A clap of thunder jolts Makoto awake.
He clutches his pillow in a mix of fear and confusion. For a moment, he doesn’t know where he is.
He blinks, and it slowly comes back to him. He’s back home in Japan, in the little square room above the old convenience store.
The rain cascades down the familiar windowpane and stretches the street lights like molasses. He doesn’t remember the forecaster saying anything about a storm.
Another flash of lightning captures the row of neatly arranged capsule toys on the coffee table he had thrifted before becoming a con artist.
The apartment is at once familiar and unwelcome, like it belongs to a Makoto of the past that no longer exists. He never thought he’d be envious of his past self.
A self who never knew the story of his father, and who had never met Laurent Thierry.
Maybe that’s why he keeps coming back here when he can afford to stay anywhere else. He comes back to the decades-old tatami and the overhead light dotted with dead insects and the too-loud refrigerator because he can silence his phone and pretend that nothing had changed at all.
Makoto hazily remembers that the last thing in his fridge is an opened carton of milk before he’s asleep again.
The gentle rapping at the door pulls Makoto out of a dreamless slumber. The numbers on his phone glow 8:00am.
Two more knocks come.
“Mmh... just a second!” he shouts, voice cracking with sleep. He throws off his blanket and, blinded by the morning light filtering through the thin curtains, scrambles to pull on some sweatpants before padding to the front door.
Still disoriented, Makoto forgets to check the peephole before tugging the handle. The regret is instant.
“Good morning, Edamame.”
Laurent’s smile is easy, as if Makoto had been expecting him to show up on his doorstep at 8 in the morning, as if they shared a friendship as orderly as Laurent’s pressed twill pants and tailored coat.
Something like fury bubbles up in Makoto and he clutches the door handle with the urge to slam the door in Laurent’s face.
“I said I’m not interested,” Makoto mutters, eyes narrowing.
Laurent managed to reach Makoto on a single of several calls he’d made to him since the last con to ask him to join some heist he was planning in the United States. Makoto hung up the call midway through.
“It’s not about that, Edamame. I only wanted to talk to you—“
“About what?” Makoto snaps. The tone is biting enough to dissolve Laurent’s smile on impact. “I did what you asked. I played my part in your stupid revenge plan. Now go live your trash life and let me live my own in peace.”
Makoto sees Laurent’s eyebrows rise and his lips part to say something, but by then he’s already closing the door.
The door slams to silence on the other end. Only when Makoto takes in how fast his heart is beating does he realize that Laurent had called him by his first name. He waits, fists clenched at his sides. For what, he didn’t know. After a while, something shifts over the surface of the door.
“I’m sorry,” Laurent whispers, the words barely audible. “I didn’t realize what you went through.”
Because you only know how to use other people for your own convenience, Makoto thinks.
What comes out is, “I meant what I said. At the headquarters.”
“I can’t stand you.”
Makoto breathes out slowly through his nose. Before he can put together a response, his stomach growls pitifully. He clutches the shirt fabric there, knowing he’ll have to address whatever Laurent came here for before he can eat anything. Begrudgingly, he throws on a sweater and slips on his shoes.
He opens the door a crack just as Laurent pulls his hand away.
“You came here and said you’re sorry. Can you leave now? I need to eat breakfast,” Makoto says curtly, but he knows Laurent well enough that the man wouldn’t have lingered at his door if an apology was all he wanted.
Better to deal with whatever amends the asshole wanted to make now and never have to see him again.
“Can I treat you?” Laurent asks, and Makoto almost laughs at how predictable the request is.
Perhaps Makoto really was getting better at reading the blonde idiot. The realization unexpectedly ignites in him the same thrill of accomplishment he’d felt during the last con, when he’d briefly thrown Laurent’s plan into uncertainty.
He brushes the feeling aside, stepping around the older man and down the metal steps.
“I don’t know why you came here, Laurent,” he says without looking behind him. He hears Laurent’s footsteps fall into step behind his.
“I just want to make sure you’re alright.”
Makoto scoffs. “Suddenly started caring about how you treat other people?” he asks scornfully. There’s silence behind him, unbroken as they walk down a street blanketed with soggy rust-dyed leaves and past a damp wooden playground. The autumn chill starts to bite at his nose and ears. As Laurent’s footsteps steadily follow behind him, Makoto can’t deny how strange the situation is.
Out of all the zipcodes in the world, Laurent showed up on his doorstep. Alone. After calling him weeks prior to explain the job he put together in the US and inviting Makoto to play a central part in it, outlining Makoto’s role in great detail (as Makoto pretended not to listen).
The unusual call put Makoto on edge. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Laurent only gave him all that information and dropped by as a part of some grander strategy, to soften him up, to prime him for some upcoming scheme he’d already be too deep in by the time he could even think to refuse.
He growled at the thought and spun around to face the taller man. Laurent looked lost in thought himself, enough that he seemed surprised to see Makoto glowering up at him. The younger man wasted no time streaming his thoughts into words.
“I’m done being strung around by you,” Makoto says bitterly. “And you following me around and offering to buy me breakfast after everything, without telling me why you’re even here... It’s creepy as hell! What are you after?”
Laurent shrugs. “I told you, I came by to make sure you’re okay,” he replies evenly.
“Bullshit!” Makoto cried, startling a pair of uniformed schoolgirls walking down the street. Laurent looks, infuriatingly, unaffected by his outburst. “All you’ve done is take advantage of me! For years. I don’t—I don’t even know you!”
The distain in his tone is palpable when he adds, much more quietly but with his gaze perfectly level with the taller man’s, “Don’t want to.”
Laurent doesn’t respond, but Makoto thinks he sees him swallow. Good, he thinks.
In the pocket of strained silence, Makoto hears the sound first.
It’s almost imperceptible, a cry they would have otherwise missed. A string of them follow, and Makoto is grateful for the excuse to break off the conversation.
“What was that?” Laurent mutters quietly.
Makoto tip-toes toward the noise, which seemed to come from a bush on the corner of the paved road. Thankfully, the cries don’t stop—they almost guide Makoto to them.
Ducking down, Makoto bends his head to peek through the glossy leaves, blinking when he spots the round patch of fur that certainly didn’t match its surroundings. He hesitates before reaching in and cupping it in his hands.
“What is it, Edamame?” Laurent asks gently, stepping closer to the younger man. Makoto turns around, revealing the small grey kitten cradled against his chest. Its bright turquoise eyes contrast sharply with the monotone color of its fur.
They watch it shift around in Makoto’s palms like they’re both thankful for a refuge from revisiting their earlier conversation.
“I should put it back,” Makoto finally says. “Its mom will come looking for it.”
“She won’t, I’m afraid,” Laurent replies solemnly, and Makoto shoots him an incredulous look.
“Look at her.” Makoto does. “She’s dirty,” Laurent mutters, reaching out his thumb to brush some dirt off of the kitten’s head. It doesn’t come off. “It must be days since she’s last eaten.”
Makoto goes quiet. “I’ll go clean her up and give her some milk,” he declares suddenly. He pulls the kitten into his chest and turns on his heel.
“Wait! Edamame!” Laurent calls after him. Makoto rolls his eyes and looks back.
“You can’t feed cow’s milk to a kitten,” Laurent chuckles, tucks his hands into his pockets, as if this is basic knowledge. Makoto wants to punch him. “It’ll make her sick. Kittens need to be fed a special kind of formula made just for them.”
Makoto’s studies Laurent for a moment before letting out a sigh. “Fine. Then you go get whatever formula you’re talking about and I’ll take her home.”
“Alright,” Laurent replies with a raised brow, but Makoto’s back is already turned.
What’s taking so long
Laurent is standing in line at the supermarket with his phone in one hand and a basket full of dairy products in the other.
I’ll be back soon, he types. How’s the kitten?
Three people in front of him check out before Makoto responds.
He smiles at the short reply, the period at the end of it that invited no reply from Laurent.
It was true, the kitten was unusually small, most likely the runt of the litter. And very young. Laurent realizes with a mix of relief and discomfort that had Makoto not found her, she might not have made it another night. She was still in that uncertain window of frailty, but Laurent knew Makoto’s compassion would be the kitten’s fighting chance—he knew the second Makoto clutched her to his chest when he mentioned her mother was probably not coming back.
He didn’t expect Makoto to include him in her care, too.
At a little before 10am, the apartment door creaks open and Laurent steps inside, letting in a billow of brisk air with his arrival that mixes with the looming scent of tobacco inside the apartment. He frowns and pulls off his shoes at the genkan, leaning against the wall for support. There’s a small cardboard box in the corner of the room adorned with printed persimmons—a purple sweater had been tucked inside. The kitten isn’t in it, Laurent noted. As he sets down the groceries next to the kitchen sink, Makoto is also nowhere to be found.
“In here.” The proximity of the voice startles Laurent, and he notices for the first time that the small apartment unit includes a comparatively large bathroom, fiberglass tub included. He steps just inside the wooden doorframe where Makoto is squatting on the tile floor with his back turned, pink plastic bathroom slippers on his feet.
Makoto must have heard him come in because he says, triumphantly, “She fooled us.” He grins and presents his hands to Laurent, who leans forward to get a better look.
For a second Laurent wants to ask if Makoto had found a second kitten, because the animal in his hands is as white as snow, save for a single band of grey on the top of her head.
“She’s wearing a crown,” Makoto whispers fondly. Laurent watches as he gently cradles the kitten back against his chest and brushes her back with the damp rag wrapped around his index finger.
Crouched beneath the soft rays of sunlight filtering through the wooden window slats and spilling across his chaotic chestnut hair and dark lashes, Makoto looks almost angelic, and Laurent’s breath catches in his throat.
He composes himself with carefully practiced ease, smiles brightly and says, “She looks like feline royalty. Good work, Edamame.”
Makoto absently hums in approval.
“What is that stuff, anyway?” Makoto asks from his spot next to the cardboard box where he sits cross-legged, chin in hand. Beside him, the kitten is busily exploring the loosely-knitted sweater on shaky legs, tail up and twitching.
“Goat’s milk, a few egg yolks, a dash of water, and some full-fat yogurt. The recipe for kitten nutrition par excellence,” says Laurent, drawing out the French phrase. He’s standing in the kitchenette he’d invited himself into, mixing together the ingredients in one of Makoto’s worn bowls he’d found on top of the refrigerator.
“Oh,” Makoto replies, dumbly. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realizes he could’ve researched the recipe himself. For some reason he didn’t quite understand, he hadn’t.
