Kouta was at his sister’s house, visiting after returning from Italy a week earlier. As they talked in the living room, the chattering of Erika and Toshiro, Kouta’s one-year-old niece and nephew, wove through the conversation. The twins were nearby playing, communicating in a way that only the two of them could understand.
“So, how are things going with you and Ryuu?” Yuki asked, as she set out some juice and sandwiches.
“Really well, especially compared to the time I had my accident.”
“You know, the papers love you two.” She reached over and tapped a tabloid newspaper sitting on her coffee table.
“It’s strange isn’t it?” Kouta mused. “For a while now, they’ve been writing about us. I’d thought it would mean trouble. Still, many people don’t seem to have a problem with us dating. In fact, it seems to excite the fans even more. The bold ones will tell me ‘Say hi to Ryuu’ or ‘You make a good couple;’ things like that.”
Kouta smiled, thinking about some of the latest pictures that had appeared in the newspapers and on TV. He and Ryuu didn’t flaunt their relationship but there were displays of affection, often unconsciously done. Some pictures were taken at slightly private moments, like Ryuu and him eating at a restaurant. Overall though, there wasn’t anything either of them found embarrassing and Kouta was thankful for that. It was important to him that their relationship not be turned into a cheap media show. He knew that Ryuu liked discretion, opting to keep as low a profile as possible.
“Call me bias but I think it’s because both of you are so likeable,” Yuki said, giving her brother a teasing smile. “Plus, you’re happy with each other and it shows.”
“We are happy. Ryuu’s good for me and he’s good to me. Of course, we have our disagreements but we work them out. I’ve never felt like about anyone.”
“Well, you know Mom, Dad and Takeshi just love him. I think he’s a great guy too…Now, did you enjoy your trip to Italy?”
“It was excellent!” Kouta gave her details about everything, including the disagreement. He told her that he didn’t want to dwell on the argument, as the trip, in general, was a great experience. “Hopefully I can go to another reunion. Oh, I bought some presents. They’re in the bags I put next to the coffee table. Take a look. I know you’ve been curious, since I got here.”
Yuki grinned, revealing her dimples. She reached for the bags and started taking out the gifts.
“Oh Kouta, you didn’t have to buy all of this,” she said.
“It’s okay. I really wanted to do it.” He commented on each gift, as she looked at them. “You can adjust the volume for the music boxes. That way, they won’t be too loud for the babies. I know Takeshi likes different kinds of sculptures. This glass horse is especially impressive. The vase for you has butterflies on it. I remembered how much you liked them.”
“Thank you for everything,” she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “The vase is gorgeous. I’ll put the music boxes in the babies’ room. Takeshi is going to be happy about this gift too. He has wanted to expand his collection but hasn’t found too much time lately. Things are so busy for him. More architectural requests are coming in and he’s happy but it means he spends more hours at the…Oh, listen to me ramble.”
“I don’t mind listening, Yuki.”
While she told Kouta more, he helped her adjust Toshiro and Erika so they were comfortable on their thick blanket. The toddlers were beginning to show signs of sleepiness, their eyelids drooping.
“Kouta, you should see Takeshi with the kids. He really looks forward to the time he spends with them. At first, he was worried he’d accidentally hurt them.” She began to laugh.
“What is it?”
“Well, the first time he picked them up, he was treating them like they were made of glass,” she explained. “Now, he changes them, enjoys giving them a bath, feeding them…”
“You know, if you ever need me to babysit, I will—as long as I’m in the city, of course.”
“Um, yeah, unless you want to take my babies on tour,” she teased.
Kouta stayed at Yuki’s place a little while longer, enjoying lunch with his sister. Like many parents, she had taken numerous pictures of the babies and wanted to show Kouta. She gave him a few to put in his wallet and his home.
After helping her lay the kids down for their naps, he prepared to go to the studio. She gave him a few delicacies for him and his band mates.
“We have a new song to practice,” he told her.
“Have a safe drive,” she said, as she walked him to the door. “Tell the guys hello for me.”
“I will,” he replied, giving her a hug. “Bye sis.”
After spending most of the day practicing at the studio, Kouta was eager to return home to Ryuu. Since the band would be going on tour soon, he wanted to spend as much time as possible with him.
When he opened the door to his home, he deeply inhaled the aroma in the air. Ryuu was making dinner.
“Hey love,” Kouta greeted him, walking into the kitchen. “What are you cooking?”
“Rottini pasta and shrimp with alfredo sauce.”
“Mhmmm. I knew there was a reason I kept you.”
