Hello everyone and thank you so much for your reviews and your patience with this story :) I realize we've been moving kind of slow, but I've been editing a lot of my material for upcoming chapters so updates are a bit slow.
But rest assured, next chapter will focus solely on the Artistica couple instead of the side characters. Thank you all for your support!
P.s. If you haven't noticed, yourfanfiction went under so I've put all my lemons back up in my stories. So chapter three contains the actual chapter and not the notice.
Chapter Ten: Frozen
"How did breakfast go?" Renaka asked as they both entered the kitchen, immediately sensing the topic Yuu wanted to discuss.
"It was nice, but strange." Yuu replied, helping Renaka take a couple mugs out of the cupboard. "I never expected Hisashi's parents to be so…diverse."
"Hah, neither did I when they moved in. Atsushi was very used to strange growing up with me and those four, but even he was shocked to his core when Hiroshi-san bounded over to our yard and hugged him the first time all of us met. I was too, though personally the fact that he was married to such a 'traditional' woman surprised me more, though not as much as Hisashi's condition."
"What…was he like? He's only told me a little."
"Very quiet and very stressed," Renaka sighed. "Having his stepbrother die so suddenly and moving to a strange place was hard on him. They pulled him out of school and according to Saki some days he could barely get out of bed.
"Most of his doctors said it was onset childhood depression, but he was also very panicky, so I always thought it was something more. Though my personal diagnosis of him caused more problems than it solved."
"What do you mean?"
Renaka's elegant brow creased with an emotion Yuu had never seen from her: regret.
"Since I know how much you care for Hisashi, I'll lay it all on the table for you. I wasn't in the greatest state myself when they moved next door. Katsuya had passed a mere six months before after ten years of slowly dying. Saki had just lost her only son in car accident and wanted to love Hiroshi's son like her own. We were both craving something to nurture and he was the perfect target.
"But, because of our obvious differences, we had very conflicted ideas on how we should 'help' Hisashi. I know we both seem very level-headed now, but back then our disagreements could get very heated and loud. Hiroshi was often away on business and there really was no one there to buffer the arguments. As a result, Hisashi's condition worsened. I'm sure you've noticed this, but he simply can't stand fighting."
Yuu paused at the revelation. It made sense, however since the couple had never gotten in a serious fight before, he didn't have any idea how the blonde would react.
"I guess I can see that. He tends to absorb atmosphere so yelling would probably set him off."
"It doesn't 'set him off' exactly," Renaka said quietly as she heated water for the tea and turned on the coffee maker. "He freezes. Puts on a blank face and tries to tune it all out."
Yuu leaned against the counter, silently nodding as Hisashi's blunt affect was something he had seen on several occasions.
"Saki and I both share the blame, but the thing we are most ashamed of is that we never really noticed how much our arguing bothered Hisashi. It didn't hit us until he started disappearing."
Yuu raised an eyebrow.
"Sometimes he'd vanish for entire days. And when he did come out of hiding he wouldn't tell us where he'd been. We tried to keep a tighter lid on his movements, but we'd always lose track of him. Saki was scared to death he would run away and we were at our wit's end. That's when I finally found a way to reach him."
Yuu nodded, putting the pieces together.
"Yes," She replied. "One day we found him playing in his room and talking to himself. He always liked to act out his favorite animes so it wasn't unnatural for him to be vocal. We went in and I asked him where Hisashi was. He just calmly looked up at me and said 'in his safe place, and he's not coming out until you promise to stop fighting.'"
Renaka shook her head in utter disbelief.
"I couldn't comprehend it. Naturally we interrogated him for almost an hour, but my boy was every bit as stubborn as me. He didn't budge until Saki and I solemnly swore not to argue anymore and gave each other a hug."
"So, where was he hiding?" Yuu asked with a slight smile.
"In Atsushi's closet with a pile of coloring books, snacks, and a CD player with headphones. Even if we hadn't found him Sushi had him set for life."
Yuu's smile grew wider at the mental image of the curly little blonde cozied up in a dark closet and Renaka mirrored it back.
"Yes, despite the implications, it was adorable. And to put the rest in a nutshell, it took us a while, but Saki and I have met each other halfway on some issues and agreed to disagree on all the others."
"That's good." Yuu commented, relieved that at least there wouldn't be tension between those particular parties. "From our brief meeting it was obvious she's a very traditional woman."
"And I'm a very unorthodox woman," Renaka countered with a little chuckle. "Though it's no wonder, considering I wasn't raised here."
"I was born here, but I actually lived in America until I was ten and then I went back for half of high school and college."
"Somehow I can see that," Yuu smiled.
"Yep, though my parents made sure I got all the Japanese culture they could shove down my throat. Even still, a lot of it didn't stick."
"Where did you live in America?"
"San Francisco in California."
