He was still a boy when Aiba met Jun, three days before a bright sky sunlight melting through his hair playground asphalt crunchy between his bare toes. Crimes scenes were still unwritten at the time and Jun was still relatively innocent, except for maybe a packet of mint jelly candies from the combini two blocks away from school. Kokubun-sensei still had high hopes for this developing generation, and the neighbourhood bully referred to himself as Tackey and the Dandelion Pain Train.
Jun was a boy but he spoke like a gentleman to the mothers and they tickled his cheeks for it, tucked 100-yen coins into his back pockets until he became greedy and began taking them for himself. He was, however, never the subject of their suspicion--his face was sweet and his eyes were sparkly and his smile had enough power to charm three junior high school girls off their feet, because that was Matsumoto Jun for you and that was the Matsumoto Jun Aiba remembered.
"Jun-kun," Aiba had said to him, three days before a bright sky sunlight melting through his hair playground asphalt crunchy between his bare toes. "Jun-kun. Let's play cops and robbers."
But it was just a dream. It was just an awful dream, the sort that was half-terrifying and half-bittersweet, experienced every third Saturday of each month at exactly 4:15 in the morning, home from the job, on the sofa with a beer can that sweated more moisture than it delivered. He became delirious and his mouth dried up like he'd been gargling rubber and he heard the little Aiba-kun's voice, asking him to play cops and robbers. It was perhaps a curse by proxy, one that had befallen him when he was weak, made him morose in his guilt and befuddled in his misgivings. He wouldn't have been surprised if this was divine judgment.
Because Aiba-kun was not a real boy. In Jun's conscious mind there was no registration of such a person in his past, because Jun remembered his childhood: flakes falling from the plastered walls, weathered chalkboards bearing the scars of endless English exercises, reprimands from his sister for taking her allowance. It was a period of time when physical existence took precedence over all else, struck the loudest chords in his mind. He remembered climbing up to the rooftop of the neighbouring apartment complex to see the clouds at night, feeling the breeze against his skin three days before a bright sky. He remembered stealing his sister's money to buy cocaine, and how she'd flipped a huge shit when she discovered his stash. The next day he found his drugs flushed down the bathroom toilet, and he promised her that he would never do cocaine again. He didn't promise her that he would stop stealing her money.
See, that was his childhood.
"And you wonder why you have no friends," said Oguri. "You wonder why anyone ever hangs out with you."
"No need to be so harsh," said Jun.
"Sometimes I even fucking wonder why I hang out with you. I could be spending more quality time having sex with my girlfriend."
"But you enjoy my company." His fingers reached for the tin box on the coffee table. "I hope?"
"Don't flatter yourself, man. I can barely tolerate your company. I don't even like seeing your face all that much. I do, however, enjoy your infinite supply of contraband marijuana."
"Yeah?" Jun popped the tin lid open with a small snap and retrieved the rolling paper inside. There was still 5 grams left of his special mix in a plastic baggie.
"How ridiculous," he said. "Contraband marijuana. That's redundant. Like a double negative. Or a triple positive." He ripped out a piece of tip paper from a booklet in his pocket and started shaping it with a thumb and forefinger. Dropped two pinches of weed in the rolling paper, combed it all up with a fingernail, and then rolled it up carefully, thinner than a twig. "Want one?"
"Nah," Shun shook his head. "I promised Erika-chan that I'd stay sober for a month. I've had a good feeling about her, too. Maybe this is the one, Jun-chan! Maybe I'll finally get lucky."
Jun let out a small laugh. His fingers played with the switch on his cigarette lighter. "So you're saying, you enjoy neither my company nor my face but you like my weed, and when I ask you if you want any of it you tell me you don't."
"Just what the hell am I to you, then?" He flicked the cap, and a small tongue of flame escaped before melting into the darkness.
"Well I guess you're my friend," said Shun. "We have everlasting bonds of friendship. And stuff. And especially since you saved me from that lawyer guy working for the Izayoi Faction."
"Yeah, well. When I become the undisputed king of Tokyo, this will be a non-issue." He flicked the lighter again, and this time there was a small blue flame.
"The king of Tokyo? Why do you even want that?" Shun laughed. "Either way, that's not the point. You're my buddy, man. There's even a bullet hole in your arm to prove it. I'd do anything for you."
"Anything," Jun laughed quietly at the thought. And then, in a smaller voice, "Would you even break-up with Erika?"
"Hm? What'd you say?" Shun leaned forward. "Didn't catch the rest of that."
"Nothing will come of nothing." Shun grinned. "Speak again!"
"Forget it." Jun rolled his eyes. He took a long pull from his joint.
Nino blew the dust off Ohno's desk before settling his bare feet down on a stack of magazines. "So. Any news yet?"
Sakurai jerked his thumb at the door. "Out."
"Get out, Nino. We're here to do serious work."
Nino plucked up a sports magazine between his toes and nimbly shifted it up with his feet until it slid smoothly into his lap. He picked it up with his right hand, licked the tip of his index finger, and began flicking through the glossy pages. "Serious work, huh."
Sho heaved a sigh. "This is the Homicide Department, Nino, not your personal playground. The moment Ohno leaves for field duty you waltz in here and act like you own the place. Get out, man."
"But we're supposed to work on that case together, Sho-chaaan," said Nino, perfectly content with sounding like a whiny little boy. He continued to examine Ohno's magazine, flipping through the pages absentmindedly until his eyes popped open suddenly at something in the middle of a page. A shiny insert photograph of a barely-clad gravure idol fluttered into his lap. He licked his lips. "And what've we got here, eh?"
"Fucking hell, Nino. Go back to your office."
"But I like it here! There's magazines and hazelnut coffee. And a footrest. You don't get that kind of thing back in Narcotics. All I have is like, Nishikido. And the three-foot-long ruler shoved up his tiny, puckering asshole."
"It must be really hard to be a department leader, Nino. I couldn't possibly understand your pain."
"No! You definitely don't get it. They all hate me there because I have to be in charge. Being in charge is annoying, OK? It smells like dead gyoza in there all the time and nobody even cares about the paperwork except Kato. And Kato sucks."
"I don't think Kato sucks."
