Standing under hot water, Daven braced his palms on the tiled wall and closed his eyes. His brain felt muddled on time. The little phone he carried said it was almost 12am, but it was morning in Paris.
Pushing off the wall, he wiped his hands down his face and squeezed water out of his hair. He closed the water and reached for a thick white towel hanging on a rod on the door. Wiping his face, he stepped out of the shower and into the large bathroom equipped with every type of toiletry he could need. The products on the sink counter were intimidating.
Tying the towel around his hips, Daven reached for the most obvious, shaving cream and a pack of razors. While he shaved, he thought of Kian downstairs, and the man who seemed to know Kian’s secrets. How wonderful for Taewon, Daven thought staring into the mirror above the sink.
What was it like to be behind the concrete wall Kian put up?
Washing out the razor in water, Daven wondered how Kian and Taewon had met. For Taewon to know what Kian did, the circumstances must have been downright sinister. How could those two have the relationship they had now?
Taewon looked at Kian with love.
Well, Daven frowned into the mirror, his right side unfinished. He wanted to kiss and hug Kian too, so…maybe it wasn’t all that crazy an idea. What was it about being in danger?
Aphrodisiac number one, Daven chuckled at his thoughts.
Save me from certain death, and then let’s make mad love.
Daven continued shaving and when he finished, he rinsed his jaw and searched through the billion products on the counter for something to sooth the sting of the razor. This counter reminded him of Naomi’s vanity table.
Abandoning the search, Daven left the bathroom and went into the bedroom. He had left his duffel bag in an armchair by the window. Searching the pockets, he got the small black phone he used to call his contact. Hurrying back to the bathroom, he closed the door and dialed Naomi’s cell phone.
She answered after one ring.
“Hello?” her voice sounded strained.
“Oh thank God,” Naomi’s voice was heavy with relief. “I was so worried. What happened to you? Your car—”
“I’m sorry, it’s been crazy. I wanted to tell you I’m fine.”
“The police are looking for you,” Naomi said. “They think you might be injured. Are you okay? I saw your car, and...Jesus, no one would have survived that accident. Where are you?”
“Safe,” Daven said. “I’m fine. I can’t tell you where I am, but I’m safe, Naomi.”
Naomi was silent on her end. She sniffled, and Daven thought she might be crying. It broke his heart.
“I’m going to try to end this fast,” Daven said, in a gentle note. “Then I will come home, Naomi. I’m tired of traveling so much. Hmm…maybe you can help me find a place to rent. I thought about it, and a private practices sounds like a good idea.”
“Are you pulling my leg with this?” Naomi asked, her voice stronger.
“I’m serious,” Daven said with a small smile.
“Alright, I’ll work on finding a place,” Naomi sighed. “But you have to promise to call me every six hours or so—”
“Let’s do twelve,” Daven suggested, sure Kian would not be happy about him making phone calls.
“That’s too long,” Naomi complained.
“It’s safer,” Daven said.
“Fine, but if you don’t call me, I’m going to raise hell at the police station, Daven. If I have to, I’ll fly to the New York UN offices and demand to see you. I can’t take the silence, Daven.”
Daven smiled at her uncomplicated love.
“I promise to call,” Daven said.
“The kids have been writing lists. I really want you to read them.”
“I want to read those lists too.”
They talked about Aram and Zena for a bit, and then Daven ended the call with a heavy heart. He stared into the mirror and for the first time in years, felt an urgency to return home. The old pain was gone, the anger at his brother’s death dissipated.
Now, he just wanted Naomi and the kids happy.
Daven frowned when he heard a door open in the bedroom. Placing the phone on the sink counter, he pulled open the bathroom door. He froze when he saw Taewon sit on the foot of the bed, legs folded under him.
Taewon held up a grey t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.
“These are new, you got lucky. Lina bought them for me on a whim a while back.”
Daven remained standing at the bathroom door.
Taewon placed the clothes on the bed, and smiled.
“You can come out here. I won’t bite.”
