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The Game of Love

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“I've changed my mind, I'm not going.”

“Akkun, we're already here,” Hazuki said, holding the car door open for him.

“I don't ... I don't want to, please, just take me home,” Akinori mumbled, turning pleading eyes on his bandmate. He could read Hazuki's hesitation and for a moment he thought he might get his way. And then Yusuke nudged his shoulder.

“From what Shinji-kun said, it's mostly going to be older guys like us,” the guitarist said gently.

“But....”

“You can't hide forever, Akkun,” Hazuki said softly. He knew what his friends were saying made sense, but still that scared voice at the back of his head. In the eyes of the law, he had done his time, paid his debt to society for his crime. But when it came to his peers....

“I'll be by your side the whole time, Akkun, I promise,” Reo chimed in, taking his hand and all but physically pulling him out of the car. Well, that settled it, didn't it? A last huff of protest at having to do this and he turned his attention back to the preposterously large house that had originally inspired his change of heart. It wasn't like it was a surprise, per se – Mao had been inviting them to his parties, both big and small, for years – but it did mean this party was likely to have a guest list far outside Akinori's current comfort zone.

“I hate you all,” he muttered as even Asanao helped to box him in, keep him from running away.

“Hazuki-kun!”

Akinori hated himself for flinching, but seeing as it was just Tatsurou, he could at least console himself with knowing that no one else had seen it. Tatsurou only ever had eyes for Hazuki, especially once he had started drinking. On the other hand, with Hazuki now occupied with his totally-not-my-boyfriend boyfriend, maybe his chances of escaping had improved?

“I see Tatsu-kun's already stolen Hazu-kun,” Mao said as they stepped into the house. “There's drinks in the kitchen through there and again in the backyard. We have the whole house, so feel free to wander around, mingle as you like, and if you need a quiet place, there's rooms upstairs. Just be sure to close the door and don't open any closed doors out of respect for others, ne? If you need help with anything, just look for me or Piki, we'll take care of it. So please, enjoy yourselves.”

“Come on,” Asanao said, subtly nudging him towards the kitchen. “We'll get drinks and then you and Reo-kun can make the rounds so no one can accuse you of being rude.”

“I don't....”

“Nope,” Yuusuke interjected, looping their arms as he walked with him. “You can't terminate until you complete all mission objectives.”

“Yuu-chan, that's....”

“Here, finish this bottle, without chugging it,” Asanao said, pushing a Coke Zero into Akinori's hands. “Make small talk with at least three different senpai from three different bands. And somewhere in between all that find Aki-kun and thank him for inviting you.”

“And then I can go?”

His three bandmates shared a look between them a moment. Then Reo nodded, tucking an arm around Akinori's shoulders.

“If you do all that and still can't stand the thought of staying longer, then yes, I'll take you home,” he said. “I'm sure these guys won't have any trouble find their own ways back if it comes to it.”

Akinori sighed and stared his soda. Still not his ideal way to be spending a Friday night, but he could do this. Maybe. Probably. By those terms, he only had to last an hour, maybe less. He could manage that long, surely.

~*~*~

Aki had been circulating the party for what felt like hours, he had more than earned the right to just sit and observe for awhile. Watching some of the younger bandmen whispering in different corners of the ballroom, he couldn't help remembering when he had been in their place, when it had been his own precious senpai planning these things instead of him. Eager to meet new people and yet overwhelmed by the reality of being surrounded by so many honored senpai. Maybe he should go talk to a few more of them? Reassure everyone that things were fine.

“This seat taken?” Hyde purred, interrupting his thinking with the offer of another bottle of Asahi.

“I suppose you can have it,” Aki drawled, accepting the beer as he scooted over on the couch. “Still mad at you for your hair, though.”

“It's just hair, Kiki, it'll grow back,” his favoritest of favorite senpai mock-scolded. True enough, especially when he knew the truth of what Hyde was, and Aki certainly wasn't going to let something as petty as hair length keep him from shifting to lean into Hyde's side for much-coveted cuddles. A short laugh and Hyde tucked an arm around him, accepting the public display of affection with an ease that still sometimes surprised him, even after everything they had been through together.

“You know, no one's going to make a move until Teru-kun does ... unless he already did and I missed it?”

“He was in the kitchen a few minutes ago. I'll remind him that him and Takkun have top rank tonight, I think he might have forgotten,” the blond said with a playful grin. “Upstairs or down?”

“Up if you have a partner in mind, down to play the game, same as always, yeah?”

