[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] gurajiorasu Part 8


The first gift Jun received that he has a concrete recollection of was a train set imported from Germany. It was carved out of the finest wood, painted bright red and shining gold. It came with a platform that even had miniature carved, wooden dolls in various colorful clothes. Some were passengers holding very small papers that looked like tickets. Others were train station employees, handling passenger suitcases. There was even a uniformed driver who manned the train, a string tied to a tiny bell attached to his wooden hand.

The train tracks span several feet, erected on carefully constructed miniature landscape consisting of snowy cliffs and frozen rivers under cobblestone bridges. At night, Jun would flick the switch at the back of the walls of the train platform to turn all the miniature lights on.

He imagined driving a train like that someday, donning the same blue felt uniform the driver had, complete with the cap that went with the whole outfit. He’d think about visiting Germany and finding out if the glaciers under the constructed tunnel were based on a natural phenomenon.

Up to now, he remembers every bit of it. How he indulged himself on late nights after his strict training. Instead of resting and giving his body time to heal, he’d sneak out of his room and sit beside his beloved train set, pretend for a few hours that he was a normal child whose worst problem was the absence of a playmate.

He’d sing nursery rhymes under his breath as he watched the train run, hum songs if they got his lip split and swollen that he couldn’t form words unless he iced it for a few days. He’d wish for the sun to not rise so soon or else the spell would be broken and he’d be back to the boy with no emotions and possesses only dreams of ascension, of being worthy of the family name.

Jun loved that train.

And like all things he loved, it was taken from him.

He was eleven when they began dismantling it. Jun tried to keep it together but in the end couldn’t, begged them not to throw it away with tears in his eyes. It was the first and only time his father hit him, a sharp, stinging backhanded slap. The old man didn’t even remove his ring.

“You’d do well to know the price of attachment as early as now,” the old man said while Jun cradled his reddened, tear-streaked face. “Sentiment will get you nowhere. If nothing holds you, nothing can keep you down. If nothing binds you, nothing can stop you.”

To replace the loss of the gift he cherished, they taught him how to wield guns. What good was a weapons dealer’s son and heir if he didn’t know how to properly carry the source of their income? Straighten your arm, they told him, hitting the underside of his elbow with a stick. Don’t grip it too hard. Keep your eyes open. Don’t flinch. Take a deep breath before pulling the trigger.

Each time he missed any of those guidelines, there was a lash that made him remember better next time. Jun was a fast learner. Once he figured out which ones would get him into trouble and which ones could he get away with, he treated it as a skill and began manipulating his trainers.

Jun never saw the train set again. He didn’t bother to ask what they did with it. He couldn’t ask anyone, anyway. They’d think he was still a child for wondering about such a thing and that would earn him more training hours.

The same ring that he felt against his cheek when he was young adorns his middle finger as he stands beside Ohno, talking to Sho’s allies. Their distrust for him is so palpable Jun can almost taste it. But he holds his head high and says the right words, showing them that there’s more to him than a necklace and a namesake.

When he has met at least three disbelieving people who all changed their minds by the end of the conversation, he twists the ring around his finger. He kept it not out of sentiment, but as a reminder that sometimes, the things other people used to hurt him would end up in his hands.

It’s why Jun welcomed pain out of all the sensations he’s attuned to. Pain is an unpleasant reminder, but a reminder regardless. If he felt it, it counts.

“Six to go,” Ohno says, when they’re on their way back to Jun’s apartment. “I’m sorry for Takahashi-san’s insults. He likes Sho-kun.”

Jun waves off the apology. Takahashi called Sho ‘Sho-chan’. Of course he likes him. “It’s not going to be three at a time always, is it?”

“No.” Ohno’s gaze is fixed outside. “I’m still working on the schedule. I’m sorry if it’s taking a while. But there won’t be another meeting like this, because the remaining six are not Sho-kun’s allies in any way, merely his clients whenever they need to use the port. I still have work to do.”

“Nevertheless, thank you for your hard work.” Ohno deflected some of the insults, defending him whenever necessary. Jun is grateful that it was Ohno with him. They never would have agreed to see him nor gave him their time if it weren’t for Ohno.

The following meetings come two weeks after the first, and three weeks after Jun’s return to Tokyo. Sho has returned to his house in Minato, since it’s common knowledge now that he’s dead and no one will bother to check the house. To make the lie even more believable, Sho held a funeral for himself, laughing all the while as he organized it back when he was still in Jun’s apartment.

The talk of Sho’s assets being divided to the rest of the surviving clan leaders remains the main topic of concern whenever Jun meets a clan head with Ohno. Ohno set up the meetings under the impression of property division, and made them all believe that their questions will be answered if they show up to the round table discussion happening a month from now.

When they finally acquired Shirihara’s agreement, the one Ohno saved for last, Ohno gives him a formal bow.

“My job is done, Matsumoto-san,” Ohno says, handing him the same invitation envelope they’ve been giving as soon as the head they were meeting gave his or her yes.

Jun frowns at it. Shirihara was the last one they had to convince, and convinced him they did. He takes the envelope from Ohno, thinking that he already has one on his desk back at home. “Did we miss someone?”

“Not we. You.” Ohno gives him a small smile. “There’s still the eleventh guest to invite.”

Sho. Who else? Jun snorts and pockets the envelope. Of course Sho would want Jun to pay him a visit. Jun has been heeding Nino’s advice since that late brunch in his apartment, distancing himself from Sho little by little until Sho had to go back to Minato.

Jun hasn’t seen him in nearly a month. And he won’t be seeing him again until next month if he goes to Minato now.

“Is he free?” he asks, despite knowing that Sho’s probably playing the koto or doing ikebana in his newfound freedom. Being dead gives him a lot of rest days, it appears.

