"Mmmm...not exactly, Touma-chan," Noriko heard the child-like voice admonish gently. "That certainly doesn't look like a happy face, now does it? And how do you expect things to be perfect if you don't have your happy face on?"
Noriko frowned slightly when she didn't hear a response from Touma. All the years that she'd known both Touma and Ryuichi, she'd never known Touma to not respond to the singer. It was true that there were times when Ryuichi could go a bit over the top, but that was what had balanced Nittle Grasper so well in the past. Of course, from what she'd heard, things had turned upside down at NG Records ever since Ryuichi came back from America with his manager. Apparently the only thing that had changed was that her old friend had managed to forget large parts of his native language; but how else would a person cope constantly being in the company of a gun- toting crazy American?
She had decided to leave after waiting for what seemed like forever; Shuichi and Hiro hadn't shown up, even though they were the ones to request the session in the studio. What had mostly irritated her was that she had to pull a lot of strings to get a sitter in for her child, and it was all for nothing! She had considered making a complaint to Touma about the behavior of the other members of Bad Luck when she overheard Ryuichi's voice from within the blond man's office.
"Oh now don't look at me like that. This really is all your fault and you need to appologise!" Ryuichi admonished, blocking the woman's view of her former bandmate. "Honestly, if you had just thought about what you were doing, we wouldn't have to go to all this trouble in the first place! But now you made Shu-chan sad and he can't be shiny when he's sad, can he Kuragomo? See? Even Kuragomo knows you fucked up."
Noriko's eyes grew wide when she heard Ryuichi's voice drop to something of a razor-edged growl as he made his last statement. At first, the volume was so low she was almost certain that she had misheard him. Ryu-chan just didn't say things like that; he didn't act that way. He was smiling, child-like, silly and boisterous. In fact, the green-haired man reminded her quite a bit of her current lead singer and she had to wonder for just a moment, how she got stuck with all the childish men in her professional life. After Nittle Grasper had broken up, she had been content to get married and have her children while Touma started NG Records and Ryuichi went to America in search of a solo career. Then out of the blue, Touma had called her to become a part of a band he was grooming for stardom: Bad Luck.
At first she had been unsure about the whole thing; coming out of retirement hadn't been in her plans, but as always, when one of her friends asked her for something, she couldn't say no. Of course, at the moment she had been doing double duty between Bad Luck and Nittle Grasper until Touma's younger cousin Suguru could be there to take over in Bad Luck. But her train of thought became derailed with an icy certainty when Ryuichi spoke again.
"*You* fucked up, Seguchi-san and *you* are going to make Shuichi shiny again." It was as though he switched personalities half way through the sentence; he was angry and cold until he mentioned Shindou's name. Then it became it's usual off-stage timbre, child- like and sweet sounding. "Oh, hold still...it won't take that much longer. What? Yuki-san? Oh, don't you worry about him. I told him that he wasn't welcome back after he left. No, he made Shu-chan sad, too. But he isn't here to make a formal apology, and well, this whole mess really was your fault in the first place, so you should be the one to say you're sorry for making Shu-chan miserable.
"But don't worry. I'm sure he'll forgive you once you tell him that you didn't mean to ruin him and break his heart. And then you can go away for a while and I'll take care of him. Who knows? Maybe someday, he won't even need you around!" Ryuichi's voice was filled with confident happiness as he explained. "I'll be better for him than Yuki-san anyway; I won't be so mean. I'll give Shu chan everything he needs and then he'll be shiny again. We'll sing together and be so shiny...doesn't that sound like fun, Touma?"
The voice changed slightly and Noriko knew that the older man was talking through the pink rabbit that accompanied him everywhere. "And when you say you're sorry, you can go home and take care of Mika. She needs you right now, you know. For all you know, she may even be badly hurt, so you'll want to make sure she's okay, don't you?" A soft sound came from the front of where Ryuichi was standing and she saw a flash of pink, followed by a soft grunt. "Don't interupt Kuragomo when he's talking Touma! That isn't nice at all.
"Now let's try it one more time, since you've decided to put on a happy face." A soft grunt sounded once again, this time from the singer as he hauled something heavy into place. "See? You look much happier. What are you going to say to Shu-chan? It never hurts to practice, right?"
Noriko finally took a deep breath and knocked softly on the door, her curiosity taking over any survival instincts she may have had. After all, it was only Touma and Ryu-chan and she had nothing to be afraid of from either of them; they were like her brothers and had always been there to protect her. Instead of just being able to push the door open, she found it blocked by something heavy. She tried to look down and once again saw a flash of pink. What was with that damned rabbit? How many of them did Ryuichi have, anyway?
"Konban-wa, Noriko-chan," Ryuichi's voice greeted her. She jumped slightly; how did he get to the door so quickly? And why wasn't Touma answering her knock? Surely he had heard her, but she didn't remember hearing anything from the other man. Instead, she was greeted by Kuragomo's head, Ryuichi's sparkling blue eyes peeking out just above the floppy rose-colored ears.
