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“We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” Chinen said with as much menace as his voice could muster. The man tensed up like a statue once he felt the barrel of Chinen’s gun press up against the back of his neck. Chinen had no intention of actually shooting the man, but he didn’t have to know that. His mission was to track down the runaways and return them. Alive.

“What’s the easy way?” the man finally spoke. Chinen watched his shoulders rise and fall with each steady breath he took. His feet were planted like tree roots on the carpet, standing firm against the threat. The runaway was surprisingly calm about this. Perhaps too calm.

“We call a taxi and I take you to see the guy in charge. Simple.”

“And the hard way?”

“I can tell you it’s not fun,” Chinen answered. It usually helped to say clichéd things like this as if he was a character in a movie. They never took him seriously when he spoke like that. They would listen to his hollow-sounding threats, they would see his short stature and cute face, and they would underestimate him, let down their guard.

Chinen had been in New York City for three days so far and he was still jetlagged. So he wasn’t lying exactly. The hard way wasn’t going to be fun for anyone.

“How about I choose neither option?” the man said. Without warning, he swung around and tried to attack Chinen. But Chinen already expected this reaction. They were always so predictable. With a nonchalant sigh he quickly twirled his gun around and smacked the runaway straight up the side of his head with it. The man was stunned by the hit and stumbled a few steps to the side, colliding with a coffee table right in the center of the living room, so Chinen had time to grab the tranquilizer dart hidden in his pocket and jab it into the man’s neck.

Chinen would have preferred the easy option instead.

Once the man was out cold and lying on the floor of the apartment he’d been hiding out in, Chinen pulled out his phone. He didn’t exactly like the phone, just like he didn’t exactly like the feel of the new gun in his hand, but he supposed he was going to have to get used to it for a while. His local contact, Nakayama Yuma, had hooked him up with everything he needed as soon as he had stepped off the plane from Japan. The phone, the gun, a hotel room, fake IDs, and necessary paperwork. He was still trying to adjust to this new job assignment.

He dialed the only number programmed into the phone. One for Yokoyama You, a high ranking yakuza boss based in NYC. He didn’t know what Yokoyama intended to do to the runaway once he had him back, but Chinen had learned long ago that it was better not to ask questions. Just take the money and do the work. Right now his job was to track down yakuza lackeys that had tried to escape, ones that had tried to double-cross their comrades and bosses, ones that thought they could leave responsibility behind and get away from the consequences of their actions.

“Coward,” Chinen said quietly as he looked down at the body of the unconscious man at his feet.

---

It was about a month before Chinen got accustomed to life in the city. At least, he had stopped taking the wrong route on the subway whenever he wanted to go somewhere. He had been moving around a lot recently, scoping out as much of the sprawling city as he could, getting an idea of where his marks might be hiding out. He’d been lucky to find the first guy so quickly, but everyone else was proving to be more difficult to pull out of hiding.

But Chinen wasn’t worried yet. He considered himself a decent tracker because he could think like a runaway. He knew how to get into their heads.

At the moment though, Chinen was taking a break. He had picked a bench in Central Park and he was just observing the people passing by as the sun was starting to set. A young family out for a walk, a few joggers on an evening run, several businessmen taking a break on their way home. People with normal lives who did normal things. Chinen enjoyed the momentary peacefulness. He didn’t often get to experience it when he was working back home.

The ringing of his cell phone broke the silence of the moment, and Chinen was suddenly back to reality. He didn’t recognize the number, but there were a few people who were supposed to call him if they had any information.

“Hello?”

I hear we happen to be in the same time zone,” a voice responded with a friendly lilt.

Chinen blinked as he recognized the unexpected caller before a smile unconsciously spread across his face. “Yuyan! How did you get this number?”

The familiar laugh of Takaki Yuya floated through the phone’s receiver. “Yuma told me you were in town on business. I am too at the moment and I wondered if you wanted to meet up? I have tonight free.

“Sure,” Chinen answered. It would be a nice change of pace and good to see his friend again. “Text me directions and I’ll meet you anywhere.”

Sounds great. See you soon,” Takaki answered.

A hint of excitement sprang up from somewhere inside Chinen and settled in the pit of his stomach as he waited for the details of the meeting place. He hadn’t seen his informant friend in months. Takaki travelled around the world so often that they were rarely in the same place at the same time. It would be good to see a familiar face, Chinen decided. He didn’t want to admit it but he’d been a bit lonely since he’d left Japan. Yamada had called him a few times, but Chinen had noticed that his friend’s conversations had been a bit more subdued than normal, not as lively as he could be. Whatever his problem was though, Chinen couldn’t fix it from New York.

The directions were to some sort of sports bar restaurant Chinen discovered as he reached his destination. He stopped as soon as he saw Takaki Yuya waiting for him outside dressed in a nice suit. Black jacket, black pants, black tie perfectly contrasting with his white button-up shirt, every bit of clothing fitting just right as if it had been tailor made for him. It probably had actually. Takaki had told Chinen once though that he didn’t particularly like dressing up for work; he much rather preferred a pair of swim trunks and the beach.

But right now he looked every bit like the successful real estate mogul that he was. Running a global company was just his day job because the necessary travelling helped him gather information for the mercenaries. He didn’t get involved in the messy work like Chinen did, but he was a good ally to always have on their side.

“It’s been a while,” Takaki said once Chinen finally started moving again. Takaki took off his sunglasses, stowing them away in his pocket, to reveal his happy-looking eyes. “Have you gotten over the jetlag yet?”

“I’ve been here a month already,” Chinen answered and then smirked. “You’re one to talk. You must always be jetlagged.”

Takaki mirrored the look on Chinen’s face. “I’m just used to it by now.” He gestured for Chinen to follow him inside the restaurant. Takaki looked a bit overdressed for the sports bar which was filled mostly with guys hanging out together in casual t-shirts and jeans, all discussing the games on the multitude of TVs on the walls around the room. Chinen immediately scanned the room for threats as they walked past the bar and some dart boards to a table by the wall. A part of his brain started calculating how much force someone would need to use to make the blunt-tipped darts piece someone’s skin. He felt like he always needed to be on guard even if he wasn’t working. Hikaru had drilled that into his head long ago.

“You seem a bit too high-class for this place,” Chinen teased as they sat down. The neon lights on the wall bathed everything in a weird light. He picked up a shiny laminated menu and glanced at what the restaurant had to offer. How long had it been since he’d seen Takaki, he wondered. Several months at least. Too long definitely.

Takaki smiled, putting his menu away without even looking at it. “I like the chicken wings,” he shrugged. “I recommend them actually. You should get the full American experience while you’re here.”

“Sure,” Chinen agreed and put his menu away too. Takaki placed the order for them both and then excused himself to the restroom. Chinen watched him walk away and tried not to think too much about feelings. Takaki was his type, always had been, but Chinen had never dared tell him that. There had been one time in France where he almost did. That one night when they’d been stuck together in that tiny hotel room, so close but not close enough. Chinen thought he had locked those feelings away, but here they were again bubbling to the surface. Damn that nice suit.

When Takaki returned to the table, they chatted about their lives and what they’d been doing since the last time they saw each other, and they laughed about how messy their food was. The conversation flowed easily, punctuated only a few times with stilted pauses and awkward silences which Takaki smoothed over effortlessly. Chinen had the chance to talk about things he never got to talk about. Not when his usual conversation partner was Yamada, and sometimes Yuto. All those conversations usually revolved around work. Chinen didn’t realize it until now, but he welcomed a change of pace.

And as the evening continued, Chinen ignored what he was feeling. But that got harder and harder to do with every drink he had. Once the delicious chicken wings had been devoured, the two of them decided that they didn’t want to leave just yet. So Takaki grabbed an open space at the row of dart boards for them to play.

“You sure you want to go against me?” Chinen smirked, suddenly feeling more confident than he had any right to be, but he supposed that the alcohol was responsible for that. “I think I have more practice and better aim.”

“Shooting bullets and throwing darts are two different things,” Takaki smirked in response and took his place for the first round. He took his time aiming, waving his arm back and forth as he tried to line it up perfectly. “Plus I’m much better at this game when I’m drunk.”

Are you drunk?” Chinen laughed.

“I’m getting there,” Takaki answered as his first throw landed close to the bull’s-eye. He triumphantly threw his fists in the air and laughed. Chinen noticed his face really was starting to look a little flushed. But he looked so happy cheering about his great first throw that Chinen didn’t even bother to tease him about it.

Chinen took aim with his own dart and threw it straight at the board. It sailed through the air in such a perfect arc that Chinen was sure he would hit dead center, but then it landed at the bottom of the dart board. He couldn’t stop from staring with his mouth gaping wide open while Takaki burst out laughing so loudly that the people nearby gave them some annoyed looks.

“What happened to your better aim?” Takaki asked through his giggles. He leaned against the table and tapped his fingers like someone who’d just made a winning move at chess.

Chinen pouted and stole Takaki’s drink for a few sips. Maybe he needed to be drunk too.

Takaki walked over behind Chinen and curled his warm fingers around Chinen’s wrist. “Let me show you how to do it,” he said as he guided Chinen’s hand.

For a moment, Chinen forgot that there were other people in the bar because the only thing he could focus on was how close Takaki was standing. Perhaps maybe he’d already had enough to drink. He was starting to be unprofessional. He’d been close to Takaki before, but now stupid feelings were getting in the way of good common sense.

“Now you just throw it,” Takaki finished his explanation and stepped away. He stole his drink back and watched. Chinen’s throw was better this time but still not perfect. Chinen only needed one more round to get the hang of it though, and Takaki cheered for him when he finally hit the bulls-eye. Although Chinen quickly decided that he liked it better when Takaki was coaching him on dart-throwing techniques, so he played off his perfect shot as a fluke and continued the game like a bumbling novice. He kept asking Takaki for tips, and Takaki stood close to him, using his hands to guide Chinen’s movements.

