"Open," Toshiro said, holding out a small carrot cube.
Jason grinned and obeyed. He took the carrot piece into his mouth crunching on the fresh vegetable morsel.
They sat at the kitchen table. Toshiro was peeling carrots and dicing them while he sat writing delivery notes for the jewelry he'd drop at the shop later.
Jason had woken up this morning to find Toshiro in the living room reading intently on his laptop, a small frown dancing on Toshiro's forehead. Jason had wanted to know why that frown was there. Before he could ask, Toshiro had moved the laptop to the coffee table and smiled at him, inviting him for breakfast.
They ended up in the workroom. Toshiro helped him pack up the jewelry he'd made during the week. Now here they were, Toshiro working steadily to follow a recipe for lunch. He looked happy and relaxed. Although once in a while, Jason caught the shadow of worry in those light brown eyes.
"You're watching me," Toshiro said with a teasing tone. "I think you should give up on those delivery notes. You've only written five."
"You're distracting me," Jason said, placing his pen down and leaning his elbows on the table to study Toshiro openly. "I think we've found your new hobby."
"Oh yeah," Toshiro asked cutting carrots with expert precision. He was good with a knife. "What is that?"
"Cooking and baking," Jason said with a small smile.
Gods how he loved it when Toshiro laughed. It brightened up Toshiro's face, made him look younger. He reached out to touch the corner of Toshiro's smiling mouth.
"You could be a chef," Jason suggested letting his hand drop away.
"No way," Toshiro shook his head. "I'm just very good at following instructions. Stop watching me and write out your deliveries."
"Will you come with me to the shop?"
Toshiro stood and carried the chopped carrots to the kitchen counter.
"Sure, we need to go shopping anyway. We're running low."
"Wanna watch a movie with me?" Jason asked.
"A movie?" Toshiro asked looking at him. "Do you mean like a date?"
"Yeah," Jason said with a small grin.
"I'd love to go."
"Alright, great." Jason nodded.
They stared at each other for a moment then Toshiro turned on the water at the sink.
"Write your delivery notes, Jason. You're distracting me."
Jason chuckled and picked up his pen pleased with Toshiro's enthusiasm.
They drove into town after lunch.
Toshiro helped him carry the two boxes of jewelry into Silverstone. They found Claire packing up a set of blue glass vases for a young woman. Claire waved at Jason in greeting and he returned the wave with a smile.
He led Toshiro to a long table in one corner where they placed the boxes.
"Jason," Sean said and he turned to find his ex-boyfriend coming from the office they kept in the back of the shop.
"Hi Sean," he said. Jason tugged Toshiro to his side. "I'd like you to meet Toshiro. Toshi, this is my business partner, Sean."
"Hi." Toshiro held out his hand to Sean. "Nice to meet you."
Sean took Toshiro's hand and held on.
"Are you the guy Jason saved?"
"I came back to thank him properly," Toshiro said with a small smile.
"Wow," Sean shook Toshiro's hand and let go. "You look well and handsome. I can see why Jason was thinking about you."
Toshiro chuckled and Jason pinched Sean's arm.
"Don't start teasing. I brought you more eternity rings. Also, the orders Claire asked for on Monday."
Sean moved to touch the boxes on the table though his attention was on Toshiro.
"Are you staying with Jason?" Sean asked Toshiro.
"Yeah, for a few more days," Toshiro answered.
Jason felt a wave of disappointment flood him. He didn't want to think about Toshiro leaving, preferred to imagine Toshiro was here to stay.
"Stop interrogating my friend, Sean," he said, putting his arm over Toshiro's shoulder. "We're going to the movie theater, and then doing grocery shopping."
"The movies sound like a lot of fun," Sean said thoughtfully taking a step back to study them. "Keira was right. You two do make a cute couple."
Jason met Sean's gaze surprised by the compliment. He smiled when Sean winked at him.
"We'd better get going," Jason said, returning Sean's smile. "I'm taking a break next week, Sean."
"That's shocking, are you sure you're the same guy I know? What has the water done to you out there?" Sean teased. "Toshiro, it was nice to meet you."
"You too, Sean," Toshiro said with a small nod.
"'Bye, Sean." Jason led Toshiro toward the exit. "Call me only if there's an emergency."
Toshiro chuckled as they left the store.
"What was that about?"
"Sean thinks I don't know how to be spontaneous."
Toshiro gave a small laugh and Jason stopped him in the middle of the street.
"What was that laugh?" he demanded moving in front of Toshiro to look into his eyes.
"Well," Toshiro said skeptically.
