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Where the White Lilies Grow

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Chapter 1. The Red Suit

'Magira?' Carlo puts down his suitcase in the hall, expecting his lover to come running to greet him. Magira is like that: childishly happy at times, and a spoiled child in the way he behaves. Carlo even loves that about him. But the hall is silent and cool; just the muted sound of the air condition is heard. 'Magira?' Carlo sighs. What kind of game is he playing now? Carlo reaches for the leather suitcase and walks up the stairs. If he's lucky, Magira will be waiting, naked on the bed. If he's not lucky... who knows?

The silence is a presence in itself. It is broken only by the sound of an expensive suitcase dumped on the floor just inside the bedroom door. The absence of sound becomes suffocating. Carlo closes his eyes to keep reality out for just a little bit longer before he turns, coolly, emotionless, and walks downstairs, to his study.

The house feels so empty. It is as if all life has left it. Carlo had known it would come to this one day: that he would be abandoned like an unwanted puppy, despite the love and the sacrifices and the way he let Magira indulge. He has never taken Magira for granted, but he didn't think, never believed this was how it would end: to come home, happy, longing for his lover, only to be met by an abandoned house with discarded clothes and torn papers scattered all over the place.

Carlo clenches his fist around the phone so hard the plastic makes a threatening crack as he dials the number. He feels so disappointed. If he sticks to that feeling of angry disappointment, he doesn't have to feel anything else. He should not have trusted that instinct: the instinct that told him Magira had changed. This is nothing but Magira's previous modus operandum: just disappearing when he's fed up with the man he is with and playing is no longer fun. He has done it so many times before, Carlo knows only too well. The childish, superficial brat might not have been buried as deep as Carlo had thought. The phone makes a weak, electronic noise and connects. Somewhere in Japan, another phone is ringing.

No matter this doesn't feel truly surprising, Carlo had thought Magira had grown up,; that the boy would have said so if he wanted to leave. That Magira would have made a clean break instead of this. It is so cowardly. Berating himself, Carlo doesn't understand how he could not have seen it, realised that Magira's love had disappeared. Such an accomplished liar, Magira Yuri... so accomplished. Carlo can still feel Magira's kisses, imagine his scent, sense how it felt when they kissed each other goodbye before Carlo left on this brief business trip. Magira had sworn he loved him and had been pouting because he couldn't come. A wry smile flashes over Carlo's face. A player, that is what Magira is. The best.

The phone continues its lonely du-du-du. It makes Carlo feel even more alone. He waits for the connection to break. It doesn't seem that Magira's uncle Shouji wants to speak to Carlo either. Carlo puts down the phone on the desk. It turns half way around and leaves a small scratch on the polished mahogany surface. Hiding his face with his hands, Carlo sighs so deeply that it feels as if the pain inside him is ready to materialise and burst his heart. Why did he have to fall so deeply?

He rubs his burning eyes and reaches for the phone again. He will surely go insane if he cannot let out a little of the frustration and the hurt. If only he had the slightest clue of where Magira had gone... Carlo browses through the phone's address book until he finds the right number. He knows he is being pathetic, but apart from Shouji, they are the only people in Japan Carlo knows well enough to ask for this. He is dragged out of his deep thoughts as the phone is finally answered.

'Moshi moshi? Iwaki desu.'

'Thank God! Iwaki-san?' Carlo is so relieved he can hardly speak. 'Anthony Monte Carlo. I...' Words are suddenly so hard to find. What the hell was he thinking, dragging Iwaki and Katou into this? He isn't able to think clearly at all. Iwaki and Katou... they owe him, but not this kind of favour. This is not business, it is personal, far too personal.

'Carlo-san?' Iwaki's voice doesn't express any surprise, which, in turn, doesn't surprise Carlo at all.

Carlo can hear some kind of Japanese pop music playing in the background; someone is singing about how he loved someone too much and how that someone is now on the other side of the wall, laughing softly. As if Carlo didn't feel miserable enough; he most certainly does not need to have someone singing it to him as well, how big a fool he has been. He wants to put the phone down, but it is too late now.

'Hello? Are you there, Carlo-san?' Iwaki sounds as if he is wondering what is going on.

Clutching the lure as not to drop it, Carlo nods, as if Iwaki can hear it. 'Yes. I'm... sorry.' He pulls himself together and asks politely, 'how are you, Iwaki-san?' This is going to be difficult. Carlo takes a deep breath and mentally pulls the hard businessman back in place, covering the bleeding heart and the unshed tears with a mask of professionalism. 'It has been a long time.'

For a few minutes they discuss the weather in Tokyo and Vegas; and Carlo calms down a bit. He manages to listen with some interest to Iwaki praising Katou.

'Magira,' Carlo says, letting the politeness shatter. 'I wonder how his uncle Shouji is doing.' Carlo acts like an idiot, but there is no way he can ask Iwaki directly. 'I think Magira mentioned that he wanted to visit him.'

There is a moment's silence in the other end. 'Is that you, Carlo-san?' Iwaki 's question underlines the oddness of this rather peculiar situation, as if Carlo's strange behaviour is too unbelievable.

'Er, yes.' Carlo is slowly losing his composure. 'Please, Iwaki-san... my... Magira... he always said I give up too easily... This time, I don't want.... I don't want to give up!' Carlo knows he shouldn't have called Iwaki. The rare connection they felt once because of the love for their men... it is not enough to justify this call. They are not friends because they both love the same way: this all-encompassing, devouring love.

'What is wrong?' Iwaki's voice is soothing and quiet. Maybe he is used to this type of fragmented conversation from Katou. 'Carlo-san, please, why are you calling? What is it you are giving up?'

'Magira. He... left.' Left me. Carlo cannot say the words; it is going to make it real. Every second he can delay the inevitable blow is precious. 'He's gone, Iwaki-san. I... can't get a hold of Shouji-san. I thought maybe Magira....'

'Left? He has broken up with you? Carlo-san?'

The sadness in Iwaki's voice almost kills Carlo. He, too, remembers why Iwaki and Katou accepted Carlo's offer when they married in America: to give Carlo and Magira hope that their love would blossom too. Carlo thought it had, which made the blow so much harder. His Lily, his beloved... gone.

The phone is a poisonous black snake in his hand, spewing the venomous reality into his mind. 'If only,' Carlo says and his mask is crumbling, 'if only he had... he just.... he's gone.' Carlo is happy no one can see him now, because it must be evidently clear how his life and heart are going to pieces. 'Nothing. He didn't tell me anything.'

'Without a word? Are you sure? There is no letter anywhere?'

Carlo wonders if Iwaki is too polite to mention that Magira is a spoiled brat whose actions don't always make sense. 'No. He just took some of his clothes and...'

'And?' Iwaki's one word seems to reflect the sudden doubt that wells up inside Carlo. 'Carlo-san? Only clothes?'

'I...' Carlo hesitates, then decides to go on. No matter what, this is not the time to be proud or to nurse the finer sentiments of some sensitive and reserved Japanese actor. 'Shouji-san's place is not far from where you live, is it?' In the background someone turns the music down. 'I think so.' Carlo's worry grows and becomes icy anxiety.

'Try calling Shouji-san again?' Iwaki suggests. 'If you can't reach him, we'll go. Carlo-san... what if he is not there? How long has he been gone?'

'Long enough to reach Japan. If that is where he is.' Carlo doesn't even dare think the thought to an end. 'Iwaki-san?' he says, and prepares for something even worse than Magira breaking up with him. 'I am going to put the phone down and see exactly what is missing. Magira left our... bedroom in a mess. I'll call you back as soon as I know, all right?'

'I can ask Shimizu-san to call the airports. Someone might be able to trace the flight.' Iwaki pauses, the moment poignantly telling what words do not. 'Be careful what you touch and move, Carlo-san. Continue calling Magira-kun's uncle.'

'Iwaki-san... thank you.' Carlo feels grateful that this reserved Japanese man understands how he feels, without the words being said. Maybe they are more alike than Carlo thought? 'I'll try to reach Shouji. If he doesn't know... then...' Desperation is sneaking up on Carlo. 'I'm worried.'

'You need to stay calm,' Iwaki says, and disconnects.

 

'No, he is not here. Bugger all, I'd kill him if he'd gone back to Japan and not told me.' Shouji sounds sincere, and his crude English makes Carlo smile for a moment. 'You must be crazy if you think he's left you, Carlo-san! What the fuck's going on? Magira... he loves you! He's a fool, but not that foolish.'

'Lovely to speak to you too,' Carlo manages, sending Shouji a wicked grin he cannot see. Carlo is so relieved that Shouji finds it unlikely Magira would break up like this that his sense of humour has returned. 'And I wish I could tell you. He's gone and the house is a mess.'

'Has he been gambling lately?' Shouji enquires, 'with people he shouldn't be gambling with?'

'No. He plays for the pleasure of it.' Money is not a problem, Magira would never have to return to his old ways to continue gambling. Carlo has more money than he knows what to do with, and he happily shares his fortune with Magira. Magira has changed in that regard, Carlo is certain; it is not about losing and winning, but about pleasure for him. 'He is careful,' Carlo says. 'Magira is not just a charming young man.' Magira's fragile charm has saved him more than once, it is probably his most powerful weapon.

'So, where is he, Carlo-san?' Shouji's voice is flat, neutral. 'Is he playing a game, or is he being played?'

The cold, emotionless question makes Carlo think of Iwaki's advice not to touch the mess Magira has made. To ruin evidence. 'I don't know.'

'Maybe you better go look at things again,' Shouji says. 'I'm going to book a flight.'

'Yeah,' Carlo says, almost coldly, and puts the phone down too.

 

His palm is sweaty as he leaves the phone on his desk and runs up the stairs. His steps are muted by the thick carpet that covers them. He braces himself before he enters their common bedroom, his and Magira's, to overlook the scattered remains of his life. There are clothes everywhere, thrown carelessly on the floor and on chairs and the bed. He closes his fists so hard his nails cut hard into the palms. It is an insignificant pain compared to the deep, paralysing ache in his heart. He looks around, eyes narrowing as he takes in the destruction. His own suitcase, left inside the door, still stands there, un-unpacked.

The nagging suspicion that Magira has not left by his own volition worms its way back into Carlo's mind. He stands quietly, watching, making accounts, figuring out. The wardrobes' open doors hang limply from the hinges like birds' broken wings. A pillow is torn, and the loose feathers add to the impression. The wardrobe is almost empty, the rest of their clothes is pulled out and off the hangers so casually. Now that Carlo is able to look at this calmly (or at least as calmly as possible, the situation taken into consideration) it looks as if there has been a fight, and that somebody has tried to cover it up slightly.

Then he notices it, the red suit. Or rather half of it. The trousers are still hanging inside the wardrobe, looking strangely lonely without the tailored jacket to go with them... The beautiful red suit that Magira looks so utterly sexy in. The red suit that was Carlo's first gift to Magira on the day they met. Carlo remembers very well. He still hasn't seen anyone more beautiful or desirable than Magira when he is wearing that suit. Magira knows it too, and leaves no occasion to wear it, driving Carlo insane with need. Suddenly Carlo knows it with a certainty that both makes him very, very afraid and also very, very certain: Magira did not leave the house willingly. He would either have taken the suit, because God knows he loves it, or he would have let it stay, that way telling Carlo their relationship was over. But half of it?

Never.

It is Magira's sign that this is wrong, that he would never leave Carlo like this. The sadness inside Carlo turns to fire, the paralysis to action. With a deep, shaky breath, the determined, hard man Carlo also is returns. The strength and determination that has helped him become a powerful casino owner, fighting older and more experienced casino tycoons, wells back and he straightens, collecting himself, making himself ready to face what will come.

 

It takes more than fifteen minutes to make the police accept that Magira might be missing. 'Call us again if someone' contacts you,' the officer says, deliberately ignoring half of what Carlo is saying. The change from accommodating to reluctant comes when Carlo is asked about his precise relation to Mr Magira Yuri. Finally, the officer promises to send another "someone" to investigate-- when they have time for it. The man doesn't believe a word, or he doesn't want to. Somehow, the way the word kidnapping is not mentioned makes Carlo believe that the officer in question should get another job. One he actually is able to do properly. Or maybe the officer needs to practise the way he pronounces the word "boyfriend" without making it sound so distasteful.

Luckily, Carlo has not reached his position in life and society by playing nicely. Now is the time to call in all favours. No matter from whom and no matter what the costs might be. He pulls the bedroom phone closer and makes a few calls. Enough to make the police arrive considerably sooner than they've planned, and with enough men to cover a decent investigation.

Once, Carlo put his entire fortune at stake for the chance to win Magira. Now he realises he is willing to offer everything he owns, everything he is, even his life, for the man he loves, for his spirited, fragile Magira.

Regret is too mild a word to describe what the abductors might feel when Anthony Monte Carlo is done with them.

 

2. In the Safety of His Embrace

'Carlo is a bit pushy, isn't he?' From behind, Katou slips his arm around Iwaki's waist and nuzzles his neck, softly kissing him just below the ear. 'But I don't mind flying with that private jet he has hired for us,' he adds lightly, clearly trying not to let the seriousness of the situation get to them. He throws their passports on the low coffee table in front of the sofa.

Iwaki leans back in his lover's embrace, tilting his head a bit to let Katou do what he wants. 'Mmm,' he manages, distracted by Katou's warm lips sliding over his skin. He entangles his fingers with Katou's. Iwaki doesn't even dare think the thought to and end, how it would feel to be left like that, or to have his husband taken from him. The exercise Iwaki has recently been through during Director Moshimune's strict rule... then, the few seconds when he thought Katou was gone forever, sacrificing himself to save Iwaki's life... that was by far enough. He does not intend to leave Katou for such a long time ever again, nor does he want to entertain the thought of being Katou-less by accident or worse.

'I just don't understand what, precisely, we can do for Carlo,' Katou states and lets a finger disappear down Iwaki's trouser-lining. 'One thing I understand very well, though, is what Iwaki-san can do for this person this moment.' Katou nibbles lightly on Iwaki's earlobe, something that makes Iwaki sigh deeply.

'Being separated: Katou has experienced that, hasn't he?' Iwaki asks rhetorically and turns half-way around to look at Katou's handsome face. 'I wouldn't be able to face what Carlo is facing, alone, without friends,' Iwaki admits, and melts into Katou's embrace. 'To wait until you had been found, or to wait for...' He lets out a pain-filled sigh. 'Never without you, Katou.'

'I see. Iwaki-san... I couldn't.... If I couldn't be with you, either. If you were taken away from me, I'd surely die.' Katou looks very serious and a bit lost. 'I'll do everything I can to help Carlo.' There is no love lost between Katou and Magira, but it seems like Katou has taken pity in Carlo. After all he is the one who tries to live with the boy.

'So Katou understands now? That we cannot truly pay Carlo-san back what he has done for us if we don't go?' Iwaki rewards Katou with a deep kiss, that way showing Katou precisely how wanted and needed he is. For some time, they use their tongues for something else than speaking; only little moans escape them before they finally break the kiss. It tastes slightly of the fear they both share, making the kiss even more precious.

'This person understood right away. Iwaki-san doesn't have to worry.' Katou opens Iwaki's belt to get better access to his lover's skin. 'I understand how it is to want someone so much the body and the heart ache.' Katou's voice drops to a husky whisper. 'Please, Iwaki-san? Let me have you? Before we leave our home! I can't face the entire flight when I'm like this. I need you so much I can't breathe.' Katou contradicts that sentence by letting out a deep, soft moan.

Iwaki turns all the way in Katou's arms, moving slowly, carefully, as not to break their embrace. 'You have me,' he says, uncharacteristically open, as he looks into Katou's honey-golden eyes. 'Aren't you my husband? Am I not yours to take?' he asks quietly, trying to - without too many words - explain how he feels, to express the desperation and the sadness he occasionally feels when he is not with Katou. He tries to, with kisses and touches, to speak of how he always longs for the safety and love Katou gives him. It is something so costly and so precious; something that can be taken away so easily, so very easily.

Carlo's situation has disturbed the equilibrium Iwaki has finally found. It has rattled him. To think for a moment of a life without the one who means more to him than the sun on the sky... it hurts so deeply that it can only be stopped in one way. 'Show me,' Iwaki whispers, his mouth so close to Katou's that their breath mingle; a soft warm breeze on their lips. Iwaki cups Katou's cheek tenderly, cherishing the warmth of his lover's skin under his hand. 'Right here. Show me!' Iwaki wants Katou to be rough and fast and leave marks, something they usually cannot allow themselves due to their work. He wants Katou's love written on his skin, carved into his body so he can feel they belong together on a base, instinctive level. He wants to get that kind of physical evidence since he doesn't have to worry about the raised eyebrow of a make-up artist or the disgusted glare from someone who realises the implications of such marks. So now he wants them, craves them, the marks. For the next two weeks no one will see their bodies, no one will see them with their shirts open, or in a state of undress. 'Katou...' Iwaki can do nothing but sigh his lover's name, too shy to actually ask for this.

Kissing his way down Iwaki's long neck, Katou seems unable to hold back. Iwaki's body is aflame with lust, every kiss makes the flame burn even higher. Every breath he takes is spiced with Katou's scent: his own: detectable even through the vague, pleasant smell of expensive eau de cologne.

Iwaki's thoughts are reflected in Katou's actions. 'Pheromones,' Katou gasps and sucks Iwaki's collarbone, almost brutally, making Iwaki moan loudly and writhe against Katou's hardness. 'Nnn, Iwaki-san... oh...' Katou's pulls Iwaki's trousers open; only Iwaki's slender hips hold them in place. It feels so good, being wanted like this. Iwaki's breath is ragged, loud, as if the pleasure Katou will give him is already sensed by his half-naked body.

Throwing his head back, inviting Katou to continue, Iwaki closes his eyes and sinks into the sofa's soft pillows when Katou's strong hands guide him down. His lover's weight feels so good, and Iwaki can't hold back little groans as Katou's mouth finds its way down his chest until soft lips close expertly around a nipple. 'Katou... more!' Iwaki demands. He wants Katou to be less than gentle, wants him to make certain none of them will forget the pleasures of their love before the day is over.

'Anything Iwaki-san wants,' Katou murmurs and licks Iwaki's nipple like a cat before he raises up on his knees to pull his shirt off. 'Let me help you,' he says and grabs Iwaki's trousers, not caring when the seams make threatening sounds. 'Mmm, my Iwaki-san looks lovely like this,' he says, leaving Iwaki naked on the sofa. Katou leans forward to reject Iwaki's shyness with a forceful hand. 'Look at me,' he demands as he turns Iwaki's face up so he can look at him. 'Iwaki-san is the most precious person in my life. I want to look at you when I'm inside you,' he says and lets go of Iwaki's jaw, softly rubbing his fingers over Iwaki's inviting, strawberry-sweet lips.

Iwaki cannot stop himself from licking Katou's fingers. Iwaki's dark eyes, locked with Katou's, express the desire he holds for his husband. Words are not needed any longer. Slender fingers work their way between Iwaki's legs, massaging, opening up. That spot twitches slightly as a demanding pressure makes it give way and open to let Katou's clever fingers inside. 'Ah, Katou! Oh...' Iwaki thrusts his hips upwards, wanting to feel Katou's touch deep in his body.

'Want this?' Katou moves his fingers inside Iwaki's tightness, making him ready. 'Or more, larger?'

Iwaki makes a throaty sound that can only be interpreted as a yes, larger.

'Say it, Iwaki-san,' Katou urges. 'Let me hear you say it, or I'll stop!' Katou leans forward to suck at Iwaki's nipple, biting and licking it.

It is just what Iwaki needs, Katou's teeth on his skin. He blushes, not wanting to be loud and demanding. But, oh, Katou makes him feel so good. He wants more, he wants harder... just to be taken and driven to the edge of his endurance. 'Please... put it inside me.,' Iwaki moans, spreading his legs for his lover. Katou smiles, Iwaki can feel it against his chest. 'Devour me... teeth... oh... Katou!' Iwaki cries out as Katou moves between his slender legs, hands spreading him more, until he is filled, almost painfully, as Katou slides in, giving Iwaki what his entire being is longing for.

'Anything... oh... I- Iwaki!' Katou groans and holds still for a little. 'Iwaki-san's body is too lovely... So hot... ' Katou closes his eyes and bites his lip, concentrating. 'It is all Iwaki-san's fault if I cannot hold... oh... back!' Katou trusts in, deep, making Iwaki cry out again. 'Hard, you say?' Another thrust forces Iwaki's body to open more, let Katou in to the hilt. Slowly, Katou moves, as if he is trying to merge his flesh with Iwaki's. He kisses Iwaki's neck, his shoulders, his chest; anywhere he can reach while he fucks Iwaki in this languid, intense way.

Blindly, Iwaki clutches at the cushions, gasping for air. This is so good, so intense; he feels as if he is falling into a velvet darkness where only their bodies and their love exist. 'Katou!' he almost cries and presses Katou's face harder against his neck, as if to guide him. Iwaki wants to get what he has asked for: harder, more! Another cry, louder, leaves Iwaki's throat as Katou bites down on his pale skin, surely leaving a mark. The pain is enough to pull Iwaki over the edge and, with arms and legs wrapped around Katou, he comes, the semen spreading a sticky warmth between their bodies. Katou calls out Iwaki's name and comes too, driving himself harshly into the pliant body underneath his own.

Iwaki lies limply, trying to breathe. Katou's always good, always gives Iwaki what he wants, but this was more than wonderful. Spent and relaxed, Iwaki manages to raise a hand to entangle his fingers in Katou's hair, not wanting to let go at all.

They lie like that, exhausted and satisfied, when the doorbell pulls them out of the soft afterglow.

'Katou, could you-'

'Do you expect-'

They both sigh and look at each other, reluctantly letting go. 'I forgot,' Iwaki whispers. 'Forgive me, but...' He reaches for his clothes, spread over the floor and pulls his trousers on while the doorbell chimes again. Katou stretches on the sofa, annoyingly relaxed and, it seems, pleased with himself. Iwaki glares at him without saying anything as he buttons his shirt. 'Katou, please...'

'Don't worry, Iwaki-san,' Katou smiles teasingly. 'I am not going to stay naked, although I would like others to see I want to be at your service so much that I don't care to dress. Please, open the door.'

'If you are not wearing all your clothes when I come back, I am not going to be happy,' Iwaki says, and thinks he would much rather they were both naked and not rushing to the airport to fly to a faraway country. But they need to support a man who once lent them his support (and a part of his fortune, presumably. Fuyu no Semi had not been a cheap film to make) when they (or rather the investors) needed it most.

Iwaki closes the last button in his shirt as he reaches the front door. He smoothes his hair and opens.

'Having fun?' Sawa raises a well-groomed eyebrow, looking exactly as if he knows what they've been doing.

Iwaki blushes. It is truly embarrassing if the fact that he has just been taken hard by his lover is so easily deducted from the way he looks.

'The window was open. I think the whole street knows, Iwaki-kun.' Sawa smiles wickedly and shakes his head. 'Sometimes I find it hard to believe you began your career by taking off your clothes in front of a camera. That shyness...'

'Sawa-san!' Iwaki doesn't like it when people, even people close to him, mention where he comes from. He is not like Katou who seems to regard the AV filming like he would any other part he has ever played. 'It is not what-'

'Of course not.' Sawa waves his elegantly manicured hand almost defensively. 'The manuscript; I just came over to give it to you as I promised. I am pleased you are willing to go through it. It will definitely make the end result more believable.'

Iwaki listens to Sawa's complaints over how useless he is when it comes to knowledge about traditions and history, despite being good at research. How Sawa thinks Iwaki suddenly has become a specialist when it comes to the court's affairs and male companions during the Meiwa era is somewhat beyond him.

Katou is dressed and with tea brewing. 'Thank you,' Sawa says and takes the cup. 'I don't want to disturb your plans,' he smiles. 'It seems you were rather busy.'

'Not at all, Sawa-san,' Katou replies, sending Sawa a wicked grin. 'We have time for tea before we leave for the airport. We have an unexpected visit to make a little later; a friend in Las Vegas has asked for us to-'

'Katou!' Iwaki's voice holds a warning. He takes a sip of his tea. They shouldn't involve anybody in this, it is pure luck they haven't been forced to yet - they both have a few weeks off before their busy schedules take over their lives again.

'Sawa-san is a former police officer,' Katou says, earning yet another dark glare from Iwaki. 'I think we should tell him.'

'Excuse me,' Sawa interrupts, forgetting for a moment his usual polite lady-like appearance. 'But what the fuck is going on here?'

 

Chapter 3. Ace of Hearts

'Don't hesitate to call, Iwaki-kun.' Sawa looks determined and very competent; vaguely different from his usual almost pliant, feminine appearance. 'I still have friends in the Organized Crime Control Section. If this has its roots in Japan...' Sawa hesitates. 'Magira Yuri; I wonder if he has been in the wrong place at the wrong moment before he moved to the States?' Sawa looks around in the busy airport, as if scanning the surroundings. Clearly, the gentle author has not forgotten his former occupation.

'Sawa-san, thank you for your help.' Iwaki bows, honestly grateful that Sawa has offered his opinion and his expertise. 'If you'll allow Carlo-san to contact you; the American police seems unaware of how interesting Magira-kun is for someone who wants to use his talent.' Or for hurting Carlo, for that matter. But Sawa knows the implications without having Iwaki pointing them out to him. Gamblers, old enemies, bouryokudan, mafia. There are people enough who might want a bit of what either Magira or Carlo have. Being talented or rich - or both - is not always a good thing, Iwaki knows that from unpleasant experience. 'I think it might be helpful for Carlo, if he could speak to someone who can advice him how to act during this.'

'For you, Iwaki-san, I'll do it.' Sawa doesn't know Carlo, but he knows how fragile and costly love is, and how quickly it can be taken away, Iwaki has seen proof of that more than one time. 'When you arrive, tell Carlo-san to call me,' Sawa offers. 'I'll use the time until then to ask around. Someone might have heard rumours of the infamous Casino Lily.'

Iwaki thanks Sawa again before they have to check in, leaving their friend outside, clearly worried. It feels, however, good that they have this kind of lifeline to use, in case Magira's disappearance is not just an American thing. As they pass through security, the seriousness of the events make both Iwaki and Katou quiet and subdued. Now they can do nothing but wait. Having nothing to do but to watch the people passing by, Iwaki realises the airport personnel is even politer than usual: two famous actors and a private jet equals even more status, reflected in the amount of politely bowing guards, stewardesses and waiters they are approached by while they wait for the flight to be announced.

Only the service doesn't matter. What matters is that their friend has the man he loves taken from him; not knowing what has become of him. Not knowing whether Magira is still alive or not.

Iwaki is deep in his own thoughts, his only connection to the world around him is Katou's hand in his; for once they are allowing themselves affection openly. That is how much this has touched Iwaki. He is pulled out of his musings, though, when his mobile phone suddenly goes off. Fumbling for it, Iwaki manages to reply.

'Iwaki-san? Carlo here.' Carlo's voice sounds calm and unworried, as if he is trying to hold on to some kind of normality. 'I have asked the pilot to delay the flight for another hour. I need someone to catch up with you.'

