Disclaimer: Gravitation and its characters are the property of Maki Murakami. I make no profit from this other than pleasure.

This is an AU, chapter one caveats still apply. :D

A/N: Sorry to be so slow posting this. RL intruded in the form of home organization. Also, I just couldn't get this chapter to feel right, now that I've added the previous scenes and intend to continue the story. I think I've finally got something I'm happy with, so I'm going to post before I edit again!

My apologies to the authors of the stories I've beta'd in the last couple of weeks as I've been in hyper-critical edit mode.

After this, I'm going to be disappearing for a while. RL is looming overhead with many demands. I've still got a couple of stories to post, but they're going to have to wait.

Warnings: Hmmmm...again, only to Eiri. Poor lad. He's so doomed.

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Chapter Eleven:
If Only You Try
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Eiri reared back from the bed, rolling up to his knees to divest himself of his increasingly annoying shirt.

"Wait!" Shuuichi, his loosened jeans riding dangerously low on his hips, held up only by the increasingly active pole of flesh south of his navel, pushed himself upright, his hands reaching to intercept Eiri's. "C–can I...?" Eyes downcast, he toyed shyly with the top button of Eiri's shirt.

Eiri grunted and let his hands drop. "Thought maybe you weren't interested." Considering those little hands hadn't so much as touched the buttons. Or his fly. Or anything else with purpose aforethought.

"Not...?" Huge, round eyes met his, then slid shyly away. The top button slipped free, victim to seemingly random finger-action. One index finger inserted itself into the opening, tracing the lines of his chest, sliding down to the next button. "Of course I'm interested. You're..." Another button slid free, two fingers widened the gap and a small gasp escaped. "You're gorgeous..." That soft mouth found his collar bone, a warm invader that wandered about the ever-widening expanse of skin as another button escaped it's confinement.

Gorgeous. Eiri grunted. Gods knew it wasn't the first time he'd heard that; his fans said it all the time. The women he'd taken to bed were open enough in their appreciation as they ripped his clothing off preparatory to hot and heavy rutting, but somehow, those compliments always fell flat. Sure, he kept himself in shape, mostly to avoid the pitfalls of endless hours sitting at a computer, and clothing...hung well on the armature, but then, Armani could make an elephant look good.

Beauty, physical or spiritual, truly was in the eye of the beholder and most of his beholders had had plenty of outside influence affecting their verbalized assessment. Fame? Money? Attitude? All of the above? Take your pick.

The fact was, he'd been subject to too much ridicule in his youth, been made too conscious of his non-Japanese coloration, to ever accept himself as anything other than annoyingly different from the vast majority of his age peers. He was stubborn enough never to hide those looks behind dye and contacts, arrogant enough to use his fame to shove those half-breed looks down the throats of his detractors and admirers alike, but accept himself? Consider himself remotely handsome? Even in the strictly physical sense?

Not really. Not...not until those purple eyes traveled slowly across his face and body, hungry and fascinated, not until those small hands and warm mouth...worshiped...every square centimeter of skin, every nook and cranny they could find.

The kid was so damned open, so damned...earnest...he could make even a cynic like Eiri forget, just for a moment, the bitter realities of life. For days now, he realized past the haze beginning to fill his mind, he'd been sinking into that strange little World According to Shuuichi. First the concert. Then the hotel. A shared kiss with seemingly magical properties. More kisses. More strange behavior...

Now...this...

Who would have guessed, when he condescended to give the kid his fantasy night, that he'd find such...personal content...a part of the bargain. Not that it would last; he'd wake up in the morning the same annoyingly unusual blond-headed bastard he'd always been, but for now...

He watched, from a feather-soft distance, as Shuuichi rose to his knees, and slid the now-loose shirt off. He made no move to help, his skin, not so distant as his eyes, reveling in the little hands sliding along his arms, rough little hands so different from the talon-tipped, pampered hands that had stroked him in the past; rough little hands that reached and encircled his own hands, hands as smooth as the women he'd bedded; rough little hands that lifted his too-smooth fingers to a velvet mouth that gently explored each manicured tip.

...for now, he just let himself slide...

Velvet deserted his fingers.

Vision swirled back into focus as, still on his knees, Shuuichi leaned into him, elbows propped lightly on his shoulders. Those ragged fingernails caught in his hair as Shuuichi's wide-eyed fascination shifted to the despised, if expensively coifed, mass.

