Characters: Fujigaya Taisuke, Okamoto Keito, Totsuka Shota, Sanada Yuma, Inohara Yoshihiko (basically Hyakushiki Team minus Takada)
Warnings: Mentions of death and maybe tiny bit of mindfuck
Summary: Okamoto Keito, a college student, has decided to join in a cruise that travels across the Pacific Ocean to observe a very interesting research subject.
Word Count/Notes: 7,551
A/N: Made for myxstorie for 2011 jerainbowbridge
As the wind gently blew his bangs away from his forehead, Fujigaya smiled contentedly at the captivating view before him. The sun was setting, breathtaking as it started to disappear into the horizon. He wasn’t an overwhelmingly emotional person per se, yet he just couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the suns rays reflecting off the dazzling surface of the sea. Simply fascinating.
“Enjoying the view, mate?”
A young man came toward Fujigaya on the deck, stylishly dressed in a smart-casual combination of tie, shirt, V-necked sweater and jeans.
“It just looks extravagant. Every single time,” Fujigaya answered. “Sunset never fails me.”
“Aren’t you such a poetic man?” the newcomer chuckled.
“As cheesy as I made it sound, I’m not exactly poetic. I don’t even know how to create a poem. Just an ordinary chef,” Fujigaya answered in amusement.
“A chef?! You certainly don't look like one…”
Fujigaya laughed. He threw his cigarette to the floor, stamping it out with the sole of his shoe. It was true, he knew; he never really looked like a chef. Pointing at the white chef uniform hanging not far from where they were, just by the door of the kitchen entrance, Fujigaya shrugged.
“Head chef doesn’t really like to have anyone smelling like cigarette,” Fujigaya explained. “She’s one hell of a boss, really.”
“Well, at least she’s capable, I assume?”
He nodded, couldn’t agree more. As annoying as his boss could get at times, she really did get the job done no matter how incapable her staff were at times. Almost like the Japanese version of Gordon Ramsey.
After a moment of silence, Fujigaya turned to leave. “I gotta run back inside, dude. See you around.”
Keito couldn’t help but feel slightly intimidated by the room he was in. It was filled with expensive looking wooden furniture. If he had to be honest, it reminded him of his professor’s office back in England – especially that fire place by the side of the big oak table, the flare making him feel rather annoyed for some weird reason.
“Have you met him?” asked the man behind that extravagant desk.
“Oh yeah. Such a poetic man,” Keito answered, sinking into his chair.
“Poetic?” the man with the short, dark hair laughed. “That would be the very last thing I'd call him.”
Keito smiled politely, not really understanding why it was a laughing matter. Crossing one leg over the other, Keito tilted his head at the person before him. “So Inohara-sensei, what do you want me to do with him?”
The older man stood up from his chair, walking around to Keito’s side, leaning his hip against the edge of the table. “Observe his every move," he answered. "Study him.”
The smile on Inohara’s face somehow sent an uncomfortable jolt down Keito’s spine. Unable to do anything else, Keito nodded and quietly left, pushing aside vague thoughts of what kind of professor Inohara might really be.
“Military cut? Are you for real?” Fujigaya blinked his eyes in disbelief as he watched Totsuka walking towards him.
“It looks good on me, doesn’t it?” Totsuka grinned.
“That’s a really hard question to answer,” Fujigaya laughed.
The other man gave Fujigaya a flat look, then repeatedly poked Fujigaya’s arm with one finger. Fujigaya was used to it, used to Totsuka playing around with him when he tried to do his work.
“Go away. Do your own prep,” Fujigaya finally said.
“I’m done with mine, that’s why I’m here.”
“Then help me to wash these vegetables?” said Fujigaya, throwing a carrot that he was holding.
Fujigaya couldn’t remember who was working on the cruise ship the longest between the two of them, but as far as he could remember, they had always been working side by side in that kitchen. Even when they were in a different station for the night, Fujigaya wouldn’t be able to remember a single night where Totsuka wasn’t there.
“I saw you with Okamoto the other day,” Totsuka spoke up.
“Yeah. Keito, y’know. Okamoto Keito. He still has a really weird Japanese accent.”
That got Fujigaya silent for a second, remembering his little encounter with the said man at the back deck a while ago. The fact that this guy had a weird accent (at least according to Totsuka, he did) did ring a bell.
“Now that you’ve mentioned it, I might have talked to him,” said Fujigaya. “Very friendly though.”
Totsuka stared at him for awhile, pressing the edge of the carrot that he had on his hand against his lips before biting it. “Friendly, huh?” Totsuka chewed on his carrot as he shrugged.
Sighing, Keito glanced up to the dark sky, leaning his back against the outdoor living lounge. Things weren’t exactly as simple as he'd thought they were going to be. He thought it wouldn’t be so hard to observe and make notes. Right?
