The lights are dim and tainted red, Tachihara’s bass is vibrating the sticky floorboards of the stage, and sweat is running down Akutagawa’s back. His mind is hazy, eyes half-closed as he lets the beat run through his body and course through his veins. The bass rumbles in the soles of his boots, throbs in his ribcage. His fingers hold and strum the guitar, knowing what to do without much conscious effort, backing up Atsushi playing on the other side of the stage. Rhythm to Atsushi’s lead.
He was not always content with that. Akutagawa remembers how only a few months ago, they were fighting constantly, trying to outdo one another to compete for the lead position. Kunikida had to seperate them several times when they came to blows, while Chuuya and Tachihara simply grinned and watched the drama.
Akutagawa still recalls vividly how he showed up for practice early one day and heard Atsushi play from outside the bandroom. How his melody soared. Remembers opening the door and seeing Atsushi completely lost to the music, eyes closed, fingers flying across the frets, brows knitting as the solo reached its peak. Ryuunosuke had been struck, heart hammering in his chest. When Atsushi opened his eyes and noticed him, he said “you be the lead” before Atsushi could get flustered at being overheard.
They worked together after that, crafting each song to be its best version, combining Ryuunosuke’s technical knowledge with Atsushi’s raw passion and zeal, his intuitive understanding of melody that brought forth sounds and chord combinations Ryuunosuke would never have thought of. Spending long nights on the roof of their practice space, listening to their influences, Atsushi gesticulating animatedly while Ryuunosuke smoked and jotted down ideas in the spare light filtering up from the street below.
Akutagawa is brought back to the present by the grounding beat of Kunikida’s drums. This song is fast and dirty, little technical finesse but a full dose of rage and energy. Chuuya is bouncing across the stage like a madman, belting out the lyrics with none of his usual croon. The crowd is moving, the mosh pit in full swing, and Akutagawa lets the energy carry him, lets Kunikida and Tachihara’s rhythm dictate the strum and grip of his fingers as he watches Atsushi. Atsushi who plays left-handed because he taught himself and didn’t know any other way, Atsushi who uses odd fingerings for his chords, uncaring of tradition, Atsushi who introduces dissonant variations and is never afraid to experiment. When the song races towards an end with a final crescendo, Akutagawa watches as the other guitarist tips his head back to expose the long column of his neck, hand blurring across the strings. He sees Atsushi’s guitar pick fly off into the shadows while Atsushi plays on hard with his fingers, uncaring of the blood that soon slicks his instrument.
“Crazy bastard,” Akutagawa thinks but can’t look away, drawn to Atsushi’s blissed-out face, half-lidded gaze, and that neck. Heat sparks at the base of his spine, and he wishes it wasn’t connected to the sight of Atsushi’s blood, to how the boy carelessly wipes his hand on his white shirt and adjusts his suspenders when the song finishes.
They all take a moment to catch their breaths, drain half a bottle of water. What he doesn’t drink, Akutagawa pours over his head. The club is small, the air humid, smelling of beer, sweat, and smoke. Familiar. Akutagawa’s loose tank top sticks to his skin, as do his pants. A glance to Kunikida reveals that he’s taken off his shirt and and Akutagawa grins at what his math students would think if they saw their teacher like this, letting loose his anger and frustration in a dingy, third-rate basement space.
The lights dim to a cold blue and Atsushi steps forward, a new pick in hand, weaving a slow, haunting melody. Ryuunosuke, as always, feels a twinge of near-pain run through his chest at how otherworldly Atsushi appears in this lighting, his silver hair glowing, his face young and deceptively vulnerable, choppy bangs stuck to his forehead. His tattoos stand out starkly against the pale of his skin, flowers and tigers and words that mean everything to him.
Akutagawa approaches the front of the stage where his pedalboard is fixed down with tape. He picks up a low rhythm to accompany Atsushi, dexterously navigating the distortion with taps of his foot. They feed off each other while Chuuya sings, his voice clear of any growl now, smooth and entrancing. Lighters flicker to life in the audience, swinging slowly from side to side, and Atsushi’s face is beaming with joy.