...deeper...

"It's...so beautiful," Shuuichi whispered, letting the strands drift free. A breeze caught the falling strands. A Shuuichi-breeze, coming through softly pursed lips. "It glows...like sunshine."

...and deeper...as those slender arms lowered, small hands cupping his face, holding it steady as Shuuichi's lips traced his cheekbone. He closed his eyes, cutting off the impossibly sweet, slightly out of focus, face.

"Please, don't." The soft lips caressed his eyelids, thumbs slid along his cheekbones.

He frowned, irritated because he was really beginning to enjoy himself, and opened his eyes. "Don't what?"

Shuuichi smiled and leaned back, staring at him. "Close your eyes." That baby-bird head-tilt returned as the strangely intimate gaze traced the organs in question. "I've never seen anything like them."

Well, wasn't that a mood breaker? Eiri snarled and pulled away. Shuuichi lurched and caught his balance, falling back to sit on his heels, eyes wide, his arms curling around his skinny ribs protectively.

"Eiri? What is it? What did I say?"

Eiri. His given name. A Japanese name. A name he reluctantly acknowledged, but only in his own head.

"Dammit," he snapped, "my name's Yuki." A name he'd chosen. Not a name that had been thrust upon him by his parents, as his hair had been, and his eyes, his goddamned perfect features.

Perfect. For an ice sculpture.

An accident of genetics.

A cruel joke of the gods.

Purple eyes dropped. Purple eyes. Pink hair. The hair was by choice, an entertainer's creative whim, but the eyes weren't. Still, at least they were dark, stunningly unusual though they were at close range, they didn't stand out from the crowd.

Not like the golden cat eyes he'd been saddled with at birth.

"I...I'm sorry, Yuki-san." Shuuichi's voice shook, and he pulled even further into himself.

Shrinking. His one-night fantasy shattered as surely as Eiri's had been. With one, huge difference: Shuuichi needed that fantasy. Had damnwell earned it.

No...not one difference. Two: Eiri had promised that night to him.

Eiri sighed and after a moment's hesitation, reached for him, drawing him close, awkward once more as the magic dissipated. "I said Yuki, you moron. Just...Yuki."

Shuuichi sighed and curled into his hold without a hint of hesitation or awkwardness, that forgiving trust he exuded its own special magic. He leaned his head against Eiri's chest, and, very slowly, his curious fingers once again found their way to Eiri's skin.

As the fantasy threatened anew, Shuuichi asked softly: "Why do you hate them?"

"I hate a lot of things, brat. A noun would help."

"Your eyes." So, he'd figured that out on his own, baka that he was.

"None of your fucking business."

"S–sorry. But..." Defiance edged his murmuring voice. "I don't care. I love them. I think they're the most wonderful eyes I've ever seen. I've...dreamed about them ever since I first saw them, there in the park, which I'd never have done if they were ordinary, so...so there!"

The ultimate childhood retort. Eiri glanced down into the face lifted to his, found a lower lip pouting pugnaciously. Baka, indeed. Such a perfect, multi-purpose adjective for so marvelously self-deluded an individual. He chuckled before capturing that pouting mouth with his own.

With a tiny gasp, Shuuichi pressed the kiss deeper. Baka, indeed. Despite what he'd been through, his life remained fundamentally so fucking simple.

Which I'd never have done—

Damn.

What the hell was he doing? Magical? Fantasy? Consciously or not, this fuckingly simple-minded idiot was determined to mess with his mind. His reality. Time to fuck him and get out, while his soul remained the screwed-up mess it'd been for six years. Better the screwed-up mess you knew than . . . whatever alternative this kid's blind ignorance offered.

Eiri pushed him back into the pillows and took back control of the night, the mood, and the fantasy, grabbing the kid's jeans and pulling them unceremoniously down, exposing him fully.

Shuuichi whimpered and twisted away, curling on his side to hide himself.

"Dammit!" Eiri grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back, grabbed his wrists and held them captive over his head when he tried to cover himself. "What the fuck are you pulling now?"

"Not in anger, Yuki. Please!" He writhed in the controlling hold, eyes squeezed shut in sheer, unadulterated panic. "Please!"

