Disclaimer as previous

Finally! Thanks tons for the R&R-ing, hopefully the end is suitable. Hey, and if it's bad...at least it's over! Woot!

Chapter 20 – Final Approach

It seemed to take forever to help him from the plane, the drive home, the commotion of everyone trying to help Yuki get Shu situated. The reclusive writer had bristled at first when the other men insisted on helping them, but by the time Tohma's driver came to a stop in front of the apartment, he was anxious for their help. Strong as he was, it was somewhat overwhelming taking care of someone so emotionally fragile, and with numerous complicated physical issues to look after. It was going to take some time just to go through the after care instructions and figure it all out.

Hiro sat with Shu so Yuki was free to get their things set aside. They barely made it in and the phone rang. As evidenced by the high double-digits racked up on the answering machine display, Ryuichi had been calling over and over to see if they'd made it home in one piece. Shu mumbled into the phone and Hiro ended up taking the receiver when he lost his grip on it, letting Ryu know everyone was home safe and too tired to chat.

Tohma pulled Eiri aside in the kitchen, putting water on for tea and sitting him down firmly at the table.

"You're doing a great job. He's going to be fine, but you have to take care of yourself. This has been harder on you than I think you realize."

He turned from gathering cups from the cabinet and saw the hands covering his brother-in-law's face. They were shaking.
K stepped in from the living room and saw it as well, glancing over and catching Tohma's eye. A look of understanding passed between them, slightly different in their opinions and motivations, but it was the same realization nonetheless.

They needed Eiri to keep it together now more than ever, and his newfound tenderness of heart was pulling him apart.

K cleared his throat but the trembling man didn't seem to react. "Hey, Eiri," Claude said, moving to the table. "Do you want me to hang here tonight in case something goes wrong?"

Yuki lifted his head a bit, peering over his fingertips blearily. Wrong? Did he mean, more wrong than they already were? It was almost overwhelming, the fatigue from the trip, the sudden looming of responsibility, the letdown from finally completing what could only be described as an escape. He wasn't even trying to take care of Shuichi yet; Hiro and Sakano were babysitting him in the living room. "I don't know."

K saw that as a sign of just how worn and stressed Eiri was. The normal response from this man would range anything from a plain 'no' to 'get the hell out'. Shu still had medical issues as well as his emotional ones, and he was not a suitable caregiver it his current state. He even seemed to be aware of it, and was unselfish enough to let it show in deference to Shu's needs.

Maybe, K thought, the situation had shaken the man loose from some of his destructive patterns after all.

"K, you've done so much for Shindou-kun. Let me do this," Tohma offered, and he seemed sincere. "Really, Eiri, allow me to stay and watch over you both tonight while you get things settled. I'll stay out of the way."

Sakano came in and stood observing for a moment, waiting to break into the conversation. "He's asleep now. He dropped off while he was talking to Hiro."

Eiri jumped up. "Is he still on the couch?"

Sakano nodded.

"He needs to be in bed, it's not good for him to be sleeping in odd positions." Eiri was out of the kitchen and heading for the living room before he even finished his sentence. He scooped the waif-like sleeper off of Hiro's shoulder and carried him into the bedroom. Tohma and K had beaten him there, turning down the covers so Yuki could settle him onto the cool, clean sheets.

They carefully undressed him, and each article of clothing they removed revealed more of the painful evidence of the near-death experience the young man had just been through. His lover's hands shook and faltered. Hiro had followed them, and he gently stepped in to finish the job. He'd had the experience of helping Shu into bed on more than a few occasions during their time as friends.

By the time the sheet was pulled up to the slight shoulders, one bare and one still lightly swathed with bandages, they were all shaken. Sakano had come to the doorway at some point, and had watched silently as well.

When Yuki bent and gave that pale forehead a kiss, they almost lost it.

K finally broke them out of the spell. "He looks okay now. Let's finish up and get going so these guys can relax."

Hiro unexpectedly gave the tall blond a manly, heartfelt hug. After a second of hesitation, Yuki returned the embrace unsteadily.

"Shu really needs you right now, man," Hiro said quietly. "I gotta say I'm thankful for what you've been doing for him. If you need any help, I can be here in no time. I'm on your speed dial, number eight. Do not hesitate, if it even crosses your mind that you night need me, call me. Anytime. Got it?"

"Got it," Yuki smiled wanly.

"We can let ourselves out," K smiled, muscling Sakano playfully in the direction of the door. "Same goes here. You need me, just call. C'mon, Hiro, let's go."

"Nah, I'm walking."

"With luggage? Get out. You're coming with us, we're borrowing Tohma's ride. Hey, goodbye guys. Tell Shu we'll be seeing him."

