Maiko always wondered at the discrepancy between what Shuichi told her about Yuki Eiri's writing habits and his rate of publishing—one novel nearly every six months, usually between 150 and 200 pages, guaranteed to make you cry and laugh and lock your bedroom door. And though now and again, Shuichi brought her autographed first editions filched from the carton Yuki was honor-bound to sign on threat of painful death by his editor, she'd stopped reading them. There was perving over a hot, tortured author, and then there was perving over the hot, tortured author fucking your brother—which was all kinds of wrong.
Their parents had taken a see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil approach to the situation, and when—if—Yuki visited, he was treated as an honored guest, but never a family member, no matter that Shuichi had been living with the guy for nearly five years now. Maiko couldn't help but be kind of grateful that Yuki and Shuichi were—despite being outed by the Tokyo gossip press—so low key. That was her brother, and the thought of him in a relationship with anybody was enough to inspire her gag reflex. And possibly a few protective instincts.
"Kicked out of bed?" she asked, finding Shuichi downstairs watching reruns of game shows at 4 a.m. over New Years.
He looked over his shoulder, hair mussed and eyes red-rimmed from exhaustion. "Huh?" And blinking, he shook his head slowly and said, "Oh, no. I just couldn't sleep—didn't want to wake him up. He just turned in his last manuscript."
She curled up next to him on the couch, pulling her feet up onto the cushions and feeling Shuichi slide over to make room. Maiko jerked over a corner of the blanket he had over his knees, covering her icy feet. "Another teenaged tearjerker?" she asked.
Shuichi shrugged, turning back to the television. "Who knows," he admitted. "I never read them."
"Never?" Maiko asked.
"Naw," Shuichi said around an exhausted yawn. He'd come off of a plane from Niigata at seven that night and come straight from the airport, still smelling like recycled oxygen, for family dinner, and he and Yuki had barely said a word to one another the entire time—although Yuki had done quite a bit of impassive looking as Shuichi had nearly nodded off into his rice. "I tried to a long time ago, but none of them were very realistic."
Maiko stared at him. "Unrealistic," she said, flat.
Shuichi made a noise of agreement, lids heavy.
"Shuichi," she said, baffled, "you're a pop musician and your boyfriend writes romance novels. What the hell is realistic about you two?"
But before Shuichi could answer, she heard footfalls from behind, and turned just in time to see a frazzled and bedheaded, clearly irate Yuki Eiri shivering in a t-shirt and boxers, snarling, "Hey—idiot. What the hell are you doing down here?"
"Couldn't sleep," Shuichi admitted distantly, eyes frozen on the television screen. "Didn't want to wake you up tossing and turning."
Maiko watched Yuki Eiri—wet dream of hundreds of thousands of Japanese women, sex symbol extraordinaire, filthy-rich hottie—sigh, aggrieved, and walk round the side of the couch to tug her brother up, catching him when he stumbled. Gruff, Yuki muttered, "And you think the sound of the TV isn't keeping me up?" He gave Shuichi a little shove toward the stairs. "Come on. Even if you can't sleep, you should at least lie down for a while." And finally noticing her, he said: "Shindou-san."
"Yuki-san," she said, nodding. "Good night."
"Or morning," he said, smirking, and herded her brother up the stairs.
She muted the television and stared at it for a long time before she said, "All right, fine. Maybe that's pretty realistic."
There were many and sundry things cool about being related to famous people. She'd been to movie premiers and game shows, on set for filming television series and at star-studded parties courtesy of Shuichi and Yuki—but it still turned out that the downsides far outweighed the ups. It was bad enough the pictures of Yuki and some reed-thin bimbo showed up in the tabloids—it was that much worse when half the Japanese press corps parked in front of their house asking if Shuichi was crying and slitting his wrists.
Maiko wanted to tell them the truth: that she had no idea. That the last she heard, Shuichi had Yuki under house arrest and had spent a solid week screaming until his heavily-insured voice was hoarse, until he'd run out of cups and saucers to throw, and until he'd spent an hour crying on the balcony. There was nothing glamorous about it, and she went through her bedroom, throwing away every glossy celebrity magazine she owned, stomach turning at the thought of having been part of thing before.
"Are you all right?" she asked, a few days later, the rumors still boiling away.
"No," Shuichi told her flatly, voice raspy. "I burned his manuscript."
"You didn't!" she gasped.
"He has a copy on his computer," Shuichi snapped, annoyed. "But it felt pretty good."
Maiko had to bite back a laugh. "I bet." A long silence. "What are you going to do?"
Shuichi made a dismissive noise. "It's not like I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I got myself into it," he said, sounding resigned.
Frowning, Maiko said, "But you can always change the rules."
"Yeah? You think?" Shuichi asked.
"Always," Maiko promised. "A re-negotiation of terms."
"That what you do with your horribly boring boyfriend?" he teased.
She thought about it. "Well, if he ever cheated on me, I'd probably burn more than his papers."
Maiko figured everything would be okay when she heard her brother cracking up over the phone line, saying, "You're right. Let me go find his lighter."
"So I hear this is your fault," Yuki tells her, hefting a box with a grunt.
Maiko gave him a sideways look. "Oh?"
Snorting, Yuki muttered, "You know the brat can't keep a secret to save his life—you told him to set the house on fire."
Maiko had, admittedly, suffered a brief if intense flash of guilt when the nonstop news cycle about Yuki's infidelity had been interrupted by a new and kind of hilarious news cycle about their enormously expensive apartment suffering massive fire damage. The footage of a furious and sooty Yuki had been amazing.
"Actually," she said, voice tart, "I told him to set you on fire."
Yuki made a face, and Maiko wondered how she'd ever found this guy hot. He smelled like cigarettes constantly and accidentally had drunk sex with people who were not her brother and sulked like a grade-schooler.
"Well," Yuki said after a long pause, setting down a box of rescued if slightly singed books. "He got the computer instead."
Maiko bit her lip; that explained the delay in Yuki's next novel. "Well," she said, businesslike. "It's not like this new house isn't tons cooler than your apartment."
It was enormous, in an old neighborhood, with a koi pond in the yard. Extravagent and huge, with empty rooms that Maiko had been teasing her brother about—telling him to fill them in with foreign, adopted orphans, how he and Yuki could be the gay Japanese versions of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. But it was warm—something the apartment she'd visited once before could never be, not even on fire.
"You're just lucky I can't sue your brother," Yuki snarled, starting to fill up the newly-installed bookshelves in his office. It was bright, drenched in sun, and its screen doors slid open to the porch, where Shuichi had already forgotten about helping the moves and settled in with a legal pad and some headphones, mumbling as he jotted out lyrics.
Rolling her eyes, Maiko said, "You'd be thrown out of court in a heartbeat."
Yuki sighed, beleaguered.
Outside, Shuichi just nodded his head to a silent beat, tapping his feet on the wood of the porch—fingers tapping.
After a while Maiko stopped wondering about how Yuki managed to make books happen—most of her brother's stories ended with "…and then he threw me out! Can you believe it?" anyway. She figured it was in the space between exclamation points that Yuki managed to get anything written—and the things that did get written had changed. The last three of his novels had come slower, been thicker. One hadn't even had any sex. He'd written a ghost story instead, about a house—suspiciously like his new one—and the man who'd bought it to be alone only to find himself bombarded with uninvited guests. There were 16-year-old high school girls across the country calling foul, but Maiko figured Yuki was allowed to grow as a human; it was never too late to change the rules.