 

The voices come and go. His tongue feels as if it is too large for his mouth. At some point, something cold and soothing is poured down his throat and he sinks back in the darkness; inevitably so, because he doesn't think it matters whether his eyes are open or not. He cannot move, and the state between being awake and asleep is better than trying to find the awareness that seems so far away. Carlo is here, in this dream, and he doesn't want him to disappear.

Someone turns him around, lifting his limbs as if he were a doll. It feels relieving not to lie in the same position. It should hurt what they are doing, but it doesn't; it is just something that happens to his body. He is not in it, not really. He ignores the rough hands and sinks into the welcoming darkness again.

To be with Carlo.

 

'I didn't give you Magira for you to go lose him! What kind of idiot are you?' For the third time that day, Shouji is berating Carlo. It seems as if the initial shock has worn off, and left Shouji enraged.

Shouji almost shouts in the phone, and Carlo curls up around himself, barely able to continue keeping the phone in his hand. There is nothing he can say. Shouji is right. He should have taken care of Magira, knowing so well that his beauty and talent could tempt someone else to reach out and take him. Or maybe it is just Carlo's money. That was what the police suggested. That Magira had either taken off by himself, or that demands or threats would be issued sooner or later. Carlo's fortune is big enough to attract even the bigger fish. The real sharks.

'Are you there, Carlo?' Shouji rudely leaves out the honorific. 'What do you intend to do about this? Are you fucking doing something? Or are you just a rich mummy's boy, sitting at home, whimpering until Magira's dead-'

'That's enough!' Carlo is dragged out of his almost catatonic state, shouting back at his Uncle-in-Law. 'How dare you? I love Magira! I have not lost him, Shouji! Somebody has taken him, there is no doubt, no matter what the police says!' Carlo turns around, uncurling from the ball of fear and passivity. He slams his fist into the coffee table, making the glass crack. He doesn't even register his knuckles bruising. 'If you think I am doing nothing, what are you doing?' Carlo cries, becoming unhinged. 'You are sitting with your thugs in an underground casino, yelling at me? How, precisely, is that going to help Magira? Why aren't you on your way to the airport already? I hired a private jet, damn it, so you could get here faster! I want my lover back, no matter if I am going to use every dollar I own, and on top of that rip off the bloody heads off the bloody fuckers who have done this!' Carlo is losing it, entirely, not realising that Shouji is doing this on purpose until after he is done shouting at Magira's uncle. It is needed. Carlo wants to be dragged out of his sluggish state, not just sitting there, waiting for something to happen.

There is a pause; none of them are speaking. 'My, what language,' Shouji finally says. 'I suppose it is Magira who taught you such crude English? Do you feel better now, Carlo-san?'

'No, I don't. And I won't until Magira is back and well.' Carlo runs a hand over his face. The silent tears are surprising, but not unexpected. It is as if the person Carlo was before slowly is evaporating, leaving a desperate, devastated human being in his place: one unable to hold back the feelings he usually hides. 'Shouji-san... what am I going to do?' Carlo manages weakly. Usually business is carried out with money or stocks or property of some kind; employees and lawyers dealing with all the paperwork, rules set on said paper. In this, there are no rules. Carlo is not even sure there is a game, at least not one he knows how to play.

'First of all, you are going to learn how to play dirty and keep your cards hidden. I knew you were a fucking sissy when I saw you the first time.' Shouji's voice is light and teasing. 'That is why I have to come over there and help you. Wouldn't want you to soil your lily-white hands.'

'Shouji-san...' Carlo both wants Shouji to be there, and not. 'What if this has its roots in Japan? It isn't as if the country is lacking when it comes to organised crime, either.' That is the problem. If they only had the tiniest clue to who is behind Magira's disappearance, but they don't. 'Maybe you should stay?'

'You mean if some of our lovely tattooed society members suddenly have felt inspired to grab Magira?' Shouji laughs bitterly. 'They are not like your mafia, Carlo-san. They'd probably rather try a bit of blackmail - that is if it wasn't commonly known that you are living with Magira in the first place. Or they'd be trying to take over your casino. I'll ask around, though, before I go.'

Somehow, Carlo doesn't even find it alarming that Shouji has the ability to "ask around" when it comes to the bouryokudan. After all, Shouji is managing an underground casino. Whether it is just underground by location, or underground as in "illegal" has not occurred to him until now. Carlo startles at the thought. 'What if this has something to do with you, and not with me or Magira?'

There's a pause before Shouji replies. 'No. I know who my enemies are, Carlo-san. And they would deal directly with me. If they had ever wanted to hurt me through Magira, I'd have known already. And before you ask the question you don't dare ask: I am not yakuza, nor do I have anything to do with organised crime. Or unorganised, for that matter. I am not a man to mess with, but I can manage by myself. On the right side of the law. Barely, but still on the right side.' Shouji sounds slightly offended, as of it had to be evident that he didn't engage in any illegal activities.

'Thank you. I didn't mean any offence,' Carlo says.

'I am going to cut you some slack in that department,' Shouji's voice is kind now. 'I understand. Now I am going to grab my suitcase and leave. You have those two useless film stars waiting for me at the airport, right?'

'They are not useless,' Carlo says quietly and disconnects.

 

He knows that voice. He remembers it vaguely, whispering in his ear, whispering over his skin. It makes him jerk, this is not Carlo. He wants Carlo to be here, now, to hold him and to take away the headache and the unpleasant feeling of being tied up. It is wrong, this. Only Carlo is allowed to touch him when he's sick and tired and wants water and to be taken care of and pampered. Rough hands pull and push and there is this cool, lovely fluid soothing his throat again.

It takes only a minute before he turns as much as he is able to in his restraints and vomits, barely avoiding the mattress he's lying on.

'Such a dirty boy,' the familiar voice says. 'What am I going to do with you?'

Magira is too lost and too exhausted to reply. He just wants Carlo. He tries to communicate that, but it is too late. He sinks back into the darkness, back to where Carlo is, still there, holding him tightly.

 

'Let's go through it again,' Shouji demands, waving at Carlo with a few pieces of paper in one hand.

Carlo is certain the man could have become a first class detective, had he been so inclined. Surprised that Shouji can still be awake and alert after the long flight, Carlo does what he is told. He looks into the wardrobe which, once more, holds Magira's clothes, neatly placed on the hangers, or folded and put back into the drawers where they belong. Carlo is done crying and raging. Shouji's presence makes him act, just as Iwaki's kindness soothes him, and Katou's optimism urges him to do his best without letting the situation break him. Iwaki and Katou have gone to bed, there is not much more they can do now, since it is midnight and no one has been able to dig up the slightest trace of what has happened to Magira. 'I don't think there is anything missing that I haven't already put on the list,' Carlo says and closes the polished mahogany door to the walk-in wardrobe. 'Not that I know precisely what was in here in the first place.'

'But we have an idea now. Somebody has "helped" him pack a suitcase.' Shouji thoughtfully taps his lips with a finger. 'Either they have done it to make it look as if he just disappeared or they have decided to keep him somewhere, alive.'

'Oh, thank you. I needed to be reminded of that possibility, that they might just have...' Carlo clings to the brass door handle, as if it can help him cling to the lasts shred of dignity and pride he has left.

'What I am saying, Carlo-san, is that I think he has been taken because they want him alive. They need him for something, otherwise we'd have received that dreaded call from his kidnappers already. It may just a bonus for them if you had accepted that he left you and hadn't made a fuss out of it. The police is always inconvenient, so they probably tried to keep them out of the equation.'

Carlo lets go of the door handle. He realises the implications of this. 'If that is so, then the ones who have taken him knows him, and me. They know how he has left the men... what Magira was like before.' Carlo lets out a deep sigh, then sits down on the bed, next to Shouji. 'That he would bed anyone with money. Any man who wanted him enough to let him play, and when he was done playing... he just took off, never caring about that other person.'

'Precisely. It might be somebody who knew him when he was the infamous Casino Lily.' Shouji sounds tired, finally. 'I think this is what I warned him against, over and over. What I feared would happen to him if he continued his irresponsible lifestyle; touring all over the world, gambling with his body and the fortunes of other men.' Shouji's face contracts in pain. 'I was so pleased when he found you, Carlo-san. You've been good for him. What evil fate it is that his former life returns to revenge itself on him, just when he was happy and in love.'

Carlo doesn't know what to say. He has failed, protecting his lover. Money and power does not equal love, like he used to think, nor is it enough to protect a loved one. Now he wonders if his reserved way of treating Magira, the way he never showed his love passionately, might have been the reason for this: that someone believes they could take Magira from him because the young man really didn't matter enough? If Carlo had loved fiercely, passionately and openly like Magira wanted him to, this wouldn't have happened?

'Carlo-san, go to bed.' Unexpectedly, Shouji squeezes Carlo's shoulder warmly. 'You need to get some rest; tomorrow we are calling in private investigators, and you need to be able to handle their questions calmly.'

'I don't think I can sleep.' Carlo hasn't slept for more than twenty four hours. Lying down on his and Magira's bed to stare into the darkness and have nothing to distract his thoughts? Carlo fears that.

'You can barely keep standing. Carlo, please lie down. If you want it, I can stay with you until you've fallen asleep.' Shouji pulls the bedspread aside - the only thing that wasn't crumbled and torn - and motions for Carlo to lie down.

It feels strange. This odd tenderness from a man he barely knows... No matter Shouji is a rough, uneducated man, he knows how to care. Still dressed, Carlo gives in. Maybe he can sleep, just a little, while Shouji is there. He lies down, cuddling under the heavy duvet, wrapping an arm around the pillow.

That is were he finds it, under the pillow. His hand brushes over what feels like a piece of paper, and Carlo sits up again, pulling out a small playing card from under the pillow. It's an ace of hearts. The card is torn, almost in two. A broken heart. One red suit in two pieces. Carlo looks at the playing card in his hand, then at Shouji, who is watching him without a word. Despite the fear and the tiredness, Carlo shakes his head. 'My Magira... his is a clever one. This is the confirmation of our theory.'

'But what does it mean?' Shouji looks a little confused. 'Do you have any idea?'

'Oh, yes,' Carlo says, and for the first time since Shouji arrived, he smiles. 'I have a very good idea.'

 

Chapter 4. And the Oscar goes to...

The sun mocks Carlo with its cheery pink rise, spreading its warmth over the early morning. Everything seems so normal: birds are singing and fluttering around in the park; cars humming somewhere farther away. It is the never-ending sound of the city, breathing, living, going on as it always does - without as much as even a deep breath or a pause to acknowledge Carlo's pain and loss. It is times like these Carlo wishes he never had re-discovered his ability to love this deeply. Loving Magira has never been easy, but at times it is scarring and anxiety-provoking. Carlo realises he, until now, has never known what pain is.

He takes a sip of the black coffee. He has managed to sleep for a few hours, feeling slightly better now. He has left Shouji asleep in the bedroom: the man still fully dressed in one of his horrid shirts, and with his face marred by a worried wrinkle, even in his sleep. Shouji... Carlo is grateful Magira's uncle is here; his no-nonsense approach and honesty are precisely what Carlo needs to go on. Holding on to the normality of drinking coffee in the garden on a summer morning, Carlo eats a little: a few grapes and half a roll, although he feels like sicking up. What if he has to go on living alone from now on? What if...

Interrupting the dangerous line of thought, Carlo forces himself to pour another cup of coffee. Doing ordinary things in an ordinary way without thinking of what he has to go through today, the many people he has to talk to... He needs to keep to that just for a little longer; he wants to pretend his life is still normal.

'Carlo? Carlo-san?' Iwaki's soft, dark voice drags Carlo back to the unpleasant reality.

'Yes?' Carlo turns around in the garden chair he is sitting in; the cool white-painted iron of the backrest cold against his side. Iwaki stands next to the pool, holding the phone that Carlo has been taught the hard way to hate and fear. 'Iwaki-san...' Carlo doesn't dare ask the question: is it a message that Magira has been found, or is it finally the kidnappers who are contacting him with their demands?

Iwaki clearly understands. 'It' s Sawa Nagisa-sensei. He has news. He has spoken to some of his former colleagues... He says there is a rumour you need to know about.' Iwaki steps closer and holds out the phone. 'Do you want to speak to him, or?'

There is a bitter taste in Carlo's mouth, as if his breakfast is trying to make its way back up. Carlo takes another drink of the coffee before he replies. 'Yes. Please.' It would be impolite to reject Sawa's call; a man he only knows through Iwaki and Katou is trying to help. No matter what Sawa's message is, Carlo has to be the one to receive it. Carlo reaches for the phone. It is warm from Iwaki's grip. Carlo closes his eyes and prepares for the worst. 'Hello? Sawa-san?'

A velvet, almost husky voice replies. 'Hai, Carlo-san?'

Carlo briefly wonders why Iwaki has spoken of Sawa as a man. 'Yes?' Carlo cannot say more, fearing whatever news it is Sawa has.

'One of my friends who investigates illegal gambling has told me a story,' Sawa says. 'It really is nothing but rumours.'

There is a pause. Carlo breathes in deeply, loudly enough that Sawa notices.

'If it is true, Magira-kun is alive,' Sawa states, strangely secure, and Carlo's sigh becomes a sob of relief.

'There has been some whispering about an investor who has invited some of the really big boys to play,' Sawa continues. 'It's all very hush-hush, but it is said that the investor... owns a player who is close to invincible. A secret weapon.'

Carlo blinks and looks up at Iwaki before he replies. His vision is slightly blurred by the stingy feeling of tears welling up. He doesn't want to cry. He never shows feelings like this. Somehow it doesn't matter so much because it is in front of Iwaki. He understands, Carlo is sure. Carlo rubs a hand over his face, realising he has been losing it since the moment Magira disappeared. If Magira had seen him like this... Well, love does that to people. 'Sawa-san, how reliable do you think this is? And does your source have any idea where in the world this is happening?' Carlo enquires.

'Reliable enough for me to tell you, Carlo-san.' The soft voice holds an undertone of steel and certainty that Carlo cannot ignore. 'It is not Japan. Rumour says Vegas, London, Macao. Not particularly clear on that. You should go talk to the police. My friend has agreed to talk to them if they want to know more.'

Carlo stares out in the air without seeing anything. His mind is racing. Macao... Macao... He knows who the king of Macao's gambling scene is. It can't be him? Can it?

'Carlo-san? Are you there? You are not going to do anything rash, are you?'

Clearly, Sawa-san is wasting his talent writing books. This person is too sharp, too clever. 'No, no. Not at all,' Carlo lies, his thoughts already far away, planning and plotting. By God, he is going to kill that son of a bitch with his own hands... Carlo is of course not thinking of Sawa-san. Oh, no, Carlo knows who has once before drugged Magira; trying to seduce the boy into giving up his secrets, trying to use his body and mind. Carlo honestly thought that the Chinese dog was actually a relatively decent person, regretting what he had done to Magira. Evidently, it has been nothing but a cover for his true intentions. 'Thank you, Sawa-san,' Carlo repeats. 'I am going to talk to the police later this morning, and I am sure they are going to contact your source.'

'You are not going to talk to the police, are you?' Iwaki asks as soon as Carlo has finished talking to Sawa. 'You know who he is talking about, isn't that so?' Iwaki looks worried and hopeful at the same time. 'You do have a plan, right? One that doesn't involve running out of the house in five minutes?' Iwaki sits down in the chair across the one Carlo is sitting in, pulling the coffee pot and a cup over to his side of the table. 'Is it wise not to involve the police? Do you truly have the resources for this?'

'Yeah,' Carlo says, confident for the first time since he came home to discover Magira's disappearance. 'I do. I'll have private investigators coming in later, but I know where I am going to look now.' He smiles, and the smile is not a pleasant one. 'Shu Ti Fan,' he says, and the name is uttered in a way that tells Iwaki that it would probably be a good idea to changeone's name and flee to the North Pole if one were said Shu Ti Fan. Carlo is pleased Iwaki accepts his choice. To be honest, Iwaki is probably the only person who would be able to make Carlo reconsider his decision.

'Any news?' Katou strolls casually over the terrace's artistically laid out tile pattern. His hair is still wet and he wears nothing but jeans and sleeveless top. Carlo appreciates the view. He would be blind if he didn't: Katou looks gorgeous. Iwaki is a lucky man, just like Katou is, having somebody as beautiful as Iwaki. Katou flops down in a free chair, crossing his hands behind his neck; stretching his long legs out in front of him. He looks down at his naked feet and wriggles his toes. Carlo finds the almost childlike behaviour endearing.

'We think we know who took Magira,' Carlo says, quickly deciding that there is nothing neither Magira or he need to be ashamed of, confiding in Katou and Iwaki. After all, they've both been in AV, so what Magira has been doing before he met Carlo can't shock them. 'Before Magira and I became lovers,' Carlo volunteers, 'he ended up in Macao, in bed with a man who was infatuated with my Lily's talent and beauty. He even poisoned Magira to get his way with him. Magira realised he didn't want to... and the man - Shu Ti Fan is his name - realised he would commit rape if he continued.' Carlo closes his eyes, remembering so clearly how Shu Ti Fan had called him, explaining how desperate Magira had been, and how he had called Shouji's name, and Carlo's, making Ti Fan realise he was abusing the boy. As if drugging people against their will wasn't enough to get that thought. 'Ti Fan encouraged me to reach for Magira, and until today, I have trusted the man - not fully, of course, but I did trust him.'

'And where is he now? That Ti Fan fellow?' Katou asks, 'Still in Macao?'

'I don't know. I'll set my men on the task as soon as possible. The investigators are arriving at 10.'

'At 10? Idiot.' Katou's harsh words makes Carlo startle. 'Give me the phone,' Katou orders and waves his hand impatiently to make Carlo hand him the thing. 'Sometimes I wonder why Iwaki-san and you got on so well, but I think I begin to understand now.' Katou sends them both a decidedly annoying grin. 'You are both incapable of thinking clearly,' he teases them. 'Now, be quiet, both of you.' There's a pause, during which Katou dials a number. When he speaks again, he is having a conversation with a person at the phone company's customer service. 'Thanks,' Katou says as he tries to write something down on the back of his hand. He closes the phone. 'If I pull this one through,' he tells Carlo, 'you better make sure I get an Oscar for my brilliant acting skills.' He hushes at them again, before he leans back in the chair and dials the number on his hand.

'Saito Hiroshi's secretary,' Katou introduces himself, arrogantly using the name of one of Japan's most renowned businessmen. 'I am sorry for the late call. Terrible inconvenience, my most sincere apologies. Saito Hiroshi regrets deeply that he has to cancel his appointment with Shu Ti Fan-sama tomorrow.' There is a pause. Carlo can hear someone in the other end say something. 'Ah,' Katou says. 'Is it possible that I may speak to Shu Ti Fan-sama? Is he at his office?' Another pause. 'Oh, I am sorry.' Katou bows to the phone, it is instinctive. 'This person clearly has made a mistake, please forgive me. Thank you for your patience and help.' Katou nods. 'In America? Ah. Maybe we can schedule another appointment? Yes... Yes... Nevada? Vegas? Is that so?' Katou's face splits in a wide smile, quite predatory. 'Thank you... yes... Thank you for your guidance, may I ask permission to send you a small token of my appreciation?' Katou puts the phone down with a decidedly satisfied expression. 'That was easy,' he says, preening. 'Our sought-after Shu Ti Fan is at The Four Seasons hotel, here, in Vegas.'

Carlo stops himself from actually applauding Katou's performance and makes a quiet promise that he will indeed make sure Katou at least gets the chance to earn himself an Oscar, even if Carlo has to pay a literature NobelPrize -winner to write the script for such a potential award-winning film. Investing money in Katou's and Iwaki's films has not been the worst business move Carlo has ever made, and he won't mind doing it again. Also, it is easier for Carlo to show gratitude this way. Money speaks a language he understands. 'Let's wake Shouji-san up.' Carlo says. 'We are going to make a visit. I hope Ti Fan won't take offence by being woken up a bit early.'

'No.' Iwaki stands, his expression serious. 'Carlo-san, it is insane. This is not a plan, it is insanity! Please, wait until the detectives arrive.' He brushes his hand over Carlo's shoulder; a rare and unexpected caress. 'Don't do anything that can endanger Magira-kun's life.'

The warm touch of a friendly hand makes Carlo hesitate. Iwaki is right. This whole affair is forcing Carlo to change, to shatter and lose the tight control he has always had over himself and his emotions. He is, however, not at all able to control the feelings he has for Magira. It is to an extent where it makes him act rashly. Magira would be so proud, Carlo thinks, knowing how much his young lover craves to be loved possessively and openly. Carlo swears he will improve. If Magira gets out of this alive, that is. The thought that he might not, is unbearable. 'You are right, Iwaki-san.' Carlo is satisfied that he obviously has been allowed to step over the border between being acquaintances and true friendship. Katou and Iwaki has provided both the backbone and the ability to carefully consider the options that Carlo seems to be lacking presently.

Carlo knows that if this game had been played out at the gaming table, he would have lost. Spectacularly.

'What do you suggest?' Carlo asks Iwaki, deciding to trust his opinion. Carlo sits down again, brushing a hand over his uncombed hair. He feels somewhat crumbled - both on the inside and definitely also on the outside. He still wears the shirt he fell asleep in.

'Breakfast. Not just coffee,' Katou demands, sliding an arm around Iwaki's waist, as if to underline that Iwaki is his. 'We can't stay awake and alert on a cup of coffee. I'm hungry!'

'We should inform Shouji-san. He might be able to come up with one or two interesting ideas. He seems very able.' Iwaki looks over his shoulder before he unwraps himself from Katou's embrace. 'Your maid is up now? I could go ask her to serve us something a bit more substantial than this.' Iwaki points at the half-eaten roll. 'You are going to make yourself ill, Carlo-san.'

Iwaki goes to make sure preparations for a large breakfast is made, and Carlo walks upstairs to shower. When he is done, he returns to his bedroom, only to meet a decidedly grumpy, but relatively awake and recently cleaned Shouji. Rummaging around in the wardrobe, Carlo finds clean clothes, and at the same time explaining the situation to Shouji.

'I am going to kill that arsehole,' Shouji murmurs sleepily. 'With a dull spoon!'

'Your idea would probably seem more intimidating if you were actually awake.' Carlo throws his robe on the walk-in wardrobe's only chair. He peeks out the half open door at Shouji and can't stop himself from laughing, rather bitterly. 'And you won't get the chance if I get there before you. I think I my claim on Ti Fan has first priority. But you may admire his intestines if you like.' Shouji's rough, unpolished behaviour cheers Carlo up, together, of course, with the fact that they actually have information which can lead them to Magira.

'Carlo-san! I am the kid's uncle! I have to uphold our family's honour!' Shouji has managed to put on a pair of tight jeans and an incredibly ugly Hawaii shirt. Yellow and purple really don't look good together with vomit green. Shouji messes up his damp hair, worse, even, than it was before.

'I can understand that,' Carlo says. 'But I am reasonable. We can rip him apart together,' he offers, almost casually. It frightens Carlo a bit that he actually means it. He swears to God that Shu Ti Fan will live precisely long enough to regret what he has done. After he has given them Magira back, of course.

'Your grace amazes me,' Shouji exclaims theatrically. 'You are too kind, dear nephew-in-law-san.' Shouji winks and grins, not showing the fear Carlo is certain he feels as well. 'I really hope we can stop ourselves from relieving Ti Fan of the ability to breathe.'

'Yes,' Carlo says. 'I am going to try. But I don't think I have that much patience.'

'Me neither.' Shouji looks less than accommodating. Carlo realises he has never noticed how sharp and white Shouji's teeth are. He looks quite like a hungry predator.

While they finish dressing, they entertain themselves by exchanging ideas for which nasty things can be done to That Chinese Bastard. Shouji has a disturbing knowledge of various torture methods from several cultures. Carlo feels relieved and quite feral. It is liberating to just be rude and unrestrained; being this morbid simply makes him feel better. Suddenly, they are interrupted by a call from downstairs. Iwaki. They are both ready to go downstairs anyway, so they walk to the stairs quickly. Iwaki sounds a bit frustrated.

'Iwaki-san? What is it?' Carlo is immediately pulled out of the relative calm state he is in. 'What's wrong?'

'We don't have to go anywhere,' Iwaki says, and his face is dark and angry. There is a glitter in his black eyes that Carlo only remembers having seen twice before: the first time, when Magira had tried to kiss Katou, and the second time when Carlo and Magira had watched Iwaki's latest film. The eyes of an insane mass-murderer.

'Iwaki?' Carlo can't breathe. 'Magira?'

'No. Not Magira,' Iwaki states and anger flares hotly in his eyes. 'Shu Ti Fan. He is waiting in the dining room.'

 

Chapter 5. The Game Begins

The water is hot like hell and it feels like heaven. Just to be clean again feels like such a luxury that Magira could almost cry. He doesn't, however. The man who is watching him is not going to get that pleasure. Magira won't break, not now, not later, no matter what they do to him, he swears that, silently, as he stares at the ceiling. That way he avoids looking into the barrel of the gun which, in more than one occasion, has been pointed at him: an unspoken, black threat. How they can think he is able to either flee or attack - anything that requires the use of a gun - is beyond him. He is chained to a tube with handcuffs and a heavy metal chain. The room is windowless. Yes, he's most certainly a threat.

There is nowhere he can go.

Being a player means to keep emotions hidden, and Magira is a master of the trade. His face shows nothing. His movements are calm, determined. He has washed himself, slightly appalled that it is expected that he is to use the same water to soak in. He doesn't show that, either. There might come a time when having a bath is something to be grateful for. So he washes, silently, arrogantly. He uses the silence to listen to his body. Have they abused him while he was unconscious? He doesn't think so. He is not sore, not there, at least. Neither is he smeared with anything but his own sweat and the tinge of vomit that he has used time and a lot of soap to remove.

Strangely enough, he doesn't feel like throwing himself into a childish temper tantrum. Maybe it is the severity of the situation. For each second he can keep calm, he improves his hand; the less he shows them, the easier he can fool them, because he will take any chance he can get. He won't speak, not unless he's forced to. He doubt anyone will tell him why he's here anyway, not until the one who has staged this reveals himself. The guy with the gun is just a hired hand. Throwing the remains of the sluggishness from the drug off his mind, Magira realises that he is able to stay calm because of one thing: He knows with absolute certainty that Carlo will come for him.

Drying himself, not caring whether the guard is looking or not, Magira wraps the towel around his waist. He just stands there, arms crossed over his chest; not provoking, just waiting. The large man who hides himself behind a gun sends Magira one glance, then stands and goes to open the bathroom door. He is having a conversation with someone outside. Magira breathes in deeply, readying himself for what might come. He doesn't think they are going to hurt him; they would have done so already, had they wanted to. There has to be another purpose: either they are threatening Carlo, or Magira has something they want. Whomever "they" are.

The huge guard returns. The blank-faced man throws a bundle of clothes on the floor, carelessly dropping designer wear, probably worth more than his monthly salary, in front of Magira's feet.

'Dress.' It's the only word Magira has heard him say. He doesn't object, though. Magira picks up a white shirt from the floor. It's good to know they are his own clothes - and he should know, having been forced to pack them himself. He suddenly remembers that fact. As he pulls on a pair of D&G trousers, memories of what happened return, flooding his brain with pictures and flashes of the terror he felt as he opened the front door to his and Carlo's home. The terror when he saw the gun. Magira is careful not to reveal what he is thinking. Slowly, he goes through the events, or as much as he can recall. He is sure he left traces enough for Carlo to understand that he didn't leave voluntarily.

