Bal – Chapter 09

Kouta had retreated to his bedroom, a place he had thought Ryuu was finished cleaning. He’d learned to maneuver around his lover; Ryuu had gone on another one of his periodic missions to wipe out every bit of imaginable dirt. Kouta knew that this was one of Ryuu’s personal quirks; while he went on a cleaning spree, he’d envision new ideas for his company. Kouta was also going through a creative process, though he was taking a different route than his lover.

He tried again to concentrate on writing a song, despite the noise Ryuu was making. Slowly, the irritating sound of the vacuum came closer, interrupting the quiet he’d begun to enjoy.

“Sorry,” Ryuu said, as he came into the room. He shut off the vacuum. “Most of the other areas are clean. You can go to one of those.”

“No, I’ve had to move three times already,” Kouta told him.

He rewrote a section of a song, frowning because the words weren’t flowing the way he wanted.

“Why don’t you go to the studio and write?” Ryuu asked. He sat down next to Kouta and blew into his ear. Kouta pushed him away.

“I didn’t expect our home to be taken over by your mania,” he responded, slightly glaring at his lover. “I should be able to do anything I want here.”

“Sorry,” Ryuu said, chuckling softly. “This morning the mood hit me and…well, you know. Please try to be accommodating.”

“I didn’t mean to sound rude.” Kouta sighed. “I’m just frustrated because I’ve been rewriting the same verse for almost an hour.”

“I’ll get your mind off your lyrical troubles.”

Ryuu moved even closer to Kouta, his eyes half-closed. Kouta smiled, looking forward to what he thought Ryuu had in mind. Ryuu trailed one thumb over his mouth and lightly kissed him. Suddenly, he tackled Kouta, pinning him under his body.

“Hey Kou, I’ve missed you,” he murmured.

“What do you mean?” Kouta asked, laughing. “We’ve been here together all day.”

“During the last few weeks, you’ve been so preoccupied.”

“It’s this new album.”

“I know. Just look me up when you find time,” Ryuu responded, smiling. He planted a soft kiss on Kouta’s neck and then nibbled on his ear.

“Hmmm…Yes…I think I really hate you,” Kouta said, narrowing his eyes. “I get pissed when you become extremely focused on work. I even end up having a damn accident over it. Then, when I get into my work and neglect you, you just shrug it off.”

“Alright,” Ryuu cleared his throat. An obnoxious gleam came into his eyes. He began to shout, “Kouta, don’t you appreciate me? You think I’m just a piece of meat you can use and abuse? I will not allow myself to be treated like this…” He lowered his voice, smiling in a teasing way. “Is that the spectacle you want?”

“Stop bothering me” Kouta muttered, shoving him away. “Find some entertainment.”

“That’s why I have you …” Ryuu squeezed Kouta’s thigh. “You’re all kinds of entertainment. Drama when you’re especially moody. Horror when I don’t please you. Comedy when I see you naked.” Kouta punched him for saying that. “Suspense when I watch your face, right before you come…”

“You’re really out to get yourself hurt today,” Kouta warned, shaking a fist in mock anger.

“Remember that I’m fragile.” Ryuu rolled over onto his back and made as if to fend off punches.

“Hey, I know I haven’t been spending a lot of time with you,” Kouta said, becoming serious. “Forget about vacuuming, let’s order in and spend the evening watching movies together. And let’s do something tomorrow too. Your choice.”

“I want to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market,” Ryuu said, after a few moments. “I’ve always liked all of the activity surrounding it. We don’t have to get there at the start of things though, 5 or 6 in the morning is fine. I want to see the auctions again.”

The Tsukiji Fish Market was considered to be one of the largest in the world. Kouta had been to it only once, when he was a child. He was fascinated then and that interest was rekindled when Ryuu mentioned it. Kouta smiled at Ryuu’s excitement, thinking again that his lover really didn’t understand how attractive he was.

“Hey, we should stay up all night and then go,” he suggested. “We’ll eat dinner, watch movies and catch the earliest train to Tsukiji. We can have breakfast there too.”

