Nobuyuki cursed as he raced down the sidewalk toward the nearest bus stop, hoping he'd catch Viktor before he'd even left the area, but knowing it was a longshot. He'd been stuck in the office with Headmaster Kozlov and Mr. Morrison for nearly a half an hour, and it had been a draining experience.
An experience which had only been made worse by a frantic call from Dante about Viktor, who had run off with the evidence they needed for Vladimir. Not only that, but he knew everything about Vladimir which Nobuyuki had sworn not to tell him. The situation was blowing up piece by piece, and Nobuyuki didn't know what to expect next.
"I don't know what happened," Dante said in Nobuyuki's ear. "One second he was there and the next-"
"He shouldn't have been there at all, Dante!" Nobuyuki interrupted him as he stopped at a traffic light. "What the hell is wrong with you? Viktor wasn't even supposed to find out about what happened and now he has the rag? Vladimir is going to kill us both when he finds out!"
"I know. It was stupid, but what else was I supposed to do?" Dante asked, obvious guilt in his voice. "If Viktor wasn't told the truth, he might have turned his back on us forever. Do you really want that to happen?"
"No..." Nobuyuki replied, sighing in frustration. "Doesn't change how fucked up this situation is."
"No, it doesn't. I'm sorry, Nobu," Dante said, but his guilt started to shift to annoyance as he went on, don't forget, I didn't ask for any of this. It was all a favor to you, and I was just trying to do the best I could to help."
"I know," Nobuyuki replied, not wanting to alienate yet another friend today. "Thank you, Dante. It's my mess to clean up, and I won't ask for you to do anything else with this. Though I don't think we're going to be able to get Vladimir's help anymore. We're going to have to find out some other way to get the Russians to talk."
"Maybe you can get the rag back from Viktor before anything happens?" Dante suggested weakly.
"Why do you think I'm taking a bus to Viktor's house?" Nobuyuki asked with a mirthless chuckle. "Assuming I can even find the address. I wish I knew a good spot to get a taxi around here, but I suppose I'll have to make do."
"You're already a step ahead of me, huh?" Dante returned the chuckle and added, "Good, at least you've still got your head in the game."
"I've always worked well under pressure," Nobuyuki said, hoping those words would hold true today as well. "Dante, I need you to start figuring out what we're going to do when Vladimir decides he won't help me anymore."
Nobuyuki could almost see Dante saluting through the airwaves as he replied, "I'll see what I can do. Good luck, Nobu. You're going to need it."
With a sigh, Nobuyuki crossed the street as the light changed and ran on toward the bus stop. There was still time to fix this, if only he could get Viktor to cooperate, and Vladimir didn't get to him first.
Vladimir and Dimitry stepped through the door of the small house in Eastern Vladivostok as it was opened for them by a tall man with dark features and a head shaped like a potato. The man embraced Vladimir and then pulled away from him, tousling his hair.
"Thanks for meeting me, Nicki," Vladimir said as he started fixing his hair. "Do you have any information for me?"
"I might," Nicki replied and then embraced Dimitry in greeting. "Hey, Dimitry, glad you could come as well. Sorry to hear about your cousin."
"It's all right," Dimitry replied with a grim but polite smile. "That's why we're here. We're hoping to figure out a way to get Alexi out of there."
Nicki nodded and closed the door behind them before gesturing further into the house. Vladimir had only been here a couple of times, but knew Nicki didn't really live here. It was a front for one of the Russian Mafia's drug trafficking operations, and was usually only used for temporary storage of goods.
As they walked toward the sparsely furnished sitting room Nicki replied, "That's going to be difficult without getting him killed. We've been trying to negotiate but the Yakuza haven't budged. They're holding onto him, knowing we won't be eager to risk Alexi's life unnecessarily."
"Yeah, that much you already told me," Vladimir replied as they entered the room. He plopped down on the rickety puke green couch and looked up at Nicki. "I need more information."
"You want to know who hired us," Nicki said, recalling the conversation they'd had the day before over the phone.
"That's the gist, yeah," Vladimir replied as Dimitry joined him on the couch, sliding on top of him so Vladimir could put his arm around him and hold him close. They were completely comfortable in the presence of their Mafia family, and Nicki wasn't the least bit bothered by their display of affection for each other.
