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The look on Takemura's face says he's unimpressed.

Sure, so maybe that's kinda his default position, like he has a bad case of Resting Unimpressed Face, but he stands in the center of V's room and looks around with the kind of disdain that's usually reserved for bad sushi or V's favorite pizza. V gets it, kinda, half of the way gets it, because a guy like Takemura probably keeps his place real neat and tidy, no empty NiCola cans on the table, no stray copies of Ballsy by the bed, but fuck him if he's gonna judge V for any of this. He could start building a pyramid of empty cans by the window so big that it blocks out the sun if he wanted and no one gets to tell him not to. It's not like it'd matter if all he ever ate was shitty burritos from the vending machine and sat on his ass watching XBDs while his brain turned to mush. The only one who gets to disapprove of his choices is Nibbles.

But, as much as he's basically a life support system for a yowling cat most days of the week, his overriding feeling is still that Takemura has no right to judge him. V will stay away from him now he's made it clear that's what he wants, no more texts or whatever, like they never even met. He'll respect that choice, even if he thinks it'll hurt for a while. He even understands it, given how Takemura's climbing up the Arasaka ladder and V is who he is, but he won't let him look down on how he lives his life. Especially since he has no clue what Takemura's even doing here in the first place. He can't imagine they've got much left to say.

"So, why the surprise visit?" V asks. "Arasaka not keeping you busy? You need to review my security as well as the Tower?"

"You have no security," Takemura says. He gestures at the door. "Your lock is broken."

"Yeah, I've been waiting for management to fix that."

"You would be better advised to find a new place to live."

"That's a whole lot easier said than done." He glances around from his seat on the couch, at all the things that tell the story of the life he's made himself. Maybe it's not much, and damn straight it's not neat, but it's his. "Besides, I kinda like it here."

He means it, he guesses - the view from his window's pretty nice, as far as views go in Night City, and it kinda feels like home now. There's only been two shootings in the building in the past week or so and they chased the Scavs out of the sixth floor sometime last month, and besides all that: it reminds him of Jackie. They spent time there together before the heist, drinking, making all kinds of plans, like they had at Mama Welles' place before V'd felt like he'd overstayed his welcome, no matter whether he had or not. He's pretty sure Jackie's mom would've let him stay forever. He's pretty sure she'd take him back in even now, but he keeps the visits to Heywood down to dinner once a month when he goes over there with Misty. Misty's got a new guy now, an artist type who couldn't shoot his way out of a paper bag and wouldn't know a carburetor from a carbonara, but she seems happy so he's happy for her. So is Mama Welles, though she finds it hard to show it. None of them will ever forget Jackie, though, that much is sure - guy was pretty unforgettable.

He does kinda like the place but maybe he also likes saying it just to see the look on Takemura's face turn from faint disdain into faint dismay. Maybe it's not a great place - it's not Kerry's fancy North Oak villa or the Peralezes' flashy pad in Charter Hill, and it's for damn sure not like the place where Takemura lives - he sent a photo once, maybe eight or nine months ago, and it's all tatami mats and low tables, real neat and traditional, a place for everything and everything in its place. He probably leaves his shoes at the door, too, not like V who's so tired sometimes he crashes face down on the bed with his sneakers still on, because who's there to care? Takemura would have an aneurysm, he's pretty sure, so it's a good thing he's never gonna get a chance to find out. V kinda regrets that, but things are the way they are: he's the merc that klepped the Relic and Takemura is Arasaka's new head of security for their Night City operations. Never the twain shall meet, except they're kinda meeting now and V still doesn't know why.

"Goro, why are you here?" he asks, though he can think of twenty different ways that he could be a total dick to him instead and make him leave without an answer 'cause he's not sure that it matters. He guesses he can't say Johnny never gave him anything, even if what he gave him is an attitude. "You made the situation pretty clear."

Takemura sits down on the couch. He wrings his hands.

"I wasn't clear at all," he says, as he glances up from his handwringing to look at V. "Please, allow me to explain."

Given what happened, V figures this should be good.

---

The first word he said when he woke up was Takemura's name. Or, okay, the real first word he said was fuuuck, but the next was absolutely Takemura's name. Several times. Eight or nine times. He asked for him.

The doctor - scientist, engineer, whatever they were and he didn't care enough right then to ask - gave him a look that said she had no clue what the fuck he was saying to her, and for a second he wondered if his brain was fucked and he'd just said lighthouse jumpsuit Thorton Mackinaw or some similarly unrelated bullshit instead of what he thought he'd said. The more he thought about it, though, once he was alone again, the more he thought that wasn't it. They probably just didn't know Takemura's name, and they probably weren't paid enough to care about the things that he said anyway, so he might as well have just served them up word salad. He did that the next couple of times anyone came in, just to see what their reactions would be. He thought Johnny would've liked it, but then again Johnny was gone. Johnny was gone and he was never coming back, and V was gonna have to learn to live with that.

The room was stark and white, just a bed and a bunch of machines that he couldn't jack into, and a window that looked out on space. There were no mirrors on the walls, not even in the bathroom that was next door to the empty closet and for a start he kept getting the two doors mixed up, like it was taking a while for basic shit like left and right to settle back down in his brain. He had no cyberware, at least not beyond the shiny new Relic in his head and a personal link that there was nothing for him to link to. He had no scars, no tattoos, not even the dumb one Johnny had gotten that one night he'd let him off the leash, but V could tell the body was meant to be his - his hands looked the same when he turned them over in front of his face, his teeth felt the same when he ran his tongue against them, all of it was his, except something felt just slightly off. He wasn't sure if that was Johnny being gone or something the Arasaka techs had done, but when they did their tests, he felt different. Or maybe it was just the fact he wasn't coughing up blood while he raced against death, who could say.

Days passed, or at least he thought they did - it was kinda hard to keep track of that when your window looked out on outer space. It was a hell of a view, at least, the planet right there, huge and blue and perfect like the shitty streets of Night City weren't even a reality. From that high, in that fucking bright white sterile place, it was almost tough to remember all the sights and sounds and smells of it, cars and ads and gunshots, food trucks next to garbage bags piled up waist high, the megabuilding he called home. He wondered if it really was still home or if management had tossed his shit out, cherry-picked the best stuff and auctioned off the rest, whatever it was the contract stipulated. All he had to his name right then was a small room on an orbital station where tight-lipped staff came and went without so much as a knock. He didn't even know how much time had passed. For all he knew, it'd been four days or four years or four decades and nobody would say a word. The only consolation was that maybe, maybe, it was better than him being dead.

Days passed, though, he was pretty sure. He ran on a treadmill while a doctor took notes, feeling kinda like a hamster on a wheel. He solved their fucking puzzle cube, did their goddamned word associations, felt like he was going slightly mad from lack of things to do. Eventually they let him watch the news and it sounded like he'd been gone for nearly eighteen months - somehow, eighteen months sounded like less than a year and a half, but part of him, part of him that would've once looked a whole lot like a rockerboy with anger management issues, told him even the news couldn't be trusted. Who knew what might've been altered. Who knew if the shit they were saying was even real. Who knew if any of this was even real at all. Maybe he was more lab rat than hamster.

Two weeks in, they gave him all his old cyberware back, like maybe that would make him feel like his old self again, like nothing had changed when everything had. He spent hours scanning shit with his Kiroshis just for lack of anything better to do because his contact list was empty and who knew if you could chat on the holo from space anyway? When he ran on the treadmill, it felt better, which he guessed was his reinforced tendons operating normally. Even the fucking puzzle cube wasn't as bad, so maybe they'd had a point about giving back his chrome. He just wished it'd been Vik who'd done it, in his clinic under Little China, not a team of nameless Arasaka drones.

Then, week three, he woke up to a message from an unknown sender. All it said was, "Thief."

"Takemura?" he replied.

"Yes.
Many people call you this, I suppose.
I understand why you are confused."

"Only you, Goro.
What can I do for you?"

"I wish to apologize. I was not informed you had been woken."

"Would you have come visit?"

"Perhaps.
Had time allowed."

"Aw. That's sweet.
Does time allow now?"

"It does not."

"Well, that blows."

"I am told you will soon return to Earth. Perhaps I will see you then."

He asked how Takemura knew that when he hadn't been told anything, but no more replies came through - he thought maybe someone had stopped Takemura from answering, 'cause that seemed like Arasaka, but when the doctor came in a couple of hours later, she sat down and told him everything. He'd been stored for eighteen months before a solution to the V dilemma had been found, and then Hanako-sama had ordered his resurrection - she didn't say it was probably as much a test of the tech as to fulfil Hanako's bargain, maybe 'cause the doc just didn't know, but V understood the nuance clear enough. The body was a clone, she said next, which he guessed he'd already assumed, and he tried not to think too hard about how all the cyberware they'd put in him had been torn out of his own ex-corpse. Not that he'd ever given a damn where Vik had gotten the stuff from in the first place, but it probably wasn't corpo-sanctioned Scavs.

Takemura had been right, though: after that it wasn't long until he left the room and left the lab and left the station, and the next thing he knew he was walking out of the Night City space port into the mid-afternoon heat and the fucking ear-ringing din, like everything was the same as it had been before. He told himself it was like when he'd come back from Atlanta, seeing how everything there had just gone on without him - he hadn't expected it to stop, like time had stood still for him, but maybe it was kinda how Johnny had felt but in miniature, like shit had moved on but he hadn't. And the only name in his contact list was still the Unknown Sender that he'd updated to say Takemura. He felt like calling, just to hear his voice, 'cause there were two guys who'd helped get him through the Relic shit in different ways and one of them was gone now. But he didn't call. He walked instead.

He didn't really know where he was going. He knew the streets, he knew where he was in the city, but he had no clue about his destination. He asked himself if he should drop in on Vik or Misty, swing by the Coyote and say hi to Mama Welles, but the thought made him sick to his stomach so he just kept right on walking. He grabbed a slice of pie and a coffee in a diner, made polite small talk with the guy behind the counter, realized as he left that he'd deliberately chosen a place he'd never been before just so chances were that no one would recognize his face. He passed a couple of NCART stations, paused to check out ticket prices, destinations, told himself maybe he should just get on a bus and get out of town, go someplace else where no one knew him, wander around a new set of streets till they kinda felt like home to him, too. That really didn't change that this was home, though, this city, his city, and maybe he belonged there even after everything. After all, he could've gone anywhere when they'd told him he could leave the lab: when they'd asked where he wanted to go, he'd said Night City. He hadn't even hesitated, so he figured maybe that meant something.

He spent the first night at the No-Tell Motel of all the possible goddamn places, because at least there he could continue with this whole anonymity kick he'd apparently embarked on. It wasn't the room where he'd met Dex when things had gone to shit, or the room where he'd met Lizzy Wizzy like that whole thing had made any sense. It wasn't even the one where he'd wound up with Takemura after a stupid chase they really should've managed to get out of some other way than the way they had. He took off his jacket, kicked off his shoes, lay down on the bed and tried not to think about all the people who'd been there before him and what they'd probably gotten up to, all the sex and booze and shady deals, none of which he was presently involved in. It was like he'd slid right from one end of the cleanliness scale to the other, from a probably-actually-sterile lab way up in space to somewhere he wasn't sure was cleaned at all between clients, let alone cleaned well. But damn if he didn't sleep better there than he had in three weeks in the bright white lab - not just 'cause they'd never seen fit to dim the lights, not even for a second. The pink neon through the shitty blinds was almost soothing. It felt like being home again, or at least like a familiar stop along the way.