“By the way,” Laurent adds without looking behind him, “I picked up some coffee on the way back. You should drink it before it gets cold.”
Makoto’s brows furrow before he spots the neatly folded paper bag and coffee cup on the far corner of the table. It was from an expensive corner coffee shop, one Makoto walked by every day when he still lived in Japan but wouldn’t have dreamt to set foot in then. He grabs the paper bag and casts a furtive glance at Laurent’s back before looking inside.
“Thanks,” he mumbles, taking a large bite of the freshly-baked blueberry scone before he can stop himself.
Even lukewarm, the coffee is of unmistakably high quality. The cup is empty by the time Laurent walks over to him with a small bottle of formula cupped in his fingers.
“Here we are,” he says cheerfully. Laurent had long shed his overcoat and he’d unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt. The necklace usually hanging from the blond’s neck, the long gold chain and adorned ring that Makoto had never, ever seen Laurent without, is curiously absent.
He pulls his gaze away just as Laurent lowers himself down next to him to rest on his stomach. Makoto doesn’t own any floor cushions, and he suddenly feels strangely inhospitable seeing Laurent sprawled out like this instead of with his legs crossed on some expensive hotel couch. Laurent doesn’t seem to mind the lack.
“You’ve never fed a kitten before, I assume?” Laurent breezily asks. Makoto shakes his head. Smiling, Laurent reaches into the tattered box to gently pry the kitten from the sweater she had hooked her claws into. She mews and displays a row of impossibly small teeth as Laurent gingerly places her into his other hand.
“When caring for a kitten this young, it’s helpful to envision yourself as her mother,” Laurent explains, slipping into the same tone of voice he used to explain the fine details of a con. “You are, after all, filling her very important role.” The kitten is much smaller than Laurent’s hand, but Laurent handles her with the care of a glassmith tending a work of art. He lifts the nipple of the bottle to her mouth and she latches on immediately. Makoto is mesmerized.
“Wow, she drank right away!” he said, grinning at the way the kitten’s ears twitched as she suckled noisily.
“I suppose luck was on our side. It does usually take a while for them to catch on,” Laurent replies, watching the kitten eat with a lopsided smile. He tips his head back to glance at Makoto through messy blond bangs. “Shall I transfer her to you?” he asks. Makoto stiffens.
“Wha—N-now?” Makoto squeaks, but Laurent is already placing the kitten, bottle and all, into his palms. The kitten drinks on as if the exchange hadn’t happened.
Satisfied, Laurent lays back to lay his head on his elbow. He watches Makoto’s mouth pull into a frown as he tries to copy how Laurent had angled the bottle earlier. For a long time, the only sound in the room comes from the kitten noisily eating between them.
“Hey, how do you know how to feed these guys, anyway?” Makoto asks without looking up. “Did you con some old cat lady or something?” He grins, pleased with his own joke.
“My mother—“ Laurent says quietly, and Makoto’s blood runs cold. When he looks up, Laurent is tracing one of the crudely-printed cardboard persimmons with his finger. “We raised a small litter together when I was a boy.”
The comment is unexpectedly intimate, and Makoto can’t get his mouth to form words.
“I’m—I’m sorry,” Makoto manages. He doesn’t know whether to add that he’s apologizing both for the dumb joke and for bringing up what are probably painful memories, so he says, “My mom really liked cats. But she was allergic to them, so we couldn’t have any.”
“Yeah—wait, what?” Makoto blinked. Laurent shifts his gaze to Makoto. His blue eyes are glassy and soft.
“Your father told me,” Laurent replies almost too easily with a small smile.
Makoto looks away as if the comment burned him. The last thing he wants to talk about, especially with Laurent, is his father. But a part of him—a nagging feeling of emptiness that had followed him each day since their last job—knew that only one other person in his world had truly known his mother, and that asking him about her could keep pieces of her alive. Immediately, he’s struck with a strange mix of pity and guilt that, for Laurent, no such person existed.
Laurent snaps him out of his thoughts with a click of his tongue. “Careful, Edamame,” he gestures toward the kitten still suckling way in his hands. The bottle was nearly empty. “You’ll have to burp her all night if you let air get into her belly.”
At Makoto’s questioning look, Laurent explained that, just like human babies, kittens should be burped after each feeding, and that they needed help going to the bathroom at this age (You didn’t think a mother cat’s job was easy, did you, Edamame? Laurent teased). Makoto decides to write down his words to help him remember. When he glances at them later that afternoon, the full page of dark ink looks worryingly sparse.
It was early evening by the time Makoto had successfully fed, burped, and toileted the kitten under Laurent’s encouraging praise.
“Well,” Laurent sighs, stretching his arms dramatically as if kitten care had utterly exhausted him, “Looks like my work here is done.” Makoto’s feet move almost on their own as he follows Laurent to the front door. Makoto stands there, watching the blond slip on his coat, fold down the collar. Laurent’s movements are uncharacteristically slow as he pulls the thick wool into his slim waist, like he’s purposefully lingering. He catches Makoto’s shadow on the front door and turns around.
“You alright?” he asks.
“Can you stay?” Makoto blurts before he can stop himself. He wants to slap himself at how desperate he sounds, nearly begging Laurent to abandon his precious con.
The seconds tick by and Makoto is ready to backpedal on his request as Laurent raises an eyebrow, the surprise in the tilt of his head frighteningly genuine. “Why, Edamame? You were doing a great job—“
“Because!” Makoto almost shouts. Laurent is quiet. Makoto looks over at the cardboard box, the ball of white fur inside. “I just—what if something happens to her and I can’t help?”
Laurent studies him for a long time, his expression unreadable, before he slowly curls his fingers around the door handle. Just as Makoto opens his mouth, he hums and says, “I’ll be but a moment.”
FIUMICINO AIRPORT, ROME (FCO)
One Week Earlier
“How’s Kawin?” Laurent asks as Cynthia takes a bite of her salad in the top floor restaurant. The crowd moves noisily about them with their skidding carry-ons and freshly-printed boarding passes.
“He’s doing well,” Cynthia says with a smile. “He’s taking some courses he really seems to enjoy.”
“Oh?” Laurent asks.
“Mmhm. He’s adjusted well, all things considered.”
“He does have a great role model,” Laurent says, and he sees Cynthia’s face brighten at the compliment.
They’re quiet for a few minutes as they pick through their food.
“How’d your call with Edamame go?” The question is deceptively casual.
Laurent folds the edge of his napkin once, twice.
“He hung up on me,” he says with a smile.
“Ooh,” Cynthia coos in mock teasing. “Poor you.”
“Poor me, indeed.”
Cynthia rests her elbows on the table and laces her fingers together to rest her chin. She studies him closely as he unwraps his sandwich.
“When do you plan on telling him how you feel?”
“How I feel about what?” He meets her gaze, his smile perfectly even.
Cynthia opens her mouth to say something and laughs on an exhale instead.
“You’re unbelievable. Really.” She looks out at the restaurant tables across the airport floor, at the couples sharing lunch there under oversized umbrellas that served no purpose in the enclosed building.
“He’s not going to fix you,” she says, quietly. “You can’t con him into forgiving you. You’ll need to earn that on your own.”
Expression unchanged, Laurent leans back in his chair, pushes his hands into his pockets. “Do go on.”
She glares at him but continues anyway. “He won’t be able to trust you unless you give him a reason to. And, to put it lightly, you’ve given him every reason not to.”
She catches the almost imperceptible twitch in Laurent’s bottom lip and knows she’s hit a nerve.
He sighs. And then his next words are uttered with an honesty that catches even Cynthia off guard.
“I’m afraid there’s not much I can do at this point, short of showing up on his doorstep, that is.”
“Then do that,” Cynthia says without any hesitation.
Laurent looks at her. “What?”
“Show up, apologize, and relate to him like a normal human being. You’re at least capable of that, aren’t you?”
Am I? A small voice in Laurent’s head interrupts. Cynthia’s advice is too simple, naïve.
“Real life isn’t that clean-cut.” His tone is at once somber and firm. “And Edamame doesn’t want anything to do with me.” The words sting as he hears them come out of his own mouth.
“For good reason,” Cynthia replies as Laurent’s frown deepens. “But wouldn’t you rather try changing your approach now than wait around for an answer that might never come?”
Laurent knows Cynthia is speaking directly from experience. But Laurent isn’t like Cynthia. He’s especially not like Makoto. How can he face Makoto and acknowledge what he’d put him through when he’d rather push the thought aside like a coward, plan a new heist, slip into a new role for himself? Why would the boy ever want to speak to him again, when Laurent hasn’t been able to stand being around himself?
Cynthia’s soft voice breaks through his thoughts. “There is something to the saying that timing is everything,” she says, softly, looking somewhere beyond Laurent. “Sometimes, it really can be too late.”
“I don’t even know where he is.” Laurent almost cringes at how dejected he sounds.
Cynthia looks back at him, smiles tiredly. “You’re in luck. He just got back home in Japan yesterday.”
He doesn’t ask how she knows. His fingers twitch around the figurine in his pocket.
Makoto was already regretting his decision to invite Laurent into his house. Alone.
The morning started out fine—great, even. Laurent showed Makoto how to brush the kitten’s back and feet with a toothbrush to model for her the basics of grooming, and they placed her on the tatami for the first time to explore the apartment. She didn’t get very far, but both men cheered her on when she passed the finish line (the leg of the coffee table) on wobbly legs.
“Look how good her eyesight is,” Laurent remarked with pride. At that moment, Makoto felt lucky to have a knowledgeable person looking after her.
By mid-morning Makoto remembered what being alone with Laurent was like.
Just as Makoto returned from the grocery store (with groceries for two humans, this time), he was met with Laurent’s unexpected request.
“Edamame, dear, could you grab me a towel?” Laurent’s disembodied voice innocently chimed from the bathroom. “I forgot mine, and I’d rather not drip all over your bathroom floor.”
I thought I put extra towels in there, Makoto groaned, all too aware of the likelihood of coming face-to-face with a naked Laurent (the latest in a long line of unfortunate encounters—for the entire team). He makes a pact with himself to keep his eyes straight ahead as he pulls a folded bath towel from the closet.
He ruefully trudges toward the bathroom only to be hit with a thick wall of steam at the doorway. How long had Laurent been sitting in that bathtub?
