Chapter 38: Epilogue 3: Secrets
“Well, this is an interesting turn of events.” Hiroshi muttered to himself.
As he stared up at the moon, he scratched at the collar of his traditionally styled sleepwear. The unfamiliar fabric hung loosely on his body as it was designed to, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was pressing tight against his skin. Every time he moved his hand to scratch at an itch, it disappeared before his fingers pressed down on the cotton cloth. With a sigh, he gave up and let his legs swing freely on the wooden porch of the Oyama home.
“A gas explosion, huh?”
Right before he and Shun were about to leave, he received a phone call.
“Shun, we’ll have to stay here for the night.”
Hiroshi held up his phone.
“Our landlord just contacted us. There was a gas explosion…”
In front of him, his twin brother clutched his head and collapsed to his knees.
“Seriously?! But all of our stuff…damn it…”
“A gas explosion, is it?” Taiki interrupted. “We have some spare rooms so why don’t you two stay here until everything is sorted out?”
Just like that, they ended staying the night at the Oyama home. Without a doubt, Shun was snoring away in his room, legs poking out of his futon and blanket in disarray. Imagining such a scene, Hiroshi snorted and looked at his own futon, which had yet to be used. With another sigh, he leaned backwards and lay down. The cool wooden surface of the porch pressed against his lower back, and the warm tatami flooring of his room caressed his upper back and head, regulating his temperature and keeping him away from either extreme. He closed his eyes, and sighed for a third time.
“Was ‘a gas explosion’ really the best they came up with?” He complained into the air. “I really need to be harsher on them, huh…”
The air responded with a laugh.
“Puahahaha! I feel pretty bad for them and I’ve only worked with them once or twice, you knooow?”
Hiroshi opened a single eye, and let it roll over in the direction of the voice. Standing a bit to the right of his feet was a brown haired girl with identical attire wrapped around her body. With the moon shining down on her back, the shadows painting over her face accentuated the stark contrast of her black eye with her normal one.
“How did you get here?” Hiroshi asked. He opened his other eye and sat back up. “I didn’t even hear a thing.”
“That’s probably because you were worrying over how your idiot subordinates covered up the incident.” Haya shrugged and sat down beside him. “Good thing I invited both of you over today, or you would have been caught up in it.”
“Yes, thanks for that.”
Haya turned and looked at him while blowing her cheeks full of air.
“You don’t have to act so formal anymore, you know? Your brother’s sleeping so he won’t find out anything, and the others are gone.”
“..,Yeah, you’re right, sorry about that.” Hiroshi muttered as he fixed his tone. “I’m just really tired out because of everything that happened today.”
“I’d bet, puahaha!” Haya giggled as she clicked her fingers. “That’s why I brought this with me.”
From out of thin air, a wooden box laced with delicate carvings appeared between them. Haya slid open the lid and pulled out two sakazuki cups alongside a tokkuri flask. She picked up the tokkuri and let the clear liquor inside flow into the disc like cups. Once both were full, she offered one to Hiroshi, who eyed the cup and looked back at her.
“You want to drink right now?” He asked with a smirk. Despite that, he accepted the cup anyways. “In the middle of the night?”
“Why not?” Haya shrugged her shoulders and downed her sake. “It’s been a while since we met after all, so cheers to our reunion!”
She winked at him.
Hiroshi frowned, and shifted slightly in his seat.
“Don’t call me ‘young master’. You’re supposed to be an ally, not my subordinate. If people heard you call me that, they’d get the wrong idea and it’d just be another headache for me.”
“Hmph, can’t take even a bit of teasing…well, I guess that is a pretty valid reason, though.” She poured herself another cup. “Tensions are pretty high in the underworld right now. Some unnecessary rumors would make things worse. It must be sooo annoying to be in your position right now.”
“That’s right.” He groaned as he held out his cup to her. “Not to mention, I was this close to being found out by Shun today.”
“Yeah, that’s true!” Haya grinned as she let more liquor seep into his cup. “I never thought you would be so worried that you’d eliminate yourself after meeting me on the battlefield. You didn’t have to go that far to ensure I didn’t say anything.”
“Yeah, that was a stupid thing to do.” Hiroshi tipped back his cup. “We even used that cover story about me training here for a while and your acting was on point. It was probably unnecessary now that I think about it.”
“Yup! Truth be told, I’m kind of glad that your home was attacked since we get to talk like this.”
At those words, Hiroshi set down his cup and turned to face her.
“Speaking of which…” He started with narrowed eyes. “Was the attack from the group I’m thinking of?”
Haya sipped from her cup in silence for a moment, refusing to let her eyes align with Hiroshi’s. Then, she closed her eyes and let out a sigh.
“…Yes, it was caused by Phobos.” She muttered. “They’ve gotten tired of indirect methods and are going straight for you.”
“So as usual, that group is lashing out without any regards for secrecy.”
“Can you blame them?” Haya rolled her eyes. “After all, the Black Rose group is keeping them at bay. Of course they’d go after the group’s young master, whose men have always shown up to stop any takeover attempts. Not just one or two, but every single attempt, I might add.”
“It’s their fault for encroaching on our territory.” He replied, his voice draining away the warmth in the air.
“What about your raids on the rival yakuza groups who’ve allied with Phobos?”
“Simply keeping the peace in the underworld. If all the small groups get dangerous ideas, things will get hectic in Japan.”
“And that time your men blew up every single confirmed base of the cult within the same hour?”
“Those bases were positioned close to our own branch bases. We wanted to get rid of them before they tried anything, and it was convenient as they were sitting right at our doorstep.”
Haya stared back with narrowed eyes, before turning away. She exhaled slowly while massaging her forehead.
“Hiroshi, if you’re going to lie to your friends and family, then at the very least don’t lie to yourself as well.”
