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Tattered Lotus

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Green is "forward" and red is "stop."

Yellow is "risky."

If you dare, go forward at your own risk.

These were the words Goh tried to live by, even though it was dangerous, even though it would probably get him killed. He had never really worried about it. Not until Taki.

~~~

"I feel like a new man," Goh announced on the way home from the airport, heels kicked up on the dashboard as Taki drove. Tsunuga had been kind enough to arrange a car for them. He looked over at Taki and grinned. "And it's your fault, you know. Think of all the broken hearts! The boys of Japan will never be the same."

A tiny smile brushed at Taki's lips, like he was amused against his will, and Goh's entire body flushed with heat. Taki caught his wrist as he reached for him. "I'm driving."

"I've done this before," Goh muttered, flexing his fingers, determined to at least cop a feel. Taki couldn't expect to smile like that without repercussions. "It's perfectly safe. Trust me."

"I trust you to get me killed."

"I wouldn't," Goh promised, wetting his lips. He shifted in his seat, Taki's fingers still wrapped around his arm, and fixed his eyes firmly on Taki's crotch. "Please."

"No."

"I'll use my mouth," Goh added.

Taki looked at him, just briefly, and Goh could see the epic internal battle playing out. Mind-blowing head versus road safety. Goh knew which one he would have picked without hesitation, but Taki was the more sensible one, and Goh would only blame him a little if he picked the safer, wimpier route.

"I better not die," Taki said, finally, nodding his head a little, and Goh grinned, already twisting his seat, ready to tempt death.

~~~

Goh didn't just ignore road safety. He ignored common decency. He tried to make out with Taki in supermarkets. He tried to give him handjobs while they were at dinner. Goh couldn't help himself. He just couldn't keep his hands off Taki.

"What is wrong with you?" Taki asked after the third time he had to push Goh's hands away. Once upon a time, he quick blowjob in the car would have been enough to sate him, but Goh needed more, like the twist of Taki's slender fingers with his or a possessive arm around his waist. Taki didn't think these public displays of affection were needed; Goh knew he had to mark his claim.

"I can't get enough of you," Goh mumbled, breathing in the fresh scent of Taki's hair, and as far as ears went, Taki's were the cutest he had ever seen. Gently, he licked around the earring that pierced the lobe, the brother to his own, and winced as Taki poked a sharp elbow into his belly.

"Fuck off," Taki said, grumpily, yanking the bags out of the trunk. "And help with these, will you?" Taki's pale skin had flamed into an embarrassing shade of red, probably due to the group of schoolgirls gawking at them, but Goh didn't care. Everyone had to know how he felt.

Goh squeezed Taki around the middle and hooked his chin over his shoulder. "You are so hot."

Taki made a twisted up face. "I wish I had my gun."

"I like your gun," Goh murmured, brushing his fingers over the slight bulge in Taki's tight-fitting jeans. He didn't expect the jab of Taki's stealthy elbow. "And hey, ow! Watch the junk please."

"I hate your junk."

Goh smiled, mouthing Taki's strained neck. "Ah, maybe. But you're hard."

"I'm an idiot," Taki grumbled, shoving a suitcase at Goh, and Goh hummed in agreement. They were probably both idiots, but at least they were idiots together. Idiots who were meant for each other, which practically meant they were smart in a roundabout way, if you thought about it.

"Hey, isn't that ..."

Goh looked over to where Taki's attention had wandered, and Tsunuga was there, sweeping the porch that led into the Roost. He gave them a look, the look, and Goh's stomach dropped heavily.

"He must have dirt in his eyes," Goh said quickly, grabbing all the bags he could carry then bumping Taki on the ass with his boot. "And hurry up, will you? I don't have all day here."

Taki looked like he wanted to say something, to push the matter, then obviously thought better of it. Taki nodded, grabbing the remaining bag that Goh hadn't managed to pick up with his teeth, and followed him inside, up to their apartment, their home, and their precious new life together.

~~~

Having been raised in a commune by everyone except his own parents, Goh had never expected to lead a normal life. Of the thing he was good at, very few of them were legal, and he had never been that great at school. He and the other commune kids had been bussed off to a city school, where nobody had known what to make of them and they had pretty much stuck together, a protective band of weirdos who could pick locks, walk on their hands and make hats out of flowers. The only time Goh had ventured out of his shell was to seduce a handsome athlete.

And he'd never had anyone he'd classify as an actual boyfriend before. Lover, yes, definitely, but he rarely stayed with any one guy for long, and the idea of snuggling in bed after a good fuck had always unsettled him, even when he liked the guy a lot. And sleeping through the night, without having sex, was unthinkable, an abomination of all that was right with the world.

Taki made him want to do all those things, even if he knew he wasn't getting laid.

They'd been on the plane for ten hours, and hadn't slept much in the past few weeks, usually fucking themselves to the point of exhaustion then unable to sleep afterwards, still too riled up and mutually horny. Nobody would believe him, but beyond Taki's cool exterior was a sex-crazed maniac. Finally, something they had in common besides drug snatching and violence.

"Whose bed?" Taki asked, after he'd taken off his shoes and lined them neatly up against the wall. He left the bags by the door, and Goh made no move to grab them. He was bone-tired and just wanted to lie down with Taki securely in his arms. No sex needed, just long overdue rest.

"Yours," Goh said, yawning. "It's more comfortable."

"You've only been in it once."

Goh paused guiltily, his shirt already up around his neck and his pants undone, determined to climb into Taki's welcoming bed before the last of his energy abandoned him. "Well, I." Goh coughed a little, trying to think of the best way to phrase his confession without sound like a psycho sappy girl. His options were sadly limited. "I napped in there, sometimes, sort of."

"You napped in my bed?"

"It smelled like you," Goh said defensively, tossing his shirt onto the couch then beginning to work on his pants, eyes cast down. "I told you I loved you."

"Okay," Taki said, suddenly beside him, and when Goh looked up, Taki pressed a firm kiss to his temple, hand on Goh's cheek. That same desperate ache that Goh felt whenever Taki touched him flared into existence again, and Taki smiled. "You're something else, you know."

"I can't help it," Goh replied, kissing him. "You're just so sexy."

Taki rolled his eyes, but Goh could tell, secretly, he was pleased. Hesitant, rightfully cautious, but pleased. Goh swore for the millionth time that he wouldn't break Taki's heart. It had been hurt enough. He probably needed therapy, and that broke Goh's heart, thinking about Sandfish and all they, especially Mizuki, had done to him.

This was a new beginning, Goh vowed, for both of them.

A sound at the front door raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Taki, already inside the bedroom and stripped down to his Jockey shorts, missed it. Goh stuck his head in the doorway and said, "Hey, I'm just gonna have a quick smoke. Be naked when I get back."

"You're out of cigarettes."

Goh grinned. "You think I've never figured out where you hide yours?"

Taki scowled at him, half-smiling, half ready to find his gun, and Goh laughed. As tempting as it was to ignore his own instincts, he left Taki there, lingering only briefly to admire the line of Taki's pale legs and the swell of his tight ass as he pushed his briefs off his hips. Sometimes it actually hurt, seeing so much of Taki, loving him this hard.

A sickly feeling rolled in his stomach as he walked to the door. In the moonlight, he could see a flash of white paper against the dark hardwood floor. Black letters stood out against the stark surface: tiger13. And for once, he didn't feel a shock of excitement as he stared at it, just a sense of overwhelming dread.

Outside, the air was crisp and cool. He propped his ass on the rail of the balcony and lit a cigarette with one hand, the other still clutching the password. After a couple puffs, he flicked the lighter again and held it under the slip of paper until flames licked the edges.

"Too risky," Goh muttered, and for the first time in his life, he thought of that as a bad thing.