“Are all Japanese tubs this small?” Laurent asks right as he walks in. Makoto knows that Laurent’s arms are lazily draped over the edge of the tub and that he’s definitely looking in Makoto’s direction. At least he had enough modesty to lay on his side. Small blessings.
Makoto doesn’t dare look over but he says, while fiddling with the towel bar and tucking the fresh towel inside, “They’re not made for giant assholes who spread out all over the place like you. If you wanted more room you should’ve gone to a public bathhouse.”
Laurent doesn’t miss a beat. “How convenient,” he says, as if this is the first time he’s ever heard of a Japanese bathhouse. Bastard. “Will you join me?”
The asshole still had the audacity to mess with him after all this time. After everything. Makoto snarls, forgets the rule he set for himself just minutes prior and leans down until he’s inches away from Laurent’s face.
“God, you’re such a pervert!” he cries.
Laurent blinks, clearly taken aback. Then, just as quickly, his eyes soften as a slow, fond smile tugs at his lips.
The shift in expression sends a strange warmth through Makoto’s chest. “Tch,” he scoffs, stepping back. “Pervert,” he repeats, quietly.
Laurent raises his eyebrows. “I suppose I am,” he chuckles. “And this pervert is about to get out, so—“
“And I’m leaving,” Makoto interrupts. He unknowingly breaks the Guiness world record for speed-walking as he bolts into the living room to the background of Laurent’s unrestrained laughter. He tugs his closet door open with a growl and pulls out his cleaning supplies, then hastily bundles up his futon to carry it out the front door as the kitten curiously looks on from her box.
“Idiot. Lowlife scum,” Makoto mutters as he whacks the dust out of the futon he’d thrown over the railing. It’s only morning but he’s already ready for Laurent to disappear. Thank god kittens grow fast.
In two weeks he’ll be out of here, and I’ll never have to see him again.
As he swings into the futon, his tries to push away thoughts of what happened in the bathroom, but they keep coming back, keep replaying.
Makoto’s used to Laurent’s shameless staring and he usually brushes it off--if he makes eye contact with the guy at all.
But this time… this time was different.
He thinks back to the hitch in Laurent’s breath when he’d leaned in close, to the surprised look on his face that for a brief, fleeting moment gave way to a look of vulnerability Makoto had never seen on him before.
Makoto wants to see it again.
It terrifies him.
He swallows as his mind begins to drift to the upward quirk of Laurent’s lips and to the half-lidded gaze that flickered down to his mouth before Makoto pulled away. Something flutters deep in Makoto’s belly and he tightens his grip on the stick in his hand.
The door handle turns and Makoto quickly swings at the futon, his mind blank. Laurent’s barely through the doorway before he takes a look at Makoto and stifles a laugh with his hand.
“What’s so funny?” Makoto snaps, in a tone much too angry for the question asked.
“Your outfit, for starters,” Laurent replies unbothered, nibbling on a piece of milkbread as his eyes lazily sweep down Makoto’s body. Makoto stops to look down at himself. He’d carelessly tied his hair back with a bandana to keep it out of his eyes and he was still in his pajama shorts. And he was barefoot. Laurent, dressed in a wool sweater and loose lounge pants, leaned back against the door with his arms crossed and a crooked grin as Makoto ignored him and flipped the futon around to get the other side.
Laurent licks his fingers clean, crosses one ankle over the other.
“Who knew watching someone beat a futon to death could be so entertaining?” He teased lightly as Makoto whacked. “Not to mention cute.”
“Shut up,” says Makoto. He swings harder.
“Those dust mites don’t stand a chance,” Laurent goes on. “Although, I doubt you’ll get the tobacco scent out of there, no matter how hard you hit the thing.”
Makoto delivers his reply through clenched teeth.
“What was that?”
“Thanks to you,” Makoto hisses.
Laurent falls quiet as the sharp whacks drown out the chirping morning birds. Neither make a move to elaborate. They both know when Makoto picked up his first cigarette. A crisp breeze loosens flyaways from Laurent’s towel-dried hair and ruffles the free ends of Makoto’s makeshift headband.
“If not for the sake of your own lungs, then for our Majesty’s,” Laurent says behind him, “Do consider cutting back.” And then he’s gone.
When the door closes, Makoto’s shoulders fall. Although he hates to admit it, he knows Laurent is right. Makoto hadn’t considered the effect secondhand smoke in the apartment would have on the kitten. He’d tried to quit before, more times than he cared to count. This is the first time he has a real reason to.
The shrill calls of cicadas creep into the apartment that night with the autumn chill. Laurent insisted on keeping the window open the entire day to draw out the heavy tobacco smell from the room. He’d blocked Makoto’s hands from touching the glass on several occasions and dismissed all complaints that the room had gotten cold. Makoto eventually gave in to his request, “for the kitten’s sake.” The scent was overwhelming in itself, but to Laurent it also served as a persistent reminder of how, a year prior, he’d abandoned Makoto without a second thought. His heart sank when Makoto confirmed it.
Finished with his kitten feeding duties for the night, Laurent wearily tucks himself into his futon. It doesn’t take long for his frown to melt into a small smile. The blankets carry Makoto’s scent, a curious mix of spice and fresh linen. It’s comforting and pure, even tinged with tobacco.
Makoto is turned away from him on the tatami, fast asleep and cocooned under faded floral covers that rise and fall with the younger man’s steady breaths.
Laurent wants to inch closer, to reach out and run his fingers through the soft messy hair scattered over the pillow. He wants to ask Makoto how he can atone for his mistakes. He hasn’t seen the boy smile in so long.
On a deep, fundamental level, Laurent understands what motivates people to do the things they do, and then he manufactures desires that he alone can fill. But he can’t predict the unpredictable, and that’s precisely what intrigues and frustrates him about Makoto Edamura. Even today in the bath, he’d been on the end of a snarl and a brilliant scarlet blush in the span of three seconds.
He smiles. He would give anything to know what was going on in the boy’s mind then.
As hard as Laurent tries to get them both back to a semblance of their relationship before the Suzaku con, he’s painfully aware of the fact that he’d lost Makoto’s trust. Makoto looked up to him, confided that Laurent had changed him, and Laurent dismissed the comment as unimportant to his plan. He couldn’t stop thinking about that sunny afternoon by the cliff, turning it over, wondering what he could’ve done differently to part on better terms, to prove he was worth Makoto’s words so the boy would want to keep in touch afterward—willingly. Laurent realized too late that life without Makoto’s presence, without his brutal honesty, his impulsivity, and his endearing pouts and outbursts, was terribly dull, almost unbearable. The only other person that had ever taken up this much space in his mind was...
He’d scoffed at Cynthia’s simple advice at the time. Then, it sunk in that in the almost decade he’d known him, he’d never bothered to be direct with Makoto about anything unrelated to a heist. He feels his face redden in shame.
Somehow, thanks to fate (and to Cynthia), things fell together in such a way that, tucked inside a futon next to a small box with a kitten in it, Laurent was exactly where he needed to be to have one last chance to do something meaningful, to change something.
Laurent didn’t yet know what that something was. He had no plan. And kittens grow up so quickly—Laurent feels like he’s in a race against time.
As it turns out, Makoto really did forget to leave guest towels in his bathroom.
I can't stop imagining Makoto in his futon-beating outfit. He is precious
For all of Makoto’s grumbling, he and Laurent somehow settled into a surprisingly regular routine. Laurent was far from tidy, but Makoto learned to adapt—he could tell Laurent was serious about making sure the kitten was properly cared for. Besides, their daily conversations were short and uncomplicated and revolved solely around the kitten. Makoto liked it that way. As for the kitten, she reached milestones by the day. She walked through the apartment with confidence and mewed when she wanted to communicate with both conmen (and they answered her—every time).
As the days passed, Makoto started noticing things about Laurent he’d never noticed before, little things. Laurent woke up with bedhead every morning that he worked hard to make halfway presentable with gels and sprays. He crossed his ankles in the air while he read novels across his futon, and he murmured things in French in his sleep, sometimes between quiet sobs. It reminded Makoto that Laurent was human, flawed like everyone else. That he wasn’t as put together as he seemed.
“We should name her,” Makoto says from his makeshift seat on the folded futon in the corner. Outside, a blanket of heavy clouds darkens the empty streets. Laurent dangles a toy mouse on a string in front of the kitten and she freezes and crouches low on his futon, pupils wide as her whole body sways from side to side, before pouncing with remarkable precision and falling on her back to kick the toy with her hind legs.
“I agree,” he replies with a chuckle, rubbing her head while she’s distracted. “She does need a name fit for a princess.” He’s quiet for a little while. “How about Juliet? Or Maci?” he asks excitedly, sitting up. “You know, I knew a girl named Maci—“
“No,” Makoto interjects. “No way. We are NOT naming this kitten after one of your ex-girlfriends.”
Laurent gives him a strange look, throws his head back and laughs. “Maci was an elementary school classmate of mine,” he says when he catches his breath. “I haven’t seen her since, but I’ve always liked that name. Just wanted to make that clear so you didn’t think I’d name this tiny kitten after an old flame.” He winks.
Makoto rolls his eyes. “Fine then. Maci.”
‘What?” Makoto mutters when Laurent keeps staring.
“I find it amusing that your image of me includes scores of ex-lovers, Edamame,” he says.
“Isn’t it true?” Makoto asks flatly, annoyed.
Laurent hums with a small smile, petting Maci across the back. “No.”
Makoto looks at him for a long time before he lays back and folds his arms behind his head. He hears Laurent join him not long after as he leans back on his unfolded futon with a soft grunt.
Makoto chews his lip. “You really cared about her,” Makoto says, carefully.
Laurent’s eyes dart to Makoto’s and away, like he wasn’t sure he heard Makoto correctly, but he doesn’t look angry or annoyed or upset. It frustrates Makoto that he can’t find make out any expression on Laurent’s face at all.
Makoto waits, but Laurent doesn’t say a word. So he scoots his head up on the futon to get more comfortable. With the thick cloud cover outside, the apartment is dark, and the gentle whirr of kitchen appliances lull him into a pleasant, inviting haze. He yawns as his eyelids grow heavy, ready to give himself over to the pull of sleep.
Makoto blinks and lifts his head. Laurent is staring up at nothing, and Mari had fallen asleep on his stomach with her paws tucked under her. She moved gently with his breaths.
“Thank you,” Laurent says, quietly. “For staying.”
As Makoto looks on, processing the words, Laurent sits up and wordlessly reaches for his paperback, sparing Makoto the need to reply.
