“Oh, someone’s at the door!” she exclaimed and Haru failed to suppress a smile. Compared to the fearful child he once knew, the voice was loud and excited and if the small steps were to be trusted, he was about to see for himself the progress Squirt made in his absence.
But Ryu was too late and the door swung open. Haru could have broken the silence surrounding them, but witnessing utter surprise was a rarity when it came to Ryu. Ryu’s expression did not change much, it usually never did. It was all in Ryu’s eyes, how they widened before Ryu schooled his expression into indifference again. He was pleased to find that he could still read Ryu.
“Haru!” Squirt was the first to break the silence and Haru crouched to greet her. He was momentarily surprised when tiny arms circled his neck in a hug.
“Squirt, have you been good?” Haru said, picking her up.
“Yes, I’ve missed you!” Happy eyes stared at him and Haru looked at her fondly. He had missed her. “I have to show you Eyebrows!” She squirmed a little in his hold, so Haru placed her down and out of sight she was, leaving the two of them alone.
“So,” Haru said, an easy smile on his lips. “Are you going to invite me in?”
“That depends,” Ryu’s tone was even, but his eyes were narrowed and sharp, taking him in. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Aw, you’d tell me to leave without letting me see Eyebrows?” Haru brought a hand to his heart. “You wound me Ryu!”
Hurried steps were heard in the apartment and hesitation appeared in Ryu’s eyes. He could remember the countless times Ryu played along for Squirt’s sake and this time would be no different. But this was not the way Haru wanted things to go. He leaned against the doorframe.
“Relax, everything’s alright. No problems with my work, if that’s what you’re worried about. I'm just visiting.”
“Visiting?” The mask of indifference was perfectly set in place, but Haru pressed on.
“Yeah, I was in the neighborhood. Plus, I remember we have… unfinished business.”
Understanding slowly appeared in Ryu’s gaze and tension started leaving his shoulders. Did he think Haru was here to deliver bad news? Ryu could be so ridiculous sometimes, though he supposed, that must be the curse one endured when in possession of a brain who thought of so many things all the time. Haru thought that being in Ryu’s brain must be agonizingly tiring.
“You still have it?” Haru asked.
“Of course I do.” Ryu answered, like Haru was stupid for even asking such a thing and maybe he was. Quite a bit of time had passed since he had Ryu on the floor of the warehouse, but Ryu would never throw the coupon away. It was not in his nature.
“Here’s Eyebrows!” Squirt appeared behind Ryu, just as he was opening his mouth to say something. Her earnest eyes looked from Haru to Ryu, the cat meowed in her arms and just like that, Ryu seemed to abandon what he was about to say.
“Don’t just stand there, come in.” Ryu said instead and Haru took his first steps back into Ryu’s life again like it was nothing. Squirt motioned him in the living room, but Haru’s eyes were on Ryu as he was making his way to the kitchen. Oh right, it was close to dinner time and Squirt probably had not eaten yet.
A sly smile formed on Haru’s face. Ryu was in the process of grabbing a plate when Haru hugged him from behind. Ryu went perfectly still in his hold. He could see Ryu’s nape and it took all the control he had not to bite his neck.
“Should I give you a coupon for making me dinner as well?” Haru whispered in his ear. He knew their game would never end if he continued to give him coupons. He also underestimated how much Ryu knew him. Ryu turned in his grasp.
“If I said yes, would you give me one?”
“Well…” Haru stumbled. Damn Ryu had him, the smirk on his face told him as much. Haru’s eyes fell on Ryu’s lips. If Haru were to kiss him, would his lips feel the same as back then? They were so close to one another if he just leaned in…
“Haru!” Squirt’s indignant voice called for him and Haru jumped out of his skin. Ryu’s hands found their place on his shoulders to stabilize him.
“You should go to her.” Ryu said and just like that the moment was shattered.
“Yeah…” Haru replied. Had he just imagined it?
He and Squirt were on the couch with Eyebrows playing between them and he pondered. He could swear that Ryu was looking at his lips too, the tension in his body, he had a knack for things like that after all. But what did it mean?
“Look, he's so big!” Squirt exclaimed, holding Eyebrows to his face. Haru reached out to hold Eyebrows and he started purring, nesting in the crook of his arm. He liked to think Eyebrows missed him as well.
