When Akihito just can't figure Asami out, he grows tired of the status quo and slips away from Asami's grasp.
In Tokyo, that probably wouldn’t have been a problem, but his line of work in London was entirely different. It wasn’t about getting the content anymore. It was about how he captured the content, and some of that change had leaked into his personality. He headed into the bathroom to wash his face, feeling particularly gloomy despite the ring on his finger.
Maybe it was the ring that had him so pensive… He fingered the cold metal with his thumb. It had taken him by surprise. Such a concrete, tangible show of commitment.
Asami… would Asami have done that? Could that kind of man show anything more than the carnal attractions that beasts felt? He smirked at himself.
You fool, Akihito, you disillusioned fool…
Flicking on the lights, he hardly recognized himself in the mirror. The food wasn’t all that bad considering what he’d heard of London food, but it wasn’t what he was accustomed to by any means. Too lazy and busy to cook, he forced himself to swallow the foreign food every meal, and two years of it had taken a toll on him.
He was visibly thinner. He could tell from the way his cheeks sucked in just a bit more than it used to. His pants were looser around his waist, his belt went a couple loops smaller, and his shirts felt a tiny bit big around his torso. In physical terms, however, his hair was probably the most notable change of all. Black. The vibrant chestnut had been absorbed into a void of black. Besides, the hair dressers in London could never get the color right anyway.
But it was the internal change that shocked him the most. He still tortured himself over Asami at night and had taken to taking sleeping pills when it was especially bad; he hid the pills from Gyles. There was no tossing and turning, just a blank stare at the ceiling (which had neon stars glued to it by some kid that probably lived there before). As his mind relived his days in Tokyo, the neon green swirled above him, spiraling like a mutant Milky Way. He woke up twice, three times a night for no reason at all and cried himself back to sleep when he was alone.
He still did find himself in rather risky situations though. Gyles was vehemently against Takaba going to some of the places he did: Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Israel, Lebanon, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba. It was compensation. He couldn’t let go of the rush he had grown accustomed to in Tokyo. He spent several months in Iraq, following a group of US soldiers.
Takaba fingered the scar that ran from back of his shoulder to his collarbone, a momento from an IED that had gone off when the convoy he was in tripped a branch wire. The driver, a twenty year old from Iowa, or was that Ohio, he could never remember, died almost instantly, shrapnel imbedded into his jaw and skull, snapping the artery that led up to the brain.
Pushing the bloody memory aside, Takaba opened the cabinet and dug through the bottles of shaving cream and aftershave, the mouthwash and lotions, until he found the small yellow bottle he was looking for.
The inside contents were prescription drugs for those migraines, those awful headaches, that had started two years ago.
The headaches started out slow, at first just light throbbing at the temples, and he had coped with small doses of Aspirin. Then those lost their effectiveness and the pain grew more frequent and more intense. He upped the ante to Tylenol. Then Vanquish, a combination of Aspirin and Tylenol. Those became close to useless and redundant and he began taking Aleve, which wasn’t even really for headaches to begin with, hoping to make the intense agony in his skulls ebb even just a little bit. He probably had tried and thrown out every over-the-counter drug anyone could think of
Finally, he couldn’t take the pain anymore and went to a doctor, who prescribed him Frionol. It had almost no effect what so ever. And now he was finally at Amerge, which only helped relieve his momentary pain, but for Takaba, it was enough. Pragmatic solutions were sufficient.
He popped open the cap and with his other hand, let the water run into the sink. It was probably unwise to use the tap water, but he swallowed the white, beret shaped pill with it.
It left a bitter, acrid aftertaste in his mouth.
Takaba splashed his face and stared at the water spiral down, gurgling as it emptied into the pipes. Drips fell from the tip of his nose and he watched the ripples be engulfed into the tiny whirlpool. Exhaling softly, he closed the cabinet, shoving the cylindrical bottle into his jean pockets.
Takaba treaded softly into a spare room that he used as a darkroom. The smell of fixer was especially concentrated here. Gyles had reprimanded him for keeping a darkroom in his own apartment, listing off the possible bodily harm these chemicals could do him, even offering him a developing studio he could use near the gallery, but this was just the way Takaba did things.
