1Chapter Two

(A/N: Matt's band is completely made up. I've no idea if you ever actually meet any of the Wolves in the series, so here goes:

Arakida Haruki–electric guitar. Quiet most of the time, hard rocker onstage. Acts the most 'normal' of the Wolves. Sexuality never discussed–doesn't appear attracted to anyone or anything, although he is close friends with Seki. Shows a side of him onstage that no one ever gets to see in real life–angry and tormented.

Fukishima Sekien (Seki)–drummer. Wild, sex-crazed and slightly psychotic. Will go after anything on two legs, but he prefers guys. Constantly flirting with the other Wolves, but he likes messing with Haruki (his best friend) the most.

Iesada Katsuyuki (Katsu)–bass guitar, songwriter. Yama does lyrics, Katsu puts them to music. A little spacey sometimes. Master at martial arts, and therefore the most likely to be able to 'control' Seki. Likes Yama, doesn't think he's got a chance.)

Taichi was the fidgety type, which Yamato found far more entertaining than he rightfully should have. He wondered if the brunette was neurotic by nature, or if it was perhaps Yama's presence, and he couldn't help but hide a smile at the last bit. His face remained perfectly calm as he watched Tai squirm out of the corner of his eye.

They were on the roof, eating lunch and watching Tai's soccer team practice twenty feet below them. Tai had finished his lunch quickly and was now engaged in pointedly not looking at Yama while the blonde ate. Yama was truly having fun with this; he was surprised no one had figured it out yet. He very deliberately spilled some of his Coke onto his hand and licked it up, running his tongue in long, sensuous strokes over his own pale flesh. Tai turned a truly magnificent shade of crimson and ducked his head while Yama but his lip and tried not to laugh.

"Pocky, Taichi-san?" Yama held the box out to the madly flushing brunette. "I hope you don't mind strawberry." Tai glanced up at him to see Yama teasing the candy-coated end of the pocky stick with his tongue a little more than necessary, mumbled something that very well might have been an affirmative (or a disparaging remark about Yama's grandfather, but he kind of suspected the former), fumbled for the box and promptly knocked it over.

Yama's grin widened as the boy blushed positively scarlet and began to frantically pick the pocky up off the ground. Of course, he didn't notice that, in his scramble to retrieve the fallen snacks, he'd wound up on his knees with his head between Yama's outstretched legs. He looked up at the blonde to hand him back the pocky and apparently realized his somewhat compromising position, because he began to babble an apology that, taken at face value, made very little sense.

"It's okay," Yama said with a friendly smile. "The pocky's fine, look. Five-second rule." And he broke off the end of one of the offered sticks and stuck it in his mouth.

Tai ducked his head and muttered again, returning to his seat with all the finesse of a very drunk sumo wrestler; he nearly tripped over his own feet.

"So," Yama said conversationally. "Are you usually this graceful, or am I the exception? I can't imagine you'd make it very far in soccer with coordination like that."

"Shut up," Tai growled.

"Someone's touchy today," Yama said with a sigh and resolved to stop provoking the poor boy.

Well, for today at least.

"Shut up, Ishida."

"And so eloquent. I do love an articulate man." He watched Tai closely, noting the deepening flush across tanned cheeks. No, Yama hadn't been wrong about this one, hadn't been wrong at all.

"Stop joking around, Ishida."

"What makes you think I'm joking?" Yama said airily with an over-exaggerated flip of one hand and a slight lisp. "Seriously, honey, you should try loosening up a bit. Stress is bad for the skin!"

Tai looked at him curiously for a moment, as if trying to decide whether he was kidding or not. But then he grinned and graced Yama with a laugh, one of the few genuine laughs he'd ever heard from Tai. The mood eased and Tai could look at him again–it was an odd (if predictable) game the brunette played sometimes. "So you coming to the arcade after school?"

"I don't think so. I've got band practice."

Tai visibly deflated at the first bit, but perked up at the phrase "band practice." Yama smirked. Tai had been clinging to him lately, seemingly taking any excuse to avoid Sora, who was still on the warpath after their first meeting in the classroom. She hadn't blown up at Yama again, just treated him with a cool, disdainful manner, and that apparently pissed Tai off.

"Wow, you're in a band? I didn't know that! Are you any good?" Tai's eyes were sparkling. "What kind of music do you play? Have you had any jobs yet? What's your name?"