Atsushi opens his eyes to glance at the audience. His sight fills with a small sea of flames, like lantern lights floating in the sky at a festival. He smiles, his heart light, his fingers sure on the neck of his guitar. He listens for Ryuunosuke, always steady, always there to carry him back when he is in danger of forgetting himself and going off on too much of a tangent. Ryuunosuke’s foot is working the pedals with skilled precision and Atsushi still can’t understand why Ryuu, who is older and has been in the band longer, suddenly gave up his position as lead after weeks of rivalry. When he risks a glance, Ryuu’s bangs are frizzy and tousled with heat and sweat. The piercing at his brow reflects the light, as do the rings on his fine-boned but strong hands as he strums, never faltering, always in perfect rhythm with Kunikida and Tachihara.
Their eyes meet and Atsushi has to look away, his stomach fluttering at the intensity of the other’s dark gaze. When Chuuya first introduced them, Akutagawa’s eyes reminded Atsushi of bottomless pits. His lips, usually with a cigarette dangling from a corner, were always twisted in a snarl. His voice was rough, but rumbled through Atsushi’s body in a way that was far from uncomfortable. Atsushi was not easily spooked by a prickly exterior, and he had a feeling that Ryuunosuke admired his defiance. He learned to read the nuances in Ryuunosuke’s eyes, to notice the lightning-quick curl of his lips when he hides his amusement. He loves Ryuu’s back-up vocals, a growly rasp to Chuuya’s clean notes, like right now when their only ballad is coming to an end.
The next song is another fast one, and Atsushi leeches onto the energy of Chuuya’s voice. He jumps in place and uses what little space he has on the small stage, his boots sticking to the grimy floor with every step. The bridge of the song nears and he catches Akutagawa’s eye. Chuuya steps back a bit to make space for them center stage and Atsushi’s spine trembles in anticipation of his favorite moment of the night. Then Ryuu is there, his bony shoulder blades digging into Atsushi’s back, and they begin their joint solo, each note perfectly harmonized and in sync. Atsushi knows they strike a picture, almost equal in height, one head of shaggy black, the other silvery, guitars pointing outwards symmetrically due to Atsushi’s being a left-handed player.
He turns his head slightly, almost cheek to cheek with Ryuu, and adrenalin courses through his body, heightening sensation at every point they touch, every brush of Ryuu’s sweat-slick arm against his own. He glimpses the flex of Ryuu’s forearm where he picks the strings, lean but muscular, tattooed skin shifting over tendons and bone. Ryuu’s tattoos are all tendrils and thorns, beasts that scream ‘stay away’, but that has never deterred Atsushi. If anything, he’s drawn to it, the pull harder to resist with every time they play this part, with every late-night writing session in the practice room or on the roof.
He feels Ryuu exhale sharply when their piece finishes, but is hesitant to separate, to give up this perfect harmony of their styles. He never feels closer to Ryuu’s mind and guarded heart than in these moments, spurred on by the rabid moshing of the crowd, by Tachihara’s bass rattling in his chest and Kunikida’s beat laying the basis for this temporary magic they create. He feels no pain, no loneliness, none of the self-doubt he tries hard to hide but that sometimes grips him, in the middle of the night when he wakes on the futon in his shitty, cramped one-room apartment.
On stage, he is free, never more so than when he feels Ryuunosuke against his back.
Ryuu shifts his weight, throwing Atsushi one last crooked grin before making his way back to his own side of the stage.
“All right guys, this our last one! Let’s give it our all and tear this place up!” Chuuya yells into the microphone as Kunikida counts in with his drumsticks, one-two-three-four, and they launch into their final song of the night. The pace is brutal, Chuuya is banging his head and twisting his body as his voice soars and purrs, alternating between clear tones and guttural screams, at times accompanied by Ryuu’s smoky notes. Ryuu’s voice washes through Atsushi and he wishes Ryuu could accept how beautiful it is, would stop hiding on the roof to play his acoustic guitar and sing where no one can hear him except for Atsushi hiding on the stairs.
Their set ends sooner than Atsushi would like, a mere half hour of feeling electrically alive. With a final wave to the audience, they grab their instruments and leave the stage, making room for the main act to set up.