“Hey, it doesn't hurt to ask, Mao-kun might change things around one of these times,” Hyde said, laughing as he got up and then leaning in to brush a kiss to his temple. If they were about to move on to the next phase, he should probably relocate himself to the front door so he could be the good host for the majority of guests who would be going home as soon as they felt they had permission.

~*~*~

Reo hadn't been thinking about anything more than finding a quiet place where Akinori could get his breathing back under control. Someplace away from the party. When he found the basement was both finished and completely empty, he chalked it up to a stroke of good luck.

“Hey, it's okay, just breathe,” he encouraged softly, slowly rubbing Akinori's back as his friend sat with his head almost on his knees.

“I want to go home,” the bassist mumbled.

“We still haven't found Aki-kun.”

“Don't care, want to go home,” Akinori insisted softly. Reo wasn't sure how long they had been here, probably a couple of hours. Long enough that the more cynical part of him was wondering if one of the others hadn't said something to Aki in an effort to make sure Akinori had to stay that much longer.

“I need a smoke,” Akinori mumbled, finally sitting up while reaching for Reo's back pockets.

“Akkun....”

“I told you I needed to bring my vape, but no, couldn't do that. Now hand over a cig, Reo-kun, or I swear to all the blessed ancestors....”

“Relax, Akkun, give me a minute to see if I can find an ashtray first,” he mock-scolded, ruffling his hair before glancing around the room. Things had obviously been rearranged for something, most of the seating and the billiards table were pushed against one of the walls. Across the open floor was a small wet bar, fully stocked, including a short stack of ashtrays. Taking one and a bottled water, he went back over to the couch, crouching down in front of the bassist and handing him the water first. He looked a little better, but....

“That was fast....”

Reo glanced over towards the stairs, not sure what to make of Hyde's comment. Or of the strange look on Yasu's face.

“Reo-san and Akinori-san, right?” Yasu asked, tilting his head to one side. “Akinori-san? Are you all right?”

“Fine,” the bassist muttered around the butt of a hastily lit cigarette, though Reo could see right through that lie. More voices sounded from the stairs and Akinori jumped to his feet in a panic, only to sway in place with a low groan and nearly collapse again.

“Hey, whoa, easy, Akkun,” he said softly, sliding supportive arms around him “You're gonna make it worse.”

“Out,” Akinori mumbled against his chest, cigarette tumbling from shaking fingers. Reo swore softly, but Hyde was already there, picking up the cigarette before it could do any damage.

“So not down here for the game,” their senpai said softly, eyes flicking over to where Tatsurou, Ni~ya, and Hitsugi were herding in a protesting Hazuki. Protests that died the instant the singer saw them.

“What happened?” Hyde and Hazuki asked at the same time. Akinori flinched and before Reo could even say anything, bloody murder appeared in Hazuki's eyes.

“No,” Reo said firmly, shaking his head even as he helped his bassist sit on the couch again. “It was an idiot kid who didn't even know we were standing behind him.”

“Reo-nii,” Hazuki murmured, worry still clear in his face and voice.

“Who said what?” Hyde demanded, a stubborn scowl on his face. For a split second, Reo was too startled to even think, but then he shook his head again.

“A stupid kid talking out his ass, it doesn't matter. But what game?”

“Oh Seven Minutes in Heaven,” Hazuki said, throwing an utterly fake scowl at his not-boyfriend. “I'm being blackmailed into it, but you guys don't have to play if you don't want.”

Reo glanced around the room, a little unsettled to see more had joined the group, all men. Didn't one usually play such a game in mixed company? On the other hand, Mao, Aki, and Hyde were relatively open about being bisexual, Hazuki and Tatsurou did more than just flirt, and just by being here, he supposed that meant Ni~ya, Hitsugi, Yasu, Nii, and Ryo were also at least somewhat bisexual.

“Um....”

“I'm about to open the bar, who wants what drinks?” Aki asked as he walked towards the wet bar, casting a worried glance in their direction.

“Hazu-kun, can you...?”

The vocalist frowned a moment, then nodded, quietly but firmly herding the others to the far side of the room. Taking a deep, calming breath, Reo sat on the couch, tucking an arm around Akinori, unsurprised when the bassist claimed his lap soon thereafter. He could feel Hyde watching them, but the man wasn't saying anything and he kind of wanted to keep it that way. A few minutes for Akinori to steady himself and then they would slip out.

~*~*~

Akinori's head ached, he still hadn't gotten his smoke, and the room was full of other people. Other people who were ... ignoring him? He risked sliding sideways off of Reo's lap, rubbing at his face with one hand. Hazuki was laughing at something, familiar voices underneath, but the words weren't quite penetrating the fog around his head.