“Is this right?” Chinen asked, twisting his body ever so slightly so that his aim would be off. He held his arm out, poised to let the dart fly at any moment.

Takaki’s hands rested on his shoulders to nudge him gently towards the board. “Square your shoulders up and then aim,” he said. Normally, Chinen would never let someone stand so close to him—or touch him actually—but he decided that Takaki could be an exception to that rule.

After many more darts and drinks later, Chinen realized that the two of them were more interested in each other than the dart game. It was probably Chinen’s turn—he wasn’t too sure anymore—but instead of playing the game, Chinen was leaning against the table, listening to Takaki’s story about an intense game of darts he played with a business client once. He laughed as he finished off the rest of his drink while Takaki completed his story. There was a silence after that and Chinen realized that he might have been staring and he might have been standing way too close to his companion.

Takaki cleared his throat. “My place isn’t too far from here,” he suggested with a subtle raise of his eyebrows. “We could walk?”

“Is this my prize for winning?” Chinen asked as he leaned closer. He wondered if maybe he should back off a bit, keep some boundaries intact, but Takaki didn’t seem to mind. Takaki had been resting his hand on his shoulder every now and then all night while he was talking, like he almost didn’t realize he was doing it.

“You think you won?” Takaki grinned and poked the side of Chinen’s face. He grabbed the suit jacket he’d removed earlier and slung it over his arm before quickly paying off their tab. “You missed the board at least five times. My score was waaaay ahead of yours before we quit.”

Chinen shook his head as they stepped outside. He’d done all that on purpose, of course. “Maybe I let you win because I like you.”

Maybe Chinen was just not thinking straight, maybe he was too far away from home and too happy to see a familiar face. He realized right away that that was more than what he’d intended to say, but he couldn’t take it back. Takaki was looking at him with a goofy smile on his face.

“Maybe I was letting you think you were letting me win because I like you too,” Takaki said and stopped walking. He had just pulled Chinen off the crowded sidewalk for a shortcut through a small alleyway. There was only had a moment to realize what Takaki meant before he leaned forward and pressed a light kiss to Chinen’s lips, like he was asking permission to continue. Chinen gave his answer by kissing him back. His fingers clutched the sleeves of Takaki’s white button-up shirt, not caring that he was wrinkling the fabric because he just wanted to be closer.

Takaki didn’t stop, gently pushing him up against the brick wall of the building, not seeming to mind that they were still standing out in public. Lost in his feelings, Chinen didn’t want to stop. But when Takaki finally pulled away, he laughed playfully.

“So are we still going to my place?” he asked. “Or did you want to keep making out in the alleyway?”

Chinen reached down and picked up the suit jacket Takaki had accidentally dropped, trying to act casual, like he wasn’t all shaken up from this pleasant turn of events. “The first option sounds more comfortable. Less bricks anyway, I hope.” Chinen answered with his normal confident tone thanks to the alcohol, hiding away a slight touch of nervousness.

Takaki took his hand to lead the way. Chinen followed, heart pounding like he’d just stepped off a rollercoaster. This was much more exciting than his normal nightly activity of tracking down the yakuza. There was a brief moment when he wondered if he should actually be taking a break from his work, if he should be getting this close to Takaki. But he couldn’t get the feeling of Takaki’s kiss out of his head. This was what he wanted, and once he reached Takaki’s apartment, that was exactly what he got.

---

The sheets were still warm when Chinen woke up but he was a bit disappointed to find he was the only one in bed. He thought he could hear Takaki’s voice in the other room, but he was still too sleepy to bother getting up to check at the moment. He rolled over to his side and saw his gun resting safely on the nightstand and his clothes resting in a haphazard heap on the floor. If he closed his eyes he could still remember the feeling of hands and lips against his skin. The memory made him yearn for more.

After another few minutes of blinking away the sleepiness, he sat up and searched for his pants, and finally noticed the clock nearby. It was already mid-morning. Usually Chinen would have been up and about already, in the middle of searching for his prey. But he supposed another day of rest would be okay. He didn’t have much in the way of leads so far.

“Yuyan?” He peeked his head into the next room of the surprisingly spacious apartment and saw Takaki sitting at a desk with a phone to his ear. He had papers scattered all over the desk that he was sorting through while speaking with the person on the other end. Once he noticed Chinen was up, he smiled and indicated silently that he was almost finished with his call.

Chinen made himself comfortable in a chair while he waited. He observed Takaki working—his normal real estate job, that is. He hunched over the papers and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose after they had slipped down a bit. His hair was still a mess from earlier when, tangled together, Chinen had run his fingers through it, hand clutching the back of Takaki’s head and holding on. Takaki tapped a pen on the desk and leaned back for a moment as he considered whatever the person on the other end of the line had said. Then he answered with an absentminded nod, wrote some things down, and ended the call. Once that was done, he stretched and turned around to smile at Chinen.

“Good morning,” he said while trying to get his paperwork back into order. “I was planning on making pancakes for us but I had to take that work call.”

“It’s okay,” Chinen said, crossing the room and giving Takaki a quick kiss. That was what he was supposed to do, right? He had observed Yamada and Yuto’s sickeningly cute interactions long enough to pick up a few things. Although he hadn’t expected Takaki to happily give him a kiss in return.

“I can go make breakfast now,” Takaki said, as he stood up, unaware that Chinen had no idea how to react anymore.

Chinen nodded and disappeared to take a shower. He wasn’t sure what exactly he was going to say to Takaki. They had both been a little inebriated when they had fallen into bed together last night, but they weren’t drunk enough to not know what they were doing. And Chinen wasn’t sure how Takaki really felt or what he wanted. Hell, Chinen wasn’t even sure what he wanted. He stood a few minutes under the streams of hot water and waited for his usual confidence to show up. He was Chinen Yuri. He could disassemble and reassemble his handgun in under two minutes. He could scale up the side of a building if he had a running start. He was one of the best trackers out of all the mercenaries he knew. Talking to Takaki should be no problem at all.

When he stepped into the kitchen, the whole room smelled like pancakes and maple syrup, and all the words died in Chinen’s throat. Chinen slid into a seat at the table and Takaki slid a plate of food in front of him before he sat down himself. He drowned the pancake in sticky sweet maple syrup. Chinen took a few small bites, enjoying how delicious it was. But he also felt like along with the pancake, he was chewing on all the words he was supposed to be saying, letting them rise to the edge of his mouth before forcing them back down his throat where no one could hear them.

“I made tea too if you want some,” Takaki said with a gesture towards a small pot of green tea. Chinen poured himself a cup but then grimaced at the terrible taste. Very watery and sort of like there must be large bits of tea leaves floating around in the liquid.

“You’re a decent cook but a terrible tea-maker,” Chinen laughed, as he finally regained the ability to speak. A little of his tension dissipated.

Takaki laughed too and then downed his cup of tea like a shot of cheap alcohol. “Can’t deny that.”

“So…” Chinen began between bites of chewy pancake. He figured just cutting straight to the point might be the best option. Just make it like a sharp knife cutting directly into the skin. “Last night was fun.”

A small smile spread over Takaki’s face but he hid it by shoving a piece of pancake into his mouth before he nodded. “I wouldn’t mind doing that again sometime.”

There was a weird feeling spreading over Chinen. He thought it might have been happiness, but he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that his heart was pounding with excitement, with the possibilities. For a brief moment, he could imagine waking up next to Takaki in the mornings, not worrying about what sort of dirty work he’d have to take care of, could imagine the two of them quietly holding hands at the movies or the park or the zoo or wherever else people normally went for fun dates, could imagine evenings of simple mundane chores like the dishes, made more exciting simply by sharing the task together. It was just a fantasy, but he liked the idea.

“I’ll be around a while for work,” Chinen said with a hint of casualness in his voice to cover up how excited he actually was. “So I’m sure I’ll see you again when you’re in town.”

“Yeah, I’ll still have to do some travelling, but I can rearrange my schedule a bit.” Takaki looked just as excited as Chinen felt. “Forget the hotel. You can stay here as long as you’re in New York. I’ll show you where the spare keys are.” He then took another drink of his tea, and Chinen laughed when he scrunched his face up in distaste.

“Just don’t drink the tea, silly.”

“But I’m thirsty,” Takaki whined and then ate more of his pancakes to remove the bitter aftertaste.

Chinen laughed again and returned to his own food. He thought maybe he could try to get used to this new feeling, whatever the hell it was.

---

For the next couple days, things weren’t all that different than before. Chinen had caught a good lead on a runaway and had thrown himself into tracking him down. Takaki had been tied up with making lots of business calls, but there was one day when he’d surprised Chinen with lunch. Chinen had stuttered a surprised thanks as Takaki had put the brown paper bag in his hand, kissed him on the cheek, and then left to get back to his own work. It was just a sandwich, but Chinen devoured every delicious bite of it while sitting on a park bench. He wasn’t usually on the receiving end of such nice gestures, and he almost felt a bit like a character in those shoujo manga Yamada liked to pretend he didn’t read.

It was late on a Friday night when Chinen finally caught the guy he was looking for. The man didn’t put up much of a fight. He just looked resigned as Chinen confronted him. He slumped his shoulders down and gave up once Yokoyama and his men had arrived at the scene. It wasn’t often that the runaways stopped running and accepted their fate, but Chinen was grateful for the easy job this time.

