"Where are you?" Yuriko Natake demanded into her phone.
She stood at the end of the hallway watching her son's door. The two police officers posted outside sat talking. She wished they'd be more vigilant. Goosebumps formed on her skin every time she thought of her son's plan.
"Kobe," Jun Natake answered. "You didn't tell me when you left."
"What's to say?" She sighed. "He needs you. I can't reach him."
"You're his mother." Jun was silent on the other end. "Or were…"
"I've told you not to expect the same boy we held in our arms."
She paused and closed her eyes because Jun was right.
Toshiro was a stranger to her. She was trying to get used to her son's indifferent stare. There was no sense of recognition when he looked at her. Yet for her, all she saw were Jun's eyes looking back at her so coldly.
Her husband's eyes in her son…she sighed.
"Toshiro plans to testify against Takumi. He does that, he dies; I can't lose him again, Jun. Fix it!"
Jun stayed silent at his end.
"Jun, did you hear me? Our son plans to—" she started.
"We can't stop him."
"Don't say that. You've spent the last twenty plus years looking for him. We've found him. I'm not letting him throw his life away. You can't do it either, Jun."
"And what are you going to do? Hide him at our home for the rest of his life? Keep him in a dark hole in our basement, what, Yuriko? What's your plan?"
"Anything but this," she hated it when Jun acted as though she were an innocent.
Did he think he was the only one to suffer? She hurt too. She'd lived without Rei—, Toshiro, too. Swallowing down her anger, she begged.
"Come to New York and talk him out of this, Jun. He'll listen to his father."
"I'm not his father, and you're not his mother." Jun's words stabbed her so deep she had to lean on the wall. Gods, did he never stop! "He doesn't think that way anymore, Yuriko. Remember that. Stay with him, and don't push him away."
"What are you doing that you can't come now?"
"Don't lose sight of him, Yuriko. That's all I ask of you."
Jun ended the call abruptly and she shook her head at his last remark. He'd never forgiven her for sleeping that night. Never. She pressed her palm against her chest as though it would ease the pain. They somehow had to get through this. They needed to get through this, and then she'd make up for everything. She'd see them as a family. She had to.
Jeez, what was Jun doing that he couldn't get on a plane to come meet the son he'd lost?
Jun Natake put his cell phone back into his pocket and smiled at the woman seated across him. She was two years older than he was. Beautiful: age had refined her features, even the silver streak of hair on her temple added to her classic beauty. He'd loved her once. He'd thought he'd make a life with her, but then he'd met Yuriko.
Yuriko. The thought of her pain undid him. It couldn't be easy for her to see Toshiro as he was now. They both remembered an innocent child, a baby they'd treasured like nothing else in this world. Nothing.
This woman had taken that child away. Jun schooled his features to hide his anger. The stark, raving anger that made him want to tear out her amused eyes.
Gods, he wanted this woman dead.
She'd replaced his innocent child with a man who didn't know what family meant.
Jun had spent the past two years learning what he could about Toshiro Shindo.
His son…it hurt to think it.
Toshiro was a brilliant financial manager. Toshiro had increased the Takumi wealth, given them means to make the move to legitimate business. Toshiro's brilliant mind made the government nervous at the thought of Takumi in legitimate business.
Jun's heart squeezed tight. Toshiro was gay. There was a time that would have shocked him, but now…he was grateful. Grateful his son was alive, and not dead, or a drug addict. Instead, Toshiro had survived life under this goddamn woman, turned into a feared member of the Takumi family, and worked his way to the top.
If Toshiro planned to testify against Takumi…perhaps not all was lost.
Jun met smiling dark eyes.
"Yuriko is calling?" the woman seated across him on the low table asked.
She sipped her tea when he nodded.
"As she would, I suspect she's met him. Does she not like my handiwork? Toshiro is my prized possession. He has made us very wealthy."
Jun forced the bitter anger that rose at her proud admission. She couldn't possibly understand how much he hated her.
Prized possession, he scoffed internally.
She was talking about his son, his heir…his lips tightened.
"Your anger is understood, but not needed, Jun. You know why I kidnapped your son."
She studied him for a moment before she turned her attention to the wide windows showing off a tranquil garden.
Jun had come here expecting to find her cowering. The Takumi estate was vast. Months ago, he'd have expected thousands of people milling around, going about daily business. He wouldn't have dreamed of entering this estate, but now, his gaze narrowed, the estate was silent.
