Disclaimer: I do not own BECK (MCS). No money is being made from this fic. This is a plotbunny.


Escape Velocity


Summary:

Ray Minami owes a debt to Leon Sykes after BECK's legendary Grateful Sound performance: a debt Sykes plans to use to get Yukio Tanaka to sign with his record label using any means necessary—including using Ray's life as a bargaining chip. Koyuki's decision will change everything.


There was no mistaking Satou Kazuo's voice over the phone. Koyuki knew only two people who sounded like their voice had been long abused by a life of too much smoking and boozing, and Mitchan only called him when Ryusuke got too drunk to find his way home alone.

"Koyuki-kun, I don't care what you have to do, but clear your schedule tomorrow afternoon."

"Tomorrow? I'm being timed for the hurdles in sixth period! I can't skip!"

"Oh? Is this critical for your new career in track and field?"

"Huh? Well…no. But—"

"Then skip it. There's someone who wants to meet you."

So she said.

And that was why Koyuki found himself riding up an elevator of the ritzy Hotel Made of Sand Tokyo, in the heart of the city with a nervous old-lady who reeked after her latest round of chain-smoking just outside the lobby.

"Stop wrinkling your nose at me," she ordered.

Koyuki started and glanced at Satou-san. Every surface in the elevator was a mirror—and so Koyuki had several angles from which to observe the small beads of sweat collecting on her broad forehead. The red electronic numbers overhead scrolled by, steadily rising. There was only one button activated on the board, floor 21, where the penthouses were situated.

Satou-san was looking at him again, ten eyes from various angles, her polished fingernails tapping the metal rail.

Koyuki gulped. "Sorry."

"Not as sorry as you would have been if you'd been any later," she growled, then smoothed her expression, and held up her hand to forestall another repetition of Koyuki's explanation of the difficulties of sneaking off from the rest of his class while they were changing and how the delay made him miss the train. "No, it's fine. I shouldn't have snapped. I'm sorry. But you know, Koyuki-kun," she said as she pulled out a white handkerchief and patted her forehead, strategically so as to not smudge her makeup, face oddly strained in a way that only magnified the small lines creasing her eyes and the corners of her mouth, "my reputation would have fallen hard if you'd ditched me. This guy exerted some serious pressure on Metal Glue to get your contact information. The best I could do was tell him I'd contact you myself. If I didn't get you here…" She shook her head incrementally. "I don't even want to think about it."

Satou-san had been hinting about the identity of the super-VIP who wanted to arrange a meeting since the phone call last night, but she stubbornly refused to reveal his name. Apparently because:

"I don't want you running. That would be a disaster for me and for you," she had said on the phone last night. "Just show up in some nice threads, Koyuki-kun—and…you just be you. That's all you need."

Satou-san had given him a sour look when he showed up late in his school uniform. But what did she expect? He hadn't had time to change into the spare set of clothing he'd brought with him in his bag.

"Satou-san," Koyuki began, but was cut-off again by the old lady who apparently was in her own little anxious world.

"Listen. Whatever you do…do not offend him. You think you have trouble with an enemy like Ran-san?" Her laugh was low and dry and it crackled. "This guy is on a whole other level. This is not a man you want to piss off."

He shifted and tried to find a safe place to rest his eyes; there was no escape from Satou-san's heavy look, not when every polished surface reflected her image. He settled for the scrolling red numbers up high again. The old Lady's nerves were starting to rub off on him. All he knew was this guy could rent a penthouse suite in a super-expensive western hotel in the middle of Tokyo's tourist district. He could make Satou-san nervous. And if Koyuki knew who he was he might try to pull a runner.

"He can't speak Japanese," Satou-san continued. "So I'll be translating it into English for him…" her voice lowered to a mutter: "although he did say he would have his own translator. Remember that Koyuki-kun," she said, again aloud, "trust in this industry is expensive. Well…you should be glad I'm here. As long as I'm around I don't think you'll have any trouble."

