Rei’s brows furrowed at the strange letter he held in his hand, which he’d just retrieved from the mail slot servicing the Sena family and SenaPro.
As the manager of SenaPro, checking the incoming mail slot was one of Rei’s duties, and it was hardly odd for them to receive random deliveries in addition to mail concerning the entertainment agency. However, this was something else entirely.
“Good afternoon, Sagara-san.”
Rei glanced up from the package he’d been fixing with a serious mien, starting at the greeting. “Sotomura…” It was the CRUSHERZ manager, Sotomura. He was certain that Sotomura was meant to be out of the office all day on location with the band. “Did something happen?”
“I’m afraid so; we had a bit of an issue with one of the costumes, and Shougo-san mentioned he owned a piece similar to what we’d meant to use, so I came back here to fetch it. I’m about to head out again.”
Rei nodded at the man’s succinct explanation, mentally congratulating, ’I chose the right person for that job, if I do say so myself.’
Sotomura worked hard, not a lazy bone in his body, and he never once misused the influence of SenaPro or the CRUSHERZ. He was an honest, trustworthy man.
“I see; good work today, then.”
“Oh, I’m hardly doing the level of work you are, Sagara-san. Oops, better hurry! I’m off!”
After seeing Sotomura off again, Rei returned to his own seat. A fair number of years had lapsed now since the CRUSHERZ had debuted, and they were still going strong. Thanks to the steady pace of their popularity, SenaPro was presently locked firmly in their position among agencies. Shougo’s popularity alone showed no signs of slacking, and the idea that at one point SenaPro might have dissolved seemed like a dream now.
Now, Rei hardly ever worked himself so hard from the rush of work that he nearly collapsed mentally and physically. Ever since they had hired Sotomura as the CRUSHERZ primary manager, Rei found himself able to complete his work at a much more relaxed pace.
Or, well, he had been working at a relaxed pace. Unfortunately, just the other day, the Sena family’s youngest izumi—their last ‘normal’ child—had finally decided to make his own debut in the entertainment world, and Rei was once again a busy bee, just as before.
First he’d had to organize the debut press conference—and then he’d had to line up jobs for after the debut. Ever since that earth-shattering press conference, he’d been fielding non-stop offers from all manner of programs and media—all by himself. That, combined with his work as Seiya and Nagisa’s manager had him in full-on workaholic mode.
He knew he’d need to find Izumi his own personal manager one of these days, but when it came to Izumi…well, there was a lot of work and worry involved, so for the time being, he wanted to handle Izumi himself. He’d considered for a moment pawning Izumi off on Sotomura—but Sotomura was new, and the work would probably be too much for him; plus, he was doing so well with the CRUSHERZ that Rei didn’t want to chance ruining his pace. And yet he couldn’t possibly consider stepping down as Seiya and Nagisa’s manager either.
Despite the headache-filled days that came with the workload, though, the fact that he’d successfully pulled off Izumi’s debut left him with a great sense of fulfillment, and in a way, some measure of peace had finally returned to Rei’s life now that that hurdle had been cleared.
He snatched up the strange letter that had just arrived from where he’d left it sitting on his desk.
To Sagara Rei
A letter. For him. With no return address.
He felt a shiver of unease run down his spine, but still reached for a pair of scissors and carefully opened to letter. After confirming the envelope contained nothing dangerous like a razor or such, he pulled out the stationery sheet folded inside.
On the paper was written a single sentence: “I know about your past.”
“I figured…” Rei’s shoulders slumped as he read the line. He’d known deep down that eventually, something like this would happen. “I thought I’d been careful, but…” An unconscious sigh escaped his lips.
In his years of working for SenaPro, he’d taken care to ensure that he never showed his face anywhere public. Projects involving managers, or where managers were asked to talk about their charges, even discussion of Rei himself debuting in the entertainment industry—he’d received all sorts of offers, but he’d flatly rejected them all. With the personal debut discussion, he’d simply maintained that his career lay in the field of management; but the reason he refused to show his face in any form of media was because of his checkered past.
Before being taken in by Seiya, Rei had led quite a life of self-abandonment and desperation. He didn’t like to go into the particulars, but putting it simply, you could have called him a real punk-ass kid. He’d done things so terrible he hesitated to even say them, and with the number of fights he often found himself starting, he had more than his fair share of enemies out there. His sex life had been pretty screwed up too, so there were people out there who held grudges against him in that department as well, some nearly resulting in bloodshed.
In short, he had no trouble imagining that, if he ever showed his face in the public entertainment sphere, people who’d known him back then might slither out of their hiding spots to cause trouble.