Ryuu laughed softly and gave him a kiss. Kouta paused, as something seemed off about it. Even their quick kisses had emotion, often causing them to linger for more attention from each other. There hadn’t been much feeling behind this one.
“Everything okay?” Kouta asked.
“I don’t know. You seem distant.”
“I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Maybe a little later. We’ll be eating soon.”
“Alright; I’ll set the table.”
While they ate, Ryuu started telling Kouta what was going on with him.
“Kou, I’ve been thinking about a few things,” Ryuu began. “I want to expand into doing other types of work with my animation. I’ve been approached a few times to do projects with musical groups. I’ve decided to seriously consider some offers.”
“Didn’t you argue with your father about that?”
“Yes but I’m a grown man with excellent business sense!” Ryuu’s tone was sharp and it took Kouta by surprise. When he saw the look on Kouta’s face, he quickly apologized. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
They finished their meal in silence. After cleaning up, Kouta gave Ryuu some space. It was obvious from their conversation that he needed it. Kouta had learned that a bit of solitude quickly helped Ryuu get over his moodiness.
Kouta relaxed for a little while, watching TV, with his pets curled up next to him, until he became tired. He took a shower and then went to find Ryuu, who was in their office, intently drawing. Kouta leaned against the door for a few moments, watching him. Then, he slipped away to his bedroom, without saying a word.
He had started to doze off when he felt Ryuu slide into bed. He kissed Kouta softly under his jawbone, in a spot that usually sent a jolt through his body.
“Are you going to ask or just take what you want?” Kouta questioned, when Ryuu’s hands made their way over Kouta’s naked body.
“What do you think?” Ryuu responded, chuckling, as he pushed aside the bed cover. He moved down and slipped Kouta’s cock in his mouth.
“Just going right for the goodies, huh?” Kouta smiled at his urgency. Ryuu nipped him on his nutsack, making him wince.
“We’ll see if you can talk, after I’m finished fucking you.”
“Such language tonight, Mr. Kobayashi.”
Ryuu slid back up his body and Kouta reached for the lubricant, handing it to his lover. Ryuu prepared him for entry and then slipped inside him.
After a few thrusts, Kouta felt that the usual connection between them wasn’t present. There was a strange intensity behind Ryuu’s actions. Usually, he was a calm, self-assured lover. Now, however, he was fumbling with uneven movements.
“Sorry,” Ryuu murmured, his face flushing with embarrassment.
Kouta held his face in his hands, trying to keep eye contact with him. Ryuu refused to hold his gaze. Kouta felt as if he was hiding something and was trying to make up for it with sex.
“What’s wrong?” Kouta asked, grunting as Ryuu pushed into him again.
“Nothing,” Ryuu responded quietly, briefly burying his face against Kouta’s neck.
“Something is going on.”
“Kouta, I’m trying to come here.”
“So am I. It would be nice if we could get some kind of rhythm—and add more lube.”
“You don’t have to keep apologizing.”
They moved against each other for a few more minutes, still struggling to get into a pleasing tempo. Kouta adjusted the best he could to Ryuu’s disjointed attempts until it became frustrating—and a little painful.
“Ryuu, pull out,” Kouta told him after several more thrusts. Ryuu slipped out of him and rolled to lie at his side. Kouta held him close, still wondering what was happening with him.
“Kou, I’ve done something,” Ryuu told him, his expression pained. “Just don’t make me tell you right now. Give me some time to think of the best way to explain.”
A series of possibilities ran through Kouta’s mind. He didn’t know what to say. He wanted to ask many questions but knew that would only make Ryuu more anxious.
“Love, you’re worrying me,” Kouta admitted.
“I know. I’ll tell you everything. Just wait a while longer.”
“If that’s what you need…”
After their cryptic conversation, Ryuu had fallen asleep. Kouta, however, couldn’t rest. He separated from Ryuu, going into the kitchen to get a drink of water. He leaned against one of the kitchen counters, replaying their conversation, unable to fathom what Ryuu could have meant.
Polaris was rehearsing a song the band planned on introducing on its upcoming tour. The last time the band had practiced this song, Kouta had determined that it wasn’t quite right. He was still experiencing the same feeling, as the last chords faded away.
“I need to make a change,” he told the rest of the band. “The last two chords just aren’t working.” He frowned down at the sheet music.
“The chords are fine, Kou,” Hiro said. “You’re tense because of the tour.”
“Ryuu needs to loosen you up,” Shinji teased.
“Don’t be an ass,” Hiro told him.
Shinji pointed one of his drumsticks at Hiro like it was a gun and made firing noises. Toru, who was standing near Hiro, pretended to be collateral damage. Hiro, on the other hand, just scowled at Shinji, refusing to play with him.
