[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] gurajiorasu Part 5


There’s nothing but red.

He’s sinking, like there are hands dragging him down to the depths, like there’s an excruciating weight attached to his ankle that prevents him to rise. Jun can see nothing except red, turning black as his vision fades, air and consciousness leaving him.

His eyes shoot open when he feels a strong grip on his shoulder, and his first instinct is to grab it in a punishing grip. His hand is wrapped around a thin wrist, so tight that he must be grinding the tiny bones there, but he can hear no expression of pain.

His blurry eyesight soon focuses, and he finds himself holding Sakurai’s wrist in a relentless grip. Sakurai is merely looking at him in concern, heedless of the bruise that Jun will undoubtedly leave him.

“You were dreaming,” Sakurai tells him, his voice so faint because of all the things Jun can hear: in his head, in his chest, out of his body. Everything is so loud.

Jun doesn’t remember anything except a pool of blood that was sucking him in. He can recall nothing—how he got in Sakurai’s home, how he fell to the man’s bed.

Jun’s head drops, his grip on Sakurai’s wrist loosening. He feels Sakurai pulling him close, and soon he finds his forehead pressed right against Sakurai’s chest, the steady thrum so far from Jun’s erratic ones.

The flesh over Sakurai’s heart is warm, a soothing touch since Jun is beginning to shiver. Jun concedes to the comfort, moving closer to find more warmth. His breathing is still frantic, but his head is starting to clear.

“Shh,” Sakurai whispers above him, fingers now stroking his scalp. “Shh. You’re here.”

How did I get here, Jun wants to ask, but he doesn’t trust his voice not to crack. It doesn’t feel like he just woke up. It’s like he came back from an draining run and had achieved nothing except for blistering his feet. He feels more fatigued than ever, but it’s new that there’s someone to hold him after the nightmare. It was always him trying to coax himself back to reality.

Each slide of Sakurai’s fingers through his hair helps slow his respiration, and Jun can feel the tension in muscles uncoiling. He has no concept of how many minutes pass as Sakurai holds him and calms him, but soon it’s becoming difficult to keep his eyes open.

Sakurai withdraws a little, peering at his face. Jun never really noticed how plump and lush his mouth looks. His hand comes up unconsciously, fingers stroking lips that aren’t his own, mapping them, trying to memorize the texture of them.

“Sleep,” Sakurai says, turning his head away and taking Jun’s hand in his. “Sleep. You’re safe here.”

Jun finds himself obeying. His body moves on muscle memory, settling back under the covers. He has no strength to fight the vestiges of sleep gradually claiming him, and the last thing he senses are fingers tracing the skin of his forehead before he succumbs.

--

When Jun rouses from his slumber, he is alone in an unfamiliar bed.

He sits up groggily, and it takes a couple of seconds blinking before it registers that he isn’t wearing his clothes. He came to Sakurai’s home in a suit. He’s wearing a plain blue yukata, less extravagant than the ones he’s seen Sakurai wear. He’s not sore, muscles stiff from disuse and not from exertion, and he doesn’t remember anything aside from refusing to shoot Sakurai Sho.

He moves to leave the room when he hears Nino’s unmistakable voice in the adjacent room, not caring for slippers.

Jun ends up startling the waiting attendant by the door, but he pays it no mind, instead pads barefoot to the next room without so much as an apology for his intrusion.

He finds Nino talking to Sakurai, a breakfast table arranged neatly between them.

“Good morning,” Sakurai greets, but Jun only has eyes for Nino.

Nino is on his feet in moments. “Are you all right?” He looks like he hasn’t slept a wink.

Jun manages a nod.

Nino breathes a sigh of relief. “First Aiba, then you. Don’t do that again,” he mumbles, running his hands over his face.

“As I was saying, Ninomiya-san,” Sakurai says from his place on the floor, his smile not reaching his eyes, “he was never in harm’s way. At least not in my company.”

Nino shoots Sakurai a look of extreme distrust. “Forgive me for having doubts, Sakurai-san. Your most recent card was to die for.”

Sakurai cracks a smile, but to Jun it looks forced. “Will you join me for breakfast?” he asks, gesturing to the empty mats in front of them. “The kitchen prepared too much because I have guests.”

Nino turns his gaze on the food. “How do we know you didn’t put anything in these?”

Before Sakurai can open his mouth, Jun answers. “Because it’s disrespectful,” he says, knowing it’s what Sakurai would say. Sakurai smiles at him, warm and pleased. “It’s a waste of food.”

Sakurai directs his attention to Nino, inclining his head in offer. “Please.”

Jun gives Nino one pointed look before Nino relents, assuming the seiza once more. Jun imitates him, sitting closer to Nino since it’s a foreign house they’re both in.

Sakurai says nothing aside from his graces, then he’s partaking. He takes a generous sip of his miso soup before he speaks. “I assume you didn’t come here just to retrieve Matsumoto-kun.”

Jun frowns, turning to Nino, whose eyes are fixed on Sakurai. “I have business with you, Sakurai-san,” Nino acknowledges before facing Jun and bowing his head in apology. “It can’t wait, Jun-kun. I’m sorry.”

“What can’t?” Jun is so out of the loop, and he grabs Nino’s shoulders to get the man to face him. “What happened? Did something happen to Aiba?”

Nino grabs his wrists to still him. “Aiba’s fine. He’s a tough bastard. But I put his room in maximum security in case they come for him. His mom is going to look after him.”

As if sensing his thoughts, Nino continues with a smile, “His dad’s going to look after the restaurant for a while, but I have the place under 24/7 surveillance. Aiba-shi needs a minor surgery—nothing more. The doctor says he can be back in a week or two, but since this is Aiba-san we’re talking about, it’s three days, tops.”

That’s a relief to hear, and Jun visibly relaxes. Then he remembers, gaze shifting from Nino to Sakurai, who’s eyeing them with an expression Jun can’t name.

“Why are you here, Nino?” he asks, suddenly wary.

Nino shrugs off his grip, facing Sakurai once more. Nino is yet to touch his food, same with Jun. Sakurai is drinking his tea now, an eyebrow raised in curiosity.

Nino bows. “I’m here to ask for your help in protecting Matsumoto Jun, Sakurai-san.”

