The Gospel According to Big Daddy

Summary: Tatsuha takes the gospel of man love to a whole new level when he comes out of the closet in front of his father and a whole auditorium of shocked worshippers during a Buddha School sermon recital.

Disclaimer: I do not own Gravitation or any of its characters. They are owned by Maki Murakami. I make no money from this fanfic.

Rated T: for language and for Tatsuha's original sermon topic.

Also Rated F for Faith. This little story starts slowly and quietly, then builds to go out with a bang…kinda like faith for some people, including Tatsuha. So close your eyes, breathe, then take that first step…


Tatsuha was bored shitless.

He sat in his seat trying desperately to stay awake and upright, but he was fighting a losing battle. Even as he struggled to keep his eyes open, he could feel his body sliding down the seat toward the floor and his consciousness slipping away from him.

It was going to be another one of those years.

After the last year's performance, he swore he'd never be roped into coming to another one of these stupid sermon recital conference thingies the seminary school he attended part time, put on every year. Sort of like the middle school plays he'd suffered through at regular school where he had inevitably ended up playing a tree or dancing banana in front of an audience full of parents, every year, the Buddha School made a big show of its star pupils as well as those students the school considered itself to have saved from the brink of sinful disaster. The school did this by having the so-called chosen ones sit like trained monkeys on a stage before the backdrop of a serene Buddha and in turn, recite themed sermons each was required to write in honor of their religion.

Star pupil or delinquent-in-waiting, Tatsuha had no allusions as to which one the school considered him. And if he did harbor any kind of confusion toward his status, last year's stunt and the fallout resulting from it had clearly put him up in the cheap seats with the rest of the rejects that were only there by the Grace of Buddha and the yen their families threw at the school to keep them enrolled.

Still, neither the memory of the previous year's sermon, as funny as it was, nor the hot stage lights beaming down on him, were enough to keep Tatsuha awake. Once again, his conscious slid towards unconsciousness and his body slid towards the floor.

"Uesugi, pull yourself together!"

One of the brothers hissing angrily in his ear jolted Tatsuha back to the waking world and he snapped up in his seat--his eyes wide. He looked up to see Brother Maru, one of the monks presiding over the event, glaring down at him disapprovingly. Much like he always did when he laid eyes on Tatsuha.

"The recital is about to begin and the last thing you need right now, Uesugi, is a repeat of last year's events. You're skating on thin ice as it is with your demerits, truancy, lackluster grades and a laundry list of other things that keep you on probationary status. Were it not for the fact that you are from the prestigious Uesugi Temple, you would have been kicked out on your blasphemous behind after the fiasco you caused at last year's ceremony! Straighten up and have some pride and decorum in front of your father while he watches or I shall have a talk with him as soon as the worship is over. And you don't want that, now do you?"

Brother Maru sneered nastily at the fear that flashed across Tatsuha's face. The one thing that still worked to keep the young Uesugi hooligan in line was the threat of a face-to-face with his father. Brother Maru wasn't sure what it was about Uesugi Senior that scared the punk so, but he'd bet a month's sacramental sake rations that it had to do with the young inmate-waiting-to-happen's life in Tokyo. For the love of all that was holy, the older monk couldn't understand how someone as wise and highly respected as Uesugi Senior could let his youngest child and most horridly behaved of the three Uesugi children go off to live in Tokyo. Especially in light of the shame the oldest boy had brought to the temple with his scandalous profession as a smut peddling romance writer and his shameful lifestyle--living with another man and then broadcasting it for the world to see as if he were proud of the fact! Not to mention the way he looked with that blonde hair and those gold eyes. If Brother Maru was Uesugi Senior, he'd have kept the youngest under lock and key to ensure that history didn't repeat itself. But now…

Brother Maru spared Tatsuha another harsh look. The boy was already asleep again. And snoring! He sighed at the pathetic display. Now, he was certain Tatsuha would be kept under lock and key soon enough, one way or the other as the law saw fit, and even if by the Grace of Buddha the child found himself graduating from the seminary and gaining the sutras of a full fledged monk, it surely wouldn't help him if he continued on his current path in the modern day Gomorrah called Tokyo.

Brother Maru kicked Tatsuha awake.

"Last warning, Uesugi," he sniffed, before he shuffled off to do things more worthy of his time like greet the important guests and visitors this year's event had drawn. A full row of them to his left was filled with reverent monks, priests, reverends and dignitaries from other famous and well-known temples, churches and places of worship all across the country. He prayed fervently as he went that Tatsuha wouldn't embarrass the school before the recital was over.

Tatsuha straightened in his hard folding chair once again as he watched the monk skitter away from him to go show some lip service to the celebrities in the special V.I.P. seating on the other side of the stage. What that man knew about pride and decorum was a fucking joke! Both those concepts went straight out the window when it came to ass kissing to fill the church school's bank accounts and getting high-profile sponsorship. Tatsuha watched while the brother puckered up, ready to give the row of well-funded guests his butt kissingest all.

If the threat of involving his father after the service hadn't been all too real, Tatsuha would have laughed out loud at the sight of the old monk bending over backwards to ego-stroke his way into donations. Tats kept his smirks to himself, however, because he knew that the brother was just itching for a way to put him in his place after costing the school some of its reputation with his carefully prepared sermon on self-love from the previous year. Tatsuha almost smiled at the memory of his speech. It had taken all of five minutes for everyone to realize that the path to enlightenment Tatsuha had been proposing was a pleasurable one filled with lots of touching and lightly scented baby oil.

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) Tatsuha's thinly disguised treatise on the delights of manhandling (also known as masturbation) hadn't gone over so well, in spite of the fact that the meat of the sermon (ahem, pardon the pun) was surrounded by slick words and flowery phrases. And really, all Tatsuha had wanted to do was preach the gospel of truth. Besides, if each session of private contemplation resulted in seeing God (sometimes for a good five minutes or so), why shouldn't everyone else know the joys of being touched by the Holy Spirit, if not their own hands? As a monk, it was his duty to help those in need see the light, right? Tatsuha had found out the hard way, that not everyone agreed. The fallout from his sermon existed to this very day, including the reason he was at this year's recital—to make amends for the previous year's fuck-upery and to finally get himself off of probation and back to regular student status if he did a good job.

Tatsuha sighed. It had been such a lovely sermon and it had seemed like such a good idea at the time…

Ah well, never fear. If Brother Maru knew what Tatsuha knew, he wouldn't have been so afraid that this year would be a repeat episode of the last. Before they'd even left for the ceremony, Tats had been subject to an earful of his father's lecture…the same lecture he'd been subject to since the previous year's recital and truth be told, even before that.

Tatsuha was a screw up. And Uesugi Senior made sure his son knew it every time he did something wrong…or did something right for that matter. One of the results of big brother Eiri having gone AWOL from the temple and Kyoto life under their father's thumb in general, was an extra scrutinous eye lobbed at Tatsuha no matter what he did. Even when he played the good son and delivered messages in Tokyo to his brother from his father since the two weren't speaking, or dutifully went about his temple chores on the weekends, Tatsuha could feel his father's eyes penetrating his every move and his father's loud lectures slicing into his brain. So, since it didn't matter whether he was the good boy or not, he figured he might as well have some fun and had rebelled against his father whenever he'd gotten the chance. Smoking cigarettes in the temple courtyard, coming to prayer late and very hung over and bedding anything that moved within spitting distance of his dick were only some of the ways Tatsuha acted out. And Tatsuha considered his hard left turn into Bad Boy-ville all his father's fault.

While Tatsuha didn't blame Eiri for leaving, he totally resented all the hand-me-downs his brother's defection had saddled him with. Because of Eiri's steadfast refusal to come home to the temple and run the family business like the oldest son should, it had been decided, without Tatsuha's consultation, that he would take over where Eiri had left off. Tatsuha had suddenly realized that his life was no longer going to be his own to live and that his future was already set. At the ripe old age of 16, Tats had found himself faced with the fact that he'd never leave Kyoto or experience anything beyond the temple walls. Not only that, but all Uesugi Senior or the family ever cared about was what Eiri was doing. The latest Eiri scandal. The shocking thing that Eiri had just said. The shame that Eiri was bringing to them all. Yet for all the bitching and moaning about Eiri's behavior, it seemed that they couldn't get enough of poking into the older boy's business or talking about what the older boy was doing, while Tatsuha himself was usually spared no more than a passing glance or a quick command to go fetch or do something.

Thanks to everyone's fascination with his older brother, Tatsuha became that "other" Uesugi boy and in spite of being the bonafide baby of the clan, he suffered terribly from "middle child syndrome." Though he knew he was good looking and made a point of saying it out loud, many times daily to anyone who stood still long enough to hear it, his situation often made the boy feel invisible and like he was just a part of the passing scenery—like he wasn't worth anyone's time or attention. It also made him feel like he'd never measure up to the infamy of his big brother. That and the fact that he was now locked into being a monk, guaranteeing that he'd forever be at his father's beck and call, put Tatsuha right off the crooked path he was treading towards eventually becoming a DECENT SON and on the autobahn to becoming a CERTIFIED HELLION.

