Actions

Work Header

like a broken record

Work Text:

In a way, Miyuki sighed, he was exactly where he had been longing to be. Inside Apartment 18D, spread-eagle on the great Takigawa Chris Yuu's floor, waiting for said brilliant composer to come through the front door, hopefully with a favorable reply to his request. In a way, maybe it was a good thing. For weeks, he had pressed Ryosuke-san for more information: where Chris was living at present, how best to approach him, whom he was likely writing for (if there was anyone else), would he be at all interested in working with an up and coming artist like Miyuki. And, finally, with the promise of completing his next single, with or without Chris’s help, he’d gotten that address, never mind that Ryosuke-san had yelled after him about privacy issues and harassment lawsuits and other such things.

It didn’t matter, he’d thought then, he was finally going to meet the person he had looked up to for so long. He was finally going to ask Chris to co-write an album with him. No, it didn’t even have to be an album! He was going to ask Chris to write a song – one song just for him. Kuramochi was going to flip. Zono was probably going to faint. And he, well, he was going to say he had told them so. That all they’d had to do was set the bar and dream big, dream far. That their band could truly do it, make and cement their presence on the charts. That nothing was impossible.

Miyuki had quickly made his way to the building, a high-rise three stations away, surprisingly close to him all along. His heartbeat had been loud in his ears, breathing drawn and heavy. He had almost fumbled inside the elevator, his hands shaking, one gripping the crumpled note with directions from Ryosuke-san, the index finger of his other spasming against the cool, flat surface of the corresponding button. Every decision and every movement which brought him closer to his destination threatened to spill him over. He had pressed his forehead to the glass wall, the vibrations of being pulled upward rocking him gently in place. If the other passengers, a mother and child with grocery bags between them, had noticed how strangely he was acting, they didn’t say a word.

He wasn’t sure how he had been able to drag himself to the door. Or how he’d been able to get out of the elevator at all, without falling over in a nervous heap. If he focused enough, eyes squinting, Miyuki thought he could call to mind the most recent track he’d had his bandmates listen to. He had recorded the demo last week, admittedly uninspired. He hadn’t needed to hear Nabe tell him so; the look on his bassist’s face had easily revealed everything he wanted to say. Miyuki could remember that clearly, the disappointment, the frustration. Other things, not so much.

Miyuki blinked. Right, the door. He had given himself a chance to catch his breath, before reaching for the buzzer. As he leaned forward, his finger poised, however, that was when he had noticed something. The door was open. Takigawa Chris Yuu’s door was open. Not wide open, but just enough for him to peek inside. He had paused by the tiny gap, delicately slipped his fingers over the frame, felt the slight breeze on his cheeks beckoning him in. And that was when he had probably gotten possessed.

He had known that it would be inappropriate, that it wouldn’t earn him any points to give in to his insane curiosity, that there would be definite repercussions. But he had ventured on, against his better judgment. Eased himself through the entryway. Padded down the dimly lit corridor in front of him and marveled at how, even in complete silence, Chris’s domain was marked by a distinct harmony. He wasn’t sure if it was the faint, comforting scent in the air, the way the furniture was positioned around him, as if warmly tucking him in, the overall aesthetics of the home, or if he was simply imagining it in his head – placing Chris on a pedestal so high, his own sense of reality was warped.

In the dark, with his arms outstretched, he had gotten far enough, to the space where living room met what he could make out as a kitchen, absorbed in his musings, when, for a second, his actions dawned on him. In his excitement, he had walked right into someone else’s home, trespassed without a second thought. His mind flew to the possibilities of the same happening to him, of a stranger entering his apartment, and knew that if it did he would feel horribly unsafe. Probably unable to work, at least not in the right frame of mind. Circumstances like these were everything to artists, seemingly trivial make or break moments.

Miyuki backed away then, intending to retrace his steps and quietly leave the way he came. As if he could somehow magically vanish away his momentary lack of foresight. He would wait outside and salvage the situation by letting Chris know that he’d mistakenly left his door unlocked. It made sense, it didn’t seem like Chris was home. Oh, if only things could ever be that simple. He remembered his thoughts jumbling together in snapshots as he tried to make his exit, a fire alarm ringing in his ears. He had spotted a muddy pair of boots lined by the door, an olive jacket haphazardly draped across the couch, a tightly packed duffel bag he’d nearly tripped on in the hall. All of these items which felt strangely out of place.

And then, he had heard it: a rapid and sudden intake, a warm breath in the dark which, alarmingly, wasn’t his. He had heard it before the world completely faded to black.

Turning his head, a throbbing sensation blossoming from his temples, Miyuki caught sight of a feral child glaring at him from the other side of the polished kitchen counter. If he didn’t know any better, and he was quite certain that he did, he would have thought it was a ghost. Or the opposite of the Cheshire Cat, its grumpy hound-like twin, whatever that was called. A light or two in the hallway had been switched on since his fall, but the living room and everywhere else were still dark. Except for the white glow of a mobile phone screen.

As their eyes met from opposite sides of the room, the kid caught himself and quickly looked away, creating the illusion that he was either browsing the internet, composing a message, or reading one. Determined, for all the world, to appear as if he were ignoring the man lying on the ground a few feet away. As if there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, and to presume otherwise would be met with more rightful silence. With his fingers stiff and mouth set, tense, however, Miyuki knew better. He blinked again, finding his bearings.

“Hey, what did you hit me with?” He called out, his voice hoarse. How long had it been since he’d gotten knocked out? And why was there a child in Takigawa Chris Yuu’s home? As far as he knew, Chris wasn’t married; that would have been all over the news if it had happened. But then, Chris had always been private about his personal affairs. Miyuki was certain that he had never read an article or seen an interview which hinted at Chris’s dating life. Over the years, there had been speculation, of course, in gossip magazines, on fansites, about whether he was seeing a particular actress or a pop idol from the same agency. But there had never been any proof. No photos, no overly zealous misquotes. Chris had always handled the media in stride.

“A frying pan,” the kid surprised him by replying. Miyuki noted the uncertainty in his muted tone. He chuckled, grimaced as the throbbing intensified. At the sound of that hiss, the kid slid away from the counter, examining him warily as he slinked from one edge of the room to the other, keeping his back against the wall, arms rigid on both sides. It reminded Miyuki of a scene from a horror film, the comically unwise decision to explore the basement sans a weapon or backup. Miyuki chuckled again, despite himself.

“I’m not going to bite, you know,” he offered, extending an arm, his shoulder sore, “You can come closer.” It was too much too soon, and the kid was too far out of reach. Instead, he settled with the back of a palm against his forehead. Sweat trickled down his cheek, down his neck. Miyuki nearly swore aloud. He didn’t know if he could summon the energy to do anything else. He was barely conscious as it was.

“I just caught you trying to rob my shishou’s place,” the kid mumbled, this time, from behind the couch. “I think I’ll be a lot safer as far away from you as I can get.” Well, he did have a point.

“Listen, this is all a misunderstanding,” Miyuki sighed, wondering why he hadn’t tried to exit the apartment sooner, “I’m not a thief. I wasn’t trying to rob anyone.” If only he had come to his senses before walking through the damn door, before losing himself in the excitement of knowing he was inside Chris’s home. If only he hadn’t noticed the door was open at all.

“That’s… what a thief would say,” the kid argued, though Miyuki could tell, through the haze of his folly, that he had caught the kid slightly off-guard. His stance had slackened, his voice lacking the command to follow through. Miyuki had always been quick at reading people, quick at noticing the slight changes of their reactions and movements, quick at determining if there was a chance, quick at sensing when to pounce. With a glimmer in his eye and a soft tug on his pocket, he knew he could turn the situation around.

And almost as if recognizing the swift change in momentum, almost as if he could hear the gears shifting in Miyuki’s head, the kid froze. He took a step back, realized he had already hit the wall, and resolutely kept moving, circling around the room again.

“You don’t have to take my word for it. Check my wallet for an I.D.,” Miyuki intoned, forging ahead when he saw the truth dawning in the kid’s eyes, “I’m Miyuki Kazuya of The Ultimate Rookies, and I’m here to speak with Chris-san about a project.” Of course, if he were smart, the kid had likely already searched his pockets, seen the note from Ryosuke-san and his driver’s license, not to mention the old photo of the band he always kept with him. He wouldn’t underestimate the kid. But Miyuki knew he also had to make a stronger case, and, luckily, he had one more bullet to fire.

“See, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” he finished, taking a chance and propping himself up on one arm. There was a momentary blood rush as he felt his head spin, threatening to send him back spiraling, but he still had control, fought to keep it. “I waited outside, and saw that the door was unlocked. So, I came inside to check if someone had broken in.” He’d feel awful about his little white lie later, he told himself. Cross his heart.

“With the door open and the lights off, that would be a reasonable conclusion, don’t you think?” Miyuki fixed his gaze on the kid, who had shuffled back to where the counter was. When he emerged from behind it, he was holding his phone in one hand and in the other was a rather offensive enameled frying pan. The frying pan. Miyuki’s eyes narrowed, “What I’m more curious about is who you are.”

There were quite a few blanks which still needed filling, as far as Miyuki was concerned. What was important was that he had gotten his story out of the way, and that it was a believable one. He dragged himself over to the counter as well, the closest partition he could lean his back against. The kid made no move to help him, but he also seemed fixed in place, lost in thought, unlikely to do anything else at that point. Miyuki wondered if he had unintentionally said something which hit home.

“So? Do you have a name?” He mused, wishing he had a cigarette. Wishing he hadn’t quit smoking months ago.

The kid gripped the pan tighter, his knuckles white, brows furrowed. Miyuki studied the way his mouth fell open, the stubborn tilt of his head, the almost endearing way his unkempt hair curled on its ends. It was probably the lack of oxygen.

“I’m—”

“Eijun?”

All at once, the room came to life. It wasn’t only because the rest of the lights had been switched on or that the central A.C. had begun to hum softly from its perch above them, or that the kid had straightened his back in attention. Wound, if possible, more tightly than he had been seconds ago. There was an imaginary symphony playing somewhere, a tinkling array of deceptively harmless notes which grew, echoing, until it held and then struck them like a lightning bolt. It was the startling contrast of monochrome and blinding color, as Takigawa Chris Yuu stepped through the doorway.

**

They must have been a sight to behold: Miyuki, a crumpled mess on the carpeted floor, barely kept upright by the counter behind him; and the kid wielding his frying pan as if it were a sword meant to slay dragons, having returned from his quest, triumphant, mobile phone falling to his feet with a soft thud. Personally, Miyuki thought he looked more like Peter Pan than a dashing knight, impishly willful and naturally rumpled. Anyone else would have been utterly dumbfounded, would have laughed to mask their discomfort, would have probably tried to call the cops, or would have been halfway done dialing. Anyone else, but not Chris. He stood between them, at their apex, commanding their attention, unwinding a charcoal scarf from around his neck. He concentrated on the kid.

“Eijun, what’s going on here?”

The kid blinked, once before regarding him with newfound interest, as if he had forgotten that Miyuki was right next to him, and again before turning his head to fully face Chris. He finally opened his mouth and a barrage of explanations spilled out. Miyuki caught the phrases “found your spare key taped inside the mailbox” and “hit your guest on the head with a pan” before he zoned them out, exhaustion taking over. There were hazy moments after that, of him getting up and making his way to the sink at Chris’s suggestion, of him shedding his cardigan and letting it fall to the floor, of him sloppily washing his face and neck, of Chris handing him a towel and then offering him a drink, of him shaking his head, he’d rather have water with lots of ice.

Of him settling by the counter again, Chris thoughtfully hanging his cardigan up behind him on the back of his seat. Of him facing the kid’s glare, those accusing eyes directly across him. Already up for round two. He was beginning to develop a migraine, Miyuki reckoned, if he didn’t already have one.

“Time for the adults to talk?” He drawled, taking a sip from his glass. He delighted in the instantaneous way his words made the kid turn red.

“I’m not going anywhere,” the kid frowned defiantly, hair disheveled, eyes – he could see them clearly now under the fluorescent lights – a piercing golden, the intensity of a sunset, of the moment when day ruefully gave away to night, an inevitable surrender. Miyuki focused on that thought, didn’t know if he had ever seen that color before. And he had to admit, the kid would have looked menacing, too, rabid, almost demonic, if not for the fact that he was using Chris as a human shield. Miyuki struggled to keep himself from laughing outright, grip tightening on his seat.

He chose to meet that gaze head-on, his mouth a firm line, a challenger stepping up to the plate, “What are you even doing here? How do you know each other?”

“That’s none of your business,” the brat huffed, tugging at Chris’s sleeve. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it dawned on him that the kid probably wasn’t an actual kid. On the contrary, he looked to be in his late teens. But his overall appearance and mannerisms made him appear younger, inexperienced, from a completely different world. There was a faint scent on him, an earthy one, of mountains and sunshine and rice fields and early morning trains. It was reminiscent of the day Miyuki himself had first arrived in the city. Of the first time he’d plunked his luggage at his side, a little too overeager, as he stared up at the countless wide screens flashing across the streets. Of the first time he had stood frozen in place, mesmerized as Takigawa Chris Yuu’s voice filled the air.

“Eijun, don’t be rude.” That took him out of his sudden daydream, Chris clearing his throat, finally joining the conversation, his presence magnetic. The kid’s hold on Chris loosened as the latter guided him towards the couch. Before settling down, Chris turned his gaze towards Miyuki, calmly nodding, motioning for him to join them if he could. He obliged, took the plush seat next to them on Chris’s side, his head throbbing still, glass in hand.

“Miyuki Kazuya,” Chris began, carefully, deliberately, when he’d had enough time to make himself comfortable, “I understand that you want me to work with you.” Miyuki couldn’t get a read on him, Chris’s face betrayed absolutely nothing. He tried to keep his own face blank, free of the desperation he could already feel bubbling at the surface, knew that he was literally on the edge of his seat. And once he’d be allowed to make his pitch, properly this time, in front of the right person, he would say all the necessary words, all the words he had practiced a hundred times, all the words that would convince Chris.

“My answer is no.”

Miyuki heard the clink in his glass, a cube of ice melting, cool perspiration coating his fingers. He was staring at Chris’s face and he wasn’t sure how long it would go on for, until he fell into the bottomless pit forming at his feet, threatening to swallow him whole. He wasn’t a pessimistic sort of person, given to sensitive bouts of despair every time someone declined him. But it didn’t take a genius to figure out that, when Chris meant something, he didn’t pull any punches. Chris chose all his words purposefully, straight-forwardly, without a hint of hesitation, his mind and heart already set. Miyuki understood this to be a kindness in a world of passive-aggression, but couldn’t, to the depths of his very being, allow himself to accept it.

“But—,” he gave the glass a tap, his legs locked beneath him. He willed them to move, to do something. Anything. Yet he was rooted to his spot.

“There is nothing you can say to convince me otherwise.”