The guard steps closer; the gun still underlining Magira's position. The guard opens the padlock attaching the chain to the tube, and waves Magira towards the door. 'Back to the cell,' the guard says, neutrally. He doesn't have to point the gun. 'The boss wants to talk to you.'

Magira doesn't care about any boss. All this is just time wasted until Carlo finds him. Nevertheless, he is scared - he doesn't want to be hurt or abused or threatened. But he'll endure what is to come, for Carlo. Everything for Carlo. He arranges his face into a mask of relaxed indifference. He can do this. He is playing a game, and he's going to win. No matter what, he is going to win!

They walk through the dark corridor, back to the windowless room that Magira has been held prisoner in. Someone has cleaned it, and made the bed. The air feels fresh and clean. It is the first time Magira is able to study the interior without being in a medically induced haze. The room is expensively furnished: a wide, modern bed, lovely vintage chairs and a small mahogany table. The rug on the floor seems to be a silk Keshan, not that Magira knows much about them. But something seems to have stuck from Carlo's attempt to teach him. There's a door in the wall to the left, and a dark blue curtain that covers the entire end wall. What is behind them, Magira has no idea.

The guard attaches the chain to a metal eye in the ceiling. The click of a heavy padlock sounds as if it is underlining the absurdity of Magira's fate. 'Sit down,' the guard orders, and points to one of the low, brocade-clad chairs. 'The boss is here.'

Raising an eyebrow questioningly, Magira watches as the guard pulls the curtain aside, only to discover a dimly lit room behind a glass panel.

'The glass is security glass. You can't break it,' the man behind the glass says. He is hidden in the shadows, like the rest of the room. 'I'll tell you why you are here, Yuri Magira.'

Magira doesn't say anything. He doesn't think anything he can possibly say is going to make a difference.

'You are here because you are going to play for me. Your talent hasn't gone unnoticed. It's said that you play better with other people's money, and that is precisely what you are going to do. Masked, of course. Not that it matters, none of my guests have any interest in revealing your whereabouts.' The man hesitates, obviously waiting for Magira to reply.

Magira doesn't.

'As you see, my guards have free hands if you don't obey - and they are armed.' The man states the obvious. His voice is neutral, emotionless. Maybe he sees Magira as a tool or an item. Clearly not as a human being. 'They will not hurt you unless it is necessary,' the man continues coldly. 'The thing is: you are going to stay here until I tire of you. Then we'll see what's going to happen -- I might let you out alive. Now, if you try to escape, we'll take it out on Anthony Monte Carlo. If you refuse to play, we'll take it out on Anthony Monte Carlo. If you are causing trouble, we'll take it out on Anthony Monte Carlo. Is there anything in that you don't understand?' he asks icily, maybe annoyed Magira doesn't look impressed or scared.

A cold fear threatens to render Magira useless and crying. He won't break. He won't cry, not in front of this person. Not if they are going to hurt Carlo for it! Anything he can stand, but not that. 'So, Magira says, speaking for the first time, silently fighting the fear. 'Correct me if I'm wrong. All you want me to do is to play in exchange for Carlo's life? No torture, no beatings, no rape?'

'If you want your... lover to stay alive while I break him, yes. And I am not a rapist,' the man in front of him says, leaning forward to let the light from the room hit his face. Magira knows who he is -- one of the older casino owners in Vegas: an unremarkable, but rich casino tycoon. It is clear that if he isn't afraid to show his face, then he isn't afraid that Magira will escape, either. 'No,' the man says, 'I definitely don't have any interest in your body at all.' He smiles, an unpleasant shark-like smile.

'He doesn't, no. But I do.' The door behind Magira opens and another man steps inside his prison. Magira recognises the voice. It is the voice he has heard in his drugged almost-sleep.

'I do, the man repeats, before Magira turns to look at him. 'You are mine now, pet, and I am going to take what you should have given me willingly in the first place. What you owe me.'

 

'I want you to play a game with me,' Shu Tu Fan says and leans back in the chair with a satisfied smirk. The young Chinese man looks extraordinarily handsome, and far too arrogant for his own good. He has left a faint scent of a spicy eau de cologne hovering in the air, something that goes well with the exotic black Chinese shirt and the tight trousers he's wearing.

Carlo is quite sure he knows exactly what he wants to do to Shu Ti Fan, and it is not "playing games" or admiring his sense of fashion. On the contrary, it involves something extremely painful and possibly lethal. However, Shouji's warning hand on his shoulder makes Carlo able to stay calm and business-like.

'I take it that particular game is going to cost me,' Carlo says, his eyes colder than a stormy winter day on the North Pole. Carlo waits until Shouji, who obviously has decided to play the role of body-guard, has pulled out a chair for him. He sits down, brushing an invisible hair off his midnight-blue suit. 'And here I thought your so-called investment business provided you with an income high enough to-'

Shu Ti Fan raises a hand to stop Carlo from continuing. 'That's enough, Carlo!' I came here to speak to you because we have done business together, and because I...' Shu Ti Fan hesitates, his arrogant expression changing to one of - surprisingly - pity. 'It's Magira, right?'

Carlo is half way out of the chair, outraged, before Shouji pushes him back down. 'No, Carlo-san.' Shouji's voice is barely audible. 'Stay calm. For Magira.'

Glaring at Shu, Carlo takes a deep breath. 'It's Magira. You should know.' Obviously, Shu Ti Fan is playing like a cat with a mouse and Carlo won't stand for it. He opens his mouth to fling a thoughtless insult at the Chinese Bastard, when Shu Ti Fan lets out a small sigh. Behind Carlo, both Shouji and Katou have stepped closer -- whether they are there to prevent Carlo from doing something stupid, or to protect him, he doesn't know. Iwaki pulls out another chair, next to Carlo's. His presence is a rock to lean on in Carlo's mind.

'Carlo... no...' Shu Ti Fan waves disarmingly. 'No, I didn't. Listen... I've heard a rumour, or rather, I've received an invitation from a person I've done a bit of... not entirely legal business with. It made me think I should leave whatever I was doing and come here to see if Magira was all right. It worried so much I didn't dare contact you via mail or phone. But I can understand from the overwhelmingly heartfelt reception that what I feared might happen has already happened.' Shu's black eyes stray, resting for a long moment on Shouji. 'Family, I take it? You look almost as pretty as he, just rougher.'

'If you are done evaluating my exterior, maybe we can get on with business,' Shouji snarls. 'This is getting tiresome.'

'You are right, of course. My apologies.' Shu Ti Fan bows his head slightly as if to acknowledge their anxiety and worry. 'I was contacted a few days ago by an American casino owner who wished to know whether I was interested in playing a game with extraordinarily high stakes. Something about what that person said made me think that Magira was involved in some way. I didn't have anything to do with it, Carlo-san, but I was suspecting you might not be aware of what was happening. So when my men told me you were here, in Vegas, and not in your house in LA, I decided to accept the invitation to find out what was going on. It only confirmed my suspicion. That's why I didn't call you.'

'And you are doing this, because...' Carlo tries to see through Shu's mask. The man plays a game as well as any other brilliant player, no emotion can be traced on the beautiful face. The eyes are cold, the mouth neither smiling nor contracted in a sad grimace. 'You don't know what has happened, then?' Carlo continues, leaning slightly forward, as if it will enable him to see whether Shu is telling the truth or not. 'That someone has taken Magira against his will?' Carlo realises that if Shu isn't lying, they are not as close to finding Magira as they thought. Their main suspect surprisingly has changed into an ally.

The information does not seem to bother Shu Ti Fan. 'Because we are doing business,' he says, neutrally. 'Because I wanted to find out if Magira was up to his old tricks - something he would surely regret. I know that because I was the one who heard the longing in his voice when he called out for you and for-' Shu stops and looks at Shouji, this time for an almost disturbing length of time. 'And for Shouji.' An appreciative smile graces Shu's lips now. 'I can see why. You are Shouji, ne?' he says, the question directed at Magira's uncle.

'Actually, I'm bored,' Shouji says, arrogantly. 'Busy being enamoured of hearing yourself speak or do you have something that can contribute to what we are doing, trying to get Magira back?'

'My apologies, Shouji-san,' Shu Ti Fan says and sighs, then pinching the bridge of his nose, as if a headache is approaching. For the first time Shu shows something other than a cool, distant surface. 'I can understand that it is more serious than I thought. If you would tell me precisely what has happened, I'll do anything I can to help. I think I know where the game is going to take place.'

'Isn't that nice?' Shouji says, his voice soft and silken. Carlo can sense the man's cruel smile in the sound of his voice. 'Want to help us gather an army?'

 

6. In Love and War

'Well...' Carlo leans back in the elegant Regency chair, for the first time relaxed and hopeful. He smiles; it is the polite smile he uses when doing business. It has a long way to go before it reaches his eyes. Five private investigators sit at the other end of he huge mahogany dining table. The tablecloth is stained and the table filled with empty coffee cups, cans and half eaten sandwiches. 'I have decided,' Carlo continues, 'we are not moving until Sawa-sensei is here. We need his opinion and expertise.' It is a heavy decision, but the information Shu has given them has bought them time. Magira has to wait until they all think it is safe to act. They are going to get Magira out safe and sound, but they need time. Time and Sawa Nagisa. 'It will be an advantage that we can get an observer inside before we make our move.'

'I agree,' says one of the investigators, a former police officer with more than thirty years service behind him. 'The police is doing as little as possible -- despite your connections, Mr Monte Carlo. I think it is going to be hard to encourage them to do more than they are forced to. If you want your man out, you are going to make it happen yourself.' The investigator pours himself another cup of tar-black coffee and gulps down half of it. His intestines are probably close to galvanised. 'Mr Shu's plan is going to work,' he says and puts the cup down. It rattles loudly against the silver-rimmed plate. 'If we come barging in, guns ablaze, it is not going to be easy to explain. I suppose that is what the police are going to try if they get a hold of the rumour, so we better pray they don't. If they at least cared to call in special forces, but not even that...'The former officer holds up both his hands, palms turned outwards, as if he wants to make clear that it wouldn't have happened in his days.

'They are not taking the kidnapping seriously.' Shouji looks displeased to a degree where he could make cream sour just by glaring at it. 'Magira's reputation has definitely not worked in his favour and the bloody police hasn't taken it lightly that you, Carlo-san, called in some of the big guns to pull rank.'

'It doesn't matter now, Shouji-san,' Shu says calmly, sending Shouji a quite angry look. 'Carlo did what any American would do: call the police and trust them to take care of the case.' He turns, letting his eyes slide arrogantly over Shouji. 'Not all of us are living on the edge,' he adds, half-way provocatively, his smile more a smirk than anything else.

'What do you mean by that?' Shouji huffs, sensing the offending, underlying meaning. 'Weren't you the one who admitted that you got involved in this because of some underground gambling?' Shouji's temper is flaring, but for Carlo's sake he's trying to keep quiet. 'Pot, kettle,' Shouji sneers. He meets Shu's eyes, challengingly. The bloody Chinese bastard is quite perky, even for a Chinese bastard.

Shu turns in his chair, close enough for Shouji to sense the smell of his obviously expensive after shave. There is still that annoying, sly smile on the young man's lips. 'Be careful what you say,' Shu advises. 'I am not the one running an underground gambling club.'

What the fuck is the man playing at? Shouji doesn't think he in any way has offended the bloody fool. Maybe a little when the bastard arrived, but nothing serious. Shouji is skilled when it comes to offences, and he hasn't even been close to being rude. 'Are you seriously trying to make me angry, Shu-san?' The suffix is polite, but the sound of it sarcastic. 'Because if you really want to fight, I am at your service.' Shouji's face has changed into a neutral, cool expression. Only the dark-brown eyes has a fire in them. A warning. Shu is going too far, and Shouji is uncertain whether the man is bluffing, provoking or just stressed and worried, like the rest of them. A row might ease things a bit, but Shouji feels an overwhelming desire to smack Shu hard in his just as overwhelmingly handsome face. Just to move that bloody superior, arrogant, immensely annoying look.

'Oh,' Shu replies, his smile predatory. 'Of course I don't want to fight. I've always heard that one should be careful with yakuza.'

'I am not-' Shouji begins, almost shouting. How dares Shu Ti Fan even suggest that?

Iwaki, on Shouji's other side, is out of his chair and pulling Shouji away from Shu before he manages to say more. Breathing hard, trying to keep his anger under control, Shouji tries to shake Iwaki's hand off.

'No, Shouji-san.' Iwaki sounds like someone it would be decidedly unwise to contradict. 'I will not tolerate this. And that goes for you as well, Shu-san.'

Shouji turns, forgetting exactly how good an actor Iwaki is. The dominant attitude and the cold, fearless eyes make Shouji able to calm down. Iwaki looks downright scary: the alpha male has stepped forward, and no matter how bossy Shouji usually is, he reacts with an almost basic instinct to this confident, tall man in front of him. 'You can let go of me now, Iwaki-san. I am not going to touch him.' Shouji is grateful that Iwaki has been able to make him cool a bit. It serves no purpose to fight between themselves when they have enemies to go to war against.

So Shouji doesn't turn to look at Shu. He'll get his revenge later. Then Shouji realises that nine men are looking at him. Some of the investigators have this reluctant, calculating look. Shouji knows why. The bad word, the word that shouldn't have been mentioned in connection with his name has been spoken, and he'll have to do something. Shouji is very aware that he, with his colourful shirts and ties and his slick hair might resemble one of the tattooed brothers. Shouji is a hard man, and hard enough to have stayed just outside the gokudou's reach. He is no yakuzi, and he hadn't counted on having that fact questioned by Shu Ti Fan - or anybody else for that matter. Carlo not included. He is forgiven. This time. They are in a dangerous situation, they have to trust each other, and right now it is clear the former policemen have had their faith in Shouji shaken.

Shouji breathes out. His anger is cooling, turning into a slow-burning fire. He can think again. Calmly, as Iwaki pats his shoulder and sits down, Shouji raises his hands and unbuttons his shirt without ever turning and looking at Shu. He pushes the open shirt over his shoulders and let it fall. His back is lean and well-muscled and without even as much as a trace of the elaborate tattoos that would have given him away immediately, had been connected to the gokudou.

'I'll await your apology,' Shouji says. The words are directed only at Shu. Shouji stays with his back turned to show his disrespect for the man. In a voice low and threatening, he adds, 'Now or later, it is up to you, Shu. But I will get it, one way or another.' Shouji is deliberately rude to Shu. Until the man has apologised, he has not deserved Shouji's respect. For what Shouji's concerned, Mr Shu can pick his own face up from the gutter he just threw it in. 'Have you anything to say?' he enquires, still with his naked back turned towards the Chinese dog.

'You have a very nice body,' Shu purrs, and says nothing more. Iwaki looks up at Shouji, mouthing a no.

'I think we are done for now,' Carlo says before the situation worsens. 'I think we can all need a rest. Rooms are prepared for those of you who want to stay,' he adds.

Shouji doesn't listen. He is striding through the dining room, wanting to get out before he forgets himself, turns around, and throttles Shu Ti Fan. It would feel so good to have his hands around the provoking, scheming bastard's thin neck. So good.

 

Magira closes his eyes as familiar, yet unfamiliar, hands slide over his body. He is going to survive this. He is not going to fight. He isn't sure if his kidnappers truly are going to hurt Carlo, like they've threatened to do, over and over. But Magira is not going to risk it. If he can protect Carlo with his pliancy he will do so. He is not going to let them know how scared he is, how much he wants to scream and cry; how much he wants not to be here; a mere slave to someone who has done what Shouji always feared: taken Magira to make use of his infamous talent. Please, don't, he thinks, his thoughts are screaming, yet he is not letting out a sound. Not a sigh or a gasp or even a soundless shudder.

'I am not going to take you against your will,' his kidnapper says and the hand hesitates for a moment, cupping one of Magira's cheeks. 'The day will come when you beg me for it. Soon. I doubt you have turned into a blushing maiden.'

Magira has heard of the Stockholm Syndrome too. There is nothing he can say, because he knows that it is probably true that he will cave in. He is not as strong as he would like to be. Also, he knows he won't hate himself for it when it happens. What he is doing, he does for Carlo. And Carlo will come for him. Hopefully before it is too late.

'The day after tomorrow. You are going to play for my employer's money - and win. You are going to do as we ask you, right?'

Lips brush over Magira's neck and arms hold him tight - arms that have held him before, in a rush of triumph over a large win. It feels comforting and scary at the same time. 'I really don't have a choice, do I, Ethan?' Magira finally replies. They have taken away his choices and he can do nothing but to let the stream of events take him. Fighting is futile, but Carlo will come. Carlo will come.

There is no reply, and Magira doesn't need one. Ethan's betrayal is payback -- the revenge of a scorned lover, one who would stop at nothing to get what he had set his eyes on, even of it cost Magira his freedom. He has been bought and sold, for money and for the pleasure it is to possess his body.

Magira's former notoriety and fame has finally caught up with him.

 

'I think I'll try to sleep a little,' Carlo says and puts down his half-empty glass of brandy on the low coffee table. He looks worn and the dark shadows under his eyes make him look slightly ill. 'We're doing something now. It feels good.'

It is late. Shouji has finally cooled down, and both Iwaki and Katou and the Chinese Bastard have gone to bed. Only Carlo and Shouji are awake, sitting in the large living room, in each their corner of a huge, soft sofa. The room is so big it should feel empty, but soft candle light and plush rugs have removed the feeling. The room is just cosy and warm. A fire - entirely unnecessary, due to the high temperature outside - is burning in the fireplace, adding to the slow, warm atmosphere. They have been sharing a good brandy. None of them have had the need to drown their sorrows, just a bit of relaxation before bedtime.

'Do you want me to stay with you?' Shouji studies his nephew-in-law. The beautiful Anthony Monte Carlo has disappeared, and left is just a worried, tired human being, longing for his lover, almost unable to keep standing under the burden of worries. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Shouji feels something suspiciously close to envy. Shouji loves Magira, to the extent that he is willing to give up his life for him. But the kind of love Carlo and Magira share is not something Shouji has experienced in his life. There has been bed partners, of course, and girlfriends, but none that stuck, nobody who ever moved Shouji the way Magira moves Carlo, nobody who has dared give himself up to Shouji the way Magira is Carlo's: with his entire being. Yes, Shouji is jealous, even now.

'No. No, thanks.' Carlo stands, neatly folding a white woollen blanket that he has thrown carelessly in the corner of sofa when he sat down. 'You need rest, too, Shouji-san. I don't want you to think you need to babysit me.' Carlo rubs his eyes. 'I am so tired that I don't think I'll have problems falling asleep. We have a plan now. It is going to work. I have to believe that.' Carlo looks like a man clinging to a piece of driftwood. 'I can sleep tonight because I need to. I have to. If I am exhausted when we make our move, it might endanger Magira.'

Everything in Carlo's life seem to revolve around Magira. He is the planet around which Carlo's being circles; the sun that lightens up his entire life. 'You truly love him,' Shouji says quietly, the envy a cold pain inside him. 'As he loves you.' It is not that Shouji begrudges Carlo Magira's love, on the contrary. Shouji has no wish to be loved like a lover by his sister's only son.

'Yes,' Carlo says, just as quietly. Then a smile flashes brightly over his tired face for a moment, maybe lit by a pleasant memory, or just by the deep feelings Carlo has for his young lover. 'When Magira is back and safe,' Carlo says, 'I am going to make sure he knows exactly how much. Good night, Shouji-san.'

Shouji lets out a sigh. It must feel bittersweet to love so deeply, to know that one's life can be ruined and turned over by another man. Shouji realises he has always valued his freedom higher than love. The drive and strength that has kept the gokudou from taking over his business are also the what has kept Shouji from devoting himself to a lover. He had his business and Magira to take care of. Only now, Carlo's sadness and desperation make Shouji understand that he might have missed something. Something important.

What wouldn't he give to have another man look at him the way Magira looks at Carlo? How costly wouldn't it be to drown in such feelings as they share?

As Carlo leaves, Shouji pulls the bottle of brandy closer and pours himself yet another glass. He just sits there in the sofa, thinking of how it would be like to have the frustration and jealousy and love and warmth, all in one package. To have a tender smile directed at him. To have a pair of strong, warm arms around his neck (and maybe a pair of slender legs wrapped around his waist at times). To wake up in the morning, snuggled up against a lover's body, knowing that they will have love today and tomorrow and in the years to come, despite conflicts and differences and troubles. It will all be worth it. On the bottom line, Shouji finally sees it - the purpose of love. Carlo's happiness when he is with Magira makes Shouji understand that love worth it - the pain. Every single tear lovers pay to be together are worth it.

And Shouji wants it too, even if it makes him feel like a soppy, romantic fool.

 

Less might do. That is another realisation Shouji comes to a few hours later. He wakes up in the dimly lit room; the fire is still burning in the fireplace, most of the candles have burned down, only a few still cast their golden light over the white-washed walls. He must have fallen asleep - two glasses of brandy was clearly more than his exhausted mind could manage. He pushes himself up to sit in the sofa, stretching. He reaches for a can of soda, opens it, pleased it is still remotely cold, and takes a large drink of the sparkling mineral water. Suddenly Shouji gets the feeling that he is not alone. Turning in the sofa, looking over the back of it, he discovers someone sitting in a deep leather wing chair in the farthest corner. Squinting, Shouji recognises the person he'd least like to see. He sneers. 'Shu. Why don't you just piss off, and leave me alone?'

'Maybe I came to check if that torso of yours still looked as delicious as this morning?' Shu Ti Fan says, deceptively soft. 'Or if the rest of you matches it.' Shu puts down the glass he's been holding and stands. The chair's black leather creaks a little.

'I take it insanity runs in your family? Or maybe you are the only delusional person?' Shouji has a hard time wrapping his mind around Shu's outrageous and impolite behaviour. Shouji is not the most polite person in Japan, but the Chinese? They are notoriously rude, in Shouji's opinion, and Shu Ti Fan takes the prize. Shouji makes a face and sighs. 'I suppose it is fruitless to ask you to bugger off?'

'Maybe,' Shu just says and steps over to the sofa. He - despite his average height - towers over it, looking down at Shouji with that annoyingly superior expression that makes Shouji want to punch the arsehole in the face. Hard. 'Depends if I get what I want.'

Maybe we should just drop the chit-chat entirely,' Shouji suggests coldly. 'And just jump right to the action.' He closes his fists so hard to restrain himself that the knuckles make small, cracking sounds. 'That is if you really want your arse kicked.' Shouji stands, sending Shu an intimidating glare. 'I'm at your service.' To be honest, he can't wait to wipe the smirk off Shu's face. If the man wasn't so utterly beautiful, Shouji might have done exactly that instead of hesitating for a moment.

'My arse?' Shu asks. 'You seem incredibly interested in that. I've noticed you looking at it before.' He sends Shouji another of those infuriating slow smiles. 'What would you prefer to do?' Shu asks, a strange look on his face. His gleaming eyes express an odd, intense need. 'Are you going to kick it or fuck it?'

For a second, the surprise renders Shouji unable to breathe. He feels a bit like a fish gasping for air. So that was what the provocative behaviour was about? The bastard is really something. Shouji takes in Shu's appearance, appreciatively before he replies. The man is gorgeous, and he knows it. Does Shouji really want the relief he is offered? Another look at Shu and the challenge that both his stance and his eyes issue is enough 'What about both?' Shouji says, his reply close to a feral growl. 'I like it rough.'

'Then what are you waiting for,' Shu purrs, letting one of his fingers trail seductively down his own neck to the opening of the black silk pyjama jacket. 'Or are you just like Magira, nothing but a tease? Get on with it!'

There are no words to cover the reply Shouji wants to give to that. He is up from the sofa in an instant, the brandy snifter toppling over, landing on the floor with a soft thump. Shouji doesn't give a damn. All he wants now is to get his hands on Shu, to punish him and make him scream and beg, no matter if it is from pain or pleasure. The man makes a satisfying mewl as Shouji grabs the silk lapels, ripping the jacket open as he shoves Shu down on his back on the floor. 'I am going to make you regret your parents ever taught you to speak,' Shouji hisses as he pushes Shu's hands over his head and pins them there with one hand. 'I am going to make you cry!'

'Yeah, do that!' Shu's satisfied expression and the way the words are slipping out, small moans that sound like chocolate tastes, so soft and delicious they are driving Shouji insane! Shu bares his neck, exposing it to Shouji as if he wants to submit. 'Are you just going to sit there and admire me, or are you going to take me?' Shu tries to pull his hands out of Shouji's grip. 'Or do you just need a reason to hit me as well?'

'You've given me reason enough,' Shouji growls, and tightens the grip. With the other hand he pushes his hand down Shu's pyjama bottoms. The man's hard and firm already and the feeling of silken skin over the blood-filled hardness makes Shouji harden too. 'I am not a violent man, but in your case I am willing to make an exception.'

'You surely talk a lot. What about using that mouth of yours for something else than speaking?' Shu turns and tries to push Shouji away, using his leg. 'Or talk all you like, just-'

Shu doesn't get the chance to say more before Shouji has crushed his mouth over Shu's lovely lips, taking away his breath. Enthusiastically Shu answers, using tongue and teeth, sucking and biting Shouji's tongue and lips. It feels hot and angry and bloody good. Biting back so hard that a taste of iron fills Shouji's mouth, they share blood-tainted kisses until neither of them is able to breathe.

The small fire Shu's provoking behaviour has inflamed is roaring; Shouji is both angry and aroused, almost blindly so. There is no way he can hold back, no way he can be tender and considerate, but it is not what Shu wants, either, that much is clear. They both want it hard and rough, they both want release, otherwise Shu wouldn't have done what he has done. The behaviour during the meeting earlier was nothing but a test, Shouji is sure of that.

'Tube. Pocket.' Shu's moans are ragged and the words almost incomprehensible. As Shouji tries to get his hand out of Shu's bottoms and into the pocket, Shu continues his taunting. 'You ever did this with Magira,' he says and before Shouji can think, he has let go of the tube and backhands Shu across the face.

'Don't ever even suggest-' he whispers in a tone so dangerous it feels like the edge of a knife. Shouji is so angry he can't think. How can Shu even think of speaking Magira's name in a situation like this? 'I am going to kill you!' Shouji threatens and pulls Shu up by the hair, brutally, a knee between Shu's legs.

'Fuck me first,' Shu just moans, strangely enough seeming to like the treatment. 'Hard. Make me feel your anger.' He sends Shu a provocative look, using the moment to pull his hands out of Shouji's grip. Shu manages to push his pyjama bottoms down, clumsily, and spreads his legs as well as possible in the awkward position. 'Didn't you tell me you liked it rough?'

Fumbling to get the tube open, Shouji just sneers. Maybe he should just strangle the bastard and get it over with. The fact that he is just as aroused as Shu seems to be is something Shouji prefers not to consider for too long - preferably not at all. Somehow he manages to open the tube and smear some of the greasy content over his fingers and cock without letting go of Shu's black hair. Shouji pulls it again, just for good measure, and enjoys the pain-filled cry Shu lets out.