Fujigaya was a very talkative person. He talked about anything and everything. Building a relationship to develop enough trust with the older guy wasn’t all that hard, but to stay focus and observe the other’s behaviour clearly was a challenge for Keito.
Things that he scrabbled in his notebook were more towards habits that he picked up from talking to Fujigaya in person, which wasn’t exactly what he was supposed to do. True enough, it wasn’t that he was deviating way too far from what Inohara had instructed, but it was just kind of starting to get slightly irrelevant.
Keito flicked through the sheafs of paper. Habits he'd noted were more to do with how Fujigaya reacted to certain things, or certain topics of conversation. These weren't the sort of details that Keito could use to help with his field-research; he could only hope that they would at least prove vaguely useful in the future.
“Might as well get myself a drink.” He stood up, stretching his arms before making his way back inside.
The hallway in which he was walking was narrow, red-carpeted, but pretty dazzling all the same. He had learned every single corner of the cruise liner, realising that it didn’t take more than two weeks to memorise everything with such limited territory to explore.
Keito wasn’t much of a drinker, on the whole. He supposed this made him an exception among his peers, but he preferred afternoon tea or a cup of coffee. However, there were of course times like this where only booze could really make him feel relaxed.
As he entered the restaurant, Keito could only smile at the quietness, noticing the usual young waiter standing around with nothing much to do. It was pretty late at night and he assumed everyone was already inside their room – it must be very boring for that waiter. He headed to the bar with no hesitation, feeling a little bit foreign walking in as a customer and not as an academic that was observing his subject from far, but it couldn't be helped.
It took him aback somewhat when he noticed a very familiar figure sitting at the corner of the bar. Fujigaya was there, with a glass of whiskey next to his elbow, seemingly with someone, though Keito couldn’t really see who that person could be because the bartender was blocking his way.
“Fujigaya-san!” he exclaimed, greeting the other man with polite friendliness.
The said man turned his head to Keito, waving his hand right to greet him back, a smile curving on his face.
“Came for a drink?” Fujigaya asked.
“Yes. Mind if I join you? Well I hope I’m not disturbing you and your friend…” said Keito, only to pause for a second when he finally got a better view of where Fujigaya was – because there was no one there, much to his surprise. Not even a sign of an empty drink any where near the other man.
“Oh. You saw Tottsu? He was here, yes. But he left just seconds before you came. Don’t worry. Please, do sit down and have a drink with me.”
Keito nodded, taking the seat next to Fujigaya before ordering himself a pretty light cocktail. He still had some report to write regardless of how lacking his findings were, so he would rather keep himself sober when he walked out from that bar later.
“Tottsu… one of the kitchen staff, I assume?” he asked.
“Yes~. Not in the same station as I am, but we often do our preparation together. Very nice guy. Just cut off all his pretty hair recently, you won’t miss him when you see him,” Fujigaya answered lightly, half laughing when he mentioned the hair.
A friend of his. That was new, thought Keito. Maybe he wasn’t all that stuck in his task. This was actually going somewhere.
Fujigaya ran towards the wooden door, but it was locked. Trapped. No way out from the damned constricting hallway. He needed to go to the deck, he just had to. His lungs were starting to fail on him, taking in air was hard work, and he just needed to get the hell out of that hallway.
Somewhere. He had to go somewhere with air.
Anywhere at all at this point.
Aimlessly, Fujigaya stumbled back the way he had come, trying to open every single door he found. All were locked, making him more frustrated as his incapability to breathe normally, to think clearly, or to even just realise what was happening was already creating a very uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.
“Get me out of here!” he screamed, almost knocking over his own legs but still managing to get up before his face fell flat on the floor.
There was another door. No knob, with a big “Push” sign by its side. A chance to escape, his brain quickly told him. So he ran as fast as he could, ignoring how things started to look like they were doubled, field of vision narrowing rapidly. The only thing he wanted was to get to the door.
He pushed it as hard as he could the moment he reached it, his body swaying forward. The door was easily pushed by his body mass, a little bit way to easily that he ended up falling to the ground as he lost his balance.
It was a kitchen. Familiar kitchen.
But it wasn’t the cruise ship’s kitchen. It was a different place, a place that Fujigaya was sure wasn’t on the ship at all. He looked around, fresh air rushing into his lungs as he panted. It was a different kitchen, but he knew that kitchen. He remembered it.
The marbled floor wasn’t anything he didn’t recognise. Everything about the kitchen was extremely familiar. The dining counters, the glossy silver blower on top of that electric stove, the big fridge, and the dazzling chandelier in the middle of the room. Fujigaya remembered it all.
