[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] gurajiorasu Part 4


Jun watches the tip of his cigarette bloom bright orange as the pleasant rush of nicotine floods his senses. He’s surrounded by white silvery smoke, wisps that blur his vision with each exhale. If he listens closely, he can almost hear the tiny hiss of the paper burning with each lungful he breathes in.

He’s with a client right now, another ally that he suspects. He’s suspecting everyone. The man in front of him is named Kato, working for a long-time family friend, Inohara. Kato is accompanied by a bodyguard with thinning hair and a scar over his right eye. A rather intimidating appearance, which makes him suitable to be bodyguard.

Kato is outlining revisions to the original contract with a patient tone, his face showing nothing but concentration despite being half-obscured by wisps of smoke.

Jun only spares the document one glance.

He taps the edge of his cigarette on the rim of the ashtray, ash descending in tiny uneven mounds on ivory surface. “Show me the revisions,” he orders Kato, who gets cut off from whatever he’s explaining in detail. Jun has heard enough.

Kato does, turning a page and pointing to the specific request with a pen. Jun skims over the lines thrice, committing the request to memory. They’ll automatically get a copy of the contract, but Jun likes knowing where his guns will go since every delivery he makes is of unrivalled quality.

Being an arms manufacturer and dealer makes him an important person in any upcoming business transactions. There are only three primary sources of money in their way of living: drugs, guns, and prostitution. Jun never liked selling compounds that he never sampled or indulged himself in. He also didn’t like prostitution; the idea of relying on too many people makes him more vulnerable.

The guns, he can control. From the design to the manufacture to the pricing—it’s all up to him. If he wants to raise the charges for each to compensate for the wage of his workers, he can ask for it and no one will really complain, not when he’s delivering on time and keeps his promises.

Jun believes he has what makes a good businessman. He’s not selling something he hasn’t tried.

“Taking these specifics into account,” he tells Kato, “I believe it’s reasonable if I ask for a three percent price hike for each container.”

Kato frowns, but only out of confusion and not displeasure. Jun thinks it’s a good sign. “May I inquire as to the reason?” Kato asks politely. Jun likes it when they ask for permission. He feels as if his position is not overlooked.

He smiles, teeth still wrapped around the cigarette filter. “You may. Thank you for asking first.” He flicks the ash into the ashtray once more. “The additional charge goes to the workers and as payment for my usage of the port. Not that there’s been an amendment in my deal with Sakurai-san, but with these revisions in our original deal, I believe I will require more hours in Sakurai-san’s territory to unload and transport the cargo.”

Inohara might be funding a war with this bulk order, but that’s none of Jun’s business. He supplies the weaponry, nothing more. They can kill each other with his guns and he won’t bat an eyelid if the news reaches him.

Kato nods. “I will inform Inohara-san and get back to you as soon as possible.”

That’s acceptable. Jun waves his hand to the direction of his door. “You may get back to Ninomiya. He knows of Inohara-kun’s specifications.”

“Very well.” Kato stands and buttons his suit jacket once more. “Thank you for your time, Matsumoto-san. And on behalf of Inohara-san, it’s good to see you alive.”

Jun smiles at that, letting out another puff of nicotine. “I appreciate the concern, thank you.”

Kato departs his office without another word, taking the documents with him to pass to Nino, bodyguard trailing behind him. It’s Nino who handles the bulk of filing. Being Jun’s right-hand man gives him a difficult job—acting secretary, immediate bodyguard, trusted confidante.

His intercom buzzes and he stubs his cigarette on the ashtray before pressing a button. “Yes?” he drawls, sneaking a glance at the digital clock. It’s almost early evening.

Instead of Nino, however, he hears Aiba.

“Nino tells me it’s time for you to go home,” Aiba says, and Jun wonders how he can still hear the man’s smile despite the recurring bouts of static that laced his jovial tone.

Jun snorts. “Nino can stop acting like my mother.” Since the envelope, Nino’s been asking Aiba to take Jun home as soon as his last meeting for the day is concluded. “I still have a few calls to make.”

“Ah, but you can make those while you’re in the car, yes?” Aiba asks, and Jun can’t bring himself to be angry with him. “Allow me to take you home, Mattsun. Nino’s going to pop an artery one of these days, and I really don’t want to be on the receiving end of his hysteria. You know what he’s like when he’s super worried.”

Jun grins. Nino is a worrier like him, and Aiba is the filter that they both rely on when things become too toxic. Aiba’s optimism has helped Jun through plenty of trying times. “I’m still alive, Masaki. Make it to a point to remind Nino of that whenever you can, yeah?”

Aiba laughs, good-natured and infectious. “Will do. So can I expect you at the lobby in ten minutes?”

Jun makes a mental rundown of the people he has to call and grabs his phone and suit jacket. “Make it five. I’m famished. We’re having dinner.”

He hears Aiba whoop. “Dinner with Mattsun, lucky!”

That successfully gets Jun to laugh. “Get in the car already, Masaki.”

“Yessir,” Aiba says, and Jun can imagine him giving a salute before he turns off the intercom.

Jun shrugs his jacket back on and straightens his tie before heading out, finding Nino in the mailing room and frowning at some of the mails they received.

“Anything for me?” he asks. He always asks. Whatever reaches the mailing room is deemed safe for him to touch, but Nino is more skeptical than he is; refusing to hand over the mail until he’s touched every part of it first.

Nino shakes his head and shoos him away. “These are bills. Not for you to worry about. Go. Aiba-shi’s waiting in the car.”

“I know.” Jun inclines his head in a gesture of farewell, but Nino already has his back turned from him. Jun heads for the elevator.

He asks Aiba to take him to a seaside restaurant under his name, and he spends the car ride making calls and coordinating with people. The news of his assassination attempts are spreading, and it seems that the other leaders are taking precaution and arming themselves. Jun didn’t imagine that his death threats would also bring him more money and more work.