The quiet that blanketed the apartment when the door shut behind them was like a lead weight.

"Eiri-chan," Tohma said softly, taking him by the arm. "Let's get you comfortable now, hm? Would you like a shower first? Or just bed?"

"I'm going to bed, I think. Too tired."

"You're not thinking of sleeping in that bed, are you? Shuichi might be restless. We can share the futon, and I'm sure we can hear if he needs something in the night."

"Restless or not, I won't sleep at all if I'm not close enough to check on him."

"Oh. Well…of course. The sooner the better, then, you really do look exhausted." Tohma smiled sympathetically, taking in those weary eyes as he began carefully unbuttoning Eiri's shirt. "Let's get this off for you."

Eiri watched Tohma's hands distantly, his mind fully occupied with trying to remember if everything would be all right until morning.

Tohma made it to the last button on the last cuff when Eiri stopped him.

"Hold on," he said, and went back into the kitchen. He pulled out the papers and forced himself to try and go over them one more time. Tohma followed, peering over his shoulder.

"Ah. He needs medicine every six hours. Did you see that? Do you have it?" Tohma pointed to one of the sheets.

"Yeah, there are just a couple of doses here, though. I need to get that filled by tomorrow."

"I'll take care of it. Consider it done." Tohma plucked the prescription page out of the stack and kept it. "Now let's give Shindou-kun his medicine and finished getting you changed, hm? What is it, Eiri? Are you all right?"

"I…sure…I just…" Eiri heaved a shaky sigh. "You know, Toh, I've never been trusted to take care of anyone else before. I don't even have a good track record taking care of myself. And Shu is so fragile now, he's not even supposed to be out of the hospital yet."

"I don't doubt your ability to take care of someone. But you do make a good point. He probably should be under professional medical care. It wouldn't be a problem, Eiri; we can get him admitted to a care facility here. Then he can have all of his issues addressed and have his friends and family visit, and you of course. If you want, I can have my secretary scout out a place, and I bet we can have him under 24-hour care by tomorrow noon."

"Eh…no, no Tohma. I want him here. I just…I'm just worried, that's all. After everything we went through to bring him here…I swore to him he was coming home. And I swore that we'd come clean on all the lies now, all of them. What would he think if I dumped him off now?"

"Okay, okay," Tohma held his hands up in surrender. "I was just suggesting. But you should keep it in mind if he has any setbacks. You wouldn't want to risk his health just to keep him here."

"I wouldn't do that." Eiri stood and fished in the cupboard for a water glass.

"He'll be needing referrals to an orthopaedic surgeon, and a neurologist. If you like I can stay on tomorrow for a while and help sort it out."

"I can't even think that far ahead right now. It's a good thing you stayed, Toh. "

Tohma followed the taller blond back into the bedroom.

"Shuichi," Eiri said, placing his hand on the sleeping form to gently shake the bare shoulder.

Shu came awake with a sudden clawing motion, as if he thought he were falling.

"Hey, hey it's me, Shu. Just me. You don't have to wake up all the way; I just need you to take your medicine."

Tohma stood in silence and watched the man as he perched on the edge of the bed. Eiri's shirt was open, and the soft light from the bedside lamp highlighted just how handsome he was. The act of kindly tending to his damaged lover added a halo of benevolence that had been missing since their childhood. When they were young, Eiri was so vulnerable, openly loving and kind, no doubt the very virtues that threw him into the defining tragedy of his youth. Afterward it seemed he had hardened permanently, to seal away and protect a wounded heart that might never heal.

Yet here was a glimpse of the old Eiri from when they had been so innocent, and so close. If only Tohma had been more open, spent more time with him, he might have been able to prevent Kitazawa from dragging Eiri down into his sickness. He was reluctant to fully reveal his affection back then, and, well, too young and inexperienced to really know what to do about it.

But after all of these years, no one had a deeper place in the powerful businessman's heart, not even Mika. His role in Kitazawa's final drama had linked him emotionally with the event in Eiri's psyche, and he was never able to find a way to help the man get past that. No matter how hard Seguchi tried, they never became truly close, even as friends, again. He had to settle for becoming a family member through marriage, for the obligatory connection that it afforded him.

Shuichi was out again already, having been medicated and lowered lovingly back down on the pillow. His look was untroubled, for once.

The pink-haired singer was an opportunist, in Tohma's eyes. He had not spent years proving himself, being there at every turn, watching out for Eiri through terrible depressions and disappearances and innumerable episodes of terrifying self-destructive behavior. He had not been there making sure he took medicine, drove him to doctor's appointments he tried to avoid; hadn't gone out on a moment's notice and hunted him down when the family couldn't find him in the wee hours of the morning. Shindou just showed up, bellowing like a cow in heat, chasing him shamelessly like some fangirl, throwing himself at him and behaving like a spoiled child. He should have been turned over to the authorities as a stalker when he wouldn't go away.