At a quarter to midnight, Chinen slipped back into Takaki’s apartment, thinking that his roommate was already asleep. But instead, he could hear Takaki making a phone call, sounding frustrated with whoever he was speaking to on the other end.

“There’s a problem and it needs to be fixed. It’s as simple as that.” Takaki’s words were sharp and quick, leaving no room for argument from the other person. His voice made him sound much more daunting and dangerous than the sweet and kind person who brought Chinen lunch and showered him with kisses. From the doorway, Chinen watched him pace the floor of the living room. “I don’t care,” he continued with a sharp command. “Just fix it by the time I get there.” He ended that call and dropped his phone on the coffee table with a loud thunk. His angry demeanor melted away into exhaustion as he sank down to the couch.

Chinen quietly removed his shoes and decided not to bother Takaki, but he was spotted immediately.

“You’re home,” Takaki smiled, instantly brightening up. He gestured to show there was room for Chinen on the couch if he wanted to sit too. “Had a successful hunt?”

Chinen let out a short laugh even though it wasn’t that funny. He supposed his work was a bit like predator stalking prey. “Yeah, another one out of the way.” He curled into the couch cushion, getting comfortable on top of the lumpy fabric. “Are you okay?”

Takaki sighed and looked up at the ceiling. He leaned his head against the back of the couch, hair spread out messily just like Chinen remembered it looked when they were in bed together. Chinen wanted to reach out and touch the light brown strands of hair, but he wasn’t sure where the boundaries of this sorta-relationship were.

“I’m just frustrated about some work problems,” Takaki explained. “I’m taking an early flight out in the morning to try to fix it, so I’ll be gone a few days.” He ran his hands over his face and sighed in resignation. Chinen thought it must be tough for him to juggle what were essentially two full-time jobs without ever really taking much of a break. “So anyway,” he continued, “I think I’m just going to stay awake the rest of the night and sleep on the plane. I promise I’ll be quiet so you can sleep.”

It was a nice offer, but Chinen wasn’t tired and he wanted more time with Takaki while he had the chance. “I can keep you company. Actually, I didn’t get dinner earlier and I’m kinda hungry.”

Takaki immediately sat up, reaching for his phone while absentmindedly running his fingers through his hair to straighten the strands out again. “You want take-out?” he asked with an excited grin. All the work frustration from earlier had dissipated and Chinen was glad that he could help a little at least, although he wasn’t sure how just his mere presence had cheered Takaki up.

Once the food—two cartons of dumplings from a nearby Chinese restaurant—was in their hands a short fifteen minutes later, the two of them sat back on the couch again both propping their bare feet up on the coffee table. Takaki snuggled close to him, so close that the cottony fabric of his t-shirt brushed against Chinen’s elbow. It tickled a little, so in revenge, Chinen twisted one of his feet so that his toes could brush against one of Takaki’s ankles. The unexpected sensation made Takaki flinch and he almost dropped his food container in his lap.

“Your toes are freezing!” Takaki exclaimed. He tried to push Chinen’s feet away with his own, but Chinen laughed and fought back. For a moment the food was forgotten as they giggled like children and kicked each other’s feet. The game abruptly ended when Takaki’s feet slipped off the coffee table and hit the floor.

“I win,” Chinen declared smugly.

“Maybe I was just letting you win because I like you,” Takaki smirked back, echoing Chinen’s words from the night they played darts in the bar.

Chinen leaned closer. “You should be disqualified for stealing my line,” he teased, dropping his voice to almost a whisper. Their faces were so close together. Chinen paused and wondered if he should maybe kiss Takaki, but before he could decide, Takaki had already bridged the gap. They stayed like that, making out on the couch for a few minutes until Chinen’s stomach growled and ruined the moment.

Takaki laughed and gave him the rest of his food. “Here, eat this too. Sounds like you need it.”

By 2am, they got caught up in watching a horror movie on TV, laughing and shouting at the main character to not be dumb, pretending to be frightened, and grabbing each other’s hands when something actually scary popped up.

By 3am, they were kissing again, but this time with the desperation of knowing they’d be separated for a few days. Takaki’s fingers left hot trails across Chinen’s skin wherever he touched. His neck, his arms, his stomach. Chinen was quick to remove any clothing in the way. The two of them, tangled up together and almost perfect.

By 4am, Takaki was stepping out of the bathroom after a quick shower while Chinen fought off the sleep that was starting to creep up on him. Takaki picked up his suitcase and wrapped Chinen up in a hug.

“I’ll be back soon,” he whispered in Chinen’s ear. And then he was gone.

---

The apartment was completely silent so Chinen almost jumped out of his skin when his phone suddenly rang. Nakayama Yuma flashed across the screen and he answered it, hoping his friend would have good news about the runaway he was tracking.

“Got anything?” Chinen was lying in bed and not going to make the effort to move yet.

The lead was a dead end,” Yuma answered. “You’re welcome to double-check yourself, but I gotta warn you, that lady was mean. She threw a flowerpot at me.

Chinen laughed. “I’ll take your word for it. Thanks for checking anyway. I’ve got some other leads I’ll check out tomorrow.” He rolled over and curled up deeper under the covers.

So have you heard from your boyfriend lately? When is he coming back?” Yuma asked. There was a shuffling noise, like he might be looking through some papers or flipping through a book.

Chinen immediately bristled. “Yuya’s not my boyfriend.”

Yuma chuckled through the phone receiver which annoyed Chinen further. “But you’re sleeping with him, aren’t you?

“So?” Chinen shot back. “We’re just fooling around, having fun.”

Uh-huh,” Yuma said. Chinen could imagine Yuma’s raised eyebrows and his judging expression if he had been here in person. “Well, he’s never let me crash in his safehouse for an extended stay.

“That’s because you’re a klepto,” Chinen answered. He climbed out of bed, suddenly feeling self-conscious even though Yuma couldn’t see him. He walked over to the window and looked out at the city skyline instead.

I am not!

“The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem,” Chinen teased. “I bet that’s why that lady threw a flowerpot at you. She caught you stealing, didn’t she?”

Yuma sounded a bit flustered. “She didn’t need that spoon okay? It was just a normal kitchen spoon.

Chinen rolled his eyes and then focused on looking at the blue sky. Not an airplane in sight. “You just keep telling yourself that, my friend. Anyway, thanks for the help but I’ve got to go.” He ended the call before Yuma could point out that Chinen was avoiding the Takaki subject.

Takaki’s plane wasn’t supposed to arrive until the evening anyway, so he pulled himself away from the window. Yuma thought he and Takaki were dating, huh? Were they dating? Was their thing some sort of actual relationship?

Chinen needed a distraction. As much as he hated cleaning, maybe a thorough scrubbing of the apartment would take his mind off things and feelings. He dug around the apartment and found the cleaning supplies hidden away under the kitchen sink. Grabbing a rag and a bottle of cleaner, he started with the living room.

Despite the relatively large size of the high-rise apartment, there wasn’t much to clean however, since the whole apartment was sparsely decorated. Takaki didn’t live there permanently, so he guessed it made sense for someone who was normally quite flashy. But the more Chinen looked at the bare walls, the more he felt sort of sad about it. He dusted off the top of the TV and wondered what sort of picture might look best above it on the wall. He wiped off the top of the empty coffee table and wondered what it might look like with a pair of coffee mugs resting on it beside a few books and a newspaper.

Chinen didn’t understand why he felt this way. His own apartment back in Tokyo was tiny and basically devoid of anything but his guns, his clothes, and a few DVDs he liked to indulge in rarely. What was the point of needing a house to be filled with useless things? Especially because he didn’t do much other than sleep there.

But it hit him as he dusted off the bare bookshelf in the corner, thinking that there should at least be something resting on the shelves. He realized that he was comparing this apartment to Yamada’s quiet little cabin in the woods. Yamada took great pride in keeping the place looking nice when he moved in. And every time Chinen stopped by to visit, he always had something new inside. Once Yamada and Yuto got together, the cabin filled up with even more things. When he wasn’t putting together explosives, Yuto liked to carve things in wood. He’d make simple things, little knick-knacks, and Yamada would put them on tables and shelves around the house.

Once the living room was spotless, Chinen moved on to scrubbing the kitchen. He spent a long time scraping burnt food out of the eyes on the stove while he thought more about Yamada and Yuto. Chinen had watched them grow close over the past several months. Yamada always seemed to be more at ease when Yuto was around. Chinen didn’t understand it, but the two of them fit together in ways that made sense.

Was his relationship with Takaki the same? Chinen couldn’t come up with an answer. At least, not without talking to Takaki himself first.

Chinen was on his knees, leaning over into the bathtub to scrub it when Takaki finally returned from his business trip.

“The whole place smells like bleach. Did you kill someone while I was away?” Takaki said as he stepped into the bathroom. He sounded like he was joking, but there was a tiny pause to his question as if he wasn’t 100% sure Chinen hadn’t actually murdered someone in his apartment.

Chinen pulled himself up from the bathtub and leaned back to stretch his aching back. “I got bored and felt like cleaning,” he shrugged. “This is the last of it.” He turned the faucet on and splashed the water around to get rid of any cleaning supply residue.

Takaki looked like he didn’t know how to react to his suddenly clean apartment. “Thank you,” he finally said while he started to rummage around in one of his pockets. “I brought you back a souvenir from sunny Costa Rica. It’s super lame, I know. I didn’t really have time to look for something decent with all the stuff I had to take care of. But I thought you might like it.” He paused and looked nervous. “Or hate it. I don’t know. It’s not really useful or anything. I just thought it was cute.” He suddenly seemed to realize he was babbling and abruptly stopped talking. In his hand a just a simple keychain, a shiny gold chain with a picture of a tropical beach encased in plastic.