"Satou-san?" Koyuki wasn't at all proud at how shrill his voice sounded. "I-I'm not quite sure what you mean…"

She laughed, and tried to show him a reassuring confident look, but her forehead was moist again, and this time she didn't seem to notice. Heavy makeup and sweat: old ladies had it tough. "But you know, you're seriously amazing Koyuki-kun…to have attracted his interest.

"Remember: show respect. Think of him as your father. Er…no no…grandfather. Or a priest. Or…aha! A very dangerous daimyo with an army of samurai. Yeah. Do that and you'll be just fine."

The elevator chimed. The door thudded open.

Gold Teeth. What is this guy? A gangster? Was the first thought that entered Koyuki's head when they were greeted at the opulent entrance to the penthouse suite by a stocky black man; a warm, wide, smile exposing a wall of golden teeth.

"I'm a huge fan, kid," the man, who introduced himself as Gordy enthused, shaking Koyuki's single hand with both of his paws. "I heard your last song on your Grateful Sound set. It was abso-fucking-lutely beautiful. You know? Gave me shivers. Awesome."

The babble of English was only half intelligible to Koyuki; Satou-san was already busy translating to the best of her ability, and Koyuki listened with one ear—finding it oddly difficult to listen to Satou-san while trying not to snub Gordy at the same time by looking away. It strained his honed Japanese manners.

Koyuki briefly thought this man was the one he was supposed to meet, but soon enough Gordy was ushering them through the luxurious parlour into a roomy office and meeting room. There was a large desk at one end of the room. Bookshelves. A wide expanse of window real-estate. A sprawling polished wooden coffee table hemmed in by a long couch that might seat seven or eight bodies and several deep armchairs.

A tall man with an afro rose from an armchair and offered a greeting. It wasn't warm per say, but Koyuki immediately got the feeling this man did not do warm or welcoming. His skin was dark, but not black. African-American? Latino? Chinese? Japanese? Big lips. A broad nose. Sunglasses hid his eyes. An American thing? And dressed in an impeccably pressed black suit, the man possessed an unforgettable face—maintained an unforgettable and stifling presence.

"Mr. Leon Sykes," Satou-san introduced belatedly. And it all fell into place.

Koyuki could only gape. Leon Sykes. His mind numbly supplied. One of the producers of Grateful Sound. Owner of RJ Records. And it didn't take long for the man to get down to business, barely waiting for them to assume the offered seats on the couch before proceeding.

"Welcome, Yukio Tanaka. Let me get straight to the point. I invited you here to discuss your solo debut in the United States."

Koyuki, listening with one ear as Satou-san dutifully provided a more accurate translation to what he had roughly understood, felt the blood desert his face entirely.

One of the most powerful men in the music industry had just offered him a golden ticket, but all Koyuki could manage was a very strained, very stupid sounding: "Huh?" Because his mind had just gone blank.

"Let me assure you," Leon Sykes continued, "that this is not a hoax. There was a reason I invited Ms. Satou here today as a witness of sorts. Everything said here today can be taken as 100% reliable."

"Heh. We saw some of your set at Grateful Sound, kid," Gordy offered with a broad friendly smile when Koyuki floundered for something to say and came up with nothing. "You were like a bomb in a barrel, man. Stuff it in and…BANG! Awesome stuff. That last song…what was it called again?"

At a direct question he could answer, Koyuki emerged from his stupor. "Out of the Hole?"

"Yeah! That's the one. Sent shivers down my spine, kid. And let me tell you…that ain't something that happens a lot, if you know what I mean." Something dark flickered in his eyes. It was there and it was gone.

Koyuki had no idea what he meant, and from Satou-san's expression while she translated, he was pretty sure she had no idea either. Come to think of it, Satou-san didn't seem like the most reliable translator in the first place.

"B-but…an American debut is impossible," Koyuki quickly explained, before things could get any further out of hand. "We've already broken up. Beck disbanded."

While he spoke Gordy was already shaking his head. "Nah, kid. This has nothing to do with your band. It's you. We want you, kid."

