[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] gurajiorasu Part 3


The failed attempt on his life in his father’s ancestral home was, according to Nino, a way to drive him out of that part of the city. Despite that being merely part of Nino’s speculation, Jun decided to move the main office of his affairs into one of the buildings under his family name.

He gets the top floor for his personal office, a penthouse suite padded with bulletproof glass. Each corridor is monitored 24/7 by security cameras, and whatever is given to Jun as a token of appreciation from another party is inspected thoroughly.

“Botulinum,” Nino says, a week after the attempt. They’re in Jun’s new office now, separated by an L-shaped desk and opened ledgers. “That was what the poison was, according to the findings. I’d say the dart was meticulously crafted since the toxin itself is very potent.”

“They won’t stop at poison darts,” Jun says, turning his ledger to check the recorded balance of a previous transaction. “They will stop at nothing.”

“We’re taking countermeasures, Jun-kun,” Nino assures him. “Although, if you are thinking of weeding out the garden, our resources might not be enough to reveal the truth as soon as possible.”

Jun looks up at Nino, who says nothing else. He understands what Nino is implying, but his pride is refusing the idea of it.

“I will not,” Jun says firmly, ignoring the brief moment in which Nino shuts his eyes. “I swore to myself I wouldn’t come back to watch him arrange imported flowers in a century-old vase.”

“He has the resources that we don’t have,” Nino tells him, voice patient despite his disapproval of Jun’s stubbornness. Jun’s obstinacy is often an admirable thing about him, but it’s also a frequent cause of disagreement between him and Nino. “You need allies more than ever. You know this. I don’t understand why I’m here telling you things you know yourself.”

“And I’m supposed to win over Sakurai Sho by sauntering back to his lair, only this time I have the convenient story of an assassination plot happening behind my back so perhaps he should consider me more?” Jun stands in a rush and stalks towards the nearest window. “I will not. I will not beg for attention. Once was enough. He spent three minutes tending to his flowers before acknowledging me. I will not subject myself to that again.”

How is he supposed to inspire those under him if he’s someone who fights for the attention of one man? All the attention he got on his nameday was given to him because of the occasion. But otherwise, Jun has yet to become someone memorable, someone worthy of respect. To gain that, he knows he has to earn it. But does it involve supplicating in order to satisfy an influential being’s standards? He will not lower himself so.

“I’m not asking you to visit him again,” Nino says later. He has, thankfully, given Jun a couple of minutes to quell his temper. One of these days, Jun believes it will get the best of him. “Last time, you were at a disadvantage since it was Sakurai’s home court.”

Jun faces Nino, eyes narrowing at the suggestion. “You think I can get him to join the company of a man with a target on his back?” He laughs, devoid of amusement and full of dryness. “No one will be so stupid to not realize what I’m doing. As soon as I invite him, he’s going to know.”

Nino suddenly smiles, which Jun frowns at. The timing for it is rather ill. “Not when he’s approaching you himself,” Nino says, bowing. In apology or something else, Jun can’t fathom. He’s preoccupied with piecing together Nino’s words. “He responded, thanking you for the tulips.”

Nino heads for the door and inclines his head at one of their men, who hands him something that he cradles with care. “He even sent a card to go with it. Unopened as always, but we triple-checked it for any kind of poison and found none. Nevertheless, if you would prefer that I take a look at it first…”

“Unnecessary,” Jun says immediately. “Give it here.”

Nino turns to face him once more, and Jun sees it: erected in a rectangular pot made of jade, a small tree that’s not even in full bloom yet. It soon will be, given the season, but it’s already beautiful enough to take Jun’s attention away.

Nino carefully places the pot on his desk and hands the envelope to his waiting hands. Jun can’t take his eyes off the sakura bonsai and its pink flowers in varying states of bloom.

He opens the envelope quickly, tearing the seal without finesse. He flips the card open and begins reading, unsure of what to feel.

Matsumoto-kun, it reads in keigo written in the same script as the last time, thank you for the tulips. I decided to preserve them on account of the rarity that I receive such gifts. I feel touched that you took the time to procure them for me, so I did the same: it’s fifty years old (or so they told me), still blooming, and now yours.

It’s signed with Sakurai’s name and stamp like the last one, and Jun reads it twice before folding it back and tucking it inside its envelope. Unlike the last time in which he’d asked for a lighter from Nino, he places the envelope inside the pocket of his suit jacket, the material pressed close to his heart.

“I know nothing about these things,” Nino says, gesturing to the small tree and breaking the silence between them. “But they have the image of costing a fortune.”

Jun shakes his head. “Not as expensive as you’d think it is.” It’s a tiny tree and not in full bloom, only fifty years of age. It must have cost less than a million. Nothing for Sakurai, but definitely more expensive than the tulips Jun sent his way.

Still, it’s the one thing he’s always wanted. He was considering shopping for the thing by the end of the month, but that was before the attempt on his life took place. Now that he’d forgotten about it, here it is. Delivered to his doorstep, handpicked by Sakurai Sho as he implied in his scented card. It’s stunning and Jun can’t resist reaching out and touching it, fingers skimming over the small flowers.

He doesn’t know what to say. He has received far more expensive gifts in the past—a hundred-year old katana originating from a renowned samurai that he found no use for except for an additional decor, a cellar-full of expensive wine that he is yet to open, jewelries made of precious metals and stones that are too extravagant for his tastes.

This gift, however, is something he was thinking of getting for himself. He never imagined anyone would take the time to select something for him, something that fits right with his predilection.

“Did he want something?” Nino asks when Jun sticks to silence and allows his thoughts to consume him for a moment.

“No.” Jun sits on the edge of his desk, fingers tracing the tiny branches. “He thanked me for the tulips and said this is now mine.” He focuses on Nino. “This is one of the things that he had his men look up, isn’t it? My passion for such things?”

Nino inclines his head, the action not really denoting anything. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. He has the connections. I won’t be surprised if he has a list of your favorite meals arranged alphabetically.”

That makes Jun crack a smile. “He won’t go so far.” Maybe Sakurai was simply sending him a gift. There was no mention of the attempt made on Jun’s life, but since the tree was sent a week after the incident, Jun thinks that part of Sakurai’s message ought to go unsaid.

“I don’t know, Jun-kun, he sent you the exact kind of tree that you couldn’t stop talking about since you found out about it,” Nino tells him. Nino might be exaggerating, but since Jun only recently got into bonsais and their allure, he might be on to something.

“What are you saying?” Jun asks, fingers caressing petals.