“I like it,” Chinen smiled. He cradled it in his hands that were stinging a bit because he hadn’t worn gloves when handling the beach. He hadn’t expected anything at all when Takaki returned. Chinen didn’t really have a use for a keychain, but the beach scene reminded him of Takaki. Even if he didn’t need it, he was going to keep it close. He wrapped his arms around Takaki for a hug. He had missed Takaki so much in just the past few days.

“I’ve been thinking today,” Chinen began hesitantly. “What we’ve got going on here—you, me—is it serious? Because I like you a lot but I have no idea what I’m doing.” The honesty felt refreshing. Relationships were unfamiliar territory for him. The only people that had been important to him for years had been Yamada, his best friend, and Hikaru, his teacher. But he cared for Takaki too and thought he could try to make space for him in his life.

“I like you too,” Takaki answered. “Since that time in France, but I wasn’t sure you were interested. And I never really had the chance to tell you until I saw you here in New York. This thing we’ve got going on here,” he continued. “I’m not just messing around. You’re important to me.”

Chinen hoped he didn’t look like an idiot for smiling so much. “So I guess I can call you my boyfriend, right?”

Takaki laughed. “Well, I don’t bring home keychains for just anyone, you know.”

Their laugher echoed off the bathroom walls until they abruptly ended the noise by kissing. In a whirlwind of motion, Chinen found himself sitting on the edge of the sink in a tangle of hands and hair and shirts. He didn’t even mind that he’d probably have to clean the whole damn bathroom again later.

---

“You sound tired,” Chinen said into his phone before shifting to a more comfortable position on the park bench.

Well it’s 3am here so…” Yamada’s voice trailed off on the other end of the line. “You sound like you’re in an exceptionally good mood.

“Maybe I’m just having a good day,” Chinen said. He scanned the park area nearby to see if there was any sign of Takaki returning with the food yet.

Yamada’s voice was silent on the other end for a moment. Chinen waited and listened to the sound of his shallow breathing, like he was hoping if he didn’t make a sound Chinen would forget he was there and hang up. “I should probably get back to sleep. Got to get an early start tomorrow.

Chinen frowned. Yamada didn’t usually mind when he called to say hello even if it was in the middle of the night. But there was no need to push if Yamada wasn’t going to talk. Not when he was currently on the other side of the world. “Okay then. Tell Yuto I said hi.”

…Sure.” And then the line went dead.

That was very strange, but Chinen noticed Yamada sounded more and more distant lately whenever he talked to him. He supposed that he and Yuto must have been going on more difficult missions recently. Maybe they weren’t getting enough sleep or something. Chinen could understand. These days, he had been splitting his time between tracking the runaways and going on dates with Takaki when he was in the city. This meant that it took more time to find the people he was searching for, but he was having too much fun with Takaki to stop.

“Here you go,” Takaki said as he returned to the bench with two plates of pizza slices. He grinned as he waited for Chinen’s reaction.

“Yuyan…” Chinen said as he looked down at the greasy slice of pepperoni pizza resting in his lap. “This pizza slice is larger than my face.”

“Yeah, it’s authentic New York style. You gotta try it.” Takaki leaned back and continued to watch Chinen’s reactions. Chinen had quickly discovered that Takaki really enjoyed feeding him new foods to see how he would react to them. Of course once Chinen realized this, he’d have fun with it.

Chinen took a bite of the greasy pizza slice and squeezed his eyes shut in delight, making sure to make a mess with the food because Takaki always laughed at that. Sure enough, when he opened his eyes, he could see Takaki with his head thrown back in a full-body laugh.

“Your pizza is getting cold,” Chinen said, nudging Takaki with his elbow. “And if you didn’t bring any napkins with you, I’m going to wipe my hands on your pants.”

“Noooo,” Takaki scooted towards the other end of the bench. “These pants are dry-clean only. I think.”

Chinen snorted and almost choked on his food. “You’re wearing,” he paused so that he wasn’t talking with his mouth full. “You’re wearing worn out jeans with holes in them. I think they’ll be okay.”

Takaki shrugged and handed him some napkins, a cute smile playing around his lips. It was a smile that made Chinen want to lean over and press a shy kiss on those lips. “Well, I don’t have to wear suits on my day off,” Takaki said to explain his casual appearance. As if Chinen needed an explanation.

“Speaking of having a day off,” Chinen said. He didn’t realize he was so hungry until he’d accidentally eaten half his pizza already. “Are we going to do anything fun today?”

“Let’s go sightseeing,” Takaki suggested. “You never get to see the good parts of the city when you spend all the time lurking around in the slums.”

That last comment made Chinen frown but he hid it with another bite of pizza. He probably should be working. He had a good lead on one of the runaways, and he’d probably find the guy easily if he pursued it. But Takaki was leaving town again for work tomorrow and neither one of them were sure how long it’d be before he would be able to return.

“Sorry that my targets don’t all hang out at the Statue of Liberty,” Chinen muttered quietly, but not quiet enough for Takaki to miss.

“Which is a shame,” Takaki said with an air of nonchalance as he took Chinen’s now empty paper plate from him, crumpling it up as he rose from the bench. “Because the view there is really something worth seeing.”

Chinen stood up and followed Takaki as he tossed away their trash. “Oh,” he said as he realized the implication of that statement. “Is that where we’re going today?”

Takaki answered his question with a question of his own. “Did you know the Statue of Liberty was a present to the United States from France?”

Chinen smiled, thinking back—just as Takaki probably was—to that brief time they were in France together. That time when they realized they liked each other but never admitted it.

“You’re a sentimental bastard, aren’t you?” Chinen said as he linked his arm with Takaki’s as they walked together. Work be damned. He could pick it back up tomorrow.

---

The runaway that Chinen had cornered in this old dive bar was ruthless. Chinen had read his file, knew every detail of his life and his crimes. Chinen knew the names of the people he’d killed and what weapons he used to do it. Chinen knew that the man deserved whatever punishment Yokoyama had in store for him.

But in that moment, the runaway didn’t look like a ruthless killer. He just looked scared as he cowered behind the table in the corner of the now-deserted bar Chinen had tracked him down to. Chinen observed the man’s movements to make sure it wasn’t an act to make him drop his guard. But everything—the erratic breathing, the shaking hands, the wide eyes—was genuine.

“Please don’t take me back,” he muttered through teeth that chattered together even though the room was quite warm. “Please.” This was a man who had run out of options and knew exactly what sort of horrible punishment was coming for him.

Chinen had heard it all before. All the pleas and the cries for mercy. And if it was Chinen’s decision, he might have let the runaway go. But the fact of the matter was that Chinen didn’t have a choice. He had a job.

Please, I’m done with this life. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Chinen couldn’t stand to watch this any longer, so he pulled out his tranquilizer dart and put the man temporarily out of his misery. The runaway slumped to the floor in a heap, still wearing that distressed look on his face. Chinen made his phone call and then sat down in a nearby chair to wait for Yokoyama’s men to come collect the runaway. In the absence of pleas, the sudden silence in the room felt strange, like he could almost feel it pressing down on him from all sides. An unseen monster.

He glanced down at his hands, confused by why they were shaking ever so slightly.

---

Takaki didn’t get two steps into the apartment before Chinen pushed him up against the door and kissed him. The height difference was a bit frustrating seeing as he had to stand on his tiptoes, but it was totally worth it after not seeing Takaki for two weeks.

“Missed me?” Takaki asked when he finally had the chance to speak. He had his arms wrapped around Chinen and looked like he had no intention of removing them any time soon. “How did you know what time I was getting home?” Takaki leaned down and pressed a kiss to the warm skin under Chinen’s ear, distracting him from answering the question for a moment.

“I hacked your system to find the flight itinerary,” Chinen replied eventually. Two could play at that game, he decided and then slowly dragged his fingernail across one of Takaki’s collarbones. He grinned as Takaki lost all focus on what he was doing to Chinen’s neck.

“At least let me take my shoes off first,” Takaki said.

“I need you to get rid of more than your shoes,” Chinen laughed and disappeared further into the apartment, waiting for Takaki to catch up.

Afterwards, when they were both lying together in bed, Takaki quietly told him of his travels. Of his official work in Spain, visiting some property to potentially purchase, and his unofficial work in Portugal, visiting some high-ranking government officials to gather some necessary information. Chinen listened to the sound of his voice, a little tired-sounding from travelling. Each word sounded like it was a struggle to move through his throat and out of his mouth. He wondered how Takaki travelled around so much without collapsing completely from the jetlag.

“The key for me is routine,” Takaki answered once Chinen voiced his question out loud. “I set up everything in all my houses just the same, so no matter where I am, no matter how tired I am, I know where everything is. Less time spent on thinking that way.”

Chinen snuggled closer. “I suppose I’m messing up your routine.”

Takaki leaned over to press a light, chaste kiss on Chinen’s lips. “A change every now and then isn’t a bad thing.” Chinen smiled and ran his fingers through Takaki’s hair, knowing that he was the only person who could get away with messing up those perfectly-styled locks.

Later, when Takaki asked Chinen about his work, Chinen only answered that he was tired and wanted to sleep. He didn’t want to talk about the three runaways he’d just turned in, didn’t want to talk about how each one of them begged him not to make that phone call, didn’t want to talk about how much he wanted to do anything but track down more people in the morning.

So instead, he just closed his eyes and listened to the sound of Takaki’s steady breathing, wondering if he could stay around long enough for this to become routine.

---

Chinen would never admit it, but lock-picking was not his greatest skill. He was excellent at a lot of necessary skills he needed for survival in this business, but Yamada would beat him every time when they had to pick locks. When Hikaru was training them, he’d always slap the back of Chinen’s head whenever he failed to get through a lock.