'Hurry, damn it! Get it inside me,' Shu urges and fights against Shouji's hand, turning around. Shu's arse is firm and narrow, and the pink pucker twitches slightly. Shouji's brain ceases to function at the mere sight. Maybe he could just come over Shu's hole, smearing him with his semen before he leaves him, unsatisfied and wanting?

'Not like that!' Shouji smacks Shu's arse hard, relishing the red mark and the lovely yelp Shu lets out. 'On your back. I want to see you when I ram into you,' Shouji growls. 'I want to-' He doesn't get any further before he has grabbed Shu's shoulders and once more slammed him down on the floor. Roughly he spreads Shu's legs, abandoning all sense. Shu's opening is tight and it is not easy to get inside. Shouji doesn't care. He just wants to fuck the Chinese bastard until he begs for mercy.

Shu's face contracts in pain. 'Ah... Shouji... so good! Deeper... ah...' He digs his fingers into Shouji's upper arms, as if he wants Shouji to take part in the pain.

There is a deep, almost perverse pleasure in seeing Shu Ti Fan, Chinese bastard and decidedly annoying arrogant upper-class twit, take it up the arse while begging for it and Shouji thrusts in, hard, making the handsome young man under him look even more lost and dishevelled. Like that, Shu is even more attractive.

Shu lies still as Shouji pushes in to the hilt, paralysed by the pressure and the intrusion, his head thrown back, his mouth open in a silent cry. His breath is uneven and fast, as if it is the only way he can stand the pain of it.

Shouji pinches Shu's' nipple again making him move with him, snapping his hips against Shu's lean thighs. There will be no pity. Shu asked for this. The sounds of flesh against flesh, of Shu's cock and bollocks moving against his stomach makes Shouji's body tingle, a stream of pleasure moving through him. The feeling of muscles squeezing his length is driving him wild. Increasing the pace, he is fucking Shu so hard it has to hurt; the man's little half-choked cries inflames Shouji's desire and makes it flare brightly. 'So good,' he groans, thrusting into the warm, welcoming opening, harder and harder. 'Damned... Shu... Oh!'

Shu wraps his legs around Shouji's waist, again raking his nails over Shouji's back. 'Yes... fuck me harder... harder, please, Shouji!' he moans and thrusts upwards, encouraging Shouji even more with his body.

Burying his head at Shu's neck, Shouji breathes in the scent of sweat and perfume, of pheromones - Shu is so hot that Shouji is drowning in the arousal they share. Licking the velvet-soft skin makes things even worse: the salty taste and the sensation of softness and warmth against his tongue makes Shouji so close to coming that he has to pause for a moment as not to orgasm right there, without warning.

Underneath him, Shu relaxes, and it is easier to move inside him. It is overwhelming, and Shouji can't hold back any longer. It has been months since he had someone in his bed, and far from a man so beautiful as Shu. Damned, how he hates him! Pushing in again and again, Shouji can feel the orgasm closing in on him. In a moment's softness, he takes pity in Shu and raises up, wrapping his left hand around Shu's hard cock, masturbating him like he fucks him: hard and fast.

'Shouji... Shouji... Mmm...' Shu is whimpering, moaning. 'Please, harder!'

The plea is what does it. Shu rams inside the man he is fucking, as hard as possible, and the orgasm pulls him down, making him see stars. Shu is scratching Shouji's back so deeply that he cries out: in the right moment, the pain just adds to the deep pleasure as Shouji comes inside Shu. Shu's legs are wrapped hard around his waist and Shu's cock is thrust so hard into his hand he can barely hold on to it as Shu closes his eyes, lets out a deep moan and comes in large splashes over Shouji's hand. Buddha and all his forefathers be damned -- anger and sex is a perfect cocktail, Shouji thinks, lost in the aftermath of their small mutual earthquake.

Shu is just lying there, panting, until he finally has air enough to speak. 'That was... something,' he manages. 'By all that's holy, you are ruthless, Shouji. You've... I...' Shu lets out another moan, as if the delightful spasms of orgasm is continuing. 'Maybe we could get up from the floor?'

For once, Shu's got a point. Shouji pulls out, quite a bit more carefully than he thrust in. Reaching for a napkin from the table, he cleans them both. 'Not that you deserve it, you dog, but I want to be more comfortable,' Shouji says and manages to get up. He is not sure his legs usually feels so unstable after sex. Spreading out one of the soft blankets over the sofa, he holds out a hand and helps Shu up. After all, he has just fucked the boy, so he might deserve a slight consideration. Shouji considers briefly to ask Shu to piss off, now that he has got what he wanted - and Shouji hasn't. He still wants that apology. Then again, he is slightly reluctant to let the man leave. A few moments with Shu in his arms... he can do that.

'Here,' Shouji demands, and sits down on the sofa, indicating that he wants Shu to lie down with him. The look Shu sends Shouji is surprised, but he doesn't protest. The sofa is deep and comfortable, and Shu's body warm. Shouji hisses as his flayed back comes into contact with the backrest. Shu has done a thorough job, making a mess of his back. Shu does nothing but to sigh, satisfied, it seems.

Shouji glares into the ceiling. Shu is far too comfortable with this. 'Apologise for what you said earlier,' Shouji demands, overwhelmed by a strange need to ruin the mood. They are not lovers. Not even in the remotest, most generous understanding of the term. 'Or I am going to do you again, even harder.'

'And that is going to encourage me, how?' Shu laughs softly. 'Shouji, you need to come up with something more convincing. If you're as tired as I am, there is no way you can get it up anyway. Also, it really doesn't feel like a threat. You're a good lay.'

There is that. Shu is right. On both accounts. 'Well, then I'll just have to continue your punishment tomorrow,' he says, surprising even himself. 'Until you give in and admit you are an offensive, rude, bloody horny bastard.'

'Go on like that, and I might be led to believe you've fallen in love with me.' Shu snuggles up closer, kissing Shouji's neck. 'And I like it when you talk dirty.'

'In your dreams. I am pretty sure I've fallen in hate with you, idiotic fool.'

'Mmm, me too.' Shu yawns like a kitten. 'Tomorrow, then?' The tip of Shu's tongue is pink and cute, and the entire situation makes Shouji think he needs to go to sleep before he does or says something he's going to regret.

'Shut up,' Shouji groans and shifts to lie more comfortably with the close-to-sleeping Shu in his arms. The scratches Shu has left on his back are deep and probably bloody. Shouji wonders if they'll leave scars. He is glad he won't have to show anybody his naked back now. The welts on his skin are far more revealing than any tattoo, and will elicit more questions. Shouji pulls the blanket over them and closes his eyes. Right now, in his relaxed, confused hatred of the Chinese Bastard, Shouji is most definitely not inclined to reply to anything regarding the man he has just shagged within an inch of his life. Not even the questions he might ask himself sooner or later.

 

7. Longings and Liaisons

'Do you think they are done?' Katou asks sleepily, removing the pillow he has been using to cover his ears. 'What is it now? The third time?' He pushes the duvet down, exposing his naked chest to the weak moonlight and Iwaki's hungry gaze. It is too hot for pyjamas, despite the air conditioning; Katou only wears the bottoms.

'Fourth.' Iwaki knows precisely how many times Shu and Shouji have fucked, because each and every time, Iwaki's cock has hardened, throbbing and longing for Katou's touch. 'Seems like they've had a lot of tension they needed to get rid of. We should have known, the way they were at each other's throats.'

'You could say that. One must admire their stamina; Shouji-san isn't exactly a teenager.' Katou flops down on his back. 'I am so tired. Please, let this be the last time. Or we'll have to ask Carlo for a room that isn't right over the living room for tomorrow night.'

'We could probably use Shouji-san's,' Iwaki says, hiding the fact that he has to rearrange his equipment that once more is bothering him. 'He doesn't seem inclined to use it himself.'

'Our only hope is that neither of them can keep himself awake for more than a week.' Katou laughs, slipping directly into a deep, loud yawn. 'We'll be able to sleep next Thursday. I want to sleep now, Iwaki-san!' Katou moans. 'I'm so tired,' he repeats.

Iwaki is far too aware of that, Katou's exhaustion - the only reason Iwaki hasn't asked Katou to help him relieve his arousal. To be true, Iwaki is a bit embarrassed that he becomes aroused so easily by listening to other men making out. He has seen, heard and had sex in so many ways and places that it shouldn't matter. AV should have taken care of that - only it hasn't. Somehow it is the forbidden secrecy, the dirtiness of being exposed - or rather being the one exposing - that hit Iwaki's buttons. It could be his brain taking revenge for the often uptight facade he covers his longing and needs with. Iwaki is very reluctantly admitting that he might have discovered he has some kind of kink, one that has nothing to do with the exposure he has experienced during the AV years. This is only arousing because Katou is next to him, sharing the same sounds, if not the same desire to do something about it. Somehow the embarrassment of it simply makes him needy - the odd mixture of shame and lust is close to unbearable. Iwaki smooths a lock of Katou's hair. 'Try to rest a little. It is almost six, they are probably going to stop before the maid arrives. I think you should be safe now.'

'Mmm,' Katou mumbles and snuggles up, his nose more or less buried in Iwaki's armpit. For once, Iwaki would have liked to let loose some of the pheromones Katou always goes on about. Anything to have... Katou. Iwaki sighs. It is rare that he wants sex this much, and of course it has to happen at such an inopportune time. Iwaki slips his arm around Katou's shoulder and closes his eyes. Hopefully, his cock is going to take the hint.

Half an hour later, Iwaki gives up. There is no way he is going to sleep before he has found relief. Katou's warm breath comes in small huffs, little whiffs of air that do nothing to make Iwaki forget how it would feel that lovely warmth around his throbbing erection. Carefully, he disentangles himself from their embrace and slips out of bed. Smiling a tired smile, he caresses Katou's cheek as if to take the image of his lover with him.

Iwaki closes the door to the bathroom silently. He strips quickly; the cool breeze from the open window feels good on his burning skin. There is no reason to drag this out. Iwaki wants to go back to bed; he is tired and the hour-long arousal has worn him out. He reaches for a bottle of lotion, smearing some over his fingers on one hand. With the other he begins stroking his half-hard cock; finesse is not what is needed now. Iwaki places one foot on the edge of the huge tub, reaching behind himself to ease the fingertips inside. He lets out a small, muted groan as he teases himself, rubbing against sensitive nerve-ends. A drop of pre-come makes its way to the tip of his cock, and he smears it over the head, imagining Katou licking it off. He pushes the fingers further in, unable to repress a deep moan. The relief is immense and it feels so good, both being filled, and the warm hand on his long-neglected cock.

Closing his eyes, Iwaki imagines Katou behind him, thrusting in, hard and fast. Oh, damned! Adding another finger, straining his own hole so much it hurts, Iwaki drowns in the thought of what Katou would do to him, the way he, buried deep in Iwaki's needy body, would kiss his back, whispering filthy words in his ear, telling him how much he loves him.

'You look delectable, Iwaki-san,' Katou purrs. 'Don't stop.'

It takes a moment for Iwaki to realise that this is not the Katou in his imagination. His eyes snap open and he tries to remove his fingers from his arse, but a firm hand grabs his wrist, keeping them there. 'Ka-Katou...' Iwaki feels embarrassment wash over him. His cheeks are hot, but his erection doesn't waver. It feels both awful and good to be discovered like this, in the middle of a very private... well, action.

'Don't take them out,' Katou says. 'Just... go on. It's so rare to see my Iwaki-san like this - I want to savour the moment.' Katou slowly kneels in front of Iwaki, still with his fingers firmly wrapped around Iwaki's wrist. 'Please, Iwaki-san? Please, let me watch you?'

Katou's pleading look is more than Iwaki can stand. 'I thought you had fallen asleep,' he says, collecting himself.

'Not with Iwaki-san next to me, and those two...' Katou pushes the waistband of his pyjama bottoms down, revealing his hard length. 'I can't sleep like this.'

'No.' Iwaki understands how it feels. Very much so. He ignores the awkwardness of masturbating in front of his lover. If that is what Katou wants, he can do it, he's so damned horny anyway. 'Let go,' he demands, again moving his fingers in and out of his arse. 'Katou... let go. I want...'

'Me too.' Katou removes his hand, only to get a hold of his own cock. 'Let's do this together,' he urges. 'Iwaki-san, I want to see you.' Katou licks his lips, and begins stroking himself, letting out a needy moan. 'Iwaki-sa-'

It becomes too much. Iwaki throws himself into the abyss of need and desire; suddenly it makes it even hotter to have Katou's hunger directed at him without being able to do anything about it. Katou hasn't offered to relieve Iwaki, just to watch him, so this is it. Iwaki fucks himself hard, thrusting the fingers inside to reach the spot, knowing it will be even faster and better if that is stroked as well as his cock. As his fingertips stroke over the prostate, he can't stop himself from gasping. This isn't going to take long. 'Katou... Katou...' he groans, opening his eyes to watch his beautiful husband, quickly joining him in their mutual, albeit separated, pleasure. 'Please, touch me!'

Maybe it is what Katou has been waiting for. Before Iwaki has let out another moan, Katou's soft lips are over his cock, and yet another finger is pushed inside Iwaki, slick from saliva. It is almost too much. Iwaki can't hold back and comes with a muffled cry in his lover's mouth. It is hard to stay upright, the orgasm is deep and dark, spiced by the exposure and the long wait. Supporting himself with a hand against the wall's cream marble tiles, Iwaki's ragged breathing is accompanying Katou's release for his own hand; warm splashes of come moisten Iwaki's inner thigh as Katou arches up from the bathroom floor and comes as well. There is still a drop of Iwaki's semen at the corner of Katou's mouth, and Iwaki cannot remember the last time he has seen Katou look so utterly hot and debauched.

Pulling Iwaki down to straddle him, offering his mouth and his embrace, Katou shares the taste of salt and sweat with Iwaki; a deep, loving kiss.

It takes them only a few minutes for them to shower and go back to bed, relaxed and even more tired. Downstairs, Shouji and Shu are quiet and this time sleep comes easily, despite the approaching dawn and the loud birds announcing the birth of a new day.

 

The airport is filled with people coming and going; people kissing or arguing; some dragging old suitcases along, others pulling fashionable designer brand bags along. Carlo is looking at the huge screen again. Flight 6995 from Tokyo arrived almost an hour ago. It can't be long now. Not really sure whether he is looking for a tall Japanese man or a similarly tall Japanese woman, Carlo studies the first couple of tourists dragging their luggage out from arrivals. None of them has any likeness to the author Carlo has only seen on the photo on the back of one of his - or her - books. No matter what, this fluent way of slipping in or out of whatever gender fits Sawa-san is definitely to their advantage. Also, Carlo is immensely grateful that this person is willing to help - more than Sawa-san has done already. Nobody has said it aloud, but Sawa and Shu might be risking their lives for Magira. They all might.

Carlo knows with a deep certainty that his life is worth nothing without Magira in it. There is nothing he won't do to get his lover back. Love is the most scary thing in the world.

More passengers stroll past him. Nobody seems to be in a hurry. Watching a family with three small children arguing about who was to carry which bag, before they were met by a group of friends or family, kept Carlo is distracted for a while. When he turns his head, a blond man dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt is standing next to him.

'Carlo-san? You're Anthony Monte Carlo?' the man asks, his English slightly rusty, it seems. 'I am Sawa Nagisa... Nagisa Sawa.'

'Hai. Carlo desu. Douzo yoroshiku.' Carlo senses the man's slight insecurity with the unfamiliar language and uses what little Japanese phrases he has managed to learn from Magira. He smiles, as if to signal that they can both make fools of themselves, using languages they don't master very well. 'Welcome, Sawa-san.'

They walk through the airport, exchanging polite comments about the weather, using a mix of Japanese and English. None of them mention Magira. There is no need, and besides that, it is too dangerous. They'll talk later, when they've reached Carlo's mansion.

Outside, in the burning heat, Carlo has his driver and limousine waiting. With a deep sigh, Sawa-san sinks into the seat, sending Carlo a broad smile.

'This makes my car look like a toy. Carlo-san certainly has good taste,' Sawa says. His voice is pleasant. Dark, silken.

Carlo waves his hand. 'It is necessary for business reasons. Some of the customers who visit my hotel and casino have rather high expectations regarding the service they receive. I don't always use it. I just thought you might like a comfortable ride after the flight.'

'Definitely.' Sawa nods, and takes the glass of chilled orange juice Carlo offers him. 'Most considerate, Carlo-san.'

The large car hums through the city; a small, cool, moving oasis in the desert. Both men are quiet for a while. Not because, Carlo thinks, that they don't have anything to talk about, but because they both want to talk about something the driver is not supposed to hear, despite being a trusted employee.

Sawa is watching the surroundings with a tired interest, as if it is habit for him to scan everything, maybe storing the information for later use. The man's eyes aren't the least tired - the way Sawa studies the foreign city reminds Carlo of a bird of prey, just before the hunt. Sawa Nagisa definitely hasn't forgotten how to be a police officer.

Carlo, on the other hand, studies Sawa. Somehow it is hard to believe this man - tall compared to other Japanese men, and rather masculine - is able to transform into a woman. The male Sawa is handsome, though, with elegant, lean legs and not too broad shoulders. Carlo definitely appreciates what he sees. There is something about the mouth, however, something softer, feminine, as if the soft voice somehow has transformed the lips to fit it. They are pretty lips. Kissable lips.

'You are wondering whether I am able to play the part?' Sawa asks bluntly, not very... Japanese. He doesn't say more, maybe to make sure the driver doesn't know what is going on. He lowers his eyes and sends Carlo a look that could out-flirt even the most seductive woman, as if to emphasise his ability.

'Not really.' Carlo offers the same directness. 'I thought so at first, but not now.' He knows, of course, that Sawa-san was once praised for his role in some TV series. To be honest, Carlo is not sure whether Sawa is acting when he behaves like a man or it is the other way around. Author, actor, police officer, man, woman. So many roles. When all comes to all, it doesn't matter. All Carlo knows is another human has offered assistance in a situation where Carlo's power and fortune are not enough.

Carlo smiles and shrugs. 'I trust your abilities. If you weren't able to do this, you would never have offered to help.'

'That is very true, Carlo-san. Very true.' Sawa returns the smile, then drinks the rest of the juice.

Neither of them say anything until the limousine turns away from the road and up the driveway leading to Carlo's house.

 

They step into the large hall. Sawa-san doesn't say anything, but it is clear from the appraising gaze that he likes what he sees; the modern paintings, the black and white marble floor, the polished mahogany banister that leads upwards like a shiny, wooden serpentine; the exquisite art deco table in the middle, topped with a black and white Gallé vase filled with white lilies. The scent of the flowers feels so familiar. Carlo likes lilies - both kinds - he always have an arrangement of lilies placed somewhere, both in his house and at his office.

The mansion is silent still, early as it is. The hall is empty and there are only a few muffled voices coming from the dining room. The maid who welcomes Sawa-san, shakes her head lightly as Carlo sends the door to the living room a questioning look. 'Asleep,' she says and smiles. 'Upstairs too.'

Carlo decides she needs a considerable raise. Someone who can manage calmly that this house has turned into a cross between a cheap American crime novel and a love nest for gay couples definitely deserves a reward for her work. Personally, Carlo had to collect himself somewhat when he opened the living room door this morning and found Shu and Shouji on the sofa, sleeping, half-naked and in each others' arms. At least the two idiots seemed to have stopped fighting.

Sawa goes to his room to take a bath and rest a little. It seems like half the house is asleep anyway. Only the two investigators who were called in from Los Angeles are awake. Carlo joins them to take a second breakfast. He has nothing else to do anyway. Until all members of their tiny army are awake he'll try to distract himself from the ever-present worry. He misses Magira so much it is a physical pain to think about it. All awake hours that aren't taken up by practical duties are used to fend off the thought that he might never see his beloved again. Shu's presence gives him hope - a hope they all share, that the invitation Shu has received will indeed lead them to Magira. Despite their plans, investigators are still occupied by digging up leads and traces, but none are found except the ones that point in direction they are already heading. Because of Shu's help, Carlo is fairly certain Magira is alive. He has to believe that.

Despite the flicker of hope, minutes and hours are neatly measured-out torture devices. Waiting, waiting, waiting as the large hand moves slowly, the small even slower, on every clock in the house. Carlo has nothing to do and walks restlessly from room to room. He doesn't stay in this house too often; he likes his LA residence better, and he cannot really find a place to rest, somewhere that feels like home. He is still exhausted and it takes some time before he is able to lie down and sleep. He is not used to napping during the day. On the other hand, Carlo wants to sink into his dreams, to be clear-minded and alert for what is to come, sleep until the house finally wakes up, until lovebirds and travellers are rested and they are all ready to begin the final stage.

Action. At last.

 

At one end of the table Sawa and three of the private detectives are laughing about something, for non-police officers, distinctively incomprehensible. It makes Carlo feel good that Iwaki's and Katou's friend has been accepted so readily. Obviously, the camaraderie of police work overrules nationality and gender issues, and for that he is grateful. It would have been a disaster for their plans if the hired hands had... issues with Sawa-san's appearance.

'We really lack proper training in martial arts,' the oldest of the detectives says, drying his eyes. 'Did he ever get his balls pulled out?'

Sawa nods. 'I didn't kick that hard. I've heard he had two children later on, so they probably weren't damaged for life. Unless his wife took a lover. He was an extraordinarily disgusting looking fellow and the kids were not that ugly. Personally, I wouldn't have touched him with a ten foot pole.'

'You are few pegs above his class if you ask me,' one of the younger detectives says and sends Sawa a flirtatious smile. 'He'd been lucky if a woman like you had cared to look his way. How long did he get? Five to seven?'

Carlo stops listening to the former policemen's exchange of work-related storied. He shakes his head and turns to Shu who is sitting next to him. 'I was afraid they wouldn't accept Sawa-san, but...'

'Carlo-san... they are working for a gay couple already... I don't think they care the least that Sawa likes to cross-dress. If they have issues, they wouldn't have accepted in the first place. Don't worry so much about things that don't matter.' Shouji leans forward, towards Carlo from Shu's other side. Carlo is sure Shouji is groping Shu under the table. 'Let them have their fun. We all know that tomorrow is going to be serious, both for Sawa-san and for Shu-kun. They need some kind of outlet.'

Shu-kun? Clearly the night before has brought some relief to the tension between the two men. Carlo can't stop himself and looks at Shouji with a decidedly wicked grin. 'And what kind of... outlet are we talking about? Any suggestions? Maybe something that doesn't keep Iwaki-san and Katou-kun awake until dawn?' Katou complained earlier, not exactly trying to conceal the reason for his yawning and his tired expression.

Shu coughs and hurries to take a sip of the mineral water in front of him. 'Let's go over the plan once more, Carlo-san. Just to make sure we haven't overlooked something,' he suggests, trying not to look at Shouji. He is blushing slightly.

Iwaki sends Carlo a gloomy glare, as if to tell him not to speak of such matters publicly. For once, Carlo doesn't care. Even though he feels miserable and in need of his lover, it pleases him that the other men in his house get love and tenderness - or in Shu's and Shouji's case very loud and hot sex. It's better than the fighting. 'All right,' Carlo agrees. Shu is right. 'They all have to know precisely what to do and when.' Their first move is not a dangerous one - not unless Shu's relation to Carlo and Magira is revealed.

'The game is tomorrow at 8, a mansion in... Tournament Hills. We'll have four men there, at the gates, just to be sure we can get in and out. The entire area is fenced and guarded.' Shu looks at the folder in front of him. Reports from their men. Shu mentions the name of the owner, the man who has invited him. 'He invited me, so unless he has any underlying agendas, he just thinks I'm a rich brat who likes to gamble my money away. He is probably looking forward to rob me blind.'

'He wouldn't be entirely wrong about the brat,' Shouji mutters. 'You have a reputation.'

'Not entirely without foundation in reality,' Shu laughs. 'We both like to play, so let's stop pretending we don't, shall we?'

Shouji just rolls his eyes and says nothing. Carlo raises an eyebrow, studying the kiss mark on Shouji's neck. Shu really has to be something in bed if he can leave Shouji this pliant.

'I am bringing Sawa-san as my... companion. It is encouraged, there is a lounge for the ladies.' Shu turns his glass between two fingers. 'They are really sure of themselves to make this some kind of social gathering. I wonder how they are-' Shu cuts himself off. 'I'm sorry, Carlo. My apologies.'

'They are either threatening him, threatening me, or they keep him drugged.' Carlo glares daggers at Shu. 'They are not cutting off his ears and fingers, or something similarly Barbarian. He cannot be harmed visibly, if they are dragging him out in front of people to play.' Carlo states this coldly, almost numbly. Also, he hopes it is the truth. That they haven't harmed his Magira.

Shu nods, ignoring the pointed comment. 'We're going in, we're observing, if it is possible, we will talk to Magira, or find out where they keep him. We're chipped, just in case, and we'll try to hand Magira a chip too, so he can be traced if they move him. That's about it. No weapons, no microphones, no James Bond.'

'No James Bond. We are not going to take chances, and we are deciding what to do with the information - if we are going to rely on the police - before we do anything but this.' Carlo wants so much to order his miniature army to attack, barge in and fetch Magira and to hell with the rest. But nothing can happen that endangers Magira's life. If it really is Magira they are holding prisoner. There is a risk they are on a wild goose chase.

'And Sawa-san?' Shouji asks. 'Is he going to be-'

'Yes,' Katou cuts Shouji off with a determined expression. 'He really is.'

 

8. Swimming With the Sharks

 

'Oh God!'

'Wow!' The youngest of the detectives fans himself, looking quite as if he has fallen prey to Sawa's accomplished attempt at "classy, sexy and high maintenance".

'Marry me, Sawa-san!'

Approving whistling and looks are sent Sawa's way as he theatrically makes a pause before walking down the lower part of the stairs. The high-collared tight black dress he is wearing is slit up in one side so high it only stops a hair's breath before indecency. Sawa has great legs and he knows how to show them off - the four-inch stilettos don't exactly make the legs seem shorter. Even Carlo, who is used to female beauty, is impressed. Sawa makes sure his legs show as he, with a long flimsy black scarf trailing after him, almost floats down to take Shu's hand.

'Beautiful,' Shu says and studies Sawa's elaborately made hair and the large Victorian silver-and-rubies earrings. 'Sawa-san... you look fantastic!'

'Not at all,' Sawa says sultrily, 'but I am very pleased you think so.' It earns him a less than friendly glare from Shouji.

'Are you ready?' Carlo asks, dragging attention to the task in front of them - possibly to prevent yet another fight between Shouji and Shu. 'All of you?'

'The wheels are all checked and ready,' the older detective says. 'Two cars drive around, ending up on the Northern and Eastern side of the property. We have the last car going to the gates, four of us ready to go in if necessary - or help you get out if you reach the fence and need help.'

Shu nods. He doesn't look nervous at all. Maybe it is just a game to him; he might even enjoy the danger and tension.

'Weapons?' Carlo isn't fond of the decision that they have to bring them, but as it is, it is inevitable. Their opponent stops at nothing; they have to act the same.

'A few.' The former policeman pats his chest. The jacket has a bulge, probably the gun. '30 years, Mr Carlo, and I've never used it - and I won't, not unless it is a question of our survival. Today... we are just observing unless Mr Shu and Mr Sawa get an unexpected chance to help your man out.'

