Chapter One

. . . A scar

I know I gave it to you months ago

I know you're trying to forget

But between the drinks and subtle things

The holes in my apologies you know

I'm trying hard to take it back

They'd decided together that only Fai and Sakura would sit for the interview. They judged the two of them were the most interesting members. Unless you counted Subaru. They were still trying to keep him out of the public eye and let him recover in peace, and the guy from Rolling Stone had better remember their warning not to ask questions about what had happened to him.

Still, Touya and Yukito came along. They were unobtrusive in jeans and tshirts, their hair unstyled and their backs turned toward the room. Just a couple of guys drinking at the bar, but ready to step in if anything went wrong.

Fai and Sakura joined the reporter at the table.

"Hi, welcome, great to meet you, I'm Robert," the young man said. Fai tried not to judge him for the hipster beard he was sporting. Some people just didn't know any better. "What are you drinking?"

Sakura, who'd been legal for all of three weeks, ordered a Long Island and ignored the fact that Robert seemed impressed that she wasn't impressed. Fai didn't like any of the beers on tap so he asked for a Midnight Cowboy, which he then had to explain to the bartender.

"Great movie," Robert commented when they all sat down. Robert was drinking PBR. Of course he was. He had a neck beard.

"I love old movies," Fai grinned, crossing his long legs in front of himself. This was the beginning of the interview.

They talked about movies for a few minutes, with Robert directing questions at Sakura whenever she perked up over a title she recognized. When she didn't know the film, she settled for waiting until Robert was looking at Fai, then making faces across the room at her older brother. She was careful not to call Robert's attention to them, though. They didn't want to be interviewed. They'd already been the young ones making a name for themselves, once, and they were content to stay out of that part of the game. Leave it to the newbies.

They talked awhile about comic books, which was Sakura's hobby when she could be pried off the drumset for fifteen minutes. Fai could have chipped in there, but he didn't. She deserved the limelight, deserved to be fallen in love with. And they would. They would trip over themselves when they realized she knew which superheroes belonged where, in addition to being a powerfully talented musician. (She was also very pretty, but that went without saying. Just look at her, with those jewel-green eyes and cherry-pink lips.)

Eventually talk turned to more relevant, less comfortable topics.

"You guys have had a big year. A really, really big year," Robert said, having switched to Long Island iced tea himself after remembering why Pabst was a bad idea. Fai had hurried his way through the bourbon and decided this painful interview in this muggy, sticky town called for mojitos. Sakura was still working on her first drink.

"I guess we have," Fai said pleasantly, letting out a lilting laugh.

"I mean, you guys have been nominated for awards, you're all over the internet, your concerts have been sold out all summer, your song was in the top ten for seven weeks. Tell me how it feels."

The better question was how it felt to go through this inane process that had Robert just as apathetic as they were. They could have done this over the phone. Although then he wouldn't get drinks on the company dime.

"Damn good," Fai laughed. He nudged Sakura, letting her know they could open up a little and be honest. They had an adoring public, after all. "You have no idea how grateful we are for the support." Totally true.

"I've been blown away by the fans," Sakura admitted, a nervous habit causing her to scrub her hand through the hair at the back of her neck. She'd put enough gel in the faux hawk that it was left undamaged. "When we were getting started, all the advice we were given said that a rock band would never make it with a female drummer."

"It's out of the ordinary, but you guys have definitely made it. Sakura, anything you'd like to say to the doubters?"

She grinned easily. "I already did. I said, 'Bring it on.' I think the sold-out shows speak for themselves, at this point."

Robert laughed along with them. "Still, you guys must have faced some challenges, especially trying to sell Sakura's talent. Any particular incident stand out in your mind?"

"Our third gig," Fai said immediately, causing Sakura to scowl with remembrance. Fai told most of the story, but he gave Sakura the finale in which she'd grabbed a guy by his junk and informed him with nothing but sweetness that drumming had given her very strong hands and she might be able to castrate him. Robert was wide-eyed with delight at having a tough-but-sweet girl he could write about, and Fai caught Touya grinning over at the bar. He'd probably never been so proud of his sister as that day.

They told a few stories from the early days, they joked about Sakura being the only girl on the tour bus, they squashed the rumour that they were starting their own clothing line. They promised that as soon as the tour was over in November, they were all going back to Chicago and hitting the studio for a new album.

