Jakurai sighs as he shuts down his computer. The clock on the exam room wall reads half past eight, and he tries to remember whether or not he has anything left in his fridge at home.
The only thing that comes to mind is a pack of possibly-expired tofu, and the corners of his mouth tug down in a frown.
He hauls himself up out of his chair and starts packing up his things, making a mental grocery list as he goes. At least at this hour the grocery store shouldn’t be that busy, and the staff for the most part has gotten used to him, besides the few collage age part-timers who still try to take surreptitious pictures.
He fishes in his pocket for his keys and idly hopes there will still be some pumpkin croquettes.
“Excuse me! Sir, you can’t just – ”
“We don’t have time for – ”
Yelling breaks Jakurai from his thoughts and he reaches for his microphone automatically. The commotion seems to be coming from the waiting room down the hall and he doesn’t hesitate to head towards it, quickening his pace and trying to decide whether to alert hospital security or not. He recognizes one of the voices as one of the intake nurses, her normally soft voice raised to an uncommon volume, and the other voice sounds familiar, somehow, but Jakurai can’t quite –
“We just need to know which office is Jinguji Jakurai’s,” the half-familiar voice snaps as Jakurai finally rounds the corner to the waiting room. “So you can tell me which it is, or I can check every – ”
Jakurai stops abruptly as he meets the eyes of Yumeno Gentarō.
“What?” Arisugawa Dice replies, glancing at Yumeno and then following his gaze to Jakurai.
“Is there something I can help with?” Jakurai asks, smoothing out his expression as he starts towards the two of them again. He nods at the intake nurse, relief spreading over her face as she takes a step back, although she keeps her clipboard clutched tightly to her chest. “I’m afraid I haven’t had any cancellations recently, so if you’re here to make an appointment – ”
He cuts himself off abruptly as he finally notices a small body pressed up against Arisugawa’s chest, half hidden by Arisugawa’s coat.
“What happened?” he demands, scanning Ramuda’s body for trauma. There’s dark red blood crusted against Ramuda’s lips and even more staining the front of his white shirt, and Jakurai’s heartrate increases to a rapid thump.
“We found him collapsed in his workshop,” Yumeno answers. His voice is even, but his usual illusion of aloofness is broken by the smudge of red against the front of his kimono and the tense set of his mouth.
Jakurai starts to reach a hand out to take Ramuda from Arisugawa, but then he stops himself. Instead, he turns back towards the hallway he came from and says, “Come with me.”
“Dr. Jinguji – ” the intake nurse starts, still hovering nearby, but she cuts herself off as Jakurai gives her a reassuring smile.
“I’ll handle this,” he says. “Please take care of the other patients.”
He doesn’t wait for her reply before starting back towards the exam rooms.
As they walk down the hallway, Jakurai opens his mouth to ask Yumeno and Arisugawa more questions, but then stops himself. It’s unlikely that they’d bring Ramuda to him instead of directly to the ER unless it was something they didn’t think another doctor could solve, which doesn’t leave much, except for – well.
He glances back at Ramuda, whose eyes are still pressed firmly shut, and he tries to repress the image of another young man, unconscious in a hospital bed.
It’s not until the exam room door is locked firmly behind him that he speaks again.
“Set him down,” Jakurai says, nodding towards the exam table. Arisugawa complies without question, and Jakurai busies himself with pulling on a pair of silicone gloves.
Ramuda’s chest is rising and falling with steady breaths, but Jakurai still reaches for his wrist, checking the strength of his pulse. It’s not weak enough to be worrying, and Jakurai grabs a clipboard and intake form off his desk, jotting down some notes, before finally turning back to Yumeno and Arisugawa.
“There are much closer hospitals in Shibuya,” he says. It’s not phrased as a question, but Jakurai doesn’t miss the nervous look Arisugawa shoots Yumeno.
“Ramuda has a – ” Yumeno hesitates. “Chronic condition, that he’d rather people didn’t know about.”
“Then I doubt he’d appreciate you bringing him to me,” he says. He brings up a hand to carefully open Ramuda’s mouth, dried blood flaking off Ramuda’s lips and onto his gloves. As he examines Ramuda’s throat, he tries to recall Ramuda ever showing these sorts of symptoms, back when…
“He takes medication for his condition,” Yumeno continues, not bothering to acknowledge Jakurai’s comment. “But it’s not,” he pauses, “easily obtainable. And recently it’s been becoming less effective, but his requests for a higher dosage were – denied.”
“By ‘not easily obtainable’,” Jakurai asks, moving Ramuda’s eyelids to check his pupils, “do you mean illegal?”
The size of Ramuda’s pupils isn’t consistent with narcotic usage, and part of Jakurai can’t help but feel relieved. For all of Ramuda’s ill advised lifestyle choices, he’d never shown signs of that sort of bad habit, beyond the occasional cigarette and more frequent shōchū highball.
“Illegal is such an ill-defined word,” Yumeno says with a dramatic sigh. “Is it illegal if he doesn’t have a prescription? Or is it legal if the government gives it to him?”
The word ‘government’ makes Jakurai freeze.
“We know you hate him,” Arisugawa continues. “But we wouldn’t have come here if we thought there was anyone else who could help him.”
For a moment, Jakurai’s quiet, but finally he asks, “Do you know anything about the type of medication he was taking?”
“Unfortunately not,” Yumeno replies, but then he reaches into his pocket, fishing around in it for a moment before coming up with something. He holds his hand out towards Jakurai, and Jakurai warily accepts the offering, blinking as a candy wrapper falls into his open palm. “We searched his apartment but it seems he’s already taken whatever he still had stocked up.”
Jakurai makes a noise of understanding as he examines the candy wrapper. There aren’t any obvious traces left on it, which at least seems to suggest that the medication comes in pill form. He tentatively brings the wrapper closer to his face, to sniff at it, but all he can detect is the cloying candy sweetness that always seems to cling to Ramuda.
“I’ll send it to the lab,” Jakurai says, setting the wrapper down in a small plastic tray, “and when Ramuda regains consciousness, we can take blood and urine samples.”
With that, he busies himself with threading Ramuda’s arm through a blood pressure cuff. He presses a couple of buttons and it whirrs to life, and he watches as the numbers climb rapidly and then drop.
The lower they go, the tighter he presses his lips together.
“Have you ever seen Amemura-kun cough up blood before?” Jakurai asks, jotting down more notes on Ramuda’s chart as the numbers on the blood pressure cuff come to a halt.
“A few times.” It’s Arisugawa who answers this time. “It usually stops pretty quickly, though. And he always takes his meds after.”
Jakurai makes a noise of acknowledgement, and then turns towards the door, making a mental list of the supplies he’ll need.
“Where are you going?” Arisugawa demands, and when Jakurai glances back, he finds Arisugawa’s eyes narrowed and sharp, his body positioned defensively in front of Ramuda’s prone figure. If Arisugawa had fangs, he’d probably be bearing them.
Ramuda certainly has a loyal team, Jakurai thinks idly.
The thought makes an ugly emotion rise in his chest, but he pushes it down quickly.
“This isn’t the emergency department. I need the proper supplies,” Jakurai replies, his tone even. “If Amemura-kun starts coughing again, roll him onto his side so he doesn’t choke.”
He leaves without waiting for a reply. Apparently Arisugawa and Yumeno accept his answer, though, because neither of them tries to follow him out into the hall, and he can’t help the soft sigh that escapes his lips once he’s alone again.
It looks like it’ll be a long night.
They move Ramuda into a proper hospital room, checked in under a false name. It takes Jakurai a couple of careful lies and disarming smiles aimed at the receptionist and intake nurses, but in the end no one questions him too much, and for once he’s glad for his reputation.
Yumeno and Arisugawa insist on staying, of course. They end up camped out in the chairs next to Ramuda’s hospital bed, faces tense with stress and one eye on the door at all times. It’s warranted, probably, if Chuoku is after them, but considering their history, he doubts this hospital would be the first place they’d look for Ramuda.
After all, he has no reason to help Ramuda, and every reason to not.
The delay should give them at least a little time to regroup.
“Have you eaten?”
Both Yumeno and Arisugawa blink up at him as he comes back into the hospital room. He has a plastic bag held in each hand, convenience store logo printed on the sides, and Arisugawa’s stomach rumbles in response.
“Here,” Jakurai says, handing one of the bags over.
“Wait, really? Are you sure?” Arisugawa asks, accepting the bag eagerly. His tongue darts out to lick his lips as he pulls a plastic wrapped sandwich out of the bag, and he grins as he chirps out a, “Thanks!”
Yumeno, meanwhile, eyes Jakurai carefully.
“It’s from the Lawson on the first floor,” Jakurai tells him, unperturbed. He takes an onigiri out of his own bag and starts to peel off the wrapper. “And if I was going to do something to you, I’ve had plenty of chances already.”
For a moment, Yumeno’s quiet, but then he says, “You agreed to this much more easily than I thought you would.”
“I’m a doctor,” Jakurai replies. “It’s against my principals to ignore someone in need.”
“You could have sent us down to the ER,” Yumeno points out. He eyes Arisugawa distastefully, who’s already wolfed down half a sandwich, and doesn’t meet Jakurai’s eyes. “Or you could have checked Ramuda in under his real name. But instead you’ve gone out of your way to help him.”
Now it’s Jakurai’s turn to go quiet.
“I have my own reasons for keeping Amemura-kun alive,” he finally says. He can feel Yumeno’s gaze shift to him, but he doesn’t bother to elaborate, instead taking a bite of his onigri, nori cracking under his teeth.
“Gentarō,” Arisugawa says around a mouthful of egg salad sandwich. “It’s not like we’ve got any option but to trust him right now.” He swallows, and adds, “And if it comes down to it, it’s two against one.”
“That simple thought process of yours is why you’re always getting yourself into trouble,” Yumeno sighs, but a little of the tension drains out his shoulders.
Arisugawa opens his mouth to reply, but before he can, a soft groan comes from the hospital bed.
Jakurai’s up out of his chair almost as soon as he registers it.
Ramuda scrunches his face up in a grimace, before blinking his eyes open. He squints against the bright lights of the hospital room, looking up at the ceiling for a moment, until Jakurai’s shadow falls over him, and he turns his attention to Jakurai instead.
He bolts upright so quickly that Jakurai’s almost surprised he doesn’t fall off the bed.
“Fuck,” Ramuda groans, his voice a little raspy. He reaches up to clutch his forehead.
