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"Ugh," Mochimune said.

"Revolting," Kikuchi concurred.

"Gag me," Mochimune continued.

"Disgusting," Kikuchi proclaimed.

Sawa Nagisa clapped his hands happily, delighted with the fluffy bunny-shaped cake he'd just sampled. "It's sublime, Kanda-san! And so adorable!" he said to the pastry chef. "I want the entire set for the reception! And five dozen petits-fours to match."

"Fuck me with a duck," Mochimune groaned. "The room's going to look like a Miyasaki Hayao meadow by the time you're done. I bet you're also going to hire some live baby animals for the guests to pet and coo over."

"What a delightful idea!" Sawa said, beaming. "But no, I'm thinking that won't be necessary. After all, Miyasaka and Onozuka will be there."

Kikuchi narrowed his eyes. "You are going to have the guests pet and coo over them instead?"

Sawa's smile sharpened. "Hardly. I am merely saying that to hire a lamb and a swan would be redundant. Wouldn't you agree?" Without waiting for the other two men to answer, Sawa gracefully rose from his chair and glided through the door held open for him by Kanda's assistant.

Mochimune slumped in his chair, scowling. "Most. Infuriating. Producer. Ever."

Kikuchi let out a breath. "I cannot believe that's the same guy who wrote the film we're shooting."

"Best damn screenplay I've ever read by someone not me," Mochimune muttered. "Makes him even more infuriating."

"Are you 100% sure he's the writer?" Kikuchi gazed at the now-closed door that Sawa had exited through. "Maybe someone else's the real author, and they're enjoying an elaborate joke at your expense."

"I did my homework," Mochimune growled. "He is the real author, and he's enjoying himself far too much." He sat up and reached for his paper cup. Downing his espresso in a single gulp, he slapped the cup back onto the table.

Kikuchi leaned over to peer at the dregs inside the cup. Lips curving maliciously, he chanted in English, "I see London, I see France, I see Keigo's underpants."

"You wish," Mochimune said through gritted teeth. "If you weren't so goddamn perfect as Toru, you'd be out on the street for that crack."

"Oh, I don't think so," Kikuchi said, complacent. "I'm absolutely perfect for your movie because I can't stop myself from being an asshole."

Mochimune snatched the cup back up, crushing it as he drew his arm back. At the very last instant possible, instead of hurling it at Kikuchi, he swiveled around and aimed it at the trash can behind him. The sound of the crumpled container sliding down the plastic liner sounded like a faint hiss.

"How I love the sound of frustration in the morning," Kikuchi quipped. Mochimune rewarded him with both a vicious glare and an exasperated laugh.

~

As they sat around the sukiyaki pot, Iwaki, Katou, and Yukihito dipped strips of thin-sliced steak and shungiku into its broth while listening to Sawa's descriptions of his partnership with Mochimune. "…So many people dying to tell me to fuck off," Sawa burbled. "And they can't! I haven't had this much fun in years - at least, not outside of my house or yours."

Iwaki frowned. "Why can't they… because you wrote the script? That alone wouldn't stop Mochimune. And neither would the fact that you're the one who's brought in most of the funding so far."

"Of course not," Sawa cheerfully agreed. "Neither of those matter when you're the hotshot cinematographic genius that he is. I wouldn't dream of interfering with his creative vision in the slightest," Sawa continued, his voice taking on a slightly pretentious warble that had Katou snickering into his beer. "No, the reason he can't stand my guts is because as far as he's concerned, I'm not only an asshole, I'm a badass. I can out-write, out-spend, and out-shoot him, and I'm going to keep reminding him of all those things until he gives me the movies I want to see."

"I heard from Miyasaka about your prowess with air-rifles," Katou said. "You made quite an impression during that field trip to the range."

"I wanted them to wonder how much of the story was based on real life," Sawa said.

"So, how much of it is true?" Iwaki asked.

"Not a single word!" Sawa chirped. "But the actors don't need to know that. I want them to think they might be playing people I used to know. I like seeing it haunt them - how it makes them be more serious about their parts, especially in front of me."

It was Katou's turn to frown. "A good actor would be serious no matter what."

"You are an exceptional actor, Katou-kun." Sawa's tone was that of a teacher humoring a favorite student who'd just asked a stupid question. "So is Iwaki-kun. There is a reason why you both keep winning Academy Prizes."

"Iwaki-san is so cute when he blushes like that," Katou said.

Sawa laughed. "Iwaki-kun's face is an open book, and right now he wants to hit you and pet you. It's absolutely adorable."

Iwaki gave up and leaned back in his chair, sputtering with both mortification and appreciation. "There is no hiding anything from you, Sawa-sama, is there?"

"No, there isn't," Sawa said, somewhat smugly. "Once a detective, always a detective. But detecting and interpreting aren't the same thing. Will you tell me, Iwaki-kun, why you found what I said so funny?"

Iwaki pressed his fingertips together, in the shape of a temple roof. "I was thinking of how Katou spent only months in America, while Kikuchi spent years - "

"It wasn't 'only' months, Iwaki-san!" Katou interjected. "It was an eternity without you!"

