A Kaikan Phrase Sekkushiaru Roman

By Sailor Mac

Atsuro Kiryuu stood just outside his front door, feeling his heart sink to his feet.

Oh, how he hated coming back home at the end of the school day. Those couple of hours just before dinner were just endless. His mother would be sweet and accommodating. . .because in the back of her mind, she was still holding onto the vague hope he'd changed his mind about not going to college. His father would be. . .typical.

I just don't feel like a typical teenager anymore, he thought. I was living on my own for awhile, I know what being an adult is like. . .it was just so hard to come back to this. . .

Steeling himself, he opened the door and walked in. Sure enough, his mother was in the kitchen, calling out to him, "Hello, Atsuro! I have a plate of onegiri for you in the fridge. . .you can have a snack while you do your homework."

Always homework, he thought. "Hi, Mom." He took the plate and a bottle of C.C. Lemon out of the fridge. "Did Yuka tell you we have band practice right after dinner?"

"Yes, she did. Whatever are you practicing for now? You're done with the band contest."

He winced at the thought of that. All that work, all that grief they went through. . .and to come in *second*. . .so close, and yet so far. . .

"We don't know yet," he replied, honestly. "But Yuka's making the rounds. . .I'm sure she'll find *something.*"

His mother put the pastry she had been making into the oven and turned to her son, eyes wide with concern. "Atsuro. . .are you *sure* you want to make music your career? I mean, you're seeing firsthand how hard it can be. It is *not* exactly a stable way to make a living."

He put the plate and bottle on the table, went to her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I'm *sure*, Mom. I just can't see myself doing anything else. It's the only thing that makes me *happy*."

"Happiness doesn't pay the bills, you know."

"I know. And I'll make do when we don't have money coming in, Mom. But. . . I just have this *feeling* about this band. We *are* going to go somewhere. . .eventually."

His mother looked down with a sigh, a troubled look crossing her broad face.. . .then looked up with a smile. It was obvious she was forcing herself to accept the fact his decision was final, and there was going to be no college for him. "You have to do what's best for you. And if yïu've got band practice. . .you'd better start your homework."

"Okay," he said. "Thanks for the food."

He took the plate and bottle back to his room and set them down on his desk, taking out the contents of his bookbag and putting them on the surface. The stack of homework he had to do looked like Mount Everest.

He stared at the pile, running a hand through his thick, red hair. A few months ago, it had been brown. He'd dyed it as part of his declaration of independence from what his parents wanted for him. True, the shade was a bit loud. . .but he liked it. It definitely gave him a "rock and roll" look.

But right now. . .he was a rock and roller facing an ungodly amount of very un-rock and roll homework.

Why do I keep at this? he thought. My parents agreed to take me back in on the condition I'd finish high school. . .but did I really *want* them to take me back? Did I reconcile with them because *I* wanted to? Or was it because of. . .

A picture flashed through his mind of when he was living with his bandmate, his friend, his mentor. . .Towa. He could envision Towa's long blond hair, quiet smile, and dignified manner. . .not to mention his unique style of dress, which often, as on this day, involved various items of women's clothing. But there was nothing shocking or silly about it. . .for him, it looked simply *right*.

Atsuro was sitting on the floor, and Towa was across the room, at the table, drinking tea. . .

"You really should go back and talk to them, Atsuro. If they *really* love you, they're going to want you to be happy."

Atsuro heaved a deep sigh. "They don't want me to be happy. They just want me to become a carbon copy of my father. And I can *not* live that kind of life." He lay back on the floor, arms folded behind his head, staring at the patterns on the ceiling tile. "Why would anyone *want* to be a salaryman? You leave the house at an ungodly hour of the morning. . .work like a dog all day. . .then after work, you're *expected* to go drinking or to a pachinko parlor with your coworkers, no matter how tired you are. . ."

"Some people actually find that kind of lifestyle fulfilling," Towa replied. When Atsuro sat up and shot him an icy look, he added, "I'm not saying *you* would. You're right when you say you couldn't do that. You live and breathe music. . .just like I do."

Atsuro lay back down. "You left your own home. . .cut all your ties to your family. . .and yet, you're telling me I should go back."

"I made my own decisions. . .and not all of them were necessarily the right ones," Towa replied, brushing his wavy locks back.

"You regret leaving home, then?"

Towa paused a moment, leaning forward, a thoughtful look on his face. Finally, he replied, "There are some things I regret. . .and some I'll never regret. I will never regret devoting my life to music. But you. . .I want you to have your music. . .*and* no regrets."

The crash of the pile of books falling jolted Atsuro back to the present. He dropped to the floor, cursing, picking up bits of paper here and there.

Yes, it was definitely because of Towa that he'd made up with his parents. Towa was on his mind a *lot* lately, and he couldn't figure out why. He'd be in school, or practicing his guitar, or discussing band business with his sister. . .and he'd suddenly remember something Towa said, or get a picture in his mind of his friend playing his bass, his eyes closed and a soft smile playing at his lips, totally absorbed in the music which was his reason for living.

And then, there were the other, more disturbing thoughts, which usually came late at night. They usually had to do with the day when Towa had made a pass at Atsuro, trying to scare him back to his parents' house. . .he could still remember his bandmate's face right next to his, his breath mingling with Atsuro's as he whispered, "Dye your hair back, and go home. . .it's not too late. Maybe then, I won't get any weird urges." Atsuro remembered feeling suspended in time. . .wanting like hell to kiss him, wanting like hell to push him away. . .Towa had then said, "Just kidding," and Atsuro had literally fallen on the floor.

But in his thoughts. . .fantasies, really. . .Towa didn't stop. Atsuro imagined his bandmate's lips on his, kissing him softly, his hands slowly, gently starting to roam, caressing Atsuro's shoulders, neck, back. . .

I can't be thinking like that! he thought. Guys just *don't* think that way about other guys! Especially not about guys that they're *friends* with! True, Towa wears makeup and skirts a lot, but. . .he's still a *guy*! Gods. . .maybe this is a sign I need to get out more, meet more girls. . .but when? I don't have time! My whole life is school and band. . .and I wouldn't want it any other way.

A light tapping at his bedroom door snapped him back to reality. "Atsuro?" his sister called from the other side of the door. "I have good news!"

He opened the door, and there stood Yuka, her wide, brown eyes sparkling, looking like a child at her own birthday party. This could only mean one thing. . .

"You found us a gig?"

"Private party, next weekend. Some rich guy is giving a birthday bash for his son. . .you know, white tents on the lawn, food tables everywhere, that sort of thing. And he walked into the music store and tacked a notice up on the board that he was recruiting bands to play! He'd never heard about. . .the incident."

Atsuro knew exactly what she was talking about. . .the brawl that Sakuya, their tempestuous lead singer, had started during a show at the Salt Peanut. Someone had said in his hearing that Lucifer was "all looks and no talent". . .and all hell broke loose. They'd been banned from the live houses ever since.

"That's great! Do the others know yet?"

"I'm telling them at practice tonight. Now you *really* have something to practice for! This'll make people sit up and take notice of you again, you'll see!"

"You're a miracle worker. Nice job, Yuka," he said, sitting down at his desk again.

His sister started to leave the room. . .then turned around, abruptly. "Atsuro. . .do you have something on your mind?"

This gave him a start. "Who, me? No. . .nothing. . .why?"

"You don't seem as enthusiastic as you usually do. I thought when you got a gig after all this time, you'd almost be jumping out the window with joy."

"Oh, it's just that. . .I *knew* you'd come through. It's no surprise."

Yuka stepped back into the room, hands planted firmly on hips, a scowl forming on her face. "All right, what is it? Did you have it out with Dad again?"

"No, no. . .nothing like that."

"Then what is it?" She leaned toward him a bit. "Is there some kind of problems within the band I don't know about?"

"Gods, no. . .I'd tell you if there were. You *are* our manager, after all."

"Well, *something's* eating you. And I think it has ever since the band contest."

Of course, he thought. The band contest is when I moved back home. . .when I wasn't with Towa all the time anymore.

"No, really! I'm fine! There's *no* problems, Yuka. I'm just. . .trying to get caught up with school again, that's all."

"Well, okay," she said. "I'll let you get back to working, then."

Yuka left her brother's bedroom, still frowning a bit. Something *was* bothering him ever since he came home. And she had a sneaking suspicion what it was.

She'd been closely involved with the band since its inception, arranging gigs, sending out promotional E-mail blasts, posting fliers around town. . .and attending every one of their practices. She'd observed firsthand how they interacted with each other, the dynamics of the group.

There was definitely *some* kind of vibe between Towa and Atsuro. And it did *not* feel like normal friendship. She'd watch them practicing, their heads close together as they bent over their instruments. . .or deep in conversation, sitting a bit closer together than they really needed to. . .

And then, there were the times, on many occasions, when their eyes met and held. *That* was breathtaking to behold. It looked. . .if only for a few seconds. . .like they were looking into eternity.

Thoughtfully, she raked her fingers through her shoulder-length brown flip. I know Atsuro's never shown any real interest in girls, she thought. He's had a few dates, but. . .nothing that ever went anywhere. I used to tell myself that it was because he was *really* into his music, but now. . .I wonder. . .

She considered going into his room again and begging him to open up to her. She realized that could very well backfire, make him close himself off more.

She heaved a deep sigh. He knows I'm there, she thought, if he wants to talk. And she went back to her own room.

* * *

"A rich kid's party?" Santa said. "We'd better not have to wear any monkey suits!"

"No, no tuxedos," Yuka told the group, who were sitting in the rehearsal studio. "Just wear your normal stage stuff."

"We haven't worked in so long," Atsuro sighed, "that I'd wear anything they asked me to."

"It'll be nice, being before an audience again," Towa said, wistfully. Atsuro couldn't help but look at him. Whenever Towa talked, or even thought, about playing music, his eyes took on an almost rapturous shine, like a saint in a moment of religious ecstasy.

"And," Yuka said, "there's a *possibility* there might be some record company executives at that party! The kid's father knows people in a *lot* of industries, and that includes music."

