Bal – Chapter 05

Kouta watched Ryuu put on his clothing; the skin he’d recently paid so much attention to was disappearing bit by bit. He’d never enjoyed waking up next to someone this much. Ryuu had begun spending more nights at his home. A bonus for Kouta was seeing him get ready the next day, pants slipping over long legs that had been entwined with his the previous night.

“Why don’t you bring some things over?” Kouta suggested.

“Okay,” Ryuu murmured, giving him a shy smile. “I’d like that. We’d have more time to fool around in the mornings.”

“I can see I’m rubbing off on you. You didn’t always like sex that early.”

“Well, how can I complain?” Ryuu leaned down to give him a kiss. “You get my day started off right.”

“Speaking of getting things started, you stay another minute and I’ll have to undress you.”

“No, that’s okay.” Ryuu chuckled knowingly. “I really do have to go. This will be one of my busier days. But do you want to come to my place this evening? How about seven?”

“What is it with you and that time?” Kouta joked.

“Sorry. I’m a creature of habit.”

“Alright. I’ll see you then.” Kouta pulled the covers up around himself again. He flipped over onto his stomach, making himself comfortable. “In the meantime, I’m going back to sleep; the last few weeks have worn me out.”

“How is that possible?” Ryuu teased. “You’ve just been taking pictures, doing interviews and singing…out-of-tune.”

“Scram before I maul you—and not in a way you’d like.”

“Keep some things at my place too,” Ryuu told him. “When you’re leaving in the mornings, I also want to drool over you.”

After landing a playful, parting swat on Kouta’s rear, Ryuu quickly left the bedroom.

~~5.1~~

While Kouta waited to meet with Yosuke, he thought of his place within the company. It had been five years since he’d signed with Pinnacle Music Corp as part of Polaris. However, his history with PMC went back much further.

As a teenager, Kouta had entered a song contest that PMC had hosted. Pleased with his work, the company had hired him, with his parents overseeing the contract on his behalf. While they were supportive of how he wanted to use his talent, they were also determined to protect their young, talented son.

Kouta had been writing for the company for slightly more than a decade, under the alias of Makoto Inoue. It was at that time that Yosuke first began managing him. His efforts had produced hits for various artists, including the majority of hits for Freefall. It was another reason Kouta detested the rival band. He was denied the satisfaction of revealing that it partially owed its fame to him, though the group often insulted him.

When Polaris had debuted, the band had hoped to get guidance from Takayuki Abe’s more experienced group. An established band guiding newer ones was in keeping with the culture of Pinnacle Music Corp.

Freefall had been the company’s most successful band, with almost fifteen years in the industry, numerous awards and a history of selling out stadiums domestically and internationally. However, within two years of debuting, Polaris had consistently made headlines, quickly outstripping Freefall. The group’s songs usually appeared on the charts several spaces higher than those of Freefall’s. The older band began downplaying the younger band’s success, as the members grew upset about the change in their status. On more than one occasion, Freefall intentionally snubbed Polaris, taking PMC’s three other youngest bands out on the town. Takayuki also focused slights on Kouta, whom he refused to acknowledge. Frustrated about receiving the cold shoulder, Kouta had thought about how much enjoyment he’d feel if he could casually mention his role in Freefall’s success. He knew it would make Takayuki crumble. However, he had to be content with imagining the scenario, regardless of how angry he became with the other singer. The only retribution he could get was to simply give Freefall the contracted number of songs. Most of his best songs were now being saved for Polaris.

Deciding to stop brooding about the situation with Freefall, Kouta tuned his guitar; then he strummed a few chords from each of the three pieces he wanted to play.  The reason for Kouta’s current meeting with Yosuke was to submit more songs.

“I’m back a little later than I expected,” Yosuke said, closing his office door.

“Did you find out anything?” Kouta asked.

“Yes.” Yosuke had been gathering information on several more opportunities for the band. “I’ll tell you when everyone else is here. Right now, let me listen to what you’ve written.”

