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caffeine dependency

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    It was the coffee. 


    That was the reason. 


    The thought of returning home was entirely unappealing, too much quietness and empty space that would only serve to remind him of things he didn’t want to dwell on right now. For the same reason, though, he couldn’t stay at the station any longer than was absolutely necessary tonight, and the amount of time that was absolutely necessary had done nothing to improve his mood. Every interaction, every task, every sound had piled more tension on his mind and frustration in his expression, but the supposed reprieve of solitude found in the driver's seat of his car only exchanged that with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. He leaned against the steering wheel, head sinking into his hands. Sitting around and feeling sorry for himself was not going to get him any closer to accomplishing his goals, he knew that, but that certainly didn’t stop the voice in his head telling him that no matter how much effort he put in, the results that really mattered were always going to be out of his control. After what had happened today, who could blame him? Desperately trying to come up with something, anything, that could take his mind off the current situation, a single random thought surfaced on impulse from the murky mental seas: he could really go for a cup of that inexplicably good coffee that Samatoki makes right now. You know what, that didn’t sound like a bad idea at all, actually. Being more familiar with his team leader’s habitual comings and goings than he’d really prefer to be, he knew that Samatoki had nothing better to do tonight, which means he could at least make himself useful for once in his life and brew some coffee. Yes, that was the one and only reason that, as if he were moving on autopilot, Juto Iruma pulled out of the police station parking lot, followed the unfortunately familiar route of late-night city roads until the building where Samatoki Aohitsugi lived came into view, pulled into a tenant parking space outside, exited the car, entered the building, and headed up to the appropriate floor. 


    Juto rounded the corner of the hallway leading to the door of Samatoki’s apartment with one hand in his pants pocket and the other flipping through the keys on his keyring, settling on Samatoki’s spare house key (which had been left behind on the passenger seat of his car after he was forced into yet another unplanned personal taxi service and never once mentioned again afterwards, leading him to believe that it wouldn’t be missed whatsoever if he were to continue holding onto it for safekeeping). As the key smoothly turned in its keyhole, it occurred to him that, while Samatoki himself wasn't worth keeping up any sort of appearances around, arriving uninvited carried the risk of running into company, so he should at least enter and announce his presence with some decency. Softly closing the door behind him, he had barely enunciated the first syllable of a loud and clear “pardon the intrusion” when something stopped him in his tracks. It could have been a coincidence, yes, or even a trick conjured up by a weary mind and overactive emotions, but he could have sworn he just Narrowing his eyes, Juto untied his laces, slipped off his shoes, and drew closer to the main area of the apartment with practiced silence. Of course, it wouldn’t be unusual for Samatoki to brew himself coffee, but at this hour of the night? His intuition was telling him that something wasn’t quite right here. The living area was empty, but sure enough, there was a plain black mug sitting on the table, steam rising from the top. There were no noises or any other obvious signs of life coming from elsewhere in the apartment…..wait, no, there was Samatoki, out on the balcony, a trail of smoke floating away from him on the night breeze. The sight of him leaning on the railing, looking down at the goings-on below, perhaps, put Juto’s mind at ease. For all his devil-may-care attitude and penchant for making trouble for others, Samatoki would never have his back turned to any potential danger. With a much more relaxed demeanor, Juto approached the seemingly abandoned coffee mug. It looked quite fresh. It smelled quite fresh too. He slid a glove off of one hand and touched the side appraisingly. What do you know, the perfect temperature. A shame, really, that Samatoki had all this coffee-making skill and wasted it so flagrantly on leaving this perfectly good cup to cool and go stale, unappreciated. A small smile formed at the corners of Juto’s mouth. Thinking about it, he really did deserve to know what it felt like to have someone else act entitled to his personal property for once. It was his own fault for leaving the coffee out in such a prominent location, after all. Maybe it would teach him some much-needed empathy for others in similar situations. Thoroughly amused at the idea of satisfying his craving and putting Samatoki in his place at the same time, Juto brought the mug to his lips and took a slow sip. Hot but not scalding, robust but not bitter, flavorful but not acidic, he could almost feel the tension in his body and mind dissolving as the liquid warmth spread from his core outwards. Perhaps the greatest testament to the coffee’s quality was that now he couldn’t even bring himself to be mad at Samatoki for being so damn good at brewing it that it would affect him this much, even though he had every right to. 