“Hey Nori-nori....”

Akinori froze for a second. Only one person called him that. Squinting, he was still a little surprised to see Ryo hunkered down in front of him.

“Ryo-kun?”

“Come on, it's your turn.”

“My ... turn?”

“Yup,” his friend chirped with an impish grin. “You and Reo-nii are the only ones who haven't had a turn yet.”

“I ... I don't....”

Ryo started pouting and Akinori could feel his cheeks heating. Dammit, that wasn't fair.

“Turn to what?” he asked with a sigh.

“Spin the bottle, of course!” Ryo said, his pout evaporating far too quickly as he started tugging him over to the rest of the group. Akinori was pretty sure he didn't want any part of this, and yet he couldn't refuse Ryo, letting himself be sat between Nii and Hazuki.

“Fine,” he huffed, twisting the bottle just enough for it to land on Hazuki.

“No good,” Ryo declared with another pout. “Come on, Nori-nori, play right.”

He really hated that pout. It wasn't fair, the things that pout could get him to do. Akinori gave the bottle a real spin, his breath catching in his chest as it came to a stop on ... no one, the neck pointed at the space between Mao and Hyde. Someone thumped the floor and the bottle wobbled towards Mao.

“That's got to be cheating,” he mumbled, glancing at their host with mild apprehension.

“I'll promise to keep my hands to myself if it'll help?” Mao offered. Akinori could feel everyone watching him in expectation, it was making his skin itch. No weakness, a little voice in his head scolded. He pushed himself up to his feet and followed Mao into the next room, moving past him to take a seat on the couch but not otherwise looking at him. This was going to be a long seven minutes.

“You could have said no,” the older man said with a curious look

“Not to Ryo-kun. I don't know why, I just ... can't say no to him.”

“It's the pout,” Mao said with a nod, perching on the opposite end of the couch. “So ... who do I need to discipline or outright uninvite from future parties?”

“E-excuse me?”

“Reo-san brought you down here because of a panic attack, ne? If one of my guests was harassing you....”

“It wasn't like that,” he said, shaking his head. “It was my own fault, I shouldn't've come.”

“Akinori-san, I take my job as host very seriously,” Mao said and though his head was bent, he could hear the other man's frown. “One of my guests made you uncomfortable and that's not acceptable.”

“No, really, it was my own fault,” he insisted, fisting his hands in his jeans to keep from doing something else. He wasn't sure he would be able to identify the speaker again anyway.

“... someone said something about your drug charge....”

Akinori hated the way he flinched at those words ... and again when Mao cupped his cheek. The hand dropped away instantly, and then Mao was crouched down in front of him, carefully liberating his hands from their tight clench and enfolding them in his own.

“Akkun, you are not a degenerate or a low-life or a loser or whatever that person said. You're a man who made mistakes. And paid a price, one I personally think is out of proportion to what you did. That you're back with lynch now says all anyone needs to know and you are welcome here. More so than anyone who would harass you over a little weed. Your bandmates support you. I support you. And I'm not the only one. It's going to be all right.”

The bassist wanted to believe that, he truly did, but....

“And the next time someone tries to give you shit over your past? Especially at one of my parties? You have my full permission to lay them out, okay?”

Akinori couldn't help a short laugh and nod at that. He didn't think it would be an issue, since he wasn't planning to attend one of these parties again, but it felt ... nice to know there was outside support.

“So are you going to stick around and play now or...?”

“Don't think I'm going to have a choice,” he said with a little sigh. “Ryo-kun....”

“House rules are no one has to do anything they don't want,” Mao said, getting up and stretching out his knees. “Come on, that's probably been long enough.”

Akinori didn't say anything else, dutifully following Mao back out to the others. As soon as he was close enough, Hazuki tugged him down into his lap, raspberrying at Tatsurou before nosing into Akinori's hair.

“Okay?” the singer asked softly. A huff and he nodded, trying to make himself relax. Hazuki smelled like cigarettes and beer, it was making the need in Akinori itch and whine.

“Oi, stop cheating, ya buttface,” Tatsurou objected. “No lap sharing and ya gotta spin the bottle before making out with anyone!”

“Okay, first? Not making out with anyone. Second? I don't remember either of those things being in the rules.”

“Third, it's Reo-nii's turn,” Ryo added.

“No it's not,” Reo said from behind the bar. As usual, Ryo's pout had no effect on the guitarist and Ryo quickly gave it up. As long as it wasn't his turn, Akinori didn't much care, closing his eyes and resting his head on Hazuki's shoulder. Someone spun the bottle, someone else laughed, then two sets of footsteps were leaving the circle. Fine with him, though he was curious what would happen while those two were gone.

