SUMMARY: While Shuichi makes his way despondently to Eiri's home, the sudden reappearance of an old acquaintance prompts the writer to consider his relationships – past and present...

NOTE: I want to thank everyone who reviewed part one from the very bottom of my heart. These past few weeks haven't been the easiest for me and the sudden demise of my laptop hasn't helped, but your reviews have made me feel so much better. To anyone who has emailed me or left messages on my LJ, I promise I will catch up as soon as I can. For the many of you who review so quickly and intelligently, I hope more stories to come will show my gratitude.

Sorry there are no more chapters of this one to come – there are limits to what I can do with an idea set within the anime timeline if I don't want to go AU; I'll go into that more when I post the "sequel" to "Sushi Bar" (it's ready, honest!) but for now I hope the ending to this is satisfying enough considering the fact that Eiri and Shuichi are in so early a stage in their romance!

Akahoshi Emiko. It was amazing how quickly a name and a face could drop out of Eiri's memory. Yet it couldn't have been more than two years since he had last seen her.

Then again, perhaps he had deliberately blotted her out, as his psychiatrist was fond of telling him he did with so many memories he would rather not have. Sensei seemed to think he was particularly sensitive to memories which suggested bad judgement on his part. Well in Emiko's case, she might be right.

It was surprisingly painless to recall that little episode of his life now. It all seemed rather trivial. Actually it had really been Mika's fault – Mika and their father, coming up with that crackbrained scheme to marry Eiri off to little Usami Ayaka. Almost overnight he was betrothed to some chaste Kyoto virgin barely of marriageable age who he couldn't imagine sleeping with – let alone living with – in his wildest dreams.

A proper respectable marriage to a girl of virtuous character will help to remind you of your duty and curb your promiscuous excesses.

So his father had written to him, when Eiri had refused to come home to Kyoto or answer his calls.

Ayaka will be good for you, Mika had tired to soften the blow; she's so gentle and kind… she could give you a fresh new start.

Yeah. Right.

He'd been so angry he had hardly spoken to Mika for six months. So angry indeed that he had been only too susceptible to Emiko's plans.

Up until Emiko, most of the women Eiri slept with fell into two categories. They either wanted him for his looks, his body and his sexual prowess, or they wanted him for his money and his lifestyle. Whichever they wanted he gave them, but only on his terms and only for as long as they held his interest, which usually wasn't very long.

Emiko was something new, at least to a young and recently successful novelist as Eiri had been when he met her. She was a partner in a small but increasingly popular private art gallery. While her aunt, the senior partner, took care of the acquisitions and the finances, Emiko excelled in promotion and sales. She was intelligent, articulate and charming, capable of persuading rich executives to buy the work of her featured artists – sometimes good, sometimes abysmal – at exorbitant prices. Unlike Eiri she never forgot names or faces… and she never failed to make use of a connection.

For Eiri, she seemed the perfect counter to his family's plans with Ayaka. On the one hand she was independent and undemanding – she never expected Eiri to be faithful, never expected them to spend a lot of time alone together out of the bedroom, never talked about their moving in together, let alone getting married. And because she had her own money and her own career, Mika couldn't dismiss her as a gold digger.

For a while he took considerable malicious delight in being seen at Emiko's private viewings or inviting her to his book launches or even the dull receptions and cocktail parties Mika would host for Seguchi's business associates which up until then Eiri had avoided like the plague. The fact that he and Mika were still hardly on speaking terms only added to his satisfaction.

It seemed an equitable enough arrangement for a while. They were certainly using one another, but they were both aware of it. All the same, it did not last long.

For one thing, Emiko had begun to push her luck. She started pestering him to invite Mika and Tohma to her viewings. She wanted introductions to the Ukais, to Sakuma Ryuichi (who was thankfully in New York by that time); to other writers belonging to the same publishing house as Eiri.

But even before that, Seguchi had begun to work his insidious influence on Eiri, pointing out that nobody could actually force him into marriage and with Ayaka so far away in Kyoto, there was no reason for Eiri to make a decision in haste. And, of course, Seguchi was right. Eiri's Tokyo life had continued uninterrupted. He got on with his writing, kept to his solitary ways; dated – and bedded – as many women as he liked. The unwanted betrothal seemed like the echo of a dream; Usami Ayaka herself a distant, faded memory.