Jun can’t fathom what he’s hearing. He grabs Nino’s shoulder, but Nino keeps his head down. Wasn’t Nino the one so adamant about Sakurai being the perpetrator all along? What is going on?

He hears Sakurai hum. “You’re asking your number one suspect to aid you in keeping your...boss, friend, whatever—” he waves his hand, “—safe? That’s hilarious. I never heard that before.”

But he doesn’t laugh, merely eyes Nino as he picks up his chopsticks. He turns to Jun, inclining his head once more. “Please eat. I had the cook make those for you. I heard you like them.”

Jun looks down and sees bamboo shoot rice in front of him, and to his left, there’s a platter of croquettes. Jun suspects it’s crab cream. He picks up his own chopsticks out of respect to his host, and he sees Sakurai focus back to Nino.

“I dug up all the assassination attempts on you,” Nino says, lifting his face once more. Jun feels like an outsider listening to Nino talk to Sakurai. “Even the ones that began from your birth. It took a while, but I found answers.”

“I wasn’t lying about being poisoned,” Sakurai says, catching on. He doesn’t appear to have taken offense at Nino’s doubt over his veracity. “But carry on, Ninomiya-san. Tell me what you want, and we’ll see if I can make it happen.”

“You have the resources that we don’t,” Nino says, not sparing Jun a glance. Jun can’t eat; he can only look at Nino. Have things gone so bad that Nino is outright asking for Sakurai’s help?

Yes, he answers in his head. Yes. They got Aiba. Things are more than bad.

“And so you wish for me to extend these resources to you? It’s not so different from what Matsumoto-kun asked of me before. Only that instead of finding his killer, we’re also going to try to keep him away from harm.” Sakurai wraps his mouth around the lacquered strips of wood, chewing his rice.

“I’m asking more than that,” Nino clarifies, and Jun has heard enough.

He pulls at Nino’s shoulders once more, getting the man to face him. Nino looks so frail and worn out. He looks exactly like Jun whenever Jun wakes from a nightmare. Jun never wanted to see him like this. “What are you trying to do?” he demands.

“Trying to keep you alive, what does it look like?” Nino snaps. “Do you think I’d ask for help if we don’t need it? He’s our best chance. Whoever’s after you might also be after him in the long run.”

“Ah, so you want me to lend a hand so you’ll have a bigger bait?” Sakurai asks, obviously catching on. He smiles when they turn to him. “That’s quite clever, Ninomiya-san. I can’t say I didn’t think of it though. I almost suggested it to Matsumoto-kun, but I had a feeling he’d say no.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Jun asks Nino, shaking him. Jun doesn’t want to involve any more people. The more people he interacts with, the more people are in danger. Even Aiba’s family is in danger now. He can’t risk all the people connected to him.

“Maybe, maybe not.” Nino shrugs. “I don’t know, Jun-kun. If you have any other suggestion, please, share it. Because we’re not getting closer to finding anyone, and given the money you’ll get from the completion of the upcoming delivery, you’re becoming a bigger threat. I’m proposing to keep you safe before the delivery two weeks from now.”

Jun’s eyes narrow in understanding. “You want me to disappear.”

“For a while, yes. Until it has all calmed down. At least until the threat is gone. If you’re out of the spotlight, they can’t get to you.”

Jun hears porcelain making contact against polished wood, and he sees Sakurai setting his bowl of rice aside. “I can see why you keep him around,” Sakurai says to him. “He’s smart.”

Nino shrugs Jun’s hold off him and faces Sakurai once more.

Sakurai smiles at him, lines forming around his eyes. “Now be clearer this time, Ninomiya-san. What do you want me to do?”

“I’m asking for you to find a place where we can hide Jun-kun until all this has subsided.” Nino purses his lips. “You do have a safehouse in the mountains, yes?”

Sakurai’s eyes widen fractionally. “I’m surprised you found out about that. No one knows about that house save for those who have used it.” He looks impressed. “And? You want me to lend it to Matsumoto-kun?”

Nino shakes his head. “No.” It earns Jun’s frown and Sakurai’s as well. “I want you to join him there, Sakurai-san.”

Jun is positive he’s mirroring Sakurai’s shock, but Nino doesn’t stop there. “I heard about it from Ohno-san,” Nino explains, tilting his head towards the door. “A dart, wasn’t it? The same kind?”

Jun has no idea what Nino is talking about, but Sakurai straightens his back and regards Nino cautiously.

“Satoshi-kun actually told you?” Sakurai sighs, but Jun can’t see no trace of surprise on his face. “And I thought it was our secret.”

“When did that happen?” Jun asks, looking at Sakurai now. When the man doesn’t reply, he repeats his question. “When?”

“After I taught you how to play,” Sakurai explains. It doesn’t seem like he’s talking about an attempt on his life, given his nonchalance. “I was in the garden when a dart came flying. Poor aim and timing, really, since it ended up killing not me but an attendant.”

“Someone out there knows you’re working together,” Nino says. “And someone out there wants to do away with both of you. Maybe they were aiming for Jun-kun first. But now they also have their eyes on you, Sakurai-san. You won’t let yourself fall victim to their attempts, would you?”

“No,” Sakurai replies immediately. “But that doesn’t mean I ought to go into hiding. I have business here. There are matters that need looking over. If they want to kill me—again, I presume—, they’re welcome to try.”

Nino clicks his tongue in annoyance and sends Jun a fleeting glance. “You’re as stubborn as Jun-kun, you know that? I’m not asking for your business to cease operations. You can still pass on orders while you’re somewhere far, somewhere remote. Just...not here in the city. For now.”

Jun has to admit—Nino thought this through. Nino researched tirelessly before he even considered proposing this plan.

That doesn’t mean Jun likes it. He doesn’t want to go into hiding. He doesn’t want to be a coward. And from the looks of things, Sakurai seems to share his sentiments.

“I will not be branded as a coward,” Jun says through his teeth. “I won’t allow it. My absence will only spur the rest of our enemies further; they will try to assert control over things that aren’t theirs. I won’t let that happen while I’m still alive.”

“You won’t be absent,” Nino says sternly, almost admonishingly. “Both of you. Just not physically present, but whatever plans you’ve got, I’m certain you can put them in motion while you’re somewhere safe. Would you rather be headstrong and dead or smart and alive?”