"Let me finish, Katou," Iwaki said. He met Sawa's gaze. "I am not being quite fair to Kikuchi, of course. He all but had to leave Japan after the scandal, and it was never his choice or his fault. It was Katou's choice to insist on playing Kusaka, and his choice to study in California. Very different situations -"

"But in the end, not so different," Sawa murmured. "In both cases, their careers appeared indefinitely stalled when they left Japan."

"That's right," Iwaki said. "What I found funny…" He paused, seeking the right words. "Katou used his time away to become an even better actor than he already was. Kikuchi…was not a bad actor, but he did not become a better one during his years away. And he has not become a better one since coming back to Japan."

There was complete silence for a moment. Then Katou and Sawa simultaneously exhaled.

"There is no one more merciless than my Iwaki-san," Katou said.

"Which has mesmerized you from the very start," Sawa noted.

Katou shot a mock glare at Sawa. "I still haven't forgiven you for Flesh Flute, you know. Fictional work, my ass."

"What's to forgive?" Sawa said, wholly unrepentant. "Basing that character on you made it a better novel."

It was Iwaki's turn to let out a deep breath. "And you call me merciless? You and Mochimune ought to be getting along just fine." A sardonic gleam appeared in his eyes as he added, "Or is it that you can't agree on how best to terrorize the poor actors?"

"Oh, that's entirely his territory," Sawa said airily. "He's the director, after all, and he'll get the performance of their lives out of all of them by the time he's done. I'm mainly concentrating on my script for parts two and three."

"Wait, I thought they were already written," Katou said. "In fact, I remember reading them. They were excellent!"

"And yet you said no to playing Hiroshi," Sawa said, pretending to look miffed.

"I don't like Mochimune's methods, and I don't like Kikuchi," Katou baldly stated. "Besides, my official reason for declining the role happened to be true: my schedule is overcrowded as it is, and there was no room to add a trilogy to it."

"Oh, I do understand," Sawa reassured him. "Just as I hope you understand why I'm glad you didn't say yes. You would have made a fine Hiroshi, but the actor who did take the role is a better fit for it, given who else is in the cast."

Iwaki chuckled. "That is such a nice way of saying you're glad you don't have to cope with Katou being childish around Kikuchi."

Katou stuck his tongue out at Iwaki. As Iwaki and Sawa grinned at each other, Yukihito quietly said, "Nagisa has revised parts two and three quite extensively. He's been reading the new scenes aloud to me each night."

Iwaki immediately grasped what Yukihito was getting at. "Katou says they were already excellent scripts. They are becoming even better now?"

Yukihito nodded, pleased at Iwaki's swift comprehension. "The characters seem even more real to me than before."

Iwaki raised an eyebrow at Sawa, whose smile had taken on a sneaky tinge. "Now that I am watching the performers act out Part One," the author said, "I am learning things about the characters I had not thought to look for until now. It would be silly not to improve the scripts based on the new information that I have."

"Naturally," Iwaki said, the twinkle in his eyes belying his solemn tone. "Especially considering how hard you have been working to gather the new information. We are looking forward to your soiree next week."

"Even knowing that Kikuchi and Mochimune are also invited?" Sawa said, looking pointedly at Katou.

Katou held his hands up in a hey, not me gesture. "It would be a shame if I got in the way of your research, Sawa-sensei." There was a sly quality to his smile that matched Sawa's as he added, "I am looking forward to several hours of watching those guys not being able to tell you to fuck off."

"All in the name of better movies, of course." The two men clinked their glasses together. Exchanging a look of resignation with Yukihito, Iwaki echoed, "To better movies" as he raised his own glass to meet theirs.

~

Posted at sawa-stalkah.bakajournal.co.jp (a fan blog):


I CAN HAZ MOAR CAKE NAO, Y/Y??? ^_^

KYAAHH!!! Bestest and cutest desserts EVAH!!! All those hours in line for the tix were SO WORTH IT!!! Earlier tonight, Yamane and I went to the dress rehearsal for PASTORAL PICNIC, the welcome-home party that Sawa-sensei's hosting tomorrow in honor of fellow author Jacqueline Kurahara.

Over the course of the past two years, Kurahara has become Sawa's best-known protégé. Her novels have been translated into fifteen languages, winning "rave reviews for their intricate plots and equally complex portraits of individuals who do not identify as 'female' or 'male.'" Thus proclaimeth the International Herald Tribune. Translation: she sells shitloads of books because they're fucking epic and fucking hilarious - you'll end up laughing your head off while she oh-so-precisely slices up your heart out. Happens to me every time. Gee, who else do we know who writes like that? OH HAI SAWA-SENSEI!

Seriously - he was everywhere last night, paying attention to every single detail out of line. HE EVEN FONDLED MY CHAIR, cuz there was a streak of something on the back of it catching the light when it shouldn't. Sorry, guys, no pics - we had to check all cameras and phones before going in. There was one guy who managed to sneak his in (did he have it down his pants, or claim he was a doctor, or what?), but the instant he held it up for a pic, security was SO on his ass. That was like five minutes in, and in the middle of his special snowflake whine and wheedle routine with the guard, he got totally PINNED by the spotlight, and by Sawa-sensei, too, who cordially and completely REAMED HIM OUT for being a selfish jerk and putting his own greediness ahead of Kurahara's happiness. Special Snowflake Douchebag didn't look too sorry, but if Sawa-sensei had said something like that to ME, the earth couldn't have opened fast enough to swallow me up. It was that cold and nasty and utterly right.