“He remembers you.” Squirt echoed his thoughts and Haru ruffled her hair. A shy smile graced her lips. A fugitive gaze around the apartment revealed the same things Haru remembered, but this time around, Squirt’s things accompanied the old. The apartment was still neat, Ryu could never tolerate disorder, but he could clearly see some toys, children’s books, Squirt’s coat on the coat rack. He did not know why that made him so happy, but it had. Ryu had done well.
“It’s like we’re a family.” Squirt proclaimed as they were all eating. Ryu chided him with his look, but Haru only chuckled.
“Yeah, it does look like that doesn’t it?”
Ryu let out a sigh, but continued to eat his food. Squirt beaning at both of them meant that it was already decided. Really, Haru loved this sweet part of Ryu.
With the late hours of evening approaching, Ryu had left to put Squirt to sleep. It did not escape him that they both headed to the previously locked room, Ai’s room. Ryu did not take long, Squirt must have grown accustomed to the apartment and the routine in the time he was away. The only issue was that Ryu did not even spare him a fleeting glance as he entered his bedroom. Haru remained abandoned in the center of the living room. He supposed he expected Ryu to ask him if he intended to spend the night at least, but instead, Ryu left him to his own devices.
“What are you doing?” Haru asked, closing the door behind him.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Ryu was, to his credit, rummaging though the wardrobe. “I’m looking for a futon and pajamas.” So Ryu knew from the very beginning what he intended to do. Haru started advancing towards him.
“There’s no need.”
Haru put his hand on the wardrobe near Ryu’s head. “No need for a futon. I want to seep with you.”
Haru could not help the low tone of his voice at the implication of his words. Ryu regarded him with an incredibly calm look, like he expected it and for all Haru knew, maybe he did. Ryu was incredibly smart. But they both knew that Ryu was under no obligation to offer his body to him anymore. Maybe that was what made Haru seek him out. He needed to know how things between them stood.
Haru started closing the distance between them, but lowered his lips to Ryu’s neck instead. He tasted the skin there, felt Ryu drag a shallow breath. He let his teeth graze the skin and his hands to travel to the small of Ryu’s back.
“You’re not going to stop me?” Haru breathed out. “I’ll really do it, you know.”
Here it comes, Haru thought. Ryu would never allow it. He will pull away from him, use the coupon and then it will all be over. They were part of two different words. A short laugh escaped Ryu’s lips, making Haru freeze with a hand prepared to violate Ryu’s pants.
“Don’t you remember?” Ryu said, amusement clear in his eyes.
“This is what you said to me before, at your old place… When you touched me for the first time.”
“Oh,” Haru replied. He made a point to carefully examine his memories. Obviously he remembered all the times he spent with Ryu, but his exact words?
“My memory is pretty bad after all.” Haru said with a laugh.
“Obviously.” Ryu agreed. “So?”
“Aren’t you going to continue what you were doing?”
“Ryu, but you’re supposed to…” Haru could not finish his sentence. Ryu had the nerve to sound like he was losing patience with him and that much became obvious when Ryu kissed him, swallowing the gasp between Haru’s lips. Their tongues circled around each other and he became distantly aware that Ryu was the one leading the kiss, sucking his tongue, nibbling the bottom of his lip. Haru could not help the moan that escaped his lips.
“Does it look like I want you to stop?” Ryu fixed him with a stare.
They both stumbled to the bed, undressing each other hurriedly, like their bodies were aching for the warmth of the other. He could barely control himself as he was preparing Ryu but luckily, there was barely any resistance. Even after all this time it seemed like Ryu’s body still remembered him.
“I missed you,” Haru breathed out, buried deep into Ryu. The way Ryu squeezed around him almost pushed him over the edge. The smell of sex slowly filled up the room as Haru brought both of them near climax, but it was still not enough.
“Ryu, tell me what you want.” Haru said and Ryu opened his eyes to stare at him in irritation. They struck a deal in the past, for Ryu to voice his thoughts to him. No, he had to think Ryu was having sex with him because he wanted to. What was left, what else could he gain by using Haru?
“Haru,” Ryu’s voice brought him back from his thoughts and what a sight to behold. Ryu’s face was flustered, but the eyes staring up at him were filled with crystal clear indignation. “I want to come,” he uttered in the end and Haru obliged. He knew Ryu’s body better than anyone. He worked touching every spot that drove him mad and Ryu could not hold his voice back even if he wanted to.
