Chapter 22

The speed that Akihiko had grown up at was a mere fraction of his de-aging experience, and as a result it was quite difficult to track the changes. For the couple weeks, Misaki would occasionally pause and consider his lover carefully. Once or twice he was struck by a change in height he hadn't previously noticed, and on one notable occasion had realised how broad Akihiko's shoulders had become.

One day though, as Misaki prepared to get ready for work, bumbling around the kitchen, he was interrupted by a fantastic sight. Usagi-san emerged from their bedroom wearing his everyday outfit of a waistcoat, dress shirt and suit trousers.

"A bit loose," he said, smoothing down his waistcoat with a grin as he came down the stairs. "But it fits again!"

"Look at you, all grown up." Misaki couldn't stop the unbidden smile on his face. The clothes were a bit loose and didn't look as sharp as usual, but they did fit, and Usagi-san was evidently delighted. Of course, so was Misaki, because his lover was almost back to normal, and soon they could put this whole horrible experience behind them. Maybe they would even be better for the whole event, but Misaki would still be celebrating once it was over and done with. "Remember you have an appointment with Dr. Fujioka this afternoon. She'll be pleased too."

"I'll remember," rumbled Usagi-san, padding around the kitchen island to lean down and kiss Misaki on the cheek. He even had stubble – a phenomenon he had only acquired in his late twenties, he had confessed one slightly tipsy evening – which rasped loudly against Misaki's jawline. "What I'm not going to remember to do is charge my razor again. Remind me when you get home, please?"

"I'm not your bloody day-planner! Go put it on the charger now, idiot!" Misaki gave him a light push, surprising himself when he moved instead of his intended target. With the last few years he had grown, Akihiko had put on a fair amount of weight in muscle.

With a cheeky grin, Akihiko ducked his head and gave Misaki a soft peck on the cheek. "No more pushing me around, huh?"

"Who'd want to push you around…" grumbled Misaki, picking up his bag and ducking his head to sling it over his shoulders and hide his blush.

"You did. Repeatedly some nights, as I recall…" He chuckled and picked up the coffee pot. "Have a good day."

Misaki did indeed have a good day – Usagi-san was nearly back to normal, his visit to Dr Fujioka would prove his health to be fine, and they could move on finally. Due to his sheer delight, even the most tedious tasks were easy and quick to do, and he left many a fading editor in his wake, stunned by his cheery good mood.

Even Aikawa-san, who had been checking and re-checking Usagi-san's latest submission to the publishing house and was therefore exhausted, was picked up by Misaki's enthusiasm.

"Good news then?" she asked, shuffling papers on her desk.

"He's healthy again," Misaki said cheerfully. "One more doctor's appointment and that's it!"

"Fantastic news!" The woman grinned. "I'll be popping round tomorrow to hand over these corrections, but pass on my congratulations now, Misaki-kun."

"I will do." He checked his phone and found a missed call from Usagi-san. "Oh. Excuse me!"

There was a break room at the end of the corridor, so he ducked in there to make his call, waiting for nearly a minute before his lover answered.

"Misaki," purred Akihiko when he picked up, voice especially deep and rich. "Not interrupting, am I?" His tone indicated that if he was, he wasn't sorry in the slightest.

"Just taking a break." He poured himself a cup of water from the cooler one-handedly and sipped it as he stared out of the window absently. "Did you go to the doctor's?"

"Yes, Misaki," said the older man in his best hen-pecked voice. "And I plugged my razor in, and I've eaten my lunch. Aren't you proud of me?"

Wrinkling his nose and sticking his tongue out, Misaki sighed. "You are getting better at acting like a normal person. What did the doctor say?"

"I am almost perfectly healthy, my antibody levels are still high and the virus levels in my blood are practically non-existent."

A shiver sped through Misaki's body, sprinting up and down his spine and making his hair stand on end. "That's… great…" he croaked. It was over then. Finally, finally over. Knees weak, he sat down on a nearby chair.

"Don't be so enthused." Akihiko chuckled, "I'll have to visit one last time in a month, but that is essentially it!" He paused and when he spoke again, quieter and sweeter. "When are you coming home?"

Misaki checked the clock. "Another couple hours. Why?"

