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Burning Flames or Paradise

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With mixed feelings, Jodie paced the hallway of her apartment up and down early in the morning as she waited for James to pick her up – it was too early for her to leave the house, but she was too excited to sit at her kitchen table, quietly and patiently.

She had worked hard to be part of the FBI and looked forward to her new role and the chance to investigate her parent’s murder. James, who’d be her supervisor from now on, knew about her motivations, her main goal, and had once made her younger self a promise that he’d kept until this day. (Jodie didn't care much about the way he'd managed to keep his promise and the contacts he’d had to use, nor did she care about his initial hope that she would let go of her childish idea over the years. She didn’t hold his wish against him - mostly because he accepted her decision in contrast to many other people in her life.

Time and again, Jodie looked at her watch only to realize in frustration how little time has passed since the last time she’d checked. She sighed and kept waiting only to wince at the sudden ring of her doorbell after some more countless minutes. However, she regained her composure quickly, ignoring her fast-beating heart, and slipped into her winter jacket with a broad grin on her lips. At last, she made sure she had everything she needed and left her apartment with a tingling sensation in her stomach.

The early January’s air was icy and although there was little snow on the busy roads, the white mountains piled up at the roadside.

“Good morning, Jodie,” James greeted her in front of her apartment complex. “Are you ready?”

Jodie nodded enthusiastically. “As ready as I can be!” She replied determinedly. Her warm breath left puffy white clouds under the dull light of the streetlamp.  “Let’s just go, it’s cold.”

Luckily, James’ car was heated to a comfortable degree and the temperature in the office was also pleasant. Her godfather, who was her boss only at the moment they entered the New York field office, gave her a quick tour around her new working place. He showed her where she’d find him, where the kitchen and the bathroom was and introduced her to one or another curious colleague on the way. At the end of their round, James led her to the office that would from now on be hers for the next few years.

“For now, you’ll be working with Special Agent Shuichi Akai,” James told her on the way. “He is one of our best agents and will explain everything to you and help you with questions and problems.”

Jodie heard him sigh deeply as if he didn’t like something about the thought. He kept silent though, and Jodie didn’t ask. She was too excited to care for that anyway.

“I don’t know when Shuichi will be here today, he’s an important appointment. Until then, you might get to know some of your colleagues.”

She nodded. That's not a problem at all, she thought. Her other co-workers would probably help her just as much as it was Shuichi’s job from this day on – only to find herself in an empty office a moment later. Two desks facing each other, lots of cupboards, a window front, and little space. She frowned at James who smiled back at her.

“That’s your desk.” He pointed at the empty desk with his index finger.

Nice, Jodie thought as she put her bag on the table. But what was she supposed to do now? Sit on her hands and wait? The start of her FBI career was a lot slower and more boring than she had imagined, but without the help of a fellow agent, she wouldn’t know what to do.

“Take your time, let all of this sink in as long as Shuichi isn’t here and take a closer look around. You’ll find someone who can tell and show you a little more.”

 

James left her alone, apologizing that he’d important work to do. Jodie just nodded and when he was gone, she got out of her winter jacket and hung it over the backrest of her chair. She didn’t bring anything to unpack with her, and it seemed her colleague didn’t like personal items at work either. No photos of his family – did he have children? – and no decoration. The most personal thing seemed to be a red coffee mug; maybe the spiky cactus on the windowsill belong to him as well, or maybe it was just part of the inventory. Apart from that, files were piled up on his desk, a sticky note was attached to his phone with several numbers and names, and all kinds of words were scribbled on his desk pad that Jodie didn’t even bother to decipher.

Other than that, nothing interesting was to be found in the office. There was neither anything for her to do nor did she find anything that told her something about her co-worker – which in itself was a clear statement.

 

A knock on the door made her look expectantly into the direction the noise came from and watched a blonde man appear. He had a beard, magnificent blue eyes, and a friendly smile on his face – he certainly didn’t look like a Shuichi. But then again, what did she know about some parent’s fantasies after she’d met a Loki at Quantico.

“Hi,” the stranger greeted her. “I’m Sebastian but you can call me Bash.”

Jodie blinked at the hand he extended to her. She took it after a moment of hesitation and shook it briefly.

“Jodie,” she replied politely.

“I know,” Sebastian replied, flashing his white teeth at her with a big grin. “I saw you coming with James earlier.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You listened to us?”

“Nonsense!” He stepped closer and put an arm around her shoulders.

What was supposed to be a friendly, open gesture, met her with disapproval. Jodie didn’t like being touched without permission, least of all by people she didn’t know anyway. Not from strangers on the street, not from co-workers, and certainly not from men who, with their intrusiveness – regardless of their intention – lost all her sympathy. Jodie knew the kind of men who forced themselves upon any woman they saw as attractive as if their harassment should be taken as a compliment.

Sebastian didn’t say anything bad, but his eyes clearly went south on her – involuntarily or not – looking her up and down.

“Please take your arm away,” she told him firmly.

She didn’t want to make herself unpopular on her first day or get on anyone’s bad side for that matter, but she also didn’t want to leave any room for misinterpretations.

Jodie was relieved when Sebastian did as he was told by withdrawing his arm immediately.

“I’m just happy to see a new face here,” he admitted and scratched the back of his head sheepishly.

Jodie nodded, regarding him with a courtesy smile.

 

Jodie returned to her office with a steaming cup of hot coffee and a colleague who followed her. Her name was Chloe and she seemed very friendly. She laughed a lot and was able to tell her a lot about her work in general, although she seemed to focus mainly on the more amusing stories.

“But I’ve to warn you,” Chloe said, changing their topic in such a serious voice that surprised Jodie.

She put her coffee mug down onto her desk right next to her.

“Shuichi isn’t easy to get along with, you should be careful of him. Only recently he scared off a colleague simply because he didn’t like her. He is very particular about his work.”

“It won’t be that bad,” Jodie waved her off, doubtfully. She had made it this far she wouldn’t take shit from any co-worker just now. “I’m sure we’ll get along.”

Chloe flipped her dark hair over her shoulder and came to lean next to her against the edge of the desk.

“Be careful anyway. He might stab you in the back when you make a mistake.”

Jodie nodded but sighed as she reached for her mug. No matter what Chloe said, she still believed she’d get along with everyone – even someone like Shuichi. She would work hard and do her job, that’s all he could ask of her.

 

Jodie was sipping her coffee, lost in thoughts, and staring at the ground in front of her feet when suddenly the room got filled with a strong perfume. There was the smell of something woody and vanilla in the air, and a hint of cigarette smoke. Involuntarily yet inconspicuously she inhaled the seductive scent by turning her face away from her coffee – and blinked in confusion.

A pair of green eyes looked at her intently, catching her gaze. She just stared and blinked. Before she could even react in any way, Chloe pushed herself off the desk and passed her to meet their colleague.

“Hi Shuichi,” she greeted him.

Her voice yanked her out of her rigidity. She felt her blood rushing to her face the second she realized she was staring at him. Jodie bit her lower lip, internally begging that her head wasn’t as red as it felt.

“This is Shuichi, Jodie,” Chloe introduced her to her co-worker. “And this, Shuichi, is our new rookie, Jodie. You’re responsible for her.”

“I know,” he answered matter-of-factly. Not taking the eyes off her once.

Jodie felt uncomfortable looking at him for too long whereas he didn’t seem to mind at all. Instead, he extended his hand to her across his desk.

She hastily put down her mug and shook his hand which was much colder than hers. With his reddened nose and flushed cheeks though, he just looked like he’d been out in the cold for a while.

“Nice to meet you,” Jodie said at last in an attempt to break the uncomfortable silence that fell upon them.

Not before he pulled his outstretched hand back and slipped out of his suit jacket did Jodie dare to look at him again. She took in his height when he turned his back to her for a moment – he was tall, maybe a good head taller than her – and had longer hair than most women. She was pretty sure that some women must envy him for the length of it.

Jodie had rarely cared for men, mostly to not get distracted and keep her focus, but the sheer sight of this man in a black suit and knit hat made her weak. He looked terrifyingly handsome – something he really didn’t have to prove by casually loosening the tie around his neck.

Oh god, she thought. And now she had to put up with him for – what – at least two years in a small office? As if he’d heard her thoughts, his keen eyes turned back on her and made her shrink under his gaze.

Did he say anything? Did she miss something? Did he want something from her? Oh god! She didn’t want him to resent her on her very first day.

Jodie dared to cast a quick glance at Chloe who wasn’t of any help because her eyes were fixed on Shuichi. She couldn’t blame her, but other than her she didn’t have to sit at the desk opposite him and let him explain their work to her in the future. Jodie guessed that Chloe was also well established throughout the years of working for the Bureau that she wouldn’t be put off immediately by Shuichi, even though she’d warned her about him earlier.

And still. The sight of him and the smell he’d brought into their office clouded her mind.

“Uh–,“ she breathed awkwardly, looking at him shyly. “I’m still a little nervous,” she admitted as some kind of apology for her moment of abstraction. “Anyway, James told me about you coming later, but I didn’t know when so I just looked around and met some colleagues.”

He nodded.

“So, how was your date?” Chloe asked. She didn’t show any sign of restraint and didn’t seem to want to leave his side either.

Jodie eyed her incredulously. She was blonde but not stupid. When she saw her longing gaze lingering on Shuichi, all dreamy, it dawned upon her. She didn’t bother to hide her infatuation at all. Yet again Jodie found herself unable to blame her. However, unlike Chloe, she couldn’t afford to be blinded by any man’s physical appearance. She had a goal – no matter who was responsible for her for the next few years or how unapproachable – or good looking – that co-worker was.

Solving the murder of her father was her top priority to which she subordinated everything else – her own discomfort as well as long and strenuous days at work.

“… went well.”

The dark voice of her colleague pulled her out of her thoughts. Jodie didn’t show it, but internally she was complaining about her luck of having been assigned to Shuichi of all people. Not only did he look incredibly handsome, but he also had a low voice that had her melting.

And still, she got an idea why some people felt uncomfortable around him – there was something stern about him, something no-fun that wasn’t only due to his confident appearance. It was the subtle undertone in his voice, like a raw warning to not mess around with him.

 

 

Chapter Text

An awkward silence fell upon them once again after Chloe had left their office. Jodie didn’t know what to say or how to break the ice, and Shuichi just put aside a pile of files quietly and turned on his computer.

“When James said you’re one of the best agents I imagined a colleague a few years before pension with a potbelly,” Jodie admitted to him with a crooked smile on her lips.

She didn’t know what else to say but to her surprise, Shuichi sat down on his chair and grinned up at her. With the dark shadow under his eyes though, she couldn’t tell if he was honestly amused or if he simply met her with a good portion of cynicism.

“Guess I’ll be able to deal with it anyway,” she added quickly. “When you explain and show me how and on what I can work.”

“For now you’ll work with me and do nothing on your own,” Shuichi answered matter-of-factly. The smile on his face disappeared. "James told me you graduated best from the training's academy. I expect you to work accordingly.” 

Jodie nodded when she bumped into another problem that caused her hormones to stumble: Shuichi talked in a British accent that was significantly more distinct than James’. She felt the urge to ask him if he’d lived in England but she didn’t want to talk about too many unimportant non-work-related things. She swallowed her curiosity and focused on her job.

Shuichi showed her how to log on to her computer and explained the individual programs to her with more patience than she had given him credit for. She was hesitant to ask questions at first because she couldn’t gauge how much her lack of knowledge bothered him. To her surprise, however, he seemed lenient with her and didn’t show any signs of annoyance or resentment.

“Do you smoke?” He asked her early that afternoon.

“No,” Jodie answered truthfully.

She watched him pull a pack of cigarettes out of his suit jacket that hung over his chair. Jodie leaned back with her eyes closed and mentally set up a first résumé after he excused himself to go out for a smoke.

The smell of him distracted her more than his accent, and he seemed a lot more sociable than Chloe had told her. Yet she was still interested in the story about the bullied coworker and she planned to ask Shuichi about it sooner or later. However, after just a couple of hours of working with him she was convinced she’d get along with him well – as long as she did her work and didn’t attract negative attention with her behavior anyway. After all, it wasn’t only his behavior that decided if they got along or not, but her attitude as well.

 

Since James had to stay longer at the office that day unexpectedly, Jodie stayed as well and continued working. If she was unsure about doing the right thing Shuichi would take a look at it the next day anyway, but she was positive that she had done a good job on her first day. Shuichi also worked a little longer but left ahead of her. Jodie stared at his back when he threw on his black winter jacket.

“Don’t you want to call it a day too?” Shuichi asked, turning to her.

“James picked me up this morning, I’m waiting until he leaves. Maybe I’ll call an Uber if it takes too long.

Shuichi paused for a moment, looked at her thoughtfully and Jodie got the impression he was about to say something when she saw the corner of his mouth twitch. Eventually, however, he nodded and put all his things – cigarettes and phone – in his pockets. At last, he stuffed his coffee mug in his shoulder bag. Only at the door did he stop again and turned to face her.

“Quit it for today when you’re stuck or in doubt. I don’t have any appointments tomorrow so we have all the time you need.”

“I think I can manage,” Jodie said confidently, a fine smile tugging on her lips. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” he replied and was gone only seconds later.

 

Smiling, Jodie propped her chin on her hands and stared dreamily at the spot Shuichi had stood last. The tangy scent of his perfume was still slightly lingering in their office that kept distracting her all day.

 

Jodie felt a sting of disappointment the next day when she realized the scent evaporated, but she also noticed that Shuichi seemed to not always wear perfume. She had been in the office sometime before him and instead of a mind-fogging scent, he brought a light cigarette smell into the small room. She wouldn’t have complained if he’d always smelled as good as the day before.

 

Jodie did well in her first week. She was no longer afraid to ask questions because Shuichi answered them all as patiently as the first one. By the end of the week, the questions decreased, and Shuichi let her do one or another task on her own.

On Friday afternoon, Jodie came to several conclusions. She got along with her colleague; way better than some co-workers had predicted. Shuichi smiled little and didn’t usually let himself be drawn in small talk. He was strict too, she could tell, but he was just as indulgent as well and not just with her. The relationship with the colleagues they worked with on a specific case was straightforward and based on mutual respect.

Later, when the sun had already set and the city was lit by the many street lights, Jodie left the building, followed by Shuichi.

“Ah–“, he uttered quietly, “How do you feel about Black?”

Jodie buried her hands deep in the pockets of her coat as soon as she stepped out in the cold. She turned to her colleague with a puzzled frown.

“James?”

Shuichi gave her a look she wasn’t sure about what it meant, but instead of answering her – just nodding for that matter – he just took out his cigarettes and stuck one between his lips. This man was clearly smoking too much – but he did it with some style at least.

Jodie averted her gaze after it lingered on his fingers for a moment too long. In twenty-three years she’d never had eyes or time for men and now it was a colleague of all people who turned her head. The weekend would be good for her to rearrange her priorities.

“He’s my… uncle,” she finally admitted, though hesitantly. Jodie was aware that some people could imply that it was only due to James that she got the job. “… Godfather. We aren’t related.”

Shuichi nodded with the cigarette between his lips, taking a deep drag. Unsure if she should leave or stay, or what she could say, Jodie slowly walked towards the pedestrian. Her colleague followed her, casually, with his right hand in his pocket as she noticed with a discreet glance. His eyes lingered on her, increasing her nervousness with every step.

“You did a good job this week,” he said, praising her with a small smile. “Keep working like that.”

Jodie was both surprised and delighted at the unexpected encouraging words coming from him. The pleasant tingling sensation in her stomach made her grin like an idiot – something she tried to hide in the propped-up collar of her coat. She failed miserably when she interpreted the smirk on his face correctly, making her face heat up and turning bright red. Her body was a traitor, and she didn’t want to know what Shuichi must be thinking of her, looking all like a stupid teenager.

Only when she reached the sidewalk she dared to straighten herself – the freezing cold air reddened the skin of her face anyway.

“I don’t intend to work less in the future,” Jodie retorted with determination. “Or worse.”

Her goals didn’t allow half-hearted work and she hadn’t worked this hard for all those years just for now to get lazy and lower her ambition.

 

Still. When she treated herself to a relaxing bath that night, she sullenly sunk down into the tub up to her mouth and blew air into the water, making it bubble for as long as her breath was. She really didn’t need to crush on a co-worker, though she had to admit that Shuichi’s character seemed to be in no way inferior to his looks. Due to his calm and silent manner and the intellect that dwelt behind his forehead, he had something mysterious about him that wanted to be discovered.

For a moment, Jodie sunk a little deeper into the tub and stared at the white wall in front of her. The only thing she wanted to discover was her father’s murderer – and yet Shuichi wouldn’t leave her mind.

 

The only things that helped was the distraction of sport and video games. By Monday morning she had pushed aside all thoughts about work and Shuichi and started the new week unencumbered. It started with a briefing about the current case that she was working in with a group of other agents. She soaked the procedure in and let the whole thing sink in. She was still under rookie protection and had a lot to learn but she wanted to get rid of that status as soon as possible.

After the meeting, Shuichi went outside with a colleague. When he came back, he had a red nose and some snowflakes in his hair that hadn’t yet melted. How even the lowest temperatures didn’t stop smokers from smoking was beyond her.

 

At noon the following day, a familiar face stopped by her office. Sebastian first peered cautiously into the room by sticking his head around the door. Jodie saw how his eyes lingered on Shuichi for a second before he turned his head in her direction. A broad smile crept on his face immediately. Sebastian stepped over the threshold with a straightened back and squared shoulders.

“Hi” He said, friendly.

He only briefly raised his hand to greet Shuichi silently but otherwise ignored him – Shuichi did the same.

Sebastian made himself comfortable on the edge of her desk and looked at her expectantly, almost like a child in Santa’s arms, Jodie thought.

“Sebastian,” she replied politely, lacking a great deal of warmth, however.

“How’s your first week been?” He asked. “I heard you made a good impression.”

The much too broad smile stuck on his face although Jodie didn’t return the kindness. She didn’t know him and wasn’t too fond of him either, but with his easy and open nature, he didn’t struggle to get her to talk. If he just wasn’t the kind of man she was fed up with.

“Who did I make a good impression on?” Jodie asked with a cocked eyebrow. “On you?!”

“Uh-no!” He uttered breathlessly. He almost knocked her coffee cup over when his arm jerked.

Jodie blinked, surprised to see his cheeks blush instantly – if it happened because of his clumsiness or her playful remark, she couldn’t tell. Was she making him nervous? She wasn’t even trying hard.

“I–I mean,” he stuttered. Sebastian cleared his throat and seemed to take a moment to collect himself. “Of course, you impressed me too, but I was talking about our team in general.”

Our team ,” Jodie repeated slowly, letting the words hang heavily in the room. As if she was assigned to him – he had nothing to do with the group of agents she was working with.

“Ah-uh, I meant us colleagues in general,” he muttered with a sweeping gesture.

“Oh! You mean because I’ve met so many colleagues already and we’re in regular exchange?” Jodie asked with exaggerated euphoria.

A choked laugh suddenly filled the room and made Jodie turn her head back to Shuichi. He had stopped working and was hiding a grin under his hand, between his thumb and index finger. She could tell by the twinkling in his eyes and the small wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. He at least tried to look innocent but failed terribly.

“I think I should maybe get back to work,” Sebastian said, head flushed. He slipped off her desk and almost knocked over the files resting on the surface when he turned around in a hurry.

Jodie rolled her eyes and waited a few seconds before she no longer heard his footsteps in the hallway outside her office. She sighed.

“Some men are really obnoxious.” Jodie took off her glasses to rub the bridge of her nose with two fingers.

“He just wanted to have a conversation with you,” Shuichi judged dryly – and Jodie rolled her eyes again.

As if she wasn’t aware of that. Yet some unpleasant facts added up and put Sebastian in an unfavorable position. He wasn’t her type, he had acted too pushy when they first met, and he was too old for her anyway. With the scattered traces of gray hairs in his beard, she guessed him to be at least in his late thirties. The wrinkles under his eyes were also an indicator that he was older than he appeared at first glance.

“Yes. But I didn’t want to have a conversation with him,” Jodie muttered. “I just want to work.”

She saw the corner of Shuichi’s mouth twitch slightly as she put her glasses back on.

“You could have left him at least a bit of dignity.”

“No. That’s the payback for his intrusive behavior last week!”

After work, Jodie found herself outside with Shuichi again. He was quietly smoking his cigarette and Jodie watched as the snow falling from the sky, discontented.

“You having a long way home?”

Shuichi’s question came out of the blue. It surprised and pleased her likewise. She could have let him alone and left to get home, but she was grateful that he decided to break the silence between them.

“No, not really,” she answered as she turned to him. “But people tend to forget how to drive and make it a hell-ride home.”

“Tch,” Shuichi uttered annoyedly. He shook his head as he took a deep drag from his cigarette at the same time.

The burning ash lit up, letting tiny shadows dance across his face; the green of his eyes, glowing for a second. Jodie’s heart skipped a beat and Shuichi turned his head away to exhale the smoke.

“Same shit all year as soon as the weather turns.”

Jodie nodded, smiling mildly. It was the same annoyance as every year and it only got worse.

“What about you?” She asked, curiously. “Where do you live?”

Shuichi’s lips twisted into a smirk. “Near Riverside Park.”

 

At the end of her second week, Jodie realized how it became sort of a habit to stand in front of the office together after work. Shuichi always took his time to smoke a cigarette before he went home. He never was in a hurry to get home and neither was Jodie. At home there was only a cold void waiting for her, leaving her lonely night after night. She didn’t care much about it, after all she’d chosen this path herself. If only her co-worker didn’t cause this tingling sensation in her stomach every time she saw him or thought about him, making her all the more aware of the emptiness at home.

Jodie shuddered when she stepped through the front door into the freezing air Friday night. She buried her nose into her scarf immediately. Instead of going straight to her car, she stopped a moment at the door. Now, that Shuichi hadn’t been in the office all day, she noticed how she’d gotten used to his company and their brief conversations that never exceeded the length of a cigarette.  

Chapter Text

Before Shuichi took her on her first observation, Jodie had imagined it to be more exciting. With more action and less coffee. However, she abstained from complaining about her aching butt and the lack of moving because of her sitting next to Shuichi in his truck, listening to quiet music from the radio. The air wasn’t the best – Shuichi’s aftershave mingled with the cigarette smoke and it was too cold to roll down the windows. She didn’t want to complain about that either. And neither about her cold hands she tried to warm around her coffee cup.

“… no end in sight to President Trump’s shutdown.”

Shuichi turned the volume of the radio up when the news reported about the current government shut down.

“The Democrats reject a new draft budget from Donald Trump who continues to demand 5.7 billion for the construction of the wall at the Mexican border. In return, President Trump offered three years of protection from deportation for the immigrant group Dreamers. Anyone currently under protection will not be deported at this time.”

“What an idiot,” Shuichi muttered. He turned the volume down with a deep frown on his face. “I can’t hear this shit anymore.”

“Have you been forced to take unpaid leave before I started?” Jodie asked. She understood his frustration about this situation.

Shuichi snorted. “No,” he said. “But I haven’t been paid in five weeks because of that jackass.”

Jodie grimaced at the realization that the consequences of this situation didn’t spare him either. She just hadn’t spent a single thought about it being too immersed with her new job and impressions. She had never heard him complain – until just now. She imagined it to be uncomfortable to live at an expensive place like Manhattan with no income.

“Someone with the IQ of a stupid brat should be denied to run for presidency to begin with.”

“Not that I disagree,” Jodie said, smirking at him from the side, “but we don’t want to talk about Brexit and the Prime Minister of the UK either, do we?!”

“Brexit?” Shuichi took the eyes off the house in surprise and focused his whole attention on her.

Jodie let her eyes shift back to the house instead.

“You’re from England.”

It wasn’t a question but a statement. She was positive to be right in her conclusion. Shuichi was silent and Jodie gave him a quick, appraising look when he didn’t move. His gaze was fixed on her as if he was waiting for an explanation.

“You can’t deny your accent,” she finally said. “Also, when James asked you if you had a moment last week, you told him that you’d have a fag first.” Jodie paused for a longer moment and turned to face him again. “The lack of James’ concern why you’d let him wait to have… intercourse with another man was beyond me, to be honest. It took me a hot second to realize what you were up to.”

Shuichi’s mouth curled up into a smirk that also affected her.

“Also, you’re eating differently. You never put your knife down while eating the other day, though you didn’t use it. Anyone else had put the knife down and used the fork with their other hand.”

“And based on that you deduced that I’m from the island?”

“I noticed it as a kid when we went out for dinner with James. He was always the only one not putting the knife down. I remember that I asked him about it and he told me it was a habit due to the etiquette in his home country. You two aside, I’ve never seen anyone else eating like that.”

Shuichi laughed, amused, and delighted, which – just like his good smell – caused her stomach to tingle. It was pleasant to hear his voice, but his laughter, rare as it was, was the most soothing sound to her ears. She just couldn’t resist the urge to look at him. The lightheartedness suited him well, as did the sparkling in his eyes.

She wanted to drown in his eyes that promised a sense of safety with their clear and sharp expressivity. Even when she ignored her fluttering stomach she had to admit that he’d the most beautiful eyes she’d ever seen. The greens were rich and vivid, fading into a deep green, almost black edge of his iris.

“You’re not wrong.”

Jodie startled from her thoughts. It was only in that moment that she realized with fast beating heart she’d stared at him. Has it been seconds? Minutes? Jodie didn’t know but the mere fact that he’d noticed let her face heat up. She avoided to turn her head to the other side in fear of seeing her crimson cheeks in the reflection of the window. As warm as they felt her face must definitely be burning.

Jodie didn’t trust her voice anymore, so she just grinned at him, embarrassedly. Luckily, Shuichi didn’t mention it.

“So?” She asked, trying to sound normal but found her voice still a little too high pitched.

He rolled his eyes. “That whole thing is a farce,” he admitted with obvious annoyance. “Right now America and the UK are as bad as the other. It’s like comparing the plague to cholera.”

Jodie couldn’t help but laugh slightly at his rough way of voicing his opinion of the current political issues and looked at him surreptitiously.

“I was referring to you, not Brexit,” she smiled. “Where are you from?”

“From England.”

Jodie laughed at his obvious answer.

“You don’t say, Sherlock!”

Shuichi didn’t answer her anymore so she forced her focus back to her work. She neither wanted to create a bad impression now nor did she want to distract him, although nothing yet had happened in and around the house.

 

“I grew up in London.”

Jodie turned her head to him in surprise. She hadn’t expected to get an answer, however, she was glad she got one.

“My parents had a house in Marylebone.”

“Isn’t James from that neighborhood too?”

Shuichi, who had leaned his head back against the headrest, shot her an amused smile.

“Possible,” he said vaguely.

Silence fell over them as Jodie considered her next question. She wanted to get to know more about him as she felt long since hooked due to all the little details she learned about him with each passing day.

“What about your parents?” She finally dared to ask. “Do they come from England too?”

“Yes.” He replied curtly.

Jodie put on a playful pout at his monosyllabic answer and refrained from asking further questions about his family. Instead she made a mental note to stop asking him closed questions if she wanted to get to know anything about him. It didn’t seem easy to ask about his ethnicity even with her just being way too curious about it. Curious about who he was, what he liked and what he enjoyed doing.

“Then, what brought you to the States?” She kept asking. “In order to end up with the FBI you’d need a little bit of vision. ”

After all, he needed an American citizenship that he couldn’t buy together with his plane ticket.

“Maybe I used to watch too many movies about the FBI,” he replied dryly.

Jodie felt frustrated when she couldn’t tell if he was kidding her or if he just didn’t want to talk about it. Whatever it was, it made him stuck on her mind all the more. She couldn’t stop thinking about him and didn’t get to fight the hundreds of butterflies in her stomach. Even when another shift took over and she left to go home he was still in her thoughts. She cursed herself and the situation for not expecting this kind of distraction happening to her.

 

 

“You seem to get along with Shuichi pretty good.”

Jodie closed the fridge with a bottle of milk in her hand and turned to the voice behind her. Chloe stood in the doorway and smiled at her.

“We get along well,” Jodie agreed.

A smile appeared on her face that just got wider the longer the thought of her coworker lingered on her mind. She couldn’t hide it, so she turned away from Chloe and unscrewed the bottle to pour the milk into her steaming coffee. Jodie closed her eyes for a brief moment, enjoying the light feeling in her whole body as her pulse rose at the mere memory of Shuichi’s rare smileys and his scent – the light coffee and cigarette smell – that surrounded him if he didn’t wear perfume or aftershave. As soon as she left the kitchen, she had to focus on her work again where her infatuation had no place in.

“I’m happy for you,” Chloe said, sounding kind of flatly. “He usually isn’t that friendly.”

Sighing, Jodie screwed the lit and put the milk back into the fridge. With her mug in her hand, she turned back to Chloe – this time, though, with the intention of leaving the kitchen.

“He hasn’t been unfriendly yet. Maybe he just appreciates it when his colleagues do their work.”

After all, that’s what they got paid for. Jodie didn’t take all these hard efforts upon herself to find herself just a rich man. She wanted to find her father’s murderer; there was no place for people that stopped her from moving forward or leading her off her path even. Jodie passed Chloe and left her standing to go right back to work.

Back in her office, every thought about Shuichi was forgotten quickly. For one she had tasks to accomplish and for another Shuichi was running around, talking to coworkers about their investigations.

It was fine with her. She did a solid job, learned new things daily and she got the chance to prove herself when Shuichi wasn’t watching her closely all day. She was far from being able to do investigations on her own, so she did everything possible to gain the needed knowledge and trust as fast as possible. There was no way to take a shortcut for her, but she wouldn’t make a detour either.

 

Some time around leaving work for the day, Shuichi came up to her to ask her about her task and let her update him. Jodie, willingly, told him everything about what she had done all day and how she’d done it. Her colleague nodded along most of the time, but also asked some questions and sometimes she wondered if he was testing her. Judging by the faint smile on his lips, she had passed.

Chloe’s warning came back on her mind. He would scare off his colleagues. She longed for getting to know him better since her impression of him and the concerns of some coworkers couldn’t seem any more different.

 

“Say, Shuichi,” Jodie said as she slipped into her coat, following him on the hallway. “What happened to the woman you worked with?”

“Jessica?” He asked puzzled.

“Hm,” Jodie replied. “I don’t know what her name is.”

Shuichi fell quiet on their short walk down the hall to the elevator.  Jodie couldn’t help but wonder if he was feeling too uncomfortable talking about it or if he had to come up with an excuse first. Maybe she wouldn’t get an answer at all. Even when they got in the elevator, he kept silent while it brought them down to the ground floor, rattling and creaking.

Jodie was almost taken by surprise when suddenly Shuichi found his voice.