"Woah," Yama said, holding up his hands for Tai to slow down. "One question at a time. Yes, I'm in a band. We play rock, some hardcore stuff, some not. We've had a few gigs in local clubs. As for being any good, well, I think my opinion is a little biased. Hey," he said, brightening. "Why don't you come check out our practice? We usually perform better for an audience."

And Tai's face had lit up like a little kid at Christmas.

ooooOOOOOoooooo

Now that he thought about it, he wondered if this was such a good idea. His band wasn't exactly the most reserved group of people, nor the straightest, and bringing a cute little thing like Tai might very well scare him off for good. Ah, well, Yama thought, eyeing the brunette beside him. He'll either get over it, or we'll be done. Me and the band are a package deal.

"I figure I should warn you. The boys are a little...unusual. They're just joking around most of the time, especially Seki. Don't be afraid to punch him if he gets too close. He's used to it." Tai's expression faltered a little, and he seemed nervous for the briefest of seconds, but then he grinned.

"Don't worry about it, Yamato-kun. They're friends of yours, how bad can they be?" It was cute how naive Tai could be. Cute, and kind of frightening.

"If you say so," Yama replied with a heavy heart. Oh God.

"Yama-chaaaaaaan!" Yama was greeted by a crazed ball of Seki hurling himself at his chest and tackling him neatly to the sidewalk. Yama, all too used to this treatment, had managed to train himself to fall in such a way that he didn't injure himself, but Tai didn't know that–

(( SekiEric ))

"Yamato-kun!" Tai was there in all of two seconds, pushing a bewildered Seki away and pulling Yama to his feet, checking him for injury. "Are you alright? You're not hurt, are you?"

Yama laughed. "I'm fine, Tai, he does that all the time."

Tai probably would have responded had Seki not snaked his arms around Tai's waist from behind and buried his face in the brunette's neck. "Who's the bishounen, Yama? Is he taken?" Tai promptly turned bright red, and Yama wasn't sure if it was the indignity of being grabbed like that or anger at being referred to as a 'bishounen.'

"Leave him alone, Seki," Yama said. "He's here to watch practice, that's all. Trying to escape his girlfriend." Yama put emphasis on that last word for a reason–he hoped to God that Seki got the point and laid off.

Seki didn't.

"Girlfriend problems? Now that's a shame. Why don't you tell me all about it? I'm sure I can make you feel better..." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Tai, who seemed to be in very real danger of exploding from embarrassment.

"Seki. Off. Now." The new arrival glared at Seki with the one eye visible through his mop of dyed-green hair. Seki pouted at him in a ridiculously cute matter.

"Aww, but 'Ruki, look at him." He pinched Tai's cheek and Tai looked as if he dearly would have loved to bite him, had it not been for Seki's hold on his face. "He's adorable."

"Yes, that's what you said about the puppy you tried to bring home last month." Haruki crossed his arms over his chest and gave Seki another stern look. "Now let go of Yama's friend." Grumbling, Seki released Tai and wrapped his arms around Haruki's waist instead. Haruki sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. "Get off of me, Seki."

"Don't be mean, 'Ruki," Seki purred throatily, biting his friend's ear. "Oh, look. We made Yama-chan's friend blush."

Yama glanced at Tai and it was true. Tai was brilliantly red, and looked as if he wanted nothing more than to melt into the sidewalk, but he managed a small, nervous smile. "Tai, this is Arakida Haruki and Fukishima Sekien. Haruki plays electric guitar and Seki's our drummer. Guys, this is Yagami Taichi."

Seki stuck out one hand, the other still wrapped possessively around Haruki's trim waist, and Tai couldn't help but notice that his fingernails were painted lime-green with little black hearts. "Pleased to meet'cha, Taichi. Hey, do you speak English?"

This seemed an odd introduction, even by Seki's standards, and Yama didn't step in, curious to see where he was going with this. Tai seemed equally confused and shook Seki's hand, nodding. Seki seemed very pleased by this. "Did you know what your surname spells backwards in English?"

Yama could tell Tai was struggling to remember how his name was spelled in English and then trying to flip it backwards. Yama, unfortunately, was better at English than Tai was, an figured it out in a matter of seconds. "Seki!" he admonished warningly. "What did I tell you about behaving around my friends? Tai, he's an idiot, don't–" But Tai had turned red again and was pointedly studying his sneakers.

"I'm not gay," he said quietly. "Maybe I should go, Yamato-kun."