"Oh, I write all the time," Fai said when Robert asked when they'd found time to compose new tracks for the next album. "We've only released two albums, I have at least the bare bones of forty songs for us to try, not to mention some covers that we want to look into making official. The cover we played of 'Hey Jude' at the Grammys has something like three million hits on Youtube."

"Fai, we've all seen your skill with music. You seem to play a little bit of every instrument they can throw at you." He'd been known to take over Touya's keyboard, to pick up a guitar for a song or two, to drag out a mandolin or an accordion or a flute or on one memorable and infamous occasion, a trumpet. "Do you write all the music yourself?"

"Absolutely not," Fai said, grimacing at the very idea. He was good at starting things. The others were the ones good at finishing them. "I'll sketch out a concept, and that's when everybody else jumps in with their own ideas. We decide together on whose instrument will be dominant in a piece, who will do backup vocals, that kind of thing. I get lyrics from a thousand different places, and often from the rest of the band. I think all musicians are magpies to some extent. Me more than most."

Sakura nudged him with her foot. "Don't let the charming humility thing fool you. He does take suggestions and he's very fair, but the stuff he writes is brilliant. We're all lucky he came along."

Despite himself, Fai felt warm at that. It was hard sometimes. He was the one who had come along. Didn't fit in, hadn't already been there. But it was true that he was the driving force of creativity, and there would be no Paper Cranes without him. It was somewhat reassuring.

"Let's talk a minute about what you write. About lyrics," Robert said, and Fai grinned. Sakura nudged him with her foot again, but she was shaking her head and smiling absently into her empty glass. They'd been waiting for Robert to get to this; they'd been waiting for this since someone had put one word in neon in the lyrics in a Youtube video and started pointing it out to everyone. This was the question he'd been waiting to ask until he thought he had them loose and relaxed.

"Pinocchio," Fai said.

The Paper Cranes' number one hit. It sold out their concerts, got them the Grammy nomination, put Sakura on the map. The spiraling darkness of the drum solo was nothing short of a miracle. They all swore she grew an extra set of feet for the bass pedals that nobody could see when they performed 'Pinocchio.' Plus everyone liked the cynicism of the lyrics. It had a subtitle. The song was actually called 'Pinocchio (Lying: A Love Story)' and the crowd's cheering grew a savage edge every time Fai sang about the bullshit lovers feed each other.

"Pinocchio," Robert agreed. "Need another drink?"

"God, yes, I do. 'The words are cheap/all I need is you/baby go to sleep/she doesn't look at you like I do.' Those are the lyrics, yeah?"

"She," Robert said.

"She," Fai said agreeably, sipping another mojito and wondering if he should switch to water. It wasn't like he was actually done drinking, but he didn't want Rolling Stone to put him down as an alcoholic. It was so fucking cliché. He'd be cliché in private, thanks.

"There've been a few different interpretations tossed around about that," Robert said, like they didn't know. "If the song really is about a man singing to a woman, which is understandably the assumption, then the interpretation is that the woman might be bisexual. But then people have considered that it's actually meant to be from a woman's perspective, which is ballsy of a male singer to do. Then of course there's the interpretation that it's about a male homosexual couple and the errant partner is bisexual. You've got the world in an uproar about your sexuality, Fai. So let's lay it to rest: which interpretation is correct?"

"Yes."

He and Sakura snickered at each other at the frustrated, confounded look Robert wore.

"Yes?"

"Yes. It's all of them. I wrote the song for everyone in a relationship. Don't limit it with questions about the gender or sexuality of the narrator or the singer. Just let people enjoy the music, man. That's what it's for."

"What about you, Fai? Are you willing to lay the question of your sexuality to rest? I assume it hasn't escaped your attention that people are highly divided over the idea of a rock star being gay."

"Fucking hell, really? Our keyboardist and bass player got a photo taken of them making out behind the tour bus last year and somehow the gender of the narrator in a song is what has people talking?"

Touya and Yukito preferred to keep their private life to themselves, but they'd never made any big secret of what they were. It had been pretty well-known among the more loyal and earlier part of the fan base, enough so that the paparazzi photo had barely even made a splash.

Still, Yukito's ears had turned pink over at the bar and Touya was hunched over and glowering.