“Need a smoke,” he mumbled.

“Gonna actually smoke it this time?” Hazuki murmured, rubbing his back. Akinori flinched again, then impulsively bit Hazuki's neck.

“Hey! I saw that!”

Someone was laughing, but for once it wasn't Hazuki, the vocalist too busy gaping at him. A beat and then his friend shook his head, a slow smile curving his lips.

“Yeah, you're definitely feeling better. Up then if you want one of mine,” he teased gently. Akinori pushed a hand through his hair as he got up, but he still felt jittery, his hand shaking too much to actually light the cigarette until Hazuki helped.

“Here,” Ni~ya said, scooting an ashtray across the carpet. He nodded his thanks, then took a deep draw, holding it in a long moment before blowing it out at the ceiling. It wasn't much, but at least it started calming the screaming in his head.

“Maybe you should get Reo-nii to take you home,” Hazuki suggested softly. “I know you're trying to make Ryo-chan happy, but....”

“Maybe,” he agreed, crossing his ankles before taking another soothing drag. Was he really going to let a single thoughtless comment of one stupid kid ruin his whole evening? Despite what he had said, Mao seemed to be right. Certainly no one else down here was giving him shit.

“How's the head?”

Akinori's brain screeched to a halt, refusing to produce a response. That was Hyde-senpai and he was ... offering him a mug? Wary, he tucked the butt of his purloined smoke into the corner of his lips before accepting the warm drink with both hands. Oh, but he had been asked a question, hadn't he? But what had it been?

“Akkun?”

“S-sorry,” he mumbled, nearly dropping his cigarette again.

“Hot chocolate, it really does help,” the older man said with a genuinely warm smile, sitting down next to him. It was bizarre and Akinori needed another second to get his brain to reboot enough to shuffle things around so he could both smoke and drink at the same time.

“Did the anxiety come before or after?” Hyde asked casually, fingering his own pack of cigarettes.

“After,” Hazuki said at the same time Akinori mumbled “before.” He could feel his friend frowning at him and sighed. Well, there was no point in trying to keep it hidden still now....

“It's something I've been struggling with for years, I got really good at masking, maybe too good. I was going to a doctor about it for awhile, but the drugs he gave me ... they either didn't work or they worked too well and he wouldn't really work with me, so I stopped seeing him. Pot ... it worked and I ... I had it under control, you know? But the fuckin' cops needed quota and I had the bad luck to be buying from the wrong guy.”

“And now you're out a coping mechanism and stuck with that stigma hanging over your head,” Hyde said, nodding a little. Akinori hummed, finishing his smoke before trying the hot chocolate. It wasn't something he would have thought to request, but it did seem to be helping. Maybe it would be okay to stay awhile longer.

~*~*~

Aki had to bite back a laugh when Tatsurou spun yet again and still didn't get Hazuki. While Tatsurou went off with Hitsugi, Aki got up and claimed a barstool. And then pouted at Reo.

“Mou, Reo-kun, bartending is supposed to be my job!”

“You were distracted,” Reo replied with a wry grin and a shrug. “What would you like?”

“Lots of things, but for now I'll stick with Asahi,” he said, chuckling. Reo shook his head a little, but he was laughing, too. And keeping a careful eye on Akinori, though the other bassist seemed to be doing fine. Of course that could be because Hazuki had quietly declined to leave his side the last time the bottle had landed on him.

“... you're very protective of him.”

“Of Akkun? Yeah. He's had enough shit thrown at him,” Reo admitted, setting a fresh bottle on the bar. Aki nodded, watching his fellow bassist a moment as, cigarette and drink finished, he subtly slipped back into Hazuki's lap. No wonder Tatsurou was so annoyed, though Aki could tell Hazuki's feelings for his friend were purely platonic. The protective big brother making sure his younger brother felt safe and loved.

“Reo-kun, another whisky sour, if you please,” Yasu said as he claimed the barstool next to Aki.

“Another one?” Reo asked with a skeptical look. “Isn't that your fourth one?”

“Technically, maybe, but someone stole my second one behind my back before I'd even touched it and I only got two sips out of the third. It's terrible when the bottle loves you!”

“Yes, I can tell it's been quite traumatic for you to be paired off with your kouhai all the time,” Aki drawled, watching Reo work.

“I feel like I'm wasting Reo-kun's hard work!” Yasu insisted, tucking blond locks behind his ear.

