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Elegant: The Best of Balladbird Lee

Chapter Text



JOY RIDE

Bunji stood at the entrance with his jacket zipped tight and his hands in his pockets.

Balladbird Lee emerged from the sliding doors with his head high and his hair long. The tall Balkon came off a little fruity with his over-priced clothes. Talk of his manscaped body and manicure prompted to Bunji to think: if you want to be a broad, buddy, just get the operation.

Lee surprised the hell out of him last night, though. The prissy bastard pinned some shit-bird to an alley wall and slit the guy’s throat from ear to ear, and he pulled it off without getting a drop of blood on those fancy four-hundred-yule shoes.

“Are they meeting us here?” asked Lee.

“Bro’s on his way with the Big Guy,” said Bunji.

“Bob’s already inside,” Lee said, before whistling long.

A blue and white open-top roadster pulled into the drop-off entrance and the whistle didn’t do it justice. A noisy beast, it was loaded with stacked lamps in the front and rear, and a smooth hood scoop framed by shining bumper bars.

“Look at this shit, Kugashira!” Lee walked around to the study the back. “You’re seeing the ultimate street-legal racer,”

Bunji recognized the driver, a young suit from Magritt Oil. Short blond hair neatly combed and a watch on his wrist worth more than Bunji’s pistols, he stepped out of the car and pushed his keys at Lee.

“Park it inside,” his eyes fixed on Lee. “You understand?”

Bunji pulled off his shades, ready to kick the shit out this asshole.

Lee flashed a toothy smile and took the keys.

“Oh, hashi-hashi,” he bowed his head and spoke pidgin-English with a perfect Balkon accent. “I park car in shade, where there no sun!”

Blond bitch smirked and peeled a fifty-yule bill from his pocket before shoving it Lee like it smelled bad. He then trotted past Bunji on his way inside, a contemptuous sneer on his face that Bunji knew all too well.

His glasses off, Bunji was just another slit-eye who washed up on shore and made Billion a lousier place. Sand rats from the southern Balkon island were lower on the totem pole than northern ice-bunnies like Lee.

Lee stood there, staring at the ground. When his fingers circled slowly around the man’s money and keys, Bunji realized shit was about to go down.

Aniki specifically asked Bunji to keep things smooth until he got there. Lee marching into a food joint and turning some blond-dickhead into a pin cushion was the very opposite of smooth.

“You ask me,” Bunji snatched the keys from his grasp, “Today’s a kick-ass day for a joy ride.”

Lee said, “Coastal highway, Kugashira!”

“Oh fuck yeah!” Bunji got behind the wheel and shoved the key into the ignition.

Lee sat shotgun and cranked the stereo to the max.

No, I don’t believe in luck
No I don’t believe in circumstance - no more
Accidents never happen - in a perfect world
So I won’t believe in luck

The motor roared as they peeled out onto the street. Bunji weaved in and out of traffic and barreling toward the canal bridge they heard the horn of a harbor bound ship.

“Gun it Kugashira!” Lee fastened his seatbelt and then reached over to secure Bunji’s. “Beat that fucking boat!”

Ahead, the bridge’s signal arms were already flashing. Bunji shifted gears and careened around the stopped line of cars. Busting through the bridge’s arms before they met in the middle, he felt the road rising and saw its end splitting in the distance.

Spurred by a howling Lee’s hand on his shoulder, Bunji punched the accelerator with his foot, rolling them up and over the seperating road. Airborne only a few seconds, the car touched down violently, bucking the pair before Bunji busted through a second set of dividers.

Fleeing the scene, Bunji gunned down the highway.

 I saw you walking in the dark
So, I slipped behind your footsteps - for a while
Caught you turning round the block
Fancy meeting in a smaller world - after all
Accidents never happen – in a perfect world

Bunji shifted into fourth and watched the speedometer rise to one-fifty. Lee rose to his knees and untied his hair.

“Get off on the coastal east exit,” he shouted.

On the winding road between the mountain and the shore, Bunji stole glances at Lee; back in his seat, he was stretched out and smiling.

 Accidents never happen - could have planned it all
Precognition in my ears
Accidents never happen - in a perfect world
Complications disappear

Bunji’s stomach was on fire. Behind the wheel of a two-seater with low-back seats and bulging wheel arches, this was what his dreams of being in Millenion were all about. The flames in his belly raged and the engine thrummed in his groin as he took it to two-hundred in just under four seconds.

Like the Magi on the hill
I can divinate your presence from afar
And I’ll follow you until
I can bring you to a perfect world
Accidents never happen

Bunji shifted gears and sped past two-fifty.

Turning, he found Lee with his pants peeled open. Long manicured fingers curled around his cock, rubbing the smooth foreskin up and down.

Bunji’s eyes flicked back to the road, it was all he could do to keep focused on driving.

Lee licked his hand and thrust it back down, jerking and tugging, he bucked his hips in the passenger seat until his eyes found Bunji watching.

Accidents never happen -could have planned it all
Precognition in my ears
Accidents never happen - in a perfect world
Complications disappear

Erection straining his zipper, Bunji took them off the road. He knew an isolated spot near the beach; he was keeping the Shelby Cobra because there was no way he could keep Balladbird Lee.

Chapter Text

PIZZA SHOP

They always gravitated toward the six top with seven chairs. 

Blue-eyed Harry sat down first, and next to him was Bob. Brandon always sat on Harry’s left. The newcomer in the sunglasses fell into the empty chair across from Brandon, and the long-haired Lee.

 “Hello, boys,” their usual waitress was a bright-eyed girl with a gold tooth and dark brown eyes. She smiled and poured water into their empty glasses, her eyes on the task and her backside out of Harry’s reach.

Brandon sipped his water and ordered a cola. Harry wanted his usual scotch. Bob and the new man decided to share a pitcher of beer.

Lee pursed his lips and studied the drink menu.

“Still no tea?”

“No, I’m sorry,” she said.

“You’re on the east side of Billion,” said Harry. “It’s coffee only around here,”

“I’ll have a mango frappe,” Lee said.

Harry curled his lip, “Ew,”

Lee bent his bow, “Don’t ew my choices,”

Brandon grinned until he turned to the new man. Staring him down, he tapped the space between his eyes and said, “Bunji,”

Bunji quickly removed his glasses and the only one that seemed to care was Lee.

After the drinks arrived, the girl took their orders.

Brandon ordered a vegetarian pizza. This disgusted Bunji, who kept his sour face behind his menu. His winced when Brandon specified a tomato pie with green asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, corn, red peppers, green peppers, and onions.

“You’re still on that vegetarian kick, eh Brandon?” Harry teased.

Brandon nodded, cola straw between his lips.

“Man, it must be nasty going down on you,” Harry’s eyes shifted to Bunji.

Bunji started and then looked at Brandon.

Lee sucked his tongue, “What possesses you to say things like that where people are eating, Harry?”

“It’s true what they say about vegetarians, right?” Harry grinned at Lee. “You have the most experience with that sort of thing, Balladbird, have you ever been down on a vegetarian?”

“Once or twice,” Lee said, matter of fact.

Harry laughed, “Why not more?”

“It’s best not mentioned at a lunch table,” Lee said.

“I want a Nordic,” Bob said, and the girl wrote quickly on her little scratch pad. “Extra tuna and anchovies, no onions.”

The girl looked to Bunji, oblivious with his nose still in the menu.

Koo-gahshee-rah,” Lee sang.

“I want the barbeque, no onions because when I bite into an onion, it makes me want to puke,” Bunji then turned to Lee. “I ain’t northern, my name is koogah-sheera, quit saying it in your accent,”

Brandon shot Bunji a disapproving glare.

“How about I just pronounce it, dumb-ass,” Lee asked.

“I want,” Harry’s eyes shifted from the menu and to waitress, “To know what you’re doing later.”

The girl laughed, drawing attention to the table.

“It’s okay, I was talking to him,” Harry then stared at Lee, making the girl laugh harder. “I want the Camembert Mille-feuille. I won’t shit for a week, but what the hell.”

Lee sucked his tongue as the rest of them laughed, even the waitress. From behind Harry she watched Lee as he sipped his fruity mocha.

“I’ll have my usual,”

“The Giganta-meat,” she said, writing.

Bunji laughed under his breath.

Harry, Brandon, and Bob kept their smiles in check.

“Don’t you have an age limit for beer drinkers?” Lee eyed Bunji. “Don’t they have to be out of grade school?”

Bunji mocked Lee, “Don’t you have an age limit for beer drinkers,”

“I don’t sound like that!” laughed Lee.

“Yes, you do,” Bunji said, smiling.

“The day I sound like that,” Lee grinned. “I’ll let you shoot me,”

“Let me ask you, Lee,” Harry winked at Bunji. “If they offered foreskin as a topping, would you eat it?”

“Depends,” Lee sipped his coffee, “Are the toppings from a vegetarian?”

The eruption of laughter brought their table some attention. 

“Did you want your usual salad Mister Heat?” the girl asked.

“Not today,” he said softly.

“Are you sure,” she took his menu. “We have the ranch dressing?”

“No thank you,” he said, as Harry and Bob admired her backside as she walked to the kitchen.

Mister Heat can I suck your dick for you?” Harry emulated her. “Can I rub my titties on your dick, please Mister Heat?” 

Bunji laughed the strongest until Lee cracked, "Relax, try-hard,"

“All the chicks like Brandon and Lee,” Harry smirked. “It’s the long hair, it makes their pussies cream.” Lee produced a file and began buffing his fingernails and Brandon wondered wordlessly how Lee made the task seem so manly. “My receptionist Abby keeps asking when Lee’s coming by,” Harry began emulating her, “Is he married, does he have children?

“You going to cut your hair now, Brandon?” Bob asked.

Brandon shrugged his shoulders and said, “When I have to,”

“Abby’s your receptionist?” Bunji asked between gulps of his beer. “I thought that was Lee’s job.”

“You know,” Lee fixed his eyes on Brandon, “It’s customary to muzzle one’s dog when it begins barking in public.” 

Bunji turned to Brandon, "Hey bro, can I shoot him?"

“Don’t refer to him as a dog, Lee,” Brandon said, then scowled at Bunji. “And Kugashira, show some respect,” 

Lee turned back to his nails, and Bunji quieted as ordered; Harry and Bob shared a smile at their expense.

The pizzas arrived and elevated the mood, until Bunji and Lee reached for the red pepper at the same time.

“Ladies first,” Bunji smirked.

“Beast before burden,” Lee tossed it at Bunji, getting red flakes on his black shirt.

Brandon and Harry were oblivious to the latest tension, listening as Bob discussed placing microphones the size of pin-heads inside steam rooms; these were the best places to record conversations.

Disturbed by the unethical nature and Harry’s willingness to do it, Brandon shifted his attention to Bunji. The newcomer was engaged in a civil if not slightly confrontational exchange with Lee.

“What are you talking about,” Bunji’s spoke with his mouth full. “Billion State Correctional has the best food,”

“BSC is fine if like powdered eggs three times a day,” Lee argued. “Correctional East is the best hands down,”

When Randy appeared, all of them stopped eating, except Bob. Randy had arrived earlier with Big Daddy and Bear Walken, and the men always took their lunch upstairs in one of the private rooms.

“How are you, Mister MacDowell?”

“Fine as always,” Harry said. “What can I do for you?”

Randy spoke to Brandon then, “I’ve been told to ask if you’d join us,”

Lee eyed Harry and saw disappointment and frustration flash in those baby-blues.

“No thank you,” Brandon stood and bowed. “Not today,”

“Of course,” Randy smiled as if expecting it. He then shook Brandon’s hand before staring boldly at Lee. “How are you today, Mister Lee?”

Lee gave him a closed-lipped smile, "Still not interested, old man,”

“You might wish to reconsider,” Randy's humor belied his gravely voice. “Enjoy your lunch, gentlemen, Mister Lee,”

"Yo," Bunji whispered to Lee, "You want me to shoot him?"

