Disclaimer: All standard disclaimers apply.

Rating: T or PG-13

Contains: Occasional harsh language, mild adult content/situations

This is another Panda collaboration. I love working with her as she gives me the structure and I get to play with the details, which suits my obsessive nature. Panda is dedicating this to a dear friend who has been struggling lately, in the hopes that a bit of Egoist fluff will be just what the Doctor ordered (especially if it is the good Dr. Kusama- heh heh). Anyway, I know this sort of fic always makes my world brighter.



On the Level

Kusama Nowaki stared lustfully at his unsuspecting lover, Kamijou Hiroki.

He couldn't help it. During the past weeks they'd barely had a moment together and had only experienced a passing knowledge of each other: one arriving home after a tiring night shift, just as the other was hurriedly leaving for the University. They had exchanged brief kisses, Nowaki had seen to that, but that had been the limit of their interactions. Now, however, they were both finally home together and Nowaki wanted more…

Much more.

Both men were currently sitting in their living room. Nowaki was (or was supposed to be) watching whatever was on the TV, while Hiroki was engrossed in grading papers. More than paying attention to the flickering screen though, Nowaki was casting surreptitious glances at his lover, each stolen look only adding fuel to his yearning.

Nowaki was at intervals presently cataloging the various layers of his lover's adorability and what these stirred in him. 'Level one,' the professor was frowning, his brows were furrowed and Nowaki so longed to nuzzle out those worried wrinkles. 'Level two,' Hiroki's ever so kissable lips occasionally twitched in displeasure at his student's incompetence and Nowaki ached to still them with his own. And 'level three,' the reading glasses that normally perched so nicely on his lover's noble nose, accentuating Hiroki's handsome features had slipped down precariously and it was all Nowaki could do to keep from plucking them off, tossing them to the side, and taking the man's lovely face in his hands (this in prelude to taking the man entirely, 'level four').

'He looks so cute,' Nowaki thought, watching as Hiroki mumbled "Idiot!" before dealing the paper he was grading a strident notation with a quick flourish of his red pen. 'How am I supposed to hold myself back when he's right there before my eyes, effortlessly looking so sexy?'

He sighed and tried to turn his attention back to the banal program on the television. He missed Hiro-san so much despite the fact the man was only sitting a few feet away from him.

Nowaki found himself wondering if his Hiro-san missed him too at all. On one level he knew he was being silly to have such thoughts: the older man had said as much, though such sentiment was expressed rarely. Still, on another level Nowaki couldn't help but guess sometimes about the depth of this feeling. Especially as the assistant professor, in reality, always seemed so intensely preoccupied (and complainingly content) with his ever-demanding work life, not to mention the even more demanding people surrounding him.

The young intern's face darkened as he considered two of these bothersome individuals. 'The famous author, Usami Akihiko and the genius professor, Miyagi You.' Nowaki had always striven to keep a positive attitude, but even just thinking their names made his contemplative frown deepen. Of course he had come to terms with the roles of these men in Hiroki's life years ago. However, he couldn't help feeling jealous at times that they got to see his lover more than he did. Not to mention the numerous occasions when Hiroki would leave him, sometimes even in the middle of their "doing something" to answer one of these men's royal summons.

'Especially Usami-san.'

Nowaki sighed again, wondering if he thought about Usami Akihiko hard enough it might dampen his ardor so that he could leave Hiroki in peace to get his work done. He moved from contemplating levels of cuteness to levels of annoyance.

'Level one.' It often made Nowaki angry that Usami-san had no qualms about asking Hiroki to proofread, edit, comment, or whatever else was necessary to his every latest manuscript before he ever showed them to anyone. In fact, he still had a hard time understanding why someone as famous as the author, with all his resources, and his own professional editor still needed his precious Hiro-san.

However, though he never said as much, Nowaki knew it was a matter of great pride to Hiroki that together, he and Usami-san made novels that garnered so much admiration. 'Yes, together. Level two' Nowaki thought darkly.

And while he had been loath to acknowledge it, after reading one of Usami-san's novels (actually he'd read most of them as a matter of defense) Nowaki had grudgingly admitted to himself that Usami-san was a great author, 'level three.'

