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Wasted Time

Chapter Text

June 1996

 

It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not any one person.

 

“I barely see you as it is—”

“We’ve got a fucking tour starting in three weeks!”

“—and you cancel all the time!”

“Oh that is rich coming from you!”

 

They were just so busy and stressed with their own bands, with recording and rehearsals and spending weeks upon weeks on the road touring.

 

“It was always about sex for you, wasn’t it?”

“Not like you ever said no!”

“What about you, flirting with Ryuichi onstage all the time?”

“It’s just fanservice! Everyone does it! It’s not serious! It’s not even real!”

 

They were spending too much time apart, and in the times that they were together, they were usually too mentally or physically tired to put any effort into their relationship.

 

“What do you expect me to do? The UnEnding Style tour is our biggest tour ever, do you expect me to drop everything and come running?”

“I never said that so don’t fucking put those words in my mouth!”

“Then what do you want?”

 

In the end, they were just emotionally unavailable for each other. Even having sex had lost its spark. Minor annoyances became deep grievances that drove a wedge between them.

 

“I am just so fucking tired—”

You’re tired! You should see what it’s like on this side! Toshi’s fucking miserable and nobody knows why, and Yoshiki’s in fucking hospital, half-dead with a broken neck!”

 

Looking back, neither of them could remember how this particular fight started or what was said between them. All they could remember was how it ended.

 

“You know what, clearly this whole thing was a mistake.”

“That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why this never worked out when you’ve been thinking that this whole time.”

 

Sugizo clenched his fists. He wanted to punch something or break something. Instead, he said something far more hurtful.

 

“Fine. I’m glad we could get it all out in the open and stop wasting our time with this bullshit.”

 

Sugizo snatched up his bag and left Heath’s apartment, slamming the door behind him.

 

Chapter Text

May 1992

 

“This is a Yamanote line bound for Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. The next station is Ebisu. Please change here for…”

At roughly 4pm it wasn’t quite peak hour yet but the train was getting crowded and Heath tucked his legs underneath his seat to make room for other passengers squeezing their way between other people to jump out of the train before the doors closed at Ebisu Station. The little old lady sitting next to him heaved herself up onto unsteady legs with the help of a cane and shuffled away, and she was almost knocked off her feet by someone practically leaping on board. Heath watched, amused, as the two strangers—one a white-haired geriatric, the other a young punk-looking guy about his own age with dark red hair down to his ass and clad head to toe in black—apologised to each other profusely, and a few other passengers helped the little old lady off the train and onto the relative safety of the platform.

The empty seat beside Heath was quickly occupied by said red-haired guy who caught Heath staring out of the corner of his eye. He stuck out from the rest of the train commuters—largely salarymen, tourists and high school students—in a distressed black top that showed plenty of skin, torn jeans and a pair of well-worn Dr Martens.

The redhead turned and peered at Heath from behind his sunglasses with a small smile. “I’m in a rock band,” he said by way of explanation.

“Oh,” Heath said, returning this with an embarrassed smile of his own. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to stare.”

“It’s all right. I’m used to it.” Long fingers adorned with silver rings and black-lacquered nails toyed with the frayed ends of his sleeves.

Heath looked down at his own faded jeans and Deep Purple t-shirt which looked very pedestrian by comparison. “What do you play?”

“Guitar,” said the redhead. “What do you do?”

“I’m actually a musician myself.”

“Really? What do you play?”

“Bass.”

“Nice,” the redhead said with an approving nod. “Are you in a band?”

“Ah, yes,” Heath said. He didn’t venture that he was actually in between bands. This stranger was pleasant enough but he was still a stranger and Heath was reluctant to reveal too much about himself when they would probably never cross paths again after this. But the redhead didn’t seem to notice Heath’s reticence.

“That’s a shame,” he was saying. “Some friends of mine are actually in need of a bassist.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of bassists out there - not flashy enough, I guess. Everyone wants to be the lead guitarist or the lead singer with their face on all the album covers.”

Heath looked up as the next train announcement played over the PA. “Well, this is my stop.”

“Oh really?” The redhead craned his neck to peer out of the window behind their seats. “Well, I hope we’ll get to see each other play someday.”

Heath sketched a wave with a polite smile and threaded his way through the throng of people moving in and out of the station. He changed to a smaller local train line that was thankfully much less crowded and made his way home in the outskirts of Shimokitazawa.

 

His social circle largely revolved around old band members and others in the scene, namely the guys from Majestic Isabelle and Media Youth, and of course the very person who had invited him to audition for their own band. That had been awkward, for the offer had come shortly after he had joined Media Youth but, as Heath was beginning to learn, Matsumoto Hideto could be very persuasive when he wanted to be. They’d met through a mutual friend when Heath had first moved to Tokyo in 1990 and the man was a force to be reckoned with, as maternal as he was wildly vivacious. Upon learning that Heath had recently moved to Tokyo from Amagasaki, hide made a point of showing him around town and taking the young bassist to his favourite watering holes, or they’d go back to hide’s apartment where they would listen to music for hours. Sometimes hide would become rowdy and aggressive when he was drunk, but even then he always made sure that Heath made his way home safely at the end of the night. They had kept in sporadic contact over the next couple of years, each occupied with his own work, until the phone rang in early May and hide surprised Heath by inviting him to play with X.

“Me?” Heath had blurted out.

“Yeah, buddy. You know that our bassist left recently, right?”

“Yes, but—”

“So Yoshiki was asking if we know anyone who can fill that position and I thought, hey, I know a guy!”

“But me?”

“Why not? You play bass, right?”

“Yes but…” Heath stalled. How could he describe it to hide? He had seen X play, he’d seen what Sawada Taiji could do, and the man had an amazing stage presence that Heath was sure he could never match. In terms of personality, they were as different as day and night. Where Taiji exuded a certain kind of bad boy confidence that was every fangirl’s fantasy, Heath leaned strongly towards the quiet side and more than a few times his old bandmates had pointed out his tendency to hide behind his hair. And there was the issue of availability - he had literally just joined Media Youth a month ago and it would be poor form to leave them in the lurch so quickly.

