Bal – Chapter 03

Kouta was waiting off stage with his band mates, Hiro, Shinji, and Toru. In a short while, they would be called on to stage for the taping of the Maki Endo Show. Maki Endo was known for her sensual and colorful personality and had started her musical career in the 1980s. She had become one of the most popular artists in Japan and had gained multitudes of fans internationally. Over the last few years, she gradually reduced her concert appearances and created her own television show, which aired on Sunday nights. Musical guests were invited to chat with Maki, perform a song, promote their upcoming albums and advertise their concerts. The guests would also cook a meal for Maki and four people chosen randomly from the audience.

Kouta’s band had been trying for almost a year to get on Maki’s show.  It had already opened up a gateway to a much larger fan base for other groups and the band desperately wanted that opportunity.

“Don’t make me ashamed of you,” their manager Yosuke Shinomura warned. He gave them a look, which they had secretly called among themselves “the death glare”. “Otherwise, my garden’s going to have some organic fertilizer.”

Kouta was the tallest member of Polaris, but the manager had two inches on him. Between his powerful physique and his take-charge manner, people often found him intimidating. The band was never entirely certain what he’d do to them if they displeased him. Having a solid understanding of their boundaries, they generally avoided antagonizing him.

Still, the Polaris band members  couldn’t resist occasionally poking holes in Yosuke’s tough exterior. They walked a fine line, usually managing not to awaken the sleeping tyrant that lurked in the darker corners of his mind.

A successful manager in the music business, Yosuke had overseen the band’s career from the very beginning. He’d groomed the members into high-quality musicians and performers and encouraged them to keep improving. He knew that Polaris was a talented band and he was determined to make it one of the best.

“Oh sweetheart, don’t be mean to them,” Minako Shinomura said, laughing.

Yosuke’s wife, Minako, traveled as his assistant and was the one who brought calm after one of his rampages. Her diminutive size belied the influence she held over him.

Kouta, as the official leader for the group, reassured Yosuke that they wouldn’t ruin their chance, even if they were a little nervous about the show.

“Don’t worry so much. We’ll be fine,” he promised. “We did a practice session last night and one this morning. The music is smooth.”

“Yes, but that won’t help your cooking, will it?” Minako joked, making everyone laugh.

“Oh! You got us!” Kouta exclaimed. “We’re probably going to wind up poisoning everyone.”

Shinji sniped at him, “Speak for yourself!”

A few minutes later, one of Maki’s assistants knocked on the dressing room door. He announced that it was time to head into the studio to do the taping. The band members felt slightly anxious as they went out into the studio to talk with Maki before  the show started.

With a reassuring smile, Maki told them, “There’s no need to be concerned.” Her years of experience allowed her to see when the most seasoned entertainers were apprehensive. She worked to sooth their pre-show jitters. “I’ve heard so many great things about you and I’ve even seen you play. I attended one of your concerts at the Tokyo Dome. If you can fill a stadium of that size, you should be proud of yourselves.”

“Thank you for inviting us,” Kouta told her. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

The other members took turns expressing their appreciation for the invitation. They all felt more relaxed after chatting with Maki for the brief minutes before taping started.

“I understand you’ve been trying to get on my show for a while,” Maki told them. “I’m sorry it took so long to get you scheduled, but I’m glad you were persistent.”

Kouta tried to be as professional as possible, but was still unable to believe he was actually about to go on stage with Maki. She was nicknamed the “Velvet Butterfly” because of her sultry voice and delicate physique. She had the kind of success he and his band dreamed of, with a long-lasting career and clout to influence the music industry. There had even been talk of Maki starting her own record label. Kouta was somewhat in awe that she had apologized for not getting the band on her show sooner.

Two of Maki’s assistants rushed over to do final touch-ups to her make-up and hair, then she went out and did her opening warm-up of the audience. The band’s ego was boosted when she told them that she couldn’t decide which of the band members was the most adorable. She asked the audience  to help her solve what she dubbed the “huge dilemma.”

“Please warmly welcome. I give you the group that has several rock and pop hits. Here’s Polaris!”