Tatsuha had done everything he was big enough to do and then some to try to get himself booted from his father's dictatorship and the lockdown he had on his future. Between his behavior at both schools, angry calls from the fathers of deflowered "virgins" (half of whom could have written a chapter in the Kama Sutra all by themselves), and the occasional visit from Kyoto Law Enforcement, Tatsuha's out of control behavior had continued to escalate in a tit-for-tat war with his father. The stricter his father grew, the more Tatsuha became "Billy Badass." The louder Billy Badass got, the tighter Uesugi Senior's iron grip squeezed him. It was a vicious circle that had evilly gone round and round until it had all come to a head at the previous year's conference recital when Tatsuha had stood before the worshipping audience, his school administrators, Buddha and last but not least, his father, and told them all with a straight face that the path to fulfillment in the great beyond, started with a trip to the drugstore for something slick to help with fulfillment in the pants.

Uesugi Senior had been beside himself with livid, eye-bulging fury for the embarrassment Tatsuha had caused him, the school and of course the family temple and name. He had contemplated sending the boy away for hardcore training at a temple in the mountains that specialized in wayward youth, but had eventually decided against it. Deep beneath it all, Tatsuha wasn't a bad kid. There was good that could come of him still, but Uesugi Senior was at wits end to figure out how to reach that Tatsuha and drag him out by the ear to run the temple like he desired. He also knew that if they continued in their arms race standoff, Uesugi Senior and the temple both would lose the last, best hope either of them had for living on past the current generation. Tatsuha was already a hair away from becoming Eiri Junior and packing him off to Buddha Boot Camp would surely be the trigger to kick the boy over to the Dark Side where his brother had bought a penthouse condo and was happily living in sin. Uesugi Senior was determined not to let that happen.

Desperate for some way to corral his youngest back onto the path of righteousness, a deal had been struck between them. If Uesugi Senior wanted the good son he knew was bound and gagged within the Devil Incarnate, he was going to have to loosen up and let Tatsuha experience some life for himself. After hearing much begging, pleading and outright threatening to pull an Eiri and leave and not look back, Uesugi Senior gave in…to a point. He allowed Tatsuha to leave Kyoto and take up residence in Tokyo, provided that he enrolled in high school there, kept out of trouble, kept his grades up to par and continued to go to seminary school and do his temple duties on the weekends. If after a year he hadn't gotten into any trouble, remained in good standing at both schools and continued his religious studies, he could remain in Tokyo until it was time for him to take the reigns from his father. Before Tatsuha had been able to dance a jig of joy at his victory however, the elder Uesugi had made it absolutely, positively clear that Tatsuha was to remain scandal free and jail clear until such time or the deal would be off and he'd never again get the chance to experience such freedom unless he left the name Uesugi behind for good. And of course, if Tatsuha did that, he wouldn't have any of the Uesugi family support or money to help him on his way.

Tatsuha wasn't the brightest kid in his class and his grades would never get him into med school, but even he knew the cost of living in Tokyo was ferocious and that he'd likely not be able to make it on his own for awhile without the financial backing of his father. Plus there was only so long he could mooch and or steal from Eiri until his ill-tempered brother slapped a pink wig on him and pretended his name was Shuichi before drop kicking his broke ass to the curb!

So Baby Uesugi had gone to Tokyo and set up house keeping in a small flat almost a whole 12 months before and he'd kept a low profile ever since. Naturally he had continued to do all that he'd done in Kyoto, but now he found near professional ways to cover his activities. Tatsuha became a master at deception tactics, covert interceptions of revealing school mail and Tats's personal favorite, the lieless lie—that archaic art of managing to tell the truth despite the kernel of it being wrapped in the lie steeped reality of it all.

Tats lived his double life with evil glee. He lived out his fantasies in Tokyo during the week and continued his seminary studies--commuting back to Kyoto on the weekends for his mandatory temple duty --a sentence which he served without complaint, even if he did still resent having to do it at all. And that's how the year slid by—with Tatsuha working his ass off to stay low and plan for his eventual escape out of the deal. Once he had broken free, he would live life on his own in Tokyo without ever looking back to Kyoto…or the temple and all it represented. That had been the plan.

And then a curious thing happened.

Tatsuha met Ryuichi Sakuma and his world turned upside down.

From the first instance of their chance meeting, Tatsuha had gone from raving fanboy lunatic obsession to head over heels deep love. The whole thing took about half a minute. And apparently Buddha DID listen to prayers because as if meeting his lifelong dream in person wasn't enough, lightning struck twice and after an initial period of closely scrutinized Kuma inspection, Ryu had decided Tatsuha was sparkly enough to be in love with too.

The fact that Ryu loved him was a blessing in itself. Even though there were vast age and background differences, Ryu had finally fessed up and told him in only the way Ryu could, that he loved Tatsuha back. He told Tatsuha that he loved the way his boy adored him, not as a rock star to be idolized, but as a man who needed someone to care about him. He told Tatsuha that he loved the way he looked at him as if he were better than air to breathe, better than a new box of crayons to color with and better than just about any kind of ice cream on Earth. And Ryu told Tatsuha that he absolutely loved the way that such a young boy could hold him so gently and without words tell him every second of every minute that he loved him, just by his soft hugs, his passionate kisses and his contented purrs whenever Ryu got near him. It also didn't hurt that the boy was drop dead gorgeous, made Ryu his lunch for work everyday with sushi rolls that looked like smiley faces, and called him cute pet names like Starshine and Babycakes. Kuma thought that was da bomb!

When it became clear that Ryu returned Tatsuha's love, a curious thing happened. The world around Tatsuha and his life in general suddenly looked…different. It looked brighter and more vibrant. Things that had been only black and white to him before now had color and substance and when he touched those things he could feel them beneath his fingers. Food tasted better, with the distinction between the sweet and the sour sharp and vivid. The air around him became sweeter and not just something to inhale and exhale in order to survive. Little things began to mean a lot more to him as well. Watching the stars with his Starshine or the soft paw of a pink bunny on his arm while he and Ryu had Sunday morning tea and read the newspaper comics together made his heart beat with the rhythm of happiness and his soul sigh with contented ease. The world that Tatsuha had existed in previously, slowly developed like a Polaroid picture—a picture in which he began to like what he could see coming into focus. In short, Tatsuha began to breathe. Tatsuha began to live.

Tatsuha's behavior changed for the better too. Suddenly, hanging out and partying in Kabukicho or Shibuya at all hours (on school nights no less) wasn't that important or fun. And it only took once to see the hurt in a pair of big, crystal blue eyes to make him realize that there was only one home for his dick and that was with Ryu. On top of that, Tatsuha even did his homework! Two sets of homework from both of his schools had always been a sore point with Tatsuha, especially when he wasn't inclined to do homework from one school by itself. But when Ryu put his sexy foot down, the boy pulled out his books without complaint and did his best to study and complete his assignments, even if they weren't perfect when he was done.

While Tats was still a devout under aged beer drinker and cursed as much as he smoked cigarettes, the life the two were building together acted like a soothing balm that calmed Tatsuha down and as if that wasn't enough, there was more. Slowly, almost stealthily, Tatsuha came home to the temple. Not just physically of course, because he still did that every weekend. No, Tatsuha came home spiritually. His resentment of being MADE to conduct worship in the temple after Eiri's abandonment of it, began to seem less and less like a chore that he was doing to appease his father and more and more like something pleasant that Tatsuha looked forward to. Tatsuha began to realize that he enjoyed his duties and was actually good at being a monk. It was the first thing he had ever been good at that didn't require changing the sheets when he was done.

When Tatsuha realized that he was happy being a monk, he was amazed at the number of things that he had come to like about the temple. Things he previously either hadn't noticed or hadn't given a shit about. He found that he liked the peaceful serenity setting up the altar brought him. He liked the thick, tranquil silences prayer and meditation brought him. And whether surrounded by the unified strength of the other brothers chanting or the comforting solitude of an empty, candle-lit room, it seemed for the first time in his life, that someone…or someTHING was listening after all. And that maybe, just maybe, Ryu wasn't the only one to finally take notice of Tatsuha as more than just another Uesugi or Eiri's little brother…or the Kyoto Terror as he'd come to be called in certain quarters.

The coincidental timing of finding the love of his life and that "thing" that seemed to watch Tatsuha from afar with an amused warmth worked together to make him see things clearly. Maybe it wasn't so coincidental after all. Maybe everything had come about to make him realize that he was meant to be exactly where he was. Steeped in his new found appreciation for monk hood and with Ryu by his side, maybe the temple in Kyoto, complete with a guiding spirit that seemed to reach out to him, wasn't such a bad place for a 16 year old man named Tatsuha Uesugi to be after all.

And it was because of his new found love and love of life that Tatsuha worked extra hard to keep himself below his father's ever watchful radar. It wasn't enough that he had stopped doing most of the things that had set him up for a life of surveillance in the first place. No, the end of his wild style was a personal choice. He found that being with his beloved Babycakes was enough to fulfill him. And with Ryu keeping watch over his studies, even if the man couldn't actually help with any of the homework as most of it was all just sparkly scribbling to him, Tats no longer had to live in fear of being cast out of school as a result of his poor grades. None of that was a concern for Tatsuha any longer. His life with Ryu on the other hand, the very thing that had jump started such a turn around in the first place, very much WAS a concern.

