From the Cup of the Worthless

by Cynus

Chapter 19

Nobuyuki paced the room outside of Masahiro's bedchamber. Dr. Yamaoka was inside, changing Masahiro's bandages and giving him a thorough checkup, and Nobuyuki had decided to give them privacy. He'd been keeping an almost constant vigil over his father's side, fearing that Daisuke might sneak back into the hotel somehow and attempt to kill him.

Katsumi had been present nearly the entire time as well, but Nobuyuki didn't trust even her to be alone with him. Although he'd considered her like family back in Kyoto, she was new to the city, and years had passed since she'd last been an active influence on Masahiro's life. The only people he trusted at all were Satoshi and Dr. Yamaoka, both of whom had proven their loyalty many times in the past, and then again over the past few days.

Nao was next, and his apparent loyalty would likely earn him a place of honor in the future, becoming Satoshi's second in command, but Nobuyuki was still unsure of his feelings toward his intentions. Nothing seemed certain anymore, except that Masahiro's life was still in danger. Until Masahiro was back in full health, Nobuyuki wouldn't be able to let his guard down, even for a little bit.

But today things had to be different. Today, Vladimir and Dimitry would be coming to collect Alexi and take him home. It had only been three days since Daisuke had disappeared after attacking both Alexi and Masahiro, and Alexi was still recovering as Masahiro was, though his youth had helped speed that recovery along. Alexi was looking much better now since he had begun receiving proper rest and sustenance, and though he was still under heavy guard he no longer looked like a prisoner of war. He knew he was being released, and that knowledge had completely restored his spirits.

Dr. Yamaoka exited the room and Nobuyuki stopped pacing, sharing a look with the elderly man as he took a step toward the door. A split second later he received a notification in his ear that Vladimir was calling. He stopped walking and answered the call.

"We've arrived, Nobuyuki," Vladimir said formally. "We just pulled up in front of the building."

"You're here?" Nobuyuki echoed before glancing at Masahiro's bedroom door. "I'll tell my father you've arrived. I suggest you approach openly, through the lobby, in order to avoid suspicion."

"That's the instruction we received from our boss as well," Vladimir replied, chuckling.

"Right, I guess I'm overstepping my bounds a little bit here, huh?" Nobuyuki said, putting his palm to his face and shaking his head. He'd gone over the details meticulously with Masahiro and Satoshi over the past two days, and they'd presented those details to the Russians. There was no reason to believe Vladimir and Dimitry wouldn't have received just as detailed instructions.

"No, you just want this to go right like we do," Vladimir replied, and Nobuyuki breathed a sigh of relief at Vladimir's uncharacteristic understanding. Then his nervousness returned slightly as Vladimir said, "I have a surprise for you, Nobuyuki."

"A surprise?" Nobuyuki echoed.

"Yeah," Vladimir said. "You'll see when you get down here."

"I can hardly wait," Nobuyuki replied. "I'll see you soon. You'll meet your escort by the elevators."

They said their goodbyes and Nobuyuki ended the call. He stared at his father's door for a moment, hesitating as he thought about sending someone else to meet the others downstairs. But Vladimir was expecting him specifically, and it wouldn't be polite or even in Nobuyuki's character to avoid seeing them just to stay with Masahiro for a few minutes longer. He sighed and walked to the door, knocking to make sure his father was in a comfortable position before walking in. He heard Masahiro's muffled invitation and then opened the door.

As soon as he entered the room, Masahiro gave him a patient smile, though there was frustration in his eyes as well. Nobuyuki figured it was just the pain his father was still fighting off, and was glad to be able to deliver some good news in the hopes of improving his father's mood. "Father," he said, bowing formally, "the Russians are here to take Alexi home with them."

"Good," Masahiro replied, nodding once. "I'm sick of having him here anyway. I trust you and Satoshi can handle the exchange without me?"

Nobuyuki nodded, glad his father seemed to be giving him leave to handle the exchange. As long as Masahiro thought he would be okay alone, then Nobuyuki could justify leaving him. "Yes, Father. It should only be Vladimir and Dimitry, and neither of them are armed. I made sure to reinforce that last night. We should expect no trouble from them."

