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No. 5

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A spotlight dimly lit the stage on which a tall figure stood, gracefully leaning into the curvature of the harp that was being played. However, the silver-haired man performing didn’t need light, or even sheet music, to pluck the tune he’d written and carefully memorized. The callouses on his right hand showed the effort he put into his hobby-turned-part-time-job. The man, named Light Field, had recently gained quite the following after his sister had uploaded videos of him practicing to the internet. He couldn’t easily filter what she did online due to his disability, but he trusted her—and now he could fill a café with strangers, who’d sometimes travel long distances, to witness the blind harpist perform.

Clover, Light’s sister, would typically escort him and negotiate with the café or bar owners. He was the only person who knew that she was away on a training mission issued by the SOIS that didn’t involve him. He did often worry about her safety after the grief they’d been put through by participating in the Nonary Games twice, but he tried to be at peace, knowing the importance of their roles in the SOIS. All that mattered right now was focusing on his performance, pretending he was living a normal life after they’d escaped the irritating, constant presence of the bodyguards their parents had forced upon them. He could protect her, and one way was to trust her judgement.

Light’s fingers seemed to dance from string to string, the vibrations of the previously struck strings disturbing the air around his hands. His disheveled hair, which had grown out a few inches and been tied into a small pony tail with a ribbon, shaded his closed eyes, strands glinting in the light as he slowly rocked with the rhythm. The song he played was melancholic and a bit unusual, with warm and hopeful notes that shone through after the main melody passed. His tempo quickened but he skillfully navigated the strings. Those who were close enough would be able to notice the glint of sweat on the bridge of his nose as the song reached a dramatic false end, a gentle trickle of notes following as the true end.

The corner of the bar that hosted the small stage and spotlight was silent for a solid minute before avid applause took over. Light stood and bowed, smiling gratefully at his audience. The song’s name was Five. One would think it to be the fifth song in this set, but it was the first that he had been compelled to write. He never explained the meanings behind his compositions to Clover, but he could tell that she understood. Anyone who had been through what they’d been through would understand. However, he quietly held this song the closest, and it was usually the finale at his shows. It made him fondly remember a feeling he’d deemed unrequited. It was surely for the best, but the person in question had quite literally saved his life. More importantly, his sister’s life. It was likely just overwhelming gratitude that gave him the warmth he felt when he played it.

It had been 7 months since they’d escaped from Building Q and drove through the Nevada desert. It had been 6 months since the SOIS and Seven, the detective who had never revealed his true name, had convinced the Field siblings to join their cause. The mysterious agent that Clover had agreed to pick up ended up as her closest friend and the only visitor to their 3-bedroom loft apartment. Light found that he’d acclimated to life after their relocation to California, but there were still many questions left unanswered. Otherworldly phenomena and theories burdened him, unfruitful, despite the tireless hours of research and inquisition made possible with cutting edge audio transcription software, his own first-hand experiences, and through glimpses of Clover’s mind thanks to the surreal connection they shared. He wanted to be content, but there was an unsettling loneliness and fear of the unknown that followed him like a dense fog since that day. Perhaps he should admit his anxieties and seek medication, but the thought made him feel somewhat defeated. Music, the ability to create something out of nothing, was his preferred form of meditation, and he could tap into his trauma as a morbid source of inspiration. And who could tell what another iteration of himself was doing? He was here, right now, walking off the stage of a mildly pretentious artsy bar.

Light made his way around the guests who had dispersed, their movements unpredictable as they bounced around the room like electrons, gently chattering as they moved on with their lives, with some sitting down at the bar and others walking directly for the exit. Before he could retreat to the back room to recuperate and collect his belongings, he was halted by a tap on his shoulder. He turned around as if to look towards the owner of the hand and furrowed his brows. The idea of fans… it was something to get used to, and he wasn’t particularly shy about his boundaries.

“Excuse me. I’m assuming no one ever taught you about the concept of personal space. I may be blind, but my eardrums are perfectly functional.”

The recipient of the snide remark hesitated for a moment, followed by a laugh.

“You haven’t changed much, Snake.” The man’s voice held an obvious Japanese accent, but it was easily recognizable to Light’s trained ears.

“Wait, shit… I—I mean, Light. I’ll have to get used to that…”

“…Junpei?”

“Don’t wear it out.” Junpei Tenmyouji’s hand reached for the back of his neck, which was partially covered by the loose curls of his brown hair and the collar of the leather bomber jacket he was wearing. The Japanese man didn’t particularly stand out in a place like California, particularly because of how dark and sleek his current clothes were.

Of course, Light couldn’t see the bags under his eyes, or the new scars that blemished his body and hands. There was probably hints of someone else’s blood trapped underneath his fingernails, despite his best efforts to scrub them clean. The boy in the bright clothes with the sparkle in his eye was gone, but today, Junpei’s expression was particularly soft.

Regardless, it was still a shock that such a person had ended up in such a place without any notice. So much so that Light’s heart had skipped a beat when he recognized him and attempted to organize his thoughts, and he almost regretted his rudeness. Almost. Junpei had already seen what his temperament was like, so there was no need for any formalities or disenchantment.

“Good heavens. May I ask why I’ve been graced with your presence, in the middle of my worknight, no less?” Light inquired.

“You have Clover to thank for that. I have some things I want to ask you about.”

“Ah, of course you do. After all, I am a beacon of knowledge.” he responded, a tired sarcasm in his voice. “I’ll meet you at the bar once I’m ready, if you can wait that long.”

 

 ---

 

Junpei found himself sitting at the furthest barstool in the row, his jacket now hung up on a hook underneath the bar. He was supposed to be “on vacation”, although his mind was never cleanly separated from his work nowadays.

“Whiskey, neat, please. Thank you,”

The bartender nodded and proceeded to fulfill his order. The first glass was nearly empty by the time Light had sat down with him, and Junpei barely seemed buzzed.

“Gin and tonic would be much appreciated, thanks,” a voice behind him said. Junpei’s head turned to him and he smiled, even though the gesture wouldn’t mean much.

