Asami has been going out after coming home to eat dinner with Akihito. He showers, shaves, puts on fresh clothes, kisses Akihito on the cheek, and says, "You don't have to wait up for me, Akihito."
"That's what you always say. When I get tired, I'll go to bed. Besides, I still have work to finish up for the magazine. How late do you think you'll be?"
"Not sure. I'm meeting with a very demanding client, who doesn't like to take 'no' for an answer," Asami said, smirking to himself, as he opened the door and left the apartment.
Whatever, Akihito thought. He knew what was going on and he didn't care.
Well, he did care, actually, quite a bit. It was tearing him up inside to think about that picture he took. One that said everything and nothing in the same frame.
Thinking about it hurt his heart.
He had thought they were doing good. Better than, actually, after ten years together. But it was all a lie, apparently.
Akihito pulled the picture from where he had stashed it. He stared at it, like he had since taking it, marveling at the happy smile on his lover's face. A smile not for him, but for someone else.
He hated himself for being jealous of the person in the picture sitting too close to his Asami. He hated himself for not believing Asami's flimsy lies about where he was going at this hour. He hated himself for being in love with the cheating bastard.
He put the picture away and tried to shake the images of them in bed together. He still had work to do.
Akihito got up and moved into his work room. He had been sleeping there for the past week and yet Asami had said nothing about it. He didn't ask what was bothering him, nor did he make Akihito sleep in their bed.
Akihito knew why he'd moved out of the bedroom, another reason he hated himself, because he was still there.
Once he had realized Asami was cheating on him, he could distinguish that person's scent from Asami's in the man's clothes and on his person. A week ago, Akihito came home from a photo shoot abroad, and that person's smell permeated their bedroom. He knew Asami had most likely fucked him in their bed and had him stay over because Akihito was away and he didn't have to hide it.
Akihito had made the mistake of asking Kirishima and Suoh about it. Though they denied it, Akihito had learned the signs for when they weren't telling the whole truth of something, and seeing them lie for the man, had cut him even deeper.
Akihito was hurt to have believed in Asami's 'forever'. There had been a time when that word had been nothing but a word, forever. That word and a few choice phrases had bound Akihito's existence to Asami's. But, it seems Asami's 'forever' is just a little over ten years.
Akihito was desperately trying to steel himself for when Asami told him it was over. He could feel the day growing closer.
He had thought of arguments in his defense, reasons Asami should choose him over the person in the photo, and tests for Asami to gage who was better in bed, but in the end, all Akihito had was Asami's word that he would be his forever.
When the tears began, he quickly brushed them away. This was getting him nowhere.
He turned his attention to the pictures of the bikini-clad girls and tried to visualize how to best lay them out for the magazine spread. The article would be typeset around the pictures, that were to appear to be tossed on a table, with a few pulled out and reminisced over.
Akihito, first decided on which shots he wanted showcased and set those pics to the side. Then he cleared the stuff off his dresser. He dropped the stack of photos on the dresser and watched how they landed. He got his camera and photographed that. Then he put his finger on one of the pictures that had been partially uncovered and dragged it out of the stack. When he selected another, he pushed the first picture to the side. Pulling out a few more, he took pictures of where all of the previous pictures he had pulled out of the stack ended up.
He replaced those pictures with the ones being showcased for the article, then snapped a few pictures. When he was done, he downloaded the photos onto his laptop, then emailed them to the magazine editor.
Akihito pulled the memory card from the camera and replaced it with a new, blank one. Then he placed the memory card and the photos in an envelope and set it next to his camera bag, He replaced the items on the dresser and noted the time, three thirty-eight. Time moved fast when he was working and he had been glad for the distraction.
But now, with his work complete, Akihito's mind went back to the other photo.
It took sheer willpower not to retrieve the picture and stare at it again.
He wanted to ask Asami about it, but then he would know Akihito had doubted his word and followed him.
Akihito thought about the past ten years, all they had been through, and he felt real anguish over the fact that it may all be over. He'd never wanted to love the crime lord, but how could he not?