Because of Eiri's love/hate relationship with Shuichi, another man--something that drove an even bigger wedge in the mile-wide rift between father and oldest son, no thanks to a broken off arranged engagement and the sheer sinful nature of it all, Tatsuha was determined to keep his love affair with Babycakes on the down low as far as it would go. Tatsuha knew his father was well aware of his childhood fascination with the band Nittle Grasper. How could he not? In his earlier youth, Tatsuha ate, slept and breathed Nittle Grasper; using his allowance to buy everything that had NG stamped across it. From bed sheets, to underwear, to the shower gel that he'd gleefully washed his ass with, Tatsuha had been the very definition of a number one fanatic. And his particular backstage stalker-like preoccupation with the band's lead singer, one very sexy, very dynamic, very MALE Ryuichi Sakuma, had caused his father all kinds of consternation.

Tats knew from experience that the old man kept a weather eye open for any sign that Tatsuha was sliding down the slippery lube covered slope toward YaoiLand and did his utmost best to fly below his father's "gaydar." Not that Tats hadn't ever had a taste of the rear view before. He'd never claimed to be entirely straight and was totally okay with his fence-straddling nature; however, this WAS the first time he'd been in actual love. And now that he was LIVING with Ryu, well, hiding a whole lifestyle was a hella different ballgame from stashing a few wayward Kizuna manga and covering up covert meetings in the gym locker room. Especially with a father bound and determined to know every last detail of his life—a life that had to be blemish free if it was to fulfill his father's wishes.

Tatsuha knew without a doubt, that if his father caught wind of what he was really up to in Tokyo and with who, not to mention, with what gender that certain WHO was, Uesugi Senior would snatch his son back to Kyoto by the crotch so fast, Tats's body would arrive ten minutes after his dick did. All Tatsuha would need at that point would be a blonde dye job and an earring in the ear to pound the last nail into the coffin of his father's wishes and finally kick start that heart attack the oldest Uesugi had been flirting with over the years due to his sons.

And Tatsuha wouldn't even be able to preside over the funeral! Who wants an ex-almost monk still dusty from being kicked out of Buddha School giving a man his last rites? His father would die AND go to hell and it'd all be because of a bunch of sparkly X chromosomes!

So, Tats did what he had to do, including dancing around his "roommate's" last name, avoiding taking Ryu home to meet his father or letting the two of them talk on the phone any longer than a quick "Hello, is my son there?" Tatsuha knew that Ryu had eventually come to understand that his boy was hiding something from him, but he didn't know what. And lately, the source of what little tension stood between them revolved around whether Tatsuha was ashamed of him and why he couldn't join him sometimes on his weekends home or even just meet his father. Tatsuha had thought that meeting Eiri would have been enough to turn any brave soul off from wanting to meet more of his family, but it only spurred Ryu on even more. The man was determined to know all about his lover, including why the boy never seemed to want him in Kyoto or ever invited him to any of his Buddha School functions…

Tatsuha sat on stage, beneath the hot glare of the spotlights, watching the audience finally start to take their seats and quiet down as the recital prepared to begin. He scanned the faces in the audience and spied his father standing in the aisle speaking with a monk from another temple in Kyoto. Tats winced. As it just so happened, the monk his father was speaking to was Ayaka's father-the very father that had arranged to engage his daughter to Eiri. The very engagement that Shuichi, a man, had helped to bust up with cross-dressing drama.

Tatsuha sighed and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He loved the temple, but he hated the politics that ran behind the scenes sometimes. He hated that because of his father, others like him and their old school views, he couldn't acknowledge the very thing to which Uesugi Temple owed its prodigal son's homecoming—Ryuichi Sakuma and Tatsuha's deep love for his Starshine. It hurt him that he couldn't share the spiritual part of his life with his lover. But Tatsuha knew that just like he couldn't tell his father about Ryu, telling Ryu why he couldn't come to Kyoto and meet Uesugi Senior would cause a lot of guilt on Ryu's part. Tats was scared shitless that his Starshine just might up and decide for the boy that life with the temple would be better for him and leave. Tatsuha could easily see that happening and that was the very last thing he wanted. No, if he could just hold on a little longer and keep both sides at bay, soon he'd be back to regular student status at the seminary and could begin to tell his Starshine some of his reasons for shuttering part of himself away from him.

Almost as if he had telepathically drawn his attention, Uesugi Senior cast a steely glance up on stage at his son and the two monks stood in a small cluster of religious righteousness, undoubtedly discussing him. Tats looked away and instead watched all the other students that were up on stage with him. They all looked so happy with their prepared sermons typed up or captured within ornate books. Tats dug the loose sheets of his own sermon that he'd stuck under his chair and held them in his hands, while everyone else waved excitedly to family and friends in the audience that had come to see them perform.

What he wouldn't give to be able to do that with Ryu. To be open and proud that his man had come to see him do the thing he loved best to do. To share one love with the other…

Tats smiled to himself. That would be so wonderful to gaze out into the audience and see Ryu smiling back at him, all sparkles and Kuma waves. He'd be wearing something sexy, like his favorite tight blue jeans and that cute jacket Tatsuha had bought him with part of last month's living stipend he received. The one that went so well with that blue headband of his…just like the tight blue jeans, cute jacket and blue headband that Ryu was wearing right now…

Tatsuha blinked. Wearing right now and walking down the aisle! Tatsuha blinked again and sat up in his seat. Wearing right now and walking down the aisle of the auditorium…right towards his father!

Tatsuha's mouth fell open and panic kicked him straight in the balls. Ryu had come! No matter how much he blinked and stared, the sight before him didn't change. Never mind that just a short while ago, Ryu had nodded and smiled that small sad smile of understanding when Tatsuha had left for Kyoto without him—again.

STARSHINE HAD COME TO KYOTO TO SEE HIM PERFORM!

Oh shit!

And not only that, the man was making a straight beeline for his father whom he'd spotted right away, standing in the aisle, wearing his monk's robes, speaking with another monk. Spotted and recognized from the one picture of the family together that Tatsuha had back at their flat on the dresser.

Double shit!

Tatsuha totally forgot his sermon and let the pages flutter and fall to the floor as he bolted out of his seat and vaulted off the stage, forgoing the steps altogether in an effort to intercept Starshine from his crash course with danger.

Danger Danger Will Robinson!

Where's that fucking robot when you needed it? Tats thought. Or any kind of cataclysm that could stop what was about to happen from happening? A little earthquake. A big tsunami. Anything, Tats wasn't picky at this point. He was up by the stage. Ryu, his father and the bomb waiting to explode were at the back of the large auditorium. There was no way he'd be able to make it to Ryu in time without either running or drawing serious attention to himself. He didn't want to do either, so he walked as fast as his robes would let him and still appear casual. All the while, sweat on his face dropped in beads bigger than the wooden ones for prayer that hung around his neck.

Tats did a fast hustle up the sloping aisle, each step bringing him closer to the awful scene about to unfold. Ryu was approaching his father from behind, so his father hadn't seen him yet. Maybe if he could catch his man's eye before Ryu's outstretched hand could politely tap his father on the shoulder…

"Uesugi! What do you think you're doing?" Brother Maru abruptly materialized from out of no-fucking-where, and halted Tatsuha in his tracks. The monk stood between him and his destination, blocking his view of what was going on behind him. Tats craned his neck around the monk, trying to see, and prepared to go around him, when the monk anticipated his intentions and moved to block him again.

Annoyed, Tatsuha snapped back to face his obstacle head on and gave the brother a MOST disrespectful look.

"Why are you out of your seat, Uesugi? The recital is about to begin and you are making a scene! Return to your position at once and prepare to deliver your sermon unto those that need it. And while you do, make certain that you yourself heed its message!"

Then and there Tatsuha shifted into battle mode and was about to straight-arm the man and roll right over him when he heard his father's voice filter down to him from where he stood several feet behind Brother Maru.

"Yes, Tatsuha has improved greatly," he could hear Uesugi Senior saying.

"And to what do you attribute his most unexpected reversal?" Ayaka's father asked.

The answer came immediately. "No doubt it was the strict discipline I have placed on him. It seems that letting him go to Tokyo has only served to bring him closer to home. Letting him see and experience with his own eyes the perils of city life while guiding him with a firm hand and tight control has steered him from the path of self-destruction. I no longer worry that he is following in the footsteps of his brother. Now that he's put away childish things and turned away from the harmful longings of worldly desires, he will become a fine monk in the Uesugi tradition."

Ayaka's father laughed a little. "What about his marital status? My Ayaka is still available. Though she's slightly older than Tatsuha, if he continues on his current path, I believe he may eventually be a good match. We still have an arrangement between our families that hasn't been fulfilled I'm sorry to say, Brother Uesugi."