"Then I leave this in your capable hands, Nobuyuki," Masahiro said, nodding as his smile widened. Nobuyuki nodded back and turned to go, eager to get on with the exchange so he could get back to guard his father, but Masahiro said something just before he slipped back out the door. "Before you go, there's something you should know."

"Yes?" Nobuyuki asked, turning back to face Masahiro.

"I got in touch with the Americans," Masahiro explained in a neutral tone, though his eyes revealed he was holding back something. "From what you told me, your friend Dante had quite an influence on this exchange, and in helping to unmask Daisuke as the traitor. I thought it was time I spoke with his uncle about that alliance."

Nobuyuki grinned, glad the news was at least good news. "Dante will be very happy to hear that. I'm sure he's eager to take advantage of that alliance already."

Masahiro laughed at that and replied with a sly smile, "He's a criminal. Of course he is."

"But you'll keep him on his toes," Nobuyuki replied with a reassuring grin. "You always do. No one takes advantage of you."

Masahiro's smile disappeared altogether as his eyes became grim. "Thank you, Nobuyuki, but I don't feel particularly wise today. I let Daisuke take advantage of me, and refused to listen to you when your instincts told you it was he who had betrayed me." Masahiro shook his head and said with a touch of restraint in his tone. "Nobuyuki, watch your back out there. Daisuke might come after you, and he might attack you during the exchange as well, assuming he's bold enough to come after you in broad daylight."

"Why would he?" Nobuyuki asked, thinking it absolutely ludicrous that Daisuke would come after them in the hotel lobby, or on the fourth floor where the exchange would take place. "With all of us there, it would be suicidal."

Masahiro smiled and nodded slowly, though he was still holding something back as he replied, "That's what I'm counting on, but I don't think you should let your guard down, either."

Nobuyuki knew he wasn't going to be able to get any more details from Masahiro about what was going on, and he didn't even try. Instead he replied simply, "I never have. There's no need to worry about that."

"Of course," Masahiro said, waving Nobuyuki away. "Now go, we don't want to keep them waiting any longer."

Vladimir and Dimitry cautiously approached through the lobby with Dante and Viktor hanging back behind them. Dante was dressed as his usual self, the image of criminal refinement in a rich blue suit and tie, tailor-made and accentuating his body in the best way possible. Viktor, however, looked nothing like his usual self. Dante had gone to great lengths to make sure he would look like he belonged with Vladimir and Dimitry; roughing up his hair and face, and putting him in street clothing which Viktor would have never worn otherwise. To top it off he'd added a pair of sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, which both obscured enough of his facial features to hopefully keep any of the guards from recognizing him. They would have only seen him once before, and not for any extended period of time, but there was no room for chances.

So far it had worked, or at least if any of the security staff had recognized Viktor they hadn't made any moves. Vladimir had found the entire process amusing, but they also had yet to be informed of Viktor's short stay at the hotel. Viktor had said he'd never found the right time to tell his brother, but Dante assumed Viktor simply didn't know what his brother would do if he knew the full story. Now wasn't the time for Vladimir to be filled with rage over what had happened to Viktor at the hands of the Yakuza. He was angry enough as it was with what had happened to Alexi.

Dante smirked as they approached the elevators, realizing that if Vladimir had any sense at all, he'd keep that notorious anger of his in check. There were six Yakuza guards waiting for them, all armed with both handguns and knives, and they were watching the group approach like hawks watching mice scurry across barren ground. This was only going to go the way the Yakuza wanted it to, or it wouldn't happen at all.

One of the yakuza greeted them, his face slightly more pleasant than that of his fellows, though that only meant he wasn't scowling. "If you'll just come this way," he said, gesturing toward the door which led to the stairs. "We would prefer to have this exchange somewhere other than in the public eye."

Dimitry, the appointed speaker for the group, bowed slightly and replied, "Understood." He stepped toward the door as another of the six moved to open it for them, and then led the group inside. They found another pair of guards on the other side of the door who watched them with the same level of scrutiny as the guards outside had.

"I'm still surprised Nicki let us be the ones to come," Vladimir muttered to Dimitry as he joined him on the other side of the doorway, barely loud enough for Dante to hear. "I thought they were going to send someone more important."

"Who is more important to Alexi?" Dimitry replied.