“Maybe you don’t need to get Sakurai Sho’s attention,” Nino says, and his voice sounds convinced—sure. Nino’s eyes narrow at him, lips curling in amusement. “Maybe you already have it.”

Jun has realized that himself, but he was waiting for Nino to call it out because Nino is rarely wrong. If Nino saw it, it might be really there. “Nino,” he says, turning his gaze back to the tiny tree and smiling at the sight and feel of it under his hand.

“Yes?” Nino says, already standing at attention and awaiting his order.

“I think it’s time to open one of Yamaguchi-kun’s wines,” he says, nodding at Nino’s understanding expression. “Send him an invite.”

Nino bows as an acknowledgement and leaves his office quietly, shutting the door behind him.

Jun stares at the sakura tree for a while and decides that his desk can use more color. He moves the jade pot to his ideal position and leaves it there, knowing it will last longer than the white lily he took from Sakurai’s house.

--

Maintenance, Jun finds, is far more challenging than the idea of creation. It’s easy to mold something and give life to it. However, maintaining it, nurturing it and letting it grow—that requires careful planning and deft hands. He can’t attain success if he’s uncertain. The attempt on his life merely caused him to take extra precautions, but his plans remain in motion. The reestablishment of his family name’s status and hold in the business remains as his most important goal, and Jun is not a fool to lose sight of his ambition just because of one poorly aimed poison dart.

Jun’s first dinner with Sakurai Sho happens in a restaurant that’s under his name. He doesn’t dare accept Sakurai’s invitations to dine somewhere else, instead insisting that he is yet to repay the man’s graciousness and hospitality for his gift.

“I wasn’t under the impression that you liked it that much,” Sakurai says across the table, smile twisted by the flute of champagne he has pressed against his mouth. He’s dressed in a yukata of simpler design than the last time—black silken fabric embroidered with a golden dragon at the back. Jun only caught sight of it when he allowed Sakurai to walk ahead of him as they entered the establishment earlier.

Jun is dressed in a three-piece suit, something that Aiba picked for him. Nino lacks the talent in picking suits, while Aiba seems to know exactly what would look perfect on Jun. He’s wearing a purple tie and his necklace is hidden underneath his dress shirt.

“Please,” Jun says, allowing himself a small smile. “You knew exactly what I wanted.”

Sakurai smiles, teeth hitting the rim of his champagne flute before he takes a sip. “I’m glad that the attempt on your life didn’t go as planned.” He sets his drink down, fingers now drumming against the table’s surface. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen you again.”

Jun can recognize the barely-concealed flirting. “I’m very fortunate to have Nino around.”

“Is he your secretary? A trained bodyguard?” There is curiosity in Sakurai’s voice, but his questions are also laced with something else. It’s impossible that he doesn’t know Nino’s position in Jun’s life given his connections, but Jun indulges him as they wait for their food.

“A right-hand man of sorts,” Jun explains. “He does many things that are beyond his job description.”

Sakurai’s eyes narrow at that, the corner of his mouth twitching. It makes Jun smile.

Let him interpret that however he wants, Jun thinks. He’s not going to clarify anything, instead remain vague until Sakurai prods him with all he’s got.

“I can imagine,” Sakurai says, not bothering to mask that he’s mostly lying. Jun likes the slight chagrin he can hear. “What was it that tried to kill you? Poisoned apple?”

“Close,” Jun says, tilting his head and baring the side of his neck. “Poison dart.” He points to the spot it would have hit and taps on the skin thrice. “Aimed right here.”

He doesn’t miss the way Sakurai’s eyes follow his finger and remain on his neck. “And? No other attempts since then?”

“None.” Jun straightens in his seat. He already removed his suit jacket earlier, and now he proceeds to roll the sleeves of his shirt up to allow more movement. “None to my knowledge,” he amends. Everything he eats and drinks are being closely monitored now. For all he knows, there might a man or two who have already died under his name that Nino didn’t bother to inform him about.

“Any idea regarding the motive?” Sakurai asks, partaking in his champagne once more. Jun is yet to touch his. “The last time someone wanted to kill me, it was, regretfully, a family member.”

Jun nods, remembering the story. Sakurai didn’t hesitate to have that one executed. Blood relation doesn’t hold any meaning to him. Traitors are traitors. It’s admirable, that he can be so ruthless despite such a kind face. Jun is aware that his face gives the more unfavorable impression compared to Sakurai’s.

“I have no remaining family members left,” he says.

One of Sakurai’s unruly eyebrows quirks. “You have an elder sister.”

“She’s an ocean away,” Jun says. Alaska, last time he checked, which was a week or two ago. She was Nino’s first suspect, but she was apparently cruising somewhere in Alaska, away from the chaos after changing her family name. She has undoubtedly forgotten about her heritage and him by extension. “You’re not the first one to suspect her.”

“I don’t enjoy overlapping ideas with anyone,” Sakurai says, face scrunching minutely in irritation. “Any other suspect?”

Jun smiles and says nothing, and he sees Sakurai’s eyes narrowing at him.

“Ah,” Sakurai says, and he suddenly laughs, the sound echoing around them. The restaurant is empty as another precaution, but the establishment is surrounded by Jun’s men and a few of Sakurai’s trusted ones. “Is that why you invited me to dinner? And I was thinking you’re finally interested in me.”

Jun picks up his champagne flute and samples it. Sakurai had a few now, and if it was poisoned, he would have died already. “Come now, Sakurai-san,” he says, licking his lips to savor the champagne, “you knew exactly why I invited you tonight.”

Sakurai is still smiling, showing off his perfect teeth. There are laugh lines surrounding his eyes, and he looks genuinely delighted. “Aside from your apparent happiness over the gift and suspecting me to be behind the murder attempt, I’m afraid you have to elaborate. You’ve offered me food only to express your distrust before said food arrived. I’m rather famished, but if I truly wanted to kill you, did you seriously believe that I’d stoop so low and mix something in your food, knowing full well we’re going to partake in the same thing?”

Jun lets out a laugh, not out of spite. “Don’t put words in my mouth,” he says, keeping a playful tone. “I never said I was suspecting you.”

“Anyone in their right mind would,” Sakurai tells him. “But then again, why would I give you something you’re truly passionate about if I wanted you dead? What’s the point?”

Jun shrugs his shoulders. “You tell me, Sakurai-san.” He leans forward, bracing himself on his forearm as he peers into Sakurai’s eyes. “Why did you send me that tree?”

“I thought you would like it,” Sakurai answers smoothly, flashing him the same charming smile. “I had to go look for one that would suit you, hence the delayed response over the tulips. It’s not the most expensive one out of all the trees they presented to me, but I thought it was fitting for you.”

Jun raises an eyebrow at that. “Fitting for me?” He scoffs. “You don’t even know me.”

“And that’s why I’m having dinner with you,” Sakurai says, raising his champagne flute in Jun’s direction before taking another sip.

Jun would have to give that one to Sakurai—he handled that really well. Jun considers himself adept at knowing what people want from him, but like him, Sakurai is keeping his cards close. The lingering stares he’s getting so far give him nothing.

Their food arrives, and as a precaution, the chef who personally prepared and delivered it samples it first. Sakurai doesn’t take his eyes off Jun as it happens, and when the chef finally excuses himself after giving them both a generous serving, Jun inclines his head.

“After you,” he says, and Sakurai laughs.

“If we’re going to work together, you need to trust me,” Sakurai says, but he samples his food anyway, smiling all the while.

“Trust is earned, not given.” Jun picks up his knife and fork and starts cutting his steak. He partakes, and can’t help giving a satisfied hum at the taste.

Jun looks up and sees Sakurai enjoying his food. At least, that’s what it looks like. “This is really good,” Sakurai praises, smiling at him once more. Jun is starting to get used to seeing them.

“On behalf of my chef, I’m thanking you for that comment,” Jun says. He resumes eating, sneaking fleeting glances in Sakurai’s direction, who looks as if there’s nothing that makes him happier other than eating.

Sakurai has to swallow what he’s chewing in order to get some words out. “Did the police say anything regarding the failed assassination?”

“You and I both know that the police force in this city is merely a decoration,” Jun states. Sakurai laughs. “I’d be a fool to consider them; they can’t help me if they’re working for my enemies.”

What use is the police force, Jun thinks. They’re all paid men. There are divisions of them that are working for Jun, handling the investigation of his case as discreetly as they can. But in the end, Jun knows that if a man that’s not working for him uncovers the truth, it will lead to another attempt on his life, a more elaborately planned scheme.

He’s not too trusting at this point. He values his life and he won’t be taken for a fool.

“Do you welcome your enemies to your table?” Sakurai asks him, smiling before biting off a piece of lamb meat. “Like you did on your nameday?”

“Would you have fallen for a trick like that?” Jun asks back. He’s still mildly surprised they received Sakurai’s yes two days after Nino had sent the invite. Sakurai is the man who refused to attend Jun’s inauguration, but now he’s here, sharing a meal with Jun like he wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Jun can’t figure him out, and it irks him.

“I told you. I thought you were finally interested in me,” Sakurai says, licking off bits of the sauce that smeared the corner of his mouth. “Was I wrong to consider that possibility?”

Jun hums in mock thought. “Not so wrong.”

Sakurai leans over and smiles, bright and boyish. “Now we’re talking, Matsumoto-kun. If we’re going to do this, I said it before but allow me to remind you once more: you’re going to have to trust me.”

“Trust you not to be the one aiming for my neck?” Jun clarifies.

Sakurai’s grin broadens. “I wouldn’t aim for the neck. I never liked leaving marks or trails for others to follow. Residues are damning; even a drop of blood can bring someone to their knees in a matter of hours.”

Jun takes a long sip of his champagne. “Seems to me you have a lot of experience on this matter, Sakurai-san.”

“I’ve lost count on how many failed assassinations there had been in my first year as a leader.”

Jun isn’t surprised; someone as young as Sakurai (he rose to power before he hit thirty) and having that many assets under his name—he must’ve been quite a target. Jun’s assets are nowhere close to his, and already there is someone out there who wants to do away with him.

“I’m relieved that you managed to remain unmurdered after all these years,” Jun says.

Sakurai laughs, mouth wide open and eyes creased. “Tell you what, Matsumoto-kun. I’ll give you something you won’t hear from anybody else. Call it a free reassurance from me.”

Jun lifts an eyebrow in question. “And what’s that?”

Sakurai Sho licks his lips and smiles at him, and what he says next is what makes Jun decide that if he is to survive, he’s going to need this man’s help.

“If I wanted to kill you, you’d know.”

--

Jun shares one of Yamaguchi’s fancy wine with Sakurai Sho in his penthouse suite. In a gesture of trust, Sakurai asked the rest of his men to head home and only allowed his right-hand man, a man named Ohno Satoshi, to accompany him. Jun permitted it, and asked Nino to entertain Ohno in the lounge as he and Sakurai headed to his office to discuss plans.

“It suits your desk,” is the first thing Sakurai says, and Jun sees him looking at the bonsai. “Gives it a bit of color.”

“It’s blooming steadily,” Jun informs him, forefinger stroking one branch idly.

He hears Sakurai hum. “You’re very fond of it.”

“It’s a lovely gift, Sakurai-san.” Jun moves to pour the wine for them both and hands Sakurai a glass that’s half-full. “Surely I’ve said that.”

“Hearing and seeing are two different things,” Sakurai says, clinking his glass with Jun’s. “I assume we’ve exchanged enough pleasantries by now?”

Jun exhales and squares his shoulders as he samples the wine. It’s superb, spicy and sweet and lasting as Jun rolls the liquid on his tongue. “I want to find who wants to kill me,” he says, going straight to the point.

Sakurai walks towards one of the massive windows that overlook the city, admiring the cityscapes and illuminated skyscrapers. Jun’s office is dim; they didn’t want to attract attention in case anyone’s watching. They’re two important men and they’re on their way to hatching a plan together as part of their loose alliance. Jun would appreciate it if he or Sakurai doesn’t end up dead mere hours after tonight.

“And when you find him, what will you do?” Sakurai asks, drinking his wine and watching Jun’s reflection in the window. “Kill him? Make a show for it? Take everything they own for yourself before throwing them in exile?”

“I’m currently undecided,” Jun admits, admiring the pattern meticulously embroidered on Sakurai’s yukata. The lack of light makes the dragon look more sinister than it is. “Seeing as I have yet to find the person responsible, I’m not thinking that far ahead. Not yet.”

He hears Sakurai hum in consideration. “And what exactly do you want from me, Matsumoto-kun? Or are you also undecided about that?” His reflection is smiling, and Jun can almost see his teeth shine under the moonlight.

Jun hates that he’s not a gifted talker. His honesty is the only thing he has, and he never learned the art of sweet-talking when it comes to relevant matters. He has nothing to offer but the truth, and he dislikes that saying it will make him appear needy.

But that’s what he has to do.

“I need your help,” he says, not elaborating yet.

“In finding your killer? Why?” Sakurai finishes his wine and turns to face him, the lights outside highlighting his rather angular shoulders. Jun can’t see most of his face anymore; it’s obscured by shadows. “They’re not after me. I’m not the one they want dead. If I help you, that’s going to change. Why should I lend a hand when I know it’s going to endanger my own life?”

“You have the resources that I don’t,” Jun acknowledges. He vows to himself that this is the first and the last time he would say that out loud. “I’m not asking you to risk your life for me, Sakurai-san. That’s a bit too much. But you have the connections that I don’t, a certain hold on the police force that I don’t.”

Sakurai takes the liberty of pouring himself another glass of wine, the drink sloshing as he mixes it by flicking his wrist. “What’s in it for me? You’ve been evading this question since we got to the point of the dinner. You’re right, I can help you. I have most of what you don’t. But what’s in it for me? I have everything I need without attracting danger. And now you’re asking me to change that.”

Jun takes a deep breath. He doesn’t have anything of value. Sakurai doesn’t need his money or any of his assets. Jun doesn’t have anything to offer him, if he’s being honest. Aside from Sakurai’s interest on him, there’s really nothing much.

“Whoever wants me dead is not going to stop with me,” Jun says. He knows that to be true even without anyone telling him. “When I’m dead, he’s going to come for my allies. You’re one of those, and one of the truly influential ones. I imagine it’s going to be similar to working one’s way up the ladder—it’s not going to end with me; it’s going to start with me.”

“Do you care about my life?” Sakurai asks, the hints of a laugh crossing his features.

“No,” Jun replies honestly.

“Everyone in this city wants me dead, so you’re not different from them. Every leader out there wants me gone so they can grab what I have for themselves. With me out of the picture, things will be easier for them. Free reign on the port—imagine the shootouts every time there’s a delivery—, my territory a battle zone.” Sakurai chuckles, shoulders quaking. “Isn’t it odd, that we’re all in the same line of work, but I’m someone who promotes order in the midst of chaos?”

Jun drinks his wine to collect his thoughts. Nino didn’t give him much about Sakurai Sho prior to this meeting. Nino only told him that he knows what he has to do, and that the night shouldn’t conclude with Jun not getting that.

“If I die,” Jun begins, uttering each word with impassiveness, “they’re going to come after someone else next. Someone more important. If I die, they’re going to get to you soon. All that you worked hard for—the order you established, the territory you’re protecting, the assets you’ve amassed over the years—they’ll be gone in a blink of an eye.”

Jun approaches Sakurai in easy, confident strides. He stops when he can actually see the expression on Sakurai’s face: a mixture of amusement and wonder. “You didn’t create a name for yourself just to have it vanish in a fortnight.”

Sakurai’s face breaks into a smile, showing Jun his teeth. “If I help you, I’m also protecting my own hide. That’s essentially what you’re saying, yes?”

Jun wets his lips, resisting the urge to smile when he sees Sakurai’s eyes follow the movement of his tongue. “Yes.” He inclines his head. “It’s not much. You’re not really getting something out of this. I can acknowledge that. But on account of my father’s support of your claim when you decided to take what’s always been yours, will you not extend me the same courtesy?”

“I’m not very merciful, Matsumoto-kun,” Sakurai says, expression unreadable now. “Nor very sympathetic.”

Jun shuts his eyes, prepared to accept his defeat.

“But I can be convinced,” Sakurai tells him, and that makes Jun look at him.

“Shall we shake on it to make it official?” Sakurai offers, smirking around the rim of his wine glass.

Jun can only stare at him, take in his bemused expression and the way his eyes are almost dancing. Sakurai must’ve enjoyed making him believe otherwise.

Jun believes he’ll never figure the man out.

“What’s in it for you?” Jun asks, unable to stave the curiosity any longer. His eyes narrow just as Sakurai’s smile broadens. If Sakurai wants something from him, won’t he be clear about it once and for all? Jun hates being kept in the dark. If he doesn’t know, how can he deliver?

“Does it matter what I want?” Sakurai gulps the rest of his wine and licks off a stray droplet that almost trickled down his chin. “If we’re both after the same end—which is you staying alive—, does it really matter what I get out of it?”

Jun isn’t convinced, and he doesn’t bother to hide it from his expression. “It does to me, in case you’re expecting to get something in return. How can I meet your expectations if I’m not privy to them in the first place?”

“Always seeking to impress,” Sakurai comments, lips curling to a slow smile. “Always so impatient. If you’re going to play this game with them, Matsumoto-kun, you need to control that temper. You need to learn how to wait.”

“Wait?” Jun’s eyebrow quirks. “Wait for what? For them to kill me?”

Sakurai looks appalled at the suggestion. He laughs. “Of course not. The goal here is for you not to die. But they won’t stop at one dart and the more failed attempts they have, the more desperate they’re going to get.”

Jun doesn’t mask the disapproval on his face, brows knitting. “You want to use me as bait.”

“Well, they are after you,” Sakurai says, chuckling a little. “We have to flush them out. And what better way than using the one person they want to kill the most right now?”

Jun can’t fault his logic. The easiest way to weed out the traitor is to dangle Jun right in front of their noses and make them frustrated with each failure. Which means they have to fail, or else Jun is dead.

“I can’t die,” Jun says, leaning closer to Sakurai’s space. “If I die, you’re back at square one. You want to find who wants me dead because the sooner he’s gone, the fewer threats there are in the future.” Jun peers into Sakurai’s eyes before he smiles, his first since they got here in his office. “You won’t let me die.”

“Now you’re trusting me,” Sakurai says quietly, since they’re close enough. He sounds pleased.

“Don’t make me regret it,” Jun says, finishing his wine in one gulp. He licks his lips to savor the taste, enjoying the pleasant buzz of sweetness now coating his tongue.

He catches Sakurai looking at his mouth, and he waits.

Sakurai turns away, placing his glass on Jun’s desk and keeping his back to Jun. “I’ll have Satoshi-kun put some men to work. I can perhaps get back to you before the week ends.”

“Do you require another dinner by that time?” Jun asks, staring once more at the design on Sakurai’s yukata. He thinks he can memorize every intricate stitch after tonight.

Sakurai waves his hand in the direction of the opened wine bottle. “Wine would do. But only if I get to share it with you.”

Jun wants to roll his eyes, unsure if Sakurai truly finds him attractive or is merely fucking with him. Either way, he can’t really afford the distraction. “If I’m still alive, then yes, perhaps.”

“I would appreciate it if you remain unmurdered,” Sakurai says, using the same term Jun did when they had dinner. Jun can hear the smile in his tone even with his back turned to Jun still.

“Then we should both see to it that I will.” Jun approaches him, and Sakurai turns around when he’s close enough.

Jun offers the man his hand, who smiles at the sight of it before taking it and giving Jun a firm shake. Sakurai’s palm is warm and his grip is strong, another contradiction to the softness his face has.

“Please keep me in your favor, Matsumoto-kun,” Sakurai says formally, and it makes Jun return his grin.

“Likewise, Sakurai-san.”

--

Jun hears a hiss close to his ear and ducks instinctively, but there seems to be a crushing weight that’s holding his body down. Moving his limbs is a gruelling task for reasons unknown. He takes note of his surroundings. He’s crouching down, breath coming in gasps. He’s alive, but he doesn’t know for how long.

He looks around, squinting in the darkness. He’s barefoot with a thick mat under his feet, and there are dozens of mats covering the polished floor.

He’s back in the training grounds.

Another hiss and he rolls to the side, adrenaline pumping in his veins. He can’t see much. It’s too dark, and he isn’t wearing his contacts. Whoever’s attacking him, he can’t see them—they’re moving too fast.

But he’s safe for now; he’s alive. He doesn’t know what they’re attacking him with. But they’re here to hurt him, and he has to defend himself. He checks his person for any weapons and finds none, only that he’s wearing a black tank top and training pants.

He hears the soft sound of a blade cutting through the silence and he jumps on instinct, knowing it has to be aiming for his feet. He catches the glint of metal and he whips his head to follow it, but it blends with the darkness and vanishes from his sight.

Jun concentrates. He’s in the training grounds. What did he do to survive the last time he was here?

Get up, he tells himself. Find a way out. Don’t let them taunt you.

The next time he hears a strike aimed at his direction, he rolls forward and gets on his feet. He sprints, relying on nothing but his functioning senses. He can hear his raging heartbeat against his ears, pulse rate escalating as he tries to find his way out.

It’s strange that he feels extremely claustrophobic in a room so spacious. He looks back to check if someone’s after him and sees none, but he hears another hiss above his head and he sidesteps before running faster.

When he turns his gaze forward, there’s the door. Made of oak and heavy, but Jun slams his body against it to push it open, and it gives. He grunts in effort since the doors seem to grow heavier the more force he applies, but finally he’s able to create an opening wide enough for his body to slip through.

The light is blinding.

Jun has to squeeze his eyes shut and blink repeatedly to get used to it. After the looming darkness from earlier, this bright, white light is making his eyes water. He shields his eyes with his arm, taking cautious steps forward.

He doesn’t remember this corridor.

He hears the click of a gun and he dashes, nearly stumbling in his haste. The floor is tiled and slippery, but Jun knows he has to get away. Whoever’s pursuing him hasn’t given up.

There’s the deafening sound of a gun fired that pierces the air, and Jun drops to his knees immediately. It didn’t hit him, but he can’t see any bullet marks in any of his surroundings. He gets to his feet and runs, and when his footing slips and he plants face down to the ground, he uses his arms to push himself back up.

He can taste blood in his mouth.

Must be from the fall, he assures himself. You fell. That’s where it’s from.

He spits to get rid of the unpleasant metallic taste, fresh red blood staining the otherwise spotless floor. Despite his efforts, the iron floods his tongue and he wants to puke, but he has to get away.

Priorities, he thinks, full of determination. Priorities first. Get out of here. Get out while you still can. While you’re still whole.

He tries to stand but he stumbles, tripping over something nonexistent in his haste to get away. His knees hit the ground and he spits another mouthful of blood, bright and crimson that somehow stays in his mouth.

When Jun shuffles to his feet, there’s warmth pooling on his stomach, and he looks down, finds himself bleeding. His sleeveless top gets soaked in dark blood, the black material sticking to his body as the overwhelming scent of iron floods his senses.

Has he been shot? Stabbed? He doesn’t know. He didn’t feel a thing.

He touches the wound and hisses, seeing red, red, red color his hands, staining his fingers. Breathing seems to be a task, coming in short gasps, and his throat is parched. Everything starts to hurt as his vision blurs, and he sinks to his knees, pressing his palms against his profusely bleeding stomach. His blood feels too warm, scalding even, but he has to apply to pressure to stop the flow.

His eyes sting and he blinks, inwardly cursing the pain under his eyelids. He can see nothing but red—streaking the floor around him, bathing his hands and leaving them sticky, soaking his clothes. He can smell death, can feel its breath too close, ghosting his nape and making his hair stand.

Am I going to die like this, he thinks, angry with himself for not being fast or observant enough.

Despite the warmth spreading on his palms, it’s so cold. Jun shivers, trembles before he can help it. His body is his only source of heat, and it’s rapidly leaving him as he continues to bleed. His breaths are short and shallow, and he can no longer hear his heartbeat. All he feels is cold and the harsh bite of it, kissing his skin and leaving trails of gooseflesh in its wake.

He feels something like a fist lock around his throat, cutting off his air and making his lungs ache, and he takes one last surge of dying breath before he manages to wake.

Jun sits up on his bed, panting and touching the skin of his throat, fingers wrapping around the column. He’s sweating, cold perspiration traveling from his hairline down to the sides of his face, his neck, past his shoulders and across his back. The sheets under him are drenched, the blankets kicked off the bed and in a messy pile on the floor.

The digital clock on his nightstand ticks, and he sees that it’s 3:42 in the morning.

A dream. He shakes his head, blinks multiple times to assure himself that he’s awake, alive, breathing. Whole. He puts his hand inside his shirt and touches the skin there, finding it smooth and unbroken.

It’s just a dream, he tells himself, the shudders not quite leaving him yet. He’s alone in bed, out of breath and still so cold. He never liked his dreams. There’s always someone who wants to do him harm. Always someone who wants to hurt him, ruin him, wreck him. Nothing too different from his reality.

He runs his hands down his face and sighs. His mouth is dry, and he darts out his tongue to moisten his chapped, cracked lips. It burns; his lips sting. His face is too hot.

He swings his legs down the bed and moves to the bathroom, using the heel of his palm to turn the faucet on. His reflection is too pale, dark circles under his eyes, cheeks a little sunken than the last time he took a proper look at himself.

The feeling of cold water against his skin is a momentary relief, and he doesn’t bother to wipe his face as he turns the faucet off. If he is still trapped in a dream, he waits to see if his face will melt away.

He feels exactly how he looks: exhausted despite popping sleeping pills in order to get some sleep, mind working on overdrive.

I can’t show weakness, he thinks, pressing his forehead against the mirror, eyes shut tight. I can’t be weak. Not now. It’s what they want from me. They want me to crumble. I can’t.

He opens his eyes and pulls back to stare at his face, pale and looking so lost, ignorant, and aimless.

He runs his hand against the mirror’s surface, the side of his palm applying pressure across his own face, like he wants to erase his reflection and do away with a proof of his weakness.

I won’t, he vows, leaning back in satisfaction when the face that stares back at him starts to look like someone he knows.

--

The dreams rarely come, but they hardly leave.

That’s what the sleeping pills are for. Since the poison dart, sleep has become even more evasive, sometimes requiring Jun to take two tablets of the medication before he manages to find rest. He was raised never to fear death and to expect it at every turn, but only a fool wouldn’t fear it, he believes. He’s afraid because he’s not yet done with what he wants to accomplish. The possibility of not being able to put his plans in motion terrifies him.

I need more time, he thinks. But that’s not up to me.

That thought proves true when one of his men dies at his feet.

As a precaution, Nino has long asked certain people to sample his food before serving it to him, allotting a grace period of an hour in case there’s a slow-acting poison slipped in his meal or in his drink.

Jun doesn’t know the name or the face of the man whose mouth is frothing, body quaking involuntarily as the poison acts. Jun can only stare, mind blank and emotions absent, as the man turns blue and starts bleeding from his nose, mouth, and eyes.

Nino’s grip on him is tight and commanding, already wanting to take him somewhere safe, but Jun can’t tear his gaze away. He doesn’t know this man. Doesn’t know how he came to work for Jun, who hired him, what his actual job was. And yet he’s dying at Jun’s feet, having tasted first what was supposed to be for Jun.

“Find the chef and everyone who handled tonight’s meal,” Nino orders, resulting to a series of agreements followed by footsteps, men shuffling around them.

“Jun-kun?” Nino asks, shaking his shoulders for a moment. “Jun-kun, we have to go. You can’t stay here.”

He should’ve known better. Jun had returned to his ancestral home to retrieve a couple of ledgers, but he had also entertained an impromptu meeting with Matsuoka, one of his long-time clients. It ran past schedule and he had no choice but to eat here, seeing as he still wasn’t able to conclude his original business.

The idea of food isn’t inviting anymore, as he looks at some of his men hauling the dead body away.

“Is this all of them?” he asks Nino, when they’re finally out of the dining room and all the kitchen personnel are lined up in front of him. Most of them are trembling, perhaps out of shock because of the recent death or out of fright for the upcoming one. Someone has to pay. A life for a life.

“Yes,” Nino says, after confirming it with Toma, the head butler of the ancestral house. Toma is around Jun’s age, but he succeeded his father in the position and is now maintaining the house. All affairs should have gone through him, and Jun wonders how a poisoned meal manage to slip past his radar.

Jun extends his hand and Nino automatically places a revolver on it. He never liked getting his hands dirty, but he has yet to show an example. He knows that some of his men view him as someone spineless and weak.

Time to prove them wrong, he thinks as he cocks the gun.

He lets Nino and Toma handle the interrogation since they’re more experienced. He paces the hallway, spinning the revolver around his forefinger as he listens to what each of the kitchen staff has to say.

It’s all the same. They’re claiming they had no knowledge of the poison, that the food they prepared was handled with the same amount of care. It goes back and forth until Jun grows tired of it, and he aims the gun at the nearest wall and pulls the trigger, startling everyone and causing most of the kitchen personnel to either scream or jump out of surprise.

“Did you throw away the meal that was intended for me and whatever’s left of it?” he asks Toma, who merely blinks at the new hole on the wall. He’s undoubtedly thinking of how to repair it.

“No,” Toma answers with a polite bow. “Not yet. Would you like for me to retrieve it?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Go get all the serving, all they’ve prepared for tonight,” Jun says. Toma heads off, and Jun turns to Nino. “They won’t admit it. On account of their seeming honesty, I feel that we ought to reward them. We can’t let the food go to waste.”

Nino’s eyes narrow in understanding and he only nods before facing the kitchen staff. “Please finish what you’ve prepared for Matsumoto-san as he has lost his appetite.”

The staff panics at that, eyes growing wide. Jun is not certain whether it was only the serving handed to him that poisoned, but he’ll find out now. He’ll make them eat everything. Every time he eats in this house, they always prepare more than one serving, accustomed to the practices of a shared meal back when Jun’s father was still alive and functioning. Jun’s ancestral home used to be a livelier place, his father’s mistresses staying in all of the guest rooms.

Jun sent them all away as soon as the old man died, and promised to kill anyone who dared show up his doorstep.

“Eat,” Jun orders, when the food has been laid out and arranged in the dining table once more, the kitchen staff seated. Their eyes are pleading, but Jun is fuming at the recent attempt on his life. “Eat, before I force you.”

If they all live past this, then someone slipped the poison in his food. Nino, Toma, and the rest of his men remain watching, and Jun observes which one of the kitchen personnel would dare pick up their spoon ahead of everybody else.

Eventually they reluctantly eat, following the example of one. Jun catalogs the man’s face in his mind, and when all the food is gone and consumed and nothing happens, Jun smiles.

“Stand,” he says to the first one who dared to partake. “Step back from the table.”

Jun meets Nino’s eyes and Nino moves, pressing his gun to the man’s back, hand twisting the man’s arm up his back to immobilize him.

“Whose idea was it?” Nino demands against the man’s ear, who continues to struggle. Toma steps in to help Nino hold the man down, and Jun only watches. “Who?”

The man laughs, sinister as he locks eyes with Jun. “How did you know it was me?”

Jun doesn’t even blink. “You’re the only one who was confident enough to lift that spoon to your mouth, knowing that it won’t kill you.” They hired a sloppy man for the job, overconfident and incompetent. The longer Jun looks at him, the more it bores him.

He looks at Nino. “Get whatever you can and report it to me. And when you’re done, kill him.” Much as he’d like to know, he really has no time. This is the second time he’s been targeted in his father’s house. The sooner he is out of here, the better his chances are at staying alive.

He leaves for his father’s office and starts gathering the ledgers he needs. He packs them carefully, marking the pages that need to be looked at as soon as he’s somewhere safe.

Not too long, he hears a single gunshot accompanied by squeals, the sound akin to an arrow that pierces swiftly through the silence.

Jun shuts his eyes, knowing full well that if he manages to find sleep tonight, he’s going to see two dead men—one shot for conspiring against him, one poisoned for believing in him.

Either way, there’s always someone dying or dead. That’s another thing about his dreams.

They hardly change.

--

Amber trickles down Jun’s wrist when he misses as he tips over the bottle of brandy to fill a glass. He clicks his tongue in annoyance and grips the bottle tighter, directing the liquid to the right container.

Nino informed him that the man who tried to kill him was a runner—nothing more than an errand boy. Said man got inside the house by masquerading as a kitchen staff; the original one is still nowhere to be found. The one who tried to poison Jun didn’t crack, not even seconds before Nino blew his brains out.

A mere errand boy, slipping past his radar and defenses, actually managing to murder one of those loyal to him.

Jun seethes at the thought of it, and to resist the urge of smashing something, he floods his throat with the burn of alcohol. This particular brand gets him through on most nights, when his temper is difficult to subdue and it’s as if he will snap in a matter of seconds.

He is alone in his apartment, standing in front of his mini bar, clad only in a dress shirt and slacks, necklace hanging on his neck. He never takes it off even when he goes to bed, and right now there’s this urge to pull it and hurl it towards the nearest wall.

This piece of jewelry damned him. Damned his men, the stability he thought he had. Whatever efforts he’s exerting to find his killer, they’re not enough. Even with Sakurai’s help, one got too close to him. It hits harder than the poison dart; nobody died then. Jun has seen so many deaths, but this is the first time someone died for him, and he doesn’t know how to take it.

He has killed men. Shot them, stabbed them, strangled them, left them to die. He’s done everything they deemed to be part of his survival training back when they were still grooming him to be the heartless heir. He’s known death—came too close to it twice lately.

So why, he asks himself, does this event make everything taste like ash? He opted for brandy instead of wine because he wanted the burn, but not even that can hurt him enough for him to stop feeling. He feels too much. That’s always been his curse.

Emotions are abundant in him. It shows in the way he takes care of his possessions. His books are stacked neatly in a shelf close to his bed, arranged from most favorite to the least. His prized paintings—talent he saw and procured for himself—adorned the walls of his apartment, each picture giving him a different kind of welcome every time he looks at them.

He feels too much and too often. The first and only time his father hit him, he also received a lecture regarding sentiment. Since then, Jun put in the effort to hide how he feels. He keeps his face indifferent, devoid of any palpable reaction if he can.

And when he’s finally alone, that’s when he opens the dam and allows it to consume him, even for a while.

He lifts the glass to his lips, wishing his mouth is wounded somewhere so the sting is more perceptible. He wants it to hurt, because that kind of hurt is something he can pinpoint. He can concentrate on it if it exists, direct all his attention there until he lets it all out.

People are dying, he thinks. And regardless of the sides they’re in, they’re dying because of me.

He remembers what Sakurai told him some nights ago, when the moon cast a light in his office and showed him a glimpse of Sakurai’s interest in him.

“I’m not very sympathetic,” Sakurai said. Jun wishes he can say the same for himself. It’s his flaw. He was trained to be the heartless heir, and he became it. But once he cast off the title of the heir for something greater and assumed the role that was expected of him, he realized that he’s not as heartless as he thought.

It’s easier when he’s the one ending lives. It’s all in his hands, under his control. He knows what to do when he has to kill someone. He never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it. Either because of sins against his father or possession of differing views that would be lethal if given the chance to grow, Jun snuffed out the flame before it could set the surroundings ablaze.

He downs the rest of his drink and ignores the painful rush of alcohol to his head. He’s going to nurse a migraine tomorrow, but it matters not. He’ll worry about it tomorrow. He welcomes it. The headache can divert his attention elsewhere, remind him that despite the throbbing pain, despite this night of weakness, he lives.

Nino told him he’d be the one to inform Sakurai of this development. Nino’s being more careful now, volunteering to deliver news himself to avoid vital information falling in the wrong hands.

Jun’s survival will only make them more desperate. Sakurai was right about that. But with each failure seems to come a death that Jun didn’t expect, and he has no idea how many men are willing to die for him after tonight.

He has to become someone they won’t hesitate to give their life to. Be respectable, cruel to a certain extent, exacting but not unreasonable. He has to be firm.

Jun picks up his phone and dials a number he acquired recently.

Three rings, and he hears a smile before the polite “Yes? What can I do for you, Matsumoto-kun?” from the other line.

Jun pours himself another glass of brandy. “It’s the end of the week.”

A laugh, deep and rumbling, echoes in his ear. “Impatient as always!”

Jun turns the glass in place, listening to the ice making contact against the surface as the liquid sloshes. “I almost died last night, Sakurai-san. I think we need to fast forward our schedule a little.”

He hears a hum. “Yes. Ninomiya-san here is telling me about the incident. Rather unfortunate, isn’t it? A waste of food.” Sakurai clicks his tongue repeatedly. “My least favorite among all assassination attempts. Leave the food alone. It’s disrespectful.”

Sakurai actually sounds offended. But Jun blinks at the piece of information handed to him so easily. “Nino is still there?”

“Do you need him so badly?” Sakurai asks, tone indecipherable. Without seeing his face, he’s harder to read. “I had to deal with another thing first before I had the chance to talk to him. He’s just telling me about the incident in Toshima when you called.”

Jun pauses for a few seconds, taking a sip of brandy. It’s cooler now, and the burn is almost negligible since he’s mostly gotten used to it. “Am I interrupting?”

Sakurai laughs, and Jun can imagine the lines at the corner of his eyes as he hears it. “I’m actually pleased to hear you’re really alive. I doubt that Ninomiya-san here would lie, but he also looks like he doesn’t trust me very much, so I really had no idea what to think.”

Jun scrunches his nose involuntarily at that. Sakurai is saying these things in front of Nino, and Jun can only wonder how Nino’s taking it. Nino’s a master at poker faces, but Nino’s also very frank whenever Jun’s alone with him.

“I’m alive,” Jun says as a reassurance, earning another hearty chuckle from the other line. “So far.”

“I’ll fill Ninomiya-san in regarding what I gathered, how’s that?” Sakurai offers. “It’s quite late, Matsumoto-kun. You sound like you need sleep.”

Jun snorts. It’s instinctive. “Don’t tell me what to do.”

Another laugh. “Please don’t drink yourself to death. We’re trying to avoid anything that might lead to your...untimely elimination.” Jun hears a smile form after Sakurai uttered that, the man undoubtedly amused with himself. “I would appreciate if you cooperate.”

Jun takes a deep breath and holds it in as he contemplates. He exhales to say, “I trust Nino with everything I have.”

A beat. “Is that so?” There’s a change in tone that makes Jun smile a little.

“Please disclose everything of importance to him. Good night, Sakurai-san.”

He cuts the line without waiting for a response, and he finishes the rest of his drink, enjoying the lightheadedness that comes with the last drop. He pops a sleeping pill before heading to bed, trusting the alcohol to potentiate the effects of the medication.

Sleep comes, and Jun, blissfully, doesn’t dream.

--

The first thing Nino tells him the next morning (after serving him coffee and a plate of toast) makes him blink at Nino repeatedly, wondering if he’s still dreaming. They’re in his office and Jun hasn’t eaten yet, but Nino, as always, procured breakfast for him before he requested entry in the private room.

“Say that again,” Jun orders. He’s always been terrible with mornings, but he knows it won’t remain so for much longer.

“You heard what I said,” Nino answers, crossing his arms in front of him.

Jun puts aside the toast and ignores the inviting aroma of coffee. “Yes. And I’m asking you to repeat it.”

Nino gives him a look. “I think Sakurai Sho is the one trying to kill you.”

At this point, Jun is suspecting everyone, even his longest allies. It’s only fair that Nino suspects Sakurai—a part of Jun is suspecting him as well. But the way Nino said it, he sounds as if he’s thoroughly convinced.

Nino is rarely wrong, and this is something Jun knows thanks to all the years Nino spent by his side. If Nino’s on to something, he has a reason for it. “What made you say that?” Jun asks, frowning now.

Nino shoots a pointed look at the Fuji sakura at the corner of Jun’s desk, blooming and pink and pretty under the natural light that enters through the blinds. Nino doesn’t say a word.

“You think he’s trying to kill me because he sent me a tree?” Jun clarifies, reaching out for the coffee and already anticipating the caffeine boost.

“I talked to him last night,” Nino begins, not tearing his eyes from him. Jun’s coffee is opened, stains marring the rim; Nino already tasted it for him to ensure it’s clean and safe. “And he told me that whoever’s trying to kill you is perhaps not necessarily after your dominance in arms dealership.”

Jun’s eyebrows knit together. That’s his number one asset. It’s natural to think that whoever’s after him is also after that. “And what made Sakurai-san say that?” If Jun is not suspecting everyone, his primary suspect would be Reizei, his number one competitor in that side of the business.

“That’s what I’m wondering about as well,” Nino says, bracing himself on the tabletop now. “When I asked, he said he’s still looking into it and refuses to comment until he’s absolutely sure. I think he’s hiding something. Why else would he be intentionally vague?”

Jun recalls what Sakurai said last night. “He did say you looked like you don’t trust him. Despite my reassurances that he can disclose everything to you, he may have chosen otherwise because of personal reasons.”

Nino’s eyebrow quirks, and soon he’s sneering. “So it’s my fault then? Of course I don’t trust him. I don’t trust anyone. Someone out there wants you dead, Jun-kun. For all we know that could be Toma or Aiba.”

It’s an exaggeration; Jun knows neither Aiba nor Toma would seek to harm him. But Nino’s prone to such declarations to prove his point when he’s dead-set on something, so Jun doesn’t comment on it. “Or Sakurai Sho, according to you.” Jun takes another sip of his coffee, hissing when it scalds the tip of his tongue. “What made you think that, really, aside from him being deliberately obtuse? You’re the one who insisted on getting him for an ally.”

Nino looks down for a moment before meeting his eyes once more. “I actually hadn’t thought of it until I came in to deliver your breakfast.”

That gets Jun’s attention, and he sets the coffee cup down. “Did something arrive?” he asks, dreading the answer.

Nino gives a grim nod. “We always check your mail. Always. And as an extra precaution, I ordered for all the envelopes to be opened as well after the scanners did their work.” Nino sighs; he doesn’t look like he enjoys being the deliverer of bad news. “Sakurai-san sent you another card. He could’ve given it to me last night, but since you said he wasn’t very trusting on account of my not very trusting demeanor, he didn’t.”

Jun shuts his eyes, pushing away his breakfast plate. It doesn’t look palatable or inviting now. “Where’s the envelope?”

“I had it quarantined. Sakurai Sho always sent you scented cards, didn’t he?”

Jun nods.

“The card was doused in a toxic inhalant. One of the men who handled it is now in critical condition. Ricin, according to the scanners. It was absent in the envelope, but it was all over the card. As soon as they opened it, the substance got him.”

Jun opens his eyes and finds Nino looking at him. “The envelope was, as always, addressed to you. I’m actually thankful I had the foresight to tamper with your mail now. If that got here, you’d be the one in ICU, not Ichigaya-kun.”

“You suspect him because of the envelope?” Jun asks quietly, wishing his morning didn’t begin in this manner. But whoever’s after him is impatient and adamant on obliterating him from the game.

“Not just because of the envelope,” Nino says, and Jun sees him pointing to the bonsai in its jade pot. “He sent you that. Do you know what sakura means, Jun-kun?”

Jun’s eyes widen in realization. Of course he knows. It’s part of the things he has read once he became enamored with bonsais. He looked up all the trees he’d love to have, and a sakura tree was most attractive to him for one reason.

“Fleeting life,” Nino says for him, and Jun can feel his blood growing cold at the thought of it. “Short life. It blooms only for a while, doesn’t it? Its beauty is ephemeral, and that only makes it lovelier.”

Sakurai said the same thing regarding his flowers, the first time Jun met him. Jun can’t look at Nino now and settles for staring at his hands, his chunky silver ring.

Did he unwittingly invite the wolf inside? Did he flirt with danger? Is he asking for his own end?

“Once you’re out, no one can contest his hold on the port,” Nino tells him. Jun can only listen now. He can’t breathe a word. “The port was originally under your name, and that gives you a claim to it. Even if it was gifted by your father to Sakurai Sho, it’s originally yours. Without you, there’s no competition. You’re the biggest threat to his strongest asset, do you understand?”

Jun simply nods. He’s always known what Nino is telling him, but still, he feels cheated. Was Sakurai playing him for a fool all this time?

“I need time to think,” is all he says, and Nino’s determined expression shifts to understanding.

“Would you like for me to clear your breakfast?”

Jun agrees, appetite gone. “Please.”

Nino does, leaving him alone with the harsh truth with a decisive click of his door shutting.

In the resulting silence, Jun picks up the nearest object he can reach—his obsidian paperweight—and hurls it across the room in rage.



Follow the link for part 4

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