He walked towards the window, couldn’t understand how it was possible to see a back yard - Japanese grass in the extremely Western setting of the… house. A house. That didn’t make any sense. He'd been in the hallway. He'd been running, trying to find a way out, then he'd come towards this steel door that looked so much like the door of the kitchen where he worked at...
But it had led him to this place instead.
“Taisuke…” someone called his name.
He turned around, but saw no one.
“Taisuke!” the person called out his name again. Louder this time.
What’s going on?! He turned around in a circle, the bright sun from outside of the house suddenly disappeared, eating the golden light away and leaving the kitchen dim. Who is that? Wait... is that you?! Where are you?!
Fujigaya ran, rushing out from the kitchen, trying to find the source of this voice. It got louder and louder as he ran through every possible room he found in that somewhat familiar house. But no one. He couldn’t find anyone at all. What was happening? Where was he?
His body started to fail on him, tiredness washing over his entire body after he ran through so many endless rooms. Fujigaya stopped, trying to catch his breath and dropping to the floor on his knees. The voice didn’t stop, calling his name, occasionally telling him to stop. “Don’t do that! No! Taisuke!” The voice came over and over again, ringing in his ears, too-loud inside his head. His blood was rushing through his veins in a frantic manner, in a way that he didn’t like at all, painful adrenaline buzzing through his nerves. Yet he couldn’t find where it came from. He couldn’t recognise who this voice might belong to.
Then someone behind him touched his back , knocking him down when he turned his head to respond.
It turned dark.
And he found himself sitting up in a different place instead, all sweaty and fidgety in a dark room, blinking furiously as his head cleared. His own bedroom. Fujigaya gulped, brushing his bangs away from his forehead. His body was shivering, almost as if he was scared. He shifted, turning the bedside lamp on, his mind still trying to digest what just happened.
“It was… a bad dream…” he concluded, grabbing a glass of water that was there on the bedside table. “It was just a bad dream.”
“Are you sure about this?” Keito’s brow was furrowed.
“Yes, Sir. I don’t recall that name existing,” the man behind the computer screen replied to him.
“But it can’t be true. My friend has mentioned him before!”
The old administrator sighed, taking his glasses off, turning his eyes away from the screen to Keito. He didn’t look like he was amused with the way Keito was looking at him, giving him a cold blank stare that made Keito swallow nervously.
“No Tottsu on my list, young man,” the administrator sighed, turning his screen one hundred and eighty degrees so Keito could see.
“It might be a first name? Can you try again?” Keito asked rather desperately.
He had spent the entire day interviewing people about this Tottsu guy. Despite the fact that most of the kitchen staff had heard about him, none of them had seen him in person. From what they told Keito, there were rumours that Tottsu was just a new addition to the kitchen, doing mostly prep and salad washing. Yet the head chef had clearly stated that everyone was in charge of their own prep and that there was no such thing as an ingredient-cleaning guy in that kitchen.
“Sorry. Still no result.”
It didn’t make any sense. He clearly saw how Fujigaya had been talking to this guy, even though he hadn't actually seen him with his own eyes. Fujigaya had definitely looked like he was enjoying the conversation.
Was there more to this than Keito had expected?
That bar was the one place where Fujigaya could just sit and think, without any pressures. Memories would accompany him for the rest of the night, reminding him about his dreams, his past, and those that were important in his life. At least only when he was all alone.
Sometimes Totsuka would come to have a drink with him, just to chill and to have a little break from the hectic, sizzling life inside the kitchen. The other’s presence was the very last thing that he would complain about simply because everything about the other guy was just so familiar and soothing. He knew that he wouldn’t resist anyone with that kind of atmosphere.
Lately, Totsuka wasn't the only person who made Fujigaya feel at ease.
It had been a while since Totsuka came, and Fujigaya often found himself sitting there alone, waiting for this one young man to come instead. Oh he liked Keito’s company, probably slightly more than Totsuka's. The younger guy wasn’t the type to talk much, but when he did, he just knew what to say.
Fujigaya smiled when the person that he had been waiting for finally came, and straightened in his seat while waving Keito over.
“Drinking again, Fujigaya-san?” said Keito as he sat down next to Fujigaya.
Fujigaya nodded, chuckling a little at the statement, finding it rather amusing because Keito was probably there for a drink himself too. It wasn’t that Fujigaya minded, he could really use some company. Be it Keito or Totsuka.
“You look rather tired,” Keito pointed out, raising his hand to order his drink – probably Irish coffee again, Fujigaya assumed.
“Well, puffy eyes, and dark shades here and here,” Keito shrugged, directing his finger towards the clearly dark areas on Fujigaya’s face.