Chaos had ruled their small town in Kobe these past two weeks. The Takumi clan enemies had attacked Takumi strong holds; burned businesses down, and left dead Takumi clan members on the streets. On entering this estate today, Jun had expected to find the place swarming with security.
Instead, Mako Takumi had retired her entire staff afraid one of them would turn on her. She'd left two men, one of which she really shouldn't trust as she did.
"You and I should have solved our differences when we were young." Mako turned to look at him now. "I think life would have been easier for both of us. You and Yuriko would have raised your son, instead of me."
"Our differences were not the reason you stole our son. You were jealous, Mako. Jealous and greedy, what did you think you'd accomplish?"
"This moment is enough for me. Watching you try to hide your pain and anger from me is amusing, Jun. Don't try. I know what it's like to lose the most precious thing in your life," Mako said with a slight smile. "I loved you. You left me and decided to marry that stupid, demure Yuriko. You hurt me, Jun Natake, for the sake of her money. I had to make you pay. So, I married the most powerful man I could find and look where that has gotten me. I should have killed Toshiro in front of your wife when I had him stolen. Your blood has hurt me once again."
"You're so shallow, Mako. I love Yuriko. Have loved her since the moment you introduced us. She's stronger than you'll ever be. As for my son, he's done what he needed to."
"He betrayed his family. I treated him as I did Kaito, that ungrateful brat," Mako spat out, "I should have expected it."
Jun felt a burst of pride fill him at what Toshiro accomplished on his own.
"What do you want from me?" Mako demanded. "I have nothing to give you; your son has it all. He has drained our financial resources. All of them," she shook her head, still in disbelief. "Stupid brat has it all now."
"No, he doesn't." Jun answered. Since his son had taken down the monster, it was his turn to save his son. "I'm here to take his life back. You're going to give it to me."
"He's alive, isn't he? He killed Sakura, and has my Kaito in a US jail. What more do you want?"
"Release him," Jun said, holding her gaze.
Mako knew what he was asking. Toshiro's life was forfeit for what he'd done to the clan. Unless she forgave him as the matriarch of the clan, let him free and forbid anyone from killing Toshiro for the clan.
"Yours must pay for the blood spilled. This is the way."
"Release him," Jun said, not inclined to understand her. He didn't care. She'd robbed him first. "You're the one who must pay, Mako Takumi."
"I don't want to pay," Mako said. "I'd rather die than do this for you, Jun Natake. Not when I've lost everything, your son must pay for the Takumi end."
Jun stared at her for a full minute before he stood.
Fine, then he'd take the life she owed him back, even if it meant turning into one of them.
"You've made your choice."
"What are you going to do? Kill me? You can't. I'm not alone in here, Jun Natake. You're the one in the den of lions. Besides, it's too late for your son, I've sent a team after him. He'll be dead by morning."
"So you think," he said. "I'll have my family back, Mako. No Takumi blood will remain. I promise you that on my son's life."
Giving her a short bow, he turned to leave. He stopped when a painful gasp filled the room.
Jun turned in time to see a dagger Mako held in her right hand fall on the table they'd shared. Behind her a man in black stood, his sword buried into Mako's back through her heart. Mako stared at him with accusing eyes.
"Wrong choice, Mako, you should have listened to me," Jun said.
"You were always so cruel to me," Mako said, her eyes glazing with pain. "You could have killed me yourself. I'd have at least thought you cared."
"You took my son from me." Jun allowed his bitterness to color his voice.
The harrowing pain he'd lived through for two decades. The nights he'd spent watching Yuriko cry herself to sleep for her son and because their marriage had turned into a painful series of years. He had no sympathy left for the Takumi clan, or Mako.
Mako laughed then, a silent awful laugh that ended in a cough.
"You win, Jun, but your son will never be yours. He might have your blood, but I raised him. I raised him, he's-not-yours—
Jun nodded to the man behind Mako. The sword came out as fast as it had gone in. Mako fell forward on the table; she bled out in seconds.
There was one more to go, Jun thought. Kaito Takumi.
"Sanitize the estate," Jun ordered the man wiping his sword with a napkin from the table. "Call the police when it's over, then we'll head to the airport."
The silent man bowed. Jun looked at Mako one last time, then turned and left the Takumi dining room.
The whisper of fabric woke Toshiro. Instinct had him grabbing the arm hovering over him before he opened his eyes. He stared at the syringe in the young woman's hand and tightened his hold on her wrist.
"Toshi," Jason sat up on his cot rubbing his eyes to take away sleep.