The windows were covered with a thick, black panel and near the door was a black curtain that ran from floor to ceiling. The clear bulbs were replaced with red ones that shone sinisterly as Takaba flipped the switch on. They were ruby, demon eyes that watched him watching from the ceiling.
It was out of “fashion,” he knew, to still have a makeshift darkroom in his own home. Many of his colleagues, both in Tokyo and London, switched to digital or used professional, but Takaba was stubborn about the darkroom. It made his apartment feel… real. Not just a figment of his twisted imagination.
His camera was still where he had left it, and he picked it up, along with the bag with the extra films and canisters. With another six or seven hours before heading to Gyles’ place, he might as well take Gyles’ advice and try his luck in urban London.
He flicked off the red light, shutting the door tight so that the smell wouldn’t diffuse through the entire apartment, and picked up his coat again. He planned on trying out the more run down parts of town. Everywhere else looked like pictures from a tourist guide book, certainly not the kind of photo that Takaba was in for.
When he stepped outside, snow was still floating down gently from the cloudy sky. He couldn’t help but be reminded of the sakura blooms in spring when a breeze shook them from their fragile branches. The snow covered signs and trees looked oddly like frozen versions of immature sakura trees in full bloom, and he couldn’t help but wonder, did Asami ever took the time to enjoy those?
Probably not, he was usually too busy riding in his BMW with a cell phone glued to his ears.
Takaba sighed as the growing layer of snow crunched beneath his feet. It was… agonizing. Everything reminded him of something else, which led to another memory and so on until his mind strayed to Asami again. Every line and shape and plane in the complex geometry of his conscience spiraled down into a single point, Asami.
And that single point was deteriorating, tearing Takaba’s frail sanity to bits and piece. His mind was a cloth with frayed edges, threads pulled at and shredded. He was a skyscraper built of fragile glass and stubborn steel; and his foundation was crumbling.
Asami…What ever was I to you…
Asami drew in another lungful of smoke.
Ha. If Akihito were here, he would-
He crushed the tip of cigarette into the ashtray, extinguishing both the glowing edge and the thought.
A bitter laugh escaped his lips and seeped into the cold walls that never listened. Was he still obsessed over a boy? Two years, he thought as he looked down at the same Tokyo conglomerate that Takaba probably saw as his plane took off.
The city itself was cancer; too many neon signs, too many concrete buildings, asphalt highways, people, all growing out of control, rising from the dead and polluted soil asphyxiated with cement and landfills.
And perhaps he was cancer to Akihito. Perhaps that was why Takaba had left him. He probably couldn’t stand to be invaded inside out.
For a year he had searched for Takaba, taking up any leads he could but coming up dry every time. It was like digging wells after wells in the desert. Any drop of hope that fell quickly evaporated into the dry, arid atmosphere that surrounded Asami. If anyone, Asami should have been able to find that one person in a world of 6.7 billion. With Takaba’s indiscreet nature, he had expected the search to be easy, but it was as though the boy had left Earth altogether, disappeared beyond the stratosphere into the vacuum of outer space.
The apartment where Takaba used to live was eventually leased out again by a trio of college students, his job position quickly replaced with other petty photographers, none with his passion for the profession or his grace, both internal and external, and his friends gave up on the idea of his return.
What is anyone to do when a person completely detaches himself from his previous life? Takaba had even frozen all his previous emails, cut off contact absolutely and completely. He might as well have been dead to the world, at least to Asami’s world. Takaba might as well have never “happened” in this world, a forgotten event, an unremarkable genocide.
Afterwards, Asami went through multiple “lovers” quickly and efficiently, but never quite found the same fire, the same heat. They were empty boxes he opened each and every time with disappointment. He quickly grew disillusioned at the failures.
The luster did not exist. The hunger and the thirst and the yearning were never quenched, never fulfilled, never relieved, and eventually, Asami cut his “love” life, if it could even be called that, into pieces, burnt it up on a funeral pyre, and resorted to quick fucks on random occasions. But these did not bring him over the edge.
They were only the short lived lust and immature infatuations unfit to last.
Asami crushed the box of cigarettes and threw them into the trash bin; he would probably buy another packet in the streets but it was ritual to him, the way he extinguished Akihito from his mind.
What have you done to me, Akihito?