Kouta played each of the three songs for Yosuke. He was especially proud of this set, as the lyrics were more intricate and full of meaning than most of the earlier ones he’d written.

“Mr. Inoue, I believe you’ll have more hits on your hands,” Yosuke said, nodding appreciatively, as the strains of the last song faded.

Kouta laughed, basking in his manager’s praise. Over the years, his guidance had become especially important to Kouta, particularly because of Yosuke’s honesty. He knew that when his manager offered compliments, he was being genuine.

“Do you know who might get to do my songs?” Kouta asked, as he softly played his guitar.

“Aren’t you really wondering if Freefall will choose at least one? At any rate, the band won’t be using any of your work for their next album. Kouta, you have to get over your dislike.”

“That’s not easy to do.”

“Apparently, neither is staying away from Ryuu Kobayashi,” Yosuke stated. He leaned forward in his seat, ready for Kouta’s reaction. It was a topic he’d had every intention of bringing up during this meeting; the matter had the potential of causing serious repercussions.

“What about Ryuu?” Kouta asked. He immediately silenced the guitar, wondering if his manager had heard something negative.

“Relax. I see you’re quite protective of him already,” Yosuke noted. “Just be aware that this situation is different than all the others.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Kouta, being a celebrity won’t shield you from bigots. Two men together bother many people.”

“I’m not ending my relationship with him,” Kouta informed his manager. He stood and began to pace the room, letting out a long breath as frustration began to overtake him. Yosuke watched, waiting, knowing that more words were coming soon. They arrived in the form of a shout. “We’re not going to hide!”

Kouta folded his arms across his chest, ready for an argument.

“Is this how you’re going to deal with the press?” Yosuke asked, laughing and shaking his head. “Don’t you think you have to be more mature about this? I’m not requiring you to defend your relationship. There’s no need to get angry with me.” He leaned back in his chair, appraising the obstinate expression on the singer’s face.

Kouta sighed, realizing that his first response shouldn’t have been to go on the attack. It was the least effective way to get his point across, especially to Yosuke. He sat down on the couch again, his expression earnest.

“I know people have noticed us but no one has given us any trouble,” he said, quietly. “We’re discreet.”

The pair had regularly been going on dates; having meals, seeing movies. The media had periodically mentioned this. However, there hadn’t been a backlash. Still, one of Yosuke’s skills was to forecast any problems that could arise. He was often able to quickly neutralize issues, even if his methods sometimes caused Polaris to protest. At the same time, he realized he had to carefully calculate what tactics to use, particularly with Kouta. The lead singer could be surprisingly stubborn when provoked, which directly contrasted with his general easygoing demeanor.

Overall, the band had been able to avoid conflicts. Yosuke had to consider that when counseling the members on how to act. It was natural for them to want to have love lives. They just had to keep in mind their duty to each other, to him and to the company.

“No one has bothered you, yet,” Yosuke reminded Kouta. “But it has come to the attention of my superiors. Handle this well. That’s all I’ll say about it for now.”

Satisfied that the meeting wouldn’t turn into an argument, Kouta stretched out on the couch. His eyes slowly drifted closed, as fatigue from the last few weeks took over.

“I really like Ryuu,” Kouta admitted, as he began to fall asleep. “I want to stay with him. I know I’m still naïve about many things. So, please help me…”

Yosuke smiled, watching Kouta float into slumber. It was the first time Kouta had asked him for any help with a relationship.

~~5.2~~

Kouta arrived at Ryuu’s apartment shortly before 7 that night. Ryuu greeted him, giving him a deep kiss. Kouta was momentarily pleased but then he quickly became alarmed; there was someone else in the apartment. Ryuu’s guest was rearranging sheets of paper, which were spread across the dining room table.

“Kou, it’s okay,” Ryuu said, seeing his concern. “Come meet Jin. He knows about us.”

Jin Tanaka was a tall, lanky man. His brown eyes held some mischief in them, which was confirmed with his first words to Kouta.

“Did you know I’m the reason you’re stuck with this guy?”