'Level four,' Nowaki knew that this in and of itself, disregarding Usami-san's and Hiro-san's shared past deep connection, drew Hiroki to him. Even if Hiroki no longer "loved" Usami-san, with his strong passion for literature and deep admiration for the construction of good prose, he couldn't help but still love the man's writing. And while there were many things Hiroki was reluctant to discuss deeply or openly, literature was not one of these. Hiro-san was always eager to join the award-winning author in an impassioned discussion, even if he told Nowaki later that Akihiko frustrated him endlessly.

Nowaki knew it was low of himself to harbor such ill feelings. After all, given Usami-san's literary standing, it was an honor that Hiroki was first man in Japan, or in the whole world for that matter, to read the "great" man's masterpieces. And though he hated to admit it 'level five,' Nowaki knew Usami-san, in his own way, was grateful for and dependent on Hiroki's assistance.

What was harder for the younger man to accept was Hiro-san knew this, but even more disconcerting, was, knowing his professor, though he would never admit it, liked this… a lot. So much so, Hiroki wouldn't hesitate to stay up late at night for those manuscripts. Even putting his own health at risk at times because of exhaustion, 'level six.'

Yet Nowaki, as perceptive as he was, understood that Usami-san's writing and Hiro-san's reading was a complex arrangement the two friends had created for each man to acknowledge the other's genius. 'Level seven:' something he would never intrude into, could never compete with, or be part of.

Still it was so frustrating sometimes that Usami-san seemed to lack the ability to survive a day without harassing Hiroki (especially when he was nearing a deadline). This in itself agitated Nowaki. Not to mention the novelist had no qualms about suddenly calling up in the middle of the night to solemnly announce he had finished writing and to ask Hiroki how soon they could arrange a meeting, so that Hiroki could "do his thing." Then Usami-san often hung up leaving Nowaki with Hiro-san when the professor was finally awake enough to feel angry about having their sleep disturbed.

'On those nights we actually get to sleep together.' Nowaki sighed again and started flipping restlessly through the channels and settling on a baseball game he really couldn't care less about. There was currently only one program he was truly interested in. Shooting another glance at Hiro-san, as the man rattled his piles of papers, it seemed clear to Nowaki that particular show might not even come on tonight. At the rate things were going, in fact, it looked as though the program had been indefinitely "cancelled."

Nowaki suddenly found himself displacing his annoyance at this by remembering other authorial intrusions as well. How many times had he and Hiro-san been out together moving amicably through the world when Usami-san had suddenly appeared honking at Hiro-san from his fancy red car? Then he would call his professorial partner over to insinuate Hiroki should leave with him or say something that would engage his lover's attention, even if Hiroki stayed with him, for the rest of the time they were together. Such occurrences always left Hiroki fretfully distracted and Nowaki seething silently.

Nowaki had hoped that with Usami-san's new-found love living under his roof, that the man would be fully occupied and would have far less time or inclination to bother Hiro-san. After all, his young lover was supposed to be cute, great with cooking, exceedingly jumpable, et cetera. Nowaki had gathered these facts from listening to Hiroki and the author yelling insults at each other and adolescently maligning each other's sexuality, which inevitably happened anytime the two were together for more than a few minutes. Whether they were talking on the phone or in person, it didn't really seem to matter.

Looking at his own lover now who had all these same qualities as Akihiko's new "boy toy" (Hiroki's words), Nowaki knew that if he had the author's life, living with Hiro-san he would never get any writing done at all.

Sneaking another look at Hiro-san, Nowaki wondered if Usami-san had to go through as many layers of resistance to get to his younger lover as he did, Usami-san himself just being the outermost edge of Hiroki's strata.

This thought drew another deep exhalation from Nowaki and the soft sound that escaped him was just shy of desperate.

Nearby Hiroki twitched. He had felt Nowaki staring at him, with all the appearance of a famished tiger watching a staked goat and he had determinedly picked up the pace of grading his lame students' blasted papers so there wouldn't be too many of them left when Nowaki decided to finally pounce him. But according to his "Kusama" clock, that should have happened ages ago (or so it seemed). Instead tonight the brat just continued sitting there across from him, too far away for Hiroki's preference, and continuously sighing.

