CHAPTER 15: EMAIL: It looks as though the end of Bad Luck is nigh, and nothing Shuichi's friends or bandmates can say will change that. But maybe an email can…

NOTE: For me the relationship between Eiri and Yuki (and to an extent Tohma) was never adequately explained to my satisfaction - Eiri blamed himself, especially in the manga, and Tohma's attitude, especially in the manga, seemed rather ambivalent. Did Ms Murakami deliberately leave it cryptic? Or had she simply not worked it out herself? Call me an old cynic, or a harsh critic, but I might lean toward the latter... but what the heck, it's Christmas and I'll be nice. Regardless, this is my take on the dynamics of the whole thing!

One again, happy christmas, and if I don't post before then, a truly joyful and prosperous new year to all of you with much love from your grateful friend Moon71!


The voice was soft, timid – almost childlike. Shuichi looked up, half expecting it to be some cunning fan-girl who had somehow managed to slip through K's security net and find her way backstage. Astonishingly, though, it was Fujisaki Suguru who stood blinking nervously in the doorway.

"Relax, Fujisaki-kun," Shuichi said wearily, turning back to the dressing-room mirror, "as you can see, I haven't run away – I'm dressed and ready to go out there."

The boy looked down at the floor. "Shindou-san, I wanted to talk to you about Bad Luck."

Shuichi could not suppress a small stab of pain. "Man, do you even pause for breath? Don't tell me you've found someone to replace me already?"

"No!" Fujisaki sounded almost indignant. "I wanted to…" Shuichi heard him take a deep breath. "Look, I know you don't like me much, Shindou-san, but you have to admit we work well together. And I want you to reconsider your decision to quit."

Shuichi looked down at his hairbrush, feeling a sudden wave of regret. "I like you okay, Suguru-kun," he said softly. "But I'm not changing your mind."

"Bad Luck won't be Bad Luck without you!" Fujisaki blurted the words out as if they were choking him.

Shuichi turned to him in genuine surprise, moved more than he cared to admit as he looked around and saw his keyboard player turning bright pink with embarrassment. It had never been easy for them to say nice things about each other… now that all seemed so childish; so wasteful. Just as every argument he had had with Yuki now seemed time carelessly thrown away, now that Bad Luck was soon to be consigned to his past, Shuichi had begun more and more to regret times he had been too busy being a brat; arguing and protesting and resisting change he knew was for the best.

Too late. It was all too late.

"You and Hiro'll manage," he told Fujisaki quietly, "or even if…" he swallowed hard. "If Hiro packs it in too, you know you'll do great no matter who you form a band with!"

Fujisaki stared so hard at him then, his eyes burning with such dark fire, that Shuichi thought that precocious, self-possessed youth might actually start to cry. But then he seemed to recover himself. "I thought you cared about Bad Luck more than anything else, Shindou-san," he said coldly, turning to go. "I guess I was wrong."

"Suguru –!" Shuichi called, but Fujisaki went out without a backward glance.

Alone once again, Shuichi sank his head into his hands. "Damn…" he whispered. He wanted to be angry – the kid was an idiot, coming out with something like that just before they were due to go on stage! But he couldn't. Fujisaki had every right to feel betrayed, and when it came down to it, what consideration had Shuichi ever given to his feelings anyway? He had just made his decision and relied on Hiro's understanding of his inner turmoil. But Fujisaki had given just as much to Bad Luck as Hiro had – in many ways, a lot more.

Shuichi glanced over to the laptop he had brought with him. He ought to get rid of it – all he ever seemed to do was search the net for ridiculous celebrity gossip which ultimately just left him feeling depressed. No doubt by now news of Yuki's divorce would be spreading – it probably wouldn't supplant the stuff about Aizawa Taki but it would certainly get the women on the alert all over again. Right now one of them was already busy selling her story about how she was the "other woman" in "Yuki-san's" life, and, of course, his real true love.

