by Talya Firedancer

"You're not still mad about what I said, are you? I...I didn't mean what I said, about the level of your writing." Shuuichi took a stab at the problem. He'd felt terrible all day, then he came home to this...there had to be three packs' worth of cigarettes in Yuki's table ashtray and he knew his lover cleaned the thing out every day.

"No," Yuki replied, still staring at his laptop. "You're right. The level of my writing...it's useless. It's trash."

"Yuki!" Shuuichi exclaimed, pushing his way fully into the study. Now he was alarmed. Yuki never talked about his own writing like that. Yuki only talked about Shuuichi's lyrics like that...and lately Harry Potter books.

Actually, Yuki never talked about his own writing unless he was on T.V.

Yuki lifted his head and fixed him with a piercing look. "Be quiet. I've made my decision...I'm giving it up."

"Give...give up?" Shuuichi clung to the doorframe. A Yuki who wasn't writing was inconceivable.

The tall blond stood, closing his laptop with a small but very decisive-sounding click.

"Wait! No, you can't!" Shuuichi said wildly, clutching handfuls of his cotton candy-pink hair. "I didn't...but you...I mean...you said...but then...you can't!" He summed his incoherent point up in a haywire burst of logic that made perfect sense. To himself.

The sudden look Yuki gave him was utterly chilling. "You can't tell me what to do," Yuki said coolly. He reached his arm out and shouldered Shuuichi aside, dragging the door shut.

Shuuichi bounced onto his knees and skittered across the hallway floor like a hockey puck. "Yuki..." he said plaintively, then took a deep breath, refreshing himself for another round.

"Just shut up, will you?" Yuki shot at him, moving through the apartment.

Blink, blink. Shuuichi rubbed at his eyes vigorously. Tears trembled at the corner of his eyes. Then he shook his head and the tremor coursed through his entire body, making him look briefly like a dog shaking his fur dry. He leapt to his feet. He heard the jingle of keys. Yuki was getting ready to go somewhere. "Yuki! Yuki, wait!" He ran for the door.

The front door slammed shut.

"Yuki," Shuuichi whispered, skidding to a stop on stockinged feet. He stared at the door. "I can't believe it."

With a round-shouldered stance, he headed slowly for the phone. This was drastic. This called for reinforcements.

Ice chinked softly in the warm golden depths of whiskey as the highball glass was tilted slowly between fine-boned hands and the liquid within swirled around. The atmosphere of the lounge was dusky, low-key, and distant piano music was playing. It was a wistful, jazzy tune.

"The critics' reviews for 'Cool' were excellent," Seguchi Touma was saying in soothing tones.

Yuki Eiri did not want to be soothed. He was irritated, rendered restless to the pit of his stomach, which even the medicinal balm of the whiskey failed to ease. "Even critics lose their edge when someone becomes so popular they don't dare speak against them in public," he argued. He shook his head, letting blond hair fall into his eyes. He tipped the glass to his lips again. "At any rate, there were some mixed reviews."

Beside him, Touma chuckled softly.

Eiri stiffened. "What's so funny?"

"It's nothing, Eiri-san," Touma replied. "But I'm wondering, since when do you care about your critics' opinions?"

Eiri tossed back the last of his drink in one continuing gulp, then set the glass onto the bar harder than was necessary. He swiped his bangs out of his eyes in a smooth moment. "Since never," he said curtly, searching in his jacket for a cigarette. "What are you doing here, anyhow? Shouldn't you be home?" In reaching for a cigarette he glanced at the face of his cell-phone. 17 messages, all from a familiar number.

Touma held out a slim silver lighter, flicking it into life. His expression was inscrutable. "Waiting for Mika-san." But his pause had been too long.

Eiri leaned back and inhaled deeply. Well, it was none of his business, even if it was his sister. Maybe that was why he resisted interfering. No one else seemed to follow the philosophy to which he held true; unless there was a pressing need, there was no reason to violate another's privacy.

There was someone who had invaded his, though.

Abruptly he got up, barstool scraping over the floor with a steely rasp.

"Eiri-san?" Touma questioned. "Where are you going?"

"Home," Yuki said, biting off the word. If he was feeling restless, then he would turn it on the source of it all. He'd make sure Shindou Shuuchi got no rest, either.

"Ah..." Touma laced his hands before him. "See you later, Eiri-san."

"Later," Eiri replied. The farewell was absent; his attention was already focused elsewhere.

