PART 2: Angry and confused, Ayaka makes her way to Hiro's house to confront him. But she's in for a shock…

NOTE: Thank you to all who took time to welcome me back from the dead and review part one – I still have a few more Grav stories in me and I'll try to be quicker in the future!

"Ayaka-san…" Hiro greeted her with the same blank look as Shuichi had, with the exception that his expression did not immediately blossom into an easy smile. "What are you doing here…?"

Ayaka didn't answer him at once. She just stared. She had never seen him looking so… untidy. That flowing autumn-tinted hair of his was always clean and brushed to a shine, his clothes casual but neat, his face scrubbed and close shaven. Now his hair looked dirty and lank and there was several days' worth of stubble on his cheeks. As she moved closer to him, she smelled tobacco, beer and unwashed clothes.

"Hiro…?" In her surprise, Ayaka forgot both her anger and her characteristic formality. "Hiro, what has happened…?"

What, she found herself wondering rather incongruously, would her parents make of him now? They had been cool to say the least when she had first told them about him – a longhaired city boy in a pop band, and, far worse, a friend of that pink-haired Shindou person who had dressed up as their daughter and nearly given Uesugi-san a heart attack. But Hiro's attractive presence and friendly charm had easily defeated Ayaka's mother and his high intelligence, good manners and natural deference had eventually softened her father. She could only imagine their reaction if they found out he had been behaving poorly to her after all.

A faint blush coloured Hiro's cheeks. "I… wasn't exactly expecting company," he told her in a dull voice, lowering his eyes. He had made no move to invite her in.

"I'm sorry, Hiroshi-san," Ayaka replied, drawing herself up coldly, "it was very rude of me to turn up here uninvited, I'll leave at once…"

A strong hand grasped her arm, none too gently. "Ayaka-chan, wait…"

Reluctantly, Ayaka turned back. "I really am sorry," she said in a softer tone, "I shouldn't have come. But you wouldn't answer your phone, and… Shindou-san seemed to think you might like to see me…"

"Shuichi…?" Hiro shook his head, running a hand through his long hair. "I can't believe that guy sometimes… he knew exactly how I was feeling after all… there was a time when you could've hung yourself in front of him and he'd still carry on complaining about Yuki-san… sometimes it's hard to take in how much he's changed…"

"I'm afraid I don't understand…"

"Forget it…" Hiro stepped back from the doorway at last, beckoning her in. "Please ignore the mess, Ayaka-chan," he mumbled, "I…"

"It's all right, Hiro-san," Ayaka replied, venturing a cautious smile. "Why don't I make us some tea, and then we can talk… if you'd like to?"

"Yeah…" Hiro sighed heavily and nodded. "Yeah…"

"I didn't think I'd feel this way about it, not after a year," Hiro said as he sipped his tea. "It was Shuichi babbling on about this trip to the seaside that really set me off, I suppose. Things have been moving so fast for us this last year, it's hard to know where the time's gone. But I guess it was always there, lurking at the back of my mind…"

Ayaka listened in silence, trying to ignore the tightness in her chest. The flat, like its occupant, was untidy and smelled stale. She had gone to open a window but he had told her not to in what for him was a strident tone. Nor would he let her wash the dirty dishes in the sink, or throw away the beer cans, cigarette packets or three-day-old takeaway boxes. So she had quietly brewed the tea, and served it in silence.

Hiro took another sip of tea and closed his eyes. "I thought it was just one of Shuichi's stupid arguments with Yuki-san. He'd been living with him for over a month by then, and it was never exactly smooth running. They were always having pointless rows about nothing – nine out of ten times it was Shuichi being hyper and Yuki being anal. I even went to see Yuki-san once, after they'd had a row and he'd kicked Shuichi out of his house – I'd never met him before and I wanted to see what kind of man he was - and to see that he treated Shuichi okay. And, I suppose, to let him know what sort of person Shuichi was. People tend to just dismiss Shu as an idiot when they first meet him; they don't know how to take him and many of them don't waste time trying to find out more.

