There were a lot of days when Baba would wake up and wish that he didn’t.
Even though he’d sometimes have nightmares—frightening ones that would have him crying in his sleep or scream out loud and wake himself up, the uncontrollable world made up from his subconscious always seemed less scary than the reality he would wake up every day and face.
It wasn’t long after the events that unfolded in 2010 where he was released from prison and sent out into the world on his own. He had begged to stay, to be with the only people who ever gave a single fuck about him, but the rules were the rules.
He was scared shitless. Like a little rabbit lost in the wild to fend for itself.
Yes, he had friends. He had people who cared about him. The very few, being the ones he had met in prison. Himura, Oshima, Kosaka…
The only man who Baba ever genuinely loved. The only man who saw Baba for who he was and cared about him as a person. The only man who Baba would spill the contents of his mind and his heart to. The only man who Baba let into his heart and let him see through, let him know everything about him.
The only person who could bring Baba back down to earth when he was in one of his extreme emotional states.
At least that was what he liked to call them to convince himself he wasn’t just a brat throwing a tantrum.
You’re just a fucking manchild throwing a childish tantrum, the words in his head would scream over and over again. Pathetic. You’re in your thirties, you fucking idiot! Grow the hell up!
If they were just tantrums, then why did Baba always find himself over the bathroom sink, weak hands gripping the edge of the bowl, his vision blurred as his head spun with thoughts constantly screaming at him while he watched his tears mixing with the falling crimson washing down the drain, the fresh smell of blood making him dizzier with each short breath?
No matter. Today was another day, right? Maybe today he’d be okay. Maybe.
Baba sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was getting a bit long, he had wanted to grow it out, he promised Saejima some time ago. It was a passing comment, not a true binding oath—but Baba took it seriously.
“I think once I’m free for real n’ out in the world again, I’ll grow my hair out again,” Saejima said as he took a drag of his cigarette and blew smoke into the cold air.
Baba gave him a small smile. “I can’t imagine what you looked like before you had your head shaved,” he said with a chuckle, making Saejima let one out as well. “Same goes for ya, too.”
Baba looked down in thought before taking a drag at his own cigarette.
“How ‘bout it, then?” Saejima asked him. “I think I’d wanna see how ya look with long hair.”
Baba looked at him and gave him a nod. “I’ll grow it out for you. I’ll never cut it until you’re out. Then I’ll let you cut it yourself.”
Saejima chuckled again. “If that’s what ya want. But you ain’t gotta. It can be a pain in the ass to maintain that shit.”
Baba shook his head. “I don’t care. I’ll do it for you.”
Tears began to sting Baba’s eyes when he reminisced on the last time he and Saejima were together. Even though the memories were happy ones, it was painful knowing that Saejima wasn’t there with him. Saejima was always the only one who was able to successfully help Baba during his moments, the only one Baba was able to properly respond to. If anyone else tried to help him, it would never get through to him. There would always be a wall between them and the more they tried, the more it would make things worse, sending Baba further over the edge.
But it was never like that when it came to Saejima. Saejima would sit with him, either beside him or in front of him, gently take Baba’s smaller hand in his own, lower his voice to a gentle tone that was more than a whisper but softer than how he normally spoke, and he’d just talk to him. Sometimes it was reassurance or words of wisdom about what was troubling Baba. Sometimes it was asking Baba about the good parts of his day and letting Baba talk about it. Sometimes it was even nothing but telling Baba about a random funny memory that would make Baba smile and chuckle through his tears.
But Saejima couldn’t be there for him right now. Baba had to try and get through it all on his own. That was the hardest part.
Baba closed his eyes and took a deep breath before pushing himself up from the bed, taking a moment just to look at his surroundings. I have a place to live, he told himself. Not many people could say the same.
That was one thing he remembered from Himura, one of his fellow cellmates back from his days in Hokkaido. Himura always told them about the good things there were on the outside, so Baba tried his best to convince himself that there were things to look forward to.
Still, Baba himself never felt content. He could live in a luxurious mansion overwhelmed by riches all by himself and still feel miserable if Saejima wasn’t there with him.
But Baba tried to think as positively as he could. That’s what Saejima and the rest of his friends would have wanted.
He stood up, walking out of his room and down the hallway to make his way to the bathroom. He took a moment to look at himself in the mirror, as difficult as it was for him to. Baba never really liked the way he looked. He’d hear the same voices in his head that always fucked with him mocking his appearance.
So fucking thin and pale. No matter how much you eat and try to bulk up, you’re still going to end up looking the same. Just look at those dark circles under your eyes. You look like a skinny, pale ghost. Not masculine enough to be a man yet too masculine to be a woman. No wonder you’re all alone. How could any man or woman love someone as grotesque as you, let alone someone as perfect as Saejima?