"Who are you?" Toshiro demanded of the frightened woman, ignoring Jason. "What—
"Gods, Toshiro," Jason rushed to his side. "Will you let her go? She's the night nurse."
Toshiro stared at the young blonde woman, his hold on her arm tight. He didn't know why she felt off. She wasn't familiar, her eyes….
"I don't have any meds scheduled at night. What is she doing here with a syringe?"
"Your doctor changed the time you get your meds." The nurse tried to extricate herself. "You're hurting me."
Toshiro narrowed his gaze.
Her eyes….he frowned.
Maybe he was losing his mind. Since Michael had confirmed his office had a leak, paranoia had set in. The endless nightmares of waking up to find Jason murdered next to him weren't helping. Michael was supposed to have moved him by now. He started to loosen his hold on her arm but stopped when she closed her fingers around the syringe.
"Jason," he said, his tone low, "go check on the officers outside the door."
"Do as I say," he cut Jason off, "please, baby. Check if the police officers are still there."
Jason frowned but he hurried around the bed to the door.
The woman's arm tensed under his fingers. Glad Jason was at the door, he pushed his covers away as the woman reached to the small of her back. Before he could push off the bed, the woman dropped to the ground.
Jason stood in her place holding one of the visitor's chairs.
Toshiro stared at his boyfriend in surprise.
"What?" Jason put the chair down and stared at the fake nurse on the tiled floor.
"How did you know?"
"You're freaking out," Jason smiled and pointed to the nurse, "Now what?"
Toshiro swung his legs over the bed, and bit back a gasp as pain lanced across his stomach as he sat up. He stayed still clutching the bed railing waiting for relief. His right arm was driving him insane. He couldn't do much with it. He started to step down on the floor, only to have Jason push him back on the bed.
"Where do you think you're doing?" Jason demanded. "We need to call in the police. I'm going to get them, but you have to stay in bed, Toshiro. You're going to undo your doctor's work at this rate."
Jason's concerned tirade washed over him.
Toshiro sat on the edge of the bed staring at the passed out nurse on the floor. He frowned when he saw black hair under the blonde at her neck.
Jason pressed a kiss on his temple.
"Come on, baby. Get back into bed."
"Check her hair," Toshiro said.
"Her hair," Toshiro nodded to the unconscious woman. "She's wearing a wig. Check her please."
Jason frowned and did as he asked. The blonde wig came off easily and Jason stood staring at the silky straight black hair hidden underneath.
"We have to go." Toshiro stated staring at the Japanese woman on the floor.
Toshiro looked up to find green eyes studying him. He'd spent two afternoons listening to Michael Baron plan his disappearance. The hospital records showed he hadn't survived the gunshot. There was a body in the morgue with Toshiro Shindo's name. They were to move him in the morning.
However, with this…Toshiro shook his head. The leak in Michael's office was making a move.
Time to leave again…time to let Jason go…his heart rejected the idea, almost plummeting from its place in his chest. He couldn't…
"I'm with you," Jason spoke as though he'd read Toshiro's thoughts. "I'm not leaving you."
That simple statement was so precious, so…Toshiro looked away and nodded.
"We have to leave," he said again, moving to get off the bed. Boy was he glad he slept in sweat pants. They were ready to go—
"What? No," Jason tried to push him back on the bed. "You can barely sit up. Where do you think you're going? It's better here where you can get help from loads of doctors if something goes wrong with your wound. We'll call Michael. Toshi—"
Toshiro placed his hand on Jason's right arm.
"Listen to me. She's the first. More are on the way. Michael can't help us right now. We'll have to call him when we get out of the hospital. We have to leave."
He met green eyes, liquid with concern they made his heart skip a beat.
"We have to leave here," he said hoping to penetrate Jason's need to stay. "I can't protect you here."
Jason stared at him, and for a moment, Toshiro wondered if his boyfriend could handle this life.
It was easy for Toshiro. Getting out, leaving at a moment's notice, he'd done that all his life, been trained how to do it well. He'd trained others…but for Jason…
He breathed in relief when Jason rushed for the wheelchair in the corner. Bringing it back, Jason helped him into the wheelchair.
"We have to tie her up."
Toshiro reached for the sheets and dragged them off the bed. Jason took them from him. He sat back in surprise when Jason ripped the sheet into strips and tied the woman's arms and legs.
"Have you done this before?" he asked when Jason dragged the woman into the private bath and closed the door.
Jason chuckled and grabbed a duffel bag he had on the couch, a heavy black sweater from the foot of the bed and Toshiro's boots.
