Chapter 1: Prologue
He stared at his wall, decorated by a variety of photos, magazine clippings, and posters. He ran his hands on the surface of the wall, tracing the sharp collarbone of the man that was the focus of all the photos.
He touched the face of the largest poster, smiling as his fingers touched the model’s lips.
“I will make you mine, Aiba Masaki.”
“Good morning!” Aiba greeted his neighbor cheerfully. He went to his mailbox to get his daily newspaper (it was actually his manager’s newspaper). However, as he opened the mailbox, a bouquet of sunflowers fell out, along with a white plain envelope.
It was addressed to him.
Aiba curiously opened the envelope and read the note. He dropped the piece of paper on the ground and started to shiver in fear.
“Aiba-kun, don’t stay outside for long, you might get…” Sho, his manager, got out of the door and saw Aiba backed to the wall, his eyes teary. His face was pale, and he was shaking hard.
Sho ran towards the bouquet of flowers and read the note.
“You know I’m watching every breath you take, move you make…”
“Aiba-san!” Sho said, his eyes wide. He quickly grabbed the man’s hand and went inside the house, locking the door and closing all the blinds.
“W-what is that?” Aiba said, shaking and rocking on top of the couch. “So-someone is watching me…?”
Sho immediately called the police. “Hello. I want to report a stalking incident.” He then dashed towards Aiba and patted his back while making him drink a cold glass of water. “Aiba-san, don’t worry. We’ll get to the end of this.”
“Aiba-san, are you alright?” the makeup artist asked. “Your skin’s a bit pale and there are circles in your eyes. I think this session will last longer than expected.”
“Ah, yes, I’m so sorry about that, Mina-chan.”
“It’s okay. It’s my job,” she said as she started applying concealer.
“And it’s his job to keep himself looking perfect,” another voice said. A tall model entered the dressing room, stomping his way to the couch. He lifted his legs and placed them on the adjacent table. “What kind of model is that, really?”
“Good morning, Matsumoto-san,” the make-up artist greeted as she busied himself.
“Why do I even have to share a dressing room with him?” Matsumoto Jun complained loudly. Aiba just looked down apologetically.
“That Matsumoto is a jerk,” Mina muttered under her breath. “No wonder he doesn’t get a lot of work, unlike you, Aiba-kun.”
“Mina-chan, it’s okay. I think he’s just tired,” Aiba glanced at the mirror, seeing Jun flip through the pages of a magazine. He bit his lip. “He’s actually more handsome than me.”
Jun’s eyes met Aiba’s, making the latter look down immediately to break the eye contact.
After his make-up, Aiba proceeded to the conference room to meet a client who would choose the perfect model for their recent campaign. He tried to act indifferent when he saw Jun enter after him. After some screen tests, Jun was asked to leave the room and the clients started discussing terms and conditions with Aiba’s manager, Sho.
Aiba was about to enter the dressing room door when he heard the sound of crashing and frustrated shouting. Through the small opening, he watched as Jun threw things around in frustration.
“Dammit!” Jun screamed, kicking the table.
“Aiba-kun,” Sho placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I… Is he okay?” he asked, unsure.
“I’ll get your things for you. Just wait for me in the car,” Sho said with a small smile. Aiba nodded and made his way to his manager’s car.
Aiba noticed something attached on the windshield. He went nearer to investigate and then felt a sudden electric jolt to his body, making him unconscious.
When Aiba woke up, he found himself in his bedroom. Sho was looking at him, worried. Behind him was a man in casual attire with a blue jacket on top.
“Good evening, Aiba Masaki-san,” the man greeted emotionlessly.
“What happened? Who are you?”
“Ah, Aiba-kun, this is Ninomiya-san. He will be the investigator assigned to your case.”
“Uhh… good evening,” he greeted. “Investigator? Do we really need to bring this to the police?”
Sho looked impatient. “Aiba-kun, I can let that letter pass. But you were knocked unconscious in front of the car.”
“Did they steal anything?”
“I don’t think so,” Sho said. He handed Nino the note that was attached earlier on the windshield. With it was a single small sunflower.
“The letter he received the other day also had a sunflower bouquet with it.”
Nino frowned. He placed the two letters inside a plastic pouch and placed it inside a suitcase. “I’ll look into this.” He looked around the house, Sho and Aiba following him.
“Hmm… this is a big house,” he commented. “Who has copies of the keys?”
“Only me and Sho-kun,” Aiba said in a meek voice.
“I suggest double locks and security cameras,” the investigator said. “If this is a stalking case, I’m sure that he’ll send another letter soon.”
Sho led Nino out of the house. Aiba looked through the window, a bit apprehensive about the situation.
“… he’s really becoming bothersome,” he heard Sho tell the investigator. There was a tired expression on his face. “I know he’s a meek thing but this incident made him panicky. I hate it.”
“Well, if you hate it that much, why don’t you quit?” Nino sneered. He gave a bow and left.
Aiba placed a hand over his mouth to stifle his cry. Sho had been his dependable manager. The model looked at his shaking hands. “I’m becoming bothersome, huh?”
Sho returned inside the house and approached Aiba who was on the couch, deep in thought. “I suggest that you go take a rest for today,” he said. “I’ll bring you to your bedroom.”
“No need, Sho-kun. I’ll go to my room alone. I can do it alone,” he pressed, leaving his manager downstairs. “There’s no need to treat me like a baby,” he thought angrily as he stomped his way up the stairs.
Aiba changed into his pajamas and sat by the windowsill, watching Sho pack up his stuff inside the car. He looked at the car while thinking about the things his manager said behind his back.
“What if he quits?” he thought, gripping on the curtains. He did not know if he could survive his career without Sho. Heck, he did not even know if he could survive without the man in his life! He looked at the window and his eyes suddenly bulged.
There was a man staring at his window, wearing a hood.
Aiba suddenly got up, closed the blinds, and retreated to the far end of the room. He quickly took his phone and phoned Sho.
“Sho-kun… there’s someone… someone watching from the window!”
“What?” he sounded more awake now.
“I’m… I’m scared…”
“I’ll call the police. Lock the doors! I’ll go there as soon as I can.”
Aiba immediately closed the lights and stayed crouched down behind his bed, away from the window. He was shivering in fear.
“Sho-kun!” he exclaimed when he heard the familiar rumbling of Sho’s car from below. He immediately ran down the staircase and opened the door for his manager. “Sho-kun!”
“Don’t go out!” he heard him say but he ignored Sho. He opened the door.
He almost fainted when he saw the sight.
Yellow tiny petals were scattered on his doorway and in the middle was a photo of him and a note.
I want to taste your smile…
“Hmm… I wonder where that brush is…” Aiba wondered as he lifted some of the objects lying around in the art studio. He went through the blank canvasses, hoping that the missing brush would just be rolling around.
However, Aiba stopped when he noticed a painting among the blank canvass. It was a hint of red. Curiously, he lifted the canvass out of the pile. He dropped the painting on the floor in shock.
“No…” he muttered as his hands ran through the milky white skin of the model. He held a rose on his right hand.
Aiba looked around him. Pain filled his heart as he saw the unfinished sketches on the walls, as he realized why they were unfinished. He looked in anger at the painting in front of him. Grabbing the palette knife from the nearby table, he slashed the painting in anger.
“I’m sorry you have to go to work today, Aiba-kun,” Sho apologized. “Don’t worry, Ninomiya-san will do his best to investigate this case.”
“I… I’m alright… I can do this,” Aiba stuttered more to himself. He kept on repeating those words as they silently drove towards the photography site.
“Damn…” he heard Sho murmur as they pulled over. “Stay here…”
Aiba watched as his manager got down from the car. Aiba lifted his eyes to see what that was all about.
He became pale when he saw that the shooting site was a sunflower field. He knew that he could not blame the poor flowers but the sight of them made him feel like he wanted to vomit. He gripped on the hem of his shirt and closed his eyes.
“… of all the themes that you have to choose, sunflowers?” he heard Sho angrily say to the director.
“Well, that is Aiba-san’s image! And it’s summer! What’s wrong with it?”
“I already talked to the higher-ups. They want a location change. We’ll stop with the flower theme,” he said, getting in the car and slamming it shut. Aiba winced.
Sho was taking deep breaths. He then smiled at his talent. “Don’t you worry, Aiba-kun,” he said. “We’re trying to change stuff to… to accommodate you.”
“There’s no need to do that,” he said bitterly.
“Sho-kun, it’s like you’re treating me like a kid!” he yelled. “And this… this stalker thing… this has made it worse!” Aiba glared at Sho. “I don’t want to be treated like this.”
Sho looked at Aiba in confusion. He then closed his eyes and looked ahead to start driving. “We’re going home, Aiba-kun. No more words, please.”
“I told you I can do this shoot!”
“Shut up! Shut up!” Sho shouted, abruptly slamming the brakes and causing the two of them to lunge forward. Luckily, they were wearing seatbelts.
Aiba looked afraid. That was one of the very few moments when Sho lost his temper.
“No more words, Aiba-kun. We’re going home. You’re going to rest. This kind of photoshoot cannot happen anytime soon. No more sunflowers. No more flowers."
Aiba just nodded, tongue-tied. He hung his head low and answered monotonously whenever Sho asked him some questions in an attempt to lighten up the atmosphere.
“How about some nice dinner?” Sho finally asked, his voice really calm.
Aiba’s head lifted up and he smiled gently to his manager. “I’d love that.”
Sho pulled over a small restaurant just near Aiba’s house. The waitress gave them two menus but Sho returned Aiba’s. “I’ll order for you,” he said. Aiba sighed in frustration but he did not let Sho see that; the latter was busy picking his order.
“Aiba-kun, just eat, okay?” Sho said when his phone rang. “I just have to answer this call.”
The model nodded. A few minutes after Sho had left, the order arrived. He scrunched up his nose when he saw a variety of salads. “What the hell is this?” he murmured. “Can I have the menu again please?” he asked the waitress.
Aiba picked some fried dumplings and chicken and told the waitress to put them in a separate bill to be paid immediately. He did not want Sho to know that he ordered something like that. He really hated the fact that his manager was really controlling: his food, his clothing, and his hobbies. Aiba should always show the perfect, ideal image of a boy-next-door.
He looked at his phone; it was already thirty minutes since Sho had left. He typed a message to his manager as he ate his karaage.
“I’ll be there soon. I just had to talk to the executives about the cancelled shoot earlier.”
Aiba sighed. “I caused trouble again…” he breathed out as he quickly gobbled up the fried chicken. He asked the waitress to wrap two of the salads to give the impression that he ate them. He tucked the paper bag inside his own bag.
“Sorry for making you wait,” Sho said, obviously winded.
“Yeah, it’s okay,” Aiba replied.
“Let’s go then,” Sho said, leaving bills on the table.
“No, Sho-kun,” Aiba shook his head. “I already paid. He gave a separate paper bag to Sho. “You did not eat your salad so here…”
“That’s so nice of you, Aiba-kun,” the manager replied with a kind smile. Aiba reciprocated the expression and they both made their way out of the restaurant. They were walking out of the restaurant when someone bumped Aiba, causing him to fall on his behind.
“Sorry… sorry…” the man said, quickly gathering his things, a variety of brushes, and then sprinting away.
“Hey!” Sho yelled.
“It’s okay, Sho-kun. Help me up, please?” Aiba said, holding out his hand. Sho grabbed Aiba’s hand and pulled him up. He brushed away dust from his talent’s pants.
“Tsk. That man wasn’t careful. What if you get injured?”
Aiba ignored Sho’s ramblings as he noticed some of the things that the stranger left.
It was a photo of an old painting of him, holding a bouquet of sunflowers.
“How is it possible that you can grow sunflowers in autumn?”
The student in overalls, crouching while he dug the ground, stood up and cut a stalk. He handed it to Aiba. With a smile, he pointed at the glass ceiling. Aiba looked up as well. “Can you still feel the heat of the sun from here?”
Aiba nodded silently. “Yeah. It’s a bit warm in here. That’s why I like going here.”
The student gardener looked around him, surveying the flowers proudly. “Sunflowers always look at the direction of the sun. That’s what they naturally do. No matter what the season is,” he looked at Aiba and gave a dreamy smile, “you can’t stop them from doing what they’re meant to do.”
Aiba’s mind was in a mess. He was thinking about the man he bumped with earlier. “Why did he have that photo?”
Sho opened the door for Aiba and followed him to his bedroom, walking on autopilot. He was already tired. However, when they opened the lights, Aiba felt like he was awakened violently.
His bedroom was full of his own photos: magazine clippings, brochures, postcards, all scattered on the floor. On his bed was a bottle of wine and two glasses. Sho went nearer and saw a note under the wine. Aiba followed him.
To see you beneath me, on this wondrous bed, how would that feel?
“This is insane!” Sho exclaimed, crumpling the paper.
Aiba, on the other hand, felt like his surroundings were going round and round until he could not bear it anymore. He heard Sho shout his name as he fell on the floor.
“I appreciate that you did not do anything to the room,” Nino said, storming through the hospital hallway.
“Well, Aiba-kun fainted when he saw the scene. Poor man,” Sho replied.
Sho heard the policeman snort. “Yeah, I guess,” Nino said nonchalantly. “You pity him that much. Who has copies of the keys?”
Sho glared at Nino for a moment before he replied. “When we had the locks changed, it was just me and Aiba for now.”
“The one assigned to set them up is scheduled to arrive tomorrow,” Sho said through gritted teeth. “Damn! One day difference…”
Nino rolled his eyes. “Can I talk to Aiba-san?”
“I don’t think he’s awake,” Sho replied. “Why?”
“I saw this photo inside the bedroom,” Nino handed it to Sho. “It looks… interesting, I should say?”
Sho’s eyes widened at the photo. It was a photograph of a younger looking Aiba. He seemed to be unconscious and naked, and the photo was ripped that he could not see the other person whose arm was around him.
Nino looked at Sho with a serious expression. “So?”
“I…” Sho immediately returned the photo to the investigator quickly as if it was poisonous. “It’s the first time I saw that.”