“If you could just let me explain,” Miyuki trailed off, wondering what he could say to make a difference. His mind was already addled enough by his encounter with the kid, but he couldn’t assign blame like that. He wouldn’t. He had come prepared to make his pitch, to face Chris and present him with an offer he couldn’t refuse. But Miyuki had not anticipated Chris denying him from the start, had not anticipated Chris’s lack of interest in anything he wanted to say. Had not anticipated the altogether lack of compassion, of life, of soul in Chris’s eyes. A curiously heartbreaking observation. He wondered what had happened, what had made Chris look that way. He wondered if Chris could even write a song, looking and feeling the way he did.

“I’m sorry, I overstepped and came inside your home without your permission,” Miyuki heard himself say, finally, still pondering the change.

There was a heartbeat, probably his, as loudly as it was thumping, before Chris responded, “It wasn’t your fault.”

Miyuki listened to them talk again, caught the way the kid gestured towards him, an almost pitying look on his face. A drawn-out discussion ensued about whether he would need to see a doctor or not. In answer to that, as if functioning on auto-pilot, he decisively shook his head, his mind oddly clear. He listened to them usher him out, allowed himself to be dragged along, the kid’s hand on his arm, gentle yet firm, the expression on his face apologetic, halfway between uncertain and concerned, the guilt too easy to read. Chris’s looming form shadowing behind them closely.

He was in the doorway, with a light pressure on his back, as if it were trying to keep him from leaving, when Miyuki felt something ignite inside of him, a flare he immediately recognized from the time he had decided to pursue music. An answer. A better answer than the one he had gotten. He spun around to address the kid, who was staring up at him in surprise. There was something else in those eyes, something indisputable, something dangerous – a suspiciously distinguishable spark. It was refreshing, compared to the stony way Chris was studying them.

“Oi,” he placed a hand atop the one on his arm, “why do you call Chris-san ‘shishou’?”

It came out before he knew what was happening, before he had a chance to think it over. The kid quirked a brow, like it was supposed to be obvious and Miyuki was blind for not being able to see the answer for himself. He grinned at the reaction, couldn’t help that either, dropping his arms, silently daring the kid to open his mouth, daring the kid to tell him something outrageous, to tell him what he thought he needed to hear. Because Miyuki did need to hear it: hope. Sure enough, he wasn’t disappointed, that spark spewing violent cinders in its wake.

“Why wouldn’t I? He taught me everything I know,” the brat replied, ridiculously obstinate, stressing his words. And Miyuki believed him. He focused on that spark, cradled it, blew at it softly, allowed it to crackle and rise. And then, he poked it with a stick.

“Everything you know? About what? Music?” He felt himself ease backwards, one step, two, the kid marching toward him, matching his strides.

“No, everything about everything!”

The door closed in front of him, a tight hitch, before he had a chance to fully examine the exchange. He listened to their footsteps padding away on the other side. What he had gathered was that Chris was somehow responsible for the kid, at the very least had prompted the kid’s arrival. He didn’t know how they were related, but knew that, despite Chris’s lack of substance and feeling and depth, despite all that, he was different with the kid. There was still a warmth to him, a fleeting warmth which Miyuki felt he could trust in. It was his answer. It was a challenge. And, if anything, Miyuki Kazuya was always up for a challenge. He never gave up without a fight. And this was much too important an opportunity.

**

There were worse things than having to dawn a disguise – a long coat, the darkest sunglasses he could find in his closet, his dad’s old fishing hat – and wait on a nondescript street corner for Chris to leave his apartment. Some of those things included having to tell his band that he had been royally shot down, having to face Ryosuke-san’s ire, and having to feature on Furuya Satoshi’s upcoming debut album, though that last one was a story for another time. In any case, because of those things, Miyuki resolved to soldier through. He would eventually be able to get Chris to listen to him. He would be able to convince Chris on his second chance, he told himself. He just had to find a way in.

“I knew you were a stalker.”

Reaching up to adjust his glasses or his hat, anything to keep from showing the astonishment on his face, Miyuki regarded the brat behind him. The kid was in a cream-colored sweater and well-worn jeans, a violet beanie completing the look, and in his hands was a large brown paper bag. He looked more put-together outwardly, but just as chaotic as last time, his sharp eyes like poised daggers, ready to strike at any moment. There was luck, and then there was this.

“How did you know I was here?” Miyuki sighed, settled on removing the hat. Because it had to be the hat.

“You stick out like a sore thumb,” the kid replied, predictably. Miyuki chuckled at that. Before either of them knew what was happening, he had slipped his arm across the kid’s shoulders and pulled him close, toward the corner’s edge, as if they were conspiring or plotting to take over the world. He pointed out the 18th floor from where they were standing, looking to any passerby like they were lost wide-eyed tourists in the big city. He took it as a somewhat good sign that the kid wasn’t struggling, despite the deliberate invasion of personal space – not that Miyuki would have let him go.

“This is a blind spot, see, there’s no way you guys could spot me from the apartment.” He grinned broadly, sliding his arm back at an angle, so that he could ruffle the kid’s hair. The beanie stretched beneath Miyuki’s fingers, revealing more of the kid’s left ear. He gave it a flick. The kid scowled at him, pitching forward, clutching the bag tighter to his chest. Afraid Miyuki might shake him down for his lunch money, no doubt.

“There’s a back entrance, you idiot,” he replied after a moment’s pause, “And it doesn’t matter if we can’t spot you from the apartment, since you’re a sitting duck on the route home. If you think shishou doesn’t know any better, then you’re gravely underestimating him,” he finished matter-of-factly. Miyuki played along, nodding enthusiastically, delighted that the kid didn’t seem as wary of him as he appeared to be. He filed the information away for later use. The kid had yet to move away.

“Ah, you caught me. That was the next step on my list: wait for Chris-san to leave, find a way in through the back, bribe the security,” Miyuki counted down, holding his fingers up for reference. As expected, the kid circled the line he had thrown and began nibbling, his form loosened, relaxed, not enough that he wasn’t tense anymore, but to show that he was definitely interested. The kid couldn’t mask that. Now, all Miyuki had to do was reel him in. Hook, line, and sinker.

“That isn’t going to work. Matsuda-san’s already been informed about you,” the kid frowned, catching himself, turning away as Miyuki poked his cheek. Something about him spoke to Miyuki. Something about him stuck. It was an eerie connection. It was almost like having a pesky, younger brother, but not quite. It was like having a person to pick on, to tease, a friend to joke with, someone in the middle of that spectrum. Someone Miyuki could push until he broke. If he broke. It was almost sick, he admitted, and weird. And wonderful. In that same sick, weird, wonderful way he was drawn to Chris, Miyuki was drawn to this kid with golden eyes as well.

Without meaning to, plan forgotten, he said the first thing on his mind, the honest thing: “That really sucks. I’m in a bit of a bind here.”

“What do you mean?” They were facing each other then, levelled, the kid standing tall, leaning closer slightly. Too close for comfort. He realized what he was doing a second too late, eyes wide, and pulled his arms back, keeping the bag in front of him to broaden the distance between them. Miyuki held him gently by the shoulder, dropping his other arm to his side. It was a gesture of acceptance, of understanding, it was a way out; the kid could step away if he wanted to. He searched Miyuki’s face, expression unreadable, resolutely remained in place.

“I’ve wanted to work with Chris-san ever since I started in the business. I’ve always wanted him to compose a song for me.” Miyuki wasn’t sure why he was going into it, but he was. He was telling the kid everything, spilling his guts, about how his band was enjoying moderate success and that they were realistically on an upward trajectory from there. But, also, that Miyuki had been dreaming of meeting Chris and asking him to collaborate on an album with them. Had been dreaming of the day he would finally get to ask. That it couldn’t be anyone else. That it was the one truly selfish thing he wanted as an artist, more than the fame, more than a permanent place on the charts.

That it was, likewise, something he could never tell Kuramochi, Ryosuke-san, and the others. Not explicitly. He could never admit that. To do so would mean admitting that there was something he desired more than the band’s longevity. But he felt guilty anyway, felt that he was letting them down. Felt that he was getting led around by his ideals, that it would be the death of him. And he wasn’t sure what to do now, how to move forward.

Miyuki took his glasses off, peered into the kid’s eyes, looked for that familiar spark and held it.

“Do you get it?” He asked, whispered, losing himself in the blinding heat, in the destructive power of that gaze. He didn’t expect a response.

He felt himself get pushed away, a defensive act, the kid facing down, finally standing his ground. Miyuki sighed in defeat, momentarily watching the way the sunlight reflected off of his glasses, hoping he wasn’t about to tear up. He was about to turn around and walk away, about to cut his losses, when he felt a hand on his coat, gripping the fabric, not quite yanking him forward, not quite keeping him in place. He opened his eyes, didn’t know that he had closed them.

“Come with me,” the kid said, looking up at him, cheeks tinged pink, his decision made. “I’ll take you to shishou.”

Miyuki didn’t know what to say. They were at the entrance of the building, minutes later, when he remembered to breathe. “Thanks, kid,” he mouthed, wasn’t sure if he had gotten to words out, hoped that he had, the doors sliding shut behind them.

“Don’t call me that. My name,” the brat huffed, “is Sawamura Eijun.”

**

There was time, Miyuki thought. Time to appreciate the smell of Chris’s apartment, a lemony orange scent which wafted through every open door. Time to catch a quick glimpse of Chris’s study, the first door on his left down the hall; a desk filled with papers on one side of the room, notes neatly stacked, bookshelves lined about, a piano laid out on the other, his fingers twitching to drag themselves across the keys. Time to notice the large bay windows in the living room he had previously overlooked, which opened on to a humble terrace, where a lone easel stood invitingly in the midday sun. There was time to allow Chris’s domain to swallow him whole, time to allow himself to be enveloped inside that lingering warmth, inside that small bit of hope he wasn’t sure yet what to do with exactly. Time to revel in the moment, nonetheless.

As he sank into the long couch directly facing the kitchen, propping his arms above a throw pillow on each side, watching Sawamura empty the paper bag and deposit various packages inside the refrigerator, Miyuki hummed. He simply couldn’t help himself. It was the beginnings of a slow ballad: a hypothetical riff from Kuramochi here, a steady beat from Zono there, the solid foundations of both Nori’s overture and of Nabe’s delicate strumming, a drumming sensation he felt in his core before it travelled up his throat. Before he gave it a name, a melody. He took his phone out to record it.

“Shishou should be home soon,” Sawamura called to him when he had finished saving the file, shuffling about, the winding sound of liquid pouring into a glass catching his attention. He looked up as the kid approached him, tray in hand. The kid set his glass on the table, not forgetting to slip a paperboard coaster beneath it. Miyuki thanked him, couldn’t seem to stop doing that.

He wanted to ask where Chris had gone, but ultimately decided against it. That would have been pushing his luck. Sawamura had already done so much for him and he still couldn’t understand why, as Miyuki hadn’t given him probable reason to. Sure, he had revealed his hand, had done the one thing he had promised himself he wouldn’t do. Had, arguably, done the one thing he wasn’t supposed to be stupid enough – no desperate enough to do. Had trusted in another person, taken a chance on a kid he had just met, gotten him involved. But that didn’t explain the kid at all, a perplexingly independent, unreadable variable. Miyuki took a sip, allowed the sweetened iced tea to soothe him, calm his nerves. He needed that more than the compulsive urge to close his eyes and pretend he was dreaming. He wondered why Sawamura had caved in, wondered what the kid was getting out of it, if he was getting anything out of it at all.

Sawamura, on his end, seemed to understand his silence, seemed to understand how overwhelmed he was. He left Miyuki to his own devices, padded around the room, kept himself busy in relative silence. He thankfully didn’t seem to want to make things more difficult, more confusing. And Miyuki doubted Sawamura had all the answers either. Still, he wondered. Again and again, almost as if to distract himself from the more pressing issues at hand. In truth, he wanted to throw up, told himself he wasn’t going to. Couldn’t. Please, god, no. There were only so many strikes he could accumulate.

It was as Sawamura began chopping garlic cloves and onions behind the counter, Miyuki deep in his thoughts, when the front door opened behind them. It closed on a hush, a metaphorical gasp, the inconsequential sound having the opposite effect in Miyuki’s mind. They heard Chris before he came into view, his footfalls pausing at the entrance of the living room. Counting silently in his head, Miyuki let out the breath he had been holding before getting to his feet. It felt like he was an inexperienced boyfriend, who had come to ask for a daughter’s hand in marriage, a foolish attempt. It felt like he was going to get thrown out, again. Still, he persisted. There was no going back. They had already locked eyes.

“Hello, Chris-san,” he greeted, bowing his head. He heard Sawamura’s hands freeze, the rhythmic chop-chop-chopping skipping a beat, heard the knife pause, blade mistakenly scraping against wood. Swore he could feel the entire room hang in anticipation, before the movements started up again. Like a tidal wave on a faulty DVD player. Some static. A chink on the speakers. A little quicker as if someone had pressed a fast-forward button. A little more wound up. Unhinged. A little less certain.

Chris stared at him, clearly, surprisingly taken aback before his mask of indifference smoothed back into place. He regarded Miyuki, continued to as he greeted Sawamura in the kitchen. Miyuki knew that Chris expected an explanation, demanded one, and was thankful that the kid wasn’t going to provide it. No, he was going to leave that up to Miyuki, let him take the lead. The kid stayed on his side of the room, acting like he was too busy preparing the ingredients for lunch to be pulled into the conversation. But Miyuki could tell he was curious, if his pointed gaze was any indication.

“I thought I had made myself clear, Miyuki.” Chris waited for the precise moment, the moment in which it seemed he had let his guard down. But he had anticipated that, had counted on it. He, in turn, waited for Chris to face him. Waited as Chris found his place, threw one leg over the other as he took a seat perpendicular to Miyuki’s position. He waited until Chris gave him his full attention, before replying.

“You did. And I get it, I do,” he nearly stuttered, “But I hope you understand why I can’t take no for an answer either.” He locked his legs, on purpose, to keep them from knocking into each other, to keep them from digging into the carpet. Focused on Chris’s face, his hardened expression. Because the key there was subtlety, the things Chris said and the things he didn’t. Wouldn’t say. It was not the time to address the change in him, but Miyuki found himself comforted by it, by the secret goal he had adopted. He searched Chris’s eyes for a flare, one which mirrored his own, one which spoke to him as an artist. Couldn’t find it. He knotted his brows, concentrated.

“I’m not interested in working with anyone else,” Chris rebuffed, lounging in his seat like a bored jungle cat. He leaned into an open palm, quirked his head, made Miyuki feel like he was trying to maintain the upper hand. Which also signaled that he was afraid to lose it, Miyuki surmised.

“I’ll change your mind,” he pressed on, confidently. Enough to actually make himself believe it. Not that he could change Chris’s mind, but that he would. He would. It wasn’t up for cross-examination.

