It all happened because Bad Luck was touring.
Shuichi wanted to keep in touch with Eiri, but he knew Eiri was bad about maintaining contact. Eiri wasn't a particularly sociable person to begin with, and making an effort at anything other than writing, sex, and cooking (sometimes) was foreign to him. So Shuichi used his cell phone to send e-mails and photos so he wouldn't interrupt Eiri's writing. He called sometimes too, but those tended to be planned; he would let Eiri know he'd be calling at a certain time so Eiri would be available and expecting his phone call. He would have been thrilled beyond belief if Eiri called him, but he wasn't counting on it.
After their Okinawa show, he sent Eiri a video clip of the song he thought had sounded the best and a short message: "Fanz were gr8. Miss u."
Eiri sent him a text that read: "Outfit 2 skimpy. And can't u spell? Miss u2", which could mean that Eiri missed him as well or that Eiri was nostalgic for Bono and The Edge. He figured it was him Eiri missed though; he'd never mentioned liking U2 and he had never heard him listen to their music.
As for the skimpiness of the outfit: that was a matter of long-running disagreement among him, Eiri, Tohma, and Yumiko, Bad Luck's stylist. Tohma and Yumiko argued that the less clothing he wore and the more skin he showed, the more the fans liked it. Using this logic, he should appear onstage in the buff, but he refrained from pointing this out. He also felt this policy gave their fans too little credit. They weren't all horny stalkers eager to impale themselves on his body. At least he hoped not. However, K backed Tohma and Yumiko up on this point, so skimpy clothing was the order of the day.
He examined the outfit in question critically and had to admit that it wasn't what he would pick if it were up to him. Black leather straps with silver buckles wrapped around his torso in a "Y" formation. A matching strap circled the base of his throat. The straps on his torso were attached to black leather short shorts. Short links of metal chain fastened at each end to the waistline of the shorts clinked when he moved. Tight red nylon bike shorts underneath completed the outfit, thankfully preventing his butt cheeks from being exposed the way they would have had he been wearing the leather shorts by themselves. It was an outfit that screamed "Tie me up and fuck me", which on reflection maybe was not the message he wanted to convey to his fans.
He missed Eiri terribly. He missed seeing him. He missed talking to him, even though much of their conversations were one-sided; sometimes he was lucky to get a grunt in response. He missed watching him type or making dinner or drinking beer or doing any of the other myriad things Eiri did every day. He missed curling up next to him in bed and cuddling next to him. Most of all he missed having sex with him.
He was fairly certain Eiri missed having sex with him, too. They'd been together long enough that he no longer feared that Eiri was sleeping with someone else while he was gone. Eiri was probably taking matters into his own hands when he wasn't working on his latest book.
But Shuichi wanted whatever fantasizing Eiri did while jerking off to be about him, so he decided to do something rather risqué and, in retrospect, probably not very smart: he took a nude photo of himself and e-mailed it to his lover.
Eiri's reaction was not what he expected. Instead of gratitude, he got the following message:
What were you thinking, shit-for-brains? Don't you realize the internet can be hacked and that this image could be circulating among your fans and enemies this very minute?
I appreciate the thought, but DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!
Shuichi hoped Eiri was wrong about that. It would be embarrassing for him to suffer the public exposure circulation of the photograph would bring.
The next day, Shuichi noticed K giving him a funny look as he walked down the hotel hallway to get some ice. Once he was back in his room, his cell phone rang. The ringtone, set to a song he detested, alerted him that the call was from Tohma Seguchi, one of his least favorite people. Shuichi sighed and braced himself. A call from Seguchi was never good news. What had he done this time?
Thinking that the call had something to do with the tour, he flipped the phone open and pressed "send". "Shuichi here," he said.
"Shindou-san?" Tohma responded. "Where are you?"
"In my room," Shuichi said, puzzled.
"Good," Tohma said. "Stay there. Don't move."
"What's going on?"
"A photograph of you is showing up on internet porn sites," Tohma informed him. "I assume it's a digital composite of a headshot of you and someone else's body."
Shuichi sighed inaudibly. Eiri's warning was coming true. Before he spoke to Tohma about it, he needed to speak to Eiri. If it were possible, he wanted his lover to jump on the next plane and meet him, but even if it weren't, Eiri was more level-headed about such things than he was, plus he'd have a better idea of what to tell and not tell Seguchi.
"That's terrible," Shuichi said. "Look, I was on the phone with someone else when you called. Can I call you right back?"
"It's very important that we talk," Tohma said, but he let Shuichi hang up for the moment. He had an inkling that the news had floored the little pain in the ass and that at this very moment he was dialing Eiri for guidance. Tohma had already phoned Eiri and told him what was going on. Eiri was furious but also on a deadline, so he'd had to go back to his writing.
Shuichi hoped that Eiri would answer the phone if he were at home instead of letting it go to voicemail. Sometimes he deliberately failed to pick up but more often it was because he was so focused on his manuscript that he didn't notice the phone ringing. "Pick up, pick up, pick up," the singer muttered as the phone rang. Damn. It was going into voicemail instead. Almost before the beep ended, he bawled, "Yuki, you were right to be mad. Tohma told me that the photo I sent you is circulating on the internet—"
He didn't get a chance to say anything more as the phone receiver at the other end was hastily snatched up and Eiri said, "Calm down, damn it." However, since this was said in a noticeably tense voice, it didn't have the desired effect.
"Yuuki," Shuichi howled, "can you please come here? I really need you."
"You moron, you know I have a book due in two days. I can't drop everything and fly to your rescue."
"Tohma is going to kill me," Shuichi said. "What should I tell him? He thinks it's a composite but you and I know it's not."
"Have you seen it?" Eiri asked.
"No," Shuichi admitted.
"Then don't assume it's the photo you sent me. I've seen it. It is a composite."
"Whaaat? But that's too much of a coincidence! How can that be?"
"You should take a look. It'd be better than my trying to describe it to you."
"But I left my laptop at home," Shuichi wailed.
Eiri paused to contemplate this fresh example of Shuichi's idiocy "What the fuck did you do that for?" he asked.
"Well..." Shuichi dodged the question. He kept his laptop in the spare room that had been his refuge when Eiri was upset with him. Now that it was no longer needed so much and was used mainly for storage, he tended to forget what was in it except when he needed to look for his clothes. Truth be told, he usually used Eiri's laptop behind his back.
Eiri gave up on waiting for Shuichi to answer. "Doesn't anyone in your group have one?"
"Yeah, Suguru and Hiro have them. Maybe I can borrow Hiro's. I can explain this to him without embarrassing myself too much. But why can't I look for it on my phone? I have internet access."
Eiri cleared his throat and said, "You won't be able to appreciate the differences between the photo on the internet and the one you sent me if you use your phone to look at it."
Shuichi wondered what Eiri meant but was too embarrassed about the whole topic to ask about it. Besides, Eiri would probably refuse to tell him. He got a kick out of keeping Shuichi guessing sometimes.
Instead, he said, "I'm supposed to call Tohma back right away. What do I tell him?"
"Don't tell him anything yet. He already told me about the picture on the internet. I told him I had no idea what it was about and got the web addresses from him so I could look at it myself. Ask him for the web addresses when you call him back. Sorry, Shuichi, I have to get back to work."
The connection broke off and although he hadn't had a chance to say good-bye properly, Shuichi was nevertheless thrilled that Eiri had called him by his name.
He quickly called Tohma back. "Tohma Seguchi's office," a female voice said. Oh shit, Shuichi thought. Things were bad enough that Tohma made his assistant come to the office on the weekend.
"Shuichi Shindou calling. Can I speak to him, please?"
"Seguchi-san is expecting your call. I'll put you right through."
Tohma's voice almost overlapped with the last word his assistant spoke. "Thank you for calling back so promptly."
Shuichi couldn't tell if he was being sincere or sarcastic. He was such a two-faced bastard, it was hard to tell. "Of course. It's a matter of great importance."
"So how did this picture get out on the internet?"
Shuichi temporized. "I, uh, don't know, sir." It wasn't really lying if he had no idea how it got there.
"Uh – wouldn't it be better if we spoke after I looked at it myself? Then I can talk to you about it more intelligently."
Tohma chuckled. Shuichi could almost hear Tohma thinking how absurd it was for him to think that looking at the picture would enable him to talk about anything more intelligently. He knew that Tohma thought of him as a nitwit with a nice singing voice.
"You make a good point. Go take a look and then call me back." After he gave him the web addresses, they exchanged polite good-byes and hung up.
Shuichi called Hiro's room. No answer. He called Suguru's room. No answer.
Shuichi wanted to go looking for them but he realized that the media might be camped out nearby, maybe even inside the hotel itself. He had learned from Eiri's coming-out party that when surrounded by sharks, one should stay inside the castle and on the other side of the moat. If he'd stayed inside in the apartment then as he'd been instructed, Eiri wouldn't have revealed that they were lovers, they wouldn't have become the darlings of celebrity 'journalists', and they would still have their privacy. Or at least more privacy than they had now.
Shuichi tried calling their cell phones. Hiro's rang but nobody picked up. He hit paydirt when he tried Suguru's. He was in the hotel bar with Hiro, who hadn't answered because he'd been in the men's room.
"Can you bring your laptop to my room?" Shuichi asked nervously.
"Why don't you join us? You can come to my room to use my laptop afterwards," Suguru said.
"I-I'm sorry," Shuichi stuttered, "but it's really important and you have to come to my room now!" His voice got louder and higher-pitched as he talked. "S-something really bad has happened—"
He heard the phone being passed to Hiro and Suguru saying disgustedly, "He's all wound up and I can't understand him. He's your friend. You talk to him."
"Hey, Shuichi," Hiro said when he got on the phone. "What's going on?" His voice was gentler and more understanding than Suguru's. Suguru had merely sounded annoyed. Hiro sounded like he cared about what was bothering him.
"Oh, Hiro! You don't know what kind of trouble I've gotten myself into!" Shuichi wailed.
"Does it have to do with Eiri Yuki? Has he been mean to you again?" Hiro asked.
"No, nothing like that."
"Well, c'mon, tell me."
Shuichi bit his lip. Hiro was his best friend and he knew he could trust him with just about anything, but it was still an embarrassing topic to bring up.
He started cautiously. "You know how I miss Yuki so much when we're on tour and how he's got a book due so he can't come see us?"
"Uh-huh, "Hiro said, not sure what this had to do with whatever was bothering Shuichi so much.
"Remember how I send him e-mails with pictures from our concerts?"
"Uh-huh." When would his friend get to the point?
"Well, I took a picture of myself and sent it to him, and now there's a picture of me circulating on the internet. Yuki says it's a composite, but I need to look at it for myself."
Hiro whistled. "Is it the type of picture I think it is?"
Shuichi said huffily, "Yes, if you're thinking it's a naughty naked picture."
Hiro started laughing. He knew Shuichi would be mad but he couldn't help it.
"Damn it, Hiro! Some loyal freaking friend you are to laugh at me! How would you feel if it was you? Huh? Huh?"
Hiro stifled his laughter with difficulty. "I can see where that would cause problems," he said cautiously.
"No kidding! Anyway, Tohma's on a tear about it and I put him off by telling him I need to look at the picture first. Could you bring a laptop to my room please?"
"Sure, Shuichi. I'll be there right away."
"And be careful. If Tohma knows, so does the media, and they could be lying in wait anywhere."
"I'll be careful. See you soon," Hiro said, and hung up, handing the phone back to his bandmate.
"What's up?" Suguru asked as he pocketed the phone.
Hiro leaned over and whispered, "Nude photos of Shuichi have shown up on the internet and he wants to look at them before he talks to Tohma about it."
Suguru rolled his eyes. "So he wants to borrow one of our laptops?"
"Yeah, that's the idea," Hiro said. "Look, I think he'll be more comfortable if I show up without you. The media's onto the story, though. Maybe we should both get out of here."
Suguru looked at the drink he'd been nursing. He tipped it up and drank the rest of it in one gulp, almost choking on it. "He certainly causes enough trouble. Let's go."
Hiro left a tip for the bartender and followed Suguru out of the bar.
As they exited, they looked around cautiously. They could see a gaggle of reporters, photographers and videographers surrounding the doormen outside the front door of the hotel. It looked like hotel security had joined them as well. Shit. They were already under siege.
They looked in the opposite direction, where the elevator banks were. The coast looked clear, so they started walking toward the elevators.
As they did, a reporter and a cameraman darted out from a side hall. Since he was known as the band's spokesperson, the reporter stuck a microphone under Hiro's nose while the cameraman stood back far enough to fit all three of them on the screen.
"Nakano-san! Misa Ayano from Japan News Network," she said. "What's the band's reaction to the latest news?"
Instead of looking at the reporter, Hiro was looking at Suguru, hoping that he was observant enough to notice that he was counting beats and intuitive enough to realize that he planned to run for the stairs on the downbeat. In the meantime, he played dumb and asked, "What news?"
On the count of 'one', Hiro took off like a shot. He heard steps behind him. Looking back, he saw Suguru trailing him, huffing and puffing.
The reporter froze in shock. Her skinny high heels with the pointy toes and her tight skirt made it nearly impossible to run after them. The cameraman wasn't in much better shape; he was hauling around one of those clunky older cameras instead of a smaller digital one. Disgusted, they turned around and made their way toward the lobby.
Hiro didn't trust them, nor did he trust that no other news crews were camped out in the hotel, so he paused only long enough to let Suguru catch up to him. The two of them veered off to the stairwell and dashed up the stairs to the eighth floor where they were staying.
Luckily, it was a secure floor requiring a keycard for entry. Hiro swiped his card to open the door. K and a grim-faced tour security guard were in the hallway guarding their rooms. K nodded at them briefly.
"I'm taking my laptop to Shuichi's room," Hiro told him.
"Oh. Is this about the photo?" K asked.
"Yes," Hiro replied. K nodded again, seemingly relieved at not having to explain what was going on. "This way, Shuichi can look at the photos before speaking to Seguchi-san about how to handle the situation."
Suguru, still huffing and puffing – he didn't get much exercise outside of the physical effort involved in playing keyboards – said, "Do you still want me to stay out, or do you need me for support?"
"Let me go there by myself first. If we need your help, I'll give you a call."
"Okay," Suguru said, and he disappeared into his room.
Hiro sighed, swiped his card to gain entrance to his room, and walked over to the table where his laptop was sitting. He closed it and walked out of the room, letting the door swing shut until he heard the 'click' that meant it was locked. He nodded to K again and walked down the hallway to Shuichi's room.
It took a long time for the door to open after he'd knocked. He heard tumblers and locks being disengaged. Probably Shuichi was being extra cautious.
The door swung open. He could barely see Shuichi, who nearly hidden behind the door but briefly peeked around the edge of the door straining to see who was in the hallway. "It's just K and one of the security guards – Toshiro, I think. The floor's secure and there are no news crews up here," Hiro told him.
"Did you see any of them around?" Shuichi asked apprehensively.
"There were some just outside the front door, and Suguru and I ran into a news crew on our way to the elevators, but we dodged them and ran up the stairs."
"So you haven't spoken to them?"
"Not in any meaningful way."
"What does that mean?"
"The reporter asked what the band's reaction was to the latest news and I asked her 'What news?' Even though I knew what she meant, why make it easy for them?"
"Wait – what reporter was it?"
"Oh, that nosy bitch Ayano. You know her."
Shuichi nodded. They'd all had run-ins with her. She was a determined shark with a bite. "Oh crap. What a mess."
Hiro put an arm around him briefly, then set his laptop down on the table. He quickly set it up and got the internet connection going.
"What's the web address?" he asked.
The photo had shown up on three websites: www.nakedcelebrity.jp, www.badlucksucks.jp, and www.shuichiandyuki4ever.jp. But before they went looking for the pictures, Shuichi wanted to show Hiro the original picture and explain what had happened. "You know how much Yuki and I miss each other when we're on tour?" he said shame-facedly.
"And how he's likely to relieve himself when I'm not there? I'm sure he doesn't cheat on me when I'm gone."
Hiro smiled. "You don't have to be coy," he said. "I assume that Yuki-san jerks off while you're gone. After all, the two of you have quite an… active sex life, and he's not someone who tolerates frustration well."
"Anyway, I want him to think of me when he…does it, so I sent him a picture I took with my cell phone. I know this is embarrassing, but let me show you the picture."