“Her husband got a job on the west coast about a year ago. Jessica applied for a position at the Los Angeles field office, but it wasn’t until last Thanksgiving that she could follow suit with their kids.”

Only a silent Oh slipped over her lips as he finished.

That sounded entirely different to Chloe’s story. Less dramatic and more reasonable – and apart from that, she’d got to know Shuichi to be quite the opposite of what she’s been told.

“Why?”

Jodie waved him off.

“Never mind.”

Shuichi gave her a suspicious side glance, one eyebrow cocked. Jodie sighed.

“Guess it was gossip.”

“What gossip?”

She watched as he took a cigarette out and stuck it between his lips like every night after work. He then went over to patting down his coat and pockets of his pants, looking for his lighter. He paused when he obviously couldn’t find it and stared at her – but not really. Jodie saw that the gears inside his head were running hard.

After just a few seconds, he growled and snatched the cigarette with index- and middle finger from between his lips.

“No lighter?” Jodie asked him amused – glad that she could drop their previous conversation.

She regarded him with a sly little smile as he muttered something indistinct to himself. Smoker and their habit of constantly losing their lighters , Jodie thought to herself.

Slowly, Shuichi started walking past her without saying a word. Jodie hesitated for a brief second but then tagged along. After all they had their cars parked at the same parking lot. Carefully as to not slip on the icy ground, Jodie caught up to him and walked in silence until they reached her car.

“Damn!” she cursed silently when she saw the frost on her windows. “I hate scraping.”

However, she resigned herself to her fate quickly, by just sighing. She didn’t want to stay in the cold any second longer than needed.

“Well then,” she said, stopping right in front of her car. “See you tomorrow?”

Shuichi stopped in his tracks and half turned to her, a faint smirk on his face.

“Yeah,” he just said, twirling the cigarette between his fingers in a lazy motion. “See you.”

Jodie watched him facing the other way and kept walking away from her. She smiled, then shook her head and got into her car. The cold inside made her shiver and the ice-cold steering wheel stung as she touched it. She hated this.

And even more so when her car didn’t want to start. Jodie blinked and tried to start the engine a second time, but nothing happened. A third time didn’t work either.

“Dammit!” She cursed with clattering teeth. She felt like the cold was creeping through to her bones the longer she sat in her car and didn’t move. She tried another desperate attempt, a fourth one now, but it was useless. Her car just wouldn’t start.

Jodie leaned back into the driver’s seat and closed her eyes – and before she thought about it, she threw her door open and jumped out of the vehicle. She walked down the parking lot, looking for Shuichi who still must be there. If he was gone, she had seen him drive past her. With her arms curled around her body she eventually found his car.

He opened his door when she reached the driver’s side and gave her a questioning look, taking a drag from his now burning cigarette.

“My car doesn’t start,” she explained, still shivering. “Any chance you can give me a jump start?”

Shuichi took a deep drag and blew the smoke out nodding. “Sure,” he replied.

Jodie nodded. “Thanks!”

He still didn’t avert his gaze from her until suddenly his lips curled into a soft smile.

“You’re cold,” Shuichi noticed but he didn’t need to be a genius for that. “Come inside, it’s warm. I still need a moment.”

He pointed to his still frosted windows, though it was already melting.

Jodie didn’t need to be asked twice. She walked around his truck and got on the passenger’s seat. She would gladly take his smoke for a short warm up in his car.

“You don’t have anything to scrape?” She pointed at the windshield.

“No,” he just said.

 

It didn’t take long for his windshield to be cleared. Shuichi extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray and drove them to her car. Jodie was disappointed that she had to leave the warm inside again to spend the next moments in that cold air.

“Can you reach under your seat? The cable got to be there,” Shuichi asked.

Jodie nodded. She got out of his car – did it just get colder? – and reached under the seat. As she felt her fingers touch a bag, she curled her fingers around that material and pulled it out. A short glimpse inside told her that she found the jumper cable.

She handed Shuichi the cables after he had opened his hood. Jodie quickly did the same and attached the cables together with him. He only left her side to go and start his engine but then came back to keep her some company while she froze her butt off.

“It’s definitely too cold,” she muttered after some minutes. “And I hope it will work. How much longer do I have to wait?”

Shuichi shrugged. “You can just try to start your car now.”

And Jodie did right that. To her surprise, the engine started after some initially stuttering.

She wanted to get out of her car again, but Shuichi was already standing at her open car door, his left arm resting on the roof and casually leaning against the side.

“Turn as much electronics on as you can if you don’t want it to take damage,” he told her. “Light, heating, ventilation…”

Jodie blinked at him. Then blushed. She didn’t know about this, but she obeyed. She didn’t like to turn anything on more than the heating – if only he would sit on her other side instead of keeping her door open.

“Do you have some time tonight?” He kept talking by asking her. “You said you don’t live far, right? Take a detour. You better keep driving for not less than an hour to charge your battery. Otherwise, it won’t fully charge and you might get the same issues tomorrow again.”

She sighed again. She wasn’t really up for a one-hour joy drive in the cold and darkness outside. However, she didn’t have much of a choice.

“Alright,” she said, smiling up at him. “Thanks for your help.”

“Yeah, no problem. Just get home safe.”

“I will,” she promised. “Good night, Shuichi.”

“Night, Jodie.”

Shuichi pushed himself off her car and Jodie watched him disconnecting the cables from their cars and closing her hood. He did the same with his car after that and Jodie just waited until he was ready to leave since he kept blocking her car.

Even though she was freezing cold in her not yet warmed car, she felt ridiculously happy that he had spent another few minutes with her and even helped her. When the lights of his cars disappeared, though, she also felt a little bit of regret. It wasn’t more than just that. A few minutes. 



Chapter Text

More and more, Jodie got the impression that the Friday tried to disguise itself as a Monday. First, she was late at work because her car didn’t want to start for a long time – something that kept happening more frequently now. Then she slipped and almost fell on the icy stairs right in front of the office building and now a lasting blackout kept her away from her work. Jodie had her head propped on her hands while she just waited. She could hear a lot of her coworkers chatting coming from the hallway; they couldn’t work without their computers, had no ideal lighting conditions or simply took the chance to walk around and stretch their legs.

Without the buzzing of their devices and the ceiling lights, Jodie felt tricked to believe it was the end of the day. She took a quick impatient glance at her phone. For once she wouldn’t mind leaving work this early – she didn’t want to dare the day into bringing her another crisis. Considering her luck though, she had a feeling that she’d get another handful of obstacles thrown her way.

 

The sudden smell of seasonings that entered the office with smooth and confident footfalls let Jodie open her eyes. Shuichi just walked in with a cup of steaming instant noodles in his hand. She cocked an eyebrow.

“Where did you get boiling water from?” she asked, irritated.

“Was just done boiling when the blackout happened,” he answered immediately.

Jodie followed him with her eyes, watching as he sat down on his chair and got a pair of chopsticks out of his drawer. An appraising look to his face assured her that he was so distracted by his lunch, making her feel safe letting her gaze drop onto his fingers. For some odd reasons she liked to see the way he held the chopsticks in his left hand. She liked the way he moved them and she enjoyed the view.

She only realized how silly it was when another person joined them in their small office. Jodie moaned internally when she realized it was Chloe. She stopped short when their eyes met but then averted her gaze quickly and focused her attention on their colleague. She walked up to his desk and leaned her hip against it.

“These noodles again?” She asked – as if she kept an eye on what Shuichi was eating at work. “Do they even taste?”

“No.”

Jodie lifted her head from her hands and leaned back. She bit her lower lip so as to not laugh about Shuichi’s dry answer. He on the other hand wasn’t at all deterred by Chloe.

“How about we go and get some good lunch?” She asked undaunted. “There’s a restaurant on the 13th street that makes the best Sushi in all New York, I promise you!”

Jodie witnessed how Shuichi brought a portion of noodles to his mouth but halted halfway there. He looked up to Chloe for the first time since she’d entered their office. He didn’t even blink; Shuichi let the chopsticks sink back into the safe surrounding of the cup without looking at it.

“Ah–,” he uttered. “I’d rather go for periwinkles.”

“For what?”

“Winkles. Small sea snails.”

“Excuse me?!”

Jodie had to suppress her laughter at Chloe's obvious dismay, though Jodie had to admit that snails didn’t sound tasty at all. However, like the many times before, she couldn’t tell if he was joking or being serious.

“No fat, a lot of proteins and minerals.”

“Is that a common dish where you come from?”

“Where do I come from?” Shuichi demanded to know with a smirk, keeping a smug expression on his face.

Jodie leaned over her desk and buried her face in her hands. She felt the embarrassment as Chloe kept digging her own grave. She felt uncomfortable about how tactless she– and how mercilessly Shuichi was.



“Sea snails?!” Jodie asked incredulously when Chloe had left their office. “Really?”

“Hm,” Shuichi hummed. He set his cup aside and let the chopsticks sticking out of it.

“Gross!”

The fine smile that played around his lips at her display of disgust that made softened her expression.

 

 

After another hour the electricity was back but it didn’t make the day any better. Instead of letting her have her well-deserved weekend, she found herself fighting with her car again. It refused to start. She tried desperately to bring the engine to run but there wasn’t even a stutter this time.

Complaining quietly, Jodie rested her forehead against the cold wheel, trying to stay calm. She didn’t want to get provoked by an old can. However, she was cold, tired and just wanted to get home. Unfortunately, no amount of patience, pleading, and begging worked – her car refused to bring her home. Disgruntled about the situation, Jodie got out of her car and dumped all her frustration on the vehicle by throwing the door shut extra loud. The jolt set off a tiny avalanche as some of the snow on the roof slid down the windshield.

Jodie trudged through the snow back to the entrance of the office building – if she was going to call an Uber she’d at least wait in a warm place before she’d end as an icicle. She pulled her coat tighter around her body and folded her arms on her chest, trying not to slip and faceplant on the snow-free entrance area.

Some co-workers looked at her silly when they saw her entering as they left. Jodie didn’t care for them though; she just rubbed her cold hands against each other in a desperate attempt to warm them up.

 

“Jodie?”

The deep, unmistakably voice of Shuichi reached her ears and made her look up.

“I thought you went home.”

“Well,” Jodie muttered, keeping a frown on her face, “guess my car broke down. For good this time.”

“Do you need a jump start?”

Jodie shook her head. “The only thing that’s going to help is the car press,” she sighed.

She had hoped to keep the car for some more years, but it seemed like it had reached its limit this winter.

“Anyway, I just came back to wait here for an Uber. It’s too cold outside.”

She watched Shuichi as he pulled his cigarettes out of the pocket of his jacket.

“Did you contact a driver?”

“Not yet.”

Shuichi walked to the door and picked one cigarette out of the box and put the rest back in his pockets. He turned the door handle and pushed the door open with his foot. Jodie shuddered with cold when an icy wind hit her, causing her to press her chin in the soft fabric of her scarf. Her eyes still lie on Shuichi, unwavering who also saw back at her. His brief nod didn’t go unnoticed – a silent prompt to follow her outside.

Jodie shoved her hands into the pockets of her coat and smiled widely into the fabric covering her mouth. She was freezing outside, it was too cold, but Shuichi's company was worth enduring it. She didn’t let him tell her twice to follow him. Instead, she hurried and slipped through the door, between frame and him.

Shuichi was silent like he was so many times while he inhaled the smoke into his lungs. He let his eye wander the dark street that got illuminated only by a few street lights and passing cars. Jodie’s gaze lingered still in him, watched the shadows dance on his face every time he took a drag. How it wasn’t too cold for him to smoke was beyond her – she was almost certain that, if she smoked, she’d become a non-smoker under these conditions.

Eventually, she pulled her mobile out of her coat with shaking fingers, to get a ride home. She barely got to open the app when suddenly a hand covered the upper half of her phone that forced her hand down.

“I’m bringing you home.”

Shuichi’s piecing look laid on her, making Jodie shudder again. He turned a little to take a last drag from his cigarette before he threw the cigarette butt on a heap of snow on the sidewalk. At last, he exhaled the white smoke through the corner of his mouth and then turned back to her – why did he have to look so good at whatever he did? The smoke smelled disgusting.

Still, her heart didn’t care but skipped a beat.

“You sure?” She asked, hoping that her excitement wasn’t too noticeable.

“Yes.”

The smile on her face grew wider. She buried her nose deeper into her scarf and moaned frustrated as her glasses steamed up.

“Okay,” she piped.

That was way better than any Uber ride. Her heart was pounding when she put her phone back into her pocket and followed him to his Chevrolet. She kept being cautious of the icy ground so as to not embarrass herself in front of his eyes.

Jodie cursed her excitement she couldn’t hide silently – it was hard to remember why he offered her the ride home. He was only being nice. That’s all.

And that’s how it should stay, Jodie thought on the way home. She had a goal and couldn’t afford a flirtation with a coworker – and nothing that got in her way on her mission to find her father’s murderer. And Shuichi was her trainings agent. Not her supervisor, but a stage on her road.

She managed to hold on to her plan quite well.

Until they reached her apartment building.

Jodie thanked Shuichi for the ride and wished him a nice weekend. She felt the sting of disappointment when he didn’t react to it. Only when she swung her first leg through the open door he seemed to get life breathed into him.

“Ah– Jodie!” He said hesitantly. He cleared his throat and looked up at her with such a soft expression in his eyes, she felt her heart melt.

She was out of his car now and saw herself confronted with a pair of puppy eyes – intentional or not. Her heart fluttered only from this look.

“Yes?” She rasped nervously.

He didn’t answer her right away but she saw from the corner of her eyes how his leg twitched.

“Do you want to drink coffee with me tomorrow? I invite you.”

 

Chapter Text

So much about not caring and letting her coworker be her coworker. There was no way to concentrate solely on work with him around her. He had invited her for a coffee and had told her to dress warm enough.

Numerous thoughts crossed her mind, all accompanied by a fluttering heart and an undeniable excitement, ever since she had closed the door to her apartment behind her. Did he want to do something special? He didn’t say where he wanted to have coffee with her, just that he wanted her to have one with him. But most importantly: Was this a date?

Jodie has never been on a date. Did he expect anything from her now? Did she read too much into his invitation and it was just a friendly meeting as colleagues?

But it’s the weekend, a voice in her head pointed out. That meant he had obvious intentions.

Didn’t he?

Jodie was lying awake in her bed for the longest time of the night, plagued by awkward doubts and the tingling sensation in her stomach, every time she thought about Shuichi. It was sad to realize how he had worked his way into her head without getting security clearance from her senses first. He had never gotten one with that silly look on his face earlier in the car anyway!

Rolling over on her stomach, Jodie buried her face in her pillow, groaning. Developing feelings for a coworker was a bad idea that, unfortunately, felt way too good. If he felt the same way for her? Jodie lifted her head and rolled back on her back, staring at her white ceiling. If he was lying in his bed right now and thinking about her too? Or maybe about their… date tomorrow? She didn’t know him well yet, but she wanted to imagine sharing the same thrill of excitement and enthusiasm.

Time passed and Jodie covered her eyes with her arm, sighting silently. No matter what her feelings were telling her lately, she’d follow through her plan with deviation. As a consequence thereof, she felt concerns descend upon her, doubts – what if Shuichi didn’t appreciate it? She felt like how soon she could take care of her own concerns at work depended on how good she did under Shuichi’s supervision. Sleeping her way up wasn’t an option, but what if Chloe was right and he would throw rocks onto her road when she realized that the thing between them didn’t work?

For maybe a hundredth time, Jodie remembered his silly expression – how he had looked at her with his wide eyes, the greens so big and dark in the dull light and so hopeful. She had gotten to know him at work, she knew he could be strict and hard, but he was always respectful if he was approached by the same amount of respect. He was definitely better than her doubts that tried to shoot the butterflies in her stomach; Jodie blamed her worries on her excitement and her lack of experience. It would all go well. It was just an invitation for a coffee.

Maybe not even a date. Maybe he just wanted to talk to her about work – but then again, he could’ve done that on the ride home.

Jodie turned on her side and pulled the covers up to the tip of her nose.

 

 

At noon the next day, Jodie stood in the middle of her closet, quite desperate despite her preferring not to prepare for a – her heart wanted to choke her mind – date. She was at a loss as to what to wear, especially considering the low temperatures. And apart from that, she didn’t want to look like she interpreted more into his invitation in case he didn’t aim for a date.

By the time Shuichi picked her up, she was wearing a warm, rose-white striped hoodie that hugged her curves tightly. She also kept it simple with plain, dark jeans and warm boots. When she left her apartment, she only threw her winter jacket on.

The walk from the house entrance to her coworker, who was waiting on the roadside a bit away, engine still running, made her shiver, but she got embraced by a pleasant warmth in his truck.

“Hi,” she greeted him. Her voice probably too high.

Shuichi had his elbow propped against the window and his face leaned against his fist while he waited for her. He’d had his eyes closed because he blinked as he raised his head and watched her taking a seat.

“Hey,” he replied simply, but with the hint of a smile.

“How was your day?” Jodie asked casually while she strapped her seat belt. She couldn’t hold back her good mood and her joy, even if she tried.

“Busy.”

He ducked his head and leaned over his steering wheel to get a better view of the tower she lived in.

Jodie laughed slightly, amused, when he shook his head a moment later and turned on the indicator. Whatever was on his mind was a mystery to her and he didn’t mention it.

 

“Where are we going?” Jodie asked curiously.

After half an hour of driving on the interstate, they still had no coffee.

“You will see soon enough.” Was Shuichi’s only answer.

“But you don’t intend to bring me somewhere to kill me and then bury me somewhere in a forest, do you?”

A dark smirk appeared on his face that got only wider when he glanced over at her briefly. Jodie laughed, even as she averted her gaze to look out of the side window, shaking her head. She was ridiculously fond of him – him and his weird humor.

“I won’t make it easy for you, though. Prepare for resistance.” She warned him with a wide grin, staring at his reflection in the window.

“Hmm five feet, two inches of resistance. Doesn’t sound like a challenge,” Shuichi retorted sarcastically.

“It’s five feet six! You’d be surprised!”

This time Shuichi laughed out loud. Rough and deep; it made the air in the car vibrate and caused Jodie’s heart to beat twice as fast. She’d succumbed to his voice when she let herself, but his laugh let her belly tingle and made her grin like an idiot. Jodie placed a hand on her cheek as she felt the heat rise in her. Her heart started fluttering again at the thought and the hope that this was in fact a date. He wouldn’t spend an hour on the highway to just have a coffee with a coworker. Would he? They could’ve had a coffee anywhere around her apartment.

 

Eventually, they found themselves in a snowy state park with the promised coffee – black for him, with lots of milk for her. Just like the previous day when she'd stood in front of the office with him, she buried her nose in her scarf to hide her smile. It was hard to resist when he took her for a walk under the guise of having a coffee with her.

“I hope you didn’t dig the hole yet, if you want to kill me here,” she joked.

He gave her a skeptical side-eye.

“To be honest, I thought I’d let you do it yourself,” he said dryly.

And damn , if his dark humor wasn’t so attractive. Jodie warmed her cold fingers around her mug and dared to size him up for the first time as his eyes were fixed on the path ahead of them.

He wore that awful black knitted hat he always wore, even in the office – actually he didn’t look much different than in the office. Not worse anyway. He seemed to prefer dark clothes, as she realized looking at his black coat, the black jeans, and his also black boots. The only thing that wasn’t black was the white sweater he wore under his coat and his scarf.

Jodie grimaced by wrinkling her nose.

“What’s with that crease on your forehead?” Shuichi asked her suddenly, with the slightest hint of a crooked grin on his lips.

Jodie’s cheeks started burning immediately. Was that the twist of having a coffee with an FBI agent? He knew too much about facial expressions, even though she was burying half her face in her scarf.

“I just thought,” she mumbled, “that you should be careful with that white sweater. Blood splatters don’t look good on it and could raise questions.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.”

“Good.” Jodie laughed.

Her features relaxed again, though the idiotic grin was still attached to her face. Her stomach tingled so excitingly the whole time; she felt light and free, something she never felt before.

The snow crunched under their feet with every step, and together with the chirping of some birds it provided a wonderful contrast to her stressful everyday life. The bare trees weren’t particularly beautiful, but the snow made it look like a scene in a fairytale. The warm rays of sunshine that covered the park and fell through the branches of the trees made her forget the cold.

 

“Nah, Shuichi? Do you plan to return to England someday?”

“No,” he answered without hesitation.

“Why not?” She kept asking.

His monosyllabic answers kept irritating her time and again. She didn’t know whether he answered that way because he didn’t want to talk about it or because the question itself didn’t require any more of an answer.

He was silent for a moment. Jodie watched him taking a sip from his coffee while his gaze was still fixed on the way ahead. Only after a few steps did he turn his head to face her.

“I have a job here. And I don’t want to change my citizenship every couple of years.”

As obvious as his answer was, it was still unsatisfying. Jodie refrained from asking further questions about it. He had his reasons for moving to the States and working for the FBI. She didn’t know why he did it, but she accepted it – and somehow it had something comforting about knowing that he didn’t plan to get back to England.

“Hm,” Jodie hummed. “Have you ever had citizenship other than the British?”

She looked at him sideways, grinning broadly and confidently. The corners of his mouth curled into a fine grin that turned into a mean expression as he narrowed his eyes. It took her breath away.

“No.”

And he drove her crazy. Every attempt to find out more about his ethnical background was ruined by him. It was mean! The wicked expression on his face told her that he knew exactly what she wanted to know. Yet he didn’t make the slightest move to even just show a tiny sign of willingness to tell her what was in him besides his British genes. Something Asian, she was aware, she just couldn’t tell what it was exactly. She knew that the internet could help her out, hopefully, but she wanted to get to know it from him.

Jodie raised the coffee mug to her lips and stared at the snowy path in front of her. Shuichi chuckled ever so slightly next to her. It was frustrating; she wanted to know more about him than he revealed. To her displeasure, it only caused her curiosity to burn brighter. The lack of information he shared made him all the more interesting.

“Okay,” Jodie exclaimed, letting her hand with the cup sink. “How’s London then?”

“Not much different than any other big city. Busy. A little grubby and expensive. It’s as good or as bad as you make it.”

Jodie nodded. “Do you miss it?”

This time he took his time to answer. They continued walking through the snow. Jodie was so concentrated on him that she didn’t see what was lying in front of her. For that she had Shuichi who watched out. She was both surprised and confused when he suddenly reached his arm over her shoulder but didn’t touch her. They took another two steps before Jodie heard a sharp whip cutting through the air behind her, just when Shuichi pulled his hand back. She turned her head over her shoulder only to see a bobbing branch behind her, strewn with thorns. She hadn’t seen it at all, though it was right on her eye level.

“You should pay more attention to what’s in front of you.”

Why did he have to be so direct? He made her face heat up again, realizing that , yes, she only had eyes for him.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, embarrassed.

She pulled her lips into a thin line and stared off into the distance. At least there was no more aggressive branch in the way that just waited to slap her face, as far as she could see. It only took her a short moment, though, to smile again, simply because she reminded herself that he invited her to this walk, no matter how awkward she was.

“Sometimes.”

“Eh?” Jodie looked up at him. “Sorry?”

“You asked if I miss London. Sometimes.”

Jodie blinked at him, perplexed. She hadn’t expected so much honesty – she had forgotten about her question anyway. Knowing that she didn’t bother him and getting to know more about him, triggered an even more intensive tingle in her belly. She wore a dreamy smile on her face when she averted her eyes.

“Have you been with your family at Christmas?”

“No. My siblings wanted to visit me.”

“But they didn’t.” She said more than she asked. She furrowed her brows in sympathy.

“Nah,” Shuichi uttered unconcerned. “My sister got sick and mum wanted her to stay home.”

“That means you have two siblings? Younger? How old?”

Shuichi nodded. “My brother is four years younger and my sister is going to be 12 this year.”

Jodie smiled a warm smile at him. Seeing him as an older brother put him in a completely different light. It made him more approachable and showed his less professional side. Especially the soft expression on his face appealed to Jodie. She wanted to hear more about his family, about his siblings.

“Enough of me now,” Shuichi decided to her regret. “What about you? Where are you from?”

“From America,” Jodie answered teasingly.

She grinned cheekily at Shuichi who rolled his eyes at her – but she didn’t miss the twitch at the corner of his mouth that betrayed him.

“Okay,” he said. “Gotcha.”

Jodie giggled into her scarf. “I’m from Philadelphia, but later lived in Trenton, New Jersey.”

 

They reached a clearing that seemed completely untouched. Jodie stopped and looked for tracks in the snow but found none. The sight was almost too beautiful to ruin it with her own footprints. However, Shuichi indicated her with a nod to follow him.

And so she did. The snow was deeper at this point and she was glad to be wearing winter boots as she sunk into the white clouds with every step. Away from the trees and quite a bit above the level of the parking lot, the wind was stronger and colder. Jodie shuddered when a breeze blew through her hair. She didn’t care much for it though, because the view Shuichi presented to her was breathtaking. She tried to comb her hair back behind her ears absently as she enjoyed the view. From up there she could see the whole park and even parts of a river. As far as her eyes could see, all she saw was snow-covered trees that glistened in the warm sunshine.

“Wow,” she breathed. She was still trying to keep the hair out of her face. “What a beautiful view! I love it!”

Shuichi was quiet while Jodie enjoyed the winter panorama and the silence around them. It wasn’t until some moments later that she realized that Shuichi's gaze was on her. Jodie ignored him. If he wanted to say something, he should do it. And if he just wanted to look at her? Jodie pressed her cold nose deeper in the warm fabric of her scarf. She liked the thought of it – it meant that he must like what he saw.

“Have you been here before?” She asked eventually. He looked away.

“No. But I was hoping you’d like it.”

She did. Only that now, they had to drag their empty coffee cups back with them and she really just wanted to put her cold hands in her pockets.

And yet – it took Jodie a while to filter something much more important through his answer: he had thought about this day and their location, despite him only inviting her for a coffee.

Jodie couldn’t stop smiling for once that afternoon. She hadn’t felt this happy in a long time – if at all in the past fifteen years. Neither her first day at Quantico, with the excitement and uncertainty of what it had in store for her, nor her first day at work just recently had made her feel this happy and free. Meeting Shuichi was a small, unexpected bonus on her way to get to her father’s killer.

 

Away from the clearing, on their way back, Jodie occasionally had the opportunity to just look at Shuichi without being noticed, because he kept walking a step in front of her at times. His long hair was blowing slightly in the wind, weakened by the many trees surrounding them. It was unfair how much of a treat he was even from behind; Jodie couldn’t focus on anything else, he just looked too good.

How did it happen that she was so very infatuated by a coworker?

The way back to the car seemed longer to Jodie than the way up to the clearing. Their surroundings didn’t look familiar to her either. The sun was setting in the distance and their shadows became longer as it got darker.

“Are you sure we’re on the right path?” She asked as they walked over a small wooden bridge.

Jodie was certain that they didn’t come this way.

Shuichi just groaned – she didn’t know if that meant yes or no. Jodie just chuckled about it. She didn’t mind their detour that gave her some extra time to enjoy his quiet company, even when it was pitch dark and bitterly cold when they finally reached his car. She shivered and longed for the heated car and a heated passenger seat, but almost whined when she saw the frost on the windows. That meant for them to wait in the heating car until the ice was melted because Shuichi was too lazy to scrape. Jodie was confident that his laziness was the only reason he didn’t own an ice scraper.

Just like earlier, she didn’t mind the fact that she could spend more time with him.

 

They both were quiet on the way back for a long time. Only the soft tones from the radio drove the silence away and distracted from the monotonous buzzing of the engine. The air in his car was cozily warm. Jodie smiled, relaxed and tired, and looked out of the window most of the time, seeing nothing but front- and back lights of cars they passed on the highway.

“You hungry, too?” Shuichi asked her.

Jodie turned to face him, thinking about it for a second. She didn’t have anything to eat at home and apart from that, she wasn’t really in the mood to cook this night anyway. She’d have to order something so she could just as well have dinner with him.

“Pretty much, yeah,” she replied. “I only had a yoghurt and a coffee today.”

Shuichi nodded and took the first opportunity to get down from the highway to stop at a fast-food restaurant. Jodie didn’t want to complain when he pulled into the drive-thru of a Tex-Mex restaurant, she just didn’t expect him to be the guy who ate junk food. Then again though, he kept eating a lot of trash in the office too. Maybe it wasn’t as surprising as she thought.

This wasn’t a romantic dinner in the classic sense, yet Jodie would lie if she said she wouldn’t enjoy their moment in the parking lot. She was just trying to not make a mess eating her burrito or attract attention otherwise while her mind kept pondering over his invitation.

And she came to the conclusion that Shuichi had brought her home on a direct way if he didn’t enjoy his time with her as well. Instead, they ate quietly and Shuichi even had a cigarette before heading back to the highway.

 

Shuichi stopped the car in front of her apartment building and turned the engine off. Jodie sat back for a longer moment, wary about what to do because Shuichi didn’t say anything. He just looked on the busy street.

“Then uhm–,” she said awkwardly as she reached for the door handle, “thank you for the day, it was amazing!”

Shuichi nodded. “How do you get to work on Monday? Want me to pick you up?”

Jodie leaned back again and smiled at him when he looked at her with a questioning expression.

“Yes!” She exclaimed happily. Otherwise, she would have to call James or take an Uber if he didn’t have time.

“Maybe you should get your car fixed or get a new one if it can’t be fixed anymore.”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about it,” she agreed with a nod. “I’ll take care of it next week.”

He nodded again. Shuichi fell silent but kept his eyes on her. Jodie returned the eye contact, not daring to swallow. Was he expecting anything for the time they’d spent together? His expression was gentle, but there was a small furrow in his forehead that she didn’t know what it meant. Her heart started beating fast with excitement, her mouth went dry. Was he expecting a kiss? She had never kissed anyone, let alone been in a situation like this – and what if he wasn’t expecting anything except for her to get out of his car? She’d do the latter anyway, before she did something stupid.

“Guess I’ll see you on Monday then.”

“Yes.”

“Alright. Good night, Shuichi.”

Jodie hurried but tried not to look rushed when she opened the door and swung her legs out of his truck. Night, Jodie, was all she heard from him before she slammed the door shut.



Chapter Text

It had hit her. Hard. On Sunday, Jodie could no longer deny that she crushed on Shuichi hard because she could no longer think of anything else. He was constantly on her mind and she was looking forward to being picked up by him. She was smiling happily most of the time and enjoying the tingling sensation that went through her whole body, that little flutter in her stomach. Just like the previous nights, she wondered if Shuichi felt just like her. Jodie hoped he did. She didn’t want to be the one who brought the awkward situations to their office.