But Nicki was annoyed at Vladimir's question. He took a seat in the only other chair in the room, a disused rocking chair, and replied with a touch of impatience, "That's a complicated issue and you know it, Vladi."
Vladimir snorted and said, "Because we're just common street thugs who don't deserve to know what's really going on?"
Nicki sighed and leaned back in the rocking chair which protested under his weight. "Because you might go rogue and try to get Alexi out on your own with this information." He stopped rocking and the lack of noise seemed to add emphasis to his next words. "We know you, and you're not always the most careful guy when you get emotional."
"Yeah, well this time I'm being careful," Vladimir said, stroking Dimitry's arm to avoid clenching his hands into fists. He was glad Dimitry was there, or he would have had a harder time controlling his anger.
"What do you want with the information?" Nicki asked, starting to rock again. "How will it help you?"
"I guess you'll just follow me and find out anyway, won't you?" Vladimir snapped, and realized he might be pushing Nicki too far when Nicki stopped rocking again. He sighed and decided he might as well explain, since there would be no way he'd be able to keep them from finding out. "I have a contact in the Yakuza, Masahiro's son. He wants me to find out who hired us and in exchange he'll try to orchestrate Alexi's release."
Nicki gave Vladimir a blank look and said, "What did I just say about you trying to free Alexi on your own? You know the situation is more complicated than that."
"Of course," Vladimir said dismissively, "and I don't intend to tell him anything important until he can actually guarantee Alexi's safety."
Nicki rocked back and forth in the otherwise silent room, filling the air with echoing creaks of wood. He stopped again and rose to his feet, letting the chair get out one final loud protest which grated on Vladimir's nerves. "Okay, I'll dig into this, but not for you," Nicki said, meeting Vladimir's eyes. "I'm doing it for Alexi, got it?"
Vladimir opened his mouth to fire off another angry retort when Dimitry spoke first. "Thank you, Nicki. I promise to make sure Vladimir doesn't get too carried away. Next time he meets with Masahiro's son, I'll go, too."
"That is not going to happen," Vladimir protested, looking down at Dimitry. As much as he loved the boy in his arms, he could be a pain like no other, and this was no exception. Vladimir meeting with Nobuyuki often meant Viktor would be present, too, and Vladimir avoided Dimitry having contact with Viktor as often as he could manage.
"That's the only way it's going to happen. Our agents don't work alone, and you're not going to now, either," Nicki replied, glaring at Vladimir. "Take Dimitry with you or stop this altogether."
Vladimir knew that Nicki's mind had been made up and there was no point in arguing it further. As much as he hated this new arrangement, it would have to do. "Fine. So what can you tell me?"
Nicki paced the room twice and then stopped in front of the window, looking out onto the vacant street in front of the house. "The only thing I know for sure is someone within the Yakuza hired us. I realize that's probably only a confirmation of what you already knew, but it's what I have right now."
"Do you have any evidence?" Vladimir asked.
"No," Nicki replied, shaking his head as he turned back toward them, "but I'm sure the record of the agreement exists somewhere. I'll see what I can find out and get my hands on it."
"That's all I'm asking," Vladimir said.
"Then leave," Nicki said, waving them away. "I have work to do."
Vladimir thought about replying but realized he had nothing good to say. He motioned for Dimitry to get up, and once his lover was standing he got off the couch and headed to the door as quickly as possible. Dimitry was right behind him and kept him from slamming the door as he walked out into the street.
"Nicki's in a foul mood, isn't he?" Vladimir said, glancing back at the house once they were both outside. He spat into the dirt and then started walking down the street toward the bus which would take them home.
Dimitry caught up to him a second later and said, "Look who's talking. What the hell has gotten into you?"
"I'm cutting deals with a Yakuza and a mobster in order to save Alexi. I'm alienating nearly everyone I care about in the process, and I just outed myself to Nobuyuki in order to get what I needed," Vladimir said with a bitter laugh. "I've had a rough week."
Dimitry slid his hand into Vladimir's and said, "Well, maybe I can take you home and make you feel better."
"That sounds great," Vladimir said, giving Dimitry's hand a gentle squeeze. He pulled away a moment later as Viktor's ringtone went off in his ear. "Wait a second, Viktor's calling." He connected the call and greeted Viktor. "Hey, brother. What's happening?"
"We need to talk," Viktor said simply. "Do you think you can come over?" Vladimir could hear the nervousness in his brother's voice and wondered what was going on, but he wasn't crazy about Viktor's suggestion.
"To your house? That isn't a good idea," he replied, looking at Dimitry for support. Dimitry frowned and wrapped his arm around Vladimir's waist, giving him a comforting half hug.
Vladimir hadn't expected Viktor to be able to sound any more nervous, but somehow he managed it as he said, "Dad isn't home and he won't be until late tonight. This probably won't take long."
"Sounds serious," Vladimir replied, glad at that moment to have Dimitry hanging onto him to help calm his worry.
"It is. Please, we really need to talk."
"Okay, I'll come over as soon as I can." He looked at the sky and the quickly approaching twilight. "I'm across town, do you think you can wait?"
"Sure. See you when you get here."
"What was that all about?" Dimitry asked after Vladimir terminated the call.
Vladimir shook his head and frowned. "I don't know, but I have a sinking feeling things are about to get ugly."
Viktor darted down the stairs at the sound of knocking, thinking it was Vladimir. While he'd assumed his brother would just enter, he understood why he wouldn't want to. After all, Vladimir no longer considered this his home, so why wouldn't he knock?
But then he opened the door and found an angry Nobuyuki waiting for him, scowling and panting as he leaned against the doorjamb. "Nobu!" Viktor said, forcing a smile as the blood drained from his face. "What are you doing here?"
"You know exactly why I'm here," Nobuyuki said with a deathly tone which sent a chill down Viktor's spine. "Don't play games with me. You have what I need, and I have to give it to Vladimir."
Viktor started to close the door slowly as he said nervously, "I don't know what you're talking about..."
Nobuyuki slammed his foot against the door and forced it open another inch, leaning into the house as he said, "Dante told me everything. He handed it to you and you ran off."
"Yeah, so?" Viktor asked, glancing down at Nobuyuki's foot and realizing he'd never be able to move it. He'd seen Nobuyuki's body and knew he was in far better physical condition than Viktor would ever be, and his stability was incomparable.
"I need it back!" Nobuyuki roared. He forced himself into the house and Viktor took several steps back, genuinely afraid for his safety. This was someone he'd seen cut off his own pinky in order to get what he wanted, and then be willing to take a punch just to make it sell. There was no telling what Nobuyuki would do if he wanted to hurt Viktor.
But Viktor decided to stand his ground, at least for the time being. As Nobuyuki slammed the door shut, Viktor took a deep breath and asked, "Why are you getting so angry? Don't you think I have a right to face my brother on this?"
Nobuyuki snorted, but at least he wasn't yelling. "He didn't think so, and that's why I didn't tell you."
"And why did he tell you instead of me?" Viktor asked, crossing his arms over his chest and planting his feet, defiantly daring Nobuyuki to refute his logic. "I'm his brother."
"Yes, and now you're going to get your other two brothers killed," Nobuyuki replied, and for the first time since they'd been speaking Viktor noted a hint of genuine fear in Nobuyuki's eyes.
"Vladimir wouldn't kill you," Viktor said quietly, not completely sure he believed it but not wanting to believe otherwise. "He's not that kind of person."
Nobuyuki shook his head violently. "Your brother is in the mafia, Viktor. What other kind of person could he be?"
"Don't insult my brother like that. He's no killer," Viktor replied, feeling a tremendous rage begin to take over. Each word he said came out sharp as a razor's edge and dripping with fury. "He's lied to me a lot less than you have since you met me. I can't believe you're doing this again!"
He turned on his heel and started up the stairs toward his room, unwilling to continue looking at Nobuyuki for fear that he'd do something else he'd regret. Each successive step was quicker until he practically ran down the hallway and threw open his bedroom door.
Nobuyuki kept pace with him all the way, and as soon as they were standing in his room he stopped in the doorway and said quietly, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You've been conning me the whole time," Viktor said, keeping his back to Nobuyuki. He shook his head as tears formed in his eyes and threatened to burst free at any moment. "I've figured it out, based on what I've been able to get from Dante. You're trying to manipulate me. You just want to get at me because my father is the chief of police. You don't want my friendship, just my information."
