Chapter Ten: Be There

"I won't cry for yesterday, there's an ordinary world, somehow I have to find. And, as I learn to make my way, to the ordinary world, I will learn to survive." -Duran Duran, Ordinary World

"Ryuichi, I need you..." I hear those immaculately manicured nails drag across the wood, gathering microscopic splinters beneath their polished hardness. Tohma's claws being sharpened. Tohma's claws being ruined.

Everything goes still for a moment, completely soundless. The door is cold against my ear, solid against my back, a barrier between me and the Angel of Death.

And then I hear him, expelling air, sighing so deeply that you might be able to distill the sound and turn it into an elixir of pathos. This is normal for Tohma. But, what -isn't- normal is the catch in his throat, an abbreviated hiccup, and the tiny thud of what I can only assume his head against the door.

(The visions flicker past, movies projected onto the outstretched wings of doves, cheesy music video style. Tohma positioning my hands on the keyboard. Tohma laughing with me about trying to hold onto his hat while we tape a music video in a storm. Tohma... Tohma... Tohma's shoulders bent, his forehead against my fingers, as I struggle to understand why I'm in this room painted institutional beige, instead of being blissfully dead.)

What can I do? Kumagoro and I, we're both such suckers for anyone who says they need us. We're completely useless against the word 'please'. Even while wearing combat boots.

The doorknob becomes a magnet, pulling my hand, controlling it. As the door slides open, inch by excruciating inch, Tohma comes with it, falling forward, collapsing like the exquisite Chrysler Building in an earthquake.

He catches hold of my shirt, and I fall with him. I end up on my knees, with the apex of Tohma's head crushed into my sternum. His willowy arms are thrown around my waist, and his claws sink dangerously into my back, like a cat trying desperately to -not- fall out of a tree.

And he's trembling, shaking so hard it makes -my- heart pound with fear. I don't know what could turn Tohma, a pillar of emotional strength, into this quivering mess holding onto me for dear life.

"Tohma..." I completely forget that I'm supposed to be mad at him right now. I've got to fix him, because...because...

Because he's Tohma, and he's always been there to fix me.

"Tohma..." His teeth chatter something fierce. Labored breathing issues from his lips in irregular gasps, like he's he's fighting so hard...

"It's okay," I say, keeping my voice barely above a whisper, "It's okay to cry. You can cry, now. I won't tell anyone. Promise."

A dam bursts from somewhere within Tohma. How long has he been holding this in? His sobs, heavy but quiet, pour into me. Those elegant fingers slide off my back and come to rest on the plush rug, palms up. I'm momentarily distracted by how pretty they are, like marble renditions of some unknown Michelangelo sculpture. Tohma has the prettiest hands, ever. No wonder he keeps his nails so immaculate.

I just let him cry for a while. You know, why is it that almost every song about love has the word "cry" in it somewhere? You'd think there's be more words like, "wow", and "yay", and "joy".

I try to rub Tohma's back, but unlike Shuichi, he doesn't need my comforting touch. Not in that way. He flinches and recoils from my hand, shrinking, slinking away from my chest. I guess he just needed someone to witness his breakdown, to allow him to be human and fragile, if only for a minute.

But, even though Tohma is silent now, even though he has withdrawn from my grasp so that we're no longer touching, he doesn't look up. His head remains bowed forward, and he doesn't move.

And then, at that moment, I realize that somehow, without even knowing it, I broke Tohma. -I- broke him. I never suspected that he might be made of anything besides unbendable emotional steel. Was he really glass, all this time, glass painted silver? An illusion of metal that I never suspected?


Was I...

Somehow careless?

Did Nittle Grasper mean that much to him?

For the first time since I originally opened the door, I get a good look at him.

He's wearing the same thing he was wearing yesterday.

And, on his right sleeve are dark splotches, discoloring the fabric, turning it grotesque rust brown. Blood.

Impulsively, I grab his arm to inspect it more closely. "Tohma. Tohma, this is blood."

"Ryu," he says, his voice so different from the certainty and control I know. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to get you involved in this. I didn't want you to have to remember... It took everything I had, the first time and now... I can't watch it. Not again. I almost lost you, Ryuichi, I almost lost you... I can't go through it again."