"Like I said," Leon Sykes added, expression still implacable. "I'd like to discuss the possibility of you signing with RJ Records for your American debut. I don't need a decision from you immediately—we'll have to meet again to discuss the terms—but I wanted to extend this offer personally, to you Yukio Tanaka. Not to BECK. Not to Mongolian Chop Squad. But to Yukio Tanaka as a solo artist."

"We reviewed the live tapings of the whole night, you know," Gordy explained, gold teeth flashing in the sunlight coming through the window behind the couch. "Soon as those chumps listening to that sissy pop-band on the first stage heard you on the monitor, they vamoosed like they'd all had firecrackers stuck up their assholes. Heh. And it was your songs that were the biggest draw. No doubt about it."

"B-but it wasn't just me. It was all five of us." Koyuki protested, feeling as if they were making him out to be something that he knew he wasn't. "If I wasn't with them I—"

"I heard," Mr. Sykes interrupted smoothly. "That you wrote that last song: Out of the Hole."

Koyuki felt his cheeks flush red hot. "W-well…parts of it. Everyone contributed." Even Saito-san. "M-most of it was Ryusuke's ideas." Like translating Saito-babble into Super-awesomeness.

"That punk?" Gordy might have said more but he was silenced by the mere tilt, a fraction of a fraction, of Leon Sykes' head. "Shit. That's right! I forgot. Here kid. I got something for you. A present from the boss." Gordy went around behind the desk a moment, emerging with an acoustic guitar any guitarist worth their strings would recognize. "It's a vintage Martin D-45."

Not only was it a vintage model. But it had the unmistakable iridescence of a mother-of-pearl inlay, an ebony fretboard and bridge, and gleaming steel strings contrasting smooth polished wood, creamy caramel. Koyuki vaguely remembered playing a game at Remedy. Stump Mitchan with a piece of music trivia and get your tab for the night waved. Someone had asked him about the price of vintage Martin guitars. Mitchan had heard that some vintage models sold for over six figures American. Granted, this probably wasn't one of them. But at the very least it was worth millions of yen. More money than he'd ever seen in his life.

Gordy passed it to him. It was light. Even the act of passing it from one set of hands to another had set it humming. Almost like a horse vibrating behind the starting gates. Eager to be ridden. Eager to be played. Koyuki had to drag his eyes away from the guitar when Gordy interrupted his impromptu eye-humping session.

"How much do you know about our label, Yukio?"

He shared a guilty glance with Satou-san. "Not too much…"

From one of the cabinets he produced a pile of CDs that he spread onto the coffee table. Satou-san picked them up one at a time, reading off the names of several rising artists that Koyuki vaguely recognized from overhearing conversations with Mahou and her American friends. He didn't really follow rap, hip-hop, and soul music. So when Satou claimed excitedly that these artists were all invading the music charts, Koyuki took her word for it.

"My label put out five gold albums last year," Mr. Sykes explained. "And that's not counting all the singles that made the top fifty in the country." Coming from anyone else, such a statement might have sounded like he was bragging. But coming from the stoic and unassailable Leon Sykes, it was just reporting the facts. There was no pride. No boasting. Just a statement.

"Ah. But not all of these were hits," Satou-san pointed out. "Like this one."

People get ready, Koyuki read. "But the original was an amazing song," Koyuki pointed out, back on more comfortable ground. Saito-san had the original version of the song as well as several other covers in his classic record collection.

"Of course!" Satou-san agreed. "The original by Curtis Mayfield is a historic treasure. Rolling Stone rated it as the 24th greatest song of all time."

"It's historic because people keep covering it," Koyuki added. "Jeff Beck, Bob Marley, The Doors; every time someone new sings it they add something to the original." That's what Eddy had told him after Koyuki had sung Full Moon Sway at their Live Show. He hadn't really understood what the rock-star had been talking about at the time, but having done many covers over the course of the year with the rest of the guys to make up for their own small pool of material to sing, he understood now.

"Well…I don't know about that." She was looking dubiously at the scantily clad female singer on the cover of the CD-case. Big booty. "Sometimes they take away from it…" She trailed off and glanced uncertainly at their hosts. "Well…it's a matter of opinion, I guess."