He lets Aiba pick their seat, and he follows once he can safely tuck his phone and put all return calls on hold. He never enjoyed being disturbed when he’s dining, especially not when Aiba is his company. Unlike Nino who prefers cheap and affordable meals, Aiba doesn’t possess a sensitive stomach and can partake in anything that Jun picks.

Tonight is just a platter of sashimi and beer, and before Jun can pick up his chopsticks, Aiba’s arm reaches across the table, hand wrapping around his wrist.

Jun always forgets that as part of precaution, they’re supposed to eat ahead of him. He remembers when he’s with clients, business partners, and allies. But when he’s with Nino and Aiba, he forgets. A part of him doesn’t want to observe this new rule, but he knows Aiba and Nino will insist no matter what.

Aiba says his graces and starts with the salmon, smiling at Jun and telling him it’s good after a few seconds.

“This is my restaurant,” Jun says as a reminder. “You think I’d be poisoned here?”

“You’ve been poisoned in the Toshima house.” Aiba shrugs. “That was your old home, and yet someone got in and almost succeeded in killing you. Nino is always saying we can’t be too sure, and the fewer people you trust, the better.”

Jun picks up a piece of salmon and samples it. Freshly prepared and not doused in seasoning—just the way he prefers. “That house belonged to my father. This restaurant belongs to me. I personally staffed it. Do you think they’ll betray me?”

“I didn’t say that,” Aiba says around a mouthful of eel. “But I’m with Nino when it comes to doubting everyone. I never thought I’d say this, but with your life on the line, Mattsun...everything changes.”

Aiba, like Nino, doesn’t want him to die. Jun understands that. Aiba holds him in high regard and treats him more like a friend than a boss, and Jun likes it to remain that way. Aiba was training to be one of his bodyguards when a rogue bullet pierced his lung, but instead of sending him away, Jun appointed him as his chauffeur. Aiba still trained behind his back though, and Jun thinks the man can wield a gun in the same manner as his bodyguards can.

Jun sips his beer before speaking. “Sometimes I feel like everyone out there wants me dead.”

Aiba immediately shakes his head. “Not everyone.”

Jun nods and smiles. “Not everyone,” he agrees. He cherishes these quiet moments of sharing a meal with the people who truly cares about him. He never experienced it with any of his family members.

He allows himself to get lost in Aiba’s stories. When Aiba’s not driving him around, the man helps Nino out and runs errands for him. Aiba always complains that Nino is treating him like a slave, but they all know he’s just exaggerating with his claims. Jun can’t help smiling at Aiba’s grandiose gestures, his lively anecdotes about how his day went, successfully taking Jun’s mind off the grim stuff.

It’s easy to forget that he’s got a target on his back when he’s in Aiba’s company. The difference between Aiba and Nino is that Nino’s realism always puts Jun back to the ground, always leaves him on his feet and on guard. While he appreciates that, Aiba’s attempts at making him feel better always work. For a while he can pretend he’s a simple businessman sharing a meal with a trusted friend.

After their meal, they share a smoke. Aiba’s not much of a smoker (unlike Nino who always carries a pack and a lighter, never the one to bum a stick from someone), but he’s good company that he accompanies Jun even to the restaurant’s veranda overlooking the sea.

“Nino’s primary suspect is Sakurai-san,” Aiba says. Jun has been wondering when they’ll start talking about their present predicament.

“He did send a poisoned card,” Jun says, exhaling a cloud of smoke that dissipates in the air.

“But you’re still going to meet him?” Aiba asks, worry unmistakable in his tone.

Jun has to. Inohara made sure that he has to negotiate for more than the agreed time of two hours free use on the port. Jun is not looking forward to the meeting. Nino’s been advising him to play dumb to collect more intel, but Jun doesn’t have much confidence in his acting skills.

“I have to, Masaki,” he says, flashing Aiba a tiny smile. “But since that’s not happening until next week, I would prefer not to think about it.”

He’s going to willingly walk into a trap. He knows, Nino knows, and Aiba knows. Unlike Nino who has resigned himself to this truth, Aiba doesn’t seem to want Jun to go alone.

“If he’s really the one after you, Jun-chan,” Aiba begins, and there it is, the nickname Aiba uses whenever he’s seriously worried for Jun’s safety, “you’re no longer acting bait. You’re being an idiot.”

A tiny laugh escapes from Jun’s mouth. Nino always calls Aiba an idiot, and to hear the same word from Aiba’s lips amuses him momentarily. “Who else will make the negotiations on my behalf? He doesn’t trust Nino. And I’m not sending you in to talk to him, not after that lethal envelope.”

“Well I’m not going to sit here and let you die, if that’s what you’re planning on doing next week,” Aiba says, voice hard now. What Jun feels, Aiba feels more. He’s more showy and expressive than Jun will ever be, never bothering to mask his emotions.

Jun stubs his cigarette under the sole of his shoe despite the stick being halfway from finished. “I don’t think he’ll kill me.” He doesn’t know where his confidence is coming from, but something’s telling him he might be right about this. “If he’s careful enough to not actually dirty his hands, he’s not going to start now. He said it himself: residues are damning. He’s not going to harm me when everyone knows I’m meeting him.”

He turns to face Aiba with a smile. “Nino’s already working on it, informing our closest allies that next week, I have a meeting with Sakurai Sho. If I don’t make it out alive, they’re all going to come after him.”

Jun can’t rely on promises, but when his allies are sworn to his name on paper, he’s confident that if he goes down, he’s at least going to take half of what Sakurai Sho is known for. If he dies, he’s going to pave the way to bring the man down eventually. He’ll happily welcome death if he’s accompanied with that knowledge.

“I still don’t like this plan,” Aiba says quietly, pursing his lips.

“None of us do,” Jun acknowledges. “But it’s all we’ve got. Until we get conclusive proof that it’s him who’s trying to kill me, there’s not much we can do.”

Aiba still has that anxious expression, and Jun wishes he’s not the one who put it there. He’s so accustomed to Aiba’s smiles that seeing them gone feels as if something is lacking.

He waits until Aiba finishes his stick before he inclines his head towards the exit. “Care to drive me home, Aiba-san?” he asks playfully, trying to lighten the mood between them.

Aiba salutes and stands straight, and Jun laughs, his delight getting lost in the sounds of waves crashing against the rocks. He somehow feels the tension in him dissipate a little.

He had a nice evening. He hopes that’ll continue for the rest of the night.

--

Jun immerses himself in his duties and responsibilities. He works, oversees preparations, drafts requests, and takes notes of revisions he needs to confirm. He drowns himself in his job, spearheading his deals and negotiating prices with firmness. He’s always had the ability to convince (something Sakurai himself has acknowledged), but he doesn’t permit himself to grow too complacent, instead seeks to hone this skill for future use.

If he can make renowned men and women bend and accept his conditions, he’ll acquire the power and respect he craves the most in no time.

But he can only do it by starting small. He can’t build a tower starting from the top.

The night before his meeting with Sakurai Sho to renegotiate his use of the port, sleep remained elusive. Popping a sleeping pill before heading to bed gave him almost two hours of nightmares. Deciding he’s had enough, he sits up, cradling his skull in the heel of his palms, breaths frantic and body burning.

It’s so hot. He keeps sweating despite ditching his shirt and leaving only his boxers on, the sheets beginning to get soaked. Jun sometimes wishes he has someone who shares his bed to make the idea of laundry at least welcoming. If he has a bedmate, he can at least recall the events that led to the stained sheets.

But his bedcovers are almost always soaked in perspiration thanks to his recurring nightmares. Tonight was him being back in the training grounds, running from yet another one who wants to hurt him. He woke up when the ground he was standing on fell away and he plunged into darkness.

The dream turned worse for tonight, because his attacker in it had Sakurai’s face.

Jun measures his breaths in an attempt to keep his heart rate from going too high. He can feel it thumping madly in his ribcage, can almost hear it if only he’d breathe more quietly. But he can’t afford the silence out of fear that he’s still trapped in a dream (it’s harder to distinguish lately), so he sticks with the sounds of his exhales and wills himself to believe that no one’s in his apartment except for him.

Shit, he thinks angrily, feeling the pinpricks in his head that will lead to a migraine. Get a grip. You’re better than this.

He balls his hands into fists and digs his knuckles to his temples—a desperate attempt to silence everything he hears in his head. He doesn’t like listening to himself, never has. It’s either too crowded and too noisy or too quiet and too terrifying. Jun only finds rest when he has exhausted himself enough that his own body agrees to succumb.

He relishes the small flare of pain he senses when he drills his temples using the joints of his fingers. Pain, he can focus on. Pain drags him away from all the chaos his head created without his permission or knowledge. Pain reminds him he’s here, he’s breathing, he’s alive. Pain tells him they haven’t gotten to him yet.

Pain, more than anything, grounds Jun.

The migraine, thankfully, doesn’t take root, and soon, he feels his heart rate slowly reverting to normal. He’s still sweating—cold trickles running from the sides of his face and making him shiver—, but at least now he knows he’s no longer dreaming.

That is perhaps the only relief he will receive tonight.

Jun gets off the bed in wobbly legs, but the coolness of the flooring feels soothing in a way he can’t define. He somehow manages to reach the bathroom despite his unsteady gait, and he nearly recoils when he sees himself on the mirror.

He looks far worse than he imagined.

His hands automatically fly to his cheeks, fingers pressing on the bones a little too hard than usual. Since when did he begin losing weight? His cheekbones are more prominent, his jaw more pronounced. His eyes are nearly bloodshot, surrounded by dark circles that he will never be able to hide.

If he goes to tomorrow’s meeting in such a state, Sakurai Sho’s laugh is a thing he can expect.

It seems to Jun that if Sakurai is truly the one trying to kill him, despite his inefficiency and failures, he’s succeeding in making Jun destroy himself. The lack of sleep, the never-ending workload—he’s overtaxing himself and showing signs of it. Jun is, by nature, a demanding person, but he’s the most demanding when it comes to himself.

Which is why though someone is keen to end him, he doesn’t allow himself to cower. He must perform in top shape, with confidence and conviction. His desires to project a stable and strong image lead to him looking worse than he’s ever been, and he knows if his life continues in this fashion for a while, he’s going to die without the aid of a lethal poison or a properly timed bullet.

Paranoia is eating him away. He’s withering—he can see it staring back at him; signs of atrophy are evident everywhere he looks.

Without him realizing it, the assassination attempts have consumed him.

Soft chuckles escape through his dry lips, and soon his hilarity escalates to full-blown mania.

Nothing’s funny, he tells himself. Nothing’s funny and yet here I am, laughing because it took me this long to understand that if they wanted me to die, they should have just asked. I can do it myself.

He’s so independent and stubborn that he can orchestrate even his own demise. It amazes Jun that despite everything that’s happening, he still has control over himself, his own functions and mental faculties. He can’t control the dreams, but he knows exactly how to deal with the aftermath.

Jun stares at his own reflection still caught in laughter, wanting to absorb every bit of this moment so he can draw on it if there comes another time he feels out of balance.

His smiling face—looking almost ghoulish thanks to his pale appearance and the minimal lighting over his head—is what makes him decide.

I won’t let them kill me, he swears, looking himself in the eye. I won’t give them the satisfaction of killing me.

Not when the only one I owe that to is myself.

--

To test Nino’s theory about Sakurai being the one targeting Jun from the beginning, they decided to lay the biggest bait of all by making Jun visit Sakurai in the man’s home, just like their first meeting.

Jun is once again led to the same room, but instead of being greeted by the sight of Sakurai Sho doing ikebana and hidden by foliage and flowers, he finds the man seated in the center of the room while he plays the koto.

It’s not something Jun expected.

Sakurai doesn’t look up, fingers gracefully strumming. The melody he’s playing is unfamiliar but has the theme of old. If someone sings to accompany his playing, Jun thinks it might be about a forgotten folklore or an epic tragedy.

Jun assumes the seiza and watches Sakurai play, who doesn’t pause to greet him. He keeps plucking strings and producing music which echoes around the room given the silence of the entire house. Jun can’t hear the servants roaming about. It’s all Sakurai’s fingers and the music he creates with them, the finger picks he’s wearing catching light every now and then.

“Do you play any instruments, Matsumoto-kun?” Sakurai asks, still not looking at him.

Jun didn’t expect to be acknowledged immediately, which is an improvement over the last time. “I’m a little tone-deaf.”

Sakurai hums. “Never had that impression.”

Jun says nothing and takes a good look at his host. Sakurai is dressed in a white patterned yukata, tiny gray diamonds forming an intricate but even design. It’s far simpler than anything Jun has seen him wear, but it somehow makes the tan of his skin more noticeable. He’s wearing a silver obi to match the pattern adorning the white fabric, and Jun envies him for being able to pull off such a look.

Jun’s pale complexion hinders him from wearing garments in lighter hues. It’s why he sticks to his suits. Suits are more like a uniform. They already command an air of respect and accountability at first glance.

“What’s the song?” Jun asks, just to fill in the silence. He’s been observing Sakurai for a while, and the man seems to enjoy the attention.

Sakurai smiles, thumb plucking a string pointedly to produce a high note. “I don’t remember.” At Jun’s answering frown, he elaborates. “I learned it many years ago, perhaps more than a decade ago. I don’t remember it exactly. I’m playing from memory and filling gaps as I go.”

Jun can’t really tell, but he knows that what he’s heard so far would qualify as actual music. “You’re quite good.” He means it.

Sakurai grins. “From a tone-deaf person, that doesn’t seem like a reliable feedback.”

“It’s all you’re getting.” Jun makes a show of looking around. “I’m your only audience.”

Sakurai plays a few more notes before straightening and removing the plectra from his fingers. To Jun’s surprise, Sakurai offers them to him, palm open between them.

“I’m not here to take lessons from you,” Jun says, uncertain of Sakurai’s motive.

He earns another one of Sakurai’s rich chuckles. “We can discuss your business with me while you play.” He doesn’t withdraw his outstretched hand. “Please?”

It’s the first time he hears the word fall from Sakurai’s mouth. “I don’t know how,” Jun says, eyes narrowing at the ivory picks sitting on Sakurai’s palm.

“I’ll show you how,” Sakurai promises.

Jun raises his eyebrow as a final attempt of changing Sakurai’s mind, but it doesn’t work. He takes a deep breath before taking the plectra from Sakurai, careful not to feel more of the man’s skin against his own. He puts them on just as Sakurai maneuvers the koto to face him.

Jun looks at Sakurai pointedly, his fingers hovering awkwardly over the strings of the instrument.

“Do you have another delivery?” Sakurai asks. This, Jun can focus on. Business is what he came for. So far, there seems to be no deliberate attempts on his life. If Sakurai wanted to murder him, maybe he’s going to smash the koto over Jun’s head because there can be no weapon hidden underneath that yukata. Jun wasn’t offered tea, so poison is also out of the question.

“Yes,” Jun says, ending in a sharp inhale when he feels Sakurai’s fingers reaching out to guide his hand in the proper position. He covers for his shock by giving a few details about the cargo this time.

Sakurai appears to consider, though his gaze his fixed on Jun’s fingers over the strings. Jun hears him click his tongue before he sees Sakurai rising from his seiza. Instinctively, Jun draws back and braces himself for an attack.

His breath stills when Sakurai sinks to the spot beside him. His scent overwhelms Jun’s nostrils for a moment, olfactory receptors reacting at the sudden wave of musk mixed with freshness. An unlikely combination, and Jun’s certain it’s something he won’t forget.

“Like this,” Sakurai says, placing his hand over Jun’s and directing his forefinger to the first pluck, producing a low note. Jun stiffens at the feel of Sakurai’s breath ghosting his ear, and he has to breathe slowly through his nose to get his bearings back.

“How much for the additional two hours of port use?” Jun asks, keeping his voice calm through sheer will. Each slide of Sakurai’s palm over his knuckles radiates warmth, and Jun permits this loss of control until he’s able to produce a couple of notes with Sakurai’s help.

“I’m still thinking about it,” Sakurai says. Jun doesn’t believe it. “Go do it again.”

Jun does, plucking strings without guidance this time. Sakurai’s fingers slide over his to direct him to the next set of notes, and this time, Jun is ready when he feels the fleeting brush of Sakurai’s arm as it goes around his side to strum the strings on his other side for accompaniment.

He’s presently caged in his primary suspect’s arms, and his body stiffens at the idea of it.

“Relax your fingers,” Sakurai says, voice too close. “If you go stiff, the notes won’t sound right. We want them released, not restrained. Suppression never results to anything beautiful.”

Jun moistens his lips before turning his head, finding his face so close to Sakurai’s that he can perhaps count the man’s pores. “Have you decided how much you’re going to charge me?”

“Four hours of port use is going to raise questions,” Sakurai tells him, eyes intent on the movement of Jun’s fingers over the koto. Jun plays for his satisfaction, following instructions without memorizing any of it. “The last time I allowed someone that much time in my territory, I had to deal with a lot of clean-up. Who knew they were going to use the port as a battle ground?”

Jun knows this story. Twins striving for approval were given a task by their parent. It ended in a bloodbath; jealousy is one of the strongest motivators and can often set blood relation aside. It’s why Sakurai decreed that no one should draw any weapons while using the port.

“I’m absent during the delivery,” Jun says, plucking strings with force. “I don’t think anyone would bother to shoot my men when I’m not amongst them.”

He hears the smile breaking on Sakurai’s face and wills himself not to look. “I heard about the recent attempt on your life.”

Jun straightens his back at that. Sakurai knows about the envelope. Jun hoped he had no idea, but given his resources, it’s natural that he knows. If Sakurai suddenly brandishes a blade and stabs him, he thinks he’s in a position that can thwart it despite his supposed vulnerability. Every lackey his father sent his way back when he was still training to protect himself all had one mistake: they underestimated him.

If Sakurai makes the same mistake, he’s not so different from all the men Jun has taken down.

“And what did you hear?” Jun asks, fingers producing something close to an acceptable harmony with Sakurai’s help. Sakurai is strumming the strings on the side when necessary, adding to the growing melody they’re creating together.

“That someone made a poor imitation of me and my methods,” Sakurai says. He’s speaking close to Jun’s neck, making the hair there stand. “Ricin, really? Quite lethal when inhaled, yes, but can be treated once detected early. Where’s the fun in using something that has an immediate remedy?”

Jun doesn’t trust him one bit. “You seem knowledgeable about it.” He thumbs at one string with force, nearly detaching the plectrum he’s wearing.

From his periphery, he catches Sakurai turning his head to face him. His fingers are motionless now, one hand on the strings and the other on top of Jun’s. Jun faces him, eyes narrowing in distrust.

“I know all there is to know about that compound,” Sakurai whispers, since they’re so close.

Jun keeps his gaze locked on Sakurai’s eyes, not wanting to back down. “Why? Because you looked it up before you attempted to use it on me?” he accuses.

Sakurai seems offended, nose scrunching. Given their proximity, it’s easier for Jun to decipher his expressions. He just received a look of disapproval. “Goodness, Matsumoto-kun. No.” He snorts, breath fanning Jun’s cheek.

“Then how do you know about it?” Jun frowns at him, prepared to strike if Sakurai tries anything funny. He might be in the man’s arms at the moment, but he’s not as vulnerable as he makes Sakurai believe.

Sakurai smiles, and it’s not mocking, just a slight curling of his mouth to the side.

“Because someone used it on me before.”

Jun’s eyes widen in surprise, and Sakurai doesn’t lose his smile.

It takes Jun a few moments to collect himself. “Do you think the same person is after me?”

He gets a hum, followed by fingers sliding to guide his once more. “I can’t say. I had a lot of enemies before I got to where I am. I still have them at present. Up to now, I have no idea who it was that successfully managed to poison me but was stupid enough to not use a sufficient amount to kill me. Palliative treatment ensured my survival that time. I made a doctor significantly richer in a matter of hours.”

“If they’re after you, why are they trying to get to me?” Jun asks. It’s the one question forming on his mind since Sakurai’s admission of his near death experience.

“Why, Matsumoto-kun, I thought you knew already,” Sakurai says, every syllable laced with amusement. He directs his smile to Jun once more, and Jun feels boxed, but it’s surprisingly not claustrophobic. He’s so close to Sakurai he can catch a whiff of sake from the man’s breath.

Jun considers where he is, koto playing forgotten. “Is it true?” he asks instead, just to confirm.

“Yes,” Sakurai replies without hesitation, and Jun supposes that is the answer to all of his questions. Someone’s trying to kill him because he holds Sakurai Sho’s interest. Sakurai Sho is interested in him.

Jun wets his lips, knowing it’s perfectly within Sakurai’s view. “How much for the additional two hours of port use, then?”

Hearing Sakurai’s laugh so close almost makes him crack a smile. “So serious and businesslike! Very well. We once agreed on an amount back when you first visited me. Double that would be fair, no?”

It’s more than fair. Jun expected a price hike, a triple at least.

He finally smiles, showing teeth. He doesn’t miss Sakurai’s eyes narrowing. “I appreciate your generosity, Sakurai-san.”

“Double if you drop the formality,” Sakurai amends, eyes playful now. “I can’t stand you addressing me like a senpai or a client every time.”

“And if I don’t?” Jun asks, dares, just to see the shift of Sakurai’s expression.

An amused smile crosses Sakurai’s round face. “Forget using the port.”

Jun had a feeling he’d say that. He simply wanted to hear it for himself. “Double the original amount for two more hours,” he repeats, nodding to himself. “I think we can settle that, Sho-san.”

Sakurai inclines his head, his grin never leaving his face. “That’s better.” He withdraws from Jun, rising in one smooth move, the fabric of his yukata gliding around his ankles as he returned to his original position.

He reverses the koto’s position and offers his palm to Jun. “The picks, if you please?”

Jun removes the plectra from his fingers and hands them over, making sure to brush his fingers over Sakurai’s opened palm this time. He watches as Sakurai puts them back on, wondering if he should see himself out.

Feeling braver, Jun waits until he catches Sakurai’s questioning stare. “Would you mind playing something before I leave?”

He doesn’t receive a direct answer, but he spends the succeeding minutes listening to Sakurai Sho pluck strings and observing as the man weaves songs and symphonies that Jun can only archive in his memory.

If, later, he dreams of strings made of silk and agile fingers navigating them, he thinks it’ll be his most peaceful sleep in a long time.

--

The sight of Nino’s scowl doesn’t stop Jun from repeating what he just said.

“It’s not him, Nino,” he says, shaking his head. “Each time I went to his home, they searched me for weapons. I had nothing and he could’ve killed me or at least tried, but he did nothing.”

Nino scoffs. “You think he’s not your killer because he taught you how to play the koto?”

“I think I would know if my assassin is breathing at the back of my neck,” Jun snaps, patience depleting. Nino’s nature to question things is often a source of reason, but not when they’re having an argument.

Nino’s gaze is hard, almost angry. “Jun-kun, do you hear yourself? You’re actually claiming that Sakurai Sho isn’t the one behind your failed murder attempts because he told you about that time he fell victim to the same poison?” Nino releases an incredulous chuckle. “What did he do to you? How did you become this naïve after spending only a couple of hours in his company?”

Jun doesn’t have anything to support his claim save for his gut feeling. It’s the one thing Nino doesn’t believe in. “Years ago, I heard about the almost-successful assassination attempt. They never disclosed the specifics, but I heard about it. From my own father.”

Nino rolls his eyes, and Jun exhales slowly through his nose to stave off the temper. “Your own father was the one who gave up your primary source of power in order to convince Sakurai Sho of his loyalty. Besides, there were lots of nearly successful attempts on Sakurai’s life. So many that even I lost track of them. And now you’re taking him out of the suspects list because he disclosed to you the details of one near death experience?”

Nino slams his palms down Jun’s desk, sending some of the documents on top of it askew. “I’ll ask again: do you hear yourself?”

“And I maintain my answer,” Jun insists, jaw clenching. “I don’t think it’s him. He could’ve killed me; I was unarmed and he had the upper hand. But he didn’t.”

Nino’s scowl deepens. “He also doesn’t like getting his hands dirty. Or have you forgotten? He likes having other people do the dirty work for him. He’s not a participant; he’s a tactician. Just because he didn’t harm you when could’ve doesn’t mean he’s giving up on his plan.”

“Assuming it’s his plan in the first place,” Jun quips, and he meets Nino’s heated stare. “How about you put some men to work and find out the truth regarding his similar experience? To placate both of us.”

Nino waves his hand. “Already did that. But since it’s Sakurai we’re up against, the digging is taking longer than usual. He knows how to conceal his weaknesses, plugging holes even before anyone notices they’re there.” A head tilt. “I admire that about him. Because he’s not bragging about his battle scars unlike someone else.”

Jun knows when a jab is aimed at him and he resists the urge to bite. He takes a deep breath, willing his anger to subside. “Are you finished?” he asks, schooling his features to not betray anything.

Nino sighs, and for the first time since Jun’s nameday, he sounds exhausted. He’s better at hiding his fatigue. “You’re young, Jun-kun. Everything else comes with that.”

Without another word, Nino moves to leave, turning his back to Jun without waiting for what Jun has to say.

When the door finally shuts, Jun mulls over the words in his head. When he’s done doing that, he rises from his seat and fixes himself a drink, not caring if the sun is still up.

He focuses on the burn and savors it, imagines it devouring him, partly convinced that’s going to happen in the near future.

--

Jun doesn’t see Nino for the rest of the day. The thing about having a row with Nino is that despite their differences and tendencies to lose their cool with one another, in the end, they agree to disagree. Nino would avoid Jun to give himself space, and Jun would do the same. By the following morning, Jun’s certain they’ll reach some level of understanding despite their contrasting opinions.

When it’s time for him to either head home or grab dinner, he asks Aiba to bring him to a restaurant he doesn’t know a thing about, wishing to be far away from anything he possesses at the time. If he’s surrounded by what he owns, the more he feels his control slipping.

Aiba takes Jun to his family’s restaurant in Chiba, a place Jun has only heard about till now.

He exchanges pleasantries with Aiba’s parents, finding that the warm smile Aiba always has came from his mother. She’s as cheerful and as accommodating as her son is, clearing a private room for them so Jun can have a moment’s peace.

“Here, I’m sure no one will poison you,” Aiba says, looking proud. It’s not a high-class restaurant, nothing like the chain Jun has under his name. It’s strange that Jun knows he’s safer here than in any of those he built with his own money.

“I have no doubt,” Jun says, returning Aiba’s smile. He allows Aiba to order for them, figuring his chauffeur knows better. Aiba also asks for sake, and to Jun’s surprise, they receive a bottle from Aiba’s father’s personal stock.

Aiba laughs, waving away Jun’s initial refusal of the gift. “He’s happy I finally brought you here. He always wanted to meet the person I work for. My family has met Nino, so they’re kind of relieved that it’s not him I’m bringing along this time. That guy practically lived here at one point.”

They clink their cups in a toast, and Aiba flashes him another one of his warm smiles. “I’m glad you’re okay, Mattsun.”

He’s talking about the meeting from a few days ago. “I’m glad I didn’t die too, Masaki,” Jun agrees.

“We can drink to that, yeah?” Aiba offers, already raising his cup, and Jun mimics it before taking another sip. It’s high quality; as expected from a personal collection. It’s far from the scotch and brandies Jun indulges in when he’s feeling conflicted and confused. He doesn’t mind associating sake with a pleasant night in Aiba Masaki’s company.

Aiba skillfully navigates their conversation far from work, keeping Jun’s attention occupied elsewhere. He talks about the childhood he had before he decided to work for Jun’s family, his dreams of becoming a pro-wrestler and later, a baseball player. Jun appreciates these lighthearted stories; it reminds him that he has people he can truly rely on.

Even if he gets into disputes with them, they remain loyal to him. Sometimes Jun forgets. The idea of people actually caring about him is so foreign that he doesn’t know where to look for it. But then Aiba comes and reminds him, shows him.

Jun is grateful for his presence in his life. He files these quiet moments with Aiba as part of those he won’t allow anyone to taint. He permits himself to relax and unwind, enjoying food and stories, laughing out of genuine amusement.

The night goes on, and when Aiba finally remembers how late it is, the restaurant is closed.

Aiba rubs his nape in embarrassment. “You should have reminded me of the hour.”

Jun allows himself a small smile. “I didn’t notice it either. My apologies for making your family operate past business hours.”

Aiba waves his hands and clicks his tongue at him. “So formal, Mattsun! You’re always welcome here. My parents would say the same.”

It proves true when on their way out, Aiba’s mother asks for Jun’s continuing favor towards her son and that next time, she would love to see the two of them with Nino for a meal and a drink.

It’s Aiba who promises on his behalf, saving Jun from the explanations. Aiba always knows when to step in—a trait he shares with Nino. Their only difference is that Nino’s cynicism manifests as optimism in Aiba.

They approach the car in light steps, a little inebriated thanks to all the sake they had. Aiba’s father kept refilling their flask, and Jun thinks he’ll find sleep easily tonight.

He’s about five paces away from the car when he feels Aiba’s insistent tug on his elbow, and he feels the wind get knocked out of him when Aiba pulls him back to shield him just as the car explodes, fires dancing in front of his eyes. Pieces of glass and metal fly in all directions, and Jun finds himself on the ground, Aiba using his body to protect him.

The car catches fire, the blast enough to rouse the sleeping neighborhood. Jun quickly grapples for Aiba’s arms, shaking the man off him, and he panics when he hears Aiba groan.

“Masaki!” he hollers, shaking Aiba off him. Did he get hit? Jun couldn’t see—it all happened so fast. One moment he was enjoying a calm night, the next he’s watching clouds of heavy, black smoke rise to cover the starlit sky.

Jun reaches behind Aiba’s back, and he curses when he feels something sticky and warm on Aiba’s clothes. Reaching around some more, he finds a shard of metal protruding from Aiba’s side, and he carefully rolls Aiba off him as he screams for help.

The workers from Aiba’s family restaurant are already surrounding them, having heard the explosion earlier. Jun sees the frightened look on the face of Aiba’s mother, and he brings a hand on the side of Aiba’s face.

“Masaki, talk to me,” he begs. He doesn’t dare touch the object impaling Aiba, and soon, he’s joined by Aiba’s parents in attempting to rouse him.

“Did you call for help?” Jun asks, breathing hard. He’s got both hands pressed on Aiba’s wound, trying his best to prevent the bleeding by applying pressure. He feels warm, delicate hands cover his own, and he looks up to see the face that looks too much like Aiba’s, only feminine.

“Do you have a car? We have to get him out of here. He needs help, he—” Jun rambles, but he stops when Aiba’s mother shakes her head.

“We’ll take care of this. Get out of here.” She pushes him away, and Jun falls on his ass and heels, heart still hammering. Fear has gripped him—he can feel it in his marrow, with every rushed thrum of his pulse. “They’re after you. He’ll live, you know he will. He’s stronger than he looks,” she says, nodding to the people around them. “We’ll get him to the hospital. Now go. Go where you think it’s safe. Please.”

Jun doesn’t move, and Aiba’s mother gives him a hard look through bleary eyes. “Go! It’s what he’ll ask of you.”

Jun shoots one last glance at Aiba’s prone but still breathing form and gets on his hands and knees. He bows, forehead touching the concrete. “I’m so sorry.”

He gets on his feet and steps aside, allowing the restaurant staff to haul Aiba away, to a waiting car that will take him to the nearest hospital. Jun wipes the tears from his face, reaching in his pockets for his phone.

He doesn’t even know he’s calling Nino until he hears the man’s voice. Whatever Nino says doesn’t register, because all Jun can say is “They planted a bomb on the car.”

“Where are you?” is the next thing he hears, followed by movement.

“Outside Aiba’s family restaurant. Nino, they got him. Masaki, he—he shielded me from the blast. He’s wounded, I—”

“Get out of there,” Nino orders, every word said with force. “Are you mad? Why are you standing outside? Get inside, somewhere safe, take cover!”

Jun doesn’t hear a thing. “Nino, they got him,” he says, Aiba’s blood still fresh and sticky on his fingers. He can smell iron and smoke, can hear crackling embers and commotion behind him. He’s surrounded by people now, curious onlookers and bystanders.

“Listen to me,” Nino says, and somehow, Jun finds the will to focus on Nino’s voice. He can trust Nino. He can trust Nino just as he can trust Aiba. “Listen to me, Jun-kun. Go inside the restaurant. Stay there. Don’t leave until you see me outside. I’m coming to get you. Don’t you dare go someplace else.”

Someplace else? Jun blinks, then he realizes where he is. He heeds Nino’s advice and heads inside the restaurant, the remaining staff asking him what he needs. He settles for a glass of water, collapsing to the nearest seat.

“Nino?” he asks, and when he hears another shuffle of movement, he continues. “Don’t come here.”

“What? Have you gone completely out of your mind?!”

Jun shakes his head, as if Nino can see it. “No. I don’t want them to get to you. They already got Aiba. I want you to go to the hospital, find him. Tell me how he is. I can’t follow him there; what if they’re watching me?”

“Whatever you’re thinking of doing, Jun, don’t,” Nino screeches, and Jun hears the engines of a car starting. Nino’s on his way. “Don’t. Listen to me, okay? Aiba’s going to make it. If you’re scared for him, I’m scared too, but he’s going to make it. Now you stay where you are and wait for me.”

“No!” Jun yells, a sob hitching from his throat. This is all his fault. “Go see how he’s doing! Don’t you dare come here, Nino. If they get you next, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

He makes up his mind. “Do you trust me?” he asks Nino, who only pauses for a moment.

“Don’t do it, Jun. Don’t,” Nino pleads, but there’s no more time. His time is running out; they’re getting closer and closer.

“Go find Masaki,” is all he says, and despite Nino’s protests, he cuts the line. He meets the curious, sympathetic eyes of the rest of the restaurant staff. “Do you have any vehicle I can use?”

Nino’s calling him, but he swipes his finger to reject it.

Jun knows exactly where to go.

--

It’s Ohno who greets him when he arrives in the Sakurai household aboard a delivery van. Ohno eyes him only for a moment.