“How about we break off for the day?” Hiro suggested. “I think we’ve worked things over pretty good.”
“You okay?” Kouta asked. During practice Hiro hadn’t been as relaxed as usual.
“Just some issues with Aya,” he replied. “Don’t worry about it.”
“So, are we finished?” Toru asked.
“Yep,” Kouta told him. “Don’t forget; the next practice is on Friday. That’s in two days, at 2 PM, not 4, not Saturday morning, not—”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll remember,” Toru cut him off. “I’m sorry I was late today, man.”
“I know your lover had you pinned down,” Kouta teased. “Just don’t forget where the studio is…”
A few months ago, Toru had started dating Shizuka Kuroki, a publicist at the record company. He’d liked her for almost a year but had been too shy to do anything about it. Kouta had finally convinced him to let her know his feelings. Now, the two were becoming serious. She was the reason he had been late to practice. Kouta was gently reminding him he still had a duty to the band.
They packed up and then headed out the door. Kouta stopped at a vending machine to get a soda and then they started walking towards the parking garage.
“Ahhhh! This is killing me,” Shinji exclaimed on his way out. “I have all of this energy. I wish we could start the tour now.”
“Calm down man,” Toru responded. “You always do this. You have almost a month until things get going.”
“I wish it wasn’t that long,” he said.
“Your time will be filled up anyway,” Hiro told him. “We have those interviews to do. Plus we have our radio show to prepare. Then more practicing…Shit, even talking about it is driving me crazy.”
Kouta laughed and patted him on his back. Shinji’s nerves were apparently spreading.
Shinji started walking backwards down the hallway, talking about how eager he was to see who he described as “all the Shinji-loving girls” while touring. Hiro and Toru teased him about being a legend in his own mind. Kouta was only partially listening, still thinking about the adjustments he wanted to make to the music. Engrossed in his thoughts, he didn’t notice two of the members of Freefall, until Shinji bumped into one of the guys from that band.
“Watch where you’re going, idiot,” Jun Katayama, the keyboardist, said.
“Sorry,” Shinji told him.
“No harm done,” Kazuki Yamamoto, one of the guitarists, said. He was the mellowest out of the group.
“What do you mean no harm done?” Jun demanded. “You don’t speak for me.”
“Jun, we need to get to practice,” Kazuki said, his voice full of authority. As the older out of the two and one of the most respected musicians in the company, what he wanted usually happened. “Let’s not be late.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Jun grumbled. “It’s just if he hadn’t been acting like a buffoon, he would have seen where he was going.”
“We’re all sorry that Shinji bumped into you,” Kouta apologized. He turned his attention to his band. “Let’s go guys.”
There was a moment when Kouta thought everyone but Shinji would listen. He was still staring at Jun intently.
“Shinji,” Kouta called his name forcefully and clasped one hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah Kou,” he replied. “I heard you.” He turned his back on Freefall and they went home without incident.
As Kouta dressed to go to a press conference, he was thinking about the growing friction between Freefall and Polaris. Freefall saw their increasing success as an insult, which Takayuki had told the band at the time of its second album. Usually, there wasn’t any real animosity among the artists in the company. Yet, the already existing tension between the two bands was being made worse because of the Takayuki’s attraction to Ryuu.
For the moment, Kouta put the conflict out of his mind and rehearsed some remarks for the press. He was looking forward to the event, as the band would be attending because of its achievements.
Once a year, Pinnacle Music Corp hosted an extremely popular concert to showcase certain acts. No one signed to the company was guaranteed a chance at being part of the rotation. This time, Polaris was fortunate. The chosen musicians would talk about the songs they planned to perform and answer some questions from reporters. It was a special chance for promotion. The conference and the subsequent concert were both televised. As a result, ticket sales for concerts a short while after the events often received a boost.
Kouta had been hoping that the press conference would be a huge benefit for his band. The conference went even better than he expected, as Polaris received a significant amount of attention, considering it was the band’s first time to be invited. After the reporters had left, he and the rest of the band chatted with some of the other artists who remained. They decided to go out and celebrate their success. They were heading to their cars when Polaris passed Freefall. Kouta remembered the tension from the previous day and tried to hurry his band past the other group.
“These junior members can’t even be bothered to say hello,” Kouta heard Takayuki say. He closed his eyes and cursed. In his desire to avoid Freefall, he’d committed a social faux pas.
“I’m sorry we didn’t greet you,” Kouta said, turning to face the other band. “We just didn’t want to bother you.”
