Tohma whistled softly as he showered, the song an old Nittle Grasper tune, and he reveled in the feel of the heat against his flesh. The day already promised to be a good one, especially in light of the . . . good news he and Mika had received last night.
Eiri had finally come to his senses and left Shuichi Shindou for good. Tohma still felt the buzz of elation from that little tidbit of information, and he could hardly wait to start his day. He thought he would never see the day the two would ever break up. Given how happy Eiri kept telling Tohma the vocalist made him, the blond had long since given up on trying to separate them, and he had started to believe Shindou would become a permanent fixture in the Uesugi family, more permanent than Tohma. Last night's news had certainly given Tohma cause for celebration. A light smile touched his features as the water splashed over him, drenching him and relaxing his slightly tensed muscles.
Why the two had split, Tohma did not know for certain. From what he had been able to discern, things between his brother-in-law and Bad Luck's vocalist had been going rather well. Whenever they had been seen in public, Eiri and Shindou smiled, held hands, and the two appeared to be genuinely happy. Granted, there had been a rumour about a brief instance of infidelity allegedly on Eiri's part but the singer had duly ignored such reports. There had been no fighting between the novelist and vocalist – not that anyone knew of, anyway – and Bad Luck's recording process had been ahead of schedule for a change. Life had been roses for the couple.
Tohma knew, though, that things were not always what they seemed. People had a tendency to change when the doors to private sanctuaries closed. No one could say what truly went on between Eiri and Shindou once they were alone, and the more he thought of it, it seemed a little odd that the two had not made as many public appearances as they had the year prior.
Tohma found that he did not care, either. His brother-in-law's great love affair had ended and for the better. Eiri's health would no longer be jeopardized because of the vocalist's careless antics. He may have backed off when it came to Eiri's tumultuous relationship, but he had not stopped fretting over the younger man's health. Shindou had always been a cause for concern in Tohma's mind, and the last thing he wanted was for Eiri to be hospitalized again for his ulcer.
'And now I don't have to worry about him affecting Eiri's health,' he told himself, shutting the water off. 'Not anymore.'
Stepping out of the shower, Tohma grabbed a towel and began to dry himself off. He had a busy day ahead of him, and he did not want to lose a single, beautiful moment of it.
Some kind of noise usually emanated from Rehearsal Room Two. The sounds of a guitar, keyboards, voices . . . they were the signs that told him Bad Luck's day had started. Tohma heard none of that as he approached and he frowned slightly. It felt, to him, like the vicious cycle of Shindou's selfish behaviour had started once more.
Tohma was no fool. While the elation from last night's good news continued to course through his veins, he had not forgotten about Eiri's ability to affect Shuichi Shindou's singing and his work ethic. Every time the two had a fight or separated for even the smallest amount of time, Bad Luck's vocalist often became depressed and inconsolable. He moped around and performed with a half-heartedness that caused even the strongest of mind to wilt. It often took the rest of the band, Sakano, and K everything they possessed just to keep Shindou on track and usually resulted in support for the singer to chase after Eiri. He really did not want to deal with the emotional backlash that was sure to erupt. Bad Luck could not afford a setback . . . not with their current contract coming to an end. He knew he had to somehow deter the young vocalist from trying to pursue his brother-in-law and to keep everyone from encouraging the action. It was just a matter of finding the right kind of distraction for Shindou, someone to keep the young man's mind off of Eiri. A difficult task, almost daunting due to the vocalist's unwavering devotion to the novelist, but Tohma could be just as determined and stubborn. He also had the perfect ammunition to get what he wanted from the rest of the band.
He did not even bother knocking as he entered the rehearsal room. Tohma was the president of the recording company, after all, and he did not really need to announce himself if he did not feel like it. The sight that greeted Tohma took him by surprise, and he frowned.
In one corner sat Shindou, huddled over a notebook and writing away, and his back was to the wall. Nakano and Suguru were quietly discussing something while K talked, in English, on his cell phone, and Sakano read over some paperwork. It was the usual scene, in its own right, but it still baffled Tohma. More specifically, it was Shindou's quiet and subdued behaviour that had him shocked.
However, Tohma was not one to show his confusion or any other irrelevant emotion. The world only saw from him what Tohma wanted it to see. His frown quickly disappeared, only to be replaced by his one thousand watt smile, and all activity in the room ceased as he entered. Five sets of eyes landed on him. His gaze, however, fell on Shindou.
"Shacho . . ."