His fingers itched against the cool wood of the guitar, feather-light in his lap. Leon Sykes must have caught the fractional motion.

"Can you sing it, Yukio." Part question, part challenge, part incredulity—Leon Sykes's voice gave away about as much as his face did—not much.

Five minutes ago, without an incredible guitar in his grasp, Koyuki's answer would have been a firm and resolved 'no'. He hadn't picked up a guitar since Grateful Sound, and he hadn't planned on picking one up again, either—not for anything less than BECK getting back together. But the guitar hummed in his lap, sensitive to the slight vibrations from Leon Sykes deep voice, urging almost. Koyuki's fingers itched to press virgin steel, feel the cool ebony under his fingers as the dark polished wood resolved crisp notes; he wanted to put the Martin through his paces before he had to give him back, and Leon Sykes's question became a convenient excuse to do just that.

He needed tuning, the strings had obviously just been replaced, and they were still stretching. Koyuki walked his way up the scale, wincing slightly at the pain of strings digging into fingers turned soft by lack of practice. He made slight adjustments to the pegs as he went until the Martin sang crystal notes that hung in the air vibrating pleasantly for all ears.

People get Ready had been one of the first songs he'd taken to after gaining more experience on the electric. He'd spent hours trying to imitate Jeff Beck's long lyrical solo he'd witnessed having borrowed a live concert recording from Saito-san, one he could properly imitate now on his telecaster. The acoustic version he'd learned, of course, was a bit different. And it was this he played now, with his own slight modifications—fudging the solo-bits with his own improvisation, belting his own voice over the sound of the crisp acoustic accompaniment. He knew the song, but even without such knowledge, the guitar would have dragged him along. It was powerful and it resonated with his voice, giving him goosebumps everywhere.

But as the last resonant notes of the song faded, Koyuki was left with this terribly empty feeling. Even with this expensive guitar in his hands, singing here in this glamorous hotel suite; it just wasn't the same without all the guys backing him up. That feeling he had at Grateful Sound…it was gone. Nowhere to be found. Not here, at least, under the inscrutable eyes of Leon Sykes.

"..ha ha! Now that's the real stuff right there! No prep. Completely off the cuff. No doubt about it. You're the real thing, kid!" Gordy clapped excitedly, visibly affected by the song. "Can't fake that kind of talent."

Koyuki took one last look at the vintage guitar in his lap. This would probably be the last time he ever played such a valuable instrument. He wasn't about to fool himself. He wasn't a professional musician. Koyuki wanted to make sure he remembered what it felt like to play it.

Leon Sykes was saying something. Koyuki tuned in belatedly.

"…want you to carefully consider this offer. You can keep the guitar, if you like it. It's a gift. There are no strings attached."

Satou-san looked like she wanted to laugh at the bad pun.

"It…it is a nice guitar," Koyuki agreed. Better even than the one he'd borrowed from Jewel a month ago. I've got a feeling? Yeah. That was the problem. Koyuki had lost that feeling. And without BECK he had a feeling it wasn't coming back."But, I'm sorry I can't accept it." Koyuki laid the guitar down on the couch, stood, and bowed deeply. "The guitar and the offer. I'm sorry. It's impossible for me.

"Let's go old lady," he said as he shouldered his bag.

He got as far as the door before the way was suddenly blocked by the biggest black man he'd ever seen. Koyuki froze. His eyes travelled from huge shoes to trunk legs to barrel chest, up and up, until he eventually met dark eyes. The man didn't do anything overtly threatening, he just stood there in the open doorway, effectively taking up every centimetre of space.

Gordy wasn't clapping any more, or laughing for that matter.

"Yukio Tanaka," Leon Sykes intoned evenly. "Our conversation hasn't been concluded. Why don't you take a seat."

There was no doubt this time; that hadn't been a question.

"Now…hold on a minute here," Satou bravely spoke up when Koyuki nervously turned back around, but remained standing where he was, near the door. Satou-san stood as well and grabbed Koyuki for a brief aside.

