The guy behind the counter doesn't spare them a second glance when they walk in.
To an outsider, someone passing through on his way south to catch the earliest waves breaking over Shonan, they'd sound like they're bickering. Their voices rise and fall like ocean swells. They speak so softly it's difficult to make out what they're saying. One of them carries a basket on his arm, lightly, like a housewife would. His eyes are narrow even for a Japanese man, and yet when he turns them to the ceiling, scanning for cameras or anything else that might give them away, they are frighteningly intent. His hair is cut short, though recent ads remember a longer style that suited him better. He moves like a samurai, two invisible swords at his hip. He looks 14 years old.
His companion is as restless as Young Samurai is still. He moves between the aisles, he picks things up and puts them down again. Under the sound of the air-conditioning we hear snippets of an Elvis Presley song; odd, given the hair curling at his neck and the clothes he's trying to hide in, more suited to a fan of indie rock. Give him a lip ring and a few more hole in his black jeans, he could pass as punk. He's someone who enjoys foiling expectations.
They wander around the store at different speeds. Occasionally Elvis returns with a different song on his lips, to drop an armful of things into Young Samurai's basket. He doesn't stick around long enough to see Young Samurai put half of them back on the shelves. They are mostly alone in the mum-and-pop store, open all night for the customers who keep graveyard hours. Young Samurai pauses a second between the pre-cooked tempura and the plastic-wrapped trays of inarizushi. He slips his phone from his back pocket to check the time. 3:37am. They have an hour, maybe less, before Tokyo behinds to stir.
"Ne." He speaks loud enough for the sound to carry across the aisle, no further. Elvis peeks out from between the snacks and canned fruits.
"You good?" Young Samurai asks, but a note in his tone says it's not really a question. Elvis narrows his eyes first at the basket, much lighter than it should be, then at Young Samurai. He arches an eyebrow, demanding an explanation. Young Samurai shakes his head. Elvis' brow arches higher. Clearly we sense they are used to talking without speaking.
A sigh slips from Young Samurai's lungs like wind slipping between old apartment blocks: a high-ish, impatient sound. He takes two steps to the deli fridge, about the size of a bread bin. In it, among other things, the olives Mum and Pop stock specifically for them. Young Samurai takes two jars full and places them very deliberately in the basket, alongside cold bottles of tea. The corner of Elvis' mouth quirks upward and the hard lines around his eyes soften. Give and take. They are all about finding a balance.
Young Samurai turns toward the register. A flicker of movement in our peripheral vision, Elvis dis- and re-appears.
"Hey," he says, and tosses a pack of dried squid into the basket. Young Samurai looks back over his shoulder and smiles.
Spring has come late this year -- see a few magnolia petals, still dressed in their deep velvet purple, still clinging to the branch. All around, the cherry trees put out their leaves, their ancient bark like beetles eating away at the wood. By the river, some branches seem more like hollowed halves of bamboo, channelling water to the heart of the tree. Look closely. Water has pooled in the shallow bark basins. Mosquitos will breed in them soon, but not yet. Now, only the moon rests on the surface of the water, a tiny replica of itself so still we could reach out and lift it on our fingers. It's spring and the entire country is travelling. Soon Young Samurai and Elvis will be too.
"Jin, keep your voice down."
"Why? There's no one else here. Even the 'rats have to sleep sometime."
They're sitting in the lee of the only trees in flower. Pink peach blossoms sway gently above their heads, bleached in the moonlight. The moon hangs low to the west, and behind endless high-rises and tenements, the eastern horizon is already tinged with light. They don't have long.
They're sitting on Elvis' coat, because it's bigger, because he bought it at Second Street for a thousand yen. They're sitting hip to hip and thigh to thigh. Young Samurai sits with his back straight and the calico shopping bag open beside him. Elvis sits slouched, resting all his weight on his hands splayed behind him in the dirt. They've already cleaned through the tempura vegies and the pack of dried squid. Young Samurai takes a long swallow from his bottle of tea.
