Title: Love Me Like Music

Author: despina_moon

Rating: NC17

Pairing(s): Gojyo/Hakkai (Background Sanzo/Goku)

Disclaimer: Saiyuki belongs to Kazuya Minekura.

Summary: Hakkai's life isn't so good of late. He has a case of unrequited love, some serious financial issues, and a recently acquired fanboy. However, he's quick to notice that this isn't the average fanboy.

 

Notes: Written for 7thnight_smut and the following prompt:

 

Pairing/Prompt: Gojyo/Hakkai

Modern day. Rock band setting with Gojyo as the front man. You can decide what Hakkai's role is: eg. member of the band, manager, part of the music industry, or somebody outside of it that Gojyo is interested in.

 

Loads of thanks to the marvelous betafu and mad handholding from kispexi2 and whymzycal. Thank goodness they were there to talk me off the ledge and drag my sleep deprived, sorry ass across the finish line.

 

Whymz single-handedly held me upright for weeks, so she truly deserves a medal of honor for putting up with my sniveling.

 

Warnings: Lots of sex. Romance. Misuse of perfectly good minor characters, perfectly good lyrics, and Italian sports cars. Did I mention there's lots of sex?

 

Love Me like Music

 

 

Music swirled around Hakkai, pure and clean, the sound of a single piano simultaneously adored and tortured by a master--someone who understood the instrument, who teased it to heights that only lived in Hakkai's dreams. Yet tonight was the end, and the bittersweet call of the music mingled with Hakkai's regrets.

This was Kougaiji's last concert.

And Hakkai was a rudderless boat drifting on a vast, still ocean without any land in sight.



Sanzo's gaze shifted from the paper on his desk and over the top of his glasses. "Say that again?"

Goku--Sanzo's lover and personal assistant--froze in mid-pour of a cup of coffee, his mouth hanging open and looking surprised. The coffee overflowed and spilled onto Sanzo's desk.

"Idiot!" Sanzo shouted as the liquid made its way toward paper and dripped off the dark teak.

"But …" Goku scrambled for a towel, but his large eyes never moved from Hakkai. "… Aww, that sucks, Hakkai."

While Goku and Sanzo cleaned up the mess, Hakkai glanced around the room. Sanzo's home office was reminiscent of his work office, reflecting his minimalist tastes. There were only two paintings adorning the stark white walls, and Hakkai suspected those were Goku's touch. No knick-knacks or pictures, just a desk, a single filing cabinet, three serviceable chairs--the more comfortable one for Sanzo and two straight-backed ones for any guests. Hakkai didn't often conduct business at Sanzo's house; usually when he came to visit, it was purely a social call, but today's news couldn't wait until Monday.

"Now," Sanzo's voice had grown softer, "again."

"Last night was Kougaiji's last performance. He's quitting."

Sanzo removed his glasses and rubbed his forehead. "Why?"

Hakkai crossed his legs. "He's getting married."

This time Goku actually dropped a cup, and it shattered on the hardwood floor. Ignoring the broken china, Goku stared at Hakkai and said, "He's what?! But he's gay!"

Hakkai swallowed, remembering the many similar--although hopefully, more tactful--conversations he'd had with Kougaiji about his upcoming nuptials. "I'm not certain about that, Goku."

"Che … And I thought you were good at denial." Sanzo rubbed his head again. "Let me guess, this marriage is his mother's idea, right?"

"Yes."

"Then he's a pathetic dumbass." Sanzo reached for his cigarettes. "You need someone else to work for, then."

"I guess I do." Hakkai felt drained of life. He'd been Kougaiji's agent for three years, and working for someone else just didn't feel right. "Yes. I need to work."

"I can't guarantee you'll like it as much." Sanzo lit his cigarette.

"I wish I could say I didn't need it."

Sanzo raised an eyebrow. "You know your options."

"I won't give up the bar." Hakkai gritted his teeth, not wanting to go over the same argument. "I won't. It's all I have left of her."

Sanzo didn't speak, but his look spoke volumes. The bar was a stone that was pulling him under, dragging him to financial ruin. Eventually, he'd have to let go; he'd have no choice.

Hakkai nodded. "I know, but not until I have to."

"Fine. Here." Sanzo pushed a square of folded CD liner notes at Hakkai. "Layer of Nicotine is the band. They've just fired Hazel."

"Hazel was their agent?" Hakkai stared at the lyrics.

He took a deep drag of his cigarette. "Not for very long. Not that I blame them."

As Hakkai read the lyrics for a second time, he realized they would never improve. Atrocious tripe. Complete and utter drivel. He raised his head and stared at Sanzo, who looked rather smug.

Blinking very slowly, Sanzo asked, "Do you have a question?"

"Are you certain Hazel didn't quit? This is … appalling."

Sanzo tapped his cigarette in an ashtray.

Hakkai read the horrible lyrics out loud, "Let's fall into bed and have a tussle? Wrap your fingers around my love muscle?"

Goku grinned. "That's from 'Skull of Love'! It's one of my favorites."

"'Skull of Love'?" Hakkai closed his eyes and forcibly swallowed. "I don't think I'm cut out for rock-and-roll."

Sanzo stared at him. "I never said you had to like it. Your job is about making things work. It's no different from what you've been doing."

Hakkai set the liner notes on Sanzo's desk and crossed his arms. "Maybe someone else would be a better fit."

"What's the problem?"

"I just--"

"You've been spoiled by Kougaiji." Sanzo leaned back into the soft-looking leather.

"But he's--"

"He's proper and doesn't get involved in sex scandals or tear out plumbing fixtures in hotel rooms." Sanzo exhaled a cloud of smoke.

Hakkai blinked. "Plumbing fixtures? But--"

"Kougaiji knows five languages and which fork to use during those fancy dinners." Sanzo picked up a CD case and considered it. "Unlike these uneducated punks. Whatever will you do, without your champagne and caviar?"

Frowning, Hakkai answered, "Well, there's no need to be so disparaging."

"Then stop acting like a spoiled child." Sanzo snapped his wrist, and the CD case spun toward Hakkai like a chakram. "Listen to it. You might be surprised."

"Not likely." Hakkai snagged the soaring CD out of the air and stared at the cover. It was all black except for a garish silver skull with wings. It looked like a ridiculous piece of jewelry. Somehow, though, Hakkai thought he recognized it.

"Well?"

Hakkai sighed in surrender. "I won't enjoy it."

Sanzo rolled his eyes. "Tell someone who cares."

"How soon do I start?"

"That depends. They're currently discussing a break-up."

"What?!" Goku shouted. "They can't! Layer of Nicotine is my favorite band of all time! They can't! Are they?"

"Sounds like."

Goku wailed, "But why?"

Sanzo sighed with obvious irritation. "The usual band bullshit."

Hakkai shook his head. "Sanzo, if they are breaking up, then why did you ask me if I would work for them?"

"
I just wanted to know how serious you were."

"I see." Hakkai uncrossed his legs, straightened his already straight tie, and stood up. "Well then, please let me know if anything changes."

Sanzo sucked on his cigarette, watching Hakkai through slitted eyelids, but saying nothing.

Hakkai turned to leave.

Just before the door closed, he heard Sanzo say, "It wouldn't have worked with Kougaiji anyway."

Walking down the long hallway toward the exit, Hakkai tried to keep his mind clear. It was done. He'd spoken the words out loud, and reality was sinking in, taking hold. Perhaps now he could begin the task of purging his regrets. Rebuilding himself. Sanzo was correct; a relationship with Kougaiji would have never worked.

One-sided relationships never worked.

"Hakkai!"

He turned to see Goku skid to a stop a foot or so away.

"Are you all right with this?" Goku's look of sympathy was unmistakable.

Hakkai straightened his tie again. "I'm not certain what you mean, Goku."

"What? How can you say that? How can you be so calm? We both know--Sanzo and me--we both know how you feel about Kou. I can't believe he'd do this to you, he's such an idiot!" Goku blinked frantically, and Hakkai was shocked to realize his friend was on the verge of tears for him.

"Goku, I can't force him to feel something he doesn't," Hakkai blurted out, far more candidly than he intended. "I've always known he didn't return my feelings. What would you have me do?"

Goku rubbed at his eyes. "So you've told him how you feel?"

Hakkai remembered the emotion in Kougaiji's features when he gave the news about his impending marriage. The sympathy he'd seen in Kougaiji's eyes matched Goku's--concern for a friend, and nothing more.

"There was no need to tell him. He knew."

"Are you sure? Did he say anything? 'Cause ya know, Kou can be kind of dense."

"Come with me. I'll show you." Hakkai waved his fingertips at Goku.

Stepping outside of the giant house, Hakkai could hear Goku's breath catch.

"Kougaiji bought you that?"

"Yes." Hakkai stared at the black car, still shocked by its sleek beauty.

"But, it's a Ferrari. They cost, like, a million dollars!"

"Half a million." Hakkai shifted uncomfortably. "He gave it to me right after he told me he was getting married."

Goku looked up at him. "Aww, damn, I guess he did know."

"Yes."

"How could he do that to you? Just 'cause of guilt? It's a really nice car and all, but that's just kinda mean. Okay, maybe not mean, but not cool." Goku exhaled with a frown. "Sanzo's right, Kou is a dumbass."

"Yes," was all Hakkai could say.



The car purred under him like a barely-tamed lion. Hakkai shifted gears, feeling the raw power of the V12 engine. The Ferrari was easily the most amazing piece of machinery he'd ever driven, but he couldn't love it.

Two kisses over the course of three years. Now Hakkai was alone with a car worth half a million dollars. All for two kisses. He would have gladly traded the magnificent car for a third kiss. A kiss goodbye would have sufficed, instead of feeling like some sort of bought-off, abandoned lover. Kougaiji had never cared for him, not in the way Hakkai wanted, anyway. He'd always pined for someone else; Hakkai knew that, but still, he'd always hoped that the day would come when Kougaiji's feelings would shift.

Kougaiji's gift was a heartfelt apology; Hakkai knew that, too, yet it still felt strangely empty. He shouldn't have accepted the car, but he'd just been so shocked, he hadn't been able to think straight.

He guided the Ferrari into his usual parking space. He slipped off his tie, opened a few buttons on his shirt, and then ruffled his hair--not that it needed ruffling. Glancing in the mirror, he was satisfied with his transformation; he looked the part: an owner of a jazz club dive. Finally, he reached into the glove box and removed his cigarettes and lighter. He'd needed to come here anyway, and a night at Kanan's always soothed him.

And he needed soothing more tonight than any other night.

Hakkai paused just inside the club's entrance, allowing his eyes to adjust to the low light.

"Good evening, boss," Gat greeted him.

"Hello, Gat." Hakkai gazed at the large, stoic man. "Any news?"

"
No one's playing tonight. Tomorrow is The Generic Trio; their drummer is sick, but Hakuryuu said he'd sit in. Friday we have the Unreal Gods scheduled again, they're gaining in popularity."

Hakkai nodded; if they were getting popular, their days playing at Kanan's were numbered.

"Oh, and that guy's here again." Gat tipped his head toward the bar.

"What guy?" Hakkai scanned the patrons at the bar.

"The redhead at the bar. Hakuryuu told me his name, but I can't remember it; he's some musician. He's been hanging around the past few days, asking for you, but he doesn't know your name. I've seen him in here a few times before. Hakuryuu's been having a great time messing with his head."

"Hmm." Teasing people was Hakuryuu's favorite pastime.

"You should ask Hakuryuu. He's the one the guy's been talking to."

"Thank you."

"Sure thing."

Hakkai took a step toward the bar and then paused, searching for his "friend." Although he hadn't ever spoken to the redhead, he'd seen him in the club before. Sometimes those piercing red eyes were blatant about watching Hakkai.

"Hey, boss?"

"Yes?" Hakkai looked over his shoulder.

Gat hooked his thumb toward the parking lot. "Is that a new car?"

Hakkai frowned. "Yes, it's a recent gift from Kougaiji."

Gat crossed his arms. "I don't like it."

"It has its good points, but to be honest, I'm not certain I like it either."

Hakkai's eyes swept the room, flitting over the empty dais, the bare music stands, and the lonely baby grand piano. No one was playing tonight, and that was good for him. He could indulge himself later.

The club was thick with blue smoke and smelled faintly of something flowery. The low light cast from the handful of hanging lamps seemed to disappear--absorbed into the dark upholstery, dark carpets, and darker bar--before ever making landfall. There were soft twinkling glows on each table, the flickering of light from a dozen candles.

Kanan's was a dive all right, and yet it did retain a certain charm. The people in the establishment were low-key and well groomed, sporting suits and briefcases. The jazz club was in a predominately gay part of the city so the clientele--for the most part--were regulars, mostly businessmen and professional workers who appreciated a quieter place to meet instead of a sweaty, noisy dance club. There weren't a lot of new people, so the gentleman at the bar--"the redhead," as Gat called him--definitely stood out.

His relative newness wasn't the only reason he drew attention. His hair was striking, bright red and straight as an arrow, hanging almost to his waist. He was tall and handsome, with a charismatic slouch, and wore a black leather jacket, tight jeans, and boots with more buckles than should have been legal. He wore rings, necklaces, belt buckles, and bracelets. He was completely different from the regulars. And very intriguing.

Hakkai walked further inside and caught Hakuryuu's eye. His employee and friend finished making a complicated-looking drink and glided effortlessly to Hakkai's end of the bar.

Pouring Hakkai a scotch, he said, "Your friend is here."

Hakkai pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Nicotine flowed through his bloodstream, and he exhaled. "Yes, Gat's already filled me in. Has my 'friend' mentioned what he wants?"

Hakuryuu's red eyes glimmered, and he showed Hakkai his unnaturally sharp teeth. "Mostly he just wants you. He mentioned that he'd heard you play a couple of times. What is it with you and redheads? The guy is seriously crushing on you."

"Crushing? What's that--"

"So there you are!"

Hakkai turned his head, seeing the redhead walk toward him with a comfortable-looking slouch.

"I've been coming in here for the past two nights hoping I'd see you."

He had a nice voice. Hakkai set his cigarette down in an ashtray and turned, leaning his back against the bar. "Have we met?"

"Uh, no." The redhead smiled at Hakkai and pushed his hair out of his eyes.

And he had a very nice smile. His t-shirt was tattered, tight and too short, exposing a slice of bronzed skin just above pants so low Hakkai could see hipbones peeking at him. Recently dumped or not, garish attire or not, Hakkai could still admire what he saw.

Placing his beer down on the bar, Hakkai's new friend said, "I just wanted to let you know how much I liked hearing you play. I've been in a couple of times now, and you really rock."

"Thank you." Rock? "But I think you overestimate my level of talent."

"Nah, you really feel the music, and it comes out in your playing. It's real stuff."

"Oh." Hakkai's gaze faltered, and he looked over at Hakuryuu, who gave him a toothy grin and mouthed the word "crushing" before sauntering toward the other end of the bar.

The redhead's eyes followed Hakkai's line of sight and watched Hakuryuu's not-so-subtle retreat.

He fidgeted with the napkin under his beer glass. "Then, I guess you don't who I am."

Hakkai raised an eyebrow. "Should I?"

The man shook his head and laughed. "Nah, not at all. It's just funny … Ah, hell, I probably sound like some creepy stalker to you."

"Well, I have to confess, I was wondering." Hakkai gave him a humorless smile.

"Sorry." He shifted, leaning his weight on the bar and dropping his shoulder into a slouch. Somehow, his body language was incredibly alluring. "Yeah, well, you see, I'm something of a musician myself."

Gat had mentioned that. Hakkai was more interested than ever. "Are you? What instrument do you play?"

"I'm okay at guitar and bass, and I'm not bad at the harmonica. I can abuse a piano when the mood strikes." His eyes lost their focus, and his look softened. "But mostly I sing."

"And what do you sing?"

All kinds of things. Right now I’m with a rock band.”

Hakkai took a drink of his scotch. Being a member of a rock band explained much.

The redhead changed the subject. "Hakuryuu tells me you own the place."

"Yes, but Hakuryuu and Gat actually run it. I tend to be away for long stretches at a time." Hakkai smiled, feeling his bitterness return. "My real job, you might say."

"Ah, I get it." He shifted his elbow on the bar. His long hair fell over one shoulder in a smooth, hypnotic cascade of red. "So, this place is a labor of love, huh?"

"I'm afraid it couldn't be considered anything else."

"That's cool." Hakkai's new admirer glanced at the clock set back in a corner. "Shit. I have to go--I have practice. I was hoping I'd get to hear you play tonight."

Hakkai checked the clock.
Ten o'clock. Who had practice at this time of night? Was he making his practice up? It didn't matter. Hakkai liked the man. He was a bit unrefined, a little overconfident, but refreshingly genuine.

"I'll be here tomorrow night."

"Good. Then I will, too." He drained his beer glass.

Hakkai surprised himself by asking, "What's your name?"

The man coughed. “My name? Um …”

“Referring to you as 'the redhead' is a bit impersonal, don’t you think?”

He grinned. "Why don't you call me Kenren?"

A lie, but Hakkai didn't really mind. Many of the men at the bar preferred to use aliases. Hakkai held out his hand. "I'm Hakkai."

Kenren squinted one eye at him. "Really?"

"Yes, really."
Hakkai laughed. "I'm Cho Hakkai."

"All right." Kenren took his hand in a warm, steady grip. When he let go, his fingers slid the length of Hakkai's in a gentle caress.

Hakkai's hand tingled.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Hakkai." Kenren raised his hand over his head as he walked toward the door.

Hakkai was still staring at the empty doorway when he felt Hakuryuu's presence across the bar from him.

"I told you." Hakuryuu sang from behind him.

"Hmm."

"
You should go for it."

Hakkai turned his head to stare at his friend.

Hakuryuu shrugged and leaned on the bar. "You need to get laid and he's hot, plus you’re lucky to get singled out by him.”

“First off, I do not need …" Hakkai filtered through Hakuryuu's words. "Why do you say I'm lucky?”

Laughing, Hakuryuu straightened again as a patron made his way to the bar. "You need to catch up on current events."

Ignoring Hakuryuu's teasing tone, Hakkai crushed out his cigarette, picked up his glass, and walked toward the piano. He felt better. Coming to the bar had definitely been a good idea.



Kenren did show up the next night. And the night after that. In fact, he'd been in the club every other night for the past week. So far, there'd been a band performing every night, so Hakkai had yet to play for his new fan. Instead, during the breaks, they'd talked about each band, breaking down the musicians and music to their smallest components. Every day, Hakkai looked forward to seeing Kenren saunter into Kanan's with that dazzling smile.

Hakuryuu teased him mercilessly about having a crush and insisted they just "get on with it."

The thought had crossed Hakkai's mind more than once. He'd even surprised himself by waking to a very explicit wet dream starring his redheaded friend. That lack of control hadn't happened in years. But then again, he hadn't met anyone quite like Kenren in all that time. The memory of that steamy dream wormed through Hakkai's brain, and he tried to force it away. Daydreams of a naked Kenren didn't seem appropriate; plus, Hakkai didn't need advertise his already obvious attraction by sporting an embarrassing erection.

The jazz trio was just finishing up, and they'd done little more than sit, drink, and listen. Kenren hadn't said much; he seemed happy just to watch. When they did speak, it was more to comment on the band. Kenren had a good ear, and Hakkai had decided that his story about being a musician was probably true.

There were many musicians in the world, so that was hardly surprising news. But Hakkai couldn't help wondering about Kenren. He seemed so confident and a little cocky, as if he understood everyone, as if he was comfortable being the center of attention. He hadn't come from a big family, so his charisma was confusing--

"… don'tcha think?"

