A/N: Think of this as more of an alternate ending than a sequel, if you do not care for the change in pairing, friends (I'm sure I'll be back to Yuki/Shuichi soon). This is for all of you who wanted "Tabloid Darling" to end a bit differently, and I hope you enjoy it. Love, Lucy May
"Good Luck Records," Fujisaki Suguru answered the phone wearily, annoyed that his personal secretary was running late coming back from lunch, and making a mental note to speak with her about her tardiness as soon as she returned.
"Fujisaki-san?" asked a young woman on the other end.
"Yes, it's me," Suguru said, puzzled.
"This is Nakano Ayaka. I was wondering if I might have a word with you about my husband," she asked, sounding anxious. Suguru felt a mild rush of dread, wondering if she had uncovered some information about his past relationship with the former Bad Luck guitarist and wanted answers.
"Of course. Is there anything the matter?" Suguru asked with what he felt was just the right degree of concern without sounding too personally invested.
"Hiro -- well, he -- he hasn't quite been himself since his mother died," Ayaka said. "I mean, he's still great with Masa-kun and I, but I think he really hates his job. He still has another year of school, and I just hate to see him pushing himself so hard towards something he doesn't even want to do. Especially when I know he's only doing it for our sake."
"I see," Suguru said. "I'm very sorry to hear that he's unhappy."
"I knew you would be. You're his friend, and you love music, too, so I thought you would be able to understand," Ayaka said.
"I'm trying to," Suguru said softly, feeling more confused than ever.
"What I'm trying to ask is, Fujisaki-san, will you please consider my husband for a position at your company?" Ayaka asked awkwardly. He could almost picture her bowing humbly as she spoke, and his heart ached for her slightly despite himself.
"Does he know you're calling me?" Suguru asked, although he knew the answer.
"Oh, no, of course not!" Ayaka said with panic. "He's very proud, you know he is, he would be so upset with me --
"Nakano-san, please calm down. I won't tell him anything that you don't want me to," Suguru said. "I'll make it sound like it was entirely mine and Shuichi's idea."
"So, you'll hire him?" Ayaka asked anxiously.
"I'll make him an offer," Suguru said. "It will be up to him whether or not he wishes to take me up on it.
"Thank you, Fujisaki-san. You are a kind man," Ayaka said, almost in a whisper, her voice shaking with emotion.
Suguru felt vaguely ill as he hung up the phone, and went to find Shuichi.
Shuichi sat at the mixing table, trying to decide whether to bring Eiji's guitar part forward, or let the bass line be the driving force of the song, when he saw Suguru out of the corner of his eye and swiveled in his chair to face him.
"Shuichi, you've been staying late almost every day. Are you sure you don't need a break?" Suguru asked with concern.
"Is that your way of telling me you're sick of seeing me?" Shuichi asked with a half-smile. Suguru shrugged.
"I just don't want you to get burned out. Doesn't Yuki-san mind that you're always coming in so late?" Suguru asked.
"Yuki doesn't mind much of anything as long as you're quiet and don't make your existence known," Shuichi muttered, turning back to the table.
"Still?" Suguru asked. Shuichi nodded, not looking up.
"I thought things were going to get better, but they haven't," Shuichi said, frowning. "It's just as well he's leaving for his book tour today."
"Yeah, maybe some distance will help things," Suguru said, Shuichi all too familiar with his forced optimism.
"Something's wrong, isn't it?" Shuichi asked, wondering if he looked as tired as he felt, and hoping it wouldn't inhibit his friend from sharing. Suguru tended to hold things back if you didn't keep on him, especially if he felt he was being an additional burden, Shuichi had come to realize as he grew closer to him.
"Well, I wouldn't say it's something wrong, exactly," Suguru began.
"Hey, guys! I went and picked up lunch for us," Eiji said, walking into the room. "I got you some strawberry Pocky, Shuichi," he added, looking very pleased with himself.
"Thanks Eiji, that's so nice of you," Shuichi said, trying to be patient with his number one fan and current guitarist.
Shuichi was working on his first solo album for Suguru's label, GL Records, re-recording material from Bad Luck's unreleased last album, and adding a few new songs that he'd composed recently. He still hadn't found himself able to write songs with the frequency he once had, but occasionally inspiration struck.
"Yeah, I tried to get his highness Sanda-san to join us, but he won't leave the studio, as usual," Eiji said, rolling his eyes.
Sanda Madoka was the one-man operation known as Sand that Suguru had signed along with Shuichi when he opened GL a month before. They'd both been a little caught off guard to discover the rich tapestry of unusual sounds that made up Sand's music had been the work of one person, and were pretty much content to let him do as he pleased with his studio time. He was quiet and strange, but the results of the daily playbacks spoke for themselves of his abilities to work on his own.
