It ends with a bang, and a whimper.
The gunshot echoes through the foyer, at one end a bastion of SAT members in riot gear, at the other the last hold-out of the Black Organization, and Akai and Rei in the No Man’s land in the middle.
The whimper is Akai’s, as he shoves Rei out of the line of fire and then crumples, dragging Rei down with him.
That would have been it for them if Gin hadn’t run out of bullets and if the SAT commander hadn’t led a rush of police officers down the hall to capture the last Organization operatives, dozens of boots pounding the ground around them and very nearly trampling them down.
Akai’s breathing heavily in his ear; each breath sounds torn from him, rough as road rash. His fingers are clutching Rei’s upper arms, his body curled around Rei’s.
“FBI?” says Rei, quietly in the midst of the chaos surrounding them, flipping over to lie on his back under Akai’s weight.
“Bastard got me,” mutters Akai, eyes sliding closed. Rei runs a hand down his back and, at the small of his back just below his high-cut bullet proof vest, finds the growing patch of wetness.
Rei drags himself backwards out from under the FBI agent by his elbows, head craned to assess the danger from the end of the hall. Things looks unruly but relatively under control there, but they could go south at light speed if the Organization operatives’ guns haven’t been secured yet. He frees himself from Akai’s weight, bends, and hauls the FBI agent onto his shoulders. Then he runs towards the secured side door.
Outside is a mess of uniformed police officers holding the line, and further behind them a barrier made of police cars and the SAT trucks. Two officers come over to help him carry Akai beyond all that, to the thankfully waiting ambulances.
“He’s been shot in the back,” says Rei, noticing that blood is dripping on the pavement, has in fact left a trail all the way here. He swallows.
The ambulance team is calm and professional. They have Akai on the stretcher and stripped out of his shirt and vest in seconds, revealing the bloody sucking bullet wound in his lower back. It’s close to his spine. Too close.
“Get him to hospital,” orders Rei. Then he turns his back on the FBI agent and runs back into the building.
Rei has just kicked off his shoes and stepped into his apartment when his cellphone rings. He glances at it and sees that the number has been withheld. Frowning, he accepts the call.
“We need a truce.” It’s Akai Shuuichi’s voice. The bastard sounds calm and collected, which pisses Rei off because he is suddenly hotly furious. “The final push is coming to take down the Organization and it’s no time for us to be butting heads. It will take both of us to finish this.”
“You’re the one who caused this,” snaps back Rei. “You think you can just claim desperate times and have me forget what you’ve done? That you can come crawling back and ask me to forgive you now that you need me? Well tough shit – you burned your bridges, you blew your place in the Organization, you killed Scotch and I’m sure as hell not bailing you out now.” The words come blazing out of him, the flames of his fury fanned by two years of thwarted vengeance and bottled-up rage.
“I don’t care if you forget it or not, Furuya-kun.” Akai sounds frustrated. “All I want is for you to put your animosity aside until this is over. Work with me, not against me, for the sake of our common goals.”
“Give me one single fucking reason why I should.”
“Who do you hate more – me or them?”
Rei is silent; it’s not a question he can answer and Akai knows it.
“Let’s finish our job first. Then we can settle the score,” says Akai.
“As easy as that?” he snorts. “How can I possibly trust you?”
There’s a pause from the phone. Then: “What do you want me to swear it on?”
“You killed Scotch,” says Rei, again.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Make it that simple. You’re not wriggling out of that afterwards; you’re not going to wash your hands of it and claim it was a mistake or an accident or a misunderstanding. Swear to me that you killed him, and I’ll work with you until this is over.” He thumbs out of the call and turns on his phone’s voice recorder.
There’s a long silence. And then, “I swear it.”
“I swear I killed Scotch,” says Akai, slowly.
Rei turns off the recording. “Alright. What do you want?”
Akai is at least self-aware enough not to say I told you so, which is just as well because Rei is now obliged not to kill him until they take down the Black Organization.
It’s hard. The first time they meet in a park in Ueno, it’s all he can do to be civil. To listen to Akai and offer reasonable, well-considered opinions rather than the verbal knives he wants to twist. Akai at least doesn’t push it. Keeps their meetings short and to the point, trading information like the perishable commodity it is, and then walking away before Rei can lose his temper.
The strange thing is that over the long, long two years between Scotch’s death and now, Rei’s made Akai into something bigger, stronger, more malicious than the FBI agent ever was. Has created a monster out of a mere man and given him fangs and claws in place of teeth and nails. Akai is mortal, and he is fallible.
Rei begins to notice the little things – that Akai is, more often than not, exhausted at their meetings. That he smells more often now of coffee than cigarettes. That, for whatever reason, he is genuinely considerate of Rei – not just to the extent of working to protect his identity, but of his time and his feelings.
Rei can’t figure out what’s behind it. It feels like a long con, like Akai’s slowly preparing to bring his world crashing down on him somehow, but for the life of him he can’t figure out how.
“We might as well have dinner while we meet,” says Akai over the phone when planning their next meeting. “We’re both busy.”
Rei, who is swamped by reports from lower-level operatives and hounding messages from Rum and his shifts at Poirot, is too tired to argue. “Fine. Pick a place.”
They meet at a bustling Danny’s, all plastic menus, loud pop music and soda-sticky tables. It’s a bizarre blend of American family restaurant and Japanese sensibilities, including a waiter call-button and self-refillable drinks. Rei, who spends enough of his time in over-lit, busy Americanized venues and would have preferred a quiet subdued sushi restaurant, is pissy.
The lack of alcohol doesn’t help.
Akai comes in without his trademark toque, his hair ruffled and his eyes sharp but shadowed. It’s raining outside and he’s slightly damp, pale face flushed and clothes rumpled.
It fits his status as a honey trap that he’s irritatingly good-looking; Rei, who is not one to be swayed by looks alone, still has to admit that he’s eye catching. Fortunately he can rest easy in the knowledge that – according to Azusa – he’s equally attractive and has a regular following among Poirot’s female clientele.
“You look like you just crawled out of a dirty clothes basket,” says Rei as Akai sits down across from him, his rain-streaked coat hiding the pistol tucked against his right side. “Why are we meeting?”
“I’ve received some information from Kir about an upcoming meeting planned between Gin, Vermouth and Rum. If we can coordinate it with a larger coordinated raid, we might be able to take down the entire Organization at once.”
Stragglers – particularly from the senior agent ranks – have always been a concern in shutting down the Organization. If a few high-level operatives escape the net, law enforcement’s attempts will be for naught – the malignancy will continue to fester cancerously.
“Two months from now. In Beika.”
Rei nods. It always seems to come down to Beika.
“Is that all?” he asks, affecting nonchalance and glancing at the menu. There are pictures of the entrees, all carbohydrate-rich meals thick with rice and potatoes and gravy. This, he thinks disdainfully, is the kind of food Akai likes.
“Not enough for you, Furuya-kun?” asks Akai, green eyes glinting. “There will be much more to do. And given the Organization’s ties into the Tokyo Metro, we would be advised to do most of it ourselves.”
“Great, even more time to spend with you.” He presses the call button. “I hope you’re ready to order; I’m not here to waste time.”
They order and then sit in awkward silence, the background noise of chatter and children shouting and cutlery clattering suddenly much louder.
“I thought we could talk about the past,” says Akai, putting his hands squarely on the table as if to prove he’s not a threat. Rei doesn’t bother to reciprocate.
“What about it? The part where you slept your way in and then couldn’t protect the woman you exploited? The part where you had to fake your own death to make up for all your screw ups? Or maybe the part where you killed my best friend?”
“I told you before, I don’t want your excuses. You got what you wanted: we’re working together. And when all this is over, then I will get what I want.” He slams his hands on the table and gets up; on the way out he meets the waitress who gives him a quizzical look. “My friend will pay for the meal,” he says, and pushes his way outside into the chilly rain.
“You were right,” says Akai. And, when Rei doesn’t respond, “it’s better if we don’t bring up the past. We both have too much baggage.”
“We’re enemies united by a common cause,” replies Rei. “Nothing more. Don’t forget it – when this is done, I’m coming for you.”
“Then we both know where we stand.”
Akai is prompt, timely, and intelligent. He marshals convincing arguments, makes strong plans, and is thoughtful in his requests for resources. Even more irritatingly, he (for the most part) turns the other cheek when Rei lashes out.
Rei worked for two years with the knowledge that he would make Akai pay for his betrayal of Scotch. The fact that he’s now working alongside the bastard – trusting the bastard – makes him sure that he’s the one who’s betraying Scotch now.
