Scene XIV: Brace What May Come
Chiba, Japan. 2014, May
Yoku had been adamant on keeping Senbo in Concordia Theatre until the show was over. She claimed it would make things easier for the three of them – especially if she could monitor his deterioration. As cruel as she was, even Yoku was surprised that Senbo was actually dying from the after-effects after so many years. Forty years, to be precise.
Senbo would always remember the day he took the elixir. He had been a twenty-three-year-old man from Croatia and had been born blind. Taking the elixir had cured his disability and he had been one of the lucky seven to walk out of that Trial in one piece; so, there was no real evidence to suggest why it was starting to drain him of life and power now.
Hokori hated it, having to watch the man suffer. He could hardly remember a day he hadn’t watched Senbo struggling over one thing or another and Yoku had been foul enough to suggest the elixir was rejecting him for killing Dotai, the elixir’s creator. Hokori had rule the theory out, claiming there was no way the elixir could mutate. There was no intelligence. Its sole purpose had been to cure, not kill.
He allowed those continuous thoughts to run through his head as he lay in bed. He stared up at the ceiling with a blank expression – it would not be long until the show commenced, and all would come to an end. There would be suffering for anyone who dared to step foot through his theatre doors, and he cringed at the thought of all those lives being burdened on his shoulders. Try as he might, he pinned the blame on Yoku and told himself he was just another victim in the midst of all her evil schemes.
Hokori sighed, fiddling with the ring around his neck. He had left Yuugen years ago to escape the hell of Yoku and Dotai’s shadow. He had been happy living in the dark, mingling with Dabblers and putting on circus shows to fool the gullible. But then Okui died and Katsubo needed a new Coven. He had been the only suitable Conductor at the time and after all his work and effort at achieving normality, it had all began to slip through his fingers like the sand in his wastelands from Concordia.
A soft sound emanated from The God’s right and he turned to see Senbo staring at him with glazed eyes full of sleep and Hokori instinctively raised a hand to trace a finger across the man’s bare shoulder, a tender way of greeting.
“…You’re thinking too hard about something.” Senbo mumbled, against his pillow.
“How can I not?” Hokori turned his gaze back up to the ceiling, folding his large hands against his exposed chest, twirling his wedding ring against his fingers once more. His voice was low, not wishing to startle Senbo after he had just woken. “It is all I can do to stop myself from screaming.”
Scoffing, Senbo raised himself up on his elbows. His hair had been washed and his dry skin had been cleaned on Hokori’s behalf; no longer covered in grease and self-neglect. The sheets beneath his stomach were soft and he shuffled, moving his legs to tangle against Hokori and pressed his cheek against the man’s shoulder. It had been weeks since he was told to stay on Yoku’s behalf and while he still shook and spoke to himself when no-one was looking, the old Senbo was breaking through and Hokori could not help but lose himself over finding the man he had loved so dearly yet again.
“You’re thinking about the show.”
“I find it difficult not to.” Hokori moved, shuffling his weight to shift down the bed and press his head against the pillows. He lay on his side to look at Senbo’s paling face, as if their conversation could only be shared in secret and whispers. “The show will start in less than a week. I cannot help but be afraid of what is to come.”
“I know.” Senbo mumbled, pressing himself onto his stomach and turning his head to hold Hokori’s glittering eyes of gold and pride. “… I just want it all to be over.”
Hokori’s jaw tensed and he moved closer, pressing his forehead to Senbo’s. He raised his hand, brushing his palm against the man’s back, tracing the pads of his fingertips across his spine. He could not help but look down, glancing at the inside of Senbo’s wrists where those hideous scars lay hidden; thick and ugly.
“I do not like to hear you say such things.”
“I don’t like hearing you say that you’re afraid.” Senbo countered.
A faint smile traced Hokori’s thin lips and he pressed a kiss to Senbo’s forehead, slowly moving his hand across the man’s shoulder blade; knowing well enough where his Name lay. Envy. He traced the word with his forefinger slowly, earning a shudder from the man laying beside him.
“Your Name is beginning to fade, I noticed it last night.” Hokori whispered. “Your Familiar…-”
“Please don’t talk about them.” Senbo cut in, pressing a hand to Hokori’s strong, scarred chest. “I don’t want to think about them right now.”
Hokori expected The Parasite to push away or climb out of bed entirely. He was relieved when Senbo began to idly trace his fingers across the long scar running down his chest, brushing the wedding ring against his left breast. While Senbo had been blind all those years ago, Hokori had suffered with a failing heart and had undergone multiple surgeries before he took the elixir. After he was cured, his heart never failed him again and all those horrid days of recovery, transplants and birthdays spent in hospital went to waste.
“I missed your company.” Hokori spoke, clasping his hand around Senbo’s small wrist to kiss the back of his hand. “It is unfortunate that we should lay here while the world falls apart, but I am glad I got to hold you again.”
“I’m glad, too… I think. Well, I know I am glad. I just, ah, well… Mm.” Senbo groaned loudly at his pathetic attempts to speak and buried his face against the pillows, turning silent.
Hokori chuckled, ruffling Senbo’s fluffy hair before he sat up, allowing his sheets too pool against his lap. He reached to his bedside table, pulling out an elegantly carved pipe from his drawer. While he busied himself lighting it, Senbo turned to his own side table and reached for the closed fan upon its surface. He shifted to sit up, kicking his sheets away from his naked body and crossed his legs, nudging Hokori.
“You still kept this? After all this time?” Senbo mused, flicking his wrist to open the fan and cover his face.
“I did.” Hokori offered a side glance as he inhaled from his pipe, smirking to the point smoke rolled past his thin lips. “It was a gift from you when we met in China after The Trial. How could I not keep it?”
“It’s hard to believe how long ago that was.” Senbo clasped the fan shut against his palm, gingerly returning it to the side table. “Only, you and I have lived for so long now that those years seemed to have passed by us all too soon.”
Hokori hummed around another inhale of smoke before settling his pipe back on his side table. He shifted, crawling between Senbo’s legs and tipped the man’s head up, exhaling his smoke against Senbo’s mouth. The Parasite inhaled all too fondly, eyes locking together before they shared a kiss. It was difficult to fight Hokori’s weight and Senbo fell back against the bed, spreading his legs as Hokori nestled so perfectly against his hips.
“How do you feel?” Hokori muttered, shuffling to press his ear against Senbo’s chest and relax.
“Mm,” Senbo closed his eyes and draped an arm over his face. “Just tired.”
“Sleep.” Hokori muttered, kissing the clavicle against his brow. “You will be safe. I promise.”
The days rolled by, drawing closer and closer to the nineteenth. Hokori would chant that, no matter what, the show must go on. His Coven had been dedicated to working hard, doing all in their power to please their Conductor into making this the best show they had ever held.
Kumo had reached her target within the first week, announcing she had sold tons of tickets and that a lot of people seemed eager to come which was a very honourable mention since May was a rather festive month in Japan. It was probable that the people wanted a change of entertainment for the holidays and Hokori’s circus seemed to be the kind of attraction that people were genuinely interested in.
Kobi continued to act her best, working new techniques into her trademark combos. She only faltered whenever Nara was mentioned. He had kept to himself since the incident in the bathhouse. No-one else seemed too bothered with his ever-growing distance and Hokori had already worked out why he was acting so aloof. A part of him wanted to tear Yoku limb from limb for all that she was doing to his family. Alas, there was nothing he could do without causing havoc somewhere along the line, whether it involved Senbo, Kin or any number of his Coven.
Kin had been quieter than usual. He seemed the most affected by the whole ordeal while everyone else was too focused on their individual tasks and chores at hand to care about the outcome. Katsubo had been quick to notice the change and his suspecting feelings of Kin’s jealousy towards Senbo continued to echo in his mind. It was hard to shake off the feeling and for some reason, Katsubo found himself jealous of Hokori for it.
On the eve of the show was when Katsubo swallowed his fear and took it upon himself to approach Kin on everything he thought and felt for him. It was beginning to become a problem and Katsubo was having a difficult time trying to pinpoint where they stood in terms of friendship. Since the incident in Tokyo, and Kin’s unfortunate accident, they had shared moments of silence in holding hands and kissing. Katsubo was an awful kisser; but Kin seemed experienced enough and had been teaching him; according to Kin. Now, as he stood outside Kin’s bedroom, Katsubo decided it was time to make his own path to walk down – and a huge part of him wanted to walk down said path with Kin by his side.
Ignorantly, Katsubo entered Kin’s room without knocking and found the redhead sitting on the edge of his bed, bent forward in attempts to dismantle the metal prosthetic from his left leg – leaving him in nothing but a tank top and boxer shorts.
Katsubo’s face turned a deep red when Kin looked up, shooting a nonchalant smile which made Katsubo’s stomach do somersaults. He was torn between leaving to crawl into a hole and hide his shame or stay and get through the muddled thoughts plaguing his mind. With an ounce of confidence, Katsubo managed to do the latter and close the door behind him as he stepped forward.
“I… didn’t know you had a prosthetic leg.” He began, inwardly cringing at his own words. It was hardly the correct way to begin your confession for undying love and he closed his eyes, cursing himself for ruining the moment before it could even start.