"But that's because you guys are like the same person. Ugh. You're like maybe slightly more handsome, but you and Kato are basically the same person." Nino made a face. "And I came here for a reason! I wanted to know about the Matsumoto-Oguri case."
"What are you talking about? And what on earth does that even have to do with you?"
Nino rolled his eyes and stood up. He began to pace around the office, still without his shoes and socks on. "Didn't any of you knuckleheads do a background check on Matsumoto Jun? He's had his hands all over the narcotics trade in Shinjuku since Izayoi Pharmaceuticals moved its headquarters to Hokkaido. Dude wants to be the king of Tokyo or something. Moonshine, milk duds, mary-joo-wanna, pretty much everything except cocaine. Well the guys down at the Aoyama precinct just haven't found any evidence for cocaine yet, but I'm sure that will come in due time. So yeah, as the head of Narcotics, I dare say I'm involved in this as well."
Sho frowned. "That's classified information, Nino. How did you get your hands on my case files?"
"Nothing is classified for me, Sho-chan," said Nino, wagging a finger at his colleague. "Not even the name and cup size of the onee-san you took home from the karaoke party last weekend."
Sho's face reddened. "Fuck off, Nino."
"Just trying to prove a point. Nothing escapes The Great Ninomiya."
"Whatever. Either way, I'm familiar with what Matsumoto does. We never cared about that aspect of his personal history, anyway. I was simply trying to concentrate on the homicidal citation in Matsumoto's case. He's the only suspect we've got on the list right now. The body of the victim was never found, and Matsumoto is still missing."
"Yes, well done Watson, you've just stated everything The Great Ninomiya has already figured out," said Nino, slapping Sho on the back. "Now all we've gotta do is find the guy and bring him in!"
At that moment, the telephone rang.
Jun woke up to the smell of thunder baking in the skies and a pounding headache, the pungent odor of weed still caked between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. He couldn't feel his right arm, which was probably a good thing. The drugs were working wonders. He stood up with a wobble from the sofa and realized that his cell phone was buzzing. Shun had left him there with a blanket swaddled around his waist and three cigarette butts in the ashtray. Irritating fucker went without saying goodbye.
He grabbed at his phone and jammed his finger against the talk button. The screen flickered for a second and he heard his belly rumble. Fucking piece of garbage technology.
"Hey Jun, listen, it's Oguri. You've gotta get outta your house right away. Shitstorm's coming."
"I went back to Eri's already, but Jun you've gotta run. The cops are relaunching the campaign. It's a shitstorm, Matsumoto, a SHITSTOR--"
Jun hung up. Someone was banging on his door.
Aiba left his office at 9:45pm, determined to catch the next train. He had missed it consecutively for the last five days, and he really didn't feel like waiting again for 20 minutes at the mercy of the station drunks and quasi-sane wanderlust delinquents. There weren't any police cars around and it made him feel a bit like Batman.
The station was empty and washed in a rich purple color cast from a fake fluorescent sunset. It reminded him of music in technicolor, riding a car late to the racetracks, circus laughter and crude forms of relaxation ironically neglected for the luxury of daily life. Waxing poetry. Sho-chan might mock him for it later, but at the moment it was a very viable source of trepidation. The train was still there, he could hear the friendly announcer's voice asking for last minute passengers to hurry the fuck up, but for him the ticket stalls were still small studs in the horizon. He could see his legs reaching the gates, but the lights on the beach were dim and the sand was frosty and slippery and that was when he heard the footsteps behind him.
The hairs on the back of his neck prickled.
He couldn't see anybody else in the station, but he could hear the rain outside now, a trickle then a drop then thick thunderclouds, bursts of dirty fire hydrants spilling its contents into the streets. It was now only mildly dark and the dark tasted like chamomile. He liked chamomile very much. But the footsteps behind him were loud and disruptive and vaguely reminiscent of Tackey's Dandelion Pain Train, so that when he finally turned around and wiped the sweat from his brow, nobody was there. He couldn't see a single thing. At this point he wondered whether or not he was experiencing the feelings of a man lost in a separate dimension of space and time. There was someone out there, reaching for him and slapping his cheeks and pulling at his ears but he just couldn't feel anything, and the next moment when he had turned back around to face the ticket booths again, there he was.
It was the boy he'd been waiting for, all along.
It was the boy he'd been waiting for all his life, tumbling from the gates like a wet dog, headfirst into the sweetest dream he'd never remembered.
Jun crashed headlong into a tall pole of a person. He would've even believed that it was a pole, had the pole not possessed limbs and a voice that yelped loudly in terror immediately after their collision. The world slid off its grid in a split second, and Jun wasn't nearly ready to offer his apologies because he was still kind of stoned and his arm kind of hurt and this idiot of a pole obviously couldn't understand Newtonian mechanics.
"Where the fuck do you think you're walking?!" Jun narrowed his eyes. "Are you blind?"
The offender blinked back at him, rubbing his forehead with the back of his hand, amazement written all over his dumb face.
"Never mind, get out of my way." He pushed past the guy and made his way toward the gates. He was only able to take two more steps before he felt a small tug on the back of his jacket. He stopped moving, swayed on his feet for a split second, and straightened his posture. "What do you want?"
"I'm sorry! I-I was just shocked...! Please excuse me," Jun heard the man say. He sounded slightly frantic. "Really, I mean, are you okay? I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to walk right into you. I just thought somebody was following me, and the station was kind of scary and dark and I thought I was Batman but I guess Batman has more balls than me hahaha I mean really I'm sorry god I'm so clumsy I really didn't mean any harm..."
Stupid idiot couldn't keep his trap shut. How irritating. Jun wheeled around to say something malicious, but he must have tried to rotate his body too fast because his legs couldn't keep up, and in the next ten seconds the floor started sliding up toward his face and okay maybe his brain was a tiny bit weak from being stoned all day. His right arm ached. He felt his mouth dry up and his hands shake, and then the fluorescent lights started blinking and the marble floor of the subway station started to glow. He heard the train pull away. Under the gathering afterglow of disappearing tail lights, the station manager reminded everybody that it was the third Saturday of the month, and Jun felt sick to his stomach. No, it was still too early in the evening for this. But of course there were swings in the playground. Of course there was asphalt crunchy underneath his bare toes, and of course there was Aiba-kun again, distracted smile and extended hand, fingers still sticky from his popsicle. The weather was still gray and his life still sucked and he was dying in his heart but then again, wasn't everyone?