"The blood, Tohma, why is there blood?" I shake his arm vigorously, trying to dislodge him from his babbling stupor. "Tell me."

Tohma does stop. Finally, finally, he lifts his head, showing me those dark eyes, moonlit oceans...

Tormented with waves, crashing waves of...

I'm scared.

But, I...I have to know.

I can't let Tohma hide it from me anymore.

"Tell me where the blood came from, Tohma."

Tohma is talking, his lips moving rapidly, his eyes closing, attempting to shut out my...I'm certain...horrified face.

"Yuki Eiri..."

The room vibrates with sound, every single object humming, singing, trying to pull my attention away. It's a symphonic diversion, the concerto of a Kandinsky painting, the low bass of a glass table, the gentle piano of a couch, a funky waltz composed by the carpet.


I'm straining, trying desperately to hear above the din. My own hallucination of sound threatens to turn me deaf as the cacophony reaches a crescendo.


I close my eyes, trying to will my mind into silence. I need Tomi. I need Tomi to come help me make it stop.

But, there is no Tomi. There is nothing for me to hold onto. It will spin out of control, with devils and dervishes demanding their due, My life is orbiting itself, whirling and twirling, maddeningly centrifugal.

You can put a blindfold on, and spin around and around, swinging wildly at the pinata, laughing gaily, waiting for candy to rain down. And when you take the blindfold off, you find that it wasn't even a party. This was a funeral, and now you're covered in the entrails and gore of a hanged man, and you can only wonder...

Why didn't they tell you there was no pinata?

Because the omission of truth isn't lying.

It's protecting.

Protecting the fantasy. Protecting you from the horror of the truth.

"The gun went off," Tohma says, his eyelids heavy and tired. "He was drunk, very drunk. He managed to get to the phone and call me. I went..."

My hands are fisted at my knees. I feel nauseous.

Stop the world, I want to get off.

"There was so much blood, just like that time, with you...when you... And there was Eiri, curled in the corner, writing over and over in blood with his finger. 'Shuichi. Shuichi. Don't let Shuichi know. Ever.'"

Don't let Shuichi know. Ever.

Yuki Eiri wrote it in his own blood.

I don't know what it means, means that Yuki-san really does love Shuichi, just as I suspected.

I've never been so sad, or so happy, at the same time. I saw a movie once where a witch doctor reached into a man's chest and pulled out his still beating heart, showing it to the man before he died. A beautiful and rare sight to see, your own heart, though the vision most certainly spells death. I'm pretty sure, right now, I know exactly how that man felt.

Yuki Eiri loves Shuichi. He does.

I love Shuichi, but...

But, Yuki-san got shot by his own gun and...

Was hurt badly and...

"Yuki-san is....?"

Tohma reaches out to touch my hand. I guess he can tell that I'm having a hard time with this. "He's in the hospital. Mika is with him now. The doctors are..."

"No, Tohma! No!" I'm shaking so hard that I can barely even see Tohma. He's just a blob of dark suit, baby peach skin, and gold hair. "" People die in hospitals. Doctors can't do anything. Nothing. People die there. Yuki Eiri can't die...because...because...

"I know, Ryu, I know. Shh, don't cry now, don't cry." Tohma wraps his arms around me, pulling me into a half-sitting, half-laying position over his knees. He's really not that big of a guy, Tohma isn't. He only weighs a few kilograms more than me. But, I typically imagine him to be so big. Once, when Kumagoro and I were coloring in front of the television, I saw a smart scientist talk about black holes. He said that a black hole could compact the entire earth into a sphere the size of a baseball. That's what Tohma is. A very big man compacted into a very little body.

Tohma's arms make me feel impossibly small, like even now someone is using a shrink-ray on me. And I'm getting tinier and tinier, soon to become a speck of dust, easily carried away on the breeze of a butterfly's flapping wing.

Tohma hugs me close to him. His hugs aren't at all like Shuichi's. No. Tohma hugs tight and fierce, with all of his black hole power, arms as strong as birch...

