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Thinking

Takaba Akihito would have been the first to admit that his rushing-into-things-without-thinking-them-over-first was the main reason he got into trouble that often. But until recently he'd always managed to get away relatively unscathed, having enthusiasm, foolish courage and more often than not dumb luck on his side.

But now his good fortune had run out. He was marked property of a Chinese crimelord, chained to an uncomfortable bed in a seedy little room at the Headquarter of a drug-smuggling organisation, without his passport in a country whose language he neither spoke nor understood. There was nothing he could do and so he'd been paralysed by Feilong's threat to sell him off as a male prostitute.

But finding his blood-stained shirt earlier that day had rattled Takaba. His tear-streaked face had taken on a grave expression when he'd come to the decision that he couldn’t wait any longer for someone to rescue him, he had to pull himself out of this mess alone. And in order to do that he would have to formulate a solid plan first. And maybe choke his impulsive attitude a little bit.

"It'll get more dangerous the further you go down the rabbit hole…" He remembered Asami saying that. And right now he felt like having to outriddle the mad hatter while simultaneously fighting the Queen of Hearts. With a celery stick as his only weapon.

Takaba had tried to think of something he could use to his advantage for hours now and came up blank.

The only one in this house he had a chance of overpowering in his weakened state was that little brat, Tao. And although he'd thought of the possibility to somehow take the child hostage, having been the victim of such actions more than once himself, he knew he couldn't do it.

He'd also thought of harming himself badly enough to need to go to a hospital. It surely would be easier to flee from such a place. But the question was: would somebody here view his life as something worth saving, or would they just let him bleed to death? And he'd rather not risk that, thank you very much.

Also, he couldn’t just run out of this building; there were just too many guards around here. And if the increasing nervousness of the men earlier was any indication, he'd probably end up dead if he ran into one.

And even if he somehow got out of here, he'd still have no money, no documents and no clue, where 'here' was. He'd probably be hunted down long before he found the Japanese embassy.

Outsmarting his guards was another improbable option. They changed fairly often and he didn't know anything personal about them. Also, they hardly spoke to him; in most cases they just dragged him to the bathroom or Feilong's quarters without saying a word.

And what would he do if he managed to escape? Or more precisely: what would Asami do if he managed to escape? The Yakuza had been shot on his behalf, what if he was angry enough about his foolishness to unleash his wrath on the young photographer? In the past, Asami's lust for Takaba had always saved him from anything more unpleasant than a thorough fucking, but what if the man had finally decided that his more or less unwilling partner wasn’t worth all the trouble? Takaba winced at that thought and forced himself to stop going down that path. It was no use to cry over milk that hadn't yet been spilled. And wasn’t that a mental image he really didn't need? "Arrgh. All this 'think first – act later' crap gives me a headache," he murmured to himself before crawling under his thin blanket and falling asleep.

He didn't hear the door to his room being opened. Nor the lock of his chain.

 

Acting

Takaba jerked awake at the sound of several men shouting. The movement sent the chain from his foot clattering to the ground, chasing away the last remains of his sleepiness. Unbelievingly he gazed into the near-darkness around him, barely able to make out the iron device now lying on the floor. But there it was. Unlocked. Like the last time he awoke.

Cradling his head in his hands, Takaba attempted to hold onto his merely some hours old resolution – he tried to clear his mind and bring some sense into this. Obviously someone had opened the chain purposely. But who? And, more important, why? Was it an attempt to help him get back? A distraction? A trap? The more he tried to think calmly about it, the heavier the urge got to just run. As fast and far away as possible.

Heavily breathing he finally got up. The two steps to the door seemed to last a little eternity and once there he glanced out through the opening at eye-level. Nothing. The arguing men were gone and no guard was in sight. This was probably the best chance he'd get. Holding his breath Takaba slowly opened the door and slipped into the hallway.

*

About half an hour and several nearly-run-ins later the young man was close to panicking. He had yet to find an unguarded way out and dawn would come soon. Trembling he leaned against a wall, his heartbeat loud in his ears. The exit doors were heavily guarded and most of the rooms he'd come across were locked. The open ones had windows that had bars in front of them, were too small to climb through or non-existent at all. His disappereance hadn't been noticed yet, but that was only a matter of time. And the thought of just going back to his room was beginning to sound like a reasonable idea…

Suddenly the sound of running footsteps reverberated through the halls. An adrenaline jolt coursed through Takaba's system when he saw a dark figure sprint around the next corner, but before he'd had time to decide on one half of the 'fight-or-flight'-reflex he was grabbed by his right upper arm and dragged along like a disobedient child.

"There you are," the man, whom he recognized now as the guard who'd been defending him yesterday, hissed. "Now come along, I haven't got all day!"

"Sorry, I wasn’t aware we had arranged a meeting. I must have forgotten it over my busy social schedule!" Takaba retorted. But he wasn’t struggling to get away. Confusing as it was, the guard didn't seem to mind his attempted escape and he didn't want to piss him unnecessarily off.

They'd reached a door by now, that Takaba hadn't been able to open earlier, but the guard pulled a key out of a pocket, unlocked it and shoved the younger man into the room behind. It seemed to be a storage hall of some sorts, full of racks and big shipping containers. Before he knew what hit him, Takaba was dragged to one of the latter and his companion began to lift the lid off of it. "Get in."

"What?!"

"I don't have time for this! Get in there and be quiet until I come back. I'll get you out of here."

That didn't sound very convincing in Takaba's ears, but the suddenly drawn gun sure was. He lifted his hands in defeat and slowly climbed into the container. It was absolutely empty and smelled faintly of spices. As soon as he was in, the lid was put back and fastened.

"I don't know when I'll be able to get back, but it shouldn’t be more than a few hours, so try to not do something stupid until then." With that, the man left and re-locked the door behind him.

 

Listening

Takaba wanted to yell at somebody. Or something. He was so frustrated, he really wouldn't be picky. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the time. Maybe he could kick a puppy when this was all over, but right now he even tried to think quietly, because he was scared that the men, who'd entered the storage room a few minutes ago, would find him.

Although he didn't understand what they were saying, he was quite sure that they were a search party looking for him. There seemed to be three or four of them and they roved through the room and shifted things around, all the while discussing something in a heated tone and Takaba really didn't want to get in their way. He closed his eyes when the sounds came nearer and his breathing became flat.

But nothing happened.

The sounds of retreating footsteps and then the click of a key turned in a lock – he was alone again. Deeply sighing, Takaba hit his head against the wall of the container and tried in vain to find a somehow comfortable position. After some time he settled for one not too painful on his cramped limbs.

*

A scratching sound and a sudden burst of light woke the young man some time later. He blinked a few times, then grabbed the proffered hand and climbed out of the box.

"Here, put these on." The now familiar guard pointed towards a bundle of clothes resting on the ground. They turned out to be a plain black suit, a pair of shoes, a black wig with a long ponytail and a pair of broad sunglasses. Feeling slightly embarassed, Takaba donned all the garments. Judging from the other man's face he guessed that a 'we-don't-have-time' speech was looming over him, so he hurried and didn't ask any questions. When he was finished the guard looked him over and his face took on a pained expression.

"What?" Takaba spat.

"I'm just trying not to laugh; you look ridiculous. Now, let's go. Stay next to me. There aren't many people around at the moment, but if someone happens to come across us, don't act panicked, don't look them in the eyes and don't try to run away! I'll handle everything. Come on." With that the man walked out of the room. Takaba followed him and tried to copy his motions; fast but not rushed.

After turning several corners, the front doors came in sight, guarded by two of Feilong's men. Without any hesitation Takaba's guide went past them, a mere nod acknowledging their presence. Glad that the sunglasses hid his fear-widened eyes, Takaba followed closely, intent on staying in the back of his protector, looking down and aiming for a stony expression.

He couldn't believe they got away with this. But the door closed behind them without any incident and they got into a nearby car.

As soon as the man had started the engine, Takaba took off that godawful wig and shook his head. "Where are we going?"

"One of the smaller cargo ports. You'll be expected there."

"By Asami's men?" It had been meant to be a statement, but somewhere between Takaba's brain and his mouth it had turned into a question. And a fearful one at that.

The guard smirked. "Well, if they weren't, you'd really be screwed, wouldn't you?"

"I think I've had enough of that in the last weeks, thank you very much."

That drove the grin from the other man's face and an uneasy silence spread in the car. Takaba cursed inwardly. While the man hadn't been exactly nice to him, he sure as hell was better company as most other inhabitants of Yakuza-land and he hadn't meant to alienate him.

"So, you're a spy?" he asked after a while, eager to bring the conversation back on a lighter topic.

"Yes. And I can tell you, it was a fucking piece of work to get you out without blowing my cover. You should be grateful the Russians provided a distraction and even more so that the kid could be so easily manipulated, otherwise you'd still wear your lovely ankle jewellery."

"Which kid?"

"The brat that's always around Feilong, Tao."

"What has he to do with anything?"

"Who do you think unlocked your chain in the first place?"

"What? But… I thought… you…"

"Me? Why would I do something as foolhardy as being near a prisoner's room while said prisoner is escaping? If this would get out I'd be a dead man. If the sprog should be discovered as the culprit, he'll probably get away with a scolding and no dinner for the evening or something."

"But he hates me!"

"Yeah, his jealous rants about you occupying so much of Feilong's time were highly entertaining. It wasn't especially hard to convince him that you were hindering his master's recovery and that everything would go back to normal once you were gone. Be glad he's still a child, otherwise he'd have probably ended up killing you himself."

Takaba was speechless.

*

"Here it is," the guard announced when he stopped at a little pier. On it stood one of Asami's personal bodyguards, sunglasses and the stoic face quite familiar to Takaba. They got out of the car and were about to enter the pier as a biting voice behind them froze all motion.

"There's really no need to go any further. After all, it'd only extend the way you'll have to go back."

Turning around revealed that they didn't stand a chance. About ten of Feilong's men had appeared in a semi-circle around them, weapons drawn.

Takaba closed his eyes to prevent the threatening tears from spilling and tried to steel himself for whatever punishment he would have to undergo for his attempted escape.

 

Watching

Takaba didn't want to see the misery, it really was enough for him to hear the leader of the group cursing at him in three different languages. So he didn't open his eyes when he got grabbed by two of the men and was dragged off roughly. He guessed that the forming bruises on his upper arms would soon be the smallest of his problems. And not only his, he realized. The guy, who'd tried to help him… 'Well, who's screwed now?' he thought bitterly.

And that was the exact moment in which the shots began to fall.

Suddenly released from the grip the two henchmen had had on him, Takaba plummeted flat on his front, barely able to cushion the fall with his arms. When he turned around, the world had become a flurry of violent motion and noise. He saw his former guard kicking one of Feilong's men in the stomach while 'Sunglasses' knocked out another one with the handle of a gun. The cries and blood all around him - it seemed unreal in the bright sunlight. However, a bullet nearly missing his head made Takaba aware that the danger of getting caught in the crossfire was indeed reality. But before he could do anything to remove himself from the danger zone, someone tripped over his outstretched legs and fell on him, causing his head to get knocked on the ground forcefully enough that he blacked out.

*

The first thing Takaba became aware of, were clapping noises which seemed to roll around in his head like waves thrashing against the coast. They became louder until he finally opened his eyes und realized that they were the sounds of someone smacking his cheeks. Someone familiar. Asami's bodyguard.

"You alright there?"

Takaba nodded yes. And regretted it instantly. The motion sent a jolt of pain through his head that made him gasp. When he touched the back of his head gingerly he found an impressive bump there.

"Well, you can go and and let your head get examined as soon as we're back in Japan," the other man informed him. "Should have done so ages ago, if you ask me. Now come on, we've got to go back to the ship."

"Let me guess: we don't have time." Takaba retorted wryly.

The man looked at him icily. "I don't know what you're talking about. Now get up."

Doing exactly that, Takaba looked around. Several bodies lay motionless on the ground, one of them the leader of Feilong's group. And another one…

"No!" With unsteady legs he walked over to the man lying face-down on the earth. The left half of the back of his head was a bloody mess, but he was still recognizable as his former guard.

Takaba stared in shock at the ugly sight in front of him until someone grabbed his arm and pulled him up. The sudden motion let his lingering headache explode and that in addition to the sight and the smell of the blood made him retch violently.

"Are you quite finished? There's nothing you can do about that, and we have to go back to the ship now!"

*

The walk back to the ship went without further incidents. Once there, Takaba offered to help attending to the wounds of the injured, but the bodyguard would have none of it and insisted instead to bring him to his cabin.

"Here you are. There's access to a bathroom and some clean clothes for changing. I'll bring you something to eat in a moment. The rest of our men should be here soon and we'll be leaving immediately once they arrive."

"The rest of your men? What are they doing here?"

"Things that are none of your business, brat. Did you really think we all came here just to save your sorry arse? The world doesn't revolve around you."

And with that the man left the cabin and locked the door behind him.

 

Waiting

Takaba thought that, maybe, the world would look better after having a hot bath, changing into clean (and nice-smelling) clothes and eating something. He had to find out, however, that it did not.

He was still locked in a small room (it was much more comfortable than the last one, but that wasn't the point), didn't know what was going on, had a dull headache and felt guilty over the death of Asami's spy.

And that was another point on his 'why-I-feel-like-crap' list. Asami. When would he see him again? Was he with his men in Hongkong or did he manipulate all the puppet strings from the background? And what would the Yakuza do to him when they faced each other the next time? Their last encounter was a blur of pain and fear and blood in Takaba's mind, and the one before that… Asami had threatened to take his freedom away - and then he'd kissed Takaba in a way he'd never been kissed before. Like the other man not only devoured his mouth, but his mind and soul also. Its intensity had been frightening enough that even the memory of it stirred arousal-tinged fear in the young man, making him shiver. He tried to think of something else. And failed.