"I just want to see you, that's all."

"You'll just have to wait," he answered. "I'll bring home something special for dinner. You want anything?"

"Mainly you," purred Usagi-san. Misaki immediatelt blushed bright crimson at the sheer lecherousness in the man's voice.

"Don't be weird." He laughs anyway. "It'll be a surprise then. With extra green peppers."

Usagi-san whined in a particular heart-broken fashion – Misaki could just imagine the man draping himself over something and casting up his best maltreated puppy expression.

"All right, only a few peppers," said Misaki. "And I'll get some beers too."

"Good idea," Akihiko purred, suddenly perfectly happy again. "I will see you later. Love you."

The blush surged over Misaki's face and he muttered a few garbled words before he managed, "Yeah, me too. See you, bye," all in a rush and then nearly dropped the phone in his hurry to hang up.

The next day was a Saturday, and Misaki had been intending to sit down and focus on some school work for most of the day, but when he woke up with a splitting headache and a very sore behind, he chose to put that on the backburner for a few hours. Instead he chose to roll over and give Akihiko a glare – which would have been more effective, and certainly more satisfying, if the man had been awake.

Akihiko slept like the dead, even more so now when he was still regaining his last few years, so Misaki had to prod him repeatedly in the ribs until he showed the slightest sign of stirring. Eventually, groggy blue eyes flickered open, scanned over the ceiling briefly and then glanced over at Misaki. A smug, self-satisfied grin momentarily flickered over the man's handsome face and then he grimaced and shut his eyes again with a groan.

"How much did we drink last night?" he mumbled, rolling closer to Misaki and burying his face in the pillows.

"Far, far too much," said Misaki, regretting it immediately when his head throbbed in time with his words. He could remember celebrating after dinner, drinking all of the beer that he had brought in and then turning to Usagi-san's bottles of expensive liquor. After that, the night was a bit fuzzy but his body ached in that manner that indicated it had been very pleasurable at some point.

"I'm suspecting that I'm going to have to top up my liquor cabinet soon," mumbled Akihiko, folding the pillow over his head. "I also suspect I might throw up soon…"

Misaki whined and wriggled away. "Please don't." His own stomach lurched at the thought. "I need a drink." It took a lot of effort to haul himself out of bed and even more to stand straight. "Need anything?"

"More sleep," grunted Usagi-san, wriggling himself deeper into his sheets. Misaki rolled his eyes – clutching at his head when pain scored through him again – and tottered off to the kitchen to hunt for a headache remedy.

By midday, both of them were out of bed and still regretting their splurging the night before. Misaki had settled on the sofa with a book and a jug of water resting by his feet on the table, while Akihiko was lurking by the coffee machine as it burbled through its cycle.

"Bet you're glad you can have coffee again," said Misaki, adding in an undertone, "I sure am…"

Akihiko didn't even answer, but laid his head down on the counter beside the coffee machine. Misaki cackled to himself and slurped at his water.

"You better have asked the doctor if it was ok," he added. "You know they said about the caffeine the last time."

"Yes, I asked," groaned Akihiko. "It's fine. I'm having my coffee." Misaki turned his attention back to his book, listening as the coffee machine clicked off, and the liquid burbled into a mug. Finally, Usagi-san paced over to the sofa and eased down into his seat; Misaki watched him out of the corner of his eye, tracing the masculine line of the man's jaw and throat as he savoured the first gulp of his drink. It could not be understated how glad Misaki was to see Akihiko grown up again and a thought struck him.

"We should do something to celebrate and thank everyone," Misaki muttered, flicking through a few pages of his book but finding himself unable to care about the contents.

"We should?" grumbled Usagi-san, already nose deep in his coffee mug. "Can't we just send them all a thank you card and be done with it?"

"What? No, that's a dumb idea." Misaki swatted one of his lover's thighs with his book. "That's so cold! We should throw a party and invite everyone who helped."

Usagi-san sighed and set down his coffee reluctantly. "If you want. Make a list of the people you want to invite, and we can figure something out after that."

Misaki sprang to making the list, coming out the other end of it with Usagi-san's fellow sufferers, their partners, various family members, the doctors and a few of his friends.