"All RIGHT!" Santa shouted, standing up behind his drums and raising a fist in the air. "YEAH! That'll show those bastards who wouldn't let us play in their live houses! Once we're with a label, they're going to be begging us to. . ."

"I don't think it's going to be that easy," said a quiet voice from the other side of the room. All heads turned toward Sakuya, who had just been leaning against the wall until this point. He was dressed in his usual crop-top and tight pants, a look-at-me outfit if there ever was one. . .an unusual thing for someone with such a strong antisocial streak to be wearing.

"What do you mean?" Santa said, storming out from behind his drum kit, the very ends of his spiky, dirty-blond hair seeming to bristle. Atsuro and Towa exchanged looks. Sakuya and Santa were like gunpowder and a match. . .a full-blown explosion was almost always inevitable.

"You think they're going to take somebody they see at a *kid's party* seriously? It's just an excuse for them to socialize and drink. The last thing in the world they'll be looking to do is sign a band!"

"Listen, you bastard!" Santa yelled, stalking toward Sakuya. "If it wasn't for *you*, and that brawl you got us into, we'd probably be signed right now! Don't you even give a shit what your little stunt did to this band?"

Sakuya made a huffing sound and dismissed Santa with a wave, his blue eyes icy as ever. "This band's just been a way to pass the time to me, anyway. It doesn't matter to me what happens to it."

"It matters to ME!" Santa yelled, grabbing Sakuya by the shirtfront and shoving him against the wall. "It may be a hobby to YOU, but to US, it's LIFE! We gave up *everything* to make it! Yuki even gave up. . ."

Yuki suddenly grabbed Santa about the waist, yanking him away from Sakuya. "THAT'S ENOUGH!" he said. "What happened at the Salt Peanut is in the past. Just put it behind us and *please*, can we get ready for the show?"

Santa just stood there for a second, panting and glaring at Sakuya. Finally, he threw up his hands and headed back toward his drums. "Fine, fine," he said. But Atsuro heard him mumble under his breath, "We should have gotten another singer."

Atsuro turned his head toward Towa. Their eyes met, communicating without words. . .they both knew things would never be any different, that conflict between those two was a fact of life in this band. But they also knew that secretly, Santa admired Sakuya's amazing vocal talent more than any of them did.

Amazing, Atsuro thought. . .just one glance, and Towa and I always seem to know what the other is thinking. And a wave of emotions started to sweep over him again, a tidal wave of something hot and sweet. . .and terrifying.

I'm probably misinterpreting my feelings, he thought. I'm probably feeling this way because I'm about to do the thing I love most in the world. . .play music. It's probably got nothing to do with Towa at all.

Somewhere at the fringes of his mind, he could hear Yuki telling the others that they were going to play "Sekai de Ichiban Kirei na Mono" ("The Most Beautiful Thing in the World.") Great. . .that was the last thing in the world Atsuro wanted to play. Because there was something special about that song. . .Towa had written it.

He heard Santa count down an empty bar. . .and on cue, they started to play. A few lines of introduction, and then, Sakuya's vocal. . .

"Joyatsuyori kirei na mono nado nai

Kimi wo kazaru kidari wa shorchika nai

(There is nothing more beautiful than passion

That is the only light that adorns you.)

Eien wo te ni yurery

Hinto ga kakusareta isshun no kiss

(The fleeting kiss in which is hidden the hint

Of keeping you for eternity)

Don't tell me why

Don't make me cry

It's a paradise

Koi ni ochiyou

(Let's fall in love)."

It was always almost impossible for Atsuro to concentrate when they played this song. Because nagging thoughts kept running through his head about those lyrics. What, or who, had inspired them? They weren't the kind of thing one would imagine Towa writing. . .he almost always seemed absolutely calm and collected in public, and those lyrics were so. . .passionate. And the thought of Towa having written such passionate lyrics made his heart beat faster. Which only worsened his fear, and confusion, and. . .

The song was interrupted by the loud snap of a guitar string breaking.

There was a moment of dead silence which, to Atsuro, felt like hours. He felt the eyes of every person in the room on him. His heart felt like it was going to leap out of his chest, cold sweat trickled down his neck. . .

He unplugged his instrument quickly. "Gomen. . .gomen nasai. . .I'll have it fixed in a second. . ." He rushed over to his case, pulled out the package of spare strings he kept hidden in a side pocket, and hurried out into the hall, where he could be alone for a moment.

The others watched him go with perplexed looks on their faces. "What the hell is up with *him*?" Santa said. "He's been doing that kind of thing a lot lately."

"Let him go for a moment," Yuki said. "He's probably having problems with his parents again." His eyes hardened a bit, and he lowered his head, his long, purple hair falling across his face. . .he knew all too well what *that* was like.

Towa just stared at the door Atsuro had rushed through a moment, his face an unreadable mask. Then, he started out after him.

Yuka stood rooted to the spot, wondering if she should have rushed out there first. She knew why Atsuro had broken that string, what was wrong with him. It had nothing whatsoever to do with band conflicts or parental conflicts. And Towa was probably the last person in the world he wanted to see right now.

* * *

Atsuro had finally managed to get the string in place when he heard the door open. He didn't look up. He knew who it was.

"Are you all right?" Towa said, his soft voice like velvet on Atsuro's ears. . .and like sandpaper on his aching, confused heart.

"Yeah," Atsuro said. "Just. . .kind of a bad day, you know."

"You've kind of seemed out of it all night," Towa said, sitting next to his friend in a graceful, swooping motion, like a bird in flight coming down to perch. "Parents again?"

"No. . .I mean, kind of. . .well, my mom is leaning on me a bit about studying. . ." He turned a tuning peg back and forth, back and forth, using it as an excuse not to meet Towa's eyes.

"But they're not trying to force the college issue again?"

"No," he said, truthfully. "I just miss. . .well, since I lived away from home, I kind of miss the. . .freedom, that's all."

There was a pause, as if Towa was digesting what was just said, thinking it over. . .then, he said, "Freedom does come with a heavy price, you know. You don't have anyone's rules over your head. . .but you also have days on end with nothing to eat, and months when you worry nonstop about where your next rent payment is coming from."

"Yeah, but. . .*you* didn't live like that. You have this beautiful apartment, and always plenty of food. . ."

Towa smiled gently, turning his head a bit toward his friend, who still hadn't taken his eyes off his guitar. "That's just recently. Before I found a source of income, I was living in one rat-infested room. The only thing that kept me going was that I was doing what I loved to do."

Atsuro put the guitar down, but his fingers remained busy, twisting the strap this way and that. "What *is* your source of income, anyway? I never saw you go out to work when I was living at your place."

Towa looked at the ceiling for a moment. "I model."

That took Atsuro by surprise. "You're a *model*?" Why does that shock you? a voice in his head said. He's beautiful enough to model, isn't he? And that just caused those confused, sickly feelings to start churning away inside him again.

"A few photo shoots here and there. Mostly for small-scale catalogues, local stores' advertising materials. Not exactly GQ-level stuff. But. . .it pays for the apartment, and the food."

Atsuro smiled. "I don't think I can see myself doing that."

"You never know. If we get a little makeup on you, get you into the right clothes. . ."

Atsuro sprang to his feet. "Makeup! Ugh! I wouldn't wear makeup! Well, *stage* makeup, but not. . .*makeup* makeup!"

Towa chuckled. "Just kidding. Nice to see you acting like yourself again." He stood up and put a hand on Atsuro's shoulder. "We have to go back."

That touch. .it was like a branding iron to his soul. Wild fantasies began running through his head of that hand leaving his shoulder and starting to roam. . .

No. He could *not* think of that. They had to *work.* They had a gig coming up. And no matter what Sakuya said, there was always a chance of it leading to bigger and better things. . .right?

Atsuro smiled, and said, "Sure." He pulled away from Towa. . .trying hard to make it look like he wasn't *too* eager to get away. . .and headed back into the rehearsal studio.

Towa paused a moment, studying the boy, deep in thought. Then, he followed.

* * *

A couple of hours later, Towa and Yuki entered Towa's apartment. Yuki had been staying there ever since he had been turned out of his own home. The price of deciding not to carry on his family's Noh theater tradition, and following his own dreams instead, had been total banishment - he wasn't even permitted to carry his family's surname anymore.

Not that any of it seemed to be bothering Yuki much. If anything, he seemed more relaxed nowadays since he was no longer forced to live a double life.

He sat down on the couch that had been his bed since moving in, putting down his guitar case, every movement regal and deliberate, as if he were still on the stage of the classical theater. "Think we'll be ready for the gig?"

"I'm sure at least *some* of us will," Towa replied, setting down his own instrument and heading for the kitchen. "It feels like forever since we've been before an audience."

"Some of us?" Yuki said, stretching out. "I guess that was a reference to Atsuro. He *did* seem not-quite-with-it. . .but his playing has always been affected by his moods."

"Yes, it has," Towa said, opening a cabinet and getting out a kettle. "Do you want some tea?"

"No, I think I'm going to turn right in. I'm pretty exhausted. We practiced hard tonight."

Towa came out of the kitchen, kettle in hand. "And I'm sure keeping Sakuya and Santa from killing each other didn't help, either."

Yuki sighed. "I just don't know about Sakuya. Sometimes, it seems like he's coming around, like he's really taking the band seriously. . .and then, he does something like he did tonight."

"Still," Towa said, "I don't think we'd really be *Lucifer* with anyone else singing. His voice is just so perfect for my bass, your guitar. . .for all of us."

"You're right," Yuki said as he opened the hall closet and began taking out pillows and blankets. "Well, good night. . ."

"Good night," Towa said, returning to the kitchen.

He put water on to boil, thinking about what Yuki had said. Not about Sakuya. . .about Atsuro.

It hadn't been so long ago when it was *Atsuro* going to sleep on that couch, the covers pulled up almost completely over his head, just a few tufts of red hair indicating there was a *person* under there.

Towa remembered the times he'd passed through the living room just as the boy turned over, pushing down the covers, ending up on his back, one arm thrown over his head, his lips moistly parted. . .He also remembered how much he'd been tempted to lean over and kiss those lips. He'd always restrained himself.

