When Akihito just can't figure Asami out, he grows tired of the status quo and slips away from Asami's grasp.
He watched as people filed in and out at the next stop, no one noticing the other unless their shoulders bumped. It was this way in the cities. People held eye contact one tenth of a second and seldom acknowledge another’s existence. That was one thing about big cities that never changed, the lack of eye contact. To be honest, it really got under Takaba’s skin. Sometimes, the most powerful element in a photo was capturing the focused pupils or lack thereof, and no one could appreciate it.
The metro came to the next stop, every mass of body leaning one way then returning to normal. That never changed either. Takaba laughed inwardly as he stepped out of the sliding doors into a mass of bustling bodies. He pulled the hood of his grey sweater over his head he climbed the stairs, two steps at a time, with his hands shoved in the front pouch. If he hurried, he could probably cut the time from seven to five or six minutes.
The cold air blasted him when he made him way out from the underground station. It was a refreshing break though from the stuffy air beneath.
Asami mouthed the title again. Indeed, it was nostalgia he felt.
The perfect description.
The train station he recognized. Along with the rusted sign posts, the concrete columns, the painted benches, the empty, hollow tracks where a train had just come and gone. The swarm of strangers around him. And… himself. He recognized himself. His hair, his broad back, his aura, his stance, his arrogance and …confidence…and most of all….
….his loneliness… his cold isolation…
The solitude and detachment that must have driven Akihito away.
There was no doubt.
He glanced at the card. “Tokyo, Japan.”
…what have you done…Asami… what have you done…
The exhibit, it all made sense now.
Had he been so blind that he could not even recognize his lover’s photographs? Now that he looked around, they could be no one else’s but Akihito’s, the balance, the structure, the tones, the savageness held back by self imposed restraint. There was method, as they said, to the madness.
The puzzle pieces fell into place. The final block of the tetras. The key to the last door. The false sense of déjà vu.
The phantasm of recognition.
It all made sense. Was this epiphany? Was this catharsis?
…Akihito…This is you…
This was Akihito. Every single one of them was Akihito. Every emotion of every photograph. They were Akihito’s.
Pride. Envy. Hate. Love. Pity. Solidarity. Anguish. Woe. Wretchedness. An unwilling misanthrope.
The decay was Akihito’s sanity as was the disintegration. Akihito was falling apart like a film immersed and agitated too long in a developer solution, blackening, darkening, disappearing, laid out in light without the fixer. He was an iron nail exposed to the air in heat, quickly oxidizing, shedding away layers of rust with harsh, rough sandpaper, growing thinner and lighter until there was nothing left to react. Akihito was drowning, chained to blocks of guilt and burden with the very keys he had swallowed.
Asami could only hear the steady rush of blood to his head behind his ears, the rapidly increasing pulse as he turned toward the entrance.
Takaba saw the gallery from across the street as he turned the corner. Thirty seconds to the entrance if he ran. Takaba bolted, almost colliding with an oncoming taxi, whose driver raised a fist at him screaming and cursing, an American tourist couple in the backseat trying to calm the driver down.
He hadn’t really told Gyles where he had been during the morning after leaving the gallery, and this secret, he doubted even Gyles knew.
He had a firearm license.
That might not have sounded like much, but for two years he had been familiarizing himself with the handgun. Three times a week, Takaba went to a shooting range and practiced. The people there sometimes looked at him kind of funny, wondering why someone of his profession or stature needed something like a firearm license.
One particular man told him something like “You’re just a bloody wannabe, aren’t you?” He didn’t say anything, but no, he wasn’t a wannabe. Hell, he’d probably been in more point blank situations than most of the other people in the range.
He never really enjoyed it though. He knew some people that considered it a sport and had even invited him onto their competition “league”, but he politely refused every time. Even now, Takaba found it disturbing to use the human shaped targets, even if it was just a vague silhouette and a bunch of misshapen lines and dots.
He imagined shooting a person and shuddered, a chill settling over his spine and down to the tips of his limbs. Why was he doing this if he was so afraid to point the indiscriminating barrel? No one knew, not even Takaba himself.