~~~

Goh woke up every morning, expecting to find the mattress beside him empty and Taki at the window, explaining how this had all been a terrible mistake. Straight guys didn't make the best bedfellows, and once Goh had been able to think clearly, which happened by their third blissful week in Rome, he worried that Taki wasn't quite gay enough.

"I'm not sure I'm gay," Taki had said gently, a few days later, after Goh had drank himself into a miserable stupor and refused to come inside from the beach, "but I'm not straight. I know that for sure. I love sleeping with you, but there's nothing wrong with sleeping with women either."

"Yes, there is," Goh had said pitifully, at which point Taki had grabbed him by the hand and tugged him back to their hotel room, where Taki had given him a charmingly inexpert blowjob and everything had been okay the next day.

Mostly, anyway.

Goh was still always surprised when Taki was there in the morning, rumpled from sleep, the shadow of a beard marking his cheeks. If it had been possible to stay in bed forever, Goh would have done whatever it took to make it happen. He liked the sense of peace it gave him.

It felt right.

It felt long overdue.

"You have to stop being so sexy," Goh murmured, still half asleep, bowing down and pressing kisses to Taki's taut stomach. That was another change. Goh had never been into rippled abs, preferring softer skin and boyish builds, but Taki was pure muscle from neck to toe. Taki had very little fat on him, a wiry whip of a man who could take down an attacker twice his size. He also had a monster of a cock, which Goh had rarely found with his usual type. That felt right and long overdue, too. "You're driving me crazy."

"You were already crazy," Taki mumbled, combing his fingers through Goh's hair. "But I can stick a gun in your face, if it'll help."

"I already have a gun in my face," Goh replied, pressing the flat of his tongue against the shaft of Taki's cock then slowly dragging it up to the wet head. "It's not helping."

"That joke wasn't funny the first time." Taki's hips rotated under his hands, trying to go deeper. Goh tried to oblige him, though he really wasn't used to sucking such a huge dick. "I have to admit ... ah."

Goh hummed around Taki's cock, both as a question and a technique. A choked sound escaped Taki's parted lips, surprised and throaty and aroused, and Goh smiled around the tip. "I'm sorry. What are you admitting?"

"I feel a little bad," Taki gasped, pushing Goh's head away then dragging him up by the hair until they were face to face. Taki kissed him. "About all the times I threatened you."

Goh grinned, grabbing Taki's legs and securing them around his hips, rubbing his dick against Taki's ass. "Ah, don't worry about it. That totally turned me on. Still does."

"Sick pervert."

Goh laughed, biting at Taki's lips, sliding slick fingers between Taki's legs. Taki tensed, like he always did, his entire body protesting for one horrifying second before submitting. It wasn't much of a turn-on, but Goh was also secure in the knowledge that Taki did nothing Taki didn't want to do. In a fistfight, Taki had the clear tactical advantage.

"You ready?"

"Do it," Taki said, biting his lower lip, which Goh licked at to remove the sting before kissing him properly, penetrating him at the same time. Taki arched up, baring his neck, and Goh kissed that too, marking his smooth skin in time to the thrust of his hips.

"I love you so much," Goh murmured, kissing his neck, his face, all of him. "I love you."

"I know," Taki replied, breathless.

~~~

By the time they finally managed to get out of bed, Taki having to physically hold Goh off because Goh just couldn't get enough, even when his cock protested, even then, it was well past noon, and Goh was starving. His stomach gurgled and growled as Taki showered, having banned Goh from joining him yet having left the door open for ogling.

There was a knock on the door, and Kanji's booming voice followed with a cheerful, "room service! Hello! The Owner thought you guys might be hungry. Hello! Guys! Hello! Hello?"

Goh narrowed his eyes, gaze glued to the ripple of Taki's glistening back.

"I know you're in there," Kanji shouted, banging on the door. "Your bed squeaks!"

Taki turned slightly, water pouring down his face, and Goh smiled at him, making a few vaguely obscene gestures with his hands before Taki turned away, rolling his eyes. Kanji thumped on the door a few more times then hollered, "okay, fine! I'm leaving your food here!"

It was another few minutes before Taki came out of the shower, towelling his hair, barefoot and shirtless. His jeans were on, but unbuttoned, and Goh stared at the line of fine hair before grabbing Taki by the hips and hauling him in. "I can't take it," Goh muttered against Taki's flat belly, inhaling the clean scent of his skin. "I thought this was what I wanted, but I can't handle the constant hard-on. You're driving me nuts."

"You were fine before," Taki pointed out, leaning over him to grab his sweater off the bed. "Maybe we should stop sleeping together." The smile was obvious in his voice, warm and happy, and Goh pressed his face in deeper.

"Oh god," he moaned.

"You used to be like this with ... that one kid. The whiny one." Taki put his hand in Goh's hair and tugged his head back. Taki's gaze focussed on him, hot and intense. "What was his name?"

"I can't remember. I don't care. None of them matter anymore. I never felt like this with them." Goh needed Taki to believe him, to trust him. Everything he was feeling right now was as new and exciting and frightening to him as it was to Taki. "Fuck," Goh moaned, "you feel so good."

"I can't do it again," Taki said, smiling, as he tugged his sweater on. He nudged Goh out of way as he pulled it down over his torso. "I'm starving."

"I'm starving for you," Goh replied, but got up and jumped in the shower just long enough for the icy water to take the edge off. He dried off quickly then yanked on a pair of pants and a tight, short-sleeved shirt. Taki already had his leather jacket in his hands. Goh shrugged it on, grinning.

"What did I do now?"

"Nothing," Goh assured him, his heart about to burst in his chest.

~~~

Goh had no doubt that Kanji had left food outside their door, so he ignored Taki's incredulous expression and exited through the kitchen window instead, dropping down to the ground like a cat. Even though he clearly thought Goh was insane, Taki followed.

"Whatever," Taki said, heading for the Roost, but Goh grabbed him by the wrist and tugged him in the opposite direction. "Seriously, what's going on? What's wrong?"

Goh set his lips in a grim line. "Nothing. We just eat there all the time, and I'm in the mood for something else. Live dangerously, will you?"

"I thought I was."

Eventually, Goh's exchanged his death grip for holding hands, which Taki allowed. Taki obviously knew something was up, but Goh didn't want to explain it, not like this, in the middle of the street with people staring like they'd never seen two guys together. Let them look. Let them see how natural it was, how right.

Let Taki see it, too, because Goh knew him well enough by now to see that Taki was still hyper aware of what loving Goh meant to everyone else. Goh had gotten over that a decade ago when he was twelve and horny, desperate to kiss a boy and maybe even be lucky enough to touch his penis.

They found a place which wasn't as nice as Cafe Roost, didn't have the atmosphere of Cafe Roost, and probably didn't have Mimi's delicious food like Cafe Roost, but it had one thing going for it: no Tsunuga. That was enough for Goh.

They claimed a booth in the back. There was plenty of room on the opposite side, but Goh slid in next to Taki before Taki could shove him away. The floor was weirdly sticky, and he tapped his boot against it, frowning. No Tsunuga, he reminded himself sternly.

As Taki flipped through the menu, Goh tipped his head on Taki's shoulder and took a deep breath. A kiss ghosted across his temple, and Goh smiled up at him. He wanted more of these moments. He wanted peace, and comfort, and safety, and that was the problem, wasn't it?

They were snatchers, and their jobs were anything but safe.

"You ever think about stopping?" Goh asked, before he could second-guess the words. It had been in the back of his mind since Rome, and had moved to the forefront since they had arrived back in Tokyo. Hadn't been able to voice it, though, until right then.

"No," Taki replied, understanding immediately without having to ask, like Goh knew he would. "It's what we do. What we are."

Goh stewed over that for a few minutes, scrutinizing the menu before placing his order with the disorganised waitress. Eventually, he admitted, "I'm afraid of losing you. I'm afraid of leaving you alone. This job is going to kill us."