Sakurai doesn’t say a word, a frown creasing his face.

“If they got to Aiba-shi, they’re going to get to you too,” Nino murmurs, and when Jun looks down, he sees Nino’s hands clenched into fists, shaking on top of his lap. “If I can, I won’t let that happen.” He faces Jun, eyes alight with resolve.

Sakurai lifts a finger, and their attention shifts to him in an instant.

“Did Satoshi-kun ask this of you, Ninomiya-san?” he asks, face devoid of emotion. Jun can’t tell what’s going on his mind; figuring out Sakurai’s intentions is still a work in progress.

“Do you hold it against him?” Nino asks back. “He understands how I feel, standing at the side of a man destined to achieve great things while schemes and plots of his demise are happening behind his back.”

“I can’t vouch for your loyalty to Matsumoto-kun,” Sakurai says, forefinger stroking his bottom lip, “but I can vouch for Satoshi-kun.” He exhales. “I will need time to consider. I am open to lending my safehouse to Matsumoto-kun should he wish to use it, but as for me joining him there...I will have to think about it.”

“I’m not taking it,” Jun says flatly, ignoring Nino’s displeased look beside him. “If they’re taunting me to disappear, then I’m making them happy if I go into hiding.”

Sakurai smiles at him. It’s a little distracting since he’s currently tapping on his lip with his finger. “Just because they failed in killing you so far doesn’t mean they’ll continue failing. To learn from one’s mistakes is a valuable skill. Since they can’t kill you, I’m assuming they turned their sights to me. Two birds, one stone.”

“Then you admit that your safety as of late is also compromised,” Nino says. Sakurai’s attention shifts to him, eyebrow quirking, but it doesn’t intimidate Nino.

Sakurai places one palm on the table and leans closer, studying Nino’s face. “Are you sleeping with my right-hand man? I didn’t fancy you to be one so concerned about my survival.”

Jun raises a questioning eyebrow at Nino, who doesn’t flinch at the question. Nino hardly flinches at anything; he saves it for Aiba’s surprises. “But since you don’t listen to your right-hard man, Sakurai-san, it’s up to me to convince you and Jun-kun here that what I’m proposing is actually beneficial to the both of you in the end.”

A part of Jun is in awe at how Nino managed to dodge the question, but then again, that’s how Nino is. Never the one to divulge anything about himself, but almost always accurate in his perception of people.

“There are things that need to be taken care of,” Sakurai says, allowing himself a small smile at Nino’s answer. “Things I can’t handle if I’m hiding in the mountains.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t be the one handling them,” Nino tells him. “Delegation, Sakurai-san, have you heard of it?”

Jun almost smiles at that, but he holds it in. He shares Sakurai’s view on this. “You can’t be suggesting to me that you’ll take care of it yourself?” he tells Nino, frowning at him. “There are things only I can do.”

Nino sighs, and it’s part-exhaustion part-irritation, as far as Jun can tell. “And as I’ve said earlier, Jun-kun, you’ll still be doing them. Just not in the office or your apartment. Just not here.” Nino turns back to Sakurai. “Same goes for you, Sakurai-san.”

Sakurai cocks his head to the side. “You’re not taking no for an answer, are you, Ninomiya-san?”

Nino shakes his head once. “Jun-kun’s not the only stubborn person here.”

That earns a laugh, hearty and loud. “Exactly like your boss in that aspect, I’d say.” Sakurai picks up his chopsticks and bowl of rice once more—they’ve been neglected for too long. “I will try to have an answer before the day ends. But I maintain my offer earlier: Matsumoto-kun is free to use the house should he wish it.”

“I’m currently leaning towards no,” Jun says truthfully, not missing Nino’s exasperated sigh beside him.

Sakurai points to Nino with his chopsticks. “You have a clever man by your side, Matsumoto-kun. Men like us stay alive when we listen to those smarter than us.”

Nino straightens at that, and when Jun glances, he sees something like surprise on Nino’s face. Perhaps Nino didn’t expect the sudden praise, because the next thing Nino does is to bow his head in thanks.

Jun picks up his chopsticks and finally takes a croquette. Crab cream, just like he thought. “I need to think about it.” He hates the feeling of Nino and Sakurai agreeing on something. They make him feel like a petulant, stubborn child for sticking to his beliefs. It’s frustrating and profoundly annoying.

Nino seems to sense his mood and no longer says a word, instead partaking in the meal. Jun can feel Sakurai’s eyes on him as he eats, and he mumbles praise regarding the food, which makes Sakurai smile and turn away.

--

Time, it appears, is not something Jun has.

As soon as Nino manages to take him back to his apartment, he receives a call from an unknown number. Nino hasn’t left his place yet, and with Nino’s encouraging nod, he picks up.

It’s Ohno on the other line, greeting him with a quiet “Matsumoto-san.”

Jun puts his phone on speaker, and he nearly drops the device when he hears the rest of Ohno’s message for him.

“They almost got Sho-kun. Again.”

Jun was just with the man an hour ago. Nino is by his side in moments, expression of anger and fear evident on his youthful face. “Almost?” Jun clarifies, his own voice sounding hollow to his ears. “What was it?”

“Sniper bullet,” Ohno replies, still with the same tone of calmness. “Not his first, but they only missed because Sho-kun happened to trip on a pebble.” A snort that Jun can’t interpret. “His clumsiness saved him this time.”

Sakurai escorted them out of his house and seemed to have set his mind on taking a stroll around his garden. An old habit, he told them. Jun supposes he won’t be walking around outside for a while.

“Where is he?” Jun asks. At Nino’s frown, he shakes his head. He’s not coming to see Sakurai; he’s just been there. But he needs to know what Sakurai is doing at present.

Ohno stays silent for a couple of moments. Then he answers, “I believe he’s making calls.”

“And why are you informing me of this, Ohno-san?” Jun asks, just as Nino turns away.

He hears Ohno’s hum. “Maybe because I need you to convince Sho-kun to go to the mountains. He is not safe here, Matsumoto-san. His association with you has compromised him.”

“Are you blaming me?” Jun snaps. He can hear Nino shuffling in his kitchen, perhaps preparing coffee.

“I’m telling the truth,” Ohno replies, voice not accusatory. “I know Sho-kun won’t like it if he knows I’m talking to you. But if there’s anyone who can convince him to lie low for a while, I thought it might be you.” Ohno pauses, but when Jun’s about to open his mouth, he hears Ohno clear his throat. “He’s calling for me. My apologies for contacting you without notice, Matsumoto-san. I hope you have a good day.”

The line is cut after that, and Jun sees Nino approaching him with two mugs of steaming coffee. Sakurai served them tea earlier, but Jun has always depended on coffee.

Though considering Ohno’s news for him, he’s wide awake already.

Nino doesn’t say a word, instead takes the mugs to the living room with him. Jun follows, taking a seat on his couch and accepts the mug from Nino with only a nod for a thank you.

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Jun asks in the ensuing silence. Nino is nursing his coffee, half of his face hidden. “I have to disappear.”

“Not permanently,” Nino says. His face scrunches when his coffee is apparently still too hot for him. “I wish we didn’t have to ask for his help. But I had a feeling whoever’s targeting you also knows where your bases are, and that none of them are no longer safe. I’m sorry I took the liberty of asking Sakurai first.”

“You came to his house for that,” Jun tells him. It’s just an observation.

Nino purses his lips. “He gave me a call, you know.” At Jun’s frown, Nino sports a small grin. “Last night, you went there to confront him and kill him. I knew so I followed, but on my way, I received a call, telling me you’re safe and sleeping.” Nino’s head tilts. “Long night, Jun-kun?”

There’s a playfulness in his tone as he asked the question, and Jun doesn’t miss it. “I don’t remember most of it.”

Nino’s smile doesn’t waver. “That good?”

Jun shakes his head. “No. I don’t remember, but I know I didn’t sleep with him. I only remember waking up in the middle of the night because I was drowning in my dreams.” He looks away, instead focuses on the ripples formed on the surface of his drink. “He woke me up, and when I calmed down, I fell asleep again.”

“Was it your most peaceful sleep in a while?” Nino inquires.

“I didn’t dream after,” Jun says. “I don’t know.”

Nino sets his mug down the nearest table and approaches Jun, only to crouch in front of him. Jun finds Nino’s face on level with his. “Jun-kun, when I came to visit Aiba-shi last night, the first thing he said to me was to hide you. He asked me to keep you safe.” Nino moistens his lips and sighs. “He asked me, before the drugs kicked in and he had to sleep, to do everything I can to make sure you stay alive. He wasn’t dying, but because he can be overly dramatic sometimes, he acted like he was and told me all these things. Please accept Sakurai’s offer. If there’s any other way, I would have found it. But we can’t trust anyone, and we can’t alert your allies that someone’s after you, because they will ditch you once they know and save themselves first.”

“Don’t they know?” Kato even said it was good to see him alive.

“Not the details. I managed to keep that under wraps. Some of them believe it’s a rumor you started since they couldn’t find proofs. I’m doing my best to keep it that way. Better for them to think it’s a rumor than leave you hanging.” Nino exhales. “Please. Please lie low for a while and let this all pass. It’s important to us that you stay alive, no matter what happens.”

“Why?” Jun asks, voice quiet. “Why is it so important? If I die, it all ends, doesn’t it? No one gets harmed anymore.” He can remember Aiba’s face, the feel and scent of Aiba’s blood in his hands. “No one gets hurt anymore because of me.”

Nino gives him a determined look. “If you die, there’s no point in doing what we do anymore. We do it for you, because you’re the one leading us, because you’re the one who’s there to guide us. Aiba-shi and I...we’d gladly throw ourselves in the face of danger if it’s for you. You know this.”

“And I wish I can do something about it,” Jun says, guilt gripping him.

“That’s not up to you,” Nino admonishes. “Sometimes you just have to do what you can do. And right now I’m asking you to accept the offer and hide somewhere in the mountains. Where it’s safe. Stay safe until we find a hot lead.”

“Are you getting close to finding one?” Jun asks, wondering how long is he going to stay hidden should he agree.

Nino flashes him a smile. “With Ohno-san helping me, I believe I am. He’s been working behind his boss’ back for a while. Like me, he’s pissed his boss won’t listen to him.”

“And like him, are you also working behind my back?”

That gets Nino to laugh. “Already did that, didn’t I? I asked for Sakurai’s help and got his approval. All that’s left is for you to accept.”

Jun doesn’t reply, instead finishes the rest of his coffee and stares at the dregs until they begin to dry up. Nino rises, complaining under his breath about his knees and his coffee growing cold, but other than that, he doesn’t say anything.

When the silence has stretched long enough, Jun lifts his head to meet Nino’s eyes from across him.

“Will you help me pack?” he asks.

Nino smiles and nods. “You don’t have to ask.”

--

While Nino is sorting out Jun’s best suits and shirts (Jun still wants to have a suit or two to take with him), he still manages to respond to every single instruction Jun leaves him with. Nino’s an exceptional multitasker, and he proves it once more while folding a dress shirt and inquiring about the specifics of the rest of the deliveries that are happening this month.

Jun knows they have to act like everything’s normal, and that includes placating all their clients. They can’t know that Jun is somewhere else, but there will come a time that Jun will have to refuse a meeting. Only Nino and Aiba will know of his whereabouts, and Jun is confident they won’t divulge that information to anyone.

The packing takes hours, because Jun would never settle for just one suitcase. While Nino helped him fold clothes, Nino also outlined the change in his duties which will be implemented as soon as Jun leaves for the safehouse.

Considering his task done, Jun picks up his phone and dials Sakurai’s number. It’s early evening, and he’s nursing a glass of scotch as he waits for the call to be picked up. Nino is making his own calls, just like Jun ordered him to do.

“Matsumoto-kun,” Jun hears in the next second, “you’re not thinking of storming inside my house to point a gun at me again, are you? I’m afraid there’s no shortage of people trying to murder me, so if you’re planning to visit, you may have to get in line.”

Jun rolls his eyes, wishing Sakurai can see it. “I’m here to tell you that I’m accepting your offer.”

He hears a sharp intake of breath from the other line. “Is that so?”

“Yes.” Jun sips his scotch, remembering that the last time he drank one was the night after the funeral. It seems like an event from long ago. “I wish to leave in the morning.”

“That can be arranged. Please ask Ninomiya-san to coordinate with Ohno-san. I have this impression they’re communicating already, so you can ask Ninomiya-san to get directions from Ohno-san.”

Jun finishes the rest of his scotch in one gulp, wincing a little at the burn. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand before speaking again. “You misunderstand, Sakurai-san. I wish to leave in the morning, and you’re coming with me.”

There’s a bark of laughter that rings in Jun’s ear. “What? Who put you up to this?”

“No one,” Jun says smoothly. He doesn’t drop Ohno’s name, uncomfortable with the idea of betraying the man’s confidence for reasons unknown. “I heard about your stroll this morning.”

“Quite eventful, wouldn’t you agree?” Sakurai asks, traces of amusement detectable in his tone.

Jun lets out a long breath, hoping his patience would last. He never liked the playing-hard-to-get ones. The ones who are already convinced but are just making things difficult for him. “Come with me to where that house is,” he says, using his most charming and convincing tone. “I can’t leave while you remain here, not when I know they’re now after you because of me.”

“I appreciate the thought, Matsumoto-kun,” Sakurai says, and this time, Jun can’t decipher his tone. “I’ll have the house arranged for you and ask Satoshi-kun to forward the address to Ninomiya-san.”

“Sho-kun,” Jun says, using Sakurai’s name for the second time. He knows the line is about to get cut soon, and he can’t let that happen. “You’re not safe here. We’re not. If one of us dies, the other one is surely next. Are we going to just stand here and wait for that to take place?”

“What’s in it for you?” Jun can hear doubt, the uncertainty seeping through Sakurai’s voice. “You once said you don’t care about my life. What do you get out of this? You don’t need me to be there with you, so I’ll ask again: who put you up to this? Was it Satoshi-kun? Why the sudden interest in my survival?”

His first question is a repeat of Jun’s question months ago. Odd now that their roles are reversed. Jun twirls his empty glass in his hand, the rim glinting every now and then. He doesn’t remember much about last night, but he can recall enough. The blinding heat that lulled him to sleep, the comforting embrace that drove away his nightmares.

“Because you kissed me,” Jun says, licking his lips just to remember, “and I liked it. I liked it too much to just leave you here to die.” He pours himself another glass of scotch. “Don’t play the hero. I don’t like heroes.”

“You think if I stay, I’ll do it because of you?”

Jun doesn’t need to think about that. “Yes.”

He earns a laugh, soft but real, like he just said the right thing.

“Come with me, Sho-kun,” Jun says again, finishing his scotch in one go. “Then we can think about how we’re going to kill them all.”

A deep breath and a few beats that seem to stretch for a long time. “Are you done packing?”

Jun grins. “And ready to leave whenever you are.”

Another exhale. “Give me three hours.” He hears a shuffle of movement, like Sakurai getting to his feet. “Then I’ll meet you in your apartment. My house is not so safe at present.”

“Three hours,” Jun repeats. “Don’t be late.”

Sakurai laughs. “You’re very demanding tonight.”

Jun’s smile broadens. “Get used to it.”

He cuts the line after, and stands to search for Nino and inform him of the development.

--

A SUV is what arrives after three hours, and Jun receives a text that simply said I’m not late to inform him of its arrival. Jun is thankful that it’s not an extravagant, attention-seeking car or a limousine; that would just inform their killer of their plan in case someone’s watching them.

After Jun finished loading his suitcases, he climbs to the backseat and finds Sakurai Sho seated on one side, dressed in a yukata in a darker shade of red, almost mahogany.

“Nino’s coming,” Jun says, realizing that he forgot to inform Sakurai about this. “It’s better if he sees where it is.”

Sakurai’s eyebrow quirks, but nothing more. He points to the driver just as Nino climbs in the passenger seat and shuts the door. “This is Koyama-kun. He’s the only one who knows where that house is.”

“Ohno-san doesn’t know?” Jun asks, finding that to be impossible.

Sakurai smiles. “He does, but he can’t drive. Allow me to rephrase. This is Koyama-kun, and he’s the only one who knows how to actually get to the house while driving a car.” Sakurai turns to Jun. “Is that better?”

Jun sits back and fastens his seatbelt, acknowledging Koyama with a brief nod. “It will do.”

Jun meets Nino’s eyes in the rear view mirror, and he can tell Nino’s close to smiling. Perhaps he’s glad that he managed to convince them to do this. Nino’s persuasion skills are better than Jun’s. Jun can only influence the people who are interested in him. Nino seems to have no limitations.

They drive off, and they reach the freeway that leads them out of the city when Sakurai pulls something out from his yukata and hands it over to Jun.

It’s Jun’s revolver from last night.

“You left this,” is all he says to Jun, his eyes fixed outside.

Jun takes it, and out of habit, he checks if the bullets are still inside. They are, and when he looks up again, he sees Sakurai smiling despite not looking at him.

“You need to work on your trust issues, Matsumoto-kun,” Sakurai says on his left.

“In time,” Jun replies, tucking the gun inside his suit jacket.

Silence resumes after that, interrupted a few minutes later by Koyama who turns on the music player, while mumbling an apology to Sakurai for forgetting such a thing.

Sakurai waves his hand. “It’s fine. But skip this track and play the quartet in C minor.”

Koyama presumably follows, because soon Jun hears a piano quartet playing from the speakers. It’s another unfamiliar melody, but like the music Sakurai produced in the koto, it’s soothing despite its unpredictability. One moment Jun can only hear the softest notes, then the volume seems to escalate just as the theme shifts.

There’s something beautiful with the series of notes he’s hearing, inexplicable in a good way. He’s not surprised that Sakurai is into such things; he was raised as a young master, and therefore took a bunch of lessons in his youth. Piano is likely one of them.

The occasional buildings on the sides of the road soon disappear, replaced by thick trees that blend perfectly with the night. Jun has no idea where they are, but he knows Nino is keeping track. When Jun looks out the window, as far as his eyes can see, he sees a cloudless night sky.

How long has it been since he had the time to admire the stars? He stares at them and remembers his young, innocent self thinking they are for the taking. That if you claim them, you’re whole, you’re now complete. One of his babysitters read a story to him once, and he never forgot what it said. That everyone came from stardust and has traces of the stars living inside them.

If that is true, Jun thinks, then why is he often so devoid of warmth? If residues of stars reside in him, then why is his core so cold?

His thoughts flit to the events of last night, of how easy it was to permit the flame to consume him. He welcomed it with open arms. And now that source of warmth is sitting so close, lost in his own world, absorbed in listening to a symphony that Jun will never be able to name.

It’s when Jun darts one glance to his left, at Sakurai Sho’s serene and smiling face, that he feels it. He is startled, and immediately, he diverts his eyes elsewhere.

A fire sparks in his heart, and he fears it may evolve into an inferno.

--

The safehouse under Sakurai’s name is a villa situated deep in the mountains of Minakami. It’s a massive two-storey modern house, the entire view hidden mostly by the thick trees surrounding it. There’s a car in the garage that’s big enough to fit four, and Koyama parks the SUV there before he turns the engine off. He then gets off the vehicle to shut the gates behind them.

Sakurai has fallen asleep sometime during the trip, and Jun wakes him up with a tap on his shoulder.

“We’re here,” Jun says, just as Sakurai stirs.

Sakurai cracks his neck joints, moaning a little when they popped. “I suppose you remember the way, Ninomiya-san?”

Nino nods without looking at them. He raises his phone and shows that he’s been tracking the route via GPS. “Some place you’ve got, Sakurai-san.”

Sakurai snorts and unfastens his seatbelt. “Ask Satoshi-kun for the landline. I honestly don’t remember. I haven’t been here in years.”

Jun unclasps his seatbelt and looks out. Koyama is opening the main door and turning the lights of the front porch on, giving Jun a view of the freshly mowed lawn and a well-maintained garden. Not as big and colorful as Sakurai’s garden back in the city, but even under the minimal lighting, Jun can see that someone must be taking care of this place.

“You have a caretaker,” Jun states.

“Naturally. Why did you think I asked for three hours?”

Jun faces him. “I thought you needed time to pack.”

Sakurai laughs. “Nonsense. I had the house stocked. I only brought a few of my belongings with me. I still have clothes there.” He opens his door and inclines his head in invitation. “Shall we?”

Without waiting for a response, Sakurai climbs off the vehicle and makes his way to the house’s entrance. Jun meets Nino’s eyes in the rear view mirror.

“You’ve got what you wanted,” Jun tells him.

Nino shrugs. “I’ll unload your things. Go and have a look around.”

Jun follows without another word, and as soon as he’s out of the car, he’s struck by how cold it is despite being the middle of spring. Even under his suit jacket, he can feel the night breeze steadily blowing from the mountains and rustling the leaves and branches surrounding him.

He buttons his suit jacket and heads for the main door, nodding at Koyama who gives him a polite bow before presumably helping Nino to unload the suitcases.

The inside is far spacious than Jun imagined. There are contemporary paintings hanging off the walls of the living room, but the furniture looks brand new. There appears to be a certain theme for each room, but they all give off the feeling of minimalism.

Jun has seen the kitchen (which has a mini bar that’s fully stocked with all kinds of liquor), dining room, living room with a grand piano, before he hears footsteps approaching him.

“Ready to see the bedrooms?” Sakurai asks, like Jun’s a client and he’s a salesman.

Jun extends his hand in the direction of the stairs. “Lead the way.”

Sakurai does, showing him two guest rooms of similar design and one master’s bedroom. Jun only takes a peek in the latter, and when he turns, he finds Sakurai leaning against the doorframe of a closed room.

As if sensing his thoughts, Sakurai smiles. “This one is off-limits.”

Jun’s eyebrow quirks. “What happened to me trusting you?”

Sakurai sighs. “There are no weapons of mass destruction hidden in here. There are also no carcasses or corpses to worry about. I’m most certainly am not concocting poisons of any kind in here.”

“Then why not show me?”

Sakurai gives him a look. “You’re not interested in my childhood. And I have no wishes to revisit it.”

Jun frowns at that. “You grew up here?” It was unthinkable. The house looks trendy overall.

“Do I look like I did?” Sakurai shakes his head. “I grew up far from Minakami. But I had things I didn’t want to do away with. I moved them here. And now you know what’s inside. Happy?”

Jun’s gaze flits to the closed door for a moment before snapping back to Sakurai’s face. “I’ll take the guest room.”

“Which one?”

Jun smiles, walks past him, and heads for the stairs.

He finds Nino waiting at the foot of the stairs and hears Sakurai descending behind him.

“Some place you have here, Sakurai-san,” Nino says again, this time with genuine awe and praise.

Sakurai only laughs and turns to Koyama. “Koyama-kun, have Satoshi-kun inform Itao-san that as long as I’m staying here, he only needs to tend to the garden and the pool. He can leave the cleaning of the house to us.” Sakurai’s eyes flit to Jun’s, and Jun tilts his head in the briefest of nods.

Koyama bows in acknowledgement. “Will there be anything else, Sho-san?”

“Well, I think Matsumoto-kun needs help with his things.” Sakurai grins and heads for the kitchen. “After that, you’re free to go. Thank you for everything.”

Koyama bows once more and moves to take one of Jun’s suitcases.

“Second door to the left, please,” Jun says, moving out of the way. When Nino moves to follow Koyama while also carrying a suitcase, Jun stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “Keep me posted. On the way back, when you get home, send me a message.”

“I plan to visit Aiba-shi after I get back,” Nino says, smiling at him. “The idiot’s done with his stitches, but he’s definitely going to push himself so I need to whack some sense into him.”

Jun returns the smile. “Buy him flowers for me, would you?”

“Sure,” Nino says, and Jun finally lets his hand fall.

Soon, Koyama and Nino bid them goodbye, shutting the door behind them with a decisive click followed by the sounds of the security alarm being activated.

Jun heads for the kitchen and finds Sakurai in the mini bar.

“Scotch?” Sakurai offers. “Whiskey? Vodka? Brandy? Wine? What will it be?” He’s nursing his own glass, and Jun thinks it’s brandy.

“Whatever you’re having,” Jun says, deciding to be gracious to his host. He removes his suit jacket, draping it on the counter before taking a seat and loosening his tie. “You bartend too?”

Sakurai chuckles. “Don’t be absurd.” He pushes a glass in front of Jun. “Are you going to wear a suit the entire time we’re here?”

“Depends.” Jun gives him a once over, or at least until that part of his body that is not obscured by the bar counter. “Are you going to be in yukatas all the time?”

“I’m not sure I have any other kind of clothing,” Sakurai says. It’s likely a lie, but Jun lets it pass.

He raises his glass. “Please keep me in your favor, Sakurai-san.”

“What happened to ‘Sho-kun’?”

Jun grins. “Sho-kun,” he amends. He supposes he should start getting used to saying that, if they’re going to live together for a while.

Sho clinks their glasses together and doesn’t say anything else.

--

Sho, Jun discovers, is helpless in the kitchen.

“You can’t even operate a toaster?” Jun asks, arms crossed as he leans against the kitchen counter. He woke up to the noises coming from the kitchen, and he arrives to the sight of Sho frowning at the machine while holding sliced bread in his hands.

“This is different from the one I have at home,” Sho says, but Jun catches the slight blush coloring his cheeks. “And good morning. I hope you had a nice sleep?”

Jun had to pop two sleeping pills in order to find rest, but it was worth it. He didn’t even feel that he was sleeping in an unfamiliar bed. He underestimated the depths of his exhaustion and as soon as the medication took effect, he was knocked out.

Jun chooses not to dignify him with a reply, instead elbows him out of the way. “Be honest. Do you know your way around this part of the house?” Sho has the image of being raised as a pampered master; it’s highly possible he’s accustomed to having people cook and do the rest of the chores for him.

Sho refuses to look at him. “Do you think I’m a child?”

“No.” Jun points to the coffee maker. “You can use that, at least? Leave the food to me.”

Sho thankfully obeys without another complaint. The fridge is completely stocked (much to Jun’s delight), and Jun prepares miso soup and fries some eggs to accompany the toast.

They eat breakfast in silence; Jun with looking around since the house appears slightly different in the morning, Sho with reading a newspaper.

After breakfast, Jun checks his phone and starts coordinating with Nino. He sets up camp in the living room, reading through the files Nino forwarded to him sometime in the night. Contracts and updates about deliveries, some about order revisions. It eats up his time, and since he doesn’t see Sho anywhere, he assumes the man is also working somewhere in the house. It’s big enough that it’s not a wonder if Jun doesn’t see him for a long while.

Jun is open to his clients giving him a call, just not for a personal meetup since he’s supposedly hiding. Any updates regarding the search for his assassin are forwarded straight to his phone; Nino is cautious that someone might be hacking into Jun’s laptop despite all the security measures they’ve taken.

For his late afternoon break, Jun decides to take a stroll outside. The living room has a glass sliding door that leads straight to the garden, and opening it brings a gust of wind that sends Jun’s skin to gooseflesh. He can hear birds chirping overhead, and despite the sun being mostly hidden behind the trees, it provides enough illumination for Jun to have a look around.

He walks barefoot on the grass, the blades tickling his soles a little. There’s a path made of cobblestones in the garden, and Jun follows it until he reaches the pool and an unobstructed view of the mountains.

It’s breathtaking. There’s a traditional Japanese-style pool in front of him, but beyond that is a clearing in the trees that shows the cliffs and the mountain ranges of Minakami. Jun can only look out, wishing he can catalog everything. Since his ascension, he hasn’t found the time for anything like a vacation. He forgot how enchanting nature is outside the bustling city.

A splash rouses Jun from his thoughts, and he sees Sho rising from the pool, hands coming up to wipe the droplets that ran down his face. Sho’s back is turned to him and it’s the first time he sees it: the inky patches of skin that formed his back, the half of the intricate drawing disappearing under the water. There’s a mixture of faded blue, red, green, and yellow that colored his skin, covering up to his shoulder blades. The picture moves with each muscle shift, and Jun is inevitably drawn to it.

Sho seems to sense he’s not alone, because he turns around and blinks at Jun.

Having been caught staring, Jun wills himself not to make a fool of himself further by being embarrassed.

Sho doesn’t say anything, but he’s slowly making his way to the edge of the pool where Jun stands. Jun is not in his suit (he has an image but he’s also practical), instead in a pair of linen trousers and a loose white cotton top. He feels dressed down since Sho has never seen him out of his expensive suits before, but then again, he also hasn’t seen Sho out of his yukata before.

Almost, that one time in Sho’s house when he still wanted to kill the man. But this is the first time Jun is seeing him along with that tattoo that covered his back.

“What is it?” Jun asks before he can help it.

Sho peers up at him, wet strands of dark brown hair framing his face. His eyelashes are glistening, and Jun is having a hard time looking away from the droplets of water that line the angle of his jaw.

“What’s what?”

Jun gestures with his chin. “What’s on your back?”

Realization dawns on Sho, and he lets out a tiny laugh. “Oh. That.” He runs a hand through his hair. “Satoshi-kun drew it.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Jun says, then he bends down to roll the hems of his trousers up. He sits on the edge of the pool, legs soaked up to his knees. The water is hot but not scalding, yet it still takes Jun a while to get used to the temperature.

Sho is leaning against the bank now, mere centimeters from where Jun sits, his arms folded in front of him as he rests his head on top of them. “Would you like to have a look?”

The sun is beginning to set, and the orange hue that rains upon them kisses Sho’s tanned skin and giving it an almost ethereal glow.

Jun can’t look away even if he wants to.

“Will you let me?” he asks quietly, as if there’s someone who can hear them.

Sho smiles and pushes himself off the bank, using the momentum to float away, legs kicking lightly to propel him further. “Come and see.”

Jun allows himself a minute to think, to weigh pros and cons. His curiosity wins out, and he moves to stand as he fists at the edges of his shirt, finding someplace to drape it over.

There are chairs surrounding the pool, orb-like in design with a real mattress in them. Jun finds only a towel and bathrobe in one, and he starts to shed off his clothes. He has a feeling Sho is watching so he takes his time, folding each item neatly until he has stripped down, only his necklace left on his person.