In the morning, he got up, he showered though who the fuck knew what else had gone on in there, checked out, ate waffles in a halfway decent diner on a side street where he'd only ever driven but never walked down. Then he walked on; he thought about buying new clothes, something that didn't still have the lab smell on it, at least buying a gun or maybe stealing one. NCPD dispatch pinged their contractors, in whose number it turned out V still counted, with details of some Tyger Claws activity in the area, and he could've sneaked in, choked a few guys out, maybe picked up something less conspicuous to wear than the suit he was still in and armed himself in the process. Maybe it would've been good for him but he really didn't feel up to it, not right now, not yet, maybe not ever, who knew. So he didn't buy new clothes, for once, though he had the eddies ready, his account still perfectly accessible now he was back down on terra firma. He walked on instead, breathing the crappy NC air and missing the voice inside his head. It'd been a while since he'd been around so many people but felt so damn alone.

Of all the things he saw that had changed while he was gone, Megabuilding H10 wasn't one of them. He hadn't really meant to go there, but once he was standing on the front steps just after dusk he guessed he might as well head in, go up, see if the shitty door locks were still keyed to let him into his old apartment or if he'd find a couple with three kids using his workshop as a second bedroom. He pushed the button and let the elevator rumble upwards while the news picked up some death threat assassination attempt crap about Mayor Peralez and okay, so the Peralezes had deleted his number even before he'd blasted into space, but that didn't mean he didn't still feel something when he saw the two of them on TV. They'd treated him right, once upon a time. He guessed he hoped they were doing okay but it wasn't like he could call them up and check, so he moved on.

The apartment door slid open for him when he got there. He stepped inside, half expecting to find someone else's crap adorning the place's flat surfaces and his own in a dumpster outside but only if he went back in time, but...fuck, it all looked just the same way as he'd left it. Posters on the walls. Books on the shelves. No trash, which he guessed was pretty merciful if he didn't want to come down with a bad case of plague or discover new lifeforms, but everything else was where he'd left it, like he'd never been away, except for a note sitting on the desk. He didn't recognize the handwriting 'cause who even bothered writing shit down these days? But it made sense once he'd finished reading. Vik had been paying his rent for the past eighteen months so he'd have a home to come home to, if he ever did come home - jeez, V needed to find a way to repay him for all the shit he'd done over the years - and Nibbles was with Misty. That was good. Sure, so chances were the cat was going to outlive them all, but he still liked knowing he'd been taken care of.

He took off his shoes, the generic ones Arasaka had given him to leave the station in because they'd lost all of his shit while he'd been dead to the world. He took off his generic corpo-looking suit, the sort Johnny would've fucking hated, tossed it across the room like he'd've rather burned it than put it on again, and lay down on the bed. Someone had changed the sheets semi-recently, probably Misty, so that was nice, but jeez the place seemed empty. No Jackie. No Johnny. Not even his goddamn cat. And maybe he should've just gone to sleep but in the dark, the apartment lights off and the city lights outside shining in through the open blinds, he texted Takemura.

"I'm home," he said. "Place is exactly like I left it."

"Yes, Viktor told me he had kept it for you."

"You talk to Vik?"

"From time to time."

"Do you talk about me?"

"Yes."

"Don't tell him I'm back, okay?"

"You will tell him yourself.
Viktor misses your company."

"Do you?"

"From time to time."

"Now?"

Thirty seconds passed. A minute. Five. And the gnawing fucking lonely, empty feeling inside V's chest, inside his gut, just wouldn't quit. He'd lost eighteen months and nearly everyone he cared about, and now maybe Takemura, too.

"Yes," Takemura replied, just as he was giving up. Giving up what, exactly, he wasn't sure: hope, maybe, or else just the pretence that he could stay awake much longer. Either way, it made him smile for the first time in days.

"Apologies. I am on my way to a meeting.
I will contact you soon."

"G'night, Goro."

"Good afternoon, V."

It was as good an end to the night as he could have hoped for, he guessed. Based on recent experience, he hadn't even expected that much.

The feeling in his chest as he closed his eyes was maybe a little like hope.

---

He just mooched around the building for the next few days, healthy as he knew that wasn't.

Wilson at the range greeted him like his long-lost brother when he went in to say hi, or maybe just like his long-lost best customer, but V was pretty sure he'd never been so freaking cynical before. Coach Fred tried to sell him a machete and asked if he'd have any interest in a fight or two, so some things never changed. Then he grabbed some rubbery sushi that would've had Takemura make that I can't believe I put that in my mouth face that V couldn't help but find kind of adorable, and he went up and up and up to go eat it on the roof. He snapped a quick photo of it and hit send before he could change his mind, and almost immediately the reply came back:

"Ugh.
Is this a cry for help, V?
Should I alert the authorities?"

He sent back a smiley face and went on with his day. But then, sometime around 3am, a photo came in, woke him up in bed but he couldn't say he cared. The sushi in the photo looked as perfect as what he'd eaten hadn't.

"Looks great," he replied. "You make it yourself?"

"Yes."

"You're a man of many talents, Goro.
You still gonna cook for me someday?"

"Someday.
Good evening, V."

"Good really early morning, Goro."

Then he went back to sleep, or he tried to at least. He stared at the ceiling for a while, wondering how nuts it'd be to talk out loud like Johnny was still there, even if there was no one else to hear him. He didn't. In the end, he drifted off instead.

He left the megabuilding the next day, wearing clothes that were his this time and not the fucking Arasaka suit that okay, he hadn't tossed, and he hadn't burned, he'd just shoved into a drawer where he wouldn't have to look at it. He wandered, figuring maybe he'd go someplace new, get a drink, check to see if he still owned a car or if they'd all been rounded up and auctioned off. Speaking of cars, though, he wound up pounding pavement till he dropped into Delamain HQ, waiting in line at the counter just to see a friendly blue-tinged AI face until one of Del's bots zoomed out from the back and asked him to come through.

"I took the liberty of storing your vehicles while you were away," Del told him, on the screen in the control room. Honestly, V hadn't paid much attention before to the fact there was a warehouse nearby, practically next door, close enough that the bot hovered over there with him to show him the way, almost like Del thought he might get lost and disappear again if he let him out of his sight. He'd never actually seen all the cars and bikes he owned in the same place before, so it was kinda strange, but he promised Del he'd pay him back some kind of storage fee - Del just told him, "Please, consider it a debt repaid." He figured he'd find some other way to pay him back again, thanked him again and moved on.

The next day, he found himself outside Vik's clinic. He paused there, asking himself what he meant to do - was he going to go in, say hi, act like nothing had happened? How exactly was he meant to tell Vik how grateful he was for what he'd done with the apartment, let alone everything else before that? So he stood there, listening to the music from a radio behind an open window three floors up, something new of Kerry's that it turned out he really liked, but it kinda stabbed at the part of him where Johnny had used to be, someplace behind his ribs. He figured maybe he'd drop by the house at some point soon, leave a note at the gate, find out who his manager was and drop a few words to him that way, but as he was working that notion over in his head, the clinic door opened. Vik leaned against the door frame, smile on his face, arms crossed over his chest, looking just the same as always.

"You coming in, kid, or do I have to come get you?" he asked. So down the steps V went and when he got there, he figured why not: he threw his arms around the guy. Vik laughed, low and warm, and hugged him one-armed while he clapped him on the back. It was hard to see why he'd been avoiding the place, truth be told, when he got a welcome like that.

"So how'd you know I was here?" V asked, as they went inside.

"Here as in Night City or here outside my door?" Vik replied.

"Does it matter?"

Vik sat down at his desk and hooked another chair over with the toe of one boot. V sat, too, forearms to his thighs.

"Here outside my door..." Vik smiled wryly. "I got a camera, V. I don't know what to tell you, maybe you're slipping. Here as in Night City..." He shrugged. He smiled. V sighed dramatically.

"Takemura," he said.

"Takemura," Vik confirmed.

So he texted him, just: "You told Vik I'm back?"

"You did not," Takemura replied. Which...okay, sure, he had a point, because he absolutely hadn't said a word to Vik. He really couldn't blame him.

Vik called Misty over not long after that and she wandered in with a familiar feline in her arms, all yellow eyes. She passed Nibbles to Vik, who looked a whole lot more comfortable with a cat on his lap than V had ever imagined he might, then she hugged V so damn hard he asked if she'd gotten new tendons while he'd been away. But honestly, it was really good to see her, too.

The three of them talked for a while, nothing deep 'cause V didn't really have anything deep to say once he'd run through what had happened and Vik had never been great at the mushy stuff anyway, though Misty kinda made up for it. Once Misty finally had to get back to the store, Vik got him up on the table for a tune-up, and he did feel kinda better after that, knowing that okay, so Vik hadn't put the cyberware in him, but he'd gotten it all tweaked the way V liked it. Vik had always been good at that.

"Don't be a stranger, kid, okay?" Vik said, when V finally got up to leave, and V agreed he wouldn't - he actually even meant it. Then he called one of his cars, something sensible, no sports cars, so when he put the washing basket with the towel tied over it into the passenger seat and pulled the seatbelt across to keep it still, Nibbles didn't get jostled about too much on stiff suspension. He still yowled about it, of course, and V almost felt like he should've tried a little harder to tell Missy to keep him, not just because her place was probably nicer than Megabuilding H10 and it seemed like she had him hang out in the store with her most of the day. A few days later they worked out a plan, V bringing the cat by every morning and picking him up each night, or the nights when he didn't have shit to do out in the city, but for then...he took Nibbles home and sat there for an hour or more just watching him reinvestigate the apartment. Then he curled up on V's lap and went to sleep.

It was nice not being alone in the apartment, he thought, when he went to bed that night. And around 3am, when he woke up to Nibbles walking on his chest, he figured why not: he texted Takemura.

"So, what's for dinner?" he asked.

Takemura sent a photo back of the meal he was in the process of cooking, part of one familiar hand in shot.

"Looks good," he replied. "You should make that for me sometime."

"I would be pleased to, should we find ourselves in the same city."

Logically, he was pretty sure he was never actually going to see Takemura again, but it was pretty nice to think about.

He went back to sleep with a smile and a restless cat.

---

A few days later, a few days of 3am texts and photos of Takemura's really great-looking cooking, V went out and knocked on Regina Jones' door. She gave him a quick job for old times' sake that he carried out just like clockwork, like riding a bike, or at least falling off of one. So his contact list grew: not just Takemura now, but Misty and Vik, Coach Fred trying to organize a fight in Wellsprings, and Reggie.

She tossed him some more work a couple of days later and then another couple after that, till he was working for her pretty regularly. Wakako called after that, let him know she'd heard he was back in town, and before he knew it...he was pretty much right back in business, like he'd been before. He'd never been much good at anything else, he guessed, but it felt weird going out there without Johnny. He could do the job, sure, but he'd've given a lot to hear Johnny Silverhand's annoying goddamn voice tell him what he was doing wrong.

A few more jobs and the Peralezes were on the news again: some cyberpsycho had started taking potshots at their apartment windows, which made V feel...something, though he wasn't totally sure what. Like maybe there was something else going on there, like there'd been with Rhyne before. Like maybe he wanted to do something about that before Jefferson Peralez wound up dead. So he went over there, considered just sitting around outside the front door to wait for them to come back home like some kind of bum, but screw that. He did a little recon and let himself in through the trapdoor that was still there on their roof. It wasn't even hard, which maybe they really needed to talk about.

The bodyguards with Jefferson when he came in were not exactly pleased to see a face they didn't know, let alone sitting there on the mayor's nice couch with a fashion magazine spread out over his lap. Both guys drew their guns; V's was already drawn, just underneath the magazine, but Jefferson raised his hands to calm them down.

"Your security is kinda shitty for a mayor," V told Jefferson, then he turned to one of the guards at his side. "No offence."

"None taken," the guard said. "Apartment's not my biz." Which actually seemed pretty shitty for a bodyguard but hell, it wasn't like V ran a security firm.

"He's a friend," Jeff told the skeptical bodyguards. "Really. I won't be needing you for the moment." They looked at him. He sighed. "Please leave." So the guards left the way they'd come, which also seemed pretty shitty behavior, but Jefferson seemed pleased enough.

"V," he said, as he came closer. He sat down on the couch, not far away from him. "It's been a while."

"I've been out of town."

"Anywhere nice?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Sometimes the things we won't believe make the best stories." He leaned over and clapped V on the nearest shoulder. "Maybe another time."

"Sure," V replied, though he wasn't sure at all - it wasn't so likely he'd be explaining the ins and outs of what had happened to the probably still mind-controlled mayor of Night City. Though at least he wasn't so mind-controlled that he'd forgotten V's name, so that seemed like a start.

They talked for a while, about the election, about the subsequent year and a half that V had missed, about Jeff's frustrations with the role and the obstacles in his way...he was weirdly frank about it, for a politician talking to a merc, though V guessed if nothing else he'd left an impression of trustworthiness on the guy. And when Liz came in maybe forty, fifty minutes later, she also seemed weirdly pleased to see him. Who the fuck knew what was going on with that, but it was nice.

"Would you consider working for me, V?" Jefferson asked, when V finally decided it was time to leave, once Elizabeth had pointed out that both she and Jeff actually had work to do. They were standing by the elevator, waiting, side by side.

"And do what, follow you around all day, jump in front of bullets, that kind of thing?"

"I was thinking you might keep an eye on Liz, not me."

"You wanna hire a merc to protect your wife?"

"Just for a few weeks. For public events."

"You're not satisfied with your security?"

"Would you be?"

V made a face. He guessed the guy made a good point, but he told him he'd need some time to think about it then hopped into the elevator; he thought about it for maybe nineteen hours and then gave the new-old contact on his holo a quick call to say why not. He'd be kept off the mayor's official payroll, paid job by job from their personal accounts, and that seemed to suit them all. Even Liz didn't seem too perturbed by the idea, though maybe that was just the fact they'd had so many freaking death threats recently, and so many actual attempts on top of that. Turned out the couple he knew about, the couple that'd made the news, were just the tip of the iceberg, and okay so maybe that wasn't the kind of place his expertise lay, but he'd muddled through worse and come out fine. Mostly fine. Bruised, maybe, halfway broken, but mostly fine.

The work wasn't easy, as it turned out, but he got it done. Elizabeth Peralez, as it turned out, had a whole heap of work of her own to do, her own charities, political causes she worked with closely, and V stuck with her through her public appearances over the next few weeks - he scouted the locations beforehand, broke in, snooped around, gave recommendations to building security that might just keep her safe, and he was pretty damn good at it, too. Not just because the next time an attempt was made, it was at the Peralezes' apartment, not while Liz was out on the town. A sniper put a bullet through one of their guards and V took the fuck off, found the guy, could almost hear Johnny mouthing off inside his head about how stupid he'd been to take this job and how stupid he was to go chasing them down, but he wouldn't've listened to him even if he'd really still been there. And when he got there: sure enough, it was another fucking cyberpsycho.

The Peralezes pulled in a proper security team after that, and that meant less work for V but he was fine with that - holding down a steady job hadn't been amongst his life's ambitions, even if they paid well and it turned out he cared if the two of them lived or died. That didn't mean they didn't call, though; Liz brought him in to do checks on the apartment sometimes, merc-proofing it for meetings, and the three of them would have dinner while they talked over the plans. It was freaking weird, he couldn't lie, sitting there at the huge-ass dining table with the mayor and his wife, even if he'd known them both before that, the two of them in their corpo-approved outfits and him in whatever he'd felt like throwing on before he'd left home for the day - he was usually the most colorful thing in their apartment, except sometimes for Liz's blue lipstick.

He wasn't sure where his life was going, but he guessed at least he had one. And every night, at 3am, he sent a text to Takemura. Every night, at 3am, Takemura replied.

Maybe it wasn't much, but it felt like something.

---

"What are you wearing?" the message said, sometime in the second month after he'd come home.

V frowned at it. If it hadn't come in directly after one that actually contained his name, he might've just assumed Takemura had fired it off to the wrong person - maybe he had another English-speaking guy he liked to text at weird-ass times of the day and night, or maybe he wasn't into guys at all and the response he was expecting was some trite sex line shit about lacy panties and a pretty bra. V was not wearing lacy panties and a pretty bra. He was wearing pink pants and a lime green tank top while crouching on top of a Valentinos-owned bar, where he may or may not have been about to drop in for a little conversation about kidnapping rival gang members' daughters. Maybe the pants were a little too tight for the depth of his crouch, but for the time being he'd have to live with that. Of course, maybe he'd texted V then meant to flick into another screen and messed it up, or maybe it was the world's clumsiest come-on - who knew where Takemura was concerned, though the come-on would've been nice. But V kinda liked the mystery.

When the next text came in, he was still trying to figure out how to reply with one half of his brain while the rest was trying to find a path to the bar's back office. One that wouldn't require some kind of bloodbath, though Padre said the client maybe wouldn't mind.

"I miss your sense of fashion," the text said. Which, okay, made more sense than imagining Takemura hoping he'd find him in a skimpy pair of briefs or something. So he snapped a quick photo right there where he was, crouching on a rooftop in his too-tight pants, and sent it back.

"I admire your bravery," Takemura replied, which really wasn't what he'd been going for with that particular look, but it made him smile anyway. Then he got back to the task at hand. It went pretty smoothly, all things considered.

"What are you wearing?" the message asked the next day, sometime around 3pm.

It was raining and V didn't want to get his new sneakers wet, so he'd ducked in under a pagoda or whatever they were called while he was making his way through the park. He figured what the hell and took a selfie sitting on the wall, all shiny silver sneakers that went real well with his silver bolero, and he sent it along. Honestly, he thought he looked pretty good.

"The men behind you seem to appreciate your outfit less than I do," Takemura replied, and given how a fight broke out maybe twenty seconds later, he guessed Takemura had been right about that. Or at least he hadn't been wrong; three real stray Claws who had no business being there in Heywood took issue with V being there, too, or with him taking photos, or with something, anything, who even knew with the Claws sometimes. Maybe when they asked him to move on, ordered him to move on, he should've just done it, but screw that: he really didn't want to get his sneakers wet and the bounty on their heads wouldn't collect itself. It was over quickly.

"What are you wearing?" Takemura asked, the next day, and the next, till it was pretty clear that he was asking every day and showed no signs of stopping. Maybe it should've been weird, the text coming in at random times of the day and night, but V was pretty fond of his wardrobe and sometimes it felt like maybe the photos told a story of his life. One day he'd be standing on a megabuilding rooftop, right by the edge, the selfie angled down so it caught the freaking vertiginous drop as well as V's new shirt and shiny coat; Takemura told him to be careful because even thieves could fall. Another day, he'd be dressed in black at some mayoral thing and maybe he would've even looked like all the other security guys except for his hot pink tie or teal sneakers; Takemura told him he had a similar suit but not similar accessories, so perhaps he should look into the possibility. He took photos in Wakako's pachinko parlor and outside Misty's store, a couple at Vik's clinic where he made Vik step in, arm around his shoulders; Takemura told him to say hello for him, so say hello he did.

It went on for months, selfies backstage at one of Kerry's shows, on a couch with Us Cracks when they hired him for a gig or two, sitting on his own couch with Nibbles on his lap and all Takemura said in response was, "Bakeneko?" He sent back, "Nibbles," and a new photo, all big yellow cat eyes and a look that said No Photos Please, 'cause six months in it turned out Takemura somehow didn't know he had a pet. A week later, a parcel turned up: he'd sent him a cat toy from Japan, shaped like a mouse. Nibbles couldn't get enough of it, and Takemura seemed to get a kick out of the photo he sent back.

It went on for eight months, nine months, ten, V sending photos of his outfits and Takemura sending photos of the food he cooked, what are you wearing? vs. what's for dinner? every single day, like that was normal somehow. They traded texts and photos back and forth all through Takemura's day, no hurry to reply because neither of them was going anywhere. It seemed fine, maybe a little confusing 'cause V wasn't sure if all of this meant they were friends or it was something else, an Arasaka op to keep an eye on how their tech had worked or sometimes, fuck, it almost seemed like they were flirting, almost seemed like a long-distance relationship - he figured that couldn't be right, though, 'cause Takemura had turned him down already, once upon a time, flattered but no thanks. It seemed fine, until Takemura's next daily text caught V exiting his shower.

It would've been the perfect opportunity for V to cherry-pick his outfit, considering how close to his closet he was currently standing. He could've pulled on a skintight netrunner suit or a pair of short-shorts or gone for the head-to-toe tac gear look while sprawling casually on his bed. Vik sometimes teased him that he wasn't sure how there was space for guns in the apartment with all the clothes in there, let alone himself or the cat, and he was pretty sure he deserved that with his shopping habit. But then he figured fuck it and he stood himself in front of his bathroom mirror, naked and still dripping wet from the recently concluded shower. A bit of creative posing and the counter saved his modesty, more or less; he was bare in the photo right down from his soaking wet hair to almost, almost, the base of his cock. He looked pretty good, he thought, in spite of how the shitty bathroom light brought out every last little detail: scars, implants, bad choice tattoos, the works. He looked pretty good. It was just really, really dumb, all things considered.

He was pretty sure it was a bad idea to send it. It might've been the worst idea he'd had all week, and so far he'd stolen from 6th Street and nearly drowned in the bay following some stupid treasure map as convoluted as Swedenborg-Riviera. He was pretty sure he should dry off instead and go put something on just so he wouldn't fuck up this...thing, whatever it was, that he had with Takemura. He stood there dripping on the floor, getting colder by the second, frozen like he was freaking paralyzed by it until he just hit send. Then he started to towel off as if nothing had even happened. It really had. He'd crossed a line.

"You look well, V," was Takemura's reply, almost fifteen minutes later, while V was trying to persuade himself that rereading the same two paragraphs of the same dumb shard about cyberpsychosis that Regina had sent over counted as successfully distracting himself. He read the text, smiled, made an amused-relieved sound that started Nibbles, then replied.

"Is that the best you can do?" he asked.

"What would you like me to say?" Takemura replied.

"You could pay me a compliment."

"About your looks?"

"Sure."

"This is important to you?"

"Yes.
Maybe.
We'll see.
It better be good, Goro."

"Allow me to think."

"Clock's ticking. I'll give you five minutes."

He didn't mean it, not really. He told himself he was trying to lighten the mood, and maybe part of it was that; he'd've accepted just about anything and maybe he would've graded his response, maybe on several key areas like accuracy and quality and originality, but he really was just teasing. He told himself he was teasing. He told himself it didn't really matter what Takemura thought of him, especially not of how he looked - maybe if he'd told him he was a crappy merc or something then that might have had some kind of meaning, but who cared if some guy he hadn't seen in a couple of years thought he had great abs or nice eyes for a pair of Kiroshis or even just that his new tattoos weren't absolutely terrible? So he told himself to keep it lighthearted as he counted down the minutes and texted them to Takemura: 5, 4, 3, 2.

The problem was, as he waited, he really wasn't concentrating on the shard he should've been reading, interesting as it probably was - he'd introduced Regina to Elizabeth Peralez and assuming the assholes in her head weren't also responsible for the whole concept of cyberpsychosis, Reggie might just have found a champion for her cause. He wasn't reading, though, and he just kept thinking up real unhelpful ways in which guys he'd known before might've replied to a demand like that, guys he'd flirted with sometimes, guys he'd dated, none of whom were anything like Takemura was. One would've told him straight-up to knock that shit off, which maybe would've been the most sensible response possible. A couple would've sent some kind of teasing backhanded compliment, how he was pretty for a street rat or hey, at least he still had all his teeth after all those fights. There was one guy in Atlanta he was pretty sure would've just said he wouldn't've fucked him if he wasn't hot. There was one guy from NC, who was probably in jail by then, and would've probably have told him a dick pic in response was a compliment. Kerry would've said something nice, he thought, maybe kinda stilted but sincere, like he kept the poetry for his songs. Of course, the only times he really talked to Kerry were when they saw things Johnny would've liked or hated, or Kerry had a new song he wanted an opinion on. They both missed the argumentative asshole; missing him together sometimes almost made it feel okay.

He didn't expect Takemura to say anything like Kerry might have, back when they'd tried and amicably failed at dating, back before the cloning thing. He didn't expect him to say anything like Johnny would've, either - he'd've told him if his ego needed stroking, he could go hire a joytoy down on Jig Jig Street and then get the fuck on with his real life. He really didn't expect a photo of his dick, hard and flushed and in his hand, though from Takemura he might've actually felt a little complimented by it. He'd've liked to've imagined that those first silent fifteen minutes after he'd sent him the photo had been pretty quiet at Takemura's side of the Pacific, too, except the sound of his breath and skin on skin as he stroked himself, probably still mostly wearing his very neat corpo suit. He could almost see him, in his office if he had one now with his erection jutting underneath his desk, or an eerily pristine Arasaka bathroom with one foot on the toilet lid and his cock in his hand, or at home, shoes by the door, on his knees on the mats. Jerking off would've been a compliment; a weird one, but it would've still counted. Not that he expected that. Not that he expected much at all, though that didn't stop his imagination.

"You are entirely unforgettable," Takemura said instead, fifty seconds after the minutes had ticked down from five to one. And frankly, V had no idea what to do with that.

"Is this compliment sufficient?"

He wanted to joke and say he could do better, like maybe that would make him feel some other thing than a knot inside his chest. He wanted to apologize for pushing him, 'cause he both had and hadn't meant to. He just told him, "Yeah," instead, paused a minute like maybe that was the end, but then he added, "So are you."

"Sufficient?"

"The other thing."

Then Takemura rounded out the conversation with :) which could've meant anything where Takemura was concerned, because apparently he'd been learning from V. Then half an hour later he sent a photo of a big bowl of udon, and everything returned to the state that it had been in before. But that didn't mean V didn't go to bed that night and slip his hand into his underwear, the pair of boxer shorts he really hadn't been wearing when he'd sent that photograph to his stoic SMS penpal. Not that that was anything new, he guessed; maybe he'd tried to tell himself not to, that Takemura would find it disrespectful if he knew or else just plain embarrassing, but on that point he wasn't kidding himself: he'd been jerking off to memories of Goro Takemura for months. He'd been jerking off to fantasies of him, imagining that on some nights Takemura might do the same.

Some nights, he almost asked him. He guessed what stopped him was if he didn't ask, Takemura couldn't tell him no.

---

The first time Takemura made plans to visit Night City, V was kind of excited at the idea. Maybe actually excited. Maybe really pretty goddamn excited.

"I will be in Night City on the 24th," Takemura's message said, right in the middle of a gig V was working, but he'd made checking texts while on the job a freaking art form. He did a little work on replying to them, too, crouched behind a shipping container right next to the water at the docks while a bunch of assholes from Maelstrom tried to hunt him down. They were doing a pretty terrible job of it, truth be told, and not just because he wasn't terrible at his.

"Oh yeah?" he replied. "Business or pleasure?" Though really what he wanted to say was it'd been three months since he'd gotten back and it kinda seemed like time would never allow. If Takemura hadn't texted every day, every single day, sometimes more than once, sometimes back and forth between meetings all day...if it hadn't been for that, V might've thought he was avoiding him. It wasn't like a flight from Japan to NC took that long, after all. At least V had the excuse that his Japanese was shitty, to the point where all Takemura did when he tried to say a few words was wince and ask him to speak English.

"I hope for both," Takemura replied.

"Anything I can do to help with the pleasure part?"

There was a pause. Sometimes he was pretty sure he read too much into Takemura's pauses, that really what they meant was he was crossing the street and didn't feel like getting mowed down by a Maimai today 'cause that shit was just embarrassing, or he was stuck in some boring-ass meeting he was meant to pay attention to. He seemed to have a lot of those these days, more than he'd had as Saburo's bodyguard, or at least more where he had a seat at the table in his own right and didn't stand the whole time like some kind of particularly deadly shadow. Probably he was busy, but it almost seemed like the pause meant something, like he was figuring out what to say to him, like he was working out what V really meant so he could respond accordingly. V knew how what he'd sent had sounded, but he was only kinda flirting. So V preempted the polite brush-off and sent, "We could meet? Maybe get some food?"

"Lunch, perhaps?"

"Dinner?"

"Dinner, then."

"You'll find a place?"

"I will solicit recommendations."

"Or we could just have pizza on the roof.
For old times' sake."

He could almost see the horrified look on Takemura's face.

"I will solicit recommendations," Takemura replied again, and they left it there, six days till Takemura was due to arrive, and V asked himself if he'd just asked Takemura for a date or just dinner and friendly reminiscing, and which Takemura had agreed to. He figured it didn't really matter which it was - maybe he'd be kinda disappointed one way and not so much the other, but it'd still be good to see him. He didn't get to find out, though; the night before, 3am like usual, the text wasn't dinner, or at least not only dinner - it was a rain check. Hanako had called a meeting and Takemura's biz-pleasure trip was off for the time being, maybe for good. He wasn't coming after all.

The next couple of times they tried making plans to meet, it was the same thing again, almost exactly: Takemura texted he'd be in the city in six days' time, seven, he'd stay for three days, four, then fly back to Japan again, but each time he had to cancel. V understood, 'cause the guy had a busy job, something to do with the Arasaka security team, coordinating personal protection instead of just being personal protection. And it wasn't like he didn't get the fucked up corpo culture where plans could change at a moment's notice and screw anyone who asked for the tiny amount of vacation time they were technically owed - there'd always be another drone to take your place if you didn't grin and bear it. He didn't think Takemura was ghosting him. He was doing a real shitty job if so, given all the texts they were still sending.

V tried to plan a visit once, too, even with his shitty Japanese. It even almost worked - he had a flight booked, a hotel, a shitty guidebook on a shard he'd picked up in a store where he'd done a gig for Wakako, and he'd even gotten his Japanese translator soft updated, payment for a job he'd done for a runner in Japantown. He left talking about it with Takemura pretty late, so he'd be surer he was gonna make it, asked if he'd be free for dinner in a couple of days, if there was anywhere he'd recommend in town...

"I will cook for you," Takemura replied, and V really wanted to believe that, that in forty-eight hours or so he'd be sitting at Takemura's table eating whatever it was he decided to cook for his desperately uncultured friend. If friends was what they were. If time allowed. If he really wanted said uncultured friend in the place where he lived. But sixteen hours later, the mayor received a credible threat against his life and asked V if he'd take care of it. He took care of it, of course, with his cyberdeck and three well-aimed bullets before anyone even knew he was even in the neighborhood, another cyberpsycho for Regina's ever-growing list, but the closest he got to Takemura's table was a photo of two bowls on it instead of only one. He couldn't make himself ask if he'd asked someone else to come for dinner or if he'd set a place for him, just in case.

Maybe it was all the times they'd absolutely failed to meet in the year that followed V's return that made him kind of incredulous. Maybe he'd halfway given up on the two of them ever actually managing to find themselves in the same city on the same day, or maybe he'd given that up way more than halfway. It had been a year, after all, it wasn't like he could blame himself for thinking yeah, right every time Takemura said he might be stopping by Night City. It had been a year and he'd celebrated in style with a really big bottle of really cheap bourbon in that room at the Pistis Sophia, wishing the lab hadn't lost Johnny's dog tags when they'd lost all the rest of his shit - he didn't even see how they could have 'cause it was a fucking station up in space, there were only so many places it could've gone. And when Takemura had texted him just like he did every day, What are you wearing? popping up, V didn't even look at the photo he took. What he'd got back was a photo of what looked like a muffin with one candle burning in it. Turned out he hadn't been the only one who'd remembered the date.

That day, though, fourteen months after he'd come back, he was skeptical from all the times they'd tried and failed to meet. If Takemura had told him he'd be there in three days' time, he wouldn't've believed him. That wasn't what he said at all.

"I am here," the message said instead, sometime around eleven on that sunny morning, while V was driving out to Charter Hill.

"Where's here?" V replied, because sometimes that meant home and they'd trade texts for an hour while Takemura made dinner then ate, and sometimes it meant he'd kinda had a hard day, the shooting-stabbing-slashing kind, or just a crappy conference room day, and he'd more or less survived it - honestly, V was pretty sure he preferred the shooting-stabbing-slashing days. He didn't think Takemura had ever expected to climb much higher on the corpo ladder than bodyguard. In fact, V was pretty damn sure he'd expected to die one day in an attack that was actually meant for someone else. But now he was in charge of the people whose job it was to do the dying. Going from Saburo's death and all the bullshit that followed straight into a promotion really must've been weird.

"Night City."

And sure, maybe he was skeptical, but that didn't stop his insides doing stupid little dizzy cartwheels. He just also figured disappointment loomed.

"You're HERE here?
How did that happen?"

"You are familiar with AVs, as I recall."

"Ha ha."

"Are you free this evening?"

"I guess I might be washing my hair."

"You could start earlier, perhaps?"

"It's a thing people say, Goro. I'm being sarcastic."

"You surprise me. Truly."

"Now you're being sarcastic. That's cute.
No, I'm not busy tonight."

"Dinner?"

"Sure."

"Konpeki Plaza. 8pm.
Ask for me at the desk.
I will send clothes to your apartment."

Really, he had no idea what to say to that. Konpeki? Clothes? He hadn't been back to Konpeki Plaza since that night, the night, the one that had changed his life and ended Jackie's, and now Takemura wanted to meet him there for dinner. Cartwheels weren't the only thing his insides did right then, so he just sent back, "Sure, see you there," and pulled over for a second 'cause he wasn't sure he wasn't sure he trusted himself not to drift two lanes and cause a pile-up. He took a breath, smacked his forehead pretty hard against the wheel, and then got on with the shit he had to get on with. It was pretty stupid to think that even if Takemura was there, they'd ever actually see each other - the realist in him said something would come up, while the optimist said, maybe?

True to his word, though, Takemura did send clothes. V arrived back at his building around seven from a late meeting with the Peralezes' security guys and when he checked in at the drop point on the way inside, what came back was a package that he eyed curiously as he took the elevator up. He left it on his bed and took a shower, telling himself he wasn't nervous, anxious, curious, any of that, that this maybe-dinner hadn't been just over fourteen months in the making. He towelled off, figured his hair would be fine as it was, then finally, still naked, went to open up the package.

It was a suit. A three-piece thing with a waistcoat to go with the jacket and pants. Not quite like the thing he was pretty sure was still shoved into a drawer somewhere in his room, but along those lines - along the lines of the crap Zane still tried to sell him at Jinguji sometimes, even though they knew each other well enough for him to know that V was never gonna buy a suit and so it was just a kind of running joke between them. It was black, actual black like maybe you'd wear to a funeral and not pinstripe or houndstooth or what-the-fuck-ever was in in corpo fashion that particular season, it wasn't like he kept too close a track unless you counted looking at what it was that Jefferson was wearing. There was a black shirt to go with it, and a belt, socks, underwear - a black undershirt and a pair of black briefs, and honestly V wasn't sure how he felt about the fact that Takemura had picked out underwear for him, or at least had someone do it for him. But whatever: he dressed, put it all on, found there were no shoes in the box so he figured maybe that was an invitation so he pulled on a pair of sneakers. They were gold and they didn't really match the outfit but he wasn't sure that really mattered. His gold sneakers really weren't the pertinent point.

He made it to Konpeki with ten minutes to spare, trying not to think too hard about the last time he'd been there as he sat outside in the back of one of Del's cabs - he'd figured if he was going there, he might as well do it in style, and he might as well just go at the thing full throttle, not pretend the experience was somehow different in every possible way this time from last. He sat there, trying to figure out what Takemura thought he was doing, inviting him there when they both knew what had happened. He sat there long enough, ignoring Del's gentle reminders of the time, that he was cutting it close when he finally said goodbye to Delamain, left his gun in the car so he'd make it through the scanners, and went inside.

"How can I be of assistance?" the receptionist asked when he got to the desk.

He'd barely expected to make it that far, though he guessed Hanako's reach was now as long as her dear departed father's ever was. V almost hadn't expected her to keep her promise, not really - she'd said she'd wipe the records clean of his involvement and then bring him back once they'd worked out how, and Takemura had assured him he could trust her, but part of him had said that it was all just wishful thinking. But it seemed like maybe the Konpeki guards weren't gonna try to make mincemeat of him after all. That seemed like a positive step.

He almost told the guy at reception he was an arms dealer, almost said his name was Harry Conwell, though he guessed Ramón Victorino was conspicuously absent. What he actually said was, "I'm here to meet Goro Takemura."

The receptionist's eyes glowed for a second. "Ah yes, Mr. V. Takemura-san is waiting for you in the bar. Do you need directions?"

"Nah, I know the way," V replied, and then he moved on.

He went up to the bar. He went inside, and he could see Takemura; he had his back to him, sitting at the bar, but he'd have recognized the posture and the bun without too much trouble pretty much anywhere, even if he hadn't seen the cyberware that peeked over the back of his collar. So he went over there, slid onto the next stool and looked at him sidelong.

"So, you come here often?" V said.

Takemura turned to him, first his head but then his whole body turned to face him. He was wearing a very nearly identical suit to the one he'd sent to V and somehow that made V's face feel kinda warm. The faint look of fond amusement as he spied V's gold sneakers did something kinda similar, too.

"No," Takemura replied. "I have been here very rarely. Only once in the past five years." He frowned faintly, as if he'd just realized he'd taken the question too literally, then he folded his hands together on his lap. "Are you hungry?"

"Y'know, not so much," V said. He glanced around the room. "This is kind of a lot. I haven't been back here since..." He shrugged. "That night. You know the night."

"I know the night," Takemura echoed. Then he stood up from his stool, close enough to V for a second that his chest felt tight with the sudden proximity, before he stepped away again to a more respectable distance. He picked up the katana that had been leaning against the bar, one that looked a lot like Oda's that V had eventually given back after their fight - so much for Konpeki's no weapons rule, V guessed, but he could tell he wasn't wearing a gun. He gestured toward the door with the sword in his hand. "Will you come with me?"

V stood, too. "Sure," he said, because honestly he was pretty sure he'd've gone with him anywhere right at that moment, after all that time, seeing him in the flesh the way he was. And he looked good, looked exactly the same as when V had seen him last, perfectly groomed, clothes crisp, posture perfect. It was easy to tell he'd been a soldier once, and V found himself wondering if Arasaka let their soldiers wear their hair long or if he'd grown it out after Saburo plucked him from the ranks. He looked the same as he had before, just maybe with a little more gray in his hair, but the way he stood, the way he walked when he turned to lead the way, those weren't different at all. V almost wished he had been different, in a way, 'cause if he had been then maybe he could've felt different, too.

The problem was, as they walked together, as they left the bar where V had sat down for a drink with Jackie, as they made their way over to the elevators he'd ridden in with Jackie, it felt like no time had passed at all. It felt like a trap being laid by a guy that he trusted, based on a gig that had already failed. And that guy he trusted was also still the guy he'd wanted, back when they'd had no choice but to work together. He still wanted him like that, too, though he knew Takemura had turned him down.

It hadn't been just the time he'd asked him if he felt like having company, by text like that was some classy mode of comms and he couldn't've just suggested it to him in person, or at least on the holo where Takemura could've heard his voice, seen his avatar, that whole bit. They walked together through the hotel, went into the elevator together, and he was remembering that night, long after the heist except nothing had been that long in the scheme of things, out on the street, and they'd known someone was following. They'd seen them, caught sight of them, Arasaka goons of Yorinobu's sent to take them out, and when the chase started they'd ducked into a hotel. It was the pay-by-the-hour kind - V paid the AI for a room while they were still running in, pelted up two flights of stairs two steps at a time, took a right at the top and headed into their room right by the fire escape. He'd guessed at least if things got messy, they'd have an exit they could take before the cops arrived.

"Boots, jacket, shirt," V said, inside the room, the door closed behind them, and when Takemura looked at him blankly, he'd told him, "Take them off. We need to make this look good."

Takemura did as he was told. He pulled off his jacket and then his shirt and threw them onto a table by the window though leaving them so haphazardly seemed to cause him almost physical pain. He tugged off his boots and V shoved his own shiny gold coat underneath the bed with who the fuck knew what else, recognizable as it was. He was wearing a tank top underneath that he kept on, sneakers that he pitched at the bathroom door, and he could hear boots in the corridor, they were cutting it so fucking close. He knelt on the bed, hands and knees, shoved his pants over his hips and hissed, "Hair," at Takemura, shirtless Takemura with all the cyberware in his neck really, really visible, and he saw the moment he understood and tugged his hair down out of his bun. It fell around his shoulders and covered up his chrome pretty well. Then he joined V on the bed, pushed up right behind him, pants still on but that didn't change the fact that his bare hands skimmed V's bare hips and his clothed groin wound up pressed to V's bare ass. He'd have let him do him right then and there if he'd wanted to, Arasaka goons or no.

Then the door burst open. A couple of moments of V yelling bloody murder about privacy and calling the cops and the guys fucked off back the way they'd come, and when they were gone, when V turned over and lay there on the mattress with his dick still out but so pumped up with adrenaline that he could barely even move, he could see the look on Takemura's face: he was torn between making notes about Arasaka security protocols, 'cause they'd for damn sure gotten away too easily, and wondering what the fuck he'd just gotten himself into.

"Was this strictly necessary?" Takemura had asked him, as he knelt there on the bed between V's thighs. His chest was bare and his hair was hanging down around his shoulders, his hands by his knees. He'd looked amazing, sitting there on his heels with his eyes on V, his eyes moving over V, from his face to his bare cock and then back again. All V had wanted to do was drag him down and kiss him, get his hands into his hair and...yeah, it wasn't gonna happen.

Honestly, when he'd thought about it, as Takemura had picked himself up off the bed and pulled his clothes back on, as he'd tied his hair back up, V hadn't really known if it was necessary. He hadn't known then and he hadn't known later, back in his apartment as he'd jerked off to the thought of what he would've liked to do. As they rode the Konpeki elevator, he still didn't know. Maybe it had been the only thing they could've done without a shootout, or maybe it'd just been an excuse.

The elevator headed up, and up, and up, and the higher it went the worse V's stomach sank because it only took a few floors for him to figure it out: they were heading for the penthouse, the place where Yorinobu killed his father. Takemura looked at him across the elevator, V knew that, but he couldn't look back. All he could do was wait, scuffing his sneakers against the ground like that was somehow the perfect distraction, and when the elevator reached the top, when the doors slid open, he followed Takemura out. He'd never thought he'd be back there in that room again. At the time, he hadn't even thought they'd make it out alive.

Takemura took off his shoes inside the door, likely out of habit but V stopped to do the same. Takemura took off his jacket and he hung it up, so V did the same. They both stood there, matching black socks, matching black shirts and pants and waistcoats, looking at each other maybe just five meters away from where Saburo bit the big one. Takemura had his fingers interlaced, hands over his chest like he wasn't sure what else to do with them, and V just shoved his hands into his pants pockets so he wouldn't start playing with his hair or something dumb. He wanted to say I almost died here, or something about how Jackie should've lived instead of him, how Johnny should've lived, why had it been him and not either of them? Something about being there fucking wrenched at him. But what he said instead was, "Are we wearing the same clothes?"

Takemura nodded. "Yes," he said.

"I mean...they're all the same? Same fabric, some buttons, all of that?"

"They are." Takemura held his arms out wide and turned a slow circle in front of him. "Would you like to check?"

"We're wearing the same underwear?"

Takemura nodded again. "Yes, we are," he said. He relaced his fingers over his chest. He raised his eyebrows at him. "Would you like to check that also?"

Something inside V wrenched again at that, just in an entirely different way than it had before. He wasn't sure if he was being teased, or being mocked, or what the hell was going on at all, though Takemura seemed weirdly sincere, no trace of his wry-dry sense of humor there at all. His eyes were still on V, his gaze steady, his back really straight, and V swallowed as he looked at him. He'd maybe wondered on the way over there if he was still gonna feel the same attraction as he had before, and it turned out he did - he liked how he looked, how he stood, how he talked, the almost nervous way his fingers pressed together, didn't care that he was older and hated V's job or that Johnny would've disapproved, because Johnny had always disapproved, of corpo crap in general and of Takemura in particular. Somehow texting the guy for fourteen months had just made him want him more, if anything.

V took a breath. He shrugged, like maybe it was no big deal.

"Yeah," he said. "I would." And the look on Takemura's face turned kinda sharp and slightly wary at the edges, like he hadn't expected that and wasn't sure what he should say. He frowned slightly, tilted his head slightly, then he slid his hands apart, unlaced his fingers, looked down, and started to unbutton his waistcoat.

V watched. He wasn't totally sure what else to do - Takemura undid the six small buttons and then shrugged his waistcoat off and draped it over the back of a nearby chair, and V just watched him do it, not sure if this was still teasing, or mocking, or whatever it had been before. He watched Takemura unbutton his shirt after that, take the cufflinks from his cuffs and set them on the coffee table that was new but still in the same place where Saburo had died, untuck the tails and pull it off. He was wearing the same black undershirt that V was and V watched as he pulled that off, too, his back turned as he stood by the chair, his hair still tied up in a bun so V could see every inch of his spine from the base of his skull to the belt at his waist, except what his cyberware had covered up or else replaced. He heard Takemura take a breath, as if it went in between his teeth, then he turned back around to face him, bare-chested, his hands at the buckle of his belt.

He didn't expect him to go any further, maybe 'cause he hadn't expected him to go even that far. He didn't expect him to unbuckle his belt and pop open the button at the front of his pants, pull down the zipper, start pushing them down. There was a look on Takemura's face, not quite a grimace, like maybe he was having second thoughts, like maybe he had no clue what he was doing, like at the very least he had no idea why, but he kept on going. He bent at the waist, pushed his nice black pants down to his ankles, then tugged off his socks before standing back up. All that was left on him was his underwear and his cyberware - the cyberware was everywhere, more subtle in most places than it was at his throat but V could see the lines of it running through his arms and legs and chest. And the underwear really was the same as V was wearing, black briefs that sat low on his hips and really didn't leave a lot to the imagination. He looked great. Strong. Toned. A little graying hair across his chest and running from his navel down underneath his underwear. Fuck, he looked great, but also like he might've been as nervous as V was.

"It matches, yes?" Takemura said.

V nodded, repeatedly, the motion small and kinda jittery. "Yeah," he replied. "Yeah, I think so."

"Would you like to make certain?"

V had no clue what to make of that, except he guessed he knew what to make of that and just couldn't totally believe what he was hearing. He watched Takemura cross one arm over his chest and rest the other hand at his chin, scratching at his beard as he eyed him, and V's stomach kind of clenched, kind of flipped, kind of made him shiver hot and cold, as he wondered simultaneously what the fuck he was doing and what he was waiting for. His hands were almost shaking in spite of his chrome as he unbuttoned his waistcoat. He clenched his jaw as he unbuttoned his shirt. He took off his pants, socks, undershirt, stood there in the crappy penthouse light trying to resist the totally ridiculous urge to cover up as Takemura's eyes moved over him. Takemura's lips parted and V watched him bite at the tip of his tongue.

"So, do we match?" Takemura said. His voice sounded strained, kinda tight, kinda nervous. It made V's pulse run faster.

V stepped closer. He moved in a few steps, stopped just out of arm's reach, feeling his face get hot as he let his gaze drop down. His eyes followed the angular path of cyberware across Takemura's chest, over his abdomen, down to the low line of his underwear. He moved closer again, just far enough that he could run his fingertips along the waistband, maybe brushing the warm skin above it, but when Takemura flinched, he yanked his hand away.

"Sorry?" V said. He jabbed the nails of both hands into his palms and winced, but Takemura shook his head.

"You have cold hands," he explained. Then he reached up behind his head and shook it again but this time it wasn't no, it was so his hair came down. He pushed it back behind his ears and V just straight up gawked at him, mostly naked as he was with his hair around his shoulders. The look on Takemura's face said that was all he had, no more ideas, nothing left to tease him with, no clue how to take another step, but that was fine - when he said V's name, just V, like he was asking for help, like he was asking for something, that was the one last thing V needed. He stepped in again. He slipped one hand to the cyberware at the back of Takemura's neck, under his hair. He rested the other at Takemura's hip, by the waist of his matching underwear. Then he leaned in, tilted his head, angled his mouth so they were so, so close, so he could feel the warmth of Takemura's breath against his skin as their parted lips almost, almost, but not quite touched.

Takemura kissed him. There was barely any space left between them anyway but Takemura closed it, kinda surged forward and pressed his mouth to his a bit too hard as he brought his hands up to V's jaw. V really hadn't expected him to do it. Somehow, despite all the stripping and whatever, he'd thought Takemura, big strong self-possessed Arasaka security specialist Takemura, the guy who always had a plan, was gonna chicken out before they really even touched. He kissed him, though, too hard for a start but then almost too soft, fucking unbearably soft, over and over, like he didn't want to stop. V turned his hand, got his fingers into Takemura's hair, eased back, took a breath...they were still so close together, Takemura's thumbs at V's cheekbones, V's free hand squeezing Takemura's hip, and the shitty light glinted in the silver parts of Takemura's eyes, showed him exactly how flushed Takemura's face was. All V could think to do was drop his mouth to Takemura's chrome throat and kiss him there, get his fingers to it, run them over it, the hand in his hair making him tilt back his head. Takemura took a sharp breath in, his chest rising with it, and V pulled back, spread one hand there over Takemura's sternum where the chrome stopped and skin started.

"V..." Takemura said, basically just breathed, his hands drifting to V's shoulders, and when V's gaze wandered down, he could see exactly what the problem was: their matching underwear did nothing at all to hide the fact Takemura was hard. He wasn't far away from that himself, his dick starting to strain at his underwear, the fabric turning slightly damp there at the tip, and Takemura reached down, brushed the back of one hand against him, made V gasp and his cock fill up harder. Fuck, it was the strangest place on the planet for this, but V knew that wasn't going to stop him. He just used that hand at Takemura's sternum to shove him up against the nearest wall and Takemura didn't miss a beat: he pulled V in against him, kissed him again, this time open-mouthed and hot and breathless. V didn't mind at all, but it wasn't enough.

His hand moved down. He knew what he was doing and Takemura turned a little tense so V guessed he knew what he was doing, too; he slipped his thumbs into the waist of Takemura's underwear and eased it down. It didn't take a lot because frankly there wasn't much of it. It didn't take a lot to push the briefs down to Takemura's knees and then Takemura shifted a little, awkwardly, till he managed to knock them down completely and pushed them away to one side. Takemura's cock jutted out, the tip resting against V's abdomen just above the waist of his own underwear, smudging moisture against his skin. He was thick, maybe a little bigger than V had expected, uncut, the tip pushing just a fraction past the foreskin so V bit his lip and reached down to ease it back, to expose the head, and Takemura hissed a breath through his teeth. He was so hot in his hand, so hard, and V couldn't decide what he wanted to do - kneel and take him in his hand, take him in his mouth, make him come like that? Or maybe he'd drag him to the bed, straddle his thighs, ride him till they were both exhausted. He couldn't decide and his cock was straining hard against his underwear so he just leaned in again, kissed him again, let the tip of Takemura's dick rub against him as he slipped his hands to Takemura's ass and squeezed.

He really didn't have a plan. Maybe Takemura had started out with one, that was maybe conceivable, maybe he'd meant to kiss him, maybe he'd meant to proposition him, but V hadn't had a plan. He didn't plan it when he mouthed at Takemura's chrome neck just under one ear and let his fingertips trace the crack of his ass. It wasn't a plan that made Takemura shift so his back was almost arched, so his head and his shoulders were what connected him to the wall behind, and he slipped his own hands down behind him. He could hear Takemura's breath, short and loud, as he spread his own cheeks with both his hands. He could hear Takemura's breath hitch as V ran the fingers of one hand there, between his cheeks, against his hole. It was so fucking hot that V had to take a second, shoved his own underwear down to free his cock and he when he gave himself a stroke the tip of him was so damn wet with precome that he ran his fingertips through it, kinda gathered it up, and when he slipped his hands back behind Takemura, V's fingers at his rim were slick with it.

Takemura would've let him put them in him, he was pretty sure. He was pretty sure he could've done it, too, pressed one finger up inside him, made him clench, then maybe two. He'd thought about it sometimes, whether Takemura would let him do it, whether he even liked it at all, and he was pretty sure he had his answer, hot enough to make him take a shaky breath as he pressed his mouth tight to the crook of Takemura's neck. But that wasn't what he did - he pulled back, told him, "Turn around," and Takemura's face was flushed, his hairline just a little damp with sweat, eyes so fucking dark except that little ring of silver, and after a second...he turned around. V could see how hard he was breathing, the quick rise and fall of his chest as he leaned against the wall, head turned, against one shoulder. Fuck, he still had his hands there, spreading his cheeks, goddamn obscene, exposing himself in a way V hadn't really meant except maybe he had. He raked his fingers down Takemura's back, dropped to his knees, rested his forehead at the base of his spine and sighed. He squeezed Takemura's ass, his hands over his, and let his fingers stray back to his rim. He wasn't sure if Takemura wanted this, except when he reached between Takemura's thighs to give his cock a stroke, he groaned out loud against the wall and arched his back a little harder, spread his cheeks as far as he could, eased his hole open just a little with the tips of both middle fingers. V decided that was a pretty good sign.

He licked him. He let his tongue flicker out there against him, between his cheeks, against his hole, so hot and tight that V could feel his cock start to leak again. He could taste himself there, his own damn precome smudged against his hole, and he breathed out there hotly, made Takemura shiver all the way right down his spine before he licked at him again. He ran the flat of his tongue against him, slowly, wetly, pressed at him with the tip of his tongue while his hands and Takemura's were both squeezing there, both almost holding him open just a fraction so V could fuck him with maybe just the first inch of his tongue. He was so tight it was hard to get it in but wow, the way Takemura's breath sounded, the way his hips shifted just a little, the way he really seemed to want it...V didn't trust himself to touch his own cock 'cause he was pretty sure that would've been the end of it. He kept going, lapping at him, his rim so fucking wet when he pulled back to blow cool air there, he made Takemura curse under his shaky breath in Japanese. V clucked his tongue like maybe he was disapproving of his language so Takemura cursed again, then pressed his tongue back in against him.

He kept going till his jaw ached so bad he wasn't sure that it would ever feel the same. He kept going till his fingertips were stroking him there, too, tongue and fingers at his rim, teasing him, making his muscles start to tremble, and fuck it was so hot knowing he'd done that to him, made him breathless, made him lean a little harder on the wall because of how it felt. V sat back then, though, took a breath, ran his hands over his hair, over his face, looked down at his own erection jutting up between his thighs and tapped it with the back of his hand just to make it bob kinda ridiculously. Then he rocked back, pushed up onto his feet, and stepped in close again. So close that the length of his cock rubbed between Takemura's cheeks and made both of them groan. Takemura moved his hands, leaned on his forearms against the wall, head down, hair hanging, and V just gripped his hips and rubbed against him. He could've come like that, he thought, the length of him sliding between Takemura's cheeks, over his hole - he almost wanted to, so he could push his fingers into him after, slick with his own come, fuck him with them till he came, too. But he stopped, went still, rested his forehead down against Takemura's shoulder.

"Look," he said, halfway to breathless, his voice sounding weird. "If we're gonna..." He chuckled wryly. "If this is gonna work, I need lube." He squeezed Takemura's hips. "I mean, if you--"

"By the bed," Takemura replied. "In the drawer."

"Stay right there."

So V stalked away, quickly, one hand around his cock so it didn't jostle painfully in front of him, trying not to think about where exactly Takemura had gone to purchase lube. The tube was still sealed, the writing on the packaging all Japanese, so he must've thought about it before he even arrived, maybe days before, or maybe he'd just thought he should be prepared in case he met someone attractive, but even V figured that was dumb. He fumbled with it on the way back across the room, trying not to trip over his own goddamn feet as he looked at Takemura still standing there, naked, legs parted and back turned, forearms to the wall. If it was another fourteen months till he saw him again, wow, he was gonna get some mileage out of how he looked right then.

He went back to him. The lube was open by the time he got there and he dropped the cap on the floor, who the fuck knew where it had gone, and for a second he thought he might look for it but seriously, not a chance in hell. He squeezed some out onto his fingers and jeez, he was almost shaking he was so turned on, his hands unsteadier than they'd been in years as he leaned in to tease his fingertips between Takemura's cheeks, up against his hole. He felt him clench and then relax, slowly, the muscles in his shoulders shifting as V rubbed there, circling his rim. He'd imagined him to be so goddamn stoic but fuck, every time V moved it was like Takemura reacted, shifting his weight, muscles tensing, fingers pressing tight against the wall. V swept Takemura's hair forward so he could press his mouth to the back of one shoulder and when he pressed his fingers harder there against his hole, Takemura took a breath like he was trying to prepare himself. When V pushed one in, slowly, Takemura's breath hitched. When he pressed a second in beside the first a moment later, Takemura's hole twitched tight just for a moment, then relaxed to let them in.

"V," Takemura said. He pressed against the wall, arched his back, turned his head, just about got far enough to look at him with one brown-silver eye. "V..." he said again, then turned back again and dropped his head, and V knew what he was asking for - the fact that he was asking for it really meant that he couldn't resist. He eased his fingers out and paused there for a moment, stroked him with his fingertips then picked the lube back up again. He slicked himself, quick and thick, then tossed the tube back down on the dresser and to hell with where the cap had ended up 'cause Takemura wanted him to fuck him.

So he did. He rubbed the tip of his dick against Takemura's hole just for a moment and then pressed there, kept himself in place with the fingertips of one hand while he leaned on the wall with the other. He could feel how tight he was, the resistance though he was so clearly trying to relax and let him in, clearly because of the frustrated noise he made as he shuffled his feet a little wider and slapped one palm against the wall impatiently. But then V pushed in. The head of his cock pushed in past his rim and Takemura bit off a groan as V slid in deeper, bit by bit, going deep. He kept going, gripping Takemura's hips maybe almost too tight, till he couldn't get in any deeper. Then he flexed his hips like he might try to anyway, did it again, did it again, the movement just a little longer each time, a little pulling back a little further, till the truth was he was fucking him.

V didn't stop and Takemura didn't try to stop him. V moved his hands to the wall, palms planted there by Takemura's forearms, and he kept on fucking him, slow and deep. Takemura planted his heels and squared his hips and jeez, V was used to guys moving with him when he did this, but Takemura was a goddamn rock - V shoved up against him, felt Takemura pressing back, not giving an inch, so V drove in even deeper. He started pushing back to meet him and the way that felt, Takemura's hole so hot around him, so tight, his cock moving inside him...V closed his eyes, squeezed them shut, told himself he was gonna last a little longer. His skin was so damn hot, though, sweat standing out on his brow, a thin trickle at the small of his back, and he could barely catch his breath, but he kept going - he passed the point where he could keep his thrusts even, past the point where rhythm was a thing he was capable of, into the place where all he could do was close his eyes and bare his teeth as he pushed in again, again, four times, six, before he finished there inside him. His cock pulsed with it, so hard he wasn't sure he could stay up on his feet, but then Takemura turned a little, just far enough that when he reached back and V leaned forward, their mouths met over his shoulder. The kiss was breathless, with Takemura's fingers scraping at V's scalp and the twist to his spine looking very nearly painful, but Jesus it was worth it.

They went down to their knees after that. V would've liked to've stayed in him but he slipped out as they moved and had to push back in once they were kneeling, then he reached forward past Takemura's hip to wrap his hand around his cock. Takemura put one of his own hands over V's, squeezed a little, groaned, did it again, guided him to stroke until it was almost like he was jerking himself off, just using V's hand - V was fine with that, kinda lightheaded with it 'cause he'd imagined watching him do it, on the same bed in the crappy motel or maybe V's apartment, though he'd never in a million years have come up with the penthouse at Konpeki. He just rested one cheek against the back of Takemura's shoulder, his long hair tickling his face, his free hand spread over his sternum and let him do whatever the fuck he wanted. And when Takemura came, over V's hand and against the wall, muscled jerking with it, his hole tight around his slowly softening cock, all V could do was smile and stroke him through it. Then he wrapped his arms around him from behind and held on, just for a while.

For a while, Takemura let him, but in the end he shifted, nudged him, said his name and V took the hint - he pulled back and pulled out and groaned as he pushed up onto his feet again. He held out a hand and Takemura took it so V helped him up, pulled him close, and Takemura let him. Takemura slid his hands to V's hips and rubbed there lightly with his thumbs. V would've liked to've headed to bed, even if it reminded him of Evelyn's BD and everything after that, but they went into the bathroom instead, took a washcloth each and didn't completely avoid looking at each other as they showered off the mess they'd made, not that the shower would do a whole lot for the paintwork on the wall. V sat naked on the couch while Takemura blow-dried his hair. Sappy as it was, he almost asked him if he wanted him to brush it for him but in the end, he just watched. And maybe after that he should've told him he was hungry after all or something, ordered room service and eaten in a pair of fluffy white Konpeki bathrobes, but he guessed he still had questions.

"So, why are we here?" he asked, as they were sitting there together, a couple of meters from where Saburo died, a couple of meters from where they'd just spent thirty minutes fucking. "Here, I mean. Konpeki. Why here?"

"I have news," Takemura replied. He shifted awkwardly on the couch, raking his hair back so he could pin it up with a pen that was lying on the table. He frowned. He looked at V. "This seemed to be the appropriate venue. This is where the situation started." And somehow V couldn't help but think the look on his face, that wary look, cautious, kinda guarded, didn't bode real well at all.

"News?"

"I will be transferred next month," Takemura said. "To Night City. I will be the head of security for operations in the area." He paused. He looked away. He smiled faintly, wryly, just a faint tug at the corners of his mouth. "There will be certain expectations of me in my new role."

And V understood then precisely why he'd brought him there: whatever they'd had, it was over, and it was ending where it had started. He hadn't expected that Takemura finally making it across the ocean, Takemura moving there, was gonna be the end before it even had a chance to happen, but there it was. Takemura was with Arasaka and V was a merc, and there were expectations. He guessed at least they'd gotten one great night out of it. At least he'd have that to remember.

V stood abruptly. He'd already gotten dressed part of the way, pulled on his underwear and pants, so it was easy enough to start gathering the rest of what he'd taken off.

"Y'know, I think maybe I should go," he said.

"You do?" Takemura replied.

"Yeah. I get it. I know what you're gonna say." He glanced at him as he was stepping into his sneakers; Takemura was frowning at him, so he looked away again. "Look, tonight was a lot of fun. I had a great time. I hope you had a great time, too." He pulled on his shirt, left it open on top of his undershirt, threw his jacket over his arm, and when he looked at him again it was with a tight and rueful smile. "I really like you, Goro," he said, with a twist to his gut so fucking hard it hurt. "I hope all of this works out for you."

Then he turned and he left, 'cause he really didn't need to hear him say goodbye.

---

As he took the elevator down that night, he was already blocking and deleting Takemura from his contacts. He hated it, but he figured that he'd hate it less than if he kept on scrolling past his name.

He made his way outside and hopped into the waiting cab, made polite chit-chat with Del while his head fucking reeled, and let him take him home. Maybe the night hadn't ended with gunfire and Jackie dead in the back of the cab but he did still wish he hadn't gone there, just like he had the night of the heist. So he went home and he took off the suit and unlike the last one he'd been given, he didn't shove it into a drawer - he hung it up, all neat and tidy, resisting the urge to go sell it to the nearest vendor so he could get it the heck out of his sight. Maybe he wasn't gonna need it again, but he wasn't ready to let go just yet.

He didn't go to sleep, though maybe that would've been the best possible plan, all things considered. He called Kerry instead, found he was throwing a party at the villa that V had somehow failed to realize he'd been invited to, so he drove out to North Oak to get drunk with a rockstar 'cause Kerry could be a surprisingly good listener for a guy who had a huge-ass naked portrait of himself inside his house. Turned out his best friend in the world was a ninety-something rockerboy who was richer than Croesus - he'd done some bodyguard shit for him from time to time, cleared up a few stalker issues, pretended to be his input if some one night stand got too clingy about it, but mostly they just drank and talked while Kerry played guitar.

He fell asleep in Kerry's bed around the time Takemura would've usually texted food porn and he woke up again around noon with a hangover no cyberware was gonna cure. The way Kerry was squinting at him said he had the same problem, but they dragged themselves up to go get coffee downstairs. And then, life went on.

The first week was tough. He missed the dumb texts and the photos and the fact he had someone to talk to, textually, if that really counted. He missed waking up at 3am to whatever Takemura had been cooking, 'cause it wasn't like he was gonna be cooking for him now, and when Liz and Jefferson asked him to stay to dinner one night to talk over some plans, they'd ordered Japanese and so he stayed. He was fucked up, but he told himself he was gonna get better. Soon. Soon enough, at least.

The week after that wasn't a whole lot better. He did a little work for Reggie, more of the usual cyberpsycho bullshit that Elizabeth had gotten herself pulled into now, too - there were more cyberpsychos in NC than anywhere else on the whole damn planet, she said, and there had to be a reason. He did a little work for Wakako, too, cleared out the sixth floor Scar resurgence and spent more time playing with Nibbles than Nibbles really needed him to. He had dinner with Misty and Mama Welles, both of whom seemed more than usually concerned for him - kinda nice, he thought, but he smiled and shrugged it off, told them he was fine, 'cause technically he was. Everything was exactly the same as it had been before, just with a few fewer distractions. Except at night, cock in hand, when he thought about the things they'd done. In his imagination, he'd fucked him or been fucked by him so many times it was almost like he was going for a record.

Week three, he thought he felt better. He spent a couple of nights at Kerry's place, no funny stuff but getting drunk off their asses telling stories about Johnny was sometimes just a whole lot better than them both feeling kinda lonely. Kerry was writing new stuff again and the part of V that really hadn't always been him thought it was great and had things to say. There were times he wondered just how much of Johnny they'd managed to scoop out of him, 'cause he knew he'd never felt so fucked up over anything before he'd come along. He knew Johnny would hate the idea of it, he thought, but maybe he'd taught him what passion was: for causes, and for people. He had a whole lot of that for Takemura, so maybe he didn't feel so much better after all.

Then, week four, the inevitable happened.

He wasn't really meant to be there, or he hadn't really expected to be - he'd stopped by the Peralezes' place as arranged just to make sure everything was right, doors and windows and that gonk trapdoor to the roof they just wouldn't get rid of, no obvious snipers in the area, the usual bullshit. Then Jefferson had asked him to stay for the start of the meeting, just for the introductions, and he had nothing really pressing planned 'cause all he really wanted to do was go home and play with his cat. Or maybe go grab a drink with Kerry and shoot some pool or something, though both of them kinda sucked at it. It was kinda nice to have at least one person who didn't judge him for the shit he did, 'cause Kerry had known Johnny and yeah, so they both missed him, that was the point where they connected, but also Johnny had been worse from time to time than either of them could ever be.

So, he'd stuck around because if Kerry was free he'd still be free in thirty minutes and it wasn't like Nibbles was going anywhere. He was sitting at the dining table with Elizabeth when the elevator came up and they both stood as Jefferson came in with the meeting's attendees. And V felt it like a knife in the chest, which had happened to him on more than one occasion, when he realized who it was that'd just come in.

Kohei Ito was the head of operations for Arasaka in Night City. V knew his face from TV and the occasional screamsheet that had tried to dig up dirt, but from what V could tell the guy was about was clean as a corpo could be - so not clean clean, not a nice guy, nobody's best friend, but he wasn't kicking puppies on the way to a mustache-twirling villain convention. Made sense for Jefferson to be meeting guys like that, V thought, given his work, given he was probably still under some nefarious outside control, given Liz wanted to get Arasaka in on the whole cyberpsycho problem, and maybe that would work if it turned out they weren't behind it. But that wasn't the face that got his attention.

"Mr. Mayor, allow me to introduce our new head of security for Night City," Ito said, and Takemura stepped forward. He was still shaking Jefferson's hand when V finally understood what was happening, that the transfer must've gone through now, though Takemura had apparently already noticed him; his gaze kept slipping to V, despite his best efforts to prevent it, to the point where both Jefferson and Elizabeth must have noticed. They shared a glance and then Jefferson gestured at V. V, whose chest felt tight and gut felt twisted because honestly, maybe he hadn't for one second believed he'd never run into him again, not if Takemura really transferred and V kept on taking work for the Peralezes, but he somehow hadn't expected to see him so soon.

"Do you know each other?" Elizabeth asked, and V smiled wryly. He rubbed his mouth. He looked at Takemura, who didn't seem to know what he should say to that at all, and V guessed he understood that, given what had happened the last time they'd been together, just around a month ago. Maybe he was worried V would say something dumb, like he might just blurt out the story of Saburo's death, the Relic, Johnny Silverhand and Mikoshi, no matter how clean Hanako had scrubbed the records. Maybe he was worried V would say, sure, I fucked him in the suite where Saburo Arasaka died or we were penpals, we texted each other every day for fourteen months and that might make things...difficult, given who V was and what Takemura did.

Then again, he didn't want to lie and say they'd never met 'cause chances were Arasaka knew what they'd done together not so long ago. Kind of ironic, V thought, that he was still thinking about Takemura's reputation when the guy had dumped him without ever really dating him. Kind of ironic that all the power seemed to be in V's hands though Takemura had already tried to distance himself.

"We did some work together a while ago," V said, deciding to ignore the part of him that said fuck it, and fuck him, go ahead and do your worst - the part of him that sounded quite a lot like Johnny. He wasn't even sure he wanted to damage him, though, personally or professionally or in any way at all, 'cause the truth was, he was still hurt but he still liked him. He was hurt, but that didn't also mean he hadn't understood his point. After all, if they hadn't met the way they had, chances were they'd have met down the barrel of a gun or not at all.

Takemura grimaced, not completely subtly, and said something vague about V's work being very competent. Then, when Jefferson said, "So, you'd recommend him as a contractor?" as if V hadn't been employed on and off for over a year, Takemura glanced at V then back again.

"You can trust him with your life, I think," he said. "As I trust him with mine." And it should have felt good to hear him say that, V guessed, but it felt a lot more like he'd just twisted the knife.

Takemura watched with a strange look on his face as V told them all he had to be going, places to go and people to see. He wanted to tell him it was good to see him, because it sort of was even if it sort of wasn't, but it kinda didn't seem like the right place or the right time, so he just gave him a second's worth of a rueful smile, told Jefferson he'd be expecting his call, and then ducked back out into the elevator to make his way downstairs. He'd have liked to have kissed him, he thought, right there in the Peralezes' apartment in front of what was probably Takemura's new boss. He'd have liked to have thought maybe Takemura would excuse himself and follow him, though he guessed he knew that was impossible. Then, once the doors had slid closed, he leaned against the elevator wall and told himself it was fine, it really was. He didn't need to go all scorched earth on the situation and stop taking any and all work from the Peralezes' direction. He definitely didn't need to leave the city, though it would've been kinda hilarious to go set up exactly where Takemura had just left. It was going to be fine.

When he called Kerry, he was out of town doing some boring PR shit and it sounded like he'd've rather been anywhere else, on the planet or off of it. He told him he'd finally booked that Crystal Palace show like he'd wanted to, though, if V wanted to tag along there as his guest, try someplace in space that wasn't Arasaka's orbital station, and that sounded like fun so he told him why not. Then he went over to Misty's store and let her read the tarot for him while he played with Nibbles, though he really wasn't paying close attention to the things she said and he was pretty sure she knew it. Next step was Vik's and he let V pull up a chair and watch a few old boxing matches with him. He knew Vik could tell something was wrong, probably even had an idea of what it was if he and Takemura still kept in touch, but he didn't try to pry. V appreciated that.

He thought about taking a trip down to Heywood after that, heading into the Coyote to shoot the shit with Pepe at the bar or maybe have a quiet drink with Mama Welles. He thought about getting his drink on at the Afterlife - Rogue had had a few jobs for him lately, now he was well and truly back and pretty hot of reputation, but he wasn't really looking for work, let alone that weird concerned look Claire got when he had too much to drink. He had two friends with drinks named after them now and sometimes he wondered if he'd get one someday, too. That day, though, it was less about mourning Johnny and Jackie and more the relationship that had never really happened to begin with.

In the end, he didn't go to a bar. He decided fuck it and he went home instead, swung by Kerry's place to grab a bottle of his good tequila then by Misty's again to pick up their co-parented cat, then sat down on the couch to have a drink or two while he half watched the news.

Now, here Takemura is: a few minutes ago, he buzzed at the door then just walked in - so much for the lock, V thinks, but he guesses he knew it was broken, or he wouldn't've been bolting it closed while he sleeps at night. He put down a bag of V's stuff on the desk, stuff he'd thought was gone for good, stuff the lab had lost so he'd come home in that fucking suit, stuff like Johnny's old dog tags that he'll put around his neck the first chance that he gets and maybe that might feel just a little better. Here the two of them are, V watching as Takemura wrings his hands with that how do you live like this? look still on his face and Nibbles peers at them from V's pillow on the bed. And V's still really not sure what Takemura's doing here.

"I wasn't clear at all," Takemura just said. "Please, allow me to explain."

"No, I get it," V replies, trying not to sound bitter, but he's not sure he tries hard. "You were telling me you can't consort with mercs in your fancy new job. But it's fine, y'know? I know what I am. I know it wouldn't look right."

Takemura frowns harder. "No," he says.

"No?"

"No."

Takemura takes a breath. His lips quirk faintly and he holds his hands out, palms up, both empty.

"I was telling you there will be expectations," he says. "I will not have much time for myself. But..." He pauses. He drops his chin just for a moment, like he's trying to compose himself, then looks up again with that same quiet resolve V remembers so well. "I wish to...how did you say it? Consort? I wish to consort with you a good deal more, V."

V's face flushes hot. He grips his knees maybe kinda hard. "I don't understand," he says. "Aren't you gonna get fired?"

"I declared the nature of our relationship to my superiors some months ago," Takemura replies. "No, I won't be fired."

And he says it straightforwardly, but jeez there's a lot there to unpack. Like the fact he's told someone, maybe more than one someone, and what exactly has he told them? V can maybe take a guess, but it's so weird to think that all this time they were on the same page, he had what he wanted, but he just somehow didn't know.

"When?" he asks. "I mean, when did you tell them?"

"When you sent the photograph," Takemura replies, and he glances back over his shoulder for a second, in the direction of the bathroom, before he looks at him again, intently. "In front of the mirror. That was when I understood that we were not just friends. Even so far apart."

"I didn't."

Takemura's mouth twists. "Yes, I figured this out," he says. "After you abandoned me at Konpeki Plaza." Then he stands, and he holds out one hand, and V reaches up to take him by the wrist. Takemura helps him to his feet, so they're standing close. He'd kinda like him to stay here forever, might even clean up a little if he did.

"Hey, Goro?" V says, as they're standing there, not kissing yet but he's pretty sure that comes next.

"Thief?" Takemura replies, and V rolls his eyes but he can't help but smile.

"I just wondered, you gonna cook for me sometime now we're in the same city?"

"I cook for you every day," Takemura says, and with a warm kind of flush, V guesses that's true - all the photos he's sent kinda prove it. "But we should eat together, yes. With your bakeneko, perhaps."

Nibbles yowls, right on cue. V laughs. And then, they kiss.

It's an odd feeling, V thinks, being so completely fucking wrong. Turns out maybe Takemura's not judging him for the way he lives, just for the fact he couldn't let him finish a sentence the one time when it actually meant something. Turns out maybe the end wasn't really the end. Turns out he really doesn't mind being wrong at all.

"Do you understand now?" Takemura asks.

And for the first time in a long time, he's pretty sure he does.