“You’re being presumptuous and you think too highly of yourself,” Chris intoned, which made him feel like a reckless child. Because maybe that was what he was, an idealistic child with nothing left to lose. His ears perked at the sound of pan meeting burner, at the sound of a button being tapped repeatedly, programming a specific temperature, the electric stove heating metal. He opened his mouth as Sawamura began twisting the lid off of a bottle of cooking oil, the movement matching his in time.

“Just write me one song,” Miyuki replied, gaze unwavering, almost forceful, “I swear, I’ll change your mind with my arrangement.”

“Do your bandmates know about these plans of yours? Does your agent?” Chris hit him with a brick. He reeled at that. Kuramochi and the others did know, but for how long was he going to detain them? For how long was he going to keep at his selfish desires? Although Ryosuke-san had given him the address, had played along, he knew his agent was worried. He knew that everyone was worried about him, was worried that he had fallen to his insanity, had been possessed by it. They were afraid that he was inevitably dooming The Ultimate Rookies.

There would be a chance later in their careers, Zono had once advised him, somber, when it was just the two of them in the studio. A chance to have their pick of composers, lyricists, producers. It was just too early to start making demands. Irrational to be gambling so early in the game. You know how cutthroat the industry can be, Miyuki. They were too green, had but a single leg through the door and barely a foothold. He had relented, momentarily. But the thought had kept him up for nights, had haunted him, had messed with his ability to write. And so, he had manipulated them, dragged them along with his egoistic dreams. And his band had followed, had trusted him anyway. Even Ryosuke-san had trusted him.

“Please, Chris-san,” he whispered, that last thought his undoing. He curled his hands into fists, knew he was probably drilling holes into Chris’s skull. Knew that all Chris had to do was say one more word, add the final nail to his proverbial coffin. Knew that he would have to give up then, that he had tried his damnedest, that he had failed. That he only had to wait to be put out of his misery. That—

“Why don’t you give him a chance, shishou?”

Miyuki nearly bit his tongue. His neck cramped as he turned to his immediate right, to face Sawamura who had left the pan on the stove. Chris stilled as well. It was chilling. Yet the apartment was going to burn down. He willed the kid to remember that. And, as if reading his thoughts, Sawamura jumped, reached for the pan and transferred it on to the range, switched the stove off. Swiped his hands on the front of his checkered apron. He appeared from behind the counter, nervous, understanding that he had interrupted at the most crucial moment. Couldn’t help himself. Bless his innocent heart.

“I mean, it’ll at least get him to stop asking,” he continued in a measured tone, as Chris began to argue, to shake his head, “And if you don’t like how the song turns out, you’ll have proven him wrong.”

“Eijun,” Chris sighed, standing. Gone was the undisturbed posture, the appearance of a king watching from his pedestal, too high to reach, gone was the presence of a man who had complete and utter control over the situation. In his place was a tired songwriter, driven to the brink. Miyuki felt sorry for him, felt guilty at having played a role in that. Felt all the more curious. Wanted to ask why and how and since when. Wanted to shake him, shake him awake, this man he had looked up to for so long. Wanted to know if he could flare up just as brightly, just as overwhelmingly as he once did.

“Shishou,” Sawamura mimicked, his voice lighter, in question, prodding, coaxing. He forgot that Miyuki was watching them, that he had been a bystander until then. Miyuki didn’t mind. On the contrary, he was fascinated by surrealistic quality of the situation. He was an outsider looking in, and at the same time its catalyst. He watched Chris shake his head, watched Chris fold into himself, try to get away, throw up his walls. But he couldn’t. He watched Sawamura nudge the man’s arm, watched him smile reassuringly, wasn’t sure if he had imagined it for it was gone the next second. Then, he stood as Chris shifted, stood as the circle opened up to him again.

Chris considered him, reproachfully, glowered at him. Miyuki, the unknowing dead man, found it adorable. He let his bangs fall over his eyes, kept the comment to himself. Sealed it in a vault. Threw the key to that vault away. And then—

“All right, Miyuki. One song.” He wanted to pump his fist in the air and howl at the moon. Sawamura, oddly, did the first task for him. Chris didn’t notice.

**

“Normally, you’d have more to say than ‘good job’, I think,” Miyuki mused, leaning casually against his seat, ceramic cup poised at his lips. He regarded his fox-like agent over the brim, wary, waiting for the predetermined sermon, “A lot more.”

After phoning Ryosuke-san with the good news, better than anyone had ever imagined, Miyuki had received a message about rendezvousing at their favorite izakaya. They had scheduled it for after the compulsory band meeting, in which they formally announced that they had gotten Takigawa Chris Yuu to collaborate with The Ultimate Rookies. Everyone had reacted accordingly. Nabe, his default expression usually gentle, had cursed at Miyuki for leaving the rest of them to drag Zono off to the studio’s waiting room without warning, their drummer’s large, muscled body down for the count. Zono was, interestingly, the most sensitive one in the group. Nori had luckily been able to pull his keyboard out of the way, yelling that they could always send Zono to the emergency room if anything happened; while his partner, the instrument he had gotten for himself straight out of high school, was priceless.

“Well, you’ve always had a bit of an obsession with him,” Ryosuke-san smiled, throwing his head back to take a swig of his beer. He didn’t deny it. Kuramochi grinned at him from Ryosuke-san’s other side – “That’s putting it mildly, Ryo-san.” – and called for another order of the best-selling yakitori. Miyuki swirled the sake in his cup around, wondering what kind of song Chris would pen for The Ultimate Rookies. He listened to his friends bicker, listened to Ryosuke-san warn Kuramochi about eating too much oily food, it wasn’t good for him. He watched as Kuramochi swatted the agent away, only to pull him back in, their shoulders touching, bruising, lingering next to each other. In spite of the lack of air-conditioning and the humidity forming across Miyuki’s forehead.

“You’re scaring me, Ryosuke-san,” he chuckled, losing himself in the heady atmosphere. He still couldn’t believe it himself.

“Look, Miyuki, I’m gonna trust you on this,” Kuramochi said to him some minutes later, completely sober, “I mean, the whole band is behind you. We know how much this means to you, but,” he dragged a plate of edamame over, gestured at Miyuki to have some, quickly, before Ryosuke-san ate them all, “there are rumors.”

Miyuki blinked, keeping his focus. He met his oldest friend’s eyes, setting his cup down, “What rumors?”

“You know, it’s been a while since the guy actually released anything himself. He’s supposed to be a notorious nutjob,” Kuramochi replied, his tone even. The lead guitarist looked to Ryosuke-san for confirmation, poking him beneath the table. Miyuki continued to stare, letting the information sink in, allowing it to settle, simmer. It made sense, of course, looking back to how he had been received at the apartment, looking back to how Chris had tried to decline his request, how Chris had declined him the first time. How Chris had reacted. Chris had demons he was fending off, Miyuki concluded. These demons were tearing at him from the inside. He thought of Sawamura with his frying pan, instead of a sword, desperately trying to keep those demons at bay. Chuckled at the memory.

“That’s bullshit. You don’t know him,” he told Kuramochi, feeling a bizarre sense of loyalty, choosing to believe in his gamble. It was a prideful thought, a thought he knew would hurt his friend who was only trying to caution him and curb his expectations. Still, Miyuki wanted and needed to see it through.

“Yeah, and you don’t know him either,” Kuramochi responded pointedly, understandably miffed, “I think you’re playing it fast and loose by not asking him to sign any kind of contract.” Ryosuke-san kept silent, looking into his bowl, swirling his noodles around, contemplating how best to intervene. Miyuki bit down on his lower lip, reached up to drag his fingers through his hair, yanked at the tips.

“Chris-san is a man of his word.”

“Still, it would make us all feel a lot better if you kept a closer eye on him,” Kuramochi frowned, turning to look directly at their agent. “What do you think, Ryo-san?”

At being addressed personally, Ryosuke-san abandoned his unfinished noodles, reverting from easy-going friend and drinking partner to formidable businessman. Miyuki recalled meeting him for the first time, Kuramochi at his side, the older man’s disquieting gaze effectively knocking them down a peg. Two country boys up against a practiced tactician. That day, that tumultuous moment, had been the first time Ryosuke-san had given them advice, had warned them about the pitfalls of the industry. They couldn’t please everyone, he had told them over coffee. They could have their ideals, be allowed their hopes and dreams. But they also had to harden their resolve, had to understand, had to prepare for any one instance to throw them off their game. Had to be adaptable to the changes, to the sacrifices. They were nothing, had nothing to offer except their music. And Ryosuke-san saw a diamond which needed polishing in them, but that didn’t mean the polishing would come cheap, in more ways than one.

“Youichi brought up some valid points. But I can confer with Yuki to be sure,” Ryosuke-san provided, zipping his phone out, snapping Miyuki back from his reverie. After scrolling and tapping through his contacts, the agent gestured to the shop’s entrance, excused himself to make the call. They watched him leave his seat, graceful, purposeful. In the same way Chris was marked by experience and hard-won battles. It wasn’t the first time Miyuki felt lucky to have Ryosuke-san on their team. He knew it wouldn’t be the last.

“Yuki Tetsuya is a shark,” Kuramochi said in awe, looking to him for verification.

Miyuki nodded, recognizing the name instantly, “They apparently go way back. He was Chris-san’s manager first and eventually switched to being his agent full-time.” Titans, the lot of them.

They concentrated on the food after that, Miyuki on his edamame because Ryosuke-san wasn’t around to challenge him for any, Kuramochi on his skewers, munching thoughtfully in silence. They looked up when Ryosuke-san reentered the izakaya, flashing them a thumbs-up. Looked to each other, trying to piece together what that vague sign meant. Like a long equation on the blackboard in Math class. Their agent expected them to figure it out. He sat quietly between them, going back to his noodles, musing aloud that it would be a waste to leave them, even if they were cold.

Kuramochi arrived at the answer before he did, mostly because he didn’t want to give himself too much to hope for. It’s been said that when it rains, it pours. The guitarist grinned broadly, “Don’t fanboy too much, Miyuki.”

**

Sawamura let him into the apartment a few days later, pouting when he realized that Miyuki had forgotten to bring them snacks. The kid had been counting on a box of doughnuts or cakes for dessert, which, again, made Miyuki feel like he was a gentleman caller, come to pay his intended a visit. He relented as the kid’s frown deepened. Promised he would bring something sweet with him next time. Made a gag of it by trying to fasten his pinky on to Sawamura’s. Wondered belatedly if Chris enjoyed sweets as well, which was possibly why the kid was so adamant about it.

“What are you making?” He asked, pulled a seat out by the counter, tilting it back as he watched Sawamura bustle about in the kitchen. The kid, who had obviously grown accustomed to Chris’s cupboards and fixtures in the short amount of time since he arrived, automatically held his hand out, rifled through the nearest cabinet for a large cooking pot. He dragged it from the shelf and deposited it in the sink, twisting a handle downward to allow a steady stream of water to gush out into the pot. He stopped, once it was filled halfway.

“Pasta,” Sawamura replied, glancing back at Miyuki warily before catching himself. He found it amusing how the kid hadn’t yet warmed up to him. Or, if he had, that Sawamura alternatively didn’t want to be caught looking at him. He could understand why. They were heavy prolonged looks, especially when the kid thought he hadn’t noticed. He decided not to inquire about them. Instead, he followed the kid’s movements as Sawamura prepared another pan on the opposite burner. He dripped a generous amount of olive oil into it, added large chunks of butter, and waited for the ingredients to sizzle before throwing chopped garlic and red pepper in. He lowered the heat when their fragrance started to spread through the apartment.

“What kind of pasta?” Miyuki prodded, his mouth watering.

“Shrimp,” the kid grinned, presenting him with a strainer full of them, already deveined. Miyuki groaned, lamented that that was just wrong, how Sawamura was tempting him with food. That it was awful how he couldn’t stay any longer than necessary. That he had more meetings to get to after he finished with Chris. But that he would be thinking of Sawamura’s cooking all day long at the rate they were going. The kid only laughed at him, the cheeky thing, as he poured the shrimp into the second pan, tossed them around until they were pink, and then added salt and pepper. He tapped a finger against his lower lip, his tongue darting out to taste. By the look on his face, Miyuki could tell it was salty.

The kid wasn’t done yet. He threw in a tablespoon of oregano, emptied a bowl of spinach, and stirred the mix around until the leaves had wilted. When he turned to check on the noodles, they were already done. He systematically drained the pot and tossed them into the pan.

“More butter?” Miyuki gasped, covering his mouth. It was torture. Sawamura gave him a look.

“You can never have too much butter.”

For the finishing touches, the kid littered the pot with copious amounts of parmesan and parsley. Added a zing to the dish by including lemon juice. Miyuki pointed out that he shouldn’t let the juice on his fingers go to waste, much like the seasoning. Sawamura narrowed his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, you can have some later,” the kid waved him off, heading for the sink, where he washed the stickiness away. It was almost unfortunate, how he chose not to play along, their dangerous game going a little too far. Miyuki wondered why he was disappointed, his mouth upturned. Wondered what would have happened had their game continued. He caught himself as Sawamura began arranging the dining area, setting three places at the table.

“Make sure my serving is enough for two people,” he called, wondering if he should have offered to help.

“Shuddup, Miyuki.”

Hey, that was no way for the kid to talk to his senior. Miyuki came up behind him, the kid too busy to notice; his attention focused on lining the utensils. He slid his arms around the kid’s waist, all at once feeling his movements still. He didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish by doing that, only that he had already done it before he realized what was happening. But Miyuki knew that was no excuse. He carried on, testing the waters, waiting for the warning bells. Expecting them to ring. He kept a bit of distance between them, not quite embracing him, more to keep the kid from moving, from getting away.

“How’s Chris-san been doing since then?” He breathed down the kid’s neck, watching for Sawamura’s immediate reaction. Although his face remained unbothered, the kid had ceased trying to prepare their lunch. He was concentrating on Miyuki completely, looking to gain the upper hand, itching for the opportunity. It was like trying to catch a wolverine, maybe a badger. And it amused Miyuki to no end that every time he thought of Sawamura, if he didn’t imagine a subverted version of a beloved fairytale, then he saw an animal. A demented beast which needed to be tamed.

“What do you mean?” Sawamura responded finally, his tone measured, lowered, it almost reminded Miyuki of Chris. But he supposed it made sense, how similar they were when they were guarded. The two kept their secrets close, after all. Even then, probably more so, that didn’t stop Miyuki from wanting to extract those secrets.

“Geez, don’t you know how to make small talk?” He said, loosening his hold, dropping his arms to his side. Sawamura surprised him by latching on, gripping at the sleeve covering his right arm, fingers sliding down to encircle his wrist. He swung around to face Miyuki, searching his eyes. Miyuki found that familiar spark there, woven into the flecks of gold, molten amber, seeping into his very soul. He balled his other, free hand when he realized he was about to use it to cradle the kid’s cheek. He pulled away. The point went to Sawamura.