"It'll only be about fifteen people," he counted, "If we count your dad and Tanaka-san. They'd come wouldn't they?"

"I'm sure. Of course, you'll struggle to get Tanaka-san to do anything but serving, but he could be a help."

Misaki nodded. This was one of the things he had come to accept over the course of Akihiko's hospitalisation – Tanaka-san was going to be helpful, whether you felt uncomfortable about it or not. It was simultaneously comforting and slightly irritating, but if you were planning to throw a party, he was a useful man to have around.

"Make it a cocktail evening," Akihiko suggested suddenly, "Not too much preparation, you can tell them to leave whenever you like, plenty of alcohol." He stopped talking abruptly and Misaki looked over in time to see him bury his face in the coffee mug again. "Let's not talk about this until we're not hung-over anymore, please..?"

By the end of the week, both the liquor cabinet and the fridge were full of various types of alcohol and Misaki was still poking through his collection of cook books to see what various snacks he could make.

They had chosen Saturday night for the party, so Misaki still had the rest of the day to prepare the penthouse. He had sent Usagi-san to be quiet in his study for a few hours while he tidied, until the man began to complain of being bored, so now he was sitting on the sofa with a table covered in glasses of various types and shapes. He was polishing them all with a cloth, with an aura of extreme care, like a small child tasked with something tricky.

The first person to arrive was Tanaka-san, smiling and followed by a couple of burly men struggling with a crate. For a few minutes Misaki feared that Usagi-chichi had sent another bear statue or, even worse, an actual bear, but when the lid was pried open and the contents displayed, it turned out to be a lot of very expensive champagne. They slipped a few bottles of the very expensive stuff in amongst the other bottles of slightly less expensive stuff and then Misaki scuttled around after the butler as he prowled around the house once, giving it a swift once over.

They returned to the main living area to find that Usagi-san had once again sprawled onto the sofa – Misaki chivvied him up again, with a few pinches just to speed him up a little – and then Misaki was at a loss. Butler or not, Tanaka-san was a guest in the house, but he cheerfully and politely refused any offers of refreshment, seemingly content to potter around and fix the few odds and ends that Misaki had previously not realised needed fixing. As the man vanished into a bathroom with a collection of half folded handtowels fresh from the dryer on his arm, Misaki caught hold of Usagi-san's arm and dragged him behind the kitchen counter.

"How do you not find this weird?" he hissed, "Not that I mind of course, but it's weird still!"

"He's a butler," said Usagi-san with as slight degree of resignation. "He's been a butler for long than I have been alive, and you simply cannot stop him from doing his job anymore. Just sit back and take it easy."


"Pretend for one moment that you are not just an ordinary Japanese man, and that you are in fact one of the elite," continued Usagi-san, gently pushing Misaki over to the sofa and forcing him to sit down. "Sit down and enjoy being taken care of."

Guests began to arrive within an hour, and are each greeted at the door by Misaki and Akihiko; Aikawa arriving first and looking sane for once. Minami and Takahiro are close behind her and then the tide of arrivals truly starts.

The last person to arrive, in grand style and fashionably late, was Usami Fuyuhiko. Misaki was on the other side of the room, plying his literature teacher with as much champagne as he could feasibly pour in a glass, when he spotted the businessman and nearly sprinted across the room to reach him. Not that he wanted to impress the bastard or anything...

"Misaki-kun! Don't you look smart." He was granted a sharp smile that was slightly too close to Akihiko's own leer for Misaki's comfort. "I don't think I've ever seen you in a suit before."

"Ah-hah…" Misaki looked down at himself; he was indeed wearing the most expensive pieces of clothing that he had ever owned – purchased courtesy of Usagi-san's credit cards of course – and he didn't look too bad in the scheme of things. Next to Usami Fuyuhiko, who had probably spent the last forty years wearing almost exclusively suits, he felt a bit scruffy. Thankfully, before he could respond, Akihiko swanned up behind him, almost trailing a visible trail of glamour.

Usami Fuyuhiko glanced over at his son, and a brief moment of perplexity crossed his brow.

"When did you get so tall?" he asked, sizing up the few inches difference in his and his son's height.

"When you weren't paying attention," said Akihiko, expertly fending his father's coat off onto the waiting Tanaka-san, and grinning cheekily.

A brief flicker of exasperation covered Usagi-chichi's face, before it creased into a smile and the man laughed. "Funny, Akihiko. But before I inflict anymore of your humour upon myself, you might direct me towards some high-grade spirits."

"Still a whisky drinker? Or shall I open one of the bottles of champagne you sent us..?" They trailed away into the party, leaving Misaki to quickly do a head count and check that all of the guest were present.

For once Misaki was grateful that that Usami Akihiko was from a ridiculous and rich family. Not only was the man's house more than big enough for the number of people they had invited, but they had Tanaka-san to help with the preparation and serving. Misaki ended up with his own flute of champagne – which he sipped lightly to avoid any messy drunken situations later on -, watching on as the butler worked the room with mysterious ease.

This enabled him to chat with his guests though, so he supposed it was all right. He had already discussed work schedules with Asahina-san, and blushed his way through a tortuously long teasing session courtesy of Isaka-san, before the older man had been caught and dragged away by his secretary.

Grateful for his reprieve, Misaki found himself bereft of companionship for a second – everyone else had somehow paired up and seemed to be all in in-depth conversations – until, without a single sound, Tanaka-san appeared at his right elbow and offered him a glass of champagne. Misaki wasn't good with champagne – it was bubbly and alcoholic and that was really all he knew about it – but somehow he instinctively knew that this was the really expensive stuff and accepted the glass.

"Thank you," he said, sipping quickly and then glancing up at the butler. Tanaka-san wasn't tall like the various members of the Usami family, but he was still taller than Misaki.

"Um," he said, lowering the glass, "I don't think I've said yet… Thank you for helping."

The butler smiled and bowed his head slightly in acceptance, the tray balanced on his arm not even wobbling. "My pleasure, Takahashi-sama. It is merely my job."

Misaki smiled at him and went back to his champagne. He had expected Tanaka-san to glide off again, but was startled when the man spoke again beside him.

"Takahashi-san, I want to thank you as well, for taking care of Akihiko-sama when he was so ill."

Misaki looked up again, a blush hurtling across his face at full speed, but Tanaka-san's expression was as sincere and honest as ever, downright grateful even.

"I don't think he would have made it in the end, if you hadn't been there," the butler continued, voice dropping into a quieter register momentarily. Misaki's blush darkened even more, until he was sure that it would have been possible to light the entire room with the red glow coming off his cheeks.

He laughed nervously and went to take a sip of his champagne to hide his embarrassment, but before his lips touched the glass, he paused and said, "I guess that's kind of my job now, in a way…"

The butler smiled brightly at him, a sudden expression which didn't quite fit with his constant air of almost eerie perfectionism – although Misaki was glad that he had seen it, because it served to remind him that the man was actually human – gave Misaki another shallow bow, and slipped off into the small crowd. Misaki stood at the edge and stared, until Usagi-san crept up behind him.

"You look as if someone just dropped an anvil on you," the older man said, gently chinking his whisky glass against Misaki's champagne flute. "Penny for your thoughts?"

With an abrupt shake of his shoulders, Misaki revived himself and smiled up at the author. "I'm fine," he said honestly. "Perfectly fine. Come on, I want to speak to Dr. Fujioka, and you might as well come with because I'm going to be speaking about you."

Aikawa-san remained incredibly peppy, even more so with a few glasses of champagne inside her, and after a fifteen minute long conversation that Nowaki had to keep redirecting into waters that weren't going to make Hiro-san explode with rage or embarrassment, the doctor was feeling a bit worn out.

Dr. Fujioka sidled past them to fetch another glass and paused to speak with Hiroki, while Nowaki excused himself to get some air. He wound his way through the party and slipped out through the glass windows; outside there was a chill on the breeze, but the air was clear and clean. He took a few chest-stretching gulps to clear his head and then glanced about. To his surprise, the balcony was already occupied – the stupid size of the place had prevented him from noticing before. Perhaps if he had known, he wouldn't have come out here – the other person was Usami-san, on his own and holding a glass of something.