“So… how are you holding up, Sn—I mean, Light?” he said, quickly correcting himself. “How’s Clover? I could only get ahold of her long enough for her to tell me to find you… here. You’ve got a pretty sweet gig here, huh…”

“That’s right, Clover’s preoccupied right now. She’s contentedly a waitress. Ah, right, you wouldn’t know—we haven’t heard from you since we last exchanged information that night in Nevada. I’m more curious about what you’ve been up to all this time.”

A waitress. That felt too… mundane, especially for these two, Junpei thought to himself. “And you play that tall thing? For a living? Ah, fuck, what’s the English word—” he said, leaning his cheek into his hand.

“Yes, very observant, Junpei. The harp is a beautiful instrument that I’m fortunate to be able to still play.” Light explained.

“Aha! The harp. I swear, man, you could just give me a minute and I can prove I’m not a dumbass,” Junpei said, defeatedly slumping into his seat.

“It’s perfectly fine. You’re not as stupid as I could be insinuating right now.”

“Gee, thanks. I appreciate that. I guess.”

“No, please, take it as a compliment. I haven’t forgotten about your excellent sudoku skills that lead to us being alive today.”

Silence, and the swirling of liquid in a glass ensued.

“…Although I’ve enjoyed hearing your voice again, I’m aware that you didn’t come to ask about how I’ve been managing. How has your quest to find Miss Kurashiki been so far?”

Right to the point. But Junpei knew that Light wasn’t the type to share unless he absolutely felt the need to. He was prepared to play 20 questions with him, but maybe they could have just acted like they were two friends catching up for a little while longer.

Junpei sighed.

“Pretty shitty, actually. She… she just disappeared into thin air. Or so it seems. Just like when we were kids…”

He took another swig from his glass and stared off. His head throbbed thinking back on it, but it might have been the alcohol. It was easy for him to get carried away, feeling much worse by the time he slipped into unconsciousness each night. The bitter taste on his tongue didn’t faze him anymore. At this point he could down straight vodka without gagging. Light listened patiently.

“You have that skill too. Do you… ever catch glimpses of things when Clover’s in danger? I haven’t heard, or seen, a single thing from Akane. Was she even ever there? I know there had to have been another car that left before we did, but… I just don’t know any more.”

Has it been worth it, chasing after my feelings? That’s what he wanted to say. But he wasn’t intentionally trying to be depressing.

“Yes, I do. But to tell you the truth, I’ve chosen to remain in danger. I’ve already been through three too many incidents in my life, according to my parents. Whatever path you’ve chosen leads somewhere, and I can’t imagine you’d find Akane sitting around. I find it quite commendable.”

If it was danger they were talking about, Junpei had his dose on the daily. It was bullshit. He loathed himself for getting so frustrated, so mad at her, and then nothing. It was starting to feel numb. No one was there to help him. It was up to him to grasp at straws now. But there was no way in hell he was going to give up on finding her, making sure she was safe. Even if he felt this way, he knew if he saw her face again, he couldn’t stay mad. He just wanted… closure, if not to be by her side in this lifetime.

“Commendable? Ha…”

Junpei waved down the bartender to ask for another drink, Light hopping in as well. And in those few minutes, he realized.

“…If she’s not in danger, and I can’t see what she’s seen… she must be safe, right? She has to be.” If he told himself something enough, he hoped he’d believe it.

“That’s more like the Junpei I remember. I can’t confirm nor deny that, but I’m never not hopeful on your behalf.”

“Wait, what do you mean by that?”

“I’m just implying that we don’t know who could be listening.”

“Okay… so if this theoretical person we’re talking about were to hear, how could it negatively affect us?”

“Who knows. I do have a following, if you haven’t forgotten. And the morphogenetic field is a fickle thing, from my understanding of it. I don’t mean to discourage you, Junpei. Perhaps it’s a similar worry that she has. Have you considered that her actions are for your sake?”

“Haaa… bullshit…! My sake… I don’t even know what to say to that. What do you know about her? About me, and what I’ve been through? No one’s willing to talk, even if I pay them every cent I have, yet I’ve been left in the dark for too fucking long. You’re a hypocrite. I know you’re hiding things from me, too.” The rest of his drink was now gone, and his anger had transitioned into a hopeless mocking.

 “Ahhh, who cares if anyone hears? Akane Kurashiki? Whatever mythical organization I can’t get a lead on? It all sounds made-up, like make believe nonsense from a kid.”

Light couldn’t resist any longer. He reached over and placed his hand on Junpei’s upper back, where it rested for a moment, his thumb gently running over the cotton t-shirt fabric clinging to his skin. It was both self-indulgent and an attempt to ground his drunk companion. His fake hand was astoundingly real, down to the bumps of his knuckles and alcohol-induced warmth radiating from it.

“Junpei. You’ve put your heart and soul into your goals. It would be quite difficult for someone as important to you as Akane to not care deeply about you. We are barely more than strangers with history together and I cannot deny the fact that I care for you as well. Take that as you will.”

Junpei glanced over in confusion, a warmth spreading from his shoulder. How long had it been since he’d been touched with no ill intention? He didn’t realize how much he needed it. He was simply dumbfounded and afraid of the vulnerability now plainly visible on his face. As terrible as a sentiment as it was, he was grateful that the other could not see. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to speak, so he put his head in his hands.

 “And you may speak for yourself, but I would enjoy becoming less like strangers, if you allow it. I do not consider myself to be a particularly outwardly emotional person. Yet… I cannot tell you where I would be if Clover had not been with me all this time. You are not the only one who feels as if they were stuck in the past.”

Light didn’t mind the silence, but soon decided to remove his hand before it became awkward to continue. Maybe he was out of line with his advice.

Junpei immediately recognized its absence and found himself wishing it was still there.

“I’m sorry, Light. I didn’t mean to raise my voice at you. I’m sure it makes double the negative impression considering you can’t tell what a mess I look like right now.”

“You’ve yet to offend. In fact, your visit has brightened my night. Maybe it’ll make you feel better to know that I don’t have a lot of friends to share them with.”