“I really like the sound of that. But for now, you need to rest.” Ryuu gently brushed at the dark circles that were forming under Kouta’s eyes.

The past month had been one of Polaris’ busiest; filming for three variety shows and two commercials, attending an awards ceremony in South Korea, giving several interviews and modeling in a fashion show for Hinata Ito, a designer friend of Toru’s. On top of that, Kouta had written another song under the name of Makoto Inoue.

“I suppose I’ll get some sleep. Come to bed with me.”

“No; if I do, you won’t sleep.”

“I won’t even touch you. I promise.”

“But I’ll touch you,” Ryuu said, laughing. “I promise.”

“I won’t mind.”

“No, love. Besides, I have a few things I need to do.”

“Okay, go ahead and resist my charms, just no more vacuuming.” Kouta crawled under the covers and adjusted his pillows.

“Alright. I’ll stop with the cleaning for today. I’ll see you in a few hours,” Ryuu said, smiling down at him. Kouta nodded and closed his eyes.

When he woke up, he went to find Ryuu. He was on the couch, busy typing away on his laptop.

“What are you doing?” Kouta asked, sitting near him.

“I’m revising the script for my next film.”

“How’s it going?”

“Really well, actually. Things moved a lot faster, once your snoring stopped.”

“Oh shut up. I don’t snore.”

“Not loudly,” Ryuu said, grinning.

He put his laptop on the coffee table and motioned for Kouta to move closer. He stretched out and Kouta rested against him.

“Did you sleep well?” Ryuu asked, his voice rumbling in Kouta’s ear.

“Yes and I did need some shut-eye. You were right.”

“Of course I was right. It’s me,” he teased.

“Sure, sure, Mr. Ego…Are you ready to eat?”

“Let’s just relax here for a little longer,” he said, “There’s a restaurant in Roppongi that I really like. I want to eat there. It stays open until 3 AM. It’s only about 6 PM now so we have more than enough time. Meanwhile…”

Ryuu’s hands made their way to the zipper of Kouta’s jeans.

“Excuse me sir. You’re in a restricted area,” Kouta told him. “Do you have authorization?” He grabbed Ryuu’s groping hands.

“Come on, love,” Ryuu coaxed. “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”

They adjusted their bodies. Kouta found himself straddling Ryuu, having expertly been maneuvered there by him.

“Well, what do you have here?” Ryuu asked, jiggling him on his lap.

“I don’t like this way,” Kouta said, starting to get up. Ryuu held onto his thighs, keeping him in place.

“Kou, I’ve wanted to try this position. You keep rejecting it. ”

“I know. I can’t explain it. It just feels so…It’s a little…”

“Are you embarrassed?”

“No,” Kouta lied, even as his face was becoming red.

“It’s okay,” Ryuu said, laughing softly. “Forget it; I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“No, we can try it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Kouta showed Ryuu how certain he was by unbuckling his pants and taking him into his hands. Smiling, Ryuu slid one hand under the couch, pulling out a half-used tube of lubricant.

“How did that get there?” Kouta asked.

“You know I like to be prepared,” Ryuu said, laughing.

“You schemer,” Kouta said. “You better return that to the bedroom when we finish.  I don’t need any guests finding it.”

Even as he lightly scolded Ryuu, Kouta massaged him to his full hardness. After covering him with lube, Kouta slid him inside his body and sighed. Kouta heard him let out a low groan.

There was unexpected pain but Kouta welcomed it; the discovery made his shaft even harder. He also found that he had much more control of their pace and used the new-found benefit to tease Ryuu. He set a slow tantalizing rhythm that soon had his lover sweating with pleasure but also with aggravation.

“Kouta, damn,” Ryuu grunted out. “Don’t play around; move faster.”

Kouta stopped moving completely, pretending that he wasn’t aware of the frenzy he was causing in Ryuu.

“What are you doing?” Ryuu asked.

“Resting,” Kouta responded, sighing dramatically. “Remember I’m not used to this position.”

“You’re such an evil man.”