But at Izumi’s press conference, he’d filled in as MC—which had forced him to appear in public. “This is gonna get annoying…” Not that it could be helped; he’d been the one to suggest Izumi make his debut in that manner, after all. But he’d definitely let his guard down, that much was clear.
After all, it’d been ten years since Seiya took him in; he didn’t even look the same. Plus, he’d been certain that only the celebrities of Ryouma and Izumi would actually show up in any footage captured. But holding the consequences in his hand, now, he had to admit he’d been naive.
“There really are some sharp-eyed people out there…” But Rei had been involved with a lot of people in some manner or another in the past, and he had no way knowing the identity of the sender from a single sentence. “Guess I’ll just have to see how the wind blows.”
The letter contained no demands, and since he had no way of identifying the culprit, there was nothing he could do at the present to catch them.
But he still had no intention of letting anyone know he’d received such a letter. Even if something eventually happened because of this—the blame fell squarely on Rei for what he’d done in the past. He absolutely couldn’t cause any trouble for SenaPro…for Seiya and his family.
He would have to resolve this issue on his own, and with his mind made up, he slipped the letter into the drawer of his desk and went back to work.
“Hey, Rei! You really owe me big-time this time! I oughta expect a HUGE reward now, huh?”
It was several days after Rei had received the strange letter when Shougo bounded into the offices. He’d been relatively calm and collected when he’d stepped through the door initially, but after glancing around to see that Rei was the only one in the office, he’d unhesitatingly shouted out his greeting with a full-faced grin.
Rei’s brows furrowed in a glare. “…And what exactly is it that you want?”
The question had been delivered in as sour a tone as Rei could possibly muster, but Shougo showed no signs of being cowed, responding brightly, “You, of course~”
“………” Rei felt a small headache starting to form, but Shougo wasn’t incorrect: Rei really did owe him quite the favor this time. On top of compensating him for his help with Izumi’s debut, it had also been decided that Shougo would run support for Ryouma with some musical composition. Neither Shougo nor Ryouma cared all that much for each other, and it was quite certain that both parties had some reservations regarding this decision.
However, this was an agreement reached by their mutual agencies, and so Ryouma had no place to object—while Shougo could be placated with the mere promise of a reward for his cooperation.
Or at least…that had been the assumption…
Now, though, Rei was beginning to think he’d made a mistake. ‘Except I can’t exactly back out now, not after having already received his help…’
“All right. Come over to my place tonight. I’ll blow your mind,” he finally allowed, half-given up, and Shougo grinned like a loon.
“Seriously?! I’m CRAZY excited now!” He looked about ready to break out into song and dance, so high on life was he—but while his excitement alone was tolerable (if a bit annoying), what Rei couldn’t stomach was the way Shougo was starting to slink closer and closer.
“…Why are you coming over here?”
“Eh? Well, just, we’re finally alone, so…” He quickly circled around the desk to come up behind Rei. “Gonna give you a recharge!”
“…I’ve told you time and time again not to do that sort of thing here,” he sighed as Shougo wrapped him tightly in his arms from behind—chair back and all. “And you’ll recall that you still have work after this—”
“Yeah yeah, I know~ Just think of this as…a little down-payment?” He then pressed a begging little kiss just below Rei’s ear, which prompted Rei to finally give in, tugging off his glasses. He set them down on the desk as Shougo twirled the desk chair around, slipping down slowly to straddle Rei. Protests about down-payments and doubled-fees disappeared like magic between their lips.
Even counting their short interruption, Rei’s and Shougo’s relationship had been going on for some ten years now. His body had long since grown accustomed to Shougo’s, and it had gotten steadily easier to ignore the fact that his heart wasn’t really in the act—perhaps because he knew what was coming next.
Shougo’s kiss quickly deepened, though his arms remained at rest, draped over Rei’s shoulders, and he made no move to touch Rei anywhere else. Still, even this level of intimacy couldn’t last for long, as the cell phone in Shougo’s pocket began to ring, and Shougo at last gently pulled away.
“Aww, over already?” Shougo mumbled sourly, then pushed the ‘talk’ button on his phone and brought it to his ear. “…Hello?” While he chatted, Rei put his glasses back on. “All right, I’ll be there in a jiffy.” With that, Shougo ended his call, pursing his lips into a pout as he turned back to Rei—who by now had returned to full-on work-mode.
“Don’t give me that face.”
“…You’re coming over tonight, right?”
Shougo’s pouting expression instantly brightened at Rei’s suggestive words. “Totally! ‘Kay then, see you tonight!” Shougo then darted from the office in high spirits.
