1 August 1993
Los Angeles, California
Nowaki growled as he stepped onto the sidewalk and looked at the long line of taxis. “He’s not here.” His hands gripped the bags tighter as he watched the cars move in the outer lane. “Last born sons always get the shaft.”
A black limousine pulled alongside the curb, a window rolling down to reveal a tanned face bearing a set of emerald eyes that in that moment, forever changed his world. Wheat-colored hair framed his chiseled face as full lips spread in a generous smile. “Shimazu Nowaki, if I’m correct?”
Nowaki blinked at the rich English accent that colored the man’s words. “You are Xavier Blair?” he asked, blinking slowly. “You are Oto-san’s friend?”
“That I am. I’m sorry for my unexpected tardiness in meeting you at the airport, Nowaki-san.” Xavier Blair opened the door and swung his legs out to plant his feet down on the cement, but it wasn’t until he stood that Nowaki observed the man was the very portrait of Western civilization. “There was an accident on the motorway that held us up for almost an hour.”
Shiny black leather shoes, silk navy trousers, and a soft black cashmere turtle-neck sweater with long bell sleeves; Xavier had money, yes, Nowaki knew that but as every piston in his cranium fired, he tried to remember if he’d ever seen anything as fine as the worldly man before him. Nowaki nodded, lifting his eyes to the sparkling set he found gazing at him, realizing in that moment that he’d missed what the Englishman had said or asked. “My apologies, Xavier-san, I was distracted.”
Merriment filled Xavier’s face as he motioned to the open trunk. “I merely asked if you would like to stow your luggage, Nowaki-san.”
Smiling even as he felt the color fill his cheeks, Nowaki murmured, “Hai. I would like this very much.” He hurried to the back of the car, dragging his roller board suitcases behind him. “Thank you.”
“Should you wish to speak Japanese, I am fluent in it. I lived and went to school in Japan when I was in my younger, more formative years. I met your father through my own father.” Xavier shoved his hands through his gold hair, rumpling it deliciously.
Did I really just think that? Deliciously? I’m embarrassed and he didn’t even hear it!
Nowaki shook his head, hefting his luggage to settle it into the cargo area of the automobile before retying the flannel around his slender waist.
He is exquisite… and he will not be interested in a boy.
“Thank you, Xavier-san, but I am in America now, and it would be disrespectful for me to utilize the language of Japan on the streets. I received the highest marks in English in school. I will hone my English now.”
“Why did you choose to come to America instead of going to N University?” the man asked, taking the satchel from Nowaki’s shoulder to place it carefully between the two suitcases, affording it no room to move. “Masanori-san said that N University’s Japanese literature and art departments had practically declared war on each other over who would receive the honor of your choice!”
As the trunk closed, Nowaki swallowed hard, lifting coppery eyes to Xavier. “I did not want to sacrifice the honesty of my art by allowing a school to sculpt it, especially when I knew already what career I wanted.”
Xavier leaned against the side of the car, folding his arms over his chest as he looked over at him. “What is your chosen career path?”
“I came to Los Angeles to be an actor. I want to be a movie star, not just in Japan, but in the world. I want to be like Ken Watanabe or Hiroyuki Sanada or… or even Bruce Lee.” He smirked then, folding his own arms over his chest. “Be my own man.”
“You want to make your mark on America before making it on Japan?” Xavier queried, arching a thin blonde brow. “That’s quite unusual.”
“Perhaps I’m just an unusual guy.” Nowaki shoved a hand through his jet hair as he stifled a yawn. “Where’s a good place to eat around here? Any family restaurants close by?”
“I thought you might be hungry. I’m famished as well.” He ticked his head at the open door as he favored him with a smile. “After you, Nowaki-san.”
With a grin, Shimazu Nowaki, brand new to the United States of America, dove into the belly of the luxury car, cackling like a fiend.
I am here, Kaa-chan! I am here and like Bruce Lee, I will make a big noise, one you can hear all the way in Japan!
“Do you live in America at all, or in England only?” Nowaki asked, carefully watching the man across from him out of the corner of his eye.
He is so beautiful!