The man's eyes opened wide. "Oi, are you okay? You're wobbly. Are you drunk? Excuse me, are you alright?"
Are you alright? Are you okay? Do you need medication? Do you need a hand? Let's play cops and robbers, Jun-kun.
"H-Hey, say something. Say something, man, or else I'll think you're dying on me here...h-heheh..."
There were swings in the sky. There was a playground in the sky, as well. He could hear the police sirens closing in from all sides, escape was out of the question and leaving his body here was physically impossible. There was only one thing left he could do.
"Hey, can you do me a favor?" He struggled to keep his eyes open. The world slipped off its grid again and he was struggling to keep himself afloat in the trembling tides.
The guy seemed caught off his guard. "E-Eh? You don't look too good. Here, let me help you." Without warning, he swung one of Jun's arms over his shoulders. His voice was closer, now, and Jun could feel a light breath against his ear. "Oh my god, you're so pale. You are not okay at all."
There was nothing else left in this world Jun could do, nothing he could accomplish, nothing he could possibly ask for. The windows had closed a long time ago and the classrooms had shut their doors and the citizens of the world could only resign its last generation to the terrible fate of breathing. Just breathing. Just breathe, Matsumoto Jun, just breathe.
"Do me a favor..."
"Yes! I'll do anything."
"Please," said Jun. "Please. Kill me right now."
Then he closed his eyes and let his legs do the talking.
"So I rescued him," said Aiba. He broke open two packets of cane sugar and stirred it into his hazelnut coffee. Sho's office always had the best coffee. "He was a man in need." He was also painfully familiar to me, but that's unimportant.
"He was a complete stranger," Sho corrected him. "What you meant to say was, you picked up some random dude at the train station and brought him back to your apartment. Because that is essentially what you did. And something like this could count as kidnapping."
"No!" Aiba exclaimed. "I didn't mean it like that at all! He was ill. And out of his mind. Seriously he was about to fall over when I saw him and his face was so freaking pale you should have seen him. I was really scared. For his safety."
Sho rubbed his temples. "Damn it, Aiba, if I wasn't so familiar with your usual level of stupidity, I would have been worried for the guy you picked up. Now I'm just worried for you. He was probably just some random drug addict looking to wrangle something out of the next idiot who walked by."
"Not true," Aiba sniffed. "He was wearing an expensive wool jacket. Brooks Brothers." A pause, before he added sheepishly, "I checked."
"Could have been stolen. Or a fake. In which case he'd be in even more trouble."
"Sho-chan, you don't understand! I couldn't have just left him there."
"Of course you couldn't have. You're just too soft."
"What? Where am I soft? I know my arms are pretty fluffy but that has got nothing to do with me picking up a guy at the station."
"So you're admitting that you 'picked up a guy' at the station."
"Wow that's totally not what I meant!"
Sho sighed. "Look, I'd help you find out who he is and where he lives and stuff but I'm really busy working on the Matsumoto case right now with Ohno, and scumbag Ninomiya has been giving neither of us a break."
Aiba stirred another packet of sugar into his coffee. "I understand. I wasn't really asking for your help so much as just informing you of something interesting that happened yesterday, but I can see why you're worried."
"Yeah, you think?"
"Honestly, I can manage it on my own."
"You sound awfully determined." Sho frowned. "Wait, don't tell me. He's really good-looking isn't he? Flea-bitten and gross, with probably a lot of fluffy hair. Oh my god, just your type?"
"I-I never said that," said Aiba. "You're drawing your own conclusions here. And I'm just trying to be a nice guy!"
"Well, so am I."
"Liar. You're never nice."
"I'd just be more careful if I were you, Aiba. When there are people like this guy Matsumoto out there in the world, you really start to wonder about humanity." Sho stood up and stretched. "Gotta go back to work now, but thanks for dropping by. It's been a while."
He was being politely told to get the fuck out. Aiba slurped up the rest of his sugary coffee quickly and kept himself from sounding too disappointed. "You're my friend, Sho-chan. Even if we don't really see each other regularly, you can't forget about your old school buddy that easily!"
"Yeah, yeah. You still on for yakiniku with Nino and Ohno next Sunday?"
"Nah. Don't think I've got the time to," said Aiba. He smiled again. "There's some business at the office I've been meaning to attend to."
Work was a building in the middle of Shinagawa, an ordinary office with ordinary co-workers stuck between ordinary skyscrapers and ordinary traffic lines. There were no trees on his street, and when he made phone calls to his clients he could look down at the street from above and observe the people walking back and forth, people eating in restaurants and checking their text messages and looking up at the sky. He had worked at his job long enough to have become very adept at figuring out which ones were the busy elites of society, which ones were wasting their time looking for birds to shoot, which ones were in love, which ones wanted to kill themselves, which ones were planning terrorist attacks. He recognized the rhythmic patterns with which these people went about their daily tasks, and he found it all very fascinating. His own job in his ordinary office with his ordinary co-workers required none of his intellect, and only a small portion of his charm. He was paid well. That was all.
He was home by the time the dust monsters came prowling out in the streets, egged on by the feast of romantics eating in the ramen diners. Romantics were lovely people. Aiba believed himself to be one. The elevator in his building clanked loudly because it ran on clockwork and on the third floor he could hear two siblings arguing over who would get to use the bath first. Saxophone soloist on the fourth floor, mismatched piano notes on the fifth, some horrendous Japanese version of a Korean pop song being blasted on the sixth.
He lived on the seventh floor, which he believed to be the lucky one that kept his days happy and his stomach less grumbly and the television channels always informative. It was perhaps the only things he required in life. He was only a romantic, after all.
Matsumoto Jun was still asleep on Aiba's sofa. He hadn't woken up since their encounter the night before. Aiba had carried him all the way from train station back to a taxi stop while he grumbled about playgrounds and Aiba-kun in his sleep. He had covered Jun's face with his jacket to avoid confrontation with the authorities, felt his heart beat faster when Jun had leaned his head into the crook of Aiba's neck. Matsumoto Jun must have remembered him too, even after all this time.