"It's your refusal to answer the question that has people curious, Fai. You act like you've got something to hide. It's got people upset."

What he meant was, they were in the background and people didn't always know their names. Fai was the singer, the spark, the front man. Girls threw underwear at him, among other things. Fai could have gotten mad at the implication that Touya and Yukito, who had started all of this, were less important than he was. Instead, he just shrugged. "That's the thing, Robert. I don't have anything to hide." He spread out his arms. "I haven't got any boyfriends, girlfriends, no secret lovers. If I ever fall in love, I'll be sure to inform the public of their gender immediately."

Sakura snorted. "I don't see what this line of questioning has to do with our music," she spoke up. After having been quiet so long, it seemed to startle Robert. "I don't see you asking this about anybody else in the band, and I don't remember any recent interviews in your magazine where other artists got hounded about their sexuality. Why don't you ask me about mine?"

Sakura wore torn leggings, clunky knee-high boots, a loose tshirt with a picture of Audrey Hepburn on it. The chunky cuffs on her wrists seemed to accentuate the cords of muscle in her arms. She had nine ear piercings and a bar through the back of her neck, plainly revealed by her spiked-up hair The flowers she was named for were tattooed in a giant swath up across her chest, shoulder, and down one arm. She looked wild and dangerous and not a little questionable.

Robert's face was regretful. "We all know the story about your old boyfriend, Sakura. I know it's been some time, but I'm sorry for your loss."

"Why? Did you know him?" she asked, over-sweet. Then, "Come on, Fai. The interview is over."

Fai was the one who hadn't been there. The outsider they'd brought in after things fell apart. But maybe that was exactly the reason that as Touya and Yukito swooped in like a pair of guardian angels, Sakura clung to Fai's arm instead of theirs.


(three years earlier)

"Dear God, I just figured out who's singing," Touya muttered, nudging Yukito with his elbow and nodding surreptitiously across the room.

Yukito's eyes tracked the direction and found the middle-aged woman whose muffin top spilled over a pair of very, very skinny white jeans.

"I don't want anybody else/and when I think about you/I touch myself," she sang tremulously, eyes on the floor.

Yukito winced. "I really hope somebody takes that lady home tonight. She's pretty."

"You volunteering?" Touya asked wryly, signaling the bartender for another vodka-whatever-this-was. The slender, gorgeous blond slid up and poured quickly, flashing an easy grin before hurrying on to all his other customers. Karaoke night seemed to be busy around here.

"It's a good night to be a gay man," Yukito said slyly, not only squeezing a little too high for decency on Touya's thigh, but sending a surreptitious glance at the bartender's ass.

Touya laughed and wished they had gone someplace where he could have made out with his boyfriend for that. Still, karaoke had sounded like fun at the time. Neither of them had been around music very much the past few years, and they both missed it. All of it. They missed the crowds, the opening acts, they missed scouring videos and recordings for new skills to pick up, they missed practicing every day, they missed performing— They missed Kurogane. But Kurogane was too caught up in missing Syaoran to miss them, so . . . Music had been scarce, lately. Karaoke sounded undemanding and simple.

It had been pretty fun, so far. They'd both been studying too much. The Long Goodbye had gotten big enough that they'd all dropped out of college, but the past two years had seen them throwing themselves into their respective degrees (engineering for Touya, pre-med for Yukito, who was thinking about becoming a physical therapist).

Neither of them was interested in singing tonight, themselves. But it was nice to be surrounded by people who just liked music for its own sake. Even if they all sucked. Every. Single. One of them. Touya was trying to pretend he hadn't heard some stupid kid butcher The Who half an hour ago. At least he had the blessing of not really knowing most of the country songs and therefore not having to realize how poor the performances of them were.

"Okay!" the karaoke host said cheerfully. "We've had a lot of requests for a particular song tonight, sung by a particular person! Fai, I'm afraid the crowd just isn't going to let you get away tonight. I know you tried to beg off earlier, so I'll give you choice of song if you want, but everybody wants to hear you sing 'Livin On A Prayer.'"

The crowd was laughing, roaring approval, clapping. Having no idea what was going on, Touya and Yukito joined in the applause. Why not? Their ears were going to bleed when the singer inevitably screeched through that last high note, but they'd probably already been through the worst the evening had to offer.

