"Shit!” It was the exclamation and not the door slamming that had drawn Diago's attention. He was 3 hours into an article his boss was expecting in a few days and had planned not to be interrupted.
Not that anyone usually interrupted him, but her had unplugged his phone so he wouldn’t be distracted by robocalls. So, when his loan shark all but burst down his door he found himself surprised by the interruption.
There was not much surprising in his life either. New assignments for the magazine could only get so degrading before he gave up and accepted the new low. He had enough emotion left in him to appreciate the change of pace but panic spiked in his chest at the sight of his loan shark. “His” of course because he’d been giving a majority of his collection money to Daigo for a while but that was beside the point.
He stared at Daigo, his breath gone with his usual confidence. Daigo simply looked up from his desk with distaste to meet Takasugi’s gaze.
“Someone’s looking for you.” He’d calmed himself by the time he spoke after he closed and locked the door.
“Of course, you’ve clearly been all over town looking for me.” Daigo knew he was being cheeky but this was the first time he had heard his own voice in a few days.
“Yeah, of course, I checked your usual bars first but I’m trying to warn you. Every place I checked this guy checked too, he was looking for you.” Daigo tensed at that but managed to keep his face unaffected.
“Did he follow you here?”
“Of course not!” Takasugi shouted before shushing himself and checking the peephole on the door. Daigo knew that just looking at the walls of his apartment one could tell they were thin.
“Of course not,” he repeated in a hushed, “I lost him, but it probably won’t be long until he finds this place. You should scram, if someone’s looking for you it must be trouble.” Daigo scoffed at that but he knew Takasugi was right, no one came looking for him.
“He’s Omi isn’t he?” Daigo stood and strode over to his companion, using his height to his advantage. “You had one job.” Takasugi shrunk back slightly, enough to be noticeable to a trained eye like Daigo’s.
“No, that’s the problem. Omi I can deal with, I’ve been doing it for the past ten years. This guy doesn’t have a pin, he dresses like some drifter.” Daigo stilled which gave Takasugi enough time to weasel his way out from against the door.
“An assassin then. Why didn’t you just come out and say it.” Daigo kept his gaze on the door, staring at the pockmark of a peephole.
“He was hiding his face,” Takasugi avoided answering the question.
“I’m sure this is the best news you’ve heard all week,” Daigo growled out and hunched himself into a fighting position.
“Hey, if I wanted this I wouldn’t have warned you,” Daigo said nothing to that and his body refused relaxation. Takasugi sighed and laid a hand on Daigo’s shoulder, feeling a subtle flinch at the contact.
“I’m going to lay low for a while and I recommend you do the same. I know you’ve got a rocky history with the Tojo but you might be safer there for now, I’m sure you’ve got an old friend you can convince to take the fall for y-” Daigo removed the hand from his shoulder with an iron fist, still not turning his head.
“Leave now and wait a while before checking on me when you come back.” The order was followed with ease and Takasugi scrambled away. Daigo took a moment of his time to consider the information as his mind numbed.
Takasugi’s fear was not unfounded considering that with each delivery of cash, he brought the news of the Omi and Tojo. As a young man he had learned quickly that loan sharks are men with connections and unsavory pasts. He’d been turning them since he was fourteen, and despite his lack of resources it had been easy enough to find some quite illegal recordings of Takasugi.
He moved slowly as he locked his door, feeling the pressure of a death threat close in around him. He’d been on a losing streak for years now, a release shouldn’t have felt so claustrophobic. No more bills to pay, no more articles to write, no more hangovers, he’d be free of shame-
He would never be free of it. Shame would rot at his corpse in the same way it soured his life. He might never match up to his father’s pathetic legacy, but he could come close. The Dojima prodigal son’s final words the hook line in some porno-mag? The thought made him sick.
He resisted the urge to smash his computer as he closed it and sat on the floor across from the door. He closed his eyes and positioned himself in a cheap imitation of a meditative pose. He focused on what he could hear. The little girl in the apartment to his left was shouting in glee, the one behind him empty, and the person to his right was jacking off.
