Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on Maki Murakami's exquisite story "Gravitation." I take no profit other than enjoyment.
A/N: Between the Lines will be a series of one-shots inspired by moments in the anime, the OVA, or the manga.
Part one: It's Only Lyrics: For those who haven't read it or have only seen the various anime, in the manga, the equivalent of the OVA's Tokyo Bay Music Festival is a challenge between Shu and Ryu to write/record ten songs in five weeks. It's really just one more pressure test for Shu...almost a graduation test, but he doesn't know that. He gets terrible writer's block and (as indicated here) everybody, including Yuki tries to bail him out. The aftermath is pretty glossed over and confused with other issues. This is my take on what's going through his—and Yuki's—head.
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Between the Lines:
It's Only Lyrics
Light flooded the world.
Kami-sama, he knew that sound. Intimately.
Shuuichi swallowed hard and winced at the glare, blinking up the long barrel of the .44 magnum to the hazy, blond-headed figure at the hand-cannon's far end.
"One hour, Shindou, and it's showtime."
Reality struck, hard and painfully. One hour. One hour before Nittle Grasper's first live performance in years. One hour before the contest was over. One hour before . . .
Before his career spiraled down in flames.
Before he lost to Ryuichi yet again.
A hand grasped his collar and jerked his head up out the pillow of crossed arms and hauled him out of the chair.
"No time, kid. Grab the lyrics and let's go!"
K's strong fingers bit into his upper arm. "But—!"
Not that his protests did any good. He grabbed his drawing tablet as K dragged him bodily out the door and thrust him into the NG limo, bed-head, baggy shorts, crossed-eyes and all.
Yuki! "Wait, K, I've got to tell Yuki—"
"Screw him!" K yelled at the driver to get a move on and reached across Shuuichi's body to buckle his seatbelt.
I'd love to, Shuuichi thought wildly. Who cared if Yuki had gone crazy on him? Who cared if Yuki insisted on turning him into the ghost-of-love-gone-sour. Anything was better than having to walk through the door of the studio and admit to those he loved most in the world (except for Yuki, of course—when he didn't hate him—like now) that he'd failed this final, most important challenge.
The next half-hour was a blur of sensations, a blur dominated by terror with Fugisaki Suguru's music as a cacophonous accompaniment. Bad Luck's keyboardist was a musical prodigy, so why didn't the music make sense?
He kept opening his tablet to the page of crazed notes, trying to make sense of those confused impressions, only to have another insane factor thrown into the mix. He remembered costumes; Seguchi; protesting he didn't have the lyrics—
"Here!" Someone—Suguru—thrust papers at him.
"Lyrics—such as they are." The kid's eyes were narrow with fury.
"If you had these—" K's voice, from some corner beyond his sight, "Why didn't you say something before?"
"Because I was hoping we'd forget this ridiculous plan," Suguru snapped, "but if we're going to die, let's do it right. I won't lose my life over humming!"
He stared at the words, and in one instant, heard them echoing the rhythms of the no-longer cacophonous music—
And in the next: silence, the words vanishing within the crumpled folds of his fist.
"No!" He thrust the paper back at Fujisaki. "If I'm in charge of the lyrics, then I and I alone will write them! It's me at the mic and I'll damnwell hum if I want to!" He closed his eyes and even as he protested, the sounds of the music at last began to sort themselves within his gut. Words began to take shape—his words, his feelings and no one else's. "I'll show the world I love this band more than anything and that I don't need Yuki Eiri!"
"Except you do need him . . ."
Hiro's quiet voice was a cold shower on the creative fire blossoming in his soul.
The music went cacophonous all over again. He cried out in frustration—
As the introduction for Nittle Grasper flared out over the PA system.
"They're beginning early!" Someone screamed—maybe it was him—and the next thing he knew, he was flying headfirst out onto the stage, sliding to a stop at Sakuma Ryuichi's expensively booted feet.
His heart stopped. Ryu was staring down at him. The music coming over the speakers wasn't Nittle Grasper's, it was the cacophony that was Bad Luck's final entry in the singles competition.
Ten singles in five weeks. Who the hell tried to create ten singles in five weeks? What had he and Ryu been thinking, that day in the men's room?
He scrambled to his feet, staring out across the clamoring fans. Energy filled the room. All the hatred, fear and uncertainty that had flooded his life for five weeks vanished in an instant as the love of the fans filled him. They didn't care. None of them cared. They opened their arms and screamed—for him, for Ryu . . . did they really care? He'd been one of them once. Now . . . .
What was he now?