How the hell he managed to get Eiri to fall in love with him was pure mystery.

Eiri was still just sitting on the edge of the bed, gazing down at the sleeping face with a sober expression. Tohma came to him and resumed where he'd left off, slipping off the unbuttoned shirt cautiously, and silencing the catch in his breath at the vision of Eiri shirtless in the soft bedroom light.

It shook the taller man out of his reverie, and he stood to go look for his sleep pants. Tohma didn't move out of his way.

"Eiri," he said. He let his fingertips lightly touch the smooth, taunt flesh of Eiri's bare midriff. "I'm worried about you."

"Don't be." He twitched at the touch. "I'm fine, I just need some sleep."

"If you're sure." He dropped his hand, then his gaze, and stepped aside. It was futile, as always. If he pushed, he'd probably be thrown out.

At least he had a small consolation prize. He was not asked to leave the room when Eiri changed into his sleep pants.

o0o0o0o

After an uneventful, albeit sleepless, night alone on the futon, Tohma left with a promise to scare up prescriptions and supplies the next day after the Eiri seemed steady enough on his own. The process of acclimating to being back home was underway.

"Shu?" Eiri stood in the doorway, holding water and a pill, watching Shu clutching at the pillow case fiercely.

"Yeah?" He sounded breathless, as if he'd just run a mile.

"You all right?" He crossed the room and set aside the pill and drink to free his hands.

"Oh, uh, I'm all right." He wasn't quite looking up.

"You seem tense."

"I thought I'd feel more normal. I can't get comfortable. It just…doesn't feel like I'm home yet."

"Really? Is it that there's somewhere you'd rather be? Say, your parent's house?"

"No! No, I don't mean it like that. I mean everything's still messed up. I still can't think straight."

"Ah. I guess that makes sense. We pulled you out of the hospital early. You shouldn't expect to just shake it off. As a matter of fact, if you get to feeling too bad, I want you to let me know right away. I took the option of bringing you home but if you start having problems we need to take you in and get you looked at right away."

Shu stared. "I want to stay here."

"Good. Here, take your pill." He waited, watching to make sure it was actually swallowed. He motioned for Shu to keep drinking, working on his resistance to the full glass of water as directed. "You have to tell me how you're doing, brat. Specifics. It's important. How's your pain level this morning?"

"Three." Shu panted into the almost-empty glass.

"Okay. Do you want something for it?"

"Not yet." He shuffled his legs restlessly under the covers. "That pill I just took, is it going to make me sleep?"

"Well, that's not what it's for, but it does say that it may cause drowsiness."

"I'm tired of sleeping all the time."

"I can imagine. But it probably makes it easier for your body to heal."

"I'm sorry to be so much trouble." Yuki was holding out a bowl to trade for the empty water glass. It held a small scoop of rice in it, and as much as he didn't want it, he took it anyway. Food didn't sit well, didn't taste right, and caused trips to the bathroom, which were difficult and since they involved needing help, embarrassing. "Thanks."

"Try to eat it all, Shu, I didn't give you very much."

A pain gripped Shu's heart, a sudden fear that he would become such a burden that Yuki wouldn't want to bear him anymore. He forced the rice in, head down, concentrating fiercely. It was hard to remember when eating was natural and normal.

He finished and looked up. Yuki was gone from the room. He set the bowl on the bedside table and contemplated the floor. It would be good to move around, maybe sit on the couch. Judgment softened by the slowly growing effect of his medication, he dropped a leg over the side of the bed, considering an attempt at standing up. The sooner he got back on his feet, he reasoned, the sooner he could stop worrying about being too much for Yuki. He slid a little, bringing his other leg over, and promptly overbalanced and dropped straight down to the floor. His arm caught the bowl on the way down, sending it flying with a noisy clatter.

Shu began to thrash, trying to get up, or stay afloat, his perception of what was happening jarred out of synch. The sudden jump in blood pressure blurred his vision and roared in his ears, robbing him of the visual and audible clues that would have helped him keep his bearings.

"Hold on, what happened?"

Hands were trying to pull at him, he grabbed at them and pushed them away, but the sleepy, dizzy grip of his meds started interfering with his muscle control. He had enough of a sense of being safe that he didn't panic, but he couldn't help trying to fight his way back to some sort of balance. The hands wouldn't go away, and soon he exhausted beneath them.

When the movement grew weak enough, Eiri lifted Shu off the floor and put him on the bed, using his upper body to press carefully down and hold him relatively still. "C'mon Shu, can't you hear me?"

