Disclaimer: These characters definitely do not belong to me; I'm only borrowing them from Shungiku Nakamura for my own amusement (and hopefully that of others). I'm not making any money out of this and no copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This fic was written for the Junjou Fest on LJ ( .com/junjou_fest/. The prompter (hsyang) wanted this scenario: "Akihiko and Hiroki's one-night stand becomes an ongoing affair and addictive obsession that threatens Nowaki's attempt to build a relationship with Hiroki", and a number of recurring metaphors as a theme – covered eyes, Akihiko's blindfold, Hiroki's sleeping mask, backs turned…

As this is a "what-if" fic, I've taken some liberties with timelines and settings.

BUT LOVE IS BLIND AND LOVERS CANNOT SEE

Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied

T. S. Eliot, Ash-Wednesday, II

The first time I saw Akihiko, he was asleep in that green and blue and white tunnel I had thought belonged to me and only me. Even when he was asleep he dominated the picture, and from the moment he opened his eyes and looked at me, he was the focus of my life.

xxx

Akihiko was always quiet and kind and occasionally infuriating. For a very long time I never saw his facial expression change, only the expression in his eyes. Later, he continued to wear a neutral face like a polite mask with other people but made an exception for me. This made me so ridiculously pleased that I understand now I must have been in love with him long before I realised I was.

Sometimes he could look so helpless that I wanted to take care of him, but mostly it was the other way round. He saw things I didn't and used words I didn't know; he told me not to push myself so hard, and cooled my itchy insect bites with a plastic bag filled with water from the river.

Akihiko was the friend I had always been looking for. He literally saved my life once. Metaphorically, he saved my life over and over again.

xxx

The year we turned eighteen, things began to change.

First of all, Akihiko came into his grandmother's money that had been kept in trust for him until his eighteenth birthday. He would be even wealthier when he turned twenty-one but this was a start, and he took his first deep breath of freedom.

"At last," he said, "I can get out of this mausoleum of a house."

He bought an apartment and moved out of the family mansion with great relief. I stayed with him often and for days at a time, so that it felt almost like I was living there, too. By now I was so much in love with him that other people barely existed except as shadows or background figures, extras on the set. Staying in his apartment made me feel like we were back in our secret place where no one else could find us, separate from reality, in a tiny universe just wide enough to accommodate two people.

Normal teenagers would have torn the place down partying, but we weren't normal teenagers. We did get drunk a few times, but mostly we just sat up through the night discussing literature over endless cups of tea.

Akihiko wrote – and wrote, and wrote, and started smoking heavily because he claimed nicotine sharpened his senses and helped him stay awake at night.

He was my entire world. I realise this is a terrible cliché, but at the time it was much too real for me to regard it with any degree of detachment. He was the bright centre of my solar system and I a mere planet in orbit around him. Nothing and no one mattered like he did. Nothing could.

We went to university. Akihiko was at law school and I studied literature because I had discovered that books could numb my pain without numbing me, and be rewarding in the process. It was even something I could make a career of. I was still as competitive as ever and wanted to be first-rate at everything I did. Being a scholar, a literature professor, became my goal, not least because it had the advantage of providing me with a lasting link to Akihiko. There was no doubt in my mind that he would be a writer, not a lawyer. His father expected him to study law and he only did it to be done with it so his family would leave him alone and he could ignore them.

We talked and talked about books and sometimes read together. I died a little every time I sat in Akihiko's apartment and listened to his voice, watching the smoke from his cigarette rise towards the ceiling, curl and disperse into hazy clouds while he explained the greatness of Rimbaud or went through a string of writers from Kafka to Oe comparing their themes of loneliness and alienation.

"And what about Usami Akihiko?" I asked at the end of a long night as dawn began to glimmer above the rooftops, and Akihiko leaned forward with eyes so radiant that flames licked my spine.

"Oh," he replied softly and I had to sit on my hands to stop them reaching up to cup his face, "he is up and coming. Just you wait."

xxx

Two months later his first book was published, to much critical acclaim.

"I signed the contract a year ago," he explained as I tried not to show my hurt. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I wanted it to be a surprise."

I took the book he gave me and held it against my heart with both hands, protectively, as though holding a piece of his soul. And I suppose that's exactly what it was.

He usually let me read all his stories, but this one he had never shown me before. I stayed up all night rushing through it with a fervour that surprised me, as though I was looking for some kind of deep truth about him, looking for pieces of him that had not been available to me before.

I don't know that I found any, but the book did tell me that if Akihiko was a brilliant law student, he was an even more brilliant writer. He would be famous and I wasn't sure whether I was mostly proud, awed or possessively jealous. Akihiko was mine and I didn't want to share him.

