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Mine

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I trailed into the house wearily, tired after a long day’s shoot. I left my shoes by the door, and then walked into the echoingly empty living room on my way to the kitchen. It seemed to my sensitive nerves that the building itself felt lonely without its brightest, most energetic inhabitant. Pure foolishness, I knew, but I was so tired that my mind was thinking strange thoughts. I opened the refrigerator listlessly, staring at the contents blankly. I seemed to have forgotten what I came in here for, not a surprise. With a sigh, I got a beer and went into the living room to sit on the couch. I turned on the t.v. – and lo and behold, the channel was playing reruns of the original show that Katou and I had done together, Embracing Love.

I was mesmerized. I sat there, the beer forgotten in my hand, and stared at my lover’s face. This was the first time that I’d seen it in over two weeks. Katou was off filming a movie on location at a resort town in the Fukushima Prefecture, which was up north above Tokyo. While he called me almost every day, that wasn’t the same. I missed him intensely whenever he was away, not liking rattling around the empty house without his larger-than-life presence there. I kept expecting him to ambush me when I least expected it, jumping on me to pull me in for a deep kiss. I never seemed to be able to object to these ‘attacks’, even when they finished with us having sex wherever we were in the house at the time. We’d baptized every room, and even (naughtily enough) the verandah once or twice with the outside lights off. But, fortunately for me, he was due back home tomorrow. I knew he’d be tired from the long car journey, and I planned to order dinner and buy a bottle of wine so that he could relax.

I watched his handsome face on the screen, ignoring my own presence in the scene. He was smiling, my beautiful golden lover, the other half of my heart. Soon enough, I reminded myself. Just tonight and half of tomorrow, and then he’d be with me again. Fortunately, I had the day off tomorrow, so I could spend as much time with him as I liked after he got home. Relearning the contours of his body, the feel of his arm around me, the sound of his light, laughing voice. And his smell, that musky masculine odor overlaid with the cologne he liked to wear. I couldn’t wait for all of my senses to be filled with him.

How far we’d come together, I mused as I watched the show. When we’d originally been filming this, Katou and I were still almost adversaries. I didn’t trust him, and I wasn’t happy about beginning to have feelings for another man. We’d had sex a few times, but I wasn’t willing to let it go any deeper. But Katou was way more stubborn than I was – and determined to prove to me that he was falling in love with me. He’d invited himself into my apartment right after the wrap party for Embracing Love, and I couldn’t bring myself to kick him out. Even when he chastely slept in the living room, and made no move to have sex with me for the first month he lived there. Finally, in pure frustration, I’d jumped him myself.

It took time, and some misunderstandings, but finally I admitted both to myself and Katou that I loved him. After that we built this house together, going so far as to pick out all of the furnishings together, down to every curtain and rug. We’d had our ups-and-downs, but for the most part had lived pretty blissfully together for the last few years in our dream house. And our relationship continued to deepen, especially as I finally let go of the last of my walls, and let Katou into me. I wasn’t afraid anymore that he’d leave me, or that he’d break my heart. I’d never been happier than I was right now – or at least as I would be, when he finally got home tomorrow.

I sipped at my beer before setting it on the coffee table. Then I got up and pottered off to see about something to eat, and to collect the mail. A lot of it was fan mail for Katou, but there was some for me, as well. And a few were addressed to both of us, for many of our fans loved the fact that we were such a strong couple. The funny thing was, our relationship had been marketed as a true and pure love to make it easier for people to accept the fact that we were two ‘married’ men. But while I’ve never been sure about the concept of ‘true love’ I now felt that Katou and I had as close to that state as was possible for two fallible, quarrelsome human beings to have. I shuffled through the pile, laying those for Katou alone on the desk in his private work room, on top of a growing pile of such correspondence. My lover would answer every one of them personally when he had the time, for he adored his fans almost as much as they seemed to love him. He liked to hear from them, and being a personable creature, liked just as much responding to them if he could. For myself, I tried to answer some of my fan mail, but I’ve never been very good with that kind of thing. Katou lectures me sometimes about my standoffishness, but I know that he knows that its just part of my nature. I can’t help but be this private and(I am aware) a tad stiff, as well.

Fortunately for me, Katou seems to find those qualities utterly cute. I have no idea why, but I’m definitely not complaining. I took my own mail, as well as the ‘couple’ mail back down with me to the kitchen. I set them on the counter as I made some soba noodles for myself, as a quick supper. Katou is the one who normally cooks in our relationship, mostly because he’s far better than I am at doing it. And he really likes to take care of me, which is something that I’ve come to find that I really need. It proves to me that he cares, when he sees to my wants and desires so assiduously. And I’ve learned to return the favor, although the ways that I take care of him are a bit different.

 

But then, his needs are a tad different, as well. At the heart of him, all Katou really needs is to know that I want him as much as he does me. While I’ve had to work at showing my emotions more openly, I succeeded because I wanted my golden lover to know just how much he means to me. He deserves that from me, if for nothing else than just for loving me as thoroughly and deeply as he does.

After I ate, I took the mail with me back into the living room and sat down on the couch to read it. Much of it was gushing and practically incoherent, but some of the letters were quite sweet or poignant. One girl told me that she’d met her current boyfriend at a screening of one of my movies, and that he was as big a fan of my acting as she was. They had bonded over this fact, finding that they had far more than that in common. They were most likely getting married soon. I smiled a little as I read this one, laying it aside to pick up the next to last envelope. This one had no return address at all. I opened it, reaching in to pull out a single piece of almost-blank paper. I unfolded it, and read the single sentence written in the middle of the paper. I felt a chill go down my spine as I did so, for it said only: ‘YOU ARE MINE’.

I stared at this rather sinister sentence, my brows furrowing. I’d gotten threatening fan mail before this, mostly from those who loathed homosexuals. But this – this felt different. There was something adamant and insane about this single sentence. And there was the fact that there was no return address on the envelope, or the piece of paper at all…What should I do? Call the police, or tell my manager so that I could be assigned bodyguards if they felt there was any danger? I frowned. I hated to do that on this single piece of evidence, which could mean anything at all. Maybe it was just someone trying to scare me, who would laugh hysterically if I started to appear in public with bodyguards trailing around after me. And being the private person that I am(in spite of the fact that I’d spent many years baring my body as an AV actor), I hated the thought of having those bodyguards around me all the time. I decided not to do anything about this just yet, to wait and see. If I received any more threatening letters or anything else happened, then I’d act. But for now, I simply laid the nasty letter aside. I concentrated on the one after that, and soon the feeling of apprehension faded. I felt that I’d overreacted, that it was simply my tiredness making me see danger where there wasn’t any.