He was so confused then, so headstrong and rebellious, Towa thought. The last thing in the world he needed was me showing my feelings for him, and confusing him even more.

Love had never been a major part of Towa's life. He'd accepted his own homosexuality at a fairly early age with the same calmness that he accepted everything from his fluctuating finances to the state of the weather. But it was never a *major* part of who he was. If he had a man in his life, great. If he didn't. . .that was okay, too. As long as he could play music, nothing else mattered.

But as soon as he met Atsuro. . .he knew this was something different. This was the only person he'd ever met whose passion for music was as deep as his own. And he had a sweet innocence that was incredibly endearing, combined with an inner strength that would let no one and nothing get in the way of his dreams. He was. . .unlike anyone that Towa had ever met before.

He knew what he felt for the boy. . .but he couldn't share it. He didn't want to scare him away, lose the friendship that both of them valued so much. . .Oh, he had *deliberately* tried to scare him once by coming on to him, when he was trying to convince him to patch up the quarrel with his parents. All that had done was increase Towa's desire for him.

The kettle whistled, and Towa poured it out, sitting at the kitchen table, gently dipping the teabag in and out of the cup. Atsuro always had a habit of starting to gulp his tea when it was too hot, he thought. He burned his tongue but good more than once when he was living here. That impulsive streak. . .it could get him into real trouble one of these days. That's why I have to look out for him, mother-hen him. . .

As he began to sip the hot beverage, delicately, he thought again of the mood Atsuro had been in tonight. It's sort of like when he was trying to prove himself to his parents, he thought, but not quite. It's like he's wrestling with some inner demon. . .something he can't quite bring himself to tell me about. Drugs? No, he's just not the type, he wouldn't do anything that would interfere with his ability to play. Maybe some other band is trying to get him to join, and he's torn between them and Lucifer? No, he's stated over and over how devoted he is to this band, how he'd do just about anything to help us make it.

Another thought was nagging at the back of his thoughts. . .that maybe Atsuro's struggle was with his own sexuality, that he was beginning to wonder if he was straight or gay. Towa remembered the number of times Santa had come into their dressing room loudly bragging that they were going to party with a girl band after the show, or that girl fans had swarmed around Atsuro. .and he'd shown no interest. He'd looked uncomfortable, really.

He realized that he was probably indulging in something he rarely experienced - wishful thinking. The idea that Atsuro might return his feelings was, he realized, more than he could probably hope for.

He finished his tea, taking the cup to the sink to wash out. It's better, he thought, to leave things as they are, and not uproot his life any more. I'll just let him know I'm here if he needs me, for anything.

As he passed through the living room, he saw Yuki's purple-tressed head on the pillow, and thought again about how much he missed seeing those tufts of red hair. . .

* * *

At the Kiryuu house, Yuka sat at her computer, trying to compose an E-mail to send to the managers of the local live houses, telling them about the party gig and begging again for them to take Lucifer back. But the words wouldn't come.

She knew why. She was too worried about her brother.

He was *definitely* antsy during tonight's rehearsal, she thought. More so than he's been in a long time. Something is *definitely* bothering him, and I know it runs far deeper than the fact that Sakuya and Santa will never get along.

Again, her mind filled with the picture of Atsuro leaving the rehearsal to fix his string, and Towa going out after him. It seemed at once so natural, and so troubling.

And she thought, as she had earlier, of them looking into each other's eyes like they were seeing a miracle. . .

She frowned, one index finger tapping her mouse as she thought of another occasion when Towa and Atsuro went off together after a rehearsal. She just stood there and watched them go, and she must have had a worried expression on her face, because Santa said, "Don't worry. Towa may look the way he does, but. . he's really just a normal guy!"

I almost got mad at him then, she thought, for thinking I was afraid that Towa would seduce my brother. . .but. . .that *is* what I was afraid of, wasn't it?

Why does it matter so much to me, she thought, whether or not my brother is gay? I want him to be happy, right? And if that's what makes him happy. . .but it isn't, is it? It's making him miserable.

She tried to push the thoughts aside. I have to go back to work for the band, she thought. We have a real opportunity with this party gig, to show we can go out there and work and please a crowd without any incidents. And she brought her hand to her mouse again, meaning to click on her E-mail program.

She found herself clicking on her Web browser instead, and typing in the address of a search engine. When it had completely loaded, she clicked on the "search" box and typed "Teen Homosexuality."

* * *

The weekend of the party had arrived.

White tents bloomed like silken mushrooms on the immaculate lawn of a mansion that looked like a castle with its tall minarets sheared off. A mix of people of varying ages milled about, dressed in "casual" clothes with all the right trendy labels prominently stitched on the pockets. They drank pricey liquor, nibbled on pricier hors d'oeuvres, and pretended to be more interested in what each other was saying than they really were.

The members of Lucifer surveyed this as they finished their tuneup and soundcheck. "Not exactly a wild and crazy crowd, are they?" Santa mumbled, turning the screw at the top of one of his cymbals.

"It's a *crowd*," Yuki replied. "Right now, that's all that matters."

"Wish the Master would reopen the Cradle again," Santa said, finishing his adjustment. "*He'd* take us back in a heartbeat."

Atsuro sat at the end of the stage, silently tuning his guitar, saying nothing, looking at no one. He was as quiet as he'd been all week. He knew his bandmates were becoming concerned about him. . .but how could he talk about his feelings? What would they say if they knew what he secretly harbored in his heart for Towa. . .and how terrified he was of those feelings?

They're all straight, I know that, he thought. Sakuya was involved with that older woman. . .Santa always wants to party with every girl who comes to our shows. . .and Yuki. . .well, he was certainly less demonstrative about his preferences than the other two, but he'd been known to enjoy a quiet conversation with a girl after a show.

No, he thought. . .none of them would understand. And he had a sinking feeling in his heart. At that moment, he felt like the loneliest person in the world. . .like nobody ever *would* understand.

He had a sudden urge to go talk to Yuka. . .he couldn't actually *tell* her what he was feeling, but talking to her *would* calm him a little. But Yuka hadn't come to this gig with them. She'd stopped to get something to eat from a roadside food stand on the way home that afternoon. . .and it had made her violently ill for a few hours, then weakened. Atsuro had told her to stay home and rest, the band would be fine without her for one night. She'd protested, of course - "What if those record company excecutives show up?" - but in the end, she knew she was in no shape to go anywhere.

A hand on his shoulder made him jump. Is it Towa? he thought. He turned his head, sure that if he found the bassist looking at him, touching him, he'd freeze up and not know what to say. Why? he thought. I lived with him, for crying out loud! Why should it be hard to talk to him *now*?

But it turned out to be Yuki. "Hey. . .are you ready? We all are."

Atsuro scrambled to his feet. "Sure. . .let's do it."

They took their places on the stage, and Sakuya opened his microphone. . .which promptly let out a squeal of feedback. The people on the lawn turned toward the stage, their faces twisted in grimaces of pain.

Sakuya didn't seem to notice. . .or perhaps he did, and this was exactly what he wanted. "Hello, everyone," he said. "We are Lucifer. . ."

Somewhere in a clump of people near the stage, Atsuro thought he saw one of the younger, hipper people mouthing the words "brawl" and "Salt Peanut" to his friend. He hoped Sakuya didn't see that.

". . .and this is 'Datenshi Blue.'"

Santa counted off an empty bar with his drumsticks, then they launched into the song, the one that took them just a heartbeat away from winning the grand prize at the band contest. Once he was into his playing, Atsuro found, to his relief, that he could just relax and get into the music, forget what was bothering him, if only for awhile. . .

One song followed another,. At first, the rich and blase continued what they were doing, with an occasional glance toward the band. . .but as the set wore on, the music began to get to them. They started to realize this was no ordinary kids-doing-this-as-a-hobby group. . .they were *good.*

Gradually, people started putting down their plates and glasses, turning off their cell phones, and turning their full attention toward the stage. A couple of them actually started to dance during "Plasmagic," and by the time they got to "Midnight Crow," entire sections of the lawn were jumping around. The musicians could feel it. . .they were truly *connecting* with the audience, communicating with them directly, making them *one* with their music.

It was a feeling they hadn't had in so long, in too long. It was more intoxicating than alcohol and drugs combined.

Finally, they were ready to play their last song. . .and Sakuya announced its name to the crowd. . .

"This is called 'Sekai de Ichiban Kirei na Mono.'"

Oh, no, Atsuro thought. Not that. . .I can't face that song. . .*Towa's* song. But he had no choice. He certainly couldn't walk off the stage in the middle of the show. Especially not with the band doing so well.

Santa gave the drumbeat that started the song. . .and Atsuro found himself playing it automatically, like a robot. He tried to force himself just to focus on the music. . .to not listen to what Sakuya was singing at all. . .but he couldn't. The words burned their way into his mind, making him ask again. . .who did Towa write these passionate lyrics for?

And just the thought of all that passion lurking beneath Towa's perpetually calm exterior. . .

No, *gods* no, he couldn't think of that, he couldn't! And he looked down at his guitar, concentrating only on that, mutely praying for the strength to get through the song.

After what seemed like an eternity, Sakuya finally sang the final words:

"Jouatsu yori kiraei na mono

Sore wa kimi no yume wo muri hitomi."

(Something more beautiful than passion

It's in your eyes that look into your dreams.)

The song ended, and the crowd cheered, loudly. The group bowed and exited the stage, laughing, high-fiving each other. They'd scored a direct hit, and they knew it.

The host of the party, the birthday boy's father - a tall, reedy man who looked extremely uncomfortable in his polo shirt and khakis, like he'd rather be wearing a business suit - approached them, vigorously shaking their hands one by one.

"Terrific!" he said. "Everyone loved it! You have *real* talent. I'm definitely having you back for our next party!"

"Thank you, sir," Yuki said. "It was a pleasure."

"Now, you boys can all help yourselves to everything we have here," the man told them. "Have all the food and drinks you want, it's all on the house!"

"All RIGHT!" Santa said. "I'm getting a beer. . .anyone else want one?"