“So, someone who knows all the bits and pieces of Aiba Masaki’s life to preserve this perfect image doesn’t know about this photo?” Nino raised an eyebrow. “This can destroy his career and you don’t know about it?” He pocketed the photo. “Besides, this doesn’t look like he had a good time.”
Sho gulped. “Well, I don’t and I can’t know everything, Ninomiya-san,” he admitted bitterly. “If you’ll allow me, I’ll visit my talent.” He stormed off, trying to be calm. But he was definitely angry.
“Where did that photo come from?” Sho said through gritted teeth. He hit the wall in front of him in anger.
He opened the door opened carefully and entered the dark room. The only light came from the monitor that showed Aiba’s vital signs.
He went near the model and touched his cheek with his gloved hand. He removed that glove and touched Aiba’s cheek again. He then lowered his face and left a kiss on the sleeping man’s lips.
“You will be mine soon.”
Aiba got discharged from the hospital a day after the incident. After he got up from the wheelchair, Sho eagerly grabbed his arm to help him walk.
“No, Sho-kun, I am perfectly fine now. I can manage,” Aiba said as he wriggled free from Sho’s hold. He wobbled a bit but he tried not to show that weakness to Sho. It already annoyed him heaps that the man was treating him like a helpless baby.
However, his eyes widened in surprise when he saw someone familiar just across the hospital garden. The man was holding a sketchbook and guiding a little boy’s hand on the piece of paper with a crayon.
“Ah, isn’t that…?” he started, running towards the area. He felt a bit dizzy but his excitement gave him a rush of adrenaline.
“Aiba-kun! You might get injured!” Sho ran after him.
Aiba was panting when he reached the bench where the man was. He held on his knees and tried to catch his breath. “H-hey…”
The little boy who was drawing raised his head. “Onii-chan! Look! It’s Aiba-chan!” he said, tugging the wrist of the older one.
The man slowly raised his head and met Aiba’s eyes. The model immediately noticed that this man was beyond surprised to see him.
“I want to paint you,” Ohno said, making Aiba blush a little.
Ohno smiled at him. “I think you’re perfect. Your face is like the sun: bright, strong but innocent…”
Aiba held his breath when Ohno’s calloused hands touched his face and traced his jaw down to his collarbone. “Perfect,” he mumbled.
Aiba did not know what to say. He had liked his senpai ever since he saw him and he would willingly give everything just for his attention. But he knew that Ohno only looked for a perfect model and not for anything else.
He blinked a few times, tried to erase the feeling of his senpai’s skin on his.
“I don’t mind,” his voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “I’ll help senpai with all that I can.”
“A-Aiba-kun?” Ohno stuttered, looking stunned.
Aiba just beamed widely. “I didn’t know I would meet you here!” He looked around. “Why are you here? Are you sick? Is there something wrong?” His eyes showed genuine concern that it made Ohno’s chest tighten a little.
Ohno gave the sketchbook to the kid, who ran away to show his drawing to other kids. “N-no.” He stood up as if to prove that he was fine. “I’m part of a volunteer group that takes care of the kids every weekend. It’s… a nice experience, you know?”
“I see!” Aiba replied. “That’s very nice! Great even!” He beamed. “Ohno-kun, you’re still that kind senpai that I met…”
Ohno frowned and shook his head in denial. “No, not really.”
“Aiba-kun! Aiba-kun, you shouldn’t have run!” another voice interrupted. A man stopped between them, doubled over because of exhaustion.
“Ohno-kun, this is Sakurai Sho, my manager,” Aiba introduced. Sho glanced at Ohno before they bowed in front of each other.
“Thank you for taking care of Aiba-kun’s career,” Ohno said.
Ohno noticed that Sho was stiff in front of him. It was a weird feeling, like he did not even want to talk to Ohno. But nevertheless, he returned with an automatic smile. “No, he’s really… really exceptional,” he replied with pride. Aiba blushed at the compliment. “Anyway, Ohno-san, I’ll be taking Aiba-kun home because I want him to rest. A lot of things had happened recently,” he added vaguely.
“Please don’t tire yourself, Aiba-kun,” Ohno said in a small voice. He did not really know what to say because he did not expect to meet Aiba again that way.
“Thank you, Ohno-kun!” Aiba replied happily. “Anyway, if you want to meet up, here’s my number,” he took a handy pen and wrote his number on Ohno’s palm. “Write your number too!”
Ohno looked at the written number. “But you might be busy,” he said as an excuse.
“No, no,” Aiba replied. “I just want to meet my favorite senpai again.”
Ohno gulped. “Ah,” he breathed out. “Well, let’s see…” He started writing his own number on Aiba’s hand.
“I won’t take no for an answer, okay?” Aiba said cheerfully before walking away while waving, his manager holding his arm to lead him out.
“You should not give your number out to anyone,” Ohno heard Sho hiss at Aiba. He observed how the manager held Aiba’s wrist and he did not miss the look of pain in Aiba’s face.
Ohno looked at the number scribbled on his hand and then balled his hands into a fist.
Sho and Aiba pulled over in front of the Aiba’s house. Sho volunteered to go inside first to check for some suspicious things. He then returned to the car and tapped on Aiba’s window. He carried the model’s bag and went inside, making sure that everything was locked.
“Aiba-kun, can I share some bad news to you?” Sho said, a little weary.
“Two of your projects will be transferred to Matsumoto Jun,” Sho announced gravely. “Sorry, I cannot do anything about it.”
Aiba nodded. “It’s okay,” he replied. “He looked very mad the other day so I guess, this is good news for him. I don’t mind.”
“Sho-kun, it’s okay,” Aiba pressed. “That’s just two commercial deals. I have more. I can still have more. I’ll just work harder, okay?”
“Y-yes,” he replied, giving in to Aiba’s smile. “I’ll just make sure that you’ll get more projects next time.”
“Yeah, I’ll be counting on you, manager,” Aiba said with a laugh. Sho also laughed along. However, he noticed how Aiba had changed. The stalker, instead of making his talent more dependent to Sho, made Aiba more distant and somehow unyielding. Sho sighed as he placed his laptop on a study table that was designated for him.
At least, Aiba’s coldness towards him in the past few days diminished.
“Sho-kun’s getting so annoying,” Aiba said as he filled his mouth with hamburger. “This is heaven!” he commented on the comfort food.
Ohno folded his arms and leaned on the chair. His eyebrows scrunched upon hearing the information. “So you mean to say, your manager is a control freak?”
Aiba nodded, unable to speak due to the amount of food in his mouth. Ohno poured some water in a glass and pushed it towards his friend to drink. “Ah, thank you,” Aiba said after he gulped a glass. “Yes, he is! Definitely… definitely…”
“Why don’t you leave him then?”
Aiba wiped his mouth with the napkin and then sighed. He looked at the window. “Well, everyone knows that I was a nobody before Sho actually tried to manage me.” He gave a small forced smile. “I’m grateful for all the things he had done for me. I just… I just can’t leave him like that!”
“Oh,” Ohno just said, nodding slightly. “I didn’t really have any idea what happened to you after I graduated,” he said. “I’m sorry. I feel like an awful senior.”
The model shook his head with a smile. “No. But I’m so glad that I met you again, Ohno-kun…” Aiba said, making Ohno look up.
The artist averted his gaze and shook his head. “No. It’s no big deal.”
“It is!” Aiba retorted. “I didn’t have a lot of friends because Sho is like a bodyguard. He makes sure that I go home after work!” Aiba ruffled his hair. “A lot of the people in the agency tried to invite me to lunch or dinner but he always gives an excuse for me not to go.” He looked annoyed. “So annoying…”
“Well, I’m actually amazed that he allowed you to see me then.”
Ohno’s eyes widened. “You sneaked out?”
“I had to deactivate the house security to go here, you know?” Aiba said. “Sho-kun thought I was stupid not to know that the code is his birthday.”
“What?” Ohno almost shouted. Aiba silenced him by covering his mouth.
“Shhhh…!” Aiba told him. “I already feel guilty. Just… just don’t tell him or anyone. I have to go back before 7 PM. Sho always brings dinner at that time.”
“I’ll take you home then,” Ohno sighed.
Aiba grabbed Ohno’s wrist. “NO! Let’s have some fun first before I go home. I promise I won’t give you any more trouble after this.”
Ohno nodded, feeling defeated. He did not really want to get near Aiba but here he was, falling under his friend’s charms once again.
Aiba and Ohno went to an arcade to play; it was Aiba who mostly played while Ohno just watched and cheered. They were in the middle of an arcade basketball game when Ohno’s phone rang a few times.
“Oh, I guess I have to look at this,” his friend said with an apologetic smile. He answered the call from an unknown number. “Hello?”
Ohno gulped when he was only met by silence. There was certainly someone on the line because of the sound of breathing. The call was cut off and it was followed by a tone signaling a message.
Ohno could only gasp as he saw the contents of the message. He glanced at Aiba, who was not playing anything but just looking at him. He gave a small smile before he walked back to his friend. “Aiba-kun, sorry. I really have to go. I’ll find a cab for you before I leave,” he said, trying not to look upset.
“Is there something wrong?” Aiba asked with a frown.
Ohno shook his head. “No. Just a minor mishap in the exhibition,” he said. “Ah, by the way, I want to invite you but…” he shrugged.
“I’ll go,” Aiba said. “If I have to lock Sho up, I will.”
Ohno waved at a cab. He opened the door for his friend. “Well then. Just contact me again. I’ll tell you the date and the venue soon.”
“I’ll see you soon, Ohno-kun,” Aiba said as he went inside the cab.
Ohno smiled at him. “Yeah, see ya soon.”
“I’ll invite you to my house. I’ll ask permission from my mother, I mean, my manager.”
Sho paced around the empty house impatiently. He did not turn on the lights as he wanted to wait for Aiba to come home.
“Where the hell did he go?”
Sho was really angry. He found out that the security cameras and door locks were deactivated a few hours ago. He tried calling Aiba but he did not answer his phone.
All he could do was wait for his talent to arrive. Sho sat on the couch facing the door, trying to calm himself down, gripping the pillow tightly.
When the door opened, he felt that all his self-control jumped out of the window.
Sho emptied the red wine bottle to his sink with a triumphant smile. He watched the red liquid down the drain and washed it down with the running water from the faucet. He then washed the insides of the bottle. His task was interrupted by the ringing of his phone.
Sho put the bottle down and removed his disposable gloves.
“Sakurai-san. There have been changes in the company structure. I know this is short-notice but I would like to appoint you as associate director.”
Sho smirked as he stared at the red card lying on the table, the golden embossed characters shining due to the light from the kitchen.
“I am deeply honored to accept this position,” he said, trying to sound humble but enthusiastic. “But under one condition,” he added with a glint in his eyes.
“Anything, Sakurai-san. You’re the next best thing that we have.”
“It’s about Aiba Masaki.”
Sho did not know what possessed him. He ran towards Aiba and gave him a loud slap, making the man fall to the floor and hit a large vase, overturning it. Shards flew and some of them hit Aiba’s hands and face.
Sho did not seem to notice the bloody injuries. He picked up Aiba from the floor by the collar and shoved him to the wall. “Why did you escape?”
“Sho-kun…” Aiba said. His eyes were full of fear.
Sho looked at those eyes and felt a pang of guilt. He threw Aiba to the couch. The model ran away from him and went to the kitchen, where a countertop was between them. Sho looked at Aiba and realized that the man was hurt. Cuts were on his face and his hand was bleeding.
“Aiba-kun, I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
“Are you making me a prisoner, Sho-kun?” Aiba screamed, throwing whatever he could find towards his manager when he attempted to walk towards him.
“Aiba-kun, just listen to me, okay?” Sho yelled back, ducking the jar that was thrown towards his way. “I wanted to keep you safe!”
“No! You’re doing this for the money! As long as you have me, you have money!” Aiba said angrily. “I can’t do this anymore! You’ve been controlling me for god knows how long!” He sunk on the floor, breathing heavily.
Sho’s anger seemed to have evaporated at the sight of Aiba looking miserable like that. He just wanted to keep Aiba on the top of the industry. That’s the least that he could do in replacement to his inability to actually express what he really wanted to say to other people, especially to Aiba. But at that moment, he could only see Aiba in misery.
“Aiba-kun…” he started, moving closer to the model. Sho knelt beside Aiba, who started sobbing. “I’m sorry, okay?”
“You’re always sorry,” Aiba replied. “You always say that. But you still continue to be a controlling manager.”
Sho’s mouth was open, trying to think of something to say to sooth Aiba’s feelings. If he were a normal talent, Sho would have stormed out of the door and out of his career. But this was Aiba and Aiba was, in his mind, everything that he had worked hard for.
“I’m really… I’m really very sorry, Aiba-kun,” Sho said, touching Aiba’s shoulder. He tried to shirk away but Sho’s grip was strong. Aiba looked at him.
“Why didn’t you tell me that I’m being harsh to you?” Sho asked as gently as he could. Aiba’s eyes were still watery with tears. He used his thumb to gently wipe away the traces of tears on Aiba’s cheeks. He also tried to touch the small cuts on his cheek but Aiba winced.
“I… I was so scared that you would leave me if I go against you,” Aiba said meekly. “I… I have been so dependent on you, Sho-kun. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I am your manager and friend,” Sho said kindly, slowly putting his arms around his talent. “I will never leave you over that.” He tightened his embrace. “I will never.”
Sho looked at Aiba’s eyes and gently brushed his hand on his soft hair, looking at the brown locks that were caught in his fingers. “I’ll help you go to bed, okay? I’ll probably make some soup.”
“Please not soup made of grass,” Aiba whined a little. His eyes turned into those of a child’s again, making Sho smile in satisfaction.
Sho laughed. “No, it won’t be made of grass.” He half-carried Aiba up the staircase and took a pair of pajamas for his talent to use. He sat on the couch and looked at the mirror where Aiba could be seen changing his clothing. He bit his lip and tightened his grip on the throw pillow on his lap.