"It hasn't yet," Taki said. Goh wanted to shake him and demand his agreement; they had almost lost each during the Sandfish incident. Taki had been ready to leave, then. Taki had been ready to walk away from everything. "We're good at it. I'm good at it, and I enjoy it. There's nothing else I want to do. Nothing else I can do." Taki frowned deeply. "You know who raised me."

"You know who raised me, and you don't see me swallowing fire or swinging from trapeze bars by my toes. And you're pretty good at pouring drinks," Goh added, remembering the minty fresh stinger Taki had made for him like an absolute pro. "I could open, like, my own flower shop."

Taki snorted. "What do you know about flowers?"

"You'd be surprised," Goh replied enigmatically. "I am, in fact, quite skilled at flower-arranging and can identify most of Japan's native species by sight alone. I'd be an awesome florist."

Taki rolled his eyes. "We make a difference as snatchers," Taki insisted.

"Sometimes they die."

"Not because of us," Taki replied. "Not directly, anyway."

"Shit. I just don't think I want to do this anymore, all right?" Goh snapped, testing the words. They felt true and right and wanted, and he couldn't believe Taki wasn't agreeing with him. Couldn't he feel the wrongness of being back? Goh had only come home because Taki hadn't changed his email address like Goh had suggested. Goh's reasoning had been pretty simple.

Tsunuga couldn't hire what he couldn't find.

"Nothing's going to happen to me, and nothing's going to happen to you." Taki looked at him and frowned. "And I didn't want anything to change when you and I, you know, hooked up."

"Everything changed," Goh snapped, crossing his arms over his chest and slouching down, glaring at the empty seat across from them. "I just want to grow old with you, you idiot."

Taki kissed him again, lips buried in Goh's hair, and Goh sighed. The truth was he couldn't picture himself doing anything else either and even trying to imagine their lives at thirty was hard. He couldn't even guess what seventy would look like, but he desperately wanted to try.

The meal was awkward and silent. Goh couldn't even fully appreciate the way Taki ate his egg, nibbling a little then sucking on it then adding a little salt. It was a little Taki-ritual that Goh had come to appreciate, like the way Taki meticulously folded his underwear or always climbed into bed on Goh's side before rolling onto his own.

Goh noticed these things, because Taki had slowly begun to show him.

Goh just wanted to learn everything, and thought a lifetime was almost enough to do it in.

~~~

Goh wasn't in the mood to deal with Mimi and Kanji, and though he was slightly curious about Mari, he was less than thrilled about seeing her father. He slunk off to their apartment to lick his wounds, his pride a gaping hole in his chest. He plopped down on the couch, opening a Corona despite the early hour and stealing one of Taki's cigarettes. He puffed away until Taki returned.

"So, what? Should I find another partner?" Taki asked, lightly enough that Goh only shook his head and sighed. As if he trusted anyone else to watch Taki's back, especially when he had such a vested interest in it. He had never felt like this with Kei, had never really cared that much.

Goh shoved over when Taki nudged him with a foot, offering Taki a cigarette then sliding it between his lips when he nodded. With his laptop in hand, Taki plopped down next to him, sinking deep into the cushions. Tiger13 stood out ominously on a slip of paper held between his fingers. Goh scowled at his half-empty beer bottle. Why couldn't people just stop doing drugs?

"Huh," Taki said, after logging in to the website. He sat back, frowning, and Goh took the opportunity to urge him aside. Immediately, he understood Taki's reaction. The message was downright baffling, more information than usual, but it meant a lot less. It read:


[Yarehasu] [U]
[P, Y, A]
Discretion is imperative.

Goh took a few sips of lukewarm beer before trying to decipher it. "Looks like we have, what is this, three clients? Police, Yakuza and ..."

"Anonymous," Taki supplied, chewing on his thumbnail. "Must be pretty serious business if both the police and the Yakuza are involved. They aren't exactly friendly most of the time."

Goh arched an eyebrow and leaned in for a closer look. He tapped his finger against the screen, leaving smudged fingerprints on the glass. "And what's this U about? New drug?"

"Unknown, maybe?" Taki guessed, cigarette hanging loosely from this lips. "But Yarehasu?"

"There's a senior high school, on the other side of Tokyo, with that name." Taki smirked, and Goh elbowed him lightly, wearing a similar grin. "Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it. It's very strict, very elite, and very hard to get into. And the boys there are so very repressed."

"Exactly your type."

"I love breaking in virgins," Goh murmured, sliding a hand into Taki's lap and giving his dick a light squeeze, mapping the hardening shape with his palm. Taki flushed like he always did when he was aroused and redirected his focus to the computer screen, batting away Goh's hand.

"The assignment starts tomorrow. Tsunuga will give us more information. Look like we're going undercover as ..." Taki snubbed his cigarette out in Goh's empty Corona bottle, his eyebrows nearly touching his hairline. "Ah, well, I'm going as a student, and you're ... ah." Taki abruptly covered the screen with his hand, which just made Goh want to see it more.

"What? Fuck, come on," Goh laughed, tickling him, trying to wrestle him into a confession. Taki snapped the laptop closed, holding it to his chest, and tried to roll away, but Goh caught him around the waist, hauling him onto his lap. "Tell me. Please, please, tell me, please."

"You won't like it."

"Tell me," Goh murmured, changing tactics and trying to kiss it out of him. No more awkwardness, just Taki squirming in his lap, laughing a little, breath coming fast. Why couldn't Taki understand this was what Goh wanted all the time? Just them together, forever and ever.

Taki smiled down at him and finally confessed with a kiss, "A janitor."

"A what? A janitor?" Goh's mind reeled at the first image to come into his head, and he started laughing, just a little at first before blooming into belly-deep chortles. Taki looked at him like he was insane, and Goh pressed his forehead against Taki's shoulder, shaking with laughter.

"I'm missing the joke."

"I'm a lock-picker," Goh gasped, "and someone just gave me a big set of keys."

~~~

It wasn't quite as funny the next day, with Taki in his crisp school uniform and Goh in a formless grey sack. Maybe he could understand the reasoning - Taki looked younger, even if they were the same age, born only one month apart - but he didn't have to like it. Part of it was the job itself, because Goh hated cleaning, but part of it was the idea of sending Taki into the middle of a bunch of hormonally charged teenagers when, emotionally, Taki was still at that point, too.

Goh did what any boyfriend would do: he pouted.

"You're an idiot," Taki said, tucking his shirt into his pants then smoothing the front, fussing with the buttons. He'd pass as one of them, Goh thought, but barely. There was a hardened edge to Taki that Goh hadn't seen in many teenagers. He had barely seen it in any fully-grown adults.

"I could have been the student," Goh insisted, zipping up his overalls.

Taki knotted his tie without even glancing at it. "Did you take your entrance exams?"

"Hell, no," Goh replied. His teachers had encouraged him to, but he hadn't been interested. "The last thing I wanted to do was stay in that shithole. I dropped out after junior high and went abroad with a couple of guys from the commune. When I came back, I started snatching."

"With Kei."

"With Kei," Goh confirmed.

"I didn't even go to high school at all," Taki confessed, grabbing his book bag and slinging it over his shoulder. He looked all of seventeen, his messy hair in his face, an air of virginity clinging to him, all of which gave Goh an immediate erection. "Mizuki schooled me himself."

"You didn't miss much."