*

Some time later a hectic activity spread on the ship. People could be heard running around, yelling at each other and clapping doors. Shortly after that, the engines were started and they left the port to start their journey back to Japan.

All the while Takaba was left alone in his cabin, getting more nervous by the second. Every time someone went by he frantically stood up and faced the locked door, just to flop down back on the bed when nobody entered.

Finally he began pacing the small room, ruffling his hair and stroking over the bump on the back of his head, waiting for something to happen. But soon it became clear that no one would come. That probably meant, that Asami wasn't here. Takaba just couldn’t imagine him not barging in as soon as possible and screw the living daylights out of him.

"Great. Just great. Now I can worry about what'll happen all the fucking trip long!" he muttered after coming to a halt in front of the door. He leaned his forehead against it, closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Would they ignore him if he threw a tantrum now? Or would anybody be annoyed enough to shut him up forcefully? Maybe someone was bored enough to actually talk to him, eventually even explain one or two things… It was worth a shot, he decided.

So he took a deep breath and began yelling at the top of his lungs and banging against the door.

He didn't have to wait long. The turn of the key wasn't audible over the sounds of the engines and the racket he himself made, so the door being opened took Takaba by surprise. He staggered some steps backwards, making room for a man, he'd never seen before.

"What do you want?"

"I just… I want to know what's going on! I've been locked up these past weeks, and then you guys just barge in and drag me out. And people die… And it's driving me crazy, not knowing, what'll happen next. I'm sick of being pushed around! Please – just… tell me something."

The other hadn't interrupted his rant and now looked at him tiredly.

"Believe me, kid, it's better for everyone, if you don't know, what's happening here."

"You mean, it's better for you! Not having any clue so far hasn't spared me from getting kidnapped!"

"Well, that's still no incentive to tell you anything, is it? It'll be at least 28 hours till we arrive in Tokyo, so why don't you use the time to rest a bit? You look like you need it. I'll leave the door open."

With that, he disappeared and left Takaba worrying.

 

Talking

Some hours of sleep and some more of restless thinking and pacing later, Takaba couldn't stand the restrictions of his cabin any longer. He opened the door and entered the corridor, nervously looking around. There was a group of men standing in front of one of the other doors, but they just looked at him and continued their conversation quietly. Taking that as permission to go on, Takaba went to search for a way on the upper deck.

Once there, he closed his eyes and deeply breathed in the fresh and salty air. The sudden sound of shuffling feet made him look up again and in that moment everything froze, like he'd just taken a picture with his camera: a familiar figure leaning at the rail, smoking a cigarette and staring into the sunrise.

"Asami…"

The Yakuza turned around and smiled at him. Not the predatory grin or the superior smirk Takaba was used to, but a genuine smile. It made the young man even more nervous than he already was.

"I wondered when you'd be coming out."

"I didn't know you were here. I thought… I… I'm sorry, okay?"

The smile on Asami's face deepened. "Sorry?"

Lowering his head, Takaba muttered: "For rushing after Feilong like that. Causing all this trouble. And… and getting you shot. I really didn't want that!"

"Calm down, Akihito. I know you didn't want that. If I thought otherwise, you surely wouldn't stand there. Or anywhere for that matter. How's your head?"

"It'll be okay, I guess. Others didn't get away so lightly."

"Yeah, I already heard that you took the death of our spy quite seriously. Why? What was he to you?"

Takaba looked up at that. Asami's voice hadn't changed, it was still calm and nonchalant, nearly bored. But his smile had faded and his eyes had taken on a steely expression.

"He was nice to me for a change. Sort of. And at least he didn't try to get into my pants."

"Well, it's not as if you had to worry about that anymore. After all, we got you away from Feilong, and I'm not interested any longer."

"What?!" Disbelief and hurt coloured that one word, and if Takaba had had time to think about it, he'd be quite embarassed. But as it was, he was too stunned to care about his pride right now.

"You didn't think, I'd want the cast-offs of that Chinese bastard in my bed, did you? I like my toys to be mine. Exclusively. And you're hardly going to just stop causing one problem after another. Your last escapade cost me three men and more money than you'll ever earn. No matter how much fun it is to fuck you till you scream, that's just not worth it." With that, Asami turned around again, lighting another cigarette. He hadn't raised his voice once during his declaration, just impassively stated the facts. "Get out of my sight now, Akihito. And stay that way."

*

The rest of the journey was quite foggy in Takaba's mind. He'd got back to his cabin and sat on the bed, staring a hole into the wall. When they arrived at their destination port, one of the men (he couldn't even say which one) told him to get ready to leave. And so he did.

Just as he was about to go off board, a shrill whistle made him turn around. Asami stood there, some steps away, throwing a bundle of banknotes in his direction.

"Here, get a taxi. And a new job. I'm really tired of you getting in my way; if I catch you at it the next time, I won't be as lenient as before."

*

Finally on his way home, Takaba thought that he should be glad about how events had turned out. He was alive and in one piece, and hopefully he wouldn't have to endure any Mafia-related stress in the future. And after all, he didn't want to be molested further by that… that person, did he? He just needed to look at the bright side of things.

But, you know, it's quite hard to see anything when you're looking through tears.

 

Suppressing

Settling back into his life and forgetting about everything Asami-related wasn't as easy as Takaba had thought it would be. Or as he had pretended to think it would be. He wasn't stupid after all.

His clothes, his cameras – nearly everything had memories attached to it which he'd rather not be reminded of right now. The revelation that the other man had paid for his flat these past weeks had his stomach clenching and every time he looked at Feilong's mark on his right wrist he couldn't help but think about how his life had been turned upside down since he'd become entangled in the Mafia-scene. He'd toyed with the idea of getting the tattoo removed, but that would cost money he didn't exactly have. And maybe it wasn't all bad, having a permanent reminder of what could happen to him if he rushed into things head over heels.

Takaba had spent the days since his return looking for new commissions (he didn't consider getting another profession, thank you very much) and visiting his family and friends. Well, except Kou and Takato. He'd dreaded the unavoidable encounter with them, knowing full well that he wouldn't be able to brush off his long absence with some pretty lies in front of those two. But of course they'd found out about his return soon enough and had invited themselves for dinner yesterday.

It had been awkward at first. Takato, playing the part of the interrogator, had been asking one question after another, never content with Takaba's evading answers of what had been going on, while Kou had stayed in the background of the conversation, looking oddly serious. After some time (and a few drinks) Takaba had caved in and told the whole story. Well, a censored version of it. Basically, he'd left out the sex. Though Kou at least probably had an idea about that, if his expression had been anything to go by, but he hadn't embarassed Takaba any further by asking directly. They'd been shocked enough as it was, hearing that he'd delved into dangerous waters that deeply, and both had agreed that he was lucky that 'this Yakuza guy' had broke off every connection between them.

After that had been cleared, they'd decided to spend the evening in a more pleasant manner and gone to a bar. There they'd talked and laughed and… drunk. A lot.

