"Kumagoro is bored," Ryuichi whined pitifully from where he sat beneath the desk, thrusting the small plush rabbit above him to where it peeked above the corner, staring up at Tohma Seguchi with beady black eyes that the record label president fancied for a moment to be suitably accusing. It was rare that this ventriloquist act actually startled the mild mannered keyboardist, even when he had no idea that Ryuichi was in the room, but today he actually let forth a small gasp at the interruption of his thoughts. This made Ryuichi giggle, quite pleased with himself.

"I scared Tohma," Ryuichi taunted in a sing-song voice, moving the plushie in time with his words.

"That you did, Kuma," Tohma said amicably, giving the bunny a pat on the head, wondering how exactly a full grown man had managed to conceal himself before his knees without him noticing, and how the hyperactive singer had kept still for so long. He wanted to peer beneath the desk, but knew that it would be considered cheating by Ryu logic, an odd logic as ritual and yet unpredictable as that of a small child's.

"Why don't you try playing with Ryuichi?" Tohma suggested patiently. "Did he come to work with you today?" The bunny nodded.

"He's here, but I don't want to play with him," the bunny said.

"Why wouldn't you want to play with Ryu? I thought he was your best friend," Tohma said, threading his long, manicured fingers together and resting his chin upon them.

"Not today he isn't," Kumagoro's voice said rather darkly. "He keeps getting all quiet and weird on me when I want to play."

"Oh?" Tohma said, addressing the toy across his desk with surprise. "Perhaps he's writing a new song and needs to concentrate." A second hand reached up for the rabbit's other arm, making the little rabbit shrug. Tohma smiled at Ryuichi's expressive puppetry.

"I guess he could write a song about whatever's bothering him," Ryuichi's voice said uncertainly. Tohma saw one of the singer's hands tremble, and fought the urge to reach for it.

"What do you think is bothering him, Kuma?" Tohma asked softly. "Is there anything Tohma can do to help?" The rabbit shook his head, his floppy ears flying outward.

"No," the bunny said, pressing its face to the desktop as Ryuichi lost his balance from where he was crouching, and quickly righting itself when the singer settled into a more comfortable position. "Ryuichi says Tohma's heart hurts, too. Tohma doesn't know how to fix that, or he'd have fixed himself."

Tohma took a deep breath, willing himself to expel the feelings that had fleetingly come over him, to brush them away like cobwebs.

"I don't know why Ryuichi would think such a thing. You don't need to worry yourself about m-- about Tohma. He is perfectly fine," Tohma said with feigned cheerfulness.

"Are not," the bunny said sulkily. "You're boring me, too."

Tohma watched in silence as his friend stood and left the room, unsure of what to say, and not particularly sure he wanted to continue the conversation.

oOoOo

Ryuichi left his oldest friend to his own solitude and denial with a sigh, closing the office door behind him.

"You're going to go watch him again, aren't you?" Kumagoro asked him silently as he walked down the hall. He didn't answer, not even telepathically, instead stuffing the nosy bunny in his vest to stifle him.

He was annoyed that Kumagoro was right, and hated the disapproving tone he'd taken. Kumagoro knew that Ryuichi knew that he should know better. Or something like that. But he had to go. It was an addiction, like chocolate pocky or those funny little pills K used to give him on tours.

Maybe it would be okay today. Maybe that sad sparkle had been replaced by the good one, and he wouldn't have to worry anymore, just hurt in a way he understood. He was used to being helpless or unwilling to really change anything. It was when he felt like he could be needed that he didn't know what to do. It was too much like that -- what was it -- that word that Tohma and K and Nori and all the others kept throwing at him? Oh, yeah, "responsibility". That thing that he apparently had none of and didn't want, even though they kept saying he needed to get some. It didn't sound like anything all that fun to have. What was so great about it anyway?

But then he'd see that sad sparkle. It didn't belong there, and he wished Shuichi didn't love the one who seemed to put it there. And he felt like he would get some of that stuff he didn't want when it came to Shu.

He quietly entered the recording studio, glad to see they were only rehearsing and hadn't started recording yet. K and Sakano didn't even look at him curiously anymore when he slipped in, just nodded in greeting and went back to whatever they were doing. The musicians usually didn't notice him at all, since they were busy making Shuichi's pretty music live.