Hakkai blinked, wondering why he was so fixated on this stranger. Maybe it was his red hair. Hakkai couldn’t deny that was a commonality between Kenren and Kougaiji--they had red hair, were attractive, and exuded confidence in public. Although, their similarities definitely ended there. Kougaiji was the product of wealth and education, and Kenren--well, he wasn't. He was the kind of man that would throw you down and tear off your clothes if you gave any indication that was what you wanted.

The dream abruptly replayed in his head.

"Hakkai?"

Hakkai swallowed, aware he was staring at Kenren as the pulse throbbed in his groin. Well, that little trip down fantasy lane had destroyed his plans for avoiding an erection. "I'm sorry, I was distracted."

"Yeah?" Kenren gave him a knowing smile. "Good. I asked if you would play tonight after these guys finish."

Hakkai took a sip of his scotch. "I'll be closing after they're done, but you are welcome to stay. What about you? Don't you have practice tonight?"

"Yeah, but I'm blowing it off. It's a little tense right now between me and …" Kenren's gaze moved to the stage. "I think we're done, so I'm blowing it off."

Hakkai studied him, realizing that there was a lot on Kenren's mind. He hid it well, making light of things, but Hakkai understood something traumatic was happening in Kenren's life. Of course Hakkai would play for him, though the thought made Hakkai experience a schoolboy nervousness. For some strange reason, Kenren seemed to do that to him quite often.

He stood up. "I'll get you another beer, and then I'll help Hakuryuu and Gat close up. If you can stay after that, I'll play."

An hour later, Hakkai was feeling the music. Kenren might make him nervous when they were making small talk, but as an audience, he was perfect. Duke Ellington's Prelude to a Kiss flowed from his fingers effortlessly. When he finished with that, he continued to indulge himself by segueing into Moonlight Sonata, a shameless non sequitur, but he couldn't help himself. He was showing off.

When he finished, Kenren grinned at him. "Beethoven. You must like a lot of different stuff, huh? Me, too."

"
Well, I think maybe you should sing for me." Hakkai smiled at Kenren as he ran his fingers over the keys. "That would make us even."

Kenren nodded. "If you want."

"Hmm.
I'm afraid I'm a little out of the loop on rock-and-roll." Hakkai's fingers roamed over the keys. "What should I play then?"

"Umm," Kenren ran his fingers through his hair, "how about Summertime?"

"Gershwin?" Hakkai arched an eyebrow. "Really?"

Kenren leaned on the piano, and his eyes met Hakkai's in a challenge. "Yes, really."

Aware that he'd ruffled Kenren's feathers, Hakkai smiled an apology. "I think I can manage that." He played the opening melody.

Kenren stood up straight and started to sing. "Summertime, and the living is easy."

His baritone voice was velvety-rich, completely in control, pitch-perfect, and very seductive. Hakkai's fingers faltered, and he hit a sour chord.

"My apologies. I wasn't expecting--" He stared into Kenren's confident red eyes and swallowed. All at once, he felt ridiculous. Here he'd been thinking Kenren was his fan when the man obviously had more talent than Hakkai could possibly imagine.

"Your voice is amazing."

"I surprised ya, huh?" Kenren chuckled. "Yeah, no worries, I get that a lot. People don't expect a punk to be able to sing."

"I don't think you're a punk, Kenren."

"That's because you don't know me very well."

"Don't I?"

Kenren laughed this time, and sat next to Hakkai on the bench. "Play the song, will ya? My band's breaking up, so the least I can do is sing a bit until I get a new one."

Hakkai lost himself, playing the piano and listening to Kenren's silky voice. Music, pure and clean, almost as powerful as a Kougaiji's Mozart concertos. Of course, they were completely different, piano and voice, but they were also similar.

"Dude, that was awesome. You're really good."

Hakkai opened his eyes, not even aware he'd closed them. "Thank you, but I don't deserve your praise. There are many, much more proficient pianists out there."

"Dude, you shouldn't talk like that." Kenren brushed shoulders with Hakkai. "Your playing has a lot of passion in it."

Hakkai chuckled. "You are very dramatic, Kenren."

"Gojyo."

"
I'm sorry?"

"My real name. It's Gojyo, not Kenren." Gojyo turned his head so they were very close.

"Oh." Hakkai could feel the electricity arc between them, and his body hummed in response. Those naked images of Kenren--no, Gojyo--trickled through his brain again.

"Hakkai, do you feel it?"

"God, yes." Gojyo's lips touched his, and Hakkai closed his eyes again. Three years of denied desire with Kougaiji and now, within two weeks, he had Gojyo's tongue in his mouth. Hakkai wondered if maybe he should stop this, but he didn't want to.

"Gojyo--"

Gojyo kissed him again. He tugged at Hakkai's shirt, opening buttons as he purred, "Yeah, I like hearing you say my name. Every night I've wanted to do this to you. While we talked about bands, I was really thinking about what you looked like naked. While we discussed percussion and tempo, all I wanted to do was throw you down on the bar and lick you all over." His voice had dropped low and ragged. "Fuck, I can't remember the last time I wanted someone this much. Can I taste you?"

"Yes," Hakkai moaned. He felt hot and feverish, and his balls were already aching; it had been so long since he'd been intimate with anyone. So long since he'd even considered anyone. "Gojyo …"

"Yeah."
Gojyo urged him to his feet and then turned him so that his back was to the piano. Hands slipped past him and gently closed the piano's keylid before tugging open his pants, exposing his hard cock. Gojyo rumbled in appreciation.

Hakkai braced himself against the piano, his knees shaking, allowing Gojyo to touch him, giving in to someone he barely knew. When had he turned so needy? Maybe he was just horny.

Gojyo blew softly across Hakkai's taut skin before leaning closer. A teasing, quick lick, a wet, too-gentle touch, and Hakkai shivered, already wanting more, already needing more. He wound his fingers through Gojyo's hair and wantonly pushed his erection forward, wordlessly demanding rougher treatment.

Gripping his hips, Gojyo dragged his tongue harder against Hakkai's erection, giving him what he wanted. Teeth grazed his skin, not hurting him, but heightening his senses, readying him for the return of Gojyo's tongue, which slowly circled the tip of his cock and lapped at the accumulating precome.

Gojyo stood up and hastily managed to unfasten his pants and withdraw his own erection. Hakkai leaned back, arms splayed wide as he grabbed the edge of the piano and sucked in a breath. Gojyo's size was more than he had been expecting, and Hakkai licked his lips, gazing at the purpling tip of Gojyo's long, wide cock. He lifted his right hand, his fingertips slipping under Gojyo's balls, and he brushed against the sensitive patch of skin there. Gojyo shuddered and Hakkai gave him one more gentle, cupping squeeze before following the silky contours of his erection.

Gojyo's eyes were almost black, and it looked as though he was having trouble keeping them open. "Holy shit, I wasn't expecting this, I'm not really prepared." He moved forward and bumped his cock against Hakkai's, grasping them both between his hand.

Hakkai closed his eyes and sighed with pleasure as the warm hand pressed their erections together.

Gojyo's voice cracked when he said, "I hope you don't mind if I improvise."

Shaking his head seemed incredibly difficult with the intense, brain-melting friction on his cock, so instead Hakkai opted to speak and barely managed a whispered, "Not at all."

Velvety skin mingled with precome, and their cocks slid easily against one another. Gojyo's right hand circled Hakkai's hips and wrenched him forward, applying more pressure.

Hakkai reciprocated, digging his fingers into Gojyo's ass and pulling him closer, rubbing against him. He could feel his balls tighten and his cock widen. "Gojyo--"

"Yeah, show me that passion." Gojyo's eyes bore into him.

"Oh." Hakkai clenched his jaw and bit his lip as his muscles stiffened and his toes curled. He hung on, fingernails digging deeper as his orgasm crested, and his come spilled onto his stomach and into Gojyo's hand. "Ah!"

Gojyo's hand released Hakkai's hips, curled around the back of his neck, and pressed their lips together in a bruising kiss.

Hakkai's hand moved from Gojyo's ass and grasped his thick, heavy erection, stroking the solid length.

Gojyo broke their kiss and groaned, dropping his head onto Hakkai's shoulder, a curtain of hair brushing against his cheek. Gojyo's voice was raw when he said, "Yeah, this won't take long."

Hakkai could feel it--Gojyo's cock thickening and quivering with his imminent pleasure.

"Oh, fuck, yeah." Gojyo's hips jerked. Hakkai could feel the pulse from Gojyo's erection as warm liquid splattered them both. Gojyo sagged against Hakkai as lingering shudders flowed through him.

In the aftermath of their mutual pleasure, Hakkai tried to think of something to say, but Gojyo beat him to it.

"Um, do you have a towel or something? I'm kind of a mess." Gojyo straightened and stepped back, trailing his fingers trailed over Hakkai's face.

Hakkai had to clear his throat. "Yes." There were towels behind the bar, and he stepped behind the dark wood, embarrassed and acutely aware that he was still exposed.

"Oh crap, don't feel weird about it Hakkai. You'll make me think like we did something wrong."

Hakkai wet two towels in the sink and handed one to Gojyo. "You think what we just did was normal?"

Gojyo mopped at himself and then leaned on the bar. "Well, yeah. There are far worse things to do than get off in the middle of an empty bar."

Hakkai wiped off as much of the sticky stuff as he could. Some of his clothing would need a good washing. "Part of me wants to ask what those 'worse things' are, but knowing you, you'd tell
me."

"Sure, I would." Gojyo grinned. "But I'd rather show ya."

Hakkai idly wondered how complicated his life might get now. Of course, there was also a possibility that he might never see Gojyo again.

As if reading his mind, Gojyo asked, "Who's playing on Friday?"

"Oh, a new band. A Penny for Your Thoughts-- a rather silly name, if you ask me."

Gojyo shrugged. "A bad name doesn't necessarily mean anything."

Hakkai handed him a beer. "Then I'll expect you to be here to help me assess them."

"Deal." Gojyo took a drink and grinned at him. "Now, you need to play some more for me."

"I see. Insatiable, aren't you?"

Gojyo stared at him. "You have no idea."

Grabbing a glass of scotch, Hakkai chuckled and headed for the piano. "I'll play if you sing."

"You got it." Gojyo followed him.





Hakkai rang the doorbell for the third time. He could hear Goku's guitar blaring away at ear-shattering decibels; there was no doubt he was recreating one of his favorite rock tunes. Hakkai was certain Sanzo was holed up somewhere with earplugs and headphones, although Hakkai suspected Sanzo's music of choice was no music. He probably never plugged in the headphones.

Hakkai tried the door, and it swung open. Perhaps his friends didn't employ the greatest of security, but anyone foolish enough to risk coming into Sanzo and Goku's house uninvited would suffer a brutal reception. Hakkai suspected Sanzo might enjoy catching a robber in his house.

Slipping off his shoes and then padding down the hall in the guest slippers, Hakkai headed toward the source of the music. He hovered outside Goku's room, his head tipped to one side as he listened. Melody flowed around and through him, complicated and true. When had Goku gotten so good?

The smell of cigarette smoke coiled around him, and Hakkai opened his eyes to see Sanzo nearby. He wasn't scowling. Instead, he turned and braced his shoulder on the doorway and watched his boyfriend, a soft look of pride on his features.

Hakkai had a deep envy of his friends' relationship. Sanzo might yell and shout at Goku, but at moments like this, there was no disguising what he felt for his partner. And there were never any doubts about Goku's feelings for Sanzo. Hakkai couldn't imagine them ever being apart.

A sustained twang hung in the air before Goku looked over. "Oh, hey! Did ya hear that, Hakkai? What'dya think?"

"I think you've been practicing quite a bit. Your playing is quite remarkable, Goku."

"Don't tell him that," Sanzo said with an exasperated sigh, his normal scowl back in place. "He already thinks he's some sort of rock god."

Hakkai chuckled.

"Aww, Sanzo. I just like playing. Maybe you can play with me sometime, Hakkai. Yeah, we could get Hakuryuu to play too, and form a band. We could be better than Layer of Nicotine!"

"Uh huh." Sanzo took a deep drag. "And who will sing? You?"

Goku shook his head and turned off his amp. "Can't. What about you, Hakkai?"

"Not at all. And trust me, neither can Hakuryuu, although he thinks he can. Besides, Goku, this isn't really my type of music."

Goku peeled off his guitar and stared at Hakkai. "There's something different about you."

"What?" Hakkai felt momentary panic, wondering if they knew about his indiscretion in the club last night. His mind settled almost immediately; of course they didn't know--no one had seen them, since the club had been closed when Gojyo and he had indulged themselves. A shiver a pleasure shot through him.

Goku smiled. "I know! You have a boyfriend!"

"No, not a boyfriend."

"
Ohh, but you got some, right? You're kinda not so tense, ya know?"

"Aha ha ha, Goku."

Sanzo exhaled smoke. "Tch. At least we get a respite from your brooding."

"I don't brood."

Goku snorted in laughter and then covered his mouth. "Sorry, Hakkai."

"Hmm."
Hakkai brushed imaginary dirt from his jacket.

"Hey, would you take me to the music store next week? My favorite guitar's been in the shop forever, and I don't wanna go with Sanzo."

"Why not?"

"'
Cause he hates going and he rushes me, and then he gets all bitchy and mean."

Sanzo glared at him. "Are you trying to piss me off?"

"Well, you don't want to go anyway, do you?"

"No."

Goku grinned. "Then it's settled. You'll take me, right, Hakkai?"

"Of course, Goku."

"You just want to ride in that car."

"That's true, too!"

Hakkai smiled. Their banter was very touching. "What was it that you wanted to discuss, Sanzo?"

"Kougaiji's wedding." He walked down the hall, and Hakkai followed.

"Oh."

"He wants all of us to go."

"Oh."

Sanzo looked over his shoulder with an impatient scowl. "Because you won't answer his calls, he felt it necessary to bother me."

Hakkai didn't say anything this time as he followed Sanzo into his office.

Sanzo sat down with a minimum of movement and crushed out his cigarette. "Best man, huh?"

Goku sucked in a breath. "Oh, man, that's harsh. I can't believe he asked you to do that."

"Well, I do wish him happiness."

"Che." Sanzo removed another cigarette from his pack. "He sent an extra ticket for you."

Goku chirped, "Maybe you should take your boyfriend."

Hakkai sighed in exasperation. "He's not my boyfriend."

Sanzo rolled his eyes. "Take him anyway."

"I don't think we are quite ready for that. I barely know him."

"So?" Goku grinned. "Maybe you'll make Kougaiji jealous and then he'll run off with you."

That sounded complicated and messy. Besides, Hakkai wasn't so certain Kougaiji was who he wanted anymore. He could feel himself teetering on the edge of an abyss.

"So what's your new guy like, Hakkai?" Goku seemed intent on finding about Hakkai's love life.

"He's different. Not someone I would've expected to be attracted to."

Sanzo inhaled deeply and then exhaled. "That's always how it works."

Goku blinked before he shouted, "Hey, Sanzo, are you talking about me?"

"Tch."

Hakkai chuckled. "When do we leave for the wedding?"

"Two weeks."

"Man," Goku grinned, "I think you got over Kougaiji fast."

Hakkai smiled, aware that he'd just been thinking the same thing.

 

 

Hakkai swirled his scotch, watching the amber liquid spin in the glass. He was very tired. This last week had been financially rough on the bar, and he wasn't certain how much longer he could keep it open. Consequently, he hadn't been sleeping well.

To top it off, the band tonight was not very good. Since Kanan's was such a little place, some nights were better than others. A Penny for Your Thoughts would not be allowed a return visit. Hakkai winced as the drummer mistimed his intro and threw off the mediocre bass player. It was all downhill from there.

During their set break, Gojyo leaned close to Hakkai, and said softly in his ear, "They aren't so good."

"Agreed," Hakkai muttered. "This is rather humiliating. We usually try and have a better caliber of band than this."

"Hey, don't be too hard on them. People have to start somewhere." Gojyo took a drink of his beer.

"Perhaps, but I prefer they do it elsewhere. Kanan's has a reputation to uphold."

"Yeah?" Gojyo's eyes sparkled.

"Yes." Hakkai rolled his glass between his hands, somehow embarrassed by Gojyo's stare of--what? He wasn't certain.

"Hey, Hakkai, how do you feel about rock?"

"It's not my favorite. Why?"

"Well, there's this guitarist we've been considering, and his band is playing tonight and, well, I was hoping maybe you'd want to go with me. Maybe you could give me your opinion."

"I'm not certain I'd be very helpful with a rock guitarist and a club." Hakkai frowned. "I don’t think I'd fit in."

"Aw, come on, you know music is music--you can tell when someone feels it and when they don't. Besides, you need to see what's happening with your competition." Gojyo smiled at him.

"A rock club is not exactly competition for me, but …" Hakkai already felt himself giving in; what was it about that smile? Then another jaw-grinding note shattered the calm, and Hakkai shuddered.

"We need to get you out of here. Come on."

"All right, I suppose I don't see why not." Hakkai took another drink, wondering what on Earth he was thinking by agreeing to this. A rock club? "My car's outside."

"Nah, it's a great night, let's take my bike."

Hakkai sifted through the words. "Bike? As in motorcycle?"

"Yeah."
Gojyo stood up.

"But I've never been on a bike before."

Gojyo grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet. "Stop worrying and trust me, would ya? You'll love it."

Gat stopped them at the door asking too many questions and eying Gojyo with open suspicion. Gojyo just slapped Gat on his back and gave the club name and directions.

Gojyo was laughing as they left. "Your friends are very protective. First, your bartender gave me the third degree when I asked about you, and now your bouncer. Man, I feel like I'm taking out the dude's daughter." He turned his head toward Hakkai. "Must feel great to have people love you like that."

Hakkai was torn between being insulted and being curious. The curiosity won. "Don't you have people who love you?"

"Maybe my brother, but he's not like that. There are a lot of people who want a part me, but that has nothing to do with love."

"That's a very jaded point of view, Gojyo."

"Rock-n-roll does that to you. Groupies and stalkers. It's fun at first, and then, it just gets lonely and weird."

In the mottled light of the parking lot, Gojyo led them to a parking spot next to Hakkai's Ferrari. The motorcycle was big, bigger than Hakkai had expected, and loaded with gleaming chrome. He noticed--with some relief--that there were no flames painted on the metallic blue … body? Gas tank? Painted part.

Hakkai raised an eyebrow when Gojyo handed him a helmet.

"What?"

Hakkai stared at it. "You didn't strike me as the type who practiced safety first."

"What good's perfect hair if it's scraped off on the asphalt?" Gojyo gently fitted the helmet on Hakkai's head. "Besides, you can't ride without one. Eventually, they'll take your license away."

"You sound as if you know about that."

"Yeah, I warned you, didn't I? I'm a punk." Gojyo held his own helmet in his hand and frowned. "Hey, in fact, I should have told you this before, but this place we're going to, it's--well it's a little rough. Will you be all right with that?"

"What do you mean, rough?"

Gojyo shrugged. "Drunken bar fights, mostly."

"As in chairs cracked over one another and the brandishing of broken bottles?"

"Sometimes, yeah." Gojyo looked away. "On second thought, maybe it's not really your kind of place. Plus, there's a guy who's not very happy with me, and chances are, he'll be there. You don't have to go."

Hakkai felt silly with the helmet on, so he removed it. "Gojyo, I told you I wanted to go, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but it's not like Kanan's. I don't want you to get hurt or anything."

Hakkai chuckled. "Ah, well, I can assure you, while I'm not necessarily adept at barroom brawls, injury will not be an issue. I may look slight, but I'm quite capable of protecting myself."

Gojyo narrowed his eyes. "Seriously?"

"Seriously.
And why isn't this fellow happy with you?"

"We used to be really good friends, and then we formed a band together. After that, everything sort of went to hell. We had different visions, and there was too much competition between us or something." Gojyo pushed a strand of hair off his face. "Anyway, this guitarist I want to recruit, I've heard Banri wants him for his band."

"I see, and this Banri, he's your ex-friend?"

"Yeah. Now he's a real punk. He was my drummer--he was never great, but not bad. The thing is, if he finds out you and I are, um, friends, he might drag you into the argument. He's kind of a prick like that."

"Is that so? Hmm." Hakkai returned Gojyo's stare. "Well, if that's all, perhaps now you should let me see what this bike of yours can do. You have me very interested."

"But …" Gojyo studied him.

Hakkai tilted his head.

"All right, if you're sure." Gojyo stood next to his bike, fingers sliding lovingly on the gleaming handlebar.

Hakkai waited.

"Okay, she's a little temperamental lately, and sometimes I have to kick-start her." He slid his leg over the black leather seat, placed his helmet between his thighs, and drew the bike upright. Gojyo raised his head, and his red eyes glimmered with the reflection from a street lamp. "But I promise you'll love it."

"A promise? Hmm." Hakkai placed his helmet back on his head.

Gojyo grinned and twisted the started. His bike roared to life. "Ah, look at that," he shouted over the engine's growl, "she likes you."

Hakkai hooked his leg over the back seat and settled in, immediately feeling Gojyo's body heat. He toed down the pegs, placing his feet on them. Leaning forward, he shouted at Gojyo, "Is there anything I need to do?"

"Yeah." Gojyo put on his helmet and looked over his shoulder, with a wide smile. "Hang on." He twisted something on the handle and the bike took off. Hakkai grabbed Gojyo around his waist in alarm as they flew out of the parking lot and onto the street.

Hakkai thought he wouldn't enjoy riding on something so exposed and dangerous, and especially not as a passenger, but he was very wrong. Gojyo's skill with the vehicle was evident from the start, but even so, the trust Hakkai felt was a bit of a surprise. His surprise increased with the thrill of so many new experiences. The wind on his clothes and skin, the city with all its lights zipping by him, and the tough-sounding rumble from the bike--it was all exhilarating.

But what he liked best about the ride was being with Gojyo. There was something incredibly sexy about Gojyo's long leg bracing the bike upright at each stoplight. Hakkai couldn't quite put his finger on what it was, but Gojyo seemed to be in his element. There was a wildness to Gojyo: the voice, the music, and the bike. Hakkai liked to compare Gojyo to a tomcat--scruffy, ready to fight, and exuding waves of sexual energy.

Hakkai was in trouble. He was setting himself up for certain heartbreak--and wasn't he already heartbroken? He leaned just a little against Gojyo's warm back and wondered at how quickly his feelings for Kougaiji had become a distant memory. He still cared for Kougaiji, but what he felt for this redhead was definitely different; it was like comparing a lighter's flame to a bonfire.

And just for a while, he wanted to feel Gojyo's scalding heat and let it scorch him, even if all he was left with were ashes. Laughing at his melodramatic internal dialogue, he relaxed and leaned closer, curling his arms a little tighter around Gojyo. He felt--more than heard--Gojyo's hum.

At the next stoplight, Gojyo turned his head and Hakkai angled in to hear him. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine."

"That's good." Gojyo dropped his right hand back and lightly caressed Hakkai's leg. Tension sparked between them, and suddenly Hakkai's pants were very snug.

All too soon for Hakkai, they found themselves in the seedier, more industrial part of town, threateningly vacant except for one brimming parking lot. Their destination was a rundown old warehouse with a bright blue sign proclaiming itself to be The Euphoria Tavern. As they drew closer, in spite of the motorcycle's loud drone, Hakkai could hear music pulsing through the night air.

This would definitely be an experience.

Hakkai slipped off the leather seat and removed his helmet while he watched Gojyo park the bike in a tiny spot. Almost immediately, he missed Gojyo's warmth, and he shivered slightly in the cool evening.

Gojyo slithered one leg over the seat and pulled off his helmet. "Well? What'd you think?"

"It was very thrilling." Hakkai's heart was pounding, but he didn't think it was from the ride.

"Thrilling? Dude, you gotta give me more than that." Gojyo leaned close. "How did it feel? The wind and the feel of the bike between your legs," his voice dropped low, "not to mention being so close to me."

Hakkai swallowed. "I didn't--"

"There you are," a new voice said. "It's about time. I thought you'd never show up!"

"Hey, Jien." Gojyo straightened, but he kept his gaze locked with Hakkai's.

"They'll let us in the side; one of the bouncers over there is expecting us, and he's hot to meet you." He glanced at Hakkai. "Is this the drummer you've been talking to?"

Gojyo blinked and looked at the newcomer. "No, um … no. Oh, this is my brother, Jien. And this is Hakkai. "

Hakkai held out his hand. "Gojyo's mentioned you."

Jien grabbed Hakkai's hand while he grinned at his brother. "So, you've told him your real name? And you brought him on your bike? Very revealing, little brother."

Hakkai realized he'd been the topic of conversation between them, and for some reason, that made him feel odd.

"Shut up, Jien, don't freak him out. He already thinks I'm a stalker." Gojyo turned to Hakkai and hooked his thumb at Jien. "He's in my band and I'm keeping him, although I don't know why."

"Your band? Watch it, you punk!" Jien grabbed Gojyo and rubbed his head. "That's no way to talk to your older brother, you know."

Gojyo laughed and then smoothed out his hair. "Yeah, it's him, me, and our bass player at the moment, but we're on the lookout for a drummer and a second guitarist."

"Come on, let's go in," Jien said, and fell in beside Gojyo as they walked. "I know we've heard really good things about this guy, but he's a nutbar, if you ask me."

"Why?"

Jien raised an eyebrow. "You'll see."

Hakkai could actually distinguish different sounds in the music as the neared a door. There was a monster of a man guarding the entrance, easily half a foot taller than Gojyo and probably twice his weight. A long ponytail hung down his back, and his t-shirt was two sizes too small.

"Hey, Jien." He caught his breath when Gojyo got closer. "Sha Gojyo! Dude, I love your voice!" Then he gave Gojyo a big bear hug. "Dude, you so ROCK!"

Gojyo grinned and rolled his eyes at Hakkai. "Thanks, man. I appreciate it."

Hakkai stared at the spectacle, and all at once knew he was missing an important piece of information. Gojyo's early words suddenly came back to him: Then, you don't know who I am?

Who was Gojyo?

Jien shook his head. "Kenji, we have to go inside and talk to this guitarist."

"Right. Sorry. The boss has a table all set up for you back by the bar. This band'll be done soon, and then you can talk until the jam session starts."

"Perfect." Gojyo grabbed the man by his shoulder. "Thanks, man."

Gojyo led them through a series of narrow hallways, and they emerged right next to a bar at the back of a gigantic room. They were on a raised platform, two steps above a writhing, dancing crowd. On the other end of the floor was the stage, a mirror to the bar, and it was impossible to forget that the place was an old warehouse, all unfinished ceilings with aging and rotting wooden beams and uneven, warped floors. It was a firetrap, all right, but no one seemed to notice. The bartender waved them over to an empty table in a roped-off area.

Roped off? Who was Gojyo?

A short, balding man appeared at their table. "Hey, Gojyo. Jien."

"Hey, Tanaka.
How's business?" Jien asked.

"It's good. We're holding our own right now, although the talent is pretty crappy at the moment. Not like when you guys played here."

"That's too bad." Gojyo nodded. "The Euphoria's a good place to play."

"Will you play tonight?"

Jien shook his head. "I left my guitar at home."

"What about you, Gojyo?" The man looked very hopeful. "Will you play?"

Gojyo glanced at Hakkai. "I won't play, but I might sing. Maybe."

"
Can I get you a drink?"

"Yeah, the usual and," he looked at Hakkai, "maybe a Stella."

Jien nodded in agreement.

Tanaka turned toward the bar.

Jien winced. "Man, that band playing sucks, big time."

Gojyo laughed and nudged Hakkai's knee with his own. "It's been that kind of a night, right?"

"Yes." Hakkai was a little overwhelmed by the events. He frantically tried to take in everything and process it, but there were so many questions, and Gojyo's knee pressing against his added to his distraction. Willing himself to relax, he reminded himself that sometimes the best course of action was no action at all.

"I'm glad they're done. Tanaka's right about the talent pool if that's the best they can do." Jien shook his head. "Oh, Gojyo, I heard Banri's coming."

"Yeah, I heard that, too."

Jien leaned back in his chair. "That's why Yaone's not here, I didn't want him hassling her. Did you warn Hakkai?"

"Yeah. We'll deal with that if it happens." Gojyo's foot hooked around Hakkai's ankle. "So, what's this guitarist guy's name again?"

"Zakuro. But he likes people to call him The Mighty Zakuro."

"Are you serious?"

"As a heart attack. I really don't think he'll fit--"

"Ah, adoring public!" A tall, scrawny, purple-haired man showed up. "It is I, The Mighty Zakuro!"

Gojyo stared. Jien rolled his eyes. Hakkai had a very difficult time keeping a straight face.

"So! You have heard of the mighty guitarist Zakuro's genius playing and now wish to woo him, correct?"

"Hey, Zakuro." The owner set down three beers.

Hakkai stared at his glass. "I don't drink beer."

"Don't worry, dude, this is tame. Trust
me."

"Where is the beer for The Mighty Zakuro?"

Tanaka sighed and turned away.

Gojyo motioned at a chair. "Tell us about yourself."

Jien groaned.

With a flourish of his hands, Zakuro said, "It is only fair to tell you that the mighty guitarist Zakuro has already been approached by Banri to join the reforming of his band."

"Reforming?" Jien hissed. "His band? I suppose he's keeping the name, too?"

"Indeed." Zakuro leaned on a chair.

Gojyo laughed. "That dickhead. Well, I always thought the name was stupid, anyway. Let him have it if he thinks it'll help."

"That's true, it was a dumb name." Jien nodded and tipped his head toward Hakkai. "Banri made up the name; I guess he's welcome to it."

"So are you gonna play with him?" Gojyo asked and took a chug of his beer.

"The Mighty Zakuro has not yet decided."

"Yeah? Then let's jam, Mr. Mighty."

"Only if you're prepared to be astounded, Sha Gojyo." Zakuro glided toward the stage.

"Whatever. Let's go." Gojyo stood up and placed his hand on Hakkai's shoulder. "I won't be long."

Gojyo took off his jacket, finished his beer, and wove his way through the restless crowd. Whispers erupted like a radiating shock wave as he passed. Did everyone know who he was except Hakkai?

"Have you heard him sing?" Jien's gray eyes seemed almost challenging.

"Yes, one night in the club after closing." Hakkai felt his cheeks heat at that memory.

"Really?" Jien's eyes widened. "He sang for you alone?"

"Yes, but I've not heard him like this--not when he's in his element, I guess you could say." Hakkai took a drink of the pale-colored beer before him and made a face, although it wasn't quite as horrible as he'd expected.

"It's been a long time since I've seen him so comfortable. He likes you."

Hakkai heard a guitar tuning, and then the crowd began to roar. When he looked at the stage, he saw Gojyo waving at the screaming audience. The band members moved close and conversed with Gojyo for a moment.

"The drummer plays with Zakuro a lot and I know the bassist, but I'm not certain about the other guitarist. Hopefully they won't completely suck."

Loud chords drowned out anything else Jien might have said, and for a moment, Hakkai couldn't make out any individual sounds--all he could hear was the menacing growl of feedback. Then Gojyo grabbed the mic, and his voice, pure and raw, broke through the cascading sound.

"You call me a dog, well that's fair enough.
'Cause it ain't no use to pretend that you're wrong."


Hakkai caught his breath and the audience went wild. He'd never seen anything like this. Gojyo rocked his hips in time with the music, caressing the mic as if it were his lover, and wooing the already-smitten crowd--along with the already smitten-Hakkai.

There was a break in the song, and while the band played on, Gojyo snapped the mic from the stand and threw back his head, red hair flying as he screamed out lyrics for all he was worth. The throng surged as people clawed their way onto the stage and then jumped off--back into the writhing mass. Gojyo kept singing but encouraged the occasional stage diver with a high-five.

Who was this man? Hakkai didn't even know him, not really, but he pushed that technicality aside because right now, he wanted to get closer. He stood up, and as if hypnotized, unerringly worked his way through the violently thrashing dance floor. The song ended and gave Hakkai a chance to push closer, ignoring the claustrophobic press of bodies. He watched Gojyo replace the mic, peel off his t-shirt, and grinned at crowd's enthusiastic reaction.

He raised his arms and made a slow turn, teasing and flirting with the audience. "How ya'll doin'?"

The responding screams were almost as loud as the band. Hakkai glanced around. Every pair of eyes stayed riveted to Gojyo, waiting for him. He removed the mic from its stand again as the next song started, bass rumbling before the blasting chords and discordant melodies, and Hakkai kept moving forward.

A sheen of sweat covered Gojyo's shifting body, and Hakkai swallowed. Palpable waves of charisma rolled off the stage, mingling with his tortured and pitch-perfect voice--weaving a spell over the crowd. When Gojyo found him in the audience, Hakkai was oblivious to everything else in the world.

He wanted Gojyo, maybe more than he'd ever wanted anyone before. His erection throbbed in time with his pulse, in time with Gojyo's song. He felt exposed, vulnerable, and shamefully horny.

And Gojyo was singing to him.

The song ended and the crowd roared their appreciation. A new man climbed onto the stage and Gojyo handed him the microphone. He pulled on his t-shirt, waved a final farewell and then ran the width of the stage and jumped, twisting his body in mid-air, arms outstretched to either side as he surrendered to gravity and fell backwards. Hundreds of hands rose toward the ceiling, an uneven sea of fingers resembling tentacled anemones straining to catch Gojyo's free-falling form in a thunder of cheers.

Hakkai exhaled a breath he wasn't aware he was holding.

One of Gojyo's arms worked free, and he pointed in Hakkai's direction. The crowd did as he wished, and Gojyo glided over the crush of bodies until they released him, not quite as gracefully as they had caught him. He stumbled a bit with the awkward angle, and several of his fans steadied him. One fetching young woman jumped on him, wrapping her arms and legs around him in a very friendly, yet unbecoming fashion.

Gojyo said something in her ear and untangled himself. He was gentle but determined about removing her arms. A bouncer appeared next to Gojyo and assisted. The girl pouted, and Gojyo laughed and winked at her.

Hakkai didn't like her.

Gojyo resumed his journey uninterrupted, grabbing Hakkai's hand and leading him to the wall left of the stage, behind the bouncer's line of protection. They had an unhindered line of sight, and Gojyo leaned against the wall and pulled Hakkai next to him, their shoulders touching.

His lips next to Hakkai's ear, Gojyo said, "Tell me what you think."

Desire erupted through Hakkai's body, nerve impulses scrambling with pure overload. Contact with Gojyo, the provocative scent of his sweat, his increased body heat, and his strained voice made Hakkai sway with a wantonness he was entirely unfamiliar with. He clutched at Gojyo's arm, knowing he was acting foolish and somehow--despite his normal tendency toward feeling otherwise--he didn't care.

The band's guitars made a threatening sound and began again. Hakkai forced his thoughts away from Gojyo and toward the stage, isolating and centering on the guitar. He closed his eyes, listening beyond the average bass player and the adequate drummer. Well-timed chords and fast-moving fingers, the sound moved in and out of the melody, attacking and regrouping, but it was nothing spectacular.

A soft tumble of hair brushed Hakkai's cheek, and Gojyo's enticing voice--hoarse from recent abuse, and all the more seductive for it--crooned in his ear, "Well? What do you think?"

Hakkai opened his eyes, surprised to realize he was panting. He might have managed to partition his brain, but his body was still very aware of Gojyo's presence. His mouth seemed very dry, and he tried to swallow.

Gojyo smiled and took his hand, lacing their fingers together. He tipped his head toward the other side of the club and together, they returned to the bar.

Jien sat at the table, his arms crossed while he watched them intently. Gray eyes moved from Gojyo's smile to their joined fingers; his response was unreadable.

At the table, they sat across from Jien, hips nearly touching. A new beer waited for Gojyo and Hakkai took a big drink of his own now-warm brew--without making a face this time. Maybe beer wasn't so bad. At least it allowed his tongue to work again.

"All right, Hakkai. Spill it."

"He's not bad."

Gojyo rolled his eyes. "Don't give me that, tell me what you really think. And this isn't about the type of music played, don't even go down that road. I've had enough conversations with you to know you hear the same stuff I do. The important stuff."

Hakkai nodded. "All right."

Jien's eyes sparkled in amusement, and he leaned closer to hear.

"He's very good with the fundamentals and his timing is exceptional."

Gojyo placed his head on his upraised hand, and his hair spilled down his arm. "But …?"

"His music is empty, and he doesn't really feel it. It's like an illusion--music without substance."

Jien stared at him. "That was a perfect description."

Gojyo gave his brother a smirk. "Told you."

Hakkai knew that he'd just passed some sort of test. Their close scrutiny of him made him feel strange. Gojyo was his complete opposite, and Hakkai wasn't certain that they were right for one another.

Right for one another? Where had that come from?

He cleared his throat and changed the direction of their conversation. "Although I'm not certain an audience would necessarily catch his lack of … depth."

"They would." Gojyo took a drink of his beer. "Sure you need to be good, but you also need passion. Fans might not know why the music doesn’t feel right, but they do know."

"That's very astute."

"Ya think?" He sat up and stretched his hands over his head. "Well, being good is a plus, but passion is what rock-n-roll is all about. That's what I'm all about too, but you already knew that."

Hakkai watched as the tattered t-shirt rose and exposed a slice of Gojyo's taut stomach. Tearing his eyes away and furrowing his brow, he said, "Gojyo, sometimes I'm afraid that your ego can be a bit much."

Jien laughed. "Well, he's definitely got you figured out."

Gojyo grinned. "He does, but I have miles to go to figure him out. I can't believe you went into the mosh pit!"

Hakkai felt himself blush. "I wanted to see you sing up close."

"Really?"

"
Well?" Jien asked. "What do you think about The Mighty Zakuro, Gojyo?"

"Well, he is good, but he's more of the same. I thought we were trying to change our sound a bit, move away from what we were and get better."

Jien grinned. "That was the plan. If we add someone like Zakuro, we're just repeating history. I don't think we need another guitar. You're good enough."

"Yeah, yeah, we've had this discussion. Maybe you're right, but you know I like to sing without the guitar." Gojyo took a drink of his beer. "Well, whatever the reason, I don't think I could deal with him. He would bug the fuck out of me in no time."

Jien sighed in relief. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear that."

Hakkai could smell Gojyo's scent--sweat and leather--and his erection continued to throb. Under the table, he slid his hand onto Gojyo's knee.

Gojyo turned his head and raised an eyebrow. "Are you all right?"

Hakkai moved his hand to the inside of Gojyo's thigh. "I'm just a little overwhelmed at the moment."

"Seems like you are." Gojyo gave him a gentle smile and wound his foot around Hakkai's ankle again. "Maybe we should--"

"So you assholes are trying to steal him."

Gojyo raised his head. "Ah, I wondered when you'd show your ugly mug."

"Shut up, dickhead."

Gojyo leaned back in his chair. "Look, you got nothing to be mad about this time."