“That’s right. I love to torture you.”

Kouta nibbled on Ryuu’s ear, as he squeezed his ass even tighter around him, causing both of them to moan loudly. Then he rose above Ryuu, holding that position, despite how much he knew his lover wanted to slide up into him. Ryuu grabbed him brought him down hard. Sometimes, his strength still took Kouta by surprise.

“Don’t forget I can torture you right back,” Ryuu reminded him, laughing. “Now get that ass of yours in gear.”

Kouta started to move again, quickly speeding up his rhythm. As much as he wanted to prolong the agony for Ryuu, he was more eager for a release. Soon, he felt his lover tremble under him. He held him close, kissing him as they came at the same time.

“Maybe we could do it this way more often,” Kouta said. “And next time, I want you to ride.”

~~9.1~~

Kouta and Ryuu had ventured into Roppongi, a section of Tokyo that was well-known for its nightlife. However, tonight, the pair was interested in observing the area’s usual atmosphere more than participating in it. They enjoyed a leisurely meal at a casual restaurant & bar, which was part of a franchise Ryuu had first tried in the U.S. They were on the second floor of the restaurant, where much of the activity from the area below them could be heard without being intrusive. As they ate, sometimes sampling each other’s dishes, they looked out of the massive windows of the restaurant, viewing those who were going from club to club.

“I don’t want to do something like that as much anymore,” Kouta noted. “I used to but, lately, it’s not appealing.”

“Jin and Niccolo usually dragged me to a club. They’d accuse me of getting old when I tried to resist.”

“Aren’t you the youngest of you three?”

“They were just being smart asses.”

“Well, I’m glad I saw you at Jiro’s place that night.” He laughed softly, thinking of his awkwardness during the first time they met.

“Yeah, I suppose that was a good thing,” Ryuu said. A teasing glint appeared in his eyes; Kouta knew an obnoxious remark was on its way. “I mean, you’re cute and all but I still I have my doubts.”

Kouta was about to cuff Ryuu but paused, remembering they were in public. Ryuu grinned, knowing why Kouta had forced himself to stop.

“Afraid the tabloids will get some pictures?” he asked. “Headlines tomorrow could say that you’re abusing me.”

Kouta rubbed the back of his neck, feeling slightly sheepish. Instead of commenting, he opted to slide another piece of his quesadilla into his mouth.

Though there was periodic silence while they ate, Kouta realized that his usual eagerness to fill the silence wasn’t there. Over the past few months, his nervous energy had been fading. He and Ryuu did continue to juggle their hectic schedules, sometimes only seeing each other to share a few quick kisses. Occasionally, texting was the way they communicated for most of the day. At nights, they’d tumble into bed, worn out from the day. However, being near each other reduced their fatigue.

After making love, they’d fall into a satisfied slumber. While the pace of their careers was maniacal, they’d noted that their situation was now much easier to manage. On a weekly basis, they’d sit down and compared their schedules, making each other a priority. When there was a change to one of their plans, they provided an update as soon as they could.

Much of what was happening now was due to Ryuu’s efforts to reassure Kouta. Before Kouta’s accident, most attempts at having a leisure night would have been ruined by Ryuu’s need to focus again on his work. Months ago, Kouta hadn’t felt the same ease as he now enjoyed.

After the two finished dinner, they relaxed, chatting for hours. It was about three A.M. when they left the restaurant and crossed the street to a coffee shop. Even in the early morning hours, the coffee shop was active with numerous customers. Some of them were foreigners who were thankful for the coffee, as they’d begun recovering from their first night in Roppongi.

When Kouta went to order drinks for himself and Ryuu, the baristas stared at him, realization dawning in their eyes. He stopped one young lady mid-squeal, begging her not to say anything.

“Is Ryuu with you?” she whispered.

Kouta stifled a laugh, thinking it was one of the loudest whispers he’d ever heard.

“Um, yes,” he responded quietly, hoping she’d maintain her composure.

“Do you think he can come up and order separately?” she asked. Tilting her head to the side, she smiled coyly at him.