Daven pushed the phone to the corner of the sink counter and stepped out of the bathroom. He took the clothes Taewon offered and walked to the armchair by the window. Picking up his duffel bag, he searched for a pair of fresh boxer briefs.
Taewon cleared his throat drawing Daven’s gaze.
“Daven, can I ask you a few questions?”
Daven found black clean briefs and pulled them on. Wearing the borrowed jeans, he dropped the towel on the edge of the bed.
“What do you want to know?”
“Kian,” Taewon started, and then stopped.
He looked away from Daven, finding his hands interesting for a moment.
Daven wore his t-shirt and perched on the edge of the armchair. Taking the towel, he used it to soak up excess water from his dreads.
“When did you meet Kian?” Taewon asked.
“Friday afternoon,” Daven answered, feeling like the mall incident was a lifetime ago. “I’ve known him two days, well might be three now. Sorry, time is a bit of a mess right now.”
“Why is he with you?”
Daven studied Taewon, realizing the man was worried about Kian.
“He’s protected me five times now,” Daven said. “He said three times before, and two that I know.”
“Why?” Taewon asked. “Does he know you?”
“We met in a mall in California,” Daven said, confused by Taewon’s questions. “I’ve never seen him before that.”
Taewon shook his head, his expression full of doubt.
“That’s not possible. Why would he interfere if he didn’t know you?”
Daven stared at Taewon.
“To help,” Daven ventured, feeling like he was the only who lived in a black and white world.
If people were in trouble, wasn’t the natural order to help?
Taewon chuckled looking at him as one would look at a naïve, innocent child.
“Don’t be cute,” Taewon said, and then got off his bed. “If I know Kian, we’re all clearing out of this house in the next thirty minutes. Make sure you tell him about that phone you’re hiding in the bathroom.”
Taewon hurried out of the bedroom as fast he came in. Daven got up from the armchair, and went to get his phone.
Naomi’s worry for him left him feeling uneasy. He wished he could go back home, but he had come too far now. Best to finish it and go home with a clean slate.
Daven stared at the phone, then pressed speed dial calling his contact.
“Daven?” the call was answered on the first ring.
“Winston.” Daven closed the bathroom door and leaned on the sink counter.
“I’m relieved to hear from you. Where are you? The man who answered the phone before—”
“What man?” Daven held on to the sink counter.
“He didn’t offer his name. Only said he promised to keep you alive,” Winston said. “Are you sure you’re safe?”
Daven closed his eyes.
Kian knew about the phone.
“Musimbi is en-route to Geneva to plead a case for more funding. It’s a ruse, of course. He’s in Europe to find you. He’s using Raja Securities to locate you.”
“I know them.” Daven frowned. “Private mercenaries. They handled all Musimbi’s excursions in Somali, very unhelpful fellows.
“I don’t need to tell you what happens when they catch you. Can you make it to me? If you can, I have set up security here. Although, now I’m concerned about whether you should do this, Daven, it might cost you too much.”
“Losing faith already,” Daven teased, though fear was riding him hard.
He turned to look into the mirror above the sink.
Memories of a village massacre filling his head…so many dead in the name of money. Then, there was Musimbi in a Raja Securities jeep, his men packing up weapons and medical supplies needed by the villages.
“I’ve come this far. I won’t back out.”
Daven closed his eyes and gripped the counter hard.
“I’ll make it. If I don’t, they will find the camp in Kitaza. Once Musimbi is comfortable again, he will send his mercenaries to the children and the women there. Government forces run the moment they see the black uniforms with the serpent insignia. Those people will have no chance.”
“We have forces headed there,” Winston offered.
“Do you think Raja Securities will stop? They are paid to clear the area by Musimbi’s supporters. They don’t give a shit. You’ll only add to the number of people dead. Capturing him is the only solution.”
“To do that, I need you, your testimony and your physical evidence. So, how close are you?” Winston asked.
“Close,” Daven hoped. “Let me call you when we enter The Netherlands.”
