“I’ll join whatever you’ve got going on in D.C.”
“Oh?” Laurent replies coolly, but Makoto catches his soft smile out of the corner of his eye.
The grocery bag swings from Laurent’s gloved fingers a little faster, plastic fluttering.
Makoto crosses his arms. “You know,” he says with a taunting lilt in his voice, “I didn’t think you would make it this long.”
“Living an honest life,” Makoto answers, sticking his nose up. “I thought you’d die of boredom or something. Glad you finally realized life’s not just about scamming people.”
For Laurent, it never was. But he’s not going to tell Makoto that.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Edamame.”
“Ugh. Tell me about it.” They take a few steps more before Makoto adds, “Gonna take a while.”
Laurent tries to look at him but Makoto hides his grin.
The clouds are heavy above them as a row of geese fly overhead, bound for their winter destination.
“I enjoyed my time here,” Laurent says, tucking his other hand into his pocket. “With Maci.” He pauses. “And with you.”
Makoto knows his heartbeat will skyrocket if he looks at the face he’d charted with his lips and fingers only a day ago, the face that had suddenly become much more familiar than it ever had been.
“Yeah?” Makoto says with a voice crack he feared gave away all his secrets.
“Hello hello! Oh, Laurent—that has to be the tiniest carrier I’ve ever seen!” Kudo’s voice carries clear down the apartment hall as he gushes over the small pink carrier in Laurent’s arms. “Come in, come in!”
Kudo’s apartment is smaller than Makoto’s and surprisingly over-decorated—Makoto expected to see a bunch of unused space, given how often Kudo travelled. Instead, the living room is brimming with kitschy, colorful tchotchkes—statuettes carved of wood, vases, jars, glass animals, decorated plates, artificial plants. Makoto is sure each one has a story.
“I love that elephant sculpture on the wall there,” Laurent comments politely, nodding toward an oblong object encased in glass.
“Ahh, yes! Got it up north. I’m only holding onto it until my friend asks for it back, though. He had to move after the tsunami, and he gave it to me for safe…”
The conversation fades into the background as something catches Makoto’s eye.
Kudo’s desk is covered not with souvenirs, but with pictures. They’re scattered across the entire desktop and make their way up the wall to a large cork board. And they’re all of the same thing.
Abby, Cynthia, himself, Laurent, Shi-won—they’re in almost every one. It was easily to tell which ones Kudo captured candidly during their downtime and which ones Team Confidence used in their cons. In one, Lewis and Isabelle and the four of them are standing together in front of a plane hangar in Singapore, Abby’s hand pressed to a wing. And in another—one that makes him laugh out loud—Makoto, frowning in disappointment, is holding a half-empty glass of champagne out of reach of a pouting and very drunk Cynthia.
And Laurent… there are so many pictures of him in London, taken in alleyways and on street corners, all clearly posed. Makoto doesn’t know why they were taken, but he gets butterflies as his eyes pass over each one. It still surprised him how helplessly attracted to Laurent he’d become.
“Oooh, look how cute you are in that one!” A hand shoots past his head to point to a photo of Makoto carrying an oversized takeout bag in one hand and obliviously sipping from a huge soda cup in the other.
“Heh. I can’t bear to throw them away, any of them,” Kudo chimes in behind them. “I know we’re supposed to be lone wolves, and don’t tell on me, but you guys are like fa… Well, I’m just really glad I met you guys.”
“So am I,” Laurent smiles. Makoto never understood why the “lone wolf” rule existed—he can’t think of one person who acted like one. Not one.
Laurent gently pats the carrier in his arms. “Shall we introduce Princess Maci to her new older and wiser feline friend?”
They spend the entire afternoon sitting in a circle on the ground, observing Kuro and Maci’s first meeting. They take to each other instantly, Kuro long yearning for someone to nap on the windowsill with. Kudo insists on covering Maci’s upcoming kitten wellness bills while Makoto and Laurent are away as Makoto hands all of Maci's supplies to Kudo except her small pink mouse, which he hurriedly stuffs into his pocket.
Laurent lifts Maci up and looks into her wide turquoise eyes, letting her paws rest on his chin. “You be good for Kudo now,” he says in a fake stern voice. “We’ll be back to visit you before you know it.”
He hands her to Makoto, who holds her close to his chest. “Bye, Maci. I’m really gonna miss you,” he whispers, scratching her softly behind the ear. When he doesn’t move for a long time, Laurent leans over and rubs his back, and Makoto unconsciously leans into his shoulder.
Kudo watches the whole exchange with something like wonder.
The approach of winter steals the daylight and it’s nearly pitch black out by the time Makoto and Laurent arrive back home. Something about their arrival together—without Maci—feels different to Makoto. Something about being in the same room with him, alone in the dark, makes his pulse quicken.
