“Ryuu is going to kill you,” Hiro announced.
Kouta sat up, groggy from being awakened by his best friend’s phone call.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well…hold on…Aya is sending you a link.”
Still talking to Hiro, Kouta went to check his e-mail. He saw that The Nippon Informer, a tabloid magazine, had gotten quite bold:
Is Kouta Sasaki Greedy?
For two years, the lead singer of Polaris has been linked with anime director, Ryuu Kobayashi. After a party at Pinnacle Music Corp, the company that signed Sasaki, it looks as if he’s not content having the attention of one of Japan’s most intriguing men. Sasaki’s lengthy chat with his supposed ex-girlfriend, Kaori Mitsuda, was noticed by many attending the party, especially Daitaro Yasuda. Yasuda, the son of Matsumoto Yasuda, PMC’s president, reportedly has a special place in his heart for the enchanting Miss Mitsuda. The younger Yasuda’s jealous response was certainly entertaining, even if Sasaki didn’t stay long enough at the party to see it. However, the really newsworthy reaction could be that of Kobayashi, who is currently on a business trip in South Korea. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when he returns…
The article included a captioned photo of Kaori kissing Kouta, as well as a few shots with Kouta and Ryuu out together.
“Did you see?” Hiro asked. “It was even on the entertainment news this morning.”
“Oh shit,” Kouta groaned.
“Kou, what exactly happened?” Aya wondered.
“What are you going to do?” Hiro questioned.
“Stay as calm as possible,” Kouta said. “Why were you guys reading the tabloids anyway?”
“It’s one of my guilty pleasures,” Aya answered, laughing. “And Hiro pretends not to like them.”
“You two just had to tell me all about this. It’s an awfully rude way to wake me up.”
“Well, you go ahead and get some more rest,” Hiro suggested. “You’re going to need all your strength. Any last requests?”
“Just shut up, Hiro!”
Kouta heard laughter on the other end of the call. He released a burst of air, letting out the pressure he was feeling.
“Maybe you should call Ryuu and give him a heads up about what’s going on,” Aya recommended. “It’s only proper that it comes from you.”
“No, he’s really busy. I don’t want to bother him. Besides, it will disappear eventually.”
“Coward,” Hiro teased.
“Didn’t I tell you to shut up? I’m getting off the phone now.”
“Seriously Kou, I hope everything works out,” Aya said.
“Me too, man,” Hiro added.
“Thanks. I’ll catch you guys later.”
Soon after Kouta had finished speaking with Hiro and Aya, he received a phone call from Yosuke.
“We’re not going to make an issue of this,” Yosuke began. “We’re going to keep quiet. If we’re approached about it, ‘No comment’ will be our standard remark. Understand?”
“Now, it’s clear to me that you need to do a better job of thinking before you act. I’ve already had to put out several fires because of you and Kaori.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I should have just avoided her. I tried.”
“I’d lecture you more. However, I’m sure Ryuu will do a spectacular job of handling things. On this issue, I’ll show mercy.”
“Ryuu’s not going to be happy,” Kouta murmured.
“Indeed,” Yosuke said. His deep, wicked laughter was the last thing Kouta heard, before he hung up. Kouta let out a string of curses.
Another phone call soon followed Yosuke’s. It was Yoriko, Ryuu’s assistant.
“Hi Kouta. I heard about what happened.”
“Who hasn’t?” Kouta muttered.
“Maybe Boss hasn’t. Will you be telling him?”
“Yes. Please don’t say anything. I’ll cover it.”
“Alright Kouta. I hope it goes well.”
“Me too,” he said, chuckling weakly.
That day, Kouta subjected himself to as much entertainment news as he could find. He wanted to understand the magnitude of the story, as he tried to think of the best type of damage control. He saw repeated images of Kaori and him together, accompanied by theories that he’d be getting back with her. There was also footage of Ryuu and him; eating, spending time at a park, or enjoying other moments where they’d ignored photographers.
The most difficult part of the issue was hearing the entertainment reporters debate about how Ryuu would react. It increased Kouta’s concern. Ryuu would be returning soon and Kouta wasn’t ready to face him. He didn’t think it was possible to be prepared to explain things to Ryuu. He knew how much his lover valued privacy. Yet his actions had touched off a situation that had the press doing further prying.
