Reisi steps inside his room and studies the interior. It looks strange with the bed stripped, the wardrobe empty, and the bookshelves bare. He feels a peculiar loneliness: his whole life, when he wanted to be alone, this is where he retreated. Even when living in the dorms, he thought of this room as his safe haven. Leaving the house feels like a betrayal in the first place, and that feeling is strongest here.
Will he feel just as safe in the new place just because it's his? Or will he lie awake wishing he were back in this room, in this house, with all its familiar smells and noises?
The bottom shelf of the dresser is open. Reisi steps over to close it and spots an upside-down picture frame -- it must have fallen off the dresser when the movers were taking the boxes away. He lifts it out.
His mother took that photo the last time they went ice-fishing, just before middle school. Suoh and Reisi, dressed in parkas, thick scarves making their necks look nonexistent, are squatting on either side of the fish bucket. The boys are grinning at the camera, and Suoh's mother, out of frame, is giving her son bunny ears with black-gloved fingers. Reisi remembers Suoh complaining about the bunny ears after the pictures were printed, but Ayane-san was adamant that she was only flashing a V sign because she thought she was in the shot.
Pictures are never just pictures; there is a story behind every one. This photograph has always told a happy story. How many times has Reisi glanced at this photo and let it fill him with false confidence?
One day, we'll go there again. One day, we'll be able to smile like this at each other. One day, we'll go back to how things used to be. Somehow.
Suoh's voice, dispassionate yet mocking, fills his mind. What do you take me for, your boyfriend?
He places the photo face down in the drawer and slides it shut.
Reisi wondered if the photo was still in that drawer in his old room, and how it would make him feel now.
"Of course it's okay," Chisato said, giving his shoulder another feather-punch. "Why would you even ask? This will be your house long after I'm gone."
"You aren't going anywhere," Reisi said automatically, watching Suoh carry the fluorescent light tubes into the back of the house. He'd been looking at his mother and hadn't noticed how Suoh had reacted to the news.
"What about your work? Didn't you move out to be closer?"
"That was before the express train line," Reisi said. "The one that only stops at the planetarium? Takes fifteen minutes -- about as long as it takes to drive from my building to work, downtown traffic being what it is."
"Oh, there's such a train now? I haven't gone into the city in a long time," Chisato said. "Never liked it there, truth be told. Too noisy. No sense of community."
Reisi, who had never quite managed to understand what 'a sense of community' even meant, nodded vaguely.
"What will you do with the apartment?"
"Keep it as a backup," Reisi, who had been anticipating the question, said. "In case there's an earthquake or something and the trains aren't running. Might rent it out if the circumstances are right."
"Ah, I was watching a programme the other day, about short term rentals to foreign tourists," Chisato said. "Can be risky, but all the people interviewed said it was worth it."
Reisi had no real intentions of renting out his apartment, of course. He would need a private place to change into uniform before going into work; he couldn't do that at headquarters without creating all manner of gossip. The uniform was one of the things he hadn't changed about SCEPTER4, and his mother would surely recognise it, since SCEPTER4 was, at least on paper, attached to the police department and even participated in the annual parade.
Besides, Shimizu was used to picking Reisi up and dropping him off at the same place every day -- it wouldn't be fair to force him into a new routine or even reassign him because of Reisi's private life.
"I might consider that," he said out loud; the only honest thing he could say under the circumstances.
"Or you could sell it," Chisato said. "Property taxes downtown are so high, seems a waste to pay them if you aren't even living there."
"It'll work out somehow," Reisi said without looking at her. He couldn't very well explain that being the Blue King brought with it certain privileges, such as unlimited free parking and not having his income and property taxed by the government. Also free admission to all city zoos, which Reisi had never quite understood.
"So when will you move back in?" Chisato asked, rising. "Will you be using your old room?"
"I'll have to notify the higher-ups," Reisi said as he followed her deeper into the house. "So probably next weekend. What other room would I use?"
