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23 July 2017 @ 10:55 pm
[Daiya no Ace] Miyuki/Sawamura/Chris: like a broken record (1/3)  
TITLE: like a broken record
FANDOM: Daiya no Ace
CHARACTERS: Miyuki/Sawamura/Chris, appearances from the rest of the Seidou ensemble and other familiar faces
RATING: R
SUMMARY: Miyuki Kazuya, of The Ultimate Rookies, wants nothing more than to work with legendary composer, Takigawa Chris Yuu. Problem is, no one's been able to pin the reclusive songwriter down in years. Not one to be deterred, however, Miyuki finally manages to pay him a personal visit – only to be greeted at the front door by a rude kid, who mysteriously calls his idol “shishou”. (25,000+ words)
WARNING/S: An almost alarming lack of baseball, run-on sentences, creeper!Miyuki, and Eijun’s dirty mouth.
NOTES: This was originally written for and submitted to Daiya no Bang, with art created by @hilaryfun. You can also find it on AO3.


{ like a broken record }
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

In a way, Miyuki sighed, he was exactly where he had been longing to be. Inside Apartment 18D, spread-eagle on the great Takigawa Chris Yuu's floor, waiting for said brilliant composer to come through the front door, hopefully with a favorable reply to his request. In a way, maybe it was a good thing. For weeks, he had pressed Ryosuke-san for more information: where Chris was living at present, how best to approach him, whom he was likely writing for (if there was anyone else), would he be at all interested in working with an up and coming artist like Miyuki. And, finally, with the promise of completing his next single, with or without Chris’s help, he’d gotten that address, never mind that Ryosuke-san had yelled after him about privacy issues and harassment lawsuits and other such things.

It didn’t matter, he’d thought then, he was finally going to meet the person he had looked up to for so long. He was finally going to ask Chris to co-write an album with him. No, it didn’t even have to be an album! He was going to ask Chris to write a song – one song just for him. Kuramochi was going to flip. Zono was probably going to faint. And he, well, he was going to say he had told them so. That all they’d had to do was set the bar and dream big, dream far. That their band could truly do it, make and cement their presence on the charts. That nothing was impossible.

Miyuki had quickly made his way to the building, a high-rise three stations away, surprisingly close to him all along. His heartbeat had been loud in his ears, breathing drawn and heavy. He had almost fumbled inside the elevator, his hands shaking, one gripping the crumpled note with directions from Ryosuke-san, the index finger of his other spasming against the cool, flat surface of the corresponding button. Every decision and every movement which brought him closer to his destination threatened to spill him over. He had pressed his forehead to the glass wall, the vibrations of being pulled upward rocking him gently in place. If the other passengers, a mother and child with grocery bags between them, had noticed how strangely he was acting, they didn’t say a word.

He wasn’t sure how he had been able to drag himself to the door. Or how he’d been able to get out of the elevator at all, without falling over in a nervous heap. If he focused enough, eyes squinting, Miyuki thought he could call to mind the most recent track he’d had his bandmates listen to. He had recorded the demo last week, admittedly uninspired. He hadn’t needed to hear Nabe tell him so; the look on his bassist’s face had easily revealed everything he wanted to say. Miyuki could remember that clearly, the disappointment, the frustration. Other things, not so much.

Miyuki blinked. Right, the door. He had given himself a chance to catch his breath, before reaching for the buzzer. As he leaned forward, his finger poised, however, that was when he had noticed something. The door was open. Takigawa Chris Yuu’s door was open. Not wide open, but just enough for him to peek inside. He had paused by the tiny gap, delicately slipped his fingers over the frame, felt the slight breeze on his cheeks beckoning him in. And that was when he had probably gotten possessed.

He had known that it would be inappropriate, that it wouldn’t earn him any points to give in to his insane curiosity, that there would be definite repercussions. But he had ventured on, against his better judgment. Eased himself through the entryway. Padded down the dimly lit corridor in front of him and marveled at how, even in complete silence, Chris’s domain was marked by a distinct harmony. He wasn’t sure if it was the faint, comforting scent in the air, the way the furniture was positioned around him, as if warmly tucking him in, the overall aesthetics of the home, or if he was simply imagining it in his head – placing Chris on a pedestal so high, his own sense of reality was warped.

In the dark, with his arms outstretched, he had gotten far enough, to the space where living room met what he could make out as a kitchen, absorbed in his musings, when, for a second, his actions dawned on him. In his excitement, he had walked right into someone else’s home, trespassed without a second thought. His mind flew to the possibilities of the same happening to him, of a stranger entering his apartment, and knew that if it did he would feel horribly unsafe. Probably unable to work, at least not in the right frame of mind. Circumstances like these were everything to artists, seemingly trivial make or break moments.

Miyuki backed away then, intending to retrace his steps and quietly leave the way he came. As if he could somehow magically vanish away his momentary lack of foresight. He would wait outside and salvage the situation by letting Chris know that he’d mistakenly left his door unlocked. It made sense, it didn’t seem like Chris was home. Oh, if only things could ever be that simple. He remembered his thoughts jumbling together in snapshots as he tried to make his exit, a fire alarm ringing in his ears. He had spotted a muddy pair of boots lined by the door, an olive jacket haphazardly draped across the couch, a tightly packed duffel bag he’d nearly tripped on in the hall. All of these items which felt strangely out of place.