And then I realize that Tohma isn't a Venus Fly Trap at all. He's a luxurious shade tree, rising above us all, protecting us from wind, and rain, and sun. In the absurd garden where we grow, poppies and cacti, philodendrons and ferns, Tohma is watching over us, protecting everyone all the time, from plagues of locusts, from anything which could harm us. He wants to make sure we continue to grow. He wants to make sure we become the best we can be.

But, I never knew, because I didn't look up to see his branches, and I wasn't smart enough to realize that it was his roots which were tickling my feet.

I don't know what is going on, but I have the vague idea that Tohma didn't want it to turn out like this. He was trying to protect us, to protect us all, and he feels that he has failed.

As Tohma brushes my tear moistened hair out of my eyes, he forces himself to smile. I guess Tohma doesn't like anyone to ever know he can be hurt, so sometimes you forget he can, actually, be bruised and battered as easily as the rest of us.

"It's very complicated, just like you said, isn't it, Tohma?"

"Yes. Very complicated. And, I don't know how to fix it for you, Ryuichi. I tried very hard to keep everything from falling to pieces, but I just...I..."

I look into my living room. There are familiar things there. I only buy or keep things which mean something to me. Everything else was put in here by professional decorators. That stuff could burn up in a flash, and I wouldn't care.

There's a Kandinsky painting, which I bought because it brings joy for me to look at it.

There's a couch, Italian damask, which Tohma took a whole day off of work to help me go and pick out. I wanted one like he has in his house, but that was made one-of-a-kind, so we took a taxi to this furniture place. But, Tohma had the wrong address, so we ended up in this strange part of town with lots of funky little art shops. We spent the whole afternoon, just wandering around, completely lost. It was great fun.

There's this plush carpeting, a deep blue that Nori-chan picked out for me. She said it made my eyes sparkle more.

And there's a glass table.

My favorite thing in the whole room...

Maybe in the whole world, after Kumagoro (who isn't so much a -thing- as he is a soul taking refuge in a toy).

Because after Yukiro smashed up the bass Tomi gave me. After Ten took me away...

I went back and picked up the pieces...

Took them to a shop where they were melted down...

And mixed into the glass that made my coffee table.

So I could see him every morning when I woke up and walked into the living room, and every night when I came home. Tomi is always here with me. Even though I can't hold him. He's

No matter how much I change. No matter who I come to love.

I don't have to forget him. And I don't want to forget him.

I just have to make him proud of me. Very proud of me. So proud that his chest puffs up like a parade balloon. Because that is what I owe him. That is what I want to give a gift...

In thanks for everything he gave to me.

"You can't fix everything," I say, pulling myself up. I stand, feeling my feet very firmly placed upon the ground. I walk over to my coffee table, Kumagoro is sitting there on top, watching me, waiting for me.

He says that he will be there for me, too.

And that I will be there for Shuichi.

Shuichi will be there for Yuki Eiri.

And Tohma will be there for us all.

"You can't fix everything, Tohma. But, just because something is broken, it doesn't mean you have to throw it away. Sometimes, when things break, it isn't really the end of what they are. It is just the beginning...of what they might someday become."

"Ryuichi?" Tohma asks, sounding mildly unsure.

I'm going to become a better person, a stronger person. Losing Tomi isn't the end of Sakuma Ryuichi. It's the beginning of learning to love things all over again. And learning to love in a new way, learning to be strong for others, won't destroy me. It will change me from a crow consumed with sorrow...

Into a beautiful hummingbird, ready to soar again.

"We have to go to the hospital, Tohma."

"Are you sure, Ryu?"


I'm scared. But, I'm not going to let it deter me.

Besides, I've got Tohma...

And Kumagoro...

And really good ass-kicking combat boots.

Tohma has a red car. I guess it is a rental. I don't think you can turn a smashed up BMW into a zoom zoom sports car that quickly. It took three weeks to make a glass table out of the bass Tomi gave me.

Tohma is not a fun driver, in that he drives very deliberately, and slower than my grandmother. I guess you could say that he is a very considerate driver. But, I think it is just that he doesn't really care if people pull out in front of him, since he knows that reckless driving will get them injured, not him.