He tries to pull back, to cut down on their meetings and avoid Akai’s calls. But they’re too close to taking the Organization down, and he can’t let that necessity flounder because of his personal vendetta.
So he grits his teeth and works with Akai. And tries to ignore just how well they work together.
“The FBI wants to lead the op,” Akai tells him one evening alone in Ueno zoo, the two of them sitting together on a bench ostensibly watching the animals in their cages. Rei tenses, and Akai continues, “I’m telling you because I know you’ll pull out if a Japanese force isn’t in charge. It’s up to you to make that happen.”
“Betraying even your country now, FBI?” asks Rei, eyes on a lone white egret outside the bird cage looking in.
“I want this mission to succeed. This isn’t America – it won’t succeed with an American team at the helm. We need you.”
“Flattery,” dismisses Rei.
“I don’t have your silver tongue. Lead it or don’t, but if you don’t step in we will push for the lead – and probably get it if the CIA falls in behind us.”
“Japan isn’t your playground.”
“The world is our playground – that’s the way Washington sees it. The fact that I’m here is proof enough. If you want that to change, you have to make it.”
Akai gets up, slipping his hands into his pockets. “I leave it in your hands, Furuya-kun.” He walks away, disappearing behind the hippo enclosure.
Rei sits silently for a minute more. Then he pulls out his phone to call his boss. He has an intervention to stage.
His boss praises him for his intelligence gathering and political astuteness – if they hadn’t taken the initiative and proactively pushed for ownership of the operation, they would have lost it.
Rei takes the praise silently, then goes home and gets drunk.
For one tipsy moment he actually considers calling Akai to thank him.
He pours himself another scotch instead.
Rei’s at Poirot when he gets the text from Vermouth: Akai Shuuichi is alive. Report in immediately.
He makes some smooth excuse to Azusa and walks out, but he starts running as soon as he’s on the street. A red BMW slides up along the kerb beside him; he glances in and sees Vermouth at the driver’s wheel. He stops and gets in.
“What the hell,” he begins, all sound and fury.
Vermouth pulls out into traffic, her manicured nails tapping at the wheel. “Don’t bark at me, Bourbon. It was Gin who confirmed the kill. Kir is a mole.”
“A mole? For who?”
“Most likely the CIA. Her father worked for the Agency.”
“Didn’t she kill him?” asks Rei.
Vermouth gives a humourless smile. “We all took her for a pit viper because of it. But it turns out she’s just as soft as he was. Maybe she didn’t even kill him. She certainly didn’t kill Akai.”
“What happens now?”
“Rum wants you to find Akai. When you do, finish him properly this time.” She stops, and he sees she’s driven the three blocks to his apartment. “Get on it right away.”
“Understood,” says Rei, and steps out of the car. He walks up the stairs to his apartment and locks the door behind him. Then he takes out his spare phone and calls Akai.
“Kir’s blown. They know you’re alive. Get her out, now.”
“Understood.” He sounds calm and collected as always, but Rei can picture the sharpness of his eyes, the sudden calculation there.
“And Akai? You’d better go to ground, or I’ll have to make good on my promise to end you early.”
“Thanks for the warning.” He can hear the smile in Akai’s voice. He wants to tell the bastard he’s not doing it for him, he’s doing it for the job. But somehow the words don’t come out.
Then the phone goes dead and he’s left alone to start laying a false investigative trail. Both Rum and Gin will be watching him, after all, and they need to be reassured. The meeting in three weeks must go on.
Akai is leaning against the wall, smoking. The red glow of his cigarette and the distant flickering light over a kitchen’s back door is all the light there is in the alley.
“Kir’s out of the country. The Organization won’t find her.”
“Vermouth has me hunting you down for Rum. Priority one.”
“Can you draw it out for another three weeks?”
Rei crosses his arms. “We don’t have a lot of choice, do we? We can’t fake your death a second time. This time they’ll want a body – an identifiable one.”
Akai sighs. “If we had more time to play with, I could leave the country and surface somewhere else. But there’s too much to do here. I can’t be leading wild goose chases across the globe, and you can’t be following me on them.”
“I’ll take the risk,” says Rei.
“Furuya-kun…” Akai’s eyes are bright in the soft glow of his cigarette. Rei can’t help but notice how warm the light makes him look, how concerned. As if he really cared.
“Oh, shove it,” says Rei, tiredly. “I don’t want your platitudes, or your apologies. We’ll make the best of it, somehow.”
It worries him a little, later, how easily he gave in to being the one to protect Akai from yet another failure.
They meet in a PSB safe house in Yokohama to go over the blueprints for the meeting between Rum, Gin and Vermouth, planned for a small suburban ryokan. As soon as they learned the location months back the PSB had planted agents among the staff and ensured that they would be the ones on duty the day of the meet-up. Now there was just the planning for where and how the raid would take place – what parts of the building could be evacuated without alerting the Organization operatives, how the SAT could access most quickly, and how even to know when to break in.
“That’s the problem,” says Rei, sitting across the table from Akai looking at the blueprints on an iPad. “If we burst in blind it will be a bloodbath. And Gin is bound to do a sweep for bugs before they get started.”
Akai taps his pencil on the table.
“I suppose we could send one of the PSB agents in the ryokan in with something complementary. But that would be suspicious, and it would offer a hostage,” suggests Rei.
“I have a better idea,” says Akai, looking up. “You’ll go in. With me.”
“If you capture me, Gin will demand to see me before you end it – he’s not going to make the mistake of doing it long-distance again. We go in and set off the raid from the inside.”
“That’s suicide,” says Rei, flatly.
Akai puts down his pencil and meets Rei’s eyes. “Only for me.”
“We had a deal: your life is mine.”
“Only once the operation is wrapped up. Until then it’s mine to do with as I please. This is the only way to do it without innocent casualties. And you know I’m no innocent.” Akai’s tone is dark, his eyes flinty. Rei feels himself shiver. But he can’t very well protest. He straightens and finds his resolve. Somehow, digging down into the well of his hatred for Akai is harder than usual.
“Fine. We’ll do it your way. But I won’t forgive you if you get yourself killed.”
“I’ll do my best not to,” replies Akai.
“Everything is set,” Rei tells his boss, Atsuma Hiroshi. The head of the PSB nods once. “I will take Akai Shuuichi in, and signal the raid from inside.”
“And he truly agreed to this arrangement?”
“It’s dangerous – very dangerous.”
“It was his suggestion, sir.”
Atsuma nods slowly. “Well. It is his choice to make. I understand he has suffered his own losses at the hands of the Organization.”
Rei blinks. He’s never considered it like that before. Never conceded that Akai might have feelings, much less that he could have been wounded by Akemi’s death. It seems a lapse, now that he realises it. “Yes, sir,” he says, blandly, because he has to say something.
“And you’re quite convinced that the Organization is still in the dark about our plans?”
“Yes, sir. If they knew the scale of them they would have called off the meeting. We will hit Rum, the boss, and several smaller offices simultaneously. Rum’s meeting is by far the most dangerous.”
Atsuma sighs. “Nothing about dealing with them has ever been easy. So many sacrifices have been made. Let us hope we can end it without any further loses.”
Akai gives him a strange look. “I would never have expected you to try to talk me out of it,” he says.
“The chief wants to avoid more sacrifices. I’m just following orders,” replies Rei, stiffly.
But in truth, he doesn’t know what prompted him to speak up. Except that he’s starting to realise that, as the months have passed by, his resolution to finish Akai has begun to weaken. He’s begun to doubt.
“Sacrifices,” says Akai, slowly, his eyes distant. “Perhaps there’s no way to end bloodshed without bloodshed.”
“Killing doesn’t stop killing,” replies Rei.
Akai smiles. “You never cease to amaze me, Furuya-kun.” He stands and heads for the door. “I’ll see you in three days.”
Akai calls him late – number withheld. Rei picks up in bed, lying with the phone beside his head. “What?” he says, blearily.
“I wanted to tell you, Furuya-kun. I’ve said it before but it’s still true – I regret what happened with Scotch.”
That you killed him? Is what he would have said, two months ago. Even one month ago. But now the words die in his throat. Akai has upended his preconceptions, has again and again acted decently, honestly.
And yet Rei still has the audio saved on his phone: “I swear I killed Scotch.”
“We’ll talk about it after tomorrow,” says Rei, and hangs up.
A paramedic runs past him as he’s heading back inside, then another. Rei speeds up, entering the Ryokan and crossing the long, narrow foyer. He passes Vermouth, who stares at him in shock as she’s led out in handcuffs. Passes Gin being dragged out by four men, his face bloody.
Rum is dead on the floor, blood pooled under his head. Rei hears the men talking and learns that he had a small-caliber pistol holstered at his ankle. That he blew his brains out with it rather than be arrested.
