Part 17: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (17)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
That night, Kase was to sleep with Agi in his double bed. Kase had stuck close to Agi and wouldn’t leave, so Agi had given up and suggested that they sleep together. This was the first time that Kase entered Agi’s room other than for cleaning, and he looked with curiosity around the room lit by a single lamp on the nightstand.
“We’re both pretty big men. It’ll be cramped on a double bed, but just deal with it.”
Kase nodded his head. He placed his own pillow on the bed next to Agi’s and started to remove his shirt to change into his pajamas. In the middle of doing so, he suddenly noticed that Agi’s gaze was fixed on him. On specific things on his body. Lesions that were scattered across his entire back—the little round burn scars.
“…Hey, could it be that…”
Kase rushed to pull on his pajamas.
“…This was the reason that you got into the fight the other day?”
Kase pressed his lips into a firm line at the question. But it was useless. No matter how stubbornly he tried to protect the silence, the scars on his back spoke volumes about the past. He wanted to throw it all away. He wanted to forget it all. It was what he wished for, but the scars would remain on his body forever. Every time he changed his clothes, every time he took a bath, every time he washed his body—he would see the scars. It was a horrible irony. No one understood these feelings of his.
“…I changed my mind, I’ll go sleep in my own room.”
Kase looked down at the floor and headed for the door, but Agi grabbed his arm.
“You’re the one who said you want to be with me.”
It was true. But Kase felt like running away. And yet he was happy that Agi had stopped him, and he was unable to shake his hand away. As he hung his head, he heard scratching sounds at the door.
“Hey, it must be the carpet wetter.” Agi let go of Kase’s arm and opened the door.
A black furry shadow darted through the opening and pounced at Kase’s feet. The cat got up on his hind legs and clung to Kase’s leg, meowing.
“You should hold him for a while. He’s probably lonely after you were gone for the whole day.”
Kase helplessly picked up the cat.
“Okay, let’s go to bed. Come on.”
Agi pushed at Kase’s shoulder as Kase hung his head and carried the cat in his arms.
“Come closer. You’re at the edge of the bed.”
Kase was still bothered by what had happened, and when he lay with his back towards Agi while holding the cat, Agi pulled on his shoulder and forced him to turn over. An arm was placed under his head, and when Kase looked up, Agi’s face was right there. He never thought that an arm pillow would be offered to a man with such a large body.
“It’s an extra special arm pillow just for you. So don’t be so upset.”
“I-I’m not upset…”
His cheeks burned at the teasing tone of voice. Kase was feeling flustered by Agi’s attitude when the cat on his chest started purring loudly.
“Oh, and he’s cheered up too.”
Agi reached his hand over to pet the cat, but the cat immediately growled at him.
“…And he totally ignores the fact that I’m the master of this place.”
“Chise-san said that you shouldn’t expect to be liked just because you feed him.”
“That’s true. Most things that mothers say are almost always right.”
Agi gave a snort, and Kase smiled with just his lips. Agi didn’t ask him about the scars on his back. Normally Agi looked tough and didn’t care what others thought, but he could be a sensitive man too.
Kase slowly stretched his neck towards Agi’s face as he held the cat.
“If you don’t want to, then I won’t. So tell me.”
Agi just gave a wry smile, but he didn’t say anything. So Kase slowly moved his face closer. Their lips touched, and a simple happiness bloomed inside of him. Along with some hope. Agi had let Kase kiss him. Then what about this? Kase slipped a hand under Agi’s shirt to test it out, and Agi caught it with a smile.
“This is the limit. I can’t take responsibility for anything more.”
It was a soft rejection. He knew that this would happen, but it still hurt. Agi combed through Kase’s hair with his hand.
“If you were some slutty lady, I might have done it.”
“So you do like women better?”
“That’s not what I meant.” Agi laughed in amusement. “I’m saying that I’d be fine with a partner that I’d sleep with and in the morning never see again.”
A partner to sleep with and never see again—
“So what do you want to do? You want to do it?”
His answer was immediate. He had learned more than enough in his previous relationship that joining their bodies together without the other’s heart gave him nothing once they came undone. The thought of losing Agi in exchange for sleeping with him terrified Kase. When Kase meekly pulled away his hand, Agi brought his face up close.
“I wouldn’t want to part with you tomorrow either,” Agi whispered, burying the tip of his nose in Kase’s hair.
Kase nodded, tucked against Agi in the cramped space. This was a hundred times better than having sex just a single time. Kase wanted to be with Agi forever.
“Do you have anything you want to talk about?”
“I fall asleep after a few minutes of silence once I get into bed.”