"Good point," Vladimir said. He then glanced over his shoulder at Dante and Viktor as they joined them on the landing and said, "You two are very quiet. What's gotten into you?"

Viktor glanced around nervously at the armed guards and muttered, "Last time I was here, they weren't very nice to me."

Vladimir raised his eyebrow and asked, "You've been here before?"

"Shit . . ." Viktor said, looking away from his brother's face. "Um, yeah, we'll talk about it later." Dante sighed and immediately regretted it as Vladimir turned his attention to him.

"All right," Vladimir said. "Dante, my brother was here before?"

"Don't drag me into this," Dante replied. "If Viktor never told you, that's on him. All I did was rescue him."

"You rescued him?" Vladimir asked, eyes widening incredulously.

They were pulled from their conversation by the lead Yakuza gesturing toward the stairs. "Right this way, gentleman. We'd like to keep this moving as smoothly as possible. I'm afraid we have to check you for weapons, now."

Dante breathed a sigh of relief that the conversation would be avoided for the time being as Dimitry answered, "Of course."

A Yakuza stepped up to each of the four and began patting them down, checking their sleeves and shoes as well. Once they were satisfied they stepped away and waited for their commander to speak again.

"All right, up the stairs," the lead Yakuza said with a satisfied nod. "The exchange will take place several floors above us."

Two Yakuza took the lead and turned at the first landing, waiting for the group to pass as they watched stoically. As they continued upward, Dante wasn't surprised in the least to see there were two Yakuza at each landing, all with the singular purpose of making sure Vladimir and Dimitry didn't do anything they shouldn't. It was a classic show of strength which Dante had to applaud. Masahiro wanted the Russians to know he was ready should they decide to attack again, and would not be easily rattled.

But if Vladimir and Dimitry were intimidated, they didn't show it, and kept their sights firmly on the goal ahead. They knew what Masahiro was doing as surely as Dante did, and it would take more than an overabundance of guards to make them nervous. They were here for Alexi, not for surveillance, and that was enough to keep them focused until they reached the fourth floor.

The door was opened for them and they stepped into the antechamber which fed into the brothel. Alexi was already waiting for them, standing with his hands bound next to Satoshi who was watching Vladimir and Dimitry more than anyone.

Alexi didn't look as bad as Dante had expected from Nobuyuki's report to him. His face was slightly battered, but had clearly been healing. He was standing tall, if a bit shakily, and his complexion was healthy. Dante might have thought he was recovering from a sickness rather than a beating and a knife wound if he didn't know better. The one glaring injury was Alexi's missing finger, which was still red and swollen as if it were recovering from infection.

Dimitry didn't seem to share the same opinion as Dante about how good Alexi looked, and he took a step toward his cousin, eyes widening with shock. "Oh my god, Alexi! What have they done?"

Satoshi twitched and seemed about to respond when the side door to the room opened and Nobuyuki stepped through, closing it quietly behind him. He immediately turned his attention to Dimitry without looking at anyone else. "We haven't done anything, Dimitry," he said levelly. "The damage done to him was at the hand of Daisuke, the same traitor you helped unmask. All except the missing finger." He shrugged and said, " That was my father's doing, but I hope you'll understand it was a necessary part of the process."

"Whatever, Nobuyuki," Dimitry replied sullenly. "Just give us Alexi so we can get out of here?"

Alexi opened his mouth, clearly showing his spirit had returned as he said sarcastically, "Yes, any time would be great."

"He's yours," Nobuyuki said with a nod, keeping his focus on Dimitry and ignoring the others. "We'll escort you out the back. Less questioning eyes that way."

Satoshi cut the bonds on Alexi as Nobuyuki kept his eye on the prisoner. Alexi rubbed his wrists gingerly and then shuffled across the floor toward Dimitry, who immediately slid his arm under Alexi's shoulder to support him. "Can you walk?" He asked with a concerned frown.

"Their doctor has looked me over," Alexi replied with a grin, I'm weak, but I can make it to the taxi."

Vladimir stepped up to take Alexi's other arm, finally giving Nobuyuki a direct line of sight to Dante and Viktor. "Nicki is waiting with a shuttle. He'll be able to take all of us."

"All of y—" Nobuyuki started to ask, then stopped short as his eyes met Dante's, who met his stare with his roguish grin. "Dante?" he asked in disbelief before turning toward Viktor. "And . . ." He shook his head and grinned wide before forgetting himself and rushing to Viktor, wrapping him in a tight hug before repeating the gesture with Dante. "What the devil are you two doing here? This was supposed to be a Russian operation, only."

"Now there're two faces I didn't expect to see today," Satoshi said, facing first Dante and then Viktor and smiling slightly, giving them both a nod of greeting. "Glad to see you're both all right."

"Thanks, Satoshi," Dante said, turning his grin toward the man. "I intend to be back here often, now that we're allies."

"You already knew?" Nobuyuki asked with surprise.

Dante raised an eyebrow and replied, "Yeah, didn't you?"

Nobuyuki shook his head and said, "Masahiro only told me a few minutes ago."

Dante shrugged, hoping the truth didn't show in his face. He knew exactly why Masahiro hadn't said anything, but it wasn't time to tell Nobuyuki anything. The entire operation could be compromised if Nobuyuki knew. "He probably wanted it to be a surprise."

Nobuyuki's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he said, "There's something you're not telling me."

Dante shrugged again, knowing the game was up but unwilling to tell Nobuyuki the truth. So instead he simply offered his trademark grin and replied, "Yep."

"Okay . . ." Nobuyuki asked, fishing for an explanation. Dante continued to stare back at him, refusing to budge.

"Well, I know one thing we haven't told you, yet," Viktor said after clearing his throat. "The reason we're here is because the Russians want to thank us for our help in getting Alexi free. Even though I didn't really do anything . . ." he trailed off, unsure where he was going with the thought.

Dante reached out and squeezed Viktor's shoulder and said, "Sure you did. You kept Nobuyuki happy at least."

"You did do that," Nobuyuki said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Viktor blushed and then said, "You're coming too."

"I don't think Masahiro—" Nobuyuki began, only to be cut off by Dante.

"He's already cleared it. I asked him personally if you could come," Dante explained.

"And why didn't he tell me?" Nobuyuki asked skeptically.

"Because we wanted it to be a surprise," Dante said. His eyes sparkled mischievously as he continued, "You get to spend the whole day with us. Masahiro knew you'd feel obligated to stay by his bedside all day and he wanted me to tell you personally that he wants some time to himself."

Nobuyuki sighed as the wheels turned in his mind, and then he looked at Viktor and sighed again, though there was less bitterness in it the second time. "All right, I give. I'll go with you."

"Good, because I risked coming here just to convince you," Viktor said, glancing nervously at Vladimir.

"Oh, Viktor . . ." Nobuyuki said, smiling sadly. "You're welcome here now. Satoshi is now in charge of security."

Viktor looked at Satoshi out of the corner of his eye and whispered, "He put a gun to my head."

Nobuyuki leaned in close and whispered seductively, "So did I . . ."

"What?" Vladimir asked, looking over at them and glaring at Nobuyuki. "When did you do that?"

Dante sensed the double entendre and shook his head, rolling his eyes. "I did not need to hear that . . ."

Dimitry brought the room back to order as he said, "Hey, stop messing around. We're leaving."

Nobuyuki looked skeptically back at the door he had entered through and Dante knew he was thinking about leaving Masahiro alone. "I should probably tell—" Nobuyuki began, but then Satoshi stepped forward, holding Nobuyuki's school blazer which he'd kept hidden behind the reception desk.

"Nobuyuki, Masahiro told me to hand you this," Satoshi said with a wicked grin. "He said you'd feel naked without your knife."

Looking around the room, Nobuyuki saw that almost everyone was grinning at him the same way. He shook his head and said helplessly, "This was all a conspiracy, huh?"

"It's what criminals do best," Dante said, wrapping his arm around Nobuyuki's shoulder as he started to guide him toward the door. "Now come on, let's go."

Vladimir was glad when they finally exited through the service door of the hotel and were no longer surrounded by Yakuza guards as far as the eye could see. He hadn't wanted to come to the hotel at all, except for the fact Alexi was there and needed him.

But he kept those sentiments to himself until they managed to call Nicki and have him drive over to where they were and pick them up. He helped Alexi into the van with Dimitry and then waited for the others to climb inside before closing the door firmly behind him and settling into his seat.