"And it shames me to no end that I have been unable to fulfill our obligations to your family and temple, but perhaps with a bit more training, Tatsuha will be able to stand in his brother's place. Tatsuha is still rough around the edges, but he's making progress. Even now he's returned to the temple, brought up his grades and put aside his horrible lusting for flesh and that wanton, sinful idol of his, Ryuichi Sakuma. He used to not be able to go a whole sentence without mentioning his name, but no longer. He no longer talks about him or listens to his music or stares for hours at his picture, subsisting only on bowls of rice. That obsession has run its course it seems and he has put behind him any of that so-called disgraceful love for him or any of the shameful leanings he might have had toward that particular type of relationship, if you know what I mean. We should speak more on the matter once Tatsuha has gained his full sutras and is fully ready to take over the temple …perhaps then we can speak of fulfilling the contract his brother dishonored…"

Suddenly the fear that had been driving Tatsuha's frantic flight drained out of him and left him weak and cold and helpless to move onward. His father was once again making plans to shackle him to the life he wanted him to have, not the one Tatsuha wanted to live. And it didn't include Tokyo or …

Tatsuha gasped out loud. Ryu! He jammed his head around Brother Maru's body and saw his beloved Starshine standing behind his father, his arm still outstretched to tap Uesugi Senior on the shoulder. But now, it was frozen in mid-air. Ryu's slender body stood stock still as the painful words he'd just heard about himself and his loving boy sank in. Slowly…slowly…the outstretched arm lowered and slowly, slowly, Ryu took a step backward…and then another…

"Starshine!" Tatsuha blurted the name out, though only one other person there knew who he was talking to. Ryu stopped his retreat and looked up to see Tatsuha silently pleading with desperate eyes for him not to go.

Sit down, sit down…don't go, don't go…

"Who are you talking to?" Brother Maru demanded. He turned around to look behind him as did Uesugi Senior and Ayaka's father, but it was already too late. Ryu had slumped off with his head down and taken a seat several rows away. Whether he had understood what Tatsuha had meant or simply didn't have the strength to stand anymore, Tats didn't know. What he did know was that even as his Beloved sat there with his long bangs falling down over the shadowed pain in his eyes, Tatsuha could feel his Starshine's heart being ripped right out through his OWN chest.

And it hurt like hell.

"Why are you still standing here?" Brother Maru looked as if he was about to bodily pick Tatsuha up and throw him to the stage. Behind him, Tatsuha's father and the other monk watched him with puzzlement. In his father's eyes, though, Tatsuha also saw something else. A building acknowledgement that his son was about to screw up yet again.

There was no way he could go to Ryu now. Not with his father and Brother Maru right there. Not so close to getting off of probation and being able to live a bit easier with Ryu.

But for how long? Tatsuha was all but being promised to Ayaka. One more time… one more time out of many, Tatsuha was being called against his will to clean up one of the many messes Eiri had left behind. And once again because of his brother and because of his father's stubborn views, a relationship with Ryu, another man, was being looked down upon as sinful…

He slowly went back to the stage, ignoring the curious looks that followed him and sat dejectedly in his seat. He blindly took the sermon Brother Maru had taken upon himself to sweep up from the floor and thrust at him. Looking down, he couldn't make out any of the blurred words on the pages in his hands.

Around him the event began. A lengthy welcome, followed by prayer invocation and the solemn lighting of the candles and incense, as well as the gilded praises and introduction of all the V.I.P. guests concluded the opening to the ceremony and from there, they went right into the sermon portion of the recital. When the student sitting next to Tatsuha's name was called, the boy got up, walked with grace to the podium and began his oration with great fervor, conducting his sermon in the proper reverent tone and calculated professionalism that was the hallmark of their proud school's tradition. Some 20 minutes later, when he was done, another name was called and the whole ritual began anew.

Tatsuha sat in his seat, not hearing any of the worship, nor feeling any of the spirit invoked by it. He could see the uplifted faces of the audience, which was deeply involved in the words being spoken to them. There were many smiles and nods of agreement as well as the occasional spoken encouragement for the moving speeches being performed. They all seemed to be feeling the message, but Tats sat there numb. He was unable to get into the vibe everyone else seemed to be digging. All he got was an empty pall cast over him—the result of his father's words and of course the hurt they'd caused the love of his life. All around him were shiny faces basking in their love for the preached word. All shiny except for one…

Ryu watched him from where he sat, giving him small smiles of encouragement. Smiles that didn't light up his face at all. Smiles that didn't reach his eyes at all. In fact, the longer Tatsuha watched, the more of his Starshine's sparkles he saw being snuffed out like candle flame.

And the more Tatsuha saw that, the more pissed off he got.

He continued to sit there and stew in his revived resentment until the sound of his name being called to the podium cut through the haze and ugliness of it all.

Stiffly, Tatsuha stood and marched, without form or decorum to the raised platform with the microphone. He slapped the pages of the sermon onto the wooden surface unceremoniously and tried his best to get himself under control. He still had to do well if he was to get off of probation. Once he was out from under yet another watchful eye, he would begin to plan for his escape…

"Welcome honored guests, distinguished faculty, parents and fellow students…" Tatsuha began.

He would continue to plot for his escape to have his life with Ryu…

"I stand before you a student of The Buddha…"

A life that he shouldn't have to do any of this to live. A life that was supposed to be his own…

"And wish to bring to you praises of his word…"

Anger and hurt welled up inside Tatsuha with a burning fire and it caught at the back of his throat, binding the practiced words that he was trying to speak.

"I…" he took a breath. "I…"

Damn you, Father! And damn you too, Eiri!

"I would like to speak to you today about…about…the Eight-Fold Path and its ready salvation that will guide us to… to…"

Guide us to what? A fucking life of servitude? Of being what someone else wants you to be?

Tats took another breath and tried again. "The Eight-Fold Path and…its ready salvation that will guide us to…"

The words on the page began to swim and march around like restless ants.

"to…"

Tatsuha couldn't even see them anymore.

"to…"

Abruptly Tatsuha stopped. He fucking gave up. Nothing he said now would make a difference. He was going to have to leave the church to have love and he didn't want to do that. He didn't want to have to choose. Just when he thought he'd found a home… Just when he thought he'd found his purpose… Just when he thought he'd finally found his Way…

Tatsuha Uesugi was THIS close to spontaneously combusting on the spot and letting his father and the whole self-righteous system have it right in the ass for fucking up his life.

And then a curious thing happened.

The sun. The sun happened. Finally arriving at the apex of its mid-morning climb, the sun gleamed the through the high, narrow skylights of the auditorium to beam through the glass, and it shone down in an illuminated shaft upon Tatsuha who stood on the stage. Tatsuha stood blinking up into the sunlight which made the stage lights dull and faded by comparison.

The light was bright. And it was warm. And it seemed to be reaching for him with glowing fingers, almost like a celestial hug…almost like…

His Starshine.

The sun was doing no more than its natural duty—the same thing it did every day and had been doing every day since its birth.

The sun was lighting the Way…

And when Tatsuha looked, he was totally shocked to see the Way clearly. Almost like it was lit up and shimmering for him, the path to his happiness was right in front of him, surrounded by the dark, dull, faded figures of the rest of the audience. His Way was sitting with a pink bunny clutched in his arms for comfort. His Way was watching him with the most beautiful, yet saddest blue eyes ever to break a man's heart. His Way was right before him.

Tatsuha finally got it.

Ryuichi Sakuma was his salvation. Ryuichi Sakuma was his Way.

And just like his final surrender to the beauty of his religion, there

WAS.

NO.

SHAME.

Tatsuha closed his eyes and felt the anger that had snared him melt away and drop off him like a roll of water after a refreshing dip in the pool.

When he opened his eyes he smiled…and finished the sentence.

"…To Enlightenment."

Tatsuha smiled again and this time it was the crooked, sexy smile his Babycakes got the privilege to see every single day. The crooked, sexy smile his Starshine had come to know and love.

Big Daddy, as Tatsuha liked to call himself, was in the house!

"Folks," he said, his voice suddenly confident and clear, "This is my sermon." He held up the printed sheets for the audience to see. "This is what I came here to read to you."

He tossed them recklessly over his shoulder.

"I came here to READ to you. Screw that! Now, I'm gonna talk to you. No, that's not right either. Now, I'm gonna PREACH to you. I'm gonna preach all about a little thing called Enlightenment. What it is, what it can do for you and how the hell it can get you from here to everywhere you want to be!"

Tatsuha scanned the audience.

"Anyone here have the foggiest idea of what Enlightenment really is? What it really means? And don't start quoting me scripture. I've already heard that. Been there, done that, bought the damn t-shirt and quite frankly, y'all, it did absolutely nothing for me! So who here's got the answer? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Come on now, speak up, don't be shy!"

"Uesugi!" Tats heard his name being taken in vain from the front row and saw Brother Maru giving him the Stank Eye from where he sat.

Tats pointed him out. "You! Brother Maru! Thanks for volunteering!"

Brother Maru faltered. "I…uh…"

"Come on, Brother M, let us have the truth of Enlightenment. You should know right? You've been a monk for the last hundred years!"

"That is UNCALLED FOR, Uesugi, this is—"

Tats cut him off. "Then straighten me out and tell me what Enlightenment is!"