The current Matsumoto was calm, his eyes closed, chest rising and falling slowly with each breath. He looked soft and vulnerable, jacket wrapped around his well-defined torso, and Aiba couldn't help but feel a bit guilty for staring. He took off his own jacket and hung it on the rack next to the door.
"You're safe now, Jun-kun," he said quietly, more to himself than Jun, and approached the sleeping man. "And you're finally back." He sat down cross-legged on the hardwood floor and sandwiched himself between the foot of the sofa and the coffee table. Jun's face was only a couple inches away from his now. "I've missed you."
He reached out involuntarily, his fingers brushing loose strands of hair away from Jun's forehead. Jun's hair was still slightly damp from the rain storm the night before, and Aiba felt the heat of skin beneath his fingertips, the dream of playground asphalt and three days before a bright sky sunlight melting in his hair, Tackey's Dandelion Pain Train and everything he wished he'd known about Jun but never found out. Leaned his head further toward the sofa and felt super creepy for being so close to a sleeping guy he picked up at the train station.
One of Jun's eyes opened at that very second, and Aiba jumped, withdrew his hand as if it had been burned, knocking a pile of mousepads on the coffee table onto the floor.
"O-Oh god, you're awake."
"...The fuck?" said Jun. His voice was hoarse and dry.
"...H-Hey! It's me."
"I'm so sorry! I brought you home yesterday because you were really sick-looking, I-I mean you looked like you were about to die and you asked me if I could kill you which was kind of fucked up so I mean I had to do something right??"
"I need water," said Jun, and he closed his eyes again. Aiba gulped.
"So how far are we now?" said Ohno, his legs dangling from the ledge of his desk. He didn't trust his chair enough (Ninomiya had been sitting in it only a few minutes ago), plus his hazelnut coffee was almost done. "Have the guys figured out where Matsumoto Jun hid his victim's body yet?"
Sho tapped the case file with a pen, absorbed in his thoughts. "I just don't get it. He's got no criminal history for murder, other than these foolish claims about becoming the next king of Tokyo. So, no real motive, and yet he's linked to it in every other way."
Ohno nodded. "You're right. He's harmless. Matsumoto has been on the records forever, but only as a dealer."
"Ninomiya's incompetence aside, you and I both entered this business knowing the impossibility of ultimately stopping drug crime in Tokyo, and honestly it's better that someone like Matsumoto Jun be the one in charge of it than a truly dangerous individual."
"But that's the thing! Matsumoto is not a truly dangerous individual. He's just a stupid little shit who likes to threaten stupider, littler shits. All he does is pull a few pranks sometimes and get people in trouble--"
"Like that one time at the Tokyo Tower."
"...Yeah, fucked up dumb stuff like that. He's never tried to kill anybody before. Just doesn't seem like he'd do it, you know?"
"And yet his DNA is written all over our crime scene."
The sun was over the horizon again before Jun spoke another word, so Aiba busied himself with the sofa cushions and the mousepads and the television screen, anything to keep himself pre-occupied with the life and times of a romantic. He imagined it to be like living with himself again, happy and delirious with the thought of keeping the dust monsters in the room to himself, shutting down the prospect of being in the neighbourhood of Jun's childhood into the deeper depths of his groggy subconscious. But that had been his regular life. Now Jun was here and Jun was alive and Jun was awake and so it remained that his opportunities were completely uninhibited.
"You should talk some more, Matsumoto-san. I'm feeling a bit lonely here, ne."
"You know my name? Huh, I guess you would. But who are you?"
"Wait," said Aiba, feeling his heart sink. "Y-You mean you don't remember me?"
Matsumoto snorted loudly. "Fuck if I know who you are. But I guess I should thank you for taking me with you. That was a really close call. I was so sure I was gonna go to jail."
"Well, you're welcome," said Aiba. "My name is Aiba. Aiba Masaki."
"...Aiba. Your name is Aiba."
So Matsumoto Jun didn't recognize him. It was possible, of course. It had been a really long time, after all. He simply had not counted it possible within the existent parameters, because he had remembered Jun for so long and thought about him every third Saturday of each month and perhaps it was just the kind of luck that he possessed, living on the seventh floor of a building with an elevator that ran on clockwork.
"Are you sure you don't remember who I am? Because I know who you are, Matsumoto Jun."
"That's not really surprising." Jun stretched, letting out a long yawn. There was a flicker of conflicted emotion in his eyes, but it was gone before Aiba could register any significance. "A lot of people know me. My face is on the news every other week. Not exactly celebrity status, but it's all part of being on track to become the undisputed king of Tokyo. God, you're probably one of those high-profile-criminal enthusiasts. You can get arrested for pulling shit like this, you know. I really hate serial killer fanboys. But I guess I've got nowhere to go now."
"What the fuck, I'm not a serial killer fanboy," said Aiba. "Just like how you're not the king of Tokyo."
"Correct. Oguri Shun is the current king of Tokyo. But I'm next on the list."
Aiba frowned. "But..."
"And yet, Oguri Shun died one week ago," said Sho, slamming his fist down on the table. "That is fact. And we have many reasons to believe that he was murdered by Matsumoto Jun."
"Yeah," said Ohno. "Hey man, is your hand OK? You hit the desk pretty hard."
Sho raised an eyebrow. "Of course it's not. But I will wear this pain proudly, as a symbol of my desire to capture Matsumoto Jun and crush his balls into bits of pulp. They will know me as Balls-Crusher Sakurai."
"You know, just because Nino gave himself a nickname doesn't mean you need one too."
"This has nothing to do with Ninomiya!"
"So are you OK now?" Aiba cocked his head to one side. "Want me to run to the combini to get some food?"
"I was always fine. I lost a lot of blood recently, but give it a few more days and I'll be OK. And I was just a little baked last night."
"I mean, I was smoking weed."
"Yeah, I know what that means. But how did you get away from the police? People usually don't move very far after they get super stoned, do they?"
"I got a tip from a friend. And the cops knocked on my door for quite a while before they tried to kick it down. Last bit of adrenaline saved me," said Jun. His stomach rumbled.
Aiba perked up at the sound. "Are you sure you're not hungry? I still have some potato chips in the kitchen, but let me run down the street and buy some food. I'll be right back!"
