Metal oxidation: the chemical process in which the electrons of an alloy move into oxygen molecules. In return, negative ions generate and enter the metal, leaving it tarnished with rust. Gold, however, was one of the least reactive metals, and thus wasn’t likely to oxidise unless alloyed with other metals. Pure gold did not lose its lustre.
The same could not be said for Golden Yokocho. It had been corrupt from the start, what with being on Kumakura turf, and every day would see it fall a little further into debauchery. It was the inevitable, and unenviable, fate of society, to continue building higher while the rot forever festered in the cracks.
And if anyone knew about the gradual, unstoppable force of corruption, it was Renju Okiura.
It was early to be drinking- early enough that Renju was the only patron at the bar- but already he could feel the edges of his vision blur from the bourbon in his system. By definition, he was not an alcoholic, but now more than ever he found himself retreating into a drink when the abyss in his head grew larger and louder.
Sometimes it would be Hitomi that he would hear, her quivering sobs as she knelt over the corpse of her best friend. Sometimes it would be Mizuki, futilely holding back her tears so as to not upset her mother. Sometimes it would be the string of elderly bodies that his teenage self had left in his wake- he hadn't known their voices, but he'd had enough years to fabricate them in his mind.
He flung back the rest of his drink, welcoming the burn down his throat.
Mama was dealing with stock in the back room, her single customer insisting that he was fine without her presence. She was smarter than she led people to believe, had seen through his lie even with all his experience in creating them, but nevertheless she had left him to his own devices. As an informant, it was her role to pass on information, not deal with it hands-on, and that mentality extended past her occupation. At the most she would lend a sympathetic ear, or calm him and Date if they got too rowdy, but otherwise they were left to deal with their own issues.
And Renju had tried to. He had tried so hard. But his tarnish could never be cleaned.
That’s why he'd handed Mizuki off to Date. That's why he preserved Manaka’s body but did nothing to seek vengeance against the men who'd killed her. He couldn't. The world knew him as the successful businessman behind Lemniscate, but crack that shell and all you would find was the cowardly little boy who couldn't say no to the Yakuza, who couldn't protect his best friend or his daughter, who couldn't do anything but let his sins pile up and then foist them onto someone else.
His finger circled the ice ball in his empty glass. Once or twice, when visiting Manaka, he had considered shutting the warehouse door behind him. In a place like that, it wouldn't take long for his heart to freeze over, and then he could be free of all his worries and sin. And how very like him it would be, to run away from his problems once and for all.
That was why he couldn't do it. It was immoral for him to keep living, but worse for him to not. While he was alive, he bore all the pain and regret from those that he'd victimised, intentionally or not. It was the very least he could do.
Yes. I deserve this.
He didn't know how long he sat there, his thoughts weighing on him like the world upon Atlas, but eventually he was dredged out of his mire by the lilting ring of the entrance bell. He didn't want anyone to see him so brooding, not even a stranger, so he tidied his posture as best he could and looked across to the newcomer.
And he stared.
The man must have been used to catching people's attention- if he went everywhere looking like that, then how could he not?- because all he did was offer a polite smile and then walk over to make himself comfortable at the bar. The neon green of his labcoat and visor was clear even in Marble’s purple lighting, while his dark bodysuit absorbed the colour and provided his eccentric get-up with a cooling edge.
(Renju also couldn't help but note that, whatever the suit was made of, it was sleek and skintight. Little was left to the imagination, a fact that made his ears burn.)
“Is the bartender around?” The man asked, sounding exactly like Renju imagined he would- as if, any second now, he was going to pull out a beaker full of bright liquid and laugh maniacally.
Renju stared a little longer, confirming to himself that the man wasn't some strange, alcohol-induced hallucination, and then cleared his throat with a start. “Uhm, sorry, yes, she's in the back. I can call her over if you'd like..?”
“It’s alright, I need a second to get my bearings anyway.” His elbows rested on the counter as he took in Marble’s interior. He was all sharp angles, from the protruding collar of his coat to his high and pronounced cheekbones. His gaze, too, was keen, despite the glibness of his voice. “My first time in Yokocho, you see.”