Receiving their cue to go on stage, they entered to the sights and sounds of screaming fans.  They waved at the audience, then bowed and introduced themselves.

“Hello.  I’m Kouta Sasaki, the vocalist, pianist and leader.”

“I’m Hiroshi Ishida, bass guitarist and violinist.”

“Shinji Maeda, the drummer.”

“Toru Nakamura, guitarist.”

After the introductions, the band sat down to speak with Maki.

“Kouta, please start things off,” she said. “How did you choose your band’s name?”

“When Hiro and I were kids, we stay up late at night, looking up at the night sky.  We would always try to spot Polaris, the North Star. I guess it stayed in our memories and it seemed the perfect name for our group.” He chuckled over what he was about to admit. “We actually made a wish on Polaris that we’d be famous some day.”

“Aww, you two must have been adorable as kids,” Maki said. “Not that you’ve stopped being that way,” she continued with an appreciative smile.

Kouta felt heat come to his face, especially when the audience laughed. Maki was attractive; it was difficult not to react when she spoke such charming words about them.

“Now, five years after our debut,” Kouta continued, “we’re getting ready to release our third album.”

“How did all of you meet?” Maki questioned.

“Hiro and I grew up together here in Tokyo and we’ve been friends for almost 20 years,” Kouta explained. “One Sunday afternoon, we decided to go watch the Rockabilly dancers in Yoyogi Park. The two of us walked by this guy who was doing his own thing and putting on a great show with his drums. We struck up a conversation and convinced him to join the band. That’s how we found Shinji.”

Hiro smiled in an embarrassed manner. “We weren’t sure if we should even approach him at first. He was so intense; playing a song only he had in his head.” Hiro laughed at the memory. “We took a chance. I have to confess; I made Kouta go talk to him first.”

Shinji gave him a wicked grin. “I think Hiro’s still finds me kind of creepy. I do like to tease him.” He turned to the audience. “I’m not a bad guy though, right?”

“No!” the audience shouted back. There were screams of, “We love you Shinji!” from numerous fans.

“What about Toru?” Maki asked with an alluring smile.

Toru blushed at the direct attention. For years, he’d had a huge crush on Maki. He owned all 12 of her albums and the seven anime series for which she had done voice acting.

“Toru is our other guitarist,” Hiro explained. “Kouta and I went to an amateur night at a club in Shinjuku. We figured we’d find some talented musicians and we were looking for a fourth member. He was one of the guitarists performing. Honestly, we were surprised that no other band had signed him up yet. We spoke with him as soon as we could.”

“He was really shy at first and kept saying he wasn’t any good,” Kouta continued. “After hearing him play though, we knew we had to have him in our group. We practically dragged him to come see the rest of our band play. It was only a short time before he was going crazy on the drums we had set up for try outs. That definitely was unexpected.  Honestly, he’s as good on the drums as he is on the bass guitar. Unfortunately, we need him for the guitarist spot so he only gets to play the drums when we’re not performing. You could say he’s a closet drummer.” The crowd laughed and Toru blushed even more.

“I was happy they wanted me in their band,” Toru murmured. “It’s been a really good experience. I’m glad it gave me the chance to come here.”

The fans were charmed by the newly revealed information. Onstage, Toru was supremely confident. Offstage, his introverted nature showed itself. He was reluctant to speak in public. At press conferences, he rarely said a word. The audience enjoyed this new side of him, as he spoke to Maki.

“Ah, Toru, so you’re finally speaking to me,” Maki said. She turned to the audience. “Do you know I chatted with them before the show started and he was quiet the entire time?” Toru blushed even more and buried his face in one hand, causing some of the audience members to squeal.

“That shyness is only to get girls,” Shinji stated, poking Toru in the ribs. “We’ve got him figured out.” Shinji focused on Maki, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. “Did you know he’s a big fan of yours?”

“Oh?” Maki gazed expectantly at the reluctant center of attention.

“Um…I…” Toru stuttered.

Kouta looked at him, feeling protective of the youngest member of the band. At 22, he was the “little brother” of the group. Kouta spoke up, coming to Toru’s rescue by taking the spotlight off of him.