He leapt up in a sudden burst of energy and grabbed his coat. The door slammed shut and Aiba was gone in the blink of an eye.
Jun rubbed his head. Aiba's bounding around made his head hurt, but he'd had enough of lying down on the couch and acting like a pussy all day. It was time to get up and act like a pussy. Lifting his jacket off his legs, he sat up and surveyed his surroundings. He was seated in the cramped living room of a cramped apartment. The digital clock on the wall read 7:30pm, but it was still light outside and a few stray strands of sunlight fell through the curtains and dropped onto the hardwood floor. The coffee table in front of Jun held several stacks of new mousepads and some cheap-looking computer hardware. He assumed that that was what Aiba did for a living.
He stood up and walked into the kitchen. There was a thin sheet of dust on top of the stove from unuse, the sink held a small stack of dirty plates, and the dining table possessed a single chair. Must be a lonely existence, the life of Aiba Masaki. He found a half-eaten bag of barbeque-flavoured potato chips leaning against a small potted cactus on the table, sat down in the single chair and reached for the bag. The cellophane crackled when he opened the bag and pulled out a handful of chips.
Outside, the sunlight began to fade.
Matsumoto's apartment complex was still empty when Shun went back to the scene. Patrol cars and groups of policemen were scattered around the area like small grenades, their strobes and tazers matching the street lights. He threw his hood over his head and stuffed some earbuds in his ears, blasted rap music into the distant future. A nursing student walked past him and clutched her bag tighter to her chest.
He sneezed quietly and imagined that Jun was probably safe somewhere, cursing the police, maybe smoking something while thinking about Shun. Jun was always thinking about Shun while he was smoking. For him it probably came naturally, leaves falling and loud thunderstorms and being all dark and brooding for no reason. It was nice to have somebody care about you like that. But that wasn't the real issue here, anyway. Jun had saved his life, bit the bullet off the end of the Izayoi Faction for him, brushed it off afterward like it was not even a big fucking deal.
Matsumoto Jun was a Kent, and not an Oswald. He was too loyal. Too chivalrous. And that was why he'd never become the king of Tokyo.
Shun's cell phone buzzed. It was a call from The Dandelion Pain Train.
"Hey, Tackey. What's up?"
"Did they catch him?"
"Naw. Matsumoto's got a way with the cops. His apartment has more escape holes than a rabbit colony. It's like one gigantic web in there. I told you it was pointless to try."
"And I'm telling you it's impossible for you to be the real king of Tokyo when Matsumoto's got his hand inside the entire narcotics business. Especially with Izayoi gone."
"You were still stupid to try him."
"Don't tell me you're still trying to protect him? And here I am, thinking that his affections were completely unrequited."
"I do love him. As a friend. I have a girl already, you know?"
"Come on, Oguri. Show me some fucking balls."
"We're done talking."
They spent three weeks together, and in those three weeks Aiba was happier than he had ever been. Jun had nowhere else to be and he was 80 percent sure that his cell phone had been bugged, so he got rid of it altogether and decided to spend most of his time sitting in Aiba's bathroom completing Sudoku puzzles. There were a lot of numbers he couldn't figure out plus he was never that great at arithmetic, but he had plenty of time to spare and the minutes slowly trickled out of his head, one by two by eight.
Aiba, on the other hand, did nothing to interrupt him. He bought Jun food when he was hungry, opened the windows when it started to rain, and let Jun sleep on his futon, opting for the sofa instead. In the evenings he went outside to breathe fresh air while Jun stayed inside and tried to find something to smoke. He took three days off work and made Jun visit an evergreen forest in the middle of nowhere, citing the smell of pine and the joy of taking stupid bird pictures on a cheap polaroid camera as valid excuses for his frivolity. In the middle of that day they found a patch of green grass where the sun wasn't too bright and the sound of water rumbling against the rocks of a spring was audible, and there Aiba laid his head down on the grass and talked to himself without saying much and laughed by himself without making any jokes. Jun watched the sky.
In the third week, the potted cactus on Aiba's dining table grew a flower, and the stories on the television channels became less informative. There was still only one chair in the kitchen, and Aiba used this as a reason to eat in front of the window. He watched the streets and pretended that he could read the minds of every single person who walked by, seven stories below.
Jun fell asleep one day and when he woke up he found Aiba staring at his face intently, a faraway look on his face. Aiba didn't notice him until a minute later. He apologized profusely and blamed his neighbours for cooking really delicious-smelling hayashi rice.
Another day, Jun asked Aiba why he bothered to do any of it, take care of Jun and bring him food and listen to him do nothing all day, talk to him even when he was asleep, unresponsive while the television was on.
(To which came the simple reply: I think you're interesting, Matsumoto Jun.)
we haven't talked in ages
i'm gonna bring nino and ohno over on tuesday!
let's have a big fucking beer party
"You think I'm that interesting? Come on, you've got to have a better reason than that."
They were eating dinner together. This time Aiba had tried to make omurice. It ended up being a bit burnt around the edges, but Jun decided to be a good sport so he ate it anyway. He was sitting at the the dining table with a cup of tea and Aiba took his regular position standing next to the window, as he'd done for the last three weeks, staring out at the streets with a small smile on his face.
"Hey, are you listening to me? I asked you a question."
Aiba turned around. He leaned his back against the window pane. "I heard you. I was just trying to come up with a response that didn't sound too creepy."
Jun shrugged. "I'm used to creepy. Hit me with your best shot."
"But I think the better question to ask is, why are you still here with me? You could have left after the first night you spent here, but you stayed."
"I don't see myself going anywhere in the future. But I can leave if you want me to."
"You are always welcome to stay here."
He was taken aback by the earnesty in Aiba's response. "Jeez, that's a heavy proposition. I mean I don't even really know you, plus I highly doubt you're the kind of guy who'd let a random stranger he found at the train station stay at his place forever. Just what is this all about?"
"Are you in love with me or something?"
Aiba stared a Jun, a small frown on his face. "Well. I guess you could put it that way."
"...Really," Jun finally said.
"I figured you weren't the type of person who preferred men, so I didn't want to say anything." The turn of their conversation was clearly making Aiba uncomfortable. He was fidgeting with his chopsticks and shifting his balance from one foot to the other, unsure of whether or not he should be eating or saying some else.