"None for me, thanks," Towa said. "I think I'm going for a walk, get away from this crowd for a moment."

"I'll take an Asahi Dry," Yuki said. "And Sakuya, what are you. . ." He looked around. The singer had vanished into thin air. . .as he usually did immediately after gigs.

Santa snorted. "Typical. Ah, well, his loss."

Atsuro stood rooted to the spot, watching Towa walk off. . .wishing he could run after him, follow him. . .wishing he could just run away. . .

Then, suddenly, he said, "I'm coming with the two of you."

Both Yuki and Santa stopped suddenly, heads twisting toward Atsuro. "You're *drinking*?" Santa said.

"Sure. They offered it to us, right?"

"Well, okay. . ." Yuki said.

The three of them walked toward the bar tent. Atsuro's eyes swept over the array of bottles in front of him, all shapes and sizes, containing a rainbow hue of liquids. . .brown, near-black, reddish, bright amber, even blue. . .And all having the power to help him forget his anxieties.

He needed something stronger than beer, he knew that. And he remembered what he'd seen the hip sophisticates drink in the live houses they'd played in.

"Whiskey on the rocks," he told the bartender.

* * *

Towa strolled along the beach road, feeling the breeze lift his long, curling blond hair. It was nice to get away from the heat and crowds for a few minutes. Besides, he needed time to think.

The band had been *on* tonight, he knew that. Their absence from the local stages had actually helped them become a tighter, more focused unit. It was now time for them to make a move, to do something that would push them toward the big time.

He had no idea what that would be, but he was sure Yuka would come up with something. She was very clever, very sharp. . .an extraordinary young person.

Extraordinary. . .just like her brother.

Towa paused, looking out toward the water. Atsuro had been so standoffish in the last week, and that was bothering him. *Something* was eating at the boy, and he still wouldn't open up to Towa about what it was.

He used to be so open with me, Towa thought. Almost from the time we first met. . .it was as if there was an instant trust between us.

A small pang echoed through his heart. . .instant trust, as if we were destined to be more than friends. . .but no. I simply can't risk something like that. Not when there's so much at stake. If I were to attempt to initiate a relationship, and I only ended up scaring him off. . .it would be disastrous for the band. We'd lose that level of trust we have. And it's crucial that the members of a band trust each other absolutely.

A chill wind came off the ocean, and Towa hugged himself. Maybe I should be getting back, he thought. The others will probably be ready to go by now.

But that wasn't the only reason he wanted to go back. He was having this feeling, like some sixth sense prickling at his mind. . .the feeling that something was *wrong*. . .and the something involved Atsuro.

With rapid steps, he headed back the way he came.

* * *

Atsuro swallowed the last of his drink and held his glass out for another. He was the only member of Lucifer still sitting at the bar. Santa had wandered off with some girl, and Yuki had bumped into a friend from elementary school and was talking with him.

The bartender looked at Atsuro with concern. "Are you okay? You've had quite a bit already."

"I'm fine," Atsuro said. "I'm not diving. . .driving tonight. Fill 'er up."

The bartender sighed, and took the glass. He prepared another drink. . .but added some water to the whiskey this time, and extra ice. He was sure the boy didn't notice.

Atsuro looked back outside. There was another band on the stage right now. They were nowhere near as good as Lucifer. What the heck do they think they're doing? he thought. Bands that bad shouldn't even be allowed on the stage! There should be some kind of law. . .some national anti-bad music law. . .

As the drink was set in front of him, he heard a voice behind him saying, "Hey. . .you were part of that band that played before, right?"

He turned, and saw the boy who had been in front of the stage during the show, the one who had told his friend about the brawl at the Salt Peanut.

"Yeah, I am. What of it?"

"Well, I just wanted to tell you that you were pretty damn good, man. Better than I thought you were going to be."

Atsuro got off the barstool, and realized he was having trouble keeping his balance. He swayed this way and that, trying to find his equilibrium, not quite making it. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, I mean. . .I've heard stuff about your band. That your singer's a total asshole who starts fights during concerts. That you're all looks and no talent. That you're a bunch of faggots. Well, at least your bass player's a faggot. With that curly golden hair and those dresses and all. . ."

The first, Atsuro could have dealt with. The second. . .well, even drunk he knew better than to fight about that, it's what had gotten Sakuya in trouble.

The third. . .was intolerable.

He lunged at the young man, grabbing him by the collar, twisting his shirt. "You take that back!" Atsuro shouted.

"What, that your bass player's a faggot? I just call 'em as I see 'em, man!"

The heads of everyone in the bar tent turned toward the two boys. People who were outside and in the vicinity started to drift into the tent to see what the fuss was about.

"What the hell gives you the right to call ANYONE that?" Atsuro snarled. He pulled back his fist, ready to pound it into the young man's face. . .

"ATSURO!" Towa rushed into the tent, pushing partygoers to the left and right. "Let him go!"

Atsuro raised his head, blinking. . .he's come for me, he thought. Towa. . .Towa. . .

"But. . .did you hear what he called you?"

"I heard," Towa said, putting a hand on Atsuro's shoulder. "He's just a jerk. . .he's not worth starting a fight over. We don't want a repeat of the Salt Peanut, do we?"

"Hey, back off, man," the youth said, managing to yank out of Atsuro's grasp. "This is between him and me."

"Yes, and it's over," Towa said, taking Atsuro's arm and starting to lead him out of the tent. The crowd parted like the Red Sea to let them pass.

Wordlessly, Towa pulled Atsuro through the yard, out into the street. He then steered him to walk in the direction Towa had walked earlier.

"Do you mind telling me what happened just then?" Towa said.

Atsuro wobbled next to him, trying to clear the drunken cobwebs out of his head. It wasn't working. "He insulted you. I wasn't gonna let him insult you! You shoulda left me there, I woulda kicked his teeth right outa his butthole!"

Towa sighed, putting his hand on his friend's arm. "You're drunk. You can't go home like that. Come on, we're going for a walk down to the beach."

"I'm not drunk. I just had a coupla. . .coupla drinks."

"You're not used to drinking, are you?"

Before this, he'd never had more than one or two beers at a party. "No."

"You may have a rough night of it. . .and an even rougher morning."

They had reached the shoreline, and a cool breeze ruffled their hair and clothes. A three-quarter moon cast silvery light onto gentle waves, which spread out onto the sand like lace handkerchiefs. Atsuro gazed at this beautiful scene. . .

. . .and announced, "I think I'm going to be sick."

Towa grabbed onto his arm. "Come on, sit on the sand, here. . .lean over, put your head between your knees. . .and take deep breaths. . ."

Atsuro sank to the ground, feeling like he was made of lead. The whole world seemed to be revolving around him, spinning crazily out of control, and his whole body broke out in a cold sweat. He did what Towa said, taking in deep gulps of salty air, holding them in, letting them out. . .his hands clenched at the sand as he repeated the process, praying to all that was holy that he wouldn't be sick. . .especially in front of Towa. . .

Finally, the wave of nausea passed, and he flopped onto the sand on his back, letting out a sigh of relief. Towa sat down next to him, carefully tucking his skirt behind his legs first. "Feel any better?" he said.

"Yeah. . .gods, I can't thank you enough."

"For what?"

Atsuro stared straight up at the sky, watching the lights of an airplane sail among the stars. "For coming after me. You're always there for me, aren't you?"

Towa smiled, repressing an urge to stroke the boy's hair and face. He just looked so endearing right now, so sweet and innocent. . .despite the fact that he still reeked of whiskey.

"I'm there for you because I like you," he told Atsuro. "You're a very special person to me."

Atsuro half-sat up and looked at him, an expression in his eyes something akin to bewilderment. "I. . .I am?"

"Of course. We've always been friends, right? Ever since we both joined the band."

Atsuro lay back down. "Yeah. . .we've always been. . .friends."

Was that a note of disappointment in his voice? Towa thought. Or. . .is it just wishful thinking on my part?

"And I've always felt we understood each other," Towa said. "It's not like any relationship I've had with a bandmate before. So many guys I played with weren't into the *music*. . .just the idea of being a rock star." He looked at Atsuro. "But you. . .you're a true *artist.*"

Atsuro sat up, slowly. "So are you. I feel like I've learned so much from you. . .about music, and. . .about life."

Towa turned toward him a bit. "I try."

Atsuro leaned back on his elbows, looking at the sky again. His head was starting to feel a bit clearer. Maybe it was the sea air. . .or maybe the presence of his friend.

"You know," he said, "sometimes I think it was fate that pulled us together. . .you know, pulled Lucifer together. It's like. . .it was *meant to be.*"

"I know," Towa said. "I feel the same way." And not just about the band, he thought.

"And. . .Towa?" Atsuro turned his head toward his companion. "Sometimes, I also think that. . .you know. . .fate kinda brought you and I together as well."

Towa's heart stood still. The boy had echoed his thoughts. He found himself leaning toward Atsuro, saying, "I know. . .I feel the same way about that, too. . ."

And then, they were moving toward each other like magnet and steel, and their lips brushed, very lightly. . .then came together again, firmer this time, a soft, tender kiss that held the promise of more, much more. Towa increased the pressure of his lips. . .oh, he could taste freshness and innocence mixed in with the whiskey, what he knew was the *true* taste of this boy. . .

The whiskey. He couldn't do this. He couldn't take advantage of Atsuro when he was drunk. He eased away from him, instantly stung by the confusion and hurt he saw in the other's eyes.

"Towa. . .what's wrong? Did I do something I wasn't supposed to?"

"No. . .I think we'd better track down Yuki and Santa and have them take you home." He got up in one swift motion, brushing the sand from his clothes.

"But. . ." Atsuro scrambled to his feet, watching Towa start to walk swiftly back toward the road. He rushed after him.

"Now, no buts. You need to get home and get some sleep. I'll call you in the morning and make sure you're okay."

Atsuro followed his friend back to the party, head down. What went wrong? he thought. Why did he stop kissing me? Does he really feel the same way about me as I do about him? And if he does. . .what happens from here?