The growing silence between them is interrupted only by the occasional flutter of a page turning.
Makoto lays there, fighting the sudden urge to reach for a cigarette. He did stay. Even when, instead of concerned teammates, all he had were sterile graphs of soaring profit numbers to tip him off that the con was still live. He stayed, and it almost destroyed him. He wasn’t ready to talk about it. The only thing worse than keeping quiet would be to hear Laurent insist he’d kept Makoto in the dark for his own good.
A sudden, powerful thunderclap clatters the window, and it startles Maci so badly she springs off of Laurent’s chest. Both men sit up in a panic. Laurent runs to the window to pull it shut and Makoto dashes to the middle of the room in an attempt to calm Maci down.
“Edamame, don’t—“ Laurent warns, but by then Makoto’s already got Maci in his hands just as she’s about to jump on the coffee table, and seconds later the sharp pain across his face is so great tears spring to his eyes.
He stands up stiffly, fists clenched at his sides and eyes shut tight. He feels two hands rest on his shoulders. “I’m fine, just ignore it,” Makoto says through clenched teeth.
Laurent swears under his breath.
“Where’s your first aid kit?”
Makoto’s lips press into a hard line. How bad was the scratch?
“Bathroom,” he answers. He hesitantly opens one eye, then the other in time to catch Laurent walk back with a half-full tube of antiseptic.
“Your medicine cabinet is completely bare,” Laurent tuts offhandedly, pouring the clear liquid onto a cotton ball. He looks down at Makoto, examining the impressive gashes down the side of his nose and left cheek, before he sighs and steps in close. “I’m afraid this will sting, dear,” Laurent murmurs.
Makoto wants to slap his hand away as he had for years, insist he can deal with the wound himself, but Laurent is already cradling his chin in his hand and Makoto is distracted by the warmth of the palm on his cheek and the fingertips, still cool from the window glass, settling against his neck. Laurent gently angles Makoto's face up and presses the soaked cotton ball to his skin. It burns unforgivingly, and Makoto weakly curls his fingers around Laurent’s wrist with a hiss.
“Shh, just a little more now,” Laurent murmurs. He stops to brush a tear away with the pad of his thumb before resuming his work, and the touch is so abrupt Makoto’s grip around Laurent’s wrist loosens. When was the last time he’d been treated him like this, like he was worth fussing over? He breathes deeply and tries to ignore the pungent medicinal smell in the air. The pain slowly dulls down to an ache, and Makoto’s attention settles on the heavy-lidded gaze diligently tracking the scratch’s path across his cheek, the lashes feathering out from the edges. He never thought a guy's eyelashes could be pretty, but he can't think of another word to describe Laurent's. They're pretty. In the dim light, they make his eyes look magnetic, inviting. He swallowed. Like a girl's.
The hand shifts against his cheek as Laurent works, and Makoto imagines those fingers wandering, exploring—his neck, his lips, lower. He whimpers softly at the unbidden thought, closes his eyes, desperate to push it out of his head. This couldn't be happening. Why was he reacting like this while Laurent was just tending his wound as a favor—
“You alright?” Laurent asks, a little concerned. Makoto’s eyes snap open. He’d been breathing hard through his nose, trying to calm himself down. He'd never been more grateful to have a believable cover.
“Fine. Are you done?” he asks impatiently.
“Good as new.” Laurent replies with a sympathetic smile, snapping the cap back on the bottle. “A lesson in feline care, Edamame,” he adds with a crooked smile, glancing down at Maci busy cleaning between tiny pink toe beans on the coffee table. Capsule toys litter the table around her like a battleground. “Never intercept a cat in flight.” As Laurent walks away, the sting is faint, overshadowed by the ghost of Laurent’s palm against his skin.
Makoto stands there, indifferent to the faint pulses of light flashing through the curtains. He knows what this feeling is. He’d felt it once, not long after he found himself shut out from society. It was fleeting out of obligation then, impossible to pursue, forgotten.
How cruel, Makoto thinks, that that feeling should take hold for the very person who made it so.
The bright orange glow of Makoto’s cigarette bleeds into the night sky as he leans against the lamp post on the far side of the street. Laurent flipped the light off in Makoto’s apartment long ago. He was probably asleep with Maci on top of him. Makoto frowns and snuffs out his first of two cigarettes (he was trying).
“He’s really been here for over a week,” he mutters dazedly. It comes out as something between a statement and a question.
He pulls the other cigarette from the front pocket of his jeans and lights it.
When did this happen? When did Laurent’s glances and touches ignite something in him, a yearning he’d only heard about, always as someone on the outside but never as a participant? He didn’t know why it had to be Laurent. Makoto dislikes almost everything about him: the guy is nonchalant, arrogant and full of himself, not to mention emotionally detached from everyone around him. When Makoto talks to him, he often feels like he’s in a room with a two-way mirror, closely examined by a hidden stranger on the other side of the glass with no choice but to stare at his own reflection.
But Laurent had been in love with someone, was ready to give up conning to spend the rest of his life with her. When Makoto heard the story, Laurent’s demeanor and mistakes suddenly became understandable, open to confrontation... forgivable. Makoto gets through to people as easily as he breathes, but, frustratingly, he’d never been able to get at Laurent. Maybe, Makoto thinks as he takes another drag, the thrill of accomplishment rushing through him each time he’d pulled one over on him, that thrill that seemed to grow and grow, was more than mere competition—it was a rewarding crack in the mirror, a new avenue to a piece of the man behind the glass. It was illogical, it was impossible, but… he wanted to know the man.
Laurent was genuinely afraid he would grow restless and bored living in a shoebox apartment on the outskirts of Tokyo (as endearingly reflective of Makoto’s modesty as it was). But, as life slowed down to an unfamiliar snail’s pace, he found himself enjoying things he’d never thought comforting before, little things. Like the kind, old shop owner downstairs who had a newspaper ready for him every morning, “Free!,” the rumbling purr of a white kitten on his chest at daybreak, the quiet patter of feet around his futon as Makoto respectfully took pains not to wake him when he woke much earlier for chores—
And, perhaps most comforting of all, the morning coffee.
Arms crossed against the wall in pajamas wrinkled with sleep, Laurent watches Makoto’s slender fingers fold the thin crepe cone into the coffee dripper and tilt the kettle to cover the grounds. Makoto’s hands are smaller than his own, more calloused, and the skin around his nails is slightly bitten. They’re beautiful.
The cuts across Makoto’s face are still very there, tender and red. But they would’ve been much worse off if Laurent weren’t around to disinfect them. When Makoto tried to brush it off as a minor scratch, he knew he had to take it upon himself to do it and leave no room for protest. Maci, after all, was still a stray—his gaze drops to Makoto’s feet—no matter how cute she looked winding through Makoto’s ankles.
Those slim bare feet carefully maneuver around her and walk toward him. “Here,” Makoto says with a frown, holding the small white cup in front of Laurent’s face. The handle was conveniently turned toward him to grasp and he reaches out and takes it just as Makoto lets go to get his own cup.
When Laurent brings the cup to his lips, the rich aroma fills his nose and almost brings him to tears. Memories of cobblestone streets and chairs crafted of intricate black metal, of wooden countertops and fresh roses in the windowsill flood his mind. They’re faded memories, his only solace that it was possible for life to be marked by stability, by happiness. He draws in another deep breath, letting it out on a small sound tinged with joy and sorrow both.
“Edamame,” Laurent’s voice comes out softer than he intended, and he clears his throat to adjust it. “Where is this roast from?”
Makoto’s washing his pour over set in the sink, and the scrubbing slows before picking up again. “I picked that one up in Belgium when I went to Europe over the summer,” he replies. “From a city with a G in it, I think?”
Laurent smirked. “Was it Ghent, by chance?”
“Yeah, that sounds familiar,” Makoto says as he casually leans against the countertop with cup in hand.
Laurent looks at him before catching his own reflection in the coffee. He frowns.
How much had Oz told him? Did he tell him Laurent grew up in Belgium? He wasn’t sure, and he doesn’t know how to ask. He’s painfully aware that he’s reaping the consequences of his cowardice.
“You really cared about her.”
Laurent misled him, dismissed him, left him, and yet Makoto still reached out to him. He decides that even if Makoto knew only fragments of his past, his kindness was already more than he deserved.
When he looks up he catches Makoto staring at him before quickly, perplexingly, looking away.
“Thank you,” Laurent murmurs.
Makoto stops mid-sip to glance at him over the rim of his cup. “Mmhm.”
As Makoto wipes down the counters after breakfast one morning, he finds himself missing the process of preparing a meal from start to finish. He hadn’t had a home-cooked meal in ages. The only issue was that now he had to cook lunch for Laurent, too. He knew the guy had a huge appetite and that he wasn’t picky (if the amount of empty takeout boxes littering his hotel rooms was any indication), but he didn’t know what Laurent liked to eat. When Makoto brought up the question Laurent answered without hesitating.
“You know, I tried these stuffed fried potato cheese nuggets the last time I was in Japan. They were heavenly.”
“Stuffed fried... potato cheese nuggets.” Makoto repeats back slowly. He has no idea what Laurent’s talking about. He asks Laurent to describe them and he does, drawing shapes in the air to show their size and explaining that he got them at a food stand in Nara, “where all the cute deer live.” Several minutes pass before Makoto realizes he’s describing korokke. Cheese korokke. Makoto had never eaten it in Tokyo. Of course Laurent wanted the most obscure thing possible.
But the recipe isn’t too hard to follow, so Makoto zips up his coat and runs the grocery trip, and within an hour they’re both in the kitchen peeling potatoes. To liven the atmosphere, Makoto had dusted off his old radio and tuned it to a classics station.
“Don’t you have to get back to your con soon?” Makoto asks. He’d been wondering how Laurent arranged to disappear in Japan for so long.
“Tired of me already?” Laurent asks. When Makoto looks up in defense Laurent is smiling. “Truth is, I didn’t have much of a role in this one to begin with,“ He takes a small potato from the bag and starts peeling it. “But you would have.”
Makoto stops mid-peel. “What do you mean?” he asks, suspicion palpable in his voice.
“Had you stayed on the phone with me a bit longer, you would have known that we’re working with none other than the inimitable Razzie himself.”
Makoto can't contain his childlike enthusiasm, his eyes growing as wide as the plates on the countertop. “R-really?”
Laurent tilts his head and arches a brow in his direction. “Don’t you watch the news, soybean?”