Jason narrowed his gaze and Toshiro laughed.
"I'll show you spontaneous," Jason said.
Holding the lapels of Toshiro's leather jacket, he tugged him close and bent his head, covering Toshiro's lips with his. The kiss was a sweet exploring kiss that made him smile when Toshiro moved closer and gave a soft moan.
"Jason Stone," Mrs. Baker, the woman who owned the flower shop right next door to his shop stood a few feet away. "What are you doing on the street?"
Jason ended the kiss and smiled when Toshiro's eyes remained closed.
"I'm kissing my boyfriend, Mrs. Baker."
"Find a room," she ordered her voice filled with amusement.
He pulled Toshiro into his arms and grinned at her.
"I'm showing him how spontaneous I can be."
"Sure," Mrs. Baker shook her head and Toshiro punched his arm lightly. "Go on, now. You're igniting gossip in this town."
Jason flashed a smile at her and took Toshiro's hand, heading to the movie theater in the next block.
"Does everyone know you in this town?" Toshiro demanded beside him.
"Pretty much," Jason said. "It comes with growing up in a small town. I've seen the same faces all through grade school, and high school. It's hard to hide much."
Toshiro nodded and tugged his jacket closed as the wind picked up.
"This place gets windy and rainy because of the lake," Jason explained, placing an arm over Toshiro's shoulders. "Are you cold?"
"Are you going to warm me up?"
"Didn't that kiss do it?" Jason asked.
"Should I say no?"
"If you do, I'm going to stop you right here and kiss you senseless again."
Toshiro grinned, his gaze full of a challenge that Jason couldn't ignore.
They chose an action movie; Jason swore it was interesting. They sat in the back row of the darkened theater. Jason moved the armrests up making space between their chairs. Toshiro sat with his head resting on Jason's shoulder, the tub of popcorn on his lap. However, Toshiro concentrated on Jason instead of the movie. He'd thought of nothing else since their encounter in the bathroom yesterday.
Jason's protective nature fascinated him. Jason had this gentle patient way of dealing with situations, and people. He laughed easily, worked hard, and for some unknown reason saw such a different side in Toshiro, it was painful sometimes to see Jason look at him.
Toshiro didn't know if he could live up to the man that Jason saw in him. But on the other hand, watching Jason, sitting next to him, having him so close, it placed Toshiro in a different world. One he'd never known before Jason. One he dared dream to keep.
His heart squeezed tight at that thought. The idea of keeping Jason, remaining here watching movies and playing house left Toshiro trembling.
It would mean telling Jason the truth.
He would have to tell Jason about his past, and the danger lurking in the shadows. He spent hours imagining Jason's reaction to his story, all the scenes he imagined involved Jason telling him to pack his duffel bag and leave.
"Pay attention to the movie," Jason whispered in his ear. "You're missing out on all the action."
Toshiro sighed aware that he didn't care for the action brewing on the screen. All he wanted right now was Jason for as long as he could have him.
Placing the tub of popcorn on the empty chair to his left, Toshiro touched Jason's jaw, shifting in his seat so that he could kiss him. He was glad they'd chosen the back, no one to care what they did up here. He kissed Jason, letting their kiss simmer, slowly build, then turn into a hungry flame that had them clinging to one another. Thoughts of watching the movie faded away when Jason dragged him on to his lap. They made out for the next hour, like kids in high school, pausing only to take in air, and even that felt like a waste of time to Toshiro when he could be exploring Jason's delicious mouth.
They strolled through the city after the movie ended, walking hand in hand, pausing occasionally to window shop.
Jason told Toshiro stories of the different shops in the town. From Mrs. Baker who owned the flower shop, and lived on the outskirts of town. How she'd raised four rowdy boys, who'd all joined the army, with the income she made from the flower shop. To the baker's son who was now married to Jason's ex, Sean.
Lights lit up the charming streets. Jason greeted most of the people who passed them. Toshiro was keenly aware that this was a tight knit community. He wanted to be part of this, part of Jason's world. He sighed, tightening his hold on Jason's hand.
"What are you thinking about?" Jason asked as they headed to the supermarket.
Toshiro smiled at him.
"I'm thinking that I like you very much, Jason Stone."
"Is that so?" Jason said with a wide grin. "I like you too, Toshiro Shindo. I wish you'd like me enough to tell me what's bothering you."
Toshiro squeezed Jason's hand.
"Maybe, I'm not telling you because I like you so much."
"That doesn't make sense."
"Because if you care for someone, you tell them how you feel, what you're going through so that they know and don't worry about you all the time."