Some weird cross between guilt, pity and outrage exploded through Yama's chest and stomach. Maybe he'd been wrong, maybe he'd pushed too much, too far, oh damn it all..."No, Tai, don't. I'm sorry, I did try to warn you..." He rounded on Seki, who gave him a wide-eyed innocent look. "And you," he growled menacingly. "If you so much as tease him again, Sekien, your ass is mine. C'mon, Tai, I'll introduce you to Katsu." And he grabbed a very flustered Tai by the wrist and stalked past his two band members.

"Is that a promise?" Seki called brightly after them. Haruki hit him on the head.

ooooooOOOOOOOoooooo

Tai was glad he'd stayed. Seki still caught him off-guard a little, but Yama had told him that was just the way he was, perpetually flirty and horny, and to just ignore him or brush him off. Haruki seemed nice enough, if a bit quiet, and Katsu was friendly, when he wasn't staring off into the distance and humming new tunes to himself.

And after the first hour, he'd even been able to stop staring at them and actually listen to the music.

Now, it wasn't that the music was bad, just...well...they were hot. Like, really, really hot. No, maybe that wasn't right–Seki was cute, with his large, sparkling green eyes and bright-blue hair. He was smaller than the rest of them, way skinnier, and seemed to prefer tighter clothes then anyone else. Like now, for instance, he was wearing what seemed to be girl's jeans, ripped at the knee and over one thigh and right under the ass, but Tai wasn't staring, of course not. And his shirt could have been a second skin, a second, shiny black skin with the name of a band Tai didn't recognize blazing across the front. Coheed and Cambria? He'd asked about it and Seki had told him it was an American band that he was fond of. He was a good drummer, too, and even when he wasn't playing he was tapping a rhythm with a chunky boot on the ground.

Haruki's attention-grabbing appearance seemed at odds with his withdrawn personality, and Yama had assured him he only dressed that way for the stage. It was a wonder he could walk without tripping, baggy as his dark-gray pants were, but it didn't really seem to bother him. He was taller than Seki, taller than Yama, and Katsu only had about an inch on him. He wasn't as thin as either Seki or Yama, leaning more towards the 'lean and toned' category. His hair was dyed dark green and cut in an odd style, short in the back and long in the front, so that it was always flopping in front of one hazel eye. Tai supposed this was handy for someone as shy as Seki–he could hide behind it easily and no one was any the wiser. He was wearing a Malice Mizer T-shirt, and Tai had warmed to him instantly, as he'd always held a soft spot for that particular band. Especially Gackt. Yum.

And Katsu was the most 'normal' looking of all of them. His hair was still its natural colour and he wore jeans and a torn Hagane no Renkinjutsushi shirt. After a little wheedling from Seki, however, Katsu had removed the shirt and displayed the sunburst tattooed around his navel, the dragon on his lower back, and the barbed-wire designs around his biceps. It seemed that Katsu often went onstage shirtless, wearing only leather pants and boots, and the audience loved him. Tai had nodded and tried not to stare at the tantalizing play of ink over tanned skin and muscles.

He hadn't been thinking, and he'd asked Yama if he had any tattoos. Yama had flushed for the first time since Tai had met him, and Seki had laughed so hard he'd nearly given himself a conniption. Even quiet, reserved Haruki had snickered and Katsu had suddenly become very interested in restringing his guitar. Yama had muttered yes, but he was damned if Tai was going to get to see it on the first date. Tai had blushed as brightly as Yama and dropped the subject.

So now here he was, curled up on a squishy beanbag chair and watching Yama sing. He did have a pretty voice, Tai thought sleepily, all soft and seductive, like honey. Of course, considering the sort of songs the band performed, maybe poisoned honey was a better comparison?

"A whispered prayer from bloody lips,

Bruises burned on slender hips,

And I know it's no apology,

But I never know what you want from me

If I swear I love you, will my lie be enough?"

Tai shivered. Yama had this way of moving, a slight rocking of his hips against the mike stand and tossing his head between verses...Tai flushed when burning aqua eyes met his and Yama smirked.

Tai couldn't shake the feeling that Yama knew. Sure, maybe he was being a little paranoid, but there had to be an explanation for the constant teasing (did Yama think he hadn't noticed?) and those looks. It was ridiculous–one glance from Yama, and Tai had to avert his gaze, because the stupid butterflies in his stomach began fluttering round every time their eyes met.