It is late now, and all around us neon light bleeds into the night air. They say that New York is the City That Never Sleeps. I think the people who say that have never been to Tokyo. Tokyo is the City That Never Even Blinks. You close your eyes for just one second, and you might miss something good. Like a drag queen walking a cat on a leash, or a very proper businessman scratching his butt, or an old grandma stepping into a kinky lingerie shop.

Kumagoro and I are watching Tohma drive, which is absolutely fascinating, because Tohma follows all the laws of driving. He even signals when he changes lanes.

I wrote a note for Shuichi before we left. It said, "I had to go somewhere real fastlike, but don't worry, I'm okay. Have some breakfast when you get up, and I'll call you as soon as I can. Breakfast is super-important, so don't forget."

I didn't want to wake him up and tell him, yet. There are some things I need to know, first.

"Tohma," I say, taking my cue from Kumagoro's prodding on my knee, "Do you know why Yuki-san had that gun?"

I haven't told Tohma about being sorta kidnapped and subsequently drugged by Yuki Eiri. I really don't know if he knows about it. I doubt Yuki-san told him, so probably not.

"Yes. I know." Tohma clacks his fingernails together, which is an annoying habit that he does sometimes when he's thinking. I'm used to it, though. "He was thinking about killing himself. But, we had made a deal, he and I, that he wouldn't do it without discussing it with me first."

"But, -why-? And -why- did you sleep with him? That just wasn't... Well, it was really kinda naughty, Tohma. It made me very mad." The doctors at the mental hospital once told me that it is good to share your feelings in ways that don't involve hurting yourself or others. So, I try to do that whenever possible. "And I'm probably going to be mad at you for a long time about that. Okay?"

Tohma sighs. This time it is the usual short sigh which means that I'm an idiot, but he loves me anyway. "I'm married, Ryuichi. And, I'm not gay. I love Eiri, just as I love you. Even though both you are terribly hard to love sometimes."


"I didn't sleep with him."

"But..." I look at Kumagoro. Kumagoro looks at me. We have absolutely nothing to say about this to each other. Because, frankly, we're completely flabbergasted. "I saw you! I saw you at Yuki-san's house."

"What did you see, Ryuichi, really?"

I close my eyes, listening to the faint hum of the car and the only slightly louder hum of the radio. It's playing some old Erasure song. Even if Tohma didn't sleep with Yuki Eiri, he sure does listen to some completely gay music, sometimes.

I try to remember everything I saw that night. Tohma holding Yuki Eiri on his lap with a blanket over Yuki-san's legs. Tohma in his boxers. The television was flickering, casting the room in a blue glow. And it smelled smelled like...

Like lemons. Like pungent lemon cleaner. It smelled like...

Exactly the same as...

Tomi's hospital room.

Because Tomi threw up a lot when he could still eat, due to his medications. So they cleaned with lemon cleaner to mask the smell.

Yuki Eiri looked sweaty, I thought it was because he and Tohma had...

And then I remember something Shuichi said, "It's a little trick Yuki taught me when I had the flu. Chocolate pudding doesn't taste as bad coming back up."

-My- stomach sinks as my hands fly out to catch ahold of something. I get the edge of the seat and Kumagoro's right ear. The roller coaster of my life zips through an unexpected loop. I'm afraid I'm going to fall off. I don't think I'm strapped in properly. Pretty soon, I'm going to be just a colorful splat in the middle of the amusement park.

No, it's too sad. It's just too sad, Kumagoro.

And Shuichi. Poor Shuichi. Oh, I wish he was here. I wish I could give him a hug, right now! I wish he could give me a hug, too.

Why didn't I figure this out earlier? Am I really -that- stupid?

No. I didn't want to figure it out. I didn't want to see. I didn't think that what happened to me would, or could, happen to anyone else. No, it's just too sad, so sad it gives me a headache.

"Yuki Eiri is...sick," I mumble, now clutching Kumagoro to my chest so hard he's in danger of contracting smushbunnyitis. "Very sick. Bad sick.

Isn't he, Tohma?"

