Shuichi wandered offstage, dizzy with mixed emotions, as he numbly regarded the applause left in his wake. Sitting on one of the amps, he looked back to see Hiro regarding him strangely for not waiting for the lights to dim, and when they did, he came to join him.
"Is something wrong?" Hiro asked. Shuichi shook his head.
"No, I just -- Maybe I'm dehydrated or something," Shuichi suggested weakly.
"I'll go get you something to drink then," Hiro offered, though he looked at him doubtfully.
"No, that's okay. I'm just going to sit here for a bit, okay?" Shuichi said.
"Okay, but you'd better show up at the after-party before they drive us to the hotel. I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on you, after all," Hiro said sternly.
"What are you practicing on me for when Masahiko gets older?" Shuichi asked irritably.
"No, I'm just trying to keep the boss man off my ass," Hiro said, sticking his tongue out at him playfully before walking away.
Shuichi growled in frustration, kicking off of the amp and walking back onto the empty stage. The stage crew rushed to dismantle the sound equipment and carry off the instruments around him, paying him little mind as he perched on its edge, watching the crowd slowly shuffle off towards the exit gates bordering the massive field and leaving trails of trash behind them. He fell onto his back at looked up at the vast, dark emptiness of a sky made starless by nearby city lights.
"Hey, brat," he heard a voice say gently, sitting up to find that Yuki had slipped around the crowd, and stood below him at the security barrier.
"Yuki," Shuichi murmured, sliding off the stage, and landing on the ground before it with a thud before approaching the other side of the low metal railing. "What are you doing out here?" Yuki slowly took a drag from his cigarette, and looked away, exhaling.
"I wanted to see you one more time before I left. Therapist suggested it," Yuki said with a shrug.
"Before you left? Where are you going, Yuki?" Shuichi asked.
"I'm going to travel a while, try to let things go, get some fresh perspective, you know, all that bullshit," Yuki said with a smile. It was the sort of smile Shuichi had only glimpsed a few times in all the years he had known the writer, an unburdened one.
"You look good," Shuichi observed.
"You, too," Yuki said. "Take care of yourself, okay?" Shuichi nodded. There were so many things left unsaid, but they somehow seemed unnecessary, as the two men stared at one another for a long moment.
"I'd hug you goodbye, but I can't get around this barrier," Shuichi whispered, blinking back tears.
"Idiot," Yuki murmured, reaching over the fence and touching Shuichi's cheek tenderly, before turning to walk away.
He watched him go, pondering his bittersweet but seemingly content smile. He swallowed hard at the lump in his throat, but felt a sense of peace all the same.
That still didn't mean a stiff drink wasn't in order, he reasoned, as he pulled himself up and headed in the direction of the revelry that awaited him backstage.
Suguru would flip, but where the hell was Suguru, anyway? he thought resentfully, as he reached the grounds between the fence and trailers, where dozens of people had already begun to celebrate. He wove around a group of people he didn't recognize, and approached a full bar set up by the employees of the venue to cater to the performers and the guests and press who proudly wore their passes pinned to their shirts.
He had already begun to get a good buzz, the edges of his ragged emotions becoming welcomingly softer, when a guy he vaguely recognized but couldn't place approached him.
"Why are you out here, man? All the action's in there," the man said, nodding towards a nearby trailer where loud music blared from inside. Shuichi nodded, following him into a room that was crammed beyond capacity, his eyes burning in all the smoke.
"Look guys, Shindou Shuichi's come to party with us!" the guy called out, as many of the people in the room craned their heads to get a look at him and called out in greeting.
Shuichi felt like a rag doll from the way he was shuffled around the room as the evening wore on, numerous people plying him with drinks in an effort to get close to him. He eventually found himself wedged in between several people on a small couch, the man next to him cutting lines of powder across the surface of a mirror on the low table before them, and urging him to try some.
"There you are! Oh, for fuck's sake," Suguru grumbled as he all but dove between the table and Shuichi, dragging the inebriated pop singer up by the arms, and ignoring the amused or angry reactions of those around them.