Shuuichi stood alone in the spotlight, arms hanging at his sides. Ryuichi had stepped back, into the shadows. Ryuichi knew the kid had no lyrics, knew that once again fate and NG had thrust the naïve brat into a damned impossible situation, and his eyes, narrowed and canny, were locked on Shu. Just . . . watching. Waiting . . . as the music which had become so familiar to Yuki Eiri rang through the air and Hiroshi's dancing fingers filled the wordless void with fluid guitar riffs.
A ballad, beautiful and magical. He'd had no trouble finding words, so easily had he imagined Shuuichi's voice following those paths.
Eiri's chest tightened in sympathy for his stubborn little lover, and he glared across that body-filled auditorium, willing the miniature moron to see him—
And somehow, impossibly, those huge, panic-stricken eyes found him. He stifled a smile, kept that attention with an unblinking, intense stare, and began signaling, telling the idiot as plain as words to look into that damned tablet—providing, of course, he hadn't lost the page Eiri had slipped into it only hours before.
Confusion, frustration—hope as he found the printout—god, Eiri wondered whether every other person in that room could read that face the way he could.
A hushed, expectant silence filled the room. Every individual there knew the story of the battle of the bands—hell, it had been publicized loudly enough—and all waited breathlessly for the final act.
Relief, gratitude—and suddenly, it all vanished into a face he barely recognized as Shu. The features were there, the brilliant eyes, the shining hair...but the thoughts, the emotions behind those features were a complete and utter mystery. Those eyes that haunted his every thought lifted, met his again, blinked, and slid around to the shadows where Fujisaki caressed his keyboard, and further to the long-haired Hiro. Without so much as a glance from those glistening eyes, the small hands whose touch he adored slipped his gift back into the tablet, then fell again to his sides, to hang limp beside the baggy shorts. The tablet slipped free to lie in a crumpled heap on the stage.
Shuuichi's eyes closed, one hand lifted to...caress the mic.
Eiri swallowed hard, and closed his own eyes on the sight, knowing that caress...intimately. Behind the darkness, Shuuichi's voice joined the guitar's, only to rise, gently as a butterfly's wings, and drift across the audience to caress Eiri's ears, his body—his heart, as that small hand caressed the mic. Just as he'd imagined, the words...
Except... It wasn't his lyrics filling the room. It wasn't Shuuichi's. Or anyone else's, for that matter.
Shuuichi was humming.
Nothing but the synthesizer, his best friend's guitar, and that beautiful, haunting voice.
Eiri opened his eyes and looked out across the room, saw closed eyes and swaying heads throughout. Like him, he'd wager every mind, every heart in the room was filled with its own private fantasy.
Shuuichi had won. He'd proven his point. He didn't need anyone's help.
And Yuki Eiri's heart sank. He bowed his head and left the auditorium.
The final note from the synthesizer drifted gently into history.
Shuuichi swallowed hard, and hesitantly opened his eyes, squinting into the bright lights, wondering if he was going to be booed off the—
A spontaneous roar of approval rose from the audience.
They loved it. He'd done nothing but hum and they'd loved it.
He grinned as the adrenaline surged anew, raised his mic in a triumphant salute and screamed into the cacophony: "Bad Luck rules!"
The noise surged to a new high.
But the adrenaline rush was short-lived. In the end, there was only one opinion that truly mattered.
He scanned the room seeking that blond head he so desperately needed to see, but the spot beside the doorway was empty.
Yuki was gone.
The mic hand dropped, numb, as the rest of him was chilled and weary.
"Well." Ryuichi's silky voice floated from the speakers, and suddenly Ryu was there, beside him, eyeing him with the mesmerizing, sideways gaze of the stage-Ryuichi. "It appears you've won, Shu-kun."
Won? He'd done nothing but hum, when he could have sung those beautiful lyrics, lyrics burned forever into his heart.
He blinked, breathed deeply and said, in a low, to Ryu-only voice: "You know better."
"On the contrary." That sultry voice caressed his fears and he looked up to meet the mentor-Ryu eyes. Before he had time to wonder: "Sing with me?"
"Sing my final song with me? You heard it yesterday, right?"
His eyes returned to the door on the far side of which Yuki was even now escaping.
"So, Shuuichi...will you shine with me?"
He heaved a sigh of resignation...and grinned at his idol.
"I'd be honored, Sakuma-sensei."
"Ryu, Shu-kun. Just...Ryu." And with a graceful flick of his fingers, he signaled Touma and Noriko, his fellow Nittle Graspers, to start playing.