Asami had been there every time he said he would. He had made him feel safe, always there to rescue him if it was needed. Over the years, he had learned a lot of ways of getting out of dangerous situations, needing to be rescued less and less, until finally, not at all.
Was that it? Did Asami think he didn't need him anymore? But, he was the one that always made it seem like an inconvenience, constantly telling him to be more careful.
It wasn't fair.
Akihito didn't realize he had fallen asleep at his desk until he felt familiar arms lift him and cradle him against a familiar body. Akihito snuggled close and breathed in deep, but who he smelled was not his lover.
Akihito's eyes flew open and he began to fight his way out of the familiar grip, "BASTARD, PUT ME DOWN! HOW DARE YOU HOLD ME CLOSE SMELLING LIKE HIM!" Akihito punched at Asami's upper body until he was dumped on his bed.
Asami looked genuinely puzzled at Akihito's attitude.
"What? You think I didn't know?"
Asami asked, "Know what, Akihito? What is it you're accusing me of? You've been acting strange since you returned from your trip."
Akihito couldn't take it anymore. Was Asami really gonna just lie to his face? Did he really think he couldn't smell that person on him? Akihito could only stare at Asami dumbfounded.
Asami, growing peeved at Akihito's silence, said, "Well, spit it out."
Akihito growled, "I smell him on you, bastard. That other man you've been seeing."
Now it was Asami's turn to look dumbstruck, as he had thought he'd been more careful.
"Oh, were you under the impression you had washed him off? His smell is in your clothes, bastard. You promised forever, but that wasn't what you meant, was it? Or is it because I don't need to depend on you anymore?"
"How long have you known, Akihito?"
Akihito felt his heart shatter at the question. He had expected Asami to deny the accusation, to ask for proof, not ask him how long he knew about the affair. Before hearing that, at least he could have still thought of it as a misunderstanding on his part, but not now.
As the tears began to stream unhindered down Akihito's face, he walked into the living room to retrieve the photo he had taken weeks ago.
Asami followed behind him, not giving or offering any comfort.
Akihito slapped the picture to Asami's chest then went back into his room and slammed the door shut. He pulled out his duffel bag and began throwing stuff into it. He had his answer and now there was no reason for him to stay.
When he heard Asami push the door open, Akihito didn't turn to face him, just continued to pack. He couldn't see what he was throwing in the bag through the tears, though.
Asami came up behind Akihito and spun him around. The face he saw made him blanche and take a step back. He had never intended for Akihito to find out. It had never been his intention to hurt Akihito like this.
Akihito tried to compose himself, but in the wake of Asami's silence, staring into those golden eyes, he finally broke and began sobbing uncontrollably.
When Asami tried to hold him, Akihito pushed at him violently, yelling, "DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH ME! I HATE YOU, PRICK! I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING I WAS, EVERYTHING I HAD TO GIVE, AND THIS IS WHAT I GET! THROWN AWAY AFTER JUST TEN FUCKING YEARS! WHAT WAS THE POINT, HUH!? WHAT HAPPENED TO FUCKING FOREVER!?"
"Akihito, let me explain."
"WHAT'S TO EXPLAIN!? IT SEEMS PRETTY OBVIOUS, EVEN TO SOMEONE LIKE ME!"
"You're wrong. It's not what you think. He means nothing to me."
"THEN WHY BOTHER!? WHY DO I HAVE TO FEEL LIKE THIS OVER SOMEONE THAT MEANS NOTHING TO YOU!? YOU FUCKED HIM IN OUR BED, ASSHOLE! HE WAS WHO I SMELLED THE DAY I CAME HOME FROM MY TRIP AND DECIDED TO MOVE BACK INTO MY OLD ROOM. YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME YOU DIDN'T WANT ME ANYMORE, JERK, AND I WOULD HAVE GIVEN YOU YOUR FUCKIN' SPACE!"
"I never said I didn't want you, Akihito," Asami said.
"SO, WHAT? YOU FIGURED YOU COULD HAVE US BOTH AND I NOT FOUND OUT!? OR MAYBE YOU THOUGHT I'D BE OKAY WITH LETTING HIM JOIN US SOMETIMES!?"