Kase panicked. He wasn’t good at talking, but he tried desperately to find a subject that they could talk about. He pulled open all the drawers in his head when he suddenly remembered that sinister yet vivid tattoo that he had seen earlier in the day.
“Are those you, Mutou-san, and Yuzuru-san?”
“Those?” Agi asked back.
Kase had been in a panic, and he left out the subject of the conversation.
“On your back.”
“Oh…” Agi gazed upwards off to the side. There was nothing in particular to look at there.
“That’s pretty sharp of you.”
“Were you yakuza too?”
“A long time ago. But now I’m a respectable bakery owner.” Agi gave a light chuckle.
“Were you in the same yakuza family as Mutou-san? At the fire, he said that he wanted you to come back.”
“You have a good memory. Normally you look like you don’t pay attention to what people are saying,” Agi teased, pulling Kase’s shoulder in closer.
Agi’s arm was rugged and angular, and it wasn’t exactly comfortable as an arm pillow. But it was nice to be snuggled together. Agi held Kase close, while Kase held the cat against him. They were like a complete set of nesting dolls, and it made Kase feel content.
“Mutou-san must really want you back. He comes to the bakery often. You must have really been something back then if someone that high up trusts you so much.”
“Someone that high up? Have you heard about Mutou somewhere?”
“No, but with that Benz and a personal driver, I can tell just by looking at him that he’s part of the leadership at the top.”
“…So he stands out that much,” Agi muttered with a sigh. “I told him before that it’s a peaceful small-town bakery. To not come in that flashy Benz, to come by foot or by bike dressed like dad on a Sunday afternoon.”
“Aren’t you asking for a bit too much?”
Kase couldn’t imagine Mutou in a polo shirt and chinos riding a bike.
“Well, yeah, that’s my fault, I admit. But he hasn’t even attempted to make any changes. He’s fully aware of how risky it is for me in this day and age if rumors spread about the bakery having associations with yakuza. Basically he’s doing it on purpose. It’s his way of harassing me.”
“In order to bring you back to the yakuza from the small-town bakery?”
“He’s a goddamn troublemaker, right?”
“You’re not going back?”
“I’m not going back,” Agi stated simply. “The Souma Family that Mutou belongs to has plans to change leaders in the fall, so right now things are a little chaotic. The current first lieutenant will become the family boss, and the open first lieutenant’s seat will become Mutou’s as the assistant to the first lieutenant.”
There was a hierarchy that also existed in the yakuza world, and according to the order, one day Mutou would become the family boss. However, there were some members who weren’t happy about that happening, and apparently Mutou was at the center of a factional dispute.
“People that were his allies yesterday had no problems changing sides on him. It only makes sense that he’d want an old trusted friend around. But he no longer needs my support after all this time.”
Kase couldn’t detect any unnaturalness, that he was putting up a front, in Agi’s detached tone of voice.
They had grown up at the same children’s home together. The bonds that they had shared between the three of them should have been deeper than blood to make up for the lack of such with their own blood relations. That was what Kase could surmise from the tattoo with the three intertwined dragons. However, at the present, Mutou was a yakuza, Agi had cut ties with the yakuza to run a bakery, and Yuzuru was no longer in this world.
“Why did you cut ties with the yakuza?”
“Why are you asking?”
The question was fired back at him, and Kase knew that he had overstepped his boundaries.
Kase speed-talked his answer. “Nothing really. I take it back.”
In actuality, Kase didn’t care if Agi was a bakery owner or a member of the yakuza. However, when he fell in love, he would want to know everything about the person—no matter how insignificant it was. Normally Kase had no interest in other people, but when it came to the things he wanted, the difference between them was gargantuan.
Agi stayed silent, and Kase started to think that he shouldn’t have pried, but then a hand landed on top of his head. When Kase looked up, he met Agi’s gaze, and there was a misery somewhere in his face.
“…It’s because it’s my fault that Yuzuru is dead.”
Kase couldn’t understand the meaning of the words right away.
Agi turned his eyes away and heaved a deep sigh.
From the start, Yuzuru was never cut out to be yakuza. Although he had no problems facing down strong opponents, when he was ordered as a lowly underling to collect on debts from borrowers, he could never hound children or senior citizens for money, which often angered the bosses when he came back empty-handed.
“Yuzuru basically joined the family because me and Mutou were there. It wasn’t like he wanted to live as a yakuza no matter what. I’d been telling him to leave forever, but he threw a tantrum like a little brat and said that he didn’t want to, that if he became respectable, his world would be different from mine and Mutou’s.” Agi laughed at the memory.