Which was how Takaba came into his current predicament: being hungover like hell and late for a photo session with some local politician.

Groaning, he splashed some water into his face, donned the first clean clothes that fell into his hands, grabbed his equipment and hurried out of the flat. While sprinting to his appointment (it wasn't that far away and hopefully the movement would clear his head somewhat) he couldn’t quite suppress the thought that he should be glad not to have fallen back into familiar patterns when drunk. Namely calling… certain people. Whose numbers he had erased from his phone. Still, he should be proud of himself for not even thinking in that direction. But Takaba didn't feel like it.

*

Later that day (much later) the young photographer was on the way back home. Hungry, tired, pissed off at people who managed to complicate a simple photo session into a nerve-wracking event and still groggy from yesterday's escapade as he was, his normally sharp instincts weren't up to the usual standards. So he didn't realize he had been followed by a bunch of rough-looking guys since he'd picked up some take-away food in the neighborhood. He did, however, realize that he was attacked, when he suddenly got jerked back and the first punch hit home.

 

Fighting

Takaba probably would have said that he had been in worse situations – and while that statement was true, he had rarely been as unprepared as he was right now. Two of the attackers had gotten hold of his arms and kept him in a tight grip, while two more stood in front of him, grinning.

"Now, let's see what the little kangaroo has in his pockets, shall we?" one of them drawled. And with that he stepped nearer, making the mistake of getting into a position for Takaba to kick him in the stomach. Hard.

Yelping, the man staggered some steps back, making room for the young photographer to use the surprise and whirl around, wrenching his arms free and blowing some punches at the men behind him. He was about to run away when he tripped over the forgotten bag with his food which had fallen down at the beginning of the fight. He scarcely avoided dashing to the ground but got dragged back by one of the guys. Expecting the fight to get ugly, Takaba turned around, trying to get into a defendable position; but his attackers didn't have the opportunity to assault him any longer. They were too busy defending themselves from a man who'd appeared from seemingly nowhere. A man which Takaba instantly recognised. Asami's bespectacled bodyguard.

Stunned, he watched the older man taking care of his problem fast and efficiently. The four guys didn't stand a chance. It wasn't long till they ran. Or rather, limped away as fast as possible.

"You alright there?" The question was shot at him in a tone which left the impression the other wished for the answer to be a 'no'. Also, the glare directed at him left Takaba wondering if, maybe, he would have been better off with the four unknown men, rather than with this one.

"This has to be a bad dèja vu or something. What the hell are you doing here?! And why do you ask if I'm alright? It's not as if you'd care!"

"Well, judging from the commotion you make, you should be okay. And still an idiot – guess you can't help it. Of all the things this had to happen on my watch…" The last was muttered in a barely audible volume, but Takaba had heard enough.

"Your watch? Does this mean you and your jolly co-workers are following me around all the time?! You… you…"

"Oh, shut up! I can't believe it. You really are not able to stay out of trouble for any amount of time! You just had to go and get yourself into a robbery. A fucking robbery! And then you're not even able to get out of it on your own! The boss will kill me. You too, hopefully… What do you think? If I hit you hard enough on the head, would you forget you saw me here?"

"NO!"

"Didn't think so. And now let's get you home. Wouldn't want you to break a nail or something…"

"Forget it! You're not going anywhere with me! I don't need a babysitter. Why don't you just fuck off?! And what's with this shit anyway? If I recall correctly, Asami said I should stay away from him and I did exactly that. He never wanted to see me again…"

"Did he now? And you generally believe everything a Yakuza tells you? Oh my, I didn't realize that when Asami said you were somehow naïve, he actually meant you are dumb."

*

Back in his flat (and free of his unwanted watchdog at last), Takaba felt cold fury rising inside his chest. Normally his temper was of a more fiery nature, but right now his world had been reduced to ice. Sick of being treated like a child, of getting pushed around and, most of all, of not being told anything, he wouldn't play the part of the prey anymore.

He'd show that bastard.

 

Making (a fool of oneself)

Calling in some favours to get a certain job had been more difficult than Takaba would have expected. Especially considering that he'd helped out the police several times before and was willing to take all the risk.

Of course they had people who occupied themselves with the organized crime in general and Asami in particular, but their activities seemed to be limited to half-hearted supervision and Takaba's offer to help to actually do something against the man had been received with great scepticism. But he'd been persistent (to the point of being very annoying) and done his best to convince people that he'd be able to pull this through - and his contacts had given in eventually and given him access to the information they had about Asami's upcoming business (which wasn't all that much, but it'd have to do) and instructions to collect enough evidence so they'd be able to press charges against the Yakuza.

Now all he had to do was waiting for a favorable opportunity, taking some pictures (,not getting caught in the process…) and watching Asami fall from his high throne and disappear out of his life for good. And, of course, quelling the little voice in his head which insisted that this was Not A Good Idea.

*

About a week went by in which nothing much happened besides Takaba growing more and more frustrated. His attempts to gain more information were quite a difficult issue. More often than not he didn't get away from his still assigned watchdogs (knowing they were there helped, but that didn't mean they were easily tricked) and if he did (or if he thought he did…) the results of his inquiries were immensely unsatisfying. Something big was up in Tokyo's underworld, that much became clear during his investigations. Rumours and speculations were flying all around, but nobody seemed to know anything tangible. Or at least, nobody was willing to tell him.

So he was quite surprised when he got a call from his police contact, informing him that the chance to catch Asami red-handed would present itself soon. The day after tomorrow, to be precise.

*

The last forty-two and a half hours had been a nightmare.

Supplied with all the information he needed, there was no reason for Takaba to snoop around any longer. Which meant there was nothing to distract him from his upcoming task. He'd tried, of course. But every single one of his friends was somehow busy at the moment and none of them could be swayed to go on a drinking tour with him. And drinking himself into oblivion alone would have been just too pathetic.

So he'd sat at home and tried to relax, thinking of nothing. And especially not of the reasons behind his current mission and why he was so determined about it. Seeking cheap revenge like that would have made him appear like a petulant child, even in his own eyes. And when he'd dived into thoughts of what exactly he was seeking revenge for, his reasons had become even more unacceptable. He could pretend to just do his duty as an investigative reporter and help bringing down a dangerous criminal all he liked, it didn't make the burning feeling of having been abandoned go away.

And now he was crouching in a corner of a huge storage hall, hidden between some containers and fighting the urge to get out of this mess as long as he still could. But that would be admitting defeat, and Takaba just wasn't ready for that. So he clutched his camera tighter and continued to wait for Asami and his suspicious 'business' partner he was supposed to meet here, some Russian Mafioso whose name the young photographer hadn't heard before.

