After close to a year’s worth of anticipation, Blue Night had passed in the blink of an eye - almost literally, in Shin’s case. He had no idea what had been in that bastard Yakku’s needles, but one second he had been watching the chandelier come crashing down on him and the next he was opening his eyes to see Noi’s concerned face. Based on how long she told him she’d been looking for him, he had been out for over a day.
He thought there were still traces of the sedative pumping around his system, because he felt exhausted as he and Noi bid the others goodnight.
The fact that there were others was enough to make this Blue Night stand out already. Compared to the solitude Shin and Noi had enjoyed for their previous contract signings, the devils’ hut had felt packed. They’d left the hut as a party, and Shin marvelled at the oddity of it all; the new kids arguing with each other (he didn’t entirely blame Fujita for being angry, given the circumstances), Noi carrying En’s unexpected partner (still bound and gagged) slung over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and En himself in disturbingly high spirits. All the circumstances of his boss’ sudden partnership troubled Shin - so he didn’t think about them too much. You didn’t get very far by questioning the head of the family.
They were standing at the gates of the mansion. The others were heading for their beds, but Noi had asked that herself and Shin be excused. They’d agreed beforehand to spend at least part of the event alone with each other; it was tradition at this point, and it looked like now was going to be their last chance before Blue Night’s end. En had simply nodded, beckoning two guards forward to take his partner (prisoner?) from Noi, and now things were finally returning to how Shin preferred them; no rowdy companions, just himself and Noi, free to talk as they pleased.
He started walking away at a gentle stroll, intending to wander the grounds a little. Without looking, he knew that Noi was following close behind. He wondered if the almost physical sensation of her large presence was the same for everyone, or if he was just that in tune with her after all this time.
Noi didn’t maintain the silence for very long. Her voice drifted over his shoulder in a pleasant murmur.
“Hey… you know, you’re neglecting a very important tradition, sen-pai.”
She popped the “p” in that way she did when she was trying to wind him up. He kept walking, not looking at her, playing along.
“Oh yeah? And what would that be, Noi?”
“It’s said that if a partnership lasts for three Blue Nights, then a contract isn’t quite enough to continue it forever. Instead, whichever partner is older has to do something reeeeeally special for the other that takes their breath away. Otherwise, the partnership is doomed to failure.”
Shin smirked. “You’re just making this up.”
Noi harrumphed in exaggerated indignation. “I am not! It was in the play and everything. Weren’t you paying attention, senpai?!”
“No, I was not. I know for a fact you weren’t either, because you fell asleep on my shoulder halfway in. You got drool on my new suit.”
“Well, at least you get to keep your outfit! I got to wear mine for all of an hour before that shithead Bakku blew it up. And I looked hot in it, too!”
“Yeah, that was a shame. It did look really good on you.” Shin quietly mourned the loss of that stunning top for a moment. “Anyway… does this Definitely Real Tradition have a name?”
“It’s-“ A few seconds passed in silence. Caught you out. “It’s called the, uh, Blue Night Surprise…?”
He laughed aloud. “That sounds like a crappy restaurant special. Is that really the best you could come up with?”
She started protesting, but before she could get into full flow he wheeled around, finally facing her. In one fluid motion, Shin took Noi’s face in both hands and kissed her deeply.
Whatever excuse she’d been trying to get out was cut off into a muffled, breathy sigh of pleasure. Her lips parted against his own and their tongues met. Strong arms wrapped around his body, hands running across his back and through his hair, and he was conscious of just how much he was having to angle his face upwards. Noi stood almost half a foot taller than him now. Any further growth and he’d need a ladder.
He didn’t want this to end. I almost lost you , he thought, remembering how close their enemies had come to outmanoeuvring them. It could have been the two of them bound and gagged, forced to break their contract, separated so soon after they’d finally realised just how much they needed each other. Those thoughts only made him squeeze Noi tighter, kissing her more roughly. She responded enthusiastically, letting him take control; this was the only situation Noi preferred to not put up a fight in. Even then, sometimes she’d start a battle just for the hell of it.
Shin finally broke away, red in the face, his heart hammering in his chest. Noi’s lips chased his for a second, wanting more ( she was just as much of a glutton with lust as she was with food ), and he saw with satisfaction that she was just as flushed as him, and her breathing was ragged and heavy.