“This skill will save your life one day,” Hikaru always said with his perpetually grumpy voice. “Learn it.”

Those words echoed in his head as he tried desperately to pick the lock of this bathroom door where his latest target was hiding on the other side. That is, if he hadn’t already escaped out the window or something. This was not going as smoothly as the rest of his captures had been so far.

Finally, finally, he heard the lock click into place, but before he had time to pull his gun out again, there was a sudden whoosh as the door swung open and the runaway charged at him with a knife. Chinen dropped his lock-picking tools and ducked just in time. The man, however, was not deterred and charged again. The moves were poor fighting form, just desperate attempts from a desperate man, but that desperate look gleamed in the man’s bloodshot eyes.

Chinen dodged again and winced as he bumped into the table by the living room couch. This would be so much easier if he could just put a bullet in the guy, take out a kneecap or something. But this wasn’t an abandoned apartment building. There were neighbors and Chinen didn’t have a silencer on his gun at the moment. Poor planning on his part. He’d have to take his chances with the tranquilizer dart and hope he could get close enough without getting stabbed in the process.

The runaway moved like a threatened wounded animal. His movements were wild. Erratic. Unpredictable. More dangerous than any runaway Chinen had encountered in New York so far.

In a flash, there was another burst of energy from the man as he scrambled to reach Chinen again with his knife. Chinen knew he shouldn’t have let the man catch him off guard and make him lose his sense of control. He needed to get the upper hand in the fight and quickly.

Chinen grabbed the lamp from the table, yanking the power cord right out of the wall socket before hurling it as hard as he could at the man. With the dart in hand, Chinen rushed forward to overwhelm his target. For a moment, Chinen thought the distraction had worked. He successfully managed to jab the needle into his opponent while he was batting away the lamp flying at his face.

But the success was short-lived once Chinen realized that he’d gotten too close. All of a sudden, he could feel the knife cutting into the muscles and tendons in the soft spot where his neck and shoulder met. He winced as the pain hit him. The man collapsed from the drug, dragging the knife down to scrape Chinen’s collarbone as he fell to the floor.

It was messier than Chinen had wanted, but he had finished the job. He ignored the blood starting to drip down his shirt as he pulled out his phone. But before he could dial the number, a sudden wave of dizziness hit him. He staggered a few steps and tried to shake off the feeling. But the dizziness only got worse, and then a wave of nausea dropped him to his knees. He took some deep breaths to steady himself but the feeling wasn’t going away. Even though his blood was dripping down his chest and arm now, he was sure he wasn’t bleeding out. This feeling wasn’t from the blood loss. But even still, Chinen couldn’t stop himself from collapsing to the floor on his side as all the strength left his body. With great effort, he tried to focus on the fallen blade nearby to examine it more closely.

“Shit,” he managed to mutter to himself when he realized the knife was coated with more than just his blood. The shine of the metal wasn’t just from the light reflecting off it, but from a clear substance coated onto the blade. He hadn’t noticed it when the man was waving it around so much earlier since he’d been too focused on figuring out how to get close.

Never miss the details, no matter how tiny,” Hikaru had always said. If he were here right now, he’d probably smack the back of Chinen’s head with disappointment.

“Poison? Do you think this is a freakin movie, you bastard?” Chinen managed to spit out at the unconscious man lying on the floor opposite him. But it was getting harder and harder to focus now as the room continued to spin. There was probably some training that Hikaru had drilled into his head years ago about what to do in this situation, but he couldn’t remember it right now.

All he knew what that he still had the cell phone in his hand. His arms and fingers were starting to feel numb, but he managed to press the correct buttons.

“Yuyan…” His voice was barely a whisper as the line connected. The edges of his vision were going dark and he didn’t think he could stay awake much longer.

“Help me…”

---

When he regained consciousness, Chinen’s first instinct was to point his gun directly in the face of the person hovering over him. But as his vision began to clear up, he soon realized there were a few problems with that plan. Namely that he didn’t have his gun with him, his arms were too weak to move, and the person standing in front of him was Takaki, watching with eyes full of concern. Chinen blinked a few times to clear up his vision but the room was spinning and everything was a bit fuzzy. He was lying in a bed—Takaki’s bed—he belatedly figured out while his brain was still sluggishly trying to piece things together.

“How are you feeling?” Takaki asked. Chinen blinked again and focused on Takaki’s worried eyes.

Chinen winced. Every muscle and joint in his body felt like it was burning, and all his limbs felt like they had been replaced with heavy weights. “Like one of those cartoons… where someone dropped a piano… on me,” he managed to say. He didn’t like how weak his voice sounded. “My target?” He felt like he spent too much energy on that first answer and he didn’t have enough left for full sentences anymore.

“I called Yuma to take care of it,” Takaki answered. He sat down on the edge of the bed and put his hand on Chinen’s forehead to check for fever. His fingers were cold but Chinen couldn’t even focus on that. The room was literally starting to look like it was spinning and Chinen thought throwing up might be a distinct possibility.

Takaki frowned. He hadn’t looked away from Chinen with those worried eyes. “That guy poisoned you with something,” he began to explain, telling Chinen what had happened after he passed out. “You had lost a lot of blood and were unconscious when I found you. I don’t know anything about stitching people up, so I called in a favor with a doctor I know. He said that poison should have killed you, but it didn’t.”

Chinen almost wanted to laugh but he didn’t have the energy, and the movement might make him feel worse than he already was. “Hikaru… paranoid,” was all he managed to say before he squeezed his eyes shut from another bout of dizziness. From the moment Hikaru had first started training him and Yamada, he’d been pricking them with tiny doses of poisons to build up immunity. He and Yamada always said it was dumb, always said no one relied on such tactics anymore in a world of guns. But it was what had saved his life this time. Maybe he’d have to drop Hikaru a thank you note in the mail once he stopped feeling like shit.

Takaki looked like he could wait for Chinen’s full explanation later. His hands had drifted from Chinen’s forehead down to his shoulder, checking the bandages and stitches holding him together. All Chinen could do was lie there patiently and wait.

“It’ll take some time for you to recover,” Takaki said quietly. “I’m going to take care of you, so you don’t have to worry about anything. Just tell me what you need me to do.”

Chinen could feel sleep creeping up on him, so he could only nod in response. He didn’t even have the strength to move much anymore and it sucked. Leaning on other people for support wasn’t something he was used to. As his eyelids grew heavier and heavier, he could only focus on one thing: Takaki’s still-worried eyes. He was saying something to Chinen, but he couldn’t hear the words anymore as he drifted off to restless guilt-ridden sleep.

---

The next few days or weeks—Chinen wasn’t quite sure—went by like a hazy blur, like he was swimming in fog and only occasionally coming up for air. Most of the time, he just laid there in a daze wondering when the pain was going to go away. Or if it ever was going to go away. He hadn’t felt this bad since the time he’d scaled up the side of a building in the rain and slipped off, breaking five ribs in the process. But he had just been a twelve year old kid then. Lots of people do stupid things when they’re twelve to prove a point, yeah?

Pain and Takaki were his constant companions. When Takaki wasn’t sitting at his bedside, then he was just in the next room over making phone calls for work. Chinen again felt guilty that Takaki was giving up his time to take care of him. But he supposed that’s what people in real relationships did. That’s what Yamada and Yuto would do in the same situation, wouldn’t they? Every time Chinen dwelt too much on this line of thinking, he’d start to feel worse.

The days and nights ran together like a bunch of watercolor paints sliding down a canvas. The only punctuation in routine being the day the doctor stopped by to remove the stitches running down the side of his neck to his chest. It would leave a scar behind to remind Chinen about this disaster every time he looked into a mirror.

On the days when his fever would spike, Takaki never left his side. Chinen realized that Takaki was a pretty terrible nurse, but he always tried his best to get the fever down. Chinen could feel the slight tremor in Takaki’s hand whenever he laid a damp cloth across his forehead, still worried. But when the fever would finally break, Takaki would breathe a long sigh of relief and then climb into bed beside Chinen, perhaps exhausted himself from the constant concern.

At the moment, Chinen was feeling the best he had in days. The damn poison was finally almost out of his system, so his head was feeling clearer and the muscle aches weren’t as sharp as before. Takaki was curled up beside him already asleep, so close that his breath was tickling Chinen’s shoulder.

Being this close to Takaki reminded him of France. It had been almost two years since Chinen had received the assignment that sent him there. He had fond memories of that mission, memories he had later pushed away and ignored because he thought that was the right thing to do. Maybe things would have been different if Chinen had been able to admit his feelings in France instead of waiting until he bumped into Takaki in New York City later. But he couldn’t dwell on the what ifs. Life was the here and now, and right now he was with Takaki.

And yet, maybe it was the poison messing with his head, but his thoughts circled back around to France again. And the memories filled up his mind as he drifted off to sleep…

***

Chinen rarely left Japan for work. There had been a few times where he and Yamada had gone with Keito to England, but otherwise, he usually just travelled around his native country. So when this solo job in France came up, he was reluctant. But with some convincing from Yamada, Chinen accepted it. The payout was going to be quite good and the whole thing was pretty simple. Steal some expensive jewelry and then be on his merry way. Piece of cake.

But, of course, things are never simple. The fancy chateau was located in the countryside right along the edge of the Alps. It was a rather scenic place for a house, but it was also in the middle of freaking nowhere. He staked out the area but without more information, he wasn’t sure how he was going to get to his target.

So he turned to the guy who usually had all the answers: Takaki Yuya, the information-gatherer himself.

“Are you anywhere near Europe at the moment?” Chinen asked. The reception on the payphone was bad, but Takaki’s voice cut through the static.