He hadn't noticed the song had ended until Yama smiled at him and asked if he'd liked it. Tai blinked at him for a moment, trying to formulate an answer that didn't sound like a caveman, but before he had a chance, Seki had crawled into his lap, all but purring, smiling lazily, eyes half-lidded. "I think Tai-chan liked it," Seki rumbled deep in his chest, and then Tai yelped because the little prick's hand was up his shirt, and he was leaning in close enough that Tai could see the gold flecks in Seki's emerald eyes. "Yama-chan's damn sexy, isn't he?" Seki asked with a Cheshire Cat grin.

You know what, he'd had enough. Yama's teasing was one thing, he knew how far to push it, but Seki...Seki just didn't know when to stop! And who the hell did he think he was, climbing into Tai's lap like they'd known each other for more than an hour? How the hell did Seki seem to know exactly what Tai had spent half his life hiding? "I'm not gay!" he protested and shoved Seki off of him, onto the floor, and Seki gave a startled yelp when he sprawled flat on his ass on the concrete warehouse floor. "I'm not gay, and I'm fuckin' sick of you acting like I am! Like you know any thing about me!"

He'd like to think he exited with some dignity, but it probably wasn't true. He knew tears were brimming in his eyes and that was one of the reasons he had to get out of there now, because if Yama saw him crying, he'd know that Seki's words had hit close to home, and what if Yama was just joking around with him all those times? Tai hadn't known Yama that long, true, but he enjoyed being around him enough that he didn't want to jeopardize that over something as stupid as this

But Yama probably thought he was a spoiled, bratty little princess after that performance, and maybe he was right. Maybe Tai was being a little too uptight? He groaned and slid down the wall to collapse on the dirty pavement, knees pulled to his chest and face buried in his hands. Damn it. Damn it all. He should go back in there and apologize.

But he was crying now, really crying, real tears and everything. His shoulder shook and he bit his lip to keep the sobs back, to keep quiet, because what if they could hear him in there? This wasn't how it was supposed to be. He had a girlfriend, one that cared about him enough to not force the issue of sex, and he wasn't supposed to be like this, curled up in some back alley, crying his heart out over a boy he barely knew. Was he even crying over Yama? He wasn't sure, but even thinking the blonde's name made his chest ache.

God, he was so beautiful. He wondered what would happen if he told him that...

"Tai? Hey, Tai, are you back here?"

Fuck.

"Over here, Yamato-kun." He hoped his voice sounded steadier than it really was. He wiped his eyes hastily with the heel of his hands and prayed Yama didn't notice.

"Were you crying?"

So much for that.

"Ah, damn." Yama crouched down in front of him and Tai glanced up miserably for a second before he flicked his gaze back to his sneakers. "I'm so sorry. God, he's such an idiot sometimes. Seriously, you should've just punched him. We wouldn't have minded. Are you okay?" He reached out as if to touch Tai's face and Tai jerked away.

"I'm fine." He couldn't make himself meet those eyes, he couldn't lie when Yama looked at him like that! "I just don't like him assuming I'm gay."

"I understand. Seki can be a bit pigheaded sometimes. He's not a bad guy, though. Just a little dense."

"I'm not gay," Tai whispered and it was like a mantra, some magical incantation that would come true if he said it enough. "I'm not."

The last thing Yama wanted to do was scare Tai, but he couldn't help but wonder if the boy really was that far in denial that he actually believed that. "You know," he began cautiously, fully aware that Tai might kill him for the insinuation, "it would really be okay if you were. I mean, there's nothing wrong with it. I don't care, really. I wouldn't tell any–"

"Stop, Yama."

Yama wondered if he should point out the fact that Tai had actually used his nickname, but figured there would be a more appropriate time later. "I just...I mean, if it's your parents or whatever telling you it's wrong, they're just–"

"I said stop, Yama." Tai was watching him now with the oddest meld of pain and confusion in his warm, sad brown eyes and, to borrow a cliche, Yama's heart melted. Poor thing, so lost and scared! He wondered why Tai was so adamant about denying this. Maybe he'd been wrong after all? If so, he was no better than Seki, pushing an issue that didn't need to be brought up.

"I'm sorry," Yama began, but before he could explain why he was sorry, Tai was leaning across the gap between then, grabbing Yama's shoulders in an iron grip and pressing their lips together desperately, and Yama could feel him shaking, as if Tai thought Yama would push him away.

