When Akihito just can't figure Asami out, he grows tired of the status quo and slips away from Asami's grasp.
“Where is he?” he asked as he blew hot hair into the palm of his hands then rubbed them together.
“At the far end of the exhibit hall, Mr. Tennison.”
“Thank you, I’ll take it from here,” Gyles made his way into the exhibition hall, into the quasi darkness, his footsteps echoing and resonating from the walls and ceilings, resounding eerily through the twists and turns of the hall.
…why do you do this to yourself…
He stopped at the last turn. Takaba was crouched against the wall, hugging his legs tight against his chest, his chin resting on his knees. Black strands of hair, slick and glossy, glistened from the moisture. Eyes were closed in exhaustion, long lashes curled up, casting distant shadows against his pallid skin. His shoulders rose and fell in rhythm, slowly, calmly. If only he could have this kind of serenity while he was awake.
Gyles knelt beside Takaba and brushed the damp strands of hair from his face to reveal a dry trail of tears that disappeared beneath the jaw, starting from the corner of his eyes, such sad, dejected eyes. When they were open, the amber iris whirl pooled into the black pupils, disappearing into nothingness, into the hollowness which sat at the throne of Takaba’s heart, commanding everything else that followed.
He placed his arms beneath Takaba’s knees and behind the back and lifted him from the cold floor. He turned back and-
Gyles clutched the body tighter against his own.
That man in the photograph… with his back turned to the viewfinder.
Gyles stepped closer, squinting slightly.
Even in the darkness, the black and white photograph, or rather, the man in the black and white photograph, radiated power. He was the center piece, the fortress towering over his territory, a lion watching his pride, watching and expanding his parameter, calling everyone and everything to their knees before him. With his presence, he overshadowed everything, claiming even the empty train tracks as his own. Obedience and attention.
Takaba’s head leaned into Gyles’ chest, taking comfort in the warmth; a soft gentle sigh escaped his lips as he snuggled closer in the strong arms. Gyles felt his heart constrict. Takaba’s body felt…ethereal, intangible. It didn’t feel human… too light, too weightless. Like carrying sheer silk, insubstantial, fragile, immaterial. He felt Takaba’s small form could vaporize into the air, disintegrate into fine, white sand and slip through the cracks of his fingers like grains of an hourglass.
How can I hold on to you…
Is that what you feel, Sei?
The night guard held the door open for them. As Gyles was about to duck into the car, he glanced up at the guard, who was waiting at the gallery entrance, a distance away. Their eyes met and Gyles nodded wordlessly. The guard replied the same. Gratitude communicated tacitly.
The drive home was sullen and melancholy, Gyles occasionally glancing sideways at the passenger seat at the sleeping figure. Takaba stirred occasionally, mumbling incoherently now and then before plunging back into sleep again. He had probably stayed up all night before making his way to the gallery. Sleep was so fleeting for the boy, and it escaped his grasp when he needed it most.
And sleep was the last thing on Asami’s mind as he paced his hotel room with a phone glued to his ear. “What do you mean the border patrol seized the shipment in Burma? Just how blind were you to not be able to bypass those imbeciles?”
A panicked voice sputtered a response only to be abruptly cut off by another barrage of shouting.
“Listen here. I did not put you in your position so you could be a complete and total idiot. I did not grant you your influence so that you could use it to find a hole to fuck on weekend nights. And I certainly did not bring you under my umbrella so that you could be as incompetent as this. It was your responsibility to manage relations with the patrol guards. Blackmail them if you have to. Better yet, bribe them. I don’t care how fucking moral the bastards are, and they’re not in case you’re wondering, they’ll slobber over cash. They’ll drool on it.”
The voice was a bit louder now, tone a bit coarser.
“Maybe you’d like to rephrase that. Just because I’m six thousand miles away does not mean that there will be no consequences for your impudence. Do not forget that I am the reason you are where you are, that I am the reason you have yet to be tossed into prison, and that I am the reason your neck is still intact. Have I made myself clear? Honestly I don’t know how much more blunt I would have to be to get through that skull of yours.”