“Good grief, that guy…” he muttered, watching the door slam behind Shougo—realizing only now that this would be the first time he’d been alone with Shougo in quite some time. “Oh yeah… We’ve both been really busy lately…” Perhaps it wasn’t so strange, then, that Shougo had been so thrilled at the prospect of some alone time. It was starting to look like neither of them were going to get much sleep tonight, so he’d be well served to finish up work early today. With such thoughts on his mind, Rei then dove back into the rest of his work for the day.
“Oh, leaving already?”
Rei had just been about to lock up, leaving the office for the day, when Seiya called out to him. “Ah, yes. Good work today.”
Seiya’s expression darkened a bit with worry, and he sighed, “I should be saying the same to you—how are you holding up?”
“Oh, I’m perfectly fine…”
“As if I’d believe that. You may have finished a bit early today, but lately you’ve seemed like you’re really pushing yourself… Oh!” With an expression suggesting he’d just remembered something, he dipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out a tiny little packet. “Here, you can have this.”
“…What is it?” He held his hand out instinctively when prompted, and Seiya placed the packet in his palm. On closer inspection, inside the clear wrapping was a small orange candy.
“Sweets help ease fatigue, you know.”
“…Thank you very much.” Seiya’s broad, full-faced smile tugged a grin of his own from Rei’s lips. More than any candy it was that smile that flushed Rei’s fatigue away.
“Anyway, no overdoing it, got it? Just remember how much Nagisa and I, and Izumi and Shougo, and the whole office even would worry if you were to collapse.”
“…Yes, sir.” He ducked a nod, gripping the candy tight in his fist.
“Though—you certainly seem to be in high spirits. Got plans for the evening?”
Rei blinked stupidly at the unexpected question. “Eh? Oh, no, no not…” High spirits? Rei? He was feeling good right now, sure, and quite happy—but the way Seiya phrased it sounded like he was referring to how Rei had seemed when Seiya had first called out to him earlier.
Still, Rei had no recollection of being in high spirits of any sort.
“I see… Well, do take the evening to rest up properly while you can, okay?”
“I will. Thank you very much.” He ducked another nod to Seiya here, and despite a few lingering misgivings, he left the office properly this time. But he’d only travelled a few steps before he paused, glancing over his shoulder back at the Sena family home—then down at the candy still gripped in his palm. His hand was warm from clenching the candy tight, and the little orange candy felt like a tiny sun—shining its way into his heart, bright and warm…
With those feelings burgeoning within, he marched off for his apartment, reaching his lobby in only a few short minutes—but when he checked his mail slot, his eyes popped open. “This is…”
In his drop box lay an envelope Rei recognized well. A letter, with no return address, for Rei…
That, however, was not the main issue. It was hardly strange for Rei to receive letters at the SenaPro offices—after all, his point of contact through work was public knowledge. Anyone who knew that Rei was an employee of SenaPro could send him a letter there.
But this was Rei’s private apartment, and he’d never made his address public knowledge. For a letter to reach him here meant…
It felt as if all that lovely warmth he’d been bathed in moments ago had been instantly stolen away, and he slipped the candy back into his pocket with one hand as he picked up the letter with the other. On closer examination, just as he’d feared, he found there was no stamp or postmark on the envelope.
“So then they slipped it in here by hand…?” he murmured to himself, glancing around warily, but there was no one nearby. Still…
He frantically unlocked his door and rushed inside, being sure to lock it tight behind him. Then, after peeking inside the envelope to be sure it contained nothing dangerous, he carefully withdrew the letter.
“I’m always watching you.”
—was all that was written.
’They’ve been stalking me…’ A shiver rippled down his spine, chilling. Whoever sent the letter knew where he lived. They could even be watching him, right now…
Rei had made it through his fair share of fights, but this was the first time he’d ever dealt with such a shady, malicious approach, and all manner of fears he’d never experienced before began to creep up from the soles of his feet.
“Always…watching…” Realization slammed into him. “Crap—Shougo!” If someone were actually hiding out and spying on him, it was a bad idea for Shougo to be spotted coming into his apartment. Sure, it might merely be interpreted as a celebrity dropping by to hang out with his manager he was friends with, but if this person knew Rei’s past, they probably also knew all about how Rei had slept with everyone willing, regardless of gender. That would put his relationship with Shougo under suspicion as well.
And even worse, if they could see inside his apartment…it wouldn’t end with just a simple scandal.
Panicking, he pulled out his cell phone and began typing a text to Shougo. /Sorry. Some work came up that I can’t manage to get out of. Let me give you that reward we discussed another time—and in return, I’ll do absolutely anything you ask of me./ It was a pretty slipshod text, but as long as it kept Shougo from coming over, it was good enough.
It didn’t take even a minute for a reply to arrive. /I’m crazy disappointed (´:ω;`) But I guess you can’t help it if it’s work! You’ll seriously do whatever I ask?? Yessss!! I’ll think of something good! (゜∀゜)/
“………” Rei felt the wind die from his sails a bit, a typical reaction to Shougo’s overly-emoticonned texts. Apparently his offer had done the trick, and thankfully, Shougo was letting him off the hook tonight. Though really, Shougo was quite good with boundaries, always taking care to ensure he never got in the way of Rei doing his job. Even with work, he never made unreasonable demands, and when Rei texted him, he understood this to mean that Rei wasn’t in a position to speak on the phone and always responded in texts as well.
It was because of his conscientious nature that their relationship had continued as steadily as it had for so many years.
But…what was Rei meant to do now?
“It would be best if I could just manage to speak to the sender myself, but…who knows if they’re even sensible enough to discuss anything…” After all, they were sending these kinds of letters to someone they hadn’t spoken with in over ten years. It was probably best to assume they were pretty obsessed with Rei—he might have to resort to involving the police…
“…Well, at least all the crimes I committed have passed the statute of limitations…”
Still, regardless of the route he took, he would have to make every effort to ensure he didn’t involve SenaPro or any of their charges. Otherwise, the whole thing might balloon into a truly serious fight. Plus, if Seiya found out about this, he’d undoubtedly worry for Rei.
“Just remember how much Nagisa and I, and Izumi and Shougo, and the whole office even would worry…”
Seiya’s heartfelt words echoed in his ears. He’d been right; even Shougo—or rather, Shougo more than anyone else would absolutely flip out if he knew what was happening. He had to be careful not to cause any problems for the Sena family or SenaPro… He had to resolve this on his own.
With such thoughts racing through his mind, he made quite sure to bolt the door tight, fastening the chain, and the fell asleep.
The next day, when Rei arrived at work, he steeled himself and began his duties as if nothing were amiss. He’d taken care to survey his surroundings with more wariness than usual on the way to the office, but he hadn’t noticed anyone following him. Today was a weekday, though, so perhaps his stalker was someone who worked during the week.
Still, he doubted that would foil this creep for long…
This person had been a student, just like Rei, back then—but over a decade, it was hardly strange for them to now be a working adult.
It was annoying that all Rei could do right now was continue living his life, taking care not to give this person any chances to sneak up on him, and wait to be approached. He’d never been the patient type, after all. It was admittedly quite difficult to let his nerves build up, slowly but surely, not making any moves.
“It’d be nice if we could resolve this quickly, but…” he muttered to himself—when the office phone rang, with the caller ID displaying a number he didn’t recognize.
He was stricken for a moment, before recalling that this phone line was on record as the office’s main line. Anyone could be calling at any time, so it was pointless to stay on-edge.
“Yes, you’ve reached SenaPro.”
”Hello, I’m Mitsuzuka. May I ask if Sagara-san is available?”
“Of course, I’m Sagara.” His response was delivered in a clear, bright tone, but he couldn’t immediately place the name ‘Mitsuzuka’, and he began to comb his memory. However…
”Ah, Rei! Wow, it’s been forever! It’s me, remember! Mitsuzuka Toshihiko. Ring any bells? Back in high school…”
At this, the fog finally lifted, and memories came flooding back. “Ah! Mitsuzuka-san!” he responded brightly—for he remembered now. If he recalled correctly, their meeting had been just as Mitsuzuka said: when Rei was in high school. He’d often run away from home back then, bouncing between houses of friends and acquaintances and even total strangers, and Mitsuzuka had been one who’d frequently hosted him. They’d met at some bar or drinking establishment and hit it off immediately, and Rei recalled presuming upon his kindness quite often.
Mitsuzuka had already been a working adult at the time, so he’d treated Rei to delicious meals and bought him new outfits, and given how kind the man himself had been, Rei had felt quite comfortable hanging out at his place. He wouldn’t be surprised if Mitsuzuka’s home had been the place he stayed over at the most during that time of his life.
But after Rei’s mother had died, Mitsuzuka had simply become one of the many people Rei had cut off contact with.
“It has indeed been some time. What brought you to call me?”
”Well, I happened to catch you on TV the other day, and it just brought back so many memories. I thought maybe I’d be able to get ahold of you if I called this number, so I gave it a shot…but wow, you remembered me! I’m glad I called.”
The lively tone in his voice boosted Rei’s mood as well. “Ah, I see! Thank you very much, then. I’ve fallen out of touch of late, not bothering to say hello or thank you or anything…”
”Nah, it’s fine. I’m sure you’ve got your reasons.” Mitzuzuka accepted Rei’s apology immediately, with a gentleness unchanged from years prior. ”I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to since then, though. Can we maybe meet up somewhere? It’s been so long, it’d be great to chat while we have some dinner.”