Sakano instantly leapt to his feet and bowed before Tohma, though his usual anxiousness had dissipated slightly. Words poured from the producer's mouth, a complete report on Bad Luck's recording process from the beginning up until that day. In a nutshell, the recording had finished yesterday. The band was actually ahead of schedule. Tohma merely nodded as he listened to Sakano talk, his eyes never leaving Shindou.
The singer, to Tohma's trained gaze, appeared to rather dry-eyed and calm, given the news of Eiri's break up with him. The only indications he had that the break up had affected Shindou were his hair . . . and a deeper look into his eyes.
Like the last time Eiri had truly dumped the singer, Shindou had dyed his hair but in a rather unusual fashion. He had blond streaks throughout his raven locks with two blue stripes framing his face. The look went well with the torn blue jeans and black t-shirt that Shindou had chosen for the day, and the youth did not appear to be suffering physically.
His eyes, though, told a different story. Pain and sadness reflected in those amethyst depths, emotions that Tohma had expected to find. Bad Luck's vocalist usually wore his emotions on his sleeve so reading the younger man had always been very easy for Tohma. However, there was more shimmering in Shindou's eyes, a dullness that had never been there before and something else. Tohma could not quite decipher what else the singer's eyes were saying and he found it bothered him. He did not like it when he could not read others. It meant he would not have as much control over the situation as he would like, and with Shindou's already unpredictable nature . . .
Sakano's lengthy and roundabout report ended then, and Tohma's gaze briefly snapped to the producer before going back to Shindou. He nodded once more, his smile never wavering.
"That is very good to hear," he murmured. "I can't wait to listen to the final results."
"You'll be the first one to receive a copy," Sakano promised. Tohma practically felt the younger man beaming his pleasure.
As they spoke, Shindou rose to his feet, closing his notepad in the process. A quiet resignation had crept into his eyes . . . and Tohma knew with those actions alone the vocalist had been expecting him to show.
'He probably wasn't the only one, either,' Tohma mused, noting K's phone conversation had ended almost the instant he had entered the room. The American now gave him a hard stare. A cursory glance around the room and at the older man had indicated as much. It would make it a little difficult to get Shindou alone for the . . . talk he wanted to have with the vocalist but not too terribly so. K and the rest of Bad Luck had a tendency to be very protective of Shindou, and K and Nakano would definitely want to be present for any conversations. It did not matter, though, what they wanted, in Tohma's mind. He would get his way in the end.
He felt exhausted, just so bone-weary exhausted. He had felt such exhaustion for some time now, at least since Bad Luck started recording its latest album. His life had gone from overly complicated to a hellish nightmare in a short amount of time, and it was not over. It would not be over for a long time, if ever. Not as long as his heart continued to ache for the love he knew he could not have and not as long as doubts about his decision cluttered his mind.
Things would get better, he knew, and they were doing so slowly. He just had to have a little faith and a little bit of confidence in himself that he had made the right decision where Eiri was concerned . . . as well as time.
However, Shuichi knew he would not be receiving the time that he would need to recover from the official split with Eiri. Bad Luck had just finished recording their latest album. They would be hitting the promotional trail soon with interviews, live appearances on television, and an extensive tour. His time had already become monopolized, and Shuichi found himself wishing for a little time off from being a famous pop star.
'At least my day can't get any worse,' he told himself as he settled into a corner. With the initial recording over, there really was not much for Bad Luck to do except wait for the engineers to work their magic and clean up the songs. He really did not need (nor did he want) to be there, but anything was better than staying in his apartment. He would end up brooding over his situation if he had stayed at home, and he did not want to think about it. He just wanted to forget, which being at the studio allowed him to do, even if only for a few hours.
There was also Tohma Seguchi for him to consider. The former Grasper keyboardist had been against his relationship with Eiri for some time, and he had made sure that Shuichi was aware of his opinions. It was just a matter of time before the blond-haired man found out about the situation between Shuichi and Eiri. The vocalist had no doubts the older man would use the break up with the novelist to his advantage. It was simply a matter of time before Seguchi learned of the split and paid Shuichi a visit.
K had seemed to think so as well. The American had been talking to someone on his cell phone when Shuichi had walked into the rehearsal room that morning. He spoke in English so Shuichi did not understand most of what had been said but he kept catching his name being said and words like "Rage" and "XMR" every so often. If he had to venture a guess, it sounded as if K planned to try and relocate Bad Luck to the U.S. once more. Why he wanted to take the band to America, Shuichi did not know.
He also found he did not care, given the situation. K could justify his reasons all he wanted but, in the end, the final decision came down to him and the band. Shuichi knew it. He simply was no longer sure if he wanted to continue a career in music.
