It was one of the most handsome kimonos Kenzaki had ever seen, let alone received, but it was also one of the strangest: the contrast between the exquisite, elaborate embroidery and the sturdy, synthetic fabric it decorated was startling. Kenzaki couldn't imagine a professional textile artist willingly working with fake silk instead of real…
…until he read Yoshizumi's note, which explained that the robe had been a costume in The Scissors and the Thread, a drama Yoshizumi had acted in two years before. Now the combination made sense: real silk would have been both too costly and too fragile to survive the rigors of filming, and on camera, pseudo-silk tended to look as good (and sometimes even better than) the real thing. The most important part of the costume would have been the embroidery, and the wardrobe department had not cut any corners in that regard: the fish were so realistic that Kenzaki could barely believe that his fingers remained dry and cool as he stroked their shining scales.
He turned back to the note that had accompanied the delivery. The handwriting covering the page was casually fluid, but Kenzaki could not shake the impression that it had been very carefully worded. In it, Yoshizumi explained that the robe was not a Christmas gift, but merely his way of helping out the independent company that had produced The Scissors and the Thread in an acceptable manner: they were in need of cash to proceed with their next production, and were thus liquidating some of their inventory by selling props and outfits too unique to reuse. The robe had reminded him of Kenzaki "because it is both beautiful and beautifully slippery," a phrasing that caused Kenzaki to snort with laughter before he continued on to the rest of the note:
You would therefore be doing me an enormous favor by accepting this robe, since you know how important it is to me to put things together that belong together. Ever since I realized how much this kimono reminded me of you, it has belonged to you.
It was true, Kenzaki mused, that Yoshizumi's laid-back demeanor masked a restless, searching intelligence: when something failed to make sense to him, he rarely let it rest until he had obtained the information he needed to sort it out. His incessant stream of questions during his research for The Kings of Ginza had been both maddening and entertaining, especially since they sometimes scraped against thoughts that Kenzaki didn't want to have, let alone linger on.
On the other hand, Yoshizumi had never deliberately pushed or prodded at a sore spot once he recognized it as such; being slow to anger and apparently immune to jealousy, he was correspondingly slow to take it seriously in others. Kenzaki would never forget the spectacular tantrum one of his fellow hosts had pitched in reaction to a flirtation Yoshizumi had indulged in with the host's girlfriend: Yoshizumi had assumed the relationship was stable enough to survive his lighthearted cooperation with the girlfriend's "prank" -- and he'd been horrified to learn that he'd nearly precipitated a murder-suicide as a result.
If Yoshizumi hadn't already been openly averse to romantic commitment, Kenzaki would have been even more furious at his former co-worker and the woman; as things stood, he still felt an almost overwhelming urge to beat up the man every time they happened to cross paths. He and Yoshizumi weren't, were not, were NOT an item, and weren't anywhere close to becoming a couple, ever. There had been nothing for that little episode to screw up -- and yet, Kenzaki couldn't shake the feeling that it had somehow done just that. If nothing else, it had almost certainly reinforced Yoshizumi's cynical view of relationships as burdensome and not worth the trouble -- and as much as Kenzaki relished the benefits of his friendship with the confirmed bachelor, he couldn't help sometimes wondering if he was doing enough to be a true friend. He was happy to provide the no-strings interludes of comfort and release his friend occasionally sought from him, and Yoshizumi had made it abundantly clear that he didn't want anything more. Yet, more and more, Kenzaki found himself trying to ignore a notion that had been nagging at him: that, perhaps, Yoshizumi simply hadn't given the right man or woman their chance? Not that it was Kenzaki's job to do anything about it -- and yet, he felt like he ought to be doing something about it.
He smiled sourly to himself: he was not a man given to introspection, but here he was, obsessing over a puzzle it wasn't even his business to solve. Compulsively trying to figure something out -- maybe this is what it feels like to be Yoshizumi?.
For some reason, that thought cheered him up. In any case, there was this present to deal with: Christmas present or not, he needed to reciprocate, but he could not risk having his own offering come across as romantic in any way. What to do, what to do…
In Kyoto, the day after Christmas, a courier delivered to Yoshizumi Naotaka an elegant, silk-wrapped box that contained two sheets of paper. The first was a receipt for a large donation made to the Japan Academy of Moving Images. The second was a note from Kenzaki Toshiya, informing Yoshizumi that the donation would account for a very nice deduction on Kenzaki's next income tax return, and wasn't it nice of Yoshizumi to be a friend whom Kenzaki could conveniently honor in this manner?
Yoshizumi grinned at the letter, returned it to the box, and placed the box on a shelf next to a netsuke in the shape of a fish. He had happened upon the little figurine during an ordinary walk through Nishiki Market. It was of dubious provenance and almost certainly of no value from a collector's standpoint, but Yoshizumi had found the fish's maniacal grin oddly charming -- too charming to resist, in fact. It would make a good present for Kenzaki-kun some other day.