Chapter Two: Tezuka Kunimitsu, Chinese take-out and two steps ahead
'You look as though you haven't slept for weeks,' said Oshitari Kenya, also an actor, somewhat of a friend for Atobe, who was generally hesitant to form too many close bonds with people beyond work. Lately, they hadn't had much time to meet up and chat; that was bound to change now, though, since they were starring in the new TV series together. Atobe wasn't sure yet if he was happy about that or the contrary; Oshitari was loud and annoying, which placed him rather low on the list of people Atobe wanted to hang out with, but he had some redeeming qualities, most of which consisted of him having a sense of humour that appealed to Atobe.
Right now, however, Atobe Keigo was in no mood for jokes, jabs and little spiteful remarks. He felt rather murderous, actually.
'I had a friend of a friend over for the night,' he lied in explanation, deciding it was more reasonable not to share the truth with any third parties. After all, the fact that he had a wounded, possibly dangerous person in his apartment could bring him lots of unwanted attention, especially if it reached all the wrong ears. It was the last thing he needed right now, and in order to prevent that from happening, he had to keep everything to himself. 'I had to take the couch.'
'Ah, the infamous coach,' guessed Kenya, looking at him with something akin to pity. 'That's tough, man!'
You can't even begin to fathom how tough my situation is, thought Atobe, but said nothing out loud. It would be a disaster, had Oshitari caught onto anything suspicious. The man was a gossip monger of epic proportions; tell him a secret and the next day, the whole of Tokyo would know it – or rather, an exaggerated, over-the-top version of it. He didn't want this man on his case. In this situation, he would not risk that.
'If I'm found,' Tezuka had said that morning, just before Atobe left for work, 'I'll die. They're going to kill me.'
He had sounded dull and cold, as if he were stating a fact that nobody could argue with. A clinical observation, rather than a prediction regarding his own future. It had made Atobe shiver.
He had covered each window in his apartment before leaving, just in case. He had also asked the elderly caretaker to call him if anything suspicious was going on. With unease, he noted that he didn't want Tezuka to die while in his home. Even more so because the people who had shot that man would not be very likely to leave Atobe alone upon finding their prey at his place.
'You're lost in thought,' Kenya accused him, staring at him critically. 'You'd better go and have Sakuno cover those circles around you're eyes, you look like a panda,' he stated and patted Atobe's back. Needless to say, Atobe murdered him mentally in a hundred creative ways.
The idiot was right, however. He did look vaguely like a panda. Where the hell was Sakuno when she was needed?
'You look awful, Atobe Keigo,' said Tachibana An, regarding him critically for a while, subtle as always. 'Worse than ever. Have you even slept? Or is that a new girlfriend occupying you all night?'
'I wish,' muttered Atobe and sighed. Funnily enough, the world seemed to have somewhat run out of girlfriends. 'A friend's friend. Male,' he explained, repeating the same lie he had told Oshitari.
'Woah, too much information!' An exclaimed loudly, on the verge of laughter. 'And here I thought you were straight!'
Atobe wanted to die.
He was almost happy when he had finally gotten home. Today at work was awful; both Kenya and An had taken to teasing him for no reason and he couldn't find it in his magnificent self to just tell them to shove it where the sun doesn't shine – since such figures of speech were way below his standards. However, this meant that he was forced to tolerate the both of them. It was hard, and he wasn't really known for his patience. He did prevail, though, and it filled him with a weird sense of pride. After all, he had only managed not to make a big deal out of a few joking remarks: an achievement that should have been natural to him. Well, he didn't like people being patronising. Or something.
The caretaker told him nothing had been happening while he was gone, and a feeling of relief washed over Atobe as he took the elevator up. His apartment was just like he'd left it, complete with a hungry Tezuka in his bed.
'Atobe,' the man said, nodding his head in greeting. It was ridiculous how formal he was being, compared to the day before. He looked as though he was trying hard to not seem rude, which was pretty difficult for someone bleeding all over the bedsheets.
