It was a nice day. A brilliantly sunny contrast to the last few that Yoji had spent in London. It was if the world was saying, ‘things are looking up’ and that this meeting with Mihrogi would be an advantageous one.
Aya seemed to think it would. Aya kept throwing surreptitious little glances Yoji’s way through the duration of finishing the tea Yoji had made for him, as if to assure himself that Yoji felt the same. As if he were afraid, Yoji thought with some fluttering bit of satisfaction, that Yoji had other plans entirely for his future that did not include as association with KyrptonBrand, even if it was a tenuous one. As if he had other plans that did not include association with Aya. It was never said outright, never even hinted at, but Yoji’s inner voice seemed inclined to believe that was the core emotion behind Aya’s subtle flickers of uncertainty.
There was some previously benign sadistic part of Yoji that rather appreciated a little uncertainty on Aya’s part. Fair was fair.
Yoji ruffled through his pile of clothing while Aya went to dress. Came up with a clean pair of khakis he’d bought at the market when he was out with Ken and a black T-shirt free of tears or worn spots. Tucked in with a belt, he thought he looked halfway presentable.
Aya came out in a pale ochre shirt that suitably contrasted the deep auburn of his hair, cream colored slacks with the faintest tracings of a deeper brown plaid pattern and supple brown loafers. He looked like something that ought to be on the cover of a magazine. Not square-jawed and masculine enough to fit the GQ standard. More some vaguely homoerotic men’s fashion mag that doubled as jerk-off material for both male and female readers. Yoji tore his eyes away, telling himself for the umpteenth time that staring and mooning over Aya like an infatuated schoolboy every time he walked into a room would win him no points on the respectability scale.
He was not a love struck puppy. He was stronger than that, tempered by years of emotional turmoil and a forced rediscovery of just who Kudoh Yoji really was.
He stood up, holding out his arms and displaying his thrift store fashion to Aya. “Its as dressy as I’m gonna get with my present wardrobe. Passable?”
Aya canted his head, lashes flickering down as his eyes passed down Yoji’s body. A faint smile curved his lips. “You’ll do. They don’t require coat and tie where we’re going.”
“Excellent. I’m not in a coat and tie mood.”
“Are you ever?”
Since there was more amusement in Aya’s voice that disapproval, Yoji grinned and draped an arm across his shoulders in an entirely comradely fashion. “I had to wear a tie the entire time I was slaving away in the office. I’m done with them.”
If it had been Ken that would have been that. Yoji might have steered him in the direction of the door to get them on their way before disengaging and going on as if nothing untoward had happened. But Aya’s hair on his arm as he started to move made him suck in his breath. The warmth of Aya’s skin under the thin material of his shirt made thinking coherently a momentary problem. Aya tilted his head looking up at Yoji, eyes unreadable behind their mask of thick black lashes. But there was a pliant uncertainty to the set of his mouth that Yoji read well enough.
It was as if the heat that had fragmented Yoji’s thoughts a moment before had suddenly become unbearably hot. He jerked his arm away, taking a sudden step back in self-preservation. Was that fear that curled in his gut? It had the familiar stench of it.
“Yoji?” Aya’s face had gone a little pale. His brows drawn in concern.
Yoji waved a hand, forcing the grin back. “Yeah? I’m starved. Tell me this Mihrogi chick is treating?”
Aya blinked at him, the furrow still between his brows before he straightened his shoulders and erased all expression from his face.
“Of course,” He said smoothly, and padded towards the door, making little noise on the hardwood floor with his soft-soled shoes. Yoji clomped after him, boot heels echoing in the silence.
They went out the back door, to a tidy, but plain little backyard and through a gate in the fence that separated the property of Aya’s building to that of the main one next door. This back yard preened under much more conscientious care than Aya’s. There was a patio made of flagstone at the foot of the back steps into the house, with a wrought iron table and chairs. Chloe reclined in one, fingers idly resting on the handle of a teacup on the tabletop before him. His eyes lazily tracked them as they followed the short stone path towards the house.
Aya nodded and Chloe seemed well versed enough in Ayaisms to take the non-verbal response as a cheerful good morning greeting.
“Morning,” Yoji said.
“You’re off to see Miroghi, I take it?” Chloe took a sip of his tea. His hands, beneath the cuffs of a lilac stained silk shirt were very pale and long. Fingernails immaculately well manicured.
“Yes.” Aya hesitated at the juncture of footpath and steps.
“I wish her luck in finding something to do with him.”
“He’s standing right here.” Yoji said, forcing a smile.
“Of course.” Chloe said in a tone of voice that Yoji usually reserved for speaking to children . . . or the mentally deficient.
Chloe’s little half smile never left his lips, but his gaze flicked over Yoji and dismissed him, before returning to linger on Aya with a subtle consideration that made the skin on Yoji’s balls itch. Yoji could honestly admit to himself that he’d been a predator, on several levels, once upon a time. He’d stalked sensual game with as much skill as he’d stalked his kills. He could just as honestly admit that the years of not knowing who or what he was had drained a great deal of that particular predilection out of him, but it didn’t mean he didn’t know another predator when he saw one, preening in the sun waiting for suitable prey to wander by.