Fuck.

Abruptly, Eiri released Shuuichi's wrists and swung his legs off the side of the bed, breathing deeply. Behind him, he felt Shuuichi pull himself up. He glanced around, found Shuuichi sitting, arms circling his knees, hugging them to his chest, saw those big purple eyes peering over the kneecaps, begging for understanding.

For understanding what? Dammit, what were they here for but sex? How dare he get cold feet after practically begging for this? But . . . Not in anger. And there he was, curled in a protective ball. Hiding his naked body behind two skinny arms.

And he'd asked, could he take off Eiri's clothes. Asked. As if he thought it might be refused. As if he thought he hadn't the right.

And suddenly, he did understand. How many times had Shuuichi been exposed in front of him? How many times had Shuuichi been humiliated and used, without a moment's thought given to his pride and his needs? And now, once again, Shuuichi lay naked, as his seducer remained safely hidden, in every sense. Hidden. In control. Able to use and throw away at his leisure.

Gods save him, didn't he know exactly how that felt?

Anger drained away as quickly as it had flared. Eiri stood up and slowly, deliberately, unfastened his slacks and let them fall to the floor. His shorts followed, and he stood there, steadily, allowing Shuuichi time to take in the image. Allowing Shuuichi the option. Waiting. His own desire obvious. But it was desire only. It was Shuuichi's right to accept.

Or reject.

Which unprecedented altruism didn't stop the wave of relief that swept through him when at last Shuuichi's arms relaxed, when Shuuichi lay back, arms uplifted in silent supplication.

"About time," he snarled, but gently, as he stretched himself out beside the brat and took him firmly into his arms.

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Like everything else about this man, the sex was...perfect. Yuki had picked up condoms and lube, asking Shuuichi did he have a preference, and for all he claimed his experience with men was limited, his long fingers had prepped and teased Shuuichi until he was screaming for release.

All those times, all those other people...and he still felt like a virgin, only this time, it wasn't a sacrifice, this time...

This time, it was a gift. A gift he gave with all his heart as that big organ filled him, as he wrapped his legs around Yuki's slender waist and met him, thrust for magical thrust.

And Yuki, magician that he was, found that spot within, that spot that others would hit only on occasion and never by intent. Yuki found that spot again and again, chuckling with cool purpose as he reduced Shuuichi to a quivering, mindless tangle of exhausted limbs.

Some unknown time later, he came aware of a damp warmth, not Yuki's tongue this time, but a washcloth, gently wiping away sweat and other quickly drying fluids, followed by a large dry towel that covered him and strong arms that lifted him up and wrapped that towel around him before drawing him in against a body that smelled of herbal soap.

"You took a shower," he mumbled against the bare chest and felt a curious vibration deep within the smooth, broad expanse.

"I'd've taken you in with me, but was afraid you might drown."

So instead, he'd given him this gentle bath, an experience he might well have slept through, waking up magically to the clean scent of Yuki rather than his own stench.

"Hey, you moron, what's with the waterworks?"

Waterworks? Was he crying? Again?

"Sorry." He blinked his eyes clear. "It's nothing."

"Shit. Did you want to wake up smelling like a whorehouse?"

He shuddered and shook his head, burying himself into the covers Yuki had drawn up over them; knowing Yuki would just call him an idiot again, knowing he'd be right. And still the tears hovered just at the edge of control.

"Shuuichi, what the hell's going on?" Irritation had begun to color the smooth voice again, and Shuuichi quickly relented...just a bit.

"N–never mind. It's...it's s–stupid."

Silence, as long fingers combed absentmindedly through his hair, bringing soothing relief with them. Then:

"Why were you frightened?" Cooly asked, without a hint of condemnation...or sympathy.

"Huh?" Frightened? He wasn't frightened. Well, he was, but only of this perfect night ending.

"You panicked. You said, 'Not in anger.'"

"Oh. That." He felt Yuki pull back, knew he was looking down at him and couldn't meet his eyes.

"Did someone take you in anger once, Shuuichi? Did someone hurt you? I mean, beyond those sadistic bastards I caught you with. They weren't angry, just seriously bent."

"Yeah," Shuuichi answered, if a bit reluctantly, then finding the sting of the memory gone as quickly as it had appeared, he leaned back and met that golden gaze steadily. "Yeah, they did. But only once. And I got away before ... before they did much damage. Then Sakano took care of it."

