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If it wasn't obvious, most of the fic I've written for Gravitation have been attempts to get inside Sakuma Ryuichi's head. Why? Because it seems like such an interesting place to be...
This is a sequel to "What You Wish For" and takes place about six months after the events of that story. A final story should follow this, if I can find my way back into Ryu-chan and Tats-kun to author it.
As always, I would love to know what you think.
People listen to me when I sing. They hear my voice other times too, but when I talk, they usually hear what they want to hear. When I sing, they hear me. And that's all right. My songs are what I want them to listen to.
I've never been very good at keeping track of time, minutes or years, but today is the weekend. It's Saturday and Tatsuha comes over to visit—he usually does, when I'm free. When I'm not he comes to the studio, if he doesn't have classes. But today I have nothing to do, and neither does he, because he turns up at my apartment when I'm eating breakfast.
Actually it's not true that I have nothing to do. Tohma told me yesterday that I have to write a song. We need one more for the new album—"I could write it, Ryuichi," he said, "but if you have anything..." That means he's done four songs and he thinks it's my turn now. Tohma never says things like that, though. Unless it was five songs. But it's still my turn.
Except I don't have a song right now. And Tatsuha knocks on my door, so I let him in and give him a PopTart. "I found something," he tells me between mouthfuls of jam and frosting. "I want you to see."
We ride on his motorcycle. That's always fun, even when the dirt flies in your face and the helmet warps the engine's chords. Tatsuha likes to go fast, throwing us diagonal on curves. I wrap my arms around his torso, press my chin into the fleece of his jacket's collar and hold on tightly as he hunches low and opens the throttle. When he doesn't change gears quick enough the engine snarls, and Tatsuha growls curses back. The wind whips by us, carrying the city streets away with it.
An hour into the suburbs, he parks in the lot before a wooden building, domed and arched, half castle and half pagoda. There's a sign but I'm not sure of the kanji, and as soon as I've set down the helmet Tatsuha covers my eyes, cool hands cupped over my face. "Don't look," he orders. "Close your eyes." I do, and feel when he takes his hands away, see the light change from black to filtered red.
"Don't peek," Tatsuha says, "Kumagoro will tell me if you cheat." I nod, earnest, and hear him laugh, not out loud, but in his voice as he speaks.
I love laughter, I love the sound of it, the spontaneity, aloud or only felt. Not nervous giggles but honest feeling. When it's true it's what light sounds like—not sunlight, candlelight, flickering and ephemeral, never the same and always beautiful. I'd like to make a song of laughter, and every time it would be sung would be nothing like the time before. You could never record a song like that; it would only be real the first time you heard it. Not for the album, then. Tohma wouldn't approve it.
I follow Tatsuha's laughter inside the building, then stand there with my eyes closed while he buys two tickets with the money I gave him when he said we were going somewhere we would need it. It's always my money, which is fair, because I'm the one who has it but he's the one who knows what to do with it. And I don't want it anyway, money, it's cold and dull and it's too close to wanting, too close to needing, too close to taking.
Tatsuha takes my hand. His fingers were cool on my face but they're warm in mine. With my eyes still shut he guides me, by touch, not words, a gentle tug along the right route. Doors open and swish shut behind us, one set and then another. It's warmer here, the air perfumed and heavy with humidity, the low murmur of voices punctuated by calls and giggles in children's sopranos.
"Okay, you can look now," Tatsuha says, so I do.
There's color everywhere, splashed like paint on a backdrop of green, a canvas of leaves spattered with a zillion different flowers. And all around, in the air, on the flora, over the pebbled path, are butterflies, in any hue and pattern I can imagine, striped and spotted, dull and iridescent, simple and fantastic. Their wings are always in motion, as they float through the air, as they light on the flowers, all gently waving like seaweed in the tide.
One flutters close and settles on my chest, searching the bright scarlet print on my t-shirt for the false promise of nectar. Its gauze wings shimmer white and gold. "Beautiful!" I say, whispering so not to disturb it. "Oh, beautiful!"
Tatsuha smiles. "I thought you'd like this."
The butterfly is still on its hopeless quest, and another one joins it, touching down like a falling feather on Kumagoro's pink head where he's peeking out of my pocket. Maybe it mistakes his ear for a petal.
We walk along the twists of the path, and the butterflies drift around us, uncaring. There's lots of other people here; almost everyone's watching the butterflies, though some are also reading from the plaques set along the way. The writing is translated into English beneath the Japanese, so I could probably figure out the kanji, but why would I want to? The butterflies don't care what people call them and neither do I.