And then, he had heard it: a rapid and sudden intake, a warm breath in the dark which, alarmingly, wasn’t his. He had heard it before the world completely faded to black.

Turning his head, a throbbing sensation blossoming from his temples, Miyuki caught sight of a feral child glaring at him from the other side of the polished kitchen counter. If he didn’t know any better, and he was quite certain that he did, he would have thought it was a ghost. Or the opposite of the Cheshire Cat, its grumpy hound-like twin, whatever that was called. A light or two in the hallway had been switched on since his fall, but the living room and everywhere else were still dark. Except for the white glow of a mobile phone screen.

As their eyes met from opposite sides of the room, the kid caught himself and quickly looked away, creating the illusion that he was either browsing the internet, composing a message, or reading one. Determined, for all the world, to appear as if he were ignoring the man lying on the ground a few feet away. As if there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, and to presume otherwise would be met with more rightful silence. With his fingers stiff and mouth set, tense, however, Miyuki knew better. He blinked again, finding his bearings.

“Hey, what did you hit me with?” He called out, his voice hoarse. How long had it been since he’d gotten knocked out? And why was there a child in Takigawa Chris Yuu’s home? As far as he knew, Chris wasn’t married; that would have been all over the news if it had happened. But then, Chris had always been private about his personal affairs. Miyuki was certain that he had never read an article or seen an interview which hinted at Chris’s dating life. Over the years, there had been speculation, of course, in gossip magazines, on fansites, about whether he was seeing a particular actress or a pop idol from the same agency. But there had never been any proof. No photos, no overly zealous misquotes. Chris had always handled the media in stride.

“A frying pan,” the kid surprised him by replying. Miyuki noted the uncertainty in his muted tone. He chuckled, grimaced as the throbbing intensified. At the sound of that hiss, the kid slid away from the counter, examining him warily as he slinked from one edge of the room to the other, keeping his back against the wall, arms rigid on both sides. It reminded Miyuki of a scene from a horror film, the comically unwise decision to explore the basement sans a weapon or backup. Miyuki chuckled again, despite himself.

“I’m not going to bite, you know,” he offered, extending an arm, his shoulder sore, “You can come closer.” It was too much too soon, and the kid was too far out of reach. Instead, he settled with the back of a palm against his forehead. Sweat trickled down his cheek, down his neck. Miyuki nearly swore aloud. He didn’t know if he could summon the energy to do anything else. He was barely conscious as it was.

“I just caught you trying to rob my shishou’s place,” the kid mumbled, this time, from behind the couch. “I think I’ll be a lot safer as far away from you as I can get.” Well, he did have a point.

“Listen, this is all a misunderstanding,” Miyuki sighed, wondering why he hadn’t tried to exit the apartment sooner, “I’m not a thief. I wasn’t trying to rob anyone.” If only he had come to his senses before walking through the damn door, before losing himself in the excitement of knowing he was inside Chris’s home. If only he hadn’t noticed the door was open at all.

“That’s… what a thief would say,” the kid argued, though Miyuki could tell, through the haze of his folly, that he had caught the kid slightly off-guard. His stance had slackened, his voice lacking the command to follow through. Miyuki had always been quick at reading people, quick at noticing the slight changes of their reactions and movements, quick at determining if there was a chance, quick at sensing when to pounce. With a glimmer in his eye and a soft tug on his pocket, he knew he could turn the situation around.

And almost as if recognizing the swift change in momentum, almost as if he could hear the gears shifting in Miyuki’s head, the kid froze. He took a step back, realized he had already hit the wall, and resolutely kept moving, circling around the room again.

“You don’t have to take my word for it. Check my wallet for an I.D.,” Miyuki intoned, forging ahead when he saw the truth dawning in the kid’s eyes, “I’m Miyuki Kazuya of The Ultimate Rookies, and I’m here to speak with Chris-san about a project.” Of course, if he were smart, the kid had likely already searched his pockets, seen the note from Ryosuke-san and his driver’s license, not to mention the old photo of the band he always kept with him. He wouldn’t underestimate the kid. But Miyuki knew he also had to make a stronger case, and, luckily, he had one more bullet to fire.

“See, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” he finished, taking a chance and propping himself up on one arm. There was a momentary blood rush as he felt his head spin, threatening to send him back spiraling, but he still had control, fought to keep it. “I waited outside, and saw that the door was unlocked. So, I came inside to check if someone had broken in.” He’d feel awful about his little white lie later, he told himself. Cross his heart.

“With the door open and the lights off, that would be a reasonable conclusion, don’t you think?” Miyuki fixed his gaze on the kid, who had shuffled back to where the counter was. When he emerged from behind it, he was holding his phone in one hand and in the other was a rather offensive enameled frying pan. The frying pan. Miyuki’s eyes narrowed, “What I’m more curious about is who you are.”

There were quite a few blanks which still needed filling, as far as Miyuki was concerned. What was important was that he had gotten his story out of the way, and that it was a believable one. He dragged himself over to the counter as well, the closest partition he could lean his back against. The kid made no move to help him, but he also seemed fixed in place, lost in thought, unlikely to do anything else at that point. Miyuki wondered if he had unintentionally said something which hit home.

“So? Do you have a name?” He mused, wishing he had a cigarette. Wishing he hadn’t quit smoking months ago.

The kid gripped the pan tighter, his knuckles white, brows furrowed. Miyuki studied the way his mouth fell open, the stubborn tilt of his head, the almost endearing way his unkempt hair curled on its ends. It was probably the lack of oxygen.

“I’m—”

“Eijun?”

All at once, the room came to life. It wasn’t only because the rest of the lights had been switched on or that the central A.C. had begun to hum softly from its perch above them, or that the kid had straightened his back in attention. Wound, if possible, more tightly than he had been seconds ago. There was an imaginary symphony playing somewhere, a tinkling array of deceptively harmless notes which grew, echoing, until it held and then struck them like a lightning bolt. It was the startling contrast of monochrome and blinding color, as Takigawa Chris Yuu stepped through the doorway.

**

They must have been a sight to behold: Miyuki, a crumpled mess on the carpeted floor, barely kept upright by the counter behind him; and the kid wielding his frying pan as if it were a sword meant to slay dragons, having returned from his quest, triumphant, mobile phone falling to his feet with a soft thud. Personally, Miyuki thought he looked more like Peter Pan than a dashing knight, impishly willful and naturally rumpled. Anyone else would have been utterly dumbfounded, would have laughed to mask their discomfort, would have probably tried to call the cops, or would have been halfway done dialing. Anyone else, but not Chris. He stood between them, at their apex, commanding their attention, unwinding a charcoal scarf from around his neck. He concentrated on the kid.

“Eijun, what’s going on here?”

The kid blinked, once before regarding him with newfound interest, as if he had forgotten that Miyuki was right next to him, and again before turning his head to fully face Chris. He finally opened his mouth and a barrage of explanations spilled out. Miyuki caught the phrases “found your spare key taped inside the mailbox” and “hit your guest on the head with a pan” before he zoned them out, exhaustion taking over. There were hazy moments after that, of him getting up and making his way to the sink at Chris’s suggestion, of him shedding his cardigan and letting it fall to the floor, of him sloppily washing his face and neck, of Chris handing him a towel and then offering him a drink, of him shaking his head, he’d rather have water with lots of ice.

Of him settling by the counter again, Chris thoughtfully hanging his cardigan up behind him on the back of his seat. Of him facing the kid’s glare, those accusing eyes directly across him. Already up for round two. He was beginning to develop a migraine, Miyuki reckoned, if he didn’t already have one.

“Time for the adults to talk?” He drawled, taking a sip from his glass. He delighted in the instantaneous way his words made the kid turn red.

“I’m not going anywhere,” the kid frowned defiantly, hair disheveled, eyes – he could see them clearly now under the fluorescent lights – a piercing golden, the intensity of a sunset, of the moment when day ruefully gave away to night, an inevitable surrender. Miyuki focused on that thought, didn’t know if he had ever seen that color before. And he had to admit, the kid would have looked menacing, too, rabid, almost demonic, if not for the fact that he was using Chris as a human shield. Miyuki struggled to keep himself from laughing outright, grip tightening on his seat.

He chose to meet that gaze head-on, his mouth a firm line, a challenger stepping up to the plate, “What are you even doing here? How do you know each other?”

“That’s none of your business,” the brat huffed, tugging at Chris’s sleeve. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it dawned on him that the kid probably wasn’t an actual kid. On the contrary, he looked to be in his late teens. But his overall appearance and mannerisms made him appear younger, inexperienced, from a completely different world. There was a faint scent on him, an earthy one, of mountains and sunshine and rice fields and early morning trains. It was reminiscent of the day Miyuki himself had first arrived in the city. Of the first time he’d plunked his luggage at his side, a little too overeager, as he stared up at the countless wide screens flashing across the streets. Of the first time he had stood frozen in place, mesmerized as Takigawa Chris Yuu’s voice filled the air.

“Eijun, don’t be rude.” That took him out of his sudden daydream, Chris clearing his throat, finally joining the conversation, his presence magnetic. The kid’s hold on Chris loosened as the latter guided him towards the couch. Before settling down, Chris turned his gaze towards Miyuki, calmly nodding, motioning for him to join them if he could. He obliged, took the plush seat next to them on Chris’s side, his head throbbing still, glass in hand.

“Miyuki Kazuya,” Chris began, carefully, deliberately, when he’d had enough time to make himself comfortable, “I understand that you want me to work with you.” Miyuki couldn’t get a read on him, Chris’s face betrayed absolutely nothing. He tried to keep his own face blank, free of the desperation he could already feel bubbling at the surface, knew that he was literally on the edge of his seat. And once he’d be allowed to make his pitch, properly this time, in front of the right person, he would say all the necessary words, all the words he had practiced a hundred times, all the words that would convince Chris.

“My answer is no.”

Miyuki heard the clink in his glass, a cube of ice melting, cool perspiration coating his fingers. He was staring at Chris’s face and he wasn’t sure how long it would go on for, until he fell into the bottomless pit forming at his feet, threatening to swallow him whole. He wasn’t a pessimistic sort of person, given to sensitive bouts of despair every time someone declined him. But it didn’t take a genius to figure out that, when Chris meant something, he didn’t pull any punches. Chris chose all his words purposefully, straight-forwardly, without a hint of hesitation, his mind and heart already set. Miyuki understood this to be a kindness in a world of passive-aggression, but couldn’t, to the depths of his very being, allow himself to accept it.

“But—,” he gave the glass a tap, his legs locked beneath him. He willed them to move, to do something. Anything. Yet he was rooted to his spot.

“There is nothing you can say to convince me otherwise.”

“If you could just let me explain,” Miyuki trailed off, wondering what he could say to make a difference. His mind was already addled enough by his encounter with the kid, but he couldn’t assign blame like that. He wouldn’t. He had come prepared to make his pitch, to face Chris and present him with an offer he couldn’t refuse. But Miyuki had not anticipated Chris denying him from the start, had not anticipated Chris’s lack of interest in anything he wanted to say. Had not anticipated the altogether lack of compassion, of life, of soul in Chris’s eyes. A curiously heartbreaking observation. He wondered what had happened, what had made Chris look that way. He wondered if Chris could even write a song, looking and feeling the way he did.

“I’m sorry, I overstepped and came inside your home without your permission,” Miyuki heard himself say, finally, still pondering the change.

There was a heartbeat, probably his, as loudly as it was thumping, before Chris responded, “It wasn’t your fault.”

Miyuki listened to them talk again, caught the way the kid gestured towards him, an almost pitying look on his face. A drawn-out discussion ensued about whether he would need to see a doctor or not. In answer to that, as if functioning on auto-pilot, he decisively shook his head, his mind oddly clear. He listened to them usher him out, allowed himself to be dragged along, the kid’s hand on his arm, gentle yet firm, the expression on his face apologetic, halfway between uncertain and concerned, the guilt too easy to read. Chris’s looming form shadowing behind them closely.

He was in the doorway, with a light pressure on his back, as if it were trying to keep him from leaving, when Miyuki felt something ignite inside of him, a flare he immediately recognized from the time he had decided to pursue music. An answer. A better answer than the one he had gotten. He spun around to address the kid, who was staring up at him in surprise. There was something else in those eyes, something indisputable, something dangerous – a suspiciously distinguishable spark. It was refreshing, compared to the stony way Chris was studying them.

“Oi,” he placed a hand atop the one on his arm, “why do you call Chris-san ‘shishou’?”

It came out before he knew what was happening, before he had a chance to think it over. The kid quirked a brow, like it was supposed to be obvious and Miyuki was blind for not being able to see the answer for himself. He grinned at the reaction, couldn’t help that either, dropping his arms, silently daring the kid to open his mouth, daring the kid to tell him something outrageous, to tell him what he thought he needed to hear. Because Miyuki did need to hear it: hope. Sure enough, he wasn’t disappointed, that spark spewing violent cinders in its wake.

“Why wouldn’t I? He taught me everything I know,” the brat replied, ridiculously obstinate, stressing his words. And Miyuki believed him. He focused on that spark, cradled it, blew at it softly, allowed it to crackle and rise. And then, he poked it with a stick.

“Everything you know? About what? Music?” He felt himself ease backwards, one step, two, the kid marching toward him, matching his strides.

“No, everything about everything!”

The door closed in front of him, a tight hitch, before he had a chance to fully examine the exchange. He listened to their footsteps padding away on the other side. What he had gathered was that Chris was somehow responsible for the kid, at the very least had prompted the kid’s arrival. He didn’t know how they were related, but knew that, despite Chris’s lack of substance and feeling and depth, despite all that, he was different with the kid. There was still a warmth to him, a fleeting warmth which Miyuki felt he could trust in. It was his answer. It was a challenge. And, if anything, Miyuki Kazuya was always up for a challenge. He never gave up without a fight. And this was much too important an opportunity.

**

There were worse things than having to dawn a disguise – a long coat, the darkest sunglasses he could find in his closet, his dad’s old fishing hat – and wait on a nondescript street corner for Chris to leave his apartment. Some of those things included having to tell his band that he had been royally shot down, having to face Ryosuke-san’s ire, and having to feature on Furuya Satoshi’s upcoming debut album, though that last one was a story for another time. In any case, because of those things, Miyuki resolved to soldier through. He would eventually be able to get Chris to listen to him. He would be able to convince Chris on his second chance, he told himself. He just had to find a way in.

“I knew you were a stalker.”

Reaching up to adjust his glasses or his hat, anything to keep from showing the astonishment on his face, Miyuki regarded the brat behind him. The kid was in a cream-colored sweater and well-worn jeans, a violet beanie completing the look, and in his hands was a large brown paper bag. He looked more put-together outwardly, but just as chaotic as last time, his sharp eyes like poised daggers, ready to strike at any moment. There was luck, and then there was this.

“How did you know I was here?” Miyuki sighed, settled on removing the hat. Because it had to be the hat.

“You stick out like a sore thumb,” the kid replied, predictably. Miyuki chuckled at that. Before either of them knew what was happening, he had slipped his arm across the kid’s shoulders and pulled him close, toward the corner’s edge, as if they were conspiring or plotting to take over the world. He pointed out the 18th floor from where they were standing, looking to any passerby like they were lost wide-eyed tourists in the big city. He took it as a somewhat good sign that the kid wasn’t struggling, despite the deliberate invasion of personal space – not that Miyuki would have let him go.

“This is a blind spot, see, there’s no way you guys could spot me from the apartment.” He grinned broadly, sliding his arm back at an angle, so that he could ruffle the kid’s hair. The beanie stretched beneath Miyuki’s fingers, revealing more of the kid’s left ear. He gave it a flick. The kid scowled at him, pitching forward, clutching the bag tighter to his chest. Afraid Miyuki might shake him down for his lunch money, no doubt.

“There’s a back entrance, you idiot,” he replied after a moment’s pause, “And it doesn’t matter if we can’t spot you from the apartment, since you’re a sitting duck on the route home. If you think shishou doesn’t know any better, then you’re gravely underestimating him,” he finished matter-of-factly. Miyuki played along, nodding enthusiastically, delighted that the kid didn’t seem as wary of him as he appeared to be. He filed the information away for later use. The kid had yet to move away.

“Ah, you caught me. That was the next step on my list: wait for Chris-san to leave, find a way in through the back, bribe the security,” Miyuki counted down, holding his fingers up for reference. As expected, the kid circled the line he had thrown and began nibbling, his form loosened, relaxed, not enough that he wasn’t tense anymore, but to show that he was definitely interested. The kid couldn’t mask that. Now, all Miyuki had to do was reel him in. Hook, line, and sinker.

“That isn’t going to work. Matsuda-san’s already been informed about you,” the kid frowned, catching himself, turning away as Miyuki poked his cheek. Something about him spoke to Miyuki. Something about him stuck. It was an eerie connection. It was almost like having a pesky, younger brother, but not quite. It was like having a person to pick on, to tease, a friend to joke with, someone in the middle of that spectrum. Someone Miyuki could push until he broke. If he broke. It was almost sick, he admitted, and weird. And wonderful. In that same sick, weird, wonderful way he was drawn to Chris, Miyuki was drawn to this kid with golden eyes as well.

Without meaning to, plan forgotten, he said the first thing on his mind, the honest thing: “That really sucks. I’m in a bit of a bind here.”

“What do you mean?” They were facing each other then, levelled, the kid standing tall, leaning closer slightly. Too close for comfort. He realized what he was doing a second too late, eyes wide, and pulled his arms back, keeping the bag in front of him to broaden the distance between them. Miyuki held him gently by the shoulder, dropping his other arm to his side. It was a gesture of acceptance, of understanding, it was a way out; the kid could step away if he wanted to. He searched Miyuki’s face, expression unreadable, resolutely remained in place.

“I’ve wanted to work with Chris-san ever since I started in the business. I’ve always wanted him to compose a song for me.” Miyuki wasn’t sure why he was going into it, but he was. He was telling the kid everything, spilling his guts, about how his band was enjoying moderate success and that they were realistically on an upward trajectory from there. But, also, that Miyuki had been dreaming of meeting Chris and asking him to collaborate on an album with them. Had been dreaming of the day he would finally get to ask. That it couldn’t be anyone else. That it was the one truly selfish thing he wanted as an artist, more than the fame, more than a permanent place on the charts.

That it was, likewise, something he could never tell Kuramochi, Ryosuke-san, and the others. Not explicitly. He could never admit that. To do so would mean admitting that there was something he desired more than the band’s longevity. But he felt guilty anyway, felt that he was letting them down. Felt that he was getting led around by his ideals, that it would be the death of him. And he wasn’t sure what to do now, how to move forward.

Miyuki took his glasses off, peered into the kid’s eyes, looked for that familiar spark and held it.

“Do you get it?” He asked, whispered, losing himself in the blinding heat, in the destructive power of that gaze. He didn’t expect a response.

He felt himself get pushed away, a defensive act, the kid facing down, finally standing his ground. Miyuki sighed in defeat, momentarily watching the way the sunlight reflected off of his glasses, hoping he wasn’t about to tear up. He was about to turn around and walk away, about to cut his losses, when he felt a hand on his coat, gripping the fabric, not quite yanking him forward, not quite keeping him in place. He opened his eyes, didn’t know that he had closed them.

“Come with me,” the kid said, looking up at him, cheeks tinged pink, his decision made. “I’ll take you to shishou.”

Miyuki didn’t know what to say. They were at the entrance of the building, minutes later, when he remembered to breathe. “Thanks, kid,” he mouthed, wasn’t sure if he had gotten to words out, hoped that he had, the doors sliding shut behind them.

“Don’t call me that. My name,” the brat huffed, “is Sawamura Eijun.”

**

There was time, Miyuki thought. Time to appreciate the smell of Chris’s apartment, a lemony orange scent which wafted through every open door. Time to catch a quick glimpse of Chris’s study, the first door on his left down the hall; a desk filled with papers on one side of the room, notes neatly stacked, bookshelves lined about, a piano laid out on the other, his fingers twitching to drag themselves across the keys. Time to notice the large bay windows in the living room he had previously overlooked, which opened on to a humble terrace, where a lone easel stood invitingly in the midday sun. There was time to allow Chris’s domain to swallow him whole, time to allow himself to be enveloped inside that lingering warmth, inside that small bit of hope he wasn’t sure yet what to do with exactly. Time to revel in the moment, nonetheless.