"Just trying to survive this world you live in, Babe."
Toshiro grabbed the picture his mother had given him from the bedside table.
"Leave the rest," Toshiro said, "come on, Jason."
"Where do we go?" Jason asked, pushing his wheelchair to open the door.
There were no police officers outside his hospital room. The woman they'd tied up must have distracted them, or killed them.
"Where is Yuriko?" Toshiro asked.
"In a lounge down the hall," Jason turned the wheelchair in that direction.
"He went back to Penn Yan. I asked him to watch the shop."
"Did you see the two police offers leave?"
"The officers were there earlier when we settled in for the night, maybe they went to eat."
They entered the lounge and found Yuriko reading. She stood up the moment she saw them.
"Toshiro!" She dropped her book on the chair and stood. "Why are you out of bed? It's midnight, you know. You should be resting."
"Help me," Toshiro turned to Jason. "I need to get rid of the hospital gown."
"I don't understand what we're doing," Jason said as he helped him get out of the blue sweater he wore.
Together they removed the hospital gown and Yuriko gasped. Toshiro lifted his head to find her staring at his scars and the snake tattoo on his left arm. His life, his sordid past so plainly clear, her disgust at the sight of his scars was all too clear. There was nothing to do about it, so he turned to Jason.
Jason pulled a t-shirt from the duffel bag and moved to help him wear it. He was lucky it was two sizes larger; he fitted his cast through the armhole with no problem. Toshiro closed his eyes as they passed the fabric over the bandage around his stomach. They covered his scars from his mother, and he wore the black sweater Jason had grabbed.
"My boots," he said looking at Jason.
Jason frowned at him but he got them.
Too bad, his daggers were in an evidence box at the FBI offices. He sighed as Jason helped him wear the boots. His feet covered, Toshiro gripped the wheelchair armrests.
"Help me up."
Both Yuriko and Jason spoke at the same time. Their protests so vehement he sat stunned. When had he gotten so many people worrying about him?
"What's going on?" Yuriko asked, her English soft and hesitant, her hand on his shoulder, as though her gentle touch would stop him.
Her touch…he stared at the elegant hand on him, so gentle, so feminine; he sat still in his wheelchair, afraid she'd notice she was touching him.
"Why aren't you in bed?" she asked.
"They're coming for me." Toshiro nodded to the open lounge door. "The police officers are gone. We stopped some woman from killing me in the room. Next, an emergency will crop up—
An alarm rang at the nurses' station cutting him off. Toshiro started, dragging his thoughts from his mother and her touch to their immediate problem. If the assassins found the woman had failed, they'd start looking for him. A team of four, plus the woman, five…, Toshiro shuddered. He didn't have the means to fight, not like this. He could barely stand on his own.
"We have five minutes to get to the emergency room," he said deciding on fast escape.
Yuriko rushed to take her handbag from the lounge chair. She stuffed her book in her handbag and took her jacket.
"Toshiro, the wheelchair is easier for you," Jason said, as he swung the duffel bag strap over his shoulder and reached for the wheelchair handles.
Jason wheeled him around to head to the door. Toshiro dumped the hospital gown into the trashcan as they left the lounge. Yuriko ran beside his chair. She was the one to punch the elevator buttons. Thankfully, they didn't have to wait long. The elevator doors opened quickly, and they entered. The nurses were running to a room in the opposite direction.
Toshiro sighed in relief when the doors closed. He counted the seconds as the elevator went down. The elevator doors slid open on the ground floor to the busy emergency room.
"Now what?" Jason asked.
"We get to the exit. They'll avoid the emergency room at all costs, too many cameras, too many people."
"How you know this?" Yuriko asked him as they hurried through the busy New York emergency room.
Nurses assumed they'd already gotten their treatment. They passed an open crash cart and Toshiro grabbed a box of gloves, bandages and tape.
He needed to find meds that would numb his wounds. Jason was careful but not enough. The motion of the wheelchair as they made turns sent waves of pain across his stomach. At some point, he was going to need to get up, but his abdomen ached…shit. He gritted his teeth as much as he could to avoid worrying Jason and Yuriko.
"What did you say?" he asked Yuriko.
"How you know what they do?" she asked as they turned a corner heading toward the main emergency room entrance and exit.
It was dark outside, minimal people.
"I trained them." Toshiro pointed to a newly arrived ambulance.
The EMTs were too busy rushing in their patient and they left the ambulance unattended.