“You shouldn’t move too quickly,” Jakurai says. He reaches a hand out to steady Ramuda, but Ramuda flinches away, almost unbalancing himself again. Jakurai clenches his jaw, but doesn’t push it, instead turning to pick up his stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff off a nearby table.
“Please tell me this is a nightmare,” Ramuda mutters, grimacing as he rubs at his forehead. He looks up again and his gaze finally lands on Yumeno and Arisugawa, eyes going a little wide as he blinks at them. A smile spreads across his mouth and his voice returns to its usual high pitch as he adds, “It has to be a nightmare, because there’s absolutely no way that my best friends Dice and Gentarō would take me to a hospital after I specifically told them not to.”
“You passed out in your workshop and we couldn’t find your meds,” Yumeno says, seemingly unbothered by the underlying threat in Ramuda’s voice. “We had no other option.”
“I’ve just been really busy with work recently,” Ramuda protests, his lower lip pushing out in a pout. “A little sleep, and – ”
“Amemura-kun,” Jakurai interrupts. There’s a flash of something harsh in Ramuda’s eyes as he turns his gaze back to Jakurai, but it’s gone as quick as it came. “Coughing up blood is a serious matter. The damage to your lungs – ”
“Just prescribe me some drugs and let me leave then,” Ramuda huffs, irritation creeping across his face.
“I can’t prescribe you anything until I know exactly what’s wrong,” Jakurai replies. He forces his tone to stay neutral, but he can already feel himself reacting to Ramuda’s hostility. “We’ll need to check your blood and – ”
“Did you take my blood when I was passed out?” Ramuda demands, finally seeming to notice the piece of gauze taped to his inner arm. “You’re such a creep.”
“That was from your IV,” Jakurai explains patiently. “Your blood pressure was low and I was concerned about blood loss.” He pauses, then adds, “How are you feeling now? Any nausea or dizziness? Headache?”
“You’re the only headache I have,” Ramuda mutters, and Jakurai can’t quite help the sigh that escapes his lips.
“I am asking as your doctor,” Jakurai says, pacing his words. “Stop being so childish.”
“Ramuda,” Yumeno cuts in. His expression is serious, devoid of its usual good humor. “Unless you have a secret stash somewhere, you’re out of medication. And even if you do, you’re going to run out eventually. I’m sure you know just as well as the rest of us that we need to start looking for a long-term solution.”
“Doc here’s supposed to be some sort of genius, right?” Arisugawa says, nodding in Jakurai’s direction. “Let him help.”
For a moment, Ramuda looks at them, jaw clenched, but finally he sighs, slumping back against the pillows of his hospital bed. He looks up at Jakurai, and says, “My head hurts and so does my chest. I’m not dizzy or nauseous.”
Jakurai nods and asks, “Shortness of breath?”
“A bit, before I passed out,” Ramuda answers.
“Can you sit up again?” Jakurai requests, putting on his stethoscope. “I’m going to check your breathing.”
Ramuda complies, and Jakurai lifts up the back of his shirt to press the end of the stethoscope up against his back. It makes Ramuda squeak, followed by a petulant whine of, “Did you purposely make it that cold?”
“Not everything I do is purely to irritate you,” Jakurai replies dryly.
“So you do do some things just to irritate me?” Ramuda shoots back.
“Take a deep breath in,” Jakurai says, not dignifying Ramuda’s question with a proper reply. Ramuda doesn’t question it, though, and does as he’s told.
It takes a few minutes to check Ramuda’s lungs, and a handful more to recheck his blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Both are better than they were previously, and Jakurai can’t help but be relieved that there doesn’t seem to be anything immediately dangerous anymore. Ramuda’s uncommonly quiet and compliant through the tests, and Jakurai can feel Yumeno and Arisugawa’s eyes on him the entire time, but they don’t say anything or try to step in, just watching, waiting for him to do anything suspicious, he supposes.
Jakurai doubts Ramuda will be quite so obedient for the next procedure, though. With that thought, he turns to grab a small plastic tray from a nearby table, and says, “I’m going to draw blood now. Afterwards I’ll need a urine sample.”
“You should have taken it while I was unconscious,” Ramuda whines, looking up at Jakurai with big, wide eyes.
“An unconscious patient can’t consent to having their blood drawn,” Jakurai says. He moves to the side of the bed, setting down the plastic tray and picking up the blue elastic tourniquet.
“At least let a cute nurse do it then,” Ramuda complains, as Jakurai secures the tourniquet and then presses his thumb up against Ramuda’s inner arm, feeling around for a good vein to take from.
“I thought the point was to keep your current location a secret?” Jakurai replies, keeping his tone detached. “I’d rather avoid giving anyone the chance to recognize you.”
With that, he disinfects Ramuda’s skin and picks up the needle.
“Dice,” Ramuda whines, turning his big eyes on Arisugawa and Yumeno instead. “Gentarō. Hold my hand.”
“You’re afraid of needles?” Arisugawa asks, a grin spreading over his face, but he reaches out to grasp Ramuda’s hand.
“It’s a perfectly normal fear,” Ramuda sniffs, his pout returning.
“I suppose there’s no helping it,” Yumeno sighs, but there’s a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth too as he reaches out to put his own hand over Arisugawa and Ramuda’s.
As he takes the plastic covering off the needle, Jakurai doesn’t miss the way Ramuda’s hand trembles ever so slightly. If Yumeno and Arisugawa notice, they don’t comment on it either.
It doesn’t take long to draw Ramuda’s blood. To be honest, it’s been almost two years since Jakurai last had to draw someone’s blood – normally there’s a much more experienced RN to do it for him – but it goes smoothly enough, one quick puncture at just the right angle.
Ramuda lets out a soft, slightly raspy breath when Jakurai finally pulls out the needle, and Jakurai pretends not to notice.
“Put pressure on this for a few minutes,” Jakurai instructs, once he’s taped a piece of gauze securely over the puncture mark. Ramuda reluctantly untangles his hand from Arisugawa and Yumeno’s, and does as he’s told. “Do you think you can stand on your own? I’ll need a urine sample next.”
“Of course I can,” Ramuda replies, with a wide, fake smile. “I’m still young and spry, unlike someone.”
Jakurai generously doesn’t point out that a ‘spry’ young person wouldn’t have passed out and been hospitalized in the first place.
It takes a little longer for the urine sample. Despite his insistences, Ramuda’s a little unsteady on his feet, and Arisugawa ends up accompanying him to the bathroom, leaving Jakurai alone with Yumeno in the hospital room. Jakurai occupies himself with making notes on Ramuda’s chart, and he can feel Yumeno watching him, but Yumeno doesn’t try to ask him any questions.
Jakurai glances at his watch. It reads ten thirteen PM, and briefly he wonders if he should have gotten coffee on his convenience store run.
“Success!” Arisugawa announces, as he and Ramuda come back into the room.
Ramuda looks less enthused about having peed in a cup, but he’s walking without support, which is a good sign.
Once Ramuda’s settled back into bed, Arisugawa looks over at Jakurai and asks, “So, what’s the verdict, doc?”
Jakurai hesitates, glancing at Ramuda, and then says, “I can’t be certain until I’ve run some more tests.”
“You must have some idea what you’re testing for, though,” Yumeno presses. His face is a cool mask, and Jakurai can’t read his expression.
“That’s between me and my patient,” Jakurai says carefully. “I can’t disclose – ”
Jakurai blinks at Ramuda, caught off guard.
“I’m the patient, and I say it’s fine,” Ramuda repeats, looking at Jakurai steadily. “Anything you have to say to me, Dice and Gentarō can hear too.”
For a moment, something in Jakurai’s chest feels too tight.
“If you insist,” he replies. Vaguely, he’s aware that he paused for too long. “I believe your symptoms are due to the cloning technique Chuoku used to develop you.”
Neither Yumeno or Arisugawa show any obvious shock at the mention of cloning, and the uncomfortable feeling in Jakurai’s chest worsens. Briefly, he wonders if they’d found out by accident, or if Ramuda had told them himself.
“The inflammation in your lungs is consistent with other autoimmune disorders,” he continues, training his eyes back on the numbers on Ramuda’s chart. “I would guess that your cell division patterns are unstable, and therefore your immune system is treating it as cancerous. I’m unsure what sort of medications Chuoku was giving you, but we can try some of the drugs that are typically used for autoimmune disorders, and see how effective they are.”
When he looks back up, he finds Ramuda staring at him, his expression something that Jakurai would almost hazard to call ‘uncertain.’
“That’s it?” Ramuda asks. There’s a crease in his forehead, half hidden by his bangs.
“I suppose I could try my rap ability, but because it accelerates the body’s natural healing process, it might backfire and strengthen your immune system instead,” Jakurai replies. “At this point in time I don’t think there’s any surefire way to cure your condition, but we should be able to manage it on a day to day basis with the right combination of medications.”
“And here I thought genius doctor Jinguji Jakurai would have a miracle cure for me,” Ramuda says with an overdramatic sigh.
He doesn’t sound disappointed, somehow. There’s something off about him, a strange sort of tension that Jakurai can’t quite put his finger on, but he doesn’t seem upset by the lack of a simple cure.
Instead of dwelling on it, though, Jakurai says, “I’d like to monitor your condition in the meantime, but there’s no particular reason you have to be hospitalized. If anything, the longer you stay here, the more likely someone is to recognize you.” He hesitates, then continues. “We can move you to my apartment tomorrow evening.”
Ramuda, Yumeno, and Arisugawa all stare at him.
“I’m going to go submit these to the lab,” he announces, standing up from his chair and picking up the blood and urine samples. “If you start having difficulty breathing again, call me immediately.”
With that, he turns and walks out the door.
Ramuda whistles as he steps into the entryway of Jakurai’s apartment.
“And here I thought Gentarō’s place was dreary.”
“I doubt Yumeno-kun would appreciate your commentary on his interior design choices,” Jakurai says dryly, toeing off his shoes before stepping further into the apartment. Ahead of him, Ramuda’s already halfway down the hall, bright pink socks a stark contrast to the dark wood floors.
“But you agree that your apartment is dreary?” Ramuda asks, glancing back over his shoulder at Jakurai.
“I’ve never been interested in design,” Jakurai answers easily. There’s still enough light out that he doesn’t bother to flip the light switch, instead walking over to open the curtains a little wider.
Ramuda makes a show of flopping down on the couch as if this were his own workshop instead of Jakurai’s living room, but Jakurai doesn’t miss the way he’s breathing a little too heavily. The last time Jakurai had checked, Ramuda’s pulse ox readings weren’t low enough to warrant oxygen, and he hasn’t coughed up too much blood today, but it’s still a little worrying.