    Sighing like a heavy weight was being lifted off his shoulders, Juto leaned back against the wall and gazed out the windows at the distant cityscape as he took another drink from the mug. Yokohama was a beautiful city. The kind of city that you could believe in. The kind of city that became a part of you as much as you became a part of it. And to all those other people who lived in the city, who worked in the city, who were the city, he felt a personal responsibility to protect. To do whatever he could to make sure that nobody else had to go through what he did. And if there was something he couldn’t do, no matter what the circumstances were…….. Painful emotions, still raw even as echoes brought on by a sudden recollection, made his lips reflexively twist into a snarl. Come to think of it, what was the point in drinking Samatoki’s coffee to spite him if Samatoki himself didn’t even know it was happening, anyway? He should take it out to the balcony, just so he could see. It was only an idle thought meant to distract himself, but before he knew it, Juto found himself slowly closing the sliding exterior door behind him and taking up the spot next to Samatoki on the railing, warm mug held between his hands. Samatoki said nothing, didn’t even acknowledge his presence in any way, just continued to stare out at the bay in the distance, wisps of smoke escaping his lips with each slow, even breath. The silent treatment? Really? Good grief, what a child, Juto thought as he took another drink of coffee. 


    This quiet stillness stretched on until there was nothing left in the cup, just an empty interior still shining with leftover moisture. Movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, then all of a sudden Samatoki’s roughened, slightly bony hand was thrust into his vision. “Give it here,” Samatoki quietly intoned around the cigarette in his mouth. Taken aback by his abrupt change in demeanor, Juto looked down at the empty mug, back up again, then tentatively placed it in Samatoki’s outstretched hand. Without another word, Samatoki took the mug, turned around, and re-entered his apartment, leaving Juto alone on the balcony. Not that Samatoki was ever predictable, but it seemed even harder than usual to read his intentions right now. Did he care about his house being intruded upon? Did he care about his coffee being drunk? Somehow this lack of emotion was more off-putting than his usual angry outbursts. Between the growing uneasiness in his mind and the absence of the barrier between his body and the cold night air, Juto decided he was going to need something a little stronger than coffee to stay relaxed now. As he went through the near-unconscious motions of retrieving the ever-present pack of Marlmera Lights in his jacket pocket, sliding a cigarette out, and setting it between his lips, the balcony door opened and closed again. He had barely even thought about pulling out a lighter when Samatoki unceremoniously elbowed his side with an expectant grunt. Oh, so he disappears when he’s actually needed and only shows his face again when there’s something in it for him? Typical. Rolling his eyes, Juto turned to face Samatoki and only then processed the fact that he hadn’t even lit his cig yet. And Samatoki already had one. Any further questions about this situation were answered by the reflections of the spreading glow emanating from their point of contact adding a flickering smolder to the dull red of Samatoki’s eyes in the night. Samatoki wasn’t so inconsiderate as to not occasionally return the favor for all the times he bummed a light off of Juto’s cigarettes, but this time there was an earnest intention in his gaze that made it feel different from the usual. Once the initial surprise wore off, the puzzle pieces floating around Juto’s mind suddenly snapped together in a spark of realization, and a puff of smoke came out of the corners of his mouth as he let out a dry, self-deprecating huff of a laugh. He stepped back, leaning against the balcony railing. “All right, what do you want?”


    “The hell is that supposed to mean?”


    Juto gave Samatoki an unimpressed look over his glasses. “First the coffee,” he gestured outwards with the hand holding the cigarette, “and now this? I don’t know what made you so sure I’d be stopping by, but you’re obviously trying to butter me up. Let me guess, you fucked up worse than usual this time, Central Ward officers are going to be breaking down the door any minute now, and you want me to talk them out of slapping you with a prison sentence.”


    Samatoki bristled in offense. “Haah? Like that’d ever happen! Who the fuck do you think I.....” Seemingly catching himself, his shoulders and gaze dropped as he turned to the railing, taking a contemplative drag on his cigarette. Eventually, he continued, in an uncharacteristically quiet and hesitant voice, “I, uh, saw it on the news. The whole blockade thing that happened at the docks this afternoon? They said there was a huge drug bust there, but the bad guys ended up getting away, so I thought, y’know, you might be......” He trailed off again. 


    Juto was utterly shocked. Samatoki, of all people, had been worrying about him? Trying to make him feel better? That....actually made a lot of sense in hindsight, but he had just refused to even consider it as a possibility. Honestly, putting his bewilderment at the concept of Samatoki going out of his way to be kind to him aside, it was actually kind of.....sweet? And it was at that moment that Samatoki’s voice picked back up again, louder and more emphatic. “I mean, you're enough of a pain in the ass as it is, and who knows how long you'd've been pissy about it." He smiled to himself. That was more like it. Looking away from Samatoki, watching the paths of their two trails of smoke as they drifted up and away, towards the distant cityscape, he murmured a "thank you," and the night breeze carried back a quiet "don't mention it." 


    Yokohama was a beautiful city. The kind of city you could believe in. The kind of city that became a part of you as much as you became a part of it. And right now, watching the twinkling lights of the buildings and cars both near and far, it felt like the kind of city that, between the two of them, he and Samatoki could protect together.