Hiroki had enough understanding of his lover to realize these subtle exhalations were never a good sign. Hiroki knew Nowaki was holding back for him, not wanting to interfere with his work, what with the mountain of papers on the table before him. But Hiroki also found himself barely able to concentrate, waiting out each moment tensely for the next almost inaudible sound of his partner's distress.

No, Hiroki did not like the sighs at all, or the gloomy face, or the tense posture. Nowaki clearly wasn't thinking about the baseball game on the television he'd just flipped to. Hiroki could tell he also wasn't thinking about how to distract him away from his papers either. In fact, Hiroki had recognized the expression almost immediately. It was the same one Nowaki always wore whenever Akihiko called, or came over, or just said 'Hi," when they accidentally met.

'That damn brat of mine is thinking "stupid" again.'

Hiroki tried hard to repress the heat that was slowly rising up his cheeks. He suddenly felt even more guilty than he had previously that he had spent the early afternoon finishing up Akihiko's new manuscript. Because of this he now had to spend the rest of the evening grading, even though he'd known that Nowaki would be home that night long enough for them to talk…or do "something."

'Well, what's stopping him..?' Hiroki thought irritably, the notion of "something" stirring the internal ache that had been building in him for days. He had, in fact, been rather pleasantly, if somewhat, nervously anticipating his tiger's attack and had been feeling increasingly frustrated that Nowaki just kept sitting there.

Hiroki's nerves, already frayed by the absent intellect of his students finally broke when Nowaki sighed again morosely.

"What's the matter with you?" Hiroki started, catching Nowaki by surprise.

"Eh, nothing is the matter, Hiro-san." Nowaki said looking up from the game he hadn't been watching. "Please continue your work," Nowaki feigned a smile.

'He's always been such a terrible liar,' Hiroki thought.

Hiroki was beyond impatient now. He could handle many things, but Nowaki being duplicitous with him was not one of them. "Then why the hell have you staring at me like that, with that face you make?" He barked.

Nowaki blinked. Had Hiro-san known he'd been watching?' Then he belatedly noted the flush on those rosy cheeks, 'Hiro-san's level one,' which in his Hiro-san/Akihiko thought-frenzy he had failed to see before. Seeing this as his opportunity Nowaki abruptly jumped to his feet and lunged forward towards his love.

"Hiro-san…Hiro-san," he breathed the name, conveying his pent-up emotions, hands and mouth suddenly all over his lover.

"Gyaahh..Nowaki! The papers…!" Hiroki scrambled to at least save the one he was holding from being crushed between them. Others were already fluttering to the floor.

'Layer two of my Hiro-san,' Nowaki thought grimly even in the midst of his fervor. He never liked this, when even with Hiroki's implied invitations he always, even if unintentionally, made him feel guilty for interfering with his work. Yet, Nowaki pressed on, determined now to strip the man bare of his layers, one way or another.

"Nowaki…" Hiroki protested, but simultaneously he tilted his head to provide Nowaki access to that delicate spot just at the juncture of his jaw and his ear that always made him shiver.

Nowaki's lips sought him there immediately.

'Layer three.' This was more like it. Hiroki was now giving him permission to continue. Nowaki smiled against his lover's evening-stubbled skin, hungrily kissing whatever was offered him.

"Nowaki." This was said in half a whisper. 'Layer four: Let's go to bed… now!' was the declaration in Hiro-san's subtle utterance. Nowaki grinned broadly and stood up, dragging Hiroki towards the bedroom, never taking his hands…or his mouth off of his beloved.

Once Nowaki had maneuvered them in and the pair were lying on the bed together, each man's fingers tripping over themselves in their frantic fumbling, Hiroki again called Nowaki's name in that special husky voice. 'Layer five: You can do whatever you want with me, Nowaki.'

Nowaki was barely able to hold back now.

He immediately covered Hiroki's body with his own. He kissed. He sucked. He prepped. He plunged. He loved with all the desperate desire and wanton passion that had built up in him over the length of their schedule forced abstinence.