My cell phone rang, and I pulled it out of my pocket. My heart jumped when I saw the: ‘Message from Katou’ flash across the small screen. I flipped it open and put it to my ear. “Hello, Katou,” I said happily.

I heard a chuckle in my ear. “Hello, Iwaki-san. I’m calling from my hotel room, where I’m packing right now. I can’t wait to get home and see you,” there was a faintly leering tone to his voice, one which made tingles race down my spine. When my lover was away, I didn’t even masturbate much. I was generally too depressed at his absence to do so. My body was reacting strongly, anticipation surging through my veins. “Will you be glad to see me, Iwaki-san?” Katou asked lasciviously, and I managed to croak:

 

“Hai, very much.”

“Great. Kaneko-san and I are hitting the road pretty early tomorrow morning, so we should be home by a little after noon. After that I’ll just need a nap, and then I can spend the rest of the day with you, Iwaki-san,” he was practically purring now, and I shivered as the crotch of my trousers suddenly became very tight and uncomfortable.

I gripped my phone tight as I fought not to squirm. This was as close to phone sex as Katou and I had ever come, because I was too embarrassed by the thought to actually ever try such a thing. Although there were times, during longer absences like this one, that I was sorely tempted…from the faint snicker on the other end, Katou was aware of my reaction to both his words and their intonation. “Dream about me tonight, Iwaki-san,” he said softly, his voice seeming to caress me. “And I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Katou,” I said. He hung up, and I sighed as I closed the phone slowly. It was only maybe twelve to fifteen hours, and then I’d get to see my lover again; so why did it seem like it would be another eternity before I finally got to hold him in my arms once more?

 

 

I slept better than I had for almost two weeks, waking in the morning feeling refreshed and happy. I pottered downstairs after I got dressed, making myself some scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. I drank a cup of coffee and read the morning paper, enjoying being able to laze about the house on my day off. I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything today; I simply had to wait for Katou to return, and I had to order dinner. I’d actually already purchased the bottle of wine, and it was chilling in the refrigerator. Gee, what could I do to fill my day? I wondered with a small smile as I read the entertainment section of the newspaper. It was often wise for an actor to do so, since it so closely concerned us and our careers. But there was nothing particularly significant today, and I closed the paper and laid it aside.

I took my coffee out onto the verandah, sipping it as I leaned on the balcony and looked out over the city of Tokyo. It was great view, one of the many things that Katou and I were paying through the nose for. But it had definitely been worth it. We could come out here together to enjoy the evening breeze, or to watch the sunset together. Mostly we ended up sharing the same deck chair, since Katou crowded onto mine despite my protests. And those were simply perfunctory; I really liked to sit snuggled up against him, while the wind blew the scents of the city to my nose and the sky turned many different colors with the glorious sunsets. He would push his nose into my hair, seeming to prefer my scent to any other. I couldn’t wait to do that this evening, after we’d eaten dinner.

I heard the phone ring in the living room. I went to answer it, knowing that it wouldn’t be Katou. He always called me on my cell phone, not the land line. It had rang four times or so by the time I hurried in and snatched up the hand set. “Moshi, Moshi, this is Iwaki,” I said.

A deep voice rumbled: “Iwaki Kyosuke?”

“Hai,” I replied. “This is he.”

The voice hesitated. “I’m afraid that I have some bad news for you, Iwaki-san,” he said. “I am Sergeant Houseki of the Highway Patrol. This is about Katou Yohji…”

“Is he okay?” I interrupted anxiously, knowing it was rude but not caring at this moment. My stomach was clenching inside of me, as fear rose up in me like a whale out of deep ocean.

His voice was compassionate. “I’m afraid not. Katou-san was a in a bad accident this morning on National Route 6. There was a pile up. We still don’t know what caused it…”

“Is he…he’s not…” my fingers closed over the hand set in a death grip. No, this could not be happening! Katou couldn’t be…he just couldn’t be….

“Katou–san is still alive,” the patrolman said hurriedly, obviously having heard the terror and despair in my voice. “But he suffered some bad injuries. He was air-lifted to the Iwaki Kyoritsu Hospital, and is listed in intensive care there.”

I blinked. My brain wasn’t working very well at the moment, so I thought for a few seconds that he was talking about me. But then I realized that he was, in fact, talking about one of the three fair-sized cities in the Fukushima Prefecture, which was also called Iwaki. “Arigatou,” I said numbly. “I’ll come as soon as I possibly can.”

“That would be good,” he replied, and something in his voice made terror surge up in me again. I hung up the phone, standing there staring blankly at nothing as I tried to get my brain to start working again. I needed to go, I needed to get to Katou…and as quickly as possible. Butt I wasn’t fit to drive in this state, and my manager had gone out of town for a few days with some friends. I didn’t know what to do…but the image of a silver-haired man rose up in my head, and I knew who I could call. I picked up the phone, panicking when I couldn’t think of the number for a moment. My mind was totally blank of everything but sheer panic. But then it swam up automatically from my subconscious, and I dialed the number with shaking fingers.

The rather musical voice of our friend Sawa Nagisa came out of the phone. “Moshi, moshi, this is Sawa.”

“Sawa-san,” I said slowly, my tongue feeling sluggish. "This is Iwaki.”

“Ahh, Iwaki-san! How lovely to hear from you. But…” his voice changed as he registered my tone. “What is it, Iwaki-san? Is anything wrong?” he asked anxiously.

“H-Hai. It’s Katou…” I closed my eyes against the tears beginning to prickle against the backs of my eyelids. “H-He…” I bit my lip.

“He what? What is it, Iwaki-san?” the writer sounded scared now, too.

“He’s been in a bad car accident. I need to get to the city of Iwaki, in the Fukushima Prefecture. T-That’s where he’s in the hospital. B-But I can’t drive like this, I can’t…” a sob forced its way up my throat, and I had to stop talking.

“Oh, Gods,” Sawa cried. “I understand, Iwaki-san. Yukihito and I will be right over. We’ll all go to Iwaki together. Don’t worry about a thing. Pack a bag and be ready to go.”

“Arigatou, Sawa-san,” I said heart-feltly.

“Think nothing of it, Iwaki-san. You and Katou are our friends. Of course we want to know that he’s going to be okay…and I firmly believe that he will. You must believe that too.”