Rei stares down at the body. Although second in command, Rum was the main intellect behind the current Organization, was the nexus of its malevolence. With him gone and Gin and Vermouth arrested, it will crumble.
Rei looks down at his hands and sees the blood there – Akai’s blood.
Let us hope we can end it without any further loses, the chief had said.
He has to get to the hospital.
It isn’t hard to track Akai down – gunshot wounds aren’t common in Japanese hospitals. He’s already being prepped for surgery when Rei arrives.
What Rei isn’t expecting is to come face to face with Akai’s partner in the waiting room. She’s stalking back and forth, tall and blonde and impossibly American in the cramped waiting room occupied by shrunken elderly ladies and a petite young mother with her baby.
She hones in on Rei the instant he appears, storming across the linoleum floor to point a finger in his face. “You!” she snaps, in English. “What’s happened to Shuu?”
“He was shot,” he replies bluntly, also in English. The idea of being overheard by the old ladies in the waiting room doesn’t much appeal, although it’s no longer the threat to his cover it would have been an hour ago.
She glares. “I know that. How. Where?”
“In the back,” he says. “By Gin.”
Starling’s eyes widen. “In the back – Shuu would never have turned his back on Gin.” She pauses, watching him closely: “But he might have on you.”
Rei smiles dryly. “I didn’t shoot your partner, Agent Starling, much as I would have liked to. And yes, I have witnesses to prove it. He knew the risks when he volunteered.”
“He volunteered so that you wouldn’t,” she replies harshly. Rei blinks. “He knew if there was no other choice, you would volunteer to signal the raid. This way all eyes – including Gin’s – were on him.”
“Maybe he just wanted the attention.”
“Are you blind? He’s been trying to protect you all along – working with you to try to take down the Organization; handing off control of the operation to you; going in as your prize!”
Rei bristles, teeth gritting. “Maybe that’s how it was portrayed to you, Agent. But from my perspective he’s the outsider who’s been begging for table scraps.”
Starling drags a hand through her bangs, glasses tipping momentarily askew before she straightens them and then tightly crosses her arms. “You don’t understand him at all,” she snaps, glaring, her fingernails digging furrows into her shirtsleeves. “You only see what you want to see.”
“A convenient insult; I could say the same of you.”
“You’ve never listened to him – never given him the chance.”
Rei turns. “I’ve heard everything I need to from him,” he answers, thinking of the recorded message on his phone. “It’s clear I’m not needed here; good luck with your vigil.”
“If he dies, I won’t forgive you,” spits Starling at his back.
“Frankly, I don’t much care,” replies Rei, and leaves.
He’s called into Atsuma’s office several hours later; he chugs the rest of his can of coffee and runs by the printer to pick up a copy of his hastily-completed report on this afternoon’s activities.
He arrives in the large office at the top floor of the Met to find James Black already there, looking distinguished and solemn in a charcoal suit. “Furuya-san,” he says slowly, in carefully-pronounced Japanese. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“All of it bad, I assume,” replies Rei with an easy smile.
“Quite the contrary,” replies Black, and knocks on Atsuma’s door. They’re hailed from within and enter, Atsuma rising from his desk to cross over to a round conference table in the corner of the room.
“Thank you for joining us, Mr Black,” says Atsuma, giving him his English title. “I’ve asked Furuya-kun here to walk us through what happened at the raid this afternoon. As you know, while it was completed successfully one of your agents was injured.”
“I’ve spoken with Agent Starling,” says Black, “she reports that Akai is still in surgery.”
Rei wonders what else she reported to him. He checks his watch; the fact that Akai’s still in surgery four hours later isn’t that strange, but it certainly could have been better. Of course, he could also be dead by now, Rei supposes.
He feels a tiny twang of some foreign emotion at the thought, and crushes it viciously.
“Furuya-kun, please report,” says Atsuma, gesturing at him.
“Yes, sir.” He provides the two men with copies of his summary. “As you are both aware, we have had the ryokan under surveillance for months in preparation for today. We made our final preparations last night; we were not able to cancel any of the guest’s reservations as that might have raised suspicions, however we secured alternate exits for everyone in the building prior to the meeting time. Two PSB agents were at the desk serving as receptionists; they greeted Rum, Gin and Vermouth and took them to the reserved meeting room.
“Agent Akai and I entered the ryokan together at 2pm as arranged, making sure to arrive with apparent spontaneity. Agent Akai had his hands cuffed behind his back with stunt-cuffs; we both wore vests and carried side-arms. I made enough noise at the front desk that Gin came out to investigate – we had already deemed him the most important to secure physically.
“Upon seeing Agent Akai, Gin drew his weapon. The PSB agent assigned to the desk tackled him; I pressed the call button and SAT breached the premises. Gin shook off the PSB agent and Vermouth and Rum arrived just as SAT entered, trapping Agent Akai and I in the line of fire. We took cover behind a desk that had been provided for that purpose, and a firefight ensued.
“The desk wasn’t secure enough to take the heat Gin and Rum put on it; as I stood to relocate Gin targeted me. Agent Akai pushed me out of the way and was shot in the back. It was Gin’s last shot. SAT charged in to secure Gin and Rum; I picked up Agent Akai and took him outside to an ambulance. When I returned, Rum was dead by his own hand and Gin and Vermouth were in custody.”
It had all fit together neatly on paper, had flowed from his fingers into the report format without prejudice or emotion. He speaks to it in the same careful monotone, avoiding any suggestion of sentimentality. But he finds as he says the words his mind is pulled back to the moment of Gin’s last shot, to the weight of Akai throwing himself into him, of the jerk he gave at the bullet’s impact, of the smell of Akai’s aftershave – such an everyday, normal scent seemed utterly out of place in the bullet-torn lobby.
“Has your agent in the hospital any update on Agent Akai’s situation?” asks Atsuma of Black.
“He is expected to live; that was the latest update. I’m sure Furuya-san would have done anything possible to prevent injury.”
Rei looks at him in surprise. This man must know of the antagonism between the two of them, of Rei’s feelings towards Akai. “Of course,” he says in a professional tone; it’s the only answer he can give.
“We will of course offer any assistance possible in ensuring his recovery. I expect Furuya-kun to keep in regular contact with the hospital,” says Atsuma. “Now, let’s talk about next steps.”
The meeting drags on for almost half an hour, the cooperation between the FBI and the PSB being set out in necessary but boring detail. Rei finds himself tuning out, mind returning to the sound of gunfire and the smell of aftershave and the hot wet sensation of blood on his hands.
He’s lost in thought when the meeting wraps up abruptly, and only catches the ending because Black rises; Rei stands with him and escorts him out.
“I thought you should know that Akai has always spoken highly of you, Furuya-san. He values your assistance.”
Rei stares back coolly. “You’re aware of our history?” he asks.
“Yes. But –”
“Then you must be aware that I couldn’t care less what Akai thinks about me.” He turns and leaves Black standing alone in the hall.
He does wonder though, why if he doesn’t give a shit about Akai Shuuichi, he can’t stop thinking about his injury. His sacrifice.
He toys with the notion of going home and going to bed. He’s earned it, certainly. But Atsuma promised Rei would liaise with the hospital to keep up to date on Akai. He would be remiss in his duty if he didn’t follow up. It’s because of his duty that he drives across town to the hospital, no other reason. Certainly not sentimentality.
He learns from the nurse on Akai’s ward that a blonde foreigner had been sitting with him, but left recently when visiting hours finished. Rei displays his badge and claims oversight of Akai’s case, and is granted access to Akai’s room, the nurse accompanying him.
The room is small and white: white walls, white blinds, white sheets. Akai is lying on his stomach in the bed, an oxygen tube running under his nose and a host of IV lines piercing the back of his hand. He looks shockingly vulnerable, face relaxed in sleep, neck and back exposed, a loose hospital gown dipping open low over his shoulders. The thin blanket that covers him emphasizes his lithe physique, the long, narrow length of him.
“The bullet cut into his bowels,” says the nurse in a hushed tone. “We’re giving him antibiotics and liquids to prevent sepsis. But it was very close to his spine – too close to remove.”
“You mean it’s still in him?” asks Rei.
She nods. “The doctor says it’s a 50/50 chance of paralysis.”
Rei stares, first at her, then at Akai lying motionless in the bed. Paralysis. It would mean the end of his career, and much more besides. Of independence, of mobility, of the ability to ever walk or run or practice martial arts – gods only know what his future sex life would be. Could he drive? Or shoot? Not without onerous preparation.
“When will you know?” he asks, voice surprisingly harsh.