“I’ll… I’ll go to sleep now, Sho-kun,” Aiba said feebly as he climbed on the bed. The manager placed the covers over him and patted Aiba’s cheek affectionately.
Sho sat on the couch at the end of the room and watched Aiba fall asleep.
“You will always depend on me. You will always be mine, Aiba. And I will do everything to keep you.”
After hearing light snores from Aiba, Sho decided to go downstairs and do some paperwork. Even though Aiba looked fine with Matsumoto Jun stealing his projects, he would still try to convince the sponsors to return the project to his talent.
“What are they doing?” Sho complained loudly when all the electricity went off. Only the windows became the source of light. Sho decided to save all his work in his laptop just in case it would shut down later on.
“Sho-kun?” he heard Aiba’s voice. He seemed to have woken up due to the electric interruption.
“Stay here, Aiba-kun. I’m going to turn on the generator,” Sho said, standing up and trying to feel his way around.
“I think there’s a flashlight in the garage,” Aiba informed Sho as he also made his way down the staircase with great care.
Sho looked around the room. “I’ll get one in the garage and I’ll turn on the emergency generator,” he announced. “Stay here.” Sho went to the kitchen and opened the door connecting to the garage, where the supplies were. He used his phone to look for the flashlight and the emergency switch.
He sighed when he heard some noises behind him. “I told you not to follow me here…”
“Sho-kun, look out!”
Sho saw Aiba throw himself in front of him and knocking him on the ground. He saw a figure clad in black run away from the garage. “Aiba-kun?” he called out, his voice hoarse in fright. He touched something wet on his talent’s shirt. Blood.
“C-call the police…” Aiba started.
Sho nodded, his throat dry. “A-Aiba-kun, I’ll call the ambulance right now. Hang on, okay?” He shakily grabbed his phone and started dialing numbers.
“I’m… okay…” Aiba attempted a smile before he fainted.
“Aiba, don’t…!” Sho shouted, tears streaming down his face. He just held Aiba’s unconscious body as he called the emergency number.
He drew in the darker spot on his subject’s left shoulder and looked at his painting for quite some time. Then he snapped the paintbrush into two and threw it to the floor.
“Who…?” he hissed as he looked at his phone and stared at the photo. How did someone else get their hands on that photo?
Sender: Private number
Subject: No Subject
I can easily destroy Aiba Masaki’s career.
He took a palette knife from his stand and looked at it with intense hatred then stabbed a business newspaper page containing Sakurai’s smiling face on the cover. “Sakurai, I know it’s you!”
“This is actually very smart. A bastard cut off the electricity, including the generator connected to the security system,” Nino said slamming his hand on the wall. Sho nodded uneasily.
“Yeah,” Sho replied after sipping his hot coffee. “And then Aiba stupidly followed me to the garage.”
“The garage is automatic, right?” Nino asked with narrowed eyes. When Sho nodded, he clicked his tongue. “I knew it. The garage door is the weakest in terms of security because I bet you are assured that you’re safe since the door connected to the garage has high level of security.”
“I was trying to be careful!” Sho started. “And Aiba doesn’t have his own car as of now. I mainly use that garage.”
“What do you mean?” Sho asked, curious about the police’s thoughts.
“I don’t think the stalker wants to kill Aiba. It wants to kill you,” Nino said in a quiet voice.
“Let’s look at it through the stalker’s eyes,” Nino waved his hand impatiently to prove a point. “You are the person nearest to Aiba Masaki, right?”
Sho nodded slowly. “He doesn’t have a family anymore.”
Nino pursed his lips, deep in thought. “I think the stalker wants to eliminate you because he thinks you are an obstacle.” He looked at the white wall. “Aiba’s stalker, I believe, is more like an intimacy-seeking type.”
“And now, Aiba’s in great danger,” Sho sighed.
“You did not take my warning seriously, did you?” Nino said with a raised eyebrow. “Stalkers are harmful! Hell, they might even be crazy!” The police crossed his arms. “Their logic and rational thinking are abnormal.”
“I am being careful!”
Nino just sighed. “There’s no use being worked up like this,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “I’ll go first and ask for someone to guard Aiba…” He stopped when a group of policemen went running towards them.
“Ninomiya-san, we found something…!” they said, waving an envelope in front of him. He read the contents of the report and walked back to Sho.
“Sakurai-san, do you know anyone by the name of Ohno Satoshi?” he asked.
“Ohno… Satoshi…” Sho repeated and mused for a while. “Wait… I think Aiba knows him. I met him once in the hospital. He was taking care of children with a volunteer group.”
“I see,” Nino said with a nod. “I have to go first. There has been a development…”
Nino started walking away. “This is about Aiba-san’s stalker.”
“Oh, Matsumoto-kun!” Aiba said cheerfully as the model lingered in front of the hospital room.
“Why don’t you come in?” Aiba asked. The nurses had just finished the check-up and were leaving the room.
Jun slowly entered the room. Aiba pointed at the stool, motioning his visitor to sit down. “Sorry, I cannot offer you anything.”
“N-no need,” Jun replied, a bit uncomfortable. He sat down. “So… I heard from the agency,” he started.
“Well, congratulations. You got the cover of Men’s Life 25th anniversary,” Aiba said. He smiled and Jun could not see a hint of bitterness behind that smile.
“I hate it that I lost against you just because you’re stuck in this hospital…” Jun mumbled.
“Matsumoto-kun,” Aiba said tilting his head so that he could catch Jun’s expressions. “I’m not competing against you. Don’t make this a contest.”
Jun became red at the other model’s statement. “I…” He took a deep breath. “I really wanted to be like you when I entered the agency… or better yet, to be more than you.”
“Wow. Are you showing admiration towards me?” Aiba replied, chuckling.
Jun looked away, trying to hide his emotions. “I’ll surely beat you. I’ll beat you more when you’re out of this hospital.”
“I’m looking forward to that,” Aiba said, holding out a hand. Jun looked at Aiba’s encouraging face and then to his hand before he shook it. “I’m happy that you got the cover. You actually deserve it, you know?”
Jun left Aiba’s hospital room and casually walked through the corridors, his hands inside his pockets. He stopped in his tracks when he heard two policemen talking to each other while walking briskly towards the elevator.
“… Are you sure?”
“They had a past relationship with each other, it seems like they were friends from university,” the other one said.
“So you mean to say this painter, Ohno Satoshi, is probably the stalker?”
“Even the sunflower theme is evident in his paintings of Aiba-san…”
Jun quickly ran towards the door leading to the parking lot. He got inside his car and leaned his head on the chair.
“This is impossible…” he started, shaking his head in disbelief. “Ohno Satoshi, huh?” He stared at a distance in deep thought before driving off.
“Ohno Satoshi’s atelier was reportedly burned just this morning,” Nino informed Aiba. Beside him was Sho.
“What?” Aiba asked. “Is he safe?” He was really worried about his friend. “Poor Ohno-kun…”
“Ninomiya-san…” Sho said, looking confused. “What’s our connection to this event?”
“Aiba-san, do you have a birthmark on your left shoulder?” the police asked.
Aiba nodded slowly. “Why?”
Nino smirked at him. “Really, huh?” He placed some photos on the top of Aiba’s movable table. “Look at the stuff we’ve found in the basement of the atelier.”
Aiba took the photos in his hands. They were pictures of walls filled with paintings and sketches. Some of them were unfinished, but Aiba’s lips became dry when he saw a large painting in the middle wall. It was of a man showing his back. His left hand was raised, carrying a single sunflower. His left shoulder had a dark mark on it. Aiba knew that it was a painting of himself.
“W-what’s the meaning of this?”
“Based on these paintings, we have a big suspicion that Ohno Satoshi is your stalker,” Nino said.
“So, you mean to say, you will be my bodyguard?” Aiba said in disbelief. He was drinking with Nino in an izakaya. It had been a week after Aiba’s discharge from the hospital.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Nino replied before he took a swig of beer. “It’s like babysitting an airhead model.”
“I’m not an airhead!” Aiba retorted. However, he laughed when Nino started laughing.
Nino smiled at him. “You kinda look better when you’re cheerful, you know?”
“Uhh… what do you mean?” Aiba asked before he took a dumpling.
Nino shrugged. “I’m not into models, Aiba-san,” he started, “so the first time I met you, you were shaken by the stalker. I haven’t really seen you strutting on the catwalk or something. It’s actually nice seeing you in your cheerful self.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Aiba blushed. “Thanks for the compliment.”
“That wasn’t even a compliment, dumbass,” Nino smirked. His expression soon changed and he gasped. “Sorry for the bad word.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” Aiba replied, waving a hand. “I was bullied a lot before and they called me worse.”
“I see,” Nino said, looking at his empty glass. “You know what, Aiba-san, I was also bullied before,” he sighed. “But look at me now. I can…” he formed a gun with his hand and imaginatively shot in the air, “kill them and no one will know.” He winked at Aiba. “Being an expert in investigations can actually teach you how to kill without evidence.”
Aiba laughed nervously, a mixture of nervousness and drunkenness. “So… you can kill me and no one will know?”
“Are you stupid?” Nino asked, slapping the table. “But yeah,” he whispered to Aiba’s hear in a low voice “I can easily do that... and no one will hear you scream.”
Aiba giggled loudly, making Nino laugh as well. Aiba’s laughter was really nice and Nino wanted to hear more of it so he started to crack some old man jokes. It seemed like anything is actually funny for Aiba.
“We actually went to the same university,” Nino said.
“Oh, really? I haven’t really seen you around.”
“Yeah, of course not,” Nino said. “There’s this area in the university for nerds. That’s the place where I hang out and play games on my own. Cool guys like you don’t go there.”
Aiba shook his head. “Believe it or not, I love hanging out in the university garden. That’s like the top spot for nerds and losers. ”
“Oh, the sunflower greenhouse?” Nino replied after taking a drink. “Don’t tell me you were also a loser or something?”
“Well, I think so,” Aiba smiled as he swirled his glass. “The truth is, Ninomiya-san, sunflowers are my favorite flowers,” Aiba said. “I love visiting the gardens just to check them out. I think the Agriculture students are so awesome that they can grow sunflowers even if it’s not summer.” He then looked at the table and played with the water on it. “It actually hurts that the stalker had to use my favorite flower to scare me.”
Nino could only rub the model’s back to try to console him.
After their drinking session, Nino tried to call a cab for Aiba but he was also too tipsy to actually manage to have one. In the end, Aiba was the one who called a cab for him.
“Aiba-san, always take care of yourself. There are times when no one is going to be there for you so you must fight for yourself…”
“You’re drunk, Ninomiya-san,” Aiba chuckled.
Nino saw something moving beside the restaurant. He narrowed his eyes and then returned his attention to the model. “Well, good night,” he waved before he climbed in the taxi.
“Such a wonderful smile… like the sun…”
He walked around the university exhibit and he gasped when he saw a familiar face staring back at him.
It was the painting of the man he saw among the sunflowers. His sun.
He cautiously stepped closer, drinking in the sight of the beautiful face, the smooth jawline, the sharp cheekbone, and the twinkling eyes that shone like the sun. In his hand was a stalk of sunflower, perfectly drawn, its blossoms facing the man that personified the sun.
“Sunflowers… they always look at the direction of the sun…”
“Aiba-san, you are really perfect. Why don’t you try becoming a model?”
“Ah, no, no,” another voice, a very familiar one, replied. “I don’t think I’m up for it.”
He suddenly turned around and saw the model. He finally found out his name. Aiba. He slowly walked out of the exhibit as he replayed Aiba’s embarrassed smile in his mind.
Once he saw that the policeman’s taxi was far away, Ohno walked out of his hiding place and immediately grabbed Aiba’s wrist. “Aiba-kun…”
“O-Ohno-kun?” Aiba stuttered as he tried to wriggle free of his grasp. Ohno gripped harder and dragged Aiba back to the alley where he was hiding earlier.
“Aiba-kun, I just need to talk to you…” he pleaded. “Please…”
“N-no…!” Aiba said as he successfully pulled away. “Why did you do that? You’re my… my stalker?”
“No, Aiba-kun! That was a misunderstanding!”
“You stabbed me!”
“I did not!” Ohno hissed, shaking his head.
“Then explain the atelier!” Aiba said. He looked really angry.
Ohno’s face fell. “I… I’m so sorry, Aiba-kun.” His hands were shaking and his fingers were moving uncontrollably. He clasped them together. “You will never understand…”
“Of course, I won’t understand! Why were you still painting me?” Aiba asked.
“I couldn’t… I couldn’t forget about you,” Ohno said, looking at the ground. “Everytime I open my eyes, I can only see your face, Aiba-kun.”
Aiba shook his head, a disbelieving smile on his face. “I don’t understand! I thought you liked…”
“No!” Ohno retorted, his eyes wide. “It has only been you!”
Ohno was suddenly surprised when Aiba suddenly leaned forward and kiss him. The kiss became deeper and more passionate as Aiba darted his tongue inside his senpai’s mouth. Ohno lost control; he pushed Aiba to the wall and gripped the collar of his shirt. The model was running his hands on Ohno’s hair, moaning into the kiss.
Ohno suddenly broke the contact. Both were breathing heavily as they looked at each other. “Ohno-kun,” Aiba said breathlessly, his eyes still glazed.
“I’m sorry,” Ohno said, full of guilt. “I shouldn’t have… I can’t…”
Aiba suddenly pushed him away. “Run… run, Ohno-kun!”
Ohno just followed Aiba’s orders, running through the dark and small alleyways far from the model. He did not even know what he was running from and that made everything difficult. Finally, he was able to reach a shopping area full of people so he tried to blend in by walking as casually as possible.
Ohno’s heart almost leapt out of his chest when someone held his shoulder, stopping him.
“Ohno Satoshi, you are under arrest.”
“We’ve found the person who stabbed Aiba-san,” Nino said with a smug smile on his face. “We would like you two to come with me.”
“I understand,” Sho said. “But I don’t recommend Aiba-kun to…”
“I’ll go!” Aiba said with a determined face. “I want to see who that person is.”