"Sakano." The word, coming from Yuki's mouth, had the tone of a curse.

"Yes, Sakano." Shuuichi freed a hand from bath sheet and covers, setting it flat on Yuki's chest. "He tried, Yuki. He truly tried. He made nothing off of us, felt guilty for his inability to get Seguchi-san to listen to our demo."

"Yeah, right." And that wolfish, predatory look flashed behind the beautiful golden eyes.

"It's true, Yuki." It was important, somehow, that Yuki understand that, not just so that hard anger didn't find an outlet in Sakano, but so he didn't think Shuuichi was even dumber than he was. He dropped his hand to grip Yuki's. "Once...once I understood the game, I checked the numbers, tracked the account books. I'm no math whiz, but I'm also not a whore and wasn't about to work for some pimp. I saw the checks from the investors, saw our expenses, and he's been making enough to live on, but not much more. I..."

A small frown tightened Yuki's brow, but the wolf vanished, and his fingers brushed the hair back from Shuuichi's eyes. "You're a brave kid, you know that?"

He shook his head. "It's not courage when you have no choice." He swallowed hard, fearing Yuki's scorn, but unashamed of the truth. "I'm no pimp's whore, but I'd do anything to keep singing, to get that chance to share my music with the world. Anything."

Yuki just stared at him, and Shuuichi longed to ask him what he was thinking, but couldn't, and then Yuki pulled him close again, saying into his hair, "You're the worst kind."

Which still made no sense, but there, in Yuki's arms, he didn't much care.

"So that wasn't why you were crying?"

He shook his head.

"So, why the tears?" Yuki persisted.

"I told you. It's dumb."

"I promise not to laugh."

Shuuichi pulled back to look into those golden eyes, saw a determination that warned him against further dodging.

"I...I just..." Sweet Buddha, Yuki was going to laugh. At him. Again. No matter his promise. "You're just so damn perfect. I just...wishyou'dbeenmyfirst, that's all." He explained in a mumbled rush to the towel's cotton folds.

Another long silence, then. "Shuuichi, the first time you...performed for one of Sakano's friends, that wasn't...your first time with a man was it?"

"My first time, period."

"Shit."

"I was just always focused on my music. I wanted a girlfriend—"

"Girlfriend, huh?"

"Yeah," Shuuichi replied momentarily back in his High School years, avoiding the strangely twisted look on Yuki's face. "But it was all pretty theoretical. Now...I think now I'd settle for a pet who really wanted to be with me, and not Bad Luck's lead singer."

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Who really wanted to be with me...Girlfriend, boyfriend, suddenly, it didn't much matter.

Eiri didn't know which was worse, Shuuichi's first time...or his own. His, at least, had been unequivocally negative: betrayal, rape and the single-handed murder of one's rapists, one of whom just happened to be one's first love, pretty well constituted the absolute black hole of negative experiences. Shuuichi's...his held an element of self-determination that...had to hurt. Deeply. Especially to the romantic the brat unquestionably was. The fact was, he'd had a choice and sacrificed that—what had he called it? The dream of love?

"Is that what you think they wanted? What I wanted? Tonight?"

Those big, stunningly hypnotic eyes blinked at him. "Of course it was. Star collectors. At least they were. You...you..."

"Yes? Do you put me in the same category?"

"Yes. I mean, no, I mean...well...look at me." He struggled free of Eiri's arms and blankets and towel alike and thrust himself to his feet on the bed. "Look at me. Would you have been interested? If you hadn't seen me on stage? If you, like some hero in one of your own books, hadn't rescued me like some idiot bitch in distress?"

"I don't write idiot bitches." He snapped out in immediate defense of his characters.

Shuuichi glared, and Eiri couldn't help a twitch of a smile.

"They're all very smart."

Shuuichi snorted. "Well, okay, the similarity falls short there. No one's ever accused me of being smart. I'm also short, skinny, and I talk too loud and too much. —I didn't have a girlfriend in school because I was the school joke. Okay? I was someone you laughed at, not someone you kissed."