Tohma nods, keeping his eyes on the road like the careful driver he is. "Yes. He has cancer. There are small tumors in his brain."

Cancer. Cancer is so bad.

"He's known for a long time," Tohma continues, "Since right after he met Shuichi. But, he was treated then, and it went into remission. You see, Ryuichi, it was one of the reasons Eiri pushed Shuichi away. Because Eiri remembered what happened to you after Tomi died. He remembered how you tried to destroy yourself, how you looked in the hospital, and he didn't want that to happen to Shuichi, not even a little. So Eiri never told Shuichi how sick he was. But, Eiri got better and..."

"And he fell in love with Shuichi. Yuki-san found he couldn't force himself to push Shu-chan away." I'm beginning to get it now. I'm beginning to understand exactly how much Yuki Eiri loves Shuichi, "But, he thought it would be okay, since he wasn't sick anymore."

"That's right. Everything was going okay until a few months ago, when Eiri got really sick again. He felt certain that Shuichi was going to find out this time. So, he came to me, and we talked about it. We decided the only think Eiri could do to spare Shuichi the pain of watching him die, was to break it off with Shuichi in the worst way possible. Make Shuichi angry. Make Shuichi hate Eiri. Then, I would send Bad Luck overseas so Shuichi wouldn't even have a chance to find out. And so Eiri wouldn't be tempted to find Shuichi..."

"Oh Tohma, that's so horrible. It's super-horrible. Godzilla horrible."

"I know. But, then you got involved, and everything became really complicated. When you brought Shuichi over to Eiri's house, my clothes were in the wash because I'd just finished cleaning up vomit. The medications...made him ill. (My clothes were ruined, by the way, which is why I ended up wearing Shuichi's shirt. Eiri thought he just didn't like that shirt, because Shuichi had never worn it before. It still had the tags on it.) I was trying to help him fall asleep that night, Ryu, that's all. But, you came in, and I knew what you both thought. Was I supposed to tell you the truth? Eiri didn't want Shuichi to know about being sick. So, the only thing I could do was reinforce what you were thinking. Afterwards, Eiri and I decided that it would be best to let you both continue to think he and I were having an affair. Because then you'd be able to comfort Shuichi some..."

I see. I understand. I get it. Yuki Eiri didn't take me to that club to find out if I was in love with Shuichi. He wanted to make -sure- I was in love with Shuichi. He was trying to tell me to take care of Shuichi for him. He just wanted to know that someone would be there for Shuichi, forever and always, if he couldn't be.

Even if it was a complete idiot like me.

He drugged me because he wanted me to be unable to lie to him. But, then he saw...and...jealousy. Yuki-san didn't expect that he'd be jealous.

Oh, take my heart out of this blender. It's already been reduced to slushy baby food puree. You could drink me through a crazy straw right about now.

Yuki Eiri didn't want Shuichi to hurt himself. He just wanted to protect him from the truth. So Shuichi wouldn't end up like me. I can see where Yuki-san would imagine Shuichi and I to be very similar. We're both singers. We both tend to be very genki. And people who know us tend to think we're more than a bit ignorant of the way the world works.

"Are you really in love with Shindou Shuichi, Ryu?"

I stare out the window, feeling my breath tumble over my lips, watching as the city passes. A building. Another building. Nameless. Emotionless. And yet, inside they contain families, and friends, and even lonely souls with amazing hearts. People I will never know, passing me by, friends I will never have, disappearing in the night, loves I will never share, gone before they ever existed.

"It doesn't matter," I hear myself say, "Love is a disease, Tohma. You know that it is true. Love is a horrible, terrifying, debilitating disease. A plague that mankind would do best to be rid of."

"I thought you were immune, Ryuichi," Tohma says. He actually takes one hand off of the steering wheel and places it on my knee. Fingers that usually coax the most wonderful music out of a dead concoction of plastic and metal pat my leg ever so gently. "It had been so long, that I thought you'd become immune. I'm sorry."

"No. I'm not immune" I push my face into Kumagoro. I don't want Tohma to see me cry again.

I'm not immune.

I'm completely sick with it. Love eats at your cells, lays waste to every bodily system, and ruins you forever. Love is a sentient parasite. It controls you, and turns you into a helpless zombie in search of brains to eat. You only want more. You crave it, you're addicted to it, and you cant live without it. The only way to thwart the to destroy the host.

No. I'm not immune.

You see...

My ability to love was just in remission.

"He shouldn't have been drinking. Not in his condition. Not with the medications he's taking."

That's what the doctor said to Tohma. They also said that, however Yuki Eiri managed to shoot himself, he also managed to miss any vital organs. I don't understand this 'vital organs' thing. Aren't all of our organs pretty vital? If they weren't, why would we have them in the first place? I mean, if you've got a rice cooker stuck between your spleen and your liver, then something is just -wrong-.

And Yuki Eiri -was- drinking. He was drinking with -me-. I feel a little guilty about that, but not much. Because, first of all, I didn't know he was sick. And second of all, the bastard drugged me.

I guess I shouldn't call him a bastard, anymore.

I'm sitting now on the chair in Yuki Eiri's hospital room, my legs pulled up to my chest. I've been doodling on my boots with a silver paint marker I found in my pocket. I've got little flowers and butterflies and Kumagoros all over my shoes now. When I finally run out of shoe, which should be sometime within the next half hour, I'm considering switching to Yuki Eiri's arm, which is lying limply on the hospital bed. But, there's a needle stuck in it, which gives me the creepy crawlies, so I might do his face, instead.

I could never do heroin. I'm too much of a big baby when it comes to needles.

And hospitals. I -really- hate hospitals. I tried to think of things I hate more than hospitals, and I couldn't really come up with anything. Maybe funerals. But, I haven't been to many of those. I didn't even go to Tomi's funeral.

I just didn't want to see that. I sent lots of flowers, though. Rather, Tohma said, "Do you want me to send flowers for you?" And I mumbled something between sobs about how I hated everything that continued to live, especially flowers.

I almost didn't make it -into- the hospital. I almost passed out in the parking lot. But, Tohma and Kumagoro both held my hands and told me that I could do it. When I did get inside, I was okay for a while, but then I saw an old man sitting in a wheelchair. And then I suddenly remembered where I was, and I had to run to the bathroom to threw up some. This made me more angry than afraid, because what I threw up was the lunch Shuichi had made for Hiroshi and I, and being that it was a very good lunch, and special made by someone I like bunches and bunches, I would have preferred to keep it in my stomach.

So, after that, I decided I wasn't going to let the hospital have any more of the things I liked. Not my tears, not my lunch, and certainly not any of my friends.

Yuki Eiri looks very pale here. In this light, his hair looks darker, golden brown, French fry color. When he has his eyes closed, and his face is slack, he almost appears sweet. An earthy angel swathed up in hospital sheets. He doesn't look so mean. I guess he never was mean, not truly.

He's just a normal guy. A normal guy who doesn't smile much. Well, maybe. I might change my mind about that when he wakes up.

I can't imagine Shuichi here. He's such a tiny guy, this place would swallow him up. I don't want Yuki Eiri to die, and Shuichi to try to kill himself in sorrow. He already almost tried to throw himself off my balcony. And yet, I don't think it is right for Yuki-san to try to die alone. Because, he will die, I know now. He is very sick.

But, the thing is....I didn't die after Tomi left me. I tried, but I wasn't able to do it. It's because...

I had someone there for me. I had Tohma.

Mika was here when we got here. She had some choice words to say to me about smashing up her husband's car and being an all-around idiot, in general.

So, I told Tohma I was sorry about what I did to his car, and about how I slapped him, and about tearing up the Nittle Grasper contract.

"Silly, Ryuichi," he said, "You walked right past the Nittle Grasper contract. It was hanging in a frame on the wall of my office, just as it has been for the past six years. I hadn't put it in my desk yet. You tore up the title to our tour bus."


"Not that it would matter. My lawyer has a copy, anyway. I wouldn't let you destroy Nittle Grasper that easily."

Of course he wouldn't. Because he's Tohma. And he protects me from myself, even when I act like a complete ass. Just like he protects Yuki-san and Shuichi, and everyone else, too.