"AKIHITO! That's not what I'm saying. We should talk when you've calmed down."
Akihito walked up on Asami, and said, menacingly, " 'When I've calmed down'? And when do you think that will be? You would never accept this from me, so why should I accept it from you, huh? Anyone I would have thought to sleep with would be dead by your hands. Did you think you were the only one not willing to share? Well guess what, bastard, I don't share either."
"Then why not say something sooner?"
"Really!? Because I still love you. I figured I'd wait to see what you'd do. Trust me, I hate myself for that decision. I watched you grow more distant as I questioned my skills as a lover. Questioned why I didn't deserve the forever you promised. I questioned everything, Ryuichi, but couldn't come up with a reason why you felt you needed him. Why wasn't I enough?"
As Asami watched the tears fall from those hurt, hazel eyes, he realized he had no answer to Akihito's question. "I'm sorry, Akihito," was all he could say.
Akihito looked into those golden eyes for the last time as he said, "Not as sorry as I am for believing in you." Akihito grabbed his bag off the bed, grabbed the envelope with his work for the magazine, and his camera bag and left the penthouse.
Five years later.
Akihito walked into the hotel and made his way to the banquet hall. He noticed it had been redecorated, though some things still remained the same. He nodded to the guard, who returned an astonished look before he began talking into the communication device in his ear. Akihito could just imagine the gestures of the guy on the other end, pushing his glasses up on his nose while he thought of methods of damage control. He smiled to himself and continued walking.
When he walked into the banquet hall, those gathered stopped and began clapping for the man of the hour. Akihito held up his hands in greeting as he made his way to the bar and ordered himself a Bourbon.
Akihito was being honored with a humanitarian award for breaking the story on an international sex ring targeting runaway children. It had been a huge scandal resulting in a lot of crooked politicians going to jail for looking the other way.
Akihito didn't think he deserved an award for doing what was right, but he came anyway, mainly because this was still Asami's hotel.
After he walked out that night, he resisted every urge to go back. He traveled the world on the money Asami left in his bank account, trying to put as much distance between them as possible. He would have still been away had it not been for his best friend, Chief Inspector Takato, who had tipped him to the missing runaways.
Akihito had been back a year, avoiding Asami's attempts to meet up.
He had heard that Asami had dumped that person after only six months. The next, after barely three months. And the one after that, after just two weeks. After that, Asami had kept it to one night stands only.
Asami had moved out of the penthouse a year after Akihito left and he now occupied the top floor of this very hotel.
Akihito had mixed feelings about seeing him again. He was the one Akihito never got over. No matter how far he ran or who he slept with, nothing and no one compared to the thrill that was Asami Ryuichi.
Akihito went to his table, where his parents and friends were waiting on him. His mother rose, hugged him, and whispered close to his ear, "You're late, Aki. I thought maybe you'd changed your mind."
Akihito hugged his mother back and said, "I can't avoid him forever, mom. I'll be fine."
She released him and said, "Come, sit. You missed Takato's speech, but made it in time for dinner, at least. Takato's wife recorded it for you."
Akihito looked Himeko's way and said, "Thanks, Hime. Where is he anyway?"
Himeko said, "He got stuck sitting with his higher-ups. He said he'll come find you after dinner. He accepted your award for you."
Akihito looked to the empty chair to his left and asked, "Then who's the extra place setting for?"
"That would be me."
Akihito heard the smooth, familiar voice behind him and it sent a harmonious shiver down his spine, something he hadn't felt in over five years. He turned in his seat and looked up into the golden eyes he remembered and his heart skipped a beat. Time had only made the man more handsome. Akihito said, "Hello, Asami."
Asami greeted those at the table before taking his seat next to Akihito. He looked into those hazel eyes he had missed and said, "Hello, Akihito. Congratulations on your award."
"Thank you. How have you been?"
"Surviving and thriving. I see you've done well for yourself."
"I've survived, as well."
"Still chasing dangerous stories, I see."
"Not really. This was just a favor for Takato."