“Wow… someone as charming as you? I never would have guessed. Y’know, I thought you were like… some kind of foreign prince when we first met on the stairs.” Junpei blurted out honestly.

Light thought back to it before bursting into laughter, not able to hide the light flush on his pale face. He’d been drinking, after all.

“A prince? I’m flattered. Clover picks most of my wardrobe in my place, actually. I do deeply regret the loss of that outfit…”

“I-is that weird--? I dunno… I thought you were cool, the way you just seemed to know what to do and say. And you towered over the rest of us, except for Ace and Seven. I’d like the height…”

“Hm? In what way?”

 “As in, to gain a few inches?”

 “My, my. You shouldn’t be ashamed. I’m sure a man as passionate as yourself would be able to satisfy without those few extra inches.”

“…Wait, what the hell are you talking about?!” Junpei’s face was very quickly a bright red.

 "Your height, obviously. What are you talking about?”

It was Light’s biggest weakness. It was masochistic, the way he taunted himself by riding a comfortable thin line between flirting and provocation. It was just too amusing to screw around with Junpei.

“Too cruel. Let me compliment you in peace.” He hissed and retreated to his drink.

“I do appreciate it.”

“No, seriously. I wasn’t planning on telling you this, but… I paid full admission to see your show, even though I only got to hear the last two songs. No wonder there was a crowd. I’d run out of tears after that first week free, but all of a sudden… damn.”

He couldn’t get the words out, but he was moved. Junpei wasn’t particularly musically inclined, and he’d only been to a symphony once in High School, but he knew good music when he heard it.

Light contemplated his course of action and went for it. It wasn’t fair for him to hold harmless secrets just out of sight when Junpei wore his heart on his sleeve.

“Goodness… how embarrassing. My muse walked in on a performance dedicated to them.” Light turned his head, a bit sheepish.

“You what now?”

“I’ve composed 9 songs, perhaps to process the events that transpired 7 months ago. Each one is about a different person, and it comes together as a collection. Maybe you’d enjoy listening to Six.”

“So… which song did you play last?”

“Five.”

“Five? Five…”

“…Yes, Junpei, the number following Four.”

In his mildly intoxicated state, Junpei furrowed his brows and tried to properly process the connection.

“Wow. Now I’m embarrassed.”

“As you often are, I’ve come to notice. It’s endearing.” Light smiled and traced the rim of his glass. Junpei cleared his throat.

“It was beautiful. And it made me tear up, dammit. How could you get something like that out of… me?!”

“Ah… don’t underestimate your beauty. Everything can be beautiful, even things morbid or distasteful. The haze of waking up after being drugged and stripped could be transcribed into notes as well, although it certainly wasn’t beautiful at the time. It was cramped in that casket, and the robes were a bit musty.”

Junpei tried not to focus too hard on the fact that he had called him beautiful, but he felt fuzzy in the head. The redness went to his ears and he slouched into himself against the bar. The smoothness of his words mixed with the smoothness of the whiskey was getting to him. Junpei, as a sarcastic asshole himself, could tell when Light was being genuine. He was reluctantly attention starved… that was it. Who wouldn’t be flustered over an attractive man verbally reassuring you, expressing interest in you as a person, and writing a fucking song about you, regardless of your gender?! It wasn’t even in his mind that there were 8 accompanying pieces, somewhat depersonalizing the gesture.

Light, on the other hand, was perfectly composed, much to Junpei’s dismay.

“Would you be willing to tell me the time, Junpei?”

Junpei fumbled with his most recent burner phone protruding from the pocket of his jeans. “No problem—it’s half after 9.” They’d been sitting around for about an hour at this point.

“Ah, I don’t mean to cut this short, but do you have a place to stay tonight? Perhaps you’d like to visit my humble living space, not decorated by yours truly. I did get to arrange my own furniture to be out of tibia-whacking range, though.”

He did, in fact, have his stuff at a shoddy motel nearby. His job made money, but not enough. Not enough to compensate for the sins he’d witnessed.

“Uh… are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure Clover would be happy to let you stay with us. She’s not actually here, though.”

Junpei swallowed. He’d much prefer sleeping in a couple doors away from someone he trusted over a room in a crusty motel that he would prefer to never see under a blacklight. And maybe Light would be more willing to speak openly about confidential information if they were in private. There was no reason to be shy, he decided, but he didn’t want to be a burden.

“Don’t worry about imposing. Like I said before, I rarely get visitors.” It was as if Light could read his mind. In reality, Junpei was just easy to read.

The need for justification was thrown out the window when Light hinted at his own loneliness. Regardless of how he held himself now, he couldn’t ignore his empathy.

“…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. I just need to check my stuff out of my motel room first.”

“Of course. I’m sorry to let you down, but I didn’t drive myself here. A taxi ride will have to suffice.”

“Oh, shit, I thought you arrived by horse-drawn carriage.” Junpei joked. He sighed and stretched his arms out before yanking his jacket back over them. “My hopes and dreams are crushed.”

“Ah, you’ll just have to find new ones.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Touché.”

 

--- 

 

The taxi ride was just as awkward as Junpei expected, yet somehow nostalgic. This time, they weren’t squished together in the back of an SUV. A teenage girl with little driving experience had been the driver, with a mom who was “too good to sit next to sweaty, unshowered men” riding shotgun. A mountain of a man would be taking up too much space on his other side, and they’d all be ignoring the human scum tied up in the back.

Instead, they sat on opposite sides of the backseat of a sedan, not speaking a word. Junpei stared out the window, and if he hadn’t known Light, he would have assumed the other man was sleeping. Or dead. His breathing was present if you paid close attention, although Junpei was definitely not trying to.

The trip to the motel was short, but waiting for their next destination felt like an eternity.

“Hey, um… I’ll pay you back for the taxi fare. I didn’t realize how expensive it’d be.” Junpei said after the taxi pulled away, leaving the two standing outside of a rather modern apartment building.

“If I had not taken you with me, I’d still be paying the fare to get home myself. You needn’t worry more than you already tend to do.” Light reassured.