“How are you feeling?” Jakurai asks.
Ramuda looks up at him, the corners of his mouth tugged down in the beginnings of a frown.
For a moment, Ramuda’s quiet, but then he says, “Why are you helping me?”
“I’m a doctor,” Jakurai answers. He crosses his arms, standing stiffly by the balcony door.
“You know what I did to Yotsutsuji,” Ramuda replies, and Jakurai can’t help the way he tenses, fingertips digging hard into the flesh of his biceps. There’s no guilt in Ramuda’s expression, just a cool sort of wariness, and it makes part of Jakurai want to do something rash, to kick Ramuda out of his apartment and cut him off entirely this time.
Instead, he says, “I talked to Doppo-kun and Hifumi-kun about what happened between us in the past.” He pauses, and then corrects himself. “About what I understand of what happened.”
“Really?” Ramuda asks, kicking his feet up onto the couch and sinking deeper into the cushions. “I’m surprised they haven’t come to confront me about it yet. They’re not scared I’m gonna come get them next, are they?”
“Actually,” Jakurai says, “Doppo-kun thinks you must have had a reason.”
He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Ramuda look so surprised before.
“And Hifumi-kun thinks that we should talk,” Jakurai continues, slowly, carefully. “So that even if I decide I can’t forgive you, I can at least understand what really happened.”
Ramuda stares at him with wide eyes, and somehow he looks more vulnerable now than he did passed out in the hospital bed earlier.
It only lasts a few moments, though, before Ramuda breaks eye contact again, sighing loud and overdramatic as he relaxes back into the couch. His pink hair flares out against the throw pillow under his neck, a few strands sticking with static to the fabric, and vaguely, Jakurai wonders if he’ll find strands of it later.
“For a former assassin, you sure love hanging out with bleeding hearts,” Ramuda huffs. His voice has dipped a little lower than usual, a little closer to his true voice, but he’s angled himself towards the back of the couch so Jakurai can’t properly see his expression. “You already know I was created by Chuoku. I don’t do anything except because they tell me to.”
“Is that so?” Jakurai asks. He runs his eyes down Ramuda’s spine, taking in its tense set.
“I do their dirty work and they give me meds,” Ramuda replies easily.
“Why aren’t they giving you medication anymore?” Jakurai asks, although part of him suspects he already knows the answer.
Ramuda clicks his tongue. Jakurai suspects he wasn’t supposed to hear it, and Ramuda makes no move to answer, stubbornly keeping his back to Jakurai.
The silence drags out for a long few moments, until finally Jakurai says, “I’m not sure I can ever forgive you.” His voice is soft as he speaks, slow as he chooses his words. “But more than that, I can’t forgive the people who would withhold medical treatment to coerce someone into working for them.”
“You’re making me sound pathetic and helpless,” Ramuda whines, his voice pitched high and fake again. “You know Yotsutsuji ended up like he did because he was on to something about me. It’s not like I didn’t know what was going to happen when I reported him to Chuoku.”
And there’s the crux of the problem.
“You reported him,” Jakurai repeats. “But you weren’t the one who put him in a coma.”
“Hmm, didn’t I?” Ramuda says, his tone light. He finally looks back at Jakurai, face screwed up in an exaggeratedly thoughtful expression, glaringly fake enough to make Jakurai’s skin prickle. “It’s been so long I can’t remember.”
“You were with me in Osaka at the time he – ” Jakurai cuts himself off, a little too abruptly. “You couldn’t have made it all the way to Tokyo and back in time.”
“Who says it was really me with you in Osaka?” Ramuda asks, looking up at Jakurai through light colored eyelashes.
“Chuoku recently gave me a,” he hesitates, “demonstration of their ‘true’ hypnosis mic.” Ramuda’s expression falters, surprise flickering over his face. “If it kills the user, then you can’t have been the one who attacked Yotsutsuji-kun.”
“So maybe I’m not the Ramuda you knew back then,” Ramuda replies lightly. “Maybe I didn’t use the ‘true’ hypnosis mic on Yotsutsuji, but the Ramuda you were all buddy-buddy with did.”
This time, Jakurai can’t quite hold back a sigh.
“That’s beside the point,” Jakurai says. He tries to relax the tension from his shoulders, but he’s not particularly successful. “Whether or not you’re the person I knew two years ago doesn’t change the fact that you can’t personally have attacked Yotsutsuji-kun.”
“Can’t you just – ” Ramuda huffs, mouth twisting down into a scowl as he glares up at Jakurai.
“But,” Jakurai interrupts, taking a step forward and crowding down into Ramuda’s personal space. He reaches a hand out to cup Ramuda’s chin, sliding his index finger back until it brushes up against a raised piece of scar tissue, right behind Ramuda’s ear. “That’s also irrelevant, because I know it’s you.”
After all, he still remembers cleaning up this particular wound. Remembers how the opposing gang had decided to try throwing rocks at the windows behind them instead of fighting with their mics, remembers how his heart had stopped for a panicked beat when a shard of glass had hit just below Ramuda’s ear, dangerously close to his neck.
“Just because you have clones doesn’t mean you’re identical,” Jakurai says, his voice dipping low, soft.
“You couldn’t have known that before checking right now,” Ramuda mutters, petulant. He doesn’t try to push Jakurai away though.
Jakurai hums noncommittally and says, “Call it intuition.”
With that, he pulls his hand away and straightens back up.
“You need to take your next round of medication,” he continues, turning to head towards the kitchen. He doesn’t look back to check Ramuda’s expression again, and tries to ignore the warmth of Ramuda’s skin still clinging to his fingertips.
It’s been a long time since he last touched Ramuda like that.
Arisugawa and Yumeno arrive a few hours later.
“Amemura-kun is sleeping,” Jakurai informs them as he lets them into the apartment, eyeing the collection of luggage Yumeno and Arisugawa drag with them down the hall.
“I think we got everything Ramuda should need,” Arisugawa says, hefting a large duffle bag down onto the living room floor. “If there’s something we forgot though, we should probably go back to get it before tomorrow.”
“There weren’t signs of anyone monitoring Ramuda’s workshop or apartment, but it’s only a matter of time,” Yumeno agrees.
“Are you sure you’re okay with us staying over tonight?” Arisugawa asks, looking over at Jakurai.
“Would you leave if I asked you to?” Jakurai asks, the corners of his mouth quirking up slightly.
“I’d probably just camp out in front of the building,” Arisugawa answers easily.
“Which I would prefer to avoid,” Yumeno adds. Jakurai has a hard time imagining someone like Yumeno sleeping in the bushes outside, but Ramuda seems to have the power to make people do some very out of character things. “Unlike Dice, I’m accustomed to sleeping indoors.”
“I’m not – ” Arisugawa starts to protest, but before he can finish, Jakurai says, “You’re welcome to stay, but I’m afraid I don’t have enough futons for everyone. Someone will have to use the couch.”
“Dice will take it,” Yumeno says.
Instead of trying to argue this time, Arisugawa plops himself down on the couch with a sigh, sprawling in a way that’s not all that dissimilar from how Ramuda had made himself comfortable earlier.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much food at the moment, though,” Jakurai continues. He checks his watch, lips pursing as he takes note of the time. “I wasn’t expecting company. If you give me an hour or so – ”
“I figured as much,” Yumeno interrupts, leaning down to rummage through the pile of luggage on the living room floor. He comes up with a couple of reusable shopping bags, and then says, “I make a very good liver mayonnaise salad.”
“Ah,” Jakurai replies, unsure how else to respond. He glances over at Arisugawa, but Arisugawa just has a thoughtful look on his face.
“Which, of course, is a joke,” Yumeno continues, his mouth curving in amusement. “I hope you don’t mind nabe.”
With that, Yumeno turns towards the kitchen.
“Please, allow me to help,” Jakurai says, following after Yumeno. “I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook, but I can chop things, at the very least.”
“You don’t have to worry about me doing anything suspicious to your apartment,” Yumeno replies, setting the grocery bags down on the kitchen counter. “I wouldn’t have left you alone with Ramuda if I was seriously concerned about you harming him.”
“I didn’t mean to imply…” Jakurai says, a little awkwardly, his expression faltering.
“I know,” Yumeno laughs, and there’s that smile again, teasing and a little mischievous. After a moment, though, it fades into something a little softer, and Yumeno adds, “You’ve already done more than enough for us. Dice has some contacts who should be able to find someplace for us to lay low for a while, so it should only be another day or two before you have your apartment back to yourself.”
Jakurai knows he should be relieved by the news, but somehow, he feels something closer to disappointment.
“There’s no rush,” Jakurai replies. He busies himself with taking down a couple of cutting boards from the shelves, followed by pairing knives and a peeler.
“I would’ve thought you’d want Ramuda out of here as quickly as possible,” Yumeno says, and there’s a thoughtful look on his face that makes Jakurai avert his eyes too quickly.
He forces a smile, and says, “He spent most of the day sleeping. It’s hardly an imposition.”
Yumeno pauses, looking up from the leek he was inspecting, and then asks, “How is Ramuda?”
“He’s not in any immediate danger,” Jakurai answers easily. “I’m still concerned about the inflammation in his lungs, but there doesn’t seem to be any significant fluid buildup, so as long as we can find a good combination of medications, he shouldn’t require long term hospitalization.” He picks up a container of shiitake and starts peeling the plastic off. “Although if he pushes himself too much, he could land himself in the same situation as he did yesterday.”
“I see,” Yumeno murmurs, soft and relieved in a way that catches Jakurai off guard.
They fall quiet for a moment. Jakurai busies himself with washing shiitake while Yumeno peels a carrot, and although it would be a stretch to call the silence ‘companionable,’ at the very least it’s not awkward.
It doesn’t take long to prepare all the ingredients, and soon they have the pot set up on the dining table, bubbling steadily above the gas burner. Arisugawa makes himself comfortable at one of the chairs as soon as Yumeno brings the nabe pot into the room, chopsticks held at the ready, and Jakurai wonders if perhaps Yumeno was right to prepare as much food as he did, instead of overzealous.
Arisugawa empties about half the pot within the first five minutes, and Yumeno doesn’t bat an eyelash as he replenishes it.
“Wait,” Arisugawa finally says, around a mouthful of bok choy. “Where’s Ramuda?”
“Still sleeping, I assume,” Yumeno answers, adding another batch of meatballs to the broth.