Kouta glanced at Ryuu questioningly.

“It was his idea to go to Koldun on the night you met me,” Ryuu explained. “Niccolo was there too but you probably didn’t see either of them.”

“No, his eyes were only on you,” Jin joked. “If he’d seen me, you’d have had no chance.” Ryuu laughed and punched him on his arm.

“I did see Niccolo,” Kouta said. “Jiro told me who he was. I didn’t notice Jin though.”

“Yeah. He’s invisible like that,” Ryuu joked, earning a return punch from his buddy.

Kouta laughed. He enjoyed meeting Ryuu’s friend, as well as learning more about another one. He was used to Ryuu spending most of his time working, which made it difficult to believe that he could still relax with friends. However, it appeared that he, Jin and Niccolo were close.

While Ryuu and Jin focused again on their task, Kouta went to use Ryuu’s computer. About ten minutes later, Ryuu came over to talk to him.

“Hey, are you hungry?” He rested his hands on Kouta’s shoulders, giving him an affectionate squeeze.

“No, I’m fine.”

“I’m sorry about this. Jin and I are having a little trouble.”

“That’s because you won’t listen,” Jin growled from his position at the table. “We could have finished a while ago if you hadn’t—”

“Don’t try to blame this on me,” Ryuu interrupted, laughing. He turned back to Kouta. “Hey, how about you give us your opinion?”

Kouta followed Ryuu to the table where Jin was. They explained the basic mood they were trying to create.

“It’s a script about a guardian named Kai,” Ryuu said, handing him a few pages. “We’re calling it The Sentinel. We’re writing the last of the dialogue.”

After considering what he’d heard, Kouta paced, speaking the lines out loud several times. Then he crossed out some of what was on the pages and wrote in his ideas. Ryuu and Jin reviewed what he’d done. They looked at each other and then stared at Kouta.

“Show off,” the two muttered in unison.

“Well, when you have skills…” Kouta said with a sly chuckle.

He left them alone again, returning to read some of his band’s fanmail. At least twice a month, each member of Polaris would post to their official fanclub’s forum. Kouta saw that Shinji had been on the site two days earlier; his comments were filled with his usual goofy humor.

Another half hour passed before Jin and Ryuu completed their work for the night.

“Hey, how come you’ve never greeted me with a kiss?” Jin teased, as he packed up his things. “I’m really hurt. We’ve even bathed together.”

“At a bathing hall,” Ryuu quickly explained, when he saw Kouta’s slightly alarmed expression.

“Kouta, he must really like you,” Jin said, laughing loudly. “That was a lightening response. He wants no misunderstandings.”

“Get home before your wife calls here,” Ryuu said, guiding Jin to the door. “And stop trying to cause me problems.” Kouta followed the two of them, saying goodbye to Jin.

After closing the door behind his friend, Ryuu pressed Kouta up against it. Kouta sighed as Ryuu layered gentle kisses on his neck.

“That took longer than I expected,” Ryuu admitted. “Thanks for being patient.”

“It’s no problem,” Kouta told him. “Jin seems cool. You don’t often hang out with others.”

“I prefer it that way. I tend to enjoy solitude. So I need people in my life who understand that. Niccolo and Jin do.”

“What about me?”

“Sometimes you do,” Ryuu replied, his eyes shifting away from Kouta’s.

The response had been a slow one. Kouta slid out of Ryuu’s grasp and went to sit on the couch.

“You and I are still getting used to each other,” Ryuu said, going to sit next to him.

“Maybe I’m moving at a different pace than you are.”

“I don’t think so. What exactly do you mean?”

Kouta was unable to express the frustration he was feeling and opted to change the subject.

“Never mind. Will you be getting much busier?”

Ryuu wondered if he should keep on the same topic. He’d noticed the furrow of displeasure between Kouta’s brows. He didn’t want there to be any confusion between them. However, after a few moments, he decided to go along with the change, as he sensed Kouta wasn’t in the right frame of mind for a discussion.