Junpei knew that he wouldn’t be able to fight him about his hospitality, so he let him take the lead. Light and Clover’s shared apartment could be found at the top floor, overlooking the outskirts of the city. It was only then that Junpei realized that Light wasn’t carrying his harp, which he pointed out in the elevator. “A blind man lugging a large instrument home alone would be a recipe for a disaster, according to Clover. I think I could handle the weight alone. I don’t believe it would have fit into our taxi, anyway. It’s been taken care of.” He was impressed with the foresight that Light always seemed to carry, unlike himself. He’d wandered, unplanned, into an unfamiliar place when he intended to leave the next day. Junpei didn’t question any further.

“I’m home,” Light said into the unoccupied room as he walked in and promptly removed his shoes. Junpei had gotten used to wearing his shoes inside in America from time to time, but he followed suit and dropped his bags in the hallway. He flipped the light switch on, and the first thing he noticed was… many shades of pink, and a lot of animal print. “Yep, Clover definitely lives here,” he muttered under his breath.

“What was that, Junpei?” Light was occupied with arranging his study into a room suitable for guests, first by pulling clean sheets down from a hallway closet.

“Are you aware that your kitchen knife set is covered in…. Sanrio characters? Like, y’know… Hello Kitty? Keroppi?”

“Hm. Thank you for enlightening me. However, I don’t believe the patterning has ever impaired my cooking, so I couldn’t care less.”

“You just don’t give a shit, man.” Junpei said, a bit amazedly.

With Light’s permission, he wandered down the hall, turning on the lights as he went, and ended up in what looked like a living room. It was your standard western household, but something was off. The furniture ranged from elaborate and expensive to something you’d find in a grade schooler’s bedroom. There was a plush sheep sitting on top of a Victorian style sofa. An engraved mahogany bookshelf was occupied entirely by manga, light novels, and a few worn out books and encyclopedias. A locked safe sat next to the fireplace, which looked as if it hadn’t been lit or poked at a while.

“Please, don’t concern yourself with or bother attempting to crack the safe. It’s just a decoy. Can’t risk having a petty theft walk away with confidential documents or mementos.” Light’s voice could be heard from down the opposite hall that lead to the bedrooms.

Junpei frowned. He considered himself pretty good at randomly guessing, and sometimes deducing, the solutions to puzzles, but he wouldn’t just pry in someone else’s home. He was even better than he was 7 months ago. Seeing a safe in the open like that gave him an uncomfortable feeling, anyway.

Left to his own devices, he scanned the room. His eyes landed on a set of framed photos. An older couple, a birthday party, two children in a field of sunflowers… both with silver hair. Holy shit, he thought to himself. It was obvious to him that Clover dyed her hair, but she’d probably kill him with a big Hello Kitty knife if he were to bring it up. The most notable detail was Light’s open eyes, gazing at the camera. He stared at the image, wondering what it would have been like if they’d met at that age. Junpei was a few years Light’s underclassman, too. Would they have been friends…?

Feeling antsy waiting around alone, Junpei walked in the direction from which he heard Light’s voice last.

“Light? Where are you?”

He knocked on a slightly opened door at the end of the hall, which was enough to push it open.

“Come in,”

The room was dark. Feeling around on the wall, he soon found the light switch. When he could see, he noticed Light standing by a wardrobe, the tie and vest he was wearing at the bar removed. He’d just undone the top of his dress shirt, and the bottom had already been untucked. Junpei wasn’t sure why he was shocked to see him living in the dark, but he stumbled into the room.

Just as he’d understood before, there wasn’t much tact or meaning to the decoration in the room. A large, neatly made bed sat in the middle of what was likely the master bedroom, and an upright piano sat against the wall. A coffee table and a few comfortable-looking seats were pushed up against the window. God, did Junpei enjoy some comfy seating. A book covered in tiny, organized indents laid open, a pressed and laminated 4 leaf clover placed between the pages to catch his place if the book were to be shut accidentally. Mounted on the wall, a bookshelf held stacks of folders and similar books to the one sitting on the table, readable only by those who could read such a language. Several book spines held familiar Japanese characters. A door towards the other end of the room lead to a dark bathroom. It was certainly what Junpei was expecting of Light, compared to the rest of the apartment.

“Pardon my intrusion,”

“You are as welcome here as you wish to be,” Light said in response after a laugh.

Light, now sitting on the bed, gestured for Junpei to sit in one of the chairs.

“I’ve been thinking of what you said earlier at the bar. About being a hypocrite. But, my worries do hold water…” He started, eyebrows raised in concern.

“Clover and I, as you suspected, were unable to live out normal lives like we’d hoped to. I’m sure you haven’t heard of the Special Office of Internal Security, unless your research has led you to the right place.”

“Special Office… of Internal Security?”

“Yes. You are now one of the only non-members on this planet who know of the name.”

Junpei shifted to the edge of his seat, as if to not miss anything. “Why do you suddenly trust me enough to tell me this?”

“Because I believe you deserve to know, and that you’ll use this information appropriately.”

Junpei looked down at the table silently, remembering everything that lead up to this.

“Our main goal is to prevent national disaster due to terrorist groups, investigate potentially dangerous and powerful religious groups, etcetera. Nothing short of your typical action movie plot. Using the research obtained upon investigation of Cradle Pharmaceutical’s CEO, we were the ideal candidates to further it. I don’t like to play into the role as much as Clover does, as I prefer to do what I please. Seven, as you remember, reached out to us with a compelling argument to join. And of course, it involves our power to access the morphogenetic field.”

The other man let out a held breath. “And I’m guessing you know nothing of Akane’s whereabouts, if she’s not with your team.”

“Correct. I like to think that a confirmed null hypothesis is just as useful as a correct one. You now know some of what you don’t know… by process of elimination.”

“But what do you know?”

“Do you remember how I specified religious groups? I’m not a praying man, personally. However, the robes I exited Building Q wearing belonged to a particular group that I believe the Kurashiki siblings aimed to smite. Preparations to infiltrate this group, Free the Soul, have already begun on our side.”