The invitation, delivered as such, was difficult to turn down, given how ungrateful Rei had been. Of course, there was more reason to accept that just that: Mitsuzuka had gone out of his way to contact Rei, and a desire to resurrect their old friendship welled up within.
“That sounds nice…” he began, considering his plans for the day. His work schedule was packed as usual, but he could probably squeeze in some time for a meal. “Then—my apologies it’s on such short notice, but how about tonight?”
”I’m good any time.”
They discussed a time to meat and a restaurant, and after exchanging cell phone numbers, Rei hung up.
“Was that a friend?”
“Eh? Oh, yes—it was.” Rei nodded at the question from Satou in Accounting. “An old…friend from the past, I suppose. Apparently he noticed me when I showed up on-screen at Izumi-san’s press conference the other day.”
“Oh, I see! Well you certainly seem to be in a good mood. That may be the first time I’ve ever heard you use ‘ore’ to describe yourself outside of when you’re really angry!” The remark was delivered with an amused chuckle, and Rei felt a bit embarrassed.
He knew he wasn’t being censured, but he wrapped up the conversation with an apology for using the phone for personal business and returned to his work.
Still… He’d expected nothing but hostility for his actions—but it seemed this sort of reaction from an old friend after a long time was possible as well. This knowledge had him feeling a bit bubbly with happiness—when the phone rang again.
The display this time showed no number at all. Despite the uneasy feeling, he lifted the receiver. “Yes, this is SenaPro—”
A man’s soft snickering interrupted him, and Rei instantly fell silent.
“…Who is this?” But the laughter continued despite his furrowed brows. When the caller failed to speak actual words, Rei hung up after a moment.
“A crank call?”
“Ah—yes, it seems so.” Rei replaced the receiver with a wry grin. Crank calls weren’t all that uncommon, but the timing of this one…
’The one who sent me that letter…?’
It might have been someone else—but he couldn’t help suspecting, and once again, a heavy sense of foreboding draped itself over Rei.
First a letter, and now a phone call… Should he see this as an escalation?
A phone rang again—but this time, it wasn’t the office phone but rather Rei’s personal cell. After a moment’s shock, he checked the display and realized it was Shougo, which settled his nerves.
“Hello? What is it?”
”So, today? Do I get my reward?”
Rei suppressed a smile at that being the first thing out of Shougo’s mouth. There was just no helping this guy, it seemed, but he quickly recalled the plans he’d just made moments before. “Ah…sorry, I’ve got a prior engagement tonight.” It wasn’t an excuse this time—but in truth, his plans with Shougo had been made earlier than those with Mitsuzuka. He felt a bit guilty, seeing as he was the one who kept putting things off with Shougo.
”Oh, I see… Then when would be good?”
Rei groped for a response. “Uh… I’ve been kind of busy lately…” Which wasn’t a lie, but he wasn’t so busy he couldn’t make some time. However, when he remembered the letter, he hesitated to meet with Shougo for the kind of activities he was hoping for. It would be best for Shougo if they didn’t interact until this matter was resolved. “It’s looking like it’ll be difficult for a while yet. I’ll let you know when I’ve settled my schedule.”
”…All right. I’ll be waiting, then!” He sounded a bit disappointed, but he wrapped up the conversation brightly and hung up.
Rei stared at his cell phone screen for a moment after the call ended, sighing. How long would he be able to put off Shougo’s ‘reward’ like this? If he didn’t hurry up and resolve this issue, Shougo would just start going on and on again about how I’m low on Rei! and Let me get a Rei-charge! and If I don’t, I can’t write songs!
“I have to do something…” One way or another, I needed to solve this problem as quickly as possible.
That evening, following a flood of work, Rei wound up arriving at the restaurant five minutes later than their agreed upon time—though at least he’d managed to contact Mitsuzuka to let him know he’d be a bit late. He had been a bit embarrassed, though, by Mitsuzuka’s confession of surprise that Rei would contact him to let him know that sort of thing. It was true that, in the past, he’d never bothered to call even when he wasn’t going to bother showing up at all, let alone when he would just be late. Meeting up like this with someone who knew that side of him felt a bit strange: both awkward as well as a little comforted, really.
“Mitsuzuka-san is…” He glanced around the chic, dimly lit restaurant, but Mitsuzuka spotted him first and raised his hand to catch Rei’s attention. He was a bit older now than Rei remembered, but it was a comfortingly familiar face.
“Hey there, Rei.”
He was probably in his mid-30s by now, and he looked more accustomed to his suits now than he had in the past. Mitsuzuka had only been perhaps one or two years in the workforce before, and realizing that Rei was now older than Mitsuzuka had been back then moved him deeply.
