Issay stood in the middle of the busy street, squinting his eyes at the numerous neon signs that looked like they were thrown together haphazardly on side of the high-rise buildings lining the area. Scratching his angled jaw with a slim finger, a perplexed expression formed on his face as Issay found himself lost, again. Despite having lived in this city for years now, somehow, Issay still makes wrong turns that brings him somewhere new.
Cursing his poor sense of direction, Issay turned around and decided to retrace his steps. If he had left the office earlier with his colleagues, he wouldn’t have gotten lost too. Picking a direction with his gut instinct, Issay began to walk.
However, as he kept an eye out for familiar landmarks, Issay found himself walking into more and more unfamiliar territory, with more and more shady looking establishments. He couldn’t have taken the wrong direction again, right?
Even as the street grew quieter and the air grew heavier, Issay continued his path choosing to believe in the choice he made. Whilst the number of pedestrians didn’t really seem to change, they were losing their liveliness, becoming more hushed, saying less and smoking more as they loitered in small groups. They were eying at him more too. Issay was starting to get the feeling that he was not welcome in this area.
“Hey, you looking for someone?” A slender, stone-faced man with elegant facial features and long black hair called out to Issay. He was dressed immaculately in a black suit that looked like it was tailored for his broad shoulders and slim waist. Standing alone, he smoked a cigarette that was already half gone.
“I asked, are you looking for someone?” he repeated, stubbing his cigarette out on the railing that he was leaning against. “You don’t look like you should be here,” he added.
“Uhm…” Issay started. “I’m looking for a pub called Shirube…?”
The man raised a brow, scepticism apparent on his face. “You sure that’s what you’re looking for? That’s on the other end of this district.”
Issay groaned and slapped a hand onto his forehead. Pushing down the urge to scream in frustration, Issay merely sighed and turned in the opposite direction. Pointing towards the direction he came from, Issay asked the man, “This way?”
Issay heaved another sigh, dreading the long walk back and the teasing from his colleagues when they figure out that he got lost again.
“Hey,” the man called out again, shaking Issay from his thoughts. “Have we met before?” he asked, cocking his head to one side. “You look familiar.”
Issay stared at his face, trying not to get distracted by the movement of the light reflected off of the man’s flowing locks when he shifted. Frowning, Issay tried hard to match his face a memory. He indeed does look familiar. “Were you… Which high school did you go to…?”
The man paused in silence, staring at Issay with his glittering dark eyes as he appeared to consider if he should answer the question. After a moment, he kept his eyes on Issay as he replied, “Musayama High.”
Issay’s heart leapt and his expression lit up upon hearing his answer. “You’re Atsushi, aren’t you? That junior who liked hanging out in our classroom!”
Watching the man’s reaction to Issay’s statement was like watching a candle light up in the darkness. A glow came into his sullen demeanor as his lips widened into a smile that slowly grew brighter, turning into that same look of adoration that Issay used receive from his junior back in the day.
“Fujisaki?” Atsushi breathed in disbelief.
“It really is you then! I’ve always told you to just call me Issay!” Issay exclaimed, excited. Realising how loud he was, Issay brought his voice back down as he approached Atsushi. “It’s been so long! How’ve you been?”
“Ah… yes. I’ve been… fine,” Atsushi said with a small smile, looking down at the ground as Issay threw an arm around his shoulders. “But… how did you end up in this side of town?” he asked looking back at Issay with cautious curiosity.
“Well…” Issay looked away, laughing in a weak attempt to hide his embarrassment. “You know how I always get lost…”
Atsushi chuckled and brushed his hair out of his face as he turned to Issay. “I guess I should walk you to the bar then, least you lose your way again,” he said, smirking coyly. Without waiting for Issay’s reply, Atsushi slid his arm around his waist and led him away. “By the way, you should try not to end up in this area again,” Atsushi said, his voice low.
“The suits aren’t office workers. They’re gangsters.”
“Hm… that would explain the atmosphere,” Issay mused, seemingly nonchalant as they returned to the noisy, brightly coloured side of the street. “But… what were you doing there then?” Issay asked.
“Huh? Me? I met up with a couple of friends…” Atsushi replied, trailing off.
“I heard you started running around with certain company after we graduated,” Issay commented. Looking at Atsushi with concern in his eyes and a worried frown, he said, “I hope you’re not-”
“No no,” Atsushi cut him off, waving a dismissive hand. “I just come by occasionally to say hi.”
“Hm, still, being acquainted with them…” Issay left his sentence hanging before changing the subject. “Anyway, what have you been up to? Working now?” Issay asked, slipping his arm off Atsushi’s shoulders. He felt Atsushi’s arm linger around his waist for a moment before it was eventually withdrawn.
“Hm, yeah,” Atsushi replied. Bringing a pack of cigarettes out from his pocket, he offered one to Issay, who graciously accepted it.
After Atsushi lighted his cigarette and Issay has taken his first puff, Issay laughed, “Just like old times, huh? I still don’t understand why you insist on doing this for me.” Atsushi met his eyes, but simply smiled and shrugged while lighting his own cigarette. “What are you working as now then?” Issay asked.
Atsushi thought for a moment before answering, “I guess you could say I’m working in finance.”
Issay’s eyes widened in surprise. “That’s pretty impressive!”
Atsushi waved his hand again. “No, it’s not what you imagine. It’s more like a private organisation. Small scale kind of thing.”
“Won’t they fuss about your hair then? Working in an office, finance industry and all.”
Atsushi shrugged. “No one’s said anything so far.” He took in a long drag from his cigarette, then turned to Issay. “ Enough about me. Tell me about you. I assume you’re working now?”