“Then—then why am I here, searching for morsels of information like a hungry dog on the streets? Am I not as capable as the rest of you?” Junpei’s voice wavered, his fingers cold.

“I’m certain that’s not the case. Miss Kurashiki must have a plan, and perhaps you’re right where you’re supposed to be.”

“I’m sick of being a pawn…”

“Hmm? I don’t think a pawn would be able to make its own decisions like you have.”

“Smartass. It’s really not the time,”

Light faltered, exhaling and letting silence take over the room.

Junpei was grateful to have a new lead, but it was overshadowed by how aimless and alone he suddenly felt.

Eventually, Light spoke up. “You’re soon to return to your quest, I’m assuming?”

“I did drop out of school for this. I’m not about to give up now.”

“That’s the spirit. If I may pry, how have you been supporting yourself all this time?”

“First, it was savings. When that ran out, I squirmed my way into a detective agency with hopes I’d be able to get a lead on Akane. Naivety at its finest. The Ninth man’s body, among other things I remember happening to the others… to you… to me— is mild compared to what I’ve seen. I’m not saying that proudly,” Junpei explained, his expression cold.

Light knew that nothing he could say would be enough to apologize or console him over the trauma he must have experienced.

“I would offer to help support you and your goals if there wasn’t the potential of being considered patronizing. If you don’t already think that way of me, that is. Still, the offer is in the air, and I mean it.”

“What? I don’t think poorly of you, Light. But you really don’t have to do that. You’ve already done enough for me,” he replied, laughing grimly. “Something about you makes me want to spill my guts. What more could I ask for?”

“I didn’t know I possessed that kind of aura. I’ve been chastised for being unfiltered and vexatious in the past.” Light recalled. “Anyway, the obvious answer would be to see Miss Kurashiki, correct?”

“Obviously. But you can’t do that. I forgot how nice it feels to be listened to, which you do well.”

“It’s odd that you’ve turned to consoling me, despite the trials you’ve faced and just now admitted to experiencing. Have you noticed this before? You really ought to give yourself credit more often.”

It always came back to Junpei feeling like this with this guy. He’d get mad or frustrated at him, and he’d make him feel like a fool in return, but… it never felt mean-spirited. In fact, he’d always try to uplift him. He was too fucking nice, and Junpei didn’t know how to respond. He’d already given up on looking cool to him ages ago.

“Junpei. I have one request of you before you leave tomorrow.”

“W-what is it?” he replied, caught off-guard.

“I’ve always been curious… about your appearance. What you look like. I’d like to remember you by that, if you feel comfortable enough to, ah—”

“Let you touch me?” The words came to him without thinking.

“To put it bluntly, yes.”

“Are you that worried about me?”

“You did just express how dangerous your job was, and it doesn’t seem like you’ve been taking particularly good care of yourself…”

“I’m not just gonna die. I can visit you later. I’ll bring Akane, and Aoi, and we can meet up with you and Clover.” Junpei smirked, although he felt called out for his self-care tendencies.

Light, on the other hand, looked more concerned than amused.

“W-well, I’ll start out with this. My hair is brown… a little wavy… and my eyes are… also brown… I probably sound super unremarkable, fuck,”

“Oh, not at all. You share that trait with a large portion of the population, and they all have their own merits.”

Junpei didn’t respond, instead moving over to the bed next to him. Light felt the weight of the bed shift, turning his body to the presence. Hesitantly, he leaned over and picked up what he remembered to be Light’s real hand, which was larger and paler than his own. Light's hand flinched when their skin met.

Before Junpei could guide him, Light’s hand had already found its way, flush against his cheek. The warmth and pressure against his face was unfamiliar, and he was suddenly self-conscious about how sunken in his face had become. His heartbeat had quickened in his chest without his consent. Light gently slid his palm over until he reached his straight yet ever-so-slightly bumped nose. Inadvertently, his thumb grazed his parted lips, stirring up something inside of him. He thought back to how he felt earlier that night, although he’d been much less sober then. Light’s hand was a little sweaty, but he didn’t think much of it.

Light’s fingertips traveled over his browbone and forehead, soon lightly passing over his eyelashes and back down to his cheekbone. Before he could pull away, Junpei cupped Light’s hand closer to his face, now tight as a tear wet his cheek.

He didn’t want to cry, but his body was acting on its own. His chest jolted as he tried to maintain his breath and not sob.

“Junpei…”

Light’s hand shifted to wipe the tear away from his cheek. His fingertips were rough and hands bony, but the feeling was heavenly. They sat like this for a few minutes before Light brushed Junpei’s hair out of his face, allowing his tears to dry and for his sympathetic nervous system to calm down.

Despite his demeanor, Light was quietly, guiltily, a mess. He knew he shouldn’t. There was someone the other was waiting for. There were plenty of reasons why he may be reacting to Light’s advances the way he had. There was a fine line that he musn’t cross, but he would allow himself to waltz around it.

However, Junpei wasn’t, nor has he never been, on the same page. He didn’t even know how to waltz. All he knew was charging into things head-on. Staring at Light’s face up close, his eyes scanned his features to deduce what the other might be feeling.

Their lips softly collided before he could think about it long enough regret the decision.

Light immediately froze before coming to the realization that the soft, warm sensation that had followed an increase of air tension near his face was due to Junpei. His mind went blissfully blank and he leaned forward into the kiss, his hand feeling around for Junpei’s neck, his fingers spreading through his surprisingly soft mess of hair as he pushed their faces closer.

“Mnmh…” Junpei tilted his head, beckoning Light’s tongue to meet his own for the first time. Before he could get carried away, Light pulled away and gasped for breath. His hand retreated to his own face, which was now covering his mouth, still shocked at what was transpiring and what he’d allowed himself to do.

“I-I’m deeply sorry… I shouldn’t indulge in my own selfish desires while you’re at a moment of vulnerability…” His expression finally reflected how he felt, which pleased Junpei. It wasn’t often he’d be able to knock someone like Light down a notch, face red and unguarded. Of course, his own voice was tired and eyes puffy from the tears shed, but they were at eye level. Finally, he understood what he wanted.