“It isn’t small talk if it concerns shishou,” the kid quipped later, as Miyuki returned to his seat and Sawamura, in turn, finished plating their shrimp pasta. There was a subdued note in the air, an almost regrettable one which Miyuki, nevertheless, did not feel like exploring. Not then. Because what was more unfortunate was the fact that they had missed Chris’s arrival, the sound of papers shifting around in the study catching their attention, signaling that they had somehow failed to hear him return. That he might have seen them, and formed his own conclusions. That he had let them be, without acknowledging Miyuki’s presence altogether.

Miyuki felt guilty. The kid nodded that it was all right for him to enter, incorrectly deducing the reason for his displeasure. But he knocked and waited for Chris to respond anyway, his mind still on their game. He skittered out of his daze when he noticed the troubled look on the composer’s face, his eyes widening.

“Chris-san?” He tried, moving closer towards the desk, chancing a hand on Chris’s shoulder. Like his second encounter with Sawamura on the street, he took it as a good sign that Chris hadn’t shaken him off. Unlike his experience with Sawamura, however, he wasn’t sure if he could persevere in trying to talk to him if Chris proved to be more unapproachable. He swallowed his uncertainty.

“Chris-san?” He repeated.

Chris got up without a word, led him to the piano. Miyuki, confused yet intrigued, allowed himself to be tugged along, almost as if he were in a dream. He waited on the other side. Studied Chris from across the lid, watched as Chris slid his fingers over the keys, positioned his feet atop the pedals. And as the legendary composer raised his arms, Miyuki held his breath. Felt his heart threaten to beat out of his chest, didn’t know if he would fall unconscious, the trepidation too much for him.

It started with a single note, a tentative one, splattered into a full verse, beckoning like a candle, the image of a darkened hallway and a million doors coming to mind. Miyuki felt chills. It was beautiful and sad and poignant. It was a maze, a labyrinth someone couldn’t get out of. Said person called for help and there was no answer. He closed his eyes, waited on the chorus, crossed his arms as Chris met him there. Flew with the notes as they took him places, shattered through the walls, almost too loud, he was sure the next floors could hear them. They didn’t have words yet, but Miyuki could see them forming. He resisted the urge to hum. But it ended too soon.

“What do you think, Miyuki?” Chris asked him in the aftermath, chin resting in his palms, his hollow gaze unyielding.

Miyuki waited to recover his voice, the words tumbling out before he could begin to think, before he could begin to phrase them properly. He held his arms tighter around himself, the blood viciously coursing through them. He took a step closer, watching Chris watch him. He gritted his teeth, stated, begged.

“I want it.”

**

It had been a month. In between performing at their scheduled gigs, as Ryosuke-san had succinctly informed him that they couldn’t and wouldn’t just drop everything to attend to their difficult collaborator, Miyuki continued to hear it. Couldn’t help hearing the call of that song, the unfinished song about navigating a dark corridor with nothing else but a dying candlelight to guide him. He tapped his foot impatiently inside the elevator, grounding his heels, pointedly ignoring the glares he was receiving from the other residents. He didn’t care. He had to have it. He had to have that song. But it had been a month since that day they’d eaten Sawamura’s shrimp pasta together, and Chris had already missed two meetings with the band. As it was, he still hadn’t met anyone other than Miyuki, though Ryosuke-san had hinted at speaking to him on the phone a few times, no doubt through Yuki-san who seemed agreeable enough, much easier to communicate with at the very least.

He thought back to Kuramochi’s regretful I-told-you-so. He thought back to Zono’s incessant worries, about whether they would make the deadline at the studio, how they needed to record a rough demo of the song as soon as possible. What they would be forced to do if Chris had bolted. Marched the distance between the lift and 18D, muttering to himself that he refused to be treated like a child. And, instead of pressing the buzzer to be let in, Miyuki pounded directly on the door, his knuckles aching as he rapped again and again. And again. Each whack louder than the last. Whipping his glasses off his face (as he had forgone his contact lenses), nearly crushing them in his grasp, he punctuated his strike with a yell. Bit down on the expletive.

“Sawamura, open up!”

Finally, the door clicked, swinging forward to reveal the kid gazing at him questioningly on the other side. He looked like he had just woken up, hair tousled, eyes sheepish, half of his shirt buttons undone, the top sliding off his already bare shoulder. He would have taken a moment to appreciate the sight, if not for his foul mood. Sawamura snapped in attention when he realized who the unannounced caller was.

“Miyuki?”

“Where is he?” Miyuki demanded, shoving him out of the way, careful not to push him too hard. He wasn’t about to take his anger out on the kid, but he couldn’t deny his frustrations either. The kid followed behind him, biting at his lower lip. Miyuki asked him again, checking the study, eyes darting around the living room, searching the terrace, the kitchen. Perhaps Chris had run off and the kid was simply that great at keeping the place spotless. Sawamura pulled at his arm as he turned a random knob in the hallway, ready to open a door he hadn’t entered before. The kid informed him that that was the library, shook his head, Chris wasn’t there, looked terribly uneasy. It took quite a bit of patience for Miyuki to wait until the kid decided to enlighten him. He probably deserved a pat on the back for that.

“Shishou is in his bedroom,” Sawamura admitted in the end, pointing to an oak door further down, past the kitchen, on the left. The lights on that side of the apartment had yet to be switched on, daylight barely able to seep through. Probably so that it wouldn’t garner any attention from unwanted visitors. The door opposite Chris’s, he guessed, was Sawamura’s room, the guest room.

“I don’t have time for this. Lead the way,” Miyuki mumbled, allowing the kid to walk ahead.

They paused in front of the bedroom door, the kid wringing his hands, then playing with the hem of the midnight blue sweater he had hastily dragged from the couch and slipped on. Miyuki could see that he was uncomfortable, that he probably did his best to stay out of the way and not invade Chris’s space unless absolutely he had to. Unless the building was burning or unless it was flooding. Unless the city was ravaged by a zombie apocalypse. Unless it was an emergency. Which this was, he told the kid gently, reassuringly.

At his change in tone, Sawamura nodded. The brave little soldier.

“Shishou? Miyuki is here to see you,” he called out, twisting the knob. He didn’t immediately walk through, politely waited to hear a reply. And, when there was none, he looked to Miyuki for approval before easing the door open slowly. It felt like they were intrepid explorers, inching their way through a forbidden cavern in which a mighty dragon slept, anticipating their arrival, ready to blast them with its hot breath, ready to tear them apart with its sharp talons. It felt like they were about to steal away into the night with a chest of gold and precious jewels, a daring feat which promised a hefty reward if they succeeded. And the most unfortunate, world-shattering punishment if they failed. He resisted the impulse to take the kid’s hand in his, anger momentarily forgotten.

The room was in utter disarray. There were papers everywhere, on the floor, piled on the bed, leading a trail into the bathroom. Random articles of clothing were strewn around as well. Sawamura located an unused hamper in the corner, crouched down, and began shoveling various shirts and pants and boxers into the basket. A household ninja on his own not-so-secret mission. Miyuki left him to that as his attention was on the room’s occupant, slouched forward at a smaller desk than the one in the study, his huddled form covered in a wooly blanket. If he shivered, it would complete the picture. Instead of a frightening dragon, the explorers were faced with a lost, little boy. A lost, little boy who couldn’t seem to catch a break.

Chris’s eyes were bloodshot, his face unshaven, eyes more lifeless than usual, if that was possible. Miyuki peered over his shoulder, saw the same arrangement he had heard last time. His unfished song, still missing a bridge and an ending. And all the words. Even then, he could hear them. Were they considered words when he couldn’t say them yet? Were they considered words if they were still resting on the tip of his tongue? Were they considered words if they were unrealized? He wondered if that was how Chris felt, if that was a demon Chris was battling with at that very moment. He drew the blanket away, reached for the desk lamp and clicked it on. That was when Chris spoke, the shadows under his eyes visible, his voice rough, defeated. Heartbreaking.

“I don’t know if I can finish the song, Miyuki.”

Chris stared up at him, said what he had needed to say. He picked up his mug, a wet ring imprinted beneath it, sighed into his tea, considered the bag, went through the motions, before dunking it back in. His tea was no longer hot. He didn’t seem to mind or care. Miyuki thought to how their roles had been reversed, to how Chris was the desperate one here, pleading for his help. And all he had to do was put the older man out of his misery. Pull the trigger. End both their problems. Tell him that he would move on, that they could put it off until they were in better positions. Until they were ready. If they would ever get there. Miyuki didn’t want to. Felt ashamed that he couldn’t, that he wouldn’t allow the chance slip through his fingers. Cursed at himself for needing and wanting Chris. For his obsession with a song that wasn’t finished. For his obsession with a song that could easily be replaced; only, he didn’t want to replace it. Refused to. That was not an option.

“I said that I wanted it and I’m going to have it, Chris-san,” Miyuki laid a hand on his shoulder, grip loose but solid, steady, “I won’t take no for an answer.”

The man he had admired, the renowned composer didn’t have the strength to respond. He managed a nod, still uncertain, weighing the exchange in his mind. Miyuki turned away from him, found the kid watching them, clutching one of Chris’s ties in his hands. He was shaking, about to cry. In his crumpled, unbuttoned shirt and with the baggy sweater over it, he looked even more like a child. A child with dewy, sunflower eyes. Another lost soul, trying to claw his way out of the dark. Miyuki walked the rest of the way to meet him, placed his hands around Sawamura’s body, held him close, massaged his back, whispered it was going to be all right. Wasn’t sure if he believed it himself, but wanted the kid to.

“It wasn’t like this,” Sawamura spoke after a heartbeat, so softly, it felt like only Miyuki had heard him, “Shishou wasn’t like this before.” Miyuki buried his face in the kid’s hair, inhaling the lingering scent of his shampoo, as he continued: “He loved music. It wasn’t just work to him.” He drew circles across the kid’s back, soothing himself in the process, holding on to that warm feeling, nodding as it spread, “He really, truly loved it.” The kid’s voice skipped, choking back a sob, Miyuki’s hand stilled, “And I want him to love it again.”

He pulled away, hands sliding up to Sawamura’s shoulders, peering down into the kid’s honeyed eyes. He willed the spark to reveal itself, to tell him that the kid wasn’t broken, not yet, set his mouth in a firm line. Watched his own thoughts reflect in the kid’s gaze. Caught a lone tear glide down his cheek. Miyuki wiped it away.

“I believe in you, Chris-san,” he said, facing Sawamura but directing his words to the man behind them. Knew that he was still there, present with them. Knew that he had heard the kid’s wish, and that was something he could count on. He ushered Sawamura towards the door, choosing not to turn around. Opened it, let the kid leave first, before he delivered his ultimatum. One more gamble. One last gamble.

“Let’s give it a week,” Miyuki added, cursing himself, surprised that he could find the words, “If you can’t finish it in a week, if you truly think there’s nothing else you can do, I’ll give up.”

He shut the door behind him, waited for the click, moved away from it. The kid was reaching for a glass of water when he turned the corner into the kitchen. Another glass had already been filled, set out on the dining table with a coaster beneath it. Miyuki took it, gulped the water down, cleared his throat. He announced his intentions, as the kid met his gaze.

“I’m staying here, Sawamura.”

To his credit, the kid understood perfectly, accepted his decision without question. He didn’t even seem taken aback. Miyuki slipped his phone out to make the call, wondering whom he could ask to deliver a change of clothes. He would stop by his apartment tomorrow for full provisions, but for now they had to get through the worst of it. Like waiting for a fever to break. He still wasn’t completely certain that Chris wouldn’t run off in the middle of the night. Chose not to reveal the dark turn his thoughts had taken to Sawamura, who was still studying him from the sink area. He settled on Ryosuke-san, considering his discretion, typed his agent a quick message.

“Shishou used to work with other artists, but they couldn’t make him happy,” Sawamura recalled, suddenly; Miyuki had to check to see if he wasn’t actually coming down with something. He sighed in relief, taking his hand away from the kid’s forehead. Sawamura seemed to be in a daze, a lonesome reverie. “He didn’t like how they performed his songs. He never found the right match. And then, at some point, Shishou stopped looking.”

“Shortly after that, his previous agent betrayed him,” Sawamura continued, brows knitting together, his disapproval obvious, “He gave Shishou’s songs away to other artists for their debuts.” The kid told him that he had kept up with Chris’s career via mail. They had been writing to each other for ages, and eventually switched to e-mailing. Sawamura had graduated from high school when he noticed the change, how Chris had stopped talking about his projects, how Chris had begun replying cryptically, evading any direct inquiries about his life in the city. How Chris seemed to only want to reminisce about the past, when things were simpler, happier. It was a lot of information, a lot of answers which branched out to new questions. But for the moment, Miyuki was satisfied. He kept silent, only reacting when the kid talked about moving his things out of the guest room, it would be impolite to let Miyuki sleep anywhere else.

He tipped the kid’s chin up, smiled, winked.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take the couch.”

**

There were moments when Miyuki knew that it was better to make himself scarce. Although his temporary roommates, as far as he knew, didn’t have a problem with him, and although it generally wasn’t that difficult to stay out of each other’s way, to work on his music in the library while Chris occupied the study or kept to his bedroom, Miyuki knew the two had a special bond. A bond that he couldn’t breach, even if they had tried to include him, even if the kid had gone out of his way to make him feel more welcomed. Even if he had tried to understand Chris through his songs. Sawamura had told him as much one night, when Chris had locked himself inside his room right after dinner.

“You were neighbors?” He stared incredulously, though he should have put two and two together before. Chris wasn’t married, had never been, and didn’t have siblings. Most of his family, including his jet-setting parents, had relocated to America, and there weren’t many of them. So, that crossed out the possibility of them being cousins or distant relatives. And even if there was a small chance he was simply keeping it a secret, well, Sawamura was far too old to be a love-child, no matter how well he played the part.

“Yeah, shishou used to come over to help me study,” Sawamura smiled to himself, settling against the sofa instead of on it, their shoulders lightly touching, their hands inches apart, flat on the carpeted floor. Miyuki could tell that he was thinking back to when they were children, felt he was intruding. Wasn’t sure if he wanted to change the subject to preserve the memory, or to hear more about Chris’s childhood. Wasn’t sure if he was starting to develop masochistic tendencies where the two were concerned.

“I also used to visit and watch him play.” At the image of a younger Chris sitting behind a grand piano, falling in love with music for the first time, Miyuki perked up.

“What was that like?” Miyuki wondered aloud. What had Chris been like? Had he always intended to start with the piano? Had he taken voice lessons in the past? If so, who had taught him? When had he decided to move to the city? When had he decided to pursue his craft? Miyuki didn’t know where to begin. They watched videos together, secret videos Chris probably didn’t want them watching, secret videos he had likely forgotten were stored in the library with extensive collection of his books, videos of the older man in his teens, playing song after song, grinning broadly at whomever was recording. It was probably his dad or Sawamura. Because there were videos of the kid, too, smaller than he was at present, still with that familiar spark in his eyes, running to catch up to Chris, as they sang on the way home from a hike up in the mountains. Videos of Chris and Sawamura blowing out birthday candles together, opening presents together, waving from a boat on a lake.

