The first time Gotou showed him a message from her travels, Masayoshi got upset. But Gotou got upset when Masayoshi proposed to him, so as far as he was concerned, they were even.
Marriage. His first thought had been that the idiot was making fun of him. Like he could understand how it felt; like he could understand what a real relationship took. Like he could just replace her, and make everything better.
And then Masayoshi never brought it up again. He went back to being the same old creepy weirdo he'd always been, inviting Gotou to his fancy hotel for room service curry — room service curry, for crying out loud — or showing up at Gotou's place with snacks at weird hours. Gotou-san, ever since I met you I feel like I've won the lottery, he'd say, like that was the kind of thing people just said to each other. Gotou-san, I saw this and I thought of you. Gotou-san, I hope it's not a bad time, but I'm stuck here in Paris and I missed you, like "I missed you" was the important thing about his day, and not the summit he was attending. Like Gotou was anything to miss when you were in Paris. Gotou-san, the agency found me a new apartment! Would you like to take a look?
It sometimes crossed his mind that maybe Masayoshi hadn't forgotten that proposal. Maybe Gotou's opinion on the apartment — the ridiculously opulent penthouse was more like it, or maybe palace — was relevant because Masayoshi imagined him living in it. It was impossible to tell without asking, and like hell Gotou was going to ask him that. Maybe he was being invited to the hotel room because Masayoshi wanted to make a move on him, but surely even Masayoshi didn't think that talking for two hours about how to replace old action figures melted in an explosion counted as making a move.
Kind of fascinating, in a way, getting to shop for that kind of stuff with money as no obstacle. But not the least bit romantic, even if they were both sitting on the only bed in the room so they could look at the laptop.
And then there was the Christmas invitation. He'd been pretty damn nervous about that one. It wasn't like he figured Masayoshi would try to jump him, but he didn't want to have to reject him on Christmas, of all days; didn't want to hurt him, didn't want things to be awkward, didn't want another fight.
But for the past several Christmases, he'd been glued to his phone when he wasn't on duty, and sometimes when he was, so if he wanted keep from falling back into the habit, he had to shake things up somehow. So he went over, bringing a gift-wrapped Flamen Robo model because Masayoshi had said he didn't need to bring anything at all.
"I know you had the real one, but you like models, right?" he'd said, the nervous chuckle still caught in his throat; Masayoshi's face had lit up like the Christmas tree at the sight.
"Gotou-san, thank you! I passed on a chance to enter a drawing for this — it didn't seem right to take the chance away from somebody else — and then it just slipped my mind with everything else that happened—"
"So you didn't already have one. That's... good." He cleared his throat. The food was all catered and beautifully arranged, the cake looked like a sculpture, the tree in the corner looked like it had come from a decorating magazine except for the Red Axe and Harakiri Sunshine decorations Masayoshi snuck in at the risk of Ishihara's wrath. And there in the midst of this luxury Christmas was Masayoshi, sitting on the floor in a faded tee-shirt and old jeans, hugging the toy version of a robot he'd piloted and absolutely beaming.
Gotou's chest felt tight and warm, his heart swelling without permission; he wanted to say something gruff, let himself out onto the balcony for a smoke break, and let the cold wind hit him in the face and clear his head. But he could feel the weight of his cell phone in his pocket when he shifted on the couch, and Masayoshi was already opening up the box, chattering about how well-done the figure looked.
If he got up now, squeezed his shoulder and went outside, would Masayoshi come out to join him? Or understand, and look kind of sad, and stay where he was?
Or he could take the third option. Gotou could get down on the floor with him to take a look, corral all the little replacement parts when they flew everywhere, help snap things into place, or chide him not to force it.
He didn't take a smoke break until after they'd eaten, and Masayoshi came out with him, gasping at the cold. "Gotou-san, you should put on gloves."
"Can't light a cigarette with gloves on," he retorted. "You can go back inside."
"I keep hoping it'll snow," Masayoshi said, ignoring him. As if on cue, a white flake drifted down between them.
"Spoken like somebody who doesn't drive," Gotou grumbled, but he couldn't begrudge that look of delight on the kid's face. He rested his elbows on the balcony rail, cigarette between his swiftly-numbing fingers, and looked out over the lights of the city; Masayoshi came to rest right next to him, silently.
It was probably him, more than Masayoshi, that leaned in close enough that their shoulders were almost touching, that they could maybe feel each other's body heat through their winter coats, but it was hard to tell. You couldn't blame a guy for freezing. Up above the city like this, the wind felt like knives, even when it wasn't trying to snow.
Trying and failing. They got maybe a dozen wet, melting flakes on the balcony; at least they looked pretty as they fell. "Sorry about your white Christmas," he said, grinding out his cigarette in the ashtray.
Masayoshi shook his head. "I don't think I've ever had a better Christmas," he said, eyes practically shining.
Gotou blew on his fingers to warm them, looking at them instead of Masayoshi's smile. "Mm. It wasn't half bad," he admitted.
So he got through Christmas. He got through New Year's, though when he went to the shrine he still prayed for her to be found. Valentine's Day came, and he got horrifyingly expensive-looking chocolates from Maya Mari — what was he supposed to give her for White Day, then? Did she know what cops made? — and then in the evening Masayoshi showed up on his doorstep with a box of Flamengers chocolates that had to be for little kids, and a fancy box with a French name on it.
"Are you regifting me something from a fan?" he asked, looking at the fancy one.
"Of course not! That would be rude to both you and the fan! I just wanted to cover all the bases."
"Wouldn't one of the bases be something homemade?" He felt bad the minute the words were out, because Masayoshi's face fell and his shoulders drooped. He needed a tail to tuck between his legs, Gotou thought.
"Relax, idiot, I know you can't cook." He put both boxes on the table. "Does this mean I have to give you something for White Day too?"
Was that jealousy? "Mari," he said wearily.
"What did she give you?" Masayoshi had brightened a bit. Weird.
"Hang on, I'll go get it..."
"Oh," Masayoshi said at the sight, perking up immediately. "That's just her obligation chocolate. She gave me some too."
"Seriously?" He didn't know how much it would actually have cost, but he knew the department store she'd bought it in. By reputation. Not by ever having gone near it, of course. "That's her idea of obligation chocolate."
"It seems that way."
No drama over the chocolates or anything; of course, he'd already accepted them without fanfare. They sat down to eat the ones Masayoshi had brought for him, and help with some of the gifts Masayoshi had gotten from fans, and it seemed like no time had passed at all, but somehow it was eleven and he hadn't looked at his phone in hours.
He wasn't stupid. He knew he sent the emails when he was stressed out or worried about something, when he was weighing a decision, when he was uncertain, or anxious, or troubled, or scared out of his mind.
And of course when he missed her the most or thought about her, which was why romantic holidays were tough, and the anniversary of her disappearance, and the anniversary of their first date.
He knew what it always meant. But he went to Masayoshi's place for Christmas, and accepted his chocolate, without so much as sending a message to tell her about it, to see if she'd be angry and threatened, or think it was cute and harmless, or maybe think it was really hot.
He didn't think she was into that kind of thing, but a lot of girls were. For a while he'd thought that was where Mari had gotten the idea.
For White Day he and Masayoshi shared the manliest-looking cake he'd been able to find, and they still didn't talk about it, or act like it was any different than sharing convenience store pastries or curry. Mari got white roses, sent care of her management. If she had a problem with it, he was pretty sure she'd show up at his door to tell him.
Masayoshi flew to New York; the Americans were starting to get cold feet about the world government idea. Gotou had his doubts about Masayoshi's presence changing that, but he didn't say anything for the first few days. On the fourth day, he realized he missed the idiot. He didn't call, though.
On the fifth day, Masayoshi called. "Gotou-san! I'm sorry I've been too busy to call you."
"You found more to do in New York than Paris, huh?"
Masayoshi just chuckled. "How's everything back at home? They say no news is good news."
"Mm. It's getting a little busier." A little. Over the past few days, Tokyo had experienced a string of burglaries; ordinary, mundane burglaries, houses broken into in the middle of the day when no one was home. Dozens of cops descended on the perps the moment they tried to sell their stolen goods. "Nothing violent."