He wanted more.

“So… what is it? Your desires?”

“I’m shocked a detective like yourself hasn’t figured it out sooner.”

“It’d just… be nice to hear out loud.”

“Ah…” Light softened. “I’ve never been skilled at addressing matters of the heart. Please… bear with me." 

Junpei edged closer, and Light held his ground, his breath bated. It was the first taste of control he’d felt in a while. Closing the gap, he wrapped his arms under Light’s arms, tucking his head against his chest. Suddenly, his heartbeat was apparent and loud. Two arms reached around and returned the hug, one hand rubbing his back comfortingly. Junpei didn’t want to let go, but there were other things he was coming to realize about himself. The tightness in his pants—and the hot haziness in his head— was becoming impossible to ignore, and he had the feeling it would be reciprocated.

Lifting his head and releasing his arms, Junpei rested his forehead against Light’s, letting his hand settle on his lower chest. He pushed the taller man forward onto the bed and crawled into his lap to straddle him. Light propped himself up with his elbows, position compromised by the other on top of him. His eyes flitted open, revealing pale, cloudy blue irises gazing at him, complimenting the flustered expression he bared.

“After all of my training, I remember quite a few iterations of what happened during the second Nonary game…”

Confused, Junpei halted and allowed Light to speak.

“To be honest... I feel like I’ve met you dozens of times. A vague feeling of epiphany when I was composing your piece, Five, left me feeling stunned. I remember how passionately you wanted to protect me, running headfirst into danger to risk your life despite the futility of our actions… and regardless of how tragic, how awful it was, and how brief our encounters were… "

Light’s lips formed a small smile. Junpei’s eyes widened.

“I think I’d fallen for you.”

In that moment, Junpei felt his heart nearly burst. He’d always been the sentimental type.

All he wanted to do now was to get as close as physically possible to Light, feverishly kissing and nipping at the pale, blank canvas of neck.

His fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, soon revealing his bare chest. He was unconventional and lean, his collarbone and ribs clearly visible when exposed. Large, faded scars branched out across his chest and up to his covered left arm, which Junpei knew must have been due to the same accident that caused the loss of his arm. Light’s back had fallen against the bed, freeing his arms and allowing him to grab Junpei’s hip with one hand and undo his belt and zipper with the other.

Light wholeheartedly planned to allow Junpei to do what he wanted to him. Simply the sentiment of Junpei wanting to explore his body had him painfully hard beneath him. Its shape and warmth were now apparent to Junpei, compelling him to move his hips to create a euphoric friction that had Light struggling to contain his voice.

“Nn—hhaa…“

It was clearly embarrassing for him, as he had clenched his eyes shut again and turned his head in an attempt to hide his face. Junpei was riding a high. It hadn’t occurred to him until now how prominent Light’s sense of touch must be. Still, he didn’t slow his pace as he arched his back and rocked against him, enjoying the feeling and thought of his dick rubbing against Light’s through nothing more than a few layers of fabric.

When Light couldn’t take any more, he resisted and pushed Junpei back with surprising strength. He grabbed his wrist and pulled him forward to meet his lips, unrestrainedly feeling over them and gently biting his lower lip before greedily coming back for the taste of his tongue. Their shared fervor was rhythmic yet uncalculated, clumsy yet just right.

Once he’d had his fill, Light rested his head in the crook of Junpei’s neck. He outstretched his hand against his chest, feeling over the fabric of his shirt until he felt his chest jolt beneath him, shocked at sensation of his finger suddenly flicking over his nipple. The sharp exhale and moan that he let out, surprising even Junpei himself, encouraged Light to pull his shirt up, which Junpei held up between clenched teeth. His body was much tanner and filled-in yet defined. Light’s tongue found Junpei’s now-hard left nipple, the circling, teasing motion creating a pleasurable electricity that he never knew was possible from such an area. While his mouth was busy, his hand took its time taking in the shape of Junpei’s body, starting with his chest and facets of his toned torso. He wanted to remember how he felt. The arms holding Junpei up were shaky and his eyes were closed tightly as he tried to understand how Light might be feeling. When he reached his hips, he was stopped by the elastic waistband of his boxers. This was quickly remedied by entirely not caring and beginning to disrobe Junpei by slipping his fingers underneath the band and yanking down.

Junpei’s eyes snapped open as the cool air reached his now-exposed erection.  When had his zipper come undone…?

“H-h-hey! W-wait a minute—” he blurted out in Japanese, his shirt sliding half-way down.

“Is… is something wrong?” Light responded, sitting up and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. It gave him a moment to catch his breath, at least.

“It’s unfair to make me do it alone, okay?!” Junpei knew he couldn’t see it until he physically touched it, but he was self-conscious.

“A-ah… that’s all? Well—if you insist… please touch me, Junpei.” Light replied.

Junpei’s face couldn’t possibly get any redder.

Adjusting to straddle each other again, they both sat up close enough to feel the other’s breath. Junpei swiftly unbuttoned and unzipped Light’s dress pants. However, what was underneath was exposed skin.

Light… didn’t wear underwear.

The information pieced together in Junpei’s brain in such a mind-blowing way that the epiphany could easily have been transmitted through the morphogenetic field, confusing the fuck out of whatever alternate version of him or some other unfortunate recipient were to receive it. 

“I… I guess that’s one less step…” Junpei mumbled. Tugging the waistband and zipper opening to match his own, he let Light’s dick out. Hesitantly, he took it in his hand and held it to his own, lightly throbbing and hot against his fingertips as it finally received a hint of stimulation. As he expected, Light’s was considerably larger than his own, the tip probably the warmest tone on his body. It looked oddly pristine and enticing, surprisingly so to someone who hadn’t realized how much he wanted to feel and taste one until recently. His own was straighter and slightly thicker, his dark hair contrasting more against his skin than Light’s wispier silvery hair. Light quickly joined in by holding Junpei’s hand from the other side, encouraging him to stroke each other at the same time.