No doubt. Renju would've remembered seeing someone like him before. “You've come to the right bar, then. Mama keeps her ear to the grapevine; she knows all there is to know about this place.”
“Wonderful! I take it you're a regular, then?”
“I… suppose, yes.”
The man leaned towards him, his corneas strangely small in his sclera but no less scrutinising because of it. “Perhaps you can guide me through the menu then, Mr…”
“Okiura. Renju Okiura.” Instinct nearly made him raise his hand for a shake. Not sure what to do otherwise- how long had it been since he'd met Date in a bar like this?- he clasped his empty glass and smiled awkwardly.
“Mr. Okiura. You can call me…” There was a strange pause, as if the man was sifting through options in his head, “Futa is fine. Futa Amanoma.”
“You'll have to call me Renju if you want Futa in return.”
Futa chuckled, his smile too wide for his gaunt face. It was endearing, in a way. “Renju it is.”
Perhaps he’d been hasty to offer his first name to a stranger, but Renju didn't mind how it sounded on his tongue. More than that, he wasn't ‘Okiura’ in Marble- he was Renju, Ren, friend to Date and Mama. The lack of formality was what endeared him so much to the place. It was like a second home- perhaps even closer to his heart than his real one.
And there was the pang of bitter memories, always hovering on the edge, reminding him not to enjoy himself too much. His smile felt frozen on his face, so he took a drink to fix it, the few whispers of bourbon lost in the melted ice.
“Whiskey, correct?” Futa had followed Renju’s movement with his eyes. “I've never been one for the intricacies of alcohol, to be honest. No source of irritation for my boss and her ‘DomP’ obsession…”
Renju smiled, genuinely this time, and the coil around his heart loosened ever so slightly. “Where do you work, if I may ask?”
“The police department.” Futa smirked to himself, his hand coming up to tap his visor. “The scientific side, of course. No-one’s trusting my physical fortitude anytime soon.”
“Close to it. I'm an engineer- always working on some machine or the other to scrounge up evidence or hunt down suspects.”
“Interesting. I have a friend who works with the police, though I couldn't name his department.”
Renju fumbled with the sleeve of his suit, reminded that he was still in his work attire. “President of a talent agency. Have you heard of Lemniscate?”
“Perhaps…” Futa frowned in contemplation. “It rings a bell, certainly.”
“I'm also the manager of a restaurant, the Sunfish Pocket.”
“Isn't that a maid café?”
While he'd never claim to be shy, Renju nevertheless felt a sudden bout of self-consciousness as Futa regarded him with a quirked smile. “I wouldn't have figured you were the type.”
“It's… what's best for the business model. It's the Akihabara District, so it needs novelty to stand out.”
“It's alright, it's alright.” With a hearty chuckle, Futa raised a brow at him. “I'm hardly in any position to judge someone for their tastes, conventional or otherwise.”
The words caught in Renju’s mind. Of course it was a lie that Sunfish Pocket was the way it was for business. That was true for Lemniscate, to a degree, but Sunfish was done for the art, not the money. A nautical-themed maid café had been an awkward pitch, and he'd had to fight to see it through. But it had been worth it.
If asked what had drawn him to his ex-wife, Renju would say first and foremost that she stood out. Shoko couldn't walk into a room without drawing everyone's attention, whether it was due to the sharpness of her eyes, the confidence of her posture, or the bold appeal of her fashion. Yes, she was a light that attracted every moth in the vicinity, and Renju had been no different. In fact, he moreso than anyone else, as he'd always had a weakness for the strange and unusual.
Hence why he'd created Sunfish Pocket, and put a ring on the woman who refused to live inconspicuously. Perhaps it was due to his formative years being spent in the Yakuza, but the mundane could never appeal to him. It was likely for that reason, among many others, that his happy family had crumbled down around him. He hadn't been strong, whole, or plain normal enough to support its foundations.