Kouta laughed and stole a glimpse at Ryuu. His lover was sitting casually at a table. Staring out the window, he was completely unaware that he was the topic of conversation.

“Just give him whatever he wants!” another barista exclaimed, elbowing her colleague.

The two girls blushed when Kouta gifted them with a rogue’s grin. The comment had sounded a bit lewd, considering their attraction to him. With a shake of her head, the more experienced barista took charge of the situation.

“How can we help you, sir?”

Kouta smiled as he placed his order, wondering if he’d continued to meet fans on random days out. Every sign that Polaris’ popularity was growing was reassuring.

While the drinks were being prepared, he explained to Ryuu what had happened.

“Do you want to give them your autograph?” Ryuu asked.

From his jacket, he pulled out the small notebook he liked to carry wherever he went. He usually drafted figures or wrote ideas for his projects. Kouta had his own notebook too, where he often scribbled lyrics, but he liked Ryuu’s thoughtfulness and took what his lover offered. He wrote a message for each of the baristas.

“How about you do something similar?” Kouta suggested when he finished.

“Me? Why?” Despite Ryuu’s growing popularity, he remained shy and unassuming.

“They know about you too,” Kouta told him.

Ryuu thought for a moment. Then, he quickly drew caricatures of the girls and signed his name under the cute figures. Kouta handed the autographs to the young woman who brought over their beverages. She thanked them numerous times and stifled a squeal as she returned to show the other baristas what she’d received.

When the coffee shop started to fill up, Kouta and Ryuu left, melting into the Roppongi crowd. A little after 5 AM, they caught a train. Unlike many of the business professionals, their destination was quite different; the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was considered the largest fish market in the world. A series of sights and sounds awaited visitors, including fish mongers cutting massive frozen fish with band saws, rows of the day’s catch on ice and seafood swimming in containers of various sizes.

Though visitors might be fascinated with what they saw, they still had to be mindful of their surroundings. Drivers zoomed about on small motorized vehicles through the aisles, waving people out the way and occasionally honking their horns at oblivious patrons.

Kouta and Ryuu had arrived during one of the busiest times at the market. Ryuu made his way through the crowd, leading Kouta to the auction area. Various bidding cycles for tuna were happening. Most of the tuna were at least 4 feet long. The auctioneer quickly rattled off numbers, the large fish expertly sold off to eager bidders. After watching the last few rounds of sale, the couple went to see the different types of seafood.

They walked around for a little while longer; then went to get breakfast. After eating, they took the train to random places, stopping whenever they wanted. During one of their stops, Kouta saw a motorcycle dealership. His bike had been destroyed in the accident and he was eager to get another one. He entered the dealership, thinking that Ryuu was close behind him. He was too fascinated by all the options to notice that his lover had stayed outside.

One of the assistants came to ask Kouta if he needed help. He explained that he just wanted to see what was available.

Kouta turned to ask Ryuu what he thought but he noticed that Ryuu was far away. He was staring off down the street, his arms crossed. Kouta went to get him, trying to encourage him to enter the establishment and saw the reluctance in his eyes.

“Kou, is this really a good idea?” Ryuu asked quietly. “Your accident…”

“Was months ago. I’m getting a new bike.”

“You go look; I’ll wait here for you.”

“I won’t be long,” Kouta promised, before he went back inside the store.

When Kouta found a bike he was interested in, he made a note of it but didn’t buy it. He would have very much enjoyed purchasing it right away and riding back home with Ryuu on it. However, he kept looking at Ryuu and the expression on his lover’s face affected his decision. Ryuu’s eyes were troubled, clouded over with the same type of concern Kouta had seen during the toughest parts of his recovery.

Buying anime in Akihabara took Kouta’s mind off Ryuu’s resistance to his bike riding habit. He hadn’t purchased any new anime in a while, so he was looking forward to adding to his collection. He asked Ryuu’s opinions on what to get. Ryuu offered his comments without much enthusiasm. Soon Kouta became annoyed and he was ready to go home.

When they arrived at the house, Ryuu gathered his keys and mumbled that he’d be “gone for about an hour.” When an hour turned into a few hours, Kouta thought more about how unsettled Ryuu had been at the bike shop. He remembered the months Ryuu had worked with him, helping him to recover. He found that he couldn’t just push that aside, as if it meant nothing. He dialed Ryuu’s cell phone to apologize. There was no answer and that was also the case after repeated attempts.

Ryuu returned that night. He paused when he saw Kouta. Then he gave him a nod and walked into the bedroom to change. Kouta was tempted to follow him but left him alone, waiting until Ryuu found him. Kouta was in the middle of making a late-night snack in the kitchen, when Ryuu coughed to get his attention.

“Are you hungry?” Kouta asked. “I can make you a sandwich too.”

“No, I’m good but let me finish that for you.”

Kouta acquiesced, pouring himself a glass of water and then leaning against the refrigerator. He studied Ryuu’s face as he added salami, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mustard to thick slices of bread.

“Can you cut the crust off the bread too?” Kouta teased, making Ryuu laugh softly.

“I was at my office,” Ryuu explained, actually removing the bread crusts and then slicing the sandwich in halves. “I buried myself in my work for a while.”

“But you came to some realizations,” Kouta said, taking the food from Ryuu. “I can hear it in your voice, so please tell me.” He took a few bites, looking at Ryuu expectantly.

“Kou, I know I’m being overprotective. I’ll probably always be unwilling to see you get another bike. But I can’t expect you to never ride again. I know how much you enjoy it and these past few months have been difficult for you.”

Kouta chewed slowly, considering his response.

“Let’s compromise,” he offered. “I’ll hold off a little longer, just until the memories of my accident aren’t so fresh in your mind.”

“Thanks for understanding what I wanted, love,” Ryuu said, after a few moments. He moved closer to Kouta, waiting until he’d swallowed his current bite of the sandwich. Kouta knew Ryuu wanted kiss him, his lover’s usual habit right after a disagreement had been resolved. Instead of giving in right way, Kouta teased him, taking his time, savoring the meal.

“Kou, I know what you’re doing. Stop it.”

Kouta laughed and made himself available. Ryuu’s mouth met his and he kissed him fervently.

“I really enjoyed today,” Ryuu told him. “I hope I didn’t ruin our time together.”

“No,” Kouta assured him. “And thank you for letting me know what you were thinking.”

~~9.2~~

“Hey Kouta, tell Ryuu I love working with him,” Takayuki Abe said. “The experience we’re having with the video is…orgasmic.”

Kouta willed himself not to respond. He’d known that sooner or later Takayuki would find a way to mention Ryuu’s collaboration with him.

Polaris had finished a practice session in one of the rooms at their record company. In another week, the band would be on a TV show. They wanted to fine-tune the three songs they’d be performing, one from each of their albums.

After taking a break between songs, Kouta had headed to the restroom. As misfortune would have it, he’d encountered Freefall. He’d been aware that Takayuki’s group was also practicing at the same time. Despite the likelihood of it happening, he had hoped that there would be no interaction. He’d almost closed the studio door when the rival band had sauntered by on their way to a meeting with their manager.

Kouta didn’t like hearing Ryuu’s name come out of Takayuki’s mouth, let alone the use of the word orgasmic. He took a deep breath, restraining himself, not wanting to let this encounter spiral out of control.

“Come on, are you trying to act like him working with us doesn’t piss you off?” Takayuki goaded, a malicious grin shrouding his face.

Kouta was now biting the inside of his cheek to keep from replying.

“Oh, I see. Then you don’t mind me spending so much time with him,” Takayuki continued. “You do realize that he’ll be dedicating his precious hours to our project. Where will that leave you?”

Kouta’s eyes bored into him. Takayuki had hit at a vulnerable spot. Ryuu was now more focused on their relationship. However, it wasn’t easy for Kouta to forget the times when he’d felt like an afterthought.

“I’ll tell you where that leaves you. Alone…frequently,” Takayuki supplied an answer to his own insulting question. “By the way, thanks for making things so easy for me.”

“What do you mean?” Kouta asked, his curiosity getting the best of him.

“The word is that you’re planning on buying another motorcycle. I can only imagine how happy Ryuu is about that.”

The comment took Kouta back to his lover’s dissatisfaction with his visit to the motorcycle dealership. He wanted to dislodge the gloating expression of Takayuki’s face.

Kouta hadn’t particularly noticed anyone paying close attention to his outing with Ryuu. This was partially due to the fact that both he and Ryuu had learned to ignore the paparazzi most of the time. However, several photographers had taken recent pictures of the couple, including the tense conversation at the bike shop.

Kouta was almost at the limit of his patience with Takayuki. He was glad for the interruption by Hiro.

“What’s going on out here?” Hiro asked.

Kouta turned to see him staring at them from the studio doorway. The rest of Polaris was behind him.

“Well, if it isn’t our little Hiro,” the spiky-haired drummer Atsuro Takeda joked. “How’s your beautiful Aya doing? The tabloids just think she’s so devoted to you.”

Kouta looked at Hiro, noticing he was flexing his jaw.

“Maybe when Aya’s ready for a man, I’ll give her some attention,” the bass guitarist, Yuichi Hada, said, lewdly flicking his tongue across his pierced lower lip.

“Aya would never touch either of your diseased bodies,” Hiro replied.

Though his words came out sounding calm, Kouta knew him well enough to gauge his true level of anger. It was time to end the conversation. Hiro, the least likely of the group to become angry, also had the worst temper when finally provoked. Disrespecting his girlfriend of four years was one of the few ways to cause him to show his temper quickly.

“That’s enough,” Kouta told his band. He motioned for Polaris to return to the studio. “Freefall, you have the option of staying out here. Or you can come in and listen to how much better we are than you.”

Ignoring Freefall’s angry comments, he ushered his group back into the studio, closing and locking the door.

“I wish they’d find a hobby,” Toru grumbled, making everyone laugh.

“All we have to do is maintain our composure,” Kouta stated, looking pointedly at Hiro. His best friend raised his hands in defense.

“I was cool…and surprisingly, so was Shinji.” Hiro turned his attention to the drummer. “Where were your smart ass comments?”

“I didn’t have the energy for that shit,” Shinji replied, waving one hand dismissively. “I was too damn hungry; arguing would have made me hungrier. In fact, somebody feed me.”

Toru buried his face in his hands and laughed.

“Shut up, Toru,” Shinji muttered, just as his stomach grumbled loudly. “And since you’re the youngest, make yourself useful and get me some food.”

“But—”

“I call rank,” Shinji cut off his protest. “Find me snacks, before I head butt you!”

Toru looked to Kouta for help. He didn’t doubt that Shinji would follow through with his threat.

“Go on Toru,” Kouta said, laughing. “We don’t want him to get any worse. In fact, bring something back for everyone.”

“I shouldn’t have to do that just because I’m the youngest,” Toru complained. “Let’s play rock, paper, scissors.” His eyes issued a challenge to Shinji.

Frequently up for a contest , Shinji eagerly agreed—and lost two out of three times. He sauntered off with an exaggerated grumpy face, now required to get food for everyone.

“Was that a good idea to let him go off by himself?” Hiro asked.

Kouta understood his concern, without him having to explain it.

“Even if he runs into Freefall, things won’t get out of hand. We’ve avoided serious trouble so far. Shinji knows what we have at stake.”

~~9.3~~

The conversation with Takayuki had stayed on Kouta’s mind. As he and Ryuu were lying in bed that night, Takayuki’s words were gnawing at him. The singer had become much too familiar with Ryuu for Kouta’s liking.

“Kou, did you hear me?” Ryuu asked. “Love, is something wrong?”

“It’s nothing. Start again. I’ll pay better attention this time.”

“How’s your schedule this August?”

“I have a few events, towards the beginning of it. I’ll have to double-check, though. Why?”

Ryuu explained that he wanted Kouta to go with him to Italy for the yearly Kobayashi reunion. As was his habit, Ryuu had returned to his mother’s homeland the previous August. However, Kouta had not gone with him. They’d both felt that it had been too soon in their relationship. Still, Kouta couldn’t resist the opportunity to pester his lover about it.

“You left me all by myself,” he said, dramatically. “I was so sad and lonely.”

“Well, this time I won’t leave you alone,” Ryuu promised, chuckling. “I really want you to meet my family, especially since—”

“You’ve still managed to survive mine.” They both laughed.

At least one Sunday each month, Kouta and Ryuu went to the Sasaki home for dinner. The pair returned to their place having been well-fed. At times, Ryuu’s ego was also slightly bruised. Either he would lose during the verbally sparring with Yuki or, more often than not, Kenzo would mercilessly trounce him in chess.

“It’s a good thing everyone likes you now.” Kouta’s emphasis on now caused Ryuu to gently cuff him on his head.

“It’s that old Kobayashi charm,” Ryuu said, grinning with satisfaction.

“Oh, is that so?” Kouta asked. “Not the bottles of wine you take?”

While both of Kouta’s parents preferred sake, Ryuu had introduced them to a variety of wines. Each month, he would take a different type of wine so the Sasakis could sample the best from various parts of the world.

With one family impressed, another was due for a pleasant visit.

“Will you come to Italy with me?” Ryuu asked.

“Yes, I’d like that. I haven’t had a real vacation in almost two years.”

“Mom has practically been demanding to meet you. I sent her some pictures and she thinks you’re ‘bello’…handsome.” Ryuu pinched Kouta on his rear, bantering with him in a low tone. “Hey there, bello.”

Before Kouta’s hands could make a journey to Ryuu’s rear, his lover stopped him.

“Kou, wait.” he said, becoming serious. “Tell me what was on your mind earlier.” Ryuu propped himself up on one elbow, looking at him expectantly.

“Um, well…Hey, do you want to move in with me?” Kouta hadn’t planned to ask that question. However, once it was out of his mouth, it felt right. “Some of your things are here already…”

“Actually, I think I need to keep the apartment.”

“For appearances?”

“No, to have a place to get away from our life here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m sorry. That came out the wrong way. I like to take clients somewhere besides my office or a restaurant; I use the apartment. It’s not about appearances.” When Kouta was silent, Ryuu continued to try to soothe him. “You of all people know I hardly ever sleep there. Love, I’m not ashamed of being with you. I just want an area where I can handle business outside of the usual settings. Plus, it’s good to have a location where my career doesn’t intrude on our relationship.”

“But you sometimes bring your work home,” Kouta pointed out.

“I meant in the sense of not having the clients coming here. I see this house as our private place.”

“I understand.”

“What exactly brought that question on anyway?” Ryuu asked, running his fingers through Kouta’s hair.

Kouta paused, wondering how to tactfully bring up the next question.

“Well, has Takayuki gone to your apartment?” he didn’t meet his goal of being non-accusatory.

“What’s with that tone?” Ryuu was taken aback.

“Just answer. I won’t be angry.”

“Yes, once or twice,” Ryuu slowly replied.

“I see…” Kouta felt as if someone had viciously punched him in the stomach. He was surprised at the reaction, his insecurities churning again.

“Only to talk,” Ryuu quickly assured him, easily reading his thoughts. “We’ve discussed the video, as well as a possible movie project for his group. He’s been by my office too, just like any other business associate.

Kouta didn’t miss Ryuu’s emphasis but it wasn’t enough to assuage his concerns.

“Really? So your ‘business associates’ usually want to fuck you?”

Kouta shook his head, disgusted with himself. He didn’t want to return to a state of low confidence in his relationship. He’d thought he was making progress. And he was. Yet, Takayuki had managed to plant a seed of doubt that was firmly taking root. Despite the fact that he knew this, Kouta was having difficulty resolving his worries. There was only so much reassurance Ryuu could provide before it became exhaustive.

Read Balance Chapter 10…