Okay, so maybe it was an exaggeration: the sheets only had a few small bloodstains, which was excusable. After all, Tezuka had sewn his wound by himself, plus he did move around quite a lot. It would have been different in a hospital, where the man wouldn't have to go to the bathroom. But there was no convincing him to seek professional help, he was every bit as stubborn as he looked, so Atobe didn't even try.
'I've brought some Chinese take-out. It's not the quality I am used to, but at least it was quick, and I had no desire to leave you starving for much longer,' he said instead, handing Tezuka a box of food. He then proceeded to politely ignore the way the man was wolfing down the contents of the box, feeling a slight pang of guilt for not having provided anything edible earlier. Although it wasn't as if he had to take care of Tezuka, he did regard the man as a kind of his responsibility during his forced stay.
Tezuka didn't talk until the last bits of rice and chicken were gone from the box, so Atobe took the time to make him tea. Even after filling his stomach, the man hesitated as he stared at the cup offered to him. He was completely different from yesterday, much more distanced and careful. Pain and fear must have caused a temporary change in him the day before, or the alcohol had made him more relaxed, or some weird mix of both.
Atobe had considered, for a moment, adding something alcoholic to the tea. He decided against it.
'I will be gone before tomorrow,' Tezuka said finally, never looking up from the cup in his hands. It had a cute ladybug pattern. Atobe didn't even remember where he had got it from. 'The leg is probably not infected, so if I rest for a few more hours, I will be able to go this night.'
Atobe wondered if he had heard correctly. But one look at Tezuka's expression told him that the man was, indeed, planning to run around with a barely sewn wound, at night, with who knows what kind of people chasing after him. That settled it: this man, Tezuka Kunimitsu, was insane and had some suicidal tendencies that he didn't bother to hide.
'You are not going anywhere,' said the actor. 'You have got a hole in your leg, Tezuka. You're staying until it heals completely.'
'For all you know, I am a criminal,' replied Tezuka coolly. 'There was a shop-lifting incident in this neighbourhood yesterday. It could have been me.'
'Would it matter if it were you?' Atobe asked, rising his eyebrow, and he knew he sounded slightly arrogant. Some people said he always did, so he didn't particularly care. 'You don't strike me as a thief, though. It wasn't you, was it?'
'It wasn't,' Tezuka admitted softly. 'I'm not a thief. My grandfather worked for the police.'
'Did he? And how, pray tell, does he regard your hobby of running around and getting shot?' Asked Atobe incredulously.
'He doesn't,' said Tezuka coldly. His voice changed slightly, but his face remained emotionless. 'The yakuza had him killed recently. Along with my whole family.'
The information wasn't something that Atobe had particularly wanted to hear, since the implications it carried didn't bode too well for his future. What did he know about the yakuza, apart from the fact that they were bad guys with stupid hairstyles? Not much, just like most of the society. He could only assume that they were just as dangerous as some of the films portrayed them as (despite the hair), and that they were one of the most influential forces in the country. He had heard many theories that many of the financial resources in Japan came from the yakuza, and while he tended not to believe the rumours, he had to admit that they made sense.
He meant a mental note to never ask his father about any connections the old man could have with the criminal underworld. If any such connections existed, he didn't want to find out. Since he was not going to inherit the company, he didn't even need that kind of knowledge, anyway. All the better.
'They tried to kill you,' Atobe said softly, and the conclusion made so much sense that he didn't even need to ask. It was obvious.
'No. They got careless,' Tezuka replied. 'They didn't come for me personally, assigning some amateur instead. I wasn't regarded as a threat to them, it seems. Thanks to their carelessness, I have managed to escape,' he explained dryly. 'I like your front door. It's hard to open from the outside because of the jamming lock. Anyway, I wasn't going to stay here this long. My intention was to remove the bullet and use the emergency staircase to leave. I must have lost consciousness, though, because when I next opened my eyes, you were there and you scared me half to death.'
'Believe me, not as much as you scared me,' Atobe said, amused despite himself. 'I thought there was a corpse in my bedroom. Not your common thing to come back home to.'
'I'm sorry for that,' said Tezuka, averting his gaze. 'The point is, however, that I cannot stay any longer. They are going to send a professional assassin this time and they will find me. I do not want you to perish unnecessarily because of me. You're an actor, there is no reason for you to get involved any further.'