Takaba glanced at his watch, seven forty-five. Shit… he had fifteen minutes to jump metros and make it to Gyles’ house. That is, he had to get to a metro station first. The day of shooting had gone fairly well; perhaps taking Gyles’ advice of putting London through his viewfinder had been a good idea. Although, his ears, nose, and fingers felt like they were going to break off any minute now, like icicles attached to his numb body.
Too bloody cold…
Gyles, on the other hand, was probably not going to be so delighted about the photos. Not over the quality but more over the content…rather, the location. Takaba intentionally sought out the most notorious neighborhoods he could think of, even going as far east London as possible… Oh well, as long as he got his five shots.
Takaba buried his hands in the front pocket of his coat, shivering as he made his way down the rather gloomy, winter street. Maybe he should call Gyles and tell him he might end up arriving a bit late; the man had a habit of completely psyching himself out when Takaba went “missing” as he called it. In that respect, he was somewhat like Asami. That is, in a strange, twisted way.
The two men, personality wise, couldn’t be anymore different. Even angels and demons couldn’t par up to these two in terms of differences.
Takaba reached into his pockets for the cellphone and… empty. Huh, that’s funny. The other pocket. Nope, not there either. Just the cylindrical container with his pills. Now, just why did he have that thing in there? He frowned, probably shouldn’t let Gyles see that; the man would no doubt flip out. He rummaged through his camera bag and came up empty handed. No cellphone.
Crap, did I drop it while taking photos?
Takaba began walking faster; he would just have to hurry then.
That was the plan, at least until he heard shouting ahead in an alley up ahead, mostly likely a fight of some sort. He looked around the corner and saw four men pretty much pummeling one other, who was doubled over in the snow, blood staining the pure whiteness, melting it with the victim’s heat.
One of the men turned around, large and buff with short blond hair, a good head and half taller than Takaba. There was a wicked, cruel grin across his face, “You got a problem, kid?”
“You’re gonna end up killing him if you keep that up,” Takaba jerked his chin up at the crippled man on the ground, who was tight roping between consciousness and unconsciousness.
“This is your friend?”
“No.” By now the other three men had turned their attention from their human punching bag and focused it on Takaba. Heh. Kind of reminded him of his days in Tokyo. Being a reckless idiot.
“Listen to this kid, he’s pretty interesting, eh?” it seemed the blond was the leader of the pack. “Let’s wipe that smirk off his face, shall we?” He lunged at Takaba, aiming a punch at the stomach, but Takaba was faster. He pivoted his right foot into the snow and turned to his left a full 360 degrees. It was the adrenaline again. God, how long had it been since he’d been in this kind of situation? The clenched fist flew past him slow motion, and the rustle of fabric amplified into imaginary speakers. He wasn’t given much time to think though when the blond turned on him.
“Think that’s funny?”
Well, actually, no. He didn’t. “Um…Not really, no.”
That seemed to piss off the man even more. Takaba winced at his own mistake. Four against one. He was probably going to end up like the man on the ground himself for sticking his head into someone else’s business. And… just his luck, he’d lost his cellphone.
But, wasn’t this kind of how he’d met Asami? Sniffing around where his nose where he didn’t belong? Well, maybe being an idiot did have its advantages. But certainly not now.
You just never learn, do you, Aki?
The others were closing in on him, and at this point, he could probably run and outrun them, and… he glanced to his side again. Maybe not. His path to the main street was nearly blocked already. As a matter of fact, the short man to his left was already launching himself at Takaba. He responded by shifting to his right, where another caught him roughly by the neck, chocking him, and rammed his knees into Takaba’s side.
“You gonna learn to keep out of other’s business after this?”
Oddly enough, the pain was dull, suppressed for the duration. The blond flipped out a knife and held it at Takaba’s face. The other two had let go him now, standing at a short distance. Takaba began laughing softly, his shoulders gently shaking from trying to hold back laughter.
“Is that a yes or no?”
Takaba grinned as he looked up, his lips twisted.
“You insane or something, kid?”
“Maybe I am.” Takaba picked up his leg and kicked down at the blond’s knee, snapping the man’s joint back with a loud crack. Ouch. The knife came at him though and tore through the sleeve of his arm, ripping the fabric with and through flesh. But Takaba didn’t even notice it.
He simply lunged to his left and managed to get about four steps far when a shorter man grabbed at him. He twisted his body away, an agile swift turn possible only with his lithe, nimble form, and quickly regained his balance to make it into the street.