“Yes,” he answered. “It will be worth it, as the company could become even more successful.”

“I know how important that is to you.” Kouta hesitated before saying his next words. “But I hope you don’t forget about making time for us.”

“I won’t,” Ryuu promised.

Kouta’s stomach gave a loud rumble and he wrapped an arm across it. Ryuu chuckled.

“I guess you’re hungry now,” he said, pulling Kouta up from the couch.

While they prepared chicken cacciatore with pasta, Ryuu repeatedly brushed up against Kouta, suggestively at first. Then, he eventually turned the cooking into a contact sport by smacking Kouta on his rear with a large spoon. It took the scent of the chicken beginning to burn to get them to stop playing and tend to the food. Lustful glances repeatedly passed between them, but they put off having sex until after their meal.

While the two were lying in bed later that night, Kouta decided to voice what had been bothering him earlier. In truth, the matter had been on his mind for a few weeks. He’d just never found the perfect time to mention it.

“We’ve been together a few months. Why did I only get to meet a friend of yours today?”

He’d already introduced Ryuu to his closest friends over a month ago. He’d found it strange that Ryuu had taken longer to do the same with him.

“I’m not trying to hide anything from you,” Ryuu assured him.

“It’s just that I used to date someone who didn’t have a lot of close friends.” Kouta sat up to put some distance between himself and Ryuu. He found it difficult to concentrate when their skin was touching. This topic was too important to him to get distracted. “It put a strain on our relationship. She almost always wanted me with her.”

“Well, I’m not like that. Don’t worry. You’re not quite the absolute center of my universe yet.”

“You know what I mean!” Kouta said, laughing.

“I do,” Ryuu told him. He reached out and pulled Kouta closer to him.

“Hey, there’s something else I want to know, before you make me forget.” Kouta dodged his lover’s roaming hands. “I’m going over to my parents’ house this Sunday. Would you like to come?”

“Does your family even know about me?”

“Of course. I don’t try to hide whom I date. Besides, we’ve been in the news.”

“That’s true.”

Kouta heard the slightly mournful tone in Ryuu’s voice. His lover valued his privacy and their relationship had changed that part of his life. Ryuu was still coming to terms with this. Kouta suspected it would be a matter of concern for quite some time.

“It’s what happens when someone is with me,” Kouta reminded him. “I’ll do my best not to get in the media, unless it’s necessary.”

“I know how it works…About your family, can I give you an answer later? I don’t know exactly when but…”

“No pressure.”

Kouta decided to give Ryuu more details about his family, hoping to put him further at ease. He’d already mentioned a little about his parents, his older sister, Yuki, and Takeshi, her husband. He now began focusing on his father, Kenzo.

Kenzo had worked for a biotech research company until he’d retired five years earlier.   Now he spent his time enjoying some of his greatest pleasures, including taking trips with his wife and playing chess with his friends. Kouta explained that his father would be the most difficult to win-over, since he was reluctant to get to know people.

“Maybe I can talk him into a game of chess,” Ryuu mused.

“That might work.”

“Alright…And your mother is a violinist?”

“Yes.” Kouta was pleased that he had remembered. Chieko, his mother, had retired from being a virtuoso. “She’d performed internationally for almost twenty years.”

Then, as her children had grown, she’d started giving private lessons. Even now, she continued to do so. Kouta had met Hiro when he’d become one of her students and a lifelong friendship had been formed.

“Why is it that your mother plays the violin but you chose the piano?” Ryuu teased. “Are you rebelling?”

“I can play both,” Kouta said, laughing. “I just prefer the piano. Anyway, Mom has heard the most about you. She’s wanted me to bring you over forever. She’s as eager as Yuki.”

“Yuki, who is pregnant…”

“That doesn’t mean she won’t be difficult.” Kouta chuckled, imagining what his sister would say to Ryuu. “She’s protective of me, so she’ll ask blunt questions. Oh, and she’s an editor for the publishing company located in a building…”

“That was designed by the company where Takeshi works.”