Well, he was here to say those girls had been idiots. That was definitely one of the more kissable mouths ever created by the gods to tempt either sex. Eiri swallowed hard, trying not to drool at the tiny living statue poised defiantly in the middle of his bed. Tried to imagine that body two years ago, when slender muscle was skinny, undeveloped teenaged body.

It wasn't exactly difficult for him to imagine what going through life...different...did to a vulnerable artistic soul. Shy, bookish, blond-haired and pale-eyed in a land of blacks and dark browns, in a land where being foreign was one thing and being half-breed was altogether worse...oh, he understood Shuuichi's lament all too well.

"I can't deny," he replied slowly, "that the stage image isn't fucking fantastic."

"I rest my case." The tiny statue dropped back down to sit cross-legged on the bed. "And that's all costumes and makeup."

"And a body and voice like liquid silver."

That small face screwed up in perplexity. "Is that a compliment?"

He chuckled and brushed his lips against those puckered lips. "Damn straight. I can say, however, that your stage persona wasn't what first got my interest. In fact, I can honestly say it wasn't your appearance at all."

It was a deliberate tease, but Shuuichi's head just tipped in confusion, his eyes begging enlightenment his lips didn't have sense enough to ask for.

"I don't know if I should tell you." Damned if he'd give such valuable information up for nothing, but the disappointment in those same eyes proved his undoing. "Oh...all right. It was your defiant defense of your crappy lyrics."

He wasn't prepared for the wince, or the head turned away in embarrassment.

"Hey, idiot, what's this?" He reached out and tilted Shuuichi's face back up to meet his gaze.

"You're right. They are crap."

"So? Your voice more than makes up for it."

"That's what Hiro says. He says my vocals are the best in Japan. Better than Ryuichi's, but I think that's just to make me feel better."

Eiri was not one to give false praise, not one to give feel good lies even in—especially in—moments of obvious need. He was more likely to cut to the bone with honesty. It was, he'd always thought, healthier. And he wasn't about to lie this time. None the less, he thought carefully before he said: "You aren't."

Shuuichi drew a shuddering breath that reeked of a sad mixture of disappointment and relief.

"But you could be. Given time. Your voice is purer. Your stage image less contrived. If you can master the skills you're already damned good at without losing those essential qualities, yes, you could surpass Ryu. In that..." Gods help him, he was only too well aware. "In that, the that crap you went through with the investors might actually help, since it didn't destroy."

He expected at least a smile for that carefully constructed compliment, but what he got was a heavy sigh and a simple. "Thanks."

"But?"

"Did I say but?"

"The heavy sigh kinda gave it away."

"Don't you see, Ryu isn't just his voice, he's his songs. He can pack so much...life into them. Mine...You're right. They're crappy."

He thought back, trying to remember the song, and the amazing part was, he did remember, practically word for word.

Shuuichi, who had begun to shiver, was pulling at the covers.

"C'mere." Eiri sat back into the pillows and pulled the kid back into his arm, noting, in a tiny, unoccupied corner of his mind, that the feeling of rightness had returned, banishing all sense of awkwardness. He tucked his midget in close and the covers around him, and when the shivers eased, he said, once again choosing his words, knowing, dammit and in retrospect, just how painful his initial careless dismissal of those lyrics must have been: "Y'know, brat, they can't have been that bad, considering I still remember them."

Why he should care about hurting this time, when he never had in the past, he refused to examine as Shuuichi leaned forward, looking back over his shoulders, the desperate need for reassurance almost painful to look at. "You do?"

"Yeah. And, yeah, they were crap, so don't get your hopes up, but...special crap."

And so he assuaged his image and his conscience. Still he was relieved to note that Shuuichi huffed and slumped back into hiding beneath Eiri's arm with an air, not of disappointment, but of renewed trust.

And maybe even a hint of humor. The kid knew the limitations of those lyrics, had suspected patronage in Eiri's first attempt to temporize. Shindou Shuuichi could accept, for all it hurt, Yuki Eiri's peculiar brand assessment; he couldn't accept lies for the sake of a lover's feelings.

In respect of that courage, he sought a more detailed explanation of his gut reaction. "You've a ...unique and interesting sense of word choice and juxtaposition of concept. That's vital to a lyricist. It's crap because it wasn't honest. You were talking about what should be rather than what you knew."

Shuuichi pulled his knees up and huddled deeper still into the pillows and under Eiri's arm. His hands lifted, fingers interlacing in front of his small nose, then the index fingers began to tap a slow, steady rhythm.

Eiri could almost hear the wheels turning in his pea-sized brain.

Suddenly: "And is everything you put in your books true? Have you done all the things your heros and heroines do?"

"Hah! Thought you'd get me. I'm a professional liar, brat. That's what authors are. You, my undersized moron, aren't an author. You're a lyricist. More than that, you're one of the most fundamentally honest people I know. You confused your poor fledgling muse when you tried to write that shit about the way love could be, if only you tried hard enough."

The fingers stopped tapping and retreated into hiding beneath the covers.

"You remembered."

"I remember damned near everything about that meeting. I told you: you made an impression."

"But you never heard the finished product."

"Hmm?"

"That was just a rough draft you read." And with that, he began to sing. It was the melody Eiri had heard that first night, the words familiar, but not. He tried to listen, tried not to get caught up in that ethereally beautiful sound, floating for the first time through his bedroom, as pure and hypnotic as it had been on the night breeze in a deserted-but-for-two city park.

And he, almost, succeeded. Almost managed to listen to the words critically. He did succeed, well enough to say, with some honesty, "Better. Much..." He had to cough to free the curious constriction in his throat. "Much better." He coughed again and found a voice steady enough to ask, "When did you finish it?"

"Just now."

"Just—now? Here, in this bed?"

"As I sang it. You gave me the clue. I couldn't write it because I didn't know. Now, I do."

"Know." He repeated, and with a sense of a pit opening beneath him: "Dare I ask what?"

Shuuichi oozed up out of his nest deep under Eiri's arm to wrap slender arms around Eiri's neck.

"You might not like the answer."

I write about what love could be, if only you try hard enough...

And Shuuichi had never had a girl friend. His only experience with the acts of love were whoring to a bunch of rich, horny men and women.

Until tonight.

Fuck. He thought, as those marvelous lips brushed, then pressed hard and deep into his open, welcoming mouth.

Fin...for now.

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Original final sentence deleted because of looming sequel: Maybe, just maybe, there was an answer for both of them.

Okay...you see from that deleted final sentence why your input changed it so much. It began as a nice little contained AU alternate beginning to the Yuki/Shu relationship, one where Yuki gets to play White Knight to a pretty battered little Shu. I hadn't really bothered to think it through beyond this point. But I am now. The sequel, in which we'll see what becomes of Sakano as well as our intrepid couple, will be a bit in coming...I've another story or two I'll be posting soon...but I'm not one to post without at least a really solid rough draft of the whole story. Too much changes as I write.

My thanks to all who have kept with me and this story and especially to those who have reviewed and added it to alerts and favs and all that. I love you all. When the "sequel" happens, it will be amended to this story not posted as a separate story, so if you have an alert on CC: reposted, that will alert you when the sequel starts.

Reviews: (Warning: This gets pretty long with a fair bit of "writer-speak." Sorry. If you're not interested (and I wouldn't blame you) but would still like to leave a comment, just hit the "end" button on your keyboard and jump to the bottom. I'm human, I'd love to hear from y'all.)

DarkestFlameUchiha: It's always useful to know how a reader is reacting at various points in the story. Thanks for the "along the way" reviews. I suspect (hope?) that what you are responding to in the story is the triumph of integrity over immediate gratification. More on that in the other responses.

Have I personally been in Shu's position? Let's say, I know the premise of the story is not unfounded, given human nature.

I wanted to address your initial comment, which is an important one: "Fun" for a writer often consists in exploring a variety of character permutations, that doesn't mean that one necessarily finds pleasure in all aspects of the story created to explore those permutations. Neither is the reader intended to derive pleasure from a scene such as this (chapter four: White (k)Nights, for those who missed the review in question). If you consider it horrific at this point, then I did my job. I needed something horrific to shock Yuki into serious White Knight mode in order to have believable strawberry and pasta moments later, but finding the right balance of description to suggestion to create horror rather than titillation is one of the most difficult aspects of writing a story such as this.

J9 and DiLong: Hey, thanks! I admit, I've been writing professionally for several years. I've alluded to this a couple of times in review responses, but only in passing because, as DiLong points out, there are some very high-quality writers in fanfic, and some really questionable ones on the shelves of bookstores, so publishing credentials don't mean that much. Gravitation fanfic is my kick-up-my-heels playground. It does mean, however, I probably have a bit different approach to writing than most and I can get pretty long-winded in my responses, cuz I've been thinking about this stuff (both content and writing style) for, well, a really long time. :D

SexyRyu, Gravichick (Mia), Murmurs: Thanks. ;-)

NocturnSadist: Citrus fluff. Is that what I do? I was sure there must be an official fanfic term for it, and I like that one! I'm not out to write a sex guide. If details matter, I'll put them in, but for the most part, I want to know why they're having sex and what they're feeling and thinking...since I viewpoint from inside their heads, generally when the hormones really begin to flow, they pretty much fade to sensory-overload black. :D:D:D

Regarding Sakano...the question the story should really be asking is, does he deserve to be ruined? I'm by no means validating what he chose to do, I'm just saying that he took, as a last resort, one acknowledged...and not technically illegal...path within the community. We're not dealing with Nuremberg here, we're dealing with willing participants...on both sides. I'm honestly not sure how it will play out at this point, but it s/b interesting. Will Sakano get off scot free? Hell, no. That much I can reassure everyone. :D

KyoHana: One of my favorite lines, too. He's so hooked! And I agree, totally, with your analysis of the Yuki/World Yuki/Shu dynamics.

Tsu: See below. ;-D

Zoe: Before Christmas, I suspect.

SS-chan: You're absolutely right. The epilogue (of HP) is a waste and totally undermines a great final sentence. Best moment in the entire series (IMO)? Neville's Great Moment in the final battle. It's totally set up by previous events, timed perfectly and not overly explained endlessly after the fact, unlike, well, other parts of the book(s). But I thoroughly enjoyed the series. (And you didn't spoil a thing.)

(SS-chan and B-May and Scorch): The Earring simply must return in the next book. Not sure how. And button...HAH! That was one of those moments where Eiri's thought was "cute as a button" and I literally raised my hands off the keyboard and said to my inner Eiri, "You've got to be kidding me."

Shu/Hiro really is a necessary counterpoint to Shu/Eiri. Both are necessary for creating a viable Shuuichi-super-star, IMO.

DIYA: I had to stop because at that point because I didn't feel I had this last part right, not for a good segue into the sequel. I didn't want to hold up another week before posting something, so I gave you the part I felt comfortable with. I realize it did make for a rather lengthy, er, coitus interruptus for our lads. (Sorry, boys!)

Tsubaki: Repeat warning! A fairly lengthy discussion regarding my brand of character development; likely boring as heck to most of you:D

I'm, as always, indebted to Tsubaki for inspiring me to, uh, think about what I'm doing and why I do it. I'm going to lapse now into a few words on how I write and create characters, and why I can't promise that the occasionally downright mean Yuki we know and love-to-want-to-beat-about-the-head-with-a-two-by-four in the manga will ever quite show up in this story.

IC vs OOC is where writing fanfic and especially AU fanfic begins to get seriously dicey. In an original story, the writer has a bit more control of the reader's impression of the characters. I'm not saying total control because every reader brings a unique life-experience to the equation, and the author can never anticipate all the possible readings of their characters. You can only do your best to cover the most obvious readings and make them make satisfactory sense.

In a fanfic, you've got the additional problem of the reader's preconceptions of a character you didn't create, characters you (the author of the fanfic) have already morphed to a certain extent just by your personal interpretation of them. An AU is the ultimate danger zone for "getting a character right," because the author has the additional problem of a whole different set of fundamental character-dynamics. Even one such as this where the apparent similarities are strong, the characters are bound to be different.

I don't really know how other people write, but I personally don't predetermine actions/reactions on characters. I don't even preplan my own characters very much, other than a few basic background and personality issues, and even those are hazy at the beginning. They may even change gender. I (or the plot) puts them in a given situation and they react according to some internal paradigm my subconscious has for the character. I don't question very much as it happens. If I do, I run the danger of damaging my muse. The story is happening because of how and why the character(s) react(s) and vice versa and if I mess with that, I mess with what makes me write in the first place.

The job of analyzing those characters and making them make internal sense within the story is part of the editing process, not the initial planning stages. That's where going back in and setting up certain behaviors becomes so important.