“Eh?” Kin blinked. He turned his attention back down to his leg and smirked, tapping his knuckles against the metal limb. “Oh- yeah, I ain’t had a real left leg in years. I just can’t get it off tonight… Can ya ’elp me out, maybe?”
Katsubo swallowed heavily, shuffling his feet against the floorboards and took the time to quickly glance around the room. While everyone else shared rooms amongst each other, Kin was the only one with his own room – asides Yoku and Miryoku, but they could hardly be considered part of Hokori’s Coven. There was nothing special about the small room. Kin seemed to keep a lot of storage for the show in the corners. There was a clothes cupboard off to the side and a dog’s bed tucked away in the corner where Kogi slept soundly. A poor light hung above the bed where Kin sat, casting long shadows across the uncarpeted floorboards.
“How do you get it off?” Katsubo spoke up, taking a knee to the ground. He tugged up his slacks just a tad before gingerly setting his palms against the metal prosthetic.
“There’s a latch on the back. Ya just gotta pull it and it should come loose.” Kin replied, motioning towards the back of his knee. “I think I tightened it too much this morn.”
Nodding, Katsubo reached around and grasped the iron latch. It was no bigger than a coin and was more like a screw rather than a latch. He tugged on it hard, feeling his fingertips grow sore and stiff against the hard metal. With a struggled breath, he pulled the whole thing with his strength and the limb made a loud clink.
“Ah, it’s off.” Kin praised, tugging off the leg. He leant it against the end of his bed and stretched out his scarred stump. The hem of his boxers fell past the marred remain of his left leg and he sat back, dangling his other leg over the edge of his bed. “Cheers.”
“It’s no problem.” Katsubo replied softly. He looked up into Kin’s eyes, soft and relaxed with kneeling at the redhead’s bedside. “… How did you lose it, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Me family weren’t the richest ever. We moved from country to country, ah, illegally. Anyways, we ended up in China. This be where we lost all our money and we were homeless in Beijing, so I ended up bein’ a beggar for money and the like.” Kin sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “Well, in the end, I took to stealin’ instead of begging ‘n’ knicked somethin’ from a butcher’s shop. The bloke ‘ad a big ol’ butcher’s knife and stabbed me in the leg with it – it got all infected-like and I had to get it cut off.”
Katsubo’s expression of soft had turned to shock. “How old were you…?”
“Mm, ’bout six, seven?” Kin tilted his head up. “T’was ’round the time I met the Boss. Me mother wanted me to go live with ’im ‘n’ ol’ Senbo for a chance at a better life.”
“I see.” Nodding, Katsubo turned his eyes back to Kin’s stumped leg, stopping just at the height of his thigh. He would have imagined the sight would make him sick, but he felt no disgust towards it and could only smile. “Kin-”
“Katsubo-” They spoke at once, addressing each other and pausing in sync. Kin blushed first, turning his head. “Ah, you go first.”
“No, no!” Katsubo blurted, his cheeks turning just as red – perhaps even redder. “You go first.”
Kin clicked his tongue. Instead of speaking, he leant down to kiss Katsubo. It was nothing like their previous kisses which only lasted a matter of seconds. This one was different, coupled with a softness Katsubo was drawn to and he craned his neck when Kin began to pull away, desperate for more. He cursed himself mentally at such desperation.
“I dunno ’ow else to say this,” Kin began. “I like ya. I mean, I like ya a lot. Ya ain’t freaked out by me and ya still treat me the same way even after the Black-Market Dabblers. See, tomorrow this show could end in utter shit ‘n’ I ain’t going to lie when I say that people are gonna get ‘urt. I just don’ wanna miss the chance to tell ya this before, well, before the end.”
Katsubo felt his heart flutter – and for the longest time, he was left to stare up at the redhead, jaw hanging in disbelief before he forced himself to swallow dryly and close his eyes; willing his own courage to speak for him.
“I… came here to tell you that I like you, too. I mean, I wasn’t sure at first, just because this lifestyle is so different to what I was used to. But you’ve come to be so important to me and I don’t know how else to say it-” Katsubo trailed off when Kin pressed a thin finger to his lips; much like when they were in the alley.
“Ya don’ need to say nothin’ anymore.” Kin hushed, shifting where he sat to make room for Katsubo to sit beside him. He smiled, pulling him up from the floor. “Tomorrow could be the end of the world for us. Why don’ we just pretend nothing bad’ll ’appen ‘n’ just… stay together tonight, aight?”
“Agreed.” Katsubo moved, leaning in to gently kiss Kin on the lips. Finally creating his own path to walk on.