Word Count: 4,212
Pairing: Gen, Massu/OC
Summary: The transfer was good for Massu. Massu missed feeling like he had a place.
Prompt: Osaka Rainy Blues (translation here)
Notes: Written for the Future Team for the 2008 je_ficgames. Thank you grunhilda for letting me plague you with question and for holding my hand; thank you jadedfrenzy for proofreading last minute. <3. I’m sorry for all the typos I had anyway. They should all be fixed now.
They met the weekend he moved to Osaka.
The second thing Massu noticed about her was her eyes. She looked so serious. She wasn't messing, not about this. It was unusual, that kind of clarity, that kind of calm sincerity, in someone so young. The kids he worked with every day weren't horsing around, but she meant it, every second of it and you could tell just by looking. Massu wondered when he got so old.
The first thing was her music.
She was playing the guitar outside the train station. She was good, but she wasn't polished. She had talent, and she had technique, but she didn't have enough flash. No show, no flourishes. No stage presence to speak of. Like someone had told her that if she practiced enough people would notice. That scales and fingering and feeling the music would get her through. That's not how it worked, of course, Massu knew. Not in the entertainment industry.
But then again, she didn't look like she much cared if anyone noticed. Maybe she didn't have dreams of hitting it big and being the next singer/songwriter to grace the tops of the charts. Maybe she was just there because she wanted to play. Massu noticed her fingerings and feeling anyway.
The guitar case was open on the ground in front of her, and there was money in it. Another passerby dropped in a 500 yen coin in the short time Massu took to calculate his train fair. She was good. But she wasn't serious about it, not about the money. She barely paid attention to the case. It was like it was open because that was expected of street musicians. She was frowning at the next chord, some elusive perfect progression for the moment.
Massu didn't plan to say anything to her. You didn't talk to street musicians. They played. Sometimes you gave them money. That was it. Places to go, people to see, music to make. In fact, Massu didn't say anything. He bought his ticket, and got his 40 yen worth of change, but he didn't drop it into her guitar case.
She wasn't standing close enough to the gate he was using. Still used to Tokyo, he didn't have time to go out of his way. Places to go, people to see. Music to make.
He put the coins in his pocket (where they clinked together making their own music all day, a melody of a girl with a guitar in a station) and he caught his train and went to the office. He didn't talk to the guitarist in the station. He went to work. It wasn't fair he had to work already. He hadn't even gotten his boxes yet, and he'd be pulling all-nighters at the studio, but that was the way things were.
They met the weekend he moved to Osaka. She was playing guitar outside the station by his house. That was when Massu noticed her; that wasn't when they met. They met on the next day, when Massu was coming home, disheveled and low on sleep, turning jingles over in his head and trying to get all the new names matched to all the new faces. A single 100 yen piece in his pocket because he was too tired to stop by the train office to get his commuter pass.
The train was crowded and Massu wondered if it was always like that on Saturday mornings in Osaka. It didn't seem right, being so crowded so early on a weekend. Downtown, where he got on, it was mostly tired looking teenagers, going home after a night on the town. As they got further out, the demographics changed, all in the space of a few stops. Teens got off and were replaced with groups of mothers with strollers, fathers holding children's hands on weekend outings, a flock of eleven-year-olds in pink leotards with duffel bags and their hair pulled back into perfect ballerina buns. The teens getting on now didn't have the behind the eyes tiredness of people who had been up all night, but the kind of sleepy haze of someone up earlier than they really wanted to be. Watching people enter and exit the car, sweet and natural like breathing, Massu let the stops drift by. With the morning sun beating on the back of his head, it was...just about right.
Massu nearly missed his stop, squeezing out just as the doors closed, and ran into a woman who was moving across the platform. She was smaller, even if she was moving faster, and the impact knocked her off balance. She managed to stay on her feet, but dropped everything she was carrying to accomplish that. Halfway through his apology, Massu realized: the girl with the guitar.
Guitar-less this time, she was wearing the teller uniform from the little bakery down the street where Massu got his breakfast yesterday. She scrambled her parcels together frantically, a panicked jumble about being late falling from her lips. Massu helped her pick everything up because that was the right thing to do; he walked her to work and apologized to her boss for having held up her employee because it was the right thing for him to do.
"Oh, no," the owner apologized back for intruding on his time. When the girl bowed an apology of her own, a small silver cross swung free of the collar of her shirt to glisten in the morning sunlight. The owner continued, "Our Akiko has always been clumsy. We're so sorry to have taken up part of your day, Mr--"
"Masuda Takahisa," Massu filled in smoothly, the practiced ease of a businessman rather than that of a pop idol.
"We're very sorry for the trouble, Masuda-san," the owner apologized again, but Massu just smiled (his idol's smile this time, not the business man's) at them all and assured them it was no trouble. The girl with the guitar, her name was Akiko. It felt like his first real connection to this strange city.