“Yes,” Kouta said, impressed by how much Ryuu could recall. “He’s an architect. He and Yuki have been married for three years now.”

“Your family sounds very traditional.”

“But I’m a nail that sticks out.”

“Which no one seems to have hammered down.”

“No, in my family, we’re very supportive of each other.”

Ryuu sat up and turned towards Kouta.

“That creates a strong sense of comfort, doesn’t it?”

“Yes…”

“It’s great when someone has your best at heart, isn’t it?”

“True…”Kouta replied, studying his face. He heard an undertone and wondered what was on Ryuu’s mind. “What are you really trying to say?”

“Maybe because you write lyrics, you look for hidden meanings,” Ryuu teased. When Kouta didn’t smile, as he’d expected, Ryuu cleared his throat, feeling a bit nervous. He’d been thinking about an issue he’d wanted to raise for the past week.

“I’m not seeing anyone else,” he began. He looked down at his hands, not wanting to be staring into Kouta’s eyes, in case the conversation didn’t go the way he was hoping. “I shouldn’t assume the same about you. So…”

“I haven’t been with anyone else,” Kouta quickly assured him, sitting up and mirroring his position.

Ryuu pulled him close for a kiss. When their lips parted, he whispered, “Then let’s keep it that way. Just you and I.”

“Really? You’re not half asleep and saying this?”

“I’m awake enough,” Ryuu told him, smiling shyly. Then he said six numbers.

“What are those?”

“The code to my apartment.”

Kouta repeated the numbers, committing them to memory. Ryuu looked at him expectantly. Kouta purposefully made him wait.

“Hey,” Ryuu finally complained, poking him in his ribs. “How about some reciprocity?”

Kouta told him the code for his house.

“We’re at the same pace,” Ryuu murmured, as he nuzzled Kouta’s neck. “Don’t worry.”

~~5.3~~

Kouta was watching Ryuu mangle the process of putting on his tie. A month after becoming exclusive, Ryuu had agreed to meet Kouta’s family but he was unexpectedly tense.

“I want to make sure I’m presentable,” Ryuu said, making a third attempt with the tie. “How do I look?”

“Like someone who should be naked right now,” Kouta steamily assured him.

Ryuu laughed and then groaned as Kouta ran a hand over his crotch.

“Kou, we’re going to be late.”

“Stop stressing. You’ll be fine. You’re already letting my family intimidate you.”

“Sorry,” Ryuu said, giving him a weak smile.

“You really are worried.” Kouta was half amused and half concerned.

“Yeah…I…well, it’s your family…” Kouta pulled Ryuu to him and gave him a deep kiss. When they parted, his lover groaned again. “That didn’t help. Now I’m completely hard.”

Kouta smiled when he felt the evidence now pressing against him.

“I can take care of that quickly,” he offered. “It might help you relax.”

“We’ll arrive smelling like sex, no matter how well we try to mask it.”

Kouta teased him about the exaggeration but suggested that they could take a shower before leaving. Ryuu again expressed his unease about being late.

“Then what do you want to do?” Kouta asked, prodding Ryuu’s hardness with an insistent index finger. “You can’t just waste a perfectly hard cock.”

“Will you stop touching it?” Ryuu knocked his hand away. “Let’s go. I’ll just have negative thoughts on the way.”

“Like what, getting stuck inside me, deep in my—”

“Kou, knock it off!”

Kouta tried to kiss Ryuu but he blocked the show of affection.

“Oh for shit’s sake, you’re letting my family cause you to panic. Come here.”

“No,” Ryuu said, backing away from him.

“Yes. Right now!”

Despite Ryuu’s protests, they had sex anyway—and still arrived at Kouta’s family home with time to spare.

“Well then, wasn’t a quickie just what the doctor ordered?” Kouta asked, as he parked in his parents’ driveway. “Don’t you feel better?”

“Yeah,” Ryuu admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Are you sure we don’t smell like sex?”

“You always smell like sex to me, lover.” Kouta snaked a hand towards one of Ryuu’s thighs.

