Kouta’s question hung in the air.
“I don’t know what she could want,” Ryuu replied.
“So why don’t you call her?”
“I need time to figure out what to do. It’s not as simple as you’re making it sound.”
“It’s not as complicated as you’re making it sound,” Kouta retorted. “What is there to ‘figure out’?”
“See what I mean!” Ryuu suddenly exclaimed. “You haven’t even met her and she’s already causing problems.”
“If you don’t find out what she wants, you’ll keep our relationship in limbo.” Kouta stood to leave the room.
“Kou, wait.” Ryuu got up and reached out to him. When Ryuu moved in for a kiss, trying to give some comfort, Kouta moved his head away. Ryuu flinched and Kouta felt guilty after seeing the reaction. In their two years together, he could count on one hand the instances he’d refused a kiss from Ryuu. He began to think that, perhaps, he had been too harsh. Still, he needed to make his point clear.
“I won’t pretend this situation doesn’t matter to me,” Kouta told him. “But I know you’re also struggling. I should be more understanding. I’m acting this way because I don’t want to lose you.”
“I don’t want to lose you either.” Ryuu rested his head on Kouta’s shoulder for a moment. Then he looked in his eyes again, telling him firmly, “I’m sorry this happened, love.”
“We’ll work through it together,” Kouta said, giving him a gentle kiss.
“Which one of you messed up?” Yuki asked, bluntly.
Kouta and Ryuu had visited the Sasaki household for Sunday dinner. It had been a week since Kouta had found out about the letter. The issue had caused significant tension between them. Though the pair had tried to hide the anxiety about their relationship during the meal, the rest of the family had become suspicious. Yuki had just been the first to speak up about it.
“What do you mean?” Kouta asked his sister, trying to sound nonchalant.
“We know you two well enough to sense when there’s something wrong,” Kouta’s mother explained.
Ryuu looked at Kouta for guidance, trying to determine how much his lover wanted to discuss.
“We’ve had a surprise development and we’re working through it as a couple,” Kouta told his family.
“We’re not the press, young man,” Mrs. Sasaki said, laughing softly. “There’s no need to give us a rehearsed line.”
“Exactly,” Mr. Sasaki added, grinning at his son. “Show some respect for your family. Otherwise, no more Sunday dinners for you.”
“I’m sorry, Dad,” Kouta responded, chuckling. “My answer did sound like damage control.”
“Yosuke would be proud of your skills,” Ryuu told him, glad that the mood had lightened.
“We understand if you don’t feel like discussing it,” Mrs. Sasaki assured her son. “Just let us know if you do need our help.”
They continued their meal, changing the subject to an architectural project Takeshi had recently finished. Takeshi was giving details about the grand opening of an office building in midtown Tokyo. He was talking about one of his favorite features, the sky lobby, when everyone’s attention was pulled to the twins. Little Erika had started crying. She’d finished the food on her plate. Her brother, Toshiro, offered some of what he had to her, causing the adults to smile.
“They get along very well, don’t they?” Ryuu asked.
“We take full credit for how they behave,” Takeshi said. A mischievous gleam appeared in his eyes, as he added, “And our methods are based on instilling fear.”
“Honey!” Yuki exclaimed, laughing. “We don’t raise them through fear.”
She was going to put more food on the twins’ plates, when Ryuu motioned to her.
“Would it be okay if I did that?” he asked.
“Sure,” Yuki said.
Kouta watched Ryuu, as he helped feed the twins. He remembered that Ryuu had been planning to have a family with Alexis. Since he’d learned that Alexis had been calling and writing to Ryuu, an ache had begun to grow in his heart. Seeing Ryuu’s contentment, as he fed Erika and Toshiro, caused Kouta to wonder about all that he could offer Ryuu.
Kouta knew that Ryuu still hadn’t contacted his ex-fiancée to find out why she’d reached out to him. While Kouta didn’t want to press the issue and make things more difficult for Ryuu, he also needed answers.
Over a month had passed, since Kouta had learned about Alexis contacting Ryuu. The strain of the circumstances permeated their relationship. Usually, they buried themselves in work or tried to forget the issue by replacing a solution with sex. Even now, Kouta was stretching after a strenuous few hours in bed. His lover had left work early to be with him. While he enjoyed their time together, he knew the increased sexual interest was just a poor proxy for the resolution they needed.
Kouta sighed and looked at Ryuu’s sleeping figure, as he thought about their circumstances. The phone rang and Kouta reached out to answer it. It was Ryuu’s assistant.
“Hi. I’m sorry to bother you at home,” Yoriko said. “I was wondering if Boss is okay. He left early this afternoon. That’s not like him. I have things under control here; I’m just a little worried about him.”
“Ryuu’s okay. He’s with me.” Kouta got out of bed and went to the living room to continue the conversation.
“Ohhh, I see,” Yoriko replied, giving a knowing laugh. “Well, between you and I, that’s good for Boss. He was getting a bit cranky.”
“I bet,” Kouta told her, grinning.
“Who’s on the phone?” he heard. He turned to see Ryuu leaning against a wall, squinting because of the difference between the darkness of the bedroom and the lighting in the living room. He smiled at Ryuu’s naked form, his messy hair and his sleep-reddened eyes. Ryuu was still so out of it that Kouta doubted he’d even hear the answer.
“Give me a moment, please,” Kouta told Yoriko. He led Ryuu back to the bedroom and tucked him in, making sure he was comfortable.
“He’s very tired,” Kouta said, when he returned to the call.
“Yes; we all are but this hectic schedule will be coming to an end soon. I know it has been difficult for Shinji too. I haven’t spent much time with him lately.”
“Yeah, he was grumbling about that yesterday. He said ‘Your boyfriend is keeping my girlfriend from me’ and then he scowled through most of our practice.”
“I’ll have to make it up to him then.”
“I think he’d appreciate that,” Kouta said, chuckling.
“Well, I’ll leave you and Boss to rest. I’ll continue leading the crew.”
“No problem. And Yoriko, I know he’s a pain sometimes but he really thinks you’re doing a great job.”
“Thanks for telling me. As tough as he can be, I wouldn’t want to work for anyone else…”
“Don’t ever say that to him. He’ll get more arrogant,” Kouta joked.
“Good tip!” she remarked, laughing. “Well, I won’t bother you anymore. I’ll finish my workday; then I’ll remind Shinji how I look.”
“Alright,” Kouta said, chuckling. “Bye, Yoriko.”
Kouta returned to bed. Ryuu, though he was half-asleep, instinctively moved near him.
“Any bed without you is really empty,” Ryuu murmured. “Wanted you to know.”
Kouta had made plans to have lunch with Ryuu. His lover was going to treat him to a meal at New Delhi Vibes, one of their favorite restaurants. However, before meeting with Ryuu, Kouta had to talk with Yosuke, who was not happy with him.
As much as Kouta was looking forward to seeing Ryuu, he ended up being in a foul mood when he went to his lover. He had argued with Yosuke, since he’d been three weeks late in providing lyrics for several songs. His focus hadn’t been the same as usual and Yosuke had strongly reprimanded him. Kouta knew he’d been preoccupied over Ryuu’s situation with Alexis. However, he didn’t want to explain that to Yosuke. As his manager had demanded answers, Kouta had opted stubbornly to keep quiet. Unused to that amount of belligerence from Kouta, Yosuke had speculated that there was an issue involving Ryuu. After over a decade of managing Kouta, Yosuke could figure out what circumstances affected him the most. He’d told Kouta that he should stop having a private life if it was so difficult to control. Livid over the comment, Kouta had left Yosuke’s office, slamming his door.
When Kouta arrived at Ryuu’s office, he was still fuming from his argument with Yosuke and transferred his anger to Ryuu. Ryuu tried to kiss him. Kouta avoided him, grumbling that he was hungry and wanted to eat.
“Everything okay with you?” Ryuu asked.
“Yes; I’m fine. Let’s get lunch.”
They drove to the restaurant that featured excellent Indian cuisine. Kouta ate his food quietly, his mind still on the conversation he’d had with Yosuke. He didn’t respond to Ryuu’s attempts to connect with him.
“This is hardly the attitude I’d thought you’d have,” Ryuu said. He frowned at Kouta, who shrugged off his concern. They finished their meal in silence.
“Let’s put this behind us,” Ryuu said, as he motioned for the bill. “It’s not like you to be in a bad mood.”
Kouta didn’t wait for Ryuu to pay. He began to head out the door and Ryuu had to hurry after him.
“Where are you going, Kou?” Ryuu asked.
Kouta didn’t answer. He waved dismissively at Ryuu and left in his car, heading home. Ryuu followed him. When they arrived at the house, an argument erupted. Their pets, who had rushed to welcome them, quickly scampered under the furniture, once the disagreement started.
“Damnit Kouta, don’t be like this!” Ryuu shouted.
“I wouldn’t be this way, if you weren’t so inconsiderate.”
“Inconsiderate!” Ryuu exclaimed. “I can’t believe you would even say that.”
“Well, what else would you call it? You know this issue about Alexis is hanging over us. Yet, you’re burying yourself in work and ignoring it.”
“Kouta, I told you I had to decide the best way to handle this. Stop driving a wedge between us.”
“You created that wedge. You took a long time to tell me Alexis had contacted you.”
“Stop Kouta,” Ryuu begged. “It’s like I can’t please you anymore.”
Kouta could hear the genuine hurt in Ryuu’s voice. Still, he didn’t stop himself. He poured out his anger, not caring how it sounded. The heaviest thoughts that had been on his mind finally came out.
“Maybe you really don’t want to be with me anymore. Maybe you’re considering getting back with her.”
“How can you even think any of that, let alone say it?” Ryuu demanded.
“What exactly are you showing me, so that I can believe differently? Either you care about our relationship or not. You should be eager to remove any hurdles. This is a big one and you’re keeping it in our way.”
“I already told you—” Ryuu stopped speaking for a moment and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t want to fight with you. I’m so tired and I actually need to sleep but I have to get back to work.”
“You’re running back to work to hide from talking about this with me? Are you serious?” Kouta shouted, his temper completely overriding his self-control. “Now that I see how you’re treating me, I’m not surprised Alexis moved on to someone else. Did you act the same with her? Did you minimize her needs too?”
The comments hit at Ryuu’s core. His eyes narrowed; his lips thinned in fury and pain. There was silence as he stared at Kouta, stunned by what he’d heard. Kouta glared at Ryuu. His chin was tilted upward rigidly; the antagonism in his eyes made it clear that he had no intentions of apologizing.
When Ryuu finally found his voice, he started mixing languages, venting his feelings in Japanese but mostly in Italian. While Kouta couldn’t grasp much of the Italian, Ryuu’s tone made it clear how furious he was. Kouta knew Ryuu had reached a stage of anger that he hadn’t before hit. Still, Kouta didn’t reign in his fury.
“How could you say something like that to me?” Ryuu fumed.
“You had it coming. You’ve let this issue sit for months and I’m sick of thinking about it. You’re being a coward!”
“That’s not true but even if it were, you’re still with me, aren’t you…AREN’T YOU?!”
“That could easily change,” Kouta clipped out.
Even as he was saying the words, he knew he didn’t believe them. But the damage had been done. Ryuu took a few steps backwards. Aloofness was now painted on his face, as he began to emotionally withdraw.
“You’re trying to have me move at a pace you want,” Ryuu told him. “I can’t handle that burden anymore. I have to take care of this issue my way. And you don’t respect that. So, there’s only one thing for us to do.”
“Ryuu, it sounds like we’re breaking up,” Kouta said, his voice now trembling.
“No,” Ryuu responded. “However, we need to put some distance between ourselves.”
Kouta hated the way that sounded. He looked down at the floor, squeezing his eyes shut to hold back tears, ones that only Ryuu could so easily cause.
“Why play with me Ryuu? If you want to end the relationship, then do it.”
“I still love you but I need time away. You should trust me but you don’t.”
“Well, it’s just that…” Kouta was at a loss for words; the lump in his throat was choking him.
“Kou, I’m going to stay at my apartment. We don’t have to be over. Let’s just take a break.”
Ryuu calmly walked out of the house, looking casual about what he was doing. Bitter regret surged through Kouta’s body, firmly clicking into place, like the sound of the closing door.
It was almost two in the morning; Kouta was awake, missing Ryuu. It had been a month since Ryuu had left. The most difficult part of the separation was making it through the nights. Never before had his side of the bed felt so empty.
Kouta thought about how they would have been holding each other, talking quietly, causing each other to laugh. Sometimes, Ryuu would say salacious things to him in Italian, when he was particularly aroused. Ryuu’s deep voice would cause the comments to sound all the more rakish. Often they’d make love, then drift off into contented sleep.
They’d had times like that regularly, especially in the earlier part of their relationship, before Ryuu’s past and Kouta’s insecurity had swallowed up their happiness. Even when they’d gone to bed angry with one another, they’d awaken, usually finding themselves in each other’s arms. Now, there would be no morning reconciliation because, this time, the distance was staggering.
Until Ryuu had walked out the door, Kouta hadn’t realized how much they were connected. Still, there was a part of him that was simply furious with Ryuu. Since Ryuu had been the one to suggest the break, Kouta was reluctant to call him.
Sighing, Kouta looked at the clock. His state of mind was making it impossible for him to get a good night’s rest. Without him being aware of it, the time had edged near 3 AM. He blew out a long breath, determined to sleep, no matter how upset he was with Ryuu, no matter how much he wanted Ryuu near him.