It was quite a surprise when the microphone went hand-over-hand and ended up in front of the blushing, protesting bartender. God, he even blushed pretty. Neither Touya nor Yukito was a jealous lover, being as they were so incredibly secure in their relationship, so they both took a moment to appreciate it.

After a moment of fumbling with the microphone, the first notes of the music started. The bartender (Fai, wasn't it?) . . . changed. A weight pressed down on his shoulders, even though he kept smiling.

Then he sang.

Yukito's hand gripped Touya's under the edge of the bar. "Oh my god," he breathed.

For all he hadn't wanted the mic in his hands, Fai was a performer born. His voice was clear and vibrant, he had the whole crowd listening and cheering, he was pulling antics with anyone near him and grinning. People were whistling and clapping.

He hit the high note.

He made it sound good.

What the hell?

"Oh my god," Yukito mumbled, grabbing Touya's hand under the edge of the bar.

Then it was over, the crowd was applauding again, and he was ducking his head and scurrying around with a bottle of rum in one hand and three dirty plates in the other.

"Touya," Yukito gasped, his hand still gripping tight enough to hurt. "That's him."

"Who?"

"The singer."

"What singer?"

"The one we need to start the band back up."

Touya had pretended for two years that he didn't want that. He'd pretended that engineering was a good enough dream and that music had just been a childish thing, The Long Goodbye was a garage band who'd accidentally got a break and it was never meant to last. Because there was something they weren't going to get back, no matter how they might wish for it.

"Kurogane's not going to—"

"Maybe not. I wasn't going to ask him until we talk to Fai and find out if we've got something to ask him about."

They waited outside. They waited for over two hours, until the bar was cleared out and shut down and cleaned up. Finally, Fai emerged with a coworker and headed for a dingy little pickup truck.

"Hey," Touya called, rising up from where he'd been leaning on his own boring Honda. He'd gotten rid of the beat-up minivan when the band broke up and there was no more equipment to haul around. "Hey, Fai."

He whirled around, muscles tense, eyes nervous. "What?"

"We just wanted to talk to you, that's all."

"I have a gun."

"Wow. Not that kind of talking. We were inside."

"I remember. Vodka cranberry."

"Is that what it was? Ugh, no wonder. Anyway, we heard you sing."

"You can hear me sing every Saturday night. Almost always the same song, unfortunately, but—"

"Fai, have you ever thought about singing professionally?" Yukito asked, stepping up beside Touya.

That shut him up.

"We're starting a band. Well, restarting, more like. Ever heard of The Long Goodbye?" he asked with good humour. The answer tended to be "no."

Fai's eyes went wide and stunned. "Oh my god. You're Yukito. The bassist. You— you're amazing!" He turned his eyes on Touya. "You're Touya?"

"Yup."

"Is Kurogane here?" he asked, turning his head from side to side to scan the emptied parking lot.

"No," he answered past the tang of bitterness. "No, just the two of us. You're probably hungry, right? You were working hard in there tonight. There's an all-night IHOP two blocks over. Let's talk."

Fai tossed a gym bag into the cab of his truck and turned around. "Okay."


They were splurging on motel rooms tonight because they were in Left Armpit, Missouri or something like that and they were all desperate to escape the humidity. It was turning Kamui's hair curly and therefore he was snarling and rude. Luckily the motel was cheap and mostly vacant, so the only person who was sharing a room with him and forced to put up with it was his brother.

Fai kind of wondered if the other roadies got jealous of the fact that Fuuma and Kurogane usually got treated like members of the band, but it wasn't as though they were trying to play favourites. It was just that Kurogane sort of was a member, and Fuuma basically went everywhere that Kurogane did. Those two had been their entire road crew when they'd started, so it made sense that they hung around the musicans more than the other techs.

At the moment, they were all crowded into the room that Fai, Fuuma, and Kurogane were ostensibly sharing. Kurogane seemed likely to slip out and sleep in the equipment trailer to get away from the noise, and Fuuma seemed likely to be murdered in a fit of grumpy rage if he didn't leave Kamui's hair alone. Fai might end up with a room to himself after all. Fai had pulled out all the equipment for his Wii and started an impromptu Super Smash Bros tournament, which after seeing the general mood of everyone seemed in retrospective to have been a bad idea. Subaru was silent, Kamui was pissy, Kurogane seemed tired, and Sakura was declaring that she needed to study.