He grimaced at that, wonderful. He turned his attention to outside his door while the passage of time was marked only by false alarms. His legs ached, then hurt, and then stopped feeling at all. His hunger only heightened his senses, only breaking his focus when his stomach growled. He would be ready when his murderer arrived, even if he didn’t know what.
When someone knocked on his door he opened his eyes. He stood gingerly, his legs protesting the action but still stable enough to walk on. In the few steps it took him to reach the door his apathy succeeded, replaced by panic.
He should have eaten something and grabbed a weapon instead of just waiting for death to come. How much life does he have left? The time it takes for a fistfight or just the miliseconds between a trigger and a bullet? He didn’t bother to look through the peephole as he undid the locks, barely daring to breathe.
So what if he hadn’t fought more than a group of drunks in years? he could still take this guy. He slammed the door open and punched him square in the jaw.
The hit landed, pushing aside the stranger’s hospital mask and knocking off his sunglasses. One look confirmed this was the man Takasugi had warned him of. The stranger stumbled backward and rubbed one hand against his cheek where Daigo had hit him.
Daigo didn’t give him the chance to react more than that. He rushed in for another punch, but the stranger ducked to the left and punched him in the gut. Daigo dodged back just enough to lessen the blow but he still felt some of his breath left him.
This stranger was a heavy hitter, a few too many of those and he’d be out cold. At least he was doing this the old fashion way and giving Daigo a fighting chance.
“You don’t back down easy huh.” The stranger joked as he tried to get a few more hits in on Daigo but he weaved away from each punch. He was managing to avoid getting hit but at the cost of remaining on the defensive.
The stranger’s blows weren’t getting any softer and he wasn’t slowing down. Daigo ducked to the right of one blow only to find himself against the wall. The stranger took advantage of that and kneed him in the crotch.
His legs were even stronger than his arms, focing Daigo to find support against the wall. He lifted his arms to block the next blow but no attack came. He parted them slightly and peeked out at his assassin. The stranger was still in a fighting stance and eyeing Daigo carefully.
“Are you gonna stay down now?” Daigo didn’t respond as he caught his breath and pushed himself off the wall. He was back in an attack position, staring the stranger down, but he stayed docile.
“I’ll take that as I yes,” he relaxed and pulled himself up to his full height, taller than Daigo but not by much, “let’s get some privacy.” The stranger invited himself into Daigo’s apartment, looking around at the false-expensive furniture and the striped wallpaper.
“So this is home sweet home huh?” Daigo shrugged as he entered and kept his back to the wall. He closed and locked the door, glaring in the most threatening way he could. If it was having an effect on his visitor, he wasn’t showing it.
“You’re a hard guy to find, I didn’t think the Omi would want a guy like you in their territory.” He sat down on Daigo’s bed as he spoke, pushing aside his laptop. Calling it a bed was a bit of an overstatement considering that it was just a mattress on the floor.
“They’d rather I stay here than return to Tojo.” Daigo gritted out as he positioned himself directly across from the man. The stranger bounced up and down slightly, testing the mattress. He didn’t seem like an assassin but Daigo wasn’t taking any chances.
“I didn’t think you were the kind of guy to let stop you, with your family and all.” Daigo resisted the urge to curse his family name only for the sake of his mother.
“What are you doing?” Daigo protested as the stranger got comfortable on his bed. He seemed to realize what he was doing and shrugged, pushing himself back into a sitting position.
“Look,” he rubbed the back of his neck and grimaced to himself, “the Tojo clan needs you.” Daigo rushed forward to throw a punch but he stopped himself a step from the mattress.
“Tojo doesn’t give two shits what happens to me, so let me ask again. Why are you here?” The stranger raised his hands to pacify Daigo, only letting them down again when he backed up some.