"Are you saying you're worried for me?" Toshiro asked, once again the concept felt foreign to him.
"Of course," Jason said with a frown. "Aren't you worried about me?"
"What happens if I say no?"
Jason stopped outside the supermarket.
"I'll tickle you right here until you submit and confess the truth."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Keep laughing," Jason took a step closer, wiggling his fingers as though he was going to carry out his threat.
Toshiro let go of Jason's hand and dashed to the supermarket entrance. He didn't want Jason guessing how ticklish he really was, even the threat of it, made him want to laugh.
He grabbed a shopping cart as Jason came in to join him.
"I'll cook you something nice if you don't tickle me."
Jason folded his hands against his chest.
"Chicken," Toshiro suggested leaning on the cart as they went down the aisle.
"I think the Watsons have a grill, let's get steaks instead. I'll help you make them," Jason suggested as they headed to the dairy aisle.
"Hmm," Toshiro said stopping to take two percent milk because it was Jason's favorite. He grabbed four cartons and placed them in the cart.
"You'd tell me if something was wrong, wouldn't you?" Jason asked.
Toshiro stopped to study him wishing his life were simpler. Meeting Jason's concerned gaze, he wondered if it wouldn't be better to tell Jason the truth.
Rumbling thunder woke Toshiro at two in the morning on Sunday. He sat up on his bed staring at the shifting curtains covering his windows. Heart pounding hard, he reached to switch on the lamp on the bedside table to dispel the shadows.
Another low rumble came and he leaned back on the headboard, rubbing his eyes with a sigh. He shivered as a cool wind swept into the room and he turned to see the curtains moving. Sliding out of his bed, Toshiro rushed to the window and swept the curtain back.
The window was open, he slid it closed biting back panic as thunder rolled in again, and the slash of lighting lit up the sky and the flower garden behind the house. An uneasy feeling swept through him, growing more when he saw mud on the windowpane.
Fear slammed him and he ran out of his bedroom heading to Jason's room down the corridor. The door was open, hurrying in without a second thought, a wild cry wrenched from him when he saw blood on the white pillows. Jason's head lying at a strange angle, his green eyes wide open and unseeing…
Toshiro sat up with a gasp, barely able to hold back his loud moan. He took in a deep breath and looked around his bedroom. It was dark, the curtains still, thunder rumbled but it wasn't as dramatic as his dream. Getting off the bed, he went to check his window anyway. Pushing back the curtain to make sure the window remained closed. There was no one, only rain and waving trees in the lawn, he let the curtain drop and took a step back.
The dreams that plagued him when he slept…just imagining waking up to find Kaito in the house…he pushed his hair back and left his bedroom.
He walked down the corridor to Jason's door. He entered Jason's bedroom with quiet footsteps going to the bed to check on Jason.
Jason lay sprawled on the bed, his blonde hair tousled as he hugged his pillow. Jason was fast asleep, lost in his dreams.
Safe and sound, alive.
Toshiro fought the urge to stroke his fingers through the soft blond strands and instead dragged the covers over Jason's bare shoulders. Leaving Jason's room, he closed the door and went to the great room.
The rain kept falling. Raindrops drumming a frenzied beat on every surface they could.
Toshiro sank to the floor and sat staring into the dark night.
He thought about the night he'd watched Kaito's father kill that woman he'd loved like a mother. It had rained that night too, but what he remembered most was the smell in that horrible room behind the main house. That putrid stench that came from pig manure, so rotten and nauseating, he gagged every time he got a whiff. The Takumi Clan bred pigs for clean up purposes. He'd sworn of pork the moment he'd realized the type of diet those pigs lived on. The stench of pig manure reminded him of death.
Toshiro closed his eyes, remembering the sound of Ryu Takumi's fists against that woman's face. Hard blows that had torn skin, bloodstains on that woman's dress, her eyes swollen and red. She'd stopped crying after Ryu Takumi had threatened to hurt Toshiro. Toshiro cried for her instead because in her own way, despite the drugs they gave her, despite her need for that high, she'd loved him. She had loved him enough to endure Ryu's brutality in silence.
That woman was the last person to show him love. She was the last to hold him, or chastise him with affection, to care if he ate or slept.
The last person until Jason, he thought with a sigh.
"Toshi," Jason said startling him.
Jason sat to his left and bumped his shoulder affectionately.
"The storm woke me up," Toshiro said.
They sat in silence each lost in their own thoughts, watching the rain.
"What are you thinking about in the dark?" Jason asked after a while.