Mostly his regret was tied to the way Sakura was cheerfully kicking his ass. Fai had a Wii, an old Nintendo 64, and an Xbox he dragged around and was reigning champion of all three. Unless he was playing against Sakura, who seemed to destroy him in every combat game he owned.

Dinner was crinkly bags of chips and a 24 pack of Corona that Fuuma had gotten at Circle K. No one felt like finding a grocery store to put together a more substantial meal. Fai glanced over at Sakura during a pause and found her with a mouthful of Cheetos and a beer in the hand that wasn't holding the controller. He laughed to himself. All joking with Robert the hipster reporter aside, she made it easy to forget there was a girl in their band.

"I'm going to go study, guys," Sakura said after a few more minutes of owning everyone. "I've got a test tomorrow."

There was a chorus of goodnights and one proud "thatta girl" from Yukito. Touya was the one who'd insisted she had to take online classes or she wasn't allowed to travel with Paper Cranes, but Yukito was the one who helped her study and made sure she stayed on track. She'd had to repeat a year of high school because she'd missed so much after the accident, so she was a little behind with college, but she said she'd have her associate's degree by Christmas.

Sakura tossed her controller to someone, and Fai started to give his up to give someone else a turn. But then Kurogane sat down beside him, the cheap motel bed sagging under his weight and tilting Fai toward him. Fai scooted over to balance things out and didn't say anything. Kurogane wouldn't have taken the opportunity to play with him unless he wanted to talk, so Fai would wait until he said what was on his mind.

Things were . . . not easy, between the two of them. Not bad, exactly, just . . . not easy. Fai tried to keep a good rapport with everyone, and he knew Kurogane was approachable if not friendly with most of them, but somehow the two of them always felt better keeping their distance from each other.

"What's up, man?" he said casually, just to make some noise. Fai could be in a room with other people where no one was speaking, that didn't bother him—but when it was Kurogane, the quiet somehow felt heavier than with anyone else.

"Nothing," Kurogane mumbled, already working on his usual gaming strategy of pounding his opponent to death. Fai was quick enough to dodge, so Kurogane was going to have to get more creative if he wanted to win, here. "How was the interview?"

"Boring, mostly. Guy was kind of a putz." Fai almost said, "worth it for the free drinks" and then remembered who he was talking to. Kurogane was drinking water and didn't seem concerned about the bottles piling up around him, and Fai knew he tended not to get emotional about his former alcoholism, but saying something like that would sound like Fai was baiting him, which he wasn't.

This was why things were not easy. Talking was like walking through a minefield.

"He ask?"

"Ask what?" Fai replied innocently. Okay, so occasionally he baited the guy.

"About Pinocchio, stupid."

Kurogane managed to land a hit and moved in for the kill while Fai's character was reeling. Fai frantically moved to retreat.

"Sorta. He mostly was just trying to be the guy who reported my coming out, so that was all he really cared about."

"So is he going to be?"

Fai's eyes jerked sideways to Kurogane, startled. The question had, up to this point, only been asked by reporters and fans, while the band and crew minded their own damn business. Kurogane, the guy he was least friendly with, was going to be the one to step over the line?

"I meant did you answer."

"Oh. No. Fuck 'im." Fai managed to land a hit that left Kurogane's character stunned, so he decided sauce for the gander was sauce for the goose and started beating on him ferociously. "I know what you wanted to ask. Don't worry about it. I didn't mention you."

"Good."

"We had a quick huddle before the interview, actually, we decided I'd just take all the credit," Fai grinned, knowing how much of an asshole that made him sound.

"Kamui was okay with that?"

"He agreed that it was safest, considering that the public's freaking over the whole thing right now. Better to just let me take the fall if there's going to be one."

Kurogane was hunched over his controller, scowling ferociously as he tried to fend off Fai's attack. He just grunted an acknowledgement.

"Of course he wasn't okay with it, he's pissed as hell. What do you think he's so pissed off about tonight?"

Kurogane's eyes flicked to Kamui briefly. He was strung tight as a wire, talking to Subaru and attempting to ignore Fuuma, who was oh-so-innocently playing a handheld game while repeatedly putting his feet in Kamui's lap and getting them shoved right back off.