"Stop," Toshiro ordered. "We need pain meds."
"What? No." Yuriko balked.
"We don't have time for arguments," he urged Jason. "You're going to have to do it for me, Babe. I can't jump in and out."
"Of all times to call me that," Jason teased as he hurried for the open doors. A second later, Jason jumped down with a simple nod.
Toshiro hid a smile at how quickly Jason whisked him away from the ambulance and the returning EMT team. He was corrupting his boyfriend. Yuriko wasn't happy as she kept pace with them. They went down the street, which was somewhat deserted.
"We need a car," Toshiro said when they'd left the hospital area.
"We should get taxi," Yuriko said.
"A taxi is too cumbersome. We don't want to involve another person," he said.
Toshiro pointed across the street at a black SUV parked on the curb. There were other cars, but the SUV had tinted windows.
"Steal car?" Yuriko asked shaking her head; she gave Jason a worried look.
"In case you didn't notice, we've already robbed the hospital off a wheelchair." Toshiro pointed out.
They reached the SUV, and Jason tried the doors and found them locked.
"Great," Jason said.
Taking one of the leg-rests off, Toshiro locked the wheelchair and moved to get up. Yuriko grabbed his left arm, and the action had him jerking in surprise. She didn't let go, and he was thankful because getting up felt like a thousand needles were poking his abdomen. Staying up….Toshiro gritted his teeth as pain arced down his left leg. The pain was sobering. He held it in, allowed it to clear his senses.
"Are you okay?" Jason asked moving closer. "We don't have to do this. We can just get a taxi—
"No time," he gritted out.
Taking a step closer to the SUV, he used the metal leg rest to break the back passenger window. The glass caved in, and he hit it again. The glass shattered into cubes. He reached in and unlocked the driver's door.
"Put the wheelchair in the back," he asked Jason.
"You're like a criminal," Jason commented folding up the wheelchair. "I can't believe you did that."
Toshiro grinned, biting back a moan as he struggled into the driver's seat. Pain stung through his body, brought tears to his eyes.
Gods, it was unrelenting.
Gritting his teeth, Toshiro managed to settle behind the wheel.
"Yuriko, get in the front, Jason backseat, hurry," he said, his voice rough with strain.
Closing the driver's door, he sat back to catch his breath. Yuriko slid in next to him and he watched her buckle herself in. Jason was already in the back seat and was busy pushing pieces of glass out of the way.
"This is first time I steal car," Yuriko mused.
Jason replied, "Me too, Yuriko."
Toshiro watched the hospital ahead of them. Five minutes were past. The team had to have figured out he'd left. They'd try to catch him before he left the hospital. Driving out in a rush would get them into a speed chase. He wasn't in any shape for that. They'd have to play this a different way. His heartbeat sped up; he had two people to protect.
"Why aren't we moving?" Jason asked leaning forward. "Are you in pain? You should let me drive."
Toshiro turned down the driver's visor and a bunch of keys fell on his lap.
People in this country, he mused.
Taking the keys, he fit them in the ignition and waited.
"Toshiro?" Yuriko started.
"Shh…" he said when he caught the shadow he was looking for. He pointed out a man standing in the middle of the street a block away. "First one, he's waiting, listening."
The man stood still, a gun glinting in his right hand. A second man walked down the street checking cars soon joined the first.
"Aren't they going to see us?" Jason asked in a whisper.
"I need two more," Toshiro said.
He needed two more; the woman was probably dead since she'd failed her task. Two shadows appeared four cars behind the SUV. They too watched the cars carefully, searched the street with their eyes. The assassins figured he was injured so he couldn't move too fast. They were right, but they wouldn't know he had Jason or Yuriko with him, unless the leak in Michael's office had given them pictures.
Toshiro hoped not. He was making a gamble here.
"Jason, do you have a cap?"
"Yeah," Jason said.
"Wear it, and sit back."
Jason reached for the duffel bag, got a black cap and did as asked. Glancing at Yuriko, Toshiro assessed her black jacket, and her shoulder length hair falling around her face.
"Yuriko, hold your hair up in a ponytail."
"I need your hair held. It will be less recognizable, they might have seen pictures of you with your hair down," he explained. "Use the stretchy thingy on your left wrist."
She did as he asked without another question and he started the car. The sound of the engine starting did what he wanted. The four men turned to look at the SUV. He turned on the lights, blinding them. Slowly, deliberately slow, Toshiro pulled out of the parking spot and drove toward them.
"Jason, I need you to smile, and nod at them."
