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As You Like, Kouji

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You spot him immediately; it's hard not to, him dressed in that snazzy red jacket. The black cap does little to hide his face. He's a terrible fugitive.

Ajin Kouji Tanaka is headed your way.

Averting your gaze, you try to act natural, fiddling with the book in your lap. Much as you don't want to assume something so awful about someone, especially after they've suffered themselves, you can't ignore the danger he poses. There's too many people around that could get hurt if you spook him. Children.

It's a warm summer day. 'Why not go down to the coffee shop?' you'd thought. 'I can get a drink, read, watch the kids play at the park across the street.' Perhaps you should've sat inside, or not come at all.

An old man exits the shop, looking left. His gaze lands on Tanaka. He freezes, skin pale, keys jingling in his shaking hand.

Shit.

"Daichi!" you squeal, rocketing out of your seat to practically assault the poor man. He handles it with graceless confusion, but luckily for you he doesn't turn hostile as you drag him to your table passed the old man.

"Excuse me, you must be mistaken!"

"The only one mistaken here is you, thinking you can show up half an hour late then act like it's no big deal!"

The words tumble out without your permission; you're not sure how much sense they make. You're still being watched.

Tanaka falls easily into the chair you push him into. You're glad for it; there's no way in hell you'd be able to move him without his allowing it.

"I'm sorry."

At least he seems to have realized the situation. You flop down across from him. Sigh. "Can you promise you'll try to remember to text me next time? I was getting worried."

"Um, yeah! I will, for sure."

"Not even going to pretend it won't happen again, huh?" you ask, but you're smiling, and that makes all the difference.

Or it would, if this was a real conversation.

Your spy moves on. Letting your mask relax, you let Tanaka know the good news.

"How did you recognize me?"

"...Do I really have to answer that?"

He blushes. It's adorable, makes you want to cuddle him close on your couch, watching movies. You think he's probably starved for comfort; it's a painful realization. Your counselor warned you your high empathy would lead you to trouble, and it smarts that Tanaka is exactly what they had in mind. It's not his fault. Could be it's an overused excuse for criminals, but in Tanaka's case the deck is truly stacked against him. What sort of choice is there, when the world doesn't want to change, doesn't want to allow him and his people to live freely?

"Are you an ajin?"

"I don't think so." You shrug. "I'm hoping not to find out anytime soon."

"But you know who I am."

"Yes."

Tanaka's eyes dart around, suddenly wary. You sip your drink, projecting 'calm' as well as you can.

"You're not going to call the police," he says, and though it sounds like a statement you see the nerves in his gritted teeth, twitching hand, and defensive posture.

"Why would any sane person do that? You're just a man, walking down the street on a beautiful afternoon."

"I'm a danger."

"So's everything else. Humans are pretty fragile creatures." Still, you must admit: "I was wary when I first saw you. There are children, and should a fight break out here..."

"I understand."

That's what he says, but you feel like you've lost him. There's a hardness in his gaze, now, as he looks at you. Like you've proven his doubts true.

It rankles. "You've killed people. You're planning to kill more people. Wariness for the potential collateral damage is logical. I'm sympathetic enough to protect you when I can, but I'm not all heart."

"Of course not." He ducks his head, embarrassed. "Thank you for your help."

"You would've been fine, but it would've been annoying, yeah?"

Tanaka nods.

"You have pretty distinct facial features, but if I add some stuff to draw people's attention away from them, you should be able to wander freely. You're lucky there's only the one picture to go off of, unlucky for being handsome--it's been reposted all over social media."

"Handsome?!" he squeaks. Squeaks.

"Um, sorry if that was a weird thing to say? I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"It's, uh, it's fine. It's just not something I've heard before?"

"Really? Well, that doesn't make it any less true."

The two of you end up back at your apartment. Perhaps it's a sign of insanity, letting him know where you live. As if to challenge this thread of caution representing the last vestiges of your survival instincts, you tell him where to find the spare key and you tell him he's welcome any time should he need a safe place to rest, 'or whatever'. So long as he keeps out of your room, it's not an intrusion.

He stares, shocked, as you take him through the kitchen, showing him where everything's kept. Your cat jumps on the counter. Seeing her cuddle up to him as he carefully, haltingly pets her makes an unexpected fondness blossom in your heart.

"You're a good man," you tell him, because it's the truth, because you think he doesn't hear it anywhere near as much as he deserves.

His hands still. The cat swipes at his hand until he resumes showering her in affection. (Brat.)

"You don't know me."

"I know you fine. Give me a sec."

You come back to find he's journeyed into the living room. To say he's made himself comfortable is a vast overstatement; his back is straight, his arms crossed stiffly at the chest, his feet planted, his eyes fixed on the dark television screen.

"Tanaka?"

"What is it, uh..."

"Sorry, I never introduced myself, did I?" You tell him your name, insist he call you by your given. It's not a luxury you afford many people, but it sounds so sweet coming from his lips.

"Call me Kouji, then."

"As you like, Kouji."

He blushes, averts his gaze. You allow him a moment to collect himself, then show the items you'd grabbed from your closet.

"An eye patch?"

"A relic from my cosplay days."

"I thought the goal was to blend in."

"No; it's to distract."

You apply purple eye shadow, loving the way it looks with the red he's wearing. You do both eyes, in case he takes off the eye patch for whatever reason. Could be it'll prove too distracting. The hair you comb into a side-part, making a small braid from the larger portion that you curl behind his ear. After tying the eye patch on, you step back.

"I still look like me," Kouji says, appraising himself in the mirror.

"People may notice a resemblance, but they shouldn't assume you to be the Kouji Tanaka. This isn't how he would present himself."

"Maybe." His fingers brush the invisible wall outlining his eye shadow. "You've made me into the villain of a fantasy movie."

"Villain? Or anti-hero?"

Now that your business is complete, it's time for Kouji to take his leave. He tries to apologize; you laugh it off, saying you've eaten up plenty of his time.

"You have people waiting for you." How novel a thing, that.

Kouji lingers in the doorway. In a better world, where ajin never had to fight for their rights, where his presence in your home is a staple of your life, where the two of you met not as supposed enemies but as fellow volunteers at the local animal shelter, you would pull him into a hug. You're tempted anyway, but you don't want to startle him. To scare him off.

Touch isn't pleasant for everyone.

"Thank you for your hospitality."

"Thank you for your visit. Be careful out there."

His smile is bitter. "I'll try."

You think you're already a little in love.