Numbly, I hung up the phone once more. I got my frozen limbs to move, stumbling up to the bedroom to pack a small carry all bag with a few changes of clothes and some toiletries. I hesitated, then packed one for Katou, too. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that he’d need it, but I had to believe that he’d be all right. If I thought anything else I’d go insane. Carrying the two bags, I hurried back down to the living room. I changed my slippers for my shoes, and put on a light coat. Then I went outside to wait for Sawa and his cousin/lover to arrive.

A car drove up after a few moments. The window rolled down, revealing Sawa and Yukihito sitting in the back seat. “Get in, Iwaki-san,” the author called. “I hired a driver to take us, since I’m upset enough myself I don’t want to risk driving up there. All we need is to have an accident, too.”

I slipped into the back seat with him and Yukihito, for it was a big hired car and there was plenty of room. The writer laid his hand compassionately on my thigh as he motioned for the driver to pull away from the curb and start the long drive to Iwaki. Yukihito gave me a sympathetic look from the other side of Sawa. I sat tensely on the plush leather seat, unable to relax, my fingers digging into the carry all bag on my lap. We began our journey out of the city, headed north. I had to believe that the name of the city we were going to was a good omen, that there was no way that Katou could die in a place called Iwaki. I have to hold onto that belief, because I don’t know whether I can live in a world without Katou Yohji in it…

Chapter Text

Later on, I never remembered much about the drive to Iwaki. My thoughts just kept going around and around in panicked circles, as I stared blankly at the back of the driver’s head. I prayed a lot, to every god and spirit who would listen. I begged them to spare Katou, to not take him from me. And I know that my lower lip was nearly raw from me gnawing at it. But nothing else registered, not even Sawa’s tender consideration or Yukihito’s compassionate presence. The other two men might as well have not been in the car with me. All I could think about was my lover. And all I could feel were alternating bouts of despair and desperate hope. That trip seemed to take an eternity in subjective time. But finally we arrived in the city, and the driver stopped to get directions to the hospital.

“We’re almost there, Iwaki-san,” Sawa said to me encouragingly. I tried to work up a small smile for him, but it died halfway to my lips. But his eyes said that he understood completely. He had twined his fingers with his lover’s, and I knew that he was thinking about how he’d be feeling if it were Yukihito lying in the hospital badly injured right now. I looked down as tears forced their way up into my tear ducts, and tracked down my cheeks of their own volition. I hadn’t wanted to cry; I superstitiously felt that if I did, then it somehow meant that Katou was going to die.

The driver returned to the car and we pulled back into the traffic. Fortunately, the trip to the hospital wasn’t very long. I felt like I was coming apart at the seams the closer we came to it. The car stopped in front of the building and let us all out. I clutched my own bag and the one I’d packed for Katou in my hands, as Sawa and Yukihito hurried me into the lobby of the hospital. I didn’t really want to go, just as much as I did. I was terrified of what I’d find. We went up to the reception desk, where a friendly-looking nurse looked up at us inquiringly.

“We’re here to see Katou Yohji, the actor,” Sawa said to her, because my voice seemed to have stopped working altogether. At his words, her eyes suddenly flew to my face and widened. Clearly she recognized me. Then they darted back to the writer, and I saw that she now remembered who he was, too. He smiled at her encouragingly. “How is Katou-san? Is he still in intensive care?” What he was really asking was – is he still alive? I knew it, and all my muscles tensed as I waited for the answer to his question.

She consulted her computer hurriedly. “Katou-san is still in intensive care, yes,” she said after a moment. “He just got out of surgery a few hours ago.”

“Surgery?” my voice sounded hollow and far away. “What kind of surgery?”

She shook her head, her dark eyes compassionate. “I’m sorry Iwaki-san, but I can’t tell you that. You’ll have to speak to his doctor.”

So she did know who I was. “Who is his doctor?”

“Dr. Nobunari is his physician. He’s a very good doctor, I assure you. If you’ll just take the elevator to the fifth floor and speak to the intensive care nurse, She’ll be happy to call him for you.”

“Arigatou,” I said to her with a little bow. Her eyes watched us as we went to the bank of elevators across the lobby. Sawa pushed the button for the fifth floor, and I stood stiffly beside him as Yukihito positioned himself on the other side of me. The two of them were clearly keeping a sharp eye on me. I didn’t care; all I cared about right now was finding out about Katou’s condition. At least he was still alive…Thank you, gods, I thought in relief for this knowledge. The elevator seemed to rise very slowly, and people got on and off at every floor. Some stared at me and whispered; it wasn’t every day that they had a fairly well-known actor in their midst. Sometimes I forget that I’m a public figure. It’s only at times like these that I’m sharply reminded of this fact. But at least none of them asked me for an autograph or pestered me. I’m sure my face was pretty haggard by then, and betrayed my anxiety and worry. And by now all of the hospital had to be aware of the fact that Katou Yohji was in their intensive care wing.

I was grateful for the consideration. The last thing I needed to deal with right now was a fan. My fingers dug in to the leather of the carry all bags as I closed my eyes and tried to take deep breaths. Almost there, almost there…and then the elevator door was opening, and we walked out onto the fifth floor to make our way to the intensive care wing. The double doors that led to it were up ahead, and I could feel my breath faltering as sweat broke out on my brow. So close, and then we were pushing through the doors and approaching the desk.

The nurses there both stared at me. “Hello,” Sawa said to them politely. “We’re here to see Katou Yohji.”

One of them looked between the writer and me. Her face wore an apologetic expression. “I’m very sorry,” she aid anxiously with a bow, “No one but family members are allowed in to see patients in intensive care.”

I felt as though I’d been punched in the gut. Never mind that Katou was my family; we weren’t related. And since we weren’t legally married, either, I couldn’t even see him. I felt as though my brain was reeling, and I think I actually swayed in place. Sawa put a firm hand on my arm to steady me. “But we ARE family,” he said smoothly to the nurse. “I am his cousin Katou Nagisa, this is his cousin Katou Yukihito, and this is his brother Katou Kyosuke.”

Her mouth opened at this brazen lie, but the writer simply looked steadily at her as his hand rubbed comforting circles on my arm. Her eyes went to my white face, and she suddenly nodded. “All right. If you’ll all just sign in…” she pushed a clipboard across the desk. “But remember to put your full names” she added warningly, to make sure that we signed the fake names that the author had given us.