Asami said, "Oh. I thought I saw your byline on a story out of Columbia about some drug traffickers."
"That was only after they were arrested, but I had nothing to do with that."
"I see. Will you be staying in Tokyo permanently?"
"I don't know what my future plans are, Asami," Akihito said, politely. "I go where the story takes me. But, I have no immediate plans to leave. We should have lunch."
"I agree. Let me know when you're free and I'll have Kirishima pencil you in."
"And how is your secretary?"
"Still complaining about being overworked."
"He still hasn't found a reliable assistant?"
"No. None of the interns can keep up with him."
"Tell him I'll lend him Kunihara."
"How is Kunihara these days?"
This was their conversation all through dinner.
Witness to this civil exchange, were Akihito's parents, his sister, her husband, Himeko, and Koh and his date. All but one was aware of the history between these two and they had expected a different response to them meeting again for the first time in a long time.
They pretended to pay attention to what they were eating and not the conversation playing out next to them, but they had been waiting for this moment since Akihito returned.
They had all been guilty of telling both of them about how the other was faring, if one was dating, how long it lasted, and other personal information, so they all assumed that neither had gotten over the other.
They knew Asami had tried to meet with Akihito on many occasions this past year, but had either been rejected or ignored, causing him to turn to them for answers.
They also knew that Akihito had made a point of keeping his distance, while still keeping tabs on Asami's comings and goings.
Now, it seemed as though the ex-couple wanted to avoid the real conversation they should be having altogether. And, it appeared nothing was rekindled by them being face to face.
When dinner was done, Asami excused himself saying he had a late meeting to get to. Before leaving he turned to Akihito and said, "It was nice to see you again. Call me when you have time for lunch."
Akihito said, "Nice to see you too. I'll have Kunihara contact Kirishima." He watched as Asami turned and walked off towards the exit, that swagger he remembered still able to turn heads. Akihito turned back to a sea of staring faces and cringed, "What?"
Koh was first to speak, "What the hell was that just now, Aki?"
Akihito looked at his best friend and asked, "What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? I think I speak for everyone when I say, is that really all you had to say after five years? Just small talk?"
"Excuse me, but my personal life is personal. Why would I ever have a conversation like that in front of you? I'm going to talk to Takato," Akihito huffed and he stalked off towards the commissioner's table, muttering, "Unbelievable."
Akihito had almost reached the table when his phone alerted a new text had been received. Akihito checked his phone and saw it was from Asami. 'Can we talk alone, Akihito?'
Akihito replied, 'Give me half an hour. Where?'
'Our suite on the top floor.'
'Okay.' Akihito put away his phone and greeted Takato, "Hey."
"So you did show up?"
"Yeah. Sorry I was late."
"Here," Takato reached over and handed Akihito his plaque.
Akihito took the plaque and said, "Thank you." He read it over:
'For Saving Our Children
We present this Award to Photojournalist
You have our Everlasting Thanks and Gratitude.'
Listed below this were the names of the families of children that were rescued in the raid that day.
Akihito said, "This is nice, Takato, thanks."
"You deserve it, Aki. You spared a lot of families the grief of never knowing what happened to their child. We are still going over the records and mounting efforts to retrieve the children that were sold and delivered with the respective government officials. It won't be over until all the children are brought home or accounted for. For those we can't bring home, we at least want to be able to say what happened to them so their families can have some type of closure."
"Well, hopefully you're able to bring back more than you leave behind. The governments should cooperate. They wouldn't want the bad publicity. Let me know if I can do anything to help."
"Glad I can count on you. So, you're planning on sticking around then?"
"For now, at least. I wanna see how this ends."
"I saw you talking to Asami. You've finally decided to face him?"
"Why are you all so concerned about that?"
Takato said, "Aki, I'm concerned because I know you've regretted your decision to leave since making it. You crashed with me and Himeko after, remember? I know how miserable you were. I saw your reaction whenever your phone rang. And I know that even after everything, you still love him to this day. Man, for someone who likes truths, you refuse to see your own. You'll never be happy this way and you can't keep running."