"Now we can finally speak freely," Vladimir said dryly, looking at Alexi and Dimitry and sharing a relieved look.

"You don't trust the Yakuza with your secrets, huh?" Dante asked, and Dimitry shot him a dark look, which did little to diminish his impish grin.

"I couldn't trust them with my cousin, either," Dimitry shot back.

"You going to keep holding a grudge?" Dante taunted.

"Nobuyuki owes Alexi a finger," Vladimir said with a sneer at Dante, then turned back to Nobuyuki and tried to turn it into a smile to take the edge off, but couldn't quite get it to work.

"Geez, how many does he have to give up for your family?" Dante asked with an exasperated sigh.

"W-what?" Vladimir stammered, staring hard at Nobuyuki who was giving Vladimir a blank expression.

Viktor spoke up and explained with an embarrassed smirk, "Nobuyuki saved my life, Vladi. Some time ago, actually. He cut off his finger to do it."

"Shit . . ." Vladimir said, shaking his head ruefully, "now I feel like an asshole."

"They've actually treated me very well since Daisuke's been gone," Alexi offered. "I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of telling them, though."

"You cooperated with me," Nobuyuki said with a shrug. "Thank you for those descriptions you gave us. We'll be keeping a close eye on all of the ones who beat you. Any or all of them might have worked for Daisuke."

"Don't mention it," Alexi said, face contorting into a scowl as he thought about Daisuke. "I want to see those bastards fry if I can."

"I'm surprised you're speaking to me so easily," Nobuyuki replied.

Alexi gave a slight shrug and said, "If Vladi and Dimitry trust you, I do too. It's as simple as that." He then gave Dante a sidelong glance and said, "How they ended up working with an American is more surprising to me."

"Dante has his uses," Vladimir admitted with a smirk.

"Yeah, I have my uses," Dante said, crossing his arms over his chest and pouting.

"The Americans closed down their brothel at Villa di Rosa in order to help you. Or rather, help Nobuyuki help us help you . . . or something like that," Vladimir explained, shaking his head in confusion as he analyzed whether or not his words had made any sense.

"What?" Alexi asked, his tone surprised rather than questioning.

"Yeah. It was Dante's doing, or so I've been told," Dimitry said, eyeing Dante suspiciously.

"What does old Nikola think of you being with us today?" Vladimir asked, turning toward Dante and chuckling dryly.

Dante shrugged and said, "He doesn't like it, but he understands. He's also grateful for the arrangements you made."

Dimitry glanced at Nobuyuki briefly before turning back to Dante. "We were told it was the only way Masahiro would let Nobuyuki come with us. He doesn't trust us, so it had to be you."

Nobuyuki looked between Dimitry, Vladimir, and Dante and asked with obvious frustration, drawing the attention of everyone in the vehicle, "Will someone please tell me what's going on?"

Viktor raised his hand and said, "I would if I had any idea."

"Thanks, Viktor. At least someone loves me," Nobuyuki replied, turning to Viktor and kissing him on the mouth, extending the kiss long enough for everyone to see it.

Alexi's jaw dropped as he watched them and then turned to Vladimir, shaking his head in amazement. "Whoa . . ." he whispered, "Vladi, your brother's gay."

"Yeah," Vladimir snorted. "Don't worry, I know."

"And you didn't tell me?" Alexi asked, clearly hurt by the notion.

Vladimir laughed and replied, "It happened recently. You weren't exactly available."

"Shit," Alexi said, grinning wide for the first time since he'd left the hotel. "The things you miss when you're being tortured."

Nobuyuki felt rather out of place as he scanned the crowd of Russians. Most were giving him the cold shoulder, though some of the older ones had come over to him and thanked him for his part in bringing Alexi back to them. The entire setting felt weird, but at least there was food to eat and plenty to drink, and thankfully not all of it was alcoholic. The last thing Nobuyuki wanted was to pass out drunk in a room full of Russian mafia who might hold a grudge against his family.

Dante didn't seem as inhibited, and he'd had several shots of vodka and had immersed himself with the Russians. Somehow Dante's natural charisma won them over quickly, and they stopped giving him suspicious stares and instead invited him to sit with them time and time again.

Viktor had been pulled off to one side of the room by Dimitry and Alexi, who were asking him question after question. From the looks they gave Nobuyuki when he tried to get near them, it was obvious they were talking about him at first and he kept his distance instead. When Dimitry and Viktor started giving Vladimir the same looks when he returned from grabbing a drink, Nobuyuki wondered if they were now simply swapping stories of their 'boyfriends'.

It freed Vladimir up from conversation and he didn't seem interested in joining any of the other groups in the room. He began heading Nobuyuki's way and smiled warmly as he stopped next to him, leaning against the same wall. "Thanks for coming," Vladimir said before downing the shot of vodka in his hand. "I honestly wasn't sure you would. I was more surprised when they let us invite you and Dante, though."

"Hey, I'm surprised to be here," Nobuyuki replied, chuckling as he surveyed the room. "Never thought I'd end up at a Russian Mafia party."

"Viktor seems to be enjoying himself," Vladimir observed, glancing toward his boyfriend and his brother.

"Yeah, Dimitry has him cornered, huh?" Nobuyuki said, following Vladimir's gaze.

"Jealous?" Vladimir asked.

"Are you?" Nobuyuki returned.

"Not at all," Vladimir said, keeping his eyes on Dimitry and smiling wide. "I know where Dimitry stands."

Nobuyuki nodded even though Vladimir wasn't looking his way and said, "Yeah, same with Viktor."

Vladimir looked away but not to Nobuyuki. He raised his glass in his hand and stared at it thoughtfully. "My brother loves you," he said after a moment. "I can tell."

"And why are you telling me?" Nobuyuki asked, surprised by the statement, though it did fill him with a strange warmth.

Vladimir shrugged and said, "Just because."

"He needs you, you know," Nobuyuki said quietly.

"Yeah," Vladimir said, breathing in quick and then exhaling very slowly.

"You should . . ." Nobuyuki began, thinking about Vladimir's father and their fractured family. He couldn't bring himself to say anything more though, and he let the sentence drop.

But Vladimir knew what he was getting at and nodded slowly. "Yes, I should. Not sure I'm ready for that, though."

Nobuyuki smiled and said, "Don't wait too long."

"I'll think about it. Thanks, Nobu," Vladimir said quickly, and then pulled away from the wall to start walking away.

Nobuyuki caught his arm and stopped him before he'd gotten far and held him in place. "Vladi," he pleaded, and Vladimir looked toward him with a questioning eyebrow raised. "We have a chance for change here. Look at us, all here under one roof. Again. We've already gotten past our differences, you and I, and it seems even Dimitry and Alexi are fine with me as well."

"Alexi forgives easily . . ." Vladimir said uncomfortably, surprised by the topic change and clearly unsure how to respond to this new one. "Though how someone can forgive that . . ." he added, shaking his head as a complicated mix of emotions passed over his face.

"He probably saves most of it for Daisuke," Nobuyuki reasoned. "We made sure he was properly cared for afterward." When Vladimir gave him a blank look, Nobuyuki added, "Alexi tried to save Masahiro's life in the end."

"I see," Vladimir said, nodding slowly. "Well, he's got a good heart, even if he is a criminal."

"That's sort of what I'm getting at," Nobuyuki said with a soft smile. "We proved we can work together. I think we should make an agreement to keep that going."

"You want to form an alliance?" Vladimir asked, eyes widening with surprise.

Nobuyuki shook his head as his smile faltered, "Masahiro would never ally with the Russians, I'm afraid. He does not forgive easily. However . . ."


"One day I'll inherit Masahiro's position," Nobuyuki said in a rush and then continued more slowly. "When I get there, I think it would be better if we could learn to share this city, rather than fight over it."

Vladimir nodded slowly as he considered the thought. "I think that's wise. It's not like I have a great deal of power here, however."

Nobuyuki shook his head and smiled encouragingly. "No, but with your determination I'm sure you'll be successful at whatever you decide to do."

"You really think so?" Vladimir asked, eyes widening slightly.

"I know it," Nobuyuki replied with a single nod.

"Thanks, Nobuyuki."

"Of course."