Their body heat became one as they alternated from stroking each other’s dicks, paying attention to how the other reacted to adjust their movements. The urge to climax was overshadowed by not wanting to stop the white-hot feeling they were achieving. Precum dripped from Light’s tip, spread out by the motion of their hands. It was slightly mortifying to have his own fluids touch the man he’d been longing for all this time, but Junpei became ravenous. Light bit his lip in ecstasy as Junpei desperately began thrusting his hips closer to slide his dick directly against his. It was too much to hold back any longer. The hot buildup of tension in Light’s lower torso had his thighs taut. “J-junpei….” He exhaled. His eyes flickered open when he came, his dick twitching as it became slick with the fluid that came hard out of its tip, a bit landing on Junpei’s arm and jeans. “A-ah—hhm…”  His breath attempted to catch up with him as a contentedly tired feeling took over, but he wanted nothing more than for Junpei to climax with him.

Light had cum before Junpei, because of Junpei, and that was enough for him. It was a self-esteem boost more than any whispers of encouragement he’d given to him that night. Light had begun to focus on stroking Junpei’s still-hard dick with both hands, his thumb rolling over the tip as he felt over every millimeter with a rhythm only achievable by a seasoned musician. It didn’t take him long to reach his peak.

“F—fnngh… Ffuck--!” Junpei audibly whimpered and tilted his head back as he messied his hand in long spurts, less eloquently than the other had been. Light relished the pulsing feeling between his fingers before holding their dicks together firmly in his hand. He leaned in for a lazier, fluid kiss to express what he couldn’t with words. Junpei eventually rested his face on his collarbone, and they stayed like this for as long as he was able to tolerate the feeling of sticky uncleanness that had cooled down.

“…I, ah, believe there are tissues on my side table, although I cannot be for certain.”

“Y-yep, they’re there,” Junpei said, crawling to the other side of the bed and grabbing a handful to share. “Here…”

“Thank you…”

A quiet awkwardness filled the room as they cleaned the mix of their semen from their hands and bodies. Both seemed to be in disbelief of what had just come to fruition, making it difficult to return to mundanity. Their clothes were both dirty, but Junpei zipped up his pants and crawled into bed next to a surprised Light.

“Can I…” he started.

“Whatever it is, you may. I can’t believe you’d feel the need to ask after defiling me so.” Light interrupted.

Junpei smirked. “I’m sleeping in here tonight,”

Light smiled and nodded. 

 

---

 

After the two of them had both properly discarded their dirty clothes and performed their nighttime rituals, they both crawled into bed.

“I don’t typically wear clothes to sleep, but I decided to wear something to spare you the embarrassment.” Light now wore an unusually simple set of black pajamas. His loose collar revealed stains of deep red that Junpei had left on his neck. Junpei felt somewhat proud to have marked his pale skin up.

“How am I not surprised? I can’t fucking believe you don’t wear underwear, oh my God…” Junpei couldn’t contain his laughter, his eyes watering. “Is it like, a European thing?”

“Hmm… I’ve never thought too much of it. I can’t be sure if Clover still does, now that she’s a young adult, but our family has never worn undergarments.”

Junpei’s laughter immediately stopped and his face turned stony. “The skirts she wears… I worry for you two, Light.”

Light didn’t respond, so Junpei drew closer and lifted his arm to slip it around him. The loneliness that Light had been feeling since he first moved in had dissipated, although new anxieties clouded his rationality. Despite this, in this moment, he was blissfully content.

Junpei cleared his throat. “So… was it… good?”

“Can you elaborate?”

“No way… don’t make me say it.”

Light was the one laughing pleasantly this time. “I find you exceptionally attractive, both physically and mentally, Junpei. I now know this for sure.”

Junpei’s face began to get warm again.

“…What does that make us?”

Light fell silent. Eventually, Junpei spoke up.

“Do… do you want to maybe…” he said, struggling to verbalize the words racing through his mind. “…date me?”

“…What would become of your relationship with Miss Kurashiki?” What had been unaddressed had finally been spoken out loud, although it made Light feel pitiful. He was reluctant to display any weakness, but he needed to know before moving forward.

“I’m not going to give up on finding her, obviously. I now realize what I need to do, what pace I need to take. But…” he paused. “I don’t think I’ve actually felt that way about her in a while. She was my childhood crush, yes, but I… don’t think we were meant to be together. I just need to know she’s okay.” It was the first time Junpei had properly confronted how he felt about Akane. It was cathartic, in a way.

“…Very well. I intend to support you in any way possible, but I’m sure I don’t need to convince you any further. Just don’t forget that you have people to come to if the need arises.”

“I won’t. Even if I don’t particularly care about what happens to me at this point… I wouldn’t want to worry you.” Light rubbed Junpei’s shoulder idly with his hand as he spoke.

“H-hey…”

“What is it, Junpei?”

“I like you, Light. This is a confession, okay? Okay…” he blurted out. It was more like he was solidifying what he was feeling out loud than trying to explain it to Light, who already understood. Even though they’d just jerked off onto each other, he still needed to say it, especially after what Light had pulled earlier.

Light softly laughed. “I’ve only dreamed of hearing you say that. I accept, of course. Please, take care of me, and I promise to return the favor.”

“A-ah… um, thank you…”

“No, thank you. Good night, Junpei…”

The two got quiet again as they allowed sleep to take over. For Junpei, it was the first time he’d slept peacefully in months.

 

 

---

 

When the sun shone past the blinds, Junpei finally woke up. Confusion and anxiety hit before he remembered where he was, and he couldn’t believe he’d slept so long. It had to have been at least 10 AM. He did wake up later than this occasionally—but only when he’d made it to a bed a few hours prior.

 “Mmmmhhn.….” He groaned and rolled out of bed and ran his hand through his slept-on hair.

The room was lit without needing to flip the light switch on, reminding him of what had happened last night. The embarrassment that rushed back to him made him mindlessly groan more.

The doorknob turned and a freshly showered and fully-dressed Light Field walked in. “Good morning, Junpei-kun.” Light said. It took the other a few moments to realize that he was speaking Japanese. “Maybe I should drop the honorific.”