"Actually I was surprised by how… receptive he was. I mean, sure, he was flippant and sarcastic, no surprise there… but he did go and find Shuichi, and took him home with him… All the same, after a month I was beginning to feel like their marriage guidance counsellor…! After all, I worked out that Shuichi was in love with Yuki-san long before he did!"

"And I knew Eiri-san was in love with Shindou-san before he did," Ayaka admitted quietly.

She was rewarded by a faint smile from Hiro. "They really are an impossible pair, aren't they? Where would they be without us…?" But the smile died quickly. "That's all it seemed like to me at the time… good fun. We never thought…" He shook his head. "Anyway… one day Yuki-san just packed Shuichi's stuff for him and told him to get out. Of course Shuichi came to me in floods of tears and I took him out for supper and we talked. I didn't take it too seriously, as I said; I thought he'd just said or done something stupid, so I just told him to go home and apologise.

"But there was one factor neither of us was counting on." Hiro laid aside his cup and sank his head into his hands. "Namely, a bastard called Aizawa."

Ayaka felt a sudden chill. She had heard that name mentioned, but only in whispers.

Hiro gave a deep sigh, more like a moan. "I never took him seriously, either. He was in rival band – at the time, they were the pride of NG records, not us. They were good enough, I guess, good enough to get the backing of Seguchi-san at least, but Aizawa didn't have Shuichi's talent, or his charm, and he knew it. We'd had a few spats with him and his band-mates, but that was it… none of us guessed how far Aizawa would take things…"

Ayaka swallowed with difficulty. "What happened, Hiro-san…?"

"It seems as though Aizawa was looking for any opportunity to bring Shuichi down, and Bad Luck with him. I think he'd started suspecting fairly early on that something was going on with Shuichi and Yuki-san, and when Shuichi… well… made that public confession – you know – Yuki is mine! – "

"I remember…" Ayaka whispered. That memory normally made her smile, but for the first time it gave her a sense of unease.

"Well, Aizawa was many things but he wasn't stupid. He put two and two together and managed to make four. I'd put money on it being him who leaked rumours of who "Yuki" was to one of those pop mags – it turns out that was the reason Yuki-san dumped Shuichi, or at least it gave him the excuse he needed… it still confuses the hell out of me to guess what that man's thinking… Anyway, that wasn't enough for Aizawa…"

Hiro closed his eyes. "He caught Shuichi on the underground, on his way to Yuki-san's that evening. I don't know if he'd been following him or he just got lucky or what… but he took Shuichi home with him and got him drunk. The poor kid can hardly hold one bottle of Alco pop, let alone the whiskey that bastard poured into him… then he called in these three thugs…

"They took him down to the car park in the basement and beat the crap out of him. And they did something worse."

"Worse…? But what could they possibly do that was worse than…" Ayaka trailed off, feeling ice gather in the pit of her stomach. "Oh no… Hiro, no…"

Hiro finally looked up at her then, his storm-coloured eyes swimming with tears. "They hurt him, Ayaka," he whispered helplessly, "they hurt him in the worst possible way…"

Ayaka pressed a trembling hand over her mouth, fearing a cry of distress might break free. She watched Hiro's misery and longed to reach for him, longed to comfort him, but knew that was not what he wanted, not just then. The ice gathered in her belly seemed to be slowly spreading through her body, making her shiver. Heat replaced cold, cold replaced heat, as if she had caught a fever.

"That poor, poor boy," she heard herself murmur, "how frightened he must have been… and how alone he must have felt…"

"I still don't know exactly how he got out of there," Hiro continued after drawing in a shuddering breath, "let alone how he found the energy to get to my place. I'll never forget the sound of his voice when he called me, or the way he looked when I found him sitting in the rain outside my block… once I got him inside he told me that the son of a bitch actually took pictures and threatened to publish them if Shuichi didn't give up his career… and if Shuichi didn't play along, he'd tell the papers all about Yuki-san… And the craziest thing of all was that Shuichi still seemed so fucking innocent - he couldn't understand why this had happened to him, why anyone might think it was wrong for him and Yuki-san to be together…"

Hiro cursed softly, wiping roughly at his eyes and reaching for his cigarettes. He didn't smoke very often; almost never in front of her. Ayaka watched mutely as he lit one with trembling fingers, trying to digest all she had just been told. So many missing pieces of the puzzle surrounding Eiri's sudden, quite unexpected proposal of marriage to her were falling into place at once. But the completed picture was a horrible surprise.

She had known instinctively that something was badly wrong – not even her desperate love for Eiri could have blinded her to the fact that he had not suddenly begun to return her feelings, that he was not proposing to her because he longed to marry her. She had even guessed that it had something to do with Shuichi. But she still didn't understand it all. Why had he run away from Tokyo, back to Kyoto? Because he didn't want to deal with what Shuichi had been through? Surely Eiri was not that callous, not if he really was the man she had fallen in love with. Then perhaps he somehow felt responsible? Reluctantly she pushed such speculations out of her mind. This was not about Eiri. For her, it should never be about Eiri again.

"Do you and Shindou-san ever talk about this?" she asked at last. "Perhaps if you told him how much you…"

"Shuichi almost never talks about it," Hiro cut in, shaking his head. "Whenever I mention it he changes the subject, or just says that it had to happen. That it was inevitable."

"Karma…?" Ayaka asked doubtfully. Shuichi had never struck her as the fatalistic type.

Hiro gave a humourless chuckle. "Maybe, judged by his own insane Shuichi-logic. To tell you the truth, I still don't understand exactly where he's coming from on that, but I know its something to do with Yuki-san. It's almost as if Shuichi thinks he had to go through that in order to win Yuki-san in the end, as if somehow it gave him the edge he needed. I thought at first he meant because Yuki-san felt guilty enough to stay with him, but that's not it. I think its something to do with Yuki-san's past, with whatever screwed him up so bad in the first place."

A meaningful glance passed between them then, but Hiro shook his head once more. "Believe me, if I knew I'd tell you, Ayaka-chan. But for someone whose mouth usually works independently of his brain, Shuichi is remarkably discreet when it comes to his beloved Yuki!"

Ayaka couldn't resist a small, affectionate smile. Hiro returned it briefly, but his eyes quickly grew dull as he raised the cigarette to his lips and drew hard upon it. "Sometimes I wish he would talk about it. Shuichi, I mean. About what those bastards did to him. All of it, every revolting detail. He should tell me, I deserve to hear it. I deserve to suffer through it with him. I wish he'd tell me everything, even down to the fear and the pain and the loneliness… and the anger. He should get angry!" he said with sudden passion, "he should admit the truth!"

"What truth, Hiro-san?" Ayaka asked very softly, "I'm afraid I don't understand…"

"The only truth that matters!" Hiro sprang to his feet, suddenly looking angrier than she had ever seen him. "That it was my fault!"

"Yours…?" Ayaka stared at him in genuine confusion. "Hiro-san, how on earth could it be your – "

"Haven't you heard a word I said?" Hiro snarled, rounding sharply on her, "he was with me that evening! I told him to go to Yuki-san! I brushed his complaints aside, I made light of his unhappiness, and I sent him off alone – right into the arms of that son-of-a-bitch Aizawa! I love him, Ayaka-chan," he cried desperately, the tears now slipping unhindered down his cheeks, "sometimes I think I love him more than my own brother Yuuji! And what happened to him was my fault! They – they raped my best friend and it was my fault!"

Ayaka remained still and silent for a long time, her eyes downcast, not even reacting when she heard Hiro's fist crack against the wall. Finally, Hiro sank down beside her, breathing heavily. Slowly, blindly, he reached out his hand, and she slipped her own around it, stroking the bruised knuckles.

Shame overwhelmed her. How petty her worries seemed in the face of this horrifying revelation. She had thought Eiri was taking his lover away to celebrate their escape from her. She had worried Hiro no longer cared for her. She had only been thinking of her own problems. How could she have been so selfish and stupid? Reluctantly she allowed her mind to wander back to that evening outside Eiri's home, when she had accused Shuichi of being false in his feelings for the man they both loved. She had suspected something was wrong, but she had never guessed…

But how could she have guessed? How could she ever have known…?

How could anyone know…?

She awoke from her thoughts as Hiro drew in a shaky breath, squeezing her hand. "I'm… I… I didn't…"

"It's all right," she told him at once. She felt her heartbeat quicken as she cleared her throat and added, "but it really wasn't your fault."

Hiro rolled his eyes. "Right. Then whose fault was it? Shuichi's?"

"Of course not!" Ayaka cried with some heat.

Hiro shrugged. "Whose then? Yuki-san's? I used to think so. I told him it was his fault, when I went to tell him exactly what Shuichi had gone through to protect him. I hated him that day; I wanted it to be his fault. I thought he only broke up with Shuichi because he was afraid if people found out he was gay they'd stop reading his books. I thought he was just placing his precious reputation before Shuichi. But as time's gone on I've realised that in that upside-down, back- to-front, inside-out, say-one-thing-and-do-another Yuki-san fashion which had poor Shu-kun spinning in circles for the first few weeks of their relationship, he was really trying to protect Shuichi – from himself, as well as from the rest of the world…"

Ayaka drew in a deep breath. "No," she answered carefully, "it wasn't Eiri-san's fault, any more than it was yours. If anyone is to blame… then it must surely be… me."

"– Ayaka –!" Incredulous laughter broke from Hiro. "What the hell…?"

"I'm quite serious, Hiro-san," she persisted, primly smoothing her skirt. "Think about it. I came to Tokyo uninvited and unwanted. I backed Shindou-san into a corner by making Eiri-san escort me to your concert. Shindou-san declared his love for Eiri-san publicly because he saw me and Eiri-san together. You said yourself this… Aizawa… worked it out after that… if I had stayed away, perhaps none of this would ever have happened…"

"Ayaka-chan, that's completely ridiculous…" For the first time, Hiro's voice held the tenderness Ayaka had grown to love. "You… you didn't do anything wrong! You were – " he hesitated, then looked into her eyes. "You were in love. How could you ever have known what Aizawa would do?"

"So you're saying that I'm not responsible for the wickedness in Aizawa's heart," Ayaka replied softly.

"Of course you aren't!"

"But don't you see then, Hiro-san?" Gently Ayaka pressed his hand. "If you're absolving me of guilt, then you have to absolve yourself as well. For you couldn't have known either."

Hiro stared at her for a long moment, his eyes burning. He did not want to accept the logic she offered, but she knew he was too intelligent to refute it. He pulled his hand free of hers and got to his feet once more. He crushed out his cigarette, stalking over to the window and throwing it open to let some fresh air in at last. Gazing outwards, he gave a small, wry chuckle. "You deliberately led me into that," he said. "I watched you trap poor Shuichi into fighting for Yuki-san, but I never thought you could catch me out the same way! Tell me something… does your father know what a devious little minx you are, Usami Ayaka-san?"

Ayaka felt her cheeks flame. "My heart is pure, at least… but in this case, I do think I'm right."

Hiro's gaze became wistful. "That's what Shuichi thinks, at any rate. He never says so, but I know it's what he thinks. He never blamed Yuki-san – he never even seemed bothered about getting Aizawa punished. The only time he ever went for the bastard's throat was when he tried threatening Yuki-san face-to-face…"

"Shuichi is a dear person," Ayaka stated definitively. "He has been through so much, and yet he still smiles and laughs and he still loves with an open heart… no-one else could have brought Eiri-san to where he is now…" She reached out, caressed Hiro's stubble-roughened cheek. "Perhaps the best way we can all atone for our part in what happened to him is to follow his example… about forgiving… and about forgetting. And about trusting in our feelings for one another…"

"Spoken like a true temple daughter…" Hiro's eyes softened at last and a natural smile curved his lips.

Ayaka lowered her eyes and smiled too. "You wouldn't have me any other way…"

"By the way… that bit about trusting in our feelings… exactly what did you…"

Before he could finish, Ayaka leaned forward and kissed him quickly, shyly, but firmly upon the mouth. "Happy Anniversary, Hiro-chan," she said.