*

Half an hour later Takaba finally heard approaching footsteps - and in that moment something clicked into place. The revelation made him move as fast as he could, hoping that there was still a way out… but two steps into his attempt to run away he was gripped at his left arm, whirled around and held still by two familiar figures. Asami's bodyguards. They were probably as tired of this game as he was, but that couldn't be helped right now. This whole situation was… a repeat of what had happened months ago, when Asami first had decided to teach him a lesson. Just like then, he'd been set up. But this time he'd walked into the trap not because he'd trusted the wrong people, but because he'd been blinded by his own anger. He'd practically begged to be fucked over, he realized. And something else was different from last time: Asami's face didn't show an impish grin, but an expression that could probably stop the global warming.

 

Touching

Takaba tried not to squirm beneath Asami's staring eyes, but couldn't quite suppress it. For the first time he was totally aware of the fact, that the other man posed an actual threat to him, that he was dangerous.

"So you really decided to try to take me on on your own." Asami's voice clearly aimed for indifference, but didn't quite achieve it. Underneath the icy surface vibrated rage and anger and something that might have been hurt, sending goosebumps all over Takaba's skin and making him shiver in fear.

"I… I just tried… Dammit, Asami, you deserve…" Takaba was forcefully interrupted when the Yakuza slapped him hard in the face and then grabbed his hair with both hands and pulled him forward until their foreheads and noses were touching.

"What I deserve is probably an eternity in Hell, but I'm not ready to settle for that; I'll take what I want, not what I deserve. And you better be grateful that you don't get what you deserve!"

"And what would that be, I wonder?"

The expression in Asami's face turned feral, before he closed his eyes and slid his mouth along Takaba's left cheek, stopping at the young man's ear. "Believe me, you don't want to know," he whispered. "You don't want to know what I think suitable punishment for someone who betrayed me." He pushed Takaba back to the two bodyguards. "Get him out of here; I have a meeting to attend."

*

They'd pushed him into the backseat of a black limousine and driven him to Asami's flat where they'd just dumped him on the sofa and left, locking the door behind them, leaving Takaba alone and confused and more than a little frightened. Why does it always have to end like this? he thought bitterly. Me being dragged around and then left alone to await whatever others have decided for me, without being able to influence anything.

Is that so? a mocking voice inside his head answered the unspoken complaint. I seem to remember you influencing this latest episode quite a bit…

"Isn't it great? Now I'm already arguing with myself," Takaba muttered, closing his eyes before he crossed his arms over his dragged-up knees and rested his head atop them.

*

Three hours later the young man was startled from an uneasy sleep by the sound of the opening door. Startled, he watched Asami coming in, taking off his shoes and jacket and getting himself a glass of some expensive-looking alcohol without so much as glancing at his 'guest' who sat hunched on the sofa.

When the Yakuza went to leave the living room, still not acknowledging that he wasn't alone, Takaba didn't bear the tension any longer. He stood up and followed Asami in the bedroom where the other man began to unbutton his shirt.

"Asami!"

"What do you want?"

"What do I want? Since when would you care about that? You've brought me here."

"So I have. And you'll stay here until I say otherwise."

"What?! You can't lock me in here! I don't…" Takaba's voice broke. "Please, don't do that to me…"

This got Asami to turn around. He took Takaba's face into his hands and traced his cheeks slowly in an irregular pattern.

"Well, I've tried to go another way about this, Akihito, but you didn't seem to like the alternative very much. You'll have to live with your choice for now. I promise it won't be too long and my men will get some of your things out of your flat, so you don't have to wear my clothes. They wouldn't fit you."

Asami's voice had taken on an ironic tone and Takaba, not able to fight the impression that the other wasn't talking about clothes at all, opened his eyes (he wasn't sure at which point he'd closed them). He wanted to say something, but didn't quite know what and ended up staring questioningly at Asami, who just smirked and pressed a thumb into Takaba's mouth to trace the line of his teeth.

"I have to go and deal with some important things; I won't be back today. There's another bedroom right next to this one, you can make yourself comfortable there." And with that Asami stepped back from Takaba, put on a new shirt and left the flat.

 

Wondering

After Asami had left the flat Takaba just stood there in the bedroom door, shaking violently. He could still feel the places where the other man had touched him, forming a tingling pattern on his face. After several minutes the rising queasiness in his stomach finally managed to break him out of his stupor and he hurried into the bathroom, splashing some cold water over his face and neck. It helped against the urge to puke his guts out and cleared his head a bit.

Drawing deep breaths Takaba looked up into the mirror above the sink and stared at his reflection, disbelief and distress plainly visible in his eyes. This had definitely not been what he'd expected. He'd tried to steel himself for a furious Asami and had anticipated a bout of angry sex or maybe physical violence, but he wasn't ready to be caged-in. Not again. Why had the Yakuza situated him in his own flat and then attempted to ignore him? And when Takaba had caught his attention, the other had acted downright gentle, trying to calm the young man down. Where had his anger about Takaba's 'betrayal' gone? And what would he do with him now?

Takaba's head buzzed with unspoken questions and fears. Dammit, he was too tired to think properly! Not that the thinking you've done while wide awake has been very useful, mocked his inner voice, sounding disturbingly like Asami's bespectacled bodyguard. Takaba snorted. "The guy isn't even here and bothering me nonetheless…" Shrugging he went to find the guest bedroom Asami had mentioned earlier. There he undressed, leaving his clothes in a messy heap on the ground, and fell into sleep instantly after he'd crawled under the covers of the bed.

*

Some hours later the sounds of a clapping door had Takaba abruptly awake. Asami was back! In a hurry he got out of the bed and stormed into the living room, not bothering to put on any clothes. Which he regretted as soon as he saw the man who'd entered the flat and was about to unpack a bag of groceries. That definitely was not Asami…

"Uhm… I'm… I'm going to get dressed…" Takaba mumbled, blushing, and fled back into the bedroom; and for once 'Sunglasses' didn't have a sarcastic remark. It seemed that the young photographer had finally found a way to shock the stoic bodyguard into silence.

*

When Takaba re-emerged from the bedroom, still beet-red, the other man had busied himself in the kitchen, slicing meat and vegetables.

"What are you doing here?" Takaba blurted out.

"Cooking."

"I can see that! …and that wasn't what I meant. And why are you cooking? You don't particularly strike me as the housewife-type!"

"Well, you don't seem like an exhibitionist either, so I guess we're even."

"What?! I'm not an ex…"

"Anyway," the bodyguard interrupted before Takaba could go into full rant-mode, "Asami sent me to make sure you don’t do anything stupid. Again. I don't know what I did to make him hate me… Or maybe he just thinks it's funny to make me suffer like that. Either way, you're stuck with me at the moment. Deal with it."

"I guess I'll survive," Takaba declared, sighing theatrically. "Need any help with this?"

Obviously surprised, 'Sunglasses' turned around at that. "You could prepare the rice if you like. I guess you can't bollocks that up too badly…"

*

After cooking and eating in relative peace (and Takaba had managed the rice just fine, thank you very much) the two men settled in front of the TV, zapping lazily through the programs. But when it became clear that the bodyguard didn’t intend to start any kind of conversation, Takaba finally disrupted the almost comfortable silence: "Do you know when Asami will be back?"