He felt the niggling urge to move in close to Aya, invade his personal space and maybe lay a proprietary hand on him as he was fiddling with the lock on the garage door, just to make boundaries crystal clear. Only, things weren’t particularly clear and he wasn’t sure his own insecurities weren’t making him imagine things that weren’t there. For all he knew, Chloe gave his doddering grandma the same look he’d given Aya.
He kept the fake smile on and fought against the urge to reach into his pocket for the half pack of smokes he had stashed there and followed Aya into the brownstone’s garage.
The lights came on automatically, motion sensitive, revealing an area not much smaller than the foundation of the building. There were several cars in residence. A big SUV, a black sedan, a new model blue sports car, a somewhat beat up bike with spatters of mud that he could only assume belonged to Ken and an absolutely stunning, ’66 Austin Healey hardtop. He ran a hand along the edge of the gleaming hood while Aya was heading for the sedan.
Aya hesitated with the driver’s side door open, looking back at Yoji drooling over the Austin Healey.
“That’s Chloe’s. He refurbished it from near the tires up, practically.”
Really? Yoji would never have guessed Chloe the sort to dirty his hands playing mechanic. Pay someone else to do it, sure, but dirty those perfect nails?
Yoji cast a last admiring glance at the car and got into the far less exciting sedan with Aya.
They drove into the city for the luncheon, pulling up in front of a restaurant that looked more like a ritzy hotel front, sandwiched in-between two other stuffy, old money buildings. Someone rushed up to take the car, giving Aya a ticket stub, which Aya absently put into his pants pocket.
Miroghi was already there and the pretty little hostess showed them to her table. Miroghi didn’t rise when they approached, didn’t really smile, other than a polite curl of her red lips and an inclination of her head. She was Japanese and model pretty, with dark hair artfully coiled atop her head and a tailored suit that flattered her curves. Every bit the lady, until you caught a glimpse of the glitter in her dark eyes. Yoji thought she looked like some high-priced executive secretary, prim and perfect and organized on the outside and black-lace vixen underneath.
“Kudoh Yoji. How nice to finally meet you.” She greeted him with an accent that sounded vaguely like she’d picked up her English in India. There was an entirely pleasing lilt to her voice.
“Yeah, I’ve heard a little bit about you, too.” A little bit of the predator came back and he smiled at her rakishly, imagining the black lace in a little more detail than he had before.
She canted her head, eyeing him speculatively. “Are you having inappropriate thoughts about me, Mr. Kudoh?”
He shrugged and leaned back in the chair, smile turning lazy and just a little bit dangerous. “If I’m having those sorts of thoughts, the least you can do is call me Yoji.”
Her lashes fluttered just a bit, a tiny little lapse that let him know that he hadn’t lost his ability to charm his way into the female heart – – or at least lower parts of the anatomy – – then she reaffixed the executive assistant facade and arched a brow at him.
“Well, Yoji, it seems your personnel files haven’t exaggerated the range of your talents.”
Aya made a soft, disgusted sound, favoring Yoji with one of his less than pleased, narrow stares. Yoji found himself rather buffered by the displeasure directed his way. The fact that he could still irritate Aya with his flirting, still spark that little nub of jealousy was a heartening discovery.
“So word is, you’ve found me an honest job?” Yoji idly glanced at the single parchment sheet of the lunch menu, comprehending about half of the descriptions. The numbers he had no problem with. Outrageously overpriced.
“Aya has explained your preferences in the matter.” Miroghi said, after the waiter had come over and taken their orders. Yoji wasn’t entirely sure what it was he had ordered, but thought red meat had been mentioned in the description.
Yoji shrugged, the beginnings of nerves making themselves known. The coolest face in the world wasn’t going to change the fact that this was not a small thing, taking work from Kryptonbrand, even if it wasn’t work work. He had to trust that Aya had been looking out for his interests, when he’d gone out to talk about him with Miroghi and her boss. It still made him nervous, letting somebody else slide him into a position that he might or might not be able to tolerate.
Miroghi handed him a slip of paper, with a name and an address printed on it, in both English and Japanese. Considerate of her.
Reggie Platt. Yoji wasn’t sure if that were a man’s name or a rude description of his bodily functions. He looked up at Miroghi curiously.
“Mr. Platt is a local private investigator who occasionally accepts freelance work from our organization. He engages in the type of work Aya has informed me you’re interested in pursuing and he has agreed to take you on in an apprenticeship basis until you’re more familiar with the way things work here.”
Yoji glanced at Aya, but there was no readable expression there. He turned the paper in his hands and shrugged. Jumping into the unknown was his specialty, it seemed.
“Set up a time.”
She smiled, a polite gesture that didn’t reach her eyes. “You have a meeting tomorrow.” She slid an envelope across the table to him. “I’ve taken the liberty of setting up firmer documentation for you, an investigator’s license, appropriate ID. Anyone trying to track down Kodoh Yoji formally of Krittiker employ will not find him here in England.”
He nodded, feeling the roots of permanency start to creep up and take hold. Years ago the notion of setting down those very roots would have made him want to do nothing but flee. Now – – after a few years of normalcy – – the idea wasn’t so bad. And Aya was here and Aya seemed more content than Yoji could ever remember seeing him.
He folded the packet and stuffed it in his pocket. “So tell me about this guy – – he any good?”