"We'll see," Taki murmured.

~~~

When they sat down for breakfast, Tsunuga slid over two ready-made plates. Below the ceramic were a series of medical files, all about mysterious teenage overdoses. The only odd thing was they all attended Yarehasu. The latest had happened the day before, a girl who was the daughter of a prominent Tokyo businessman. She denied having taking any drugs, and while she had tested positive for a foreign substance, the doctors had been unable to identify it by name.

Goh flipped through the rest of them. The second son of a top police official. The only son of a minor Yakuza boss. All of them tested positive for substance abuse, and while there were definite similarities in the composition of the drug, none of them matched exactly. That was weird, too.

All of them, if the news got out about their overdoses, would bring shame and dishonour on their high-profile families. That, Goh thought, was the crux of the matter right there.

"You understand the need for discretion. Your instructions are simple," Tsunuga said quietly, eyes on Mimi and his daughter Mari as they played underneath a table, dolls in hand. Kanji had been banished to the kitchen, boys not allowed. "Find where the drugs are located and destroy them by any means necessary. One client requests a small sample. They would like this done quietly and quickly."

Goh and Taki exchanged quick glances. The plan, though vague, was obvious to both of them. Goh, having access to the entire school with his trusty ring of keys, would search the building, while Taki, who Goh hoped could pretend to be outgoing and friendly, would search the students.

It seemed almost too easy, which made Goh wary.

His instincts warned danger.

~~~

What Goh hadn't told Taki was this:

Goh had, in his life, slept with three boys who had attended Yarehasu. All three had been fucked up. Two of them had been petty criminals in their youth before their fathers paid Yarehasu's steep tuition, and the third had so much self-hatred that Goh had only slept with him once before letting someone else deal with that mess. Goh had seen him a few months later, with a perky girl hanging on his arm. The school had the reputation for turning bad boys into perfect little angels.

The Principal wasn't the devil Goh expected, just an older man with thinning hair and an easy smile. Goh listened to him blankly as he spoke, nodding occasionally, memorizing the rules and the layout of the school. The students seemed happy enough, though a little too quiet sometimes.

"The students will not speak to you, and I expect you not to speak to them. You will be invisible," Principal Yamaha said, looking at a class of tenth graders through a window in the door.

Goh nodded, fingering the cool ring of keys he had been given. There were dozens of them, all slightly different. He was excited to find what lay behind the locks and what secrets he could discover. This school, for all appearances, was unnaturally perfect. It was a building full of teenagers; it should have been pure chaos, with laughter and gorgeous boys lining the halls.

It should have been turning him on, but serious, well-behaved boys just weren't doing it for him.

Yamaha showed Goh to the utility closet that would act as his office and left him there. Goh was the only daytime janitor, mostly there for maintenance jobs. The students were expected to keep their own homerooms clean without much help from him. The closet was small and poorly lit, and he wondered, idly, how he could get Taki in there and strip him out of that pristine school uniform.

They wouldn't have to talk.

~~~

Goh ended up working late. Some idiot had puked in the boy's bathroom and hadn't informed a soul. Not that Goh really expected him to. The kid, as far as Goh could tell, had exploded. There was probably nothing left of him. It was all on the wall, fossilised.

By the time Goh got back to the apartment, entering through the fire escape, it was almost seven. Taki was on the couch, a textbook open on his knees and an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.

Taki wrinkled his nose. "What's that smell?"

"Don't ask," Goh muttered, unzipping as he headed to the shower.

The water, once warm, was pure bliss. Goh had thought he was in pretty good shape, but he ached all over and smelled like a toilet. Why hadn't Tsunuga told him to fuck the truth out of someone? He'd always been pretty good at that, and there was a chance Taki wouldn't have ripped off his dick if he had tried. But the truth was Goh didn't want to sleep with other guys.

Taki had totally ruined him for other men, especially with his giant cock.

"Hey," Taki said, opening the curtain and sliding in behind him. "Hard day?"

Goh groaned appreciatively as Taki began massaging his shoulders. "One of your classmates had a worse one. And fuck, that feels so good. Keep doing that. I love your hands."

"I used to work as a masseuse," Taki confessed.

"Was this before or after you bartended?"

"The same time," Taki replied, hitting a particularly sweet spot, and Goh's knees almost buckled. It didn't help that Taki was pressed up behind him, all naked and wet and slippery, his semi-hard cock pressed into line of Goh's ass. Goh couldn't help pushing back. "Didn't pay very well."

"I have money saved up ..."

Taki was quick to answer. "No."

"Please."

"I want to keep doing this," Taki replied. "I'm not ready to stop yet."

Goh bowed his head forward, letting the hot water run down the back of his neck. That's it, he told himself. He would ask one more time, and if Taki said no again, that would be the end of it. Three times, and he would live with the consequences, whatever they might be.

~~~

For the next couple days, Goh spent his time, under the guise of mopping the already immaculate floor, testing every key on his ring. And of all the doors in the school, there were only three he didn't have the key for: a door for the basement, a door for an unmarked room, and the door to the principal's office. That would make things harder, annoying but definitely not impossible.

Goh saw Taki a couple times, sitting with a group of handsome boys, already included in their clique. Goh couldn't help echo what so many people had noticed before him: Taki was so cool. If Taki had been allowed to attend high school, he would have been the guy all the younger classes admired and all the girls wanted to date. He would have been out of Goh's league.

~~~

A fourth student overdosed before the end of the day. He collapsed in the hall metres away from where Goh balanced preciously on a lop-sided ladder, trying to change a light bulb. Goh was at the boy's side in an instant, finger on his neck, his wrist, checking for a pulse. There was one student in the hall, nervously shuffling toward him, and Goh shouted at him to find Yamaha. He sat with the boy, monitoring his heartbeat, his breathing, until the paramedics arrived on the scene.

The boy was young, barely old enough to be in high school, and had been deathly pale.

He looked like he could have been Taki's younger brother.

He looked like he could have been Taki at fourteen.

Goh had to take a minute in his utility closet to gather his wits. There had been nothing remarkable about the boy, save for a gruesome tattoo on his neck that had been almost entirely covered by his collar. The symbol seemed vaguely familiar, but Goh couldn't quite place it.

Goh sighed. He desperately needed a cigarette, but smoking was definitely not permitted.

"Hey," Taki said, slipping inside the closet so quickly that if he had been an assassin, Goh would have been dead before he had even registered he had company. "You okay? I heard about that kid. They're saying he just had a bad flu. Most of them seemed willing to believe that."

"There's some wrong with this school," Goh said, scrubbing his hands through his hair. "I can't pinpoint what, but it's bugging me. I know drugs. I know drug dealers. I'm not seeing that here."

"Me neither. I've hinted I'm looking to buy. That's usually enough, but I'm getting nothing."

Goh rubbed his temples with his fingers, humming appreciatively when Taki took over.

"That guy was in my homeroom. He didn't talk to many people. A lot of them were scared of him, though nobody was willing to tell me why. Have you been able to access the records?"

"Yamaha's been living in his office. I'll try tonight." Goh grabbed Taki's hands, bringing them to his mouth and kissing his knuckles, ignoring the chemical smells of his own skin. Had the circumstances been better, this would have been the perfect time to finally christen his closet.

"I should get back," Taki said reluctantly. "I'm out on a bathroom break."

"Okay. Just one thing before you go. He had a tattoo on his neck. It looked like this." Goh fished a pen out of his pocket and sketched the symbol on a piece of towel. "Recognise it?"

Taki squinted at the sheet then nodded. "We've snatched from them a couple times. Hardcore street racers dealing and doping some hardcore drugs. You slept with a couple of them."

"How could I forget that?"

"You've had a lot on your mind."

"I'm getting sloppy," Goh muttered, angry at himself. Maybe his heart wasn't in it, not like it had been, but they had a job to do, and he had agreed to do it. Goh's word still meant something.

Goh stood abruptly. "I'll be home late."

"I'll be up," Taki assured him, pressing a comforting kiss to Goh's lips. He smiled ruefully. "Homework."

~~~

Principal Yamaha stayed at school until almost midnight before finally putting on his coat and leaving. Goh had spent the last three hours in the closest boy's washroom, writing graffiti in the stalls and waiting for the telltale click of footsteps. Shoving his pen into his pocket, he watched Yamaha's exit from an opening in the door, which had been propped open with a broom handle.