Touching the side of his face, Fujigaya blinked, wasn’t expecting Keito to notice his lack of sleep at all. It had been awhile since he started to get those dreams and he really found it hard to get much in the way of decent rest.
“I can’t sleep well lately,” Fujigaya reasoned out, resting his elbows on the hard, glossy surface of the bar.
“A lot of things bugging you?”
“Neah. Just weird dreams. Weird, bad dreams,” Fujigaya answered.
Keito’s drink came before Keito got to say anything at all to him, which giving Fujigaya a rather mixed feeling – wasn’t sure if he should feel disappointed or relieved that they wouldn’t be talking about those dreams.
For the longest time, Fujigaya had always been contented about dealing with things himself. Totsuka might be an exception, but he didn’t really talk about things that were bothering him to anyone at all. He was talkative, yes, but he was pretty private too.
“Tell me about those dreams,” Keito finally said when the bartender left them.
“…about the dreams?” Fujigaya turned his face toward Keito, not expecting the other to have asked at all.
“Well, yeah. Clearly they’re bothering you. People say it’s always better to share something that's been bugging you.”
As tempting as it sounded, Fujigaya shook his head, shrugging for no reason before sipping his drink. He would love to talk about those dreams to Keito, but he couldn’t trust the other man just yet. “It’s okay. It’s not much of a big deal, really.”
Trusting was not exactly an easy task to do. Especially trusting him.
It was a big day, at least for Keito. Constantly seeing only water, water, and water whenever he walked out to the top deck wasn’t something that he was used to and he started to get sick to his stomach as days went by.
Land. He just needed a fresh breeze that went through some green leaves, bringing the smell of lovely soil; not more saltiness in the air. He smiled contentedly at the sight of the shore, couldn’t wait to step on the crowded harbour. It had been about eight days since their last stop in Anchorage, and he felt a lot more excited to set ashore in the country that he was born.
Keito slid his hands into his jeans’ pockets as he watched the cruise staff putting the stairs down to the wooden harbour that led to the sandy beach, packed with people waiting for their arrival. It felt good to be there, to hear more people speaking Japanese. Not that the cruise was lacking in that at all, but other than the stuff, almost eighty percent of the travellers were foreigners and he didn’t have that many chances to really practice his mother tongue.
It was cold, but not cold enough to make Keito’s s grey knitwear completely useless in keeping him warm. Just that one hazy morning of Autumn, but Keito was satisfied enough to be able to walk down the steel stairs from the cruise liner and step onto the wooden harbour decking.
He had never been to Sapporo before, so he was pretty excited to see how it looked, especially during this time of the year where he heard there would be Sapporo Autumn Festival for about two weeks and luckily they'd arrived within that period. Gotta find my way there.
Too busy admiring how some of the green leaves started to turn red, Keito was surprised far more than he should have been when someone crashed into him.
“Ah! I’m sorry!!”
Keito wobbled precariously, but managed to get his balance back before his body decided to greet the ground. “It’s okay,” he said, smiling faintly, recognising the guy that just bumped onto him as one of the cruise’s waiters – the one that always seemed to be pretty bored during Keito’s bar time with Fujigaya late at night.
“Oh! Okamoto-san! You’re disembarking here?” the guy asked.
“Me? No, no. I just thought I'd drop by to eat maybe some ramen or something,” Keito answered.
“Hee~~. That’s great! I’m going to town to eat ramen too! I love Sapporo miso ramen! If you want to, I can bring you to my favourite place. We don’t have much time anyway.”
Instinctively, Keito took the offer, not wanting to get lost in the big city and end up unable to get back to the ship in time. His professor wouldn’t be too forgiving if that ever happened. He still had way too many things to do before the cruise finished its entire voyage.
By the time they got to the ramen shop, Keito had learned that Sanada was the name of this familiar face, and that he was new to the cruise liner. Sanada was friendly, somewhat clumsy, but nice to talk to nonetheless, and Keito was kind of glad that he had agreed to follow Sanada to this place. This might be a good chance too to know more about his research subject.
“Tottsu?” Sanada furrowed his brow, seemingly interested in the fact that Keito asked about this name. “Yeah, I’ve heard stuff about him.”
“Uhn~,” said Sanada firmly, pressing his lips against the edge of the ramen bowl to take a huge gulp of the soup. “Fujigaya-kun mentions him a lot.”
That… Keito had noticed. “Have you met him?”
“Met him?” the other guy turned his head to Keito, trying his best not to laugh. “Wouldn’t that be impossible?”
“How so?” Keito tilted his head.
Putting his chopsticks down, saying his gratefulness while bowing slightly to the bowl, Sanda then leaned over to Keito. It wasn’t a distance that Keito was fond of, but he was too curious for his own good.
“He’s not even real~. People are just too scared to tell you, since you're not a member of staff.”