Laurent rummages through his carry-on, and Makoto looks back just as Laurent starts unbuttoning his shirt, getting ready to change into his nightclothes. Makoto lingers on Laurent’s collarbone, gaze sliding down before he snaps his eyes away like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t. With a sigh, he walks over to the window where he can pretend to focus his attention on something else, something much less precarious.
Laurent steps over and gently lays a hand on his shoulder. “Everything alright?” he asks. Makoto seeks out his face in the reflection of the window and nods. Laurent doesn’t move—they stay like that until Makoto feels the warmth of Laurent’s palm seep into his skin, and then—holding Makoto’s gaze—he slowly lowers his hands down to Makoto’s hips and rests them there.
Makoto searches Laurent’s face in the glass, lingers on Laurent’s bare chest, before exhaling softly. Averting his eyes, he slowly tilts his head to the side, in a quiet invitation.
Surprise flits across Laurent’s face, but he understands, leaning down to brush his lips against the smooth skin offered to him and stepping closer to press feather-light kisses into his neck. Makoto’s mouth falls open and his brows furrow in pleasure when his lips reach under his ear.
“Oh—,” he gasps. Laurent’s hands tighten on his hips at how high-pitched and breathy the sound is. He gently kneads his hip bones, trying not to think about how close the tips of his fingers are to the pleats at the front of Makoto’s pants.
“Is this ok?” Laurent whispers into his ear. Makoto shivers at the feel of his breath.
He nods. “It’s just…”
Laurent lets his hands hover over Makoto’s hips.
“I’ve never really…” Makoto trails off. “Done this before.”
“Slept with a man?” It was understandable. Makoto probably never had the chance to experience anything like this.
Makoto takes a breath and whispers, very quietly, “Slept with anybody.”
Laurent hums, thoughtful. So it was true.
“But I… I want it,” Makoto murmurs, turning around. You, he wants to say. He looks down instead.
Laurent’s heart stutters. He curls his fingers under Makoto’s chin and tilts it back up, and Makoto’s brown eyes shyly meet his own.
“You want what?” he presses, his voice soft and encouraging.
Makoto finds no trace of judgement in his face. “You can…” A blush rises to his cheeks and he clears his throat. “You can touch anywhere.”
He softly bites his lip, unsure if what he said made any sense. It’s all Laurent can take.
Makoto barely has a chance to react before he finds himself backed up against the window with Laurent’s lips moving against his own. Laurent moans wantonly when Makoto tugs him closer by his shirt. His hands find their way under the frayed hem of Makoto’s sweater and he slides them up Makoto's taut stomach and over his chest, making Makoto shiver as the touch of cool fingers send delicious sparks across his skin.
Struggling to stay upright, Makoto splays his hand across Laurent’s chest and abruptly breaks the kiss when he feels the rough patch of skin under his fingers.
Laurent looks on quietly, taking the opportunity to catch his breath as Makoto gently pushes aside the fabric of his shirt. He traces the long, raised scar down his bare chest, lightly, carefully. Laurent has several of them across his ribs and stomach, most of them superficial and faded with time. They were the kind of scars you’d miss if you weren’t looking too closely, but Makoto is mesmerized by them all. They’re permanent reminders of Laurent’s failure to defend his cockiness on the streets, of a life misplaced. Makoto wants to know more about them, wants to know how each one shaped the man standing so confidently in front of him. As he moves his hand down Laurent’s stomach, oblivious to the twitch of muscle under his exploring fingers, Laurent gently takes hold of Makoto’s hand, drinking in the mussed brown hair falling into his chocolate-brown eyes, unmistakably dark with want. God, Laurent thinks, he’s breathtaking.
Makoto rises up on tip-toe and frowns when he can’t reach.
“Kiss me,” he mutters.
Smiling, Laurent hooks two fingers inside Makoto’s waistband and tugs him closer to reach his neck, giving it a gentle bite to the background of Makoto’s startled gasp.
Too distracted by Laurent’s teeth and lips languidly dragging over his Adam’s apple, Makoto doesn’t notice the hand quietly snaking its way between his legs until his knees suddenly grow weak.
“Fuck…” he moans softly. His fists tighten in Laurent’s shirt and his hips instinctively cant into the steady touch.
“You’re so eager…” Laurent murmurs against his ear as Makoto bites back a whimper. “I love the sounds you make.”
Makoto hides his growing blush with the back of his hand. “Sh-shut up.” The words have no bite, betrayed by the waver in his voice.
Leaving a final kiss at Makoto’s shoulder, Laurent slowly drops to his knees and reaches out to unbutton Makoto’s pants just as Makoto pieces together where he’s standing and what Laurent plans to do.
“Laurent!” Makoto whispers fiercely. “H-here?” He looks out at the street below, praying for an empty sidewalk.
Laurent shrugs. “It’s too dark to make out what we’re doing up here.”
Makoto frantically pulls the thin curtains shut behind him.