As he sank into the long couch directly facing the kitchen, propping his arms above a throw pillow on each side, watching Sawamura empty the paper bag and deposit various packages inside the refrigerator, Miyuki hummed. He simply couldn’t help himself. It was the beginnings of a slow ballad: a hypothetical riff from Kuramochi here, a steady beat from Zono there, the solid foundations of both Nori’s overture and of Nabe’s delicate strumming, a drumming sensation he felt in his core before it travelled up his throat. Before he gave it a name, a melody. He took his phone out to record it.

“Shishou should be home soon,” Sawamura called to him when he had finished saving the file, shuffling about, the winding sound of liquid pouring into a glass catching his attention. He looked up as the kid approached him, tray in hand. The kid set his glass on the table, not forgetting to slip a paperboard coaster beneath it. Miyuki thanked him, couldn’t seem to stop doing that.

He wanted to ask where Chris had gone, but ultimately decided against it. That would have been pushing his luck. Sawamura had already done so much for him and he still couldn’t understand why, as Miyuki hadn’t given him probable reason to. Sure, he had revealed his hand, had done the one thing he had promised himself he wouldn’t do. Had, arguably, done the one thing he wasn’t supposed to be stupid enough – no desperate enough to do. Had trusted in another person, taken a chance on a kid he had just met, gotten him involved. But that didn’t explain the kid at all, a perplexingly independent, unreadable variable. Miyuki took a sip, allowed the sweetened iced tea to soothe him, calm his nerves. He needed that more than the compulsive urge to close his eyes and pretend he was dreaming. He wondered why Sawamura had caved in, wondered what the kid was getting out of it, if he was getting anything out of it at all.

Sawamura, on his end, seemed to understand his silence, seemed to understand how overwhelmed he was. He left Miyuki to his own devices, padded around the room, kept himself busy in relative silence. He thankfully didn’t seem to want to make things more difficult, more confusing. And Miyuki doubted Sawamura had all the answers either. Still, he wondered. Again and again, almost as if to distract himself from the more pressing issues at hand. In truth, he wanted to throw up, told himself he wasn’t going to. Couldn’t. Please, god, no. There were only so many strikes he could accumulate.

It was as Sawamura began chopping garlic cloves and onions behind the counter, Miyuki deep in his thoughts, when the front door opened behind them. It closed on a hush, a metaphorical gasp, the inconsequential sound having the opposite effect in Miyuki’s mind. They heard Chris before he came into view, his footfalls pausing at the entrance of the living room. Counting silently in his head, Miyuki let out the breath he had been holding before getting to his feet. It felt like he was an inexperienced boyfriend, who had come to ask for a daughter’s hand in marriage, a foolish attempt. It felt like he was going to get thrown out, again. Still, he persisted. There was no going back. They had already locked eyes.

“Hello, Chris-san,” he greeted, bowing his head. He heard Sawamura’s hands freeze, the rhythmic chop-chop-chopping skipping a beat, heard the knife pause, blade mistakenly scraping against wood. Swore he could feel the entire room hang in anticipation, before the movements started up again. Like a tidal wave on a faulty DVD player. Some static. A chink on the speakers. A little quicker as if someone had pressed a fast-forward button. A little more wound up. Unhinged. A little less certain.

Chris stared at him, clearly, surprisingly taken aback before his mask of indifference smoothed back into place. He regarded Miyuki, continued to as he greeted Sawamura in the kitchen. Miyuki knew that Chris expected an explanation, demanded one, and was thankful that the kid wasn’t going to provide it. No, he was going to leave that up to Miyuki, let him take the lead. The kid stayed on his side of the room, acting like he was too busy preparing the ingredients for lunch to be pulled into the conversation. But Miyuki could tell he was curious, if his pointed gaze was any indication.

“I thought I had made myself clear, Miyuki.” Chris waited for the precise moment, the moment in which it seemed he had let his guard down. But he had anticipated that, had counted on it. He, in turn, waited for Chris to face him. Waited as Chris found his place, threw one leg over the other as he took a seat perpendicular to Miyuki’s position. He waited until Chris gave him his full attention, before replying.

“You did. And I get it, I do,” he nearly stuttered, “But I hope you understand why I can’t take no for an answer either.” He locked his legs, on purpose, to keep them from knocking into each other, to keep them from digging into the carpet. Focused on Chris’s face, his hardened expression. Because the key there was subtlety, the things Chris said and the things he didn’t. Wouldn’t say. It was not the time to address the change in him, but Miyuki found himself comforted by it, by the secret goal he had adopted. He searched Chris’s eyes for a flare, one which mirrored his own, one which spoke to him as an artist. Couldn’t find it. He knotted his brows, concentrated.

“I’m not interested in working with anyone else,” Chris rebuffed, lounging in his seat like a bored jungle cat. He leaned into an open palm, quirked his head, made Miyuki feel like he was trying to maintain the upper hand. Which also signaled that he was afraid to lose it, Miyuki surmised.

“I’ll change your mind,” he pressed on, confidently. Enough to actually make himself believe it. Not that he could change Chris’s mind, but that he would. He would. It wasn’t up for cross-examination.

“You’re being presumptuous and you think too highly of yourself,” Chris intoned, which made him feel like a reckless child. Because maybe that was what he was, an idealistic child with nothing left to lose. His ears perked at the sound of pan meeting burner, at the sound of a button being tapped repeatedly, programming a specific temperature, the electric stove heating metal. He opened his mouth as Sawamura began twisting the lid off of a bottle of cooking oil, the movement matching his in time.

“Just write me one song,” Miyuki replied, gaze unwavering, almost forceful, “I swear, I’ll change your mind with my arrangement.”

“Do your bandmates know about these plans of yours? Does your agent?” Chris hit him with a brick. He reeled at that. Kuramochi and the others did know, but for how long was he going to detain them? For how long was he going to keep at his selfish desires? Although Ryosuke-san had given him the address, had played along, he knew his agent was worried. He knew that everyone was worried about him, was worried that he had fallen to his insanity, had been possessed by it. They were afraid that he was inevitably dooming The Ultimate Rookies.

There would be a chance later in their careers, Zono had once advised him, somber, when it was just the two of them in the studio. A chance to have their pick of composers, lyricists, producers. It was just too early to start making demands. Irrational to be gambling so early in the game. You know how cutthroat the industry can be, Miyuki. They were too green, had but a single leg through the door and barely a foothold. He had relented, momentarily. But the thought had kept him up for nights, had haunted him, had messed with his ability to write. And so, he had manipulated them, dragged them along with his egoistic dreams. And his band had followed, had trusted him anyway. Even Ryosuke-san had trusted him.

“Please, Chris-san,” he whispered, that last thought his undoing. He curled his hands into fists, knew he was probably drilling holes into Chris’s skull. Knew that all Chris had to do was say one more word, add the final nail to his proverbial coffin. Knew that he would have to give up then, that he had tried his damnedest, that he had failed. That he only had to wait to be put out of his misery. That—

“Why don’t you give him a chance, shishou?”

Miyuki nearly bit his tongue. His neck cramped as he turned to his immediate right, to face Sawamura who had left the pan on the stove. Chris stilled as well. It was chilling. Yet the apartment was going to burn down. He willed the kid to remember that. And, as if reading his thoughts, Sawamura jumped, reached for the pan and transferred it on to the range, switched the stove off. Swiped his hands on the front of his checkered apron. He appeared from behind the counter, nervous, understanding that he had interrupted at the most crucial moment. Couldn’t help himself. Bless his innocent heart.

“I mean, it’ll at least get him to stop asking,” he continued in a measured tone, as Chris began to argue, to shake his head, “And if you don’t like how the song turns out, you’ll have proven him wrong.”

“Eijun,” Chris sighed, standing. Gone was the undisturbed posture, the appearance of a king watching from his pedestal, too high to reach, gone was the presence of a man who had complete and utter control over the situation. In his place was a tired songwriter, driven to the brink. Miyuki felt sorry for him, felt guilty at having played a role in that. Felt all the more curious. Wanted to ask why and how and since when. Wanted to shake him, shake him awake, this man he had looked up to for so long. Wanted to know if he could flare up just as brightly, just as overwhelmingly as he once did.

“Shishou,” Sawamura mimicked, his voice lighter, in question, prodding, coaxing. He forgot that Miyuki was watching them, that he had been a bystander until then. Miyuki didn’t mind. On the contrary, he was fascinated by surrealistic quality of the situation. He was an outsider looking in, and at the same time its catalyst. He watched Chris shake his head, watched Chris fold into himself, try to get away, throw up his walls. But he couldn’t. He watched Sawamura nudge the man’s arm, watched him smile reassuringly, wasn’t sure if he had imagined it for it was gone the next second. Then, he stood as Chris shifted, stood as the circle opened up to him again.

Chris considered him, reproachfully, glowered at him. Miyuki, the unknowing dead man, found it adorable. He let his bangs fall over his eyes, kept the comment to himself. Sealed it in a vault. Threw the key to that vault away. And then—

“All right, Miyuki. One song.” He wanted to pump his fist in the air and howl at the moon. Sawamura, oddly, did the first task for him. Chris didn’t notice.

**

“Normally, you’d have more to say than ‘good job’, I think,” Miyuki mused, leaning casually against his seat, ceramic cup poised at his lips. He regarded his fox-like agent over the brim, wary, waiting for the predetermined sermon, “A lot more.”

After phoning Ryosuke-san with the good news, better than anyone had ever imagined, Miyuki had received a message about rendezvousing at their favorite izakaya. They had scheduled it for after the compulsory band meeting, in which they formally announced that they had gotten Takigawa Chris Yuu to collaborate with The Ultimate Rookies. Everyone had reacted accordingly. Nabe, his default expression usually gentle, had cursed at Miyuki for leaving the rest of them to drag Zono off to the studio’s waiting room without warning, their drummer’s large, muscled body down for the count. Zono was, interestingly, the most sensitive one in the group. Nori had luckily been able to pull his keyboard out of the way, yelling that they could always send Zono to the emergency room if anything happened; while his partner, the instrument he had gotten for himself straight out of high school, was priceless.

“Well, you’ve always had a bit of an obsession with him,” Ryosuke-san smiled, throwing his head back to take a swig of his beer. He didn’t deny it. Kuramochi grinned at him from Ryosuke-san’s other side – “That’s putting it mildly, Ryo-san.” – and called for another order of the best-selling yakitori. Miyuki swirled the sake in his cup around, wondering what kind of song Chris would pen for The Ultimate Rookies. He listened to his friends bicker, listened to Ryosuke-san warn Kuramochi about eating too much oily food, it wasn’t good for him. He watched as Kuramochi swatted the agent away, only to pull him back in, their shoulders touching, bruising, lingering next to each other. In spite of the lack of air-conditioning and the humidity forming across Miyuki’s forehead.

“You’re scaring me, Ryosuke-san,” he chuckled, losing himself in the heady atmosphere. He still couldn’t believe it himself.

“Look, Miyuki, I’m gonna trust you on this,” Kuramochi said to him some minutes later, completely sober, “I mean, the whole band is behind you. We know how much this means to you, but,” he dragged a plate of edamame over, gestured at Miyuki to have some, quickly, before Ryosuke-san ate them all, “there are rumors.”

Miyuki blinked, keeping his focus. He met his oldest friend’s eyes, setting his cup down, “What rumors?”

“You know, it’s been a while since the guy actually released anything himself. He’s supposed to be a notorious nutjob,” Kuramochi replied, his tone even. The lead guitarist looked to Ryosuke-san for confirmation, poking him beneath the table. Miyuki continued to stare, letting the information sink in, allowing it to settle, simmer. It made sense, of course, looking back to how he had been received at the apartment, looking back to how Chris had tried to decline his request, how Chris had declined him the first time. How Chris had reacted. Chris had demons he was fending off, Miyuki concluded. These demons were tearing at him from the inside. He thought of Sawamura with his frying pan, instead of a sword, desperately trying to keep those demons at bay. Chuckled at the memory.

“That’s bullshit. You don’t know him,” he told Kuramochi, feeling a bizarre sense of loyalty, choosing to believe in his gamble. It was a prideful thought, a thought he knew would hurt his friend who was only trying to caution him and curb his expectations. Still, Miyuki wanted and needed to see it through.

“Yeah, and you don’t know him either,” Kuramochi responded pointedly, understandably miffed, “I think you’re playing it fast and loose by not asking him to sign any kind of contract.” Ryosuke-san kept silent, looking into his bowl, swirling his noodles around, contemplating how best to intervene. Miyuki bit down on his lower lip, reached up to drag his fingers through his hair, yanked at the tips.

“Chris-san is a man of his word.”

“Still, it would make us all feel a lot better if you kept a closer eye on him,” Kuramochi frowned, turning to look directly at their agent. “What do you think, Ryo-san?”

At being addressed personally, Ryosuke-san abandoned his unfinished noodles, reverting from easy-going friend and drinking partner to formidable businessman. Miyuki recalled meeting him for the first time, Kuramochi at his side, the older man’s disquieting gaze effectively knocking them down a peg. Two country boys up against a practiced tactician. That day, that tumultuous moment, had been the first time Ryosuke-san had given them advice, had warned them about the pitfalls of the industry. They couldn’t please everyone, he had told them over coffee. They could have their ideals, be allowed their hopes and dreams. But they also had to harden their resolve, had to understand, had to prepare for any one instance to throw them off their game. Had to be adaptable to the changes, to the sacrifices. They were nothing, had nothing to offer except their music. And Ryosuke-san saw a diamond which needed polishing in them, but that didn’t mean the polishing would come cheap, in more ways than one.

“Youichi brought up some valid points. But I can confer with Yuki to be sure,” Ryosuke-san provided, zipping his phone out, snapping Miyuki back from his reverie. After scrolling and tapping through his contacts, the agent gestured to the shop’s entrance, excused himself to make the call. They watched him leave his seat, graceful, purposeful. In the same way Chris was marked by experience and hard-won battles. It wasn’t the first time Miyuki felt lucky to have Ryosuke-san on their team. He knew it wouldn’t be the last.

“Yuki Tetsuya is a shark,” Kuramochi said in awe, looking to him for verification.

Miyuki nodded, recognizing the name instantly, “They apparently go way back. He was Chris-san’s manager first and eventually switched to being his agent full-time.” Titans, the lot of them.

They concentrated on the food after that, Miyuki on his edamame because Ryosuke-san wasn’t around to challenge him for any, Kuramochi on his skewers, munching thoughtfully in silence. They looked up when Ryosuke-san reentered the izakaya, flashing them a thumbs-up. Looked to each other, trying to piece together what that vague sign meant. Like a long equation on the blackboard in Math class. Their agent expected them to figure it out. He sat quietly between them, going back to his noodles, musing aloud that it would be a waste to leave them, even if they were cold.

Kuramochi arrived at the answer before he did, mostly because he didn’t want to give himself too much to hope for. It’s been said that when it rains, it pours. The guitarist grinned broadly, “Don’t fanboy too much, Miyuki.”

~ PART 2