“I’ll see if – ” Jakurai starts, getting up from the table, but before he can go wake up Ramuda, Yumeno says, “We can bring him some later. For now, I think there are some things the three of us need to discuss.”
“Like what?” Arisugawa asks. His words are a little muffled by a half-chewed piece of tofu.
“How much do you know about Ramuda?” Yumeno asks, ignoring Arisugawa and instead turning to Jakurai. His tone is blunt, but just as calm and even as earlier.
Jakurai hesitates, but then says, “Not much more than you, I suspect.”
“You mentioned the clone thing at the hospital,” Arisugawa points out, his mouth for once free off food. He gestures at Jakurai with his chopsticks. “So you at least know about that.”
“Yes, I am aware that Amemura-kun was created by Chuoku in order to use their ‘true’ hypnosis microphones,” Jakurai agrees. He fishes a piece of bok choy out of the pot and is about to take a bite of it, when he notices that both Yumeno and Arisugawa are staring at him, looking caught off guard.
“It seems you do know more about the situation than us,” Yumeno says, composing himself first. “What’s this about a ‘true’ hypnosis microphone?”
“I can’t be sure of all the details,” Jakurai replies. “But Chuoku has been developing a new hypnosis microphone that has a more profound effect on an opponent’s consciousness. At the very least, it can induce comas, but I suspect it has other abilities as well.”
“And they’re testing it on Ramuda’s clones?” Yumeno asks, his expression impressively neutral, besides the tense set of his mouth. Arisugawa’s face shows his horror more readily, eyes wide and mouth hanging open slightly.
“Not quite,” Jakurai answers. He adds a few carrots to his bowl, but makes no move to eat them. “The mic is incomplete and also kills the user.” He gazes down into his bowl. “So Chuoku would rather have clones use it.”
A loud snap makes Jakurai look up, and he finds that Arisugawa has broken his chopsticks, wood splintered in his fist.
“I need a cigarette,” Arisugawa mutters, standing up abruptly from the table.
Neither Yumeno nor Jakurai try to stop him as he heads for the balcony. He yanks the glass sliding door open roughly and then slams it shut again behind him, and idly, Jakurai hopes that it doesn’t damage the tracks.
“Does Arisugawa-kun have history with Chuoku?” Jakurai asks after a moment, finally breaking the silence. He picks up the carrot from his bowl and puts it into his mouth.
“He’s the long-lost son of the prime minister,” Yumeno answers easily, and Jakurai almost chokes on his carrot.
“Is that so?” Jakurai finally manages, once he’s swallowed. He supposes it would make sense for Chuoku to send Ramuda to form a team with Arisugawa, if he’s actually –
“Of course not,” Yumeno says, propping his elbow up on the table and resting his chin against his palm. “I don’t know any more about Dice’s past than you do.”
For a moment, Jakurai’s quiet, but then he says, “It must be difficult to form a team with people you know so little about.”
Yumeno hums noncommittally, gazing towards the balcony doors, Arisugawa’s outline vague against the Shinjuku skyline. He replies with, “You would think so.”
He doesn’t elaborate, and Jakurai doesn’t ask him to.
Jakurai knocks softly on the bedroom door.
“Amemura-kun?” he calls. He waits for a moment, but there’s no response. “I’m coming in.”
He pushes the door open slowly, light from the hallway spilling into the darkened bedroom. There’s a lump in the bed, buried under the covers, and Jakurai flips the light switch before starting towards it. He sets the tray he’s carrying down on the bedside table and then reaches out to pull back the blankets, revealing a shock of pink hair, bangs falling down over Ramuda’s flushed face.
Jakurai reaches out to press the back of his hand to Ramuda’s forehead and frowns at how hot it is. He shifts his hand to shake Ramuda’s shoulder lightly and says, “Amemura-kun.”
Ramuda groans, finally stirring.
He blinks his eyes open slowly, looking blearily up at Jakurai until consciousness finally kicks in and he bolts upright. He winces with the movement, hand coming up to clutch at his chest, breath coming out in a few harsh pants before stabilizing again.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that,” Ramuda grumbles, glaring up at Jakurai.
“I knocked on the door, turned on the lights, and called your name twice,” Jakurai says dryly, turning back to pick up the tray from the bedside table.
Ramuda narrows his eyes, but doesn’t try to argue further.
“You should eat,” Jakurai continues, setting the tray down on Ramuda’s lap. “I’d also like to take your temperature because you seem feverish. How are you feeling?”
“Did you make this?” Ramuda asks, ignoring Jakurai’s question as he eyes the nabe leftovers.
“Yumeno-kun did,” Jakurai answers. He sits down on the side of the bed, making it dip slightly, and Ramuda glances over at him, but in the end doesn’t complain.
“Really?” Ramuda asks, sounding skeptical as he picks up his chopsticks and pokes at the bowl’s contents. “Gentarō usually adds leeks.”
“Arisugawa ate them all,” Jakurai replies.
It’s a lie, of course. While it’s true that Arisugawa ate most of the nabe contents, there were still a few pieces of leek left, floating around the edge of the pot. Jakurai hadn’t put much thought into what he’d chosen for Ramuda’s bowl, but it hadn’t even occurred to him to add any leek, instead going for the tofu and carrots.
Tofu, because it’s easy to swallow. Carrots, because they’re sweet.
No leeks, because the last time he and Ramuda had hot pot together, Ramuda had made such a genuinely disgusted face after biting down on a slice of leek that Jakurai had laughed so hard his face hurt.
If Ramuda notices the lie, he doesn’t call Jakurai out on it.
“Try to eat at least half of it,” Jakurai instructs, and then leaves the room again. He heads to the bathroom to get the thermometer, and some more digging brings up a box of ibuprofen tablets, which he takes with him too.
When he comes back to the bedroom, he’s relieved to find that Ramuda’s actually done as told for once, and is nibbling at a piece of tofu. He looks up when Jakurai enters the room, but doesn’t say anything, just pops the rest of the tofu into his mouth and then puts down his chopsticks, holding out a hand for the thermometer.
Jakurai gives it to him and watches on as he sticks it under his arm. It beeps a couple moments later, and Ramuda hands it back without checking it, a look on his face that would pass for disinterested if it weren’t for the tension in his jaw.
“You have a low-grade fever,” Jakurai announces, the numbers 37.9 displayed on the thermometer’s screen. “It’s not too concerning at the moment, but we should make sure it doesn’t rise.” He places two pills on the edge of Ramuda’s tray and says, “Take these once you’ve finished eating.”
“Yes, Dr. Jakurai,” Ramuda sighs, and while his tone is hardly friendly, it lacks its usual bite. He picks up his chopsticks again and goes for another piece of tofu, but before it can reach his mouth, he asks, “Where are Dice and Gentarō?”
“They’ll be sleeping in the living room,” Jakurai answers, turning away from Ramuda and towards the closet.
Ramuda makes a noise of acknowledgement, and says, “I guess you’re too old to sleep on the couch.” A pause and then, “Where are you sleeping?”
“In here,” Jakurai says easily, sliding the closet door open. There’s a choking sound behind him. He pulls a futon out of the closet and adds, “On the floor, of course.”
When he turns back around, Ramuda’s still trying to clear his throat.
Jakurai generously doesn’t comment and instead busies himself with spreading the futon out on the floor. The only spot with enough space is at the foot of the bed, and he waits for Ramuda to make some sort of comment about it making him seem more like a dog than a wolf, but instead, Ramuda says, “You’re not going to join me in bed?”
For a moment, Jakurai freezes.
“It’s not like we haven’t slept together before,” Ramuda adds, as if that wasn’t years ago, back when Jakurai was still hopelessly –
“You’re currently my patient,” Jakurai says, carefully not looking at Ramuda as he continues to lay out his futon. “And even if you weren’t, I have no desire to have that sort of relationship with you again.”
“That sort of relationship?” Ramuda repeats, high voice dripping with fake confusion. “I just thought sleeping on the floor would be hard on your back. And your bed is so ridiculously big you could probably fit like five people in here.”
“It’s difficult to find beds that are long enough to accommodate my height,” Jakurai replies. He finishes setting up his futon and straightens back up again. “I’ll be in the bath. When you’re finished eating, you can just set the try on the bedside table and I’ll take it back to the kitchen later.”
He finally glances at Ramuda again. It’s a mistake, because he’s suddenly too aware of how small Ramuda looks in the middle of such a large bed.
He’s out the door before Ramuda can say anything else.
Jakurai wakes to sunlight warming his face.
It takes him a moment to register it, but once he does, he bolts upright, scrambling for his phone. A quick check of the time shows that it’s nearly eight, and Jakurai’s halfway through mentally calculating whether he can make his eight thirty clinic when it occurs to him that it’s his day off.
He sighs to himself and runs a hand through his disarrayed hair. It’s unusual for his internal clock to not wake him up by at least six thirty, although he supposes the last couple of days have thrown off his usual sleep schedule.
With that thought, he looks over at the bed.
The covers are slightly rumpled, but there’s no telltale lump, and Jakurai frowns as he drags himself out of his futon. A brush of his hand over the sheets finds them cold, so he starts towards the hallway, ears straining for any noise coming from elsewhere in the apartment. The lights are off in the bathroom when he passes it, and he finds the futon he’d lent Yumeno neatly folded on the living room floor, and there’s an uncomfortably hollow feeling in his chest as he wonders if –
Jakurai turns towards the voice so quickly his neck hurts a little.
“Amemura-kun,” he says. Ramuda gives him a strange look, but he’s still too caught off guard by the fact that Ramuda is still in his apartment to pay it much mind.
“I thought old people were supposed to get up early,” Ramuda says, brushing past him to plop himself down on the couch.
“I’m surprised you woke up before me,” Jakurai replies, not bothering to go for Ramuda’s bait.
“I slept a lot yesterday,” Ramuda answers easily. Jakurai blinks as he realizes that Ramuda has a coffee mug in his hands, watching as Ramuda brings it up to take a sip, the rich smell of fresh coffee finally registering. “You should have some coffee.”
Jakurai blinks again, caught off guard, but finally manages, “I will.”
With that, he turns towards the kitchen. A glance towards the coffee maker reveals that it’s still mostly full, and he’s about to reach up to rummage through the cupboards when he realizes that there’s already a mug set out on the counter. He stares at it blearily for a long moment, before finally picking it up and filling it until it’s dangerously close to overflowing.
He drinks half the cup while standing in the kitchen, before he finally turns back towards the living room.
“You’re going to lose your reputation if people find out that you’re only a genius after three cups of coffee,” Ramuda says from where he’s curled up in a corner of the couch, tapping away at his phone.