Makoto pouts. “Haven’t been paying attention,” he lies, busies himself with his peeler. He avoided any news about US politics on purpose, hoping that if he pretended Laurent didn’t exist, he could finally push him from his thoughts—and life—for good. Clearly, he thinks as he glances down at the hands awkwardly peeling the smallest potato in the world, that plan failed miserably.
You let it fail, a small voice in the back of his mind whispers. He swallows.
“Why me?” Makoto asks. “I thought you were going to let me live my life after this.” This time, the words are empty—a test.
For a moment the wisp of peeler blades and the soft plink of piano keys are the only audible sounds in the room. “Maybe I’ve come to enjoy your company,” Laurent says with a shrug. The statement is vague—it’s the opposite of what Makoto wants.
A jumble of responses spring to Makoto’s mind at once. Matching Laurent’s tone he settles on, “I’ll think about it.” Laurent hums in reply. Makoto checks the recipe before walking to the fridge. He rummages through the shelves, blinks, rummages through again.
“I forgot the cheese,” he grumbles.
“The main ingredient?”
Maci loudly yawns and stretches her paws up on Laurent’s calf and he stops peeling to peer down at her with a smile. What the hell? She likes him way better than me, Makoto thinks bitterly.
“Going out?” Laurent asks as another potato peel joins the pile on the counter.
“Yeah. Be back.”
Shopping for cheese was a task much more difficult than Makoto anticipated. The trip took him almost an hour—the first two stores he tried didn’t have any of the kind the recipe called for. It was grueling, but he managed. Makoto had forgotten how even the mundane tasks of a normal life—a slow life free of deception and meticulous planning—could still take a toll on him.
He trudges up the metal steps of the complex, his legs heavy like lead. He’s barely to the door when he hears the music. Even muffled through the door, Makoto could tell the lyrics were in French and that they were sung with a high, wavering voice to a cheerful melody carried by rich strings. The singer starts humming and a soft tenor voice joins in—Laurent’s. Careful not to accidentally let Maci out, Makoto pushes down the handle and opens the door just wide enough to slip inside, only to freeze at the scene in the middle of his living room.
“Le temps est bon, le ciel est bleu, j’ai deux amis qui sont aussi mes amoureux…” He hears the lyrics Laurent’s murmuring but he can’t process them, too transfixed by the way Laurent’s body moves across the floor with a grace he didn’t know Laurent was capable of. Laurent has one hand close to his chest and Makoto’s old duster in the other. His long legs bend in time with the music as he expertly waltzes, tilting, stepping to counts of three, the arm holding the duster wrapped around an invisible partner.
Abruptly, he trips on an uneven seam in the floor and quickly rights himself, throwing his head back with a breathy, self-deprecating chuckle.
He looks completely at ease, relaxed, free. It sends Makoto’s heart racing.
When Laurent recovers, he raises the duster to give the overhead light two thorough swipes before tilting his head back down just as the song fades out. “ Qu'en pensez-vous, princesse? Are we done?” he whispers into his chest.
Makoto lets the door click shut and this time, Laurent spins around in surprise. His face is flushed pink and he’s out of breath, but he smiles when he sees Makoto. Tucked inside the pocket of Laurent’s button-up shirt is Maci, one ear twitching as she regards Makoto as well.
“Look who’s back,” Laurent says with a grin that softens as quickly as it appears. “And look how he smiles. Une vue rare et belle.”
Makoto quickly looks away and holds the grocery bag in front of his face to hide the rising heat in his cheeks.
“I found—“ Makoto tries, his throat suddenly dry. “I found the cheese.”
Qu'en pensez-vous, princesse?: What do you think, princess?
Une vue rare et belle: A rare and beautiful sight.
The French song is "Le temps est bon" by Bon Entendeur and Isabelle Pierre. It's adorable. I heard it and thought of Laurent right away :)
Korokke is a dish related to the French croquette. It’s usually filled with a variety of of things including meat, seafood, veggies (or apparently more rarely, cheese) mixed with mashed potatoes, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried.
“So you have,” Laurent replies, fond smile still spread over his face.
“Just take it and I’ll tell you when to add it,” Makoto says quietly from behind the grocery bag.
Laurent gently scoops Maci out of his shirt pocket and puts her on the floor before walking over to Makoto to do as he asked.
As he reaches for the handle, his pinky finger accidentally brushes against Makoto’s and Makoto steps back until he hits the wall with a thud. Wordlessly, he speed-walks to the kitchen without sparing Laurent a glance.
Laurent is almost afraid to entertain the thought but… he could swear the soybean was growing soft on him.
It was the blush. It reminded him of the first day they met, when he outfitted Makoto for their target in Los Angeles. Laurent just wanted to reassure him that he looked good in his tailored suit when he’d laid his hands on those small shoulders. He didn’t expect to see a helpless flush across Makoto’s cheeks, when just moments before he’d daringly challenged Laurent to a bet too lofty for his own good. The reaction was unreserved, pure, a testament to Makoto’s unshakeable modesty. It might have started then, for Laurent.
Slowly, steadily, that initial attraction gave way to something he didn’t think he could feel again. The thing about affection, Laurent learned the hard way, is that it can flourish in the background, imperceptibly when you’re too preoccupied with something else to realize it. It sprouts while you watch the novice swindler you recruited rekindle an injured veteran pilot’s passion for flying and travel across town to reunite a teammate with her ex-lover. It blooms when that emerging confidence man stays in the con at his own expense to liberate you from yours, and when he trusts you to keep a kitten alive in good faith even though you’ve failed him countless times before.
Now Laurent was here, standing with a bag of cheese Makoto hunted down from some far-off grocery store and wondering what he had possibly done to make Makoto look at him that way, with soft blushes and sidelong glances. With care.
That’s what it is, isn’t it? Care. Makoto had dozens of coffee roasts stored away in his apartment from his travels, but he’d hand-ground and served the Belgian roast to Laurent every single morning since the day Laurent first tried it. Makoto was patient with Laurent’s long showers and his forgotten candy wrappers and his secrecies. The gestures brought him comfort without a single word. It was something Dorothy had never done—not like this. Or maybe he just never got the chance to experience it with her.
For years Laurent cut himself off from feeling, from getting too close. It was a matter of survival. But there Makoto was, attending to him, daring him to try.
Candidness, sincerity, vulnerability. He’d forgotten what they looked like. And Makoto embodied them so naturally and effortlessly—he had no doubt that whatever feelings Makoto developed for him were genuine, but he doubted they ran much deeper than physical attraction. Laurent accepted that, he could satisfy that and live with it. He hoped dearly they’d at least part amicably, maybe even as work partners, but he didn’t dare believe they had any chance at a romantic relationship after what he’d put Makoto through. He’d given Makoto nothing to love.
“Not again,” Laurent groans in exasperation, wetting a rag. Maci took to weaning right away, but she left behind a tornado of formula and wet cat food after almost every meal.
“Terrible, terrible table manners,” Laurent mutters disapprovingly as he wipes the mixture off of Maci’s tiny chin.
“Sounds like you,” Makoto says as he walks by with a laundry basket. It takes Laurent a second but he chuckles. The sound is warm, rich like honey.
Makoto starts to grin but catches himself at the last second. God, was he actually happy he’d cheered Laurent up? He was such an idiot.
“Come on,” Laurent casts a playful glance at Makoto, who’s busy pulling out clean laundry—both of theirs—to fold on the tatami. “My manners aren’t that bad.”
“You didn’t scrape melted cheese and breadcrumbs off the floor yesterday,” Makoto shoots back as he folds a pair of Laurent’s wool pants no fewer than four times. His legs are way too long, Makoto grumbles to himself. Laurent puts his hand on the wool and Makoto looks up in question.
“You don’t need to do that for me, dear,” he says quietly. He takes the folded pants from Makoto’s hands and picks out his clothing from the basket.
They fall into an easy rhythm as Laurent tries to copy Makoto’s technique, organizing his shirts and pants into perfect, wrinkle-free squares and stacking them on the tatami. Laurent’s pile ends up way bigger than Makoto’s, a tower of pinks and greys. He’s nowhere near done folding when Makoto interrupts him.
“Um…” Makoto squeaks. Laurent looks back as Makoto holds up a pair of tiny red silk briefs, eyes wide. He’s pinching them between thumb and index finger by the edges, like he’s afraid of them. “Grabbed someone else’s laundry by mistake I guess?” he says nervously, mouth set in a wobble.
Laurent smiles brightly. “I knew I missed something.” Makoto’s head snaps up. “Those are mine.”
He says it like he’s identifying a hat at a lost-and-found and not something that could easily pass for lingerie.
Makoto goes as red as the article in his hands and he holds them out to get a better look at them. “W—what?! You wear these?!”
Laurent shrugs. “They’re more comfortable than other cuts.”
“But doesn’t it…” His eyes flicker to the crotch of Laurent’s pants and back up. “H-how do you even fit in this thing?!” Laurent bursts into laughter as Makoto processes the horror that just came out of his mouth.
“Is that a compliment?” He teases with a wink.
Makoto turns impossibly redder. “No! I mean—” he sputters. “Y-you wish!”
It happens too fast for Makoto to register. One second they were feet apart on the floor and the next Laurent is right up in his face, arms resting on either side of Makoto’s knees, pinning him with a soft look that makes Makoto forget he’s holding something.
Laurent’s gaze drops to Makoto’s lips, licks his lips, and Makoto stops breathing.
“What if I do wish?” he asks, his voice lilting and light. His blue eyes flit up to Makoto’s for a millisecond before they drop back down to his mouth, and then he’s leaning…
A feeling of elation runs through Makoto, exhilarating, blinding, and his body moves on his own as he does the only thing that makes sense to him.. .
He pushes his hand into Laurent’s face.
Laurent makes a small questioning sound but there's no resistance as Makoto pushes him back. Instead of moving out of the way, Laurent gently covers Makoto’s hand with his own—holding it there—and Makoto’s heart rate picks up.
Somehow it’s worse than before, because now he can feel the rough stubble against his skin and the warm palm cradling the back of his hand those lashes fluttering against his fingers and Oh god his tongue—
He blushes darkly and pulls his hand away to wipe it on his shirt, trying to distract himself from the heat curling in the pit of his stomach.
Laurent steals a quick glance at Makoto before turning back to his laundry pile with a smile.
For what seems like ages Makoto sits there and stares at Laurent’s back. Why did I do that? he wonders, frustrated. It would’ve been the easiest thing to meet Laurent halfway and slot their lips together, like he desperately wanted to, let Laurent take the lead.
But he didn’t. He couldn’t. Not yet. Makoto wanted too much, and he didn’t trust that Laurent wouldn’t take it all and give nothing in return.
A knock on the door startles them both.
“Edamura!” Kudo’s cheerful voice rings through the door. “You home?”
“Uh,” Makoto shouts, hurriedly stuffing the underwear into his pocket as Laurent tidies up his clothing pile. “Yeah! Door’s unlocked!” he yells.
The door opens and Kudo steps inside. He blinks. “Sorry, I…” His eyes jump between the gashes across Makoto’s nose and cheek, and Laurent—who Kudo is pretty sure he’d never seen sitting on a floor ever—quietly folding clothes. Every time Kudo thought he understood their relationship, he’d been completely off the mark. “Did I drop by at a bad time?”
“No, it’s ok!” Makoto insists. “She’s over there,” Makoto gestures to the windowsill where Maci is sitting, surveying the room.
“Edamuraaa,” Kudo cajoles, practically skipping to her. “She’s so much cuter than you let on over the phone!” He scoops her up without hesitation and she allows it.
“It’s hard to catch a break from the cuteness around here,” Laurent agrees. Makoto shoots him a glare and finds him with his chin in his hand, smiling back at him.
“I’ll say,” Kudo replies, looking down at her. “And her eyes! They’re looking straight into my soul!” Kudo carries Maci like a newborn as he walks over to sit on Makoto’s folded futon.
“How’ve you been, Kudo?” Laurent asks.
“Oh, getting some much-needed relaxation. Shi-won and I spent a few months in Seoul. I don’t think there’s a single sightseeing spot she didn’t take me to. It’s been great, but I’m so worn out! I’m glad to be back home, though, even with this damn cold. Hey—” He puts Maci down and reaches for his back pocket. “I wanna show you guys something before I forget.”
Kudo opens his wallet and flips to the back before holding it out. The two cats in the bent photo sit side by side in the same exact pose, one black with golden eyes and the other white with bright blue eyes. They’re both staring straight at the camera.
“The white one looks just like Maci,” Makoto says and Kudo nods. “I didn’t know you had cats!” Surprisingly, he’d never been to Kudo’s home.
“Just one now,” Kuro replies with a hint of sadness in his voice. “Shiro passed a few years back, but Kuro’s still around. He’s an old geezer like me,” he chuckles, “but still sprightly, heh, unlike me.” He smiles down at Maci, who’s making biscuits on Makoto’s futon, gaze resolutely set on Kudo.
“She likes you!” Laurent exclaims, and Kudo grins at the compliment.
“You can cat-sit her if you want, Kudo,” Makoto offers.
“Really? I think Kuro would love to meet another cat,” Kudo says. “Are you going off somewhere, Edamura? Another job with the team?”
At this Makoto cringes, expecting Laurent to interrupt, to say something like, I’ve got something in the works but I haven’t been able to convince this little soybean to join—got any ideas, Kudo? But Laurent is silent, staring at Makoto like he’s just as interested in his answer as Kudo is.
“Um…” Makoto fumbles. He doesn’t know what to say, and he’s ashamed to admit to himself that it’s because he’s not used to having a choice. He looks up at Kudo. “Maybe,” he says as casually as he can. “I mean, Laurent has a new target. But I still haven’t decided if I wanna join yet.”
Kudo happens to look at Laurent then, and the expression he sees on the conman’s face gives him pause. Kudo’s experience with relationships could be summed up as a disastrous train wreck of poor communication that led to screaming matches that led to a daughter he hadn't seen in years. But he knows what that look of longing on Laurent’s face means, he can see the hope in it. Perhaps Kudo wasn’t as off-the-mark as he thought. Maybe things will turn out for them, he thinks, scratching his ear.
“Well,” Kudo says, his voice cheerful, “You know where to find me, Edamura! I’d love to take care of this little one while you’re gone.”
“Yeah! That would be great, Kudo,” Makoto grins. Kudo gives Maci a final scratch behind the ear and she meows loudly, clearly pleased. All three men immediately lean forward and give her scratches and pets. Kudo leaves not long after, wishing them well, just as Makoto finishes folding the last of the laundry.
He pokes Laurent with his index finger and Laurent looks over his shoulder with a hum.
“Here,” Makoto mutters with a sidewise glance.
Laurent smiles softly as he takes the neatly folded square of red silk from his hand.
The following morning, Makoto wakes up slowly, knowing there were no chores waiting to be done. The red-orange glow of the sky tints everything in the apartment a deep red and melds seamlessly with the warmth of the dream he woke from. He could still feel the ghost of lips against his own, the soft blond locks separating between his fingers...
A soft weight in the middle of his chest shifts and he pets Maci behind the ear before glancing at the folded futon in the corner of the room.
“Ugggh,” Makoto glares back at her, scoffing in pretend annoyance. “You’re only here because Laurent isn’t.” She fixes him with her wide, turquoise eyes, long white whiskers bending against the blanket as she leans into Makoto’s touch. It’s not long before the purring starts and the vibrations seep through Makoto’s chest and instantly put him at ease. The sensation is so meditative he lets his head fall back on the pillow. Something crinkles under her, and he tugs the small piece of paper out and unfolds it.
The note is written on a piece of paper carefully torn from the memo pad Makoto used to write grocery lists, an old one adorned with strolling cats and paw prints. Butterflies flutter in his stomach when he recognizes Laurent’s elegant cursive writing.
Care to join me for breakfast? Meet me at the Blue Leaf Café at 10. Let me treat you.
There’s a smaller pen stroke in the corner of the paper—Laurent had circled one of the cats on the perimeter, the only white one. He grins. Carefully, he slips the paper under two of the capsule toys on the coffee table before checking his phone. 8:35AM.
He couldn’t recall ever hearing of the Blue Leaf Café. “Must be new,” he mutters as he types the name into his phone. The café was not only new—it was also highly rated, exorbitantly expensive, and located close to an hour away from his apartment. Sounded about right for Laurent. The pictures showcase the café’s most striking features—an expanse of both hanging and potted plants, glossy and spread out across the café in a beautifully chaotic way, and the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out into a rich nature reserve below.
Laurent probably scrolled through the same pictures and decided this was a place he might like. He smiles.
He feeds Maci and showers quickly, reserving the rest of the hour to get ready. He opens his closet and shuffles his hangers around until he finds what he’s looking for: a simple but structured lilac dress shirt he hadn’t worn in years. In front of his bathroom mirror, he folds the sleeves up to his elbows and straightens the collar, slender fingers hovering over the buttons before he leaves the first three undone.
Hesitantly, he brushes his fingers over the small glass bottle at the corner of his sink, before spritzing a bit of the amber liquid on the inside of his wrists. It was the only cologne he owned and he only wore it for himself, to help center him. It doesn’t take long for the warm, smoky aroma to waft its way up, the scent far more intense and present than he ever remembered. Scents and tastes had grown unusually vivid lately, Makoto realizes. He managed to only smoke a single cigarette in the past week—maybe that had something to do with it? Even so, he didn’t spray enough cologne for it to be noticeable unless someone leaned in close.
He hoped Laurent would.
Let me treat you.
Not even a month ago Makoto would have immediately turned down Laurent’s offer to treat him to anything, and now those words send a thrill up his spine. He knows what changed. Folded within their quiet, shared circumstances, Laurent was opening up to him, sharing small but precious fragments of himself with him, and it made Makoto feel proud. He always enjoyed reaching people on a deep, intimate level, but this is the first time he craved it from a particular person. I guess this is what it feels like to carry romantic feelings around for someone.
On the winding bus ride through busy Tokyo streets, he thinks only of Laurent. What he might be wearing (pink maybe—he looked pretty good in that color), what he might order off the menu (probably something too sweet for a normal person). He wouldn’t have given a second thought to such things even a year ago. His idle daydreams take him all the way up the wooden steps to the small café hidden behind a wall of vines. At 10am sharp, he pushes open the tall wooden doors. The air inside is as crisp and refreshing as it is outside, as if the café weren’t enclosed. Just like in the pictures, it’s dark in the café, all wood covered in an endless tangle of green. It smells like wet soil, like fresh lumber, like new.
“Welcome to Blue Leaf!” a woman dressed in a pressed black apron and thick black glasses greets him in Japanese. “Your name please?”
“Edamura…” She looks down at the guest list on the podium. “Yes. A Mr. L. Thierry has a table reserved for you.”
He blinks, nods shyly in confirmation. She smiles.
“Please follow me.” She pulls a small menu from the podium and Makoto follows her past the bar and through a set of double doors and a flight of wooden stairs. The second floor of the café is much quieter than the first, and the forest canopy below looks like a never-ending quilt of oranges and reds. Makoto wants to stop and take it all in—he hopes they’ll have time to afterward. It was without a doubt, one of the most scenic cafés Makoto had ever set foot in.
Laurent is also in this café, sitting somewhere among these strangers, waiting for him. Makoto’s heart is racing by the time they approach a small door at the end of the hall.
“It’s just in here,” the woman says cheerfully. She pushes down the handle and lets Makoto go ahead.
He steps inside, his hands already reaching for his jacket zipper, and freezes in place.
Time slows as his brain struggles to process what he sees in front of him.
The dark hair graying at the edges, the glasses, the familiarity and unfamiliarity at once. The face he was nowhere near ready to see.
“Can I get you anything to drink?”
The woman’s voice lost its cheerful edge, clearly tuned in to the sudden shift in atmosphere.
Makoto barely registers the question. “No,” he says automatically, his eyes locked on the figure at the other side of the table. The door clicks audibly as she leaves them.
“Why,” he croaks, his throat dry. “Why are you here?” The question carries all of Makoto's fears with it.
“Makoto…” Oz’s voice trails off as he takes in Makoto’s stiff posture, the distress in his face. “If it makes you feel better,” he says slowly, carefully, “I wasn’t expecting to see you here either.”
Makoto swallows. “It doesn’t.”
Realization catches up to him and all of the events of the past month collapse in on themselves like a house of cards. The smiles, the touches, the carefully placed words. They were lies. They were all lies to manipulate him into coming here.
Makoto wants to scream, wants to cry, wants to run. But his body doesn’t do anything.
“Makoto, I think there’s been a misunder—“
“Just say,” Makoto cuts him off. “Just say what you need to say.”
Oz sighs. “Laurent and I agreed weeks ago to meet and exchange—“
But Makoto can’t do it. As soon as he hears Laurent’s name he’s already bolted out of the room, his father’s pleas to wait lost to the slam of the door. He almost trips down the steps in his frantic rush to escape to somewhere. The laughs of customers blend into a dizzying cacophony in his ears as he nearly sprints back through the café hall.
Catching the familiar kanji overhead, he sharply turns the corner and locks himself inside one of the single bathrooms before sinking down to sit on the patterned tile with his face in his hands and his heartbeat in his ears.
Laurent planned this, he planned to get close to Makoto, to play on his growing and probably very obvious feelings, be friendly with him so he could drag him into whatever this was.
Makoto couldn’t tell anymore. He couldn’t tell the truth apart from the lies.
The only truth he was sure of is that… Is that…
Is that he hadn’t felt this close to happy in years. Even if it was all an illusion. He growls, hating how pitiful he is, how stupid he is. He can’t help the quiet tears that make it down his cheeks.
But… it all seems so real, this time. Different. Laurent’s effort to let his guard down was so glacial and hesitant and cautious. It couldn’t possibly have been a performance of carefully planned smiles and winks. Not this time. There was just no way. And his father’s words…
“If it makes you feel better, I wasn’t expecting to see you here either…”
Makoto takes a deep, shuttering breath and holds tight to the thought like an anchor. The tile is cold and hard under him as he picks at a loose seam on his knee, turning the thought over in his head. He decides he won’t accept the probable outcome until he confronts Laurent himself.
In a very embarrassing (and very rare) turn of events, Laurent Thierry, internationally renowned confidence man and globetrotter, was hopelessly lost at a most inconvenient time.
He woke up that morning with a mild case of cabin fever and spent most of it strolling through Makoto’s neighborhood without a care. Then, as the golden hour approached, he’d taken a cab and ended up in a quaint neighborhood that was apparently not home to his intended destination. He tried asking a few people on the street in broken Japanese if they knew how to get to the new café in town, but no one knew a thing.
Perhaps it wasn’t the brightest idea to invite Makoto to a café so new no one knew it existed.
The pocket of his jacket jingles with his brisk steps as he gives the streets one more pass. He’d picked out a gift for Makoto—a small pink crocheted mouse with a tiny bell sewn on the tail that he hoped would bribe Maci to see Makoto in a better light. He’d stifled a laugh that morning when Maci immediately beelined it to Makoto’s futon after he’d put his own away. The mouse was so small, barely larger than Maci's paw. He couldn’t wait to watch them play with it together.
If he ever got the chance to give it to him. He pulls out his phone.
I’m sorry, Oz, but I’ll be late. Can we reschedule?
The reply is quick.
No worries. How far out are you? I’ll wait for you.
How far was he from the café? He had no idea. He locates himself on GPS, mentally calculating how long it would take him to catch a cab out.
At least 30 minutes I’d say, maybe more, he types.
In seconds the phone vibrates in his hand.
That’s plenty of time for me to pass on the paperwork to you! And I can wait out the hour, no problem.
He looks at the text, shrugs. Oz was right, he supposed. It would take only minutes to pass on the folder listing the children’s foster families. He wished he’d chosen a different place to meet Oz than the Blue Leaf, but they happened to have back-to-back reservations available and the area was so unfamiliar it wasn’t worth the risk to move about. It seemed he made the right call. After all, he had a far more important meeting to make.
It ended up taking Laurent 20 minutes to catch another cab, and this time, for the sake of Makoto, he swallowed his pride and showed the address of the café to the driver to make sure he was going to the right place. Makoto hadn’t seen his text, and he was only 10 minutes late. Things could’ve gone far worse.
As as the cab drives away from the curb, Laurent pulls out his phone to text Oz and apologize when a call interrupts him.
When Oz speaks, his voice is soft. “I think there’s been an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Laurent’s blood runs cold. He's afraid to hear Oz’s next words. There’s no way… “What do you mean?”
“Well…” There’s a long pause. “It seems that, well, Makoto was also under the impression that he was supposed to meet you here at 10.”
Laurent struggles to wrap his mind around what Oz is saying. People step around him with their friends and their dogs.
“Oz, we… we were supposed to meet at 9.”
Simultaneously, they both realize what happened.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve asked about the time difference…”
“No. It’s my fault. I should’ve asked while you were in Shanghai,” Laurent replies, quietly. “Where is he?”
Oz exhales deeply. “I’m not sure. He left as soon as he saw me. Before I could explain anything.” Laurent’s heart sinks. “Take care of him, Laurie. Please.” The line goes dead, leaving Laurent with his phone in his hand and his stomach in knots.
The café was just beyond, up on the hill. The clouds reflect off of its windows, highlighting the couples and children enjoying their meals inside. No one can change fate’s plans, and fate was simply unkind to some people during their time on Earth. Laurent was starting to believe he was one of those people.
Laurent’s third cab ride is unbearable and stretches on for what seems like forever. Laurent can only imagine what kind of thoughts ran through Makoto’s head when he saw Oz there instead of himself. He was sure he got the wrong idea—no, the right one, the logical one, given what he’d been through. He didn’t know if it was something he could fix. The only thing he could count on was that he'd find Makoto in his apartment, with Maci.
Laurent practically stumbles through the unlocked door as it swings open, not bothering to pull off his oxfords.
“Don’t.” Makoto’s voice stops him in his tracks. It’s eerily calm and detached. Makoto’s back is turned—Laurent desperately wishes he could see his face.
He forces himself to catch his breath. “Oz and I were supposed to meet before you and I, just to exchange some documents. It needed to be done in person. I never planned for you to see him.”
“You’re saying that because I refused to meet with him,” Makoto replies evenly.
“That’s not true,” Laurent reaches out to touch his shoulder.
“Don’t touch me,” he snaps, so suddenly that Laurent flinches and steps back. Makoto pauses, and Laurent holds his breath. “Just go. Pack up your shit and leave.”
This is it. Laurent can feel it’s his last chance to explain himself. And if he screws up, Makoto will never give him a reason to talk to him again. Everything they’d shared over the past weeks—the quiet afternoons, the cooking, the mundane moments of togetherness—they were about to disappear, fade into memories in Laurent’s mind along with every other brief hold he’d ever had on happiness. He’s afraid to let Makoto know just how hard he’d fallen for him, but equally afraid to keep quiet, to play down his feelings. Then, he clears his head enough to notice how small and fragile Makoto looks folded into himself, sees the disheveled dress shirt he’d never seen the boy wear before. He needs to do this. For him.
“No,” he says simply. Makoto raises his head slightly and scoffs.
“Not until you look at me.” Laurent winces at how demanding he sounds. “Please,” he adds, softly.
Makoto does, turning around with his arms crossed. He straightens up, tries to look unaffected, but his face looks weary, like he’d already accepted that he would shatter if he went through it all again. In that single look Laurent understands the depth of what he’d done to him, the years of toying with him, of misleading him. His vision blurs, distorting Makoto’s form, and he blinks the tears back. The expression propels Laurent’s feet forward until he’s close enough to catch the muted scent of Makoto’s cologne, which only emboldens him further.
“Do you want to know why I invited you out this morning?” Instead of the anger and dismissal he expects, Makoto lifts his chin and looks straight into his eyes, waiting for his answer. The words die in Laurent’s throat.
“I…” He clears his throat. “I invited you to show my appreciation for what you’ve done for me over the past month. Your hospitality.” He blanches. That wasn’t what he wanted to say at all. It wasn’t even close.
“My… hospitality,” Makoto repeats slowly. Laurent towers far over Makoto, but he feels incredibly small under the weight of his gaze.
“Yes,” he says, strained and breathy, like air forcing its way through a tunnel.
Makoto’s soft brown eyes search his face, and Laurent wants to pull him in close and apologize, over and over and over again. Instead, he forces himself to keep quiet and hold Makoto's gaze as he studies him, takes him apart. Finally, Makoto sighs. “You’re actually a terrible liar.”
The words give him pause. He doesn't know how to respond. Wordlessly, he hesitantly reaches out, and, when Makoto doesn’t move away, he gently folds down the collar of Makoto’s shirt.
“Perhaps I am,” he whispers, before meeting Makoto’s eyes.
Makoto’s lips part slightly. He opens his mouth to say something but a look of panic seizes his face and he jerks his head past Laurent and to the open front door.
“Laurent…” he chokes out. “Th-the door…!”
This cliffhanger I am so sorry
Terror grips Laurent as he follows Makoto’s wide-eyed stare to the open front door.
As if by unspoken agreement they split up to frantically search the apartment. Laurent shuts the door and draws open the curtains while Makoto runs into the bathroom to check inside the tub and behind the toilet. They work in silence, the apartment punctuated with sounds of fabric rustling and furniture shifting. Laurent shuffles the futons around on autopilot.
I did this. She got out because of me. The thought reels through his head as he carefully picks through the clothes hamper. He moves on, debating whether to check the trash can, before rattling it gently and succeeding only in scattering a pile of unused cigarettes further into the bin.
A quiet sob echoes from the bathroom and Laurent is at the doorway in seconds. He finds Makoto crumpled on the floor against the bathtub.
“She’s gone,” he whispers.
The boy is sitting in the very place he’d meticulously cleaned Maci up only weeks prior. Makoto looked so happy then, so determined. It breaks Laurent’s heart. He holds on to the side of the tub for support and crouches down next to him so he can apologize.
“This is my—“
“It’s my fault!” Makoto shouts.
Laurent falters. “What?” He barely catches Makoto’s whispered reply, but when he does, it leaves him stunned.
“I should’ve… trusted you more.”
“No,” Laurent insists firmly. “You have every reason not to trust me and you acted just as you should’ve. I was the one who left the door open. In my haste.”
“That’s not true,” Makoto replies, staring at the floor.
“What’s not true?”
Makoto shifts around to sit with his back against the tub before his gaze sweeps over Laurent’s crouched form and the wrinkles carved into Laurent’s pants.
Laurent frowns, not understanding. With a sigh he says, “Sitting here isn’t going to bring her back.” He scans Makoto’s exhausted face, knowing he’ll have to be the one to keep Makoto’s spirit up if they’re going to have any chance of finding Maci. “I suspect she hasn’t gotten far.”
He pushes himself up and offers his hand for Makoto to take, and Makoto lets Laurent pull him to his feet.
“We’ll start close to the apartment and work our way out.”