“Are you nuts?” Harry snapped at Brandon. “You should’ve gone.”

“I didn’t want to,” Brandon said.

“I’m telling you, Brandon,” said Harry. “Acting stupid will get you nowhere,”

Brandon went back to eating his pizza.

“You don’t turn down a man like Big Daddy,” Harry added. “Is it because he’s banging Maria?”

“Harry!” Lee slapped the table.

“Excuse me,” Harry said. “I’m talking to my friend,”

“No,” Lee said. “You’re nagging Heat because you’re pissed off,”

Bunji stared at Brandon.

“I am pissed off,” Harry exclaimed. “My friend turned down a golden op,”

“You’re angry because you weren’t asked upstairs, and Heat was,” Lee lowered his voice. “You’ll keep harping on him until you feel better, and I’m in no mood for that shit today.”

Harry quieted down by rocking the ice in his empty glass.

“How about it, Brandon, am I making you uncom-?”

“—yes,” said Brandon.

“Fine!” Harry conceded with a smile. “I was pissed because my balls got plucked,”

Bob laughed out loud, and Lee resumed eating. 

Brandon turned to find Bunji watching Lee over his beer glass. Was his underling in awe of how Lee spoke up? Brandon was used to it and hoped to one day master Lee’s talent for speaking his mind.

The waitress returned and handed the check to Lee.

“Excuse me Mr. Poundmax?” she asked, standing behind Bunji.

“Yeah?” Bob handed Lee some cash for the tip.

“I was wondering,” she said, “This is weird but, if I gave you my number would you call me sometime?”

Bob looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“Yo, you ain’t got to worry about going down on Bob,” Bunji said. “He ain’t no vegetarian,”

Chapter Text

WELCOME TO THE TEAM

Brandon arrived, bringing with him something new.

“Welcome to the cantina, Kugashira,” Harry handed him a beer.

He wasn’t much to look at with his dated sunglasses, mild contusions, and yesterday’s stubble on his jaw.

“This is Kugashira Bunji,” Harry said to Bob, who was busy laying waste to a mountain of chicken wings. “He’s part of the team now,”

Balladbird jabbed Brandon in the ribs.

“Lee,” Brandon adjusted his sore jaw. “This is Bunji,”

“Balladbird Lee, esquire,” he pushed a small bowl of peanuts at Bunji. “You can call me Balladbird.”

“Your real name’s Balladbird?” his voice was gruff.

“My father was a comic book fan,” said Balladbird. “Named me after-”

“The tall guy that could fly,” he nodded. “I know him,”

“Bunji’s working with Brandon,” Harry added.

“I see Brandon interviewed him personally,” Balladbird took hold of Brandon’s bruised chin. “You sweepers love to play rough,”

Brandon pulled his face free, “Did they take down the buffet?”

“They always put the free food away when Bobby gets here,” said Balladbird.

Bob, mouth full of chicken, found a clean plate and filled it with more wings and celery from the pile, “Here you go, Brandon.”

“They have cheese and pepperoni on the drink menu,” Balladbird took the wings away from Brandon’s sour glance. When one of the topless waitresses appeared, he ordered something for him before turning to Bunji, “What about you?”

“Sure,” he gave a quick nod.

“Sure what?” Balladbird asked. “You have to tell me what you want?”

“Why don’t I just tell her what I want?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Balladbird said, staring at his reflection in Bunji’s shades. “Why don’t you?”

“I don’t want anything,” he said to the girl, “Just another beer,”

“Your sunglasses remind me of those men from the old porn films,” Balladbird said. “The ones where the actors didn’t want anyone to see their eyes,”

“Those guys were always nasty,” Bob huffed. “Not that I ever wanted to see their faces anyway,”

“Me and Brandon used to sneak into the Artesia,” Harry said. “Their seats were padded, you could sleep all night on them without someone coming to mess with you,”

“That place was always disgusting,” Balladbird said.

“I know that place,” said Bob. “I hope you covered the seats,”

The waitress brought Brandon the cheese and pepperoni place, and he ate slowly due to the pain in his jaw. He did manage a smile when Harry began talking more on the Artesia.

“Hey Brandon, remember the time Maria wanted to go with us?” Harry’s eyes shined and Brandon’s shoulders shook in silent laughter. “I say to Brandon one night, let’s go to the Artesia and crash, and she asks him, what’s the Artesia. Brandon says it’s a movie house. Maria’s says, oh, a movie! Take me!”

“Oh, you didn’t take this young woman to a porno theater,” Balladbird aimed his toothy grin at Harry, but his eyes watched Bunji down another beer and light a cigarette; he still hadn’t removed his sunglasses.

“She thought it was a regular movie house with posters and a ticket office,” Harry finished his bourbon. “Shit man, that place was down two alleys, past a dumpster, and behind a big wrought iron door with words, Artesia, stenciled on it in spray-paint.”

Bob pushed his murdered wings away.

“Are you ready to hear those tapes?” he asked.

Harry sighed, “I’ve been ready for the last half hour,”

“Ok Harry,” Bob downed his beer and stood. “Welcome to the family, Bunji,” Bob extended a hand, and after a short delay, Bunji took it. Far from insulted, Bob understood that lone guns like Bunji weren’t big on social graces.

Harry nodded to Bunji and then followed Bob out of the bar; a few of the topless dancers fell in behind them while Brandon excused himself and walked toward the bathrooms.

Balladbird silently sipped his rum-filled tea until someone slid into the seat beside him.

“Yo,” said Bunji, “Where’s the john?”

“It’s back there,” Balladbird said, cup to his lips.

“Back where I can’t see it,” Bunji said.

“Take off your sunglasses,” Balladbird kept his eyes in his cup.

“Can’t do that, I’ll look stupid,” Bunji half-smiled when Balladbird laughed.

“I have to go too, you can follow me,” Balladbird said.

There found a line at the men’s room door.

“Why isn’t anyone going in?” Balladbird asked.

Hassan answered, “Duke’s having a colon blow,”

Balladbird scrunched up his face and then cracked the ladies room door.

“Ladies,” he said. “There’s free rounds at the bar for the next ten minutes,”

After a moment with no answer, Balladbird crept inside.

Bunji grinned at Brandon and stepped back as the crew filed in after Balladbird. Brandon shrugged his shoulders and followed suit. Inside there were two stalls and three sinks, and sinks made great urinals.

Hassan adjusted his glasses and let loose a stream of urine that made Brandon step-back to avoid being splashed.

“Hey Balladbird,” Hassan asked the ceiling. “Why do you piss sitting down?”

“Why get urine all over the floor?” Balladbird said from his stall.

“You sit like a woman?” Bunji asked.

“I can piss on your shoes if you want me to,” said Balladbird, sitting on the toilet with his pants zipped up and his legs crossed.

Bunji grunted, “Fuck it,” and entered the stall beside him.

While the men pissed and commented on the floor girls, Balladbird applied lotion to his hands and liked how pushing papers at Magritt proved better for his fingers than sifting through stolen diamonds.

The voices outside dissipated, and when the door opened and closed for the last time, Balladbird glanced under the divider and saw the back of Bunji’s boots.

“I think everyone’s gone,” he whispered.

A moment passed without a word.

“Yo,” Bunji said. “Are you queer?”

“Oh yes,” said Balladbird.

“How long you been a queer?”

“As long as I can remember,”

Balladbird heard the flick of a lighter.

“You been fucked, like really fucked?”

“Many times,” Balladbird watched smoke curl over his stall. “With many men,”

“No shit?” Bunji said. “Tell me about it,”

“I’ve played around with friends, enemies, and strangers. I’ve done orgies, dabbled in piss, and been sucked through glory holes. I don’t feel quite right unless I have a cock in my mouth when I jerk off,” the smoke above thickened. “I like to kiss, I like to be kissed. I like a man’s mouth on my tits, and my dick, and I love rough hands.”

Balladbird unlocked his door and stood.

“The best thing is the smell of tobacco and gun oil on my pillow when I wake up in the morning,” he said, adding, “Alone.”

The moment dragged and the smoke faded.

“You live near here?” Bunji asked.

“Nope,” said Balladbird. “I got a long drive across town,”

“You ask me, you’re too drunk to drive,” Bunji said. “You want me to take you home?”

Chapter Text

NOTHING IN COMMON

Bunji moved between his long legs and hoisted them upon his shoulders. Boldly, he took hold of Bunji and pressed him where he needed to go. Eyes closed, Bunji pushed until he felt him tense up.

Balladbird's hand tapped Bunji's abdomen, “No, not yet.”

“It’s all right, I got this,” he snatched up the bottle of lubricant tossed aside moments before and pressed the tip to Balladbird’s flesh and squeezed.

Balladbird purred when his two fingers slid inside of him. Tugging and pulling, he stretched him enough to fit another digit. Aroused by such talented fingers, Balladbird grabbed at himself and began pumping his own cock.

“You have such a hot hole,” he leered. “I can’t wait to fuck it.”

“I want you to,” Balladbird whispered.

Bunji’s face appeared over him, “You ready?”

Balladbird smiled up at him.

“Can I kiss you again?” he asked, and when Balladbird nodded, his tongue found Balladbird’s.

Hips steady, he pushed his thick head against Balladbird’s flesh, making him whine.

“Relax, Bee-Bee,” Bunji panted against Balladbird’s teeth. “Just push down,”

Balladbird bore down, and Bunji entered with more vigor than technique. His head propped against the headboard, Balladbird clutched Bunji’s shoulders as the man settled into a steady rhythm. Hips jerked out of sync as Bunji grunted in time with Balladbird’s gasps. Balladbird wanted to grab himself again but instead kept his hands around Bunji’s neck, and his eyes on the man's pleasured face.

Twice today Balladbird had come too close to a climax, and now he teetered on the brink. A guttural noise escaped Bunji’s throat and all Balladbird wanted was another kiss.

Bunji arched his back and drove himself so deep that it triggered Balladbird.

Releasing him, Balladbird cried out and shot a load of hot wet tension on his stomach; a day’s worth, a week’s worth, when was the last time he’d been in this room with Kugashira?

Bunji kept thrusting until Balladbird’s tap was spat dry. He pulled out and snatched up his hardness along with Balladbird’s shrinking flesh and began jerking them together. Teeth set and predatory eyes fixed, he cried out at the ceiling when he came, exposing his neck, like always.

Exhausted, Bunji fell back with his legs apart. Balladbird remained on his back, legs open wide; the crushed tube of lubricant had vanished somewhere within the sheet crumpled in the diamond between their legs.

“You got a light?” Bunji asked finally.

“No,” Balladbird said. “There’s a candle here,”

Bunji tossed his pack of smokes onto Balladbird’s chest, “Light me a stick,”

Balladbird tried not to inhale too much and placed the burning cigarette between his big and second toe. He stretched his leg until he felt Bunji’s craggy chin on his foot.

“Lazy bastard,” laughed Bunji, his stubble tickling Balladbird’s toes.

“I’m not sitting up right now,” said Balladbird.

“Yo,” Bunji said. “You do this with Randy?”

“I used to go down on that old fuck because I had too,” Balladbird said, deadpan. “I don’t work for him anymore,”

“Yo, you ain’t going to tell aniki about this, right?” Bunji asked.

“No,” Balladbird sucked his tongue. “I’m not going to tell Brandon.”

“I just don’t want any hassle, that’s all,” Bunji said. “He don’t know I fuck around with you and I want to keep it that way.”

“I surmised as much,” Balladbird said. “By the way you always call from a payphone,”

“You surmised,” Bunji cracked, grabbing a startled Balladbird’s thin muscular thigh. “Sometimes I think I gotta have a degree just to talk to your ass.”

“What you have talks to my ass just fine, Bunji,” Balladbird said.

Bunji released a sated groan and said, “I love how your dick stays hard when I fuck your ass,”

“Doesn’t everyone’s?” Balladbird asked.

