Ryuutarou hadn't wanted to come on this silly trip in the first place, grumping the whole drive to the airport and refusing to stop even as they boarded the plane to London, the first stop on their trip to Italy. And no amount of coaxing, cajoling, or even outright threatening of bodily harm had gotten him to unwind from the tiny knot of disgruntlement he had become as the hours passed, until Tadashi threw up his hands, threw a pillow at his face, and declared that he was giving up. He didn't really believe that would last longer than the span of one nap, but it was a nice thought at least. A few hours of peace from his irritation of a best friend.
As much as he hadn't wanted to be on this trip in the first place, it was something of a relief to get off the plane in Naples. Though he was a bit disconcerted by the sight of someone holding a sign with their band's name, in their professional stylization, just outside of the baggage claim area. Tadashi had insisted that this wasn't going to be one of their usual work trips, that this was going to be something private. That the three of them were only coming along to offer him support in his recovery. So what was that woman doing, announcing to the whole airport - or at least anyone coming through this section of the baggage claim - that a famous Japanese rock band was coming into town??
And then Tadashi was pushing past him, walking up to this strange woman with a genuine smile on his face.
“Ah, you must be Corelli-san then, yes?” he said, offering the woman a bow and then a handshake.
“Hasegawa-san, yoroshiku,” she said, bowing and then shaking his hand as well. “It's an honor.”
“So you're our ... guide?”
“Guide, interpreter, chauffeur, whatever you need while you're in Naples this week,” she said, obviously surprising Tadashi with this announcement. “I've got a van waiting if you've got all your stuff?”
“Just waiting on one more thing,” the other man said, doing something or other with his phone. Like that wasn't suspicious. Ryuutarou couldn't imagine what they could possibly be waiting on now - the four of them were all standing there, they all had their luggage, so unless Tadashi really had made arrangements for equipment that wasn't supposed to have come with them, he was at a complete loss.
“Ah, well, sounds like you've already guessed, but ... that's Akira, that's Kenken, and this is Ryuutarou. Guys, this is Rina Corelli, she's replaced Gianino-san. Are you sure it's okay for us to tie you up all week?”
“It's not a problem and you're going to need the assistance, right?” she said, smiling again. “I can handle the 'demotion' to runner if it means getting out of Rome for a week.”
“So there's been a schedule set for this week?” Ryuutarou asked, glancing between his bandleader and this woman who was to be their guide. He wasn't sure how to feel about that, torn between not wanting to do much of anything and a certain relief at the idea of having a week already planned so he wasn't left wondering what to do with himself all day.
“Ah, well, not as such? More a list of suggestions of places to visit, like the National Archeological Museum and Pompeii, a shopping trip to Capri, a day at the beach, that sort of thing,” she said, offering a shrug and a smile. “Some of the restaurants, I'll need to make reservations now if you want to get in before you leave and there's one reservation already made for Wednesday because they're typically booked out months in advance, but other than that, most things here you can decide to go that day and it'll be doable. So whatever Ryuutarou-san wants to do, I can probably arrange it.”
“A hotel and real food would be a nice start,” he said, unable to hold back a small smile of his own. After an entire day on airplanes and in airports, it would be good to sit down in a real chair and eat something that hadn't been processed, packaged and reheated in a microwave.
“Dine-in or should I make arrangements for something delivered to the hotel?”
“Well, I'm not sure about the others,” he started, but his words were cut off at the sudden feel of arms sliding around him and someone nuzzling his cheek.
Ryuutarou felt himself relaxing in the other man's arms in spite of himself. He didn't know why Aiji was there and at the moment, he really didn't care. Didn't care that they were making a scene, didn't care that he was exhausted from a day of travel, didn't care that the last words between them had been bitter and angry. At that moment, all that mattered was that Aiji was there and holding him. Turning around in the other man's arms, he pressed himself close, looping arms around him and burrowing his nose into the crook of his neck.
“I told you, we're in this together, Tarou,” the other man murmured, hugging him tighter for a moment. “You didn't really think I was going to let you run away all the way to Italy without me, did you?”
“It ... it wasn't exactly my idea,” he mumbled, unable to make himself stop clinging. “Tadashi put it all together, insisted on getting me out of Japan for awhile. I would've been perfectly happy staying in my apartment or maybe even going to an onsen, but....”