Yama was surprised, to say the least. Something in this conversation hadn't fit–Tai had insisted he was straight, and then proceeded to kiss him. He wondered how he was supposed to react, if he should just sit there and let Tai carry on, or if he was expected to reciprocate. And then Tai's tongue flicked at his lower lip, tentative and shy and it was just so damn sweet that Yama had to pull him closer and show him how it was done properly.

His first kiss with a boy, Tai thought with surprising calm, and it wasn't bad at all. Different from Sora's, though, definitely. Yama was more aggressive, for one, because he'd taken all of ten seconds to plunge his tongue into Tai's mouth and wrap his arms around the brunette's waist. And Yama's mouth wasn't anything like hers, not as soft and yielding, and he even tasted different, like pocky and toothpaste and something Tai couldn't quite place, but liked well enough anyways. Those hands weren't bad either, resting just on the small of his back, warm and insistent, pulling them together until Tai somehow was in Yama's lap, legs wrapped around his waist. Not bad at all. Tai moaned and Yama seemed to like that, judging by the way Yama's hips rolled against his own and the way the hands on his back slipped just that much lower.

Tai didn't hear the door open, didn't hear Seki's heavy boots on the pavement. He did, however, hear Seki gasp and then give something that sounded suspiciously like a giggle. "Well damn," he said and Tai pulled away from Yama, flushed crimson and horribly aware that he was still in Yama's lap of all places. "For a straight guy, you sure seemed pretty into that. Nice job, Yama-chan!" He gave Yama a disturbingly cheerful thumbs-up, but Yama was watching Tai, watching horror spread over the tanned face as he realized where he was, what he'd been doing.

"Oh God, Yama, I–I'm so sorry." He pushed himself up, staggering to his feet and back a few steps, hands pressed over his mouth as if he were either about to scream or be sick. "I shouldn't have–I need to go," he said suddenly. He glanced at Seki, back at Yama, then turned and took off, paying no heed to where he was going. He just knew he needed to be somewhere else, very, very fast.

ooooooOOOOOooooooo

Twenty minutes later, Tai still had no idea where he was going, and it looked suspiciously like rain. It figured, really, this wasn't his day–fuck it, it wasn't his damn week–and hey, if the heavens wanted to open up on him, who cared?

He glanced up at the buildings around him, hoping to God he wasn't as lost as he thought he was, and swore when he realized where he was. Stupid, stupid fucking subconscious, taking him directly to the last place on earth he should have been right now, what with all that had happened.

He was standing in the middle of Daisuke's neighbourhood.

It made sense, he supposed, he'd always run to Dai when he'd had a problem before, but now...he'd tried to apologize and Dai hadn't wanted anything to do with him...was it really fair to be unloading all of this on someone that didn't even want to be his friend?

Daisuke's a better person than you are, he reminded himself. He knew Dai would hear him out, at least, which was more than he could say for most people.

And God, did he need someone to talk to right now.

He knew the way to Dai's house by heart, even though it had been nearly six months since he'd been there. Nothing had changed, or at least not anything big. Small stuff, like the colour of the leaves and the graffiti on the street signs, but the surroundings were deceptively familiar, and Tai could almost convince himself that nothing had happened between him, that Dai would be waiting for him with that same stupid grin.

He couldn't pretend he wasn't nervous, climbing those steps for the first time since it had happened, but it was somewhat reassuring that his mother's car wasn't in the driveway, which meant she wasn't going to be home. Tai wouldn't have to pretend everything was okay for her benefit, because he doubted Dai had told her what happened.

He rang the doorbell with trembling fingers and waited, twisting the edge of his T-shirt in his hands. What if Dai saw who it was and refused to answer? What if he just laughed and told Tai he deserved it? No, Dai wasn't that type of person. He wasn't.

The door opened and Tai glanced up hopefully. But it wasn't Dai, wasn't Dai at all, it was the little black-haired boy Dai had been kissing in the locker room that day, and in this light Tai could see that his hair was more of a deep blue. He didn't look particularly pleased to see Tai–actually, he seemed to be entirely ready to leap across the threshold and strangle Tai.

"E-excuse me," Tai said. "Is Daisuke-kun here?"

"He's taking a shower," the black-haired boy said none too politely. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Ichijouji Ken. Dai's lover." It was perfectly clear that Ken knew exactly who Tai was; he said that last bit defensively, as if he expected Tai to make some rude comment about the nature of their relationship.