“Glasses keep coming back empty, I wouldn't call that a waste,” Reo countered with a small smile. “So, how long does this game usually last?”

“As long as people want,” Aki said with a shrug. “Maonyan and I have the house until tomorrow afternoon, when the game ends, we'll crash somewhere upstairs and then do clean up tomorrow.”

The surprise on Reo's face was a reminder that while Mao had been inviting lynch to his big parties for years, the members hadn't ever stayed overnight, not even Hazuki. Then again, most of their guests had no idea what went on after the initial party had ended. It wasn't like Mao advertised the sex side to more than a few.

“Tonight's been pretty low-key,” Yasu added, thanking Reo for his drink. “This group isn't as wild as some. Now if Gacchan was here....”

“I'd say he could still turn up, but I don't think he's even in the country right now,” Aki said with a little chuckle. “I think most of the truly wild ones went upstairs this time, starting pretty early, too.”

“Tch, so rude,” Yasu teased, laughing. “So ... you and Akinori-kun, eh Reo-kun?”

“Eh? Ah, no, I was just looking for someplace away from the party,” Reo said, shaking his head a little. “Someplace quiet, away from other people, from the risk of some other asshole saying the wrong thing.”

“Someone said something?” Yasu asked, tossing a quick glance over his shoulder. “Well, he's looking more settled now. Ish.”

Reo frowned and Aki lightly kicked his vampire senpai, hoping that would be enough to remind him that Reo was a mundane human. Yasu's eyes flicked to his a moment and then he seemed to realize his mistake as he glanced at Akinori again briefly before turning back to Reo.

“Ah, sorry, I didn't mean anything offensive,” the blond said with an apologetic smile.

“I had to order him to come with us,” Reo confessed, his own eyes landing on Akinori. “He was convinced it would go badly, that everyone would hate him, even though our fans have been mostly in support of his return. To then have some snot-nosed kid try to insist people like him didn't deserve to be allowed back into the business....”

“... I really wish you'd tell us who it was,” Aki said with a sigh.

“I can handle it,” Reo rumbled, eyes narrowing defensively.

“Of course you can,” Aki soothed, setting down his bottle. “But as host ... you and your bandmates are always welcome, all five of you. That sort of attitude? Is not. Okay, it's not the 80s anymore, but ... sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll, yeah?”

“Besides,” Yasu added, “he got caught with pot. Not like Ya-kun and his cocaine. Or Imai-senpai, who used to do anything anyone would give him and now no one even thinks twice about his place. It's ridiculous and anyone who thinks drugs aren't circulating the scene even still....”

Reo's jaw tightened and Aki bit back a sigh. If Reo wouldn't tell and Akinori didn't remember, he would just have to make some discrete inquiries. Someone else would have heard something, he was certain of it. In the mean time, there was still the game. Perhaps he could still turn it to his advantage.

~*~*~

It was a little weird, perhaps, but Akinori was content to sit on Hazuki's lap and ignore the game still being played around him. Until the bottle stopped on him.

“So does this mean I get both of you?” Aki asked, eyes bright with laughter. Mao playfully smacked the bassist upside the head while Hazuki tightened his arms around him.

“Akkun?”

He was comfortable where he was, but he could also practically feel Ryo pouting at him again. He didn't have to do anything, they could just go into the next room and talk basses or something. That ... that might actually be nice. And he did still owe the other man a thank you for the invitation. Plus he could get another beer afterwards. His mind made up, Akinori gave Hazuki a reassuring kiss on the cheek before getting up and following Aki into the next room.

“How do you feel?” Aki asked as he sat down on the couch.

“Fine, I guess,” he said, sighing and taking a seat as well. “Thanks for inviting us. Inviting me.”

“Hey now, we are still friends, ne?”

“Are we?”

“Some reason we wouldn't be? And if you say the drug charges, I may have to smack you,” Aki said, frowning at him. It was so unexpected, Akinori couldn't help a little huff of laughter. And yet he still twitched in surprise when the other man was suddenly almost on top of him.

“Mou, Nori, it's just me,” Aki said softly, squeezing his hand. “And whatever bullshit you've heard or even told yourself, I am still your friend. Nothing's going to change that, okay? Especially not this, I promise.”

Akinori managed a shaky breath before he nodded. And then Aki was hugging him and after an initial burst of panic, he felt himself relaxing into it. He really needed to stop panicking over every little thing. Aki was safe, surely.

“What helps? With the anxiety, I mean,” Aki murmured, gently coaxing him to sit closer. It was surprisingly easy, especially when they had never been close like this in the past. But Aki was warm and something about him ... it was easy to sit with him, to shift around until he was curled up against the man's side.