The two voices blended in heart-wrenching purity, the harmony so perfect, it sent chills down Eiri's spine. Two certifiable nutcases with voices that would put any heavenly choir to shame.
If he closed his eyes, he could see them, blissed out in the fantasy of their own conjuring. Two of a kind...except Shuuichi would never, ever have Ryu's cunning. Shuuichi could never do to anyone...what Ryu had done to him, for all Shuuichi didn't know it yet. Ryu had conceived the challenge, had set Shu up, then done everything within his substantial power to garner the fans against Shuuichi, to make him fail—
If that was possible.
It was both Shu's strength and his weakness, that caring nature of his. Ryu had an admirable cut-throat side that could temper a gift like Shuuichi's. Shuuichi, in Ryu's place, would take the long route, nurturing and encouraging.
Ryu would scare the living piss out of the very person he most wanted to succeed.
They'd both succeed, in the long run, but Shu's run would be ever so much longer and more painful to the nurturer.
Still, it gave Shu's music and even his lyrics a genuine sweetness Sakuma Ryuuichi had left behind long ago.
If he'd ever had it.
He should just leave, but he couldn't. Masochistically, he waited for the song to finish, for the roar of the crowd and for Shuuichi's farewell scream.
He was outside the backstage door, smoking, when Shuuichi came running out looking frantically up and down the alley, before spotting him in his carefully chosen shadow.
"Considering you're trying to make your name as a lyricist, you showed some king-sized balls up there tonight."
Good opening, he thought, proud of himself, in a detached way, surprised his voice and hand weren't shaking to match his intellect-challenged gut.
Shuuichi stopped in front of him. He looked carefully through those blazing purple eyes, knowing full well that if he truly met them, Shu would see right through him.
He always did.
"You think I'd've been better off singing some damned song you wrote for Kitizawa Yuki? I'd've choked."
For Kitizawa. Even now, the specter of his dead tutor rose between them, trying to keep him away from Shuuichi. There was no point in objecting. Shuuichi would never believe the truth.
Kitizawa would see to it.
Eiri inhaled deeply, then released the smoke slowly, watching Shuuichi through the curling cloud. "You started to sing it. I know you did. What stopped you?"
"Hiro. He said we couldn't lose...with lyrics by you."
"So? I thought you wanted to win."
"I did. But—" Shuuichi's brows tightened in his typical searching-for-the-right-words frown. "I—I had to do it myself. I thought you, of all people would realize that."
Somehow, the little lyricist never could put his thoughts into words. He tried, gods knew he tried, but his rather sappy lyrics were eloquent compared to his stumbling, stuttering, mile-a-minute attempts at verbal communication.
Shuuichi's head dropped, his ragged fringe of hair camouflaging those magnificent tell-all eyes. "I had to... to prove—to myself—that you were wrong. That Hiro was. That I didn't need anyone's help. Not even yours." His thin shoulders heaved in a sigh. "But that's the problem. You're right. Hiro is. I do need help, because I'm...a...zero talent."
Yuki snorted, to hide the constriction in his heart. "Fuck you, brat. You just held an audience mesmerized by humming."
"You know what I mean. Sure, I can sing, but... I don't want to sing other people's words, I've never wanted that. I–I want to share what's in here." His hand rubbed his chest, and he gave another heaving sigh. "But that's just it. I have all these feelings, but they come out... shit. A big, fat, round zero." Another heavy sigh. "And maybe that's all they are, those so-called feelings. Nothing but a big...fat..."
"Baka." He meant to make it cutting, but it came out on a half-sob instead. He was too damned vulnerable to the brat tonight, and when those luminous eyes, swimming in unvoiced concern, lifted, he found himself whispering over and over: "Baka, baka, baka. Why d'you keep dwelling on that one blasted phrase? Can't you see, you passed that test...oh, so long ago?"
"Haven't you figured it? Seen it, in the time you've been with me? How many packages arrive in the mail every week? 'Fans' wanting me to edit their manuscripts, to help them get published. I've had women pursue me into the john and slip them under the door while I was taking a dump. And then, there are the idea-fen: 'Oh, Yuki-sensei, I have this great idea! I'll give it to you and you can write it and we'll split the profits.'"
Just the thought made him shudder.
"That night in the park...when your lyrics blew into my face...god help me, I thought it was just one more ploy to get me to read some damned wannabe's work. I was trapped. I read the damned thing. There was a line or two with immense passion, a seed of something terribly real, and a whole lot of 'hell if I know what I'm talking about.' I've seen it a million times: writers with ideas but lacking the courage to follow those ideas through to some meaningful end. I gave you a standard, fucking line, y'damn brat!"