I’m in Italy actually.

“At the beach?”

Takaki chuckled quietly. “Of course I am. But if you need something, I can be persuaded to leave.” His voice sounded so carefree, Chinen couldn’t help but smile. After Chinen explained his situation, Takaki promised to be there soon with the information he needed.

Chinen was staying in a tiny inn on the edge of the nearest small town. Takaki showed up at the door to his room wearing a fancy business suit and carrying a bundle of rolled up papers. For half a second, all the words completely deserted Chinen’s brain, leaving him staring like a smitten schoolgirl. But Chinen thought he covered up his gaping well as he invited Takaki inside. This was work anyway, and he didn’t have time to think about how the seams of Takaki’s suit jacket fit his arms just right. Damn that nice suit.

“I thought blueprints of the chateau might be helpful,” Takaki explained as he unrolled the papers. He also had extra information on the security system and the area surrounding the house.

“You’re my hero,” Chinen joked as he sat down to memorize the layout. “Did you happen to see what kind of locks were on the doors too?”

Takaki paused in the middle of removing his jacket and making himself comfortable. “The locks? No… I didn’t know that’d be important.” He stood up like he was going to go back and find out.

“Don’t worry about it,” Chinen said, waving his hand. “I’ll just wing it.” He made a mental note to add some extra time to his plan because he knew lock-picking was going to be a problem. Why Hikaru thought it was a good idea to send him on a heist, he’d never know. When Chinen looked up from the blueprints again, he noticed Takaki had been watching him. Instead of speaking, Chinen just raised one questioning eyebrow, but Takaki only shook his head with a smile to indicate that it was nothing.

“I’ve never seen you work before,” Takaki finally said several minutes later while Chinen was writing notes on his hands for things he didn’t want to forget. “I’m just curious. I always wonder how you all do stuff like this all the time.”

Chinen almost had the whole job planned out in his head, but just then, the final piece clicked into place and he smirked. “Maybe you can get a free demonstration,” he said. “It’ll be easier if you help me out. I mean, one more thing than what you’ve already done.”

Takaki leaned forward, suddenly interested and with a hint of excitement bubbling underneath the surface. “What’s that?”

“I need you to drive the getaway car,” Chinen explained.

“Seriously?”

“Well I don’t have a license or know how to drive, and my escape will be easier with a car,” he continued. “So, you in?”

A goofy-looking grin spread over Takaki’s face as he considered the offer. “So we can be just like spies making a dramatic getaway with the goods.” He straightened the cuffs of his jacket like he needed to look his best for a mission where no one would see him.

Chinen laughed. “I’m not a spy and we’re not stealing state secrets, you dork. If anything, you’re the closest thing we have to a spy.”

“I feel like I need a pair of fancy black sunglasses or something,” Takaki answered, still looking rather excited about being included in the mission.

“It’s the middle of the night,” Chinen said, trying very hard not to laugh anymore. “You don’t need sunglasses.” He coughed and tried to put his serious face back on. “Okay, we really ought to head out now. The sooner we get started, the better.”

The sudden reality of the situation seemed to hit Takaki, and he didn’t immediately move while Chinen started gathering up his sparse belongings. Chinen remained quiet, leaving Takaki alone with his thoughts for a moment. Bringing Takaki along might not be the best decision because if things went bad, Chinen would have to defend them both. With a partner like Yamada or Hikaru, he wouldn’t have to worry because they had years of experience taking care of themselves. But Takaki didn’t get his hands dirty like they did.

Chinen looked over at his companion who was now staring intently out of the window. There was no other option. Chinen would just have to make sure Takaki was safe, no matter what.

“Let’s go,” he said as he tucked his gun away inside his jacket. “I have to find us a car.”

Takaki followed him down to the lobby as he left the keys to the room on the counter. Afterwards, Chinen stopped outside to observe the cars parked nearby. Takaki shivered a bit in the brisk night air, but didn’t say anything while Chinen picked out his mark. A few minutes went by and then Chinen locked eyes onto a nondescript black car which would be perfect. He carefully picked the lock on the door, taking his time so he wouldn’t set off the alarm. Once he was in, he quickly hotwired the car to make up for lost time.

“You’re telling me you can hotwire a car, but you can’t drive one?” Takaki asked with a quiet laugh.

“Everyone has their own particular skill set,” Chinen answered. “Driving isn’t in mine. And for the record, Yamada usually drives. Terribly.”

The corner of Takaki’s lip curled into a half-smile, but he didn’t say anything. He slid into the driver’s seat as soon as Chinen was done. Chinen tried to focus on the road ahead as Takaki navigated through unfamiliar territory, but he glanced over to the driver’s seat every now and then.

Once they were on the road, a look of earnest determination had settled over Takaki’s face. Chinen was a bit startled when he realized he thought Takaki’s attitude was cute. Seriously. Cute. Takaki was just so innocent in his actions. He didn’t have bloodsoaked hands like the rest of them. Working this job with Takaki was different; it was almost… fun? In the past, Chinen hadn’t really interacted with Takaki face-to-face except for maybe a few times a year. They’d meet with Takaki when they needed information about a certain yakuza group or if they needed information about a place they were travelling to. He’d always let them stay in one of his safehouses if necessary. Chinen didn’t know Takaki that well, but he could admit quietly to himself that he was excited every time he got to see the man. Chinen wouldn’t dare admit that to anyone else though. Instead, he just watched Takaki in the darkness of the car as the reflection of the dashboard lights shone on his face.

“Good luck in there,” Takaki said to him as he parked the car where Chinen indicated was the safest place. “Are you sure you don’t need my sunglasses for your spy mission?” he joked.

Even though Chinen knew he shouldn’t let his thoughts get distracted, he couldn’t help but smile at Takaki’s silly joke. “Thanks for the offer. Maybe next time.” He checked his pockets to make sure he had everything he needed. “Wait here, and I’ll be back soon.”

As he moved silently through the darkness, he shook away all thoughts about his mission partner waiting behind. Although he had to admit, Takaki made this more entertaining than usual. He couldn’t explain the strange feeling in his gut about this.

The heist itself went as well as could be expected. The lock-picking was a pain, but he got through it. After that, it was just the simple matter of navigating through the house and retrieving the jewelry. Luckily for him, the occupants of the fancy villa slept on the other side of the house away from the safe. It wasn’t long before he was sneaking back outside with his bag full of his bounty. But just as he was leaving, the family’s pet dog started barking at him. He froze for less than a second before he sprinted away as fast as he could. He didn’t even stop to look behind for the dog as he hastily climbed back into the car.

“Drive,” he commanded. Takaki already had the car in gear and he pulled back onto the road, taking them far away from the crime scene.

“You’re white as a sheet,” Takaki said, glancing his way before putting his eyes back on the road. “Did something happen? Did you get the stuff?”

Chinen sighed as he finally relaxed a bit. “Everything was great. I got all the stuff and I think we’re going to make a clean escape too.”

“So… you were running for the exercise?” Takaki was laughing again, that stupidly great laugh that made the strange happy feeling in Chinen’s stomach even worse.

“I was running from the dog,” Chinen said, suddenly feeling embarrassed. He looked out the window instead but it was too dark to see anything other than ill-defined blobs of trees and houses.

Takaki at least had the decency to cover his mouth with one hand as he laughed. “I take back what I said. You could never make it in the spy business. You’ll just have to stick to the mercenary stuff.”

Chinen punched Takaki’s shoulder. “You should just stick to being my chauffeur.”

“Any time,” Takaki smiled. And Chinen thought it actually looked genuine. How often did he ever see genuine smiles?

They drove for a while before Chinen thought they were safely away from where the police might search for him. He stole another car and they continued on their journey. When Takaki finally started to look sleepy, he declared that they could stop for the night. The sky was starting to lighten up right before the sun was about to make its appearance for the new day.

They were still in the middle of nowhere part of the country, as rural as parts of Japan were. Chinen generally tended to avoid these kinds of places because it was harder to blend in in a small town instead of a city.

“You don’t happen to have a house around here, do you?” he asked.

Takaki shook his head, and Chinen marveled at how nice his hair still looked after such a long night. “No, but I’ll look into that for escapes in the future.”

After they ditched the second car, they ended up walking into the closest town to find a place to rest up for a bit. They found a small hotel and the only room available was barely big enough for one person, let alone two.

“I don’t mind sharing the bed,” Chinen said as soon as Takaki offered to sleep on the floor. There wasn’t much room on the floor either. For a moment, he worried that Takaki would be annoyed about the situation, but he didn’t mind at all. They squeezed into the small bed together with a few awkward laughs as they bumped elbows and shoulders and knees. At one point, Chinen was quite close to Takaki’s face but he moved away before he even realized how dangerous that was. Despite all of it, Chinen felt comfortable. When he closed his eyes, he could imagine the two of them sleeping close together every night, and he was surprised when he realized that he actually wanted that.

He never let anyone get too close, not even Yamada, but here he was in France with Takaki Yuya breathing on his shoulder while he slept.

After a nap, the two of them felt awake enough to get moving again. Takaki bought both of them a train ticket so that Chinen wouldn’t have to steal another car. They didn’t speak much on the ride, both just content to let a comfortable silence hang over them like an umbrella. Chinen had the window seat and he forced himself to look out at the French countryside so that he wouldn’t spend the whole time looking at his travelling companion.

He thought perhaps that he should say something. Perhaps he should put his feelings into words, to shape them and make them tangible and real. But he couldn’t open his mouth. He almost felt like he’d stuffed a bunch of cotton balls inside his mouth, filling up all the space and leaving room for nothing else.

