Rei was dreaming.
He was aware he was dreaming.
It just didn't help.
Every step Gin took, his vicious smile as he walked past the man bound to a chair in the middle of the room, had the weight of inevitability.
"You've been waiting for this, haven't you?"
The words flickered, not really words even, just the impression of them, but the grip of the gun Gin held out was heavy and true.
Shuuichi raised his head, and even under a slick of blood, his eyes were calm and level as he looked up at Rei from the chair.
"Yes, I have," Rei answered. He took the gun. There was no way not to take the gun. Under Gin's shark-smile, he lifted it, took slow, careful aim, every movement flowing naturally and unstoppably into the next.
Pulled the trigger.
Rei bolted upright in bed, hauling in air desperately past the tightness in his lungs, his throat. He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling them start to shake as the dream followed him up into waking and he felt the heavy inevitability try to settle back over his shoulders.
He flinched and looked over. Shuuichi was leaning up on one elbow, rubbing sleep from his own eyes as the blanket slipped down off broad shoulders. Those eyes sharpened when Rei shuddered at the sound of his voice. "Nightmare?"
Rei swallowed hard against the sick twist in his stomach. "Just a dream," he managed, husky, aiming the words more at himself than at Shuuichi. Just a dream, not real, not happening, not going to happen.
When Shuuichi reached out to tug Rei back down against his shoulder, though, Rei couldn't help the desperate tightness of his arms around Shuuichi's ribs.
"Ah." Shuuichi slid a hand up into Rei's hair, holding him closer. "I'm right here," he said quietly. "Alive and everything."
Rei swallowed down a laugh, afraid it would come out too tellingly high and harsh. "Just..." he snatched in another breath and forced his voice level. "Just don't get caught." It still came out urgent and demanding.
Shuuichi was still for a breath, and then he pulled Rei closer and rolled them to settle his weight solidly over Rei. When Rei looked up at him, Shuuichi's eyes caught his, fierce and intent. "I promise you. It will never be by your hand."
That stilled the quick, thin pull of Rei's breath for a moment. It wasn't what he had asked, but then, what he'd asked wasn't a promise that anyone could be sure of, in their work. What Shuuichi had actually said... that might be. That promise made the tightness in his throat ease, but suddenly his eyes were wet. He buried his head in Shuuichi's shoulder, pressing closer.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't ask..." How did he have any right to ask for what he'd raged at thinking Akai might have asked from Hiro?
"There are no 'should's, for us," Shuuichi said, soft and steady over Rei's ragged words, fingers sliding slowly through his hair. "Only what can be done. Of the two of us, I'm the one who can make this promise, right now. So I do."
That simple, bedrock certainty shook Rei all the way down to the heart, shook his fear loose where it could be grasped. His locked muscles unwound all at once as the future shook out of the inevitable path of his nightmare into moving pieces that could be shifted, again. "Thank you," he whispered against Shuuichi's shoulder.
"Shh," Shuuichi told him, settling back against the pillows, though he kept Rei gathered up against him. Rei wasn't protesting. "Get some sleep. Or your little waitress friend will make you stay behind the stove all day so you don't scare the customers."
Rei's mouth quirked. Azusa wouldn't; she liked having him deal with problem customers too much. But she would fuss over him if he looked too rough. The last time he'd had a cold had meant a solid week of dodging home remedies. "Yeah. All right." He draped himself half on top of Shuuichi, though, far closer than they usually slept, pressed against the living, breathing warmth of him.
Shuuichi lay quiet under Rei's weight, considering the ceiling thoughtfully. He'd had a few uncomplimentary thoughts, before this, about whoever Rei's control was, that they didn't take better care of him. Now, though, he was starting to think that Rei had never mentioned his control, not out of any good habit, but because he didn't have one. Not in the normal sense, anyway. The more he learned about Rei, the more possible it seemed that Rei was high enough up in his division that his 'control' was simply his boss, and not trained to be a spy's contact and lifeline at all. Either that, or Rei's brilliance meant no one else could see how close to the edge he was coming.
Which meant there might not be plans in place for Rei's extraction, because he was increasingly convinced that Rei hadn't made any for himself.
Shuuichi sighed, and stroked Rei's hair slowly, when he stirred. Personally, Shuuichi thought Rei was far too driven by his passionate commitment to duty, to be undercover where he'd been for the past five years. Oh, Rei had a coldly ruthless side, all right; it was what allowed him to penetrate so deep into the Organization. And, of course, getting into Vermouth's orbit had kept him from the worst of the hands-on killing. But the inherent contradiction with Rei's fierce care for his people was pulling a tear deeper and deeper into Rei's soul. Tonight's nightmare was only the latest sign of it.
Well. If Rei wouldn't plan for his own escape, Shuuichi had no issues with doing it for him.
No matter how loud the argument afterwards was likely to be.
He pressed a kiss to the top of Rei's head, smiling at the thought, and closed his eyes.
Rei swung his hips to the quick beat in his ears and took a sliding step across his little kitchen space to the fridge, to pull out the chopped pork and onion mixture he'd put in to cool that morning before work, smiling to himself. One of the things he liked most about cooking at home, despite the smaller workspace, was that he could listen to anything he wanted, not just the bland radio stations mandated by the Cafe's manager. And with his earbuds in, he could crank up the volume as much as he liked without complaints from customers, neighbors, or co-workers.
Of course, he was subject to more irregular interruptions, at home. With customarily perfect timing, there was a knock at his door just as he was rolling up the third cabbage leaf and had his hands thoroughly greasy. Three raps and two taps, which told him immediately who it was and also reminded him that his lover thought he was funny.1 Shuuichi was definitely going to get the second 8 in, today, before Rei could clean his hands and answer the door.
On the other hand, today Rei had a little dig of his own, in return.
He still rolled his eyes at Shuuuichi, as he let him in. "You spent far too long in the States."