Without knowing quite why, Shuichi switched it on and waited for the wireless network to connect. There might, he told himself, be an email from Maiko, wishing him luck. He would like that. He'd rather not hear anything from any of the girls he had stopped seeing, but some of them didn't seem to understand what "good-bye" meant. Sometimes he still thought about Buki. She was a nice girl. It would have been nice to be friends with her. But it seemed as though Buki's similarity to Yuki went quite a bit deeper than the rhyming of their names inasmuch as she apparently didn't believe in being "just friends" with a member of the opposite sex.

He scanned down the list. Maiko. Good. Maiko's friend Keiko, probably thanking him for the VIP tickets to the show tonight. Fair enough. Hitomi, probably demanding to know why Shuichi hadn't sent her any tickets, VIP or not. Oh well. And…

Yuki Eiri.

Shuichi stared at the name in disbelief. It wasn't possible. It just wasn't possible. Someone had to be playing a joke on him. After all, anyone could set up an account under that name; it didn't have to mean anything. But when he checked the email address, he recognised it at once the one Yuki always used to email Mizuki and deal with his publishers. The only one he knew for a fact that Yuki actually possessed.

Shuichi continued to gaze stupidly at it for a long time. He had to go on stage in one hour. This was not the time to read something from Yuki, whatever in the world it could possibly be. What if it was something devastating? Unbearable?

Yuki's gone to New York…

That lingering memory of that strange dream suddenly loomed nightmarishly large in Shuichi's mind. No. No, that's not what I want. Even if we can't be together, I don't want him to leave. I want… I want…

Without another thought, Shuichi opened the email and read the first few lines.

Dear Shuichi

Yes, it really is me.

I suppose you'll think I have no business knowing your email address, let alone writing to you like this, and I wouldn't blame you if you just hit "delete" without reading this. But if you're still enough of the Shuichi I remember, you'll give this a fair hearing.

Let's cut to the chase. Yuki Eiri, as you know, was never one to waste time on small talk. I know you're planning to give up on Bad Luck. Maybe I'm giving myself too much credit, but if it is in any way my fault, I would like to help. This might come as a great shock to you, but for once I'm being completely honest with you. Enjoy it.

People who have better claim to know how you're feeling at the moment than I do have told me that you believe that I left you and married Usami Ayaka because I no longer wanted you after you had been assaulted. This isn't true. I left for two reasons. The same two reasons, more or less, why I kicked you out of my place the day before it happened. One was simply that I was scared. I didn't like what you were doing to me. The other reason was that I was afraid that our relationship wasn't safe for either of us.

I don't suppose any of this makes the slightest sense to you, so I'll try to explain. You'll no doubt be asking by the end of this why I didn't tell you all of this nearly a year ago, and save us both a lot of pain. So I'll tell you why now, so that you're not distracted. I didn't tell you partly because I didn't want you to get too close to me, partly because I had no idea how you'd react, and partly because you would have asked lots of damn fool questions that I couldn't answer because I couldn't remember.

When I met you, I started to remember things I had forgotten for six years. Deliberately forgotten, I think. I don't know how you managed to trigger all this in me, but I think it was initially just because you reminded me so much of myself. I know this is hard to believe… but then again maybe it won't be as hard for you as all that. You saw something in me no-one else could see. You seemed to have seen the boy I once was.

I was more like you than you know. I was a lot quieter and more timid than you've probably ever been, but I was optimistic, friendly, creative, sensitive and affectionate – at least that's how my sister would have described me. Unfortunately, with my light coloured hair and eyes and my fundamental naïveté I was the perfect target for abuse from the local children in Kyoto. Even my own parents weren't happy with the way I'd turned out. Suffice it to say, I didn't have a happy childhood and by the time I hit puberty I had real problems.