Dressed in a form-fitting sweater and stretchy black pants, Goh crept into the hall, soundlessly gliding over the sparkling floor to the locked door. It popped open with just a jiggle and a twist of two silver needles. A strong smell cut though the mask covering his lower face. Lotus, he recognised immediately, turning on his flashlight. The office was covered with lotus flowers.

Goh hated lotus flowers.

The cabinets that held the student files were also locked. He picked them, too. It was easy enough to find the students. They had been pulled to the front, placed into a larger folder titled 'problem students', which was filled with even more files, even more students.

With the flashlight between his teeth, he sat down on the edge of the desk and began to flip through the files, memorising important points. There were immediate similarities. All of them had been poor students before Yarehasu, and all of them had gotten into some type of trouble. There were comments from current teachers, complaining about a garden variety of teenaged infractions. Comments that had abruptly stopped by the first or second week of the term.

There was no mention of why all that unruly teenaged behaviour had just disappeared.

All four files had been marked 'high risk' long before any of them overdosed.

"Drug problem," Goh whispered to himself, putting the files back, "or drug solution?"

He crept back the way he came, locking the door behind him, deeply troubled.

~~~

When Goh finally arrived home, a puzzle in his head that he had begun to slowly piece together, he discovered that Taki had broken his promise. He was asleep on the couch, a notebook on his lap, a purple pen precariously perched at the ends of his fingers. Goh, who had entered via the kitchen window again, turned off all the lights except the lamp beside the couch and sat down.

Taki didn't even twitch.

Unable to sleep, Goh finished Taki's homework, or at least did as much of it as he could. The math was advanced, almost too much for Goh's meagre brain, but he solved most of the page. Taki woke up only once, when Goh picked him up and began walking to the bedroom, staggering a little under Taki's surprising weight. "Hm?" Taki mumbled sleepily. "Goh?"

"No more meat for you," Goh huffed, dumping him on the bed. Taki grinned at him, eyes half-closed, and was asleep again by the time Goh climbed into bed, pressing himself to Taki's back.

The next morning, Goh skipped his shower and headed straight down to the Roost to inform Tsunuga of his findings. The cafe was oddly empty, no sign of Kanji or Mimi or Mari. Taki was a few steps behind him, looking grumpy. Unsatisfied, Goh thought, pouring him a cup of coffee.

Real jobs had turned them into boring people.

They hadn't had sex in three days.

Over the mug of steaming hot coffee, Goh told them what he had found out. None of this seemed to surprise Tsunuga, who only nodded thoughtfully at every third word. Taki confirmed what Goh had noticed about the students. "They're like ... they're like zombies," Taki said.

"Any sign of a dealer or the source? Someone is getting these drugs into these kids."

Goh shook his head. "There's a school nurse, but she's been on maternity leave for months, and Yamaha never replaced her. A doctor visits the school once a week, but the dates don't match. "

Tsunuga didn't look like he liked that answer very much.

"I've been trying to blend in," Taki said. "Maybe it's time I try to stick out."

~~~

Goh was scraping gum off the sidewalk when a ruckus broke out, and he was only slightly surprised to see Taki in the middle of it, tie loosened, shocking red blood splattered over his white shirt. Very little, Goh noted, was his own. "Say it again, asshole!" Taki shouted.

The guy on the ground, twice Taki's size and a nose that looked like raw meat, spit. "Faggot," he said, loud and clear enough that Goh heard it over the anxious titter of the crowd.

Taki was on him like lightning. He held back only enough not to kill him. The guy tried to fight back, throwing badly aimed punches, howling, refusing to fall down with each blow. Shit, was that kid stupid? Unlike that poor bastard, Goh knew where Taki's skill had come from, but Taki was still obviously, visibly dangerous. Did no one possess any survival instincts these days?

"Okay, that's enough," Goh said as sternly as he could manage without coming off like he was actually in charge of the situation. Taki lunged at him, and Goh pushed him back, harder than he needed to. "Calm down," he repeated, serious, and Taki took one more step before backing off.

Taki scrubbed the back of his hand against his bloody mouth, a defiant jut to his chin.

Suddenly, Goh had never been so turned on in his life.

Taki was right: Goh was a sick pervert.

A teacher, half the size of the bleeding boy, came rushing to the scene. Goh grabbed Taki by the upper arm and managed to mumble something about taking "this one" to the Principal's office. He half pushed, half dragged Taki inside, a little angry, a lot turned on. Once they were alone, Goh spoke directly into Taki's ear, "I'm blaming you for this wildly inappropriate hard-on."

Taki tried to shake him off, rubbing against him full-body in the process, and Goh dug his fingers deeper into the tight muscle of Taki's arm. A triumphant smile passed over Taki's lips.

"I hate you," Goh muttered, biting the inside of his cheek, hoping the pain would help wilt his erection. "What did you do to that guy to piss him off like that?"

"What do you think? I hit on him."

Goh felt the familiar bile of jealousy rise up in his throat then had to laugh at himself. That guy was not Taki's type. That guy wasn't anybody's type.

"I'll be home early tonight," Goh murmured, jerking Taki toward the principal's office, trying to keep his face stonily harsh. "Keep the uniform on. I'm going to make you come all over it."

"Sick pervert," Taki said fondly.

Goh bumped him into the nearest wall.

~~~

The next morning, Yamaha grabbed Goh before he made it to the unmarked room to take a look inside. He shoved Goh at a display of awards hidden in the annals of a dead end hall, and told him to polish them until they shone. Potential new teachers were coming to tour the school.

Goh did it, but only because they were looking a little dusty. "Asshole," Goh muttered.

A few minutes later, Goh felt like kissing the awards on their shiny gold plaques.

Yamaha had opened the school five years ago, using his own money, and had quickly gathered a display case full of newspaper articles and trophies, praising his incredible achievements. He recruited the best teachers Japan had to offer, and had even brought in a few international ones. He had added new courses, revamped the old ones, and taught his pupils new ways to learn.

He had established a lunch program that the health authorities praised.

Bento boxes prepared specifically for each student's needs, designed to increase learning and energy, to purify the body and feed the soul. Yamaha, who had degrees in both Chemistry and Biology, had worked with Japan's top nutritionists to perfect the recipes. The article did not mention the source of the meals, only that Yamaha maintained and oversaw the operation.

"Got you," Goh said, the gleam of his smirk reflected in the gold.

~~~

"It's just as well," Taki said the next day, getting ready for school. He had hickeys all over his neck, happily put there at Taki's request after Goh had come home, high from finally having a solid lead. Taki, in a moment of inspiration, had also smudged a little eyeliner around his eyes.

It was cruel, Goh thought, teasing him like that.

"Your lunches are going to make me fat."

And that was even crueller.

Goh had been making Taki's lunches with as much love as he could pack into a neat little box. "You've been eating them for a year, and you're thinner than ever. Though that's probably the sex," Goh admitted, grabbing Taki by the hips and pulling him in until they were cock to cock, the thrill muted by layers of clothing. "Admit it," Goh nipped at Taki's lips, "you like meat."

"I like you," Taki replied, and Goh kissed him, long and hard and deep. That would never get old, kissing Taki. Goh even wanted to kiss Taki when he was snotty and sickly and gross.

That was love.

It was also love to worry about your boyfriend when he insisted on trying the bento boxes for himself. Goh had agreed on the basis that he would also try one. A little sleuthing had revealed that the overnight janitor-slash-security guard, who Goh had never seen, was responsible for loading the day's lunches into the fridges found in every classroom. Easy enough to steal one.

So Goh borrowed a bento lunch to try, and didn't like it very much. Not enough meat, in his opinion, and way too many vegetables, including a lotus flower that Goh suspected he was supposed to eat. He really hated lotus flowers. He tossed the whole thing out, ate the food he brought from home, and waited for some effect, some subtle difference, but there was nothing.

Goh still thought the answer was there.

A little disappointed, he headed to his task for the day, yet another display case, even more awards. Damn Yamaha for diverting him from his purpose. He was on the last one, a trophy for sweeping the track and field meet last year, when Taki burst into the hall with a pass in his hand.

Goh crooked an eyebrow when Taki mouthed, 'forgive me.'

Two minutes later, Goh understood.

A beautiful boy, who Goh had seen hanging around with Taki a few times, entered the hall from the same room and looked around before disappearing into the nook where Taki was waiting. Goh didn't know whether to be angry or turned on. The guy was gorgeous, slender and long-haired, with a pouty fuckable mouth and the darkest, widest eyes Goh had ever seen.

Goh hated his job sometimes.

Grudgingly, Goh had to admit Taki picked the perfect spot to make out in. Mostly hidden, save for the betraying sight of two feet in polished black shoes, leaning into a mysterious source. And right outside of the principal's office, too, visible from Yamaha's door. Taki had balls and was going to get himself expelled if he wasn't careful, though Goh doubted it would be that easy.

Yamaha appeared to be a very stubborn man.

Goh decided he didn't want to see what Taki would do to the boy. He had never cared what Taki did with his women, and he tried not to care now. Tried and failed miserably, because Goh wanted that to be him. For the first time in his life, Goh felt like he had missed out on the quintessential teenage experience. He wanted Taki to have been the first boy he kissed.

It wasn't long before he heard Yamaha leave his office, and even sooner after that when Taki was dragged into the office, uniform rumpled, a blush high on his cheeks and a cocky swagger to his step. The other boy followed, looking decidedly less rebellious, hastily zipping up his pants.

~~~

Goh decided to try the unmarked room next, regardless of Yamaha's plans for him. This job was taking too long, and he didn't want to watch Taki seduce any more gorgeous schoolboys than he had to. He wanted it to be over, so he could work on Taki some more, try to convince him that there was another life for them out there somewhere, and maybe it was boring, but at least it would be safe.

After the last bell, Goh slipped into his utility closet, determined to do a thorough under-desk-check of every flat surface in the entire building. If that didn't outlast Yamaha's late night, nothing would. Goh had prepared himself for fossilised chewing gum and the cracked remains of boogers, but if there was anything he had learned here, it was this: teenagers could find any number of substances to smear on things, especially if it meant someone else had to clean it up.

The door opened a crack, too fast for Yamaha's leisurely approach, and Taki slipped inside. He looked vaguely apologetic, which annoyed Goh. It was their job, and it was only continuing to be their job because Taki didn't have the balls to walk away and guarantee them a shot at a happy ending. Maybe they would end up getting hit by a car on a date anyway, but maybe they wouldn't. Who knew?

"He didn't kiss as well as you."

"Whatever. I don't care. Sleep with as many people as you need to. I just want this over with," Goh said, a little harsher than he intended, and Taki flinched back, crossing his arms over his chest and staring down at his feet. Goh sighed. "Ignore me. I'm pissed off. I'm an idiot."

"A little," Taki agreed, smiling slightly.

"I'm going to be late again. I need to check that second room, and Yamaha obviously doesn't have a life because he's always here. He's probably never been laid in his life." Goh grabbed Taki by the shoulders and hauled him in for a hug, feeling immediately better. He pressed his face against Taki's neck, eye to eye with the row of hickeys. "Those are all mine, right?"

Goh could hear the smile in Taki's voice. "How do you think I got that guy to come with me? My entire homeroom thinks I'm easy."

"I wish," Goh muttered.

"You got me eventually."

"Yeah," Goh agreed, kissing Taki just below his ear, in that spot that always made him shiver. "I got you."

It was only later that Goh realised Taki had been in the principal's office through lunch and hadn't gotten to try his bento box. It didn't really matter. Goh's instincts were finely tuned weapons. He was as sure about the bento boxes as he had been about Taki's sexual orientation.

Once Goh got in that unmarked room, he would have his answer. He was sure of it.

~~~

Goh hadn't seen it coming, and even now, limping through the darkened streets of Tokyo, clutching at his aching side, he wasn't sure where the guy had come from or why, of all places, he had chosen to attack Goh there. The second room, much to Goh's surprise and disappointment, had turned out to be a refrigerated storage room for the bento boxes.

Bento boxes, good, but no sign of any drugs, bad. He had even sample a few, but either the lunches were clean or they hadn't been tampered with yet. There was something different about them, but by the time the thought tickled at his brain, it was forced out of his mind by something more urgent. Goh hadn't noticed the guy lurking in the shadows until his side began to burn.

Having been stabbed more times than he could count, he knew immediately what had happened. He staggered and fell, but managed to get in a couple well-placed kicks before narrowly escaping. He was dizzy from blood loss, clumsy as he tripped over shadows, but he got away.

Barely, Goh thought, leaning up against a brick wall. It hurt to breathe in, and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. He was far from home, too far to walk. He knew he wouldn't make it. With bloody fingers, he dug his cell phone out of his pocket and hit speed dial, number one, Taki.

"Goh?"

"I need a ride home," Goh said carefully, slipping down the wall a little. The world was spinning like a carnival ride, and he thanked his own sorry ass for remembering to put on his transmitter earring that morning. "Accident at work. I don't know where I am."

"Bad accident?"

Goh looked down at his sticky fingers then pressed them back against his side, trying to ease the seemingly unending flow. "Pretty bad," he admitted. "Please hurry."

If Taki said anything else, Goh didn't hear it. He watched helplessly as the phone slipped out of his hand and crashed to the ground. "Shit," he said, sliding down with it. And what pissed him off wasn't the fact his expensive phone had broken into pieces, but that he hadn't learned a thing, except that those bento boxes were bad for his health. At least drugs would have dulled the pain.

He must have passed out, because when he woke again, Kanji was pulling him by the armpits into a waiting car. Goh blinked at him, and Kanji assured him, in a deafeningly loud voice, "you're going to be okay. You have to be. You and Taki have to be together forever."

"I agree," Goh croaked. "Tell him that, will you?"

"He knows," a third voice assured him, and Goh looked up at Taki's worried face. Smiled, though he suspected it looked more like a grimace, then fainted again, Taki's hand on his face, stroking him gently.

~~~

Goh woke to Taki saying, "what more do you want me to say? I timed it badly. We had a plan, and I fucked it up. I apologise, but there's nothing I can do to change the outcome. That's our theory, but I haven't had a chance to test it yet. Believe me, I will. Have you tasted Goh's cooking?"

"Nothing wrong with my cooking," Goh murmured, sluggish with painkillers and the vivid memory of burning pain. He tried to sit up even as Taki put a firm hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down. Taki pressed a kiss to his forehead as Goh marvelled, "I'm not dead."

"Not for lack of trying," Taki said, kissing him again. Tsunuga, who Goh had just noticed by the window, looked away, smiling faintly but unable to mask his own inherent sadness. Tsunuga had been a very lonely man, and couldn't seem able to shake that off yet. "Who did you piss off, idiot?"

"I was careful. I got into that unmarked room, and it was," Goh gasped suddenly as a sharp, stabbing pain twisted in his back, "a refrigerator, for the lunches. I ate a couple, but ... nothing. Still fucking nothing. I know it's there. Walls and walls of bento boxes. I know that's it."

"Sounds delicious," Tsunuga said dryly.

"I found them a little gross," Goh admitted, breathing as shallow as he could, trying to ease the tremendous pain. Taki took his hand and squeezed. Goh smiled weakly. "Give me meat any day."

"Anything special about the room?" Tsunuga asked.

Goh tried to remember, but the pain was making it hard to focus. Taki's hand in his helped, though. "Most of them were unlabelled." Goh closed his eyes, picturing the room, the shelves, the boxes. "But a few had the student's names written on them. I saw Taki's. I ate some of it."

"Anything else?"

Goh shook his head. "Nothing stranger than that. Except ... Yamaha has this thing about lotus flower. They're everywhere, in his office, even in the bento boxes ..."

"Every part of the lotus is edible," Tsunuga pointed out. "It's considered a delicacy."

"I know," Goh gritted out, gripping Taki's fingers like a lifeline. "But those boxes didn't have them. The one I took from the classroom did," Goh groaned, unable to swallow the sound, unable to stop the whimper that followed. "But not those ones. No lotus flowers in those ones."

Taki scowled angrily, like something blaringly obvious had just occurred to him. "Yamaha called me a tattered lotus, spoke at length about repairing me, about re-growing me. He named his school after this idea. He believes he can turn these 'tattered lotuses' into something beautiful."

"I think he's drugging these kids, and it isn't the bento boxes. It's the flowers."

"Then find them," Tsunuga suggested quietly, a dangerous edge to his calm voice.

"I never checked the basement," Goh said weakly. "If it's in the school, and the bento boxes are the delivery, then it must be down there." The room slid out of focus again, and Goh struggled to find the words he wanted to say before he passed out. "No other place. Looked all over."

"All right, Goh. Shh, relax," Taki said, sweeping Goh's hair back from his forehead with the curve of his palm. "We'll check it out, okay? Leave it up to us. Don't worry about anything."

Goh sighed, eyelids like lead, impossible to keep open. "I'm tired."

"I know," Taki murmured with a kiss. "Go to sleep."

