Kouta and Ryuu had created the habit of bathing together on the weekends. It was a way for them to reconnect after periods that were often intensely busy. They’d chat as Kouta gently rubbed Ryuu’s back and shoulders. At times, Ryuu would doze, soothed by Kouta’s touch. Then, he would awaken with a shy, embarrassed smile. Often, their focus changed from merely relaxing to having a different, more pleasurable goal.
Kouta was hoping to repeat the experience, now that they were again surrounded by calming waters. He sat behind Ryuu, kneading his shoulders as Ryuu sighed; glad to be in his lover’s comforting hands. It made it easier for him to relay the news on a subject which was bittersweet, as their relationship was reaching that stage of contentment.
“Kou, I have to leave Tokyo for a while.”
“Running from the law, are you?” Kouta joked.
“No,” Ryuu said, laughing. “I’m going to New York to meet with a few companies. Then, I’ll headhunt for more animators. I’m always searching for creative people, no matter where I go.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Almost a month…I’ll be leaving in two weeks.” Ryuu settled himself so that he could face Kouta.
“I remember you said this might happen.”
“Now it’s for sure. Can you come with me?” Ryuu dangled the invitation hopefully, though part of him knew it was likely impossible for Kouta to join him.
“I can’t.” Kouta groaned remorsefully. “I have to film a video and finalize our tour schedule. Plus there are a few commercials and at least two variety shows. Plus, I’m sure Yosuke’s going to add to what we’re already planning to do.”
Kouta confirming that he couldn’t travel to New York had a stronger effect on Ryuu than he’d expected. Ryuu’s shoulders became tense again. This was the first time they’d be apart for several weeks, and even more significantly, a continent away. It made them realize just how close they had grown.
“Kou, I’ll miss you while I’m gone.”
“I’ll miss you too but we’ll make it work.”
Ryuu sighed and positioned himself so that he could lean against Kouta again.
“Eventually, we do have to get out of the water,” Kouta remind him, smiling when he grumbled his reluctance.
Ryuu stood to leave the tub. Rivulets caressed his skin, as light glinted off his body, highlighting his athletic physique. Kouta watched him reach for a towel and a lecherous grin spread across his face. He began to clap slowly and appreciatively. Ryuu turned to him, laughing.
“I’d like to thank your parents for the great work they’ve done,” Kouta told him.
Ryuu laughed harder, blushing slightly, as he offered his hand to help Kouta out of the tub.
A few weeks later, when Ryuu was in the bedroom packing for his trip, Kouta gave him a gift that he’d bought.
“You needed a new mp3 player,” Kouta said.
“This is awesome!” Ryuu told him, as he took in the features of the device. “There were so many types the last time I looked.” His previous player had been damaged months ago and he’d had very few opportunities to see what was on the market.
“Sometimes you get confused by too many choices,” Kouta lightly teased. “Anyway, I’ve already put songs on this for you. I hope you like them.”
“Thank you. I’ll listen to them on the flight…and especially at night, when I’m thinking of you.”
“Oh! You could write lyrics,” Kouta joked.
He cleared his throat to dampen the emotion he was feeling. He’d taken the time to carefully pick out the songs. Now that he considered the depth of what his choices revealed, he was feeling awkward. Ryuu had said they were moving at the same pace. However, Kouta was sometimes believed that he was usually making himself more emotionally available.
He shrugged his shoulders, feigning nonchalance.
“Anyway, play them if you remember.”
He started to walk away when Ryuu took hold of his arm.
“Thank you, Kou. Whenever you want, put more songs on here for me.”
“You like the idea? Really?”
“Of course. And I have something for you too.” Ryuu went to get his sketchbook. He displayed a picture he’d drawn that Kouta had never seen. It was of Kouta asleep on the bed, with his pets nestled next to him. “You’re my favorite subject, just so you know.”
“Hey there,” Ryuu said. “Remember me?”
While he was in the U.S., the two called each other numerous times. Knowing exactly who was on the phone, Kouta laughed softly at how his lover greeted him during one of those calls.
“I don’t think so. Can you refresh my memory?” He sat down on the couch and petted Nami, waiting for Ryuu’s reaction.
“Well, I’ve seen some very intimate parts of your body.”