"Yagami Taichi." Tai held out a hand. Ken didn't shake it.

"Why are you here, Yagami?" Tai winced–his treatment of Ken's lover hadn't gone unnoticed, and hadn't been forgiven, obviously. He didn't even use an honorific, and Tai was older than him.

"I need to speak to Daisuke-kun."

"I think you've said enough to him, don't you?" Ken crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorjamb, blocking Tai's way. "He's told me all about you, Yagami. I heard what you did to him."

"I didn't mean to–I've apologized to him already! He told me he forgave me!"

"You think an apology can make up for what you did? He loved being on that team, Yagami, almost as much as he loved being around you. He used to talk about you all the time. It was always 'Taichi-sempai' this, and 'Taichi-sempai' that. And then after you said all those horrible things to him? He cried, Yagami. Because of you. And I'm going to hazard a guess that you're not here to apologize again, because it wouldn't have taken you six months to do it. I can't believe you think you deserve his help after what you did."

Tai gaped. Ken was right, horribly, awfully right, he didn't deserve Dai's help, not after everything he'd done, but...he didn't know where else to run, he was so confused... "I'm sorry," he choked out. "I never...I didn't want to hurt him..."

"But you did. And the worst part is, he can't even get angry with you. If it was me, I'd have outted you to the entire school by now. Lucky you screwed him over instead, isn't it?"

"I–"

"I think it's time for you to leave, Taichi-sempai." And Ken slammed the door in his face, leaving Tai alone on the front steps, feeling worse than he ever had in his entire life. So he did exactly what he'd done before–he ran.

And, as before, he didn't know where he was going, didn't want to think about where he was going. He just ran, because when his lungs were screaming for oxygen and his body burned from pushing it past its limits, he didn't have to replay in his mind the conversation he'd had with Ken, the way Yama smiled at him, the way Yama had tasted–

ooooOOOOOOoooooo

It was pouring now, and he jumped when lightning lanced through the sky followed by a loud clap of thunder. He was soaking wet and shivering, and worst of all, lost. He had no idea where he was, no idea at all. The buildings around him weren't familiar, he didn't recognize the name of the street he was on, and it was getting dark.

Not his day, not his day, not his fucking day. Everything had gone as wrong as it possibly could. And now he was wet, unhappy, and hopelessly lost, with no money to pay a cab and a dead cell phone. Maybe he could find a pay phone somewhere once this rain let up, or a nice store owner that would let him use the phone...he ducked into a bus stop, grateful for the meager shelter, and shook his head like a dog, trying to dry his hair off.

This earned him a squeal from the girl sharing the bus stop, and before he could apologize she'd opened her massive pink umbrella in an attempt to shield herself from the water he'd sprayed everywhere. "Sorry," Tai mumbled, slumping onto the cold metal seat.

After a few seconds, seemingly satisfied that he'd no intent of continuing to pelt her with rainwater, she closed the umbrella. Everything about her was pink–pink makeup, pink suede skirt, sparkly pink halter top, chunky pink heels, pink earrings and necklace, and, strangest of all, pink hair. She was pretty, even he could tell that–not in a Sora sort of way, more like a model straight off the pages of those magazines Kari kept getting in the mail. She'd somehow managed to weave fake jewels shaped like tiny stars into her hair and they glimmered every time she moved her head. "Well, I think you at least owe me a better apology than that!" she said in perfect English. "This rain's bad enough for my hair, I don't need someone bringing it into the bus stop with them! And look!" She pointed with apparent horror at a few wet spots on her skirt. "This is my favourite skirt!"

"It's just water," Tai growled in Japanese. Great. Just what he needed. Some gaijin girl whining at him.

She gave an exasperated sort of groan and began scolding him in her slightly accented Japanese. "Water is suede's worst enemy! I can't believe you didn't know that! Are gay Japanese boys more clueless than the American ones?"

He stared at her, giving her his full attention for the first time since he'd sat down. "What did you say?"

She blinked, startled. "Oh, I'm sorry! You're straight? You're–I just thought–oh, I'm so stupid!"

"How did you–?" Was it that obvious? Was that why Matt teased him so much, why Seki picked on him? Was there something about the way he acted?

"You are gay then?"

He nodded dumbly.

"Oh, thank God." She pressed her hand to her chest with a dramatic sigh. "I didn't know what I was going to do if I'd just embarrassed myself in front of potential boyfriend material! My name's Mimi, what's yours?" She stuck the aforementioned hand out with a bright smile.

