The next morning, Kouta awoke to find that Ryuu had already been up for several hours. He was sitting at the dining room table, with a pensive expression on his face.
“You look like you have a lot on your mind,” Kouta said, as he massaged the back of his lover’s neck.
“Yeah. I’m trying to figure out how to ease Natasha into our lives. She, Alexis and Greg will be here soon. Greg will be stationed at Camp Zama.”
Kouta had a basic familiarity with that location. It was a U.S. Army post, which was 25 miles from Tokyo.
“Then, you would be able to visit Natasha often and have her come here?” he asked, as he sat by Ryuu.
“Yes…I still can’t believe what’s happening. It’s such a big step.”
“But you’ll be happier. You do what you have to do, regardless of how far away Natasha is. She’s your child.”
“My child…I’ve had months to come to terms with all of this but…”
“It’s not easy. I can understand.”
“I feel like I’ve wasted so much time.” Ryuu buried his face in his hands.
“Love, you had reasons to hesitate,” Kouta soothed him. “Look, let’s move forward. Greg and Alexis are probably busy with last minute preparations to leave the U.S. Still, maybe they could carve out some time for you to talk with Natasha. That way when she sees you again, she’ll be even more comfortable with you.”
“That’s a great idea, Kou. Maybe we could Skype. I’ll contact them about it.”
“Okay. Well, I’m going to shower and get ready to meet with Yosuke.”
“About the new songs?”
“Yes, and also to apologize.”
“I was unbearable for a while. I was very disrespectful to him several times. I need to make amends.”
Kouta stood uncomfortably in front of Yosuke’s desk. Yosuke was giving him a stern gaze.
“Do you have the songs?” the manager asked, his dark-brown eyes drilling into the singer.
“If they’re not up to my standards, don’t bother.”
“I’ll let you be the judge. However, before you hear the songs, there’s something I’d like to say.”
“I’m a busy man, Kouta. Don’t waste my damn time.”
“I’m n-not,” Kouta stammered.
He knew Yosuke was annoyed with him; he’d been quite difficult while he was struggling with his relationship with Ryuu. However, the last time Yosuke had been this cold and distant towards him was over ten years ago, when Yosuke had started to manage him.
Kouta had been resistant to using a pen name, though his parents and Yosuke had thought it would be prudent. Steeped in belligerence, and arrogant about his recent success, he’d pushed Yosuke too far. The manager had given him an ultimatum; use a pen name or lose the contract. Kouta had said he’d find other arrangements in the company. And, if the company didn’t sign him, he’d offer his talent elsewhere. Yosuke had pointed out that PMC was the largest TV and music business in the country. Kouta had countered with saying he could work internationally, focusing his ambition outside of Japan.
Yosuke had only laughed loudly and responded that he’d ensure Kouta wasn’t able to get a contract elsewhere. Yosuke had told him that without proper support and guidance, his talent would wither and become rotten, much like the way he was acting. Kouta had let out a long frustrated sigh, eventually seeing how his actions had been unwise.
“I won that round,” Yosuke had informed him. “Thanks for playing.”
Kouta had been effectively silenced. For a short while, he’d forgotten to be respectful. When he’d realized the error of his ways, he’d offered a genuine apology. Now, as he stood in front of his manager, it was time to do the same thing.
“Yosuke, I’m sorry. You were right. I overstepped my bounds. You knew I’d do it again.”
“You’re referring to our conversation from all those years ago?”
One side of Yosuke’s mouth twitched with amusement.
“You’re lucky I like you. Play the music for me.”
“How did things go with Yosuke?” Ryuu asked.
He was midway through preparing a sandwich, when Kouta returned from seeing his manager.
“We’re on good terms again,” Kouta answered.
He peeled a slice of salami off the bread, where Ryuu had just put it. When Ryuu gave him a playful frown, Kouta grinned cheekily.
“I can make one for you,” Ryuu offered.
“No,” Kouta said, as he leaned against the kitchen island. “I’m good.”
“Hey, while you were out, I emailed Alexis about us chatting on the net,” Ryuu told him, as he continued to add more meat to his sandwich. “She hasn’t responded yet. From what I know of her though, she’ll likely think that it’s a great idea. Thanks for coming up with that.”