"They're holding guns, babe."
"I know, but your window is open. You have to distract them enough that they're not suspicious. You can do this," he soothed. "Be casual, make eye contact. You're just a guy out on the town with friends."
Jason blew out air as they approached the four men who'd separated two on each side of the one-way street. The ones on Yuriko's side wouldn't see anything but tinted glass. The ones on the right side of the car, those could see inside, Toshiro fought to keep the speed slow as though they were trying to figure out where to head out next.
Toshiro held his breath as they reached the four men. His foot itched to press on the gas and speed off, but that would just lead to an abrupt shootout. Through the tinted glass, he watched the two men on his side stare into the car.
Then he heard Jason. "How you doin', fellas? Late night?"
One of them chuckled casually, the sound off and then the man nodded in answer to Jason's question.
Jason smiled at them and the SUV passed without incident.
Toshiro fought not to speed; he still needed to get to the end of the street. His gaze on the rear view mirror, he watched the four men walk to the spot he'd left. They'd find the glass soon enough.
He reached the end and turned right.
Toshiro ignored all his pain and focused on driving. His foot heavy on the gas pedal, he drove down the two-way then cut abruptly into the first building with underground parking. He drove into the dimly lit halls, past rows of cars, and parked the SUV in the farthest corner he could find.
Jason jumped out of the car dragging his duffel bag with him.
Toshiro had a harder time getting out of the car.
Jason had to help him out.
They chose an unlocked navy blue Toyota Supra. Toshiro fell into the backseat and watched Jason search for keys. He smiled when Jason found them in the glove compartment.
Gods, the man hadn't complained once…so sexy.
"Drive slowly, no rush. The assassins will have reached the main road. Join traffic and make the first turn you find," Toshiro said.
Toshiro raised his sweater and t-shirt to study the bandage on his stomach. He hadn't ripped out the stitches yet, but it hurt. Damn it hurt. He glanced up to find his mother watching him from the rear view mirror.
"Is this your life?" Yuriko asked as he covered his stomach from her gaze.
"Of late," he answered her.
"What did you mean you trained those people?" she asked.
He watched Jason drive. Their gazes met in the rear view mirror. Jason gave him the slightest nod as though he could understand what his mother was asking in Japanese. Was it any wonder he loved Jason with each passing minute.
This was easier to do with Jason, he thought.
Otherwise, he might have given up a while back. Jason gave him another assuring nod and Toshiro turned to his mother.
"Before they took me to school, I lived in the Takumi estate. Learning to fight and then fighting to survive, when they'd stripped me of any sense of humanity but survival, they remade me. I learned well, Yuriko. Well enough to have gotten to the top, and helped Kaito Takumi run the clan. I happily helped him until a month ago when he stabbed me and left me for dead. Without Jason here, we'd never have met."
She turned in her seat to look at him.
"Why do you talk to me that way?"
The streetlights cast shadows over her face as Jason drove along the highway.
Toshiro read hurt in her eyes, but he couldn't understand why she felt it.
"You talk to me as though you're defending yourself," she explained when he didn't answer her question. "As though you think I'm offended by you."
He held her gaze and pulled the sleeve on his left arm so that she could see the snake winding around his wrist and up his arm.
"This is who I've been, still who I am. I'm yakuza," he spat the word out at her. "Gangster, Yuriko. I'm the worst kind too, because you never know when I hurt you until it's too late. It's the reason we're in this stolen car—
"Enough," she interrupted him. "You and your father must think I'm some weak woman who can't handle reality. Yes, I was shocked to know you're yakuza. I was disappointed but I was also glad. I've had two decades worth of nightmares thinking you dead. Now that I see you alive, who you are doesn't matter so much. What makes you think I can't handle your ugly truths?"
He started to reply but she snapped at him.
"I don't want to hear another word. My heart aches when I listen to you. It's your turn to listen now. Are we safe?"
"We're safe for now. They'll regroup; find another way to get to me. Michael needs to find this mole or we're all going to be dead soon."
"I'll handle it," she turned to Jason and used her awful English. "Drive to good hotel in city. The type with huge rooms, yes? You know one?"
Jason smiled and nodded. "Sure."
"Good, my son, no longer in charge, too stubborn. My turn, I teach him another way," she declared. "So like father…hardheaded and bad-mannered."
Jason met Toshiro's gaze through the rear view mirror and winked. Toshiro scowled at him and wondered again how he'd gotten so many people to care what he did in such a small amount of time.