And run he did. That was what he was best at, wasn’t it? Running away with his tail between his legs. The way he ran from Japan, on a winter day just like this one. Except, there wasn’t any snow that night, was there? Just the cold, biting wind that he felt now as he raced down the empty streets, three men in his pursuit. His throat stung from the cold air that coursed through it with every breath he took, stripping away at the moist mucus.
Aki, you fucking idiot.
He skidded around a corner, using a sign pole to help him change directions, the momentum carrying him through the swift turn. Random memories flew before his vision, just like the shop windows that he ran past, frame by frame like an antique film, jagged and crude swerves down his memory lane.
He spotted the stairwell down to a metro station up ahead. He understood now why the neighborhood was marked as “notorious”; there just weren’t any people to help you out.
Takaba jumped onto the railed and slid his way down, flying over the last few steps. The doors to the metro were still open, just about to close. He blindly lunged at the closest door and crashed inside into an empty compartment. The doors closed with a hiss and a sigh behind him, and he looked up to see the three men arriving onto the platform, cursing.
Takaba sank down against a pole. He was still in considerably good shape considering how much his physical condition had deteriorated compared to his days in Japan. Or maybe it was just the adrenaline making him do strange thing. Chases tended to do that to him.
He looked at his camera bag; somehow, it had managed to stay with him through the ruckus. The sight of it made him smile. Maybe it had been worse it; he would see.
The floor of the compartment shook in regular rhythm like his own heart beat, which had finally settled down to a steady beat. Takaba glanced at the painful buzz in his left arm where the bleeding was just barely starting to coagulate. Nothing life threatening but…
Huh. Since when did I have a cut?
The hell with it. Time. Four past eight.
Gyles watched the long hand pass the fifteen minute mark. He couldn’t help but be anxious. It wasn’t that he obsessed over punctuality. Rather, it was that, despite being young, his lover was extremely exact with his time, almost never being late. In fact, he could only think of two occasions when he was late, today being the second one.
Given that, he couldn’t help but be concerned when Takaba failed to show up at eight. Then five past eight. Ten past eight. He tried again and again to reach the cell phone but all it did was ring and ring but never pick up, just the same old “You’ve reached Sei Tanaka. Leave your name and phone number and…” over and over again. Gyles tried the apartment number but came up with more or less the same response.
He was planning on taking him out that night to a particular restaurant. The reservation was set for nine and so far, the boy hadn’t shown. Gyles’ best bet was that he had probably gone out to take photos around London, and now, he wished he had never given that piece of advice.
Gyles dashed to the door when he heard the soft knock.
“Where have you-” His eyes widened in shock, “My God! What happened to you?” He took the bag from Takaba and set it aside, ushering him inside.
Takaba let Gyles pull him out of his coat, slipping off the sleeves, “Some trouble…”
He pushed Takaba through the living room toward the bathroom, “Well never mind that. Let’s get this taken care of first, Sei…”
In the bathroom, he turned on the hot water tap and let the water run until he had a good, warm combination. “Clean the area around it first,” he said as he took out a first aid kit from on top of a metal rack.
Takaba put his arm under the running water. The heat made his cold fingers tingle in warm delight, but it was countered with the stinging as the hot water seeped into the wound.
“I didn’t say wet it.”
“Oh…” Takaba drew his arm back away from the wound.
Gyles flipped open the latch to the box, “What were you doing?”
“Taking photos…” he murmured like a child being castigated.
“That’s not all you were doing,” Gyles turned around to see Takaba just standing there with his hand under the water, “You have to wash around it, else it’ll get infected if there’s still grit and dirt.”
“It’s just a shallow cut.” It was partly true; the fabric had kept the blade from penetrating very far.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s shallow or not. If it were any worse, I would have taken you to the hospital to get some stitches. Sei, you’ve got to look out for yourself more.” His large, gentle hands moved over Takaba’s arm, gently rubbing away at the dried blood and the dirt. When Takaba drew in a sharp breath, Gyles paused before continuing. He finally turned the faucet off and shook his hands dry.
Takaba reached for a towel, but Gyles’ stopped him, carefully wiping the water away with a new, white towel.
“Does it hurt?”
“I didn’t even know it was there until I got off on the metro.”