'You're talking nonsense,' replied Atobe, trying to sound reasonable despite the fact that he was the unreasonable one here. He sat down on the mattress by Tezuka's side. 'Give yourself a few days to recover. You're barely able to stand, not to mention walking or running. How do you intend to go into hiding with a hole in your leg?'
'You're a weird person, Atobe Keigo. If I were you, I would have called the police immediately after finding someone on my floor,' Tezuka remarked, shaking his head. It was hard to tell whether he was serious, or if this was his rather weak attempt at a joke.
'Yes, well, you should be glad and anyway, I wouldn't want the police around here. It's a decent neighbourhood, but the neighbours are rather nosy. I don't want their to draw their attention to myself.'
Tezuka nodded at that, accepting his reasoning. He said nothing more, though, as he continued to stare at his hands, folded on the bed sheets in his lap. He seemed sad, lost in thoughts that did nothing to help him recover. Atobe wondered, for a while, what it felt like to be him: with no family, all alone in the big, unfriendly metropolis of Tokyo, with nowhere safe to go. What was it like, to fear the shadows, to be afraid of the monsters that waited to steal his life? To be hunted like prey in the endless maze of concrete and steel, passing thousands of faceless people on the way and being ignored by them, as if he didn't even matter... as if he didn't exist.
What it must have felt like to be targeted, to live on the edge?...
'I'll do anything that I can to help you,' Atobe promised softly, 'so just stay here until you recover.'
Tezuka didn't reply. Maybe he didn't hear him.
Maybe he just didn't want to.
The doorbell almost gave Atobe a heart attack. He had been sitting in his armchair, drinking chocolate coffee while studying his script; for a second, he was sure that somebody had come to kill Tezuka and him, but then he realized it made no sense. Why would an assassin ring the bell, or even come through the front door, for that matter? Moreover, nobody even knew that Tezuka was at his apartment. There was really no reason to worry.
He looked through the peep-hole, just in case, and saw two men in dark suits. One of them was wearing round glasses. The other had long hair, held together in a low ponytail – completely white, despite the man's young appearance. Atobe had seen neither of them before. He wasn't sure he wanted to see them now. They didn't really look like relatively harmless insurance agents or people from some religious sect. Which was unfortunate.
The doorbell rang again. Atobe opened the door a fracture, deciding to depend on his acting skills if those people turned out to be suspicious.
'Yes?' He asked, smiling politely. 'May I help you?'
'Good afternoon,' said the man with glasses. He had a very pleasant voice. It sounded as if the man was purring. Atobe foresaw a grand career in the film industry for this person. 'My name is Oshitari Yuushi, this is my partner, Niou Masaharu. We are from the Public Security Intelligence Agency. We have been contacted by Tezuka Kunimitsu.'
'Where is he?' Asked the white-haired man, Niou. 'Is he safe?'
'I don't know what you're talking about,' Atobe lied, wondering why the hell the PSIA agents were even at his door. The men exchanged looks, but he tried to ignore it. 'Listen, I'm quite busy. I have lots of work left to do before tomorrow...'
'Atobe-san, you might want to be careful,' said Oshitari, the bespectacled agent. 'I will get a warrant to search your premises if I have to.'
'May I see some identification?' Asked Atobe, although he just wanted to buy some time. He needed to quickly come up with an inconspicuous way of consulting Tezuka. And, fortunately, as the men showed him their identity cards, inspiration struck him. 'Please wait a minute,' he said apologetically. 'I need to get my glasses.'
Without waiting for their reply, he shut the door and turned the key in the lock; then, he ran to the bedroom where Tezuka was. The other man wasn't asleep, which worked to his favour right now; quite on the contrary, Tezuka looked alert and ready to bolt if need be. Atobe wondered how far he could run on that injured leg of his.
'There are two men here, from the PSIA. I saw their IDs, they're not faking it,' he explained.
'Oshitari?' Asked Tezuka, something akin to relief softening his features.
