What did it feel like, to know that you were going to deliberately hurt someone?
Kaoru never thought that he would have to consider that.
Should it feel like stabbing yourself in the chest, over and over again? Or having to armor yourself in metal, even as you were bleeding underneath?
He didn't even have the courage to do this in person.
Kaoru steeled himself and pressed the call button on his phone.
"Kaoru? Is something wrong?" Keigo asked the minute he answered.
"No, why would you think that?" Kaoru asked.
"You've never called."
It was true. Kaoru hadn't realized. His first call to Keigo.
He wanted to say that he just wanted to hear Keigo's voice. Or speak about something inane like his day in the office. Or that the leaves were turning a vibrant shade of red and gold welcoming the autumn.
"I…I want to stop seeing each other," Kaoru forced the words out as steadily as he could. His heart stilled.
Keigo was quiet before asking calmly, "Why?"
"I've met my obligations. For the seven sessions," Kaoru replied.
"We can meet outside the obligations," Keigo's voice remained even.
"I thought about it. But I just got my life back on track," Kaoru lied. "I can't keep this up."
"There's no need to decide now," Keigo reasoned. "We can speak in person when I'm back."
"No. My internship ends next week. I want to focus on finding a permanent job."
"What does that have to do with this?"
Kaoru hadn't expected Keigo to be persistent. He nearly gave up.
"You don't sound like yourself, Kaoru," Keigo continued, his tone suspicious.
"You don't know me. Not really," Kaoru said quietly.
"Don't I?" Keigo challenged.
"No. Only what you bought."
"And if I extend the terms of the offer? Will you consider it?" Keigo asked coldly, the first sign of anger.
"No," Kaoru replied, the only honest word he said through this farce of a conversation. Then back to the lies. "I want to start over."
"I see. It was simply a business transaction to you," Keigo noted.
"You told me at the start," he struggled to keep his voice as cool as he could. "I needed money. You wanted company."
"I had hoped that it became more than that."
It shattered Kaoru, knowing how proud Keigo was and what it must have taken for him to admit that.
"As I said, you don't really know me," Kaoru managed and he had to grasp the phone so hard as he delivered the next line, like an actor on a stage. "You don't even know your own mother, Keigo."
This time, there was a long silence at the other end of the line.
"Well done, Aihara Kaoru. You've managed to fool me completely."
The only time Kaoru had heard anything close to the ice in his voice was that night, after Keigo had been betrayed by his family.
Kaoru knew then that this was the end.
He plunged ahead, as if over a cliff. "I hope it was worth what you paid for."
Keigo laughed harshly. When he spoke, it was hard and sharp.
"You're a whore, like everyone else."
Kaoru stared at the phone as the line was cut off.
Harsh words. A finality he had wanted to achieve. Kaoru didn't know that he could act so well.
There was a numbness that was almost surreal. He couldn't even cry, as much as he wanted to.
He wanted to forget.
He needed to escape.
"You were ruthless," the younger Ushida's voice over the line contained admiration.
"It was necessary," Keigo replied. "But thank you."
"That should secure our distribution platform," Ushida sounded relieved. "My father wishes to congratulate you. How about a dinner when you are back?"
"Of course. I'll give him a call."
"Let's hit the clubs as well. You've been missing in action."
"Building an empire keeps me busy."
"Arrogant ass as usual," Ushida laughed. "See you soon."
Keigo got into the car which had just pulled up outside the hotel.
The events repeated in his mind as he looked out to the streets of the foreign city. Grey with an overcast sky.
His adversaries had been stunned by his actions this past week. They had expected a benign takeover. An offer from a gentleman.
When Keigo arrived on this trip, he certainly had the best of intentions.
At the first sign of reneging their offer to try for better terms, he seized the chance to retaliate.
This week, he didn't have any shred of compassion.
This week, he wanted to kill.
Anything to keep the raging storm of emotions at bay after the call with Kaoru.
Keigo had stared at the phone for a long time after he hung up that evening. How ironic that he had taken the call from another hotel room.
He had spoken out of anger and betrayal.
Then he reminded himself that it did begin with his own proposal. He had truly believed that he could keep it as a purely physical arrangement.
The joke was on him.
Keigo laughed, fully aware of how hollow it was.
Even then, Keigo tried to call Kaoru back to apologize. A part of him which refused to believe that it could end this way.
A metallic voice informed him that the number was no longer available.
He should have known better. His circumstances had tried to teach him never to open his heart.
A bitter but instructive lesson.
However, Keigo had an appearance to upkeep. An image to maintain.
He could wait for the next thirteen hours while he was on a flight.
Or a couple more to get past immigration and into his usual chauffeured car.
Until he was safely back in his own apartment.
Then he could give in to the devastation.
"Hey, you haven't said a word," Nakamura prodded gently.
Kaoru downed another shot of cheap sake, barely aware of the surroundings of the loud and smoky roadside izakaya.
Miyagi and Nakamura gave each other worried frowns.
"You wanna talk about it?" Miyagi tried.
Kaoru shook his head and tried to pour more into his glass. Miyagi snatched the bottle away from him.
"I'll do it. You'll just get the sake all over yourself."
His friends kept mostly quiet and watched as Kaoru did everything he could to get drunk.
It was a first for all of them. Usually, it was Kaoru who had to make sure that they both get home in one piece.
Kaoru whispered, "Thank you."
He was grateful for their companionship. He truly was. He would express that properly the next day once he was sober.
For now, Kaoru wanted to just find oblivion.
When they called for the bill, he couldn't even stand without one of them holding him up.
Kaoru stupidly refused help when they went out onto the street. Odd, that. He had been doing a lot of stupid things recently.
He walked unsteadily as both Miyagi and Nakamura followed behind him closely.
"You're weird, man," Miyagi remarked. "You're like the quietest drunk ever!"
"Better than your loud ass self," Nakamura huffed.
"Well, you start singing shitty karaoke songs," Miyagi shot back.
Kaoru tripped and fell onto his knees
"Oh, shit! Aihara, you okay?" Nakamura shrieked.
Miyagi held his shoulders up to check on him.
Kaoru felt the tears creeping down his cheeks. Then he broke down in nerve-wrecking sobs. He wept so hard the ribs in his chest could shatter.
He hadn't cried this hard since his parents' death.
It hurt. It hurt so much. Why didn't he know that it would hurt this much?
"Calm down," Miyagi urged. "Your heart, man."
"My place is nearby. Let's get you back, okay?" Nakamura tried to reassure him.
Kaoru nodded as they both lifted him. He held onto their shoulders for support.
How much pain could it withstand?
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