Kaoru sat at the counter in the small café, where Miyagi was now the head barista. It was late evening on a weekend and closing hours were soon.
"You know, you need to get out more."
Kaoru looked up from his tablet and at his friend, who was folding his arms.
"Why are you here alone?" Miyagi demanded.
It was a constant theme. After the massive breakdown, both Miyagi and Nakamura had taken it up upon themselves to ensure Kaoru's social well-being. They didn't know anything about Keigo specifically, except that Kaoru wouldn't disclose a name and that it was something which was not meant to be.
"I did go out yesterday," Kaoru replied.
"For a work thing." Miyagi rolled his eyes. "Come on, when was the last time you were on a date?"
"I tried to go on dates. I just didn't meet anyone I liked, that's all."
Miyagi shot him a suspicious look.
"What about you?" Kaoru smiled. "Are you seeing Emi tonight?"
"Yeah, she wants to watch some crappy movie at the cinema." Miyagi grinned helplessly at the mention of his latest girlfriend. Kaoru and Nakamura had a side bet on how long it would last. So far, Miyagi had surprised them.
"Have fun! I better go actually." Kaoru switched off his tablet and stood up. "I should get something to eat before going home."
He left quickly before Miyagi could launch into another long lecture. Kaoru sighed.
He did try. He tried so hard.
In the beginning, he threw in all his energy to secure a job and then to retain his job. Afterwards, at his friends' insistence, he went out on a few dates.
They were all normal. Perfectly normal and eligible. Kaoru should have been flattered that they were interested in him.
He even went out once with Eito. A lunch and a movie.
Each time, he returned home feeling just a bit emptier and sadder. He wondered if it would ever go away.
Then Kaoru simply chose not to try anymore.
He shook off the thoughts and focused on the next meal instead.
Comforting instant noodles sounded appealing on an evening like this.
Keigo was used to being surrounded by an assortment of minders, company executives, employees and acquaintances throughout the day. Akino, bless her, kept his schedule in order with her brisk efficiency.
However, tonight, he wanted to be alone. He dismissed his chauffeur and drove to this quiet neighborhood just on the outskirts of the city.
The apartment block was old but well-maintained.
Keigo checked the address on his phone again and took the flight of stairs up to the second floor.
He rang the doorbell for the specific apartment. No answer.
Of course, he didn't even know if Kaoru would be at home. Keigo's only plan was to stake outside the apartment block until Kaoru showed up.
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
When he went back downstairs, he noticed the convenience store across the road and ducked into it.
It was not a place he would usually be seen in but nevertheless, it was better than standing outside in the cold. The cashier was a kid who glanced at his expensive clothes with disinterest before turning his attention back to some entertainment program on the television. Keigo recognized the gyrating star on the show - he just fucked her two months ago.
He walked down the aisle to pick up a bottle of water and nearly bumped into someone around a corner.
"Sorry!" a gentle, soft voice said. Keigo straightened and froze.
Those dark eyes stared back at him in equal shock.
"Kaoru." Keigo was sufficiently trained to be calm and unflappable under duress.
Inside, he was anything but. Kaoru looked exactly as he had remembered.
Kaoru's face turned ashen.
"W-what are you doing here?" There was a slight tremor in his voice.
"To see you," Keigo replied succinctly.
"How did you find me?" Kaoru looked down at the basket he was carrying.
"Does it matter?"
"I g-guess not."
Keigo watched as the other man backed away as if to run.
"Can we talk at your place?" he asked.
Kaoru's fingers tightened around the handle of the basket.
He swallowed and nodded tightly.
The apartment was tiny but neat and comfortable.
It occurred then to Keigo that he had never been in a space that was entirely personal to Kaoru.
There was a line of books on the shelf and parts of unfinished sketches on the coffee table. The couch had a cute soft toy which looked like a marshmallow.
"Sorry about the mess!" Kaoru said and set the groceries next to the sink in the kitchenette. "Would you like some tea?"
"Sure, thank you."
Keigo also noticed the bottles lined up on the shelf. Medication.
He took the cup from Kaoru and sat on the couch.
Silence fell between them as Kaoru knelt beside the coffee table and began to arrange his sketches in piles.
"How have you been?" Keigo began.
"I've been well." Kaoru's smile was strained.
"Your condition?" Keigo went on.
Those hands stopped for a second before Kaoru replied, "It's good. Stable."
Keigo wanted to ask Kaoru why he had disappeared. He didn't think he had the right. He thought about the disconnected phone line and the closed email account.
You were the one who left him, a corner of his mind whispered. Did you believe in him at all? Did you try harder to look for him?
In the midst of shuffling the papers, a magazine dropped out.
Keigo recognized his own face on the cover.
Kaoru gasped and gave him an almost panicked look.
Keigo held his eyes and picked up the magazine.
"Kaoru," he began.
"I just happened to see it and I was curious," Kaoru cut him off hurriedly and snatched the magazine back. He stood up and shoved the magazine in between the books on the shelf.
It was a small detail, probably insignificant but Keigo felt something in his chest which was unfamiliar.
It might be hope.
If he didn't clear things up today, it would be never.
"I found out from Ushida about what happened," he said quietly. "Why did you really make that call?"
Kaoru felt his breath stopped.
His mind had been a mess the moment he ran into Keigo. He didn't know what to think.
The name was unfamiliar. He didn't even know who Ushida was.
Keigo must have noticed his blank expression. He commented carefully, "You don't know him."
There was no point in perpetuating the lies. Kaoru didn't have the skill to put on an act in person.
Did Keigo simply want an explanation? Was that why he was here?
"I didn't even have a name," he confessed in a tiny voice.
"He sent a dutiful messenger?"
"A private detective."
Another awkward silence ensued.
Then at the same time,
"I want to apologize-"
Kaoru was taken aback and looked at Keigo in surprise.
"Let me go first." Keigo put down the cup and rose from the couch.
What he said next, in that intensity which defined him, Kaoru wouldn't forget for the rest of his life.
"Forgive me. I knew you enough to have known better. There is nothing which I can do to take back what I said. But I want you to know that those times we had were the closest I've ever known to happiness."
Kaoru fought to keep tears unshed. In this tiny apartment, he couldn't find any room to hide, either his true emotions or what he had always wanted to say to Keigo.
"I'm sorry! I didn't want to hurt you! I thought..I didn't mean to.."
"Did you mean what you said?"
Kaoru shook his head furiously.
"Then I don't care about everything else."
Could he fall harder than he already did? It was so possible that Kaoru was almost afraid.
"We can't. I don't want to go back to.." he struggled to voice it out. He had to know.
"We can't," Keigo said fiercely. "And we won't. Can we start over?"
"How?" Kaoru whispered. Relief, hope and bewilderment overwhelmed him.
Keigo appeared to be relieved too. The tension left his eyes and a corner of his mouth lifted ever so slightly.
"From the top."
Then he extended a hand. A charming smile followed.
"Wada Keigo, pleased to meet you."
Kaoru stared at him again.
It was so ridiculous and yet, so right. Kaoru couldn't help but smile too as he shook Keigo's hand. Felt his hand enveloped in a firm but warm grip.
"Aihara Kaoru. Nice to meet you too."
"Not to be bold," Keigo continued smoothly. "But can I have your number?"
Kaoru blinked and burst into laughter despite it all.
He took out his phone.
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