"I can't believe you. I turn my back for -- what the hell were you doing in there with Sasaki Taro, of all people?" Suguru asked, as he exasperatedly pulled Shuichi along behind him outside, to the curious looks of bystanders.
"Saski who?" Shuichi slurred, stumbling along.
"Drummer for Ganymede," Suguru explained impatiently as they neared their ride. "I don't know who I want to throttle first, you, Hiro, or that bastard Raiden. I just know he had something to do with this." Shuichi glared as Suguru attempted to stuff him onto the bus.
"Don't need a freakin' babysitter," Shuichi muttered.
"Well apparently you do!" Suguru said shrilly. "And a better one than Hiro. He's drunker than you are!"
"Well, you wouldn't have had to ask Hiro if you hadn't been busy running off with that Eto guy," Shuichi protested, as Suguru finally managed to push him into a seat. Suguru stopped, giving him a strange look, as the bus driver called out ahead of them.
"Is that the last of us?" the man asked wearily, receiving a nod from Suguru before pulling the door shut and starting the engine.
Shuichi slept all the way to the hotel, Suguru shaking him awake and helping him to his room, where he immediately became ill. Suguru patiently and gently helped him get cleaned up and into bed, brushing the bangs from his forehead as he rose to go.
"Yuki was there," Shuichi croaked weakly. Suguru frowned, sitting back on the edge of the bed as Shuichi recounted his brief encounter with the novelist.
"I'm sorry, Shuichi," Suguru said softly. "I know how hard it is, when you love someone and they move on."
"I think I'm going to be okay with it, really," Shuichi said. "As long as he's doing well, that's all that matters. If we'd kept trying to go on like we were, we would have ruined everything that made us being together good in the first place, you know? I think I'm ready to move on, too."
"That's good to hear," Suguru said. "But if you're handling this so well, then why this?"
"I -- I don't know, exactly," Shuichi said. "I just --"
"Hey," Hiro said, sticking his head in the door, looking surprised. "Oh, I didn't know you were in here, Suguru."
"Oh, that's okay, Hiroshi. I was just leaving," Suguru said, standing. His shoulders slumped slightly as he walked past Hiro and out of the door without another word.
"I'm glad Suguru's already gotten the yelling over with. Sobered me up a little," Hiro said with a grin, walking over to sit beside him.
"He looked kind of sad just now," Shuichi said absently, still staring at the door.
"What? Oh, he's probably just bummed that Eto-san skipped the party and headed back to Tokyo," Hiro said with a shrug. "He told me about that asshole from Ganymede taking off with you. I should have been keeping an eye on you." Shuichi snorted.
"I'm not a child," Shuichi said, sitting up, his head spinning.
"So, stop acting like one," Hiro said, collapsing in a heap across Shuichi's legs. "Alright, I'm a hypocrite. A very drunk hypocrite."
They both laughed, Shuichi helping Hiro pull himself up, eventually settling his head in Shuichi's lap as Shuichi sat back against the headboard. Shuichi felt Hiro still shaking with laughter, before he looked up at him and sighed.
"God, I've missed you," Hiro said drowsily. "Remind me to tell Ayaka I'm sorry." Hiro began to snore. Shuichi held his nose irritably, forcing him back awake.
"Tell her you're sorry for what?" Shuichi demanded as Hiro blinked stupidly and coughed.
"Oh, we had a big fight, I didn't tell you? I haven't really spoken to her in a week, except to check on Masa-chan," Hiro said, yawning.
"What did you fight about?" Shuichi asked. Hiro frowned.
"I found out that she went to Suguru behind my back about this job. She really shouldn't have done that," Hiro said. "I don't appreciate being lied to."
"She only did it because she loves you, you big dope," Shuichi said.
"I know," Hiro said. "And the only thing it hurt in the end was my pride, but -- she really should have talked to me first. She's always doing crap like that, things she thinks are for my own good, but damn it, sometimes she just makes things harder on me without even realizing it. There are just some things she doesn't understand."
"Like why asking Suguru for a favor might be a little presumptuous?" Shuichi asked, frowning.
"Yeah, things like that," Hiro said with a sigh.
Hiro was silent for a long while after that, and Shuichi realized he had fallen back asleep. Rolling him gently from his lap, he slid down the bed and fell into his own troubled slumber.
"Rise and shine, Shuichi," Suguru announced cheerfully as he walked into the hotel room, carrying a tray with a pot of coffee. "It's time to fully experience your well earned hangover!"
Shuichi groggily opened his eyes, Hiro's arms wrapped about him so tightly he couldn't sit up. The smile dropped from Suguru's face as he regarded the two of them.
"Yeah, well, there's enough for both of you," Suguru said, his voice shaking slightly. " I'll just leave it here on the table. The bus should be leaving in an hour."
Shuichi muddily tried to come to his senses as Suguru fled from the room, his squirming rousing Hiro.
"Mmm, let's just sleep in today, baby," Hiro murmured, pulling Shuichi tighter to him and nuzzling his neck.
"Um, Hiro?" Shuichi laughed nervously, fully awake now. "It's time to get going, okay?" Hiro froze, cracking open one blood-shot eye, before pulling away.
"Sorry," Hiro muttered, sitting up and facing away from him. "Was Suguru just in here? I thought I heard him."
"Shit, I think he was," Shuichi said, rubbing his throbbing forehead. "This probably didn't look too good."
They drank the coffee and ice water Suguru had brought in silence, each suffering their miserable condition, before reluctantly making their way outside to the tour bus.
An uneasy sort of calm had seemed to come over the apartment Shuichi shared with Suguru in the week following the festival. With the album completed, and the next promotional gigs still a week away, Shuichi found himself with free time on his hands that he was unsure how to fill.
He idly followed the charts, watching as his first single climbed higher, but felt strangely detached from the pleasure this would usually bring him. Suguru was home rarely, more or less only coming home to sleep, and the wedge that Shuichi had sensed between them seemed to be growing gradually, as the dinners he had ready grew cold, or even worse, were shared with Eto, who had come to be a frequent guest. It was almost as if Suguru were purposely avoiding being alone with him, and it hurt and confused him.
Finally alone together one evening, after Eto had called to say he wouldn't be joining them, Suguru observed Shuichi's listlessness with a sigh.
"Why don't you see if Hiro and Sanda need any help in the studio?" Suguru suggested. "Or have things grown awkward between you?"
Shuichi studied Suguru's cold expression as he washed the dishes following a dinner that had had little conversation.
"Is that what's been up with you all this time?" Shuichi asked. "Nothing even happened! We were talking, and we were both drunk, so we fell asleep." Suguru didn't look at him.
"Why would I care about that?" Suguru asked in a light tone that sounded forced. "The two of you have always been close. Closer than I've been to either of you, so it's none of my business."
"Oh, yeah, it's obvious you don't care," Shuichi snapped sarcastically. "Not that I understand. Hiro's married, so even if there had been anything going on -- which there wasn't -- why are you still worried about me, of all people?"
Shuichi stood, crossing to stand behind Suguru, who still wouldn't face him, trying to maintain a semblance of calm as he methodically washed the plates.
"And besides, I thought you were all about that Eto guy these days," Shuichi spat bitterly. Suguru dropped the plate he was holding, taking a deep breath.
"I -- I'm not jealous of you anymore, okay?" Suguru whispered. "Ever since Hiro's come back, I've just -- remember when he quit the band, back when our record sales starting doing well because of you and Yuki?"
"Well, yeah, that was a long time before you two got together though, wasn't it?" Shuichi asked blankly. Suguru shook his head in frustration.
"Would you just listen?" Suguru asked. "Back then you told me that I would never be Hiro, and -- and I guess I still feel like I don't measure up. I thought maybe after you'd had some time to get over Yuki, that -- but it's always Hiroshi, isn't it? He's the reason you quit playing music in the first place after all." Suguru pushed past him, sitting at the kitchen table. Shuichi sat beside him, feeling dazed.
"So, what you're saying is --" Shuichi started, still trying to put things together.