Vladimir pulled away again, a thoughtful expression on his face as he moved back to Dimitry, Viktor, and Alexi and joined them even when they shot him dirty looks. They were all smiling a moment later and their laughter could be heard from across the room. Nobuyuki watched them for a moment before returning his attention to the rest of the room only to see Dante was right next to him.

"Hey, what were you and Vladimir talking about?" Dante asked, sliding into the position Vladimir had occupied a moment earlier.

"Forging an alliance," Nobuyuki replied, chuckling.

"Think he'll go for it?" Dante asked, glancing over to where the group was still laughing.

Nobuyuki nodded. "He's already on board."

"Good. You need more friends in the criminal underworld," Dante said with a wry smile.

Nobuyuki laughed helplessly and said, "I can't believe you're retiring."

Dante sighed and replied, "Neither could my uncle, but it's the right thing for me."

"Well, Viktor needs more friends outside of the criminal underworld, so I'm okay with it," Nobuyuki replied with a grin which didn't quite touch his eyes.

"Hah!" Dante laughed. "We'll make him a mobster yet."

"And ruin my boyfriend's purity?" Nobuyuki pouted.

"Yeah, so maybe not," Dante replied, smiling sadly at Viktor "Nothing should ever happen to Viktor. He's good just the way he is."

Nobuyuki surprised himself by voicing the doubts which had been going through his mind for the previous few days. "It almost makes me want to break up with him just to keep him safe."

Dante turned toward Nobuyuki with a horrified expression. Nobuyuki met his stare for a moment before Dante reached out and slapped him hard. "That was a horrible thing to say," he growled.

"I said 'almost'," Nobuyuki grumbled in surprise, rubbing his cheek. "I'd never be able to do it."

Dante's glare intensified for a moment and then began to soften slowly. "Yeah, and you'd better stop thinking it too. I saw the two of you together, remember? And I . . ." he blushed, and something made him hesitate before he smiled sadly and continued. "You two belong together. Don't ever forget that. It was like the whole universe was conspiring to make it happen. Believe me, I saw the whole thing."

"You're just a big romantic, aren't you?" Nobuyuki asked, shaking his head in amazement at the level of intense emotion he saw in Dante's eyes.

"Guilty as charged," Dante replied with a warning smirk. They held the stare for a long moment until Viktor interrupted them by clearing his throat. Dante and Nobuyuki turned toward him with surprise, as neither had seen him approach.

"Are you two ready to go?" Viktor asked.

"I guess it's that time, isn't it?" Dante said, glancing out the window to see the sun was quickly approaching the horizon. Nobuyuki didn't know what was going on and looked between them for an explanation.

"Yep," Viktor confirmed to Dante and then turned to Nobuyuki and said, "I promised my dad I'd be home for dinner."

"So we don't get to spend the night together, huh?" Nobuyuki asked, smiling sadly. The sting of Dante's slap was still with him, and it reminded him how much he wished he could spend every second with Viktor. How he could have ever thought of life without Viktor was beyond his understanding.

"No, but this weekend Dante invited us to that Villa of his," Viktor said, blushing as he glanced at Dante.

"Seriously?" Nobuyuki asked excitedly.

"Hey, it's not as nice as those baths of yours, but I think you'll like it," Dante said with a grin. "I invited Klara, too, but we'll stick to the other side of the villa, I think, and leave you two alone."

"Sounds wonderful," Nobuyuki said, looking back at Viktor and taking both of his hands in his own. "I look forward to it."

Vladimir started toward them through the crowd and as he joined them asked, "Hey, are you guys leaving?"

"Yep," Viktor replied. "Are you sure you won't come to dinner? I'm sure dad would want to see you."

Vladimir glanced at Nobuyuki before answering Viktor. "I'll think about it. Maybe I'll catch up to you later."

"Sure, Vladi," Viktor said with a sad smile. "Take your time. I'll see you soon."

Nobuyuki had kept his thoughts mostly to himself as they walked down the street, simply enjoying the feeling of the friendship around him. Viktor had kept one of his hands locked with Nobuyuki's ever since Nobuyuki had taken it at the party, and it was the perfect gesture to settle the doubts in Nobuyuki's mind.

Viktor didn't seem to want to ruin the moment either by saying anything, and they'd mostly walked in silence as the sun began to set, casting long shadows over the harbor. Nobuyuki hadn't spent a great deal of time near the water yet, and he made it a goal to do so more often. The reflection of the pink sky gave the water an almost magical appearance, and added to the warmth he felt in the presence of his lover.

The silence had to come to an end eventually though, as Dante was left to his own devices and had already attempted to keep his mouth shut for too long. He kept glancing back at Viktor and Nobuyuki holding hands and smiled wider every time until he finally said, "Viktor, can I say how happy I am to see you're holding Nobuyuki's hand in public?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Viktor asked, looking at Dante with confusion.

"I would have never guessed you'd get over your fear of being gay in public, that's all," Dante said, shrugging. "I'm proud of you."

"Yeah, well, there's a lot more where that came from," Viktor said.

"Oh really?" Dante asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yep," Viktor replied. He spun Nobuyuki around and drew their lips together quickly, pressing against Nobuyuki with hungry passion. He finally let go of Nobuyuki's hand and wrapped his arms around Nobuyuki's back, resting one hand in the small of his back and the other on his ass. He pulled Nobuyuki in tight, grinding against him as Nobuyuki responded in kind, sliding both of his hands to Viktor's rear and cupping his cheeks, pulling Viktor up slightly so Viktor could almost ride on top of his distended crotch. Viktor moaned in pleasure as he pulled at Nobuyuki's lower lip with his teeth gently.

Nobuyuki responded by lifting Viktor by his thighs and spinning around, pushing him against the brick wall of the building they were standing next to. He kept Viktor raised up as he thrust his hips forward, grinding his tented pants against Viktor's ass as he slid off Viktor's mouth and began making love to his neck.

Viktor moaned and ran his fingers through Nobuyuki's hair for a moment before kissing his forehead and whispering, "Okay, that's enough. We have to save some for this weekend."

Nobuyuki laughed and lowered Viktor to the ground before giving him three more slow kisses on the lips. When he was done they stared into each other's eyes for just a moment before turning to face Dante as if nothing had ever happened.

Dante's jaw had dropped, and his forehead was covered in sweat. He shook his head and stared at them with amazement. "Jesus that was . . ." he shifted uncomfortably and then adjusted his crotch, which Nobuyuki and Viktor could both easily see was bulging. "Fuck, do you guys always kiss like that?"

Viktor and Nobuyuki shared a look and then Viktor asked with a wide grin, "Want some?"

"No thanks . . ." Dante said hesitantly, staring at them with wonder.

"One more time, and then I have to go," Viktor said, turning toward Nobuyuki and nodding behind him. "My bus is back the way we came. I should have stopped around the corner but I didn't want to leave you."

"Thanks, Viktor. I love you," Nobuyuki replied as he kissed Viktor gently on the lips. When they parted he stared lovingly into Viktor's eyes and said, "Be careful. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"You mean you won't be a recluse in the hotel all day?" Viktor asked.

"No. Hard to be a recluse when you're there," Nobuyuki replied. "Come over, and I'll show you around."

"I'd like that," Viktor replied. He kissed Nobuyuki one more time and then said, "All right, I have to go or I'll be late."

They said their goodbyes and Viktor turned and started running down the sidewalk toward the bus stop which stood a few feet down from the corner. Nobuyuki and Dante watched him go for a second before Dante said with a touch of awe, "Man, I can't get over how good the two of you are together."

"Yeah, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have him," Nobuyuki said, grinning as he watched Viktor pull up at the bus stop. One other person was standing at the bus stop in a long brown coat and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. He glanced as Viktor arrived and lowered the newspaper he was holding.

"You'll have him for a long time," Dante said, resting his hand on Nobuyuki's shoulder.

"Yeah, I—" Nobuyuki began but stopped short as the man in the long brown coat turned toward Viktor and gave Nobuyuki a good look at the eyepatch he was wearing. He dropped the newspaper and revealed the long knife he'd been hiding behind it as he stalked menacingly toward Viktor.

"VIKTOR!" Nobuyuki shouted and started running with all the strength he could put into his legs, but as Daisuke raised the knife and prepared to strike, Nobuyuki knew the terrible truth; he would be too late, and Viktor was doomed.

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