“It’s been ages,” Mitsuzuka grinned—and he really hadn’t changed a bit. He’d always been a man with a gentle—albeit a bit troubled—smile, ever gentle and kind with Rei. “I’m practically going gray here—and you’re as beautiful as ever,” he complimented as they toasted to their reunion, and Rei felt a guilty shudder rush through him.
“Hardly; I’m almost 30 myself.” He brushed off Mitsuzuka’s words as easily as he did when others in his line of business spoke similarly about his appearance.
After all…who said you’re beautiful to a man they hadn’t seen in years? Should he be on his guard? Admittedly…he and Mitsuzuka had had that sort of relationship in the past—but it hadn’t been one of love, or even passion; the man had simply been one of Rei’s numerous friends with benefits. No more serious than a pair of friends who, on finding themselves alone together, decided they might as well release a bit of tension. Back then, Rei’s sense of virtue had been shockingly flimsy, even in his own opinion.
“So, are you seeing anyone?”
“Ah…” Shougo’s face popped up in his mind—but after reminding himself that Shougo was not his lover, he waved it away. “No—though there is someone I have feelings for.” Here, an image of Seiya popped up now, though he took care to keep his phrasing restrained.
“I see… So is it a man? Or a woman?”
“Haha, oh yeah—I remember now, you’ve always played for both teams.”
“And…what about you, Mitsuzuka-san?”
“Oh, I’m married now—and I’ve got a kid, too. Still an office worker, too.”
“I see! Then congratulations!” Perhaps there’d been no point in practicing restraint, then. He felt a weight lift from his shoulders in relief, realizing that Mitsuzuka must really have just been overcome by nostalgia on catching Rei on television and just wanted to catch up with an old friend, nothing stranger.
“Afer I got married, I slowly fell out of touch with all of my old friends…but then I happened to see you on TV the other day, and I felt like I wanted to chat. Plus, I confess I was curious about what it’s like to work in this world I’m completely removed from. Though I apologize if that sounds like it was my real reason for wanting to meet.”
“Oh, not at all. Have you been at the same company this whole time?”
“Yup; I did transfer to a branch office for a while, but now I’m back at the main branch.”
Rei didn’t exactly remember where Mitsuzuka worked, but recalling that the man had always flaunted his power, he figured it had to be a fairly influential company. He was sure Mitsuzuka had mentioned it before, but just because they hung out a lot didn’t mean Rei could sustain interest in details like his job, so he’d forgotten.
“So how did you get your job at your current company…or, ‘agency’, I guess?”
“It’s actually kind of like SenaPro took me in.” There was no point in hiding how he’d turned his life around from someone who knew his past, after all, so he spoke at length about the road that had led him to work at SenaPro. He spoke of how he’d let himself go after his mother died, and how he’d met Seiya, and how he’d started working as Seiya’s assistant.
“Wow, so all that happened? That explains why you suddenly disappeared from the apartment. You never even poked your head in at the shop anymore… All your friends from back then were wondering what had happened to day.”
Rei released a wry laugh at his words, certain Mitsuzuka was just trying to make him feel better. In truth, Rei doubted there was anyone who had cared about him enough to worry like that. He’d been with Mitsuzuka for a particularly long time, but most of his partners had been people he didn’t even know the names of. And then of course there had been plenty who could have dropped off the face of the earth at any point in time and no one would have noticed. That included Rei himself.
“Oh yeah—do you remember Sakata?”
“The guy who always had a different hair color every time you saw him.”
“Oh yeah! Him!” Rei nodded, recalling the name now.
“I ran into him…what was it, two years ago, I guess? Through my job.”
“Yeah, what a shock! His hair was black, and I just assumed he was someone who looked like him until I asked his name, but he remembered me too…”
The conversation continued on in this vein as the pair discussed old times and what they’d been up to recently, but after about two hours, Rei’s cell phone rang, and he slipped his hand into his pocket. He panicked for a moment, thinking it might be Shougo, but after checking the caller ID and seeing the number wasn’t displayed, an ill sense of foreboding rippled through him.
He had trouble believing it was possible, but he couldn’t help but remember the earlier call that afternoon—which had also come from an undisplayed number. “I’m sorry, please excuse me a moment…”
He stood from his chair and stepped away, accepting the call—but as elected, he was met with only the low laughing of a man’s voice before the call quickly cut out.
“Now he’s calling my cell phone…? How on earth did he…” It felt like the stalker was slowly closing in on him, and it unnerved him.
Noting Rei’s dark expression when he returned, Mitsuzuka asked, “What’s wrong? Who was on the phone?”