“It may be some while. There’s a lot of swelling and damage that could temporarily cause paralysis but might resolve. It may be weeks before we can be sure.”
“Weeks,” echoes Rei hollowly. Weeks in limbo. He can’t contemplate such strain. “Has he woken up?”
“No. He’s still sleeping off the surgical drugs. He may wake tonight, or maybe not until tomorrow.”
“I see,” he says, voice empty. “May I stay for a few minutes?”
She nods and departs quietly. There’s a chair beside the bed; he folds himself into it and sits silently, watching the lines of Akai’s heartbeat ebb and surge on the monitor.
Why? The question rocks the foundations of his world, shakes him to the core and leaves him feeling unsteady, uncertain. Why has Akai, who knows exactly how much Rei despises him, been so relentless in trying to draw Rei out – in working with him, in promoting him?
In protecting him?
Why did he step in front of that bullet? Did he consider the implications and decide it was worth it? Even more frighteningly, did he act on instinct? What instinct could he possibly have that would have led him to feel Rei worthy of protecting?
Rei pulls out his phone and thumbs through his files. Finds the one he wants and presses play.
“I swear it.”
“I swear I killed Scotch.”
Rei tosses his phone onto the bed in disgust and runs both his hands through his hair, pulling at his roots. “Tell me why, you bastard,” he hisses to Akai’s blank face. “You tell me why.”
There is, of course, no answer.
He gets up early the next morning and goes for a run. He needs to do something physical, needs to get out of his own head. But an hour later he’s sweaty and energized but scarcely more focused. He showers and dresses for the office; as he’s on his way out of his apartment he gets a call from Kazami.
“Furuya-san. The boss asked me to call you; apparently Akai Shuuichi is awake. He’s asking for you.”
Rei curses silently – the last thing he needs right now is to be dragged back down into the whirlpool of uncertainty of last night.
What he says, though, is, “Fine. I’ll be late into the office.”
Rei passes them by and wonders whether, as emissary of the PSB he should have brought something. Flowers. Fruit. But he’s first and foremost his own emissary, and he owes Akai nothing at all.
A bullet to the spine doesn’t make up for a bullet to the heart. At least, that’s what Rei keeps telling himself.
When he arrives at Akai’s room he notices for the first time that someone’s printed his name on the placard beside the door in neat, perfect kanji. It’s probably the first time in years the FBI agent’s had his own name attached to him in writing, hasn’t been Moroboshi Dai or Okiya Subaru or simply Rye. Rei knocks on the door and steps in.
Jodie Starling is sitting in the chair at the bedside; she looks up when he comes in – he sees that her eyes are red behind her glasses. “He’s resting,” she says, without moving.
“How is his condition?” asks Rei, for the formality of the thing.
She answers him with the same distant formality: “He’s a little feverish. The doctor isn’t concerned.”
“And his legs?” asks Rei.
He can see the muscle working in her jaw, can see the words she’s biting back. When the words finally do slip out they’re empty, broken. “He can’t move them.”
The words, for some reason, strike him like a blow. He flounders for a moment, then says: “It may be temporary.”
“And maybe it isn’t,” she snaps back. She stands now, and crosses the floor to crowd him towards the door, her blue eyes furious. “I read the summary of what happened. He was shot protecting you. He took that bullet for you, and you didn’t even think to mention it?”
“It didn’t seem…” begins Rei. She cuts him off.
“What? Important? Relevant? Tell me so I can decide if you’re a bastard, or just insensitive.”
Rei smiles grimly. “The former, certainly. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to have a conversation about it with you – does that satisfy you?”
“Couldn’t bear the guilt?”
“No. Merely the nagging.” He sees her eyes widen at his rudeness. “I understood I had been asked for. But if Akai’s still unconscious I see no reason to stay.”
“I don’t either – you’re certainly not wanted here.” She pulls open the door and he leaves. He hears it slam behind him.
No further call comes in from the hospital; he wonders whether Starling put a stop to them. As it is he works late and then decides, once again, to drive by. Visiting hours are over, he’s safe from the female agent’s wrath.
The ward is quiet once more when he arrives. The nurses smile at him when he shows his badge, and he proceeds to slip silently into Akai’s darkened room.
He takes a seat in the chair, and has just turned to look at the vitals monitor when he hears a quiet shuffle of cotton.
“Furuya-kun,” says Akai in a low tone.
Rei turns to see his green eyes half-open and glinting in the poor light. He lies still otherwise, disturbingly prone and vulnerable.
“I heard you asked for me,” answers Rei.
“Did I?” Akai sounds puzzled. Fevered, Starling had said. “Perhaps. I don’t remember.” He blinks. “They keep giving me morphine.”
“You were shot,” agrees Rei.
“So they tell me.”
“You don’t remember?”
“Everything is very hazy,” confesses Akai. “Even now…” he blinks again. “You look good,” he says, apropos of nothing.
Loopy, diagnoses Rei, either from the drugs or the fever or both. “How do you feel?” he asks, on uncertain ground.
“50/50,” says Akai, in English.
Rei hears the nurse’s voice in his head:The doctor says it’s a 50/50 chance of paralysis.
“The fault was 50/50,” says Akai. Then his eyes slide closed.
Rei sits there for a few minutes in silence, waiting to see if he’ll wake again.
He’s dizzy with emotions he doesn’t understand, with fears and confusion born of feelings he can’t make sense of. He slams his way through his evening routine, banging doors and drawers, shoving crockery in the drying rack, tearing his clothes off and stewing in the bathtub. Nothing brings him any comfort, any sense of distance. When he lies down in bed and shuts the light off it’s Akai’s motionless body on the hospital bed that he sees. His aftershave that he smells.
That, and blood.
Rei screws his eyes closed and curls up. Tries desperately to block out the feelings that assail him: uncertainty, fear, guilt.
How can he feel guilty about the man who killed Scotch?
Why did Akai have to save him?
Rei meets Jodie Starling at the Met office the next day.
More accurately, he is snubbed by Jodie Starling.
He’s in the hall sorting through print-outs for his next meeting when he spots someone tall and blonde out of the corner of his eye. He’s currently the only blond agent in the building, so naturally he turns to look. It’s Starling, walking down the hall with Andre Camel beside her, his hulking bulk immense in the narrow corridor.
He knows she sees him; like most NOCs he has a sixth sense about being recognized. But she sallies right past without once looking at him, head held high. Camel, a step behind her like a retinue of one, glances at Rei apologetically and bobs his head.
Well that’s just fine.
As it turns out, their next meeting is together. They’re glacially polite to each other, when they deign to acknowledge the other’s presence at all. Then the meeting is over and officers are filing out of the room. Rei stays seated, thumbing through his recent emails on his phone. A shadow falls over him and he looks up.
“Stay away from Shuu,” she says, arms crossed, eyes narrow.
Rei smiles predatorily. “Our connection is much deeper than yours, agent. Akai owes me, and he knows it.”
“Still? After this?” she demands. “What more could you possibly want from him?”
“I want justice,” replies Rei.
She throws up her hands. “And only you get to decide what that looks like, is that it? Justice defined by the most biased party possible?”
“That’s what Akai signed up for when he asked for my help. It was his decision to make.”
“And why do you think he agreed to that?”
“Because he lost his own place in the Organization. Because he had no horse in this race anymore, and had to find one, fast.”
Jodie gives him a disbelieving look. “Do you really think we didn’t have access to other agents? Between the CIA and the FBI we could have pulled in half a dozen, including Kir. Shuu could have gone to any of them with his plan and they would have jumped onboard in a heartbeat – without conditions. Why do you think he came to you?”
Rei stands, slipping his phone into his pocket. “Because, Agent Starling,” he says, pushing past her and turning slightly to catch her eye over his shoulder, “I’m the better agent. Better than Kir, better than your stable of greenhorns. Better than Akai. I was under in the Organization for years and I rose to the top – something no one else has managed. So before you start trying to guilt trip me, consider who exactly it is you’re talking to.” He imbues his words with Bourbon’s casual cruelty, with all the coldness and disdain of the mask he’s worn for so long, and sees her eyes widen.
Then he’s out the door and into the hall, and runs a hand through his hair.
Bourbon is a face he wants to leave behind – he believed he had left behind. But maybe it’s not so easy to knock down a persona built through years of hardship and desperation. Maybe Bourbon has become less a mask, and more a part of himself.
For the first time he wonders how much of his fiery rage with Akai is his own, and how much is Bourbon’s hunger for brutality.
Shaking his head, he heads back to his desk.
The nurses on the ward are used to him by now and wave him past their desk and down the hall to Akai’s room. He pulls the door open quietly and slips in.