He controlled the urge to take his little idiot lover by the shoulders and shake sense into him.
"It's a standard ploy: if a wannabe writer can be discouraged, do it—for their own damned sake. It's fucking painful to put your psyche on a pedestal for consumers to take pot shots at on a daily basis. I said that to make you quit. I never expected to see you again and didn't give a damn if it hurt you. If it had the power to stop you, you'd hurt for one night. If it didn't... If it didn't stop you, you'd hurt for a lifetime, but the pain of that kind of writing is nowhere near as great as the pain of not writing at all."
Temptation grew too strong, he reached out and touched that sweet, unhappy face.
"And you, idiot that you are, you just kept coming back for more. And you kept writing. And you began to live and that life flowed into your work and through you to your audience. This latest fiasco, hell, yes, you came up with some good ones—the fish thing was a little weird, but overall..."
"Are you saying..."
For once, he felt no inclination to laugh at Shuuichi's "deep thoughts" face, for all it was one of his more endearingly childish faces, but somehow, tonight, he just didn't feel like laughing at much of anything.
"Are you saying," Shuuichi repeated slowly, "that I can write?"
"I'm saying that what I think doesn't matter. What do you think? How do you feel when you sing your songs?"
Not that there could be any doubt. Even the fish song. Not even Shuichi had been able to sing that with a straight face, and his own laughter at himself had shown through, inviting the world to laugh with him. Shuichi felt every song he sang to the depths of his soul. He wouldn't sing it otherwise.
He looked down into those earnest, utterly honest, eyes and revised that "wouldn't" to "couldn't."
He took Shuichi's hands in his and squeezed. "I didn't write that song for Kitizawa Yuki—good god, if you'd ever heard him sing, you'd know that—but I didn't, Shu, I wrote it for you. I can't stand to see you cry, and what those bastards were doing to you was tearing you apart. I just . . . I just wanted to help."
Shuuichi stared at him, unblinking. Then: "Why'd you come here tonight?"
Why the hell was he asking that?
"You haven't been to a concert since that one you attended with Ayaka. Why'd you come tonight?"
"Isn't that obvious?"
"No. It's not." His softly-rounded face pinched tight with determination to find some truth he seemed convinced lay beneath Eiri's words.
"This contest has obsessed you for weeks," he explained, for all it was fucking obvious. "Of course I'd come to the final big showdown."
"With you, Yuki, there's never an 'of course.' Why'd you really come?"
"Hell if I . . ." Except, he did know. And, after all they'd been through, Shuuichi deserved an honest answer. "To hear you sing."
"You hear me sing every day. You're always telling me to shut up."
"Fortunately, you never listen to me."
Shuuichi frowned, probably trying to think that one through. "That can't be the only reason."
Yuki reached out and brushed his knuckle along the soft jawline. "Actually, it is, just not, maybe the whole reason. —Truth?"
"When I was writing it, I could hear your voice in every keystroke. I came because I... hell, because I wanted to hear the real thing. My words. Sung by you. Silly, huh?" He turned away, embarrassed, fumbling after a cigarette. "Now who's the baka?"
Shuuichi didn't answer, but Yuki felt his eyes following every move. God, he wanted nothing more than to escape—
Slender arms slid around his waist, tentatively at first, then squeezing hard as he made no move to reject the gesture. He pressed the hands clasped on his stomach. "Shu, I really am—"
Shuuichi's arms tightened, and somehow he knew, for once talking wasn't what Shuuichi wanted.
And then, Shuuichi began to sing.
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A/N: There are a handful of allusions to Shu's lyric production that might seem counter to the manga scenario on which this story is based. I know that at least in the TokyoPop translation, Shuuichi says he's written nothing in the two years since their first single. (Actually, he alludes at one point during the Ryu competition to the two years he's known Eiri and in another to the fact that he hasn't written any lyrics since their first single.)
I freely admit, I don't buy into that one line as for me it runs counter to the overall substance of the story and the whole Yuki/Shu dynamic. I much prefer the implications that Yuki is an inspiration to Shu's creativity, not the death of it—just as Shu adds a new dimension to Yuki's stories. In the above take on the manga story, it's the pressure of turning out ten songs combined with Yuki's pod-person routine that throws Shu so completely off his game going into this "final exam" of Ryuichi's. After all, Bad Luck has continued to grow in popularity for two years and put out more songs and Shu is the lyricist for Bad Luck.
Anyway, hope y'all like it. I've got a few of these curious little vignettes. Please let me know if you'd like me to continue. —Vin