"Masa," Keiko said with relief, "you're so good with him. Only you can get him to settle down and stop crying."
Baby Kai, who had been thrashing and wailing only a minute before, settled into Masa's arms and gurgled happily. Keiko regarded them fondly. The muscular young bodyguard gently rocked her tiny infant, a delighted smile replacing his usual stoic expression. "It's easy, really," he said, offering a finger for the baby to clutch. "He's no trouble at all."
"For you, perhaps. You're so much better with him than his father." She patted his arm. "You have a lot of love in you, Masa." Her eyes darted to the door. Good; Takashi hadn't yet returned, but Keiko dropped her voice anyway. "Masa. You should find a better life than this one. It will hurt you, in the long run. You're too good for it."
"No." There was a rush of color to his face. "I'm only fit to protect you, Keiko-san."
Keiko smiled back at him, but her heart ached. Poor Masa. She feared for him almost as much as she did for Kai. She'd known what her life would be like when she married into a Yakuza family, but he... he was so young. If only there were some way to keep this kind young man from turning into another Takashi--
"Forgive me, Keiko-san, but you look tired. You should rest now."
"I am, a little. Thank you." She looked at her son, cradled so carefully in those big arms, and leaned down to kiss Kai on the forehead. The baby was almost asleep, his tiny hand still curled around Masa's finger. "Masa... may I ask you a favor?"
"Of course, Keiko-san." His eyes were on her now, sincere and attentive.
"Will you be responsible for my son? Will you watch over him always?"
"I'd die for him, Keiko-san."
"Oh, my," she said, warmth blossoming. "I do hope that won't be necessary. Just promise to protect him. Love him."
"I will. Always. I swear it."
"No, no, Kai-chan. You mustn't do that."
"But why, nii-san?" Kai's lip quivered and his small hands balled into fists as Masa carried him out of the sudden rain and set him down on the porch steps. His fingers felt sticky, so he stuck them in his mouth to lick the last of the chocolate.
"Here." Masa pulled out a tissue. "Let's get your hands clean."
"Why, Masa?" Kai persisted. "Why can't I? Why doesn't Masa want me to kiss him?"
"Oh, Kai-chan." Masa smiled at him, ruffling his hair. "Boys don't kiss each other on the mouth. You kiss girls like that. You'll understand when you're older. Save your kisses for the one you really love."
"But, but--" Kai tugged on nii-san's sleeve until he sat down next to him on the step. "But I love Masa!"
"I know," Masa said in a soft voice, much nicer than the voice Father used with him. "And I love you, too, Kai. But Kai... you should save those kisses for your bride, when you get married."
"I'll marry Masa," Kai said brightly. "Masa can be my bride."
Why is Masa laughing? he wondered. It made him angry when Masa didn't understand. "Don't laugh at Kai! You're dumb." He stood up, climbing a step until they were nose to nose and poked Masa in the chest. "I will marry Masa!"
Before Masa could laugh any more, Kai kissed him again, right on the lips, leaving chocolate at the corner of Masa's mouth. "I will," he repeated.
The rain was making him sleepy. He sat down again, yawning, and Masa pulled him close. They sat in silence, watching summer rain fall until Kai fell asleep.
Masa pulled to the curb to drop Kai off at school, just as he did every day. Kai was going through an "I hate school" phase; Masa's instructions were to make sure Kai actually entered the building, then come back and pick him up at the end of the day.
That morning he saw Kai enter the building as a child, but in the afternoon when he returned to find Kai slouching against the schoolyard wall, the golden afternoon sun full on his face, somehow, some indefinable way, Kai looked older. Different. Then Kai turned his head and looked Masa in the eye, and the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Masa lurched against the car door in shocked recognition: he'd never noticed before how much the kid resembled Keiko.
Masa had met her the day he came to work for Sagano Takashi as a runner. He'd been young himself, barely sixteen, old enough to have done some very bad things to survive in the streets, young enough to feel the rush of adolescent hormones when Sagano's beautiful young wife entered the room. And Keiko had smiled at him, and with gentle reserve had offered honey cakes and iced mugicha. He'd fallen hard, smitten by her angelic looks and unexpected kindness.