And there was Shuichi at his mike, all glitter and sugar and everything nice in the world. He was so perfect that Ryuichi felt like he could have invented him.

He sat in a corner on a high stool, with a good view of the recording booth and watched the younger singer soar, his powerful voice filtering beautifully through the speakers outside of the sound proofed chamber. He was like a little bird, trapped behind the glass, and it made Ryuichi sad. He belonged somewhere free, full of light and wildflowers and sunshine. Ryuichi wasn't sure where that place was, but he wanted to snatch the little singer away there, where no one could ever yell at him or make him feel bad about himself.

He had known Uesegi Eiri since the writer was a child, but he couldn't claim to understand him any better for the fact. He had liked the little blonde boy that tagged along with Tohma, the quiet and sincere child that he could make laugh when he tried. He even continued to like him when he took his Tohma so far away and he didn't get to see them for a while.

The person Tohma brought back with him when they returned to Japan was so different that he almost wanted to ask Tohma sometimes if he was sure he had brought back the right child. It haunted Ryuichi, thinking of the real, sweet little Eiri left behind to wander the streets of a big, scary city alone forever. He had even looked for him a few years later when he went there himself, though K said he must have just been having sideways effects and gave him less pills. But he knew he had caught Tohma looking for him, too, so he had to be missing. Only Tohma tried to find him behind the guarded golden eyes of the stranger he'd brought home with him. Ryuichi didn't think he was there in this Yuki person, but Tohma kept looking nonetheless, and he knew that was why Tohma's heart hurt like his did.

Ryuichi wished he could introduce Shuichi to the real Eiri. They probably would have liked each other.

Ryuichi didn't hate the Yuki person, but he did unnerve him greatly. There was no shimmer of kindness to him that Ryuichi could sense, just self-loathing and hurt and suspicion. He didn't know what to do with the parts of the man that he didn't understand, and he was terrified of the parts that he did. But he did know that he made Shuichi cry and apologize when he did nothing wrong every bit as often as he seemed to make him happy. Or at least, it sure seemed that way to him.

"What makes you think you could make him any happier?" Kumagoro asked, clawing his way out of Ryuichi's vest with an indignant expression.

"I don't know," Ryuichi said quietly.

Ryuichi had never been in a real relationship before. He had allowed a few lovers, but they usually gave him a creepy feeling, like they were making love to his body but not to him. He had begun to avoid the issue altogether after a while. He was envied and admired and protected by those around him, but he wasn't sure he knew how it felt to be loved, except in the strange, almost maternal way Tohma seemed to care for him. Would he even know how to love someone else?

Maybe that was it, after all, Ryuichi thought with a frown. Maybe he just wanted there to be a sad sparkle to Shuichi, so he could pretend that it was Shuichi that needed him and not the other way around. Perhaps it was the warmth and genuine affection the little singer seemed to beam with that he felt might teach him how to love with all his heart.

"And if that's the case," Kumagorou said, "Then you don't deserve him."

Ryuichi slid off the stool silently, with a last wistful look before turing away and leaving the studio.

"Well, I'm glad we got that over with," Kumagorou said cheerfully. "Now you can be your old self and play with me again!"

The rabbit went on to suggest a list of things they could do, but Ryuichi was only half-way listening.

"Looking in on Bad Luck again, Ryuichi?"

Ryuichi looked up to see Tohma, leaning against the wall in the hallway, all false smiles that beamed and sad eyes that didn't. It made Ryuichi want to run far away. Tohma would just pretend, just place bandages on wounds that needed stitches, or act like nothing happened at all, like Kuma did.

"We're quite a pair, aren't we?" Tohma asked softly, taking his arm with velvet gloved fingers. Ryuichi looked up at him with surprise.

"How did you know I was here?" Ryuichi asked. Tohma smirked.

"I know everything, Ryu," Tohma said, as he led the singer down the hall.

Ryuichi knew that wasn't true. He knew that one question could bring his loving protector's reassuring boast down, as he'd known ever since the first frightening day that he'd realized that even Seguchi Tohma couldn't control everything.

But he'd let it slide today, he decided, replaying in his mind the softly asked question that had betrayed more vulnerability than the man had ever willingly shown him.

"Sure, Tohma. Sure you do," Ryuichi said, taking the taller man's hand and swinging it playfully.