"I'm jealous of Hiro, not you, which would be obvious to anyone else with any skills of observation," Suguru rambled in one long breath, his voice muffled from where he'd buried his face in his arms on the table.
"Why?" Shuichi asked.
Suguru's shoulders shook, and Shuichi reached over to comfort him, when he realized Suguru was laughing hysterically. Suguru calmed, taking a shaky breath, before finally taking his head from his arms, and looking at Shuichi shyly.
"This is why," Suguru whispered, leaning forward and capturing Shuichi's lips with his own, before cautiously pulling back to study his expression of utter shock.
"Oh," Shuichi said, his heart pounding as he stared at the face of his closest friend, who looked terrified. Suguru's face darkened, and he stood quickly, leaving the room before Shuichi could coherently respond.
A lot of things suddenly made more sense to Shuichi as he sat there, blinking at the space Suguru had just occupied. He felt an overpowering surge of emotion as he thought back on what Fujisaki Suguru's presence had meant to him since that day the young producer had offered him an alternative to the aimless life he'd felt trapped in, and he realized that he couldn't imagine being without him now. He didn't want to, for that matter.
All that time that he had been feeling so abandoned whenever Suguru wasn't near, and the panic and resentment he'd felt over the thought that he had lost his attention to Eto, suddenly made it all too clear that Suguru meant far more to him than he'd realized. He cared for him in a way that he hadn't even considered, convinced that Suguru still carried a torch for Hiro, and he wondered now if he'd simply been afraid to. Suguru was his closest friend, and he'd never want to lose that, after all.
He found Suguru sitting on the couch, wringing his hands, and saw tears glistening in his downcast eyes. Shuichi knelt before him, forcing himself into Suguru's line of sight, and taking one of his shaking hands in his own.
"I think I'm in love with you," Suguru murmured. "I didn't mean to fall for you, I just -- You're the first person I've ever felt really cared about me for myself, you know? Is it too soon? Please tell me I haven't screwed things up."
Feeling too overwhelmed to put what he was feeling into words, as he looked upon Suguru's face, for the first time allowing himself to freely feel what he'd denied himself, Shuichi answered by kissing him. Suguru threaded his fingers into his hair, pulling him closer. Shuichi only gave up his lips reluctantly, as Suguru pulled back at last.
"Oh, thank God," Suguru whispered, smiling, winding his arms around him and embracing him tightly. "I thought for a moment I'd made a huge mistake. You'd been acting a bit strangely lately, and I'd hoped maybe you were feeling something too, but I wasn't sure."
"I was jealous, too," Shuichi said, as Suguru released him. "I guess I just didn't realize why, but I was."
"Really?" Suguru asked with a smile. Shuichi nodded and stood, throwing a knee on either side of Suguru's hips and sliding onto his lap.
"Any time Hiro brought up anything it just about made me sick," Shuichi said, winding his arms around Suguru's neck. "I thought I was just mad because he'd treated you badly. And don't even get me started on Eto." Shuichi laughed.
"No worries there. He's straight," Suguru said with a grin. "And more importantly, he isn't you." Suguru pressed his lips to his jaw line, kissing down his neck and running his fingers slowly beneath the hem of Shuichi's tee shirt. Shuichi gave a deep moan, biting his lip.
"So you like me better, even though I'm not a serious artist like the great Izanagi Eto?" Shuichi asked playfully, his toes curling as Suguru gave him a firm nip on the part of his shoulder exposed by his collar.
"What are you talking about?" Suguru asked, the black eyed glaze of lust fading slightly as he pulled back to look at him.
"Um, well," Shuichi started, mad at himself for killing the mood with his petty insecurities. "There was this article I read about how I was essentially GL's cash cow to fund the projects you were really interested in."
"Shuichi, you've not only made your own hit, you've made two for other people. You're one of the most versatile and talented artists I've ever known. You're worth more than the rest of mine and NG's roster combined. You can do anything," Suguru said, shaking his head and laughing. "Am I going to have to keep stoking your ego like this the whole time we're together?"
"Couldn't hurt," Shuichi said coyly, giving him a sweet smile.
"Good. Because I'm fully prepared to do that," Suguru said, placing a hand behind his head and pulling him into a tender kiss.
Shuichi decided he could definitely get used to this.
"I have one condition, though," Shuichi said, pulling away and placing a finger over Suguru's lips, Suguru looking at him curiously. "You have to let me tell you how great you are, too, sometimes, and you have to believe it when I tell you, okay? Think you can handle that?"
Suguru nodded, his eyes softening.
"I'm glad we understand each other then," Shuichi said, replacing his finger with his lips briefly, before resting his forehead on Suguru's. "Because I want to tell you how special you've been to me. No one else could have helped me the way you have, and I couldn't do it without you."
"Thank you," Suguru whispered, then smiled. "Tell me more."
Shuichi cried out with laughter as Suguru pushed him back onto the couch, pinning his arms above his head.
"Well, you're the best producer I've ever worked with, you're scarier than Tohma when you want to be, and you're a million times nicer. You're smart and funny," Shuichi paused, blushing, "and I want you." Shuichi stopped, staring up at Suguru's face.
Shuichi freed his arms from Suguru's slackened grip, and pulled him down by his shirt front to kiss him again.
Shuichi squeezed Suguru's hand excitedly under the table as they waited for the awards ceremony to begin
"Masa-chan!" Hiro called futilely, as the lively toddler once more escaped his grasp, trying to make his way down the aisle. Ayaka laughed and rolled her eyes.
"Nagasaki Masahiko!" Ayaka called sternly, making the child stop in his tracks and return to his seat without a moment's fuss.
"I don't get it. I'm much scarier than you," Hiro said, shaking his head.
"Yes, but she has more sense. I think I'd rather listen to her, too," Suguru said with a laugh, earning a smile from Ayaka.
"Champagne?" a server asked, bringing a complimentary tray of elegant, long stemmed flutes to their table.
"None for me. I never touch the stuff," Shuichi said with a grin.
"I'm sure we'll make up for you," Sanda's date said with a laugh, as they took their glasses.
"Can you believe I'm up for producer?" Eiji asked, beaming. "I mean, sure, it's co-producer with Fujisaki-san, but still. Ganymede didn't get nominated for anything!"
"Well their last album lacked sorely without you," Eto said. "I've been thinking about focusing on being a front man and getting a band together after I'm finished with this album. Think you might be interested?"
"But I've been playing for Shuichi," Eiji said uncertainly, looking at Shuichi and Suguru.
"Do you want to play with him instead?" Shuichi asked in surprise.
"Well, no offense, but yeah, I think it would be kind of cool to be in a band again instead of just doing studio work," Eiji said.
"Hey that's fine," Shuichi said casually. "I could always get Hiro to fill in for you. You know, if I can't find anyone else." Shuichi and Hiro shared a meaningful look, Hiro nodding. Ayaka smiled, tears in her eyes, as she reached across the table to give Shuichi a pat on the hand.
"Welcome back to the band," Shuichi said softly, while Eiji and Eto enthusiastically discussed ideas.
"You don't mind, do you, Sanda-san?" Suguru asked. Sanda grinned and shook his head.
"Hey, man, follow your bliss," Sanda said to Hiro.
"Want to go say hi to Tohma?" Suguru asked mischievously, nodding over towards the somewhat more somber NG table, where Tohma and Mika chatted gaily with the girls from Sister Moon while the members of Ganymede sat in uncomfortable silence. Shuichi nodded absently, caught off guard at the suggestion.
They approached the table and greeted the Seguchis, Aika and Kimi jumping up from their seats to give each of them hugs. Shuichi noted that Tohma gave Ashia Raiden a steely glance of warning as the vocalist opened his mouth and shut it again.
"So, how's Yuki-san?" Suguru asked. Shuichi looked at him in surprise.
"Oh, like you didn't want to ask," Suguru muttered under his breath, nudging him in the ribs.
"He's decided to stay in Paris," Tohma said with a look that barely hid his disapproval. Mika looked more enthused.
"He has this really nice studio apartment on a quiet street," Mika said. "I've never seen him happier. Can you believe he even invited us to come back?"
"That is something," Shuichi said, shaking his head. "I'm really glad to hear he's doing well."
"You should go visit him sometime. I'm sure he'd like to see you," Tohma said, much to Shuichi's bewilderment.
"Has he given up writing?" Shuichi asked awkwardly, trying to avoid the subject.
"He's taken up painting, actually. I was pretty baffled, but he seems to enjoy it," Mika said with a shrug.
"We can go out there sometime, if you like," Suguru said, after they'd said goodbye and walked back towards their table. Shuichi shook his head.
"I don't want to jinx it," Shuichi said, laughing. "He once told me that the only reason he had become a writer was to keep a promise to someone. It sounds like he's doing things because he wants to now." Suguru looked relieved.
"I think Tohma was kind of hoping you'd bring him back," Suguru said.
"Well, he wanted us to break up, so I guess he should have been more careful what he wished for, huh?" Shuichi said with a grin.
"He just needs to accept that he can't control everything like he thinks he can," Suguru said.
The ceremony ended, Suguru and Shuichi each holding their own trophies proudly in the green room, and answering questions from the press, who even convinced them to share a brief kiss for the cameras. The two had decided to be open with the public about their relationship from the beginning and avoid the inevitable questions. The press had been less intrusive once their curiosity had been satisfied, it seemed, the idea of the two being in relationships with other men having lost its novelty over the years.
They met up with the others at the front entrance, waiting for the limo to take them to the after party, Eiji waving his award over his head with triumph, and Sanda standing boredly near the doors with his best new artist trophy peeking out of the pocket of his tux. Suguru let Masahiko play with one of the two statuettes he'd won, while they waited.
"So, we're kicking off the tour the day after tomorrow," Shuichi said, scuffing his shoe on the marble floor.
"Are you excited?" Suguru asked.
"Well, yeah, of course, but you know --" Shuichi said with a shrug. "I'm going to miss lounging around our apartment for a while." Suguru nodded.
"Not much privacy on the road," Suguru agreed with a sigh.
"Skip the after party?" Shuichi suggested with a wink.
"I thought you'd never ask," Suguru said.
They said their goodbyes, ignoring the knowing smiles of their friends as they hailed a taxi.
"Remember that night we went clubbing, and took a cab home like this?" Suguru said, Shuichi snuggling against him and resting his head on his shoulder as they settled in for the ride.
"You were so drunk," Shuichi said with a laugh. Suguru sniffed in mock offense.
"I was just tipsy," Suguru lied. "Anyway, I was just remembering you singing that song you wrote for me."
"Does that mean you want me to serenade you?" Shuichi asked teasingly, nuzzling his neck. Suguru wedged his arm around him, pulling him closer.
"No, silly. I was just remembering how much I wanted to kiss you," Suguru whispered. Shuichi looked up at him with awe.
"You've wanted me for that long?" Shuichi asked. Suguru nodded sheepishly.
"I had no idea," Shuichi said.
"No shocker, there," Suguru said, kissing him on the nose, and laughing as Shuichi pretended to pout.
As they neared their apartment, Shuichi sighed in contentment, finding himself thinking, strangely enough, about an old Nittle Grasper song. It was a hidden track at the end of Nittle Grasper's last cd before they made their big comeback album, and it played two whole minutes after the last note faded. You'd never even know it was there except by accident, Shuichi thought to himself, and it was different than any other Nittle Grasper song, not at all what you would expect. It was a simple, pretty love song sung and written by Noriko, the often overlooked third member of the band, and it had gradually become one of his favorites, even if was different than what he thought he was listening for. It often made Shuichi wish that she had tried going solo, too.
As he hummed the tune to himself, the open, tender gaze of his new lover fixed upon him in affection and curiosity, he understood why that particular song had gotten stuck in his head.
"Decide to serenade me after all?" Suguru asked.
Shuichi just smiled and nodded.