When they reached the pinnacle of their lovemaking, Hiroki murmured, "Nowaki...", hands circling around Nowaki's neck. Nowaki was overjoyed. He had reached 'layer six.'

"I love you, Hiro-san," Nowaki murmured. This was the moment he lived for even more than the physical penetration: 'level seven,' when Hiroki allowed his love to enter his heart as well. Here Nowaki could offer this expression with such happiness, knowing his words would be accepted not growled at or called "stupid." Proving this, he was rewarded when his declaration resulted in that special shade of blush that filled Hiroki's already flushed face: it was a color that only Nowaki knew.

At first Hiroki said nothing, this was his usual manner. Then remembering the "Akihiko expression" on his younger lover's face earlier, Hiroki made a bold decision. Nowaki was always so worried about not measuring up, not being equal. Hiroki wanted in this moment for the younger man to know where he stood. Hiroki shuddered, slightly nervous, pulled Nowaki closer and kissed him hard. "I love you too." That was 'Nowaki's level one.'

'Level two,' Nowaki got to see when they broke apart, the calm and earnest expression on his lover's face. Hiroki's dark eyes shone with gentle emotion, his breaths came in and out in soft pants as if saying this for the professor was the true exertion.

Hiroki's lips parted to repeat his declaration. "You are the only one who holds my heart, Nowaki, the one that occupies my mind. You are the only one I miss. No one else." Though the older man resumed his silence, every ounce of his being continued to utter this unspoken, knowing Nowaki understood.

After several quiet minutes passed, Hiroki rolled on to his side, offering Nowaki his back, 'level three.' Nowaki knew this was not a rejection but rather a request. Nowaki slid over and gathered the man in his arms embracing him from behind, fitting himself perfectly against the contours of Hiroki's lean body. He felt Hiro-san press back into his natural heat as he nestled his dark head over his lover's: 'level four.'

'Level five,' Hiroki could feel Nowaki's body buzzing with happiness. The older man felt this ramp up when he exhaled a sigh of his own just for his giant: one of complete contentment.

Though Hiroki knew Nowaki was sleepy, he could feel this lover struggling to remain conscious. The professor guessed Nowaki would want to stay awake until he drifted off, knowing that he only slept peacefully when they were both together in their bed. 'Level six' Hiroki feigned sleep and chose not to reprimand Nowaki for watching him.

Nowaki raised his head slightly to look down at his drifting partner. He so loved watching Hiro-san sleep. He was still marveling at the gift of his lover's words. Considering these, it suddenly all came to him. Those times recently when instead of running when Usami-san had called up and leaving him, Hiroki had thrown his phone to the closet and locked it. Nowaki now recalled just two weeks ago, they had been heading back from Pandasan when Usami-san had pulled up beside them up on the street. Hiroki had turned and yelled "Get lost!" Then he'd grabbed Nowaki's wrist hurrying them home. The two of them had actually collapsed in the entry laughing so hard at the expression on Usami-san's stunned face.

And then there was this afternoon, when he was fixing dinner and Usami-san had come by to pick up his latest manuscript. Hiroki thought Nowaki was too busy with his vegetable chopping in the kitchen to overhear him say "No, I'm not taking those articles from you tonight… You've already screwed my grading schedule today. Besides, that's what you have Aikawa for supposedly, right? Now leave me alone and don't even think about trying to call me tonight or the next time I see you, I'll kill you!"

Nowaki understood now that Hiroki really wasn't worried about having his grading time disturbed… in fact he'd wanted to be interrupted, but not to read another Usami production, rather he desired to share a 'private' moment with him.

Nowaki inhaled deeply and this time his sigh was peaceful. He had been being incredibly silly again. He didn't need to compare himself against Usami Akihiko, there was no comparison to be made: Hiro-san loved him.

'I love you, Hiro-san." Nowaki whispered lying his head back down and snuggling in. In his arms Hiroki smiled, feeling Nowaki truly settle behind him and knowing that they'd just reached Nowaki's 'level seven."

With this both men gave in to a blissful slumber, each folded into the other, knowing in this moment everything was completely as it should be, hearts in balance, everything with the other completely 'on the level.'


As Always, I would love to hear from you and so would da Bear!