Shuuichi gave him the bright-eyed look that meant he was laughing behind that calm expression. "It's appropriate enough, isn't it?" He leaned in and stole an illustrative kiss, which Rei snorted a little at but let him have. Shuuichi's brows were raised as he drew back. "What are you listening to?"
Rei smirked at the unspoken corollary 'so loudly', and caught the wires of his headphones, turning his head to tug them loose. "It's the latest live concert for this group. They've got some real talent." He held them out, cords draped invitingly over his fingers. "Of course, Hori has been more focused on a musical career, but personally I think Mimori has even more potential."
Shuuichi slanted a faintly dubious look at the headphones, from which a driving snare could be heard, even from two feet away, but took one of the speakers and held it to his ear. He was treated to hearing the second half of "No Brand Girls" performed live at the LoveLive Dream Sensation concert.
Rei memorized the most utterly nonplussed expression he'd ever seen on Shuuichi's face, and tucked it away to gloat over later. For now, he gave Shuuichi his very best sunny and innocent smile. Shuuichi looked down at him for a long moment before a corner his mouth started to curl up. He finally gave in and laughed as he dropped the earbud back into Rei's hand. "Yes, all right." Rei's smile got a little sunnier at the unspoken 'fine, you got me', and it was Shuuichi's turn to snort. "What are you making?" he asked, stepping toward the kitchen.
What was sufficiently involved that it delayed answering the door, when Rei really did try to keep the knock down to a single 8, was what that really meant. Rei tucked his earbuds into his pocket, with his player, and thumbed the off button. Game won. "Cabbage rolls. It's getting colder out, and I was in the mood for them." He tossed the can of diced tomatoes, waiting on the counter, to Shuuichi. "Here. Make yourself useful and open that."
Shuuichi did as he was told, which Rei felt was his one true virtue in a kitchen. "Do they go in here?" Shuuichi asked, nodding at the enameled iron pot set waiting on the larger burner.
"Yes, but not until after the garlic and bay leaves are sautéed, which I'm not trusting you with, yet."
"You're the chef," Shuuichi agreed peacefully enough, tucking the can opener back away where it belonged.
Rei didn't miss the thoughtful glance he gave the headphone cords still dangling from Rei's hip pocket, though.
When Rei visited the Kudou house a week later, to find Shuuichi stretched out on the couch and "Wonderful Rush" playing on the stereo, he laughed out loud.
"I really do like μ's, you know," he pointed out, smirking as he slid down to the couch to settle comfortably on top of Shuuichi.
Even in Okiya Subaru's disguise, Shuuichi's smile was still his own, crooked and sharp unless he had reason to gentle it. Which he did now, apparently. He stroked the backs of his fingers down Rei's cheek. "After listening for a while, that doesn't really surprise me."
Rei knew his own smile was softer as he rested his head on Shuuichi's shoulder. Shuuichi did that to him, a lot.
Not that he thought, for one second, that Shuuichi was finished teasing people with his new musical discovery.
Miyano Shiho, currently and regrettably known to most of her associates as Haibara Ai, had known her sister's boyfriend was a bastard from the day she'd first met him. That opinion had not been altered in the least, in the intervening years, not by the revelation of his true allegiance, not by his—admittedly laudable—efforts to destroy Gin on Akemi's behalf, and not by the hints Akai occasionally dropped that he was still hanging around in part to guard Shiho herself.
Especially not by that last one.
Indeed, it was thanks to "Okiya Subaru's" presence that Shiho had gotten far better acquainted than she'd ever wanted to be with Akai Shuuichi's idea of humor, which she found singularly unamusing in every instance. It might even be fractally unamusing, because every time she saw that smirk of his she found new and still more detailed reasons to despise it.
The fact that he seemed to find that, in itself, amusing was not lost on her.
So she was always a bit wary, when her little friends wanted her to join them in a visit to "Subaru-oniichan". The man was underfoot enough at the Professor's, no need to go looking for any more of him. Today, unfortunately, Kudou was down with a cold and firmly ensconced in bed under Ran's oversight, and the Detective Boys had a puzzle they wanted answered after watching a more exciting than usual science show last night. Failing Kudou, and with a little too much experience of Professor's incurable urge to educate at every opportunity, they'd trouped next door to ask "Subaru-oniichan". And, since Kudou wasn't there, Shiho had felt mildly conscience-bound to go along and make sure her young friends came to no harm in their enthusiasm.
Goodness knew, someone had to.
So she'd gritted her teeth, instead of baring them, when "Subaru" answered the door, and followed along after as Mikihiko tried to explain their question, not particularly assisted by Ayumi and Genta's interjections. When they got to the livingroom, though, she ground to a halt in the door, utterly unable to process what her senses were telling her.
There was music playing.
Upbeat, relentlessly cheerful, unfailingly optimistic idol-pop music. She could practically hear the sparkles.
"Ah!" Ayumi exclaimed, bouncing a little on her toes and beaming up at "Subaru". "It's μ's!"
Akai smiled down at her. "Yes, it is. A friend got me listening to them. Do you like them, too?"
Shiho actually felt her brain short-circuit, a visceral twinge of does not compute, input denied.
Akai leaned down toward Ayumi, confidingly. "I have all the live recordings, now, I think. Let me know if you want to borrow anything." He tipped his head, smile now including Shiho. "I understand they're very popular with young ladies."
"Haibara-san?" Mitsuhiko asked, giving her concerned puppy-dog eyes. "Are you all right? Your face is getting awfully red, all of a sudden."
Drawing on the discipline that had gotten her through advanced degrees in bioscience in a handful of years, Shiho tamped down her fury and smiled instead of hissing like an outraged cat. "I'm fine. Just a little overheated, maybe." She shrugged out of her jacket and sat demurely on the couch. "Why don't you ask Subaru-san your question?"
