On Another Path
Chapter Nineteen: Notes
Hiroki sat with his back up against the wall at the head of his futon, reading a book.
Akihiko was smoking. He lay naked, partially curled across the crumpled sheet that covered Hiroki's lap. His ass was still fiercely aching from the activities of the past few hours.
After the scene at the door, the afternoon had dissolved into a symphony of tangled limbs, of glistening skin, soiled sheets, and gasping breaths.
Once Akihiko felt Hiroki's resistance finally break down, he'd pulled his lover up and led him into the bedroom. Hiroki had remained passive initially. Akihiko had stripped them both, laid Hiroki down, and had tried to express as much tenderness as he could in the taking of him.
He had possessed Hiroki from the front, aware in the process that, though pliant, Hiroki kept his eyes closed or averted during the act. Akihiko understood then, that while a temporary truce had been called, he'd not yet been completely forgiven.
After they'd recovered from that first bout, Hiroki suddenly roused and had taken Akihiko. He had entered Akihiko from the back and his taking had been just shy of brutal. Akihiko endured without complaint, though once or twice he did cry out. In fact, it was at his second exclamation that Hiroki finally gentled.
Carefully, favoring his still-tender flesh, Akihiko rolled over and slid his long body down, so that Hiroki's lap now supported his shoulders. Setting his text to the side, Hiroki took off his reading glasses.
"You know the smell of your smoke gets into my books." Hiroki said this without rancor, more as a simple statement.
Akihiko breathed a long-suffering sigh: this was not the first time he'd heard this."Shall I put it out then?"
Hiroki shrugged and then astonished Akihiko.
"Can I have a drag?" Hiroki reached down to take the cigarette from between kiss-bruised lips.
Lavender eyes flashed with surprise. "I didn't know you ever smoked."
Akihiko removed the cigarette from his mouth before Hiroki reached it. Holding it between his fingers he offered it, then at the last moment pulled it back hesitantly.
"I'm not sure I should give this to you then, Hiroki. It's not good for you," Akihiko teased, a bit of bitter humor in his voice.
Considering all that they had been through recently, Hiroki let loose with a rare laugh. "And you are? Seriously, what's one more vice at this point?"
"Point taken," Akihiko conceded, smiling in spite of himself.
Hiroki plucked the fag from Akihiko's long fingers, took a tentative drag, and immediately started coughing. Akihiko sat up and worriedly patted him on his shoulders. Finally Hiroki regained his breath; he passed the cigarette back.
Akihiko took it and lay back down with his head in Hiroki's lap. He been surprised by Hiroki's coughing fit.
"Seriously, Old Man, is this the first time you've ever smoked?"
"Yes, Akihiko." Hiroki looked down, his dark eyes glinted.
"Now you can proudly say you have given me at least one of my firsts as well… Honestly though, it tastes terrible, I don't know how anyone could get hooked on those things."
Despite saying this, Hiroki reached for the cigarette again and took another puff, incurring only a few coughing breaths this time.
"Did I ever tell you my grandfather died of lung cancer?" Hiroki offered this as he studiously eyed the cigarette held between his fingers.
"Mother made me promise when I was a kid that I'd never try it. Of course," he paused and a trace of bitterness slipped into his usually measured tones. "That was before I knew how easily the fragile skin of a promise could be broken."
Akihiko looked up at Hiroki, stunned by this sudden poetry.
Hiroki glanced down at Akihiko and seeing this, blushed. His eyes flashed with concern and perhaps a bit of remorse as he rather quickly changed the subject.
"You feeling okay, Akihiko?"
"Are you talking about my head or my ass, Old Man?" Akihiko took his cigarette back again.
"Because to be honest, Hiroki, you gave both quite a pounding today." These words were spoken through a ring of smoke, though in truth Akihiko had been prepared to endure far more, if it meant getting Hiroki back.
Hiroki frowned at this and didn't respond immediately.
Akihiko offered a smile to show there were no hard feelings. In fact, he was actually grateful for the violence: it had been revelatory.
Hiroki had taken him in the bedroom in just the manner Akihiko had offered himself in the other room, but in his own way, at his own timing. The young author realized now that, with how he'd proposed things in the kitchen, he was still in control, still directing, and with that in mind, Hiroki had been right in a sense that the act would never have been equitable.
It also demonstrated to Akihiko how truly kind his lover had been the first time he'd taken him, and the greater depths of this realization just made Akihiko appreciate that initial tenderness all the more.
Finally, though it had been rather shocking at first and undeniably painful, in reality it was a small, private punishment that was well deserved as opposed to the unwarranted humiliation he'd imposed on Hiroki.
Besides, when Hiroki had fucked him as though he hated him, it had only affirmed the extent of Hiroki's feelings: as Akihiko understood that love and hate were not opposites. No, they were two sides of the same coin: the currency of passion. Long ago Akihiko had learned from his family that the true opposite of love was in fact indifference. So, in their torrid exchange, he had felt convinced that Hiroki still deeply loved him.