"How tired I am of lies," he said with a long sigh.
"If you're tired of lies, then embrace the truth."
"Yep," Jason said.
"What if the truth is ugly?"
"Even if the truth is ugly," Jason said. "It's better than lying."
Toshiro turned to look at Jason's profile.
Sitting here in the dark, remembering their date, Jason's teasing and their kisses, it suddenly seemed so easy. So easy to just tell Jason the truth. Maybe if he could tell Jason, then he'd have a chance, a way forward. A way to live because he was so tired, so exhausted of this darkness inside him.
Toshiro stood up abruptly and went to turn on a lamp set on a stool by the couch. Yellow light flooded the room and he came back to sit on the floor facing Jason. He took Jason's right hand, clinging to the surge of courage inside him. He swallowed hard and traced the rough lines on the tips of Jason's fingers caused by working with metal.
"I've never met anyone like you," Toshiro said.
He kept his head down, planning his story.
"Hard working, kind, and generous, I never got the chance to be any of those things."
Toshiro scoffed quietly and shook his head.
"Seeing you, makes me want to find out if there is more to life than what I've known. You said I should get to know you better before we can go further, but I think you're the one who needs to know who and what I am."
"Toshi?" Jason asked.
"Please listen, Jason, before I lose my nerve," Toshiro said. "I knew the man who stabbed me in the forest the day you saved me."
"His name is Kaito Takumi. I've lived with his family since I was born. They paid for my school, my university." Toshiro swallowed hard as he lifted his head to meet Jason's shocked gaze. "They own me, Jason."
"What do you mean they own you?" Jason squeezed his hand. "No one can own you."
Toshiro shook his head in amusement.
"Yes, it is possible to own a man, Jason. The Takumi Clan owned me up until three weeks ago. When I'd served my purpose, Kaito Takumi stabbed me and left me for dead. I'd have died and disappeared from this world without anyone batting an eyelash."
"But you didn't die, Toshi." Jason touched his jaw with his left hand. "Please don't talk about yourself as though you don't matter. I don't like it."
Toshiro let go of Jason's hand, folded his hands on his lap and met Jason's kind gaze.
"Maybe it will make sense if I start from the beginning. The first thing I remember as a child is playing with a surgical needle. My m—,"
Toshiro hesitated, and then continued.
"My mother was a whore, who got high every moment she could. She worked at the bar the Takumi family owned in Kobe. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor above the bar. Despite her pleasures, she was good to me. She made sure I ate, slept and was dressed. She's the one who bought me a bicycle and would watch me ride it in the alley behind the bar."
"We didn't have much, but I think living in her house is the happiest I've ever been," Toshiro said with a small smile. "Anyway, one night when I turned eight, I came home from playing with the neighborhood kids to find the head of the Takumi clan had taken my mother. His men were ransacking our small apartment and when they finished, they took me back to the Takumi compound. There, I found Ryu Takumi beating my mother to death in this horrible room he used for torture."
Jason moved to take his hand but Toshiro refused. He had to get this out or he never would.
"She died that night," Toshiro said. "I cried and mourned for her."
He shook his head with a sigh.
"Ryu Takumi told me her death was a lesson. A lesson that there was no mercy and I shouldn't expect any from him or the world. His hard tone dried my tears fast, I was afraid he'd kill me next. He said I amused him, so he turned me into Kaito's errand boy that night. My career in an organized crime family started there."
Toshiro stared at the floor.
"I have done things."
"What kind of things?" Jason asked.
"Terrible things," Toshiro shook his head. "The list is too long. Stealing, fighting, extortion, kidnapping, solicitation, if you count it all, I'm headed to hell."
"Toshi," Jason said moving to touch him, but he wouldn't allow it.
Not until this was over.
"There is more," Toshiro said harshly. "You have to hear it all, Jason. You need to hear it."
"Then tell me," Jason said.
Toshiro stared at Jason's unchanging gaze, waiting for the disgust to creep in to those gorgeous green eyes.
"Life changed when I moved into the Takumi compound. They broke me down, whittling away weakness and fear, leaving only the need for survival. I learned fast. I did so well, that Ryu took notice," Toshiro said. "Ryu and Kaito wanted to increase their profits, so I learned all I could and helped them with their businesses. When I turned eighteen, Kaito had his father killed when Ryu refused to legitimize the business. After the funeral, Kaito sent me here to study finance. Suddenly, we weren't running the usual small businesses; instead, we were going after corporations in Japan and around the world. Extortion, murder, company takeovers, I've helped Kaito do it all."
"Why did he stab you?"