This thought dampened her euphoria at times. She kept forgetting that he was her coworker and currently even responsible for her and her work. She just wanted to avoid getting on his bad side and she didn’t want to cause drama at work. On the other hand, Jodie thought, he didn’t seem to be the type of man who did anything without a deeper meaning. He ignored Chloe’s attempts of winning him for a date and didn’t seem to notice – or care – for the stares he got from a lot of their female agents. All their attempts of flirting with him happened to be in vain.

That was the impression she got after a couple of weeks anyway.

She just had to pull herself together some more – something that sounded like one of the most difficult tasks, feeling the way she did.

To distract herself from her infatuation and her never halting thoughts, she used the gym in her house on Sunday and played video games.

 

Monday morning came and had Jodie all nervous and giddy, but the dust settled as soon as she fastened her seatbelt in Shuichi’s car. This wasn’t a date and for the duration of the week, she’d concentrate on her top priority – her job and the fastest way to reach her goal. Against her doubts, it wasn’t at all difficult for her to find out of her silly infatuation and go back to her professionalism, even when Shuichi was sitting in front of her all day. Most of the week, however, she spent with other colleagues; Jodie joined in on meetings about the case she was working on with them – the so-called Black Organization they linked a handful of crimes to. All of their traces, however, led to a dead end.

Jodie soaked the whole procedure and the information in like a dry sponge and only sometimes asked some questions about investigations from the past. It all was so exciting for her that she forgot about Shuichi completely – however, the tingling in her belly came back all the more intense in the afternoon when Shuichi walked into the office.

 

Since the weather didn’t seem to get any warmer in the near future, Jodie decided to leave her car where it was parked. By now it was fully covered in snow and Jodie only wanted it to be brought to a garage – if it could get fixed, she would opt for that instead of buying a new car. She was lucky that Shuichi continued to offer her playing her private taxi. On that Monday evening, Jodie unbuckled her seatbelt but only moved to sit on the edge of her seat instead of leaving.

“I can take a cab to get to work,” she told him. “You don’t have to waste your time and your gas to pick me up and drop me off.”

She saw him raising an eyebrow and was confronted with a questioning look. Due to the dull light coming from the nearest street light, his eyes looked as big as they were dark. He looked cute – that thought made her smile.

“Let it be my concern,” Shuichi merely replied after a moment.

He propped his left elbow against the window of the door and leaned his cheek against two of his fingers. Adding to that his soft expression on his face and Jodie felt herself fall for him even more instantly.

“Okay,” she said happily. “See you tomorrow, then.”

“Ah–,” Shuichi uttered from behind her only when she got out of his car, about to slam the door shut. “Night, Jodie.”

 

The next day, Jodie got greeted with a muttered morning by Shuichi and was given a cup of coffee – to her surprise it had the right amount of milk and sugar in it. She thanked him for it and fell silent; Shuichi wasn’t talking either.

After half of their way, Jodie started to feel uncomfortable – Shuichi didn’t even look at her once. He kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead and brought them to their work safely. It was difficult to not get influenced by his odd behavior and yet she still stood with him and kept him company while he smoked his last cigarette before they would clock in.

– And by this time, he no longer avoided looking at her. He gazed at her more often and obviously, and Jodie could have sworn that he wanted to say something when she turned to walk to the entrance. Instead, he followed her to their office. They continued working with the same coworkers like the past week and it wasn’t until early afternoon that it got quieter in the office.

“Jodie.”

She lifted her head up and looked over at Shuichi who was about to leave the room. He wore a black coat and a red scarf – apparently, he wasn’t just going to smoke when he was wrapping up like that.

“Do you have any plans for tonight?”

“No. Why?” She asked, surprised. Her heart started a quick staccato, immediately.

Shuichi paused for a moment. He glanced down the hall outside their office before he turned back to her with an unreadable expression.

“Would you come for a walk through the Central Park with me?”

Jodie’s face lip up in a split second and she straightened her back. “I’d love to!”, she replied cheerfully, even a tad excited.

Her coworker nodded and disappeared, leaving her alone. Jodie closed her eyes and raised the file she was reading in with both hands to lean her forehead against the paper. This was pretty much the first time they talked to one another on this day and all he did was asking her for a walk.

Unfortunately, Shuichi was gone longer than she’d expected. Jodie didn’t know where he had gone, but she figured he’d come back eventually for he had his bag left at the office. She just kept working and had a little chat with James, who came looking for her at some point.

Lost in her file, Jodie didn’t notice Shuichi coming back into the room straight away. She almost jumped out of her skin when, suddenly, he was standing right beside her.

“Shuichi!” She gasped breathlessly and rolled her eyes at him.

He just grinned at her sheepishly.

“I thought you’ll never come back.”

“Sorry. It took me longer than I expected.”

“Where have you been anyway?” Jodie asked curiously.

Shuichi left her alone at her desk to move to his place. Jodie watched him as he started packing his things.

“Met an informant,” he told her casually. “I’d be good if you gave me your number so I can reach you.”

Jodie lowered her chin as she felt her cheeks heat up. She cursed her body internally for its stupid reaction – she wasn’t embarrassed to be asked for her number and yet the blood shot right in her face. She wrote her number down on a sticky note she then handed him over their desks. Shuichi took it and seemed to wait for her to turn off her computer and to call It a day.

 

“Have you been to Central Park before?” Shuichi asked her as they left the building.

Jodie shook her head. “I haven’t had the time yet, but I can’t wait to see it!”

She really was excited to get to see the Central Park, though, more than that she was excited to walk with him. He could read her the phone book and she’d still be excited and thrilled about it – what did she just turn into since she was done with her training? She was crushing so hard on him, she didn’t understand herself anymore. The only thing giving her back some self-assurance was his interest in spending time with her.

Shuichi denied himself a cigarette that night to drive them to the Park right away – it was well-attended despite the snow and the cold temperature. The sun had long set, leaving just darkness that got cast away from the warm, orange light of the streetlights along the paths. The Park looked enchanting – with broad pathways and small trails alongside a lake, with tiny stairs, cute bridges, and roofed passages. Shuichi seemed to know their location well she guessed as he led her away from the many people and on a small trail, no one else was seen. To their right, they could see Manhattan’s skyscrapers that stuck out behind the pond. The many lights of the Park and of the buildings in the distance created a romantic atmosphere Jodie wanted to succumb to. It was gorgeous, like the perfect dream.

To their left was a tiny path leading uphill between trees and bushes, and the way straight ahead was provided with handrails to not accidentally slide into the pond.

Only the sudden stinging smell of a cigarette let her avert her eyes from the scenery eventually to look at her coworker. He really did stick a cigarette between his lips and made Jodie roll her eyes. Yet, she liked him so much that she couldn’t help but chuckle about his outrageous behavior.

“What a great role model you are,” she commented on him, grinning. “Is this a test?”

“No,” Shuichi replied, smirking. “But what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” He winked.

And by god, it should be illegal for him to do that. Jodie felt how she just fell deeper for him for his mere act of not giving a damn about the city policy and the sweet expression on his face.

“Sorry, but we’re in Manhattan,” Jodie laughed, lightheartedly.

“Ahh, well then, what happens in Central Park stays in Central Park.”

Jodie shoved her shoulder against him playfully – it seemed like he always knew how to bullshit his way out of any situation – just to feel his arm around her shoulders the next moment. He let his hand rest on her arm and pulled her close. Jodie’s heart skipped a beat and she almost tripped about her own feet in shock as she looked up at him. Her heart started pounding like mad and if the snow wasn’t crunching under their feet with every step, she’d have feared he’d hear it. He was busy with his cigarette, however, and was gazing into the distance.

Her nose was pressed into the fabric of his coat and let her discern his smell more intensely. His cloth smelled faintly like cigarette smoke – neither did it stung nor was it particularly bad – like the detergent he used, and a lot like him.

Jodie didn’t know what she was supposed to do. Should she get out of his reach? Put her arm around his back and return the hug? Maybe she should start with relaxing and not hanging on his side all stiff and awkward. At the same time, however, she wanted to stay just like that and keep inhaling his scent – it could only be topped by his perfume, and secretly made her wonder how his skin must smell.

Before she could bring herself to circle her arm around his back, Shuichi pulled his arm away and let go of her. Jodie missed his closeness immediately, but she didn’t want to throw herself at him either. Maybe she was interpreting too much into his gesture – nonsense! Jodie’s eyebrows drew further together as she stared at the unwalked path ahead of them.

They wouldn’t have gone to a State Park for a coffee and they certainly wouldn’t stroll through the snowy Central Park now either – away from the crowd. She sighed slightly and looked back up at Shuichi who was looking at her and chuckled roughly when their eyes met.

“You have that crease on your forehead again,” he pointed out, bluntly.

Jodie tried to relax the thoughtful expression on her face but his charming uncharming manner drove her crazy and only made her frown grow.

“Be glad that it’s only a crease,” Jodie muttered.

However, she was smiling again very soon because she couldn’t resist him anyway. The lack of physical contact left her with regret now that she’d missed her chance of returning the hug.

For the length of his cigarette, they walked in silence through the partly new snow into which Shuichi sunk deeper than she did. Jodie giggled at his display of displeasure when his pants legs got soaked.

“Nah, Shuichi?”

He growled as a sign that she had his attention.

“Do you like to go for a walk?” She asked curiously. “Or often?”

“Not often, but I like it, yes,” he answered her. There was silence again between them until Shuichi flipped the cigarette butt into the snow and turned his head to her. “I like the peace and silence places like these convey.”

A warm smile returned to Jodie’s face. There was something nice about him enjoying long walks.

“I do like this as well,” she confessed. “Especially when you’re not alone. The last time James took me to Pennsylvania for a week. It was awful.”

And that wasn’t because they’d visited her father’s grave in Philadelphia before that – although it clearly had been rough. It had been a long time and James hadn’t missed an opportunity to bother her with the witness protection program. Back, when the loss of her father and the grief had been fresh.

“What happened?” Shuichi wanted to know.

“James wanted to take me to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary but we ended up in a blizzard on the way there. After a night in a motel, we were covered in so much snow that we couldn’t leave anymore and then it started to freeze. On the third night the heating broke down and the windows were freezing through on the inside. Worst vacation of my life. But the park was beautiful when we finally made it there.”

Shuichi laughed. Jodie frowned at him, yet felt a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

“Clearly, you have never been to Pennsylvania in winter. No sane person would go there in winter.”

“I haven’t. And it doesn’t sound like I should.”

“No. Really not.”

As before, silence fell over them that got only interrupted by the voices and calls of other people and children on the busier paths. Shuichi was one of the people silence didn’t get awkward with. If anything, it had something calming and relaxing about it. She smiled into her scarf and glanced up at him out of the corner of her eyes. He kept his gaze on the way ahead and led them out of the park.

“Do you want to join me for a coffee or do you want me to bring you home?” Shuichi asked her on the way to his car.

“Yes,” she replied cheerfully. “This time I’ll pay.”

Shuichi growled but didn’t object.

One block away from the parking lot, Jodie gestured for her colleague to cross the street where she’d spotted a Starbucks on the other side.

 

Inside, they were welcomed by a pleasant warmth that fogged her glasses instantly. Jodie sighed and took them off. It would take them a few minutes until they could order, and her glasses had warmed up after a brief moment anyway. Shuichi was waiting next to her with his hands in his pocket when she slammed her glasses back on.

“Have you been asked about next weekend?”

Jodie paused and stared at the back of the head of the woman in front of her. Did she forget something? What was next weekend? Did she have to work?

She tried to remember if anyone had talked to her about the weekend. Then she blinked and looked up at her colleague with her head cooked.

“I don’t think so. What’s on that weekend?”

“Some colleagues want to play laser tag in the afternoon.”

“Oh,” Jodie exclaimed surprised. She had expected something more important. “That sounds fun!”

She saw how Shuichi’s lips curled into a smirk that had the ability to really look threatening in a dark alley. Thankfully, they were in a lit coffee shop, surrounded by strangers.

“Your order, please?”

It wasn’t before Shuichi nudged her arm that she realized she'd been spoken to. More than that though, she realized she’d been staring at Shuichi again. Jodie hurried to the register and tried to hide her burning face from her co-worker who seemed to be amused by the situation. She saw him smile from the corner of her eye.

Jodie took a deep breath before she remembered her order that couldn’t be any more different from his. She got a simple decaf with milk, he got a dark roast with an extra shot.

“Long night ahead?” She asked jokingly when he was done ordering.

“Possibly. Long and exhausting, physically.”

Inappropriate thoughts crossed her mind about what he meant by physically. She blinked. For a moment, he threw her completely out of the loop, making her forget to hold her wallet tight that slipped out of her hand. Some coins and cards scattered across the floor when it dropped to the ground. Jodie heard an exasperated sigh in her back and a very distinct snort from right next to her that made her flare up again.

“Sorry,” she squeaked.

Jodie wanted to crouch down to pick up her belongings, but Shuichi stopped her with a simple motion of his hand and bent down himself. Jodie used that time to pay quickly and had Shuichi hand her back her wallet. In his right hand, he held a very private photo that must have fallen out of her wallet too. He held it up for her to see with a questioning look in his eyes.

For a split second, Jodie felt both embarrassment and a stab in her heart. She snatched it away from his fingers and hid the picture back in her wallet. She ignored the puzzled look on his face by pushing past him to wait for their order at the end of the counter. Moments later she left the coffee shop with her coworker in tow.

“Jodie?”

“Sorry,” she muttered, her eyebrows furrowed. She clutched at her coffee cup that offered her some warmth in the cold outside.

 “Are you okay?” He asked, sounding concerned.

“Yes.”

“Is that you with your father in that picture?”, he kept asking.

Jodie didn’t dare to look at him. He either must have thought that she was daddy’s little girl who still depended on him, or worse, found her weird and immature. Why, of all things in her wallet, did he have to see that one picture in it? He was too nosy about all the wrong things. She sighed. She just hoped that he didn’t think of her to be as embarrassing as she felt.

“Yeah,” she said quietly and not yet willing to share any more details about it.

She should have known better by now though. Shuichi just didn’t shut up about it and kept digging. Why had it to be a stupid old picture he was so interested in?

“Did something happen?”

“What makes you think that?” She asked back.

Shuichi raised an eyebrow.

“I’m embarrassing myself,” Jodie guessed, letting her shoulders drop.

She knew that. But realizing that Shuichi thought the same hurt. Of all people, she didn’t want to be a fool in front of him.

“Yeah, you do,” he agreed.

Although she didn’t dare to look at him at first, she could hear the smile in his voice that made her look up regardless of the sting she felt in her chest. She was completely taken aback by the fond expression on his face, the soft look in his eyes, and the warm smile. Jodie stared at him, swallowing thickly. Was he mocking her? But no way could this man mock her with that gentle face.

“So?”

“I want to go home, Shuichi,” she just said, avoiding his question. “It’s cold and it’s getting late.”

He neither moved nor said a word – not until Jodie started walking down the sidewalk slowly. He followed her immediately, not asking any more questions about the picture or her family for that matter. In fact, he didn’t talk at all. They were just sipping at their coffees and Shuichi did her the favor of bringing her right home.

Jodie felt bad, feeling like she’d ruined the perfect night.

“Sorry,” she said in a low voice, staring out of her window onto the dark roads. “I didn’t mean to be like this. I just don’t want to talk about it or being asked.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” he said dryly. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

That was easier said than done. She worried, most of all about the impression she made on him.

“Stop that frowning,” he said, glancing over at her at a red light. “You’ll get wrinkles from it.”

Jodie saw back at him, fiddling with the edge of the lid of her coffee cup nervously. “I didn’t want to ruin your night.”

Shuichi sighed what sounded exasperated. “I told you to not worry, didn’t I? It was only the second-worst date I’ve ever had.”

Jodie blushed, but the darkness did its best to cover it. That wasn’t at all reassuring, but she got the feeling he was just teasing her.

“Well, I didn’t know this was supposed to be a date,” she replied sheepishly. “But I’m glad it was only the second-worst.”

Her coworkers laughed for a second.

“Yeah,” he said, focusing back on the street. “Me too.”

 

 



Chapter Text

Jodie kept being wary about the thing between Shuichi and her but she couldn’t possibly mark it down as something bad when she felt all those butterflies in her belly every time she thought of him. Some nights she even had trouble finding sleep for the memories of him kept her awake. Every time she closed her eyes, she had the mental image of his handsome face on her mind. It was hopeless and she couldn’t deny her crush on him. It was an exciting feeling; the tingling anticipation she felt every morning when she waited for him to pick her up, or the light tension right before he dropped her off after work. The fact that she’d called the tow service and would soon be driving her own car again put a real damper on her. She had long since got used to being his front-seat passenger.

However, her favorite coworker, Chloe, gave her another damper on Thursday.

“Funny, don’t you think,” she asked.

Jodie drew her brows together, slightly, and waited for Chloe to elaborate.

“We always meet in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, well, we only have this one and this floor is spacious,” Jodie replied with a shrug.

She continued preparing herself a peppermint tea by filling the kettle with water and flipping the switch to boil it. After that, she rummaged through the fridge to find her bought salad. Jodie felt Chloe’s presence in her back, felt her eyes on the back of her head but she didn’t bother.

“Shuichi gave you a ride home last night, didn’t he?”

Jodie sighed and turned around with the salad in her hand.

“Maybe he did,” Jodie answered with raised eyebrows. “Why?”

Chloe flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulder in an arrogant gesture and stared at her with a sharp look. Jodie averted her gaze only when she turned around to fill her mug with the boiled water.

“Look, don’t you think that it’s enough that your daddy helped you in here? Using Shuichi to sleep your way up won’t work with him.”

Jodie’s grip around the handle of her mug tightened at the sudden burst of anger she felt. She had worked so hard all her life to get this chance. James didn’t help her to get through the training in Quantico. Maybe - just maybe - he helped her get a job at the New York City’s field office, but she worked just as hard for this job as everyone else did. It wasn’t fair to get her own achievements denied.

 

“Really?” She shot back sarcastically, without facing her. “How would you know? Did you try?”

 

Eventually, Jodie had to turn to leave the kitchen. From the corner of her eye, she got a good glimpse at Chloe’s bright red head - though she didn’t know if she was angered or embarrassed. Either way, Jodie didn’t care. She just left her and went back to her office to keep working. Shuichi had told her to go through some old files of the case they were working on. It wasn’t the most thrilling job but at least she wasn’t doing it alone. She had a couple of coworkers at her side who worked on the same case. Shuichi wasn’t in the office all day. He’d been called for an arrest first thing he’d arrived in the morning - Jodie didn’t know when he would be back.

 

Instead of focusing on her work, Jodie’s thoughts were running wild at Chloe’s accusation - never would she ever sleep her way up. She didn’t need a top position within the agency, she had only one goal and that was to find the woman who ruined her childhood and her family.

Jodie bit on her thumbnail. If Chloe thought she’d use Shuichi as a way to climb up the pole this early already, it might ruin her the fastest way to get to her father’s murderer.

Jodie was certain that her coworker was just jealous of her good relationship with Shuichi – and yet her accusation preoccupied her thoughts more and longer than she wanted to admit. Time and again, she noticed that she didn’t pay attention to the words written on the papers in front of her. She’d just emerge from her thoughts and realize that she had no idea what the documents she was reading were about.

And it didn’t get any better when Shuichi came back, filling the room with his perfume. Did that idiot think he needs to smell good for an arrest? As if she wasn’t distracted enough by him already.

“How did it go?” She asked him curiously. “Did everything go well?”

She looked up from her files for a brief moment, right when Shuichi peeled himself out of his dark blue windbreaker and tossed it on a pile of files on his desk.

“Yes. It went fine,” he replied without any emotion.

But there was something moving in Jodie as he pulled the black sweatshirt over his head. It wasn’t the quick flashing of the bare skin of his stomach that made Jodie nervous, but rather the T-Shirt he was wearing underneath. It wasn’t anything special; simple, black, with a V-neck, and the perfect fitting size. Her eyes were glued to his prominent collarbone, impossible to look away.

Only when Shuichi turned to the side was she forced to stop staring at him – she took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“I’m gonna have a drink tomorrow night. You want to join me?”

Shuichi sat down behind his desk with a water bottle in his hand and looked over at her.

“Yes!” Jodie agreed right away without thinking about it. “No,” she corrected herself a second later. “No!”

“Okay.”

Shuichi took his eyes from her. Jodie watched him unscrew the cap of the bottle and holding it to his lips to drink from it while he stretched his arm out as far as he could to start his computer.

Jodie pulled a face. Had she been too harsh? Was Shuichi angry now? She didn’t want to turn him down but she also didn’t want to give Chloe any more reason to attack her – and she’s been right about one thing: She was there to work, not to hook herself a partner.

Yet her heart skipped a beat by the mere thought of sitting in a bar with him.

“I’m busy tomorrow,” she lied, hoping to let her words sound less rejecting and sharp.

“It’s okay, Jodie.”

She lowered her gaze down to her files under which she wanted to hide. He was definitely upset. She didn’t dare to speak to him again until the evening and he didn’t say a word either. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be absorbed in his work, much like her, but Jodie imagined the air around them being tensed.

If at least his tempting scent wasn’t in her nose all over the time. It was just unfair how good he smelled!

 

A knock on the door frame made her look up – and she almost moaned in frustration. Sebastian was all she needed right now. After the last time, she’d chased him out of her office he hadn’t talked to her anymore. Instead, he’d only thrown shy looks at her down the hall if they happened to cross paths.

“Do you have a moment, Jodie?” He asked her.

“Depends on the matter,” Jodie answered vaguely. “What’s up?”

Sebastian made a step into their office. “A couple of other rookies wanted to go play Laser Tag Saturday, next week. I just wanted to know if you have been asked and if you join us.”

Jodie’s eyes flickered to Shuichi for a split second, then back to Sebastian.

“I’d love to!” She exclaimed euphorically. “I sure have time!”

A broad smile crossed her colleague’s features. He looked her in the eye for a moment, then he moved around to face Shuichi.

“Are you coming too or are you on duty?” He asked him, too. “Billy wants to join the kids and I don’t wanna lose against him. Seriously. I need you for backup!”

Shuichi hummed from behind his monitor.

“Put me on the list,” he agreed before turning away, back to his work.

Jodie’s heart skipped a beat again, releasing a whole horde of butterflies in her stomach. It wasn’t a date, but she’d still be there with him.

She got pulled back into reality too soon, however, when Sebastian wished them a good evening after an uncomfortable moment of awkward silence and disappeared. Jodie remembered Chloe’s words and Shuichi’s fantastic mood, which put another damper on her joy.

 

“When did you want to leave work?” She got asked by Shuichi sometime later after she’d buried herself in her work.

Jodie raised her head and looked over at him. His eyes were fixed on his monitor. He wouldn’t even look at her again, she realized.

“Uh, I don’t know,” she muttered truthfully. “I’m going to check if James is still here.”

“And?”

“Asking him if he gives me a ride home?”

Suddenly, Shuichi’s head jerked up, giving her a confused look – with his brows drawn together and the look in his eyes so soft her heart wanted to melt. A man like him shouldn't be able to look as crestfallen as him. That was unfair.

“Aren’t you coming with me?” He said surprised.

Jodie blinked at him, nonplussed. “What?” She rasped a little after a long moment of silence. “Thought you’d rather not…”

The soft, confused expression changed as he raised a single eyebrow, giving her a piercing stare. Her mind went back to their earlier conversation and maybe – maybe – he really wasn’t upset about his turned down invitation. Maybe she hasn’t been as rude as she’d felt. Jodie lifted her hand for him to see and waved herself off.

“Nevermind,” she hurried to say. “I’m leaving when you do.”

Chapter Text

Jodie loved Laser Tag as much as she loved video games. She was good at this game and she was excited to compete against her peers. The conditions in the arcade were different from their job, letting her reckon a fair chance to beat her older colleagues with her group of rookies.

Shuichi had insisted on picking her up on that Saturday too, but Jodie had declined his offer and took the metro. She was always in for a ride with him, but she didn’t want to give their other colleagues the impression he was her private taxi. She didn’t want to add more gossip material to the list – it seemed like Chloe was just looking for reasons to spread rumors and shit about her.

Unfortunately, she was part of their party. Jodie sighed heavily when she made her out from afar, standing in front of the arcade. Sebastian and a few other colleagues were with her.

“Jodie!” Sebastian called her.

She was barely within earshot. Jodie was torn between rolling her eyes at him and smiling – she should probably be grateful that at least one of her coworkers showed some enthusiasm to see her. Chloe, acted the complete opposite way, sizing her up with a disdainful look on her face. Jodie only sneered at her.

“Hi,” she greeted the small group with a smile, regardless. “Are we the only ones right now?”

“Shuichi isn’t here yet if that’s what you mean.”

Jodie rolled her eyes and almost laughed out loud when she saw Sebastian doing the same.

“I meant what I said,” she insisted, calmly.

“Anyway,” Sebastian exclaimed with as much enthusiasm as before – and if he was good at anything it was adding good vibes to a fragile atmosphere inside a group. “The other rookies are inside, playing some arcade games against Bax and Billy.”

“Damn! I should have come earlier and joined them!” Jodie pulled her phone out of her pocket and checked for the time – about ten minutes left wasn’t nearly enough time to join them on another round of whatever they were playing.

“We can stay and play some video games when we’re done with laser tagging,” Sebastian suggested with a beam. “But I’ve got to warn you, I’m the champ here.”

There was an amused huff coming from a co-worker who had been silent the whole time. “Yeah,” he said dryly. “The champ at losing maybe.”

“Would you stop hurting my dignity?”

“You did that yourself a while ago, remember?!” Jodie teased him.

Sebastian sighed and lowered his head. “I know,” he admitted sheepishly. “Sorry about that.”

Jodie couldn’t help but smile at him – maybe he wasn’t that bad after all. He seemed to have understood that she didn’t appreciate his behavior and adjusted as best as he could.

The missing coworkers came soon, almost at the same time, except for Shuichi who was the last to join them. The unmistakable tingling in her stomach was back the second she laid her eyes upon him, filling her eyes with sparkles – she was a hopeless case. Even two steps apart she could pick up the faint smell of cigarettes that surrounded him, mixed with a hint of mint.

Now that they were complete they went inside where the rest of their colleagues had long since finished their games and waited for them. Jodie followed her coworkers to the locker room where she changed into a black T-shirt and slipped into some flat shoes that fitted her activity better than her lined boots.

Apparently, Shuichi did the same. As if the black pants hadn’t looked good on him already, he changed into a pair of white sneakers and revealed a plain white shirt under his winter jacket. Jodie wondered if he knew he was being a tease, especially now that he’d tied up his long hair and replaced that awful knit hat with a plain black snapback that looked way too good on him. Why he had to dress up like that for a simple game in a dim hall was beyond her but she didn’t complain. He was just too irresistible.

Shuichi walked over to her and Jodie could have sworn that her heart stopped beating when he placed his hand on her back. She turned her head to look up at him, grinning widely. Before she could say anything, he patted her back and left her standing. Jodie had seen that little smirk on his face that made her promise herself to not lose against him. After all, this was one of her favorite activities and she was good at it.

 

After instruction, they separated in teams - rookies against long-established agents, green versus red - and put on their vests. A coworker named Billy, maybe in his late forties, joined her team. Jodie vaguely remembered Sebastian to be cowed by his skills and she was glad having him on their side. She was good at this, but backup never hurt.

However, with little to no communication and preparation, her team scattered around the hall as soon as the game started. There was no tactic, most of them just wanting to have some fun and thrilled to compete against the others. It took her just three turns to lose Billy as well.

 

Well, then, she thought, searching her own way through the maze. She’d played solo games most of the time, she could handle a chaotic team as well. Jodie peered around every corner, reacting quickly and with a deadly aim by the slightest sign of a threat from an opposing team member. She never stayed still but kept moving through the maze, taking down everyone who crossed her path until she got shot in the back herself. Jodie swirled around, just in time to see a pair of white shoes disappear behind a wall on the right side. Shuichi.

That bastard.

Jodie got respawned after a few seconds – and got hit another time in her back. This time it was Sebastian who’d shot her, he was running past her with a big grin on his face. In order to not get shot this quick another time, she jumped to her left and turned to the right where she found a dead end that gave her enough time to respawn without getting shot right away.

She thought. Just when she wanted to leave the corner, she got shot a second time by Shuichi who just appeared out of nowhere. Then he was gone again. Jodie knew better than to run after him and be targeted in a careless moment. She let herself get charged with a new life and gathered herself to continue as concentrated as she started. She got hit three times now – less than kills she marked.

Taking a deep breath, Jodie threw herself into the fray. She moved along the walls, giving her opponents less surface to tag her, and swept some other agents out of her way herself. She took cover behind corners and never rested. Sweat was running down her neck soon, drenching her back and making her shirt stick to her skin underneath the vest. It was almost unbearable hot in the hall due to her activity. Yet she wouldn’t stop for a second. She had a job to do and a reputation to defend. She wouldn’t lose her favorite game!

Jodie kept running through the maze with attentive steps and ready to launch a counterattack. However, at the moment she shot Bax, she saw Sebastian and Chloe coming from her other side, both aiming their guns at her. Jodie pushed herself to the left side of the hallway she was coming from, ducking her head and killing Sebastian in the same motion. She couldn’t rest, though, Chloe’s laser was still aiming at her. But Jodie was faster and more accurate. She took her down, doing another big jump as she avoided being tagged. She heard Chloe curse her, smiled about it, and run around the next corner, hurrying away from the big open space. Her heart was beating fast from her effort and the thrill of being targeted. This was the best kind of exercise she could imagine, and it was a lot more fun playing against her coworkers than competing against strangers.

Running down the narrowed hallway, she tagged another two coworkers and disappeared left into the next hallway. Another wrong idea how she learned soon after. All she saw was a white shining flash and she got hit again. Shuichi. Again . No one except him wore any piece of white clothes. As if he wanted his opponents to know that he shot them, why else would someone choose to wear fluorescing clothes in a laser game?

She respawned, got to shoot another opponent, and just when she wanted to spin around and run off into the other direction, Shuichi turned up from her side and hit her again.

Her blood started to boil. He was killing her by far too many times, without her getting the slightest chance of hitting him. She never even saw him until it was too late despite his eye-catching clothes. He was still like a shadow, always there, always lingering, but not always visible. He was like the hot breath of danger in one’s neck, letting his prey know he was there and ready to strike any moment when he was done playing.

Jodie continued moving with more caution. She walked slower and while she tried to avoid Shuichi, she became a target for his other team members. She was shot another two times very soon. If she focused all her attention on Shuichi, she became defenseless; she had to find a different way to be safe from Shuichi. He didn’t just have basic skills. He shot with a deadly aim, that she realized when he took out her whole team in a smooth swipe. He was fast, painfully accurate, and positioned himself well enough to not get shot himself.