“Well, he was still about 20 at time; there was probably no helping it,” he added. “That was around the time when Yuzuru met Chise. Chise was a hostess at a club that we went to a lot. Mutou was the one who requested her first, but Yuzuru fell for her instead.”
“Chise-san was a hostess?”
The question was asked in disbelief, but Agi easily affirmed it.
“Chise is strong and independent now, but she used to be an awful pushover in the past. The man she dated before Yuzuru was a goddamn leech. Chise was the one who paid back all the debt he took out. She was a beautiful woman who felt deeply for others and had a weakness for bad boys—which basically called for them to take advantage of her.”
“I can’t imagine it.”
“People have their share of the past.”
Yuzuru had visited the club in desperation as often as possible, and he finally won her over. He had left the leech for half-dead and cleared all of Chise’s debt for her. The two of them married, and Chise started working at a bakery which had been her dream since she was young. When Yuzuru said that he was thinking of leaving the yakuza, it was because Chise had become pregnant.
As someone who was to become a father, Yuzuru had given his future some serious thought, and he told Agi and Mutou that he finally understood that he wasn’t cut out to be yakuza. However, the timing was unfortunate. Their family was in the middle of a dispute with a Kansai group, and it wasn’t the time for a lowly underling to say that he wanted to cut ties with the family.
“The timing was bad, but me and Mutou were in full agreement with it. Once the mess settled down, we were talking about arranging the funds for his separation money as a gift to celebrate the baby.”
It cost money in order to leave a yakuza family. Agi and Mutou had treated Yuzuru as their little brother since they were kids, and they were incredibly happy for Yuzuru and his new life.
“But then that idiot…”
After Agi clicked his tongue, he uttered feebly, “No… I’m the idiot.”
The squabble between the families raged on, and Yuzuru was depressed that he hadn’t been able to see Chise very much as she prepared for the baby’s delivery. It was Agi who had invited Yuzuru out for drinks. He also invited Mutou to go with them, but instead Mutou told them not to go.
Yuzuru was at the bottom of the pack, so he was different, but Agi and Mutou were starting to make a name for themselves in the family, and Mutou had nagged at Agi like an old man that they shouldn’t be going out willy-nilly during the feud. That they were the perfect targets for their enemies to use as a message to their family. Although they had started to gather power, they still weren’t high enough on the ladder. Agi had known all that, but he laughed it off.
—If it gets me killed, then it means that it was all that I was worth.
It was a baseless confidence particular to those on the rise.
And in the end, Mutou’s words became reality.
They were dead drunk on their way home after a night of bar hopping as a man walked towards them with both hands in his pockets. As the distance closed between them, Agi realized that they were in deep shit when he met the man’s eyes. Normally, he could have easily taken the man. If he hadn’t been completely wasted.
When the man lunged at him with a knife, Mutou’s face had flashed across his mind.
They had made a stupid promise to conquer the top together.
Agi had prepared himself to take the blow, but at the very next moment, Yuzuru stepped in between Agi and the man.
Agi took the impact of the blow through Yuzuru’s body. The few seconds that it lasted had felt like an eternity. Agi and Yuzuru collapsed on the street, and as Agi’s eyes chased after the man fleeing, there was a pool of blood forming at his feet.
“I carried him to the hospital right away, but he couldn’t be saved. It was a bad place to be stabbed, but the guy had twisted the knife inside of him, and it was fatal. The guy wasn’t some regular joe. That was a yakuza’s stabbing technique.”
The incident had been fresh coals for the feud, and the fighting became even worse.
The yakuza had their honor to protect. For every attack, they would return it two-fold. And it would repeat itself again and again. But no matter what Agi did, it wouldn’t bring Yuzuru back. And no matter how he agonized over why this had happened, the only answer he got was that he reaped what he sowed.
As for Chise, when she received the news that Yuzuru had been stabbed, the terrible shock had caused her water to break, and that night she gave birth to Rio. Agi was mistaken for Chise’s husband at the hospital, and the doctor had told him congratulations.
Agi was furious that they congratulated them when the father had just died, but when he saw the newborn Rio who looked as helpless and feeble as the piece of cloth he was wrapped in and who needed to be supported in someone’s arms, Agi was at a loss for how to react for the first time in his life.
“The father had just died, and I didn’t know what to do about Chise and this helpless little thing. I looked at Rio and cried, and the doctor laughed and commented on what an emotional papa the baby had. I snarled back that I wasn’t the dad, that the real one had just died, and I ranted and raved in the hallway—”
Agi looked up at the ceiling lit up by the lamp on the bedside table.