“Kou, don’t do this, especially not here.” Ryuu hurried out of the car, the sound of Kouta’s deep, mischievous laughter drifting towards him.

~~5.4~~

Chieko Sasaki greeted her son and his guest at the door. Ryuu bowed formally to her.  The difference in height was even more noticeable when she quickly hugged him, as she barely reached his shoulders. Kouta had told her so much about him that she did not see the need to start out being traditionally formal. A blush of pleasant surprise crossed Ryuu’s face and he looked down at the floor. Kouta sighed, thinking yet again that Ryuu really didn’t know how appealing he was.

The pair followed Chieko to the living room, where the rest of the family was waiting. Kouta introduced Ryuu to his father, his sister, and his brother-in-law.

Interested in learning more about Ryuu, Chieko took the lead, delving into his background. Ryuu talked about his family; his parents, his brother and his two sisters.  The conversation continued to go well as he spoke about his upbringing. When the subject of him and Kouta dating was raised, Yuki leaned back against the sofa and crossed her legs.

“So Ryuu, how exactly did you meet Kouta?”

Yuki tilted her head forward, a determined expression in her dark-brown eyes. She already knew that and much more. She had long ago pried many details out of Kouta, as only an older sibling could. Kouta let out a breath; he already had an idea of what might develop.

“We met at a club,” Ryuu explained. “My plans had been to just have a quiet evening at home.” He looked at Kouta “It’s a good thing I changed my mind.”

“Perhaps Kouta told you that I’m protective of him,” Yuki began. “We all are. As you’re aware, he has become quite well-known. I mean no offense when I ask this question. Are you dating my brother because he’s famous?”

“No,” Ryuu responded, immediately. “If anything, his fame has added a complicated dimension to my life.”

Kouta became tense. He hadn’t liked that answer, especially since Ryuu had given Yuki such bait. Ryuu put one hand on Kouta’s arm to settle him, understanding what type of situation he’d just created.

“Then you don’t plan on being with him for a long time?” Yuki pressed.

“That’s not what I said.”

On most occasions, Kouta didn’t mind Yuki’s habit of interrogating people, but this time it bothered him. There was an edge to her words that was not usually there. Kouta thought back to the things he’d told her about Ryuu. He wondered if, perhaps, somewhere along the way he had given her a negative impression. Regardless, he wanted to intervene.

“Yuki, not everyone reacts to fame—”

“Now, Kouta, you brought him to the Sasaki home,” Kenzo said. “He should be able to fend for himself.”

“He can,” Kouta assured his father.

“Then I’ll proceed,” Yuki told Kouta. She gave him the type of smile that many others would consider to be intimidating. Kouta was going to make another remark, when Ryuu handled the situation in his own manner.

“No, I’ll proceed,” Ryuu replied. His response remained polite, while it contained enough force to make his points. “Kouta’s fame, while it does have an impact on my life, is ultimately not a problem. By the way, neither is your attempt to interfere with us. Now, I’ve noticed that your father’s sake cup has become empty. I’d much rather refill it, if he so desires, than to have a battle of wits with an overzealous, but beautiful, opponent.”

There was silence.

Ryuu’s words surprised Kouta, who was imagining how his sister would react. He thought it was best to smooth things over and was about to intervene and then came Yuki’s bold, rich laughter.

“Oh Kouta, he’s fun!” she exclaimed. “Why didn’t you bring him sooner?”

“He was nervous,” Kouta answered truthfully.

“Well, there’s nothing like Yuki’s pointed questions to get rid of nerves,” Chieko joked.

While intently watching Ryuu, Kenzo pushed his sake cup towards him, a silent acceptance of his offer to pour him a drink. Kouta was pleased with the gesture, understanding that his father, an avid and skilled chess player, had enjoyed Ryuu’s graceful tactics.