I love him, Haru thought. The trust Ryu must place in him, to be able to fall asleep in front of him. Or maybe Ryu had simply passed out; they ended up having two more goes after all. Did Ryu know that he cuddled in his sleep? At some point he started stirring, only settling when he had his head on Haru’s chest, their limbs tangled together. Haru did not dare to move throughout the whole process. He was listening to Ryu’s soft breaths, wondering if he ever saw such a peaceful expression on his face before. He allowed himself to pass his fingers though Ryu’s hair.
Ever since the warehouse he knew, of course he knew. But Haru could not see how this realization would help him, or even Ryu for that matter. He thought the smart thing would be to play pretend. Or maybe to avoid Ryu altogether until the day he died. Haru let out a sigh and slowly started untangling himself from Ryu. Once outside, the cold night’s wind sobered him up and he took the executive decision to never step foot in Ryu's appartment again. He saw Narimiya waiting for him in the familiar taxi.
“Did you take care of the unfinished business?” Narimiya asked, just as the rhythmic movements of the car were luring him into a deep sleep. Haru widened his eyes.
Ryu had not told him his wish.
When he came to, it was dark, too dark to see anything in front of him. He was laying on the ground and a quick mental inspection revealed that nothing was wrong with him, apart from the cold chilling him to the bone. His wrists were tied up and testing the binds made him understand that these were no zip ties. They were sturdy and rough on his skin. In fact, it was almost like the person who tied him up was aware of his method to break free from binds. He was also missing the small knife he always had with him and the pin in his hair. Haru allowed a chuckle to escape his lips.
He supposed he got careless, that much was obvious. He knew he was stupid, but he never considered himself clueless before. He always trusted his intuition. Things tended to sort themselves out if he kept calm and let things be.
So why was he in this situation?
Maybe it started with Squirt, how her eyes lit up every time she saw him. She would always run to greet him, like he just came home from work to be with his family. He swore that even Eyebrows looked elated to see him. One day he learned Squirt always waited for him in the evenings, utterly convinced he would come. He found himself averse to disappointing her, so he started coming more and more.
Or maybe it was that particular late night when he showed up to Ryu’s doorstep all bloody and tired. He had a job to do and he always completed the task, but no matter how prepared he was, one cannot prepare for the unknown. Narimiya was driven away, he had nowhere to go and for one chilling moment he thought Ryu would send him away. There was hot steaming anger in his eyes before he grabbed Haru’s hand and ushered him in. Ryu’s touch was gentle as he treated Haru’s wounds, aside from the occasional, deliberate stab of pain from rough gestures, Tell me what happened. Haru could not tell him and he thought that even Ryu could understand.
He took in a breath and let it out slowly, failing to suppress the grimace on his face. Alas, he had to get up, he had to get back to the place Narimiya last saw him at, maybe it would take a while but Narimiya had to return, he always returned for him if he just waited-
But Ryu pushed him back on the bed.
“Those will open up again if you don’t stay still.” Ryu said, looking at him like he was stupid again.
“Aw Ryu, are you worried about me?”
“Stop being ridiculous.” Ryu answered promptly and Haru smiled. Indeed, he really should stop playing this game. Ryu did not care about him and was probably annoyed that Haru dragged blood on his carpet. He had just become committed to getting up again when Ryu placed both of his arms on either side of him.
Haru’s heart skipped a beat and he wanted to look at everything else that was not Ryu, but he could not escape the worry in his gaze.
“Narimiya…” Haru tried.
“Are you going to lie to me and say that he doesn’t know where to find you?”
That was the moment it first dawned on him how frequently he visited Ryu. But it was raining outside and he was exhausted, surrounded by Ryu’s smell, pinned down by him. Ryu had asked him to stay and he had. Next were his wounds, Haru thought it was only logical to continue seeing the person who bandaged him up. Ryu knew best, what if it got infected? Haru wondered how he missed the subtle changes in their relationship. How the sex between them started to feel too much like… making love. How neither Ryu nor himself were bringing up the coupon.
Haru’s eyes became accustomed to the dark and he knew. He was on the ground of the warehouse and Ryu had set him up.
“Ryu,” Haru called out in the darkness. “Enough with this, come out and play.”
As if on cue Haru could hear the sound of a gigantic door opening and closing.