* * *

Yuka paused outside her brother's bedroom door. At least the moaning and groaning had stopped. She'd hoped the worst of his hangover had passed. She'd been the only member of their family awakened the night before when Yuki and Santa brought him home. . .and when she smelled the whiskey, she was *very* glad their parents hadn't woken up as well.

He'd still been asleep that morning when Towa had called. He'd sounded very concerned, and told Yuka he wanted Atsuro to call him when he could.

Something happened between them at that party last night, she thought. Why else would Atsuro have gotten drunk? My brother is *not* a drinker. I *knew* I should have gone with them!

Maybe, she thought, it's time he and I had a talk about what's been going on lately.

She knocked lightly, and he answered, "The door's open. . .come in."

Yuka entered, and saw Atsuro on his back, just staring up at the ceiling. "How are you feeling?" he said, not looking at her.

"A hundred percent better," she said. "Just about back to normal. More importantly. . .how are *you* feeling?"

"Better. I've only got half as many men in my head with jackhammers as before."

She sat down at his desk. "You're not used to drinking. . .so it hit you hard."

"Towa said something like that to me last night," he said. "He took me for a walk, to help me clear my head. . ."

Yuka didn't miss the look in her brother's eyes. There was a pain there, and it had nothing to do with the physical pain of a hangover. "Atsuro. . .did something happen between you and Towa last night?"

He sat bolt upright. "What makes you say that?"

She looked down at his desk, picking up a pencil and tapping it on the edge. "I've been. . .noticing things lately, Atsuro. The way you seem withdrawn, like there's something on your mind. The way you are when you're around Towa. . .sometimes, when the two of you are together, you both look like there's no other people in the world."

"You're nuts!" he said, a bit too quickly and loudly. "You're seeing things that aren't there!"

"Atsuro. . .there is *nothing* to be ashamed of. Liking guys is *not* bad, or deviant. . .it's just the way you *are.* It's as much a part of you as being a musician is."

He flopped back down to the mattress. "Yuka. . .you've always known me *too* well."

"That *is* what's been bothering you, isn't it? You like Towa, and you're confused about your feelings. . .that's *very* normal for gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers. Confusion is usually the first stage in accepting the way you are."

He raised his head again. "How do you know so much about it?"

She stood up and walked toward the bed. "I've been doing research on the Web. There's plenty of support sites out there for gay teens. You should visit some of them. It might do you good to read about people who've been where you are now. You're definitely *not* alone. One in 10 teenagers is gay or bisexual, did you know that?"

Atsuro sat up. "One in 10? That many?"

"That many. You probably know others at school, and don't even realize it."

Atsuro hung his head. "I'm *not* looking forward to telling Mom and Dad. After what happened when I told them I wasn't going to college. . .this'll be the last straw. They'll disown me for good."

"You don't *know* that," Yuka replied. "I read quite a few coming-out stories. Most teenagers' parents ended up accepting them the way they were. Some of them. . .it took some talking, some communication, but they eventually came to an understanding. Total breaks with the family are rarer than you might think." She sat next to him and put a hand on his arm. "And whatever happens. . .*I'll* always be here for you. You know that."

"Thanks." He reached over and hugged her. She hugged back, warmly.

When she leaned back, she said, "Oh, and I have a phone message. Towa called when you were still asleep. You must have had your cell phone turned off because he called on our main phone. He sounded very concerned. He wants you to call him back."

She saw the huge smile that spread over Atsuro's face, and it warmed her heart. "Thanks," he said. "I'll call him back right now."

"I'll give you some privacy," she said, walking to the door. "And remember. . .I'm always here if you need to talk."

Once she was gone from the room, Atsuro reached for his cell phone on the nighttable. Sure enough, he'd left it turned off. Damn, he thought. Why did I do that? I *knew* he was going to call! He flipped it on and dialed Towa's number.

The phone was picked up on the second ring. . .but the voice was Yuki's. "Hello?"

"Yuki. . .it's Atsuro. Is Towa there?"

"Sure, he's in the kitchen. . .wait a second."

Yuki put down the phone and went in search of his roommate. "It's Atsuro," he said. "Do you want me to give you some privacy?"

Towa put the last of the dishes he'd been washing into the cabinet. "Privacy?"

"I have eyes and ears, Towa. I've seen the way you two are around each other. And I especially saw the way you both looked when you came back from your walk last night. I have a feeling there's something you two want to talk about in private."

Towa put his dishtowel over the back of a chair. "You're very perceptive," he said. "Yes, I would like privacy. . .thanks."

"No problem, I'll just go down to the music store to see Santa. He and I might be going to see another band tonight. . .a live house called the Headliner, near his place. . .we both may crash there tonight."

Towa smiled to himself. And I'm sure he prearranged that, he thought. He's a true friend.

"I see," he said.

"Well.. .I'll see you later," Yuki said, putting on his jacket and leaving.

Once he was gone, Towa picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hi. . .it's me. . .am I interrupting anything?"

"Not at all. Yuki was just telling me he and Santa are going to a live house tonight, and crashing at Santa's place. How are you feeling?"

"A lot better. The headache's almost gone now. Gods, that's something I'm never going to do again."

"We all have to go through our one drunken mistake," Towa said. "For me, it was right after I left home. . .I got drunk at a live house after a gig to prove I was independent. I ended up in bed afterwards for two days."

"Two days? What did you drink?"

"A better question would be. . .what *didn't* I drink?" Both of them laughed. He sounds more himself today, Towa thought. . .more relaxed than he's been in quite awhile.

"And I thought *I* was bad last night," Atsuro said.

"Well. .. you *were* bad. But it's over now."

"And I suddenly realized I'm starving. I've got to get something to eat."

"Well, after you're done with that. . .since it looks like I'm going to be alone this evening, you can come over, if you want company."

Atsuro's heart fluttered. He knew what that meant. If I go over there tonight, he thought, something could very well happen. . .something much more than the kiss on the beach we shared last night. . .do I want that? Could I handle it?

He knew very well what the answer to that was.

"Sure. . .I'll be over later, maybe in the 7, 8 vicinity?"

"Sounds good. I'll see you then."

Atsuro hung up the phone, and took a deep breath. Yes, he was going over there tonight. . .and he was ready for whatever was going to happen. More than ready. He had butterflies in his stomach just thinking about it.

He opened his closet, looking for just the right clothes to wear. He was going to shower and shave, then go downstairs. . .and tell his mother, "Mom, I'm going to a live house with Yuki and Santa tonight, we're all crashing at Santa's place. . ."

* * *

Towa sat in his easy chair, his bass cradled in his lap, playing it with a look on his face somewhere between intense concentration and ecstatic bliss.

Still, he wasn't fully concentrating on what he was doing. How could he? He knew that any moment, the knock would come on his door that he'd been waiting to hear all evening.

I may be reading too much into this, he thought. He may have been put off by the kiss. . .and he's coming here to tell me he's not really interested. . .

Still, he had sounded very relaxed and content on the phone. Perhaps. . .he really had been struggling with feelings for him, and he'd finally come to terms with them.

When the rap on the door came at last, Towa smiled quietly and put his instrument away. He opened the door to find a very nervous-looking Atsuro.

"Come in," he said. "I've been expecting you."

"Thanks," Atsuro said. Why do I feel like this? he thought. Suddenly, I'm so nervous I can't think of anything to say! And I thought I was more than ready for anything that would happen! This isn't some stranger, this is *Towa*. . .my closest friend. . .

He walked into the living room and sat on the floor by Towa's chair, as he had so often done when they had their long discussions about life, about music, about their bandmates and their dreams for the future.

But now, there was nothing but silence.

Towa sat down, his hands folded in his lap. He looked at the boy, who was staring at the floor. I should make him comfortable, he thought.

"We went over very well at the party last night, didn't he?" he said. "I don't think we've played together that well in a very long. . ."

"You kissed me last night," Atsuro said, suddenly, not taking his eyes off the floor.

Towa was a bit taken aback. . .this was the last thing he was expecting to hear. "Yes," he said, calmly. "And you kissed me." He was expecting the next words to be a reprimand for taking advantage of his state.

Instead, Atsuro said, "Why did you suddenly pull away from me like that? Did I do something wrong?"

"No. You certainly did not. It was just. . .well, you were drunk, and I didn't want to take advantage of you."

Atsuro heaved a big sigh. "So, that's it, then. The kiss only happened because I was drunk. And I'd hoped. . ." His head dropped back toward the carpet. "Never mind." Oh, gods, he thought, this is *not* going the way I'd hoped. Why did I have to blurt it out like that. . .about the kiss? Stupid, stupid, stupid. . .

Towa rose out of his chair, and knelt on the floor, so he was even with Atsuro. "Hoped what? Atsuro. . .is there something you've been keeping from me?"

And suddenly, his head snapped up, and everything came out in a rush. "It's just that. . .I've been having. . .these *feelings*. . .and they confused and scared the hell out of me. . .and I'd been hoping that. . .that you'd feel the same way, and. . ." He suddenly got to his feet. "Forget it. It was a mistake for me to come here tonight. I'm going somewhere where I can be alone, and think."

He started for the door, but stopped in his tracks when Towa said his name, loud and sharp. He didn't turn back around, though.

Towa got back up. "Atsuro," he said, "I want you to know something." There was a pause. "The song I wrote for the band. . .'Sekai de Ichiban Kirei na Mono'. . .I wrote it for you."

The words hit Atsuro like a series of bullets. For me? he thought. Those lyrics. . .so full of passionate feeling. . .were inspired by *me?* He turned toward Towa slowly, eyes filled with amazement and wonder.

"I've felt that way about you for a long time," Towa said, quietly. "Just about as long as we've known each other, in fact. I didn't know how to tell you. . .I didn't want to scare you off, or risk our friendship. So. . .I put my feelings into the song."

Atsuro took a step toward him. "Every time we played that song. . .I tried to figure out what made you write it. . .I. . .I never dared dream it was for me."

Towa smiled at him. "I never dared dream you'd figure it out."

Atsuro laughed, the tension starting to drain out of him. "What do you think Sakuya would say if he knew he'd been singing a boy-to-boy love song all this time?"