“Can’t we just do it like normal people—on the floor?”
An endearing smile spreads across Laurent’s face.
“We’ll do whatever you like,” he says gently. He rubs small circles into Makoto’s hips with his thumbs. “I want you in any way you’ll let me have you.”
Makoto blushes darkly at his words. With Laurent’s knees spread at his feet, Makoto can see how hard he is between the folds of his open shirt. He swallows, leaning back against the window for support, the soothing warmth of Laurent’s hands on his hips and the curve of his smile melting his nerves.
“My legs might give out,” Makoto whispers. His breath catches in his throat when Laurent pins him with a hungry stare through lowered lashes.
“My dear little soybean, that’s exactly what we’re going for.”
It’s nearly mid-morning when Laurent wakes on his side to Makoto facing him, their bare legs tangled up on both futons. Their clothes are scattered around them, long forgotten.
Gingerly, Laurent reaches out and brushes the back of his fingers across Makoto’s cheek and down his jaw, past the trio of healed scratches along the way. He smiles with a hum—Makoto pouted even in his sleep.
Memories of the night before flood his mind all at once, of gentle touches from calloused fingers, of quiet anticipation.
Even though Makoto had clearly intended Laurent to guide him, Laurent had never felt more tended to during sex. He almost cried when Makoto gently pushed his hair out of his eyes so he could see him better, his gaze soft and unfocused, just before Laurent brought him over the edge for the second time. It made Laurent feel acknowledged, wanted, and perhaps, he dares to think, something more enduring than that.
Makoto stirs with a soft groan.
“Laurent?” he asks sleepily, blinking as his eyes adjust to the bright morning light.
“Good morning, mon trésor,” Laurent murmurs.
Makoto realizes how entangled they are and his face heats up. “‘Morning.” The light catches the gold in Laurent’s hair as it fans out across his pillow. He looks blissed out, sated. Makoto wonders if he looks the same to Laurent.
Laurent throws an arm back over him, pulling him into his chest.
“Let’s stay like this a little longer,” he whispers.
Makoto almost gives in.
“The flight!” he gasps, scrambling out of the futon as Laurent groans in defeat. “We missed—OW OW FUCK OW!”
Laurent raises his head in concern and zeroes in on a naked Makoto clutching his foot.
“The hell did I just step on?!” Makoto glares accusingly at Laurent’s discarded pants before reaching into the pocket with a growl.
His face softens instantly as his fingers wrap around something familiar in both shape and weight.
“It’s…” The little Hideyoshi figurine is much more worn than the ones on his coffee table and slightly bent, having traveled the world twice over between the both of them. “You kept this?”
“Of course. You gave it to me,” Laurent replies matter-of-factly. “And I switched our flight late last night,” he adds as Makoto looks on, still stunned. “Thought you might like to sleep in.” He winks and spreads his long body out invitingly, patting the space next to him. “Come on, get back over here and relax with me.”
A FEW MONTHS LATER
“Some of the shooting days were long—grueling even—but seeing it all come together was worth it!” the man’s voice on the other line bellows. “I’m happy to hear you liked the Razzie movies, Edamura. For a long time I thought they were floundering, but I’m glad to see they really did grow in popularity again. Take care, and see you bright and early tomorrow!”
Makoto steps out the door, a wide smile plastered across his face. He takes off his ID, the little square of plastic that allowed him to move freely through government buildings.
Early on, Makoto realized this con was different. There was no target—Laurent had in fact been living out his childhood dream of becoming a diplomat, not through the traditional means of pages of resume lines and framed degrees but through his genuine skill. He’d made space for Makoto long before Makoto joined, and Makoto suddenly found himself in the President’s circle. He didn’t know how Laurent did it, but Makoto slipped into the role effortlessly, earning his own place through his empathy and kindness.
His phone is halfway into his pocket when he gets a text from Kudo.
It’s a photo. In it, Kuro is grooming Maci—who is still less than half the size of him—on the head. She's a little bigger now, her limbs longer and the grey patch on her head more prominent. She looks content, her snow-white fur clean and bright against the sunlit sill.
Laurent texts him almost immediately.
Look at our Queen ♥
Strangers pass him by on the street, and Makoto smiles to himself. He heads straight in the direction of their shared hotel room, where he will meet Laurent to debrief him about an afternoon meeting he’d had that Laurent was too busy to attend (this hotel meeting, like others before them, will lead to a “debriefing” of a different sort).
They were two days shy of traveling to Japan together for a few months to negotiate a financial proposal.
The morning they will arrive in Japan, Laurent and Makoto will visit Maci, of course, before sharing breakfast at the Blue Leaf to the backdrop of scores of new spring leaves. Wiping a spot of blueberry jam from the corner of Laurent’s easy grin, Makoto will wonder how an abandoned kitten had completely changed the course of his life.
And be glad she did.