Stuttered apologies spewed from the other side of the line.
“Don’t even try to kissing my ass at this point. You screwed up, and if, by the time my plane touches down on the Narita airport runway, you have not solved this matter and I find myself having to wipe my own subordinate’s ass, do not expect to be breathing by the following morning.”
Inarticulate stammering followed. Asami simply sighed and closed the cellphone.
Just how incompetent can people get?
The transport carrying opium and methamphetamine from Burma, the leading opium-producer, had been caught on the border to Thailand, a lucrative market with a large number of addicts. It was actually difficult to be stopped on the border if enough black money was exchanged beneath the table.
Asami sat down at the foot of the bed, rubbing his temples in frustration. He should have known better than to think that the son of a bitch would be able to handle Southeast Asia while he was gone. Things weren’t looking too bright on the other side of the planet, and it wasn’t much brighter here, physically and metaphorically.
His men so far had not been able to find Akihito, the boy had hidden himself so well. It was obvious that he had taken on a pseudo name as there was no record of a “Takaba Akihito” anywhere, and even the pseudo name he had guarded with an iron gate. His only trail was the photographs and elusive initials. This wasn’t the trivial cat and mouse game they played back in Tokyo.
The extensive digging his men had done revealed practically nothing about the boy himself. It did however reveal that Akihito had risen to considerable fame in the London and European photography scene with his enigmatic character, sometimes achieving sales that a modern photographer rarely secured and establishing a reputation as the photographer to go to if a project required a unique zeal. Not much surprise there.
For two years no one had yet to uncover the masked photographer, whose photographs carried a distinctive taste and texture unique only to Akihito. The only person that had direct contact with him was the gallery owner, Gyles Tennison, who was apparently his manager of sort, his intermediary to the outside world.
Another revelation was that Akihito had also acquired a bit of infamy through his one-copy only policy and his controversial war photographs. There was also a bit of “daredevil” attitude towards the enigmatic artist; he went places that most people in their right minds would steer well clear of.
Well… that was Akihito wasn’t it?
Reckless, audacious, bold.
Because some things never changed.
Light was filtering in through the curtains when Takaba woke. He raised an arm up over his sensitive eyes, shielding them from the thin rays of sunlight that scattered across the room. From the way the light stopped short near the window instead of stretching long and thin across the floor, he guessed it was probably in the afternoon. How long had he slept? With one eye open, he peeked at the watch. Ten past noon.
How long have I been asleep…
He wasn’t wearing his jeans or hooded sweatshirt but a shirt that was far too large for him and puddle around his lean torso and a pair of black flannel pajama pants with drawstring drawn ridiculously to make the clothes puff around the hips. Takaba blushed, blood rushing up to his ears. Gyles had probably stripped him nearly naked and dressed him last night…or rather…this morning. He must have been really passed out to not have noticed that.
Gyles’ voice from the living room crept in from beneath the closed door. From the way he paused occasionally, Takaba guess he was in a phone conversation.
“Mr. Merrett, you asked for my advice and this is what I’m telling you. If you take this to court, it’s almost guaranteed that you will lose. A lawsuit like this a absolute suicide.” An exasperated sigh followed. “You want a percentage? This isn’t science, but I’d say about ninety, ninety-five percent. But more than the money, it’ll be bad publicity to take something like this before a jury and judge.” Pause, with some fast pacing.
Takaba sat up and edged out of bed, his toes reaching the wooden floor then the rest of his soles. The mattress creaked when he pushed himself up; his entire body felt weak and flimsy as if it were an effort to stand. Slowly, he crept around to the bathroom and shut the door, not bothering to lock the door. He could still hear Gyles’ engaged conversation, though a bit muffled.
“Mr. Merrett. Mr. Merrett, you’re not listening to a single word I’m saying. You’re hearing me but my words seem to be passing right through the other ear. You kept me on the board for a reason, and tell me, when have my intuitions been wrong?” pause, “No, they’re not wild guesses. I don’t shoot darts blindfolded. Not in my policy book.”