“Maki, Toru is a fan of yours because he loves the way you sing. Well you’re gorgeous too; that probably has some bearing on his fascination with you…”

At this point, Kouta began to blush, his own attraction to the vivacious host becoming apparent. The audience laughed.

“Well, it’s entertaining to watch Kouta and Toru squirm,” Hiro said. “However, I’m really looking forward to the cooking competition.” The guitarist’s smooth interjection saved his fellow members from further awkwardness.

They transitioned to the second part of the show, which involved cooking for Maki and four audience members. The group had arranged to split up into teams of two. Kouta paired with Toru to offer tonkatsu, deep-fried pork cutlets with cabbage and rice. Hiro and Shinji worked together, preparing unadon, eel grilled that was glazed with soy sauce and served on top of rice. The winning pair was Hiro and Shinji, who good-naturedly teased Toru and Kouta about losing.

Though Kouta didn’t want things to end, he was happy when the band was finally able to perform in the final part of the show. It was the first time his group had publicly presented Close to You, the new single from their third album, Ricochet.

During the song, Kouta noticed the audience drifting closer to the stage, gazing up at the band and moving with the music. The band was grateful for this positive feedback. They had worked even harder on this album than on the previous two. Now they felt more confident that the music they produced was of a higher quality. When the enthusiastic cheers began to quiet, Maki thanked the band.

“As expected, Polaris has shown everyone an excellent time!” Maki exclaimed, eliciting more cheering. Then, she turned to the band. “Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?”

“Thank you for supporting us,” Kouta told the audience, bowing. “We’ll keep getting better for you. Our new album will be out this Friday. Please enjoy it.”

When the taping finished, the band was able to chat with Maki for a short while longer. The members all were able to get autographs from Maki. Toru’s gift was especially cherished, as he repeatedly gazed at the photo that was signed “To Toru with love, from Maki.” He teased his band mates, showing them that his message said “with love” while theirs did not. Leaving the studio, they drove to Yosuke and Minako’s apartment to discuss how things had gone on the show. The appearance would boost the sales of the singles, the album and tickets to the next tour, was the consensus.

“You really outdid yourself this time, Yosuke,” Hiro said. “I can’t believe we finally met Maki.”

“True, even though you spoiled brats didn’t deserve it,” Yosuke muttered. He attempted to look angry but the band knew him well enough to understand he was joking. Minako gazed at him from the doorway with a faintly amused smile at her lips.

“Mr Shinomura, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Shinji said, fluttering his eyelashes at Yosuke. “Allow me to personally show you just how much…” He stood up to approach their agent, swaying seductively as he approached the big man.

“No matter how many times you try, it’s not going to work,” Yosuke cut off Shinji.  “Minako would never allow it.”

“Translation: Then you do want me; you’re just concerned about the consequences,” Shinji told him triumphantly. “Well, be brave man! Fear not this tiny woman at your side.”

“Tiny woman, huh?” Minako playfully cuffed Shinji on his arm. “You leave my husband alone!” Her words were accompanied with a shooing motion of her hands.

“Such a temperamental sprite,” Shinji said, giving her a mock scowl.

“That’s Shinji, zero, Yosuke and Minako 402,” Hiro clarified.

Shinji had gotten into the habit of pretending to be madly in love with Yosuke. Yosuke played along, using his dry, sarcastic, dark humor to rebuff him repeatedly. It was a source of entertainment for the close-knit group.

Serious again, they discussed the schedule for the next few weeks, then left their manager’s home. Hiro went home to the place he shared with his girlfriend, Aya. Toru and Shinji had their own separate apartments. Kouta returned to his house that he shared with his furry roommates, tired and in need of rest. During the days before their appearance with Maki, he had slept poorly. As band leader, he felt responsible for their ensuring their successes and minimizing their failures. Now he could relax for a bit until the album was released and the next round of promotions started.

~~3.1~~

The phone rang, dragging Kouta out of his much-needed sleep. He frowned groggily, unsure if he wanted to answer. He fumbled with the phone and looked at the number on the display. It was Ryuu. The two of them had not been in contact since they’d made the bet a week ago.

Kouta sat up abruptly, now completely alert.

“Hey there, long time no speak…” he said.