Issay chuckled. “Me? Yeah, I work in law enforcement. You’d never have guessed that someone, like me would end up as an inspector, would you?” he said, grinning as he looked over at Atsushi, who suddenly seemed frozen. Startled, Issay put a hand on his shoulder. “Atsushi, are you alright?”
“What?” Atsushi looked at Issay, wide eyed. “Ah…” The younger man appeared to collect himself as he said, “I’m just a little fatigued. You know, the usual, working overtime.” Atsushi smiled weakly at him, his expression hiding some kind of pain.
Issay frowned, but decided to take his word for it. He slid his arm around Atsushi again. “You should probably think about taking time off if work’s that demanding. Don’t let yourself burn out, you know?” Issay suggested, giving Atsushi’s shoulders a squeeze.
Atsushi hummed in agreement and turned away from Issay to look at their surroundings. “We’re almost there,” he announced.
“Huh, I thought it would take longer,” Issay remarked.
“Were you hoping it would take longer?” Atsushi asked, a slightly playful tone has returned.
Issay laughed, partly out of relief that Atsushi seemed to be in a better mood already. “It would be a good excuse to talk a little more,” he replied, smiling to Atsushi.
Issay saw a flash of a smile from Atsushi, but it was quickly masked by his long hair that fell forward when he looked down again. “Maybe next time,” he said softly and stopped in his tracks in front of a grey high-rise building. Squinting his eyes slightly against the glare of the backlit sign boards, Atsushi pointed at the sign that said ‘Shirube’. “There, third floor of this building.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Issay muttered, looking around him. “It was right opposite our office all along…?”
Watching Issay mouth curses while staring incredulously at his surroundings, Atsushi could not help but laugh. “Looks like you must’ve had a lot on your mind to lose your way like that,” he said between breaths.
Although exasperated and weary from his terrible directional sense, Issay could only sigh and smile tiredly. He has long since given up on trying to get better at this anyway. “You know how I am, it can’t be helped,” Issay shrugged. “Thanks for making sure I get here though,” he added, placing a hand on Atsushi’s arm. “I really do appreciate it.”
Dabbing at his eyes with the heel of his palm, Atsushi could only muster out one word as he caught his breath, “Anytime.”
“Ah, we should meet up for drinks someday too.” Issay searched his pockets and found an old receipt he had meant to discard. He scribbled his number on it with a pen he pulled out from a pocket on the inside of his coat. “Call me when you’re free,” he said, handing it over to Atsushi.
Atsushi appeared to hesitate for a moment before taking the piece of paper from Issay. He then drew out a card from his front pocket that had his number on it. “Likewise,” Atsushi gave it to Issay. “If you ever get lost again, do call,” he smirked.
“That, I will,” Issay said, mirth in his voice. Locking gazes with Atsushi, his eyes wandered a little, taking in the definitions of his junior’s face as he thought about how much his appearances have changed since the last time they met. Issay struggled for a moment, unsure if he should hug the man in parting. In the end, he decided to clap a hand on Atsushi’s shoulder and say, “I’ll see you around” before turning to leave.
Atsushi watched Issay disappear as the elevator doors closed and took him away. Only then did he bury his face in his hands as he sank into the bench facing the building. A whirlwind of emotions raged inside him, none of which Atsushi could show to Issay.
Suddenly seeing Issay again after 10 years was shocking, but it made Atsushi feel oh, so happy. Never in his wildest imagination would he have thought that he would ever see Issay again, especially since they never kept in contact with each other. But so short lived was that joy. Issay saying that he worked in law enforcement, that he was an inspector. Fate must be pulling a prank on him, Atsushi lamented. Pulling them so close without warning then showing him how far apart they were really meant to be.
Feeling joy and having his heart race like that only for everything to come to a complete stop as it crashed down on him was too much to take. Leaning forward, with an elbow propped on his knee, Atsushi hid his agony in one hand while the other clutched at his chest in a futile attempt to grab at his heart. Oh, how it ached. He wanted so much to scream but that would be too conspicuous in the city during the evening.
Forcing himself to take a deep breath, Atsushi steadied his breathing. There was still work to do. Composure would be needed for that. He leaned back, breathing deeply as he slowed his racing heart and brought his pulse down. Atsushi found himself staring blankly at the night sky for what felt like an eternity before he slipped his stony expression back in place.
Atsushi had taken a few steps away from the bench when he heard a voice call out behind him. “B-boss?” It was one of the new initiates. Atsushi could not, for the life of him, remember the teen’s name though. “May I ask why you’re all the way out here? I mean it’s unusual considering the police headquarters are right across the road…” the boy rambled.
Atsushi cast a cold glance across the road towards the building complex that served as the police headquarters. Slowly shifting his eyes back on the youth, Atsushi said, “Can’t I take a walk?”
Alarmed at the question, the boy quickly cast his eyes down. “Of course, Boss. Yes, Boss.”
Atsushi stifled a sigh. He could not stand the grovelling. “If there’s no other business…”
“Ah, I’ve collected the payment from the pawn shop.” The teen started to reach into his jacket when Atsushi grabbed his arm.
“Do you intend to flash all that money out in the open like this?” Atsushi growled. The boy shook his head furiously and Atsushi released his arm.
Turning on his heel, Atsushi started to walk back to the other end of the street. “Come, I’ll check the sum back in the office,” he said and the boy’s footsteps shuffled in behind him.
Casting a subtle backward glance at the police headquarters, Atsushi decided that he could live with this. As long as he never sees Issay again, he could live with this.