He pressed some buttons on his cell phone and a picture popped up of him wearing a big grin and nothing else. He was standing with one arm to the side and his hand outside the frame of the picture; presumably that was the hand that held the cell phone when the photograph was taken. The other hand was wrapped around the base of his erect penis.
Other than the grin, the erection, and the slightly suggestive pose, with his knees bent and legs separated to better display the object of attention, the picture was unremarkable. Hiro presumed that Shuichi had done some jerking off of his own after taking the picture but didn't inquire.
"Impressive," he remarked. Shuichi whacked him in the arm, but they'd been friends for a long time; it wasn't the first time he'd seen Shuichi's penis. It wasn't even the first time he'd seen it erect. As teens, they occasionally looked at girly magazines together while beating off. They'd even gone so far once as to give each other hand jobs, but that was the extent of it. Shuichi had told Eiri this many times, but the man still harbored suspicions that they'd been more than friends, although his own initial experiences with Shuichi should have convinced him otherwise.
Shuichi sat in front of the laptop and quickly typed in the first web address, leaving the cell phone in front of him for quick comparison. The picture appeared slowly, almost as if it were unscrolling. Both men let out a hiss of disbelief once the entire photograph appeared before them in all its glory. Naked celebrities indeed.
The head and body were clearly Shuichi's from the photograph, but the penis most definitely was not. It was noticeably longer and had a cock ring at the base underneath the hand. A slave collar had been added around the neck along with matching cuffs. The collar closely resembled some Shuichi wore onstage; Shuichi swore under his breath, not having realized the potential significance of what he wore and the message it might convey.
There was faint writing on a metal plaque on the collar. Hiro, whose eyes and knowledge of kanji were better than his friend's, enlarged the shot and squinted. At the greatest enlargement factor that still kept the writing in focus, it looked like it said "Property of Eiri Yuki". Someone had put a lot of effort into making it look like Eiri had given Shuichi a slave collar.
Hiro took over at the laptop as Shuichi had put his head down on the table and had begun to cry. With one hand on Shuichi's back to keep him from sobbing uncontrollably, Hiro used his other hand to type and click his way to the next site, the one dedicated to the proposition that Bad Luck sucked. It turned out that the photograph on this site was the same as the first. Underneath was a caption: "Not only does he suck, but he's Eiri Yuki's sex slave".
Ugh, Hiro thought. In a totally different sense, it was true. As best he understood it, Shuichi virtually never turned the man down and he'd never objected to anything Eiri had asked of him, although as far as Hiro knew it didn't encompass anything more extreme than Shuichi wearing his sister's school uniform, which was Shuichi's idea, not Eiri's.
He looked at his friend, who'd buried his face in his crossed arms. "Cheer up, Shuichi," he said, "this one's just the same as the other one."
Shuichi jerked his head up briefly to take a look, sobbed when he saw the caption, and quickly dropped his head back down.
Hiro moved on to the last website. The picture was the same as the others but the caption read "Shindou-san declares he belongs to his Yuki-san forever". At least the caption was not as offensive. He elbowed Shuichi to take a look, which he did. A ghost of a smile spread over his face at the sentiment until his head sank back to the table.
"What's the matter?" Hiro asked him. Shuichi looked so disconsolate that Hiro kept his hand on his back even though he felt a little weird about it. Yuki-san would definitely be jealous if he saw Hiro touching and comforting his Shu-chan this way, no matter how innocent or well-intentioned Hiro's actions were.
Shuichi's body started heaving, wracked with sobs. Hiro pushed Shuichi's hair behind his left ear, out of his face, and curled his left arm around his friend. "Shuichi?" he said tentatively. "What's wrong?"
His friend continued to sob uncontrollably, his tears moistening the table, his shirt and his arms. Hiro didn't know what to do other than to continue to hold him and whisper "It's okay, Shu, everything's going to be all right" over and over again.
A knock on the door made both of them jump. Hiro walked over to the door and peered out the peephole. Once he saw it was Suguru and K, he opened the door to let them in.
"He's taking it pretty hard, isn't he?" K said sympathetically.
"Yeah," Hiro replied. However, the entrance of two additional people seemed to have a beneficial effect. Shuichi started to pull himself together. Even though he was gulping and gasping and wiping the tears out of his eyes, at least he was no longer hunched over with his head on the table.
K walked over to Shuichi and knelt so he could look at him more or less eye to eye. Just as he was about to speak, the phone rang. Since he was closest, Hiro picked it up and said, "Hello?"
On the other end of the phone Tohma said, "Moshi moshi, Nakano-san. Has Shindou-san looked at the photographs yet?"
"He has, but they upset him quite a bit."
"I'm sorry he's upset, but we still need to discuss this and formulate a strategy without further delay. Can you put him on the phone?"
"All due respect, Seguchi-san, but wouldn't it be better if we were all on the phone at the same time to discuss this? The picture may be of Shuichi, but it affects all of us."
"That is true. Do the hotel phones have a speaker phone option?"
After ascertaining that no, they didn't, Tohma said, "Ask K-san to make arrangements to conference you all in on your cell phones."
Hiro consulted with K, who conveyed the necessary information to Tohma's assistant so she could conference everyone in on the call. Sakano joined Tohma at his end.
In the meantime, Shuichi did his best to pull himself together. He wiped the tears from his eyes, dabbed at his tearstained face, and blew his nose twice, loudly.
Once they were all on the phone, Tohma cleared his throat and said, "This has created quite a stir. Of course we'd like to spin this in a way that garners publicity for the band while minimizing any damage to anyone's reputation, but it's not clear what the best way to do that is. Shuichi? What do you know about this picture?"
"Uh, Seguchi-san, I don't know anything about it. Someone must have taken a picture of me and altered it."
"What parts are altered?"
Shuichi blushed bright red. Hiro interrupted, "Uh, Seguchi-san, shouldn't you talk about that with Shuichi without the rest of us on the phone?"
Shuichi didn't look much happier after Hiro's suggestion. True, he didn't want to discuss the photograph while everyone else was on the phone, but speaking to Tohma by himself without anyone to run interference for him felt like being thrown to a pack of wolves.
"Let's clear the room," K suggested. Everyone else went out to the hallway leaving their phones behind so Tohma's assistant didn't have to reconnect them. Shuichi heard noises on the other end of the line that presumably meant Sakano had just left the room or at least had moved away from the phone and Tohma picked up so they were no longer on speakerphone.
"Shuichi," Tohma said, "what is the story with this photograph? I can tell it's you. Have you been sending Eiri-san naughty photographs to keep him company while you're gone?"
Shuichi felt like a gazelle ambushed by a hungry lion. Why was Tohma so sure it was him? When had Tohma ever seen him naked or seen photographs of him naked? Had Eiri shared the picture with Tohma?
No, that wasn't likely. Eiri thought Tohma was creepy, even though he maintained a friendship with him anyway. Were there surveillance cameras in the lockers at NG or the dressing rooms at the venues? It was disturbing to contemplate.
"Um-um," he stammered.
"Shuichi," Tohma said. "I know how lonely it must be when you are away from Eiri. Mika and I have experienced the same loneliness. It's only natural for you to want to give him something to remind him of –"
"Okay, okay!" Shuichi blurted out. He could not stand one more second of this. "Yes, I sent Yuki a nude photograph. Yes, I'm to blame for all this. Do you mind? I'm the one whose freaking photo is circulating on the internet! I'm the one who's the butt of jokes –"
"Now, now," Tohma said soothingly. "Please don't mention anything about butts in this context. It is obvious that the image has been doctored, so how risqué the underlying image was and how it got into their hands is irrelevant to our response. We will emphasize that the image is fake and will claim that the photograph used as a base was far more innocent. It would be harder to do, but it's a possibility. We will have our lawyers take action against the two sites that depict you in a negative light and ask the other site to take this photograph down in exchange for an exclusive new photograph."
"What kind of photograph would it be?"
"Oh, you'd be sufficiently covered," Tohma said airily. "Maybe, if we play our cards right, we can give them a photograph of you and Eiri-san. After all, it's a site devoted to your relationship. We should cultivate them."
That didn't sound so bad, Shuichi thought, except that Eiri the idea of anyone photographing them. He especially disliked being photographed while showing any kind of physical affection toward Shuichi. At first Shuichi thought it was due to lingering regret over having come out or to being embarrassed about their relationship, but had since decided that it had more to do with Eiri's desire to keep his – their – private life private. Shuichi didn't mind posing with Eiri for a replacement photograph as long as they didn't have to do anything too intimate, like kiss. And Eiri would definitely insist that his clothing show less skin than the kind of outfits he wore onstage. Eiri definitely wouldn't cooperate if the photographs were suggestive in nature.
Tohma began muttering to himself about coordinating with Eiri's publisher. Shuichi cut in, "Should I have everyone else rejoin the call?"
"Yes, yes," Tohma said, raising his voice to say, "Harumi-san, please ask Sakano to step back in here."
When everyone else was back on the line, Tohma said, "We will ask our lawyers to file cease and desist orders with the internet service providers for two of the three offending sites because the photograph is doctored and because its public distribution is libelous and violates Shindou-san's privacy rights and right to control commercial use of his image. We will offer the third site a substitute photograph to post on their website. If I am able to convince Eiri-san to cooperate, we will offer the site a more appropriate exclusive photograph of both of them.
"K-san, please stay on the line so you and I and Sakano can discuss logistics. Everyone else, thank you very much. K-san will be in touch with you after we're finished to discuss security and publicity arrangements. In the meantime, no one is to talk to the media or leave the floor where your rooms are located until further notice."
K went off to his room to continue his conversation with Tohma and Sakano. After briefly talking to Hiro, Suguru went back to his room as well.
Shuichi threw himself on the bed while Hiro sat backwards in the chair facing Shuichi. "So what happened?" Hiro asked.
Shuichi looked down at the bed as if he were examining something truly fascinating in the pattern of the bedspread. "Tohma knew that the underlying image was me. I don't know how. Yuki wouldn't show him the picture, would he?"
Shuichi continued without taking a breath or pausing for a response. "Anyway, I told him I'd sent Yuki the photo. At least he didn't yell at me. But I feel like shit. I don't want to perform tonight, not without seeing Yuki."
"Isn't he just a few days away from finishing his book?"
"Yeah, I know, it's not practical, but I really really want to see him, even if it's just for one night."
Hiro sighed. He knew that Eiri was not the most supportive person in the world. He'd gotten better about it but still tended to be aloof and remote. However, he and Shuichi had an undeniable physical connection. Hiro knew of no other couple for whom sex played such a vital role in how they communicated with each other, but he supposed that communicating through sex wasn't such a bad thing. He was nevertheless unsure how much Eiri's presence would help and concerned that it might make things worse.
Shuichi was still upset and emotionally fragile. Hiro decided it might help to contact Eiri's editor to see if the deadline could be pushed back so Eiri could visit as soon as possible. Under the circumstances, 'as soon as possible' was probably sometime tomorrow.
At any rate, Hiro thought it made more sense to talk to his editor than to Eiri, who'd probably reject the idea of asking for a delay out of hand, potentially sending Shuichi into a tailspin. He'd be easier to convince if presented with a fait accompli.
"Shuichi," he said, "I'm going to call Mizuki-san and ask her if she can push back Yuki-san's deadline so he can spend some time with you. Is that okay?"
Shuichi looked up, unshed tears in his eyes, and nodded.
Hiro took Shuichi's cell phone and scrolled down until he found Mizuki's phone number. He'd met her a few times at social functions. Despite Eiri's anti-social personality, he and Shuichi occasionally held get-togethers for their mutual friends and acquaintances. Besides, she'd know who he was even if they had never met. She'd always supported, even encouraged, Eiri and Shuichi's relationship, so he hoped to find a sympathetic ear.
Mizuki picked up on the third ring. "Shindou-san?" she asked.
"Uh, I'm sorry, this is his friend Hiroshi Nakano. You know, the band's guitarist. I borrowed Shuichi's phone to call you."
"Oh yes, Nakano-san. What can I do for you?"
"Well, it's more what you can do for Shuichi. You know about the pictures of him that are circulating on the web, right?"
She sighed. "They're the reason my staff and I are in the office today."
"As you can guess, Shuichi is devastated. He's desperate to have Yuki-san join him. Can you push his deadline back a few days so he can fly here to meet us?"
"Look," she said in a tired voice, "your shacho Seguchi-san is talking to my boss this very minute about a coordinated PR campaign that includes some sort of photo shoot to produce a wholesome image of the two of them to replace that awful photo. The best I can do is to offer to contact Yuki-san and find out where he stands with the manuscript. If he tells me that pushing the deadline back a few days to allow him to visit Shindou-san would help, especially if the uproar is interfering with his concentration, I can probably delay it a couple of days, but if he tells me he's close to finishing and is able to focus, I'd rather get the manuscript first."
Hiro sighed. "I guess that's reasonable. It seems to be the best we can do anyway."
"Nakano-san, can you put Shindou-san on the phone? I'd like to talk to him before I call Yuki-san."
"Okay," Hiro said, wondering at her use of the term "that awful photo". Did that mean she'd seen it? How embarrassing! Then again, he reminded himself, the private parts she'd seen weren't Shuichi's anyway. "Just…be careful what you say. He's still pretty upset."
"Of course," she said. "It's a trying time for all of us, but I'm sure he's the one who's most distressed about it."
Hiro poked Shuichi in the back and said, "She wants to talk to you before she calls Yuki."
Shuichi sat up and took the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello, Shindou-san. I won't ask how you are because I'm sure you're feeling lousy, but how are you holding up?"
He sniffled a little. "I'm okay, I guess, now that Tohma has come up with a strategy for dealing with this thing, but it's awful thinking that everyone is looking at that picture. I really miss Yuki a lot, you know. I wish he was here."
"That's what Nakano-san called me about. Yuki-san hasn't said anything to me about delaying the completion of his manuscript, but according to our last conversation about it, he hopes to have it done soon. Will you be able to perform if he can't meet you for a few more days? I want to help you, but this is keeping us busy too."
Shuichi sniffled some more. "I'm sorry for making so much work for everybody!" he wailed.
"I wasn't being critical--" Mizuki began, but Shuichi cut her off.
"I really want him to come here! It'd make me feel so much better. But..." He took a deep breath. "I've been thinking about it since Hiro's been on the phone with you and realized that even if he left now, he wouldn't be here until after tonight's performance. While that'd be nice, it means I need to suck it up and perform tonight anyway without seeing him. He's got his own career to think about. It wouldn't be fair of me to ask him to blow it off. So it's okay if he can't get away until the book's finished as long as I get to see him soon."
Mizuki, who didn't know that Eiri had once asked Shuichi to give up singing for his sake, thought that Shuichi was being gracious, considering his tendency to over-dramatization, but she also figured he was trying to put a good face on things.
"Look, I'll do what I can to get him there as soon as possible, but as I told Nakano-san, if he's close to being finished and says he can concentrate enough to get it done soon, I'd rather let him finish first. If his concentration's shot, though, or he's not as close to finishing as he led me to believe, we'll push the deadline back and let him leave for a few days. Okay? We have a schedule to keep but it's not like the world would end if we lengthen it by a few days."
"Okay. Thank you, Mizuki-san. I don't know what to say."
"You just said it," she said warmly. "I'll get in touch with Yuki-san. One of us will get back to you. I'll suggest that he be the one who calls you, okay? I know he doesn't think of such things when he gets wrapped up in what he's doing."
Shuichi blurted, "He doesn't need to be 'wrapped up' to forget to call me." Mizuki had not heard him sound so bitter before. So her assumption that he was trying to hide his real feelings was accurate.
"Okay, Shindou-san," she said, "I'll do my best. Feel better. It'll all blow over. It always does."
Shuichi closed the phone and gave it back to Hiro to put on the table where Hiro could reach it. Shuichi stretched out on the bed again and tried to calm down.
Concerned for his friend's state of mind if left to fend for himself, Hiro stayed in the room, entertaining himself by surfing the Web and reading his e-mails. The room phone rang and Hiro picked up the extension on the table.
"It's K," he told Shuichi. "He's coming here with Suguru and the head of security to discuss security arrangements and how to handle publicity until their plans are finalized."
Shuichi sat up. K burst into the room without knocking, followed by Suguru and a bulky man in a dark suit and shades with his hair pulled back in a ponytail who trailed behind the two of them. Hiro wondered how K got in without a keycard but decided it wasn't worth thinking about.