Tatsuha stops by one plaque, however, and points to the picture printed by the text. "I haven't seen that one," he says. It's bright blue, speckled with black and clear patches, the edges of its wings scalloped like lace.
"So let's look for it!" I say, and we continue along the path, peering up through the leaves arching overhead.
We don't find the butterfly, but it finds us, wandering down from its hiding place to land on me, right on my nose, so all I can see is azure, pulsing as it fans its wings back and forth.
"It likes you!" Tatsuha laughs.
Maybe the butterfly is laughing at me too. Am I really a man, or just a butterfly's dream? I wish I could hear its voice. I want to know what a butterfly would sing. Very softly I hum to it, and it must be listening, because it doesn't fly away, but stays there, turning my world shifting blue, its tiny delicate claws scrabbling at the skin of my nose.
I wonder if there's any words for this moment. I'd like to make it a song. Share it, because not everyone knows what it feels like, to have a butterfly perched on your nose.
"It's just the color of your eyes," Tatsuha says, and suddenly I want to see his face, to see if he's still smiling, when his voice isn't.
But when the butterfly flits away and I wish it farewell, his smile is real. It always is, and his laughter is true, not forced. Except I don't think it is all the time. I've watched him when he's with other people at the studio, at the places we go. He's not that serious, he's never grim and he smiles a lot, but he doesn't laugh very much, and not as honestly.
'Such a mature young man,' I've heard people say, 'He's grown up a lot in the last half year,' because he's not even an adult yet, by age, but he can act like one. He does well in his classes at the Tokyo academy he transferred to, a good school, I think. At the studio they tease him about becoming too educated for the music industry, but he says he's not going to work for them. He says he doesn't have any talent for songs.
Really, though, he sings already, if they'd listen...or maybe they can't hear it. Maybe he doesn't sing for them, like he doesn't laugh for them.
We walk among the flowers and the butterflies for a little longer, and then we leave. The autumn air is cool and dry and smells coarse after the conservatory.
"Where do you want to go now?" Tatsuha asks. "We don't have anything scheduled today."
"Kumagoro wants ice cream!" I relate, and so do I, so Tatsuha takes us to a stand along the road and buys him and me each a cone, and a popsicle for Kumagoro. I was going to eat that, since Kumagoro can't, being stuffed. But then as I'm eating my ice cream I see a girl drop her popsicle in the dirt, when her brothers bump into her while playing tag.
"Here, hold this for me." I hand Tatsuha my cone, go to the girl and ask her, "Do you want this popsicle? Kumagoro doesn't. He's full."
She stares at me and I point to my bunny, then to the teddy bear cradled under her arm. "This is Kumagoro. Is that Usagi?"
"No," and she smiles at a rabbit named bear, and thinking of her bear being named rabbit. "This is Ryo-san."
"Does Ryo-san like popsicles? 'Cause he can have it if you don't want it."
"I like popsicles more," she says, and accepts mine. She nibbles it off the stick before it can melt, and then we go chase after her brothers. I can run fastest since I'm a grown-up and tallest, and I catch one of them and hold him so she can tag him, and they're all laughing and it shines so brightly. I don't need to put them in a song, because they sing beautifully already. I hope they don't lose it, keep at least a little bit of that dazzle. I hope she keeps Ryo-san, too. He'd get lonely, dusty on a shelf, when he's now embraced so closely.
Tatsuha is sitting on a picnic table with his sneakers on the bench when I come back. He only has one cone, and it's half-eaten.
"Where's my ice cream?"
"Sorry, I had to eat it. It was dripping all over me."
"Then you have to share yours!" I demand. With a grin Tatsuha holds out his cone and I lap up the strawberry ice cream and bite the honey-brown shell. We take turns and it's finished in a minute.
While we're licking sticky ice cream off our fingers a couple approaches us. "You were just playing with our kids," the man says, and the woman smiles. "Thank you for the break!"
Tatsuha nudges me, so I say, "You're welcome," as if I had done them a favor instead of just have fun.
They nod, and then the woman mentions, "You know, you look a little familiar..."
"Uh, maybe you saw us at the Insectarium," Tatsuha suggests, but I hadn't heard their children there.
"Have you heard of Nittle Grasper?" I ask, curious.
The man looks surprised, and the woman's eyes get huge. "Masaka,—Sakuma Ryuichi-san?" I nod, and then she's bowing, and pushes a notebook and pen at me, so I scrawl my name on the open page—in romaji, no one minds that. Except when I look up there's half a dozen other people and I sign papers and shirts and Tatsuha has covered half his face with his hand and is groaning softly.
"I'm sorry," I say, "My friend is tired so we're going to go home now," and they smile and stand back to let us walk to Tatsuha's motorcycle.
"At least the press didn't have time to get here," he mutters under the motor's rumble as we pull out of the parking lot. Then he shakes his head, grin returning. "Though I don't know what they'd write—'Famous Vocalist Eats Ice Cream.'"
"Maybe they could write about how good their strawberry ice cream is," I suggest. The strawberry really was very good, better than the chocolate, though that was also yummy.
Tatsuha laughs, and it sounds like the children's laughter, that real. I don't understand, why it's for me...just for me. Why he shines so brightly only for me.
I didn't understand it when I met him—he sparkled bright then; his song was so brilliant that I couldn't hear myself. I let it drown out mine, I let my own music be overwhelmed, to sing his song instead. To lose myself, and because he wanted it so badly, and I know what it's like, to have a song tear at you from inside out.
Except that wasn't really what you wanted at all...
By the time we're back in Tokyo we're hungry again, so we go to a restaurant, one of the fancy ones where they know our names but no one asks for autographs. I've eaten my hamburger and am finishing with my fries when a lady comes up to our table. She's skinny and on her pointy heels she's taller than me.
"Sakuma-san?" she says. "You may not remember, but we met last year, at the Kokyo Concert Hall opening?" With a flourish she takes off her sunglasses and tosses back her hair. It's dyed the same shade red as her lips.
I think I was there but I don't remember who I met. Before I can say so Tatsuha rises to bow greeting to her, smiles and says, "Oh, Kudo-san? You were great in 'Amber'."
Since that's a movie she must be an actress. She seems to be acting right now. Her smile to Tatsuha looks like she's stretching her mouth with wire. "Thank you. You are—"
"He's Tatsuha-kun. He's my cousin," I reply. That's the best thing to say so there's not a lot of other questions. It's kind of true, too, since he is Tohma's brother-in-law, and Shuichi's too in a way, and the two of them are the closest thing I have to brothers.
Hearing that, her smile looks a little less painful, and she bows graciously with her hands crossed before her. "You're visiting your cousin, then?"
"He was showing me butterflies!" I tell her, and Tatsuha explains where we were. She doesn't look as if she likes butterflies that much, but she giggles when I talk about the blue one on my nose. It's high and girlish but it doesn't sound like children's laughter.
The more Tatsuha talks the more she watches him. At first it was because she was being polite, but her smiles begin to echo his with less effort and her gaze lingers on his eyes, on his mouth. If he asked for her phone number I think she would give it to him. I wonder if he will.
I wonder if she notices his smile. It's open and easy and friendly, but he's making it, not just letting it come. She probably can't tell when she's working so hard on her own. Tatsuha's is better, though.
I wish I hadn't left Kumagoro in the coat room. He would be more fun to play with. Tatsuha's having fun, at least; he's good at these games. I like checkers more, or Twister. I tap my fork against my water glass—every tine has a slightly different pitch, and with the ringing crystal makes a chord—and try to think of the song I have to write. It's hard when they're talking; there's too many other words around.
When Tatsuha narrows his eyes that way he looks like his brother. Not when he's with Shuichi, but in the pictures on his books or on TV. I remember the song Yuki wrote for us to sing. He didn't sing it himself; he put the words on paper instead, and they said what he wanted them to say. He even got all the kanji right. What is it like to be Yuki, to have words obey you?
"Oh, I'm sorry, I have to go, Sakuma-san," the actress says finally. She leans over toward me, all her teeth glittering. On top she's as bouncy as Noriko but I don't think that's real, either. She gives me a white card with her name on the front and numbers on the back and tells me, "That's my hotel room for the week. I'd love to hear more about butterflies."
Then she puts her glasses back on and walks away. Her heels are so high she wobbles, unless she's trying to wiggle that way.
"Heh." Tatsuha's grin slants. "I wonder if she knows you sing, or just knows you're famous?"
I hold the card out to him. "Do you want it?"
He considers. "Well, she's something to look at—but she gave it to you."
"I know. Maybe there's a butterfly in her room she wants me to get rid of." Tatsuha snorts and I look at him seriously. "Some girls don't like bugs, you know."
He shakes his head and his mouth twists so he doesn't laugh out loud here, where it's too quiet and everyone would stare. "You're an idiot," he says, and his voice is quivering. That laughter is real, and so is his smile again, even if he's hiding both.