Once again, Brother Maru faltered as he felt dozens of eyes on him. Heat rose into his cheeks and he smoothed over the creases in his robes, trying to shake the hot embarrassment Tatsuha was pouring over him. That boy was going to be in so much trouble…

"While we're young, if you please!" Tats said, pushing it to the limit.

Brother Maru cleared his throat, desperate to re-direct the unwanted attention away from him. "Enlightenment is the state of being one achieves when one has, through years of hard work and dedication to the contemplation of inner—"

"WRONG, WRONG, AND MORE WRONG!" Once again, Tats cut him off. "That's the textbook scripture definition. I can quote that too, thanks to being hit over the bloody head with it every damn weekend! But do you know what it MEANS? Do you know what it FEELS LIKE? Do you know what it DOES FOR YOU?"

Tats smirked at the man and directed his gaze across the sea of faces before him. "Well I do and I didn't have to sit under some tree to find it! But first, let me tell you what life was like for me without Enlightenment, ok? Before Enlightenment, I WAS SCREWED BEYOND BELIEF! Because my older brother left Kyoto and refused to come back, I became shackled to a life I didn't want--I got roped into becoming a monk. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to, it was just decided for me. I was hogtied into taking over the family temple which of course meant I'd have to stay in Kyoto and never be able to live my life the way I had dreamed. I was told HOW I was going to live and WHERE I was going to do that living. Period. End of Story. And that's exactly what happened. Rather than hanging out with friends, having fun and getting laid, I was HERE every weekend with you fine people studying to be a monk. Instead of finding out who it was I was supposed to be, I was HERE, being TOLD who it was I was going to be and I had to mop the temple floors while I did it! And when I complained or rebelled against it, I got demerits from school, I got placed on probationary student status here, and I got the occasional visit from Kyoto Law Enforcement. Worst of all, I got labeled a screw up by my father."

Tatsuha found his father's face in the crowd and spoke directly to him—his eyes full of hurt…hurt and anger.

"If anyone had bothered to ask me, I'd have told them. I DIDN'T WANT to be a monk. I DIDN'T WANT to live in Kyoto…hell, actually I STILL don't want to live in Kyoto! But most of all I DIDN'T WANT to seen as just another Uesugi screw up like my father is always quick to tell me I am. I didn't want to be constantly compared to my brother Eiri no matter what I did, which is what my family and everyone around me always did and to this day still does. For the longest time I didn't even think anyone knew my name was Tatsuha."

Tats gazed at his father for a long, silent moment. His father still didn't get it. He could see that in the simmering anger burning like hot coals, reflected back at him in Uesugi Senior's dark stare. Tatsuha sighed and let his eyes fall to the wooden podium, which was empty of his sermon since it still lay on the floor behind him and continued.

"Do you know what that feels like?" he asked no on in particular.

"To have no identity of your own? To not have a name? To have no direction? That's what happens when you're forced to be something you're not. Eventually, you become lost and you don't even know you're lost. There's no purpose to you and you become a cold, empty shell--a vessel for other people to pour their desires into. Know what that feels like? Being a cold, empty shell? You can't feel anything aside from the aching sense that something is missing but you have no idea what that something is or how to find it."

Tats looked around the room and began meeting people eye-to-eye, getting up close and personal…drawing them into his words as he spoke.

"You feel lonely," he continued, "…not ohhh my friends have all gone to the mall and I'm stuck here with my family lonely or I don't have a date for the weekend lonely, but lonely like I barely exist. Lonely like at school I eat lunch alone and sit in the back of the class and IF someone talks to me, they never know my name. Lonely like if I was to cut myself, nothing would come out because there's nothing inside me TO come out. Lonely like in this whole big-ass universe, I am by myself and truly alone in the deepest sense of the word. You might have friends but they're just people you hang out with. Not people you relate to or who relate to you. You might have family, but they're just people you live with and buy presents for on their birthdays. They're not people who you can connect with or who connect with you. And you can't tell anyone about all this because they wouldn't understand and if you DID describe it, it would fall far trivial of what you were actually feeling. It's really hard to put in words and not sound like you're a raving lunatic or in need of medicine to dope you up. In short, folks, you're just existing. You're not…living. Life? What's that? You read about it. You see people pretending to do it on tv. But what is life really? Why do we have it? Where'd it come from? A divine power? A higher up Being that has a plan for us all?"

The gush of words from Tatsuha came with force as his gaze fell back to the podium and everyone around him could feel the pent up emotion that he'd carried for so long. And slowly people began to connect with the boy on levels that had long been deeply buried, but not totally forgotten.

"I had no answers to any of these questions. All the answers or versions of them people wanted me to have were being shoved down my throat without a chance for me to find out on my own. And all of this because my big brother Eiri decided temple life in Kyoto with our father wasn't the life for him. He broke free and I got screwed in the process. Tatsuha ceased to exist and Eiri the Second was born. I didn't want to be Eiri the Second. I wanted to be me, Tatsuha--Big Daddy! I wanted to be seen as my own person and maybe have someone appreciate me for me. But that was not to be it seemed."

When Tatsuha looked up again, he was surprised to find that people were paying rapt attention to him. Many were sitting up in their seats or leaning forward to hear him more clearly. All fidgeting and side movements that had marked the other sermons had ceased. Now, every single pair of eyes was on Tatsuha.

"Does anyone here know what that feels like?"

There was silence all around the room.

"Does anyone here understand?"

More silence.

And then a curious thing happened.

"I do." Slowly a shadowy figure at the back of the room stood. Tats squinted against the stage lights as everyone turned around to see who was speaking. It was a tall young man dressed in very nice clothes. His posture was perfect, his voice was clear and confident and there was not a hair on his head that was out of place. He looked like the picture of an affluently content life, but his eyes…his very distant, pained expression told a different story.

"My father wanted me to be a lawyer because that's what he is and what his father was before him and his father before him. Our family name is highly respected in the field of law and he wanted that reputation to continue. All I ever wanted to be was a veterinarian. It sounds silly, I know. Being surrounded by sick dogs and parakeets all day when I could be out defending big names and raking in the cash; making my family proud. But I love animals. I always have and I always cared for my pets and my friend's pets when they got sick. I loved doing it. It made me feel good…like I was doing something worthwhile. My father called me all kinds of names when he found out that I applied to vet school instead of law school. He told me I'd be cut off from my trust fund and that it would kill him and my mother if I didn't become a lawyer--that I'd never amount to anything otherwise…"

The man looked down at his feet. "I gave in. I became a lawyer and everything my father wanted. I have a sports car. I have a big house. I have a gorgeous wife and two kids who go to famous schools. I have everything a person could possibly want and yet every day I sit in my office, surrounded by mountains of paperwork and wonder why I'm not happy. Don't get me wrong, I love my family, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about how happy I might have been if I had followed my dream."

"I know too!" Another young man on the right of the auditorium stood up. "I could never compare to my older brother Kei, who was a star athlete, student council president, president of the drama club and had perfect grades. Nothing I did ever measured up to Kei. I wasn't popular. I wasn't handsome. I always ate lunch alone and walked to class by myself surrounded by people that walked and laughed with friends. When the teachers called on me, they always told me how much better my brother did when they taught him. My grades suffered. My parents just assumed I was too stupid to keep up, since Kei had done so well on his own. I was sent to cram school and summer school and school for after school and it became too much for me. I…I had a breakdown. I lost weight. I couldn't sleep and I just couldn't stop crying. I had to go on medication. My father told me that my weakness was an embarrassment and now to this day, every time he looks at me, I can see the disappointment in his eyes. The disappointment that I'm not Kei…"

Tastuha's heart went out to the young men and he nodded in understanding.

"Then you know what I'm talking about. And you know that you're not alone even if you feel that way and it looks for all the world like you are. And you ALSO know what comes along with situations like that. Hate. Yes, people, if despair drives the car, then hate definitely rides shotgun! I hated my situation. Let me repeat that, people, I HATED IT. I HATED my father for forcing it on me. I HATED that my brother had saddled me with the temple and that he had set such a high benchmark no one could possibly see what I had to offer. I HATED myself for being invisible. I HATED the school for being run by such uptight, hypocritical assholes, it made my nuts shrivel up at the thought of being here on the weekends. But people, most of all I HATED THE TEMPLE AND ALL IT REPRESENTED because I saw it as the source of my pain. It was the bind that chained me here when I wanted to be free."

Never before had Tatsuha spoken so openly about how he felt. About what he'd gone through. Not to anyone, least of all to his father, who, just like the rest of the people within earshot, was finding out for the very first time what it was like to be his son. What it was like to live the life he had forced upon him. Uesugi Senior sat in the audience, quietly watching his son with a mixture of anger and guilt playing across his face as his youngest child continued.

As badly as remembering the past made Tatsuha feel, he suddenly grinned—grinned like there was no tomorrow, showing off every last tooth in his head.