“You made coffee?” Jakurai asks, taking another sip from his mug and willing his brain to start working at its usual speed.
Ramuda makes a noise that’s more acknowledgement than confirmation.
“You can barely hold a conversation in the morning without it,” he says, his eyes still trained on his phone screen.
For a moment, Jakurai finds himself wondering when the last time someone made him coffee in the morning was, but the only image that comes to mind is Ramuda stirring too much instant coffee into a mug of hot water at his workshop.
This coffee is a lot better than what Ramuda used to make, and idly, he wonders if it’s just that it’s not instant, or if Ramuda’s been practicing. He takes another sip and then asks, “Where are Yumeno-kun and Arisugawa-kun?”
“Gentarō said he had to talk with his editor about taking some time off,” Ramuda answers. He takes sip of his own coffee, just as black as Jakurai’s. “And Dice said he’s following up on a safehouse option, but he’s probably just at the racetrack again.”
“I see,” Jakurai says. A pause, and then, “How are you feeling?”
“Like I need a shower,” Ramuda announces. He swallows the last of his coffee and sets the mug down on the coffee table before standing up from the couch and stretching his arms up over his head. His shirt rides up, revealing a sliver of his stomach, and Jakurai averts his eyes, but as soon as he does so, Ramuda’s pushing past him again, heading for the bathroom.
The sound of the bathroom door closing finally makes the tension drain from Jakurai’s shoulders. He brings his mug up to take another sip, and blinks as he finds it empty.
Reluctantly, he makes his way back into the kitchen and pours himself another cup. It’s the same coffee he drinks every day, and truthfully, it doesn’t taste any different from usual, but something about not having to fumble with the buttons of the coffee maker himself in the morning makes the warmth of the coffee seep more deeply into him.
He’s finished his second cup and poured himself a third when he finally turns to open his refrigerator. Between the few things he already had and the unused ingredients Yumeno had brought over the previous night, there’s enough to make a decent breakfast with, so he sets to work.
The eggs are almost done when he hears a voice call from the other room, “Where did Gentarō put the bag with my clothes?”
Jakurai turns off the stove and heads for the living room.
“I believe they should be – ” he starts, but he cuts himself off as his eyes land on Ramuda.
Ramuda, who has nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist. His hair is still wet, strands sticking to his skin, and Jakurai finds himself staring as a drop of water trails down the back of his neck, before slipping over his bare shoulder blade and then down further.
“Do you usually find it appropriate to walk around other people’s houses without proper clothes on?” Jakurai finally manages, trying to ignore the heat on his face.
“I just said I’m looking for a change of clothes,” Ramuda huffs, shooting a glare at Jakurai over his shoulder. “And it’s nothing you haven’t seen before anyway.”
Jakurai’s face grows hotter and he fights to keep a neutral expression. It must not be as neutral as he hoped, though, because Ramuda’s glare weakens and turns into something considering, and before Jakurai can reply, Ramuda takes a step towards him, pressing up into his personal space.
“Amemura – ” Jakurai starts.
“Is it because you’ve seen it before?” Ramuda asks, and his voice dips lower, not to his real voice, but to something huskier than before. He looks up at Jakurai from under light colored eyelashes and says, “Last night you said you didn’t want ‘that sort of relationship’ with me again, but you’re really not acting like – ”
“The bags that Yumeno-kun and Arisugawa-kun brought are over there,” Jakurai interrupts, taking an abrupt step back. He gestures vaguely towards the other side of the couch.
He’s about to retreat back to the kitchen when Ramuda catches his wrist, stopping him in place.
“I don’t mind,” Ramuda says, and he’s so close that Jakurai can feel his body heat. “I don’t really want to owe you for helping me anyway, so if we can even this out with a quick – ”
Jakurai yanks his wrist out of Ramuda’s grasp.
“I helped you,” Jakurai says slowly, his voice low with barely-constrained anger, “because I wanted to.” Vaguely, he’s aware that his hands are shaking slightly. He hesitates, then adds, “You should treat yourself with more respect.”
With that, he leaves the room.
Ramuda doesn’t try to stop him.
Jakurai looks up from his book and across the dining table at Ramuda. Ramuda’s eyes are fixed on his plate, breakfast mostly untouched as he pokes at his eggs.
“For telling me to have some self-respect,” Ramuda continues. He picks up a cherry tomato with his chopsticks and pops it into his mouth, chewing slowly.
Jakurai frowns, forehead creasing as he tries to understand what Ramuda’s trying to say, but then it occurs to him that Ramuda’s probably never had someone tell him that before. After all, what does someone developed in a lab for the sole purpose of being a disposable pawn have any need for self-respect? If anything, Chuoku likely actively discouraged it.
“You don’t work for Chuoku anymore,” Jakurai finally says, turning his eyes back to his book. With his free hand, he uses his chopsticks to pick up one of the tomatoes on his own plate and slides it into his mouth.
The two of them fall into silence for a long moment.
“Chuoku didn’t make me sleep with you,” Ramuda says, abruptly breaking the silence. “That one time.” A pause, and then, “I did it because I wanted to.”
“I see,” Jakurai replies.
To be entirely honest, he’s not sure if knowing makes him feel any better than before. He’s spent more time than he’d like to admit wondering if sleeping together was just another way for Ramuda to manipulate him, but he’d always known it didn’t make sense. If Ramuda had really wanted to distract him, it would have happened more than once.
Once, to satisfy Ramuda’s curiosity. Once, because Ramuda must have noticed that Jakurai’s feelings ran deeper than his and didn’t want to encourage any misconceptions about their relationship.
The rest of breakfast is spent is silence. Jakurai finishes another chapter of his book, but he can barely remember what happened in it by the time he finally stands up from the table. He’s about to pick up his plate and head back to the kitchen, but Ramuda beats him to it, hopping up to his feet and snatching the plate from under his fingers.
“I’ll wash the dishes,” Ramuda announces, stacking Jakurai’s plate on top of his own. “If you won’t let me pay you back the fun way, it looks like I’ll have to do it the boring way.”
“Don’t break anything,” Jakurai says. It earns him an annoyed look from Ramuda, but no verbal response.
The rest of the morning passes uneventfully. Ramuda takes a nap on the couch after doing the dishes, breathing a little short and fatigue clear in his posture, but he doesn’t start coughing up blood again. Jakurai sets his laptop up at the dining table and alternates between doing work and glancing over at Ramuda, positioned neatly within his line of sight, with the excuse that Ramuda technically should be hospitalized right now.
Keeping an eye on his condition is reasonable.
Ramuda wakes up about an hour later, with a low groan and a muttered, “God, I need a cigarette.”
“Part of the reason your lungs are in their current state is because you’ve been smoking,” Jakurai says, keeping his eyes trained on his computer screen. “Smoking is detrimental to anyone’s heath, but it’s even more dangerous for people with autoimmune issues such as yours.”
“Can I tell Gentarō to buy me nicotine gum, Dr. Jakurai?” Ramuda asks, drawing out the ‘doctor’ with an insincere sing-song.
“If you believe it will help you quit,” Jakurai answers. He clicks through to his email and resists the urge to rub his temples at the number of unread messages he finds.
Ramuda makes a noise of acknowledgement, tapping something out on his phone, and then pushes himself up from the couch. He looks unsteady for a moment, but before Jakurai can move towards him, he straightens himself out and heads over to the pile of bags Yumeno and Arisugawa had left the other day. He digs around in them for a few minutes before making a triumphant noise and tugging out a tablet and a bag of hard candy.
With that, he plops himself back down on the couch.
It’s a nostalgic scene, Ramuda curled up with his tablet resting against his thighs, twirling his pen as he considers a new design. He uses his free hand to fish a piece of candy out of the bag, florescent green against his pink tongue before it disappears back into his mouth.
Jakurai has to force himself not to stare. He’d always liked watching Ramuda work, back when they’d been on the same team, because it always felt like one of the few times he was seeing the true Ramuda.
He pushes that thought from his mind and tries to focus back on his email.
It takes another twenty minutes for Jakurai to clean out his inbox, and when it’s finally done, he shuts down his computer, closing it with a soft click. He reaches for his book next, opening it to the bookmarked spot, and he’s about to start reading when Ramuda says, “You can sit on the couch, you know.”
Jakurai looks over at him with a frown.
“There’s enough room for two people,” Ramuda continues. “And I only bite people who ask me to.” He glances over at Jakurai and adds, “Unless you actually like those stupidly uncomfortable chairs you have.”
“I don’t find them uncomfortable,” Jakurai replies, although he still pushes himself up from the table and starts towards the couch.
The couch is more comfortable than the stiff dining table chairs, but Jakurai doesn’t say it aloud.
The silence resumes again, and Jakurai tries to focus on his book, but now that he’s closer to Ramuda, it’s even more difficult than before. He can’t see Ramuda’s tablet screen fully from this angle, but he catches a few glimpses, sweeping lines and color swatches, and even when he manages to keep his eyes on his book, the inconsistent tapping of Ramuda’s pen fills his ears.
“If you want to see that bad, I can show you.”
Jakurai blinks, and realizes he’s been staring again.
Before he can reply, though, Ramuda’s already shifting positions, pressing up next to him and setting the tablet between them. Ramuda taps at the tablet screen with practiced movements, bringing up a number of images, and Jakurai watches on, studying the designs with detached interest.
“I didn’t think these colors were to your taste,” Jakurai says, after the third image reveals another muted palate of dark greens and grays.
“I thought I’d try to update your outdated fashion sense,” Ramuda replies, flipping to the next design. “Unfortunately I didn’t think you’d actually wear any interesting colors, so I tried to keep it as dreary as possible.”
He says it like an insult, but even with as little knowledge about fashion as he has, Jakurai can see the careful consideration that’s gone into every color choice, every shirt cut, every hastily scrawled sidenote.
“Not that I’d every actually waste the fabric to make them,” Ramuda continues, closing out of the canvas.
If it’s a lie, Jakurai can’t tell.
Yumeno comes back to the apartment a little after lunch.
Jakurai’s back at the dining table, on his laptop, and Ramuda’s switched from sketching to flipping through the channels on Jakurai’s TV. It’s staring to grate on Jakurai’s nerves, because Ramuda spends about five minutes on each variety show before switching to the next one, and he has to suppress a sigh of relief when Gentarō enters the living room with a, “Oh, I see you two have managed to avoid killing each other.”
“Jakurai won’t entertain me,” Ramuda whines, finally shutting off the TV. “I could have died of boredom.”