Baba wanted to fucking smash that mirror with his fists. He wanted to break it into pieces and feel the glass piercing his knuckles, wanted to pick up the shards of that mirror and use them to cut his face open so he wouldn’t have to see his revolting reflection anymore. Maybe you’d look less disgusting with your face bleeding out and your hands painted crimson.
He felt his heart rate begin to quicken, averting his eyes from the mirror to the edge of the sink ledge, seeing the razor he used for shaving. You want to take the blades out, don’t you? You should take the blades out and cut up your face. Leave slits all over your face and laugh at yourself in the mirror at how fucking deranged you are.
But he gripped the edge of the sink, closed his eyes, and slowly inhaled as he thought about Saejima. How hurt he was when he saw Saejima’s face when he caught Baba self-harming. The amount of heartache he could tell Saejima felt when he saw him—it pained him more than any kind of physical wound.
Breathe, Baba-chan. Just breathe for a sec and stop your thoughts, Saejima’s voice played in his head like a recording. I’m right here, ain’t I? And so are ya. You’re okay. It’s gonna be just fine.
Baba let out a slow exhale as he imagined Saejima being right there beside him, bringing him back to reality, letting him find rationality.
He turned on the faucet and leaned into the sink, washing his face with the running cold water. The crisp feeling of the freezing water felt somewhat refreshing. Energizing. Like it wasn’t so terrible just to feel.
The shitty feelings suck, but I guess the days when I experience good feelings aren’t too bad.
He turned off the water before reaching for his towel, patting his face dry. When he looked up from the towel, he gazed into the mirror to check out his reflection once more.
Even just doing something as mundane as washing his face made him look much more alive already.
It was already noon.
Baba usually slept in pretty late, even though he’d go to bed early. He wanted to avoid being awake as much as possible, wanted to avoid the shitty thoughts that came when he was awake and aware.
He got dressed for the day, throwing his used clothes into the pile of dirty clothes in the corner of his bedroom. He took a mental note that he needed to bring his laundry to the laundromat across the street when he was feeling up to it.
Today was an unlikely day. But he told himself that he had to, one of these days.
He walked down the hallway to head to the small kitchen, opening up the refrigerator with a sigh. Not too many options. He made another mental note to go grocery shopping soon as well. That is if he ever felt up to it.
He decided to make do with the ingredients he had, collected the vegetables and thawed beef from the fridge, placed them on the kitchen counter before checking the cupboard to grab a box of broth base. Beef stew it is.
Baba closed the cupboard and opened up one of the cabinets below the counter to find a pot. He filled a steel pot with water before setting it over the stove to boil.
Baba usually cooked large servings on the days when he did cook. It was easier in his opinion to cook everything at once and to save the rest as leftovers for a week or so, when he wasn’t skipping meals.
He took out the chopping board and set it on the kitchen counter before pulling out a knife from the knife block. It was slightly dull, but Baba made another mental note to sharpen it one of these days.
But staring at that knife began to make his heart rate pick up. Reminded him of his assassin days. Reminded him of how he’d hold his own pocket knife in his hand to hurt or to kill.
He gulped before unpackaging the meat, setting it atop his chopping board. He took a deep breath before slicing into the protein, cringing at the feeling of the knife penetrating into the meat. It gave him flashbacks to when he’d stab his target.
He could hear the screams in his head. Feel the pain of his knife piercing through flesh and muscle. The pain they must have felt, Baba could feel it take over him. As if he was stabbing his own body when he dug the knife deep into his target.
His hand froze and he dropped the knife, the blade leaving a loud noise as it clanged repeatedly onto the floor.
Why don’t you do it?
Baba could hear the blood rushing in his ears, the pressure pounding as he stared down at the knife, vision clouded with tears forming.
You should cut your fucking fingers off. It’s what you deserve for those fingers of yours pulling the trigger of the gun for the targets you shot to death.
Maybe you could slit your throat open right here. You could watch your own blood splatter all over this wall like a pretty painting. Maybe finally then you could finally be beautiful.
His chest felt like it was going to explode. His heart would give out and he'd bleed, everything would be done if he ended it all right now.
Fucking do it!!!
Baba closed his eyes, leaning his head back as he suddenly remembered that day in Tsukimino with Saejima.
When Saejima beat some fucking sense into him in a fight between the two. When it came to men like Saejima, Yakuza always knew the way with their fists to solve problems when reason was out the window. It was then when Saejima called him his kyoudai.
He remembered Saejima’s words when Baba shakily held a gun to his own head; “No matter how hard life gets, ya gotta keep livin.’”
