Kaidou Aki didn't know Kaji Akihiko very well, had only met him a few times when he was working at White Fang, but the distance of the internet made it easier to ask him about something. Well, someone. Alone in his room, Aki signed on and asked Kaji to chat with him in private. Kaji opened a voice-chat and invited Aki in – IT&S's discord server was making all sorts of conversations easier to hold.
“What did you want to ask me about?”
Aki hesitated a moment before telling him, “This is going to sound strange maybe, but I ran into someone earlier today and something about the guy has been bugging me ever since. It's slightly possible you know him – Murata Ugetsu is his name.”
Silence. Then a line of words typed out. “I can't talk about him right now. Not with Haruki nearby.”
Aki's brain whirled. Oh? Kaji does know him. Knows him...in that way? Did I step on a landmine? “It's not a big deal. Next time I see you.”
Kaji said out loud, “I'm working at White Fang the next three days, like usual.”
“Right. I forgot. Well, I'll ask you about that later. What I really wanted to know was - does Given want a website?” He wasn't sure why he wanted to know more about the rude Murata. And now he was even more intrigued but he didn't want to come across like the worst kind of gossip.
“We've talked about it. Right now, our gigs are being canceled so we can't afford it but maybe by next year. Until then, we're stuck with poor Haruki who doesn't like handling our social media but is the only one who knows how to use Twitter.”
Aki faintly heard Haruki say something in the background and wondered if they were living together officially or just spent a lot of time at each other's apartments. He didn't know that much about the band, but Ren had told him a few things. Kaji had been hired to replace Aki in the café, now they just needed someone to take Shima's place. Ren was filling in temporarily, but he was bad at waiting tables.
“I see. Well, when you're ready, I'll give you guys a discount. That's all I wanted to say, so I'll let you go.
“Sure. See you around, then.” Aki and Kaji ended their private chat.
Aki managed to restrain himself from questioning Kaji for three whole days.
Thursday morning, Aki entered White Fang before it opened. He hadn't been up this early since quitting the café and Haru gave him a questioning look.
“Why are you awake already and here?”
“What? It's a weekday and I'm starting a business. I need to keep business hours like everyone else. I have an appointment in the office later, I'm hungry, and you're here so make me breakfast. I want bacon.”
Haru shook his head. “Ren wants only rice, you want only meat, I can't tell if Shima's eating anything before he goes off to Hakue. How did I raise three unhealthy eaters when all I do is slave away to feed you properly?”
“You didn't raise us – you spoiled us. And don't worry about Shima – he eats natto* every morning after you've left the house.”
“Ugh. Well, at least that's something and the smell is gone before I get back.”
Aoi and Iku came in together as usual and Haru called a hello before disappearing into the kitchen.
“Iku, how is your family?” Aki asked.
“Annoying. But fine, everyone's fine, all one thousand of them,” Iku exaggerated. He began the morning prep work; grinding coffee beans, turning on the hot water dispenser for tea (Aoi only drank tea), setting up the tables.
Aki set up one table in the corner, then plopped himself down at it and waved Aoi over to join him. “I should make us breakfast,” she protested.
“Oh, sit down. Haru will be cooking us all something, I'm sure.”
She knew Haru by now as well, so she shrugged and sat. “What's up?”
“Kaji should be here soon. I'm going to ask him about that Murata guy.”
“The jerk from the other day? Ooh, that sounds interesting - count me in!”
Iku had just brought them Aki's coffee and Aoi's tea when Kaji showed up. Seeing the three of them staring at him, he raised an eyebrow. “...Should I be worried?”
Aoi laughed. “No, we - Aki and I – are dying of curiosity about Murata Ugetsu.”
“I have no idea what they're talking about,” Iku said, “but I want to know, too.”
“Hey, Kaji. Have you eaten breakfast yet?” Haru called, poking his head out from the kitchen.
“Err, no.” Kaji looked like he was under siege from all sides.
“Iku, help me for a minute. Morning, Ren.”
Ren, still half asleep but dressed for work, had just wandered in as well.
While Kaji put away his things and grabbed his apron, Iku and Haru brought out food for everyone. Miso soup, grilled fish, pickled veggies, steamed rice – a very typical and normal breakfast. All six sat down to eat.
After a few bites, Kaji started talking. “So...you met Ugetsu?”
“We didn't meet him. I literally bumped into him, on the street outside the office. Aoi and I were going to Viewfinder and Murata was just leaving there. I apologized but he brushed me off. That annoyed me so I asked Takaba about him. He didn't know much aside from the guy being a violin prodigy.”
“He was rude?” Kaji sighed.
“He acted like a diva! Is that the right term?” Aoi asked.
Kaji laughed. “I think 'diva' is for opera singers, and maybe someone like Madonna. Ugetsu is...difficult. He is hard to explain without making him sound like a complete asshole, honestly.”
Kaji took a deep breath. “Ugetsu's talent for the violin was discovered while he was very young. His family nurtured it, found him a private teacher, pushed him into competitions. His whole life became centered around music and performing. He was praised and encouraged to practice and had his entire future planned out by the time he was ten years old.”
“His father's a diplomat and they traveled a lot until his parents decided he needed to stay in one place to really focus on his training. They arranged for his apartment here and sent him off. He rarely sees them, unless he happens to travel abroad for a competition in the same country where his father is working.”
“That sounds...sad,” Aoi said. “Like they only care about his talent and not him as their son.”
“It sounds like he's a privileged, spoiled kid to me,” was Ren's take on the tale.
“Some combination of both, even though we're the same age as you twins,” Kaji said. “He's always popular, but doesn't have friends. He's fussed over, but only for his performances or his looks. His self-worth is all tied to his musical ability and his only real connections with people are through music as well. His parents just send him money.”
“And the two of you...?” Aki was pretty sure, but couldn't help asking.
“We met in high school. If you're sensitive to it, you can hear – or feel – his intense emotions when he plays. It's not a comfortable thing, to feel that deeply or to love someone who does. I wanted to take away some of his burdens, I wanted to tune those emotions to myself. But instead, I distracted him from practicing because I wanted all his attention.”
“We brought each other down, personally and professionally. We broke up but kept living together. We were co-dependent, addicted to each other. We fought, we fucked occasionally, we still felt like best friends in between the bad times. We both slept with other people, bragged about it, then got jealous like the worst trash. It was ugly and I finally ended it for good about a year and a half ago.”
“...” That was more information than anyone had been expecting from the generally not-talkative Kaji.
“I'm telling you this because...I don't know, really. As a warning? Or maybe asking you for help. If you're interested in him, just watch out. I want him to be happy, you know? He needs friends but it would take work to become his friend. I can't be there for him anymore. He likes Mafuyu as someone who understands him somewhat, but Mafuyu is busy with Uenoyama and school and the band.”
“I wasn't interested in him like that. Just curious,” Aki protested.
“Oh? Well, now you know.” Kaji looked hard at Aki. “You aren't his type anyway. Haru would be, if he played an instrument.”
Haru spluttered into his soup and Ren frowned. “Better not bring him here, Aki,” Ren warned.
“I'm not going to bring him anywhere! I've never even met him, aside from that shoulder bump.”
“Good.” Ren took Aki's unfinished rice and passed over his uneaten grilled fish. Haru rolled his eyes.
*Natto – fermented soybeans, often eaten with steamed rice. It's supposed to be very healthy and...notorious for its very strong odor. “Old cheese, old socks, hot garbage, poop, vomit, cat piss, rat carcass, despair.” Just a few ways I found it described online :) I haven't encountered it myself.