It was a promotion, really, and Massu knew it. Working with the older Kansai boys was good experience. And it would be good for his career. There hadn't been a group debuting out of Kansai since BAD. The transfer was an important stepping stone up the corporate ladder.
Still, it was taking him some time to adjust. Massu missed working with the younger kids. When they first got in, everything they felt felt real. When they were happy, they were elated. When they were frustrated, you knew. When they were terrified they were going to mess up and excited that they were really really going to be on an actual stage and the combination of nerves and exhilaration was enough to make them sick, they meant it. And that meant something to Massu.
Older kids lost that honest luster. Older kids learned to fake it. The business was good at making you jaded; Massu knew that better than most.
But that was the way it was. He knew that too, had accepted that a long time ago. The transfer was good for Massu.
Massu missed feeling like he had a place.
Massu saw Akiko sometimes at the bakery if he stopped to grab a loaf of bread on the way home. She smiled at all the customers, whether she was at the cash register or restocking shelves with pastries, humming little fragments of tunes she'd play later.
She never worked mornings (when Massu bought breakfast on the way to work). Sometimes in the morning, though, he would see her playing in the station. He could hear her improvising chord progressions and bluesy harmonic sequences until his train left the station.
Another late night at the office, and Massu just wanted to go home. Wanted it enough that he decided he'd rather risk the last train and the crowds and maybe not making it anyway and having to take a taxi than staying at work overnight again. After leaving the station by his house, though, Massu thought he might reconsider.
It was freezing, freezing and pouring. The worst kind of weather. It could have been colder, would be much colder in a few weeks, could be snowing, but at least snow didn't soak you through in the space of a few minutes. It wasn't the kind of weather anyone would want to be out in.
Massu buried a hand in his pocket as he huddled under his umbrella and wished he'd thought to bring gloves, because the frigid metal of the handle was making his hand go numb. Massu was hurrying past the bakery--just another block and a half to go--when he caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye and jumped back, the hand in his pocket shooting out to clutch dramatically over his heart in surprise. Some stage mannerisms were hard to unlearn, even after so many years.
But it was just Akiko, sitting under the store-front awning on an little stool, guitar slung across her lap. The awning kept her (guitar) out of the rain, though Massu doubted the humidity and cold were good for it. She was bundled up in a coat and scarf, her breath puffing white in the air in front of her. Her hands, laced through gloves she had cut the tips out of, caressed the guitar as though she had just finished playing, or was about to, but the blank expression in her eyes made Massu think the music hadn't been coming for her that night.
She didn't look her usual serious self, serious about the music. Instead she looked a little lost, but maybe that was just the way the shadows and the rain moved across her face, breath hanging in the air forlornly.
In that moment, Massu, cold, tired, and hungry, wanted nothing so much as he wanted to make her smile. Lonely people shouldn't have to be alone on nights like this. It was too cold outside to be cold inside too. Massu coughed and Akiko's attention snapped to him, finally noticing him standing in the rain.
Massu squeezed under the overhang with her. "Do you mind?" he asked, gesturing toward her guitar. She shook her head numbly and held it up for him to grasp. Massu accepted it, and the ghost of pleasure lit her face when she saw the reverence with which he handled it.
Massu strummed a few chords slowly, getting the feel for the instrument. He spared a quick, grateful thought for Ryo for having taught him to play, and then launched into a ridiculous pop song that was currently topping the charts. When Massu got to the chorus, he burst into song as well, singing cheerful lyrics about the importance of doing one's best and school exams, of all things.
When she smiled, her whole face lit up, like the sun finally breaking over a mountaintop at dawn. Brilliant. It was instant light, illuminating the whole cold, dark, freezing street.
Massu thought about it, thought about the way it could look and the potential heat it could bring him if the tabloids were having a slow week (Hot off the press: Masuda Takahisa, formerly of hit Johnny's group NEWS, seen taking a young girl into his residence; the headline. And the byline: First or Forty-seventh? The Real Masuda Takahisa. Both bad news). But really, it was a cold, miserable night and he couldn't leave her standing outside alone like that. So he invited her back, just until the taxi arrived.
It was kind of neat, a little messy. The kind of messy you get by not really spending much time in your apartment: not enough time to really mess it up, not enough time to pick up what you do. There was still a stack of boxes shoved up against the wall next to a mis-placed dresser, things Massu hadn't managed to find the time to unpack. A table stood in the center of the room, across from the little half-counter kitchen where Massu was boiling water for tea. Off in one corner stood his own guitar (which Tegoshi had given him nearly six years ago) on a stand, a messy, paper- and pencil-strewn end table, and a folding chair nearby, like he did most of his living in that corner.
