Chapter 6: To Make Him Smile

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: Ayaka finally gets the proposal she has dreamed of, but she quickly suspects that all is not as it seems…

Author's Note: I am really, really sorry not have replied to some reviews for the last few chapters – they have been wonderful and I have enjoyed them so much. The Real World intruded on a major scale these last few weeks!!! But I will try to catch up!

So, here is the last part of Ayaka's story – though this obviously isn't her last appearance in the manga or anime, I wanted the story to begin and end within the framework of that particular Ayaka / Eiri / Shuichi love triangle story arc. I do have a sort of sequel half-written.

Hope you've enjoyed this!!!!

The next time I saw Eiri, he had come to propose.

Life had settled back into its usual routine fairly quickly, once my parents had stopped alternately scolding and demanding to know more of what had happened in Tokyo. In some ways, it was as if Tokyo had been a dream and I had woken to find nothing changed, but in other ways I knew things would never be the same again. Amongst my family and friends I was as I had always been, but alone in my garden or my room I wept many bitter tears. Nothing Mika-san could say now would convince me – all hope was lost. He loved another. Eiri loved another, and nothing would change that. It might not last, but that did not offer any hope. He could have fallen in love with me, and he hadn't. Another had taken centre stage while I waited patiently in the wings.

There were times I thought not only of Eiri, but of Shuichi and Hiro too, even of Seguchi-san and Mika-san and little Fujisaki-kun and all the others I had encountered in Tokyo. Little snippets of news came via Tatsuha, who, while he had the sense not to discuss his brother's romance in public, seemed rather fond of Shuichi – not least because Shuichi had won the favour of his idol, Sakuma Ryuichi. Besides that, I heard almost nothing, not even from Mika-san. And the silence only added to the loneliness I lived with day by day.

Strangely enough, the only thing that comforted me was the one souvenir I had kept from my Tokyo escapade – the tickets Shuichi had given me for Bad Luck's concert. As it turned out, I had not used them after all, though for very different reasons than I had predicted. When I had found them, days later, in my handbag, instead of ripping them to shreds I had pressed them carefully between the leaves of my favourite "Yuki Eiri" novel. They served to remind me that whatever had happened between us since, they had been given with the open-handed generosity that was, fundamentally, Shindou Shuichi.

When my mother told me Eiri had come to call upon me, I felt a small flutter of hope in my heart. Perhaps… just perhaps… But then logic intruded. Of course he hadn't come all this way to tell me he loved me and wanted me to be his wife – that Shuichi had been a terrible mistake. Far more likely he had come to ask that our engagement come to an end. If so I was gratified he at least came directly to me instead of sending Mika-san or speaking to my parents. I brushed my hair, ignored my mother's insistence that I change into my best kimono, and headed out to my garden.

When I first caught sight of Eiri I felt a jolt of real fear. He was sitting on the small stone bench, gazing at the ground and looking absolutely stricken. Set in such a pale face, his eyes looked very red and there were dark shadows beneath them. If it was anyone else but Eiri before me I would have sworn he had been crying, but more likely he had just not been sleeping. Something terrible had happened. Someone had been hurt. Someone was… not Hiro? No, that surely wouldn't stir such emotion in Eiri. Not Shuichi? No, I did not want that, whatever wicked thoughts I might once have entertained, however much I had wanted him to be gone, to vanish out of Eiri's life, I did not want that!

When he saw me his expression hardened into a mask more rigid and cold than I had ever seen before, though he could not quite hide the pain in those tired eyes so he kept them averted. And then, to my utter astonishment, he formally asked for my hand in marriage.

"But – what about Shuichi?" I asked, too astonished to remember to use the polite form of address.

Eiri's expression did not change. "That's over. It's all over. I've moved back to Kyoto. There's no reason I can't continue my writing from here."

"But – why?" I could not let it go. "Eiri-san…"

"It was a mistake. He should never have been with me." Eiri spoke very softly, as if the words were choking him. I saw his hands fold into fists before one of them found its way into his jacket pocket and drew out a packet of cigarettes. He lit one and inhaled deeply. "I understand if you need time to consider…"

"Yes," I gasped, feeling my own chest tighten, "yes, I need time."

Eiri nodded, rose and bowed, but just as he was making his way out of the garden I called his name once more.

"Eiri-san… won't you tell me what's happened…?"

He glanced back over his shoulder, then raised the cigarette to his lips and walked away.