“Hey, look. Stop. Listen to me.” hide interrupted Heath’s semi-panicked internal monologue. “I thought of you because of who you are. Nobody’s asking you to be Taiji, okay?”

It was as if hide had heard what he was thinking. “Um. Okay,” Heath said dubiously.

“Just come into the studio with us and see how you go. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ straight away.”

“But hide—!”

“What? Let’s meet for coffee and I’ll bring some tapes for you to listen to and you can learn some of the basslines. I’ll even help you go through the music if you need me to.”

hide!

“Oh, that’s Yoshiki, I’d better go.”

HIDE!

“I’ll see you tomorrow!” He hung up.

Heath sighed.

 

At least he was settling into his new neighbourhood nicely. Before moving to Shimokitazawa, he’d lived in a dingy one-bedroom apartment block near Asakusa and that neighbourhood could only be described as ‘bland’. The only good thing about it was that it was close to the heart of Tokyo. Everything was either walkable or a short train ride away but the surrounding area appeared to be under constant construction. After a year and a half of this, he finally got fed up with the racket of heavy machinery all day and sometimes at night, and moved to his current two-bedroom apartment three months ago. While it was farther out from Tokyo, Shimokitazawa was quieter, he liked the off-beat vibe, and he even made a new addition to the household in the form of a puppy. He hadn’t really planned to get a pet and he certainly wasn’t a fan of these pet stores that kept their animals displayed in tiny enclosures, but he stopped to watch the long-haired dachshund puppy with the big brown eyes, huge floppy ears, tiny paws and that adorably awkward puppy gait. Then he bent down to her level and they had locked eyes through the glass and he had simply fallen in love with her. When Heath wasn’t working on music, he was with Qoo, rigorously teaching her good manners, taking her for walks to meet other dogs in the neighbourhood, or watching TV with the funny little creature curled up at his feet.

Something else that Heath enjoyed doing in Shimokitazawa was finding little music and record stores tucked away in tiny side streets. He had brought his own music collection and bass with him during the move from Amagasaki of course, but it was always worth trying what was out there, and it was in one of these little local music stores that Heath found himself at late one afternoon a couple of weeks later.

“May I help you?”

The staff member who had spoken was a tall guy in his early forties with closely-cropped hair, wire-framed glasses that looked oddly fragile against his solid build, and an Iron Maiden tattoo on his left arm. The name tag clipped to his Rush t-shirt read ‘Keisuke’.

“Oh. I’m just having a look, thank you,” Heath said politely.

“At bass guitars in particular? We’ve just gotten a new model in stock from Fernandes if you’re interested.”

Heath was interested and he watched Keisuke taking a glossy black bass guitar down from the wall behind the front counter. The man had big hands but he handled the instrument delicately as he brought it down to the back of the store where Heath waited, plugging it into a nearby amp and ran nimble fingers along the strings in a short, pleasant bluesy riff.

“Nice,” Heath said, and Keisuke slipped the strap off his shoulder, handing the bass over with a slight bow and a modest smile. Heath hefted the instrument a little to get a feel for the weight and balance before sliding the strap over his own shoulder.

“Can you tell me about the specs?” he asked. He was testing Keisuke a little; he could play but did he know his stuff?

Keisuke did not disappoint; he knew about the construction of the guitar, features that Fernandes had improved upon from previous models, how it differed from or compared to other current and upcoming bass guitars from other manufacturers, which equipment he thought it paired best with. This was the kind of thing Heath loved about these little independent stores. They didn’t have the range or competitive pricing that bigger stores offered but the store owners and staff tended to be a lot more passionate and knowledgeable, and they always seemed to enjoy taking the time to chat with customers and let them try out various instruments without making them feel obligated to spend any money. That was the real kind of relationship that kept good customers coming back.

A buzzer at the front of the store went off and the softly-spoken Keisuke excused himself to attend to the new customer, leaving Heath to try out the bass guitar on his own. He could hear Keisuke talking to someone, just hearing without listening while his fingers danced over the fretboard and thick bass strings, not playing anything in particular, just noodling. His ears tuned into the music playing over the radio and he followed along with the bassline of some random pop song he didn’t recognise for a minute or so. Something tugged lightly at his hair; it had become caught in the guitar strap somehow, so he moved his head to try and free it but the tug came again, a little harder this time and he stopped playing to look over his shoulder.

“Hi.”

Heath blinked.

“I thought it might have been you.” It was the red-haired guy from the train the other week.

“Uh, hi,” Heath blurted out. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“That’s what I thought. What are the chances?” Redhead moved to stand in front of Heath and nodded at the shiny new bass in his hands. “Keep going. That was some nice playing.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Heath dipped his head self-consciously. It hadn’t been anything special or interesting that he’d been playing.

“Yasuhiro.” Redhead extended a hand and Heath took his hand and shook it firmly.

“Hiroshi.”

Yasuhiro offered him a friendly smile. “Say, Hiroshi, if you’re not busy right now, do you want to grab a quick drink?”

Heath started to say no but then he wavered. He could stand to make a few new friends in Tokyo, and what were the odds of the two of them finding each other again after a random encounter on a train? Not only that, but finding each other in a little place like this as well.

“Okay. You’re on.”

 

***

 

“By the way.” Yasuhiro tapped the neck of his beer bottle against Heath’s. “I meant to ask the other day, what’s the name of the band you’re with? I realised it would be kind of… I don’t know, impossible? For us to see each other play if we don’t know which band we’re looking out for.”

Heath laughed and took a swig of his beer. “Good point.”

“Makes it a miracle that we ran into each other again, eh?”

“I guess so.”

“Come on, in a city as big as this? We should buy lottery tickets.” Yasuhiro tipped his head back and drained the dregs of his beer. “Luna Sea. That’s my band. We made our indies debut in ‘89. Heard of us?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure. I’ve been listening to so much stuff these past few years, it’s kind of hard to keep track of everyone.”

