal enforcements for the rest of his life, than it was still too soon.
« May I see your badges, please? », asked he politely. « I am sorry, Mr. Reid's instructions. »
« Of course. »
They showed him their badges, thinking without any doubt what a good little servant he was. It was written on their faces clearly enough. The badges were real, and Kato stepped aside to let them in.
« Please, come in. Would you care for some tea? »
Parker was about to say something, but Daniels cut him off.
« I'm afraid this isn't a social visit, Mr. Kato. »
« Of course. This way, please. Excuse me for a minute, but the kitchen is a bit of a mess at this time of the day. »
He quickly slipped away to close the still open kitchen door. It was better if the officers did not see his makeshift laboratory inclusive formula for the Green Hornet's stun gas.
The officers bought it to be only an attempt to be a good host, and let themselves be shown to the sitting room, as planned. They made themselves comfortable in Reid's expensive chairs, and Daniels pointed to one that was still empty.
« Please, sit down, Mr. Kato. »
Kato sat, doing his best to ignore the fact that he was treated as a subordinate in his own home. After all, he was a subordinate. And it was absolutely fine that the two officers hadn't taken their shoes off. People in America didn't take their shoes off when they entered somebody's home. That was only a stupid habit he'd kept from Japan, and he was lucky that Mr. Reid was kind enough to tolerate it.
« How may I be of your assistance? »
Parker pulled out a notebook and pen, and cut straight to the questioning.
« When did you last see Mr. Britt Reid? »
Kato's heart stopped for a moment. Britt… He didn't bother trying to completely mask his whirrwind of emotion. Let them see that he was scared. Let them know that he was worried. He couldn't hide it any ways.
« This morning. What happened? »
« Would you please tell us everything that happened this morning? »
« Ough... », Kato thought back. « Mr. Reid had overslept a little, so he was in a hurry. The breakfast was already ready when he got to the kitchen. He ate it in a haste, and left in a hurry. I held him back for a moment. Mr. Reid had been overworking lately, I was worried about him and wanted him to take a day off. »
« Did you fight? »
Kato swallowed hard. This was dangerous territory. The answer to that question was yes . And that was possibly enough to incriminate him in the eyes of the officers, no matter what had really happened. But he didn't know how much they knew, or what he was accused off in the first place, so that lying was far more dangerous than telling the truth.
« I am not sure, sir . Maybe? It wasn't exactly a fight… I have just pleaded with him to look better after himself, and he reminded me that it was none of my business. He was more harsh than he usually is, yes. »
It had been clear that Reid had only said what he'd said because he was too irritated for being late and not having slept enough and still no trace of those criminals . Kato had been irritated, too. It had still taken the better part of the day for him to get the bitter aftertaste out of his mouth.
« You wanted Reid to stay at home? Why? »
« Because he is visibly overworked. That is why he overslept in the first place, sir. He's been working overtimes trying to get a trace of the kidnapping ring. »
« Let me re-phase it: Why did you want him to stay at home today ? »
« Because he refused to on other days. »
« D id anything strange or out of the ordinary happen today? Or yesterday? »
Kato shook his head.
« No, sir. »
It was the truth. Even their little excursions as the Green Hornet and the man in black had been depressingly uneventful.
Parker finished taking his notes. Daniels leaned back.
« Surely you are wondering why we are asking you these questions, Mr. Kato. »
Kato swallowed hard. This was going to be bad, he felt it.
« Yes, sir. »
« Britt Reid has been abducted today. He left his work early, to go home, according to his secretary. H e never made it to his car. His father received a ransom demand shortly before we left the station to come here. »
Kato felt as if the floor was pulled out from under his feet. He was very grateful to be seated, or he might have lost his balance. Britt!
Under the untouchable Green Hornet disguise, Britt Reid was just a man. A very clever and attractive and well-trained man, but a man all the same. He was not invulnerable. He was not all-powerful. Nobody knew this better than Kato, who was the one looking after him. Cooking for him, washing for him, reminding him of important appointments, tending to his wounds when he got hurt.
Because the Green Hornet didn't get hurt. But the man under the costume, he did.
« Is Mr. Reid going to pay the ransom? »
« Not for now, no. We assure you that we are doing everything in our power to find your employer. Contact us if you remember anything that could be of any indication about who took him and why. »
K ato thought about getting them all the newspaper articles about the past kidnappings that Britt had saved and neatly put away in a folder, among with a documentation of his efforts to bust those crooks. That was their reason, he wanted to shout at them. They want his father's money, just like they wanted the money of all those innocent civilians. Isn't that clear? Isn't that obvious? Shouldn't you be going after them instead of sitting here in my sitting room with your shoes on asking questions about why Britt and I might have said some thoughtless words to one another? But he checked himself. The two officers were only doing their job, and making them angry wouldn't solve a thing. More like the opposite.
« Of course. » He hesitated a moment, but than decided that it wouldn't be suspicious of him to ask, so he did. « Would you maybe contact me if there is any news about Mr. Reid, please? »
« I'll see what we can do. », said Daniels. « Thank you for your cooperation. »
They left without any other words, leaving Kato alone in the luxurious apartment Britt Reid shared with him. When he looked down at his hands, he found that they were shaking, so he balled them to a fist.
The following night was one of the longest and most agonizing Kato could remember. He ate the cold dinner that he'd been waiting for Mr. Reid with. Roasted potatoes with chicken, one of Britt 's favorites. He than left the dirty dishes on the table, and went to the kitchen to synthesize the gas, leaving the door open to be sure that he would hear the telephone. It didn't ring. He than cleaned and put away his equipment and washed the dishes, and sat in the sitting room near the phone, trying to concentrate on his plans of new equipment. It didn't work. His thoughts kept wandering off, and eventually, he fell asleep, still in his clothes on the coach.
He woke early and not well rested, than proceeded to try and busy himself with various household chores. He usually liked doing those because he could think while his hands worked, but this time, this came back to bite him, as there was nothing to take his mind off Reid.
Finally, he gave up, picked up the phone and dialed a number. The person on the other side picked up almost immediately.
« Hallo, Dan Reid speaking? »
« Mr. Reid? This is Ikano Kato, yo u r son's valet? »
« Ah yes. What do you wan t ? »
Kato didn't know much about Britt's father. Sure, they had met, but it had been a meeting between a son accompanied by his servant and the father, who had a great deal to say about his son and couldn't care less about the servant. He was a business man. Wanted his son to be on top, at any price, and Britt did his best to impress him, so far, without much luck.
But Dan Reid did love his son. That much was clear.
« I was wondering if you knew of any news. »
There was a moment of silence at the other end.
« No, I don't. The police are looking for him, and they are the most efficient in the country. »
Kato hesitated for a moment. He knew very well that saying the next thing was not a good idea. Than he thought back of the two murdered men, of their wives left forever with a void of what-ifs.
« Mr, Reid, please pay the ransom. »
« I can't, and I won't. There are professional law enforcers working hard on this case. They will get those crooks in the legal way. »
« Mr. Reid... »
« That was enough. Or I might get an idea that you have exterior motivations. »
Only that I am in love with your son, thought Kato bitter. Only that I can't stand the idea of him being in danger without me at his side. Only that I am terrified of him getting hurt.
« Thank you, Mr. Reid. I hope that you have a very nice day. », was what he said.
Dan Reid hung up without any further commentary.
In the end, Kato didn't know how he ended up looking at their costumes, but there he was. He caressed over the Hornet's coat, and picked up the mask, running his finger over the edge of the cool metal. Britt…
The police wouldn't find him. That much was clear as glass. The criminals who'd abducted him were too good, too organized, law enforcements didn't stand a chance. The Hornet… The Hornet just might.
Britt Reid had gone missing. But that didn't mean that the Green Hornet was missing, too.
When Britt came by, he was lying on the floor with his hands and legs bound, and a terrible headache, probably from when he'd hit his head earlier.
How much earlier was of course a different question. There was no way to determine the time in the empty, dark room.
Britt tried to roll over so that he could sit up. It wasn't easy, but he did manage. In the meantime, his eyes got used to the dark, so that he could see that he was, in fact, not alone.
Six other men in the room were all similarly tied up. They looked tired, frightened and desperately tr y ing to hide it. Civilians. Britt didn't know any of them.
Two men were not tied up, but had metal rods in their hands and watching the prisoners from the other side of the room with lazy expressions. Clearly, they did not expect any trouble, but were ready to hand out some punishments to whoever was misbehaving. There was no doubt as to whether or not they were carrying firearms, too.
So much about his initial idea of mutually taking down the bonds of a fellow prisoner. Well, that would have been too easy.
One of the guards poked the other with his elbow.
« Hey, look who's up. »
The other nonchalantly pushed himself away from the wall he was leaning against, and crossed comfortably to the other side of the room, where the prisoners were sitting. He came to stand right in front of Britt.
« Good morning, sunshine. »
He used his metal rod to force up his chin to look him in the face. Britt stubbornly stared back. The man chucked.
« I like this one. », called he to his friend.
« Just get it over wit h ! », called he back.
« Ok, handsome. », said the man, addressing Britt once more. « There are some rules here. No talking. Not to us, not to your friends there. No wobbling around. Yes following orders. Is that understood? »
« Good. Now don't look so worried, I am sure that your papa has got enough money to spare to get you out of here in no time. »
So that was who they were targeting. Britt not iced with a wave of relief that he'd somehow assumed that they were blackmailing Kato. It was a common enough knowledge that he had a very faithful valet (while nobody would have guessed just how faithful), and Kato had access to enough of Britt's money to be able to pay a handsome sum. He should have enough common sense not to do it, but who knows, if the crooks on l y could scare him enough…
He did not have to worry about his father falling in a similar temptation. He didn't do business with criminals, and refused to get blackmailed.
Which also meant…
He had to get out of there. Fast.
Britt Reid spent the next few hours wondering about how he could possibly do that.
The guards were actually watching them, which was a behavior unlike most of the guards the Hornet had had to do with. So they were disciplined. The other men were clearly afraid of them, and did their best to remain silent and motionless. Britt decided that it was better to just assume that they had a point, and do the same. This became more and more difficult with time. Keeping the controlled position his ties allowed him hurt, so did the ropes themselves cutting into his wrists and ankles. He had tried to free his hands for a while, than given it up. The knots were tied too well. And if they got free, so what, he wouldn't manage to take off the ropes from his feet before one of the guards got to him with his metal rod. Britt also felt the exhaustion of the previous days catching up with him, and his empty stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten since his hasty breakfast… How long ago? He had no idea.
He missed Kato. Oh, he desperately wished for the Hornet's partner in black to be there with him right now, out of practical reasons. But he wanted Kato to be there for personal ones. Kato knew how to handle difficult situations. He probably would have some insight or idea that Britt did not have, and they could come up with a plan together. They knew each other so well, they could do it without words.
Also, Britt knew that Kato would be sitting very close to him, probably pressing their shoulders together, the contact between them reaching down all the way over their sides, their legs. It would be a welcome source of warmth in the cold room.
Damn, his head hurt. He hoped that he hadn't hit it too hard.
Eventually, Britt fell asleep, still half sitting against the wall in a very uncomfortable position. It wasn't one long, coherent sleep, but a long row of small little naps with a bunch of confused dreams that had him jolt awake after a few seconds, and didn't stay in his memory for long enough for him to know anything about their content, except for bright colors and lights and a fast beating heart.
He must have made some noise during one of them, because he woke to one of the guards kick ing him in the side.
« I've said silence . »
The Green Hornet was a little higher than Kato, and consequently, his costume was slightly too big for him. Not enough to be noticeable to the untrained eye, especially not in the dark, but enough to feel wrong. It was by design more heavy and unpractical than Kato's, he didn't like that, either. But the other difference between him and the Hornet was more serious: Kato's hair was black, while that of the Hornet, just like Britt Reid's, a beautiful dark blonde. He did always wear a hat, that had to be enough to hide the worst of it. The Hornet's mask covered most of his face, so Kato was not alto worried about his Asian features. His accent wouldn't be a problem, he had learned to imitate the American one a long time ago. It did wonders to how people treated him over the phone.
K ato sighed, took off the Hornet costume and put it back where it belonged, right next to his own. He than went to make himself some tea, and than call ed the Daily Sentinel.
« Britt Reid's office, Lenore Case speaking. »
« Good day, Miss Case. This is Ikano Kato, Mr. Reid's valet. You may remember me, we met... »
« Of course I remember you. Why are you calling? », she lowered her voice a little. « Do you have any news about Mr. Reid? »
« No, Miss Case, I'm very sorry. In fact I was wondering if you knew something? »
« Not a thing, no. The police are about as useless as it gets. I wish... » She trailed off.
« Yes, Miss Case? »
« Nothing. I am just tired of this waiting, that's all. »
We both are.
« Thank you very much for your time, Miss Case. »
« Any time. I'm just sorry that I couldn't tell you more. I'll call you back if there is any news. »
« Thank you, Miss Case. I'll call you, too, if I hear anything. »
Kato hung up.
Good. Well, not good, but it was what he had expected. Hopefully enough to get Miss Case thinking about any crumble of information that she might have missed. He had great faith in that, she had a perceptive, critical mind, she noticed things other people missed. And she was curious enough to go looking for answers, especially if she had no further to go than her boss's case files.
« Tonight, the Green Hornet strikes again. », announced Kato to the empty room.
Somebody had to say it.
Things at the office just weren't the same without Mr. Reid, thought Lenore Case, known among her colleagues under her nickname Casey, as she climbed up the stairs to her apartment. It was bad enough when he just randomly went missing on whatever leisure activity it was he indulged in while the rest of them were working, and she had to run the entire newspaper for him. Not to mention navigating Gunnigan. That was plain irritating. But what had been going on that day? That was something else. The air around them was loaded with sadness and worry. Nobody was joking or goofing off in a free moment, and they were all tense from waiting for a phone call that wouldn't come. Mr. Reid was universally loved among his coworkers.
C asey was worried. It was more than clear that the p olice, despite working closely together with pretty much every newspaper in town, didn't have a clue about where those crooks might have their hideout, and time was running short. Mr. Reid senior refused to pay the ransom for his son, and as soon as that news got out, Britt Reid's life was in danger. Those men already had killed, and they were ready to kill again, and poor Mr. Reid was completely at their mercy.
Not for the first time, Casey wished that there would be someone else who could help them. Somebody outside of the law, who knew how those crooks thought. A modern Robin Hood, or…
Casey was, as far as she knew, the only person alive who believed that the Green Hornet was a lot less dangerous and a lot more benevolent than his public image suggested . He had a terrible reputation , yes, but ever since his first appearance, rackets had been falling like dominoes. Casey was certain that he was, in his own way, on their side, and no amount of mocking from her coworkers could change that.
S he opened her door, hung up her coat, and went to her bedroom to undress. She switched on the light, than did her best to muffle a scream, and let out a surprised yelp instead.
« Miss Lenore Case. », said the only too familiar man in her bedroom, and held out his gloved hand with a small disk in it.
« The seal of the Green Hornet. », exclaimed Casey. « You're him! You are the Hornet. »
Her uninvited visitor didn't bother to answer. Not that he needed to, it couldn't have been much more obvious.
« But what do you want from me? How did you even get in here? »
She could hear a smile in the Hornet's voice as he spoke.
« Now, now, no need to be alarmed, Miss Case. I'm not here for you. But you have something that I need, and you are going to give it to me. »
Interesting. Casey steeled herself. She was used to random nonsense coming from men, that the man was wearing a costume didn't make it all that scarier. And she didn't believe that the Hornet would harm her.
« Oh, and what is that? »
« Information about the kidnapping ring. »
Casey' brain raced, trying to catch up with the meaning behind the outlaw's words.
« The kidnapping… Are you involved with them? No, wait, are you after them? Are you going to smash it and rescue the hostages? »
« I couldn't care less about the hostages, Miss Case. They are operating in my territory, and failed to pay me my due part of the money, so they are going down. »
O f course. And she believed it because she was just as blind as her friends at the office.
« So what do you want to know? »
« Everything. I know that the Daily Sentinel is working with the police, and I know that you have access to inside information nobody else does. »
« You want me to break in the chef's office and steal his files. »
« No, Miss Case. I am telling you that you are going to return to the Sentinel building at once and get me those files. You than will come back here, put the files on the kitchen table, close that door and not open it until tomorrow morning. You will not say a word about this to anyone, ever. »
« And what if I don't? »
Mr. Reid's valet might appreciate the knowledge that at least someone was looking for him. Poor man. Casey didn't know him very well, but they had met on multiple occasions, and Kato really was a paragon of loyalty. This whole situation must have hit him even harder than the rest of them.
« Than you will regret it. »
Casey crossed her arms. She wasn't frightened of the Hornet, not really. But she did of course know that he was powerful and that it was better not to cross him. However, there was an other, more important thing:
« And what do I get if I do help you? »
« You are in no position to demand a price, Miss Case. »
« Yes I am! You need my help, you ask for it, now you will have to make it worth my while. »
She was certain that the Hornet smiled.
« I'm listening. »
« The racketeers have my boss, Mr. Reid. I want you to free him and the other hostages. Unharmed. »
« I will be waiting for the files. », said the Green Hornet, and disa p peared.
S o Casey put back on her clothes, drove right back to the office, lied her way past the nightwatchman pretending that she 'd forgot ten something, than walked straight into Mr. Reid's office and got his file on the Kidnapping R ing . It contained all the information they had, including the ones they hadn't been allowed to publish yet, and what had surfaced during the past day. Nothing that seemed to be of any help to them, and she knew that better than anybody, except maybe for Mr. Reid. The first thing she'd done after she heard what had happened to him was to get the file and read attentively through it, with no result. She sa f ely stored it in her handbag, than drove home once more, put it on the kitchen table as instructed, took a quick shower and fell in her bed. She was asleep almost immediately.
The next morning, the file was gone.
Kato only slept the bare minimum that night, while waiting in the Black Beauty for Miss Case to get home and go to sleep, before he broke once more into her apartment to get the file on the kidnapping ring, cursing the Hornet outfit for limiting his freedom of movement more than his own clothes did. He than drove home, made himself a strong coffee, and sat down to look through the papers.
He knew most of it. After all, Britt had hardly talked about anything else for the past weeks, and he trusted his valet enough to tell him even the confidential information. The reason Kato had wanted the file was mostly out of hope that there might be some bits of information that Mr. Reid had dismissed as unimportant, and also because he needed some place to start. What interested him the most were the buildings the released hostages had been found in.
There was a pattern there. The buildings were all in poorer neighborhoods, and seemed to have been abandoned for a longer period of time. The police hadn't managed to dig up anything out of the ordinary about them, and neither had the Sentinel, but both were big organizations run by white Americans, and those neighborhoods were mostly inhabited by immigrants and people of color. They were about as fond of the police as Kato was, and couldn't use any big newspaper advertising their existence any more than they wanted any outsiders snooping around their businesses.
Kato put on his cheapest and most worn clothes, and headed out of the door. He would visit every single one of the neighborhoods victims had been found in, blend in, ask a bit around. Pretend that he was looking for a place to move with his family, probably.
By the end of the day, he had a firm lead that he could go on.
The next day at the office was just as unpleasant as the first one. Nobody suspected that Casey might have done anything illegal last night, and she was very good in hiding her slightly bad conscience. Not that anyone cared, they were all busy with whatever was going on in their own heads. Gunnigan looked for the file once, but didn't suspect anything when he didn't find it. Everybody seemed to be waiting for something, some news from the police or the kidnappers. Casey tried to call Kato, but nobody picked up the phone. Well, at least she wouldn't have to lie to him by pretending that she didn't know anything.
In the end, they all ended up distracting themselves with what renovations the mayor was and was not going to make in the near future, and how those would affect the traffic and the public library. It was enough to make the evening edition worth reading, but not enough to satisfy the reporters.
Casey went home both tired and irritated. She stopped on her way to buy some groceries, and also chocolate. A whole lot of chocolate, hopefully enough to make her feel a little bit better. This helped her calm down somewhat.
The Green Hornet was waiting for her in her bedroom again. This time, Casey only jumped a little.
« Did you find him? », asked she.
He simply handed her the file.
« Early morning tomorrow, West Earl Street. I'd suggest you arrange for someone to pick up the hostages, since you care so much. »
« Thank y... », started Casey, but the Hornet had already disappeared in the shadows of her bedroom, leaving alone the open window as an indication that something out of the ordinary had visited her that night.
The second morning found Britt Reid still tied up in an empty room. It was a different room, that at least had windows and a couple of wooden boxes where the prisoners could sit on. One of the men had been taken away and was not seen since, and a new one had been carried in, just as stunned as Britt had been . The guards had changed, too. H owever, the new ones were just as attentive and impossible to argue with than the ones before them.
They had given them a piece of bread and some water some time ago, around the same time they'd taken them to a bathroom. That had been one of the most humiliating experiences in Britt's life, and he was still ruminating about what he could have possibly done differently to make use of them freeing his hands long enough for him to tend to his business. Jump the guard, maybe, had there not been a second one armed with a gun, standing just a little bit further away.
He had been stunned during the transport, just like the first time, and woken up in the new room. He still had no idea where they were, but could at least guess the time of the day by the light coming in from the window. It also made him have the impression that he was on a higher floor.
Two new crook s came in, and walked up to one of the men, who desperately tried to back away from them .
« What do you want with me? »
« Relax, sunshine, you are going home. »
Before anyone could say or do anything else, there was a handkerchief and the man slumped in on himself. The crooks carried him out.
The rest of the day went by without any major events. It got dark, and Britt sled down on the floor so that he could lean against the box. The guards eyed him suspiciously, but let him do it. Britt closed his eyes and tried to find some sleep.
He wondered how long he had left. He knew that his father wouldn't pay the ransom, but he also knew that he was clever enough to make the crooks believe that he would for as long as possible. What would happen after that… Britt also wondered how long it would take before he would be too weakened to be able to fight any more. Maybe that was already the case. If only those damned ropes would let him move his arms and his legs a little more…
He wasn't completely asleep, when he woke up at the sound of footsteps. Loud footsteps. Whoever was coming, he wanted to be noticed.
The guards heard it, too, and quietly pulled out their guns, turning to the door. The prisoners were all awake, none of them being able to sleep much deeper than Britt was, and all sensing the sudden tension in the air.
The door opened, and a man came in. Long dark green coat, hat matching color, and a mask. A mask that Britt knew only too well.
« The Green Hornet! », exclaimed one of the guards. The man in the mask completely ignored him, and turned to the prisoners instead. His every movement radiated a calm confidence, as if he owned the whole world.
Britt felt all the air escape his lungs, and his heart jumped as the eyes behind the mask – he knew those eyes, and how he knew them – settled on his face. He had to admit that, if this was what the Green Hornet looked to outsiders, he had the effect Britt had been aiming for. He heard two of the other prisoners gasp audibly, and could himself not turn away from the man in the mask. His heart was racing in what felt like a mixture between fear and excitement, and he was literately paralyzed.
K ato was observing him calmly. Because of course that isn't Kato, that is the Green Hornet! Britt kicked himself mentally. Get yourself together and play along, Britt Reid.
Kato – the Hornet - reached out, and took Britt's chin in his hand . Britt jerked back, but his back only hit the box he was sitting next to. The Hornet turned his head and observed his face from every angle, tracing his thumb just underneath the bruise on his temple that was left from where he'd hit his head when they took him. His touch burned through the gloves, and Britt didn't know whether he wanted to escape it or lean further into it, so he remained frozen, staring up into the dark eyes behind the mask.
The Hornet finally let go of him, turned and walked towards the guards, who were clutching their guns. They didn't look as if they wanted to use them, though. Not yet.
« This man is mine. », announced the Hornet in Britt's accent, not sparing him or the others one more glance.
« Oh is he now? », mocked one of the guards, but the high pitch of his tone betrayed him.
« Yes. And I do not appreciate that you touched him without asking me first. »
« So what, now you think that you can just walk in here and we will let him go? »
« No, I think that I walk in here, and by the time I walk out, your little gig here will be no more. »
One of the guards stepped forwards.
« What gives you the right... »
« You know who I am? », a sked back the Hornet. « This is my city, and I don't share. How much were you and your boss paying me again to let you run your little racket? » He waited for a second for the dramatic effect. « Exactly. »
« You didn't have a problem with us before now. », said the second crook, the one who'd stayed in the background.
« Before now, I had better things to do. You kept the p olice busy and seemed clever enough to just leave once you had collected a little bit of money. I would have let you go for a fair share, and never heard of you again. Everybody would have been happy. But like this… You took more than you can handle, and it seems that I have to remind you of that. »
O ne of the guards started to raise his gun. The Hornet was faster. He didn't even bother with the gas gun, just hit the guy three times. Once on his hand, to make him let drop his gun, and twice on the neck, so fast that Britt would have missed his separate motions, had he not known them from countless sparring matches. T he man went down. The Hornet turned to his partner, who was still trying to catch up on what had happened, and pulled the trigger of the gas gun directly in his face. He too collapsed.
B ritt energetically showed down the inappropriate emotions that this scene had stirred in him, and kept his face blank, as the Hornet now turned to him.
« What do you want with me? », asked he, his voice definitely too flat. It was all right. It wouldn't be suspicious that he tried to hide his emotions, not in this context. Nobody in the room knew that it wasn't fear that he was fighting to keep from showing through.
« Me, nothing. », answered the Hornet. « But I am being payed good money to keep you out of trouble. »
« I'm not paying you, you crook! »
The Hornet had walked up to him and now knelt down next to Britt.
« I never said you were. »
He leaned in close, so close that it took Britt's breath away, and he only noticed what was in his hand too late. The knife flashed, and Britt could feel it cut straight through the ropes on his hands. He freed himself, than rubbed his writs as the blood returned into them.
The Hornet was already at the door.
« The other members of this gang will be here in the morning to move you. », said he. « Do with this information what you like. »
Than he was gone.
Britt blinked a couple of times, than shook himself back to reality, and started to take the bonds first off his feet, than off the hands off the other prisoners. As soon as he'd freed the first man, he went to the other side of the room, where the guards lay. First he took away their guns and disarmed them, hiding the bullets in his pocket.. Better not to give anybody even a chance to avenge the past few days.
« Someone give me some rope. », called he to the other side of the room, and proceeded to tie up the two men with practiced moves.
« All right. », turned he than to the other former prisoners. « Here is what we do now. »
The next morning, when the rest of the crooks came to the building on West Earl Street to check on the prisoners, they found them armed with guns and a metal rod and their colleagues tied up in a corner. The men took them out in no time, than left behind a guard and run out on the street to look for help. There, they happened to meet two reporters of the Daily Sentinel named Axford and Lawry, who had been sitting in a car waiting for something interesting to happen, and were only too happy to help them reach the police, wait with them until they arrived, and even followed the little caravan of police cars back to the station.
Britt Reid spent the majority of the day there, giving an as detailed testimony as he could manage, than telling everything in detail to his reporter colleagues who than run off to have time to write it before the evening edition. There was a phone call to his father, and police officers sent out to contact the families of the men who didn't have a phone (everyone except for him). Slowly, everything settled down, and Britt started to feel once more just how tired he was. All he wanted was a hot shower, a good meal, and a chance to lay down somewhere comfortable.
Also… He didn't finish that thought.
Instead, he thought of the Green Hornet. He imagined him spar with his partner, the other man's motions fast and fluid and o h so graceful. He imagined them being done and taking off their masks, of them looking into the other one's face, the face that only they knew. The Hornet raising his hand and caressing his friend's cheek, both of them stepping closer to each other …
« I am sorry to have you kept waiting, Mr. Reid. », said the officer who'd only just entered the room.
Britt smiled at him, wishing away the forbidden thoughts he didn't had the chance to finish.
« Not at all, officer. I have got time. »
Maybe he shouldn't have said that, because the man took him by his word. It was well in the afternoon by the time Britt Reid was finally done with the p olice and could go home.
Kato only knew that the hostages had been released because Casey called him as soon as she heard. And because it had been him who released them in the first place, but that didn't count. What did count was that neither the police, nor Dan Reid, but not even Britt Reid himself bothered to contact him, not until sometimes in the afternoon, when he received a phone call from the station that they would bring Reid home soon, and that he'd been beaten and starved over the past two days, so Kato should prepare something easily digestible. It wasn't even Britt who told him this, but a random police officer.
Which of course didn't mean that Kato didn't make soup and than sat down to wait near the window, from where he had a good view of the street. By pure coincidence, of course. Not because he was nervous or impatient. Of course not.
It was officer Parker who brought Reid home. He accompanied him to the door and rung the doorbell without even bothering to ask whether or not he had a key. Kato hurried to open up without looking as if he'd hurried too much. Parker completely ignored him as he instructed Reid to take it slow for a few days, and to contact them if he remembered anything that might be of importance. He than left, leaving the two men standing alone at the door.
For a moment, they stared at one another, than both averted their eyes once and pretended that it didn't happen. There was another moment of awkward silence, than Kato broke it finally by holding out his hand.
« Welcome back, Mr. Reid. It's good to see you again. »
Reid finally stepped inside and closed the door before taking his hand. He always had a firm handshake, but this time, he really only just took Kato's hand in his and held it for an absurdly long time. Not that Kato minded. He only pulled away once it had gone on for long enough to become too dangerous, and turned to make his way to the kitchen while Reid took off his shoes.
They didn't really talk for most of the evening. Not that they weren't both happy to be together again, but there was still something between them that hindered their usual ease of communication. Kato preferred not to say anything that after their last discussion (or fight) could have been mistaken as him overstepping his boundaries, and Reid… It wasn't exactly clear what he was thinking about. He tried to say something a couple of times, but never went through with it.
They finished dinner in silence, than Reid went to clean himself up, while Kato did the dishes. They met again in the sitting room, where both sat down next to each other on the coach. Or Kato sat, Reid's position was somewhere between sitting and lying down.
« I didn't know that you could change your accent. », said Reid finally.
« There are many things that you do not know about me, Mr. Reid. »
He looked at him with thoughtful, inquiring eyes.
« Why don't you use it more often? »
« I do not like it. » And because he shouldn't have to in order to be taken seriously, but he did not add that. That was the one of the things he and Reid somehow never talked about: He knew that, no matter how well his friend meant, he would not be able to understand, or even believe Kato's experiences of being a second-class citizen because of his race. And he could not bear the idea of him questioning his word.
« I like yours better, too. », said Reid.
« Good. », said Kato.
« You saved my life. »
« You would have done the same for me. »
Reid pushed himself into a somewhat more sitting position, probably so that he could look better at Kato.
« Only if I'd known, how. I have been trying to catch these crooks for weeks. You have managed in two days. »
« The locals wouldn't talk to you, but they trusted me enough to tell me what I needed to know. »
Gossip, mostly. Some shady men moving around the empty buildings at weird hours, or some noise coming from them, and Kato would never believe it, there had actually been a kidnapping ring operating there! No, really, it was true, it had been in the papers and everything. Also, the buildings might be haunted. The owner? Oh, nobody has touched those for ages, but there had been once something about a guy named Ferris buying them? Who? Oh, he'd been quite famous back in the day, people used to hire him and his boys as bodyguards, they did. Strong, brutal men. Got chased away by the police, for once something good the cops did. Never heard of him again. The buildings used by the kidnapping ring all belonged either to Ferris or to some of his most faithful men. They were all too old for crime on that scale now, but it seemed that Ferris's son had taken over the business of running that mob, and found a way to get quick money.
« You did well. » Reid closed his eyes and let his head fall back in exhaustion. « You really did. »
Kato felt a warmth spreading out from his chest to the rest of his body, and he couldn't help but smile.
« Thank you, Mr. Reid. »
Reid hummed something in response. Kato finally took pity on his employer. He got up.
« Please lay down properly. I am going to get you a blanket. »
« Always so polite. », muttered Reid, as he lay back with a smile.
By the time Kato got back, he was already half asleep, but he seemed to wake up when he put the blanket over him. He grabbed his hand, and pushed himself up on his elbow.
« Kato ? »
« Yes, Mr. Reid? »
« I am sorry for yelling at you before I left. »
Kato smiled, and stilled his free hand before he could run it through Britt's messy hair.
« No, Mr. Reid, you were right. I overstepped. I should have remembered my place. »
« That is not how we work, and you know it. I mean it, Kato, it was my fault and I promise that it won't happen again. »
Kato smiled at him and gently squeezed his hand.
« It's all right, Mr. Reid. I'm not angry with you. »
Reid smiled and relaxed, letting himself sink back, and closed his eyes. He was asleep almost immediately.
Kato allowed himself a moment to just look at him. He seemed tired, battered, but if anything, it made him only more attractive. Not the same way as he was attractive the rest of the time, with his intelligence and his energy and his confidence, but in a more fragile and vulnerable way. And yet one could see all the hidden strength that he possessed. Just being close to him and able to watch him sleep made Kato light-headed.
The moment stretched out, becoming longer and longer, and yet Kato couldn't get himself to tear his eyes off Mr. Reid's sleeping face. Or to let go of his hand that he still was holding, rubbing absentmindedly circled on his palm.
Just a little longer. Just let me hold his hand for just a little longer.
Britt woke up somewhat after midnight, a lot better rested than when he'd fallen asleep. The first thing he noticed was how comfortably warm it was, the second, that he was still holding Kato's hand.
He turned his head to find his valet sitting on the floor, leaning against the coach in a twisted position , reaching up with the hand that was closed around Britt's. The light of the streetlamps lit the room more than well enough for Britt to see him clearly, and… He was breathtaking.
He was strong and lean, wearing a simple white suit that fitted him perfectly. His head was resting on the coach, his black hair spread out on the blanket he'd brought for Britt. He was sleeping deeply, his beautiful dark eyes closed, and his muscular chest raising and sinking at a peaceful rhythm.
The Hornet probably woke regularly to a view like this. Not for the first time, Britt felt a painful ping in his chest, something that came way too close to envy. Or m aybe it was jealousy.
Britt gave in to the temptation, and gently touched his friend's face with the tip of his fingers. It was a mistake. Kato's eyes flew open once, awake and alert as ever. He realized the position he was in within the fraction of a second, and stumbled to find some acceptable explanation.
« Mr. Reid! I... »
He tried to pull away his hand, but Britt gripped it more firmly.
« Kato. »
Kato's apology died off in the throat , and he stopped trying to get away from Britt, looking instead at him with his beautiful, dark eyes wide open. Britt felt his higher reasoning switch off, and tried to hide it by sa ying out aloud the first thing that came into his mind:
« Won't your back hurt if you keep sitting like that? »
K ato slowly got up, and sat down next to Britt, who himself was getting in a half sitting position, propped up against the nearest cushions he could find. Their hips touched through the blanked, and oh God, Britt was going to dream about this for weeks , wasn't he?
They just look ed at each other for a long time I t wasn't awkward like before at the door , but very calm and peaceful. One part of Britt hoped that it would last for ever, while another part was only too aware of him needing to break the silence as soon as possible. But his mind was blank, no matter how much he tried to come up with something, all he managed was one single thought.
« What did I ever do to deserve you? », whispered he before he could stop himself.
« You don't. », answered he. « It is me who is lucky to be allowed to work for you. »
« I wasn't talking about your work. », breathed Britt.
« Me neither. »
They were very close, without Britt having realized that they were both leaning forwards. Kato's eyes…
That was the moment that Britt realized what was happening, and it kicked his brain back on with a shock like a bucket of cold water being dumped over his head.
He'd become so caught up in the magic of the moment, that he'd let himself slip. For the first time since they'd started, years ago, Britt Reid had looked at Kato the same way that the Green Hornet look ed at his partner. And Kato had looked back the way the man in black looked at the Hornet. Had been looking, for years. When they were in their costumes, behind the masks, this was normal, a long running habit neither of them realized there might have been something amiss with. But right there, in Britt's sitting room, there were no masks left to hide behind, and they had both revealed themselves as being just what they were underneath: Two men hopelessly in love with one another, mesmerized by each other's closeness .
Britt jerked back, freeing his hand from Kato's warm, soft grip, and colliding with the coach's armrest so hard that the poor piece of furniture gave out a surprised squeak in protest, staring at Kato with shock and horror. The small but very vocal part of him that wanted nothing more than just grab his friend and drag him close – and he could do it, he was right there! Kato! - was outshouted by the rest of him, the part s that had learned to be careful, to hide, and to only allow those thoughts in the deepest depth of his mind, disguised in a million ways to make sure that even he would not be able to recognize them for what they were.
K ato looked perplexed and confused for a moment, than his eyes widened in understanding.
« Oh. », whispered he.
« No. » Britt shook his head, than got up, not caring that Kato had to jump on his feet , too, in order to let him get off the coach. « No. »
Kato took a hesitating step forward, and Britt two hasty steps backwards, bringing the coach between them. They were staring at one another once more, but the peacefulness from before was gone, replaced by a grinding tension. Kato looked thoughtful. Britt only wanted to run away, but was frozen under his eyes like a doe in the headlights.
« No. » He shook his head, as if that could dissipate this bad dream. « We can't. We shouldn't… »
« We've done worse. »
Kato slowly started to advance towards him, and Britt backed away at the same pace. Step after step, still not breaking eye contact.
« We can't. », repeated he.
« Mr. Reid. We can. »
One step forward, one step back. One step forward, one step back.
Britt was shaking his head. No. They couldn't. There were so many good and important and valid reasons why they couldn't…
One step forward, one step back. One step forward, one step back.
« Than tell me to stop. »
« What? »
« This. Tell me to stop, and I will. »
One step forward, one step back. One step forward, one step back.
Britt wanted to. He wanted to tell Kato to stop, to forget about what happened and never bring up the subject again. Maybe threaten him that next time, he would call for help . Anything to make him stop.
One step forward, one step back. One step forward, one step back.
Kato was still chasing him. Slow, deliberate. So, so incredibly handsome. He was like Britt's darkest desires come to life, making his breath go faster and his heart beat higher. So, so incredibly handsome. Britt couldn't have imagined anything more terrifying had he tried.
They crossed the sitting room, and somehow entered Britt's bedroom. He didn't do it on purpose, he really did not, and wasn't entirely sure why they ended up there. Maybe it was his subconscious playing a nasty trick on him.
His legs collided with the rand of his bed.
No, screamed one part of his mind.
Yes, whispered another.
Kato took one step closer. Britt tried to shirk backwards, but his bed only allowed him room to sit down, which he did . He was cornered, Kato was getting closer with every step.
He stopped two steps away from Britt, and held out is hand. Britt started to shake, and couldn't stop himself.
« I won't let you hurt me. », said Kato. « You know that, Mr. Reid, don't you? Just as I know that you won't let me hurt you. »
Britt looked up from the hand to his face. His dark eyes were sincere. He shook his head. He couldn't. They couldn't.
« Tell me to stop. », repeated Kato.
Britt shook his head again, and his friend seemed to have taken this as a sign of permission, since he stepped closer. He was still holding out his hand. Britt was trembling even more violently .
« You won't hurt me. », promised Kato.
Hesitatingly, Britt lifted his hand and placed it in the open one. Watched a warm smile spread over his friend's face, and his heart responded by pounding loud enough that Kato must have been able to hear it. He took the final step, and was standing close enough now for their knees to touch. Kato reached out for Britt's face, but paused his hand in mid-air without actually touching it.
« May I? »
Britt nodded in defeat, and Kato buried his fingers in his hair, smoothing the messy locks out of his eyes, behind his ear.
Britt forgot how to breathe.
Kato gently tilted his head upwards, so that he would get a better look at his face, and run his thumb over his cheeks, his lower lip. Just underneath the bruise on his temple, where the Hornet had touched him.
« Britt? », asked he cautiously.
« Ikano? » Using Kato's first name somehow felt wrong. Apparently, he thought that, too, because he smiled fondly at Britt, still caressing his face.
« If you don't mind, I would prefer to use my other name. »
« Of course, Kato. »
He finally managed to raise his own free hand, and cover Kato's with it, their fingers curling around each other. He was still shaking, intensely enough to be happy that he'd sat down. He wasn't sure that he could stand on his two feet right now.
« Britt. »
Britt looked up into those two dark eyes. Kato was there. He was standing right there in front of him, holding his hands. It was wonderful, surreal and exiting, and terrifying.
« How can you not be afraid? », asked Britt.
Kato was terrified.
This was not what he had planned. Wanted, probably, somewhere deep, but actually, he'd been quite happy with what his life was like. Not because he didn't have enough things to be angry and bitter about, but because he also had more than enough that was going well, or even better. Meeting Britt Reid really had been the best thing that could have ever happened to him. The only thing he wished for was for everything to continue the way it was (and some changes in the political landscape. But that was of course something completely different).
He'd only really noticed that something was wrong when he saw the horror on Britt's face, and even then, it had taken him ridiculously long to register what had put it there.
It scared him, too. Of course it scared him. Having romantic feeling for each other meant that they were both in trouble. Their wealth, accent, places of birth and the color of their skin meant that Kato was in more trouble than Britt.
If he'd had any saying in the matter, this whole mess wouldn't have happened and they could have kept going on both pretending that they only felt friendship and loyalty towards one another.
But he didn't, and now it was too late to go back.
Britt would. If it was up to him, they'd both retreat to different corners of the apartment, and the next day onward both very intensively pretend that nothing had happened. Kato understood where his friend came from, he understood only too well. It was a tempting possibility.
But he also knew that this was their only chance. If they took the easy way out and pretended that nothing had happened between them, they would be stuck like that for ever. Continue watching each other from a distance, keep admiring the other one in secret, stealing looks and touches while hidden behind their masks. Just like before. Only this time knowing that they both felt the same, and that they'd both decided not to act upon it.
Kato would do it, if that was what Britt really wanted. But he doubted that. He doubted it very much, and he would not stand by and let their chance slip by untouched, just because both of them were too afraid of the consequences.
« Tell me to stop. »
He advanced one step, Britt retreated one. They continued this slow, ridiculous chase until they somehow ended up in his bedroom, Britt sitting on the bed and shaking over his entire body.
« You won't hurt me. », assured him Kato.
After that, they both just stayed there, looking at one another, Kato's hand in Britt's hair, his fingers playing with the dark blonde locks. They were soft, freshly washed.
« How can you not be afraid? »
They were both shaking, Kato noticed. He gripped Britt's hand tighter, trying to conceal it.
« I am afraid. I just know how to hide it. »
« Me too, but... »
« First time? », asked Kato gently. « Like this? »
The beginning was the hardest, everyone Kato had spoken to about this agreed. Admitting that the desire was there was bad enough, but actually acting upon it… And Britt didn't have had any time to mentally prepare himself.
No wonder that poor man was shaking like a leaf in the wind.
« Not yours? »
« You keep underestimating me, Mr. Reid. »
A quick smile.
« I thought you were going to call me Britt now. »
« I am. Please lay down, Britt. »
Britt didn't move. He was shaking more violently now. Kato squeezed his hands.
« It's all right. It's… I'm not going to hurt you. Just… Trust me. Please. »
Slowly, Britt nodded. He climbed on the bed and lay back, visibly tense.
Kato followed him. He knelt down at his side, and spent a moment just caressing his face. Britt was looking at him with wide eyes. Lost. Afraid.
Finally, Kato's fingers tangled once more in his friend's hair, and he moved closer.
« Tell me if this is all right. »
He slowly climbed on top of the other man and lay down, pinning him to the bed with his entire body. Britt shivered, and made a soft, wordless noise.
Kato left one of his hands in his hair, and put his other arm around him. He let his head fall next to Britt's, pressing their cheeks together.
« Ssssht. », whispered he. « It's all right. »
Britt let out another sound, one that resembled a sob, and shook uncontrollably. Kato stayed there, motionless, holding his friend while his own shivers became more intense, too. Britt lay his arms around him and pressed him closer. They remained there for a long time, clinging at one another, both of them lost in the tide wave of feelings.
Finally, Britt's grip on him loosened a little, while his body under Kato slacked. Kato felt his own muscles relax, until they were only just lying there instead of pressing themselves together.
Kato slowly looked up. Britt's face was wet from tears, but he nothing else about him indicated that he had been crying. He was looking up calmly at him, while Kato gently wiped them away.
« You are so beautiful. », whispered he.
Brit smiled and run his hands up and down Kato's back.
« I am still afraid. »
« That is normal. », said Kato. « I am afraid, too. »
He leaned down and rested his forehead against Britt's. Their breaths mixed, and both of them shivered. But this time, it was not out of fear.
« We'll take this slow, okay ? », whispered Kato. « We have got time. »
Britt nodded. One of his hands slipped into Kato's hair. Kato shivered again when he touched the skin on his neck.
« Just stay with me, Kato. »
They only moved one more time that night, when they realized that they were falling asleep. They crawled under the blanket, and lay down on their sides. Kato pulled Britt against his chest and closed him in his arms, his own face resting against his lover's soft hair.
Britt had taken everybody's advise to take a day to recover. They could stay in bed for as long as they wanted.