“I am living here for the moment, but only until Masanori-san is certain that you will be okay on your own. America is not for me. It’s too… impersonal, cold even.” Xavier Blair curled his lip as he made a face that clearly illustrated his distaste for this side of the pond. “It would have to be something pretty impressive to get me to stay in this country.”
“How long will you be here then?” Nowaki asked. “Not that I need a baby-sitter, I’m just asking.”
Xavier shrugged. “I don’t know.” He smiled at Nowaki. “I guess that depends on you. Are you needy? I know that you’ve never been out of Japan before now.”
Nowaki laughed. “Last summer, I went to a cram school in Tokyo, because Oto-san insisted that the school was the best. He wanted me to apply for T University and N University, insisting on it even. He said that if I could get into T University, N University would be a breeze. He had intentions of staying with me, but when Okaa-san fell ill during the first month we were gone, I told Oto-san to go home, that Okaa-san needed him and that I would be in close contact and ever aware of my surroundings, and that I’d keep up with my studies. He agreed, and he sent me money every week for food and train fare. Before he left, we found an apartment for me and rented some furniture. I spent all summer like that, finding my way around Tokyo. Tokyo is almost its own country, I think. Nii-san stayed with me on the weekends sometimes at the beginning, but he was there the last two weeks most especially.”
“Yeah… and I’m from Bath and yet going to London to attend Guildhall didn’t prepare me at all for the US, Nowaki-san.” Xavier leaned forward, placing one hand on Nowaki’s knee. “We’ll see how long this lasts. First things first: did you come here with intent to go to school or did you come here with intent to get into the movies?”
“Oto-san said that I must do it right. So I applied and was accepted at UCLA for acting,” Nowaki replied, doing his best to keep his mind focused on conversation and not at what Xavier’s hand on his leg could do to his body.
“Then we are in good standing. We shall hunt for a place nearest the university’s campus, one that I like as well as you and that way, I will have a place to stay while here. I am supposing that Masanori-san gave you money?” Xavier squeezed his knee before letting go of it to sit back in his seat as the car made a left turn.
“He said that he would do what he did for me while I was in Tokyo for as long as I held true to my goal.” Nowaki took a deep breath, finally looking the Englishman directly in the face. “It will be nice to have a friend here.”
“Yes, I’ll absolutely agree with that,” Xavier murmured, his green eyes lighting. “I believed you asked for a family restaurant?” As the car stopped, he motioned to the restaurant on the right. “I did some research and found out that this place was the one to go to if you want Japanese food done right. I hear that their soba is to die for. Shall we find out?”
AS SOON AS the front door closed behind them and Nowaki crossed into his part of the suite at the upscale hotel that Xavier had secured, Nowaki moved over to the phone to call home. He lifted the receiver and dialed, his heart full of the excitement still thrilling him to be actively pursuing his dream. His father’s man, Isao, picked up, “Moshi Moshi?”
His lips spread in a wide smile. “Isao-san! It’s Nowaki-san—”
“One moment, Nowaki-kun. I will get Masanori-san for you.”
“Hai.” Nowaki instinctively straightened at the somber tone to Isao’s voice, and he waited anxiously for his father to pick up.
“Nowaki!” His father’s voice was rough with emotion and Nowaki stood, setting his jaw.
“Chichi… what has happened?” he rushed out. “Should I return?”
“No, Nowaki-kun, stay where you are!” Shimazu Masanori’s voice broke at the end. “Kaa-chan… she wished for you to shine bright in America. You stay to make her proud of you.”
“Chichi… what has happened?” Nowaki asked a second time. “Tell me! If you do not, I can call nii-san!”
Quiet, ragged breaths came over the line as Nowaki listened to his father try to calm himself and he knew that something very serious had happened while he’d been in flight and eating dinner. “Chichi, please… tell me.”
“Kaa-chan, she… she was hit by a car this morning as she was going to market. The driver did not stop. She is in critical condition, but the doctor does not expect her to live through the day, as her body is already in a weakened state from the last few months of cancer treatment.” A sob came over the line, sending the tears forming in his eyes down his cheeks. “She refused to let me accompany her this morning… I should have persisted, been over-protective, informed her that it was my responsibility to see her to the market.”