So after that, no more SS Douchebag, and no one else even dared THINK about doing anything to set themselves up as SS Douchebag II. Which meant the rest of the dress rehearsal was TOTAL AWESOMESAUCE, cuz it was all about Sawa-sensei and his friends (and the stand-ins for the Special Guest Stars) figuring out where to stand and when to sit, and editing some of the songs and skits on the fly depending on whether we were laughing or cheering enough. There was one part where Kikuchi Katsuya and Onozuka Yuu were supposed to bump noses - at least, that's what the original plan sounded like - but Onozuka slipped and ended up with his face mashed against Kikuchi's thighs, and he hauled in a huge breath. Which, that's what people naturally do after the wind's been knocked out of them, but it honest-to-god looked like he was trying to inhale Kikuchi's crotch, and when Mochimune-kantoku shouted out, "Go for the prize, Onozuka-kun!" the entire crowd totally lost it. ZOMG. People completely peeing in their pants from laughing their asses off, and I swear Kikuchi was one of them - he hobbled off the stage in a hurry, and he was wearing a robe when he got back.

So of course it's now in the final version, where Onozuka has to fall into Kikuchi on purpose. Which means writing about it makes this whole post a spoiler, but surely anyone important enough to be invited to the real party has better things to be doing than reading this blog. I know I would be. (I'd be doing my best to be doing Sawa Nagisa, heh, heh. JUST KIDDING IF YOU'RE ACTUALLY READING THIS, SAWA-SENSEI!)

(If Sawa-sensei were actually reading this I would so totally die. But if Sawa-sensei has been reading this, he already knows what a perv I am, so why hide it now?)

OMFG, need sleep so bad but so, so, SO wired. I blame the cakes. ZOMG I gotta tell you about the cakes! I had SO. MUCH. CAKE. Each one is cute, fluffy SEX ON A PLATE. Like cute fluffy lambs and cute fluffy bunnies and cute fluffy ducklings - almost too cute and fluffy and adorable to eat - but the waiter hands you the plate, and you bite into a piece of the cake, and what you've got on your tongue is this perfect cloud of alcohol and sugar and flour that's sending sheer happiness through every cell of your body. CAKE = SEX = I HEART SAWA NAGISA EVEN MORE THAN I DID FOUR HOURS AGO. The one single thing lacking about that cake was not getting to hand-feed it to Sawa-sensei. After all, one of the bestest things about sex is getting to make someone else feel really, REALLY good, ne?

~

When they were finally alone, in Kikuchi's flat, Onozuka Yuu glared at his lover and said, "I cannot believe you took your pants off."

Kikuchi retorted, "I can't believe you didn't have a comeback for Mochimune."

Onozuka snapped, "I didn't plan to fall into you."

Kikuchi smirked. "Your body's way more honest than you are."

"Pot, meet kettle."

"Ooh, baby, you turn me on when you're all steamed up."

"Dude, it's really friggin' creepy when you imitate Katou like that."

"You insult me. As if I'd pay that puppy any more attention than I have to."

Onozuka snorted. "Like it'd take anyone more than a minute to figure him out? Even Yoshizumi Naotaka does a killer Katou imitation - you should've heard him during our group interview way back when. And he is even more boring than Katou's precious Iwaki."

"You have a point." Kikuchi kicked off his slippers and lay down on his futon. "Now there's someone without a single honest bone in his body."

"What? Are we talking about the same guy?" Onozuka poked his head back out of the shirt he had started to pull over his head. "Yoshizumi's pathetically honest. If he had any clue about how to act like someone in love, he wouldn't be stuck in period drama purgatory."

"Sure, he's clueless, but I refuse to believe that anyone's as uninterested in sex as he pretends to be."

Onozuka tossed his shirt at Kikuchi. "You've never gone through a patch where you didn't feel anything for anyone?"

"Never."

"Not even, say, when you moved to America? Or during your other spells of, shall we say, underemployment?"

"Are you kidding? When the rest of my life sucks, I want more sex, not less!"

"Huh." Onozuka flopped down next to Kikuchi. "I wasn't kidding."

"No?" Kikuchi dropped Onozuka's shirt off the futon and squinted at the younger man. "Trying to feel nothing - does it actually work?"

"Didn't for me." Onozuka's smile was wry. "But Yoshizumi's way more mellow than I am."

"Too mellow," Kikuchi said. "It's unreal."

"Well, that would explain why he and Iwaki get along so well, doesn't it? Yoshizumi's too good to be true and Iwaki wants to be."

Kikuchi burst out laughing. "Dare you to say that to Sawa."

"And have him steal it for one of his novels? No, thanks." Onozuka rolled onto Kikuchi, lacing his hands behind the other man's neck. "When are you going to tell him to stop yanking your chain with his revisions? This isn't a remake of Rashomon we're in."

Kikuchi tried to nip at Onozuka's ear. "I'm an actor, I'm supposed to like it when he makes Mochimune focus so much attention on me."

Onozuka drew back, not only to dodge Kikuchi's teeth but to bestow on him an incredulous look. "You do realize those extra scenes are never going to make it into the movie, don't you?"

"Of course I do, whelp." Kikuchi slung an arm around Onozuka and yanked the younger man back to his chest. "I also know whose friends are paying most of our salaries. If Sawa wants to waste their money making a blooper-reel, starring me, who am I to flounce away?"

Onozuka pressed a kiss to the left of a nipple. "When you put it that way…"

"I'm not even joking," Kikuchi said. " 'Making of' documentaries are big business these days. Leak a couple of extra scenes to YouTube, ta-daaaaa, free publicity."

"Not to mention giving the fankids extra universes to play in - "

"Resulting in even more free publicity for me," Kikuchi concluded triumphantly.

Onozuka pushed himself up so that he could stare at Kikuchi. "You are saying that all publicity is good publicity?"

"If Sawa's involved, yes." Kikuchi chuckled at Onozuka's skeptical expression. "Grasshopper, the guy's rich. I'm not. He keeps getting away with getting his way. Who am I not to ride his train?" He wrapped his legs around Onozuka, bringing the other man's hips back into contact with his own. "Besides, we're getting paid to watch him be a pain in the ass to Mochimune. You can't tell me that that isn't a super deal."

"How do you expect me to watch anything when I keep ending up with my face in your crotch?"

"Funny how that keeps happening," Kikuchi said, resting his hand on his lover's hair. Affecting the faux innocence of a pop journalist, he continued, "It's almost as if Mochimune enjoys every chance he gets to defile the pure and the proud."

Onozuka tried to shake off Kikuchi's hand. "I'm not pure. And neither is Miya-chan."

"But you are both prouder than sin." Kikuchi's fingers slid to Onozuka's face, caressing. "It's almost repellently cute, how cocky you both are."

Onozuka snatched at Kikuchi's hand, pushing it away from his face as he demanded, "So your great joy in life is watching Mochimune steer us around like little circus dogs?"

"I do enjoy it," Kikuchi said. "I like watching Mochimune think he's gotten more out of you than any director ever has." He pushed up at Onozuka, sliding down so that his mouth was at the buckle of Onozuka's belt. "I love knowing that I've gotten more out of you than Mochimune ever will."

Onozuka managed to gasp out, "You smug, self-satisfied, self-congratulating son of a bitch."

"Oh, but with reason," Kikuchi answered, his mouth proceeding to demonstrate why.

~

"You," Mochimune said, "are having far too much fun with this."

Sawa's eyes sparkled. "Are you telling me you didn't spend the night in your editing room?"

"I'm a first-class director. First-class directors don't have lives outside of their work."

"I didn't say you did." Sawa's voice was as light as the champagne he'd been sipping. "Especially considering how lavishly I've provided you with fresh material. Mochimune-kantoku, are you not having the time of your life?"

"Did I not spend all night in my editing room?" Mochimune grumbled.

"Burning both ends of the candle for Part One?" Sawa pressed, sweetly.

"Burning to see more sparks between Kikuchi and Onozuka," Mochimune said, scowling. "The chemistry is goddamn there, but it doesn't come out except when they forget the camera's running, or when they think I'm just humoring you. Kikuchi is the laziest bastard this side of Kanazawa."

"Lazy?" Sawa echoed. "I would have said that he's guilty of over-acting, most of the time."

"He is, because he's lazy," Mochimune all but snarled. "Any jackass can play for laughs. Any second-rate dorama diva can fake high emotion. Kikuchi and Onozuka would be better actors if they stopped being proud of how clever they are and worked harder at actually inhabiting their characters. God I miss Iwaki!"

"I saw Shimizu by the bluebird cake about ten minutes ago," Sawa offered. "She said something about making sure that her president got something to eat. Apparently Iwaki and Jacqueline haven't stopped talking since they saw each other twenty minutes ago."

Mochimune snorted. "I'll catch him later. Some other time, when I'm not working."

Sawa smiled at a point beyond the wall across from him. Mochimune glanced at the same point and sneered, "Any moron can run a camera, hidden or not. Everything it's recording is nothing more than garbage until I know what to look for. Therefore, right now I'm working."

"As am I, Mr. Director." Sawa's smile reminded Mochimune of a fallen seraph. "As am I."

~

"You stumbled very convincingly earlier tonight," Katou said to Onozuka.

Onozuka manufactured a casual smile for his old friend. "All in an evening's work. Now I need to learn how to stumble into the right people."

Katou let out a huff of laughter. "Are you trying to get me to talk to your Kikuchi? Because that is almost worth repeating to him."

Onozuka said, "Who are you and what have you done to Katou Youji? The real Katou does not joke about matters related to his darling Iwaki-san."

Katou coolly pointed out, "Neither you nor Kikuchi have had anything to do with Iwaki-san for a long time now."

"A state of affairs agreeable to everyone except for Mochimune," Onozuka said.

Grinning, Katou admitted, "That makes the situation even more satisfactory to me."

Onozuka pretended to pout. "You are happy that we see so little of each other? Katou-san, you are so cruel! To think that our friendship means so little to you now!"

"Oh stuff it, Ono-chan," Katou said matter-of-factly. "I've been very busy. You don't find me fun when I'm busy."

Onozuka sniffed, "Sure, bring out that 'busy' excuse, Mr. Superstar In Demand. I suppose I should consider myself lucky that you're even deigning to speak to me anymore."