Wanting to forget about the media frenzy, Kouta decided to spend some time with his band mates, along with Aya, Sakura and Yoriko; she had recently been won over by Shinji. They went to a restaurant where Kouta ate, drank and chatted with them, trying to drown out his troubles.
“Oh my goodness, Kouta, don’t you have to pick up Ryuu?” Aya asked, suddenly.
For a moment, Kouta froze in panic, remembering that he was supposed to get Ryuu from the airport.
“No, wait, he comes home tomorrow,” Kouta told her.
“Really?” Yoriko said. “He said he’d be back tonight. He didn’t tell me about any changes.”
“Ladies, surely Kouta knows when his man is coming home,” Hiro teased them. “Maybe you’ve had too many drinks.”
Aya wrinkled her nose at him and Yoriko stuck out her tongue.
“Yoriko, how do you think Ryuu will react?” Shinji asked, moving even closer to her.
“Well, he’ll be quite angry. Boss rarely shows his temper. When he does, he can be so fierce. I mean, I get embarrassed for the person he’s chewing out.” Yoriko turned to Kouta, grinning. She added, “We should buy you a fireproof suit. His name does mean dragon.”
“You’re not a good person,” Kouta said, giving her an exaggerated scowl. “Not at all. That’s why you’re perfect for Shinji.”
Yoriko laughed loudly and the bright sound caught on, affecting the rest of the group.
“Have you let Boss know yet?” she asked, becoming serious.
“No.” Kouta winced. “And I hope he hasn’t found out from anyone else. I have to think of the right way to tell him.”
“I don’t know what you were doing, Kouta,” Shizuka said. “It’s clear to me that Kaori is and always will be trouble. How many times did I have to run damage control because of her? Remember when she threw a drink in your face at a party? That made it to the papers.”
“Why was she upset anyway?” Shinji asked.
“I’d told her she’d had one too many drinks,” Kouta explained, shaking his head. “I was right but well, you know how stubborn and reckless Kaori is.”
His friends proceeded to tease him good-naturedly about other publicized fiascos with Kaori. Even he had to laugh at some of the things he’d been through because of her.
Kouta returned home from the restaurant. Ryuu was waiting for him in the living room. Kouta’s breath disappeared for a moment and then he gauged the expression on Ryuu’s face, believing it to be a calm one. His lover appeared to be relaxing; one of his long legs was crossed over the knee of the other. He was holding a glass of red wine. Kouta tried his best to be mellow too, though he knew what was hanging over his head.
“Hey love; you’re home early,” he greeted Ryuu. He was leaning down to give Ryuu a kiss when his lover’s lips tightened and his eyes narrowed. Restrained anger rippled off him.
“I’m actually not early. I’m here when I said I’d return. You just forgot to pick me up—though you promised. The last time that happened, you were sick. What’s your reason now?”
“Oh man, Ryuu, I’m so sorry.”
“I tried to reach you several times but you were unavailable,” Ryuu said, setting down his wine and standing up. “Tell me why.”
“I turned off my phone. I’ve been getting so many calls,” Kouta responded feebly. “I needed to unwind. Today has been rough because of…” He didn’t want to finish the sentence. With Ryuu’s eyes piercing him, he felt that his mistake would only be magnified.
“The bottom line is that you weren’t at the airport to meet me. But I’ll tell you who did show up—a swarm of reporters. People were asking me all kinds of questions. Cameras were flashing in my face.” Ryuu’s voice was cold; the fury, barely held in check, was giving it a sharp edge. “What the hell were you thinking at your company’s party?”
“Kaori kissed me!” Kouta exclaimed. “I had no idea she’d do something like that. I was only talking to her for—”
“You know what, don’t bother with the ridiculous details,” Ryuu said, making a dismissive motion with his hands.
“Love, please don’t be upset. It was nothing.”
“Nothing?” Ryuu looked at him with an incredulous expression. “I arrived at the airport and reporters were nagging me. That happened all the way to a taxi, which I shouldn’t have had to take in the first place.”
“You’re blowing it out of proportion,” Kouta responded, becoming frustrated. “I—”
“Don’t you dare patronize me!” Ryuu suddenly shouted.
“I’m not. I only…” Kouta’s words trailed off. He wasn’t sure what to say, unprepared for the strength of Ryuu’s emotions.
“You didn’t even have the decency to call me and tell me what the hell had happened. I touched down and there was madness waiting to surround me. All I could say was ‘No comment’ because I didn’t know what else to do! I came home, after really missing you, and there was talk of you cheating.”
“Ryuu…” Kouta pleaded. “Please, you have to listen. I didn’t cheat. It’s not what you think.” He reached out to touch his lover but stopped. The fierceness in Ryuu’s eyes let him know it would be an unwise act.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” Ryuu warned. “Right now, it’s difficult to even look at your face.”
“I really missed you,” Kouta said, weakly. “Don’t be this way.”
Ryuu only shook his head and left the room. Kouta felt it was pointless to talk to him further, at least at the moment. They stayed away from each other, until Kouta wanted to get some rest. He slid into bed, lying next to Ryuu, who ignored him. Eventually, Kouta was able to fall asleep.
Despite their argument, while they slumbered that night, Ryuu migrated into Kouta’s arms. When Ryuu awoke and found Kouta holding him tightly, he quickly moved away.
“I have to go to work now,” he murmured, getting out of bed.
“Can’t we talk?” Kouta asked.
“I don’t want to do that.”
“You know I love you, right?”
When Ryuu left, Kouta thought about the doubt in Ryuu’s eyes. He flopped back on the bed and shouted out his frustrations.
Kouta went to visit Hiro, hoping that his friend could help him take a break from the chaos in his life.
“I have some ideas for lyrics,” Hiro said, when Kouta arrived at his apartment. “We can always talk about that later though.”
“Yeah…” Kouta murmured, as he walked past Hiro to the living room. “Hey, how’s Aya?”
“She’s doing great, happy to be with me as usual,” he told Kouta, laughing. After getting drinks for each of them, he sat across from Kouta, looking quite serious as he asked, “How’s Ryuu? Still trouble in paradise?”
“He’s not talking to me,” Kouta admitted. He took a sip of his drink, letting the water sooth his throat. “I explained everything to him but he’s still so angry.”
“Look, if Aya found out news like that about me, she’d wonder what the hell was going on too. Even if I clearly explained it all, Aya might still need some time to process, you know. So, maybe that’s what Ryuu is doing. You have to put yourself in his place. You were chatting casually with Kaori. You were shown kissing her. She had one hand wrapped around your neck.” Hiro opened his beer and took a few sips, then added, “From the outside looking in, all of that raises questions, Kouta. Hell, I feel cheated on and I’m not even screwing you…yet.”
“Ah man, shut up!”
“Seriously, I know I’d have a strong reaction if Aya put me in that position. Plus Ryuu’s an extremely private person. Dating you puts a spotlight on him and with this Kaori thing, he’s really under scrutiny.”
“I understand. It’s just that there’s something off about his reaction. I can’t put my finger on it. Things could be more complicated.”
“Maybe you’re right. Ask him.”
“I will…Hmmm, it’s amazing how even the little things become important when your lover’s mad at you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, in the mornings, I’ll wake up and see that he’s been watching me sleep. Sometimes, too, he’ll give me a shave.”
“Listen to the shit coming out of your mouth,” Hiro said, bursting into laughter. “You’re such a sap.”
“You know what I mean, you ass.” Kouta felt heat come to his face. “Isn’t there something Aya does that you love, but when she’s pissed at you, she won’t do it?”
“Besides have sex with me?”
“Yes, Hiro.” Kouta was becoming annoyed and, knowing it, his best friend chuckled.
“I get you, man. While I’m brushing my teeth, she’ll rest her head against my back and give me a hug from behind. Or, at night, she asks me to brush her hair, her long, gorgeous hair. Or—”
“Who’s the sap now?” Kouta asked, his somber mood lightening.
“Bite me. Anyway, I like Ryuu. He challenges you in a good way.”
“He is good for me and he’s good to me, at least when he’s not acting like he is now.”
“He put a spell on you,” Hiro said, smiling with cheeky cleverness. “It’s fitting that you met at Koldun.”
As he became quiet for a while, Kouta was wishing that things were much better with Ryuu. He really had intended to pick Ryuu up at the airport. They were supposed to have arrived home and tumbled into bed. Instead, Ryuu was now keeping his distance from Kouta.
“Hey Kou…” Hiro brought him out of his thoughts.
“I’m going to ask Aya to marry me. We’ve been together for four years. And, I could see myself with her forever.”
“Wow, you getting married and reproducing. Scary!” Kouta teased, genuinely happy for his friend.
“You’re not mad?”
“Why would I be?”
“Well, things are tough for you right now. And here I am with happy news. I didn’t want you to think…”
“Hiro, we’ve been friends for too long for you to act that way.”
“I just didn’t want to be a jerk.”
“No worries. When are you proposing? Do you need me to do anything?”
“Just be ready to console me, if she says no,” Hiro said, laughing.
“I suppose it’s worth asking her to marry you. Although, once she thinks about what it would really mean to be your wife, she might say no.” Kouta stroked his chin, feigning deep thought about the subject and enjoying the stress that appeared on Hiro’s face. “I’ll clear my schedule for the week you’re going to ask her. We’ll party to drown your sorrows.”
“Do you really think she’d say no?” Hiro asked, the normal self-assurance in his voice missing. “I was joking but…”
“She won’t. She obviously can stand you enough to have sex with you.”
“Hey! I’m a god in bed.”
“Too much information,” Kouta said, waving him off. “I don’t want to know about your sexcapades.”
“Of course you do. You might learn something.”
“Yes, what not to do as a lover. Remember your candle disaster from last year?”
“My scars are barely noticeable. Besides, afterwards, Aya and I crossed that one off our ‘to do’ list.”
Kouta shook his head at Hiro and they both laughed.
Kouta dreaded going back home, not wanting to deal with Ryuu ignoring him. Ryuu wasn’t awake when Kouta arrived at their house. Kouta smiled at what he saw when he entered the bedroom. Ryuu was asleep, with Nami and Aki at his feet. He stirred, as Kouta was preparing to leave the bedroom to let him continue to rest.
“Hey,” Kouta said. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
“How, um, how was your day?”
“It was a little hectic,” Ryuu responded. Then he added, sounding robotic, “And how was yours?”
“Fine,” Kouta said, moving to go sit next to him. “Why was your day hectic?”
“I had to handle some problems with our latest CGI project,” Ryuu explained.
“Oh yeah, like what?” Kouta asked, partly out of interest but mainly to keep him talking.
“It doesn’t really matter.” Ryuu shrugged and fidgeted with the edge of the sheet.
Kouta leaned over to give him a kiss; the meeting of their lips completely lacked feeling on Ryuu’s end.
“Don’t do this,” Kouta pleaded. “It bothers me when you shut me out.”
“What am I supposed to do? You’ve made a fool of me.” Ryuu’s voice became very quiet. A tremor ran through it, which surprised Kouta. “I’d been considering flying back from Seoul, even for one day. I was lonely without you. Between your tour and this trip, we haven’t been able to spend much time together. Now, I have to deal with this tabloid madness too. Do you know reporters were outside my business?”
“Ryuu, I’m sorry,” Kouta told him again.
“That does nothing for me,” he responded, adjusting the sheet tightly around his waist. “Reading about you with that woman just tapped into some ugly memories. I can’t give you the attention you want right now.”
“Ryuu…” Kouta prompted, when his lover went silent again.
“Let’s leave it alone,” Ryuu told him, his voice strained. He slid under the sheets and hid his face in a pillow. Kouta looked at him, bewildered by the strange action. He took the pillow away.
“What is happening with you?” he asked.
“I’m not angry with you anymore,” Ryuu assured him. “That’s all that matters.”
“That is not all that matters.”
“Okay Kouta, sometimes I get off-balance too,” Ryuu snapped. “Is that what you want to hear?”
“Forget about what I want to hear. Be straightforward with me.”
“The whole Kaori situation reminded me of something painful.”
“What was it?”
“Don’t ask anymore!”
“Why are you being secretive?”
“I’m not being secretive. I just don’t feel like spilling my guts to you.”
“I only want to know why you’re acting the way you are.”
“Alright damn it! Someone I really loved cheated on me and what you did took me back to that time.”
“I don’t want to go into the details. Be happy with that answer okay.”
“I’m sorry you were hurt. I don’t like knowing anyone caused you pain.”
Kouta didn’t press him further for more information. He was glad to have a better idea of what the underlying issue was. He decided to let Ryuu tell him the rest of the story when he was ready.
While Ryuu had been more open with Kouta, the rest of the day he kept himself far away. The next morning when he continued to be remote, Kouta put a stop to his brooding.
“I want my goodbye kiss,” Kouta said, barring Ryuu’s attempt to go to work in the same subdued mood. His lips quickly brushed Kouta’s cheek.
“Okay, now that’s just insulting,” Kouta informed him. Ryuu gave him a kiss on his lips.
“No, not up to my standards. Try again, Mr. Kobayashi.” Ryuu’s next effort didn’t register either.
“This time with feeling!” Kouta commanded.
“Kouta…” his lover grumbled, a look of pure stubbornness on his face.
“Ryuu….” Kouta said, mimicking his tone and facial expression.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“You’re going to make time.”
“I’ll be late for work.”
“You’re the boss. You set your own schedule.”
Kouta kissed away his reluctance. When Ryuu smiled at his persistence, he felt grateful. He led Ryuu to the couch where he stretched out and Ryuu rested against him. He massaged Ryuu’s temples to ease away the remaining tension. Ryuu’s eyes drifted close and Kouta thought he was going to sleep, until he began talking.
“She really hurt me Kouta,” he murmured. “I met Alexis during the middle of my junior year in college. We ended up dating and even went to the same business school. We’d been together for almost three years, when she became pregnant. I was going to marry her. It wouldn’t have been out of duty. I loved her. We would have just been having children sooner than we expected.” Ryuu paused and took a deep breath before he continued. “We lost our baby four months into her pregnancy and things were never the same. One day, I returned to our apartment to find her with another man…It’s because of that why I wasn’t with a person for so long. It even affects the relationship you and I have. Sometimes, I shut myself off from you. I worry that things will fall apart for us too. And I figure if I don’t feel too much for you, it won’t really hurt if we break up. I know it’s a lie but I need some way to cope.”
Kouta let silence fill the space but soothed Ryuu with his hands. He continued to rub Ryuu’s temples, sometimes leaning over to kiss him on his forehead.
“Can we go to the bedroom, Kou?” Ryuu asked. “The couch isn’t as comfortable as the bed. And, I want to make love.”
At Ryuu’s bidding, a few minutes later, they were taking pleasure in each other again. Kouta covered him with his body and Ryuu sighed. Kouta slid his tongue in between Ryuu’s lips, teasing him, enticing him to respond. Ryuu reacted, at first being very tentative but then he showed more interest.
Kouta moved lower, when Ryuu motioned that he wanted his lover’s mouth farther down his body. Kouta took him into his mouth, sucking on him slowly. When he was ready to be entered, Kouta slipped inside him.
“I miss the noises you make,” Kouta whispered, as he moved. “You’re not even groaning.”
His comments didn’t have any effect, so he tried again to reach Ryuu. “Let yourself go, love.”
When there was no response, Kouta paused and looked intently at Ryuu’s face. His lover’s eyes were filled with pain. Tears that Ryuu was fighting were glistening on his lashes. Everything he couldn’t say, his sadness, his fears and his doubts, were expressed in his eyes.
“Ryuu, I’m yours,” Kouta promised fervently. “I really am.”
He held his lover tightly, kissed him tenderly as he began moving inside him again. Soon, he could feel Ryuu completely relax. Ryuu grabbed Kouta’s rear, pressing him more firmly to him, as they both began to tremble.
Sounds that Kouta craved hearing were finally coming from Ryuu. It heightened Kouta’s desire to please Ryuu; he worked hard to hit all of those spots that affected his lover to his core. The rawness in Ryuu’s voice when he came sent chills through Kouta. It was rare to have Ryuu let go that strongly. Kouta made a mental note to bring that kind of intense, deeply honest reaction out of him over and over again.
Afterwards, Kouta held him, running his hands over Ryuu’s sweat-glazed body.
“I didn’t mean to open old wounds,” Kouta said. “Please believe that.”
“I know.” Ryuu sighed. “You’ve never given me any reason to believe you’d cheat on me. If I hadn’t been locked in the past, I would have heard what you were actually saying.”
Kouta gave him a gentle smile, as he linked his fingers with Ryuu’s.
“Thank you for telling me what happened, love,” he said.
Ryuu nuzzled Kouta’s neck and then gave him a quick kiss.
“Sarei perso senza di te,” he whispered in Italian. “I would be lost without you.”