'Yes, and Niou. Should I let them in?...' Atobe inquired. He noticed the tension leaving Tezuka's body as the man leaned back comfortably against the pillow.
'They do not pose any danger to us. They might even do us some good,' Tezuka said softly, closing his eyes. 'Oshitari knew my grandfather. He won't let anything happen to me if he can help it.'
Atobe nodded in reply, grabbed his reading glasses from the bedside table (he couldn't remember the last time he used them... but that was in much calmer times, for sure) and, realizing he didn't need them anymore, he still put them on as he opened the door to let the agents in.
Just for show, he did look their identification cards over very carefully. He noticed, to his amusement, that Agent Oshitari's name had the same ideograms as Oshitari Kenya's; he doubted it held any meaning, because the name was hardly uncommon, but it still served to amuse him even in this situation. Maybe he was on the brink of insanity. Maybe all of this stress had driven him to the edge and one last blow would be enough to push him into hysterics.
'Please come inside,' he said to the agents, who didn't hesitate to let themselves in with an air of confidence and self-importance. Atobe decided he didn't like them one bit. Nobody tried to be better than Atobe Keigo and lived to tell the tale. 'Oh, make yourselves right at home!' He offered, his voice dripping with sarcasm. Really, those guys were too arrogant for their own good. He didn't think he wanted to entrust Tezuka to them...
Where had that thought come from? He didn't care what Tezuka did or where and with whom he went. In fact, he wanted the man safely gone from his life, and the appearance of the two agents was actually quite convenient. With Tezuka gone, Atobe could sleep comfortably on his bed again, and he wouldn't have to be afraid to open the door to his own apartment. Obviously, he would not miss the other man, who was actually a gloomy old guy in terms of personality, even if he was pretty nice to look at. Atobe didn't need such a grumpy companion. He supposed even a cat would be better. He was more of a dog person.
Frowning at the unconventional direction his thoughts were taking, Atobe led the agents to his bedroom, to Tezuka. Out of spite, he did not offer them tea nor coffee. He didn't care if this made him seem like a bad host. They were hardly his guests.
'Oshitari, Niou,' Tezuka greeted the agents with a nod of his head. 'How did you find me?'
'What are you saying? You sent us a message yourself,' said Agent Oshitari, and Atobe realised why his drawling manner of speaking seemed somewhat familiar to him: Kenya spoke like that as well. His Kansai accent was just as heavy and just as out of place. At least Kenya didn't sound like a sex phone operator. Too bad the same couldn't be said about Agent Oshitari.
'No, I didn't. I didn't contact anyone. If anyone found me here, it could put Atobe at risk,' Tezuka replied.
'I got your message, though. From your phone,' Oshitari insisted, knitting his eyebrows together in confusion.
'I lost it. Three days ago,' Tezuka said, and the silence that followed the statement was overwhelming. Even Atobe, who was no agent, easily understood the implications: somebody from outside knew Tezuka's location. Somebody contacted the PSIA in his stead. Somebody whose identity remained unknown.
All of a sudden, Atobe didn't want to stay all alone in his apartment. It didn't feel all that safe anymore.
'We'll place you in the government clinic,' said Agent Niou, finally breaking the silence. 'You know you'll be safe there, under constant surveillance. I bet Yuushi will stay on watch twenty-four/seven, since he's pretty much in love with you,' he jeered with a smirk.
'Niou, behave,' snapped Oshitari. 'Anyway. The clinic is safe, I guarantee that. You need to be tended to, don't you?'
'My leg is injured, but it's nothing serious. It doesn't require any doctors,' Tezuka protested. 'Putting that matter aside, let's talk about something much more important. What will happen to Atobe? I put him at risk.'
'Listen, as much as I appreciate the sentiment and all, I believe you're being stupid,' said Atobe, shrugging. 'Nobody is going to target me, for all they know, I've never seen you in my life. Whoever it is you're scared of, they would not connect a random, albeit amazing idol with you and your plight. You have nothing to worry about.' He didn't really know how much of what he was saying was true... for his own sake, he hoped all of it, at least to some degree. He forced himself to ignore the nagging thought that somewhere out there, somebody knew he had helped Tezuka. Somebody could harm him, even if it made no sense.