Toshiro's gaze fell to his lap.
"Kaito and I were lovers."
"Do you love him?" Jason asked.
"There was no place for love in our relationship," Toshiro answered shaking his head. "Kaito loves his money, and power, not people. He stabbed me because I was in the way."
"In the way of what?" Jason asked.
"In the way of his business," Toshiro covered his face with his hands. "It turns out the mother I thought was dead is not my real mother. The family I thought I didn't have exists. My whole life has been a lie."
"Toshiro," Jason moved closer wanting to pull him into his arms. When Toshiro tried to push him away, Jason snapped. "Will you let me hold you?"
"I thought you wanted to know where I went when I left."
"I do, but watching you struggle to tell me is driving me insane." Jason tangled their fingers and sighed. "I'm not going to change my mind about you, Toshi."
Toshi stared at their hands and shook his head.
"I'm quite sure you have no sense of self-preservation."
Jason squeezed his fingers.
"Where did you go? Why do you have that wound on your arm?"
"I went to confront Kaito."
"Why would you do that? You're crazy, Toshiro. He could have killed you."
"He tried," Toshiro said with a scoff. "I got away. Look, I needed to know why he stabbed me. I needed to know because it was personal. All those scars on my back are punishments from him for failing one thing or other. He's whipped me for refusing to shoot a boy who'd stolen bread from one of the bakeries he owns. He didn't kill me then, so why now?"
Toshiro shook his head.
"It turns out he did it to keep my real father from finding me."
"Because," Toshiro stood up unable to keep still. "The Takumi family kidnapped me from a wealthy neighboring family when I was a child. They hid me so well, and had me believe I was an orphan, while my real parents looked for me."
"Oh God," Jason sat staring at him. "Does that mean your mother is not dead?"
"My real mother is alive and well. So is my father. Apparently, he's spent years trying to find me. Now that he's so close, Kaito tried to kill me to win the game."
"Your parents being alive is good news, isn't it?" Jason asked. "I mean, you're not alone anymore—"
"I can never be with them," Toshiro said, hating the shame that washed over him. "I was so angry with Kaito when he told me the truth. I met up with an FBI Agent who has been on Kaito's case for a while and gave him all the evidence he needed. What I did is going to make Kaito lose everything he gained in the last few years. Kaito might end up in jail, but it won't stop him from making sure someone keeps looking for me. I'm a marked man, Jason."
"Marked man, like a hit?" Jason got off the floor. "Surely, the police can do something for you. Maybe put you in protective custody, witness protection—
"I wish it was that easy," Toshiro cut in. "The Takumi family has a long reach, even in protective custody, they'd get me. The only reason why I came back here is because Kaito would think I've headed to Japan."
Jason ran his hands through his hair.
"What are you telling me?"
Toshiro sighed and turned to face Jason.
"Since that woman I thought was my mother died, you're the first person to show me kindness in years. I was so tired after finishing with Agent Baron; I just wanted to see you. I don't know how long I can stay here with you, Jason. I don't even know if I can give you more than this coming week."
"So, you're in danger?" Jason asked studying him.
"I'm always in danger, Jason. Kaito Takumi wants me dead. He'll do anything to make it happen."
Jason wiped a hand down his face. Toshiro's story sounded out of a movie. The conclusion would be that Toshiro was trouble.
Trouble with a big capital T.
Yet, he couldn't look at the younger man without wanting to protect him. There was this need burning inside him to pull Toshiro into his arms and tell him that all was fine. That Toshiro would be okay. That—
What was he thinking? If the police couldn't help, how was he supposed to help?
"Jason," Toshiro said then, his eyes sad. "I know it's a lot to take in."
"Don't talk," he said holding up his hand. "I'm thinking."
"About what?" Toshiro asked with a small smile.
"How can you smile like that?" he demanded.
Every cell in his body trembled with fear. Fear that this Kaito might find Toshiro. That Toshiro might die if he left this house.
"I'll leave if you want me to," Toshiro said looking at him with hollow eyes, there was no accusation, no hate, just acceptance.
"I said not to say another word," he ordered. "What was your plan? Come here, stay with me, have a good time, then go back to die? How long were you going to stay?"
Toshiro shrugged negligently.
"And then what?"
Toshiro looked out the window.
"Go back to Japan and figure out what to do, survive as always, if things went well I'd be free. If they don't…" he trailed off.
"You'd be dead," Jason finished for him.
Toshiro glanced at him then with a small shrug.
"That's just how things are in my life, Jason. Now you know the truth. Can you accept it?"
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