'Thanks,' Carlo says. He wants Magira out so badly, but he prefers to make it happen without his men getting hurt. If he had wanted a massacre, he could have asked the incompetent cops who have investigated Magira's case so very reluctantly.

'Our last man is driving Mr Sawa and Mr Shu.' The old policeman waves one of the LA detectives closer. 'Charlie has never worked in Nevada; I doubt there is any danger he'll be recognised. Good shooter, he was at the Junior Nationals. Doesn't get trigger happy. I'd like to have him with me if I were to go into the lion's den.'

The LA detective just nods. He is the calm type, and Carlo agrees with the experienced policeman's choice. 'Thanks,' Carlo just says. He, too, wants Shu and Sawa back, unharmed.

Behind him, Carlo can hear Iwaki and Katou speak with Sawa. Sawa Nagisa clearly isn't a nervous person. A man who so flamboyantly embraces his own desires and pursues what is right for him... Carlo feels slightly envious. However, Sawa-san's young lover must be a very tolerant and patient man, Carlo thinks.

It is as if Sawa senses Carlo's thoughts. 'I've done undercover work before, Carlo-san. I know how to keep us safe,' Sawa says, and rests his hand on Carlo's shoulder. 'We'll make sure Magira's safe too. If we can get him out today, we will, otherwise we'll know more after tonight, have a better chance. We'll have knowledge that'll make us able to solve this without a full-fledged war.'

'I apologise, Sawa-san. I am sure you do, we-' Carlo pauses before he speaks again, this time formally, in Japanese. 'Thank you for helping this total stranger, a foreigner unworthy of your brilliant help.' He bows to Sawa. 'I can never repay you for this, honoured Sawa-san.'

Sawa bows too, acknowledging Carlo's respect and gratitude, despite his horrible command of the Japanese language. 'For love I am willing to make a lot of sacrifices. Katou-kun has told me about how you met Magira-kun. I think we both know, you and I, Carlo-san, that true love is worth fighting for. Neither the true love nor the fight need to make sense to other people. As for payment, just make certain we are not doing this in vain. That's reward enough for me.' Waving a well-manicured hand; purple nail polish shimmering in the light from the chandelier, Sawa directs Carlo's attention to Shu and Shouji who are standing very close to each other. Shouji looks rather worried. 'In a crisis, most people realise what they are missing in their lives, or how they might need to fight to get it,' Sawa murmurs. 'Love is something that should be cherished, always. Many people tend to forget. Iwaki-san and Katou-kun have made me pay attention to that on several occasions, and by helping you I am merely showing my gratitude to them as well.'

Obviously, that wisdom has just recently occurred to Shu and Shouji. As Sawa lets go of Carlo's shoulder, Carlo notices that Shu's arrogant smile has turned into a softer one, and the angry glare that has been all Shouji has cared to waste on Shu is now turned into a possessive, almost jealous flare in his dark eyes. With expressions like those they would both lose spectacularly at the gaming tables, since the two otherwise controlled men seem to be wearing their hearts on their sleeves. So much for cool, experienced players.

'It's time,' Sawa interrupts the couple. 'We have to leave now, Shu-san.'

'A moment,' Shouji says, again turning to Shu. Ignoring Sawa, he cups Shu's cheek. 'Be careful,' he says, the worry almost palpable. 'Who am I going to quarrel with if you don't come back?'

'Oh, I wouldn't miss that for the world, Shouji, quarrelling with you,' Shu whispers and sends Shouji another of those Mona Lisa smiles. 'I'll come back.'

'I take that as a promise.' It's all Shouji says before he turns around and leaves the hall.

'Oh, l'amour,' Sawa laughs and hooks his arm with Shu's, maybe to get some support. Walking in those elegant heels cannot be easy.

'Be careful.' Carlo echoes Shouji's words. 'Both of you.' He hesitates. 'Play red for me, Shu. If you really need to win, play red. Magira will know what it means.'

'Colour of love and luck, hm?' Shu nods. 'I'll remember that.'

 

'It is time.'

Ethan slides a hand down Magira's naked back and Magira cannot stop himself from shuddering in disgust. He has changed. There was a time when any attractive male had a fair chance to end up in his bed, but those times are over. In Magira's mind, only Carlo exists. No one else. His desires, his need, are only for Carlo. Magira takes a step forward to avoid the hand. He will cry bitterly the day he welcomes Ethan's touch - or accept it because it will give him an advantage.

'And if I refuse?' Magira doesn't turn around. Ethan makes him sick. His body still remembers the sensation of waking up in a stranger's arms. Ethan has promised not to take Magira before the psychology of being kidnapped forces him to be a willing victim, and Ethan has kept his promise. Sleeping together, in the same bed, though, doesn't seem to be included in that. Magira hates himself for feeling rested and comforted by the other man's presence.

'If you refuse, we'll go after Carlo. You don't want that to happen, do you?'

Ethan is smirking, Magira is sure. He doesn't want to look at Ethan; it is almost impossible to hold back the urge to smack the guy's pretty face hard. 'No. I don't,' Magira manages. It is the truth. It is the only threat that works, and it works well. They don't have to pretend otherwise. Magira decides never to ask again. The mere idea that Carlo will pay for his resistance... no. He won't let it go that far. They can beat him and rape him and force him to play whatever game they want. For Carlo he can get through all of that.

Magira clings to the thought of Carlo; it will help him survive. Carlo is safe, and Carlo will come for him. Sooner or later, Carlo will come. Sleeping with Ethan is a small price to pay for his lover's safety. If Ethan wants him this much, there might be a way to use it - and Ethan - to get out. Magira thinks he might not be the only one affected by the relationship between kidnapper and victim. Magira is just a better player. That moment, he makes his decision. He turns around, a slight smile on his lips. 'Of course I don't want anything to happen to Carlo,' Magira repeats, and steps a bit closer to Ethan. Magira bites his lip, knowing how innocent and adorable it makes him look. 'What do you want me to do, Ethan?' he asks, careful not to look blatantly seductive. Ethan is not an idiot, although he most certainly is an arsehole.

'You are such a pretty little pet,' Ethan says, trailing a finger along the chain that keeps Magira shackled. 'Get dressed. Tonight we're going to play. My employer has invited a few guests, and he plans to let you strip them of every dollar they have, and then some.' Ethan's smile changes; it becomes unpleasantly cold. 'You are good at that, Magira. Playing for other people's money. And playing other people.' Ethan yanks the chain and pulls Magira into his arms. 'I have never forgotten that night...'

Magira manages to keep his panic-like disgust down. 'That is why you are doing this? A lover scorned?'

'You never left my thoughts...' Ethan is whispering, his lips close to Magira's cheek. 'It is your fault. You were driving me insane with your beauty and your body.... Magira... if you would just give in to me... I'd never leave you... I'm in love with you.'

Some love. That is all Magira manages to think before he is kissed; deeply and forcefully. He wants to fight, to push Ethan away, but doesn't. He can use this. He has to! He needs to let Ethan fall even deeper - to make him his instrument. As Magira let himself be kissed, he closes his eyes and imagines Carlo doing this, that this is Carlo's lips, Carlo's body, Carlo's warmth. All Magira has to remember is that giving in to Ethan now may gain him the small amount of goodwill that might save his life.

Or Carlo's.

 

The car is rented, in Shu's name. They have been careful not to leave too many traces leading to Carlo. It is almost dark as the large white limousine makes its way to Tournament Hills. 'Aren't you nervous at all,' Shu finally asks. 'What if it is a trap?'

'It isn't,' Sawa says. 'You didn't know about this when you received the invitation, and nobody knows about your connection with Carlo-san, isn't that so?' He pats Shu's hand, rather surprisingly. 'And I am nervous. It would be insane not to be. We're taking a risk, Shu-san. But that was what I did as a policeman - calculating risks. As long as you do what I tell you to, we won't get in trouble; you just need to act as you would when you are participating in a game like this.'

'Ah.' Shu feels more relaxed. Sawa-san seems to be a realist above anything. He's not going to play a hero. That is reassuring, since Shu isn't one, and has no intention to try to become one.

'I trust you in this, Shu-san.' Sawa moves, carefully, as not to wrinkle the dress or ruin the black silk stockings that emphasise his legs. 'I am your mistress, and you are an infatuated playboy, with no other thing on his mind than to satisfy my every whim. Whether they think I am a man or a woman doesn't matter as long as they believe that your brain has taken a temporary holiday in your trousers.' Sawa sends Shu a lovely smile. His white teeth flash in the streetlights, contrasting the dark purple-red lipstick.

'I don't think it will be difficult,' Shu says. 'Sawa-san is handsome, no matter what gender.' Sawa is not Shu's type, but lovely he is, that is no lie. Sawa is nothing like Shouji... Shouji with his ugly shirts and his hopeless hairdo and the unpolished, roguish behaviour. Sawa is elegant and soft and with perfect taste. Nothing like Shouji at all, no. Shu manages to disband the threatening thought of how it felt to lie under Shouji's muscular, lean body and take it, take everything Shouji gave... oh God!

'Shu-san? Are you with us?' Sawa's voice sound as if a laughter is waiting to take over his words.

Shu is glad it is dark. Nobody can see him blushing. 'Yes. Sorry. Just distracted. What did you say?'

'Kiss me.'

'Excuse me?'

'We would like it to look real, won't we?' Sawa does laugh this time, a velvet, yet feminine laughter. 'Don't worry, Shu-san. I have no intention of overcoming your virtue. I just want to look slightly dishevelled, and you to have a bit of lipstick smeared somewhere visible.'

'Oh.' It makes sense. It will never look real if they fake it. Sawa's lips won't be rosy and wet, and the lipstick will look odd. No matter where it ends up. Oh, well. Shu leans in and presses a kiss to Sawa's admittedly appetising mouth.

It isn't bad. Sawa's hand is cool and strange against the back of his neck, contrasting the warmth of his kiss. The kiss is soft. So vastly different from Shouji's hard kisses.

Shu feels a deep throbbing inside. Briefly - before he pushes the thought away - he wonders how this competent former policeman is in bed. His lover is a lucky man, Shu decides. The strong Sawa-san seems to transform into a pliant, lovely submissive, very different from the no-nonsense, hands-on man. Not bad at all. But nothing, of course, like Shouji's rough, uncomplicated, demanding kisses. Oh, damned, Shouji! Shu breaks the kiss, rather abruptly. Kissing Sawa-san just makes it even more clear that the thing with Shouji is not a thing. Kissing Shouji is nothing like this. With Shouji, Shu feels as if he is standing precisely at the edge of a cliff, and if he jumps into that abyss, he is done for. If he doesn't find a way to resist Shouji's lure, he is going to fall, hard. Pulling out a handkerchief from his pocket, he wipes his mouth, making sure some of Sawa-san's lipstick stays. It is no good. All Shu can think of is how much he wants to kiss Shouji. Again and again and again.

'If it helps, think of him,' Sawa says calmly, maybe he is actually able to read Shu's mind. 'Just be prepared that we might need to do this, or more, to be convincing. We don't know if they are going to suspect that I am something else than your lover, and we better not give them reason to. I need to know now if you have a problem with that.'

'No. I don't. And you are still beautiful, Sawa-san. It is not a fate worse than death. Not even close.'

'But I am not Shouji-san.'

'You're not.' Shu sighs as he for the first time gives his thoughts about Shouji voice. 'He's one of a kind.'

'I've noticed,' Sawa teases. 'The only man for you, hm?'

'Sawa-san!' Shu tries to be at least a little shocked that he is so easy to read, but can't manage to get the least worried. More than anything it shows him that he is in trouble. Maybe that is how it is: Shouji... that rude, hopeless, utterly misbehaved low-life arsehole is going to be the bane of Shu's existence!

'We're here,' Sawa says as the driver stops the car in front of a tall gate. The iron bars are wrought in an intricate pattern. The gates are not opened, but a guard steps out from a small sentry box, signalling for the chauffeur to roll down the window. An exchange of polite greetings and a thorough check of the invitation and the heavy cream-coloured paper it is printed on allows them entrance. Finally.

'Ready?' Sawa fondles the dress sleeve. A tiny chip is hidden in the seam. What a relief it is that they'll be found if somebody decides to shoot them and dump them somewhere desolate.

'Ready.' Shu takes a deep breath. It is time to seek the lion in its den. Shu hopes none of them are going to be eaten alive.

 

The candles make the diamonds glitter. Beautiful women in soft silk and deep velvet, in brocade and chiffon, flutter like straying butterflies between the gaming tables. In crimson and pink, in grass green and purple, in black and white, they make the large rooms seem like flowerbeds: multicoloured and scented with the most expensive of expensive perfumes. The men are mostly clad in suits; Italian tailors seem to have done some of their best work to dress the wealthy businessmen who are gathered here.

Nobody really notices Sawa-san. He is neither tall enough, nor beautiful enough to make a lasting impression, not compared to some of the model-slender, picture perfect women. Shu, on the other hand, definitely makes an impression. His confident, handsome face and the air he carries himself with attracts attention. He is the only man who is not wearing some kind of boring black variation of the shirt, tie and jacket theme. In his high-collared Chinese silk jacket, he sticks out; a dark rose between common weed.

Sawa and Shu stroll casually from room to room, from gaming table to gaming table. There is no trace of Magira. Shu cannot concentrate and his winnings at the various tables are meagre. He huffs and lets go of the hopeless hand. Not even the cards are with him tonight.

Sawa wraps himself around Shu, close enough to whisper in his ear. 'What are we going to do? Should we try some of the rooms upstairs?'

Shu turns and kisses Sawa on the cheek. 'No, darling, not yet,' he laughs, pretending Sawa has just suggested something indecent. 'Later. I still want to win back what I've lost.' He pulls Sawa closer, his lips brushing over Sawa's ear. 'Too many guards. Nothing we can do now.' It feels so deeply disappointing. Shu can barely stomach it. He can't go back to Shouji and Carlo-san and tell them that they weren't able to find Magira. There is, of course, the distinctly logic conclusion to the missing Magira: that Magira isn't here at all.

'Shu... please?' Sawa is able to almost purr the words. 'You are more interested in money than me!'

Shu is no longer surprised that Sawa is such an acclaimed actor. 'I'll do anything for you, love,' he purrs back. 'Just let me stay a little.' Shu signals that he is still into the game. Unfortunately, the next hand isn't much better. 'Then I'll give you what you want,' he adds, loudly enough to let the other players hear.

 

'You look beautiful,' Ethan looks Magira over, clearly appreciating the sight. 'Again, I remind you of the consequences if you in any way try to reveal why you are here. If you make trouble, we'll hurt Anthony Monte Carlo. If you don't play properly, we'll hurt Anthony Monte Carlo. If you try to escape, we'll hurt Anthony Monte Carlo. If you refuse to obey-'

'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' Magira snaps. 'You'll hurt Carlo. I think I get it now.' Magira is livid at the mere thought. If at least Carlo knew that he would be targeted, Magira would be free to do what he wanted. But Carlo doesn't know. An attack will come as a surprise, and there might be a real risk that Carlo actually will be hurt.

'I am so happy you understand,' Ethan says. 'Now, your owner will invite a small group of very rich players to this private room, and you will go strip them of whatever they are ready to spend here. And preferably more. The room will be guarded, so don't get any ideas.' Once more, he lets his eyes slide hungrily over Magira. 'You really do look good. Although I don't understand why you insist on wearing that red jacket when you don't have trousers to go with it.'

'It's my lucky jacket.' Magira ignores Ethan and walks over to the door. 'Let's go.' What he means is let us get it over with. Magira hopes he will get a chance, the slightest chance, to get a message to Carlo, to let someone know that he is here. He wonders briefly if Carlo believes the set up the kidnappers left: that Magira should have left the man he loves, just like that, leaving only empty hangers and an empty house for Carlo's broken heart. When he searches deep inside his own heart, he doesn't think so. They have come so far from the time Magira was a spoiled brat who didn't thought Carlo cared enough. The love they share now is different.

Magira trusts Carlo explicitly. That trust and Carlo's love are the two things that keep him from breaking. Carlo will come, that is all he needs to know to survive this. Carlo will come.

 

'Mr Shu?'

Shu turns and looks over his shoulder. A fair-haired man in a stylish black suit stands behind him. Shu doesn't know who the man is. Then again, Shu knows close to none of the assembled players. A few of them he has seen before, but not this one.

'My employer, your host, asks if you would like to join us for a game with slightly higher stakes. For the select few, of course.' The man's voice is low. He clearly doesn't want anybody else to hear.

'Baccarat?' Shu asks. Not that he cares, all he cares about that this might be what they have been looking for: the reason why Magira was taken.

'Baccarat, punto banco,' the man agrees.

Nodding as if to agree, Shu is pleased. Not only will this probably get them closer to Magira, but punto banco is the version of Baccarat that is played in Macao, and Shu is familiar with it. It means that he has a slight possibility to use the game to turn out the way he wants it - winning or losing - depending on what will help them get to Magira. Shu is not at all in doubt now that Magira is kept here. What baffles him is the extreme arrogance with which Magira's prisoners are willing to flaunt their treasure. Thy must feel very secure. Good. Over-confidence equals stupidity, in Shu's opinion.

'Please, follow me,' the man says, and leaves the table.

Shu and Sawa walks with him, out of the large, well-lit rooms, down the stairs, through a well-stocked kitchen: steel stoves and copper pans shine, as if the kitchen has never been used. Down through a narrow corridor, they go, to a long line of heavy cupboards. The man stops in front of a door and opens it. The polished mahogany swings back easily, no creaking, as if the door is used frequently.

'Through here. My apologies for the unconventional entrance,' the man says. 'As I said, this is for the select few.'

Shu doesn't reply. The man is nothing but an underling, and they owe him no respect. In fact they owe none of the men involved in the kidnapping anything but to execute Carlo's revenge on them.

The basement is high-ceilinged, compared to basements in general. Not that Shu has ever had any inclination to develop any interest in that direction - basement architecture - until now. Their guide presses a few keys on a electronic device on the wall, and a door to another room opens. Over the man's shoulder, Shu can see the warm lustre of gilded French rococo furniture, the white flashes of polished silver candle holders, and the dark shine of the ebony gaming table. A small roulette is standing next to it. So Baccarat will not be the only game they are playing.

Several men are gathered there, and quite a few women. Shu nods politely. He knows two of the men, and one of the ladies: gamblers all, and rich enough not to care whether they win or lose. In the back of the room, a red jacket attracts Shu's attention. Magira. Shu puts his arm around Sawa's waist and steps closer, awaiting the moment Magira realises they are here. Hopefully, the boy is clever enough to wait for an explanation before he expresses any kind of surprise or anger. Shu plays with his own earlobe, distractedly.

Then Magira turns. Shu will give him that: the boy has grown. Not as much as a raised eyebrow, just sharp eyes with a questioning glitter. Magira is an experienced player, and it shows. Neutrally, he lets his eyes hesitate, as if asking for an answer. Shu casually holds a finger over his lip, as if beg for Magira's silence. A nod, nothing more than a weak movement of his head, tells Shu what he needs to know: Magira understands. Carlo has come in the shape of a Chinese man who is now paying Magira back for what he once did to him.

'We're good,' Shu whispers to Sawa, making it look as if he is complimenting his woman. 'Let's see what happens, but we're not getting him out tonight, not from this. Too well guarded. Too many people.'

'No,' Sawa agrees. 'Too dangerous.' He sways, balancing on the high heels, and almost melts into Shu's arms. 'We need to find a way to talk to him.'

'Mr Shu! Pleased to see that you and your lovely companion have chosen to join us. Upstairs is nothing but children's games.' Their host welcomes them warmly. Unfortunately his eyes are as alive as a dead fish, and just as cold.

'Of course,' Shu replies, sending the American casino tycoon a smile that could make a hungry shark envious. 'It is a pleasure. Lead the way, I have the feeling this is a challenge.'

At the Baccarat table, the game is intense. Shu feels at home, not at all nervous in this situation. It is familiar, and something he does well. The bets are sky high. No, this is not a game for sissies. As Shu plays, Sawa turns out to be an invaluable help. Shu is good at reading the other players, but Sawa is better, despite not being a player at all. Police work, probably. Shu is both lucky and clever and his bets turn out to his advantage. Shu is in a winning streak in this odd game of cards and bets in one. He doesn't even dare guess how much he has won, but the way the casino owner looks at him, it is more than the house has counted on losing. Behind them, Magira is busy at the roulette: a young man keeps close to him all the time - it is clear that the casino owner doesn't want to take any risks regarding his prisoner.

Shu decides to take a chance. A risk. He is a player after all, and money, stakes, bets, can blind. It seems his opponent is becoming slightly short-sighted. If the man is willing to commit such a serious crime as kidnapping, he might not be against the temptation of a huge wager, despite it includes Magira, or rather Magira's body. 'The young man over there,' Shu says, 'is he yours?' He nods in Magira's direction. 'He is very attractive.'

The reply is nothing but a raised eyebrow.

Shu pokes with a finger at the mountain of chips in front of him. Each represents 5,000 dollars. 'My lady seems to be interested in him,' Shu says, caressing Sawa's hip. 'What my woman asks, she gets,' he continues. 'But of course, if you are not interested in slightly higher stakes than this...' Shu has hooked the bait, now he just needs to wait and see if the casino owner bites. Shu mirrors the raised eyebrow, calmly anticipating a reply - whether it is going to be accept or a gun in the back. He hopes he has not underestimated the tycoon.

Their host looks over his shoulder, obviously studying Magira and the young man next to him. Then he looks at Shu, as if to assess what is going on. The pile of coloured chips seems to push the tycoon's choice in the right direction. Close to a million dollars is still a small fortune, or maybe it is a question of not letting Shu win after all.

'All right. What is it you suggest, Mr Shu?'

'A night with the beauty over there if I win, or this,' Shu waves at the chip-mountain, 'if I lose.'

It earns Shu an appreciative glance. 'You play hard, Shu,' the tycoon says and nods. 'I agree. But we'll let Magira play for himself. It is fair, after all. At the roulette. Winner takes all. Shall we?' He holds out a hand as if to ask Shu to stand and walk with him.

Or you think Magira's charm and luck will work, since he is playing for your money, Shu thinks and follows the man to the roulette table. It suits him, this game. Roulette is quick and the outcome fair. No matter if he wins or loses, he needs to be able to use it to his advantage - Shu has money enough to play and lose many nights without even worrying, and he's prepared to use quite a bit of his considerable fortune to be able to talk to Magira privately.

'I'd like you to take this round for me, Magira,' the kidnapper tells his victim. 'I am sure you'll do your best. Mr Shu has just offered me a wager I cannot resist.'

'I see,' Magira says and tilts his head. 'Well. You are an honoured guest, Shu-san. Please make your choice.'

Shu remembers Carlo's advice. 'Red,' he says, not hesitating for a moment. 'I'll take red.'

'As you wish,' Magira says and watches as the croupier spins the wheel. 'I suppose I'll take black, then.'

Around them the voices fade and only the sound of the ball click-clacking its way down to the circle of numbers and colours before it finally comes to rest. The wheel slows. The small silver-coloured ball lies there, precisely where Shu wanted it - on 23, red. Not that the number matters, only the lovely, brilliant red colour that has made sure they will get time alone with Magira to plan and plot. It is evidently clear they won't be able to get him out tonight.

'Tomorrow evening?' Shu asks, triumphantly. 'I look forward to it,' he says, looking Magira in the eye.

'If you promise me a chance for a return match,' the tycoon says, 'after.'

'That'll be the morning after,' Shu says, pursing his mouth arrogantly, as if to say that being in bed with him is not over after half an hour's desperate panting. 'To me, making love is an art form.'

'Excuse me,' Magira interrupts. 'Exactly what is it you have won?' His voice is calm, neutral.

'My lover wanted a night with the prettiest boy in this room, and that is what I got her,' Shu says. 'Since I never leave her side, that means a night with me as well.'

Next to Magira the man who seems to be his guard pales visibly. 'And... the prettiest boy... is...' he manages, sounding as if he is choking. His eyes are angry. 'Does that mean... Magira?'

Unable to resist the possibility to sow discord between the men who took Magira, Shu sends the angry young man a haughty grin. 'If that is what my handsome opponent is called, then yes. Magira.' Shu decides to push it a bit further. 'Jealous it isn't your win? Maybe you should get a job and earn money enough to play with the real men, then?' It is extremely satisfying to see the man's eyes widen in surprise and rage. Only the tycoon's hand on his shoulder prevents Magira's guard from exploding.

Good, Shu thinks and watches with glee as the young man turns to the casino owner.

'Stop it, Ethan, or...' the threat hangs in the air. Obviously, the tycoon doesn't want the young Ethan to play any games.

'But,' Ethan protests, loudly. 'You promised me... Magira's mine!' Ethan's face is flushed with anger. 'You gave him to me!' he shouts, clenching the rim of the roulette so hard his knuckles turn white. 'He's-'

'Enough, Ethan!' Magira's kidnapper cuts Ethan off. The older man signals to the one of the large bodyguards. 'Mr Hughes is leaving now.'

Sawa laughs, a hand fluttering as if to brush off Ethan's anger. 'Young love,' Sawa purrs and walks around the table, flashing long legs. 'So fickle.' Sawa leans against Magira, ruffling his hair. 'Of course such a beautiful young man attracts this kind of jealous attention. You don't mind the outcome of our little bet, I take it?'

On the other side of Magira Shu slips an arm around the slender waist. For a moment, all Shu can think of is how Shouji might have looked when he was younger. Probably precisely like this adult, grown up Magira. Shu pulls himself together. He, too, leans closer, pretending to blatantly admire Magira's handsome face. Shu lets his lips brush over Magira' cheek.

Magira seems to be holding his breath, as if he is not sure what Shu and Sawa are playing at. 'Please play along. We're here for Carlo,' Shu whispers as he cups Magira's arse and pretends to be licking the ear in which he is whispering the only thing Magira might wish to hear. 'We'll get you out, we just need time to do it safely. 'It'll help if we can use this to separate you from your kidnappers.'

Magira laughs, as if Shu has said something particularly sweet or arousing. 'You really know how to seduce a man, Shu-san,' Magira purrs, playing this game so well. 'And your lovely companion?' he asks.

'Sawa-san. A former policeman,' Shu whispers and smiles, sending Magira a burning look. Loudly, he declares, 'Sawa-chan is the one who begged me to ask for you. She likes more men in her bed.' Shu sends Sawa a seductive look. 'She won't disappoint you,' he says, smiling.

'Well, then I won't mind,' Magira says. 'I like men better in bed, but she is very sexy.'

Shu has managed to get a hold of the tiny electronic chip he has brought with him. 'Isn't she?' he laughs and kisses Magira's hand. 'I find that attraction never applies to gender,' he adds and let go of Magira's hand, leaving the chip pressed between two of Magira's fingers. 'So you can be traced,' he whispers and lets go of Magira. 'I can barely wait until tomorrow, but tonight is the night for other games,' Shu smiles. 'It will be a pleasure to play with you. Magira-kun, was it?'

'Yes. Likewise,' Magira says. This time his smile is honest.

 

9. Friends and Enemies

In the dark Ethan groans, stumbles and turns over a chair. He swears and sighs, mumbling something rude. Magira reluctantly opens his eyes, turns in the bed and reaches for the switch on the bedside table lamp. A dim golden light lights up the room; enough for Magira to see Ethan's bruised face. Magira cannot muster enough hate to feel satisfied. He, too, knows how it feels to be in love so deeply that one's common sense disappears and leaves only a human being in desperate longing for the loved one. 'They didn't like that you insisted on your prize, did they?' Magira says softly. 'Ethan Hughes, you are a fool.'