"Listen up," K said, gesturing with his submachine gun, "everyone is staying put until we take you to the concert hall. If you need anything to eat, order it off the room service menu. The bus will be leaving for sound check promptly at five and dinner will be delivered to the concert hall as usual. Remember, the show starts at eight o'clock sharp. Seguchi is flying in for the concert and will stay with the tour until further notice, so you'll see him at the concert hall.
"About publicity. Until we have everything worked out, no one is to make any comment to the press. If someone shoves a microphone in your face, smile and say 'no comment' and that you're concentrating on the concert and your music. Seguchi is working on a press release but in order to put the finishing touches on it, he has to get Yuki-san's agreement to a photo shoot with Shuichi. He's also trying to coordinate Yuki-san's schedule with his publisher, who has an obvious interest in all this also because some of the – uh – accessories worn by the fake Shuichi and the captions implicate their top author.
"You know how I feel. There's no such thing as bad publicity. So I'm sure we'll be able to turn this around to our benefit. In the meantime, though, let's all give Shuichi our support and let's give our fans the concert they deserve. Okay?"
He paused, as if expecting cheers or applause after that pep talk.
Suguru piped up, "So what you're saying is that we're virtual prisoners until we leave for sound check, is that right?"
He flinched in alarm when K swung his submachine gun in his direction but eased up when K laughed, making the gesture playful rather than alarming. "Pretty much," K admitted, "but we'll get you whatever you need, so no worries."
"So you'll make sure our drug connections get through?" Suguru said with a smile.
K shook his head and chuckled. "Within reason," he said. "We'll get you what you need within reason but we're not feeding your drug habit." Everyone laughed, even Shuichi.
"It's four hours until you need to leave. The bus will pull up by the restaurant kitchen door. We'll direct you through the restaurant when the time comes as we want to minimize the press scrum as you're leaving. In the meantime, my right-hand man Ryonosuke here will be guarding the hallway. Report any unusual activity to him. Understood?"
The three musicians nodded to indicate they understood. Before K left, he gave Shuichi a quick hug which would have been both more comforting and comfortable if he didn't have weapons slung over his shoulders and holstered all over his body. As K was on his way out, Shuichi squeaked out, "Could you get me some magazines please? I don't have anything to do."
"Sure," K said. "I'll send someone to the gift shop to buy some magazines. What do you want?"
"Uh, well, Gamerz World would be good. And Bop Peat."
"Okay. I'll send someone up with them."
"Great! Thanks, K-san."
After he shut the door, the three musicians spoke briefly. Hiro and Suguru were unsure whether it would be wise to leave Shuichi by himself, unless he received a phone call for which privacy was required, like a phone call from Eiri. Hiro and Suguru decided Hiro would stay for the first two hours and Suguru would take over from him for the last two. Suguru thought morosely that it was like negotiating an overnight guard schedule.
While the situation was not so dire that they thought Shuichi would harm himself if left alone, they wanted to make sure Shuichi was in a frame of mind conducive to at least a competent performance that night. His emotions were so raw and open that they sometimes affected his performance and work ethic.
Suguru went back to his room while Hiro checked his e-mail. Shuichi flung himself on the bed again, swinging one leg in boredom. He was so desperate for something to do he began flipping through the phone book.
Hiro stood up and opened the door when he heard a knock. A member of the security detail handed him two magazines, which he gave to Shuichi. Silence reigned while Shuichi idly flipped the pages, barely registering what he was reading, and Hiro responded to some e-mails.
A tinny version of "Welcome to My Romance" began playing, startling Hiro. Shuichi sat bolt upright, scrabbling around for his cell phone.
Shuichi flipped the phone open with sweaty hands and Hiro, correctly guessing who was calling, gave Shuichi a thumbs up and left the room.
"Hello?" Shuichi said.
"Hi." Eiri didn't bother to identify himself; he knew his calls had their own ringtone because Shuichi had told him about it often enough that the information penetrated the fog that often saturated his brain when Shuichi prattled on. Besides, Shuichi would recognize his voice anyway.
Eiri continued, "This is quite a mess we've landed in." Shuichi drew his breath in and then realized his lover called it 'their' mess, not just 'his' mess. "Mizuki and Tohma spoke to me. I've agreed to do the photo shoot as long as it's not exploitative and Tohma promised me he'd send a photographer who does author's photos for book jackets and the like, not a celebrity or fashion photographer. The freaking stylist is already at the apartment. She's chosen everyday casual clothes – jeans and a Go Green t-shirt for you and jeans, a tee and a shirt for me."
Shuichi started crying. Damn. He cried when he was sad and he cried when he was happy. No wonder he got on Eiri's nerves so much. When wasn't he a blubbering emotional mess?
Eiri stopped. "I can tell you're crying. Why? You have nothing to cry about."
"I don't?" Shuichi wailed. "I'm such a fuckup. I've made us both the laughingstocks of Japan. And you're being so nice to me! I'm crying from happiness, you big jerk!"
Eiri suppressed a chuckle. "Look, I've had worse written about me. Remember when I was the Casanova of the Japanese literary scene? The sleazier magazines insinuated that I had multiple partners and frequented S&M clubs and strip joints." Eiri didn't bother to mention that at least some of those insinuations were true. He'd learned to leave inconvenient truths out of his conversations with Shuichi. In addition to avoiding meltdowns on Shuichi's part, such discretion also prevented them from wasting time on recriminations.
Shuichi sniffled. "Yuki, didn't you notice that the outfits they gave me to wear look a lot like bondage wear? Why didn't you tell me? I may have unknowingly been giving my fans the wrong impression about us and our relationship! You know how most people misunderstand it anyway."
Eiri sighed. "My arguments over your stage wardrobe have always been losing propositions. My opinion gets discounted because everyone expects me to object no matter what the outfit is like. I didn't think they'd listen to you any more than they'd listen to me because let's face it, sex sells. My books probably wouldn't sell as well if I were years older or less, um, photogenic."
Shuichi wiped his eyes with his free hand and asked, "So when will you be arriving? Tonight?"
"No, I'm going to get there tomorrow before your next concert. I'm almost finished with the damn book. I'm going to drop it off at the publisher's tomorrow on my way to the airport."
"What airline are you taking?"
"Seguchi's arranged a private plane for the two of us. We'll be landing at the general aviation section of the airport to avoid the media."
"When does the flight get in?"
"Right now, the plan is to leave at three and get there by four, but the schedule's pretty flexible. As long as we take off by four, we should be able to get there in time for the sound check."
"What about the photo shoot?"
"That's supposed to take place as soon as we get there. The photographer's meeting us at the concert hall."
"Isn't that kind of rushing things? We won't have much time!"
Eiri wondered how to explain the prevailing wisdom to Shuichi. While the photos needed to be ready quickly to induce the one site to take the offending photo down, the real reason for rushing the photo shoot was to make sure the photos were taken first in case Eiri went overboard with Shuichi after the concert. When they'd been separated for awhile, or were feeling particularly needy, their desire for each other knew no bounds. Sometimes that meant rougher than usual sex. Dispelling the image left by the doctored leaked photo would be more difficult if it looked like some sex maniac had fucked Shuichi senseless.
The silence was oppressive. Shuichi had an inkling that he knew what the reasons were and that Eiri was reluctant to explain them. "Is it because they're afraid we'll leave marks on each other if they wait?"
Eiri thought that was a generous way to put it. Shuichi hardly ever left visible evidence of their activities. It was Eiri who liked to leave visible marks on his territory. Shuichi's lust for Eiri was displayed in other ways. While it wouldn't be accurate to say that he was capable of multiple simultaneous orgasms, he was capable of more orgasms per encounter than the average male, from what Eiri had read on the internet. Not that he necessarily trusted what was on the internet, as this entire experience proved.
"Something like that, brat."
Shuichi sighed again. He knew it wasn't an idle concern.
"I'd like it better if you could be here tonight, but at least I'm talking to you now and I'll see you tomorrow. I'm glad the book's going well. I was afraid this would distract you."
"To be honest, it has, but it's been useful to focus on the book instead of on the distraction. Do you need to talk about anything else? I should be getting back to writing."
"Just…Yuki, I'm not into BDMS or whatever it's called, but you know I'm yours, right? I don't need a stinking collar to tell me that."
"Okay. I can't wait to see you, Yuki! I love you!"
"I—" Eiri hesitated -- "do too. I'll see you tomorrow--" After a pause he added, "Shuichi."
Tears threatened to spill from the singer's eyes again but he held them back long enough to say good-bye. Once he hung up, though, the dam broke.
It took him a couple of minutes to remember that he needed to let Hiro know he'd finished his phone call. "Moshi moshi," Hiro said, answering his phone. "What's wrong?" he asked, hearing the sobs emanating from the other end of the line.
"Nu-nu-nothing," Shuichi sobbed. "You-you can come back in."
Hiro rushed to Shuichi's room. "What's wrong?" he asked as he burst in and wrapped his arms around his friend in a bear hug.
"I told you, nothing's wrong!" Shuichi blubbered, and shrugged Hiro's arms off. "I'm happy, not sad."
Hiro looked at him, bemused. "So what did Yuki say?"
"He's coming here tomorrow with Tohma. And with outfits for a photo shoot. They're going to do it before the concert."
Shuichi had a pleading look on his face that begged Hiro not to ask why.
Hiro settled in again and they read and surfed the 'net in relative silence until Suguru came by to replace Hiro. The changing of the guard might no longer be necessary now that Yuki had called and put Shuichi's mind somewhat at ease, but Hiro figured there was no harm in sticking to the plan. After filling Suguru in on the latest developments, Hiro went back to his room, leaving his laptop behind in case something else popped up on the internet they needed to look at.
Just before five, K escorted them down the stairs, through a back entrance to the restaurant that normally was locked, and out the back door to the tour bus. A few of the members of the media had been camped out far enough away from the front door to see the tour bus enter the back way and pull up next to the restaurant loading dock but the bus arrived with so little time to spare that the media didn't have time to set up and harass the musicians.
K made a mental note to himself to look into getting a van that was disguised as a delivery truck. It wouldn't be much fun for the people inside not to be able to see outside but it might come in handy in these situations. The lack of windows meant they could use it for sleeping quarters as well. They could always transfer to the tour bus later.
The sound check and other preparations for the concert went well. Shuichi was feeling upbeat knowing that Eiri would be there this time tomorrow. They wouldn't be able to get together until after the concert – okay, they might have time to get together in a secluded corner somewhere after the photo shoot – but at least he'd see him.
Once he'd realized the earliest he'd see Eiri alone was after the show tomorrow, he realized he had to put his game face on for this performance. These fans deserved the best he could give them. After all, it wasn't their fault that they were attending a concert the day that atrocity of a picture was released on the internet. He'd been photographed and seen in compromising and suggestive poses before; this just happened to be the worst of them.
Shuichi got dressed fervently hoping that only fans were attending the concert, and not people wishing to use the concert to embarrass them.
Someone knocked at the door. It was K holding a T-shirt and pants. "Here," he said and thrust them at Shuichi. "Tohma thinks it would be better for you to wear these."
Shuichi looked at them. They resembled the clothes Eiri told him had been picked for him to wear at the photo shoot. But wouldn't the fans feel cheated if his clothes were so different from what he normally wore onstage? Wouldn't it look like the publicity had scared them?
"Is it really such a good idea for me to change my image so drastically?" Shuichi asked. "It looks like we're admitting there's something wrong with what I wear."
"You can't wear the collar. Too much like that picture. We don't want everyone thinking about your being Eiri Yuki's sex slave while you're singing."
"I know! I agree that I shouldn't wear the usual outfit tonight, but not something so totally different as well."
"Don't you want to change your image? Isn't that what you and Yuki-san have been bitching about anyway?"
"Well, yeah, but we can't go so far to the other extreme. Don't we have backup outfits? Like a sexy shirt and my leather pants?"
They rifled through the hangers of clothes on the portable clothes rack that had been wheeled in from the bus and found a midriff-baring T-shirt, black leather pants, and a matching coat. K left and Shuichi quickly got dressed.
Hiro whistled and gave him a thumbs up when he saw him. Shuichi knew he was doing it to cheer him up, but it made him feel better anyway.
They talked quietly among themselves while eating dinner. Mostly they wondered whether there'd be any hecklers. K advised Shuichi to ignore them and let security handle them.
The concert hall was abuzz and three-quarters full half an hour before the performance was scheduled to start. Theaters were never this full nor this noisy this early. Everyone agreed the photo must be responsible for it.
The members of the band opening for Bad Luck peered out nervously into the audience from the wings. They hadn't expected such a big turnout. It could be their big break or it could be a total disaster with an audience primed to see how Shuichi and Bad Luck handled themselves.
K gave Bad Luck a several gun salute and thumbs-up as the opening act exited and Bad Luck took the stage. The audience had been polite but cool toward the opening act, apparently wishing to hurry them along so they could see the main attraction.
The crowd jumped to its feet when it heard the first notes of "Rage Beat". They were solidly behind the band from the beginning until they finished the fourth song. Then some guy in the back of the room yelled, "Shindou, you're a pervert!"
It would take more than that to rattle him. He'd heard those words plenty of times before, including from his lover's father. Security came along and dragged the guy away, still shouting, "Pervert!"
Everything returned to normal, or at least as normal as a Bad Luck concert got, until they returned to the stage for the encore. As the noise of the crowd dwindled in anticipation of the opening bars of the encore, a girl could be heard shrieking, "Shindou has become Yuki-san's whore!" A variety of sex toys were tossed onstage from disparate parts of the auditorium in a seemingly coordinated attack and women and girls scattered all over the auditorium held up handmade signs reading "Say No to Sexual Slavery".
As K shouted instructions into his headset and security personnel and the police gathered to drag the protestors out, Shuichi looked around, confused and pained. Despite the instructions he'd received, he couldn't remain quiet. "Hey, everybody," he said loudly enough to cause feedback requiring the technicians in the sound booth to turn down the volume so as not to overdrive the speakers, "I am nobody's whore and who I choose to be with is my private business, not anyone else's."
Someone shouted, "So how did a stroke-book photo of you get on the internet?"
"You ever hear of Photoshop?" Shuichi yelled. Most of the crowd chuckled. "That image of me is phony."
K shouted into his headset, "Shut up! We're going to hold a news conference tomorrow after Seguchi and Yuki arrive. You're going off message!"
"But we can't just let things go," Shuichi insisted speaking in a low voice to the amplifier for the internal sound system.
"Yes, you can," K insisted.
Shuichi turned to look at the crowd. "You wanna hear more about this, or do you want more music?" he asked.
"More music!" the crowd roared.
"Then help us out. Point out anybody causing a ruckus so security and the police can deal with them, and we'll go back to what we do best: making music."
A roar went up from the crowd, Hiro counted off the beats, and they launched into their planned encore. K breathed more easily.
As the encore ended and the curtain came down again, slave collars, cock rings, and packages of condoms were tossed on the stage along with the usual roses, good luck charms, and panties. K directed the custodial staff to pick up the larger than normal haul of debris. They'd been asked to put all of it in special trash bags to be turned over to the police as a precaution in case there were any threatening notes or clues to who was behind this.
At about this time, an author taking a coffee break to fortify himself for a night of writing left a message on his lover's cell phone and then resumed typing.
Around four o'clock that morning, Eiri fell into bed exhausted, drained, and determined to get some sleep in before he left to join Shuichi. He didn't even bother to undress.
He woke up at ten, frowned at the sunlight peeking through the gaps between the blinds and the window frame, and got out of bed. He padded off to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, which he left brewing while he took a quick shower. Dried and dressed, he sat down at his laptop with his coffee cup and made a few quick changes and corrections to the document. He then saved it to a memory stick and printed it, clipping the pages together and stuffing them, along with the memory stick, into a manila envelope on which he wrote 'Kanna Mizuki – Personal & Confidential – Do Not Open' before sealing it.
He threw the items he needed to take with him into a carry-on bag, picked it and the envelope up, and left his apartment. He tossed the bag in the trunk and the envelope on the passenger's seat before sliding behind the steering wheel of his Mercedes and roaring off, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.
He expertly fielded the Tokyo traffic and pulled up to the front entrance at the building housing Eiko Publishing, brakes squealing. He walked in and handed the precious manuscript to the security guard manning the front desk. He heard the guard calling Mizuki's extension as he left; apparently, the publisher was so anxious to start work on the manuscript that his editor was there on a Sunday rather than waiting until her work week began to look at it.
He got back in his car and sped off to meet Tohma at the airport.