Their gazes met, and then Usami-san swirled his drink - whisky, by the slowly creeping gurgle of the amber liquid within the glass - and cocked his head welcomingly. Clearly the dose of alcohol he had already imbibed had soothed any of the man's personality issues, and Nowaki was feeling fairly soothed himself. He hadn't had much prior opportunity to enjoy expensive alcohol, but the soft taste and the heat in his throat indicated that this was very expensive alcohol indeed. He'd drank just enough to defend himself from the chill outside, but he still shivered slightly at the cold air as he joined the other man on the balcony.

The view was impressive and he mentioned as much. The city glimmered and shivered in the distance and stars were faintly visible in the night sky above them.

"You never get to see the stars in the city," said Nowaki regretfully.

"A pity," said Usami-san, leaning on the balcony wall and sipping his whisky. He looked a man confident, in his traditional costume of a suit and proud in his own territory. "I've never lived anywhere I couldn't see them. "

They stood in silence for a while, almost amicable for once. Nowaki joined the other man in leaning up against the wall and savoured another mouthful of his champagne.

"How are you feeling?" he asked. "Hiro-san said you were all better."

"Back to the age and size I should be," the man rumbled, "And they tell me all the blood markers are back to the way they should be, so I assume so. Yourself?"

"Healthier than I was before!" Nowaki chuckled to himself and explained. "I found that exercise helped a lot with the growing pains, so I took up swimming."

"Oh." Usami-san glanced back over his shoulder at the party inside, eyes momentarily flickering over all of those present until he located Takahashi-kun. He smiled, so briefly that if Nowaki hadn't been watching closely he never would have notice it. It didn't seem to be an expression that settled naturally on the man's face, but it was pleasant in its rarity.

"And how is Takahashi-kun?" asked Nowaki, and seconds later found that he had indeed discovered the key to getting Usami-san to open up a bit.

"He's fine. Trying to focus onto his university course and his work now. The last months have been very disruptive for him." Momentarily a grimace chased the smile across his face and he immediately chased that with a gulp of his whisky.

Misaki-kun was now talking to Usami-san's father, dwarfed by the businessman man's stocky shape. Instinctively Nowaki was just a bit unnerved by the man's presence near him - it was the eyes, he decided, which held a permanent cunning, a watchfulness which went beyond the normal and on into the predatory.

"And your father?"

This earned him Usami-san's version of that same predatory look, a cooler, paler version that nevertheless made the hairs on the back of his neck rise up. "Excellent, I'm sure." He was no longer so effusive and the champagne that was currently causing little coronas around the lights in the far city in Nowaki's vision made him speak up.

"He was very worried when you became so sick," he blurted.

"Yes, I was told." Usami-san considered his whisky again and then straightened, looking just past Nowaki's left ear as he talked. "I know that my suspicion of my family must seem as rude and paranoid in everyone else's eyes, but just for one moment, I would like at least one person to believe me when I say I have my reasons."

"I never had parents," said Nowaki softly. "I'm not sure if I can."

"I would say you can have mine, but I'm not sure I would wish them on anyone else." He shrugged. "Certainly not my mother at any rate."

"I'm sorry," said Nowaki honestly. For all he really didn't like Usami Akihiko, he really hated the idea of a child unhappy in his parents.

The blond man knocked back the last of his whisky and sighed. "Oh well..." he offered to take Nowaki's glass for a refill of champagne - he hadn't realised that he'd drained the last of it while they had been being gloomy together, and declined the refill for now. "I may follow your example - whisky always makes me morose anyway."

As Usami-san reached for the door, Nowaki blurted "I won't mention what you just said to me to anyone, I promise. I think that's something you should be able to share on your own terms."

Cool blue eyes met his again, and then the man smiled, and, for once, it was a truly pleasant expression. "Thank you, I appreciate that."

"I should probably get back to Hiro-san now. He'll be wondering what we're talking about."

"He'll be suspecting we were ganging up on him," said Usami-san, an evil smirk developing on his face. "That would be terrible."

Nowaki glanced back at Hiro-san, to indeed find that his lover was developing his suspicious expression once more, and found himself laughing.

Misaki crept into the corner for a brief moment of relaxation, eyeing everyone to make sure they were entertained and well supplied with food and drink. The ever helpful Tanaka-san was still floating back and forth, expertly patrolling the party with that ease that Misaki was faintly envious of. He spotted Usagi-san out on the terrace, leaning elegantly on the wall and gesturing to his conversational partner with his whisky glass. Surprisingly – and kind of worryingly, for their previous clashes – he was speaking with Nowaki, smiles on both their handsome faces.

In case one of them snapped and threw the other off the balcony or something – and also because two tall, beautiful men in smart suits were worth watching – Misaki took a moment or so to monitor them. He was abruptly surprised by his brother, appearing from behind Usami Fuyuhiko's hulking form like a puppy jumping about a grizzled old wolf.

"Misaki!" He swept his brother up into an over exuberant hug, nearly lifting him off the ground. "It's been so long! How are you doing? Is everything all right?"

Misaki pried himself away and straightened his suit – he was uncomfortable in it still, but that didn't mean that he wanted it to be mussed. "Yes, nii-san, everything is fine. Didn't you listen when Usagi-san invited you? This is a party to celebrate everyone being better."

Minami gave him a knowing look, carefully taking hold of her husband's arm to prevent him leaping on his little brother again. "Well, I thought it was a lovely reason to have a party. I'm sure it was a very trying time for you, Misaki."

"It wasn't fun," agreed Misaki, nodding firmly. "But everything turned all right in the end, so I suppose that's what's important."

Takahiro cocked his head curiously, and asked, "What on earth did happen? It's been so long since I've heard from you…"

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the obvious attempt at a guilt trip, Misaki explained the events as briefly as he could. He had spoken to his brother repeatedly during Usagi-san's recovery period, but he hadn't been able to think over the more critical days without wanting to vomit. Now, with his lover fully sized and back to his normal idiotic, perverted self again, the past seemed so much further away, clamped down in a safe place where it couldn't hurt them anymore.

By the end of his woeful tale, Takahiro was nearly vibrating with sorrow and guilt, and, in the background, Usami Fuyuhiko was obviously having to focus very hard on not laughing out loud.

"That's terrible," said Takahiro when Misaki finished. "So awful! You should have told me, Misaki, I would have come over and helped!"

"They did tell us, dear," said Minami mildly.

"Yes, but they didn't say how bad it was!" Takahiro fell about Misaki's neck again, nearly dragging him to the floor. "My poor little brother. Usagi-chan does appreciate what you've been doing for him – I know he's been sick, but that won't excuse taking advantage of you!"

"He's appreciated me quite enough," grumbled Misaki, grateful for the alcoholic flush that had already settled on his cheeks, for it neatly disguised his newest blush. Minami smiled brightly, in a way that reminded him ominously of Aikawa-san on the hunt for a new BL concept, and distracted her husband neatly by asking him to introduce her to Kamijou-sensei and his tall friend.

"I know your brother, don't I?" rumbled Usami Fuyuhiko, as soon as Takahiro was out of earshot. "I vaguely remember him coming around to the house a few times.

"Yeah, he and Akihiko-san are friends." Reluctantly, Misaki stepped forward and stood beside the businessman. "If he was talking to you earlier, I'm really sorry; he means no harm, he's just really enthusiastic." And thankfully oblivious, Misaki added in the sanctity of his own head.

"I found him quite refreshing. I vaguely remembered his rather breathless style of conversation from a guest that once got lost in the east wing." He paused and added, conspiratorially, "I don't know how he got in there, since all the doors were locked."

Giggling, Misaki said, "He's never shared that story with me!"

"You would have expected him to?" asked Usagi-chichi, looking sceptical.

"We were really close when I was younger, " said Misaki, not entirely sure why he was sharing this with this man of all people. "But we've grown apart now."

"I'm guessing thatyou have your fair share of things you don't share with him now?" Fuyuhiko twitched one eyebrow and smirked neatly, in an infuriatingly knowing fashion. Misaki glanced across the room, to where Takahiro was now conversing merrily with Kamijou-sensei, who was growling answers in return. Beside them, Nowaki and Minami were talking mutually happily, occasionally casting knowing looks at their partners. "Oh well!" The older man continued to talk, disregarding Misaki's pointed silence. "There's plenty of things that I'm refusing to discuss with my brother as well, so I can hardly talk."