"What are you doing Koyuki-kun?" She hissed into his ear. "Don't you remember what I said? Ixnay on the offendnay. Neh?"

"It's impossible," Koyuki said. Oddly calm inside. Certain he wasn't making a mistake. "I'm not a professional musician. Maybe I'm not cut out to be one. Grateful Sound was just a fluke. This," he said, motioning vaguely at the guitar on the couch, "only confirmed my feelings."

"A fluke," Satou-san looked about ready to burst a vein in her temple. "A fluke!" She took a breath and turned to face Leon Sykes and Gordy again. A pained, but nonetheless professional smile gracing her lips. "Look, can we have some time to talk somewhere? And we'll call you?"

Leon Sykes wasn't in the mood to be cooperative. "In a moment. I'd like a private word with Yukio, first. Gordy, why don't you take Ms. Satou outside and send in Mr. Yamato."

"N-now wait a minute…" Satou-san tried to protest.

"Your part in this meeting has been concluded. My business is with Yukio, now. And him alone." There was something dreadfully final about the way he stressed that last word.

"It's fine lady," Koyuki said.

"C'mon, let's get a drink and let them talk," Gordy said, motioning for the guard to step out of the doorway, which he did.

"A drink. Yes, I could use a drink," Satou-san said, giving Koyuki a significant look as she let Gordy guide her through the door. A second later a man entered through the door, dressed much like Leon Sykes was, in a suit. He was clearly Japanese.

"This is Mr. Yamato, my translator. Anything said here will remain strictly confidential."

Koyuki nodded to him politely and was snubbed for his trouble. The translator had an obsequious air to him, and eyes like a dead fish. It was as if he saw the world without caring one bit about just what he was seeing.

"Why don't you take a seat, Yukio. This won't take long."

Koyuki hesitated, unwilling to lose the slight comfort his height gave him when talking to Leon Sykes, but his manners eventually won out. He assumed a seat on the couch again where Mr. Sykes had indicated, beside his chair.

It was impossible to divine what the large record tycoon was thinking. His expression said nothing, and his eyes were hidden behind dark designer sunglasses.

Leon Sykes leaned forward indicating with his hand that Koyuki too should bend his neck. "What do you think a life is worth, Yukio Tanaka?" Leon asked him, slowly, in simple, carefully pronounced English that even Koyuki could understand without the translator's assistance.

"W-what?" Koyuki straitened in his seat, unsure if he had misunderstood.

"Most people die in this world worth nothing," Leon explained, leaning back in his seat and crossing his legs. "Have you ever given a thought to what your life is worth, Yukio?"

He would be lying he said he hadn't. Before he joined BECK he wondered about the monotony of his existence. Every day he would get up, greet the same people with the same tired old expressions. He'd sit at a desk and listen to teachers lecture about things that never really interested him, but he'd listen anyway because that was what was expected of him. Classmates would talk about the same things, ask the same questions, joke about the same stupid topics—and Koyuki was always left wondering what the whole point of his existence was. What did his life matter, really? Then BECK had come around and for the first time in his life he'd felt alive.

Leon Sykes spoke again: "If you died tomorrow, would it really matter?"

That question. That was the question. The one he used to ask himself all the time. Koyuki swallowed. Hard. He didn't look away.

"Let me ask you another question. What do you think Ray Minami's life is worth?"

It was the first bit of emotion Leon Sykes showed. And his voice was cold. A cold only magnified by the dull drone of the translator, repeating his words in Japanese for Koyuki's benefit.

"I—I don't understand."

Leon Sykes seemed to digest Koyuki's confusion. His hands clasped over his knee. "I see," he said. And now Koyuki was even more confused. "How much of the circumstances surrounding your appearance at Grateful Sound are you aware of, Yukio?"

"Circumstances…you mean, Ran-san?" Ran had been the one opposed to their appearance at the festival…in fact now that Koyuki thought about it, Ryusuke had mentioned that the only reason that BECK had been allowed to play was because one of the other producers of the festival, along with Satou-san, had supported their appearance.

"Your band made a formidable enemy here in Japan. When Ms. Satou gave your band a strong recommendation to replace a band that had recently broken up, Mr. Ran exerted his own influence and made certain that your band would not get that spot. The only reason BECK was able to perform at all was because I vetoed Mr. Ran and supported your entry."

Koyuki's eyes widened. "Y-you did? But why?"

"Because I made a deal with Ray Minami." Leon was again observing his reaction carefully. Whatever he saw in Koyuki's face seemed to make his decision. "I see that he didn't tell you about it. That surprises me.

"Ray Minami and I have a history. And not a pleasant one. Without going into details, a long time ago Ray stole something from my uncle, and I only recently had the chance to confront him and retrieve that stolen property. We parted ways. A couple of weeks later, he approached me with a proposal. In exchange for my support, Ray agreed to sign over all the rights of BECK's next five albums and the associated touring, and marketing planning to me. There was only one condition. If BECK managed to attract the largest crowd of all three stages, I would forgive him, and forget about everything, including the deal. And then, after you failed to attract the largest crowd, I read in Solid Rock that your band broke up right after the show. And when I went looking for Ray I found out he'd skipped the country."

Skipped the country? Was that why Ryusuke hadn't contacted any of them since Grateful Sound? "I…" Koyuki trailed off. What was he supposed to say? "I-is that true?"

"Yes. Ray reneged on our deal. And now I'm left holding nothing, looking like a fool. Tell me Yukio, do I look like a man who enjoys being made into a fool?"

"N-no," Koyuki stuttered. Self-possessed, confident: Leon Sykes looked anything but a fool.

"I helped your band, and for what?" Leon asked. "I suppose that's what I get for trusting the word of a thief. And now we're back to my first question.

"What is Ray Minami's life worth to you?" When Koyuki tensed, Leon nodded. "Relax, Yukio. I'm not about to hold you responsible for a deal that was obviously made without your agreement. But Ray is a different matter. He gave me his word, and I gave him mine. He knows he did something he shouldn't have, and that's why he ran. He ran and he left you guys in the lurch. What was to stop me from forcing the rest of you to hold his end of the bargain? He had no guarantee I wouldn't. And he still ran. And I'm angry.

"Truth be told, I could care less about your band. I could find a hundred bands in America who are at BECK's level of ability. You, however, are a different breed, Yukio Tanaka. Instrumentalists can be trained, ability honed. But a singer needs to be bred. Your voice, your charisma, your talent—that isn't something you can find so easily. You need the right sort of ear, the right sort of voice, the right sort of physique, the right sort of personality, the right sort of genetics. Unlike the rest of your band-mates, your existence has value to me Yukio Tanaka. Or—I should say—your future ability once you've been properly trained has value to me. Right now, you're a work in progress. But you've got all the right assets to make investing my own resources in you, worthwhile.

"And here we come to a crossroad of sorts. You don't seem to have any interest in signing with my label. I, on the other hand, have absolutely zero interest in letting Ray Minami live one minute, one second longer than I absolutely have to.

"So you tell me, Yukio Tanaka. Just what is Ray Minami's life worth to you?"

Leon Sykes let the suffocating silence percolate for several beats of Koyuki's adrenaline hyped heart. Then he stood and adjusted his sunglasses. "I'll give you some time to think about it. Take the guitar, it's yours now, whether you choose to accept my offer or refuse it. Consider it my thanks for playing People Get Ready. I've never heard it sung quite like that."

Leon Sykes pulled a card from his jacket pocket, set it on the table, and slid it across in front of Koyuki. It was his business card with contact information.

"Just don't take too long to decide; Gordy's been looking forward to meeting your friend Ray Minami again. And I'm not exactly a very patient man.

"You have seven days. I'll be in touch."


A/N: The scene with Koyuki inside Leon Sykes' hotel suite always bothered me because Sykes never bothered to play any of the powerful cards he was holding. I always wondered why.