Eiri detested small airplanes like this, though flying on jet aircraft didn't bother him that much. Intellectually, he knew that it was safer to be in an airplane than in a car, even if he were the one driving (or maybe especially if he were driving), but at least when he was driving he could maintain the illusion that he was in control. Being jostled while flying in an airplane so small that it only had one pilot on whose skill and luck his life depended was not his idea of fun. The only way it could be worse would be if he were riding in a helicopter; they were significantly noisier and even more dangerous than small airplanes.
He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that the plane would arrive at its destination safely.
Another drawback to small planes was that the passengers had less room and sat even closer together than on commercial flights. Tohma was probably enjoying having his right leg jammed against Eiri's left leg and bumping elbows – scratch that, he was assuredly enjoying it -, but Eiri wasn't.
Tohma interrupted his thoughts by asking, "So how's the book?"
Eiri raised an eyebrow and said, "Since I'm here, it's evident I'm done with the book. You don't usually ask such stupid questions."
Tohma leaned back in his seat. "Ah, resorting to insults already! I thought we could have a nice civil chat."
Eiri crossed his arms. "What do you want to talk about?"
"How are things at home?"
"They're fine. Thank you for asking."
The plane hit some turbulence and shuddered, which made Eiri's stomach churn and do back flips.
"You haven't been lonely?"
Eiri stared at him. "What do you think? The person I live with and fuck regularly hasn't been around. It's not like you to ask such stupid questions."
"Insulting me again. You must think you're talking to Shindou-san."
"Okay, questions with such obvious answers."
The plane dipped, increasing Eiri's irritation.
"Talk to me. You hardly ever talk to me anymore."
Tohma reached out to touch Eiri's shoulder, and Eiri batted his hand away. "Stop it. This kind of thing is why I don't talk to you."
"Because you don't like it or because you do and it scares you?"
Eiri rolled his eyes and sighed. "You can be my friend, you can be my brother-in-law, but I'm not in the market for another lover."
Tohma pouted. It made him look cute in an annoying kind of way. "I still think he doesn't deserve you."
Eiri looked out the right hand window at the clouds and muttered, "According to you, who does?"
Tohma tapped him playfully on the arm. "See, that's the Eiri I know and love."
Eiri shifted in his seat, to the extent he could in such cramped quarters. "You do realize," he said in a low voice, "that the pilot can hear what we're saying?"
"You should have thought of that before you spoke. Besides, he works for me."
"I thought NG was picking up the tab for this flight."
The plane shuddered again, making their seat belts tighten suddenly and tilting their bodies closer together.
"If you apply that philosophy to NG's finances, you are headed for a fall. Treating company revenues as if they belonged to them personally is how a lot of corporate CEOs have disgraced themselves lately."
Tohma said, "I'm not skimming from company funds and I resent your assumption that I would," his polite smile at odds with his words.
Eiri snorted. "Does the adjective 'Machiavellian' not mean anything to you? I consider almost nothing to be beyond you."
"Are you calling me underhanded and manipulative? I consider that a compliment."
"Take it any way you like," Eiri muttered. In a more normal voice, he said, "Who's the photographer for this photo shoot?"
"Changing the subject?" Tohma asked and placed his hand on Eiri's knee, where it was promptly swatted away. "I'm very excited" – Eiri snorted again – "about it. We've hired Miki Sakamoto."
"Wait a minute. Isn't she a fashion photographer? The Japanese Annie Leibovitz?" 
"Some people say Annie Leibovitz is the American Sakamoto. They're portraitists, not fashion photographers. Just because her photographs appear on the cover of fashion magazines doesn't mean she's a fashion photographer."
"But she's not the kind of photographer who photographs authors for book jackets, either."
"Not usually, no, but she's even better than that. We're all very excited about it."
Eiri could easily believe that landing a photographer almost as famous as her subjects would thrill him. "I just hope this whole thing doesn't turn into a circus."
"It shouldn't. Sakano is tightly controlling the press conference afterward."
"The – what the hell? No one told me about a press conference."
Tohma looked at him, the picture of wounded innocence. "Really? How could that have slipped my mind?"
"Stop playing games," Eiri snapped. "What are you up to?"
"Clearing up a misunderstanding." Tohma turned toward him, suddenly grim and no longer playful. "A misunderstanding started by your foolish boyfriend when he e-mailed you a naughty picture of himself that some hacker found and latched onto." He was gratified at Eiri's look of astonishment. "Yes, I know everything."
The look of astonishment changed to horror. "Are you responsible for this mess?"
Tohma shook his head. "As much as I subscribe to the philosophy that there is no such thing as bad publicity, no, I am not, nor did I hire anyone to do this. I have no desire to have a group signed to my label picketed and boycotted because of revelations about its lead singer's sex life, particularly his sex life with you. What reason would I have to drag you into this?"
Eiri had to admit he had a point. "Does Shuichi know about the press conference?"
"Yes, but he doesn't know who the photographer is yet. Not that I think he'd recognize her name anyway. I don't think he looks at fashion magazines. I didn't know that you did."
"I've read about the sensation some of her magazine covers have caused."
"She knows her job in this instance is to smother a scandal, not to start one. Trust me. She's a professional."
"I hope you're right. Do you have any idea who hacked and doctored the photo?"
"No. But I'm going to find out. I have my best people looking into it." He did not mention that he had access to every keystroke that Eiri had ever typed, every website he visited (including the porn sites), and every piece of e-mail he had sent or received. It was much easier to monitor one man's laptop than to find a hacker hidden in the anonymity of the information superhighway, but he felt confident that he would track him (or her, but hackers usually were male) down eventually.
Both men braced themselves for the landing, which went as smoothly as their plane ride had not. A small SUV (judged less conspicuous than a limousine) was waiting to drive them to the concert hall. Eiri eagerly tapped out a cigarette and lit it; this was his first opportunity to smoke since he'd met Tohma at the airport in Tokyo.
A beleaguered security guard kept a long line of vehicles bearing logos for various media outlets out of the parking lot while informing them that the private aviation section of the airport was off limits, creating a massive backup. When he saw their SUV approaching, he moved the cones he used to keep the press from blocking the exit out of the way. The SUV swept past the media gauntlet at as high a speed as possible. Curious, Eiri looked out the back window and saw the press vehicles attempting to turn around and follow in such close quarters without bumping into each other.
Several of the vehicles quickest to change direction, plus a few that had been hanging around the publicly accessible sections of the airport, trailed them to the venue, where they were met with a more formal checkpoint and asked to see their credentials. While the press cooled their heels, Eiri and Tohma walked into the building. Shuichi ran straight toward Eiri, nearly knocking him over, as soon as he spotted him. He nearly knocked the breath out of Eiri when he hugged him. Eiri figured it must be momentum that allowed the shorter, lighter Shuichi to bowl him over like that. Either that, or the laws of physics were suspended whenever Shuichi was around.
Eiri gently detached himself from the clinging Shuichi, held him at arm's length for a moment so he could look at him, then leaned in for a kiss. It started out gentle but quickly turned passionate, his desire and the length of their separation overcoming his determination not to go overboard and fuel the scandal's fire and the press' insatiable curiosity even more.
Tohma cleared his throat and said, "Now, now, let's not get carried away before the photographs are taken. We don't have the time to fix disarranged hair or cover up any, ah, injuries."
Shuichi blushed and Eiri looked blank. It infuriated Tohma when Eiri pretended not to know what he was talking about, but he suppressed his irritation and smiled as if to take away the sting of his reproof.
The reunited couple was soon forcibly separated despite Shuichi's attempt to cling to Eiri. After changing into the clothes selected for the photo shoot, they were delivered to their respective makeup artists and hair stylists. Shuichi's hair was combed, brushed, gelled and sprayed within an inch of its life. He was treated to the same amount of makeup he wore onstage: pancake to keep his face from shining, some rouge, and eyeliner.
Because of the amount he bitched about it, Eiri's hair was not messed with as much as Shuichi's, but it was brushed and sprayed lightly so it wouldn't blow around. Eiri put up with the application of pancake makeup, since he'd look washed out otherwise, but pushed the makeup artist's hands away when she tried to apply rouge. After some discussion, they compromised: nothing around the eyes and a light application of rouge.
Eiri emerged from the makeup chair frowning and stormy-faced. Tohma pointed to the mirror hanging on the wall and asked, "Is that how you want to look while being photographed?" It proved to be a rhetorical question, as he didn't even stick around long enough for an answer.
Before Eiri could figure out what to do next, Shuichi bounded up to him, skidding to a stop about a foot away, which was easily half a foot further away than he would normally stop. Eiri eyed him warily. Such behavioral changes typically portended nothing good.
"I'm sorry, Eiri. I've been told to stay at least a foot away from you until they start taking our photograph and not to engage in displays of public affection at the press conference."
"What do they want, then? For us to pretend we're just friends, not lovers?" Eiri retorted.
Shuichi sighed and looked regretful. "I think they just don't want us hanging onto each other the way we usually do. Show some discipline, K said."
"I'll discipline him," Eiri growled. Shuichi wondered if he realized how that sounded. Moreover, shouldn't he be afraid of K's weapons? Eiri continued, "What they really want is a sanitized, airbrushed version of gay lovers. They don't want us to do anything to look like we might actually have sex with each other or enjoy it."
Shuichi looked up at Eiri, eyelids fluttering closed. "All I have to do is think about you and I—"
Eiri put a finger to Shuichi's lips. "Shhh," he said, and dragged him over to a secluded corner where he pulled him into another kiss, hands starting out behind Shuichi's neck and then traveling downward to cup his butt while Shuichi frantically pressed against his torso and pelvis, using the friction to try to relieve his arousal.
Just as Eiri was about to snake his hands inside Shuichi's pants, K located them. "You two are incorrigible," he said, sounding simultaneously amused and annoyed. "Come on, there'll be enough time for that kind of stuff later." He briskly marched them away, his AK-47 slung over his shoulder where he could easily grab it and poke it in their backs if necessary.
He escorted them to a stark white room. It was filled with elaborate backdrops, hot lights, and large umbrellas. At one end of the room was a frumpy-looking woman of forty or so checking her camera and crawling around on the floor with a couple of younger guys dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Her chin-length straight black hair kept getting in her eyes and obscuring her large, thick brown glasses. She wore a colorful cardigan, turtleneck, and black knit pants, although from all the crawling around on the floor she was doing it looked as though she'd have been better off wearing jeans instead.
Eiri thought that the famous Sakamoto didn't look all that impressive, though he realized that he was judging her using superficial criteria. She looked more like a female gnome than a high-end photographer. For some reason, he'd expected a stunning fashionista more like the celebrities she photographed. Then again, sometimes it was good to sneak under the radar and undermine people's expectations. Shuichi did that all the time.
At least she seemed businesslike and brisk. That boded well for the photo session not dragging on for hours.
Tohma detached himself from a cluster of people in a corner. "Let me introduce you to Sakamoto-san," he said. He dragged them over to her. She looked up from where she was kneeling on the floor and said, "Are these the two subjects?"
Eiri was a little hurt that she didn't recognize them; after all, they were in the tabloids all the time, having become as famous a couple in Japan as Brad and Angelina were in the States. They even had their own combination name similar to the 'Brangelina' appellation the media had given the Pitt-Jolies. Most publications used 'Yushu', though a few leaned toward 'Shuki'.
Tohma responded, "Yes, Sakamoto-san. May I introduce you to Eiri Yuki" – he swept his arm toward Eiri – "and Shuichi Shindou."
Shuichi stepped in closer. He'd been hovering on the other side of Eiri and Tohma, a bit shyly. He wasn't normally so coy, but the media circus had made him wary. Eiri noticed his hesitation and put an arm around his shoulder, drawing him closer. Sakamoto smiled and rose to her feet, while pushing off from the floor, and extended her right arm. Eiri took her hand and shook it a couple of times, noticing the strength of her grip.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Yuki-san. And you too, Shindou-san," she said, nodding at him, as his right arm was pinned to his side by the arm Eiri had draped over his shoulder. She beamed. "That is very much what I'd like to photograph. Very natural-looking."
Her words almost drove Eiri to detach himself from Shuichi. Fuck, he hadn't put his arm around Shuichi's shoulder for her benefit. He wasn't going to cheapen it by creating artificial poses to serve as emblems of the emotions underneath it all. Then he remembered the whole point of the photo shoot was to undo the damage that one image had caused.
Sakamoto's smile widened at the flash in his eyes. She patted his hand. "Don't worry, I'll do my best to make the photographs I take look as genuine as possible. I want to capture the essence of your relationship in a respectful way." She turned away to answer a question about lighting.
"She seems nice," Shuichi whispered hesitantly to Eiri.
"Hn," Eiri replied ambiguously. She seemed relatively inoffensive, but he was reserving judgment for now.
One of the mob of people helping out bustled over and offered them directors' chairs to sit in while Sakamoto's crew finished setting up. Eiri dragged the chairs closer together and they sat, opposite legs crossed so their toes touched.
Shuichi was wearing designer jeans and his "Go Green" t-shirt with black text and image superimposed on a green background and Eiri was wearing an unbuttoned royal blue shirt over a white t-shirt and Levi's. Shuichi noticed that the jeans made Eiri's ass look good. Then again, when didn't it look good, except maybe in those baggy suit trousers he habitually wore? For someone so sexy, he sure had strange taste in clothes.
Shuichi shut his eyes and thought about the black leather pants hanging in Eiri's closet at home and the short-sleeved black turtleneck he once saw him wear with it. Seeing him in that again would be heavenly, though the look would not be appropriate for the photo shoot, which was supposed to make them look wholesome, not for Eiri to look like the sex god at whose altar Shuichi worshipped.
Eiri said, dryly, "You're drooling."
Shuichi started, dazed. He looked down. Sure enough, he had drool on his chin that was threatening to slide down his neck.
Eiri grabbed a facial tissue from a nearby box, which Shuichi used to wipe his chin and neck. Damn. They'd probably have to touch up his makeup and they'd think the worst about how it happened.
Tohma clapped his hands, startling them, and exclaimed, "Let's get started!" Sakamoto beamed, her assistants scrambled, and someone realized that Shuichi needed more makeup around his chin and neck where he'd wiped off the drool. "Did you do this?" the makeup artist asked Eiri, annoyed at being called to the makeshift studio to redo her work.
"No," he replied, glad to be able to deflect blame for once. "He drooled on himself after he dozed off."
Small hands reached out to swat him, but he easily avoided them. "Meanie!" Shuichi grumped.
"Hold still," the makeup artist scolded him. When she finished, she stepped back and started to put away her sponges and makeup. "All finished."
Eiri and Shuichi walked over to Sakamoto. "Bring those chairs over," she said, pointing to the directors' chairs in which they'd been sitting. She placed them to each other the way they had been when Eiri and Shuichi were sitting in them, recreating the way they unconsciously mirrored each other. "Sit and cross your legs like you did earlier," she told them.
Shuichi had to think a few seconds; he hadn't been paying close attention to how he was sitting. Eiri started huffing, impatient to get the shoot over with, but didn't get a chance to say anything before Shuichi remembered. This time, though, their toes didn't quite touch.
As Shuichi looked at Eiri and smiled at his nonverbal show of impatience, Sakamoto-san snapped a picture.
Shuichi looked toward her, confused. "Wha--?" he said.
Eiri looked a little startled too, but he refused to be so obvious about it as look at the photographer like Shuichi had.
Sakamoto beamed. "I like my photographs to look natural, not staged, so sometimes I don't let my subjects know beforehand that I'm about to take a picture. I apologize for startling you."
"Not a problem," Shuichi said as he and settled back into his chair.
Sakamoto asked her assistants to angle the chairs more. She asked Eiri and Shuichi to turn their heads slightly toward each other and hold the pose, then told her assistants some jokes. Eiri was surprised at how dirty they were. Shuichi snickered and tried to suppress his laughter.
Eiri began fuming at the delay until he realized that this was another of Sakamoto's ploys to get them to relax so she could take natural-looking photographs. That took some of the edge off of his innate dislike of being manipulated.
The camera flashed and beeped again once Eiri's expression relaxed into something resembling a smile.
"Nice," Sakamoto said. "Shindou-san, please don't crinkle your eyes so much, though. We want to be able to see them, okay?" Shuichi nodded.
In between jokes and stories, Sakamoto took a series of photos that brought the two of them closer together. Eventually, the chairs were placed side by side and their arms and hands brought closer until they were photographed with their arms draped over each other's shoulders.
Tohma looked at his watch, wondering when they'd be done. They'd only blocked out an hour for this and they had a schedule to keep: Shuichi needed to participate in the band's sound check, the set list still needed to be ironed out, and they all needed to eat dinner. He shifted from one foot to another and tapped the pen in his hand against his wrist. One of Sakamoto's assistants glared at him, so he stopped.
Now that she was finished with this sequence of photos, Sakamoto had the director's chairs removed and a backdrop lowered that made it look like they were on a rooftop in downtown Tokyo. "Shindou-san," she directed, "stand directly in front of Yuki-san. And Yuki-san, wrap your arms around Shindou-san."
Eiri semi-playfully wrapped his arms around Shuichi's neck and pretended to strangle him. Sakamoto laughed in a way that made her belly jiggle. Shuichi was used to this kind of horseplay from Eiri and merely looked mildly amused.
"Oh, Yuki-san, you have the cutest sense of humor," Sakamoto said. "Wrap your arms around his chest. I'm sure you knew that's what I meant."
Eiri obeyed, although it felt weird to do this on cue and he resented being called cute. In his opinion, Shuichi more than filled their combined cuteness quotient.
"Okay, there. Perfect." She nodded and focused the camera again. Flash! Beep! Flash! Beep! The camera lit up several more times, recording what it saw for posterity or oblivion.
Soon Sakamoto-san had her assistants scurrying to retrieve and put in place the fans they used to manufacture that windswept, blown away look beloved of fashion photographers and posed the two of them at an angle, Shuichi in front of and slightly to the left of Eiri, gazing at a point on the wall as if they were looking out at the horizon. She had Eiri put one arm around Shuichi and gesture with the other.
After the first three poses, Eiri swore under his breath, "Damn it, when is she going to finish? This is fucking tiring."
She couldn't hear what Eiri said, but she could hear the irritation in his tone and could tell he was growing restless. "I do apologize, Yuki-san," she said. "I know this must be very tiring for you. Because of your height and placement, your gestures stand out more than Shindou-san's would. That is why I am asking you to make these dramatic gestures and hold these awkward poses even though Shindou-san is more used to this."
Eiri made a disbelieving noise but had to admit, at least to himself, that she had a point, so he gritted his teeth, bit his lip, and soldiered on without much complaint other than asking for a rest after holding a particularly strenuous pose. He wasn't used to being a mannequin, and he wasn't used to holding his arms and shoulders in the same position for so long.
Noticing his discomfort, Sakamoto-san asked, "Would it help if someone massaged your shoulders and upper arms, Yuki-san?"
Shuichi piped up, "I can do it! I mas-"
His offer was interrupted by Eiri's glare. "Eep!" Shuichi squeaked, recognizing that look, and shut up.
Sakamoto-san smiled. "One of my assistants is trained in shiatsu and Swedish massage, Yuki-san. Or I believe Shindou-san was about to offer? Maybe that would be better."
Eiri's initial reaction was to say hell no, no stranger was going to give him a massage. It had taken some time for him to agree to let Shuichi do it. Letting someone give him a massage felt more intimate than sex itself and took more trust on his part. It had taken him years to overcome his startle reflex at an uninvited touch.
On the other hand, although he'd gladly let Shuichi massage his aching muscles, which were starting to spasm and tremble, if they had been alone, he wasn't keen on letting him do it in front of an audience. Even though by itself massage wasn't sexual in nature, it was sensual and enjoyable enough that it often led to sex. Given their enforced absence and heightened feelings, it was dangerous to start down that road, as neither of them would want to stop short of completion.
He realized, with a start, that everything else had come to a halt while he considered Sakamoto's suggestion, which meant that by now almost everyone in the room was staring at him. "Uh," he said, somewhat at a loss for words, "I guess your assistant could give me a quick massage." He looked at Shuichi, hoping he'd understand why he had chosen to have someone else do it, but Shuichi was frowning and his lower lip stuck out in a pout. He didn't even look Eiri in the face.
Damn it, the little shit was angry. Angry and jealous, probably. He hoped it wouldn't consign the rest of the day to hell. He was counting on getting laid that night as many times as the two of them could manage.
A twenty-something guy with messy dark hair that kept getting in his face walked toward him, slicking his hands with massage oil. Eiri hoped he wouldn't jump at his touch and that Shuichi wouldn't get any more pissed off than he already was. The vanilla fragrance of the massage oil reminded him of the scent of one of their bottles of lubricant, which was not necessarily the best memory to contemplate under the circumstances.
"Hi, my name's Yoshio," the man said. "Just relax, okay? I'm going to start off with your neck and then move to your shoulders and arms. Is that okay?"
"Hn," Eiri grunted, which Yoshio took as a 'yes'. Yoshio supported Eiri's neck in his hands and asked him to lean back a little. He started kneading and pressing pressure points with his thumbs, running his hands down the sides of Eiri's neck and paying particular attention to the areas underneath the ears, the intersection of the neck and jaw, and his vertebrae. Eiri began relaxing into the pleasant sensation, his nerve endings tingling from Yoshio's touch.
As he relaxed, he could hear Sakamoto conversing with Shuichi. At least that would keep his attention off the massage. From what Eiri could tell, they were talking about other photo sessions Shuichi had been involved in.
Eiri relaxed even further now that Shuichi was engrossed in his conversation with the photographer. Now the man was massaging the tops of his shoulders from his neck to his arms, putting pressure where he detected knots in the muscles.
Eiri bit down on a moan. It would not do to make noises like that now. Maybe he should have had Shuichi do this, especially since instead of asking him to remove his shirt, Yoshio's hands snaked underneath it. Maybe he should ask him to perform the massage over the shirt.
He brought his hand up to stop Yoshio and said in a low voice, hoping Shuichi couldn't make out the words, "Can you do that over the shirt, not inside it?"
Yoshio felt the return of the tension that the massage had previously eased and he glanced at Eiri. He said, "Sure," wiping excess massage oil on his pants, and moved his hands outside the shirt onto Eiri's shoulder blades.
Eiri sighed and relaxed again. The way the shirt felt as Yoshio massaged his shoulder blades was slightly rough, duller and less tingly, but it wasn't painful. He could bear with it. It was better than being overwhelmed by sensations and maybe making a fool of himself in front of all these people, but most of all in front of Shuichi. No matter how engrossing the conversation was, he had a sixth sense about Eiri and would notice if someone else's touch excited him. He might not be as possessive as Eiri was, but he was possessive enough to bridle at something like that.
Yoshio finished by massaging Eiri's upper arms from shoulder to elbow, bending the elbow and then straightening each arm in turn and letting it fall back to Eiri's side. "All done," he said cheerfully.
Shuichi glanced at Eiri through narrowed eyes, but he wasn't giving pissed off vibes anymore. As he walked over to Eiri, his lips quirked up in a near smile. "I noticed you made him massage you through the fabric," Shuichi purred in his ear, practically standing on tiptoe. "I was too angry to notice, but Sakamoto-san pointed it out."
Eiri thought evil things about her.
"Do you know what else she said?"
Eiri shook his head. Of course he didn't, but Shuichi obviously wanted to tell him.
"She said you asked her assistant to do it because you couldn't really be with me until after the concert."
Eiri's eyebrows shot up and he scowled at Sakamoto. Interfering old hag. But she'd probably saved his evening, so he was thankful to her for that.
The wind machines started up again and the two of them went back to posing. Eventually, after six or seven more poses – Eiri lost track, and he suspected everyone else had too – Sakamoto thanked everyone for their cooperation and she and her assistants began packing up.
Tohma strolled over before they had a chance to leave the room. "Very nice. Now you see why we picked Sakamoto-san."
Eiri yawned. What with his late night, the hurried drive to the publishing house, the flight, and the chaos of the photo shoot, he was wiped out. He wasn't at all sure how he'd get through the press conference, the concert, and the sex he anticipated afterward. He'd probably fall asleep during the concert, in no small part thanks to the earplugs he'd brought with him and the luxury box or lighting booth in which he'd undoubtedly be sitting.
He looked at Shuichi. Now that the photo shoot was over and he didn't need to look alert anymore, he looked a bit drawn and exhausted himself.
Touched despite himself, Eiri wrapped his arms around Shuichi from behind and nuzzled his hair. Tohma's eyebrows shot up. Fuck, he probably thought Eiri was doing this to get even with him for some of the things he'd said and done during their flight here. At this point, Eiri was too tired to want to deal with shit from Tohma, or for Shuichi to catch hell from Tohma because of it. So he straightened up and said to Shuichi in the sweetest tone of voice he could muster, "Sorry. You looked so tired, I thought you could use a hug."
Shuichi shot him a look that said 'Who are you and where did you hide my boyfriend?', but he didn't comment, just smiled, turned, and snuggled, saying, sleepily, "Can't we keep these clothes on for dinner and the press conference?"
"Sorry, no," said Tohma. "We want the photos Sakamoto-san took to be distinctive and that won't happen if you attend the press conference wearing the same clothes. But you can wear them for dinner and then change."
"But I'll have to change into my stage outfit right afterwards!" Shuichi complained.
"Maybe you should wear your stage outfit to the press conference," Tohma said evenly.
Eiri, unaware of the changes to what Shuichi wore onstage, glared at Tohma and started to object, only to be interrupted by Shuichi. "Not nice," he hissed. "But since we changed the stage outfit, it'll be okay as long as the rest of the band is wearing their stage outfits."
"Of course," Tohma conceded. "We have no desire to single you out any more than you already have been."
Shuichi turned to Eiri and said, "K and I changed my stage outfit. Now I'm wearing black leather pants, a cropped shirt, and a jacket."
"Pants, not shorts?" Eiri asked.
"Pants. Not shorts."
"Hn." Eiri leaned back as if to consider it. "I guess that's not so bad. I'll look a bit boring next to you, but that's not a bad thing. After all, I'm not a fucking rock star." He smirked. 'I'm fucking a rock star instead' went unsaid but not unheard.
Shuichi turned away to go join the rest of the band for their sound check. Eiri stood in the back of the concert hall, listening, until they were done, and then snagged Shuichi and dragged him away. There was still some time left before dinner.
"I need a cigarette," Eiri said curtly, walking down a hallway toward an exit sign.
One of the stagehands, noticing him about to open the door without regard to where it led or the alarm attached to it, stopped him. "Yuki-sensei," he said, "you can't go out that way. All sorts of alarms will go off, and the press is nearby."
"I need a cigarette," Eiri growled, "and the fucking building's smoke free. So how do I get my nicotine fix?"
"There's an area the employees use for smoking that's more private and doesn't have an alarm. Let me show you."
The man escorted them up some stairs and down several hallways to a door. "The code is 646," he said.
When they went outside, Eiri noticed a keypad next to the door. Chairs sat on an asphalt patio surrounded by a privacy fence. Not a lot of sun got through, but it was better than nothing.
They sat in companionable silence while Eiri smoked a cigarette. Eiri stretched his legs and Shuichi arched his back like a cat, making his spine pop, and continued to stretch and fidget as Eiri's cigarette burned down.
As soon as Eiri stubbed out his cigarette, instead of lighting another, he beckoned Shuichi to sit on his lap. Without any prompting, Shuichi nuzzled his face against Eiri's and began kissing him with increasing abandon.
Eiri held Shuichi firmly in place. He wasn't going to let him go anywhere just yet. He also silently thanked whoever had the bright idea to install a privacy fence.
Soon they were panting from the effort of attempting to lick and kiss each other into oblivion. Eiri knew that he couldn't press or nip too hard until after the concert, though it was increasingly more difficult to get his rebellious body to obey. Maybe he should figure out an alternate activity that would keep them pleasantly occupied in a way that didn't risk inflicting visible bites and bruises.
Eiri pushed Shuichi backward and fumbled with his zipper, exposing his already half-erect penis. Shuichi didn't need to be told what Eiri had in mind and he knelt, thankful he was wearing jeans that protected his knees from abrasion by the asphalt instead of his usual shorts, and after fondling Eiri with his hand a couple of times, he wrapped one hand around the base and took Eiri's cock into his mouth. He could taste the precum when he teased the slit at the tip.
It was a little chilly outside, so Eiri leaned forward, his elbows on Shuichi's shoulders while he grasped the silky pink hair. He began thrusting into that warm, inviting mouth. He could feel Shuichi's jaw muscles working, the pressure building, Shuichi stroking him with his free hand.
He was near the point of no return when the door swung open and K walked in on them. Eiri groaned, partly from lust and partly from annoyance, and came in Shuichi's mouth just as K began speaking, playing to an audience more of a turn on than a turnoff.
Shuichi blushed at being caught at the tail end of giving Eiri a blowjob, but swallowed carefully nevertheless. He wiped his mouth and stood up more quickly than he should have, stumbling a bit and requiring a helping hand from Eiri.
K said, "Dinner's waiting." He chuckled as he continued. "I see you've already started eating, but what we have inside is probably more nutritious."
Eiri glared at him while he tucked himself in and zipped himself up after wiping off what little residue Shuichi had missed. They followed K inside.
A buffet table had been set up in the cafeteria. They collected their food in silence and sat at an empty table where no one tried to approach them. Hiro and Suguru were seated at another table; Hiro gave a friendly wave and a thumbs up.
Tohma was nowhere to be found, which improved Eiri's mood considerably. He didn't want to listen to another lecture about keeping a lid on his libido while in semi-public places. If Tohma didn't want to have to lecture him, then he should stop sending Shuichi away for months at a time.
Shuichi was shoveling rice and beef teriyaki into his mouth at an alarming rate. "Hey, slow down," Eiri said. "You'll make yourself sick."
"I'm nervous about the press conference," Shuichi said, "and this makes me feel better."
Eiri finished his food and inserted a cigarette between his lips even though he made no move to light it, having learned how strictly the no smoking rule was enforced. "I need another smoke. Want to come with me?"
Shuichi seemed to read some significance in the quizzical way Eiri lifted his eyebrow and said, "Sure. Just give me a minute to finish this cake, and I'll be right with you."
While Eiri strode out of the room, Shuichi made quick work of his dessert. Figuring that Eiri had gone back to the outdoor smoking area, he retraced the route up the stairs, down the corridor, and out the door. This time, however, a member of the security detail was standing by the door. Apparently, when K busted them, he ordered the door watched.
Shuichi went out anyway. The man stayed inside, but Shuichi noticed the door didn't close all the way. He must have put something down to act as a doorstop so he could monitor them and presumably step in if things got out of hand again.
"What took you so long?" Eiri said, smirking and lounging against the outside wall. He flicked a look at the slightly open door but didn't otherwise acknowledge it.
Shuichi had followed as quickly as he possibly could without running outright and was a little short of breath, so he knew Eiri was just giving him a hard time.
"My boyfriend didn't leave me a trail of bread crumbs to let me know where he went," Shuichi retorted.
Eiri grunted. "Sounds like a shitty boyfriend. Want to spend some time with me instead?"
"You look a lot like my boyfriend, only you're nicer."
Eiri urged him forward and embraced him. As Shuichi nestled against his chest, he said, "Boyfriend trouble?"
"Hmm," Shuichi said. "Not anymore."
Eiri leaned over and kissed the top of Shuichi's head, then gently pushed him backwards so he could kiss his forehead. Shuichi looked up at him, eyes shining with unshed tears, which Eiri traced with his finger.
Seeing the concern on Eiri's face, Shuichi hastened to reassure him. "I'm not sad. I'm tearing up because I'm s-so ha-hap—"
"Shh," Eiri said, brushing away the tears and the hair obscuring Shuichi's face. "I get it." Was crying the little idiot's all-purpose reaction to everything?
Shuichi began hiccupping. Eiri kept trying to shush him and get his diaphragm to stop going into spasms, but it wasn't working. He grabbed Shuichi's nose and pinched it shut.
"Heh!" Shuichi yelled as best he could even though he sounded like he had a cold. "Whad are you doink?" He tried to pull his nose out of Eiri's grip.
"I'm trying to stop your hiccups, you dope," Eiri growled.
"By smotherin' me?"
The guard poked his head around the corner of the door, then withdrew it quickly once he'd ascertained nothing truly untoward was happening.
"Taking in excess air caused your hiccups in the first place. Temporarily blocking the airway should stop it."
Eiri let go and Shuichi rubbed at his now sore nose. "Didja have to half strangle me?" he asked.
"Yes," Eiri said, and kissed him. "And that was smothering, not strangling. You didn't like it?"
"No!" Shuichi yelled.
Eiri plugged the ear Shuichi had yelled into. "Damn, I'm right here. I can hear you fine," he grumbled. "It didn't turn you on at all?"
Shuichi looked shocked. "What? You can't seriously tell me that some people--" He stopped. "Does it turn you on?"
Shuichi wasn't stupid or ignorant. He knew some people got off on it, but he never understood why, and he never dreamed that Eiri might. There was no real way for him to tell now either, since Eiri's arousal could simply be the result of their physical closeness, especially after they'd been apart for so long.
Eiri looked at him defiantly. "What if it does? Does that bother you?"
"Yes. No. Maybe." He huffed in frustration. "I don't know. As long as you don't try it on me, it doesn't really matter whether it turns you on." Then he realized what he'd said. "Unless you like it so much you want to do it with someone else. That's not what you're saying, is it?"
Eiri ruffled his hair. "No, it's not, you idiot."
Shuichi expelled the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "That's good."
This time Shuichi was the one who initiated the kiss, letting his tongue linger but trying at the same time to keep things calm and under control. Soon he wasn't doing such a good job of it. The kiss became deep and needy. Eiri's tongue was pushing into Shuichi's mouth and all Shuichi could do was let it in while he moaned softly. He no longer had control over his body, which felt like it was suspended, weightless, only his contact with the pavement and the way their bodies were crushed together preventing him from floating away.
The door opened abruptly and the man guarding it said gruffly, "Break it up now before I have to separate you. Besides," he said with a tinge of regret in his voice, "the press conference is in half an hour and I'm told you guys need to change clothes. After that, my bosses want to brief you before the news conference. Follow me."
Shuichi broke away, panting a little. He took Eiri's hand in his and tugged to get him to walk next to him instead of skulking behind him.
If anyone had been in the corridor then, they would have been treated to the sight of Eiri Yuki and Shuichi Shindou walking hand in hand. The press corps gathering on the next level up would have killed (possibly literally) for a photograph of such an unscripted affectionate moment. Then again, if any member of the press had been visible, Eiri would have let go of Shuichi's hand and would have seriously considered giving the offender the finger, then settled for telling the offender to fuck off after realizing that the press would love a picture of him flipping the bird and would make their life even more hellish as a result.
The two of them followed the guard down the stairs to the room where they had changed for the photo shoot. Chiyo, Bad Luck's wardrobe coordinator, was there with Shuichi's stage outfit and also, apparently, was supposed to chaperone them. Eiri changed his clothes in silence, wondering what the woman would have done if he hadn't been wearing underwear. Blush and look away? Pretend not to have seen? As far as he was concerned, it was no skin off his nose. If the powers that be felt the need to monitor them this closely, they had better be prepared for any eventuality.
He wondered if she would tell her friends about seeing Eiri Yuki in his skivvies. Nah, she worked for Tohma; Tohma paid generously and required loyalty and discretion from his employees. Besides, everyone who worked for Tohma knew about his obsession with Eiri and his well-being, especially after that incident with Taki Aizawa. If she knew what was good for her, she would forget that she'd ever seen him half-naked.
Shuichi changed his clothes quickly without any of the thoughts nagging Eiri. He was used to dressing and undressing around other people and was used to having Chiyo around.
The man who'd escorted them to the dressing room led them to a conference room down the hall where Tohma, K, Sakano, Suguru and Hiro were already gathered.
Tohma cleared his throat and said, "With Sakamoto-san's help, we've picked the photograph we're going to release to the shuichiandyuki4ever website tonight, as well as several other photos for general release to the media at the press conference."
Shuichi started waving his hand. "Yes?" Tohma said, amused. "You do realize you're not in school anymore, right?"
"Uh, yeah, sorry," Shuichi said. "Can we see the photographs, please?" He was a little miffed he and Eiri hadn't been consulted.
As if he read his mind, Tohma smiled widely and said, "We might have been able to consult you and Eiri-san about which photographs to use if you hadn't been otherwise occupied."
Shuichi supposed they had earned that reproof.
For his part, Eiri lounged by the door, so desperate for another cigarette that he'd put an unlit one in his mouth and was chewing on the end of it. He would have been mildly interested in seeing the photographs in advance if for no reason other than to make sure they didn't come out looking like idiots; some of the poses and expressions that Sakamoto-san had coaxed out of him had revealed more of his feelings than usual, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. He was more than happy, however, to let Shuichi be the one who bugged Tohma about the photographs.
"Here they are," Tohma said, and used his laptop to display them on the whiteboard.
"Cool!" Shuichi crowed when the first image was displayed. "Is that the one for the website?"
Some smart aleck – possibly K – wolf-whistled, which made Shuichi blush and Eiri clap his hand to his forehead and shake his head from side to side. It was one of the photos in which Eiri stood behind Shuichi with his arms wrapped around him. Even Eiri had to admit that he looked carefree, almost happy, even. Unsurprisingly, Shuichi was grinning broadly, probably because Eiri was willingly photographed embracing him.
"Yes," Tohma confirmed. "That's the one the website will use to replace the photograph that caused the fuss to begin with."
Tohma quickly clicked through the other three photographs that were being made available to the rest of the media as well. Everyone except for Eiri 'oohed' and 'aahed' over them. He stood with his arms crossed and did his best to look bored and unmoved.
Tohma waved his hand, then waited for the hubbub displaying the photographs had caused to die down before proceeding. "As for the press conference itself, I will make a brief statement first, then open it up for questions. We're making the three members of Bad Luck and Eiri-san available for questions."
Eiri rolled his eyes. It figured. First Tohma sprang the fact that there would be a press conference on him, and now he was feeding him up to the media wolves. He had figured he'd be expected to answer questions at the press conference as soon as Tohma had told him about it, and he knew that Tohma knew he'd know...The hell with it. Just thinking about it made his head hurt.
Tohma continued, "Sakano-san will be in charge of vetting the press corps and overseeing security with K-san's more than competent help, of course. Any questions?" The question was delivered in a voice that made it clear that Tohma expected no such questions on pain of death. The captive audience understood his nuances, so no questions were forthcoming.
"Good," Tohma said crisply. "Eiri-san, Shindou-san, Nakano-san, and Suguru-kun, come up here, please."
Eiri pushed himself off the wall he'd been leaning against and loped to the front of the room. Shuichi and the other members of Bad Luck, who'd been sitting closer to Tohma, were already standing in a semi-circle around him. Eiri stood behind and slightly to the side of Shuichi. Since he was annoyed with Tohma, he cast his eyes downward and looked at Shuichi's butt instead. He looked highly desirable, not to mention fuckable, in the black leather pants he was wearing, which were so tight as to appear painted on.
"No comments that make it seem like the objectionable image is legitimate," Tohma told them. "If you have to, say you have no comment, that our lawyers are pursuing the matter, or refer the question to me. This has not riled the band, caused problems, or created ill will or a split in the group."
He looked at Shuichi and Eiri. "What you say about its effect on your relationship is your business, but I suggest that you put as positive a spin on it as possible. We want to engender good will, not more drama."
He looked directly at Shuichi when he said those last words. Shuichi stared back at him, almost defiantly. He knew he'd screwed up, but he hadn't anticipated that the photo he e-mailed Eiri would be hacked. He figured he'd suffered enough by now.
Not for the last (or the first) time, Eiri rolled his eyes. He hated having reporters prying into his private life, but if someone were going to chastise Shuichi for it, he'd prefer it be him, not Tohma.
Tohma clapped his hands once and waved them off, dismissing them. Shuichi turned to Eiri and nuzzled him until K finally tapped them on the shoulder.
"It seems like I'm always separating you," he said with a smile, but his smile didn't reach his eyes. He tilted his submachine gun, which Eiri took to be an implicit threat: if he caught them making out (or worse) again, the consequences would be dire. Perhaps not a shot in the head, but retaliation from Tohma. Of the two, Eiri thought he might prefer a shot to the head. At least it would be over quickly and would be less painful.
 Annie Leibovitz is a famous American photographer of celebrities.
The same security guard as before showed up to escort Eiri and Shuichi out of the conference room. They were taken to join Hiro and Suguru to wait for the press conference to begin. Clearly, Eiri thought, they were going to be kept holed up there until the ravening mob that was the press corps was hungry to view its victims, at which point they'd be paraded into the room to answer the mob's questions.
Sure enough, ten minutes later when K came to escort them to the press briefing, the members of the press corps craned their necks to watch them as they walked down the center aisle to the long rectangular tables bearing microphones and neatly-lettered placards with their names on them. A podium with its own microphone stood in between the two tables. Hiro and Suguru were seated to one side and Eiri and Shuichi to the other. Tohma stood behind the podium at the microphone -- Eiri wondered if he planned on standing during the entire press conference until he spotted a chair by the wall in front of the dry erase board -- and Sakano and K hovered in the corners. Scowling security personnel stood in the back between the last row of chairs and the exit.
The room was packed full, but not overflowing. Either they had enough chairs for all of the so-called journalists who wanted to attend or some had been turned away.
Eiri took a deep breath and tried to clear his mind, as he didn't want to lose his temper and blurt out something he or Shuichi would regret later, or that Tohma would make him regret. After the first flush of fame and stardom, he'd realized he didn't enjoy public appearances much; even the adulation grew tiresome, especially since it led so many fans to try to pass him their telephone numbers, bra sizes, or even more intimate information.
He glanced over at Shuichi, whose hands were in his lap, fingers nervously twining around each other. He wasn't that surprised, even though Shuichi's encounters with the press were far more frequent than Eiri's and not limited to interviewers and journalists who had been vetted for their partiality to their subject. Shuichi had always been emotionally volatile, especially on the subject of him and their relationship. Eiri couldn't exactly blame him for it either; he hadn't made his life easy, what with pushing him away (for his own good and the good of his career, Eiri had somewhat hypocritically thought at the time, repeating the same crap Tohma had pulled on him) and then veering from loving one minute to hateful the next.
Tohma moved to the podium, leaned forward, and spoke into the microphone. "Good evening, everyone," he said jovially. "Welcome to NG and Bad Luck's press conference regarding the recently disclosed, ah, alleged photograph of Shindou-san. I'm going to open the press conference with a statement on behalf of Shindou-san, Bad Luck, and NG Productions. Then I will open the floor to questions for me; Shindou-san; the other two members of Bad Luck, Nakano-san and Fujisaki-san; and Yuki-san as well.
"Regarding that photo, Shindou-san, Bad Luck, and NG Productions categorically deny that the photograph that's been displayed on the web is legitimate. Shindou-san, and indirectly Yuki-san, was clearly the target of a cruel prank meant to injure the reputations of both of them. The photograph has been altered, probably using Photoshop, which you all know is available to anyone with the money to purchase it or the ability to swipe it. Even models posing for magazine covers are subject to being Photoshopped to cover up blemishes and, all too often, to make them look thinner. It's a sad commentary on our society that Shindou-san was the victim of a similar scam, without his knowledge or consent."
Eiri was actually a little impressed. Tohma was speaking extemporaneously, without any visible notes, seemingly in all sincerity and from the heart. It was nothing like his normal bullshit PR persona. He even managed to sound like a media critic when Eiri knew full well that he was better than most at managing the press to gain the publicity he wanted.
Tohma continued, "Knowing this, at our own expense, we had the renowned photographer Sakamoto-san take photographs of Shindou-san and Yuki-san this afternoon and are already making the best shots available on the NG website for your use." A laptop projected a slideshow of the chosen photographs on the dry erase board at the front of the room. A few of the more demonstrative audience members made appreciative noises. The room was filled with the sound of journalists tapping the keys on their phones, PDAs, and laptops.
The laptop switched over to the www.shuichiandyuki4ever.jp website. "One of the websites in question has been gracious enough to replace the fake image with a real one." He smiled, though to Eiri it looked more like a grimace. Eiri craned his neck to glance briefly at the image again, then turned to see the press' reaction. A few had fond expressions on their faces, as if they were looking at the image of a cuddly puppy or something equally sweet and cute.
The photograph probably did look sweet and cute, though Eiri had no desire to have the mass media consider him sweet, and cute was territory he happily ceded to Shuichi. He'd stopped being cute ever since he lost his innocence at the hands of Kitazawa's accomplices.
Tohma smiled one of his patented pasteboard smiles. "That ends my prepared remarks. Now I'm going to throw it open for questions. Miss Onoguchi?"
He pointed to Mika Onoguchi of Bop Peat, to whom NG often fed confidential information and who in return cooperated with the label's publicity machine. "If, as you say, the image is a doctored composite, what legal recourse are Shindou-san and NG prepared to take against the perpetrator? And what steps are being taken to identify the perpetrator?"
Tohma smiled thinly. "Excellent questions," he said, but it looked like they had caught him off guard. "For obvious reasons, we can't disclose what steps we may have taken, or plan to take, to identify the culprit, but our lawyers are prepared to seek injunctions if the other two websites don't remove the offending images and issue a public apology within twenty-four hours."
"Thank you," she said. "A follow up question, if I may?"
He smiled. "Of course. You know I can't refuse anyone whose first name is Mika!"
Those people present who knew that Mika was his wife's name tittered. Those who also knew that Mika was Eiri Yuki's sister watched to see how the writer would react to the remark. He looked supremely bored sitting there, supporting his chin with his hand.
"Have your lawyers been in touch with the websites or their lawyers, are they cooperating, and might you ask for damages as well as an injunction?"
Tohma wasn't perspiring yet, but he looked like he might break out in a sweat any second now. His smile widened, and he replied, "That was more like three follow up questions, if I counted right. But I'll answer all of them anyway." This was said in a tone that plainly indicated how gracious Seguchi-san was to deign to answer all of her nosy questions. "Yes, our lawyers have been in touch with the websites and their representatives, but whether they cooperate is up to them. It's a bit early for a response and I'm not going to characterize what feedback we've gotten so far. We will take each step as it comes, including the question of damages." He smiled again and said, "Next question."
He called on Daisuke Watanabe, a blogger from an influential pop culture and music website, who asked, "What effect has the scandal had on ticket and album sales and on the concerts themselves, and have there been any problems at the concerts?"
"Sakano-san, can you speak about concert tickets and album sales?" Tohma said.
After wiping his glasses and forehead with a handkerchief, then folding and replacing it in his pocket, Sakano replied, "Day-of concert ticket sales have shot through the roof. Few tickets were left to begin with, so it's meant that the few remaining tickets have been snatched up. It's hard to tell what effect it's had on album sales, seeing as the photos have only been circulating for a day or two, but downloads of Bad Luck's songs have tripled and daily sales of singles and albums increased thirty percent yesterday over the day before. That's the most recent information we have."
"Thank you, Sakano-san," Tohma said. "As for how the concerts have gone, let me turn that question over to the group. Who'd like to answer?"
He looked to both sides of the podium and smiled coyly. Hiro, silently cursing him and wishing to take some of the pressure off of Shuichi, leaned toward his microphone, took a deep breath, and said, "The audience at our concert last night was large, lively, and happy to see us. We performed mostly without incident. Yes, there were a few hecklers who tried to spoil it for the rest, but they were few and far between, and our excellent security team escorted them out."
"Are they facing trespassing charges?"
Tohma interjected, "Most of them were legitimate concertgoers with legitimately purchased tickets, but since they were disrupting the show, they were charged with disorderly conduct and harassment. I'm told that most have been charged and released."
The journalist sat down, apparently satisfied with the answers he received. It looked like embarrassing Shuichi wasn't part of his agenda.
Tohma recognized Yoko Mizutani, the host of a talk show that catered to a young female demographic and dealt with personal problems and popular culture. "Yuki-san," she simpered, "or should I say Yuki-sensei, has this affected your writing?"
Eiri had to stop himself from rolling his eyes in annoyance. "While it's a distraction, I was nevertheless able to finish my latest manuscript and turn it in to my publisher this afternoon before I left Tokyo."
She clapped her hands together and squealed. "Can you tell us anything about the new book, Yuki-sensei?"
He smiled. "Not really, as it's subject to review by my publisher and editing, and I'm sure they would appreciate being the first to release information about it. I can only say that I hope it will gain as much favor with them and with my reading audience as have my previous books." He bowed his head and looked down at the table. He figured Mizutani would lap up the false impression of humility he was giving.
"Can you at least tell us whether it has a sad or happy ending?"
"Editorial decisions are up to my publishing company. Let me suggest that you contact them." He looked up and smiled, displaying a mouth full of gleaming white teeth. It made him look a bit shark-like.