"Bet you miss a shower," Jason said hours later.
He had spent the last five hours watching Toshiro sleep fitfully. He and Yuriko had booked into the Oriental hotel at around two in the morning. Two hours of running, and he'd wanted to take Toshiro away for good. He still couldn't believe someone had tried to kill his boyfriend. Toshiro had woken up thirty minutes ago with a gasp, his eyes wide, soaked in sweat.
More nightmares, Jason thought.
He wished he had a fast cure for Toshiro. Instead, all he could offer was a sponge bath.
Toshiro sat on a stool in the bathroom while Jason changed the bandage covering his wound. Checking the stitches, Jason was glad Toshiro hadn't ripped them open moving around. The skin around the wound was an angry red. They'd have to keep checking on it. Applying ointment, Jason placed a clean square bandage over it and taped it. Toshiro sat with his head leaning back on the wall.
"I'm sorry, Jason, this life—
"I'm going to make this hurt if you keep apologizing to me," Jason warned as he wrapped a bandage around Toshiro's torso.
"It's not going to get easier," Toshiro said when Jason finished with the bandage.
"I don't want easy."
Jason removed the gloves he wore and dumped them into the trashcan beside him. Sitting back on his haunches, he met Toshiro's gaze.
"There's no where else I'd rather be than here."
Toshiro studied him. Light brown eyes, so full of shadows, and so beautiful they made his heart ache.
"I want to kiss you, Jason, but you're going to have to get closer. My stomach is killing me."
Jason laughed and got to his feet, sweeping fingers through Toshiro's silky black hair, tilting his head up to kiss him. The taste of Toshiro was so new yet so familiar. He missed him, missed doing more than kiss. He sighed against Toshiro's lips.
"I love you."
Toshiro touched his jaw and kissed him again.
"I love you too and thank you."
"For what?" Jason asked.
Toshiro stroked his jaw with his thumb, "For taking me on with my baggage."
"Your baggage is temporary." Jason pressed kisses along Toshiro's jaw, and then said against his ear. "You're marrying me, right?"
He felt Toshiro's sharp intake of breath. Toshiro pulled back to look at him.
"What did you just ask me?"
"Marry me, Toshi."
Toshiro stared at him then for the first time smiled, as Jason had never seen. The smile brightened Toshiro's eyes, sending away shadows he'd never imagined would disperse. It sent his heart into a wild dance.
"Do you really want me for life?" Toshiro asked again.
"If it's what you want too," Jason said.
Toshiro took his right hand with his left.
"It is, Jason. The only thing that matters to me is to belong with you."
Jason helped Toshiro up and pulled him into his arms. He wrapped his arms around Toshiro and held on tight, careful not to cause pain.
"Is that a yes, then?" he asked.
Toshiro nodded against his shoulder.
The soft whisper was like a balm taking away all the trouble outside their door.
He held Toshiro until Toshiro sagged against him when it got too hard to stand. He rubbed his boyfriend's back gently.
"Let's get you changed into comfortable clothes. Yuriko is coming back soon."
Toshiro sighed heavily as they headed back to the bedroom.
"That woman," Toshiro said thinking his mother was out of her mind. "Who could have guessed she was so bossy? Did you hear her? 'Don't leave this suite.' You'd think I don't know how to lay low."
Toshiro scoffed as they walked to the bed.
Yuriko had run out of the suite hours ago when he'd been too drowsy to think. Stupid meds were getting him so groggy. She'd looked so determined, he was afraid to find out what she'd gone to do.
Jason was helping him with his t-shirt when a knock came on the door. His shoulders tensed and he wished he had a weapon. His fingers itched for a gun, anything to use…
"It's me," Yuriko said from the other side.
Toshiro shrugged into the t-shirt, wincing slightly as he tugged the shirt over his scarred torso. He didn't want to see his mother's horrified expression again. Jason squeezed his shoulder and went to open the door. Yuriko hurried in carrying shopping bags and food. God help him. Had she used a credit card? She'd used cash to pay for the suite downstairs but this…
"Did you two sleep?" she asked looking at him.
Her gaze was critical, as though she genuinely cared if he had slept.
That look stirred something deep inside him that scared him. He didn't have the will to deal with it right now, not with their lives in danger.
He scowled at her.
"Who can sleep when you're out roaming? Don't you know what lay low means? Please tell me you didn't use a credit card." Toshiro demanded from his perch on the bed.