“Yes, well, you should know Shinya's completely annoyed,” Aiji said, chuckling as he loosened his hold. “The last time I saw him that irate, I'm pretty sure he ended up killing someone.”
Finally, Ryuutarou was able to step back, swatting Aiji's shoulder as he rolled his eyes. Saying something like that, even when it was obviously untrue, it really was reckless. Of course Aiji was completely unrepentant, laughter shining in his eyes.
“I'm surprised he let you come without him,” Tadashi said, an equally unrepentant grin on his face. That sounded rather like this whole thing had been planned and arranged by his friend.
“Oh I imagine he'll be here tomorrow, even if he has to murder someone to make it happen,” Aiji said casually, hitching the strap on his bag up his shoulder. “So did I hear the words real food mentioned as I was walking up? Because I could really go for a beer and a proper meal about now.”
“You aren't the only one,” Kenken said. “And if it's all the same to you guys, I'm thinking at the hotel might be the way to go. I could use some quiet, you know? Corelli-san?”
“If you're ready then, I can make some arrangements, sure. That's what I'm here for~” she said, offering them another grin and then gesturing towards the exit. “So you're Aiji-san of LM.C and Pierrot, right? And you say another's going to be joining you tomorrow? Ah, guess it's a good thing I got a van instead of a car!”
“I e-mailed you this morning about Aiji-kun, or at least I tried to, it might have missed you,” Tadashi said with a frown. So it had definitely been planned, Aiji joining them like this. And kept secret from him for whatever reason.
Well, no, Ryuutarou had a pretty good idea why Tadashi hadn't told him about Aiji spending the week with them ahead of time; that last fight hadn't exactly been a secret. He probably would have even been upset about it and really, he was surprised to find that he wasn't more upset than he was. Or maybe all the irritation earlier at being made to go on this trip at all had eaten up his store of upset and he was out? Yes, that must be it, he decided as he let himself curl against Aiji's side in the back of the van. Too long of a day, too much energy already spent being angry and irritated and resistant to this whole plan to keep it up. It was just easier to let the tiredness take him, to relax into the hand rubbing his arm.
“How did you get away without him?” he asked as they drove through the city.
“It wasn't that hard, he didn't really have any choice,” Aiji replied with a soft chuckle. “Whatever image he makes for himself as a dictator, he can't actually just wave his hand and change Angelo's whole schedule on a whim. But you can bet he's been angrily demanding changes since even before I left. Well, actually, he might be done with that phase by now.”
“Considering I just got a message from him about his flight landing tomorrow,” Akira said from the seat in front of them, “I'd say so. Must have made some sort of virgin blood sacrifice to the music gods.”
“Wonder where he found a virgin,” Kenken added with a laugh.
“Oh there's always a supply of virgins to be found,” Aiji said, chuckling as well. “You just have to know the right place to look~!”
What a completely ridiculous conversation, but at least it was a normal sort of ridiculous. The sort of conversation they'd had all the time before he'd relapsed and ended up in the hospital. A comforting taste of normalcy. Maybe this trip wouldn't be as horrible as he feared? Maybe things really would just be like old times, the four ... no, the six of them hanging out together like college students or something. It was a nice thought, one he carried with him all through the drive to the hotel.
Looking around at it, Ryuutarou was pretty sure their hotel had been a private residence in a previous life, some grand estate back in the era of kings and knights that had since been thoroughly modernized. His room had a balcony with a view onto an inner shade-dappled courtyard, a full bath, and an internet-connected television he wasn't sure he was even going to use. The dark wood of the wardrobe and desk contrasted sharply with the almost bright white of the walls, the rich jewel tones in the drapes on both the windows and the French doors that lead to the balcony, and the tastefully post-modern artwork on the walls. It wasn't quite what he had been expecting, but it would do. Especially the generous bed he was apparently going to be forced to share with Aiji.
“What is that face for?” the guitarist said, arms stealing around Ryuutarou's waist as he pressed closer to him. Well, perhaps he hadn't been keeping his feelings as secret as he could have.
“Like you don't know....”
“... still mad at me?” Aiji asked softly, nuzzling the back of his neck. “Saa, and after that welcome at the airport, I was thinking you'd forgiven me for trying to do the right thing for you.”