"You think I don't know all that," Akihito sighed. "Look, thanks for nominating me for this, but I need to go."
"Aki, wait. Look man, we're just worried about you two, that's all. See you Sunday?"
"Yeah, see you Sunday," and Akihito stood to make his way back to his table to say his goodbyes.
Akihito was nervous as he rode the elevator to the top floor. Seeing the man earlier had brought it all back. Every feeling, every emotion, every memory of every touch, and it had felt like his heart would explode. He was lucky for the room full of people and the idle conversation, but now, he was walking into a one-on-one situation, ripe with unresolved emotion, and Akihito wasn't sure how he would react.
The elevator tinged softly at the top floor and the doors swooshed open. Akihito stood, unmoving, until the doors began to close again and he stuck his arm between the doors, stepping out as the doors retracted. Turning left down the hall, he noticed a familiar blond figure standing outside the suite door that Asami occupied.
Akihito's heart pounded faster the closer he got to the door until he had to stop and take several deep breaths to calm himself down.
Suoh left his place at the door and went quickly to Akihito's side. He asked, "Are you okay, Takaba?"
Akihito still trying to slow his racing heart, said, "Oh, hey, Suoh. I'm fine, really. Just need to catch my breath."
"Were you running?"
"Feels like it. How are things?"
"Things are things, but the boss is waiting for you."
"Yeah, I know. Just give me a minute."
Akihito looked up when he heard the hotel door open and all his efforts ended up for nothing, as Asami came out into the hall and asked, "Is there a problem, Suoh?"
Suoh turned and said, "No, boss. Takaba was in distress, I was checking he was alright."
Asami asked, "Are you alright, Akihito?"
Akihito's cheeks turned pink at the question and he kicked Suoh in the ankle as he walked past him to where Asami stood. He said, "I'm fine, Asami. Should we go inside?"
Asami was glad to see some things never change, as he waited for Suoh to limp back down the hall. When his guard reached him, he said, "You should go put some ice on that. Have someone take up position at the elevator. Tell them I don't want to be disturbed and tell Kirishima to handle anything that comes up."
"Yes, boss," Suoh said, bowing as Asami closed the door to the room. Suoh called Masaki to guard the elevator, passing along Asami's instruction to not be disturbed, then he called Kirishima and said, "Takaba is in with the boss, I'm coming down." Then he disconnected the call before the secretary could respond.
Inside the hotel room, Asami offered Akihito a drink.
"Whatever you're drinking is fine," Akihito said as he took a seat on the couch. "So, you redecorated in here, as well?"
Asami poured two glasses and walked back to the couch. He handed one to Akihito, taking a seat on the end opposite his guest, before he answered, "Sometimes change is needed. I see you've done well changing things up."
Akihito took a gulp of the bourbon, then said, "Sure, I guess. So, what did you want to talk about, Asami?"
"How have you really been Akihito?" Asami asked, sipping his drink.
"Busy, and you?"
"The same. Why did you finally agree to talk to me? You've been avoiding me since you got back?"
"That's what you wanna talk about? I had my reasons."
"I know. I've missed you, Akihito."
At that, Akihito downed his drink. Then he took Asami's drink from his hand and downed that too. He hadn't been prepared to hear that confession from Asami.
Asami chuckled, rising to pour more drinks, saying, "I see you've mastered your liquor. Want another?"
Akihito nodded. When Asami retuned with the refilled glass, Akihito said, "No fair sucker-punching me like that. You were the one that hurt me, remember?"
"I remember, Akihito. That day is one of my biggest regrets."
"Why? Because you got caught?" Akihito could feel the rage surging up from where he had buried it and he tried to bring it under control. He hadn't come to fight.
"It had nothing to do with getting caught. I messed up, Akihito."
"You broke my heart, Ryuichi. And yet, those same shattered pieces yearned for you. I knew that if you came for me, I would go back. I left Japan because I was too tempted to go back to you. Too tempted to just forgive you for taking my love for granted. Everywhere I went seemed to easy to return from, so I kept going further and further away. If not for Takato, I wouldn't have come back so soon."