"Taichi," he said, still dazed, shaking her hand. She was the most...vibrant person he'd ever met, a far cry from the usually-reserved Japanese people he was used to dealing with. If all Americans were like this, how did anything over there ever get done? "How did you know I was...?"

"Honey, I grew up in San Francisco. My gay-dar's never wrong."

"Gay what?" He wondered if that was some American word he'd never heard of–his English wasn't perfect, after all.

"Just means I can separate that fairies from the frat boys, that's all. You're not obvious about it or anything. So, what happened to you?"

"Hunh?" She was worse than Seki! He felt like a complete idiot, but he couldn't follow the train of conversation. She was all over the place, punctuating each word with exaggerated (and often violent) hand movements. And she seemed to know more about him than he did!

"Oh, come on, a cute little thing like you wouldn't be wandering the streets in the middle of a rainstorm looking like a lost puppy if everything was alright! You can tell me. Boy problems?"

Tai knew he was blushing, he could feel all the blood rushing to heat his cheeks and he ducked away from her gaze a bit. "I don't even know you," he said, more harshly than he'd intended.

"Doesn't that make it all easier? I don't expect anything from you, so you can't disappoint me! I can't judge you, because I've never seen you before in my life. See? Problem solved."

So she wasn't all looks. He gave her a sideways glance; he'd never expected her to be this perceptive. But, he supposed, that was fair, considering that she was drowning in pink and looked every inch the cut-and-dry American airhead. "Why help someone you don't know?"

"I figure you wouldn't be out here if you had anyone else. Am I right?"

Damn her, she was. And it kind of hurt to hear that, but it was true–he'd screwed Dai over, no chances there, he'd just fucking made out with Yama in a dirty alleyway, how whore-ish could he get, Kari would never understand, and no one else knew..."Yeah," he choked, hating the way his voice sounded, so small and pitiful. "I don't–don't have anyone. To talk to."

"What happened?" she probed gently and Tai, much to his chagrin, felt traitorous tears welling up in his eyes again. And here he thought he'd cried himself dry. Shit.

"I fucked up," was all he managed before he had to bury his face in his hands. "I fucked up bad. I–I have a girlfriend, I can't just–and he knows, I swear he knows, but he didn't even say anything, just–he just sat there! What's that supposed to mean?" A comforting arm wound around his shoulder and he curled into it, shaking with barely-suppressed sobs.

"Why don't we start from the beginning. You have a girlfriend? I thought you were–oh, wait, you haven't told anyone yet, have you? Ooh, poor thing..."

"I told my sister," Tai muttered numbly. "And–and I told my best friend."

"What did he say?"

"He didn't care. He's–he's gay too. And my soccer team walked in on him and his boyfriend...I said horrible things to him. I didn't mean it, but he–I–he was so damn nice about it, and I made him cry. I just–I didn't want anyone finding out about me, I couldn't think–but his...his lover said I screwed him up, and I tried so hard to apologize, but he'd just–just look at me, and he looked so damn sad, but he said he couldn't just forget what I'd done." Tai burrowed deeper into Mimi's hold. "I don't deserve to be forgiven, I just wanted him to get mad at me, but he's too nice...he was always too nice to me, and I don't know what to do..."

"Just give him time," Mimi soothed. "He'll come around, Taichi-san."

"Just Tai, please, none of that '-san' shit."

"Does your girlfriend know anything?"

"I–I think she suspects...we've been friends forever, I don't want to lose her, but it's not fair to keep leading her on when I know it's never going to work. I just...I've known her since we were practically in diapers, and I know she'll walk out on me if I say anything. This kid transferred into our class and he was playing around, y'know, just joking, but she thought he was hitting on me and now she'll barely talk to me, 'cause I'm still friends with him."

"What's he like?"

Tai smiled, a sad, hopeless, wry smile, and looked up into her kind amber eyes. "Beautiful," he whispered, as if saying it too loud would sully the word, cheapen it somehow. "He's beautiful."

ooooooooOOOOOooooooooo

"Geez, Yama-chan, I don't know what you're so pissed about–"

"You!" Yama exploded, whirling on Seki, a challenge in his ice-blue eyes. "You! Climbing all over him like you're some sort of stripper when you know damn well he's still in denial! Dammit, Seki, have some respect!"