“It is not my job to entertain you,” Jakurai replies, not taking his eyes off his laptop screen. “Nor is it possible to die of boredom.”
“Well, we can’t have that,” Yumeno says, ignoring Jakurai’s commentary. He pulls a pack of nicotine gum out of the plastic convenience store bag he’s carrying and hands it to Ramuda, before sitting down on the other side of the couch.
“Gentarō, you are officially my very best friend,” Ramuda announces as he opens the gum packet and pops a piece into his mouth.
“Oh? Was I not before?” Yumeno asks, mock hurt. He brings his sleeve up to the corner of his eye, wiping away nonexistent tears.
“You and Dice were tied,” Ramuda answers easily, a little muffled around his gum. He shifts positions again, flopping down to lay his head in Yumeno’s lap, and Yumeno sighs but doesn’t protest, instead reaching down to thread his fingers through Ramuda’s hair. “Tell me a story or something.”
“Hmm,” Yumeno says consideringly. “As a professional writer, it’s a violation of my contract to do live readings without proper compensation. You’ll have to go through my agent.”
“Fine, then Dice is my best friend,” Ramuda huffs, turning over so that his back is to Yumeno.
“I suppose I could take the title of ‘Ramuda’s best friend’ as payment for one story,” Yumeno replies, screwing up his face as if he’s seriously considering the transaction. “If it’s not too late to change your mind on the subject.”
“I’ll decide after hearing the story,” Ramuda says.
“I’m afraid I require at least half the payment upfront,” Yumeno sighs. He combs his fingers through Ramuda’s hair, making it sticky with static, but Ramuda doesn’t try to bat him away.
Jakurai realizes he’s staring and trains his eyes back on his computer.
Ramuda makes a thoughtful noise and then says, “I have candy. There’s only grape and apple flavor left, though.”
“Three grape ones should suffice as a down payment,” Yumeno replies, and there’s a crinkling of plastic as the candy changes hands. Apparently satisfied with the exchange, Yumeno takes a deep breath and says, “Once upon a time, in a far away land, there was a very handsome prince.”
“Is this going to be a romance story?” Ramuda asks, but Yumeno ignores his commentary.
“As the heir to the throne and the sole beneficiary of a vast fortune, the prince was often warned to watch out for those who would try to steal from him or use him for ransom,” Yumeno continues. He has a pleasant narration voice, Jakurai thinks idly, and he finds himself pausing his work to listen. “However, the prince was also a generous person, and liked to see the best in people.”
Ramuda makes a skeptical noise, but doesn’t interrupt this time, instead letting Yumeno continue with, “One day, when the prince was out hunting, he was ambushed by a band of thieves. Having strayed too far ahead of the rest of his party, he had no one to call to for help, and while he was a decent archer and swordsman, the thieves numbered him four to one.”
“Four to one isn’t that bad,” Ramuda says, reaching over to pop another piece of gum into his mouth.
“Ramuda, do you want me to tell the story or not?” Yumeno sighs, looking down at Ramuda.
“Okay, okay,” Ramuda replies, in between his chewing.
“As I was saying, the prince was terribly outnumbered,” Yumeno continues. There’s a certain emphasis on the ‘terribly’ that makes Jakurai bite back a smile. “But before the thieves could attack him, a rock came flying out of the woods, hitting one of the thieves squarely in the head. The moment of distraction was just what the prince needed, and he made quick work of two of the thieves. When he turned to the final thief, however, instead he found another young man, holding the thief to the ground at sword point.”
Yumeno pitches his voice a little lower than his usual tone and says, “‘Were you the one who threw the rock?’ the prince asked.”
“‘You shouldn’t travel alone in this part of the forest,’ the young man replied,” Yumeno continues, his voice rougher this time, a little sharper. “‘You’re lucky I happened to be passing by.’”
“‘Then allow me to express my gratitude’,” Yumeno says, switching back to the prince’s smooth voice. “‘Come with me to the palace and we’ll hold a feast in your honor.’ Naturally, the young man agreed and came back with the prince to the palace. With the merry atmosphere of the feast, the prince urged the young man to share more stories of his exploits in the forest, and the two talked long into the night, even after the feast had finished.”
“Talked long into the night,” Ramuda repeats, putting undo emphasis onto the phrase and looking up at Yumeno with raised eyebrows.
“Yes, Ramuda, talked,” Yumeno replies, breezing past the implication easily. “If you want the explicit version of the story, you’ll have to pay me in more than candy.”
“There’s an explicit version?” Ramuda asks, his eyes lighting up in a way that Jakurai does not particularly like.
“Maybe,” Yumeno says, a mischievous smile spreading across his lips. He switches back to his narrator voice and says, “The next day, the prince said to the young man, ‘As you know the forest so well, from now on, I would like to hire you to accompany me on my hunting trips.’ Naturally, the young man agreed, and the two soon regularly found themselves in each other’s company.
“And the more time they spent together, the more the prince found himself wishing that he could have the young man by his side for more than just hunting trips,” Yumeno continues.
“So this is a romance story,” Ramuda says.
“It is a story which involves romance,” Yumeno concedes. “I’ve been trying to expand into other genres lately.”
“The sci-fi one that just came out was good,” Ramuda replies, and part of Jakurai wants to ask Yumeno to continue the story, but that would draw attention back to his presence, which the two of them seem to have forgotten about at this point.
“As I was saying,” Yumeno announces, coming back around to the current topic, “the prince wished to deepen his relationship with the young man who had saved him. So although normally he brought along a number of guards and servants with him on his hunting trips, slowly he began to reduce their number, until one day, it was only himself and the young man who rode out into the forest.”
“Does anyone die in this story?” Ramuda asks, narrowing his eyes. “I don’t like stories where people die.”
Yumeno swats him on the forehead in response.
“At first, the prince was excited, happy that the two of them were finally alone together,” Yumeno continues. “But the deeper they went into the forest, the more he began to realize that the young man’s mood did not match his own.”
“‘Is something wrong?’” Yumeno asks, pitching his voice in the prince’s polite baritone. He shifts his voice again and says, “‘We’ve just reached the deepest point of the woods,’ the young man said. ‘And there is no one here but us. If I were to kill you right now, no one would be the wiser.’”
“Gentarō,” Ramuda whines, pouting up at Yumeno. “If you kill someone off now, Dice is definitely my best friend.”
“The prince replied with, ‘Why would you save my life only to kill me later?’” Yumeno says. He strokes a hand through Ramuda’s hair in what might be reassurance. “To which the young man said, ‘I never saved you. From the very start it was just a plot to earn your favor, and get close enough to steal more than just your pocket money.’”
Jakurai decides that he does not particularly like the direction this story is going in, and when he glances over towards Ramuda again, he meets Yumeno’s eyes.
“‘I see,’ the prince said. ‘In that case, we have no conflict’,” Yumeno continues, holding eye contact with Jakurai for a moment longer. “‘For I had already hoped to share with you all of my fortune.’”
Yumeno pauses for a moment, as if to let the line sink in.
“‘But how could you share your fortune with me now, knowing what I’ve done?’” Yumeno says, pitching his voice in the young man’s tone. “‘What have you done, except for tricking me once?’ the prince asked. ‘All you have done is shared your stories with me, accompanied me on dozens of hunting trips, and allowed me to share your presence. So if you would still like my fortune, all I would ask for in return is your hand.’”
They fall into silence again, a more definitive one this time. Ramuda’s looking up at Yumeno as if he’s still waiting for the punchline, and Yumeno gazes back steadily, unperturbed by the obvious question in Ramuda’s expression.
“The end,” Yumeno adds, smiling pleasantly.
“Really?” Ramuda says, frowning up at Yumeno. “Wouldn’t the prince fall out of love after finding out that the thief was just using him?”
“You said you wanted a happy ending,” Yumeno sighs, as if he’s dealing with a particularly difficult child.
“I too find it difficult to believe that the prince would forgive the thief so easily,” Jakurai says, before he can stop himself. Both Yumeno and Ramuda look over at him, studying him in a way that makes his skin prickle.
“Love is a complicated emotion,” Yumeno replies loftily. “And the prince is allowed to make his own decisions. All characters in this story are fictitious and no identification with actual persons, living or deceased, is intended or should be inferred.”
“Wait, Gentarō,” Ramuda cuts in, finally picking his head up out of Yumeno’s lap. “Have you ever been in love?”
“Of course,” Yumeno answers easily.
“Really?” Ramuda presses, skepticism clear in his expression.
“It was love at first sight,” Yumeno says, bringing a hand up to cup his cheek. “Why else would I have agreed to join your team?”
Ramuda blinks at Yumeno, looking caught off guard, and Jakurai tries to ignore the newfound tension in his shoulders. He focuses his eyes back on his computer and tries to calculate if there’s a way for him to discreetly leave the room.
But then Ramuda’s expression shifts, lower lip pushing out in a pout, and he says, “Are you messing with me again?”
“What do you think?” Yumeno asks, the corners of his lips quirking up into a smile.
“I think I’m not your type,” Ramuda says, flopping back down into Yumeno’s lap.
“It seems you know me too well,” Yumeno sighs overdramatically, but it seems genuine, and the tension of the previous moment is gone. “I prefer my men on the opposite side of one hundred and sixty centimeters.”
“I’m just too cute for you,” Ramuda huffs indignantly.
“True, true,” Yumeno agrees. “Now, shall I tell you another story to make up for the unsatisfactory ending of the last one?”
The next story involves much more murder and much less romance, and it seems to suit Ramuda’s tastes better.
Jakurai also finds it more realistic.
Jakurai is awoken by the sound of retching.
A glance at the bed proves that Ramuda is no longer in it, and a quick check of his phone shows that it’s only been about an hour since he went to bed. He hefts himself up out of the futon and starts towards the source of the sound, and it doesn’t take long to track it to the bathroom, where he finds Ramuda hunched over the toilet.
“Breathe,” Jakurai says, coming over to crouch down next to Ramuda, placing a hand gently between his shoulder blades.
“I’m – ” Ramuda cuts himself off as he coughs up another small spray of blood. “ – trying to.”
“Breathe deeply, not quickly,” Jakurai instructs, and it earns him a glare from Ramuda, but no more verbal protests.
It takes a few more minutes for Ramuda’s coughing fit to subside, but eventually his breathing steadies again. It’s still worryingly wheezy, though, and Jakurai grabs a stethoscope out of one of the bathroom cabinets, glad that he’d had the foresight to bring it back from the hospital with him, after agreeing to take care of Ramuda.