"Nobody pays attention to a middle-aged Japanese woman prowling a mall. And no, I'm not stupid. I've watched spy movies, Toshiro. I used cash," she countered. "I can see a few hours spent with Jason haven't cured your foul mood."
Movies, lord help him!
He chocked on a laugh, and instead scowled at her.
Jeez, was she real?
Jason came to sit next to him tangling their fingers together. His world righted at the feel of Jason's solid frame beside him.
"Please talk English; you're leaving out my boyfriend from this delicious argument," he said with a small smile because he knew she was self-conscious with her English.
Yuriko dropped her shopping bags on a couch. She placed a brown bag from an Italian restaurant on the coffee table and his stomach growled.
Yuriko glanced at Jason.
"My son, his bad mood not go away. I talk my English. Hope you no mind."
Jason squeezed his fingers to stop him from talking.
"You should practice more, Yuriko. I don't mind."
She nodded and sat on the couch. She opened the first bag of shopping.
"I buy many clothes. I know Toshiro size, so I choose double size for you, Jason. No need to stay in dirty clothes."
"I'm sure it's all good, Yuriko. Thank you."
"No need to thank," she smiled placing the bag on the couch again. "You family, yes?"
Jason glanced at him and that moment, sharing the secret of their engagement felt like another first. Family, huh…so this is what it felt like?
"I call Michael."
"You what?" Toshiro gaped at his mother. He got up too fast; he ignored the pain and stalked to a surprised Yuriko. "Give me your cell phone. Are you insane? Why would you call that man on your cell phone when his office has a leak?"
She reached into her handbag and got her cell phone. He grabbed for it, but she stood up and refused to let go of the phone.
"I use payphone across town. I know how to protect too," she said slowly. "Do you still need phone?"
"Who else have you called?" he demanded staring at the black gadget.
"Your father," she held his gaze. "He's on the way. I not want to lose phone, for him."
He let go off the phone in shock.
"What's decision?" Yuriko asked. "No phone or phone? Tell me, Toshiro. I destroy it if you want."
He stared at her blankly.
He'd forgotten he had a father in all this. One who'd triggered this whole situation. If someone hadn't told Jun Natake about him…he might have lived out his life as Toshiro Shindo never knowing the truth.
"Toshiro?" Yuriko touched his arm and he stepped away from her. "What's wrong? Pain? I get medicine. Jason, help."
"I'm fine," he managed before they both went into full panic mode. "I—
He moved back to the bed, walking along the left side suddenly too tired. He sat down, and shifted until he sat reclined against the headboard.
Jason and his mother stood watching him.
"What did Michael say?" he asked then.
"We stay put. I not tell him where we stay. I promise to call tomorrow. He sort leak out by then." Yuriko still watched him with concerned dark brown eyes. "Are you okay? Did I say something?"
He shook his head and gave her a slight smile.
"I'm fine, Yuriko. Thank you for everything. I think I'll try to sleep some more."
"Yes," she nodded. "Sleep is good. Jason, I leave him to you. I'm right next door. Don't leave for any reason, yes? I listen. So, don't leave…"
Jason moved to hug her.
"I get it. No leaving Toshiro," he said. "Go rest, I'm think you need to sleep too. You've been up too long."
Jason let her go and she turned to Toshiro. Yuriko stared at him as though she wanted to come over to the bed. Toshiro sat still terrified she might actually come. He let out a quiet relieved breath when she gave him a small wave. She let Jason lead her out of the hotel room.
Jason came back a few minutes later.
"I think your mom is afraid you might disappear on her."
"It's strange to hear talk about my mother," he confessed.
Jason crawled onto the bed and stretched out beside him.
"What were you thinking about just now? When you were talking to your mum?"
Toshiro reached for Jason's hand and held it against his chest.
"She said my father is coming."
When Jason didn't say anything, he continued.
"I've never had a father. I envied Kaito's loyalty to his, even when he killed him. Their relationship was sick, twisted, spoiled by power. Still I envied Kaito. I kept thinking, if I had a father, I'd never raise a hand against him. Now—
"You have one."
"Yeah," Toshiro let out a small breath. "I have a father."
"And a mother," Jason reminded him. "She's right across the hall pretending to sleep when all she wants is to sit in here and watch you."
Toshiro sighed and shifted lower on the bed. His brain ached if that were possible. He moved until Jason could pull him into his arms. Breathing in Jason's scent, he closed his eyes. This here was all that mattered. Everything else…he buried his face into Jason's chest…everything else could wait.
Jason stroked fingers through his hair and he closed his eyes, and drifted to sleep.
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