Misaki's head swung around sharply, the alcohol having only muffled his reservations and not yet dimmed his reflexes. "You have a brother?" he asked.

"An older one," he said, a brief little frown passing over his face as he sipped his whisky. "And an older sister. You remember Mizuki-kun of course? My sister is his mother."

A few more branches snapped into place on Misaki's mental Usami family tree. "You don't talk with your brother?" he mumbled, ducking his face closer to his champagne.

Usami Fuyuhiko smiled unpleasantly. "My brother enjoys what he does, and has made a point of telling me he wouldn't do my job for anything in the world, but he does rather resent that I have a few billion dollars in several banks and he does not. It has soured our relationship somewhat."

Misaki could imagine. He was about to do a little subtle prying, when Usagi-san suddenly called for everyone's attention and the crowd of their friends and family gravitated around the bottom of the stairs, which the man was using as a podium. Misaki took a position at the back of the crowd, in case Usagi-san said something horrifically embarrassing and he needed to run away – something which he was grateful for when the author briefly caught his eye and gave him a quick little grin that only Misaki seemed to spot.

Everyone quietened down and looked up at Akihiko expectantly. For a moment he stood silent and then he smiled brightly – that glitzy, glamour-laden smile he would always pull out at social occasions – and began to speak, voice perfectly pitched and tone silky smooth.

"This evening has merely been a token of mine and Misaki's appreciation, to thank you for whatever you've done for us while I have been sick. I am acutely aware that I am never the best patient, and that I was even worse as a young teenager, so I feel I should probably also apologise in retrospect for driving those of you who had to deal with me insane." He paused and his eyes flickered across the crowd. "The past few months have been nothing less than a hellish experience and I can say with the utmost certainty that I never want to experience anything similar again. But I also feel that I came out of this in a stronger position than I went in – as it turns out, there's nothing like a near death experience to straighten out a few relationship problems." A soft rumble of luahter rang out briefly, and Usagi-san gave a quick moment to die out. "And now I would like to call for some toasts, as a final display of my gratitude." He took a breath and raised his champagne glass in front of him.

"To the doctors, who worked night and day to keep their patients alive and comfortable. I can safely and surely say, without your efforts I would dead now."

Glasses were raised and champagne sipped, both Dr Fujioka and Dr Hideki bowing their heads slightly in acceptance.

"For my friends and family, who did what they could to keep me safe and played their part in delivering the cure. In particular, for Misaki, who dropped everything to care for me and still hasn't stopped. Thank you."

The toast was cheerfully echoed about the room, Misaki taking his a second after everyone else

"And to my fellow sufferers, I can't tell you how glad I am that you are better as well."

Nowaki-san and Asahina-san repeated this toast extra loudly, and Akihiko shared a smile with them both.

"So, one last toast, please," Usagi-san then purred, and Misaki raised his glass without even really intending to, so strong was the power that the man's rhetoric had on him. "To being ourselves again."

This toast was echoed about the room and Akihiko stepped down off the bottom stair, expertly avoiding anyone who might have distracted him from slipping across the room to Misaki's side.

"Now," he said, inclining his head to whisper in Misaki's ear, "We just have to get these people out of my house."

The place was a mess, plates and glasses and empty bottle on nearly every horizontal surface, and they didn't even have the luxury of Tanaka-san to clear it up for them. Misaki banged his head softly against the door as he locked it closed and then found himself being pulled into a strong embrace, the soft scent of Akihiko's cologne soothing his tiredness, the warmth of the man's body buoying him momentarily.

"Let's go to bed," the older man rumbled, pulling Misaki gently in the direction of the stairs.

"But, Usagi-san, the mess…"

"There's always tomorrow for that." He fixed Misaki with a soft lavender gaze and smiled a little smile that made Misaki's hair stand on end. "Come to bed with me."