"That, people, is how Big Daddy WAS and that's how I'd still BE. And then a curious thing happened. I met the love of my life and the door to the road home opened before my very eyes. I became Enlightened because I found love. Because love found me. And because I learned to accept what love had to give me, I found that I could return love to someone beyond just having sex with them. I fell in love and received a divine gift. Did you guys know that's what love is? Love is more than just feeling that squiggly feeling in your stomach that feels a hella lot like the flu or bad sushi sticking around for a weekend pass. It's also more than the squiggly feeling you get in your pants when you think of that someone special…no matter WHAT I said at last year's sermon!"

At the mention of last year's sermon, a few muffled giggles sounded and Tats had the good grace to blush and wipe an imaginary drop of sweat from his brow, eliciting outright laughter.

"Love, peoples" he continued happily, "is a capability that powers higher than ourselves gave us in order to be able to connect with the divine. In other words, to love is to be Enlightened! Scriptures, sutras, the Bible and a whole host of other religious texts say that we are made in the Creator's image and that there is a bit of the divine in all of us. And when we love, we see the divine, not only in others but ourselves. Well guess what? That's what love did for me! IT BITCH SLAPPED ME UPSIDE THE HEAD AND PRIED MY FREAKIN EYES OPEN! It was like one day I totally WOKE UP and somebody flipped a switch and turned the world on for me. I'd been seeing the world all along but I didn't understand it and I certainly didn't live in it. But love brought me back into the picture kicking and screaming!"

Tats laughed out loud and slapped the podium causing that awful microphone whine, but he paid it no heed. He couldn't help it. Whenever he spoke about his Ryu he became one big puppy and he positively radiated all he felt for his Starshine.

"Don't get me wrong, all this miracle stuff didn't happen overnight. I back slid constantly, and for a short time rebelled even against happiness. If everything was suddenly right with my world, what would happen to the Tatsuha I had grown into being, right? Tatsuha Uesugi the screw up and the bane of Brother Maru's existence was the only Tatsuha I had been for so long I didn't know who I'd be without all the strife and turmoil. It sounds funny, but strife and turmoil are hard to give up, you know? It's familiar and like all things you're comfortable with, it's hard to throw away…much like your lucky underwear that you've had for way too many years. You KNOW you have them! THROW THEM SHITS AWAY BEFORE HAZMAT COMES FOR YOU! But getting back on the subject, the person that grew to love me in return thought there was more to me than just what they could see and what they'd heard about me…THANK GOD! That person took the chance and got to know me. And when they did, they saw that I was more than Eiri Yuki's little brother, or the future of Uesugi Temple, they saw a person they thought was funny. They saw a person they thought was cool. They saw a person they thought was cute—and really who could blame anyone for that? BIG DADDY IS FINE! They also saw a person that was capable of living life and deserving of someone special to share that life with. They saw Tatsuha Uesugi and for the first time ever, someone called me by my name. Sure he shortens it to Ta-kun now, and I don't think he can actually SPELL my name, but he calls me by it just the same."

There was a deathly still pause in the air as people realized that Tatsuha had finally put a pronoun to "that person," and it wasn't the one any of them were expecting. It was a HE!

Tatsuha stood firm. He wasn't done with them yet. Not by a long shot.

"Yeah, people, that's right, I said HE. HE loves me for who I am and what I can give him and make him feel. HE fills the emptiness inside me that had become my constant companion. HE makes me warm when I am cold. HE thinks I'm sparkly and shiny. And HE knows my name."

Tatsuha shielded his eyes and scanned over the audience, letting people and faces blur by until they fell on the one person he was seeking. A person who was now sitting up in his seat, leaning forward and watching him with his blue eyes wide. Tatsuha eagerly connected with Ryu, eye-to-eye, from across the room and when Tats found his Starshine actually starting to smile, Tatsuha himself lit up like a slightly delinquent Christmas Tree and began to sparkle for everyone to see.

"HIS name is Ryuichi and HE is my Starshine and I love him more than I can even say. My Way to Enlightenment is another man and Starshine, Baby, I HAVE NO SHAME!"

Tatsuha held out his hand to Ryu and preached on.

"I know what you heard earlier, Starshine. I know what you overheard my father say. I heard it too and all I can say is I'm sorry. I'm sorry it hurt you. It hurt me too. I am also sorry, Baby, that I didn't tell you about any of this and that I never invited you to any of my religious functions or invited you home. I should have done all of it a long time ago but I was afraid of what might happen if I did. You found out for yourself just now that not everyone in my family is like Eiri who doesn't mind a little man love as long as it doesn't wake him up early in the morning! But I'm telling you right here and right now, Babycakes, that YOU are the ONLY one for me, in spite of what you heard. YOU are the reason I'm here right now. You are the reason I found my Way home."

Tats turned back to the stunned audience.

"My Enlightenment came in the form of love from another man. Does that make me sick? Does that make me wrong? Does it mean that I have sinned or that there's something wrong with me? How do I even know that's how I found Enlightenment? Well let me tell you."

Tats pointed himself back at his father.

"I KNOW that's how I found Enlightenment because the minute I hooked up with Ryu, I heard it calling me. The Temple and the religion I had grown to hate because of all that had been piled on me, suddenly didn't seem like the source of pain it once had. Because I still had to go to Buddha School and come home for temple duties, it wasn't like I could just walk away from it all once I had Ryu in my arms. So I kept everything quiet and continued going through the motions like everything was the way it always was."

Tats shook his head.

"And then a curious thing happened. I started to realize that my temple duties weren't the chore they had been. Yes, giving up my weekends to come here was still a very major pain in my very fine ass, but I started to hear the temple calling me. In the silence. During meditation. Setting up the altar. Mopping the damn floors! It was like suddenly this welcoming presence. Like it had waited for me all this time to realize that it WASN'T a source of pain but the bottle of balm that could soothe it. I just needed someone to open up the friggin bottle, and nobody opens a bottle up like my Babycakes, ain't that right Ryu! You opened up Big Daddy's bottle like nobody's business! And when you did, I found that I LIKED coming to temple. I found that I was GOOD at being a monk. I found that, in spite of everything, it felt OK to enjoy setting up the altar and meditating and administering to those who needed my help. And you know what else?"

Tatsuha looked his father dead in the eye.

"Whatever it was that you want to call it that called to me, DIDN'T FREAKIN CARE that I was with another man! It didn't put pressure on me to do what it wanted me to do. It didn't try to set me up with someone else's daughter to fulfill an obligation and it didn't compare me to anyone else. It let me be me, just like my Babycakes does. And I was grateful. Sounds stupid coming from a 16 year old, right, but it's true. It's like I had won the lottery cuz all of a sudden I had Starshine AND the spirit of the Temple both accepting me for who I was. Tatsuha. Tatsuha Uesugi, a man who, with their help, found that he wasn't so invisible after all and that maybe he could even love himself."

Tatsuha appealed to the audience.

"Should I turn down a divine gift just because it came in the form of another man? Should I forgo love and everything that brought me to this place cuz we both leave the toilet seat up and have stinky gym socks? Should I turn my back on the temple because the road that brought me here isn't on someone's map of what's acceptable?"

"No!" Someone from the back shouted. "I owe my life to my lover. I was strung out on drugs when he found me. He was my friend at first and showed me that I was more than my addiction and when he became my lover, he showed me that my life was worth more to him than it was worth to myself. He often took me to temple to worship back then. I have both of them to thank for helping me find my Way. So I'm saying it doesn't matter how you travel there as long as you get on when the bus stops!"

"Then should I turn my back on my lover because now that I'm where everyone wanted me to be and I have made peace with it? Do I close the door on the road that brought me here because my relationship is frowned upon by those that wanted me to be here in the first place?"

"Yes!" Someone else shouted. "What you are proposing is to keep both your lover and status as a monk which is a position of trust. You can't preach the gospel to those in need, when you yourself don't live it!"

Tatsuha was determined not to be defeated. He countered the opposition.

"But what of those who have taught me? Does their hypocrisy not count? I have brothers here in the seminary more concerned with handing out demerits and getting donations and high profile sponsorship than with the well being of our students. What is THAT teaching me? I WANT to be here now, doesn't that count for anything?"

Tatsuha shook his head in frustration and kept going. He couldn't quit now. He had walls to knock down and a Starshine to make proud. But most importantly he felt moved to make people see what he could see, even if they didn't agree with it. He wanted to open their eyes…

"Enlightenment doesn't HAVE to come in the form of a lover or someone of the same sex, that's just how it came to me. I just want everyone here to realize that it DOES exist and not in just the textbook sense but all around us, everywhere, we have to recognize it for what it is and embrace it! Your life, your woes, your worries, your cares will suddenly not seem as heavy. They won't miraculously disappear, but you won't be alone when you carry them and paths to help you deal with them will open up. That's the whole point of what I'm trying to tell you. I'm 16 years old. I HATE school. I LOVE sports cars and motorcycles and I LOVE French fries with tons of ketchup. I also LOVE that I have finally found my Way and my Path and what it is I'm supposed to do. If I can do it, so can you!"

"This is an outrage, you have turned our proud ceremony into a mockery!" someone called from the front row.

"You're not alone!" Tatsuha said, raising his voice to be heard over his opponent.

"Get him off the stage!"

"If I can find my Way, everyone can!"