“I’m sorry Makoto,” the bespectacled owner of the convenience store replies with a sad, apologetic look. “I haven’t seen any white kittens around today.” Makoto’s face falls, and the elderly man quickly adds, “I’ll keep on the look out though! And I’ll let you know if I see one.”
“Ok,” Makoto says solemnly as Laurent frowns. “Thanks.”
They walk out, and Makoto stops in front of the rows of capsule toy machines outside, fiddling with his pockets.
“Hey,” he mumbles. “Can I borrow some change?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have any.” Laurent’s voice is tinged with something like regret.
“Oh, I thought…” Makoto trails off. “It sounded like you did.”
Laurent blinks, before reaching into his jacket pocket. He motions for Makoto to hold out his hand and places something soft into it.
“I bought it for you,” he says as Makoto traces his thumb over the small bell on the end of the mouse’s tail. “For you and…” his eyes dart away and back. “And for Maci.” Makoto looks up at him, clutching it tight in his fist. Without a word, he steps back onto the sidewalk and starts walking toward the center of town, Laurent following close behind.
Makoto’s breath mixes with the cold air as he scans fences and alleys and front yards. Even with his hands buried in his pockets, he looks like he’s barely hanging on. How could Makoto possibly think this was his fault, Laurent wonders, when it was he who left the door wide open? Laurent’s only job was to look out for Maci and instead he caused Makoto immeasurable pain. Again. He can’t bear to think of what would happen if they couldn’t find her.
They reach the aged wooden playground in the center of the neighborhood before Makoto recognizes someone. The elderly lady raking the front lawn greets him with a kind smile, propping her rake against the front of her house so she can focus on a clearly distressed Makoto. Laurent picks up bits and pieces of their conversation.
“… No, but I do remember seeing you both walk home with one some time ago. Is it the same one?” Makoto nods and smiles weakly. Laurent can tell he’s putting great effort into sounding enthusiastic.
“She remembered us finding her, but she hasn’t seen her since,” Makoto translates flatly when he walks back. Laurent understood the entire unproductive exchange, but he nods anyway.
It’s past noon when they end up in a park walkway after speaking with five more people with no luck, and Makoto veers off the path to sink into a wooden bench and rest his aching feet. The wood creaks as Laurent silently sits beside him.
“This is impossible,” Makoto mumbles into his hands. An image of Maci running down the apartment steps and out into the cold streets flashes through his mind. “There’s no way we’ll find her in this city. There’s just no way…” The sentence comes out as a pained, exasperated whisper. If Makoto hadn’t been so caught up in trying to uncover Laurent’s hidden motives that morning, if he just paid a little more attention to her, she would still be in the apartment, safe and sound. His stomach growls loudly and he quickly grows aware of how cold it is, how numb the tips of his fingers and his ears are, how rubbed raw his feet feel from walking so much.
He’s ready to break down for the second time that day when he suddenly feels something warm and heavy cover his shoulders. He unconsciously pulls Laurent’s coat in around himself like a blanket.
“There’s still time yet,” Laurent murmurs encouragingly. “Don’t despair.” His voice is so close and soft, and when Makoto glances over he sees the pair of longer legs folded right next to his own. Makoto watches the older man’s breath plume out into the cold air.
“Aren’t you cold?” Makoto asks. Just then, a powerful and biting wind sweeps through the trees, kicking up dust into Makoto’s face. He turns his head right into Laurent’s shoulder and Laurent immediately pulls him in closer.
When the grass stops rustling and the trees stop shaking, Makoto makes no effort to move. The arm draped across his shoulders is secure and comforting, like it belongs there. It tempts him to let his head fall against Laurent’s shoulder.
Instead, Makoto looks ahead and thinks about how unnatural the trees on the opposite side of the path look, neatly lined up as they are.
His eyes widen. He’d been here before.
A year ago he'd walked through this very park, seething, angrily searching for Laurent in a sea of mothers and children and dogs. When he finally found him, he used all his strength to throw Laurent to the ground for forcing him to run into the one person in the world he never wanted to see again.
Makoto knew Laurent still kept in close contact with his father, knew that he probably talked to him several times while staying at his apartment. But Makoto knew nothing about it. Laurent was giving him the space to talk to his father when he was ready. When it was time.
He realizes there's no one he trusts more to help him through Maci's disappearance.
A gentle squeeze of his shoulder pulls him out of his thoughts.
“We should be getting back,” Laurent whispers gently. Makoto nods, and they gradually come apart.
They take a different route home, stopping at a crêpe stall at Laurent’s insistence (“You need to keep up your strength, dear”). Save for Laurent’s suggestion to post posters of Maci around the neighborhood as a next step, they walk the rest of the way back in silence, both aware that each block they pass adds to the growing reality that they might never see Maci again.
The apartment is dark and quiet as they shed their jackets and sweaters and shoes, and Makoto can’t keep it together anymore. He makes a strangled sound, fighting to hold back tears.
“Oh, mon beau—” It’s the only statement Laurent can manage to express his concern before he gathers Makoto’s small frame in his arms.
Makoto clings to him and feels Laurent’s arms squeeze around him in response.
“I’m sorry,” Laurent murmurs, his own voice wavering. “This happened entirely because of my carelessness.” Makoto’s ear is pressed against his broad chest. Along with Laurent’s steady heartbeat, the gentle timber of his voice is exactly what he needs to hold on to a semblance of hope. He doesn’t want to let go.
“It was an accident,” Makoto answers. He smoothes a hand over Laurent’s back awkwardly—and, he hoped, reassuringly.
They stay like that, entwined in the middle of the living room, long enough that Makoto starts to feel selfish for keeping Laurent there. But then he feels the weight of Laurent’s chin settle on his head.
Before Makoto can react, Laurent’s shoulders start quaking, slightly at first, then violently, and Makoto tightens his arms around him, terrified to witness the man who had always been so unshakeably cool and collected break down above him.
“L-Laurent…” he begins, scrambling to find words of comfort. He pulls him in closer as best he can instead. “It’s ok—“
But Laurent interrupts him with a series of urgent taps on his shoulder, and when Makoto looks up he finds him pointing toward the kitchenette, his face blank. Makoto follows the path of Laurent’s finger to the container of pans on top of the microwave.
He squints, confused, before he makes out the pair of tiny pale ears poking out from the top of the bin. One of them twitches before they disappear into the box.
Makoto stares on, his arms falling to his sides. While they trekked through nearly the entire neighborhood looking for her and agonizing over her absence, Maci had found possibly the best (albeit strangest) place in the entire apartment to hide away for a nap. How had she tucked herself into that cramped space between pots and pans in the first place?
"Here—" Laurent stifles a laugh behind him, interrupting his train of thought. “She was here—“ Another gasp. “The whole…!”
Laurent doesn’t get to finish his sentence, because he spirals into what could only properly be described as a giggle fit.
Relief washes over Makoto and he grins impossibly wide as his attention shifts to the man who has his head thrown back and a hand over his mouth, desperately struggling to contain his outburst. The ongoing, stuttering chortle is infectious, captivating, and Makoto can’t help but chuckle along quietly. He doesn’t dare pull his eyes away.
Laurent wipes a tear from the corner of his eye and manages to catch his breath as his legs go wobbly from the lack of air. Instead of steadying himself upright, he plops down on the tatami.
“You know you can die laughing like that?” Makoto teases. He can’t see anything through the hair that had haphazardly fallen into Laurent’s eyes.
“Edamame—“ Laurent breathes and clutches his stomach, his face flushed pink. He leans back on his hands and takes a long, deep breath through his nose to calm down, getting himself somewhat under control. When he opens his eyes and finds Makoto sitting right in front of him his whole face lights up, like he’s the luckiest man alive to have Makoto’s attention.
A feeling of elation takes Makoto over and he leans forward and presses his lips to Laurent's.
Makoto always imagined his first kiss would be brief and chaste—like he’d seen in movies—but Laurent buries his hands in his hair with a delighted sound and drags him backward to take his mouth. Makoto yelps and scrambles for balance and his hands hit the floor on either side of Laurent’s head with a smack as Laurent easily slips his tongue into his mouth.
Makoto gasps at the sudden entry but clumsily tries to keep up. The slender fingers splayed across his cheeks, the feel of Laurent’s warm wet tongue eagerly sliding against his own, the smell of windswept autumn in his hair and the cooling scent of aftershave and something else that was so quintessentially Laurent… they put his fantasies to shame. He slowly threads his fingers through tangled platinum locks, thumbs brushing the stubble along Laurent’s jaw.
When Laurent chuckles endearingly against his lips—low and husky—a flare of hunger sweeps through him. Makoto wants to move his hands to other places, to shift his hips further down Laurent’s body, to do something to hear Laurent come undone. If they keep going like this…
He reluctantly loosens Laurent’s hands from his face and sits back on his ankles, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and trying to ignore how Laurent’s chest rises and falls under him as he catches his breath through parted lips. Laurent’s pinning him with a dazed, half-lidded stare and his open palms are still arranged exactly where Makoto had pressed them into the floor.
Fuck, Makoto thinks. Why does he look so good like this?
“That was the only way I could think of to shut you up,” he mutters, just to say something.
An expression he can’t discern flashes across Laurent’s face before it’s replaced with a sly grin that does nothing to help Makoto’s situation. “And you did.”
Makoto rolls his eyes and climbs off of him, heading straight for the kitchenette. He pulls the toy mouse out of his pocket and dangles it in the air. Instantly, Maci’s pupils go wide, and she carefully calculates her descent before jumping down onto the counter to meet him. She raises a paw to bat at the toy and he quickly scoops her up against his chest. When Maci happily complies, he smiles in triumph, before walking to the living room to set her down with her new toy.
He pretends not to notice that Laurent had moved inches back to sit against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chest, nor that he had tracked his entire path from kitchen to futon with his head tilted into his hand and a slow, lazy smile on his face.
“What’s with the look?” Makoto asks, trying for annoyance as he sits down at the edge of a folded futon. He doesn’t need Laurent’s reply. He knows exactly what that look means.
Laurent’s lip quirks. “I can’t wait until you shut me up again.”
Maci really took the phrase "if it fits, I sits" to a new level.
“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.
I wrote this to beat the pandemic blues and it ended up being so healing. Thank you for reading and for your kind comments throughout—this is my first fic on AO3 and it was really encouraging to read what others were enjoying about the story!
Hope everyone is having a good year, and here’s to hoping for a season 3 of this fantastic anime!! ♥ =^. .^=