It had been a long day, if enjoyable, and Misaki was overjoyed to reach his bed. Beside him, Usagi-san was fumbling to remove his tie, his droopy fatigue a sudden counterpoint to his cheeriness as finally people had finally filed out of their home. Finally Misaki can no longer bear to see him struggle and reaches over broad shoulders to help unslip the knot. As he tries to withdraw, to undo his own tie and strip off his very nice but not entirely him suit, strong hands catch his wrists and pull him close, so his arms are wrapped in a hug about Akihiko's neck and his cheek is pressed to the silky mop of the man's hair.

"Are you all right?" He asks haltingly, unable to prevent himself from cuddling a little closer and rubbing his cheek against the man's hair - strands begin to escape forward from their previously suave and slicked back position, and Akihiko twitches his head slightly to knock them out of his vision.

"I just wanted a little Misaki to keep me going," he rumbled. Misaki tensed in preparation for a pouncing which never came. "And I'm tired."

"You've only just recovered," said Misaki, untangling himself reluctantly and crawling across the bed to sit by Usagi-san's side, dangling his feet off the edge of the bed and shifting so that their thighs bumped together. "Just throw your clothes into the basket and I'll sort what needs to go for dry cleaning tomorrow."

"Like you'll have time for that," said Usagi-san drooping his head to lean on Misaki's shoulder. It was an ungainly position and for a brief guilty second Misaki wished that the man was still small again, so they would both fit together in this comforting pose. "Give me just a minute."

Misaki waited patiently, one hand drifting up as if of its own accord to pet the man's hair, before becoming acutely aware that Usagi-san was for all intents and purposes asleep on his shoulder.

"Come on you lazy sod," he said, no malice in his voice, jolting his lover up with a shrug of his shoulders. "Change and get into bed."

Reluctantly, and with the grace of a small and sulky child, Usagi-san changed into his pyjamas, arranged his suit over its hanger in the vaguest possible fashion and collapsed into bed. Misaki monitored him the whole way to make sure he would get it done. As soon as the other man flopped into bed, the sudden weight of fatigue slammed down onto the younger man's shoulders instead. He didn't even bother to sling his suit on a hanger, but threw it haphazardly over the back of a chair and climbed into bed without even putting his pyjamas on.

"It's no fair seducing me like that when we're both so tired, Misaki," rumbled Usagi-san, rolling over and slinging a heavy arm across Misaki's midriff. He pressed a soft kiss to Misaki's throat and then snuggled down into the pillows, breathing evening out for a few minutes.

Misaki forced himself to relax too, feeling the heavy feeling of exhaustion draining out of his body, until he was just balancing on the edge of sleep. Beside him, Usagi-san shifted slightly and Misaki looked across, to meet a pair of sleepy lavender blue eyes watching him vaguely.

"What?" he croaked, slightly irritated about being prevented from slipping all the way into sleep. This was immediately quashed by the sleepy sweet smile Akihiko gifted him with.

"To being ourselves again," he said softly, the hand that was draped over Misaki's stomach catching hold of the younger man's own hand and squeezing gently.

Breath caught in his chest, heart throbbing painfully hard, Misaki could barely speak. God, he loved this man; painfully, excruciatingly so. He just hoped Akihiko knew it. He rolled over, as Akihiko did the same, so they faced each other on the pillows, hands still clasped tightly.

"To being us," Usagi-san said, and Misaki leant forward to briefly kiss him.

Through his blush afterwards, through the film of emotion forming quickly on his eyes, Misaki repeated his lover's words, in a voice choked up with affection, "Yeah; to being us."

The End.

Oh god, it is done. My relief is fucking immeasurable – I did enjoy writing this story, but, as I'm sure you've noticed, my inspiration waned somewhat towards the end there. I'm just glad it's finished, and on a nice sappy note too!

I can't thank my readers and my reviewers enough – especially those who took time to offer me such excellent concrit. I'll be sweeping back through the chapters and doing some editing thanks to that, and hopefully the story will be even better once it's been nicely polished up. But seriously, this is the story that got me the best responses ever, and I think it's really developed me as a writer, so thanks guys! You're amazeballs! =P

As far as new updates go – keep an eye on Soul Searching after November. I'm going to do NaNoWriMo, and I think that Soul Searching is my best chance at hitting my target. There's another series planned to mirror my Grains of Sugar series, and an immensely smutty thing that I'm drifting about with as well, so watch this space!

Love to you all! FLC xx