"No. But I guess it won't be anytime soon; otherwise there would be no need for me to play babysitter, wouldn't it."

"Great. And in the meantime we're playing couch-potatoes."

"Believe me, it isn't my idea of a good time either. But I really don’t see how it'd be better if the Boss was here. I mean, there's only so much sex you can have."

Takaba blushed at that, but retorted anyway: "Yeah, I guess even Asami's stamina have their limits…"

"I wouldn't say that into his face."

"I didn’t plan to."

 

Having (to ask)

Takaba was bored. Cracking jokes about Asami had been fun but he didn't dare pushing this topic with the unexpectedly peaceful bodyguard. Who knew which comment would send the man back into deep-frosted sarcasm mode? Not that Takaba didn't enjoy a good verbal sparring now and then, but the other had proven more than once that he was a nerve-wracking enemy in that department and it wouldn't do Takaba any good to let himself get riled up. Thad had after all led to his current company in the first place. And he really didn't want to think about his previous mistakes now! Sulking around would only bring him down and that'd be an unfavourable mental position to be in when Asami came back. No, what he needed was something distracting, something to prevent him from brooding. And Sunglasses' choice of television program was definitely no help in that matter…

"Well, after discovering your cooking skills I really thought you couldn’t surprise me anymore, but - animes? And ones for little girls at that! I don’t believe it," Takaba said mockingly.

"Just thought I'd indulge the intelligence level of my present company," replied the bodyguard, without missing a beat.

"Hey! Just because I'm not some embittered old Yakuza doesn’t mean I'm not interested in serious things! You lot tend to forget that I'm an adult and quite capable of behaving like one! I…"

"Watch the claws, kitty! I was only joking, there's no need for a discussion of principles. If you want to watch something else you could have just asked. Here." With that the other man handed the remote control to Takaba who took it gingerly and began zapping through the channels.

Some minutes later he had to admit that there was nothing of special interest on the tv and he settled for a news channel airing a report on last year's climate statistics.

Takaba wasn't prepared for the snarled "I don't think so!" with which Sunglasses suddenly grabbed the remote control and switched off the tv altogether. The voice of the bodyguard had taken on a steely edge and every trace of mockery had left his face, leaving a carefully neutral mask in place.

Bewildered, Takaba leaned back and shrugged.

"Fine, be creepy," he said defiantly. "But how about being creepy in an entertaining way? I'm bored - and since you insist on being my nanny you could at least do something about that." The last was muttered in a challenging way, daring the other to pick a fight.

But Sunglasses refused to take the bait. Grinning, he said: "Ok. I think I might just know what to do with you…"

*

When Asami came finally home that evening it was to the sight of his own bodyguard attacking Takaba and slamming him against a wall.

Without hesitation Asami stormed into the scene, pushed Sunglasses to the ground and positioned himself in front of Takaba; all with the speed and ferocity of a wild cat.

The stunned bodyguard stood up slowly, rubbing his neck with one hand and holding the other out in a gesture of appeasement. But before he had the chance to say something, Takaba had already grabbed the back of Asami's jacket, turned the man around and cried: "No! Asami, stop that! It's not… It's not what it looks like! He was just practicing self-defence with me. See? Nothing to get angry about."

Asami's eyebrows arched up, but the feral glint in his eyes had subsided. "Self-defence?"

"Well, I thought it a good idea since he gets in trouble all the time. It'd certainly make our jobs easier if he could at least stand his own against simple street robbers," the bodyguard explained, glad that Asami seemed to have regained his usual calmness.

"Ok, I see the point. Good thinking. And… sorry about that. Are you okay?"

"Sure. It needs a bit more than a punch from you to cause me any lasting damage," Sunglasses smirked.

"I should hope so. Otherwise there wouldn't be any need to employ you, would there? That's all for today. Tomorrow everything goes as planned, so you can go now."

The other man nodded, picked up his things and left the flat. When he was gone, Asami finally leaned towards Takaba and grinned. "Well, I'm glad you two didn't kill each other. That really would have been a shame." Lowering his head a bit, he brought his lips almost-but-not-quite in contact with Takaba's and smiled when the younger man began shivering in anticipation.

"It has been a long day; I think I'll go to bed now," Asami continued in a low voice, pushing his groin forwards until it came into contact with Takaba, who gasped at the feeling of the hardening cock pressed to his stomach and closed his eyes, sending a wordless invitation.

"No, I've no intention of making it that easy for you." Asami's voice hadn't lost its almost purring quality but the audible determination in it caused Takaba to open his eyes again and look astonished at the other man, who'd inched away a bit. "If you want something, Akihito, you'll have to ask for it." And with that Asami turned around and walked into his bedroom, leaving the door open.

 

Moving

Staring after Asami, Takaba didn't move one step. He felt weak in the knees and the words If you want something, you'll have to ask for it kept repeating themselves inside his head, mocking him with the knowledge that this was exactly what he couldn't do, because he didn't know what he wanted.

Of course he could make this easy for himself and say that he wanted to be let go – but while this wouldn't be a direct lie, it certainly wasn't the exact truth either. And Asami would know that and not let him get away with it. Not this time.

Sighing, Takaba went slowly back into the livingroom, flopping himself onto the sofa. He couldn't avoid the issue any longer – now, where to begin the soul-searching?

*

Hours later, the sun rose hidden behind a veil of clouds, giving the new day a broody atmosphere that matched Asami's mood when he woke up. He put on his clothes and forcefully opened the door of his guest bedroom. Empty. Hurriedly Asami looked through the rest of the flat, finally finding Takaba in the livingroom, standing stockstill and looking out of one of the huge windows.

"It's early for you to be up yet."

"I'm not up yet but still," Takaba replied merrily while turning around.

Growling, Asami advanced on the younger man, stopping just in front of him. "Well, what kept you awake all night then? Whatever it was, I could have done the same in a much more… satisfactory way…"

"Maybe," Takaba said, blushing. "But you told me to ask for what I wanted. And since I didn't know what that was, I tried to figure it out first."

Asami's face still held a hard expression, but when he spoke his voice had softened noticeably: "And to which conclusion did you come?"

"Several. And I don't particularly like most of them."

"That's not an answer!"

"What would you rather hear then? 'Fuck me, Asami, please!' maybe?"

Asami didn't answer that. At least not in words. Instead he spun Takaba around and crashed their mouths together, kissing the younger man furiously. He didn't meet any resistance. Takaba let himself be directed into the bedroom and pushed onto the bed before he even attempted a defence.

"Wait, Asami! I didn't…"

"Shh…" Asami whispered into Takaba's mouth, catching the arms the other had pressed against his chest in one hand and pinning them down above his head. "Couldn't you give into me, Akihito? Just this once, without a fight…"

It was Takaba's turn not to answer. He just closed his eyes and arched his body against Asami, wrapping one leg around the other man's waist. Asami didn't lose any time, reclaiming Takaba's mouth and taking off his clothes until the younger man lay naked, flushed and panting beneath him.