'Yeah,' Ethan agrees, nods and winces. 'Ouch. Maybe I should lie down.' He touches his face carefully, as if to find out how badly he is hurt.

'Before you faint, please. I suppose your idea has merit...' Magira feels oddly sympathetic. Ethan's ruined face makes it clear that Magira is not the only victim here. Ethan is truly a fool, and somebody - in this case the casino tycoon - knows how to use him. This kind of empathy is foreign to Magira. He wonders briefly if he is actually growing up, then discards the thought. He sighs, then gets out of bed, the chain that is attached to his lift wrist jingling slightly.

'I'm sorry, Magira,' Ethan says quietly. 'I shouldn't have...' He closes his eyes and groans once more; the pain clear in the way he closes his eyes. One is half-closed and on its way to turning a vivid blackish purple.

'No, you shouldn't.' Magira finds a wash cloth and turns on the cold water, soaking the wash cloth in it. 'I take it this is your reward for your behaviour earlier?' Magira watches as Ethan gets into their common bed, carefully, as if every movement hurts.

'Yes. And they were generous while dealing it.' Ethan leans back in the pillows. He looks disappointed and sad. 'If I can't control myself when they hand you to somebody else, I won't be allowed to be with you at all, they said. They beat me up a second time when I tried to make them swear they wouldn't give you to other men again.'

'How could you ever believe that someone who is willing to kidnap me also is willing to keep his promise to you?' Magira asks and begins to wash the tears and snot and blood off Ethan's face. 'Not the sharpest knife, are you.' Such a fool. A naive fool. Magira is so uplifted and happy about the evening's events; so relieved to see Shu-san and his policeman friend that he is almost able to forgive Ethan for this idiocy and the pain he has inflicted on Carlo.

'I didn't think, I said,' Ethan snaps and moans as the mere movement of his split lip makes the pain flare; probably reminding him that he really, really isn't able to think at all.

Magira watches Ethan's pained expression. He is good at reading people; the player's instinctive intuition. Ethan's pain is not just physical. 'They are going to let you take the blame for this when the police find us, you are aware of that, right?' Magira says, as he carefully tries to wash the blood off Ethan's nose. It looks broken.

'I didn't think they would, but... maybe I need to rethink,' Ethan says. 'Maybe forcing... isn't the way.' He shakes. Maybe he is cold, or the shock of being beaten up like this is finally catching up with him.

'You think anything is broken? Apart from your nose,' Magira asks, and pulls the duvet over Ethan. The boy is pathetic and Magira truly can't hate him as much as he wants to. But Ethan is gullible, and Magira is waking up; alert and ready to play his hand and win. 'You know that we should be very grateful if we get out alive?' Magira says, baiting the hook. 'You are trouble, and I am disposable as soon as they are done playing with me. They are going to kill us both or they are teaming up and blaming you. Kidnapping is not just going to get you a reprimand in this country,' Magira continues. 'You are facing maybe fifteen years. Seems the best part of your life will be lived out inside one of the lovely prisons they have here in this horrid place.' Magira smirks. 'Personally, I'd rather be dead. A pretty boy like you will be raped daily, I'm sure. A bit like me, passed around between the men and women your employer wants to appease.'

'I'm sorry... I'm sorry, Magira...' Ethan lets out a loud sob. 'I just wanted you for myself... I'm sorry... I didn't think they'd do this...' Ethan's eyes are filled with tears. 'I just wanted you,' he repeats and covers his eyes with a hand, obviously ashamed of himself. 'I'm so... in love... with you,' he sobs.

'But you can't take other people like that, on a whim,' Magira says softly, reminding himself that he once fell into that trap with Katou Youji-san. Maybe he truly is growing up? 'I am not someone other men can take, Ethan. I am not a thing. I belong to Carlo because I want to belong to him, and no one is allowed to question that or decide otherwise on my behalf.' Magira can't stop a smile from blooming on his lips. Yes, he certainly is growing up. Choosing Carlo as his lover was perhaps the first conscious choice in his life; the first step on the way to being responsible and reliable. As it is now, Magira longs so much for Carlo and the life they have together that his body and heart ache. Carlo and happiness are words that go together well, and Magira wants his life back. Now.

Ethan's tears finally stop and Magira wipes his face once more. 'Ethan,' he says quietly. 'This can't go on, you are aware of that, I take it? We are going to do something.' Magira takes a deep breath, deciding to make a risky draw. 'I'll try to help you too. I am trying to get out. Are you with me?'

 

The sun is a glowing orange hovering languidly in the horizon as if it is reluctant to disappear. The fading slender-fingered light caresses the hoods of the five neutral blue cars, making their shiny surfaces reflect the night that impatiently waits for the sun to leave. Carlo is just as impatient. He sits in the front seat of the large Ford, distractedly fondling a small leather case. It holds a gun. Carlo knows how to use it and he is not unfamiliar with shooting, although he has never aimed a gun - any gun - on a live target. He prays that he won't have to today.

'Five minutes,' the old detective says. He is sitting next to Carlo, calmly, used to waiting, waiting, waiting. 'We don't want to get there before time; we need the darkness as cover.'

Carlo knows that, they have made plans all day. He suspects the detective is trying to relive his impatient nervousness. It does help. 'Maybe we really should call in the police?' Carlo asks, somewhat out of the blue, knowing that is a last resolve. 'This is a grave risk to take.'

'No graver than letting a bunch of gung-ho special force boys and their gung-ho superior loose on the house. None of us are trigger happy, and if we were in the P.I. business for the glory, we'd not have lasted long.' The detective sends Carlo a smile. 'You know all this already, Mr Monte Carlo. Stop being nervous. We know what we're doing.'

Yes, they know what they are doing - just like their back-up that comes in the shape of six hardened, cold, serious men. It is the old detective who has called them in. Carlo doesn't know from where, but he rugged faces and the reddish tan suggests that they might have been working in a country with a harsher climate recently, not that the Nevada desert is especially pleasant either. Carlo is sure the men know each other well; that is the impression he gets from watching them. They are economic. No superfluous words or movements. Effective. Not the least gung-ho. Soldiers of fortune, maybe. And the small, hired army is ready to take over if needed. Carlo sighs and closes the car door to let the air-condition take effect. He looks through the toned window at the car next to theirs: Shu and Sawa-san sits there already. Sawa looks pretty in a blue dress and Shu matches her, casually clad in designer jeans and a dark blue silk shirt. Neither of them carry any weapons or concealed microphones. It is too risky; Shu has revealed an extraordinary interest in Magira to the casino tycoon, and despite the fact that no one knows about their connection it might be enough to rise the kidnappers' suspicion.

On the car's back seat Shouji and one of the other private investigators sit silently. Carlo looks up, into the mirror, watching Shouji's neutral face for a few seconds. Shouji opens his eyes, as he knows he is being watched. 'Strap your gun on,' Shouji says without straightening up. 'Don't fiddle. You are going to end up in the statistics, or we are, if you continue.'

The cars hum softly towards Tournament Hills. At a crossroad a mile before they reach the casino tycoon's mansion, three of the cars with the detectives and one of the soldiers leave and drive south to go around the park. The remaining soldiers are going to follow Carlo's car and wait close to the main entrance. However, If Shu and Sawa are calling for reinforcements them there will be no need for stealth. The car's front and chassis are... improved a bit and it will go through the iron gate if it has to. Carlo suspects the quiet, serious men has other means if the car is not enough. It scares him and calms him at the same time. Half a mile before they reach the mansion, Carlo's car turns down a small, pebbly road while Shu and Sawa drive on. Sawa, raising his hand for goodbye is all Carlo sees before they are gone.

 

'Dress. Now.' The guard unlocks Magira's chain and throws it on the bed.

Magira lifts the garment the guard has given him between two fingers. He wrinkles his nose. 'This is a woman's kimono. I cannot wear that! Do I look like a cross-dresser to you? And where's the obi? I need something to tie it with.'

'Kimono, schimono. It's a fucking Jap bathrobe. Get it on. The customers have bought a Japanese boy to play with, so you better look it when we get up there. Or do you want a taste of Ethan's medicine?' The huge guard steps closer, threateningly.

Magira sneers a rude offence in Japanese, including the guard's ancestors, a goat, a dog and a duck. He is not even sure what it suggests is physically possible. '-and your mother,' he adds in English, unable to keep quiet. He has just about had it. They are not going to hurt him just before the "customer" they have sold him to arrives. He gets a grip on himself. He needs to act mature and cold - Shu and his friend are expecting him to do his best and to avoid ruining their plan. They'll get only this chance. If they blow it, Magira and Ethan will surely be disposed of, rather lethally, and so will Sawa-san and Shu-san. The sentence for kidnapping is long. Together with the various other offences the tycoon and his men have committed, a murder or two can't make it much worse.

'Wanna go naked, brat?' the guard asks and pushes Magira toward the door. 'Not that it matters - we're going to watch you anyway.'

'You've sold me like a common whore, and now you tell me you have wired the room? 'Magira snaps and pulls on the kimono. He really doesn't want to go naked. It isn't as bad as being the unwilling star in a peep show. He wonders briefly if this dressing up in kimono has more to do with the fact that he can't hide anything in his clothes - and that he need both hands to keep the kimono together... No, no obi to tie it with. Morons. Magira huffs and follows the guard.

'You too,' the man says and turns around to look at Ethan. 'Your employer finds that it will be educational for you to wait outside with me while your little amour is getting it up the arse. "Ethan must learn not to let jealousy get the better of him," he said. Not that I understand why you find it so appealing to smear your cock with-'

'That's enough!' Magira says, loudly. 'Ethan, come on.' Don't give them another reason to beat you, Magira wants to say, and he tries to communicate the warning without words. 'I don't care to do this either. Are you coming with me?' he asks, repeating his earlier question, hoping Ethan will understand that what they get now is a chance to escape. 'Please, Ethan?'

'I'm with you,' Ethan says, just as firmly and pushes himself up from the bed with some difficulty. It is clear that he's in pain.

'Would you please get Ethan something for those bruises?' Magira says as they walk up the stairs. 'All that moaning is horrible to listen to.' As Magira doesn't know what Sawa-san and Shu-san have planned, Ethan needs to be able to move. Magira plays with the thought of leaving the moron, but he has convinced himself that Ethan will end his life as filling in some concrete base of a bridge or building somewhere if someone doesn't rescue the fool. No, Ethan is an idiot, but he's not so much of an idiot that he needs to die for it. Not that Magira won't punish Ethan for his crime when they're out of here. Revenge will be fun.

 

Shu and Sawa are welcomed by a maid in a black dress. She takes their coats and Shu's bag. A badly hidden manoeuvre to make sure they don't bring any mobile phones, probably. 'This way, please,' she says and leads them through the impressive hall, up the stairs to the second floor. 'Mr Magira is expecting you,' she informs them. 'If you need anything, please use the phone on the bedside table. It connects directly to the servants' quarters. If there are any... problems, there is a guard next door; feel free to alert him.'

'Thank you.' Shu nods graciously, wondering how many of the household's members that know about the kidnapping.

The maid opens the door to an opulent bedroom. The large bed, hung with heavy light blue velvet curtains around the mahogany frame, seems more like a floating island on a sea of a deep dark velvet-feeling carpet. Oh, well. If one likes the bordello style...

Magira is standing by the window, looking fragile and proud at the same time. A pastel blue kimono, embroidered with flowering sakura branches pools around his bare feet. In the dim light Magira seems almost ethereally beautiful, and Shu regrets that this is not... real. Just for a moment, he regrets that he is not going to have this lovely boy to himself, to do with as he pleases. Then the the thought of Shouji, and especially of how Shouji better than anyone else knows precisely what Shu needs, replaces the improper ideas. Despite Shu's desire for Shouji, he doesn't even care to feel ashamed that he is attracted to Magira as well. He is only human, and Magira is one of the most beautiful young men Shu has ever seen.

 

Magira smiles softly, holding a hand out, as if to welcome the man and woman he is not supposed to know - the man and woman his kidnapper has sold him to. He is careful not to show any excitement; only the kind, fake smile reaches his lips. His eyes are sad. He makes sure no one can see through him, see the joy and hope that bubbles inside him. Freedom.

'Magira-kun, it is a pleasure to see you,' Sawa says as he takes Magira's hand. 'It will be an exquisite pleasure to spend the night with you.'

'Likewise,' Magira says before the door closes behind them and Magira's welcoming smile fades. He brushes a finger over his lips, hoping they'll understand. If it is as Shu-san says - that Sawa-san is a former policeman - he might already suspect that they are being watched.

Sawa does understand, playing the game to the fullest. 'Magira-kun,' he purrs, 'I have been looking forward to this... you are just as beautiful as I remembered it.' Sawa wraps his arms around Magira's neck, sending him a seductive look before he turns his head and asks Shu-san to join them. 'Darling... come...' Sawa urges. 'I cannot enjoy this pretty boy if you're not with me.'

Magira braces himself. He doesn't know how far they are going to take this, but he can do it. If necessary, he can do it. For Carlo. Shu-san is beautiful and Sawa-san is kind and understanding. It will not be a destiny worse than death to have sex with them. He takes a deep breath and presses back the tears that mysteriously have found their way to the corners of his eyes. For Carlo. Magira can do anything to get out, to be with his beloved again. 'Please,' Magira whispers timidly, and reaches for Shu. 'Please, Shu-san?'

'Maybe we shouldn't talk too much,' Shu says. 'There are other more interesting things we can do.' Shu embraces Magira from behind, kissing his neck. 'One never knows who might be listening,' he murmurs, almost inaudibly.

'No, maybe we shouldn't.' Magira is relived. They understand. Not even Japanese is safe - they don't know who is listening. Magira leans back in Shu's embrace, relaxing under his touch. It is a relief that both his rescuers know, or rather suspect, that they are other people watching and listening. 'What do you want? I am all yours for tonight,' Magira offers, letting Shu and Sawa know that there will be no fretting over anything they need to do.

'Let's turn down the light a bit,' Shu says, 'and go to bed. It is after all more comfortable than standing, although it might have its advantages at times.' Shu slides his hands down Magira's body, pushing back the kimono. He caresses Magira's side tenderly, as if to apologise for what he is doing.

'Kiss me?' Sawa enquires, giving Magira a questioning look as Shu turns down the light. The lamp blinks a couple of times, as if it has decided to be a bit temperamental.

 

Carlo's mobile phone vibrates, signalling an incoming call. 'Yes?' There is no need for presentation. Only the detectives and their small army have the number.

'Got them. Second floor, left wing. Lamp trick worked. No one reacted to it.' The rough voice belongs to one of the soldiers. 'We're going over the fence now. Smith and Johnson are pulling the plug to their alarm system at 20:30. Peters is taking down the guard at the gates; we move in when the alarm's off. He and I will be below the window three minutes later. Get ready.'

'Understood.' Carlo knows what is happening. They have gone over the plan so many times. He has nothing else to say, or maybe it is because his heart is suddenly frozen with fear. Nothing can happen to Magira. Carlo doesn't fear for his own life, but if they have hurt Magira... there is no limits to what he will do to the kidnappers. Maybe he is stupid to insist on going in with the other men, but waiting is worse. Nevertheless, Carlo can hold his own. He is not a soldier nor a detective, but he doesn't need a babysitter either.

'You drive directly to the house,' the soldier orders. 'Guns ready, car doors unlocked. As soon as we have Mr Magira, Mr Shu and Mr Sawa down from the second floor, you're driving out as fast as possible. We'll manage what's left.'

'So?' Shouji looks at Carlo, his face neutral. If he is worried about Magira and Shu, it isn't visible in the neutral, expressionless face. Carlo realises it has to be even more nerve-wrecking and straining for Shouji: he has both his nephew and his... soon-to-be lover out there, both risking their lives.

'Thirty minutes,' Carlo says. 'This is not a game I enjoy playing.'

'Me neither.' Shouji's eyes are suddenly worried. 'But I'll make sure our opponents will enjoy it even less if they have hurt Magira or Sh-' Shouji shuts his mouth a bit too soon, or a bit too late, depending on point of view.

'Yes,' Carlo says, smiling for the first time. 'Or Shu-san.'

 

Magira is aroused. He doesn't want to be, but Sawa's gentle kisses and Shu's warm body against his own feel so delightful: friendly touches from people he likes... it is unbearably good - more comfort than sex, of course. He cannot imagine that Shu-san and Sawa-san really want to do this. Despite their arousal, Magira doesn't want to see it or feel it as anything but stress relief. They are staging a play, of course, for the benefit of the people who are spying on them.

The lack of communication is a problem. All Magira knows is that the two men would not be here without having a plan. But how the hell is he going to know what they want from him? Letting the pleasurable touches pull him back into reality, Magira caresses Shu's naked back. If Magira hadn't found Carlo, he would have slept with Shu-san a couple of years ago anyway, so what's the big deal? Shu-san has touched every spot on Magira's body before this evening. Magira closes his eyes and slides a finger along Shu's backbone, further down, until he reaches the lining of Shu's trousers. If he doesn't look, it is easier to pretend it is Carlo who holds him close. Their breaths are mingled as Shu takes over Magira's mouth; wet, with swollen, thoroughly kissed lips. Magira lets his hand wander back, upwards, on Shu's silken skin. Midway, he freezes. He has got a brilliant idea!

Shu senses the hesitation and lets go of Magira's mouth.

'Mmm, good,' Magira sighs, and begins to draw the two simple hiragana symbols for the word. Slowly, slowly, emphasising what he is doing, he repeats. Good, he moans again, drawing the symbols a second time. The movements will look like nothing but caresses to any onlooker.

'Clever boy,' Shu groans and kisses Magira again, eagerly. 'Such nimble fingers.'

Magira sighs and draws the kanji for eye, to indicate that they are indeed being watched, then continues with the symbols for friend and next door.

Shu turns pulls Magira up on his knees, facing him. 'Yes, like this, so I can watch you,' he demands; his hands already on Magira's back. The signs for bring friend? and friends outside make Magira's eyes widen in pleasure that has nothing to do with their touches. 'Are you ready for more action,' Shu groans and pushes his hand between Magira's legs, clearly careful not to touch him too intimately.

'Oh, yes! Damned, yes!' Magira sighs. 'You want it now?' he asks, unable to keep the hopeful excitement out of his voice.

'Let's not be too eager, my lovely,' Sawa-san says and pulls Magira's discarded kimono out from under them. He might have realised that Magira and Shu are communicating. 'And now you are ruining this pretty garment,' Sawa scolds, 'Magira-kun, you are going to walk around naked if you are careless with your clothes.' Sawa embraces Magira from behind, covering Shu's hands. 'I think I want you to put it on again,' Sawa demands, 'There is nothing as sexy as such a beautiful young man in a expensive kimono, dishevelled and ready to do our bidding.'

Glancing at the watch he is still wearing, Shu draws the kanji for Fifteen minutes, and repeats them when Magira doesn't understand the first time and raising a questioning eyebrow. The second time he gets it. Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes before he can have his freedom and Carlo back! Magira laughs and wraps his arms around Shu's neck. 'Shu-san, I'll do anything you say.' This time the kiss is enthusiastic and for Shu, not for the shadow of Carlo.

 

Carlo's mobile rings again, muted, only the slight vibrations alert him. How can it not; he is clinging the small phone like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood. 'One minute,' is the message. 'Drive slowly toward the main gate, no lights.' The soldier cuts off before Carlo can say anything, not that he has anything to say. This is it. This is a game he does not intend to lose. 'We're off,' he says. 'I just pray that none of us get hurt.'

'If everybody stick to the plan and let us take care of any troubles, no one will,' the driver says. He is wearing some kind of odd glasses. Carlo knows it is a device that makes the soldiers able to see in the dark. The soldier sounds very sure of their capacity. It takes the edge off Carlo's nervousness.

'We will. That's the reason we are here, isn't it? To avoid bloodshed?' Carlo just wants this to be over. He can feel the gun it its shoulder holster; a reminder that things can indeed go awfully wrong.

'We're professionals, Mr Monte Carlo. And we don't have a boss who wants results and arrests, no matter the body count.' The driver lets the car roll slowly down the forest road.

Carlo doesn't think the police is that bad. He doesn't say it, though. He is just happy that these men all - contrary to the police - seem to have taken an interest in getting Magira out in one piece, and unharmed. The P.I.s and their army friends are obviously utterly indifferent to whom their employer is going to bed with. As long as he pays, he'll have their undivided loyalty. Carlo has money enough to purchase a lot of that particular commodity.

The gate is open and the guard in the sentry box is gone. The soldiers' car is waiting for them, engine on. As soon as they catch up, the other car drives on. Shouji pats Carlo's knee. His hand feels slightly sweaty, even through the fabric. In the weak moonlight they can see the mansion; a dark threatening shape against the moonlit sky. 'A bit like Rebecca seeing Manderley for the first time,' Carlo says. It earns him a questioning look from Shouji. 'A famous novel. And a Hitchcock film. It had a happy end,' Carlo explains, keeping an eye on the road, as if the black shadows would reveal anything other than more dark shadows.

'I know Hitchcock-sama. And I suppose the film is one in which the heroine goes through a lot of danger?' Shouji says. 'Before the hero charges and saves her?'

'Not really. The hero is more an anti-hero, and a coward.' Carlo is happy to be distracted. He'd rather discuss Hitchcock than think about what is going to happen in a few minutes. 'I think the heroine is the real hero, to be honest.'

'That's the good kind of hero,' the soldier adds. 'All those bloody idiots who want to wield a sword, at least mentally... they are the ones who end up dead.'

There is that, Carlo thinks. The cars have reached the house and turns left to drive around the main wing, to the left wing. To Magira.

 

Shu-san has been keeping track of time, in between the kissing and caressing. Sawa-san has insisted that Magira put on the kimono - Magira is grateful, escaping is good, but he prefer not to do it naked. For the first time in his life he is actually worried about his dignity - he does not want to return to Carlo without some kind of clothes on. In that regard the light blue kimono is not too bad - apart from the missing obi, and despite the fact that it is a woman's kimono.

'I'm so hot,' Sawa-san purrs. 'Shu...'

'Something that can be relieved by opening a window, or do you want this?' Shu pulls Sawa's hand down to cup his bollocks through the fabric. 'Everything for my lady, you know that now,' Shu says and kisses Sawa deeply.

'Both,' Sawa sighs. 'Air condition is not the same as the cool evening air - it is not fresh.' He smiles. 'Open the window, and I'll open my legs for you,' he teases, moving closer to the edge of the bed. 'And you, my lovely,' Sawa tells Magira. 'Are you ready for this?'

Is he ready? 'Oh yes,' Magira says. 'Tell me what to do, Sawa-san. Please.'

'Take the chair over there,' Sawa demands, 'and pull it over here.' Sawa points to the side of the bed that is closest to the door. Magira does what he is asked, although he is not sure why Sawa wants the furniture to be moved around. Magira doesn't ask.

With a creaking sound, Shu opens the window. There are no other sounds; the wind in the trees is a distant rustle. 'Ah, lovely evening,' Shu says and breathes in the cool air. 'I think we better get on with our plan.'

'Yes, I have longed for that,' Sawa agrees. 'Magira, would you please step over to Shu-kun.' It is not a question. Magira nods and wraps the kimono around himself. They both get out of bed. Sawa grabs the chair and puts it in front of the door, under the handle. It is not going to be easy to get in from outside now.

'Now,' Shu says, and it takes only a second before a hook with a rope attached is thrown over the window sill. A man Magira has never seen before climbs up, hanging outside the window. 'You first, Mr Magira. Quick!'

Their urgency is emphasised by a sudden banging on the door. 'Mr Shu? Ms Sawa? What is going on?' There is a pause. 'Get over here, Hughes!' the guard demands, directing his frustration at Ethan. 'I should have known... you have planned this with him, haven't you, you little cheat?' There is a sound, as of someone has been punched. 'Move away, arsehole,' the guard roars and kicks at the door, hard enough to make the frame creak and split. It won't take long until the door is down.

Magira is out of the window and into the arms of a bulky army-type guy. 'Please, hurry and get Ethan out, too, if you can,' he pleads as the soldier lower them down to the ground. 'They are going to kill him!' Another rope is up and Shu is out too, dangling in the darkness for seconds before they are down on the ground.

Two other soldiers are up the ropes, while Magira and Shu's rescuers are helping them stand. 'Sawa-san... don't let him get caught!'

Even from the ground they can hear the guard. 'Intruders! The boy's escaping!' The guard yells as he continues his attack on the splintered bedroom door frame. 'Outside! Get them outside!' Bang! Another kick makes the frame give in. The house is suddenly wide awake; lights are lit and doors are opened, there are people running and shouting.

There's a pause, everybody is holding their breath as the soldiers climb up to the second floor. Then they can hear the guard. 'What the fuck are you doing, bitch?' the man shouts. 'What the hell is this? A freak show.' The guard clearly has realised that Sawa-san might not be quite the woman he thought. 'We're getting Monte Carlo for this! He's going to suffer, I swear.'

'I suppose I'm no lady,' Sawa says. 'Sorry 'bout that. I still don't like people swearing. As for Mr Monte Carlo, I think he has enough on you lot to give you... how long is a life sentence in this country, again?' No one can hear the guard's reply. What they can hear is the impact of something hard hitting flesh, then the sound of the guard screaming and sobbing.

'Ah,' one of the detectives says coldly. 'Sawa-san has just demonstrated that little kick-trick of hers. Sounds as if the guy has to have his balls surgically removed from his tonsils.'

On the second floor, the soldiers helps Sawa to push a clearly unconscious person out of the window. Ethan, Magira knows. He sighs relieved. He is not fond of the guy, but Ethan's untimely death would haunt him for the rest of his life, Magira is certain.

Sawa follows them, on bare feet. 'By best heels,' Sawa growls dissatisfied, loud enough for them to hear. 'I'll have them pay for this!' No, stilettos are not made for rappelling.

As soon as Sawa and the unconscious Ethan are on the ground, the soldiers are hurrying Shu and Sawa to their car. One of the solders have Ethan on his back; it doesn't seem to cost him more strength than to carry a sack of potatoes. 'Carlo?' Magira asks. 'Is Carlo here?' He can see the outline of several cars; dark blue against the dark sky. The hunger for his lover is so strong that it hurts, an unquenchable ache inside him, in his heart.

'In the car over there.' One of the detectives points to the car in question. 'Better hurry, Mr Magira. We need to get out.' The detective's words about urgency are true. Outside in the dark they can hear the sound of running feet. The pinpoints of light coming from the guards' torches are getting closer.

Magira wraps the kimono tightly around himself, trying not to trip in the too-long garment. In the same way he tries to gather his dignity. He will not be reunited with his lover and act like a spoiled brat. Carlo has probably been worried sick, and Magira wants to be strong for him. It strikes Magira that this whole affair has been more taxing for Carlo. As for himself, nothing has really happened that wasn't bearable. Magira raises his head proudly and walks the last steps over to the car that waits for him, engine humming, ready to take him away from this dreadful place, back to his home, to his life with Carlo. There is nothing else in the world he wants but that - no one else but Carlo for him.