“He’s free whenever you are,” Ohno replies. “Would you like to set an appointment?”

Ohno says it with formality, like he hasn’t been so close to Jun lately. Jun admires his professionalism. “Tomorrow night,” Jun decides. “Dinner.”

“I’ll have it arranged,” Ohno confirms. “Any requests to the cook?”

“The croquettes from the last time were good,” Jun says with a smile, which Ohno returns.

Ohno bows once more, this time in farewell. “Tomorrow night then, Matsumoto-san. Take care and have a good night.”

The apartment door shuts behind Ohno, and Jun immediately heads for his stock of liquor and picks up a bottle of whiskey. Foregoing a glass, he uncaps it and tips it straight to his mouth.

He has to do it. He’s been running from it since Nino called him out, putting it aside in favor of more pressing matters. But now that he’s here and there’s only one person left to talk to, he knows it has to be done.

Jun recalls the train set as he tips the bottle once more into his mouth. No amount of love stopped it from disappearing from him. He never found anything quite like it, a toy he’d daydreamed about. Things are replaceable, which makes them easier to love. But the memories of stolen hours of childhood he’d spent sitting by that train model’s side and watching it run across the tracks, those were priceless. He can find another train set, but he will never love it the way he loved the old one.

He doesn’t understand why he remembers this now, of all timings. It ought to mean something, but he’s afraid of finding out what.

Let him go, Nino said. Jun has every intention of doing that tomorrow night. But he’ll be lying if he says that ends there.

Once this is all over, he decides, I’ll get it back. Once this is all behind me, us.

If he sounds like that kid pretending to be a train captain, he doesn’t linger on it.

--

There are no servants around when Jun arrives in Sho’s ancestral home in Minato. Ohno is the one who welcomes him inside, having asked him to be dropped off to the back gate that’s far from prying eyes.

“You fired all your attendants?” Jun asks when it’s still Ohno who offers him slippers to use. He slips his feet in them and follows as Ohno guides him around.

“Sho-kun asked me to. He said it’s the attendants and housekeepers who are prone to gossip. If word gets out that he’s alive, all our hard work for the past month would be for nothing.”

“But you kept the kitchen staff?” Jun remembers Ohno’s offer of food request from last night.

Ohno laughs. “Sho-kun will never allow himself to starve. It’s only the three of us living here now, though. Me, Sho-kun, and the cook. The rest of the bodyguards and men are scattered around Sho-kun’s territory, in case someone attempts to take it by force.”

They stop at the same room Jun first met Sho in. It strikes him that this is also the room in which he has to follow Nino’s advice to the end. The envelope in his pocket feels heavier for reasons he can’t fathom, but he enters the room as soon as Ohno slides the door open for him.

There are no flowers scattered on the floor, nor is there a koto in the middle of room. He finds a table with dinner already arranged in a presentable manner, and Sho gesturing for him to take a seat with an outstretched hand. He’s wearing a white yukata with gray and black stripes, a black obi wrapped around his waist.

Jun prefers the obi than the bandages that had to be replaced often.

“Eat first or talk first?” Jun asks, assuming the seiza.

“The last time we talked first, it ended with Ninomiya-san promising to murder me if you die,” Sho says, already reaching for his chopsticks. “Let’s try a different approach.”

Jun is a bit hungry, so he has no qualms about Sho’s choice. There’s a platter of shellfish to his right (Sho’s favorite, he discovered back when they were still in that house in the mountains), Jun’s requested croquettes between them, and a flask of sake for each of them. He says his graces, splits his chopsticks, and picks up a bowl of rice to begin eating.

“Satoshi-kun told me it didn’t go as swimmingly as he imagined, but still well considering the circumstances,” Sho says over a mouthful of ark shell.

Jun swallows the piece of croquette he’s chewing before he talks. “What happened to eating first?”

“Do you prefer to eat in silence?” Sho asks, sake cup resting on his smirking lips.

“We can talk about other things in the meantime,” Jun says.

Sho flashes him a sad smile, but before Jun can dwell on it, Sho says, “I miss your bed.”

That gets a laugh out of Jun. “It feels bigger without anyone beside me.” He had to rely on sleeping pills again once Sho returned to Minato.

“I miss the silence too,” Sho tells him, chewing his food slowly. “Tokyo is too noisy sometimes.”

Jun doesn’t want to think about that house in Minakami. He has equally good and bad memories with it, and the last thought he attributed to it was whether he would see it once more.

“It’s noisy because you’re dead,” Jun says instead, not biting. “I think Takahashi knows you’re alive, by the way. He kept giving me strange looks a month ago when we met.”

“He’s hard to shake off, honestly.” Sho sips his sake and murmurs praise for its taste. “They all are, and whenever they get too close to the truth that I’m alive and well, I have to give them a false trail. It’s tiring to be this creative.”

Jun laughs. “Singing yourself some praises now?”

“You can’t deny I’m quite original.” Sho raises his sake cup in toast and Jun imitates it. “Not a lot of people get to experience their own funeral. I had a lot of laughs when I watched the footage of it. Some of them were even crying! Talented fakers, indeed.”

Jun frowns. “You paid people to mourn for you.” He knows because Sho planned it all in his living room.

“But the ones I didn’t pay ended up crying the most,” Sho insists. “Oh, you were there, you’ve seen them. Quite a show, wasn’t it? Frankly, I’m surprised that went well without anyone attacking you.”

Jun inclines his head, sake cup resting on his lips. “You arranged for your funeral to happen when there were only two clan heads left to talk to. Of course they wouldn’t harm me; you ensured it.”

“Out of fear of what Ninomiya-san might do,” Sho says, smiling. “Don’t give yourself too much credit, Matsumoto-kun.”