Baba fell to his hands and knees, beginning to sob. Saejima would be devastated if I were gone before he got out.
But even so, it couldn’t erase the guilt Baba felt of the lives he took. Sure, it was his job, the only thing he had ever known. But did that make it right? Could he seriously justify murdering people, whether they were good or bad?
What gave Baba the right to live!?
Baba pounded a fist on the floor, making the knife rattle, screaming out in anguish.
But Saejima's words rang through his head. Keep on struggling for your dream, that’s what Saejima said to him. Even you gotta have one. Somethin’ ya want more than anythin’ in the world.
For Baba, his dream was to be there when Saejima got out. For them to live life on the outside together. No matter what Baba would think of, he knew his dream had to be with Saejima.
Baba slowly opened his eyes, wiping the tears from his face before hesitantly picking up the knife. He brought it to the sink to clean it before returning to the meat, taking a moment to calm himself down before slicing it appropriately and cooking it in the pot. Although his hand was still somewhat shaky with the knife, he continued on with the rest of the ingredients, trying to get his mind off of negativity by remembering the times he and Saejima would cook together back in the village in Sapporo after they were finished hunting on the mountain.
Baba slightly smiled to himself imagining him and Saejima doing it again. I just have to wait for him. Then it’ll be like old times. Me, Saejima, and the rest of the guys too.
Baba didn’t know why all these flashbacks were happening as of late. He had grown up fine without love or affection from others. He had numbed himself as an assassin to the feelings of others, numbing himself to his own emotions as well.
Maybe it was because Saejima had taught him how to feel. And when he did, everything he’d been suppressing would all surface at once—his fears, his dreams, his care for others… It was like it was too much, he felt emotions too hard to handle all at once on his own.
He didn’t have medications or therapy. It was difficult for Baba to find the money or determination to actually talk about what was going on with him, it was all too new for him. Too much. To talk about what was happening with him to someone other than Saejima already sent him close to the edge. With what little the government was providing the formerly incarcerated with, it was hard enough trying to afford the monthly rent for the apartment.
All while he was living his shitty life, trying to make it through each day without self-harming or attempting to kill himself.
The only thing that kept Baba going was Saejima. Even if he was dependent on him—He was Baba’s reason to live. If it weren’t for Saejima, he wouldn’t have felt how good life could be, wouldn’t have known what happiness was.
He wanted to follow Saejima forever. But he couldn’t do that now. All he could do for now was to try his best to live on his own.
Baba walked into the living area after he finished cooking, the room bright from the sunlight, even through the closed curtains. It was as if no matter what, the sunlight would find its way to Baba no matter how hard he’d try to keep it out.
He walked over to the farthest corner of the room where Baba kept a dusty instrument case.
Baba pulled it out and set it up on the coffee table, blowing the dust off the top before undoing the latch, opening it to find the ukulele that Saejima gave to him.
“I found it in my closet. My relatives got it for me when I was a kid. My step-sister always asked me to play it, but I ain’t know any songs to play,” Saejima admitted with a laugh. “Maybe ya might be able to learn how to play somethin.’”
Baba held the case in his hands, bowing to Saejima. “Saejima-aniki… I promise you that one day I’ll play a song for you with this ukulele!”
Baba picked up the ukulele from its case, opening up the window curtain to let the sunlight in. The warmth of the sun bathing him was somewhat comforting.
He slightly squinted as he looked out into the city, the tops of building rooftops along the skyline with the sun up and shining, it really was something Baba told himself that he should appreciate more.
He looked down at his left hand along the neck of the ukulele, positioning his fingers along the fretboard before pressing into the strings, his right hand strumming a somewhat compromised G chord.
Baba was no musician, but he had looked up simple songs to learn on the instrument on the internet. Even if it was just going to be a short little Japanese jingle, Baba wanted to show Saejima he’d been learning how to play while he was away.
He strummed a bit, humming along before changing his fingering to a simple C chord, smiling to himself as he continued to hum along while looking out the window, knowing that it’ll be him and Saejima singing together someday soon.
It’s hard to do it all on my own, but as long as I keep going, I hope that I’ll be better someday, Baba thought to himself as he continued to play the ukulele, loud and strong, even if he messed up. He’d try again, and even if he messed up that time too, he knew the more that he tried the better he’d be. Just like when it came to himself and his own feelings.
He smiled to himself, imagining Saejima’s smiling face when he’d see Baba again. Even though it felt long thinking about the days until Saejima would be out, it meant every day that passed was another day closer.
I just have to keep trying. Just gotta keep going even if it takes a long while. One day at a time.