"The master bedroom's been empty since your father passed," she said, looking over her shoulder. "Since you're going to get married anyway, you and Mikoto-chan might as well start using it. I'm certainly not going to."
Reisi blushed. "Please don't put the cart before the horse, Mother."
She stopped and put her hands on her hips. "Why not? You want to come back so you can be closer to him, am I wrong?"
"Not entirely," Reisi admitted. "It's not just that, though. I never wanted to move out in the first place, you know."
"Good morning, Your Excellency," Reisi said into the phone, his insides squirming.
"I saw the notice," the Gold King said. "I'm fine with it, but if your mother's health is that bad, you should hire a nurse, not try to play one yourself."
"Thank you for your concern, Your Excellency. Her health is quite fine at the moment," Reisi, who had cited 'parental health concerns' on the Notice of Residence Transfer form, said. "I am merely thinking ahead. I would prefer to monitor her condition instead of having to react to an emergency situation, should one arise."
The Gold King harrumphed. "Fine by me. Make sure you do hire a nurse if her condition worsens. The Greens look to be trying to become as troublesome as the Reds once were and I can't have you distracted."
"Yes, sir." He hung up, wondering what the Gold King would say if he knew how distracted Reisi was by one of the former Reds. He had, for a few seconds, considered ticking the "marriage" box on the NRT form, but that would have invited questions regarding his marriage partner.
Also, it would have been completely false. He wasn't moving home so he could get married. Not yet.
Reisi left all of the furniture and appliances behind, but he couldn't bring himself to leave the robot. As much as his mother had grumbled about bringing a robot into the house, upon meeting it on moving day, she decided it was cute and promptly named it Pochi.
"Pochi," the robot squawked, almost wonderingly, its head-dome rotating as it scanned its new surroundings and committed them to memory. "Pochi is grateful, Mistress."
Reisi sighed. "Mother, you really shouldn't have done that. The ones from this series get attached to people for the silliest reasons." He glanced sideways at Suoh, who quickly pocketed something that sounded suspiciously like a candy wrapper.
"Eh? It's fine even if it gets attached, right?" Chisato said, prodding the robot's base with her foot. "If it's going to live here, it might as well feel at home."
"It's a robot," Reisi said. "It's not even alive."
"It has feelings, doesn't it? This is why I don't trust technology, see. They make things that can feel emotions and turn them into household appliances -- it's not right."
"Yeah, one day the robots will revolt," Suoh put in. "Then everyone who treated them like crap will be sorry."
"You guys watch too much television," Reisi said, grabbing a box of books off the floor and heading for his room.
"That show was based on a novel!" his mother called after him.
Waking up an hour earlier than usual was the hardest part. Reisi's work at SCEPTER4 was fairly predictable; most days he was at HQ by seven-thirty in the morning and out by six in the evening, with most of the time in between eaten up by admin work and meeting after boring meeting. If something major was going on, he usually knew about it beforehand and could make arrangements to stay at the apartment until the crisis passed.
One night in late July, a powerful Strain who had escaped captivity in Shizuoka stepped off a train downtown and ran around making cars start by themselves and setting off their alarms. Reisi got the call, rolled out of bed, pulled on a pair of pants and said a quiet prayer of thanks for trains running on a twenty-four hour schedule since the Kagutsu Incident. Thirty minutes later, he was in uniform and running downstairs to a yawning Shimizu in the driver's seat and Awashima beside him, looking as put-together as always. Such cases were rare, though -- most incidents didn't require Reisi's presence at all.
Before deciding to move home, Reisi had suspected that being able to see Suoh every day would rub the novelty off fairly quickly, ending the infernal daydreaming and the absent-mindedness; he'd been right. He was soon having trouble remembering what life had been like when he'd lived at the apartment: he'd come home, fix something to eat, maybe go to a hotel with one of the men from the password-protected folder in his address book, sleep, repeat. After Suoh's death, the hotel trysts had all but stopped. Nothing like killing the love of your life to decimate your sex drive. And now that Suoh was not only alive but living in the same house, even Reisi's sex drive was making a steady comeback.
Suoh talked little, but his presence alone was enough for Reisi. After a few weeks, the fear that Suoh would disappear -- just up and leave, whether going back to HOMRA or simply deciding Reisi wasn't worth the wait -- vanished.
Before, he had spent all his time just going through his days, waiting for the next crisis; he had a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Now, he had reasons to come home.
"Mikoto-chan, your birthday's next week," Chisato said one night after returning from her after-dinner walk. "Do you want to do something special or shall we just have cake?"
Oh, that's right Reisi had forgotten all about that. Has it really been two months since we brought Suoh back? It felt like much longer. Reisi couldn't decide if that was good or bad.
Suoh, who had been dozing on the couch, looked up. "I'm too old to get excited about a birthday."
"Nonsense," Chisato said, lowering herself to the couch. "It's the day you were born, of course we should celebrate. Living isn't so easy."
Suoh turned to Reisi, who looked back down at his PDA. The SCEPTER4 monthly general meeting minutes failed to command his interest, however.
"Anything's fine, Auntie," Suoh said. "Just don't go out of your way on my account."
Later that night, Reisi came out of the bath and spotted Suoh on the back porch, smoking. He draped the towel across his bare shoulders and walked out to him, intentionally stepping on the creaky floorboards so Suoh would hear him approaching.
"Is there anything you want for your birthday?" Reisi asked, stopping in the doorway. He had always been terrible at picking presents for any occasion and preferred to ask, even if it ruined the surprise. Besides, he hadn't thought about birthday presents for Suoh in years. He hadn't even congratulated him in the past two years.
"Last year, Totsuka threw a surprise party," Suoh said, gazing at the pond water flickering with stars.
"As much as I would love to oblige, I'm not sure it would be appropriate," Reisi said, his tone dry. "I fear your former clansmen might become a tad upset with me for such cynicism, seeing as they still think you're dead."
"I don't mean I want you to throw a party," Suoh said. "It's just. Totsuka's gone."
Shit. Reisi sat down next to Suoh. "I'm sorry. Do you want me to try and persuade Mother not to do anything?"
"'Try' would be the key word there," Suoh said, leaning over slightly to bump Reisi. "Nah, it's fine. But don't get me anything."
"Okay." Reisi waited for Suoh to return to his original position, but Suoh continued to lean against his shoulder.
"It's not like there's anything I want, anyway," Suoh said.
"What a lucky guy," Reisi said with a smirk. "Only twenty-five and already has everything he wants."
"Just what money can buy," Suoh murmured, turning to face Reisi. "Also, I'm still twenty-four."
He's going to try something, Reisi thought. And I'm going to let him.
"Let's go see a movie," Suoh said. "On my birthday."
"Cinemas give Mother a headache," Reisi said, relaxing a little.
Suoh shook his head. "I meant you and me. Like a date."
Oh. Heat prickled Reisi's face, and he was glad it was dark out here. "Are you going to hold my hand through the whole thing and let me hide my face in your chest during the scary parts?" he joked to cover up his embarrassment.
Suoh blinked. "Is that what really happens on movie dates?"
"That's just the stereotype," Reisi said. Not that he would know. He had never gone on a date at the movies; other dates he had been on were usually face-saving gestures to justify meaningless sex.
Suoh sat back up and took a drag of his cigarette. "It sounds out of character for you to hide at the scary parts."
Suoh looked at him. "You agree to the date or you agree it's out of character for you?"
"What do you want to see?" Reisi asked as they stood in the cinema lobby.
The last time he'd been here -- or to any cinema, in fact -- had been eight, maybe nine years ago, and he had been with Suoh then, too, plus a couple of other kids from their class. He wondered if Suoh remembered it too. The film they'd watched back then had had something to do with cars, or maybe robots, or cars that were also robots.
Then he remembered the conversation he'd had with Fushimi on the plane to London. He'd told Fushimi that he was too busy to go to the cinema, but the truth was that he didn't have anyone to go with. Not in a very long time.