“Lots of smoking and vaping, to be honest, but nicotine isn't really the same. I had it under control, I did, but the cops....”

“I believe you,” Aki said, lightly rubbing his back. “It's okay, you're safe with me, okay?”

Akinori exhaled heavily, turning and nuzzling into the crook of Aki's shoulder. It wasn't quite right, the smell of him, but then again no one could make him feel as safe as Reo did. Maybe it was stupid, but any time the older man held him, he knew he was safe and the chittering calmed a bit more easily for having Reo around.

“Reo-kun, huh?”

“Wh-what?”

“If you want Reo-kun to notice you like that, Nori, you're going to have to actually say something to him. He's delicious, but he'll never get there on his own. He's a little too ace sometimes.”

“I ... what?” Akinori asked, pushing himself back upright to frown at the other bassist.

“Sorry,” Aki replied, brushing fringe away from Akinori's face with a little smile, “guess the anxiety is making your thoughts louder or something. Reo-kun's a good guy, you should tell him how you feel. How he makes you feel. He deserves to know, yeah?”

“How ... I feel?” he echoed, feeling particularly stupid all of a sudden.

“Just because I think aces are superheroes doesn't mean they actually have special powers, Nori,” Aki teased.

“Ace ... he's ... he's asexual?”

“... oh, you didn't know?”

“I just thought he was straight. I mean, he's always dated women in the past....”

“Well yeah, cuz it's expected. How often does it last more than a month?”

“... none of us have done well in that department,” Akinori mumbled. “Unless you count Hazuki-kun and Tatsurou-san, but that's ... that's different, yeah?”

“Open and honest. Well, to an extent,” Aki said, chuckling softly. “Expectations can be a hell of a bitch, you can either conform, do what everyone else expects. Or you can do what makes you happy. Assuming you know what that is. But I think we both know which way you'll go.”

Akinori shivered at the brush of Aki's fingers along his arm, lightly tracing the lines of the koi inked there.

“Senpai....”

“You should tell him tonight,” Aki suggested. “Before you lose your nerve. I could give you a push if you like.”

“I don't know....”

“Come on, we'll do it now,” Aki said, hopping up and then grabbing his hand. And still Akinori hesitated. What if this ruined everything? He had already nearly been the cause of that once, he couldn't be responsible for the band breaking apart for real.

“Courage, Nori,” Aki said, drawing him up to his feet. “You can do this.”

“But what if ... I can't break the band.”

“You won't. Trust me.”

Trust, that was always the problem, wasn't it? But he would never get anywhere without trust. Maybe Aki was right. There really was only one way for him to find out.

~*~*~

Reo watched as Aki brought Akinori over to the bar, frowning a little at the nervousness he could read in the younger man's body. Had something more happened to him? He had trusted Aki with his bassist, but maybe that had been a mistake.

“Oh relax, Reo-kun,” Aki teased. “Nori just wants to go home and I want my bartending job back.”

“All mission objectives completed,” Akinori added with a cheeky grin that still wasn't enough to completely cover his nerves. Still, Reo couldn't help a snort of laughter at that, putting the finishing touches on a mojito before sliding it across the bar to Ni~ya.

“I suppose I can't argue with that,” he said. It didn't take them long to say good night to everyone, Hazuki promising not to get into trouble without them.

The drive to Akinori's flat was almost completely silent, though that wasn't entirely unusual. What was unusual was his friend's hesitation to get out.

“Come up with me?” he asked at last. “I ... can we talk?”

“Of course.”

With Akinori's obvious nerves, he wasn't too surprised that the younger man didn't say anything else until they were both settled on his couch.

“I ... Reo, I ... fuck,” Akinori muttered, pushing himself up to his feet and starting to pace.

“Akkun, what's wrong?”

“I ... I think I'm in love with you,” the bassist mumbled, turning away from him. Reo needed a second to process that. As soon as he did, he got up, stepping up behind his friend and sliding arms around him.

“Akkun, that's not a wrong,” he said softly.

“I don't just mean as a friend or brother, Reo,” Akinori mumbled, trying to pull away from him. “I don't want to put the band at risk, but senpai was insisting I be honest with you, so....”

“Akkun....”

“And I know it's not fair of me to put this on you, but....”

“Nishida Akinori, stop,” Reo said, framing the younger man's face in his hands and forcing him to look at him. “I'm not offended or disgusted or angry. Akkun, I never have been and I never could be, okay? Not with you, not ever, do you hear me?”