"Oh, and I suppose snogging him in the middle of an alleyway is respectful?" Seki shot back. They were circling each other now, like tigers about to lunge, Seki empty-handed, Yama wielding the mike stand. Haruki was tuning his guitar and paying no attention to his band mates. Katsu was scanning a page of lyrics Yama had written and humming to himself, occasionally plucking a chord on his bass or hitting a key on the battered old Yamaha keyboard he'd lugged up here for reasons unbeknownst to the rest of the Wolves, since no keyboards were featured in any of their songs.

"He kissed me, not the other way around! And who the hell are you to lecture me about dating! You'd fuck anything that moves!"

"So would you! 'S why you slept with me, isn't it? Poor little Yama, so mentally fucked that he screws any guy in sight to make himself feel better!"

Yama growled and threw the mike stand at Seki, who barely dodged it. "Screw you!"

"You already have, Yama-chan!"

"Is that what this is about? You and me? Because it didn't work out?" Yama's fists dropped and the fire faded from his eyes. He looked tired, Seki noted, and genuinely concerned. He hadn't been sleeping well lately, and Seki wondered if he'd been eating, he looked dead on his feet–well fuck him, Seki growled to himself. Fuck him and his naive little boy toy, what the hell did he care if he was sleeping enough? "Seki–"

"No! Fuck you, no, don't you dare be nice about this!" Seki clenched his fists so hard that he tore into his palms, and he didn't even feel it, just glanced down and saw blood–his blood–dripping onto the dirty warehouse floor. Haruki was watching him now, the one unreadable hazel eye fixed on him, intent, and Seki squirmed under the gaze. 'Ruki knew they'd slept together, he'd walked in on them the morning after, and he'd seemed plenty pissed about it at the time. Of course, pissed for 'Ruki didn't mean much–he just went all quiet and martyr-ish, but still... "Fuck off, Yama."

"Seki–I didn't know...I mean, I was drunk and I'm pretty sure I was stoned...you never said..."

"What, that I cared about you?" Seki laughed bitterly. "Would it have mattered? Not like Prince Yama would ever have time for a slut like me–"

Yama was across the room in a flash and Seki heard the slap before he felt it. Then the pain kicked in, prickled across his cheek and he touched it blankly, wondering what hell had frozen over. Yama, calm, cold Yama, had just hit him. "You know that's not what it was, Seki."

"I do? Of course, because you were so reassuring–"

"Seki–"

"I mean, if it bothered you that I'm such a whore, it would've been bloody considerate of you to tell me–"

"Don't call yourself that, Seki. You're not a whore." Yama grabbed Seki's arm and pried his hand open. "And stop doing this. It's not good for you." Suddenly, Seki couldn't breathe because Yama had hugged him hard around the chest, crushed him in an embrace and Seki's face was pressed into Yama's collarbone. "God, Seki, why didn't you say anything?"

Haruki stood up so fast that his chair fell over and Seki jumped. He could barely see his friend out of the corner of his eye, but 'Ruki had thrown his head forward, hiding behind that ragged curtain of green hair and was motioning for Katsu to follow him. Katsu did, and within thirty seconds, Yama and Seki were alone.

"Didn't want to screw things up. Not like it matters anymore. You're too good a friend to lose 'cause of that." Oh, damn it all, Seki was crying now. Stupid hormones. He sniffled and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Yama guided him gently to the floor and finally let him go.

"You deserve better," Yama said. "I'm sorry. I wouldn't have slept with you if I'd known–"

"Yeah, yeah," Seki laughed, despite the tears. God, how long had he kept that bottled up? Not that he really felt for Yama anymore, but it had hurt so bad at the time to be used by the guy he thought he loved...and somehow, getting that out into the open was like a weight off his back. And Yama was smiling at him, so he wasn't mad– "You just couldn't resist my cute little ass."

"You know that's not true." Yama grinned and shoved his friend.

"Yeah," Seki said. "And I know you'd have tried to work it out if I'd told you. But I've got someone else now, y'know? No offense, you're still wet dream material, but, uh–the new guy kinda suits me better."

Yama smiled, that damn know-it-all smile that somehow convinced everyone that he really did know it all, and made a vague gesture towards the door. "Can I hazard a guess and say it's tall, dark and one-eyed?"

Seki punched Yama's shoulder playfully. "He's got two eyes! He just hides, is all."

"Suuuure," Yama said, rolling his eyes heavenward. "Whatever you say."