“Well, I am the man with the plan,” Kouta said, lightly planting a kiss on Ryuu’s lips.
Ryuu inhaled deeply.
“You smell fantastic,” he commented. “You’ve been using my shower gel.”
“You bet I have.”
“No wonder it disappears so quickly.”
“When we were apart, using it helped me stay connected to you. I know it might sound cheesy but…”
“I enjoyed hearing it,” Ryuu told him. “And I think we’re even. You had my shower gel. I had your pets.”
Kouta laughed and shook his head.
“I still can’t believe you did that.”
“What can I say? Desperate times. I had to get you back somehow.”
“Did your family know we’d taken a break?”
“What did they say?”
“They asked me what I’d done wrong,” Ryuu admitted, laughing. “I was so hurt! Everyone automatically assumed I was at fault.”
“Oh, you weren’t?” Kouta teased.
“Halt that mouth!” Ryuu ordered.
“Is that another way to say shut up?” Kouta asked, laughing.
“Basically, but it sounds slightly more polite.”
Kouta waited nervously for Ryuu to call for him. His lover had started a chat with Alexis and he wanted to give them a few minutes alone at the beginning. Ryuu asked Alexis how her health was doing. She told him that the pregnancy was going well; she and Greg were expecting a girl. They hadn’t decided on a name yet.
As Kouta gave Ryuu some space, he thought about Alexis. He knew she didn’t have a great history with Ryuu but he was trying to be more opened-minded about her.
A short while later, Ryuu motioned for Kouta to sit next to him. When he did, Alexis’ intelligent green eyes widened with interest. She swept her long, black hair behind her and leaned forward, studying Kouta. He also looked directly at her.
“So, you’re Kouta,” she began.
“Yes, that would be me,” he responded, his tone slightly stiff. “How are you?”
“She’s right by me, hopping around and trying to rush me.” Kouta and Ryuu heard some giggles. “I’ll put her on soon.”
“Okay,” Ryuu told her. “Is Greg there?”
“No; he’s working late. He’s wrapping up some things. Then, we’ll take a short vacation to see our families, before we leave for Japan.”
“Yay Japan!” Natasha cheered in the background.
Her face suddenly appeared on screen. Kouta had seen photos of her but it wasn’t until she was on camera that he realized how much she looked like Ryuu. When he’d gone to Italy, he’d seen childhood photos of Ryuu. Kouta laughed softly, marveling at how many of her father’s features she’d inherited.
“Natasha has some things to show you.” Alexis said, as she set her daughter in the front of the computer. “By the way, she loves talking like this. Whenever Greg goes on temporary duty, we chat. She was a pro by the age of three.”
“Is this thing on?” Natasha asked playfully. She clapped her hands and giggled, entertained by her cleverness.
“That’s how Greg begins every chat,” Alexis explained, laughing.
“Hi Daddy!” Natasha exclaimed.
“She calls me Daddy,” Ryuu said, as a wide grin spread across his face.
“You are her Daddy,” Alexis emphasized. “I told her she has two of them. We’ll give her all the details when she’s older. Right now, she’s just happy to have her two dads. I know that—”
“Daddy, who’s that man?” Natasha asked, frowning for a second. Her bold curiosity had caused her to cut off her mother.
“Natasha, it’s impolite to interrupt,” Alexis gently admonished her.
“I’m sorry, Momma,” she responded, genuinely. Then, with a tenacity that Kouta knew Ryuu also had, she focused on her original goal. “Daddy, who’s that man?”
Kouta looked with amused interest at Ryuu, wondering how he’d answer.
“This is Kouta, my best friend in the whole world,” Ryuu smoothly replied.
“Hello,” Kouta said, giving her a wide grin.
“Hi. You can see my pictures too,” Natasha informed him.
“Okay but get what you have to show them,” Alexis told her, laughing.
“Oh, my pictures!” Natasha hopped down off her chair. Ryuu and Kouta heard the patter of her small feet as she ran to get her art.
“So, she is very excited about this,” Alexis updated them. “She has been drawing all kinds of things.”
“I gave her some supplies when I visited.” Ryuu explained.
Kouta smiled at him, charmed by the sense of pride he was showing.
“Yes, art supplies,” Alexis said, looking at Ryuu pointedly. “She used some of them on the walls.”
“Sorry about that,” Ryuu responded, chuckling.
There was a rustle of papers, gripped in tiny hands. Natasha appeared on camera again. For the next few minutes, she proudly displayed her artwork, happy about the enthusiastic appreciation from Ryuu and Kouta. A big yawn brought the show-and-tell to an end.
“It’s almost 8 at night here,” Alexis said. “That’s her bedtime.”
“No, Momma,” Natasha began to protest. “I don’t want to go to bed!”
“Natasha, I’m tired,” Ryuu said, by way of helping. “I woke up too early and need more rest.”
“Nap time for you?” Natasha asked.
“Yes,” Ryuu answered, smiling at her. “We’ll chat again soon.”
“Okay. Bye.” She waved at Ryuu and Kouta.
“It was great chatting with you two,” Alexis said. “I’m going to settle her down for the night.”
“Take care,” Ryuu said. Kouta gave her a quick wave and they signed off.
Ryuu let out a long breath and Kouta gauged the expression on his face.
“Love, this must be so difficult for you.”
“Yeah. Natasha calls Greg ‘Daddy’ too and I understand why. It just hurts to know I’ve missed out on most of her life. I wasn’t there to see her birth. I didn’t get to cheer her on, as she started walking. Her first word was ‘dada’ and I missed that. That’s some damn painful irony, Kou.”
“Well, you’ll soon get a chance to see her often.” Kouta hugged Ryuu tightly, trying to draw away the sorrow he was feeling.
“It does ease my mind to know that, when she’s not with me, she’s still happy,” Ryuu admitted. “Greg and Alexis have done a great job with her. When I first met Greg, it was awkward as hell. But we talked for a long time, just seeing how each other functioned. He wants a good life with Alexis, Natasha and the baby who’s on the way. We’ve come to an understanding.”
“I’m glad, Ryuu. I know you wouldn’t be happy otherwise.”
“Maybe she’ll meet your niece and nephew, and her cousins,” Ryuu told him, his mood brightening. “She’s already part of a big family. I can’t wait for you and me to take her to Italy.”
Kouta liked hearing about Ryuu’s plans. He wanted everything to work out.
“Kou, are you ready?” Ryuu called to him.
Kouta didn’t answer. He was leaning against the bathroom vanity, with nervousness flooding through him. Today, he’d be meeting Alexis, Greg and Natasha. He’d thought he was ready but, as the time drew near, uncertainty plagued him. Above all, his heart was heavy.
For months now, he and Ryuu had worked on mending their relationship. They’d been more considerate of each other. Kouta had kept his appointment with Dr. Uchiyama and was consistent about doing physical therapy. He continued writing music, traveling or appearing on TV and in magazines. However, whenever possible, he maneuvered his schedule so that Ryuu remained a priority.
Ryuu did the same for Kouta. Though his animation business had grown to almost twice its size, he’d loosened the reigns, giving Yoriko more responsibility. He’d also raised his expectations of his staff at La Primavera and was able to meet with them less often, while still being mindful of managing the business.
Kouta believed they were close to finding the equilibrium it took to maintain a healthy relationship. Yet there were still some concerns. They hadn’t quite worked out Natasha’s place in their lives. He knew Ryuu wanted to be a father and completely supported that. He just wasn’t sure what else that meant for his life.
Ryuu walked through the house and located him the bathroom.
“Hey, what’s up?” Ryuu asked.
Kouta splashed cold water on his face, attempting to refresh himself. Ryuu handed him a towel and watched him intently.
“Kou, if you’re not ready for this…”
“I am,” Kouta insisted. “At least as ready as I’ll ever be. It’s not something I can be nonchalant about, Ryuu.”
“I understand,” Ryuu quickly assured him. “That’s why we agreed to ease into you meeting everyone. You even came up with the idea of chatting first.”
Ryuu had set up more video chats. Kouta had been happy about participating. He’d spoken various times with Alexis, Greg and Natasha. Now, however, the reality of the situation was closing in on him. He would meet three people face-to-face and the role they had in Ryuu’s life, and by extension his, was likely to expand.
Ryuu searched Kouta’s face and registered his doubts.
“What did I say last night?” he asked.
“You said this is about Natasha.”
“And making her a part of our life.”
“Exactly. Please don’t forget that, love.”