There were also clips of Chris with Yuki Tetsuya, working in the studio, during and after concerts, clips which the kid had not been present for himself when they were recorded, and so he gazed longingly at the screen. Eyes hungry. Miyuki wished he could be that transparent, that free with his emotions, with his desires. He pulled his knees up to his chest, reached over to ruffle the kid’s hair, caught Sawamura’s hand as he tried to swat him away, held it a bit longer than necessary. The kid seemed to understand what he wanted to ask, what he truly wanted to ask without further explanation. He quirked his head, grinning at Miyuki, sharing in the glow of their mutual admiration.

“Shishou has always loved music.”

“Eijun?” But then, there it was again. Sawamura quickly got to his feet, meeting Chris at the entrance of his study. Miyuki spied the papers lying around the piano, as if a hurricane had passed through. All this work, all this insanity for the one song.

Chris explained that he needed a breather, that he was feeling claustrophobic, that he needed space. More space. Miyuki gathered his wallet, mobile phone, a brown leather jacket. This was one of those moments, one of those moments where he couldn’t seem to get far enough. There was a dip in his confidence, an agonizing feeling in which he knew that he just wasn’t the right fit. That he could only follow them up to a certain point and see for himself that he wasn’t needed, grasping at their heels. The two had a very special bond. A bond he couldn’t breach. It was a circle he wasn’t part of.

“I apologize for the inconvenience,” Chris frowned, his voice low.

“Don’t worry about it!” Sawamura smiled. Miyuki moved for the front door. He was reaching for the knob, when the kid grabbed on to his arm from behind, telling Miyuki that he was coming, too. Don’t leave him behind. He paused, eyes wide. The kid had a way with drawing him back in.

“Miyuki and I will be all right. Just concentrate on the song.”

There was something about this strange arrangement, the way he had invaded their space, the way they had let him in. He knew that it started the day Chris had chosen to reveal his demons, the day Chris had trusted him enough to let him in, to show him that he was human and imperfect and in danger of being dragged under. That he was plagued by the same kind of demons Miyuki sometimes found himself fending off. There was the possibility that it could have been anyone, that he wasn’t the actual focal point of that moment, that it could have been another artist, another bystander, as long as Sawamura had been in the room at the same time, urging Chris forward. But Miyuki chose to believe in timing, that there was a reason it had been him, that he was meant to be in that moment. That he was meant to be standing inside Apartment 18D with Sawamura’s arm linked with his, as if they were long-time friends, as if they were family, promising Chris they would be home when he was ready for them.

They spent the rest of the day talking, about nothing and everything and all the things in between. Sawamura bought him an ice cream cone, two scoops of vanilla with sprinkles. Said that Miyuki could pay him back once the song was finished, once the single was released. He was so sure, so bright, so full of light, it hurt to look at him. It came easily to the kid, Miyuki had observed, to voice the things he wanted to say, to turn those ideas into words, to take his hope and slam it against him. It made Miyuki feel like the kid had gotten under his skin. He had let Sawamura do that, against his better judgement. Because there was no other way to receive him than to do a freefall, arms outstretched, diving into the unknown.

And when they returned, faces flushed from racing to the apartment at the last minute, Chris greeted them with a rare smile, a smile that almost broke his heart all over again: “It’s done.”

**

Chris and Ryosuke-san were watching them from the other side of the glass panel. Miyuki took a steadying breath, willing his nerves away. Everyone else was far more anxious than he was. Kuramochi couldn’t stop fiddling with his guitar, glancing back and forth between the two. The last time Miyuki had seen him act that way, his expression painfully stiff, was when they were in high school, performing for the first time in front of the student body at the summer rock festival. He covered his mouth to hide his grin. Kuramochi caught the movement, was about to snark at him. Ryosuke-san gave him an icy look, however, and that seemed to do the trick. Zono, who was seated behind them, kept dropping one of his sticks and apologizing, exclaimed he didn’t know what was happening to him, his fingers felt like jelly. If Miyuki wasn’t so frazzled, he would have tried to make a joke about it. Nori wasn’t speaking to anyone, checking his keyboard again for the umpteenth time. And Nabe, well, he thankfully wasn’t acting like it was his first time in the booth. Except that he had brought one too many water bottles with him.

The sound technician told them they could start with a dry run, treat it like a random jam session. As he began strumming the notes of the first chorus, Miyuki met Chris’s eyes. Sawamura had informed him over the phone that Chris wasn’t planning to attend the recording, but the kid had convinced him to at the last moment. Basically pushed him out the door. He was thankful for that, thankful to Sawamura. Fairly disappointed in Chris, on the other hand. He wanted to mouth the word ‘coward’ at him, just to get a rise, imagined the kid wagging a finger. Kept his mouth shut. The longer he played, his fingers adjusting, his breathing following suit, the less tension he felt. That feeling carried over to everyone else, and soon they were forming harmonies, meeting each other in the middle, playing on the same wavelength. It was magic.

“Ready when you are,” Kuramochi announced, like he always did for every track. Though they would cut that bit out for the album, Miyuki had already asked for the master copy. Made sure to keep the original recordings, made sure he had in his possession the ones without edits. He enjoyed listening to them, looking back to the conversations the band had before their songs. The audience didn’t usually get to hear Zono or Nori at performances, but they were a real hoot.

He brought his mouth to the microphone, could sense Chris watching him, following his every move, closed his eyes: “This is The Ultimate Rookies performing ‘Lost and Found’, song and lyrics written by Takigawa Chris Yuu.” And then, he signaled for Kuramochi to play him in.

Miyuki saw himself slinking down the corridor, cupping that small crystal of light in his hands, careful to keep it from blowing out. It was a tiny ball of intense flames, burning without a candle to hold it up. He saw himself cover it with his hands, expecting to get burned. He didn’t. He kept walking, searching, knocking at one door after the other. Calling out. Crying out. He was lost and alone and the world was swallowing him up. As Miyuki reached the chorus, he saw an answering glimmer at the end of the path. It had morphed into a tunnel. Someone touched his hand. He couldn’t see them, couldn’t see their face. But there was something about them, something kind, something familiar, something real. He followed them. It was comforting to hear two sets of footfalls, comforting to feel another presence with him.

But the fear wouldn’t let him go. It gripped at him, told him it was better in the dark. Told him, even if he did get out, he couldn’t be sure what he would find on the other side. He saw himself lose his voice, his resolve wavering, saw himself fall over, dropping the crystal. It went out. He panicked, felt around for it, his fingers blistering. But the other presence was still there. They tapped him on the shoulder, pointed to the end. He squinted. They were so close. Miyuki saw himself being supported, helped up to his feet. Felt himself getting pushed forward. He gave chase. He ran, stumbling, but not stopping. It was a while before he realized that the presence was gone and he had already reached the end, his crystal floating next to him, disappearing in the sunlight.

They were perfect on the first take. Miyuki caught the towel Nabe threw at him, muttering a quick thank you. The others were filing out to meet Chris and Ryosuke-san, Kuramochi leading the charge. He watched Zono reach for Chris’s hand, watched them shake, Zono’s face turning a deep red. Watched Nori bow, watched Chris tell him not to, he was the one feeling honored. As he wiped himself off, he greeted Ryosuke-san with a victory sign. Asked the sound technician if they were really good to go, to which the man countered that if Miyuki felt like he needed to change a line or two, they could stay behind. He shook his head.

Later, he heard Chris call his name, followed the older man outside to get some fresh air, an echo sounding in his ears. He knew that Chris wanted to say something, wanted to tell him something important. Felt his palms sweat in anticipation, rubbed them off on his towel. He had been on an adrenaline rush and now he was winding down, the exhaustion resurfacing, hitting him a hundredfold.

“What is it, Chris-san?” Miyuki smiled gamely, though he couldn’t help feeling breathless. Absently, he turned to study the vending machine beside them, dropping some coins in for a bottle of cold tea. He considered asking Chris if he wanted anything, but couldn’t get the words out. His heart was pounding so loudly, he was sure Chris could hear it. He contemplated asking about Sawamura, wondered what the kid was up to. Looked up at the sky.

“I’d like to work with your band on the full album,” Chris replied evenly, his eyes, if possible, brighter, his gaze certain, “if you’ll have me.” He didn’t look the least bit embarrassed. Miyuki dropped his bottle, watched helplessly as it rolled away,

**

He had discovered that Chris wasn’t a bad cook. He was definitely better than everyone in the band, including Miyuki. As he held his plate out for another helping of stuffed pork chops, Sawamura threw him a disbelieving look. Chris obliged, flattered, stacking two more pieces for him, cream cheese and spinach oozing out of the crevices. Miyuki swore he could very well keep eating until his stomach exploded. It would be a lovely way to die. The kid kicked him underneath the table, mouthing ‘ass-kisser’ before turning away. Miyuki kicked him back, teasingly asking if Sawamura could please pass him the mashed potatoes. The kid relented, probably because Chris had asked him what was wrong, was he feeling sick, did he not like the food.

Shortly after dinner, Chris retired to his bedroom, promising Miyuki that he would finish the rest of the songs soon. This had become something of a pattern. Miyuki was at the apartment often to informally check on Chris’s progress, and while he usually arrived a little past noon, he also frequently stayed until it was dark outside and Chris worried about sending him home so late, fearing he would miss his train. Or something worse could happen. Personally, he liked that his relationship with Chris had taken a turn. He liked seeing Chris smile, liked seeing Chris’s face light up, liked watching for that glimmer, liked hearing Chris laugh. Mildly enjoyed competing with Sawamura over who could make Chris laugh the most. And, so far, they were tied. Which Miyuki knew was a miscount, because the kid had probably chosen not to include the times before now. The times before he had come crashing into their lives, demanding that Chris collaborate with The Ultimate Rookies.

It had been nearly half a year since then, and they were three songs down, the rest waiting in post-production. Chris had mentioned that he wanted to cap it off at twelve songs, which was, again, more than the band had expected or bargained for. Miyuki wasn’t sure if he had done the right thing by letting Chris call the shots. Their contract, which Yuki-san had drawn up after Chris’s declaration outside the studio, had listed six. It was almost like living in a dream, one where things couldn’t go wrong. Though that was probably tempting fate. Ryosuke-san predicted that they would have their album out by the following quarter, and everyone was hard at work to meet that deadline. There was also talk about releasing an EP, which Kuramochi had suggested, to get the fans hyped for their comeback. For Chris’s comeback as well. Miyuki imagined that, once word got out, artists would be lining up to work with him again. Wondered what Chris would do then.

He was examining one of the unfinished tracks, ‘Leave Me A Sign’, tapping a pen against his cheek, absorbed in his musings, when Miyuki felt the kid’s presence behind him, lingering, uncertain. He didn’t need to turn around, merely reached up and pulled Sawamura directly to his side, tumbling him over, the couch dipping gently to accommodate the kid’s added weight. He studied the kid out of the corner of his eye, watched him fidget, watched him frown to himself. Miyuki sighed. If Sawamura wasn’t going to tell him what was on his mind, he wouldn’t be able to help. But he had learned a while back that all he had to do was wait. If Sawamura had something he needed to get off his chest, it would come out sooner or later.

“I’m thinking of getting my own place.” It was a gust of wind, swishing in his ears. Somehow, one of them had forgotten that they had left a window open. Maybe one of the bay windows to the balcony, as he was starting to get chills. Either that or his mind was playing tricks on him. Dangerous tricks. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to play along. He dropped the pen, gave the kid his full attention, chose his words carefully, decidedly.

“I can’t imagine Chris-san is onboard with that idea,” Miyuki replied, caressing the kid’s cheek, trying to read his expression. There was doubt there, and fear, and a slight bit of confusion. There was, also, inevitably, that stubborn spark, that sharp look in his golden eyes which told Miyuki that the kid was serious. That he had thought about it, weighed his options, let them sit in his head until he could no longer ignore them. That it was probably going to end in heartbreak. Possibly Chris’s heartbreak. Miyuki understood that, understood what that felt like. He resisted the urge to shake the kid, shake some sense into him.

“It’s not an idea. I’m doing it, Miyuki,” Sawamura said, once again jumping ahead, leaning into his touch, searching Miyuki’s eyes as well, mirroring him, “Shishou doesn’t know yet, so please don’t tell him.” It was unnerving, how quickly the kid could pick up his mannerisms. How easily the kid could learn to manipulate him, if he wasn’t already doing that. It was upsetting, unsettling how those eyes could do weird things to his insides, twist him about, how those eyes could get past his defenses, how those eyes took him places he didn’t want to go. Except, he did want to go, a little voice whispered in Miyuki’s head. All he had to do was accept it, let himself fall. He shook the voice off. Told the kid they could talk about it again next time, his head was pounding, it must’ve been the beer.

**

Chris invited him out, away from the apartment, two weeks after the kid had packed his bags. He didn’t have all that many possessions; it hadn’t taken him long to vacate his room. By the looks of things and the sound of Chris’s voice over the phone, he wasn’t taking the change very well. He was slipping, too, Miyuki gathered, façade of indifference abandoned completely. He watched the older man slouch forward, like a drunken uncle at a wedding, sloshing his sake everywhere. Felt grateful that they had thought to reserve a private room, because he couldn’t bear to have anyone else see Chris like that. He reached for the cup and patted Chris on the back, pulling his jacket off of him. He asked Chris if he wanted to remove his scarf as well, his face was too red, his eyes swimming.

“What could I have told him?” Chris asked dejectedly, undoing the maroon scarf himself. He threw it against the wall, fixed Miyuki with a glare, yielded within seconds. They had come a long way from Chris being able to intimidate Miyuki with his eyes. Of course, there were moments when Miyuki still felt that spine-tingling chill, wondered if he should prostrate himself or beg for forgiveness, or do both simultaneously. But, more often than not, those moments and those looks were directed at someone else. Someone who didn’t know the legendary Takigawa Chris Yuu as well as Miyuki did.

“For what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing,” Miyuki replied, consoling him. He took a sip of his own sake, allowed it to permeate, watched his glasses fog up with condensation. Took them off, wiped them with the hem of his shirt. He settled in his seat, glancing out into the traditional garden, admiring the landscape. The sakura petals had just started to fall and they were covering everything in pink. Miyuki wasn’t particularly fond of the sight, but he knew that the kid was probably enjoying it wherever he was. Enjoying it without them. With other people. He frowned. Caught himself. Directed his gaze back to his companion.

“I didn’t want to. I wanted him to stay,” Chris sighed, going off into his own world. He was staring out into the garden as well, stretching his arm in front of him, extending it through the window, catching petals with his fingertips, “But he needs his own space.”

“He’s not a child, Chris-san. He’ll be fine,” Miyuki nodded, believing in his words. How ironic. Truthfully, admittedly, Sawamura was the one who had been taking care of them. Long before their little makeshift family had come to be, the kid had been whacking hypothetical burglars with frying pans, preparing meals for wayward souls, and picking up after slovenly blocked writers. He had been doing those things for them up until the moment he had left, decided they could finally take care of themselves. Thought perhaps that he was Mary Poppins, off to use his skills elsewhere. Miyuki chuckled at the thought. The kid had also found him, and reached out to him when he had most needed a guiding light. Had taken a chance on him and had brought him to Chris when he had been about to abandon his ambitions. Miyuki took another sip, contemplated. Wondered what Sawamura was doing. That was when he got an idea.