"I figured it's cause the humidity makes him look like a poodle."

Fai snickered. "Two blows to his ego in one day, poor thing."

"It's not exactly fair."

"Yeah, well, life isn't."


(one year, three months ago)

"Who had an orange freeze shake?"

"No, no, the paper has to be focused on pre-Revolution stuff, I can't talk about Washington's tenure in office," Sakura told Yukito, using two pencils to drum out a rhythm on the table while she supposedly worked on a draft of an essay for her online history course.

"Fuuma, cut it out!" Kamui shouted, using a napkin to wipe the back of his neck.

"Hey, Subaru, you okay?" Fai nudged the quiet man at his side, but Subaru just kept frowning. "Did you get another letter from that goddamn creep?"

"I'm fine," Subaru answered, picking up a chicken finger and nibbling at it.

"Anybody over here get an orange freeze shake?"

"Hey, you stole my fries!" Fuuma snapped at Kurogane, clutching at his plate jealously.

"Kamui, here, what do you think?" Fai asked, shoving a page of chicken-scratch lyrics across the table.

"No, something still feels off," Kamui muttered, picking up his pen and crossing out a line, scribbling another possibility. "Cut it the fuck out, Fuuma!" he hollered over the divider between booths, swiping at another spitwad that had landed in his hair.

Touya shoved the remains of his hamburger aside and put his head down in his hands. "Yukito, I'm going back to the bus. I'm too old for this shit."

"Hang on, babe, I'll go back with you, let me just try to get the name of this book really quick for Sakura," Yukito replied, typing on his phone.

"Hey!"

Everyone in all three booths shut up simultaneously and stared at the waitress who was standing there looking murderous.

"Did one of you order an orange shake."

"Oooo, me!" Fai said happily, waving his hand.

It was plunked down in front of him with possibly more force than necessary.

"Thanks sooo much, sweetheart," Fai said, giving her a million-watt smile. "I'm just trying to get something right and I tend to get a little distracted when I'm working." He winked for good measure.

"That's— no problem—" the woman stuttered, face turning pink. "E-enjoy. Let me know if you need anything."

"Absolutely," Fai said, grinning until she was gone. Then he scowled down at the change Kamui was suggesting.

Kamui threw his hands up in the air. "I don't like it, either, but it's still better than what you had!"

"Ugh, we're writing a song about lying, this should be easy," Fai groaned.

Subaru stole his shake and tasted it. "That's really good," he said with delight. "I'm gonna get one when she comes back. He craned his neck to see the paper better. "You should put in something about their ex. Something . . . I don't know. They don't want you back?"

"Maybe," Fai said, narrowing his eyes. "See if you can come up with a second line that rhymes with 'back' and doesn't suck. You can have this," he added, sliding the shake over.

"Um, you don't want it?"

"I like it, but I don't think it's making my eyes light up the way it does yours. You are clearly getting more out of it than I am," Fai smiled, nudging him and cajoling him into taking the drink.

Subaru smiled softly and took it, and made Fai wonder all over again how this quiet and shy kid had ever wanted to be in a rock band. Kamui was glaring at him in that "hands off my twin" way he had, except maybe Fai was just getting the twin-glare confused with the Fuuma-glare because he used both of them so often, because when he opened his mouth it was to roar,

"I swear to God, Fuuma!"

Kurogane thumped the lighting technician on the back of the head as he stood up from the booth they were sharing with Touya. "I'm going to the john. Try not to get killed, you moron, I need you."

Kurogane was officially in charge of their sound equipment and mainly focused on guitar tech, but unofficially he was the manager of the entire road crew. Fuuma was good enough at his job that Kurogane would probably miss him if Kamui actually slit his throat.

Kurogane passed by their booth on his way to the bathroom and his arm stretched out in front of Fai's face.

"Here."

A napkin fluttered down and Fai pinned it with his pen and dragged it closer.

Don't mind spending words when they're cheap

All I ever wanted was you

Baby stop talking and to go sleep

She never looked at you the way I do

"Hooolyyy shit," Fai drawled, eyes wide. "Kamui. Kamui, Kurogane just wrote our song for us."