After we’d all signed the sheet of paper, she came around the desk. “I'll take you to his room," she told us. As we followed her down a white corridor, I looked at Sawa. “I should call his parents and sister,” I told the writer. “If no one has told them yet.”

He nodded. “Who better than his brother to do so?” he agreed. “Do you have all their numbers?”

I pulled my cell phone from my pocket. “Hai,” I said as I flipped it open. “I have all their numbers in my directory.”

As the phone rang in Katou’s parents’ house, I felt my stomach twisting. How could I tell them? They adored their son. I tried to steel myself for their reaction as a feminine voice that was an older female version on Katou’s came on the line. “Katou-san,” I said to his mother, “This is Iwaki.”

“Ahh, Iwaki-san! How nice of you to call,” she said pleasantly.

My throat was trying to close up. “Katou-san, I’m afraid I have some bad news,” I choked. “It’s about Katou-kun.”

Sudden anxiety sprang up in her voice. “What is it? What’s the matter?” she cried.

“H-He’s been in a car accident. He’s in the hospital in the city of Iwaki in the Fukushima Prefecture. I’m here now, at the hospital. I’m just about to see him.”

“Oh, my! Is he all right?” the fear in her voice was justified. I couldn’t have sounded very encouraging at that point.

“I don’t know. I’ll call you back as soon as I can after I’ve seen him.”

“Arigatou, Iwaki-san. Have you called Youko yet?” she asked.

“Ie. I was just going to call her after I talked to you.”

“All right. His father and I will come as quickly as possible. Please be strong for him, Iwaki-san,” she begged.

My voice trembled. “I-I will. I’ll contact you again as soon as I know anything.”

“Please do. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

My fingers were shaking as I hung up the phone and then called Katou’s sister Youko. Her bright voice answered the phone right away. I could hear a baby crying in the background. That would be Katou’s nephew Yosuke, who had been named after Katou and I, and was considered by his adoring mother to be a nephew to both of us. I told her what I’d told her mother, and distress rang in her voice as she vowed to pack up her young son and drive to Iwaki as soon as possible. She didn’t ask me if I was all right; she knew better. “I’m sure he’ll be fine, Iwaki-san,” she said firmly, and obviously believed it. I had to admire her faith, and that strength of will would help to buoy me if my own belief faltered. She hung up to begin packing as the nurse led us into a large room near the end of the hall.

 

There was a bed in the middle of the room, and a still figure was laying in it, hooked up to a tangle of machinery. I froze in the doorway, my tongue cleaving to the roof of my mouth, as I stared at Katou’s still, waxen face. His head was swathed in bandages, and he looked like a marble effigy. He didn’t seem to be alive at all. If I hadn’t been able to see the heart monitor showing a steady rhythm, I would have believed him to be dead. The second most distressing thing was the fact that there was a tube shoved in his mouth, for he was hooked up to a respirator. I whispered his name hoarsely, hardly believing that this was my lively, energetic lover.

Sawa’s hand on my arm coaxed me across the room toward the bed. The closer we got, the worse Katou looked. There was a mottle of bruises on his handsome face that showed up clearly on the too-pale skin. He looked far worse than he had when he was playing a dying man on Inside Report, the television show in which I’d played a doctor whose mistake had killed a patient. I’d wept then, unconsciously and silently, just at the very thought of Katou dying. Now he might actually be doing so, and I wanted to flee screaming from the room rather than face this all too real situation. I also wanted to throw myself on him, to bury my face in his chest and weep. But as I could do neither thing, I merely stood and gazed down at my lover in a kind of frozen despair.

“Hello, I am Dr. Nobunari,” a voice broke me out of me haze. We all turned to see a youngish man standing in the door of the room. His eyes went to my face. I could see that he knew who I was, but he didn’t change expression when the nurse said somewhat anxiously: “These are Katou-san’s cousins and his brother, Doctor.”

“Of course,” he replied. “I will speak to them privately, Nurse. Please leave.” She did so, going back to her station with a last look over her shoulder.

After she had gone, the doctor said quietly: “I don’t mind if you maintain your illusion of actually being members of Katou-san’s family, Iwaki-san. And Sawa-san,” he added for the writer’s benefit. “I can understand your wish to be able to see him. I have no objections.”

“Arigatou, Doctor,” I replied gratefully. I paused. “How is he?” I forced myself to say. “Is he…will he live?”

“We can’t be sure of that yet,” he said gravely. “While he suffered some internal injuries, and a broken ankle, the worst injury was to his head. He was not wearing a seat belt, I’m afraid, and his head impacted the back window with a great deal of force. His brain swelled, and we had to perform surgery on him to relieve the pressure.”

My stomach swirled with nausea. “How did you relieve the pressure?” I asked in a sickly tone of voice, feeling as though the world were whirling around me.

“We had to drill a hole in his skull,” the doctor’s voice was gentle but steady.

“A hole,” my voice didn’t even sound like my own.

“Hai. While it seems to have been effective, I must warn you that if Katou-san comes out of his coma, he may have suffered irreversible brain damage.”

The words ‘coma’ and ‘brain damage’ made a rush of dizziness rise up in me in wave. This just couldn’t be happening. My mind reeled, and I saw my vision narrowing to a tunnel. Then I was falling into darkness as voices cried out around me, and I knew no more for a long time.

 

When I awoke, my eyes opened to a world of white. I lay blankly staring at the white walls of the room around me, and it took a moment for me to even remember where I was and what was happening. My head hurt; I wondered dimly why. It throbbed in time with my heart. Then a familiar silver-haired man appeared in my line of vision, followed by a slim boy with similar features. “Iwaki-san!” the writer cried, looking relieved. “Oh, my! I’m so glad to see you awake! We’ve been so worried,” he added.

“Why – why am I here?” I managed to say, weakly lifting a hand to indicate the hospital room.

He shook his head. “Well, Iwaki-san, you were naturally upset by what the doctor told you about Katou-kun. You passed out, and unfortunately you hit your head on the metal railing of his bed when you fell. So the doctor checked you into the hospital too, for observation.”

“Oh,” I said. That explained why my head hurt. “How is Katou?” I asked, far more worried about my lover than myself.

He sobered. “The same. But that is as much good news as bad news, Iwaki-san, since he’s not doing any worse, either. His parents and sister both arrived while you were out of it, and have been in to see him. They’re all going to stay at a local hotel for a few days, and Yukihito and I are also checked in at the same one. You’ll be sleeping here tonight” he went on firmly.

“Okay,” at this point I didn’t feel like arguing. I felt weak and weary, and not just from the knock on the head. And at least I’d still be in the hospital, close to my lover, should anything happen. “What about Kaneko-san? Katou’s manager?” I asked suddenly. I felt ashamed that I’d forgotten his nice young manager so completely.

“Don’t worry, Iwaki-san,” the writer replied soothingly. “He’s in better shape than Katou-kun. The airbag saved him from any really bad injuries. He’ll be released from the hospital in a few days.”

I closed my eyes, feeling relief run through me. I liked Kaneko, and I knew that Katou would be grateful that his manager hadn’t suffered any debilitating injuries in the accident. The writer hesitated, his face sobering. “Iwaki-san. There’s a policeman here who wants to talk to you about the accident.”

“A policeman?” I repeated in puzzlement.

He nodded. “A Sergeant Houseki. He says that it’s important. He says…” the silver haired man paused, a grave expression on his face. “He says that it may not really have been an accident, Iwaki-san. That someone may have…deliberately caused the crash.”

Chapter Text

Sergeant Houseki was a short, stocky, square-faced man with a pair of kind brown eyes. “Iwaki-san,” he said to me as he entered my hospital room. He bowed. “I’m sorry to have to disturb you, but this matter is important.”

“It’s all right,” I reassured him. “What did you mean when you told Sawa-san that Katou’s accident may not have been an accident at all?”

He sighed, straightening up. He had put his uniform cap under his arm as he looked at me gravely. “We have been trying to determine who or what caused this accident. From eyewitness accounts and the position of the wreckage, we came to realize that it was Katou-san’s car that was the initial catalyst. It appeared to the truck driver, who witnessed the accident, that the driver lost control of the car. So we tested Kaneko-san for drugs or alcohol, thinking that he might have been under the influence.”

"Kaneko-san would never drink while he was driving Katou around!” I protested. “And he doesn’t do drugs!”

He waved a hand to placate my upset. “We know that now. He tested negative for everything. And according to his doctor, all of the injuries he sustained were caused in the accident. So he didn’t have a minor stroke at the wheel, either. After we knew this, we had mechanics go over the car itself, to see if something had failed. And we found that something had - the brakes. But they didn’t fail naturally,” he went on in a grim tone of voice.

I felt fear and unease churning in my stomach. “What do you mean, they didn’t fail naturally?” I asked anxiously.

He met my eyes, his own grave. “The brake line on Katou-san’s car had been partially cut,” he said. “Whoever did it, intended for the car to crash while it was going at high speeds, because they only severed it part way, instead of cutting it through. That way, the brakes would have continued to function until stress on the line finished the job. They must have known that Katou-san would be returning to Tokyo, and that he would be driving on a highway for part of the way. At low speeds, the brakes would have functioned normally, but once the car got on the highway and picked up speed, the vibration in the frame would have finished tearing the brake line apart. Kaneko-san would have suddenly found himself with no brakes whatsoever. He couldn’t stop the car from plowing into another car, which started the chain reaction that caused the pile-up. This was most definitely not an accident. Someone meant to injure or kill Katou-san.”

I stared at him, not quite believing his words. Why would anyone want to do anything to Katou? As far as I knew, he didn’t have any crazed fans or stalkers. And yet someone had deliberately cut the brake line of his car. Why…? My brain suddenly kicked up a memory - a single sheet of paper that had arrived in the mail the day before the accident, a sheet that said simply: ‘You are mine’. Oh no, no. It couldn’t be! Had some one tried to kill Katou because of ME? “What is it, Iwaki-san?” the Sergeant asked alertly, seeing the expression on my face.

“I think I may know something about why this whoever it was cut the brake line, Sergeant,” I replied slowly. I began to tell him about the sinister letter, which I’d dismissed because it was the first I’d gotten, and there hadn’t been anything really threatening in it. He listened in silence to my recitation, and then lifted his brows

 

. “If you have a stalker, Iwaki-san,” he said with a shake of his head, “Then he or she is a very dangerous one. Usually these kind of people tend to escalate their threatening behaviors – but this one went right to trying to kill Katou-san.”

“What will you do now?” I asked worriedly.

“Contact the Iwaki police, and have them assign both you and Katou-san twenty-four-hour guards starting now. If this person is that decisive, it’s most likely that he’ll try again to get rid of Katou-san, since the car accident didn’t kill him. Please don’t worry,” he continued, seeing that he’d scared me, “You’ll both be under police protection from now on, until you can get private bodyguards. And this hospital is a pretty safe place.”

His reassuring words didn’t totally make me feel better. I felt sick at the thought that my lover had been attacked because of me. If Katou never woke up again, or was permanently brain damaged, that would be my fault. Sergeant Houseki was looking at me in concern. “Should I have a doctor sent for, Iwaki-san?” he asked.

I shook my head, and then regretted the movement. My skull was pounding. “No thank you, Sergeant,” I said hollowly. “I’ll be fine.”

 

 

I spent the next few hours talking to the Iwaki police about my alleged stalker, with Sergeant Houseki telling them all about the highway patrol’s findings about the car crash. They promptly assigned armed policemen outside both my hospital room door and Katou’s, since somebody managing to kill a celebrity in their precinct would look very bad for them. Sawa had already told me that reporters were flocking to the hospital, although none of them had been allowed past the lobby so far. The police were hoping to keep the stalker angle, and the fact that the car crash had not been an accident, from them as long as possible. Not that I could blame them. The media feeding frenzy this news would cause would be pretty hideous. I’d seen those baying dogs in full cry before, and neither time had been very pleasant.

Finally, they left when the doctor came to chase them away. He examined me, telling me that I only had a mild concussion and that I could check out of the hospital tomorrow morning. I thanked him, and was exhaustedly grateful to fall asleep again after that. It had been a terrible few days for me. At least I had the relief of knowing that Katou was safe in his hospital room, with armed guards outside the door. I fell into troubled dreams of a dark shadow pursuing me, one I couldn’t escape no matter how fast I ran…

 

 

The next morning, I made my way with slow care back up to the intensive care wing to see Katou. Sawa and Yukihito were with me again, one on either side of me to steady me if I needed it. I was utterly grateful for both their presence and support. I approached the desk, and was just going to speak to the nurse about being allowed into Katou’s room, although it wasn’t the same woman so I worried that I might not be able to get in. But just as I began to speak to the nurse, a light voice cried: “Onnii-san! Here you are! Come and see Yohji! And you too, Cousin Nagisa, Cousin Yukihito,” I turned to see Katou’s sister Youko standing not far away, her golden eyes agleam with mischievous laughter. It hurt my heart to see her, for she was a female carbon copy of my lover. Clearly she’d been told of the ruse that Sawa had used to get us in to see Katou the first time. One of her eyelids went down in a faint wink as the nurse said; “This is your brother?” skeptically, since I didn’t look a thing like her.