“Yeah, it’s been awhile.”

“I’m glad to know you’re still alive. It’s like you’ve been avoiding me.  Perhaps you think it will make it easier for you to win our little bet.”

“No, I swear,” Ryuu laughed. “Besides, you could have called me.”

“Hmm, that’s true,” Kouta admitted, smiling. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Anyway, I’m sorry I’ve been so very busy,” Ryuu explained. “I’m still at the office now, though I promised myself I’d leave by six today. But what were you doing? I hope I didn’t interrupt anything important.”

“I was just sleeping.” Kouta’s voice was still gravelly from being awakened.

“I’m sorry I woke you up.” Ryuu apologized. “I didn’t know seven was your bedtime.”

“Not normally,” Kouta said, chuckling. “I’ve been swamped with promoting the new album. Then there was Maki’s show. It all sort of got to me. I was taking advantage of the slowdown to catch up on my rest.”

“I’m sure the kisses and hugs from your fans were inspirational though,” Ryuu teased.

“Well, yes, there are definite perks,” Kouta responded, smiling. “So, tell me how is your business is going? What’s your main project now?”

Ryuu told him that he was expected the next film to be released early the following year. He was hoped it would open up more opportunities for his company, and allow him to expand into new markets.

Kouta started laughing joyfully in the middle of the explanation, interrupting him.

“What is it?” Ryuu asked, somewhat confused.

“I don’t know, I guess it’s just so good to hear from you,” Kouta explained, even surprising himself. “You sound so excited about this and…and I wish I could see you.”

“Then, maybe I can stop by tonight.”

“Well, I don’t know, Mr. Kobayashi. My dating schedule is quite full. Does that make you jealous?”

“Maybe…” Ryuu admitted after a long pause. “Alright, I do feel a twinge of jealousy. Still, we don’t have anything exclusive.”

“No, we don’t have anything exclusive, do we?”

“Wait Kouta, are you trying to play games with me? If you are seeing other people, then it’s fine.” Ryuu’s words were sharp, annoyance adding an edge to them. “Just be honest with me.”

Kouta was excited that he was finally able to incite Ryuu’s jealousy. Until now, he felt he had been showing most of the emotion. He was still pondering how to use this situation to his advantage when there was a click on the phone and then a dial tone. He held the phone away from his ear and looked at it, puzzled. Maybe Ryuu had just been disconnected. He figured that Ryuu would call right back so he stayed off the line. When he didn’t, Kouta frowned, thinking that the abrupt ending might have been intentional on Ryuu’s part.

“Shit. If he’s going to be that uptight, I don’t want him here anyway,” Kouta grumbled still tired and not thinking clearly. He burrowed under the covers, ready to get some more sleep. A few minutes later, his phone rang again and, seeing whose phone number it was, he was reluctant to pick it up. Right before it would have gone to voicemail, he answered. When he did, Ryuu apologized.

“I’m really sorry I hung up on you.” Ryuu told him, sounding repentant. The little sigh of regret after the word sorry melted the irritation that Kouta had felt.

“It’s not a problem. You’re allowed to be an ass once in a while.” Kouta said. “Why did you act like that though?”

“It’s something from my past; I really don’t want to get into it right now.”

“You’ll have to do better than that.”

“Let’s just say a former partner had a problem with loyalty.”

“I like to play around sometimes but I’m one of the most straightforward people you’ll ever know. I’m also someone who wants you to come on over—and bring a change of clothes.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

“Alright.” Ryuu said, laughing. His curiosity was piqued. “I have to finish up a few things first. I’ll see you in about an hour.”

~~3.2~~

The bell at the gate rang and Kouta went to let in Ryuu. On his way to the door, he noted on the grandfather clock that only thirty minutes had passed. He smiled, hoping Ryuu had found it difficult to stay away any longer. But when he checked the security camera by the door, the person asking for entrance to his home was not the one he’d expected. It was, in fact, one of the last people he ever wanted to see again, his ex-girlfriend, Kaori Mitsuda. His heart sank.  What had possessed her to come today, just when Ryuu was to arrive?

