The Off Track

by Aoi Umi


Chapter 11: "Would You Like Sugar With That?"

That ceiling is ugly, thought Yuki as he lay waiting for his turn in the shower. Why bother making patterned ceilings? Who actually looks at them? Then he closed his eyes and cursed the fact that he was indeed looking at it, and even critiquing it as well.

Lying there stiffly, he wondered just how long it was supposed to take for aspirin to take effect. His head was still throbbing immensely. If only that headache would go away...

"YUKI!" Shuichi burst loudly out of the bathroom.

Yuki cringed.

"Oh..." Shuichi whispered apologetically. "Sorry. Is your head feeling better, Yuki?" he inquired, trotting over to his side.

"No. And you're not helping."

"Hey!" Shuichi took a bit of offense. "I said I was sorry! I forgot, Yuki...really!"

"Hmn," Yuki mumbled and turned away.

"Yuki! Come on," Shuichi pleaded. "Get up and take a shower so we can go out for breakfast! I wanna eat pancakes..."

"You didn't forget about that, though, I see?"

"Well..." Shuichi admitted. "No." Then he leaned over and clung to Yuki's shoulder. "Please, Yuki? A promise is a promise."

"Promise? Who said it was a promise? As I recall, it was something more like 'whatever.'"

"Grr...Yuki!" Shuichi leapt playfully on top of him.

"Ow! Are you trying to turn me into a pancake?"

Shuichi smiled. "Maaayyybe."

"Your hair smells like strawberry bubblegum," Yuki commented dryly.

"Thanks!" Shuichi grinned. "It's my new shampoo! You like it?"

"Actually, it makes me feel like a pedophile or something," he grumbled, gently pushing Shuichi aside and getting off the bed. "Did it have to be bubblegum?"

Shuichi just coyly looked after Yuki, who gathered his stuff and entered the bathroom.

Shuichi sat alone on the bed. Now what to do? He decided to take the foremost option of watching the television. But there were only six channels (Yuki wasn't far off, he thought), and besides, it was all in English. For a few minutes, he entertained himself by watching a pre-school cartoon. Hey! I know some of these words. I'm not as dumb as Yuki thinks...

Shuichi, having an attention span to rival that of the most capricious pre-schooler, soon grew bored with this, however, and turned the TV off again. He looked up. Hey, that pattern on the ceiling looks kind of like an airplane. And there's some ice cream next to it, and a walrus!

Shuichi sighed. Waiting for Yuki was no fun, even granted that Yuki didn't take as long getting ready as he did. He decided to look out the window. It was bright and sunny now, and he couldn't wait to go out. About a hundred yards out from the back of the motel was a fence, and behind it was a small herd of cows. Shuichi wondered how the cow from last night had escaped. Maybe it was a ghost cow, he concluded. So maybe I was right after all...Well, Yuki won't believe me, anyway.

Meanwhile, Eiri grabbed a towel and stepped out of the steaming shower to be greeted with a message on the foggy mirror. "I LOVE," read part of it. How cliché, he smirked. The other part couldn't be read until he adjusted his viewing angle. "PANCAKES."

"I love pancakes"? He was a little surprised, and maybe even somewhat, on an unacknowledged level, slightly irked. That brat...

He dried off, got dressed, and opened the door. "Okay," he announced with badly faked enthusiasm. "Let's go eat pancakes."

Shuichi leapt away from the hats he had been making from the motel's complimentary pad of paper and took Yuki's arm. "Yay!"

"Don't wear that." He lightly flipped a paper hat off of Shuichi's head and it fluttered to the floor.

Shuichi covered his head with mild reproach. "Yuki, you messed up my hair!" he complained.

"'Looks sexier now."

"Really?"

"No."


A broad grin swept Shuichi's face as he inhaled the morning air. It was a beautiful, sun-soaked day. The radiant sky matched his bright yellow shirt. Unlike last night, there were actually some people around, going about their errands and watering their lawns. Life felt great.

He leapt about joyfully. When he came upon a flower garden's low retaining wall, he stepped on top of it and turned his walk into a balancing act. When he came to the end, he leapt down again and seized a stick. Coming up on the right was an iron fence.

"I've seen kids do this on TV and I've always wanted to do it!" he laughed as he ran up to the fence and shoved the stick against it. He ran along and let it trail a rapid, hollow "thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk" sound behind him.

Yuki, meanwhile, did his best to pretend he didn't exist. Yuki was also grateful for the sunniness of this particular day. But more for the reason that it gave him an excuse to wear sunglasses without looking suspicious.

"..thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk..."

Ignore it...Ignore it...

"...thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-THN—"

Yuki grabbed him by the other arm and pulled him away. "Stop," he commanded, looking over his sunglasses seriously. Here I am, being his mother again, he regretted distastefully.