'Not going to think about it,' Shuichi thought. 'Don't want to think about it. I just don't care anymore.'
He had gotten himself situated in the corner at that moment, pulled out his notebook, and began to write. Putting pen to paper had become his only true escape, albeit a temporary one, and he soon became lost in a flurry of words and emotions. Some of it was poetry and little snippets of music – he really could not escape the writing part; it was soothing to say the least – and other parts were more like pieces of a story, as if his notebook had transformed in a journal of some sorts. It was the one thing Shuichi kept with him at all times as it helped ease the pain of his loss.
How long he had been writing before Tohma showed up in the rehearsal room, Shuichi did not know. He did not care, either. He had been expecting Tohma to make an appearance. It was just sooner than what the vocalist had anticipated, but the former Grasper's appearance was not a surprise. It was inevitable. Seguchi was Eiri's best friend of sorts. Shuichi just could not say what Tohma wanted from him, other than to tell him to stay away from Eiri.
'At least it'll be over with soon,' he sighed to himself as he looked up from his work. His gaze never left Tohma's form as Sakano started to prattle off a progress report on the next album's status. He rose to his feet, closing his notebook as he waited for the words he least wanted to hear from Tohma Seguchi's lips. They would be coming once Sakano finished talking.
'As if things couldn't get anymore complicated than what they have been . . . last thing anyone needs is Tohma Seguchi interfering where he's not wanted. He doesn't need to be involved. I've gotta do something . . . somehow.'
An idea began to form in the vocalist's mind, an idea that would hopefully distract Tohma from the situation. It was just futile to keep the blonde from whatever he wanted or what he had planned. Shuichi knew that from past experiences. Those who tried to stop the keyboardist or threatened someone he loved ended up hurt and that was putting it mildly.
Still, Shuichi could not see any other way. He needed time to recover but knew he would not receive such a luxury. Eiri also needed the time just like he did. The least the singer felt he could do for his former lover was give Eiri a reprieve from Tohma, if only for a little while. Shuichi knew what had happened the last time Eiri had dumped him, and he had been taken to America. Eiri had told him. Tohma had been over to the novelist's apartment every day, bringing him alcohol and shortcakes. It had aggravated Eiri to no end, though he still had ended up drinking the booze and eating the treats, and Shuichi knew if such a thing were to happen again, Eiri could possibly do something either incredibly stupid or incredibly dangerous. It would all depend on what Seguchi stumbled into should he pay an unannounced visit to the novelist.
Sakano's report came to an end at that moment and Tohma made the obligatory comment of how he could not wait to hear the final results. He at least sounded pleased about their progress. Then . . .
"Shindou-san, if I may have a word with you . . . in private . . ."
K started to say something. From the corner of his eye, he saw Hiro and Suguru begin to move forward, but Shuichi ignored them. He had been ignoring his bandmates for some time now. They only knew of the break up because he had told them shortly after his arrival. It would have been front-page news anyway, given he and Eiri were the media's favourite darlings. He felt it would been best for them to hear it from him . . . just so they would not yell at him once the press got a hold of the tidbit. The vocalist nodded his head at Tohma, picking up his backpack from where it lay on the floor. He did not intend to leave it where K could plant some kind of bug or tracking device on him. He had a place of his own now, and he intended to keep it a secret for as long as he possibly could.
"Of course, Shacho," he murmured, cutting everyone else off. "Whatever you want."
The walk to Tohma's office never really took very long. Shuichi had timed it a couple of different times – seven minutes, thirty-two seconds at a normal walk; four minutes, twenty-five seconds at a run. He had done so just to figure out exactly how long it took to get from the studio to the plush room where Tohma conducted his business, especially since the walk always felt like it was a mile long.
It was something he had often wondered about whenever he got called to see Tohma Seguchi. Why did this walk always feel so long? This time was no exception but he could never figure out why. Like the times before, he was stepping into Tohma's office before he knew it.
"Please . . . have a seat, Shindou-san."
Tohma gestured to one of the two chairs in front of his desk then moved to the one behind it. He sat down and waited patiently. Shuichi felt his eyes boring into him, trying to discern whatever secrets may lay hidden away.
Shuichi stood there for a moment and stared at the older man, regarding him warily. Other than his desire to keep Eiri safe – something Shuichi knew he had in common with Tohma – the blonde happened to be very unpredictable. The conversation they were about to have would be about the novelist. Shuichi felt very certain that was what Tohma wanted to discuss with him. Only the potential threats eluded the vocalist. Would he use Bad Luck's contract against him again? Would he tell Shuichi if he went near Eiri ever again, no one would ever remember Bad Luck's name? Or would he simply make Shuichi disappear, leaving Hiro and Suguru without a singer? A thousand ideas, it seemed, ran through Shuichi's mind as he regarded his boss the way a cat regarded a stray dog, and an idea slowly started to form in his mind.
