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Coldness

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Coldness

            There was always a chill in the air—the kind of sickly chill that weighs a person down under a metaphorical (and physical) blanket of hopelessness, almost to the point where the person feels as if they’re better off staying in that place of despair.

            Then again, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that prison wasn’t exactly considered to be one of the types of buildings that’d have the best ventilation. Hidenori Gotou could’ve easily guessed that the prisons he’d help to throw criminals into once long ago were relatively cold, despite having never toured the prisons himself in the time he worked as a policeman. Yet here he was, wasting away after 8 years. Even after what felt like eons, the memories of that fateful incident were as memorable as his brief mentions in any Samurai Flamenco interview or documentary— and after all those fights, wins and losses, Hidenori’s name was now but a whisper.

            And then, on any other June day, a guard approached Hidenori’s cell.

            “You have a visitor.”

            ‘A visitor?’ Hidenori slowly got up from his bed automatically, considering every possible option as to who this visitor could be. It couldn’t be his mother. Rumor had it that his mother passed away from grief once she would have received word that Hidenori was being placed on trial. Aside from her, there were no other family members that could possibly visit. So… who would it be? Maybe a student trying to do a report on him? Then again, a student would never be allowed to visit this kind of place.

            The guard escorted Hidenori down the hall and to an isolated room with a chair where he would sit. Across the plexiglass in the other room was none other than the President of the World himself—Masayoshi.

            “Gotou-san!”

            Even though Masayoshi hadn’t picked up the phone yet, it was obvious he was calling out to him, mouthing to Hidenori excitedly. Hidenori flinched at hearing his name being dropped as if the enthusiasm never left Masayoshi’s mouth all those years ago.

            Even now, although Masayoshi’s face had slightly matured, and his hair was more controlled, his boyish and bright expression had never faded, eyes beaming with enthusiasm in a way that made the bags under Hidenori’s eyes sag down further. Despite now being 32, Hidenori felt as if he had aged an extra 10 years in comparison to Masayoshi—as Hidenori was adorned with a few notable stress wrinkles and gray hairs that only Hidenori could see if he examined his own buzz cut closely enough.

            Hidenori’s hand trembled as he picked up the phone. It was almost impossible to ignore the tight knot growing with alarming severity within Hidenori’s stomach. There was a mixture of many emotions—sadness, because he was without his one good friend for so long amidst relatively terrible company? Anger, because he was isolated from the outside world for so long? Proud, because Masayoshi somehow had managed to maintain the everlasting peace? Happy, because against all odds, Masayoshi was here? Yet, the only words that Hidenori could form were:

            “…It’s been a while.”

            Masayoshi smiled sadly. “I wish I could’ve seen you the moment you were sentenced, but even as the President of the World, I wasn’t allowed to come here right away. There was a really lengthy and extensive process I had to go through.”

            Hidenori sucked in his breath. It was somehow relieving to know that clearly, Masayoshi hadn’t forgotten about him after all this time—even while performing his duties as the President of the World. “How is everything?”

            “Everything?” Masayoshi repeated, expression still gleaming with excitement as he took a moment to consider how to answer this question so as to not explode with years’ worth of information, “Well, I’m no longer with my modeling agency, but I still keep in touch with everyone. Ishihara and Konno were dating for a while, but they broke up. MMM are no longer together, but I still get messages from Mari sometimes, believe it or not. Harazuka is still busy as ever with his business. Red Axe and Blue’s TV show ended, and Red Axe is still with his wife while avoiding Pink, as usual. Black took over his grandpa’s farm. Green got his doctorate. Let’s see, who else”—

            “I was asking more about you, specifically,” Hidenori clarified.

            “Oh!” Masayoshi then appeared to struggle with finding the right answer, smiling nervously. “To be honest, not that much has really changed for me aside from the fact that I’m no longer a model. I think I already said that, though…”

‘It’s also kind of a relief to see he’s still kind of an idiot, even if he has more of a serious look to him now.’ Hidenori smiled. “Yet you’re still President of the World, huh?”

            Masayoshi pouted. “You know, even after all this time, it’s not like I wanted this responsibility. It’s about what I expected. I’d almost rather get all the pressure from Ishihara again.”