“Fuck no they don't” Bunji huffed. “I hate seeing a limp dick,”

Balladbird asked, “You ever do Brandon like this?”

“Are you serious?” Bunji said. “Fuck no, he ain’t queer.”

Balladbird teased, “I heard when you were in lock-up-”

“—that shit’s different. I was shocked he let me blow him,” said Bunji. “You ask me, he’s hurting for it, but not from me,”

Balladbird stretched his arms over his head, “I don’t think Brandon’s a sexual person,”

“Everybody’s a sexual person,” Bunji spat.

“Not everyone,” Balladbird said. “Some people fall in love, but they don’t like fucking at all,”

“A ain't ever met nobody like that,” Bunji said.

“Why blow him if you know he’s straight?” Balladbird asked.

“He’s my friend,” Bunji shrugged. “Shit I don’t mind sucking dick or being fucked up the ass, it’s all a good time, right? You sucked Harry off that one time, he’s as straight as it gets,”

“I blew him because I’m an ambitious bastard and Harry MacDowell is walking hard-on,” Balladbird said. “We’re colleagues now, so I don’t oblige,”

“Yo, let’s fuck some more,” said Bunji.

“I wish I had time,” Balladbird groaned, reaching for his watch on the nightstand. “I got this crummy agenda meeting with Desantos.”

“You wanna just make out?” Bunji asked.

“No, you need to shave,” Balladbird watched as Bunji ran his fingers along his chin. “Want me to shave you?”

“Nah, I don’t go for that,” Bunji said. “Take a shower with me?”

“I don’t shower after sex,” Balladbird pulled the sheet around himself. “I like to soak,”

“What are you covering up for?” Bunji demanded.

“It’s cold,” Balladbird rose from the bed.

Bunji butted out his cigarette in the foil ashtray, “Ain’t that cold,”

“I’m not like you,” Balladbird laughed, dodging as Bunji pawed at the sheet. “I don’t parade around exposed,”

“Covered up like some uptight broad,” Bunji called out as Balladbird vanished into the bathroom.

Water filled the tub while Bunji took a five-minute nap. Waking with a start, he got out of bed. In the bathroom he washed his privates under some cold water in the faucet and spied Balladbird’s reflection in the mirror.

“Wanna get something to eat?” he asked, rousing the sleepy man.

“If you want,” said Balladbird.

“Room service?” he said.

“Sounds good,” Balladbird heard Bunji’s feet pad across the carpet. Beyond the steam and porcelain, the caster wheels of the desk chair rattled, before the pages of the hotel menu flipped. Balladbird unplugged the tub stopper with his toe and begrudgingly stood to grab his towel.

“Want a burger and some house fries,” Bunji called. “Milkshakes are good too,”

“Too greasy, I want a rare steak smothered in mushrooms with a baked potato on the side,” Balladbird wrapped a towel around his waist and combed the knots from hair, “And some tea, really hot.”

“It’s quarter-after one, Balladbird,” Bunji groused. “By the time that shit gets here, you’ll be gone,”

“Get me the potato then,” Balladbird spat. “Everything but chives, and I want hot tea.”

“I’m gonna get your cheese on the side so I can dip my fries in it,” Bunji said.

“Get your own cheese on the side,” Balladbird yelled. “My cheese is going on my potato.”

When the food arrived, they ate, killing fifteen minutes.

Balladbird retrieved his clothes from the chair and went into the bathroom.

Bunji pulled on his pants and searched the floor for his shirt. When the cell phone by his shoes rang, he quickly snatched it up.

“Yo,” he said. “Yeah I can tell him, hey are we going up to the house to shoot later because I need to restock my ammo? Ok. Ok. See you in a few.”

Balladbird emerged with his hair tied back. Dressed in a silk and linen suit, the tall Balladbird reeked of something good.

“Aniki says you got to meet Desantos at two because him and the big-guy are running late,” Bunji lit himself another cigarette and found Balladbird glaring at him. “What’s your problem?”

“You took a call from Brandon,” Balladbird asked coldly, “On my phone?”

Bunji snorted and then grinned before setting his hand on his back pocket. Feeling the bulge of his own cell phone tucked safely within, a lump formed in his throat.

“Brandon and I don’t really like one another anyway,” Balladbird snatched his phone from the table and pulled on his suit jacket. “You’ll be just another thing we glare at each other over at meetings.”

Balladbird departed without saying goodbye.

Bunji was already dreading the long drive to the coastal house with aniki sitting beside him.

Chapter Text

DINNER

The tall man always arrived punctual, poised and perfect. He sat at his usual two-top and when he pulled his coat off from his suit jacket, his ponytail was dragged back over his broad shoulders.

“You want the usual Mister Lee?” the waitress asked.

“Not today,” he brought his hands together and threaded his long fingers. “Today I want something warm, and Baileys,”

“I’ll take whatever is on tap,” said his arriving companion. After many months, the waitress had gotten used to the short, blunt man sneaking up on her. Today, though, he fell into his seat without removing sunglasses or his jacket.

“Did you want to start off with anything to snack on, Mister Kugashira?” she asked.

He shook his head, “Nah, just get my beer-”

“—Please,” Balladbird added quickly. “I’ll have the stuffed mushrooms, with a glass of ice water after I’ve finished my drink.”

Smiling, she left to fill their order.

“Take those things off,” Balladbird whispered.

“I don’t want to take ‘em off,” Bunji frowned. “Because right now I like seeing you shaded out.”

“All right, ‘boon,” Balladbird pinched the bridge of his nose. “What happened in the hours between when we woke up, and right now?”

“Shut it!” Bunji whispered. “There’s a bunch of Overkills in here,”

“You think there’s some Overkills in here who don’t know you’re banging me?” Balladbird asked.

“I said keep it down!” Bunji hissed.

Balladbird asked, “What is this issue you have with being gay?”

“I ain’t gay!” Bunji exclaimed, and then lowered his volume. “Gay implies I sprout wings like a fairy and fly around the room, so don’t use the word, gay.”

“Okay, we’re fags,” Balladbird said.