Ramuda yelps when Jakurai slides it up under the back of his shirt, but Jakurai ignores it, in favor of saying, “Take in a deep breath.”
Ramuda mutters something under his breath that Jakurai can’t quite catch, but still does as he’s told, taking in a large, steady breath. His exhale is a little less steady, and the next breath he takes is shallower, but not enough that Jakurai feels the need to immediately take him to the hospital, which is better than it could be, he supposes.
Next is a quick pulse ox, followed by a temperature check, which Ramuda goes along with with the air of someone who’s humoring Jakurai, or at least doing him a favor. He doesn’t protest verbally, though, and Jakurai’s not quite sure if it’s a relief or if it’s… worrying.
“You’re running a low fever again,” Jakurai says, once Ramuda hands him back the thermometer. “It’s been too soon since your last dose of ibuprofen, but we can try some acetaminophen.”
“Don’t you have any meds that actually work?” Ramuda huffs, but he accepts the tablets that Jakurai hands him.
“Unfortunately, I’m still not sure what pathways the medication you received from Chuoku worked on,” Jakurai replies. He puts back the stethoscope, thermometer, and pulse ox monitor, more to have something to occupy himself than anything else. “Although I’m sure if your medication’s decreasing effect was enough of an issue for Chuoku to deem you no longer useful, they must be working on a more effective treatment for the other clones.”
For a moment, Ramuda’s quiet, but then he says, “It’s not because my body is unstable.”
“Hm?” Jakurai replies absentmindedly, tucking away the acetaminophen in the medicine cabinet.
“I’m not a ‘faulty product’ because I cough up blood,” Ramuda huffs. He’s still sitting on the floor in front of the toilet and he shifts his position, hugging his knees to his chest. “It’s because I have feelings.”
“Because you have,” Jakurai repeats slowly, “feelings.”
“Despite what you might think,” Ramuda replies, looking up at Jakurai with a challenge in his eyes.
“I’m not doubting that you have feelings,” Jakurai sighs. “I’m just confused as to why Chuoku would be surprised that you’d develop them.”
“It’s not like I’m human,” Ramuda says, like it’s a fact of life. Like it’s natural to consider himself in a different category from everyone else, a new and strange species, and before Jakurai can think better of it, he’s kneeling down on the floor in front of Ramuda.
“Just because you were not born in the most common way does not make you inhuman,” he says, soft but firm.
Ramuda blinks at him for a moment, looking thoroughly caught off guard, but then the corners of his lips quirk up in the barest hint of a smile and he says, “You’re so fucking weird.”
“And you are, as always, incapable of having an adult conversation,” Jakurai sighs, and he starts to get up again, but before he can, Ramuda says, “Hey, Jakurai.” He looks up at Jakurai from under his eyelashes. “Have you ever been in love?”
For a moment, Jakurai just stares at Ramuda. There’s none of the emotions he’d expect to see in Ramuda’s face, though, nothing mocking, or spiteful, or cruel. If anything, he looks genuinely interested in the answer.
“I have,” Jakurai finally says. He pushes himself to his feet and turns away from Ramuda. “But you already knew that.”
“You have?” Ramuda asks, and Jakurai has to tamp down on the anger welling up in his chest. There’s nothing in his voice to suggest that Ramuda’s taunting him, but the more he replays the question in his head, the more it warps, as if there was any way Ramuda couldn’t have known, back then, that –
“You’re a very good actor, Amemura-kun,” Jakurai says, his tone clipped and cold. “If you have difficulty breathing again, please wake me up to inform me.”
“Jakurai – ” Ramuda starts, but he’s cut off by another coughing fit. Jakurai turns around on instinct and finds Ramuda hunched over again, blood speckled wrist pressed to his mouth, eyes narrowed in a sort of frustration Jakurai’s rarely seen on his face before.
Jakurai sighs and reaches down to help Ramuda up, leading him over to the sink. It takes a few minutes to wash off the blood, but at least Ramuda doesn’t start coughing again, and they stand in silence, Jakurai supporting Ramuda’s small frame.
Once Ramuda’s turned off the water, he says, “You have work tomorrow. You should sleep.”
“You should also get some rest,” Jakurai replies. They’re pressed close enough together that he can feel the rise and fall of Ramuda’s chest, evening back out into a steady rhythm.
“It’s true that beauty sleep is important,” Ramuda says, pitching his voice high and fake again, “but – ”
Before he can finish, Jakurai hefts him up off the floor.
Ramuda yelps, loud and genuinely surprised, and a bit of the uncomfortable tension from earlier bleeds out of Jakurai. He maneuvers Ramuda easily into a princess carry, Ramuda’s fingertips digging into his chest Ramuda as grips at the front of his shirt, thrown off balance. He’s careful to maintain a position that’s easy for Ramuda to breathe in, though, and although his breathing is a little elevated and his face flushes red, Ramuda doesn’t start coughing again.
“Don’t be too loud,” Jakurai says, carrying Ramuda out of the bathroom and into the hallway. “You’ll wake Yumeno-kun and Arisugawa-kun.”
“That’s what you’re going to say while carrying me to the bedroom?” Ramuda asks, looking up at Jakurai. He doesn’t demand to be put down, though.
“I understand that two days must be quite the dry spell for you, but do you think about anything other than sex?” Jakurai sighs.
“I did just tell you that I have feelings,” Ramuda huffs, his mouth twisting back into a scowl.
Jakurai makes a noncommittal noise in response, not quite trusting himself to say anything that won’t set Ramuda off again. Ramuda doesn’t try to push the conversation either, and soon Jakurai’s laying Ramuda back down in the bed, trying not to think about how honestly happy he would have been doing things like this two years ago.
“Goodnight,” he says, turning back towards his futon.
He doesn’t expect a response, but he gets a soft, muttered, “Goodnight,” in return.
Ramuda’s still asleep when Jakurai leaves for work the next morning.
There’s no coffee waiting in the coffee pot and he has to fumble with the buttons himself, trying to get breakfast together as he waits for it to brew. Yumeno and Arisugawa are still asleep in the living room, and neither of them show signs of stirring, although perhaps Arisugawa twitches a little as the scent of coffee begins to permeate the apartment.
Jakurai eats breakfast quickly and drinks his coffee even quicker, and it’s not long before he’s ready to head out. He goes back to the bedroom briefly to check on Ramuda, but doesn’t find anything concerning, so instead he heads for the door and out into the still-dark Shinjuku morning.
He leaves his spare key on the bedside table and hopes that it’s not a decision he’ll end up regretting.
The day passes relatively uneventfully. He’s busy enough with clinic that he doesn’t actually spend much time thinking about Ramuda, but during his few minutes of free time, he finds himself checking his phone. There aren’t any messages from Ramuda, which is a relief, he supposes, because at least it means there haven’t been any emergencies in his absence, but after spending the past few days in such close proximity, it feels a little strange to be separated.
There’s a message from Doppo, though, and as he’s typing out his reply, it occurs to him that he hasn’t yet told his team about the current situation.
He supposes, technically, that there’s no reason he has to inform them. Ramuda will be out of his apartment in another few days, and although he’ll probably need to keep in contact to manage Ramuda’s health issues, it’ll be at more of a distance. Still, if there’s a chance of Chuoku finding out that he’s been helping Ramuda, it might be dangerous for Doppo and Hifumi not to know about the situation.
Also, a small part of him wants to tell someone about this who he knows is on his side, and not Ramuda’s.
He sends off a text asking when Doppo and Hifumi would be free for a team meeting, and then goes back to work.
It’s a little after seven by the time he gets home. The lights are on when he opens the door, and it catches him off guard for a moment, before he remembers the current situation.
Ramuda’s head pops out from around the corner. His bangs are held back with a couple of brightly colored clips and he has a ladle in one hand, and Jakurai blinks at him for a moment, processing the image.
“Ramuda, I told you to make sure the soup doesn’t boil over.” Yumeno’s voice comes from further inside the kitchen, a sigh clear in his tone.
“It’s fine,” Ramuda insists, glancing back over his shoulder. “We’re almost done anyway, aren’t we?”
“We will be, once Dice learns how to cut cabbage properly,” Yumeno says. Jakurai’s stomach grumbles as the scent of ginger and soy sauce finally registers, and he slips his shoes off before walking further into the apartment. He stops to stand in the kitchen doorway, observing idly as Yumeno attempts to direct Ramuda and Arisugawa through the process of setting up dinner.
Arisugawa attempts to sneak a piece of pork out of Yumeno’s pan, while Yumeno’s busy inspecting the soup Ramuda’s been put in charge of. It earns him a slap on the hand for his trouble, and Ramuda laughs, smile bright and uncommonly genuine as Yumeno shoulders Arigusawa out of reach of the pan.
Briefly, Jakurai wonders if it was Arisugawa and Yumeno who made Ramuda start recognizing his own emotions for what they are.
“Dr. Jinguji.” Yumeno’s voice breaks Jakurai from his thoughts. “If you could take down some plates, that would be very helpful. I don’t think any of us are quite tall enough to reach them, unless you want Ramuda climbing on top of your counters.”
“Or Dice could hold me up on his shoulders,” Ramuda adds. Arisugawa looks less than enthused by the idea.
“Of course,” Jakurai says, before Ramuda can start trying to climb up on anything. Normally, Matenrō team meetings and other get togethers are hosted at Doppo and Hifumi’s apartment, because Hifumi’s the one cooking, so it’s been a while since he last had people other than himself in his kitchen. Naturally, most things are at a height that’s convenient for him.
It doesn’t take long to set the table, and it’s only a few more minutes before Yumeno pronounces dinner ready. Like before, Arisugawa doesn’t hesitate to fill – and then clean – his plate, and Jakurai finds himself eating in relative silence as Yumeno, Arisugawa, and Ramuda make easy conversation.
“Maeda says we can move you into the safehouse tomorrow,” Arisugawa says, and Jakurai tunes back into the conversation. “I’m still trying to see if there’s anywhere else we can stay if this one ends up going south, but we should be okay for a while.”
“My editor is currently under the impression that I am secluding myself in a remote estate in Yamagata prefecture, to focus on my writing,” Yumeno adds, taking a sip of his soup, “and that I will be out of contact for the foreseeable future.”
“I’ve put a hold on all current contracts,” Ramuda sighs. “But I can’t transfer control of my brand without some in person meetings.”
“Which leads to the next question,” Yumeno says. “How do we fight back against Chuoku?”