Now Mika-san and Tohma are out trying to find some dinner, because they haven't eaten all day, and I am here, alone, with Yuki-san. I'm supposed to call them if he wakes up. They are both worried. Very worried.

According to the clock on the wall, it's about three in the morning. This gives me a few more hours to figure something out before Shuichi discovers I am missing. I hope he eats a good breakfast. I wish I could be snuggled close to him, right now, watching him sleep, listening to him breathe...

"You're smiling like that, again."

I look up to find Yuki Eiri's amber eyes peering at me. With the overhead lights like they are, hazy and dim, it looks his eyes are glowing. I think his eyes were meant to be green, or maybe brown, but they just got lost on the way to the color store, so they decided to be the same color as his hair, instead.

"You're awake! That's good!" Even though I am still angry with Yuki-san about some things, I really am genuinely glad that he's not dead.

"I'm trying to live, here. And you're trying to kill me with the fumes from that paint pen. Put a cap on it, idiot."

Yes. I think I like him better when he was asleep. But, I close the paint pen, anyway.

Yuki Eiri moves his arm a bit, and then winces. I've never been shot, but I would assume it's more painful than breaking your ankle when doing a stage dive, which I did once. Not at a Nittle Grasper concert, though. The Cure. Robert Smith even signed my cast. No lie, he really did.

"Do you need a doctor?" I ask, standing up, suddenly ready to flee the room for some reason.

"No. A cigarette. Do you have any?"

"Kumagoro and I don't smoke. It is bad for you."

"Hn," Yuki-san grunts between his teeth, "I'll quit after I die. Get them. They'll be in my clothes."

I wander around the room, "looking" for Yuki Eiri's clothes. They're in a pile on a wooden box at the foot of his bed, but, uh...he doesn't need to know that. "Don't think they put them in here. Sorry."

Yuki-san closes his eyes. I think that he's going back to sleep, so I sit down, prepared to wait some more. But, instead, he asks, "Does Shuichi know?"

"No. But, Ryuichi knows. And Ryuichi, I...I'm going to tell him. I'm going to tell him, and then I'm going to bring him here. Here to the hospital to see you. He needs to see you."

Yuki Eiri's eyes flutter back open, and he glares at me. I think if he could move, he might try to pin me up against the wall and try to strange me to death. "I forbid it. I'll reject him. I won't speak to him. No. No, I will tell him I hate him."


What did he say?

He didn't just say -that- did he, Kumagoro?

Suddenly, I'm aware of the blood pulsing through my veins. Hundreds of thousands of butterflies, rushing in where angels fear to tread. Lifting me, filling me, threatening to burst through. Butterflies pecking at my skin, nipping at the inside of my throat, gnawing at my soul. Butterflies whirling around me, spinning me, making me dizzy over and over again. Ring around the roses, pocket full of posies, we all fall down. We all fall down as the butterflies come for us, come to destroy us.

No, not this time. I won't let them have a piece of me. Not this time.

I'm not afraid of you!

I'm not afraid, anymore!

I will never be afraid of love!

In the garden where mankind grows wild and free, poppies, and philodendrons, birches, cacti and ferns, they come to feast. And borne on the wings of butterflies, secret, hidden to our sight, is the plague called 'love'. They come, hideously beautiful, silent and entrancing, to destroy the world.

But, not this time.

Because philodendrons, although simple to look upon, are poisonous to small creatures.

I will have love on my own terms. Not by yours!

You can't eat away at me anymore!

Not now. NOT EVER!



I won't.

My hand slams down on the arm of the chair. I push myself up, darting across the room until I am looming over Yuki Eiri's bed. I lower my face until I'm only inches from his, and hiss, "Oh yes you -will- see Shuichi. And you will apologize, and you will tell him how much you love him. And you will -continue- telling him this, every single day, until the day you die. Or, so help me God, Yuki Eiri, I'll...I'll..."

"You'll what?" Yuki-san says quietly, not looking quite as impressed as I would have hoped. "You can't hurt me, I'm already dying. And you won't hurt Shuichi, will you? Because you love him."