“It must be nice to have the president feel sorry for you,” Atsuro told him. “You really shouldn’t be part of the line up.”
“We earned our place,” Hiro said, starting out a bit forcefully. Then he softened his comment by offering a compliment. “We hope to show our gratitude, by playing as well as you do.”
“You feel gratitude, do you? You want to play like us, do you?” Yuichi asked, scratching his short beard. His tone was a mocking one, made that much clearer with his next words. “If that’s the case you should be willing to lick our boots.”
Shinji and Toru had been standing behind and to the side of Kouta and Hiro. Now, they both moved to be directly next to their band mates. Shinji rested an elbow on Kouta’s shoulder. The action appeared to be casual but Kouta knew Shinji better. There was nothing relaxed about him; he was already annoyed.
Kouta was also bristling at the comment. None of the members in Freefall were more than a few years older than the members of Polaris. Kouta thought that the level of deference the other band was requiring was unreasonable. He’d chaffed over it for years, especially knowing that under his penname, he’d written several hits for them.
Despite his current annoyance, Kouta wanted to be level-headed. He gave Hiro a meaningful glance, to which his best friend returned a barely perceptible nod. Hiro understood that Kouta was more tense about this latest encounter with Freefall. The band now had more to lose and could not risk negative press.
Kouta was also mindful of the other solo artists and bands who were watching the interaction. He valued the opinions of some of them and hoped to perform together with them. He didn’t want to come across as a hooligan.
“That might be a bit much for us,” Hiro said, in his most appeasing tone, as he shared Kouta’s concerns. “We’ll be going now, as we can’t accommodate you.”
“Can Aya accommodate me, Hiro,” Atsuro lewdly joked.
“What?” Hiro quickly forgot about staying calm.
“According to the tabloids, things are over between you and her,” Atsuro responded.
“If you want to believe the tabloids, that’s your problem,” Hiro returned.
Kouta knew that Atsuro was stepping into dangerous territory. The tabloids were closer to the truth than they might have realized. Hiro and Aya were going through an especially rough spot. The previous week she’d moved out to live with her sister for a while. The status of their relationship wasn’t clear. Hiro, understandably, was sensitive about any mention of her.
“So you’re saying the story is fake?” Atsuro probed, causing Hiro to clench his fist. “Well, when she does move on, and she will, she’ll be my girl.”
“Shut your diseased mouth,” Kouta said, his desire to protect his friend overriding his previous concerns.
“What are you going to do about it?” Jun sneered, stepping towards Kouta.
Shinji quickly slipped in between his leader and the other band’s keyboardist. Jun pushed Shinji hard and the situation escalated. Shinji lost his balance, stumbling sideways. He stepped on Takayuki’s foot, as he tried to steady himself. Takayuki yawned, apparently unfazed. Kouta had noticed that the other leader had kept quiet. Kouta wasn’t under the impression things would stay that way for long.
“Shinji, that’s enough,” Kouta ordered, regretting his show of emotion. “Let it go.”
“Yeah, listen to Kouta, you puppet,” Yuichi mocked, getting into Shinji’s personal space.
Before anyone could stop him, Shinji grabbed onto Yuichi’s lip ring, starting to slowly pull.
“Who’s the puppet now?” Shinji asked, his voice a low growl.
Yuichi was stuck. He could either stay as Shinji’s toy or move back and injure himself more. He wasn’t left in limbo for long, as Shinji snatched out the ring. Yuichi grabbed his mouth as blood started to stream from the injury.
“My mouth!” Yuichi shouted. “You busted my fucking mouth!”
“That’s right,” Shinji said, laughing and throwing the ring at him.
Kouta yanked him away from Yuichi, shouting at him, “Shinji! What the fuck are you thinking?”
Kouta, Hiro and Toru stood in front of the drummer, blocking him from Freefall.
“Look, he’s sorry about what he did,” Kouta said.
“Taka, you just going to let them get away with this?” Yuichi complained to the vocalist.
“We don’t need to cause any trouble for them,” Takayuki told him, still looking as if nothing important was happening. “Especially for Kouta.”
“What do you mean by that?” Kouta asked, curiosity overcoming him.
“Well, I’ve been spending more time with Ryuu.” A sardonic smile spread across Takayuki’s face at the expression of wounded surprise from Kouta. “Oh, I see that Ryuu hasn’t told you…”
There are instances when more thought and less action would be useful. This should have been one of those times for Kouta but he neglected to use better judgment. He’d lost patience. He punched Takayuki hard in his mouth, enjoying the feel of his fist connecting with the other man’s face. It was a bonus that Takayuki went flailing against a car. He stumbled sideways, stunned for a second but quickly came at Kouta. Soon, there was a rumble of scuffling, punches, shouts and overall testosterone-driven chaos.
