: AU (General), drama, an edge of mystery, and dashes of humorPairing
: None (vague suggestions of Ohmiya)Word count
: A bizarre dream disturbs Nino's sleep for weeks. After some thought, he decides it may have something to do with a traumatic event in the recent past, one almost as enigmatic as the dream.Notes
: It's been AGES since I've posted writing, and I won't deny that it feels pretty good to be back here. This is dedicated to the lovely dthnhi
whose birthday was a few days ago, and thank you to kos_mos26
for beta-ing. This piece is a bit more mysterious than my previous work, so I'd love to hear some of your thoughts about it. Enjoy! :)
The alleyway is so dark he can’t see where he’s stepping. He keeps one hand on the wall just to maintain his orientation as he fumbles forward, because there’s really no other direction to go. Everything is so familiar yet so mysterious at the same time that he can’t discern if he has ever been in this place before.
Eventually, the wall disappears from beneath his hand, and he stops the moment the cold sensation of brick becomes alien to his fingertips. He turns his head every which way trying to find his bearings, but quickly learns that not even shadows live in such blackness.
Whatever familiarity he feels to this situation prevents him from outright panicking. He isn’t stoic either, as a bead of nervous sweat trickles down the side of his face. Sight and touch have lost their usefulness, so he relies on whatever other senses are available to him. Smell does him no good; he inhales several times but no odor presents itself. Sound is equally unhelpful, because only his shallow breaths echo back at him. There was nothing for him to taste.
Finally, without any other option, he continues forward. The ground under his feet is definitely solid, so he grows more confident with each step. Then that confidence fades as ten steps become twenty, twenty become thirty, and so on. He has almost run out of hope.
A light appears in the distance, so suddenly that he’s sure it wasn’t there the last time he blinked. It’s brilliant, but wiry—as if twisted into a shape. He draws closer to it, allowing his eyes to adjust to the intense luminosity. When he’s close enough to touch it, he realizes that it’s a sign.
A white, neon sign that formed the word “Open” in capital letters.
* * * * *
The dream had been haunting him intermittently for weeks now, and frankly, Nino’s patience had worn down to paper thinness. The sequence of events and the reality of the sensations were always the same, but he never woke with an epiphany as to what their meaning might be.
His psychologist friend was just as baffled as he was when Nino described the vision during a casual lunch date.
“What do you think it means? ‘Open?’” he ventured, hoping that continuously pursuing any leads would unravel the mystery.
She twirled some noodles with her chopsticks. “It could mean any number of things, honestly. Maybe it’s a message to open something, and I don’t mean one of the boxes that have been sitting in your apartment for ages.”
“Oh no, I know what you’re going to say. ‘Maybe it means you have to open
your heart, Nino.’” He sat back in his chair, clearly not amused. “I’m not falling for that crap again.”
“No, that isn’t what I meant. I distinctly remember what happened the last time I gave you advice like that.”
The young man’s lips curled ever so slightly at the thought of the shiny new game console he received as a peace offering. “Then what?”
“I can’t say. Try examining your life and see if anything needs opening.”
“Cryptic, as always. Thank God I don’t have to pay you.”
“You say that to everyone,” she replied with smile.
* * * * *
Nino stared at one of the boxes the psychologist had mentioned, still totally packed since the time of his move. That was already a year ago.
Regardless of whether or not it had to do with his dream, he was simply curious as to what was so unimportant that he didn’t think to look for it for so long. Using a box cutter he sliced the tape sealing the top flaps and pulled them open.
Sure enough, nothing particularly interesting lay inside: some old dishes and utensils he had since replaced; photographs of places he didn’t remember going to; and books he either read too many times or not at all. The other boxes contained objects of similar value, which was barely any at all, both monetarily and sentimentally.
Disappointed, Nino sprawled out on the couch to try and relax. Instead, he ended up taking a mental inventory of his current status in life, hoping that as his friend suggested, it would reveal some clues about the dream.