When I had finished the book I let it fall to the floor, pressed my face into the pillow and tried to find a cool spot on the bed sheets. I wanted him so badly, in every possible way – wanted to kiss him and hold him, devour his tall, slim figure with my eyes and fuck him senseless. But I wanted his mind, too; perhaps that was what I wanted most. The thought of having sex with him, gorgeous body and sharp mind, made my thoughts hazy and my groin hot. I wanted him to belong to me and only me like he had done when we were fourteen, only more completely now because it would include all of him, physically as well.

And I knew with certainty that it wouldn't happen, because Akihiko was in love, deeply and desperately, and it wasn't with me.

xxx

This strange year was also the year Takahiro's parents died in a car accident. Akihiko's love for Takahiro knew no bounds and he was devastated for Takahiro's sake. Why he loved Takahiro was beyond me, but love him he did. The tragedy deepened his love and tinged it with breathless admiration as Takahiro decided to drop out of college and get a job to support his eight year old brother.

"This is pure, amazing courage," Akihiko said one night. All the lights in his apartment were turned off and the room was lit only by the city night and the glowing red tip of his cigarette. "It's the kind of quiet heroism that will never be acknowledged, probably not even by the brother."

"Noble sacrifice?" I said acidly, already sick of Akihiko's hero-worshipping.

"In the best and most loving sense. From an ordinary person." He said this with contempt. "How can anyone be regarded as ordinary who does something so exceptionally brave and kind? Takahiro is so good. I don't deserve his friendship. He is a much better person than I can ever hope to be."

I watched the dark outline of Akihiko's bent head and broad shoulders against the window and had to protest. "Don't be ridiculous! You underestimate yourself. You're the kindest, wisest person I know."

It was the closest I had ever been to telling him I loved him. I blushed at my own words but the room was too dark for him to see it, and in any case he only had eyes for the image of Takahiro.

"I keep offering him money," he said without listening, "and he keeps refusing."

Of course he would. Much too noble and idiotic to accept help. The truth was that Takahiro was nothing special at all, a complete nobody – not exceptionally bright, not very good-looking… not stupid of course, and nice enough, with a kind face and a pleasant smile, but common, so very common. And that was probably exactly what attracted Akihiko, who was becoming increasingly obsessed with normalcy, filled with admiration for the Ordinary Man that he had never been and never in his life would be.

Mediocrity, I thought bitterly. Akihiko falling in love with Takahiro is the triumph of mediocrity over genius.

"Why are you so interested in ordinary people?" I asked, unable to keep the irritation out of my voice.

"Because ordinary people are extraordinary," he replied. "Look at me; I'm ashamed of myself. It's easy to be grandiose, make grandiose gestures, if you have unlimited means and there's no sacrifice involved. That's not generosity; it's self-glorification. What Takahiro is doing – giving up his own life for someone he loves – there's no measuring that."

I loved him, he loved Takahiro, and the air in the room was practically vibrating with emotion, like the strings of an instrument, but instead of making great music it only created a sad, dissonant chord that would not disperse.

xxx

As Akihiko's worship of Takahiro began to take frightening proportions, he became increasingly eccentric. Takahiro taking care of his brother had touched something in Akihiko, grated against something already raw and sore – the "normal" childhood he had missed out on. All his life he had been surrounded by luxury and material wealth but been deprived of love and closeness. Watching Takahiro invest himself completely in the life and problems of his little brother made Akihiko obsessed with the idea of recreating his own childhood, erasing the strange, miserable one he'd had and construe another that was "normal". It was weird and more than a little embarrassing to watch a young man of nineteen surround himself with a rapidly growing number of toy trains and teddy bears, filling his bedroom with stuffed rabbits and brightly coloured rubber balls.

Ironically, Akihiko's attempts at being normal only made him absurd. My heart ached for him but there was nothing I could do. I began to hate Takahiro for torturing Akihiko, and through him me.

xxx

Akihiko had asked me over, but when I got there he was on the phone with Takahiro and I had to sit around waiting, ready to crawl out of my skin. His tone of voice was different when he spoke to Takahiro, deep, warm, purring almost. If Takahiro didn't see that Akihiko was in love with him, he was even thicker than I'd thought.

Finally Akihiko put the receiver down, turned around and smiled to defy the sadness in his eyes. I bit my tongue to stop myself running up to him to kiss him and tell him to forget the idiot who kept hurting him like that. Lose yourself in me and I will heal you.

"Happy Birthday, Hiroki."

My heart skipped. He hadn't forgotten; he had made an effort for me. There was cake, and when he handed me a prettily wrapped gift his smile was real and made my knees buckle. Please, God, I prayed silently, please make him stop looking at me like that, or make him look at me like that all the time. Akihiko made it worse by reaching out to run his fingers through my hair. He was so kind, so tender, so protective that I had to turn away and rip the parcel open to hide my face.

I love you. How can you not know I love you?

But maybe he did know, because whatever Akihiko was, he was neither stupid nor insensitive. He saw things other people did not see and heard things that were unsaid, and this was part of what made him such a fantastic writer. He collected those things and used them to create new and amazing worlds.

The gift-wrap came off and revealed his new book. I stared at it, heart pounding. The release date was still two weeks away, which proved I was still special to him.

I couldn't help wondering if he had given Takahiro a copy, too.

"Thank you," I said, choking. I couldn't look at him or I'd cry.

He reached out to slide his fingers through my hair again, slowly. "I haven't formally dedicated it to you because I knew it would make you embarrassed." His voice made me tremble. "But really, Hiroki, all my books are dedicated to you."

My eyes filled with tears and I didn't know what to do, but Akihiko solved the problem the way he usually did: by confronting it. He lifted my chin, turned my face so I had to look at him and whispered: "There's this little trick I learned once, to make people feel better…" And he leaned in and kissed me very tenderly on the mouth.

He did make me feel better. He made me feel wonderful. But he also made me want to punch him. Why must you give me a taste of what I can never have? Why must you be so cruel by being so kind?

When I had left Akihiko's flat I went to drink myself stupid in an obscure bar, and later that night I lost my virginity.

xxx

It was only the first of many nights spent in the arms and between the legs of a succession of men whose names I never knew but whose mouths and hands and cocks I enjoyed.

Sex and books and more sex – I had found a formula for escaping my thoughts and my painful, useless love for Usami Akihiko, the brilliant, gorgeous and utterly lost young writer who spent his days surrounded by toys, dreaming of someone who decidedly was not me.

Both our lives were dictated by the unattainable.

xxx

It seems to me that I spent the next two years with my thighs wide open, a receptacle that wanted its emptiness filled. I should have known it was not possible. There was only one thing that could fill that kind of void.

There's nothing romantic about unrequited love. It's humiliating and painful and leaves you clawing at the walls of your own private, hellish prison.

We handled our imprisonments differently, Akihiko and I. I studied, got drunk and had sex; Akihiko studied and wrote. There was no doubt that his method was the more constructive one – it earned him the Naomori Award as the youngest author ever to receive it. I read his book, read the reviews and saw his gentle, intelligent face on the pages of literary magazines, and felt I didn't know anything about him. I wondered if his books were still dedicated to me.

xxx

We both created our own weird realities, using fiction to avoid real issues that could not be resolved. I read books and Akihiko wrote them; Akihiko dreamed of Takahiro and I dreamed of him.

When yet another warm, wet mouth closed around my cock or I let yet another man fuck me, I shut my eyes and tried to pretend it was Akihiko, failing miserably every time. I knew it wouldn't be like this with him. I learned to recognise the distinction of love by getting familiar with the lack of it.

Through all this, Akihiko was as kind as ever. He was always concerned about my studies and my health, telling me to eat properly, which was funny coming from someone who could barely make coffee. My mother had adored him from the moment she met him and had said at the time that he was too good for his own good. Now I began to understand what she had meant.

He had always liked to touch my hair and still did it whenever we met, running his fingers through it and asking why I wasn't happy. Instead of succumbing to tears like I wanted to, I glared at him and growled: "Why aren't you?", which invariably brought my visit to an end.

I couldn't help wondering if he was a virgin. I knew he had never had sex with Takahiro, but did that mean he had never had sex at all? Did he make do with longing, imagination and his own hand? God knew he had imagination enough for the entire population of Tokyo, but was it really a sufficient substitute for the real thing?

I couldn't ask, of course, and I felt trapped. I didn't want to hear about Takahiro and couldn't tell Akihiko I loved him. There were no solutions and no comfort, except finding yet another man and getting him to fuck me while I closed my eyes and summoned up the image of Akihiko.

xxx

"You're not very good at handling reality, are you?"

It was Shinoda's comment, and proof that he perceived my character more clearly than I did myself.

When Akihiko announced miserably that Takahiro had a girlfriend, my heart soared in my chest. I couldn't even feel bad about not being sorry for him, because this was my chance; I only needed to grab it… and found that I couldn't. I urged Akihiko to confess his love to Takahiro and yet I couldn't confess my own love to him.

Still, I took comfort in the fact that Takahiro had made his position clear – he was straight and his friendship with Akihiko would never develop beyond friendship.

When I returned to Shinoda after meeting Akihiko that day I was disgusted with his touch, disgusted with my own life and my insincerity. The only thing worth anything was to be with the person you loved, and I definitely did not love Shinoda.

"You're not very good at handling reality, are you?"