Kamui snatched up the napkin and studied it, and his fingers were twitching on a phantom guitar. "Lines are too long for what I'm hearing," he pronounced, setting it down. He was humming the phrasing he wanted, and Subaru was sitting forward with interest, humming his own guitar's counterpoint.

"It'll work," Subaru said. "Just shave it down a little. Simplify. It'll work."

Fai's head was bobbing, beginning to hear the song. "Yeah. Sakura! You've got some serious work to do with this one! We'll start going over it tomorrow!" Sakura gave him thumbs up and went back to drumming on the edge of her table while Yukito read over her draft. Kurogane was walking past again on his way back to his seat. "Hey, Kurogane!" he said, snatching at one heavily-tattooed arm and stopping him. "She? Why she?"

Kurogane shrugged. "Why not? Sounds better that way," he said simply.

This was probably the closest Fai had ever been, physically, to Kurogane. He found himself staring at the design worked into his arm. Some kind of Asian dragon, a water motif, lots of blue and green, this was the most gorgeous sleeve piece Fai had ever seen, and there was the other arm with all the red and orange and some kind of feather pattern that he wanted to see, too . . .

Kurogane tugged his arm free. "Dude, you want a picture, or the name of my tattoo artist or what?"

Fai smiled sweetly up at him. "Yeah, sure. Would fanmail be weird? Because I want to write your artist fan letters. Damn, that is cool."

"Thanks," Kurogane said gruffly, then pulled out his wallet and tossed money in front of Fuuma. "I'm beat, I'm going back to the bus to crash. If you wake me up when you come in, I'll fucking kill you."

"You say the sweetest things to me, baby," Fuuma said, distracted in the process of making another spitwad to shoot at Kamui. Then he looked up and grinned. Touya had already vacated the booth to go lay down on the empty side of the one where Sakura and Yukito were studying, so Fuuma was alone in his booth. He jumped up and slid into their booth next to Kamui. "I wanna see what you're writing."

"Go the fuck away."

"No. It's about lying, right? You lie to me all the time, this should be cake."

"When do I lie to you?"

"You tell me that you hate me and you want me to leave you alone all the time," he pouted. "Such hurtful, callous lies."

"Subaru, for the love of God, switch places with me. I am still eating and I'm not abandoning my food because of this cretin."

Fai watched Subaru and Kamui slither underneath the table to switch seats and wondered how he'd ever thought being a bartender was an exciting job. His life was freaking cool.


Kurogane and Fuuma were both outside checking on the rest of the crew and making sure the equipment was locked up tight for the night. They had only a short drive to St. Louis for their show there tomorrow night, but they wanted to be up early so everyone could check out the city sights before they started setting up.

Fai locked the bathroom door and gnawed on his lower lip for a minute. If they were getting up early, he should get to sleep soon and that made this a bad idea. But he was getting pretty antsy and he didn't think he was going to be able to sleep anyway. He'd better.

"Just enough to take the edge off," he muttered, pulling the baggie out of his pocket and flipping his wallet open to get out a credit card. Just a little. Sprinkle it on the counter, and carefully line it up with the card. He'd pocketed his drinking straw at the bar earlier and borrowed Kamui's pocketknife a few minutes ago to cut it in half.

Fai bent over, snorted, and straightened up all in one movement. "Guh," he gasped, sniffing rapidly. He rinsed the straw out in the sink before throwing it away and used a wad of damp toilet paper to make sure the counter was clean and wipe around his nose. He stayed in the bathroom for a couple of minutes to make sure his nose didn't start to bleed.

The eyes looking back at him in the age-spotted mirror were mocking him.

"I'm an idiot. I know. So fuck you."

Kurogane and Fuuma were coming back in, bickering about something. Fai pasted a smile on before unlocking the door and sauntering out. Maybe he'd go sit outside on the stairs and write for a while. Would he be keeping anyone awake if he took his guitar out there? Probably. He'd just work on lyrics or something. He could sleep tomorrow afternoon while everyone else was checking out St. Louis, that town was a hole and there was nothing he wanted to see.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," he muttered with each step out of the room after bidding the other two goodnight.

His life was such a fucking joke sometimes.


A/N: Yep. Writing a story about them being in a band. There will be sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. XD Also, prepare for truckloads of tragic backstory. You give me any version of Kurogane and Fai, and I will ruin their childhoods just to be a dick. This is why we can't have nice things.