Reo could see the way Akinori was holding his breath, as if he were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe it was a terrible idea, but he needed to do something. Akinori's lips tasted like chocolate somehow. An impossibly fragile moment and then the bassist broke, fisting both hands in his shirt and kissing him in hungry desperation.

“I'm sorry,” the bassist gasped after they parted. “Oh gods, Reo, I'm sorry, I don't....”

“Akkun, you don't have to apologize,” Reo said, sliding his hand up to cup the back of his neck.

“But I ... you ... Aki-senpai said....”

“Akkun, you haven't done anything wrong,” he murmured. “What did Aki-kun tell you?”

“... he said you were asexual.”

For a moment, Reo was too startled to even think. His sexual identity was something with which he had been struggling for years, it wasn't something he had ever discussed with anyone. To hear that someone else, someone with whom he wasn't even that close, had put it so plainly when he was still figuring it out himself....

“I, uh, I take it stunned silence means he was right. I'm sorry for ... for pushing myself on you.”

“Akkun, you're being ridiculous,” he said with a soft sigh. “I'm just ... I'm still figuring things out, but whatever it is I am, it doesn't change that I care about you.”

“But ... not like I love you.”

“Just because I don't have random urges to strip you naked or bend you over the back of a couch, that doesn't mean I can't love you, Akkun,” Reo half scolded, tilting the bassist's chin up and brushing a light kiss to his lips. Akinori blushed cutely, ducking his head, and Reo allowed it. If it made him feel safe....

“For the record,” he added, carding fingers through the younger man's hair, “I'm not a sex-adverse ace. I just ... don't really ever think about it. Which has been a big reason why my relationships keep failing. If you want to try this, you'll have to be comfortable initiating things most of the time, okay?”

“I ... you really don't ever just see someone and think, damn, I'd so fuck them in a heartbeat?”

“Really,” Reo replied with a little grin.

“So if I started doing a little strip tease ... nothing?”

“Probably not,” he agreed with a shrug. “If we're dating, it'd be clue enough that you were in the mood and I'd make an effort to meet you there, but....”

“... but you wouldn't really be interested. Sounds kinda ... rape-y,” Akinori mumbled, pulling away to walk into his kitchen, every line of his body practically screaming defeat. Reo's heart clenched, he couldn't stand that. Following the younger man, he caught him in his arms, pressing his nose into the back of Akinori's neck briefly.

“Akkun ... Akinori, you're thinking too black and white. It's not all or nothing, baby, there's lots of grey in between. Let me show you?”

“I ... wait, are you...?”

“Suggesting we give this dating thing a try? Yes,” Reo said, brushing a quick kiss to the younger man's neck before relaxing his arms enough for Akinori to turn around. The wary hope in those dark eyes was almost enough to break his heart.

“Are ... are you sure you want.... I mean it's me.”

“Yes, yes you are,” Reo said, cupping his cheek. “Perfectly imperfect, just the way you are.”

Akinori blushed harder, then flung his arms around him as he kissed him again, even more desperate than the last time. Reo happily pulled his new boyfriend closer, kissing him back. And made a mental note to thank Aki the next time they spoke.

Reo had long since stopped counting how many time he had taken Akinori to bed over the years. But everything about this time was different. Akinori seemingly couldn't stop kissing him, not that Reo was complaining. It was new and exciting in a way none of his girlfriends ever had been.

And then Akinori's legs bumped into the bedframe and the man froze, a look not unlike panic on his face as he pulled back.

“Wait, are we...?”

“We don't have to do anything you don't want,” Reo said.

“No, I know that, but ... but if it's not what you want....”

“Akkun, baby, trust me. You'll know if you do something I don't want,” he said, pressing another kiss to the bassist's lips. He could tell his boyfriend was still hesitant, but, hoping his actions would speak louder than words, he started unbuttoning Akinori's shirt.

“Reo....”

“Well, even if you don't want to do that, you can't just sleep in your street clothes, Akkun,” he said with a soft sigh, trying not to feel disappointed.

“Reo, I'm sorry, I just ... I'm sorry....”

“Why are you sorry?” he asked quietly, half afraid of the answer.

“I'm ruining this, I know I am, but I can't ... I can't....”

“You're thinking too much,” Reo scolded softly, finishing with Akinori's buttons and pushing the shirt from his shoulders. “Get up on the bed, baby.”

Not meeting his eyes, Akinori did as he was told, laying flat on his back with one arm tossed over his face in a vain effort to hide the tears leaking down his cheeks. Reo tsked softly, kissing around his arm and tasting salt.

“Shh, you're still thinking too much, baby,” he soothed, straddling the younger man's thighs. “Don't think, just breathe. I won't let you fall.”