"Oh, he'd throw a hissy fit and threaten to quit the band if, like he always does, if we didn't drop the song. Then, he'd come crawling back. He can't stay away from the band. None of us can."

Atsuro laughed again, then looked at the floor, biting his lip a bit as if he were thinking of what to say, what to do next. He looked up at Towa shyly and said, "Will you kiss me. . .like you did last night?"

Towa started to move toward him. "If I do that. . .I may not be able to stop at kissing, you know."

Atsuro smiled. "I don't want you to," he said. And he meant it.

He felt Towa draw close to him, slowly. . .his hands moving up his arms, his shoulders, around to his back. . .and then, their heads leaned toward each other, and their lips met. Atsuro felt his heart flutter as they pressed gently, broke apart, kissed softly again. . .

Finally, they came together harder, faster, as a hot hunger started to sweep through them both. Their arms tightened, their lips became harder, more insistent, moving against each other, trying to seek out sensitive spots that would make the other moan. . .

When Atsuro felt the gentle pressure of Towa's tongue, his mouth opened with a gasp, eagerly inviting him in. . .and when he felt the warm, gentle probing, stroking, a shudder passed through his entire body. His own tongue began to respond, flicking against his lover's, tangling with it. They pressed their bodies together more tightly, starting to rub up against each other.

Atsuro thought he was going to explode. In all his imaginings, all his fantasies, he didn't think it was going to feel *quite* like this! He felt himself breaking away from Towa's mouth, gasping for breath.

Towa saw the heated expression in the boy's eyes, the flush on his cheeks. He knew Atsuro was getting aroused, and fast. There was definitely no doubt now how this evening was going to end. He leaned over, softly beginning to nibble at his lover's jawline, then kissing down his neck, soft, little pecks along his pulse line. And oh, how he could feel the other's strong, young heart pounding.

Atsuro leaned his head back, utterly lost in sensation, tangling his fingers in Towa's waterfall of golden hair. He hasn't really *done* anything, he thought. . .he's barely *touched* me. . .and I feel like I'm going to burst into flames! Gods, oh, gods, what's it going to be like when we go further. . .

Towa kissed his way back up his neck, to the side of his face. . .When he reached the boy's ear, he took the lobe gently in his teeth, pressing just hard enough for him to feel it, then flicked his tongue over the tiny hole, his breath scorching hot against Atsuro's already-heated skin.

"How far do you want to go?" he asked in a sexy purr, his lips still right against the boy's ear. "Believe me. . .it only gets better from here."

Atsuro trembled. Better? Oh, gods. . .how could it get better, hotter, more thrilling than this? "I. . .I want you to touch me, and kiss me, and. . .and. . ."

"Mmm. . .I understand perfectly." And Atsuro felt himself being guided across the apartment, Towa's lips still touching his neck, his cheek, his temple. . .until they reached the bed. The sight of it brought the reality home fully. . .they were going to be *on that bed together*, naked, pleasuring each other. . .

He must have stopped suddenly and stiffened, because he felt Towa moving away from him. "Are you afraid?"

"N-no," Atsuro said.

Towa's hand tenderly stroked his hair, his cheek, a caress that was almost maternal. "Don't be. You're with *me.* I won't do anything you don't want me to. And if anything makes you uncomfortable. . .all you have to do is tell me to stop." He kissed his lips again, softly.

Atsuro responded to the kiss, eagerly, and this time, it was he who first began to probe his lover's mouth with his tongue. He felt Towa respond, and their tongues brushed against each other, slow and sensuous. . .

Somewhere at the fringes of his passion-furred mind, Atsuro became aware that Towa's hands were on his shirt buttons, unfastening them one by one. Gods, he thought, what do I do now. . .I should have asked someone about this. I'm winging this, totally winging it. . .I hope I don't disappoint him.

He reached for Towa's shirt and began to do the same, moving a bit faster than his lover did so they would finish at the same time. Both garments were pushed down and off, and they embraced tightly, feeling skin on skin for the first time. Atsuro leaned his head back and let out a moan, his hands starting to roam over his partner's body. . .shoulders, arms, back, feeling how hot, how smooth, how delicious. . .

Towa gently began to tip him backward until he tumbled to the bed, then knelt beside him, leaning over so he could kiss his neck again, sweeping his tongue up and down this time, nipping here and there, sucking gently right at the point where his neck joined his shoulder. He tasted of freshness and youth, of soap and spice. He was just plain luscious.

"Just relax," Towa purred. "Relax and let me love you. . ."

"Towa," Atsuro gasped. "What you're doing. . .gods. . .I never thought anything could feel like that. . ."

He moved up and kissed his temple. "I told you. . .it only gets better from here. . .let me show you. . ."

Atsuro felt his tongue streak down his neck, to his chest. . .And then, Towa's lips closed over his nipple, and he almost shrieked. When he began a steady, firm suction, the younger boy let out a cry, beginning to writhe uncontrollably. He had no idea his nipples were that sensitive! His lover was raising his head, licking slowly at the hardened bud with long, wet strokes, letting his thumb start to brush against its twin.

"Gods!" Atsuro cried. "Oh.. . .oh, GODS, Towa! Please. . .oh, please. . ."

Towa raised his head. "Please what?"

"Do. .do *something*. . .oh, I need more, I need. . .oh, I'm on fire. . ."

Towa smiled. The boy needed release, and badly. He was *very* much looking forward to giving it to him.

"All right," he said. "Let me see what we have here. . ." He reached down, feeling for the boy's erection through his pants. . .His hand encountered it, fully hardened, eagerly waiting. . .He slid his hand along its length through the fabric, and Atsuro whimpered.

"Oh, yes," Towa whispered. "You're ready, all right." He unsnapped and unzipped his jeans. . .a process which Atsuro thought was taking hours, even though it was mere seconds. He felt cool air on his most heated flesh as Towa drew the garments down and off.

Towa finished tossing the jeans and boxers on the floor, and looked at the creature on the bed, red hair splayed out wildly on the pillow, eyes closed, lips forming an "O" of passion, lithe body naked, the skin flushed. . .He thought he'd never, ever seen anything more beautiful in his life.

He found himself shedding the rest of his own clothing, then climbing back onto the bed, taking Atsuro in his arms, pressing their lips together. . .As their unclothed bodies touched, full-length, both moaned and began to writhe, creating friction, delicious heat, flesh on flesh, man on man. . .

Towa shifted his hips until their erections were brushing each other, making both let out a small cry. Atsuro began to thrust, rubbing them together, and Towa cried out, matching Atsuro's every movement, his arms tightening around the younger boy as his lips claimed the other's again and again. Atsuro's fingers were in his hair, tangling in it, and the boy's teeth were gently scraping his lower lip, making his blood run all the hotter.

When he eased away from Atsuro, he made a low sound of disappointment. Towa leaned over and kissed his neck. "No, love, I'm not stopping. . .I'm going to make you come now. Just lay back. . .you're going to like this."

Atsuro lay against the pillows, eyes closed, literally panting with anticipation of his first *real* orgasm, the first with someone else. . .with someone he loved.

And then, there was something hot and wet and lovely on his manhood which sent heated tingles running through every inch of him. He gasped, and raised his head. . .sure enough, there was Towa, mouth wrapped around his erection, starting to suck and move back and forth. . .

Atsuro could only lean back, moaning loudly, as the sensations within him intensified, and intensified some more. His head thrashed from side to side, his breath coming in gasps, his heart pounding.

Towa sucked at him hungrily, taking him in as deep as possible. . .deeper than he'd ever been able to take a lover before. His fingers lightly brushed at the sack beneath, then fluttered up and down the shaft as he swirled his tongue around the head, then took it in his lips for just a second. . .pulled it out. . .licked at it again. . .then slid it in, sucking hard and fast, determined to bring him over the edge.

Atsuro suddenly stiffened, feeling suspended in time, as if he was at the very end of the universe. . .and then, a hot eruption overwhelmed him as his body was wracked with one delicious shudder after another. . .just as he thought it was over, the heat within him crested again, and he stated to shake one more, pleasure screaming through every pore of him.

Finally, he collapsed to the bed, spent, whimpering, a feeling of total peace and relaxation slowly beginning to spread over him.

Towa moved up and tenderly kissed his lips. Atsuro could taste something new on his mouth. . .a bit salty, a bit chemical. . .and realized it was his own essence. The idea was strangely, deeply thrilling.

"Did you like that?" Towa asked.

Atsuro laughed. "What a question. . .it was unbelievable."

"Good." Towa lowered his head, nuzzling his neck. . .and Atsuro became aware of something hard pressing up against him. Towa had never taken satisfaction of his own. . .he was still fully erect.

Atsuro had a sudden urge to remedy that. He tipped Towa's head up, kissed his lips. . .and rolled them both over so that he was on top. Towa let out a small moan, which grew louder as Atsuro started to kiss down his neck, stopping to flutter his tongue, nip here and there. . .

He moved down, and down, savoring the feel of skin under lips and tongue, the taste of him, his intoxicating, slightly floral scent. . .When he came to a nipple, he licked at it, swirling his tongue around the pink before brushing it over the little bud itself. He felt Towa's fingers tangle in his hair, and it encouraged him even further, taking it his mouth, starting to suck. . .His fingers swept downward, over the flat planes of his stomach, searching for his hardness. . .

As he grasped it in his hand, he thought it felt familiar, yet unfamiliar, the basic shape like his own, but subtly different. . .a bit broader in the base, rounder in the head. . .He began to stroke it as he switched his mouth to the other nipple, licking, sucking. . .

"A-Atsuro!" Towa writhed beneath him, feeling that the boy's fingers and tongue were going to drive him mad. . .gods, how hard to believe he was a virgin! He felt the tug of lips on his nipple, the glide of a palm back and forth on the end of his manhood. . .He knew the explosion was not far away, and he couldn't wait to get there, but he also wanted this to go on and on and. . .

Then, the motion suddenly stopped. Towa sat up a bit. . . "Atsuro? What. . ."