“Just what were you doing?” He took a ball of cotton and wet it with hydrogen peroxide. “This is gonna sting.”
“I provoked a bunch of thugs.” Takaba winced at the liquid was spread around the wound. It bubbled and foamed vigorously.
“And why would you do that?” Gyles applied a pale yellow antibacterial ointment and a strip of gauze over the wound. “try to moving your fingers and wrists first.”
He did as he was told and flexed his fingers and turned his wrist, “They were beating up a guy.”
“I see. It should heal without any permanent damage except for a scar.” That makes sense. You would never leave someone like that, would you? It’s just not in you to turn a blind eye to thing. “Why didn’t you call though?”
“I… lost my phone…” Takaba covered his eyes with his free hand. The headaches that had been suppressed by the rush of adrenaline were surfacing again.
“Sei...” Gyles crouched in front of Takaba, “You don’t have to do this. Don’t put yourself in danger for a bunch of photos. Forget the camera, forget the films. Just forget the exhibition altogether for now. They don’t matter.”
“But they do.” The headache… the drumming was getting louder and louder. Over the next hill. Another valley closer. Firecrackers lit up behind his eyes.
“No, Sei. They don’t. What matters is you, alright? Don’t forget that. That you alone are the centerpiece of my life.”
Gyles, don’t say that…please don’t say that…
“I don’t need masterpieces,” a jagged signals of pain dashed across the synapses between every cell, firing away. “I don’t need colors or black and white. I don’t need anything else. The one thing I need, the only one I ever need, Sei, is-”
Takaba was shaking his head slowly, “Gyles…”
“The only person I will ever need is you. That’s why, when you do this to yourself,” whips were cracking on his ear drums. “when you put yourself in danger and end up hurting yourself, I can’t help but-”
“Please…” don’t say that, Gyles, don’t say these things to me, because I’ll break your heart, Gyles. Don’t love me.
“want to reach out to you.”
What had Asami said a long time ago…something about value… that’s right…There is no such value in you… He was right, Gyles…he was right…There is no such value in me to deserve any part of you.
“Sei, just stay with me because I will stay with you. I’d go to the ends of the earth for you.”
Not me, Gyles… It’s not me…
“So tell me, what can I do? What can I do to make you feel my love?”
I feel it too much. Because it’s not you… It’s not you, it’s me…Gyles, it’s all me…
“Five minutes.” Takaba whispered, holding his hands together into as tight of a possible, it was trembling, subtly, just barely.
“I just need five minutes alone,” Takaba managed a meek smile, “I’ll be right out after that.”
“Are you sure…” Gyles sighed.
“Just five minutes, Gyles. I just need to…uh… I just need to pull myself together, okay?”
He stood and planted a light kiss on Takaba’s damp hair, “I’ll be in the living room if you need anything.”
As soon as Gyles was out and the door closed, Takaba shoved his hands into his pocket. He had been hiding his trembling hands, which were shaking uncontrollably from the pain. He stood up slowly, the slowest movement jarring, and locked the door quietly, then turned on the lukewarm water, watching it spiral down into the pipes. The cylindrical container refused to stay still in his hands as he struggled to pop the lid open. The damn child-proof cap. It popped across the room when he finally managed to open with his short nails.
Another sharp stab of pain nearly blinded him as he shook out the pills. Most spilled out, except for a few that managed to stay on his trembling palm. 1mg, the doctor said right? He had said he could take up to 2 pills at once, the doctor had said… 2 mg… two pills… right… 2 mg… 2mg… just 2mg…
He swallowed them with the tap water and reached forward; the sound of the water draining was like hearing a thunderstorm storm between the two hemispheres of his brain. He sighed when the gurgling finally stopped. Like standing mid traffic with no signs, no lights. Everything out of order. Sequence destroying itself.
Takaba’s hand knocked over the cup that was at the edge of the sink and it shattered. Shattered. A kaleidoscope of high pitched shrills resonated, ricocheting off the insides of his skulls.
“Sei? Sei! What’s going on in there?” The door rattled. “Sei! Open the door! Sei!”
Shut up… shut up… shut up…
“Sei!” Gyles’ voice added to the tornado of noise, all these extra, redundant noise… “Open the door!” The handle seemed to blur, magnifying then shrinking, in and out of focus. Fading in and out then suddenly too bright.
