As he painstakingly climbs down the elevator shaft, Makoto wonders, not for the first time that day (and, he suspects, not the last either) if his previous life of petty scamming is sufficient to justify the truly awful hand fate has dealt him. He supposes he should have known better by now than to let himself get dragged along another of Laurent’s schemes, but he can’t deny the specific allure of being able to do good by putting his… questionable talents to work. Which, now that he thinks about it, alone in the dark, oil-stained air of the escape route he was so graciously given, is probably what Laurent is always counting on in the first place.
Yes, despite it all, their modern-day Arsène Lupin seems entirely convinced of Makoto’s better nature, for some nebulous reason that Makoto’s given up on thinking about. What he does think about, however, is the withering look he’ll throw his so-called employer once he’s out of this dust-filled space. That is, if he doesn’t sneeze himself to death first.
“You’re taking an awfully long time arriving at the rendezvous point, Edamame. Surely you couldn’t have gotten lost in a rectangular room?”
Makoto glances out of the corner of his eye, trying in vain to glare at the earpiece through which Laurent has been pestering him since he started his descent. If he hadn’t known any better, he might have thought Laurent’s constant check-ups sweet. Alas, he does know better, so the unrelenting stream of teasing comments only grates on his nerves.
“Fuck off. If you wanted me out of this damned building faster, you should have come up with a better strategy than climbing down a rope like some discount Mission: Impossible.”
“Well, you did work with that moving company for half a year. I’d hoped your upper body strength would have increased.”
“First thing you learn on the job is to lift with your legs, asshole.”
Laurent chuckles, and Makoto resists the urge to sigh. His hands are getting blisters, coarse rope rubbing them raw, yet still the darkness stretches on, no exit in sight. He has half a mind to loosen his hold for a second or two and let gravity do his work for him, though he knows how inadvisable that plan really is. The silence presses down from all sides, now that Laurent has quieted down, and Makoto nearly wishes for the return of twisting vowels and curled consonants, before remembering how annoying the man who wields them is.
So he perseveres, inch by mind-numbing inch, cursing himself for allowing Laurent to sweet-talk him into the trickiest role of this multi-layered con. My dear Edamame, he had said, it has to be you. No one can pull off that puppy-eyed naïveté quite so effortlessly. Looking back, it’s clear he was being teased, but Laurent had looked so earnest, so fond, that Makoto hadn’t had the heart to refuse.
It’s all an act, he knows. The looks, the smiles, the unstudied touches, they’re all carefully curated to bring his guard crashing down, and Makoto is the fool who still hopes, the puppet still longing for the snapping of strings and wood-turned-flesh. This thing between the two of them, there’s no universe in which it ends well, and Makoto stays on that tightrope, too cowardly to step forward, yet unwilling to return to solid ground.
“Edamame? Are you there?”
“Unfortunately.” The word escapes him with more bite than intended, and for a brief, irrational breath, Makoto worries that his thoughts are plain on his voice, that Laurent somehow understands it is not the stinging hands he’s troubled by.
The confidence man’s reply is colored only by his easy charm, though, and Makoto despises its hollow ring that betrays the utter unimportance of their exchange. This is just another step in just another con, one foot in front of the other in the infinite road of their quietly waged wars, one hand beneath the other as he slowly, steadily, tiredly goes down the cold, empty elevator shaft.
When his feet finally find solid ground, Makoto lets his aching arms fall limply at his side as he turns on his heel to search for the service door leading into the basement. He finds it nearly blended to the wall on his right side, reaching its handle with two short strides and twisting it as gently as he can. He slips away quietly, discreetly, and when the sunlight hits his face once more, Makoto nearly crumbles in a mixture of relief and exhaustion.
“At last, he shows up.”
Makoto doesn’t even deign to look at him, instead throwing himself on his car seat and closing the door with his foot, only pausing to nod in acknowledgement towards Abby and Cynthia as he does. Laurent slides behind the wheel, unperturbed, eyes glinting with amusement as he glances through the rearview mirror at his assistant’s face.
“You’re going to get premature wrinkles if you keep that sour expression.”
“Yeah, yeah, just take us to the hotel,” Makoto says, leaning back and closing his eyes.
In a matter of seconds, he’s asleep.
Laurent just smiles.
“Wake up, we’re here and I’m not carrying your sleeping beauty ass.”
Makoto cracks one eye open, only to be instantly greeted by Abby’s unimpressed look, and although his body feels heavy and sore, he doesn’t need to be told twice, getting out of the car with a groan that doesn’t at all convey the way his hands feel trapped inside a radiator.
As they step into their hotel room, Makoto feels a familiar hand fall on his shoulder, and sure enough, it’s Laurent’s voice that rings out behind him as he’s congratulated on a job well done.
“Yes, you couldn’t have done it without me, I’m aware; now can I go?” Makoto asks as he shrugs off the contact. He’s not normally quite so brusque with Laurent nowadays — after all, there’s only so many near-death experiences one can share with someone else before you soften up to their presence — but his hands really do hurt like a motherfucker, and his patience has run out.
Laurent sighs, looking down at them. “Come along, Edamame, let’s take care of those,” he says as he moves to Makoto’s side, tugging gently on his wrist and leading him to the bathroom.
While the confidence man gets the first aid kit from the cabinet, Makoto washes his hands on the bathtub, relaxing slightly at the feel of the cool water on his fingers. “I can take care of it myself, thanks.”