The sensation of something hot and soft and wet stroking along his shaft made him fall back down again, moaning.

Okay, Atsuro thought, as he licked up and down and around Towa's hardness, I've gotten this far. . .let's see if I can do to him what he did to me. . .

He opened his mouth, slid it in. . .and promptly gagged. He pulled away from his lover, gasping, choking, a hand over his mouth He saw Towa sit up, eyes full of curiosity, and suddenly, he felt embarrassed. . .that he failed to give his lover pleasure, as he'd been given.

"I'm sorry!" he said. "I. . .I tried, but. . ."

Towa sat the rest of the way up and kissed him. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Atsuro. Those kind of things happen. You just tried to do it too fast, and take in too much at once, that's all. Do you want to try again?"

Atsuro looked at him for a moment. He's not mad? he thought. "Um, sure. . .I'd love to."

"Just take it in slowly. . . .a little bit at a time. . ."

Atsuro moved back down, took a deep breath, opened his mouth, and eased in just the head. . .slowly, as he'd been told. . .this was much more comfortable now. . .He began to suck, gently, and when Towa let out a moan, it encouraged him. He began to move a bit faster, take it in a bit deeper. This isn't too difficult, he thought. In fact, he thought, it's nice. . .*real* nice. I love how he feels in my mouth, how he tastes. . .

Towa began to writhe uncontrollably. . .he sat up, leaning over the boy, his long, golden tresses spilling over the other's red hair, onto his skin.. . .He knew it wouldn't be long now, and he wondered if he should warn Atsuro, in case he didn't want to swallow. . .

But before he could warn him, the sweet explosion came, and Towa cried Atsuro's name out, loudly, as he trembled, wave after wave of hot ecstasy claiming him. Like his lover before him, he thought this would go on and on forever, he'd never stop coming. . .

Atsuro felt the fluid flood him, and it caught him off-guard. He was frozen to the spot for a moment. . it just kept coming and coming, gods, there was so much of it, and it tasted funny, and. . .He found himself pulling away, quickly, grabbing a tissue and spitting into it, then dropping it in the garbage. He looked over at his lover, anxiously. . .Towa had sank to the pillows, panting, and didn't seem to notice what Atsuro had done. He was glad.

Atsuro lay beside Towa, kissing him tenderly, pulling him into his arms. "Was that okay?" he said.

Towa opened his eyes, slowly. This fabulous creature, he thought, is mine. It's not a dream anymore, not an unattainable fantasy. . .he's *really mine.*

He smiled. "It was more than okay. You were terrific."

"I'm so glad." He wrapped his arms around his waist, lying his head on his chest. "Towa. . .I have something to tell you."

He stroked the boy's hair, gently. "What is it?"

Atsuro took a deep breath. "I love you. I think I have ever since the day we met."

Towa's heart leapt. How many times had he dreamed about hearing those words. . . "I love you, too," he replied.

Atsuro raised his head. "Really?"

Towa laughed and held him closer. "Really. I wouldn't kid about something like that."

"I'm so glad. . .so happy. . ." He lowered his head again. "I wish we could be like this. . .holding each other. . .every night."

Towa gently stroked his hair. There were obstacles in the way of that. . not the least of which was his parents. . .but he knew those obstacles would be overcome. Until then, they could be together when they could.

"I have a feeling," he whispered, "that someday. . .we will be."

Curled in each other's arms, content and happy, they drifted off to sleep.

* * *

Towa awoke several hours later. There, next to him, was a lump in the bed, covers drawn up so far that nothing was sticking out but a few tufts of red hair.

But those tufts weren't on the living room couch this time. They were in the bed with him. . .as was the rest of the boy.

He lowered his head so that he was nuzzling Atsuro through the blankets. It was almost hard to believe it had really happened, that they'd let the barriers between them fall and shared their love. But here was the proof, next to him, warm and breathing and beautiful. . .

Atsuro stirred, feeling the gentle pressure on his head and neck through the cotton and wool. He pushed the covers back far enough to peek out, at which point Towa kissed his forehead.

"Hi," he said. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

"It's okay," Atsuro said, crawling out of the sheets until his entire head and shoulders were exposed, blinking. "Is it morning yet?"

"No. I just happened to wake up, and the sight of you beside me. . .I guess you can say I felt overwhelmed. Having you here with me at last. . ."

Atsuro reached out and stroked his lover's face, tenderly. "I know. I feel the same way." He leaned over, bringing his lips to his partner's, and they shared a long, tender kiss, then snuggled into each other's arms.

"Now, isn't this nicer than being on the couch?" Towa said, a bit teasingly.

"Much nicer," Atsuro replied. "And the view is a lot better." He pulled the blankets back, so he could see Towa's nude body. "You're *so* beautiful. . ."

"So are you," Towa said, flinging the covers away from Atsuro. "Mmm. . .I could wake up to this sight every morning of my life."

"Could you?" Atsuro said. "But. . .you said it wasn't morning yet. It's still night." He lowered his head and began to lay a trail of soft kisses along Towa's neck, pausing here and there to nip ever-so-lightly.

Towa let out a long sigh, one hand coming up to tangle in the boy's hair. "Then. . .we should take advantage of that, shouldn't we?" Atsuro moved back up, and their mouths collided like two freight trains, their tongues immediately seeking each other. Atsuro's hands began to roam up and down Towa's back, feeling smooth skin, the tumble of silken hair. . .then lower, fingertips tracing his spine, to the graceful curve right before his back joined his hips. . .

When he reached his lover's bottom. . .gently rounded, firm, shapely. . .Atsuro took it in both hands and gave it a hard squeeze. Towa's shudder of pleasure told him he was doing the right thing, and he repeated the squeeze, then began to knead, slowly, as their tongues continued to caress and tangle.

Towa felt a slow warmth stealing through his body. . .oh, yes, he was aroused again, and he could feel Atsuro was, too. He arched up into the boy's caressing touch, feeling the fingers knead, caress. . .squeeze one cheek, then the other. . .

When their lips separated, both were panting, flushed, gazing at each other from half-lidded, passion-glazed eyes. "You know," Towa said in a husky purr, "I don't think I got to see your sweet body from the rear before. . .turn on your stomach."

"My stomach?" Atsuro obeyed, wondering what his lover had planned.

Towa knelt next to him. . .oh, yes, he was beautiful from this angle, too, his strong, lithe body looking like an ancient statue of a nude youth. He let one hand sweep over his back, down over the curve of his bottom, to his legs and back up again.

"Ohh, yes," Towa sighed. "So beautiful. . .so sexy. . ." He lowered his head and began to lay feathery kisses back and forth over the boy's shoulders, his lips barely touching the skin.

Atsuro felt the contact. . .the hot breath. . .and he moaned, arching up as he felt Towa begin to work down his spine. . .kissing, then licking, trailing his hot, wet tongue slowly, slowly downward. . .a small bite made the boy jump, giving a yelp. He began to wonder what was going to happen when he got to the bottom. . .Towa wasn't going to kiss his bottom. . .was he? He thought of the insult, "kiss my ass. . ." People didn't *really* do that, did they?

But then, he felt the warm, soft touch of lips. .and, oh gods, they *were* moving over the curve of his bottom, and. . .and. . .it felt glorious! Everywhere he kissed, it send small, warm tingles shooting through Atsuro's body. He found himself moaning, arching upward. . .which gave Towa and opportunity to slip a hand under his body and grasp his manhood, fluttering his fingers along the shaft.

Atsuro cried out, a long, low keen of desire, thrusting his hips back against his lover's mouth, forward against his hand. . .Towa was still kissing him, soft, slow, plucking kisses. . .then a scrape of his teeth, just enough so Atsuro could feel it. . .then a long, slow, sucking kiss that made Atsuro groan deeply. . .

Gods, he thought, I can't believe how good this feels! And if it's this good with him just doing things on the *outside* of my bottom, what would it feel like if he. . .went *inside*? A flash of mingled fear and excitement shot through him. Did he dare to do it. . .take the final step. . .have Towa actually penetrate him?

And then, the mouth, the fingers were gone, and Towa was moving back up, kissing Atsuro's neck, then flicking his tongue at his ear. Atsuro could feel his manhood pressing between his cheeks, and he moaned, moving back against it, starting to thrust his hips.

Towa felt the movement, and he knew exactly what it meant. The boy was mutely begging to be taken. It gave him pause. . .he wondered if he were really ready this soon in the relationship. This *was* Atsuro, after all, with his impetuous streak. . .

"Easy, honey," Towa said, rolling off Atsuro. "Take a deep breath. . .relax a moment. . .

Atsuro rolled onto his side, realizing he was panting hard, his heart was pounding. Oh, he wanted it, he wanted it so badly. . .

"Towa," he moaned, "please. . .I want you inside me. . ."

Towa pulled him close and kissed his forehead. "We don't *have* to go all the way if you don't *really* want to. There's other ways."

"I *do* really want to! I never wanted anything more in my life. . I'm sure of this, Towa. I love you. . .I want us to be one."

"I know. . .I just want to make sure. You realize that it *will* hurt at first. . ."

Atsuro was aware of that. . .and suffering for love was *not* something that scared him. Hadn't he spent many nights playing and playing, trying to master a lick, a chord change, until his fingers were ragged and bleeding. . .and then continued to keep playing, despite the pain, until he'd accomplished what he set out to do?

He took Towa's hand and kissed it. "I know. And I'm ready for it."

Towa brushed his hair back from his eyes and whispered, "I love you so much. . .all right. It's probably best for both of us if we do this with you on your back and me on top of you. . .you pull your legs up and wrap them around me. First, lay back with your legs spread, knees bent, so your bottom is raised. . .move down a little. . .yes, like that." He bent over and lightly kissed his lover's lips, then went to the bedside table. There was a half-full tube of KY and some condoms left over from his last relationship, and he thanked the gods he had them. He coated a finger with lubricant and knelt between Atsuro's legs, reaching for his opening.