            Hidenori shrugged. “It seems like you’re doing something right, at least. There haven’t really been any newcomers to this prison, at the very least.”

            “There’s been the occasional petty crime, but other than that, it has still been quiet,” Masayoshi confirmed.

            “That’s good. If there was any good to come out of all of this, it’s that Haiji-kun never got what he wanted.”

            “What do you mean?” Masayoshi asked.

            “To make you an anti-hero,” Hidenori answered, then continued to explain, “He was saying some nonsense about how he wanted to scar you for life so that you would become Samurai Flamenco Darkness, or something like that.” ‘But when I saw your face back then as they took me away in the car, I wondered if his crazy plan actually worked,’ he hesitated to say, but then added instead, “It’s a relief he didn’t get what he wanted.

            Masayoshi shook his head. “No matter how sad I was, I don’t think I could’ve ever become an anti-hero. I’ve only ever wanted to fight for justice the right way. That includes trying to get justice for you, Gotou-san.”

            If there wasn’t already a frown on Hidenori’s face, it became even more apparent. “What are you talking about? This isn’t a situation where you punch it in the face or use one of Harazuka’s tools to win.”

            “O-of course I know that!” Masayoshi gasped, “All I’ve been able to do as of right now is try to draw support for your case.”

            “And what kind of ‘support’ is there for my case, exactly?” Hidenori scoffed.

            Masayoshi’s posture stiffened. “Well, for one, we were able to find out that Haiji’s parents faked his death a year prior. Aside from clearly provoking you and the others around me, it was difficult to prove Haiji’s involvement in everything he had done in the first place until his parents made a more formal confession”—

 “I killed him. It’s that simple,” Hidenori said, turning away from Masayoshi, “There’s no getting around that. If that’s all you came here for, then this visit is done.”

Masayoshi’s eyes widened, promptly standing up from his chair. “I always turned to you for my problems! Don’t you think all I ever wanted was to help you!?”

Gotou reflexively stood up as well. “So what are you supposed to say, then? That it was all in self-defense? How does that change the fact that I killed him?”

            “Because you didn’t do it! You know that you never really killed him, Gotou-san!” Masayoshi yelled, fist balled as he tried to lower his voice, “You’ve been sticking to this false story for so long… And for what reason?”

            Hidenori slammed his hand on the table. “What do you know!? By the time you came back, it was already too late!” He sucked in his breath, fixating his gaze away from Masayoshi’s sullen face. “That little bastard deserved it. Who cares if I killed him or not? He deserved it, dammit!”

            ‘He’s clearly trying to shift the focus here,’ Masayoshi thought, mustering the courage to continue. “...The investigators who were reviewing your case noticed a couple of things after you made your confession: A. You did not tear apart the handcuffs like you had claimed. It was clearly Haiji-kun who broke your handcuffs with some kind of a tool. B. They thought it was odd that the angle of the gunshot wound would not only indicate that there was a contact shot on the side of Haiji-kun’s head, but despite holding Haiji at gunpoint, Haiji showed no signs of resistance in the end. They only found skin cells underneath his fingernails from you. C. Your cell phone’s inbox was intact, aside from your girlfriend’s messages, which had all been deleted”—

            “And how is any of that relevant?” Hidenori grumbled, increasingly losing his patience.

            Masayoshi swallowed nervously. He knew the reveal wouldn’t go so smoothly despite practicing hypothetical conversations for hours on end. “Investigators, including myself, have a theory that Haiji-kun forced you to kill him. It seemed like just after he had called me over to my apartment, he broke your handcuffs, put the gun in your hands, and put his hand over yours to position the gun to his temple. The only factor that we’re not certain of is when the messages were deleted”—

“Like hell if that makes a damn difference! I’m already dead! Why even waste your time on me!?” Hidenori bellowed, “You should be living your life doing God-knows-what fighting drunks on the street again or something! All of that other bullshit with King Torture, From Beyond and whoever else should be behind you!” ‘I should be behind you!’

            Masayoshi banged his hand on the table. “Because it’s not justice if I just leave you here, Gotou-san!”

            “Not everyone wants to be saved, you idiot!”

            There was a brief pause. Hidenori still refused to make eye contact, and Masayoshi was glaring down at the table as he slowly slumped back into his seat, clearly out of breath as he tried again to gather his words.