Katou was silent for a moment, consternation writ large across his face. Onozuka was about to sigh loudly and let him off the hook when Katou softly asked, "Is that how you really feel about it, my friend?"

"Does being an A-list celebrity automatically drop your IQ by fifty points?" Onozuka demanded. "Of course I wasn't serious!"

"I see," Katou said, not sounding convinced in the slightest.

"You really are no fun when you can't take a joke," Onozuka complained.

"I see," Katou said again. There was an odd, exhausted inflection to the words that made Onozuka suddenly feel as though someone was saying goodbye to him. But before he could respond with a pointed question, Katou then added, "I guess I'll just have to work harder at being fun," imitating a dim-bulb rock singer they'd enjoyed mocking back when they'd both been heavy partiers.

Onozuka responded by crooning several lines of said rock star's sappiest power ballad, using his champagne flute as a mic. As he'd hoped, Katou clapped his hands enthusiastically and joined him in the chorus, singing in a dopey, surfer-dude accent. It was almost just like old times: out of the corner of his eye, Onozuka could see Iwaki roll his eyes and turn back to his conversation with Kusahara.

Onozuka launched into another verse, singing even louder.

~

Watching the exchange from several feet away, Sawa Nagisa murmured to Miyasaka Keigo, "It's nice to see Katou's friends remain his friends, in spite of his fame."

Miyasaka shrugged. "Katou is very much in demand, but he can't be everywhere at once. I don't mind getting his leftovers, especially when it's a role like Hiroshi."

"Very philosophical of you," Sawa said. "It is a rare actor who doesn't mind being thought of as second-best."

Visibly tamping down a surge of annoyance, Miyasaka said, "It won't say 'second choice' on the credits, will it? When the film appears on thousands of screens around the world, my name will be the one next to 'Hiroshi,' not Katou's. That's all that matters."

"That's right," Mochimune said, joining them. "That is indeed all that should matter to you. Sawa-san, don't you have other work you should be doing?"

~

After wrapping up his conversation with the guest of honor, Iwaki Kyosuke walked up to the mezzanine of the ballroom. It was populated with a scattering of individuals, couples, and trios, most of them clearly taking a breather from the festive chaos below.

Iwaki slipped into the box where Katou Youji sat alone, seemingly entranced by the silvery butterflies fluttering from the chandeliers.

"Hey."

"Hey."

Iwaki placed his hand on top of Katou's and gently asked, "What did Onozuka say to you to make you so upset?"

Katou pressed his lips together. Iwaki pressed down lightly on Katou's hand, willing Katou to take comfort from the touch.

Katou sighed. "It's not what he said, it's just what I saw." He twined his fingers with Iwaki's. "Do you remember, when you went to your high school reunion, how you had outgrown the people you knew back then?"

Iwaki nodded, his fingers tightening their clasp as he remembered his words to Katou in the taxi: The more everybody kept saying they didn't want to go home, in contrast, the more I wanted to come home.

Katou's gaze remained on the gossamer butterflies. He said, "It is so pretty, how Sawa turned this room into a country fantasy. All the decorations, all the lighting effects, all the food - it's as beautiful as a memory filtered by time."

"A memory best enjoyed in a space that is not quite real," Iwaki murmured.

Katou leaned his head against Iwaki's arm. "Iwaki-san, I am a bad friend," he stated.

"Onozuka said that? Surely you don't believe such nonsense. Especially not from him!"

Katou shook his head. "There's nothing between us to forgive. That's not why I'm so tired." He tilted his head to look up at Iwaki. "I am not sure when I turned into someone for whom work is more important than friendship. But that is who I am."

"It is the Katou I love," Iwaki said, cupping Katou's chin with his other hand. "In spite of all your yelling at me about over-working, you are as consumed by your projects as I am with mine. After all these years, this should not be a surprise to Onozuka-kun."

Katou dipped his head to press a kiss against Iwaki's palm. "I don't think Onozuka actually understands how much acting matters to me. He's a good actor himself, but for him, it's always been a means to something else - gossip, sex, being on VIP lists."

Iwaki drily noted, "Well, he hasn't done badly for himself in any of those areas."

"Please," Katou groaned. "He's been sleeping with Kikuchi. Must we call that doing well for himself?"

Iwaki mischievously said, "Kikuchi does have good taste in men, I've heard. I would say he's at least a step up from orgy parties."

"Iwaki-san!" Katou sat up. "I - "

"Besides," Iwaki continued, "as a former A/V actor, I can hardly criticize someone else for seeing sex as a means of getting ahead."

Katou blinked. "It is rare for you to mention that part of our past." They both glanced down at the main floor. Kikuchi and Onozuka were sitting at one of the small café-style tables, a plate of cake crumbs between them.

"I don't miss it," Iwaki said. "I am a very fortunate man."

"A fortunate man who has worked harder than anyone I know to become who he is," Katou said. "Neither Kikuchi nor Onozuka would know how to appreciate that."

"Ah. Now I see," Iwaki said, turning back to Katou. "You would be less sad if Onozuka gave you credit for being a better actor, rather than just a luckier one."

"I know it's stupid of me," Katou muttered. "The end result would be the same no matter what. I would work as hard as I do no matter what he thinks."

"Katou," Iwaki said, "I could not be in love with anyone other than you." He spared another glance for Kikuchi and Onozuka, smiling as he continued, "You do deserve your reputation for turning things personal. And yet, you are even faster than me to set aside your personal feelings when the good of a movie is at stake." His thumb brushed Katou's left cheekbone as he added, "I have never forgotten how you yelled at me after I fainted during Winter Cicadas."

Katou flushed. "I'd forgotten about that." He renewed his grip on the hand he hadn't relinquished. "I also yelled at you when you passed out before the big earthquake."

"I've told you, I didn't faint that time. It was just dizziness. The rumor that reached you was a wild exaggeration."

"Exaggeration or not, you still had to go to the hospital! I was terrified out of my mind when I heard!" Katou wrapped his arms around Iwaki's waist. The gesture reminded Iwaki of the way Katou's nephew always hugged him in greeting - a small child clinging to a trusted adult.

Still so childish sometimes, Iwaki thought, fondly. And yet -

"I can't bear it when I can't protect you. When I can't make things easier for you." Katou's words were almost inaudible, mumbled as they were against the front of Iwaki's shirt.

"Such a child," Iwaki said aloud. "That's not your job, Katou. That's what Shimuzu and the rest of the agency's employees are for."

"Then what is my role, Iwaki-san?" Katou said, looking up. The question sounded more earnest than it should have been, and Katou's eyes were shaded with a helpless sorrow; for an instant, Iwaki wanted nothing more than to walk over to Onozuka and punch him.

Instead, he said to Katou, "You have to ask?" You are the love of my life. You are my foremost rival. You are the reason I will never stop striving to become a better actor. "Who do you think I trust to reprimand me when I become complacent?"

He was rewarded with a slow, soul-melting smile - the kind that made his own knees go weak. "Is that so, Iwaki-san?" Katou said, drawing himself up to full height. "Suppose we go home now, so I can show you why you are in no danger of becoming complacent?"

Masking his anticipation, Iwaki deliberately jostled Katou's shoulder with his own. Brightening even more, Katou responded with an affectionate shove, whispering, "Bringing out the senpai pose for show? Iwaki-san, you just wait until we're alone - you won't be able to walk by the time I'm through with you tonight."

~
". . . in no danger of becoming complacent…"

Sawa Nagisa reclined in Yukihito's arms, eyes trained on one of the monitors in front of them. The five screens corresponded to thirty hidden cameras stationed around the ballroom.

Sawa had foreseen that some of his guests would be making use of the mezzanine boxes, and had directed his master electrician accordingly. It was therefore not entirely due to luck that one of his cameras had been perfectly positioned to surreptitiously capture Iwaki and Katou's conversation. Having noticed Iwaki heading upstairs, Sawa had chosen to take a brief break from playing hostess, hurrying to the secret room that housed the camera controls and monitors. Therefore, it was likewise not entirely due to luck that he had been able to watch his friends while they discussed Onozuka and Kikuchi and their own relationship.

As the two lovers walked out of range of the camera's lens, Sawa murmured, "Katou-kun is obscenely radiant when he's happy."

"You aren't the only one who thinks so." Yukihito pointed to another screen. It displayed Mochimune and Miyasaka staring up toward the mezzanine, both men arrested by something they had glimpsed on the upper level.

Miyasaka's expression was oddly wistful. Mochimune's expression was that of a man suddenly bludgeoned by hunger, and without any hope of assuaging it.

A heartbeat later, Miyasaka still looked wistful, but Mochimune's features had smoothed back into his usual supercilious façade. Captivated, Sawa and Yukihito watched as Mochimune turned back to Miyasaka, asking and then repeating some apparently innocuous question.

Sawa sighed. "Now I wish we had rigged the downstairs cameras for sound."

"There would still be too much crowd noise to make out what he's saying."

"Too true." Sawa permitted himself another sigh of regret - and then a hoot of vicious delight. "Mochimune-kun, you are going to be so much fun to write more about!"

A corner of Yukihito's mouth quirked upward, but his gaze lingered on Miyasaka. Sawa recognized the look on his lover's face as one of his favorites - that of Yukihito being reluctant to put down a book.

"Eh?" he said, still smiling. "Do I need to start worrying about your fascination with Miyasaka-kun?" Yukihito's look of amusement remained, but his hand tightened on Sawa's arm. "Yes, I'm just being silly. But you know how much I want to write stories that will please you."

Yukihito answered with a firm kiss against the nape of Sawa's neck. "Oh, so lovely," Sawa breathed, savoring the contact.

Yukihito tilted his head toward the screen for an instant, redirecting Sawa's attention to Miyasaka and Mochimune. Sawa watched them for several moments more before saying, "Mochimune seeing himself as a master schemer really is the funniest thing ever. But he does have a knack for getting the most out of his actors."

Yukihito cocked an eyebrow, shifting his head to gesture toward yet another screen. On it, they could see the section of the room with the café tables, including the one at which Kikuchi and Onozuka had begun to share a slice of porcupine cake.

Sawa said to Yukihito, "Yes, he's so frustrated with those guys right now, but there's plenty of filming left to do. He'll figure out the right way to push them before too long. That crack he made about Kikuchi's 'prize' sure got some real sparks out of Onozuka!"

Yukihito pursed his lips. "You're so hot when you look skeptical," Sawa said. "No, I wouldn't put money on Onozuka and Kikuchi lasting out the year. But you know, no one sane would have put money on Katou and Iwaki when they first began."

"You practically did," Yukihito softly pointed out. "You wrote Flesh Flute. You did not know whether that book would do well. The time you spent on it was your way of betting on them."

Sawa conceded, "So it was. And it is my money that's underwriting all the extra scenes we've filmed so far. I wonder when Mochimune will reveal to the cast that those scenes are for a completely separate movie?"

Yukihito shook his head, his eyes flickering back to the screen with Mochimune and Miyasaka. Sawa grinned. "No, of course it won't be for a while. Not until we need their cooperation for the scenes that can't be edited or overdubbed to fit the secret story."

Yukihito's answering squeeze said You and your secrets as eloquently as if he had spoken the words aloud. Sawa squeezed Yukihito's arms in response. "Mochimune has done a masterful job of manipulating the footage we've captured so far. And he always looks scruffy and dissolute - if we weren't working together, I'd swear he was spending his nights in Kabukicho instead of his private editing room."

Yukihito unexpectedly sniggered. Sawa twisted around, startled by the very un-Yukihito sound. "What's so funny?"

Yukihito nodded again at the screen with Mochimune and Miyasaka. Imitating Mochimune's demeanor, he said, "Hey baby, wanna come see my edits?"

"Oh my God. That probably is what he's saying to Miyasaka right this minute." A few beats later, Sawa added, "And Miyasaka is practically begging to taste the bait. Oh, Mochimune-kun," Sawa said to the screen. "The kid's no Katou, but he'll be a hell of a Hiroshi by the time you're done with him."

"Last week, you said he was already a better Hiroshi than Katou would have been."

"He's not a better actor than Katou," Sawa said, "but he brings something to Hiroshi that is outside of Katou's personality. Katou could be directed to play the character with that 'something,' but it's a dimension he would have to consciously create. Since it's already in Miyasaka, it's something he gives to the character without even trying."

Sawa continued watching the two men, his expression thoughtful. "There's something strangely careful about the way Miyasaka acts around Iwaki. If he about to touch Iwaki, or talk to him, he freezes for a instant, right before whatever he's about to do or say."

"That's not unusual for someone with a crush."

"Yes, but that doesn't explain it," Sawa said. "After all, he'll be bending over for Mochimune before we're done with Part One. If that's how his mind's been warning his body, bad idea, it ought to have him completely paralyzed by now."

Yukihito cocked his head as Miyasaka stepped a fraction closer to Mochimune, with no visible trace of his earlier wistfulness. Yukihito said to Sawa, "Mochimune doesn't have a Katou."

Sawa shook his head, dissatisfied. "True, but there's still something there that's not making sense to me."

Yukihito tugged lightly on Sawa's silk scarf. Sawa's smile returned. "You're right - who am I to talk about making sense? It's probably something stupid and simple. Maybe Miya-kun threw up on one of Iwaki's suits at a party like this."

Yukihito tugged on the scarf again. Sawa reluctantly said, "Yes, we'd better get back out there. That's the problem with me being the host - it'll be hours before we can go home, even though I really want to write - "

Pulling Sawa close, Yukihito dipped the other man backwards, securely cradling his lover as they plunged into a deep, passionate kiss. When they finally broke apart for air, it was a full minute before Sawa shakily said, "I really wish we didn't have to go back."

~

"Shameless," Kikuchi muttered, but not entirely disapprovingly. Onozuka looked toward the doorway through which Sawa had re-entered the room. Yep, the author definitely had the look of someone who'd sneaked away for an off-stage fuck: the color in his cheeks was high and he'd reapplied his lipstick.

"Totally shameless," Kikuchi repeated, licking his own lips. "I bet he saw Iwaki and Katou sneaking off and got too turned on to help himself. That boy of his is probably a champion sword-swallower."

Onozuka nearly spewed his mouthful of cake all over the table. He didn't know much about Sawa and Yukihito's love life, but there had been that "People Who Had Overheard Iwaki and Katou Having Sex" roundtable both he and Sawa had been on. He'd picked up enough from Sawa's answers to infer that Sawa truly was "the woman" in that relationship.

Unfortunately, thinking of men being "the woman" tended to remind him of all the trouble Miyasaka and his moronic notions had caused. He turned to look at Miyasaka and Mochimune, frowning. Presumably Miya had gotten over his allergy to taking a sword up his ass, because you didn't have to be a psychic to see where Mochimune was steering things, and Miyasaka didn't seem to be minding the direction.

"Hey," Kikuchi said. "A little more attention to your own date, if you would?"

"Eh, sorry," Onozuka said. He cut a new bite-sized cube from the slice of cake and held it out to Kikuchi.

Instead of accepting the cake, Kikuchi planted his elbows on the table and rested his jaw on his fists. His voice was far more gentle than his words as he said, "Worried about your friend?"

"Miyasaka's a grown-up," Onozuka said, flatly. "He doesn't need me to watch his ass."