Kouta had dated Kaori for almost two years. The relationship had been tumultuous; her bouts of anger were destructive enough to make the news. Even being in the public eye hadn’t deterred her from starting loud arguments.

Kouta’s pride was the only reason he had stayed with her for as long as he had. Kaori had been attractive and desirable to others, despite her disposition. Being with the beautiful actress had made Kouta feel more confident, but after a while, her explosive temper became intolerable. He quickly learned that beauty could only go so far in making a relationship enjoyable. He’d ended things with her, which landed him in the news, but it was better than remaining in a destructive cycle.

Their last argument replayed in his mind as Kouta reluctantly pressed the intercom button. He was trying to think of the best way to get rid of Kaori.

Why’d she have to appear when Ryuu’s due any minute? He wondered again to himself, feeling as if the universe was toying with him. He briefly considered pretending that he was not at home, but there was no way he could leave Ryuu at risk of the actress’s extreme temper tantrums.

“Hello,” he murmured, all emotion stripped from his voice.

“Kouta!” Kaori exclaimed.

“What are you doing here?” Kouta cringed inwardly.

“Aren’t you going to let me in?”

“I…Sure,” He said in resignation. His parents had raised him to be polite. Plus he knew that brushing her off would only insure that she would be on the front walk to terrorize Ryuu when he arrived.  Hanging his head, he buzzed her into the gate.

He opened his door and watched as she sashayed up the stone walkway. Physically Kaori hadn’t changed much since the last time Kouta had seen her. Her frame was as svelte as ever, stylish in an outfit of the latest fashion. Her makeup was perfect. Not a hair was out of place. Her beauty could blind almost anyone to the chaotic parts of her nature. She had fooled Kouta for a while and it had taken him months to make her understand that their affair was well and truly over.

Kaori strode into Kouta’s house as if she owned it. She paused to take off her elegant heels in the entry way, holding onto his arm for support. Both Aki and Nami had initially hurried to the door, but now they skittered away. They watched her warily from behind the nearest piece of furniture. Kouta noted his pets’ reactions and realized that it couldn’t be a good omen. Kaori noticed their reaction and tightened her lips. It annoyed her when any creature, human or animal, did not adore and worship her..

“Still as handsome as ever,” Kaori cooed. “I haven’t seen you in quite a while.”

“That’s understandable,” Kouta stood looking at her, his arms now crossed, “especially since we broke up.” He regretted his decision to let her inside. “We didn’t end on good terms so I’m confused about your sudden appearance.”

“Can’t I come by because I miss you?”

“If I remember correctly, and I’m sure I do, we didn’t even part as friends.”

“Oh, don’t be so sensitive…” she simpered, smacking him lightly on his forearm.

She looked pointedly over at where he stored his alcohol. Kouta sighed and offered her a drink. As expected, she wanted something strong. Another thing he remembered about his broken relationship with Kaori was that she drank entirely too much. She treated it like water at an oasis and her bad temper became truly ugly when mixed with alcohol.

She installed herself on a living room couch, as if she planned on staying for a while.

Kouta brought her the drink, watered down as much as he dared, and sat in an armchair across from her. He sipped on a glass of water and glanced at his watch. He was keen to get her out of the house.

“So, what has been going on with you?” he asked, doing his best to be polite.

“Not much,” she answered, nonchalantly. “I’m just enjoying my life. You know, my next movie premiers in two weeks.”

“That’s all good. I’m sorry but I’m kind of busy now so…”

Kaori’s eyes landed on one of Kouta’s favorite graphic novels, which was open on the coffee table.

“Honestly,” she chided. “You’re still into these things? Really Kou, how juvenile!”

Kouta reached the end of his patience. “You know where the door is,” he said, staring at her coldly.

Perhaps realizing she had gone too far, she murmured, “I’m sorry,” biting her bottom lip. “Sometimes I really am my own worse enemy. I didn’t come here to fight. I’m trying to be a better person. I just wish you would give us another chance.”

Kouta stared at her, incredulously for a few moments. He remembered their last heated argument, the one that had ended the relationship—and the fleeting existence of an expensive crystal vase. He’d purchased it for her four hours prior to their worst argument. He had dodged it but several shards had glanced across his cheek under his left eye. That close call made him finally reach his limits.

“Listen to me carefully,” Kouta’s voice was cold and steady. “We will never be together again. I learned my lesson the hard way. You never loved me; I was just a toy for your amusement.”

“Kouta—” she protested.

“Kaori…” He held up a hand to stop her. “You’re part of my past.  I learned there’s more to love than being your doormat. I don’t go backwards.”

“It’s not like all of our times together were horrible.” Kouta marveled at her insistence.

“Yes, you were great in bed but I can’t live on sex alone,” he freely admitted. “I could never predict when you were going to erupt.  You knew I didn’t like the tantrums you threw.  You were indiscrete and you made my life into a public circus.”

“I have changed, you know,” she admonished him.

“I doubt it. Even if you have, it wouldn’t be enough for me.  There are too many scars.”

“Kouta, maybe—”

“Enough. You need to leave, now!” He strode over to the door and held up her shoes in a purposeful way.

“I see,” she stated slowly.  She finished her drink with a swift gulp and then stood to leave. Kouta waited for her at the door. He handed her shoes to her. She pouted as she slipped on her heels. He opened the door to lead her out.

“Wait,”she said, planting a kiss on his mouth. “Here’s something to make you remember.”

For a second, Kouta was lost. Her kiss triggered numerous sexual memories. He shook his head, thoughts of Ryuu bringing him to his senses. When Kaori tried to wrap her arms around his neck, he stopped her.

Then the doorbell rang and Kouta saw Ryuu standing at the gate.

“Who’s that?” Kaori asked jealously.

“No one! You have to leave.”

Kouta buzzed the gate open and led Kaori down the walkway. Kouta watched Ryuu’s usually calm eyes fill with pain. Then his lips thinned and he took a deep breath. The way he stared at Kouta made him want to use Kaori as a human shield.

“Ryuu, I—”

“Who are you?” Kaori asked Ryuu belligerently, cutting off Kouta.

“You were leaving now, Kaori. So go!” Kouta exclaimed.

“There’s no need,” Ryuu said, his words formal and clipped. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

Her interest stirred, Kaori looked back and forth between Kouta and Ryuu.  She sensed the tension that was developing; she decided to make the situation worse.

“Actually, Kou and I were just finishing,” she told Ryuu, smiling at him with exaggerated sweetness. She ruffled Kouta’s hair, and he cursed his bad luck.

Ryuu gave Kouta a pained look and then quickly retreated to his car.

“Who was that?” Kaori demanded, poking Kouta in his chest. “Answer me.”

“It’s none of your damn business. Go home.”

Kouta hustled her to her car, ignoring her protests. Watching Kaori drive away, he hurried inside to dial Ryuu’s number, hoping that he hadn’t gone far.

“Why are you calling me?” Ryuu asked coldly.

At least you picked up, Kouta thought with a small flicker of hope. I still have a chance.

“What you saw is not what you think,” he began earnestly. “I didn’t even ask her to come see me. She wasn’t here long. This is the first time in almost a year that she—”

“Maybe she’s how you’re easing the edge from our bet.”

“Whoa, backup. That’s not what—”

“So you’re telling me not to believe my eyes? A gorgeous woman was leaving your place right before I arrived. She was practically draped all over you.”

“Ryuu, relax, take a deep breath.  She’s an ex-girlfriend.  She reached out for me when she was leaving. I wasn’t encouraging her, Ryuu, I was trying to stop her!”

“Did you invite her over?

“Absolutely not.”

“Why did you let her in?”

“I…I don’t have a good answer for that.” He wasn’t going to admit that he was afraid of the trouble she’d caused, of what she might have done to Ryuu.

“Because there isn’t one.”

“Come on Ryuu!” Kouta shouted. “If I’d known I was going to get into this much trouble, I would have at least fucked her.”

A mixture of resentment and frustration had fueled his response. However, Ryuu’s reply made him realize that igniting a barrel of crude oil would have been smarter.

“I’m sorry to have interrupted you two,” Ryuu said in a bitter voice. “Why don’t you call her back? You can do her against a wall.”

“Stop it. I—”

Ryuu hung up and Kouta cursed, barely keeping himself from throwing the phone.

He waited several hours before he tried Ryuu again. He explained what had happened that afternoon again, hoping Ryuu would understand this time.

“I admit that my reaction was a bit…strong,” Ryuu began. “I know that we’re not exclusive. If you are interested in seeing others, you should just tell me. Then again, maybe I’m an idiot to assume you wouldn’t want to be with others—”

“Could I be part of this conversation too?” Kouta growled in annoyance. “Just listen to me. I want to get to know you but that can’t happen if you won’t let me. You’re assuming I still care about her. I didn’t do anything wrong; so I really don’t like how you’ve treated me.”

There was silence again on the other end. Kouta waited, wondering if Ryuu was collecting his thoughts. Finally, he lost patience.

“Ryuu, if you hang up on me again, I won’t call back. Do you hear me? I’m not putting my pride on the line anymore, not when you’re acting like this.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that…Well, I guess I was surprised by how I acted too. What matters is that I do want to see you.”  Kouta could hear Ryuu’s embarrassment over the phone.  “Is that still alright?”

The ball of tension in Kouta’s chest released and he let out a sigh of relief.

“Let’s try this again. And seriously, bring a change of clothes.”

~~3.3~~

“You really need to get in better shape,” Kouta told Ryuu.

He was standing over his body, having thrown him for a fifth time during their sparring session. Between their schedules and the recent tension Kaori had caused, he felt a good workout would help release the pressure.

“I’m in great shape,” Ryuu informed him, still curled up gasping on the ground. “You’re just flinging me around like this because of that mess earlier. That’s enough for today.”

“You don’t get pampered in my training room,” Kouta told him, laughing. He sat down next to him. “I’ll help you get back into form. I like my man buff.”

“Buff huh?” Ryuu responded, smiling. “You have to promise not to get too crazy. I feel like I’ll need a safe word with you.”

“Yes, sweetheart, I’ll do my best to keep you from breaking a nail,” Kouta teased. “I’m actually going easy on you. You should see me work out with my band. Sometimes we draw blood. It’s just our way of showing love.”

“Well, don’t love me like that,” Ryuu muttered.

“How about we shower and go get some ramen?”

Ryuu pulled Kouta down towards him, their faces inches from each other.

“We’re going to rub down each other’s bodies?” he asked, his voice a low suggestive rumble.

“No,” Kouta said, laughing and sitting up. “The bet is still on. That would be asking for trouble. I’ll shower after you do.”

“Such a pity,” Ryuu murmured close to Kouta’s ear.

A shiver went down his spine as Ryuu slipped one hand inside Kouta’s gi and stroked his bare chest. Kouta rolled on top of him, slid his tongue into his mouth.

“Kouta, do you plan on going further?” Ryuu whispered hopefully, when the kiss ended.

“Are you forfeiting?” he demanded.

“No.”

“Then I’ll get off you; it would be the smart thing to do.”

Ryuu chuckled, shaking both of them with his amusement.

“Yes, unless you want to lose,” he said, giving Kouta’s ass a firm squeeze.

“Why the hell did we make this damn bet anyway?” Kouta groaned in frustration, standing up.

“You’re the one who wanted to challenge me,” Ryuu reminded him, dragging himself to his feet.

“Couldn’t you have stopped me?”

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t. It’s actually kind of fun.” He gripped Kouta clothes and pulled him close again. He stared intently into Kouta’s eyes. “Are you certain you don’t want to come into the shower with me?”

“Sadist. Masochist. Both!” Kouta grumbled. He smacked Ryuu’s hands away. “Stop trying to seduce me.”

“It’s not about that.” Ryuu attempted to be as serious as possible with his next words. Looking Kouta directly in his eyes, he stated solemnly, “This is about water conservation.”

“You…” Kouta shook his head in amazement, marveling at how Ryuu kept a straight face while saying that.

“Alright, if you’re sure about not showering with me, I’m going now.” With that, Ryuu strolled off to the bathroom.

Attempting to focus on fitness instead of imagining the water rolling off Ryuu’s well-formed body, Kouta did some push-ups. However, it was too much of a temptation knowing that Ryuu was in his home and, better still, completely undressed. Kouta sighed and admitted the truth; he had to see what Ryuu looked like naked.