Suoh studied the marquee displays. "I have no idea what's supposed to be good."
Reisi took out his PDA. "I'll look them up."
"Let's just go see whatever's playing first," Suoh said. "It's more exciting if you don't know what you're going to get."
What's so exciting about that? Reisi wondered, but he let Suoh drag him to the ticket counter. It was Suoh's birthday; Reisi would have obliged him even if he'd decided to stay home and watch a documentary about the migratory patterns of butterflies.
They got to their assigned seats -- near the screen and off to the side, as expected with buying tickets right before a showing -- just as the previews started.
Suoh, seated to Reisi's left, elbowed him over the armrest. "Your hand," he said. "Give it to me."
Reisi snickered and placed his arm on the armrest. "You're supposed to wait until the movie starts and then take it yourself, all casual-like."
Suoh folded his hand over Reisi's and pulled it into his lap. "Maybe if I was fifteen," he said into Reisi's ear.
"Oh, my mistake," Reisi said, trying to keep his tone light despite his pounding heart. "You're a full decade older than that today."
"Shut up," Suoh advised him and squeezed Reisi's fingers for emphasis. "Twenty-five isn't old."
As the movie started, Reisi realised he'd forgotten to look at the ticket to see what it was even called. It was in English, and he missed the title -- and the translation -- because Suoh had chosen that moment to flatten Reisi's hand against the top of his thigh. It was all Reisi could do not to give it a reflexive squeeze before Suoh laced their fingers together and leaned over to put his head on Reisi's shoulder.
Reisi shut his eyes and started committing this to memory -- the rapid-fire English from the speaker right above him, the scents of popcorn and overpriced beer in the air, the tickle of Suoh's hair against his neck, the warm weight of Suoh's hand on top of his, the rough texture of Suoh's jeans beneath his palm. He wished this would have happened when they'd been fifteen. He wished for the courage to lean sideways and rest his cheek against Suoh's hair. He wished things weren't so goddamned complicated that he couldn't just quietly enjoy this.
Most of all, he wished they were alone.
Reisi's PDA buzzed against his thigh, and he manoeuvred it out of his pocket with one hand, trying not to jostle Suoh. Please don't be work.
The mail was from Kenta, a man Reisi had slept with a few times. They didn't know each other's surnames; in fact, Kenta knew him as Ryou.
Long time no see. Up for some adult entertainment? ww
Reisi balanced the phone on his thigh and typed,
Sorry, I'm on a date.
The reply arrived almost instantly.
Lucky devil. Maybe next time.
Maybe never, Reisi thought, and then wondered where that had come from. He hadn't given Suoh an answer, and though this was a date, it was for Suoh's birthday. It didn't change anything.
He stole a careful glance to his left and discovered that Suoh had fallen asleep. Reisi put his phone away and turned his attention back to the film, torn between chagrin and amusement.
The movie followed several people trying to stop a deadly virus from spreading across the world. Reisi found it difficult to relate to. One of his people could manipulate Blue Aura at the molecular level over wide areas; she could destroy every harmful virus or bacterium in a room the size of this theatre in about three minutes. Worldwide contagion simply wasn't a real threat with people like that around. True, the Kings and their clans were officially secret, but they were still out in the world, doing as they liked.
It's been a while since I've been out like this, out of uniform, surrounded by people who have no idea what I am. Well, Suoh knew, but he had been King once. Reisi wondered how Suoh had gone around in the world, locked in his struggle with Red Aura. Knowing, as Reisi did, that you could destroy a place and all the people in it if you wanted to was all well and good, but Reisi couldn't even imagine knowing that it might happen even if you didn't want it to.
The film's many different plot lines converged, a bunch of people died, a vaccine was found, the credits rolled. The first trickle of watchers began to exit the theatre.
Reisi bumped Suoh with his shoulder. Suoh sat up, eyes bright in the light reflected from the movie screen. "Where--?" He looked down at their linked hands, then at Reisi's face.