Akai took one of the armchairs, looking politely interested. Probably only Shiho noticed the little quirk lingering at one corner of his mouth.
Someday she was going to have her revenge for every last one of those little smirks, and it was going to be so sweet. But that day would not be today, because then she would have to explain, several different times, how something could be colder than ice but still liquid. Let Akai do it. It was a very small, but possibly appropriate punishment. Even if the way he smiled at the children made her suspect it wasn't actually a punishment at all. She ignored that thought.
She didn't really want to have anything in common with the bastard.
Shiho tucked her feet up under herself to keep her toes from trying to tap to the beat.
Rei climbed the stairs to his apartment, hands tucked in his pockets, wearing a small, cool smile. He spun his keys lightly through his fingers to catch the door key, and turned the key slowly, as always. He let himself smirk just a tiny bit at the feel of the grimy stiffness in the lock, his low-tech deterrent for impatient burglars and the reason he’d picked this particular apartment from the ones available. He slipped inside on light feet and relocked the door behind him.
And finally let himself sag back against the door, smile turning into clenched teeth.
He hated this. Hated it with every drop of blood in his veins, with every beat of his heart. The usual things he did for the Organization were bad enough—gathering information about people, knowing it would lead to blackmail, to advancing the Organization’s ends, possibly to death. But it was worse when he had to kill with his own hands, when he had to pull a trigger and make himself look cool and uncaring as one of his people fell dead at his feet. His shoulders hunched tighter, against the blow of that remembered sound.
He started upright, eyes widening, before the voice itself penetrated. He still had to swallow before he could answer, “Shuuichi.”
A shadow by the bookshelves shifted and light bloomed out from the desk lamp. In the glow of it, Shuuichi crossed the room to him, taking Rei’s shoulders to draw him away from the door. “Was it bad, tonight?” he asked, quietly.
“Bad enough.” Rei started to reach for Shuuichi, aching for some contact he didn’t have to doubt. In his mind’s eye, though, Yoshimura Hayato’s body fell with the uncaring sprawl of the dead, and his hand—the hand that had held the gun—flinched back. Rei pulled in a hard breath, bracing himself to push past his own response, to bury it like he’d had to bury it over and over and over these last five years.
Before he quite could, though, Shuuichi caught Rei’s hand in both of his, folding Rei’s fingers gently over his own. As Rei stared blankly, Shuuichi lifted his hand and pressed a kiss to his fingers, slow and deliberate. When he looked up again to catch Rei’s eyes, his own were dark and knowing and so completely free of any blame that Rei didn’t know whether the sound he made was gratitude or protest. Shuuichi took no apparent notice, either way, and slid an arm around Rei’s shoulders, guiding him away from the door. “Come on. Bath, food, sleep.”
“I do know how to take care of myself,” Rei grumbled as he kicked off his shoes.
“Obviously, or you wouldn’t have made it this long.” Shuuichi sounded perfectly agreeable, but he kept his arm wrapped around Rei’s shoulders and nudged him toward the bathroom as soon as he had his slippers on. Rei huffed but let himself be steered into the bath. The warmth of Shuuichi’s hands helping him out of his clothes was welcome. When the water was running hot, Shuuichi finally left him to himself for a little while, and Rei used considerably more soap than usual to wash with.
More than usual for nights he wasn’t doing the Organization’s work, at any rate. Rei focused on the feel of water running over his skin, pushing away the sense-memories of the night along with each handful of suds. He knew from grim experience that it wasn’t a permanent trick; it broke down without fail when he visited the graves. It would carry him through any reports he had to make, though—whether to the Organization or to his own division.
When he emerged, still rubbing a towel through his hair, Shuuichi was sitting cross-legged at the living-room table with a plate of peeled orange sections. It was a good choice, Rei had to admit. Small pieces, mostly liquid, a strong enough taste to drown the heavy, iron sharpness he kept imagining in his sinuses. When Shuuichi held out a hand to him, Rei hesitated a moment, feeling a little off balance from his usual coping routine, but he finally gave in and went to sit close, in the curve of Shuuichi’s arm. “That’s better,” Shuuichi told him, gathering him closer. “Remember that you have more support, now.”
Rei looked up at that, startled into a faint laugh. “I have a great deal more support, in this country, than you do, you know.”
“You certainly should.” Shuuichi looked down at him with a brow quirked up. “Curious how you never seem to call on it, then.”
“I do so!” Rei protested, indignant.
“If you count the ones you called out to try to catch me, I suppose so.” The mild tone made Rei’s face heat. “But I have yet to see anyone taking the responsibility to check on your well-being.”
“I stay in contact.” Rei picked up a section of orange and bit down on it a little more firmly than necessary. "I call them when I need something done."
“But they ask stupid question, and it’s annoying when they get in your way.” It wasn’t actually a question, which didn’t surprise Rei. Of course Shuuichi would know.
“It’s just... easier,” he said, quietly, turning another bit of orange over in his fingers. "To deal with it on my own."
“I know.” Shuuichi's arm around him tightened for a moment, and Shuuichi turned his head to press a kiss to Rei's temple. “But you have someone here who does understand, now.”
Rei leaned against him with a tiny smile. “That, I’ll agree with.”
He could hear the answering smile in Shuuichi's voice. "It's a start."
Rei noted that for later consideration, because 'start' suggested there was more coming along after. But that thought could wait. For now, all he wanted to do was sit here and soak up the presence of someone who knew exactly what he'd done tonight and still held him close.
Shiho tried not to approve too much of anything "Subaru-san" did. The man didn't need any encouragement; he was a lot like Kudou that way. But she had to admit that, now and then, he could be useful. In a crowded line for the new Okinio Youko release, for instance.
Shiho shepherded Ayumi a little further into the triangle of space Akai held clear with nothing more than broad shoulders and body language, and braced herself with a huff of annoyance against the knee in her back as the line moved up a step. Some days, she really, really missed having high, pointy heels for situations just like this one, and if that made her anti-social, well so be it. She got kneed in the shoulder again and reflected on how very much the college student behind her deserved a high heel in his toe.
And then she tried not to flinch as "Subaru" leaned down toward her. How could he possibly loom more when he was bending down?
"Are you doing all right, Haibara-san?" His smile made her twitch again; for pity's sake, couldn't anyone else see how sharp it was? "We'll be at the front of the line soon."
Shiho saw the people in front of them start to move, and braced herself to be crowded again, unable to help the sour edge to her voice when she answered, "Good." And then she blinked, because nothing hit her back. A quick glance over her shoulder showed that the college student had edged back a good fifteen centimeters, which was impressive in a crush like this. What...?
When it clicked, she whipped her head back around to stare at Akai, but he'd already straightened up and was smiling at nothing in particular. She was so startled by her own conclusion that the next step forward caught her by surprise after all, and she stumbled half a step.
Ayumi caught her, looking surprised as she steadied Shiho. "Are you all right, Ai-chan?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Shiho murmured with a tiny smile. After a moment's hesitation, she added, not quite directly to Ayumi, "Thank you."
"Sure!" Ayumi smiled, sunny and pleased.
"Subaru-san's" smile curled just a bit wider. Shiho shot him a glare on general principles.
However useful he could be, sometimes, he really, really did not need any encouragement.
One of the things Kudou Shinichi truly detested about being Edogawa Conan was the simple, physical fact of being small. Sure he found ways around it—the skateboard when he needed to be fast, the shoes and a kickable object when he needed to be strong. But the fact remained that, without those force multipliers the Professor provided, he was about as inconvenient as a misplaced briefcase to the average adult.
Which meant, of course, that every suspect who wanted to make a break for it broke in Shinichi's direction. And he had his shoes, today, but he'd already used his belt-ball to stop the guy's car. He was going to come home with bruises that would make Ran frown again, today, wasn't he? Crap. Well, no help for it...
Just as he was preparing to throw himself at the man's legs to trip him, though, a hand squeezed his shoulder firmly, and then Akai-san (or Subaru-san, at the moment) was stepping past him, and the suspect met Subaru-san's elbow going very much the wrong way. At least, the wrong way for anyone wanting to stay conscious. Shinichi had to wince a little, as the man hit the ground with a meaty thud, and he wasn't the only one.
"Well," Subaru-san said, mildly, brushing his jacket straight, "who'd have thought he'd have such a glass jaw?"
Shinichi (joined by not a few of the surrounding police) rolled his eyes. Sometimes he thought Akai-san actually enjoyed how unconvincing he was at being innocuous. Under the sudden bustle of securing the suspect, though, Shinichi muttered, "Thanks." The wry tilt of Subaru-san's answering smile said Shinichi was not being subtle about how little he liked having to be rescued, and Shinichi shrugged at him. No one sane would enjoy his current life. Subaru-san tipped his head in acknowledgement, but Shinichi noticed that he stayed fairly close until the cuffs were locked.
Well, whatever. Thanks to Ran, Shinichi was almost getting used to being shadowed by over-protective tall people.
Rei slouched against the door of the train car, arms crossed, as close as he could get to not being on the wretched thing, and gave his lover a disgruntled look. "Remind me why we're stuffed into this car with every football fan in Tokyo, instead of driving to this game like people who both have cars? Two of them, in your case."
Shuuichi looked far too amused, something Rei swore his Okiya disguise intensified. "You don't normally complain about being somewhere in order to locate a suspect."
"If there was the smallest chance of making useful observations, here, you might have a point." As it was, the only thing Rei was finding to observe were the backs and shoulders of the five closest passengers. That and Shuuichi's chest, which wasn't unwelcome but was far more interesting in less crowded surroundings. "Also, the 'suspect' is a middle-schooler, and the children seem to be observing just fine without us." Indeed, they'd scattered down the car and established their posts with slightly alarming proficiency.
He really should have known, the very first time Shuuichi had brought the Detective Boys out to drop in his lap, that he'd wind up being just as much their adult adjunct as Shuuichi himself was. He suspected that Shuuichi considered the children a sort of therapy for both of them. Well, if nothing else, the growing stream of lost pets, grade-school politics, and occasional robbery in his life was keeping Rei's sense of the ridiculous alive and well.
He still felt he could have done without the re-introduction to the crush of public transport during peak hours.
Although... now he thought about it, he hadn't been jostled nearly as much as he probably should have been in a car this crowded. He straightened up a little from his slump, glancing around curiously. There were plenty of other people looking at least as harassed as he probably was who were being crowded even worse, so it wasn’t his expression. Rei had always looked far more delicate than he actually was, so he doubted anyone was intimidated by the rest of him, either. But he had breathing room without having to fight for it, today. Why...?
Which was when the train took another turn and he finally noticed the flex of muscles Shuuichi's arm, where it was braced against the divider beside them. And just how little Shuuichi was moving as the rest of the car swayed in their direction.
And how that kept Rei's breathing room open.
A corner of Rei's mouth twitched helplessly upward. "Subaru-san. Are you actually trying to protect me?"
Shuuichi's brows rose, and he seemed to take a moment to notice what he was doing, himself. "Ah." His faint smile turned rueful. "I suppose it's gotten to be habit."
Rei felt his own smile softening, because of course it was a habit with Shuuichi. The better he got to know the man, the more obvious that quiet protective streak got. It was the live current of honor, of rightness, that made Shuuichi's relentless hunt for the Organization something Rei could join his own hunt to without a shadow of hesitation.
He would miss it so very much, when they were done.
"Rei?" Shuuichi asked, frowning a little. "What is it?"
Rei pulled himself back from the sudden, sharp pain of his own thought, and shook his head. "Later." He nodded toward the little eddy of disturbance that spoke of miniature detectives on the move. "I think the children found something."
Shuuichi's gaze lingered on him for a long moment, but finally he nodded.
It was late enough that Shuuichi had scrubbed off his Okiya Subaru disguise, even though he was sitting down in the Kudou library. Yukiko-san had been quite firm that he not wear it at night, once he was proficient enough to put it back on himself, so he rarely did once his bugs told him Shiho had gone to bed. His day wasn't finished, yet, though, and he paged through a pirated batch of autopsy photos to find the injury he wanted. Head injuries of the right sort were proving annoyingly rare.
The five measured knocks at the door were honestly a bit of a relief. He sat back in the desk chair as Rei slipped in, and held out a hand. "You're just in time for drinks," he said, lightly.
Rei came to lean against the chair. "Only if you've stopped drinking bourbon."
"Now, why should I do that?"
Rei rolled his eyes. Shuuichi took a great deal of amusement from getting that expression out of him, which obviously exasperated Rei all the more. Rei was far from the first person to tell Shuuichi that he had bad hobbies.
"I'll pass, thank you." Rei glanced down at the screen. “Looking through medical records, today?” Rei leaned over his shoulder. “Autopsies?”
“One of them will be an autopsy record, eventually,” Shuuichi agreed, flipping back through his model records to copy another line of medical findings. A quick glance over his shoulder showed Rei’s brows rising.
“Is one of your team likely to need one of these?” Rei frowned at yet another X-ray of a skull with a hole in it, this one at a rear angle. “Besides you, that is.”
“Yes.” Shuuichi saved his latest version and stretched his arms over his head, shaking out the knots of peering at one image after another. “When you need extraction, you will.”
Rei went very still, at his back. “When that’s necessary, Public Security will take care of it.” His voice was clipped.
“They should have already,” Shuuichi said to his computer screen, not turning yet. “This isn’t something you leave for last minute, if you can help it.”
“We have plenty of resources, here, to take care of it quickly.” Rei turned away from the table with a dismissive wave and Shuuichi turned to watch him. “Besides, if they’re ready, I might—” he bit back the rest of the sentence sharply.
“You might want to use them?” Shuuichi completed it, softly. Rei’s shoulders stiffened.
“How I deal with my assignments is none of your... it’s not...”
“It’s become my business, hadn’t it?” Shuuichi stood and slid his hands lightly over Rei’s shoulders, feeling the hard straightness of them. They jerked with Rei’s snort.
“So, what, you’re offering to be my control, now?”
“I don’t know enough about Japan’s security requirements for that,” Shuuichi pointed out, keeping his voice calm and even. “No. I’m offering to be your partner.”
Rei’s head jerked around, at that, eyes wide. “My... but...” He turned back toward Shuuichi, slowly this time, eyes fixed on Shuuichi’s face, studying him. “You don’t know when you’ll be pulled off this assignment, though, now you're out not undercover.”
That made Shuuichi smile. “James knows perfectly well I’d resign, if he tried to.” Rei’s eyes went even wider, genuinely shocked by that. Shuuichi lifted a hand to cup his cheek. “I’m not like you, in this, Rei. I’m not loyal to a country—only to my own people. I only went to the FBI because they had the start of the thread I needed to follow.”
“That’s why,” Rei nearly whispered. “I always wondered how your Bureau could afford to leave someone of your skills here so long. Even I... I mean, there are always slow times, and there’s always something else that needs doing." He smiled, suddenly, wry and tilted. "But if it’s actually a choice between having you on this case and not having you at all...”
“They did bring me back to the States for a little while right after my cover was blown,” Shuuichi allowed. “But that was only until we found another opening here. James and I understand each other, about this. It works out.” He stroked his thumb gently over Rei’s lower lip, satisfied with how the line of Rei’s mouth softened. He wasn't above playing dirty, if it got Rei to listen. “I will be here, with you, through the end.”
“Then why are you planning my extraction?” Rei wanted to know.
“Because you haven’t done it, yourself. Or let anyone else do it, it sounds like.”
Rei shook his head. “I can’t give everything to an assignment if I'm planning a way out at the same time.”
Which was not an especially good way to survive assignments, in Shuuichi's opinion, but now probably wasn't the time to say that. “Then don’t think about it.” Shuuichi ran a hand through Rei's hair, smiling a bit at the way Rei promptly shook it back into place. “Not until you need it. Just know that I’m taking care of things.”
Rei's mouth quirked up crookedly. "And how is that different from knowing my people will take care of things, then?"
It was, Shuuichi decided, time to play a little dirtier if he wanted to get past Rei's determined dismissal of his own welfare. He caught Rei's chin firmly, lifting it to make Rei look at him. "It's different," he said over Rei's startled gasp, "because I am here. And when you need this, I won't be waiting in an office for you to call. I'll be beside you, as your partner should be."
Rei was promisingly relaxed against him, for all his eyes were wide. "I... I mean, yes, but..."
Quieter, in answer to Rei's hesitation, Shuuichi added, "This work means as much to me as it does to you, Rei. So will you trust me to watch out for that edge, for you?"
Thankfully, he seemed to have judged correctly how hard to push. Rei lost the last of his tension, hands relaxing and spreading against Shuuichi's back. Shuuichi let his hold gentle, fingers stroking down Rei's jaw before he dropped his hand to link with the other at the small of Rei's back. He was content to wait for Rei, now he seemed to be thinking instead of indulging in reflex denial. It took a few minutes, and Shuuichi wasn't sure even he could guess all the thoughts turning behind Rei's eyes. But eventually Rei nodded, just a tiny bit, to himself, and looked up. Rei's voice was soft but steady, as steady as his eyes on Shuuichi's, when he answered, "Yes."
Shuuichi smiled and leaned down to brush a soft kiss over his lips. "Thank you."
Rei returned the kiss absently, still looking up at Shuuichi, and now looking more speculative. Shuuichi waited some more, smile slowly widening as Rei's eyes narrowed and sharpened. He loved watching the quicksilver leap of Rei's intuition, and the iron discipline that followed each possible path and shaped speculation into conclusion. "You took advantage of how I respond, when you're firm with me," Rei said, eventually. "To startle me out of my old pattern."
It wasn't a question, so Shuuichi didn't bother to agree. "You needed to start thinking more than you were." He let his tone be a bit chiding, and watched with absolute pleasure the quick blush across Rei's cheeks, and how swiftly it was followed by awareness that Shuuichi had just demonstrated in small what he'd done during their argument. He enjoyed this quirk of Rei's, but the last thing he wanted was for it to be an exploitable opening.
At least, not when Rei didn't want it to be.
Rei wet his lips, still rather flushed. "You cheat." He didn't sound like he actually minded.
"As often as necessary," Shuuichi agreed.
"And did you intend to stir me up and then not do anything about it?" Rei murmured, getting a familiar gleam in his eyes. Shuuichi laughed, low.
"What was it you thought I should do instead?"
Rei smirked and pushed Shuuichi back until the backs of his thighs hit the desk and he leaned against it. Rei prowled forward another two steps, straddling Shuuichi's legs and sliding up tight against him. "How about this?" He slid his hands up into Shuuichi's hair and pulled him down to a hot, hungry kiss.
Shuuichi slid his hands down Rei's back to curve around his ass, pulling Rei more firmly against him, and swallowed the husky sound Rei made, kissing him deeper. Rei's open response and demand never failed to touch off answering fire in him, and the perfectly wanton way Rei ground against him pulled a growl from deep in his chest. Shuuichi bent his head to bite up and down the line of Rei's neck, and savored the way Rei's body pulled into a taut arch, in his arms.
Shuuichi slid a hand between them to tug open the button and zipper of Rei's pants, and couldn't help grinning against Rei's throat at the distinctly relieved sound he made. Or at how breathless it turned when he pushed slow fingers between Rei's cheeks, fondling his entrance. "Yes?" he asked softly.
Rei ground hard against him, shuddering, and his agreement was fervent. "Yes."
"Mm, good." Shuuichi lifted his head and extracted his hand, which made Rei blink at him, at least until Shuuichi sucked two fingers into his mouth to wet them. He watched Rei's eyes turn dark and dilated, and smiled, drawing his fingers out. "That looks about right."
Rei slid his hands up Shuuichi's chest, leaning into him, and breathed, "Definitely." He caught Shuuichi's mouth and kissed him, fiercely demanding. Shuuichi made a satisfied sound, twining his tongue with Rei's, and slid his hand back down to push only-just-slick fingers into Rei. Rei's open moan was exactly what he wanted to hear.
Shuuichi wound his arm around Rei's waist, holding him fast, and drove his fingers in deeper. The sound Rei made was breathless and wanting, and the flex of his body was sinuous as he ground against Shuuichi. "You're so amazing," he murmured against Rei's ear, and purred at the shiver he could feel run through Rei. "So passionate and alive in everything you do. I love that fire, in you."
"Shuuichi...!" Rei's body pulled taut against his, and Shuuichi thought he could almost taste Rei's wildness on his tongue. His voice was husky with how good that taste was.
"You're so brilliant, Rei."
Rei jerked against him, and a low moan wrung out of him. Shuuichi worked his fingers hard against the tightening of Rei's body, drawing him out until Rei was panting for breath against his shoulder. He didn't ease off until Rei gasped, voice thin, "Shuuichi-san." Rei sagged against him, boneless, and Shuuichi gathered him close, warm satisfaction curling through him.
"Do you really?" Rei asked, a little muffled against his shoulder.
Shuuichi cocked his head, looking down at Rei, fingers sliding through his hair. "Hm?"
Rei didn't move. "My passion, you said. Do you really like that?"
"I do, yes." Shuuichi rubbed his fingers up and down Rei's nape, waiting patiently to see why Rei thought he might say something he didn't mean. He thought perhaps Rei could tell, because he shrugged a shoulder and said, low, "You're so much calmer, is all. And it was letting passion blind me that was the trouble between us, wasn't it?"
"Which is why you need a partner who can steady you." Still pressed close, he could feel the thread of tension that wound through Rei, at that, and pressed a kiss against his hair. "Shh. We all made mistakes, that night, remember." He waited out the spasm of guilt, waited until Rei let out an unsteady breath and relaxed against him again, before adding. "And you aren't the only one who needs a partner to balance him. I always have."
Rei finally looked up, at that, eyes wide, as if it was some kind of surprise. Well, maybe it was, given the shape of Rei's quirks. After a moment, though, a slow smile curled Rei's lips. "You'd better not be comparing me to Starling."
"You drive infinitely better," Shuuichi assured him, straight-faced, and chuckled when Rei growled and thumped him on the shoulder. "Truly, though." He stroked the backs of his fingers down Rei's cheek, pleased when Rei's body softened against him. "I don't mind how hot you burn in the least, Rei. On the contrary, I enjoy it a great deal."
Which seemed to recall to Rei that they were leaning against the library desk with Rei's clothes still undone, because he turned rather red and then laughed out loud. "Yes, I suppose you do." He reached up to comb his fingers through Shuuichi's hair, and murmured, "Why don't we go upstairs, and I'll see if I can show you how much I enjoy your cool and your control?"
Shuuichi smiled down at him, soft. He was fairly certain that both of them had faced similar trouble from their respective organizations, because of how deep their perception ran and how fast it leaped. He was willing to bet that Rei’s sharp edge and his own hard calm both came from the same need to deal with people who didn’t understand. That Rei had seen the same thing, and thought to reassure Shuuichi... he liked that. He reached back to lock and close the computer for the night, and held out a hand to Rei as he stood.
Rei leaned against the headboard of Shuuichi's bed and watched Shuuichi sleep, watched the moonlight through the window spill across his chest and shoulder, watched his long fingers lie open and uncurled against the sheets. Seeing Shuuichi so completely relaxed, in his presence, tugged at Rei's heart with the same warmth he'd been trying, with only middling success, to keep from spilling over into more than could be contained by the label 'trusted ally'.
Now he was wondering if he needed to contain it. Or, maybe, if containing it was more urgent than ever.
Shuuichi had offered to partner him for this work, and normally that would tell Rei pretty clearly where the boundaries were. But tonight he'd also spoken of his loyalties—to his people, not his country. If Rei was one of Shuuichi's people, now, which Rei thought he probably was... well, where did that leave them? Rei sighed and ran a hand through his hair, trying to order his thoughts. He should probably just ask Shuuichi. His lover had never been other than truthful with him. The very thought of the two of them trying to lie directly to each other was a bit laughable.
He was just afraid of what the answer might be. Afraid that this would be another heart-connection already lost, just like his father, like Elena-sensei, like Hiro.
Of course, if he was going to lose Shuuichi once this was all over, it would probably be better to know now. That eminently sensible thought sent a sharp twist of pain through his chest, and he flinched back from it yet again.
Rei growled at his own dithering and slid back down in bed, thumping his pillow into shape and burying his head in it. He'd think about this in the morning, which would come very shortly since he was opening the cafe. Complications later; his job now (all three of them). It had worked for him for years.
Once Rei's breathing had evened out into sleep, Shuuichi opened his eyes. Sleeping under the brooding weight of Rei's attention had not been something that was going to happen, but Rei didn't seem to want to talk about it yet. He eyed the tight curve of Rei's back, thoughtfully. If this followed Rei's other patterns, then it was about grief; that was the thing Rei tried not to talk or even think about. Shuuichi had offered a partnership, tonight, and Rei had accepted. Had that set him thinking about Morofushi?
About Morofushi's loss?
Shuuichi nodded to himself, feeling the weight of that thought, the nearly audible click as it settled into place, congruent with all his observations. Well, if that was the case, he could certainly reassure Rei that he wasn't going anywhere.
He'd found far too many interesting things, in Japan, to leave.
"...so it's looking like the Organization has stayed away from all the multi-nationals, which is a relief," Jodie said, leaning back in the Kudou's livingroom armchair with her coffee cup balanced on her fingertips. Shuuichi smiled, inwardly, to see it; that was Jodie's tell that she was on the track of some conclusion, and closing fast.
"What about other criminal organizations?"
Jodie frowned. "That's harder to be sure of, obviously, but Camel's been checking the Bureau's records of foreign criminal contacts." She sipped her coffee and waved at Camel.
"Nothing that looks like them, up through twenty years back," he confirmed. "And the Organization doesn't seem the type to share well."
"It's a start. The more contacts we can eliminate, the better chance of finding the positives." Shuuichi settled back against the couch cushions, considering this new information, and also his visitors. James seemed to be partnering Jodie with Camel, lately. Shuuichi approved. Camel had developed into a steady, meticulous agent, after his miss two years ago. That was a good match for Jodie, who was more intuitive but also more impatient.
Shuuichi and Jodie together tended to result in explosions, in the field, which neither of them minded but which James had complained of more than once, over budget reports. Shuuichi was quite looking forward to seeing what Rei's superiors would have to say on the topic, as he and Rei worked together more.
As if the thought had summoned him, five measured knocks sounded from the back door. Shuuichi smiled. "Excellent timing. Rei should know all the Organization's domestic contacts that have been tracked."
"Rei?" Jodie asked, just as Rei appeared in the doorway, only to stop short and glare.
"You again. I should have the whole lot of you arrested, if only to get you out from underfoot."
Before Jodie's incensed inhalation could result in an argument, Shuuichi asked, "Does 'the whole lot' include me, then?"
"You are at least useful."
Shuuichi laughed, quietly; Rei's temper really did suffer when he was surprised. He held out his open hand, offering and coaxing. "Jodie and Camel brought some information. Shall we trade?"
Rei stepped into the room, which was a start, though his hands were closed tight. "What information?"
"Eliminating potential Organization contacts."
The focus on work made Rei's shoulders relax, even as the subject made him frown. "They have to be part of or using one of the great business houses, but tracking which one is a headache. The only one we've been able to eliminate conclusively is Suzuki, mostly thank to the unpredictability of the Senior Adviser. Sonoko-san seems to be in the process of securing a true idealist for the next generation, and her mother is sharp enough to keep them out of trouble, so I'm not worried about Suzuki for the foreseeable future. The rest have all had some identified contact, but only at lower levels. Imonoyama and Karasuma look most likely, at face value. They had the highest level work we know of go through their hands. But Karasuma are known to take work from any source, if it makes enough money, and Imonoyama will do anything that serves their personal ends, but good luck determining what those are."
Jodie and Camel both looked a bit stunned by the amount of information Rei had at his fingertips. Shuuichi, for his part, couldn’t help noticing how parsimonious Rei was being, given the amount of information he actually possessed. Well, one step at a time. "Interesting that they've kept away from the multi-nationals, then."
Rei's eyes narrowed, and he strolled further into the room as he thought. "The Organization stays small by recruiting extraordinary talent. It's why they're so hard to find, but it might also be a weakness that someone with the reach of a multi-national could exploit." He paused, and eyed Jodie, and finally sighed. "All right. Fine, yes, whatever."
Jodie and Camel both blinked at this leap, but Shuuichi followed it and smirked. Rei glared at him. "That doesn't mean I have to like it!"
"You can complain to me all you like," Shuuichi promised, reaching out to snag his wrist, since he was finally close enough. Rei made a startled sound as he was tugged down to the couch beside Shuuichi, and stiffened at the arm Shuuichi draped casually around him.
"Shuuichi-san...!" Rei sounded downright shocked. Shuuichi honestly couldn't help being amused by how proper Rei was about manners, considering his breezy disregard of any actual law that inconvenienced him when he was on the hunt. Now was not the time to tease him about it, though, and Shuuichi didn't smile yet.
"Rei," he said, quiet and firm, calling for his lover's attention to detail. Rei stilled against him, staring, and Shuuichi caught his gaze, silently urging him to think about what Shuuichi had just done.
It took a long moment, and Shuuichi tucked that observation away to follow to its roots later, but finally Rei blinked and focused properly. Shuuichi could almost feel it against his skin, when Rei's attention swept out through the room, touching every detail of who was present, what Shuuichi had just done, how those people (including Rei himself) would read the action. Thoughts flowed like quicksilver behind Rei's eyes, connections snapping from one to the next. Shuuichi read some of them in the flicker of Rei's glance. Shuuichi's co-workers, Shuuichi's own ex-partner, their still off-balance expressions after the last conversational leap, the partnership Shuuichi had offered Rei, the conclusions Rei was drawing right now as swift as thought. The leap to Shuuichi's words that first night they'd spent together. Shuuichi caught the faint movement of Rei's lips, and the current of shared reasoning was so strong he nearly spoke the words again, out loud.
I've found a number of things around here that make me think it might not be such a bad thing to keep going on.
And at last, he saw the recollection lock into place: Rei's completely accurate guess, that night, that he was one of those things.
"Haven't I said I'm not going anywhere?" Shuuichi asked, very softly.
Rei nodded slowly, breath coming quick with the weight of his own conclusion. He hadn't stirred yet, though.
"You'll look perfectly biddable, in comparison," Shuuichi offered. "That will be entertaining, won't it?"
At that, the last of Rei's hesitation finally evaporated and Rei leaned into him, laughing under his breath. Shuuichi smiled, satisfied that Rei understood.
Jodie had a hand pressed over her eyes. "Shuu!" she groaned, flopping back in her chair. "Not again!"
Shuuichi raised a brow at her histrionics. "Should you really be complaining?" Jodie had been one of the first agents he'd taken under his wing, after all, impressed by the fire-eating ferocity she usually kept concealed under her responsible-agent face, these days. He'd always rather regretted that decision, of hers, for all he understood it.
Jodie glowered at the reminder. "Oh shut up."
Rei's faint snort of recognition made Shuuichi smirk. He'd always known Rei and Jodie would have a few things in common, if they ever stopped sniping at each other. He blocked the answering jab of Rei's elbow with a casual hand. "So, about that multi-national team."
Rei released a slow sigh and straightened, turning back to practicalities. "Fine. But you get to talk to MI6."
"Not a problem." At least not as long as his mother was feeling reasonable.
Camel, who had been looking out the window for the past several minutes, with the grim determination of a man stuck in the middle of a family argument, finally edged back into the conversation. "Akai-san... what team are you talking about?"
"The one we'll need, to take advantage of the Organization's weakness. It's size," he added, when Camel continued to look puzzled.
"A small team, to make sure it stays as flexible as the Organization can be," Rei specified, in the brisk tone of someone who'd had to give a great many briefings to confused subordinates, "but one with enough contacts to gain more reach."
Jodie sighed and sat upright again. "All right, let's think about this." She reached for the files she'd brought and added, apparently to the papers as she sorted them. "You're going to keep your promise, aren't you?"
"Always," Shuuichi answered, level. It was why he was careful about making promises, after all. Jodie looked up, eyes sharp as they met his, and finally nodded acceptance.
"All right. Who else should we touch, for this?"
Rei kept a firm grip on his professionalism until the door closed behind Starling and Camel, and then he rounded on Shuuichi.
"You are the world's worst tease!"
Shuuichi laughed like he'd been trying not to for a while, which only made Rei's point for him. He spun on his heel and stalked toward the kitchen. He needed a drink, for this.
Even if it was the damn bourbon.
Shuuichi, wisely, let him get through his first long swallow, before stepping up against Rei's back and winding his arms around him, tugging him close. Rei let him, leaning back against him for a long moment before turning in his arms to look up at him.
"So, did I get all that right?" Rei asked, quietly. "You mean to stay here, even after the Organization is done? Even though some of your people are still in the States?"
"As some were here, when I left. As some are still in England, after we left there." Shuuichi looked down at him, steady and serious. "I've been separated from my family before. And Jodie knows she can still call on me, for the things she might truly need me for."
"Your promise," Rei guessed, and swallowed a burst of residual fear, adding, lower, "Is that what I'm going to be left with, too?"
Shuuichi smiled, bright and sharp as a knife. "Only if you grow beyond me."
The challenge in his smile, in his voice, caught like fire in Rei's chest, a pressure that bloomed out hot and wild, a visceral reminder of what was different, for them. That strike of sparks had been between them from the moment they met, had fired his rage when he'd thought such brilliance had been drowned deep enough in ice to press for Hiro's death, had been the first, delicate bridge of belief between them. This was why he'd given so much of himself to Akai Shuuichi, of hatred and love both. How had he let himself become so afraid of losing the one who matched him so well and so fiercely? Rei leaned against Shuuichi, laughing softly with the unbridled rush of that thought, hands running up Shuuichi's back. "Shut up and kiss me."
"There, you see?" Shuuichi murmured, and leaned down to catch Rei's mouth.
Rei let the heat of it sink into his bones and anchor there, the way he hadn't quite let happen before. "My partner," he said into Shuuichi's mouth.
The tightening of Shuuichi's arms around him drove his breath out. "Yes."
And that was it—the mirror of his own hunger, in Shuuichi. That was the thing that let him relax into his own need, and kiss Shuuichi with all the devouring hunger in his heart, and know without doubt he would be answered.
And he was.