“Ah Pops,” Haru said, addressing to first of two figures in front of him. “Of course.” Haru was tied up but uninjured and would you look at that? Ryu learned to trust someone after all. Too bad that he did it all with the sole purpose of betraying him.
“Congratulations Ryu, I must admit.” Haru said, feeling a smile stretching out his face.
A client started making trouble recently. The whole thing did not add up because he was a trusted client of HQ but nevertheless, he became a liability. Haru sneaked in his house while he was sleeping and after he had killed him, he was ambushed with a tranquilizer, bless Pops’ kind heart. They created just enough problems so HQ would send Haru. He played right in their hands. And how did he not foresee it?
“You let me have my way with your body ever since I started working at the bar, but this time you thought it wouldn’t be enough. You wanted to be sure.” The caresses, the gentle looks, it all made sense now. “You tried to make me fall for you.”
Poor Pops was looking at anything else but Haru.
“Oh, you didn’t tell him about us?”
“No, he knows.”
Ryu leveled Pops an even stare.
“I mean, knowing is one thing but actually hearing the details is-”
“Pops are you saying we aren’t a fit for each other? You’re horrible!”
Pops looked absolutely distraught.
“Enough.” Ryu cut him off, bringing up a hand to rub the bridge of his nose. “We’re getting off track.”
Haru chuckled. Leave it to Ryu to see though what he was trying to do. Yes, he supposed it was about time. All games must come to an end.
“So, what do you want from me?” Haru looked at Ryu and found calculating eyes already on him. “You want me to give you valuable intel about HQ? Maybe you’ll order me to kill the leader. Or maybe…” Haru glanced at Pops. “Maybe you’ll use it to make me tell you what happened to Pops’ son.”
“Owner, wait-“ Ryu yelled but the shift was instantaneous. Pops raised him from the ground, clutching his shirt with both hands. The hope in his eyes was almost nauseating, if not for the simple truth that he was now Haru’s enemy.
“Hiroki, you know what happened to him?!”
“Of course I know,” Haru assured him kindly. “Since I was the one to kill him.”
Haru watched as color drained from Pops’ face.
“Ah yes, Hiroki. He told me you don’t like apples, did you ever figure it out? No matter what you say it’s still a weird thing to dislike Pops, even he thought so. Hiroki was kind, too kind for that place.” Haru had never seen Pops look more miserable and he hated him for it too, because Pops was making him regret. He did what he had to do in order to survive. But Hiroki had been his first friend. Should he feel sorry for choosing himself? He did not, he would not. Haru kept the smile on his face and kept talking.
Just one last push.
“He was always telling me how his dad is a police officer who catches bad guys and helps everyone who needs it. And he will come to save us. I’d always say “yes he will, of course he will” and Hiroki’s eyes would just lit up. How does it feel Pops, making me lie to him like this over and over again? He never gave up on you saving him, not even with my hands around his throat. How does it feel knowing that you disappointed-“
Pops’ fist connected with his stomach and another punch to his jaw sent him flying. Pops could pack quite the punch, the air left his lungs for a good couple of seconds there. Haru let out a chuckle which immediately turned into a cough. He spit blood on the ground and closed his eyes. That was how things were meant to be.
“Let me talk to him. Alone.” Ryu’s voice pierced the silence, but nobody moved.
Ryu ended up uttering something to Pops and before he knew it, a set of steps were moving away from him.
“So, Ryu, your wish for the last coupon.” Haru prompted. He became aware how his neck was starting to hurt from having to look up at Ryu. He should have taken better care of Ryu when their roles were switched back then. Ryu only let out a deep sigh, like all this was particularly annoying for him and then brought his hand in his coat, revealing a small knife. For a harrowing moment Haru became convinced that Ryu was going to kill him and he had to accept his pathetic death on the filthy ground of an abandoned warehouse but alas, the moment had passed.
Ryu was in the process of cutting the ropes that Pops probably put on him with Haru’s knife and it all made no sense.
“Self-pity doesn’t look good on you. You should stop right now.” Ryu said. His gaze was cold and Haru was reminded of how Ryu used to look at him when he was working at the bar. No, Ryu’s eyes were more unforgiving now than Haru had ever seen them and it made his blood boil.
Haru snatched the knife from Ryu’s hands with ease and brought it to his throat. Ryu barely even flinched. He could find no fear there. Ryu was simply watching him, waiting. He had to bite.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“If you hadn’t been so cruel towards Owner, he would have realized it as well. That’s why you mentioned his son to begin with. You wanted to make it easier for him to give up on you.”