The parlor of the Englishman’s mansion was luxurious and extravagant, decorated with wood and leather and fine taste. Glossy surfaces were polished to a shine just as the leather seats was carefully maintained without a single dry crack. The cream colored curtains that covered the tall windows had embroidered edges that shouted money as did fine paintings, some of which were supposedly missing from private collections. Asami smirked in amusement, art aficionados were just too interesting in his opinion.
“Scotch?” Mr.Merrett held up the crystal decanter, the light from the chandelier scattering onto the intricate patterns of the posh Persian rugs.
“Just a glass.”
Naturally, they were there to discuss the future of their “business” together, the main topic of their conversation being drugs, both processed and raw. That and black market arms.
The UK drug market stemmed from the suppliers in South America, Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe, jumped to strategic storage locations in Africa or Eastern Europe, smuggled through Spain and then scattered to the rest of Europe.
Just last week, one of their smugglings boats to Spain from Morocco had been seized by the border security, and with the UK’s recent rise in the cocaine import, Mr. Merrett was keen on cementing ties with Asami, who had indirect but powerful key allies in the South Americas and the Middle East.
In this market, leverage was key.
Mr.Merrett sat before Asami in another plush recliner, pushing Asami’s glass toward him.
“Ireland and Scotland are, most unfortunately, starting to raise their awareness of the increased drug activity. The government there has been quite difficult to deal with of late.”
“But the sales nevertheless have been rising.”
“True, but I was hoping to maintain that for a while.”
“If all else fails, I believe that section has been milked quite for some time. For now, it would probably be best to tone down the sales in the area for a while and start preparing for a shift toward Eastern Europe. I leave that choice up to you. Spain, though, is essential still as a portal although I really would encourage you to open up the Netherlands route more if you plan to follow through with the shift.”
“Well. The main problem is the Peruvians and Colombians have not been on good terms with our contacts in Nigeria, and along with Bolivia, those three are the key suppliers into Africa. But as you said, Eastern Europe is a very viable market.”
Asami sighed. Just why was it that people didn’t know how to keep a handle on their own suppliers?
“Nigeria is something you will have to cope with, I’m afraid, for many years to come. But what about the heroine import-export?”
“We’re still building our trade relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan although Iran has been getting rather out of hand. Their heads are getting big with the whole nuclear crisis.”
“Of course their ego’s grown.” What were you expecting? “They’ve been inflating it for the past few years.” Asami could hardly hide his irritation at this man’s incompetence. He wondered if the man even kept up with international politics at all.
“But I assure you, Mr. Asami, that the amphetamine and ecstasy routes with Poland and Czech Republic have been on the very fluid.”
“But that’s only within Europe. If you don’t maintain your international, cross oceanic contacts, I’m afraid there is so much leverage I have over the South American countries.” It was partly true, but in the long run… it was not so.
“Of course, I had no intention of letting those go to waste.”
Asami smirked over his glass of scotch; perhaps this alliance might turn out better than he imagined. Mr. Merrett seemed like a man out to please at whatever cost, and such men were always easy to maneuver. After all, they wrapped around his fingers out of their own volition. As of now, he had a hold on the routes to Europe but few in Europe itself. He had purposely come almost a week in advance to personally deal with business, put the real, tangible faces to the men he dealt with on a regular basis.
The talk lasted another two hours before Mr. Merrett finally said, “But enough of the serious talk, Mr. Asami. Perhaps you would like to know what we have in store for the events?”
“Excellent. Next Monday afternoon, a photograph exhibit will open. Do you enjoy photography?”
Asami winced but quickly hid it nonchalant nod.
“Oh, good. He’s a brilliant young man, the photographer that is. Monday evening, there is a special performance of Les Miserable, the musical. Do you fancy musicals, Mr. Asami?”
Do I “fancy” musicals…never really thought about that one. “I’ve attended a few.”
“It’s truly a work of art, I assure you.” This man seemed to be assuring Asami of many things uncertain, and Asami raised an eyebrow. Mr. Merrett did not seem to notice the annoyance and carried on.
“The all-important dinner party is on Tuesday evening at the Ritz hotel, where you are staying. And last but not least, the London Symphony Orchestra will hold a concert on Thursday. If you wish, I can provide you with an excellent guide during the daytime.”