Reisi leaned close to Suoh's ear. "If you just wanted to sleep on me, you could've done that at home, stupid."
The evening after the movie outing, Reisi sat cross-legged on his bed, going through the daily activity reports all SCEPTER4 members were required to e-mail before turning in.
The door to his room slid open and Suoh poked his head inside. "Busy?"
"Not especially," Reisi said. He would have time to read the rest of the reports in the morning, before Shimizu picked him up from the apartment.
Suoh walked inside, plopped unceremoniously down on the bed behind Reisi with one leg folded under him, and stuck his chin over Reisi's shoulder. "What are you reading?"
"A gripping tale of rescuing a treed cat," Reisi explained. "A report came in about a confused animal Strain setting trash bags on fire, but somehow wires got crossed with the fire department and animal control, and our guys ended up at the wrong address."
"So they saved the cat even though they didn't have to? What a bunch of goody-two-shoes you guys are." Suoh put his arm around Reisi's waist and turned his head to the side, pressing his cheek against Reisi's right upper back.
Reisi's stomach muscles tensed. "Suoh."
"You said it was okay," Suoh said. "Yesterday. To sleep on you."
Reisi tried to crane his neck to look at him; it didn't work. He put his hand atop Suoh's arm, not quite ready to pry it away. A picture of a cute black kitten was attached to Kusuhara's report; Reisi stared at it, unable to think of a thing. "You aren't sleeping, though," he said. Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious.
"I can calm down like this," Suoh muttered. "If I touch you."
Calm down? Has he been having trouble sleeping? "What's on your mind?"
"I don't know what to do about Izumo and them," Suoh said. "I looked up the bar's number and started to dial a million times, but I don't know what I'm gonna say."
"Maybe the phone isn't ideal," Reisi suggested.
"So what, do I just... walk into the bar and go hey, long time no see? Sorry about not being dead this whole time?"
Reisi sighed. "I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask. I don't know any of your associates aside from what was in their files."
"Yeah, but you're always thinking about other people's feelings."
"That doesn't work out very well for me," Reisi said with a light snort. "Generally speaking."
"At least you can care about more than one thing at a time."
"So can you," Reisi said. "You just don't try to."
Suoh's arm around his waist tightened. "I want to kiss you."
Reisi's pulse quickened. Who am I even kidding, trying to keep any sort of distance here? "Okay."
"Okay as in it's okay to kiss you or are you just acknowledging what I said?"
"I don't know," Reisi said, so low it was almost a whisper, half-turning to look at Suoh. "Why don't you find out?"
Suoh climbed all the way up onto the bed and knelt in front of Reisi, balancing on one fist while reaching for Reisi's face with his free hand. He took Reisi's glasses off and put them on the bedside table behind him without turning around. He remembers my room well enough to do that?
With his glasses gone, everything around Reisi blurred; Suoh filled his whole world. Suoh sat down properly, leaned close and kissed the corner of Reisi's mouth. Reisi turned slightly and took Suoh's bottom lip into his mouth, wetting it with his tongue. Suoh cradled Reisi's cheek the way he'd done back at the apartment and exhaled; his breath ran hot across Reisi's skin, so hot it brought a bone-deep shiver, and Reisi's self-control began to crumble.
He licked Suoh's lower lip again and then slid his tongue into Suoh's mouth. He'd always known the taste of Suoh's cigarettes, but not like this, not from the inside. Suoh's mouth opened for him, his tongue met Reisi's, and Reisi had to fight to bite back a moan. If I'm having trouble now, what will happen if we go further?
Suoh ran his hands up Reisi's sides and pulled him closer. Reisi's heartbeat echoed in his temples, his head felt heavy; he was forgetting how to breathe and his eyelids wouldn't lift -- he just wanted to shut out everything that wasn't Suoh's mouth against his, Suoh's hot, hot breath in him. Suoh's hands moved across Reisi's back as though trying to memorise every part of it by touch. All Reisi could do was hold on to Suoh's neck and respond to Suoh's kisses; if he tried anything else, he wouldn't be able to keep his voice down.