"Why would you think I'm straight?" said Jun.
"Well you are, aren't you?"
"That's not important. The point is, why would you think I'm straight? For that matter, isn't it kind of weird for you to have fallen in love with me so easily, after only having spoken to me for the three weeks that I've stayed here?"
"N-No...it's not like that..."
"Why? How is it different?"
"B-Because I've liked you for ten years!" Aiba finally blurted out. His face was a furious red and his fists were clenched tight.
"What?" said Jun, dumbfounded.
"We went to the same elementary and junior high school. Matsumoto Jun-kun, Class 2C. You sat in the back row, window seat. Or don't you remember?" said Aiba, his voice bitter. "Of course you wouldn't. You barely paid attention to anyone. Skipping class, even back then. There were rumors about how you kissed every single girl in our class over the summer holiday. I moved away to Kanagawa after that, anyway. Thought I'd never see you again."
"No way," said Jun, shaking his head in amazement. "I honestly don't remember you."
"Yeah, no shit."
The blush was receding from Aiba's face, replaced by a mask of warm insincerity. "Come on," said Jun, mollified. "that was ten years ago. I wouldn't have remembered something from ten years ago."
"But I did," said Aiba quietly. "Because you were an important memory to me. And I know it's fucked up, but I've liked you all this time."
"I can't think about this right now." Jun put down his chopsticks. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands. "Either way, I guess it's only fair that I tell you. I'm not straight. I'm not exactly gay, either. But I'm in love with a man, so I guess I'm gay right now."
"...Oh," said Aiba, because that was all he could really say. "I guess you are, then."
"I'm sorry, Aiba, I don't know if I'll ever like you that way. I'm sorry I didn't remember you from ten years ago. It's probably gonna be awkward if I stay any longer here, isn't it?"
The doorbell rang.
"I wonder what kind of beer Aiba likes," said Nino, picking through the shelves in the supermarket.
"I don't think he drinks that much," said Ohno. "Just get whatever."
Nino stroked his chin. "That Taiwanese one looks pretty good. We never get the Taiwanese one, do we? It's always Asahi, all the time."
"You guys are taking too long," Sho grumbled. "This isn't a fucking wedding party."
"But beer is important, Sho-chan! The right kind of beer sets the mood for the atmosphere! And we want a good atmosphere with Aiba-chan, don't we?"
"What the fuck does that even mean."
"Well, he's just a regular salaryman. Probably doesn't wanna deal with the blood and guts of our profession all the time," said Nino. "Plus there's the depressive atmosphere of having so many unsolved cases." He glared at Ohno.
Ohno shrugged. "Don't look at me, it's your case too."
"Oh really? Last time I tried to ask about it, Sho-chan physically carried me out of your office. That was sooo humiliating for me, by the way. Even Nishikido was there to witness it!"
"Whatever man," said Sho. "Let's just get this stupid Taiwanese beer and go to Aiba's house."
"Shun," said Jun. "Wonderful you could drop by."
"Jun!" Oguri said, grabbing his friend by the shoulders while Aiba watched in the background uncomfortably. "I've been looking for you fucking everywhere."
"Didn't really see the point of informing you of my whereabouts, since you ditched me for the cops last time."
"Hey, I didn't mean to. It was all Tackey's fault. He was being super obsessive and I shut the stupid fucker down yesterday so now I've finally found you. What a mean little shit, apparently he knew where you were all this time too...!" He stopped in the middle of his words, noticing Aiba for the first time. "And this guy's your wild card? What's your name? I'm Oguri. King of Tokyo. Jun here is my best friend forever. He saved my life two months ago, did you know? Took a bullet for me in his arm and everything."
"I-It's nice to meet you," said Aiba nervously. "I'm Aiba Masaki."
An awkward pause.
"Well, that was nice!" Shun released Jun from his grip. "I just came here to check up on you, and you seem to be in good health. Limbs intact. No organs missing. I'm leaving now! Gotta spend more time with Erika-chan. I really have a good feeling about this one, man. I really do." He gave Jun another sharp pat on his back before turning on his heels and walking back down the hallway. The clockwork elevator waited for him patiently.
Aiba shut the door behind him. Jun turned around and made a small shrug, trying to hide his burning cheeks.
Aiba curled his lips. "Well. At least I can't fault you for having poor taste."
(They are on a trampoline and the world is teetering between becoming smaller and bigger and smaller and bigger and he's been jumping for ten minutes so that his knees are finally feeling slightly weaker than normal, but he doesn't want to stop because the exhilaration of leaving the ground for just two seconds is not exactly tangible, the beauty of the clouds becomes two seconds more realistic and two seconds more attainable than before, he wants to say something but the syllables disintegrate inside his mouth and he's traveling in time and space until all of a sudden he becomes the only boy in the world, the only man in his dimension, all alone and ready to slide into the Batmobile, except there's Jun again, drawing him back to Earth and back into lucidity. Just walk this way. So he doesn't look back, only forward.
"Wanna know something?"
"There is nobody in this world who loves you more than I do."
"Do you really believe that?"
"...Nobody in this dimension, at least."
"You are the only one for me. Don't forget that, OK?"
"Does it hurt sometimes?" asked Aiba.
"Does what hurt?"
"Your heart. Does it hurt sometimes?"
"I guess so. I don't really think about it like that. I have other obligations in my life, and sometimes I go to a bar or something and pick up someone to have sex. It clears my thoughts."
"O-Oh. I've never done that. Pick up someone at a bar, I mean. I prefer to just talk to one of the secretaries at work. They're all very willing to go out with me for some reason."
Jun laughed. "You have a nice face. But that's not very polite, is it? You're kind of disrespecting your work environment if you fuck every woman at the office. At least I have enough dignity to make it completely no-strings-attached. And I can hook-up with whomever I want, girl or guy."
"You seem to have thought it all out."
"I guess. But sometimes it does get lonely, yeah."