Sho glared at Aiba but he just stared back. After a moment, Sho looked down and sighed. “Fine, fine.”
“I think it will be better if Aiba-san comes,” Nino added. “He told me before that the reason why he followed you to the garage was because he saw a silhouette of a man pass by the window.”
Aiba looked at Sho with spite before he followed Nino out of the house. The ride to the police station was silent.
“He hasn’t talked at all ever since I caught him,” Nino said. “Apparently,” he shot a strange look at Aiba, who tried to avoid his gaze, “someone helped him escape.”
“I see. An accomplice?” Sho asked, a bit startled.
Nino shrugged. He led the two of them in a room with a mirror overlooking the next room. Aiba tried to hide his surprise when he saw who the other person was.
“Ohno-kun…” he managed to say.
“I told you,” Sho said, looking at his talent with disappointment in his face.
They saw Nino enter the interrogation room. Ohno was just sitting quietly.
“You know, your beloved Aiba Masaki is at the other side of this room, listening to our conversation,” Nino said as he pulled his chair nearer to the table that separated him and Ohno. “You might want to say the truth now.”
“I did not stab him,” Ohno said quietly. “I can never hurt Aiba-kun.”
“Well, the attack seemed to be directed to Sakurai. What about him?” Nino asked again.
Ohno’s facial expression changed. There was a hint of anger in his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re probably jealous that Sakurai can see Aiba 24/7,” Nino sneered. “So that gives you the motive to…”
“I didn’t do anything,” Ohno said with a firmer voice.
“Then explain this basement room in your atelier,” Nino said, throwing the photos unceremoniously on top of the table. Ohno looked at the photos but did not touch them.
“Aiba-kun… Aiba-kun was one of my models in the university,” he said with closed eyes.
“As far as I know, you stopped working together after your graduation. We have confirmed that the paintings are actually quite new.” Nino paced around. “Are you that obsessed with him?”
Ohno shot a look at the police, feeling offended. “I am not obsessed with him,” he answered curtly. “He’s my friend!”
“What do you think of him as a model?” Nino interrupted. “Hot? Sexy? Fuckable?”
“I find him… I find him… perfect.”
“That’s what any stalker would say, ne, Ohno-san?” Nino said with a playful smile. “Perfect.” He looked like he was having fun in this interrogation.
Ohno closed his eyes. “I am telling the truth. I did not stab anyone. I did not stalk anyone, especially Aiba-kun.”
“Then tell me about this,” Nino said, showing a photo. Ohno’s calm face was changed to surprise and then anger when the police pushed it towards him.
Aiba gasped when he saw the photo. “How could he…?”
“H-how did you get this?” Ohno stuttered.
Nino smirked. “One of the things that we got from Aiba-san’s room after the stalker broke in was another copy of that photo, except that it was only Aiba-san.” He stood up, walked beside Ohno, and leaned his face forward. “So, did you drug him up and took photos of your…?”
Before Nino could finish, Ohno’s fist had come in contact, knocking him off his feet. “I am not Aiba-kun’s stalker! I did not do anything to him…!”
Aiba gasped when Ohno faced him. He knew that the man could not see the other side of the mirror but Ohno looked straight at him. “Aiba-kun, I know you’re listening to me. I know you’re there. I’m so sorry I did that to you. I was out of control. I love you. But please believe me! I did not stalk you! I did not stab you. I can never do anything that will harm you.”
“Ohno-kun…!” Aiba gasped. Tears were forming at the corner of his eyes. He touched the glass and watched painfully as other policemen came to force Ohno’s head on the table and cuff him.
Toma, Nino’s colleague, entered the room where Aiba and Sho were in. “Sorry you had to see that,” he said with a bow. He pressed a button and the two-way mirror became a regular tinted glass. The sounds from the other side of the room faded.
“Will Ohno-kun be okay?” Aiba asked in a small voice.
Toma just smiled. “Ninomiya-san isn’t usually this harsh in an interrogation. He’s probably just passionate about this case.”
“Let’s go, Aiba-kun,” Sho said, leading Aiba with a little force out of the room. Aiba looked like he did not want to walk away from that place. He wanted to go after Ohno.
“But he can’t be trusted,” Aiba’s mind said. He let himself be dragged by Sho out of the station and into the car. He was so passive that Sho had to put on the seatbelt for him.
“Hmm?” he replied while he was driving.
“Am I really that stupid?” Aiba asked, looking at the window without any focus.
Sho was surprised with the question. “Why do you ask that?”
“I am very trusting, I admit. But I had never imagined that I trusted someone like Ohno-kun,” Aiba said. He looked really crestfallen.
Sho pulled over at the side of the road. The rain has started falling very hard that the road was not visible unless one uses the wiper. “Aiba-kun…”
Aiba looked at him with teary eyes. “I’m sorry, Sho-kun, I did not trust you when you warned me about Ohno…”
Sho removed his seatbelt and placed his arms around his talent, patting his back as Aiba started crying on his shoulder. “Aiba-kun…” he started with a smooth voice. “You have to tell me what happened. Why were there pictures?”
Aiba pulled away and looked anywhere but at Sho. “I… I don’t…”
“Aiba-kun, I can do everything to hide that photo to the whole world. I can have it destroyed because I know it can destroy you,” he said seriously. “You have to trust me. You know what I’m capable of doing. You know how I hid your…”
“STOP IT!” Aiba shouted, covering his ears. He closed his eyes and tried to relax but the sudden flashbacks made him dizzy. “L-let’s go home, Sho-kun,” he just said weakly.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” one of Sho’s higher-ups in the agency commented.
Sho looked at the cheerful waiter who was serving food to the other table. He narrowed his eyes to try to focus on the guy. He noticed how bright his smile was, like that of the sun.
“What do you think, Sakurai-kun?” his boss asked, nudging him by the elbow. “You have good taste.”
“He looks innocent… too innocent,” he said, trying not to smile as he thought of the waiter.
“Innocent, huh? Wait till you see,” his boss laughed heartily. He motioned the waiter to come nearer.
“Yes, sir?” he asked with a wide smile. However, instead of an order, Sho saw his superior slip a red piece of paper on the waiter’s shirt pocket.
“You know what to do,” he said, giving a light pat on the man’s behind.
Sho did not miss the change in expression on the waiter’s face. He reluctantly nodded and shuffled away. The smile from earlier had faded and it became a blank, plastic one. His movements became stiff, as if he was a robot moving only as programmed.
“What was that about, chief?” he asked in a whisper.
His boss smirked and handed him a red card. “It’s a VIP service, Sho-kun. You have to have a lot of money to get that ass.”
“What?” Sho repeated. Nevertheless, he understood perfectly.
“You know what I mean,” his boss said with a wink. He slipped another red card inside Sho’s coat pocket. “He’s a good one. I definitely recommend him.”
Sho would never buy a prostitute. But that night, the waiter’s face filled his dreams.
“He has to be mine…”
“A-re, Sakurai-san, isn’t that sexual harassment?” he heard a voice from the doorway. He quickly stood up and saw Nino smirking. He looked at Aiba who just turned the other way, deep in sleep.
He raised both of his eyebrows. “Well… I am watching you closely, Sakurai-san,” he said threateningly. It was as if Nino was accusing him.
“You’re getting all of these wrongly!” Sho hissed, trying to lower voice so that Aiba would not wake up.
“Well, I hope so,” Nino replied. “Because we already got Ohno and the stalker mail has stopped… or has it?” He started walking away. “Have a nice day, Sakurai-san.”
Sho looked at Aiba’s sleeping figure and sighed. “That was close…”
“Hey! Heeey!” Jun called out. It was as if Aiba was deaf; he did not even acknowledge him. Jun ran after his colleague and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Ah, Matsumoto-kun!” Aiba said, looking very much surprised. “I… did you just arrive?”
“No,” Jun answered, his eyebrows coming together. “I have been calling you for five minutes already and you weren’t responding.”
“Sorry, I was just reading this schedule…”
Jun glanced at the schedule in Aiba’s hand. “What the hell? This is so jam-packed!” He grabbed the piece of paper and studied it, muttering curses as he read each appointment. “Did Sakurai even authorize this?”
“Yes, I did,” a cold voice answered. Jun turned around and saw Sho looking at him with piercing eyes. “Aiba-kun has no time to talk with you. Go and mind your own business.”
“You’re an asshole, aren’t you?” Jun sneered in reply. “Are you going to kill Aiba-kun with that schedule?”
“Matsumoto-kun, please don’t inter…”
“You know, you should really find a new manager,” Jun said loudly, enough for the other staff to hear. “Ditch this slave driver manager of yours…”
“Why you…!” Sho started, raising his fist.
Aiba was quick to hold on to Sho’s wrists. “Matsumoto-kun, stop! It’s okay. I’m okay. I have to catch up on a lot of things…” he tried to explain. “Matsumoto-kun, please.”
“Pathetic,” Jun said, raising an eyebrow. “You think I’m afraid of you, Sakurai?”
His eyes fell on Aiba, who was shaking his head frantically, signaling him to stop aggravating Sho.
“Fine. Whatever suits you.” Jun clicked is tongue and walked away. He took a deep sigh of frustration as he entered his dressing room.
Nino looked at the plant sitting on the office windowsill. “Almost there,” he murmured. His thoughts were interrupted by the ring of his phone. It was a call from an unregistered number.
“N-Ninomiya-san…” he heard from the phone.
“Who is this?”
“Aiba… Aiba Masaki…”
“You sound upset. What’s wrong, Aiba-san?” he asked, sitting down so that he could focus on this conversation.
“I… I can trust you, right?” Aiba sounded like he was crying.
“Yes, of course,” the police answered. “What’s wrong?”
“Sho-kun… it was Sho-kun…”
“Can you explain calmly?” Nino asked. “I’m, I’m worried about you. Do you want me to meet you?”
“P-please, Ninomiya-san,” Aiba replied. “I’m in the… university. In-inside the art studio… P-please…”
“I’ll go there immediately,” Nino said, taking his keys and wallet from the table and storming out of the office to go to where Aiba was.
“Ninomiya-san, where are you going?” Toma, his colleague, asked, running after him.
“I think Aiba-san is in danger,” he said breathlessly.
Toma looked at him, looking shocked. “Ninomiya-san, we’ve gathered a new lead on the stalking case.”
“I’ll look at that later!” Nino snapped angrily.
“But it’s about Sakurai-san!” Toma shouted back, waving a folder impatiently.
“Give me that!” Nino said. “And follow me. We’re going to get Aiba-san.”
The two policemen got inside Nino’s car. He told Toma not to turn on the siren because they did not want it to look suspicious.
“I can’t read that while driving. Explain the details,” Nino said as he concentrated on driving as fast as he could.
“Aiba Masaki is actually Sakurai’s first talent. According to some interviews from the staff, he was so obsessed with making Aiba the most famous model of their agency…”
“He was very successful…”
“Uhh, yeah. But there’s something weird,” Toma started. “A tabloid released a rumor about Aiba being a high end prostitute.”
“So he slept his way up the ladder?”
“No. Not like that,” Toma continued. “The rumor says that he was working for a group that caters to the elite. But when Aiba-san was taken in that agency, there were three deaths that occurred. They died by cyanide poisoning while having business dinner.”
Nino raised an eyebrow. They were already in the freeway. “What is the connection then?”
“They were high-ranking officials in their agency and interestingly, they’re holding the red card,” Toma finished.”
“What is this red card?”
“That, I’m not really sure. They say that it’s the so-called membership card to that VIP prostitution service. Maybe we can ask Aiba-san about this,” Toma said with a sense of guilt in his voice.
“Dammit!” Nino breathed out as they stopped in front of the university. “Are you telling me that Aiba is a whore?”
“No!” Toma replied, looking fearful when he saw Nino’s eyes gleaming with anger. “It’s just… we need to confirm the truth. I’m having thoughts about Sakurai being involved in these deaths because they’re also his direct superiors.”
“Shut up,” Nino said. “We’ll talk later. I’ll go get Aiba.”
Nino ran across the campus, searching for the art studio. When he found it, he immediately went inside.
The room was filled with canvasses and different unfinished paintings. It was quiet, except for the echoes of sobs coming from the far side of the room.
“Aiba-san?” Nino called out. “It’s me, Ninomiya.”
“Ninomiya-san?” Aiba emerged from the dark. He slowly walked, or rather limped, towards Nino.
“W-what happened to you?” Nino asked, running towards the model. He looked at Aiba through the moonlight; there were small cuts and a large bruise by his lip. “Who did this to you?”
Aiba silently held out a red card to him, making Nino gasp in surprise. “Sho-kun… he tried to… he tried to…” He collapsed in Nino’s arms.
“I’ll take you somewhere safe.” He grabbed the card and pocketed it. He half-dragged Aiba to the car. “Hold on, Aiba-san…”
“Aiba-san!” Toma gasped as Nino helped the weakened man to the backseat.
“Now this is getting interesting,” Nino said as he went to the passenger seat. “Take us to the hospital and make sure that we’ll get an arrest warrant for Sakurai Sho tomorrow morning. I don’t want that bastard to go anywhere.”
He looked at Aiba through the rear view mirror and sighed. He really pitied Aiba’s condition at that moment.
Sho did not miss the drastic change on the man’s expression when he showed him the red card.
“Ah, I see…” He took the card and held it carefully between his fingers. “When do you want to do it?”
“Come with me,” Sho said. He was actually surprised that the man followed him to the car wordlessly. “What’s your name?” he asked as the waiter got in.
“We’re not allowed to say ours,” he replied emotionlessly. “That’s part of the rules.”
Sho was frustrated. “Well, if that’s the case…” he said. He took in deep breaths as this was testing his patience. He drove to his apartment. The man just followed him like a shadow, silent.
Sho got inside his house after the man and his eyes widened in shock as he saw the man stripping off his clothes. “What are you doing?”
“That’s what this means, right?” the man said. “I’m trying to be efficient. I still have other things to do.” He continued removing his clothes.
“Stop! Stop it!” Sho said, quickly grabbing the shirt that was placed on the couch beside the man and handing it to him. “Don’t!”
“Then why did you call for me? Do you have a kink of some kind?”
“It’s not like that,” Sho said. “I just want to talk to you.”
“I will help you become a star…”
Aiba looked at him, skeptical. “At what expense?”
“If you’re going to make me a star, or whatever, what’s in it for you?” Aiba asked. “One night isn’t enough? You want me to be your slave?” He shook his head. “I don’t do things that way.”
Sho grabbed Aiba’s wrist as the man made his way out of the room. “No, I don’t need anything. I will help you. I will save you.”
Aiba woke up inside a white and clean hospital room. He really hated staying in the hospital. It reinforces the fact that he was weak and he had to dependent on Sho to actually survive. He bit his lip at the thought of Sho.
When his eyes traveled across the room, he saw a figure sleeping on the couch. It stirred awake and it made Aiba flinch. He thought it was Sho. He thought Sho was going to hurt him again.
His guardian sat up and stretched. Aiba sighed in relief; it as Nino. “’Morning…” he yawned, smiling at him.
“Good morning, Ninomiya-san,” he greeted. “Sorry for the bother.”
“You know what, Aiba-san?” Nino stated, walking towards him sleepily. “I think one of the biggest reasons why you’re being bullied and stalked like this is because you just keep on apologizing. You’re showing a lot of weakness.”
“See! Told you!” Nino said, pulling a stool and sitting beside Aiba. “I told you before, right? I was also bullied. But then I learned to be less apologetic, especially if I’m the one who should actually be mad.” He sighed. “For starters, let’s talk about Sakurai-san…” He took something from his pocket and showed the red card.
The color of the card has faded a bit and it was really crumpled but Aiba could still feel awfulness as he looked at it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he started talking about his background. He felt a bit comfortable as Nino just listened quietly, without any signs of judgment and disgust. After he finished, Nino gave him a glass of water.
“So this is true,” Nino said, looking at the card.
Aiba nodded. “The service ended when the owners were suddenly dead,” he said. “That was around the time I entered the agency.” He shook his head furiously. “I was a bit glad they were gone because I know this fact will give me problems. But still…”
“No, I’m not accusing you,” Nino said gently. “But we’re thinking the murders are actually related to your case.”
“What do you mean?”
“Where did you get this card? What were you doing in the university last night? What exactly did Sakurai do to you?”
“Ninomiya-san it might be… difficult to say…”
“I’ll wait. It’s okay. I just want to solve this case and help you,” he said with another smile as he squeezed Aiba’s hand.
“I have to thank you, Ninomiya-san,” Aiba said, trying to smile at Nino. “Your advice helped me. I have to be strong for myself. I have to be independent.”
“Did I say that?” Nino chuckled. “Well, I’m glad to be of help. You know you can count on me but just remember that I won’t always be there.”
“Why are they like this, Ninomiya-san?” Aiba sighed. “First, Ohno-kun. And now, Sho-kun. Why are they all betraying my trust? Am I really that stupid? Naïve?”
“You’re both,” Nino said honestly. “But you’re a good person.”
“If being a good person feels like this, I don’t want to be one,” Aiba pouted.
Nino sniggered. “I prefer you to stay a good person,” he said. “You know that Matsumoto Jun? He visited you while you’re asleep. That one looks like a natural villain.”
“How did he know?”
“I think Toma called him because after Sho, he’s the next friend that you have… well, if you consider him a friend.”
Aiba looked at his hands. “Matsumoto-kun… a friend…” He smiled at the police. “That sounds nice. He always shared the same dressing room with me, even though he did not really like it.” He looked at the door. “But recently, though, he was nice to me…”
There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Nino said, standing up from the stool.
Aiba smiled when he saw Jun from the doorway, holding a plastic bag of food. “Sorry to bother you,” he said as Jun placed the plastic bag on the bedside table.
“Tsk. No worries. It’s my day off today,” Jun said. “Besides, I’m not being overworked by my manager…” He looked at Nino with a weird expression and turned towards Aiba. “Have you heard?”
“What is it?”
“They arrested your manager,” Jun said in a quiet voice. “What exactly happened to you?” Jun asked, his eyebrows furrowed. “The make-up artists, those gossipers, told me that they arrested Sakurai. They found him inside your house, unconscious. Your house was a complete mess.”
Aiba’s lips trembled. His bit his lower lip and looked at the glass of water in his hands. “W-well…” he started, not really sure what to say. He winced as he remembered what Sho attempted to do the night before.
“That’s a police matter, Matsumoto-san,” Nino interrupted. Aiba sighed in relief. Nino was a lifesaver.
Jun shrugged. He did not seem annoyed about being cut off by the police. “Well, anyway,” he said, looking at Aiba with a smile. “I’ll visit you after work… if that’s okay with you.”
“It’s definitely okay with me!” Aiba said brightly. “I’m so happy that we’re talking like this, Matsumoto-kun.”
“Yeah. Me too,” Jun said with a chuckle. “Sorry for being a dick before.”
Aiba just shook his head. “It’s okay. You tried defending me from Sho-kun. That was so kind of you.”
Jun said goodbye and left the hospital. Nino peered through the door. “Your friend is handsome,” he commented. “Well, I guess that’s what’s up in the entertainment industry.”
Aiba laughed as well. He looked at his glass again, feeling lighter than earlier. “You know, I don’t think Matsumoto-kun remembers.”
“Wow, what’s this?”
“He’s a junior in my university. I’ve seen him before and he’s quite popular.”
“Oh, this is juicy,” Nino commented. “Did you have a crush on him?”
Aiba laughed. His face showed a hint of sadness as he remembered the past. “No. Not like that.”
“Uh, that big painting you’ve found in Ohno-kun’s atelier,” Aiba looked at Nino’s eyes. He seemed to comprehend what he was talking about. “There was another painting.”
“Another?” Nino asked, edging nearer.
Aiba sighed and nodded a little. “A different model.” He closed his eyes and recalled how he destroyed the painting due to jealousy.
“You mean to say…?”
“Matsumoto-kun. H-he’s Ohno-kun’s favorite model.”
Aiba entered his bedroom quietly. It had been a tiring day. Sho had just filled his schedule with inhuman tasks and he was acting cold, the last thing Aiba needed in this kind of situation. It was really stressful to think of the stalking case, the numerous photo shoots, and the variety show where he would have to act as cheerful as he could.
The model did not even open the lights as he automatically walked towards his bathroom to take a hot bath. However, he noticed something on his bedside.
“I wonder how it feels like to be holding you…”
Aiba froze when he saw the note. But what made him shake was the red card beside it. It made him angry. Only one person knew about this.
Aiba stormed downstairs and saw Sho looking at the window. “Sho-kun!”
He knew that he was the one who was supposed to be angry at that moment. But before he could speak, his manager shoved him to the wall. Aiba could see anger in Sho’s eyes. It was as if he was going to kill him
“It… hurts…!” he complained, as Sho tightened his hold on Aiba’s wrists.
“What are you doing whoring yourself around with Matsumoto?”
“Matsumoto-kun?” Aiba gasped. “I… we’re not doing anything bad!”
“You’re being a pain now, Aiba,” Sho said. “That Matsumoto, you think he’s on your side no?”
Aiba had successfully pushed off Sho. “That’s none of your business! He invited me to dinner! We’re friends! You’re just my manager! You don’t own me!”
Sho’s eyes were wide and they looked crazy that Aiba started to step away. He felt unsafe inside his own house. Aiba was about to run to his bedroom to escape but Sho caught his leg, making him fall on the floor.
“I don’t own you?” Sho started, gripping Aiba’s shirt and straddling him while the latter tried to wriggle free. He forcefully clashed his lips with Aiba. “I do. And I can do anything to you…!”
Aiba remembered the card and connected everything in his head. “You..!”
“Ever since you agreed to be mine, I own you. I own your life, Aiba Masaki!” Sho said as his lips started to travel to the other one’s jawline.
Aiba wanted to cry. He felt betrayed by his only companion.
“Aiba-san, always take care of yourself. There are times when no one is going to be there for you so you must fight for yourself…”
Nino’s words resonated in Aiba’s head. Using his remaining strength, he kicked and punched any part of Sho that he could find. When he saw Sho roll over in pain, he grabbed Sho’s car keys where a small stun gun was attached. He used the weapon on his manager’s body, causing him to shiver violently.
Aiba’s breaths were quick and erratic. He looked at Sho’s unconscious figure. He wanted to say sorry but he was also angry at Sho. This man broke his trust. He deserved this and more.
As he saw Sho stir, Aiba fearfully got out of the house. He overturned the large pot in front of the door, hoping that it would stop Sho from getting out, and ran away with his manager’s car.
Ohno was slowly led towards the visitor area. He was quiet all the time, not really anticipating or interested about the visitor.
He sat on the chair and looked up, seeing his visitor. His eyes widened. “Ju-Jun-kun?”
“It was nice seeing you again,” the model said, his face dead serious. Ohno was still quiet, but he looked confused.
“What are you doing here?” Ohno asked.
“I… I want to apologize to you,” Jun said.
“I thought you were Aiba-senpai’s stalker,” Jun said. “But… I was mistaken…”
Ohno leaned closer. “Did they catch the criminal already?” he asked. “I’ve been trying to protect Aiba ever since I discovered that he has a stalker.” He sighed and leaned back on his chair. “Look what happened to me.”
“They arrested Sakurai.”
Ohno’s eyebrow went up. “Sakurai?”
“It was an unrelated case. He tried to rape Aiba,” Jun said, clenching his fists. “But because his past was dug, it will be a matter of time before they prove that Sakurai is the stalker.”
Ohno’s eyes became teary. “I’m glad… I’m glad Aiba’s safe. Oh my god…” He covered his mouth.
“Senpai,” Jun said, touching the glass to grab his senior’s attention. “I’m going to take care of Aiba. Don’t worry, he’ll be safe.”
“Can you ask him to visit me?”
Jun pursed his lips and looked down. “I… I’m not sure. He feels betrayed by you and Sakurai. I don’t think he will want to visit you.”
“I see…” Ohno said sadly. “Please help me, Jun-kun. Help me talk to Aiba.”
Jun smiled a little. “I’ll do my best.” He got up, bowed courteously and made his way towards the door. He lingered, leaning on the wall. “Even now, it’s still about him,” Jun muttered, gripping his fists tight while he bit his lip to stop himself from shouting his frustration.
Jun returned to his apartment and sat in front of his dresser. He looked at his image in the mirror and started to lean nearer. He checked the imperfections on his face. “I should be perfect…” he muttered. However, his eyes traveled to the small pot that rested on the table beside him. Its blossoms were slowly peeking out, perfectly looking at him, mocking him.
“THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” Jun shouted, grabbing the pot and throwing it. It smashed against the wall, causing a mess on the floor.
“It’s all your fault… your fault…” he mumbled as he stood at the poor flower. He crushed it with his foot and he let out a contented sigh.
“Matsumoto, if you don’t do your job properly, you’ll be fired!”
“Hey, are you alright?” a familiar voice came from Jun’s left. He looked at that direction and he almost shouted in surprise. It was Aiba, smiling at him kindly. It seemed like the man did not remember him because that smile was just a usual courteous smile.
“I… I’m fine…”
“Let me help you,” he said, picking up some of the neckties.”
“Aiba-kun!” a stern voice was heard from across the corridor. Both of them looked up and they saw a young man wearing a very well-pressed suit. “Don’t waste time. We must meet with the client immediately.”
“Sorry,” Aiba whispered to Jun, handing him the neckties that he had picked up. He stood up and ran to his manager, following his superior to the conference rooms.
“You have to present well. You have to be perfect!” he managed to hear Aiba’s manager say.
“Perfect…” Jun managed to say as he watched the model’s back walking away. “Aiba… Masaki…”
“Damn it! You mean to say, Ohno Satoshi was released?” Nino said through gritted teeth.
Toma nodded. “They did not find enough evidence to link Ohno to the stalking cases.” He scanned through the report. “Well, it says here that Aiba’s sworn statement about the silhouette of the attacker did not match Ohno’s appearance and it would be impossible.”
“What are they, shadow experts?” Nino said, looking through the case folder. “How about Sakurai?”
“Well, he might stay in jail because even though we cannot link him to the stalking case, he’s still responsible for physical injuries to Aiba.”
“That’s good,” Nino scoffed. “Serves him right, that bastard.”
“Ninomiya-san,” Toma said, looking at Nino with a curious face.
“I want to keep an eye on that Ohno Satoshi.”
“Are you sure he’s Aiba-san’s stalker?”
“Those paintings? Sunflowers? I’m not really stupid not to connect everything,” Nino said.
“But what if the stalker is purposely using those things to make us think that it was Ohno-san?” Toma asked. “Just… think about it.”
Nino looked at the ground and blinked. “Yeah…” he started, sitting on the couch and crossing his arms. “That’s… interesting…”
He looked at Toma silently, as if he was thinking about something. He then looked at his desk when the heard the phone rang. Toma answered it.
“Ninomiya-san, it’s Aiba-san,” he said after listening to the caller.
“The stalker sent something again…”
“What did the stalker send this time?” Nino asked. He rushed towards the phone and took it from his colleague. “Aiba-san?”
“Ninomiya-san… please, you have to get here,” Aiba’s scared voice came on the line. “He… he got inside my house once again!”
Nino ran a hand on his hair. “Aiba-san, wait for us and prepare the security footage.”
“Toma, are you coming with me?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Let me prepare the car.”
The two sped towards Aiba’s home. After a few knocks, they saw the model peek through the curtains before opening the door for them. He was shaking a bit.
“Are you alright?” Nino asked as he walked towards the living room where a laptop and the memory box for the security system were set.
Aiba nodded. “I don’t know how he got in, Ninomiya-san.”
“What did the stalker do?”
Aiba bit his lip. “Follow me.” He brought them to his bedroom upstairs. As he opened the lights, Nino saw that the bed was filled with rose petals, already brown and dry. “Roses?” he voiced out, looking at Aiba with confusion.
Nino was loss for words. Toma started to speak, bringing out his notepad. “Any relation or memory with roses, Aiba-san?”
Nino noticed how Aiba’s eyes widened. Then he took a deep breath and shook his head. “I… I don’t think there’s a lot of significance…”
Nino started to walk towards the glass door leading to the balcony. He saw that the security camera was destroyed. “He… destroyed the security camera,” he told Toma, pointing at the damage. “And this door as well…” He pointed at the broken glass of the door. He looked around to look for signs.
“I don’t think…” he shook his head. This one could be different. “Aiba-san, did he leave any note?”
Aiba nodded and gave him the note.
Don’t dare break my heart…
Nino passed the note to Toma, who placed it inside a plastic bag as evidence. He turned towards Aiba. “I want you to live somewhere else until this is not solved. You cannot talk to anyone about this. Do you understand that?”
“Hey… wait!” Aiba yelled. “Are you… this is like Sho all over again!”
Nino turned around to face Aiba, he looked irritated at the way Aiba talked to him. “Aiba-san, you should understand that we’re doing this to protect you…!”
“That’s what he said too! And now he’s in prison because we thought he’s the stalker!” Aiba shouted.
“I was saying that this could be a different person!” Nino shouted back. Toma touched his shoulder to try to calm him down. Nino closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Aiba-san, please just listen to me.” He then turned to his colleague. “I’m going to take a look at this, Toma. Keep Aiba in company and bring him to… wherever he wants to go.”
“Why not you, Ninomiya-san?” Aiba asked in a whimper.
Nino looked at Aiba with a sympathy on his face. This man had already trusted him. He then forced an assuring smile. “Aiba-san, I need to investigate more. I won’t rest, not until I can catch that stalker of yours, do you get that?”
“Sor-… I mean, thank you,” Aiba said with a nod. He seemed to relax.
Nino walked downstairs and his eyes happened to travel to the area where Aiba placed his photographs. He noticed that there was one photo frame that was put face down. He held it and looked at it. It was a photo of Aiba and Ohno. Nino looked at the handsome black suit paired with a light blue tie that Aiba was wearing. He looked at the rich and bright sunflower bouquet that the newly-graduated Aiba was holding in his hands. It was definitely taken on the day of his graduation ceremony. What made Nino take a look closer was the figure that was accidentally caught by the camera, carrying a red bouquet that suspiciously looked like roses.
“He’s Ohno-kun’s favorite model.”
Nino lifted his radio near his mouth. “I need you to fix a search warrant for Matsumoto Jun’s apartment. ASAP.”
“Ninomiya-san, Aiba-kun just fainted!” Toma shouted from upstairs.
“Call an ambulance immediately!”
“How does it feel, Sakurai, to be on the other side of the glass?” Ohno asked. Sho looked at him with fiery eyes but he did not reply.
“You were the one who burned my atelier down, weren’t you?” Ohno accused. “Why did you do that?”
Sho looked at him for a moment with an expression that made Ohno want to punch him endlessly. His lip formed a smirk. “I want you to know how it feels to create something with your all heart only to be taken away easily.”
“I created Aiba Masaki,” Sho hissed. “You can’t just take him away from me!”
“I did not take Aiba-kun from anyone! And he isn’t yours in the first place! He’s not owned by anyone!”
Sho clicked his tongue. “You don’t even know that he’s a high class prostitute, do you?” he said with a smug face.
Ohno looked at him with wide eyes. “What did you do to him?”
“He was a prostitute already when I met him,” Sho said. “Pity that you didn’t know.” He then smirked. “Well, maybe you drove him into that kind of life, rapist.”
“Fuck you, Sakurai.”
“Send my regards to my ungrateful talent. He’ll come back crawling to me when he’s done and I’ll make sure I’ll get what I paid for.”
“I’ll never let you touch a hair on his head!” Ohno hissed before he left, letting his stool fall on the floor with an echoing noise. He could hear Sho’s maniacal laughter.
“What have I done, Aiba-kun?” Ohno thought guiltily as he sat on the gutter.
“Why are you looking for a new model, Ohno-kun? Am I not enough?” he heard his model ask. Ohno had just posted a notice on the bulletin board in front of the art studio.
“No, of course not, Aiba-kun. You’re perfect,” he replied. “It’s just that my teachers will be annoyed if it’s always you. I may look obsessed about you.”
“Well, aren’t you obsessed with me?” the other person said. Ohno looked at Aiba. For a moment, it seemed to be a serious question, but in the blink of an eye, Aiba’s expression became childish that he dismissed it as a joke.
“Hey!” Aiba suddenly said, looking at the doorway. “I think I saw someone.”
Ohno watched as Aiba pulled in a tall young man. He looked really handsome. “Are you going to apply for the model post?” he asked, still holding the student’s arm. Ohno looked at the young student’s face and noticed a faint blush on his cheeks.
“Ohno-kun… Ohno-kun…” Aiba said, waving a hand in front of him. The other student was staring at Ohno, a bit intimidated.
“Here he is! Your model! Your lifesaver!” Aiba said, giggling while shaking the man’s arm. Ohno surveyed the guy from top to bottom.
“What’s your name?”
“Is it okay for you to be a model?” He then asked. He turned to his favorite model for approval. “Aiba-kun, what do you think?”
Aiba looked at Jun and smiled. “He’s perfect!” he said with thumbs up. “I like him.”
Ohno looked at Jun, thinking a little. “Hmm…” He then nodded.
“Nice!” Aiba said excitedly, initiating a high-five with the new model. He led Jun to the other corner for a short briefing.
“Wait,” Ohno suddenly said. He walked towards the two and broke off Aiba’s hold to the new model, causing his muse to gasp in surprise. “I’ll do the briefing.” He led Jun towards the study table to give him a schedule.
“Ohno-kun, wait…” he vaguely heard Aiba calling to him but he was too absorbed talking with the new model. When he looked up to call for Aiba, he noticed that he had left without a word.
He had not seen Aiba for a few weeks after that.
“W-what are you doing here?” Aiba asked, edging away when he saw Ohno sitting on a stool beside him. “I’m going to call the police!”
“Aiba-kun, please… Please listen to me…” Ohno pleaded. He grabbed the man’s hands, making Aiba flinch. Seeing the fear in his eyes, he let go.
“I’m so sorry, Aiba-kun…” Ohno said. “But you have to… you have to listen to me…”
“Ohno-kun…” Aiba started. “You know that I trusted you with my whole life,” he said. “Is it true?”
Ohno could only nod guiltily. He felt like crying when Aiba’s hand came into contact with his face. “Aiba-kun… I’m so sorry…”
“You destroyed my life!” Aiba said. “Did you even feel remorse with what you’ve done to me?”
“I suffered every day of my life, Aiba-kun.” Ohno sunk to his knees and hung his head low. “I know that I should pay for it. Take me to prison, I will gladly oblige. But I just want… I just want to protect you.”
Aiba scoffed. “Protect me? You’re the one who brought me here in the first place! If you didn’t do that on my graduation night, I would not have… I would not have…”
“Please, Aiba-kun, listen to me…”
“I loved you, Ohno-kun. But I don’t know if I can ever trust you again…” Aiba sighed. “I’m… I’m tired. What did I even do to be punished like this? Why am I surrounded by people who only hurt me?”
“I won’t hurt…”
“Shut up! Shut up!” Aiba roared. “Get out of here, Ohno! I don’t want to see your face again! I will never forgive you!”
Ohno closed his eyes as he listened to those painful words. He slowly stood up, his lip trembling as he tried to look at Aiba once again. “Goodbye, Aiba-kun. If that’s what you wish, I will. I’ll carry this guilt all my life. But please remember that I love you.”
He dragged his feet out of the hospital and walked towards the freeway. Ohno felt like his soul was sucked away from him. He stood by the edge of the road, closed his eyes, and crossed as he heard the blowing of horn.
“Aiba-san,” a voice called out from the door.
“Ninomiya-san!” Aiba said, wiping his tears hastily. “What’s up?”
The policeman eyed him. Aiba sniffed nervously. “What drama happened earlier?” he asked.
“N-nothing…” he said. “The medications are kinda painful.”
“Oh, I see,” Nino said. “Ah, before I forget…” He took something from his pocket: a deck of cards. “Wanna see some magic tricks?”
“What am I? 12 years old?”
“But you seem to be excited!” Nino smirked. “Come on,” he held out the deck. “Pick a card and write your name on it.”
Aiba looked at him skeptically. “Fine, fine…” He picked a card and wrote his name using a marker on the bedside table.
“Return it here,” Nino said. He reshuffled the deck and placed it on the bedside table. “By the way, I also brought this for you.” He took out a small pouch from inside his jacket pocket. It was a box of candy.
“What the…?” Aiba said as he opened the pack. It did not contain any candy but he beamed when he saw the card that he chose. “This is so amazing!” He smiled.
Nino looked at him and nodded. “There. Did I make you smile?” he asked. “Recently, you looked like a zombie.”
“Wait, did you do this just to make me smile?” Aiba asked, confused. “Why bother?”
“I don’t know,” Nino replied with a shrug. “I guess, since I’m in charge with your safety, I think I should also be in charge of your mental and emotional health.”
“That’s a psychiatrist’s job…”
“You’re spoiling my moment…”
Aiba laughed. “Thanks. Really, Ninomiya-san. Thank you…”
Nino smiled. “Aiba-san, you can’t stop people from doing the things that they’re meant to do,” he reminded thoughtfully. “Hmm… wait a moment…” He took a piece of cloth and let it pass through his fingers. After three counts, a bouquet popped out.
“Oh!” Aiba exclaimed.
Nino grinned. “Here. Have some flowers. Don’t worry, they’re not sunflowers.” He handed Aiba the small bunch. It was full of white gardenia flowers.
“I think this is very pretty,” Aiba replied.
“I know, because I chose them,” Nino said, wriggling his eyebrows. Both of them started to laugh.
There was a knock on the door. A nurse entered. “Aiba-san, you have a delivery,” she said, carrying a basket of a variety of flowers. She placed the flowers on the bedside table and left.
“Oh, who sent this?” Nino asked him.
Aiba leaned closer to check the card but as soon as he had opened the card, he dropped it. It made him look at the centerpiece of a bouquet, a single, large sunflower.
“Aiba-san!” Nino exclaimed, seeing that he was still in a state of shock. He picked up the card and read the contents.
My love for you will never die, Masaki. They will all disappear and you will only have me.
“B-but Sho’s in prison already…” Aiba said in a shaky voice. “It’s not him?”
“Ohno Satoshi was just released,” Nino said, pacing around the room. “It might be him.” He talked to someone through his radio.
Aiba looked at the bouquet in silence. Even though he snapped angrily at Ohno earlier, he still could not believe that he was the stalker. He decided to keep quiet about Ohno visiting him. “I… I don’t really think it was him…” he said in a quiet voice.
“Eh?” Nino asked. “But he’s the only viable suspect!”
Aiba shook his head. “There must be someone else,” he said.
They were interrupted by a policeman running inside the room. “Ninomiya-san! We got footage that Ohno Satoshi was inside this hospital earlier!”
“I knew it! I’ll investigate on this,” Nino said, picking up the note. “I will definitely find that bastard!” He turned towards the policeman. “You! Make sure that this hospital is secured.”
Nino left the room, making Aiba feel uneasy. He looked at the window and observed the swaying trees, trying to calm himself down. The silence was interrupted when the door opened with a slam.
“Matsumoto-kun…?” he felt that there was something wrong. Jun’s face was red, as if he had run a mile. “What is it?”
“You have to come with me… Ohno-kun is in danger!”
“Ohno…?” he looked confused. Then he remembered their argument earlier. He gulped because the situation seemed serious. “W-what happened?”
“He… ran across the freeway…”
“N-no…” Aiba felt a painful shot on his chest. It was his fault. He had said horrible things.
“Let’s go see him…” Jun said.
“W-wait for me!” Aiba said, standing up from his bed and running after Jun. However, before he could go out of the door, he felt a painful electric jolt on his back and he fell unconscious.
Ohno groaned in pain. He found his right arm in a cast. He tried to remember what happened. He remembered being hit by a motorcycle in the freeway.
He stood up and walked towards the bookshelf beside him. His attention was caught by a book, one of their university yearbooks. He took it out and lazily scanned the contents. It wasn’t his year nor Aiba’s. It was the yearbook when Jun had graduated.
His eyes widened when he saw something in the “achievements” page.
Genius Agriculture student was able to grow sunflowers off-season.
Ohno looked at the photo of the man standing in the middle of the university’s sunflower garden. Beside him were some college officials, and he was sporting a smile while holding a bouquet of sunflowers.
“It would be a waste since he decided to pursue another field after graduation rather than continuing the research of off-season farming.”
“No way! He’s the stalker?”
“Hello,” Ohno greeted as he saw a student wearing a cap, who was standing inside his studio, looking at his painting of Aiba.
The student almost jumped in surprise when he saw the painter looking at him. “S-sorry…”
“He’s really beautiful, what do you think? The perfect model…” Ohno said, standing beside the other student.
“Perfect…” the other student mimicked. He raised his hand, as if he wanted to touch the painting. Ohno noticed that his fingernails were dark with mud and his hands were browned by the soil. The student hesitated; he placed his hands inside his pockets.
“I’m going,” the student said, running out of the studio without another word and leaving Ohno confused.
The next day, when he entered the studio, Ohno saw scattered canvasses on the floor. He caught sight of a slashed painting ad gasped; it was the missing coupling painting that was supposed to be for the exhibition. Jun’s portrait. “No!” he gasped, running his hands through the destroyed artwork.
“Aiba… Where’s Aiba?” Ohno muttered, feeling nervous. He walked around the studio, pushing his things aside, and overturning his stuff to look for his painting.