Akai is lying on his back with the head of the bed raised a foot, a phone beside his head and earphones in his ears. He opens his jade-green eyes at Rei’s entrance and reaches out to pause whatever’s playing on his phone. “Jodie downloaded some audiobooks,” he says, pulling out the earphones.
“Dr Seuss?” asks Rei.
“Ian Fleming,” replies Akai. Rei rolls his eyes. Akai’s skin is no longer flushed with fever, his eyes no longer glassy. Rei can see new lines on his face, lines of pain. There are fewer bags hanging from the IV pole beside him. “I hear you are Jodie are getting to know each other.”
“Yes, it’s been a blast.” Rei sits down. “She hates my guts for hating your guts.”
“Reciprocity’s a bitch,” says Akai bluntly. Rei almost snorts.
“She thinks,” he says, more slowly now, watching Akai’s face for clues, “that you decided to work with me as part of some grand scheme to protect me.”
Akai’s expression gives away no clues; his eyes, if anything, are amused. “And what did you say to that?”
“That she’s got the wrong end of the stick. That my reputation isn’t the one that needs protecting – yours is. And that unlike you, I can look after myself just fine.”
“Well. There you are, then,” says Akai, eyes slipping from Rei’s to look up to the ceiling.
Rei frowns. “Is it true?”
“That your reputation has come out of this looking better than mine? Certainly. That you can take care of yourself? No one ever doubted that, Furuya-kun.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Do my motives really matter?” replies Akai vaguely, still looking upwards.
“You took a bullet for me. Why? Was this your attempt to pay down your debt? To convince me of your goodness?”
“Are you asking if I acted out of guilt? The answer is no; even I’m not that calculating.”
“You jumped in front of a car to get your way. Why not a bullet?”
Akai sighs. “Let’s call it instinct,” he says tiredly.
“I’ve been trained to protect those I work with. Trained for more than a decade to do whatever it takes to prevent loss of life among my allies. That includes you, Furuya-kun. I saw you were in danger; I acted.”
Akai looks over to him, eyes hooded now. “You would prefer it to be complicated?”
“It’s always complicated with you,” says Rei.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
They sit in silence for a minute, just the quiet beeping of hospital equipment and the occasional tapping of footsteps in the hall outside.
Then, “Can you really not move your legs?” asks Rei, working hard to keep emotion out of his voice. He can’t bring himself to use the word paralyzed.
“Not so far. Does that buy me your pity?”
“My pity, maybe. But my mercy?” Rei shakes his head slowly. “I don’t know.”
“Must be tough, being judge, jury and executioner,” replies Akai.
“You agreed to it,” snaps Rei. “It was your choice to work with me – to beg for my help.”
Akai gives him a hard look. “You really are merciless, aren’t you Bourbon?”
The words hit home like a knife to the chest, shredding his resolve.
“Fuck you,” he says viciously and stands and, before he can display the weakness he feels welling up in him, leaves.
Kudou and Sherry had, between them, played an integral part in gathering the evidence to make the downfall of the Organization possible. At the 11th hour Sherry had completed her research into the remedy for APTX 4869, and they had seen the Organization’s collapse through in their true forms.
“I heard from Inspector Megure that an FBI agent was seriously injured in the attack on Rum, Gin and Vermouth,” says the young man. Rei’s still not used to his rougher, lower voice, although it is just as cock-sure as Edogawa Conan’s was.
“Yes,” agrees Rei. And then, because he owes this kid more than he can say, “Akai Shuuichi was shot in the back.”
There’s a moment of silence. And then, “Haibara – Miyano-san wants to see him.”
Rei blinks. The complex relationships between the former members of the Organization are something he’s by and large sidestepped since its collapse. But they’re all tied to each other just as surely as they were before. Rei to the Miyano family for supporting him in his childhood. Akai to them for his connection with Akemi.
“I see,” he says. “I can arrange that. Would you like to come?”
“I want to see him too, but I think it’s important Miyano-san has some time with him alone,” says Kudou, with unexpected emotional insight.
“Alright. I can pick up Miyano-san and take her, if you give me a time and a place.”
“I’ll text you,” says Kudou, and then he’s gone.
She sees Rei and slowly comes over, opening the passenger side door and getting into the Mazda. “Bourbon,” she says, as if tasting the name and considering its application.
“Furuya Rei,” corrects Rei. “I’m not Bourbon, and you’re not Sherry. I think we can agree on that now?” he says pleasantly.
She nods and he turns to face ahead, putting the car in gear and pulling out.
“You’ve heard Akai was shot,” he says.
“By Gin,” replies Rei shortly. He hears her soft inhalation.
“Is he alright?”
“He’ll live, but he was shot near the spine. He may lose the use of his legs.” He glances over and sees her tight face, sees the complex map of emotions printed across it. Anger, pity, and uncertainty at the least.
“I see,” is all she says.
They make the rest of the trip in silence. Rei can’t imagine what else they could have to say to each other, two people made allies, then enemies, then allies once more by circumstance.
Akai’s bed is propped higher today, so that he’s near to sitting, his head resting on a pillow. His eyes flicker from Rei to Miyano and stay there, his face an expressionless mask.
“Moroboshi Dai,” she says gravely. “Or should I say, Akai Shuuichi.”
“Miyano-san.” Akai’s voice is low and gritty, all his attention focused on Akemi’s younger sister.
“You’ve been watching me. Haven’t you?”
“Yes,” he admits.
“I promised your sister I would protect you,” answers Akai, words sounding as though they’ve been cut from his throat.
“You should have protected her instead,” replies Miyano, harshly, both hands clutching the strap of her purse. “She loved you! And now she’s dead.”
Akai closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them again Rei sees anguish there. He’s never seen Akai look so raw. “I would have done anything to protect her.”
“But you didn’t. You left her alone in the Organization when you flamed out, to face the blame for bringing you in.”
“I offered to bring her to America. To put her in witness protection and make her disappear,” says Akai, slowly.
“So why didn’t you?”
“Because she wouldn’t leave you.”
Miyano sits down very abruptly, as though her legs were cut out from under her, her head bowed and the fall of her auburn hair hiding her eyes. “I’d like you to leave us alone, Bou – Furuya-san,” she says, without looking up.
“I’ll be outside,” he says, and steps out to leave the two of them alone.
“Do you still hold a grudge against Akai?” asks Miyano bluntly, stopping on the walkway in front of the hospital. Her eyes are drier now, and a little colour has come back into her cheeks.
“Yes,” answers Rei, plainly.
“Gin killed my sister because of him. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps he didn’t want to see anyone else hurt by that bastard? Couldn’t see anyone else hurt by that bastard?”
“Akai’s no prince on a white steed,” replies Rei, but truthfully it hadn’t occurred to him. In placing so much of his thoughts and energy into Scotch’s death, he’s never spared any time to worry about Akai’s feelings – for Akemi or otherwise. Is it possible that Akai was truly devastated by her death? He doesn’t know.
“I know that. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to completely forgive him for what happened,” she says, fists balled very tightly. “But I don’t blame him. Akemi and I were the ones in the wrong, not him.”
“I’m not sure I understand that, Miyano-san.”
“Well, I don’t blame you for trying to kill me. But I’m not sure I can forgive you, either,” she replies flatly. “You should talk to Akai. The two of you need to sort out your situation. For years I believed Rye to be a monster, Furuya-san. But he’s not. He wants you to forgive him – or at least not to blame him – for what happened to Scotch.”
“Did he ask you to say that?” bristles Rei.
“No. He didn’t say anything about Scotch at all. But I’ve spent a long time learning to read people. I can tell.”
“Do you need me to drive you back to Beika?” asks Rei, ending the conversation before he runs out of politeness.
“No. I can make my own way. But I hope you think about what I said – it’s obvious that right now, neither of you is happy with the way things are.” Before he can reply she turns and walks away, heading down the sidewalk towards the station.
Rei considers leaving. Considers getting in his car and driving back to work – he’s been away long enough that the emails will be piling up, and gods know how many meetings he’s missed.
But he finds that, against all the odds, he actually wants to talk to Akai. Wants to see the impact Miyano made on him. Wants to find out what he truly felt for Akemi. So he turns and goes back upstairs.
“I suppose being in hospital means that anyone can decide to come in whenever they please,” says Akai lazily, but his expression is tight, pressed.
“Miyano-san has gone back to Beika,” says Rei.
“Why did you bring her?” asks Akai, opening his eyes.
“She asked to see you.”
“And you thought it would be a good opportunity to get a blow in? Send a girl in to do your work for you?”
Rei blinks at the rawness of Akai’s voice, at the undisguised pain there. “If I had thought about it,” he replies, slowly, “I would have thought you wouldn’t give a shit.”