“Chichi… please, Chichi… allow me to come to you! I implore you, Chichi!” Nowaki exclaimed, his heart pounding so hard in his chest that it almost hurt.
“Iie! You stay there! Get set up. Kaa-chan would not see you start but never finish, Nowaki. It is likely that I will send for you soon, but get as much done as you can. Xavier-san will see it done, and will accompany you home if necessary. He owes me much and he knows my expectations of him.” Masanori finally steadied his voice. “You know that we care deeply for you, and I promise to be in touch. Give me a number where I can get a hold of you until you find a more permanent residence.”
Moments later, he replaced the receiver in its cradle as he lifted his eyes to see Xavier leaning against the doorjamb, concern written in the crop of wrinkles on his brow. “What’s wrong?” the Englishman asked, straightening up and crossing the room to Nowaki. “What’s happened?”
Sniffling, Nowaki dragged his arm over his face as he managed, “Okaa-san… she was hit by a car a few hours ago. The doctors… they don’t expect her to make it. Her body is too weak from treatment—” Xavier’s hands framed his face, his thumbs brushing away Nowaki’s tears as the Japanese man rasped, “Are you against holding another man, Xavier-san?”
Xavier tugged Nowaki to his chest, allowing him to crumple into frightened sobs at the very real prospect of losing his mother. Shimazu Hoshi was the star at the center of the Shimazu universe and his father had told the story of their star-crossed love so many times that Nowaki knew it as well as he knew the story of his own name. When the phone rang, startling them, Xavier took the hand he’d slid around Nowaki’s back to the receiver, and answered quietly, going on to answer a second time after he’d accepted the call from the front desk, “Moshi Moshi?”
Nowaki didn’t move his cheek from Xavier’s chest, and as he listened to him speak, he understood what his new companion’s use of full Japanese meant. Liking the beautiful sound of it on his lips but realizing there existed a very real reason Xavier had not given the phone to him, Nowaki lifted his wet face to Xavier’s to whisper, “The Shimazu star has gone out, hasn’t it?”
Tears slipped down the Englishman’s face as he gave a singular nod. “It has. I aim to find us lodging and furniture today and tomorrow, get the necessary forms for enrolling you in university, and then we will travel back to Nagoya to mourn with family and for the funeral games.”
Nowaki silently agreed, his fingers curling in the soft cashmere before he whispered, “Xavier-san… you will not leave my side?” He didn’t know why he asked it, but he suddenly wished to never be outside the warm protective circle of Xavier Blair’s arms.
“Not unless you’re in your father’s or brother’s embrace, Nowaki-san,” Xavier vowed, his voice strong like the folded steel used by samurai.
“Arigato, Xavier-san,” he murmured before pushing his face back into the Englishman’s chest. “Arigato!”
Nowaki wrapped his arms tightly around the other man as he gave into the sorrow overwhelming him. He didn’t notice when the Englishman moved them to the couch opposite the hotel bed, cradling Nowaki as the grief that tore at the younger man finally sent tears down his smooth cheeks, tears that Nowaki lifted one hand to touch when a tiny gasp alerted him to Xavier’s own pain. The Englishman turned his eyes, blue flecks in the irises giving the shiny orbs almost a seawater appearance, to Nowaki’s copper ones as he murmured, “Hoshi-san was always kind to me…”
Nowaki took a shaky breath as he nodded. “I will not leave your side, either, Xavier-san.” His thumbs traced the high cheekbones of the Englishman’s face, drying the wetness from underneath his eyes. “Okaa-san would have us cleave to one another in this time of grief… to keep each other upright.”
Xavier’s hands slipped down Nowaki’s back, tugging him closer as Nowaki sat up a little straighter, holding Xavier’s gaze. Neither man loosed the other as Nowaki turned to face the Englishman fully, docking his knees on either side of his slim hips.