He pushed the thought from his mind and focused his thoughts on the steps leading up to the gallery, looking downwards to keep the wind from chafing across his cold skin, holding one hand over the hood; the ring held up in the frigid air, the brushed platinum glinting softly.
Asami made his way towards the entrance, passing the photographs all over again, seeing them in a different light. It was hard to believe in some ways, that Akihito was the photographer. Had he given up the thrill, the tension, the danger?
That wasn’t it. That wasn’t it at all. Some of the photographs revealed war and violence, an altogether different type, but the danger remained, the rush remained. The exhibit. It was… it was mere compensation for what he had lost.
The Muslim women, the train station, the war-torn cities, everything.
Akihito…what void are you trying to fill…
The never-ceasing movements, the smell of fixer, the acidic solution, the tantalizing skin, the nape of the neck, tapered and graceful body all rushed back to Asami. His senses itched to feel the sensual body again. His fingers yearned to brush them against the sensitive skin, through the scalp into the tangled mess of hair. His lips sought out for those angry, defiant lips and the ferocious tongue that battled and resisted. His tongue could taste the salty sweat on Akihito’s neck.
Two door flew open, each toward the opposite direction, as if they were born to deny and defy, defy and deny. That they should struggle, that they should resist. Clash and collide. Challenge and emulate until both stood on equal yet uneven grounds.
And the gods were cruel still.
Their footsteps were frighteningly synchronized, one stepping into the warmth, another into cold. And with that, they made a tacit, silent pact that neither will know about until they meet again.
“Sei!” Gyles came up to Takaba, “Where were you?”
“I… dazed off and missed my stop…” he looked up at Gyles, whose brows were furrowed with concern, as he pulled off the hood, “You’re worrying…”
“Don’t.” He tiptoed, placing his hand behind Gyles’ shoulder, and kissed Gyles’ lips softly, lightly brushing his cold lips against Gyles’ warm one.
“You’re tempting me,” Gyles whispered sultrily into Takaba’s ear, moist, warm breath tingling across the skin, melting the numbness from the wind.
“Not now…” Takaba pecked Gyles’ cheek with a kiss and backed away. “How’s the exhibition?”
“Don’t flatter me, Gyles.”
“I don’t flatter anyone unless it’s true.” Gyles took Takaba’s hands and placed them against his cheeks “You’re hands are cold.”
“Your cheeks are warm.”
“Come on, I have something to show you,” he tugged Takaba along toward the office, “I don’t know if you’ll like it or not, but… I think you will.”
Takaba cocked his head in curiosity, “What is it?”
“Just come.” He pulled Takaba into the office and closed the door behind him. There was a man in one of the plush recliners waiting. He looked to be in his late forties with graying hair and wrinkled settled into faint lines around the eyes and mouth. There were stacks of files and papers, along with photographs, scattered on the table.
“Is this the photographer?” The man stood up, the question directed at Gyles, who nodded quietly.
“Gyles, what is this?” Takaba looked from the man to Gyles and back at the stranger.
“Let me introduce myself.” He extended a hand at Takaba, who took it hesitantly, “Michael Carthen.”
“Sei Tanaka…” he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about giving out his name, but if Gyles approved…
“He’s from TIMES, the magazine, Sei, and he has a proposition that I think you will like.”
“It’s completely up to you, Mr. Tanaka, whether you decide to take on this project or not,” Mr. Carthen added, “Mr. Tennison, if I may have a moment alone with him?”
“I’ll be alright,” he smiled up at his lover, “I really will.”
“If you need anything, Mr. Carthen, I’ll be in the exhibit hall.” Gyles slipped out quietly, leaving Takaba standing alone near the door. He strode across from the man and motioned at the chair again, “Take a seat, Mr. Carthen. It won’t do to talk while standing.”
“Now then,” he leaned forward toward the man, locking his hands together, “What proposition do you have for me, Mr. Carthen?” Whatever the assignment might be, he couldn’t let himself appear to be an easily manipulated rookie. He wasn’t someone pliable. He wasn’t copper to be easily drawn to wires.
“We’re planning on doing a special issue on the historical sites of Europe. Unfortunately, we’re having difficulties finding the suitable photographers.”
“Oh?” this was a surprise. People usually jumped for a chance to work with TIMES, devoured it actually.
“It’s a partner work, with a photographer and journalist, for a six month tour. It’s just that the time duration is rather long, and I heard rumor that you were in Iraq for eight months under a different commission. You seemed like the kind of photographer with the zeal to take on this project.”
That’s six months away from Gyles…
“I was, but that was…” Takaba counted back, “more than a year ago.”
“Well, but you have had experience in many different parts of the world, and I assure you, Mr. Tanaka, this is nowhere near as dangerous as what you have been doing. Would you be willing to take on another long duration project? We will provide everything necessary, of course. The equipment, transportation, lodging, everything.”
It was tempting though for Takaba, but without Gyles… “How much time do I have to decide?”
“Until Saturday. The original photographer pulled out at the very last minute and the departure is on Sunday. If you want to return early, then with advanced noticed, we can replace you after the three month mark.”
That’s kind of short notice…
“Then what’s all this?” Takaba motioned at the stack of papers.
“These are all benefits, examples, policies, the usual paperwork, so that you may look at them before coming to a decision.”
Takaba leaned back, “Do you have a business card?”
“Ah yes,” he whipped one out from the pocket on his shirt.
Takaba looked over at the small rectangular piece of paper. “I’ll have an answer before Friday.”
Mr. Carthen stood, picking up his briefcase which was tilted on a leg of the chair, “It was a pleasure, Mr. Tanaka, to finally meet you.”
They shook hands, and Mr. Carthen left the room quietly.
Six months, huh…that’s a long time.
The last time he left on a trip, he didn’t have anyone to leave behind, but this was different.
Are you afraid, Akihito? He asked himself and couldn’t help but remember the first time that he had really met Gyles.
Upon his arrival in London from Japan, Takaba spent only two weeks in the city before taking off on his eight month trip; he felt safer that way. He didn’t want to be rooted yet because being rooted meant being found.
So he left for the Middle East, and after the convoy was bombed, Takaba was sent to a hospital in Germany for recovery, having damaged a good portion of the trapezius muscle. It had taken two months of physical therapy to get the muscle to function somewhat normally. Gyles had a sister-in-law who worked in the same hospital; in fact, she was one who had performed Takaba’s surgery.
She came to check on him often, as she did with all her other patients (and there were a lot, mostly soldiers). Two weeks before Takaba was released and sent back to Iraq (more like, he begged to be sent back), despite her vehement disapproval, Gyles had come to visit her after hearing that his younger brother (the doctor’s husband) had had some sort of car accident (it turned out to be one broken leg).
Takaba was taking a break by the indoor pool after doing mild laps for some “hydrotherapy,” as they called it, when Gyles came in, getting a guided tour from his sister-in-law. At that moment, her beeper went off, meaning another batch of wounded soldiers were on their way to the helipad. She apologized and ran off, leaving one lonely and bored guy in the humid swimming pool, a bit hesitant to run off as the hospital complex was a labyrinth and it was quite easy to get lost.
He sat down on the bench next to Takaba, staring at the empty pool.
Takaba was rather timid and was determined to remain silent until he caught his breath when Gyles suddenly spoke, “You don’t look very ill to me, what are you doing in a place like this?” There was no ill intent or malevolence in Gyles’ question, rather a tinge of sympathy and concern.
“Uh…” Takaba pulled the top of the water bottle from his mouth. “Therapy,” he answered quietly, showing Gyles the long scar that ran across the shoulder.
“Which country?” he asked.
“Huh?” the question was a bit off. Gyles had assumed that Takaba was a soldier, since he carried a wound of some sort.
“Oh.” It dawned on Takaba what the stranger was asking, “I-I’m not…uh…in a military.” Do I look like I’m a soldier…It was rather strange that anyone should think that, considering Takaba looked nothing like a typical G.I. Joe.
“Ah, are you a journalist then?”
“More or less.”
That was their entire first conversation. Takaba never told Gyles, however, that he was a photographer or that he lived in London. He let Gyles think that he was just a commonplace journalist. After all, no need to spill a life story to a stranger he’d talk to for five minutes and never meet again. There had been no chemistry or anything. Takaba simply jumped back into the pool to finish his laps.
In fact, they didn’t exchanged names.
When Gyles hunted him down for his photographs, Takaba was first under the impression that the stranger from the hospital in Germany had tracked him down from there or something, but Gyles didn’t even recognize him. He was simply amazed that the photographer was so young. The fleeting first encounter hadn’t quite registered for Gyles then, but they started their business relationship together regardless.
For about two month their relationship remained painfully platonic with hidden desire from Gyles, who wasn’t sure if Takaba was inclined towards men or not, and reluctant attraction from Takaba, who was still and even now clinging to an internal shadow of Asami. Their business relationship started from the very beginning, Gyles earning Takaba’s trust by agreeing to continue his tradition of initial, not name, signing, and printing only one copy for the auction or sales that followed every exhibition, which aggravated some of the collectors and drastically reduced his income and fame. Gyles understood, however, that Takaba’s goal was not wealth or fame and acted as Takaba’s intermediary between him and the outside world.
Their relationship had a rocky start, their first “night” being rather hazy and foggy for the both of them. They were drunk but Takaba much more so with his tolerance and woke up in Takaba’s bed with serious hangovers. Gyles opened his eye, a bit confused as to how he had ended up having sex with Takaba and jumped out of bed, completely flipping out and hating himself for being “you bloody idiot Gyles,” which was what he was whispering to himself as gathered his clothes.
He was about to sneak out and pretend that nothing had happened when Takaba, whose was lying on his stomach, rolled onto his back and whispered, “You don’t have to leave, Gyles,” his eyes covered with his arm.
That was the first time Takaba had called him something other than “Mr. Tennison.”
That was also when Gyles spotted it, the clean scar that ran down his shoulder and gasped softly, the forgotten recognition finally registering. His clear blue eyes were fixed at the line of morphed tissue and he whispered, “Oh my god, you were the…”
“The ‘journalist’ at the pool… in Germany.”
“You knew, then?” Gyles had an incredibly perplexed expression, “That it was me?”
“So it was you.” Takaba laughed, his doubt finally cleared “I thought so.”
“Why…Why didn’t you say anything?” Gyles looked a bit hurt then, as if Takaba had been keeping a great secret from him.
Takaba sat up, holding his head from the hangover, “I didn’t think it was…relevant.”
“Sei? Earth to Sei…” Gyles was peering at him carefully.
“Huh?” he hadn’t even noticed Gyles coming in. “Oh. Sorry.” Takaba answered hastily; daydreaming always made Gyles rather concerned and worried for him.
“What did Mr. Carthen say about the proposition?”
“It’s… a very long time, Gyles. Six months.”
“I’m sure I can wait six months for you.”
“But I don’t know if I can.”
“You don’t have to go. It’s entirely up to you.”
Sometimes…not having a choice can be so much simpler…
“Don’t brood over it, Sei. Anyways, you look a bit tired. Go home and rest, I know you spent days developing and selecting those photos from Japan.” He ruffled Takaba’s hair, “And be careful on your way home.”
“Gyles… I’m not a kid or something…” Takaba frowned, matting his messy hair back into place.
“Maybe not. But still, you’ve been daydreaming a lot lately,” Gyles helped Takaba up from the chair, “I don’t want you getting hit by a car or something crossing the street.”
“I’ve already done that today,” Takaba chuckled, thinking of the angry taxi driver.
“What?!” Gyles reaction wasn’t really all that surprising, considering what Takaba had just said.
Crap, I shouldn’t have told him that…
“Almost, with a taxi, and it didn’t quite hit me.”
“Sei…on second though, why don’t I take you home?”
“I’ll be careful, I promise.” Takaba patted Gyles’ shoulder and made his way out.