They're both think about the hour of homecoming, every third Saturday of each month. Empty apartment, light switch by the door. Rainclouds outside and cell phone set to silent. Maybe find something distracting to do on the internet, maybe go back downstairs to pick up a gravure idol magazine in the stand around the corner, maybe call a friend just to hear their voice in the background. Cooking a meal from scratch, smoking a spliff, listening to the rumble of traffic outside Shinjuku, writing a receipt, calling a telemarketer company and asking for customer service. Anything to while away that single hour of complete and utter loneliness, to mask it with human contact, split seconds of innovation, calling on the power of the stars, finding the center of the universe, pulling pranks that would make Mephistopheles jealous and The Knightly Kent tear his hair in defeat.
"I could make it less lonely for you," said Aiba, and he closed his eyes. Smiled at the idea and sat down on his dining table, next to Jun.
"Yeah?" said Jun. He licked his lips. His mouth was dry and Aiba was too close to his face but kind of not close enough either.
The kiss was soft.
Ninomiya, Ohno, and Sakurai arrived when Aiba was in the shower, so that when Jun heard the doorbell he assumed that it was Shun again. He opened the door and saw three men in police uniforms, and holy fuck that fucking Aiba Masaki was one unbelievable motherfucker.
"Hey," said Sho, failing to recognize the single face in the mugshot that he had memorized for the last two months. "I'm Sakurai. This is Ohno, and that shorty over there is Ninomiya. We're Masaki's friends. You must be that guy he picked up at the train station."
"Cool," said Jun, "my name is Akanishi Jin, nice to meet you all." He didn't stick his hand out to shake. He had to get out of here. Now. "Sorry if this is kind of sudden, but I need to go somewhere. Please come on in and sit down. Aiba's in the shower."
While the three cops walked through Aiba's kitchen and made their way into his living room, Jun ran the other way. He found a jacket on the rack next to the door, wrapped it around his shoulders, put on a pair of Aiba's running shoes and then he got the fuck out the building. Didn't even bother to make tea.
"What a fucking weirdo," said Nino. "He didn't even bother to make tea."
"Well, that's Aiba's problem," said Sho, before he stopped himself and snapped to attention. "Hey wait a minute! I recognized that face!"
"You did?" said Ohno. "Did you know him? Come to think of it, he did look rather familiar. Hey Aiba! Have we met Akanishi Jin somewhere before?"
At that moment Aiba emerged from the bathroom, wrapping a towel around his waist. "He's not Jin," he said. And then he sighed. The climax of this stupid fairy tale had finally arrived. "That was Matsumoto Jun."
"What the fuck?!" Sho was hysterical. "WHAT THE FUCK?"
"I knew I recognized him," said Ohno. "I fucking called that one."
"Man, he's way prettier in real life," said Nino.
"SHUT THE FUCK UP NINO THAT'S NOT THE POINT." Sho slapped a hand over his own face. "HE WAS HERE. RIGHT HERE. AND WE FUCKING LET HIM GET AWAY."
"Yeah, Sho-chan fucked up pretty hard," Aiba said cheerfully. "I mean I guess it was partially my fault for not telling you, but still you guys kind of suck at this Three Musketeers thing."
"ARE YOU SHITTING ME THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT AIBA."
"Calm down, Sho-chan," said Nino.
"I CAN'T CALM DOWN. HE KILLED OGURI SHUN. AND HE WAS RIGHT HERE. IN YOUR APARTMENT. HE WAS PROBABLY GOING TO KILL YOU TOO. OH MY GOD AIBA OH MY GOD--"
Aiba blinked. "Oguri Shun? But Oguri Shun is alive. I mean I wouldn't have minded seeing him dead but he is still alive. And happy. With a girlfriend and everything."
Sho slumped down on the ground, his fingers still covering his face. "...What? Wait, are you sure?"
"Hmmm..." Ohno crouched down on the floor next to Sho. "They never did find his body. All we had at the crime scene were pictures of Oguri's blood that the Izayoi Group's lawyer provided us. They cleaned it up before we could get a sample of it anyway."
Nino started to giggle. "Oh my god, we've been had. We're idiots. Actually wait no I'm not an idiot Sho-chan's the only idiot here."
Ohno was still deep in thought. "Although that doesn't change the fact that Matsumoto Jun's DNA was all over him apartment."
"They're best friends, Matsumoto and Oguri," said Aiba. "And Oguri informed me personally that Jun had saved his life that day. 'Took a bullet to his arm and everything.'" Plus Jun was kind of in love with Shun. But he wasn't ready to share that fact yet.
"I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS BULLSHIT."
"Man, this job sucks."
Nino sighed. "We even scared the guy away and everything."
"What?" said Aiba. He looked around, dismayed. Matsumoto was indeed missing. "You scared him away?"
"We're sorry, Aiba-chan."
"Fuck you guys," said Aiba, in an unprecedented display of a rude change in personality. "Fuck you guys all."
This was not happening. He had waited ten years and bullshit like this just fucking happens. He didn't give a shit about being a romantic, about finding a Batmobile or a patch of green grass or drinky crappy Taiwanese beer, he didn't even give a shit about Jun loving someone else. This was not fucking happening, after ten fucking years. Aiba raced down the hallway for the clockwork elevator, but Jun was of course already gone, having taken the stairs. He probably hadn't even put on any socks. The elevator door finally opened after fifty seconds of frantically jabbing at the button, and then he was traveling down the six floors, hearing the mismatched piano keys and the saxophone soloist and the hideous Japanese remake of a Korean pop song. Crashed through the doors of the lobby of his apartment, woke up the sleeping doorman at the gates. Felt the earthy breeze of the sky outside and realized that it was going to rain and fuck if it wasn't a scene right out of a stupid drama.
He could see people leaving their buildings and running into their cars. Fat drops of rain slid down the sky and landed on the sidewalk, the streets slippery and the headlights of cars beginning to blur. Matsumoto Jun was nowhere in sight. Apartment lights flickered to life as the sun went down, and Aiba was still running down the streets, vaguely aware that he hadn't put on anything except a pair of pants and the long Brooks Brothers jacket that Jun had left behind. The rain pelted down the streets whole-heartedly now, slid down his cheeks, mixed with his angry tears and collected inside the hollow neck of his jacket.
"Looking for someone?"
He turned around.
"Shun..." he croaked, his voice raw from running in the rain.
"Who said you could call me Shun?"
"Oguri-san," he heard himself beg, "please. Where did Jun go?"
"He won't be around anymore. I heard you tried to bring your friends at the precinct down on him."