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," Suguru said. "Let's go to the break room with our lunch. If I catch either of you eating over my mixing tables again, there will be hell to pay."
"It was a week ago! Let it go already," Shuichi muttered, following.
Shuichi lingered while Suguru locked up, coaxing a reluctant Sanda Madoka out from his cave for another evening as he went.
"You can go home now, Shuichi," Suguru said with a smile, as he switched off the main power, leaving only the dim glow of the exit signs and a track light in the hallway.
Shuichi had finally gotten his license, buying himself a small silver moped so as to not be dependant on others for rides back to his and Yuki's apartment a few blocks away. Yuki didn't like for him to walk that far at night, but seemed annoyed about picking him up as well, and Shuichi had just given up and found his own solution. Of course, Yuki didn't much like the moped either, saying it was a noisy eyesore. Shuichi wasn't sure what the novelist wanted anymore. Lately he'd begun to feel like everything he did was wrong, and where it used to would have made him feel insecure and compromising, these days it just made him angry. Yuki had never been one to deal well with confrontation, and seemed at a loss with what to do with this more aggressive side of Shuichi.
"Yeah, I know, it's just --" Shuichi began.
"What is it?" Suguru asked, tilting his head curiously.
"Well, I know this sounds weird, but, do you think you could stay over with me tonight? Yuki's gone," Shuichi said, staring at his feet.
"Of course," Suguru said, as if there was nothing unusual about it, making Shuichi feel instantly better. "I need to tell you something anyway."
One reason Shuichi was afraid to be alone went unmentioned, much to Shuichi's gratitude. Though he'd begun to see a counselor about his drinking, it was still difficult for him sometimes to resist the urge to numb himself, especially when anything was causing him stress. The woman who was treating him had warned him that he was straddling the threshold of a much more serious dependency problem if he didn't curb his habits immediately, and it scared him.
It hadn't been very long ago when Suguru had visited their apartment one weekend to find that Shuichi had been drinking again while Yuki had shut himself away in his study.
"Quit drinking, brat," Yuki had ordered impatiently, when Suguru had drawn him out of his room despite Shuichi's protests.
"Go to hell," Shuichi had muttered, lying on his back across the couch.
"Well, I've done my part," Yuki had said, throwing up his hands and going back to the study. "Don't let him puke on the couch, or I'll throw both of your asses out."
He'd woke an hour later to find Yuki pouring out everything to drink in the apartment, including his own beer, gazing up at him with a helpless look as he stood at the kitchen sink.
He agreed to see the counselor Suguru had been trying to get him to see for weeks the next day.
"Ayaka called me today," Suguru said as they drove. "She wants me to offer Hiro a job because he's too stubborn to admit he's unhappy at the pharmacy," Suguru said.
"Hiro's coming to work at GL?" Shuichi asked, with mixed emotions.
It was true that he missed his friend and former band mate, but he'd be lying to himself if he didn't admit that he still felt somehow betrayed by him. Hiro had left Bad Luck in the middle of recording, while Shuichi was still trying to deal with his first breakup with Yuki, sending Shuichi's world into a tail spin that he was only now starting to recover from. He knew Hiro's motivations had been a selfless attempt to see his dying mother's wishes granted, and that it was awful for him to feel that way, but it was one of the many things Shuichi had avoiding dealing with over the years. They had started to keep in touch a little more regularly, Shuichi attending his mother's funeral, and helping them watch Masahiko during a hectic move back to Tokyo to live in the house she'd left him, but it was different than the close friendship they'd once had.
It was no small issue with him as well that he'd broken Suguru's heart when he'd married Ayaka, an event that had effected the young producer's self-esteem profoundly enough that he'd entered into a hollow, abusive relationship with Ashia Raiden. He wondered sometimes if Suguru weren't still in love with him, in those moments where his friend grew quiet and wouldn't tell him what was wrong.
"Well, if he agrees, that is," Suguru said with a sigh. "The thing is, I really don't know what to do with him. I offered him as a studio guitarist to Sanda --"
"Yeah, I'll bet that went over well," Shuichi interjected.
"And he said there aren't any guitars in his music and looked at me as if I had completely lost my mind. He also said that suggestions like that were why he'd sent his demo to me instead of Tohma, because he didn't think I'd interfere with his artistic integrity," Suguru said, the last words a mocking impression of the reclusive singer's baritone voice, making Shuichi laugh.
"Ouch," Shuichi said. "Well, you know, I just thought of something."