She smiled back, equally as falsely. "So will your publisher make your editor available to speak to us?"
"I'm informed she's busy with my manuscript. Perhaps my publicist can help you?"
She inclined her head, acknowledging defeat -- for now, at least. "Perhaps. I will get in touch with her. Thank you for suggesting it."
The questions she asked Eiri opened the floodgates. Shuichi was asked about his stage outfits. He nervously explained that he hadn't understood the implications of some aspects of his outfits, like the collars and cuffs. A disbelieving snort was heard from a few of the audience members. He was then asked if he'd changed his stage outfit, to which he responded, after a pleading look at Tohma, that he was wearing pants more often than the shorts he'd formerly worn, with fewer buckles and other hard-edged decorative touches, and no collars or cuffs, though he added defiantly that once this was behind them, he might occasionally wear them again to show that there had been nothing wrong with wearing them in the first place.
Eiri seriously considered capturing his hand and holding it under the table, where it was less likely to be observed, or doing something else to console and calm him down after the grilling he'd been through, when Shuichi startled him out of his half-dazed condition, brought on by the lack of ventilation and the warmth of too many bodies packed in that small a room, by adding, "It doesn't matter to me anyway that people might have thought I was Yuki's pet, or toy, or slave. We're the only ones who know what our relationship is like, not anyone else. I'm devoted to him, but he's devoted to me, too. You just don't see it that way because he doesn't show it the way you're used to." When he finished, he was nearly shaking from anger and anxiety.
"So what does Yuki-san do for you that's so wonderful?" Ichiro Yamaguchi, a music critic, asked. Eiri could hear a few people murmur "other than stick it up your ass"; he was sure Shuichi heard them too, because he turned bright red.
Shuichi glared and said, "Besides being an accomplished and considerate lover" – Eiri saw the horror on Tohma's face at that statement, though he wasn't sure how much it had to do with the potential effect on Shuichi's image of making such a candid comment about the physical side of their relationship and how much it had to do with the fact that Shuichi was talking about him - "he's always given me honest and helpful advice about the entertainment and music business, and he takes care of me. He's a great cook, and he makes sure I keep to my schedule and don't stay up too late. He's even written lyrics for our songs. He filled in for me after that cave collapse and he brought me out of unconsciousness afterward by chanting sutras at my bedside. He's also dedicated more than one of his books to me.
"I know there are rumors that we've thrown things and yelled at each other, and we've had our ups and downs, and we've fought, but we love each other and we're still together. We're not breaking up anytime soon, especially not over something this stupid."
"Is that a promise?" someone shouted.
Eiri stirred. He probably shouldn't butt in, but he was going to anyway. "No one can foretell the future or make promises about it," he said. "But there is no reason why we should break up after being together and struggling together this long." He looked at Shuichi. "I've never stayed with the same person anywhere near as long as I have with him. I think that says more than mere words can." He placed his right hand on top of Shuichi's left and glared at the audience.
He could see Tohma struggling between smiling, shaking his head, and smacking his forehead with the heel of his hand. K grinned at him and gave him the thumbs up, and Sakano looked like he was so moved, he was about to cry. Despite his many neuroses, Sakano had twice tried telling him how much he meant to Shuichi, but Eiri had brushed him off. Eiri hadn't thought much of it at the time, but it took a certain amount of guts to stand up to him like that, guts he'd never realized Sakano had. All he'd noticed was that he'd had to rescue Sakano from some overly aggressive New York hookers. He'd thought Sakano he was a sap whose only function was to be Tohma's lapdog, but he wasn't really.
Next, Hiro and Suguru answered questions about the effect of the scandal on the band. Not surprisingly, Hiro's denial that it had been a distraction and had caused dissension within the band was more convincing than Suguru's.
Tohma stood up and brought the press conference to a close with a cheery "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We need to stop there. After all, Bad Luck has a concert tonight. I hope you all will stay for the show. Our treat, of course."
There was murmuring, because of course Tohma knew that the ethics codes most of the journalists' employers subscribed to would not allow them to accept free tickets or seats at a sold-out concert. There was a mad scramble for cell phones and PDAs to contact their employers about this dilemma and to speak to the finance types at NG about reimbursing the label for the cost of the seats.
The members of Bad Luck were led away to their dressing room on the next level up, behind the stage. Eiri ambled behind them, but when he arrived at the dressing room door, the bulky man guarding the door (where did they find these people, he wondered) crossed his arms and said, "No one is allowed in besides the band and NG personnel. Not even you, sir."
Eiri looked at him, disgusted. "On whose orders?"
"Seguchi-san and K-san's. K-san carries heavy weaponry. I don't want to cross him."
A wise move, Eiri thought; he'd experienced K's wrath firsthand. Obviously, the powers that be were afraid that he and Shuichi would resume what they had been doing prior to dinner if he were allowed in the dressing room. It was a reasonable concern; in the past, they'd even kicked the rest of the group out or, sometimes, they'd ignored their presence, which usually resulted in their leaving voluntarily once things got hot and heavy.
Shit, even thinking about it was making him horny and hard. The end of the concert, when he and Shuichi could finally do as they pleased, was further away than he'd like. He couldn't even relieve a little tension by lighting up a cigarette.
Before he could search for the corridor leading to the door to the outside for a cigarette break, though, he had to get his body under control. So he leaned against the wall, closed his eyes, and tried meditating. It wasn't easy; it never had been, and trying to meditate standing up while horny as hell, rather than sitting in a proper meditative pose, made it even more difficult, but closing his eyes, taking cleansing breaths, and concentrating on counting his breaths to the exclusion of everything else helped.
After a few minutes that stretched on like an eternity, he pushed away from the wall and stalked off. After a few wrong turns, he found the corridor leading to the door to the outside. No one was guarding the door anymore, so he had a quick cigarette by himself. Somehow, though, it wasn't as satisfying as the ones he'd smoked in Shuichi's company.
He went back inside and looked for Tohma. No one stopped or challenged him, even in the auditorium itself; apparently, everyone knew who he was. Finally one of the men fiddling with the soundboard strode over to him and said, "Seguchi-san asked me to tell you he's in the lighting booth. It's that way." He nodded toward the rear of the balcony, up a flight of steep stairs.
"Thanks," Eiri responded, and started the upward climb. It was a good thing he wasn't afraid of heights; if he were, the journey would make him dizzy.
He arrived at the blue door, painted to match the blue wall, and discovered it was locked. That was not surprising; they'd probably had to beef up security, too. He knocked at the door and a head poked out.
"Oh, it's you," the person who answered his knock said, and let him in. It was a member of the lighting crew, not Tohma, but Tohma was sitting in the middle of a row of seats at the back of the booth. There was also a closed circuit TV in the corner that showed the stage, which was good, since from the booth everything onstage was a distant speck.
"Hello, Eiri-san," Tohma greeted him. "I thought you'd gotten lost in your peregrinations. Have a good smoke?"
Eiri detected a hint of sarcasm in these remarks. "Fine, thank you," he responded as he sat down next to Tohma. "Your concern is touching, as always."
Tohma smiled (or was that a smirk?) and folded his hands on his stomach. "The show usually starts ten minutes late," he commented, "and the crowd is usually restless until the opening act finishes and Bad Luck takes the stage."
"Is the opening act any good?"
"Why, are you going to listen to it?"
"Probably not, but I want to know if I'll be missing anything."
"They're not bad, but they tend more toward the rock-metal end of the spectrum than Bad Luck."
"Good. I won't be missing much," Eiri said. He took a fresh pack of earplugs out, inserted them, closed his eyes, and leaned back in his seat, hoping to nap for a while.
Tohma smirked. He wondered what would happen if Eiri slept through Bad Luck's performance too. Would it devastate Shuichi if he heard about it?
Eiri was soon fast asleep. As Tohma had predicted, the show started ten minutes late, and though the auditorium was packed, the crowd clearly had come to see Bad Luck. They were polite and quiet for the most part, but didn't respond to the opening act's songs. The opening act soon gave it up as a bad job and after a mere half hour they left the stage to more applause than had greeted their entire set.
In the meantime, Tohma took the opportunity to study the man sleeping next to him. Eiri truly looked angelic and peaceful while in repose. Tohma shook his head. He wished he could give Eiri the peace he lacked during his waking hours, but perhaps it was time to give up on that quest. Eiri seemed to have found some measure of happiness with Shuichi.
Eiri woke up with a start when Bad Luck came out on stage to loud applause and went directly into "Rage Beat". Apparently, Bad Luck's music was more deeply ingrained in him than he'd thought if it could wake him out of a sound sleep like that, with earplugs in.
He sat up, removed the earplugs, wiped at his bleary eyes, and stretched. Tohma sat forward, anxiously watching the monitor and the crowd's reaction to the band. From the sound booth, Shuichi looked like a red and black speck in his tight, cropped red tee, black duster, and black leather pants. The auditorium was full; there was hardly an empty seat to be found. There were a few catcalls, but they were drowned out in the general uproar.
As the concert unfolded, the crowd was solidly behind the group. No demonstrations or heckling took place during the first half. It wasn't until Shuichi dedicated a song to Eiri and mentioned that Eiri was in attendance at the concert that catcalls, whistles, and shouts about perverts and their sex slaves were heard. Eiri slouched even lower in his chair, although it was unlikely anyone in the audience could see well enough into the lighting booth to spot him.
"I wish Shuichi wouldn't mention me," Eiri muttered.
Tohma had to agree with him. He liked it better when Shuichi was under orders not to mention Eiri, especially since the nature of their relationship made Eiri a target for those who considered homosexuality deviant and sinful. Some of the ire spilled over to Shuichi, but since the public perceived Eiri as the one who had seduced cute, sweet, innocent Shuichi, despite the fact that it was Shuichi who had pursued Eiri, Eiri bore the brunt of their anger. However, in this charged environment, it would be disingenuous to ignore what was circulating in the media and pretend that the two of them weren't involved with each other. Like it or not, they were the celebrity couple du jour, and the public seemed hungry for news about their relationship. Tohma was just thankful that a large swath of the public seemed to support them.
The hubbub died down after the song was over. The band switched from the softer, slower music they'd been performing to more dance-oriented electronica, then covered a few Grasper songs. Shuichi did a few dance moves Eiri hadn't seen before, including a leap into the air ending in a full split. Eiri winced while watching it. If he tried to do something like that, he'd probably injure himself in a place that Shuichi would justifiably complain about.
The crowd got louder and more excited as the set drew to a close. The monitor showed Hiro looking sweaty, Suguru more animated than usual, and Shuichi hamming it up. Eiri hoped all the brat's enthusiasm wouldn't result in him injuring himself or tiring himself out prematurely. With Shuichi, it was a crapshoot; sometimes the adrenaline pumping through his system from a concert kept him going all night and sometimes he crashed and burned afterward. Eiri hoped this wasn't going to be one of those 'crash and burn' occasions.
Bad Luck left the stage to the reverberating final chord of their last song. After what seemed like an interminably long interval, they returned to shouts and acclaim and performed two more songs, including one whose lyrics Eiri had penned. Shuichi was beaming as they took their final bows; everyone else looked happy too. Tohma let out a sigh of relief.
XXX Chapter Break XXX
Then it happened. As usual, many things were thrown onto the stage as the performers left: bras, good luck charms, and flowers – the usual – but also, like the night before, collars, packaged condoms, and sex toys, one of which hit Shuichi on the cheek. This happened as he was bending down while a girl from the audience tried to hand him flowers. He said "Ow" loudly enough to be heard over the sound system.
K, who had been watching from the wings, ran over and examined the scrape the flesh-colored toy had inflicted. He then glanced at the toy where it had fallen to the stage. He knew enough from his days with the Secret Service not to pick it up unless he had a handkerchief or something similar that wouldn't smudge any fingerprints.
"Hey, we need some tissues over here!" he bellowed. He looked behind him, searching the crowd to see if he could tell where the missile had come from. It wasn't like a bullet, though; it didn't have a trajectory he could trace using string or lasers, like the characters on crime scene investigation shows.
Tohma and Eiri scrambled to their feet as soon as they realized what had happened. Eiri was ready to burst out of the room and run to the stage, but Tohma restrained him, with difficulty. "You'll just cause a scene," he hissed, "and that's if you make it to the stage without being mauled first."
One of the technicians piped up, "If you go out the back, you can walk around until you get to a stairway that leads to the backstage area and the dressing rooms."
"So this is the next level up in the building?" Tohma asked.
"Yeah," the guy said, and went back to bringing up the house lights and dimming the stage lights to give the audience the hint to depart and leave tending to the injured singer to the people in charge. People were milling all over the place and the press was having a field day interviewing audience members.
Meanwhile, Sakano was running around backstage like a chicken with its head cut off. The head of security was speaking on his cell phone to the local police chief. The controversy had led the police to agree to provide a protective presence at the concerts, so the police were already on hand, though most of them had been posted outside the building and hadn't witnessed the assault. Now they stared at the projectile as if they'd never seen one before and some of them smirked at it.
The physician on hand to handle emergencies examined Shuichi's face. There was a slight abrasion –it might even qualify as a cut – and some redness, but she told Shuichi that it didn't require stitches. "Clean it well, put some ice on it and a bandage, and it should be fine in a few days. It shouldn't even leave a scar," she said.
In the meantime, Eiri and Tohma had hurried out the door at the back of the lighting booth and were running through hallways toward the stairway on the other side of the stage. Or at least Tohma was running to keep up with Eiri, who was taking long, determined strides.
Eiri flung open the door to the stairway and held it long enough that it wouldn't hit Tohma in the nose. They began descending quickly, their feet lightly pounding on each step.
Downstairs, they pounded on the locked door until Eiri spotted a combination lock similar to the one by the patio door. He tried the same combination and it worked.
Tohma knew his way around now that they were backstage, so Eiri let him go first. They found K and the doctor escorting Shuichi back to the dressing room, where Hiro and Suguru had already changed their clothes.
"How is he?" Eiri said as he skidded to a stop by the dressing room door.
"He's fine," K said soothingly. Shuichi broke K's hold on his shoulders and ran toward Eiri, who looked hesitant at first but then opened his arms and held onto Shuichi tightly after he nearly knocked the wind out of him again.
"I'm okay, Yuki," Shuichi said softly. When Eiri looked at him disbelievingly, he laughed and said, "Really, I am."
Eiri examined Shuichi's face closely. There was an angry red patch on his cheek where the ribbed dildo had hit. It might turn funny colors while it was healing, but he supposed Shuichi was right. It would heal.
The doctor brushed past them, trying to get into the dressing room to wash the wound. A police officer was stationed there to ensure nothing else happened to the band members. It appeared as though Shuichi had been singled out, but it was impossible to know if he was the only target.
When Shuichi went in, Hiro clasped his hand and said, "You all right?"
Rubbing his face before the doctor batted his hand away, he said, "Yeah. It's no big deal" before letting the doctor wash it, dry it, and cover it with gauze held in place with adhesive tape. He asked her, "Do I have to leave this on all night?"
She said, "It would be better. I don't want dirt or germs getting in there and possibly starting an infection."
"We'll work around it," Eiri murmured to Shuichi. The doctor gave him a puzzled look. Apparently there was at least one person around who didn't know who he was. In this instance, he found that more of a relief than a letdown.
Shuichi nuzzled against him, careful not to put pressure on his injured cheek. Eiri half-listened to K briefing Tohma on the police investigation. They had collected the object that had caused the injury, as well as the other objects that had been tossed onstage, and were sending it to the lab to be dusted for fingerprints and swabbed for DNA. They had also interviewed as many people as they could who had been seated in the area where witness accounts said the projectile had originated.
Sakano came rushing up to them. "Here," he said, and shoved a bouquet of flowers in Eiri's hands. When Eiri looked at him quizzically, he added, "Some girl was trying to hand this to Shindou-san to give to you when he was hit. The police have checked it out and say there's nothing untoward in there." He flashed a brief grin. "Unless there's something untoward with lilies and spider mums, that is."
Eiri examined the bouquet. It was predominantly pink and white, with white lilies tipped with pink (stargazer, he thought they were called), huge cascading white mums, and alstroemeria. He was reminded, somewhat uncomfortably, of the bouquet he'd given Shuichi when he'd visited him at home after he caught a cold from toppling into the fountain at the park where the two of them had met. Those flowers had never made it into a vase; they had been crushed when they struggled after Shuichi changed his mind about letting Eiri have his way with him.