Hakkai looked at the new arrival. He had short and spiky blond hair, a cigarette in his hand, and sneer on his face. There were several tough-looking thugs with him, groupies or roadies, or possibly just punks. "Ah, I assume you must be Banri."

"I wasn't fucking talking to you."

"Hey," Gojyo stood up, "knock it off, you prick."

Banri scowled at Hakkai, then stared at Gojyo. "Don't tell me you're sleeping with this piece of fluff, Gojyo. You told me snobby pretty-boys weren't your type."

Gojyo took a step forward, and the big guys did the same. Hakkai moved his chair away from the table as Jien rose to his feet.

"What do you want, Banri?" Jien's voice was quiet as he stepped in between the former friends. "We don't really have anything to talk about anymore. And we aren't interested in Zakuro."

"Bullshit! He just told me he was going to play with you guys."

"Yeah, well, we don't want him," Gojyo said and crossed his arms.

"What? You would spurn the genius guitar playing of The Mighty Zakuro?" Zakuro said as he joined them.

"Uh, yeah," Gojyo scratched the back of his head. "You're not really what we're looking for. Sorry, man."

Zakuro blinked. "Really?"

"Yeah."


Banri slapped Zakuro on his back. "That's all right, man, they're losers anyway. So, now you'll come play for us."

"No." Zakuro straightened his back and turned away. "The Mighty Zakuro will one day crush Sha Gojyo on the charts, but not with you. Your drumming is not good enough for me!" Then he gave a crazy laugh and disappeared into the crowd.

Gojyo nodded at Jien. "You were right. Total nutbar."

"
Way to go, fuckhead, now neither of us will have him."

Gojyo shrugged. "Are you drunk? It's no great loss. Besides, he's right. You'll need a lot more help than just a good guitarist to make it."

Banri took a swing, but Gojyo leaned back and dodged it. Banri's momentum propelled him forward and Hakkai moved his foot just a hair. Banri fell onto the floor with the slap of palms on wood and a colorful string of swearwords.

He rolled to his knees, face red with anger. "You know, I don’t like button-down, preppy-boy pansies who cheat."

"Preppy boy? Hmm." Behind him, Hakkai could hear Jien and Gojyo engaging the thugs. They needed his help. But first, he needed to take care of this man. This Banri fellow had gotten under his skin.

"Has Gojyo sucked you off yet?" Banri taunted him with a leering grin. "He's pretty good, isn't he? He had me screaming more than once, you know."

Hakkai stood up. Banri lunged at him, and this time when Hakkai tripped him, he gave him a shove as well. Hakkai watched him skid on the floor, and cold fury trickled through his veins.

"Get up," Hakkai said, his voice was low and calm. He was so fixated on Banri--waiting patiently for him to get to his feet--that he forgot to pay attention to the rest of the room. He was completely blind-sided by a punch to his jaw from an unseen opponent. The taste of blood filled his mouth. Shaking his head clear, he focused on a grinning, lanky, green-haired man. Hakkai realized he needed to take this altercation a bit more seriously. When the lanky man came at him again, he kicked him in the head.

With purpose.

Green-hair stumbled backward into a table, breaking it apart with an impressive crack of wood. He groaned and then gingerly rolled to one side, holding his head. As he struggled to gain his feet, Hakkai kicked him again. This time when Hakkai's opponent fell over, he didn't get up again.

One down.

Hakkai turned just in time to see someone holding up a pool cue, ready to swing it at Gojyo's back. He leapt on the man, dislodging the cue from his hands as the two of them tumbled to the floor. The angle was awkward for him, and his opponent managed to get in a couple of weak body punches before Hakkai regained his advantage and tossed the pool-cue wielder off him, and then he sprang to his feet, keeping his body low as he darted forward. The man stepped back, avoiding Hakkai's next punch only to back himself off the raised platform. He teetered on the edge, arms wind-milling in a comical attempt to regain his balance before Hakkai advanced and gave him a full-arm punch to the chest. The man fell into the ever-moving crowd and disappeared from view.

He might be back, but that would give Hakkai precious minutes to even the numbers.

Pain exploded down the side of his head and shoulder, and he whirled to face Banri again. He was holding pieces of a broken chair.

"Hey, you're not bad for a piece of fluff. Are you the new drummer Gojyo's been after?"

Hakkai could feel blood dripping down the side of his head, and he smiled. "I would warn you that it is best to not anger me, but it's far too late for that."

"Best not to anger you, or what?" Banri sneered as he threw down the shorter piece of the broken chair. "You'll polite me to death?"

Gojyo stepped next to him, facing the opposite direction. "Shit, Hakkai, are you all right?" He danced away and then threw a punch at someone Hakkai couldn't see.

Hakkai ducked when Banri swung the chair leg at him. Air whooshed above him. "I hope you don't mind, Gojyo, but Banri and I seem to have a bit of business we need to finish."

"Well, I seem to be rather busy at the moment, thanks to Banri, so go for it." He brushed his shoulder with Hakkai before he darted away again. "But watch out for him, he's a prick."

"I believe you have an inclination for understatement, Gojyo."

"Are you fighting, or are you gonna make out with your boyfriend?" Banri twirled the short piece of jagged wood.

"Then," Hakkai centered his feet and raised his hands, "come on. If you think you can."

Banri hopped close and swung. Hakkai blocked the attack with ease and twisted his hand to grasp the weapon. He wrenched the stick out of Banri's hand, sending it skittering across the uneven wooden planks. Stepping close, he drove his fist forward, connecting with Banri's jaw. Banri's head snapped back and Hakkai quickly followed with two quick punches to the body. Banri blinked at him and curled over, trying to protect himself. Hakkai took a step back and then hurled himself, spinning, into the air, delivering a solid kick to the side of Banri's head.

Banri crumpled to the floor.

Hakkai moved closer, looming over the fallen man and ready to hit him again, when someone grabbed him from behind. He spun, his fist flying before he froze, hand still raised to deliver a blow. "Gojyo! I'm sorry."

"Easy there, tiger. He's not going anywhere." Gojyo grinned, but his nose and forehead were bleeding. "You weren't kidding when you said you could fight. You're like a demon. Do you know martial arts or something?"

"Yes. Three different kinds." Hakkai could feel his own blood dripping down the right side of his head. He straightened his shirt. "But I seem to be a bit rusty."

"Dude," Gojyo laughed, "you just took out three guys! Jien and I struggled together with three. Come on, the cops will probably be here soon, and I suspect you don't want to see yourself in the tabloids."

"Tabloids?" Hakkai was confused but allowed himself to be steered toward the exit. "Who are you, Gojyo?"

"I told you, Hakkai, I'm a singer. That's the truth." Gojyo pressed a towel to Hakkai's head. "Here, I snagged this from the bar when you were kicking the shit out of Banri."

Jien limped along with them. One of his eyes was swollen shut. "He doesn't know?"

"No, he's not into rock-and-roll, I told you that. He deals with classical musicians."

"Really? Like Yo Yo Ma?"

"Yes. Until recently, I was Kougaiji's agent." Hakkai didn't want to talk about Kougaiji, and he wondered why he'd blurted that out. He held the towel in place, and with his fading adrenaline rush, he was beginning to feel some pain.

"Kougaiji? No shit?" Jien started to laugh. "Man, the world is a small place, isn't it?"

"You know him?"

"Yeah, we went to school together." Jien smiled. "He was very important to me."

Hakkai blinked.

Gojyo chuckled. "Was he the one?"

"Yeah."

Hakkai staggered a bit, and Gojyo slipped his arm around him before he said, "Apparently your piano player's family didn't approve of Jien."

"They sent him to some boarding school in
Europe. They forbade us to ever speak to one another again. He knew Yaone, too. It's complicated, but we were sort of …"

"They were together, the three of them." Gojyo said softly. "What happened to them was way harsh."

"At least Yaone and I had each other, but I can't imagine what Kou went through."

Hakkai let that information percolate through his aching head. So many conversations he'd had with Kougaiji made sense now.

"Hey, Hakkai, are you all right?"

"Yes. I'm fine." He slowed his steps. "Did you know he's getting married?"

Jien faced Hakkai. "He's what?"

The pain, affection, and betrayal in Jien's eyes were unbearable. Gojyo's arm around Hakkai felt comforting and right. Everything Hakkai thought he knew was shifting, becoming something else he hadn't even considered. Hakkai reeled from a frothing mix of conflicting emotions, and he leaned into Gojyo's stability.

Hakkai tried to explain, "He's not happy--"

The music stopped, and they could hear the distant sound of sirens.

"This conversation needs to wait." Gojyo dragged Hakkai toward the open door and a waiting Kenji. "We need to jet, kids, and right now."

They ran out the door, and Jien split off with a hasty, "I'll talk to you later!"

Gojyo skidded to a halt in front of his bike and snatched up a helmet, then carefully placed it on Hakkai's head. "Try not to bleed on it too much. I know you're woozy from that whack on your head, so be sure to hang on tight, okay?"

Hakkai nodded, but that hurt a bit. He was very tired.

Gojyo jumped on the bike and started it; the engine caught, thundering to life. Hakkai slipped onto the back and wrapped his arms around Gojyo's waist, feeling ribs and contracting muscles. Hakkai inhaled the scent of leather and a hot, sweaty Gojyo. He slipped his hands under Gojyo's t-shirt as the bike moved out of the parking lot.

The bike wound away from the club unhurried and very luckily, cruising past the arriving police. Once they were out of danger, Gojyo picked up speed, and the city flew by once again. Hakkai pressed his chest into Gojyo's back and squeezed his thighs. His erection was back and aching, and if his head hadn't hurt so much, he'd have been a little more interested.

They didn't seem to be heading toward Kanan's, but Hakkai didn't care. Gojyo could go anywhere.

Gojyo stopped at a high-rise apartment building and parked the bike. Hakkai tilted his head toward the building.

Gojyo shrugged and gave him a sheepish grin. "My place was closer, and I was worried about your head."

Hakkai slid off the bike. "All right."

"
Don't tell me that worked?" Gojyo laughed.

"No, it's not that, I think I'm--" His eyes lost focus and he swayed.

"Aw, shit." Gojyo grabbed him and dragged him toward the building. "You're hurt worse than I thought."

A doorman ran out to help, but Hakkai shook them both off, determined to get inside and not make more of a spectacle of himself. Gojyo pulled out his phone and talked very rapidly into it as they waited for the elevator, although Hakkai couldn't follow the conversation.

When he hung up, Hakkai forced a smile. "I'm all right, really. It's just … I haven't been sleeping well."

"Uh huh." Gojyo nodded but he looped his arm around Hakkai's waist all the same.

"Once I sit down for a moment , I should be fine."

The elevator pinged, and Gojyo dragged him through the door. Everything swayed again and then faded into darkness.

 


Consciousness came back to him when the elevator started to move. Hakkai was embarrassed to realize that Gojyo's arm around his waist was the only thing keeping him on his feet. He forced his body upright, trying to regain some composure.

"Hakkai, just relax, okay? It's not like I haven't been dragged home a few times after a fight. No big deal."

No big deal. Hakkai would have laughed if he hadn't understood how sincere Gojyo was. Besides, he didn't have the energy to laugh or even argue about it. Instead, he let Gojyo guide him through a dark apartment and finally to a bed.

Hakkai paused, staring down at it. Was it Gojyo's bed?

"I brought you in here because I don't think you'll be going anywhere for a while. So just sit. The doc should be here soon, and she'll fix you up."

"A doctor?" Hakkai's tongue felt thick and dry. "But I don't need--"

"Yes, you do. Now sit down before you fall down. I promise I'm not going to take advantage of you."

"As if you could." Hakkai smiled. "I just don't want to get blood on the bedding."

"Dude, come on." Gojyo gently--but insistently--pushed him onto the bed. "I get it, but stop being so difficult and help me out here a little bit. Just … please. Okay?"

Hakkai sat down.

"Thank you. Now, stay there while I get something to clean you up with." Gojyo walked away. Bright light angled across the room and pain flared in Hakkai's head.

He closed his eyes and removed his glasses. From behind his eyelids, the red-veined glow suddenly winked out. Experimentally, he cracked open an eye and saw a low, candescent light filling a large room.

"Well, you know how to ruin a guy's chances for fun, don't you?" Gojyo asked, as he leaned over and began to wipe away blood from Hakkai's face with a wet towel.

Hakkai stiffened. "I'll be fine, you really don't have to trouble yourself--"

"Shut up, Hakkai." Gojyo moved very close, scrutinizing the wound. "Eh, it's a lot of blood, but it's not too bad. It might not even need stitches. Now, let's see your shoulder."

Hakkai gritted his teeth as Gojyo eased off first his jacket and then his shirt.

"Well, it doesn't look like anything's broken, but you're going to have a whopper of a bruise. I'll bet it hurts like fuck."

Gojyo poked at his shoulder, and Hakkai hissed in pain.

"Yep." Gojyo chuckled. "The doc can fix that. Well, maybe not fix it, but she can make you not care about it."

"I assure you, I really don't need--"

"Right. For fuck's sake, you're so uptight--just relax, will ya?" Gojyo took Hakkai's glasses from him and placed his hand flat against Hakkai's chest, pressing him back onto the bed. "Besides, you wouldn't have been hurt if you weren't with me. Banri's kind of a dick that way."

Hakkai fell back with a sigh into the softness of the bed. "Do you and Banri … have a history together?"

Gojyo smiled and then stepped to the end of the bed. "So, you're curious about that crack he made, huh?"

Hakkai winced, wondering about his lack of tact. "I'm sorry, it's really none of my business."

Untying Hakkai's worn shoes, Gojyo slipped them off one by one. He shrugged. "It's all right, I got nothing to hide. Yeah, it happened, but it's not like we were in love or anything. More like a little drunk and a lot horny. We did it a few times, but that was before the groupies started hanging around. It's all ancient history."

Hakkai didn't know how to respond to such openness, it was so foreign to him. But he was glad he'd not held back with Banri. Maybe more than a little glad.

Gojyo sat down on the bed next to him. "It makes me happy, though."

"What makes you happy?"

"That you wanted to know. Makes me think you might think of me as more than a casual thing."

Hakkai wasn't up to this conversation. He wasn't ready. Not yet. "Gojyo, I'm not--"

The doorbell rang.

"It's the doc." Gojyo stood up and stepped towards the door. "Oh, and Hakkai, hang on for this one, the doc tends to be something of a force of nature."

Hakkai closed his eyes and tried to center himself. He heard the doorbell again and then a low, sultry voice that didn't really sound like a woman.

"Oh, Gojyo, darling, what have you gotten yourself into this time?"

Darling? Hakkai sat up. The sudden movement made him dizzy.

Gojyo's voice contained an edge of sternness when he said, "I know it will be hard for you, but try and take it easy on him, okay?

The door flew open. "Of course, darling. I always take good care of my patients."

She was an imposing figure, easily as tall as Gojyo and exuding a confidence that would make any cat proud. Her hair fell in dark ringlets past her waist, her short skirt showed off her long, shapely legs but covered little else, and her blouse was low-cut enough that nipples threatened to peek out from behind the purple fabric.

She floated toward Hakkai. "My, you are a pretty one, aren’t you?"

Hakkai stared. She looked like a beautiful woman, but there was something a little … masculine about her.

"Well." She placed her bag on the bed and then her hands on her hips. "Let's have a look at you, shall we? I'll need you to take off the rest of your clothes."

"Doc!" Gojyo elbowed her in the ribs.

"Tch." She glared at Gojyo. "When did you get to be such a buzz kill? Oh, never mind." She reached for her bag and pulled out a hand-held light. Grabbing Hakkai's chin, she switched it on, leaned close, and then paused.

"This really isn't necessary." Hakkai looked into her gray eyes. "I feel fine."

"Is your right eye permanently dilated?"

"Yes."

"Hmm." She straightened and tossed the light back into her bag. "What happened to it?"

"I was poked by a sharp stick."

Gojyo blinked at him. "Seriously? By someone you knew?"

"Yes. My sister, when we were kids."

The doctor frowned. "An accident?"

"
Somewhat." What was he doing, what was he saying? "But it was my fault, too. She had some … issues."

The doctor raised an eyebrow. "Had?"

"
Yes." He cleared his throat. "She passed away last year." He glanced at Gojyo, and his look of concern kept the words flowing. "Took her own life, actually." He hadn't talked so candidly about Kanan before, not even to Hakuryuu or Kougaiji. He couldn't understand why he was being so indiscreet now--and about Kanan, even. Perhaps it was the blow to his head.

Gojyo's hand fell on Hakkai's uninjured shoulder. "Aw, dude, that sucks. I'm sorry."

Hakkai forced a smile. "Thank you."

"Well, aren't you two just as cute as can be?" The doctor grinned at Gojyo.

Gojyo rolled his eyes. "Just take care of him, will ya?"

"Of course, darling." She reached into her bag again. "Now, let's get serious."




Hakkai was drifting somewhere. He was warm and the bedding was soft and scented with something soothing yet tantalizing. He hovered on the edge of sleep, willing himself back, but his body had other ideas.

He opened his eyes. This luxurious, bright room with the big bed and expensive sheets was Gojyo's room, not his. His bed was functional and small, barely big enough for him. And expensive sheets? He wished. The bar and Kanan's large debt had left him struggling, forcing him to give up sheets with more than a 200-thread count and nudging him closer to bankruptcy every day.

She couldn't help it, he chided himself, feeling the normal flood of guilt. He repeated his usual mantra. She'd been sick. He couldn't have stopped her even if he'd been with her. Her death wasn't his fault.

And he'd talked about her last night.

Hakkai set his jaw as the events of the previous evening returned. The club, the bike, and Gojyo's voice--it was all so surreal. And then there was that doctor. She'd poked and prodded at Hakkai's head and shoulder, and then, out of the blue, she'd stabbed him with a needle. Whatever she'd loaded in that hypo had knocked him out.

Most of all, he remembered Gojyo's concern. When was the last time someone had looked out for him like that? His relationship with Kougaiji hadn't been that comfortable--and Hakkai would have never allowed that level of informality between them, he would have never let down his guard like that. Gojyo made him feel interested and confused. And more than anything, Hakkai was worried that he was feeling interested and confused.

Gojyo was becoming something very important to him. But it was all happening too fast, as if gears long disused had engaged again, running at full speed without any safeguards. He needed to slow the whole thing down. Of course, sleeping in Gojyo's bed was probably not the way to go about that.

He sat up with a groan. His head hurt a bit, but his shoulder really ached. As the blankets fell away, he realized all he was wearing was his boxers--when had his clothes been removed? He looked around for his pants and shirt but didn't see them. At the foot of the bed was a robe.

He didn't see his cigarettes--but that was just as well. He needed to quit smoking and start working out again. There had been a time when the likes of Banri would've never been able to get close to him, much less hit him with a chair.

Hakkai picked up his glasses from the bed stand, surprised by the lack of damage. They were almost straight. His phone was also on the table, but he'd leave that for the moment.

Music meandered under the door, the calming sound of an acoustic guitar. He slipped off the end of the bed and grabbed the robe. When he opened the door, he could hear Gojyo humming along with the song. Intending to speak to him right away, Hakkai took two steps forward, and then paused when he caught a glimpse through one of the windows. Past the sizable balcony, the city stretched out before him in a magnificent view.

This was a penthouse apartment in the heart of the city.

He could see Gojyo sitting off to the right on the balcony. Dressed in pajama bottoms and a black t-shirt, he was strumming his guitar left-handed, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Hakkai tilted his head, listening to the smooth, effortless chord changes and the pitch-perfect hum. Gojyo was very good.

Hakkai opened the sliding door and stepped out into the cool morning.

Gojyo looked up with a smile. "Oh, hey. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine. I didn't know you smoked." Hakkai looked at Gojyo's lit cigarette. It was one of Hakkai's cigarettes.

"Oh, sorry about that, dude. I quit a couple of years ago, but every now and then, I can't resist." Gojyo set down the guitar. "I hope you don't mind."

Hakkai shook his head. "Not at all. You quit?"

"Yeah, it's not very good for a singer to smoke, but damn, I miss it. Although it kind of makes me woozy now." He crushed out the smoke and stood up. "You want some coffee? Maybe some breakfast?"

"I … Yes, I would."

"It's not much, just some rice and miso."

"You made it?"

"Yeah. No big deal. Come on."

"Umm, Gojyo?" Hakkai followed without a second thought, winding through the sprawling, brightly lit apartment and hardly noticing any details.

"Yeah?"

"
Can I ask how … I noticed my clothes are missing, and, well, there's no blood on me."

Hakkai swallowed as a drug-hazed memory materialized in his head. A warm shower, amused red eyes, a washcloth, soap, and sloppy, wet kisses.

"Oh, god." Embarrassment rolled over him in waves. "Did I ask you to give me a shower?"

Gojyo chuckled as he filled a cup with coffee. "You did, much to the doc's amusement."

Hakkai leaned on a white counter. "She didn't watch, did she?"

Gojyo furrowed his brow. Setting down the cup, he turned toward Hakkai. "Dude, what do you think I am? You wanted a shower, and I helped. That's all that happened, okay?"

"I'm sorry, I just don’t … do things like this."

"I think I've kind of figured that part out." Gojyo leaned over counter until they were face to face. His hair spilled over one shoulder and onto the white tiles. "Hakkai, just relax, would ya? Whatever happens, happens. No worries, okay?"

Hakkai lifted his hand and touched Gojyo's hair, watching the long, bright red flow over the back of his hand. His heart was hammering in his chest as Gojyo's scent coiled around him. His voice was little more than a whisper when he said, "Whatever happens …"

"… happens."

Hakkai held his breath. Everything in his life was about to change, and maybe not for the better.

Gojyo stayed still, waiting.

Hakkai exhaled. His fingers closed, tangling in Gojyo's hair, and then he was moving, scrabbling and clawing his way across the counter, desperate for contact, wanting to feel what Gojyo's body would say. Needing to know without a doubt … needing him.

Gojyo's arms caught him as their lips met in a bruising kiss. He pulled Hakkai off the cool tiles and somehow managed to stop them from tumbling onto the floor. Gojyo's callused fingers were under Hakkai's robe, fiery hot and teasing his skin.

Hakkai looped his leg around Gojyo's and pressed forward. His vision strobed when Gojyo's erection brushed his own. Moaning, he dug his fingers into Gojyo's back, wanting more.

Gojyo broke their kiss, his eyes dilated and fever bright. "Holy fuck, you might be too much for me to handle, but—oh, hell--let's find out, okay?" He grabbed Hakkai's hand and led him back to the bedroom.

As they walked through the apartment, Gojyo peeled off his shirt and tossed it on a hallway table. Hakkai enjoyed the view as he watched muscles and sinews flex, the outline of ribs and shoulder blades covered with bronze skin, and a tattooed right shoulder. Hakkai nearly staggered under the impact of his desire, a pure lust mixed with something more.

Once they were inside the bedroom, Gojyo closed the door and leaned against it. "Dude, are you sure you're up for this? I mean, you are hurt."

Hakkai raised an eyebrow and stopped the process of opening his robe. "Do you not want to?"

"No--fuck--don't be stupid." Gojyo's breathing was quick and ragged. "I just don't want to screw anything up."

For the first time in their short relationship, Hakkai could see Gojyo's confidence disappear. He was lost, wanting more but afraid. Hakkai remembered Gojyo's comments about groupies and people wanting a piece of him, no one really caring about him. Hakkai realized this was a terrifying step for Gojyo, too.

"Gojyo." Hakkai moved forward and touched Gojyo's face, forcing himself to move slowly though his body shook with eagerness. He gently grasped Gojyo's hand and placed it over his aching cock, hissing and closing his eyes with the vision-blurring contact. Then he ran his hand over Gojyo's thickening erection and squeezed.

Gojyo leaned his head forward, placing it on Hakkai's uninjured shoulder. "Yeah." Turning his head, he nuzzled into Hakkai's neck and whispered, "Fuck, yeah."

Hakkai could feel Gojyo calm and he sighed with relief. Who knew Gojyo would be so skittish? But then again, they were both a bit wary, and that was probably a good thing.

With his free hand, Gojyo tugged at Hakkai's robe. It fell to the floor with a quiet murmur. "Hakkai, do you want or, um, can I?"

Hakkai hesitated--he hadn't thought about that part of it--he didn’t really mind, though, not with Gojyo. "It's all right, but it's been a while for me."

"Yeah?" Gojyo licked his lips.

That shock of desire was back. "Yes."

There was a palpable pause as Hakkai tried to clear his head. He felt dizzy and feverish, and Gojyo's hand was squeezing him far too gently. Deciding that he'd waited long enough, he slipped his hands under the elastic of Gojyo's pajamas, touching flesh and nothing else. With both hands, Hakkai worked down the pants, careful of Gojyo's erection. Once the pajamas were far enough down, the fell the rest of the way, pooling around Gojyo's ankles.

"Hakkai?" Gojyo's eyes were almost black with passion. "Would you rather--"

Hakkai threaded the fingers of his left hand through Gojyo's hair, bringing their lips together in a scorching kiss as he dug his fingernails from his right hand into Gojyo's ass, grinding their erections together.

"Enough." Hakkai growled and pushed Gojyo into the bed. He peeled off his boxers and crawled on top of his lover, one knee between Gojyo's legs. The feel of Gojyo's erection grinding against his groin was somehow necessary.

"Hakkai? There's lube in the bedstand--"

Hakkai bit down on the flesh between Gojyo's neck and shoulder.

Gojyo groaned, arching into the bite. "Holy fuck."

He was moving again, in dreamlike fashion, as if he had no control over his actions. The animal need to taste and explore was all he knew as his mouth and fingers journeyed over Gojyo's body. He paused at the erect nipples, biting down hard enough to cause Gojyo to cry out and then soothing them with his tongue. Gojyo was incredibly responsive, and Hakkai listened to what his lover's body told him.

Gojyo liked to be bitten.

Hakkai opened his eyes, Gojyo's nipples were red and swollen. He dragged his tongue lightly over one and Gojyo hissed. Maybe he'd overdone it. He tried to concentrate; Gojyo's breaths were ragged and quick, and his erection still dug into Hakkai's hip, wet and hard. Maybe he was a bit of a masochist. Hakkai dragged his thumb over the sore, sensitive nub, and Gojyo tossed his head and moaned.

Hmm.

Hakkai sat back as he moved lower, licking his way toward Gojyo's erection. He stopped at a hipbone, biting hard enough to make Gojyo squirm before sliding closer to what they both wanted. Gojyo's stomach and cock glistened with clear fluid, and the scent made Hakkai's head swim. Angling close, he took a taste.

Salty and a little bitter, Gojyo's flavor threw Hakkai's salivary glands into high gear. He gently licked at the wet slit, applying more pressure, circling his tongue around the crown of Gojyo's erection and then to the ridge just below. His mouth closed around the head of Gojyo's cock and he sucked, using his tongue with force.

Gojyo's hands tangled in Hakkai's hair and he rocked his hips upward with a loud moan. Hakkai focused on the hard ridges in the flesh as he dragged his tongue against them. Knowing that he was giving Gojyo pleasure made Hakkai even more excited. He could feel his body resonate with Gojyo's, and there was even the possibility he might get off without even being touched.

But Gojyo, it seemed, had other ideas. Hands nudged at him and breathy instructions were given, but Hakkai's attention was on the glorious feel of Gojyo's cock brushing the back of his throat. Finally, he slid from between Gojyo's thighs and moved a bit to the side, not understanding and not caring as he continued to swallow what he could of Gojyo's formidable length.

Fingers encircled Hakkai's calf and lifted, and Gojyo slid his body underneath. Hakkai was distantly aware that Gojyo's head was between his legs. Warm breath caressed his balls, and Hakkai's concentration faltered as he realized Gojyo had full view and access to his backside. He writhed with the knowledge, part embarrassment and part desire.

Reluctantly, he released Gojyo's erection with a trail of saliva, and whispered, "I don't think this will work, the angle is wrong."

"I suppose that depends on what you expect," was Gojyo's husky response.

"What do you--" Hakkai felt Gojyo's soft tongue on his testicles before it moved lower and stroked across his sensitive perineum. Hakkai trembled in reaction and before he could catch his breath, Gojyo's hands were prying him open and parting his cheeks wide.

Hakkai held his breath. Gojyo wouldn't do that, would he?

Oh, yes, he would. Gojyo's long tongue spiraled around Hakkai's entrance and he shuddered. He wanted to protest; but when he opened his mouth, the only sound to emerge was a low moan. Hakkai couldn't help himself, what Gojyo was doing to him felt insidiously good.

Hakkai's shoulder drooped, and as he gathered his wits, he rested his head on Gojyo's hip and reveled in the gentle invasion. Absently, he continued to stroke Gojyo until he touched the growing pool of precome and raised his fingers to his lips. The taste made his mouth water again, and Hakkai raised his head. Curling his fist around Gojyo's erection, Hakkai pulled it toward his mouth, dragging his tongue against the accumulating moisture.

Gojyo released him and muttered something incoherent. There was movement at his end of the bed, but Hakkai was still intent on what he was doing.

This time when Gojyo parted Hakkai's backside, slick fingers touched him, swirling gently and cautiously dipping inside. Lubricant and saliva eased the way, disrupting Hakkai's actions. He breathed, relaxing his body and embracing the discomfort, knowing it would pass.

Hakkai'd had lovers before--some who were quite good--but there was something decidedly differently about Gojyo. Gojyo's focus, from the soft whispers of encouragement to the slow, perfectly angled touches, was all about Hakkai. Gojyo intuitively read Hakkai's body language, adjusting his speed and gauging when Hakkai was ready to take more. Hakkai relaxed, finding an unusual level of trust with his new lover.

Gojyo nudged at him. "I think you need to do this, that way you can control it."

Hakkai sat back, dizzy from the flood of sensations.

Gojyo turned and lay back as he flipped the lid on the bottle of lubricant. He poured some in his hand and slowly stroked his erection.

Hakkai was mesmerized. Watching Gojyo's hand slide up and down his cock was extremely erotic.

"Hakkai?" Gojyo was studying him. "Would you rather not?"

Shaking his head, Hakkai threw his leg over Gojyo's hips. Holding Gojyo's slick cock, he lowered himself over it. Gojyo's hands curled around Hakkai's hips in a bruising grip. He was large, and the flared tip of his cock stretched Hakkai's entrance to the point of eye-watering pain. Hakkai exhaled and closed his eyes, listening to Gojyo's musical breathing as he relaxed and leaned back. The stretch lessened, and then Gojyo's cock was sliding inside, brushing against his prostate along the way. Hakkai could feel Gojyo's balls pressing against his backside.

"Fuck, you're tight," Gojyo panted.

Hakkai couldn't speak. Gojyo's hands caressed his hips and then touched his flagging erection, waiting for him to acclimate.

Hakkai breathed, feeling every inch of Gojyo's cock buried deep inside him. He shifted experimentally and found the pain was almost gone, replaced by a desperate need for pleasure. "Gojyo."

"Yeah."


Hakkai raised his lower body, pulling himself almost completely off Gojyo before reversing direction, sliding all the way back. He did it again, using his knees as a fulcrum, bracing himself with his hands on Gojyo's chest. Hakkai moaned as Gojyo's cock brushed against that mind-numbing spot, and he twisted his hips to do it again. The motion became a steady rhythm, in-out-and-twist, like the backbeat to a song.

His fingernails dug into Gojyo's chest; the floating, soaring feeling was peaking. "Gojyo ..."

"Yeah, I can feel it." Gojyo's hand closed around him, stroking in time with Hakkai's movements.

Hakkai's toes curled and he sat back, forcing Gojyo's cock in as deep as he could get it while his orgasm blurred all his senses. Gojyo grabbed him around his hips, steadying him as Hakkai's come splattered onto them both.

They were still panting when Gojyo's hands braced Hakkai's back and rolled them over.

Hakkai's vision cleared, and what he saw on Gojyo's face was different. Gojyo's eyes were feverish and wild. He grabbed Hakkai's right ankle and roughly raised it as he rammed himself inside. The angle was acute, and Hakkai's back arched with the eager pounding he received.

Each thrust stretched him a little wider, and Hakkai groaned with the intensity of it. The motion abruptly became a shuddering stroke, and Hakkai could feel Gojyo's warm release spilling inside him. Gojyo's moan was deep and throaty as he rocked a final time, and then collapsed on top of Hakkai.

Hakkai sighed with pleasure.

When Gojyo's breathing normalized, he rolled off Hakkai and chuckled.

"What's so funny."

Gojyo kissed him. "You. You're like a sleeping volcano. All calm on the outside but filled with white-hot magma."

"Is that good?"

Gojyo slipped his arms around Hakkai and yawned. "What do you think?"

"I think I need a shower."

Gojyo's arms tightened, and he snuggled against Hakkai. "In a bit, okay?"

Hakkai smiled. He'd never expected Gojyo to be the snuggling type. "All right."




Hakkai's phone was ringing. He fumbled for his bedside table, but instead of touching the cheap laminate he expected, he connected with flesh.

"Ow! Hey!"

Right. He wasn't at home. "Oh, I'm sorry, Gojyo." He sat up. It was almost evening; he would have to go to work soon.

"Here." Gojyo handed him his phone.

"Hello?" Hakkai frowned at the slight roughness in his voice.

"Hakkai? Will you still take me to get my guitar? They said it should be ready in a couple of days."

"Of course, Goku. Which music store?"

"
Umm, it's the one by the museum."

"April's?"

"Yeah!"


Hakkai could hear Sanzo speaking in the background. Gojyo's hand slid up his unclad thigh.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll tell him. Hey, Hakkai, Kougaiji wants you to call him. I guess there's some wedding junk he wants to talk to you about."

Hakkai looked away from Gojyo. "Yes, tell Sanzo I'll call him."

"Sanzo?" Gojyo snarled from the bed. "That prick who runs the agency?"

Hakkai raised his eyebrow and covered the mouthpiece on the phone. "You know him, then?"

"I know of him. He sent us that freak, Hazel."

"Hey," Goku shouted through the phone, "are you talking to your boyfriend?"

"I told you, Goku, he's not my--" Hakkai felt his face heat.

"Sanzo! Cut it out, I wanna talk to Hakkai about his boyfriend."

There was the sound of a struggle with the phone, and then Sanzo spoke. "Call him, damn it."

"Yes, Sanzo, I'll get--"

Sanzo hung up.

And Gojyo was staring at him.

Gojyo placed his head on his arm and smiled. "I'm not your … what?"

"Goku gets some crazy ideas. He's probably already got us living together." Hakkai stood up. His legs were a bit wobbly. "Where are my clothes?"

"The shirt was toast, so I threw it out. Your pants and jacket are hanging in the closet. I'll get you one of my t-shirts." Gojyo slid out of the bed and padded across the room to his bureau.

Hakkai watched Gojyo's naked backside with appreciation. Next time.

Gojyo handed him a t-shirt as he climbed back into bed. "Is Goku Sanzo's squeeze?"

"Yes. They've been together for years."

"And Goku thinks I'm your boyfriend, right?" Gojyo grinned at him.

Hakkai nodded.

"What do you think?"

Hakkai pulled the t-shirt on--it was black, of course. "I think I'm not ready to answer that question." He snagged his boxers off the floor and put them on, too.

"Yeah?" Gojyo rolled onto his back and stared at Hakkai. "But you want to come back, don't you?"

"Yes. Now, are you going to give me a ride back to the club?"

"Sure."




Gojyo shut off the bike in front of the bar.

Hakkai slid off the seat with a quiet groan. He was a little sore.

"Hey, Hakkai, is that your car?" Gojyo nodded at the Ferrari.

"It's a little complicated." Hakkai tried to play it off. "But yes, I guess you could say so."

"It's a Ferrari. I don't mean to be a dick, but can you afford that?"

Hakkai laughed. "Hardly. It was a gift."

Gojyo narrowed his eyes. "Who gives a gift worth half a mil?"

Hakkai looked away.

"An ex?" Gojyo touched his shoulder. "Was it Kougaiji?"

"Yes."

Gojyo swallowed. "Oh. Did you and he have something?"

"I wouldn't say that."

"Yeah?" Gojyo crossed his arms. "Then, what would you say?"

"Nothing that wouldn't make me sound sad and pathetic."

"So you were--" Gojyo's phone rang.

Hakkai looked at the parking lot, trying not to listen. Hakuryuu's jeep was parked in its customary spot, and Hakkai was just realizing how behind he was. He'd hoped he could run home and change, but now he wasn't so sure.

"Hakkai?"

Hakkai turned to see Gojyo scowling at his phone.

"That was Jien. He wants me to meet him at another club. He thinks he found a guitarist that will fit with us."

"Oh, I see." Hakkai was acutely aware that he didn't want to be separated from Gojyo just yet. Everything was too new, and it all seemed so dreamlike and fragile. "Well, then, you should go."

"I don’t really want to, you know." Gojyo cleared his throat and then hooked his thumb over his shoulder at the car. "We have to talk about that. If it's a car you need, I can--"

Hakkai leaned forward and kissed Gojyo. When he pulled away, he said, "There's nothing to talk about, I assure you. There was never anything between us, and I can give you a full account later. If you need it."

"Hmm."
Gojyo grinned at him. "Nice way to throw me off the track. Okay, I um … shit. I need to go. The club is--"

"Gojyo, it's all right. Go already."

"Right. See you soon." He nodded and jumped on his bike again. It rumbled to life, and Gojyo toed the kickstand up.

Hakkai held up his hand as he watched Gojyo disappear from the parking lot.




"Hey, boss."

"Good evening, Hakuryuu," Hakkai said as he walked through the door and toward the bar. He was physically exhausted, but in an exhilarating way. The feel of his clothes sliding against his skin as he walked reminded him of Gojyo's feather-light touches, and that was nearly enough to bring on an erection. He felt brazen and reckless, and the world in general seemed a little clearer, as if his senses were sharper.

Hakuryuu raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you wearing a t-shirt? I believe your fashion sense is slipping a bit. Must be the company you're keeping."

"Quiet, Hakuryuu." Hakkai smiled at him. "And yes, maybe."

"
Oh, my, but you are positively giddy. Could it be that my brooding boss is in love?"

"I don't brood."

"No, of course not." Hakuryuu nodded.

"Yes. Well." Hakkai tried to keep his features neutral, but his smile returned. "I have been enjoying myself."

"That's great, boss, you deserve it. Out of the handful of potential lovers you've shown interest in over the years, I think I like him the best. He's a little simple, maybe, but overall, I think he's a good guy in spite of his notoriety and splashy tabloid past."

Splashy tabloid past? Hakkai gave himself a moment to think about that. He'd figured out Gojyo was something of a celebrity, but … splashy tabloid past?

"Of course, he's a single, good-looking guy who leans toward being a bad boy, and that type always piques a lot of interest." Hakuryuu set a glass of scotch in front of Hakkai. "But I'd watch out when your relationship goes public."

"Public? I never--"

"You won't have to. Trust me, they'll find you. In fact, you've already become something of a sensation: Sha Gojyo's mysterious companion."

"I'm … what?"

"Oh, hell," Hakuryuu leaned on the counter, "you really don't know, do you?"

Hakkai's stomach fluttered--he had a bad feeling about this. "Know what?"

"There's a crappy phone picture of the two of you on his bike circulating on the internet. Apparently, Sha Gojyo doesn't let anyone on his bike, so you've got the rock-and-roll world all atwitter. Literally."

Hakkai took a drink of his scotch.

"I can't believe you guys didn't get completely overrun last night. No one must have known you were going to The Euphoria."

"Hakuryuu--"

Hakuryuu sighed in exasperation, and his normal, teasing tone was gone when he said, "I know you. You've walked into this whole thing completely clueless, and he's so used to it, he probably didn't even think to warn you about it."

"Warn me? About what?"

"
Look, Hakkai, you like your privacy, but I can guarantee that if you have a relationship with Gojyo, you'll have to give that up. How will you feel when they start digging into your past and the state of your affairs? And don't fool yourself into believing that they won't. Gojyo might not be a pop star, but he's a big enough name that the paparazzi will come after you. They'll put your life under a microscope. Can you deal with that?"

Kougaiji and the Ferrari. The bar's financial crisis. Kanan's illness. All of those things might be dragged out into the light of day and discussed. No one should care about any of it, but the paparazzi would. Hakkai had watched the press sift through Kougaiji's life with interest, and he wasn't even someone they cared about. If Gojyo was what Hakuryuu said he was … Hakkai drained his glass, but after he swallowed, he wasn't certain it would stay down.

"I don't think I would enjoy that."

Hakuryuu gave a sad sigh. "I'm not trying to wreck what you have, you know. I'm happy for you, but I don't think you were given enough background to make an informed decision."

Hakkai rubbed his thumb on the empty glass. What if he'd known who and what Kenren--the thought of that name now irritated Hakkai--was? Would he have fallen so easily for him? Maybe, but he would have been far more cautious.

"I'm not one hundred percent sure it would have made any difference," Hakkai finally answered. "But all the same, I wish I'd known. Maybe they won't."

Hakuryuu shook his head. "It's already too late."

"Why do you say that?"

"I've heard through the grapevine that there was an altercation at The Euphoria involving Gojyo and his brother, and possibly a former band member. Some guy was kicking ass with martial arts." Hakuryuu tapped his forehead, mirroring the spot where Hakkai's small bandage was. "You, I presume. People are dying to know who you are."

"But I'm not that interesting!"

"It's all relative. You're far more interesting than the people who read that crap."

Hakkai ground his teeth in frustration. He wanted to talk to Gojyo, to confront him about this, but he didn't know where Gojyo was. To top it off, they hadn't even exchanged numbers.

Hakuryuu gazed wistfully around the bar. "I think we both prefer the obscurity of Kanan's, don't we?"

"Both?" More warning bells sounded in Hakkai's head. "Hakuryuu, do you have something to tell me?"

Hakuryuu blinked and stood up straight. "Oh. Gojyo didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"He asked me if I was interested in joining his new band. I told him I'd think about it, so I am."

"You're the drummer he's been after?" Hakkai was confused.

"I guess." Hakuryuu leaned on the bar again. "Maybe he didn't want to say anything until I made up my mind."

That made sense. But it also meant Gojyo had come to the bar originally to hear Hakuryuu. Why did that bother Hakkai?

"I'm going home to change." Hakkai pushed himself away from the bar and headed for the door.

"Hakkai?"

Hakkai turned and faced his friend.

"I'm sorry."

He smiled. "I appreciate the information and your concern."

"Oh, man, don't give me that creepy smile." Hakuryuu waved at him. "Come back when you're ready. Gat and I can handle tonight if you don't."

Hakkai walked toward the door. "I should be back in an hour or two."




He drove, fast and hard and with the engine screaming, forcing him to stay focused and keeping his mind clear, as Amy Winehouse sang the blues to him with extremely inappropriate lyrics.

At least it was still early in his relationship with Gojyo. He barely knew him, and the paparazzi might not care about a destitute nightclub owner with a crazy sister who'd tapped his life dry.

She wasn't crazy, he reminded himself, his feet working all three pedals as he jammed the gear-shift into third, tires squealing as he drifted around a corner. He spun the steering wheel, keeping the car facing forward as he shifted again and then wrenched the wheel straight. The tires grabbed, and he shot down a straight stretch of road.

What a magnificent car. He pressed his foot to the floor, listening to the responding growl from the engine as he pushed the Ferrari hard. He should have been back at the bar three hours ago, but it just didn't seem important to him. Now, with the lights of the city coming into view, he decided he'd brooded enough, and it was time to go back.

When he pulled into the overfull parking lot, Hakkai realized that he'd already been found out.





The reverberating echo of a piano chord still hung in the air when Hakkai heard the now-familiar voice.

"Hakkai?"

The clock over the bar read
3:36.

Hakkai picked up his cigarettes and lit one. He inhaled deeply and then took a healthy drink of his scotch. Turning slowly on the piano bench he said, "How did you get in here?"

Gojyo took a couple steps forward and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Hakuryuu phoned me and asked me to meet him here. He said you were kind of freaked out over everything and that we probably needed to … talk."

"Hmm." Hakkai took another drag of his cigarette and raised his glass. "Did you know I have a drinking problem?"

Gojyo shook his head. "What?"

"Most of the time I can control it, but every now and then …" Hakkai shrugged and took a drink. "I figured I should tell you since you'll probably be able to read about it soon."

"So … I'm guessing that means the paparazzi got to you, huh?"

"You could say that." Hakkai stared at Gojyo. "I'm broke. You should know that, too. I'm a financial ruin, and this bar …" he raised his hand and waved at the ceiling, "will destroy me soon. And now you know everything."

"Aww, shit, man. I didn't think they'd come after you so fast. I'm kind of yesterday's news, so I don't usually draw that much attention anymore." He scratched the back of his head. "I'm sorry." Gojyo let out a frustrated breath. "Damn it. I knew you were freaked out to begin with, but this couldn't have helped."

Hakkai set down his drink and his cigarette, and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "I'm not certain it's something easily explained until you've experienced it. And this is just the beginning, isn't it?"

"Probably."

Dropping his hands on his knees, Hakkai said, "So, are the paternity suits true?"

Gojyo sighed and took another step forward. "The suits are true, but the DNA tests cleared me on every one of them."

"And the destruction of property?"

Gojyo nodded. "Guilty. But I was young, and dude, I did warn you that I was a punk. Banri and I got into a lot of trouble when we were kids."

Hakkai picked up his cigarette and puffed on it. That was true, Gojyo had warned him, but blowing up a house? "I'd ask you about the assault charges, but that's hardly fair considering I have my own anger issues."

"Anger issues?" Gojyo shook his head. "Look, I would have told you all of this on my own."

"When?" Hakkai crossed his legs. "You had to know I'd figure it out sooner or later, Kenren."

Gojyo sucked in a breath. "Okay, I get it, you're pissed off."

"Do you really?"

"Fuck, Hakkai, I told you from the beginning I was afraid of scaring you off." He stepped onto the dais. "I know I'm not your type; I'm not smart and cultured like Kougaiji. I'm a punk who barely managed to graduate from public education and sings in a rock-and-roll band."

Hakkai blinked.

"Yeah, I should've told you from the beginning, but tell me the truth--if I had, you wouldn't have given me the time of day, right?"

Hakkai didn't answer, but Gojyo was correct.

Gojyo leaned on the piano. "How bad is this, Hakkai? I mean--you know, for us?"

"It's not good." His head was spinning. "But I'm not up to making any decisions at the moment."

"So," Gojyo prompted, "does that mean you're not dumping me?"

"No." Hakkai sighed. "Not yet, anyway. You're a life-changing event for me, one I'm not sure I'm prepared to deal with. I'd like to catch my breath for a moment."

"So," Gojyo furrowed his brow, "you are dumping me?"

"No, I'm not, but you need to give me some time to think."

"How much--"

Hakkai stared at Gojyo. "Oh, I think a potential boyfriend should get as much time as a potential band member. What do you think?"

"Dude, ouch. You're pissed off about Hakuryuu, too? But you have to see that wasn't really my call. He needed to--"

"Gojyo, please."

Gojyo straightened. "All right, all right."

The silence between them was very loud.

"Look," Gojyo's voice was soft, "I have to go out of town for the next two days. There's this guitarist Jien and I … Well, I was going to ask you to go with me."

"Gojyo--"

"Yeah, I know, I know." He held up his hand. "Instead I'll give you your space to figure out what you want--"

"Thank you for that."

Gojyo ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not crazy about leaving with things like this, you know, but if that's what you want--"

Even through his lingering outrage, Hakkai could hear the panic in Gojyo's voice. "Gojyo, I don't know anything right now."

"I know." Gojyo drew random designs on the piano. "I'll tell you what. There's a few of us jamming on Wednesday at this place called Map of France. Maybe you could come watch us and let me know what you think about this guitarist. No strings, no pressure, okay?"

"Map of
France?"

"
Hey, I didn't name the place, I just play there." Gojyo leaned on his elbows, bringing himself closer to Hakkai, his eyes pleading. "Will you be there?"

"I don't--"

"Even if you're going to tell me to get lost, okay?"

Through his pain and confusion, Hakkai already knew what he wanted to say. But he was very vulnerable, and now was not the time for Hakkai to tell Gojyo he cared about him. Besides, there was his honest fear that he couldn't deal with the pressure of paparazzi. He'd only hurt Gojyo if he made promises he couldn't keep.

Gojyo didn't know about Kanan's past, and dredging up her troubled life would be an unintentional consequence of their relationship. Hakkai was treating Gojyo unfairly, but he was resentful. He wanted to protect Kanan and he wanted to have Gojyo, but he was painfully aware he could only pick one. Until he did, he needed to distance himself.

And he was angry about it. He'd already spent most of his life protecting Kanan, and he wanted this once to be selfish. Gojyo was a tempting piece of happiness but at a very dear cost. He was mad at both of them--Kanan for her illness and Gojyo for making him happy.

"Hakkai?" Gojyo was waiting for an answer.

"All right." He sighed. "I'll be there."

"That's … promising. I think." Gojyo stepped next to him and touched Hakkai's cheek. "We're good together, Hakkai. Really good. I--"

Gojyo backed away, his eyes wide.

"I'll see you, okay?" He turned and raced out of the bar, leaving Hakkai to wonder about the look of fear he'd just seen on Gojyo's face.

 

 

 

Sanzo opened the door and stepped back, giving Hakkai room to enter. "About time. Goku's been nagging me all day wondering when you'd get here." Sanzo frowned and stared at Hakkai intently. "You look like shit."

"Hello, Sanzo." Hakkai slipped off his shoes and followed. "I'm afraid I haven't been sleeping well."

Sanzo lit a cigarette. "Is your rock star keeping you awake?"

"Rock star?" Hakkai furrowed his brow. "Are you referring to my relationship with Sha Gojyo?" They walked down the hall and into the living room. "Well, now that you mention it, yes. My relationship is what's bothering me--it's a little complicated."

"Really?" Sanzo looked over his shoulder. "We've had lots of nosy phone calls about you. Fucking reporters."

"
Aha ha ha. A bit annoying, isn't it?"

Sanzo faced Hakkai and took a drag of his cigarette. "Very. Is that what's been keeping you awake?"

"
Yes, well, I'm afraid the whole situation has been a little surprising to me."

Sanzo sat down. And waited.

Sitting in a comfortable chair across from Sanzo, Hakkai said, "As Hakuryuu would say, I've not kept up on current events."

"Stop being so fucking cryptic. Are you telling me you didn't know who he was?"

"Yes."

Sanzo raised an eyebrow.

Hakkai cleared his throat. "In my defense, I have spent the last three years absorbed in the world of classical music. Rock-and-roll figures aren't usually discussed in those circles."

"Uh huh." Sanzo leaned back.

"I'm a little out of my sphere of knowledge right now, and it's …" He struggled to find the right words, but all that came to mind were terrifying, exhilarating, and compromising. Hakkai sighed in frustration and changed the subject. "Kanan's was overrun last night."

"Hmm. So fucking a rock star has helped the bar?"

Hakkai frowned; he didn't like the connotations of what Sanzo was implying. "No … well, I suppose financially it has, but the patrons weren't there to see the band."

Sanzo took a drag. "Paying customers are paying customers."

His cynicism grated on Hakkai. "Kanan's isn't supposed to be a sideshow."

"And you've got your head in the sand. I thought business was supposed to profit." Sanzo scowled and shook his head.

"You're right. Lately, I've been wondering if I'm cut out for running the bar. Perhaps I am a bit too single-minded in my approach to business."

"Huh."

"I hung on to it because of Kanan and because I enjoy jazz, but I'm no club owner. I'll lose it one way or another soon enough, so I might as well leave on my terms."

After exhaling a cloud of smoke, Sanzo said, "That might be the smartest thing you'll ever do."

Hakkai didn't want to discuss Kanan's anymore. He fidgeted with his own cigarettes, trying to fight the urge to light one.

Sanzo didn't move. "Something else?"

Nodding, Hakkai said, "No." He fidgeted some more. "Last night I said some things to Gojyo that--well, I wasn't very nice to him."

Sanzo shrugged. "Now he knows your bitchy side, so what?"

Bitchy? Hakkai pick a piece of lint off his pants. "Do you know Gojyo?"

"Tch. He and his band were supposed to be a PR nightmare, but I find that sort of image too contrived. Bad publicity is golden in his line of work."

Hakkai mulled that over. "I suppose that is important for a rock-and-roll band."

"Don't tell me his past is bothering you." Sanzo lips twitched.

"He's so public. He's different, I guess."

"Different from who?" Sanzo crushed out his cigarette. "Kougaiji?"

Hakkai felt as if he'd been slapped. Had he been comparing Gojyo to Kougaiji? That was unfair and … a little cruel. And untrue. Gojyo was more--

"Hey, Hakkai, you're here!" Goku skidded into the living room, stocking feet sliding over the hardwood. "Did you bring the car?"

"Yes, Goku."

Goku stared at him and frowned. "What's wrong, Hakkai? You look kinda mad."

"I'm not mad, Goku, I assure you."

"Is it your new boyfriend?"

Hakkai gave an involuntary flinch.

Goku grinned. "What'd he do?"

"He's not my boyfriend." Hakkai's words came out a little sharper than he expected.

Goku blinked. "Oh, okay, if you say so."

"Are you ready to go?"

"Yep!
Let's go!" Goku ran to the end of the hall.




Once in the car, Goku squirmed in his seat like an excited kid--his enthusiasm was infectious. "This car ROCKS, Hakkai! Do you love it?"

"I enjoy driving it, but no, I don't love it." Hakkai shifted smoothly into fifth, the car building speed with frightening ease.

"Yeah, I guess I understand that. It's sort of a reminder of Kougaiji, huh?"

"Yes, I suppose."

Goku laughed. "But I think you don't think about Kougaiji too much anymore. Well, I think that's good, 'cause he was more like a shield, anyway."

"A shield?"

"
Yeah. Kougaiji was safe for you to like, 'cause he'd didn't feel the same way." Goku scratched his head. "But I get that, 'cause you don't wanna be hurt."

This conversation was getting a little too personal for Hakkai. "Goku--"

"Hey, can I play this?" Goku held up the CD that Sanzo had given Hakkai--the band who might be Hakkai's next agent job.

That discussion seemed so long ago, now. Hakkai had taken the CD and promptly forgotten about it, forgotten about everything, actually, because Gojyo had shown up in his life. He had yet to listen to the CD.

"Of course, Goku, just try not to break my eardrums."

"'Kay." Carefully, Goku removed the John Coltrane CD.

Hakkai chewed on his lip; he might as well do some homework. "So tell me, what is it about this band that you like so much?"

"Hmm." Goku fiddled with the CD case. "They have this energy, I mean, sometimes their lyrics are kind of stupid and the drummer could be better, but the singer's really good. He makes up for everything. And don't tell Sanzo, but I think he's kinda hot. I've watched a few videos of him on YouTube, and you should see the crowd react to him. He just has something. It's like the audience gets hypnotized, I dunno how to explain it."

"Charisma."

"Yeah!"
Goku nodded wildly. "That's totally it, charisma!"

"Well, that would certainly help a rock-and-roll band."

Goku slid the CD into the player. "Yeah. Then he starts tossing that red hair around, and the crowd goes crazy!"

Hakkai frowned. Red hair? He wracked his brain; what was the band's name on the CD? He'd read it in the liner notes. Something of something. A ridiculous name.

"Sanzo was right about them. They just announced their official break-up. Bummer."

All those nights at Kanan's talking about the band breaking up. Hakkai's memory eddied and coalesced.

A single electric guitar strained to spin the opening four bars, and then a second guitar joined it, repeating the same riff in sync. On the third refrain, drums and bass joined, and the rumbling sound reverberated through Hakkai's bones. The four pieces growled together in a loud crescendo of feedback, and then the singer began.

"Come on …
Let me talk to you
I've got a feeling
In my mind."


"Gojyo." Hakkai mistimed his clutch foot, and the gears barked in complaint as he said between clenched teeth, "Layer of Nicotine."

"Huh? What's wrong?" From a sideways view, Hakkai could see Goku put it together. "Hey! Is Sha Gojyo your new boyfr--I mean--that guy you're mad at?"

Hakkai's fingers tightened on the wheel. How could he have been so stupid?

Goku whooped. "Wow! He is! That's so cool! Hakkai, you totally have to let me meet him when you get over bein' mad! Please?"

"Aha ha ha, you must be mistaken." Hakkai forced a smile on his face and glanced at his friend. "I've never said anything about being angry with anyone."

"You never have to, 'cause you just make a really, really creepy happy face. Sanzo and me always know how you feel." Goku nodded his head in time with the music. "But that's probably because we know you so well."

Hakkai didn't say anything. Was he that obvious? He'd never gone into detail about his encounter with Gojyo, yet Goku seemed to know all about it. Of course, Goku was very astute.

"Anyway, I think it's really awesome that Gojyo's the guy you're in lo--um, the guy you've been seeing. There's a million people who would love to be in your shoes."

"Is that so?" Hakkai's mouth was dry.

"Yeah." Goku's enthusiasm faded. "But I guess that's not really your thing, is it?"

"No, Goku."

"Umm, you didn't know who he was, did ya?"

"No." Hakkai shook his head.

"He's so famous, he probably just figured you knew. Some people are stupid like that." Goku hummed along with the song.

Hakkai wasn't certain if Goku was referring to him or Gojyo as the stupid person. He supposed they both were. Even so, Hakkai still felt as if he'd been duped.

"Hakkai?"

"Hmm?"

"
Why are you mad at him, anyway?"

That was a good question. "I'm not angry." He felt Goku's eyes staring at him. "I'd say I'm more confused."

"How come?"

"
He's a bit more than I bargained for."

"Yeah? Ya mean being a rock star and all that, or 'cause he's not a shield like Kougaiji?" Goku's golden eyes sparkled with reflected sunlight. "You know, he's probably more scared than you are."

Hakkai almost mistimed a shift again. "What makes you say that?"

"He's a rock star. He's famous. People do mean things to famous guys. Make stuff up about them, try and get things from them." Goku tapped his fingers on his knee. "Have you read about all those paternity lawsuits?"

"Yes."

"That's what I'm saying. People have probably been really shitty to him." Goku looked over at him. "You wouldn't do that kind of stuff, and I'll bet you'd be really good for him."

Hakkai remembered Gojyo's look of fear when they'd last parted. Everything was beginning to make much more sense. Hakkai had been very unfair.

"Just go for it, will ya? Ya want him, so what's the worst that could happen?"

"Is there any way,
Is there any how,
Are there any words
That I can say to convince you?"


What was the worst that could happen? He supposed being pestered by the paparazzi would be inconvenient and annoying. He wasn't certain how he would feel about being Sha Gojyo's boyfriend. Life would definitely be more of a challenge. But probably not horrible; after all, Gojyo would be part of it.

Hakkai ran his hands over the wheel and really thought about Goku's question. What was the worst that could happen?

The answer was pathetically simple. The worst would be never seeing Gojyo again. Hakkai pressed his foot to the floor and started to chuckle.

"Umm, Hakkai? Are you all right?"

"Let's take the long way, shall we?"

"Oh, okay." Goku looked a bit unsure.

"And Goku?" He signaled for the mountain pass exit.

"Yeah?"

"
Turn it up."

Goku giggled. "Yeah!"




The bar called Map of France was even smaller than Kanan's. As Hakkai approached the doors, he had a few second thoughts. Before he could run, however, a dark-haired fellow stepped toward him.

"Cho Hakkai?"

"Yes?"

The man held out his hand. "I'm Nataku. I'm the manager of Gojyo's new band. Unfortunately, they haven't come up with a name yet."

Hakkai shook his hand.

"Believe it or not, this place has a loft of sorts." There was a sparkle of humor in Nataku's gold eyes. "I resist calling it a balcony, as it's nothing so ostentatious. But at least we'll be out of the mosh pit. Of course, there is always the possibility that it might collapse and fall to the floor."

"Oh."

Nataku laughed. "They insisted on playing this place as a completely unknown band. They'll never learn that the minute the crowd catches a glimpse of my friend Kenren, the cat's out of the bag. This place will be a zoo by the time they end. Let's hope it doesn't burn to the ground while we're inside."

Hakkai blinked. "You call him Kenren?"

"Yes. He tends to go by that name until people get to know him, although he uses the name less these days. People know so much about him that the names are interchangeable, so it's become rather a moot point. Personally, I prefer calling him Kenren; I think it fits."

"Why would he do that?" Hakkai remembered his anger about that name. He felt like an ass.

Nataku shrugged. "No one ever said musicians were practical." He waved Hakkai toward a side door. "Let's go in."

A set of nearly vertical rickety stairs led up to what Nataku had referred to as the loft. Really, it wasn't so much of a loft, more just wooden beams with a slab of flooring running the width of the club, and about a quarter of the length. The bare, unfinished ceiling was close enough that Hakkai was worried about hitting his head on the timber supports or the bare light bulbs. The only thing between the open end of the loft facing the stage and the concert floor below was a flimsy wall of chicken wire.

"This looks terribly unsafe."

"Yes." Nataku sat down at a battered beer-keg table and motioned Hakkai to join him.

A short-haired man appeared and set down a bottle and an empty glass in front of each of them.

"Thank you, Zenon." Nataku picked up the bottle and pulled the stopper, pouring some of the amber-colored liquid into both glasses. "Kenren said you liked good scotch. I brought some of my private stash. It's a twenty-seven-year-old Glen Garioch. I hope you'll enjoy it."

Hakkai sipped, allowing the smoky peat flavor to unfold on his tongue, giving way to notes of blackcurrant and lavender with a bit of acidity. "Marvelous."

"I rarely find anyone with such a discerning palate in my line of business. I'm glad you approve."

"Very much so." Hakkai nodded as he looked over the floor and the short, two-foot-high stage. "This is a very small venue."

"I think they're just checking out this guitarist. But I don't think he'll work."

"No?"

"No. Although he'll tell you otherwise, Kenren's good enough on his own, they don't really need another guitarist." Nataku took a drink and hummed his approval. He leaned forward, eyes intense. "They keep telling me they want to change their sound. What they really want is a piano player."

Hakkai lifted his glass but didn't speak.

Nataku leaned back, his long hair falling over the back of the chair. "Look, let's get to the point. Gojyo's told me about your playing, and I know he wants you join them. Maybe you should give it a try."

"I've never played with--" Hakkai paused. He'd played hundreds of times with Hakuryuu and other bands, filling in when they were short. He'd spent several nights playing songs for and with Gojyo. "I don't know any rock songs." That wasn't true, either. Over the past few days, he'd been listening exclusively to the Layer of Nicotine CD and to an earlier band of Gojyo's called Tempest's Shadow.

"This is a jam session, it's nothing polished or pretty. There's hardly a crowd; it's Wednesday night, after all. You play at your bar, don't you?"

"Yes, but that's different." There was an upright piano on the small stage and Hakkai's fingers itched. He was surprised to realize he was considering the idea. "Maybe later."

Hakuryuu appeared and settled behind the drum kit. A young man with yellow hair joined him, followed by an attractive dark-haired girl. She was carrying a bass.

"Is that Yaone?"

Nataku nodded and opened the bottle of scotch again.

The small crowd started to mutter excitedly, and then the murmur swelled to screams when Jien and Gojyo stepped out together. They spent a couple of minutes tuning instruments while Gojyo sat on the edge of the small stage and talked to the crowd.

"So, hey ya'll! This night is experimental, so try not to judge us too harshly, okay?" His eyes looked up--searching. When he found Hakkai, he smiled. "Hey, you."

Hakkai raised his hand in acknowledgement and stared. Although Gojyo was only wearing his usual tight jeans and snug black t-shirt, he looked very tempting. Hakkai could feel his temperature climb.

Gojyo tipped his head toward the piano. "Come on. No strings."

"Yes, they'll all be texting their friends, and before long, the place will be overrun." Nataku took another drink. "Wouldn't you rather play now?"

He wanted to. Gojyo continued to talk to the crowd, but he looked up often, waiting for him. Hakkai thought about how dynamic Gojyo was and how he wasn't afraid to take chances. Hakkai was changing, resounding with Gojyo's compelling nature. Maybe now was a good time to take a chance.

He tossed back what was left in his glass and stood up. "Yes. I believe I will play."

Nataku nodded as if he'd been expecting the answer all along, his dark hair obscuring his gold eyes. "Zenon will take you."

Good scotch and the thought of playing left Hakkai feeling excited and keyed up. And Gojyo, of course. Zenon led him through a narrow hallway, a secret passageway around the crowd, and to the backstage. He stood there for a moment, hesitating before Hakuryuu saw him; he grinned and beckoned to him with his drumsticks. Hakkai pushed away the last of his excuses and stepped onto the stage.

Gojyo met him halfway across the stage, not saying anything but walking the distance to the piano with him all the same. He didn't need to speak; the look he gave Hakkai said everything: he'd been worried, and he was relieved to see Hakkai.

Hakkai sat at the piano looked around. Jien nodded his head in greeting and Yaone smiled at him and gave him a little bow.

"Well, Gojyo, what shall we play?" Yaone asked.

"How about 'Summertime'?"

Jien and Hakuryuu laughed. Yaone nodded, picking at her bass.

The guitarist gave a puzzled look. "You mean Gershwin?"

"Yeah, dude." Gojyo winked at Hakkai. "Gershwin."

Yaone set a slow, deliberate pace and Hakkai joined in as Jien slid his fingers along the neck of his Fender, imitating the sound of a steel guitar. Hakuryuu added hi-hat and snare drum, laying down a lazy beat for them to follow. The new guitarist struggled to pick up the melody, botching it a few times before Hakkai played along with him, helping him to find the sound as Jien wove harmonies around them.

The music invoked images of a hot, humid day, filled with purposely-languid movements that conserved energy in order to avoid the heat. Gojyo's smooth, sultry baritone filled the club and the crowd fell silent for a moment. Hakkai could see them swaying to the unhurried pace, mesmerized by the music and Gojyo's voice.

Summertime, and the living is easy
Fish are jumping, and the cotton is high


Hakkai's eyes slid closed, and he could feel the music mingle with a hot, summer day. His fingers followed the rhythm and synchronized with Gojyo's hypnotic voice. The tempo increased and the song changed, morphing into something the crowd and the guitarist knew, but it retained elements of "Summertime"; was the new bit something Gojyo had written?

All too soon, the song ended, and there were only moments before Gojyo shouted out a new song and Jien, Yaone, and Hakuryuu started once again. Gojyo hopped across the stage and sat down on the piano bench next to Hakkai, facing the crowd, their shoulders touching. Gojyo held off singing until Hakkai caught the tune and started to play. This song was slow as well. A ballad, Goku would say, but raw and intense.

Full moon sways,
Slowly on the surface of the lake
You were there,
Giving me a smile through all your pain


Gojyo was singing it for him, to him, and about him. And Hakkai didn't mind because something magical was happening. There was a connection between him, Gojyo, and the other musicians, as if they could feel the music, as if they shared an unspoken bond.

To his delight, most of the songs were easy enough to figure out, and after a few bars, he would join in. Even when he wasn't playing, Hakkai stayed on stage, watching the crowd's reactions or the tantalizing sheen of sweat on Gojyo's body; the whole night was very satisfying. And by the time they finished, the club was definitely exceeding its maximum capacity.

As Hakkai got up from the piano, a squealing, crying girl jumped on the stage, throwing her arms around him and kissing him soundly.

"Umm, Miss?" Hakkai saw Gojyo disappear from the stage, and he tried the pull the girl's arms off so he could follow, but she was stuck tight to him.

Zenon finally helped Hakkai, freeing him and pushing the young lady toward the exit. "Come on, girl." As he escorted the fan off the stage, he grinned over his shoulder at Hakkai. "Welcome to rock-and-roll."

Hakuryuu met Hakkai in the tiny back room, giving him a Gat-strength slap on the back. "I always knew there was a rock star inside you."

Hakkai blinked. "Why?"

Hakuryuu laughed. "Because you're so tragic."

"Hmm."
Hakkai refused to allow Hakuryuu to tease him too much. "What about you? Are you joining this band?"

Hakuryuu saluted Hakkai with his sticks. "Yeah, I think so. We'll need to find someone new for the bar."

Hakkai shrugged. "I'm thinking of selling Kanan's anyway."

It was Hakuryuu's turn to blink. "Are you serious?"

"Yes, I think I am. I'm tired of worrying about it, Hakuryuu."

Hakuryuu blinked again, and then placed his hand on Hakkai's shoulder and squeezed. "That'll be the smartest thing you'll ever do."

"Hmm. You're the second person to say something like that. Do you really think so?"

Hakuryuu showed his sharp teeth. "Yeah. I know you love Kanan's, but that place is killing you. It'll be like you're starting a new life."

A new life? Hakkai felt better all ready. He looked around; the yellow-haired guitarist was already gone. "Have any of you seen Gojyo?"

Jien had a towel around his neck. "He left a few minutes ago."

"What?"

"Yes, out the door right there. If you hurry, you might catch him."

Hakkai nodded and quickened his pace out the door and into the parking lot, unsure what Gojyo's disappearance might mean. Did he not want to see Hakkai? Maybe what happened on stage always happened with Gojyo--maybe it was nothing special. Maybe--

Hakkai paused, inhaling the cleaner, fresh air of a crisp autumn night as he scanned for Gojyo. As he walked the length of the lot, he could hear a techno beat reverberating from inside Map of France--dance club music. The magic of the night was slipping away, and a surge of melancholy washed over him.

What would he do if Gojyo had already left?

As he neared his Ferrari, he slowed his steps. Lounging against his car's passenger door and blocked from view of the club's entrance by a large van was a man. Long limbs, long hair, and an unmistakable sexy slouch; it was definitely Gojyo. Hakkai shivered. Even from twenty feet away, his body was already reacting to Gojyo's presence. If Gojyo applied his charms, Hakkai would be unable to resist.

He didn't want to resist.

"There you are," Gojyo rumbled, his voice slightly hoarse from singing. "I've been waiting for you."

Hakkai looked about. "What are you doing out here?"

"Waiting for you." Gojyo straightened and angled closer to him. "I wanted to spend some alone time with you. You were awesome on stage."

Gojyo was too close, and Hakkai took an involuntary step back while he tried to contain his desires. The scent of Gojyo's pheromone-laden sweat wafted over him, making his knees weak. He tried to keep a hold on his desires, but Gojyo always undid him.

"Hakkai?" The purr of Gojyo's roughened voice enticed him. Gojyo raised his hand, and his fingers gently caressed Hakkai's cheek. "Do you have something to say to me?"

When he could finally speak, the sound he made was little more than a whisper. "Gojyo, I …"

Hands settled on each of Hakkai's hips, and Gojyo's eyes delved deep, searching. "Do you want to be with me? Did you miss me?"

"Yes."
Hakkai nodded, his mouth dry. "And yes."

"Good," Gojyo sighed with relief. "Because I thought I'd go crazy waiting for you." Fingers pulled Hakkai forward, flush against Gojyo's body and into a passionate kiss. Hakkai opened his mouth and their tongues tangled in a release of pent-up desire as he pressed his hips forward, grinding against Gojyo's hardening erection.

He broke their kiss, breath ragged and composure completely frayed. "Gojyo, we are in public."

"Umm-hmm." Gojyo nuzzled at Hakkai's neck, singing softly into his ear. Low and sweet, singing about the full moon. The sound of Gojyo's song soothed Hakkai, and he relaxed. He licked his lips and tasted the salty remnants of Gojyo's sweat. There was no fighting this, not when Gojyo attacked all five senses at once.

Pleasure pulsed through his nerve endings and resonated with the seductive cadence of Gojyo's music. Gojyo's hands wiggled underneath his clothing, his warm palms pressing flat against Hakkai's back and shifting his hips. They rocked together, seeking the friction they both craved.

Gojyo crooned, "Yeah, there you go." He tugged open Hakkai's slacks and slid his hand inside. Fingers curled around Hakkai's cock, and his temperature soared. In a parking lot, in public.

"Mmm." Gojyo murmured appreciatively as his thumb rubbed against the slit of Hakkai's cock. "You're hard and wet. Sexy. I want to taste you. Can I?"

Hakkai tried to string enough words together to produce a coherent response, but instead all he muttered was a mish-mash of nonsensical noises. Somehow, though, Gojyo understood what he wanted.

Gojyo chuckled and dropped slowly down to his knees. Carefully, he drew down Hakkai's pants and boxers, freeing his heated erection and leaving him half-stripped and vulnerable in the cool night air. Gojyo gazed up at him, his red eyes dark with passion while his fingertips skimmed over Hakkai's aching balls. Gojyo's touches were hot bursts of electricity, but they weren't hard enough. In response, Hakkai's hips swayed forward and followed the teasing caresses. Gojyo's eyes shifted and he stared at Hakkai's eager flesh. "You are perfect."

"Gojyo …" Hakkai held his breath as Gojyo leaned close and his tongue licked away a smear of precome. Gojyo curled his fist around Hakkai's cock and then rubbed his cheek against his quivering erection.

Hakkai's fingers twined in long hair and yanked Gojyo's head toward his erection, growling with his impatience. "Gojyo, stop teasing."

Gojyo grinned up at him. "Okay." His tongue dragged down the front of Hakka's cock, applying firm pressure while his mouth followed. Wet heat engulfed Hakkai's erection until the tip bumped up against the back of Gojyo's throat. Gojyo shifted the angle of his head, and somehow Hakkai's cock slid completely inside.

"Gojyo," was all he could manage to whisper while his hands twisted in his lover's hair.

Gojyo's head started to move; and the intense suction was dizzying. Gojyo began to hum and the reverberations made Hakkai shake. At this rate, he wouldn't last long. He could hear voices in the distance, and he thought he should be concerned, but he wasn't. He didn't care if the whole world watched him get sucked off by Gojyo.

His balls tightened, and Gojyo moved a bit faster, his head nodding in time to the roaring sound of Hakkai's pounding heart. Gojyo's fingers gently rolled over Hakkai's sac and dipped lower, sliding through excess saliva and precome before rubbing against his perineum. Hakkai moaned and rocked his hips in a counter-rhythm to Gojyo's motions. He felt his cock thicken and a floating, coiling sensation was building, telegraphing pleasure to every synapse in his body.

Sparkling tracers exploded behind his eyes, and Hakkai groaned loud and long. His fingers tangled more tightly in Gojyo's hair and he pressed his erection deep down into Gojyo's throat. Muscles closed on him and caused his orgasm to crest and he came violently, spilling down Gojyo's waiting throat.

Hakkai's body convulsed a final time, and he released a shuddering breath. He loosened his death grip on Gojyo's hair and attempted to smooth out any snarls. "I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?"

Gojyo pulled away from him and smacked his lips. He stood up and shook his head. "Do I look hurt?"

Hakkai stared into Gojyo's dark, passion-filled eyes, and he shook his head. "No."

Gojyo reached out, caressing his cheek. "You worry too much, Hakkai."

Hakkai felt a wave of indescribable emotion. He didn't have a point of reference for the flood of affection he felt.

"Maybe we should go, huh?"

"But what about you?"

"I'll be fine." Gojyo tugged Hakkai's pants back into place and then kissed him.

Hakkai could taste himself on Gojyo's tongue, bitter and tangy and somehow erotic. Gojyo's erection bumped his hip and Hakkai realized he didn't want to go. Not yet. Time slowed for him as he turned them, reversing their positions. The buckle on Gojyo's pants came loose, and the buttons on the worn jeans practically fell open.

How different Hakkai's life had come to be in such a short amount of time; only weeks earlier he'd never have considered doing something like this. But now he enjoyed it--even needed it--and his erection was already returning.

"Hakkai? Are you--"

Sliding his fingers under silky fabric, he carefully pushed down Gojyo's boxers. His palm closed around the tip of Gojyo's wet, hard cock, and grew slick. Hakkai dragged his thumb over the slit as he closed his fist around Gojyo's ready erection.

Gojyo's body stiffened and he moaned.

Hakkai's hand easily slid the length of Gojyo's cock. Leaning back, he watched his fingers glide up and down, savoring the feel of hard flesh trembling under his touch.

"Hakkai?" Gojyo's voice was hoarse.

"Hmm?" He looked up. Gojyo's arms were at his sides gripping the car as his hips rolled in tempo with Hakkai's hand. Gojyo's expression was quite wanton and very alluring. Hakkai squeezed.

"Fuck, yeah." Gojyo's eyes closed and his cock thrummed in Hakkai's hand, splattering them both with his release. Gojyo shuddered one last time and then sighed. "Man, I needed that."

Hakkai raised his hand and licked at Gojyo's come. He could hear voices not far away, but he didn't care.

"Holy fuck, Hakkai, are you trying to kill me?"

Looking up, he saw Gojyo watching him lick at his fingers.

Gojyo shook his head and he dressed himself. "And here I thought you wouldn't let me jump you like this. You're almost too much for me to handle, you know? Almost."

That warm affection coursed through Hakkai's body again. He licked his lips. "Well, I've discovered I have no luck resisting you. You're changing me, Gojyo."

"Yeah? Well, that's only fair, since you're changing me, too." Gojyo grinned and pressed his forehead against Hakkai's. "Did Nataku talk you about joining the band?"

"A bit."

"And?"


Hakkai couldn't hide his smile. "Well, I did enjoy being on stage with you."

"Then, you should think about it."

Hakkai nodded and slipped his arms around Gojyo's neck. "I will."

Gojyo looked up as a pair of voices passed close by. He straightened. "Maybe we should finish this conversation at my place."

"Yes." Hakkai's erection hadn't dissipated. "There are a few more things I'd like to do tonight."

"There are, huh?" Gojyo raised an eyebrow. "Well, then, my bike's over this way."

Hakkai followed. "Um, Gojyo, may I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Well, maybe now's not the right time--considering what we've just done--but do you want to help me break up a wedding?"

"I don't know about that, Hakkai." Gojyo faced him, a frown on his face. "Isn't he your ex?"

"No." Hakkai laughed. "I believe he's your brother's ex."

"Oh." Gojyo stared at him, and this time he smiled. "Oh."




A few days later, they were driving toward Koukaiji's wedding. Hakkai wasn't certain what he had in mind would work, but it was all he could think of. He was glad Gojyo had decided to come with him, although Hakkai suspected some of his lover's enthusiasm was to cover up a bit of jealousy. Hakkai couldn't remember the last time someone had been jealous over him, and he was quite flattered.

They'd been on the road for nearly twelve hours, and during that time, they'd only made minor stops for necessities. Hakkai hadn't managed to frighten or surprise Gojyo with his driving. In fact, at the moment, Gojyo was reclined and asleep in the passenger seat.

But Hakkai was tired. He signaled and turned into a forest-lined cut-off. The paving job of the "road" left much to be desired, but the Ferrari managed it without many scrapes to the undercarriage. Hakkai reflected that while the car drove like a dream, it really wasn't very practical. And it was terribly expensive, burning through fuel at an alarming rate. Of course, he was partially responsible for that, driving it so hard.

There was a nice wide spot in the road, and he pulled over and cut the engine. The forest was very dark and quiet.

"Hakkai?" Gojyo stirred and stretched his arms. "Is something wrong?"

"No." Hakkai tried to suppress a yawn. "I need to close my eyes for a few minutes. I suppose we should have stayed at a hotel."

"Ah, but then would we arrive in time?"

"Probably. Maybe not. As it is, we'll get to the designated hotel on time, but I'd like to sleep a bit when we get there."

"You do know I can drive, don't you?" Gojyo chuckled and sat up. "I have a license and everything. You could rest while I drove."

Hakkai did know Gojyo could drive. He'd gotten on the back of Gojyo's bike, hadn't he? But even so, the offer caught him off guard. "I know. I'm just not used to this." He ran his fingers over the wheel. So much of his life had been spent taking care of others, it was hard for him to remember that he had someone--a partner--he could rely on.

"Come on." Gojyo got out and stretched again. "Man, it's beautiful up here. Come on out and look at the stars."

Hakkai climbed out, flexed his back, and stretched. The air was crisp, clean, and smelled of pine trees. There was a carpet of needles beneath his feet, muffling the sound of his steps. Gojyo strolled around the car, his eyes nearly glowing in the darkness. Hakkai experienced that indefinable emotion again, that warm swell in his chest.

Gojyo stopped, only inches away. He raised his hand and his fingertips gently brushed Hakkai's cheek. "Hakkai? Are you sure you're all right?"

Hakkai couldn't stop himself; he angled closer and kissed Gojyo.

Later, when he closed his eyes to sounds of the tires on the road and Gojyo's gentle hum, he wondered at his recent lack of control. His body still ached in a number of places from their quick and satisfying--if somewhat uncomfortable--tryst in the car. Then again, he supposed control wasn't really worth worrying about.




"Holy shit, you weren't kidding. This place is gigantic." Gojyo stared up at Kougaiji's mansion. "Man, a Ferrari must be like pocket change to this
guy."

"Well, yes, it is rather large." Hakkai shut the car door and walked toward the front door. "I've gotten lost a few times."

"Does it have a swimming pool?" Gojyo ran to catch up.

Hakkai nodded and stopped in front of the dual doors. "Two inside. One out. All Olympic size. There's also a man-made lake out back."

"Figures." Gojyo faced Hakkai. "I hate swimming."

"Gojyo, while I believe you accompanying me is rather quaint, it's not really necessary."

"You think not, huh?"

Hakkai hesitated. There was an odd edge to Gojyo's voice. "Gojyo--"

"I know, I know. You need to talk to him. But that doesn't mean I have to like it." He kissed Hakkai long and hard, with tongue, pressing him against one of the doors. Gojyo's kiss left him breathless, but even so, Hakkai felt as if it might not be enough. Gojyo's eyes were very troubled as he raised his hand and touched Hakkai's hair. "Don't get lost, okay?"

Hakkai patted Gojyo's cheek. "You worry too much. We have about thirty minutes."

Gojyo nodded. "I'll come in and get you if you take longer."

"Gojyo--" Hakkai didn't finish; the set of Gojyo's jaw said it all. "Give me thirty minutes, that's all I'll need."

Tetsuya, a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair, let Hakkai into the house. Tetsuya was a Kougaiji's loyal valet had been with Kougaiji for years. He never said much, but he gave Hakkai a rare smile.

"Good evening, sir."

"Hello, Tetsuya. Are you all ready?"

"Yes, sir."

Hakkai nodded. "They should be here soon."

"I understand."

The house was the same, large and sprawling, filled with a cool, melancholy emptiness. Hakkai had never noticed the last part before, and he wondered if perhaps that was why it had felt safe. He followed the sound of a piano, knowing exactly where he'd find Kougaiji.

Hakkai entered the room, feeling a wave of confusing nostalgia. Only two months had passed since he'd last occupied this room, but so much had changed that it felt like a lifetime ago. He cocked his head and listened, letting the sorrowful notes spiral around him. They told him everything he needed to know. Kougaiji was troubled and unhappy, more so than usual.

Kougaiji finished the song. When he looked up, he gave Hakkai a warm smile. "There you are. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show."

Hakkai shook his head. "Of course, I would show, Kougaiji. You know me better than that."

"The hotel was supposed to notify me when you checked in."

"Ah, well." Hakkai coughed softly. "I'm staying in another hotel."

"Are you? Why?"

"It's a rather complicated story." Hakkai smiled. "And I'd rather hear about you. You seem determined to go through with this wedding."

"Hakkai, we've been through this."

Hakkai nodded. "Indeed we have, but I thought you might come to your senses, all the same."

"Hmm." Kougaiji raised an eyebrow. "Scotch?"

"Yes, thank you."

Kougaiji stood up. He was incredibly graceful, always using the minimal amount of body movement. Hakkai watched him, aware that he'd spent hours in the past watching Kougaiji, convinced he was in love. Now, he could still admire Kougaiji's catlike grace, but he knew that what he'd once felt was kinship, not love. He'd been comfortable in their combined misery.

Hakkai followed him to the liquor cabinet, immediately taking stock of the new brands. Kougaiji stepped back, urging Hakkai to pick out something he liked. Hakkai browsed through the vast selection and on a lower shelf, he spied a 20-year-old Cadenhead's and grabbed it.

He turned, handing the bottle to Kougaiji. "I think this one will do."

Kougaiji was staring at him, studying him intently. "You're different."

Hakkai tilted his head. "How so?"

"There's a quiet confidence radiating off you. Before, you would have deferred to my choice of scotch." Kougaiji took the bottle and poured them each a glass.

"Mmm." Hakkai took a sniff of his glass, slightly smoky with floral notes. "Wonderful."

"Oh, no, none of your avoidance, Hakkai."
Kougaiji gave him a sad smile.

Hakkai gave himself an internal shake. Had Kougaiji always been this despondent? Hakkai was a selfish fool for never noticing, and he felt a surge of regret. He should have been a better friend to Kougaiji.

Hakkai realized that Kougaiji was still waiting for some sort of reply. "I'm sorry, Kougaiji, what did you say?"

"I have my sources, and they inform me that you're seeing someone."

"I am." Hakkai tried to fight the smile that always accompanied thoughts of Gojyo, but it was no use.

"Well, if I hadn't heard it from someone else, the look on your face just told me everything. I'm very pleased for you." He lifted his glass. "And a rock star, no less?"

Hakkai waited three heartbeats before he added, "His name is Sha."

"Sha?" Kougaiji started and almost dropped his glass.

"Yes." Hakkai measured Kougaiji's reaction carefully. So, he wasn't wrong about this; Kougaiji was still deeply attached to Jien. So many things made sense. "His name is Sha Gojyo."

Kougaiji frowned at him, but visibly relaxed.

"But what of you, Kougaiji?" Hakkai looked over the rim of his glass. "A loveless marriage while two people you do care for still wait. Why would you do that to them?"

Kougaiji sat down in a mahogany-colored leather chair and almost glared at Hakkai. "Be careful, Hakkai, some wounds remain raw."

"It took me a long time to understand why you kept yourself apart from everyone." Hakkai sat on a matching leather couch and crossed his legs, cradling his glass of scotch. He stared out the large windows, across the balcony and to the lake. The setting sun glittered off the water in pinks and purples. "In the end, I had to find out from someone other than you."

Kougaiji gave him that wistful smile again. "Are you angry that I didn't tell you?"

"I believe I am." Hakkai moved his gaze from the lake to Kougaiji's troubled features.

"And what would you have done with that knowledge?"

"Possibly, I wouldn’t have tried to convince myself that I cared for you beyond friendship." Hakkai rubbed his thumb across his glass. "Or, at the very least, I wouldn't have been so pathetically obvious about clinging to you."

Kougaiji chuckled. "Clinging is a term I would never use to describe you. Besides, I suspect I benefited more from our time together than you did."

"I appreciate your attempt at making me feel better, but it's not necessary."

"Why must you always be so difficult?" Kougaiji sighed. "You were the one who challenged me and kept me interested in music. If you hadn't been around, I would have quit three years ago. I had to keep playing to remain better than you."

Hakkai made a dismissive noise. "Please don't insult me, we both know I'm not in the same league as you."

Kougaiji shifted his shoulders deeper into the leather. "I suppose I do have something of a technical edge over you but, as you know, music is much more than technique alone. If we were to compare the feel of playing, you are miles ahead of me, my friend."

That wasn't possible. Was it?

Kougaiji watched him closely, and then chuckled again. "Believe me, you've literally kept me on my toes."

Hakkai shook his head and filed Kougaiji's words away. He would consider them later.

The feel of the room changed, darkening a little to match the sky. Kougaiji sat up a little straighter, and his voice was a little quieter. "Have you spoken to Jien?"

"Yes. Both him and Yaone." Hakkai took a drink of his scotch. "They still feel the same, you know. And they blame themselves."

Kougaiji shook his head. "How can they blame themselves?"

"The same way you've spent your life brooding over it."

"Brooding?" Kougaiji raised an eyebrow. "I don't--"

"Yes, you do." Hakkai smiled. "Trust me, I know brooding. We both like to wallow in it."

Kougaiji swirled his scotch in his glass. "I've followed their careers, you know. Layer of Nicotine and all. They've had a rather colorful time, haven't they?"

"They have." Hakkai set down his glass.

Faraway, a doorbell rang.

Hakkai's time was growing short. "I wanted you to know that I'm selling Kanan's."

"Are you?" Kougaiji shook his head. "You always said you never would."

"I know. Things can change, Kougaiji." Hakkai stood up. "Sometimes for the best."

Tetsuya appeared. "You have guests, sir."

Kougaiji's brow furrowed. "Who?"

"A Miss Yaone and a Mr. Jien.
They insist on seeing you."

Kougaiji stared but didn't move. "Hakkai, are you responsible for this?"

Hakkai smiled. "Of course. After all, I'm your best man. I couldn't stand by and watch you marry someone you didn't love. If you can still go through with the marriage after you see them, we'll talk."

Kougaiji's eyes were wide and full of panic. He stood up. "But, you don't understand. I left them without a word. I hurt them deeply."

"And you weren't also hurt?"

"Yes, but---"

"You're no longer a child, Kougaiji. They are here because they want to see you, not to chastise you."

"Hakkai, the wedding's set, what would you have me do?"

Hakkai stepped forward and placed the Ferrari keys in Kougaiji's hand. "I would have you be happy. As I intend to be. Go. Talk to them. What's the worst that could happen?"

He turned for the door. "You know my number."

Hakkai walked down the familiar marble hallway, possibly for the last time.

"Mr. Cho?"

Hakkai turned to see Tetsuya. "Yes?"

The proper, dour older man did something that completely surprised Hakkai. He bowed deeply and said, "Thank you."

Hakkai smiled. "Nothing's decided yet. If the wedding gets cancelled, you can thank me then."

Tetsuya nodded stiffly. "Very good, sir."

Hakkai wanted out of the house; the place was stifling. He quickened his pace as he headed for the nearest exit, a glass door that emptied him out into Kougaiji's vast, immaculately-cared for garden. He exhaled the tension of the house, and inhaled the scent of jasmine. Then he went in search of Gojyo.

He was standing right where Hakkai had left him, and the smile Gojyo gave him made the recent discomfort ebb.

"Let's get the hell out of this place." Gojyo shivered. "It gives me the creeps. I feel like it's sucking out my soul."

"You're so dramatic. I thought you'd want to stay and see the outcome."

"Nah, I know my brother and Yaone. They'll talk it to death before anything's decided. Could be weeks before they figure it out."

Hakkai chewed on his lip. "They don't have weeks. They have twelve hours before Kougaiji's formidable stepmother shows up and tightens the noose around her meal-ticket of a step-son."

"Dude, you don't talk about people like that." Gojyo stuffed his hands in his pockets. "And considering what she's already done to split the three of them up, she must be a piece of work."

"I believe that's an understatement. Trust me when I tell you we will need to be very cautious for a while." Hakkai crossed his arms. "She's likely to come after all of us if this wedding doesn't go as planned."

Gojyo shrugged. "All the more reason to get the fuck out of here. It's not like we can do anything, anyway."

"Ah yes, about that--I'm afraid we can't go until our alternate means of transportation arrives."

"Alternate means of transportation?" Gojyo blinked, glanced at the Ferrari and then back at Hakkai. "But what about--"

"I returned the car to Kougaiji."

"You …" Gojyo's features softened into a lazy, yet somehow intimate, smile.

Hakkai felt his face heat, and he stared out toward the dark road. "Well, it wasn't really my kind of car."

Gojyo nodded. "Right."

"
I'm definitely more practical."

"Uh-huh."

A few moments of silence passed before Gojyo asked, "So, what exactly are we waiting for?"

In the distance, Hakkai could see headlights. "I believe they are approaching now."

"Is that our ride?" Gojyo's voice had a skeptical edge to it. "Are you sure?"

The lights swerved over the road once and then a second time. "Yes, I'm positive." The car careened up the drive, and Hakkai grabbed Gojyo's arm, pulling him away from the circular driveway.

"What was that for?"

"I find it a good precaution to keep some distance between myself and the road when Sanzo is behind the wheel." Hakkai shook his head and clucked his tongue. "He's a terrible driver."

As if to punctuate Hakkai's observation, the comfortable-looking sedan scraped over the curbing and bounced onto the walkway before lurching to a stop.

"What the fuck? I guess you weren't kidding!"

"No." Hakkai could hear the arguing from inside the car.

Sanzo threw open the door and stepped out. A cigarette hung from his mouth, and his usual scowl was in place.

Goku, on the other hand, burst from the car in his energetic fashion, dropping from the oddly parked car and nearly rolling onto the driveway. "Man, I didn't think we were going to make it alive this time! We got lost, and Sanzo wouldn't listen to me even though I had the map!"

"Shut up," Sanzo snapped. He took a drag from his cigarette and stared at Hakkai and Gojyo. "Huh."

Goku looked at Hakkai and then Gojyo. His eyes widened, and he moved next to Sanzo, looking uncharacteristically shy. He whispered to Sanzo, "You didn't tell me he was gonna be here!"

"I didn't know." Sanzo's eyes narrowed in Hakkai direction. "Why aren't you at the hotel?"

"Ah, well, we had to make other arrangements."

"Why?"

Gojyo grinned. "Because of me. I'm not allowed in that hotel anymore. My band kinda wrecked it once."

Goku's eyes went even wider. "Was that the one you blew the windows out of?"

"Nah. I think it was the one we set on fire." Gojyo scratched the back of his head. "We had to do a bunch of charity shows to dodge jail-time on that one. At least, I think it was that one."

Goku hopped from foot to foot. "I can play all of your songs on my guitar."

"Shut up, Goku!" Sanzo pointed at Gojyo. "Don't give him ideas!"

Gojyo blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"He's dumb enough as it is; I don't want him to catch your stupidity, too." Sanzo blew smoke in Gojyo's face.

"You sanctimonious ass!"

"Ah, yes."
Hakkai smiled at everyone. "Well, it appears introductions aren't necessary at this point, so I suggest we leave. The keys, if you please, Sanzo."

Sanzo handed them over and then walked to the passenger seat.

"Hey!" Gojyo ran to the passenger side door. "Why do you get to sit in the front? I'm the boyfriend!"

"It's my car." Sanzo flicked his cigarette butt onto Kougaiji's finely groomed lawn.

"It's not really your car, you rented it, Sanzo!" Goku chirped.

"Shut up."

"Oh, really?"
Gojyo turned to Sanzo. "Then you should sit in the back with the runt. Besides, you don't want me corrupting him, do ya?"

"Who ya calling runt, ya perv?"

"Perv?
Where'd you hear that?"

"I've read about ya!" Goku's voice was gaining volume. "All about ya!"

"
That's just tabloids, you can't believe that shit!"

Hakkai slid inside the car and sighed with disappointment. An automatic.

Sanzo got in the car and slammed the door. "Drive."

"But Sanzo--"

"Leave them."

Hakkai started the car and waited. The two stragglers piled into the car, still arguing.

Sanzo exhaled, and then grabbed the crumpled up road map and whacked both Gojyo and Goku on the head. "I said, shut up!"

Hakkai was sure it wasn't painful, but they did fall silent for a few seconds. Hakkai spent the quiet time familiarizing himself with the controls and moving the seat to a comfortable position.

Unable to survive in the silence, Goku was the first to break. "Hey, Hakkai, are you really joining this dumbass's band?"

Gojyo growled, but he didn't say anything.

"I think so, Goku. Yes."

Sanzo stared out the window. "Huh."

"What? No fair!"

"Why do you say that?" Hakkai put the car in drive and eased it off the curbing.

"'Cause you were supposed to join my band!"

"Your band?
Oh, puh-lease, dude. Do you even have a band?"

"Not yet, but I was gonna!"

Sanzo lit a cigarette. "I swear, you two are giving me a headache."

The sedan landed on the driveway with a bouncing thump. Hakkai nudged the accelerator and the car lunged forward. Hmm. At least it had a big engine.

As the car made the turn in the driveway, headlights framed the Ferrari. The sedan was very quiet again.

"It really was a cool car." Goku's voice was almost a whisper. "Will ya miss it?"

Hakkai drove on past, pausing at the driveway exit to check for oncoming traffic. He glanced into the review mirror and saw that Gojyo was watching him pensively.

"Hmm." He pressed his foot to the floor, and for a heartbeat, the tires threw gravel before they caught on the asphalt, squealing and propelling them forward and onto the road like a sling shot. No one spoke. Sanzo clutched the door handle, and from what he could see of Goku's reflection, he seemed a little green.

The speedometer read 105. Hmm, big engine, indeed. Hakkai pressed harder on the accelerator and shifted his gaze to the rearview again. Behind him, the mansion, the Ferrari, and much of what he'd known for the past three years faded from view. Everything but Gojyo.

Gojyo was still there, clasping the bar above the door and smiling at him in the mirror.

"No, Goku, I won't miss it at all."


End


Lyrics for Summertime by George Gershwin
Lyrics for 50cent Wisdom by The Beat Crusaders
Lyrics for Call Me a Dog by Chris Cornell

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