"What?" Suguru asked, as they reached the building and pulled into the driveway.
"How in the heck is Sand supposed to play live with one musician?" Shuichi asked. "I mean, he can't play everything."
"You've got a point," Suguru said, already looking weary with the subject. "I don't feel like dealing with him. Why don't you bring it up with him tomorrow?"
"Me?" Shuichi asked with horror as he slammed the car door.
"Sure. You own stock in GL, you slacker, pull your weight," Suguru said with a laugh as they approached the door.
"But I'm scared of him!" Shuichi protested, as Suguru preceded him inside.
"So," Shuichi began, as they settled down in front of the television with a delivered pizza. "Are you going to be able to deal with having Hiro around all the time?"
"Don't worry about me," Suguru said dismissively, turning up the television volume with the remote. "Look, it's Sakuma-san."
Shuichi stared at the screen, watching the man who had been his idol reluctantly agree to do a song for the late night talk show he was a guest on, after some coaxing from the host.
"I'm not going to do a Nittle Grasper song," Ryuichi said, greeted by sounds of disappointment from the audience. "Nittle Grasper's done. So instead I'd like to sing something new I heard not too long ago, that I think you'll recognize, by a cool little band called Sister Moon."
The audience cheered as the first beats of the hit duet began. Shuichi felt sick to his stomach, as Ryuichi proceeded to sing both his own part and Hara Aika's, blending them seamlessly as if it had always been sung by one vocalist.
"Oh, cool, he's singing your song!" Suguru said cheerfully.
"Yeah, cool," Shuichi said listlessly. Suguru turned the sound down.
"What's wrong, Shuichi? I thought you adored Sakuma-san?" Suguru asked.
Shuichi laid his head back on the couch, regretting he had asked Suguru back with him for a moment, and wondering if Yuki had found the whiskey he'd hidden in the box where he used to keep his old Nittle Grasper memorabilia.
"Well, he's pretty good in the sack, but he's not much for pillow talk the morning after," Shuichi said acrimoniously, staring at the ceiling.
"You slept with him?" Suguru asked. Shuichi nodded.
"I ran into him at a club a while back. I was at one of my lowest points, I guess. I was really lonely, and felt like such a nobody, and he invited me over to his table and started introducing me to all these people like I was really something special, you know? There were actors I recognized from American movies, and everybody was so pretty and they were nice to me. I was okay with the great Sakuma-san, so I was all right with them.
And Ryuichi was all over me, ignoring all these big shots like I was the center of the universe, telling anyone who would listen how I was such a great singer, and how he's sung with me and what great friends we were. I should have known he was just drunk or high or something, that he was just playing a game like he always does with people who have his interest for the moment. I felt so stupid afterwards," Shuichi said.
"I don't know who he thinks he is, treating you that way," Suguru said angrily.
"I don't even think I'm so much mad at him as I am at myself, really," Shuichi said with a shrug. "It's just embarrassing. You know that song I wrote that I hate?"
"You mean the one that's better than anything he ever did when he went solo?" Suguru asked.
"Whatever," Shuichi said with a snort. "Well, anyway, that was my pathetically hopeful love song, the one I wrote before he essentially woke up, gave me a pat on the rear and said that was fun, we should do it again sometime."
"Arrogant jerk," Suguru grumbled, then sighed, turning towards him. "Shuichi?"
"Yeah?" Shuichi asked, finally meeting his eyes.
"I mean it. About that song. And not just that one, all of the stuff you've been working on lately. After this album, Sakuma-san's going to be the has-been just hoping you'll invite him to your table," Suguru said.
"Well, I don't know about that. He is an international movie star now and all," Shuichi said with an awkward laugh. "But thank you, Suguru."
"It hurts, being used," Suguru said quietly. "I'm sorry that you had to experience that."
"I'm sorry, too, Suguru," Shuichi said gently, putting his arm across his shoulders in a one armed hug. Suguru relaxed against him, much to his surprise, and they sat like that for a long moment in near silence as they finished watching the television program, where Ryuichi had made way for the next guest.
Shuichi realized as he reached for the remote, that Suguru had fallen asleep, his head rolling onto Shuichi's chest with a tiny snore. He looked at him and smiled affectionately. He was still a rather small man, but he'd grown to Shuichi's height, and his face had slimmed and grown handsome, a contrast to the almost adorably round faced old soul who had joined his band as a sixteen year old kid.
It felt nice, having someone who supported him and wasn't always tearing him down, he thought, Suguru's long eyelashes fluttering slightly as he dreamt. He hoped having Hiro back in the picture wouldn't be a strain on him, as he gently shook him awake.