Atsuro felt Towa begin to rub it, gently coaxing it to let him in. . .and then, the finger started to enter him, slowly, oh, so slowly . . .The first impression the boy got was the chilly sensation of the KY. . .not something he was expecting. Then came a sharp pain that made him suck in his breath. . .but which was lessened when he felt Towa's lips moving up and down his manhood, tenderly kissing here, there, up and down and around the shaft.

Towa moved the finger in and out, gently as he could, giving Atsuro a chance to get used to the sensation of being filled, continuing to distract him with his lips. When he felt the boy relax, and even give a small purr of pleasure, he slid the finger out and wiped it off, then relubed it, along with a second.

Again, Atsuro felt the gentle probing. . .the pain returned, more intense this time, but he held on, knowing that Towa would distract him. . .and, soon enough, he felt him start to kiss up and down his manhood again, the warm sensations starting to mingle with the pain, and then drive it away, and soon, there was nothing but strong, sweet pleasure.

"Yes," Atsuro sighed. "Oh, gods, Towa. . .so good. . ."

"I'm glad," Towa said, pulling the fingers out and wiping them off again. "You're almost ready. . .just a little more, and then I'll be able to take you." He prepared a third finger this time, bending over to run his tongue along Atsuro's shaft as he started to penetrate.

When the pain returned, it was stronger, sharper this time. . .but Atsuro barely noticed it, focusing instead on the hot, wet tongue flicking up and down his length. . .The fingers started to move, and the pain faded. This time, when the pleasure came it was so intense that Atsuro thrust his hips, letting out a long, low, throaty groan. "Towa. . .yes. . .oh, I'm ready. . .do it. . ."

Towa moved up so he could kiss Atsuro's lips. "Yes, love. . .just one more moment. . .I have to get myself ready. . ."

Atsuro heard the rip of a condom packet being opened, then the squish of the tube being used again. It seemed to be taking forever and a day. Oh, he needed it, needed to be one with his lover, needed it now. . .

He felt the cold again, right at his entrance, as Towa applied some more lubricant there. . .and then, Towa was lying atop him, guiding him to lift his hips and wrap his legs around him.

Towa positioned himself, and Atsuro felt the head of his lover's erection press right against his opening. . .Towa stopped, bending over and kissing his partner's lips, softly.

"You're *sure*?" he said.

"Absolutely sure." He kissed Towa softly, then leaned back, closing his eyes. "Do it, Towa!"

Towa thrust forward, slowly. . .slowly. . .almost instantly, he felt the boy's passage grip him. Oh, he was tight, so very, very tight. . .Towa let out a moan, resisting the urge to thrust harder, faster. . .he had to make sure he went slow and easy.

Atsuro let out his breath in a long hiss as he felt the pain. . .oh, it was much more intense than before, like being split in two! But he bit his lip and held on. It couldn't last forever. . .it just couldn't. . .

And it didn't. The pain faded rapidly, and something warm and tingling began to take its place.

Towa paused, leaning over to kiss Atsuro's nose, cheeks, eyelids. "Are you all right?"

"Yes. . .please, please don't stop!"

"I wouldn't dream of it, love." And he began to thrust, in and out, slowly, carefully. . .when he saw no pain on his partner's face, only a hazy pleasure, Towa began to pick up the pace. Oh, the sensation of being inside him. . .the soft heat, the tightness. . .He thought he'd never, ever felt anything quite like it before.

Atsuro luxuriated in the sensation of his lover filling him. . .pulling away. . .filling him again. . .He began to move his hips in time with Towa's thrusts, encouraging him to go deeper, faster, make him feel more, more hot pleasure. . .He started to writhe, his breath coming in gasps, one long, low moan after another escaping his lips.

"Ohhh!" he cried. "Yes. . .yes, this feels so good!"

"Gods, yes. . .ohhh, you're so beautiful, Atsuro, oh, gods. . .oh, I can't get enough of you. . ."

They moved together, again and again and again, Towa tossing his blonde mane this way and that, their moans harmonizing as they writhed, beyond rational thought, the pleasure building and building within them until it was almost unbearable, but it was a sweet, sweet torture, one neither wished would ever end. . .

Atsuro was the first to stiffen, then let out a wail as he shuddered, violently, wave after wave of ecstasy crashing over him, his hips driving upward, wanting Towa as deep inside him as possible as the climax went on and on. . .

Towa felt the throbbing as Atsuro went over the edge, and his passage squeezed him tighter and tighter still. . .That did it. He cried out his lover's name loudly as his own sweet release came, one hot, luscious shiver after another wracking his body, until finally, he collapsed atop Atsuro, totally spent.

They held each other, panting, kissing each other's faces, softly. "Towa. . ." Atsuro whispered. "That was so beautiful. . .thank you. . .you made my first time so special."

"I'm glad," Towa replied. Gently, he eased away from his lover just long enough to dispose of the condom, then reached for a soft rag he kept in his nighttable, cleaning both of them off.

"I wish we'd done that sooner," Atsuro said as Towa finished, then took him in his arms.

"Oh, don't worry," Towa said. "I'm sure we'll be making up for lost time. In a big way."

The lovers kissed. "I love you," Atsuro said.

"I love you, too."

They snuggled into each other's arms, drifting off into a peaceful sleep.

* * *

Yuka nearly bounced with excitement as she went down the stairs toward the rehearsal room. She couldn't wait to tell the band members the fantastic inspiration she'd had the night before. She'd come up with a plan that would help them build an even better reputation than if they'd won the Grand Prix band contest!

She opened the door, to see Yuki. . .and Santa. . .and Sakuya. No sign of Towa and Atsuro.

"Um," she said, "did my brother call any of you?"

"He didn't leave the house with you?" Santa said.

Yuka knew she had to think fast. She hadn't seen Atsuro since he'd left the house last night to go to Towa's. *She* knew exactly why he had gone there. . .but she didn't want the whole band to know. At least, not until Atsuro was ready to tell them.

Evenly, she said, "He left before me. . .said he was going to meet up with Towa somewhere. . ."

"I see," Yuki said, and Yuka didn't miss a knowing twinkle in his eye.

The door opened again, and Yuka turned to see her brother and Towa standing in the doorway, instruments slung over their backs. They weren't standing unusually close to each other, or staring into each other's eyes. . .but she *did* notice that they both looked very relaxed, and had smiles on their faces. She was *very* happy for them.

"Hi," Atsuro said. "Sorry we're late."

"We had an errand to run on the way here," Towa added, calmly as ever.

"Yeah, whatever," Santa said. "Let's just set up and start! I'm still raring to go after the other night. . ." He sighed. "But we don't have any more gigs to play, do we?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to everyone about!" Yuka said, jumping up from her chair. "I've come up with a terrific idea. Atsuro's summer vacation is coming up. . .we have a few weeks free. . .so. . .how about we go on tour?"

The others just blinkblinked at her. "Tour?" Atsuro said.

"Yes! We travel around Japan. . .stop in towns here and there. . .and find an opening in one of their live houses! That way, we play in places that have never heard of. . .the incident. . .and we get a reputation all across the country! What do you say?"

"And how the hell are we supposed to do this?" Santa said. "We can't exactly afford bullet-train tickets from one part of the country to another."

"Didn't you just buy an old VW bus not too long ago?" Yuki said to Santa.

"Yeah, but. . .it's in no shape to make it all the way across the *country*!"

"I like the idea," Sakuya said, quietly. "We're doing it."

Santa whirled around on his heel toward him, fists clenched at his side. "Who made *you* the spokesman for the entire band?" he snapped.

"Can *you* come up with any better ideas?" Sakuya said.

Santa hemmed. . .and hawed. . .and spluttered. . .but ultimately, said nothing. He finally slunk behind his drums, plopping down on the stool like an anvil falling on a cartoon duck. "Fine," he said, adding in a mumble, "I still don't think the van's up to it."

The others all exchanged glances. They were sure that once he had a day or so to think over the idea. . .and they got the van fixed. . .Santa would be more enthusiastic about the trip than any of them,

"We can all chip in money," Yuki said, "and get a good mechanic to fix whatever's wrong with it. I'm sure it'll be fine. Besides. . .weren't you the one who said he was raring to go?"

Towa and Atsuro just smiled quietly at each other. Neither had said a word about the idea. . .but they both knew they loved it. Weeks on end on the road. . .no interference from parents, or school, or outside pressures. . .

And plenty of opportunity for them to be together, for their relationship to grow. It was perfect.

"Yuka," Atsuro said, "you can definitely count me in."

"Me, too," Towa said.

"Well, then," Yuki said, "since we're going to be touring. . .we might as well start rehearsing for it, right?"

They plugged in their instruments and started to tune up. "What do we start with tonight?" said Yuki.

"How about 'Dummy'?" said Santa. "Or 'Plasmagic'?"

"If it's okay with everyone else," said Atsuro, "I'd like to do 'Sekai de Ichiban Kirei na Mono.'"

The others all looked at him. "Why?" said Santa. "We have that one down cold!"

"I have my reasons," Atsuro said.

He and Towa exchanged a secret smile. This was *their* song now. And it always would be.

"Whatever," said Sakuya, striding to the microphone. "Doesn't matter to me."

"All right, then!" said Santa, picking up his drumsticks. "One, two, one, two three. . ."

The drumbeat sounded, and the song began.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Tons of thanks to Ookouchi K., webmistress of the Love Desire - Kaikan Phrase site (, for allowing me to use her romanization of "Sekai de Ichiban Kirei na Mono" in this fic! The translations for the lyrics come from Itsuka Anime's fansubs of the series (ah, thank the gods for the pause button. . .)

Thanks also to my editor, Steve Savage (check out his original fantasy series, Xai, at and to my beta readers, Cheyne and Sonya-chan. Your input is *very* much appreciated, as always!

Much of my background information on teen homsexuality for this fic came from "Homosexuality: What Does It Mean?" by Julie K. Endersbe (LifeMatters/Capstone Press), a book aimed at young people who, like Atsuro in this story, are struggling with their sexual identity.

Kaikan Phrase fansubs are available through Saber Anime Distribution,

Kaikan Phrase is owned by Mayu Shinjo and Shogakukan. These characters ain't mine, I'm just borrowing them for a little while.