I can still control myself, Kouta thought. If anyone gives in, it will be him, not me.

When he walked into the bathroom, he could see Ryuu showering, the steamed glass of the shower door blurring his body.

“Kou, is that you?”

“Of course,” Kouta replied, laughing. “It is my home…”

Ryuu pushed aside the door, peering out at him, an inviting smile on his lips. His wet hair was plastered to his face, patches of it coated with shampoo. Water trailed over his chest, droplets of it pulling Kouta’s eyes downward. He cursed under his breath and gripped the doorknob.

“The water feels great,” Ryuu told him. “I have it at a perfect temperature. Come enjoy it with me.” He rubbed bathing gel over his body, his well-toned muscles glistening as the slippery mixture covered his supple skin.

Kouta let go of the knob thinking how it would feel to get a different one in his hands.

“Hmmm, alright. But this is only in the interest of water conservation, like you said.” He started to undress then paused. “Turn your eyes away; I’m shy.”

“I’m going to see all of you anyway. Just come on in!” Ryuu said with a playful laugh.

“Don’t rush  me.” Kouta took off his gi, slowly folding it carefully, forcing Ryuu to wait.

“Kou, it’s a damn sweaty gi. You don’t have to be so reverent about folding it!” Ryuu exclaimed impatiently.

Kouta stepped into the shower with him. He let out a long sigh of satisfaction when he saw Ryuu’s body.

Oh yeah, Kouta thought. He’s hot.

Kouta needed to touch him, so he moved closer, running his hand over Ryuu’s shoulders, slipping past his hip and then down to his well-defined stomach. Kouta’s hand stopped just short of the nest of curly hair at Ryuu’s crotch. He heard Ryuu let out a long, shuddering breath and he smiled.

Ryuu moved nearer to him. The tips of their cocks brushed against each other and Kouta felt a strong charge of lust go through his body. Ryuu apparently felt it too because he pushed Kouta against the wall, pinning his hands above his head. His tongue probed for access to Kouta’s mouth.

Their kisses became forceful. Kouta pulled his hands out of Ryuu’s grasp, wrapping his arms around him. His hands traveled down Ryuu’s water-slicked back to his rear. He gave both cheeks a firm squeeze, imagining what it would be like to separate them and slide inside. One of Ryuu’s hands began to firmly stroke Kouta’s cock. Kouta bit down on his lip as he felt pre-cum seep out of him.

“Ryuu…” he groaned.

“Kouta, do you have something to say?” He looked into Kouta’s eyes, his own filled with need and expectation.

“Yes. I really want…”

“Go ahead, tell me,” he coaxed, rubbing his thumb over the head of Kouta’s cock.

“I want you to get me off…I mean, get off me,” Kouta managed to gasp.

Crushing Ryuu’s expectation of victory, Kouta laughed. Unsure of his resolve, he quickly exited the shower to avoid imminent revenge. Unfortunately, his foot twisted to the side and he went down on the bathroom floor with a wet, sloppy crash. In an incredible feat of agility, he’d managed to avoid landing on his hardened cock. Ryuu doubled over with laughter, one hand on the shower wall to stabilize himself.

“For all you know, I’m seriously injured here.” Kouta growled, though the only thing that was really wounded was his dignity.

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Ryuu offered Kouta a hand, which he didn’t take. He felt extremely embarrassed. He gathered together enough confidence to give Ryuu a suggestion.

“I’m going to put on some clothes. You better do the same thing.”

“Yes Master Klutz,” Ryuu said, bowing deeply in mock respect, earning himself a smack with a towel.

They dressed quickly and adjourned to a nearby ramen shop, with Kouta limping a little. During their meal, Ryuu teased him about his fall. Kouta jokingly threatened to stab him with his chopsticks.

“Kouta,” Ryuu murmured, “today the game almost ended, didn’t it?”

“Yes,” Kouta admitted, “Today, I almost lost.”

“Soon, very soon, this is going to finish.”

Kouta knew he was right.

 Read Balance Chapter 4…