She straightened her back and took a deep breath, and when she respawned, she started a better run. This time, she paid more attention to everyone around her. She didn’t need to watch out for Shuichi, his clothes gave him away, but for the moment she did her best to stay away from him. Whenever she saw him coming her way somewhere, she retreated and concentrated on her own kills. She needed points in order to win and she didn’t get them if she got hit by him too many times. Jodie managed well. She didn’t count her tags, but she knew she shot a lot without getting killed once. She moved silently through the maze, avoiding open places.

She felt almost sorry for the number of times she shot Sebastian. Laser Tag didn’t seem to be his field of expertise. His whole behavior and the non-existing tactic screamed for him to get targeted. She couldn't help but snicker about it. She wouldn’t be surprised if he became the most tagged player in their current game. Even her fellow rookies happened to shoot him way too many times. Next to him, Chloe was probably the second most tagged player for Jodie. She felt followed by her, but she didn’t give her a chance.

Jodie felt almost too confident – this was the longest time she didn’t need to respawn. It was an amazing run, she made up the ground she’d lost before when she was shot multiple times in a row. She felt both exhausted and thrilled at the same time, but she wouldn’t rest until the time was up.

Shots behind her let her jump from one side of the hallway to the other, pressing her back to the wall and pointing her gun at a member of her own team. He looked stressed and hadn’t noticed her yet. Jodie pushed herself off the wall, just when the other rookie got hit. Bax appeared in front of her, aiming his gun at her vest. Jodie gasped. She made a big step in his direction and went straight down on her knees, sliding over the ground. She was able to get away from his laser and minimize her targeting surface. He couldn’t follow her unexpected movement quick enough, but she was able to tag him before she bumped sideways into the wall, touching it with her foot first. Bax cursed under his breath and ran off before he respawned. Jodie didn´t stay in the same place either, though. She went right back onto her feet in a smooth motion, looking for cover behind the wall to catch her breath.

Feeling relieved she’d gotten away from the situation with Bax, she was barely around the corner when she got shot again. In her back.

“Goddammit, Shuichi!” She yelled at him at the top of her lungs, outraged.

He laughed a rough and deep laugh that vibrated through the air, more than the bass of the playing music. Jodie tried to shoot him, but she couldn’t until she was back into the game. Instead, she threw herself at Shuichi, bumping her shoulder against his armored vest, not giving a damn about distracting him from the actual game.

“I’ll make you pay for this!” She promised him sternly, her eyebrows drawn together as she looked up at him.

Shuichi, who didn’t at all look intimidated, smirked down on her, sending a shiver down her spine. Jodie’s heart skipped a beat, he was so close and he smelled too good. This was her goddamn time! She respawned within seconds, ready to point her gun back at the sensors of his vest, but that idiot was faster and shot her instead.

“I swear, Shuichi…”

“You swear – what?” He asked, teasingly.

They ended up sparring a little when Shuichi suddenly wrapped his right arm around her neck and pushed her arm away while holding the gun in his other hand. Jodie tried to wriggle out of his grip, but he was too strong, standing there like a wall and she didn’t want to hurt him. She laughed and tried to push her elbow somewhere against his upper body that wasn’t covered by his vest, but really, his smell and the warmth radiating from him made it a weak attempt. This wasn't exactly a hug, he was merely avoiding her to tag him as soon as she would respawn, but her face was buried in the curve of his neck. Her heart started drumming too fast; no longer from her physical exertion but the sheer nervousness of being so close to him.

A thin film of sweat covered his exposed skin, Jodie tasted the salt on her lips without daring to move her lips an inch. His perfume was so strong right there at his neck, yet she also smelled his sweat which was surprisingly good and not at all disgusting. She was tempted to kiss his neck, the salty tang of his skin barely enough to satisfy her.

This wasn’t a hug, but she wanted to stay like this forever regardless. She didn’t want to let him go. Not yet. Never.

It wasn't until a siren announced the end of their game that Shuichi let go of her. Jodie felt colder immediately and wished for his strong arms to be wrapped around her body again. Jodie licked her lips with the tip of her tongue, trying to catch the traces of his taste that lingered on them. She was unable to move.

“You not coming?” Shuichi asked.

Jodie blushed. This was bad, so bad! She shouldn’t let herself get distracted by that bastard. She’d promised him a payback that she’d forgotten about completely.

“Yes, coming,” she hurried to say.

She tightened the grip around her gun and followed him out of the hall into the much lighter room. They’d play two rounds, but before the next one started, they’d get to see which team won and get their personal score.

As for Sebastian, he was indeed the worst. He has been the easiest target in the first round. Jodie alone had shot him eight times. Chloe got shot five times by her and didn’t land a single hit on her in return – Jodie couldn’t help but feel good about that fact.

The only thing upsetting her was the number of times player R13 – Shuichi – had tagged her. He had hit her sixteen fucking times! That bastard!

Jodie was about to throw her score away. He shot no one as much as her and was shot himself only twice – by Billy. And yet Jodie was the best player on her team, even if they lost against team red with a difference in the total of 848 points.

“Hmm,” she heard someone hum right next to her ear.

Jodie raised her chin to look at Sebastian who was glancing down on her score.

“Not sure who I feel sorrier about,” he admitted. “Your luck or mine.”

Jodie laughed. She couldn’t answer that question either. Getting embarrassed by a group of rookies or being humiliated by one’s crush.

“In any way, you’re hella good! I don’t want to play you again. I wish Shuichi had hit Billy half as much as he targeted you though.” He uttered. “What is he here for if not to equalize Billy! But you’re just as much of a threat, I guess.”

“Damn right, I am!” Jodie chuckled. “But I’m still mad that Shuichi got me this many times!”

 

The next round was played with mixed teams. Jodie ended up with Sebastian and Shuichi, Chloe was with Billy. However, Sebastian hadn’t learned anything from the previous game and was up and away in a few seconds after the game had started. Jodie on the other hand stayed with Shuichi, backing him up when he moved and being backed up by him when she did. It was a lot easier to play, having him on her side and not having to worry that this maniac was shooting her from sick angles.

They took down a lot of opponents on a long winning streak. One time, Shuichi tapped her shoulder and pointed in the opposite direction to go that way. She did and he followed her. He seemed to know the maze well, and on their way up to a second level, he had her back. Together they took down everyone else who’d found their way up there until they took over the place. From up there, Shuichi was able to shoot the players a level below through a small window. In the meantime, Jodie covered their surroundings, making sure that no one got to them.

Jodie watched out at the ramp that no one came up there when Shuichi suddenly groaned and backed off, hitting the wall next to the window with his back. He dropped down on his butt and held the gun close.

“That was close,” he muttered, taking a deep breath. “We shouldn’t underestimate Billy, he’s good.”

“Well,” Jodie said, flipping her hair back as she left her post at the ramp when no one seemed to come their way. “Not better than me!”

“Hah!” Shuichi laughed a dry little laugh. “My team wasn’t a challenge.”

“Still got more points than him!”

Shuichi clicked his tongue in a dismissive way, which made Jodie stare down at him.

“Also, I’m still mad at you – you shot me sixteen times, Shuichi. Really?! ” She placed her left hand on her hip and bent down to him. “That’s not charming!”

He chuckled amused. And when he looked up at her, he pushed himself off the ground with the hand he held his gun in and one hand on his knee.

“It’s not my fault you’re an easy target,” he countered. He smirked at her – and by god, he really shouldn’t look so good when he did that. She wanted to be mad, but even if she really was, she couldn’t stay mad when he was all smug and confident.

Jodie bit her lower lip in an attempt to suppress her own stifled little laugh. She wanted to enjoy this game, their last round, but she also thought back to the situation earlier with Shuichi and she wished to be back in his arms. She swallowed thickly at that thought and shook her head slightly. This wasn’t a date, this was a game that she wanted to win! Yet, his eyes mesmerized her, all dark and mysterious in the dim hall.

She followed him with her eyes as he made a step towards her, her heart rate suddenly spiked. Simultaneously, her legs turned into unstable jelly. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think anymore – not when he bent down to her anyway, his hot breath touching her cheek. Would he– he wouldn’t… Jodie wasn’t sure her heart could handle the anticipation.

But then, Shuichi raised his gun and fired some deadly shots at enemies in her back. Jodie spun around in shock, just to see Chloe disappear with two rookies.

“You should pay more attention,” Shuichi whispered into her ear. He then pulled back, looking down at her smugly.

“Anyway,” Jodie huffed. “Next time we’re here, prepare for war!”

She gathered herself and tried to push any inappropriate thought of him to the back of her head. He was just teasing her – or… would he have actually kissed her if Chloe hadn’t interrupted? She would probably never know, no reason to worry about it now.

“But before that, let’s get this done gracefully!”

That smug expression on his face vanished as he gave her a quick, little wink with both eyes that had her melting again. He looked so soft and raw in that blink of an eye. She couldn’t help but smile at him.

 

In the end, their team won with some 600 points difference. Billy had done a good job to help his team and Sebastian had been the obligatory bullet catcher. Every time he got hit their team lost points, but Jodie could only laugh about his lack of skills and the will to do better. He was like a kid, chasing around with absolutely no plan.

Jodie went to change her clothes like a couple of other coworkers. It wasn’t until she pulled her shirt over her head, though, that she noticed something glowing in the inside of the cloth. Jodie turned the outside of her shirt back out and saw a sticker on it that didn’t belong to it. Salad Place was written on it and it looked awfully familiar to her.

Her mind went back to the time they had prepared for their first match, Shuichi had grinned at her and patted her back. Jodie pulled the sticker off her wet shirt and tossed her clothes into her bag.

 

When she left the locker room, she stormed right at Shuichi, banging him that sticker on his chest.

“You’re a cheater!” She accused him, trying hard to stay stern when in reality she just wanted to laugh about his stupid mind.

He’d showed up at the office with a salad from that place often enough that she was unmistakably sure he did this. That explained why he was able to tag her sixteen times in just one game – otherwise, he’d have had a hard time to distinguish between her and the other rookies.

His lips curled up in a smirk and his eyes were fixed on hers.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said with a shrug.

Jodie huffed. “That’s what you look like!” She laughed.

She’d run around with a bull’s eye on her. Despite the humiliation, he’d put her through with that, she couldn’t help but be unbearably fond of him. It was little things like this that made her laugh.

“I know a way for you to make up for it though.”

“So?”

“Yes!” Jodie came a step closer, though that meant leaning her head further back to look up at him. “You’ll spend some more time with me here in the arcade! We’ve got some prices to win and records to break!”

He bent a little down again that brought his face closer to hers.

“In other words,” he said, “you want to lose again? I can serve with that!”

Jodie boxed him playfully against his chest. “Don’t be too confident! I’ll beat you!”

From somewhere behind her back, Sebastian’s voice carried to her, though he tried to speak low.

“Come on, leave them alone, Chloe,” he said.

Jodie pulled away from Shuichi and turned around, to go straight for the counter where she needed to buy them a card in order to pay for the games. Sebastian was standing there with Chloe, grabbing her at her upper arm.

“You’re gonna have a date with me now, I even let you decide where you want to go.”

“Out of here,” she spat in return, sending a death glare Jodie’s way.

Jodie looked at her first, blinking before her eyes moved to Sebastian. He just shrugged and mouthed a silent have fun before he dragged their coworker away and out of the arcade. After all, he really seemed to be a nice guy. Jodie couldn’t help but smile as she bought her card. 

Chapter Text

If Shuichi wanted to stay with her or not, he didn’t complain. Maybe it was the challenge that drew him in, but whatever it was, Jodie wouldn’t complain about his reasons either. The only thing he asked for was to have a smoke first. Jodie just smiled as he left the building; he hadn’t had a cigarette in the last couple of hours, he deserved that much even if she didn’t like his habits much. That’s how she got to know him and she had no right to complain about it. She just waited until he came back inside.

“Ready to win the jackpots?” She asked him, beaming. “Have you ever played arcade games?”

“No,” he answered, smirking. “But children’s games aren’t much of a challenge.”

“Hah!” Jodie uttered, dragging him to the first machine - a Whack 'n' Win tower.

She grabbed the fuzzy hammer and handed it to her coworker. 

“Well then, show me how good you are at children's games.”

He looked at her puzzled, then up to the highest point, the jackpot.

“I just have to hit this, right?” He asked- but didn’t wait for an answer. 

Shuichi lunged out and slammed down on the sensor with the fuzzy hammer so hard, the lights went all the way up to the jackpot but bounced all the way back down to merely five tickets he won.

Jodie snorted and burst into a gleeful little laugh that just got fueled by his stupid look, as he tilted his head quizzically. She adored him for the ridiculous expression on his face. 

“Sorry, Shuichi, but it’s called Whack ‘n’ Win, not Smash ‘n’ Win. Please tell me this isn’t the first time you see a game like this. It’s about skill, not strength.” 

She had to bite her bottom lip as he turned back to the machine with a scowl - but this time he tried to hit the sensor lightly, sending the lights half the way up to win twenty tickets. 

“Okay, I think I got it,” he said. “How many tries do I have?”

Jodie handed him her card, still amused about him. “Go on, try until you hit the jackpot. These are children’s games, shouldn’t be too hard for a tough guy like you. Just swipe the card through the scanner each time.” 

Shuichi did, but it took him another nine attempts until he finally hit the jackpot of no less than a thousand and three tickets. The frown on his face was gone, instead, he wore a smug grin on his face, making him look all pleased with himself. He had only half a reason for that if he asked her!

“Did you hit the jackpot before?” He asked her as he handed her back her card. 

She shook her head quickly. “And to be honest, I’ve never seen anyone winning it either. Let’s play something else!”

“Don’t you want to try it?” Her coworker asked, but followed her a second later anyway. “Or are you giving up already?”

“Hah, don’t be too confident! I just don’t want to ruin your first success here.”

“Hm sure. I did better than you would do.”

Jodie bumped her elbow playfully into his side, glaring up at him with still a mischievous grin on her lips she couldn’t hide. He was feeling too good about his whacking skills. She had to bring him down to earth - which best worked with a round of Space Invaders. Jodie easily reached the high score, shooting all the aliens, when Shuichi didn’t even make it to the bonus points. And when they next played a couple of rounds of Down the Clown, she realized that maybe he was good at any physical game. His aim was perfect as he tossed the balls at the different-sized clown targets and his speed was incredible. He didn’t even look like he was trying too hard. Jodie was almost as good as him, however. They played some rounds as single players, some in a competition that she lost only with a few points less than him, and as a team when they absolutely wrecked the high score. Unfortunately, they just didn’t get more tickets for it, they just set the bar too high for other players. 

Shuichi didn’t once ask for them to leave or give her another signal that he didn’t like those games anymore, letting her drag him from one game to another, until they ended up at the NBA Hoops. A little bit of ballin’ and scoring goals in a limited set of time. She got to admit that he was skilled - like in any aiming game they played - but he didn’t get to beat her in this. No matter how hard he tried, he never reached her score. 

“One more time!” Shuichi demanded as his fifth time to beat her last score failed. “You gotta be kidding me.”

Jodie swiped her card through the scanner and leaned against the side of the arcade game. She had too much fun, watching him lose.

“Ooops,” she laughed as he missed two goals in a row. “Don’t miss the basket! Any High School kid does better than you!”

When the time ran out, his score was even worse than before, he was falling behind too much. He was too competitive to just give up, however and ended up winning her more and more tickets despite the fact that he never reached her set high score.

“You should just give up,” Jodie chuckled after his eighth failed attempt. “Just accept that I beat you in yet another children’s game.”

“Would you just stop it already?” He muttered. Shuichi threw his fist on the little computer surface as he gave up on it. “I don’t like this.”

“Yeah, I don’t like games I can’t win either!” Jodie kept teasing him unashamed. “But I won’t tell anyone, I promise. See it as payback for shooting me sixteen-time in laser tag! That’s a lot more humiliating than this.”

He smirked, but she made him halt in whatever he was going to say.  

“Zip it, Shuichi!” She threw at him, gesturing to zip her own mouth. “You cheated!”

However, his laugh soothed her soul again and made her find peace again with the fact that he’d found a way to get advantage of her in her favorite game. He was so serious most of the time that she fell even harder for his playful side.

“Okay, listen. Have you ever been to a college party?”

“Why?”

Jodie smiled as she linked her arm with his to drag him to their last game. “Because- we’re going to play a little college party simulator! Sink it. Or Beer Pong, if you want, just without the beer.”

“Ah- so you want to lose again,” Shuichi smirked as he saw the game. “I like that!”

They had sixty seconds to throw a ping pong ball in each of the ten coups arranged in a triangle shape. It seemed fun at first, but then Shuichi truly owned her in that game as well. He needed barely ten seconds to hit every cup on his first attempt. Jodie wasn’t even disappointed, she was just amazed by his accuracy. He had a perfect aim, not only in a game like laser tag.

“Honestly, I can’t even be mad,” she chuckled before she took a deep breath. 

She hadn’t had as much fun in the past as she had with Shuichi every single time they did something together. It was peculiar that someone like him made her having a great time in the least expected situations. There was no way she couldn’t love him for that, and she was glad that she got to experience these moments with him. It was so much different from the image he had at work.

“Told you,” he just remarked with his self-pleased attitude. “But what are you going to do with the tickets you won today? Do you get prices?”

“Yeah, but not today,” Jodie decided with a shrug. “There’s nothing really worth it.” 

 

They had a refreshing drink at the bar together after two hours of playing games, until they left the place. Shuichi offered to drive her home, and this time Jodie agreed. It became dark and colder outside and sitting next to him in his car, was a little treat on top of the whole day. 

“Thank you,” she said as she turned to him in front of her house. “For the day. And for driving.” 

She smiled at him, and he smiled back. Faintly, but it counted as a smile. “Yeah, no big deal. Have a good night, Jodie.” 

“You too,” Jodie replied happily before she left his car.

Later that night, she got a text from Shuichi. That alone was exciting enough, but the actual message made her heart flutter again.

 

»Would you join me on a drink? Next Friday night.«

Chapter Text

Next Friday night had sounded far too long away, yet it came faster than Jodie expected and she had to admit that she was not at all prepared. Shuichi knew her from work, they’d been on two dates together and he’d seen her in plain clothes at the arcade. She was almost certain that he wouldn’t mind anything she wore for their date. And yet she couldn’t decide on the perfect outfit and stressed about it when time was running out. At first, she was tempted to just wear a thick sweater - it was comfy and warm, and she’d look decent. She thought better of it, however, realizing that they’d sit in a heated place. And some part of her also wanted to look more than just comfy for Shuichi. She didn’t own many revealing clothes, but this night she found herself a little braver in front of her walk-in closet. Wearing a pair of dark jeans and a loose blue tee, admitting a generous v-neck. Underneath she wore a black laced bra, that hid some of the skin that wasn’t covered by her shirt. She wanted to feel comfortable as much as she wanted him to like what he saw. Jodie smiled at her reflection but turned away soon after to get done. She didn’t want to be late.

Shuichi had offered to come pick her up for their date in Manhattan, but Jodie had declined it. He was driving her around enough as it was already. Instead, she went there by public transportation again, meeting him at the front door of the bar he invited her to.

“You look gorgeous,” he complimented her, as soon as she got out of her coat. 

Jodie smiled at him.

“Thanks,” she replied, brushing some of her hair behind her ear.

He, on the other hand, didn’t look any different than usual. White shirt, black pants, and some boots. And on top of that, he wore that awful knit hat again and wouldn’t take it off as they sat down at the bar. Jodie wished he did, wondering if he had some more of those compelling curls hid underneath. 

“Isn’t it getting a little warm under there?” Jodie asked, eventually, nodding at his hat.

He smirked at her. No was the only answer she got before they got interrupted by the barkeeper. 

Jodie was tempted to ask for a menu, but when Shuichi ordered himself a Scotch on the Rocks, she quickly decided on a Sherry.

Shuichi turned on his chair, facing her and resting his elbow on the bar. He looked relaxed and he smiled so very slightly - she saw it in the glint in his eyes more than the curve of his mouth.

Jodie crossed her legs in an attempt to find a more comfortable position that didn’t make her look like a wallflower. She started to feel less nervous around him on their dates, but she felt her heart rate spike when she saw his eyes surveying her body. The expression on his face was unreadable for Jodie and his gaze was back on eye-level an instant later. She just hoped that he enjoyed his view. 

Just when he was about to speak, the barkeeper set them their orders on the counter. Jodie thanked him but otherwise didn’t pay much attention to him. She just smiled down at her amber liquid and took the stem between index- and middle finger. Shuichi raised his own glass and held it up to her.

“Thank you for the invitation,” Jodie said, clinking glasses with him.

She took a first sip of her dry wine, tasting the nutty flavor on her tongue that left her longing for another mouthful. 

Jodie turned her head to take a better look around the bar but stopped at a big screen across the room to her right. Some sports news was running on TV silently. 

“Are you a sports fan?” Shuichi asked her and drew all her attention back to him, making her smile.

 

“Kind of,” she answered truthfully. “I don’t have enough time to follow it frequently.”

He nodded slowly.

“You do like baseball, am I right? I saw your Yankees’ keychain the other day.”

Was there anything his sharp eyes didn’t notice? It was as troublesome as she liked his attention to details. He seemed to notice anything. 

“Well, my dad took me to some of their games when I was a kid. He was a die-hard fan.”

Was?

Jodie bit her lip and squinted her eyes shut, pulling a painful expression as if she’d stepped on a lego piece with bare feet. She remembered his interest in her father and her stupid behavior the other day - and he probably did so as well. For someone who had left his family as a teenager, she must look like a child to him. Immature, at worst. Her heart started pounding in her chest, filling her veins with tension and fear. 

It all had started so well. The last thing she wanted was to put him off.

“Ehh,” she muttered unintelligently. She wetted her dry lips with the tip of her tongue, trying to find a smooth way out of this. “Nevermind.”

Jodie waved him off with a quick motion of her hand and regarded him with an anxious smile, trying desperately to look and sound calm.

“The last game I watched was a Devil’s game, however! It was a whole different experience, but no less exciting.” 

He stared at her for another long moment, making her feel uncomfortable. She wondered if he was disappointed when he fixed his gaze back on his Scotch and swallowed a gulp. Yet, when he looked back at her, his eyes were full of kindness- soft and curious.

“So you like baseball and hockey? What else? American Football?” He kept asking. 

Jodie was relieved he did and led them both away from the awkward situation she couldn’t break through herself. He either didn’t mind or didn’t care.

“To be honest,” Jodie chuckled, “I’m more into basketball than Football.”

Shuichi shrugged. “That’s still very American.”

“What about you?” She returned the question. “Let me guess, you’re the typical Brit, you’re a soccer guy!”

“Football, actually- but yes,” he smirked. “But when I came here, I played both football and tennis in High School.”

“You did two sports?” Jodie said, astonished. “Do you follow any tennis matches? Or a single player?” 

“No. Never followed it. I just took it to do something during spring.”

“Okay,” she muttered, squinting her eyes. “What about baseball? You've been living here for so long, have you ever been to a game?”

“No. I never cared.”

Jodie laughed at him. She couldn’t deny that she felt a little disappointed in his lack of interest in professional baseball, but it wasn’t a deal breaker at all. 

“What about football then? Rooting for any team?”

“I used to be an Arsenal fan,” he answered with a smile tugging on his lips.

“Used to?” Did she have to worm everything out of him again? He could drive her crazy with this quirk. 

“Yes. I don’t get to follow them as much anymore today. Time zones and work make it difficult.”

“Damn,” she muttered. “Growing up and working puts a damper on everything, doesn’t it?!”

Shuichi just laughed. Whatever thought made him pull his eyebrows together got drowned as he took another taste of his drink. Jodie still couldn’t believe how handsome he looked from any angle. 

They sat there for a while, talking about anything and staring into each other’s eyes, all while they kept slowly emptying their glasses. Shuichi ordered them another wine and whiskey before he excused himself to have a smoke in the backyard. Her eyes were glued to his back until he was out of her sight. 

She sighed and smiled down at her sherry. She felt a lot calmer in his presence, wasn’t as nervous anymore as she used to be weeks prior. Yet the butterflies in her stomach still seemed to get more rather than fewer. She wanted to feel him close again, imagined being back in his arms - like the one time he circled his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. She wanted to smell his scent again and the touch of sweet vanilla that lingered on his clothes- or the fresh nuance of the shampoo he used. Jodie didn’t even want to start thinking about the perfume he’d used tonight again - the tangy, woody smell clouded her mind and gave her way too many inappropriate thoughts as it made her burn with lust. The tingling sensation from her stomach went straight down to her sensitive parts, making her squirm on her chair ever so slightly as she squeezed her thighs tighter together.

A sudden angry shout echoed through the room, followed by loud laughter and an even louder bang. Someone groaned in pain, as she heard glass shatter on the ground. Jodie craned her neck over her shoulder, to see a group of men making a big mess at their table. A waitress approached them immediately. Jodie couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the staff member looked upset as she started cleaning the table and ground. Only the guy, a blond giant, who was in visible pain kept shouting and cursing.

Jodie turned away from them with a deep sigh. Drunk, loud patrons were the worst and a particular bother tonight when she just wanted to have a good night with Shuichi.

Same person came back from the cold outside shortly after - she was glad he didn’t care for those other people.

Instead, he sat back down on his chair and Jodie was pretty sure that he was closer than before. A light touch of their knees sent her shivers down her spine. There was no warmth radiating from him this time, only coldness. She wondered how he couldn’t be bothered by the icy air outside at all. 

“Since you’re from Philadelphia,” Shuichi began a new conversation after another sip of his Scotch, “Have you visited the Eastern State Penitentiary?”

Jodie blinked. He was full of knowledge about all kinds of stuff and he paid so much attention to the things she said. She had stopped being surprised about his interest in her a long time ago, but the realization of how considerate he was struck her yet again. If their third date wasn’t proof enough of his real intentions, his mindfulness sure was.

“I did! And I saw Al Capone’s cell.” She said, chuckling a little into her sherry. She looked up at him, holding the glass to her lips before she took a little mouthful. “As a kid, though,” she added lightly.

Shuichi's eyebrows shot up to his hairline, looking all surprised. 

“As a kid?” He replied dumbfounded.

Jodie shrugged. She didn’t want to mention her family again to avoid his growing curiosity before she came up with a good excuse. 

“It was on a sunny, hot day in summer, it didn’t at all look spooky! To be honest, it was quite an experience and a great adventure.”

“How old have you been?”

“Six.” She grinned. 

Shuichi nodded. The smile on his face made her heart flutter.

“Sounds like you’ve been into crime-fighting your whole life,” he mused with an added hum.

“Well, that’s inevitable.” Jodie leaned over to him, coming so close to his face. “Doesn’t the same count for you, Mr. Maybe I watched too many FBI movies? !”

He laughed, showing no sign of discomfort or intimidation as she moved way past his personal space. She stared into his emerald eyes, barely able to notice the small shadows under them. The mesmerizing depth of them and the different shades of green rays in his iris let her forget about her surroundings, silencing any thoughts she might have. His eyes were wide and sharp, so clear and he didn’t blink once.

Jodie didn’t know who of them bridged the last bit of distance between them, but suddenly, she felt the soft touch of his hot breath on her lips; one of his bangs brushed her skin. The time seemed to stop and so, probably, the world did too. She felt as if her heart might burst. 

Being so lost in the moment, Jodie didn’t realize what happened first. Someone clearing their throat at them or a hand lying down on her inner thigh, right above her knee; fingertips gently caressing her through the fabric of her jeans. 

Her heart stopped beating for a second, and she forgot how to breathe. The muscle in her thigh twitched, right under Shuichi’s hand and he didn’t seem like he wanted to take it away. 

Jodie felt the blood rush to her cheeks as she stared at his gentle fingers. She felt eyes on her that, eventually, made her look up - just to find out that it wasn’t Shuichi who watched her. It was the bartender who leaned against the counter and grinned at her. Shuichi on the other hand had his head turned to the side, away from her but he couldn’t hide the pinkish flush on his cheeks. Jodie relaxed visibly. She couldn’t help but chuckle at his yet so rare but bare display of embarrassment.

However, her laugh slowly faded, leaving a fond smile tugging on her lips. A warm sensation grew in her stomach as she realized that he might have been lost in this moment no less than her.

“I’m happy for you guys,” the barkeeper interrupted her thoughts, “but I’d suggest you get a room if you wanna continue that.” He was gesturing between them with his index finger for a moment.

Jodie wished she hadn’t heard him and Shuichi - very obviously - pretended he hadn’t either as he was fixing his gaze on the TV screen. 

The barkeeper winked at her but then went to attend another patron at the bar. 

“Well, that was awkward,” Jodie declared into her glass of wine as she lifted it to her lips.

Now, that this guy wasn’t watching them anymore, Shuichi turned back to her, facing her with a smug expression on his face. There was no trace of embarrassment left on his skin. He didn’t say anything though, but he didn’t yet take his hand away either. Jodie lowered her gaze down on it again, feeling the innocent urge to put her hand on his. 

And so she did, covering his hand with hers. She didn’t want him to stop caressing her ever so slightly, she just wanted to feel his skin under her touch. It was chapped and rough, and Jodie could feel the tiny cracks on it - caused by the dry air she supposed.

“Hey,” a man yelled through the room, followed by a rough laugh, “did someone see where our Baby Face went? He’s missing out on the best party here!”

Jodie looked back to the group of men that didn’t stop being loud and annoying and probably had a few drinks too much.

“Haven’t seen Matty in a while.”

“Maybe he’s outside, whispering sweet nothings to his chick on the phone.”

Someone laughed. “Would suit him. Or maybe he’s passed out on the toilet, who knows. Maybe someone goes and checks on him?”

Jodie neither cared nor understood what was said after that, but none of those men made an attempt of going to look for their friend. 

“Some people really don’t know where their limits are,” she said as she turned back to Shuichi. 

“Yeah,” he agreed.

He leaned far to the side and reached for something, offering her some bare skin as his shirt slid up. And if he hadn’t tightened his grip on her leg the moment he shifted his center of gravity, she might have stared at him. His grip loosened as soon as he settled back against his chair, shoving a shallow bowl of peanuts around his scotch and placed it between them.

“Don’t get bothered by them,” Shuichi added.

Jodie watched him as he grabbed some of the nuts and ate them piece by piece. It wasn’t fair how everything he did was pure aesthetic, and how she wasn’t going to get bored by just watching him. She had never been keen on romance novels and movies, but felt like being stuck in one for the past weeks - and really, it didn’t feel that bad. She didn’t want her euphoria and her excitement for him to fade away. Ever.

She became just as sappy as the entertainment she disliked.