“Half-brother,” she replied promptly, “From my mother’s first marriage.”

I had to struggle not to laugh, and I saw that Sawa was also looking away to conceal his own amusement. Something told me that her mother would be very surprised to learn that she’d been married once before, and, moreover, had produced a child from that mythical union. But with the usual Katou family charm and persuasiveness, Youko had made the nurse believe her story. We went down the hall toward Katou’s room together. Youko giggled softly. “That was a really good story you came up with, Sawa-san,” she said to the writer admiringly. “I’m pleased to welcome all of you to my family,” she added as he smiled at her.

“How is Katou?” I asked anxiously.

Her face sobered. “The same,” she replied. “But look at the bright side, Iwaki-san; at least he’s no worse. And I know,” she added firmly, “That he’s going to wake up soon and be all right. You should believe that, too,” she added, patting my arm affectionately. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I looked away. Would she be so kind if she knew that this was all my fault? That I had endangered her brother? “Are you okay, Iwaki-san?” she asked, and I nodded even though that was a lie.

We passed the armed policemen at the door. Youko smiled at them both, as being the good guys since they were there to protect the welfare of her brother. Inside the room, I saw Katou’s parents sitting in chairs near the bed and its still occupant. His mother was holding baby Yosuke, who was babbling happily. The tiny child was clearly going to take after Katou’s side of the family in looks, as the hair on his head was a dark-gold, and his big eyes a slightly lighter color. He squealed when he saw me, for Katou and I had visited to see him several times so far. I felt a lump in my throat as he held out his tiny hands to me and called: “Waki, Waki!”

“Iwaki-san,” Katou’s father said, getting to his feet. The man who was an older version of his son came over to take my hand. “Are you all right?” he asked, looking me over anxiously. I had to close my eyes to keep in the flood of tears at his solicitousness. His family had always been closer to me than my own was, and treated me as the other son that I was pretending to be right now. Even now, when they were terribly worried about their real son, they also cared about me and my welfare.

 

“I’ll be okay, Katou-san,” I replied, my voice wavering.

“Sit down,” he said, leading me over to his vacated chair. “You look pale.”

I sat obediently, and almost immediately found myself with a handful of toddler as Yosuke hurled himself from his grandmother’s arms and into mine. She started to take him back, but I shook my head and closed my arms around him. I needed this small, innocent life as something to cling to right now. I drank in the fresh, clean scent of baby as he patted the front of my shirt with his small hands. “Waki,” he said in satisfaction, and I buried my face in the side of his neck as tears began to run down my face.

I could hear Sawa and the others making small talk, while they waited tactfully for me to recover my equilibrium. I felt gratitude to each and every one of them. I took slow, deep breaths, holding onto Yosuke, and the faint trembling finally began to subside. Finally, I lifted my head and looked at the man lying in the hospital bed. I thought that there might be a little more color in Katou’s face, but otherwise he looked the same as he had yesterday. I closed my eyes again, bowing my head as Yosuke patted my face with his hand. Guilt and grief lanced through me. Please, Katou: I begged silently, :Please wake up. Come back to me. I don’t know what I’ll do if you don’t:

 

 

Sawa and Yukihito were staying in the same hotel as Katou’s parents and Youko. I checked in there as well, under an assumed name. I didn’t want the reporters to discover my whereabouts. I just couldn’t face talking to them right now. I left the hospital in a car with smoked-glass windows that Sawa had rented for us. The writer himself was pretty famous, and he also felt too tired and worried to want to face the jackals at the moment. After visiting hours at the hospital, we all went out to dinner together. I didn’t say much, and I had trouble eating. I could see that everyone was watching me worriedly, but I couldn’t force myself to act normal. And it didn’t help that the two policemen assigned to me were always nearby, constantly reminding me that I had a dangerous stalker who’d tried to kill Katou.

That night, I lay on my hotel bed and stared blankly at the ceiling. My next set of shadows were outside my door, watching over me. I wondered exhaustedly what this crazy person was doing right now. Perhaps waiting for his or her next opportunity? Or perhaps watching me if they knew where I was? I felt cold and exposed. I rubbed my hands over my face wearily, feeling empty inside. Dealing with a madman was hard enough - but that, combined with the emotional upset over Katou’s condition, was making this situation almost unbearable. I wanted to scream and cry and fall apart, but I couldn’t. Not now, not while I still had hope. If Katou didn’t wake up, then perhaps I’d give in and fall to pieces. Because I was pretty sure that I couldn’t face life without my lover. Living in a peaceful medicated state in an asylum somewhere would be a perfect existence if I was alone – and moreover if I was alone because Katou had been put into a coma by MY stalker.

I cried, quietly and for a very long time. Finally, I fell into an exhausted slumber, turning on my side and curling up in a fetal position. I didn’t wake up until late the next morning, and despite my all over state of numbness and despair I still felt better physically. My headache had receded sometime during the night. I awoke to the sound of Sawa knocking on my door, and after I took a long hot shower I changed clothes and went out to breakfast with the writer, his lover and Katou’s family. Then we all went to the hospital again. Katou’s state hadn’t changed, but the doctor was still optimistic. We sat around his hospital room talking and occasionally looking at the man still sleeping in the bed. We were hoping that our voices might rouse him, but they didn’t.

 

 

The third day was much like the second and first had been. The only thing that had changed was that the Katou was taken off the ventilator, as he was breathing fine on his own now. When I expressed my concern to Sawa about the fact that he’d have to go back to work, he only shook his head and produced a sophisticated laptop. He could do his writing on it, he said firmly. He and Yukihito would be staying until Katou woke up, which he believed was going to happen any day now. I was grateful for their continuing presence, and that of Katou’s family. His parents were going to have to go home soon. But Youko was also determined to stay, and had talked to her husband about remaining in Iwaki until her brother woke up.

I knew that I’d have to go back to work eventually as well. The mortgage on the house still had to be paid, and someone had to take care of Katou’s medical bills. But every time I thought about it, weariness rose up in me in a nearly uncontrollable wave. All I wanted to do was sit by Katou’s bedside, in spite of the fact that he didn’t do anything or move. I derived comfort from being near him, and of knowing that he was still alive. I had the superstitious fear that if I left him he would die. Being able to see him breathe was very reassuring to me.