Eiri had no way of knowing if this was some kind of an attack, a deranged moment, a simple slip, a fall with injuries…he knew he had to do something about it, but there were so many different possibilities he couldn't decide on which one to pursue. Instead, he firmly but gently held Shu down until he stopped resisting.

Shuichi's eyes fluttered open to see Eiri looking at him. His senses had returned with the slowing of his thundering heart.

"I'm sorry!" he said immediately, that fear of being too much trouble welling up again. He clutched at an arm and held tight.

Again, that open face made it easy to see that Shu was desperately afraid of something.

"Hey now, come on." Eiri used his free arm to reach around and hopefully provide a little security and comfort. "You're safe here. We made it. You're home now."

For one so weak, Shu's grip grew even tighter. At that moment it occurred to Eiri just how hard it must have been for Shu to survive in the water, and just how long and hard he would have had to hold on. Shu had a way about him, he seemed flighty, but in truth he was a strong and determined soul. His emotions ran so deep and yet they still showed nakedly on the surface. He had always been vibrant and alive, and it was infectious. It had pierced his own thick armor and injected warm energy into his coldly crafted existence. Holding him now was as vital for Eiri as it was for Shu as they shared the pain of his fear.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize, Shu. You can't help how you feel. But if you tell me what's wrong I might be able to help. I'd really like to know what's going on in that head of yours."

He couldn't tell him the real reason. What if things were not as bad as he'd thought, and voicing his fear got the idea planted in Yuki's head that this was too much trouble? What if he jinxed himself with his own big mouth?

He settled for truth with omission.

"I tried to sit up and I think I just fell. It felt like…I'm not sure. I just don't want you to leave."

"Did you hurt yourself anywhere?"

"I don't think so."

"Would you like to come out into the living room? I think we can make a decent spot for you on the futon."

Shu nodded in quick agreement and clutched harder for a moment before willing his hands to ease off. Clingy, Eiri always hated it when he was clingy. He had to try and stop doing that.

Strong arms lifted him up and he was grasping hard again, fighting himself over it.

"Relax, Shu, I won't drop you."

It was obvious, when they reached it, that someone had slept on the futon. A blanket was half-folded haphazardly and a pillow from the bedroom was on the floor propped against it. Had Shu forced Yuki out of his own bed? That wasn't fair.

"I can just stay here and sleep here at night," Shu said quietly as he adjusted to being set down alone. Yuki sighed and sat next to him.

"Shu, you're still not all healed up. At night, for your long sleep, you need to be in the bed. If you're out here during the day and then back in bed at night I think that would be best. Unless you want naps in the bedroom, too. If you do, that's fine."

"It's not good for you to sleep out here alone, either."

"Oh, I didn't . Tohma stayed last night."

Shu's heart lurched. Yuki wasn't sleeping on the futon…or he wasn't alone on it?

He suddenly couldn't bear to ask.

"Speaking of which, he should be back soon with your medicine and some groceries."

It sounded like he was moving in.

Shu's hands began to shake.

Eiri watched the tension mounting, the hands begin to shake. He wasn't doing such a great job of helping Shu, apparently. He was still upset and nervous, no better than he had been at the hospital. Maybe bringing him home had been a mistake. The trade-off between expert medical care and the comfort of home was pretty unbalanced. He felt sort of stuck with the decision now, though. To send Shu off to the hospital now would likely make him feel even worse. With time, of course, things would improve. But for now…

The door swung open, Tohma using a key to let himself in. In spite of his ragged state, the man's possession of that key stood out in Shuichi's mind like a beacon.

Sakano and the driver came in with bags in their arms, right behind him. Tohma waved them to the kitchen and made tracks straight for Eiri.

He handed him a small bag.

"Prescriptions and the suggested over-the-counter medications from the care instructions."

Eiri smiled. "I really appreciate this."

Tohma took in that rare bit of sincere gratitude with great relish. For all of the things he'd done for Eiri over the years, most of them were unwanted and went unacknowledged.

"You are more than welcome and I can do this for you anytime. Anytime, Eiri."

"Once Shu's better and I can leave him by himself it won't be a problem, but until then…yeah, it would be a great help. Thanks."

"And how are we feeling today?" the smaller blond asked patronizingly.

"Okay." It was one more syllable than he preferred to speak to the man.

"He had a little fall earlier but he seems to be fine."

"Oh? Shindou-kun, you need to behave. You can't be making Eiri constantly worry about having to pick you up or be calling an ambulance because you've split your head open again," Tohma scolded.

Shu nodded silently as he pulled the blanket up to his nose, barely able to fight the urge to pull it all the way over his head.