For the next few days, Keito often found himself in Sanada’s company. At some point it worried him a little that he was starting to forget his own objective of being on the cruise, spending less time with Fujigaya. It was alright though, Keito liked to think, because Sanada often gave him new information about Fujigaya, so in some way, his research was progressing as well.
“You’re not going down?” asked Sanada when they stopped in Vladivostok.
“Nah. Too cold. I think I’ll just do some readings or something,” Keito answered.
“You’re working too hard,” the other giggled.
“What about you? Not going down? You’ve been talking about how pretty Russian girls are since we left Sapporo.”
Sanada burst into laughter, punching Keito’s arm playfully. “There’s always next year~. We should go and observe Fujigaya-kun instead. I think this is kind of exciting. You’re so lucky to be able to do cool stuff for uni.”
“Definitely better than your night shifts,” Keito laughed. “But that’s a good idea. Let’s go to the kitchen. It’ll be less suspicious with you around.”
The lady in front of him was small, petite sized even for a Japanese woman. The Head Chef had never actually called Fujigaya out from his station for any reason other than when she claimed he smelt way too much like cigarette smoke. He looked down at the note that she was shoving at him, reading the words before frowning.
5pm. Room Q30.
“So soon?” Fujigaya wondered, not quite understanding the importance of the note.
“We’re heading back to Tokyo soon, so it’s about time,” she corrected him.
She just smiled at him, shaking her head a little, making Fujigaya wonder. As she passed him, she gave him a small pat on the shoulder before getting right back to her job. Very few words were said to Fujigaya, and there was no explanation as to what this appointment might be.
“Looks like I’ll just have to go and see what it is,” he mumbled to himself.
Keito wondered if his theory was right. He had heard that it was possible to develop this habit even during adulthood. There were things such as trauma or pressure from one’s surrounding that could lead to this. It was such a rare occurrence, and Keito then understood why his professor supported him with this cruise’s research.
He stared at those thick books on his desk, sighing as he realized how much reading he had to do for the rest of the day. Keito loved his degree, but he didn’t like the amount of reading that came with it.
“I better get distinction for this,” he told himself.
About an hour into his reading, he heard a knock on his door, tearing his eyes from the pages in surprise. He hadn’t been expecting any guests. But he stood up from his desk, closing his notebook and walking towards the wooden door of his room.
“Sanada?” he blinked when he found the waiter standing in the doorway.
“Yo~! I’m done with my shift, so I thought I’d drop by,” he grinned.
Keito smiled, stepping aside to let Sanada enter the room. He had never planned on having friends for the cruise trip but he wouldn’t say no to a friendly companion either. Sanada was fun to be with. His occasional clumsiness was a good source of entertainment.
“That’s a looooo~t of reading. Dude, you’re insane,” Sanada commented when he noticed the huge stack of books on Keito’s desk.
“I can’t help it. It needs done,” he answered, shrugging.
“But don’t worry, bro~. Sanada Yuma is here to help you!”
Keito had to fight the urge to laugh when Sanada decided to sit down on Keito’s chair, making a full turn on the chair before facing Keito. He crossed his legs, lips pursed as he gave Keito a small, sly smile.
“I have some new information for you, Mister Keito~,” he winked, purposely using Mister even when the rest of his words were in Japanese.
“What is it?” Keito asked calmly as he sat down on the edge of his bed.
Sanada’s smile grew wider, spinning in the office chair once more time before clearing his throat, acting dramatic with what he was about to say. The waiter leaned forward, his eyes staring at Keito for one whole minute before his mouth opened. “So apparently Fujigaya-kun isn’t really working here…”
“What?!” Keito blinked.
“I know right? It’s really weird. I’ve been to the kitchen, and I’ve seen him actually working. But from what I’ve heard, it’s actually because his dad is behind all this,” Sanada explained.
“Keep going,” Keito lifted his legs up, crossing them comfortably.
“Apparently, his dad has some important shares with this cruise line. Fujigaya-kun is a chef, he really is, but he hasn't been employed for a while now. They said it’s something to do with what happened three years ago at his previous work place.”
Sanada stood up, walking to the door, checking if there was someone outside before locking the door behind him. For some reason Sanada seemed to want to be very secretive about this. “Listen, Inohara-sensei told me why you’re here, and he said he would really appreciate it if I helped you. So you have to promise me that this will only be between you and I. And Inohara-sensei. And your report. Okay?”
“Good,” Sanada smiled contentedly, getting back to his seat. “Up until three years ago, Fujigaya-kun was a personal chef, working for a wealthy family. They’re musicians or something, making big bucks with their concerts and all. Then an accident happened,” Sanada continued.
“What kind of accident?” asked Keito.
The waiter shifted in his seat, sliding his hand into his pocket and taking out something that looked like a newspaper clipping. “This kind of accident,” he said, passing the article to Keito.
He knew he had been there before, but everything in room Q30 felt so foreign to him. The fireplace. The oak desk. And the long sofa lounge not far from the bookshelves, strategically placed next to a Victorian leather armchair.
“You seem to be very fascinated by my office,” Inohara spoke up, closing the door behind them.
“Fascinated? Oh no. I’m just… it just feels so weird to be here,” Fujigaya answered honestly.
“But, you’ve been here before. Many times. I’m surprised that you feel that way,” Inohara pointed out.
Fujigaya frowned, glancing away from the room to set his gaze on Inohara. He didn’t understand it either. It wasn’t his first time there. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this place.”
“Oh, you will. Let’s have a seat first, shall we, Taisuke? I’ve ordered us some tea,” the older man smiled to him, sitting down to the armchair, motioning his hand towards the sofa lounge as if he wanted Fujigaya to lie down on it.
“You just called me by my first name.”
“I did,” Inohara answered him, watching Fujigaya’s every movement.
“I don’t understand why you would.”
“It has been three years. Let me have my moment,” Inohara smiled.
Who knows what might happen this time. Maybe Inohara-sensei will decide that Fujigaya-kun has to be sent away.
Sanada’s final remark kept on repeating in Keito’s mind like a broken record, making him speed up, finding it difficult to power walk after living on the cruise ship for more than a month. He had to see Inohara-sensei. If the situation turned out to be as Sanada predicted, he would lose his research project.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” Sanada panted, walking just as fast as Keito was so that he wouldn’t fall behind.
“I can’t let him send Fujigaya-san away,” said Keito firmly.
“Oh man… you go ahead. I’ll just wait here. Too tired to run with you. I’m just done with work, you know.”
Keito nodded, bowing a little to Sanada before dashing off again. He could only apologize inwardly when he bumped into a couple of people that were walking the opposite direction on that small hallway, desperately wanting to reach the office right away. He walked down the stairs, remembering clearly where Inohara’s office was, wanting to ask what actually the plan on this entire thing was.
“Inohara-sensei!” he rushed in, forgetting his manners and opening the door without knocking.
He paused, realising that his barging into the room had startled everyone within. There, in that intimidating office, Keito recognised Inohara and… Fujigaya. Was he interrupting them? Had it been decided that Fujigaya would be sent away already?
“Okamoto-kun,” Inohara blinked, setting his notepad down.
“I’m sorry. Can I have a minute with you? I won’t take long. It’s very important,” Keito said, clearing his throat in the process so that he wouldn’t sound like a lost soul in the middle of the ocean.
“Sure. Of course,” Inohara stood up from the armchair. “Give me a second, Taisuke.”
Keito stood restlessly by the door, wanting Inohara to step out of the room for a minute. He didn’t really like the idea of Fujigaya listening to their conversation at all. After Inohara closed the door, Keito could feel relief washing over him yet a new nervousness quickly crawled up his spine, his brain trying to form all the words he had to say.
“Are you sending him away?” Keito asked, right to the point.
“Sending him away?”
“Yes! To the rehabilitation centre,” he answered. “Sanada told me that every time the cruise heads back to Tokyo, you call him to your office. Like some sort of end of year evaluation or something. If he hasn’t overcome his problems again this year, Sanada said you’ll send him away to a proper centre. Are you planning on failing my project?! I need this case to graduate. I need him!”
Much to his surprise, Inohara was giving him a very strange look. It wasn’t the type where he looked surprised that Keito was desperate, but more on the type where… he seemed to be shocked that Keito said what he said.
“… that’s… new…” said Inohara, crossing his arms over his chest. “Come inside. It is about the evaluation.”
He nodded, following Inohara inside. He wasn’t sure why it bothered him so much to have Fujigaya sent away. It wasn’t that he couldn’t just go and visit him in the centre and do his research there. It just kind of bugged him.
Fujigaya smiled to him, tapping the empty space beside him on the long sofa, offering Keito a seat. He looked so normal, and everything about him screamed a regular man that worked as a chef.
“So about the evaluation,” Inohara spoke up once Keito was seated. “Taisuke and I were supposed to talk about what we should do for this year’s evaluation, to see if we should consider rehabilitation centre. But since you are here, why don’t we start with what you have to say first? Maybe about the background of this evaluation.”
Keito’s eyes shifted from Inohara to Fujigaya, unsure if it was okay for him to say anything about this when the so-called-chef was in the room with them. Wouldn’t it be a major shock for him to learn the truth this way?
