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One would think that Takaba and Asami are always working at cross-purposes. Asami deals in backrooms -- politics, guns, drugs, information -- and Takaba takes vicious joy in exposing the blights in Japanese society, the stains of immorality that cling to government and money.

But slowly -- so slowly -- Takaba feels his world reorient. Shift perspective, shift definition, until he knows Asami's sins and never quite turns his head, but watches silently out of the corner of his eyes. Asami is not the center of Takaba's world, but he is at his back, strong and fierce and frighteningly powerful.

Takaba yields in bed but not outside it, and he accepts -- slowly -- that Asami wants him at his side, for whatever possessive, screwed-up reasons. And more than that, Takaba accepts that he himself wants to be there, wants to be standing back to back with Asami, wants to think that what has gone before has only made him stronger, and that what he wants most of all is to look Asami in the eye.

Takaba will never be Asami's mistress, but he could be his partner. So when Asami yields to him, when Asami asks things of him, because only Takaba can do it, Takaba thinks to himself: this is it. This is how we should be. Takaba won't be told what to do, but he does accept sincere requests.

The first time Asami hints that somebody rotten is being troublesome, and that it might be best for all concerned if he was taken down without violence and publicly exposed, Takaba doesn't quite know what to make of it. But when Asami outlines why it would be difficult to do it himself, and says, "Will you do this for me, Akihito?" Takaba just answers, "I'm not doing this for you." It's the truth and a lie, all in one, and a Diet member's dirty laundry is aired extensively by the next week. Asami thanks him and takes him out to dinner, having learned the hard way that Takaba doesn't take well to material gifts that are not food or camera equipment.

Takaba doesn't do things that directly benefit Asami often (or at least, not on purpose), so when he does them, it's a special occasion. It's Asami's birthday tomorrow, which is why Takaba is currently camped out on a rooftop opposite the executive office of one Chairman Hososhima, who is blocking Asami's plans in a perfectly legal way. Hososhima is also personally involved in the very wretched business of making sure poor Thai illegal immigrant girls have no place to turn but to his underground consortium of brothels, and Takaba is going to take a great deal of pride in taking this bastard down. Of course, he would never have know exactly what he needed if he hadn't done some judicious snooping and gossiping with Asami's underlings. They were surprisingly cooperative, but then, everyone has to know that Asami is just hell to shop for.

The camera he's using happens to be a gift from Asami -- it takes excellent pictures from very far away, and that stupid bastard Hososhima never even bothers to close the shades. Five minutes and a damning meeting later, Takaba packs up his camera and makes a clean getaway.

It's late when he gets back to the penthouse, but he's still earlier than Asami. It's enough time for him to go into one of the spare rooms that Takaba has converted into a darkroom. Asami had initially looked a little taken aback when Takaba first brought the idea up, but when Takaba sighed and said that he would have no choice, otherwise, than to spend longer hours at the paper, it was amazing how quickly Asami caved.

The pictures come out nicely, and Takaba congratulates himself on a job well done, and a birthday present successfully obtained. It may not be conventional, but it's certainly better than anything Takaba can buy, short of a red ribbon to wrap himself in, naked.

And since he did that last year, it wouldn't do to be repetitive.

It's well after midnight when Asami walks in, suit coat slung over his shoulder. It's technically been his birthday for two hours now, and his eyebrows rise when he spots Takaba waiting for him on the couch.

"You're up late," Asami says, his voice roughened after a long day of yelling at people. Takaba tends to be at least in bed at this time of night, if not sleeping, and Asami tends to wake him up just a bit to be greeted, or wake him up all the way if he wants Takaba right then. Lately, though, Asami just wakes him up enough for a kiss and a whisper, and waits until morning, when Takaba is sleepy and pliant and Asami is languid and less rough.

"Happy birthday," Takaba says, nodding at the folder sitting on the table with stick-on bow pasted in the corner. The bow itself is a little crumpled, but it's probably the thought that counts. Maybe.

Asami picks up the folder, and flips it open. It's a measure of how far Asami's defenses have come down when he can see that Asami is genuinely surprised at his gift, followed by a tight, hungry grin. "I would have been just as happy with you wrapped up in a bow, but this..." Asami trails off, and Takaba supposes that expression means there really is no greater gift than handing Asami the means to ruin one of his more irritating enemies.

"I figured I didn't need to do that this year," Takaba says.

"Oh?" Asami says, his attention still on the pictures.

"Kind of stupid to give you something you already have."

Asami looks up sharply, and it's no surprise when the folder falls on the table and Asami hauls Takaba into the bedroom.

When he pushes Takaba down onto the bed and crawls up the bed on all fours to pin Takaba down, Asami says, "As it happens, I got myself a birthday present, too."

"I think that's cheating," Takaba tells him, his tone a little tart.

Asami leans over the side of the bed, and pulls out a box. At the first sight of leather, Takaba's eyes widen, and he knows he's in for a hell of a night. But after all, it is Asami's birthday, and if you're not going to let your lover have his rough kinky way with you then....

Asami tilts Takaba's head toward him and looks him in the eye, and says quietly, "Thank you." He could be talking about Takaba not spazzing out at some rather elaborate bondage gear, but Takaba thinks it's about something else.

Asami speaks in terms of possession, not endearment, so that everything is "Mine" and "I own you" and there's precious little room for the sweet words that lovers use. But that Asami can thank him sincerely is a gift of its own, and one that Takaba can return.

And maybe it's true that giving a gift to oneself is selfish - but it's also no great sacrifice for Takaba to give something he wants to, anyway.

"You're welcome," Takaba says, and extends his wrists to be tied.