"He'd doing fine," Eiri tried to give Shu a reassuring smile, clicking on the television before setting the remote on the blanket in Shu's reach. "I need to go check out the supplies. Do you want anything?"

Shu shook his head, and then watched Tohma follow Yuki into the kitchen feeling very threatened and insecure. Tohma never hid his attraction for Yuki, and Yuki never hid his resentment about it. Until now. Now they seemed to be getting along very well. Maybe it had to do with last night. Maybe they did share the futon. Shu tried to think of how long it had been since the crash. Dates were vague, it felt like it had been a lifetime. Yuki was a man with needs, he'd been used to going out and making conquests several times a week before Shu finally became his lover.

It suddenly dawned on him that he had no idea where Yuki had been staying while he was in the hospital, or how he spent his time when he wasn't with him. The possibilities turned his blood to ice and his small bit of breakfast started rising up out of his stomach. He fought it down, determined not to make a mess, another bother for Yuki to clean up.

That food gave signs that it was going to come up eventually, he couldn't deny the feeling, and he could only struggle to delay it. There was an empty plastic bag on the low console table, well beyond his reach. Totally focused on preventing the embarrassment of having Tohma and Yuki have to take care of him like a sick toddler, he slid and let himself drop from the futon, struggling to sit up and reach the bag.

He snagged it just in time, and tried to minimize the disgusting retching noises as best he could. There was a fair share of racket in the kitchen, talking and water running, cabinet and fridge doors opening and closing. His activity would have gone unnoticed, if Sakano hadn't stepped into the room.

"Shindou-san!" he blurted, dashing to help. Alerted, Yuki and Tohma were close after him. Holding the bag of damning evidence and sitting doubled up on the floor, Shu blushed horribly and couldn't bring himself to meet their eyes, pawing away the water that retching had wrung from his own.

"Shu…" Yuki went to his knees next to him, taking a quick look in the bag and trying to see his face. "Does your stomach hurt? Do you feel dizzy?" His mind went back to the care instructions, and the warnings about fevers and assorted symptoms to look out for.

He glanced up. Tohma was right behind Yuki, with a hand on his shoulder. His stomach rolled again, but there was nothing left for it to toss back up.

He wanted to cry and crawl in a corner.

"He seems ill, Eiri. Perhaps we should take him to emergency?" Tohma suggested firmly.

"No!" Shu began to twist and try to leverage back up on to the futon. Hands swooped in to assist him. "I'm not sick."

"Well…yeah, you obviously are." Yuki held up the bag and took another quick look, making sure from his own experiences that there were no blackened bits or blood, and then tied it shut. "Why don't you bring a couple of empty bags from the kitchen for me, Sakano? In case he needs them again?"

Sakano gingerly took the bag from Yuki for disposal and headed for the kitchen.

"No, I just got upset. I was thinking of something and I…it just got to me. I'm not sick, I'm not. Don't take me away."

"Better to be safe that sorry," Tohma said quietly in Yuki's ear.

"Shu, are you sure?" he asked, ignoring Seguchi's subtle influence.

"Yes. Please? I didn't make a mess."

"God, Shu, it isn't punishment. I'm worried about you." He settled on the futon carefully. His hand brushed a stray lock of hair out of Shu's eyes. "You don't look good, brat. You still seem even more upset."

Shuichi couldn't help looking away and glancing at Tohma, to see if he was gloating. It was starting to seem like a very strong possibility that some thing was going on between them.

No way was he going to spill his guts here in front of Yuki's…whatever he was now.

"I just need to rest."

"I'll get you some water; you need to rinse your mouth out. You still feel nauseated?"

Shu nodded and slid down to lie flat. When Yuki, closely followed by his new shadow, left to get the water, Shu caught Sakano's nervous hand when he offered the empty bags.

"Where did Yuki stay while I was in the hospital?" he blurted. "At Ryu's?"

"Why, no. He was at a place very close by, in walking distance."

Shu swallowed roughly, his throat burning. "Alone?"

Sakano blanched and hesitated; he used the interruption of Yuki returning with the water to escape the question, smiling and turning away as if he hadn't heard. It was all the answer Shu needed to complete the crack in his heart, replacing fear with injured shock and a crushing, depressing pain. Tohma hadn't been on either of their flights. He had come later, just to be with Yuki.

When Yuki put the water to his lips he just stared without moving. The water dribbled down his face as he left his mouth sealed shut.

"What the…Shu?"

He brought up a hand and pushed Yuki's away.

"Just take me back to the hospital then. I don't care."

"Shuichi? Why, what..?"

"He must need to go, Eiri, I wouldn't hesitate. Maybe we should call an ambulance." Tohma said.

"No, be quiet. Do you guys mind? I want a minute alone with him."

"Of course not. No problem. Come on, Sakano." Tohma cast a smile at Shu on the way out.

He dropped his head into his hands, and felt Yuki grip his wrists firmly. "You talk to me now, Shuichi. Are you seeing things again?"

"I wish I were."

"What do you mean?"

"Doesn't matter. Just call the ambulance, or push me out the front door, or whatever."

"Oh, now knock that shit off. What's come over you?"

"That should be my line."

"Talk to me, damn it. You're not making any sense."

In the kitchen, Sakano glanced nervously out several times, eavesdropping shamelessly and wondering if he should intervene. From Shu's questions, he had a good idea what was bothering the younger man. But he strongly suspected that if Tohma knew he was trying to help, he would interfere.

Tohma, on the other hand, seemed quite pleased. He was dialing his cell phone with a smile and heading off to sit at the kitchen table.

When Sakano was sure that the man was engrossed in conversation, he quickly went back to the living room.

"Eiri-san," he called, expecting the glare of death that was sent his way for interrupting. "A word, please – quickly!" Before Tohma catches up, he thought.

With a puzzled look, Eiri rose to meet him, and his eyebrows shot up at the words whispered into his ear.

"Thank you very much, Sakano. That's extremely helpful." He turned back to Shu. "But give us a little more time."

"I'll just, uh, go back then."

Eiri sat next to Shu again, and waited while he tried to shink far enough away so they weren't touching. Then he scooted over abruptly so they were pressed alongside again.

"You are not going anywhere. You're being paranoid. Maybe it's your medicine, or your condition, but you're delusional if you think something's going on between me and Tohma."

He felt Shu flinch at the mention of Tohma's name, confirming his and Sakano's suspicions.

"You haven't gone through enough without torturing yourself with imaginary affairs?"

Shu's head ducked even lower.

"Look at me, Shu. Please. I'm not angry. I'm worried. This isn't good for you, all this unrest."

"Not for you either," Shu choked. "You'll get sick if you worry. I'm too much…" he cut himself off. …I'm too much trouble. Don't say those words, he told himself, totally lost in the twist and pull of his emotions and suspicions. Don't plant that idea in his head.

"Right now you need to get calmed down and get your head straight again." He let his hand roam on Shuichi's back. "It's going to get better. "

Shu's lower lip began to tremble, and he tipped his head the rest of the way forward to try and let the soft pink bangs conceal the tears while he fought them back.

"Shu-chan, Shu-chan," Yuki said sadly, drawing Shuichi into his arms and nestling him under his chin. He was a rigid ball of anxiety, and nothing so far seemed to help yet. "It's so hard for you right now. I hope you can believe me. It will get better. And I'm going to be right here. I'm not planning on running off, or sending you away." He surprised himself when he began to rock back and forth instinctively, the motion soothing to them both.

This embrace seemed to permeate Shu's body with warmth, softening those cold doubts and fears. For Yuki to give him this much caring and love and be lying seemed impossible. It melted his resistance away, and along with it his body's unbearable tension.

Trust. That was the element so slow to solidify in all this. He loved Yuki already; that was not a change for him, it had been the reason he moved here in the first place. But trust…when some one yells at you, mocks your feelings, slams the door in your face, throws you out in your shorts and locks you out in the dead of winter…it was a fine bit of emotional backwards engineering that had enabled him to continue to feel love through all of that; it had been necessary to excise the element of trust.

But trust…you can't just will it to be, it doesn't well up unbidden at the first sight of the object of your affection, not the way love does. People earn the level of trust you hold them in, how much or how little. Trust had become something of a problem for Shuichi. To change would take time, but this was a start.

A hand slid up his back and, forgetting for a moment, went to bring him closer by resting on the back of his head. The unexpected feel of uneven scars made the hand flinch away quickly.

"Sorry! I'm sorry, did that hurt? I didn't mean to…"

"Ahem," Tohma smiled stoically in the doorway. "I have some information. About Shuichi's physicians. Mind if I interrupt?"

"It's not a good time, Tohma," Eiri said, bringing Shu back close to this chest with more care.

"I'm afraid he has an appointment that you'll have to start getting ready for shortly. They had a cancellation today, otherwise he'd need to wait a week. I'm sorry, I wouldn't break in like this otherwise."

"No," Shu whispered, and then berated himself for it. He should cooperate and stop being such a burden.

Yuki sighed. "Yes, I'm afraid so. We need to make sure you see all the doctors that are going to help you as soon as possible. We don't want to delay any treatment you might need. And then, when there's a problem, we have someone who knows about your situation instead of showing up with the crowd at emergency." He expected some resistance. Shu might feel good about getting outside for a while, but somehow Eiri doubted it. He would probably feel more vulnerable.