Kouta felt a surge of desire, thinking again of the way his lover had spoken. He wanted to end the evening quickly and seize Ryuu, leading him back to their place. However, he knew it would hardly have been proper. He made a note to show Ryuu how thoroughly appealing he was, once they were in private. For the time being, Kouta focused on his family and, more importantly, having Ryuu there with everyone.

“You and your interrogations,” Takeshi teased Yuki. He gently squeezed his wife’s hand.

“I have to take care of my brother, you know,” Yuki said, playfully elbowing her husband. Then she turned to face Ryuu. “It might seem so impolite to ask you such questions. However, Kou has a habit of dating people who don’t treat him as well as he deserves. As an older sister, I feel obligated to watch out for him. Please understand why, though it’s fine if you still think I got carried away.”

“But he added that you’re beautiful,” Takeshi emphasized, a mischievous glint in his eyes. Yuki lightly flipped her hair, preening in an exaggerated fashion.

“Yes, please don’t forget that,” Ryuu added, making Yuki laugh.  The lightness of the sound was in direct contrast to the guarded reception she’d initially given to him.

“Still, I thought Yuki was reasonable,” Kouta’s father said, looking at him pointedly. “We don’t want any weaklings in the family. Do we, Kouta?”

“I bring no weaklings here, Father.”

“What about that Kaori Mitsuda?” Takeshi goaded.

“Okay, can we not rehash that part of my life?” Kouta slid a glance at Ryuu to see his reaction. Ryuu’s face showed no signs that his meeting with Kaori had been an unpleasant one. Kouta was hoping his family would not mention her again. Fortunately, they moved on to another topic and he was thankful, though the spotlight was still on him.

“Now Ryuu, be honest. What exactly would possess you to be with my son?” Kenzo asked.

“I’m still trying to figure that out, sir.”

“Hey,” Kouta complained.

“No, I’m serious,” Ryuu told him. “Since we started seeing each other, I’ve been mentioned in the media so much that it has become disturbing.”

It was true that Ryuu had already become well-known because of his success in the animation field. However, the attention he now received was on a completely different level. As he walked to the subway, went to get groceries or did a host of other errands, more people now clearly recognized him. Even though many didn’t say a thing, the realization was in their eyes.

“Kouta has a penchant for calling attention to himself,” Yuki said.

“And anyone within a 3 kilometers of him,” Takeshi added, smiling.

“Wait, you’re supposed to be picking on Ryuu, not me,” Kouta protested. “I want to see him squirm.”

“Really?” Ryuu asked. “I’ll discuss that comment with you later.”

Kouta looked down at his sake with a smile, thinking about how many of their discussions ended, even when Ryuu was annoyed him.

Later that night, as he and Ryuu left his parents’ home, Ryuu made several promises, including one to play chess against Kenzo. Kouta was immensely pleased about how well things had gone.

Their ride home was relatively quiet, as Ryuu was pensive and stared out the window for most of the drive. Kouta didn’t ask him what was on his mind, though he wondered.

Maybe I had him meet my family too soon, Kouta thought. He watched Ryuu change his clothes.

“What is it?” Ryuu asked. He paused, midway into putting his slacks on a hanger, as he’d noticed Kouta was focused on him.

“Nothing,” Kouta replied.

In truth, he’d hope Ryuu would explain how he felt about the evening. Since Ryuu hadn’t raised the topic and Kouta believed it would be forceful to bring it up himself, he remained silent. He decided to continue to give Ryuu some space, instead getting on the computer to review his band’s website. He was reading and responding to a few topics, when Ryuu tapped him on his shoulder.

“Are you busy?”

“I’m writing to the fans,” Kouta told him. “I’ll be finished in about twenty minutes.”

“Maybe we can talk after that. Find me when you’re ready.”

Ryuu walked away and Kouta noted that his shoulders were tense. Kouta was going to continue posting on the forum, when he paused. He called out to Ryuu.

“What’s wrong?”

“You haven’t said anything.” Ryuu didn’t face him.

“About what?”

“The visit with your family,” Ryuu replied, turning to look at him. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, not at all,” Kouta quickly assured him, going over to him. “Why would you even believe that?”