Without reply, Hiroshi looked down at his sake cup, slowly swirling the half-drained contents around in a circular motion.
“Everybody who came today will be going to JNIM soon. There’s a high chance that we’ll end up spending more time together as a group after the party we had today. That means you aren’t lying to just Shu-chan alone anymore, you’ll be lying to five other people.”
The flask appeared in his vision, it’s mouth kissing the edge of his rotating cup. He held his wrist in place, and the flask tipped downwards and filled it to the brim. He glanced up, and found Haya’s face inches from his own.
“Lying to a bunch of people who trust you can be really painful. But lying to yourself and making excuses will only make it so you’re unable to confront yourself when it really matters.”
Hiroshi averted his eyes and drained his cup in a single gulp. He set it down and leaned backwards, propping up his body with his elbows. Then, he let his head fall backwards and shifted his gaze to the sky.
“What if…what if I’m not just avoiding a personal problem?” He asked. “What if I’m avoiding a twisted desire? One that leaves me confused.”
“Then that’s all the more reason you should keep true to yourself. You’ll have to honestly think about whether or not you’ll pursue that desire.”
He held his head in his hands and lowered it to the downwards, his intertwined fingers acting as a buffer between his hair and the tatami.
He could only see the back of her head, but from her quick, upbeat reply he could tell her lips were stretched into a wide grin.
“For coming here just to talk to me about this.”
“What’re you talking about?” She replied with a casual tone. “I just came because I wanted to chat since it’s been a while.”
“Who’s lying now?”
Haya let out a light chuckle.
“Puahaha! Yeah, fine, it was because I was worried about that. Well, I’m not really lying though. I didn’t come just because of that.”
“Hmm? Then why?”
Haya turned around, a small smile on her face. She narrowed her eyes once Hiroshi was in sight, like a wolf who had found a deer grazing in the middle of the forest.
“Everyone’s asleep, and these walls are soundproof despite how thin they look, you know?”
Before Hiroshi could even blink, her face, stained red from alcohol, was once again right in front of his own. He felt her body weighing down on him as she straddled him. Without breaking her feverish gaze away from his eyes, she tugged at her collar, and the top of her chest came into view.
“If we were to do something…”
She licked her lips, and leaned forwards, bringing her mouth close to his ear.
“No one would know.”
Hiroshi felt her chest pressing against his, but he didn’t let any emotion stain his neutral expression as he stared into the eyes of the playful hunter pinning him down. Then, he closed his eyes and relaxed all the muscles in his body.
“Haya…” He called her name in a soft tone.
At the sound of her name being called, Haya leaned forwards—
“Did something happen with your girlfriend?”
And she immediately recoiled with a disappointed frown.
“Ugh!” She lifted herself off his body and sat down with her legs crossed, cheeks puffed. “I was the one who told you about my tastes, but I was hoping for at least one reaction. Juuust one reaction! Why do you have to be so calm about everything! How can you stay so calm when a girl is on top of you like that?”
Haya rapid fired complaints at Hiroshi, and he fired back just as quickly.
“As if I’m stupid enough to feel flustered when the girl in question swings that way! I’ve known you for what, four years now? Did you really expect that to work after all the times you drunkenly unloaded your worries about your relationship onto me?”
He heard a short groan coming from the girl to his side. Then, he heard a thud as Haya let herself fall backwards and lay face-up next to him.
“So, did you and Namiyo break up then?”
“Haa…” He heard her sigh. “Yeah, we did.”
“Really? But it was going well last time we talked. What happened?”
Glancing to his side, the sight of Haya gripping her hair met Hiroshi’s eyes.
“Well, I came back from a short overseas job with a bunch of injuries again. When she saw that, Na-chan and I had a fight because she wanted me to stop. This isn’t the first time this has happened either.” She muttered. “She said she was terrified of the idea of me dying in someplace far away from her, and that it hurt her whenever I came back with so many wounds. But…”
“You refused to stop, right?” Hiroshi finished her sentence.
“Yeah. After that, we had a shouting match. Once we calmed down the next day, we talked it over and decided it was probably best to break up.”
She stretched her hands above her head and grasped at the empty air, as if she was trying to catch a fleeting memory. Giving up, she let her hands flop back to her side
“I can’t stop this kind of work. Public heroes like Maestros can only do so much to keep the peace, you know? If I want everyone to keep smiling and living happily, I need to keep working.”
“I understand that.” Shun replied, a smile dripping with fatigue. “A new conflict pops up every second in the underworld. If you want to keep peace, you need to devote yourself to it for your entire life.”
“Exactly.” Haya nodded. “That’s the main reason we broke up. We already had a lot of stress because we were both girls and we had to hide our relationship from our friends and family, so we decided more drama wouldn’t be good for either of us.”
She sat back up and looked up at the sky with her chin digging into her palms.
“That’s why I did that little joke on you. I thought maybe it’d be easier to love a boy instead, and it wouldn’t be bad to fall for you since you’re one of the closest people to me. I thought maybe I’d feel something if I acted like that and saw you react.”
Sitting up, Hiroshi patted Haya on the shoulder.
“But you wouldn’t be happy like that, right?”
Haya turned her head around, her mouth hanging open. Then, she pressed her lips tightly together and smiled at the ground.
“Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t.”
The two lay back down and stared at the open sky. A void of silence replaced their stuffy conversation, before being slowly stained by the song of the crickets and breeze. Hiroshi closed his eyes, but even without vision the presence of the like-minded girl next to him lightly tapped at his arm every now and then. After a minute or two, he opened his eyes.
“This type of life is so tiring, isn’t it?”
Instead of words, he heard the small scratching noises of hair moving up and down across the tatami as Haya nodded in response.