"I'm going to make you forget everything," he said fiercely while he undressed himself. "You're going to scream my name before this is over." Takaba moaned at that declaration, reaching for Asami who grabbed his neck and pulled him closer for another passionate kiss. When they were both out of breath Asami began licking down Takaba's chest, biting and sucking none too gently after every swipe of tongue until his torso was covered in red marks. Takaba's breath came in loud gasps when Asami finally reached his hips and stopped his actions there abruptly, teasing him by letting his mouth hover just above Takaba's swollen cock. "What do you want, Akihito? Tell me."

"I want… want you to do what a lover should…"

"Cheeky brat!" Asami growled, not being able to mask the laughter in his voice completely. And then he swallowed Takaba's cock halfway down, making the other whimper and buck his hips in an attempt to get more of himself into that wet warmth. Asami alternated working the head with his tongue and sucking vigorously until Takaba was about to explode and then lifted his mouth just before he could do so.

A predatory grin on his face, Asami slid upwards until his mouth came back in contact with Takaba's who kissed him back hungrily, roaming his hands over Asami's body and whimpering at the taste of his own precome on the other man's tongue. The whimpering became a sharp cry when Asami suddenly pushed two slicked fingers into his arse, twisting and spreading them in a way that left him gagging for more. "Asami… Asami…" Although he managed to restrain himself from outright begging (barely, but still…), the pleading tone of his voice was apparently submission enough for the Yakuza, because the next thing he felt was the sharp burn of Asami's cock entering him, pushing aside every rational thought and leaving only waves of fiery sensation that spread through his body.

Asami's initially slow pace soon morphed into an urgent thrusting that caused Takaba to bury his fingernails into Asami's sweat-slick shoulders and cry out while he squirmed beneath him, trying to rub his cock against the other's stomach just a little bit harder… But it wasn't quite enough and he finally broke down. "Please, Asami… Just touch me, please!" He nearly sobbed when he finally felt a hand wrapping around his cock, stroking him roughly until he felt his climax washing through him, leaving him shivering and weak and dazed, only dimly aware of Asami coming inside of him.

He did, however, clearly feel the other man pulling out of his body and winced a bit at the sensation. It was uncomfortable, but not enough so that it could divert him from his way to sleep. Takaba managed to curl himself into a ball, wrap the blanket around himself and mumble "Good night." before his eyes finally fell shut. It had been a hard day.

Sitting at the edge of the bed, Asami looked serenely at his lover for a long time before he got up to begin the day's work.

 

Ending

Takaba let a hot shower run over his body, trying to wash away the sleepiness clouding his mind. Among other things. He'd woken up in the early afternoon, sated, a bit sore and very sticky, with an empty feeling in his gut. Alone. Not that he'd expected Asami to still be there; he knew the man was busy with… well, whatever it was. But still. He'd have liked to talk to Asami.

At this thought Takaba grinned humourlessly. He'd already tried talking in the early morning. Well, at least he'd intended to try it, but somehow he'd got distracted… Shivering at the memory, he couldn't even manage to become angry at his own weakness. And maybe, he mused, that was a good thing. He'd already spent too much time on anger. Sighing, Takaba closed his eyes and tilted his head back until it leaned against the shower wall, baring his face and torso to the shower. Thinking about what had happened in the morning had stirred a soft tingling inside his belly and the caressing pressure of the falling water only increased the feeling until it became a wave of arousal spreading through him. Takaba let it drown him. His breath quickened rapidly as he began to touch himself, pulling at his nipples and skimming softly over the still visible bitemarks on his chest. The memory of Asami marking him that way sent a shiver through his spine as his hands found their way to his slowly hardening cock, caressing it firmly until he squirmed and panted. It didn't take long before the sharp-edged memories of being filled and taken and utterly owned by Asami sent him into a nerve-wracking climax.

When it was over, Takaba slid down the shower wall, slowly opening his eyes and feeling as if his orgasm had turned his body into lead, forcing him to surrender helplessly to gravity. He didn't feel the desperation that had consumed him when he'd first found himself wanking over the mental pictures of being dominated by Asami but knowing that his body reacted that strongly to the other man still made him uncomfortable. He might've begun to leave his path of self-delusion but facing his emotions that bluntly made him feel very vulnerable. And he didn't like that one bit.

*

Half an hour later Takaba emerged from the bathroom. Having decided that his clothes were in dire need of being cleaned, he'd only slung a towel around his waist. Which he regretted instantly as he saw who had entered the flat in the meantime.

"Well, at least this time you're not completely naked," Asami's bodyguard announced in his now familiar mocking voice. "If you keep that up I might just think you had a thing for me…"

"You wish," Takaba retorted haughtily, happily falling into the familiar banter.

"Actually, no, I don't," Sunglasses parried. "Even if I was stupid enough to challenge Asami about someone – no, scratch that. I wouldn't do that. Ever. And besides, you're lacking some rather important attributes I'm looking for in a bed partner…"

"Like a pair of breasts?" Takaba grinned.

"I was going for a working brain – but yeah, that too."

"You know what? Your jokes are really getting old. But so are you, after all, so I guess that's to be expected…"

"In your place, I'd be careful what I'm saying," the bodyguard replied, visibly fighting back his amusement. "Otherwise I might just let the bag with your cameras fall on the ground. Accidentally, of course."

That got Takaba's attention instantly. "You've brought my cameras? Why?"

"Well, since someone broke into your flat and left the door wide open I guessed you wouldn't want these things just lying around," the other man said, while lifting up a large box and carrying it from the door to the guest room. "I also brought your clothes, your Playstation and some other things to keep you occupied. Wouldn't want you to get bored out of your mind and lose what little sanity you've got."

Takaba didn't bother reacting to the insult, but what Sunglasses had said hit him harder than he'd've liked. "They broke into my flat – again. Who? And why?" he asked desperately. "And how long will this… this madness go on? I'm so sick of it!"

The stony look on Sunglasses' face didn't reveal anything. "I'm really not the person you should ask all that," he said after a little pause.

"But you're the only one here!"

"And I'm about to leave, too. So I'm afraid, you'll have to talk to yourself. Or maybe learn a little patience. It wouldn't hurt you."

*

Asami came back three days later.

Takaba, who'd been sitting in the living room and reading (who knew Asami had those kind of novels under his bed?), jumped up when he heard the other man enter and balled his hands to fists, fighting the temptation to just reach out and touch him.

"Asami… What happened? Where have you been? I… have been worried." That last bit was whispered very quietly, but if the grin that spread over Asami's face was anything to go by he had heard it nonetheless.

"I've settled things."

"And are you finished settling them or is this just a break before the next round?"

The grin on Asami's face vanished at that, leaving behind a guarded expression. The Yakuza stepped back and leaned against the door, carefully watching Takaba. "I've made sure that your involvement in these proceedings has ended," he said in a businesslike tone. "As long as you can restrain yourself from chasing certain people, you should be safe."