Viktor could hear the hesitation in Nobuyuki's voice as he finally received the truth he'd suspected all along. "I admit, that was somewhat true at the beginning, but-"
"But now you've had a change of heart?" Viktor asked, rounding on Nobuyuki as the tears broke free and began streaming down his face. With a brutal mixture of rage, despair, and complete helplessness Viktor continued, "How am I supposed to believe that? You convinced Dante to pretend to be your boyfriend to make me jealous. You abandoned me in the café so you could have your secret meeting with my brother. You don't want me, you just want to use me."
"That's not fucking true," Nobuyuki said, taking a step toward Viktor.
"It isn't?" Viktor asked then spat, "Then prove it."
Nobuyuki closed the distance between them with one graceful stride and reached up to Viktor's face before he could react. He placed his hands on Viktor's cheeks and guided their lips together for one quick but urgent kiss. Nobuyuki pulled away and looked Viktor in the eye.
"That's not proof..." Viktor mumbled, stunned by what had just happened. Before he could completely recover, Nobuyuki slid one hand lower and under Viktor's chin while he moved the other hand behind Viktor's head. He pressed their lips together again much more gently, and held the kiss even longer.
Viktor started to get control of his senses again and tried to push Nobuyuki away, but he was quickly losing strength as he was lost in the passion behind the kiss. When Nobuyuki pulled away again, Viktor had a hard time moving away like he'd intended. "Stop..." he said, but there wasn't any weight behind it, and he wasn't entirely certain he meant it.
"Do you really want me to?" Nobuyuki asked as he buried his face in Viktor's neck and nuzzled in. He wrapped his arms around Viktor and held him close, but not too tightly. It was just firm enough for Viktor to feel secure without feeling confined.
"Not if you really mean it," he whispered, a touch of his earlier bitterness remaining and coloring his words.
Nobuyuki guided him backward and onto the bed, but left him in a sitting position as he stood over him. "Look into my eyes and you'll see, Viktor," Nobuyuki said quietly. "I want you more than you could possibly know..."
Viktor studied Nobuyuki's face intently. Nobuyuki was nervous, that was easy to see, but his eyes held a hundred other emotions, twin swirling pools of complexity which Viktor felt he could lose himself in forever. There was hope there, and an agonizing desperation which called to Viktor, pulling him in and begging him to stay. There was no hint of malice or anger, just a level of hurt which had existed long before Viktor had entered Nobuyuki's life.
"Then why..." Viktor asked, not sure what he was asking about, but it seemed he didn't need to, because Nobuyuki's eyes changed again, a deep compassion superseding all of what had existed there before.
Nobuyuki's words were slow and careful, as if each one had been deftly crafted for Viktor's ears alone and meant to be savored. "I don't know how to have a normal conversation, Viktor. I don't know how to tell the people I care about that I love them. There're certain things you don't learn when you're a child of the streets, and I..." he faltered in his speech, and even this seemed a carefully crafted part of the ongoing presentation of Nobuyuki's soul. Viktor felt the first hint of a smile start to stretch across his face as Nobuyuki went on, "I'm scared you'll push me away like you did before."
"I'm scared, too," Viktor said, trying to be as honest with Nobuyuki as Nobuyuki had just been with him. "I'm terrified, actually. This is the first time I've ever admitted this out loud, but..." he took a deep breath and then said, "I like boys as much as I like girls, possibly even more, and... and you especially." But his thoughts began to descend to deeper depths, to unresolved feelings he'd been afraid to face, the reason why he'd never been able to admit this part of himself to anyone. "My dad can never find out, or he'd kill me. It's the one thing he's always been against. I don't know if I can ever act on these feelings."
"I'll help you," Nobuyuki said, sitting down on the bed next to Viktor and wrapping his arm around Viktor's shoulder, pulling him close. "We'll figure it out together."
But the darkness of his own oppression began to take hold, and Viktor felt fresh tears begin to stream down his face. "Nobu, I can't..."
Instead of getting angry as Viktor had expected, Nobuyuki gave him a gentle squeeze and said calmly, "Viktor, do you remember when I stepped off the elevator and saw you were in the hotel?"
Viktor nodded and sniffed. "Yeah, I can't forget anything about that night."
Nobuyuki continued, gently stroking the side of Viktor's cheek. "When I saw you there, I was more scared than I've ever been in my life. I was terrified of what my father was going to do to you, or of what Daisuke would do..." Nobuyuki tensed up, but when Viktor glanced his way the tension dissipated. "I made up my mind then that I wasn't going to let anything happen to you, and that still stands. I will not let anything happen to you."
Viktor looked into Nobuyuki's eyes again and saw the same emotions he'd seen before, and dared to hope what Nobuyuki was saying was the truth. "You're really serious, aren't you?"
Nobuyuki nodded, and then let out a gentle laugh; a level of gentleness which Viktor hadn't known Nobuyuki was capable of. "I know I have my problems. Hell, I'm a fucking criminal, my life is a problem. But I need you to know something about me." Nobuyuki paused for breath and Viktor gave him his full attention, turning around so he was sitting sideways on the edge of the bed and facing Nobuyuki. "Everything I do is motivated toward survival, and it always has been. When I tell you that the thought of something happening to you is the most terrifying thing I can imagine, it means something even deeper." Nobuyuki paused as his eyes moistened, and a tear slid down each cheek. "It means I wouldn't know how to survive in a world without you in it."
Viktor was completely blown away by what Nobuyuki had said, and all the words he could find to say were, "Wow... that's..."
"I don't know what it is," Nobuyuki said, shaking his head slightly. "Maybe it's just the fact you're this pure soul who doesn't seem to have a single thing wrong with him. Maybe it's the way you stand up for what you believe without worrying about the consequences it will have. Maybe it's just fate, if such a thing exists, but I've been drawn to you ever since we first spoke; ever since I looked into those beautiful eyes and saw a reflection of everything I've ever wanted to be."
Viktor was melting with every word, and by the time Nobuyuki had finished he was a puddle of emotion he didn't know what to do with. All the anger and bitterness from before had dissipated, and had mostly been replaced with awe. "Nobuyuki, where is this coming from? I've never heard you say anything like this before."
Nobuyuki laughed again, the same gentle sound which Viktor had only heard once before, and which he now longed to hear again immediately after it was gone. "I've always been good with words, Viktor, and when I have a muse like you how could I not write you poetry?" He smiled as he slid his hand down to Viktor's and took it, squeezing it gently. "I've often considered myself a demon, and always assumed I'd fall in love with another demon, but you..." Nobuyuki choked back on his emotion and then finished in a tender whisper which echoed through Viktor's entire body, "You're the redeeming angel who defeated me with a glance and made me want to be good again."
Viktor leaned forward, letting his heart lead instead of his doubt. Their lips met and Viktor tasted the last words Nobuyuki had said on his lips. He pressed inward, hungry for more of Nobuyuki's beautiful soul which had just been borne to him, forgetting every other trouble which threatened to ruin the beautiful moment.
And Nobuyuki welcomed him in, responding to Viktor's need with equal passion, letting Viktor guide him backward and onto the bed, feeling their bodies meet between the thin pieces of cloth which separated them. Nobuyuki's hands slid up Viktor's back, finding the place where his shirt had come untucked and let his fingers rest tenderly on Viktor's flesh.
Viktor accepted the touch easily, his inhibitions completely forgotten in the throes of passion. His tender kisses became overwhelming as an insatiable hunger of primal need took over. When he couldn't get enough of tasting Nobuyuki's mouth with his lips, his tongue darted in, dancing with Nobuyuki's like two practiced partners in the most sensual of tangoes, locked together and one with each other.
Their bodies were no less attached, as Viktor pulled himself up against Nobuyuki, hands desperately trying to undo the buttons of Nobuyuki's shirt, trembling and awkward as they fought for control from a mind no longer concerned with them; a mind driven by one purpose and one alone, to taste the soul of the boy beneath him.
Nobuyuki's hands, more practiced but no less driven to fulfill the passion of their master, eagerly kneaded the flesh of Viktor's back, feeling every contour of muscle and curve of his body. They traveled all the way up and explored Viktor's shoulder blades, then went back down to Viktor's waist, and then even lower, fingertips leading the way to the soft and supple globes of Viktor's buttocks.