"It doesn't seem as though anything was torn and there's been no blood," Akihiko offered. Then seeing this just deepen Hiroki's frown, he reassured, "I'm fine, Hiroki."
Hiroki reached long fingers down and combed them through Akihiko's sweat-damp hair. "It wasn't my intention to be so unkind."
Akihiko closed his eyes at the soothing touch. "You are kind to me even when you are not, Hiroki"
Leaning down, Hiroki kissed the wound on Akihiko's forehead, then he spoke and his voice was deadly serious.
"Inflict me with your genius, Akihiko, and I will gladly endure everything you give and come back for more… Not so with your dysfunction, however. You'll find my tolerance there has reached its limit already."
Hiroki pushed Akihiko gently up off his lap and slid down on the futon rolling over on to his side, his back to his lover.
"I mean that Akihiko," Hiroki growled, "No second chances this time… Understand?"
Akihiko sat and stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray lying amongst the sheets next to him. Then he lay down again, stretching himself out behind Hiroki, curling himself around his friend, wrapping a long arm around his lover and pulling Hiroki into him.
Rising just slightly, he leaned over Hiroki's shoulder. He took one of Hiroki's wrists and pulled the unresisting arm up to him. He turned the lean limb so that the pale pink scar from Hiroki's teeth, the barely noticeable patch of discoloration, were visible. He placed a lingering kiss in the middle of these marks and then carefully replaced arm, arranging it gently back in its original position.
Then he pulled his shaggy silver head back a bit and placed a soft kiss on Hiroki's cheek, surprised at the fresh wet and the salt he encountered there.
"I understand perfectly," Akihiko whispered. A tear of his own fell, anointing Hiroki's cheek, joining his lover's tears. Hiroki gave a slight start at the sensation, but then a moment later, though he didn't move otherwise, the perpetual crease in his brow disappeared.
Seeing this, Akihiko lay back down and cautiously nestled his battered forehead against the back of Hiroki's wild brown head.
Both men closed their eyes and in the lengthening shadows of the afternoon, soon slipped into the best sleep either had experienced in weeks.
Hiroki stirred some time later. The peace that he first woke with quickly evaporated, however, as before he even turned over, he could feel Akihiko's absence from the bed.
He wondered if Akihiko might be in the bathroom or if, perhaps, he'd had gone out into the kitchen to get a drink. Hiroki rolled over at sat up listening in the quiet apartment for sounds of where his lover might be and heard nothing.
Immediately, he understood that, outside of himself, the apartment was empty. As Hiroki put his hand down to push himself up off the futon, he felt a thin sheet of paper beneath his palm.
Picking it up, Hiroki squinted at it in the dimming light of his bedroom. On the paper in Akihiko's careful script were just a few words:
Hiroki's heart dropped.
After all that had happened that afternoon, his declaration, their seeming understanding…
Is this how it will always be? Like some Sisyphean folly: reaching the top of the mountain just to be immediately returned to the valley?
Hiroki sat. He crumpled the note in frustration and then a moment later smoothed it out again over his bare thigh to reread it.
Why couldn't he at least leave a decent note like a normal person? Hiroki fumed. I mean, fuck! The guy plies words for his living; you'd think he could have left just a few more here.
Drawing his knees up, Hiroki covered his head with his arms.
Hiroki's head suddenly began to ache as though he were the one who had received the blow. He could feel his novelist fix wearing off quickly now.
What am I supposed to think about this? Hiroki felt his heart begin to beat faster. And when will I see him again?
You're pathetic, the literature student chided himself. Get off your ass and get on with your life… You're not some silly schoolgirl, Kamijou, though god knows you've been acting like one lately.
Suitably convicted now, Hiroki rose from the futon and put the wrinkled note carefully in between the pages of the book he'd been reading. Then he stood, made his way into the bathroom, and drew a bath.
Slipping into the water, Hiroki tried to steam Akihiko's lingering autumn touch out of his bones. After a few minutes of just sitting there, hands wrapped over his lean shins, he released them and began solemnly washing himself.
As he slid the soap over his tight limbs he wondered, Have I always been so weak?
Hiroki ducked his head completely under the water as though this might drown out the rising answer he really didn't want to hear.
After finishing his bath and dressing in new jeans and a clean long sleeve tee-shirt, Hiroki moved back out into the main room. He stepped into the kitchen and poured the now-warm beer that he'd left on the counter down the sink.
After retrieving a fresh one from the fridge, he shuffled back out into the main room. He turned on a small lamp and surveyed the shambles from his upturned table.
Hiroki shook his head.
That is no a way to treat books, he scolded himself as he turned the low table back upright and then set his beer can on it while he knelt down and carefully began to pick up his scattered textxs.