Akiko leaned her guitar case in the entryway by her shoes and sat quietly at the table sipping her tea. Massu sat across from her with his own cup, and they watched the steam rise together. Just until her taxi arrived.
It wasn't that they saw each other all the time after that; they didn't see each other any more than usual. On Massu's way to and from work, in between long hours pulled in the office and meetings. Occasionally, in the bakery; less often when she was playing in the station. Massu smiled his bright idol-smile, and a spark of laughter shone in the depths of Akiko's serious eyes and she strummed a little chord progression from the pop song he'd played for her.
In the bakery, Akiko was as bright as her namesake, laughing with the rest of the staff at the funny stories Massu told them about the new juniors coming through the agency while someone packed up his order. Sometimes Akiko absently hummed snatches and snippets of songs while she worked, disjointed and musical through customers, conversation, laughter, and shouted greetings as each new customer walked into the store.
Once they met in the park on a bright, blustery morning. Massu had brought work, bundles of sheet music to look through, forms, and records on each of the kansai juniors--Hey!Say!JUMP was looking for back-up dancers, and Massu was pulling together a few probably teams. Who would make good units, who would work well with their sempai, who could contribute to the concert, and who would learn a lot from the experience--but it was too windy to work outside, not if he didn't want to be up chasing paper every few minutes. It was too nice to go back in, though; all the clinging, cloying summer heat that seemed to collect in the little bowl of hills around Osaka blown away at last by the real start of fall. Massu was sitting on a curb, papers held down by a rock in a neat stack beside him, enjoying the last-of-summer sunshine when Akiko walked by, holding the hand of a little boy too old to be hers. The boy jumped and chattered and tugged on her arm and then dropped it to run over to another, older woman, yelling 'Mama!' excitedly at the top of his voice.
Massu watched Akiko buy a box of takoyaki from a vender and bring it back to mother and son, before the three of them settled down to eat not very far away from his place. Akiko saw him then and waved. Massu waved back with a smile, then arranged two smaller stones on the paper next to his make-shift paperweight, so that it looked like Mickey Mouse's silhouette. Massu realized how they didn't actually know very much about each other. Just a shared moment with a guitar on a wet night.
The wind picked up a bit after that, flapping the edges of his stack of papers and Massu couldn't really justify a break much longer, so he slid his Mickey carefully to the ground, took his papers, and went back to the office. Behind him, he could hear Akiko telling the little boy to go over and look by the spot he'd just left, and then the boy's excitement at the pebbles.
Massu smiled to himself. Just a night and a guitar. That was a lot.
Akiko wore a little silver cross everywhere, tucked just under the collar of her shirt, like it was protection instead of a fashion statement. Massu wondered about it out loud once, after having caught sight of it several times. It was unusual, wearing a cross where no one could see it. She wasn't even Christian. Akiko claimed it was a good luck charm, given to her by her favorite grand-aunt when she turned ten because she admired it so much as a small child.
Massu liked the way Akiko's smile softened when she told him about the old woman. Her wrinkled skin, and the pretty silver cross sparkling at her old throat. The way Akiko had thought that her grand-aunt's back had grown so bent so she could lean down to hear what Akiko had to say more easily. Her sharp mind and gentle voice. When Akiko reminisced about her favorite relative, she looked like she did when she was playing.
Sometimes Massu brought Akiko a present when he stopped to buy his weekly loaf of bread. Little knickknacks and trinkets. A new guitar pick, a daisy, sheet music the agency wasn't planning to use. Things that felt small and familiar, like settling in at last. In exchange, she told him about children playing in the park, and the shapes clouds made over the cityscape, directions to little, out-of-the-way places in other parts of the city. Places that weren't famous or in guide books. Places that made the city settle into his skin a little more securely, or maybe made him feel better about having settled into this city.
Massu always brought her back something after he visited somewhere like that. It was a fair trade. Her sunshine-smile said so.
Hey!Say!JUMP (and upper management) had settled on one of the groups Massu had hand-picked, seeing them as good enough dancers and hard enough workers (and mature enough) to handle the work-load. Made up of eight boys from the Kansai region, Massu called them KOKu for Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe. Each of them had roots in one of those cities. Higher management, of course, thought it was a catchy name, and it saved them the trouble of coming up with a group name themselves.
Massu spent most of the summer and fall managing photo shoots and interviews for all the usual magazines for the new junior group KOKu. It was hard work for everyone, but they were good kids. It made the lack of sleep easier to deal with.