He also ignored the offended look Tezuka gave him, although he did notice it was kind of cute. He wondered how it was even possible that instead of the threat of imminent danger, his mind chose to acknowledge something as insubstantial as another man's cuteness. It must have been some kind of a defence mechanism or something like that, where unpleasant information got waived into the darkest depths of his consciousness until further notice. He remembered reading about people who did that, usually after going through traumatic events. Was there even something like pre-traumatic stress disorder?
'... and we'll have someone watch him at all times, so you can be at ease,' Oshitari spoke and it registered in Atobe's mind that he had managed to miss half of the conversation. A conversation that most probably concerned his own magnificent self, judging by the fact that everybody in the room was now looking at him in expectation.
With an inaudible sigh, Atobe looked straight at Tezuka, donning his most beaming smile (the one that turned even the toughest girls into squealing puddles of goo).
'Go get that hole in your leg treated by someone who knows what to do with it. I will probably be okay. I can always have my bodyguard with me twenty-four-seven,' he said and winked. He could swear Tezuka blushed a little. Or not.
And then, without further ado, Tezuka and the agents were gone.
The three days that had passed since then were dull and painfully uneventful. Atobe wondered if he hadn't dreamt the whole encounter with the corpse from the bedroom, but the blood stain on the corridor wall reminded him that yes, that did happen.
That and the friendly special agent, Akutagawa Jirou, who was apparently assigned to tail Atobe wherever he went and, in case Atobe chose not to go anywhere, also to observe the neighbourhood of his apartment building. It seemed, however, that the task was unexpectedly hard for the agent; Atobe could often see him from his window and what he saw made him seriously doubt the man's merits as a special intelligence agent.
Asleep, always asleep, no matter where he was at the moment. On the bench by the children's playground. In his car. He could even sleep while standing.
Atobe barely restrained himself from offering the man a pillow and a blanket.
He supposed that the fact that three days had passed and nobody tried killing him yet, despite the special agent obviously giving them the green light to try, meant that he was not being targeted after all. There was nothing to worry about, just like he had predicted. He was always right. It went with his amazing personality and perfect looks.
He wondered how Tezuka was doing. Three days was not long, and they'd known each other for an even shorter amount of time, but Atobe still found himself missing the mysterious man. Without Tezuka occupying the unreasonably huge bed, the apartment felt empty, as if nobody actually lived there. Coming back from work to such a place was depressing. It didn't feel like home at all.
'I need to buy a cat or something,' Atobe muttered to himself. He didn't like to think that he was lonely. Somebody as magnificent as himself should never have to feel lonely. He could, after all, have anybody he wanted.
The problem was, there was nobody he wanted. Until meeting Tezuka, he didn't even think about such things! Being a successful actor, that was what his whole life was supposed to be about at this point. Also, it should not have been a man that made him change his mind. A man hunted by yakuza. A man he'd mistaken for a corpse the first time they'd met. In what far-fetched book was that a perfect scenario for a romance?
Atobe sighed as he sat by the bedroom window with the script pages he wanted to re-read. Actually, he would rather spend his valuable time reading something interesting, but he needed to learn the script for the following day. He had so many lines, lesser people would probably give up. He, on the other hand, knew it came with being a star.
The shrill sound of the doorbell made him jump, startled. He shook his head and willed his heart to stop beating like crazy as he got to his feet and headed for the door. Before opening, he paused for a second, all of a sudden feeling uneasy for a reason he couldn't quite fathom. But surely, there was no reason to be worried? He had seen Akutagawa today. The agent was asleep on a swing at the playground.
Deciding that he was just tired and his intuition needed sleep more than anything, he finally opened the door and was met with a hard hit to the head with something blunt. As he was collapsing to the floor, to a welcoming, painless darkness, he heard a voice he didn't know.
'Good, starlet. Don't worry. I'm not gonna hurt you much. I'm disappointed, though. You should have known that the bad guys are always, always two steps ahead of the main hero. Sorry. Seems you're the main hero.'
And then, there was nothing, and it was black.