"I know." It doesn't bother me because I know it's true, even if no one says it usually. "So are you," I tell him, because that's also true.
Since we already had ice cream today, Tatsuha doesn't want dessert, so when we're done dinner we leave money on the table and get our jackets and Kumagoro back, and go out to his motorcycle. The sun has set already and by the time we're back at my building the sky is black. It's cold but Tatsuha doesn't come inside, stops at the entranceway and says he has to go.
His hair is as dark as the sky and the streetlight makes tiny stars glitter among the strands. I have to touch it, trail my fingers down the sleek feathery waves. It's as soft as I remember.
Did he ever understand? He wanted my songs, so badly, but instead I only sang back to him what his own heart pounded. Because he sparkled so brightly. I didn't listen to the melody; the music was so loud, so powerful, I didn't bother listening, just let it reverberate through me. He thought I sang with him. But eventually he would have realized that he only heard an echo of his own song. And that wasn't what he wanted at all.
Yet he comes to visit me whenever he is free, and he listens when I sing, and he laughs with me as he does with no one else.
Tatsuha-san, Tatsuha-kun, anata, why me? Why, when you can make anyone smile, do you shine brightest for me? I'll only reflect it. A perfect mirror. A glass missing the bottom, whatever poured in spilling out again. I don't hold anything back, that's how I sing. I can't keep anything for myself. Whatever I have is for the music, and my song is for everyone who can hear it. Why do you save your song for me?
I tell Tatsuha good night and walk inside, and through the door I hear the motorcycle growl and finally vanish. I don't know where he's going. Maybe to his own place, or his brother's. Or elsewhere. The white card is in his jacket pocket.
Why do I think I would hate that actress, if your smile for her had been real?
I go up to my apartment and put Kumagoro to bed on the futon with all the other bunnies, all the gifts from friends, from fans. I turn on the radio to fill the empty spaces in the rooms, and there's a Bad Luck song playing.
I love to hear Shuichi sing. I always do—except for that dark time, after Bad Luck began to rise, and people said that they sounded so good, better than before, as if no one could tell that they were broken, that his voice was broken. Shuichi fractured, and the one piece missing was what everyone wanted to hear.
And then he found it again, and now they really are better than ever, and I love to listen to them. But there's something I don't understand. That Shuichi, his heart is never actually with him when he sings. Sometimes in the crowd, yellow eyes watching, but never on stage.
But then how come what shines brightest in his voice is that heart? He keeps it close, so close, and will not part from it, and yet it's not a part of him. And he holds it to himself, not losing it, yet it glistens in every note he sings. How can he at once keep and give away? If Shuichi throws everything he is into his music, then why is it that when he lets go he falls, and the tighter he hold on, the higher he flies?
I go to the study, where I have the keyboard, and the drum set I bought in America, and the tape recorder. I press the button to record, and sing a little. Not a song, just fragments, so the words don't have to make sense and the melody shifts constantly. A tone poem to remember today.
I'm not a genius, no matter what they say. Tohma is, with his knowledge both learned and instinctive of chords and rhythms, and what people want to hear; words and notes and people all do as he directs. And so is Noriko, whose fingers can play any tune ever conceived, and who managed our music and all of us too, who can work after midnight until the sun rises and you work along with her without even noticing you should be tired.
But I don't have talent; I just have my voice. I love to sing. I love to shine so brightly that everyone listens. That's all.
I'm only singing to a tape. But here, alone in my apartment, with my voice resonating in the sound-proofed room, a song comes.
It's not like any I've sung before. It isn't about butterflies and ice cream, or darkness and distant emotion. It's about stars trapped in black hair, and fingers cool on my face and warm in my hands. It's about waking in the night, burning up yet shivering, the sheets wet but not with blood, though it feels like I'm bleeding. It's about the face I see in my dreams and the voice I hear almost every day, and I wasn't listening to the melody before but I am now and I like it as much as any of Bad Luck's.
It's in Japanese and that's not what the words mean, but that's what the song is about. Tohma will set it to music, and he and Noriko will play it, and it will finish the album, and people will listen to it.
And maybe I'm wrong. Because I think it shines as bright as ever. But I might not have let go of everything. Or maybe I did. I think I'm falling...
The tape reaches the end, triple clicks. I turn off the recorder and flick off the lights.
...and maybe, this once, I'll try to hold on...
I go to the bathroom, brush my teeth and put on my pajamas. In my bedroom I shut the door, and curl around myself under the blankets in the center of the bed, and go to sleep, like every night.
...and see how high I'll fly.
Love to know what you think!
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