“Well,” Keito started off. “Based on my observation, Fujigaya-san can function normally like any average working man. I’ve seen him in the kitchen a couple of times before, secretly of course, and he does seem to know what he is doing as a chef. At a first glance, he seems normal. However, he is suffering from something similar to Paracosm, which in this case is in a form of imaginary friend that we often find in children. This friend plays a major role in his life, and according to several of our conversations as well as from the interviews that I have conducted with the kitchen stuff, this imaginary being’s name is Tottsu. No data was found anywhere in the staff directory and no one has ever seen him. One of the waiters has given me confirmation about the possible truth of this theory.”
The room fell silent. All eyes were on Keito.
“I have a tiny bit of evidence. I’m not sure how much proof it is, but I believe it plays a significant role in Fujigaya-san’s case,” Keito continued, taking the article that Sanada had given him earlier, giving it to Inohara.
He didn’t fail to notice how Inohara and Fujigaya both tensed upon seeing the piece of paper.
“In this article, we can see the reason behind this psychological problem that Fujigaya-san has. An accident occurred in his previous work place, claiming the life of a teenage boy, a son of the owner’s neighbour. A fire broke out in this mansion he was working at and the forensic team determined that the cause of fire was an explosion from an unattended oven in the kitchen. Fujigaya-san might feel that it was his fault the explosion happened, and he developed this psychological illusion to cope with his guilt. In this case, the presence of Tottsu as an imaginary friend.”
Keito took a deep breath after he finished his analysis, only to be surprised that instead of an approving nod, Inohara looked like he couldn’t believe what Keito had just said.
Was his theory wrong?
Fujigaya blinked, turning his head to Inohara, frowning slightly at the older man. This was… definitely not what he had in mind when he decided to come to this meeting. Keito’s words seemed so familiar, and in a way it was giving him headache. How could Keito remember the diagnosis of all things?
“This year is definitely giving me headache,” Fujigaya sighed, leaning forward to grab the abandoned tea on the coffee table. “Poor Tottsu is being forgotten this time.”
“He’s not real, Fujigaya-san,” Keito spoke up.
“Oh. He is real. Very real.”
“You just created him to deal with your depression. And unless you accept the reality, you wouldn’t be able to move on. Inohara-sensei would definitely agree with me,” Keito insisted.
This guy… was being unbelievable. How could he say Totsuka wasn’t real? Totsuka had been there all along. He’d just met him in the kitchen for goodness sake. The longer this was going, the more Fujigaya’s nerves frayed.
“Sensei, please say something?” Fujigaya groaned, turning his gaze to Inohara.
Sighing, Inohara put the article to the table. “Your theory is interesting, Okamoto-kun. In fact, most of it is correct. Almost everything, except you got all the names wrong.”
Now that sounded more like it, Fujigaya thought, rubbing at his eyes.
I got all the names wrong?
He was clearly confused. “What do you mean, I got all the names wrong?” Keito blinked, sitting restlessly on the sofa. His analysis was perfect. He had spent weeks observing Fujigaya, and there was no way on earth he would make such a significant mistake.
“It is true, that the psychological problem is similar to Paracosm, and that it involves imaginary friend,” Inohara explained.
“Then how am I wrong?” questioned Keito.
Fujigaya’s comments and expression didn’t make any sense either to Keito. Instead of looking shocked, the older guy looked more like he was upset. There was denial, of course, which was normal for those who were just being exposed to reality. But the way Fujigaya was refusing was too calm. Way too calm.
“It wasn’t Taisuke that was suffering from this problem,” Inohara said.
What? Once again, Keito blinked.
“But you are. You better read that article carefully, Okamoto-kun.”
He took the article from the table, quickly skimming the news on that clipping. Everything was exactly as what he just said in his analysis. There was a fire in a mansion. The oven had exploded. Fujigaya Taisuke was the family’s chef and his carelessness had caused the fire. A teenage boy died in this accident because the fire fighters couldn’t locate him due to poor visibility in the field. There was even a picture of that boy next to the one of the burnt mansion.
And the name of the boy was… Sanada Yuma.
“S-Sanada Yuma?” Keito couldn’t believe his eyes.
The picture was an exact image of Sanada, the waiter that he had met when the cruise made its stop in Sapporo. It didn’t make any sense at all to him. How could they look exactly the same?
“I don’t understand this. This can’t be Sanada. I was just talking to him. He was in my room! He was the one that gave me this article!” exclaimed Keito.
Fujigaya was staring at him, in an expression that Keito could not read. As the man turned his face away from Keito, Inohara gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder.