“The earlier the better, Daven,” Winston said. “Do you trust that man I spoke to?”
Daven glanced at the closed bathroom door, his thoughts on Kian.
“I trust him.” Daven was surprised to find he meant it.
“Good luck then,” Winston said. “I look forward to seeing you.”
Winston ended the call first. Daven pushed the phone into his jeans pocket and leaned on the sink counter, feeling exhausted.
His thoughts filled with the image of Kitaza, a small oasis in the middle of Somali. The woman Musimbi had brought to him that day in the Dadaab camp had come from Kitaza. She made him curious and on a mad whim, Daven joined a convoy going deeper into Somali and ended up at Kitaza Village. There he found women and children struggling to make a life in the middle of chaos. In a crusade to help, Daven set up quite a strong camp in Kitaza, getting food supplies, and medicine going to Kitaza on any convoy traveling into Somali.
His success attracted Musimbi’s attention: the young man talked a good game and had truly convinced Daven that he wanted the best for his people. With Daven’s help, Musimbi talked to NGO officials who would listen to his story. Musimbi quickly became a man who looked after small obscure villages in the region, until the night Daven stumbled onto the truth.
During a weekly visit to Kitaza, a blood soaked man stumbled into the small camp, and the aid workers with Daven rushed to help. Once again, a bloodied man begged Daven to help. He kept repeating ’everyone is dead in Kizuima.’
One of the local women explained that Kizuima was a small town thirty minutes away from the Kitaza camp.
The man died on the table, and Daven wondered if there were more injured at this Kizuima town. His damnable curiosity had him taking a small security team with him in search of this town. They drove fast, and when they reached Kizuima, the security team forced him into hiding when they saw fires, and heard the sound of gunfire.
Daven wondered if it was luck, or cruel fate. The spot they chose to hide afforded them first class tickets to Musimbi’s real activities. Musimbi used the money he got from donors to fund his black market businesses: peddling drugs provided by NGO aid and selling military grade weapons to militia.
The leaders in the Kizuima village discovered Musimbi’s secret when he started using their village as storage. When some of the men demanded their share in the business, Musimbi had Raja Securities mercenaries, the men in black uniforms with a serpent insignia, shoot down every woman, man, and child.
Worried for his little camp in Kitaza, Daven contacted Winston who was stationed in Nairobi at the time. Winston got the investigation process started with the help of the U.N., but the closer they got to arresting Musimbi, Winston became more paranoid and worried. Winston feared Daven’s life was in danger as one of the key witnesses.
The militia attack at Daven’s medical camp in Dadaab was the first real attempt on Daven’s life. Winston forced Daven to shut down the medical camp and send his staff to Nairobi. Winston then urged Daven to fly back to the States.
They had both thought that would keep Daven safe.
Who would have thought Musimbi’s reach could go beyond borders? So far beyond, it frightened Daven.
Kian checked bullets, inspected guns, and knives, and then arranged them neatly into a large black duffel bag. Zipping up the bag, Kian pushed it to the side on the table in the middle of the room. He walked to a cupboard in the corner and opened the doors.
He stopped, staring at the stacks of money inside. There were bunches in euros, pounds and dollars. Again, Kian wondered how much time Taewon spent indoors instead of going out.
The basement door opened behind him and Taewon walked in, still on bare feet. Lina followed behind Taewon, carrying a mug of coffee.
“You took a shower,” Taewon said, he sounded pleased. He came around the table to where Kian stood and touched Kian’s damp hair.
“I’ve always loved it when you came out of the shower. You hair looks like silk.”
“Don’t make me jealous,” Lina said, placing her mug on the table. She perched on a stool and took a delicate sip.
“Why are you jealous?” Taewon smiled at her. “I’m yours now.”
Taewon moved away from Kian and took a bag from the bottom of the cupboard. He opened it and started stuffing it with the bundles of money from the shelves.
“We don’t need that much,” Kian started to protest. “This is a transport job. If anything, I’m only expecting trouble at the end.”