“I’m quite sure I’ll find my way through the city well enough.” Asami had brought with him four of his men just for security measure.
“I see.” The Englishman nodded curtly, “Well then, I believe we have everything in order by now. If there’s anything else you need, feel free to contact me.”
Like I need you to tell me that.
“Seamus, the butler, will lead to out.”
Sure enough, the butler was standing outside the door with two of Asami’s men. Asami was rather glad to leave; it had rather aggravating talking to the overly perky individual. The man was desperate to flatter.
He was led down the hallway, which was lined with stuffed heads of deer and antlers as well as old portrait paintings. Some people just had no sense of décor. Even Akihito could have had better sense than put antlers and portraits from the 18th century together.
There he went again, letting his thoughts stray to useless things. He had been doing that lately, sometimes sitting at his desk for hours lost in contemplations, most of his thoughts centered on Akihito. If he were the planets, Mars, Jupiter, Pluto…wait no, they took that one off the list…then Akihito was still the sun, sending out flares to scald him.
The fierce, golden eyes, the ferocious temper, the absolute and resolute stubbornness in the boy he could never forget. He had come to accept that part of Takaba’s leaving had been his fault: eight months was a long time, and Takaba was not blessed with the virtue of patience.
There was little he could have done at the time.
Around the time that Akihito left, Tokyo underground probably had been at its worst. Unbeknownst to the upper world, several key players had been assassinated along with their families. It had been kept low-profiling, paying off the police to keep it hidden.
For better or for worse, Asami had had to tighten the reins on his pawns for six months. Control. It was all about control. Or so he had thought.
Had he been wrong? Did the leash he kept on Akihito snap from the tension, Akihito pulling to hard to one side, he to the other?
Asami chuckled at himself as the car rolled out of the mansion driveway.
Maybe that leash had gone the other way. The collar around him, control in Akihito’s hand. Maybe Akihito had simply let go.
Asami leaned back and closed his eyes; no doubt he still craved Akihito. Akihito was a drug to him and still he suffered from withdrawal. He yearned to brush his hand through that chestnut hair, to caress the ivory skin, savor the smell of fixer and soap that mingled exquisitely.
Takaba sat at the edge of Gyles’ bed, the mug warm in his cold hands. He watched the tea leaves stuck to the bottom of the empty cup, frozen in their dance as vapor still rose from it and swirled then disintegrated into the air, living its short lived existence.
Gyles was turning the empty pill bottle over and over in his hand with his thumb and index. A chair was pulled up so that he could sit face to face with Takaba. The silence was heavy and thick, dripping nervously like molasses.
He finally broke the silence with a dreaded question.
“When did it start?”
Takaba couldn’t bring himself to face Gyles, too ashamed. “About… two years ago…” he licked his dry and cracked lips with the tip of his wet tongue, expecting some sort of blow-out from Gyles, but it didn’t come.
“When you moved, right? To here, to London.”
A subtle nod.
“And… the insomnia? Have you sleeping well lately?”
How… Takaba’s eyes widened in shock as he raised his head. How had he known?
“Didn’t think I would notice?”
He shook his head slowly…I never thought you’d be looking…
“I can’t help but look at you, watch you. Everything subtle becomes frighteningly clear when you look as look as hard and as intensely as I do,” he reached out and caressed Takaba’s cheek, “and when I watch you dying from the inside like this… I can’t…I can’t just let it go…”
Dying from the inside… am I still dying? Didn’t I do that a long time ago? No, Gyles… this is decay. I’ve been dead for so long…
“Just get some rest for now, alright?” Gyles stood up and put the chair back to its place.
Takaba didn’t move from his position, the mug still clutched in his hand. “Gyles?”
He turned abruptly to see a pair of intense, fiery intense eyes looking up at him. They were too serious, too honest, too genuine to ignore.
“Sei…” he kneeled with one knee before Takaba and held him gingerly by the arms as if they might bruise if he held on too hard, “You don’t have to-”
That’s not it. I need to know for myself, Gyles… that I might have even the slightest chance of forgetting him…Revive me… bring me back…
“Kiss me. I want to know…”
If that’s what you wish…Gyles’ hand crept up behind Takaba’s neck into the black strands of hair.
“As you wish, my love.”
The empty mug dropped with a dull thud onto the wooden floor, rolling away to a slow stop.