“I ain’t that either!” Bunji gritted his teeth. “I told you before, I ain’t queer, I’m just, I’m just queer for you, that’s all.”

“Oh, that makes total sense,” Balladbird nodded.

The waitress returned with their drinks and menu’s.

“Keep ‘em coming,” Bunji muttered, grabbing his glass of beer.

Balladbird asked, “Getting drunk are we?”

“Yeah,” Bunji snapped. “I’m a better fag when I’m loaded,”

“Kugashira Bunji,” Balladbird slammed his menu shut. “What is your problem?”

“I’ll be right back,” the waitress fled.

Balladbird said, “Talk to me,”

“Talk? That’s a rich order coming from you,” Bunji laughed, and when Balladbird began imitating his smile and body movements, he growled, “Don’t mock me, Bee-Bee, I fucking hate that shit!”

“Why are you so raw with me?” Balladbird demanded.

Bunji swigged his beer without answering. Balladbird finished his warm drink, licked his lips, and set his eyes on Bunji. After many moments of silence, Bunji finished his beer and made a fist on the table.

“Did you-”

“—Did I what?” Balladbird demanded.

“When you ran with Lightning,” said Bunji. “Did you know a dude named Juji?”

“I’ve known many Juji’s, specify,” Balladbird said.

“Let’s just cut the shit, ok?” Bunji said. “I’m talking about my brother Juji,”

“I know you have a brother Juji,” Balladbird said. “He’s with Volkano now, right?”

Bunji leaned back in his chair and shook his head, “You used to run with a kid named Juji Kabane,”

“Yes, I did,” Balladbird said, carefully.

“Cut that mommy crap,” snapped Bunji. “I hate that crap,”

“Mommy crap?” Balladbird demanded.

“Yeah, you start talking to me like you’re better because you use big words and shit. I hate that,” Bunji calmed himself. “Let’s keep it right down here on my level, ok?”

“Kabane Juji is, your brother?” Balladbird asked.

“You knew that!” Bunji pointed, then lowered his voice. “That’s why I’m pissed.”

“When you spoke of a brother Juji I naturally assumed you spoke of some guy named Kugashira Juji,” Balladbird declared. “You and your brother have different last names?”

“You and your brother got the same last name?” Bunji asked.

“This isn’t about me,” Balladbird fixed his angry eyes on Bunji. “This is about you coming in here with your ass all twisted, over someone I may or may not have known.”

The waitress set another beer down for Bunji and walked off.

“So that’s all you got to say, right?” Bunji brought the bottle to his lips. “You won’t say anything more about knowing Kabane Juji?”

“Why would I?” Balladbird asked.

“That’s what I’ve always hated about you,” Bunji worked up a disgusted laugh. “You’d walk in from a class-five hurricane and when somebody asks you, hey, is it raining out there? You say- yes, it is. That’s all you say. Not, yes, there’s a fucking hurricane outside.”

“They didn’t ask me if there was a hurricane outside, Bunji,” Balladbird’s voice teetered on the verge of laughter. “They asked if it was raining,”

“You don’t say what needs to be said,” Bunji said, head shaking. “That’s the same as lying, Balladbird,”

“Hurricanes aside,” Balladbird cleared his throat. “What does my knowing Juji have to do with your attitude tonight?”

“Unbelievable,” Bunji pushed back in his chair.

“Here’s your appetizer, Mr. Balladbird?” the waitress set the plate down in front of him, along with a warm loaf of bread and a small dish of butter. “And another beer for you, Mr. Kugashira.”

“Thanks,” said Bunji.

“Who told you I ran with Juji?” Balladbird asked as the waitress left. “Was it Heat?”

“No,” Bunji said quickly. “Why would he care?”

“Harry knows, and since Harry has this shitty habit of telling Brandon everything,” Balladbird’s voice trailed off.

Bunji picked up the whole loaf and ripped off a piece. “The way you tell Bob everything?” He shoved the piece into the butter and then pushed it into his mouth.

“You now know that I knew Juji,” Balladbird stuck one of his mushrooms with a fork and rolled it over the butter. “Can you remove the glasses, please?”

“Did you fuck my brother Juji?”

“Do you know the answer to that Bunji?”

“Yeah, I know the answer.”

“Why must you hear me say it?”

“I guess I’m like the police,” Bunji said. “I got the evidence, but I want the confession.”

“What exactly am I confessing to?” Balladbird asked.

“Just tell me,” Bunji demanded.

“I fucked him exactly four times, and then it was over,” Balladbird chewed his mushroom as they stared each other down in silence.

Bunji removed his glasses, “Did you pitch or catch?”

The waitress was back, abruptly.

“Are you ready to order?” she took Balladbird’s empty plate and saw the mangled bread.

“I’ll need a few moments,” Balladbird said, shaken.

Bunji glared at him over his menu.

“You know, Bunji,” said Balladbird. “You give me cancer, the sort of cancer one sees through clothing from across the room.”

Bunji kept his cinnamon eyes trained on Balladbird.

“Fine,” Balladbird snapped. “I pitched, every time,”

“Figures,” Bunji smirked.

“Does that satisfy your heteronormative ego?” Balladbird mumbled. “Will you sleep better tonight knowing your brother didn’t fuck me in the ass like you do?”

Bunji cast a victorious grin as the waitress returned.

“Are we ready?” she asked.

“I’ll have the veal,” Balladbird watched Bunji’s smile fade.

“You can’t eat that,”

“Why not?”

“You know why.”

“Remind me,”

Bunji shook his head, “They take the little ones, and chain ‘em by the neck so’s when they grow they can’t move, and get all tough,”

“Read that in the monthly Brandon-Heat-Go-Veggie newsletter?” Balladbird asked.

“I ain’t no vegetarian, wise-ass,” spat Bunji. “Big deal, so, what if Heat told me that? Eating that shit is wrong.”

“Well I’m lucky we weren’t raised with the same menu,” Balladbird said.