And very soon Eiri was growing tired of attending boring functions and looking at mediocre, commercially driven art. In fact he was growing bored of Emiko in general.

Unfortunately, Emiko didn't seem to sense the shift in the wind. She had apparently not noticed anything at all until Eiri had failed to invite her to a book launch, mainly because he couldn't stand the author or her windbag novels and had no intention of attending it himself. Emiko had turned up at his place in a fury, nagging and scolding like a harpy and accusing him of breaking some unwritten agreement they had never made.

Eiri had served his revenge cold. He had turned up at her next gallery viewing with another woman.

Meeting Emiko again now, it all seemed rather childish. Emiko herself seemed far more reasonable than he remembered her – her manner was amicable rather than grasping or spuriously ingratiating; she actually seemed a little rueful. Her smile appeared natural and her demeanour suggested a new calm.

Well, with luck she had learned her lesson. Yuki Eiri belonged to no-one. Eiri had certainly learned his – never to let anyone get close for long enough to start claiming squatter's rights…

Eiri's gaze began to wander across the street. And there, if sent on a cue from the gods themselves, was Shindou Shuichi.

A coincidence, nothing more. Besides, Shuichi was… different. Eiri didn't know quite what he meant by that, but there it was. Mika had said much the same thing the day after Shuichi had moved in. She had considered it a cause for concern, but she was just worrying the way she always did. Whatever Shuichi was, he was no threat. This time Eiri was in full control.

What was the idiot doing over there, anyway? He was probably so lost in some daydream of touring with Nittle Grasper that he had forgotten what side of the street Eiri lived on.

The kid carried himself well, that couldn't be denied. And he had better legs than some of the women Eiri had dated, as well as the most marvellously supple and flexible body… a shame he hadn't had more time to try that body out, thanks to Mizuki and her damnable deadlines, but maybe tonight…

"I really am glad I've run into you, Yuki-san," Emiko was saying, "perhaps it really is karma! I mean, of all the places to run into you, and with such little time to spare…" All at once she had Eiri's complete attention. This did not sound good; it was better to be on full alert for the next few minutes. "I did think of looking you up before I went back to Paris, but after our less than amicable separation I wasn't sure how you'd…"

"Paris?" Eiri echoed stupidly.

For a moment Emiko glared at him with flashing dark eyes. Then, to Eiri's astonishment, she burst into loud, high pitched giggles which reminded him unpleasantly of Shuichi. He didn't remember her having such an infectious laugh – but then again, he didn't remember her laughing much at all back then.

"Yuki Eiri, you always were the most terrible listener!" Emiko declared, placing her hands on her hips and fixing him with a playfully admonishing look. "Have you even heard a word I've been saying? I moved to Paris two years ago to manage the export of our modern Japanese artists. There's quite a market for them in Europe now, you know! Well, to be honest, even if there wasn't I wouldn't come back to Tokyo – I'm much happier now I've put some distance between myself and Aunt Ryoko…"

Emiko took a deep drag on her cigarette and exhaled slowly, giving Eiri a small, rueful smile. "She was driving me quite mad, you know… I… I really am sorry I was so pushy when we were seeing each other, Yuki-san, but Aunt Ryoko kept pestering me to be seen in the company of successful men, and to get as many introductions as I could… I love her dearly, really I do… I mean, she paid for University and gave me a job in the gallery, but if this opportunity at the Paris gallery hadn't come up I swear I would have strangled her…"

Eiri didn't quite know what to say, so he took the course with which he was most familiar and said nothing. Even so, he felt a small, unexpected twinge – not exactly of regret, but of curiosity. He had never really bothered to think about what Emiko was about, or what pressure she might be under. They might have had more in common than he had ever realised. What was most curious of all, however, was the curiosity itself. Two years ago – maybe two months ago – Eiri wouldn't have cared even if he had known. Quite without thinking, Eiri glanced up the street once more, but Shuichi had gone.

Emiko looked at her watch. "Why are rich people never on time?" She gave another shrill laugh. "This client paid for my flight all the way from Paris just so she could meet one of Aunt Ryoko's favoured artists… and she doesn't care for hotels, either… had to rent a furnished apartment…" she nodded towards the block next to which they stood. "More money than sense if you ask me… Kohinata Kyo is a pretty lousy artist, but Madame Al Faisal seems to like… ah! Here she is!"