~~~

Taki and Tsunuga worked out a plan without him. What it was, Goh didn't know, because Taki wouldn't tell him when he left for school that morning, and Tsunuga wouldn't answer his repeated phone calls. Goh was in no shape to help, but that had never stopped him before.

Goh drifted in and out of sleep, waking occasionally to eat the broth Kanji scooped into his mouth. Kanji's bedside manner left Goh wanting. Goh would have preferred Mimi's gentle hand, but she still didn't know about the snatching business, and he didn't want her to know.

"Sorry," Kanji said, the fifth time he bumped Goh's teeth with the spoon. If Kanji hadn't been on the verge of tears, Goh would have just ignored Kanji's need to help and fed himself. Or at least drank out of the bowl with a straw. Or just put his face in the broth like a pig to the trough.

"It's okay," Goh assured him.

"Want to see a magic trick? I've been working on some new ones."

"No, thanks. Maybe later."

Kanji was oddly silent, which was never a good sign. Kanji had the type of voice that could shake mountains to their foundations. That he was soft and quiet now put Goh on edge, but he didn't have the energy to do much besides worry about Taki, and whatever Taki was doing.

Lying there, Goh realised he knew nothing about love. Nothing. He remembered the relief he felt when Taki had walked into the Roost. Goh had been sure he couldn't fall in love with him. So sure, because Goh had his type, and he'd been fucking his type since he was thirteen, and Taki had been too much like him, too hard in all the wrong places, too broken in all the right ones.

But it had happened anyway, because Taki had been irresistible. Completely wrong for Goh except in the way that mattered. Right for his heart, and his soul, and all the bits in between. He had fought it. He had tried to joke it away. He had tried to fuck it out. All of that utterly futile.

Because being with Taki was right, and Goh couldn't fight something that rare.

Goh couldn't lose him, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

"Kanji," Goh said, and Kanji looked at him, eyes almost covered by his bandana, hair shaggy and uncombed. He looked as miserable as Goh felt. "I need you to help me do something."

"I'm not supposed to let you leave."

"You're going to come with me."

"The Owner will ..."

"I have to check that third room myself. I have to finish this." Goh looked up at the ceiling, wishing he didn't sound so out of breath when he spoke. He had been hurt worse, he told himself. This was nothing. This was a scratch. "Don't worry," Goh assured him. "I have a plan."

"I guess," Kanji said reluctantly, but helped Goh out of bed without saying another word.

~~~

Kanji could be overwhelming, which was what Goh was counting on. Yamaha wouldn't know what to do with Kanji, posing as an older brother, recently orphaned by a car accident, with a deeply troubled younger sister. It would buy Goh time to quickly check out the basement and confirm their suspicions. Kanji had clear instructions to flee at the first sign of trouble.

Goh waited until school was out before putting his plan into motion.

He took a handful of painkillers, which he didn't like to do because it made him sluggish and slow and he needed his wits about him, then entered the school through the duct system. He had studied it extensively in the last week. On the blueprints of the school, which he had found in a storage closet behind some ancient looking trombones and an old dusty blackboard, the air ducts led to every room in the school except this one. It had a completely separate ventilation system.

That had to be it.

Goh shuffled slowly along in the semi-darkness, sweating, probably bleeding again. He ignored it. Nothing else mattered except finding the lab. So long as he focussed on that, the stabbing pain in his back and the dust burning his nose didn't matter. He could do this. He had to do this.

"Fuck," he whispered, gasping into his arm. He'd been up there for five, maybe ten, minutes, and it had felt like hours. "You've been hurt worse. Suck it up, you big sissy. You're fine."

Finally, he reached the end of the piping that let out right by the basement door. He removed the grate and stuck his head out. The hall was completely empty. He dropped down softly, and pain shot up his spine despite his caution. He swayed for a few seconds, bile twisting in his throat.

He dropped the lock picks the first time, then barely got them in the keyhole the second. The third time, the door popped open under his shaking hands, and he ducked inside. A concrete staircase led down to another door, which was also locked. It took him another three tries to open it.

A greenhouse, he thought dizzily. Rows and rows of lotus flowers, sitting under artificial lights, in full purple bloom. The air was damp and fragrant, and he thought he might throw up, but from the smell or the pain, he wasn't sure. His heart hurt like it was being squeezed in his chest, and he could feel the telltale dampness of blood blossoming over the back of his black sweater.

Lotus flowers but no drugs. He examined the closest bunch, sniffing at them, tasting them, but he felt no better and no worse, no different. He had the sudden childish urge to tear them out of the damp dirt, wanting nothing more than to grind his heels into the flowery massacre.

A faint click sliced through the neon hum of the lights, and he panicked. A hand came over his mouth, tugging him into the shadows. Light hair brushed at the edges of his vision, and he relaxed. Taki, saving him, though he would probably end up killing Goh later for being out of bed.

There was a third door, a hidden one that opened to reveal the man who had stabbed Goh in the back. He didn't look as thuggish as Goh remembered, smaller, more handsome, but Goh had no doubt this man was a trained killer. He moved like an assassin, like Katsuro had all those times, subduing Goh like he was an amateur, moving so fast that Goh couldn't track his movements.

He watched as the man took off his lab coat, hung it up, and pulled on a pair of grey overalls. He looked around, eyes narrowing, before leaving up the stairs. Goh exhaled a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding, and turned around to face Taki. Taki's pupils were as big as saucers.

"It's definitely the flowers," Taki whispered.

Goh poked at Taki's face. "Are you high?"

"Yamaha was there, watching me. I had to eat it." Taki shook his head, though it was more of a sluggish loll, then blinked sharply. "And what are you doing here? I told you to stay home."

"I wanted to end this," Goh said.

Taki touched Goh's back, just a whisper of fingertips, and Goh hissed. Taki lifted his hand closer to the light, frowning at the gleaming red on his skin. "I can't believe you," Taki said. "You're the one so worried about us dying. You've ripped open your stitches, you idiot."

"Couldn't just stay in bed. Couldn't," Goh said earnestly, putting his hands on Taki's shoulders, swaying. Taki wrapped his hands around Goh's waist, steadying him. "I love you too much."

Taki pressed a kiss to Goh's temple then let Goh kiss him back.

"We better check, just to make sure," Taki said, dragging one of Goh's arms across his shoulders. "And then we burn it to the ground." Taki looked around, frowning. "You got a lighter on you?"

Goh nodded.

Slowly, they shuffled toward the hidden room, Goh barely able to stand, Taki unable to walk in a straight line. Goh felt like crying and laughing, all at the same time, calm and psychotic at turns. Taki wore a similarly conflicted expression, ruined only by his ridiculously owlish blinking.

Goh picked the lock with Taki's hand on his wrist, keeping him steady.

They walked into a verifiable goldmine of drugs, all neatly labelled on shelves. Arrogant, Goh thought. Yamaha was a megalomaniac, who had never thought his fortress would be infiltrated, who had believed he would never be stopped, who hadn't even realised he'd gone too far.

And arrogance would be his downfall.