And here, Rei confessed everything that had been happening lately, seeking advice and certain that this man here, who knew about the person Rei had been in the past, would understand.
“I see… Yeah, I guess seeing as how I was able to track you down relatively easily—it stands to reason others could too,” he remarked gravely. “It might not be safe for you at your apartment. If he knows your phone number, he might have the place bugged. Would you like to stay at my place? My family’s staying with our parents tonight, so there’s no one home.”
“Thank you…but it would be a terrible inconvenience, so I’ll just head home.”
“Hey, come on, you’re not afraid of me, right?”
“Oh no, haha.” It was simply that it felt more than a little awkward being alone with someone he’d had that sort of relationship with in the past.
“All right, fine—but just for my own peace of mind, let me see you home. You’ll give me that at least, right?”
“Indeed; thank you very much.”
Mitsuzuka had always been a terribly kind person, Rei was reminded anew, and he bubbled over with feelings of gratitude.
He’d actually been just the tiniest bit scared to go home alone.
“Wait here a moment, Rei.” The pair had returned to Rei’s apartment building in a taxi, but on arriving, Mitsuzuka exited the taxi, leaving Rei with those words. After glancing around, he leaned back into the cab. “It doesn’t seem like there’s anyone around.”
A wave of relief washed over him, and Rei exited the taxi. He tried to pay the fare, but Mitsuzuka stopped him, reminding Rei that he would take the same cab home. “I’ll leave once I’ve seen you safely into your room.”
He felt a bit guilty at the offer, but he nodded and they headed as a pair for the entrance. However, as soon as they entered, Rei realized something was off, and a shudder raced down his spine as he steeled himself.
His mail box was open.
“Rei? What’s wrong?” Mitsuzuka called out, worried when Rei suddenly stopped in front of him.
“My mail box…”
“The mail box?”
It was always tightly shut–but right now, it hung open a hair, and the letter he’d received the night before rose up in the back of his mind.
“…Do you want me to open it for you?”
“N-no, I’m fine,” Rei reassured, and carefully, with no small amount of trepidation, he opened the box–and found a cup of coffee from a shop sitting inside.
“…Why would something like this…” He couldn’t bring himself to pick up the cup, staring at the logo of a popular chain shop found throughout the city.
Mitsuzuka picked up the cup when Rei hesitated. “It’s still warm.”
Rei’s eyes flared in shock. “Then that means…no…”
“Yeah–whoever left this here must have been here only moments ago… I don’t want to consider it, but he could still be lurking nearby.”
Another shudder ran down Rei’s spine. The letter alone had been disturbing enough, but realizing that the culprit was so near now was unbearable.
Rei had been in more than his fair share of fist-fights, and he should have been used to people fixing their ill intent on him. But being stalked like this filled him with an undefinable discomfort. If the guy had just come at him swinging, they could resolve this quickly.
“…Rei, no matter what you say, I’m going to stay here with you tonight. No objections to that, I presume?”
Given the grave mien he wore, Rei could do nothing but nod his assent.
“My apologies for the mess…” Rei said, inviting Mitsuzuka inside. He didn’t have many belongings, so the state of his apartment wasn’t that terrible, but it was a bit dusty as he hadn’t had much time lately to tidy up.
But simply making it safely into his apartment left Rei feeling more relieved than usual at the end of a long day. His door didn’t seem to have been messed with, and nothing about the room seem changed from when he’d left that morning. And of course, no one seemed to be lurking nearby either.
“Please sit wherever. I don’t have much but…would you like a beer?”
Rei grabbed a beer from the fridge, passing a can over. They sat at the table, huddled near at the corner, and punched the tab to open their cans. “To think I’d see the day when you and I sat around having a beer together again… Never would’ve imagined it, honestly.” Mitsuzuka lightly clinked their cans together, musing nostalgically.
A bit of the resent he hadn’t shown earlier seeped out now, and Rei smiled wryly, feeling a bit bad. “I really do regret…”
“Honestly, I was shocked—you just up and disappearing like that one day. I thought maybe I’d never see you again.”
“Mitsuzuka-san…” Rei groped for a response, not having expected such words from the man. He’d assumed things were settled between them, given that Mitsuzuka had said he was married now, but the way he spoke made it sound almost like…
“I know it makes me sound like an asshole to say this, but…I’m actually kind of grateful to whoever’s stalking you.” A heavy silence stretched between them, and Mitsuzuka’s eyes were quivering when he looked at Rei. “You’re not seeing anyone right now, right?” He stretched out a hand.
’Ah…I should’ve seen this coming…’ Rei muttered to himself in sobering realization, but concluding that just once couldn’t hurt, he quickly gave in. This was a man he’d slept with dozens of times before, after all.
