Rating: K – generally harmless.

Disclaimer: I do not own Gravitation. Pity, really.

Dedication: This time, I think it should simply be to everyone who reviewed "Three Little Words" or didn't review but at least read it – you made a very nervous "first timer" very happy! With particular gratitude to "Piltdown Girl" – you know who you are.

Summary: While Ayaka shares the tea ceremony with Eiri, she reflects on the events that brought Hiro, Shuichi and Eiri himself into her life.

Author's Note: Right. This will be a long one! Deep breath!

Yes, this an Ayaka-based story – if you like her, I hope you will enjoy my portrayal of her.

If you hate her but enjoyed my other story – well, I can only hope you will trust me and give this a go. There is nothing non-canon hiding in it to bite you; I have said many times I am a very conservative slash writer and it will be a cold day in that very hot place where naughty people go when I pair any couple who weren't originally paired by their creator.

If you hate Ayaka and me – well, then I'm surprised you've got this far!

Personally I thought she was rather a sweet character – admittedly her anime image was a bit on the homely side, but I really can't see why she deserves the clobbering she gets from so many Gravitation fans. At any rate, I couldn't resist the great writer's pleasure of retelling established events from a new perspective.

Setting: This story is based on the anime, episodes 4 to 10, and relies on the anime's timeline. However, that hasn't stopped me calling on the manga where it was more informative!

Technical stuff: I have tried as much as possible to stick to the anime's sense of time, but obviously sometimes I had to take a good guess. I got the distinct impression that Ayaka must have stayed another night in Tokyo (with Eiri? In a hotel? Who knows?) before the concert, because they've both changed their "kit" at least once, but I've it down to one night's stay to avoid unnecessary complications. The same goes for travel distances – I apologise unreservedly for any mistakes I've made about how long it would take to get from Kyoto to Tokyo.

More seriously, I sincerely do apologise for any mistakes I make over Japanese customs and lifestyle; Kyoto in particular. I had to give Ayaka some sort of background, and judging from her dress sense and general demeanour, not to mention details on Eiri's past, I got the sense of a conservative, middle-class small-town mentality. At some point a writer's imagination has to be allowed to run havoc over reality or nothing would get written - so don't be too harsh with me!

And now, Windbag71 will let you read the story.

"It's really to do with Nakano. Nakano Hiroshi."

"Nakano-san?" I turned sharply before I could stop myself. For a moment Eiri's eyes met mine and I felt as though he was staring right down into my soul. I looked away quickly, concentrating on my work. "Is he… all right?"

"He's quit the band."

This time I made sure I did not turn around, and made sure my voice was quite steady before I answered. "I'm… very sorry to hear that." My tone sounded artificial, but perhaps Eiri would just mistake it for indifference. Of course I was bursting with questions but I would not – simply would not ask them of Eiri, so I focused on the preparation of the tea and waited for him to continue.

"It seems recent events have… upset him." There was a wry humour in Eiri's voice now, though he did not elaborate. He hardly needed to. Even here in remote, quiet Kyoto we had television sets and internet connections. Eiri's very public "coming out", as they called it, the revealing of his love affair with Shindou Shuichi, had been as well covered here as in Tokyo. I hadn't seen or spoken to Hiro since then – I had thought about calling him, but had hesitated, wondered if it would appear too forward, or as if I was just hungering after gossip like so many were, or if I was really acting as some sort of spy for the Uesugi family, or…

A thousand reasons had appeared to block my way, and none of them sounded entirely convincing, but I had kept my silence.

"If you ask me he just needs to grow a thicker skin…" Eiri declared dryly. I could not help a small stab of irritation. You tried that and it got you nowhere, Eiri-san, I thought, and was surprised at the force of my bitterness. But it seemed cruel of him to sneer at Hiro's sensitivity.

"I can't believe Nakano-san would seriously give up his music," I said at last.

Glancing back over my shoulder, I saw Eiri shrug. "They're organising a press conference to announce it tomorrow. They've got a national tour planned so I suppose they want to replace him as quickly as possible."

I did not answer. The reality of what he was saying was finally sinking in, and it made no sense. That first night we had met I had listened to Hiro and Shuichi (I allowed myself to think of them in such informal terms, at least in the privacy of my own thoughts; I had a feeling they would not mind) talking so enthusiastically about their band, their eyes shining as they talked of their debut. Then I thought about Hiro on stage, so absorbed by his guitar playing, exchanging happy glances with his band-mates, so obviously treasuring every second of the performance. And the disagreements with his parents over his choice of career. Now, when Bad Luck were just beginning to enjoy some real success – now he was giving up?

I tried to focus on the matter in hand, namely Eiri's presence here in my home. It wouldn't be long before my parents got wind of it and I might never find out why Eiri had come. "This is very sad news," I said quietly, "but I don't understand why you've come all this way to tell me."

I sensed Eiri shifting slightly, as if he wasn't quite comfortable. Then I heard him clear his throat. "I thought perhaps… you might be able to help."

"Me?" Once again I could not help turning to stare, my heart beating just a little quicker. "What can I do?"

Eiri lowered his eyes, a frown creasing his brow as if he didn't know where to start, or if he wasn't sure why he was starting at all. Then he told me everything. His voice, his expression… none of it betrayed a thing. He was too well practised at hiding his feelings for that. But I knew. I knew for whom all this effort was being made.

I listened in silence, my eyes lowered, my head bowed, keeping perfectly still. Only my burning cheeks or my quickened breathing might have betrayed the storm of emotions swirling within me. It was not just my pride that he was wounding or my heart he was stabbing as he so carelessly disregarded the love he knew I felt for him in encouraging me to accept another. It was as if my most private thoughts and feelings as a woman were being violated – as if I was stripped naked before him. He hadn't just come here on the random chance that he could charm me into doing his bidding; he knew – he had seen something, heard something, deduced something. Was I that transparent? Was I such an open book to him?

I still had a thousand questions to ask him. But not yet. Not until I was sure I wouldn't start to shout or scream or cry. "Would you care to take tea with me, Eiri-san?"

"I… wouldn't want to put you to any trouble," he answered slowly.

I nearly burst out laughing at the absurdity of his words, but steadied myself by taking a deep breath. "It would be an honour," I said, in a tone that I am pleased to say left no room for argument.

How much more complicated things had become since the day Seguchi Mika had visited me, just a few years ago. She had begun to visit us quite regularly when she travelled from Tokyo to see her family; ostensibly it was just to pay her respects to my mother and to our temple, but I became aware that she was watching me rather closely. I remember being fascinated by her – her sophistication, her assured manner, her glamorous clothes… she represented a world I knew little about but couldn't help admiring.

Gossip was a way of life in Kyoto and I had heard many stories, good and bad, about the Uesugi family. My father had his doubts about the children – he did not think much of Mika's choice of husband, regarding Seguchi Tohma as flashy and "modern", though my mother knew the Seguchi family and considered them "good." And neither of them was quite sure what to make of Eiri, even before he had gone to New York. But they had nothing but respect for Uesugi-san himself.

On one visit Mika asked to see the new garden I had created. I was only too eager to show her the azaleas I had so lovingly cultivated which had only just exploded into vibrant colour, but when we reached them she hardly seemed to notice them at all. She sat down on the small bench I had placed to give the best view and beckoned for me to sit beside her. "Do you remember my brother Eiri, Ayaka-chan?"

"Oh yes, Mika-san," I responded attentively. Of course I remembered him – he was not easy to forget.

When I had first seen him I have to admit I had been startled by his white skin, golden-yellow hair and equally golden-yellow eyes. It wasn't as if I'd never seen a foreigner before, but Eiri didn't just look foreign; he looked… alien. The rest of his features, right down to his high cheekbones and almond shaped eyes, were distinctly Japanese. When I saw him with his brother and sister, both of whom he so closely resembled, it was as if all the colour had been washed out of him. I remember thinking of a white rabbit and asking my mother if Eiri-San was an albino. She had just told me not to be silly and admonished me never to say such a thing in the company of the Uesugis. But I had not meant the question unkindly; I had only been a child.

Not that I ever saw much of Eiri – he was older than me, and a boy, and very shy besides, and Mika was too old and too busy to become a real friend to me. If anything I saw Tatsuha most, because he was young and loud and always making mischief with my cousins who lived very nearby. Standing now in my garden, I realised that the last time I had seen Eiri was at Mika's wedding. He had actually seemed happy then – Seguchi Tohma was as attentive to him as an indulgent uncle and Mika, who was usually very strict with her brothers, having to be as much a mother to them as a sister, now seemed softer and more relaxed.

A lot had changed since then – Seguchi-san had taken Eiri to New York for a "fresh start" after episodes of bullying, truanting from school and (so the gossips had it) increasingly bitter fights with his father. Then one day they had returned, apparently with little warning, and though the gossip network thrummed harder than ever, nobody knew exactly why, except that Eiri seemed to get into even more trouble than he had before he had left, with an addition that he was now rude, aggressive and wilful – for which they blamed the Americans – and spent most of his time with Seguchi-san and Mika in Tokyo.

"I have heard his novels are very successful," I added, when Mika did not immediately continue. The gossips were divided about that – my father had heard that the books were full of sex and violence, but some of my friends had read them and thought them "wonderfully romantic."

"My brother has had a difficult life," Mika said at length, her gaze wandering sightlessly around my garden. "He still has…problems. He says he's happy the way he is, but I don't believe it. I think maybe he needs…" she gave a soft sigh. "I think he needs some sort of stability. Someone to care for him. A fresh start."

Another fresh start. It was not my place to comment on that. "I see," I said politely, though I didn't.

"You're a sweet, natural girl, Ayaka-chan," Mika said suddenly, fixing her large, beautiful eyes upon me. "I think you could be good for my brother."

I stared at her for a moment, and then looked away, blushing violently. "I…"

"I'm sure you've heard rumours… gossip…" she went on quickly, her tone becoming both bitter and defensive. "About his lifestyle, I mean."

I said nothing. Of course I'd heard – about his many women, about his drinking and smoking, about his refusal to return to Kyoto and take on his father's temple.

"But underneath it all he's still the boy he was. He just needs someone to help him realise that…"

"I'm honoured that you think I could help Eiri-san, Mika-san," I murmured, embarrassed to feel myself trembling just a little. "But I…"

"I'm having a birthday party for Tatsuha next week," Mika went on as I faltered, "and Eiri's agreed to come down for it. If I brought him to visit your garden…"

"Does he care for azaleas?" I found myself asking, rather stupidly.

Mika gave me a sad little smile. "Our mother used to like them," she said very softly, "that might be enough…"

And oddly enough, it was.

It was so strange seeing Eiri again. In that time he had become a man – tall and, I had to admit, very handsome. His voice was resonant and deep and he moved with the same assurance as his sister, with the added confidence of a man who knows he is attractive to women, and envied by men. I did not understand such things then, but I have grown up a lot in the last few years. His clothes were modern but as with Mika he knew how to choose them and how to wear them. Next to him I felt glad I had elected to wear a traditional kimono – when I wore modern clothes I always felt conservative and frumpy and would certainly appear provincial to him.

But it was neither his looks nor his poise nor his dress that touched my heart as I wandered slowly though the flowers with him. I felt something stir within me the first moment I looked at him, but it wasn't desire, not just then. Throughout the visit Eiri was patient and polite; for the most part he remained remote, avoiding my gaze, not making any effort to keep my attention. But beneath that expressionless face I saw something – some inner confusion, some deep unhappiness. And though I think he admired the flowers, he never once gave the slightest smile, to them or to me.

I remember finding it hard to believe he was really still only twenty years old. Though there wasn't a line or a wrinkle on his pale, beautiful face, he seemed so much older than me, so much older than any of the young men I knew who would surely have been his peers growing up – so very much older than the boy I remembered. I told myself it was a sign of his maturity, of his busy and responsible life as a newly successful author, but was not quite convinced by my own arguments.

Within a few hours he was gone. I sat alone on the bench until the light faded, feeling dizzy and feverish, not yet sure what was happening to me.

The next morning I went to the local bookshop and bought every Yuki Eiri novel I could find, staying up all night to read as much as I could before the text began to swim before my eyes. So much anger. So much pain. He made his characters suffer so terribly, and made his readers suffer with them. For all the coolness he affected, I could not help but feel those violent emotions stemmed from deep within the writer himself. Yet at the same time there was so much passion in his stories; his characters loved with the jealous violence of those who had nothing but love to call their own. And if Eiri was capable of feeling such deep pain, surely he was equally capable of feeling such deep love?

Love. Yes, that was it. In one afternoon, I had fallen in love. With a man I would not see again for another two years.