His bodyguard didn’t look back when Asami entered the plush interior of the car. From the solemn silence, he knew that something must have occurred to leave his boss wordless.
“Back to the hotel, and call Mr. Merrett, tell him I won’t be at the performance tonight.”
“Yes, sir.” The partition slid up as the bodyguard flipped out his phone; better to leave him in complete isolation at times like these.
My Akihito…so this where’ve been all along…How perfectly you hid yourself…
It was strange. How hollow he felt. He should be feeling elated, not like this.
Not like this.
Was he not glad, ecstatic that he had found Akihito?
But he wasn’t completely hollow. There was this… brewing… bubbling inside him. Like the womb of a volcano before its mass eruption. The tension wound within the earth plates before the cataclysmic earthquake. The green clouds that settled before tornadoes.
But it wasn’t… it wasn’t anger, was it? Was this because he wasn’t certain yet? That the photographs were....no. There was no doubt about the photographs.
Asami mouthed the title again, feeling the word slide over his tongue in his dry mouth. Saliva had sucked itself back into the gland. But the photographs. They were anonymous, just the tiny initials ST inserted in the lower right corner. Had Akihito been doing that for two whole years, living in a near nonexistent state? Putting up walls between him and the world so that he could stay invisible? Scampering around the globe running away from absolutely nothing?
How painful that must have been, living in lies, in deception, in duplicity when his nature, the very core of his existence resisted it. He was born to shine, born to stand out before everyone. He was destined to for… truth… How wretched it must have been…how tormenting it must have been for Akihito to live that kind of life…
What have I done to you, Akihito? Have you dropped to the bottom of the well because of me?
Have I dragged you down to hell, just I promised so long ago?
The photographs had revealed such a depth of personality, a tangled mass of character whose origin wasn’t just a single point. There was more to Akihito. He wasn’t a boy. He wasn’t simple. What had constructed that complexity? Perhaps… it had been there all along, a tapestry and he had never noticed it. Never seen it.
Before he left, could Akihito had been trying to gain some sort of recognition?
What went on in Akihito’s mind wasn’t a one-track railroad. It was a mosaic, a modern frescoe, a labyrinth that Asami felt he could lose himself in, and he was lost in it already. It was a code too cryptic to interpret, sophisticated and intricate like the arabesques of Moorish windows. No doubt he was lost it in. He couldn’t just kidnap Akihito and drag him back to Tokyo. No.
No. That wouldn’t do. Then Akihito’s two years would be in vain because nothing would change. Everything has to evolve to survive. But he had evolved, hadn’t he?
Over the two years he had mutated with his addictive fixation on Akihito still in mind for two years, hardening parts that weren’t meant to calcified and mineralize. His obsession, his mania. His syndrome. Akihito was his one source of high and now his gut craved it. He could feel his internal organs pulsating, sending messages to a beacon somewhere.
It was still there. The intensity was still there. In fact, each shred of emotion spoke out louder than before, as if the diaphragm had been narrowed and concentrated the light into tiny points that could burn and start a fire. It wasn’t just pleasure, it was ecstasy. Hate wasn’t just hate, it was enmity. Not just jealousy, but envy. Anger didn’t describe anger, wrath did. Desire came nowhere closer, but lust. In these two years, Akihito had honed something, polished away the roughness.
They said that, didn’t they? That time and pressure would form diamonds. This time, he had been melted back into the mantles of the earth, emerged against and was shaved to a dangerous perfection. Too hard. Too brittle. The flexibility, the volatility was being cut away with internal strife. One strike with the hammer and the boy was bound to shatter into a kaleidoscope of fragmented memories. A ticking time bomb, but waiting to implode.
Is this what I have driven you to do?
Or was this new layer just another part of Akihito’s deception?
The car rolled into the hotel driveway, and a hotel employee opened the door.
“Genji?” Asami had last directions before heading in.
“Yes, sir?” the window slid down.
“Find out who the head of the gallery is, contact him and tell him an anonymous collector wants to purchase the entire exhibit. I will speak to him personally for the details.”
“Yes, sir.” His body guard’s face disappeared behind the tinted glass.