Having heard of the place from tales of the gay community, Yuu's sharp mind put a few more pieces together.
"No wonder you're open about orientation."
"Are you kidding?" She said. "I'm actually a little thrilled both my sons turned out to be rainbow men. My best friend back in college was gay. But San Fran, like any place, wasn't entirely open to homosexuals back then and I saw firsthand the torment he endured. One time someone on campus had the audacity to spray paint 'fag' on his door."
Yuu's lips tightened, familiar with the English context of the word.
"What did you do?"
"What else?" She muttered. "Tracked the jackass down and keyed his convertible. I would've slashed his tires but security was too tight."
The brunette's eyebrows lifted as Renaka took the fresh pot of coffee and poured herself a cup, all the while pondering other pro-homo things she had done in college. Though she wasn't about to tell Yuu the time she and her friend had painted themselves rainbow and ran naked across the Golden Gate Bridge. Even if she was rather proud of that memory, as the police hadn't been able to catch them.
"What was this friend's name?" Yuu asked. "You didn't say."
"Steve," Renaka replied, with the slightest hint of a smile. Yuu lips parted in a brief scoff and he glanced at the dozing Labrador at the far end of the kitchen.
"But as much as I liked America, I ended up coming back after I graduated because of my interest in the manga business and things went on from there. I met Katsuya, debuted my fantasy series, and had Atsushi. I've always intended to go back and visit the states, but I've never had the chance, especially in these past couple years. Though maybe now that Hisashi is settled with you I'll go take a sunny vacation."
"He told me that you actually home-schooled Atsushi and him. What was that like?"
"Well," Renaka said, grabbing a serving tray and piling the mugs on it. "The apple doesn't fall from the tree, or rather the tree won't let the apple. Atsushi got his first Mohawk right as he entered school and the teacher insisted we cut it off. From there it escalated into me realizing she was a small minded idiot and not wanting my son to be taught in an uncreative, shallow, conformist environment. Hisashi never did well in such crowded rooms either, not to mention the constant pestering he got, so his parents and I agreed I would do the same for him. Though considering they did their school work along side my assistants, it was inevitable that they would end up in the manga business. They knew all the shades of toner before they could even remember their times tables."
Yuu smiled at this, but when Renaka turned to him with a bewildered look, he frowned.
"Has Hisashi-chan talked to you about anything since you got here?"
"You mean how he's feeling about being back? Not really."
"Mmm," Renaka mused. "Maybe he's just trying to process it all but…I worry when he's so quiet."
"But isn't that how he copes with things?" Yuu asked.
"Most of the time yes but…usually, or at least around people he trusts, he's able to at least convey how he's feeling. It's when he locks himself up that he's in deep water."
Yuu swallowed at this and unconsciously turned back towards the entrance to the living room, and was slightly surprised as a disgruntled blonde ducked inside.
"What's up?" Renaka asked.
"Sora used the words 'flavored condoms' in a sentence." Hisashi grumbled with a slight shudder.
"All right," She sighed, grabbing the loaded tray. "We're coming. Sora! What did I tell you about keeping the details of your sex life to yourself?!"
Despite the various and somewhat avant-garde personalities of Renaka's assistants, the group enjoyed a couple hours of catching up and discussing the pros and cons manga trade, as well as a brief conversation from Daiki about raw food diets and Sora giving Setsuna absurd lesbian pick up lines for the yogurt shop girl.
But as early afternoon approached, Renaka thought it time to give the visiting couple a break and send the girls on their way. Though the three of them could hardly leave without having yet another deviant argument on the way out.
"We should totally hit the clubs tonight!" Sora said as she pulled on a pair of green chucks.
"NO CLUBS!" Renaka barked furiously. "You're on probation!"
"We weren't going to drink," Sora said in an unconvincing innocent voice. "We were just going to sit quietly, drink Shirley Temples, and watch Daiki arm wrestle every macho guy in the joint."
"I don't wanna go anyway," Setsuna muttered, pulling on a leather jacket and storming out the door, thoroughly embarrassed by everyone's talk of her crush.
"Oh don't be like that sourpuss," Sora called, heading out after her. "Come on! Let's go to the yogurt shop!"
Daiki sighed at the two, giving Renaka a one-armed hug.
"Dai-chan," Renaka sighed. "Please be the responsible one."
"Always am," Daiki grinned.
"Especially when you're riding those things. I see two new dents in your helmet!"
Daiki's grin faded and she nodded sheepishly as she joined the other two outside to ride their bikes back to Sapporo. Renaka came back into the living room and flopped on her recliner as Hisashi turned the TV on, sinking into the loveseat with Yuu.
"Renaka-san," Yuu asked as he steered Hisashi's head to rest on his shoulder. "How on earth have you put up with this for so long?"
The mangaka sighed, brushing back some of her ebony hair.
"You're guess is as good as mine."
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