“Do you know how long I’ve stockpiled this for you?” Taewon asked, cleaning out the cupboard. “Each year, worried you’d turn up dead in some small obscure city. I wondered if you were starving, or sleeping on the streets. Why you didn’t know to come here for supplies…I don’t know…but just in case you came, I kept at it.”
“Habits are the worst mistake,” Kian said, stepping away from the cupboard.
Taewon looked like a man possessed as he worked.
“Habits,” Taewon shook his head. “Coming to see us, see me, was a habit you couldn’t afford, is that what you mean?”
“Taewon,” Kian said.
“Fine,” Taewon nodded. “You could have left messages. Said you were alive, still breathing…I would have been fine with a dot in the message.”
Taewon finished with the money and zipped the bag. He dropped it on the floor before Kian and straightened to his full height.
“Four years, Kian. How can you keep that silent for four years?”
Kian turned to Lina, but she continued sipping coffee, not offering any help.
“I love you,” Taewon said.
Kian felt his chest get tight.
“Because of that, you got punished by your grandfather, and you have no home,” Taewon said. “Do you know what that does to me?”
Kian raised his hand to stop Taewon from talking.
“How long were you watching Daven?” Taewon asked, moving on so fast, Kian barely had time to get his bearings.
“He said you helped him, saved him five times. You would never do that for someone you barely know. Tell me,” Taewon demanded.
Kian remembered why he didn’t like finding Taewon. Why he made an active effort not to see the man. Taewon knew him too well. Knew all of him and it was damaging.
“Kian,” Taewon prompted. “How long did you watch him?”
“Over a week,” Kian said, hoping to stop Taewon from continuing this insane conversation.
Taewon cursed in French and glanced at Lina desperation in his eyes.
“Stay,” Taewon begged, turning a pleading gaze on Kian. “Stay here with us. I’ll help you find a way to protect Daven. Anything Kian, I’ll do it.”
Kian stared at Taewon. Those dark eyes, they knew the truth. The truth he dared not reveal.
“Please,” Taewon begged.
Kian stepped back, coming against the table.
Taewon took a step forward.
“I can’t stay,” Kian said, almost in a whisper. “For you, I can’t stay, and neither can you, Taewon. I need you and Lina to leave this place. Yui won’t spare you. Especially if she finds out I lied about you.”
Taewon kicked the duffel bag between them, and then cursed as he had no shoes.
“Fucking idiot, why the hell are you wired so wrong?” Taewon asked. “This is my fault, isn’t it? I taught you to love only when it means you could lose your life.”
“No.” Kian shook his head, meeting Taewon’s gaze. “I don’t care about Daven, I’m simply—
“Don’t lie to me,” Taewon scoffed, letting go of his toes. He pointed an accusing finger at Kian. “I know you, Assassin. I know you would walk away if the odds were against you. You stepped into Daven’s life because you saw something you wanted, didn’t you?”
Kian lifted the bag on the floor and placed it next to the one filled with weapons.
“Thank you for the supplies,” Kian said, refusing to answer Taewon. He thought it the best option.
“Taewon, stop it now. Kian’s choice is made.” Lina spoke for the first time, and Kian glanced at her to find she was holding a brown envelope. “He wouldn’t have come to you, if the choice wasn’t made.”
“I don’t understand, why?” Taewon shook his head. “What does Daven have that I don’t? If it is love you want, I’ll give it you, Kian. I’ll pamper you with it until you’ll never doubt it exists.”
Kian gripped the table and stared at the duffel bags. The memory of Daven sitting at a table talking and smiling to a small boy filled his thoughts. How handsome Daven looked in that moment. Kian imagined if love was a tangible thing, a man like Daven would surely own it in abundance.
“Taewon,” Kian said, looking at his ex-lover. “Daven is not like us. He is a good man, a good doctor. We’re not good people, you and I. Lina too. We came from a bad place. As for why I’m helping Daven, maybe I’m tired of running.”