"Ahhhhhh, maaaaan..."

It was dark on the streets and, at a ramen stand halfway between Yuki's upscale apartment and Hiro's working-class digs, the noise of Tokyo was muted but omnipresent all around them. The shop owner set their orders in front of them and turned to tidy his shop.

"Eat up before it gets cold," said Nakano Hiroyuki, ignoring the 1/4th-scale Shuuichi standing on the stool beside him, who was waving around his hands with a chopstick in each fist. The grossly superdeformed Shuuichi resembled tare-panda a great deal and his huge, glistening eyes turned slowly toward Hiro. "Cut that out."

Abruptly a full-sized Shuuichi returned to normal, slumping over the counter with a tremendous sigh. "I don't even know what I did this time," he moped, blowing on the hot bowl of ramen about a centimeter from his nose. "He just got up and left. After...after..."

"After saying his writing was useless, yes, yes, I got that part," Hiro interrupted, before Shuuichi's self-recriminations could get the better of him again. Once he really built up steam there was no stopping him; Hiro knew that path well. "Have you thought about the fact that it might not be your fault?"

"Huh?" Shuuichi sat bolt upright. "Whaddya mean, of course it's my fault!"

"Oh?" Hiro challenged. "Since when does Yuki Eiri-san need a reason to be in a terrible mood?"

Shuuichi deflated onto the counter again. "That is true," he sighed.

Hiro clapped his friend's boneless shoulder. "Give up for once, Shuuichi," he advised. He sighed, too, and stared down at his ramen. "I know you want to fix it, but what if it's not your fault?

"Sometimes, it doesn't matter what you say or do. It's something that person has to work out for himself. And if it's a little rough for a while, you'll get over it, and so will he. So...stop worrying and just leave it alone this time, you know? It'll run its course and then he'll be back to..." Hiro hesitated. "His normal bastard self again."

He turned his head, to see the effect his words had on Shuuichi.

"That's it!" Shuuichi said, straightening. He released his chopsticks, which he had been twirling in his ramen until it formed one solid, congealed glob. His chopsticks stuck straight up, locked in place.

Hiro blinked. He hadn't expected his words to have a substantial impact. "It is?"

"That's it, that's it!"

Shuuichi leapt to his feet, fire and vigor crackling through him, waves of determination crashing in the background. Hiro could practically squint and see the kanji for "Resolve" standing on Shuuichi's shoulder. Shuuichi began to laugh, low and booming, but the sound quickly spiraled into supersonics.

"I can't leave anything alone!" Shuuichi exclaimed, his eyes blazing.

"That's the God's own truth," Hiro muttered, poking at his cooling ramen.

"I can't leave it alone!" Shuuichi repeated, lifting a fist that trembled with the force of his resolve. "After all, I didn't get to live with Yuki through leaving things alone! I didn't get to *stay* with him by leaving things alone! And so this, too, will not pass until I've mended my ways and made my amends!" His eyes gleamed eerily at Hiro as he turned his head.

"Yes, yes," Hiro sighed, waving a hand at him. "You didn't listen to a word I said, did you?"

"Nope, not at all." Shuuichi posed for a moment like a bobbing-head doll.

Hiro nearly fell off his chair. "Eheh..." He rubbed at the back of his head, adjusting his position on the stool. "Well, you didn't have to be so blunt." He shook his head. Why *did* Shuuichi come to him for advice?

"Well then, later!" Shuuichi said brightly, and buzzed off so fast his legs blurred together.

Hiro lowered his head over the ramen and took several bites in silence and contemplation. At least Shuuichi hadn't gotten drunk or decided to run away from Eiri's again. As much as the bitter novelist seemed to complain about Shuuichi's presence in his life, he sure got up in arms when Shuuichi had made the move to leave it.

So he did have faith that things would work out sooner or later. He finished his ramen and tossed bills to cover the tab on the counter. Then, with hands in his pockets, Hiro set off for home, humming a Bad Luck riff under his breath.

Shuuichi tiptoed around the kitchen corner with utmost care, watching the placement of every toe. He creeeeeaked around the corner, pink bangs and huge eyes the sole part of him visible from the living room. He was being very quiet. He was Yuki-watching.

Despite his resolve of the night before he'd made no great strides in making amends. There was a really good reason for this, though. In fact, resolve crumbled and scattered to the four corners in the face of coming home to half-naked Yuki, who had been waiting in the living room in pyjama bottoms, drink in hand, a restless look on his face.

"You made me wait," he'd said, and stood.

In the here and now, Shuuichi dissolved into a puddle of goo at the corner. "So...happy..." he squeaked, forgetting to be super-quiet. If he'd had work that day, he would have floated in on sparkles and clouds to prove how disgustingly happy he was.

"But still..." Shuuichi firmed up, and crouched at the corner again, peering into the living room. "Still, that wasn't good enough! Apologies in bed don't count."

Yuki was seated on the couch with a frown of concentration. He picked up his drink and took a sip. He changed the channel from a drama to a quiz show.

Shuuichi pulled a notebook from don't-ask-where and jotted that down beside *Yuki had toast and fried egg for breakfast* and *Yuki did not have beer after breakfast.* He didn't think he'd ever seen Yuki watch so much daytime television.

"Shuuichi," Yuki's voice called out sternly.

He started. "Uh, yes?" He peered around the corner again, putting on a guileless puppy face.

Yuki just looked at him for a moment, then sighed. "Get over here," he said, gesturing.

"Y-Yes!" Shuuichi uttered, scrambling to his feet. Like a frantic young puppy he dashed over to Yuki's side, making little whimpering noises in his haste. He leaned against his legs and laid his head on one of Yuki's knees.

"Not like that," Yuki spoke, irritated. His hand hit the black leather couch a few times. "Here, right here."

"Ah...oh..." Shuuichi looked up at Yuki, amazed. Was this some sort of trick? He made a mental note to add this to the journal as soon as Yuki wasn't watching him like a hawk. "Okay!" He scrambled onto the couch beside his lover.

Yuki put an arm around him. Then he calmly picked up the remote control, and began changing channels again.

This made Shuuichi extremely nervous, and he might have spoken up *then* to tender his sincere apologies for...whatever it was he'd done...but for the fact that, once Yuki finally made the circuit of all 338 channels that his cable service received, he put the remote control down as calmly as he'd picked it up. Then he turned to Shuuichi and slid his hands up his shirt.

And the door to Yuki's study remained shut.

Eiri clicked the lighter on, then off. On, then off. His cigarette had been burning steadily for several minutes and the column of ash was threatening to collapse onto his bare foot. He flicked it away from him and off the balcony and located a new one. He lit that one and ignored it as well.

He hadn't written a single sentence in three days.

It was true that he didn't care about the critics' opinion of his writing. Nor anyone elses', when it came down to it.

He watched ashes flutter away on the wind.

No, that wasn't true.


He had cared very much for someone's opinion, once upon a time. And inside him somewhere, there was a need for his work to be seen, for it to be validated even in the cold form of sales. It wasn't enough, though. He wanted satisfaction. The kind of 'validation' he got...he didn't want that anymore. It bought him the lifestyle he thought he'd enjoyed, but in the end that was revealed to be hollow as a blown eggshell.

What he was writing was trash for the masses. Classified as romance, it was a sop thrown to all the teenagers and housewives who wanted to escape into the drama he painted so convincingly for them.

He accused Shuuichi of writing childish lyrics -- and, he reflected briefly, they *were* -- but what he was doing was equally puerile.

It was easier to write about the world around him and let none of it touch him.

It would be harder, exponentially harder, to let his writing reflect the world he saw. An idea was beginning to take shape in Yuki Eiri's head.

Maybe it was the challenge he needed.

"Thanks for all your hard work!"

The chorus of his friends and co-workers dwindled behind him into idle chatter, Hiro and Fujisaki discussing some finer point of the song they'd been working on, K wrapping up plans for the next month with Sakano. Shuuichi dragged himself off, steps heavy. He still didn't know what was wrong with Yuki and he was strangely reluctant to go home, even though Yuki had been disturbingly nice to him lately.

In terms of Yuki, that meant he hadn't yelled, ordered Shuuichi to get out, or made him sleep on the couch. For the most part he had ignored Shuuichi and watched TV, or ignored Shuuichi and gone out onto the balcony to smoke.

Not wanting to press his luck, Shuuichi had left him alone.

"Shuuichi~! Na, Kumagorou, look, it's Shuuichi!"

The vibrant singer of Nittle Grasper bounced to a halt beside him, waving, grasping one pink paw and making Kumagorou wave, too. "How's it going, Shuuichi?" He was, impressively enough, jogging in place as if Shuuichi was just a stop on the wayside.

"Eh, well..." Shuuichi rubbed his nape. He didn't want to *lie* to Sakuma-san. "What about you, Sakuma-san?"

"Oh, I have to run!" Ryuuichi said happily. "I'm meeting someone!"

"You are?" Shuuichi blinked. He grinned. "Have fun, okay? You too, Kumagorou."

"Oh, we will," Ryuuichi assured him ingenuously. "Kumagorou REALLY likes this person."

Shuuichi watched his idol disappear at breakneck speed, then sighed and resumed trudging up the corridor toward the elevator. Even Sakuma Ryuuichi was getting into relationships. Yet no one seemed to have as much trouble as he did...

"Was I born under an unlucky star?" he muttered. He stopped in front of the elevator doors.

They slid open, revealing a pair of petite feet in high-heeled, stylish red stiletto shoes. Shuuichi looked past slender legs and a trim outfit and into Seguchi Mika's critical dark eyes.

"Well?" she prompted, tapping a foot. "You going to get on, or not?"

"Yeah," he mumbled, "Mika-san." He lifted one hand by way of apologetic greeting and clambered onto the car.

The elevator began to descend.

Shuuichi stared determinedly at the mirror-polished elevator doors, shoulders slumped.

"Well," Mika said after a long pause, "what is it, boy?"

Shuuichi's spine stiffened. He wanted to retort, *It's nothing that concerns you,* but Mika was one of the people who knew Yuki best. Unwillingly he forced the words out of his mouth. "Yuki...Yuki, he's stopped writing."

"What?" Mika swung around to face him in the elevator.

"Scary!" Shuuichi subvocalized, nearly frozen in terror at the look on her face. "I...uh...Yuki said he's quitting!"

Mika sighed and looked concerned for a moment, then thoughtful. She folded her arms across her ample breasts and gazed into Shuuichi's guileless, wide eyes as if she would find her brother there. "And? What exactly did he say?" she prompted.

"Y-yes!" Shuuichi squeaked. "He said...he said his writing is useless. Trash. So he said he'd stop."

Mika sighed again and pinched the bridge of her nose in a gesture eerily similar to that one Yuki did just before yelling at Shuuichi for being too noisy. "How long has it been?"

"Uh...three days."

The elevator emitted a *ding!* as it reached the ground floor. Mika stalked out of the elevator and Shuuichi trailed behind, getting fouled in the stream of people who impatiently filed on board.

She came to a stop halfway through the lobby, bringing Shuuichi to a screeching halt as well. She pivoted, bringing them nearly nose to nose. "Listen," she said, frowning. "Eiri has always been a stubborn man. He's the most stubborn person I've ever known...except maybe for one other. But the way Eiri's been since he was a child, he would suddenly get stubborn like that...then change his mind about it later and pretend nothing had ever happened."

"This isn't like that, Mika-san, Yuki is--"

"Sit!" Mika commanded sharply, interrupting him.

Shuuichi obediently sank to his haunches and gazed up at her, fear and admiration shimmering in his eyes.

Mika crossed her arms again. "You know, when Eiri was a kid his favorite anime was canceled. He decided suddenly that he hated the whole thing, and cleared out his posters, his shitajiki, everything that reminded him of it."

Shuuichi wriggled and whimpered. Yuki had liked anime? He didn't seem the type.

Absently, Mika petted his head. "A week later he'd put everything back up same as it ever was. Never explained why, either. He had changed his mind, just as suddenly."

Now Shuuichi crossed his arms, standing up with a serious look on his face. "Yuki's always like that," he agreed. "He takes everything inside of himself. He hardly tells me what's going on until he decides to do something about it."

"It's the way he's always been," Mika said quietly. She looked at him, and her expression was not entirely unsympathetic. "If you can endure it, then you're better than any of those one night stands and seasonal flings he's been through."

Uncertainly, Shuuichi nodded. "It's hard," he said, looking down. "Being with a person who's so one-sided when it comes to things like that, it's really hard. But I really love him so it makes up the difference."

A finger tipped his chin up, forcing him to look into Mika's eyes again. "And that," she said quietly, "may be why he keeps you around, Shindou-kun."

Shuuichi gave her a brilliant smile. "So, so, what should I do?" He scrambled after her with puppyish enthusiasm as Mika began walking toward the door of NG again.

"Do?" Mika frowned over at him. "You don't need to do anything. He'll get over it."

Shuuichi wobbled; nearly fell. "I hope so!" he said forlornly. "Otherwise if Yuki's manager is anything like mine, he'll have me assassinated for holding up his work!"

When Yuki Eiri unlocked the door to his apartment and stepped inside, it was quiet and dark. He frowned at the wide, empty apartment. It was past six and Shuuichi had told him in no uncertain terms he would be *home* by then.

Not, Eiri said to himself, that peace and quiet was a bad thing. He carried his groceries to the kitchen and unloaded them. Still peaceful and quiet. Shuuichi had probably gone out some place after work with Hiro.

It was when he carried his drink into the living room, cigarette in hand and searching for his lighter, that he noticed the flames dancing against the balcony shades, seeming to lick halfway up the door.


Eiri set his drink down on top of the television and sprinted for the balcony, ripping the shades aside. "Shit, shit..." He hadn't thought there was anything out there *to* catch fire. Then he located the cause and narrowed his eyes.

"Shuuichi," he muttered. He ripped the sliding glass door open and it rattled on its track. In tones that could congeal blood he demanded, "Shuuichi, what the hell do you think you're doing out here?"

Seated cross-legged nearly a meter from a half-sized tin can that looked as if its previous life had been as a drum of syrup, Shuuichi barely glanced up as he ripped another handful of pages out of a book and cast them on the fire. It flared upward and Shuuichi rocked back.

"Yaaa, watch out, watch out," he muttered to himself.

"Shuuichi!" Eiri repeated, louder and more testy. He didn't appreciate repeating himself.

"Ahh! Yuki!" Shuuichi tilted his head back, waving a handful of torn pages at him. "Welcome home!"

"Never mind that, what do you think you're doing?" Eiri demanded. "Besides getting ash all over the balcony."

Shuuichi's face acquired a set, stubborn look. "Getting rid of something I don't need anymore," he replied.

Eiri spotted his lighter beside Shuuichi's thigh; swooped down to get it. "Idiot," he snorted. Then he spotted the small stack of books beside Shuuichi's lap and his eyes widened. "You're burning your Harry Potter books."

"Yeah, you wanna make something of it?" Shuuichi yelled. "I'm getting rid of them! You called them trash, then you...then *you*...about your writing..." He hiccuped and gave Eiri a defiant look.

Eiri stared down at him silently, incredulously. The inferences Shuuichi drew sometimes...

"You said you're giving it up," Shuuichi said, looking up at him with tears sparkling at the corners of his defiant eyes. He recited the words as if they'd been branded onto his consciousness. "You said the level of your writing was useless. Just what you say about my lyrics." He turned his head and tore another handful of pages viciously from the book, tossing them onto the fire.

Eiri sighed and sank to his knees. He didn't know how he put up with him sometimes, he honestly didn't. Reckless, impulsive, quick to jump to conclusions, quicker to do something stupid about it... He pulled the book out of Shuuichi's hands and tossed the whole thing on the fire. Embers whooshed upward.

"I'll buy you a new copy," he said, and it was the closest he would get to an apology. Shuuichi went through a lot because of him, but only because he took everything so *hard.*

"Wh-what? Why?" Shuuichi asked, head swiveling. His hands twitched as if he would pick up the next book. "I...I'm the cause! It's my fault you've quit writing!"

Eiri put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him gently but forcefully away from the fire. He made a mental note to never leave his lighter in accessible locations, ever again. He muttered something so low as to be inaudible.

"Wh-what was that?" Shuuichi twitched.

"Writer's block," Eiri mumbled, aggravated that the boy had made him repeat it.

"Oh." Shuuichi blinked. Then his eyes widened. "OH!" Happiness filled his face like helium inflating a balloon. He bounced to his feet, dragging Eiri with him.

"I don't want to talk about it," Eiri warned him. He would resume writing tomorrow, but he had a lot of rewrites to make. Especially when he had a deadline to make.

"It's okay!" Shuuichi beamed up at him. "Why could you just say so? You never tell me your real feelings, you could just say so from the start, if you'd said that I never would have worried so much and I definitely wouldn't have gotten char all over the balcony mmph--"

Yuki shut him up in the most convenient fashion; the only surefire way to silence him was mouth-to-mouth.

The door to Yuki's study remained shut that night, too. But not for good.

+cue Glaring Dream+