Young, single, employed at two entry-level jobs, and currently living in an apartment designed comfortably for one. It wasn’t much, but Nino felt satisfied with his lifestyle at this point in time. He ate, had a place to sleep, and made enough money to fund his occasionally pricey hobbies.
There didn’t seem to be anything missing, but the more he thought, the more he began to backtrack.
One year ago.
Nino had been living on the other side of the city, in a similar apartment and working at jobs that paid about as much as his present ones. It would have been his third year there, which meant he had had the time to build stable relationships with people in the area. In fact, there was one particular friend that he went drinking with almost every Friday to celebrate the start of the weekend.
Their workplaces had enough distance between them that they could visit a different bar each time they went out. That is, until they limited their choices to the two bars that were more or less at the midpoint of their commutes so that they would both travel the same distance.
A few months after this ritual began, a new place opened up on a street a block or so from Nino’s apartment. The day they decided to try it out had been particularly taxing for both of them at work, so they felt obliged to drown their problems in whatever alcohol they could afford.
It was late when they had finally decided to get the bill, and the street was just about deserted when they got out. With what little judgment he had left, Nino suggested that his friend stay with him for the night, because he was convinced neither of them could make it much farther than that. There were no protests, so they began their short journey to Nino’s apartment, a task made difficult by their inability to see straight and perform basic motor functions.
“I…am…bird!” proclaimed the other man as he held up his arms at his sides.
“Yesh, you are…Aibaba-san,” Nino affirmed with a high-pitched laugh.
The drunken stupor had gripped them so tightly that everything around them was like a dream, including the three humanoid shadows that seemed to materialize in front of them.
“Going somewhere?” a throaty voice inquired.
At that point Nino’s memories only painted a jumbled picture of what happened. He couldn’t remember if it was him or Aiba that was punched first, or who was first to hit the ground.
What he did
remember was the terror he felt, even in his inebriated state, when a metal blade rested threateningly on the side of his neck.
He wasn’t sure if he fainted or not at that time, because his recollections of the event end there. The next thing he could remember was the hospital room he woke up in, his mother already sitting attentively at his bedside. Bruised ribs, a slightly fractured left forearm, and a cut on the side of his neck deep enough to need stitches were only some of the injuries he had sustained. Aiba wasn’t much better off.
Healing wasn’t difficult physically, but the scene of the attack was in such close proximity to his apartment that venturing outside became more stressful than his two jobs combined. After about a month of panic attacks and nightmares, his friends and family decided that relocation was his only option, and that the opposite side of the city was a good distance away. His psychologist friend insisted on it too, because she lived there and could get to him more easily. She even helped him find a place to stay, which he moved to within a week.
* * * * *
Nino found himself back at square one. Besides the past trauma there was nothing out of the ordinary in his life. Even if it was
related to the attack, why didn’t he have this dream earlier?
“I think your mind was too busy with the actual traumatic part of the experience—perhaps this is another piece of a memory,” the psychologist suggested later.
“Yeah, but what part?”
“Well…you never did find out how you ended up at the hospital, right?”
It was true, Nino had never thought to. Did the attackers decide he and Aiba weren’t worth their time and left them? Did some nameless hero come to their rescue?
The more scenarios popped into his mind, the more he wanted to find out the truth.
* * * * *
“Nino-kun!” called a young man on the subway platform.
The two friends hadn’t been able to see each other since Nino’s move, but that didn’t seem to have deterred their relationship much. Sho was practically his mother when he first started living on his own, and he felt that he was the most reliable friend he had in this sort of situation.
“Thanks for agreeing to help me on such short notice,” Nino said when the two finally met.
“Of course I agreed. I’m just…surprised you wanted to do this.”
“Me too… Oh, how’s Aiba been doing?”
“Good, good. Jun-kun managed to get him a position at his firm a few months ago, and it’s been working out very well so far.”