Katou’s parents went home on the fourth day, for his father had to go back to work. The reporters were still camped outside the hospital, and I still refused to talk to them. I was alone in Katou’s room on the fifth day, for Sawa, Yukihito, Youko and Yosuke were out shopping in the city. Since we had no idea how long we’d be here, they intended to buy clothes and other supplies. I sat with my chair next to Katou’s bed, holding his limp hand in my own. I was careful with it because of the shunts inserted under the skin. I lifted his fingers to my lips, and kissed them. “Katou,” I said, as tears rose up in my eyes once more. “I’m so sorry. This is all my fault. I miss you so much…” I began to sob softly, my head bent.

His fingers spasmed, but I didn’t notice. I was too deep in a state of weary depression and despair. But then, to my shock, I heard a familiar voice speak to me. “Don’t cry, Iwaki-san,” my head shot up, my eyes widening, as I met a pair of concerned, tired golden eyes. “Why are you crying, Iwaki-san?” my lover asked me hoarsely.

Chapter Text

“Katou?” my voice sounded thin and disbelieving in my own ears. I still hadn’t recovered from the shock of looking into an open pair of golden eyes, eyes full of worry.

“Iwaki-san,” he croaked, squeezing my hand weakly. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Katou!” I finally got my frozen limbs to work. I jumped to my feet and did the best I could to hug him, which wasn’t easy when he was prone on the bed and I had to be careful because of his injuries. I was crying even harder now, but out of pure joy and relief. “Katou,” I murmured as his arms lifted a little to embrace me. “I’m so glad…Please tell me you remember who you are and everything!” I said, lifting my head to look anxiously at his face. I couldn’t forget the doctor saying that he might have irreversible brain damage.

His brows furrowed. “Of course I know who I am,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Please, for me…tell me your full name, and the name of your sister and nephew,” I said.

He studied my face. “My name is Katou Yohji,” he said, “And my sister is called Youko. Her baby’s name is Yosuke, named after both you and I. Anything else you want to know, Iwaki-san? I can recite my date of birth, the number of my locker in high school, what have you…”

“No, no,” I assured him, choking on a laugh, “That’s okay. Oh, Gods, Katou, I’m so glad!”

I buried my face in his chest again, and one of his hands stroked my hair. “What happened?” he murmured. “Why am I in the hospital, Iwaki-san?”

I lifted my head a bit to look at his face. “You don’t remember?” I asked in concern.

He shook his head slightly, and then made a sound of pain. “No. All I remember is that Kaneko-san and I were driving home, and he was saying something to me about an interview I had the next day. After that, it’s all a blank.”

“You were in an accident,” I said. “A really bad one. You…you hit your head pretty hard, and they had to do surgery on you, and…you’ve b-been in a coma for five days…”

He stared at me in shock. Then his face softened. “My poor Iwaki-san.” He said softly. “No wonder you look so awful.”

“But I’m better now,” I assured him, closing my hands on his arms as tightly as I could without hurting him. “I can’t wait until Sawa-san and Yukihito-kun and Youko return from shopping. Everyone’s been so worried about you.”

“I’ll bet,” he coaxed my head down for a gentle kiss, and I seemed to feel the touch of his lips all the way to my toes. “So where are we? Did I make it back to Tokyo?”

I shook my head. “Actually,” I said, feeling light-hearted and almost impish, “You’re in Iwaki.”

His eyes went blank, as he started at me in non-comprehension. “Not right now, I’m not,” he said, making me blush.

“No, no” I said, laughing even as I turned red, “This is the city of Iwaki, in the Fukushima Prefecture. You were air-lifted from the highway after the accident to the hospital here.”

“Well, what do you know,” he said in amusement. “Seems like I can’t get away from you wherever I go, huh? Not that I’d ever want to,” he added, his fingers caressing the top of my hand.

Suddenly, he looked anxious. “What about Kaneko-san, Iwaki-san? Is he okay?”

I nodded, happy to be able to give him this news. “He wasn’t as badly injured as you were, and they released him from the hospital a couple of days ago.”

“Great,” he studied my face. “Were you afraid that I was going to die, Iwaki-san?” he asked me seriously.

I nodded minutely. He made a snorting sound. “You should know better. I told you once before that I could never leave anyone as cute as you alone. And I meant that.” He went on firmly.

I found myself smiling. I now had no worries about my Katou being brain damaged – or any more than usual, anyway. “I should go and get the doctor,” I said reluctantly. “Now that you’ve woken up.”

I got up, but he patted the space beside him on the bed. “Go in a little while, Iwaki-san. For now, sit down and talk to me.” He coaxed. He didn’t have to do so very hard; I never wanted to leave his side again. I carefully sat down so as not to jar him, and took his proffered hand. We held hands, as I told him a bit about the last five awful days, and his fingers occasionally stroked mine in a comforting gesture.

 

 

Youko burst into the room about an hour later, laden with bags and on a shopping high. “Iwaki-san, you should see the cute sweater that I got you…” she began, then her eyes widened as she looked at the bed.

 

“Hello, little sis,” Katou said, sounding almost merry.

“Yohji!!!” She squealed, darting across the room and practically hurling herself on her brother’s chest. “Oh, this is wonderful!”

He smiled at her as she wiped a few happy tears away. “Iwaki-san told me that you guys have been having a pretty bad time for the last five days,” he said. “Sorry if I made you all worry.”

“That’s okay. It’s just great to see you awake. And you’re all right?” she asked him but looked at me, wanting to know about potential brain damage.

I nodded slightly. The doctor had checked him out, saying that he was very lucky. The lack of memory about the time surrounding the accident was normal, he’d said. Many people never recovered those memories after a head injury. But otherwise his reflexes were all normal, and his replies to questions as well. He should recover fully, Dr. Nobunari has said with a pleased expression on his face. I’d felt such relief at his words that I’d practically turned into as pile of goo right there in the chair I’d been sitting in.

“Perfect,” she kissed his face, and then turned to the two men who’d just entered the hospital room. “Sawa-san, Yukihito-kun, looks who’s awake!” she cried, coming to retrieve her sleeping son from Sawa’s arms.

The author smiled widely. “Katou-kun. It’s wonderful to see you awake at last.” He and his lover came over to the bed side, and Sawa took one of Katou’s hands.