"Does this mean I can leave now?" Takaba asked, a mix of hope and fear swinging in his voice.

"You could stay a bit longer."

"I don’t want to. I've been sitting around here for far too long, doing nothing. I just want to… get away from all this. I promise, I won't try to get you into trouble again."

"Then let's at least get rid of this thing first," Asami said after a pause, staring pointedly at the snake tattooed on Takaba's wrist. "I didn't have the time to arrange something before now."

"No!" Takaba cried, protectively closing his left hand around the right one. "I'll just pack my things and go. There's no need to…"

"You want to keep the tattoo?" Asami asked incredulously.

"What I want is to never have gotten it, but that's impossible, isn't it? I won't wish for impossible things. And I'll keep it as a reminder to think before I act. Maybe… maybe I'll learn that lesson someday," Takaba answered quietly. He turned around and went into the room he'd inhabited these past days. Packing all his things into the box, in which the bodyguard had brought them, took only a few minutes.

Asami had poured himself a drink in the meantime and watched Takaba preparing to leave. "You think you're leaving for good."

"Yes."

"You should've learned better by now. Just because I'll let you go now, doesn't mean I won't get you back later. You're still mine."

Hearing that, the young photographer whirled around, face pale and hands shaking with fury. "Yes! Yes, I am yours! My body, my heart – and maybe even my soul, who knows? But that doesn't mean I won't fight that fact with teeth and nails until I've found a way around it!"

"Why? Why are you so stubborn about this?"

"Because while I'm yours, you're not mine in return!" And with that, Takaba left, closing the door softly behind him.

 

Beginning

Since it seemed that every single criminal in this part of the world knew exactly where he lived, Takaba was utterly unwilling to return to his flat. So, after some quick phone calls, he quartered himself at Takato's who had a spare room and only one condition before he agreed to accomodate his friend: That Takaba finally told him the whole story of what had happened since the photographer had begun to vanish on a semi-regular basis.

And so Takaba did. After a huge dinner (and several glasses of cheap wine) he began to talk; slowly at first, because he wasn't used to having to find words for his situation, but once he'd stumbled through the beginning, the rest poured out of him like water breaking through ice. When he was finished, having bared his heart (and not a few of the sexual details), Takaba didn't dare to look up into his friend's face, afraid to find disapproval or even disgust there but still feeling somehow relieved that he'd finally had an opportunity to talk some things off his chest.

"So, uhm, is it over now? For good?" Takato asked after a long pause, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had crept between them.

"I hope so," Takaba replied tentatively. "I mean… I can't… I just hope so."

"Really? I mean, it's okay if you…"

"No. He doesn't… he's not good for me. Every time I meet him, he comes closer to breaking me apart. And I don't trust him to put me back together."

"Oh. Okay. But… you're still…?" Takato didn’t finish the question, opting instead for gesticulating wildly, while a flush spread all over his face.

"Yeah. I'm still gay."

"Okay. No problem. I mean, it takes a bit getting used to, but I guess I can see the advantages…"

"Advantages?"

"Well, all the more girls for me…"

*

It was nearly two weeks before Takaba found a new flat. Luckily he'd been able to secure himself some commissions in the meantime, so he hadn't to ask his parents to loan him money for the deposit. But still, the moving was very unhealthy for his finances and he was glad that Kou and Takato had offered to help him with the transport of his things.

After they were finished dragging everything from his old flat to the new one, the three of them were too tired to celebrate properly, so Takaba said goodbye to his friends and fell into the new bed, not even bothering to take off his clothes.

*

The next day Takaba slept in. It was nearly noon when he finally got out of bed and fixed himself something to eat. Afterwards he unpacked his cameras and the rest of the equipment, but stopped when it came to the boxes with the clothing and his personal things. He just wasn't in the mood to be inside right now. Deciding to take a walk around his new neighbourhood, Takaba went out of the flat and, out of habit, looked into his mailbox, not really expecting anything to be there since he'd kept fairly quiet about his new whereabouts. The envelope he found was made of thick, heavy paper and had neither a stamp nor an adress on it. Wrestling down the rising feelings of dread, Takaba opened the letter gingerly, revealing a single sheet of paper with an adress, the date of the day after tomorrow and a time on it. The back side simply said: You can come by yourself or you can be brought by my men. Your choice. No signature.

Oh shit.

*

Two days later Takaba was on his way to the mentioned adress. Simply not going or even running away would have been futile; Asami had made it clear that he could find him anywhere. And while he'd have liked to avoid the Yakuza as long as possible, some small part of Takaba longed to see Asami again.

When he arrived, the other man was already there, leaning against his car and having a phone conversation which he abruptly stopped when he became aware of Takaba's presence.

"You're late." The carefully neutral tone of voice didn't give away anything. "I was just about to send someone for you."

"About five minutes! I didn't find this place immediately. And what am I doing here anyway?" Takaba demanded to know. He was unsure what to think; he'd been curious what Asami's reaction to his dramatical declaration from the last time they'd seen each other would be, but so far the other man didn't seem to have any.

"You'll see," Asami replied curtly. He cut off the conversation by simply turning around and vanishing into the house next to him.

Takaba snorted at that, but followed nonetheless.

The place turned out to be a tattoo studio and before the young photographer could voice his protests he was alone in a room with Asami's bespectacled bodyguard and a man who seemed to work here. After merely a glance the man reached for his equipment and Takaba's right hand simultaneously. Shocked, Takaba wanted to pull away, but a warning grip on his shoulder made him change his mind.

"It's no use," his keeper said quietly. "You'll go through this – one way or another."

Takaba just nodded weakly, sat down and closed his eyes, but opening them again as soon as the tattooing needle penetrated his skin. He watched motionlessly as the image of the snake on his wrist was over-drawn with that of a leather handcuff, bearing the kanji of Asami Ryuichi's name.

*

When the tattoo was finished Takaba drew away his arm and stormed out of the room. He didn't have to search long; Asami was standing just outside the room, smoking.

At first, Takaba didn't even know what to say and when he finally tried, all that came out of his mouth was an angry cry.

"Calm down, Akihito."

"Calm down? Calm down? I don't think so!" Takaba yelled. "Why? Why did you do that?"

"You seemed to suffer from some… misconceptions and I wanted to clear them up for you."

"By marking me as your personal… whatever it is I am? You…" Takaba's voice had gone flat with anger.

"No. That wasn't what I had in mind," Asami said seriously. "I just wanted to make two things very clear. And while you have finally realized the first one, the second one seems still outside your comprehension." Reaching out for Takaba, he stretched out his arm to bridge the distance between them and skimmed tenderly over his face, wiping away the tears of frustration that the young man hadn't even noticed falling. At the soft touch, Takaba lowered his eyes. Suddenly gasping, he gripped Asami's hand tightly, pulling back the other man's sleeve and staring unbelievingly at the exposed flesh.

There around Asami's right wrist was the image of the exact same leather cuff that now adorned Takaba's hand, only the kanji on it spelled a different name: Takaba Akihito.

 

The End