It’s a natural progression of the conversation, and one that Jakurai isn’t particularly surprised by. Arisugawa also looks like he’d expected it too, but Ramuda just blinks at Yumeno for a moment, confusion clear on his face.
“Is this another joke?” Ramuda asks.
“Why would I be joking?” Yumeno replies, his tone steady. “The fact that Chuoku sent you to monitor us in the first place shows that we can’t run forever.”
“I’m not about to let them dictate how I live my life,” Arisugawa snorts, before popping another piece of pork into his mouth. “And we’ve gotta get your meds too.”
“I’m not suggesting that we topple the government, of course,” Yumeno continues, “but between the three of us, I’m sure we can find some way to get enough leverage to get them to leave us alone.” He pauses, and then adds, “And as your posse, we can’t just overlook the fact that they tried to kill our leader.”
Ramuda blinks once, then again, more rapidly, and with a detached sort of curiosity, Jakurai wonders if he’s actually about to see Ramuda cry real tears for the first time.
Before any teardrops can fully form, though, Ramuda reaches his sleeve up to scrub at his eyes, rubbing until they’re red around the edges. Then, he says, “Well, I guess if you two really want to, we can take down Chuoku.”
He grins, and it makes Jakurai’s chest feel a little too tight. Jakurai averts his eyes down to his bowl and finishes the last of his rice, trying to think of a way to excuse himself from the table, when Yumeno turns to him.
“You’ve already helped us more than enough,” Yumeno starts, “and if you’d like this to be the end of your involvement, I understand.”
There’s an implied question in his tone, and Jakurai finds himself glancing at Ramuda, who meets his gaze for a moment.
“I have no intention of cooperating with Chuoku,” Jakurai says. “And at this point, it seems more dangerous than not to let them continue to run unchecked. I have a meeting with my team later this week, and I plan to discuss the current situation with them.”
At the very least, Chuoku has already hurt enough people he cares about.
“I see,” Yumeno replies. He glances at Ramuda, likely to check if he has any objections to the details of the situation being spread to more people, and Ramuda keeps his gaze on Jakurai.
“I thought you’d want to be more careful with your team, considering what happened last time,” he says, studying Jakurai carefully.
“Last time?” Arisugawa repeats, frowning slightly.
“They are already involved, whether I inform them of the situation or not,” Jakurai says, ignoring Arisugawa. “At this point, working alone seems to be the more dangerous option.”
Ramuda goes quiet for a moment, expression unreadable, but then says, “Fine.”
“Well then,” Yumeno announces, smiling mildly, “we eagerly await your team’s response.”
Jakurai retreats to his office after dinner.
It’s partially because he actually has some work to finish up, but it’s also because he’s not sure he wants to talk to Ramuda alone right now. Their conversation from the previous night still lingers in the back of his mind, all of Ramuda’s talk about feelings and that question about whether he’d ever been in love before.
Because, to be honest, back when they’d been teammates, he’d wanted to be the one to change Ramuda. As good of an actor as Ramuda is, it had always been obvious that he’d been hiding his true self, and Jakurai had taken pride in every true reaction he’d been able to coax out, had horded them as proof that he knew Ramuda better than anyone else.
But in the end Ramuda hadn’t seemed to change much, and when the incident with Yotsutsuji happened, Jakurai had convinced himself that Ramuda couldn’t change.
In actuality, though, it looks like he just wasn’t the right person to do it. Arisugawa and Yumeno seem to have managed to naturally bring out the true Ramuda in just a few months, when he’d spent a whole year –
“Are you working?”
Jakurai glances back over his shoulder to find Ramuda standing in the doorway.
“I have a conference paper to review,” Jakurai says, turning back to his computer screen. The ‘I’m busy’ is clearly implied, but as usual, Ramuda pays it no mind and makes his way across the room to stand behind Jakurai, pressing himself up against the back of the chair.
His breath ghosts warm over Jakurai’s ear, and Jakurai tries to ignore it.
“Did you need something?” Jakurai asks. He keeps his eyes trained on the computer screen.
Ramuda hesitates, but then says, “How long do I actually have left?”
The question catches Jakurai off guard, and he unconsciously replies with, “Excuse me?”
“My condition isn’t getting any better,” Ramuda huffs. “And even if I can get my hands on Chuoku’s meds, they’re not as effective as they used to be. They’re probably only going to get less effective from here on – ”
“I doubt things will go completely back to the way they were before,” Jakurai interrupts, finally looking back at Ramuda. Ramuda’s face is tense, mouth pressed in a tight line. “But if we monitor your condition and use a variety of treatments, this should not be fatal. Although yours is rather unique, plenty of people live with similar autoimmune diseases.”
Now it’s Ramuda’s turn to blink, caught off guard.
“I thought you were just saying that so Dice and Gentarō wouldn’t worry,” Ramuda finally says, his expression softening into something more uncertain.
“It’s against medical ethics to withhold that sort of information from a patient,” Jakurai replies, turning back to his computer. “As for your condition, at this point it’s too early to know how effective the medication I’ve prescribed you will be. And because you’ve been smoking and otherwise neglecting your health, your body has a lot to recover from.”
“I guess I can try being healthy,” Ramuda sighs exaggeratedly. “If it’s what the doctor orders.”
The two of them fall into silence for a moment. Jakurai waits for Ramuda to leave, now that his question has been answered, but the weight against the back of his chair doesn’t move, and finally he asks, “Was there something else you needed?”
It takes a moment for Ramuda to reply.
“Last night,” Ramuda starts, and Jakurai already has a bad feeling about this. “You said you’d been in love before.” A pause, and then, “Are you in love with someone now?”
Jakurai doesn’t know how to reply.
Like before, there’s no malice in Ramuda’s voice. There’s nothing mocking, nothing to indicate that he knows that he’s essentially asking, “Are you still in love with me?” If he’s playing mind games again, he’s gotten much better at them – or perhaps after two years of being apart, Jakurai’s lost the ability to read him.
But Ramuda seems to have genuinely changed recently, so maybe it’s alright to take the question at face value.
“I don’t know,” Jakurai answers truthfully.
“How can you not know?” Ramuda huffs. His forearm presses up against Jakurai’s shoulder, and Jakurai tries to ignore it.
“Love is a complicated emotion,” Jakurai sighs, and then realizes that he’s repeated Yumeno’s line from the other day.
“Yeah, I know,” Ramuda mutters, and before he can stop himself, Jakurai glances back at Ramuda and says, “You know?”
“What, you’re not surprised that I have feelings, but you’re surprised that I could fall in love with someone?” Ramuda retorts, his mouth twisting down into a defiant scowl. “You’re such a hypocrite.”
Jakurai opens his mouth to apologize, but before he can, Ramuda continues.
“But I guess I was surprised at first too,” Ramuda says. “I was still getting used to emotions and I didn’t really understand what I was feeling. So I thought maybe if we fucked it would go away, but that didn’t work. And then I thought maybe if he hated me it would go away, but that didn’t help either. And then I thought maybe I just needed time, but – ”
Ramuda cuts himself off, burying his face in the crook of Jakurai’s neck. Jakurai doesn’t try to push him away, mind racing as he tries to process what Ramuda’s saying, heart beating fast in his chest.
“Jakurai,” Ramuda murmurs, his voice muffled against Jakurai’s skin. “Do you think you could fall in love with me?”
Jakurai hesitates, but then says, “It wouldn’t be without precedence.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ramuda asks, picking his head up slightly.
“It means,” Jakurai says slowly, “that it might take me some time, but my feelings for you have always been – unique.”
“Taking things slowly isn’t my usual style,” Ramuda replies, shifting his arms to wrap them around Jakurai’s chest. “But I guess I can try.” He goes quiet for a moment and then admits, “I missed you.”
It’s soft and genuine, and uncommonly vulnerable.
Ah, Jakurai thinks. Maybe I am still in love.
Ramuda stirs against Jakurai’s chest, blinking his eyes open slowly. Jakurai watches on as he regains consciousness, studying the pallor of his skin and the sluggishness of his reactions.
“What time is it?” Ramuda groans, bringing a hand up to rub at his eyes.
“Seven thirty,” Jakurai answers, glancing over at the clock on the bedside table.
“Why would you wake me up this early?” Ramuda complains, pressing his head back to the pillows. “I don’t have to be at work until ten.” He frowns at Jakurai and says, “Aren’t you off today?”
“It’s important to maintain a regular sleep schedule,” Jakurai says, but he can’t help the way the corners of his mouth quirk up into a smile. “How are you feeling today?”
Ramuda makes an uncertain noise. He starts to shift his position but then winces, and Jakurai reaches out to take one of his hands, massaging it gently and inspecting the joints. It makes Ramuda relax a little bit, but his expression is still tense, and Jakurai wonders if today is going to be a bad day.
“I can work from home,” Ramuda finally replies, taking his hand back from Jakurai and carefully pushing himself up into a sitting position. “I don’t have any client meetings today.”
Jakurai hesitates, but then says, “I’m going to see Yotsutsuji-kun this afternoon.”
Ramuda tenses again.
“You said he’s able to maintain consciousness now?” Ramuda offers, reluctantly.
“Only for a few hours at a time, but he doesn’t seem to be in danger of slipping into a coma again,” Jakurai confirms, pushing himself into a sitting position too. “He’s fully aware and able to hold conversations.”
“Have you actually asked him if he wants to talk to me?” Ramuda asks, his mouth curved in an uncertain frown.
“I have,” Jakurai says. “He’s open to the idea.”
For a moment, Ramuda’s quiet, a complicated expression on his face, but finally he sighs and says, “Fine, fine, I’ll come with. But I don’t think I’ll be up to staying for too long.”
“Alright,” Jakurai replies, a small smile spreading across his lips. “We can see how you’re doing this afternoon. We can always try another time if you’re not feeling well enough to go out.”
With that, he starts to get up from the bed, but before he can, Ramuda grabs the edge of his pajama shirt, stopping him. He glances back and Ramuda says, “What if he doesn’t forgive me?”
“Then you’ll have to work at it until he does,” Jakurai says simply, sinking back into the bed. “Or at least until you get to the point where you both can move forward from it.”
Ramuda still looks skeptical.
Jakurai leans in to press his mouth to Ramuda’s. It’s not a deep kiss, but it lingers, warm and soft in a way that finally drains the tension from Ramuda again. When Jakurai finally pulls away, he says, “You’re not who you were back then.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll try,” Ramuda sighs, before looping his arms around Jakurai’s neck and pulling him in for another kiss.
Jakurai goes with it.