“All right guys, get your stuff and let’s load the van! Tachihara, don’t forget your amp,” Kunikida barks, all business now that the show is over. He pulled on his shirt again as soon as they walked off stage. Akutagawa rolls his eyes. He’s grateful for Kunikida - who else could keep Tachihara and Chuuya in check when they’re on a roll? - but for fuck’s sake, can’t the man show some respect for their post-show high?
“Calm down, Kunikida,” Akutagawa says, keeping his voice low. “Let them grab the most important stuff now, then have some fun and come back for the rest later. No one’s gonna steal from us here.” They’ve played this venue many times, they know most of the staff and almost all the other bands.
Kunikida’s brows twitch, but he relents. “Fine. Load up the instruments but be back punctually in an hour!”
“Sure, Kuniki-dad,” Chuuya drawls as he brushes back his hair and puts on his hat with a cocky grin. “Come on, Tachihara-kun, let’s check out the bar.”
Akutagawa ignores Kunikida’s yelling, his gaze seeking out Atsushi. After a moment of shock - where is he? - he exhales when Atsushi brushes back a curtain and steps into the small room with two beers.
“Backdoor?” he asks and Akutagawa nods, letting Atsushi lead the way down a narrow, dimly-lit corridor. It’s a nice view, the way silver locks curl against the back of his neck, the way his shirt stretches across his shoulders and trim hips. Akutagawa swallows. He needs to be careful, to keep himself in check. It’s hard though, when Atsushi half-turns to offer him the beer with a smirk on his lips and a twinkle in his honey-purple eyes.
They exit the door, wedging a piece of wood under it to prop it open. It leads out onto a metal veranda of sorts, set a few feet off the ground, with steps leading down into the back alley. Atsushi braces his arms on the railing and cracks open his beer, taking a few sips before turning and relaxing, the whole line of his body sprawled against the metal poles. Akutagawa takes a gulp of his own beer before setting it on the ground to light a cigarette. He inhales deeply and slowly breathes out the smoke through his nose, enjoying the cool night wind on his heated skin.
“You played well tonight”, he says, leaning against the railing next to Atsushi, possibly a bit closer than necessary.
Atsushi flushes but grins. “The mood was great! I still feel like I could uproot trees, or lift the entire van!”
Ryuunosuke snorts but can’t take his eyes off of Atsushi’s face. The half-light of a single bulb above the door reveals the fine-boned, sharp planes of his cheekbones and jawline - Atsushi is glowing with happiness. Yearning sweeps through Ryuunosuke. He’s seen Atsushi get lost in the darkness of his past, and he’d give anything if it meant Atsushi could always be this carefree. He tries to steady his fingers as he takes another drag from his cigarette, the end of it glowing red in the space between them.
Atsushi’s breath hitches when Ryuunosuke brings the cigarette to his lips, the ember reflecting in those dark, dark eyes, eyes that seem to almost devour him. He covers his reaction with another sip of beer. He doesn’t know how long he can hold himself back from doing something stupid if this tension between them continues. The wide sleeve hole of Ryuu’s tank shows off his ribs and part of his chest, and Atsushi wants to know whether he’s inked anywhere besides his arms, wants to feel the skin beneath his fingers-
Right, his fingers. He brings his left hand up in front of his face, squinting in the dim light. There’s still crusted blood along the tips of his index and middle finger from where he tore his nails and cuticles earlier. He grimaces, about to lower his hand when he feels long, strong fingers grasp his wrist. Ryuu is incredibly close, close enough to feel the warmth radiating from his body, his eyes fixed on Atsushi’s fingers with an unreadable expression.
“Ryuu?” It sounds tentative, far from Atsushi’s usual confidence.
After a moment of hesitation, Ryuu leans forward and down, capturing Atsushi’s fingers in his mouth. Atsushi swallows. He doesn’t breathe. He just looks, rooted in place when Ryuu raises his eyes to Atsushi’s own, holds his gaze, and licks.
Atsushi’s knees grow weak. He can’t look away. Every nerve in his body is focused on his fingers, on the smooth, wet movements of Ryuu’s tongue as he cleans off the blood.
It should be disgusting. He should be drawing back his hand, should punch his bandmate in the face.
But that gaze. Those smoldering, bottomless eyes… Atsushi is transfixed, his blood running hotter, his breath audibly fast.