Takaba turned on the sink to a trickle, wetting the tip of his toothbrush (he had left a spare here after last week). The toothpaste was a bit harder to squeeze with his still flimsy hands but he managed and shoved the bristles into his mouth, listening to Gyles’ conversation, a bit guilty to be eavesdropping. Well, it wasn’t as if he really knew what they were talking about.
“Why would it be bad publicity? Well, no, it’s not the company’s fault. But. To the public, it will still look as though it was the management that made the miscalculations when it fact, it wasn’t. What? No! That would be absolutely absurd, Mr. Merrett.”
Takaba spit out the foam of the toothpaste and filled a cup with cold water, rinsing his mouth out while gurgling was quietly he could without water rushing up his nose or swallowing the minty solution. He made it a habit to brush his teeth first thing in the morning, or in this case, the afternoon.
“Of course not, but…” Gyles paused, evidently listening to a long monologue from the other side. “I understand your point, but…”
He felt as though he had a mild hangover, a faint headache. It wasn’t a migraine, not that kind. Rather, it felt a bit dull and blunt, like a faint heartbeat edging closer to a flat line. Probably something a shower could fix, freshen up a bit maybe.
“You can’t expect the employees to have anything good to say about something as far fetched as that. That’s outrageous, Mr. Merrett. There are ideas that work and ideas that don’t, and with all due respect, that particular idea…is one that will not work.”
Takaba clutched the oversized shirt and was about to raised it over his head when he caught the smell of Gyles’ cologne clinging to it faintly, just barely, and he buried the hem of the shirt and breathed in deeply, taking solace from the scent.
It was entirely different from Asami’s. His gaze gravitated toward the floor length mirrored wall, a sight he had been avoiding up until now.
You bloody whore, Akihito…you still remember his scent, don’t you?
It was true; he did remember Asami’s distinct, unforgettable scent. It was one of those things that remained ingrained into his very cells. Branded into his memory, unable to purge it from his mind. Inexpungible. Ineradicable. A permanent mark branded beneath his skin. An incessant reminder of his infidelity.
Infidelity? Have I been faithful? What do I have to be faithful for? For whom?
For Asami… For Gyles…
He stripped out of the oversized clothed, disgusted at himself. A rueful smile crept onto his lips. Who could he possibly choose? Either way, it was a lose-lose situation. Either way, he would hurt one or the other, even more so than he had already done. And either way, he would hurt himself.
I can’t…how could I…
“The situation requires patience, Mr. Merrett. I would suggest that you think this over a few days.”
He stepped into the stall, spreading out the translucent curtain. From the other side, one could only see a colorful silhouette moving in shadows from behind.
“A dinner at the Ritz tonight? That’s a bit short notice. Why so suddenly? Ah, I see. The vice chair and his wife went on vacation? To where? Oh, Brazil. I can understand somewhat. I’m sure not if I can make time. I might be there only for the opening reception, but the dinner, I’ll have to see how it works out.”
Takaba turned on the showerhead, drowning out the last bit of Gyles’ voice with the rush of water. He gasped at the initial contact of icy cold water and shivered even when the temperature increased, his hair still standing on their ends. The steady stream of the droplets stampeded onto and over his back, quickly drenching his hair completely.
He grabbed the shampoo bottle, squirted the viscous liquid into his hands, watching it ooze into his palm, and rubbed in into his hair, digging deep into the scalp. The headache was still there, at the base of the back of his neck. He stopped lathering the foam and let the pressure of the water wash it out. The pressure felt like a faint vibration, the kind one experience when standing too close to a temple gong or between two cymbals, a vague tremor suspended in the air.
Asami…I am being unfaithful, aren’t I?
He was, wasn’t he? But to be unfaithful, you had to be a lover first. A lover had the capability, the possibility to be faithful. But what was he? He was never…no…he was never Asami’s lover. That was a title of prestige restricted to someone else, someone more…worthy. Someone more valuable than he was.