Suoh's fingers found the hem of Reisi's T-shirt, lifted it.
"No, stop," Reisi breathed, breaking the kiss and scooting away before Suoh could touch his bare skin. "Mother might hear."
"Auntie went to bed hours ago," Suoh said, his voice thick.
Reisi got up and walked a few paces away, unsteady. The dresser came into focus, and he headed for it just so he could see something that wasn't Suoh. "She's a light sleeper."
Suoh followed him, backed him against the dresser, and pressed in close, cupping Reisi's ass with both hands. "I want to take you to bed," he murmured against Reisi's neck.
"I can tell," Reisi said, trying not to think about the extremely hard part of Suoh pushing against his upper thigh. It felt so hot that Reisi wouldn't have been surprised if it burned right through both pairs of pyjama pants. Reisi's hands had come to rest upon Suoh's chest, and Suoh's frantic heartbeat against his fingertips wasn't helping.
Suoh pulled back and looked into his face. "You don't want to?"
"If Mother weren't two doors down, I'd climb you like a tree," Reisi said through his teeth. The look in Suoh's eyes grew sharp, and Suoh's hands squeezed his ass tighter.
"She won't wake up," Suoh whispered. "We'll be quiet."
Reisi lowered his eyes and fought to keep from blushing. "I don't know how to, um... be quiet."
Suoh let out a harsh breath and pressed his forehead against the dresser behind Reisi. "Shit, Munakata; you're doing this on purpose, aren't you? Saying stuff like that."
Reisi kissed his cheek and edged away. Seeing Suoh barely holding it together like this should have made him lose his mind, but instead he could practically feel the reins on the situation materialising in his hands. He no longer felt drugged. "What happened to being able to calm down?"
"I'm calm," Suoh said. "I just want you."
"You know the ornamental bowl with the lilies? On the shelf near the front entrance?"
Suoh lifted his head and glared at Reisi. "What does that have to do with this? Are you making fun of me?"
"Inside the bowl, there's a set of keys with a shark keychain," Reisi continued, biting his lip to keep from laughing at Suoh's peevish expression. "The spare set for my apartment in the city. I'm there every day before heading home."
Suoh straightened up and let go of Reisi with obvious reluctance. "What about those cameras?"
"I don't officially live there any more, so I disabled them." Reisi walked back to the bed and put his glasses back on. It made him feel fully in control of himself again, but only just. If Suoh kissed him again, he'd go to pieces. "You can come any time."
He wanted to be sure that Suoh would take no for an answer. He'd never seemed the type, but it was a deal-breaker for Reisi, and not one he could just ask about. Obviously, if Suoh knew that Reisi couldn't stand men who tried to force him, he wouldn't use force, but doing something because it came naturally and doing it to avoid consequences were quite different.
Suoh took a deep breath. "I'm going for a smoke. You want one?"
Reisi's self-destructive streak suggested he make a joke about only smoking after sex, but he squashed the thought. That would just be mean. "No, thanks," he said. "I need to get some sleep before work."
He should have known that letting things get that far would put him into daydream-mode again, but Reisi just couldn't bring himself to feel guilty. The passion he had lost over the years had returned; his head was full of Suoh, and this time it wasn't in vain. Even knowing that Suoh wanted the same things he wanted was enough to ground him. If that made him pathetic, Reisi didn't care.
The intercom buzzed and flashed. "Captain, do you have a few moments? There is someone here to see you about a private matter."
Private matter? Could it be Suoh? Impossible. "Very well, Awashima-kun. Please bring them inside."
Awashima walked inside a few minutes later, and Reisi looked behind her expectantly for the visitor, but saw no one.
Then a little girl in a black-and-red Gothic-style dress stepped out silently in front of Awashima.
"This is Kushina Anna," Awashima said, her hand on the girl's shoulder. "I believe you've met before."
[to be continued]