Hikaru had a saying and it echoed ominously in his thoughts. Relationships ruin things, he’d often said, always muttering it to him and Yamada when he thought they were getting too close to a neighbor or acquaintance, not that they had too many of either. Chinen never asked Hikaru how he’d come to that conclusion. The seriousness in Hikaru’s voice made it seem like it wasn’t worth dredging up whatever memories were attached to that.

Chinen was worried that Hikaru might be right. So he continued his train ride with Takaki to Paris in silence. He buried that unfamiliar longing deep down inside, locking it away to forget about because he would board a plane back to Japan soon. He was working and he needed to remain professional. It could be months or more before he even saw Takaki again.

They parted ways on a street corner in Paris. Chinen thanked him for his help and Takaki just smiled happily. Chinen realized that he didn’t see genuine smiles often enough. He watched as Takaki disappeared into the crowd, with his parting words playing in his head over and over again. So innocent and carefree.

“Call me again whenever you need help. It was fun.”

***

There was a breeze blowing in through the open window and the bright sunlight woke Chinen up. As he shook off the morning grogginess, he slowly realized that the pain was finally gone. His body was still exhausted from the whole ordeal, but at least he finally had the strength to get out of bed. He crossed the room and dug his phone out from his pile of belongings on the dresser. The date on the screen made him pause. Had he really been out of it for almost two weeks? He had four missed calls from Yamada but no messages. The only message he did have was from Yuma wishing him a speedy recovery. Chinen dialed Yamada’s number but there was no answer on the other end. It was night time in Japan anyway, so that was to be expected.

Moving slowly to stretch out his stiff muscles, Chinen left the bedroom in search of Takaki. Of course, he wasn’t too far away because Chinen found him sitting on the floor of the next room with a bunch of papers scattered around him like out of season snowflakes.

“You working?” Chinen asked as he plopped down in an open space beside Takaki and then leaned his head against Takaki’s shoulder.

“I see you’re feeling better,” Takaki smiled and paused to pat the top of Chinen’s head, smoothing away his messy strands of hair. Chinen liked the feeling but he really needed to stop feeling like he was being babied.

He straightened back up. “I’m much better, thanks. What are you doing anyway?”

Takaki matched up a set of papers and stapled them together. “Just catching up on some reports. Sometimes it’s easier to see the problem and organize it if I have it spread out in front of me.” He gestured towards his puzzle of papers. Chinen nodded with understanding. That’s how he felt whenever he took his gun apart to clean it.

“Anything I can help with?” Chinen asked lightly. But that ugly feeling of guilt was quietly sneaking up on him, feeling like someone was standing behind him with their hands wrapped around his throat. Chinen wasn’t used to having to rely on others.

“I need more staples,” Takaki said with a laugh, holding up the stapler again. But when Chinen moved to get up, Takaki gently grabbed his arm. “I was only joking. You can stay right here.”

“You know what I’ve been dreaming about lately?” Chinen began. Takaki said nothing but tilted his head for him to continue. “France.”

Takaki smiled fondly. “Ah, our spy adventure.” He leaned forward for one of his papers but it was just out of reach. Chinen grabbed it for him instead.

“See, you call it an adventure, but I call it work,” Chinen said.

In response to that, Takaki just shrugged. “For me, it was both.”

Chinen hesitated a moment before asking the question he really wanted the answer to. “That time in France… what did you think about… me?” He had been curious about why Takaki even liked him at all. Why did Takaki like him when he felt like he didn’t even deserve this affection?

The sound of rustling papers stopped as Takaki thought about his answer. “Whenever you’re concentrating hard on anything, you get this really cute wrinkle between your eyebrows.” He pointed to the space between his own eyebrows as if there was any confusion about where he meant.

“What?” Chinen was torn between feeling happy and annoyed that he’d been called cute. “That’s it?”

“No,” Takaki laughed. “I mean, I liked how serious you were. Your mission was important to you no matter what it actually was. And even though you could have done it all on your own, you asked me to help you. No one ever asks me to get involved in anything other than gathering intel.”

Chinen reached out to clasp one of Takaki’s hands, interlocking their fingers together. “Your hands are too nice to get dirty with our kind of work. I wouldn’t want you to get into any danger.”

Takaki let out a short bark of a laugh and squeezed his hand tighter. “What part of me looks like ‘delicate flower’ to all of you?”

“Your hair,” Chinen said, trying not to laugh while Takaki clicked his tongue in annoyance. After a moment of silence, he decided to speak again. “In France, I was a coward. I didn’t tell you how I felt because I was afraid it wouldn’t work between us. I was always told not to get close to people. But you know…” Once the words started, Chinen couldn’t seem to stop. “I see Ryosuke and Yuto together now. They’re so sappy and sweet, it’s almost disgusting. But they’re happy in some sort of weird way.” He paused for one last breath. “I want to be happy too.”

“Maybe in France we didn’t have the right perspective yet.” Takaki gestured to his papers. “Maybe we just couldn’t see the whole picture. But I want us to be happy too. Together. Somehow.”

Takaki was giving him the most sincerely determined look he’d ever seen, and Chinen felt like he would burst if he didn’t kiss Takaki right then. So that’s exactly what he did. And it felt more electric, more real than any of the ones in the past.

---

The problem with being out of commission for two weeks, Chinen discovered, was that he had lost all his leads on his runaways and also a few informants as well. He was back to square one, searching through all the slums and back alleys of New York City for anything that could be useful. It wasn’t necessarily difficult because Chinen was still an excellent tracker, but it was more effort than he wanted to put into his work at the moment.

Things were more bearable at least because Takaki was with him. He’d volunteered to accompany Chinen on a few scouting trips, putting his own network of connections to good use. Chinen had never had the opportunity to actually see Takaki work before and it was an interesting experience. Takaki could smoothly start a conversation with any stranger. He always pulled out the right conversation topic to get things rolling until he could get to the important stuff. Once things would shift to the subject of the information he wanted, Takaki would get serious, not backing down if someone refused at first. Chinen could feel the unspoken struggle for power between Takaki and whoever he was talking to; he could feel the veiled threats and vague promises behind each word.

Chinen was so enthralled, he almost wanted to watch Takaki work all day.

But Chinen’s whole perspective changed the day that Takaki returned home to the apartment with a dislocated shoulder, blood dripping down his arm, and bruised knuckles. He winced a bit as Chinen rushed to get a better look at the injuries but tried to pretend like he was calm.

“What happened?” Chinen demanded as he carefully maneuvered Takaki’s shirt off without making the injury any worse. He frowned at the jagged cut running down Takaki’s arm as the blood oozed out. Takaki wasn’t supposed to get hurt.

“I found one of your runaways,” Takaki explained through gritted teeth. “Or well, he found me. He knew you’d been looking for him and that I’d been helping you. So he said he wanted to send you a message to leave him alone. I managed to punch him in the face and get away but not before he’d busted up my arm.” He winced again as Chinen’s probing fingers brushed against his shoulder.

Anger was coursing through every vein in Chinen’s body, and if he didn’t have to stitch up Takaki, he’d leave right now to find the guy and put a bullet in both of his shoulders.

“I’m going to have to pop your shoulder back into place,” Chinen said, examining it with his fingers once more just to make sure. He’d had to do this to Yamada a few times before, so much so that Yamada would probably eventually need surgery on his shoulder to repair the damaged nerves. But the damage to Takaki’s joint and muscle and bone didn’t seem to be that bad. Chinen put his hands in the right place and fixed the shoulder quickly and without warning so that Takaki wouldn’t tense up beforehand. He couldn’t help but wince as Takaki cried out in pain. After that was done, Chinen quickly moved on to stitching up the cut.

“The bastard shouldn’t be too hard to find now,” Takaki said with a growl. “He’s gonna have two black eyes and a broken nose.” He flexed his bruised hand as Chinen finished bandaging up his arm. “He gave his warning too late because I’ve already found all the information on him you’ll need.”

“I’ll take care of him, don’t worry,” Chinen promised. Now that Takaki was bandaged up, Chinen hurriedly wiped up the blood that had dripped on the floor of the bathroom. “Take some painkillers and get some rest,” he continued, straightening back up.

“Be careful out there,” Takaki said. He pulled Chinen close with his good arm and pressed a quick kiss to his lips.

Chinen stormed out of the apartment thirsty for revenge on the man who had hurt Takaki. But he knew anger made him sloppy, so he continued to travel across the city while channeling his fury into quiet intensity. The runaway had sent a message to Chinen alright, but it wasn’t exactly the one he’d intended.

Following the information Takaki had was easy enough, and Chinen didn’t have to search long to find his target. There he was, just walking down the street minding his own business like he hadn’t just intentionally threatened someone to the point of dislocating his shoulder.

Chinen made his move fast so the taller man didn’t have a chance to struggle. He pulled him into the deserted alleyway, pressed him up against the dumpster, and used his silencer to put a bullet into the runaway’s shoulder just like he’d wanted. The guy wanted to fight back but Chinen pinned him to the dumpster by pressing his hand against the man’s wounded shoulder, letting the blood ooze between his fingers.

“You don’t get to run away this time,” Chinen said. “No, you’re going to wait right here until Yokoyama You himself comes to get you.” Chinen had made a quick phone call right before so that the yakuza would already be on the way to collect their prize.

The man tried to struggle against Chinen’s grip, but the pain in his shoulder was just too much apparently. “The yakuza doesn’t own me,” he spat through gritted teeth. “And you’re a heartless dog for trying to bring me back.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know,” Chinen spat back. But the runaway was wrong because Chinen wasn’t heartless at all. In fact, he felt like his heart was already crumbling into pieces right there in the alleyway. He was doing all this because he had a heart, and Takaki getting injured had torn a huge hole in it. He wanted to rip this man limb from limb and make him suffer more than this. But he knew that he couldn’t.