“How’s that for your ‘Blue Night Surprise’?” He managed to pant, still holding her close to him. “I definitely seem to have taken your breath away.”
Noi was positively glowing. “That’s a very strong start, senpai. Not enough for me… but a good beginning.”
He grinned at her. It had been too long since they’d last kissed. He’d wanted to since he’d opened his eyes lying in that bodybag with her kneeling over him, but of course those damn kids had been there, too. Shin was very uncomfortable with public displays of affection. He knew Noi understood, but he tried to compensate for it when they were alone.
He parted from Noi, a little reluctantly, but reached for her hand instead. They set off walking again, fingers linked together. He enjoyed feeling how her soft skin rubbed against his stitches.
“You know”, he mused, “a couple years ago, just the thought of holding your hand would have mortified me. Let alone a kiss like that.”
She snickered. “I always used to think it was funny how much you went red. You were like some chaste schoolgirl. I just thought that’s what you were like with sex in general. I had no idea it was just for little ol’ me.”
She latched onto his arm, leaning her head onto his shoulder briefly. Their height difference made it almost comical; Noi was anything but little.
Shin smiled. “‘Chaste schoolgirl’ isn’t so far from the truth.” If he was honest with himself, he had never properly felt the allure of sex before now; back in his younger years, he’d had a few brief flirtations with other teenagers in Hole, but long hours working with his father and the need to keep a low profile had gotten in the way of romantic exploration. Then the upending of his life had pushed any of those thoughts far from his head. He had been content with the idea that he would never have a physical relationship, until his then-crush on his partner began to blossom. And look where that had gotten him.
Noi giggled. “And look at you now”, she teased, eerily echoing his own thoughts. “You’ve successfully corrupted your innocent young junior, you old pervert.”
Even though he knew it was on purpose, that was full of so many falsehoods that he couldn’t help but splutter with indignation. “Corrupted? Innocent?! Old? Pervert?! ”
As always, she laughed at his protests, moving her hand to his shoulder and squeezing him in a quick sideways hug. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I’m sure as shit not the innocent one in this relationship.”
Even now, almost a year after they’d finally talked about what they wanted together, it still felt funny to hear her say that. Relationship . Shin felt a happy smile spread on his face.
“No, you definitely aren’t. You made the first move, remember?”
Noi grinned. “Yeah, I got impatient. I’m not usually a subtle gal, but I thought the hints I was dropping were pretty damn clear… but you just refused to pick them up. Even though you were so obviously interested. The amount of times I pretended not to notice you staring at me, honestly.”
“So you took over.” He had fond memories of that. Their first kiss had been right after a battle, with adrenaline still surging high and the scent of blood in the air. He had seen something different in her eyes as soon as he’d looked at her, but it still didn’t prepare him for the way she lunged at him, locking their lips together and pushing him against the nearest wall. He was only just in time to stop his skull cracking into the brickwork; the fact his reflexes had kicked in at all was no small miracle, given that in that moment his brain felt as if it had been run over by a truck.
“And good thing I did, too! Otherwise I would still be waiting come next Blue Night.” She bumped his shoulder playfully and he ruefully reflected that that was probably accurate.
“Hey, but which of us confessed their real feelings first?”
They’d progressed in an odd, out-of-order way. After that kiss, they’d rushed back home, with Shin nearly crashing the car more than once, and spent the rest of the night together in Noi’s room. By the end of it, Shin was a lot more experienced in physical matters. That had begun a period of them being somewhere in between friends and lovers.
Shin had assumed Noi didn’t want anything serious ( she had had her fair share of flings in the past, and surely whatever they were doing together wasn’t exclusive ), and Noi had assumed that Shin simply wasn’t interested in romance ( understandably ). And so they’d continued in a bizarre situation where sex was normal and regular, but holding hands was a step too far. The agonising tension had almost felt worse than when Shin had thought his crush was totally unrequited.
Then, after another night of debauchery, Shin had felt Noi get up from beside him to leave as usual. Lying there in a drowsy afterglow, he’d felt a sudden wave of sadness come over him, and impulsively reached out to her.
“ Stay with me. ”
She’d looked at him for a heartbeat before wordlessly slipping back under the bedcovers and nestling into his side. He’d kissed her, and it felt different to all the previous times; the passion was still there, but this was also gentle and sweet.