Shuichi nodded and dropped the stick. He placed his hand behind his head embarrassedly. "Sorry, Yuki. I just get really carried away sometimes. Heh!"

"So I've noticed."

"Sorry." He softly linked arms with Yuki and walked with him, side-by-side and very cuddlishly.

Yuki sweated a little. He became conscious of a few subtle stares. It was odd that they were getting more stares now than when Shuichi had been acting like a five-year-old child. People. Oh, well. Fuck 'em, he thought as he adjusted his sunglasses and walked on.


"Look, Yuki! Looklooklooklook!" Shuichi pointed in a hyper-electric, feverish manner. Directly across the street was the biggest restaurant sign he had ever seen outside of Tokyo. It depicted – you guessed it – a three-story stack of pancakes.

"'Penelope's Pancake Paranoia,'" Yuki read unemotionally. "'All Pancakes, All the Time, Since 1955.'"

Shuichi stared with rapturous reverence. As he and Yuki crossed the street, his eyes slipped out of focus and he uttered a soft sound of blissful longing.

"'We do not serve pets,'" Yuki continued reading. "I guess that means you'll have to stay outside, then, until you wipe that stupid drool off your face," he said, turning to Shuichi. "...Right, Brat? Are you listening?"

Shuichi seemed to have fallen out of a normal state of consciousness. He lost his ability to balance and slowly fell against Yuki's side, breathing irregularly.

Yuki, irritated, gave him a shove. "Wake up, stupid. We're here. This is what you've been wanting, isn't it?"

Shuichi blinked. "Ohh, Yuki," he fawned, starry-eyed. "You don't know how happy I am right now..." he said as if in a dream.

Yuki snickered. "When you put it that way, I don't want to know..."

Shuichi grasped Yuki's hand and pulled him into the restaurant. The bell above the door jingled merrily, and a waitress walked over. "Good morning, sirs. Two?"

Shuichi nodded. ("Two" had been one of the words from the television program that morning. Had he not been so enraptured in the thought of pancakes, he would have made a point to feel smart in that moment.)

"Smoking or Non?" She indicated the signs.

"Smoking," Eiri hurried.

Shuichi shot him a glare. "OHH no, you're not smoking while we eat pancakes, Yuki!" he said loudly in Japanese. Many people stared. Shuichi blushed and decided to be a little quieter from now on.

After they had sat down, Yuki put a cigarette in his mouth and brought out his lighter. But without warning, Shuichi reached over the table and confiscated it.

"What do you think you're doing?" Yuki mumbled through the unlit cigarette.

Shuichi was defiant. "Please, don't."

"Hey," replied Yuki testily. "I didn't smoke at all yesterday, and it about killed me. Do you want to see me more irritable than I already am?"

Shuichi sulked, but, realizing that it was clearly up to him to keep peace and ensure this would be a pleasant experience, he brightened again. He tossed the lighter on the table and picked up a menu. "Oooh, look at all the different kinds of pancakes, Yuki!" He pointed to the pictures.

"Yes, very nice." Yuki was preoccupied with lighting his cigarette.

Shuichi stared at the menu. A moment passed until he realized... "Um, Yuki? C-can you read this to me?" He meekly shoved the menu across the table.

"Not when it's upside-down, I can't," he replied.

Shuichi turned it around.

"Let's see... 'Breakfast served 24 hours a day; ask about our other menus...Parties of 8 or more, please add 20 percent gratuity...'" Yuki read off, translating.

"Not that!" Shuichi protested. "The pancakes! Read about the pancakes." He jabbed his finger at the listing of pancakes.

"Let's see...they have Regular, Buttermilk, Strawberry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Mango, Kiwi, Coconut, Sweet Chocolate, Semi-sweet chocolate, German Chocolate, Caramel, Butterscotch..."

Shuichi's eyes widened with every item on the list.

("Couldn't you just look at the pictures?"

"It's delicious to hear you say them, though!"

"Hmph.")

"...Cocoa Malt, Vanilla Butter, French Vanilla, Bubblegum, Malted Mint (Malted Mint?), Banana, Apple, Pear, Pomegranate, Peach, Cotton Candy, Lemon, Watermelon..."

Drool formed at the corner of Shuichi's mouth.

"It's like a fucking ice cream parlor," Eiri muttered to himself. "Ridiculous." He continued: "...Coffee, Mocha, Orange Crush, Tapioca..." He wasn't sure if Shuichi was even listening at this point. "...Earwax..." he made up. "...Pocky..."

Shuichi's ears perked up and he lifted his head out of a puddle of drool. "Pocky? Which flavor? Do they really have Pocky flavor?" he gasped.

Yuki looked at him. Pathetic. It was almost a shame to inform him that had been a lie. Almost. "I lied," he stated.

"Aww...Pocky-flavored pancakes would have been so much fun," Shuichi mourned wistfully.

Yuki was about to point out that Pocky and pancake toppings were each simply variations of unhealthy, sugar-laden foods created from the same artificial flavors...but by now, Shuichi was absorbed in the menu, embarking upon the ever-challenging quest of making a decision.

Good thing there was a whole pack of cigarettes to smoke.

Yuki lifted a menu himself and breezed over it. Toast, eggs, and bacon. With coffee. It was settled.

"What should I get, Yuki?" Shuichi whined.

"I dunno," he responded in a tone indicating that he didn't really care, either. "Pancakes, right?"

"There are so many..."

Eiri decided NOT to read to him the part of the menu stating that these flavors could be ordered in any combination. The permutations could be endless, unlike his patience or cigarettes.

"Hmm..." Shuichi thought aloud. "I love strawberry stuff...but chocolate sounds really good...mm, German chocolate...or Pomegranate, or even Malted Mint..."

Yuki cringed slightly. He sincerely hoped that he wouldn't have to see or smell a plate of Malted Mint pancakes. But it would be better than Earwax, he supposed.

"Okay, it's down to Malted Mint or Cotton Candy," Shuichi announced. "What do you think, Yuki?"

"I think you have...um...unparalleled taste," he replied quite distastefully.

"Thanks. I think. But which one should I get?"

"I don't care. Pick one, because I think a waitress is coming."

A middle-aged woman approached the table. "Good morning, 'fellas. What would you like this morning?" she spieled mechanically.

Eiri began. "Toast, eggs over easy, and bacon. And coffee, please."

The waitress scribbled and turned to Shuichi. "And you, sir?"

"Minto Pancake..." he fell silent. "Please."

Yuki raised an eyebrow after the waitress left. "I think that's the longest thought I've ever heard you complete in English. She actually understood it," he said. "Congratulations," he added with a hint of light sarcasm.

Shuichi smiled. "Someday I'll learn English, just so you stop making fun of me," he declared.

"It wouldn't be so funny if it hadn't been your idea to take a trip to the heart of America," Yuki pointed out.

"Haha...true," Shuichi conceded. He turned a little red and laughed at himself.

Yuki couldn't help but observe that Shuichi was a little cute in that moment. (Almost certainly much cuter than he would be in ten minutes' time, with a face full of dripping, buttery sugar.) He smiled a small amount while his boyfriend's eyes were still mirthfully closed.

The waitress hurried over, distraught. "I'm so sorry," she apologized. "Our mixer just broke, so we can't make any pancakes right now. Would you like to change your order?"

Yuki absorbed this information and a different sort of smile emerged. Don't you just love irony in the morning? he thought. Now I have to break it to Shuichi...the poor brat. And damn...he had an afterthought. I could have ordered him some orange juice to go with those mint pancakes. That would have been fun.


"Waaaahhhh, Yuki!" Shuichi wailed after they had exited the restaurant. "I wanted pancakes..." he sniffled.

"Yes, yes, I know," Yuki answered impatiently. He offered an arm around Shuichi's shoulders for comfort. But more for the sake of getting him to shut up. At least he waited until we were outside...

Shuichi drew Yuki's arm near and used the end of the sleeve to wipe his face. Yuki cringed a bit. Then suddenly, Shuichi's eyes brightened and a smile came full-circle back to his teary face. "Yuki..." he began. His excitement was building. "...Let's go in there!"

Yuki looked at the indicated place. A pet shop. "Ohh, no. Definitely not. Haven't you had enough of animals lately? The mice, the cow...We are NOT going in there." But when he looked over, Shuichi was gone.

Yuki gritted his teeth and his hands tensed into fists. Why? he asked himself. Even if I try to be nice, there is not going to be a single halfway-decent day on this trip. Goddammit.


The bell jingled and the shop owner looked up to see a tall, darkly-dressed figure standing in the doorway. His stance was very firm and it conveyed a strong air of purpose and resolve. The owner feared a little bit what this man might do.

"Shuichi," Eiri called. "Brat. I know you're in here. Come on; we're leaving."

Getting no response, he strode into the shop to find him. His shadow fell over rows of shelves containing gerbil pellets, cat litter, fuzz toys, and the like.

The shop owner just followed the foreign-tongued stranger with his eyes over the top of his magazine.

Yuki heard giggling from the back of the store. It was Shuichi's giggling, no mistake. "Heehee, that tickles. St-Stop..."

Huh? He can tickle a hamster, but what kind of animal would be tickling him?

"That feels weird, Rosalyn."

Rosalyn?

"Aahhhaahaaa...you're so cute..."

Yuki's eye twitched a little. He turned a corner and...

"Oh, hi, Yuki." Shuichi stared at him with an innocent delight that seemed inappropriate for one whose body was completely in the grip of something long, black, and scaly.

"What...the hell...is that?" Yuki tried not to let any of his fear show through, but it still betrayed him.

"It's Rosalyn. She's a...well, I don't know. I can't read the sign. But isn't she cute?" Shuichi advanced and held out the snake's head to initiate a proper introduction.

Yuki retreated backwards to avoid anything of the sort. "How do you know her name is Rosalyn, then?"

"Oh! See, look, there's this neat sign over here that spells it out in a ton of different languages."

"But it doesn't say what kind of snake it is?"

Shuichi shrugged. "I dunno. 'Don't think so."

Eiri carefully eased toward the sign, not taking his eyes off Shuichi and the snake. Half the sign was covered by the frond of some type of large plant. He pushed it out of the way and read: "Although it is not poisonous, this snake has an exceptionally strong grip and should be handled only by experts."

"Shuichi! Get that thing off of you!" Eiri warned urgently.

"What?"

"The snake! Idiot! Do you want it to hurt you?"

"No, but—ow! Owowowowowow! Yuki!"

Yuki gritted his teeth. Shuichi lent new meaning to the term "animal magnetism." Why the hell did he have to have such a knack for getting into these stupid, unthinkable situations?

However, it was up to Yuki right then to protect him. Wanting at all costs to avoid touching the snake, he grabbed the nearest useful item – a segment of plastic hamster habitat tubing – and struck the snake on the head.

The snake recoiled and loosened its grip a little. Meanwhile, Shuichi tried desperately to shake the snake off of his arm. Yuki struck another blow, but this time, the snake attacked as well, and its head became lodged in the plastic tube. It flailed and fell to the ground. Shuichi jumped back.

"You're my hero!" Shuichi declared lovingly as he ran to Yuki's side and clutched his arm.

"Um." Yuki turned around and proceeded toward the exit. "That was possibly the weirdest thing I've ever done. That is...non-sexual thing. Let's pretend that never happened."


Back in the motel room, Shuichi sat on the edge of the bed, swinging his feet a little while Yuki looked more closely at his arm to ensure it wasn't injured.

"So can we go camping now, Yuki?" he bubbled. "For real, with a tent and stuff?"

Yuki stared in disbelief. "You can't even survive in a hospital or a store. What makes you think you can take on the forces of nature and the hordes of dangerous animals in the wild?"

Shuichi laughed. "Well, when you put it that way, it's kind of funny, isn't it?"

"Ha ha," Eiri mocked.

Shuichi clenched his fist and leapt into a daring stance. "Let's take on the elements, Yuki! Just you and me and a stick in case things get really bad. Yeah!"

"Hmph," he replied. "...and a computer and a TV and a blender and a coffee machine and a heated blanket and chairs and an alarm clock; am I right?"

Shuichi laughed again. "Well, those can come too, I guess. But really," he softened. "As long as you're there, Yuki, I know I'll be okay," he continued earnestly. "I'll mostly be able to protect myself, but if I'm not, I know you'll always help me out because you love me. Right?"

"That snake thing was because I didn't feel like seeing anyone's arm squeezed into bloody segments right after breakfast."

Shuichi smiled and giggled. "Come on." He got on the floor and knelt cutely in front of Yuki. He tilted his head and leaned closer up to Yuki's face. "That's a good reason, but that's not why."

"Your hair still smells like bubblegum," Yuki diverted the subject.

Shuichi was now at very close proximity. "You smell like cigarettes." He leaned up until their faces were nearly touching. "But I don't mind." He brought his lips closer and closer... But at the last second, he quickly jolted away and rubbed his nose against Yuki's. "Eskimo kissu!" he hooted as he leapt elusively from Yuki's arms and bounced off the walls.

"You brat."

"Hee hee hee." Shuichi alighted next to him and pecked him on the cheek. He settled down, hands on the edge of the bed between his knees, and leaned on Yuki's shoulder. "Come on, say it."

"Say what?"

"What do you think? What do I love the most in the world?" Shuichi sang softly.

Yuki thought about it. Was this a trick question? He thought back to that morning. Finally, he decided upon saying: "I, uh...promise we'll get pancakes soon. Today, if you want. For...for dinner." He muttered this last part with a detectable amount of repugnance.

Shuichi smiled. It wasn't the answer he'd been hoping for, but he really did appreciate it. Knowing Yuki, it had been just as difficult for him to make such a promise as it would have been for him to say "I love you." He hugged Yuki and fell halfway on top of him on the bed. "My Yuki pancake..." he trilled songishly. Then he flopped over and lay on his back beside him.

There they lay for quite a long while in silence, each staring at the ceiling, absorbed in thought. Their linked arms prevented their thoughts from straying too far.


Notes:

By the way: Some people might like mint-flavored pancakes. I don't know; do they make them? I pretty much made that up. I just think it sounds disgusting, personally. :laughs: