Autumn Afternoon by Moon71
SUMMARY: Only one afternoon in Eiri's life, but there is plenty to think about.
TIMELINE: Three quarters of the way through the anime / manga; specifically the scene where K and Eiri meet in the park. I did love the autumn tones in that scene… and also how it showed the changes in Eiri's character. And I couldn't resist writing another scene with Eiri and his psychiatrist… a real meeting, this time!
DISCLAIMER: After several years of intense counselling, I finally have to admit that I don't own Shuichi. Shame, really. I think with sufficient training he could be useful around the house.
NOTES: I can only apologise for my slowness in posting. Life just gets in the way. I don't see myself writing much more Grav – I haven't fallen out of love with it; I just think I've written all I can. But I do have a good few stories waiting to be posted.
I must also apologise for not reviewing things – I am reading so much in general at the moment it is difficult to make time to read fanfics as well. But these things come in cycles – you never know when the mood will change.
MEANWHILE, IF I DON'T POST AGAIN SOON – HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!!
IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO LAWLESS: I have tried replying to your last mail a couple of times but it bounces back! Just didn't want you to think I wasn't replying!
The rendezvous in the park reminded Eiri of some rather tacky spy movie. Government agents meeting on a park bench and pretending to feed the ducks; dressed in their expensive suits and trench-coats and looking about as inconspicuous as a roasted turkey in the middle of a vegetarian buffet. Anyone watching would probably think the big blonde American was either blackmailing him or trying to pick him up.
They stared at each other for well over a minute without speaking - two prize-fighters taking the measure of one another - while a gentle autumn breeze ruffled their hair and sent red-gold leaves fluttering from the trees about them. Though he did not much like having to look up into anyone's eyes, rare as the event might be, Eiri held his ground. There was a great deal to be read in those penetrating blue eyes, and what Eiri read, he didn't like.
When Claude K Winchester finally spoke, his tone was conversational… even a little playful.
"Mr Yuki… I was wondering if you saw Shuichi-kun's performance on Hit Stage last week?"
Eiri scowled. "I saw it. And by the look on your face, I'd say you planned it, knowing exactly how it would turn out."
A small smile tugged at K's lips. "By the look on your face, I'd say it hurt you to see your lover crumble so… tragically… in the face of true genius…"
You son of a bitch…
Eiri had known the whole thing was a set-up from the moment he had watched it play out on live television. A sudden anger swelled inside him as he thought of Shuichi's publicly aired misery – as he thought of Shuichi now, moping around the flat, crestfallen and listless. So what now? Had K realised he had pushed his vocalist too far and expected Eiri to pick up the pieces? He narrowed his eyes, forcing himself to hold the other man's gaze. There was definitely amusement there, and Eiri hated to be laughed at. "Just what are you scheming now…?"
"Scheming…?" K repeated the word as if considering its meaning at length. Then he gave a small shrug. "Okay… maybe I am. But let's be honest, shall we? You and I… our hearts were both captured by Shuichi-kun… we both care about him, and as such, shouldn't our interests be the same?"
Our hearts were both captured…
For all the teasing, there was sincerity in those words.
Eiri felt his gut clench. This was not good. This was in fact a definite mistake. He had already spent an altogether rather unsatisfactory hour with his psychiatrist and all he had wanted was something to eat and some time alone. Getting a call from Shuichi's manager in the first place was startling enough – it did not help that his first thoughts had been of Shuichi, that in spite of the fact he knew he had left him safe at home, in one hour some disaster had managed to befall him. Knowing that little moron, it was not outside the realms of probability.
He had agreed to meet him without knowing why, except that arguably it was better than the man coming directly to his flat and probably scaring the crap out of Shuichi in the process. It was odd, in a way, that K had not descended upon them before now. Shuichi had been off work at least a week.
Eiri didn't need this. Didn't need any of it. His relationship with Shuichi was nothing to do with Shuichi's career. He wasn't interested in Shuichi's career, any more than Shuichi was interested in his. So why did people keep insisting on drawing him into it? What was he, Shuichi's god-damned muse? If Shuichi had been made this unhappy by one small undeclared "competition" against Sakuma and Nittle Grasper, then perhaps he really wasn't up to the challenge and he should give up. It might be better for him that way.
And besides, Eiri had had enough. He couldn't – absolutely couldn't – take on any more. He didn't want to. He didn't even understand how he had let things get that far. He had tried his best to explain that to the doctor that morning… though he wasn't quite sure she believed him…
Eiri had winced very slightly as the psychiatrist's voice had taken on that quiet, hesitant tone which suggested dissatisfaction. He turned to give her an innocently enquiring look, but she returned it a slight frown and a meaningfully raised eyebrow.
"I'm… sorry, Sensei," he said at last, turning to stare at the ceiling once more. "My mind keeps wandering…"
"As I've said before, there's nothing wrong with that," Sensei said patiently, "but you must tell me where it's wandering to."
"It's not important…"
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?"
Eiri shook his head. "No, I mean – what I was thinking about. It's not important. To my… problems, I mean."
A soft exhalation. "As I said, Uesugi-san… why don't you let me be the judge of that?"
Eiri closed his eyes, fighting down a wave of irritation. She was right. Of course she was right.
He came here, month after month – week after week, of late – because he wanted to. Not because anyone had demanded it, or even suggested it.
Mika and Tohma had repeatedly pestered him to visit a counsellor after New York but he had always resisted – even when he had reluctantly agreed to attend a session, he had refused to talk. He had not wanted the absolution he thought was being offered. He did not want to be told that he had been an innocent victim, not a catalyst for evil. He had not wanted his relationship with Yuki dissected – its flaws and its artifices exposed. Above all he did not want to share his humiliation with a stranger. No-one, not even Tohma, knew exactly what had happened the night he had killed Yuki. And for years Eiri had wanted it to stay that way.
He had finally sought out a psychiatrist a year or so before he had met Shuichi after his doctor had diagnosed sudden chest pains and breathlessness as panic attacks. A small section of his mind still sneered at him for it – the psychiatrist's couch… so it's come to this - but he had still gone, never missing an appointment, to lie on the couch and talk about his sex life and his family problems and his nightmares and what little he remembered of New York, and stuck with it even though he never seemed to feel any better.
Because, though he might tell everyone he was happy just as he was, that had never been entirely true. And since Shuichi had come into his life, it was most certainly not true. Shuichi had turned everything upside down and inside out.
There had always been many things that Eiri did not understand about his past – many things he did not even clearly remember. But it was Shuichi who had really made him notice it, consciously, every hour of the day. Shuichi made him realise how little he understood, even of his own character.
He wanted to understand, now. More than that, he needed to understand. It wasn't just that a life of anti-depressants and psychiatrist's appointments had recently begun to strike him as a truly miserable prospect; it was something far more serious. Something in him was awakening after a six year sleep. Something had switched on in his brain the evening he had met Shuichi and slowly but surely a chain reaction had begun. And in the last few weeks it seemed to be gathering speed at a worrying rate.
No matter how much he fought the interference of others, he needed this woman's help if he was going to survive the final explosion intact.
"Shuichi," Eiri said finally, with a sense of defeat. "I was thinking of Shuichi."
"What about him?" Sensei's voice shifted to its listening tone – encouraging without being inquisitive.
"He's been off sick from work this week."
"Is he ill?"
"Not unless acute sulking is a disease…"
This was stupid – it wasn't important! No matter what Sensei said, it was irrelevant! Now he would have to spend the next twenty minutes of his valuable hour in the psychiatrist's office explaining Shuichi's idolatrous obsession with Sakuma Ryuichi and his sudden breakdown on that music show when faced with the superior talent of the man he worshipped. They could then waste the rest of the hour speculating on the reasons behind it. It might even make for an interesting debate. But what it would really be was a useless distraction.
Sensei, however, was not so easily distracted. As always, with the unerring accuracy of a marksman, she aimed and fired right at Eiri's most tender spot. "Are you worried about him, Uesugi-san?"
Eiri caught his breath, releasing it slowly. Once again, he was forced to remind himself that he was here by choice, that there was no point in denial. "I… don't know," he answered, quite honestly. "It's unsettling, that's all. I'm not used to it."
"Not used to the change in Shuichi… or in being worried about it?"
"Did you ask him what was wrong?"
"He said he's got a sore throat – that they'd told him to rest his vocal chords for a while."
"But you don't believe him?"
Eiri smirked. "He's a crappy liar. And a really crappy actor. He's been keeping his phone switched off and when the home phone rings he doesn't answer it and then pretends he didn't hear it. It's completely obvious he's avoiding someone…"
Sensei made no response to that, which usually meant that she expected him to continue. "He's started keeping the same hours as me. He doesn't get up until I do. He doesn't go to bed until I do. He's hardly been out since he told me he was off sick…"
An image surfaced in Eiri's mind then – Shuichi as he had left him that morning, slumped out on the sofa, gnawing on a pocky stick and watching some witless daytime soap opera with a clear lack of enthusiasm. No keyboard set up – no notepad ready for scribbling lyrics. No music playing. Not even MTV on the television. He had stirred when Eiri had announced he was going out – he was curious to know where; Eiri could see it. Up until then Shuichi had not been around to notice his daytime comings and goings. He seemed about to ask the obvious question. But then he had subsided with a quiet "okay, Yuki…" and gone back to gazing vacantly at the television.
Eiri had surprised them both, then, by giving him a kiss. What was actually more surprising was that Shuichi had neither asked for one, nor ventured to take one uninvited. Greetings and partings were usually the perfect excuse for lavishing his caresses upon Eiri and clamouring for them in return. Shuichi had smiled at him, but the smile, though it was genuine, was fleeting.
"Do you find that intrusive…?" Sensei prompted gently.
Eiri blinked. He had wandered again. "I…" He had to think about that. Ordinarily, Shuichi with time off would be Eiri's idea of a nightmare. But though he was always there, Shuichi was so quiet and so unobtrusive that it was actually possible to forget about him. He wasn't demanding any of Eiri's time; he wasn't even demanding sex.
"Like I said… it's unsettling. It's almost as if… as if he's avoiding me." He frowned. "Or perhaps… it's more like we're avoiding each other."
"Did you have anything to do with whatever's worrying him?"
Good old Sensei, subtle as always! "I haven't done anything to him, if that's what you mean," Eiri said with a faint sneer. "At least nothing new."
"Actually that wasn't what I meant, Uesugi-san," the psychiatrist answered coolly, "but you sound a little defensive."
"Do I?" Eiri grunted irritably. Then, once again, he was forced to consider. There had been that time he had found Shuichi curled up on the couch, brooding over his upcoming appearance on the music show with Sakuma…
"He had this TV appearance on the same show as his idol," Eiri began reluctantly. "It was like a dream come true for him, but he wasn't happy. I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I mean, all this kid can talk about is Nittle Grasper, and suddenly they've reformed and his band is going to perform on the same show. I mean, that's something positive, isn't it? But he wasn't happy."
"Did you ask why?"
"Yeah, I found out… it was obvious, really. He was scared. Everyone keeps pushing him, keeps telling him he's going to be as good as Sakuma. It's always Sakuma they pick. I mean Sakuma's good, sure, but that's not why. It's because they know how much Shuichi admires him. I think he was scared of failing, but more than that – I think the rivalry itself scared him. He didn't really want to go up against Sakuma on that show – he wanted to keep him as his god. And maybe," Eiri added with a sigh, "the chance that he might surpass him scared him even more…"
"What did you say to him?"
"I… told him he was a real pro. That he'd be okay."
Eiri shrugged. "I suggested the real reason he was scared was that he was afraid he wasn't good enough to compete. I thought I'd get him on the defensive – it usually works." He hesitated as he recalled what he had said. He had thought it over several times since he had seen Shuichi begin to cry, but he still thought his words had been reasonable enough. Besides, he had been working to meet another deadline and his head had been bothering him. He didn't have time to sit and talk Shuichi through his artistic hang-ups.
"And it did work, in a way," Eiri continued aloud, "he got out there and he performed. And he was good. Really good." Eiri was surprised to feel a small rush of pleasure as he said it. "But Sakuma was better. And when Shuichi saw that he broke down. On live television.
"It was stupid," he suddenly burst out, before Sensei could comment. "The whole thing was stupid – that bastard manager of his set up the whole thing, knowing Shuichi wouldn't measure up. How could he? Sakuma is about ten or fifteen years older than him and has years of experience. Shuichi should realise that and get over it. He's being an idiot."
"And yet it seems to have upset you, Uesugi-san," Sensei noted incisively.
Eiri closed his eyes. "I don't like it. I don't like it when he's like this. I mean, he was very quiet when he got home that night, but I thought he'd just get over it. He always bounces back. Hell, he coped with what those – those fuckers did to him – " he suppressed a shudder of horror, mixed with a hot burst of murderous rage. "He coped a damn sight better than I did, and with less support. Compared to that, this is just pure bullshit to sell records. It can't be enough to break his spirit…"
"Do you feel like you want to help him?"
"No." Eiri spoke emphatically. "No. It's nothing to do with me. I… I don't want it to be anything to do with me. I don't want to care… I don't want to worry… I just want Shuichi to be the way he was and just get on with it. He shouldn't let them distract him with all this crap. I've never wanted to write like someone else – I just wanted to write. I didn't even care if nobody else liked my stuff… If I never got so much as a letter published in an agony column, it still wouldn't have stopped me writing…"
"Yet," Sensei said in the ominously soft tones Eiri had come to dread, "you have said how much you cared for Yuki-san's opinions… do you think perhaps this… rivalry between Shuichi-san and Sakuma-san… the idea of Shuichi-san losing someone he admires… reminds you of that?"
Eiri swallowed hard. "That was… different…"
"In what way, Uesugi-san?"
"I didn't want to compete against Yuki… I just… I just wanted him… wanted him to…"
"…I…" Eiri did not continue. Found, in fact, that he could not. He gazed up at the ceiling, his eyes helplessly following the revolutions of the fan hanging from the light fitting.
Memory flickered inside his mind and came to life. That little New York bookshop. The dry, comforting smell of paper and furniture polish, the soft light glowing through the large windows; the rustle of turning pages and the soft, shuffling motions of the customers. His satisfaction as he managed to make sense of more and more of the English texts. And then, like a dream come true, there he was – Yuki, smiling down at him. As if it was yesterday, he could feel the same flush of shy pleasure at any attention Yuki gave him outside the framework of their lessons. He could hear his own words as he confessed his wish to be a writer. Yuki-Sensei's words of encouragement and praise. His warm brown eyes. His smile… his bright smile.
"Uesugi-san…?" A voice was calling from somewhere, disturbing this golden memory. He struggled not to hear. "Uesugi-san…!"
Eiri blinked. He was back in the psychiatrist's office, still staring up at the revolving ceiling fan. Yet that moment in New York had seemed so real…
And he had remembered. Just for a moment, he had quite clearly remembered what it was like to long for someone's recognition that hard… to long for someone's… love…
Sensei had turned away from him now. She evidently thought he had had enough for one day. And she was right. He wanted to tell her about the new feelings and the old memories that kept surfacing. He wanted to tell her what he had tried to tell Tohma that day – that feeling – and remembering – hurt too much. But he was too tired.
Now she was saying the session was over. Talking about their next appointment.
"Sensei…" Eiri whispered, almost a plea.
"Try not to worry about it," Sensei told him gently, "you'll only make things worse if you worry…"
"So I shouldn't worry about it…?" Eiri gave a soft, scornful laugh as he sat up.
"Try to keep calm and remember the techniques I taught you for dealing with the panic attacks…"
Even as she said the words, a sudden wave of panic swept over him. "I can't go on like this, Sensei. I don't know… I don't know what's happening to me… my head hurts all the time… I feel sick… I feel… I feel things I haven't felt in years…"
"Are you still taking the sedatives at night?"
"…Sometimes… but the dreams… they're hard to cope with, and now Shuichi's sleeping beside me all the time… it was a mistake. It was a mistake from the beginning, letting him into my life. I can't deal with him as well as myself. If he does break, how the hell can I look after him?"
"I think perhaps you're worrying too much about this, Uesugi-san…" M-Sensei's tone had become firm but soothing. She gave a deep, thoughtful sigh and looked at him. "You're not used to feeling such concern for another person after so long, but in many ways, it shows how much progress you've made… you seem much more comfortable with your sexuality, and you've managed to maintain a long and relatively monogamous relationship. That in itself is placing a strain on you. You're having to deal with problems you would have simply run away from in the past."
"A part of me just wants to run away," he admitted softly. "Run away from Shuichi, I mean. Caring about him… it's too difficult. It – " he swallowed, forced the word out. "Hurts. My family would probably think that running away was a great idea. Preferably right back to the priesthood in Kyoto. But I…"
"There's no need for that," Sensei replied in a quick, no-nonsense manner as she turned to her desk. "I'll prescribe you a slightly stronger stabiliser for now, and we'll see how we… Uesugi-san…?"
Sensei's voice was questioning, but Eiri hardly heard her. His gaze had been drawn out to the cityscape. To the NG building, looming ostentatiously over the skyline.
Tokyo was a big city. Japan was a populous country. He wouldn't have to go that far to lose himself in its crowds… to just walk away…
The alternative was to go back to Shuichi. Shuichi, who would probably be sitting where Eiri had left him. His clothes had been unusually crumpled that morning – Shuichi didn't have much dress sense, at least by Eiri's conservatively designer standards - but he was always neat and clean and looked well groomed in his own casual way. When Eiri had bent over to kiss him, he had noticed the black roots showing through his pink mop of hair. He had even seen a hint of dark stubble on those smooth, round cheeks.
He was reluctant to go home – that much he admitted. Maybe he should compromise – call the little idiot and take him out to lunch. Or suggest a walk in the park. It looked as though it had turned into a nice afternoon.
Standing outside the pharmacy, waiting for his new prescription, Eiri had only just switched his phone back on before it began to ring…
Eiri gave K one last contemptuous glance before turning on his heel. "If you want to bring him back, do it yourself. It's got nothing to do with me."
What would M-Sensei have made of that? She would probably have considered it a step backwards; accused him of cutting himself off from his fellow human beings yet again. But he didn't care. He didn't want to get involved.
The words, spoken in English, startled him enough to make him stop. But he didn't turn around. When he spoke again, the American's tone was almost gentle. "I understand how you feel. But the one suffering the most right now is Shuichi."
And whose fault is that, you conniving bastard? Eiri thought acidly, but he did not carry on walking.
"Shuichi is desperately trying to catch up with Ryuichi," K continued in a tone that was low and serious, knowing he had Eiri's attention. "And with just a little push… I think he could reach him."
Eiri froze. Part of it had to be more of K's bullshit, hoping to psych up Shuichi through his boyfriend. No doubt he was banking on Eiri running home to tell Shuichi what he had said. But there was more to it than that – a confidence which came not from cunning but from professional experience. It occurred to Eiri then that the man simply wouldn't be going to all this trouble if he didn't believe at least some of what he was saying.
"But that push… isn't thoughts about money or fame… nor is it his ability to sing."
In spite of himself, Eiri turned – just in time to see K produce two tickets from his shirt pocket and hold them out. "It's this."
Eiri stared stupidly down at the tickets. Odaiba Amusement Park?! "This is a joke, right?"
K grinned at him, rather as a wolf might grin at a lamb which had strayed from the flock.
Eiri shifted very slightly, only enough to get a look at Shuichi's sleeping face. At least there had been one good result from this insane afternoon – once he had gathered up his melted lover from the floor, Shuichi had fixed upon him like a second skin, his eyes glowing with warm, passionate love. If Eiri had come out and declared his own undying love, he did not think Shuichi could have responded with greater ardour. Within moments they were retreating to the bedroom, shedding their clothes as they went.
Yet it wasn't a violent, hungry encounter as it often was when Shuichi was overexcited about something. It was languid and sultry and slow-burning, as if Shuichi was lost in a fevered dream and was welcoming Eiri in to share it.
And it was good. After a week of quiet and reserve and avoidance, it was good.
At least Shuichi was happy again. As for Eiri himself…
At first he had thought that Shuichi's manager was simply guessing about him – assuming, reasonably enough, that Eiri was in love with Shuichi and would therefore be eager to help in any way he could. Any reticence he might detect could be put down to protective anger, not an unwillingness to get involved.
But afterwards he had decided K was far more acute than that. He had had those tickets ready, complete with the plan about selling a million copies before the date could take place, because he knew Eiri wouldn't have thought of the idea of such an incentive on his own – or would have acted on the thought if he had. And he had known that Eiri would give in, even if he did require a little sniping to get past his inhibitions.
Shuichi stirred, rubbing his cheek in catlike fashion against Eiri's chest and emitting a sound remarkably like a purr. He tangled his legs through Eiri's, pushing his groin up against Eiri's belly, his eyes fluttering open. "Mmmm… million copies…" he murmured with a sleepy smile, "…how many is that…? You'n me… Yuki… on the rollercoaster… promise… hold my hand…"
"If you puke on me," Eiri warned sourly, "I'll push you off."
Shuichi only chuckled softly and rubbed against him again. "Mmmm… sure… love you, Yuki…"
With that he was asleep once more.
Eiri continued to gaze at him for a long time. When he reached to stroke the hair back from Shuichi's face, his lover gave a soft sigh but did not stir again.
He could not explain to Shuichi how a memory of Yuki had awoken yet another lost emotion in him – empathy, something he had lacked more than any other feeling all these years. Not even Shuichi's brutalisation had really evoked it as that one remembered moment of happiness in the bookshop had. It didn't matter whether Yuki had ever been sincere, or whether Eiri had been an innocent or an idiot; what mattered was that for one moment at least, he had understood exactly how Shuichi felt.
If he did nothing else for him, he would see he got that silly date. Any boy who was unlucky enough to feel for him what he had felt for Yuki deserved to have at least one golden memory to treasure.
When Eiri awoke again, he could smell coffee brewing. Throwing on a dressing gown and heading out into the sitting room, he found Shuichi kneeling at the coffee table, fully dressed, his keyboard set up, his headphones on and papers strewn all around him.
He smiled radiantly as he caught sight of Eiri. "Hi, Yuki! I made coffee – I sort of figured as you didn't get much work done today you'd probably be planning on working all through the night, but that's okay, because I'm going to be working too! Do you want to see that plans I've drawn up? It's going to be brilliant! A million copies here we come! I've been working on a new song, too; do you want to hear it later?"
Eiri shook his head and made his way into the kitchen.
So the charm had worked. As K had known it would. Something as inane as a trip to an amusement park – something as simple as a date with Eiri – had been enough to snap Shuichi out of his depression.
Only it was not simple or inane to Shuichi. Far more. It was not just the reward but the principle of it. The fact that Eiri was willing to offer it. For Shuichi, it was as close to an avowal of love as Eiri had yet come. And that American son of a bitch had known that!
K might be unscrupulous and self-consciously gung-ho, deliberately using his brash American manner to beguile the reserved Japanese. But when it came to reading people he was as sharp and as deadly as a knife. He understood Shuichi – far better, in fact, than Eiri did – and, far more disturbingly, it was beginning to seem as though he understood Eiri too. For so long Eiri had assumed that when people looked at his face, they saw only a blank, impenetrable mask.
What, exactly, was Claude K Winchester seeing?