After several minutes of gathering and stacking, Hiroki picked up a book and then glanced at the new piles on the low table.
He smiled bitterly to himself when he realized that inadvertently he'd just re-assembled, in perfect order, Akihiko's stack, the one he'd brought in from outside the doorway the first time the author had left him.
Of course, there was a part of this that really shouldn't have been all that surprising. After all, he had been staring at that stack, unconsciously memorizing its titles for weeks now.
The book in Hiroki's hand was the last in the stack: the text that had occupied the top of the pile. As he returned it to the column of texts, something slipped out from between its pages and fell to the floor with a light clink.
Hiroki set the book on the stack with one hand as his other went to retrieve whatever it was that had fallen.
Holding it up, he suddenly realized it was the key Akihiko had given him to his apartment, the one he had pushed under the door: Akihiko had never taken it back.
As Hiroki considered the implications of this, his eyes fell on the package that Akihiko had brought him.
Sitting down crossed-legged on the floor, he leaned over and picked it up. He pulled the stained paper-wrapped package back into his lap and began to cautiously unwrap it.
A small envelope slipped out from between the seams of the wrapping.
Hiroki's fingers immediately read the quality of the paper. He frowned as he opened it and took out a note card of fine parchment. Recognizing the careful script, Hiroki realized it was his second note of the day from Akihiko.
Regardless of what happens, I wanted you to have this. It is the manifestation of a dream I might have relinquished long ago, if you had never been a part of my life.
I have Aikawa's word on the lives of her parents that this is the first one off the presses, the first one bound.
It may seem like a humble gift to many, in light of all you have done for me, but I know that a truly great man will be able to find worth in my poor gestures.
Hiroki's hands shook slightly as he parted the paper and he soon found himself holding Akihiko's very first book in his hands.
The literature student rose. He grabbed his beer off the table and headed over to the small couch.
He set his beer down, turned on a small standing light, and sat on the couch, knees drawn up, curled into the nest he'd made for himself over the month's he'd lived there.
Hiroki picked up a spare pair of reading glasses from a nearby pile of books and slipped these on.
His keen eyes studied the jacket; he admired the design, the simplicity and the symbolism of it. He put the book to his nose and breathed in the scent of fresh ink and crisp paper.
Holding his breath, Hiroki cracked the spine for the first time, smoothed back the first page. He marveled, as always, at the alchemical magic of it: turning thoughts into something tangible, occasionally immortal.
He studied every word on each page, publishing information, title, and then when he came to the dedication his heart stopped:
This book is dedicated to K.H.
My Muse and My Love
You were wrong, Old Man; I didn't need a new one.
I just needed to realize who my true one was.
Hiroki sat there for a number of minutes unmoving. Then he slowly removed his glasses and wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt. When his vision was no longer blurred by his tears, Hiroki shifted slightly, drawing his knees up just a bit tighter, re-donned his glasses, and turned the page.
Akihiko was pacing. It had been almost four hours since he'd left Hiroki.
He'd had to go because he had an appointment with his father and, despite how he felt about the man, he didn't dare miss it.
It had pleased him however, to show up to the meeting sporting his angry forehead and still smelling of sex. Needless to say, however, this disrespectful presentation hadn't helped an already tense situation and things hadn't gone well at all.
After bolting from the meeting following his father's ultimatum, he had spent some time driving around trying to clear his head.
Akihiko hated the congestion in Tokyo. He remembered speeding through the countryside with his grandfather in England, in one of the sports cars from the man's extensive collection.
Now that was driving.
The idea that the old man was being more than a little irresponsible going 100 miles an hour with a seven-year-old child, barely strapped in beside him, never occurred to either one of them.
Those were Akihiko's happiest memories of England.
The young author had returned to his apartment to shower and change, when he'd gotten a text from Hiroki saying he'd opened his gift and asking if he could come over in an hour.
The hour had passed for Akihiko exceedingly slowly.
Now that Hiroki should be here any minute. Akihiko paced in front of the large mirror in the hallway, brushing his hair first forward and then back. He chided himself for feeling so nervous.
It's just Hiroki after all…
Although for Akihiko there wasn't any "just" for him about his friend any longer.
Hearing Hiroki's key in the latch, Akihiko sprinted over to the couch and threw himself down. He kicked his feet up on the coffee table, grabbed a book that had been sitting there, and pretended to read, not even aware that he was holding the book upside down.
He heard Hiroki close the door, take off his shoes, and hang his things up in the entry.
A moment later Hiroki stepped into the main room.
Akihiko looked up. It appeared as though Hiroki had been having some hair issues as well, which for some reason made him feel ridiculously relieved.
"Umm, yeah it's great." Akihiko moved his long legs off the coffee table and set his feet on the floor.
"I'm surprised you're able to get through it," Hiroki observed drily.