I stumble backwards a bit and just stare at Yuki-san. It's true. There's not a lot I could do to him. Except hate him forever. And I don't think that matters much, in the world of Yuki Eiri.

"You shouldn't have ever... You shouldn't have let Shuichi love you," I whisper, "You knew it was going to end badly. You knew the whole time that one day, someday, he'd have to go on without you."

Yuki-san's eyes turn away from me to look at the clock on the wall. I know what he is thinking, that his life is slipping away from him, one second at a time.

Then again, all of our lives are slipping away from us, all the time. That's why everyone needs something to hold onto. That's why everyone needs something to believe in. Because, without that, we're just creatures born on the face of this earth, with the sole purpose of someday leaving it.

"How can anyone turn away, when offered love so sweet and good? Men have made pacts with the devil for less."

These words. I've heard them before. And yet, I can scarcely believe it is Yuki Eiri who is saying them. Well, I guess he is a romance novelist. That stuff has to come from -somewhere- within him.

I pick up Kumagoro, putting me with my back to Yuki Eiri. "I didn't sleep with Shuichi. He doesn't know I...."

"I figured that out already, idiot. It's not about that. A fuck is just a fuck. This is..."

Yuki-san doesn't finish his sentence. I don't think he can. But, I know what he means. This is about making sure Shuichi will be alright.

When I turn back around, Yuki-san is glaring at me again. Yet, he looks tired. His skin is wan, and he has such dark circles under his eyes. I feel mildly bad about arguing with a man who just accidentally shot himself and has brain tumors. But, I understand...

I understand now why Shuichi loves him.

Because deep inside, in a place he doesn't want people to know about, maybe in his foot, or his elbow, Yuki Eiri has a big heart.

"Truce, Yuki-san?"

"Hn. Whatever." I'm pretty sure this is Yuki-san-speak for "Yeah, sure."

I'm really getting better at figuring out what he's really saying.

I think.

"Good. Kumagoro and I are really happy."

"What the fuck for?" Yuki-san asks, lifting his head a little. He looks more startled than he did when I yelled at him.

"Because you're going to come to live with us, with me, and Kumagoro, and Shuichi. I know how to take care of sick people, because I've done it before. And then Shuichi won't have to do it on his own, which will be good. Shuichi will be there for you. And I will be there for Shuichi. We will all be there for one another. That's how it will be. That's what I have decided."

Yuki-san's lip turns up into the most obnoxious sneer. I don't think he likes the idea one bit. But, that's just tough. It's what I have decided, and this time, we're going to do it my way.

"Over. My. Dead. Tumor-ridden. Body."

"Oh, really?"

I look down at the stuffed bunny in my hand. I'm glad he's decided to enter an opinion on the matter. Kumagoro is much more intimidating in these situations than I am.

Kumagoro's eyes narrow, and his sharp bunny teeth shine evilly in the lamplight. "We'll just see about that, Yuki Eiri. DO. NOT. TEMPT. ME. I'll feast on your brains. Tumor or no tumors."

Is that a line from a zombie movie? I'm not sure.

Oh, silly Kumagoro...

You're such a badass.

But, one of these days, you're going to get us into real trouble.

"What do you think, Kumagoro?"

Kumagoro smiles at me and looks over at the now sleeping Yuki Eiri.

"Did I do the right thing?"

Kuma-chan climbs up into my lap and hugs me tight, he nuzzles my chest, burying his fluffy face into my shirt, trying to get closer to my heart.

"In the end, it's not about having Shuichi. It's about loving him, whether he is mine or not. It doesn't matter if he loves me, as long as I continue to love him. Is that right?"

I look down at the floor, at millions and millions of butterflies, twitching, crying, breathing their last. They litter every inch, piled up upon one another, an entire sea of vibrant color, dying.

All at once, they sigh, and disappear.

And then, from deep inside of me, the one last butterfly, the first one I loved so dearly, protected from the destruction of his kind by the prison of my heart, whispers, "That's right, Ryu-chan. That's right, na no da."

In Our Next Chapter: The epilogue to Pianissimo Butterfly.