Work stepped up again over the winter season. Days crept on. Massu worked hard and late getting this batch of juniors ready for Countdown, in addition to all the now usual work with KOKu. He could smell change coming in this new year. Even with the weather cold and rainy, even with all the extra all-nighters in the office pulling things together, Massu couldn't help feeling optimistic about things. He still missed the honesty the new juniors brought, but by this time of year, even the 'new' ones at home would be old hands. And the boys in KOKu were fun to work with. They got into their fair share of trouble, but at the end of the day, they knew when to buckle down (and put a frog in each of his desk drawers to make him laugh).
Massu brought a pillow to the office the last few days before Countdown. He had to organize getting all the boys who are old enough safely to Tokyo, where a set of experienced Tokyo-based managers would pick them up and get them housed and to the concert and back. They had been a step above his position while he had still worked in the Tokyo branches. He didn't really envy them their positions. He did kind of wish that they still did it like back in his day, when he wouldn't have had to worry about getting any of the juniors to Tokyo, but Johnny's changed with the times.
And then finally, it was New Year's Eve, and all the boys were gone, and all his work was done, and he could go home. He could sleep in his own bed. He thought that sounded marvelous, so even though the trains had stopped, he took a taxi.
Massu got to his apartment building in time to catch the very end of Countdown. He was torn between supporting the boys he'd been training, and just getting some sleep, but in the end it turned out not to matter. Rummaging through his bag for keys around an armful of pillow, his next door neighbor came outside to greet him.
"Ah, Masuda-san," the old house-wife said. "Happy New Year! Finally back from the office? It's been a couple of days. You work so hard! I wish my husband had worked as hard as you do, before he retired."
"Happy New Year!" Massu said back, smiling his business man's smile. He didn't really know his neighbors well. Like she said, he worked too hard. He was a quiet neighbor, and put out the trash on the right days. He didn't interact with them much. It was unusual for any of them to go out of their way to greet him.
"Actually, I came out because someone left some mail for you in my mailbox." She finally got to the point, holding out a white envelope with his name written across the front.
"Ah, thank you. Sorry for the inconvenience." It was heavier than he expected, and he felt hard corners when he closed his hand around it. "Thank you again. And Happy New Year." He waits until he's inside to open it.
He knows it's from Akiko before he reads the note tucked inside, because a little silver cross tumbles out when he tears it open. The note inside is simple: "Thank you for that time in the rain."
Somehow, Massu knows she's gone, and she's not coming back.
Somehow, his apartment feels colder. Outside, the rain picks up, beating down the outsides of his windows. Turning up the heat didn't really help.
Nothing was open on New Year's, not even the Jimusho, and Massu got three days off to make up for the overtime he put in before hand. New Year's Day, Massu went to one of the little shrines on the other side of town that Akiko had told him about. It was tiny, and it was New Year's, and it was completely filled with people. It was good. He needed a break.
It was still lonely. He didn't go out the rest of his vacation.
Massu kept working. Things calmed down a little bit after Countdown. He got to go in to work in the mornings, and come home in the evenings and slept in his own bed instead of in the office almost every night. He listened for guitar chords in the station every morning, and he stopped to chat with the girls at the bakery on the way home. He got his bread and some gossip, but never heard the right guitar. It didn't really feel like home.
Work picked up again. KOKu was getting the go-ahead. They were going to debut in the spring. Everyone was excited, seemingly endless balls of energy and bundles of nerves. Massu got half as many live frog surprises, but spent more time selecting music and hammering out schedules and parts.
Sometimes he went to work in the park. Getting away from all the nervous tension made it easier to get through his endless stack of papers. Once, Massu heard a lonely strain of notes on the wind there. A sad little melody, who had lost its chords. Massu couldn't help feeling an extra twist of sour nostalgia. He tried to push it to the back of his mind. It was just the exhaustion speaking. He got back to work.
KOKu debuted. They had Music Station appearances, and press releases, and a debut tour coming up, running from station to photo shoot to recording studio. All in Tokyo, of course. They looked excited and happy on the television screen.
Massu had more free time. He had handed them off to their own manager. He was proud of them, but the office felt emptier without frogs in his desk drawers.
"Masuda-san?" One of the office clerks popped her head into his office. "Package." She waited until he took it, and then left, checking names on doors as she pushed her cart of mail down the hall.
Inside was a stack of guitar music. A post-it stuck to the front of the stack said, "Maybe you can use some of these. If you can't, maybe at least you'll enjoy them. ^_^" Underneath it was a hand-drawn map, leading out of a train station near his office. Turn at the corner where the Sony office was. Turn again at the end of the next street. There was a police station there. The destination was circled in red, and next to it written, "The world's best coffee." Underneath that was a time: 1pm, Wednesday the 3rd of April. It was tomorrow.
Massu didn't have to check the music to know it was from Akiko. Outside it was raining, a dreary spring rain that looked like it would never stop. The city felt a little warmer. And when Massu smiled, it was slow and bright and brilliant, like dawn.