“It’s gone… It’s gone!” he shouted in frustration, his eyes welling with tears. He looked at the easel where the painting used to stand and saw traces of mud and scattered leaves and yellow petals.
“I need to save Aiba!” Ohno gasped, making his way out of Jun’s apartment.
Nino and his colleagues searched the small apartment where Jun lived. It was dark and messy, as if someone had rummaged through the belongings.
“Was Matsumoto-san also assaulted?”
“No,” Nino said as he crouched down the dark brown spot on the carpet. There were broken pieces of a pot, some soil that dirtied the floor, and a small bud that was stuck on the carpet. Nino poked it with a wooden stick and clicked his tongue when he found out what that was. “Poor flower,” he breathed out.
Nino stood up and looked around. He then found a yearbook lying on the floor by the bookshelf. Curious, he picked the book up and flipped it over; it was opened at a certain page. His eyes momentarily widened when he saw the contents of the page. After looking around, the policeman gently closed the book before returing it on the table.
"Ninomiya-san? Have you seen anything?"
"Let's try to search the next room."
He stood in front of Ohno’s art studio and cautiously entered the room. He saw his target, the wonderful painting of Aiba, sitting on an easel in the middle of the room. The moonlight washed it with blue light, making it more beautiful than ever.
“Masaki…” he breathed out as he touched the outline of the subject’s face. It was really perfect, like what Ohno had uttered. His hands traced the painting to the sunflower being held on his hand. He had to admit, Ohno Satoshi captured the beauty of Aiba, down to the wonderful, sun-like eyes.
Opening the black canvass bag that he was carrying, he carefully packed the painting and left the room.
“W-where am I?” Aiba asked when he woke up. He found himself in a dark room, with only a window as a source of light. He was tied up on a chair. The area in his back was still painful due to the electric shock earlier.
“You’re awake…” a voice echoed throughout the large dark room. Aiba looked at the direction from where the footsteps came from.
“Matsumoto-kun?” he said, his eyes wide. “You’re my stalker?”
“Your stalker? Why is everything always about you?” the other model said.
“What is wrong with you? Why are you doing this?” he asked. He tried not to show how afraid he was. In the dim light, Jun looked so sinister he was so sure that the man could kill him. “Is this about our work?”
“No!” Jun slapped Aiba so hard the he fell down, along with the chair. “How can someone so stupid and as ungrateful as you be more popular than me? How can you get anything so easily…?”
“You’ve had everything… You’ve had Ohno-kun but look what you’ve done to him!” Jun roared.
“Ohno-kun?” Aiba was confused.
“Don’t you know what he did after you said hurtful words towards him?” Jun asked, trying to control his shaky voice. “He almost tried to kill himself… but I was there, Aiba. I saved him.” He kicked Aiba’s abdomen and he was so sure that his stab wound had reopened. “What did you do for him?”
“I… I didn’t…”
Jun probably saw that the stab wound was bleeding. “Ah, how I loved the feeling that I was able to hurt you in the flesh…” he said with a sick smile.
“Y-you stabbed me?”
Jun nodded. “If you had died, then Ohno-kun would have never suffered in prison,” he said.
Aiba’s mind was unclear; it was torn between thinking of a way out and the pain of his reopened wound. But he felt hot tears threatening to fall. He was betrayed once again.
“What are you going to do with me?”
“I want to make you suffer,” Jun said. “I want you to suffer the same way you made Ohno-kun suffer…”
“W-what happened to Ohno-kun?” Aiba suddenly remembered. “Did you do something bad to him?”
Jun angrily kicked Aiba, making him groan in pain. “NO! You did!”
Aiba closed his eyes as Jun continuously kicked him. He was on the ground, helpless. He felt like he deserved the beating. He could feel the dripping of blood from his wound. He could feel that he was getting cold and he was starting to tremble.
“Ohno-kun…” Aiba breathed out before he passed out.
“P-please… help me… help me…” Aiba mumbled as he woke up, feeling the pain on his abdomen. The bleeding had subsided but he was still shivering. He was sitting upright again in the dark room. Jun was nowhere to be found.
“H-help…” he tried to shout, but only a whisper came out from his lips. He was still not in a perfect condition, especially with his reopened wound.
Then he saw something glimmering in the small light from the window. Aiba took this chance. He stood up and tried to do small steps towards that corner. He found a protruding metal sheet.
Aiba shifted so that his back was facing the sharp sheet. He started to rub the rope against that sheet to cut it. He winced in pain as the sheet also cut through his hands and wrists.
“Come on… come on…” he whimpered as he continued the painful process. After a while, he felt the ropes loosen. He used his remaining strength to untie himself and also untied his feet.
He ran towards the walls to try to find the entrance. However, the only door was locked. Aiba needed to think quickly. He then searched the room for a weapon. He found a large plank. Aiba went back to the entrance and positioned himself behind the door, ready to attack when Jun returns.
He heard the door open and he gripped the plank tight. However, before he could hit Jun, he heard Jun’s groan of pain and saw the man fall on the floor, just in front of him.
Nino was standing by the window, looking at the potted plant that settled on the windowsill. “It’s almost the end, isn’t it?” he muttered as he touched the plant’s leaves lightly.
“Aiba-san was suddenly missing in his room!” Toma said, making Nino suddenly wake up from his thoughts.
“No one saw him?”
“I obtained the security camera footage,” Toma said, inserting the USB in the slot. “Look here,” he pointed at the part where he saw a man wearing black pushing a wheelchair. Aiba was on the chair.
“What the…? Is that Matsumoto?”
“Yes. He was the last visitor logged in the room,” Toma said.
“I knew it…” Nino said, pocketing his gun.
“Stay here. There might be other cases. I’ll do this one my own,” he ordered before dashing out of the room. He did not even notice that he knocked down his potted plant.
“Ninomiya-san, wait!” Toma called out. Realizing that calling for his superior was futile, he just crouched down to pick up the mess the plant has made.
“Toma-san! Help me!” a voice said from the door.
“Ohno-san?” he said after he looked around. Toma stood up and approached him.
“Aiba is in danger, please… I don’t know where else to go!”
“Ninomiya-san went after him…”
“No! It should not be Ninomiya! Aiba will be in greater trouble if Ninomiya went for him!”
“What do you mean...?” Toma looked at the small bud on his hand, its yellow petals on their way to bloom.
“Aiba-san, are you alright?”
“Ninomiya-san?” Aiba said, lowering the plank.
“Let’s go before he wakes up!” Nino said, grabbing Aiba’s wrist and running out of the hall. Aiba realized that they were inside an abandoned factory. Nino opened his car door for him.
“Are you alright?” Nino asked again as he put on the seatbelt for Aiba.
“M-my stab wound… I think it reopened…” Aiba said weakly.
Nino lifted his shirt a little and saw that the wound had indeed opened. He took his handkerchief and pressed it against the large wound. He also inspected the cuts that Aiba got in his wrists. “They had stopped bleeding but we have to go.”
Aiba was half-awake when Nino pulled over. He helped the model get off the car and led him to a dark stairway. “I’ll go get something for you,” he said, leaving Aiba in the room.
However, Aiba caught sight of something familiar at the wall of the open room just in front of him. He slowly limped towards the room that aroused his curiosity and when he opened it, causing the light from the hall to enter the room. He froze in shock when he saw all his own pictures staring down at him. In the middle of the collection was his portrait made by Ohno, the one with the sunflower.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Masaki?”
Nino clutched a letter near to his heart. It was Aiba’s graduation day and he saw that the man was surrounded by a lot of females, giving their graduation gifts and flowers to them. He nervously waited as one by one, the girls went away.
After the last girl waved goodbye at Aiba, Nino saw the man sigh in tiredness. A smile was still on his face. “Ah, that suit and tie really fits his figure,” Nino thought.
He watched as another slender young man approached Aiba. He gave Aiba a small gift and the man patted him on the shoulder. Aiba, on the other hand, took something from his bag, a small potted sunflower, and gave him to the man. After he left, Aiba was all alone, standing in front of the garden.
“Uh, wait!” he shouted, running like a weak kid towards the man. Aiba, even though he probably didn’t remember Nino, smiled at him.
“Congratulations on your graduation!” Nino said breathlessly as he handed the bouquet of sunflowers.
“Sunflowers?” Aiba said, looking at the bouquet with wonder. “But they aren’t in season..!”
Nino blushed. “I got them from the university garden. Amazing that they can grow out of season, right?”
“Oh, yeah! They’re amazing! I love these flowers,” Aiba said. He looked at Nino. He knew that he was a stranger in Aiba’s eyes but the man still smiled at Nino as if they were close friends. “Thank you.”
Nino smiled. “I hope you can be like the sun, Aiba-kun.” Nino started. “Sunflowers look at the direction of the sun, right?”
“Right,” Aiba chuckled.
“Aiba-kun! We’re going!”
Both of them looked at the direction of the voice. Nino knew that man. Ohno Satoshi, the popular artist alumnus of the university, was waving at Aiba.
“We’re going now,” Aiba said. “Thanks again, uhm…”
“Thanks, Kazu! Bye!” Aiba said before running towards Ohno.
Nino knew that the painful feeling inside his chest was jealousy.
He stupidly followed them to the graduation party. It was dark and everyone was dancing, everyone was doing unnecessary movements. Nino wanted to go home but he was determined to look for Aiba.
He saw him in one of the red couches, trying to avoid drinking. He saw his other classmates offer him different cocktails, saw some scantily clad females try to flirt with him but he successfully avoided everyone.
And on his hand was a single sunflower. Nino knew that it was one of the bunch that he gave Aiba.
At that moment, he felt a sense of hope that Aiba had finally noticed his existence. Nino looked at him from his corner, tempted to go near him.
Nino almost cursed when that Ohno came. He watched as the two laughed and told stories to each other. Aiba’s face lit up and he started drinking anything that his senpai offered, showing no inhibitions unlike earlier.
An hour has passed. The club was still going on with its party. The music was still blaring and ruining Nino’s ears. But Aiba was already tipsy. Interestingly, Ohno was not. He watched in silence as Ohno placed one of Aiba’s arms over his shoulder and helped him walk out of the club.
Nino stood up and followed them to the exit. Ohno had a taxi ready and the two left in it.
Nino picked up the sunflower from the ground.
Nino could only watch in silence as he saw Aiba walk aimlessly on the streets. His eyes were unfocused and distant. He knew that something bad had happened and that something seemed to suck life away from his usually bubbly senior. He did not really know what happened but he just knew that Ohno Satoshi was at fault.
“T-thank you…” Aiba said as Nino placed an umbrella over the man’s head. However, before he could say another word, he collapsed.
“Aiba-san…!” Nino gasped, shaking him. He called for an ambulance and accompanied Aiba up to the hospital. He knew that he could not stay, he could not let Aiba see him. He left a kiss on the man’s temple before he silently left the room, leaving a bunch of sunflowers by Aiba’s bedside.
Nino leaned on the door, taking deep breaths, trying to steady his heartbeat. “That Ohno Satoshi…” he thought angrily.
He would destroy anything that will block the light of his beloved sun.
Nino ran away from the car and hid behind one of the pillars. He watched as Aiba walked towards the car and smiled as he knew that he was able to get his message across.
However, he gasped when he saw Sakurai creep behind Aiba silently. He almost got out of his hiding place when the man took out a small stun gun attached to his car keys and stunned Aiba. He gritted his teeth in anger as he watched the man pull his sun close and leave a kiss on his lips.
Nino wanted to kill Sakurai then and there. Sakurai’s fingers made circles on Aiba’s exposed skin. He then stood up and made a phone call. “Get your filthy hands off him!” he thought angrily.
Nino knew he could do it; he could kill Sakurai as he pleased. He had deactivated the security cameras and no one would see him. But before he could step out, Nino felt vibrations in his pocket.
“Ninomiya. I need your expertise on the stalking case of Aiba Masaki.”
“I’m tired. He’s really becoming bothersome,” Sho told him.
Nino could only look at him silently. His fists were balled and he was boiling up inside.
“Well, if you hate it that much, why don’t you quit?” Nino replied. He gave a bow and left. Nino went back to his car and started to hit the steering wheel a few times.
“Sakurai Sho… I can’t let you hurt Aiba…” He looked at the manager from his car. “I’m going to find out your secrets and I’m going to destroy you as well…”
Nino inserted the memory card in his computer and looked at the photos. He wanted to scream in anger, to cry, and to tear Ohno Satoshi apart as he finally figured out what had happened that night when he saw Aiba on his graduation night. His hands were trembling as he e-mailed one of the photos to Ohno Satoshi.
“How can Aiba love you once he finds out what you did to him? I’m going to destroy you, Ohno Satoshi…”
Nino found Toma’s investigation files and saw how Sakurai Sho could have a relation with the deaths of the three agency superiors. He then looked at one of the things that he had taken from Sho’s belongings: a red card that contained cryptic words.
He smiled. This is what he was going to need in order to pull Sho away from Aiba’s life.
Nino closed his eyes and balled his fists as he listened to Aiba’s shouts, pouring his anger on Ohno. That man deserved it. He had hurt Aiba. He had destroyed his beloved sun’s life. He let his tears fall but he quickly wiped them and hid behind a corner as Ohno got out of the room, dragging his feet while crying.
Nino took a deep breath and tried to compose himself before he proceeded to Aiba’s hospital room. No one could make Aiba happy but him. And he would.
He would bring back the brightness in those eyes.
“You were the most beautiful in that painting: radiant, smiling, carefree,” Nino started as he dreamily looked at the old painting.
“W-what is the meaning of this?” Aiba stuttered.
“No matter how good Ohno is as a painter, he will never be able to capture your perfection again like in this painting, Masaki,” Nino said as he slowly walked towards Aiba. “No matter how hard he tries, he will never be able to paint again the man he had destroyed…”
Nino smiled sadly at Aiba. “How much have you changed, Masaki, after Ohno destroyed you? After Sakurai abused you? I will return that smile… I will erase all your miseries…”
“After all of those years waiting for you, watching you, I finally got a spot in your life…” Nino said with smile that made Aiba more confused than scared. “Finally… To hear you trust me, to hear that you wanted me to protect you,” Nino’s eyes glistened with tears, “you don’t know how happy I was hearing that from you!”