…So yes, anyway, he had a taste for the peculiar. He tried not to think about it too hard as he conversed with the living incarnation of a mad scientist.
“Sorry for taking so long, honey.” He was shaken out of his thoughts by the deep reverb of Mama’s voice, her considerable frame shuffling through the doorway. Upon spotting the newcomer, she turned to Renju with a pleasantly surprised smile. “Ohh, a friend of yours?”
“That's yet to be decided.” Futa replied, also throwing a smile Renju's way. Something about the way that he contemplated Renju, as if he were a tantalising puzzle in need of solving, made Renju’s heart stutter. “But he's left a good first impression. It's Mama, correct? A pleasure to meet you.”
“Was Ren talking about me? Only good things, I hope.”
“Simply that you were the woman to come to for information.” Futa didn't seem off-put by Mama’s appearance or voice, as many other first-time customers were. I'm hardly in any position to judge someone for their tastes.
“We~ll, let me pour you a drink before I spill any gossip. Would you like a top up, Ren?”
He really shouldn't. “Please.”
Mama got to serving the drinks after taking Futa’s order- ‘I'm not feeling too adventurous, so let's go with the same as Renju’. Without the glass to nurse, Renju found that his hands itched for something else to fiddle with. He was always writing, signing, or typing at work, so sitting still was something of a foreign concept to him.
Futa seemed to suffer from the same issue. His fingers tapped against the bar- not spelling out a rhythm, at least not one Renju could place, but nevertheless rapping the wood with a certain intent. It took a second for Renju to puzzle it out: the movement made much more sense if one imagined that the counter was instead a keyboard.
“I take it you often work with computers?” He asked, the words slipping seamlessly out of his drunken mind.
Catching himself, Futa huffed in embarrassment- it was nice to be on the other end of it. “My apologies. I tend to lose track of what my body does while I'm deep in thought.”
“Penny for them?”
“I'd like to think they're of more value than that.” Renju laughed, surprising himself. Futa’s smile curled a little higher and he continued. “I was just observing that poster on the wall. A most interesting thing to find in a bar.”
It was the one of Saint Sebastian, of course. An early gift to Mama, to show his appreciation for how comfortable she made him feel in his own skin. He wasn't sure if Mama understood the underlying message of the gift; she of course knew of the saint’s appropriation, but Renju hadn't outright revealed that the co-opting of Saint Sebastian was as relevant to him as it was to her.
It wasn't that he'd been planning on hiding it from her, it just… happened. Lies came naturally to his lips, and with all the drama around his family recently, he'd decided that it wasn't the best time to bring it up. He could only imagine how Shoko would react if word somehow got out to her.
But now there was Futa, with his strange clothes and awkward grin, and Renju could feel the key to that secret slowly turning in his head. The alcohol was greasing the lock, no doubt, but the thought of unloading his skeletons onto a complete stranger, one he was confident wouldn't judge him… it was tempting. Renju hadn't considered a therapist before, but now understood the appeal.
“It was a gift.” Was what he settled on. The plain truth, nothing too damning. “From me, actually. I… thought it suited her.”
Futa hummed to himself. “Saint Sebastian, correct? Captain of the Praetorian Guard, forced to hide his Christianity from the Romans. One can only imagine the pressure he was under.”
His eyes slid over to Renju, inquisitive and strangely cautious. He knew. The weight of keeping a fundamental part of himself hidden deep down, and why Sebastian in particular resonated with the feeling. Renju’s words caught in his throat, and he cleared it hesitantly, his eyes slipping down to his hands. Perhaps as damning as if he'd just confessed that he shared those feelings, but wanting to say it and actually doing so were two different beasts.
“The poor man.” Mama chipped in, two drinks in hand that she slid along to her customers. Renju eagerly took a sip. “Nowadays they won't lynch you for being different and put your corpse up on display- they'll bury it under paperwork and lies instead.”
“Isn't that the truth.” With a grim smile, Futa rose his glass to her and then took a drink. “Oof, I'll be feeling that in the morning.”