“If it really bothers you that much,” he said, catching Chris’s attention, “I can check up on him for you.”

“Would you, Miyuki?” Chris smiled, gathering himself. He had lost some of the redness, his neck already back to its original color.

“Of course!” Miyuki offered him more water, offered to pour it into his glass for him. The older man obliged. They continued to watch the sakura in silence, their spirits lifted.

**

There were plenty of things Sawamura could do quite well with his mouth. Miyuki recalled the times he had seen that mouth twist into a disappointed frown or a disgusted scowl. The times he had witnessed that mouth stretch into an all-consuming laugh or a wide grin or a pleased smile. The times he had heard the most outrageous words come out of that mouth, without filter, without fear of the repercussions. Sometimes, in fact, the words that came out of that mouth were uttered without a care either, without a second thought that any innocent passerby might decide to call the police – and for good reason.

“You shithead! At least turn the volume down when you’re watching porn!” He stopped in his tracks, checking to see if he had gotten the address right. Glancing up at the 2B made of brass on the door in front of him, Miyuki hesitated then sighed, knocked three times. He waited, hearing a crash on the other side, a lid hitting tiles, the sound of feet racing to the foyer. Inhaled deeply. Let it out.

“Complain all you want. I know you listen in on purpose, cherry boy.” He heard someone answer, yell from the next room. It sounded like it was a boy who was the same age as Sawamura. Or at least someone who spoke the kid’s language. The thought made the corners of his mouth curve, knowing the kid had made a new friend so quickly. Chris had worried about that, worried that, because Sawamura was still relatively new to the city, he wouldn’t be able to make any friends. Miyuki had waved Chris off at the time, arguing that it had already been five months, that the kid was easygoing enough as it was, he would likely be able to get along with anyone, no problem. But then Chris had mentioned it was probably because the kid had taken to him so well, and that that wasn’t an accurate bar to base his conclusions on.

The door opened, a projectile hurtling outward missed his left ear, their eyes met.

“Miyuki? What’re you doing here?”

He raised a hand in greeting, gestured to the plastic bag he was carrying in his other. A cold sweat dripped down his temple, his smile a little too tight. He didn’t want to ask. That was way too close for comfort. He didn’t want to ask. The kid could take a person’s eye out. He didn’t want to ask, but Miyuki felt that he needed to, being the kid’s senior and all, his guardian by default. He pointed to the wooden baseball bat on the floor, innocently rolling to and fro. Sawamura scoffed, told him that the bothersome thing belonged to his rude, noisy neighbor. A kid named Todoroki Raichi, who had moved in before he did. Told him that said neighbor used the bat to exercise in the mornings, and that he had stolen it in retribution for the eggplants he had been trying to grow on his balcony. Complained that they were at each other’s throats all the time, because Raichi pigheadedly refused to respect boundaries.

Sawamura caught the look of dread on his face and conceded. Told him not to worry, steered him inside. The kid repeated his question, curiously trying to peer into the bag. Miyuki decided they would tackle the conundrum known as Todoroki Raichi another time. He happily took the first step in, following closely behind the kid’s retreating form.

“Thought you might be lonely,” he winked, rustling the contents of the bag for good measure. “So, I brought some booze to celebrate your move.”

Sawamura delighted at that, pointed out the kitchen area for him. Said it was his favorite part of the room. Miyuki dryly commented that he wasn’t surprised. He looked around, praying he wouldn’t see any bloodstains on the walls; Chris would have fainted. The apartment was modest but neat. The foyer opened into a living area which already included a kitchenette. There was a couch on one end, facing the center of the room, and there was a dining table next to the kitchen island, angled away from a second door. He assumed that door led to the bedroom. There weren’t any photos displayed – they would have to remedy that in the future – but he noted that the fridge was packed. You can never have too much butter. Miyuki nodded approvingly.

“You should give Chris-san a call sometime. He’s worried about you,” he reminded as he lined the beer cans on one shelf, moving other containers aside. He placed the bottle of whisky on the counter, and went about looking for glasses. Stopped when he noticed that the kid had yet to reply. Miyuki chanced a glance at him, still standing in the center of the room, mulling over his statement as if it were a problem. He imagined how pleased Chris would be to receive a phone call, wondered why the kid seemed apprehensive about it. Was about to ask.

“I will when I’m settled,” Sawamura muttered, catching his eye, halting the words on the tip of his tongue.

“Aren’t you?” He asked, finding the glasses in a cupboard next to the refrigerator, carrying them over to the island as well. The kid opened another cabinet, slid three large bags of chips out and joined him at the counter.

“I’m still looking for work.”

“Don’t stress yourself out too much, okay?” He smiled, reaching for the kid’s shoulder, redirecting abruptly to tip him by the chin, those molten eyes beckoning him closer. Miyuki had missed looking into them, had missed searching for that liquid spark, flecks of amber mixing with gold in waves. It reminded him of pancake syrup, glossy and thick and sweet. He licked his lips, could almost taste it. Realized what he was doing. Backed away. Sawamura followed his movements, matched his strides as if they were dancing an achingly slow tango. The room began to spin. He could almost hear the music, closed his eyes, willed it off. Still, Sawamura advanced towards him. A wolverine with its prey in sight.

They popped open their first cans of beer, laughed together as they lounged by the island, daring each other to sit down, betting one or the other could last longer, could keep standing. Miyuki remembered that he had to do a final check tomorrow at the studio, had to listen to the finished tracks they had decided to include on the EP. He told Sawamura that and watched the kid’s eyes light up like it was Christmas morning. There were times when he was unreadable, times when Miyuki looked at him and wondered what was going on in his head, what could possibly be going on in his head, couldn’t even begin to untangle the countless threads. There were, also, times when Sawamura was as clear as the day, so very transparent with his feelings and thoughts. All Miyuki had to do was ask.

He didn’t know how it happened, but they found themselves on the floor, between Sawamura’s couch and the dinner table. The kid mentioned that he would eventually move the table towards the front of the room, halfway into the kitchen. Miyuki offered to help him. The kid said it was fine, he would do it himself, that he meant he would do it later, when he had figured out if he wanted a new bed. So, he had to leave an ample amount of space to drag the old one out. That made Miyuki think of the bedroom, in a haze of intoxication, because by then they had consumed all the beer and moved on to the whisky. It was, in hindsight, probably a bad idea. Or a good one, depending on how you looked at it.

“Miyuki, you’re heavy,” Sawamura breathed, grabbing him by the collar. He tried to move, winced when he felt his neck crack, his muscles spasming. He propped himself up using the cushions, his legs slipping through the front skirt. The brat was still hanging on to him, arms around his neck, too heavy for Miyuki to maneuver them both into better positions. He settled on pulling himself on to the couch, taking Sawamura with him, pivoting their bodies until he had flipped them over. Miyuki guided his head and laid it down, allowing it to rest on an upholstered arm, the throw pillows pressing into the kid’s back.

“Better?” He asked, affectionately dragging the kid’s hair to one side, watching it fall back into place. Sawamura looked up at him, smiled, the light reaching all the way into his eyes. That smile was probably Miyuki’s undoing. He was moving before he had time to think about it, before he had time to question his actions. He had one hand on the back of the couch, supporting his weight, the other on Sawamura’s shoulder, easing his unbuttoned collar apart. Miyuki closed his eyes. Moved his hand downward, pawed at the hem of Sawamura’s shirt, lifted it over his head, feeling the heat of the kid’s skin beneath his fingertips. Their breaths mingled, Sawamura’s lips pressed against his, tentatively at first, softly. And then furiously the next second, opening, tongue sliding out to meet his.

“Yeah, perfect,” Sawamura mouthed, littering kisses across his cheek, down his neck, stopping to suck at the bend where neck met shoulder. The brat bit down, teeth scraping, bruising, he would likely leave a mark. Miyuki groaned, intending to punish him for that, pulling him up by his arms, nibbling at his lower lip. The kid’s hands were already on his jeans, yanking the zipper down.

There were plenty of things Sawamura could do quite well with his mouth. Sucking him off was one of them. Miyuki was ready to burst, couldn’t keep from grasping his head, holding Sawamura steady. The kid followed his lead, dragging his fingers up Miyuki’s thighs, stopping to feel around for his ass. Squeezed it. He slumped forward as he came, felt the brat’s throat tighten around him. Gasped when Sawamura wouldn’t stop there. His appetite was insatiable, Miyuki learned, and he was notably far from being a cherry boy.

As they spooned in the aftermath, the kid’s body nestled in his arms, Miyuki was roused awake when he heard Sawamura call out to him. It was a staggered, desperate plea. He was probably having a nightmare. Miyuki stroked the kid’s arm, whispered it was all right, he was safe, he was home. They were together, he cooed, no one would harm him. The kid whimpered again. Miyuki’s eyelids fluttered.

It took him a few seconds to come back to himself, to realize that, in actuality, it wasn’t his name on Sawamura’s lips, after all. That he was saying ‘shishou’ over and over again, nearly sobbing into the nearest pillow. Miyuki, sobering up, didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know what to think. Simply held him close, buried his nose in the kid’s hair. Inhaled the citrusy scent of his shampoo. Wished that he could lull himself back to sleep, wished that he could make the kid forget. Settled on listening to the night.

**

They had voted and agreed on calling their EP “Awakening”. A month in, The Ultimate Rookies was still coasting on the charts, included in both the Japan Hot 100 and J1 Top 40 lists. Ryosuke-san had taken them out to dinner, had promised that they were going to be extremely busy in the coming months, and hoped that they were ready for that. The glint in his eyes, however, hadn’t been able to mask the challenge. He knew they were ready, knew that they had talked about wanting exactly that. It was now or never. Their time had come, hard work had paid off. And now all they had to do was ride the momentum to the finish line. What was important to Miyuki, in spite of the changes and the whirlwind success, was that Chris was enjoying the release party. He sidled up next to the older man, gamely offering him a cocktail.

“What do you think, Chris-san?”

“It’s a great change of pace,” Chris acknowledged, surveying the venue. Rather than the guest of honor, he looked more like the hotel manager, decked out in his pristine suit sans a tie, making up for it with his steely gaze. No one else had dared to approach him yet. Miyuki chuckled. He appreciated that Chris had opted to complete his outfit with a checkered scarf hanging loosely around his neck, something of a trademark, which also lent his ensemble a casually rugged appeal. Not that that would help anyone, as the man looked to be out for blood. Miyuki spied a pop trio Kuramochi had introduced him to earlier try to inch closer, their heels clicking, hesitating, hoping to mingle with the great Takigawa Chris Yuu. Said brilliant composer was already looking the other way, didn’t even notice. He shook his head.

“Do you think he’ll show up?” Chris asked him, suddenly. There was no need to clarify. Miyuki took a sip from his own glass, momentarily lost in his thoughts. He and Sawamura hadn’t really spoken since his visit, though he had received a text message that the kid was coming. Truthfully, he had been planning to invite the kid to the party himself, but Chris had beaten him to it. Miyuki didn’t really mind, of course. He swallowed, felt the burn.

Instead of answering Chris verbally, Miyuki pointed the kid out in the crowd, had immediately noticed his messy hair and enthusiastic form bobbing toward them through the throngs of people. Waved him over. Sawamura was sporting a sky-blue polo shirt, brown slacks, and suede boots. He, likewise, wore a comfy grey jacket over his shoulders. The kid noticed Miyuki looking him over from top to bottom, checking him out, dared him to make a snide comment. Was ready to pounce back if he decided to. Miyuki wasn’t, quirked a brow. Lifted his drink to salute the kid.

“Eijun, how is your new apartment?”

That perplexed him. He was surprised to hear that Chris hadn’t yet been invited over, assumed that it wouldn’t have taken long for the kid to do so. He listened to them catch up, listened to Sawamura explain that the place wasn’t ready yet, that he would have Chris over for dinner when it was. Listened to Chris add that they should have Miyuki join them as well. Watched as the kid’s eyes met his, piercingly, before they zoomed back to focus on the older man between them. As the music echoed about them, too loud for them to make any real conversation, he saw the kid tap Chris on the shoulder, saw him gesture to the lobby outside.

“Can we talk over there for a second?”

Miyuki excused himself, said he was going to the washroom, indirectly reassuring them not to worry about him, he would be fine, he could look after himself. Sawamura muttered a quick thank you. Miyuki had intended to greet a few people. He passed along the aisles, scanned the groups around him. And said hello to artists he knew, said hello to some he didn’t. Skirted having to play nice with Furuya Satoshi, who was suspiciously sharing a toast with Ryosuke-san and Kuramochi. Zono pulled him over for photos with a runway model, made the introductions, started on an old ski trip story. He quickly extracted himself and took a shot with Nabe and Nori instead.

It was nearly an hour later when he found Chris and Sawamura again, still in the lobby, the kid’s back to him as he turned the corner. In the movies, what usually happened was the third individual hid himself and eavesdropped. It was a critical moment in the plot, albeit a masterfully clichéd one. Fortunately, this wasn’t a movie. Miyuki knitted his brows, saw the way Sawamura had begun to fidget, looking like a library representative trying to converse with the most popular jock for the first time. Balled his hands into fists. Cursed himself softly. But, damn, if it wasn’t a crucial moment.

“Shishou, I… I’m really happy that you’ve returned to your music,” the kid gushed, wearing his candy-coated heart on his sleeves, “I’ve always been a fan.”

Sawamura had never looked at him that way, Miyuki thought, ruefully. Had never gazed as deeply into his eyes, with all the trust in the world. He had witnessed so many intense expressions on that face, had met the kid head on, stubbornly, time and time again. Had looked forward to battling with him as an equal, unafraid that he would be judged for making mistakes. It was refreshing and humbling and changing him. But it was different, Miyuki realized. It was different when he knew what love looked like, when he could see it so clearly reflected in the kid’s eyes while he was resting in Chris’s arms. The safest place. Sawamura’s safest place.

He supposed it was some kind of miserable consolation that Chris himself couldn’t see it. Or, if he could, that he was choosing to ignore it, choosing to gloss over it.

“You’re more than a fan, Eijun,” Chris smiled, correcting him, squeezing the kid’s shoulders. He reached up to take him by the cheeks, to drive the point home.

“You’re my family.”

**

Miyuki had received the news before Chris decided to invite him out. He had been having lunch with Kuramochi on a cloudy afternoon, chowing down furiously on his turkey sub, when Ryosuke-san had pulled a seat up between them, his fingers, for a moment, pausing on the guitarist’s waist. Miyuki had looked away to give them some privacy, which amused their agent to no end. In response to that, as if to annoy him further, Ryosuke-san had taken a bashful Kuramochi by the cheek and brushed a kiss on his forehead. Miyuki had laughed dryly, told them they were bastards. And then Ryosuke-san had gone right for it, dropped the bomb.