I wasn't. But I had realised that if I truly wanted something, I had to make it real.

xxx

The realisation that his love for Takahiro would never be returned was painful in the extreme for Akihiko, and not even writing could shut it out. I watched him try to handle his pain until he nearly collapsed under the weight of it.

I saw quite a lot of him during this time, and I felt like a traitor because I simply couldn't let go of my desire for him. It kept growing stronger and I despised myself. Akihiko was tortured and all I could do was stare at him, at the tailored shirt and tight-fitting waistcoat accentuating his broad shoulders and slim torso, at his narrow hips and long legs in well-cut suit trousers. He was in agony and I kept undressing him with my eyes – I hadn't known I could sink so low.

Akihiko seemed only half aware of my presence and I couldn't stop myself resting my gaze on his beautiful hands, imagining them under my clothes, on my skin, between my legs... and a desperate plan began to take shape in my brain.

I can't tell him, I thought, but I can show him. If I can only touch him, my feelings will get through to him.

The suggestion was impossible but so was the situation, so I presented it to him.

He was sitting in an armchair with his elbows on his knees, staring at the floor, and I moved to sit on the armrest. After a second's hesitation I reached out, touched his hair and stroked it, touched his shoulder and felt it warm and firm through the fabric of his shirt.

"You want Takahiro," I said, my voice gravelly with nerves, "and you can't have him." Akihiko just groaned in reply. "Let me help you."

I was still stroking his hair and he didn't move.

"Let me blindfold you," I continued in a half-whisper. "Use me. Imagine I'm Takahiro. Fuck me and imagine it's him."

It was as if he hadn't heard me. His gaze was fixed on the floor, but after a long silence he nodded.

I caught my breath. He had nodded, which meant… oh god, oh dear god in heaven. My head swam.

Without meeting my eyes, Akihiko got up from the armchair, took my hand and led me to the bedroom. It was dark in there, barely enough light for the absurd outlines of teddy bears and stuffed rabbits to be visible.

"Just close your eyes and pretend," I whispered as I covered his eyes and pulled the blindfold tight. "It will be like having Takahiro in your arms."

When I pushed him down on the bed I had tunnel vision and my palms were sweaty, but when I kissed him, his lips were soft and yielded to mine. Dizzy with anticipation I slipped my tongue into his mouth, tasting cigarettes and sadness.

Here I was, a veteran of strange men's beds, trembling like a virgin from a mere kiss, my hands shaking so much I could barely unbutton Akihiko's shirt after wanting to do exactly that for years.

But I was a virgin. This was all new. This was Akihiko, this was love, the emotional core of my life contained in this gorgeous body.

The kiss deepened and I had to fight not to be overwhelmed by my own desire, by the entire situation, by pure sensory overload. Because god, here I was with Akihiko at last, after years of stupid pining.

His skin was smooth under my fingers as I removed his shirt and moved my mouth down his neck, tasting his skin for the first time. His hands were cool and wonderful slipping under my shirt, touching my sides and sliding up over my ribs to find my hardening nipples. I moaned helplessly against the curve of his neck as he began to tease them.

We kissed again, and when he rubbed his palm over the bulge in my crotch we abruptly crossed the line where we could no longer hold back.

The next few minutes were a frenzy of moans, lips, tongues, teeth, hands on sweaty skin. We were in too much of a hurry to get all our clothes off. Akihiko's shirt landed on the floor with my jeans, his trousers were pushed down to his thighs and my shirt was left on, unbuttoned and damp with sweat. When I straddled his hips and guided him inside me we both descended into some dark, desperate place where the only thing that mattered was the depth of our own pleasure, a fast-flowing river taking us towards completion. I rode him furiously and he pushed his fingers through my hair making it fall into my eyes, holding my face between his hands, warm at last. When he threw his head back and his body tensed and arced against me, I grabbed my own cock blindly. We came almost simultaneously, Akihiko emptying himself inside me and my semen spilling all over him, our moans mingling like weird music.

When the room came back into focus around us we just breathed together for a minute, Akihiko still holding my face in his hands. Years of pent-up tension had finally been relieved and sweat mingled with tears on my face. Akihiko stroked the drops away very gently with his thumbs. I could have told him I loved him then. I had even opened my mouth to say it when I heard him mumble: "Taka... hiro."

And my world fell apart all over again.

He lay back on the bed with his face turned away from me, hands falling down at his sides. I knew then that he regretted what we had done.

"Please leave," he said almost inaudibly.

It was like being punched. I slid off the bed in silence, gathered up my clothes from the floor and got dressed quickly, closing the apartment door quietly behind me.

It felt final, like shutting him out of my life or me out of his. What had we done? What had I done? I had been the one who seduced him, but we had both betrayed what we loved.

I leaned against the cool wall, trembling. It was so sordid, so trite and so utterly, utterly crushing.