Sagano-san didn't like sixteen-year-old punks with rampant hormones ogling his wife. Masa got no cakes and barley tea that day. But the crush continued, and deepened into utter devotion. Masa worked for Sagano-san, but he lived for Keiko.
So on that golden afternoon, Masa straightened and breathed a cleansing breath and forcibly pulled himself together as Keiko's son approached. At thirteen, Kai's fine features had finally shed their baby fat, and his gawky awkwardness was resolving into spare movements and a kind of kinetic grace. With a lock of hair falling over his eyes he seemed older and more mature than his years, yet strangely delicate, too.
Masa let out his breath. There was Keiko, right there before him, inhabiting Kai's expression and Kai's flesh, as graceful and beautiful as she'd always been, and Masa thought perhaps he might reach out and pull her close, smell her delicate scent, feel her silky hair. And maybe, finally he'd tell her how much he'd always liked her, how much he'd always desired her. Maybe he'd do what he'd never had the balls to do, hold her slender body in his strong arms and kiss her and kiss her and--
"You're late," Kai barked.
The illusion shattered. Masa blinked as the world righted itself; before him was a sullen teenage boy whose features were clouded by an angry pout. He gaped for too long a moment before collecting himself. "Kai, get in the car, please."
"Whatever." Loud hip-hop music ratcheted up in the back seat and then faded as Kai placed earphones on his head.
Masa watched him in the rearview mirror for another moment.
And then a rude motorist behind him honked, and Masa shook his head, and leaned out the window to give the other guy the finger.
Nice cut to that suit, Kei thought. Can barely see the bulge of his gun.
"So if there's any more trouble, let me know. We'll handle it." The big man inclined his head, bowing slightly.
"Thank you, Araki-san," Ran replied graciously.
Kei frowned. Pointless to be so polite with a Yakuza; he was just a thug in a fancy suit. "We don't need any help from Sagano," he growled. "Just keep that kid away from us."
"Kei." Ran scolded, elbowing him painfully in the side. "Kai's your brother."
"Hmph. That little punk's still trying to steal you away from me--"
"Forgive me," the guy interjected. "I must be going." Yeah, go, Kei thought. And take Kai with you.
"Of course. I'm sorry we've been impolite by bickering in front of you. Enjyoji and I appreciate your help." Another nudge from Ran's sharp elbow. "Don't we?"
Kei shot him a look. Okay, fine. Ran wanted him to play nice. "Yeah, thanks. You saved our asses." He leered at his lover. "Well, Ran's ass, anyway--"
The man's gaze flicked between them. Was he laughing at them? "I would ask you not to be too hard on Kai." His eyes traveled to Ranmaru, swept him up and down. "Certainly his attraction to Samejima-san is understandable."
Ran blushed at that, and Kei narrowed his eyes. Was this guy coming on to Ran too? "Hold on a minute--"
But the Yakuza waved a placating hand. "Don't misunderstand me. Anyone can tell you have a good thing going. The two of you seem happy."
"We are," Kei said fiercely. "Very." He put a proprietary arm around Ran's waist.
"I'm glad." Something flashed across the guy's expression, something like...envy? Hard to tell; he obviously was good at keeping a poker face.
"Thank you, Araki-san," Ranmaru murmured politely. "Please make sure Kai stays safe."
"You're very lucky, the two of you." Araki turned toward the door.
"Wait," Kei heard himself say.
Araki turned his head. "Yes, Enjyoji-san?"
"You ever gonna tell Kai how you feel?"
"I beg your--"
"You know what I mean, Araki," Kei said bluntly, stepping toward him. "Ran says I don't always think enough, and maybe that's true. But I'm a genius compared to you two. I've never seen two guys as oblivious as you and that brat."
"Kei," Ranmaru chided, shooting him a speaking look. "What this idiot means, Araki-san, is that maybe Kai would stop coming here if he knew how you feel about him."