 

Carlo watches as dark shadows move around the other cars. He can see Shu's and Sawa's silhouettes in the light from the mansion. Someone else, someone who is not Magira, is dumped in the bottom of one of the cars. And there... there... Magira... Carlo can hardly hold his relieved tears back. 'Magira!' Carlo wants to get out of the car. He wants to hold Magira in his arms, to tell him how missed he has been, how loved, how utterly loved! As if Carlo didn't already know, he doesn't want a life without the spoiled, reckless, immature brat. 'Magira!' No one can hear him but Shouji and their driver, but Carlo feels as if these last seconds of his long wait is driving him closer to insanity than he has ever been. All the unemotional patience he has been clinging to for days is gone.

Shouji's hand on Carlo's wrist - a hard grip around Carlo's lean arm - is all that prevents him from getting out of the car to embrace Magira. It is as if the tall man approaching the car is so different from the boy that was taken away from him: as if his Casino Lily has grown into a man in these few nerve-wrecking days.

'Don't,' Shouji warns. 'We need to get out quickly. You can smooch all you like when Magira is in here. Please do as the soldiers have instructed, Carlo-san!'

Carlo knows that. Shouji has been just as worried as he has, but luckily Shouji is able to keep his calm. Shouji is right, of course. 'I won't,' Carlo says and pushes the car door open to let Magira in. Oh God, how he has missed him! 'Magira... hurry,' Carlo urges and reaches for his lover.

'I think not.' There is a sound in the dark as if someone has charged a gun. 'I think that you all are leaving. Except of course Mr Magira here.'

Carlo can't breathe.

Of course freeing Magira wasn't going to be this easy...

 

Chapter 10. Mostly Heaven

'Fuck.' Shouji's voice is rough, a grating whisper in the dark. 'Carlo...'

Carlo is paralysed. The entire universe has stopped and he doesn't know how to make it move again. The time has stopped and the now he is in seems to stretch into eternity. There is no end and no beginning; there is only the dark and the cold flash of dim light reflected in the barrel of the gun that is pointed at Magira. Death is so close, far too close.

'Mr Monte Carlo, would you be as kind as to ask your men to leave,' Magira's kidnapper says and his hand clenches the gun a little too hard.

Shouji's fingers close around Carlo's wrist. 'Carlo-san. Careful.' Then Shouji's hand is removed and something cold and smooth is pushed against Carlo's fingers. He looks up, for the first time meeting the casino tycoon's eyes. 'For days I have listened to what my men and my friends have told me,' Carlo says, his voice low and hard as he takes the gun, covered by the dark. 'I have listened to their ideas, I have followed their plans, and on the bottom line only one thing matters: I want my lover back, and there is nothing in the world I won't do to make it so.' Carlo takes a deep breath, and watches the world shake its fur and begin moving. Around him the universe falls in place, and everything suddenly makes sense.

Carlo stands. He ignores the warnings from his soldiers. They don't matter now. 'You see, there is one thing in this world I know for sure,' Carlo informs Magira's kidnapper, 'and that is that I am willing to die for the man I love.' Carlo looks directly at Magira. 'There is nothing left for me in this world if Magira is not in it and there is nothing I won't do for him.'

'Carlo!' Magira tries to take a step forward, but the kidnapper pulls him back, pressing the gun against his neck. For an instant, the strangely foreign mature expression leaves Magira and he looks precisely like the demanding brat Carlo knows and loves, however scared and desperate.

'Touching. Not that I care. Now sod off if you want your little boyfriend to live.'

'Let go of my man. Now.' Carlo has had it. He doesn't care why this power-mad person took Magira - whether it was for the game, or for revenge because Carlo has been too successful, too rich, too much competition. This has to end and it is Carlo who has to end it, he knows that already.

The casino tycoon laughs. 'Ah, Monte Carlo, you do play this game well. I just think you're bluffing. Show me your hand. I doubt you have a Full House.'

'My hand? I'd love to,' Carlo smiles, and without taking a moment to think he raises the hidden gun and shoots the man in the shoulder. The impact kicks the man half way around, making him lose his grip on Magira. Half-way deaf by the sound, Carlo has no problems hearing the casino tycoon's pain-filled scream. It is beautiful. The hand that holds the gun hangs limply along the kidnapper's side. Full House, indeed.

Magira is quick. Despite his bare feet, he kicks the casino tycoon in the face, making his suffering end: the man falls unconscious to the ground. Huffing, Magira pulls the kimono tightly around himself and spits on the fallen kidnapper. 'That should teach you,' he sneers and takes a deep breath and looks up at Carlo. 'It is over now? Please, let it be over now.'

Around them, the soldiers have showed their true worth – they are obviously used to react on the tiniest chances – and have taken down the tycoon's guards. There are a few protests, but the guards seem to value their lives to the tycoon's money; they have all surrendered.

Carlo has only eyes for Magira. 'It is over,' he says softly. 'Magira...' Carlo hesitates, not that he doesn't want to hold his lover, but he doesn't know what they have done to his beloved. It is better to let Magira decide. He might not want to be touched. Slowly, Carlo secures the gun he has used and puts it down on the ground, giving Magira time to react.

It is Magira's first tear that does it. 'Car-Carlo?' Magira stands there, looking entirely lost and forlorn.

A single tear runs down Magira's cheek and Carlo cannot hold back, or his heart will surely break. A few steps and he holds Magira in his arms; warm and lovely and alive! 'Magira... oh God... Magira...' Carlo's voice is suddenly oddly thick and the lump in his throat won't disappear. 'Did they harm you? Are you all right?' Carlo asks, his emotions in a tangle. He wants to kiss Magira, to hold him, to reclaim him and make love to him and comfort him and a hundred other things that is a part of what they have. 'I love you,' is all he can manage as Magira lets go of the adult mask and falls into Carlo's embrace, crying and laughing at the same time. 'I love you,' he repeats, and kisses the lips he has been dreaming of kissing for all these horrible, torturous, painful days. 'I love you,' he whispers again as he lets go of Magira's mouth, wet from tears and their shared kiss.

'You came... you came for me... I know you would,' Magira sniffles and clings to Carlo; his hands buried in Carlo's hair. 'Don't let me go. Never... never let me go!' Magira demands, still sobbing quietly. 'I missed you so much that...'

Carlo is only too willing to comply. 'I won't. You are mine,' he states and kisses Magira again, not caring the least about their less than polished appearances. 'I'll make you stay with me for the rest of our lives,' he promises, and it is not an empty promise. Carlo will never let Magira go. However, it won't do without Magira's cooperation. 'Will you be mine, always?' Carlo whispers. 'Legally, and as my lover?'

'Oh!' Magira's teary-eyed surprise is endearing. 'Oh Carlo!' The arms around Carlo's neck are tightened, as if Magira wants to make their promise to each other have a physical outlet.

Carlo cannot remember feeling this happy in his entire life.

A warm hand squeezes Carlo's shoulder. 'Maybe we should leave. That is if you are done making a decent man out of my nephew,' Shouji says. He puts his arm around Magira's shoulder, somewhat possessively. 'Let the detectives and soldiers do the cleaning. They can dump the entire gang at the nearest police station later. We'll deal with the aftermath tomorrow.'

'I'll go,' Sawa offers. It seems everybody have left the cars. 'I can explain; the police might be more inclined to listen to me than...' Sawa nods towards the soldiers. 'I think I have enough to say to keep the police from dragging you all to the station tonight.' Sawa looks down, at the blue silk dress he's wearing. 'However, I think I might need a change of clothes.'

Carlo agrees. Unfortunately, his previous experience with the police doesn't precisely make him confident that they will be more open-minded to a Japanese gay cross-dresser than they were when it came to the standard variety gay male.

'I'll go too,' the young detective that had been somewhat infatuated with Sawa-san offers. 'I know quite a few of the officers; it might help.'

'You're a flirt,' Sawa purrs. 'As long as we keep it at that.'

'Sawa-san, you're breaking my heart!' the detective wails and makes a theatrical gesture, as if he is fainting. 'I'll forgive you if you will go with me on a date to the police station, though.'

'Okay! Break it up! The leader of the soldiers claps his hands to get their attention. 'In the cars, men. Mr Monte Carlo, Shu-san, Shouji-san and Mr Magira... go home and wait for the police to call. Detectives: debriefing in an hour at Mr Monte Carlo's mansion.' His men don't get any orders; they move like a machine; everybody seem aware of what they are going to do. Someone has taken pity in the casino tycoon and bandaged his shoulder. Carlo vaguely realises that the man should go to the hospital, but honestly can't be arsed to care. 'Sawa-san, if you can get to the police in an hour?'

Sawa nods. 'Yes. And when we get there, I think we might be clever to forget to mention that young man of Magira's. Let's just imagine that he disappeared, if anyone asks.'

'He is not my young man,' Magira snaps, and clings even more forcefully to Carlo. 'I have only one man and that is this one!'

Carlo doesn't protest. He doesn't care what happens to the boy, but if Magira insists, they are bringing him. Actually, Carlo cares about very little other than to get an hour alone with Magira. 'Let's go home,' he says. 'After this, there is nothing we can't deal with. Later.'

 

With Magira cuddling up between them, Carlo and Shu make a few phone calls, reassuring Iwaki and Katou that everybody are fine. Carlo alerts his army of lawyers, just in case. After all he has just shot a man – well deserved, however. It might not cause him problems, after all it was to save Magira. For now, the lawyers have to deal with that.

The drive home doesn't take long. Or maybe it is the fact that Carlo is satisfied, sitting quietly with Magira in his arms, knowing that he is safe, and the love they have for each other is unharmed as well, strengthened by the trouble they have gone through.

'Iwaki-san and Katou-kun? They really came to help?' Magira asks, his face buried at Carlo's neck. 'Well,' he adds, showing an unexpected sense of reality. 'They probably came for you. Katou-kun, he...'

'Mmm,' Carlo agrees, 'he probably did. You have to work hard to alter his perception of you.' Carlo smiles and kisses his lover on the top of his head. 'But the times are over when you reached for a man who belongs to someone else.'

Magira lets out a snort that sounds a bit as laughter. 'If I hadn't already understood that...' He doesn't have to end the sentence. After all Magira has just had a lesson in how it feels to be the unwilling target for someone else's desires.

'You've grown, my Lily,' Carlo murmurs. 'Maybe there is hope that you'll end up being an adult one day.' He sighs. He loves Magira so deeply, so intensely; any aspect of him, any part of his selfish, spoiled, bratty personality.

'Wouldn't count on it,' Magira raises his head and looks up at Carlo, the love and adoration he feels is so evident that Carlo is taken by surprise. 'But I promise I'll do my best,' Magira says, leaning in and demanding a kiss from Carlo's mouth.

Beside them Shouji mumbles something about soppy, naïve idiots. But he doesn't remove the hand that has been placed firmly on Magira's shoulder, as if he wants to reassure himself that Magira is real; that what they have accomplished is real.

'Maybe we shouldn't have sent Shu-san with the other car?' Carlo grins, not able to stop himself from teasing Shouji. 'Feeling a bit left out?'

'Shu-san?' Magira straightens up and turns around to look at Shouji. 'Shu-san?' he repeats and stares wide-eyed at Shouji. 'What...'

'Well, thank you, Carlo-kun,' Shouji sneers, 'and it is none of your business. The man's an annoying, selfish, spoiled, idiotic brat. Just like you,' he adds and swats Magira lovingly on the upper arm. 'Stay out of it.'

'But... no. Not in a million years! Shu-san!' Magira laughs happily. He leans back into Carlo's embrace. 'You expect me to act jealous and sulking now, don't you?'

Carlo shakes his head, slightly nervously. 'I must admit the thought isn't entirely alien.' A few years ago, the information that his beloved uncle might have found a lover, especially someone like Shu, would have sent Magira into a temper tantrum.

'I suppose I owe Shu-san. You may have him,' Magira offers generously. 'Since you didn't want the best, namely me, you could have done worse.'

'Oh, thank you so much, most gracious emperor,' Shouji sneers. 'Who says I want him at all?'

'Your face, and your expression, and the fact that you haven't denied that you want him in the first place?' Magira smirks. 'I know you, remember?'

'Are we home soon?' Shouji asks, sighing deeply. 'Or can we take him back and ask the kidnappers to keep him a little longer?'

 

As it is, it doesn't take long to get back to Carlo's and Magira's mansion. They are met by Iwaki and Katou, who both look as relieved as Carlo feels.

'Good work,' Iwaki says, and squeezes Carlo's shoulder appreciatively. 'I am so glad you are all unharmed.'

Behind them, Katou bows to Magira. No words are exchanged, but the sign of respect from Katou says it all. They have all had their share of threats, extortion and other troubles that comes with being either rich or famous – or both. Katou's respect, if not his love, is the ultimate sign that Magira has handled this well, and better than anyone would have expected.

The other cars return, Shu, Sawa, some of the detectives and one of the soldiers join the group. The rest of them will meet Sawa at he police station. One of the men drags an unconscious Ethan out from a car. 'What should I do with this one?' the detective asks. 'I suggest that we find somewhere that is not Nevada to keep him, and fast. That is if you want to keep him out of this?' Ethan groans, and stirs in the detective's arms. The detective looks at Magira questioningly.

'Not exactly a friend, no. But... No, we'll keep him out of this.' Magira sends the boy an angry glare.

Carlo hesitates to say anything. 'It is not my decision,' he says quietly. 'If he has hurt you we'll let him pay.'

'He was forced too, Carlo. And he did try to protect me.' The expression in Magira's pretty face, however, does not bode well for Ethan Hughes' future.

'Send him away, hm?' Carlo's mind turns and spits out a brilliant solution. 'Perhaps a very long trip to, let's say... Japan? Somewhere where he can't get around without help? Would that be revenge enough for you?' I am sure we can find a fifth rate love hotel that can take him in as a cleaning lady.'

'We found his passport and papers. Shouldn't be a problem to send him out of the States. And he better agree, if he knows what's good for him. Before the police begins searching for him.'

'I'll take him,' Shu says. 'I'll find him a detour so he won't be that easy to find if he doesn't want to be found. We might even get him a new name, just for now.'

'Thanks, Shu-san! But I do want him to suffer a little bit before I forgive him! ''The hug that Magira gives Shu earns him a glare from both Carlo and Shouji. However, Carlo isn't really jealous, and Shu has helped save Magira. But right now, Carlo doesn't want anybody to touch Magira at all. Magira is his, he has claimed him, and he wants to state his claim. Carlo takes a step forward. 'I think this belongs to me,' he tells Shu and pulls Magira back in his arms.

'Carlo...' Magira purrs like a kitten and almost melts into Carlo's arms. 'I love it when you're jealous.'

'You've been taken from me, kidnapped, threatened and almost killed. And all you care about it that whether I'm jealous or not?' Carlo laughs. Sometimes Magira is just beyond belief.

'Anything wrong with that?' Magira's eyes follow Shouji as he, too, seems to want to claim something he has set his eyes on. Shu-san doesn't seem unwilling. They don't reach out for each other; no words are spoken, but their bodies are so close, so intimate, in the way they comfortably almost touch that the effect is the same. Love can come slowly (that, Carlo knows only too well) or quickly. There is no doubt that the events have thrown Shouji and Shu together and in love much sooner than if their lives hadn't been at stake. The way they look at each other is pure electricity, fire, lightning. Carlo makes a wager with himself. He bets that the two men are not going to last until dinner before their desire for each other have driven them to... God knows what - as long as they do it in private.

'Carlo?' Magira almost slithers his body around Carlo's, and Carlo definitely doesn't mind. 'I want a bath. And...' Magira's eyes are innocent and tired, and Carlo falls for it. How can he not?

'Debriefing in an hour, dining room' the soldier who has accompanied them away from the tycoon's mansion demands, breaking up the assembly. He probably knows better than most what works in situations like this. 'Sawa-san?' he adds, 'If you'll meet with my colleagues at 2100 at the police station?' he asks politely, Sawa has clearly earned even the hardened soldiers' respect.

Sawa just nods. 'I'll hurry.'

Carlo stops him, still holding on to Magira with one arm. 'I don't think there are words that can express how grateful I am for what you have done for us, Sawa-san.' Carlo makes a deep bow, silently swearing that none of the people who have stood by them during this will ever ask in vain for Carlo's help, no matter the costs or the risk. 'Thank you for Magira's life.'

'I have a young lover at home, Carlo-san. I know how I would feel if someone took him and I was left powerless and without friends.' Sawa smiles and bows before he takes his leave.

 

Sawa sits down on the bed. The deep, soft mattress almost begs him to lie down and sleep, but he still has things to do. Bathe, change into some of the hated men's clothes he has brought, and then police work. Despite the exhaustion he doesn't mind. Downstairs, three couples are longing for warm arms and and a renewal of their commitment; for a release of tension, longing and love. Sawa cannot have that. Yukihito is thousands of miles away. Sawa misses him intensely; they are never away from each other for long and the lack of love and Yukihito's firm hands on his body make Sawa impatient. He looks at the phone at the bedside table. Oh, well.

Sawa takes the phone and dials the number.

'Hai? Sawa Yukihito.'

'Yukihito, it's Nagisa.'

There's a slight pause. 'Are you all right?' Yukihito's voice is neutral, as if he is waiting for something.

'Yes, I'm fine. We've got Magira-kun out, no one was harmed, except for the kidnapper.' Sawa swings his legs up in the bed, brushes a lock of hair that has fallen over his eye back, and leans against the headboard with a tired sigh. 'I miss you,' he adds, hoping Yukihito will understand the unspoken longing.

'Nagisa-chan.' Yukihito's voice is deceptively low. He is an adult now, and his voice has darkened. It can be hard or soft. Sawa likes it best when there is this tinge of hardness under the velvet.

Sawa knows what Yukihito wants. For a second he regrets having corrupted his lover to this degree, but pushes the thought away. Sawa has longings, too, like the other men here. 'Yes, Yukihito-san?' Sawa's voice drops too, to a sultry whisper. 'I have missed Yukihito-san very much.'

'Yet you chose to go. I am not satisfied, Nagisa.' Yukihito's voice has definitely changed. It rings like steel through the phone and makes Sawa's groin pulse and throb.

'Please, forgive me. I'll do anything to make Yukihito-san happy.' Sawa doesn't lie. He wants Yukihito to demand anything from him; anything that can refresh Yukihito's desire and love.

'It would make me happy and forgiving if you were here,' Yukihito says quietly. 'I'd forgive you then.'

'Yukihito-san... I'm so sorry!' Sawa clutches the phone desperately. Yukihito does this on purpose, to drive him insane! 'Tell me what to do right now to make you overlook this horrible behaviour of mine. I love you, Yukihito-san,' Sawa continues, knowing that Yukihito will react to the begging.

'Then please me, Nagisa.' The words are whiplash sharp.

Yukihito is very well aware what his voice does to Sawa. 'I beg you,' Sawa whispers, 'tell me what to do to make you pleased.' Sawa is getting aroused. Sometimes it frustrates him that it is so easy for Yukihito to drive him so far out. The young boy has taken the power Sawa once gave him and developed it into this irresistible steel trap.

'Then tell me what you want me to do to you. Tell me what you would like right now.'

'I-' There is a pause. Yukihito likes to make Sawa use a language not fit for a lady. He makes Sawa blush and squirm. It isn't as if Sawa can't say the words, but under Yukihito's body he becomes his woman, and the words sting in his throat. Yukihito-san likes that too.

'I am waiting, Nagisa. Do not test my patience. Kneel for me, and pull your dress up. I will not tolerate any hesitancy.'

'No, of course not.' Sawa turns and sits on his knees, pulling the blue silk up around his waist. 'If I was with you,' Sawa whispers, slightly breathless as his arousal flares, 'I'd like to lie naked under you, tied up, with my legs spread wide...' Sawa sighs, and takes a deep breath. His mind is filled with thoughts of Yukihito, and the words are not that hard to find. 'I'd be naked and open for you, so you could push your fingers in me, playing with me until I'd cry out and beg for you to fill me.' Sawa slides a finger up his inner thigh, imagining it is Yukihito who does it.

'You are not allowed to touch yourself there yet,' Yukihito says, stopping Sawa's hand before it reaches its goal. 'Open your dress and pinch your nipples hard. I want to hear you gasp from pain.'

'Oh... Yukihito-san...' Sawa closes his eyes; the desire for his young master is overwhelming him. 'I wish it was you... your fingers, your hands on me... oh...' Sawa does what he's been told, and the pain feels good, as if it is clearing his mind so that all there is left are his longing for Yukihito. Sawa can hear a rustle of clothes through the phone. 'If I were with you,' Sawa moans and pinches his other nipple hard, 'I'd be on my knees for you, on the floor. I'd beg you to let me lick you... suck you until you'd dirty my mouth and my face...'

'Na- Nagisa...' Yukihito's voice is rough, throaty. He moans and it makes Sawa even more aroused.

'Please, Yukihito-san... may I? Let me?' What Sawa wants the most he cannot have. Sex is better when he feels like the woman he wants to be; with Yukihito's erection buried deep in his welcoming body. 'Let me put a finger inside, I beg you!'

In the phone there is only the sound of Yukihito's increasingly ragged breathing. 'You... ah... may...' Yukihito manages, on the verge of his orgasm. Sawa knows his lover so well, is so attuned to every breath he makes, every little sound or movement that might show Sawa how to please his young master even better.

Sawa licks a finger, wetting it as well as possible, before he pushes his blue silk knickers aside, pushing the fingertip against the opening. It slides in, and impatiently Sawa pushes in as deep as possible, searching for that spot. He rubs it hard, almost feverishly, wanting to follow Yukihito over the edge. It is better than touching himself on the outside, those male parts that feel so alien to the rest of his body.

'When you are home, I'll tie you up and take you hard so many times you won't be able to walk,' Yukihito groans, uncharacteristically blunt. 'Come home... Nagisa-chan!' There's a pause and a deep moan. Sawa knows that Yukihito is coming, silently, quietly, like he always does, with his hard, dark eyes open, his mouth closed, as if he can keep the feeling inside longer that way.

'Yes! Oh, yes, Yukihito-san... I want you!' Sawa cries out, thrusting against his own hand a few times before he, too, comes, spilling himself in the expensive, laced silk knickers. 'Oh, Yukihito-san...' Sawa sobs and gasps, trying to breathe, trying to keep sitting on his knees. He can't and slumps down in a dishevelled heap on the bed. Yukihito always manages this, to make Sawa melt. 'I love you, Yukihito,' Sawa whispers softly.

'Come home, Nagisa.' Yukihito flows easily out of his role as Sawa's master, changing back into his other self, the slightly insecure and reserved young man he also is. 'I miss you so much.'

If nothing else, the years have taught them both to be honest about their feelings and need for each other. 'I promise,' Sawa says. 'As soon as I've talked to the police. First available plane.'

'Just hurry,' Yukihito says and disconnects.

Sawa smiles, relaxed and satisfied, and gets out of bed, slightly dizzy. He heads for the bathroom to take the shower that is now more than necessary. Tomorrow... tomorrow he'll be on his way back to Japan, to Yukihito.

 

'This is heaven.' Magira has showered and steps into the huge bathtub. The water is so hot that the entire room is slightly foggy. Carlo feels a bit like a lobster thrown into boiling water. But Magira likes it this way, and what Magira likes, he gets. That is how it has always been. 'I dreamt of this, of being in your arms,' Magira admits and sits down, almost crawling into Carlo's lap.

Carlo wraps his arms around his lover. 'The nights were the worst. I was so afraid what they would do to you.' Carlo tries not to make it a question. He wants to let Magira tell what has happened in his own pace. There has been force enough as it is. Carlo leans back, his head against the side of the tub. The air is lemon-scented from the bathing oil they've used and the scent makes Carlo think of spring and new beginnings. 'You've grown,' he adds. The old Magira would have been broken and wailing in his arms.

'Carlo, they didn't do anything to me. They threatened you. If I didn't do this or that, it would be taken out on Mr Monte Carlo. It became quite trite. Problem was that I believed them.'

'But they... no matter what, they did do something to you, Magira. Just because they didn't touch you in that way...' In Carlo's mind the moment when the tycoon presses his gun against Magira's skin is played over and over. 'I am glad they didn't touch you in any... ' Carlo discards any diplomacy. 'They didn't rape you at least, on top of all the other things they did to force you. That is something to be grateful for.'

Magira laughs, a strangely mature, deep laughter. 'No, they didn't. I kissed Ethan, though, to use him. Haven't forgotten my old tricks.' Magira's love for Carlo is evident when he looks up. 'I pretended it was you. Every time I touched him, I pretended it was you.'

'Just break my heart, will you,' Carlo sighs and pulls Magira close. 'Oh Magira!' Carlo can feel the tension and the anxiety take their toll this moment where he can finally relax. 'I'll never let you go! I'll never let anyone take you from me like this. Or in any other way for that matter. You are mine!'

'Very much so. I knew you would come for me, Carlo. Every time I felt like giving up, you were there in my mind, reassuring me that you'd come. I knew you would.' Magira leans in and kisses Carlo's neck. The kiss lingers, and Magira's warm lips stir sensations in Carlo that he prefers to keep down for the moment. Magira needs to recover before they can think of doing anything like that.

'It was pure brilliance to send Shu-san and Sawa-san.' Magira tilts his head a bit, enough for Carlo to see the hint of malice in Magira's eyes. 'Shu-san and Sawa-san are very good kissers. And Sawa-san certainly hasn't let his body deteriorate since he was a policeman.'

Carlo holds his breath for a moment. He can feel his old jealousy flare. He reaches inside himself, for the tight control he used through the years where he allowed Magira to do anything – and anyone – he liked.

Magira turns and sits on his knees. The look in his eyes says that he knows exactly what Carlo is trying to do. 'It wasn't too bad to be sandwiched between the two of them. They are both gorgeous. Unfortunately they were very careful not to touch me anywhere... interesting.' Stretching his body, Magira sends Carlo a provocative, almost seductive, glance. 'Maybe I should have taken the chance to actually do it with Shu-san... before he is busy elsewhere.'

'Magira!' Carlo cannot hold back a shocked outburst. 'If you want someone else so bad-'

Magira cuts Carlo off. 'Are you stupid? I don't. I want you. And I want you to prove that I am yours. Right now!' Magira pouts. 'And stop the tip-toeing. I'm not made of glass.'

'That can be arranged,' Carlo rages and pushes Magira away. He has had it. There are no more thoughts about tenderness and consideration left. In a second he is up from the tub. He reaches for Magira, pulling him up in his arms, finding the strength to carry his lover to their bed. Magira's arms are around his neck; he is clinging so hard to Carlo it seems that he never will let go.

'Hurry,' Magira demands, as they both land on the bed, dripping wet. Their urgency doesn't allow time for drying off, or for anything else: Carlo wants to satisfy Magira's need, instantly. He rummages around in one of the bedside table's drawers, finding a small bottle of lubrication.

'Are you sure you want this now?' Carlo asks, wanting to confirm that Magira is ready, after all the events have been fairly traumatising. He pushes Magira's legs apart, leaning over him, one hand on each side of Magira's pretty face. 'You are mine, whether I take you now or not. I will never let you go. Never, Magira.'

'Then make love to me. I longed for this every moment of the time I was gone. The way you always comfort me, or make me cry out in pleasure... Carlo... please?'