I don't know how long I sat there on the floor in the corridor outside Akihiko's apartment crying before I could compose myself enough to leave.

xxx

The days that followed were bright and sunny, but I walked around in darkness with my own words echoing through my mind.

"It will be like having Takahiro in your arms."

If only I hadn't been so stupid. If only I had looked beyond the moment.

I sat on a bench in a park, not looking at the trees around me, not listening to the kids laughing and shouting around me. Everything in my life was a negation. I had destroyed everything and didn't know how to restore it. The only thing I knew for certain was that I loved Akihiko and he would never love me back.

My vision was blurred with tears when a blue plastic rocket suddenly hit the ground right at my feet, making me jump. Pounding footsteps came to a halt beside me. Startled out of my sadness, I looked up into a pair of very blue eyes in a very beautiful face.

The young man was toweringly tall, and when he looked at me, he saw me. I mean, of course he did, looking straight at me, but I can't explain it any other way. He met my eyes and saw me.

"I'm Kusama Nowaki," he declared, picked up the rocket and pulled me away from the bench.

"It's okay," he assured me in a whisper and touched my hair before running off to launch the rocket.

I literally gasped, because his hands were just like Akihiko's – large, gentle, sensitive. And they knew me.

He followed me home like a stray dog, nagged me to tutor him for his college entrance exams and finally stole my door key.

I didn't know at the time that he had also stolen the key to my soul.

xxx

I had the lock changed, but when Nowaki appeared a few days later I surprised myself by letting him in.

Before I knew it I had reluctantly agreed to tutor him, and I gradually began to like him. He was an honest, hard-working kid who knew what he wanted, and it didn't hurt that he provided a nice distraction and proved very useful in my attempts to shut Akihiko out of my thoughts. My initial impression of him as a stray dog persisted. He was so eager to please, and sometimes sat on the floor looking up at me expectantly with a smile on his face, as though waiting to be scratched behind the ear or taken for a walk.

I was occasionally taken aback by his straightforward manner, but it was refreshing after the complexities of Akihiko and my feelings for him.

At night, I thrashed and groaned and tried to sleep, but when I did sleep it was only to have nightmares. I was proud of myself for not trying to dull my pain with anonymous, casual sex. Instead I immersed myself in work, and it wasn't as though I had any difficulty filling my time between my two theses and tutoring Nowaki.

I saw Akihiko a couple of times at university but always managed to steer clear of him, and when he called my mobile phone I just switched it off. I had to sort out my feelings before I could talk to him. Besides, I was just a tiny bit annoyed with him for not getting it, for not understanding that I was in practically the same position regarding him as he was regarding Takahiro.

Nowaki began to bring me presents that I was embarrassed to take, knowing his strained financial situation, but he wouldn't stop. Mostly it was small gifts of food that I could share with him, but once, oddly, he gave me a sleeping mask. Maybe I had told him about my difficulties sleeping. Maybe he just knew, the way he seemed to intuitively pick up on the weirdest things about me.

After I had used the mask a few times I began to wonder whether it had magical properties, and not in a good way. Every time I used it I dreamed of Akihiko, dreams that were filled with sadness and where I tried to reach him and couldn't. He was a vague, insubstantial shadow that gave me a distant smile and slipped away from me.

One afternoon Nowaki arrived sweaty and dusty from one of his part-time jobs and asked to use my shower. While he was in the bathroom I fell asleep on the floor with the mask covering my eyes, and woke up with Nowaki's face an inch from my own. Shocked awake, I scrambled away from him as he demanded to know who Akihiko was. I had said the name in my sleep.

Please tell me this is one of my nightmares, I thought, but when the doorbell rang I didn't wake up. I fled from Nowaki to answer the door, only to find Akihiko there.

It was a shock to see him look the same as always, like he ought to have changed in the past few weeks. I felt I had, and perhaps it showed, because he asked if I was eating properly.

I was nasty and aloof to prevent myself from crying, but when he combed his cool, kind fingers through my hair, the tears welled up.

Suddenly a whirlwind was upon me. I was pulled away from the door and a warm hand covered my eyes.

"Sorry, but Hiro-san is mine."

Between Nowaki's fingers I caught a glimpse of Akihiko's startled, hurt face before the door slammed shut.

xxx

Just before Akihiko had rung my doorbell that day, Nowaki had almost kissed me and had seemed to be on the verge of a confession of some kind. When Akihiko had left and I had yelled at Nowaki for being rude to him (you hypocrite, a voice inside me said; you weren't exactly nice to Akihiko yourself), the confession came – cliché after cliché dancing and bouncing from Nowaki's pretty lips, a broken rope of dull pearls.

He loved me… had quit two of his part-time jobs because he wanted every extra minute with me that he could have... fell in love with me at first sight... would never make me cry like Akihiko had.

And then he asked if he could take Akihiko's place.

Disgusted, I threw him out.

Then I went to see Akihiko.

xxx

I had a key to Akihiko's apartment and let myself in after ringing the doorbell without getting an answer.

He was standing by the window with his back to me and didn't turn around as I came in, just continued to watch the rain. No one could look as lonely as Akihiko, a perceptive aura of loneliness around him, a wall slammed in place like an iron curtain. He had sometimes looked like that when we were younger, an unhappy, unloved child in the vast, chilly rooms of the Usami family mansion.

There was a lump in my throat and I knew it wouldn't go away until I could break through that wall and touch him. I couldn't pretend not to love him.

"Akihiko."

He didn't reply and I moved closer, pulse hammering.

"Akihiko." It was the voice of someone saying his loved one's name.

I have no idea how long we stood like that. Waves of time washed and crashed around us until I couldn't bear it.

When I took a step forward and placed my hands gently on his waist I felt a tremor go through him. I didn't know how to stop. I kissed the back of his neck above the shirt collar; the tip of my tongue writing invisible characters on his skin. I love you, they said in silent language. I want you, I want you, I want you.

Akihiko shuddered. "Blindfold me," he whispered.

xxx

I did.

I blindfolded him, undressed him and looked at him in the pale light from the window, at his covered eyes and naked body. Even if I was someone else to him this moment, he was still Akihiko and right now he belonged to me.

My eyes caressed the curve of the sad, beautiful mouth, followed the line of the collarbone from base of neck to shoulder, dropped to a dark nipple and wandered down, his erection like a flushed exclamation mark against the whiteness of his skin, drawing my gaze.

I dropped to my knees in front of him. With my hands on his hips I smelled him and tasted him, closing my eyes to focus only on my tongue stroking the underside of his cock. When he clutched at my shoulders and gasped above me, I got up and led him to the darkness of the bedroom where nothing was real, not even the present moment.

xxx

A couple of weeks later I found a BL novel on Akihiko's desk. Curious and amused that he should read stuff like that, especially after rejecting Murakami for being too "populist" and writing to please the masses rather than strive for intellectual quality (which was ironic in itself as Akihiko professed to admire "ordinary people"), I picked it up and began to read at random.

Then I stopped smiling, though the situation was even more ironic than I had thought at first, because Akihiko wasn't reading the book. He had written it.

When I had browsed through all the things that "Akihiko" did to "Takahiro", I went straight to a bar and got drunk. I hazily remember being pulled by a boy who couldn't have been above eighteen and really shouldn't have been allowed in there at all, but I was past caring.

He wanted me to top and I did it reluctantly, both of us being too drunk for it to be good. I didn't want to look at him or see any of the sordid details like his gritty floor or the not very clean sheets, so I just closed my eyes and took us where we both wanted to go. He fell asleep immediately after and began to snore softly behind me as I turned my back to him and stared into the dark. I was so drunk the room was spinning, and suddenly I began to giggle because I had seen my situation in a new light.

It was like one long chain of people chasing after each other: Takahiro running after a nameless, faceless girl, Akihiko running after Takahiro with an arm outstretched but not reaching, me running after Akihiko the same way and after me a long string of men, as nameless and faceless as the girl.

The image struck me as irresistibly comical and I laughed, causing the boy behind me to stir and mutter something from the depths of his drunken sleep.

But in the morning, when I woke up with a pounding headache and fur on my tongue, trying to shut out the sound of the boy's hung over retching from the bathroom, I didn't find it remotely amusing any more, only immensely sad.

This needs to stop, I thought as I turned on my back and closed my eyes against the too sharp daylight. It's not like I don't know what I want, and this is definitely not it.

When the boy returned from the bathroom, greenishly pale, bleary-eyed and grimacing, I got up and left, walking aimlessly along rain-washed morning streets like something ugly and dirty that didn't belong.

God, Akihiko, why can't you just love me? Save me from this sordid lifestyle and I'll rescue you from your twisted nursery.

Again, I remembered Shinoda saying: "You're not very good at handling reality, are you?"

No, I thought, I'm not. That's why I'm creating one of my own.

Akihiko was equally bad at it and tried to cure it with toys and fiction. We were sick and sad creatures, heavily addicted to a drug that was killing our minds.

But as I walked along quiet streets that morning, all I wanted was that drug. I wanted to go back to him.

xxx

Akihiko let me in without a word, looked at me and sent me off to the shower. Clean and warm, I slipped into his bed and slept until afternoon.

When I came downstairs he was on the sofa reading, lit by the window and so absorbed by the book that he didn't notice me. I quietly seated myself opposite him, and since I could look to my heart's content unnoticed, I allowed my eyes to roam the curve of his cheekbone, the line of the nose, the long lashes. The soft, alluring shadow at the base of his throat seemed made for me to bury my tongue in.