Then Seguchi Tohma entered my life. He began courting Mika. I use the word "courting" deliberately – it was a slow process because he was in the middle of setting up NG records and Nittle Grasper was at the height of it's fame, and as my mother passed away a year after Tatsuha was born, my sister had taken up the mantle of mother, looking after not just her brothers but our father as well. When Tohma had to go to New York for a while, I leapt at the chance of going with him and Mika managed to convince Father that the change would do me good.

I thought Tohma was the best thing that had ever happened to me. He was like a father and an elder brother… sometimes he was even like a mother. Going to New York seemed like a dream come true – we lived in a big, luxurious flat, I got to go all sorts of interesting places, I didn't stand out in a crowd, I had the perfect opportunity to learn English and best of all I didn't have to go to school. Tohma hired me my own tutor. Kitazawa Yuki.

Yes, that's right. Yuki. The name is no coincidence. Yuki became my tutor when I was fifteen. He taught me English as well as the other usual subjects. He looked after me when Tohma was working. He encouraged my writing and broadened my horizons almost exponentially. He made me feel special – for all the right reasons. I adored him.

A year later, he was dead.

I killed him. Along with two other men. That, Shuichi, is the truth about my dark and mysterious past. I'm a murderer, three times over.

But of course you won't want me to stop there. You'll want to know why. That, like I said, is one of the reasons I couldn't tell you this before. I couldn't have told you before, even if I had wanted to. But I can tell you now. I remember nearly everything now.

As I said, I adored Yuki. Yes, I know, you want me to be clearer about that. Was I in love with him? I honestly don't know. The boy that I had been then was so innocent he wouldn't have understood what real love was. The man I became would deny love existed outside people's deluded minds. I was young, lonely, and desperate for approval, especially from older men. I'm sure you've guessed even as far back as our third… or was it fourth…? little row that my relationship with my own father has never exactly been a bed of roses. I was also a hormonal adolescent. Yuki was handsome, charming and articulate. And so very clever.

The memories that I held for years were nearly all of how kind Yuki was to me, and how I had repaid his kindness with murder. I couldn't remember much about the circumstances leading up to the night I killed him, and so I could never make sense of why I did it. But I had my suspicions...

At any rate, things between Yuki and I got more intense until Tohma got suspicious and started asking questions and eventually sent Yuki away from me. I was devastated. All I knew was that the two men who had brought light into my world were at odds, and it had to be my fault. Tohma kept insisting I wasn't to see Yuki anymore. When I tried to argue with him he looked so unhappy, insisting it was his fault, that I was afraid to ask him anything else.

But I couldn't bear to be without Yuki, and it wasn't that difficult for me to make contact with him again. We talked on the phone. Once or twice we met up. I could see Yuki looking at me oddly, as if he was angry with me, and it tore me apart. I could see he didn't like me mentioning Tohma and gradually, in this way he had, he let me know that it was Tohma's fault we couldn't be together. He suggested, without ever saying it aloud, that Tohma was jealous of our friendship and was plotting against him.

Things seem so much more obvious when you view things through the eyes of an adult. Now it would have been clear to me that things were not good with Yuki – that he had been drinking and was seriously agitated about something. That Tohma wasn't angry or jealous – he was worried; even frightened for me. There was talk of sending me back to Japan – but I got so upset every time he or Mika mentioned it that they kept putting it off.

Finally they couldn't put it off any longer. Mika demanded Tohma bring me home. I was heartbroken. So when Yuki called me and told me to sneak out at night and visit him, I leapt at the chance. I suppose I was pretty stupid for a sixteen year old, but I honestly thought we would go away together and live happily ever after.

That was the night it happened.

In the most shockingly dispassionate terms, Yuki then described what had happened to him when he had arrived at Kitazawa's flat, including his brutalisation at the hands of one of the men to whom his tutor had "sold" him for $10.00. And how, when the other man had stepped forward to take his turn, the gun stuffed into his belt had suddenly clattered to the floor between them.

I remember moving like lightning. In a second the revolver was in my hands. It was cold and heavy and it frightened me. I'd never seen a real gun before, let alone held one. But then I looked up and saw the consternation turning to fear in the eyes of the men staring down at me and I clutched at the thing like a lifeline.

Suddenly the man who had dropped it gave a derisive laugh. I still remember what he said, perhaps because with his words he signed his own death warrant. And his friend's. And Yuki's. With those words they died, and Yuki Eiri was born.

"Hey, don't worry," he said. "The safety's on. D'you think I'd want to accidentally shoot my own balls off?"

Not much of an epitaph, was it?

By some instinct – or some logic – where from I don't know – I found what I knew had to be the safety catch, clicked it off, pointed the gun at it's owner and squeezed the trigger.

I don't know how I managed to aim so accurately. I don't know how many times I fired. All I know is that suddenly both those revolting men were lying on the ground and they weren't moving and it was over and they couldn't hurt me anymore.

Then I turned to face Yuki.

For a good minute I saw clear, absolute terror in his eyes. He backed away from me. He was still drunk and he had trouble keeping his balance. He looked so… pathetic, like the school bully who realises he's picked on the wrong kid and is about to get back with interest all he's been paying out. And for the first time in our relationship, I felt a surge of power. I felt as though I was in control. As if I had somehow gained wisdom well beyond my years, all I felt for Yuki then was contempt.

Consider yourself privileged, kid – you're about to hear something nobody else knows, not even Seguchi. Not even my psychiatrist, yet. (And yes, you did read that right, I see a shrink. After all I've just told you, are you really that surprised?) The truth is, even I didn't know this myself until very recently.

Yuki might have survived if he'd just kept silent. But as always he thought he knew me better than I knew myself. He started trying to talk me down. Started saying that it had all been a silly game, and he was sorry, but it was all over now, so I should just give him that nasty old gun and he'd take me home and we'd say no more about it. He knew I loved my Sensei. He knew I wouldn't want to hurt him.

I couldn't believe it. He was talking to me like I was a five year old. Even now he was still laughing at me. I remember lowering the gun, just to see what he would do. And then I saw him smile.

For years I couldn't remember why I shot Yuki. I told myself it was just the fear and the panic – that I shot blindly at anyone I could. But there was always this sense not just of guilt, but of fear. Now I can remember why.

I think I might actually have pulled the trigger just to wipe that smile off his face.

All I know is that I shot him because I wanted to kill him. I wanted to kill him not just for what he'd done that night, but for all the lies I'd believed and all the laughing he must have done behind my back. I wanted to kill him for humiliating me.

Yuki then described – in not enough detail to satisfy Shuichi's hunger for information on all those missing years – how Tohma had managed to get him home to Japan without charges being pressed, and how he had gradually struggled out of a terrible depression to start upon his career as a novelist. And so Yuki Eiri was born, Yuki wrote. Shuichi could almost hear the irony in his voice and see the smirk upon his lips. Though he longed to skim ahead for more, he forced himself to read on, line by line.

After all that, it won't surprise you that I was wary of any relationship that went beyond sex. I simplified my world. I managed without friends. Many women tried to get beyond my barriers but they all failed. But you… you wouldn't take no for an answer. For a while I thought that might be a good thing. As I'm being so honest here, I'll admit that I liked you from the moment I saw you. I wanted you – you must surely have guessed that by now – but it was never just sex. You had so much spirit, so much love for life, so much hope. And you were so forgiving, even of me and my lousy moods. You just kept coming back. I hated it, but I also liked it. Wanted it. But then the alarm bells started going off in my head.

It was when the gossip first started – thanks to that bastard Aizawa and your stupid "Yuki is mine!" moment - that I began to worry. I didn't want either of us to get "outed", that's true, but there was more to it than that. You didn't seen to realise what sort of danger you were in – how the scandal could damage your career before it even got underway – and I knew if I tried to explain it you'd protest that you didn't care. Very romantic, but not very realistic.

But far more than that, I began to see how things were going. We were becoming a "couple." And not only was I not ready for that – I didn't trust myself not to ruin your life the way I'd ruined my own, and Yuki's. I'd thought I was in love with Yuki, and I'd still killed him. Think about it. I honestly believed you'd be better off with someone else – someone who could love you and tell you they loved you.

After what happened with Aizawa, the memories really began to return. I remembered how it felt to be mad enough to kill. What happened to you was my fault. You went through it to protect me. Because of me, you'd gone through the same thing I'd gone through myself. I'd cursed you with my own bad fortune. It seemed as though the gods were punishing me through you. But of course it was more than that, as you probably realise now. It was just too much for me to see you go through that. It brought back too many memories all at once. I really began to remember.

I wasn't used to caring for someone. I'm still not used to it. It came naturally to me once, when I was young, but now everything that I became after New York fights against it. I did think that getting away from you would keep us both safe – you from my murderous ideas of love; me from your insidious influence. But it seems as though it was too late for both of us. For me, the awakening process didn't stop when I left you. It got worse. I remembered more and more. Finally I returned to New York… to the place it had all happened.

Shuichi looked up from the computer in shock, feeling his head begin to swim. "Yuki's gone to New York…" he whispered aloud, hardly able to believe what he was reading. How had he possibly known that?

All at once, a wave of fear passed over him. There's no way I could have known that. Maybe this is just another dream. Maybe any minute now I'm going to wake up and find out this email never existed. But then he pushed the thought away. He was wide awake. Whatever this strange coincidence meant, it was not a dream this time. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to relax and read on.

It was like walking into hell. Memories were everywhere. You'll excuse me for not going into more detail. But I did, finally, remember.

So much for what I remember, and what I think. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that there are gaps in this little story. If it was one of my novels Mizuki would have it pulped. The truth is that there are still two versions of events – mine and Tohma's - the latter of which fits in better with what my shrink believes.

I have always believed that what happened was my fault. That I unwittingly led Yuki astray. That the suffocating intensity of my love for him, and my refusal to let go even when Tohma told me to, backed him into a corner until he had no choice but to turn on me.

Tohma's version of course blames Yuki. He says he became suspicious for a number of reasons and started asking about Yuki's past in Japan. He was Japanese American but he had spent time working in Japan. Tohma found out he'd worked at a very exclusive boy's boarding school and got the sack for playing two of the senior boys off against one another. The school only found out when one – quite literally – tried to kill the other. The school sacked him, but to save their reputation they agreed to hush things up and give good references if Yuki went back to the US.

Tohma doesn't seem to think there was anything much sexual in it and I agree. Yuki was downright weird when it came to sex. I made one or two clumsy passes at him in the heat of my little obsession – I barely knew what I was doing, but he never made anything of it. That evening in his apartment, I thought he might actually do something – he was drunk and acting weird and I was frightened, so it was hard to know if he was serious. He mocked my feelings for him, insisting he'd seen the way I looked at him and knew what I wanted. But when those two men turned up, his exact words were "after you."

Charming, I know. So what was it with him? Repressed queer, maybe? Arch-voyeur? I don't know. Maybe he just enjoyed the power. He was certainly fond of mind-games; and damned good at them too. Perhaps it really was just as he said – a game that got out of control.

Now you know as much as I do. And so we come to the end, where I'm supposed to write loads of self-sacrificial bullshit about how you're too good for me and you're better off without me and how I hope you can find someone who will love you the way you should be loved. But I'm not going to say all of that. It seems to me I've tried that and all I've done is succeeded in making a lot of people miserable, myself included, and ended up more or less back where I started. So I'm not going to tell you what to do. There'd be no point anyway – you'll do what you want to do, not what I or anyone else thinks is best. That's your nature, and I don't imagine you'll ever change.

You probably already know my marriage to Ayaka is over. The only good thing that ever came of that is that I think she now understands that it's better to have loved and lost than to be married to a jerk like me. Perhaps, after a year, you've come to the same conclusion. If that's true – or if this letter alone helps you to find your way back to the path I think you were on before I got in the way and you don't want to go back for me, that's fine. I won't like it, but I'll learn to accept it, and I'll always wish you well.

What happens next is up to you. I know life with me wasn't exactly perfect before I left you. I can't guarantee it will be any better if you take me back, for all that I do finally seem to have made some progress towards coming to terms with my past. I've accepted something I think you've known all along - that I'm still me, the same boy who was born in Kyoto; the same boy who went to New York. After all this time, I've finally figured out that the one person I can't run away from is myself, so I'm done with running away.

That, really, is all I want you to know - that whatever you decide, I'm not going anywhere. Tokyo is my home, now and for the foreseeable future. And who knows…? Maybe we'll run into each other again in the park one night. Only this time, instead of insulting your lyrics, I might just buy you a cup of coffee.

Good luck with your concert. Sing your heart out, Shu-chan,

You damned brat.

Uesugi Eiri

By the time Shuichi reached the end of the letter, his heart was thumping at a rapid pace and he was breathing so hard he thought he actually might start to hyperventilate. When he put a hand to his face he found it damp with perspiration.

He stood up, sat down again, stood up again and then began to pace across the floor.

It was too much to take in. It was too unbelievable. He did not know what to feel. It was incredible. It was… horrible.

It was beyond anything he might ever have imagined, and yet it made a creepy sort of sense.

Shuichi sat down at the computer once more. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he read the whole thing again, from start to finish.

Only the second time did he really take in just what Yuki was trying to say to him. He wasn't going away. He wasn't writing to say good-bye.

It actually sounded as though he was, in his reticent, ironic way, asking for a second chance.

It wasn't what I thought. It wasn't because of the rape. Only it was… but not in the way I thought.

I can't believe it. I can't believe he went through that too.

And then, all at once, the full reality of everything Yuki had just confessed to him struck Shuichi like a tidal wave.

Maybe this was all old news to Yuki. Maybe he didn't care anymore. He had taken Kitazawa Yuki's name. Maybe he had intended that as some sort of memorial – as a peace offering to the dead. Maybe that was a sign he had come to terms with what he had done – and what been done to him…

But no. No. Yuki hadn't come to terms with this. Yuki hadn't been happy these last few years. The words he had written said as much. And Ayaka had been right after all; that had been a part of the man's attraction for both of them, for all it had been far less conscious on Shuichi's part. Like Ayaka, Shuichi had sensed the unhappiness in Eiri, and, like Ayaka, he had wanted to bring a smile to that handsome face and know that smile was for him… and because of him.

In spite of all the information in the letter, a thousand new questions began buzzing through Shuichi's mind. How had Yuki brought himself to confess all this? And why? Was it really to save Bad Luck? Or to save Shuichi?

Maybe he just feels guilty, Shuichi thought stubbornly. Sometimes I think I imagined every nice thing Yuki ever did or said… or read more into it than was ever there… back when I was with him I didn't think of myself as… sexually attractive… but all those girls I've been with… they didn't want me because they felt sorry for me… or cared about me that much…

But no. That didn't make sense either. No matter how bitter he had felt over this past year, Shuichi knew Yuki's attraction to him, whatever it really was, was never pure lust. Lust didn't last, least of all for someone as promiscuous as Yuki Eiri. It either faded or deepened into something more.

Amazing how much I've learned about relationships this last year, Shuichi noted with a small smirk. Maybe it hasn't all been for nothing…

And there had been those times… infrequent perhaps, and too quickly over, but memorable never the less… sitting in front of the television… eating dinner… sitting beside Yuki while he was working… the occasional evening stroll through the park…

An arm slipped around his waist for no reason… gentle fingers ruffling through his hair… a kiss that was not a preamble to sex…

An apology, when one was not expected… forgiveness, when Shuichi had thought for sure he had blown it…

Shuichi looked at the email once more.