It was a gamble, but Ryuunosuke regrets nothing. The taste of Atsushi’s blood is tangy and bitter on his tongue as he laps at his fingers. His grip on Atsushi’s wrist is light now, but the other doesn’t pull back.
And those eyes. Purple and gold, glowing fiercely as they are slowly swallowed up by the black of dilating pupils. Atsushi’s neck is flushed, his breath fast, and Ryuunosuke feels as if his heart is going to implode. His mind is hazy, much as if he were still on stage, when he slowly draws Atsushi’s fingers from his mouth with one last swirl of his tongue, a nip of teeth on a fingertip. Atsushi gasps and that’s it - Ryuu pounces, pressing Atsushi against the railing as he slants their mouths together.
Yes. Atsushi’s lips are soft and yielding and Ryuunosuke is drowning in a sense of belonging he has never known before. Then Atsushi gives a strangled moan, dropping his beer to loop his arms around Ryuunosuke’s neck and shoulders as he kisses back feverishly, open-mouthed and messy. Ryuu can feel him against his thigh and pushes in further, rolling his hips with a growl. Atsushi bends his spine backwards across empty space behind the rail, anchored by Ryuu as he lets his head fall back and swears.
“Fuck. Don’t stop.”
Ryuu latches onto his neck. Words are too bothersome. He’s never been good at saying what he feels. His heart soars with Atsushi’s, that’s enough. He licks and bites and sucks, not caring about leaving marks when Atsushi twitches in his arms, mewls and pants spilling from his lips. He bites down on Atsushi’s exposed collarbone and it’s like the other snaps. Ryuunosuke’s back hits the wall. Bricks dig into his shoulders. Atsushi’s taste fills him again as the other guitarist’s tongue tangles with his own.
Atsushi feels unleashed. There is no more hesitation or trembling when his hands push against Ryuu’s shoulders or roughly grip his hair. Ryuu hisses at the pull, hips bucking, and Atsushi smirks as he presses closer, enjoying the reversal of their positions. His hands roam over the other man’s lean form, linking their fingers to push Ryuu’s hands against the wall next to his head. Ryuu lets him, tensing his arms just enough to let Atsushi know that he could fight him if he wanted to. The willing surrender burns through Atsushi’s veins, aching and desperate. He pulls back, breathless, and they stare at each other as if for the first time.
Ryuu’s eyes are not bottomless or without light. They are simply too full to be read like those of other people. Atsushi leans his forehead against Ryuu’s naked shoulder, pressing a kiss there as he tries to calm his frantic heart.
“That was-” he begins.
“Yeah,” Ryuu answers. His lips twitch and Atsushi grins back.
“I want more than this,” Ryuu says. “And I’m not just talking about your body.”
His face remains unchanged but Atsushi can see the uncertain tension in his shoulders.
“Me too,” he admits, giddiness flooding his body. “I never feel more myself than when I’m with you.”
Ryuu coughs into his hand to hide his face and Atsushi laughs. “Shouldn’t I be the one who’s embarrassed?”
“Shut up,” Ryuu mumbles and leans in for another kiss. Softer, less frenzied. Atsushi melts against Ryuu, gently tugging at his two-toned bangs.
Atsushi flinches, but Ryuu’s hold makes it impossible for him to jerk back.
“What?” Ryuu snaps, and Atsushi turns his head as well as he can to look down into the alley.
Tachihara and Chuuya are grinning up at them. “Time’s up. Why don’t you take this somewhere more private?”
Tachihara whistles and Atsushi feigns nonchalance as he steps back.
“We’ll be right down.”
Chuuya keeps pestering them with innuendos as they make their way back into the club, grab the rest of their stuff, and walk out to help loading the van.
The drive back to the band room is loud, metal blaring from the speakers, Chuuya leaning out the window to whoop into the night. Kunikida shouts at him to stop being an idiot and shut the fuck up. Atsushi leans against Ryuu’s shoulder, feels Ryuu’s arm around his waist. He’s both relieved and excited at the prospect that he won’t be lonesome in his apartment tonight.
And here as promised above, the beautiful art by rashii that made me cry with how perfect it is for one of my favorite scenes to write in this fic: