Author's Note: What is this? An update? Well, kiss me sharries, it is. Damn, I have nothing to say at this point to redeem myself, only that if it weren't for dear Gibson77 I probably would have continued to neglect this poor baby. And that just wouldn't fly with my writer within. But yeah, for all the nonbelievers, this is indeed an update. Feel free to throw tomatoes at me after this, since I really do deserve a rotten vegetable or two.

Disclaimer: I only own the plot of this story and the unrecognizable characters. I write to entertain.

Warnings: Rated for excessive swearing and scenes involving violence and sexual stuffs.

Gigs from Hell

Chapter 22 – Taco Time

"I think that taco I ate is starting to come back up."

"I told you it isn't a good idea to eat greasy food in the morning!"

"It's Monday, the beginning of the week and a fresh start, and you're already eating fast food?" asks Kim, turning up her nose in disgust.

"Rylie, cover me," Ritsu croaks before leaping up and making a beeline for the ladies room. I dash after her, knowing that someone has to hold her hair back from her face while she keels over the toilet. That someone has always been me.

What transpires for the next ten minutes is nothing short of a retching hell. I can only pat my drummer's back and wonder what other bands do to keep themselves healthy. This tour has been one gruelling affair after another and the subject of malnutrition had been pushed to the backburner on one too many occasions.

"We're going to have to start eating healthier," Chi says, appearing in the doorway of the bathroom where I'm holding Ritsu's hair out of the way of projectile vomit. "That or restrain Ritsu from each and every fast food place around here. She has an unhealthy penchant for beef. Burgers, tacos…look where it's getting her."

Kim's face appears over Chi's shoulder. "We've got about four hours until we have to be at the venue for sound check. Why don't we go to the grocery store and see what we can find? Anything eaten from there should sit better in our systems than this." She gestures to Ritsu's hunched and shaking form. In response, Ritsu groans and waves us off.

"Go on without me," she whispers into the toilet bowl. "I'll only slow you down."

"Oh come on Ritsu, you're making this sound like a really bad adventure drama," I inform her. She grunts and dry heaves until there's no more energy left in her. Poor thing.

"'Sides, I think I have a fever," she mutters. I snake a hand around to touch her forehead and sure enough she's definitely more hot-headed than usual.

I whip my head towards the doorway and give Chi and Kim a mortified look. Then, so as not to alarm Ritsu I mouth, 'She's fucking sick! Sick!'

Chi clamps a hand to her mouth and Kim sighs heavily. We all know the truth of the matter; Ritsu sick means that she won't be able to count to four properly. Her drumming will be absolute crap tonight.

"Okay, you know what Rylie, change of plans. Chi and I will head over to the grocery store and pick up some stuff. You can stay here with Ritsu and make sure she recovers." Kim flexes her fingers as if she's getting ready to fight a battle with only her fists. I've only seen her do this when she's either scared or backed into a corner by some pervert. The former being directly related to the latter, naturally.

I leave Ritsu sprawled out on the hotel room's bathroom floor after checking her pulse and join the rest of my band who've relocated to the hallway outside out room. Since Ritsu is out of earshot, I allow myself to panic.

"What if she gets worse and can't play at all!"

"Rylie, calm down. Just keep her in bed and eventually whatever is wrong with her will go out of her system, trust me. That's what fevers indicate, you dunce."

Chi's wavering voice was not reassuring.

"We'll bring back extra-healthy food packed with lots of vitamins and minerals," Kim says, her voice firm and much calmer than Chi's. "Just try to keep her in bed. Remember, she's a roamer when she's sick."

I gulp thickly as I recalled the one and only time I'd seen Ritsu actually get feverish. She had been convinced that a walk outside would do her good and instead nearly got hit by an assortment of vehicles. Her ability to judge right from wrong and safe from unsafe had been completely distorted.

"Bring back some rope too," I tell the girls quietly. "Just in case things get…nasty."

Chi frowns, giving me a reprimanding look. "We're not going to tie her down to the bed! She could cause serious property damage!"

And with that, my girls bid me adieu.

I go back inside the hotel room and open a window to let some fresh air in. As I do this, Ritsu stumbles out of the bathroom and crashes her forehead into the adjacent wall with a loud thump. I watch as she hugs the wall for a moment, getting her bearings, then grimace as she tries to make for the hotel door.

I move quickly to block the door off before she can hobble over and grab the handle to freedom. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Outside. Fresh air," she moans, slinking against the wall she's using for support. "I need to walk!"

"I opened a window in here already," I say, gesticulating in the general direction of the breeze blowing through the glass panes.

"I need to walk," she insists firmly.

"No, you need to rest." I must be just as firm with her.

My rebuttal goes ignored. She tries to push past me to get at the door but her attempts are feeble, resulting in her own exhaustion. She hasn't the strength and in the end I find myself forcibly dragging her away from the object of her desires. I forcibly hoist her small body up off the ground. Her upper half is slung over my shoulder and she is, as usual, kicking and screaming the whole way back to bed. A fucking disobedient child to the very end.

Of course, Kim and Chi were smart enough to jump ship when they could. Being the band leader did not come with that all-inclusive privilege.

"I'm fine," Ritsu kept repeating. "Fine. I even took medicine."

I stiffen before throwing her onto the bed. She glares at me innocently.

"What kind of medicine?" I ask dangerously. I knew for a fact that I'd used the last of the Advil tablets last week for a headache. I don't know what kind of drugs Chi has stashed away in her purse, but I do know that Kim is anti-everything-that-could-be-labelled-as-a-drug. Therefore, I'm rightfully worried. "Did Chi give you something?"

Ritsu shrugs nonchalantly. "I found some pills in the cabinet. I think someone left them behind."

I choke on my spit as I run to the bathroom and practically tear the hinges off of the little cabinet above the bathroom sink. Sure enough, beside a little first aide kit, is three small cylindrical bottles. I grab them all and bring them back to the bed for further examination.

Ritsu appears disinterested when I ask her what she's taken. She points at the biggest bottle and I read the label aloud.

"Vitamin C tablets," I read, picking up the bottle. The big bottle that is almost too wide for my little hand to grasp comfortably feels empty. "How many of these did you take?"

"All of them."

I gag; the label said it had been a bottle containing exactly three hundred tablets. Unable to contain myself I screech: "How many is all of them!"

She counts on her fingers offhandedly. "I dunno…five, ten. They taste like candy when you chew them. Orange candy." She licks her lips and continues rambling. "I like orange candy. And oranges. Especially those ones that come around Christmas time. Mm, snow. Orange snow. Orange slushies out of orange snow…"

I let out a sigh as I contemplated the bottle in my hand. Even I knew that it was impossible to overdose on vitamin C. In fact, I had a school buddy once swear by his vitamin C tablets, saying that they alone saved him from the flu that everyone in school had come down with. Perhaps they could magically boost Ritsu's energy levels so she could recover from her taco upset.

"I took some pills from that container too," she says suddenly, pointing at a bottle that was rolling around on the bed as we shifted to adjust our sitting positions. I lean over and snatch it up for further inspection.

"…What the hell are these?" I ask no one in particular, scrutinizing the label. I can't even pronounce the name, never mind recognize the drug. "How many did you take of this thing?"

She grabs the bottle from me and locates the fine print on the side. "Don't be surprised, but I can read a lot of English too you know. It says to take two tablets every four hours."

"So you took two of these and somewhere between five and ten vitamin C tablets, right?"

"Well, actually I took three of these since, you know, I like odd numbers. Plus they always prescribe less of a medication than you actually need." Ritsu nodded confidently, her reasoning intelligent to her ears.

For the second time that day I choke on my own saliva.

"You took too goddamn many!"

"You know what my philosophy is when it comes to life and drums: more is always better."

I'm panting with fright and wondering if I should find to phone book to look up poison control. "What if you overdose! Do you have any idea how bad this is! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a drummer that can actually count to four!"

All questions and no answers from Ritsu.

Just as I was about to tell her how hard it was to find a drummer that had made it through kindergarten successfully, a knock echoed through the room.

"Pizza's here," Ritsu mutters, rolling over onto her side. One of her arms fell limply over the side of the bed. "Mmm, pizza. Pizza and orange slushies."

"Who is it?" I call out, none too keen on leaving Ritsu's side now that she's gone and ingested a potentially fatal amount of over-the-counter medication. Or, at least what I hope was an over-the-counter medication.

"It's me. Taira." There was some scuffling on the other side of the door and a sharp remark that sounded like Chiba's raspy voice.

"Come in," I yell over Ritsu's muttering about the finer points of pepperoni and cheese pizza. As if she needsd any more greasy food. That alone is the reason for her sickness this morning.

There is an extremely pregnant pause. "Well, I would, but these hotel doors are kind of locked you know. I don't have a key."

I get up to answer the door, feeling stupid that I've forgotten something so obvious and paranoid because my drummer is now making snow angels on the bed. Were those convulsions a sign of early seizures? Did that drug induce muscle spasms?

So many questions, so little medical knowledge.

I do the one thing I can do successfully. I open the door, revealing Taira's concerned face.

"Is she okay? Kim and Chi told everyone that Ritsu's sick," Taira whispers through the crack I created. I'm wary of opening the door all the way to let him in, just in case Ritsu decides to try to make a break for the outside world.

"Where is everyone?" I ask, noticing that Chiba's the only one standing behind Taira. He looks bored beyond belief and is picking at the dirt that has accumulated under his fingernails, disinterested with the whole situation, no doubt.

"Well, I sent Ryusuke with Duff to take Sublime for a walk and Saku and Koyuki wanted to help out the girls…so it's just Chiba and I here at the moment." Taira tries to peer past my fluffed up hair that I'd neglected to style into a more presentable shape this morning before Ritsu's sudden vomiting fit. "Um…can we come in?"

I glance over my shoulder at Ritsu. She is still convinced its December and snowing heavily. Her delusional attempts at conveying angels' wings were intensifying, much to my mounting concern.

"S-sure," I stutter, lost in a myriad of horrific thoughts about the side effects of that unpronounceable drug. "I'll warn you though; she's unpredictable when she's got a fever."

Taira and Chiba saunter into the dimly lit room, lacking the cautiousness that I wish they'd have. They really don't realize the severity of this situation. Those poor, poor unsuspecting fools.

It isn't long at all until Taira's the first casualty.

"Pizza man!" Ritsu wails, throwing herself at Taira. She latches on to his chest like a leech. The force of the impact sends Taira into the nearby wall, sputtering and trying to dislodge his attacker.

Normally, any girl who threw themselves at my man would get a serious ass-kicking. Ritsu isn't herself though, that much is clear by the way she's trying to peel back Taira's clothes. Searching for invisible pizza, obviously. Man, I knew her so well.

"Where's the pizza? Give it to me," Ritsu demands. Unsure of what's going on but recognizing that he is quickly losing some of his clothing, Taira calls for help. I stand there, unmoving, since I know sooner rather than later Ritsu will let go of Taira and lose interest in him. Chiba, however, who has not had any previous experiences with the girl whilst ill, disregards my standoffish example.

He grabs Ritsu from under her arms and tries to pull her off of his best friend. Taira loses his shirt to Ritsu's clutches and tries to scoot away from the thrashing girl, but her legs are around his midsection and holding fast. He appears extremely traumatized and my heart goes out to the poor fellow. He's probably thinking that Ritsu is going to rape him right then and there on a dirty hotel floor.

Eventually, Chiba rips off the leech. Unfortunately for him, she turns around and decides it's time to switch her assault victim. Not in the way anyone had been expecting, however.

What Ritsu does surprises us all. So much so that nobody has any sense left to do anything about it, Chiba included.

She lays a wet one on him. Right smack dab on his partially open lips where two week old fuzz has marched past acceptable territory. Right there.

We all sputter as she draws back, staggering out of Chiba's limp grip. My naughty mind is already fixing the calculations from before, about how probable it is that those two would get together during this tour. Taira too appears a bit fazed, the gears in his mind turning this new event around in disbelief.

I feel sorriest for Chiba, who stands there awkwardly and takes it, blushing brighter than a stop sign caught in the Superclunk's high beams. He really doesn't know what to think.

While we are all caught in our separate thoughts, Ritsu pushes past me and Taira, making a clear beeline for the door.

"Distraction!" she howls, propelling herself forward with staggering leaps and bounds. She hits a wall with her shoulder as if horribly drunk, but manages to open the door and throw her body through it before I can scream that we've all been duped by a drugged up drummer.

The hotel room door closes with a loud click, obscuring her from my vision for the first time today.


I take off after her as soon as I recover, spilling out of the room and onto the pale pink carpeting of the hallway. Taira and Chiba – who's about as disoriented as Ritsu seems to be with this new development – both crash into me when I stop to consider which direction she went in. For a woman running on nothing but vitamin C tablets and some drug I can't pronounce, she is pretty damn quick to get her ass out of sight.

Taira can sense my frustration. I am so far gone that I can't even formulate a plan of action. Luckily, he comes to my rescue.

"I'll go right; you two go left," he says, already taking off. I bid him a snappy nod and barrel down the hall, Chiba jogging beside me. I really need to lose the heels because I am not moving as fast as I should be. At this rate, I'll never recover her.

I catch a glimpse of my percussionist rounding a corner before disappearing. She is right there and I can't fucking catch up! "Fuck, get her while I get my shoes off!"

Chiba doesn't understand my garbled words at first, until I halt and began struggling with the straps on my shoes, all but ripping the fake leather to shreds. Then a light bulb goes off. "Go! Stop her!" That spurs him in the sides. He gallops on, the bonny brave soldier that he truly is underneath all that bush. I watch him disappear around the corner Ritsu had taken while I struggle on, fighting my own battle.

It takes much longer than I originally thought to get the heeled boots off. I leave them where they fall, running in socks down the carpeted hallway and feeling the dirt permeate the fabric. Ugh. But I have no time to whine. Not with Ritsu potentially wrecking havoc on Minneapolis, Minnesota, and its poor, unsuspecting inhabitants.

I suppose I should recap the events of the past couple days. Truthfully, little had happened after Taira brought the Superclunk back to Cosy's. We left our other van sun tanning on the beach. We also left a wonderful message on our record label manager's answering machine. We still haven't heard back from Mr. Yamada, but that could be my fault entirely, since my phone has been off since the moment I finished leaving that little message.

After all, I needed to give the man time to calm down.

Regardless, we were in Minnesota now, after a relatively unnerving ride in the Superclunk. I honestly had prayed for deliverance more during that car ride than all the other trips from one place to another combined.

And now I'm praying that Ritsu won't do anything stupid. I seem to be speaking to God a lot lately, even though I hardly consider myself religious. It's the worry, I'm telling you.

I follow the sound of footsteps ahead of me, dodging in and out of the occasional blockade of hotel employees, who each give me room to pass and point me in the direction of the two hooligans who'd darted by earlier. Thank goodness the Americans are being helpful today.

I reach the front lobby and the clerk behind the desk is staring wide-eyed in one direction. The direction of the door. I figure something unexpected has happened in that general direction, so that is the direction I go.

My stomach flips like a dying fish as I run outside panting, searching the parking lot for my friends. I find a blob of blonde before anything else shows up in my vision.

"Rylie! Did you find her?" Taira calls, appearing from a door farther down the side of the building.

He runs up to me as I shake my head. "I don't know where she is!"

No sooner had I said that than I heard screaming. And where there is screaming, there is excitement. And where there is excitement, there is Ritsu doing something unbelievably stupid.

Taira's thinking along the same lines. We follow the shrieking, which I've determined is coming from some woman scared shitless, until we come upon a scene that has me gaping and curling my socked toes.

It would have been fine…had there been water in the pool. But, running up to the edge of the concrete and looking down into the off-white, corrugated depths, it is anything but fine. From there my eyes travel up, up, up, until they land on the speck of brown hair and ragged clothing far above my head. Ritsu. On a diving board twenty five feet above the ground. Looking into the hotel's outdoor pool that didn't have any goddamn water in it.

If she jumps, she is going to hit that concrete harder than she'd ever hit any of her drums before. She is going to be fucking obliterated. I have no idea if it is even possible to reassemble a percussionist after a leap like that. Oddly enough, I am reminded of a time way back in Japan when we lost an entire drumset out the back of a van and it was squashed into a million pieces by a transport.

Thinking about it makes me shiver even now.

"Ritsu, don't you dare fucking jump on me!"

She hears my screaming and turns her body towards me, sidling out further on the ledge of doom, completely oblivious to her current danger.

"I can't jump on you if you aren't directly below me!" she calls back, her voice wavering. "Besides, I want to go in the water!"

She is certainly seeing things that aren't there. That much I can gather. "I meant: don't jump at all! Just…climb down or something!"

I hadn't noticed it before, but there is a big bushy bush going up the ladder after her. A few silent seconds pass me by, then I see the arms and legs of this bush and recognize that it is indeed Taira's intrepid best friend. Still going like I told him to.

I didn't know if Chiba going up there is a good thing or a bad thing. Very likely Ritsu will get pissed and jump off the diving board just to get away from him. But, there is the small, slight chance that she will get distracted, because what Chiba holds in his hand could very well be the key to her heart.

It is then that I turn my attention to Screaming Lady. Now that I'm looking at her, I can see she's in a vibrant, red, work uniform. Taira is, currently, trying to soothe this lady whilst shouting at Chiba to grab Ritsu. Before Ritsu could turn around and see Chiba sneaking up on her, I slap a hand over Taira's mouth.

"Shh…just wait," I tell him, voice shaking as I watch the afro-head peek over the bottom of the platform. "Don't blow his cover if he's going to sneak up on her!" Ritsu is still looking down at me, then back at the pool. My breath catches when she raises her arms above her head. Her signal for diving.

Screaming Lady screams.

Then Ritsu spins around, finally detecting Chiba's presence. I had no idea if he called out to her, or if he just made an involuntary noise of sorts, but my drummer is frozen in place, likely glaring at the intruder to her fun. I can't hear a word of whatever they say to one another, but it looked as if both were equally angry. Then, just as I am beginning to think the situation could be salvaged, Ritsu turns away from him again and faces the concrete down with determination that stabs me in the heart with worry. She makes a motion that suggests treading water and I swear I could see her smiling, the stupid idiot.

"Oh god," Taira whispers, his breath hitching.

In the hushed quiet that prevails, I hear Chiba shout something indistinguishable. Once again, Ritsu turns around. This time, however, he has flourished his secret weapon. It lies in a rectangular cardboard box and catches Ritsu's ardent attention.

A sudden movement on the board causes me to sink my nails into Taira's arm in horror. But then I realize she's running away from the edge, towards Chiba, and that he is handing her the pizza box. Somehow, hanging on a ladder many feet about the ground, Chiba takes the opportune moment when Ritsu stoops to collect her prize to grab her around her lithe waist and drag her off of the platform.

I choke on my saliva again, thinking he would drop her for sure, but then I notice how dolefully she climbs onto his back, box in one hand, the other arm strangling the afro-headed hero. Almost planned. Perfectly executed.

"Holy fuck. What the hell is this?"

My thoughts exactly Taira. My thoughts exactly.

We rush to the base of the diving board, gathering around the ladder as Chiba descends, Ritsu hanging off his back like a monkey. Things are raining down around us, little scraps, and I scrutinize one of them, determining that it's a piece of pepperoni. Half munched on and still slick with slobber. Utterly disgusting, but oddly relieving to see.

A woody clunk makes me jump, as I am still high-strung from the near fatal accident. I go over to the dropped pizza box and picked it up, noticing how light it is. Inside, the box is nearly empty. Only one singular piece remains, and even then all of the toppings have been picked off. Obviously, Ritsu had been hungry upon her descent back to sanity.

Taira receives Ritsu into his arms, who is limp and giggling some delusional jargon. I then instruct him to never, under any circumstances, let go of my drummer. Not until Chi and Kim return, hopefully with some rope.

While he gathers up Ritsu, whose face is covered in pizza grease and tomato sauce, Chiba turns around and glares at me. I am unsure if I should thank him profusely or laugh.

Most of the right side of his face, from forehead to chin, is obscured by a singular piece of pizza, one that has lovingly adhered to his sweat. He makes no motion to pull it off, only continues staring with his one good eye, awaiting my reaction.

When he sees I'm not about to do anything, he peels the pizza off his face and throws it into the empty pool angrily. It leaves behind a red residue, and one piece of stubborn pepperoni sticks firmly to the area just below his eye. "Your drummer is fucking nuts! Never again! Next time just give her the goddamn pizza!"

As he storms off before I can thank him, or laugh at him for that matter, Screaming Lady walks up. She seems incredibly shaken by the whole incident, her dishevelled appearance mirroring what I feel inside.

Screaming Lady, who is actually Pizza Delivery Lady, takes the empty box from my hands numbly. We leave her standing there next to the pool, eyes wide, and likely wondering if we were all high on drugs or something of the sort. We head back to the hotel room, Taira carrying Ritsu, who is mumbling something about snow and orange and the sky. I'm just glad she isn't trying to break free to go on another adventure.

I've had enough excitement for one day, thanks.

We get back to the room and Taira dumps her on a bed, where she promptly continues to create her snow angels, not acknowledging either of us. Eventually, Taira leaves once he sees that Ritsu has tired herself out, her eyes falling closed and her angel-making movements becoming less frequent. When he does, I grab a bit of toilet paper and clean up her face as best I can, which in fact makes it look worse, all red and crusty and stuff. Ugh.

Just as Ritsu dozes off and I sit down for a rest, people burst into the room. I half expect Chiba to come storming in to get revenge for his pizza face, but it's not him, but rather Chi and Kim with their two volunteered pack mules.

"We're back!" Chi sings, dropping some grocery bags onto the floor and bouncing over with open arms. Before she can hug me, I flop down on the bed with an anguished groan and pretend to pass out, hoping the storm will pass me by. It doesn't. It jumps right on me and embraces me. Ugh.

I hate Mondays.

The gig goes about as well as I thought it would.

Ritsu woke up with a high fever, but we couldn't cancel on such short notice, so we trudged on anyway. Luckily, Beck played first, so our abomination of a performance was the last of a relatively good night. Abomination being the key word in understanding our night.

Ritsu had invented a new form of music, I swear to Jaco. While there are many weird 'cores,' like hardcore or metalcore or even mathcore, hers was an entirely new core that I would dub 'abusecore'. Basically, all one has to do to qualify for abusecore is rig the PA system so only the drums could be heard, get mad because some idiot complained, and then beat the shit out of him and his group of friends with one's drumsticks. It was an eventful night, and I'm sad to say she wasn't even drunk. Just crazy and delusional.

The manager of that venue certainly did not want to pay us, and I couldn't blame him. Beck was paid, of course, for their outstanding live that got everyone in the crowd howling the lyrics and stomping along to the beat, but we were more or less kicked out. (It took five security guards plus the bouncer to forcibly extract Ritsu from the man she was pummelling.) Ryusuke and Duff had a talking with the manager and somehow managed to get him to pay us a bit for our troubles, but how they achieved that I had no idea. Likely there had been some threatening involved. Even likelier was that those threats involved my dear percussionist, who is currently lying face down on the hotel room bed, snoring away innocently.

She won't remember any of this come morning.

"Sublime. Just sublime."

Said dog raises her head. "No, not you."

She trots over regardless, long, snake-like tail wagging away. She comes right over to the edge of the bed and lays her head on my thigh, so I stroke her ears for a while, until she starts pawing at me to scratch her tummy.

Chi and Kim are in the next room sleeping, the failure of a gig having taken a chunk out of everyone. I should be sleeping too, but somehow I've become a temporary insomniac. I think it's the fear that we're going to be homeless when we get back to Japan that is making me lose some valuable shuteye. One would think I'd get used to the worry, but no, it only gets worse.

After a few minutes spent repelling Sublime's advances, I get up off the bed and throw on some warmer clothes. Then I grab her leash from the table, which presses Sublime's happy bark button. I click the snap to test it, sending Sublime into a wriggling frenzy. It takes ten minutes to calm her down enough to get the leash on, being the overexcitable pooch that she is.

The excitement and bouncing, oh god the bouncing, lasts the entire walk down the stairs and to the first floor. By the time we get out the door she is darting this way and that, never heeding my calls for heel. I figure that whatever walking I may do will only last a few minutes at most with such a rambunctious pup, so I didn't deem it important to leave a note. I didn't think Ritsu would wake up anyway. And even if she did, she wouldn't read a freakin' note. She'd just sniff me out like a basset hound if she needed me.

Drummers are like that. They can find their bassist anywhere.

"It's a nice night, isn't it, Sublime?" I ask the dog. She ignores me in favour of sniffing the piss of a thousand beasts on the side of a pole. I have no one else to talk to, so I continue on, pretending that she's listening and hanging on my every word. "At least it's not too hot anymore."

"Yeah, it was pretty hot for a while there, wasn't it?"

"Holy fucking shit!" I scream, jumping out of my skin and back in again. Sublime startles, not so much by the person standing beside me, but rather because of my shrieking.

"Now that description of shit paints a wonderful picture," he says dryly.

"Chiba, what the hell are you doing up so late? Seriously, you scared me."

Chiba shrugs his shoulders, half of the movement lost to the darkness that surrounds us. The nearest overhead lamp is a few feet off and we were just on the fringes of the light. "Yeah, I guess I did scare you. Sorry. But I could ask you the same question. Shouldn't you be sleeping? I thought you were going to navigate to Rapid City tomorrow while Taira drives."

"Oh yeah. North Dakota. Damn, that's going to be a long ride. As for why I'm still up, let's just say I can't sleep for some reason."

We fell into a silence then, with the only noise being the crickets chirping and Sublime sniffing. Finally I say, "Thanks a lot for earlier. You saved her life, I think. I didn't tell the others what happened, and neither did Taira when I talked to him earlier."

Again Chiba shrugs noncommittally, but I like to think he's madly blushing. "Whatever. She's still fucking nuts. What the hell was up with her today…and tonight?"

"Fever and drugs. Lethal combination."


Sublime finishes sniffing piss and moves on to snuffle Chiba's leg, wagging her tail in recognition. He scratches her behind her ears, looking up occasionally at me as if he wants to say something poignant. He appears hesitant though, distracted.

"So, why are you out here this late at night?"

Sublime whines when he straightens up to speak to my face. "No reason. Just thinking."

"About?" I press on, the brave, fearless warrior woman that I am.

"Stuff," he replies cryptically. What a nondescript bugger. As if he could be any vaguer.





"Which is like what?"

"Like stuff! Stuff, stuff, stuff!" he shouts, exasperated. Obviously he's been doing some tough thinking that's got him riled up; he wouldn't dare to shout at his best friend's girl on a normal occasion. I mean really, isn't the man at least a little fearful of being clocked over the head with a Stingray?

"Like Ritsu?"

"Maybe. I mean, no. No. At least not in the way you think!"

"What do I think?" I inquire sweetly. I know exactly what I think, owning the majority of my tyrannical mind, but I'd like to hear his opinion.

"You think I like her. Like, like like her."

"Do you?"

"No. She's a crazy bitch." I narrow my eyes to stifle a laugh that threatens to take over my entire face. He takes it as a show of anger. "Uh, I mean, well, no offence, but she's insane and she hates me. She told me so. Multiple times."

"So then why did she trust you today?" I ask him next. This is turning into a regular interrogation session. And the suspect is slowly cracking. Damn woman, you can really bust a nut. Sorry, just couldn't resist that one.

Chiba shakes his bushy afro back and forth. "Because I gave her pizza. And then she slathered me with a piece when we were climbing down!"

"A sign of affection."

He was sceptical to my hasty claim, but nonetheless he asked, "Really?"

"Yep. She likes you if she's willing to share her pizza with you. That's how you know."

That probably wasn't the intention behind the action, but I liked to twist things for my own amusement. Chiba looked deep in thought, his lips pursed under that ungainly beard of his. If he didn't shave it off soon, people might start mistaking him for the sasquatch. That elusive, bigfooted beast said to roam the many acres of America; he and Chiba have lots in common physically. Aw well, if we run out of cash before the tour is over, we can always send in a picture of Chiba's face to the local news company and see if they'll pay us for a rare sighting of the beast. It could work, if only we–


"Huh? What were you saying, darling?"

Chiba sighs, informing me that I had been in my own little world for the larger part of whatever he'd been trying to tell me. "I was just wondering something. Now this is completely hypothetical…or something…no, this is out of curiosity…but I was just wondering if she has a boyfriend back home."

I freeze, my arm going limp. I actually drop Sublime's leash on the ground. Luckily for me, the dog either hasn't been paying attention to her restraints or has decided not to be the devil's spawn, Cerberus, today. Either way, she doesn't take advantage of her new freedom. For once.

Slowly I turn away, letting a grin plaster my face. There was no way in hell that was an 'out of curiosity' question. "Well, she used to have a boyfriend a long time ago, believe it or not. But they had a bad break up and she hasn't been seeing anyone since that fateful night."

His name had been Takumi and his unfortunate castration was the direct combination of his asshole-ishness and the consumption of alcohol on the part of my dear friend Ritsu. It might have also had something to do with the fact that he broke two of her cymbals and then lied to her about it. But I didn't tell him all there was to know, because it tended to scare men off.

"So. She's single then?"

"Yes. Yes she is."

He nodded to himself dumbly, then walked off in the direction of the hotel entrance while I gathered up Sublime's leash. Not even a word of farewell, the man was so damn lost in thought. Is this what it looks like when a person is lost in love?

That's certainly my devious nature speaking. No, Chiba was simply having a drunk moment or something. He had ingested a few beers earlier. Yeah. That was it. Then again, he wasn't staggering around or slurring his speech. Not like Ryusuke had been.

Oh God. What have I done?

As I walk back inside I look for the person at the front desk. She has mysteriously disappeared, so I walk behind the counter and grab the phone while Sublime slobbers on some paperwork someone left too low to the ground. Then I dial Taira's room, hoping to catch him before Chiba gets up there.

He picks up on the second ring. "Hello?" His voice is groggy, which makes sense considering I must have woken him up from a peaceful slumber. I have a good reason though, so I don't feel too guilty.

However, I can't resist teasing him. "This is God. You called earlier?"

There's a pause where all I can hear is heavy breathing. Which sounds creepy, but I'm willing to bet he's wrapped himself up in blankets so tightly that he nearly suffocated himself while asleep. Yes, I know this. It came up once in a conversation I had with Ryusuke, oddly enough.

"God? Is that really you?"

I fight to deepen my voice. "Yes. Who did you think it was this late at night?"

"…The Pizza Lady. Or the suicide control hotline inquiring after my friend." He sounds genuinely worried, poor fellow.

I let out an involuntary snort of laughter. He catches on, since my high-pitched giggle can't be emulated by anyone. Not even God.

"Rylie? What are you doing calling this la–"

"Your best friend is in love. I witnessed it with my own eyes. Beware."

"Chiba?" He's sceptical, and rightfully so. But I don't make claims like this every day, and certainly never ones about the bush-headed man himself. "You must be joking. Rylie, Chiba has a lot of love to give, but I can't really see him suddenly becoming interested in…you know what, never mind. I can kind of see it. If I squint and make my eyes like Saku's."

"Just beware, okay?" I ask of him. He grunts in response. Definitely sleepy. Hearing him stifle a yawn on the other end brings one out of my lips. Okay, it's certainly time to get some shut-eye. "Well, love ya, miss ya, and I might break into your room to kiss ya."

"…Was that supposed to rhyme?"

"Shut up and go to bed. God commands thee."

He snickers and hangs up, so I replace the phone on its receiver and pull Sublime out of a nearby trash can, then head up to my room. Once safely locked inside, I let the dog off the leash and head over to check on Ritsu. To make sure she's breathing, of course.

When I approach my bed, I'm taken by an unexpected sight. Not one, but two goddamn bodies are snuggled under my blankets. Now I know exactly how Little Bear felt when he found Goldilocks in his bed. Awkward as fuck.

As I continue watching the lumps breathe, one draped half over the other, I become aware of the phone ringing. Not wanting to disturb the two sleeping people in my bed, I rush over to the phone, nearly tripping over Sublime who has settled down for the night, unaware that everything isn't normal and she should be fearing for her life.

"Hello?" I whisper.

Taira's voice comes through, prompting me to breathe a little easier. "Where's Chiba? I thought you said he was coming up?"

"Yeah, well, you wouldn't believe this but he's in my room, snuggled up beside Ritsu on my bed." Sublime finally lifts her head off the ground, looking at me like I'm some stupid alien, all hunched up in a corner and looking perturbed. Well, I wasn't exactly going to stay out in the open, just in case they woke up and thrashed the first thing within a close proximity to their being. I'm paranoid.

"What?" Taira is far more awake than he was during our last conversation. "Oh jeez, he must have mistaken your room for ours. We have the same last two digits for a room number, but ours is a floor up. Is Ritsu trying to kill him? Should I come up there and intervene?"

"…Oddly enough, they're both sleeping, but she was on her own bed when I left…she must have moved over. I wonder if she even knows she's snuggling up to him?"

"They're snuggling?"

"I think it's one-sided. But yes. They are." Suddenly a rather devious thought entered my head. Oh, sometimes I'm just bad with a capitol BAD. "You know what? This is perfect. This is just what both of them need. Let me just lay some further groundwork and I'll be up to see you, Taira. Since there's no way in hell that I'm sticking around when they wake up in each others' arms."

"Rylie, my band can't run on four people like yours can."

"Oh don't worry Taira; I'm sure Chiba can protect his nuts."

A.N.: Okay, so I was originally going to scrap the entire second half of this chapter, but then I was like 'screw it' and kept writing, so the chapter turned into an abomination in which two people ended up in bed together, likely unaware of who the other person beside them is, or even if they're there at all (in Chiba's case). Oh well, gives me fodder for the next chapter.

I still feel bad for traumatizing Pizza Lady, no matter how many times I read this over. And just for your amusement, I thought about naming this chapter 'Tacos and Testicles,' but I abstained from that one because I didn't want to end up as spam in your inboxes. Okay, I'm done rambling for today.