“Is he here?” Jun asks, not masking the malice in his tone. He’s not here to talk, and Ohno seems to know.

Ohno gives him one look from head to foot before he steps back. “If you’ll follow me, Matsumoto-san.”

The corridors they pass through look different in the night. Jun has only been here when the sun was up, when he could see the garden outside. There are no servants running about; it’s quite late and they all must be sleeping.

Jun wonders in what state will he find Sakurai in.

Ohno leads him to a different room, but unlike an attendant who assumes the seiza before opening the door for him, Ohno keeps his hand locked on the handle, not pushing it aside.

Jun meets the man’s eyes.

“Are you here to kill him?” Ohno asks. He doesn’t sound angry nor concerned, merely intrigued.

“That’s up to him,” Jun replies, as honest as he can be.

Ohno pushes the door open without another word, his other hand gesturing for Jun to head inside.

As soon as Jun crosses the threshold, the door slides shut behind him. It’s dark, and he takes a few moments to allow his eyes to adjust.

He finds Sakurai Sho beginning to shrug off his yukata, undoubtedly preparing for bed. His obi is already undone and is neatly folded by his side. Sakurai turns, eyebrows lifting in surprise at the sight of him.

Jun crosses the room in steady strides, and he pulls out the revolver he’s always been keeping on his person. Ohno didn’t search him on the way inside, and he relishes the sound of the firearm cocking as he points it toward Sakurai Sho.

Sakurai’s yukata is perhaps deep blue in shade—Jun can’t tell since there are no lights on. But he can see that it’s open, revealing planes of skin underneath.

“Will you at least tell me why you’re pointing that thing at me?” Sakurai asks. He doesn’t sound intimidated or affected. He takes a step towards Jun, and Jun holds his ground.

“You almost got him killed,” Jun accuses, unable to forget the sight of Aiba groaning in pain, the feel of Aiba’s blood smearing his fingers.

Sakurai frowns. “What are you talking about?”

Jun shakes his head and keeps his arm outstretched, his gun shining between them. “Don’t play dumb. Don’t. I’m tired. If you want to kill me, do it yourself.”

Sakurai’s eyes narrow, barely perceptible in the darkness blanketing them. “Was there another attempt tonight?”

“Fuck you!” Jun screams, exhaustion surfacing. He’s so weary and it’s dragging him down. He wants it all to be over. He can accept death; if only Sakurai would man up and actually go for the kill himself. He doesn’t want these theatrics. “If you want to kill me, fucking do it. Stop involving the people dear to me.”

He takes a step, the muzzle of his gun pressed right against Sakurai’s chest. “Just get it over with.”

For a while, all they do is stare at each other. Jun is fuming, adrenaline leaving his veins alight, his blood running hot. He has too much energy unspent. His finger itches for the trigger, but the impassiveness and disinterest in Sakurai’s eyes is stopping him from pulling it.

“You really think I’m the one trying to kill you?” Sakurai asks, a rumble that somehow echoes in the stillness of the room.

Jun doesn’t know. He honestly doesn’t. He’s being rash, but he needs answers. It won’t stop with Aiba. It will only end when Jun’s the one dead or dying. “I don’t know what to believe anymore,” he admits, close to breaking down.

Sakurai grips the muzzle, moving it to the skin over his heart. “If you truly think it’s me, do it. Take it. Pull the trigger.” He lets go, hand falling to his side. He remains motionless, eyes fixed on Jun’s.

“It’s yours,” Sakurai offers.

Jun takes one good look at him, his angry haze beginning to clear. He can see no fear, no doubt, no hesitation. He can see everything he doesn’t have. His hands are still bloodstained, and yet the desire to have them drenched in blood again is becoming unwelcoming.

“If I wanted to kill you,” Sakurai says, taking a step forward and causing Jun’s arm to bend at the elbow, “you’d know.” The muzzle is still pressed against his chest. “I said that and never gave you cause to doubt any of my intentions.”

Jun is lost. He has no idea what to make of things; his judgment is skewed, his reasoning is gone. He needs Nino, but he sent Nino away. His trepidation escalated to paranoia, and he realizes that he absolutely has no idea of what he’s doing.

Is he currently looking at his killer’s face? Is he pointing the gun at the right person? Why won’t his fingers move? Why can’t he pull the trigger and end it, if what he’s currently made to believe seemed so true that he threw reason aside to rush here?

Sakurai grasps the muzzle again, this time putting it right against his forehead. “Make it quick,” he tells Jun. “I never liked prolonging suffering. If you’re going to take it, make it quick.”

Their eyes meet—Sakurai’s determination against Jun’s indecision. “If you want it, take it,” Sakurai says, face breaking to a resigned smile. “It’s always been yours.”

It all comes back, unbidden and in flashes: the news of his father’s death, the necklace adorning his neck that signifies his status and importance, the white lily he kept floating in a bowl, the poison dart, the Fuji sakura that’s steadily blooming on his desk, the poisoned food, blood and lots of it, gunshots, the envelope that never reached his hands, plectra attached to skilled fingers over a stringed instrument, Aiba’s blood all over his hands.

His fingers twitch, but it’s enough—Sakurai catches it.

Sakurai grips the gun tight, and Jun’s reluctance to fire causes him to give, the weapon slipping from his grasp. Sakurai tosses the firearm to the side, landing on the floorboards with a distinct thud, and with his hands he reaches forward for Jun’s face, fingers framing his cheeks.

It’s done, and Jun stands there, walls crashing down and leaving him vulnerable. His mind is full of noise, and he thinks, vaguely, if death comes for him tonight, he won’t even put up a fight.

Jun waits, and for a beat it’s as if he can hear a pin drop, then Sakurai leans to claim his mouth, all fire and sweltering heat guzzling him, engulfing him, embracing him, igniting everything.

Jun gives up and lets himself drown.

Everything burns.



Follow the link for part 5

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