“Do you stay around here?” Renju asked. Without the filter of sobriety, questions more direct than he would like came tumbling out of him.
“In the Shinjuku area, yes.”
“My, Ren.” Mama’s grin was devious as she lifted a hand to cover it coquettishly. “First date and you're already planning to go home with him? I didn't think you were so forward.”
It wasn't uncommon for her to tease him- she'd even made some comments about him and Date when she'd felt particularly playful- but this was the first time he felt the blood rise to his cheeks because of it. “Mama…”
“What? It's nice to see you playing the field again.” She winked. “If you don't make a move then I will.”
Futa took her words as best he could, laughing a little awkwardly. “I'm sure you say that to all your paying customers…”
“But that doesn't make it any less true~”
The two continued their faux-flirting, but the words skimmed over Renju’s head. Of course Mama hadn't meant to hurt him, but the reminder of his ex-wife- of their messy divorce- sapped the mirth from him as quickly as the winter wind would steal the warmth from one’s body.
But he couldn't blame Mama for that. It wasn't in his destiny to be happy- it was only inevitable that he be reminded of that. It'd been fun to imagine a world where he and Futa could be friends- perhaps even confidants- but dragging more people into his life would only cause them to suffer. He couldn't be so selfish. Not again.
His chest burned, and not only from the bourbon. He moved to stand from the stool and nearly stumbled, the floor a little further down than he'd thought. It caught both of their attention when he'd rather have liked to be subtle. “S-sorry, I’ve had a little too much to drink, I think. I'd best be on my way…”
“Ohh, and we were just getting to the fun part.” While her tone was flippant, Renju could feel Mama’s eyes boring into him. It wasn't like him to dine and dash, after all.
“Will you be alright?” Futa spoke next. “You seem a little unsure on your feet.”
“No, I'm fine…” is what Renju said, but his body disagreed, listing him to the left and forcing him to grab the bar so he didn't tip over. Had he really drank that much?
Futa slid off his own seat, even as Renju tried to wave off any concern. “I’d rather you not leave alone like this.”
“Really, there's no need…”
“Ren, darling.” Mama held his empty glass in her hand, her eyes stern but caring. “Give the nice man your address before I do.”
There wasn't much he could do against the both of them. With a weary sigh, he muttered out the address. Futa nodded and took Renju by the arm, hands on his elbow and wrist and positioned so Renju could still walk of his own accord. “You really don't need to…”
Futa smiled. “It's the least I can do to repay your company.”
Renju mumbled something in return, even unaware himself what it was supposed to be. “Call me when you get home, Ren.” Mama called out behind them. “Let me know you're alright.”
He might have nodded, but his memory was a little fuzzy up until he stumbled out the bar and felt his skin caressed by the cool wind. Autumn’s chill hadn't yet settled in, so the two could make their way down the streets without having the cold nip at their extremities.
Renju kept offering apologies for having to be walked home, for cutting off Futa’s chance to drink, for making him waste time on a worthless wreck like me, but Futa wasn't hearing any of it.
“Compared to taking my boss home, this is a delightful walk in the park!” He said.
Any other time, it would've been Date stumbling along beside Renju, the two of them so buzzed that it was a miracle they could both find their way home. Futa had downed his whiskey, and maybe had a drink or two before arriving, but not enough to impair him greatly. At least, as far as Renju knew. He hadn't met Futa when he was sober.
He wanted to. He wanted to know more about Futa, and where he worked, and what he did in his free time, and how he'd learned of Saint Sebastian. He wanted to be quizzed in turn, and to feel like someone was interested in him, someone liked him, because lord knows he didn't like himself.
But he didn't deserve that. He didn't deserve Date, Mama, or Hitomi. He didn't deserve Shoko or Mizuki. He didn't deserve Sunfish or Lemniscate. Why did the world keep providing for him when it knew full well how destructive he was?
“Renju?” Futa’s voice sounded from far away. “Feeling alright? You've become awfully quiet.”