Ryuutarou huffed in wordless annoyance, though at least half of his frustration was directed inwards. Aiji was right, the other man had only been trying to help him. Yet knowing that didn't really change anything, especially not how he felt about the whole situation.
“Come on, you'll feel better after you've had some real food,” Aiji said a beat later, pressing a last kiss to the back of his neck before stepping away from him. Even if Ryuutarou wasn't completely convinced of that, a meal with his friends was better than staying in the room sulking. Not that he truly believed for one moment that he would be allowed to sulk anyway. Knowing Tadashi the way he did, if he didn't come out of his room for each planned - or not so planned - activity, his friend would just come in after him. For all that this trip was supposed to be about him and his health and recovery, he knew better than to think he would be allowed to spend it in the lone sulking he would have preferred.
“Ah there you are and just in time, too,” Akira said, gesturing to the meal that was even at that moment being arranged on a table in the courtyard big enough for all of them. Kenken was dishing out bowls of soup while Rina and Tadashi arranged generously sized serving platters of salad, pasta with shellfish, pasta with vegetables, grilled vegetables, skewers of yet more vegetables with some sort of meatballs, a plate of small fried fish, and a bowl of fruit salad. And that stand looked like a wine chiller and there were bottles of beer on the table already and the chairs looked far more comfortable than anything he'd sat in since leaving his apartment. Once more the thought occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, this trip wouldn't be so completely horrible after all.
Ryuutarou was curled up in a chair in the hotel's central courtyard, grateful to have been allowed to just sit and read his book for a couple of hours. It was only their first full day in Naples and while he supposed he wouldn't mind doing touristy things later, for the moment the idea of having to go out among people, especially so many loud Italians, was just ... more than he could bear. At least their hotel was small enough that even sitting in the courtyard, even with other guests around, he didn't feel so overwhelmed.
“There you are! Here, up, let me look at you,” a familiar voice demanded in a tone that others would have no doubt called rude and insensitive. Faking a heavy sigh for the other's benefit, he tucked his bookmark into place before uncurling from his chair and getting to his feet like a good boy. The other man huffed and fussed and twitched at his hair and clothes and tutted to himself, even going so far as to make him turn a circle before he was finished.
“You've looked worse,” he said with a slight nod. “You've looked better, too, but you've looked worse.”
“Shinya, you're worse than my mother,” Ryuutarou mock grumbled, though he made no real effort to pull away from the other man.
“He's been like this from the moment we met at the airport, fussing and worrying because you weren't right there with us,” Aiji added with a warm laugh. That earned him a sharp elbow to the ribs.
“As if you haven't been just as worried about him,” Kirito grumbled, tossing a sharp look over his shoulder at Aiji before turning back to Ryuutarou again. “You're too skinny, are they even feeding you at all?”
“It's Italy, food isn't a problem,” he said with a tiny shake of his head. “Really, Shinya, I'm fine, you didn't have to come all this way.”
“Such things he says,” the other man grumbled, ruffling his hair.
“And now that the mighty Kirito-sama has seen that Tarou-kun is indeed here and not, in fact, two seconds from collapsing at Death's door, perhaps he'll let us take him to a room so he can put down his luggage?” Aiji teased, tossing a wink at Ryuutarou. Watching the two disappear into the rest of the hotel, he couldn't help a soft sigh. If Kirito ended up in any room other than his own, he would be quite surprised.
Morning found him with a possessive arm tucked around his waist and a pleasant ache running all through him. This trip was definitely not going at all the way he had expected, but he could hardly be said to be complaining. Inasmuch as Tadashi hadn't come in looking for him yet, he could only assume it was before noon, but beyond that he really had no idea what time it was. Nor did he care, scooting himself that tiny bit closer to the man beside him.
“Shinya was going to bring back breakfast, but I warned him there was no telling when you'd be ready to get up. He says Tadashi would like you to actually leave the hotel courtyard today, but I think we can put him off until tomorrow if you'd rather not.”
Ryuutarou groaned and pressed his face into Aiji's bare chest, still not wanting to be around so many people. He knew this was something he was going to have to get over - Naples wasn't even as big as Tokyo and he was going to have to return to that bustling metropolis and his regular life at the end of the week - but at the moment he was wishing Tadashi had picked someplace a bit more remote for this trip.
“If it was up to me,” Aiji murmured, carding fingers through Ryuutarou's hair, “I'd let you stay in bed all week if that was what you wanted. Hell, we could have stayed in Tokyo even, if you'd wanted. But you know how Tadashi and Akira and Shinya get. Especially Shinya. He's already said he wants tomorrow to be a beach day.”
He wanted to fight and protest and argue. He wanted to demand to know why Kirito was suddenly in charge of scheduling a trip that was supposed to be all about taking care of him and furthering his own recovery. He wanted to insist that none of this should be up to anyone but him, that it was his recovery and he should damn well be able to take it at his own pace and not be forced to comply with someone, anyone else. He wanted to march up to Tadashi and insist that all of them go back to Tokyo and leave him alone.
He wanted to burrow under the covers, block out the world, and forget that anything and anyone else even existed for at least a couple of days.
“It's okay, Tarou,” Aiji said softly, still petting his hair. “It's going to be okay. Shinya said he'd be back for lunch, maybe he'll have found something quiet in walking distance we can do so we can start off small, okay?”
With a defeated sigh, he nodded, though he didn't move away from the comfort of Aiji's touch. It wasn't much of a compromise, especially when he felt like he was the one doing most of the compromising, but it was probably as good as he was going to get.
Ryuutarou told himself there was no point in getting angry or annoyed with his self-appointed caretakers. He had tried that yesterday and Kirito had still dragged him out of the hotel for a walk to a café several blocks away. And then made him sit with him at an outside table, forced into enduring the passing traffic and the noise of the city. But even that hadn't been as bad as this.
The warm, sunny summer weather meant the beach was full of people, especially families with children. For being the middle of the work week, there seemed to be an awful lot of people, of all ages, with nothing better to do than be at the beach and it was making Ryuutarou's skin crawl. Didn't these people have jobs? And school? And things to do and places to be that didn't have to be the beach? It wasn't even noon yet, meaning things were probably just going to get worse as the day progressed. A shudder and he tried to scoot further towards the back of the van.
“Oh for.... Arimura Ryuutarou, you get out of that van right now!”
He huffed in discontent, crossing his arms over his chest but otherwise not moving at all. This was not his idea of a relaxing way to spend a day, surrounded by loud Italians. And then Aiji was climbing back into the van and the less charitable side of him wondered if they hadn't planned this from the first, so he would be more open to Aiji's attentions and a reconciliation between them. Then again, Kirito wasn't doing anything Tadashi himself wouldn't have done if the other man had never come. And Aiji....
“You can either come out with your dignity intact or wait for him to throw you over his shoulder,” the guitarist said, offering him a small smile. “Come on, there's a guy with a cart selling gelato, I'll get you a cup of mango. And then Shinya can yell at me for spoiling your lunch instead of grumbling at you for being antisocial.”
Aiji leaned in, brushing a brief kiss to his forehead, then scooted himself back out of the van. Another heavy sigh and he pulled himself out of the van as well. Unsurprisingly, Kirito and Tadashi were standing there waiting for him with matching unhappy expressions on their faces. At least Akira and Kenken had apparently already decided to go off and have their own fun.
“There, see, you didn't spontaneously combust or fall to pieces just for stepping outside,” Kirito scolded. “The summer sun and the ocean air will be good for you.”
“And I've got coconut butter sun block~” Aiji added with a playful wink. “Come on, there's beach towels, an umbrella, and Rina-chan's already promised to arrange a picnic lunch here on the beach. I even brought your Kindle.”
“What? Geeze, the way you two act, you'd think there was something wrong with a guy enjoying reading,” Aiji scoffed, his expression immediately changing to a playful grin as he tucked an arm through Ryuutarou's and tugged him away from the van.
“Come on,” Aiji murmured practically in his ear, “the beach umbrella's pretty big, you can sit under there while I slather you up in sun block. That'll buy you that much time, at least, to get used to being around all these crazy Italians before Shinya or Tadashi drag you down to the water. Which you know they're going to do, so I'd get used to that idea now. But I promise, I'll get you that gelato.”
“Gelato first, then you can get my shirt off,” he declared with a slight nod. Aiji paused a beat, then just laughed and caught him in a surprisingly warm hug.
“I love the way you think. Ah, here we are, your Kindle's in that bag there, I'll be back with that mango gelato in two shakes, promise.”
“Where's he going?” Tadashi asked, frowning at Aiji's back even as he sat down next to him. “I thought he was supposed to be getting you all sunscreened up?”
“I wanted something cold,” Ryuutarou replied with a negligent shrug, stretching out on one of the towels. Okay, maybe this wasn't so completely horrible. It was cooler than it had been in Tokyo, and less humid - the air moved freely, instead of hanging in a dense shroud, though that could be the maritime effect from being at the beach. It must have been low tide, or nearly to it, with the stretch of wet sand that was where most of the people on the beach were at that moment, either playing in the sand itself or amidst the rather gentle waves of the Mediterranean. That helped settle his nerves a bit, at least until he remembered he was going to be dragged down to the water sooner or later. Another sigh escaped him at that and he closed his eyes.
“Aiji, what the fuck is that?”
Ryuutarou tried, without success, not to smile at that tone of irritation in Kirito's voice. Ok, maybe he was enjoying this aspect of the trip a bit much.
“This? Well, this thing here is a plastic spoon and this other thing is a cup of mango gelato. Oh, did you want gelato, too, Shinya? He might be out of the mango, but the guy with the cart is right over there, see? With the crowd of people? A crowd of locals is always a good sign, right?” Aiji said and Ryuutarou opened his eyes to see the ridiculously innocent expression the other man was wearing, as if he had absolutely no idea why Kirito was upset. And then Aiji was grinning and handing him the cup and spoon.
“Here you go, Tarou. Now, shirt off.”
Instead of meekly complying, Ryuutarou helped himself to a big spoonful of gelato first. And then had to bite down on the urge to laugh when Kirito sputtered a protest.
“... what?” he asked, putting on his own best, most innocent face.
“Don't you 'what' me. You two planned this, didn't you? I suppose you think now you don't have to get into the water,” his friend huffed, arms crossing over his chest.
“Shinya knows the rules. No going into the water for at least an hour after eating,” he said quite pragmatically, helping himself to another spoonful before setting down the cup long enough to pull off his shirt.
“First of all,” Tadashi interjected, stealing the cup of gelato and taking a spoonful for himself, “that's meant to refer to full meals. And secondly, pretty sure it's an old wive's tale anyway.”
“Oi, that's not for you!” Aiji protested, swatting Tadashi's shoulder and stealing the cup away from him. “Why is it every time I do something nice for Tarou, you two are ganging up and trying to make it sound bad. Oh no he slept all morning, oh horrors he's having wine in the bath tub, oh the humanity, you've brought him his e-reader, ugh Aiji-kun, why are you giving him gelato at the beach?! I'm feeling very singled out here! Maybe instead of bitching about all the things I'm doing, the two of you should be doing more nice things yourselves!”
He was pretty sure that twitch meant Kirito was working up an impressive explosion of temper for when Aiji let him get a word in and that would be no good at all. Instead of allowing it, he snagged the other singer's wrist and tugged him down onto the towel next to him before shoving a spoonful of gelato into his face.
“Will you relax, all three of you? You've got me here all day, we've got that reservation for dinner tonight, and we've still got, what, another four full days here after that? I'm even willing to be an annoyingly cliche tourist and go to Pompeii and Capri, just as long as you give me an hour to myself every morning, okay?”
A beat in which Kirito and Tadashi exchanged knowing looks and then they both nodded. And then Kirito smiled, shifting around to better curl arms around Ryuutarou, and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
“You're right, Tarou. This is your trip, we'll do things your way.”
Such a simple sentiment had never sounded so good.
Ryuutarou smiled as he sorted through the small pile of photos from the trip, trying to decide how he wanted to arrange them in the small photo album he'd picked up for them. Most were prints of images snapped by one phone or another, but there were also several Polaroids among them. Overpriced trinkets sold by eager Italian cameramen offering a supposedly better way to remember this landmark or that cultural treasure. Most of the Polaroids looked a bit stiff compared to the more candid shots from their phones, with one exception. A photo from that day at the beach, just him and Aiji, the guitarist wrapped around him in a fierce embrace. From the moment he'd accepted the Polaroid from the cameraman, he'd known. It was right there on film, all the evidence he'd refused to let himself see. He wouldn't make that mistake again.