As Eiri watched, a large, dark, expensively dressed woman appeared in the doorway and waved to Emiko, who greeted her with a deep bow before embracing her with the showy exuberance of the arty set, speaking quite confidently in what sounded like French. To his further surprise, Emiko made no attempt to impress her client with their acquaintance, introducing Eiri only as an old friend before escorting the woman to her car.

Never the less, Eiri was rather relieved when the car roared off up the hill and he was left to continue his leisurely stroll back home. He had moved house since his involvement with Emiko, and there was no reason to believe she had known where he was going, but women like her were still best kept at a distance. The only satisfaction he could gain from the memory was that at least that time he had not had to rely on Seguchi to get rid of her.

The flat was quiet when Eiri let himself in, heading straight into the kitchen to dump his groceries on the counter. It sounded as though Shuichi wasn't in – there was no way the little brat could be this quiet – yet Eiri had quite certainly seen him walking up the hill. So where was he? Eiri felt a small stab of irritation. He had been looking forward to…

To what? Sex? He could have that any time with women more far skilled than Shuichi. Even so, if the kid was here, he might at least let Eiri know. Just so he didn't scare the crap out of him springing out at him from nowhere. And if he wasn't here, he could have left a message… just so Eiri had known not to bother buying enough wild salmon for both of them; it was so damned expensive.

Eiri shook his head. What the hell was he worrying over? If Shuichi had left him in peace for a night that was a good thing, right? Anyway, he was hungry and he was going to cook. If Shuichi was too late to share in the meal, that was his lookout. It was about time he kicked him out anyway. It must have been a week by now… though working from home gave Eiri a rather distorted sense of time…

He was reaching for his recipe cards when he noticed the cake box sitting by the coffee percolator. For a moment he eyed it doubtfully. But the careful script on the lid left no room for doubt.

For Yuki, for making me welcome. Love, Shuichi.

Making him welcome? The kid needed his head read. Eiri could even give him the name of a good shrink. All the same, he was unable to suppress a small shiver of pleasure, as he opened the box and inspected the chocolate cake. Not his absolute favourite, but then again the really good strawberries were out of season so this was probably a better choice. Letting Shuichi stay with him wasn't so bad after all…

Eiri was about to reach for a knife when he realised he still didn't know where the idiot was. Wandering into the lounge, Eiri actually started when he saw Shuichi seated on the sofa, knees drawn up to his chin, absently flicking channels on the television with the volume turned down.

Shuichi wasn't always noisy and restive, that had to be admitted. He could be remarkably sensitive to Eiri's moods when he paused long enough to think; keeping quiet when Eiri was working and behaving with real kindness when Eiri was tired. But now he looked unhappy. Probably some stupid argument with someone at work – no doubt Fujisaki had rearranged one of his songs again, or K had told him he wasn't in tune, or Hiroshi had… well, whatever, the possibilities were endless. The only question was why Shuichi wasn't already boring Eiri to death with the details. For some reason, Eiri didn't like it when Shuichi was this subdued.

"Are you going to do that all night, or do you want some supper?" he snapped.

Shuichi jumped, gaping at Eiri as if he had seen a ghost. "Yuki!" he cried, then gave him an odd, searching look as Eiri sat down beside him. "You're not going out tonight…?"

"Why the hell would I be going out?" Eiri demanded.

"Yuki!" At once, Shuichi's face brightened like sunlight breaking through a cloudy sky. "Do you mean it? You're really staying home? Really? Oh Yuki…!" Shuichi threw his arms about Eiri's neck and smacked one of those warm, wet kisses onto his lips. Childish though they were, Eiri had grown rather partial to such kisses even though he never let Shuichi see it. His melancholy apparently forgotten, Shuichi snuggled close, coiling his arms tight around his companion's waist and sighing blissfully that he loved him.

As Eiri absently stroked Shuichi's hair, he fought to suppress the smallest of smiles. Noisy, stupid, hyperactive, self-centred and immature though Shindou Shuichi might be, he was remarkably easy to please.