"I am aware. I knew something was off back then but, I chose to ignore it. When you left that night, I felt betrayed even though I was the one that had betrayed you. It was selfish of me to think you would be okay with me seeing someone else, and when I realized that, I didn't think I had the right to come after you. I wanted to, but even I knew it wasn't wise to kidnap you from the inspector's house. I figured that was why you went there. I thought you'd come back if I left you alone. Then I found out you had used the money and left Japan. You only ever used just enough to get you where you wanted to go and get you set up, then there would be no activity on the account for weeks to months at a time. When I found out you had returned, I thought I should be proactive if I really wanted you back, but it's taken an entire year just to get you to meet with me. I've wanted to apologize for breaking my promise to you but I didn't want to do it over the phone or in an email. Though I'm happy you've finally agreed to meet with me, I have to ask, what has changed?"
Akihito set down the glass he had been sipping from as he listened to Asami's explanation, thinking of his response. He could see that the man before him had been changed, ever so slightly, by this experience. He saw the uncertainty and anxiousness in that handsome face as he waited for a response. Akihito answered, as honestly as he could, "Seeing you face-to-face. Hearing your voice near my ear. I knew that seeing you would bring it all back and I'm still not sure if I'm ready to go back to the way things were. I don't even know if I can. I've missed you, too, but, I'm still angry, Ryuichi. I still feel hurt and betrayed and I'm afraid to trust you again. I've had nightmares and sleepless nights because I can't get the image of you and him in our bed out of my mind, even after all this time. Every time I've thought of rushing back to you this past year has been plagued by my fear of who you will smell like. I don't want to live like that or be in a relationship like that. It would be a burden on both of us. I agreed to meet with you because you deserve to know that, Ryuichi."
"I see. So, it is as I feared. You have lost faith in me. I understand and thank you for being honest and hearing me out. I will leave you to your life, Akihito, and never trouble you again." As Asami stood to signal the end of their meeting, he faltered slightly.
Akihito, seeing that, nearly faltered himself. He understood what it was like to be bound to someone you couldn't be with. He knew then, he would always love Asami, always yearn for Asami, but until he could trust him again, there was really no point in going back. He knew, in that instant, Asami understood that, as well. Akihito stood, saying, "I'm sorry, Ryuichi," and he gathered his coat, put on his shoes, and walked out on Asami for the second time.
The minute the door closed, Akihito heard a woeful yell, then the sound of glass shattering against the door, and he ran to the elevator, tears streaming down his face. Though his heart yelled to him to go back, his legs propelled him forward until he had reached the elevator. Ignoring Masaki, Akihito mashed at the call button until the doors opened. Once inside, he stayed on his feet until the doors swooshed closed.
Alone in the private elevator, Akihito fell to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably. He fumbled for his phone and hit '4' on the speed dial. When the person on the other end answered on the second ring, Akihito said, "Come and get me, Kunihara. Hurry, please. It hurts so much."
Akihito heard, "On my way," before he dropped the phone and broke down again.
Now that it was truly over, Akihito wanted to take it back. He didn't want the last words he heard from Asami to be the last words he ever heard from the man. How did one live their life without the most important person to them at their side? But he knew without trust, there was nothing.
As the elevator neared the first floor, Akihito stood up and tried to compose himself, wiping his face on his coat sleeve. When the doors opened, he walked briskly towards the exit, not daring to look back. He had said what he needed to say, regardless of how painful it had been to admit, or how much it would hurt the other person.
When Kunihara pulled up to the curb, Akihito climbed in the back of the car, and before he lost it again, said, "Book us tickets out of Japan, tonight, Kunihara. I can't be here anymore."
"Of course, Takaba," Kunihara replied as he drove them directly to the airport.
Akihito was inconsolable until long after the plane took off.
The last alert Asami received before having Kirishima turn them all off, was that Akihito had purchased a ticket to Canada in the hours after seeing him.
When Kunihara texted their location, Asami texted back, 'Thank you for your loyal service. You are no longer required to keep me informed of your employer's whereabouts. Please keep him safe, Kunihara. Goodbye.'