He fell silent, letting his eyes slide shut, and Mitsuzaka’s burning lips seared his own with a kiss, weight shifting to try and ease Rei down onto his back.
But then, in a flash, Rei immediately shoved Mitsuzuka away.
Rei’s eyes widened at the shocked tone in Mitsuzuka’s voice. “Ah—no, I’m…I’m sorry…” He hadn’t the faintest clue why he’d reacted the way he had and settled for just shaking his head slowly.
Mitsuzuka offered a wan smile, realizing he hadn’t been pushed away out of protest. “Did I surprise you, I guess?” He extended his hand again, slow and gentle, but the moment his fingers brushed Rei’s cheek, he realized in an instant what this feeling was—
’This disgusts me!’
This time, well aware of what he was doing, he brushed the hand aside and shifted away. He didn’t quite know why he felt this way, but he knew he did not want Mitsuzuka touching him. “I’m sorry…I don’t think I can do this. I’m…not feeling well.”
But Mitsuzuka just smiled and stood, looking down at Rei, who couldn’t even understand his own actions.
“Sure—maybe you’re a little tipsy? Hold on, I’ll bring you some water.”
Relieved that the man was backing down without protest, Rei released a soft sigh.
What was happening? He’d thought he’d be totally fine with this, but his body was strangely reacting with profound rejection to Mitsuzuka’s advances. It was baffling.
“Ah—y-yes, I’m sorry.” He accepted the glass of water Mitsuzuka offered, gulping it down in a single draw.
“Maybe you had too much to drink?”
“I can’t imagine that…” would happen, he started to protest. Certainly his job required him to drive people places, and he’d been so busy lately he hadn’t had much occasion to indulge in a drink in his private time, but he had never been this much of a lightweight. Plus, Rei more than anyone understood that he wasn’t feeling ill because of the alcohol. “I really am sorry,” he apologized once more.
He hadn’t explicitly said that Mitsuzuka touching him was what had caused him to feel unwell, but the timing had likely made it blatantly clear, and an awkward silence stretched between them.
“…You must really love them, huh?” Mitsuzuka finally offered, and Rei blinked, processing the words.
“Eh…? No, that’s…I don’t think that’s why…” After all, despite his heart belonging to Seiya, he had sex with Shougo without issue. It was unthinkable that any feelings for Seiya were getting in the way here.
At least…he’d assumed as such… “…!” His vision suddenly wavered, and while he could feel his upper half listing to the side, he couldn’t stop himself from tipping over, falling to the floor in a helpless heap. “What’s…”
He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even manage the strength to try.
“Geez, you should’ve just let me have you…” Mitsuzuka muttered as Rei’s mind swam, trying to process what was happening.
“Mitsuzuka-san…?” The voice was dark, as he’d never heard before, and Rei struggled to look up.
Staring down at Rei, Mitsuzuka smiled softly. “You never realized it, did you? Just how much I loved you.”
“!!” A shudder rippled through him at the unexpected confession. Mitsuzuka had seriously loved him…? He couldn’t believe it. True, the man had treated him kindly in the past, and they’d spent a fair amount of time together, but Rei had always had other partners. Though honestly, he’d never even counted them as partners—he would’ve slept with anyone if called to it, and he’d never thought it remotely strange.
And Mitsuzuka had never reprimanded him for it, either. So he’d just assumed that the man only saw Rei as another warm, willing body, someone to have fun with.
“I thought you’d betrayed me. After you disappeared, I was really hurting, for a long while. And then, just when I thought I’d finally gotten over you…you show up again, right in front of my eyes.”
“So…let’s start over, shall we? I’m gonna make you mine this time, for sure.” Thus saying so, he crawled over to straddle Rei.
“You know that…even if you do this to me…it won’t make me yours, right?” He struggled to get the words out. He finally realized that there’d been something in the water, but it was too late to do anything abut it.
“Oh don’t you worry about that. I’ll take lots of filthy pictures of you in the process. People might not care about your past, but what would they think if they saw that side of you now? If that person you care for saw them?”
“Are you threatening me…?!” He couldn’t bear to have that happen. He couldn’t care less about his body being displayed for all to see, but the problems it would cause the agency were unthinkable. Even if he quit his job right now, there’d undoubtedly be a scandal touting him as a former manager of the agency. Plus, he couldn’t imagine quitting. Losing SenaPro would be, for Rei, the same as losing all meaning to life.
But with his body sapped of all strength by whatever drug he’d been slipped, he was powerless to stop the inevitable. He couldn’t even stop Mitsuzuka from reaching for his tie. He felt despair creep in as he realized that Mitsuzuka really was going to have his way with Rei.
To be continued…