His attention on fishing through the calico bag, Young Samurai doesn't see the split-second leer nip across Elvis' mouth. You will be, it seems to say, or perhaps Patience, patience. Shifting, Elvis reaches out and runs two fingers light down the ridges of Young Samurai's spine. Even in the shadows and through the stuff of his designer t-shirt, we see Young Samurai's shoulders drop, his posture relax with a sigh. When he spears an olive from the jar and holds it out in offer, Elvis bites it straight off the toothpick. Their eyes meet and don't shift. They've been doing this a long time now, they've both aged and seasoned; there is control, a certain restraint in their movements, like a coil of tension, still but for the shudders of potential energy that surround it. A weighted suggestion.
Young Samurai smiles a touch. "Not here," he says and the moment is gone.
"Fine." Elvis sounds almost petulant, but his grin isn't long in returning. He digs another olive out of the jar with his fingers. "But admit it, this is the best idea I've had all week."
"And it only took you all week to hit on it."
"Fuck you, Kamenashi."
Young Samurai only shakes his head, with some regret we see, and spears an olive for himself.
"Thought you didn't like olives," Elvis says, his voice going up at the end, shifting it to a question.
"I don't. But you ate half my squid," and Young Samurai raises a fiercely-plucked eyebrow, as if daring the singer to challenge him. Elvis' grin only widens. Perhaps he's made the same observations we have, perhaps he's noticed Young Samurai's right hand resting at his left hip, unconsciously fingering the air as he might have done the cross-bindings of a sword hilt a hundred and fifty years earlier. Perhaps Elvis is revelling in the ticks and winces of distaste on Young Samurai's face, committing each one to memory. Like the Mona Lisa, from whichever angle we look, he is always watching.
"Won't be long now, you won't have to keep forcing yourself to eat them."
An incline of his head, conceding the point, but Young Samurai's smile is rueful. "Doesn't mean I won't miss them."
Once again Elvis reaches out. The palm of his hand comes to rest at the curve of muscle and skin where Young Samurai's shoulder meets his throat, and his thumb sweeps soft across the nape of Young Samurai's neck.
"You gonna come visit me this time?" Elvis asks. His voice has dropped, still light in tone but deeper now, serious.
"With the way my schedule's looking?" Young Samurai turns to his companion and his face is full of apology, but Elvis' eyes don't waver in their calm assurance. Elvis knows what he wants, he doesn't think it's much to ask for, and he has that look about him, there in the tilt of his head: he's one of those people who always gets what he wants in the end. And Young Samurai it seems has come to trust in this more than any word they receive from Upstairs. "I'll try."
Satisfied, or perhaps knowing it's all he's going to get, Elvis slouches back with a nod, but Young Samurai is not quite done.
"Promise me something?" he asks.
"That if I do come--"
"When." Elvis' tone brooks no argument. Young Samurai smiles, however fleeting.
"Sorry, when I do come, promise me I won't have to drag you to the first hospital we see?"
The worry may be justified, Elvis does not have a good track record for taking care of himself, but still he rolls his eyes. "Believe it or not, Kame, I can measure a dose of insulin without you."
"I didn't mean it like--"
"I know," and Elvis smiles, his expression settled into something both exasperated and indulgent. "Just stop worrying, would you?"
"...one of us has to," Young Samurai mutters but there is no sting to his words, nor to the way his body moves closer, unconsciously drawn or just no longer resisting.
"That's what I have a mother for," Elvis says, though most of his attention is taken by the body moulding closer to him. In that moment we see Young Samurai's features suddenly slacken, his mind struck with a terrifying thought.
"Am I going to want to see your place if I do--"
"--when I do make it over?"
The smile playing around Elvis' mouth turns both angelic and angling. "You could always ask Yanagi to get me a housekeeper?"
"I'm staying in a hotel."
Any theoretical halo now displaced by horns, Elvis replies, "You're not going out of my sight," and leans forward, slings his arm round Young Samurai's shoulders.