"How dare you criticize our elders! How dare you use the word of scripture to further your own sinful agenda!"

Tatsuha was starting to feel cornered. The sermon had taken a hard turn down Ugly Lane and he had no idea how to get it back on track. Tats whipped his head around desperate for someone to help him when he met Ryu's gaze once again and once again, all seemed serene and his Way lit up again.

Tats smiled and his panic dissolved into thin air. Why fight the inevitable? He was already in trouble. This year's sermon had bulldozed right over the previous year's and was guaranteed to get him kicked out ass first. Tats was sure his father would be there with a firm hand and a terrible smile when he landed. He was certain of it.

So then, he had but one thing left to do.

"Starshine, I'm sorry you had to be dragged into this, but I am telling you, you are my path. Even if I get kicked out of here ass first after this, I am going home with you and I'll still seek out the divine that led you to me in the first place. If everyone feels that what I am saying is offensive and that I am doing nothing but wrong, then this is the end of my sermon. I will go home and not come back. I'll take what's been given to me and love it til it screams! And Starshine, we'll worship the divine in each other. I love you."

Tats smiled out across the sea of disapproval and said it again.

"I Love You!"

He began to feel lighter in spite of all the angry voices sounding wordlessly against his ears.

"I LOVE YOU!"

Tatsuha laughed out loud.

"YOU HEAR ME, BABY? I FREAKIN LOVE YOU, RYUICHI!"

Ryu leapt out of his seat and shot both arms and Kuma straight into the air.

"I LOVE YOU TOO, TA-KUN! YOU MAKE ME SHINY!"

Tatsuha almost cried where he stood. Suddenly he realized that if he got kicked out, then the divine path he had followed would surely follow him. He didn't need any of the trappings of the Buddha School to go higher. He could do anything as long as Ryu was by his side.

"You make me SHINIER! I don't need the temple to seek out God, Baby, I can do it from where ever I am. No matter how far I fly when they kick me out, wherever I land, that's where we'll both be! If you're with me, it don't matter where I pray!"

Tatsuha snatched the cordless microphone from its cradle and began walking away from the podium.

"It don't matter where we go, as long as we're together. I don't care what anyone says. I can have both love of a higher power AND you. Baby, YOU take me higher! When I was down before, you came and stood me up! And when you dance for me, you make a man want to jump up and SHOUT HALLELUJAH! Listen to me everybody! Everyone else here whose heart still needs a home or needs to find a Way. It don't matter how far down you get kicked, you can ALWAYS get back up again!"

"That's right!" someone shouted over the din. "If you want to find your Way, it'll find you! I was down too and I got back up again!"

"And Kuma!" Ryu shouted excitedly, clumsily climbing over the people in his row—stepping on feet and kicking shins to get to the aisle and meet his boy who was walking across the stage toward the steps to meet him. "Kuma wants to get up too!"

"AND KUMA! All three of us, hand-in hand-in paw all the way to the edge of the world, Baby! And when we get to the edge of the world, we'll stop for Blackberry Green Tea Cream Frapps with Extra Whip because of course there'll be a Starbucks at the EDGE OF THE WORLD and then WE'LL JUST KEEP GOING!"

Tats reached the edge of the stage and kept his eyes on the only person that mattered to him.

"YAY!" Said Ryu bouncing with happiness. He reached the aisle and began running down it toward the stage, sparkling all the way, leaving a wake of rainbow colored shimmers behind him.

"That's right Baby, YAY! I'll be there for you and help carry Kuma and you will be right where I need you. By my side, sparkling for me, Starshine, lighting my Way!"

"AND I'LL SING FOR YOU, TA-KUN!" Ryu called happily as he ran. "And Kuma can dance!"

"UNTIL THE END OF TIME, STARSHINE!" Tats yelled.

Yelled? Tatsuha was confused. Why were they yelling?

And then a curious thing happened.

Tatsuha became aware of a dull roar happening all around him. People from all over the auditorium were whistling and clapping and cheering. It had started as just one or two people and then had escalated, eventually drowning out the nay sayers and the people who just wanted Tatsuha to go the hell away.

Following Ryu's sparkly run down the aisle toward him, Tatsuha found that people were standing in front of their seats and more people behind them stood to see over them. And there was more. There were people following Ryu down the aisle toward the stage. Some were clapping. Some were crying. Some were shaking their heads angrily; some were shaking their heads in wonder. Still others were holding hands. He'd been so focused on his Starshine, that Tatsuha didn't know when all of this had happened, or what it meant, but what he did know was something he should have known all along.

Just as he had told the audience a few minutes earlier that they weren't alone, neither were he and Ryu.

"I LOVE YOU NATSUMI!" One of the women in the audience suddenly shouted happily. The woman beside her jumped her in a glomp any rabid fanboy or girl would have been impressed with and the two stood in each other's embrace, crying and laughing.

"I love you too!"

"STOP IT, ALL OF YOU! RETURN TO YOUR SEATS AT ONCE!" Brother Maru yelled. He tried to plow his way through the throng moving toward the stage but there were just too many people in his way.

"TIL THE END OF TIME, STARSHINE! And when we get to the end of time, we'll have another Blackberry Green Tea Cream Frapp, Extra Whip cuz of course there'll be a Starbucks at the END OF TIME and then I'll take off my useless watch and start counting by hand!" Tatsuha kept going. He could feel the crackle of supportive energy vibrating in the air and it was like a fuel that renewed him. Whereas just minutes earlier he had felt like giving up, the air now buzzed with a warm vibrance that spurred him on.

"AHHH! HOW DO I LOVE MY STARSHINE, LET ME COUNT THE WAYS! ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE…"

"Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten!" Ryu counted back, making his way through the crowd toward the stage.

"ELEVEN, TWELVE, THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN!"

"Brothers, DO something! This is out of hand!"

"Go RYU go!" someone in the crowd shouted.

"Let him through, let him through!"

"Disgraceful! Uesugi Temple will never see another donation after this!"

"Fifteen, Sixteen…TA-KUN? WHAT COMES AFTER SIXTEEN?"

"I wish I could have come out in front of my father…"

"SEVENTEEN, BABY, SEVENTEEN!'

"This has turned into a circus!"

Tatsuha, the Ring Master, urged it on. "Everyone!" he yelled into the mic, "Everyone that has someone they love or just needs to get in on this vibe we got going, come down here and join us!"

Tats started pointing out people in the audience. "You!" he yelled at a lady near the front. "Are you happy? Do you love yourself? When you look in the mirror do you like what you see? It don't matter whether you're stuck crouching in the shadows or standing tall in the halo of Enlightenment, come down here and join us! You're not alone!"

"You!" Tats cried, calling out another victim to his right. "Ever felt like you were on the edge of something but just needed help finding out what that something was? Come join us! You're not alone!"

"You!" Tats swayed to the left. "Ever feel like you were just dreaming and not living? Ever wanted to swim against the tide and break free of the current carrying you nowhere fast? Get your ass down here! You're not alone!"

Tats threw his hands up and beckoned everyone.

"Everybody! No matter who you are, where you come from, how you live or who you shag, if you need help finding your Way, just throw your hands up in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care, cuz if you know you can reach Enlightenment stand up and scream OH YEAH!"

"OH YEAH!"

"Hell Yeah!"

"Preach on, Brother Uesugi!"

Tatsuha held out his hand to Ryu who was struggling with Kuma to reach him through the bodies that blocked him. Behind Ryu, he could see more and more people coming to the front, some full of confidence and others uncertainly, but they were coming nonetheless…

"It don't matter what the name of the god is you bow down in front of or say your prayers to. It could be God, it could be Goddess, it could be…"

"MASTERCARD AND VISA!" some poor unfortunate bastard with obvious issues shouted over the crowd.

"Ok, Dude!" Tatsuha replied. "You need to come down here most of all! You got yourself some serious issues! That's like a whole different sermon!"

"How long is this mockery going to go on?"

"Ta-kun, I can't reach you! Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three…"

"I'm reaching for you, Baby, REACH!" Tats leaned way out over the stage to try to reach the hand that was stretching for him, but couldn't make it. The stage stairs were now crowded with people as was the front of the stage. It looked like a rock concert going on!

Rock concert! Tats had an idea.

"Stay there, Starshine, your man is coming to YOU!"

Tatsuha moved back a few paces, ran and took a flying leap off the stage. Automatically hands reached up and caught him and he and his cordless mic got passed from person to person, hand over hand toward his Starshine destination and all the while he kept up his sermon.

"There's no shame, people! Love is where you find it. Enlightenment is where you find Love. Love of yourself. Love of another person. Love of life! Don't turn it away because it didn't come in the package you asked for or were expecting! It doesn't matter whether you're straight…"

"NO! IT DOESN'T MATTER!" voices shouted.

"…or all up in the man love zone…"

"Well maybe not for you, buddy, but I'm a lesbian!"

"…or even a fence straddler!"

"Blasphemous, all of this!"

"We're ALL children of a higher power and we all have a seed of the divine in us! Help it grow! SPREAD THE FREAKIN LOVE!"

"BLASPHEMOUS, I SAY!"

Tatsuha felt hands touching him, moving him, passing him along. All of them were warm and each passed onto him a spark of their own electricity. A few people away he could see Ryu bouncing and waiting for him.

"SPREAD THE FREAKIN LOVE!" someone shouted.

"SPREAD THE FREAKIN LOVE!" someone else joined.

Suddenly it became a chant.

"SPREAD THE FREAKIN LOVE!"

"SPREAD THE FREAKIN LOVE!"

"SPREAD THE FREAKIN LOVE!"

Lighters everywhere flicked in unison, dotting the audience with wavering flames of solidarity. It stopped looking like a rock concert and began to look more like a damn JOURNEY Reunion Tour! But it was beautiful all the same. Steve Perry would have been proud…

Of course, along with the chants of support came loud, harsh words of anger and disapproval. And curiously, rebuttals to the denials came along with them.

"This is an outrage! Stop this at once!"

"How dare you suggest that a gay lifestyle is what God's word preaches!"

"Show me proof that God DOES care whether or not a person is gay! If they're good people at heart and do their part to make the world a better place what difference does it make?"

"This is the strangest sermon I've ever been to!"

"You're lucky, last year's was boring as hell. I fell asleep ten minutes into it and slid right out of my chair!"

"YOU'RE EXPELLED UESUGI!"

"How the hell did I end up here? I was looking for the weekend macramé class!"

"I don't agree with what you said kid, but I admire your balls! And you sure can preach!"

"There's no hope for our young people anymore is there? They've turned away from the teachings of their parents and the temple. In the eyes of God we are lost!"

"SPREAD THE FREAKIN LOVE!"

Finally, through all the debating and the chanting and the passing and shouting and the crying and curiously the great amount of hugging and hand holding going on, Tatsuha finally reached his beloved Starshine. Hands that carried him, gently set him on his feet in front of Ryu and Tatsuha instantly swept up his sparkly lover in a hug. Ryu clung to Tatsuha. His boy had come for him and he was reassured that despite all he had heard earlier, his boy loved him more than ever.

"What number was I on, Ta-kun?" Ryu asked while Tatsuha was smothering him in a bear hug.

"It doesn't matter. We can start over in the car on the way home!" Tatsuha held Ryu like his life depended on it. "As long as you're by my side, lighting my Way for me, we can count til we pass out!"

Ryu nodded. He stood on his tiptoes and reached for the boy that made him shiny. "Kuma says thirty!"

Tatsuha kissed Ryu then and there and among the whistles and cheers and claps and hisses of shame, one sound, one single word cut through it all with the efficiency of a razor sharp blade.

"SILENCE!"

That sound was the loud, firm, crystal clear voice of Tatsuha's father, Uesugi Senior, using his I-Just-Got-A-Call-From-Kyoto-Law-Enforcement roar. Tatsuha knew it all too well and knew that it could be heard through just about anything, including the chaos that raged on around them. And the eldest Uesugi's voice had commanding effect too. Almost instantly everyone stopped and a decisive hush fell over the air.

Tats frowned. He knew his father meant business—he had his angry man face on and was walking with his pissed off father strut! The man marched through the crowd, which parted quickly for his passing, and stood before his son, Ryu and Kuma. The three of them stood firm and faced Tatsuha's father, hand-in hand-in paw and waited quietly for whatever it was the man had to say.

Facing his father as he had done so many times before, Tatsuha felt fear once again. Uesugi Senior was an imposing figure and a man whose will was made of iron. If he decided to kick Tats out of the temple, that's exactly what would happen. While Tats was no longer afraid that Ryu would leave him over any of this, he still had a problem. He didn't WANT to leave the Temple. It would be like leaving Home. And with his father fixing him with a glare that would put any of Eiri's to utter shame, Tatsuha was more certain than ever that this would be the last time he would ever wear his monk's robes and it filled him with a sudden indescribable sadness.

And then a curious thing happened.

Behind Tatsuha, a hand fell on his shoulder and gripped it in support.

"Visa, it's everywhere you want to be!" a calm voice said behind him.

OMGWTFBBQVISA? As odd and frankly frightening as it sounded, those strangely timed words did a lot to comfort Tatsuha. He felt the warmth of the hand on his shoulder, stood a little bit straighter and clasped Ryu's hand a little bit tighter. Knowing what he had to do, he took a deep breath and drew in the support from the energy that surrounded him.

"Father, this is Ryuichi Sakuma. He is my lover and my best friend. Ryu," he said making the intro, "this is my father. I'm sorry I didn't introduce you to him before now."

Turning back to his father, Tatsuha made his stand.

"Father, I kept my end of the bargain. I did everything you wanted me to do. I stayed out of trouble, I brought up my grades, I continued my scripture studies and I do my temple duties every weekend. I want to continue, Father. I know I'll make a good monk and will happily take over the temple one day when you're ready. I'll be everything that you wanted Eiri to be, but got me instead. But…" Tats held up Ryu's hand for his father to see, "…but, I need to live my own life. I am not Eiri and I am not you. I am Tatsuha Uesugi and that means something. It means something to me and it means something to the person I love more than anything. Ryu. Another man. I don't want to have to choose between a life without the temple and a life without Ryu. They both make me happier than I've ever been. They both make me feel…." Tats looked down at Ryu and searched for words that would explain it all. "…they both make me feel…shiny and…and…it feels right."

Tats nodded affirmation to his own statement. "Yeah, it just feels right to me. One without the other isn't going to work. I can worship anywhere, but there's only one Starshine. And Father," Tats said, standing firm, leveling his eyes at Uesugi Senior once again, "I. WILL. NOT. give him up! So I'm standing here begging you…please don't make me choose. You don't have to be happy for me or about this or even accept my relationship…but it would make me happy if you did or at least tried."

Tats stepped back a little and pulled Ryu close to him. A sudden soft pink paw on his arm made him smile. "I don't want to go," he said softly, "but without them, I can't stay. Please Father…please, Daddy…let me stay. Please let me stay, Daddy…"

Uesugi Senior stared at his youngest son and not for the first time was struck by how much he looked like his older brother, yet, seeing him here, now, surrounded by a multitude of onlookers that had been so moved by his son's sermon that they'd vacated their seats and crowded around him to either encourage him or condemn him, was remarkable. Yes, he looked almost the spitting image of Eiri but there was something about Tatsuha that set him apart--something that suddenly made him seem so very beyond his 16 years and so very much more than just a dark copy of his brother.

Uesugi Senior sighed when he thought about how Eiri was lost to him. He still loved his oldest son and though he'd never admit it, it hurt him terribly that Eiri had left. Now, after all the harsh things that had passed between them, he didn't want to lose Tatsuha too. The man sighed and took in how Tatsuha's smaller lover, another man, the very obsession he'd mentioned just a short while earlier, clung to him and stood by his son's side, facing him now with wide, but determined blue eyes.

Dare he risk losing the temple to condemn a relationship he knew in his heart to be wrong? Was it wrong? Or was it just wrong for him? Tatsuha didn't have to marry Ayaka if he didn't want to, but shouldn't it be a woman—any woman as long as it was the respectful union between man and woman…one that would bear the fruit of grandchildren? What would become of the temple if Tatsuha were to take over while publicly living with another man? Wouldn't that be to go against everything he'd been taught that scripture meant? Could he simply ignore his beliefs or his interpretation of scripture simply to keep Uesugi Temple in the family or must he put aside everything he held dear for the sake of his youngest son's happiness? Why should he have to choose any more than Tatsuha did?

Uesugi Senior looked around. There was plenty of support in the audience for his son. Plenty of detractors as well. Each had their own reasons for choosing the sides that they did. Tatsuha had clearly chosen. Now, his baby boy along with everyone else was waiting for him to do the same. Keep his son whom in spite of everything, he loved with all his heart or forsake the religion and the temple he himself had called Home for his entire life?

Which would it be? Was one decision more wrong than the other? Was either decision right?

Uesugi Senior heaved a heavy sigh and felt every single last one of his years weighing on him. Finally, he opened up.

"Tatsuha, I have something to say to you and since you insist on making a public spectacle of your life, you will stand here before everyone and you will hear it."

Tats felt Ryu's hand tighten in his and he nodded. He was ready for whatever was to come...come what may.

The eldest Uesugi thought of the temple, thought of Eiri, thought of their family name and his pride in it and then thought about the hard resolve he could see glinting in his son's eyes while he stood before him, steeling himself for the worst.

There was a pause of deep silence, then Uesugi Senior began to speak.

And then a curious thing happened…

End.


A/N: Just as a short personal note, I am not an expert on either Buddhism or religion in general, so names and rituals and the duties Tatsuha performed as described here are all the efforts of my imagination. I also tried to represent each side of the argument as fairly as I could for the main characters even though I'm obviously biased in favor of Big Daddy. My intent was not to offend but to see things from a struggling 16 year old's point of view as it relates to many people no matter how old they are when they face some of Tatsuha's same issues.

And just like Big Daddy, I look forward to the day I find my own Way.

At any rate, thanks for taking the time to read my story. I hope you had as good a time reading it, as I did writing it. Cheers! --A

Love…it's everywhere you want to be…