They became quiet for a moment until the peace got interrupted again by those drunkards. It became loud again and they managed to cause a stir when one wanted to go out for a smoke and another wanted to leave to the restroom. It ended in knocked over glasses, spilled beer, and exasperated waiters. At least they got a warning this time that led to the only guy remaining at their table to apologize for his friend’s behavior. 

 Jodie sighed. “I would have thrown them out long ago,” she muttered under her breath.

“Yes. And banned them from the bar as well,” Shuichi acceded. “On the other hand, you never know how a group of drunk men will take that.” There was something glistering in his sharp eyes.

Jodie raised an eyebrow at him. “You sound like you’re experienced in this. Are you one of those guys who got thrown out of a bar and resisted?” 

Shuichi clicked his tongue. He averted his gaze and turned to his scotch - making Jodie feel like she had hit the nail right on the head. 

“I never started a fight,” he smirked, then taking a sip. 

“Hmm sure,” Jodie grinned. “Sounds like you got thrown out of bars though.” 

Shuichi laughed - this amused, little chuckle that made her wonder how many facets he truly had.

"I never got thrown out," he kept insisting. "I was the one telling them to leave."

"Telling," Jodie replied slowly, skeptically. "To leave." She added, doubtfully. She raised an eyebrow at him, still wearing that wide grin on her face. "Why?"

"I worked at a bar during college."

A silent oh escaped Jodie's lips. She hadn't even thought about that possibility. But imagining him as a young waiter was one of those thoughts that made him much more interesting. He wasn't just her British co-worker - training agent, her mind corrected her - he was much more than that. There was so much more to his personality and his past she wanted to explore. 

"So you never started a fight. Did you end up in fights when you told them to leave?" Jodie asked him full of interest.

"Only once," he admitted. "Most were smart enough not to push their luck after that."

Jodie bit down on her lower lips, eyes sparkling with joy. 

"Have they been more or less of a challenge than me?" She kept asking, almost teasingly. 

Shuichi opened his mouth, lips curled up in a wicked smile and ready to answer when suddenly a loud clattering sound let them jerk their heads, alarmed. Jodie jumped on her feet at the same moment as Shuichi, ready to go and see where the noise came from. 

"It came from the backyard," the bartender said, alerted.

Some people in the bar didn't seem bothered by the noise, others looked like timid fawns. In the next moment, a high-pitched scream reached their ears as a young woman stormed down the stairs from the upper level. 

"He's not moving anymore!"

Jodie, grabbing her purse, was two steps behind Shuichi, who hurried to the backdoor and out to the yard, ignoring the freezing cold that made her shiver.

Her heart slumped as she saw a man lying in the snowy ground barely about fifteen feet away from them. He was covered in glass shards and soaked in something Jodie couldn't tell from her position. 

"Oh my god!" The lady from earlier screamed into her ear, "Is he dead?!" 

Jodie walked through the mud that once had been snow on the path to join Shuichi. He had crouched down to the victim and was feeling for his vital signs - first on his wrist, then on his neck. Jodie took out her phone before anyone else did, dialing 911. 

"He's alive," Shuichi said. "But barely breathing. We need an ambulance."

Jodie watched him as he got back on his feet, pulling his own mobile phone out of his pocket, but Jodie just tapped his shoulder and pointed to her call, just when the dispatcher answered it. 

She stayed calm as she told the woman on the other end of the line about the current state of the victim and was told that the ambulance and police were on their way. 

Sighing, Jodie put the device back in her pocket. She watched as Shuichi brought the unconscious man in the recovery position. He kept checking for his breath by hovering his hand over his mouth and nose. 

Another man they hadn't seen all night joined them, cursing at the mess he saw.

"What the heck happened here?" He demanded to know, watching the round of people angrily. "Who did this?" 

Jodie rolled her eyes. She crossed her arms over her chest and slowly turned to the man who looked gray. He wore the same shirts like the rest of the staff, so she figured him to belong to the bar. 

"And who are you, sir?" She asked away. "We don't know what happened, but the police are on the way and I'm sure we will figure this out."

"I'm the owner of this place. Who are you? Playing detective, or what? This is not a playground, doll , and there's a dead patron lying." He gestured frantically to the scene behind her. 

Jodie was about to answer, tell him that the injured man wasn't dead, but a movement in her back and a low little growl made her halt. She turned her shoulder slightly to her right where Shuichi came walking past her. He stopped in front of the bar owner, flashing him his ID. Jodie couldn't help but stare at his butt, right where he'd taken his wallet out of his pocket. 

It was but his voice that let her look up again.

"Special Agent Shuichi Akai," he introduced himself in an exasperated manner. He frowned at the older man. "That doll is another federal agent, special agent Jodie Starling."

As serious as the situation was, Jodie couldn't stop the burn on her face. She felt weirdly like he was stepping up for her, and her name sounded incomparable good on his lips. However, she was brought back into reality very soon as Shuichi went over to instruct the other man to ensure no one was leaving the bar. 

 

"What do you think?" He asked her moments later as they went back to the helpless patron on the ground. Shuichi squatted back down to check his vital signs again. "Accident or intended?"

Watching the victim more closely this time, Jodie believed him to be the guy who had shouted through the bar earlier. Definitely not that Matty-guy they had been missing. She let her eyes move from his body to the broken window of a shed. On the windowsill, an ashtray with a not yet extinguished cigarette.

Glass splitter were scattered all around the ground, on the sill, inside the shed, and outside. And near the victim was a bottle of Bourbon, broken, the golden liquid spilled on the ground. 

Jodie looked back at the victim who was bleeding from a wound on the side of his head.

"He was laying on his back as we came here, didn't he?" she asked her coworker, rhetorically. "If throwing the bottle caused the glass to break, I'd say it was intended. No one came in through the bar and I don't see a way someone could leave this place unnoticed." 

"What's inside there?" Shuichi asked her from the ground. 

Jodie went closer to the broken window and peeked inside the shed. She saw chairs and tables stacked on each other. She saw storage shelves with all kinds of glasses and boxes inside, and a stack of packed toilet paper and tissues. 

"It looks like a storage room," she let Shuichi know.

Her eyes lowered on the windowsill inside the room, but there was nothing to be found except shattered glass. There was also no door to get access from the backyard.

"Any liquid bottles in there?" 

"No, there are none as far as I can see."

Jodie stepped away from the window and crouched down right beside her colleague. She wanted to ask him what he was thinking - because clearly, he was, looking all brooding - but he beat her to it. 

"I wonder if the hit in the head caused his current state," he said, fixing his gaze on the shard with the label of the liquid on it, "or something else."

Surprised, Jodie raised both her eyebrows and blinked at him. She couldn't quite catch up. 

And again, he realized her confusion faster than she could ask him about it. His eyes moved to her for a brief moment before he nodded to the victim's face.

"What do you think, how hard did the bottle hit him?"

"Eh?" Jodie followed his gaze. "I'm not a doctor, but it doesn't look severe. It's barely bleeding from his head." Though his cheek was cut and parts of his jacket as well. She looked back to the shed. “And I’d guess the person who threw the bottle stood at least about ten feet away.”

Shuichi nodded slightly as she looked back at him. 

“Why do you ask?”

“His pupils are dilated.”

“Doesn’t that happen when someone gets a brain trauma? He’s unconscious for at least about five minutes now,” Jodie mused. 

“Yeah, but his breathing is weak. And when you take a look at his pupils, you see that they’re dilated .”

She still didn’t get what he was trying to imply. As much as she was aware, even a head injury could cause dilated pupils. Sighing, she leaned over his head and gently opened one of his eyes to get a look at it herself.

“Damn,” she hissed. “They’re huge!

“I can be wrong, but I don’t think the impact of the hit caused his unconsciousness,” Shuichi explained to her in a low voice. “If the impact was that severe, his pupils would look different.”

“Different, how?” Jodie asked curiously. 

“His left pupil would be wider than the other, and his lid might be half shut. And-“ He handed her his phone with the turned on flashlight, “His pupils respond naturally to light. They wouldn’t if he got a serious brain trauma.” 

Jodie stared at him for a second before she took his phone out of his hand and flashed the light carefully in his eyes. And he was right- the constriction happened quite normally. 

“So, you think this is what?” She kept asking. “Drugs?”

“It’s just a guess,” Shuichi replied. 

Jodie gave him his phone back and watched him as he turned off the flashlight and slid it back into his pocket.

“What I don’t know is, if he took them himself or if he got drugged. However, I couldn’t find anything on him except his cigarettes.” 

Jodie sighed. She just wanted to have a nice Friday night with him and now she had to deal with this. She was ready to leave it all for the local police, but Shuichi didn’t look like he could leave this victim to them. 

It didn’t take long anymore, however, until the police and the paramedics arrived. Jodie got up immediately and made space for the medical personnel. Shuichi did the same but told the paramedics about the head injury and wasn’t reluctant about telling them about his suspicion either. 

 

He had his chin lowered and covered his mouth with two fingers as he kept thinking about their victim. 

“What are you thinking about?” Jodie asked him after a while.

She glanced over to the door to the inside of the bar where the police just came walking through, trying to restore the order, and getting a good view of the scene.

“I’m trying to narrow down the drugs that could have caused his current state if it’s caused by them.”

“Roofies, maybe?” Jodie guessed. “Or cocaine? Remember when you came back from smoking? This guy was loud and annoying the whole time and slurred a lot – but that is a symptom of alcohol as well.” 

“Yes, but his friends haven’t been nearly as affected if he was just drunk, and with his mass, he shouldn’t be the first one to hit his limit,” Shuichi explained to her, still with that frown on his face. “And I don’t think cocaine caused his state either. He didn’t leave his place once and he has no traces of cocaine on him. He didn’t snort it or take it orally.”

“What about smoking it?”

Shuichi shook his head. “The effect had last even less when he smoked it and he only went out here once. It wasn’t cocaine. But you might be right with GHB or even GBL.”

“Well,” Jodie muttered as the police officers came up to them, “I’m sure the police will find out, don’t you think?”

He just smirked but didn’t have the time to reply any snarky remark she was used from him as the police officers approached them politely.

They wanted to get to know their names, but as soon as Jodie and her coworker showed them their badges, the officers looked taken aback.

“What is the FBI doing here?” The older one of them asked. “I th-”

“We just went here for a night out, sir,” Shuichi let them know. “We aren’t on duty.”

 

Jodie pursed her lips as she put her badge back into her purse. So it was just a night out for him? 

“Okay,” the officer muttered in his beard. He still took their ID’s. “Have you seen what happened? No one here wants to have seen or noticed anything.”

“We don’t,” Shuichi answered for them. “We were sitting at the bar when we heard the glass shatter and came out here right away.”

The officer nodded. He made notes and then elbowed his colleague lightly, pointing at the paramedics.

“Ask them if they can tell us anything about the victim yet,” he instructed the younger officer, who nodded and hurried to the medical personnel.

Jodie watched that young man walk over to the paramedics who were about to strap the victim on a stretcher. He was still unconscious.

“We should maybe talk to his friends,” Jodie suggested and earned a smirk from Shuichi for that. She glared at him as soon as she realized that she was involving herself in this whole case now. She felt a strong urge to punch his arm. “As they might know if he has a history with drug abuse.”

“Drug abuse?” The officer asked, confused. “We’ve been called for an assault.” 

Shuichi explained to them their suspicion about the actual reason for his current condition. “Unless the paramedics say anything different,” he added, “he’s unconscious far too long for a simple hit by a bottle. We assume he’s been knocked out with drugs instead.”

“Why?”

Jodie rolled her eyes. If they knew why, they would most likely know who as well. 

“Okay,” the officer continued, “what about the hit in the head- by a bottle you say? What does that have to do with the drugs?” 

“We don’t know what really happened here yet and we don’t know if both incidents have anything to do with each other. We’re about to find that out. Excuse us.”

Jodie felt Shuichi’s hand on her shoulder as he gently pushed her to step aside, away from the officer. 

“Let’s get a look around the shed first and then have a chat with his friends.”

Jodie pulled a face. “Do you really not want to leave this to the police? It’s none of our business.”

“It is,” Shuichi disagreed. 

Jodie raised an eyebrow and stared at him.

He just smirked back. “I’m faster.”

 

Jodie rolled her eyes at him but followed him inside to the bar owner nonetheless. He was standing at the bar, looking like he was impatiently waiting for news - or maybe for the ambulance and police leaving his place as soon as possible. 

“Sir,” Shuichi approached him, “how do we get inside the shed? Does it have more than one access?”

“No,” the bar owner said, sounding exasperated. “Only one, follow me.”

 

He waved them through a door next to the one leading to the backyard. The hallway looked cold; no windows, no paneling of the walls, and broken tiles on the ground. The flickering ceiling light did the rest to create a somewhat spooky atmosphere. Jodie couldn’t care less about it. She just saw the signs at the doors - men’s and women’s restrooms for the staff, a staff room, a cold storage room, and another storage room lined up on the way to the end of the hallway where the door to the shed was. From the inside, it just looked like a cheap extension of the building and less of an actual shed. The bar owner opened the door in front of them, slammed on the light switch, and let them both walk in, holding the door open for them. 

“Who has access to this room?” Shuichi asked casually, as he was slowly pacing through the room. 

It had a shelf at the right wall, reaching all the way to the end of the room and another one across the opposite wall from where the door was. Parallel to the one at the far end stood two smaller shelves with a distance of approximately three feet between them, Jodie estimated as she kept following Shuichi. That way, the shelves reaching inside the room created three aisles and the broken window was right in the middle on the left side. 

“Did you find the door locked? Anyone can come in here at any time.” 

 

Jodie almost bumped into Shuichi’s back when he suddenly stopped and craned his neck over his shoulder to sneer at the older man. She didn’t like the way this guy talked to them, as if he thought them to be stupid, but she didn’t understand her coworker either who seemed to take pride in his own mocking behavior. Jodie pressed her lips together to a tight line, trying not to show too much amusement about his attitude.

Shuichi turned back and stepped into the middle aisle, opposite the window. Jodie watched his back for another second but then turned to the bar owner.

“Do you often need something from here?” She asked him. It didn’t look like it. 

“Not that often. We store things here we rarely ever need and which are weatherproof, like furniture, glasses, silverware and the like. Also sanitary articles and cleaner.”

“Cleanser?” Shuichi replied, coming out of the aisle with a curious glint in his eyes. “What kind of cleanser do you use?”

The man threw his arms in the air. “What do I know,” he muttered. “Cleanser.” 

“Can I see them?” 

“Sure. I don’t know why this is important now, but feel free. Tell me if you wanna clean my bar, I’m calling my cleaning lady off.”

Jodie heard Shuichi snort, but he was less interested in a dispute than he really seemed to want to see the cleaner. She shook her head and walked in the aisle he’d just come out of. She didn’t know what they were looking for, but there had to be a reason someone had been in there with a bottle of whiskey.

She stopped midway and turned around to look at the window. After that, she did the same from the other aisle with the certainty that their bottle-thrower had stood in the middle one. It was impossible to hit the window from the last one- the shelf reached too far into the room to even see it. 

On her way back to the second aisle, Jodie stopped when she saw some uproar outside. The paramedics suddenly stopped treating their victim and instead went over to rush him to the ambulance. 

“What happened?” She asked the near standing police officer, who was talking to a staff member- the waitress who was serving those men earlier. 

The officer stopped mid-sentence and stepped closer to the window.

“His breathing stopped and I think they said his heart stopped beating too.” He shrugged. As if he couldn’t care less about that man’s fate. “Don’t know if he’ll make it. They’re on the way to the hospital now.”

Jodie swallowed. She hoped he’d make it. She didn’t feel like being at this place anymore, but looking back at Shuichi there was no way she’d get to leave the bar any time soon. Not before they found the person responsible for this mess. 

“Alright,” she sighed. “Would you keep us updated if anything happens?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Nodding, Jodie left the window and walked back between the shelves, looking around and trying to find anything that helped them find a hint to the perpetrator. But there was nothing at first glance. Jodie took out her phone and used the flashlight to get some more light in the aisle. 

She flashed the light to the ground and crouched down, to have a better few at a lower eye-level. She didn’t know what she was looking for, and the light buzz she felt from the alcohol didn’t help to stay concentrated.

“Shuichi?” She asked loud enough for him to hear her on the other side of the shelf. “You found anything?”

She heard him hum in return. “Not yet,” he replied a moment later. “I don’t think I’ll find anything here either.”

Jodie raised one eyebrow in confusion and stared at a pink piece of fabric right in front of her nose. “What are you looking for anyway?”

“Remember your speculation about roofies? Where do you think it’s found in?” 

“Cleaner,” she mumbled. But damn, if he didn’t find any cleaning detergent with these certain chemicals in it they still had nothing. Except-

“Here’s a piece of some lingerie.” Jodie blinked. “I just wonder why it’s down here. It looks like it got stuck in a wooden splinter at the shelf.”

“Down here?

“Yeah, like-” Jodie made a rough estimate- “boots-hight.” 

Shuichi’s chuckle got carried over to her almost immediately, much to the dismay of the bar owner who let them know that nothing about this situation was funny. 

“Well,” she heard Shuichi say and she could sense the self-complacent smirk on his lips, “seems like someone used this place for a little rendezvous.”

The bar owner snorted angrily. Jodie could only roll her eyes and Shuichi was silent. 

“Maybe the person who hooked up here threw the bottle? Given that this isn’t a relic from the past.” She avoided to tough the fabric and instead tried to find anything else in the area.

Jodie felt lucky as she saw something sparkle on the ground as it reflected her light. She put her phone on her lap and was about to carefully pull the box out as her fingers felt something cold and wet under their tips. Jodie drew her hands back in a reflex and almost toppled over backward but was able to quickly regain her balance. With only so much as three of her fingers that touched the dirty ground, she was able to prevent herself from falling over.

“Unless here’s an animal using this place as a toilet, I think the rendezvous didn’t happen long ago,” she let her coworker know before she carefully sniffed at her fingers. 

To her relief, the moisture on her fingers didn’t smell bad at all- quite the opposite was the case. It smelled like alcohol. Jodie couldn’t tell what kind of alcohol but if she had to guess, she’d say whiskey. And more precisely, bourbon. 

She went over to pull the box out of the shelf, not caring for the cold feeling on her fingers and flashed her light inside the construction. She found a broken glass between the shelf on the wall and the one she had taken the box out, and the alcohol had splashed everywhere. But more than that, she found an old, used leather wallet half stuck under the shelf at the wall, almost invisible if she didn’t stick her head through the one shelf. 

“Shuichi,” she called, drawing back from the shelves with the wallet in her hand. 

She turned the flashlight off and slipped her phone in her pocket before she took a closer look at the inside of the wallet. There wasn’t much inside- neither much money nor many cards, but she found an ID. From the corner of her eye, she saw Shuichi approaching her.

“What do you have there?” He asked.

“Matthew Moore. Seems like we know who was here. And maybe we know who else he was here with,” she said, handing him the ID. She pointed at the little piece of pink lace that got ripped out of some undies.

Shuichi nodded. 

“Anyway, the cleansers are good. They don’t use anything here that contains our drugs,” he informed her casually, his eyes still fixed on the ID.

“Then let’s talk to Mr. Moore next?” Jodie suggested as she came back on her feet, muscles groaning at the sudden displeasure of moving. 

“No,” Shuichi smirked. “We're going to find out who else was here first.”



Jodie didn’t mind doing it his way. He had more experience in this and he seemed confident as if he had a plan he was sure would work out. She trusted him and thus just tagged along. They went back to the bar where some more police officers had arrived and talked to the guests. The friends of their victim were all sitting at their table, looking concerned, and were unexpectedly quiet. However, when they approached them, they refused to talk to them, saying they had already talked to the police.

“Look, someone tried to kill our friend,” one of these guys said, trying and looking like he wanted to win their sympathy. “We’re not in the mood.”

“Not in the mood for what? Finding out who did this to him?”

They all huffed simultaneously and lowered their gazes. Only one of them looked up after a moment, had his eyes resting on Shuichi and her for a second, and then moved his attention quickly to his friend.

Jodie watched him as he licked his lips and then lowered his gaze again.

“You look like you want to say something,” Jodie said as she raised an eyebrow at him.

He seemed uncomfortable and restless, and as soon as she spoke, his eyes were back on his friend. 

“Anyway, where have you all been at the time of the attack? I know that you,” Jodie pointed at the nervous man, “have been the only one still sitting here at the table.”

“Yes,” he piped. “I thought that one of us should take care of our belongings and don’t leave them unattended.”

“I’ve been outside, calling my wife,” Moore said. “My, uhm, daughter didn’t want to go back to sleep before I told her some, erm, goodnight stories.”

His other friend laughed out loud and wiggled his eyebrows at him. “Poor Matty Baby, can’t stay a night out without being all lovey-dovey with his daughter!”

“Ha-ha. Stop calling me that, man!”

But something didn’t add up. He hadn’t been outside when they’d heard the window shatter.

“Outside?”, Shuichi asked, showing more attention to him. “We haven’t seen you outside when we ran there. You didn’t pass us either.”

“Ah-well, I saw Shawn coming outside as well and went back inside. He and Jason just never stop mocking me.”

“And where did you go?”

“Inside.”

“Where inside?”

“I took the door next to the back door.”

Jodie could have sworn that she saw him shrink under Shuichi’s hard stare.

“Okay,” he said, eventually, refraining from asking him any more questions. “Then, I guess none of you wears pink lingerie, do you?” 

The guy named Jason and his other friend burst into laughter, only Moore remained silent. If anything, Jodie thought, he went all pale in his face. She watched him closely as he scratched the back of his head multiple times and didn’t dare to look up. 

“Look, do we look like chicks to you?” Jason asked them a rhetorical question. “ Good . But if you want to see some pink laced undies, our waitress wore some. Just wait until she bends down and you’ll get a good view of her fat jiggle butt. It’s worth it, promise.” 

Jodie, who knew who their waitress was, waved the girl over, confronting her with the piece of fabric they found. She didn’t even make an attempt of denying it. Her face flushed bright red as he asked her what she was doing there - they all knew the answer anyway.

“I met someone there.” The girl said reluctantly. She awkwardly stepped from one foot on the other and interlaced her fingers, not being able to even just keep her hands still for a few seconds.

“You met someone, means you went there for a quick hookup during work?!” Shuichi kept asking, mercilessly. 

Jodie realized that the look on his face didn’t give his own thoughts on that matter away. But he regarded her with a rather soft look, she thought. The wrinkles on his forehead only increased as the men at the table started laughing and making fun of the waitress, who looked more uncomfortable with every second passing.

“Offering her holes is probably the only thing she’s good at- serving us definitely isn’t.” One of the men mocked. 

Jason laughed, a deep rough laugh, and looked up at the girl. “I’d definitely tap that fat ass, man!”

“Shut your face!” Shuichi suddenly snapped at the men. His voice was harsh and cut through the air like a knife.

But something that Jodie hadn’t seen in him yet, was the anger written all across his face and the cold expression in his eyes. It sent her a shiver down her back, and Jodie felt happy that she was working with him and not fighting him. He had something dangerous with him when his whole face was tense and dark.

Both men almost choked on their laughter. They stared at Shuichi with wide eyes. Jodie couldn’t help but feel deeply satisfied by their reaction - and a quick glance to her coworker told her that it had the same effect on him too. He looked pleased and only turned back to the waitress when those men stayed quiet for longer than five seconds. And they stayed silent.

“Is this really important now?” The girl asked in a low voice.

“Yes. If you don’t say us who else was there, the police are going to take you with them and file a report against you for attempted murder. You smashed the window and threw a bottle of whiskey at the victim’s head that left him in a serious condition. He might not survive tonight.”

The girl jerked and started sobbing immediately. “I didn’t throw the bottle!” She cried. “Please! I didn’t want this to happen! Please! I never hurt anyone!”

She saw Shuichi shrug and grab the girl's wrist. At this point, Jodie wasn’t sure anymore what he was doing, but he didn’t seem to joke. He was ready to drag her to the officers. 

“Matthew threw the bottle!” She said, tears welling in her eyes. “We’re having an affair going on for a while and he asked me to come there. But his friend came out for a smoke and he was staring through the window. He saw us. I don’t know why Matt threw the bottle at him! Please, it wasn’t me.”

Shuichi let go of the girl’s wrist and Jodie put her hands on her hips. “Yeah, but you didn’t go out to help his friend either.” 

Then she and Shuichi both looked to Matthew. His friends laughed again, and Jason bumped his fist against his upper arm.

“I didn’t know you have it in you, buddy! Your wife won’t be happy to hear this!” He flashed his teeth at his friend.

Moore lowered his chin and hid his face in his hands, shaking his head. Jodie didn’t feel the slightest bit of sympathy for him, but she couldn’t tell if he was ashamed of not helping his friend or of cheating his wife. Either way, he hadn’t exactly covered himself in glory. 

“I didn’t mean to hit him,” he muttered as he took his hands off his face. “But he saw us and stared at us. I just wanted to scare him away. I didn’t know what I was doing. Think I had a drink too much.”

Shuichi huffed, and even Jodie shook her head in disapproval. However, this only solved one of their questions. They still had a possible drug to find. There was just no way their victim knocked himself out with alcohol.

“On a different note, did your friend ever do drugs?” Jodie continued to ask them. “Any kind of drug.”

Jodie could sense how everyone except Moore tensed. 

“No,” Jason said, folding his arms over his chest and leaning back on his chair. “Why?”

“We believe that he has been drugged.”

The friend across from Jason swallowed thickly and looked almost pleadingly to him. “Please, tell me you have nothing to do with this!” 

“Why should he?” Jodie wondered. 

She didn’t get an answer, though. Moore looked worriedly between his friends and almost helplessly up to her. “I thought this happened because of me,” he rasped. 

Jodie didn’t answer him, and Shuichi ignored him. Instead, he towered over the friend, right hand in his pocket and the left one propped on the table. She almost chuckled at how easy it seemed for him to intimidate these guys. The man in front of him tried to bring some more distance between him and Shuichi, but the backrest of his chair limited his movement. He looked up at her coworker, sweat forming on his temple.

“Sorry, Jason, but this isn’t funny anymore, okay?!” He sent a quick glance to his friend, then looked back at Shuichi. “Jason there tried to make him take Liquid Ecstasy. But Shawn refused it every time. He asked us as well, but Matty refused it, and I had a hell of a time getting off that shit! But he never left Shawn alone with it.”

“I have nothing to do with this,” his friend shot back. 

“No? Because earlier he complained that his shot tasted soapy.”

Jason snorted. “Just because I wanted him to have some fun, doesn’t mean I would drug and kill him.”

Jodie wondered what Shuichi was about to do now, they had no proof and the table was emptied of all glasses long before. Every trace of their drug was probably gone already. Shuichi didn’t hesitate though. He told each of the men to get up and search them all for the liquid. He couldn’t find anything, however. 

“Hey, Shuichi,” Jodie called him after a moment. “Why don’t we ask the barkeeper. He and the waitress are the only other person who could have done it, though, I don’t see why any of them should.”

“I didn’t do that,” the girl denied immediately, waving her hands no. “I don’t do drugs, I wouldn’t even know where I’d get them!”

 

Shuichi found it more important to talk to the barkeeper. He came up with quite some ideas why the waitress could also have an interest in overdosing him on that drug, but he still believed her to be innocent in this matter. He was a lot more interested in getting to know whether or not the barkeeper had a motive. 

Jodie followed him to the bar and sat down on her old seat, right next to her coworker who waved the barkeeper over.

“What’s your name, boy?” He asked him bluntly. 

The young man blinked but leaned against the counter from behind the bar. “My name is Jake. Jake Fisher, sir.”

“Jake,” Shuichi said slowly. He rested his right arm on the bar and propped the other hand on his knee. “What did you do this morning?”

Jodie was puzzled about his weird question, and apparently not less than the barkeeper who pulled his brows down in a confused grimace. 

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Just answer my question. What did you do this morning?”

“I showered and had breakfast. Why?”

Shuichi didn’t seem to stop there. He kept asking and fed her confusion.

“Have you been busy today, Jake?”

“No. I chilled at home until I left for work. Why is this important?”

“Okay, one last question. What are you going to do next weekend?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do next weekend. What is this even? Are you hitting on me? I’m not gonna suck you off if your chick isn’t doing it.”

Jodie couldn’t help it but she turned bright red as a visual image of his words flashed through her mind. She almost didn’t dare to look at Shuichi, but seeing his tensed jaw made her realize that maybe he had hit his nerve too.




“Nah Shuichi? Why did you ask the barkeeper these weird questions earlier? They had nothing to do with the case.”

Jodie watched him closely as they walked down the street. It was still a mystery to her how he’d found out that the drug they used was hidden in the toilet tank when the bartender hadn’t lost a single word about it. 

The smirk was back on Shuichi’s face in an instant - and yet again, she internally wanted to scream at how attractive it made him. He wore the smugness like an accessory. 

“I took them as a reference.” 

“For what?” She asked, drawing her eyebrows deeper in her face. He was a mystery of his own. Sometimes she wished to get a look in his brain, but then again, she just enjoyed his attitude. She was fine, as long as she wouldn’t have to deal with his snarky behavior, like some other coworkers or people who tried to mess with him.

“For his lies. I just wanted to see what he does and to which side he looks when he lies and when he tells the truth. Went pretty well, if you ask me.” 

“Hah!” Jodie exclaimed amused. “I bet that was just luck.” 

“Want to try it?” Shuichi smiled down at her, but she just turned her head to look at the way ahead of them.

“No, thanks,” she declined. “I had enough drama and intrigues and almost-dead people for a single day. It ruined the whole night.”

Shuichi chuckled slightly. “Why? That just made the night interesting and exciting.”

Jodie huffed, burying her hands deeper in her pockets. “So it wasn’t interesting before we found a dying man in the backyard?!”

As much as she wanted to tease him about it, as much did his stupid remark hurt. Had she been the only one who’d enjoyed his company and their little talks? Why did he even bother going out with her, when all that got him excited was a stupid attempted murder - or worse. But then again, he’d never given her the feeling that he wasn’t interested in her either.

Out of a lack of options, she continued walking silently, looking straight ahead, and didn’t get bothered by anything Shuichi did. 

An awkward silence fell upon them that neither of them cut through. He was the one who’d brought it upon them, so he was the one who had to get rid of it again.

Unfortunately - or fortunately? - he did break through it. He stepped closer, Jodie saw it from the corner of her eye, and then, suddenly, wrapped his arm around her waist. He gave her hip a little push and sent her almost tripping over her own feet. However awkward it felt, she tried to stifle a laugh and hid her grin in her scarf. That bastard didn’t even struggle to draw her out.

“That’s not what I meant,” he added on top - and when Jodie decided to look at him again, he had a soft expression in his eyes and a mischievous smile tugging on his lips.

She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. She was clueless as to how much deeper he was able to make her fall for him. Every moment they spent together made her more excited. She didn’t need any kind of mystery for that. Just him. Maybe he was the biggest mystery anyway. 

Jodie gave in to his push and leaned at his side, resting her head on his shoulder. And eventually, she circled her own arm around his waist, holding onto him.

“We’re almost there,” Shuichi let her know in a low voice. 

Jodie sighed. She didn’t want to leave his side, but once they reached his home, she’d call herself an Uber to get home herself. She didn’t count the steps they made, but Shuichi stopped way too soon. 

Looking up, Jodie saw a narrowed, tiny house, about three floors high. It looked even smaller, sandwiched between two huge apartment buildings. Five steps in front of her led to the door. She saw light burning on the first floor, but her attention was back on Shuichi again.

“Well,” Jodie mumbled, slowly pulling her arm back. “Guess I should call myself a ride home then.”

But despite that, Shuichi didn’t take his hand off her waist. If anything, he just came closer. Jodie’s heart rate spiked and she almost forgot how to breathe again when she saw his gaze lingering on her lips. It didn’t help that he took his eyes off them after a longing moment, to look up and meet hers. 

Jodie parted her lips ever so slightly to suck in a deep breath.

“Hmm,” she heard him hum, a strange noise in her ear, “I’d really like to kiss you right now.” 

She wanted to say something, anything , but his low, raw voice made her mind go blank. There was nothing intelligibly left she could answer and her body reacted to him way before she could form a coherent thought anyway. She leaned up to him, giving him her consent.

Whatever she imagined kissing him was like- it was better. 

It was his flickering, hot breath she felt last on her face before her eyes fell shut, pulled close by something larger than gravity. Jodie couldn’t think anymore. Not as his lips brushed hers - a tender, cautious approach, nothing more than a soft encounter that disappeared as swift as it happened. 

Jodie’s heart raced, beating wild in excitement and the overwhelming sensation of being so close to this man. His breath kept lingering on her lips, light and waiting, not giving her mind the chance to catch up. And then his lips were back on hers. Longer this time, but still moving slow and gentle. She mirrored his movements, moaning quietly as he sucked her lip in, and returned the favor by pulling ever so slightly on his bottom lips. She was able to draw the sweetest little noises from him but shuddered at a sound from the back of his throat, half growl, half moan.

She vaguely noticed his left hand tangling in her hair while the other slipped up to the small of her back, holding her tight. She didn’t want this to end. His hands on her, the warmth he radiated and the sweet touch of their lips - she knew she was going to lose herself in this feeling, in his arms, and she couldn’t care less about it. She held onto him by placing her hands on the crook of his arms, trying to get any closer than she already was.

But the kiss ended eventually. Shuichi was the one who broke away from her, pushing her back, just enough to hold her gaze with his stare. His vivid eyes, like green liquid, glistening in the bright moonlight, left her breathless.

“Do you come up with me?” He rasped in her ear, his hot breath brushing her flushed face.

Yes, was the first thing she wanted to answer, but not a single sound left her throat. Then she shook her head gently.

“No,” she whispered against his cheek. “I need to get me a ride home.”

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to follow him inside, she just wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen there. She couldn’t tell if it was an invitation to do more than just kissing or not.

She almost laughed when she heard him grumble, but he didn’t push the matter. Instead, he silenced any sound she made by kissing her again. Jodie couldn’t help but chuckle against his lips, right before she pulled back. 

“Just let me call an Uber, alright? It’s getting late.”

He nodded and she missed his warmth and his arms as soon as they were gone. Jodie smiled at him, battled down the overwhelming fuzziness in her mind and fished her phone out of her pocket.

 

Jodie ended up sitting on the stairs with Shuichi while she waited for her ride home. The stone was freezing cold, but dry.

“You know what you didn’t tell me? What High School sport you did.”

“Seriously, now?” Jodie asked, laughing, and wearing a confused expression on her face.

Shuichi shrugged. “I am interested in you and I did pay attention to you too.”

That idiot , Jodie thought with the deepest fondness she could feel for him. Was he still chewing on the earlier situation? He’d done a pretty good job convincing her that crime mysteries weren’t the only thing that got him excited. She leaned against his shoulder and smiled up to him as he wrapped his arm around her waist. 

“Alright, I’ve been in our School’s basketball team.”

He huffed. “That explains a lot,” he muttered. 

Jodie squeezed his arm but saw to the street where her Uber arrived. They both got up on their feet silently and it wasn’t until Shuichi grabbed her by her hand and pulled her back, that they kissed again. 

“Shoot me a message when you’re home,” he insisted. “I’ll still be awake for a while.”




Shuichi got out his cigarettes as soon as Jodie closed the door of the car, and stuck one of them between his lips. He could still feel the sweet taste of hers on them, a faint trace of sherry but barely. Kissing someone had never felt as intense as in this moment. He was disappointed that Jodie left so early, but he didn’t blame her- maybe it was even the wisest thing to do this night. However, he’d still enjoyed having her company for a little while longer, but the night had been long, and not for both of them equally as exciting.

He lightened his cigarette and took a first deep drag while he watched the Uber car disappear at the end of the road. After a moment of staring in the distance, he turned back to the house. The burning light inside indicated that he wasn’t the only one still being awake in his house at this hour. He sighed slightly, but then just relaxed and enjoyed the silence around him and his smoke.

 

Done with smoking, he went inside the house. He tried to be silent, but the first step on the stairs across the door ratted him out.

“Shuichi!”

He closed his eyes as his old landlord’s voice carried through to him, but he managed to take three more quick steps until Mrs. Hudson appeared at the bottom of the stairs. 

“Shuichi! Why didn’t you bring that pretty girl inside? Did you let her go home alone at this ungodly hour?!” She looked as offended as she looked disappointed.

“Hah,” he spat as he let his jacket slide down his shoulders before he hung it over his arm.

“You looked like you had a lot of fun out there.” 

Shuichi stopped in his tracks and turned around to look down at her. “Stop prying on me,” he insisted with a frown on his face, eyebrows dragged deep in his face. “It’s none of your business.” 

“Come on, Shuichi! You can’t just make out with a pretty girl on my threshold and then withhold all the details from me! Who is she?”

“We did’t-,” he started to object, but couldn’t help the smirk crossing his features as he paused. They didn’t make out, but it also wasn’t any of her concern. “She’s just a coworker.”

The grin on his face grew wider as he saw his landlord put her hands on her hip in a lecturing way.

“Just a coworker?” She repeated, not taking anything he said. “Since when is the exchange of saliva with a coworker part of an FBI agent’s job? Would you please come down again, I need your help anyway.”

He made another step back down the stairs. “Is this a trap?”

“Might as well be,” Mrs. Hudson confirmed. “But my garbage disposal isn’t working anymore. Can you fix it?” 

“Will you stop prying on me then?” Shuichi asked in return but was confronted with a convincing no .  

He yielded with a sigh but couldn’t stop the corner of his mouth from curling into a little smile. He went down the stairs and followed her into her kitchen that smelled like a bakery. He quickly roamed the room with his eyes, to find a full plate of biscuits resting on the stove. 

“Are those Hobnob biscuits?” He asked as he walked towards the plate. 

When he reached it, he sent a quick peek at his landlord who followed him before he caught one of the pastries. He barely took so much as a bite of it, as he got a harsh slap on his left hand and one to the back of his head. Shuichi dropped the remaining piece of the biscuit in his hand and spit out the bite he’d just taken. 

“Stop that!” Mrs. Hudson warned him in a playful manner. “Ask before you take anything!”

Shuichi turned to her with wide eyes, giving his most innocent expression, but she was immune against it. She took the plate away and got it out of his reach. 

“Tell me about your girlfriend and I might give you some of the cookies.” 

He scowled at her and turned to the sink she wanted him to have a look at. “She’s not my girlfriend,” he rejected as he quietly started his troubleshooting of the garbage disposal.  “Have you checked the main electrical panel?” 

“She’s not? You’ve been seeing her a lot lately, don’t pretend like I’m too old to see that, boy.” She followed him to the sink. “And I didn’t need to check that, it’s clogged. I’m not senile!” 

Again, Shuichi couldn’t hide his smirk. “You need a man, that’s what you need, Mrs. Hudson. You might care less about my private life if you have your own.” 

“Don’t get all sassy on me now,” she answered, giving him a slap on his wrist. “Don’t think I’m stupid, I know what you’re up to when the whole house smells after your perfume. So why hasn’t she been here yet?” 

Shuichi rolled his eyes. He went over to pull the plug.

“No one wants to be here when you’re eavesdropping on my door and bugging everyone who walks in.” 

Mrs. Hudson huffed behind him. “You can be glad that you help me so much,” she muttered. “That makes up for your attitude.” 

“I don’t have an attitude,” he laughed amused. 

He just enjoyed their little banter, though, she really shouldn’t mind his business so much.

“No? The last time you’ve been a good boy was thirteen years ago! Ever since then I’ve got to deal with your snarky ass.”

“Yeah, look who’s talking,” he teased her back. “Can you bring me a bucket?” 

When he looked up to his landlord, he saw her nodding and leaving the kitchen for a moment. When she came back she handed him the bucket. Cleaning her clogged drain in the middle of the night didn’t belong to his favorite parts, but he was quick with it and got it freed easily. It still wasn’t working,  though. It took him a moment to figure out that something else was stuck between the blades he then got out with a pair of tongs. 

“Am I allowed to leave now?” 

Mrs. Hudson thanked him with a smile and left him alone as he went to wash his hands in the sink. Just to get a box of freshly baked biscuits shoved into his hands as he turned around. 

“I still want to meet your girlfriend!

“She’s no-”

“No more of this bullshit. Bring her here.” 

Shuichi stared at her and she stared back. He wasn’t going to back down, but neither was she. This woman was a pain in the ass, but he was still fond of her - not at last because she let him live there for cheap rent and even did some cooking for him once in a while. 

Eventually, he clicked his tongue and turned away.

“Whatever, good night, Mrs. Hudson,” he replied with a pleased smile on his lips. “Thanks for the biscuits.” 

He raised his hand with the box to wave a quick bye. 

 

When he closed the door to his small apartment under the roof, he found Jodie’s message on his phone. 

 

» Hi Shuichi. I’m home now. Thank you for the night. Goodnight xxx «

Chapter Text

The moment Jodie had closed the door of the car, she couldn’t stop thinking about Shuichi anymore. She had found herself in a similar situation in the past weeks but now, with the taste of his lips lingering on hers, it was way more intense. She couldn’t stop thinking about his warm breath on her cold skin; his touch, firm and reassuring, and his lips softer than she’d expected, leaving a faint taste of liquor and smoke on her tongue as he traces her lips. It was a little bitter and a lot of Shuichi. She wanted to feel this again, but she ended up alone in her apartment, unable to find sleep.

This was worse than any time in the past weeks when she couldn’t sleep for excitement. She was more than that - she was aroused and she wished herself back in his arms. Jodie wondered if she should have followed him inside, but the thought of rushing things made her feel at unease. They were still coworkers and she didn’t want to mess it up. She went on dates with Shuichi, they kissed - and yet it wasn’t as compromising as the thought of him having seen her naked if things went wrong.

Jodie didn’t hope and expect their - whatever they had - to end soon, and she could tell that Shuichi was serious about it, but the thought about them being coworkers and her being new to the bureau kept lingering on her mind. However, the fear of being seen as a cheap chick that had nothing better to than to date her coworkers was not strong enough to extinguish the fire she felt burning inside her belly. She constantly turned in her bed that night, too stirred up and affected by the events earlier.

Sometimes, Jodie would sit up, with her phone in her hands, and find herself texting Shuichi about her current state of restlessness and what the cause for it was. Still, every time her thumb hovered over the send button, she thought better of it and deleted the message. She didn’t want to annoy him, let alone in the middle of the night when he was - hopefully - fast asleep, unlike her. Or maybe he was lying awake for the same reasons - with butterflies flapping their wings in his belly, frantically, and the wish to be still sitting in front of his house.

Jodie groaned into her pillow. She needed her rest, she had another exhausting week coming up after the short weekend, but she got exasperated at the difficulty to stop thinking about their kiss. Not when it made her whole body tingle and led her thoughts astray.

At some time, Jodie gave up on finding sleep anytime soon. She got out of her bed and padded over to her living room where she turned on her TV. Maybe some noises and a little bit of distraction in the shape of a movie would make her feel tired eventually. An action movie. She certainly didn't need any kind of romantic content that brought her right back to her crush on Shuichi and their kiss.

 

It was early in the morning when Jodie fell asleep on her couch with her TV still running. But her day was already damned when she woke up with the memory of their shared kiss in mind hours later. It felt pointless, trying to get away from the intense feelings, the tingling sensation in her stomach, and the urge to feel it all again. She felt terrible about the fact that her thoughts got clouded by the unexpected state of lust she was in.

She couldn't even enjoy a relaxed breakfast at noon. Shuichi messed with her mind, worse than she'd ever thought was possible. It was all just new and way too exciting.

The only things that really helped were sports she did after some shopping, and playing her video games. Sometimes Jodie would steal a glance at her phone, lying on the couch beside her, but she didn't hear a thing from Shuichi and she didn't want to bother him when he was busy either. And not writing him at least didn't fuel her naughty thoughts any more.

It worked well until Sunday when, in the very early afternoon, she got a message from Shuichi.

» Do you have time for a walk? I'm picking you up at 2:30. «

Jodie almost let her smartphone slip out of her hands when she read his message. She got to catch it though and answered him a quick Yes, I'll be ready.

And after that, she hurried to take a quick shower and got into some warm clothes. She didn't need long to decide upon a tight pair of pants and a black and white striped turtle neck. Some boots and her jacket would keep her warm - and it would be enough for a simple walk.

Jodie left her apartment five minutes early, to not let her colleague wait, just to see him already waiting in his car at the side of the road. She smiled and walked over to him through the old and muddy snow.

"You're early," she said as she opened the car door and climbed on the seat of his truck. She smiled at him.

"Hm," was all he replied to her, but he cracked her a smile and leaned over to her.

He had this rare but soft expression in his eyes and the inner corners of his eyebrows were angeled up in a concerned way. Jodie chuckled and leaned in on him, giving him what he silently asked for - a kiss. It was a dangerous act, feeling his lips again, a trap that wouldn't let her go. She couldn't help the very quick peck she printed on his lips.

Shuichi looked pleased enough as he drew back and started the roaring engine.

"How's your weekend been?" He asked casually, while he kept his eyes on the road.

Jodie had to think about it for a moment before she could answer him. "Slow," she then said. "I couldn't sleep after Friday."

"You'll get used to it. You're tough."

"I'm-" Jodie started, but then stopped and blinked at him. "Used to what?"

"The crimes. Investigations. Your job."

"Oh."

Jodie pulled a face when she realized that he drew the wrong conclusion.

Shuichi stopped at a red light and turned his face to her. "Oh?" He replied confused - and Jodie felt the heat in her face rise.

"Ah, nothing. You're right," she waved him off. "It wasn't that bad. Anyway, where are we going?"

He kept staring at her for a hot second, but when the light turned green, he focused back on the street.

"Sussex County," he answered her. "It'll take us a bit to get there, I hope you don't mind."

Jodie shook her head. "No, not at all."

She smiled out of the window, enjoying the landscape they rolled past on the highway.

 

They were barely an hour on the street, as a low rumble went through the car. Neither the growl of the engine nor the quiet music from the radio could cover it. Shuichi looked over at her almost in the same second and Jodie crossed her arm over her stomach in an embarrassed gesture.

"Are you hungry?" Shuichi asked with this mild expression.

"Sorry," she excused herself. "I might forget to eat something today." She looked up at him with a crooked smile on her flushed face.

Shuichi grinned at her. "Do you eat burgers?" He kept asking. "We could make a short stop and get something to eat before we get to the park."

Jodie nodded. And Shuichi took the exit at the next opportunity, pulling into a drive-thru of a burger restaurant. He offered to pay for them again and parked the car on an empty spot. Jodie watched him with mild interest as he took his cheeseburger out of its wrapping and put the upper half of the bread aside - just for him to find a slice of a pickle he'd explicitly told the staff he didn't want on it. He pulled a face at it.

"You really don't like them, huh?" She asked him amused.

"No." Shuichi sounded disgruntled.

Jodie laughed as he pulled the slice of his burger, about to drop them on his wrapping paper.

"Give it to me, I like them!"

She got a quick side glance from him, but he offered it to her without another word. She only stocked when she saw him squeezing the mayo on his burger seconds later.

"Are you serious?" She asked, looking at him as if she questioned his sanity.

"Yeah." He looked up when he was done and put the empty bag of mayonnaise in the paper bag their food came in. He wore an innocent look on his face, a little bit puzzled as she kept staring at him. "What is it?"

"You put mayo on your cheeseburger." It wasn't a question.

"Yeah."

"But you hate the pickle."

"Hm."

Shaking her head, Jodie turned away to get her own burger. No matter what Shuichi did, he was being extra. He couldn't even eat a burger like a normal human being.

"It tastes good," he cared to explain himself after a while. "You've no idea what you're missing out."

"Oh, thanks", Jodie chuckled. "I think I know that very well."

It wasn't romantic to eat some greasy fast food in his truck this time either, but it was relaxed and comfortable to have his company in that small space. It was just them and no one else. Only the calm noises from the radio and no loud chatter from other people.

Shuichi smirked at her for the moment he put the trash in the bag. Jodie bit her lip in an attempt to not laugh at him, but she couldn't hide the soft expression. He had the talent of making her incredibly happy by just being himself - him being patient or vigorous and harsh when needed, but also understanding, headstrong in a way he pushed boundaries at work. And sometimes she was just so ridiculously fond of him when he was being an idiot who squeezed mayonnaise on his burger and pretended it to be delicious.

They ate their little meal in silence, and Shuichi even went out for a cigarette. Something Jodie was thankful for as well- he never asked her to smoke inside the car when she was with him. The full ashtray and the air in his car proved that he didn't bother to smoke inside when he was alone, yet he only did it once or twice in her presence. She couldn't help loving him for those little things he paid attention to.

 

Jodie was looking out of her window. For a while, she wondered where Shuichi was driving them when she realized that they still didn't get to the highway. She sighed and looked ahead, just to draw her eyebrows together in confusion.

Shuichi took a right turn at the next intersection, and somehow the street and the houses looked oddly familiar.

"Uhm, Shuichi?", she said, blinking at him. "Where are we going?"

"To the highway," he muttered.

Jodie couldn't help her gloating laugh that burst out of her throat as she realized one thing.

He must be lost.

"Do you know that this is the third time you turned into this street and passed those buildings?" She asked, almost wheezing as she was short of breath. She tried to cover her mouth with her hand, but she couldn't cover her laugh.

Shuichi scowled at her. He was visibly upset about her amusement and her mocking behavior.

"Really?" She asked with wide eyes. Jodie pressed her lips together into a fine line, trying not to sound too gloating. However, the corner of her mouths betrayed her as they couldn't be tamed and curled up until she laughed again. "Try the left turn next time," she suggested. "And you might find the interstate."

He growled, but he turned left after three more right turns and Jodie wasn't surprised to find herself on the highway next.

"Look, wasn't that bad, was it?" She kept teasing him with a big grin. "Can I trust you that we don't get lost in whatever park we're going?"

"I might abandon you there," he still muttered, displeased.

"Nah, you won't." Jodie was sure about that. Even if she had to help that matter along. "You won't find the way back without me."

Jodie noticed the slight twitch of the corner of his mouth that gave his true feelings away, making her smile.

"Anyway, I got to see some nice architecture, so there's that."

Shuichi just smirked and huffed and didn't for once take his eyes off the road ahead.

 

They ended up walking through the park during sunset, a trail near the High Point monument with a fantastic view and a beautiful lake. The only thing she was disappointed about was the fact that the snow was frozen, and the trail wasn't as easy at times. It was extremely windy and awfully cold, despite her warm clothes and they both had issues on the icy ground.

“Say, Shuichi,” Jodie approached him, “you’re living right at the Columbia University. Did you study there?”

“Yeah,” he approved with a nod.

“What did you study?”, she asked, eager to get to know more about him. “Law?”

“Nah,” he laughed slightly. “I studied mechanical engineering.”

Jodie almost slipped on the icy path they walked when she heard that. “That’s… unexpected,” she uttered a little nonplussed. She held onto him, to not slip again. “How come?”

He shrugged. “I’m just interested in physics and engineering, just as much as I love solving mysteries!” He turned his head and grinned at her. “What about you? Law?”

Jodie nodded. “I majored in Criminal Justice. I thought it gives me the best chance to get the job. Did you have a second plan in mind with your degree, in case they had turned you down?”

“No,” he answered, and lips moved down in a neutral expression. “But I trusted my skills and both the exams and the physical test had no been a big deal. I knew I would make it.”

“You’re outstandingly determined,” Jodie noticed absently. “Why?”

Shuichi chuckled slightly. “Yeah. Look who’s talking.”

 

It was long since dark until they made it back to the monument. Shivering, but laughing. Even Shuichi had pulled the hood of his jacket over his head, despite his knit hat he was wearing. He had his long hair draped over his shoulder to protect it from tangling.

They ended their hike at the empty High Point. Jodie had her arms down her sides and kept her gaze on the dark spots of the forests below, not lighted enough by the moon to recognize them as trees. The monument was illuminated in their backs but the view was still dark. Instead, the sky offered them a clear display of the twinkling stars in the far distance. A view they would never get in New York City.

“What a beautiful sight,” Jodie said as the crunching frozen snow gave Shuichi away who was coming closer.

“Yeah,” he agreed in a husky breath.

Jodie pulled her gaze away from the not yet fully dark night sky to look at her coworker. Shuichi stood next to her, but his eyes lay on her, not the stars. She smiled at him, despite her spiking heart rate, and turned back to the dark panorama in front of her. Yet she still felt his eyes on her, causing her to bury her nose in her scarf.

She realized that he was staring at her a lot when they were alone. As if he didn’t care much for his surrounding, even though he made the effort to drive with her for hours to see these beautiful places. He made her feel special and flustered without saying a word.

Even more so when suddenly he sneaked two of his fingers through her palm and interlaced them with her index- and middle finger. Her heart skipped a beat, and for a second she feared her knees would give in. Just the way he held her fingers and how his thumb caressed them softly caused the tingling sensation in her body to intensify.

“Thanks, Shuichi.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, smiling brightly in her scarf. She was still worried about her future, wondering if it was the right thing she did, but he made her feel happy as she has never been before. This couldn’t possibly be bad, she tried to convince herself. Shuichi was trying hard and he never pushed her, giving her no reason to doubt his sincerity. It didn’t matter what some of their coworkers thought, least of all Chloe.

She sighed. And when she opened her eyes again, Shuichi pulled her in his arms, making Jodie tumble and gasp. She laughed, and then she just sunk against his chest, taking a deep breath, taking in his usual scent and the fresh, cold air.

Jodie pressed her nose into his jacket. She didn’t want to leave this spot anymore. Least so as Shuichi wrapped his arms around her. The place in his arms felt perfect; safe, in a way she didn’t know she would feel comfortable about. Relying on someone else was a scary thought, she had learned to be strong herself – and yet, she couldn’t deny the secure feeling his arms provided. Jodie moved her head to the side and looked up at his face without losing contact with his heaving chest. Maybe she should have agreed of coming inside his house on Friday night, just for the chance to sleep next to him and getting to enjoy a moment like this for hours. Whatever had happened that night, she currently couldn’t think of anything better than lying in his arms, feeling the rise and fall of his body. That way, she might have got more sleep than she actually did.

“Can I?” Shuichi suddenly rasped with his gaze lowered on to her lips.

“Hmm,” Jodie affirmed vaguely, slightly jutting her chin forward.

Her eyes fell shut soon as his lips met hers. Jodie sighed in relief and visibly relaxed. She’d wished for a real kiss for more than a day and, finally, she got another taste of it. Of Shuichi. It started slow and tender, just like she remembered it. She sunk into his arms, feeling the soft pressure on her lips and his unmistakable taste.

“Shuu…,” she whispered in their kiss, not able to form any more syllables of his name.

She felt a change after that, though. His embrace got tighter, and she heard a low, little growl forming in his throat before his tongue slipped over her lip and into her mouth with every movement of their lips. It wasn’t more than a brief flick, a quick touch that made her moan in surprise, quietly. Jodie started to mirror him immediately, trying to catch more of those tiny, like electrical shocks, each touch of their tongues sent through her body.

Jodie barely noticed that Shuichi grabbed her by her waist, a firm grip, while his little moans and his little gasping clouded her mind. She got lost in him and his taste on her tongue, overwhelming and new, and so good, she didn’t want it to stop anymore.

She also barely took notice of their kiss getting deeper. There was just heat rising in her, the comfortable dizziness in her head, and a tingle running down her spine. Her hands ran restlessly over his sides, unable to decide what to do. She wanted to clutch to him, pressing herself tighter to him, never letting him go again, and at the same time, she wanted to touch him, feel his skin, but there was no way of getting her fingers under all his clothes.

Instead, she decided to reach up and circle her arms around his neck, pulling him down to her and pushing herself up to him at the same time. She breathed heavily against his lips in a moment their kiss broke. Shuichi chuckled slightly before he pressed a gentle kiss on her mouth.

“Let’s get back to my car,” he moaned lowly. “Before the park closes.”

That was the smartest thing to do, but Jodie didn’t want to stop kissing him. She wanted more, and not let the car ride home ruin the moment.

Shuichi smiled at her but withdrew himself eventually. Jodie pouted, but Shuichi put his hand on the small of her back and gave her the push she needed that way. They didn’t talk a word until they reached his car, and even then, they just quietly got into the cold vehicle. They were the last one in the parking lot, too, and there was a fine layer of frost on his windshield.

Jodie leaned over to him, not bothering with the seat belt, while Shuichi turned on the heating.

“Shu-u,” she whispered. She nervously licked his lips with the tip of her tongue and bit down on her lower lip for a second. She swallowed. “Can you do this again?”

He smirked at her, a small shadow falling over his face as he leaned in on her under the veil of darkness.

“Hmm, can I?” He asked teasingly, his voice just a deep growl. His glance dropped right back down to her lips, she could see the desire burning in his eyes. It was so obvious, and yet so unexpected, it took her breath away – even before his lips could draw the air out of her lungs.

Jodie sunk into this kiss again; there was no cautious approach this time, no soft touch, just the passion she’d encountered earlier, making the heat in the car rise drastically. Following her strong urge, she reached down to the hem of his jacket and tried to fumble her hands underneath his layers of clothes. She felt his hot breath on her lips as he chuckled.

She sighed as he broke the kiss again. To her surprise, however, he opened his jacket and got out of it. He carelessly tossed it to the backseats. This way, it was a lot easier to steal her fingers under his sweater and the shirt he wore underneath.

His skin was hot and smooth, and she felt his muscles under her touch clearly. Jodie slowly moved her hand over his abs, as if she was mapping his body, and sometimes she let her fingertips slip under his belt, teasingly, and full of curiosity.

She licked her lips as she felt Shuichi’s hand on her thigh, caressing her through the fabric of her pants, slowly moving upwards. Only when he almost reached between her legs, she pulled her hand back and put it on top of his, holding him back.

“Don’t,” she whispered in a pleading way. She regarded him with a concerned look.

Despite his obvious disappointment, displayed by a low grumble, followed by a sigh, he pulled his hand back and let it rest on her waist instead, shoving her jacket up.

She smiled at him with a fond expression on her face. “Thanks,” she rasped before she placed her lips back on his for a kiss.

Shuichi deepened the kiss immediately, licking into her mouth. He wasn’t shy at all by doing it – quite the opposite was the case as he put his other hand on the back of her head to hold her in place, his fingers brushing through her hair.

Jodie propped her hand on his thigh for some support, letting herself fall into the kiss. She closed her eyes, enjoying this moment – she felt him less close than outside earlier, but the kiss stayed the same. It messed with her head – in a good, pleasing way – and made her craving more of it. More of him and his taste, his smell, and his skin under her finger.

She heaved her hand off his leg and stole it right back under his shirt, blindly. She grinned into the kiss, sighing softly. She heard him moan ever so slightly again, and then his hand was gone out of her hair. She didn’t think about it, until she heard the very distinctive sound as he unbuckled his belt, creating a metallic rattle followed by a zip. She didn’t mind it – not until he gently pushed her hand downwards. She pulled back from the kiss, as difficult as it was, to look down on his lap where her fingers grazed the fabric of his shorts. She swallowed thickly and tried to get her breathing under control.

Shuichi wanted this; she felt like she could back off any time and he would accept it, like the multiple times he did so before now. But she was curious – and it was him, right?  Jodie searched for his look, trying to get her doubts chased away by the sincerity in his eyes. She believed to know people well, and Shuichi had never seemed like he didn’t truly mean it. He was considerate and attentive about everything she told - he wouldn’t listen so carefully if he didn’t care.

Eventually, she sighed and pushed her hand under the waistband of his shorts. Chloe had nothing lost in her thoughts. Nothing she had ever said about Shuichi was true, and she didn’t know shit about her either. Nothing they did tonight would leave this car, and it would certainly never reach their office.

“Stop thinking, Jodie,” Shuichi said in a voice, deeper than usual. “Just relax. We don’t do anything you don’t want to do.”

“It’s not that,” she mumbled, causing him to look at her confused, one eyebrow raised.

She smiled as she averted her gaze, down to his lips to avoid his concerned look. He scattered her worries without losing a single word about them. He would definitely not take advantage of her.

 

Her fingers traced the length of him, excited to feel the smooth skin. Jodie didn’t know what she had expected – if she had expected anything at all, because she hadn’t thought about this scenario before – but it felt comfortable. His skin was hot, and he was hard yet so soft to her touch. Not sure what to do, she gave him a firm stroke. He rewarded her with an appreciative sounding hum and the vanishing of his concerned look. She repeated the movement and only when he leaned back with closed eyes, she dared to look up again. Just to find him with parted lips and a flush creeping up his face that she could see despite the faint light of the electronics on the dashboard.

Jodie continued her gentle strokes – whether she did it right or not, he didn’t complain. The only things she heard from him were occasional little moans. She pressed her lips together as she watched him closely before she leaned over to him again and slid her mouth over his to kiss him, earning her a deep sound right from the back of his throat.

After just a moment, his hand that was still resting on her waist, stole itself under her turtleneck, slowly reaching up. Jodie stocked. She halted in their kiss, causing Shuichi to open his eyes, just to find the concerned look back on his face. He was about to retreat his hand, trying to wriggle it out from underneath her clothes.

Jodie couldn’t help but love him for his awareness despite his current state. She didn’t trust most men to be more considerate than him in a far less horny shape. The fact that Shuichi pulled his hand away was reassuring for her, enough to change her mind.

“Nevermind, Shuu. It's okay...,” she whispered against his lips. “… just be gentle.”

 

He stared at her for a moment, neither moved nor blinked. She didn’t know what he was waiting for. Jodie took a deep breath and brushed her lips over his cheek.

“Go ahead," she tried to spur him on.

And then he did, slowly pushing his hand up under her sweater again until he reached her chest and cupped her breast gently through her bra. Jodie almost chuckled at the sweet sounds he made, as he squeezed them.

She started to kiss him again, but he was barely returning the favor. If anything, his lips moved erratically on hers. His breathing grew more and more labored, making her smile.

“Hm, Jodie…,” he mumbled after a while.

This time he withdrew his hand from under her shirt swift movement, letting his hand hover over hers that was still working on him. But he didn’t touch her.

“Are you okay?”, she asked quietly, slowly loosening her grip, until he gently nudged the back of her hand.

“Yeah,” he said with a pant. “Don’t stop, Ima come.” His voice was merely a breath, though, rough and deep.

 

 

The way back home was silent. Much quieter than the way to the park, but Jodie didn’t want to complain. She was tired from her lack of sleep and their unexpected exhausting hike - they better considered the weather next time before a moderate trail became an adventure on its own. The darkness covered them in another blanket of sleepiness, but despite that, she could see a contented little smile on the corners of Shuichi’s mouth that wouldn’t leave his face. It was still there, even when they were an hour on the road.

 

“Shuu?” Jodie asked on the highway, mildly concerned as he kept driving on the right lane.

“Hm?”

“Do you think you can move over to the left lanes before the fork ahead?” She kept asking, dryly, and a little exasperated as they got too close to the point where the four lanes got split into two different directions.

Shuichi pulled through the upcoming median stripe over to the left lane in order to avoid a longer detour – only possible due to the lack of traffic around them.

“Are you kidding me?” Jodie couldn’t believe she was witnessing this. “Have you any idea in what direction we have to go whatsoever?”

“New York. That way,” he pointed to her window, "was New York."

“Yeah… whatever, Shuichi.” She shook her head but burst out into a short little laugh a few seconds after. “Are you seriously that bad with directions? We really got lost in that park the other day, didn’t we?”

He hummed. “All roads lead to Rome, you know?”

“Yeah, great,” Jodie chuckled lightheartedly. “You don’t have to go out of your way for that. Bringing me home would be more than enough. Bonus points if we make it there today.”

Shuichi growled but didn’t say another word. He was lucky though, that he made it to her home without another wrong turn or detour.

She unbuckled her seat belt when he stopped in front of her apartment building and leaned over to him for a kiss.

“See you tomorrow,” she whispered before she retreated and left his car.

 

It wasn’t until she lay in bed that she wrote him another text.

» Hey, Shuu. Thank you for the trip today. Good night xxx «

Being all tired from the day, she fell asleep with her phone resting next to her pillow while she waited for an answer she didn’t get to read anymore.

 

Chapter Text

Her alarm went off the next morning, way too early, but Jodie was still full of zest. She’d get to see Shuichi again – and somehow, she felt more awake and enthusiastic for her work. She had her own motivation to pull this job through, to work hard, but seeing Shuichi again was a little treat, nonetheless. That was as long as he didn’t get in her way. A man shouldn’t keep her away from her actual goal. Right now, however, she felt her spirit boosted by him. She felt great – and when she took a look in the mirror when she walked in the bathroom, she also looked great.

She has never not been aware of her pretty face, but on this morning, she felt even more beautiful. She glowed. The blue of her eyes sparkled in her reflection of her mirror, and her skin was smooth and rosy-tinted, her features relaxed.

Jodie took a shower and got herself ready for the day, but never even once did the smile on her face falter. Even if she wanted to, she wasn’t able to work the corners of her mouth down. Some invisible power pulled them up, making it impossible to do anything about it.

Yet, her good mood started to falter when she checked her phone and saw that Shuichi had read her latest message but hadn’t replied. She decided to send him another text over a cup of coffee, but the same thing repeated – he saw the message but didn’t answer. Still, she was able to shrug it off, she never had the impression that he was texting a lot anyway.

However, by the time she reached the office, she got the feeling something was wrong. He wasn’t around and he didn’t come in by noon either. Jodie began to feel more and more agitated and at unease, wondering if she had done something wrong.

Biting down on the end of her pen, she drew her eyebrows together and frowned at the file in front of her. Maybe he avoided her after what happened in his car the day before? Maybe he realized that he didn’t want to be involved with a co-worker. Or maybe what she did had been bad – or he was upset that he didn’t get exactly what he wanted.

Jodie groaned. She let the pen drop on her file and buried her face in her hands, sliding her fingers under her glasses and making them drop on her desk as well. That was the very thing she didn’t want to happen to her – she didn’t come this far to ruin all her hard work by having a fling with a co-worker.

And worse, what if Chloe had been right all along? Shuichi had always proved to be different than she said, but right now, she wasn’t so sure anymore. As if he didn’t have the time to wish her a good morning when he read her message. It was as frustrating as it was unsettling, waiting for him to walk through this door.

Another voice in her head told her that she overreacted, but it was difficult to listen to it when she felt like she’d done something bad the other day. She had no idea of how far it was appropriate to go with her date. Or maybe he wanted someone more experienced.

She didn’t know and the longer she was alone, the more her thoughts kept bothering her. She was able to focus on her work for most of the time, but the unsettling thoughts kept creeping their way back into her consciousness.

 

Jodie just came back into her office and sat down with a steaming cup of coffee when Shuichi came in right after her.

“Shuu,” she said surprised.

“You alright?” He asked in return as he slipped out of his jacket.

Jodie froze on her spot, heat rising to her cheeks.

“I’m good. You?” She piped, nervously playing with her pen.

“Yeah,” Shuichi answered.

He hung his jacket over the backrest of his chair and sat down on it. Jodie stopped looking at him and tried to focus on her own business until his yawn made her raise her head again.

“Didn’t get much sleep?” She asked him. “Where have you been all day anyway?”

Shuichi rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose before he met her gaze with his eyes.

“I got a call this morning to assist at a high-risk arrest. They needed another sniper and things didn’t go as smooth. Nothing serious happened though,” he quickly added at the end.

Jodie’s eyes widened in surprise – her worries seemed to be long forgotten since he’d stepped into their office.

“A sniper,” she repeated stunned. “Anything else I don’t know yet?”

Shuichi smirked at her and turned away to start his computer. “No,” he replied, sounding amused.

And Jodie couldn’t help but smile down at her file. Just the curve of his lips took any shadow away from her mind and let her be more relaxed. For the first time that day.

However, Shuichi didn’t spend a lot of time in the office, before he shut down his computer again and grabbed his jacket.

“Are you leaving?” Jodie asked, barely looking away from her screen. She only looked up when he walked over to her and stopped right next to her.

“I’ve got to get some things done,” Shuichi explained.

Jodie felt disappointed that he would leave so soon, but he was so close, and he reached out to tug on her blouse, right above the hem. He took a quick glance back to the open door and then captured her lips with his own for a soft kiss.

“See you tomorrow,” he whispered into her ear, his voice a low bass that left a prickling sensation on her skin.

“See you,” Jodie breathed against his lips.

She smiled at him, wide and fond as he pulled away to slip into his jacket. Shuichi disappeared after grabbing all his stuff and then was gone for the day. Jodie sighed but got back to work with a wide smile across her face. All her worries faded into nothing, leaving her with a tingling sensation in her whole body and a relaxed mindset.

 

The next morning, Jodie didn’t only find a good morning text from Shuichi on her phone, she also bumped into him on her way to the entrance of the office building. His hand touched hers for a second, but Jodie couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or an accident. She didn’t care either. It was just a nice feeling to have him around and so close to her. She just refrained from showing too much affection at work, not sure how Shuichi would find it. She didn’t know what they were now either and felt too awkward to ask.

She just waited with him as he smoked his usual cigarette before work and then went up to their floor with him. They greeted their co-workers along the way, but before they could slip into their office, they got stopped by James.

“Shuichi,” he said without as much as a good morning. “A word please?!”

It wasn’t a question. Jodie knew by the blank expression on his face that it didn’t mean anything good.

Jodie looked back to Shuichi who had raised his chin a little and looked down on James with a demanding expression, one of his eyebrows raised.

“In my office,” James just instructed him and then turned on his heels.

Jodie pulled a face at Shuichi, wondering what he did to deserve this. James was strict with his subordinates, but never did he feel this distanced. Even Jodie had felt it. And he hadn’t greeted her either.

“He looks upset about something,” Jodie muttered, biting her lower lip. “Do you think it has to do with your job yesterday? Or did I do something wrong?”

But then, James would probably tell her if she did something wrong.

“No,” Shuichi said, leaving Jodie in the dark about which question he was answering.

And before she could ask any further question, Shuichi durn around as well and left for James' office, leaving Jodie behind. She just stood there and saw down the hall before she sighed and went to her office. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be so bad and she shouldn’t worry.

In the time Shuichi was gone, Jodie prepared her work and had a short talk with Sebastian, who came in with a steaming mug of tea and a backpack on his back. He looked tired and his hair looked messy, and he hasn’t been in his office yet. Instead, he rambled about how he hadn’t slept most of the time because of a fire in a house across the street. Jodie offered him a pitiful glance and a pat on his shoulder before he shrugged his tiredness off and decided to go to work.

 

Shuichi came back into the office sometime later, putting down a cup of coffee on the side of her desk. He didn’t say a word as he walked around his own desk to take place there.

 “Are you okay?” Jodie asked curiously. “What did James want from you?”

“Ah…” Shuichi uttered. He placed his cup and his bag on his desk and scratched his neck. “He warned me.”

Jodie raised her eyebrow, mildly puzzled.

“He warned you? What of?” She kept asking.

“Him. He wanted to know what is going on between us and warned me that breaking your heart won’t be good for my heart either.”

Her face flared up faster than she liked. It wasn’t even the fact that James somehow knew about their dates, he also had a very private talk to him. Jodie sat her glasses down and buried her face in her hands in embarrassment.

“Goood,” she whined as she squeezed her cheeks between her palms, “I’m so sorry, Shuu.” She took a deep breath and let her shoulders sink. “I didn’t think he would embarrass me like this.”

Shuichi chuckled on the other side, looking way too amused about it which made it just worse for her. She didn’t need James to be this protective. She had managed worse situations on her own – she at least thought that.

“Did he say anything else?”

“Yeah,” Shuichi nodded as he began to organize his work. “He said that he doesn’t mind us dating as long as it’s on mutual consent.”

Jodie groaned quietly. She had never imagined for James to go as far as this and to have a serious word with her… date. Boyfriend?

“Shuu?”

“Hm?”

Jodie took a deep breath. “What did you answer when he asked about the thing between us?”

He looked back at her with wide, round eyes, almost ridiculous for him. “I told him that you’re my girlfriend of course,” Shuichi said in a way as if it was the most obvious answer.

“I am your girlfriend?” Jodie repeated nonplussed. Her heart was beating fast at the mere thought.

“Yes.”

Jodie wished she could have hugged him right there. He was cute when he acted like something they didn’t even talk about once was obvious for the both of them. He was an idiot, but Jodie was fond of him. She almost missed the concerned look he regarded her with, making her laugh as she eventually noticed it.

“Are you not?”

“I am, Shuu. Don’t worry about it,” she reassured him quickly. He was helpless against his worried expression; it made him look raw and even younger than he still looked.

 


 

Jodie spent her Thursday afternoon doing some grocery shopping and chores, after having neglected it since the weekend. She cleaned off the mess she made and kept the door to her balcony open to let some fresh air in. She also watered some of her plants she kept all over her apartment. She was by no means a good plant-mom, she forgot to water them more often than not and had caused plenty of evitable deaths in the past, but they gave her space lively atmosphere. Unless some of her plants died, then it had something depressing about it.

Just when she finished the last pot, she got a text from Shuichi.

» I’ve got some time, want me to come over? «

Jodie smiled at her screen and answered him right away.

» Yes! I’d be happy to see you xxx «

» Good. Did you have dinner? I thought about getting us some Sushi if you like that. «

» I’d love that. Didn’t get to eat yet. «

Shuichi sent her another message, saying that he would be on his way and Jodie hurried to bring the watering can on the balcony and then left to take a quick shower. She just struggled a bit to decide on the clothes she should were. However, her ringing doorbell speeded up her decision. She pulled a white shorts from her wardrobe, it had some cute rose and blue highlight, but overall looked decent. She just hadn’t much time to search for a fitting shirt, so she grabbed the first thing in the same color and ended up with a top. It didn’t look too bad, she thought as she passed the mirror.

She then rushed to the door and opened it, just to find Shuichi already waiting there. In a pair of camouflage sweatpants, a black hoodie under his jacket, and – surprisingly – a cap, not his ugly knitted hat. And on his arm, he balanced a huge box from a sushi restaurant.

“Come in,” Jodie invited him in by stepping aside, holding the door open for him.

She watched him walk down the little hall into her open kitchen, just to make a stunning face as he saw the glass front straight ahead in her living area.

“Did they give you a raise?” Shuichi asked her, still looking nonplussed at the sight. “This might be the most luxurious house I’ve ever set foot in.”

Jodie chuckled at his soft expression. He looked like a small boy who went to a toy store for the very first time. She found it cute.

However, it bugged her a little bit that he was busy prying in her apartment rather than giving her a proper hello. After all, he’d declared her his girlfriend on Monday, so he could just as well act that way. She took the box from his hand and walked over to her couch. She was hungry and the sushi looked delicious. She just had little difficulties spreading all the different little plates on her coffee table. She still made it to fit and Shuichi decided to attend to her eventually as well by taking the empty box away. On the same way, he got rid of his jacket and placed them over one of her kitchen chairs.

“Hmm, you look good,” Shuichi hummed as he came back to her and sat down next to her.

“Hmm, you finally aware I’m here too?” Jodie taunted him.

Unfazed, he leaned over to her and pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth. “Hello,” he added softly.

Jodie, who had felt like teasing him a little, cracked a smile first but then laughed. She couldn’t play stern when he met her with his unexpected, sweet behavior. She was pretty sure he knew what kind of effect he had on her – and the people around him.

“Maybe I missed you,” he smirked at her from the side.

Jodie pushed him away, playfully, and grabbed the wooden chopsticks. “Yeah, I felt how much you missed me. You didn’t even say hello.”

“I did say hello,” he countered, looking by far too smug and proud of himself.

“Nah,” Jodie still disagreed, waving him off with one hand. “At least you brought dinner, so I might forget that you had more interest in my apartment than me. Where did you come from anyway?”

She was surprised to see him in sweatpants, though she couldn’t deny that he looked unreasonable good in it. More than that though, she developed a weak spot for his tied-up hair. She almost couldn’t believe that she got a boyfriend in him when she wasn’t looking for one in the first place.

“I’ve been at the gym and came right over,” he explained. “I didn’t have anything else to do, so I thought I could just as well have dinner with you when you’re free.”

Jodie smiled down at the various sushi rolls, feeling the warmth rise in her belly. They still didn’t see each other every night after work, but he always gave her the reassuring that he wanted to spend his time with her. In fact, it was always him asking her.

Gracefully, she picked up one of the sushi rolls and dipped it in soy sauce – only to get irritated by the stare she felt on her. Jodie turned to Shuichi, who seemed to watch her. With his head cocked and still this soft expression on his face.

Jodie’s smile grew wider. She forgot about the sushi between her chopsticks and leaned up to him, printing a kiss to his lips.

“Thanks, Shuu,” she said. “I’m glad you came around.”

She didn’t give him the chance to return her kiss. She turned back to her dinner that was spread in front of her. Shuichi grunted slightly and then joined her, by breaking his sticks apart.

 

“Do you get another bite?” Shuichi asked, long since Jodie had touched her last piece of the plate.

Jodie declined, but sat up and stacked the empty plates while Shuichi put the remaining rolls and onigiris on a single plate. She got up from the couch to bring the trash to the kitchen, but Shuichi hold her back and did it himself. He also put the food in the fridge. She just watched him for a moment until she closed her eyes.

She opened them again, only when she felt the cushion give in under his weight as he came back to her. Shuichi was closer this time and his left hand easily found its way on her bare thigh, while his other hand gently brushed her hair behind her ear. Jodie let herself sink against his shoulder and buried her nose in his sweater. It smelled sweet and warm in contrast to his shower gel that had a cool touch on his skin, but it was both seductive.

Shuichi’s hand wandered from her hair down to her back and he started to rub her gently. His fingers on her leg moved as well, caressing her inner thigh tenderly.

Jodie hummed in appreciation. She slipped her own hand under his sweater, letting it trace his side, up and down in a slow motion. Feeling tired after their dinner and even more so through their lazy cuddling, Jodie slowly dozed off on him. Her eyes got heavy, just like her thoughts. The silence around them and the warmth radiating from Shuichi’s body did the rest.


Jodie woke up from a nap through a grumble and Shuichi’s vibrating chest. She realized that she must have dozed off, but she could neither tell if that was true or if she napped for long. She felt rather awake than sleepy as soon as she opened her eyes. His fingers were still caressing her.

“Shuu?” She asked quite a bit confused at his reaction.

He didn’t answer her, but he took his hand off her back and gently pushed the strap of her top aside, to hook his finger under the string of her bra.

“Can you take it off?”

Jodie was as much surprised about his question as she was fond of him for asking. She hesitated for a brief moment, but she remembered soon, that he had touched her before anyway. She was nervous and excited, but not reluctant. It just turned out to be difficult to reach the clasp without lifting her head off his chest. Shuichi chuckled about it. Eventually, Jodie heaved herself off him and reached with both hands behind her back to unfasten the clasp. After that, her bra was gone in a second, but she kept wearing her top.

A top that got pulled down by Shuichi, just enough to replace the fabric with his hand.

He hummed again, sounding way more content at this moment than before. He looked fairly easy to please, or he was simply happy with everything he got. Either way, Jodie felt good in his arms, and his hands on her body were a whole different story.

That, combined with her curiosity and the growing desire in her chest, was the reason that she didn’t stop his hand this night as he pushed it up and between her legs. She got lost in his touch, lost in the heat, and lost in their kiss that followed. She felt safe with him, but he didn’t give her time to think properly anyway. The room got filled with little moans and gasps from both of them, feeling hot skin to their touch, and tasting the lust on their lips.


A little later, it was Shuichi who dozed off with his head in his neck. Jodie, sleepy as she got, watched him in awe. Seeing his face as peaceful as in this moment, relaxed and satisfied had something comforting in it. Even with his open mouth, he looked too adorable to wake him. Instead, Jodie snuggled up to him and closed her eyes herself. She didn’t know what time it was, but it seemed late and she knew that Shuichi was sooner or later leaving. They couldn’t possibly sleep like this on her couch and he needed to get home. Still, she refused to wake him and enjoyed the time they had left.

Chapter Text

The next Friday morning started beautifully. Cold, but it had snowed again, and the streets were covered in a white layer of white powder, hiding the dirt. Jodie slowly began to get tired of the cold weather, but they still had to wait a few weeks until spring would break through. Yet she kept enjoying the white beauty as long as it lasted.

More than the snow, she was excited about the evening. They had decided to have dinner in a BBQ restaurant and Shuichi had promised her to find a good one. The day at worked turned out to be long and exhausting, she had to sit through a meeting, and then Shuichi was gone, running some errands for one of the cases he was working on. Jodie didn’t mind it; she had her own load of work to do and it was enough for her to spend the night with him.

She only got to see Shuichi by the time she got ready to leave the office. She smiled at him.

“Are you sure you don’t want to be picked up?” He asked her, slowly packing his own belongings.

“Yes,” Jodie replied. “I’ll be at yours at seven-thirty. See you later.”

“See you,” Shuichi muttered.


For their night out, Jodie went with a classy outfit. A light cream-colored top and boots in the same color, combined with some black pants and a black-laced bra. It was decent, but she came to realize that Shuichi liked it anyway. She felt comfortable and couldn’t wait to finally see her boyfriend again. The sound of it painted a wide smile on her face. They kept it low at the office, it was no one’s business, but James knew, and somehow, Sebastian did too, but he kept silent about it and even tried to get Chloe to the point of acceptance. It wasn’t like Shuichi had ever shown any bit of interest in her. Jodie was thankful for his assistance and the fact that it didn’t spread at work.

Although Jodie left earlier to be definitely on time, she found Shuichi already standing in front of his house, dressed in his usual dark clothes, hair down but wearing a base cap this time which made him look a little better.

“You’re early,” he said. “You’re alright?”

He was smoking, but as soon as she came closer, he took a last drag and tossed the rest of the cigarette in the snow. Jodie gave him a confused stare, opening her mouth to say something but then closed it again.

“I’m– I’m–,“ Jodie blinked, drawing her eyebrows further together. “I just didn’t want to be late. I’m good. How about you?”

“Yeah.”

His taciturn answer made Jodie feel more unease than she liked to admit. She hesitated to say any more but kept wondering if something was wrong.  

Eventually, she shook her head about it, slightly, trying to get rid of the irritation he caused.

“Shall we go?” Jodie asked him.

He nodded and started walking down the street. Jodie followed him but looked at him puzzled when they passed his truck.

“We aren’t driving there?”

“No, it’s not far away,” Shuichi answered, but when he looked at her this time, he wore a mildly concerned expression on his face. “If you don’t mind a little walk.”

She didn’t need more to find her smiley again. “Yeah, no,” she replied happily. “I don’t mind.”

They kept walking through the streets in silence. Jodie had her hands buried deep in her pockets and her eyes fixed on the path ahead, just like Shuichi himself.


Little snowflakes fluttered down to the ground, slowly and peacefully in the bright light of the shining moon. Jodie smiled at the view.

“Nah, Shuu? How about a little walk through Central Park?” Jodie asked him, pointing at the entrance to the park on the other side of the street.

She hadn’t been aware of just how close to the park he lived. It was merely a few minute's walk away.  

Shuichi agreed. He rested his hand on her back and lead her over the street when no car was in sight.

"You’re really lucky living here,” she said after a few steps through the snowed park.

The warm streetlights along their path created a romantic atmosphere, similar to the last time they spend some time there.

Just that this time, she didn’t have to worry about his intentions anymore. There was no chance of misinterpretation of his actions anymore.

“You think so?” He simply wondered.

“Yes!” Jodie replied, enthusiastically. “I love this place and I want to see it in summer.”

Shuichi hummed. He took his hand away from her back and shoved them in his jeans pockets. Jodie watched him from the side, feeling a slight sting of disappointment. Yet, he kept walking close to her, which made their arms still touch.

They walked in silence – for one, Jodie didn’t know anything worth mentioning and for another, she was still very full from their dinner and their little detour to his home would make her feel better.

Unfortunate for both of them, the little snow slowly turned into little drops of water that only seconds later turned into a sudden downpour of rain. Jodie sighed and quickly put on her hood, to cover her hair and her cold ears from the rain.

A hopeless act as she had to learn a second later. A heavy storm accompanied the freezing cold rain, hitting her face hard and blowing down the hood. She got pushed back by the breeze, barely able to hold her ground. Jodie shielded her face with arms and dared a look over to Shuichi again, who did the same. Other than her, however, he was able to walk through the storm.

“Shit,” she muttered as soon as the breeze died down a little. “I didn’t expect this change in weather.”

“Me neither,” Shuichi replied in a growl.

Jodie was soaked to her skin in what felt like less than a blink of an eye. She was shivering underneath her clothes and she threw all her weight against another heavy blow.

By the time they reached his home, Jodie felt drenched and exhausted. She had water in her shoes, her pants stuck to her legs in both an unpleasant and awkward way, just like her top that got almost see-through despite its darker tone, and her hair was all soggy and messy from the heavy wind.

The only thing making it less bad was Shuichi being stuck in the same situation. She even saw his left hand slightly trembling as he tried to open the front door. Shuichi lurked into the house as soon as he opened the door and then went in, holding the door open for her.

Jodie couldn’t wait to get into the warm house and getting out of her wet clothes. She was excited to see his apartment, but her highest priority was still her current condition. She hurried to get out of her soaked shoes, just like Shuichi did, just slower, and followed him upstairs. Each of their steps made squeezing noises as they left watery footprints with their socks on the stairs.

They passed a door on the second level, but Shuichi continued climbing up the staircase to the third and last floor.

“Get in,” he told her as he held the door open for her.

Jodie did as he said and slipped through the frame inside an apartment that was way colder than the staircase even.

“Oh my god,” she breathed, shuddering as she couldn’t find any immediate comfort in his apartment. “It’s so cold in here.”

“Sorry,” Shuichi apologized quietly. “I’ll turn on the heating.”

He came in behind her and closed the door. She watched him slipping out of his dripping wet jacket and holding his hand out to her in an implying gesture. It took Jodie a moment to realize what he wanted from her but once she did, she stripped out of her jacket and gave it to him.

She watched him disappear into his bathroom and she used the time to look around his apartment that smelled slightly like cold smoke. The bathroom was right next to the door, but when she walked down the little hallway, she came into his open kitchen. The room was narrow as was the whole house. To her left was a niche for the kitchen, giving at least enough room for a sink and a stove with a little bit of counter between them. Opposite that, was another kitchen counter that looked fairly unused – at least in its original sense. Shuichi had all kinds of things lying on it – newspapers, a carton of the Luckies he smoked, a full ashtray, a half-full cup of coffee, and some old takeaway containers.

To her left, right at the hall, was some kind of cupboard build inside the wall. The dishwasher in the middle of it gave her the feeling that the whole construction belonged to his tiny kitchen.

There was something else that caught her eyes though. Further down, where his living room was right behind the kitchen, was a fireplace. With a couch standing across from it, and two tall windows at the end of the room, she got a cozy feeling from the arrangement. More so with the storm blowing outside and the rain drumming on the glass.

After a moment, Jodie went back to the door, just when Shuichi walked out of the bathroom with a towel in his hands.

“Are you going to sleep here?” He asked her, offering her the towel.

“Yes!” Jodie answered without thinking. “But only if you lighten the fire in your fireplace.”

Shuichi smirked. “Which one?”

“Which one?” Jodie repeated puzzled.

“I have two. One in my living room and one in my bedroom.”

“Then both!”

“I might light the one in the bedroom for you,” he disagreed with a faint smile. “In the meantime, you can take a bath or shower if you want.”

Jodie smiled at him openly. A bath sounded great, especially with a warm fire waiting for her and a soft bed. However, she had one problem.

“I don’t have any spare clothes with me,” she said.

“You can have some things from me,” he just shrugged.

He waved her over as he walked into his bedroom on the left side of the door, at the end of another little hallway.

The room looked clean but very sparsely decorated. The fireplace was right next to the door and his bed was only a few steps away from it, facing the wall to her left. Across the room was a window, but Shuichi had the curtains pulled together to block out the streetlights.

While he went to the closet that was built into the otherwise empty wall on the left, she took a closer look at the fireplaces. It looked old and a bit rusty being made of dark stones and bricks. There was a bit of a stony ground around it. And on top of it, on the mantel, lay some books and an empty bottle of water.

“You can try this,” Shuichi interrupted her thoughts.

Jodie turned away from the fireplace and walked over to him, where he pulled some sweatpants out of his closet.

“I think this is the smallest I have. And a T-Shirt.”

While the black color of the sweatpants looked a little washed out, the bright blue color of the shirt was unexpected and made her chuckle.

“Is this yours?” She asked, raising that piece of clothing as if it was something rare she rarely got to see. “Didn’t expect you to own anything as eye-catching as this.”

Shuichi only regarded her with a dark, little smile.

“What? You’re not going to explain this?”

“It suits your eyes.”

Jodie blushed faster than the words made it through to your mind. That idiot knew how to end any teasing, even one as innocent as this.

“It sure does,” she mumbled. “It will just be too big for me.”

“It will look okay,” he promised her, not seeming to be bothered at all by it. “I left you a toothbrush on the sink.”

Jodie smiled at him for a moment, but then excused herself to the bathroom. She locked the door behind her and decided to take a bath instead of a shower. Shuichi had hung their drenched jackets on the bar of the shower to let them dry there anyway. Jodie put her wet clothes to it, only leaving her string. It would dry quickly.

Jodie took her time in the bath, enjoying the warm water and the relaxation that came with it. Sometimes her thoughts drifted away, over to the fact that she’d sleep in his bed – otherwise he would turn on the fireplace in the living room. It was okay for her, she was excited and even a little curious about what would happen that night. She only regretted it not being prepared for it. Instead, she found herself in some still too big sweatpants, and a T-Shirt she fitted in twice. It wasn’t exactly sexy and it didn’t help that she now smelled all like his shower gel and shampoo either. She felt warmer after the bath and with dried hair, but the maybe sexiest thing on her was covered by oversized clothes.

She sighed. Eventually, she helped herself out a bit by making a knot into the side of the shirt. It enhanced her look a little bit but also offered a little bit of skin as her pants would slip down every few steps. She couldn’t pull the waistband tight enough to make the fabric stay where it was supposed to be.


When she came back into the bedroom, the fire was already burning in the fireplace. It was warm and cozy, and the crackling of the fire created a soothing atmosphere. Shuichi was sitting on the bed, reading in a book he closed and put aside as soon as he noticed her.

“Feel any better?” He asked, looking up at her with a mild expression.

“Yes,” she answered happily. “The bath is all yours now.”

She saw him nod. Shuichi got on his feet only slowly but then disappeared to the bathroom.

Jodie sat down on the bed and let herself fall over to stretch herself on the sheets. The covers her nose touched as she turned her head smelled like him and she couldn’t help herself, burying her nose into it.

She dozed off to the heat and the silence in the room but woke up by the squeaking of the door. Jodie didn’t know how much time has passed, but Shuichi seemed to have showered himself and taken care of his hair which was now dry and neatly combed into a ponytail. Wearing nothing but some black loose shorts.

“Hmm,” Jodie hummed, a little sleepy.

She pushed herself in a sitting position and let her eyes roam up and down his body, enjoying the view she got. He was slim and lean, with the right amount of muscles and strong arms.

“Did I wake you up?”

“Yeah, but I don’t mind,” Jodie said, smiling up to him. “Now come here.”

She went on her knees in a smooth movement and hooked her index finger under the waistband of his shorts, just to give him a little pull. He followed her immediately and forced her back on her back. She just leaned up to print a kiss on his lips and lazily circle her arms around his neck. Feeling his weight on her felt better than any kind of blanket. She felt warm and good and safe under him.