Noi ended their moment of shared recollection with a grumble. “Yeah, well it still took you a week after that to properly ask me to be your girlfriend.” Despite her scowl, Shin could tell her cheeks were flushed. It’d taken him a while to realise that his normally shameless partner blushed whenever romance was involved. He found it exceptionally cute, even though he was usually just as red in the face.
“We still got there in the end, didn’t we?”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “After how damn long? I’ve never asked, actually. How long was there between you realising you…” she scuffed her shoes, showing that rare bashfulness again. “Yknow… that you liked me liked me, and us actually kissing?”
Now it was Shin’s turn to suddenly be interested in the paving stones. “Um… about… 4 years, give or take?”
Noi stopped dead in her tracks, and her grip on his shoulders was suddenly a vice that almost yanked him off his feet. Her expression screamed outrage, her mouth a perfect O. Shin suddenly developed a deep understanding of the feelings of a deer about to get pounced by a tiger.
“Four? Whole? YEARS?”
He grinned nervously. “Almost to the day, actually. I properly came to terms with it last Blue Night…” The parts of his brain which normally warned him when he was about to get shot at were screaming danger. Quick, deflect! “How long did it take you? You don’t have any patience whatsoever. Can’t have been long, right?”
That wiped that indignant fury right off her face. “Uh…” her voice was very small, all of a sudden. “Senpai, I’ve… liked you since we started working together…”
He was shocked. “Noi, you have the audacity to be mad at me over 4 years, when you didn’t do anything for 8 ?”
She was redder than he’d ever seen her. “But if I’d said anything, it would have been… embarrassing. ”
Shin burst out laughing, throwing his head back to the night sky. “Only you, Noi. Hell, I love you.”
That made her cover her face with both hands. Still laughing, he took her wrists and gently pulled them away, kissing her softly on the lips. He felt her smile despite herself.
“Well, no use dwelling on it now. Let’s make up for lost time!”
He felt her knuckles brush his chin, tilting his face upwards in the way she knew he liked. This time her kiss was fierce, filled with the deep passion that he knew and loved so well. Noi’s hot-blooded fervour, so familiar to Shin from seeing her fight, also came surging to the fore in the bedroom. In some cases they’d both get so worked up that sex was put on hold in favour of a violent sparring session.
Her teeth nipped into his lower lip, hard enough to make him gasp. As she leaned back, smirking, he tasted the coppery tang of blood in his mouth.
“Easy, tiger,” he murmured, but he didn’t move his hands from her hips. Glancing around, he was aware of how close En’s sprawling manse seemed, the glow of its windows spilling onto the grounds. “Someone might see…”
Noi huffed. “If someone sees, we’ll kill them, obviously.” She wrapped one enormous arm around his waist, pulling him close. “C’mon, what are you so afraid of?”
“Our boss, mostly. Y’know? Your cousin?” He grimaced at the thought. He had seen firsthand how fiercely protective En was of those close to him. Despite their long history together, Shin shuddered to think of how the boss would react to him sleeping with his only remaining family.
She rolled her eyes. “Fuck him! I’m not some expensive trinket for him to hoard or show off to other high society assholes. Been telling him that for years. I can do whatever I like with whomever I please.”
He couldn’t help but smile at the fury in her eyes that the mention of En had brought. “Be that as it may, you’re not the one who’ll get turned into shiitakes if this ever goes south.”
Noi smiled sweetly. “Oh, senpai… if we ever break up, there won't be enough of you left to turn into a mushroom.”
There was a brief silence before they both started giggling uncontrollably. Shin thought the chances of him wanting to end things now was about as likely as him deciding to join the Cross-Eyes. And yet he didn’t doubt for a second that Noi was deadly serious.
The mirth on her face was slowly replaced by a thoughtful expression. “If you’re worried about En’s reaction, wouldn’t he have said something by now? He was the one who suggested we became partners in the first place, right? Surely he must have at least considered the possibility of this happening. We’ve always been more than just… colleagues.”
Or maybe he expected me to be responsible and look after his little cousin? Shin flushed, not willing to say that aloud; he knew it would only provoke another wave of teasing.
Noi continued. “Anyway, it’s not like it’s a totally new idea. I’m pretty sure half the city thinks we’ve been together for years. And those that don’t ask us when we’re finally gonna get together.”
That had been terrible to deal with, back when he was still coming to terms with his burgeoning feelings. He’d threatened violence after the first few people had asked, and that had stopped it for good - well, until…
“I take it Ebisu’s been annoying you too?” But Shin knew straight away from the look on her face that Noi had no idea what he was talking about. “No? Really? She has, uh, puppets of us and everything. It’s kinda concerning how much effort she puts in, to be honest.”
Noi chuckled, although her cheeks had gone a little pink. “Oh, senpai… I think she saves that all for you. She knows who she can get the best reactions out of, you see.”
He snorted, turning red himself. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you put her up to it. How does that kid get away with so much bullshit?”
“I think she’s great.” Noi’s expression was uncharacteristically sentimental. “If I’d ever had a little sister, I would have wanted her to be just like that. Even if she is a little shit.”
“You could always adopt her.” Shin started to laugh at his own joke, but it died in his throat as he saw the look on her face. “Oh god, no. I wasn’t serious. Please don’t adopt Ebisu. I’d have nowhere to run from her.”
No’s grin was devilish. “Maybe I’ll do it just to make sure you never have a moment of peace again, senpai.”
“What kind of impure motive is that? Some big sister you’d be…”
They bickered and teased back and forth as they continued to wander, but there was an unspoken awareness that the dawn was beginning to draw close. Shin registered the aches in his back, doubtless from spending a whole day lying in a bodybag, and had a sudden urge for Noi’s bed, with its fluffy pillows and faint smell of vanilla. He yawned, widely enough to hurt his jaw. But there was some energy left in him yet.
“Say, Noi… how about we make our way back to your place, and I can give you the rest of your ‘Blue Night Surprise’?”
She grinned, biting her lip in a way that made Shin’s heart flutter. “And here I thought you might be willing to doom our partnership forever. That’s the spirit, Shin-senpai.”
“Nah, I’m gonna see to it that we’re together for the rest of our lives.” He curled one arm around her waist, playfully squeezing her hip as they headed towards the lights of the manor. “Even if that could just mean next weekend, the shit we tend to find ourselves in.”
Noi laughed. “No low-life Cross-Eye is gonna put an end to us, senpai. You won’t be rid of me as soon as that.”
“As if I’d want to be, moron”, he grumbled, and she giggled.
As they walked, Shin succumbed more and more to the temptation to lean onto his partner’s broad frame, shifting weight off his tired legs. He expected her to complain, but instead she just snickered again, raising his arm to her shoulders and nearly lifting him clear off his feet. “You better get your second wind soon. No way I’m doing all the work when we get to bed.”
“For you, Noi? I could fight an army right now. I just… choose… not to.” Shin punctuated that with another mighty yawn. He saw Noi blush the tiniest amount and felt faintly satisfied. He didn’t think he’d ever get over how good it felt to get his payback for all those years of flustering.
He felt, rather than saw, her become more distant as they neared the front doors, but he’d known her for long enough to have faith that she’d say whatever was on her mind. No more secrets between us. Sure enough, she spoke up.
“Hey, senpai… do you think as much is gonna happen between now and next Blue Night as in the last four years?”
Shin sighed heavily. “We seem to ask this every Blue Night, don’t we? And yet every single time I could never have predicted how much things change. Only thing I know for certain is that in four years’ time we’ll be renewing our partnership, come hell or high water.”
Noi beamed. “You’re so sweet when you’re tired. Maybe I should tranq you up more often.”
“I think you wear me out enough as it is - get off!” He mimed trying to escape as she crushed him in an immense bearhug. “I tell you what, you better not get any stronger than this. I think I’d die.”
She smirked wickedly. “Just means you gotta get strong too, senpai. Maybe one day you’ll finally be able to beat me in an arm wrestle again.”
“Oh, you are so on. Tell you what, let’s hit the gym after we wake up. I’ll beat my personal record.”
“And if you don’t, you’re buying lunch!”
As they entered the warmth of the mansion, Shin already felt the next four years would be different. For perhaps the first time in his turbulent life, he felt something other than total indifference towards the future; he was genuinely excited for it - and excited to spend it with Noi.