"That's good." He yawned. "Sorry, Gotou-san. I'm too tired to talk very long."
Gotou tried to do the math in his head. "Isn't it about one in the morning there?"
"Two," Masayoshi said, around another yawn.
"Why aren't you asleep, idiot?"
"I just wanted to hear your voice," he said, without any embarrassment at all, the freak.
How could he just say things like that? It was all Gotou could do to mutter, "Me too," before coughing to cover it up, and adding, "Now you have, so get some sleep already."
Masayoshi brought him a Statue of Liberty snowglobe and an "I ♥ New York" tee-shirt.
"Shouldn't this be for you?" Gotou asked. "I don't love New York. I've never been there."
"Next time you should come with me!" Masayoshi said.
There was a time he would have called that offer creepy, too. "If there's a next time. And I have time off. Then maybe."
The cherry blossoms gave way to new green leaves, but the air still had that spring softness and the slight chill. She'd always liked spring. And she'd always wanted to travel.
Maybe if she'd lived they'd have broken up and gone their separate ways, and he'd hear about her once every ten years from an old friend. Or maybe they'd have gotten married and she still wouldn't have been able to travel much because of his cop's salary.
He knew better than anyone how stories like hers ended. If they were ever solved at all, it was because some hiker or farmer turned up a few bones hidden in some remote place. For years now he'd tried every day not to know, just like he tried, for months after meeting Hazama Masayoshi, not to know what a fall of just a few stories did to a skull or a spine, or how many stab wounds a human could survive.
But as long as her story didn't have an ending, he could choose one for her. There was nothing to limit where she could travel. What was the harm in sending her off to Nicaragua and Costa Rica and Jamaica, to letting her visit Disneyland and Hollywood and the mountains of Alaska? Australia next, he thought. Koalas, and the great barrier reef. Maybe New Zealand, too. He remembered the way she'd pointed out the scenery in Lord of the Rings, when she had the flu and he rented the movies to cheer her up.
It wasn't because he was upset or scared, anymore. He didn't need to hear from her all the time. He just wanted to feel like she was out there, somewhere. Enjoying herself. Checking in, now and again, to see if he was all right, but going her own way.
Go-chin, how's Masayoshi doing? He's been to New York, hasn't he?
"Why's she going to New York?" Masayoshi asked.
"Same reason most people do. To see the sights. She's not addressing the UN."
He's still watching out for me, Gotou wrote. Though he's acting almost as sulky about you as you used to act about him.
"She used to sulk about me?"
"Hey, who said you could read over my shoulder?" Not that he was doing much to hide the screen. "Yeah, when I first started telling her about you, she got really crabby. All fist emojis and angry faces and pouting and breaking dates."
He knew what it meant. He'd always known what it meant. But he wasn't going to get engaged to some idiot who only started talking about love after he proposed.
And he was not going to give that idiot a hand up or a shortcut, either. The kid was nearly twenty-one. It was kind of amazing he didn't have a better idea already how these things worked.
So when Gotou looked up from his screen — Go-chin, don't be mean to him! — and saw Masayoshi concentrating really hard on the table in front of him, face reddening, every line of his body tensed and even trembling a little, Gotou made himself keep his mouth shut.
"Gotou-san," Masayoshi said.
"Gotou-san," he repeated. "Gotou-san! What if— what if you and I—" And then he kind of choked, like the words were sticking in his throat.
It hurt to watch, because he could remember being that nervous. And considering the last time Masayoshi tried to talk about love to him, he screamed at him and called him an idiot repeatedly, maybe a little help wouldn't hurt.
"You and I..." Gotou prompted. Masayoshi looked up at him, stricken; Gotou couldn't have kept up the stern look even if he'd wanted to. He smiled, and Masayoshi looked like the sun came out for him.
"What if you and I went on a date?" he blurted out, halfway to a yell. "I really like you, Gotou-san!" He looked like he was about to go up in flames — there was one thing he couldn't say easily, it turned out — but he didn't look down. He kept his eyes on Gotou's face.
"That's more like it." Gotou put his phone face-down on the table. "Took you long enough," he said fondly. "Idiot."