To any casual observer -- a drunk and exhausted salaryman on the street above, stumbling home by way of the machi's largest landmark, or an insomniac on the riverside path fifty metres away, trying to walk off the thoughts that keep sleep swimming just out of reach -- they are no more than friends after a long night out, keeping each other company until the trains start up again at 5am, or nothing more than shadows under the peach trees. But clear-eyed, we see the deft brushing of Elvis' fingers over the flesh of a bicep and under the sleeve hem. We see the way Young Samurai leans both into the touch and into the body beside him, unreserved and unrestrained.
"I don't know if I can do this again, Jin," Young Samurai says quietly, his words free of inflection, nothing more than the truth. Elvis simply pulls his companion closer into the crook of his arm. He lays his lips against the fall of dark hair just beneath them.
"One day I swear I'll find something you can't do. I haven't found it yet and I don't reckon I'm going to, not this year anyway." A moment's pause, then he smirks. "You're gonna be so busy torturing the others and making the costume girls cry, you won't even notice I'm gone."
"Arse. I'm not that bad." His words belie the fact Young Samurai is smiling, slightly, pulled back a step from the worries and self-doubt that sometimes threaten to swallow him whole.
"Wanna bet?" Elvis threads his fingers up into Young Samurai's too-short hair. "A thousand yen I get a call from Yanagi five seconds from a nervous breakdown, begging me to fly back and shut you up."
"You know, if this is the best you can do at being comforting and supportive, I take it back, I'm not going to miss you at all."
"That's the spirit!" With a low chuckle, Elvis pulls him closer. "You'll do this, Kame. You'll do this and it'll be amazing because you won't accept anything less. So quit stressing about it before someone shoves a sock down your throat."
"By 'someone' I suppose you mean you?"
"Nah actually, I thought Tacchan was gonna reach across the table and snap your neck earlier. And besides, it's not like I need props to get your mind off work."
It takes only two fingers and a gentle pressure against his cheek to tilt Young Samurai's face upward. Shadows move like secret thoughts across his forehead as instinct takes over and he meets Elvis' mouth halfway.
It's softness at first. With his hand in Young Samurai's hair, Elvis guides them to what he wants: one or two teasing brushes before the man's lips part and they're kissing in earnest, curled into each other as climbing vines curl upon themselves around the tree branch above. We hear the slip of tongues dancing in time, the wet press and part of their lips moving against each other and a low moan in Young Samurai's throat. They don't have long. Another twenty minutes and the first silvers of the sun will appear over the horizon. Another fortnight and Elvis will be on a plane, headed for a city of angels.
"Jin--" Young Samurai's voice is all air, sound barely etched into the movement. "Jin."
"Mm?" Elvis answers against the smooth underside of Young Samurai's jaw and the vibrations seem to echo through his body as a series of shudders.
"Jin." With his hand balled in the curls of Elvis' hair, Young Samurai gently pulls him away. Though we can guess from the convulsions of his fingers -- twisting locks of hair around his skin, grasping at Elvis' back through the fabric of his shirt -- that he is stopping this reluctantly. "Home."
Lips kiss-bruised and utterly wanton, Elvis smiles. "If you say so."
There is a light already on in one kitchen window as they walk up the embankment stairs to the road, shoulder to shoulder. Young Samurai carries the coat specked with dirt and blades of grass. Home is not far away. They follow the river and its line of ancient trees until, on the opposite side of the road, a set of rough-hewn steps descend into the backstreets of their machi. Before they cross, Elvis reaches up and plucks a cluster of peach flowers from an overhanging branch. Young Samurai raises a brow in question.
"You said you wanted to do it under the blossoms at least once," Elvis says and chuckles when Young Samurai just shakes his head.
"You're lucky I love you," Young Samurai murmurs and though his voice is heavy with bemused resignation, his eyes are molten with truth.
They don't hold hands crossing the road. The occasional brush of their fingers speak volumes.