“I did really kill Hiroki.”
“And did you do it because you wanted to?”
“Liar. You answered too fast.”
“Because it happened years ago! I had enough time to think about what I did.”
“Or it was a premeditated answer meant to deceive me. What stranger tells another stranger that his dad hates apples? Even between acquaintances it’s odd. Haru, you’re a terrible liar.”
“You shouldn’t think you know me, Ryu.” Haru said, staring at the knife in his hand. Maybe that was the root of Ryu’s courage, the belief that Haru would never actually harm him. He pressed the knife until a droplet of blood rolled down Ryu’s neck. “You don’t know who I am or what I’ve been doing and you most certainly don’t know the sort of people at HQ.”
“I don’t know the sick people your organization is made of?” There was rage in Ryu’s eyes and Haru remembered. He did show Ryu the picture of his little sister after all.
“You don’t know them like I do.” Haru countered. “If you go after them, you’ll be a critical threat. HQ doesn’t tolerate threats. Not only will they come for you and do things which will make you understand that sometimes, death is a kindness; they will also come for everyone you’ve ever cared about. You’ve just adopted Squirt,” Ryu gritted his teeth. “What if they do to her the things they did to Ai? Will you be able to bear it?”
Ryu said nothing and Haru let out a small nod. Ryu understood. It was better for everyone.
“What am I going to do with you?” Ryu said at last.
Ryu grabbed the knife and to Haru’s horror, started swinging towards himself.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Haru yelled, pinning Ryu’s hand in a death grip. He threw the knife outside of reach for both of them. Haru’s heart was slamming wildly in his chest as he was scanning Ryu’s face. Oh dear god he had lost it didn’t he, why else would he attempt harm himself when Haru was the one with the knife to his throat?
But Ryu was the personification of a calm blue ocean.
“Finally,” Ryu said. “Perhaps now your thick skull understands that you were never going to use that knife on me to begin with. It was getting rather tiring don’t you think, preserving the facade?”
Seconds ticked by and understanding hit Haru like a bulldozer. A smirk was tugging at Ryu’s lips. He wondered if for Ryu life was a game of chess. That was their relationship to its core, Ryu being one step ahead of Haru.
“Ryu…” Haru said in warning as Ryu pulled out his wallet. He grabbed Haru’s hand and there it was. The last coupon. One last wish and everything would be over.
“Stay,” was all Ryu said.
“You can’t ask for forevers, remember?”
“Who said anything about forever?” Ryu snickered. “Forever doesn’t exist anyway, because everything happens in the now. Stay until you get bored of me. Or I get bored of you. Stay as much as you want. If you walk away one day I won’t blame you, because you’d have held your end of the bargain.”
“You told me to trust you back then. Now I’m telling you to just take a chance.”
There was hard resolve in Ryu’s gaze, like he had it all figured out and Haru was the one being ridiculous. Could he even hope that was the case? Ryu’s brain scared him sometimes. Haru let out a breath and allowed his head to fall on Ryu’s shoulder.
“You’re going to die, you know that right? I won’t even be the one to kill you either. I’m pretty sure we’re all going to die.”
“I could be dying tomorrow on my way to do the groceries. I could be dying by chocking on my food after I did the groceries. Or maybe my body can perform the simple act of chewing and swallowing, but suddenly decides it had enough and inflicts me with any of the cardiovascular diseases. They’re the leading cause of death globally. Everyone thinks you have to be old and grey to worry about it, but it can manifest as early as thirty-five, Haru, and it only gets worse if you don’t take care of yourself. Did you know this?”
The intensity of Ryu’s gaze was simply too much to bear. Haru threw his head back and laughed. Leave it to Ryu, the walking encyclopedia, to know these things. He honestly could not understand how his brain could retain this much information. Ryu was also looking into the future and assuming they would both reach the age of thirty-five in a world such as theirs. And they would still be together.
“I fail to see how what I said was funny-”
Haru silenced Ryu by bringing their lips together. After a fleeting attempt to protest, Ryu responded in kind, opening his mouth and taking him in. Haru did not know if he was allowed to feel as happy as he felt in that moment. But on the ground of the warehouse was a coupon severed in half.
And Haru never made promises he could not keep.