'Might as well just do this and get it over with,' he thought as he reluctantly sat down. 'He really doesn't want me near Eiri anymore than what I want him near Eiri . . . I'll do this . . . for him, for Eiri . . . it'll be worth it in the end . . . I hope.'
"Thank you," Shuichi murmured, bowing slightly in his seat.
"Do not mention it," Tohma waved one hand airily. The keyboardist then sobered considerably. "I've heard the news . . . about you and Eiri . . . He called Mika last night to inform us."
To that, Shuichi nodded mutely. Eiri would have had to talk to someone last night, after their break up had finalized itself. Tohma and Mika were logical choices as was Tatsuha. The novelist telling anyone right away was the only real surprise.
"I must say it is a surprise, Shindou-san," Tohma continued. "You and Eiri have always appeared to be quite happy with each other, especially in the last month or so."
"Things change . . ."
"True," the blond conceded. "Very true. What . . ."
"Don't ask," Shuichi interrupted. Panic started to build within his chest. While the pain of the truth and Eiri's betrayal had faded, there was another involved, someone no one else knew about yet, who stood to be hurt if Tohma ever discovered his involvement. Shuichi also felt it prudent to protect this other as well, even if he doubted the other person deserved such devotion from him anymore. "It isn't any of your business."
"Shindou-san . . ."
Tohma's voice had taken on a hint of warning, but Shuichi did not care. He had not spoken of his relationship to anyone in over a month, not even to Hiro, and he was not about to start blabbing away. He especially was not going to bare all of his soul to someone he did not even trust. Seguchi had destroyed Shuichi's faith in the blond the day he told the singer to stay away from Eiri, and he doubted it would ever return. Besides, it was his pain to deal with and no one else's. In a matter of seconds, Shuichi had hopped to his feet and crossed the distance between them. Then, without even truly thinking of what he was doing, the vocalist . . . kissed the blond sitting in front of him.
The kiss itself did not last very long – he only wanted to keep Tohma from questioning any further into painful matters – but it was long enough. His lips burned with a great intensity from the contact and his stomach lurched. It was wrong, what he was doing, but Shuichi could not stop himself. He had to keep Tohma distracted . . . somehow, if only for the briefest of moments.
"Just know that it's over," he heard himself say. His voice sounded faint, distant to his hearing. "It's over for good this time. There is no going back."
He quickly retreated from the president's office, his mind whirling and his cheeks burning. He had to regain control over his senses before he went back to the rehearsal studio and before Tohma could call him back into his office. His bandmates knew him too well. They would know that something was up if he ran back there now with his cheeks flushed bright red and a wild look in his eyes. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to notice how his conversation with Tohma had actually gone. The singer just hoped that his plan would work . . . and that Tohma would take the bait he had so willingly offered. Shuichi also prayed that, if he ever found out, Eiri would be able to forgive him for what he was about to do.
Tohma watched as Shuichi left his office at a rather frantic pace then shook his head at what had just transpired. The younger man's actions and words had surprised him, to say the very least. Because of the impromptu kiss, Tohma found that he could not call the vocalist back to inquire any further as Shindou's intentions. It irritated him to know the vocalist had found a way to render him speechless but yet . . . he could not be completely angry. After all, he did understand the situation was still rather painful for Shindou. If he did not want to talk, there was no way Tohma could make him do so.
'Strange,' he mused.
Tentatively, he reached up and touched his lips. They still burned from the contact with Shindou's for some reason, and the vocalist's words still echoed in his mind.
"Just know that it's over. It's over for good this time. There is no going back."
"Is it really, Shindou-san?" Tohma murmured. "I wish I could trust that . . ."
Still, the younger man had given Tohma an idea as to who could keep the vocalist distracted from Eiri. The kiss had said it all. He would offer himself and watch as the younger man fell for him. Hopefully, Shindou would fall for him the same way that he had fallen for Eiri, which was blindly and completely head over heels. Then, when it was time . . .
It was a rather risky venture for him – more than one person would up end hurt once everything was over with . . . if he was not careful with his planning. His relationship with Eiri would definitely be jeopardized if he didn't plan accordingly.
However, if his plans kept Shindou away from Eiri then Tohma was willing to do and be everything the vocalist needed. He would be careful. He would keep the younger man within his grasp at all times. It was for his Eiri, after all.