Some of the other artists separated the two feuding groups; a strong pair of hands grabbed Kouta left arms. That stopped him from landing what promised to be another good roundhouse punch on Takayuki. He cursed and tried to calm himself.
“Stop guys, stop,” Kouta told his group, as security guards hurried to the area. Takayuki called off his people too.
Kouta stood there, breathing heavily, blood running down his chin. He did a mental check of his injuries, calculating aching ribs, a split lip and bruised knuckles.
He’d enjoyed himself but knew that he needed to set things right. He apologized to the spectators on behalf of his band, even to Freefall, who returned the action. Kouta bowed deeply to those who had witnessed the fight and especially to those who had needed to break it up. His band members followed his lead. The two groups went their separate ways, with Freefall taking Yuichi to the hospital, due to his now displaced lip ring.
After getting assurances that no one from Polaris required medical attention, Kouta led his band back inside the building. He wanted to get everyone away from where the fight had happened. He found an empty lounge nearby and the group piled in there. The members sprawled on the sofas, laughing and joking about the fight.
“I think I got in a few good punches,” Toru said, grinning.
“Yes…one of them hit me,” Hiro told him, derisively. “I thought we were on the same side.”
“I’m really sorry,” Toru assured him, laughing loudly. “I was just trying to find a target.”
“Shinji, you ass!” Kouta exclaimed. “Why did you have to step to Jun? It went downhill from there.”
“No Kouta, you’re the one who really started things,” Hiro reminded.
“Exactly, everyone already knows I’m a loose cannon,” Shinji chimed in. “What was up with you and practically breaking Takayuki’s face?”
“Yeah, Mr. Leader, what happened to all of your self-control?” Toru teased.
“Well, even I lose it sometimes…” Kouta wiped his nose, which had begun bleeding again. “Who knew Jun could hit that hard? He looks like a lightweight.”
“Can you believe Kazuki? He just got out of the way and watched the whole time,” Shinji said.
“It would have been five against four if he hadn’t,” Kouta informed him. “Besides, he’s not really an aggressive person; I wish the others were like him.”
“Well, at least we gave as good as we got,” Toru said, grinning and then flinching due to a split lip. “Maybe even better.”
“Listen to you,” Shinji teased, poking him in his side. “You’re the calmest in our group. Now all of a sudden, you sound like a war-monger.”
“Shut up!” Toru answered, smacking Shinji’s hand way.
“It’s times like this I’m glad I’m not dating anyone,” Shinji announced, whistling softly.
“What do you mean?” Kouta asked.
“Well, you three are going to have your lovers fretting over you,” he explained. “I don’t need that crap.”
“Hmm, once Shizuka finds out about this, she’s going to kill me,” Toru murmured, his joking mood gone. “After all, she might be the one dealing with any press.”
“That’s right,” Kouta teased him, giving him a slow clap. “Way to go. Get her mad at you already.” Toru groaned and slumped in his seat.
“Well, I’m not sure Aya’s going to be tending to my wounds,” Hiro grumbled. “I needed something to release all of this tension.”
“Yeah,” Kouta agreed, grinning.
As much trouble as he knew it would cause, he’d enjoyed fighting with Freefall. Still, he had to face one very ugly truth.
“I need to let Yosuke know about all of this,” he said.
“Do it after I’m safely locked in my home,” Toru told him, cautiously touching his bruised mouth. “Please. You know how Yosuke is when he’s pissed.”
“Don’t be such a fucking coward,” Shinji snapped. “He’ll yell but he won’t kill.”
“We have to do it you guys. It’s better he finds out from us than from someone else,” Hiro said. “Kouta, go ahead and call.”
Kouta pulled out his cell, to find it had been damaged from the fight. He cursed and Toru handed him a working phone. He reluctantly dialed the manager’s phone number.
“Hey, Yosuke!” He coughed nervously. “It’s me, Kouta. There’s been um, a small problem here.”
“What kind of problem?”
“Well, we got into a fight with Freefall.”
There was silence on the other end.
Kouta waited, wondering if Yosuke was pulling in a lungful of air to start yelling.
“Where are you now?” Yosuke asked, sounding surprisingly unmoved.
“At the company, in one of the small lounges, room 14.”
“Everyone in Polaris is still there?”
“Stay right where you are. Don’t make me have to search for any of you.”
Soon, Yosuke arrived.