“A lot of people have.” Kouta stated nonchalantly. “I’ve done some risqué videos, commercials, and…well, you get the idea.”
“They didn’t see the parts I saw,” Ryuu replied.
“Hmm, which one of my exes could you be…”
“Oh come on!” Ryuu’s exasperation came across clearly, which only made Kouta grin.
“Oh it’s you. I thought I’d finally gotten rid of you but it seems—Ouch!”
“What is it? You still hurting from our last time together?” Ryuu asked, his voice a low, wicked rumble. The sex before his departure had been particularly vigorous. In the morning, Ryuu had left Kouta with some loving bruises and a satiated smile.
“That’s quite an ego you have there,” Kouta responded. “Nami just dug her claws into my leg. She wants my complete attention. Such a pesky cat.” Kouta gave his offending pet a warning look. She purred and rolled around in his lap, apologizing. “Anyway, what time is it there?”
“About 9 AM. I have a meeting in an hour.”
“How are things going?”
Ryuu explained that the trip was proceeding as he’d hoped. He’d reconnected with Natalie Wright, who he’d first met in college. She had become an attorney focusing on the entertainment industry. She was now helping Ryuu with the negotiations for releasing his animation in the U.S.
“But enough about work,” Ryuu told Kouta. “How are you? Being away is harder than I thought. Do you feel the same?”
“Yes,” Kouta admitted. “I didn’t realize until now how much I like waking up next to you.” His words sent a thrill through Ryuu and made both of them eager for the time apart to end.
“And how are our pets?” Ryuu asked. “Are they behaving while I’m away?”
“Our pets are fine,” Kouta replied, laughing.
The two were only able to speak for a few minutes longer, as Ryuu had to leave for his meeting. He reminded Kouta that he’d be home in another week and Kouta promised to pick him up at the airport.
“Kou, you don’t have to do that,” Ryuu told him. “With the press and your fans…”
“I’ll be there. It’s not impossible.”
Over the next few days, Kouta found himself thinking even more frequently about when Ryuu would return.
Kouta had just returned from walking Aki, when his cell phone rang. It was Hiro, who wanted to invite the rest of the band over for lunch. He agreed to be at Hiro’s apartment at 12:30 the next day.
“Alright. I’ll see you then,” Hiro told him. “And it will help you pass the time until your lover comes back.”
Kouta grinned, shaking his head as they ended their conversation.
The next day he met his band mates for lunch at Hiro’s apartment.
“How are things with Ryuu?” Toru asked.
“Great so far,” he said. “We’ve been together for almost six months.”
“Ohhh, listen to him,” Shinji teased. “He’s counting the time. I bet he knows it down to the second.”
“He even has that ‘love blush.’ How sexy is he, huh?” Hiro pinched Kouta’s cheek, making him choke on his beef and rice. “Show me what Ryuu does to make you so damn satisfied, Kou.” They all laughed, especially when Kouta really did blush.
“Well, I am happy with him,” Kouta admitted.
“Yeah—on your hands and knees,” Shinji said, grinning at the picture he had just conjured.
“It’s not my fault you aren’t getting any.” Kouta did a short jab with his fist that hit Shinji softly, right in his stomach. Shinji covered his stomach with both hands for protection. Then he proceeded to put himself in more danger.
“You can help by lending Ryuu out, just once.”
“Maybe after you serve me your nuts on rice,” Kouta told him, dryly. He was contemplating giving Shinji a stronger jab. Shinji’s eyes widened in feigned shock.
“Sheesh, such madness,” Hiro joked. “You must be getting it good to charge such a high a price.”
“Quite. Now enough about my private life,” Kouta said. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Oh, before I forget to mention it, I need to visit my parents,” Shinji told the band. “I’ll be in Osaka for the next few days.” Knowing the question that would come out of his band leader’s mouth, he quickly added, “I already double-checked the schedule. We have to be in the studio tomorrow but then we have some time off. I’ll be leaving after practice.”
“Aww, you’re going to see your Mommy and Daddy; you are such a good boy ,” Kouta gently pestered.
“Mama’s boy,” Toru joked.
“Don’t be mad because your mother doesn’t want you around,” Shinji retorted. Toru shook his fist at Shinji.
“Stop bickering children,” Kouta said. “Shin, go see your parents. Bring us back some nikuman.”
Whenever Shinji returned from visiting his parents, his mother made sure he took the rest of the band her homemade steamed buns with various fillings.
The group finished their lunch and then parted ways with plans to meet the next day for practice.
Although Kouta was supposed to go to rehearsal, he felt ill and stayed in bed. He’d come down with the flu, his body aching and his head throbbing. His voice had practically disappeared overnight. He sighed, knowing that he wouldn’t be effective during practice. He called Hiro to tell him.
“I can’t make it today,” Kouta croaked. “I think I’ve got the flu. You guys can play without me. Or, if Shinji wants to go to Osaka earlier, you can cancel practice. I’m sure he’d appreciate the extra time.”
“We’ll take care of things,” Hiro assured him. Then, he proceeded to taunt his sick friend. “You know, you’re probably damaged from all that roughness with Ryuu last night…Oh wait, you haven’t gotten laid for a month now. Let me tell you about the sweet, ballsack-draining sex I had with Aya just this morning. She woke me up by—”
“You’re horrible,” Kouta muttered. “I can’t believe you’re supposed to be my friend.”
“Want me to help you feel better, get you some medicine?” Hiro asked, laughing. “Huh, Mr. Vocalist?”
“No; you might poison me.”
“Damn, I wanted to try out some arsenic too.”
“See, I knew it; you want to take over the band. Too much karaoke and you suddenly think you can sing.” Kouta’s voice became raspier, as it reached its limit. “I sound like garbage. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Okay. Take care.”
When the two ended the call, Kouta dozed off. He awoke again a short while later and wandered into the kitchen to get some water. The phone rang while he was stumbling back to his bed. It was Ryuu.
“Hey, what’s up?” Ryuu greeted him. “I’m back in Tokyo. I thought you were coming to get me.”
“Oh man, it completely slipped my mind.” Kouta let out a wheezing cough. “I’m sick right now.”
“Then I’ll catch a cab. I’ll come take care of you.”
“Alright, love. I’ll see you soon.”
Kouta tried to stay awake until Ryuu arrived but he was still too exhausted. He fell back asleep and sometime later, he felt someone shake him.
“Don’t touch me,” Kouta muttered, remaining in a daze. He lashed out in the direction he thought the person was. His foot connected with a body part. There was a grunt of pain. He opened his eyes to find Ryuu rubbing his stomach.
“I’m sorry I woken you,” Ryuu said, smiling apologetically. “I just wanted to see you and hear your voice.”
“You are a fearless warrior, braving infectious microbes just for me.”
“Well, maybe I’m having second thoughts…” Ryuu pretended to head towards the bedroom door. Kouta hung onto a pocket of his jeans to stop him.
“Stay,” Kouta beseeched. “I want you by me.”
Ryuu sat down on the bed and stroked his hair. Kouta put his head in Ryuu’s lap and sighed. This was where he needed to be.
“Don’t I look sexy?” he asked.
Ryuu noted that Kouta’s face was indeed appealing, despite the fact that he’d also just smeared snot on his lover’s jeans and that his skin was flushed. Ryuu grabbed a tissue from the nightstand and wiped Kouta’s nose.
“Thank you,” Kouta told him, sniffling and chuckling hoarsely.
“Did you feed Nami and Aki?” Ryuu asked.
“They automatically get fed at certain times,” Kouta reminded him. When he’d first gotten his pets, Yuki had bought him two feeding systems that were on timers.
“Well, I’ll check on them just in case.”
Ryuu gently commanded him to get more rest and tucked the covers up around him.
Later that night, when he awoke, he found Ryuu lying beside him, watching him intently.
“Feel better?” Ryuu asked. He tenderly brushed some strands of hair out of Kouta’s eyes.
“You looked charming while you were sleeping, so very innocent.”
“Yeah, innocent; that’s the real me. I’m a wholesome boy,” Kouta said with a sleepy grin.
“My thoughts weren’t exactly pure while I watched you sleep though,” Ryuu assured him with a widening smile. “I was thinking of something raw. I won’t say it out loud. I can’t even let the walls hear.”
“Oh really? Do tell.” Kouta propped himself up on one elbow, waiting for the confession. Ryuu quietly whispered into his ear all the things he wanted to do.
“You’ll put what where?” Kouta asked dramatically. “That’s nasty…I’ve been warned about men like you.”
They both started laughing. Then Kouta’s laughter turned into ugly, painful coughing.
“Clearly, I’ll have to save my plans until later,” Ryuu said, softly. “Let’s just focus on getting you better.”
Soon after his trip to New York, Ryuu received some positive news about interest generated in his work. He and Kouta were putting away groceries, when he told his lover.
“Today Studio Sanctuary, gave me a call.”
Studio Sanctuary was one of the largest American networks that featured animation from Japan. The company was considering licensing Ryuu’s films and he saw it as a way to get firmly into the U.S. market.
“We still have a lot to negotiate” Ryuu explained. “But I’m sure it’ll be worth it.”
“Yes…Here’s to future success.”
The two did a cheer and took a sip of their beers. They were about to kiss when the phone rang. Ryuu went to answer it.
“That was Natalie,” he said, when the call ended. “She’ll be coming to Tokyo for a little while. She wants to meet with me.”
“Soon?” Kouta asked.
“Yes, after she has a chance to enjoy being in Japan again,” Ryuu answered. “She studied here for a year. Whenever she returns, she likes to visit her host family…Now, where were we?”
“I believe I was about to shove my tongue down your throat.”
“Yes of course…Please proceed…”
Over the next few weeks, Ryuu began negotiating with Studio Sanctuary. The process was difficult for him. The network wanted more control than Ryuu was prepared to give. He was particular about how his work would be introduced in the U.S.
Kouta experienced the recoil from Ryuu’s frustration. Their conversations were strained and sex was less frequent; Ryuu’s mind was consistently on his company. Kouta attempted to reduce his stress, even resorting to treating him to dessert surprises to satisfy his sweet tooth.
One day, while Ryuu was planning to review some recent character sketches, his displeasure boiled over. It became clear to Kouta that his efforts to sooth him were having little to no effect. Kouta felt as if he was the only one focused on keeping their relationship going. His resentment towards Ryuu’s bad moods was growing. As much as he tried to control it, it showed itself when Ryuu misplaced some of his work.
“Kouta, have you seen my sketchbook?” Ryuu asked in a curt tone.
“Where did you leave it?”
“It was on the living room table, near a pair of your sunglasses.”
“Oh, that sketchbook, the one that ends up all over the place.”
“I…Never mind, did you move it?”
“No but I should put it in a box marked Ryuu’s crap that’s always in the way.”
“Can you please help me find it?”
Kouta sighed and put down the manga he was reading. He gave Ryuu’s concern his full attention, going to their bedroom to search for the sketchbook. He located it on the floor near Ryuu’s nightstand. The book was partially hidden under the bed. Ryuu had fallen asleep the previously night and it had slid from his grasp.
Kouta clenched his jaw, annoyance flooding his system. One of the bedrooms had been designated as Ryuu’s studio at home. Kouta had surprised him with the workspace, talking with Yoriko to get tips on how to best prepare it for him. Lately, it seemed that his efforts had been wasted. He’d thought that Ryuu would be careful with his work. However, as the stress during the negotiations increased, Ryuu had become less organized.
“Your book is right here,” Kouta told him. “Is our bed suddenly your studio?”
Looking embarrassed, Ryuu reached out his hand for the book. Kouta taunted him, repeatedly pulling it out of his reach.
“Kouta, damnit! Give me the drawings.”
“If they matter to you so much, you should put them in a proper place.”
“I did! You just like to move my things around without telling me.”
“What? That time was not my fault!” Kouta shouted. “Besides, you keep cluttering up the bedroom. I’m not a neat freak but enough is enough.”
“You’ve made your point. Now give me the book.”
Kouta turned away, keeping his back to Ryuu, perusing his drawings. He didn’t understand why, but today he was being unusually stubborn.
“You look at me when I’m speaking to you!” Ryuu shouted.
Kouta knew it was one of his pet peeves to have someone avoid his eyes while he was upset. He had made that clear but Kouta did not feel like dealing with his temperamental side. He continued to ignore his angry lover.
“You think this is a joke?” Ryuu demanded.
Kouta spun around in exasperation and shoved the sketchbook at him. It fell out of Ryuu’s hands and crashed to the floor. He looked so hurt that Kouta bent to pick up the tablet. He carefully handed it to Ryuu, who took it and walked away.
Kouta took a deep breath, realizing he was beginning to act like Kaori. The two had started dating at the start of his music career, when things were especially frantic. He hadn’t had much time for her because he was still learning how to juggle his career and a relationship. It was only now that he understood how she felt. Yet, there had to be some compromise; he knew what it was like to be intensely involved in a project. It was still possible to be a good partner. He planned to bring up his concerns when Ryuu wasn’t frustrated.
In bed that night, there was distance between them. They each slept towards an edge of the bed, trying to ignore how mentally and physically uncomfortable they were.
The next morning, the smell of food woke up Kouta. His stomach growled with eagerness as he walked into the kitchen to see Ryuu busy at the stove. Platters of Belgian waffles, sausages and bacon were on the counters.
“Morning,” he said.
“Morning,” Ryuu replied quietly.
Kouta poured himself a glass of orange juice. He sipped it slowly, thinking of how to remove the stiffness that still existed.
“About last night…” he began.
“I’m really sorry,” Ryuu told him.
“So am I. Let’s just forget about it.”
“Okay. I’m almost finished with breakfast; I hope you’re hungry.” Ryuu surveyed all that he’d made. “Maybe this is too much.”
“No, I’m starving and everything smells great. How can I help?”
“Just stand there and look hot.” Ryuu gave Kouta the lecherous grin he’d missed for the past several weeks. A surge rippled through Kouta and he was tempted to drag Ryuu to the nearest couch.
“I was going to make scrambled eggs next. Or do you want omelets?”
“Omelets. I’ll at least set the table, while you take care of those.”
Soon, they finished cooking and sat down to eat. To Kouta’s dismay, Aki immediately put her paws up on Ryuu’s leg. She charmed him into feeding her several bits of sausage and bacon.
“Aki, you’re not to beg,” Kouta scolded. “Lay down.” He pointed to where he wanted her to go. She whined but obeyed, while looking at him reproachfully.
“Relax,” Ryuu told him. “It’s my fault, not hers. You’re being a bit harsh.”
“I guess I’m just agitated. I’m not sure if this goodness will last.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going to shut yourself off from me again? I want a lover, not a roommate.”
“I know we’re both busy but let’s make time for each other, okay?” The stress he felt added an edge to his voice that he hadn’t meant to have.
“You’re right. Let’s not ruin the breakfast. I don’t want to argue.”
“We’ve been doing too much of that lately.”
“I didn’t sleep well last night and I think we both know why.”
Kouta nodded, showing he understood. “It was the same for me.”
“I thought I had to do something to apologize. This is the ‘I’m sorry I’ve been a real shithead lately and thank you for putting up with me’ breakfast,” Ryuu explained.
“Are you going to trademark that name?” Kouta teased. “Maybe Natalie can give you some pointers.”
Ryuu laughed as he offered Kouta the syrup for his waffle.
When they finished their meal, Kouta led the way into their bedroom. He was glad to finally have some time with Ryuu; their sex life had almost become non-existent. Three to five times a week had turned into once or twice every week. As the one with the stronger libido, it was a difficult adjustment for him.
They were in the middle of undressing each other when the phone rang.
“Just let it go,” Kouta told Ryuu, unzipping his pants.
“Okay,” he said, taking off his shirt. Kouta led him towards the bed. “Wait, I’m sorry, I have to answer it. It could be Natalie.” Ryuu pulled away from him and grabbed the phone. When he’d confirmed that it was who he thought it was, he looked at Kouta. “It is her.”
Kouta sighed and stared up at the ceiling while Ryuu talked. After about twenty minutes, he became tired of waiting and dressed. He went out into the garden and smoked. He watched the smoke drift up and disappear, very much like their sex life. Kouta catalogued the many times in the past month that Ryuu had stopped attempts to have sex. He was on his third cigarette, when Ryuu touched his shoulder.
“What?” Kouta snapped.
“Sorry about that,” Ryuu murmured.
“Are you?” Kouta brushed past him and went to the bedroom. He lay down on the bed, where he and Ryuu should have been over twenty minutes ago.