“How nice and clean things must be in your mind, Furuya-kun,” says Akai, tiredly. “A world where only your feelings and needs matter.”
“Only because you don’t have any.”
“Really.” Akai stares him in the eye, his green eyes sharp. “Well if you say so, it must be true.”
But Akai has closed his eyes and turned his head away. “I would like to be alone,” he says.
“Listen,” begins Rei, but Akai doesn’t react. “Fine,” spits Rei, and spins around. He leaves without another word.
Spot the Zero the Enforcer reference~
Rei can’t concentrate at work.
He skims emails, looks at reports, and chats to colleagues, but none of it sinks in.
The core of his consciousness is focused like a laser on his conversations with Miyano and Akai. Specifically, he’s trying to dredge his memories for old impressions untainted by his current opinion of the FBI agent. For his rusty thoughts on Akai’s relationship with Akemi before Scotch’s death shattered Rei’s perception of him, and before Akai’s outing as an FBI agent revealed his true intentions in dating her.
He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, and tries to remember. Those days seem a lifetime ago, seem completely disconnected from his current reality. He remembers… cigarette smoke. Aftershave. The sharp scents crowd his mind but refuse to reveal the circumstances behind them. The more he tries to focus on them, the more ephemeral they become, slipping through his fingers like water.
Rei shoves back from his chair, startling the agent beside him, and stands. He strides down the hall, still so lost in thought that he doesn’t notice the men and women hurrying out of his way. He takes the elevator downstairs, then goes to the nearest conbini, where he buys a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
It’s been a long time since he smoked; it comes back to him with startling clarity as he unwraps the cellophane and pulls out the smooth-sided cigarette. He lights it and takes a drag, barely managing not to cough.
The acrid feel of smoke in his lungs and the reek of tobacco prompt an old memory, one he’d forgotten. He walks down the busy Chiyoda street, mind lost in the past, and tries to remember.
“You look suspicious loitering around out on the street,” Rye tells him, joining Rei on the sidewalk outside the building Rei is currently casing. He pulls out a packet of cigarettes and offers Rei one.
“I don’t smoke.”
“It’s a good reason to be on the pavement,” replies Rye, and lights up. Rei reluctantly reaches out and pulls a cigarette from the packet. Rye flicks the lighter on and lights it for him, Rei leaning into the flame close enough that he can smell Rye’s woody aftershave.
The smoke burns at first and he coughs, his pristine lungs trying to expel the contaminate, his eyes watering. “Disgusting,” he says, as he regains his breath.
“You’ll get used to it,” replies Rye, taking another drag. Rei does the same and while it still burns, the intensity is a little reduced this time. He can feel the kick of the nicotine hitting his bloodstream, the sharply satisfying sensation.
“Great. Now I’ll reek like you,” he says, looking at the cigarette held between his fingers.
“There are worse things.”
“Like loss of taste? COPD? Cancer?” suggests Rei.
“You always look on the bright side,” replies Rye, wryly. There’s a quiet buzzing and he reaches down to pull his phone from his pocket. “Aa?” he answers casually, eyes on the building across the street.
Rei can hear the tinny sound of a female voice but can’t make out more than that.
“Dinner tomorrow? I can arrange it,” replies Rye, smiling softly. He never smiles like that for Rei; his grins are all shit-eating or sharp-edged, never gentle, delicate things.
More one-sided talk, then, “No, I can pick you up. It’s no trouble. I’ll meet you at your apartment. Maybe I’ll bring a surprise,” he adds, with such warmth in his tone that Rei glances at him. Rye chuckles at something she says, then hangs up.
“Quite the Don Juan,” Rei says, as Rye slips the phone back into his pocket.
“Important people deserve just as much care and attention as important missions. Maybe more.”
Rei leans back against the building behind him, slowly growing more used to the smoke he’s pulling in, although his stomach is feeling a little uncertain. “This isn’t a lifestyle that’s supportive of loving relationships,” he says.
“Sometimes love finds you whether you’re looking for it or not,” replies Rye, with a shadow of the smile he had given Akemi. He tosses Rei the packet of cigarettes. “Keep them. Smoking suits you.”
Rei gives him the finger and he laughs and turns, waving over his shoulder. Rei watches him go and wonders what it would be like to be the subject of Rye’s love and affection. To have that warmth, that soft smile focused on him. His stomach twists briefly; he attributes it to the cigarette.
And anyway, it’s a pointless line of thought – Rye could never love him. And he doesn’t want a boyfriend. He wants to bring down the Organization. That’s the be all and end all of his existence.
Rei finishes the cigarette and grinds it out under his shoe, stuffing the packet and the lighter into his pocket; he can give them to one of the many smokers around the building later.
What stands out in his memory is the way Akai lit up when talking to Akemi. The way he thoughtlessly, effortlessly dismissed Rye’s indifferent mask. The way the happiness lingered in him.
Rei has a very low opinion of Akai’s acting skills. The idea that the FBI agent could fake such tenderness feels unlikely; in all circumstances regardless of the situation Akai’s attitude has always been low-key and competent – never emotional, never concerned. Only Akemi warranted otherwise.
For the first time he feels a prickle of jealousy for the happiness Akai landed – something Rei never even dreamed of. For the woman who could make Akai smile so unguardedly, make him laugh not out of condescension but out of affection.
For the first time he wonders what Akai felt when he heard she was dead at his enemy’s hands. Killed as a warning and a punishment to him.
And he realises that, until he finds out, he’s not going to be able to put that question aside.
Akai’s lying propped up in bed, head turned towards the window. Outside rain is falling; Rei is damp with it, the world beyond the window dark and wet.
Rei pauses at the door, then shuts it behind him and slowly walks in, taking a seat in the chair. They wait in silence for a moment, each waiting to see who will break the quiet first.
“Taken up smoking?” drawls Akai, turning to look at him. At Rei’s surprised glance he expands: “I can smell it on you.”
“Just a passing moment of madness,” replies Rei. “Do they let you smoke in here?”
Akai reaches out and pushes up the sleeve on his left arm to reveal a nicotine patch on his bicep.
“Does that work?”
“Like water replaces whiskey.”
Silence descends again. Their conversations have always been traded barbs, snide remarks tossed back and forth. Otherwise, Rei knows, things get too serious, too fast. It’s difficult to know how to begin an honest conversation.
“About earlier,” he begins. “I thought you should know that I didn’t have any ulterior motive. Sherry – Miyano – wanted to see you, so I brought her. End of story.”
“I see.” Akai’s tone is flat, emotionless.
“It’s been a long time since I thought about the days when we were together: you, me, Scotch. And Akemi. I had forgotten how close you were. How much you…”
“Loved her?” suggests Akai. “How convenient for you.”
Rei runs a hand through his hair. “Look, I’m trying here. Don’t you think it’s easier for me to ignore what happened? To pretend that you’re the emotionless killer you imitate? If you choose to act out a role, you can’t turn around and be surprised when people treat you accordingly.”
“Has it ever occurred to you, Furuya-kun, that perhaps not everything is a giant plot to mess with you? That perhaps I act as I do not to screw with you, but because that’s what my heart dictates?”
“And your heart dictated that you kill Scotch?”
Akai sighs. “It always comes back to that.”
“Of course it does,” snaps Rei. “Do you think I’m going to forget? Just give you a pass because you happen to have your own personal tragedy? I’m trying to understand you, trying to see where you’re coming from but at the end of the day maybe I can’t. The fact that you loved Akemi doesn’t change the fact that you killed my best friend.”
“I’ve heard that you once killed a man,” says Akai, holding Rei’s eyes with his gaze.
Rei crosses his arms. “That was different.”
“Yes, because he supposedly committed suicide and, more importantly, because it was a ruse!”
“So if Scotch committed suicide, would you still blame me?”
“I would if you drove him to it.”
Akai raises his eyebrows. “What if the blame were 50/50?” he asks.
The fault is 50/50. Rei remembers his feverish words, spoken in delirium. He swallows. “I don’t believe in blaming victims for their situation,” he answers, but he can hear the thinness of his voice, the weakness of his bravado.
Akai is watching him closely, eyes bright as a hawk’s under the hospital fluorescents. He opens his mouth once, then closes it.
“Are you going to tell me it was Scotch’s fault?” asks Rei, pushing the issue.
“Not Scotch’s,” replies Akai slowly.
“Then whose? Who are you trying to drag into this mess now? Gin? Vermouth? Rum? It would be convenient to lay the blame on a dead man.”
Akai pushes himself up on his elbows. Slowly, painfully, he raises himself into a sitting position, both arms propping him up against the bed. It’s a stark, bitter reminder of the situation he finds himself in, of the sacrifice he made – one Rei still hasn’t come to grips with.