“Of course, but you don’t need to,” is Laurent’s breezy reply, and Makoto knows this is an argument he won’t win. He doesn’t understand why Laurent has chosen to die on this specific hill (though in all fairness, he doesn’t understand any of Laurent’s many chaotic, unnecessary choices, so at least he’s not losing skills), yet he can’t help the warmth enveloping him like a second skin, even as he recognizes how ridiculous this reaction is.
“Let’s get it over with, then,” he says, perching himself on the toilet seat and thrusting his hands out, palms up.
Laurent nods, placing the small red box on the edge of the bathtub and kneeling in front of him, crinkled eyes betraying his amusement at the blush immediately crawling up Makoto’s neck.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Makoto snaps, defensive tone undermining his words.
Laurent’s laugh is quiet as he shakes his head. “Whatever you say, Edamame.”
Despite his attitude, his hands are gentle as they reach out to hold Makoto’s own, and Laurent’s expression grows serious as he examines the damage: the skin is red and cracked, though its appearance isn’t as ghastly now that the wounds are clean. He grabs one of the hand towels, slowly dabbing Makoto’s hands with a care that Makoto can almost believe is reverence.
“I’m sorry. I should have told you to bring some gloves with you on the con.”
Makoto stares, more than a little astonished — Laurent does many things with ease, but apologizing isn’t one of them. Frankly, Makoto had thought him too entrenched in the big picture to be able to.
He decides to push his luck a little. “Or, I don’t know, you could have come up with an easier escape route.”
Laurent keeps his gaze on Makoto’s hands, using antiseptic for the open blisters and aloe gel for the burned skin with a methodic focus that delights Makoto in its familiarity, though he smiles. “Easier does not mean safer.”
“No, but it does mean easier.”
“What an obvious observation,” Laurent says, wrapping a dozen different band aids on Makoto’s fingers.
“Shut up, you know what I mean.”
Laurent drags his thumb over the band aids, expression losing its mirth once more. “Do I push you too hard?”
Makoto blinks, thrown. “What?”
Laurent head is bowed, his eyes firmly on their still intertwined hands. The bathroom’s light turns his hair lighter, like gold plating shaved off a silver ring. “You have always risen to the occasion, my dear Edamame, but am I asking for too much?”
Later, after Makoto has had his well-deserved beauty sleep, he’ll blame his following words on exhaustion whenever faced with only mildly good-natured ribbing.
“You aren’t asking for enough.”
Now it’s Laurent’s turn to look at him, surprise visible through the cracks of his feigned calm. Makoto’s heart picks up the pace, finally aware of the situation its owner has brought about, and he fights the shivering excitement of being under this conman’s intelligent, dangerous scrutiny.
“You know I’d give it to you. If you asked.”
The room is quiet as Laurent shifts, posture becoming tighter, controlled. When he speaks, his voice is a live wire. “You don’t know what I want.”
“I can make an educated guess,” Makoto whispers, leaning forward, fully committed to this bad idea.
Laurent looks younger up close, all long lashes and bright eyes, and Makoto is so tired of dancing around this. He supposes that an overreliance on subtext is par for the course for two con artists, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t exasperated by the way they run circles around each other down to the marrow of his bones. He can feel Laurent’s breath on his lips ever so slightly, as if the man is afraid his own breathing will disturb their fragile equilibrium, and he waits.
“Edamura.” Laurent’s pupils swallow his entire iris. “I would eat you alive.”
Makoto laughs. “I’d like to see you try.”
When Laurent’s hands encircle his wrists and tug, Makoto doesn’t gasp, though the electric thrill that instantly runs up his spine shocks him in its intensity. Laurent kisses him with the ferocity of a starved man, open-mouthed and burning, and it’s all Makoto can do to push right back, to set Laurent ablaze with a fire of his own. He tilts his head to the side, only barely, but Laurent catches on, pressing one hand to the nape of his neck and kissing him deeper, tongue reaching out to tease Makoto’s own.
He sighs through his nose, and he can feel more than hear the low rumble of Laurent’s laughter, before he pulls away to do so in earnest, one hand still curled into his hair, the other rising up to tilt up his chin. Makoto opens his eyes slowly, too dazed to be annoyed, to find Laurent’s blue ones on him, warmer than he has ever seen them, paired with a smile far too wide to be considered flirtatious.
“You really do live to surprise, don’t you?”
Makoto’s blush returns with a vengeance, yet he manages to keep his voice steady as he says, “You, however, are exactly what I expected.”
Laurent draws close to brush his lips to Makoto’s. “You wound me, Edamame.”
“We’re back to Edamame, now?”
“Surely you’ve realized it’s an affectionate nickname?” he murmurs, trailing feather-light kisses along Makoto’s jaw, then down his neck, the hand on Makoto’s chin moving to settle on his waist.
Makoto, fully aware of how petulant he sounds, says, “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Well…” He can feel Laurent’s smile against his skin. “You have to bear with it.”
“Do I?” he can’t help but tease.
Laurent returns to his lips, shutting him up with a long, lingering kiss that leaves Makoto light-headed and sure that, had he been standing, his knees would have failed him.
The confidence man's voice curls around Makoto like molten gold when he pulls away and says, “Yes.” His smile turns mischievous. “Or do you want to make another bet?”
Makoto groans. “I don’t even know why I like you, you’re unbearable.”
“Ah, but you do like me.”
“I take it back; I can’t stand you.”
Laurent simply laughs at him, but somehow, Makoto can’t bring himself to mind. Maybe this had always been their finish line, even back in L.A. — maybe there had been a red string tying their pinkies together.
Or maybe, Makoto thinks, as a small, unbidden smile lights up his face, he had just been monumentally, catastrophically, profoundly lucky.