For an eternity I sat in my garden alone, praying my mother would not come to ask me if Eiri had proposed at last. For the last time, I wept over Uesugi Eiri, knowing it was absolutely over before it had ever really begun. That by the very act of proposing marriage to me, Eiri had killed the last of my hopes forever. Then I began to think about what I should do next.

When my mother finally arrived I insisted all was fine, that Eiri had indeed proposed and I intended to accept. I could not stop her running to tell my father at once. The house buzzed with excitement. Within hours, Mika-san was calling to congratulate me, though I could hear the hesitation in her voice. I listened inattentively to the arrangements being made. Whatever had happened, she knew something about it, but I knew she would not tell me. Apparently I had no more than two days. As soon as I had a moment alone, I slipped out of the house and went hunting.

Tatsuha complained most of the way to Tokyo. I couldn't hear much of what he was saying as I clung on the back of his motorbike, and wasn't interested besides. As we travelled I wondered exactly what had gone wrong between Eiri and Shuichi. Perhaps, after all, Shuichi had proved unfaithful or unworthy in some other way. But I couldn't make myself believe it. Something had happened – something that had shaken Eiri terribly enough to send him scurrying back to Kyoto like a startled rabbit diving for its burrow. Move back here? Give up his Tokyo life? Accept a quiet married life? I could not believe it.

I was not to learn the full truth that day, or for several years after. Even when Hiro finally told me, I was conscious of missing pieces to the story, of factors even he did not understand. All I knew that day was that more things were being kept from me, that once again others were deciding how much I should be allowed to know.

It was evening by the time we finally arrived outside Eiri's flat. No-one was there, though Tatsuha insisted Shuichi had a key and would almost certainly come back here, unless he already knew Eiri was gone. It seemed unlikely – from what Tatsuha said, Eiri had only told his own family after he had come to see me, and had given very little away.

"I still don't understand," Tatsuha complained as he helped me dismount, "why are you doing this? I thought you were crazy about my brother!"

"I love Eiri-san," I told him quietly, and he looked away, embarrassed. "That is why I have to do this."

"And you really want me to…"

"If I'm right, then yes."

"Ayaka-chan, this idea is so stupid it could have been invented by Shuichi himself!"

I could not help smiling. "Shindou-san and I have many things in common, haven't you noticed that yet?"

"Well, I did tell him you and he were the same…" Tatsuha grumbled, wandering off and muttering something about getting some drinks.

At last they arrived, just as they knew they would. Once again, Hiro greeted me with a grin that made me blush as I thanked him once again for looking after me that day. Then he told me cheerfully that Shuichi was giving up on Eiri.

I stared hard at Shuichi, who squirmed uncomfortably. Eiri was not the only one looking wretched – Shuichi had obviously been drinking and even standing still he was a little unsteady on his feet, but it was more than that. He looked tired and pale and I thought I could see the shadow of a bruise on his jaw. As he turned his head away I also saw what looked like a deep scratch on his slender neck, surrounded by faint red marks. It looked almost as if someone had tried to…

Eiri? No, I refused to believe that.

I also refused to believe what I was hearing. Shuichi was giving up on Eiri? Just like that? Had I been so very wrong about him? Whatever had happened between them, he surely wasn't giving up the fight so easily? What could Eiri have possibly done? The more I questioned him, the more sullen and uncommunicative he became. I looked toward Hiro for help, but the guitarist turned away awkwardly. He knew the truth, that was clear. And it couldn't simply be that Eiri had done something to Shuichi, for knowing how much Hiro seemed to love Shuichi, if it had simply been Eiri's fault he would surely be defending his friend as loudly as possible.

Anger flashed within me. I could not stand it. He couldn't just throw away something that was so precious to me and which I could not have. For the second time in my life I lashed out violently, striking Shuichi on the cheek.

"I misjudged you, Shindou-san," I said coldly, "I suppose it was the depth of your feelings for Eiri-san which misled me. Perhaps I misjudged those as well. Well, it doesn't matter now. Yesterday I received a formal proposal of marriage from Eiri-san. I will accept him and then he'll be mine. The relationship between the two of you will officially be over."

For a moment he stared at me in disbelief. Then I saw the fear, the anger, the defiance, all in one fleeting glance, and knew I had not misjudged him at all. In the blink of an eye he was gone, leaving me alone with Hiro.

"At this rate, that is…" I murmured, not turning to see where he went; a second later I heard the slam of the front door.

"Ayaka-chan...?" Hiro looked at me in confusion. Then his gaze shifted to Tatsuha, who had reappeared holding a couple of cans. I pointed silently to the house. Muttering something under his breath, he shoved the cans at Hiro and headed after Shuichi. "Ayaka-chan…" Hiro repeated urgently.

"Would you like to have dinner, Nakano-san?" I asked, giving him what I hoped was my sweetest smile.

I managed to stay two days in Tokyo while things cooled down at home. This time I had planned properly and brought enough money to find a decent hotel, and Hiro kept me company most of the time. When he came to meet me to tell me he had heard from Shuichi, and that he and Eiri were returning to Tokyo together, he eyed my serene manner doubtfully. "Ayaka-chan, are you really okay with the way things turned out? You did all that on purpose…"

I felt a lump gather in my throat, but I swallowed it. "I realised Eiri-san would not be happy married to me," I said softly, "and I want Eiri-san to be the happiest person in the world…"

"And you think Shuichi can make him happy…?" There was gentle amusement in Hiro's voice.

"I think Eiri-san… loves him," I whispered, blushing at my own forwardness.

Hiro's brows rose, but then a strange shadow passed across his eyes, as if he was recalling something unpleasant, and then he heaved a heavy sigh. "Perhaps he does at that... at any rate, I hope so, for Shuichi's sake. The poor kid's been through enough these last few weeks without Yuki fucking him over – " Hiro caught himself and apologised, but I just smiled sympathetically, half hoping, half dreading that he might elaborate.

He didn't. "All the same, Ayaka-chan, I… I know how you feel about Yuki-san… for you to just step aside like that…"

"Do you think I'm stupid?" I asked, genuinely needing to know.

Hiro smiled. "No. I think you're… remarkable."

I blushed even harder. "You're sure you don't mind driving me home?"

Hiro shook his head. "Ayaka-chan…" he hesitated, and I saw that he was blushing too, just a little. "Perhaps… you… would you like my mobile number? I mean, just in case you… if you ever wanted to come to one of our concerts…or just wanted a lift to Tokyo… I mean, just because you and Yuki-san won't be… y'know, it doesn't mean you and I… no, I mean, I'm sure Shuichi would like it too, if we all stayed in touch…"

I did not know where this was going to lead, but after all, it would seem I was surprisingly well suited to a life of excitement and uncertainty and change. "I would like that very much, Nakano-san," I said.

I placed the steaming cup before Eiri. "Please…"

He lifted it, turned it in his hands to admire it, then drank and placed it between us.

"You're a very cruel man," I whispered.

Eiri kept his gaze fixed upon the cup and did not answer. Why, why was he doing this to me? Was this some clumsy attempt to set me free? But no, as he raised his head I saw the faraway look in his eyes and knew it was really was all for him, Shindou Shuichi, the one who could make him smile.

I was sorely tempted to refuse outright, out of pure contrariness. But where would that leave me? Where would it leave Hiro? I had had my chance at Eiri and I had given him willingly to Shuichi, and the very fact he was here now proved that I had been right. Despite the expensive suit, the conservatively fashionable haircut, the perfect manicure, everything exactly the same as the first time he had come to see me in my garden, he looked younger, softer, happier. A little troubled, I thought – but then again, perhaps it was more that he was no longer as good at hiding himself from the eyes of others. I thought about how he had been that day in his flat; how he gave the determined air of one who was politely bored with everyone and everything around him. He would have difficultly in convincing me of that now.

"You're in love with him, aren't you?" I dared to ask. "Shindou-san?"

Eiri glanced sharply up at me, angry, also a little confused. Maybe he still did not recognise it yet himself.

For a moment I let the silence hang between us. Then I nodded. "All right. I will go and see Nakano-san."

Eiri's lips twitched, but the smile died before it was born. "You're very gracious, Ayaka-san. Would you like me to…?"

"I will get Tatsuha-san to drive me to Tokyo tomorrow," I told him. I drew the line at being presented to Hiro like a gift – let alone like a love-token from Uesugi Eiri to Shindou Shuichi.

It did give me a pleasant shiver of excitement to think that Hiro cared that much – and in an odd sort of way I supposed I should be grateful to Eiri for letting me know. Nor would I try to hide from Hiro the truth about how I had learned of his tender feelings – I had too much respect for his intelligence for that. But I could come to him unescorted, could chase away the idea that I was still Eiri's willing fool to command. If there was indeed to be something more than friendship between Hiro and me, we needed to start afresh, to cut ourselves free of the needs and the desires of others.

Eiri bowed deeply to me; I bowed in return and a moment later he was gone.

Yes, I thought as I cleared away the tea things, yes, I would go to Tokyo tomorrow. Perhaps I could bring a smile back to Hiro's face. And perhaps that smile would be for me alone.