What could I do to get close to him, this man I had thought I knew so well? I had believed my feelings would get through to him once we had sex, but instead I felt further removed from him than ever. He was closed and cool and distant and I didn't know anything at all.

He looked up at me then and smiled like he did in my dreams, from far off, unreachable.

xxx

Some days later, Nowaki turned up at my apartment to apologise. He had been selfish, he said, not taking my feelings into consideration. But the fact remained. He loved me.

When he came up behind me and hugged me to him, holding me with those warm, hard arms, I couldn't resist. His touch was so familiar. It knew me.

He placed himself behind me on my bed and I sat in the V of his long legs, allowing him to remove my clothes and turn me on more than I had ever imagined he could. His mouth on my neck, his hands down my body – gentle but insistent heat. And when he finally entered me from behind I found I could just close my eyes and pretend.

xxx

If Akihiko's hands were always cool – and they were, until well into the act – Nowaki's were always warm, even if the room was freezing. I began to think this represented their personalities. Akihiko took his time about letting anyone in. Nowaki wanted closeness and touch and communication; he wanted the here and now while Akihiko preferred worlds that he controlled, fictional and of his own creation. I felt torn between the two.

xxx

"You look miserable," I said. "Like there's a raincloud above your head, following you around." But when our eyes met I couldn't even try to joke about it. Akihiko had that tragic look about him again, the look of the hurt, lonely little boy.

"I met Takahiro with his girlfriend," he said, his voice very small.

When he looked like that he made me desperately want to hold him and soothe him and kiss him, and then take off our clothes and fuck him until every last thought of Takahiro was driven out of his stubborn head.

"You hold on to Takahiro more as an idea than as a man," I wanted to say. "You don't see him for what he is. You love the idea of what he is more than you love him." But I would never have dared say it, and what it all boiled down to in the end was "love me, Akihiko. Love me, love me, love me".

It would never happen. But if he couldn't love me, he could at least fuck me. The recurring theme of my life.

"Close your eyes and pretend," I whispered, and Akihiko leaned his head on my shoulder and nodded.

The game had begun.

I was hard before I had even tightened the knot on the blindfold. So was he, and there was a desperate hunger between us that had not been there before. Tonight, there was not much need for foreplay. We knew each others bodies well, and I could tell by his taut muscles and hard nipples that he was more than ready. When he entered me I felt he was fucking me with more than his body, his cock buried inside me, our mouths locking and our thoughts rubbing up against each other.

I stayed with him all night and we did everything we could think of, any position, touching any way we could make our lips and tongues and fingers touch, any way we could think of to have our bodies connect. He had always topped before but that night I fucked him, and even if I didn't enjoy this with other men, with Akihiko it was mind-blowing. I felt him tense under me and watched him throw his head back, veins standing out on his neck and his mouth half open, and thought I will make you remember me before I came so hard I almost lost consciousness.

Towards morning we fell into exhausted sleep among damp, creased and soiled sheets, Akihiko still blindfolded.

xxx

It was the first time I had stayed the night with him. Before, I had always left immediately after sex. I woke up first and lay looking at his peaceful sleeping face, wondering where he was in his dreams. Then I slipped out of bed and went to the kitchen to make tea.

When he came downstairs an hour later, we acted like last night had never happened, two amnesiacs happy in their own world that consisted only of the present moment.

We had breakfast and talked about writing, and Akihiko claimed his books were the only true way to get to know him. It made me furious.

"I don't want your books, Akihiko! I don't want you to interpret yourself for me! I want you, without padding in between!"

I drew a breath as my words continued to ring in the silence. My face burned – I had done it now. I had outed myself. Oddly enough I didn't really care.

"I am my books," Akihiko replied calmly, blowing smoke towards the ceiling. "My books are me. Read my books and you read me. The interpretation is your own."

I stared at him, still furious. "I know you've been awarded the Naomori, but for god's sake stop being so bloody pompous!" Then curiosity won. "Are you talking about your real books or your BL books?"

That made him laugh. "My real books, Hiroki! My BL books reflect my editor's fantasies much more than my own. It's entertaining to write them but they don't represent my dreams."

I seemed hell-bent on treading danger paths today. "What are your dreams?"

There was a long silence again before he stood up, removed his tie and held it out to me.

"I think you know some of them," he said.

I took the tie from his hand and when he was blind again I undressed him slowly, looking at him as I did, taking in every millimetre of his white skin. Being able to do this, unrestricted, was an incredible indulgence and a powerful turn-on, but today it made me sad. I touched him with sadness.

The only way I was allowed to see Akihiko like this was with me as an actor, acting the part of someone else on a stage set for disaster, in the fake, false, pretend world that was Akihiko's apartment.