Tohma approached, lightly gripping Eiri's shoulder with one hand as he handed him the carefully lettered listing consisting of doctors, phone numbers, addresses, appointment times and dates and notes for several of them.

"This really helps. Thanks, Toh." He tried to be neutral enough to reassure Shu.

"Of course. And we can drive you to the appointment today so you don't have to worry about Shindou-kun getting into one of his little problems while you're trying to drive. Can't have you two getting into an accident on top of everything else." Tohma looked pleased when Eiri nodded.

"Not much time. Let's get you dressed." Eiri shifted around to gather Shu up again, feeling sympathy for the younger man as he blushed and buried his face against Eiri's chest when he was lifted. His embarrassment was plainly evident, no doubt at having to be carried and helped to change clothes. It didn't help that they had witnesses. "We'll just be a few minutes," he called over his shoulder and kicked the bedroom door shut behind him. That should send the message that this called for privacy.

Shu looked up, gratitude for the act of preserving his dignity turning to wide-eyed amazement as Yuki captured his lips in a kiss so emotional that was a first for him. It lasted long enough that his whole body began to warm from it. When Yuki pulled away to look into his eyes, he was breathless.

"You have to know that I love you, Shu. That I'm in love with you. This is new for me, too. So I might not understand some things, and I might not get it right. But always come to me if I hurt you and give me the chance to fix things again." He gave Shu a brief, firm kiss. "Always."

He would have found it impossible to believe those words, except for that kiss.

For once Shuichi was at a complete loss for words.

But his eyes told Yuki everything he needed to know, and with the reassurance that he was not taking this insane trip alone, he smiled and eased Shu onto the bed.

He turned to get into Shu's camo bag, standing open on the padded bench at the footboard.

"Shorts or cargo pants?"

"Yuki, I…" his voice tightened away to nothing.

"I know, Shu. How about pants?"

He nodded, too overcome with everything to talk.

"And a tank. No use getting too much on, they'll just make you take it off. And let's see…a sweatshirt to go over it. Good enough?" He held up the clothes and waited for the nod, going to assist.

"There's nothing going on between me and Tohma. I know that he does things to try and make that happen, but I just have never been able to see him that way. There were a few times, a long time ago, that I tried. But it just isn't there. And that was before I even found out what 'it' is." He finished settling the tank around Shu's undernourished waist and divested him of the bottom half of his sleeping clothes.

There was an uncomfortable moment, Shu half-embarrassed and half-hoping for some show of desire after all of this time.

"I'm being good, so don't look at me like that, or we'll miss your appointment." Yuki gave him a half-lidded look that tickled his insides.

He smiled and lifted up for his clothes to slide up and on. It started to seem like everything might be all right after all.

Might be much better than all right, actually. For just a few minutes, he could imagine how it would feel to be well and to be sharing this room alone with no one to interfere and no petty arguments to divide them.

I made his heart beat faster and the back of his head begin to burn and ache. With a goal like this one his terrible state seemed more bearable, more temporary.

Yuki spotted the look. "What number?"

"Five," he said reluctantly, cringing.

"I'm sorry, Shu, I might not be able to let you take anything for it right now. I should call the doctor and see what I can give you, in case they…"

"It's all right."

"Lie back then, I'll turn out the light and come get you when we're ready to go out the door."

His eyes nearly closed, he left them open just a bit, to stay in the moment in spite of the pain and remember this day and this room. It felt like the beginning of all the things he had been hoping for but was never sure he would find. Like the first time the big crowd screamed his name and he knew he had made it, that no matter what happened next, he had made it. While there was no way of knowing if his career would go any bigger or how long it would last, at that moment he had succeeded in capturing his dream.

With that kiss and the words 'in love with you' he was within a hair's breadth of another dream he had been far less sure of reaching.

He just had to be brave enough to trust Yuki and grab it.

o0o0o0o0o0o

Doctor's appointments, elbow surgery, a midnight scare from a bad reaction to a new muscle relaxant…it was a good thing Eiri wasn't a salaryman. Being there for Shu left him little room to roam outside of their apartment except for those medical visits. But that suited Eiri just fine in the short run; he was still a recluse by nature. He was settling into this love thing slowly, getting his head around it, certainly without any pressure from poor Shu. It was the perfect situation for him to get used to this at his own speed. Except…

Shu was slow to open up all the way. It was understandable, completely understandable. He was going through so much; and while the romantic idea that love would make it all better is a fine one in books such as the ones Eiri tapped away at daily, in real life it didn't quite work that way.

His natural defensiveness, in the face of everything he'd been through, was still present in everything he did. Yuki didn't take it personally, and took it as a trade-off. Had Shu come flying at him in his old over-enthusiastic way, a love-samurai screaming undying passion and forever to be never apart, he might not have come to terms with it in a positive way at all. Shu's daily life was not good yet, and he wasn't glad for his lover's difficulties. But they both agreed that this cloud had a most precious silver lining.

In the quiet times while Shu slept, Eiri returned to his writing. More often than not he worked on his own story, continuing to commit the life-changing experiences indelibly. He was still deeply unsettled, and still dealing with emotion that was so foreign to him that he captured it like a rare butterfly, pinning it to the pages for future study and collecting it in as pristine of a condition as he was capable of.

He typed furiously and the page count crested three hundred. By the time he had it all down, fleshed out and just as he felt it should be, it was four hundred and seventeen pages. It was his best work ever.

But he couldn't bear to share it yet, not while Shu was still recovering from operations and having night terrors. It was perfect for what it was, but it had no ending. He'd written one, a rough version, and saved it under a different file. With any luck, that ending would be just a copy and paste into his story, and the final polishing would be the only change it would need. He was going to work his damnedest to bring it into reality. But reality had a way of fooling you just when you thought you knew where it was going. No one knew that better that Eiri.

o0o0o0o

Eiri was sitting back, giving the story a once-over, when Shu moved into the room behind him in his current normal manner. Being back on his feet was something of a struggle for him. Instead of the brash, noisy ball of fire of old, Shu moved like a ghost, timid and tentative, as if the apartment might fall from the sky and smash him into the ocean again if he caused an imbalance.

It was a big improvement. Last week he was still too afraid to stand up or get out of bed on his own, and now he was padding around the place all by himself. The doctors were pleased, he was adapting back steadily but not too quickly, adjusting at each step. As long as he continued to improve, it seemed he would eventually get back to normal…well, normal for Shuichi. Even Yuki wasn't sure that really fell into the usual category of 'normal'.

"Whatcha doing?" Shu asked in that half-whisper he used to approach Yuki with if he was unsure of his mood.

Yuki reached out carefully and tugged Shu into his lap, giving him a reassuring hug. With that little sign of affection, a bright smile lit the tired face and sparkled those gem-like eyes, the yellow and browns of the bruises around them so faded they were almost gone for good.

"The usual," Yuki said, voice muffled into the soft neck. It tickled and Shu gave a pleased squirm. The blond resisted the resulting urge to haul his Shu-chan into bed, knowing he wasn't quite well enough yet for such activity.

"Can I read it?"

It was an odd request. Shu had never really asked to read something he'd had up on the computer before.

"I guess. It's just the ending, and it's not quite the way I want it yet. I'm just working with the concept."

Life had deposited them right back where they started. Square one, payday, "Go". Nothing had changed in the place or times in which they lived. Yet nothing was going to be the same, even remotely, ever again.

Change born of hardship and pain, fear and loss, threat and sorrow, was change most pervasive.

Once an attitude is changed, everything perceived by that person is changed as well. Values were re-assessed. A new inventory was taken with this in mind, and the world was fresh and alive again. Positive things had been created from the pain.

Suddenly a world so bitterly empty was discovered to be a land of plenty. The greatest of riches had been there, in reach, yet totally unappreciated and mostly untapped.

The expression 'right under your nose' came to mind. His love was, after all, a head shorter in stature.

His attitude now encompassed a fierce and possessive affection that he never dreamed he would be capable of again. Love for one person. A one and only.

It was yet to be seen just how much that person would change, too; perhaps in ways that might throw a curve ball into his new plan to love and cherish this person forever. His lover had changed for the moment, but in the constant reinvention that was his recovery, it was impossible to predict just how the man would end up.

But regardless of the outcome, they were all in now, irresistibly together for the battle. They had switched roles to a degree and that, too, was fine. They knew the relationship from both sides now.

Looking forward to a calendar full of promising sunrises and sweet indulgent sunsets, they vowed to see it through together, and never forget the hand of tragedy that nearly severed their ties forever.

It was the closest thing to happily ever after a man could hope for.

"Yuki," Shu swallowed hard. "This is…"

"I hope so." The blond smiled sincerely. "Am I close?"

The smaller man nodded, a bit overwhelmed, and threw his arms around his lover's neck with a hint of his old enthusiasm. "Yuki…I love you."

"I love you, too, Shuichi." Yuki hugged back, restraining himself from the crushing hug he wanted to deliver, careful of the still-healing body. "And you'd better get used to it." The muffled giggle into his chest made the writer's smile that much wider.

The End. Cheesy, but still the end.