Jun decides to leave it on and enters the pool, shivering a little at the change in temperature. It’s warmer than he thought, and he finds Sho doing a backstroke lazily, intentionally not giving Jun a view of his back now that he knows that Jun is curious.

Jun swims his way towards Sho and manages to grab the man’s wrist to get his attention.

“Show me,” Jun says, and Sho smiles. The sun reflected on his body makes his eyes shine.

Sho turns around without uttering anything, and since the water in this part only rises up to Jun’s stomach, he can see most of it.

It’s a portrait of an old god with red skin and a dragon for its face. There are four circles on its back connected by a fine line of yellow, and the background is an elaborate drawing of clouds colored in white and blue.

The whole picture glistens because of the water and the sun’s rays touching it, and Jun reaches out to touch the edges of it, right above the skin of Sho’s shoulder.

“It’s beautiful,” he says honestly, captivated by the way it shifts and shines in different angles depending on Sho’s movements.

“Satoshi-kun is quite talented,” Sho brags. “Took him a long time to finish it, but in the end, it’s worth it.” Sho looks over his shoulder. “It’s Raijin, the god of storms, lightning, and thunder.”

Jun knows the tradition. “And where’s Fujin?” Fujin is the god of wind, and usually, he comes as a pair to the one on Sho’s back. Jun traces the tattoo’s monstrous face, the depiction of the god in its demon form.

Sho shivers, and Jun can feel it under his fingertips. Sho lets out a breathless laugh, causing the tattoo to move in accordance with him. “No space left for him, is there?”

“No.” Jun runs his fingers on Sho’s skin lightly, wanting to memorize this god’s appearance on the expanse of Sho’s back. The faded red that colors most of Sho’s back suits him in a manner Jun can’t explain. He strokes the ends of the tattoo on Sho’s nape, remembering the blue that first hinted him of its existence back on their first meeting.

Sho exhales, and Jun is warm in ways that has nothing to do with the hot spring. Sho stands unmoving, but he’s trembling in place, like he’s bracing himself for something and he’ll snap once it occurs.

“Jun,” Sho says, and it’s deep and breathy, like he’s holding on to the last vestiges of his control. It’s the first time Jun hears his name from Sho’s lips. “Do you know what you’re doing?”

Jun remembers that night in Sho’s house, how he’d turned up desperate and confused and angry—a train wreck of emotions that he always had in abundance. There’s no confusion now, but there’s a fire on the pit of stomach that urges, begs him to do something.

He knows now.

“Yes,” Jun answers, ducking down a little to inhale Sho’s scent: masculine and musky, making Jun’s head spin. He’s heady, and the setting sun that blankets them seems to depict exactly how warm he feels.

“I know.” Jun leans down and presses his mouth to Sho’s nape, right above the blue-colored skin. Sho melts at the touch, and Jun wraps his arms around Sho’s form as Sho sags against him. He breathes in Sho’s scent and kisses the corner of Sho’s jaw.

Sho turns his head to the side and Jun reaches up to brush away the wet strands that covered his eyes.

Their eyes meet, and Jun sees nothing but black that threatens to suck him in.

He gives in and covers Sho’s mouth with his own, and it’s as hot as he remembers, only this time, Jun wants more of it. He can’t get enough, can’t help himself, one hand cupping Sho’s face so he can kiss him deep, swallow all the delicious noises he’s making as Jun dares with his tongue and tastes everything.

He can feel Sho’s fingers travel up to tangle themselves in his hair, pushing him closer, and Jun tightens his hold around Sho’s trunk in response. He breaks off the kiss to taste Sho’s skin, scattering pecks along his jaw, down his neck. Sho’s breathing heavily, his hand a reassuring guide as Jun explores till he reaches the skin of Sho’s angular shoulder.

He sinks his teeth lightly on the flesh, delighting in Sho’s startled hiss. Jun can feel himself stirring because of the sounds Sho’s making, and he presses his erection to Sho’s hip as he licks a long swipe from the bony tip of Sho’s shoulder up to the crook of his neck.

Jun pulls Sho back against him and reaches down, past Sho’s navel under his hand closes over Sho’s half-hard cock. A breathless moan escapes from Sho’s lips, and Jun nips and sucks on his earlobe, smiling when he feels the mark of a former piercing under his tongue.

The first stroke has Sho biting his bottom lip, and Jun nuzzles the junction where his jaw meets his neck. They’re somewhere in the mountains, the villa all to themselves. No one’s playing witness save for the trees and the sky that’s turning purple, the first stars appearing over their heads.

“Let me hear you,” Jun whispers, hand moving slowly on Sho’s shaft. No one’s here to listen to Sho falling apart in his hands except for him. It’s all his—this moment at this time, Jun is in complete control after feeling so out of it for so long.

He wants to savor it. He seeks to drive Sho mad with his slow but firm strokes, feeling Sho shudder against him, and when Jun twists his wrist just so, he finally gets it: Sho moans, head lulling back against Jun’s shoulder, and Jun wants to hear him make that sound over and over. It’s made for him, purely for him.

It’s his.

“Again,” he says against Sho’s quickened pulse, growing bolder with each noise that escapes from Sho’s lips. “Again.”

One of Sho’s hands grasps his bicep firmly, squeezing hard when Jun moves his hand faster. Sho’s hips are bucking back, his eyes shut and mouth parted, and Jun’s a slave to the pleasure Sho’s vocalizing.

Jun encourages him, murmuring filthy nonsense in Sho’s ear while his movements grow feverish. It’s strange that he’s the one begging Sho to give in, but it doesn’t feel like a weakness. Under the day giving way to the night, sky gradually transforming to darkness dotted with twinkling stars, Jun feels invincible and unstoppable.

Out here, away from prying eyes and murderous intentions, Sho loosens up and lets go, a breathy version of Jun’s name becoming his mantra. Like he’s been waiting to say it for so long and it has finally broken free, unleashed from somewhere within.

It’s a symphony of Sho’s design, and it sounds divine in Jun’s ears.

In the silence the surrounds them, in their seclusion that lies hours away from all the chaos, Jun thinks of storm gods and imagines the price of their seduction.



Follow the link for part 6

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