“The Sanada that was in your room… he wasn’t real, Okamoto-kun,” said Inohara. “The mansion belonged to your father. Your father is a very busy musician, and he rarely spends his time at home. So when you came back from England to live with him, he hired Taisuke as the family’s chef. Sanada, on the other hand, was your neighbour. He was your first friend and probably the only friend that you trusted fully since you got back. He never laughed at your accent, and always jokingly helped you shrug off what people said about your Japanese. And when you lost him in that accident, the trauma from what happened made you develop your own imaginary world, erasing memories of Sanada’s death and creating a new role for him in your new world.”
Keito’s throat felt dry, his chest tightened.
“No… this isn’t real. This is a joke, right? He was in my room! He followed me here too! He’s outside, I can show you that he’s outside. He said he’d wait by the end of the hallway,” Keito stood up, shaking his head furiously.
He ran outside the office, rushing off to the one spot where Sanada said he would wait for Keito. “Sanada!!” he shouted. “Sanada where are you?!”
When he wanted to run further, anxiously trying to find his friend, he felt someone holding him back, hand on his shoulder. He turned his head and saw Fujigaya behind him. There was concern in the other’s face, the way he was biting his lip giving Keito an impression of how sorry Fujigaya felt… for whatever it was.
“He’s gone. He’s long gone, Keito…” Fujigaya mumbled.
“No! He was just here! He was running with me,” Keito pulled his hand away from Fujigaya’s grip, escaping.
But the moment he turned, a pair of arms wrapped themselves around Keito’s body. They weren’t heavily muscled but they were strong. He looked up, finding himself staring at a bald man. He had never seen him before.
“Let me go!!” Keito screamed.
“No! Tottsu, don’t let him go,” said Fujigaya.
“T-Tottsu?!” Keito blinked, freezing and taking a good look at the man.
“Yes… like I said… he’s real.”
“Why is he so violent?” the bald man spoke up.
“Evaluation day,” Fujigaya answered.
Wiggling, Keito desperately tried to free himself, but his hope of finding Sanada crashed as several men came up to them, carefully taking him from Totsuka and restraining him. His head was suddenly filled with memories. Real memories. Images of his teenage life flashed before his own eyes. His house. His dad. His chef. And his best friend.
“Let me go! Please… let me go…” he wailed.
He watched Fujigaya step closer to him, his hand gently brushing over Keito’s cheek. He felt a pinch, somewhere on his arm. Keito looked to his side to find one of the men injecting something into his body, the liquid already making his eyes hazy and his eyelids heavy.
And it all went black.
“Here~. You need it,” Totsuka said, handing Fujigaya a can of cold coffee.
Fujigaya bit the end of his cigarette, taking the can of coffee with one hand and opening it.
“You might want to pinch yourself to make sure that I’m real,” Totsuka teased, chuckling.
“Oh, shut up,” Fujigaya laughed, kicking at the other’s knee.
He took a sip from his coffee, keeping the cigarette in his free hand, not wanting to waste it just because of a can of coffee. It was a long evening, and he needed both. Just as something to calm him down.
“Inohara-sensei said Keito might stay for another year. He’s not sending him away just yet,” Fujigaya said.
“Yeah… his imaginary world is the closest to reality this time. There’s hope he said. Besides, Inohara-sensei is a family friend of the Okamotos, so I doubt he’ll give up on this case,” Fujigaya continued.
“That’s good, isn’t it?” Totsuka commented, leaning forward to the wooden railing of the deck. “You can go in peace. Head Chef has been complaining to me about how much you keep on refusing that promotion she wants to give you.”
“Nah. I’m staying,” Fujigaya said, half laughing. “It was my fault that he’s like this.”
“But you went back inside the house to save that kid, right? You were just lucky that a fire fighter bumped into you and dragged you out before you passed out.”
Yes, he had. When Keito had anxiously told the fire fighters that Sanada was inside, Fujigaya had felt responsible what had happened. Even when they told him that it was already way too dangerous to go back inside, Fujigaya had run into the house, trying to find Sanada.
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t tell you so much about what happened that night,” Fujigaya frowned at Totsuka. “You’re starting to sound like a smart ass.”
The bad dreams he had been having were pieces of flashback, of the place that he used to work at. The kitchen where he would watch Keito and Sanada playing on the yard from, and the rest of the big house. The endless rooms the he ran through in those dreams were like a reminder of how he couldn’t find his way to where Sanada was when he tried to save him. He still remembered how Keito was calling his name when he rushed back to the burning house.
“Besides… I just want him to call me with my name again…”
“Oh?” Totsuka blinked.
“That night… was pretty much the last time he called me Taisuke. All these imaginary worlds he’s been having for the past few years... I’m just a stranger to him. Just a no-one. Just a chef that works at the kitchen and he doesn’t even know I exist. But this time, I’m part of his world.”
And Taisuke didn’t mind staying for another year to be part of Keito’s next world.
My first time writing this kind of genre. Critiques?