What was I to him…was I anything to him…anything at all…
Anything at all and would he have been satisfied with that? There was more greed in him than that. His avarice ran deeper than just anything. He couldn’t live on nothing and nothing was what Asami gave him. The man could lead him to hell and back, slamming him into the mattress, and bringing out to the surface a wantonness that he didn’t want to admit, but that was all he got. He could have lived without the sex probably. But when there nothing to fill that growing void in his heart, that was when he fled to London.
“Sei? Are you in there?”
Is that why I ran?
“I’m coming in.”
…what a coward I am…
I’m a wretched beast. A wret-
The curtain was pulled aside abruptly, and Takaba turned his head abruptly. When had Gyles come in? He hadn’t even heard the door opening.
“What?” His eyes stung not from the shampoo but from crying.
“I called you a few time, but you didn’t answer. I got worried and…are you crying?”
Takaba laughed, or perhaps he was sobbing. “I don’t know, I can’t tell the difference…” and he couldn’t. Not with all the water that diluted and washed away the tears.
Gyles stepped forward, his white collared button down plastering against his skin as the shower doused him with hot water. Takaba could see the lines of defined muscles beneath, a shade of the skin visible through the wet fabric. Gyles gently pushed him against the cold wall. A wet finger tilted Takaba’s head up, and he squinted slightly into those piercing eyes.
Can I drive you away, Gyles…am I capable of being that cruel?
Hot lips fell across Takaba’s.
I think one day…
A wet tongue invaded the chamber of his mouth.
I think one day, I just might…
A large hand crept below, and rested between his legs, on the tender spot on his inner thigh.
And when I do…
“Forget about him…” Gyles whispered softly into the wet lobe of Takaba’s ears, his voice muffled by the steady stream of water.
Gyles…how could I…
The hand lifted Takaba’s leg, leaving him open and vulnerable.
You can’t expect that from me…can you?
Gyles’ cock pressed against Takaba, then slowly, the pressure increased until the head slipped into the hot passage, stretching him from the very start.
“Nnnh…” a whimper escaped Takaba’s lips, one arm went over Gyles’ shoulder, clutching at the wet fabric of his shirt, fingers digging into his back. The other gripped the arm that held his leg up, just below the shoulders.
He slid in farther, slowly, stopping at short intervals to let Takaba adjust. Takaba could feel it pulsing inside him. He could feel the ridges of the veins pushing against the tight walls. It slid out slowly, just enough to leave the tip inside.
“Gyles…” a powerful thrust pushed him up against the shower wall, which no longer felt cold against his back, “Nng!”
Gyles watched his lover throw his head back, wet locks of hair falling loose from his face, revealing a twisted show of emotions. Love, hate, remorse, regret. That such contradicting feelings could accumulate in one person, like cancer, an infected wound.
Takaba’s eyes were half closed and lips parted open, enticing Gyles as a drop of water landed on the lower lips. With his index finger, he touched where the droplet had landed.
Don’t be kind to me…
Takaba felt Gyles’ finger slide seductively over his lips and he released Gyles arm and seized his hand by the wrist. He licked the tip of Gyles’ finger and sucked, running his tongue under and over the first digit.
Gyles slowly pulled the hand away and replaced it with his lips; Takaba kissed him with fervent desire, wrapping his arms tightly around Gyles’ neck, hooking both his legs onto the strong, thrusting hips, reeling Gyles in closer, harder.
Torture me, Gyles…
The thrusts came faster, dramatic and eager.
“Nnh… ” Takaba moaned with every push, “Haa…” no longer able to suppress what came naturally from the base of his throat. Gyles’ voice was husky and low as he whispered quietly into Takaba’s ears, and his every breath was coarse and rough.
This guilt…if you don’t torture me…I can’t bear it…
Hot liquid poured into Takaba as he reached the edge.
I beg of you, Gyles… to tear me to pieces…
The feeble body slumped against Gyles, his head buried into wet, brown hair.