After that, Agi had cut ties with the yakuza. Chise was unable to work with a newborn baby to care for, and she had been cut off from her parents for a long time now, so Agi started a bakery in order to help her.
Mutou had also contributed funds to help start the bakery. When it came to Yuzuru’s wife and child, Mutou also considered them to be his family.
It had been hard at first. Although they had opened a store, Chise hadn’t fully developed her skills as a baker yet. Agi had to hire another baker in the meantime, and there was also Rio to look after.
Agi had also never managed a shop before. And though it was tough, he never thought to throw in the towel. Because she had Rio, Chise had vowed to never return to the nightlife entertainment business, and if that was what Chise had decided, then Agi just had to quietly support her. After three long years, the bakery finally turned a profit.
“It’s a small bakery, but it’s popular. Chise can go anywhere she wants to as a baker now. But apart from that, I’ve decided to stay with them until Rio turns twenty. I plan to give the bakery to Chise when that happens… Well, if Chise decides to remarry, that will change things though.”
Agi had recounted the story in a matter-of-fact manner, but then he cut off his words.
“That’s why… I’m sorry,” he murmured.
Kase didn’t have to ask what he was sorry for.
The reason Agi didn’t engage in romantic relationships was because it was his atonement towards Yuzuru who had been like a younger brother to him. Agi’s hands were meant for Chise and Rio, and he had no desire to hold anything else. That was what he was saying.
Strangely enough, Kase didn’t feel that sad or miserable about it. He readily understood Agi’s reasons.
Agi had accepted Kase out of sympathy; however, because Agi had clearly laid out everything from the beginning, there were no extra hopes or expectations for Kase to hold onto, and that made it easier on him.
Sometimes Kase would think that it was better if he didn’t feel anything at all. It wasn’t something that he could handle very well.
When Kase fell in love, he wanted everything from his partner, and there was the possibility that he could lose control of himself again like he did with his ex. He wanted more than he was given, and when he didn’t get it, he would go into a rage. He would hurt the person he loved, and he would be a mess. The way that Kase had handled things was horrific. He regretted what he had done and vowed never to do those things again. However, he didn’t know what would really happen though when it came down to it. He had no confidence in himself yet. That was why it was probably good that Agi had given him his final word from the beginning.
After all, Kase never obtained the things that he wanted in the form that he wanted them.
He felt like he was trying to deceive himself somehow, but he decided that he wouldn’t think about it anymore. Agi had allowed him to be at his side, and rather than something vague like feelings, Kase just had to confirm the things that he could touch. Kase shifted his body down and pressed his cheek to Agi’s chest.
Kase closed his eyes and listened for Agi’s heartbeat. He didn’t know whether or not he could hear it. But Agi’s body heat came through to his skin, and he could physically sense for himself that he wasn’t alone—that someone was there at his side.
“Hey, are you listening to me?”
Kase lifted his face at the sudden question.
“I just told you an old story about myself down to the shameful details, but getting no reaction whatsoever is killing me. Don’t you have anything to say? Like an ‘Oh’ or a ‘Hmm,’ anything’s fine.”
“…Hmm?” Kase answered for the time being, and Agi gave him a look of disbelief.
“Don’t tell me that you’re an airhead.”
“No, I’m thinking about things.”
“Then say those things that you’re thinking about.”
Kase was perplexed and troubled by his words.
“…I’m not very good at talking.”
He had no family, no friends, no lover. With no one to talk to, the function gradually rusted, and when it was actually needed, neither his mouth nor his throat would move. However—
“I’ll do my best from now on to work on it.”
Kase had been serious when he said it, and Agi gave him a look of amazement. He wondered if he had said something strange. Agi chuckled at Kase as he looked uncomfortable. Agi tugged Kase back up the bed and brought his face up close.
“You sure are one extreme guy.”
Amused, Agi pulled Kase in close with his arm around Kase’s shoulders. Kase was surprised, but he immediately went into a daze. With his body tucked into something warm, he remembered the blanket that he had crawled under when he was young. When he was there, no one would bully him, and he was protected from the scary things.
It was safe here. He wanted to hide here forever.
After he lay there motionless for a while, Kase felt a faint breath brush the top of his head. It hadn’t even been three minutes, but Agi had fallen asleep. The cat in Kase’s arms was also purring. The soft fur felt nice. On his chest was the cat. Next to him was Agi’s body heat. He listened to the sounds of breathing of the ones he loved. And he felt their warmth.
Kase had always been a light sleeper, but that night he slept very well.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.