“Don’t you remember that day when I saved your life? When I gave you those sunflowers in the autumn?” Nino asked. “I remembered each second of it: the way you smiled at me, the way you talked to me. I wanted to see more of that. I wanted you to be mine…”
“I… I don’t understand…” Aiba found himself stepping backwards slowly, away from Nino.
“Ohno Satoshi, Sakurai Sho… you chose the wrong people. One took advantage of you while you were at your weakest,” Nino looked sad for a moment. “I was there. I could have stopped him but I was too afraid to even let you see me.”
“You know what happened to me?” Aiba fell on his behind and edged away until his back touched the wall, the wall filled with images of him.
Nino nodded with a bitter expression. “And Sakurai Sho, that slave-driving manager of yours. He found you while you were working as a prostitute.” He leaned closer to Aiba and touched his jaw, a worried look etched on his face. “Has he touched you? Has he… hurt you?”
Aiba shook his head furiously. “Sho-kun will never…”
“But he almost did, right? When he went berserk over your friendship with Matsumoto, he almost did. He thought he could buy you with his power, power that he got when he killed those people who used your body!”
Aiba felt dizzy with that he had learned. “Why are you doing this, Ninomiya-san?” Aiba asked. “You should have just… you should have just talked to me… This would never have happened!”
“You never noticed me! Never once!” Nino shouted. “You are surrounded by these people who only push you around, who only played with you because you’re weak!” He placed a hand on his chest. “I was also weak, Masaki. I learned how to be strong because of you.”
Aiba tried to move away further when Nino fell into his knees, looking at him with pleading eyes. For a moment, he pitied Nino. “I… I haven’t…”
“If we’re together, I can become stronger… you can become stronger too, don’t you know that?” Nino smiled at him, looking at him as if he had not committed a crime. “Masaki, if you had just listened to me. None of these things would have happened.”
“Ninomiya-san…” Aiba started. “You didn’t need to go this far! When you started sending those letters, I was scared!”
“But you won’t notice me if I don’t, right?” Nino asked with an innocent expression. “It was always your Sho-kun. It was always Ohno. Look! You’ve seen their true colors! They destroyed you! They made you like this. Now, I got rid of all of them! I did all of these for you…” He smiled a little. “I just wanted to save you.”
Nino threw himself over Aiba, embracing the man tight. Aiba had wanted to push him away but he suddenly heard Nino’s cries. Aiba felt stupid for being so forgiving. This was the man who made him suffer.
Aiba placed an arm around Nino, slowly closing his eyes. This person just loved him from afar, waited for him. And he was so naïve. What could have happened if things were different? Aiba was already tired of this.
“My sun, my only sun…” he heard Nino chant crazily. “I’ll protect you from all of them. You will always be mine.”
For a moment, he did not know what to do or what to think. Aiba was just confused.
“You are surrounded by these people who only push you around, who only played with you because you’re weak!”
“No,” he whispered. He reached out for a nearby vase and raised it behind Nino’s head. “I won’t let you or anyone else play with my life.” He broke the said vase on Nino’s head, causing him to fall. Aiba stood up and limped away.
“No!” Nino screamed, pulling on the model’s leg. Aiba tried to wriggle free. He quickly walked as fast as he could towards the door. He gripped on the handle tight as Nino half-crawled towards him.
“Let go of me!”
“Never! I’ve waited long enough! You won’t be safe if you go back to them!”
Aiba turned the knob and tried to get away but Nino dragged him down. He frantically kicked the man to escape.
“I will never let you out!” Nino screamed like a madman, scaring Aiba more that he scratched on the surface of the door, trying to get to the knob. He used his remaining strength to kick his captor. Nino groaned in pain; his nose started to bleed.
“Please!” Aiba said, pulling the door open. He saw a large table and pushed it towards the door to at least slow down Nino if he attempts to catch up.
Aiba’s heart was beating too fast that he could not breathe. He did not know the place that much and his bleeding wound made him cold and dizzy. He found the fire exit and started to climb down with difficulty, hissing in pain when his skin scratched on the metal bars.
“Masaki! You can’t escape me!” he heard Nino’s singsong voice echoing in the dark. Aiba did his best to descend the fire exit as quiet as possible but he was too slow and his wounds were too painful.
“Somebody help me, please,” he whispered as he continued climbing down.
“Thought you can’t escape me?” he heard Nino’s voice from above. Aiba started to panic as he heard creaking on top of him; Nino would definitely catch him. He kept on climbing down. Aiba winced in pain when he finally landed. He did not have time to think of the pain on his leg and his fragile stab wound so he did his best to stand up.
He looked up and saw Nino taking his time in going down, like he was a playing cat and Aiba was the frantic mouse. The policeman was swinging a long length of chain that caused clanging sounds as it hit the metal bars.
Luckily, Aiba saw a large metal pole. He started hitting the last set of metal ladder to break it off. He caught sight of Nino, smiling at him, his eyes dark and scary and Aiba started running forward, feeling that his bones might crumble with more pressure. He started running through the parking lot filled with old and abandoned vehicles. The pain was unbearable; he decided to climb inside an old white van, closing the door as quietly as possible.
“Masaki…” he heard Nino’s voice. He covered his mouth to stifle his sobs. Aiba was shaking very badly due to loss of blood and fright. “There’s no need to hide from me. I will never hurt you. I will protect you.”
“Liar…” Aiba thought, letting tears stream down his face. He backed away from the door and crouched down, hugging his shoulders. “Someone please help me…”
“You know, I loved looking at you from afar, Masaki,” he heard Nino and those horrible chains banging against the gravel. “So beautiful, so perfect like the sun…” He laughed. “How does it feel that you’re watching me from afar?”
Aiba’s eyes widened as he heard a bang against the van where he was. He covered his mouth as he saw Nino trying to peer through the tinted glass, his crazy smile on his lips. “Please, please, please…”
Nino left the van but he continued calling out. “Masaki, I cannot play hide-and-seek with you the whole evening, you know?”
After a few more minutes, the sound of chains slowly faded away into silence. Aiba slowly sat up and looked around him. Nino was nowhere to be seen. He decided to get out and look for someone who could help him, anyone but Nino.
He slowly climbed down the old van and started to walk, his legs feeling numb and his wound still hurting.
“Ah, there you are, my little mouse…” he heard Nino’s voice.
In panic, Aiba started running as fast as he could, not looking at Nino who was chasing him. The sound of chains, which had warned him of Nino’s arrival, was already gone and Aiba was just running away blindly.
He ended up in a dead end street, a high wall that was impossible to climb in front of him. Once again, the sound of chains could be heard, giving Aiba a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
He crouched down the side of the wall as he heard the sound coming closer. But before he saw Nino coming at him, he heard a gunshot and the sound of police siren.
“Aiba-kun!” he heard an echo, making him look up from his position. He could make out the red-and-blue siren lights. He saw Ohno, his right arm still on a cast, followed by Toma.
“Ohno-kun! Ohno-kun!” he shouted, standing up and limping towards his saviors. Aiba cried buckets as his senior placed his arms around him, carrying the entire weight of his tired legs. He could see a medical team pushing a stretcher towards the other way and saw Nino’s unconscious face.
“It was Ninomiya-san!” He made incoherent sounds as he cried. “I thought… I thought… I’m so sorry… I won’t…”
“Stop talking, Aiba-kun,” Ohno said, rubbing the man’s back. “You’re safe now. That’s the most important.”
“I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry…” Aiba repeated like a chant. His legs gave in. Luckily, Ohno caught him. Another medical team came rushing towards them.
“Aiba-kun…!” he shouted. “Hang in there!”
“Thank you, Ohno-kun,” Aiba breathed out before he closed his eyes. For the first time since the first mail with the sunflower arrived, he felt calm. He felt Ohno’s warm hands around him and Aiba knew he would be safe.
Chapter 17: Epilogue
One of the directors of Five Spring Agency, Sakurai Sho, has been arrested after sexual assault against the agency's top model, Aiba Masaki.
It has been then revealed that the director, who also works as Aiba’s producer and manager, has been overworking the talent throughout the years. Interviews and reports have also revealed that Aiba was constantly in the hospital due to fatigue, and mental and emotional distress due to the workload.
Additional to the usual distress, the police has just informed that Aiba was also stabbed by colleague Matsumoto Jun and was being stalked in the past few weeks. The details of the stalking incident has been withheld by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
The model will be on hiatus until full recovery.
Aiba waited outside the prison building. He watched as the guards perform a final body check on Ohno before he was released at the gates.
“Welcome back, Ohno-kun,” Aiba said with a small smile.
“Thank you for coming here. You should not have,” he replied.
“I’m sorry you had to go through this,” the model said, walking with him towards the car.
Ohno shook his head. “I did something unforgivable to you. I have to pay for my sins. Even if you say you forgive me, I will never forgive myself if I don’t get punished.” He faced Aiba and grabbed his hand. “I want to prove that I really love you and I sincerely want you to trust me.” He gave a small squeeze. “You’ve been through a lot.”
Aiba nodded. “In a way, Ninomiya-san is right. I should be strong. I should not depend on anyone fully.”
Ohno nodded. “But I wished he had stopped me that day,” he said thoughtfully. “I was so blinded by my desire…”
“It’s interesting, isn’t it?” Aiba interrupted, “how we act illogical and even violent because of the person we love?”
Ohno looked at the ground and smiled a bit. “I think it is. Ninomiya-san was probably more sane than I was back then. He would have protected you against me, against all of us.”
“It’s 7 years late already but…” he paused, “this was supposed to be Ohno-kun’s gift for your graduation.”
Jun looked at the sketch that was somehow with faded colors. It was his topless portrait, holding a bunch of roses. It was the draft of the painting that he had destroyed.
“He could not finish my portraits because he was too busy doing yours.” Aiba looked at the sketch thoughtfully. “I… I am sorry, Matsumoto-kun.”
“Why are you saying sorry?”
“I was so jealous of Ohno-kun painting you the same way he painted me that I destroyed his painting of you. It was as if he had forgotten about me,” Aiba said in a small voice.
Jun smiled a little. “Ohno-kun is… an eccentric individual. He may not look like it but he is obsessed with beauty and perfection. He would want to touch beauty if it’s tangible. I had… I had wanted him to consider me but I was not as perfect as you are.”
“No, it’s definitely not like that,” Aiba replied, shaking his head.
“I had always wanted to beat you ever since,” Jun said guiltily. “Maybe if I become the better model, I could be at par with Ohno-kun’s standards.” He placed his hands up in surrender with a small smile pasted on his face. “But you’ve won against me, Aiba-kun. You got Ohno’s heart…”
“I have always told you, I am not competing against you.”
“I’m sorry I stabbed you,” Jun said, hanging his head low. “I’m sorry I played tricks on you.”
“I forgive you.”
Jun smiled as he looked at his hands on the table. “Ohno-kun really deserves someone like you.”
Aiba only shook his head. “I’m sorry…”
“No need to feel sorry about anything,” Jun said. “In the end, I’m still learning from you.” He looked at the sketch. “Please let me keep this sketch as a reminder of the only time I got to be near Ohno-kun.”
Aiba watched as the man I the garden hummed to himself. He was watering his plants; there were early signs of blossoms on the top of the stalks.
“How is he?” he asked the doctor.
“His body is recovering from his injuries but his head…” The doctor sighed as he looked outside the window, cocking his head towards the only person who was busy tilling the plants. “Sometimes, he remembers who he really is but most of the time, he is like that. It’s as if he’s stuck in a certain time of his life.”
“A certain time?”
The doctor nodded. “He would wake up in the middle of the night, shouting for you, telling us that he needed to get out to follow you and save you from someone… I think he said Ohno Satoshi?”
The model looked at the doctor, surprised. “I’ll go talk to him,” Aiba said with a determined nod. He opened the glass door and walked through the garden. In a way, he felt sympathy towards Nino. Even in his own sick mind, he still thought of saving Aiba in the past. “Why did it have to end like this?” he asked himself as he stopped behind Nino, who looked busy as he hummed a tune.
“You know, sunflowers always look at the direction of the sun,” Nino said as he continued patting the damp soil. He must have sensed that someone was behind him. “I have to make sure that they’re all up and pretty by Aiba-senpai’s graduation day.”
“I think they’re already very beautiful,” Aiba replied.
Nino immediately looked behind him. “Aiba-senpai!” he said, standing up and wiping his dirty hands on his jumpsuit.
“Senpai?” Aiba repeated, confused on how Nino addressed him.
“It’s the first time you talked to me here in the fields,” Nino said excitedly. “I see you visit sometimes but… but it’s the first time we actually talked.”
Aiba realized that Nino was talking about the university garden. “You… you take care of the sunflower greenhouse?”
Nino beamed. “Yes!” he said. “Do you like sunflowers?”
“I… I used to love sunflowers, Ninomiya-san,” he replied in a small voice. After all, his past and its association with sunflowers still haunted him.
Nino looked at him in disbelief. “You know my name?” It was as if Nino did not remember everything that he did.
“Yes,” Aiba said with a nod. “You gave me sunflowers before, right? On my graduation?” He looked at Nino, who smiled at him nicely. Aiba suddenly felt guilty. Had he brought this suffering to Nino himself? Was he as horrible as the ones around him? Did he somehow betray Nino by not noticing him at all?
Nino’s smiling face slowly faded. His eyes searched the small field and he crouched down, cut a stalk of sunflower, and handed it to Aiba.
“Thank you…” he said, looking at the bright yellow flower.
“Aiba-senpai,” Nino started. “You know, I have always thought that maybe I’m like this sunflower.”
“Why?” Aiba asked.
Nino’s face broke into a wide smile. Aiba looked into Nino’s eyes and saw the darkness that reminded him of that day. He wanted to run away at that instant but his legs were uncooperative, rooted on the ground.
“Because I’m always watching you, Masaki. Always.”