            “I still wonder sometimes what would’ve happened if I had arrived just a few minutes earlier. I had only heard the sound of a gunshot once I got closer,” Masayoshi sighed, closing his eyes as the images of the scene reeled through his mind, “Maybe you still would’ve been very angry and upset because he deleted your girlfriend’s messages, but maybe I would’ve been able to talk you down.” His eyes fluttered open, and he gripped the area of his shirt clinging to his chest, “Maybe I would’ve told you properly how I feel about you then. That was the first and only time I ever realized what love is.”

            As he heard those words, Hidenori’s once hardened gaze softened to a more reminiscent of a confused, yet also understanding expression, as if a younger Masayoshi was attempting to clear up a misunderstanding as his usual and unpredictable self.

‘Wait…what was that he said about, ‘love,’ again?’ Hidenori was able to shake away any further implications of whatever Masayoshi spouted impulsively. “Please don’t blame yourself. That kid was screwed up in the head, and there was nothing that could’ve fixed that. I’m screwed up in the head, too, you know.”

            “Maybe. I know what happened in your past, but you’re still Samurai Policeman, to me—more than that, even,” Masayoshi said.

‘He still clings to the past for someone like me…but really, it’s not like I’m any different.’ Hidenori sighed deeply, and the words that once felt dry to the tip of his tongue finally poured out. “FIne. Even though I wanted to hurt him in that moment, I found myself struggling to pull the trigger, so he did it for me. I couldn’t forgive him for wanting to come between me and my girlfriend, but when I came to my senses, in the end, I felt no remorse because I couldn’t forgive him for what he was doing to you, and for what he was trying to do to you,” Hidenori confessed. “I didn’t kill him, but I didn’t want him to live, either. The violence needed to stop. If it wasn’t by his hands, it might’ve been by mine, anyway.”

There was another moment of silence between the two, giving enough time for the weight to be fully lifted off of Hidenori’s chest. For a brief moment, he even felt some remorse for having inflicted this punishment onto himself.  

            “Would you do me two favors once you’re up for parole?” asked Masayoshi.

            Hidenori nodded.

            “My first favor is to please tell the real story this time,” Masayoshi said, “My second favor is that once you’re out, come with me. I’ll do everything your girlfriend would’ve done for you.”

            The blush on Hidenori’s face lacked subtlety, as he crossed his arms and desperately searched for a new corner of the room to face. “Y-you’re really not going to give up on this whole, ‘love,’ thing, are you?”

            “Why would I?” Masayoshi asked sincerely. “8 years is a long time to feel the same way about someone.”

            Hidenori’s face turned even redder. ‘Oh shit, he’s serious.’ “I-isn’t it a little strange if the President of the World is seen with a criminal?” Hidenori asked in a joking manner.

            Of course, the joke completely flew over Masayoshi’s head. “But you’re not a criminal--you’re innocent! Even if you were a criminal, I know Gotou-san would be able to change for the better. That’s what his girlfriend would want, too.”

            For once, Hidenori didn’t wince in pain at the memory of his grief. “You know, sometimes, I wonder if my girlfriend would even forgive me…for all of this. I don’t think about her as much, and it makes me hate myself even more for how everything ended up.”

            “Or, maybe it means that you’re finally ready to move on,” Masayoshi suggested, pressing the palm of his hand against the plexiglass. “Move on with me, Gotou-san. Think about it, at least.”

            Slowly but surely, Hidenori slowly raised his hand against the plexiglass as well. The wall was cold to the touch, but for the first time in years, there was slight warmth that resonated throughout Hidenori’s body, just from this idiot’s usual radiance alone. “After all these years, you’re still a freak,” he said, managing to crack a smile.

            At that moment, the guard came in to signal Masayoshi that the visitation was over.

            “Maybe so,” Masayoshi said, reluctantly withdrawing his hand. He nodded to the guard and got up from his seat, waving to Hidenori sadly. “Please remember those favors for me,” he said, hanging up the phone.  

            As Hidenori watched Masayoshi walk away, he mouthed his answer to the other man’s direction—unsure if Masayoshi could see him mouth the word, “Okay.”

            The chill in the air returned swiftly the second Masayoshi was gone.