Rei resents him for bringing it up. And then he resents himself for his resentment.
“Furuya-kun, does it really matter? It was foolish of me to bring it up. You’ll clearly continue to blame me, no matter who else might have been involved. I would rather bear the weight of that blame than throw another into your sights.”
“Can we just forget about this? You said that this afternoon you didn’t come with ulterior motives. Do you have them now?”
Rei sighs. “Fine. We can put it aside – for now. But I won’t forget, Akai.”
“I don’t believe you ever forget anything,” replies Akai, with a hint of bitterness. He lets himself back down, lying on the bed once more, his arms trembling.
There’s a knock on the door and a nurse comes in. “I have to ask you to leave, officer,” she says, smiling apologetically. “Akai-san needs his rest. He’s starting physio tomorrow.”
Rei glances back at Akai. “Really,” he says.
“So they tell me.”
“I might have to come by to see it one of these days.” He stands and, without a goodbye, accompanies the nurse out of the room.
Three days later he hears at work that the FBI are pulling out. They’re leaving the country and going back to America to bumble their way through whatever work is waiting for them there.
Rei has an image of Akai being loaded from a stretcher onto a plane to depart from Japanese soil – and Japanese jurisdiction – for life. Without waiting to finish the conversation he’s in he’s already jogging down the hall towards the elevator.
He arrives at the hospital 20 minutes later to find Akai’s bed empty, sheets still mussed. He turns to the nurse who followed him in, eyes wide and panicked. “Where is he?” he demands.
She blinks. “I think Akai-san went up to the roof.”
Rei stares. “The roof?”
She nods. “It’s accessed by …”
But he’s already gone, running down the hall and to the stairs, ready to do whatever’s necessary to keep Akai here in Japan. He bolts up five storeys and hits the door that accesses the roof, lungs burning.
The roof is a wide open space surrounded by tall railings. The poles are still there from the days before hospitals outsourced their laundry, the cement tiles no longer splattered by water droplets from sheets drying above.
At one edge sits a wheelchair occupied by a tall, dark-haired man. Smoke curls up over his left shoulder. Rei feels his heart give a giddy little leap.
Akai’s still here. Still within his grasp. He forces himself to take a breath, then walk over.
Akai turns to watch him for a moment, then looks back at the cityscape. “Furuya-kun,” he says, tapping the ash from his cigarette.
I thought you were leaving, is what nearly leaves his mouth. I thought you were gone, forever. “Just can’t quit, can you?” he says instead, indicating the cigarette in Akai’s hand.
“They say it’s harder than heroin,” replies Akai with a crooked smile.
Rei is suddenly, terribly happy. Happy that Akai is still here. That he’s not alone.
He frowns, trying to pick apart these feelings. It’s not the satisfaction he would have expected, the knowledge that he can still prosecute Akai for Scotch’s death – or take matters into his own hands. Instead it’s a much simpler pleasure. A gladness for Akai’s company.
He doesn’t understand it at all.
“I heard the FBI was pulling out,” he says eventually, resting his hands on the railing and leaning his weight against it.
“They are. I’m staying.”
“Deep cover inside Teitan University Hospital?” Rei asks sarcastically.
Akai takes a drag, blowing smoke out towards the horizon. “I have some things to wrap up. Until my prognosis is clearer I’m on leave in any case.”
Rei kicks the guard rail; it echoes hollowly. “How’s physio?” he asks.
Akai shrugs. “They say I’ve already lost almost 10% of my muscle mass from being in bed this long. It’s a struggle to regain it.”
“You’re an elite agent who’s spent his life training. Surely it can’t be that hard.”
“Without my legs, it’s a challenge,” he replies, the words like a blow to Rei’s gut.
“Still no improvement?”
Rei glances at him, arms still pushing against the railing. “Do you regret it?” he asks stiffly.
“Taking that bullet. If you were hoping for appreciation, you must have been disappointed.”
“I didn’t act with a goal in mind. I told you – my reaction was instinctive.”
“Hmm.” Rei turns back to watch the clouds pass over the sun. “Why are you really staying? I’m sure your FBI colleagues wanted you to go back with them. I’m sure they feel American hospitals are superior.”
“I told you: I have some things to finish up,” replies Akai, flatly.
“Like earning my forgiveness?”
Akai grinds the cigarette out on the railing and drops the butt. “If I knew what to do to earn it, I would. Your heart is a locked door, Furuya-kun, and I don’t know that you yourself have the key.”
Rei turns sharply, leaning his back against the railing and crossing his arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Simply that until you understand yourself better, I’m not sure anyone else will be able to understand you. Or meet your expectations. Including me.” He drops his hands to the wheels of the chair and pushes himself backwards, turning slowly and rolling back towards the door to the stairs and elevator.
“I’m not some kind of goddamn puzzle,” calls Rei after him.
Akai looks back over his shoulder. “Then why are you always so alone?”
Chapters 4 and 5 were posted at the same time - please ensure you read 4 too!
Why are you always so alone?
The question echoes in his head as Rei drives home that night.
Part of him wants to answer that he’s so alone because Scotch is dead, and they all know whose fault that is. But it isn’t the truth – or not the whole of it. He didn’t used to have trouble forming bonds and making friends – with Wataru, with Jinpei, with Hiromitsu. Later, even with Rye. They had been close enough that, once upon a time, he had envied Rye’s relationship with Akemi. Envied her place in his affection.
He’s starting to remember those days now, the more time he spends with Akai. Starting to remember the respect he had had for the sniper, and the simple pleasure he took from their rough but solid relationship. Starting to remember a nascent desire for more.
That is, until Scotch’s death scorched everything.
It’s not news, he thinks now as he drives beneath the streetlights, that that’s what really blew his whole world apart. Ended his ability to trust, his desire to trust. Since then he’s made allies, but no friends.
He wonders whether he blames Akai for not just his best friend’s death but also the end of what remained of his innocence, his ability to have faith in others.
The reality is, there’s very little he hasn’t blamed on Akai at one time or another. He’s spent so long hating with such ferocious intensity that it’s eroded his memories of what it was like to have friends. To aspire to relationships. In giving himself over to vengeance, he’s damaged himself fiercely.
Rei pulls up at a red light and rests his head on the wheel.
He misses the days when things were simple.
Miyano Shiho was right about one thing: right now, neither of them is happy with the situation. They have to end this before even more damage is done.
They need to settle this. Need to come head to head and sort out what’s owed and to whom.
So at 2pm when he can’t take it any more, he simply ups and leaves. Ignores the emails and the phone calls and walks away from his desk.
He arrives at the hospital after the short drive, parking in the visitor parking and heading upstairs to Akai’s floor. He wonders if he should have prepared more, should have thought out his strategy, should have made a plan. Akai, the perfect sniper, would have. But Rei thrives on spontaneity; it’s what’s kept him alive this long. So he doesn’t bother with a plan. Just marches into Akai’s room, closes the door, and says, “We have to talk.”
Akai’s in bed listening to something on his phone again. The head of the bed is propped up at a near 90 degree angle, allowing him to sit up. There’s a triangular metal bar above the bed – a lift, Rei realises – and a wheelchair in the corner where Akai can reach it.
“We used to be something more than colleagues,” Rei says, pulling the chair out sharply and sitting down. Akai pulls out his earphones, silencing his phone. “It’s easy to forget, now. But it’s true. I trusted you with my life – with Scotch’s life.”
“I know,” says Akai, voice low.
“Since his death, I haven’t trusted anyone. Not until you swore to me that you killed him; that was the only way I knew I could trust you. No one would promise that falsely.”
Akai is silent, watchful.
“Everyone keeps telling me that I’m missing something. That I’m not seeing the full picture. That I should give you more credit.” He crosses his arms. “I want to finish this. I want to see justice done – and done right. So you’d better tell me now if I’m missing something. Because whatever you’ve done for me, Scotch comes first.”
“Are you saying you’ll press charges?” asks Akai.
“I’m saying I want to see the people who were at fault punished. If that means charges, so be it.”
Akai wets his lips. “I don’t believe anyone should be charged in Morofushi Hiromitsu’s death,” he says at last. And, before Rei can interrupt, continues. “I’m saying this as a law enforcement agent, Furuya-kun. There is no case to be made. Scotch pulled the trigger – he died by his own hand. You must know that.”
“If you drove it to him, it’s still murder,” replies Rei, hotly.
“And if I didn’t?” Akai’s voice is harsh, brittle. Rei can see the tension in his jaw, the creases at the corners of his eyes.
Rei leans forward, shoulders stiff, eyes intense. “You said the fault was 50/50. So who bears the blame?”