“You’ll die,” Taewon said, his eyes bright. “At the end of it, there’s no way out for you.”
“I know,” Kian answered. “I don’t regret anything, Taewon. Not even losing you.”
Taking the duffel bags, Kian headed out of the basement.
“Hey Kian, wait,” Lina said, hurried after him.
She caught up with him upstairs in the foyer. He placed the duffel bags on the floor and she came around him.
Holding out the envelope, she let out a soft sigh.
“He had these made a while back.”
Kian opened it to find two passports with his picture. Taking them out, he checked the names and met Lina’s gaze.
“No matter what, we have to keep hoping you live. You’ll need to disappear after you finish with Daven,” Lina said.
“And the rest?” Kian removed a pile of documents and three sets of keys.
“While you’ve been traipsing across the world, he’s been making money like a mad man. He made me set up deposit boxes across Europe and Asia in obscure banks. The documents list them. You will find everything you need inside those boxes.”
Kian returned the documents into the envelope and pulled her into a tight hug.
“I told you seeing you this way would fuck him up,” Lina said, against his shoulder.
“Take him south, maybe to Italy,” Kian said. “Have him own a vineyard. He likes farms, and animals. He can run around in Tuscany stepping on grapes like the mad man he is.”
“He doesn’t wear shoes. I don’t think people should drink wine from grapes he’s stepped on,” Lina said, pressing a kiss on Kian’s jaw and stepped back. “We’ll leave first.”
Kian nodded putting the envelope in his duffel bag, the one he carried with him, and Daven called his bank.
“I’ll put this in the car,” Kian said, and headed out of the house to the garage.
Seiko Raja studied the photograph Yui gave him with a small smile dancing on his lips. Kian, at age twenty-eight, he couldn’t imagine a more handsome creature. His grandson’s hair was longer than he remembered. Kian’s gaze was full of challenge. It reminded him of an autumn when Kian was six. The boy had dared shoot an arrow at him for pushing him to the limits.
“Where is he?” Seiko asked, not glancing up from the photo.
“Kian is a master at evading security cameras. We haven’t been able to track his route out of Oakland.”
Seiko studied the photo for another minute. His grandson’s gaze captivating, the defiant raise of his head, his chin set. After four years of hiding, Kian stood in the light on the doorstep of a contract that could bring down Raja Securities.
“You should have already sent your operatives to The Netherlands,” Seiko said, placing the picture on the coffee table. He folded his arms against his chest and looked at Yui. “The good doctor is determined to testify. Kian will get him there.”
“The contract is void if the doctor arrives,” Yui said, with a frown.
“I’m more interested in Kian,” Seiko said, meeting Yui’s gaze. “If you can’t capture him this time, then this organization is in danger. Without Kian, we can’t survive much longer. He holds an important key.”
“He won’t come in without a fight.”
Yui shook her head, frustration clear on her beautiful face.
Seiko studied the woman he relied on to run Raja Securities. Her mean streak made her perfect for her role. Well, a good dog deserved a pat on the head and a reward. Yui had chased Kian for years. She deserved some help.
“Find Kim Taewon,” Seiko said, and watched Yui’s eyes go wide.
“He is dead,” Yui said in shock. “Kian killed him. We reported it to the Kim Family.”
“Taewon is alive.” Seiko chuckled. “Kian fooled you, the Raja Securities operatives on the assignment and the Kim Family. This is classified. It stays in the top Tier if you have to share. Kian and I have unfinished business, looks like it is time to settle our disagreements.”
“But Sir,” Yui frowned.
“Kian doesn’t have friends. He shunned all his acquaintances after Seoul. Being alone has worked for him because he didn’t have to worry about anyone else.” Seiko scoffed. “But Kian now has someone to protect. He will need resources. The only people he can trust are the dead.”
Yui smiled in understanding.
“We find Taewon, Kian will be there.”
“Perhaps,” Seiko shrugged. “Drawing out Kian was a good plan, cornering him is harder.”
“What do we do with Taewon when we find him?”
“Keep him alive,” Seiko said. “There is a standing deal protecting his second life. I cannot break it. However, we can still use Taewon to force Kian into a corner. Kian will do anything to protect Taewon.”
Yui smiled realizing Seiko’s plan. She left his office in an exhilarated mood.
Alone, Seiko glanced at the picture on his coffee table, at the grandson he loved more than life.
Oh how he missed watching Kian practice. There were days he wished for their time in the compound, in that wild valley at the foot of the mountain. Kian had looked at him with devotion then, seeking approval for every little thing. Nothing interfered, nothing kept them apart, and no one dared test their bonds.
The defiance in Kian’s eyes now shattered him. Brought on by a love that should never have bloomed. Seiko shook his head thinking of the Seoul job he wished Kian had never undertaken.
If only he had not insisted on Kian going to Seoul, Kian would still be by his side.
“Kim Taewon,” Seiko hissed, in bitterness. “You stole my heir.”
Daven rearranged his duffel bag, and took the used towel to the laundry basket he had seen at the corner of the room. The door opened and Taewon walked in, letting out a huge sneeze.
“Oops,” Taewon said, swiping the back of his hand over his nose. He glanced at Daven and grinned. “Someone is talking about me. Ready?”
“Yes,” Daven said, finding he liked Taewon. “Thanks for letting me use your bathroom.”
Taewon nodded and stood staring at Daven for a moment.
“How do you know Kian?” Daven asked, curious.
“That is a very long story,” Taewon said, his tone dismissive.
“The short version then,” Daven pushed.
“He saved my life.” Taewon said, with a small wistful smile. “I suspect it was a bit similar to what he is doing for you now.”
Taewon turned and headed to the closet. He pulled out a suitcase from the top shelf and brought it to the bed.
“Going somewhere?” Daven asked.
“We can’t stay,” Taewon said, opening the suitcase with a sigh. He looked around the neat bedroom, and then smiled at Daven. “It was time to move anyway.”
“Are you leaving because of us? Because of Kian—
“Because it is time to move on,” Taewon cut in. “Kian is doing what he needs to do for you. I admire him for it.”
“Admire him?” Daven scoffed. “The man is an assassin. He says he works for an organization that wants me dead.”
“Yes, imagine what they want of Kian who has defied orders.”
Daven started to protest, and then stopped.
What was it costing Kian to protect him? Why hadn’t he thought of that before this moment?
Daven started, and then stopped, meeting Taewon’s gaze.
Taewon closed the distance between them and pulled him into a tight hug. Daven stood still as Taewon whispered into his ear.
“I couldn’t save him,” Taewon said, his words heavy with sorrow. “I hope you manage it.”
Taewon stepped back, dark eyes holding Daven’s gaze.
“Why don’t you go downstairs?” Taewon waved to his suitcases. “I need to shower, pack a few things, and—”
Daven hurried to the armchair, taking his duffel bag, he left Taewon’s room, fast.
What did Taewon mean save Kian? From what?
Downstairs, he found Kian in the foyer, holding a cell phone.
“Are you ready, Daven?” Kian asked, sparing him a short glance.
“Yes,” Daven said, staring.
Kian was in all black, his hair damp from his shower. He had shaved clean, and looked younger. There was no sign of the cap Kian liked to wear. Daven hoped it would be forgotten here. Kian looked good without it.
“How is your shoulder?” Daven asked, wondering if he needed to check the wound again.
“Fine, I changed the dressing. No sign of infection,” Kian said, moving his left shoulder. “The pain is bearable.”
Daven nodded, and then remembered Taewon’s advice about the phone. He placed his duffel bag on the table and cleared his throat.
“I have a burner phone,” Daven said. “I used it to call Naomi and my contact in The Netherlands.”
Kian narrowed his gaze at him.
“Why tell me you have it, now?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you knew I had it?” Daven asked. “My contact said you answered a call before. Did go through my stuff?”
“The phone buzzed, and you were sleeping. I answered it,” Kian said, his tone unapologetic.
Daven frowned, suddenly annoyed.
“Can we discuss you not respecting my privacy?”
“Privacy ended for you the moment I poured milkshake down your back.”
“Your attitude needs serious adjustment. Do you know that?”
“We’re about to leave,” Kian said in a lazy tone. “If you have any more calls to make, I suggest you make them now.”
Glaring at Kian was like being mad at a rock. There was no reaction forthcoming, so Daven cursed under his breath and wondered what Taewon was infatuated about.
Kian was impossible!
Kian helped Lina put Taewon’s suitcases into a Mazda CX-5 SUV. He had checked to make sure it was a manual transmission. Taewon listened very well. Closing the trunk, he met Lina’s gaze.
“Your garage is surprising,” Kian said. “Why pick us up in granny’s chummy car?”
“I wanted to make you feel the pinch,” Lina grinned. “I had to drive in that old Renault for a year when we first moved.”
Kian chuckled, his gaze on the machine gray Mazda MX-5 parked next to the SUV. Taewon understood him on a very frightening level.
“How do you like it?” Taewon came to stand beside him.
Taewon looked ready for a trip in fitted jeans, a blue t-shirt and his feet in actual shoes, leather sandals: no constricting boots for Taewon.
“The car is beautiful,” Kian said. “Thank you.”
“It should get you where you want to go fast,” Taewon grinned.
Kian glanced behind him to where the two sheep were grazing.
“What about He and She?”
“They belong to the neighbor,” Lina offered. “They know their way home.”
“I’ll miss them,” Taewon said, staring at the two sheep. “I’ll miss this place.”
Kian felt guilt ride him hard.
“Don’t try to contact me, I will find you,” Kian said, taking a step away from Taewon. “Don’t get close to people overcurious about you. Change your names as I taught you. Move if you notice unexplained new faces in the neighborhood you choose.”
“We’ve survived four years without you, Kian,” Taewon said, his voice tinged with irritation. “I think we are veterans at it by now.”
Kian rubbed his forehead, his gaze on the packed red SUV. Once again realizing how damaging he was to Taewon.
“I’m sorry you had to meet me,” Kian said.
Taewon shifted to face him and Kian closed his eyes when Taewon slapped him hard across his face. The numbing sting cleared his head like nothing else.
Then Taewon stepped into his personal space and wrapped him in a tight hug. Warm lips covered his and Kian froze as the heavy locks around his heart rattled. Taewon’s kiss sent nostalgia rocking through him, no fire like Daven’s kiss, but a shattering breeze that soothed the ache of longing inside him. The kiss ended as fast as it started.
Kian closed his eyes when Taewon kept holding him tight.
“I don’t regret you either,” Taewon said, his voice strained. “No matter what happens or what you think in this stubborn head of yours, Kian. You’ll always be the best man I ever met. Do you hear me?”
Kian bit his lip hard, Taewon’s brightness burning through him, if only he was different. If only…so many ifs.
Taewon kissed Kian’s temple and stepped back.
“Stay alive,” Taewon said, squeezing Kian’s shoulders. “When it’s over with Daven, bring him to find me. I can tell him all your many quirks. Hopefully, you’ll have gotten the courage to confess to him by then.”
Kian smiled at Taewon’s easy way with the situation.
“I wish you smiled more often,” Taewon said, his voice full of wonder. “You’re a beautiful sight when you smile, Kian.”
Kian watched Taewon and Lina get in the car and felt a sense of loss as they drove away.
“Is Taewon your lover?” Daven asked, thirty minutes later.
Shifting in the passenger seat, he watched Kian change gears on the sexy Mazda sports car and join the highway. The car looked new. Taewon certainly had a soft spot for Kian.
“He was, once,” Kian said. “How is Naomi?”
“She’s not happy with me. She cried when she heard my voice. She’s worried. I promised I would call her in twelve hours. She might really kill me herself if I miss that mark.”
“You won’t, this should be over by then.”
“What do you mean?”
“It will take us at least five hours to get to The Netherlands. Once we are there, I suggest you call your contact and don’t delay whatever it is you need to do. The contract on you states not to let you reach The Hague. Once you are there, the contract is invalid. No one will try to kill you.”
“That’s useful to know,” Daven said, a strange sense of relief flooding him. Five hours and they would be free. “What will you do after?”
“Leave you,” Kian said.
“Will you find Taewon?” Daven asked.
“Not for a while,” Kian said. “I’m very damaging to Taewon.”
Yes, Daven agreed.
Thinking it wasn’t fair that Taewon and Lina needed to move because they helped him and Kian.
That was not right.
Settling in his seat, Daven sighed and rubbed his stomach. He hadn’t eaten much since the airplane. It was almost eleven o’clock, the sun was up, and it was a beautiful day in Paris.
Daven glanced at his savior drop the Assassin part, and smiled.
“Can we eat?”
Kian looked at him, his brow lifted.
“Is that your way of saying you’re hungry?”
“Aren’t you?” Daven asked.
“Not really,” Kian shrugged.
“Not even for your beloved coffee?” Daven asked.
Kian chuckled and shook his head.
“We can find a place on the way.”
“Thank God,” Daven said.
Finding a café was not hard, this was Paris after all. Kian got off the highway, returning into the city. Kian chose a café with tables outside. He preferred it: the freedom of exit. Daven ordered food without restrain. Kian suspected Daven wanted to eat to alleviate stress. Kian checked his pockets to make sure he had enough money. He had grabbed some from the duffel bag in the car. It wouldn’t do if they had to wash dishes for their meal.
The coffee was divine. The café had a delicious blend, and Kian appreciated Daven’s pushing him to stop. Otherwise, he would have missed it.
“Do you worry they’ll one day bring you down with coffee?” Daven asked.
Kian looked up to find Daven watching him.
“It depends who knows my weaknesses,” Kian answered. “The only people who would use coffee against me are you and Taewon. So…if they poisoned me, I would know it was you as Taewon would never betray me.”
“Why show me your weaknesses then?” Daven asked. “You don’t know me. How do you know I won’t betray you?”
“If you did, I wouldn’t fault you.”
Daven picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth.
“Why?” Daven asked.
“I don’t inspire loyalty.”
“Taewon is loyal to you.”
“He feels indebted to me,” Kian said. “There is a difference.”
“Taewon and I are similar in that,” Daven noted. “I feel indebted to you, because you’re keeping me alive when you’ve been ordered to assassinate me. So, I wonder, why make the choice to keep me alive?”
Of course, he should have expected the question.
Daven was an intellectual man, unlike Taewon who lived following his heart, Daven was calculating.
He had seen too much not to be, Kian thought.
Kian drank his coffee and looked around the busy street. They had chosen a busy café; the tables packed with people: natives and tourists, couples, families, even the loners, their normalcy enticing as nothing else in this world.
Kian envied their easy daily lives.
This disease, because coveting a normal life could only be considered a disease, was the reason why he sat here with Daven.
In Oakland, at that mall, Kian had felt compelled to save the Daven who talked to a five year old boy with a wide, handsome smile. To preserve the innocence of that moment, Kian shook his head, mortified by his thoughts.
What was wrong with him?
“What happens once you get me to safety?” Daven asked.
Kian met Daven’s gaze, giving him a smile.
“Why, will you miss me?”
“You said you only tell me the truth. Give it to me now. What happens if they catch you?”
“I won’t be caught,” Kian said, though it sounded like untruth to his ears. “Don’t worry, Daven. I will keep you alive until you get to where you need to be.”
Daven gave him a simple nod, and continued eating his sandwich.
Kian watched him for a while. He took in a deep breath, enjoying the quiet moment. His lips curved into a small smile. Maybe he could steal another kiss from Daven before they reached their destination.
One fiery kiss that would always remind him of Daven Noland.