I wonder if he’ll punch me if I try to kiss him—but I need—
The Englishman’s mouth covered his own, his tongue pressing on Nowaki’s lower lip, requesting invitation. Nowaki scooted closer to Xavier, opening his mouth to deepen the kiss as he buried one hand in the lion’s mane of the man’s hair while the other pushed up under his cashmere turtleneck to splay on the hot skin of his back. The kiss grew salty as their grief drew them ever closer, building on the chemistry that exploded the moment Xavier had rolled down the limousine window. Nowaki grunted as he found himself on his back, divested of his grey tee-shirt, his own fingers reaching behind to Xavier’s back and dragging the garment over the man’s head.
Nowaki’s eyes roved the skin that he’d bared, lifting one knee to keep his lover balanced as Xavier carefully settled atop him. The smooth weight of Xavier comforted Nowaki and he whispered, “Don’t leave… don’t leave tonight, Xavier-san.”
Xavier took his knuckles lightly down Nowaki’s cheek as he whispered, “I already promised to never leave your side unless your father or brother was in the very near vicinity… although—” His lips turned up slightly. “—perhaps we’d be more comfortable on the bed?”
“I’d rather hoped we’d make it over there today, yeah…” Nowaki didn’t mean in a sexual sense, but in the sense that he could sleep on Xavier’s chest, one of the man’s large hands buried in his hair, the other on his arm or rubbing his side. “… I’d really like that.”
As he lifted his mouth to Xavier’s, Nowaki felt it. The death of his mother had torn a hole in his soul, but the salve covered him presently, holding his slender body flush to a gold-white one with emeralds for windows, gems he lost himself in as his heart hammered in his chest in time with its twin. The salve that worked to mend Nowaki was Xavier.
I will chase him forever, though… he won’t settle… he won’t. He’s a lion, meant to lead.
Thumbs rubbed his temples before fingertips lightly moved through his thick jet hair, a light chuckle opening his eyes. “Does it ever shut off?”
Nowaki grimaced, one hand going to his face as he blushed, but answered, “Some of the time, but mostly, no… I just sometimes have to let it run its course.”
“You must be tired, my pulchritudinous rainstorm.” Xavier stretched up to press a kiss to Nowaki’s brow. “Why don’t we lie down over there and I’ll hold you. You can let my heartbeat lull you to sleep,” he suggested.
“I’d really like that.” Nowaki smiled softly, allowing the other man to help him stand and lead him over to the bed.
You said it, and you used a word that most people cannot even spell, let alone say, to call me beautiful without using a word that’s over-used. You wanted to give me your own term of endearment—and you called me yours.
When Xavier’s mouth covered his own once more as the Englishman drew him down onto his chest, Nowaki gasped, stretching out as the bedcovers were drawn up over them. Xavier’s tongue flicked across the roof of Nowaki’s mouth, eliciting a light moan from him and Nowaki tugged his lips from Xavier’s to whisper, “Can we do this… can we do this until I fall asleep?”
“I will kiss you until you tell me to stop,” came the reply, along with a wry smile. “Or did you miss the intent behind my words?”
Nowaki’s fingertip touched the Englishman’s full lips as he nodded, his shiny copper eyes sparkling. “I liked your words. My own seem a bit lame in comparison, but I really liked your words.”
Xavier drew him more fully onto his body, his right knee bending to keep Nowaki steady. “I’d like anything you said to me, Nowaki; your touch and your kiss, they cleanse me.”
Blushing, Nowaki pressed a kiss to each beautiful eye before kissing him thoroughly. “You are a lion in coloring and in spirit, claiming what is yours and defending it against all enemies. You are fearless and strong and cunning and superb, Xavier; the very definition of your name.”
A blonde brow arched teasingly. “I own a new house?”
“The Arabic meaning of your name: bright, splendid!” Nowaki protested, laughing. “Although, by the end of tomorrow, yes, you will have a new house!”
“This is true.” Xavier pressed a tender kiss to Nowaki’s jet head. “Rest your head, Taifu no Otoko. We will get to the rest of today after a wee nap.”
As his eyes closed, Nowaki felt a long-fingered hand slip into the back of his hair as its twin slid over the smooth skin of his side. His eyes fluttered shut at the peace the tender caresses gave him today, though he knew that soon, Xavier’s touch would bring only sweet chaotic bliss.
But that’s tomorrow. Now… now, he gives me a sanctuary from lamentation.