“No kidding,” Bunji snapped. “Eating fried rice with a ton of crap mixed in it? That’s nasty. Rice should be just plain steamed-”

“I want my veal very-very rare,” Balladbird said to the waitress. “I want to see the purple chain-bruising still on the meat,”

“You’re trying to provoke me,” Bunji snapped. “You know what?”

“What?” Balladbird mocked Bunji’s shoulder shaking stature.

Bunji pointed, “Don’t provoke me,”

The waitress did her best to appear selectively deaf, “What will you have, Mr. Kugashira?”

“I want that alfredo crap,” Bunji replied, his face in the menu. “Can I get sliced tomatoes on that, with the chicken?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Cold tomatoes, not fried, and let me ask you something,” Bunji nodded at her swollen belly. “You’re married, right?”

“Yes, I am, Mr. Kugashira,” she said.

“Say your man dated your sister,” said Bunji. “Wouldn’t you want to know about it? You’d want him to tell you, right?”

The waitress thought a moment before answering.

“I wouldn't want the details, but as long as it never happened again and it was in the past, I’d have no issue with it,” she took their menus and retreated to the bar to place their orders.

Bunji asked, “You think you’d fuck Juji again?”

“What?” Balladbird snapped.

“If Juji was brought in to the Graves,” Bunji said. “Would you fuck him again?”

“This entire conversation is ridiculous,” Balladbird said.

“Just answer the question,” Bunji demanded. “Would you fuck him again?”

“Now?” Balladbird said. “Now that I’m with you?”

“Yeah, if he was here right now,” said Bunji. “Not that I really care, ‘cause you’re not my wife or anything,”

“Why all this hypothetical shit Bunji?” Balladbird squeezed his napkin.

“We ain’t talking about needles, Bee-Bee,” Bunji said. “Don’t change the subject!”

Balladbird grinned, “No, I wouldn’t fuck Juji again.”

“Why not?” Bunji shot back. “He’s a good looking guy,”

Balladbird’s gaze hardened as Bunji lectured him about getting off his high horse; when the lights were out, Balladbird was just as low class as Juji or anyone else from the islands.

The waitress returned with the food and Bunji, his mood improved, took off his jacket and slung it over the chair.

“Can I get a glass of vanilla milk with this?” he asked politely, eating with gusto, he smiled and expressed how he'd been thinking about the Alfredo all day.

“Is there something wrong Mr. Balladbird?” she asked.

“I’m no longer hungry,” Balladbird said, dazed. “Bring me a bourbon on the rocks.”

“You need to eat,” Bunji said, mouth full of pasta. “All you do is sit on your ass anymore and drink lunch,”

Balladbird’s bourbon came and he downed it all in one go.

“You had a lot more definition when I first met you,” Bunji said between bites.

“Like Heat?” Balladbird asked. “He’s really defined isn’t he?”

“He looks good,” Bunji agreed with a shrug.

“Maybe I should start eating bean sprouts, wear geek specs, and cut my hair,” Balladbird said. “I’d be a real piece of ass, huh Bunji?”

“Oh shit, here we go, you’re pissed,” Bunji dropped his fork. “Your heads bobbing around like a fucking cobra!”

“I’m so past pissed,” Balladbird said. “My fuse is burned to the quick,”

“Drink another bourbon,” Bunji licked his fingers. “It’ll make you feel better.”

“Who told you about Juji and me?” Balladbird asked.

“No one,” Bunji belched, and then fought back another one. “I guess I can tell you,” his eyes shifted to make sure there were no witnesses. “You know how you bought me underwear right, for when I have to sleep over?”

“Have to sleep over?” said Balladbird. “You don’t have to do anything,”

“Whatever,” Bunji dismissed. “I went looking for them this morning after you left,”

Balladbird rocked the ice in his empty glass, “They’re in the washroom closet,”

“I didn’t know that,” Bunji said. “I went looking for them in your closet drawer,”

“You went into my drawers?”

“I found that picture book of yours,”

“The one with the locking clasp on it?”

“It wasn’t locked,”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah it is, so I just thumbed through it and that's when I saw you and Juji, all cozy,” Bunji glowered. “Too cozy. How come I ain’t in that book?”

“That book is my past,” Balladbird said. “It’s where I keep my past,”

Bunji sucked pasta from his teeth, oblivious.

“You know what, Kugashira,” Balladbird pushed his chair out and stood. “Tomorrow, you’ll be in that book”

Bunji looked around, “Will you sit down!?”

“Or what?” Balladbird snapped. “Everyone might think we are fighting like a couple of faggots. Well, we are, Bunji! A couple wing-wearing fairies, fighting!”

Bunji pointed at Balladbird’s empty chair, “Sit down!”

“Fuck you, you scruffy little closet case!” Balladbird marched toward the exit, pulling on his jacket as he went. “I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with you,”

Bunji tossed a hundred-yule bill on the table.

“Yo, keep the change,” he said, putting on his glasses.

“Hey, wait a minute!” the waitress said. “Take this.”

It was a small cupcake with a candle in it.

“What’s that for?” Bunji demanded.

“Today, last year, was the first time Mister Balladbird brought you to this place,” she said. “I thought this might help,”

“You know what, here,” Bunji handed her five one-hundred-yule bills, and with a nod to her stomach said, “Go buy the kid a car or something.” He then snatched the cake from her hand and planted a kiss on her cheek.

The waitress pressed the money to her stomach and smiled. Back at the bar, the young bartender nodded to the window and asked if the two men were splitting up.

“You’re new here, aren’t ya?” she said. “Just give it a few.”

In his expensive coat, leather gloves, and cashmere scarf, Balladbird waited in the wind for the taxi to arrive. Bunji appeared, under dressed for the weather, arm flapping madly as he chattered at Balladbird’s back.

When the tall, elegant man wouldn’t turn around, the grubby little madman dropped his shoulders and lifted the cupcake. Head hung low, he uttered what few words remained unsaid. The tall man turned leisurely and surveyed the cake, and then looked upon the shorter man holding it. Pushing the cake aside, he seized the bespectacled man in an embrace that lifted him from the sidewalk.

Balladbird planted a hard, deep kiss on Bunji’s lips.

Applause broke out from the back of the room as the older Overkills raised their glasses, and some took their wager winnings from the younger doubters.

Bunji’s arms flailed in a fit of rage while a rolling tangent of obscenities formed a mist in the cold night air above his head. A taxi pulled up and Balladbird slid gracefully into the back, leaving the door wide open for Bunji, who still canvassed the area for witnesses.

Chapter Text

REUNION

“Yo, I remember you,” said Bunji Kugashira. “You remember me?”

Balladbird Lee experienced a moment of disgust at seeing his own face reflected in the man’s sunglasses. Balladbird's reputation for vanity was well earned, but he hated his face as it reminded him of his mother.

Ignoring the shades he focused on the man’s bruised nose, the jagged gaunt chin, and that natural frown.

“No, I can’t say I do,” he said, walking away.

A moment later, Balladbird began to doubt it.

Submerged memories rose within, as they often did on days when he was too worn down to block out the present. His was father was dead, and his mother hadn’t bothered to say goodbye after putting in ten years of raising him. Even his brother was dead now.

Suddenly, Balladbird was that ornately dressed ten-year-old again, wandering away form his uncles and brother at the Port Authority in Billion.

What’s that in your hands?”

The pale bushy-haired boy was shirtless and without shoes. He looked up at Balladbird's green silk suit and focused on its embroidered dragonflies.

They'd come from the same nation, but opposite hemispheres might well have been two different planets.

It died on the way here,” he spoke of the lifeless, furry body cradled in his hands.

“Did you come over on the Pearl?” Balladbird pointed at the liner docked in the distance.

Nah, we came in those,” the boy jerked his head towards a ragged line of decrepit speedboats on the beach.

How many days did it take?” Balladbird asked. “Did you get to sleep out under the stars?”

I saw twelve sunsets,” the boy nodded. “I had to stay covered up mostly, ‘cause of the rain.”

What happened to it?” Balladbird asked of the dead animal.

My stupid brother, he’s only two, so, I guess he didn’t mean it,” the boy walked along as he told the story. “There was a cat that had babies, and they started walking around yesterday, getting in everybody’s way. None of the mean people cared because the coast guard was towing us. This one, he stepped into my brother’s lap, and my brother picked him up.”

Balladbird reached out and petted the lifeless kitten.

“He put it up to his ear, you know, to hear it like a radio,” he explained. "Anyways, my brother didn’t hear nothin’, so I guess he figured if he shook it really hard, it would work.”

Balladbird’s smile faded as the image of a toddler shaking the life from a small kitten burned into his brain.

He didn’t mean it, I guess,” his voice cracked, but he didn’t cry. “I was so mad I took it from him. I told him it wasn’t a toy, but it was too late.”

What’d your momma do?” Balladbird asked.

Momma’s not with us anymore. She got sick from drinking salt water. When she didn’t wake up, some of the men tossed her over,” the boy's hand tightened around the carcass. “The sharks came, ‘cause that’s how life is, you know. Maybe it’s better she got ate. Maybe I can take this little guy and toss him over the bulkhead so he could get ate up too.”

Balladbird squatted and hugged his knees, “But it won’t get ate,”

Why come?” the boy asked defensively.

“You mean, why not,” Balladbird corrected him. “It’s because it’s not bleeding. It’s too small for the sharks to notice unless there's blood in the water.”

Oh yeah,” the boy said.

Here, we'll use this,” Balladbird pulled a green silk cap from his pocket and took the long brocade pin from his collar.

No way!” the boy snarled. "I know what you Northerners do with cats!”

Balladbird sighed, "I admit we snowmen are less sentimental about cats and dogs, but I wouldn’t dream of eating someone’s pet,”

What’s that for then?” the boy demanded.

We can wrap him up in this hat, pin it closed and bury him here in the park?” Balladbird sank to the ground and spread the cap open.

The boy set the small body inside, watching vigilantly as Balladbird’s fingers folded the material around it and then used the needle to fasten it shut. Balladbird offered up the makeshift coffin, and the short boy accepted it.

They searched the park to find the best spot and decided on a patch of dirt between the gnarled roots of the oak tree. Balladbird assured him it was a perfect spot before using the tip of his pointed boot to scrape out a shallow grave.

The smaller boy set the silken shroud inside and together they reverently packed earth around it with their hands.

Both stood over the mound holding hands.

“C’mon, Balladbird, let’s go!” a bulky young man yelled from the bulkhead.

“That’s my brother,” said Balladbird. “He’s a lot older than me and just as stupid as your brother, I guess.”

Balladbird sped over the paved highway and toward the historic waterfront.

Turning into the lot, he parked and made his way to the bulkheads. The park was different from when he last visited four years ago; there were playscapes and a newly erected fountain. The oak tree was gone and in its place a stone monument with an engraved dedication: To the Town of Billion, She Opened Her Arms to Our Lost Souls – Asagi Bo, Magritt Oil.

Kugashira Bunji sat on a bench opposite the monument. Legs stretched out and hands in his pockets, he stared at the rolling surf with his glasses off.

Balladbird sat down beside him and crossed one leg over the other, "I remember you,"

“I figured you’d remember eventually,” Kugashira scratched his bristly chin. “Yo, where’d the white shirt come from?”

“I saw this shirt in a store window that I wanted to buy,” Balladbird said, apologetic. “I didn’t have the cash for it back then, so I came back for the hat. It was quite valuable.”

Kugashira’s shoulder jerked as he chuckled softly.

“I got quite a bit for the hat,” Balladbird said. “After I bought the shirt and some new boots, I wrapped her back up in another shirt and buried her again,”

“I dug her up when I heard they were taking the tree out,” he said. “I took it to one of those fancy pet places, you know, where they bury them like people.”

Balladbird gazed at the ocean, unsure of how to go about asking the obvious.

“The shirt washed up real nice though,” said Kugashira. “Fits really good, except it’s kinda long.”

Balladbird mustered the softest expression in his arsenal, finding solace in the fact that at least the short boy now owned a shirt, and a pair of shoes.