If a given action seems OOC for the character within the story, then I will ask my internal paradigm: "Are you sure about this?" and if they say "Absolutely," then I try to make them fess up to why they're acting that way and either slip in justification within the scene (or at least the immediately following scene) or (far more often) go in earlier and set up the behavior/reaction. This is why I absolutely cannot post as I write.

An example of immediate handling would be the "button" sequence mentioned earlier. Backward Setup is often more subtle. I can't remember which scene I wrote first, the spaghetti scene or the balcony/strawberry shortcake scene, but the one sets up the other. I don't have to slow the spaghetti scene down with the information that Shu doesn't know how to use a fork because its already been done. Another example: the ducats Sakano gives Shu in the first chapter. That wasn't a part of that scene until after I wrote the first Yuki/Shu scene in the park. Then, I knew he needed to have one in this pocket and went in and inserted that little bit into the earlier scene.

One is an example of character setup, the other plot setup, and setup, both help avoid too much sludgy real-time explanation.

More to the point, character, for me, is never an isolated entity, aside from that handful of background influences—and even those may change as I get to know a character—and a few key...essential character elements. Characters become who and what they are when they interact with other characters and the influence of the world around them. That's why you'll see me reference the Yuki/Shu dynamic or the Hiro/Shu dynamic.

For me, what makes the Yuki/Shu dynamic viable is not Shu's whining and Eiri's insults, it's not Shu's marvelous voice and stage presence or Yuki's looks or the undoubted sexual chemistry, but rather it's Shu's incurable and slightly naïve optimism and Eiri's unrelenting honesty. Those are the essential character elements which, once violated, destroy the magic and uniqueness of the relationship, because the magic (at least for me) is not in the sexual relationship but the far more significant creative one and these characteristics, optimism and honesty, are the characteristics which nurture and feed the other's muse. I'm not underrating the obvious chemistry, or Shu's singing or Eiri's physical beauty, but sexual chemistry is far more fragile—and ordinary—than what these two bring to one another creatively.

Okay...that said, Tsu's comments made me go in and think about the Eiri that has been established in this particular story, i.e. my currently kinda mooshy Eiri. I don't really see him as being fundamentally different from the manga Eiri in character or background except in two very significant aspects.

(A) his relationship with Touma, (the Touma/Eiri dynamic) and (B) his initial introduction to Shuuichi.

(A) was established as potentially different from the very beginning with the little line "Touma listens to me...I've called every success and failure NG has ever had." That expanded as I added the Eiri/Touma scenes in response to reader input. In that, Eiri and Touma have a much more equal base-line for their relationship. Those added scenes took that shape primarily due to that one little line "Touma listens to me" and the ramifications there-in, however, this little incident has, in fact, given Eiri a focus for one of the on-going power-issues (within this storyline) between Touma and him, i.e. the fact that he spent several years in the kind of terror Shu had for one night because Touma ran from NYC, taking Eiri with him. The Shu/Eiri dynamic has already, therefore, affected the Touma/Eiri dynamic. (Mind you, I didn't think about this while writing those scenes. That change in Eiri is just part and parcel now of that little inner-Casting Couch-Eiri spot of my hindbrain.)

(B) The initial state of the characters upon their first meeting. The Shu who interacts with Yuki in the park is very different from the canon Shu, but only superficially. However, it's an important difference for the Yuki/Shu dynamic within this story. He doesn't whine. He doesn't crumble when the essential Eiri hits him with his unrelenting Truth. He calmly picks up the paper and challenges Yuki immediately with his essential optimism. "Come and see my reality before you judge." Their essential natures hit head on right at the start and Yuki, instead of responding with contempt, cuts immediately to intrigued. In the manga, Shu fights an ongoing battle with that initial contempt. Intrigue is there with Eiri's attendance at the first concert, but by then it's too late. That contempt-barrier has been established and the manga-Shu's optimism has to chip away at it for the next thirteen books.

The CC Shu slips under Eiri's radar. At this point, barring a major outside influence, the chances that Eiri's opinion will revert to the contempt necessary to fuel the kind of treatment he gives Shu in the manga are slim.

Still...only the sequel knows for certain!

Whew! Sorry about that folks, but once the answer started, it just got kind of involved. Thanks again for sticking with me and for the support.

Vin