Kei nodded. "Yeah. And even if he's too dumb to tell you, he's in love with you."
"Excuse me," the guy said in a tone that might have struck terror in Yakuza bosses but which sounded pathetically defensive to Kei's ears. "What you're saying is incorrect. It's totally ridiculous. I'm Kai's protector, not his suitor."
"Come off it." Kei smirked, despite Ranmaru's quelling glare. "We've all seen how he looks at you." He leaned closer. "And how you look at him. Right, Ran?"
"Well yes," Ran agreed, frowning in Kei's direction. "Though I think you might have said it a little more tactfully."
"For the last time," Araki replied, sounding irritated, "it's crap. Even if Kai were to think he had some childish feelings for me, I'm old enough to be his father."
"He is in college, you know," Ranmaru offered. "He's not a child."
Kei snorted derisively, earning yet another elbow in the ribs. "Ow! Save your breath, Ran. If he wants to be an idiot, it's his life."
"Yes, it is," Araki answered icily. "And there's no reason for me to discuss it with you. You two - obviously you're too wrapped up in each other to know what the hell you're talking about."
He left before another word could be said.
"Whatever." Kei shrugged. "Hey, Ran..." He grabbed his lover and pulled him close, leering lustfully. "Let's go in the bedroom; whaddya say?"
Hospital smells disturbed and nauseated him; they called up memories of his mother's death when he was six. And his father had been hospitalized twice, once for gallstones and once a mild heart attack, but Kai hadn't been able to bring himself to visit. Besides, Masa had always discouraged it, saying it was too dangerous to have the head of a Yakuza family and his heir together in such an unprotected place. Well, that was bullshit - there were Sagano Group soldiers all over the damn place. But it didn't take much to dissuade him from going. Hospitals freaked him out.
He'd made an exception for Ranmaru, but that was different. He had to go that time. He loved Ran. Too bad Ran didn't love him back. Yet.
But here he was in the hospital now, bent over another sleeping, bandaged man, and somehow the smells and the memories didn't matter, because this was Masa. "Masa, you have to get better. We have to go home together, okay? Okay? Do you hear me?"
Of course Masa didn't stir. The painkillers would have to be pretty strong, Kai supposed, if they stitched up his eye while he was awake, like the doctor said they had. Dammit - his eye! "Don't be blind, Masa," Kai pleaded. "I can't bear it if you got that way because of me. Hurry up and get better, and come home with me, okay?"
There was a nurse at the door, frowning at him. Kai barely spared her a look. "Go away."
"Sir. It's after visiting hours. Come back tomorrow when he's awake."
Screw that. He started to argue, but now an orderly was next to her, a big guy with a build like Masa's. Damn. Kai turned with a glower and stared arrogantly at the pair. "Do you know who I am?"
"Listen, kid--" the orderly began, but the nurse put her hand on his arm and whispered to him. Kai watched smugly as the orderly's expression changed from annoyance to deference. "Er--sorry, Sagano-san."
The nurse pushed the orderly into the hallway. "We'll wait out here. But please finish your visit." The door slowly whispered shut.
Alone again with Masa, Kai watched him breathe, his own breath falling into sync with the rise and fall of Masa's chest. A strange compulsion took hold and he bent his head to brush Masa's lips with his own. He had a fleeting memory of rain, of the taste of chocolate buns. His heart pinged with a distant echo of disappointment and heartbreak.
His hand carded through Masa's dark disordered hair, which was still slightly stiff with blood. "Remember," Kai whispered in his ear, "I only kiss the ones I really love."
Strange spidery tingles crept across his body, coming to rest over his heart. Wait. No. Ranmaru-- Ran was the one he loved, not--
The door whooshed open. "Sagano-san, now, please."
"All right," he said tiredly. "I'm going."
In the hallway he paused to lean against the cool wall and closed his eyes. With his taut nerves finally relaxed, all that remained was incredible exhaustion. His thoughts were tangled, troublesome. What was this feeling? Guilt? Or was it--
Why did I kiss you?