Jodie sighed in their kiss – a slow and lazy one that dragged for half an eternity. She shuddered as he moved a little, supporting his weight on his right arm as he stole his other hand under the hem of her shirt. He broke the kiss as his hand explored her skin and trailed his lips along her jaw, kissing his way up, until his hot breath hit her ear. Her heart fluttered at the sensation and made her shift under him ever so slightly.

And maybe – maybe – her current look wasn’t as much of a turn-off as she thought it was.

“Shuu…” She whispered, without a particular reason.

He took his lips away from her ear. Jodie looked at him and he returned the gaze. His green eyes, dark with a glint of red caused by the fire next to them.

“Hm?” He just hummed in response.

Jodie saw him lowering his gaze on her lips, but when he hesitated to kiss her, Jodie pulled him down and initiated it herself. This time, it got more heated than before: demanding and intimate. She moved her hands up and down the length of his back, feeling a desperate urge to touch every inch of his skin. She wanted to dig into him and melt under him at the same time, getting carried away by all those little noises he made.

Eventually, both his hands found their way on her body, caressing her sides, running up and down, and pushing the shirt a little higher with each movement.

Jodie shuddered as a reaction to his teeth gently biting down on her bottom lip as he broke away, drawing little gasps from the back of her throat. She wanted to feel the sensation again, the prickle on her skin, and sunk her hands into his hair. She didn’t care that she messed up his hair as she let her fingers dive into his thick strands, along his scalp, and underneath his hair tie. However firmly she was able to hold him that way, he had other things in mind.

Shuichi kissed his way down over her chin and deeper, leaving a wet trail on her sensitive skin until he reached the collar of her shirt. He hummed ever so slightly – Jodie didn’t know if it was a display of annoyance or acceptance, but it surely wasn’t pleasuring. She chuckled about it.

He solved his issue faster than Jodie liked a moment later. Shuichi shoved the shirt up, over her breasts and pulled away from her hands as he worked his way further down. Jodie wanted to complain about it, losing the comfortable grip in his hair, but his hands around her breasts felt good enough to make up for it. His usual strong, rough hands became tender whenever they lay on her body. The way he squeezed and teased her was nothing more than a gentle touch.

Jodie took a deep breath and let herself sink into his caressing hands. He shifted moving further down, just the way his lips trailed down her body and past her navel. But when he took one hand away from her curves and hooked his fingers into her sweatpants to drag them away, Jodie tensed up, feeling his lips far too deep down.

“Shuu?!” She asked surprised.

“Hm?” He moved his lips up again, planting a kiss on her belly before he looked up to her.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to eat you out.”

Jodie felt nervousness creeping through her bones.

“Okay,” she mumbled, her heart thumping in her chest.

Too many thoughts at once started building in her mind. Her nervousness increased, making her stiff and feeling at unease.

What if he didn’t like it? She had never thought about any of these activities before she had met him before she had dated him. And despite her earlier bath, she didn’t know how to feel about it. Her thoughts couldn’t follow him and her imagination wasn’t strong enough to find any pleasure for him in this act. And yet he was so certain about it.

Shuichi kept eye contact for a moment but then went over to help her out of the sweatpants. Once done, he lied down between her legs, pushing them apart with his hands and printing soft kisses to her inner thighs. Jodie expected him to go to town quickly, but he took his time kissing her and stroking her belly with one hand. To her surprise, she felt him trailing up to her again, until his face was so close to hers, she could see the flickering flames in his greens.

“Relax, Jodie,” he instructed her. “It’s all fine.”

Jodie swallowed. If anything, she was probably embarrassing herself in front of him again. She placed her hands on his back again and let them trace his sides up and down.

But Shuichi surprised her again, sneakily pushing a hand between their bodies and grabbing between her legs, with just the right amount of pressure that had Jodie gasps in both surprisal and pleasure. Jodie stared at Shuichi, meeting his unwavering gaze with that soft bow of eyebrows, one of the little things she found his concern in.

Jodie sighed deeply, breathing all the air in her lungs out, and inhaled the air as she closed her eyes.

She knew that Shuichi was still staring at her, he didn’t move other than his hand he brought up to her belly, caressing her tenderly.

“You sure?” Jodie asked in the hope to feel more at ease with his plans.

“Yes. Relax and enjoy it,” he stressed. “It’s alright.”

Despite his reassurance, it took Jodie a while to accustom herself to the thought of him getting down on her. It felt weird, and she wasn’t able to relax. But Shuichi worked his tongue on her regardless; she felt his hot breath on his skin, holding to one of his hands – and slowly, he was able to ease her mind in a more comfortable state. He would stop it if he didn’t enjoy it, she tried to tell herself, but that wasn’t needed anymore after he looked up to her. When Jodie returned his gaze, he stopped and raised his head, just enough to shoot her a smug smirk.

Another deep breath and she let herself sink into his hands and the pleasure, feeling the warmth from the fire lingering around them and the soft covers underneath her.


“Hm, Shuu…” Jodie mumbled in a heavy breath. She tugged on his hand, signalizing him to come up.

He did as she wanted, pressing a kiss to the corner of her mouth. Jodie smiled at him and let her hands rest on his hip while he looked like he was waiting for her to speak.

“You’ve got condoms?”

Shuichi hesitated. But then he nodded and slowly climbed down from her. Jodie licked her lips nervously. She watched him for a second, reaching for his nightstand, and decided to get rid of her shirt. She tossed it on the mattress next to her and felt her stomach drop a little.

He slipped out of his shorts and kneeled in front of her, pulling down her string agonizingly slow. Jodie let him push her legs apart. She kept watching him as he moved his rough hands up her thighs as he did so, and smiled at the evident look of admiration on his face.

Eventually, he leaned down and printed a kiss to her belly, and shuffled closer.

“Tell me when something doesn’t feel right,” he said and she nodded.

Jodie felt as excited about this as she was nervous, and although Shuichi took his time, she felt a fraction of discomfort as he pushed inside her. She felt his heavy weight on her, almost covering her like a blanket but knocking the air out of her lungs at the same time. Her moan turned into a gasp at the sudden sting of pain, a burning sensation. She couldn’t help but pull a face at the uncomfortable sensation.

Something Shuichi seemed to notice as he paused and kept his eyes on her face.

“Is it bad?” He asked concerned.

“Hm,” Jodie exhaled. She closed her eyes and covered her face with her arm. “Not that bad, just not comfortable either.”

Shuichi didn’t reply anything and Jodie was too concentrated on herself to care. However, he started gently rubbing his hands up and down her sides as he waited.

“You need to relax. Do you want me to stop?”

“No. No. It’s not that bad, really.”

Yet it didn’t get better. She knew she had to relax, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t force it. Shuichi tried hard as well, being understanding and caring, but he didn’t push too much.

Jodie felt a sting of disappointment and embarrassment the moment he pulled out of her completely. He didn’t say a word but let himself drop next to her. After an awkward silence and an apology from Jodie, it turned out that Shuichi couldn’t have it his way with her when she wasn’t feeling comfortable. It made her fall for him so much more if that was even possible.

They ended up cuddling on the bed with Shuichi spooning her as they both faced the fireplace. And despite their quite unpleasant first attempt of spending the night together, she still felt too excited to get sleepy again. It wasn’t possible with Shuichi stroking and teasing her the entire time anyway. Sometimes his fingers would find some sensitive spots and he wouldn’t show the slightest bit of mercy as he tickled her. Trying to pay him back was pointless- for one, he could easily pin her down and for another, he didn’t seem to have a weak spot at all.

“Stop it, Shuichi!” She demanded breathlessly as she slapped his hand away.

She chuckled at his relentless efforts to find more of her ticklish spots and the next time his mean fingertips roamed over her skin, she grabbed his whole arm and clung to it, robbing him of his ability to move it. Though, she realized that he could still move his hand just when he cupped her breast with it.

A dark little laugh escaped his lips and Jodie could feel the smug expression he must be wearing on his face. It was unfair how much she liked this about him.

Jodie slowly let go of his arm and turned her head over her shoulder to look at him, waiting for him to return the eye-contact. And when he did, he did it with a kiss. He sometimes lacked some smiles, but he never lacked the softness in his expression and his acts, she noticed.

“How about another try?” Jodie whispered against his lips. She felt more at ease at this point, not least due to his silly teasing.


Jodie groaned as the day was approaching, the bright light dazzling her and trying to pull her away from her sleep. She wasn’t ready to get up and she wasn’t ready for this heat. She wanted to sink back into the comfortable darkness and silence to rest. As much as she was concerned, it was the weekend and she didn’t have to work.

Yet, the soft sizzling and crackling increased became louder. Maybe it drew closer – it definitely drew closer. Jodie shielded her eyes with her arm, trying to block out the light that kept bothering her despite her closed lids. At the same time, she felt her discomfort rise through the sweat she felt on her face and her body. She felt weak and the sun burned down on her mercilessly – and she was vaguely aware that it had been freezing cold not so long ago. In fact, she didn’t think she’d ever been to a place this hot, no matter the time of the year. She felt like every bit of moisture was burning right out of the pores of her skin, vaporizing in the air.

Jodie used her arm to wipe the sweat off her forehead. The air got thinner and breathing got harder – or maybe it was her rising anxiety that troubled her. Or the lack of oxygen that fed her panic. She sighed, trying to fight that feeling– just when a loud creaking sound startled her as it turned into a terrifying loud bang as an entire wall of the house collapsed.

The sight of the burning house in front of her, mirroring in her eyes. Jodie couldn’t move anymore, couldn’t think – her body froze, literally and figuratively. Adrenalin rushed through her system, made her heart hammer in her chest. It was her old home. Her parents house. Her father was inside this house. Jodie wanted to help him, wanted to get him out of the slowly collapsing building. It was her chance to get her family back.

She also wanted to run away, vaguely aware that something was off. She couldn’t help her father. And she couldn’t move. She could just stand there, panic-stricken, on the verge of the abyss.

Jodie’s eyes teared up, burning her cheeks as the salty hot drops rolled down her stone-cold face. She would either freeze to death or pulverize in the unbearable heat.

Blurred as her vision was, she saw a woman walking towards her, emerging right from the flames. She smelled like fire and burned flesh– Jodie felt her stomach-churning.

“A secret makes a woman, woman.”


Jodie jolted awake with horror. Her naked body was covered in a cold sweat, causing goosebumps on her skin and made her shake despite the still-burning fireplace. For a moment, she got lost in the shrinking flames.

A secret makes a woman, woman.

Her father’s murderer. Her burning home. The smell of burned bodies.

She threw her hand over her face, wiping away tears and sweat before she covered her mouth as she felt her stomach churn for real. And before she could form a clear thought, she jumped out of the bed and hurried to the bathroom.

 

 

Chapter Text

Shuichi woke up to a frantic movement on the mattress next to him and a blow against his arm. He grunted and opened one eye a crack to look at Jodie who was the cause of the stir. Once she got her feet freed from the blanket, she was up and hurried out of the bedroom. If he hadn’t woken to this, then probably to the loud bang as the bathroom door slammed shut.

His gaze lingered on the hallway for a second, until he let it flicker to the shrinking flames in his fireplace. Shuichi sighed. He closed his tired eyes again and rolled onto his back with a moan, arms sprawled to each side. He would wait a moment for Jodie to come back – though he got a somewhat bad feeling about her. The sheet on her side of the bed was damp and so was the pillow too.

Time passed and nothing happened. Neither did Shuichi hear any noises from the bathroom nor did Jodie come back. Eventually, he threw back the covers and slipped to the edge of his side of the bed. Before he went to check for Jodie, he locked for his shorts and got himself a new pair of sweatpants from his closet.

“Jodie,” he said, knocking at the bathroom door. “You okay there?”

He heard a muffled sound, followed by a clank, and then the door opened with a slight squeal. Jodie opened the door just enough to poke her head through the gap. Shuichi could see how red and puffy her eyes were, but she tried to crack him a smile regardless. She failed and his heart sunk.

“I’m okay,” she whispered. “Can you bring me my clothes?”

“Of course.”

Shuichi turned on his heels and went back to his bedroom, flicking on the lights as he looked for her clothes. He gathered her sweatpants and the shirt she wore earlier and went back to the bathroom with them. He knocked and handed her the clothes and then proceeded to wait in the hallway.

“Thanks,” Jodie whispered as she finally left the bathroom.

Her nasal voice made him look at her closely, but she turned away from him under his gaze. He’d still been able to see the not yet dried tears on her cheeks. He swallowed. For once the silence around them made him feel uncomfortable.

“Do you want to drink something?” Shuichi asked her. “Or do you need anything else?”

“A jacket,” Jodie sniffed. “It’s still cold in here.”

Shuichi's eyebrows twitched for a second as he frowned at the back of her head. He’d forgotten to turn on the heating, thinking the fireplace would be enough.

“I’ll get you something warmer.”

He saw her nodding and then she went to the living room. Shuichi went back to his bedroom and got her a thick sweater.

It looked ridiculous on her. A little cute, but most importantly, it did its job keeping her warm. She sat down on his couch, legs pulled up and arms circled around her own body.

Shuichi rummaged through the kitchen and eventually found a clean cup. He stared at it and then looked over to his full sink, where he didn’t only have used plates stacked but also all his glasses.

“Do you want tea instead of water? It’ll warm you up.”

Jodie sniffed before she rasped a silent approval.

“Green tea okay?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Because I don’t have any other tea.”

A little smile spread on his face as he heard Jodie chuckle, only to break it with a little sniff.

Shuichi filled his kettle with water and watched it until it boiled. It was a good excuse to avoid an awkward situation because he didn’t know how to handle her current mood. However, he couldn’t confront her with only his back forever. As soon as the water boiled and was poured on the tea, he went over to her, placing the mug in front of her on the coffee table.

“Thanks, Shuu.” Jodie thanked him.

And then they fell silent again. She didn’t speak. Instead, she let the cup rest on her lap between her hands. She had them covered by his sweater to not get burned. He eyed her for a moment from the corner of his eye but didn’t say a word. For a long time, the ticking of the clock above his fireplace and the occasional sips of tea were the only noises around them. Even the sky seemed to have cleared as there was no more rain pouring down and the wind had stopped blowing against his windows.

“My parents are British,” Shuichi suddenly spoke, staring into the empty fireplace. “But they have Japanese roots. You might have noticed by now.”

Shuichi took his eyes from the cobwebs on the stacked logs and looked at Jodie, who stared at him with a surprised look on her face. He offered her a little, reassuring smile for that.

“A family friend asked my father to investigate the murder of his son here in the States. It’s thirteen years ago, and he never came home since.”

“So… that’s why you came here? What happened?”

Jodie let her knees sink until she was sitting straight beside him on the couch. She turned to him and despite her still reddened skin and her watery eyes, he saw that he’d woken her interest.

“Yes,” he replied. “I still don’t know what happened, I’m trying to figure it out.”

For the next couple of minutes silence set in again. Shuichi leaned back against the cushion and looked up through his dirty windows where a little bit of moonlight shone through. He felt her eyes on him for a while, but then the feeling was gone. Instead, he found her staring into her cup with the still steaming tea and chewing her bottom lip.

He gave her a moment, but she didn’t seem like she was going to say anything. Shuichi turned his body towards her, crossing his legs casually and letting his left arm rest on the backrest of the couch. Jodie sighed at it.

“I had a nightmare.” She said.

“I noticed,” Shuichi answered.

Again, she fell silent. She looked like she wanted to say speak, but she didn’t seem to know how to start. Maybe she was worried – Shuichi couldn’t tell.

“Your father was an FBI agent. Wasn’t he?”

“How do you know?”

“I suspected it for a while, but it was obvious when I saw the photo you keep in your purse.”

Her head jerked up in a split second and Shuichi could watch the blood rushing to her face, staring at her neck and going all the way up to her forehead. Her head was bright red – almost amusing if this wasn’t a serious conversation.

“James keeps a similar photo in a frame on his desk.”

“Do you…,” she swallowed, “do you know what happened?”

“Your dad was murdered.”

Jodie leaned forward to place her mug on the coffee table. Shuichi thought she would lean back, but she kept sitting on the edge of the couch and propped her hands left and right from her. He was barely confronted with her profile.

“I was eight when it happened. And I guess I’m lucky I didn’t die that night either.”

Even if he’d tried, he couldn’t miss hearing the dripping sarcasm in her voice, that spat like acid. He drew his eyebrows together in a concerned expression and regarded her with a worried look.

“I’ve seen her face. She’d smiled at me after she’d killed him. I just didn’t know it at that time.” She sniffed. “Sorry for being like this. I’ve myself back under control when you give me another moment.”

“It’s alright,” Shuichi reassured her. “Why did she let you live?”

He waited for Jodie to be ready to answer his question. She just took a deep breath and turned to face him.

“She set the whole house on fire– think she expected me to die there with my father’s corpse and possible traces that lead to her.”

Shuichi stared at her. “But you didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t”, Jodie said. “She told me my father laid down because he was feeling sick, so I went to the nearby store to get him some orange juice. By the time I came back, the house was in flames.”

Shuichi couldn’t even begin to imagine how it must feel like to come back to see the own house on fire, knowing that her family was stuck inside. And yet she turned into a strong woman; not always cheerful or carefree, but with a life-appreciating attitude and passion.

“I joined the FBI to find her one day and make her pay for what she did. We don’t seem much different in our motivation, hm.”

“No.” They weren’t.

And maybe he was able to help her in her search for her father’s murderer. But not tonight and not this weekend.

“Anyway,” she muttered when silence was about to fall over them yet again. “Sorry for waking you up. Guess I ruined your sheets.”

“You did,” he confirmed. “Your side of the bed is soaked. Letting the fireplace burn wasn’t a good idea.”

He’d been too tired and exhausted to extinguish the fire, but he shouldn’t have let it burn in the first place for safety reasons and apart from the flashbacks it had caused Jodie.

He laughed, a little rough laugh when he saw her cheeks flushed again.

“I could use some more sleep, how about you?”

Jodie nodded. She wanted to get up, but Shuichi held her back.

“Wait.” He instructed her as he got up himself. “Stay here.”

“Shuu… please don’t bother with the sheets. I’m sorry for the mess.”

He waved her off from the hallway. “I won’t,” he promised.

And he didn’t think about it. He only went to the bedroom to put out the embers with some baking soda and to grab his pillow and a blanket. On the way back to Jodie, he turned on the heating in his apartment.

“What are you doing?” She asked him confused as she saw him approaching with his beddings.

“We’re sleeping on the couch,” he yawned his answer. “I turned on the heating so it should get warm here soon.”

“We?”

“Hm.”

Shuichi tossed the pillow at the far end of the couch and lay down on it himself before he spread the blanket over him – just to hold it open for her to climb beside him. She did, though reluctant, and it took them a moment to figure out a position that was the least uncomfortable for either of them. He ended up with his back pressed to the backrest, spooning Jodie and letting her head rest on his arm. His left arm, he wrapped around her body, to hold her loosely.

“Thanks, Shuu,” Jodie whispered into the crook of his arm.

He didn’t answer anymore. He merely leaned his cheek against the back of her head and tried to find sleep like this.


A knock at the door woke him from his sleep and stirred Jodie as well.

“Hmm,” he groaned sleepily, burying his face into the cool smell.

A cool smell that moved and didn’t at all smelled like the fruity-sweet scent he was used to.

“Hmm,” he hummed again. “You should bring your own things next time.”

Jodie yawned and stretched herself in his arm.

“What you talkin’?” She asked drowsily, her voice a mere rasp from the sleep and the many tears she’d shed hours before.

“Shampoo. You’re smelling like a man.”

Her body shook slightly as a laugh vibrated through her, but when she turned a little and put her head in her neck, she wore a frown on her face.

“That didn’t bother you this night,” she scolded him.

He watched her with only one eye cracked open and met her with a smirk.

“Yeah, been busy,” he admitted smugly as he let his hand slip under the sweater she was still wearing. “But I’m not anymore now. And you still smell like a man.”

Shuichi pushed himself off the cushion and placed a faint kiss on her lips.

“So charming,” Jodie said with a pout.

She put her hand on his, making him believe she liked what she did as she was caressing the back of his hand, but suddenly, she pinched him and twisted his skin.

Shuichi groaned in displeasure and pulled his hand away, pulling a displeased face.

“Don’t look at me like that,” his girlfriend laughed and poked her finger in his stomach. “You’re getting nasty.”

His smirk grew wider as she called him nasty. The sleep was driven away from him quickly and he brought himself on top of Jodie in an instant, burying her underneath his body.

“You brought yourself in a very vulnerable position,” Jodie remarked and made him know what she meant by raising one of her legs between his. “Think twice before you continue being a smug ass.” She warned him with a grin.

Shuichi leaned down to kiss her, but another, now louder knock at his door made him stop halfway down. He hesitated a moment, but then got off Jodie. He rolled his eyes but padded to the door regardless.

“You know,” he said, opening the door, “some people might still sleep around this time.”

“Good morning to you too, Shuichi. You never sleep around this time anymore,” his landlady accused him, pushing a spatula close to his face.

Shuichi moved a step back into his apartment. It wasn’t that he feared her actually wielding it in his face, but he didn’t like things pointed at him. A reaction that, inevitably, came through his job. He could handle thugs, but Mrs. Hudson was a different kind. She was preying and had no sense of privacy. He didn’t like her meddling in his business.

“Well, now I did.”

“Yes. Because you were busy with that cute girl last night. What did you two do anyway to be still sleeping?”

“None of your concern,” he muttered. Yet he felt weirdly fond of her. He was exasperatedly fond of her.

“No?” Mrs. Hudson looked taken aback. “I thought you’re just co-workers?”

“I’m not ready to deal with you before I had a coffee,” Shuichi sighed. “I told you to stop preying on me.”

Mrs. Hudson smiled up to him and wielded the spatula excitedly in her hand. “And I told you, I won’t. Now stop feeding the kitten and come down. I made breakfast for you. For both of you.”

Shuichi stared at her flabbergasted. If he had no consideration, she lacked even more tact. Eventually, he shook his head. He wasn’t ready for this; this woman was worse than his own mother.

“Don’t let this old lady wait, Shuichi. Do me the favor.”

“Not like you’re giving me much of a choice.”

His landlady chuckled and winked at him before she left down the stairs.

Shuichi threw the door shut behind her. The eruption almost caused the key in the hole to fall out but was stuck on its last groove.

“Stop banging my doors, Shuichi!”

He opened the door again, not moving his feet an inch. Mrs. Hudson was on the last step, looking up to him with an amused expression on her face.

“You’re not my mother, you barmy old lady. Don’t tell me what to do.”

“Watch your tongue, you little brat! And hurry, before the breakfast gets cold.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Shuichi closed his door again, softer this time, and put the key back in the keyhole that it wouldn’t fall out.

“What’s going on?” Jodie asked perplexed as she walked over to him. “Who was that?”

“My landlady,” Shuichi replied amused.

“Hmm.” She sniffed in the air. “This smells like a delicious breakfast.”

A delicious smell of bacon and egg was spreading in his apartment, coming all the way up from downstairs.

“Aren’t we lucky that she told us to come down?” Shuichi spat ironically.

“Why?”

Suddenly, her confused look shifted to a more worried one. Shuichi sighed and rubbed the back of his head awkwardly.

“I’m helping her sometimes. In return, she can’t stay out of my privacy. She wants to meet you.”

“She wants to meet me,” Jodie repeated bewildered.

“Yeah, better get ready or she will tear my door down in ten minutes.”

Shuichi shoved her to the bathroom and went to the bedroom, to look for her bra he then brought her.

They both got ready to get their breakfast downstairs, though, her clothes were still wet. Jodie smiled at him, being stuck in his way too big clothes, while he himself put on a pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt.

His eye lingered on her almost invisible butt on their way down – something that even Jodie seemed to notice. Not last when he almost ran into her as she stopped walking.

“You really are charming this morning,” Jodie smiled warily.

“Don’t worry, it’s not like you have any butt in those pants,” Shuichi remarked dryly.

“Good, I smell like a man anyway. Get over it.”

Shuichi chuckled.

“Don’t dare to say yet another thing, Shuichi. You’re having a lot to make up if you continue this path.”

“Nothing easier than that.”

“Sure. I like your confidence.”

Shuichi nudged her back and stole himself a quick kiss before they continued their way down where Mrs. Hudson was already waiting for them. He felt uncomfortable and had liked for his landlady not to know that he had a woman over, but she’d picked up on all the little hints herself. Like their wet shoes at the door.

Shuichi led Jodie past Mrs. Hudson and to the kitchen, without saying a word. His girlfriend turned a little, and then looked up at him with an irritated expression.

“Don’t you want to introduce us?” Mrs. Hudson called after him and then followed him.

“No.” Shuichi only stopped when he reached the kitchen, where a fantastic breakfast was set up. He rarely ever got that good of a dish. He looked up from the table when he felt two pairs of eyes resting on him.

Mrs. Hudson huffed and was the first to speak. “You should work on your courtesy, Shuichi.”

“And you should work on your low profile. And stop preying.”

“My house, my rules!”

He rolled his eyes. He didn’t like this a bit, but he couldn’t deny that she amused him.

“Anyway,” Mrs. Hudson waved him off and turned to his girlfriend. “I’m Mrs. Hudson. Who are you, darling?”

Jodie blushed a little but then hold her hand out for his landlady. “I’m Jodie,” she introduced herself with a cheerful smile on her face.

“Shuichi’s co-worker?”

“His girlfriend. And his co-worker, yes.”

Shuichi slowly dropped his forehead in his palm. This was worse than introducing her to his mother. He made himself a mental note to only go to restaurants in Jodie’s area in the future. He couldn’t handle Mrs. Hudson turning his time with Jodie in an awkward sit-together. She was just his landlady. He couldn’t wait for her to spill every detail about his reasons to live with her and turning them into embarrassing stories that got expanded by her fantasy. He begged that this was the worst this morning had in store for him.

Chapter Text

Jodie was as astonished about the way Mrs. Hudson, Shuichi’s landlady, bantered with him as she was surprised to hear that he’s been occupying the space of the apartment above for the past thirteen years. On top of that, she learned that this lady wasn’t only the hirer of this place, she also had functioned as his host mother during his exchange years. She couldn’t help but smile about the fact that he never felt a need to move out and get his own, maybe a bigger, apartment. He was still living there and caring for her.

However, a glance over the breakfast table told her that Shuichi didn’t seem overly happy about all the little details Mrs. Hudson spilled. It wasn’t much or anything of matter, just little pieces that put another complexion on things; it shaped his personality a little more.

“Who would have thought you’re so sentimental,” Jodie teased him with a cheeky grin.

“Hah,” Shuichi spat back as he reached for the last bit of scrambled egg. “I just don’t see a reason in moving.”

Jodie laughed lightheartedly. She believed that, considering how pragmatic he– and how expensive New York City was.

“Maybe,” she chirped. “And yet you take care of all sorts of things for Mrs. Hudson.”

Shuichi huffed in response but didn’t speak. Instead, he focused his whole attention on his plate, ignoring her and his landlady. Jodie’s grin slowly turned into an affectionate smile.

Despite her fondness for Mrs. Hudson, she still felt sympathy for him in this situation. She didn’t know what to think of this – she clearly wasn’t his mother and yet it felt like she had been introduced to her. And she felt awkward in a way she wasn’t sure where her relationship with Shuichi would lead. It felt too early to let anyone know – and yet, there was James who already did anyway.

Jodie almost groaned as she remembered it. It had been a thrill at first; she had felt the excited tingle in her belly when Shuichi told her about his talk with James and the fact that he had called her his girlfriend. But after just one night, the excitement had faded and made space for doubts and worries. She hadn’t talked to James about it, but considering their situation as colleagues and her goals, she wasn’t sure if he had done her a favor by being so blunt about it.

But then again, he had his own objectives to reach; he wouldn’t let this get into his way – into their ways.

 


 

Now with Shuichi knowing about her past and her motivation to find her father’s murderer some things changed. She started to stay longer at work – first only a bit, where he offered her to let her look into the case of the murder of her family. He let her do this on her own, didn’t meddle, and didn’t ask. But he stayed and was doing non-official things himself. They both had nothing else to do; whatever it was, waiting for them at home, it could be done at any other time as well.

“Shuu…”, Jodie said one night, over the hot steam of Chinese takeaway to get his attention. “Does your mother approve of your decision?”

A pair of confused, green eyes looked over at her. Jodie regarded him with a soft expression, the inner corners of her eyebrows angled down.

“She doesn’t like what I do, but she knows she can’t stop me.”

Jodie nodded. She felt his eyes still linger on her, waiting, silently asking for her reasons to ask, or maybe just waiting for her to speak. For the moment, however, she just cared for her dinner she picked in unenthusiastically. She was hungry after this particularly long day, but the files in front of her, the reports about that night fifteen years ago made her lack the appetite.

She sighed and let go of her fork. Jodie set down her glasses in a quick motion and rubbed the bridge of her nose with her eyes closed. She felt tired of the week already, more than usual – but then again, she spent the most time in the office and at work.

“Why are you asking?”

Eventually, Shuichi did ask anyway.

“I get the impression that James knows why we’re staying so long, and I think he doesn’t like it. I think he’d still want me to go a different path.”

“You think he will make you stop looking into this?”

Jodie shook her head softly. “No,” she whispered. “He won’t go that far. He knows why I am here and he won’t make it any harder for me.”

“Ahh,” he uttered. Jodie looked over at him, just to see him loosen his tie after he stretched himself. “They’re just concerned.”

Jodie huffed. “I know. I just hope we’re doing the right thing.”

“We do.”

She stayed quiet. She wasn’t sure if it was right to go after a woman that had left no traces and who was able to kill a whole family with a smile on their face – a woman who could be on the lookout for her if she heard that the girl who saw her had survived. But she knew that it was the only thing she could do to make amends for her ruined childhood and their dead parents.

“And we will find them.”

Whatever sad state of mind carried her thoughts away, Shuichi was determined. He seemed too confident in this matter – like in most things he did – but it was right that confidence she needed from him to push her worries and doubts away.

She even found the courage to smile over at him.

 


 

Despite their goals and efforts, they gave themselves some time to rest as well. They left some room for their hobbies to balance out their lives, and they still took the time for some walks through beautiful parks – something that got a lot more pleasant with the slow change of weather. And some nights, they’d just spend some lazy time together – Jodie realized after a while that Shuichi was awfully more often at hers than the other way around. If she would guess, he was avoiding his landlady, a thought that made Jodie laugh. He was still a part-time idiot, who did a good job covering it up with a smug attitude and skills.

 


 

Everything was going so well for Jodie. She supported him with his work as much as he did but little did she think that the day would come that it wasn’t the lack of love that split their ways but their chosen path that would put an end to their relationship.