“How long will you be out of the country, Chris-san?” Miyuki asked, scanning the shelves in Chris’s library. The composer had inquired if he could zip over to the apartment really quick. Had told him that he needed help cleaning out the rooms. Miyuki knew it was an excuse, knew that someone else – like a household ninja maybe – would have been a better choice. But he had been happy to be included anyway, promised he would be right over. He had even thought to bring some empty boxes with him.

“A couple of months, I think,” Chris mused, frowning, “I’ll try to be home as soon as I can.”

They talked about Zaizen Naoyuki, another artist who had switched agencies, an artist Chris had worked with once before. An artist Chris didn’t necessarily like, though Miyuki could tell the older man admired him, admired his work at least. They talked about how Zaizen had been trying to contact Chris before Sawamura arrived, about how awful his timing had been, how reckless he had always been. About how Chris was thinking of calling him back. Zaizen, it turned out, was touring around the world at present. Miyuki mused that Chris might even run into him. Chris laughed, said that that would be a strange stroke of luck.

“I think you should enjoy yourself.” Miyuki dragged his fingers across a row of DVDs, some of them labelled with dates, some with short vague descriptions. Christmas with the Sawamuras, Camping with Eijun, The Lost Puppy. Admittedly, he had tried to memorize them before, had tried to commit them to memory, the same way Sawamura had, hoped that one day those dates would be more familiar to him, more personal to him. Actually hoped that he would join the row eventually, add to it, their paths interlacing. He shook his head, took a dusty stack of mystery novels from Chris’s arms. There would be time. Time to do just that when Chris returned, time to make some of his own memories with the kid. Time, he argued with himself, to make memories with the kid and Chris.

“Thank you, Miyuki,” Chris smiled, fixing him with a warm gaze. He smiled back easily, enjoying the silence after.

He should have seen it coming. Should have counted from one to twenty. Like clockwork. The two were going to make a mess of him. In fact, they already had. He didn’t know who was worse.

“Could you look in on Eijun for me while I’m gone?”

Miyuki sighed, exasperated, like it should have been obvious. Wanted to shake the older man, rattle the brain inside that irritatingly dense head. Wondered what would happen if he did. Chris was being silly.

“You don’t even have to ask.”

**

Sawamura had prepared grilled salmon for dinner. His stomach was already grumbling before the kid pulled the pan off the stove. He twirled his fingers around the checkered ribbon of the kid’s apron, asked if it had been given to him as a gift. Or if it had belonged to Sawamura’s mom. The kid blew him a raspberry, griped that it was none of his fucking business. Warned him that if he didn’t sit still, he wouldn’t be getting any rice; that he probably needed to lose some weight anyway. Miyuki growled at that, grabbed the kid by the waist, poked him thoroughly, hitting all the right spots. Sawamura crumpled to the ground, the kid’s weight resting on top of him.

They, of course, managed to save the salmon. It had come at a price. Sawamura handed him the utensils over their plates, sulkily asked if he wanted a napkin, pouted because the meal was getting cold. He slid the asparagus over to Miyuki before hearing him ask for any. Miyuki hummed, digging in.

“He asked me if I wanted to go with him,” the kid said, mulling over his food. Miyuki kept a blank face, took the pitcher of lemonade between them, and poured himself a glass after offering one to Sawamura first.

“Why didn’t you?” He countered, playing along, managing to keep his tone disinterested.

“Why would I? I can’t keep depending on him.” He had found that the kid had something of a hang-up where Chris was concerned. Had found that it was funny and maddening and positively irritating how the two obviously cared about each other a great deal, yet couldn’t seem to accept that it was a mutual feeling. Almost like they were purposely rubbing it in his face. But Miyuki knew that they were just fools. Useless lovestruck fools. That even if they didn’t need to worry about imposing, they would. Would allow the thought to tangle up in their brains, drive them crazy, until it bubbled outward. Or consumed them. That it was part of their bond. A bond he was beginning to understand. A bond he, nevertheless, wasn’t a part of. A good friend would have pointed it out by now. Would have thoughtfully told them that they were running around in circles, that it was a pointless battle. Miyuki considered himself a good friend, but he wasn’t going to do that.

“I work at a convenience store nearby now,” Sawamura informed him, changing the subject. Miyuki caught his curious eyes, knew that the kid was watching him eat, gauging his expressions. Wondering if he was enjoying the meal, filing the information away, even if he acted like he didn’t care one bit what Miyuki liked. It flattered him, did wonderful, dizzying things for his ego.

“How’s that going?”

“Kanemaru thinks I’m an idiot. But I’ll get him to warm up to me soon.” The kid told him about his co-worker. Complained that he was getting bullied, wondered aloud if he should tell the manager. But he sort of liked that Kanemaru always called him out on his bullshit. Remedied his initial impression and determined that Kanemaru was a good person all the same. Miyuki had known that the kid would make friends easily. Smiled as Sawamura enumerated the ways he would go about winning this Kanemaru over. Mused that the unknown co-worker was either very lucky, or very unlucky. He wasn’t sure which.

They were strolling down the street, a few blocks away from the kid’s apartment, Miyuki’s hands in his pockets, Sawamura’s arm laced in his, when Kuramochi spotted them. He had been whistling as he exited a club. Miyuki remembered that he had talked about attending some gigs around town, realized he must have lost track of time, lost track of the dates. He was beginning to spend all his spare time with Sawamura. Surprised himself by not feeling the least bit guilty about it.

“Heya! Sawamura, right?” Kuramochi grinned, reaching for the kid’s hand, “Miyuki talks about you a lot.”

At that, the kid’s cheeks reddened. He momentarily looked to the ground, then listened as Kuramochi began talking about all sorts of random things. About The Ultimate Rookies, about Ryosuke-san, about how he and Miyuki had met in high school, how they hadn’t liked each other at first but fell in together anyway. About their first concerts, their ridiculous fashion choices early in their careers. His friend was good at that, Miyuki knew. Good at making people feel at ease, good at drowning out their misgivings. Good at setting the mood.

“Why don’t you come watch one of our next gigs? We’ll be playing the new tracks,” Kuramochi said excitedly, taking a flier from his pocket. Sawamura promised he would, glanced at Miyuki, probably wondering why Miyuki hadn’t mentioned it before.

He told the kid that he was planning to before he left, later, as they lounged in Sawamura’s bed, the kid’s knee peeking out at an angle from beneath the blanket. Sawamura wouldn’t believe him, rolled off to his side, took more of the sheets with him. Miyuki felt the cool air on his chest, reached over and wrestled with the brat until he was on top of him, grinding their waists in time to a song only they could hear. He whispered in Sawamura’s ear, told him he was sorry, that he should have mentioned it sooner. The brat was having none of it, digging his fingers into Miyuki’s back, leaning up to bite his shoulder, arm, nipple. He locked his legs around Miyuki’s torso, squeezed.

Miyuki groaned, proclaimed miserably that he was a fool, that he really was sorry, that he couldn’t take it if Sawamura stayed miffed at him. Knew the brat probably figured he was just spouting out whatever he needed to, whatever he had to so that they would finish. But the truth was Miyuki did think he was a fool. He was a fool, too. A hardheaded, masochistic fool. He knew better than to get involved, knew better than to wedge himself between them. Knew better than to hope and want more. Need more. Still, sometimes, the best people in the world were fools, that incessantly resilient voice in his head told him. And, in any case, they would be fools together.

**

The first time Miyuki met Todoroki Raichi in person was after he had walked Sawamura home from a gig. He had closed the door to 2B behind him, began humming to himself, when his senses told him that he was being watched. He tucked the precious key Sawamura had given him into his pocket. Turned to his left, cocked his head, tried his best to remain unfazed.

“Hey,” the kid nodded curtly, arms crossed. He was leaning against his doorframe, studying Miyuki pensively, like a hawk. It reminded him of Sawamura, of the first time they had met, the Cheshire Cat’s hound-like twin in the dark of Chris’s apartment. There were some slight yet significant differences though. For one, unlike Sawamura, the kid smelled of the city’s underbelly. Not literally. He smelled of back-alley fistfights and unfortunate run-ins with the police. Of harsh breezes by the side of a river, of a standoff which would take place beneath a bridge. He looked a little bit like he was the son of a prominent yakuza member, a cross-shaped scar on his face, hazel eyes reflecting a maniacal glint. The only thing he was lacking was his trusty wooden baseball bat. It was a direct contrast to Sawamura’s golden spark, one which reminded Miyuki of the sun and the clearest blue sky and the tussle of early morning trains. He wondered if he was simply imaging all of it, the vibrant, almost draining colors which had descended upon his life the minute he had met Sawamura. Wondered if he had begun to warp his own reality, to match that of the hellion’s.

“Raichi, right?” He shifted, yearned for a cigarette, a way to keep his hands busy.

“Eijun’s the most annoying neighbor in the whole world,” Todoroki Raichi huffed, scratching his chin, turning away from Miyuki’s face after he had looked his fill, “but he’s a good guy.”

Miyuki didn’t know what to say. The kid had caught him completely, irrevocably off-guard. He gave himself a pat on the back for having enough of his wits about him to say okay, in as flippantly a manner as he could muster. Sauntered past the kid and made a beeline for the stairs. As he placed a hand on the railing, however, the kid delivered another punch. Right to his gut.

“If you’re planning to play around with him, it’d be better if you stayed away.”

**

He answered the phone on the third ring. Nearly tipped the base unit over, but caught it before the machine hit the floor. Dragged the handset up to his ear, felt around for his glasses, mumbled incoherently. He had forgotten to check the display, as he usually did; otherwise, he would have known who was on the other end. Would have gathered his bearings sooner.

“Miyuki?”

He pinched the bridge of his nose, slid one leg and then the other out from underneath his blanket. He felt an involuntary shiver as his feet landed on the ground, heels first, toes wiggling. Spied his shirt wedged against the corner of his side table, toed it towards him, yawning. He snatched the garment up, thought better of it and pressed the button on the speaker instead. Chris’s voice came through, soothingly low, repeating his name.

“I’m here. What’s up?” Miyuki replied, stretching his arms, massaging them. Lazily counting the bruises, the ones he could see at least, his fingers gliding across them. He had a new one on his elbow, another on his left wrist, more on his stomach, on his hips, on his thighs. He clucked his tongue, wondered if he should start wearing watches and wristbands more often. Wondered if he would have to stop changing in front of Kuramochi and the others for a while.

“Would you happen to know if Eijun is out of town right now?”

He blinked, twisted to his side, felt around for a shoulder, found a warm back facing his way instead. Miyuki gently shook the kid awake, noting quite proudly that he had left dozens of marks as well, scattered in places Sawamura probably wouldn’t notice until he was told. Until someone pointed them out. Until, possibly, someone else saw them, brought them to the kid’s attention, asked him where they had come from. The kid’s face would flare up like a stoplight. The thought excited him.

“What do you mean?”

Sawamura yawned, rubbing his eyes. Was about to ask him if anything was wrong. Hadn’t yet registered that Miyuki was speaking to Chris over the speaker. The kid probably suffered from low blood pressure in the mornings. Or it could be, he glanced at the digital clock on the other side of the bed for confirmation, because they had barely gotten five hours of sleep. Miyuki ruffled his hair affectionately, leaned over to plant a kiss on his lips, sliding his tongue across Sawamura’s bottom lip, begging for entrance. Couldn’t help himself.

“I’ve tried calling his apartment and he’s not answering. He isn’t picking up his mobile either.”

At that, the kid jumped, shoving at his chest. Sawamura’s eyes dancing wildly, alarmed. He silently, animatedly gestured that he couldn’t find his clothes, where were they, dragged the sheets with him. Couldn’t wrap them around himself quick enough, his naked body still on display. Miyuki, help me! The kid dropped them, tripped on them as he tried again to cover up. Knocked his phone off of the edge of the bed in the process, the device clattering on the floor. Chris asked what that sound was. Sawamura froze. As if the man could see them, see him. Miyuki stood up.

“I’ll ask around. I think I have his co-worker’s number.”

His gaze darkened. He disconnected before Chris could properly answer, before he heard an answer. Moved the rest of the way, circled the bed, caught the brat in his arms, slid his lips against a flushed earlobe, dipped his tongue out to taste, bit down lightly. Sawamura gasped, his hands exploring Miyuki’s torso, muscles bunching beneath his fingers. The brat leaned forward, left kisses across his chest, sucked on a hardened nipple. Eased back to survey his handiwork, eyes ravenous. Miyuki moaned, told him to stop it, reached for the band of Sawamura’s underwear. Realized belatedly that he wasn’t wearing any. Cussed. Carried the smirking hellion back to bed.

**

“Sawamura, over here,” Miyuki waved him over, stopping himself from whistling at the sight of the kid in tastefully ripped jeans and a black Ultimate Rookies shirt. The brat had neglected to mention that he’d bought one and Miyuki couldn’t recall seeing it in his closet. It was a pleasantly endearing surprise. He wanted very badly to bend him over and kiss his breath away.

“Did you have any trouble finding my apartment?” He asked, settling for a quick hug, the kid’s arms automatically encircling his shoulders.

“Nah, the directions you gave were perfect,” Sawamura responded, grinning, “And I would have figured it out; you did take me there the other week.” He reached into his right pocket, absently inquired about Miyuki’s day, reported that he’d had scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, had considerately thought to restock Miyuki’s fridge while he was there. Miyuki teased him about buying too much butter. The kid simply gave him a look, knew that he didn’t mean it.

“Here’s your key back,” he said, holding it out for Miyuki to receive.

He closed his fingers around the kid’s palm. Lingered, gazing into Sawamura’s eyes, drowning himself in amber, in molten lava. It would be a wonderful, blissful way to die.

“You can hang on to it.”

“Miyuki?” He saw his agent walking towards them, felt the kid inch closer to him, warily trying to decide whether Ryosuke-san was a friend or foe. Forgot that Miyuki had pointed him out at the release party, had stood with him on stage, thanking the crowd for being there to celebrate their success. It was adorable, Miyuki smiled. Adorable how the kid sometimes acted like a guard dog, impulsively barking, jumping in without thinking about the repercussions, bravely fending off his demons, lifting his shield above them both, an impish prince with a frying pan and his technicolored heart on his sleeves.

“Ryosuke-san, this is Sawamura,” Miyuki reminded, placing his hand on the kid’s shoulder.

“It’s great to finally meet you,” Ryosuke-san chuckled, following his lead. He had not realized that the man wasn’t alone. A child with bobbed hair, bangs falling over his eyes, peeked from behind him, clutching on to Ryosuke-san’s jacket for dear life. Miyuki had never met him before, had only heard about him in Ryosuke-san and Kuramochi’s stories, but he could hazard a guess. The shape of the child’s face, the color of his hair, a bright bubblegum pink, gave him away.