"No! It's not like that. I can explain--"
"You don't need to. Lucky I was in the area. Dunno where he would have landed if the king of Tokyo wasn't here to pull some strings. He's safe now. Honestly, did you think you could get away with a stupid plan like that? You went full retard, Aiba Masaki."
The rain came down in sheets, whipping his hair back from his face and fully drenching his jacket and his shoes. Shun was standing under an umbrella. His expression was unreadable.
"No," he pleaded. This wasn't happening. "No, please. Just let me see him. Let me talk to him. Just once."
"You thought it'd be fun to hurt him a bit, didn't you," said Shun. "Just go home, Aiba, and don't try it again. Game over."
Tears smarted his eyes. He could hear the raindrops echoing in the distance, a lonely man in a lonely dimension. This was so fucking silly. "I was the one who hurt him?" He heard himself say, not quite sure where this anger was coming from, but fuck it if it wasn't well-deserved. "You think I was the one who hurt him?"
"Who else could it be?" Shun sneered, but Aiba could hear the hesitance in his voice.
"Try yourself," he said. The anger grew, and he felt its claw tear deep in his heart, three days before a dark sky raindrops melting through his hair cryptic thoughts crunchy between his bare toes. "Or did you not realize how fucking crazy he is about you? Every time you talk about your nonexistent girlfriend in front of him you can see him beat himself up for it."
"Whooa," said Shun. "Back up, man. My nonexistent girlfriend? Now that's just accusatory."
Aiba felt his head clear up a bit. His fists curled. "Practically. In the past three weeks I've seen you skulking up and down this street sixteen times. You knew where Jun was all along. You were just waiting for an opening like this. And if you had a goddamn girlfriend you were actually serious about, you wouldn't have spent so much wandering around your best friend's hiding place! Some fucking king of Tokyo you are."
Shun opened his mouth and shut it, unable to speak for a moment. Then he laughed and put his hands up. "OK, OK, you caught me, you're right. I really shouldn't have spent so much time around here. I was just worried, you know? I had some feelings to sort out. I mean I knew he liked me but I'm not just about ready to say I'm gay or anything. You know what I mean. But I care about Jun just as much as you do."
Aiba opened his mouth to retort, but there was already someone standing behind him.
"Wrong," said Matsumoto Jun. "Nobody in this world loves me more than Aiba Masaki."
Aiba swiveled around again and there was Jun, hair wet from the rain, breathing hard and shivering in Aiba's thin jacket and running shoes. Nino, Ohno and Sho were not far behind, running toward them whilst bellowing suitably stupid things, inaudible over the clatter of the storm. Without another word and completely disregarding the embarrassment of the citizens of the world and the state of the weather and the romantics eating in the ramen diners, Aiba burst into tears and wrapped his wet arms around Jun's chest.
"I THOUGHT I WOULD FUCKING NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN MATSUMOTO JUN YOU STUPID FUCK SERIOUSLY FUCK YOU I FUCKING LOVE YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU--"
"Wow, Matsumoto." Shun grunted. "Real dramatic."
"I'm sorry, Shun," said Jun. "I couldn't help it. You were being such a dick to him just now. He's been through a lot, too."
"AND SERIOUSLY HOW THE FUCK COULD YOU THINK I WOULD BETRAY YOU DIDN'T I GO OVER HOW STUPIDLY FUCKING AWKWARDLY I WAS PINING AFTER YOU DON'T MAKE ME FUCKING REPEAT MYSELF SERIOUSLY FUCK YOU MAN YOU'RE SUCH A FUCKING LOSER..." Aiba buried his face inside Jun's jacket, muffling the rest of his speech.
"And what about those guys?" Shun raised an eyebrow at the policemen, just as Nino and Ohno and Sho ran up to them.
"You're alive," Sakurai huffed, "that's good enough" --huff-- "proof that--"
"That we were wrong," said Ohno, seemingly still in good condition after his sprint down the street. "And we're sorry for our mistakes, Matsumoto-san."
"We explained it to Jun-chan when we found him hiding in a trash can down the street!" Nino said cheerfully. "He was too pussy to go out in the rain by himself."
"I was not," Jun snapped. "Anyway, I'm glad this got sorted out. It was really kind of troublesome walking around with a Murder Badge slapped on my forehead."
"Why are you suddenly so different?" Shun frowned. "I just don't understand. I thought you were still in love with me or something."
Jun dropped his gaze down to Aiba, whose limbs were entangled around his body like a giant octopus. "I can't say I'm not relieved to realize that you weren't serious about Erika-chan. I guess I've just been lonely for too long."
Shun said nothing.
"And it was kind of thanks to you and thanks to our dishonesty with the police that I was able to spend three weeks living with some random guy who was completely convinced that nobody loved me more than him."
"Or at least nobody in this dimension," Aiba added sullenly, lifting his face from Jun's chest momentarily before smothering it back in Jun's jacket.
"I see," said Shun. "Then this is just getting really fucking weird."
"You're right!" Nino clapped him on the back. "We should go back and finish drinking my Taiwanese beer. Man, I knew Oguri had it in him."
He is twenty-four years old when Jun falls in love with Aiba, three days before a dark sky raindrops melting through his hair cryptic thoughts crunchy between his bare toes. Crimes scenes are recorded and handled carelessly by the three musketeers and Kato down at the Shinjuku precinct, and Aiba is still relatively cheerful, except for maybe the crazy trips up the country to an evergreen forest with a patch of green grass to lie down on. Oguri Shun continues his reign as the undisputed king of Tokyo, and Tackey's Dandelion Pain Train remains a menace to Jun's illegal trade.
They live recklessly and prosper without really making any money, move into a new apartment at the end of the year with a dining table that can fit two chairs. Aiba is still too soft, fluffy around his arms and optimistic to the point of futility, happy with the adoption of a stupid stray cat with half an ear, impressing his friends by the sheer amount of cheap computer hardware he's able to sell on a regular basis, because that's Aiba Masaki for you and that's the Aiba Masaki Jun will remember.
"Hey Aiba," Jun tells him, three days before a dark sky raindrops melting through his hair cryptic thoughts crunchy between his bare toes. "Aiba. Let's get fucking shit-faced. And then let's go to a love hotel."
And so they do.
- the end -