The change in addressing him shocks him, but he doesn’t permit it to show on his face. He gets this nagging feeling that Sho truly knows what he came for, that it’s not just to hand him an envelope for an event a month from now.

They’re almost done eating, and Jun picks up the last piece of croquette with a steady hand. “I thought you and Nino worked hand-in-hand in making sure I stay alive.”

“Ah, but you were there when he threatened me,” Sho reminds him. “Much as I like playing dead because it feels like a vacation, I have no wishes to actually die.” Sho points to him with his chopsticks. “It will inconvenience me greatly if you die, so try to remain—”

“Unmurdered,” Jun finishes for him, and he can only smile when Sho laughs again.

In a month, he thinks resolutely. In a month I can have this again, when it’s all behind me.

“Yes, try to remain unmurdered even after the grand meeting of all the leaders,” Sho affirms. “If it all goes according to plan and we find the killer, we’re all free to resume our lives. I sure can use a few more years without a murder plot involving me.”

“You got involved because of me,” Jun says before he can help it.

Sho raises an eyebrow. “Because I sent you a fifty-year old bonsai?”

“That, and the first dinner we had,” Jun reminds him. He can remember the dragon embroidered on the back of Sho’s yukata. Back then, he had no idea that underneath a dragon lay a raging storm god. “And the cards.”

Sho lets out a loud, boisterous laugh, one that Jun once called obnoxious and annoying. “I still hate that they tampered with my mail to you. You never got to know what that card says, no?”

Jun shakes his head. Nino had it burned as soon as they found the substance sprayed on it.

“It was my last card to you. I was going to invite you for dinner. Here. I guess I got it in the end. But I knew at that time you would refuse. Still, I had hoped you liked the bonsai too much to agree to spend another night with me.”

“Why? Why ask me to spend some time with you back then? You knew I didn’t trust you.” Jun wasn’t exactly hiding his reservations towards Sho at that time. He doesn’t know when he started losing those doubts, but he remembers where he first felt it.

In that villa hidden in the mountains.

“It’s not every day that someone who hates me can admit they need me,” Sho says. They’re done with dinner, but since there are no attendants, no one comes to clear the dishes. “Despite your misgivings regarding my intentions, back then, you could already admit that I’m relevant as far as your business is concerned. That set you above the rest, I guess. I don’t just ask anyone out to dine with me.”

“Is that supposed to flatter me?”

Sho gives him a brief nod. “It does. I take it it didn’t work?”

“You’re so used to people adoring you and following you around, aren’t you? Young master Sakurai since birth?”

“I had to take what I have now, remember? Not everyone has a villainous, evil auntie.”

Jun chuckles at that. “No, not everyone.”

“Some of us are born to power.” Sho nods towards him. “Some of us had that power stolen. And some of us are the ones trying to take that power for themselves. No different from our mysterious killer.”

Jun reaches inside his suit jacket for the envelope, handing it over. “Not so mysterious in a month from now. Will you attend?”

“As your escort?” Sho asks, accepting the envelope with a smirk.

“As my surprise guest,” Jun says, not wanting to imagine a normal gala night with Sho by his side. He has to focus on things that are more likely to happen. “I’d hate for you to miss this one.”

Sho’s grin broadens. “I’d hate to refuse you, as you ought to know by now.” He inserts the envelope in his obi and stands. “Will you walk with me?”

Jun’s eyebrows knit together at the offer. “Your garden nearly orchestrated your murders.”

Sho shakes his head with a smile. “Not outside. Inside. So we can have someone clean this up and not disturb them.”

Jun has never gotten a tour around this house, so traditional and different from the modern one Sho owns in Minakami. He relents with a nod and stands, allowing Sho to guide them out.

Each room he gets to see more or less looks the same, save for one that has a family altar in it. Jun doesn’t inquire any further, keeping his distance. He’s been careful not to use Sho’s name so casually. He allows Sho to lead him around, showing storage rooms full of books and one containing his beloved, colorful yukatas.

“Anything in particular you want me to wear?” Sho asks, leaning against the doorframe while Jun is still in awe by how well-maintained this particular room is. “Being your honorary guest and all that.”

Jun spots the one he first Sho saw in, a dark blue with ocean waves for its design. He touches it and can’t help grinning at the fine threads forming the rich fabric. “This one, if you don’t mind.”

That seems to surprise Sho. “You’ve already seen me in that.”

“And that’s why I want to see it again,” Jun says, not looking at him. “But you can always wear another, if you don’t feel like going with this one.”

“I guess we’ll find out in a month,” Sho says. “Anything you fancy?”

Jun turns to him, confused. “What?”

“I’ve never seen you wear a yukata before,” Sho says, walking past him in search for something. “I think you’ll look good in them. Not that I hate your suits, but there are times when you have to ditch it for something more traditional.”

A bark of laughter escapes from Jun. “I’m not going to attend a summer festival any time soon. It’s autumn.”

“You’ll never know when you’ll use it,” Sho mutters distractedly, hands making quick work in lifting unopened boxes. He lets out a triumphant noise when he finds one, pulling it out of the stack carefully before presenting it to Jun. “I’ve never worn this. It doesn’t suit me because I’m not as pale as you.”

Jun lifts the lid and finds a garnet-colored yukata with a gold obi. Seeing it reminds him of his train set from Germany. “I can’t accept this.” He pushes the box back, but Sho resists.

“Yes you can,” Sho insists with a patient smile. “Treat it like the bonsai I gave you. Pretend you didn’t know you were going to get it until it’s yours.”

To Jun, all of Sho’s presents for him arrived in the same manner. He never knew it was for him until they were already his. He’s about to refuse, but something in Sho’s eyes makes him stop and reconsider.

“Please,” Sho murmurs.

Jun lets out a breath and takes the box, inclining his head in thanks. He has no idea when he’ll wear it, but perhaps he can put it on on the day he can have Sho by his side again.

“There’s something I have to tell you,” Jun says, unable to keep it to himself anymore.

The same fleeting, sad smile crosses Sho’s face before disappearing as quickly as it came. “I know.”

Jun squares his shoulders and puts the box between them, using it as his anchor. “Nino told me you are a liability.”

“Is that so?”

Jun feigns not to hear him. “A weakness I can’t afford a month from now.”

Sho tilts his head. “He said that as well?”

“No.” Jun’s voice is firm, and he wishes it’s the same for him. He doesn’t like what he’s saying. “I made that decision long ago. And because of that, I agree with Nino.”

Sho sighs, closing his eyes briefly. “I was going to ask you to consider abandoning it all, actually.” He allows himself a sad smile when he looks at Jun. “I thought if this night goes well, maybe I can convince you to leave with me, just as you convinced me to hide away with you.”

“I can’t leave,” Jun says in an instant; his duties and responsibilities are dictating where he’s needed.

“I know. But I still wanted to ask. And right now I just want to know: if we could actually do it, would you consider running away with me?”

The immediate answer that formulates in Jun’s mind is yes. But his beliefs and ambitions make up who he is, and they tie him down to this place. Still, he confirms, “If there’s nothing left for us here?”

Sho nods. “Would you?”

“Yes,” he whispers. It’s a fantasy he can never wallow in. But it’s nice to think about, that had things been different, maybe he’d be in someplace else with Sho, seeing the world with him. Perhaps they can board a train together or live in a luxury one, spend their days visiting one country from another, perhaps the entirety of Europe.

Or maybe they can stay in Minakami, in that house that has a breathtaking view of the mountains, far from civilization; stuck together in a quiet portion of the world that is solely theirs.

It stings to think about, so far-fetched and self-indulgent. He was never meant to have the things he wants. He always had to fight in order to have them, and fight harder in order to keep them.

He has to look away to calm himself, and when he can finally meet Sho in the eyes again, he says the one thing he rehearsed so many times on the way here.

“I’ll see you in a month.”

“Wait,” Sho says, just when he’s about to take a step back. “Before you go, I have something to show you.”

Without waiting for his response, Sho puts his arm between them, hovering awkwardly on top of the box. His other hand rests on the edge of the sleeve of his yukata, and he’s not looking at Jun.

“I had Satoshi-kun write it a few nights ago. It still hurts a bit, but I think the skin isn’t so red anymore that I can show it to you.”

Jun’s eyes grow wide when Sho pulls the sleeve back slowly, revealing dark ink that’s forever etched on the underside of his forearm, close to the white of his wrist. It sits in the center of tanned skin, written in calligraphy, each stroke carefully inked to appear brush-like. Ohno’s handwriting in a mixture of black ink and blood.

Even under the dim lighting, Jun can clearly read his own name, his given name, etched on Sho’s skin.

“He always had a beautiful handwriting,” Sho says, pertaining to Ohno. “And steady hands. It’s been years since he last had to draw something for me. Ah, well, maybe not draw this time.”

He’s rambling, not meeting Jun’s eyes, and Jun reaches out to touch his name written on Sho’s flesh, afraid it might be some cruel trick and will wash away under his fingertips.

It doesn’t. The skin around the kanji is still reddened, perhaps a bit sore when Jun presses, but his name isn’t going anywhere.

It’s permanent.

Jun doesn’t know what to say, so he tilts the box to its side, grasps Sho’s chin and allows himself this one last thing. He captures Sho’s mouth in a soft kiss, attempting to express what he can’t articulate in words. The box between them gives Jun the distance he needs to not lose himself, but for a while he does pretend there’s no promise of death looming over their heads, that they’re normal people with simple needs.

For a moment, Jun permits himself to entertain the imaginary scenario of not needing a legacy or a name for himself. Sho’s hands close over his on the edges of the box, and Jun reluctantly pulls away.

He can taste Sho when he licks his lips.

“I’ll see you in a month,” Sho says, and in his heart, Jun wishes for it to be true.

He takes it as a promise.

--

The tailor that comes to get his measurements is the same one who made his suit back in his inauguration night. To Jun, it’s like tying loose ends and eventually coming full circle. It’s too soon for him to speak of things in that manner, but with the end of the month approaching, he’s simultaneously anxious and thrilled that this is all coming to an end.

He doesn’t hear anything from Sho. Whatever messages anyone has for him is automatically forwarded to Nino first, for safety precautions. Nino has become his personal spam filter, sifting through his messages and calls and sorts them according to their importance.

To pass the time, Jun acquires a koto and tries playing. He’s nowhere near Sho’s level, but he can produce decent tunes out of it. Aiba enthusiastically helps him read the music sheets despite being mostly unable to, and Jun appreciates the effort and the attempt in distracting him.

Autumn ends and winter comes, and with it, Jun’s sakura bonsai has entered dormancy. Jun notices when he’s about to water it, one day when the tips of his fingers are starting to form calluses from the koto playing and are beginning to hurt. The tree trunk is bare and the jade pot looks bereft, but he sprinkles water on it anyway. The flowers will come and go, come and go, and come and go.

The idea of that cycle gives him hope that he’ll live past the meeting and see the tree in full bloom once more.

The end of the month arrives, and Jun finds himself staring at the mirror as he adjusts his tie, the diamonds on his neck gleaming each time he moves. The venue is the only neutral part of the city, in an expensive yacht that Sho owns. Nino hates the sea, but he boldly claimed he could handle it as long as he wouldn’t feel the boat move.

A knock on the door reminds him of the time, followed by Nino’s voice.

“I’m not that excited to board a yacht, but we don’t want to be late,” Nino calls out.

Jun readjusts his tie one more time and straightens, examines his reflection for a moment. He has to at least look like he knows what he’s doing, what he owns, and what he commands. The last time Jun has seen the majority of the clan heads, it was his nameday.

Like that night, Sakurai Sho will be absent until he deems the time opportune.

Jun heads out with Nino in tow, the car ride with Aiba quiet save for the off-key humming Aiba does. Jun doesn’t recognize the song and thinks it’s a local one from Chiba because of the tune, but he doesn’t inquire and instead keeps his thoughts blank.

This night, like his inauguration, will change his life. He’s not certain how, but there’s no denying it will. What Jun needs—or he thinks he needs—is to know exactly what to say to be able to sift through the perpetrator. Sho’s plan involves the splitting of his property, and greed, more than anything, is what propelled most of the clan leaders to agree to the meeting in the first place. The assets under Sho’s name are profitable, and nearly everyone seeks to expand their territory.

Jun won’t deny it, but had he not known the real plan, he’d still show up because he’d want to bargain for the port. Having the port under his name has always been one of his goals, only pushed aside in favor of finding his killer first. As soon as this is all over, Jun will begin planting seeds to achieve his end.

He boards the yacht after submitting to a security check up, revealing his handheld revolver as the only weapon on his person. The men searching him are Sho’s, because Jun’s are the one standing guard on the port while some act as patrol on the coast.

The yacht is populated by Sho’s men roaming about and performing surveillance, but it’s Ohno who personally welcomes him aboard once he’s cleared along with Aiba and Nino.

“Dinner will be served after the meeting,” Ohno says, leading the way. The meeting will not be held in the balcony out of fear of snipers hiding in the dark, so instead they are led to a conference room of sorts with a massive round table below the deck.

Ohno guides him to his seat, and looking around tells Jun that they’re only waiting for one.

Nino is by his ear in moments, already whispering what he thinks is worthy of Jun’s attention. “Mizuhara is still under security check, or so I’ve heard. When she arrives, the meeting will start.”

Jun merely nods and Nino straightens his back just as Jun accepts an attendant’s offer of wine. He offers the glass to Nino first, whose nose scrunches but tastes it anyway. Jun doesn’t think Sho will poison him, but he has to blend in with the rest.

A tilt of Nino’s head after a minute tells Jun it’s safe, and when he puts the glass on his lips, he catches Ohno’s eye and smile across the room.

As soon as the wine hits his lips, he stops drinking to stare at the glass for a few moments. He remembers this taste—1983, Sho said back then. Jun never got to know the name, but he’s positive Sho had this particular one served to him tonight.

Out of sentiment, perhaps? Or just an honest offer?

He has no time to ponder because soon Mizuhara enters the room, and with her, the meeting begins.

Ohno spearheads the event but he mainly drops leading statements and lets everyone argue. It’s tedious and boring in Jun’s opinion, but he has to be alert while participating at the same time.

“We can’t continue having this part of the city unmanaged,” someone named Kokubun says. Jun remembers him as a demanding client, wanting his guns to be available as soon as he put in an order. As if that’s possible. “The sooner we decide on who gets what, the sooner we can all leave. All of us here have targets on our backs. What’s saying there’s no bomb somewhere in this yacht?”

“This is a neutral territory,” Takahashi from Jun’s far left snaps. He’s always been one of those extremely loyal to Sho. “Unless you’re suggesting that the late Sakurai-kun’s orders are disrespected—”

“With him and Reizei dead, I trust no one,” Kokubun snarls, and that earns a few nods and encouraging murmurs. “The only reason this place remains a neutral zone is that nobody owns it yet. Tonight will change that. As soon as the next owner of the city’s port and corresponding waters is decided, we all subject to that person’s rules. If he or she decides to open fire on us, we’re all dead.”

“Who put these thoughts about you dying tonight in your head, Kokubun-san?” Jun asks after clearing his throat. All heads turn to him; it’s the first time he spoke tonight outside of greetings. “You’re very adamant about possible murder plots tonight.”

“Maybe you killed them,” an intimidating man called Sakamoto says. “Maybe that’s why you’re so convinced tonight. You thought someone found out you killed Reizei and Sakurai—”

“I didn’t kill them,” Kokubun yells, glaring angrily, but the damage is done. Everyone is giving him suspicious looks now, and Jun can see some of the heads’ personal bodyguards reaching for their weapons. “If I killed them, I won’t be so stupid to board this yacht. Are you out of your goddamn mind, Sakamoto?”

Jun half-listens to them bicker back and forth, careful not to exchange too many glances with Ohno. Sho is somewhere in this yacht, perhaps drinking sake or doing ikebana to pass the time. Most of the work is on Jun now, having to steer the conversation in the right track to find their assassin. Old men screaming and insulting one another is starting to make his head hurt.

“Enough,” Ohno says, acting as a mediator. It takes him a while of saying it, and when Sho’s men finally lift their guns, the room falls silent. “If there is indeed a killer among us or perhaps aboard this boat, that means we do not have time to argue.”

To Jun, that feels like a personal reminder for him. Nino leans closer to him once more, mouth barely moving as he whispers, “Something isn’t right. The boat is moving, but I can’t feel it.”

Nino ends it there, straightening his posture like nothing is amiss.

Jun doesn’t know what to think. He puts his mind back to the ongoing conversation in hopes of picking up trails. So far, this part of Sho’s plan is not working.

“Do you honestly think if there’s a killer among us, we can make them admit to the crime by asking?” Takahashi is saying, shaking his balding head over and over.

“No,” is all Shirihara says from Jun’s right, then he’s standing up and drawing his katana halfway. Everybody in the room stiffens, Jun included. “But we’ve all got suspects and mine is Matsumoto here.”

Shirihara faces him, and so does everyone.

Jun quirks an eyebrow. “Why would I be here if I killed them?”

“You’re Reizei’s competitor, and you only popped up in the city after he was found dead! Maybe you thought you already cleared your name when you began rounding us up with Sakurai’s secretary! ” Kokubun accuses, pointing at him repeatedly. “Maybe the both of you are together in it!”

“Ohno-kun will never betray Sho-chan,” Takahashi immediately claims, standing up as well.

Jun expected this to happen. He steeples his fingers in front of him. “Why would I kill Sakurai Sho without securing the future of his assets?”

“Who knows if you have a contract hidden somewhere?” Shirihara asks, katana still halfway drawn. “Perhaps you’ve gotten Sakurai to sign it before you killed him.”

“I was there at his funeral,” Jun snaps. “Would I show up in the funeral of my victim just to gloat?”

Yamaguchi, who never said a word until now, slams his hands down the table and shakes his head. “I knew his father before him. He may not be like his father in business methods, but their principles remain the same. Killing someone to acquire their possessions is not Matsumoto’s way.”

“You’re right,” Mizuhara agrees, speaking for the first time. She flashes everyone a sweet, youthful smile. “It’s Sakurai’s.”

There’s a momentary silence but it’s enough. The tone of the conversation has abruptly shifted.

“I don’t know where you’ve been, but Sakurai’s dead,” Kokubun half-yells, waving his hands. Jun never liked him. He got overly dramatic most of the time. “As I was saying, maybe it’s the secretary who murdered him!”

“I’m not his secretary,” is all Ohno says, calm as ever. “I manage his accounts and his affairs, but I’m not his secretary.”

“Who gives a shit what you are?” someone asks from the end of the table, and it’s a voice Jun never heard before. He turns and finds one of Inohara’s men with his gun drawn, pointing at Ohno. Nino is already reaching for his revolver, ready to engage. “Did Matsumoto kill him or not?”

Ohno’s eyes narrow but he shakes his head. “No. Matsumoto-san just happened to return in the city at the wrong time.”

“The right time, I’d say,” the man says, and he cocks his gun and points it at Jun instead. “If I shoot you, he’s going to appear.”

Jun remembers his face. It took him a while, but this man has been in his office before, back when Kato was negotiating contract revisions with him. The bodyguard. Jun didn’t pay him any mind then, but he supposes that was the intention.

Everyone is out of their seats and drawing guns, swords, and knives out, save for Jun who remains seated. He can see Aiba and Nino pointing their guns at this stranger, and he exhales slowly.

“Who’s going to appear?” Jun asks, despite having a feeling.

“He won’t let you die,” the man says. He has thin hair and a scar over his right eye, and he’s smiling at Jun like he knows what he’s talking about. “He likes to play the hero, that cousin of mine.”

Cousin? Jun racks his brains for any mention of Sho’s family. As far as Jun knew, after Sho did away with his aunt and secured the title for himself, he kept his family separate from his affairs.

“I didn’t recognize you after what you had them do to your face. Sho-kun didn’t put that scar there,” Ohno says, but now he’s speaking with recognition. “Put the gun down, Yoshio-san.”

“Is he going to wait for a gunshot before he storms in? Very well,” is all Sho’s supposed cousin says. He pulls the trigger, but Inohara’s other bodyguard elbows him in the gut and the bullet pierces the ceiling instead.

It’s chaos that comes next. The gunshot triggers panic and shocked screams, and soon everyone is filing out of the room, leaders being protected by their bodyguards. Jun has Aiba behind him and Nino on his front, the three of them steadily making their way out. Jun has no idea who began to open fire—perhaps this cousin of Sho has accomplices who disguised as bodyguards—but they had to duck because there’s been a trade of gunshots.

The door shuts all of a sudden, and the gunshots stop. When Jun looks around, he’s trapped in the room with Nino, Aiba, Ohno, Sakamoto and one of his men, Kokubun who’s clutching at his bleeding shoulder, two bodyguards whose employment completely eludes Jun, and Mizuhara who’s holding a gun herself.

Along with Inohara’s traitorous bodyguard whose gun is aimed at Jun.

“Why do you want to kill me?” Jun asks, posture straight despite Aiba and Nino protecting him, both standing in front of him. “What did I ever do to you?”

“It’s not you I wanted. I wanted my cousin,” this guy Ohno called Yoshio says.

There’s commotion outside, and Jun sees Ohno throwing a look at the door.

They all hear three knocks, and Ohno shuts his eyes in resignation.

The door opens, and Jun catches different shades of blue in his periphery.

“This wasn’t the deal,” Sho says, sauntering in the room like nobody has any gun drawn out and aiming at someone. He’s wearing the same yukata Jun first saw him in. Sho pointedly ignores the surprised gasps going around him. Behind him, past the doors, Jun can make out men pointing firearms at each other. “The deal was for you not to make noise.”

“You were going to divide your property, cousin,” Yoshio snarls. “That wasn’t the deal either.” He turns to Jun and smirks, menacing and ugly. “Shall I kill him? Or shoot his side like I did with you? I can’t guarantee I’ll miss any vital organs though.”

“Your business is with me,” Sho says sternly, stepping closer. “Leave him out of this. Our deal was you’re not going to attract attention, and I will give you what you want.”

Jun doesn’t understand a thing of what Sho is saying, and he’s certain his confusion is mirrored on Nino’s and Aiba’s faces. Ohno, meanwhile, has this scowl at Yoshio, a pistol aimed at him.

“I want what you have!” Yoshio hollers. He inclines his head and the two other men in the room spring into action, taking Sho by the arms. “How about we renegotiate our deal, cousin? It appears that last week’s talk wasn’t as clear as I thought.” He looks up before smiling back at Sho. “Get everyone off this boat.”

“Most of them jumped overboard already,” Sho says, holding his head high and keeping calm. Jun can only look at him, can only wonder if he knows what he’s doing. “You will let them go?”

“Oh most certainly,” Yoshio says, but when Nino tries to move, he clicks his tongue. “Except for my original target to get to you. Matsumoto, you’re not going anywhere. He’s more likely to give me what I want if you’re in the picture.”

“Is that why you were trying to kill me?” Jun seethes, nostrils flaring. “To get your cousin’s attention?!”

Yoshio laughs, the scar on his eye wrinkling and making it look like someone had bisected his face unevenly. “Precisely. You had his attention, which made things easier for me.” He turns to Sho again, just as everyone he promised to let loose begins leaving the room in haste. “I always knew you had a thing for pretty faces, cousin. I knew it was only a matter of time before you noticed him.”

“He has nothing to do with this,” Sho says, voice eerily calm but eyes hard. “I promised to give you what you wanted. No need to keep him hostage.”

Jun gives Sho this pointed look and shakes his head fiercely. He doesn’t want to leave Sho alone in the hands of his vengeful cousin. Nino already has an arm around his elbow, but he pays it no mind. Jun isn’t exactly sure what’s this business they’re talking about, but he has a feeling it will end in the death of one Sakurai tonight.

“Let him go, Yoshio,” Sho says, not shrugging off the hold on him. He inclines his head at Ohno, and Ohno reluctantly lowers his weapon. “I’ll go with you and we’ll talk. Without weapons, if you like. But only if you keep this between us.”

Yoshio appears to contemplate this, but then he finally relents, lowering his gun. “Well then, let’s have a nice night in your yacht’s balcony as a family reunion.” He smirks at Jun as he begins making his way out. “I’ll appreciate it if you won’t get in my way after this, Matsumoto.”

Jun is tempted to spit at him. “This isn’t over,” he promises, but Yoshio merely laughs.

“High-spirited! No wonder Sho-chan here liked you.” Yoshio gestures for his men to follow him with a tilt of his chin, and when Jun looks behind Sho, past the opened doors, he sees Yoshio nodding to what appears to be his accomplices.

Half of the security in the yacht seems to be on his side, and whoever wasn’t is probably dead or dying somewhere as a result from the shootout that also took place outside the room from the earlier commotion.

One of the men enters the room and takes Ohno’s gun, leading him out. Sho’s being dragged away, but Jun manages to catch his eye.

Sho smiles, sad and apologetic. “I would have wanted to live in that house in the mountains for the rest of my days. Or somewhere else far away, from all this. I would have liked that.”

Nino and Aiba are both holding his arms back, but all Jun wants to do is to pull out his gun and shoot the men dragging Sho away.

He and Sho should have never left that house.

“I also would have wanted to see you in yukata at least once,” Sho says, and he’s almost out of the door. Jun shakes his head repeatedly, feet already moving to follow. They will kill him. After Sho gives what his cousin wants, they will kill him.

This is the second time, Jun thinks angrily, feeling so lost and confused. The second time that Sho is about to vanish from his sight and he can’t do a thing. He tries to get past Nino and Aiba, but both of them are practically hugging him already.

“Jun-kun please,” Nino is begging over and over, shaking his head at him. “There’s nothing we can do.”

“Close your eyes,” Sho tells him, and when Jun refuses, Sho exchanges one glance with Nino and nods.

Jun doesn’t even hear most of Nino’s apology before he feels the butt of Nino’s gun hitting his nape, and the last thing he sees before his vision blacks out is a trail of blue in various shades slipping away from his sight.

--

In Jun’s dreams, he sees Sho dying in his hands. The scenario is almost always different, but the recurring one is him holding a gun resting right over Sho’s heart, but instead of hesitating, he actually pulls the trigger and watches blood rain around him, staining his clothes, skin, and the floor.

Sometimes, he’s the one who dies in the dreams. He sees the same yukata he last saw Sho in, and the patterns of waves intricately drawn on fabric come to life, drowning him. The waves follow the will of the storm god, being products of his rage, and they swallow Jun whole until his lungs burn.

Each time he wakes up, he’s clutching at his chest and sweating profusely, heart rate accelerating with each ragged breath he takes.

There has been no word on Sho.

The incident at the port sparked mayhem all over the city, but none of the leaders were foolish enough to fight for unclaimed territory when most of them are injured and some of their men are dead. The only word about the yacht is that it sailed past the borders, and without anyone tracking it, nobody knows where it went.

Jun clutches his head in his hands, still shivering, his last dream too real. The waves were upon him, smothering him. He couldn’t breathe, and yet all he could think about was how he kept losing the things he deemed important to him.

It has been two weeks since that night at the yacht. Two weeks, and just a few hours ago, Nino delivered a manila envelope in his home without any explanation what it contains. Jun checked the contents before he went to bed, and the only way he managed to sleep was by popping three sleeping pills in one go.

But even that sleep was restless, because here he is in the middle of his bed, lifting his head slowly and finding the same envelope on his nightstand.

It’s a notice from Sho’s lawyers, confirming the transfer of ownership of certain assets Sho put under his name. Jun has no idea how that happened, because the last time he saw Sho, the man was making a deal of giving everything to his cousin in exchange for letting Jun go.

The only possibility he can think of is Sho finding out who was behind the murder plot before the meeting and making arrangements before the end of that month. From what Jun read in the documents so far, Sho has divided his assets to each of the surviving leaders as compensation for the losses they suffered.

If Jun is on the right track, that means Sho’s cousin got nothing. Sho has gifted all his possessions and split up his territory to whoever he deemed deserves it, and the documents on Jun’s nightstand are merely waiting for Jun’s signature and stamp.

Sho left two of his possessions to him, and one of them is the thing Jun wanted the most even before he put this necklace on.

The port, according to the documents, will become legally his if he affixes his signature on the papers, as well as that house in Minakami. He has a week before the lawyers will pester Nino, and Jun knows that there’s really no point in prolonging things when all that’s left for him to do is to sign the papers.

But doing so feels like accepting Sho is gone (or worse, dead), and Jun can’t live with that.

He has already issued a search party to find the yacht, some of Sho’s allies lending their aid as well. But knowing Sho, Jun knows he won’t be found. If Sho really thought everything through just like Jun suspects, not even his body will be located if he’s dead.

If. It’s the one word Jun clings to lately. He’s physically and mentally incapable of thinking otherwise. Nino, who usually calls him out, remains mum on his judgments and lets him be. Jun is richer now on account of Reizei’s death, and he’s using most of the money to fund a search party.

He runs his hands down his face and rubs at his cheeks, hard. He has everything he has ever wanted, practically gift-wrapped as a farewell present. In a week, he’s certain his responsibilities will double given the expansion of his territory.

But it’s not the work or the duty itself that gives him a sleepless night.

The days turn into weeks, the weeks into months. No matter how many search parties Jun funds, they all yield the same results. No one knows what happened to the yacht, and it seems that Sho intended for it that way.

Months later, Nino offers to drive him to Minakami instead of sending him straight home.

Jun agrees, only because he hasn’t seen the house since it got transferred to his name. He kept the caretaker Itao-san on the job, but since it’s nearly midnight, Jun doubts he’ll see him there.

Nino doesn’t touch on the topic of Sho or Ohno or whatever happened to them, instead informs Jun that Aiba is taking an extended leave and is staying in Chiba because he’s now an uncle. Jun smiles at the news but says nothing, choosing to listen to Nino distract him with stories.

The house is dark when they finally get there, and Jun only stares at its looming silhouette for a couple of moments before heading to open the doors. He turns on all the lights as he enters the place, finding everything to be the same despite the state of shambles he left it in the last time he was here.

“Take your time,” Nino says, when Jun hesitates on ascending the stairs. “I’ll go have a look around.”

Nino leaves him alone, but Jun makes sure Nino is out of sight before he slowly starts climbing the steps. Everywhere he looks reminds him of the time he spent with Sho in here and it stings. He pointedly doesn’t glance at the direction of the master’s bedroom once he reaches the top, and instead makes his way to the one room Sho forbade him to enter.

A part of Jun feels he’s intruding into Sho’s privacy for what he’s about to do, but Sho wouldn’t have left the house to him if he didn’t want this to be found out.

Jun hesitates for a fraction of a second, then he pushes the door open and flicks the light switch.

It’s a room of the same design as the guest rooms minus the bed. The walls are entirely covered in posters of various artists. X JAPAN, TRF, and one more Jun doesn’t recognize. There’s a soccer ball sitting close to Jun’s feet, and he ends up kicking it when he takes a step forward. It rolls away and stops at the base of a tall shelf filled with CDs, dusty and unplayed for years. Jun can spot a set of jars on top of the shelf but he refuses to touch anything, so he continues looking around.

There are piano score sheets scattered in one corner, and Jun catches Chopin’s name in one. Sho has never played the piano when they stayed here, and Jun reaches out and touches the paper’s surface, wondering what it would be like to hear Sho play.

He sinks to his knees before he can help it, burying his face in his hands.

Hours away from Tokyo, in the house full of his best memories with Sho, inside a room that contains Sho’s dearest possessions dating from back when he was young, Jun finally, reluctantly accepts the truth.

Sho is gone.

--

Jun moves onward along with the rest of the world. He maintains Sho’s original rule of no weapons drawn during port use and keeps the price of each use as reasonable as possible. Sho’s allies have automatically become his, and out of the ten surviving leaders, Jun considers seven of them to be on his side. It took him some time, but he’s finally in a position of power.

None of his newfound allies know what truly happened in the yacht and the story Jun went with is the truth. He got knocked out before seeing something substantial. He got away, and he knows nothing. The search was fruitless and was ceased to redirect the funds to something more worthwhile.

As the seasons pass, the tiny tree on Jun’s desk begins showing signs of life. He watches its growth and dormancy go hand-in-hand, always waiting for the day it’ll bloom fully once more. It’s something to look forward to despite his busy schedule.

Jun never goes back to visit the house in Minakami, but stays updated regarding its status. He cuts ties with anything that’s reminding him of what once was, disposes of the horrible reminders of the attempts on his life.

He keeps the yukata Sho gave him hidden in his closet, untouched and unopened in its fancy box. He sticks to his suits and to what he’s born to do, gradually implementing change while forming respectable relationship with his peers, even if some of them are twice his age.

His survival of the incident earned him respect, and now he’s technically one of the richest leaders running his part of the city. Sho also divided his men to his allies, with Jun getting the most of them under his employment. The additional manpower meant additional income and security, and while there are still a couple of assassination attempts appearing in the corner, none of them got so close to Jun as the one that involved Sho.

On most days, Jun is able to focus so fully in his tasks that he’s able to not spare Sho a single thought. The months continue to pass and he has long given up. Rechanneling his attention elsewhere was no problem considering how troublesome it is to have the port back under his family name.

His nights are different. He sometimes chooses to spend it in the company of another just to forget, and more often than not, it works for him. He exhausts himself mentally and physically so his emotions won’t resurface, and on a good night he congratulates himself for holding out this far, for bottling his emotions until he can delude himself they don’t exist.

He thinks his father would have been proud.

Days become weeks and turn into months, and eventually into years.

Jun does himself a favor and doesn’t look back.



Follow the link for part 9

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