Nino smiled. “So he finally moved on, huh?”
* * * * *
It was nightfall when they arrived at the street where the attack had taken place, something Nino intended based on a hunch he had regarding the nature of the dream. It was most likely that the “Open” sign belonged to a restaurant or store on this block, so it would be easier to identify it at night.
Slowly, he and Sho began to walk down the sidewalk. Trepidation squeezed Nino’s organs unmercifully, but Sho’s reassuring presence kept Nino from succumbing to it.
They spanned the entire block, but not a single window had a white neon sign on display.
“Are you sure it’s here?” asked his friend as they stood on the street corner.
“I don’t see why it wasn’t—”
Suddenly, it occurred to Nino that in the dream, he begins in some sort of alley and then comes out to what might be the middle of the street.
“Actually…I might have taken a turn somewhere.”
With that the pair went back to where they began, this time checking the intersecting streets.
“Nino-kun, I think I see something,” Sho said as they turned into the closest corner to the scene of the attack.
He didn’t have to look far to see it. Across the street, some store windows down, a white, neon sign that formed the word “Open” in capital letters was perfectly visible—identical to the one in his dream.
“Now, Nino-kun, don’t—”
Sho’s words were lost in the wind as Nino bolted toward the haunting sign, his heart a lump in his throat. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find, but whatever it was, it had to be something important.
The place, some kind of restaurant, was empty. Chairs and tables were all set neatly, but no one was sitting at them. The anxiety was agonizing.
“Excuse me…can I help you…?”
The soothing voice triggered something in Nino’s mind, and he instinctively turned around to see its owner.
His eyes widened. “You…you’re…”
The man, who was not much older than Nino, could only stare back in confusion.
“One year ago…you saved my life.”
* * * * *
More pieces to his puzzled memories revealed themselves. How the assailants struck Aiba and knocked him unconscious; how he received the slash on his neck from surprising the one who held him at knifepoint; how his raving lunacy drove the shadows away.
“I know that my dream wasn’t perfectly accurate, but now that I saw that sign, I remember coming here,” he explained, sitting at one of the empty tables. “…I remember your face.”
“That night…I thought you were a zombie,” admitted the other man as he placed a cup of tea in front of Nino before sitting. “But…then I saw the blood on your neck and rushed over.”
“…What happened after that?”
His recollection of the rescue was still unclear to him, no doubt an effect of the alcohol and the sudden trauma.
The man seemed to understand, and continued, “I couldn’t really understand what you were saying….At first you were whispering, then you yelled. I grabbed a napkin for your wound and…had to force you to put your hand on it.”
Nino recalled struggling, feeling a firm but gentle hand pressing his own hand on top of the blood-stained cloth.
“I managed to get my cell phone before you dragged me outside. I saw your friend on the ground...I called for an ambulance. And then…you fainted. …Ah, well, I caught you—before you hit the ground.”
The feeling of falling and a strong embrace saving him, Nino remembered that too.
“And…that’s about it, I think.” The storyteller seemed embarrassed his lack of eloquence, a quality Nino didn’t notice at all.
No, Nino was too preoccupied with his savior’s apparent modesty, how his handsome features reflected a combination of innocence and maturity.
“Thank you,” he said at length. “Thank you—”
“Ohno Satoshi,” interrupted the other. “That’s my name.”
Nino bowed his head slightly. “I’m Ninomiya Kazunari.”
“It’s nice to meet you…again.”
“It sure is,” he replied with a chuckle.
At that moment Nino felt his cell phone vibrate and proceeded to check the device. It was a text message from Sho that read, “Seems like you found what you were looking for. Call when you need me.”
“…Do you have to leave?” Ohno asked with a tinge of disappointment in his voice.
“No, that was just my mom asking where I was.”
“Oh, well…” he hesitated. “I have some bread in the kitchen. It’s not very fresh, but…if you’re hungry…”
“Starving,” Nino confirmed with a smile.