“The way I heard it, you abandoned the Tojo. So one of us has the facts wrong, and I tend to trust the guy who got screwed over. What happened to you?” He patted the empty spot next to him but Daigo didn’t budge or speak.
“You’re the strong but silent type then? I’ve always liked that in- nevermind.” The stranger, his probable assassin, blushed at his own misstep. Was Daigo honestly such a lost cause they’d send this weirdo after him? An impressively strong, scruffy yet handsome weirdo but one nonetheless.
“Here’s my side of the story. I’m Tatsuo Shinada and I guess you already know that I work for Tojo,” a simple nod from Daigo confirmed that. “I don’t know how up to date you are, but when Kiryu was let out of jail everything went to shit. Terada was in charge for a while and tried to build back the clan but our numbers are pretty weak.”
For all Daigo claimed to be a realist he had trouble imagining that. His father had told him when he was a child that the Tojo could the emperor if the Chairman ordered it so. He knew it had been an exaggeration, but the idea was still there, ingrained into the back of his mind. The Tojo had always seemed untouchable and fear roiled in his gut as the idea finally came crumbling down.
“On top of that, Terada is dead and we’re on the verge of war with Omi. The current chairman isn’t too keen on keeping the position and Kiryu doesn’t want it back. You’re our best bet Daigo.” Shinada smiled his tentative hope which made Daigo’s stomach do something strange. His eyes started to burn in their sockets and his head pounded.
“Chairman Sera made sure I knew I was out of the clan for good. He sent a formal expulsion and a letter saying to stay out.” In so many words, of course, he could understand why but it had done nothing to lessen the blow. “It’s Kiryu’s mess he should have to fix it.”
“He’s trying.” Shinada sighed as he spoke, being careful with his word choice. “He doesn’t like me much but I can tell that much. He’s going alone to meet with the Omi Chairman tomorrow, so he’s obviously not in a good place right now.”
Daigo sighed and let his arms relax, the pieces of a possible future coming together in front of him. He almost laughed at himself, a foreign impulse. He was weighing the choices of returning to his former empire and writing porn articles until he dies.
“Who sent you?” He knew, deep in his heart, that he’d already lost the argument. Why go back? It was better than staying.
“Yayoi Dojima, the current chairman.” The words were a punch to the gut and Daigo dropped to his knees.
“Why now?” He bit out the words and tangled his hands in his hair. “I’m her fucking son why only now!” It wasn’t even a question with how he screamed it, not caring who might hear. Shinada’s hand brushed against his shoulder, hesitant but still comforting. Daigo’s body betrayed him, flinching away at the strange concept of a kind touch.
“Hey, Daigo- your breathing is getting a little out of control-” Daigo curled in on himself, the pain in his head only broken but the pull on his hair and Shinada’s voice. The emotions that had been too much even in prison were rearing their ugly heads, too much to think about without breaking down.
“Hey, I’ve got you.” Shinada’s hands reached around Daigo’s wrists, gently rubbing at his joints. “Just, uh, relax and let go?” Uncertainty defined his voice but his hands were warm and constant. He was clearly uncomfortable with the situation but he was still there and trying to help, that was all that mattered.
Daigo rode through his panic attack with Shinada’s voice in his ear and his hands trying to soothe his iron grip. When he had calmed he unlatched his hands and allowed Shinada to lead them to his side as embarrassment replaced betrayal.
“I don’t know if you want to hear this,” Shinada whispered while keeping his hands around Daigo’s wrists, “but she talked to me about you. She said that being without you was torture, but she’s happier that way since it means you’re safe. She didn’t want you back in the life, but she agreed because she wants you back as her son.”
“I’ll tell her I’m sorry when I see her again,” Daigo muttered as he collected himself, a long and painful process. Eventually, he extracted himself from Shinada’s grip and stood, donning the air of surety and immovability once again.
“Let’s go.” Daigo followed Shinada out of his apartment and left the door open in his wake. His future was his again and whoever wanted his old life could have it.