Leave me alone, is what Renju should've said, but he didn't. Forget they ever met was what Renju should've done, but he couldn't.
He never learned.
The abyss screamed at him, as it did every day, and just for one second he wanted it to be silent. Couldn't that be allowed, even for someone as disgraceful as him? Just one single moment of happiness?
Of course it couldn't.
But Renju was five ways to drunk and didn't care about the coulds, woulds, and shoulds anymore. What was one more moment of selfishness on a road paved with his sins?
Which is why, after an evening spent trying to distance himself, Renju held Futa by the lapels of his ridiculous coat and pressed their lips together.
It wasn't like kissing Shoko. Like kissing a woman. Futa's lips were slightly chapped, and he smelled of alcohol, cheap deodorant, and something sterile like a dentist’s office. When Renju held him by the face he didn't feel soft cheeks, but instead the sharp outline of bone and the fuzz of baby stubble. It was a harsher experience, but still somehow pleasurable. Renju committed every moment of it to memory, the best he could while intoxicated. Once it was over, it wasn't happening again.
It wasn't until he felt fingers brush gingerly against the back of his head that he realised Futa wasn't pulling away. His hand still gripped Renju’s elbow, but the other had wound its way up and into his hair, cautiously resting itself there. Futa's lips moved against his own, but hesitantly, as if he still hadn't decided if this is what he wanted.
No, of course it couldn't be what he wanted. They'd only met an hour or so ago. But it was still so nice, so freeing, that Renju struggled to acknowledge that truth. Why couldn't he enjoy this fantasy for just a moment longer, rather than return to the world where it would never happen again?
Because I don't deserve this.
His heart weighed down by lead, Renju broke away from the kiss. He let go of Futa’s face, only realising now how intensely he'd been holding it. He didn't dare breathe, for the cold air would whisk away the warmth of Futa’s lips on his, and the scent of his body, as eclectic as Futa himself.
He also didn't dare raise his eyes higher than Futa’s chest, already certain in his mind that what he would see would break his heart. “I'm sorry…” he breathed, ragged from the ache that permeated his body and soul. “You… you should go.”
If he'd left then, Renju’s life would've returned to normal. A sea of mistakes locked up tight and weighing down his back as he desperately upheld his reputation as a functional human being. It would've been better that way. Better for Futa, not for Renju, but it wasn't like his best interests mattered anymore.
But Futa didn't know that. That was the only reason Renju could muster for why he stayed rooted where he was, his hand coming down on Renju’s shoulder. Gentle and guiding.
“Renju.” He still didn't look up, but the softness in Futa’s voice caused his stomach to twist in knots. “Might we find a seat first?”
It wasn't too difficult to find a small park along the Shinjuku streets. Futa helped Renju down onto a bench and then took a seat himself. For a long moment he didn't speak, leaving Renju to battle thoughts that he really didn't want to be alone with.
It was the memory of Bloom Park: one of the few joyful memories he had, and yet one that still brought him an intense feeling of melancholy. He could remember clearly the smile on his daughter's face as she looped the merry-go-round, her feet kicking joyfully as the horse swept her around and around.
How many times had he seen her smile after that? How many more moments of a happy family had they been able to experience? Not enough. He'd been so desperate to keep up the façade that he'd turned his eye when Shoko started getting violent. He still couldn't find himself to hate her, not completely (not when he already hated himself so much) but sometimes, when he remembered how Mizuki would stoically leave for school with a new bruise, he came close to it.
“Renju…” He had almost forgotten that Futa was there. With a sharp intake of breath, he put his thoughts to rest and listened. “I've obviously not long been an acquaintance of yours. Perhaps it's rude of me to even broach this idea… and really, I should be the last person offering this, given that I'm, well, me…”
Maybe it was just the drink, but Renju has no idea what he was trying to say. It must have shown on his expression, as Futa cleared his throat self-consciously. “What I'm trying to say is that you seem disturbed by something. And I can't claim to be an excellent shoulder to lean on, but… I am here, if you wish to talk.”