“Scotch was determined to die. He was convinced his cover was blown and that Gin was coming to rip every secret he had from his tormented body. That he would be made to betray you – and that that would mean your death too. All he could see was the horror that lay ahead, madness and murder. His actions were a product of his unstable frame of mind.”
“Who bears the blame, Akai?” repeats Rei, voice barely a growl. He can see the sweat beading at Akai’s hairline, can see the rapid rise and fall of his chest.
“I couldn’t save him.” Akai’s voice is rough as a rusty sawblade. “I tried. I grabbed the gun, I broke my own cover to convince him to hold fire.”
“He pulled the gun away, and he shot himself. I couldn’t stop him.” Akai swallows, throat working. “He took the shot because he heard footsteps on the stairway. I was distracted, and he took it as proof that Gin was coming. But it wasn’t Gin.”
“You’re lying,” says Rei, voice ice-cold. Under his skin, though, is a blistering inferno, a whirlwind of fire that is searing his flesh and bone.
He remembers it so clearly. Remembers hammering up the metal stairs. Remembers hearing the shot. Remembers bursting out onto the roof to find Scotch already dead with a bullet in his heart.
“It was no one’s fault. Or it was both of ours.”
“You’re lying,” snaps Rei, heat exploding with his words. He shoves his hand into his pocket and finds his phone. Pulls up the audio files and hits play.
“I swear it.”
“I swear I killed Scotch.”
Rei tosses the phone into Akai’s lap. “You swore,” he said. “You made me trust you. You’ve manipulated me again and again and again! WHY?” He’s shaking with rage, with indecipherable fury.
Akai grabs the phone and throws it across the room. “Can’t you see I’ve done it all to protect you? Everything I’ve done – everything – I’ve done to protect you.”
As he shouts, Rei sees a motion out of the corner of his eye. Instinctively he glances down. Akai’s just kicked his foot. He stares. “Do that again.”
“What?” pants Akai, furiously.
Rei points at his foot. His heart is racing, his face hot, but he forces himself to focus on this one small thing. “You just moved your foot. Do it again.”
Akai looks from him to his blanketed foot, rage bleeding into confusion. But gently, after a moment, his foot wiggles.
“Holy shit,” breathes Rei. And then, “I’ll get a doctor.”
“Furuya,” shouts Akai, but he’s already up and running down the hall to the nurse’s station to find a doctor.
Things get very busy very fast. A doctor is called, then another, then a specialist. Akai is poked and prodded and made to move his foot repeatedly while the medical professionals all marvel. Rei, shoved in the back corner of the room, watches it all silently. He’s slowly processing what’s happened, Akai’s revelations. Slowly going over his own reactions, and finding himself wanting.
“It’s not a guarantee of full recovery, Akai-san,” says the specialist eventually, once things have calmed down. “But it’s a very good sign.”
Akai seems more bemused than anything, overwhelmed by everything that’s happening around him. Slowly the nurses and doctors trickle out of the room, until just he and Rei are left. Rei slowly steps out of the corner and crosses to stand at Akai’s bedside. Akai looks up, face hardening.
“Furuya-kun,” he says, and stops.
“Why?” he asks. It all comes down to that one, simple word. The question he hasn’t been able to answer since he first confronted Akai in the hospital over a week ago.
“Because I care about you. I care for you,” says Akai, slowly. “You said we were more than colleagues. I agree. In all the years I’ve worked to take down the Organization, you were the only one who I knew we couldn’t succeed without. And you were the only one I wanted to stand by me as a friend – as more than a friend. I’ve never been lonely like you. But I’ve never been complete, either. I loved Akemi, but she wanted someone caring and tender and I need more than soft words and gentle kisses. I need rough edges and firepower and someone who will never fail to push me harder than I push myself.”
“Sounds like a love letter to a sawed-off shotgun,” replies Rei, shortly.
“I’m no romantic, Furuya-kun. But I know what I want. And I’ll wait – for years – to get it.”
“And in the meantime, you’ll just lie and cheat and throw yourself in front of bullets?”
“If I have to,” agrees Akai. “Are you still angry?”
“I don’t know what I am,” replies Rei, honestly. “Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t this.”
“You don’t have to have an answer.”
“Well good. Because I don’t.” He looks around and sees his phone lying on the floor beside the wall. He bends down and scoops it up – the screen is cracked across, but when he thumbs his code in it unlocks. “Look. I’ll come by later. Tomorrow. The next day. I need time to digest… all of this.”
“I acted as my heart told me to,” says Akai slowly. “You’re not beholden to me. If you don’t want to pursue this, we won’t.”
“And you’ll go home to America?”
“Perhaps.” Akai shrugs. “I haven’t decided.”
Rei nods. “We’ll talk later.”
Akai nods back and he walks out slowly, receiving beaming smiles from the nurses at the station as he passes by.
But the next day he’s called into Atsuma’s office: Vermouth is being extradited to America, and they need an escort for her.
He’s going to the US of A.
“How did you imagine it all ending? You must have known the Organization couldn’t keep going forever. It was getting too big, and too greedy.”
“Well, I thought I would get out first, for a start,” she says lightly. “But you… you were always so fierce in your conviction.”
“You mistook my hatred of Akai for hatred of the law.”
“I suppose so,” she admits, studying her still-perfect nails. “We were all of us fooled by that. How is Rye?”
“He’ll live,” replies Rei, shortly. She doesn’t need to know anything more than that.
“I always thought he and Gin would kill each other, you know, nice and messy. I never imagined he would go down protecting you.” She smiles. “Must have been a shock.”
“I don’t think anyone’s ever understood his real motivations,” says Rei. He certainly hadn’t, until last night.
“That could be.”
They’re silent for a while, the clouds passing by slowly outside the window.
“What will you do now?” asks Rei.
“In prison, you mean?” she asks, jingling the handcuff on her wrist.
“We both know you’ll have broken out within a month. I hope you’ll keep your nose clean this time.”
Vermouth laughs, a silvery sound. “That was very officer-like of you. In fact, I might retire. Spend some time on the beach. I deserve it.”
Rei snorts, and reaches out to turn on a movie.
He meets Jodie Starling briefly in Washington.
“Akai’s on the mend,” he tells her. Her eyes widen.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s started to regain some feeling in his feet. The doctors think the swelling is finally receding. It’s too early to know for sure, but he may be walking soon.”
“I can’t believe he didn’t call me!” she hisses, already pulling out her phone. But it’s the middle of the night in Japan, and she thinks better of calling him. She looks to Rei and pokes a finger in his chest. “You’d better not be bothering him.”
“Perish the thought,” he says, smiling, and walks away.
Despite the several days that have passed, most of his time has been spent thinking about how to keep Vermouth in custody. He hasn’t had much time to spare for himself – for Akai.
The truth is, he doesn’t know what he wants. He’s always put himself second and his work first. Has never considered what he might want from a lover. He just knows he lives life at a fast pace – he despises boredom.
With Akai, he would certainly never be bored.
He remembers the smell of cigarette smoke, and with it the warmth of Akai’s smile. The way his own heart had skipped at the sight of it. The sadness in the fact that love felt so utterly foreign.
What would it be like, he wonders, not to be alone. Not to be driven entirely by hate and vengeance, but by love.
He wants to find out.
He’s been awake for nearly 24 hours, and while that’s not a hardship he’s still a little groggy. He parks and gets out, trying to focus on where he’s leaving his car. Then he enters the hospital and heads for Akai’s floor.
The day shift nurses don’t know him, but they nod pleasantly as he passes through. He comes to Akai’s door and knocks, then opens it.
Akai’s sitting in his wheelchair at the side of his bed, some two meters from the door. He looks up when Rei enters and smiles – not sharply, not wolfishly, but softly.
Something in Rei’s heart melts at the sight. “Akai…”
He watches in shock as Akai pushes himself slowly to his feet, then takes one, two, three shaky steps across the distance between them.
His legs give out just before he gets to Rei; Rei snaps forward and catches him, pulling him close and holding him in a tight embrace. He smells of cigarette smoke and aftershave.
“You came back,” says Akai, quietly.
“Of course I came back, moron. Who knows what kind of trouble you’d get up to without me around. You said it yourself: I’m the one you need to take down the Organization. Well there’s still a lot of work left, so now that you’re back on your feet you’d better start preparing. There’s files to gather and briefing notes to write and evidence to be collected, and then there will be the court cases and that will take –”
Akai straightens himself, hands catching Rei’s shoulders, and kisses him.
“For the time being,” he says, when they slip apart, Rei’s heart pounding like a drum in his chest, “let’s just focus on us.”