“You can just speak English, you know. I’m fluent.”

“Am I not allowed to, as Clover likes to say, flex?” he asked, returning to English.

“Stop. Please, God.”

Light chuckled as he walked over to where he approximated his voice came from.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah, surprisingly. I normally can’t sleep for longer than 4 hours straight without waking up feeling like shit.”

Light frowned and set his hand on Junpei’s head. The shorter of the two only stood as tall as the other’s throat, and it was particularly noticeable now that they were both standing up.

“I understand. Due to your current occupation, correct? I imagine it’s quite unforgiving.”

“Yeah… I… should probably quit, shouldn’t I? I’m not ready to work a shitty part-time job again, though. I’ll figure something out, I always do.” He had a lot of things he'd repressed that he wanted to puke out. He wanted to forget what he'd seen, interrupted, and nearly died over, but it wasn't that simple. It wasn't the time or place to do so. He had a feeling Light have him when he finally did come around, though.

“Hm… I wish it wasn’t too soon in our relationship for me to ask you to cohabitate with me.” Light thought out loud.

The word “relationship” reminded him of the boundaries that had been lifted between them. He took a step forward and initiated embrace. “I wish I could, too. Don’t tempt me,” He admitted.

Light was used to being hugged, ruffling his younger sister’s hair as he did when she was small, but he could certainly get used to Junpei’s body pressed to his own. And he could easily see himself missing it, as well.

“…You’re pretty lanky, but I didn’t expect cuddling with a man to be so comfortable.”

“I enjoyed waking up to you drooling against my neck more than I should have. Did you ever expect to find yourself romantically involved with a man, Junpei?”

“I don’t know, did you?” he said.

“I’ve been aware of my sexuality since I was a teenager, yes.”

“You really must have had your life together. Nah, I think I was too one-track minded to think about anything but Akane, stupid super heroes, and school.”

“If you mean all the rehabilitation and testimonies in court, yes, my teens were a fun time. And I think one third of the things you listed have stayed the same.”

“O-oh. That’s right, you must have been through hell. I’m sorry…” Junpei said, retracting his head and looking at his face.

“I don’t mind speaking of it-- I’d like to be more open with you. I’m sorry if that came off as rude.”

“You? Apologizing for being rude? I guess your new soft spot for an idiot like me has its perks.”

Light’s tone softened. “I never said it was a new affection. Your presence has refreshed it, however.”

Junpei hid his face against his shirt. “Wow, there were a million ways you could have agreed to me insulting myself. You’re being so… serious. You’re going to make it harder for me to leave.”

“I’m happy as long as I have left an impact on you, Junpei.” Suddenly, he realized that every time he addressed him by name, it must have been intentional. He stepped back and took hold of Light’s hands.

“Will it help if I promise to keep in contact? I can’t promise that my phone number will ever stay the same, but I can write… or show up in front of your building at 2AM. I’ll surprise you.”

“I’d love for you to accompany me on a date when you do, if that’s reasonable enough. Perhaps… not at 2AM.” His thumbs traced over the joints his hands. “Just don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want Clover to read out loud.”

It soon hit him that there wouldn’t be privacy unless they met in person again. “I was the one who brought it up before. As your boyfriend, it would be inevitable. And Clover will just have to get used to it.” Junpei squeezed his hands gently. He could already imagine Clover doing one of two things: groaning with second-hand embarrassment, or giggling smugly.

“Boyfriend.” Light whispered. “Exquisite…”

 

---

         

Light decided it wasn’t doing either of them any good to remain solemn before Junpei’s departure. He had a train to catch just after 1, and there was so much more they could do and say. Instead, they enjoyed each other’s presence as they shared a breakfast, Junpei took a shower and repacked his sullied clothing into his bag, and they shared some laughs over their typical antics. Light learned what cryptocurrency was and that Junpei had missed the mark on when to invest in it, Junpei heard the story of how Clover had her heart broken by a Japanese exchange student that moved away, thus starting her interest in Japanese fashion, and they shared a moment recalling the complicated feelings they shared during the game that brought them together.

Junpei’s gaze lingered on Light from time to time, remembering how he looked underneath his clothes, although he hadn’t had the opportunity to fully unclothe him. The way the light hit his hair and face, bringing out the barely visible color on his cheeks and ears, was beautiful. How had he not noticed before…? Being outside of a deadly situation and meeting on their own terms helped, for one. Light didn’t point out that he could feel his eyes bore into him each time.

“I’d like you to have something, Junpei.”

“Huh? For me?” Junpei turned his head inquisitively at Light’s return to the living room. He was lounging on the sofa, leather jacket on and bags at his feet as he waited for the taxi he'd called for.

“It’s a flash drive containing raw recordings of the songs I’ve composed. I don’t expect you to listen to all of it immediately, but… perhaps it could provide you some comfort on occasion.”

The line of his mouth grew into a grin. “Wow. I’ll be sure to analyze my song for the hints of secretive lust, admiration, and endless gratitude that I hadn’t noticed the first time around.”

"Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised. Please fax me your analyses to enlighten me of my subconscious feelings that you seem to be an expert on.”

Junpei stood up and took the flash drive from him, tucking it into the inner pocket of his jacket. “…Thank you. I’ll cherish it.” He said, standing in front of him. His hand reached for the back of his neck as he often did when he felt awkward. “C’mon, wipe that smirk off of your face.”

“Speak for yourself. I sense an equally self-satisfying expression on your own.”

“I’ll just go ahead and do it for you, then.”

Junpei grasped Light’s shoulder and pulled him down enough for their lips to touch. It was a beautifully simple gesture that managed to mess up Light’s typically immaculate posture, similarly disrupting his composure despite the warning. Light made Junpei feel just as weak, even with his newfound boldness.

The buzzing in Junpei’s pocket is what finally made them break contact.

“I’ll wait for you as long as I need to.”

“I promise you won’t be waiting long. Just keep a spot open in your bed for me.”

“Absolutely. Take care.”

Light stole one last kiss, and Junpei one last stare, before he escorted him to the door.