"Can we leave now?" Eiri asked abruptly.
Tohma looked at him, surprised. "Shuichi still needs to change."
"It's a zoo in here. He can change back at the hotel."
Shuichi muttered, his face still buried against Eiri's neck, "I'm right here and I can speak for myself."
Eiri looked at the top of his head. "So what do you want, squirt?"
Shuichi sighed. "I'd rather go back to the hotel with you, if that's okay." He pulled himself out of Eiri's embrace and looked at Tohma. "Is it?"
Tohma looked thoughtful. "I'd planned on sending all of you back together on the bus, but under the circumstances, it might be a good idea for you to get away from the hubbub. After all, you've had enough excitement for one night, ne?" he asked, smiling. Eiri hoped he was being deliberately ironic; he still had plans for additional excitement that evening -- plans he didn't want spoiled or abandoned just because some idiot had hit Shuichi in the face with a sex toy. "K, please call the limousine company and ask them to come pick Eiri-san and Shindou-san up."
"What about us?" Suguru asked.
"The bus will be ready soon," Tohma said in a soothing tone of voice. To Eiri, he said, "Consider it a little gift from me and NG."
"Do you have your keycard with you?" Eiri asked Shuichi, wary from past experiences when Shuichi had left his keycard in his room.
"Yes," Shuichi said defensively, also remembering the times they'd had to go to the front desk and ask for another keycard because he'd left his behind. "It's in my pants pocket."
"Go get your things, then," Eiri said. Shuichi rooted around for his backpack and the clothes he'd left hanging up.
"You left your notebook on the dressing table," Hiro reminded him. Shuichi darted over to retrieve it and stuck it inside his backpack, which at this point was so full he couldn't close it properly. Instead of struggling with it, he left it partially unzipped and hoped nothing would fall out of it.
"Here," Eiri said to Tohma, thrusting the flowers at him. "I don't want to carry these back to the hotel with us."
Tohma smiled. "We can't leave them here, either. Why don't you take them and give them to the clerk at the front desk and tell her to put them in the lobby? I'm sure they have vases."
"All right," Eiri said ungraciously, and accepted the bouquet back.
After standing around for a few minutes, during which a police captain came and briefed Tohma on the progress of their investigation, K stuck his head in and said, "Follow me. The limousine's here."
The crowd had mostly dispersed, and security personnel kept everyone who was still there far away as Eiri and Shuichi slid into the back seat of a sleek limousine. The driver was a slight woman wearing a smartly tailored jacket, pants, and a cap.
"The Miyako Hotel, right?" she said, tipping her hat to them after opening their door. She slid into the driver's seat and set off at a sedate pace.
Had events unfolded differently, Eiri would have left little of Shuichi untouched, but he contented himself with threading his fingers through Shuichi's. Shuichi leaned against him, his uninjured cheek warm against Eiri's shoulder. The bouquet rested in Eiri's lap.
"Are you okay?" Eiri asked again. "Would you rather wash up and go to sleep?"
Shuichi huffed. "I'm fine, and no, I don't want to wash up and go to sleep. I've been looking forward to this since I left Tokyo, and I'm not going to let some idiot spoil it." He said nothing further, feeling a bit shy given that their driver was a woman. For some reason, it was easier to talk about sex in front of them when they were men. They might not be any more approving of homosexual relationships, but somehow he didn't feel as weird talking about sex within earshot of them.
In a few minutes, they arrived at the hotel. The driver opened the door for them and stood almost at attention while they exited. "Thank you," Eiri said to her as they left, and Shuichi echoed him.
When they passed the reception desk, Eiri thrust the bouquet at a startled clerk, said, "Put these in a vase somewhere, okay?" and walked on by. Shuichi giggled.
"What are you laughing at?" Eiri asked, slightly irritated.
"You and that walk-by bouquet bestowal. I wonder if she thinks you're sweet on her. You didn't give her any explanation of where the flowers came from."
Eiri frowned. "Isn't it odd that some girl from the audience was trying to give you that bouquet when you were attacked? Who would give me a bouquet with pink and white flowers, anyway?" he scoffed.
Shuichi shook his head violently, and then regretted it when it brought on a slight headache. "No, it's not odd! Audience members hand me bouquets like that all the time. Maybe they figured that you'd like those colors. Pink is very me, after all."
He almost giggled, thinking about the question some wag had made up: "When Eiri Yuki thinks about Shuichi Shindou, does he think pink?" Shuichi had been insulted at first at being compared to a woman, but given his cross-dressing and pink hair, it wasn't a completely unfair comparison. Besides, if he got upset at every little dig, he'd constantly be upset. Nowadays, he took things more light-heartedly.
Eiri huffed. "So does that mean guys as well as girls give you flowers?"
"Sometimes. Not as often, though."
Eiri didn't like the idea of other men giving Shuichi flowers. He understood that receiving flowers from female fans was one of the hazards of pop stardom; he'd received such bouquets himself at book-signings, though less often than Shuichi did. There wasn't much he could do about it, though, except insist that Shuichi throw them away, which would make him look like a jealous jerk. Then again, that had never stopped him in the past.
He turned to Shuichi. "What do you normally do with the flowers you receive at these concerts?"
Shuichi thought about it. "Sometimes we leave them at the venues for them to use. Sometimes we take 'em to our hotel rooms to brighten them up. And sometimes we send them to hospitals."
"I was going to suggest donating them to a nearby hospital, but I guess Tohma beat me to that idea."
Eiri gave him a sour look. "What do you think?"
Shuichi laughed. "You are!" He clutched Eiri's arm. "You don't need to be, though. I'm all yours."
Eiri thought to himself that Shuichi was all his as long as no one else came along who treated him more nicely than Eiri did and swept him off his feet, like Sakuma had. Shuichi was still a little hurt and suspicious about Ryuichi's motivation, since it had turned out that Reiji had filmed the whole thing. Since Ryuichi was under contract to her company as an actor, it was clearly not a coincidence, even though Ryuichi had tried telling Shuichi that it was. Though maybe Ryuichi hadn't expected Shuichi to return to Eiri, and if Eiri were honest with himself, would Shuichi have bothered if Eiri hadn't been injured in the meantime? Even though Ryuichi had said some hurtful things to Eiri, some of what he had said was true. Maybe, in some weird, twisted way, he had been trying to help.
They arrived at Shuichi's room after passing the people K had stationed by the elevator to provide security. Shuichi was grateful that they were stationed far away from his room. He still wasn't used to having random strangers who knew who he was overhearing him while he and Eiri were going at it.
As soon as the door closed, Eiri pushed Shuichi up against the wall and closed in for a kiss, one hand sliding down to fondle Shuichi's crotch. "Umph!" Shuichi exclaimed as he struggled and tried to break the kiss. "Lemme get out of these clothes. I'm still wearing my stage outfit, remember? I can't mess it up."
"I can remove them for you."
"Sorry, but they need to be hung up. You'd just fling them on the floor."
Eiri gave in and stepped back far enough to let Shuichi slip out. Out of the corner of his eye, he checked the window to make sure it was shut and the curtains and blinds were completely closed. After all that had happened, he had no desire to see a salacious photograph taken by some idiot with a telephoto lens on the front-page of tomorrow's tabloids or on the 'oh no, they didn't' websites tracking celebrity news and scandal.
Eiri watched as Shuichi carefully hung up his duster and leather pants. He was left wearing the cropped red t-shirt and snug-fitting red and black tiger stripe bikini briefs that didn't leave much to the imagination. He turned to Eiri and said, "I wanna see you now."
Eiri snorted. "You're seeing me now, moron."
Shuichi pouted. "You know what I mean."
"Hey, I don't get naked until well after you do. It's like a rule."
Shuichi planted himself at the edge of the bed and arched back, elbows supporting him. "Why is that, I wonder?"
Eiri walked toward him, smiling. He had noticed how hard Shuichi was already. He leaned over and rubbed Shuichi's crotch. Shuichi closed his eyes and thrust into Eiri's hand. He whimpered and opened his eyes when Eiri removed his hand and saw Eiri sinking to his knees.
Eiri freed Shuichi's cock from its confines and took it into his mouth. "Ah – ah," Shuichi panted. "Re-returning the favor?" He hadn't forgotten about K catching them. It was fortunate that K, though straight, was cool about the gay sex thing.
Eiri released his hold on Shuichi long enough to say, "It's not an exchange," and then resumed what he'd been doing. He licked the underside of Shuichi's cock, leaving a trail of saliva, then teased the head before taking it fully into his mouth all the way to the root. After he rocked back and forth a couple of times, Shuichi got the idea and began thrusting nearly enough to make Eiri gag.
Eiri wondered if he should to do this more often; Shuichi certainly did it to him plenty of times. His throat was probably going to feel raw later, but he didn't care. He was going to enjoy how many times he could get Shuichi to come. He used to complain about it, but then he realized that Shuichi's orgasms were a tribute to how much Shuichi desired him and how much he satisfied Shuichi in return. Even though Shuichi still felt abashed about it -- possibly because the disparity between him and Eiri made him feel like he wasn't satisfying him -- it gave Eiri a rush to know that he affected his lover like that.
Shuichi was thrusting into his mouth with abandon and making needy noises. "Oh yeah, Yuki, more," he moaned as he clutched the bedspread.
Eiri brushed Shuichi's balls with his fingers and licked the vein running along the underside of his cock. That did it. Shuichi spasmed and came into Eiri's mouth.
Shuichi watched Eiri's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. Even though he'd come, he remained erect. It wasn't surprising, considering how long it had been. Eiri bent over, examining him, and licked the spots that were still damp and sticky.
Eiri pulled Shuichi's underwear off, Shuichi helping by lifting his butt in the air. Shuichi spread his legs to give Eiri better access.
"No kissing?" Shuichi said. Eiri could hear the teasing note in his voice, but it also sounded like a serious question too.
"Aren't we a bit past that now?" Eiri responded gruffly. After all they'd done at the concert hall, it wasn't like they needed to indulge in more kisses to get in the mood, though Shuichi was probably always in the mood for more kisses. He looked down at him. "Is that okay with you?"
"I guess," Shuichi said breathlessly.
Normally, Eiri would take it slow and tease Shuichi until he begged him – sometimes literally, on his hands and knees, with head bowed – to fuck him, but this time, despite what they'd done earlier at the concert hall, Eiri wanted him too badly to take his time.
He coaxed Shuichi into rolling over, with his head turned to one side so as not to put pressure on his injured cheek, and slowly began caressing his inner thighs with his tongue until he began circling his target.
Shuichi wiggled his butt as Eiri came closer and closer to the spot he was aiming for. Eiri licked around it, then thrust his tongue inside. Shuichi's moans increased in frequency and volume, making Eiri grin.
He backed away, picked up the tube he'd retrieved earlier, flipped the lid open, and squeezed the gel on his fingers. Shuichi thrust back and moaned even more lewdly while he pushed first one finger, then two, into him. He angled his fingers and grinned even more when Shuichi swore, loudly.
By then, Eiri had prepared and teased Shuichi about as much as he could stand. He unbuckled his belt and let his pants fall to the floor, where he stepped out of them. Shuichi nibbled on his lower lip, bereft at the loss of contact. Unbuttoning his shirt and rolling up his sleeves, Eiri crawled back on the bed and contemplated Shuichi's ass.
Deciding that doing it face up was better for the scrape on Shuichi's face, he poked at his hip until Shuichi decoded the message and rolled over on his back. Smiling at the dick that was standing practically straight up, Eiri positioned himself between Shuichi's legs, aimed, and thrust in with ease born of long practice. He heard Shuichi groan as he felt Eiri press inside him. Eiri wondered idly about how many times they'd done this. At this point, they'd fucked more times than everyone else he'd ever slept with combined.
Eiri tried to take it easy at first. But his desire and Shuichi's thrusts ramped up his desire. In no time, he was pounding into Shuichi, who was moaning and screaming.
Eiri stopped and asked, "Do I need to use your shirt as a gag?"
Shuichi's eyes widened at that remark. He shoved the back of his hand into his mouth and bit down on it to keep from making so much noise. Eiri turned him on so much that he couldn't control how he expressed his delight.
Shuichi writhed and moaned beneath Eiri, who could feel the tension coiling in Shuichi's slight body. Shuichi's expression looked almost pained and his grip on the bedspread tightened.
Shuichi wrapped a leg around Eiri and squeezed. Eiri almost lost it then. After a brief pause, he resumed his thrusts, reaching underneath to cup Shuichi's ass in return and aiming for Shuichi's prostate with every thrust. Shuichi came first, his name on his lips and sticky come spattering both their abdomens. Eiri hadn't even needed to touch him.
A few more thrusts, and Eiri came too. He continued thrusting until it became too painful, then collapsed, spent, on top of Shuichi, though he was careful to angle his torso so that he didn't wind up pressing his face against Shuichi's.
He lay there breathing heavily – what he would call 'panting' if Shuichi were doing it -- while waiting for the spasms to subside. Perhaps he needed to work out after all; this amount of activity shouldn't wring him out like this. Or, more likely, it was because he was out of practice. The real thing was more physically demanding then jacking off.
Shuichi snickered. "You must have really wanted me badly to come so soon," he said. Eiri wasn't going to dignify that with a response. Shuichi snuggled into the crook of his neck and said, "I'm really sticky and sweaty. Wanna join me in the shower?"
Eiri looked at him. Was he inviting him for some shower sex, or was he just being polite?
Shuichi must have read something in his glance, because he added, "I'd like the company, but it's been a long day. Maybe we can continue later?"
"Sure," Eiri said. He was tired too and didn't feel like teasing Shuichi about not wanting more now. He sat up, waiting for Shuichi to get up first. Shuichi looked back at him as if asking whether he was going to follow. He answered by dropping his shirt in a heap on the floor.
* * *
The bus had finally been packed with the band's equipment and had arrived at the hotel. It was late enough that no one was around; the press had wanted to catch Eiri and Shuichi and cared less about the other two bandmates. Hiro and Suguru were unlocking the doors to their rooms when Suguru called out, "I'm glad our rooms are across the hall from Shuichi's."
Hiro chuckled. "Me, too." They both knew from bitter and somewhat uncomfortable experience just how loud Shuichi could be while he and Eiri were otherwise occupied. Which led Hiro to wonder: what poor saps were staying in the rooms next to Shuichi and Eiri's room? Little did he know that K had deliberately kept those rooms empty that night.
* * *
The most exciting thing that happened while they were in the shower was that they ran out of hot water. After flopping down on the bed and curling up together, they fell asleep.
Shuichi woke up a little after four, but was reluctant to wake his sleeping lover. He knew Eiri wouldn't mind being awakened for more sex, but Eiri was tired to begin with and had been running on adrenaline and desire by the time they reached the hotel.
Eiri had once told an interviewer that sleeping was one of his favorite pastimes, and while the world at large thought that was a euphemism for something else, Shuichi knew he meant it. When he wasn't under the pressure of a deadline, he typically slept nine hours or more at a time. His body craved sleep. Besides, it was the one time he was guaranteed to look peaceful, even happy.
So Shuichi let the sleeping author sleep. He soon slipped back asleep himself.
They awoke so late that they barely had time to pack before check-out time. After all the time he'd spent alone, Shuichi ached more than usual. He removed the gauze and adhesive tape while washing his face; the abrasion on his face was fading, though it had bruised and was turning a livid yellow.
The media horde outside seemed disappointed when all they could see from the remote vantage point to which they'd been confined was that Shuichi walked with less ease than usual. Neither of them wore a piece of clothing that could be hiding a hickey, or winced at something that might be scratches. Other than the more salacious blogs, there wasn't much they could do to make news out of what they observed.
As the bus pulled away from the hotel, Eiri spared a thought for the hacker who had started all this. He knew that Tohma had his best people looking into this, but his and Tohma's interests weren't the same. Tohma wanted to report whoever it was to the police and use the legal process to bankrupt the person and bring him (or her) down. For him, it was just business.
But for Eiri, it was personal. He didn't want or need the money. He wanted revenge for having put his Shu-chan through this. So he planned on pursuing his own investigation and using his own avenues to find the creep and make him (or her) pay. He hoped a man was the culprit; he didn't think he had it in him to use violence against a woman, but he would find it supremely satisfying to beat the crap out of any man who had made Shuichi so miserable.
He grinned as the tour bus pulled away from the hotel. Whoever was responsible for this would soon face his wrath.