"No, our esteemed director's been doing plenty of that the past few weeks," Kikuchi agreed. "I wonder how much he's had to drink? He's usually not this blatant about wanting Miya-kun over his knee." Kikuchi took in Onozuka's grim expression and said, "Hey. Like you said, your friend's an adult. And Mochimune won't do anything to put this movie at risk. If he does bed your friend, he'll hold back on the brutal critiques of dick size, tongue agility, and moaning vocabulary - at least until there's zero chance of it screwing up Miyasaka's portrayal of Hiroshi."

"Oh God, you're so right." Onozuka couldn't help laughing at Kikuchi's attempt at reassurance - especially since it was reassuring. "Mochimune's probably convinced himself that conning Miya into sex will improve Hiroshi's love scenes."

"Well, it probably will," Kikuchi said. The cube of cake went flying off the table as Onozuka helplessly laughed harder and dropped the fork. Kikuchi ruthlessly continued, "You know I'm right: Hiroshi's marriage is the one thing that's stable in his life, and it's way too obvious your friend hasn't gotten laid in ages. Good for the fight scenes but not for the cozy tableaus."

Calming down, Onozuka leaned in toward Kikuchi. "Does that mean we should stop having sex?" he murmured. "After all, most of our scenes in the script have us trying to kill each other."

"That isn't how we have sex?" Kikuchi said.

Another peal of laughter escaped from Onozuka's lips.

~

Mochimune and Miyasaka stared at the café section, both startled by the rare sound of Onozuka Yuu laughing loud enough to turn heads.

"I'll have to find out how Kikuchi got that reaction," Mochimune said.

"Might not work if you're not sleeping with him," Miyasaka said.

"Speaking from past experience?"

Miyasaka turned red, belatedly recognizing how his comment could be interpreted. "Onozuka and I have been friends for years," he muttered. "I've never made him laugh like that."

"Have you wanted to?" Mochimune bluntly asked.

Miyasaka shook his head. "N-no, not exactly. I've never wanted to be his boyfriend." He bit his lip as he watched Kikuchi lap up a buttercream daisy from Onozuka's fork. "I - it's usually him laughing at me. Which, yeah, it's okay, I usually totally deserve it. But once in a while I've thought, what would it be like. . . what it would feel like? To be into someone's skin enough to make them laugh like that?"

"You're the actor," Mochimune softly said, concealing his rising excitement. That look of yearning - that is what he looked like when we saw Katou earlier tonight. "Pretending to be what you want to be - shouldn't that be second nature by now?"

"Maybe it would be second nature if I had Katou's talent," Miyasaka said, his words flavored with an undertone of bitterness. "Pretending can only go as far as your limits. I can imagine being clever. I can imagine being noble. But I don't have that something extra that makes Katou so … magnetic. You saw how Iwaki was looking at him when they left. Hida looks at him like that. You look at him like that."

Mochimune said, "It should be criminal, to look that radiant."

"I would give anything to own that kind of talent. Anything. But something like that - if it could be bought or taught, actors around the world would be robbing banks to pay for it."

Anything? Mochimune said aloud, "You underestimate yourself, Miyasaka-kun. You may not be in Katou's league, but you are my Hiroshi, and it is not for you to tell me you have limits. I will not accept anything less than your best."

Miyasaka narrowed his eyes at Mochimune. "Haven't I given you everything you've asked of me?"

"I haven't yet asked for everything I'm going to want from you."

"Is that so?" Miyasaka raised his head, boldly locking eyes with the director. "As an actor, I am your sword. I am only as good as your skill in wielding me."

There was the barest hint of triumph in Mochimune's voice as he said, "A virtuoso must spend many, many hours with his instrument to do it justice. To bring out its absolute, glorious best, he must test its limits for himself - not accepting anyone else's word for what it can or cannot do."

Miyasaka lifted his chin a fraction higher. "Long ago, I caught a wild boar in the mountains. It was my offering to a man who had wanted to kill me."

"Did he throw it back into your face?" Mochimune immediately asked.

Miyasaka almost sounded nostalgic as he said, "No, it hit my chest instead. The meat was too nasty to eat, and too hot for him to grip it properly."

Mochimune let out a roar of genuine laughter. Some of the guests standing near him reacted to the noise with tolerant grins, and others wore "let's get out of range of the drunk guy" expressions. Miyasaka looked … stunned. And thrilled.

Yes, you amuse me. And you are going to amuse me more. Mochimune closed a hand over Miyasaka's elbow. Just like grasping a hilt, he thought to himself. …Fuck, I'm getting corny in my old age. I need to get away from this party!

He was conscious of the attention being paid to his actions: Sawa's glance was knowing. Yukihito's was intrigued. Kikuchi's stare was exaggeratedly neutral and Onozuka's guarded, a crease of anxiety marring the younger man's brow.

Mochimune would deal with them later. Not tonight. Not when he had so much potential within his literal grasp.

As they walked past the security guard, Miyasaka diffidently said, "Katou's going to owe me 20,000 yen, I think."

"Oh?"

"He's convinced that you don't have any interests outside of your work." Miyasaka glanced sidelong at Mochimune. "He bet that I wouldn't be able to prove him wrong."

They were outside now, a few steps into the parking lot. A field of asphalt and cement and bike racks and cars, with no other guests in sight.

"People see what they want to see," Mochimune said, pulling Miyasaka fully into his arms. As he slanted his mouth over Miyasaka's, he fiercely whispered, "Consider yourself warned: I live for this."