Why has he finally confided in me? Why, after so long?

Is it just… … possible that Yuki… loves me…?

It was too much. It was all just… too much.

For the first time in nearly a year, Shindou Shuichi burst into tears, crying so hard he could hardly catch his breath.

He cried for many things – for all that he had been though these long months; for his broken heart, and for the relief that it might at last be allowed to heal; for all that Yuki – Eiri – had suffered at such a tender age and for the reality that if he had not suffered so, if everything that had happened to him had not brought him to that meeting in the park, he and Shuichi might never have met.

And if I hadn't gone through the same thing… Shuichi thought as he wept, would he ever have trusted me enough to tell me the truth?

Whatever he's done to me – whatever pain he's caused me… it must have taken incredible courage for him to tell me all of this, never mind send it in an email! But what should I do? How should I respond? What can I say to him?

All at once, Shuichi sprang to his feet, wiping his eyes and swallowing the last of his tears.

Amidst a noisy crowd of people, the murmured words melt away, scattered at my feet… I wander aimlessly…

Yes. That was it. That was it. Shuichi fumbled through his belongings, snatching up his writing pad and beginning to scribble furiously. That meeting in the park, where it all began. All events in their two lives led to that moment and all events which had followed were the result.

I awake and you are there.

Awake, yes. He was finally beginning to wake from a long and restless sleep.

A shimmering vision, a faint silhouette who guides me…

Yuki was there. Yuki had always been there. Yuki had never gone away at all.

"Shindou-kun! Shindou-kun, open the door, I beg of you! Whatever's wrong, we can talk about it, but please, please don't do anything rash!"

"Shuichi-kun, damn it, you're due on stage in three minutes! If you don't come out of there right now I'm going to shoot the damn lock off and carry you out there even if you're stark naked! I'm going to count to five! One! Two! Three! Four – "

"Hey!" Hiro quickly positioned himself between his manager, his producer and the door of Shuichi's dressing room. "Hey, look guys, everyone calm down! Let me talk to him!" He tapped on the door, tried the handle; finally leant his weight against it. "Shuichi? Are you in there, man?"

A moment later the door flew open and Hiro fell straight into Shuichi's arms. His friend hugged him tightly for a full moment. "It's okay, Hiro…" he heard Shuichi pant into his ear like a impassioned lover, "it's okay… it's going to be okay… I was… I was just… working on my lyrics…"

"Your…" Hiro stared at him in disbelief. Then he hugged Shuichi back with crushing force.

"Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I've done it! I've done it! I've finished the damn song!" Hardly seeming to notice K and Sakano watching them, Shuichi grabbed hold of Hiro's arm and began to pull him along towards the stage. "Come on, Hiro – I owe our fans a better performance than I've given in ages!"

"Shindou-san…?" Fujisaki Suguru appeared at the stage door, looking worried. As soon as he saw Shuichi, his gaze shifted quickly to the more usual expression of dignified disapproval. "Shindou-san, where have you…"

"Never mind all that now!" Shuichi grabbed hold of him too and pulled both his band mates forward. The hand still gripping Hiro's arm was not quite steady, and there was a distinctly wild look in Shuichi's violet blue eyes – and, if Hiro wasn't mistaken, the tracks of drying tears on his smooth round cheeks. But those cheeks were glowing with a vitality that had been lacking for months, and maybe just before this opening performance, a little hysteria wasn't such a bad thing. "Come on guys! Deep breaths! Hiro, get your guitar and let's give 'em a show even Sakuma-san couldn't rival! I'm totally fired up now!"

TBC: Eiri muses over the ending of his latest novel – and worries about the email he sent to Shuichi. Is it too little too late?