“This is my younger brother, Haruichi,” Ryosuke-san introduced, more for Sawamura than for Miyuki’s benefit. That made Sawamura’s ears perk, his expression change, delighted that he could possibly make a new friend closer to his age. It didn’t take him long to enthusiastically shake Haruichi’s hand, ask him where he was from, had he graduated from high school, what his hobbies were.

Miyuki watched the two interact as he and Ryosuke-san discussed recording schedules for the upcoming months. They had the other half of the album to work on still, alongside the promotion of “Awakening”, while Yuki-san had received the sheet music for “We’ll Make This Last Forever” and “Figure You Out” that morning. Chris was as productive as ever, even if he was half a world away, matching their pace. At the sound of the composer’s name being mentioned, Sawamura looked to him, catching his eye. There was a twinkle there, that familiarly dangerous, soul-crushing spark. His mouth immediately felt dry.

It hit him then, a single note, two, a budding wave-like melody which grew until it was a verse, until it had a solid chorus. Until it hit the shore, spraying him in the face. And it refused to stop there. Refused to let up, refused to be ignored. He reached for his phone, steadied his hand. Ryosuke-san was accustomed to seeing that look on his face, ventured that he had something on his mind, something important. Miyuki nodded, called out that he would be returning to the studio, rushing away, trying not to look back. He didn’t want to face Sawamura. Not yet. Not until he had extracted everything and began practicing it, testing it out on his guitar.

**

Miyuki didn’t know why exactly, but he was nervous. It was reminiscent of the first time he had gotten into the booth, of the first time he had tried playing in the studio. That session had been for an unplugged version of The Ultimate Rookies’ pioneer single, “Into Your Hurricane”, the song which had put them on the map. It hadn’t been as much of a success as “Lost and Found”, but it had stayed on the charts long enough to get them noticed. It was also the song he thought back to whenever he needed to steel himself, whenever he needed to remember that all he had to do was trust in his music, trust in his voice.

“What do you think?” He scanned their faces, fiddled with his guitar, rested it on his lap, the strap connecting it to his body, like a safety net or a security blanket.

“Not bad,” Nabe commented, playing his part on the bridge, getting used to it, playing it again. Zono sat down and began practicing the beat, switched it up when he got to the chorus. Miyuki thought that they could work that in, needed to check to see if the entire song would hold, unclipped his pen so that he could scrawl his notes on his copy, added arrows and rhythmic cues.

“Is it about anything in particular?” Kuramochi asked, setting his guitar up, testing the sound on the amplifier.

The truth was Miyuki wasn’t sure. While he had images in his head, they faded in and out, not as concrete as the other songs. He would have to wait until Chris returned to confer with him about it, knew that Chris would probably have suggestions on the timing and buildup. He was still nervous. He wanted to get as much done as possible before he showed the song to Chris, before he had Chris over to listen to it.

“I’m not set on the lyrics yet, but I do have some in mind,” he answered vaguely, and that was enough for the others. Enough for now. Ryosuke-san tapped on the glass in the control room, informed them that their lunch had arrived. No one got up, all of them still pouring over the harmony.

**

It had been ages since they were all at Chris’s apartment. Sawamura had offered to prepare dinner to celebrate his homecoming: laid out a tossed salad, homemade burgers, and crème brulée. Chris had been all too happy to let him take the lead, had busied himself by cleaning out his study and bedroom. The hamper had been proudly filled to the brim with clothes. They had watched the kid bustle about in the kitchen, as if he had never moved out, his movements practiced, clearly familiar. Chris had left everything the way it was. Miyuki recalled the times he had chatted with Sawamura by the counter, as the kid teased him with the ingredients, waving marinated meat in his face, giving him a whiff of cream-based sauce, dangling prawns underneath his nose. He chuckled, settling into the mood, catching Sawamura’s eye as he popped plate after plate out of the oven.

They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. That was new. While Chris had excused himself, to change his attire for the occasion, Sawamura had sidled up to Miyuki on the couch, coquettishly straddled his lap, grinded into him, held on to him for support as he pushed back, banging their mouths together. It was a feverish dream. His hands were beneath Sawamura’s shirt, lifting it, bunching it up as he went along. The brat was breathing into his neck, reaching for his fly. He covered Sawamura’s hand with his own, reminded him that they were at Chris’s place, that they couldn’t do that here. Softened at the brat’s pout, though he understood, came back to himself. Lamented that he didn’t know what had come over him, blamed Miyuki for his behavior, of course.

It was as they clinked their glasses together, beer sloshing over, dripping on to his sleeve, when Miyuki felt it. Felt that familiar sting, wondered if he should prostrate himself, or check to see him Todoroki Raichi had somehow followed his scent and broken in. He knew Chris was watching them, watching him most of all, his expression unreadable. It didn’t help that Sawamura had dozed off at his side, fingers clutching on to the hem of his sweater. Chris stood, lifted the kid easily, towering over the both of them, and transferred Sawamura to the couch. He paused, turned to regard Miyuki warily. It had been a while since he’d seen that look.

“What’s going on, Miyuki?”

He jumped at the sound of Chris’s voice, even if he had expected it. It was likely because he had begun to doze off, carrying the look on Sawamura’s face with him, allowing it to lull him into a false sense of security. But at the moment, with Chris’s pointed stare on him like a poised dagger, almost accusing, he felt very much like a stranger again, out of place inside the apartment he had begun to think of as his second home.

He decided to say the first thing on his mind, the truest thing. Spilled his guts, watched them fall to the floor, wishing the carpet would swirl around him, form a pit, transform into quicksand, and swallow him whole.

“There was a time, you know,” he whispered, “when I was convinced that these feelings for you would be the death of me, Chris-san.”

There was a heartbeat, definitely his, threatening to thump out of his chest; it was making him sick. There was a heartbeat, maybe two, his breathing heavy, echoing in his ears, before Chris responded.

“And now?”

“And now,” he repeated, swallowing, “I’ve seen something different. I’ve found… something more.” He set his glass down, thought about it, searched for his paperboard coaster, found it hiding beneath an empty bag of potato chips. Flipped the coaster on to its dry side. Placed his glass on it. “I have something more. Something more important to me than anything else I have in my life. Something I want to protect.”

He imagined caressing the kid’s cheek, imagined himself leaning down, planting kisses on his forehead, eyelids, his nose. Imagined pressing their mouths together. Knew Sawamura would kiss him back, even if he were half asleep, would fold right into his arms, had gotten used to the sensation of being cradled there. It almost made him want to cry. How had he gotten so lucky? Why had Sawamura chosen to take a chance on him? Seen through his bullshit, his bravado, his greed? Accepted all that about him and still stayed by side?

“Someone I want to protect,” he finished. Someone he couldn’t let go off, no matter how uncertain the future was, no matter what the kid decided. He wasn’t going to let go. Never.

“Eijun is in love with you,” Chris intoned, following his gaze, looked down at the kid. Stroked his cheek. Miyuki wanted to tell him to keep his hands to himself, kept his mouth shut. Scolded himself for having such dark thoughts, and about Chris no less. But then—

“I don’t know if something different or something more is enough, Miyuki,” Chris fired another bullet, the blow hitting him in the chest, “You need to think about this, really think about this.”

“Chris-san, I…” He watched the man he had long admired shake his head, close his eyes, the pain on his face evident. He couldn’t begin to understand it, didn’t know where to start to unravel the threads. Only knew that they both cared about Sawamura, so fucking much, more than the brat would ever know.

“I won’t tolerate anyone hurting him, Miyuki.”

He stood up, collected his belongings, slipped his phone into his back pocket. Met Chris’s eyes over the coffee table. He watched Chris watching him, walked to the front door, trudged out into the night. Before he heard the soft hitch behind him, however, he had to set things straight. Had to have Chris know.

“I don’t think I could tolerate that either.”

He looked up at the moon.

**

Miyuki was hunched over his guitar the next time Chris found him. He and Kuramochi had been discussing the arrangement for their new song, when Ryosuke-san strolled in, mentioned that Chris was in the studio, looked to be preparing to record. He felt that it was a challenge, knowing that Chris had finally decided to try releasing his own music again. Would have been pleased, cheering him on if this had happened months ago, had he not realized that they would be competing with each other now, in more ways than one. Threw his sheet music at the wall, listened to Kuramochi tell the others to leave him alone, it wasn’t a good day, they should give him some space. He heard the measured footsteps approaching him, could somehow tell who it was without looking up, waved him off, exhaustion building.

Chris drew a seat out next to him, a rustling sound signaling that the legendary composer had thought to pick up his papers for him, treating him like a child. Miyuki sighed.

“It’s coming together, but I don’t think I’ve got it yet,” He admitted, slowly, fixing his bloodshot eyes on Chris’s face, hating how put-together he was in contrast, in his violet scarf and grey coat, sitting tall, his back straight, gaze clear. Chris continued to study him, continued to press into him, still testing him, trying his nerves. Beneath the pressure, however, Miyuki could tell somehow that he was concerned, that Chris had come to check on him, that Chris had come to help him. It was ridiculous and cruel and beautiful, in a way only Chris could be.

“What do you think? Any ideas?” He conceded, nodded towards his song, the crumpled sheets. Chris followed the notes, mouthed the words, grip tightening. He watched Chris read through it again and again. Until he was satisfied. Until Chris had looked up once more and quelled the demons inside him with a smile, a true reassuring smile. The light in it reached his eyes.

“I think you should call all the shots on this one, Miyuki,” he said, “Your lyrics, your arrangement, your melody. You don’t need me.”

He considered those words, searched them. Found the spark. Held it, embraced it, allowed it to sizzle, imagined it spitting cinders. He set it aside and watched Chris offer him a hand. There was nothing else for him to do, nothing else for him think. He took it. Got to his feet. Asked the older man if he wanted a bottle of cold tea. It was his treat.

“Thank you, Chris-san.”

**

Their fingers collided above the soy sauce, Sawamura’s gaze following him from across the table. Miyuki grinned, motioning for him to go ahead. Beneath the kotatsu, he could feel Sawamura’s toes tapping on his outstretched leg, pressing down it, making it spasm. He playfully kicked the brat off. It didn’t matter, Sawamura’s toes found their way back to him within seconds. A needle scratching the same point on a skipping record, their wound up duet playing over and over again. He had long since acknowledged that this was the brat’s way of letting him know that he wanted to feel Miyuki’s body heat. That Sawamura needed some part of their bodies touching as frequently as they could manage. It would have been invasive, if not for the fact that Miyuki had begun to feel the slight chill as well, that strangely pronounced absence when they weren’t at least back to back beneath the covers. He preferred it, of course, when they were chest to chest.

“Have you told Chris-san yet?” He asked as Sawamura plopped another salmon roll into his mouth. The brat hummed in response, reaching for his beer. Miyuki chuckled, “And what did he say?”

“Shishou was pleased,” Sawamura replied, setting his empty glass back on the table, “He said that teaching would suit me.” A slight flush dusted his cheeks, possibly because he was recalling how Chris had reacted to the news. Miyuki knew how much he valued Chris’s opinions, admitted to himself that he valued them as well, but couldn’t help the challenging glint in his eyes.

“Now that you’re going back to school, he won’t get to see you as often.”

Sawamura responded automatically, failing to notice him reach beneath the blanket, yanking at the brat’s ankle: “I can still drop by his place whenever I’m—,” his golden eyes widened, “Ahhh! Hey!” He yelled as Miyuki dragged him under. For all his complaining, for all his profanities, there wasn’t much resistance. It didn’t take long to pull him out on the other side, his legs spread and propped above Miyuki’s waist. The brat’s hair was a wild mess; Miyuki reached up to tenderly pick at a stray thread tangled in it.

“I could have hit my head, you jackass,” Sawamura hissed against the shell of his ear, breath warm, wet, wonderful. Miyuki trailed his hands beneath the brat’s shirt, fingers tracing circles on his back. “Miyuki, wait!”

“Can you reach for the stereo? Turn it on,” he said, exhaling against the exposed skin of Sawamura’s stomach, planting kiss after kiss, nip after nip. Miyuki felt him grab a chunk of hair near the nape of his own neck, his other hand on Miyuki’s shoulder for support, swaying into him.

“W-What the fuck?”

“Just do it,” he urged, throwing Sawamura’s shirt to the side, the garment hitting the window.

He had already switched to the right station while the brat was in the bathroom getting ready. Zaizen Naoyuki’s latest single, one which had been co-written with Takigawa Chris Yuu, was on its first, maybe second chorus. He drew Sawamura down, their mouths meeting in the middle. Wondered when it would be the right moment to ask if the brat ever wanted to learn how to do a strip tease. Wondered if he would get clobbered for his trouble. He would probably pout, win the brat over as he always did. It would be their little secret.

“What’re you up to?” Sawamura bit down on his lower lip. Miyuki held him in place, their foreheads touching.

“Our next single is debuting tonight,” Miyuki closed his eyes, surrendering to the sensations, “It’s actually one of the last songs we finished for the album.”

“You’re releasing it before ‘The World Without You’ and ‘Take Me Back Home’?” Sawamura’s tone softened, his confusion apparent.

“Yeah, it had to be this one and it had to be this month,” Miyuki answered, digging his fingers in deeper, they were sure to leave marks. “It’s a song I wrote and composed without Chris-san.”

“What’s it called?”

He saw himself pausing by the crack of an unlocked door, saw himself peer into it, felt the welcoming breeze beckon him over, saw himself venture inside. He told himself it would be better to wait for the owner to come home, but curiosity got the better of him. He was a daring explorer, and this was a game of chance. He was slinking through a hallway, his arms outstretched in front of him, feeling for the walls, nearly slipping. And then he saw it, a glimmer in the dark. A spark he knew so very well. The sun blazing upon him, enveloping him in its intense warmth, taking him on a journey.

“Miyuki?”

He saw himself on a field next, dandelions blowing all around him. Searched for a distinct patch, a secret path in which he tumbled forward into a pocket next to a lake. And across that lake was another field, a smaller one, a field of sunflowers, rising up to greet the dawn, the tiny cavern holding him up as if he were in the palm of a mighty giant’s hand. He saw dragons flying above him, waved at them from where he stood. Saw a once-lonesome child huddled on his right, wiping his tears away, helped him get to his feet.

“It’s called, ’I See The Sun’,” Miyuki smiled, opening his eyes to meet Sawamura’s gaze. The DJ announced that it was a song which signaled new beginnings, a song which was produced to mark a one-year anniversary, but then that was all she knew and the listeners would have to guess what kind of occasion it was exactly. Miyuki cupped Sawamura’s cheeks, studying his reaction as their song began to play.

“What do you think?” He asked, three minutes later, as Raichi started pounding on the wall adjacent, yelling that they should learn to keep it down, learn to respect his privacy, he was trying to watch his damn porn.

“Not bad,” Sawamura grinned, his tone light, casual. A little too casual. Miyuki readied his forefinger, readied to poke him until he cried out, begged him to stop.

Not bad at all.

~ OWARI