How did he manage to seem so awkward and yet so pleasant at the same time? It was almost enough to make Renju laugh- but with how his gut was churning, something manic rising up his throat, he knew it would come out as a sob.
He was at a loss. If he said anything he knew his voice would break, but the longer that he remained silent, and the longer that Futa waited for him, the more unbearable it became to keep it all locked up. He'd already been selfish tonight, took advantage of a burgeoning friendship… he couldn't do it again.
Futa hadn't run away. He'd asked Renju to open up. Perhaps it was simple, scientific curiosity- if the roles had been reversed, then Renju would've liked to have known what was kicking around in Futa’s head.
But even say that were the case, it wouldn't change the fact that Futa had made the offer. Whatever the reason, he had extended his hand. Wouldn't it be worse to turn it away? And if Futa was disgusted by what he heard, and promptly broke their tentative ties, maybe even called the police… Well, that was the right choice, wasn't it? Looking at it logically, there wasn't any way for it to go wrong; it would go in Renju’s favour, or it would not, and either outcome would be satisfactory.
So Renju talked.
He left out names and other specifics, but he told Futa about his best friend, how she'd been killed while her murderer and his accomplices walked free. He spoke of his daughter, and the mother that hit her, something he'd ignored for far too long before he pawned her off to a friend. And even before all of that were the elderly that he'd helped kill, their limp bodies forever ingrained in his mind.
At some point, he couldn't place when, tears had started to flow down his cheeks. He didn't stop talking, from start to finish, out of fear that he couldn't start again. Futa was silent throughout, and Renju could only imagine the thoughts swirling in his head.
Finally, there were no words left, and the air rushed into him like he'd never breathed before. It almost hurt against the rawness of his throat. He felt tired, like his story had carried the essence of his life with it, and now that it was gone he was free to curl up and fall into deep slumber.
How nice if that were true.
“Renju…” Futa sounded like he was in disbelief. Not unexpected. Renju swallowed, his fists clasping together so tightly that his nails left crescent grooves in his skin.
“That's why…” his voice felt foreign to him now, but he had to get it out, the last nail in his coffin. “That's why I told you to go. That's why you should go now.”
He didn't dare look over as Futa ruminated in silence. He wiped the tears from his face and then moved no more, dully awaiting his judgement.
“I'm afraid, Renju…” He felt Futa’s hand on his shoulder once more, the warmth tensing him up further. “That if you wanted to be rid of me, then you've gone about it in the least effective way.”
The breath caught in his throat. He turned to Futa finally, unable to find his voice before the man continued. “Let me ask just one thing: do you think yourself redeemable?”
How could Renju answer that? Futa’s expression was inscrutable, the perfect visage of a clinical scientist. Renju considered the question; he knew full well what the answer was, but it took longer to summon the will to say it.
“I… How can I be?”
“A very interesting question.” Futa’s hand moved off of Renju’s shoulder, gliding down to rest carefully on Renju’s own hand. While Futa seemed confident, his words flawlessly spoken, Renju could feel his hesitance through their connection. “Personally, I can't answer that. Not when all I have is your account to go off of.”
Renju swallowed, barely managing past the block in his throat. “What are you saying?”
“I'm apologising. For the fact that you may now be stuck with me for a while.” His fingers wiggled under Renju’s and then lifted up his hand, bringing it to rest in the air between them. “Perhaps I will decide that you're an irredeemable monster, and have you brought in by my co-workers. On the other hand, I might conclude that atonement is possible and best achieved outside of prison.”
“Either way, Renju.” The way Futa said his name was soft, far moreso than someone like him deserved. He could barely think as Futa raised their hands to his lips, his too-wide smile growing more against the crook of Renju’s knuckles. “Right now, I find you to be irresistible.”
It was all that Renju wanted, and all that he didn't deserve. That was the thought that consumed him as their hands tightened their hold on each other, the embrace as warm as the gaze that Futa fixed him with.
I don't deserve you.