Disclaimer: Gravitation and its characters are the property of Make Murakami. I make no profit from this other than pleasure.

A/N: For those wondering where the real Vindaloo went, here's something more in the style you're accustomed to. :D

This is an AU. I've done my best to extrapolate the original characters into their new roles, but some OOC-ness is to be expected. Sakano, in particular might surprise. Please note: "Vanity label" as used here is probably a misnomer. I've used it as it's used in the publishing industry, which means the creator pays all the bills and the company just does the work. In the music industry, it historically has been a label within a label run by a Big Name Recording Artist and funded by the parent company. I didn't realize this when I wrote the story, so...for the purpose of this story, we're redefining the term.

Summary: What if Shu weren't quite so innocent when he and Yuki first met? Bad Luck is an up and coming band on NG's vanity label and Shu is doing anything, and everything, to pay the bills. Just when the album is pressed and the goal is in sight, a final trick gone sour changes his life forever.

Warnings: Non-consensual sex, language, yaoi relationships...the usual in an adult Gravi fanfic.

My thanks to Headcase and Moon71 for their early perusal and observations and encouragement, and my apologies for how long it's taken me to actually post this after their super quick responses. Betas rock!

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Casting Couch
Chapter One: Collateral
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"Thank you, Tokyo!" Shindou Shuuichi shouted the farewell into his mic and ran off the stage, every neuron tingling with the thrill of a successful concert, every muscle turning to water as the last drop of adrenaline evaporated from his system. He collapsed into the first vacant chair that crossed his path and accepted, with blind thanks, the water bottle someone thrust into his numb fingers.

"Great job, Shu!" Nakano Hiroshi, Bad Luck's lead guitarist and Shuuichi's best friend since childhood, gave him a friendly thunk on his head as he passed, making his customary dash to the bathroom.

Something about ending a concert made Hiro have to pee.

Shuuichi sipped, when he wanted desperately to gulp. Hiro came off having to pee, he had to drink about a gallon of water before he could.

Go figure.

They both sweated like pigs onstage, both worked their tails off, yet they had 'diametrically opposed' (according to their manager, Sakano) 'biological reactions.'

Weird, Shuuichi called it...and gulped water defiantly.

"Slowly, please, Shindou-san." Sakano's voice arrived first, and when Shuuichi lowered his water bottle, feeling ever-so-guilty, their spit-n-polish manager was standing in front of him. "Excellent, as always, Shindou-san, but we must protect that throat."

Shuuichi finished the bottle and tossed it into the recycle bin, before grinning up at his manager, little more than a silhouette against the still-strobing stage lights. "It felt good out there tonight, Sakano-san. Real good."

"You looked... fantastic."

Kami-sama, he knew that tone, even if the voice was that of a stranger. He didn't have to look beyond Sakano to know his manager had not arrived alone. Shuuichi's heart sank. He'd thought, he'd truly thought, all that was behind him. Their first single had done respectably. The album was cut and ready to ship. Surely, surely he didn't have to grovel anymore.

"Are you hungry, Shu-kun?" the stranger asked.

"No," he answered flatly...to his knees.

"Nonsense," Sakano said, with a nervous-sounding laugh. Kami-sama, he played the part well: Sakano was never, ever nervous. But he used that façade to manipulate with an ease even Seguchi Touma praised. "Shindou-san is always starving after a performance."

In private, of course. Seguchi Touma would never acknowledge such a talent where any of the manipulatees might hear. Manipulatees like this large man in a designer suit. Or Hiro. Even Seguchi's own young cousin, Fujisaki Suguru, whom Sakano had manipulated into playing keyboards for Bad Luck, leaving Shuuichi free to 'focus on singing.'

At the front of the stage. Dressed in outfits that would make a whore blush. Manipulated to that exposed position by Sakano's nervous pleas.

Shuuichi wondered, sometimes, just when he'd ceased to be a member of that set, the pawns the elite chess players manipulated, and began to see the game for what it truly was. He supposed it was the first time he'd naïvely agreed to have dinner with one of Sakano's 'friends.'

It was, so Sakano had explained afterward, when Shuuichi had gone to his manager in tears, necessary. NG had agreed to carry Bad Luck, but on the secondary, vanity label. Vanity. That meant Bad Luck had to pay for everything, from studio time to distribution to hiring venues like this club in which to perform. Shuuichi had no investment capital, and he'd never, ever ask Hiro to risk his college fund. Sakano's 'friends' had 'investment capital,' but they'd needed 'collateral.'

Collateral. One night stands with the band's lead singer. A small price to pay, so Sakano had insisted, for success.

Of course, Sakano wasn't the one having to endure night after night of strange hands pawing at him. Sakano wasn't the one who had had to learn to put the reality of his sex life in one part of his soul and the dream of love in another. Sakano wasn't the one who had to find the lyrics of love within a muse battered by that encroaching reality of nameless, emotionless rutting.

But then, Sakano had had no idea just how naïve Shuuichi had been. Sakano still believed Shuuichi had been... well... as experienced as every nineteen-year-old boy claimed to be. Just like his 'friends,' Sakano had bought into Bad Luck's lead singer's androgynously sexual stage image. Bought into and cheerfully taken advantage of, when opportunity knocked.

And by the time Shuuichi had had to face the reality of that created image, an image he'd slipped on like a second skin from the time he was ten, an image he and Hiro played to the hilt... like a damned game... by that time, it had seemed pretty lame to proclaim innocence. Male, female... it didn't matter. If they wanted a piece of Shindou, they got it—for a price. And that price got Bad Luck in clubs like this and on a soon-to-be-available-at-a-store-near-you CD.

The fat, middle-aged man was still babbling what he probably thought were romantically enticing compliments. Shuuichi stifled the objections that filled him, made all the proper noises, and escaped to his tiny dressing room to change for an intimate dinner with Sakano's 'friend.'

A single rap at his door was all the warning he got, but he'd learned early on to shed his costume for street clothes in record time, so he didn't particularly care when Sakano slipped through the door.

"I brought you the ducats for the next concert."

Ducats. Free passes. For all the friends he didn't have. Ah, well, Maiko, his sister, would be home next week for the summer. She'd want to come. Maybe even have some friends she'd like to haul along for a college girls' night on the town. He shoved the tickets into his pocket and twisted back around to face the mirror.

He'd already begun to remove his stage make-up when his manager's face appeared over his shoulder, studying his half-clean face in the mirror.

"My friend really likes exotic."

Which meant finish cleaning the stage makeup, but replace eyeliner and in general, make himself up like the whore he'd become.

Shuuichi dipped his head, resigned, and applied a second pre-moistened sheet to his face.

A hand on his shoulder made him jump, and without warning, Shuuichi found himself sobbing uncontrollably into his crossed arms, the makeup scattered across the table and onto the floor.

"This is the last, Shu-kun," his manager's voice was uncharacteristically gentle. "The album is good. Very good. Better, if we'd managed to get the president's input, but I simply couldn't get him to so much as listen to your demo. He's convinced Bad Luck is simply one more Nittle Grasper rip-off, and you're nothing but a Ryuichi wannabe."

"But that's the problem." Shuuichi gulped, forced his pointless tears into oblivion, where they belonged. "That's exactly what I am." He grabbed another cleaner-sheet and scrubbed ruthlessly at his face. Sakano hissed objection and disappeared out the door, returning almost immediately with a washcloth dampened in the ice-melt from the cooler.

Shuuichi flashed him an apologetic glance and pressed the chilled cloth to his abused skin. He knew better. He knew his face, (for all he still looked like the monkey Hiro had always called him), like his body and his voice, was an asset to the band. His job was to take care of all of them. His future, but more importantly, Hiro's, depended on it. Hiro had given up everything to give Bad Luck a chance. Suguru, with his talent and his connections, would never have to worry about employment, but Shuuichi couldn't let his best friend down. Ever.

So, he took care of his monkey-face. Kept his body in shape. Didn't smoke, rarely drank alcohol, kept his caffeine intake strictly moderate, and in general thought people who did drugs to be the real idiots in life.

His one indulgence was his Pocky, and damned if he'd give that up. Not even for Hiro.

And damned if he didn't insist those 'friends' of Sakano's use condoms, giving and receiving, no matter how much they were willing to 'invest.' Another lesson he'd learned fast, after that first time and a terrified visit to a local clinic. Funny how words like STDs, babies, and dead took on a whole new meaning after that one night.

"Shuuichi..." Sakano pulled a chair up beside him and sat down, swiveling the broken-down office chair Shuuichi was sitting on to face him.

Kami-sama, Shuuichi thought, he was in for one of those talks, the discussions designed to reconcile him to Sakano's 'friends.' He stared down at the washcloth, wondering vaguely which of those stains were his, and which belonged to other performers, other no-names who'd rented this place to give a concert, hoping to be discovered. Hoping to become something other than a no-name.

"Shu-kun, you're wrong. You're nobody's wannabe, do you hear me?" Sakano's fingers encircled his wrists, and Sakano's voice demanded he meet his manager's dark brown eyes. "I know Sakuma Ryuichi is your idol, but you're not him. You're special. You've got a... purity Ryu can only dream about. I don't know how you do it. I wish with all my heart we'd been able to get Seguchi-san's input to display that quality to it's best advantage, but he's been unbelievably stubborn. I...overplayed my hand with other, lesser bands in the past. He won't listen to me any more."

Shuiichi didn't know what to say. Purity was the last word he'd ever again apply to himself.

"It's my fault," Sakano continued, "I haven't the contacts or the vision to help you the way you deserve. It sickens me to put you through this nonsense with these child molesters and I can only thank all the gods that have helped you resist their destructive influence. Fortunately, you're not a child, for all you seem, despite everything you do, to have the innocence of one. I wish... but I don't know what else to do. There are so many bands now, so many outlets for the legitimate investors. These men and women... they have money, but that's all they have. You... give them a legitimate tax deduction as well as a night to remember. I don't know—and don't want to know—what you do for and to them—"

"Nothing. Nothing!" Shuuichi cried out, interrupting this crazed flow of unwanted information. He didn't do anything. He was a funny-looking, awkward idiot; Hiro assured him of that daily. He was...he was nothing but a doll they played with. He couldn't understand, had never understood why these people were interested in him. The only thing, the only thing he had to offer was a night with the lead singer of what one day might, and that was a very large might, be a famous rock band.

"I told you, Shu, I don't care. As long as you don't get hurt. I've had to count on you to be honest with me on that score."

That much was true. He'd flat out left, once, when it got too rough—run away, actually, bleeding and terrified—and Sakano had never blamed him, even though they'd lost a lot of money.

Neither had the behavior been repeated.

Sakano tried. Sakano had tried, very hard. And he hadn't been hurt. Not really. He was no girl, to whine about love and virginity. It was just...sex. Sex didn't mean anything to guys. Right?

He pressed his lips on the tears that threatened again.


"Whatever they get from you," his manager persisted, "it's better than any drug. The word got around, and that's how we got the money we needed."

"If we've got what we need, then why—"

"This man... he's not money, Shu-kun, he's distribution. He heard about you from one of the investors and he's..." Sakano frowned. Hard. "He's waffling. He's the buyer for a huge chain of stores. He decides what those stores carry and what they play in house. You've got all the talent in the world, but you and I both know that's nothing without distribution and exposure. Once people hear you, Shu-kun, they'll buy. I promise you. Impress this man, make him happy, and you've got your million copies sold. Guaranteed. Sold, Shu, not just distributed."

A million copies. The dream of his youth. His and Hiro's.

Funny how unimportant that seemed at the moment. At the moment, all he could think of was those thick lips leaving a trail of slime across his neck, the fat hands stroking, invading... the large body pressing...

"Please, Shu. Once more. Just once."

He bit his lips and closed his eyes.

And nodded, before his courage left him.


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Please R&R.