"Well uh…" Akihiko glanced down and saw what Hiroki was referring to. He tossed the book onto the table and looked back up, fighting hard not to look sheepish.
The two men stood there in awkward silence for a moment.
Then Hiroki blushed, dropped his eyes, and muttered softly, "Hi honey, I'm home."
When he looked up and saw Akihiko's marvelous smile he blushed further and immediately turned and headed into the kitchen.
Akihiko drifted languidly behind him. "Why can't you ever say anything normal when you come in?"
Hiroki had opened the refrigerator and stood holding two cans of tea. "And what would you like me to say, Akihiko?" He held a can out.
Akihiko took his can from Hiroki and set it on the counter and then he reached over and took Hiroki's can as well. He moved in and embraced his friend from the back and leaned his shaggy silver head over Hiroki's shoulder.
"I think a good 'hey' would suffice nicely," Akihiko murmured into a pink ear.
Hiroki leaned back against Akihiko's chest for a long, silent minute.
"Thank you for the book, Akihiko… You have no idea…"
Akihiko cut him off. "Yes, I do, Old Man… That's why I did it."
He hesitated and then continued, "You know, Hiroki, after that first afternoon, I didn't tell you I loved you because I was waiting for the book to come out.
"You always so easily dismiss it whenever anyone says something slightly precious to you… I had this stupid romantic idea that if I waited and the next time I told you it was in writing, that there would be something concrete in this and that you might accept it a bit better."
Akihiko felt Hiroki stiffen in his arms at his words but he couldn't stop now, not after spending two agonizing weeks with all the things he should have said built up.
"It was foolish of me, I know and I'm sorry… Sorry still for so many things.
"I should have been telling you I loved you everyday a dozen times. I … I just have no idea how to go about these things correctly, Hiroki… 'love' was nothing I ever learned growing up…
"I'm bound to make a million mistakes."
Hiroki turned around in Akihiko's arms and looked up into his lover's lavender eyes. "Like outing yourself in the dedication of your first novel?"
"I don't feel like that was a mistake." Akihiko was surprised when this made Hiroki smile just a bit.
"So what's your father going to do when he finds out?"
"He already knows. That was why I had to leave you this afternoon.
"I had a meeting with the bastard… I mean there were some other things too he wanted to rail at me about… But…
"Look, I don't want to talk about this now."
Pale eyes searched dark ones and Akihiko was immensely comforted by the concern he saw in them.
"God I've missed you, Hiroki," Akihiko said softly. He gathered Hiroki's face in his hands and kissed his lover deeply. Hiroki returned the kiss with an incredible intensity.
When they separated Hiroki dropped his gaze, his cheeks flushed as he offered quietly back, "I missed you too, Akihiko."
Knowing that it would embarrass Hiroki too deeply if they continued to linger in this moment, Akihiko released him, grabbed the two teas off the counter, and handed one back to his friend.
Hiroki nodded as he opened his can. In truth, he was suddenly ravenous actually. It was the first time in weeks that the idea of food had even held any appeal for him.
This appeal dwindled quickly however, when Akihiko offered brightly, "I can make us an omelette then… I've been practicing and Sato-san helped me learn quite a few tricks!"
Hiroki scowled. "After what happened when you made your last omelette, Akihiko, I have been put off that dish completely. I hope to never eat another one as long as I live."
Akihiko looked crushed that all his hard work then had been for naught, but only momentarily. He lightened almost immediately after popping the top on his tea can.
"I read in the paper about this new family style restaurant, called 'Panda-san.' It is supposed to have completely normal, average style food. Would you like to try that?" Akihiko suggested this cheerfully as he moved back towards the living room.
Hiroki trailed along behind. "That sounds fine.
"You know, if we're not too late, there's going to be a reading tonight at the University by that new poet, the one who wrote 'The Panda's Tears'."
"Ah, I've been wanting to go hear her… I forgot that was tonight." Akihiko paused at the doorway to the main room. "Uh… Hiroki...?"
"Yes?" Hiroki took a sip of his tea.
"Do you think they'll serve sausages cut to look like Octopi at Panda-san? I saw it on TV the other day." Akihiko tone was cautiously optimistic.
Hiroki put his hands on Akihiko's shoulders pushing the taller man out the door into the other room. "One can only hope."
Akihiko looked back at him, his face was straight, but his eyes were dancing. Hiroki's normally fierce gaze was exceedingly tender. A pleasured blush filled his cheeks.
"Dumb-ass," Hiroki growled affectionately.
The End: Volume I
Whoo hoo! And it ends on a happy note. Check out the next volume for this twisted JR parallel AU. Long Live the Novelists!
Thank you so much for reading. Whether you have come across this fic sooner or later, please consider dropping me a review and letting me know that you've been reading. It means a great deal to this humble FF writer.