“Thank you for coming here with Iwaki-san and taking care of him, Sawa-san,” Katou replied gratefully. “He told me that you hired a driver when he was too upset to make it to Iwaki by himself.”

Sawa shook his head. “My dear Katou-kun, I wasn’t feeling in any good shape to drive, either,” he said. “I didn’t want us to get in an accident, too.”

“I’m going to go and call Mom and Dad,” Youko said, handing Yosuke to me. She hurried out of the room, and I started to carry the slumbering child back to the chair. But he awoke just then, blinking big, sleepy eyes up at me.

 

“Waki,” he mumbled.

“Bring him over here,” Katou called to me, seeing that his nephew was awake. I carried Yosuke over to his bed side, and my lover smiled at the baby. “Hello, Yo-chan,” he said affectionately.

The baby turned in my arms to look at his uncle. His golden eyes lit up. “Haku!” he cried, and his uncle grinned.

Yosuke began to squirm in my arms, wanting to go to Katou. He hadn’t really associated the silent, sleeping man in the bed with his lively uncle before this. I didn’t really want to put him on the bed, lest he jar Katou. But my lover made a movement with his hands. “It’s okay Iwaki-san,” he said reassuringly, and I gingerly set Yosuke on the bed.

The baby began to swarm up his uncle’s body, making Katou grunt in pain. But he didn’t complain as the toddler reached his chest and perched there, looking into his face. The boy frowned, reaching out to lightly touch his uncle’s cheek. “Owwie,” he said, indicating the fading bruises mottling Katou’s skin.

“Owwie,” Katou agreed mock-solemnly.

Yosuke began to chatter to his uncle, curling up in the crook of Katou’s arm. He seemed to have found a position that wasn’t hurting my lover, so I didn’t try to take him away. I only watched, feeling unbelievably happy, as Katou talked to his nephew. Sawa came over and touched my arm. “How are you, Iwaki-san?” he asked, studying my face. He understood that the acute relief that I was feeling was in its own way as overwhelming as the grief and despair had been before.

“I’m fine,” I replied, meaning it. The shakes would subside, and right now I was feeling so blissful that it didn’t matter anyway. He smiled as he looked at my face. Then he sobered. “Have you told him about…the cause of his accident, yet?” he asked me softly.

I shook my head. “I only said that the brakes had failed on his car, not why,” I told him. “I want to give him more time to recover before I tell him. There are guards outside his door to protect him, and it would only upset him to learn that I have a stalker. I don’t want him getting worked up right now.”

“That makes sense,” he agreed. He looked at the bed, where Youko was sitting on a chair at one side, chattering away at her brother just like her son was. Instead of being overwhelmed, Katou was merely listening and replying when he felt like it. She had called her parents to tell them the good news, and they were ecstatic. Now that Katou was awake, I supposed that I’d have to hold a press conference. I sighed; I wasn’t looking forward to that. But I did want to reassure his many fans that he was going to be all right. They deserved to know that.

 

 

Later, everyone had left the room but me. It was after visiting hours, and I knew I needed to go. Besides, Katou was getting tired again. His eyelids were flickering as he fought off sleep. But I hovered over the bed, not wanting to leave. I was afraid that if I did, he’d fall back into a coma or something. He chuckled tiredly. “I’ll be fine, Iwaki-san” he said. “You should go get some dinner and also some sleep. You look tired.”

I had to smile involuntarily, in spite of my baseless fears. That was Katou – he was the one in the hospital bed, but he was still trying to take care of me. “Go” he said firmly. “And I’ll see you in the morning. I’m not going anywhere, Iwaki-san.” He added wryly.

 

I hesitated for a moment longer, then bent over and kissed his cheek. “All right,” I said reluctantly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Katou.”

I started to leave, but his voice stopped me at the door. “Iwaki-san,” he said, I turned to look at him.

He looked like a tired little boy as he smiled sweetly at me. “Aishteru, Iwaki-san. Never forget that.”

I felt tears prickling at the backs of my eyes. “And I love you, Katou,” I replied. “Always.”

 

 

I slept deeply and peacefully that night in my hotel room. My only dreams were good ones, in which Katou and I were doing simple things like eating dinner or watching t.v. I awoke on the morning feeling refreshed and rested, sitting up with a yawn as I ran a hand through my hair. I jumped out of bed and went into the bathroom to take a shower and shave. I knew I’d have to set up that press conference for today, as the reporters wouldn’t be put off much longer. So I wanted to look as put together and neat as possible. And of course, I could admit to myself that I wanted to look good for Katou when I saw him today. I was practically humming as I carefully shaved in front of the mirror. I remembered how Katou had snuck up on me once, just after he’d first moved into my apartment, and had put his arms around me affectionately. He’d made me jump in surprise, and I’d given myself a deep cut. I smiled at myself at this memory, seeing how bright my eyes were in the mirror.

I dressed in a nice suit, the only one I’d brought with me. There was a knock at the door, and I went to answer it. The policemen on guard wouldn’t let anyone unknown near my door, so I knew it was safe. Sawa and Yukihito were standing outside, ready to go out to breakfast with me before we went to the hospital. “Good morning, Iwaki-san!” the author called as his cousin smiled silently at me. “I’m starved. Are you ready to go to breakfast?”

I was. For the first time in almost a week, I had an appetite. I nodded, which made him look pleased. Everyone had been worried about me because I hadn’t been eating much. I knew it, but while Katou had been in the coma I just hadn’t been able to choke much down past the permanent knot in my throat. Right now, I could eat a horse - tail, hooves and all. I closed the door of my hotel room behind me. “Youko-san will meet us at the car,” Sawa added. “She’s just getting little Yosuke ready to go.”

Youko had taken to driving us around in her car, to save us having to rent one. We walked toward the parking lot, the policemen trailing right behind me discreetly. I saw only one person around, a man with his hood up as he peered at the engine of his car. He glanced over at us as we made for Youko’s car, and then went back to his ruminations on his engine. I would have offered to help him, but I knew next to nothing about mechanical things. I climbed into the front passenger seat, while Sawa and Yukihito got in the back with the baby seat. The cops would follow us in their own car, keeping an eye on us. I buckled up my seat belt, seeing that the single other person in the parking lot had closed the hood of his car. He looked up briefly, and for a moment it seemed as though our eyes locked. But then he got into his car and drove away without a backward glance, so I shrugged off that odd moment. Most likely it had been my imagination anyway.