His cool, gentle fingers combed through my hair and made it fall into my eyes, obscuring my view, hiding me.

Afterwards we lay together on the floor, panting, not talking.

I thought of how we had first met and remembered us in sunlight, surrounded by the green and blue and white of our secret place. I remembered thinking once: "If Akihiko were a colour, he'd be clear white." The world around us had been made up by light and air then. Now we seemed to be groping around in some kind of perpetual dusk. Akihiko was perhaps still clear white, shimmering through the semi-darkness, but he no longer had the power to light up the room. I felt that darkness was descending on us, and if there was a way out of it, we had to find it now or we'd be lost.

"Look, Akihiko," I said, breaking our rule of not talking, "if this is a book, if we're characters in one of your books, this is the point where everything begins to fall apart."

The worst thing about always having him blindfolded was that I couldn't see the expression in his eyes.

He replied so quietly I almost missed it, huskily as though speaking through tears, but I knew he never cried. "No, it isn't. Everything fell apart long ago."

I got up from the floor and got dressed, trying not to look at Akihiko's naked, outstretched body, so beautiful to me.

"Hiroki," he said when I was already at the door. He sounded different. The huskiness was gone.

When I turned around he had taken off the blindfold and was looking straight at me.

"Hiroki, are you in love with me?"

I stared back at him, tired of games, tired of darkness, so tired of fiction.

"No," I said, "I'm not."

And then I left, so fast I nearly tripped.

I stood in the shimmering, dazzling heat outside the apartment building wondering what I had done. Had I ended it? Had he? I didn't know and it didn't matter. All I knew for sure was that it was over, and I was relieved.

I walked home slowly, thinking intensely of Nowaki.

I admired his determination to turn an unprivileged life around and turn it into something good. He worked so hard to make his dreams come true. Akihiko had it all, and his dreams were twisted and self-indulgent. Nowaki's dream was to help. Akihiko was always kind, but his dreams were centered on himself, focused on his own needs.

If Akihiko was dusk, obscurity headed for darkness, then Nowaki was dawn, waiting to open up into day and break into light and beauty.

I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in the semi-darkness of Akihiko's bedroom with one of us blind and the other mute. Not when I'd been offered a sunny room with open windows, flooded with light and without secrets lurking in the shadows.

Akihiko was lost and I was leaving him behind for a real life. It would be trite, perhaps, but it was real and included other people, real people and real interaction. My conscience stung me a little but I knew Akihiko wouldn't want to be saved, and I couldn't have saved him if I had tried. Akihiko was beyond saving.

xxx

Ironically, I had given Nowaki a key to my apartment.

When I got back from university a couple of days later, I found him asleep on my sofa with one arm dangling off the side. The way I smiled at the sight of him told me that this was it. I woke him up with a kiss, like Snow White from her poisoned sleep.

He didn't say anything and didn't protest as I pulled him up and into the bedroom. When I unbuttoned his jeans he was already hard.

His body was beautiful, taller and more angular than Akihiko's, and I wanted him so badly, amazed that I hadn't realised this before. He slid down my front and took my erection in his mouth, my fingers knotting in his hair. I couldn't take my eyes off him; reluctant to close my eyes even as I came.

Nowaki was present. Akihiko was always somewhere else in his mind, with someone else, but Nowaki was here with me because he wanted to.

"No, not like this, not this time," I managed to say a few minutes later, on my stomach on the bed with his warm body pressed along my back, his erection lodged between my buttocks. I began to tremble at what I was about to say. "Face me," I whispered, my face hot. "Please. I want to see you."

Nowaki went still on top of me. He was breathing fast but didn't move. "Hiro-san."

I twisted around and looked up into the wide-open eyes, half shaded by the long fringe. I lifted a hand and pushed the dark strands out of his face, and the only thing present in the blue eyes save surprise was love. Only love. Only love.

"Hiro-san."

The kiss that followed was deep and desperate and Nowaki's body hard and insistent when he entered me.

"I've been... blind," I gasped as he pushed all the way inside me. "And I don't want to be. Not any more. I want to see you. I want to see the look on your face… when you come."

"Then," Nowaki breathed and his eyes were smiling, "you won't have to wait very long."

I laughed at that, a laugh of relief and triumph that turned into a series of moans when he began to thrust into me. We moved together like a well-made, well-oiled machine, smooth move meeting smooth counter-move, panting in unison, breath mingling, until Nowaki tensed and groaned and I felt my own seed spilling warm and slick between us.

We lay in each other's arms afterwards, unwilling to let go, unwilling to let each other out of sight. For once in my life I knew I had made the right decision.

The last thing I felt before I fell asleep was Nowaki gently pushing my hair out of my face. His hand was warm, and it knew me.