Slowly but firmly, Reo drew Akinori's arm away from his face, then leaned down for a slow and sensual kiss. This time Akinori fell almost passive and Reo wondered if this wasn't what fear tasted like. Still, he didn't mind, lingering in the slow movement of their lips as he kept kissing his boyfriend. And just as slowly, he let his hand trail down the bassist's bare chest. This was new territory for them, after all, and each little twitch and gasp was exciting.

When the time felt right, he moved his lips away from Akinori's, trailing open-mouthed kisses along his jaw, then nipping at a spot just below his ear that made the bassist groan and turn his head in invitation. Smirking, Reo kept working that spot, delighted at the feel of Akinori's fingers tangling in his hair. And even more so when he pulled back and his boyfriend whimpered.

“Show me what you like, baby,” he said, slipping out of his own shirt. “Show me what feels good.”

Akinori blushed again, hesitating cutely and biting his lips. Reo couldn't resist, leaning in to kiss him again.

“Show me,” he murmured again, barely parting their lips. “Whatever it is, I won't laugh, I promise.”

Another groan and the bassist leaned up just enough to kiss him again.

“M-my neck,” the bassist mumbled, but Reo leaned back a little, pressing a finger to his lips.

“Show me,” he repeated. “Put my hands where you want them, use me to demonstrate, show me.”

Akinori hesitated a moment, then nodded, kissing Reo's finger and then flicking it with his tongue. He could almost see the light bulb going off as Akinori grabbed his wrist and continued kissing and licking his finger for a long moment. Reo wasn't sure how to interpret that, unable to really move anyway.

He wasn't sure how long it went on before Akinori shifted, moving Reo's hand to his chest and then letting go to trail fingers over Reo's bared chest. The bassist closed his eyes with a soft sigh and smile, and for a moment Reo worried the man might be changing his mind.

“Sorry,” Akinori mumbled, eyes still closed but that smile still in place. “It's been so long, I'm having trouble remembering what I like. Although....”

“Although?” he prompted softly.

“As long as it's you ... we could do anything and I'd be happy,” Akinori mumbled. It was such a sappy sentiment ... and yet so perfectly Akinori, too.

“Sap,” Reo murmured, brushing a kiss to the younger man's collarbone as he moved down the bed. Akinori tensed up again when Reo started on his pants, but then he was reaching for him, trying to return the favor. He was more hindrance than help and, laughing, Reo had to tell him to stop so he could move off the bed, taking Akinori's jeans and boxers with him. He dropped his own to the floor before rejoining his boyfriend, surprised when Akinori pushed him over onto his back and insisted on climbing on top of him.

“Better,” the bassist mumbled, kissing and licking his way down Reo's chest. When a tongue dipped into his belly button, Reo flinched and tried to squirm away, but Akinori wouldn't let him. And then the bassist moved even lower, lips closing around the head of Reo's cock. They both moaned, Reo propping himself up on his elbows to watch Akinori suck him. The sight was so much more erotic than any of the times his ex-girlfriends had done this, with absolutely no hesitation in the younger man's movements.

“Fuck....”

Dark eyes flicked up to his face, something not unlike pure wickedness appearing there as the bassist pulled back with a wet pop.

“Yeah?” Akinori said, licking his lips. “Maybe not that asexual....”

“Don't put words in my mouth after sucking my dick like that, 's'rude,” Reo grumbled, inwardly impressed he had managed that much coherence. They could discuss theories of sexuality and the ace spectrum later, right then Reo needed something else. Curling fingers into Akinori's hair, he pulled the man up into a loving kiss, tasting himself on those lips. He slid a hand down the younger man's slender body, smiling a little when he felt how hard he was already.

“You like giving head that much, baby?” he mumbled, shifting until he could close his hand around both of their cocks at the same time. Akinori didn't answer directly, moaning into his shoulder as Reo started stroking them both together. That was fine, if they needed to talk, they could do it later. Right now, he was more interesting in making Akinori feel good.

He didn't know if it was because it was Akinori or because he hadn't allowed himself sexual pleasure in awhile, but it didn't take him long to reach his release. Akinori whined, but Reo didn't stop stroking them both until his boyfriend was just as satisfied, limp and yet pressed close against him.

“... you're staying, right?”

“Wild stallions couldn't drag me away,” Reo murmured, brushing a kiss into the bassist's tousled hair. There were things they needed to discuss, about the band and each other, but all of that could wait. For now, all that mattered was right there in his arms. And Reo would do whatever it took to protect his lover from now on.