"Ryu-chan, is everything okay?" she asked cautiously. "I was supposed to meet Hiro and Shuichi... "
"You must have left too early," he told her, beaming. "I cancelled the session so you could stay home with Saki. I'm sorry that you came all the way here."
Try as she might, she really couldn't be very angry with him. He was trying to help, after all. "It's okay, Ryu. If I head back now, I should be able to put her to bed."
"Good. Touma and I were just going over what he's going to say to Shuichi for hurting him so much." Ryuichi looked grim and angry for the first time in all the years they'd been friends and Noriko couldn't help but back away just a little. "It just doesn't do if the president of the company that produces you makes you so unhappy, is it?"
"I... suppose not," she agreed quietly, catching a glimpse from behind Ryuichi. Touma had moved from his spot in the chair behind his desk, knocking hard into the corner of his desk. Fire blazed in the normally playful blue eyes as the slight man turned to glare at the synth player. "Touma... ?"
"He's fine, Noriko," Ryuichi said firmly. "You should go home now."
The woman's dark eyes narrowed in suspicion and she pushed slightly at the door. "Ryuichi, what is going on? Is Touma okay? Touma... " She tried getting past him, but she realized too late that the playful man was much stronger than he appeared. "Ryu... this isn't funny. Is there something wrong with Mika?"
"Don't be silly," he assured her. "If I had done anything to hurt Mika, all bets would be off, isn't that right?"
A muffled scream came from behind the singer and he turned abruptly, lashing out with his boot, catching the newly fallen man in the ribs. Noriko felt her stomach lurch when she heard a very distinctive crunch. The scream sounded again, but this time, there was a desperate edge that hadn't been there before. "Ryu... "
"Could you give us just a second, Noriko?" her old friend asked, smiling innocently at her before shutting the door. The shock alone from seeing what she had so far had stopped her from trying to block the door open. "I told you if you kept that up... "
"Ryuichi... yammete!" Touma's familiar tenor was rough and much more quiet than Noriko had ever heard, even though he hadn't lost the near-hysterical edge. "Let Mika go. You know she didn't have anything to do with any of this... "
"It was her asshole brother that hurt Shuichi," Ryuichi reasoned. Noriko had grown silent, trying to figure out what was going on behind the door. It was hard since her heart was pounding in her ears and the two men were talking quietly. "And if I let her go, you wouldn't listen very well, would you, you fucking psychotic control freak?"
"Ryu... " Touma attempted to reason with him, obviously to no avail.
"Shut up, you bastard. If I hear another peep out of you, I'll do exactly what I should have years ago." The blue-eyed man was silent for several long moments before continuing. "Other than walking away... face it, Touma, you've been running everything since the beginning. Benevolent, sweet, protective Seguchi-sempai. You always had to have things your way to protect what was yours, didn't you? Was I included in that bargain? Was Noriko-chan? Was Hiro-kun? Mika-chan was. Yuki-san was, wasn't he? Everyone but Shu-chan! Why not him?!"
"You know damn well why not!" Touma retorted angrily, still trying desperately to raise his voice. "When it comes down to the line, I will always choose Eiri."
"And I warned you about running off at the mouth," the other man howled. "Just because you could never fuck him doesn't mean you have to get rid of the person that needed him!"
Noriko tested the door handle again, just to be certain that it wasn't just the sweat on her palms that had kept her from turning the knob. She wasn't sure what Ryuichi was planning on doing, but she was beginning to wonder just what he'd be willing to do in his anger. She was still having a hard time convincing herself that Ryu would seriously hurt someone, even with the venom in his tone when he spoke to Touma. The handle didn't turn. There was a sharp gasp from within the office and the sounds of a scuffle. Before she could make out any details, it was over.
Things were entirely too quiet and the sick feeling began to creep back into her stomach. The entire situation was wrong, and there were many questions that hadn't even begun to form in her mind. She raised her hands and knocked at the door. "Ryuichi? Touma? What's going on in there?" When she got only silence in return, she pounded harder. "Touma? Answer me! Ryu! What are you doing in there? Dammit, don't you dare ignore me!" she demanded in her best `don't fuck with me because I'm the Mommy' voice.
A quiet click from the door sounded and she stepped back instinctively to greet whatever was waiting beyond the threshold. When the door cracked open, she didn't see anyone standing where she could see them and a soft whimper from below caught her attention. The bit of pink she had seen before had been Ryuichi's Kuragomo costume. Inside it, Shuichi was bundled up like a papoose, his pained eyes pleading up at her from above the makeshift gag of duct tape over his mouth. It was obvious that he didn't have a full range of motion and the way his eyes tracked everywhere, barely managing to focus on her indicated that he was confused as to what was going on. "Shuichi-kun... "
Noriko moaned softly. Her head hurt like she'd been hit with a brick and she reached up a hand to feel for the lump she was certain was at the back of her neck. However, her hands weren't moving and it was soon obvious that the rest of her was immobile as well. Panic began to creep into her awareness and she tried to see what was going on.