Magira looks so adorable that Carlo can hardly stand it. 'I love you, Magira.' He smiles and kisses Magira, softly at first, then more demanding as Magira replies enthusiastically with teeth and tongue. Fumbling for the lubrication, Carlo manages to open the bottle and pour some of the stuff over his fingers. Half of the sticky substance ends up on the bed, but now is not the time to care about that.

Magira gasps, half way in pain, but mostly in pleasure as Carlo presses two fingers inside the warm tightness of Magira's body.

'Oh... oh, Carlo...' Magira squirms a little, adjusting to the intrusion. 'Deeper,' he begs, letting his body follow the shallow thrusts to get the fingers further up.

Carlo is licking and biting Magira's neck, taking deep breaths, wanting to relish the scent of soap and lemon and the sweetness that is Magira's own scent. Every sense adds to confirm that Magira is here, unharmed, in Carlo's arms. 'More,' Carlo whispers. 'More fingers?'

'More you,' Magira gasps, relaxing as Carlo slides another finger inside, a bit too early. 'Feels so good.' Biting his lip, Magira is so sexy, so utterly attractive that Carlo thinks he might have died and gone to heaven to have such a lovely creature at his disposal. Carlo withdraws his fingers, using the excess oil to slick himself up before he presses against Magira's opening. Magira throws his head back; the mouth half open, the lips glistening from the many kisses they have shared.

The feeling of the tight channel almost undoes Carlo. He wants to come, right there, as he slides inside his lover's body; only an immense portion of self-restraint prevents him from coming. It is as if Magira senses how hard it is to hold back; he lies there, not moving, until Carlo is fully inside, in to the hilt, buried in Magira's warmth. Slowly, almost tryingly, Magira raises his legs and wraps them around Carlo's back.

'Please, Carlo... please take me,' Magira whispers softly. 'I need you so badly...' Magira tilts his hips, starting this slow, intimate dance; their bodies so close... slow, indolent movements, as if their love for each other is an ocean that move them both. The languid waves of desire and pleasure wash over them, letting them drown in the depth of their emotions. Carlo's long hair has fallen over his face, there is this tiny little world, framing their faces, there is only the two of them and their need.

The pleasure becomes unbearably good. Magira's body contracts and releases, caressing movements encasing Carlo's erection. 'I... can't...' he moans against Magira's mouth, sharing breath and little sighs with him.

'Don't stop,' Magira breathes. 'Don't stop, Carlo.. ' He offers his body to Carlo, tilting his hips upwards, as if to get Carlo deeper inside. 'Come inside me.'

Carlo doesn't hesitate. It is too much. Too much emotion, too much pleasure. Pressing a hand between their bodies, he caresses Magira's hardness, wet and ready too. Thrusting harder, their breath becomes ragged and loud; none of them care if they are heard. Anyone with a speck of common sense will understand the need they have for each other.

'Magira... Magira... missed you so... love you so much' Carlo whispers sweet nothings in Magira's ear, feeling his orgasm well through him, through heart and body and mind. 'Magira!' Carlo cries out as Magira whimpers and something warm and wet spreads between them. Carlo pushes inside, hard, as far as he can; the waves of something all-encompassing, shattering overtakes his body, leaving him helpless in the waves of their common release.

It takes somewhere between minutes or an eternity to get back to dry land. This relaxed, almost-awake state... Carlo doesn't want to leave it. With an exhausted Magira cuddled up in his embrace, the world looks very nice from Carlo's point of view. All the practical things they have to face soon... tonight, tomorrow... he doesn't want to deal with them. His world consists this instant only of Magira and the love Carlo has for him. Nothing else matters.

'Love you,' Magira murmurs sleepily, and makes Carlo smile. ''s getting sticky.'

'Do you want to shower?' Carlo asks, knowing they can't stay in their small world much longer. Nevertheless, Magira has endured the stickiness longer than he usually does – he never really got rid of the fear of being dirtied that so many Japanese suffer from.

'No,' Magira says. 'I'd rather stay here, but there are people downstairs, waiting.'

Carlo sends his young lover a puzzled look. Yes, Magira has certainly learnt from this. Carlo is not sure he understands this new, improved version, but he looks forward to get to know him. 'I know. I'd rather, too.' Carlo can't keep the deep love he has for Magira out of his voice and his gaze.

'But were adults now?' Magira smiles, a slow, wide, happy smile that lights up his face. 'Come on. We have the whole night, after, eh?' Magira gets out of bed, wrinkling his nose as a trickle of Carlo's semen runs down his inner thigh. 'I'll go first.'

When they have showered, Magira looks slightly desperate at his wardrobe. It is close to empty. 'They took all my clothes.' He finds a pair of briefs that have been left in a corner.

'Er- I have these,' Carlo says and can feel his skin flush with embarrassment. He reaches underneath his pillow, pulling out the pair of red trousers that he has kept with him like a good luck charm during this.

'Oh, Carlo!' Magira falls on his knees in front of his lover, arms around his waist. 'I'm so sorry for all the trouble I've given you. I think I've lost the jacket to go with them,' he adds, confusing Carlo for a moment. Magira looks at the slightly wrinkled trousers. 'These will do, and one of your shirts.' Clothes don't really matter to any of them right now.

They manage to dress, readying themselves to go down to debriefing and dinner. It would have felt so good to forget about the world outside, but it will haunt them and reach them sooner or later. And they are both done with being powerless. From now on, Carlo will kick the world in its ugly face if it dares sneer at him. There is no doubt that the next days will be taxing. But Carlo will have Magira with him, and together there is nothing they cannot do.

 

As they step out of the bedroom, Magira grabs Carlo's shoulder as not to trip over a suitcase. 'Oh, they found it!' Magira bends down and opens the suitcase, regarding the neatly packed clothes with some suspicion. He straightens up and bites his lip, as if he is considering something. Then he leans over the suitcase, rummages around in it and drags out a red jacket, the one that goes with the trousers he is wearing. 'I'll keep this one,' he says, and pulls the jacket on. 'I am not sure I want the rest. It feels dirty... all the... they've...'

'Doesn't matter.' Carlo understands. Too many people have touched Magira's belongings. Indeed, it is nothing that can just be washed off. It is the kind of dirty that doesn't disappear. 'Just throw them out. Give them away.' He kisses Magira, brushing over the red suit. It seems as if nothing can dirty that. Magira's armour. Carlo's luck. The symbol of what they have together. 'As long as you are here, unharmed... that is all that matters.'

Hand in hand they walk downstairs. The maid and the cook have been busy and made a lush meal for them. Various delicious dishes spread their mouth-watering smell in the dining room. Someone has been in the wine cellar and found some Champagne. Well, Champagne and chicken pâté have never harmed each other, Carlo muses and feels very hungry at the sight of the many delicious courses his employees have managed to produce in an hour.

The remains of the small army are soon gathered, all seem unharmed and starving. As they dig in, the old detective goes through the events, letting them all add their piece to the story. It makes sense to do it like this; questions are answered and guilt is relieved. They all help to add to the painting that shows the full picture of what has happened. It makes it easier to tone Ethan Hughes's participation down a notch; no one is going to believe anything the casino tycoon is saying anyway, not after his threat to kill Magira. Carlo's lawyers have already made sure that that particular event is emphasised, not only to keep Carlo out of jail, but also to keep the tycoon in it. A phone call from Sawa and the soldiers have already made it clear that the police are cooperating, and that the trouble they might meet before the case is closed aren't going to be insurmountable.

'Sawa-san, Mr Shu and Mr Shouji are free to travel tomorrow, after they have made their statements,' the detective informs them. They are of course expected back if needed, and for the trial. No one objects to that; they have nothing to hide or flee from, something even the police has realised.

'Just proves that one should be careful not to get too close to this family,' Shu says, earning himself a dark glare from Shouji. 'Carlo-san, if you ever get tired of Magira, the two of us can rule the gambling world. Any time you are willing.' Shu winks and sends Carlo a mock seductive glance.

Carlo laughs and puts his arm around Magira's shoulder. 'Not in this lifetime, Shu-san. Not in this lifetime.' Carlo thinks it might perhaps be easier for Shu and Shouji if they just admitted that they like each other. Nevertheless, the baiting is amusing to watch, especially since Carlo doesn't have Magira to worry about now.

'Thinking that you can swap partners like you can swap cards? Got a bad hand?' Shouji is not happy. Magira's uncle is more honest and direct than Shu, and maybe more sensitive, when all comes to all. 'You might end up like the annoying, unpopular boy no one cares to play with.'

'Really? Maybe I went for three queens and all I got was the one-eyed Jack.' Shu snorts and looks at Shouji as if he were a less than appealing member of one of the lower orders of insects. Shu turns away and tells Carlo calmly that, 'he had never aimed to be the kept man of an uneducated yakuza-prospect who speaks English like a Brooklyn thug and dresses like a colour-blind Hawaiian.'

The entire table falls silent. Carlo tries very hard not to laugh, and without looking at Magira, he knows he feels the same. The way Magira is clutching Carlo's hand under the table tells it all. Only Iwaki and Katou look slightly shocked; perhaps it is a bit overwhelming for them to hear Shu and Shouji air their communication-troubled wooing at the dinner table.

Shouji folds his napkin neatly and puts it down on the table. 'I think we have had this conversation, or one that was similar to it, Shu-kun. I didn't like it then, and I don't like it now.' Shouji pushes his chair back, stands and turns to face Shu who still sits at the table. Shouji bends down a little, a hand on each of Shu's shoulders. 'Will you please tell me what I told you then? If your bird-brain is actually able to come up with that information?'

'Oh my, Shouji-san! In-for-ma-tion? A four syllable word? Trying to surprise me? Or are you maybe willing to show me that gorgeous tattoo-less body of yours again to prove that you are no half-wit Tokyo gangster?'

Shouji's fingers tighten around Shu's shoulders, and the man makes a satisfying whimper of pain. 'I have one or two things I'd like to prove, yes,' Shouji growls. 'So get up of that chair and into your room, unless you'd want me to prove them while we're being watched.' Shouji lets go of Shu's shoulders and buries a hand in his black hair. 'Now.' Unceremoniously, he pulls Shu up from the chair by the hair, ignoring the man's pained whimpering as he drags him along.

The last words the men at the dining table can hear is Shu moaning a throaty, 'Oh, Shouji-san... yes!' before a door is shut with a bang.

'I should beat the crap out of you, you arrogant little shit,' Shouji sneers as he closes the door, slamming Shu up against the bedroom wall. 'How dare you behave like that? You really want me to hit you that badly?' Shouji doesn't hesitate. He rips Shu's shirt open, disregarding that there are buttons to ease such an operation. It takes too long and Shouji doesn't mind that he destroys the thing. He wants access to Shu's beautiful body now.

'I don't care,' Shu moans. 'As long as you put this,' he cups Shouji's erection, 'inside me. Do what you like... beat me, tie me up - as long as you fuck me, and fast! What the hell were you waiting for, you pathetic excuse for a yakuza? Did it really take more than an hour to make up your mind? Or did you have to wait for your oyabun to give you permission to shove your cock up my arse? Perhaps you are so dense that you need a map to find it?' Shu's half-naked, provocative stance alone is enough to drive Shouji into a rage of lust and anger, and Shu's dirty mouth only fuels the fire.

Impatiently, Shouji opens Shu's trousers and pulls them down, boxers with them. 'Off,' he snaps and slams Shu into the wall once more, just for good measure. 'Move, and I'll make it a very uncomfortable experience for you to be accompanied back to this particular spot,' Shouji threatens and looks around for something that can be used as lubrication.

Shu is breathing heavily, lust and expectation evident in the way he rubs against Shouji. 'Wait,' he purrs. 'If you are looking for what I think you're looking for, it isn't necessary.'

Shouji yanks Shu flush against his body. 'Have you gone insane? I am not even going to try fucking you dry. I have figured out you like it when it hurts, but that is not-'

Entangling his fingers with Shouji's, Shu reaches behind himself, guiding Shouji's fingers towards his opening. 'When I said I wanted it fast, do you think I'd be unprepared?' Shu whispers and leaves it up to Shouji to find out exactly how prepared he is.

'Fuck, you are the dirtiest Chinese bastard in- and outside of that sodding republic!' Shouji is so hard it hurts. Better let Shu pay for it since they both enjoy that kind of payment. Opening his own trousers, Shouji shoves Shu towards the wall one more time. 'I am going to fuck you so hard you'll beg me to stop,' he sneers and lifts Shu up, his back leaning against the wall.

Roughly, Shouji helps Shu wrap his legs around his waist. That is all the foreplay they get; their patience is non-existing. Shouji pushes inside Shu's arse; there is no resistance, his cock slides in and it makes Shouji even more aroused to think of Shu spreading himself, making himself ready with oil and fingers; to think of how Shu had been sitting at the dining table, wet and open, only waiting for this...

'I am never going to beg you to stop,' Shu moans. His face is flushed, pleasure painted on it as Shouji invades his body. 'But if it is... oh.... oh...' Shu clutches at the fabric of Shouji's colourful shirt, 'If it's like this every time, I am going to beg you to go on.'

'Did you think of me when you fingered yourself?' Shouji asks, licking Shu's earlobe. 'Did you cry out my name when you forced your fingers inside yourself.'

'Mmm,' moans Shu. 'And when I jerked off this morning, and yesterday, and when I held Magira. Every awake moment I think of you fucking me.' Shu caresses Shouji's chest, nimble fingers pinch and pull his nipples.

Shouji bites down, leaving a bloody mark on Shu's slender neck. The slight taste of iron makes Shouji want to do it again; Shu's taste makes him crave for more, for any part of Shu he can have or take. Shu whimpers and stretches his neck, inviting Shouji to do as he likes. With a firm grip on Shu's hips, Shouji rams his cock so hard up Shu's arse that the pictures on the wall rattle and Shu lets out yet another pained moan as his back connects less than gently with the wall.

'Harder!' Shu demands. 'Is that all you can do? Are you anaemic or something? Fuck me like a real man!' he urges, in the most annoyingly provocative tone. His moans, however, contradict the tone; Shu is definitely enjoying himself.

Shouji gives up. The only thing that'll make Shu shut up is to do exactly that. No finesse, no caresses, just pure, hard fucking. Abandoning all sense, Shouji takes Shu as hard as he possibly can; over and over he thrusts into that arousing warmth, every trust accompanied by Shu's moans; moans that grow deeper, more unrestrained as Shu is coming nearer to his climax. Shouji is so encompassed by his task that it helps him hold back – he is not going to come until he has made Shu cry out in pleasure, not until that infuriating, annoying, absolutely wonderful idiot has reached his orgasm with Shouji's cock deep inside him.

'Shouji... oh, Shouji... so good!' Shu moves with Shouji, meeting his thrusts enthusiastically.

'More... more...' Shu's lips are wet and swollen from their violent kisses, and despite their difficulties to breathe, Shouji kisses Shu again and again, until the world seems blurry and it is painful to keep standing, keep fucking, keep taking the man he has fallen in lust and love with.

The realisation comes as a shock. There is no way Shouji can hold back what he feels, lost in the sensations of his body and heart. This is something he knew, but hadn't realised. He is in love with Shu. He is in love with the most irritating man on earth and there is nothing he can do about it other than what he is doing right now and will continue to do in the future if Shu allows him to. 'Shu... I...' Shouji cannot say it, he is in too deep, and the acceptance is hard to bear. Shouji is a hard, no-nonsense man; that this young, beautiful, aristocratic Chinese is going to be the bane of him is more than he can take. What cannot be said out loud he can show with his body. Shouji pulls Shu close, allowing them to move only little. Shu's erection is caught between their bodies as Shouji holds Shu tight, kissing him again, a deep, slow intimate kiss, exploring, marking what is his.

Shu replies with tongue and touches, hands are running up Shouji's back, over his shoulders, into his hair, as if Shu tries to map out every hard plane, every muscle, every inch of soft skin, of hard nipples and of the slightly stubbly cheeks. Shouji's thrusts become slow and deep, as if they are following Shu's ragged breath. The velvet moans that spill into Shouji's ears are the sweetest music he has ever heard.

Between them, Shu's pre-come is smeared over their stomachs. Shouji thrusts in, a little harder now. He lets go of Shu's mouth; he has to say it now, or he might lose his nerve, or worse, Shu. 'You are going back to Japan with me,' Shouji demands. 'You need someone to make sure you behave.' It doesn't really sound like I love you, Shu, but it's the closest Shouji can get.

'Shouji... Shouji,' Shu whispers, then tenses, hard-strung in Shouji's arms. 'I need you!' Shu cries and comes hard, in total abandon. Shouji has never seen anyone more beautiful than Shu in the throes of deep passion. With shallow, careful thrusts, Shouji brings himself to climax, his eyes set on Shu's relaxed, sweaty face. The orgasm is oddly peaceful, as if a dream of white light and pure sweetness embrace them both. Everything is silent, only their deep breaths mingle as they kiss, sharing this blissful moment.

'I'm in love with you,' Shouji finally says, whispering the words softly in Shu's ear. 'I don't want this to end here. I want you.'

'Our sorrow is bitter, but we would not return to our country. What flower has come into blossom?' Shu murmurs and kisses Shouji softly.

Shouji tilts his head. 'I pour out my heart for you and you... what is it that you do?' Shouji gives up. Shu is just in a league of his own.

'I recite Wen Wang's poem about returning from the Mongolian war.' Shu unwraps himself and tries to stand on slightly shaky legs. 'I should have known that anything but blunt, uneducated yakuza-speech would elude you.' Before Shouji can muster even the tiniest amount of anger, Shu embraces him. 'It means, my ignorant beloved, that I don't particularly want to leave Hong Kong for you, but that certain developments make it impossible for me to decline your request.'

'Must you?' Shouji groans, trying to make sense of what Shu is saying. 'You are so incredibly secure in your belief of your own superiority.' Oh damned, how he loves Shu, despite their differences.

'I must. But since I am in love with you as well, I assume you'll forgive me? After having taken your particular arousing revenge, of course?'

'Oh, thank gods,' Shouji sighs, and carries Shu to bed.

They have yet more heavens they need to visit before morning comes.

 

The roar of jet engines makes it impossible to hear anything as a plane takes off in the direction of god knows where. It is as if the air is shimmering with heat and noise, and Iwaki is longing to get back to Tokyo, to the relative peace and quiet in their own small house. At least small compared to the grand luxury that Carlo-san and Magira-kun is living in. Iwaki doesn't envy them, though. He was never one for this kind of flashy wealth; all Iwaki cares about is that Katou and he have a place that is theirs; somewhere they can go and reload after their work and other obligations are done.

Magira and Katou are building a small tower of suitcases on a trolley. Iwaki, Katou and Sawa are going to Tokyo and are leaving first; Shu is taking Ethan (who still is a bit confused. He is able to, though, to understand his immense luck, that they are going to help him to get out of the mess he has started) to Hong Kong. Shouji has pulled a few strings (encouraging Shu to tease him more about the tattooed brothers) and has found work for Ethan at a place where no one cares to ask about his past.

Katou pushes the trolley towards the airport terminal. The sun is burning, they all want to get inside, to the blessed air-conditioned cool atmosphere in the departure lounge. The summer holidays are over, and the airport is not as crowded as usual. Ethan and Magira let themselves fall behind a bit. Iwaki sends Magira a questioning look. He just nods, acknowledging the concern. The two young men seem caught up in deep conversation. Iwaki's guess is that Mr Hughes is busy apologising and begging for forgiveness. Knowing Magira, Iwaki's guess is that it will take a while before Mr Hughes gets it.

Their luggage has been checked in, and the travellers are ready to go. There are no teary-eyed goodbyes, no promises or gifts exchanged. It is not necessary. What they have gone through has formed a brotherhood between them: unsaid is the vow that none of the men will ever ask in vain for help from the others.

'I think I might write a book,' Sawa muses, turning a pen between his fingers. 'This could end up a nice crime novel.'

'With a lot of sex in, seeing that your usual fare is slightly on the erotic side,' Carlo teases. 'Let me guess. The former police officer and heroine will be doing it a lot with one of the younger detectives?'

'Carlo-san!' Sawa exclaims, 'Really! I am a married woman, or as good as!' He pauses. 'I admit that I did flirt a bit with Mr Williams, but...' Sawa smiles, maybe lost in the thought of Yukihito.

Shu laughs, patting Sawa's shoulder. 'Young love, eh?'

'Look who's talking,' Sawa grins as Shu raises on tip-toes and unceremoniously and without any regards to decent behaviour kisses Shouji goodbye.

'A week from now, in Tokyo,' Shu says, clearly not wanting to let go of his lover. Shouji has chosen to stay a bit longer with Magira and Carlo before he goes home. There are still practical things that need to be done, and legal complications that have to be sorted out.

'You better be there, or you won't like what I'll do to you if I have to fetch you,' Shouji sneers, unable to keep a look of utter love off his face.

'I look so much forward to be presented to your yakuza friends,' Shu says coolly and flees towards the security, leaving Shouji to throw up his hand in the air and laugh.

'My condolences,' Katou says. 'Some men can be horribly taxing until they are tamed and broken in.' The smile he sends Iwaki to fend off any temper tantrums is not entirely innocent.

Iwaki thinks that Carlo and he might be the only grown up persons left in the world. 'We better go. Security might take time,' he says, ignoring his lover's immaturity.

'Goodbye, my friend.' Carlo and Iwaki shakes hands. Somehow they have always understood each other. Two serious men being riddled with reckless young lovers... They share a destiny that is both heaven and hell. Mostly heaven, when all comes to all.
Mostly heaven.

 

Epilogue

Iwaki is having a wonderful dream. He is laying in his bed, relaxed and warm while Katou is kissing him; slowly licking his way down Iwaki's neck, kissing his collarbone's curved bow, spending time exploring the width between nipples and breastbone. Iwaki moans in his dream as his back slides into an elegant arch, leaving room enough between mattress and the warm skin to create a fitting cave for Katou's strong hand to rest in.

The bed is warm, contrasting the winter's cold slight dusting of snow—a mocking imitation of spring's falling sakura leaves. Katou's tongue draws patterns on Iwaki's stomach, dangerously close to his penis, stirring and reaching for Katou's mouth that is so close... so close...
Iwaki stretches and can't stop himself from thrusting upwards, into that wet, silken mouth. No woman has ever made him feel like this. The arousal makes Iwaki shake off the dream and wake up; the bedroom is still winter-grey, no sun has yet penetrated the snow-laden clouds. 'Mmm, feels good,' Iwaki moans. It has not yet occurred to him that the dream is somewhat more vivid than dreams usually are.

'My Iwaki-san is finally awake?' Katou murmurs, his voice muffled by the heavy duvet. His fingers dance down the long line of Iwaki's lean thigh, caresses his knees, teasing that spot behind them that is so awfully sensitive. He sucks one ball into his mouth, grazing the skin with his teeth, precisely like Iwaki wants it.

Moaning loudly because he cannot stop himself, Iwaki gives up. This attack on his non-existing virtue is too good, too advanced for him to care to stop it. 'Katou... ' Iwaki buries his hands in Katou's hair, letting the soft strands slither through his fingers. The world is soft... Katou's soft tongue, the heavy duvet, the dim morning light. Iwaki sighs happily and relaxes—as much as he is able to when Katou is sucking him off so masterly.

Pausing, Katou wets his fingers. 'Don't do anything,' he orders. 'I just want Iwaki to enjoy.'
All resistance has been erased as Katou sits on his knees, spreading Iwaki's legs. 'I'll wait until tonight,' Katou promises, massaging Iwaki's opening. 'Tonight I'll take you.'

The pressure as Katou pushes his fingers inside is only adding to Iwaki's dreamlike state. It is so good, so very good. Small, measured movements drive Katou's fingers further in, until his fingertips rub over Iwaki's prostate. Iwaki cannot stop himself from spreading his legs further, invitingly. Tonight? What is Katou going on about? Iwaki wants his lover inside him now, instantly!

Iwaki reaches for Katou's erection. it is standing proudly, and Iwaki knows that Katou isn't able to wait. Not if he decides to seduce his lover. It happens rarely, but Katou cannot stand against Iwaki's love attack. He never can. Weighing Katou's well-shaped bollocks in his hand, Iwaki licks his lips. His expression is lewd and innocent at the same time. 'You are so wet already,' Iwaki purrs and smears Katou's pre-come over the tip of the hard cock. 'Why wait?'

'Because I wanted Iwaki-san to be able to immerse himself in pleasure,' Katou pouts and curl the fingers inside Iwaki's tightness.

Iwaki lets out a small cry as arousal flares through his body. He has to take a few deep breaths before he can speak. 'And the greatest pleasure,' he asks, 'isn't that to feel Katou... Katou's body... inside.. me?'

'No one is cuter than Iwaki-san! How can I possibly deny him what he wants when he is like this?' Katou pulls out his fingers and slides on top of Iwaki. 'Spread your legs, then. Show me that you want me enough to seduce me, Iwaki-san!'

Forgetting that he has to be at the office early, Iwaki raises his legs, spreading his buttocks for Katou. This lovely dream... he cannot let go of it, despite the fact that they are both awake. It is good to just let things flow, to let Katou take and give, to let him play as he likes. Iwaki belongs to Katou, his body is Katou's to use. 'I love you, Katou,' he manages, gasping as Katou slides his erection inside.

Pleasure. Calm, slow, soft pleasure. Buried deep in Iwaki's body, massaging his cock, Katou guides them both towards the inevitable climax. It rolls over them as would the sun rise on the sky, blinding, clear pleasure created by the morning and their bodies. With a leg still thrown over Katou's back, Iwaki lies spent and ready to slip back into the sleep he seems never really to have left. Lazily, he lifts a hand to brush Katou's hair away from his face. 'I think I'd like mornings better if I was to be woken up like this more often,' he murmurs sleepily.

Surprisingly, Katou is wide awake. 'Sleep a little longer,' he offers and kisses Iwaki on the cheek. 'I'll make breakfast.'

Iwaki rests as Katou showers and dresses before he goes downstairs. There are muted sounds of running water and plates being taken out of cupboards. The appetising smell of freshly brewed coffee blends with the sharper scent of miso. Iwaki lies there, arms under his head, and considers if this is the ultimate happiness... if there is anything that is more satisfying than making love, then listening to one's husband as he potters around in the kitchen, making their breakfast. Iwaki doesn't think so. He loves this quiet domesticity.

As Iwaki finally gets downstairs, Katou seems to be in a brilliant mood. 'The mail arrived,' Katou informs and hands Iwaki a cream-coloured envelope. It has been opened already, and the content has definitely not ruined Katou's good mood but added to it.
Iwaki pulls out the small card and reads the first few lines.


Magira Yuri
and
Anthony Monte Carlo
request the pleasure of your company at their wedding party...

Iwaki laughs. Outside the sun is clear and blue and the day is perfect. Perfect! It has been a long journey for Carlo and Magira to find the happiness they wanted, and now they have it; the hardships they have endured have matured them, polished their edges; rough diamonds finally ready to let themselves set in precious metal to shine, to show what they really are worth. 'Do you think this is what heaven is really like?' he asks Katou and reaches for his lover.

'Mmm,' Katou says and smiles, his lips close to Iwaki's. 'I know so. Heaven is precisely where my Iwaki-san is.'