~~~

Drugs made people into monsters.

Goh hadn't really thought about it much until then. Hadn't dwelled on just why snatchers were necessary, why the police could never win this battle on their own, why even the Yakuza couldn't control the trade. Hadn't let himself think beyond the thrill and the pay cheque.

Goh thought, maybe, he finally understood Taki's point.

"Look at this. 'Sweet Death,'" Taki said, gesturing to a fair-sized container, clearly and neatly labelled, sitting cosy next to speed and steroids. "I thought we'd gotten that off the streets."

"So had I."

He couldn't kid himself, though. Sometimes, they were snatching the drugs only to have them resold on the market by a different bidder, for a higher price. It wasn't noble, and that was why Goh would never call himself a good person. The moral ground he walked on was too murky.

"I'll disable the sprinkler system," Taki said, already into something, a screwdriver in one hand, pliers in the other. He was still in his school uniform. "You gather the samples. Then it burns."

"We're arsonists now?"

Taki looked back over his shoulder. "You have a better suggestion? There's too much to move by myself, and you're practically haemorrhaging over there." Taki turn his attention back to the sprinkler system. "If we set it up right, they'll have to investigate it. I'm not letting him walk."

Goh sighed. "Remember the good old days of marijuana hidden in tubs of margarine?"

Taki laughed a little, and Goh smiled at him before lurching over to the workbench. A perfect lotus flower sat in a shallow Petri dish filled with water, a syringe laid out on the table next to it. Goh took both items and slipped them into the evidence bags he had brought with him. There were other flowers, other syringes, but Goh didn't have the strength or the will to keep going.

"Ready?"

Goh nodded, mopping his dripping brow with his sleeve. He really didn't feel good at all.

Taki pulled the fire alarm, then braced for a shower of water that didn't come. The alarm shrilled loudly, a throbbing pain in Goh's head to match the one in his side. Taki came up to him, reached into his back pocket for his lighter and left again, back to whatever he was doing. Goh watched him through his sweat-soaked hair, swaying a little, rapidly wilting like a flower.

Watched as Taki put a cigarette in his mouth, lit it then laid it down on the table, smouldering. Flames sprang immediately into existence, following the path of lighter fluid that Taki had laid out for it. Goh felt the burn on his face though he was nowhere near it, and turned away.

Yamaha was there.

Goh moved before his injured body could protest, thinking about nothing but getting between Taki and the gun gleaming in Yamaha's hand. He got there just in time, grabbing Taki by the waist, pushing him backward, and felt the bullet tear through his shoulder in an explosion of blood and skin. He landed on top of Taki, fighting to stay conscious, and Taki stared at him.

"What?" Goh gasped, feeling the real heat now, the fire quickly spreading. Dimly, Goh recognised that if they didn't get out soon, the room was probably going to explode. Registered a second later that there too much blood spreading across the floor. He'd be dead, if it was all his.

Taki smiled weakly. "Went straight through you."

"Fuck," Goh said, trying to move, unable to find the strength. As if they weren't there, bleeding to death on the floor, Yamaha moved around them, trying to put out the fire, but it was spreading too quickly. He would die too if he wasn't careful, which was fine by Goh. "I'm so sorry."

"Not your fault." Taki clumsily laid an arm across his back, eyes closed, a strange little smile on his face. "Always seem to end up like this, don't we? Realised I love you, lying under you."

"I remember," Goh muttered.

And it would have been so easy to give into the exhaustion, the pain. He was worn thin, not a man anymore, not even human, just an abused thing that couldn't even save itself. Barely enough energy left to breathe, let alone run for his life, and it was so tempting, so seductive, to just ...

To just ...

"No," Goh said suddenly, lifting his head from Taki's shoulder. Taki frowned at him, even moaned a little when Goh pulled at him, trying to get one of them to their knees. He managed to stay upright for a few heartbeats before toppling backwards. "No, no, no. I refuse to let this job kill us."

Taki nodded, slow and deathly pale, and somehow, through sheer force of will and Taki's body as leverage, Goh managed to stand up. Couldn't stay like that without Taki propped up against him, clinging onto him, blood-soaked shirt sticking to his torso. And then they started walking.

"Yamaha?" Taki asked as they moved toward the door, carefully avoiding the spreading fire.

Goh choked out a small laugh. "Guess he recognised a lost cause when he saw one."

"His mistake," Taki muttered, hauling Goh along, letting himself be dragged.

Goh had no memory how they had managed to get outside, but suddenly cool, clean air hit his face, and he tipped head first onto the pavement. A dazzling array of red and white lights spun in his eyes, and numbly, he acknowledged he needed to run farther, needed to escape before he was arrested. Taki was beside him, breathing shallowly, his gunshot wound much more serious.

"We got you," someone said, and Goh looked up into a face he didn't recognise. It was a police officer. He stiffened, but a firm hand came down on his chest, holding him still. "Relax. Your job is done now. We'll take care of the rest."

Goh nodded. Friend or foe, he didn't care, couldn't care. He just wanted to sleep.

~~~

When he woke up, that sketchy surgeon guy Tsunuga always hired was poking at him, close enough that Goh could count the hairs on his chin. Goh rolled his head, and Taki was there, awake in the next bed over, naked from the waist up with a thick white bandage around his chest.

"Hey," Goh said, holding out his hand.

Taki reached across and grabbed it, squeezing Goh's fingers. "Hey."

"I'll leave you two alone," the sketchy surgeon guy said, rolling his eyes. He patted his breast pocket then pulled out a bent, half-smoked cigarette. "Try not to die while I'm gone."

Goh barely heard him, too busy mapping the shape of Taki's knuckles with his thumb. Though he was hooked up to so many tubes that moving was almost impossible, Goh managed to stand up and shuffle over to Taki's bed, climbing in with him. There wasn't enough room for two grown men, but Goh always felt a little clingy after a near-death experience. He needed this badly.

"What happened to Yamaha?"

"Arrested," Taki said simply. "It's been all over the news. He pissed off the most dangerous people in Japan. I don't envy him. If he lasts more than a week in jail, I'll be surprised."

"And the school?

"Damaged, but useable. It'll be open in a few weeks. They're blaming the fire on recklessness. Apparently, some idiot left a cigarette burning in a drug lab and decimated the place," Taki said dryly, and Goh chuckled softly. Taki touched his hand to Goh's face. "Do you still want to quit?"

"Not if you don't want to," Goh replied, mouthing Taki's shoulder. "I can wait for you."

"I feel like I'm always making you wait," Taki said, leaning his cheek against Goh's head. He took one of Goh's hand in his, twisting their fingers together, resting the knot on his belly. Taki sighed deeply, and Goh kissed the round of his shoulder. "I don't even really know why ..."

"It's okay," Goh replied, stopping him. "I've got your back for as long as you need me."

"Even if it's risky?"

"Everything is risky," Goh said. "You just have to ask yourself if the risk is worth it."

"And is it?"

"It is," Goh decided, smiling at Taki's beautiful face. "Definitely."