The soft whimpers she had identified as Shuichi's were less frequent than before and she could hear Ryuichi's voice crooning to the younger man. She couldn't quite tell what he was saying, but it was obvious that he was trying to calm the other singer and it wasn't working. Something had happened to warp the relationship between them to where Ryuichi had become obsessed with the other singer... and Shuichi had become terrified of his idol. That much she was certain of; being a mother, she knew the sounds of a frightened child. But this time, Shuichi wasn't going to wake up and have his mother tell him it was all a bad dream and the monsters weren't real.
"See? He just wants to tell you he's sorry," Ryuichi placated, stroking the tear-stained cheek under his hand. "You'll let Touma tell you he's sorry for being a jealous, self-righteous prick that ran your Yuki away from you, won't you, Shu-chan? For me? And then, once we're done here, we can go home and I'll take care of you. I promise I won't be mean to you, and I'll give you everything you ever wanted. You'll be shiny again and we can sing together. It'll be wonderful."
When Ryuichi stepped away, Noriko realized that Shuichi's eyes were trained on a spot across the room. The clear, deep blue was almost swallowed by the blackness of his pupils, the shock plainly etched onto his too-pretty features. Whatever it was had shook him badly and Noriko had to know what had put such a strong-willed man into a state of terror.
Even without a gag, she couldn't make a sound. Touma was propped up in his chair, apparently ready to make his apology to Shuichi. It was bad enough to see the mask of what used to be a balloon stretched and warped across the blond man's features, held in place by staples and some tape around the edges, garishly decorated with Ryuichi's childish scrawlings of a happy face. The blood covering the front of the expensive sable and ivory silk suit was enough to stop her heart and tears filled her eyes. Someone had slit Touma's throat. She could see the jagged slices of the mocking second smile along the jawline and under the chin on her friend's too-pale skin. Bile rose at the back of her throat and threatened to choke her against the wad of paper taped into her mouth.
Ryuichi walked over, stopping behind the smiling corpse, weaving his burgundy-stained fingers into the cornsilk-colored hair, staining it with flecks of dried blood as his fist closed around a handful. He pulled the lax head upright and turned it just-so, enough for the face to appear as though it were looking at the other singer. Not a sound came from the auburn-haired man, still wrapped in the pink bunny costume across the room. Ryuichi watched for a moment with disinterest, as though he'd forgotten that Noriko was even there, or that he was holding up the head of his friend's corpse.
"Shu-chan, Touma has something he would like to say to you, don't you, Touma?" The hand fisted in the pale hair moved, nodding the inanimate head vigorously. "He feels very badly for everything he's done, too." Once again, "Touma" nodded.
Ryuichi cleared his throat and began to speak from behind the body, puppeting it the same way he did with his favorite toy. Noriko watched in detached fascination, unable to turn away from the drama unfolding before her. It wasn't real; it couldn't be. Ryu-chan... he would never hurt anyone. That was more Touma's dirty little secret; behind the innocent façade, a restless, bloodthirsty monster had always clawed at the world from behind those large gray eyes. She knew it all too well, what Touma was capable of. And now, for sweet, good-hearted Ryuichi to do something like this... it just wasn't happening.
"Shindou-san, I'm very, very sorry for making you so unhappy. Since I couldn't have Yuki-san for myself, I became a bitter, jealous bastard. I married his sister to try and fix it, but it didn't work. So I took him away from you, because he liked you better than me." The head hung down as if Touma were truly ashamed of himself before looking back up toward Shuichi. "But I'll be going away now, to let you be happy again with Ryuichi, but please know that because of what I have done, Yuki-san will never be coming back."
Shuichi's eyes became larger, filling with tears. He still wasn't doing much but making soft kitten noises of despair when his head shook slowly back and forth, finally closing those bright sapphire eyes. Thick hot tears streaked down his cheeks and his breath hitched behind the tape over his mouth. Noriko's heart ached to see him so sad... the tears that had happened before were one thing; the younger man was adept at turning the waterworks on and off at the drop of a hat, just like Ryuichi was. But this time... This time, the anguish was too raw to dispute. It was as though someone had just ripped the boy's heart out and told him that the current possessor was his Lord and Master.
Perhaps that was that situation now. How far would Shuichi go to make certain that Yuki wouldn't suffer the same fate as the man in the chair? And if Ryuichi could so something like this to the man he was supposed to love like a brother, what would he do to someone he obviously hated? The thoughts had blocked out some of the speech that was being made, until Shuichi's whimpers elevated to muffled shrieks. He was twisting and squirming as much as he could, trying to speak out loud, anything he could to stop it all...
"And just to make sure the message is clear, I'm going to see to it that the loyal little bitch that never got over losing her darling Touma to another woman doesn't try to take back his apology." Noriko's heart stopped. It had been many years ago and for a long while, she had hated the leggy brunette that had taken what she had thought would have been her rightful place. But now all she could think of was how Touma's death was going to hit the other woman; about how she would feel if her Tetsuya had been taken from her like this?
She'd never considered it.
Not from Ryuichi.
Not her Ryu-chan.
She never made a sound as he approached with the blood-stained letter opener. She just couldn't see it. She couldn't hear it or conceive of it. Not any of it.
She wondered if the sitter was going to be angry for her being late again.
She hoped Saki was being good.
Shuichi began to scream.