Viktor's fingers accomplished their goal at last, undoing the last of Nobuyuki's buttons and pushing his shirt open wide, allowing his hands access to the tattooed flesh beneath. Only when Nobuyuki's chest was fully revealed did Viktor pull away from his mouth to take in the sight. He only paused for a moment, however, before his hungry lips descended again, kissing down Nobuyuki's neck until he reached the top of the ink which had fed Viktor's fantasies ever since he'd first seen it.
His tongue lapped at the koi swimming across Nobuyuki's chest, chasing them through the water as he hungrily circled them, wanting nothing more than to devour them and make a sacred part of Nobuyuki part of him as well. He circled out from the fish and took in Nobuyuki's right nipple, and then his left, suckling both with as much passion as he had left.
Nobuyuki moaned under Viktor's tongue, writhing in pleasure as he shifted his hands forward to begin working on Viktor's buttons, eager to return the favor. He had a difficult time maintaining concentration as Viktor moved back up to his neck and returned to his passionate kisses, but he managed. One by one the buttons came undone, and Nobuyuki was pushing Viktor's shirt back to reveal his flesh beneath.
And then the front door began to creak open, and everything ground to a halt. They breathed again in unison as they both realized they'd been holding it, and then looked at each other with equal looks of horror.
"What the hell was that?" Nobuyuki whispered.
Viktor paled as his call to Vladimir came rushing back to him. "Vladimir! Shit, I completely forgot he was coming." He rolled away from Nobuyuki and frantically tried to get his wardrobe back in order, buttoning his shirt furiously and smoothing back his hair.
Nobuyuki started doing the same but noticed the plastic bag sitting on Viktor's desk with Vladimir's rag inside of it. "Hide the rag, you're not supposed to know about it, remember?"
Viktor nodded and rushed to his desk, taking the plastic bag and dropping it into one of his desk drawers. He then turned back to Nobuyuki and said, "Get up. He can't see us like this."
"Viko? Are you home?" Vladimir called from below them.
"Vladi!" Viktor called back, forcing his voice to be calm. "I'll be right down." As Nobuyuki stood and finished putting his shirt back together Viktor whispered, "You've got to sneak out."
"How?" Nobuyuki asked.
"I don't know..." Viktor said frantically, "think of something." They heard the creak of a floorboard below them and Viktor called out a bit more urgently, "Vladi, I'm on my way!"
"Viktor," Nobuyuki said, drawing his attention again.
Nobuyuki pulled him close and gave him a quick but powerful kiss before letting go. "Good luck."
"Viko? What's going on? Is there someone else here?" Vladimir called up. Viktor's eyes widened in alarm as he stepped away from Nobuyuki and into the hall, closing his door most of the way behind him.
"No, I was just on a call," Viktor said, composing himself before turning and noting Vladimir's look of suspicion. "Sorry. Thanks for coming."
Vladimir nodded and his face was almost completely unreadable, though his eyes were hard. "I don't really like being here, but I came for you. It sounded urgent."
"It is, sort of," Viktor said as he descended the stairs. He waved Vladimir toward the kitchen and then headed in that direction himself. "Come on, let's go into the kitchen." As soon as they were both there, Viktor pulled out a chair and then gestured for Vladimir to join him. "Come on, make yourself comfortable."
Vladimir raised an eyebrow but then slid a chair out from the table and sat down, his back to the front door. Viktor breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Nobuyuki heading down the stairs, and knew they were almost safe.
But then Nobuyuki didn't pull up on the old doorknob, and it squeaked loudly as he opened the door and stepped through, rushing out to get away from the noise. It was already too late, and Vladimir jumped up and spun around at the sound.
"What the hell?" he yelled, dashing toward the front door. "Someone was here!"
Viktor followed him to the front door where they could both see Nobuyuki running off into the night. Vladimir looked torn between chasing after Nobuyuki or staying put, but he made his decision at last and closed the door slowly before rounding on his brother.
"Vladi, it isn't what it looks like," Viktor pleaded when he saw his brother's eyes. Whatever hope he'd had for a peaceful conversation fled in the face of the boiling fury reflected in Vladimir's gaze.