Chinen continued to listen to all the insults the man spewed at him until Yokoyama and his men finally showed up. They grabbed the runaway who struggled a bit, and then tossed him into their car. Yokoyama, clad in dark sunglasses and a dark suit, strolled up to Chinen and casually handed him a handkerchief to wipe the blood off of his fingers.

“You did good, kid,” he said as he took his sunglasses off. “Payment’s already in the bank.”

“Thanks,” Chinen shrugged. He was anxious to get back to Takaki now, but Yokoyama continued speaking.

“You’ve done good work, but that’s all we need from you.” Yokoyama said this with a friendly tone of voice and a smile playing around his lips, but there was a darker undertone to it. One that Chinen knew not to mess with. “We happened to stumble upon a few more runaways ourselves, so this guy,” he nodded towards the car where his lackeys were waiting, “is the last of them. You can go home now.”

Chinen knew better than to stick around once he’d been dismissed. Yokoyama had already put his sunglasses back on and was walking back to his car. Chinen slipped back onto the busy street, heading towards the nearest subway station. He passed by all the people who lived normal lives, or at least, lives where they weren’t paid to hurt people without remorse or regrets. Chinen sat down on the subway and he looked down at his hands. He’d wiped away all of the runaway’s blood that had gotten on him, but there were still red traces under his fingernails.

---

Takaki was sleeping peacefully on the couch when Chinen made it back to the apartment. Chinen sighed and disappeared into the kitchen. After a thorough scrubbing of his hands, he decided that it might be a good idea to fix something to eat for the two of them. He wasn’t a good cook, but he’d welcome the opportunity to concentrate on something else for a while. He scoured through all the cabinets and the fridge, looking for something he could manage. Just as he was about to give up, he found the pancake mix stashed in the back of one of the cabinets. Although he wasn’t really in the mood for smiling, the memory of his first morning in the apartment made him feel a bit happier. The directions on the box seemed simple enough.

Soon the kitchen was filled with the sound of sizzling batter on a hot frying pan. Chinen stared down at the round circle of pancake mix and wondered when it would be ready. Impatiently, he poked the edge of it with the spatula, leaving an accidental dent in the side of his perfect circle. He glanced at the clock and wondered if maybe he should flip it over. But as soon as he slid the spatula under it, the pancake split apart, spilling uncooked batter everywhere in the pan.

“Shit,” Chinen muttered. He hardly ever cooked, but he was sure there was some sort of secret to it that no one had ever told him about. He tried to scoop all the batter back into a circle with the spatula, but it wasn’t working out. Half of the pancake was burning while the other half had only just started to cook. Once a tiny wisp of smoke started rising from the pan, Chinen wondered if maybe he should scrap the first pancake and start over.

“I thought I smelt something burning,” Takaki’s voice said, and Chinen turned to see him standing in the doorway.

“Everything is totally under control,” Chinen lied and tried to subtly fan the smoke away.

Takaki laughed as he crossed the room and picked up the frying pan with his good hand. “It’s okay if you can’t cook. Not everyone is good at it.”

Chinen huffed. “As far everyone knows, I’m great at everything. So you’re sworn to secrecy.”

Once Takaki had dumped the pancake remains in the trash, he mimed zipping his lips closed. “Secret’s safe with me. I’ll make pancakes and you can make tea instead.”

Chinen was about to tell Takaki that he should be resting more, but Takaki quickly assured him that he could cook just fine without using his injured arm. As they both went about their tasks, Chinen filled Takaki in on his successful mission but with as little details as possible, and he didn’t mention the conversation with Yokoyama either. Not yet at least. He still needed to figure things out first.

The hot pancakes Takaki placed in front of Chinen looked perfect, and Chinen just wanted to sigh again because he could never cook that good. They sat down opposite each other and ate in silence for a few moments with just the sound of clinking silverware to accompany them. Chinen snuck a few glances at Takaki who looked like he wanted to say something but didn’t know how to begin. Chinen also noticed the kitchen window which Takaki always left open for the sunshine and breeze had been closed. He wondered how badly this attack had affected him.

“I have to go to Brazil,” Takaki finally said, dropping his silverware.

Chinen paused mid-chew and felt his heart sink. “For work?” He knew Takaki couldn’t stay in New York forever. And Chinen also knew that without a job anymore, he’d have to return to Japan. He really wanted to make this relationship work, but being separated wouldn’t help and he felt guilty about Takaki’s injuries.

Takaki nodded. “I have business to take care of there that I really have to do in person.”

Chinen didn’t look up from his plate of pancakes. Instead, he dumped more syrup on them and watched them get soggy. “Well, that’s okay,” he finally spoke while poking the pancake with his fork. “Because Yokoyama told me I’m finished here.”

“You’re… going back to Japan?” There was a bit of surprise in Takaki’s voice and that made Chinen look up again. “Do you have another job?”

“No, but I—”

“Then don’t go,” Takaki said. He was looking at Chinen with those sincerely determined eyes again. “I was thinking earlier, and maybe I’m not thinking straight because I took a lot of those painkillers, but I have an idea. Well, more of an offer really.”

Chinen didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until he suddenly needed oxygen. He had given up on eating the pancakes altogether.

“Given recent events,” Takaki began, flexing his bruised knuckles for reference, “I think I’m in need of a bodyguard. If you’re interested in the position?”

Taking a deep breath, Chinen tried to hide the surprise on his face. He hadn’t expected the offer and he didn’t know what to say. The idea of travelling with Takaki all the time was tempting. But would he have to give up his mercenary work to do so? Could he even give it up? It had been the only life he’d ever known.

Takaki was watching him carefully, studying him with calculating eyes. Perhaps this is what he looked like when conducting business deals with clients. But Chinen was sure that he had learned a lot about Takaki from spending the last six months together. Takaki had been shaken up by the attack more than he wanted to show.

Chinen really wanted to say yes, but different words spilled out of his mouth instead. Words based on fear and his turbulent feelings. “I don’t know if I can protect you. Being with me might put you in more danger.”

“I don’t think that’s true.”

“There’s blood on my hands, Yuya,” Chinen said, holding his hands out for Takaki to see even though he’d already scrubbed away what was left under his fingernails. “I get paid good money to ruin people’s lives. Maybe they deserve it or maybe they don’t. But that doesn’t change what I’ve done.”

Takaki frowned. “Do you think I’m supposed to be better than you? I know exactly what happens to the information I give everyone. I know exactly what it’s used for. I may not be the one pulling the trigger but there’s still blood on my hands too.” He reached out across the table and grabbed Chinen’s hands, holding them tight. But Chinen noted that the grip from the injured hand was slightly weaker.

“You and I aren’t as different as you think,” Takaki continued. “You don’t have to draw a line between me and you because you’re scared.”

“I’m not…” Chinen snatched his hands away. “I’m not… scared.” But Takaki was exactly right. This felt like France all over again. He should say something. He should face his feelings, but he couldn’t.

Takaki opened his mouth to say something else, but somebody’s phone suddenly ringing cut him off. It was Chinen’s and he quickly dug it out of his pocket to shut it off. Ryosuke flashed across the screen but he’d have to leave a message. As soon as Chinen put it away, it started ringing again.

Annoyed, Chinen answered it with a growl. “Ryosuke, this is not a—” But he stopped talking as soon as Yamada began explaining things on the other end. About how he and Yuto had broken up, and then Yuto had been taken captive by an angry yakuza family, and then Yamada had been searching and searching but he needed Chinen’s help. “Hey, hey, Ryosuke,” Chinen said to try and calm Yamada down. He’d never heard his best friend so upset and helpless. “I’ll be there as soon as possible. Just calm down. We’ll find him, okay?”

“What’s wrong?” Takaki asked once Chinen ended the phone call. Chinen quickly explained the situation before going to start packing his things.

“I’m sorry, but can I give you my answer once we rescue Yuto?” Chinen asked. “Ryosuke is my best friend. I can’t just leave him to deal with this himself. You know how he is, stubbornly thinks he always has to do everything on his own.”

“Wonder who he learned that from,” Takaki said with a half smile as he handed Chinen a few more things to shove into his suitcase.

“I’m sorry,” Chinen said. Sorry that he’d spent too many years putting up walls around his heart and that they were harder to climb over than he thought.

Takaki shook his head because he didn’t think Chinen needed to apologize at all. “Once I settle the business in Brazil, I’ll head to Japan too and look for some leads.” As soon as Chinen zipped his suitcase shut, Takaki wrapped him into another hug. “I am serious about what I said a few days ago. I want us to be happy together, no matter what it takes. So I can wait until you figure things out.”

Chinen smiled and buried his face into Takaki’s neck, just holding on to this moment as long as he could. Takaki really was too good for him, no matter what he said.

“Don’t overuse your arm,” Chinen said quietly. “And get a doctor to take the stitches out in about a week. Take care of yourself until I see you again.”

It wasn’t long before Chinen had a seat on a flight back to Japan. He stuffed his carry-on bag into the overhead compartment and then settled down beside the tiny window, looking out at the asphalt runway. He already knew what his answer was to Takaki’s offer. He knew that all he wanted to do was travel the world at his side from now on.

But he had to take care of this first. He needed to figure out how Yamada and Yuto’s relationship had crumbled and how to fix it. One last mission and then he would be done. Then he would be able to face his feelings. Once it was all over, Chinen would be brave enough to tell Takaki that he loved him. But for now, he just had to swallow his words and leave New York behind.

“Coward,” Chinen whispered to himself as the plane taxied down the runway back to Japan.