Kai turned and ran down the hall.
In the silence of his hospital room, Masa's unbandaged eye blinked open. He put a hand to his lips; for some reason they tingled slightly.
As he fell asleep again, he thought of rain, and of chocolate.
"Why won't you stay over?"
"Can't." He tugged on his shoe and stood, zipping his trousers.
Slim arms wound themselves around his chest. "Stay."
"I told you, I can't, Mariko. I have business."
"You always have business." The woman sighed and flung herself theatrically against the disordered pillows. Quite a sight, all that pale skin, luminous against the dark sheets. He leaned down to plant a quick kiss on her pouting lips, catching the lingering scent of expensive perfume and sex. She wrapped her arms about his neck. "What about me? If you loved me you wouldn't go. Don't you love me?"
He shook her off with a flash of annoyance. "Mariko, don't say these things."
"Why not? Why don't you love me, Masa? Haven't I been good for you?" Her voice dropped to a seductive purr. "You know I have. Admit it. We have fun - I give good head, don't I?"
"Yeah." He checked his gun and fastened it into the holster under his left arm. "I gotta go."
"Why don't you lie to me, at least?" she said, now petulant. "You could pretend. Why don't you sweet-talk me, Masa?" She caught the hem of his jacket and he had to control his desire to slap her hand away. "Who is it?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Is it another woman, Masa? Does she do what I do for you? Does she listen to your problems like I do? Can she make you feel like..."
He'd stopped listening to her. He buttoned his jacket, checked his phone. No messages. Still, he had to get back, check on Kai. Kai'd been kind of upset last night--
"It's him, isn't it?"
Her lips parted in a knowing smile. "Doesn't matter. I know you, Masa. You always come back to me." She lay back again. "I'll see you later."
Masa looked at her. Just like all the others: another beautiful, sensual, desirable woman. Who wouldn't want her?
"No," he said. "I don't think so."
"I have killed," Kai whispered into the darkness.
Tashiro's eyes opened. "Who did you kill?"
There was a long silence before Kai continued. "This guy. He fell for Masa, and thought I was in the way. He tried to get rid of me. I...let him die." There was an angry rustle of bedclothes as Kai turned over. "He was an idiot to have a grudge against me. I mean. Masa's a Yakuza, and I'm a Yakuza's son. It was stupid, anyway. It's not like Masa's my lover or anything. He doesn't care about me."
Oh, kid. "What happened?"
"Masa killed him. I didn't want him to. He could've gotten killed himself! I tried to stop--" Kai's words cut off with a choking sound.
"Are you crying?"
"No, stupid! Why would I cry? Over that idiot? It's just..."
The bed shifted as Kai turned again, and when he spoke, his words were muffled as if he were mumbling into his pillow. "I hate it when Masa hurts people. Especially because of me. I think maybe it..."
"...it hurts him worse."
Killing changed you, no question about it - Tashiro was living proof of that. Funny that the kid could be so smart and so dumb, all at the same time. His ears perked up; there was a suspiciously wet sound coming from the other side of the bed. Yup, crying, the poor dope.
"Masa's an idiot," Kai sniffed. "Just like that guy. They're both idiots."
"Wh-what?" The light snapped on suddenly, and Tashiro found himself pinned by Kai's furious glare. He noted damp traces under Kai's eyes. "You calling me an idiot?"
"Sure. Don't you know how much Araki likes you?"
"He's my bodyguard!" Kai shouted indignantly. "That's all!"
"Wow," Tashiro said. "You really don't know Araki Masanori at all." He grinned at the sudden flush of color in Kai's cheeks. "Damn, kid. Are you blind, or what?"
"Shut up," Kai said, turning away and snapping off the light again.
"You wait too long, someone else is gonna get him."
"Shut up! You don't know anything."
But Tashiro had heard the uncertainty in Kai's voice; certainly he could feel the tension - hell, it was practically radiating off him in waves. Well, good. Maybe the kid was finally buying a clue. "So," he smirked, "about Masa. You want him, or can I have him?"
A pillow hit him in the head.
Tashiro lay smiling in the dark. Idiots, he thought, chuckling to himself. Both of them.
Masa sat in the unmoving car and dropped his head to the steering wheel. I want--
Kai lay in the dark, arm thrown over his eyes.
Masa. I need--
Kai climbed out of the pool, shaking himself from head to toe, sprinkling water everywhere. "It's great. Nice and cold. You should go in."
"I won't need to, if you keep splashing me. Hey - hand me the sun block. I want to do your back again."
It was nice here, lying in the Hawaiian sun and roasting themselves to a toasty tan. Well...at least Masa was roasting, sunbathing nude on the lanai. Quite a sight, Kai thought admiringly, those still perfectly-cut muscles shiny with tanning oil. Other than his sunglasses and the black hair and a couple of silvery scars, Masa was a uniform shade of brown. But he would let Kai stay in the sun no more than an hour at a time - and even then he was slathered in sun block at Masa's insistence.
Masa worried. He always worried. "Put on a shirt, at least. Your skin's too pale." He frowned. "You'll burn. Or get skin cancer."
Kai plopped down next to him, still shirtless. "Oh, that's lovely. Wishing me cancer, now."
"I was only--"
"Go ahead. Keep at it - nag, nag, nag."
"Fine, I will. Turn over."
"Masa, you're worse than an old woman."
"Yeah, I know. Turn over."
Kai let out a long-suffering sigh but complied. The lotion had been sitting in the sun, and it was warm on his cool, wet skin. Masa's hand was warm, too, large and soothing, as it stroked up and down Kai's back. "Hey, Masa. Know what that feels like?"
"Feels like you just came on me, and now you're finger-painting with it."
Masa slapped him on the rear. "Really, Kai - the things you say!"
Kai laughed. "Well it's true! Hey--" He sat up, scooting over until his legs slid over Masa's. "Let's fuck."
Masa rolled his eyes. "You're subtle like a steamroller."
"Yeah, so? You love it when I run over you." He leaned over, his arms draping over Masa's shoulders. The top end of Masa's tattoo peeked over at him and he trailed his fingers downward as if petting the dragon. He leaned in and licked the old scar bisecting Masa's eyebrow, and the big man shivered under him. "Come on, Masa. I wanna fuck."
"You're a selfish, crude brat," Masa said, his eyes taking the sting out of his words.
"A brat? That's rich. You call a guy who's almost forty a brat?"
"You'll always be a child. Just like the day I met you."
"Pervert! Well, you're an old man of fifty-f--"
"Ooh, sensitive! Bet you can't even get it up any more."
"You," Masa said, standing up and taking Kai bodily with him, "are asking for it." He lifted him easily, without so much as a grunt, though his right knee gave an audible pop. A dozen years ago one of Sasazuka's goons had hit it with a club, and sometimes it pained him, but not so much now that they lived in sunshine all year round.
Kai's answer was to stick his tongue down Masa's throat. "Come on," he said breathlessly, pulling away. "Let's fuck. Right here."
"Your ass will get sunburned."
"Oh, here we go again! Okay, fine. Take me in the house and fuck me."
Masa smirked. "You're pretty damn pushy for a bottom."
"Watch it, or you won't get any."
"Oh, right, Great Insatiable Kai-sama."
Masa kicked open the door to their house, an action Kai found thrilling even if it was an over-the-top romance-film kind of gesture. He carried Kai through the living room, past the kitchen, finally dumping him unceremoniously onto the bed.
Kai rolled his eyes; next Masa'd be beating his chest like a gorilla. Even in retirement, Masa was into big gestures. Not a day went by without him doing something embarrassing, just as every day he complained Kai was selfish, rude and impossible to live with.
Still, neither of them had really minded for over fifteen years.
Kai smiled lazily and opened welcoming arms.
When Masa kissed him, he tasted chocolate and summer rain.