“When we were driving back here, you were quiet.”

“That’s because you were quiet,” Kouta responded, laughing in surprise.

“I was waiting for you to tell me how it went,” Ryuu admitted. “I was hoping that I didn’t disappoint you.”

“I never worried about that.”

“Were you worried about anything at all?”

“Yes, that they’d end up liking you enough to disown me,” Kouta teased.

“I’m sorry. I’m not very good at things like this.” Ryuu rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’ve only been incredibly serious with one other person and…Well, does it sound strange for me to say that? Did you expect that I’d been in more relationships?”

“Not really. You’re the type who takes your time with these types of things. That’s why I wasn’t sure if I was rushing you.”

“I want to be with you, even when I stumble. Just remember that. My last relationship. Alexis. She.” Ryuu flinched and avoided Kouta’s eyes.

“Ryuu…” Kouta murmured. He pulled him close and kissed him gently. “Whatever it is, you can tell me when you’re ready.”

“Thanks for understanding. Anyway, I really enjoyed tonight. I hope we can go to Sunday dinner again.”

“We will whenever we can,” Kouta promised.

~~5.5~~

A week after the visit, Kouta went to see Yuki, wanting to know her impression of Ryuu.

“How are you doing, sis?” he asked.

“Takeshi and I are incredibly busy planning for the babies,” Yuki said, patting her stomach. “There’s so much to finish.”

“Do you need help?”

“Yes, can you carry these children for me?”

“Ha, ha, very funny.”

“So, let’s get to what you really wanted to know.” Yuki looked at Kouta, a teasing smile on her face.

“Okay,” Kouta said. He was relieved that she was willing to give her opinion; he didn’t have to drag it out of her. “What do you think of him?”

She curled up on the couch and motioned for him to sit next to her. Then, knowing that he was eager to hear her opinion, she still stalled.

“Please get me drink first,” she said, grasping dramatically at her throat. “I’m delicate and parched.”

“Yuki…” Kouta complained. It was the same whining voice he’d used with her when they were children. She laughed, deciding not to keep him in suspense any longer.

“Alright. I’ll tell you what I think…He’s great Kouta. He’s intelligent, polite, funny and definitely handsome. There’s some potential there for you to have a solid relationship…” A mischievous gleam came into Yuki’s eyes and she elbowed Kouta. “If I weren’t married and you two weren’t dating, I would totally go for him. I think my taste in men rubbed off on you.”

Kouta squirmed at her last few comments. She sometimes playfully tormented him when she knew he was very interested in someone.

“Sis,” he grumbled. He was particularly sensitive about anything dealing with Ryuu. She patted his hand to reassure him.

“Kou, I’m glad you have a good person your life. After Kaori…well, you know what I think of her.”

“It was a smart call to stop dating her,” Kouta admitted.

“It would have been better if you hadn’t dated her at all,” Yuki said, grinning. “I did warn you.”

“Of course, know-it-all…Speaking of which, what does everyone else think?”

“About the meaning of life?”

“Yuki!”

“I know. Why don’t you just ask them?”

“I will but I want to get your view. You notice so many things other people miss.”

“Mom said that he’s ‘polished’ and she wouldn’t mind having him over again. Dad likes him too. He was more talkative with Ryuu than I expected; that’s an excellent sign. He interacted well with TakeshiRyuu. When he offered to give us a tour of his studio, it completely sealed the deal. We’re looking forward to it.”

“So then you forgive Ryuu for beating you at verbal chess?” Kouta joked.

“I could have been tougher on him,” Yuki pointed out. “However, I didn’t want to go too far with a guest. Anyway, he’s definitely a keeper.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Kouta said, with a growing smiling.

“But Kou, there’s one thing you’re going to need to remember. Ryuu will likely expect more of you than anyone else you’ve dated—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll let you see how it all develops.”

Kouta left Yuki’s house, her prediction about Ryuu was still ringing in his ears.

Read Balance Chapter 6…