Yasuhiro shrugged. “That’s fair. What about you?”

Heath hesitated. “I’m actually sort of in between bands.

“Oh?”

“I recently joined a band called Media Youth but then a friend asked me to try playing for his band instead.”

“That sounds awesome. I think we’re on the same label as Media Youth; I didn’t realise they had a new guy. What’s this other band, then?”

“Well… maybe it’s dumb, but I’d rather not say.” Heath lowered his gaze bashfully. “Not that I’m superstitious or anything but I kind of…”

“Don’t want to jinx it?” Yasuhiro guessed.

“Something like that. Sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for Luna Sea though,” Heath promised. He glanced at his watch. “Ah shit, I have to go.”

“Already?” Yasuhiro’s face was a mixture of indignation and disappointment.

“I actually have plans with a friend. That same friend, actually.”

“Oh. Well.” The redhead looked around quickly and leaned over the bar counter, reaching for a pen and writing something down on a water-stained paper coaster. “Here’s my number. We should get together and jam and stuff, you know? It’d be fun.”

Heath took another coaster and jotted down his own phone number. “Sure thing.”

“Hey, good luck with that other band, by the way. I hope you get the gig you want!”

“Thanks.” Heath flashed him a grateful smile. “See you ‘round.”

Outside, Heath glanced at his watch again. He’d have to take a taxi, there was no way he’d make it there on time if he took the train. Trotting up the street, he stood on the corner and craned his neck until he was able to hail a taxi.

 

He spent the entire ride looking at his watch and drumming his fingers on his knees restlessly. Heath was punctual to a fault; he hated being late, even if it was just for a casual drink. Whenever he could, he made a point of being at least ten minutes early for anything, just in case. It was a habit he’d developed at an early age; his older brother was the kind of person who always managed to be late for everything and it drove Heath nuts. His taxi driver had said it would take twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes to get there but time was passing alarmingly quickly.

“You like rock music?” The grey-haired taxi driver’s voice broke through his thoughts.

“Oh, um, yes,” Heath said quickly.

The taxi driver turned up the volume of the radio. “My son loves this band. Do you know X?”

Heath nodded again and began to relax. The radio was playing Kurenai and all the music he’d spent the past few weeks learning and practising ran through his head, giving himself a very welcome distraction.

 

***

 

Heath opened his eyes and squinted in the bright morning light, lying there in a hungover daze for several very long seconds before looking around. He was not in his apartment, nor his own bed, and when he rolled over, there was clearly another body lying in bed with him.

 

“FUCK!”

 

“Shh,” the other person mumbled sleepily.

Heath broke out in a cold sweat and it wasn’t until he looked down and clutched at himself in a panic that he realised he was still wearing exactly what he’d been wearing yesterday. Okay. That was good. Just in case, he peeled the blanket back very gingerly and peeped underneath.

“Please don’t be naked, please don’t be naked, please don’t… ohhh thank fuck!”

The other person—hide, apparently—was still fully clothed as well. Imagine that, going drinking with a friend and accidentally shagging the night before an important audition. He didn’t even like hide that way and he had a feeling that it was mutual. Heath sank back onto the pillow and moaned loudly when his throbbing headache flared.

“Shh! Try’na sleep.” hide reached backwards and gave him a half-hearted slap, pulling the covers over his own head.

Heath tugged on the edge of the blanket but hide just grunted and clutched at them harder. Eventually Heath gave up and rolled over onto his other side and tried to go back to sleep, preferably forever.

 

An hour later he awoke to someone shaking his shoulder and whispering his name. He cracked his eyes open and panicked a second time until he recognised the face in front of him: it was only hide, but his leftover eye makeup was a mess and his hair was even worse.

“God,” Heath groaned. “You scared the shit outta me.”

“You scared the shit outta me,” hide said indignantly. “Do you know how long I’ve been trying to wake you up? I was going to call an ambulance!”

“I wouldn’t have a hangover if you’d just let me go home to get a good night’s sleep before… oh shit!”

“What?”

“What time is it?”

Heath grunted when hide climbed over him and kneed him in the ribs, and the guitarist groped around for the alarm clock on the nightstand. “9:52.”

“Fuck, we have to get to the studio!”

“Fuck!”

Fuck!

What followed was an uncoordinated tangle of arms and legs and long hair and bedsheets and incoherent swearing as they both fought to scramble out of bed, and then they groggily fought over who should use the shower first.

“You go.”

“No, you go!”

“This is your apartment, you shower first.”

“No no no, you’re the guest, you should go first.”

Realising that this would achieve nothing except to delay them even more, Heath gave up and took the shower first, if only just to make hide shut up so that they could actually get somewhere. They got dressed in record time, rushing off to the studio to meet the rest of the band, both of them red-eyed and obviously hungover with a thick alcoholic vapour clinging to their clothes. His heart sank as soon as he set eyes on Yoshiki, drummer, pianist and bandleader. With his blush pink-painted lips pressed into a thin line, he was clearly not amused to see them in this state. Fuck. He’d blown it already.

“I’m very, very sorry—” Heath bowed so quickly and so low that the rush of blood to his head almost made him pass out.

“You’re late.”

“Yoshiki, listen.” hide rubbed his tired face with a fist. “It’s not his fault. I made him go drinking with me last night to help him relax.”

“Oh I’m sure,” Yoshiki said archly, raising one finely-manicured eyebrow.

“Where’s everybody else?”

“I sent them home. No point in making them wait any longer.”

“Seriously, Yoshiki. Give the kid a chance.”

“If he’s late for his first fucking time meeting the band then how can I fucking expect him to take this seriously?”

Heath wanted to sink into the floor and disappear but hide cast him a quick look and then gently took Yoshiki by the arm.

Yoshiki.” He led him out of the room, closing the door behind them and leaving Heath standing there alone, fidgeting, feeling embarrassed and confused. hide could convince someone to try out for a band or go drinking all night against their better judgment, but would that work on Yoshiki? The man looked like someone who expected to be obeyed, a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of guy. Now that he thought about it, that was probably the whole reason Taiji had left. He and Yoshiki might have butted heads one too many times and now Heath was lining up to be his replacement and he’d already blown it by going drinking and turning up an hour late and hungover. Not a great first impression. If he lost this gig before he’d even started it, it was his own fault.

 

The door opened and Heath studied hide and Yoshiki’s faces. The drummer looked stoic but hide was calm and then he caught Heath’s eye and winked. Relieved, Heath‘s knees almost gave way. So he had managed to convince Yoshiki to give him a second chance. hide sure had a way with people and Heath was glad to have him on his side.

“All right.” Yoshiki nodded at Heath’s guitar case. “I’ll call the other guys to come back. Let’s see what you can do.”

 

Chapter Text

‘The other guys’—blond vocalist Toshi and long-haired rhythm guitarist Pata—arrived back at the studio half an hour later. Contrary to Yoshiki’s stiff demeanor, Toshi and Pata were both relaxed and friendly, just a couple of regular guys, making Heath feel even more guilty about keeping them waiting. Heath shook hands with each of them and he badly wanted to do well; he’d spent so much time and effort learning these songs and the last thing he wanted was to fuck up and waste everyone’s time. He was acutely aware of Yoshiki watching him with a critical eye as he set up his bass and took his position in the studio between Toshi and Pata. The man clearly had no time for amateurs. Across the room with his signature Mockingbird in hand, hide gave Heath an encouraging smile.

“Are we all ready?” Yoshiki asked curtly. “Let’s start with Blue Blood.”

 

It was nerve-racking at the best of times to be playing with a band that had already made quite a name for themselves and this was only made worse by Heath’s condition. Even after having choked down some painkillers before they left hide’s apartment, his head hurt, his mouth was dry, and he felt tired and lethargic and just plain terrible. He stole a glance at hide, who was playing like a fucking champ even though he couldn’t have been feeling much better. He was like that Jackie Chan movie, Drunken Master. Hell, even Pata was swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in between songs. How did they do that? Heath looked away again. There was zero point in comparing himself to somebody else and now he worried that he was trying too hard to hit every fret and every string and every note, and if you worried about every single minute fucking detail you were going to get yourself into as much trouble as if you were not trying at all. He finally hit his stride by the time they were well into the second song, playing along to Orgasm as though he’d been doing this for years, and Heath left the studio an hour and a half later with a beaming hide.

“I am so proud of you,” hide declared.

“Really?”

“Yeah! I think you’ve got the gig, man. Are you in?”

“What? I thought you were all, ‘You don’t have to say yes’ and now—”

“Hey, be honest.” hide stood in front of Heath and looked him straight in the eye. “How did it feel, jamming with the guys?”

Heath chewed on his lip. “Pretty good,” he admitted.

“I knew it! I could see it on your face the whole time. There’s a good vibe going on.”

“What about Yoshiki?”

“You’d know if Yoshiki didn’t like you. I told him how hard you worked for this and he could see it for himself today. You’ve got this!”

“I dunno…” Heath wasn’t convinced that his performance could have made up for that ghastly first impression.

“Okay, put it this way: some of those songs like Blue Blood and Kurenai are pretty damn hard. How many people can play bass like that while they’re hung the fuck over? I’m telling you, Yoshiki is not easy to impress.”

It was hard to believe, but something about the way hide spoke made Heath really believe that he was sincere. He smiled. “Let me think about it, okay?”

“What’s there to think about?”

“Just let me think about it. Give me two weeks.”

hide sighed and pointed a finger in his face. “Two weeks. Two weeks and I’m gonna call you, and you’re gonna say yes. Deal?”

Heath laughed. “That’s not exactly how that works, but okay.”

 

***

 

The two weeks were almost up and Heath was leaning strongly towards saying yes to hide. He hadn’t told any of his Media Youth bandmates about his jam session with X and had no idea how to broach the subject without insulting them.

“Hey guys, I know I’ve only joined recently and I think you’re all great, but I’ve been invited to join a bigger band. Seeya!”

Not a chance. And hell, there was more than a decent chance that he didn’t have the gig with X after all. Yoshiki could probably snap his fingers and find ten sober bassists if Heath wasn’t going to step up to the plate. As the two weeks slowly came to a close, Heath began to anticipate the call from hide to say sorry, thanks for working so hard but we gave the position to someone else. Better luck next time!

 

When the phone finally rang, he almost didn’t want to pick up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Hiroshi. It’s me.”

Heath had been so preoccupied with what hide was going to say that it threw him for a loop to hear a different voice on the end of the line. “Hi. How are you?”

“Fine! I was just wondering if you’d be free for a coffee or something.”

 

***

 

“Yasuhiro! Over here!” Heath stood up from the table and waved him over.

“Hey, stranger.” Yasuhiro smiled as they sat down. “Long time no see.”

“Sorry. Been busy with audition stuff and all.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. I was only joking. But since you brought it up, how did it go?”

There was a lull in their conversation as a waitress arrived with two glasses of water and brought out her notepad to take their orders.

“A latte, please,” Yasuhiro said.

“The same for me,” said Heath. “And a slice of chocolate cake.”

The waitress jotted this down, repeated their order back to them and disappeared to relay this to the kitchen staff.

“So, your audition?” Yasuhiro prompted.

Heath shrugged. “It went as well as it could have.”

Yasuhiro took a sip of his water and peered at Heath over the rim of the plastic cup. “How’s that?”

“Well,” Heath mused. “Remember how I said I was meeting a friend that day?”

“Yes…”

“Well he was the one who invited me to play with this band and he kind of took me drinking all night until we passed out.”

“Oh, shit. Did you miss it?”

“Almost. We showed up to the studio late and wasted .”

Yasuhiro laughed. “Shit. I have one of those friends, too. He’s awesome but the guy is totally crazy in the coconut.”

“He is kind of crazy,” Heath agreed. “I think the most creative people are always a little bit weird. But he convinced the bandleader to give me a second chance.”

“Nice.”

“The actual audition itself was great. I didn’t make any major mistakes on the songs, and then we had a free jamming session that was a lot of fun.”

“Oh, isn’t it great when it just flows like that?”

“Exactly!”

“So what do you think your chances are?”

Heath shrugged. “I dunno. I actually asked them to give me some time to think about it, but the more I think about that, maybe I should have just said yes. I’m worried that they think I don’t want the part and have found someone else already.”

Yasuhiro made a noncommittal noise and the conversation stalled again when the waitress returned, carefully setting the coffees and cake on the table and leaving the bill face-down.

Heath stirred a spoonful of sugar into his coffee. “And how are things on your end?”

“Oh, fine.”

Watching his face, Heath could tell that he was not fine. “Is something wrong? Want to talk about it?”

Yasuhiro looked down into his coffee, stirring it in slow circles. “Mm. Just feeling a bit shitty. I um, kind of had a fight with my boyfriend and just wanted to get out of my head for a while.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. Was it serious?”

Yasuhiro shook his head. “We both have really passionate personalities. It means the sex is great but sometimes we clash as well.”

Heath blinked at this piece of private information that he hadn’t asked about. Clearly Yasuhiro was not the shy type. Deciding to ignore that little detail about their sex life, Heath said, “Why don’t you do something nice for him?”

“Like what?”

“How about a bunch of roses?”

“He doesn’t like that kind of mushy, girly stuff.”

“Me neither,” Heath admitted. “It was the first thing that popped into my head but I guess it only works in those crappy rom coms.”

Yasuhiro grunted noncommittally.

“What if you cooked a nice meal for him?”

“Oh god, no. I’m trying to cheer him up, not poison him.”

Heath chuckled. “Okay then, what about some really nice chocolates? Everyone likes chocolate.” As if to emphasise the point, Heath dug his spoon into his chocolate cake.

“Hmm. Maybe.”

“Or just show him some affection and let him know that you care about him.”

“I guess so.” Pouting a little, Yasuhiro looked at Heath enviously. “Man. Your girlfriend must be the luckiest girl alive.”

“Nah.” Heath shook his head. “I don't have a girlfriend.”

“Oh. Boyfriend?”

“Nope.”

Yasuhiro gave him a hard stare. “Impossible. How is someone like you single? You’re… well, look at you. You’re tall, hot, you’re super-nice, you’re in a band. How are girls not throwing themselves at you?”

Heath stalled for a second with his spoon in his mouth. Did Yasuhiro just call him ‘hot’? “Um. I had a girlfriend. Back in Amagasaki. But then I wanted to move to Tokyo and she didn’t. Neither of us wanted a long-distance relationship, so…” He ended this with a shrug.

“Damn. That sucks.” The redhead shook his head. “But I like the chocolates idea. Maybe he’ll let me eat them off him…”

“Whoa, stop right there,” Heath said hastily. “That’s between you and him.”

Yasuhiro laughed. “Sorry. Tell you what, as a mea culpa and a thank you, this is on me.”

Before Heath could object, his new friend had already snatched up the bill and taken it to the counter. When he thanked Yasuhiro, the man said, “Thank you for putting up with me. You’re a real gentleman.”

Heath smiled. “You’re very welcome. And I don’t have to put up with you - you’re one of the few friends I have outside of the bands I’ve been in. It’s refreshing.”

“I absolutely get what you mean,” Yasuhiro said, nodding. ”That was kind of why I called you. I just felt like I needed to see someone who was… separate from all of that, you know?”

“Oh, is your boyfriend in the band too?”

“Yeah, Ryu’s our vocalist.”

Briefly Heath wondered if that might be messy, dating one of your bandmates. There was always that unwritten rule about not going out with people you work with… he quickly discarded the thought. It wasn’t his business.

“So, how long have you been playing the guitar?” Heath asked, changing the subject to something more pleasant.

“Oh years, but I actually started with the violin. Back when I was three. My parents’ idea.”

Heath nodded. It was not uncommon for rock and metal musicians to have roots in classical music. Some of the best metal vocalists had even had opera training to strengthen their voices and teach them how to sing without damaging their vocal cords. Heath himself had had a brief stint at being the vocalist and it was surprising how physically demanding singing could be.

“And you?” Yasuhiro prompted.

“Me? Let’s see… My mother took my brother and me to see Van Halen when I was in… fourth grade? After that, I had my heart set on being a musician…”



It had been a nice afternoon jaunt and Heath was feeling cheerful and relaxed as he unlocked his front door later that afternoon. He had just taken off his shoes when the phone rang and hurried to pick it up.

“Hello, this is Morie.”

“Heath! I’ve been calling and calling you!” It was hide.

“Oh shit, sorry! I went out for lunch with a friend.”

“Well your two weeks is up and Yoshiki definitely wants you to join X. So, what do you say?”

Heath removed the phone receiver from his ear and stared at it, confused, as though it might be a prank call or he’d heard wrong.

“Hello? Are you there?” came hide’s tinny, distorted voice.

“Um, yes,” Heath blurted out. “Are you serious? Yoshiki actually said that?”

“What the hell are you talking about? Of course I’m serious. He said, and I quote, ‘Call that Heath boy, I want him as our new bassist.’”

“But…” Heath stammered. “What about all the other bassists you auditioned?”

“We didn’t audition anyone else.”

“Why not?”

“What’s the point? You played great, you fit in with the band visually, we all liked you and Yoshiki wants you in. So? You’re saying yes, right?”

Heath could feel an elated smile creeping up on his face and a nervous kind of energy simmering inside. “Yes.”

 

***

 

What the hell kind of band have I agreed to join?

 

Heath did expect the band to celebrate their new bassist, but not quite in the way that hide wanted to celebrate. For some reason, the man was hell-bent on driving out to a farm in the countryside to see a bunch of cows. Pata and Yoshiki voted to go drinking because that was what normal people did, and Toshi had no opinion except that they were all stupid and crazy, but they all found it difficult to say no to hide’s ineffable enthusiasm. Heath just laughed and went along with it but an hour and a half into the car ride, sitting in the back with Toshi jammed in the middle (because he was the shortest), he found himself wondering just what he’d gotten himself into. And so they found themselves at a dairy farm, leaning against the fence, watching a herd of black and white cows grazing peacefully. When Pata laughed at them for getting ‘all misty-eyed over a bunch of hamburgers’, hide hissed at him for hurting the cows’ feelings and Toshi interjected to say that dairy cows were raised for milk and not meat, at which point it started to rain. Yoshiki complained that it would ruin his hair, so they ran for cover and found a sheltered spot to set up a barbecue lunch with a liberal application of beer to almost everybody.

 

“Where the hell are we going now?” Pata called from the back seat.

“I read about this great aquarium that’s about an hour that way…” hide pointed at some distant hills.

Toshi raised his hand. “Question. Have we forgotten that we’re here for Heath? Why don’t we ask him what he wants to do?”

With the spotlight on him, Heath just smiled bashfully. “No, I don’t mind. The aquarium sounds nice, actually.”

“See?” hide said smugly, buckling himself into the driver’s seat.

 

The roads winding up into the mountains were narrow, and the addition of light rains had made it slippery and precarious. Gazing out the window, Heath looked up at the grey clouds and the green landscape below, cloaked in mist. It was sort of like being thrown back in time by several centuries, well before the industrial age, and it looked so peaceful and—

“PULL OVER!”

Everybody jumped at the sound of the normally placid Pata roaring at hide, and their lead guitarist meekly pulled over in an emergency lane and switched the hazard lights on.

“Pata—”

“Get out, you’re fired.”

“What?!”

“I’m firing you as the driver. Get out.” Pata gave Toshi a little push. “You drive.”

“But why?” hide whined.

“You’re drunk.”

“I am not—”

“Just get out.”

Sullenly, hide unbuckled his seatbelt and they all shuffled around to let Toshi out of the back seat and into the driver’s seat.

“Why’re you being so mean about my driving, Pata?” hide complained. “I’m not even that drunk. Yoshiki, tell him!”

“You can’t even stay in your lane for ten seconds!”

“That’s not true!”

Yoshiki turned around in the passenger seat. “You uh, kind of did clip the double white lines a few times.”

Eyes wide, hide’s mouth dropped open in a comical expression of shock and disappointment as though the drummer had committed some particularly cruel act of betrayal, and he folded his arms across his chest, stuck out his lower lip and sulked. “Why does Toshi get to drive, then?”

“Because he’s the only one with a blood alcohol content low enough to legally drive!”

“Because he’s a lightweight!”

These lines were delivered in unison by Pata and Yoshiki, and the two pointed at each other and laughed but Toshi just snorted at their jibes. “Heath, you’re too tall! I can’t see a damn thing in my mirror.”

“Sorry.” Sandwiched between Pata and hide in the back, Heath grinned and scrunched down in his seat.

What the hell kind of band had he joined, indeed. The trip would have looked like a complete disaster to any outsider, but Heath wouldn’t have given it up for the world. You had hide, master guitarist and a strange combination of childlike petulance and warm, gentle maturity. Yoshiki, the headstrong bandleader who could only be mollified by someone like hide. Toshi tended to be overshadowed by Yoshiki but he shone when he sang, and the vocalist had quickly assumed a sort of ‘big brother’ role over their young bassist. Pata was as mellow as hide was exuberant, and every bit as skilled with a guitar. In the short time that he had known the band, Heath had already learned that when Pata said something, he meant it. That was why hide had given in so easily and pulled the car over when Pata shouted at him.

 

“What a day, huh?” Pata remarked. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to do anything you wanted to do. When hide gets an idea in his head…”

But Heath just laughed. “No, I honestly had a lot of fun.”

“Really?” Pata asked sceptically. “Going to a farm to see some cows? Driving an hour up the mountain to see an aquarium that wasn’t even open?”

“Okay, it would have been better if we could actually go inside the aquarium,” Heath conceded. “I don’t know. I just liked spending time with all of you and getting to know you all. I think that’s important in a band.”

“True.”

The two fell silent for a while, just listening to the distant roar of the sea far beneath them, watching the trees sway in the wind and the foamy waves rushing up the shore, retreating back out to sea and creeping back in again. Now that the rain had stopped and rays of sunlight were starting to break through the heavy clouds, the landscape looked like a watercolour painting in washed out greys and blues and greens. Behind them, hide was still moaning at Yoshiki about Pata being mean to him. Toshi, their designated driver, had taken this break as an opportunity to have a nap before they’d make their way back down the mountain and drive them home.

“You know,” Pata said at length. “You’ve got some big shoes to fill.”

Heath nodded. He knew that aside from being an excellent songwriter and bassist, Taiji had been well-loved amongst X’s fanbase and his departure had left many fans disappointed.

Pata went on. “But I think you can do it. You’ll need to work hard and be confident, don’t let the fans get to you. There will always be a few who can’t let go but that’s on them, not you. This is a rock band; if you want a popularity contest, I’m sure Yoshiki knows someone who can put you in touch with Johnny Kitagawa.”

Heath chuckled at this. The idea of any of them joining a Johnny’s boy band was definitely worthy of a few giggles.

“You’ve got what it takes, kiddo. I know you do.”

hide was one thing, but he didn’t think that Pata was the type to mince his words or tell white lies just for the sake of being nice. Heath smiled. “Thank you. It really means a lot.”

Pata took a long drag of his cigarette, flicked the ash off and gave Heath a quick smile. “Don’t mention it.”

 

Chapter Text

October 1992

 

“And the new member of X: Heath!”

 

They’d just wrapped up the ‘92 Extasy Summit at Osaka-jo Hall and 24-year old Heath’s mind was whirling. For the past five months, when he wasn’t in the studio practising with the rest of the band, he was at home practising on his own or diligently studying the sheet music that Yoshiki had given him, impressed with the music that his predecessor had written. Given his background in classical music, you’d expect Yoshiki to be a skilled composer but as far as Heath knew, Taiji had had no formal schooling in music. He was entirely self-taught. To have learned and mastered this level of musical theory and technique on his own was a real display of talent.

Then Yoshiki had planned a press conference in August to officially announce Heath as their new bassist, with the 1992 Extasy Summit to follow in October, and the way he said this to Heath reminded him of his brother. Whenever he had tagged along to parties with his older brother, Heath would always be given a certain warning: don’t embarrass me in front of my friends.

“Here we have Zi:Kill: Seiichi, Tusk, Ken and Eby.” hide introduced them each in turn and they smiled politely beneath their heavy makeup, bowing and murmuring ‘Welcome’ and ‘Nice to meet you’. “This is Heath, our new bassist. Please make him feel welcome!”

hide had made a point of taking Heath under his wing and parading him around the arena like a proud parent. It was sort of embarrassing; the way hide introduced him to everybody would make anybody feel self-conscious. He wasn’t any celebrity. He was just the new kid.

“I suppose we don’t need formal introductions here,” hide said, for the next group they came across were Heath’s old band members, Media Youth.

“What makes his band better than ours, eh?” said Kiyoshi, guitarist and bandleader, giving Heath a little punch in the arm, but he was only joshing.

Bumping into his old bandmates had been a little bit awkward, but the real record scratch moment was still to come. hide introduced him to Tokyo Yankees, Gilles De Rais, Deep, and then—

“Ah, here we go,” hide announced as they approached a group of five all dressed in white. “These fuckers are like my kid brothers. I’d like you to meet Inoran, J, Sugizo, Shinya and Ryuichi. Guys, meet Heath, our new bassist. Heath, meet Luna Sea.”

Luna Sea? Heath looked at each of them in turn, and the one called Sugizo was looking straight back at him with the same quizzical expression on his face. Wasn’t this the band that Yasuhiro mentioned?

“You’re—”

“Aren’t you—?”

“Hiroshi?”

They were all in full makeup and costume but the face and red hair was unmistakably Yasuhiro, and Yasuhiro apparently recognised him, too.

hide glanced between the two of them, as puzzled as the rest of the band. “Do you two know each other?”

“Sort of,” Yasuhiro—Sugizo—said with a funny little smile. “We met randomly on a train…”

“…and then in a guitar shop…”

“…and we’ve hung out a couple of times,” Sugizo finished. “So this was the band you were trying out for! I wish you’d told me.”

All of this had Heath feeling dazed until he saw Pata hurrying up to tug on hide’s sleeve.

“Yoshiki’s looking for you.”

“Ah, what does he want now…” hide turned to leave, and then stopped. “Heath, I’ll come find you before it’s time to go on stage. You can hang out with these guys for now. Look after this guy, okay? We need him!”

hide and Pata disappeared down the corridor and Luna Sea’s tall blond bassist, J stepped forward and extended a hand. “Congratulations on joining X. You’re very lucky.”

“Thank you,” Heath said with a shy smile, shaking his hand. “I’m doing my best not to disappoint everyone.”

J shook his head. “No way. hide-nii wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t the one.”

‘hide-nii’? Heath was struck by the warmth and genuine admiration in J’s voice. Now he understood what hide had meant when he called them his ‘brothers’.

Sugizo shouldered his way to the front, grabbing Heath in an enthusiastic hug. “Guess I should be calling you Heath now. I can’t believe you kept it a secret this whole time - it’s X for crying out loud! They were the friends that I mentioned to you, who were looking for a new bassist!”

“Are you sure you haven’t been stalking the poor guy, Sugizo?” Shinya chortled. He gave Heath’s hand a firm shake. “Shinya, drums.”

Next was the dark-haired rhythm guitarist Inoran, and then: “Ryuichi, vocals.”

“It’s an honour to meet all of you,” Heath said, bowing politely. So this was the boyfriend. By the looks of things, he and Sugizo had kissed and made up. That was good.

 

Rock and metal musicians always have a reputation for being perpetually angry and aggressive, but all of the rockers that Heath had ever met were lovely and friendly. He had dozens of people coming up to congratulate him on his debut as X’s new bassist, and what a way to debut. He was nervous as hell and drinks kept being shoved in his face and he was too drunk, and drunk Heath shed his usual shyness in favour of having way too much fun. Everyone was dressed to the nines in their best stage outfits: platform boots, lace, organza, tonnes of makeup and hair spray, and lots and lots of leather and vinyl and pointy metal studs, and Heath quickly learned the rock band life tended to revolve around three things: recording, touring, and big parties, and there’s no party like a party full of liquored up rock stars. Whenever hide wasn’t with him, Sugizo was quick to take his place and delighted in repeating the story of their chance encounters to anybody who would listen.

“So then I walked into this random-ass guitar shop in Shimokita, right? And I’m just having a look around and there’s someone in there playing a really nice bass lick so I went to see who it was. Turns out it was this guy!” The guitarist gave Heath a little shake and the circle of people around them laughed.

“And you didn’t know he was next in line as X’s bassist?” Tusk called out.

“Absolutely no idea!”

“And he is killing it,” hide announced proudly. “Anyone who has a problem with him can take it up with me!”

“I’m gonna get another drink.” Sugizo tipped his empty beer bottle upside down as if to prove it. “You guys want something while I’m there?”

They shook their heads, so Sugizo elbowed his way through the crowd until he reached the bar, patiently waiting his turn.

“You’re having a good time tonight.”

Sugizo looked over his shoulder and gave Ryuichi an exhilarated smile. “What? It’s a good party.”

“Well you’re sure spending a lot of time with that Heath,” Ryuichi remarked.

“Oh, so what?” Sugizo said with a casual shrug. “He’s a friend and he’s joined X. I’m happy for him.”

“Really? Is that all there is to it?”

Sugizo raised an eyebrow, his enthusiasm waning with the vocalist’s apparent displeasure. “Come on. Don’t tell me you’re jealous.”

“What, of you being all over X’s hot young bassist?”

Sugizo sighed and put an arm around Ryuichi‘s shoulders, pulling him close. “Is he hot? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Get off it, Sugizo,” Ryuichi said with a frown, pushing him away. “Even I noticed that he’s pretty.”



“Just one more!”

“No, stop!” Heath laughed. “I’ve had enough for tonight!”

“One more won’t hurt!” hide insisted.

Heath rolled his eyes. “No way, man. I’m not falling for that again - remember what happened last time?”

“I remember exactly what happened last time: you impressed Yoshiki by playing bass with a hangover like a fucking legend!”

The man was incorrigible but Heath was determined not to get black-out drunk like last time and, laughing, managed to escape from hide by yelling that he needed to pee. It was mostly an excuse and a weak one at that, but by the time Heath had found the restrooms, the need to pee hit him like a speeding truck.

He hurried down the dark corridor, trailing the fingertips of one hand lightly along the wall. The floorboards had a kind of springy quality to them, creaking and groaning underfoot from decades of wear and heat and moisture, with a slightly sticky sheen not from varnish or floor polish, but from a permanent coating of alcoholic spills from inebriated customers. He was about to push open the men’s room door when he heard raised voices inside.

The combined noise of heavy music blaring over the speakers and the monotonous hum from the crowd itself meant that Heath couldn’t quite hear what was being said behind the door, but it was clear that this was not a pleasant conversation. Standing off to the side, unsure of what to do, he caught a muted word here, a muffled phrase there, and there was something about being jealous and—

“You’re always like this!”

Sobriety hit Heath like a slap in the face the second the door flew open, and he cringed and sucked in his breath, pressing himself as flat up against the wall as he could, trying to make himself invisible in case he was caught eavesdropping like a creep. He needn’t have worried. The first guy strode briskly back up the corridor without a backwards glance, and then the door swung open again and the second person emerged, and Heath froze.

“Ryuichi!” Sugizo snapped.

Ahead of him, Ryuichi only walked faster and raised one hand to give him a one-fingered salute. Gulping, Heath waited for them to reach the end of the corridor before he gingerly pushed open the men’s room door and slipped inside, unseen and unheard.

 

Compared to what it was outside, it was blissfully quiet inside the men’s room while he relieved himself. You could still hear the pounding music but the walls and doors had reduced it to a muffled thud-thud-thud of the bass notes and little else, and Heath sat on the toilet for a few minutes longer, resting his tired feet and rolling his neck from side to side with a long yawn that made his jaw ache and his eyes water. Damn, now that he was sitting down, he felt tired and he wanted nothing more than to get out of these tight leather pants and into bed. He pushed his sleeve up to look at his watch. 2:38am. No wonder he was tired.

He thought about the way Ryuichi had stormed out of the men’s room, clearly incensed with an equally angry Sugizo stomping after him and barking his name, and Heath was struck with a strong feeling of secondhand guilt. It felt wrong to see a couple fighting like that, whether it was accidental or not. He hadn’t heard enough of what was said to piece anything together, not that he really wanted to, but words like ‘jealous’ combined with ‘you’re always like this’ was unlikely to indicate good news.

The bathroom door banged open; Ryuichi and Sugizo back for round two of their screaming match? A set of footsteps hurried into the neighbouring cubicle and Heath wrinkled his nose at the unmistakable sound of somebody puking their guts out. So much for having a little quiet time to himself. He flushed and washed his hands, trying to listen to the sound of rushing water in the sink instead of the guttural heaving and wet splatter of vomit gushing into the toilet by whichever unfortunate soul had exceeded their alcoholic input, glad that he’d made his own way here instead of getting a lift from someone else. Would Yoshiki be offended if he left for the night, he wondered. He might have to avoid hide altogether on his way out or he’d never get home. It was impossible not to like hide, but he didn’t like him enough to want to wake up in his bed again with another killer hangover. He figured Yoshiki might be more sensible and reasonable. With this on his mind, he dried his hands on a paper towel and returned to the party.

 

“Oh, there you are!” Toshi seized his arm. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”

“Did hide tell you to find me?” Heath asked warily.

“What? No, he’s probably face-down on a table somewhere,” Toshi said carelessly, waving a hand. “Listen, did you drive yourself here or did you come with somebody else?”

“I caught a taxi. Do you need a lift home?”

“Oh thank god.” Toshi’s whole body seemed to sag with relief. “Yes, please. I came here in Yoshiki’s car but now he’s too drunk to drive and he doesn’t want to leave and I’m fucking dying.”

Heath laughed. “Sure. I was kind of hoping to sneak off, myself.”

“Perfect! You're the best. I knew I could count on you.”

They made the rounds saying their goodbyes to anybody who was still sober enough to recognise them, got roped into a long conversation with the guys from Tokyo Yankees, one of whom grabbed Toshi in a playful headlock while the rest of them just laughed. They eventually found Yoshiki but he was so drunk that it took them several tries, speaking very slowly, for him to understand them.

“Okay but be careful, Toshi,” the drummer slurred. “Don’t crash my car.”

“We’re taking a taxi,” Toshi explained very patiently.

“Yeah but don’t crash my Ferrari.”

“You didn’t drive your Ferrari, Yoshiki.”

“I know.”

“Forget it, leave him. He's done for.” Toshi sighed and took Heath by the arm.

They had almost reached the front door when they were accosted by J, Shinya and Inoran, all three of them incredulous that Heath and Toshi were leaving ‘this early’.

“Yep, we’ve already said bye to everyone,” Toshi looked around. “Where’s Ryu and Sugizo? Might as well say goodbye to them, too.”

Toshi didn’t notice the look that was shared between the three of them, but Heath did.

Inoran shrugged and took a drag of his cigarette. “Dunno. We haven’t seen them in a little while.”

“Oh. Damn. Well if you see them, tell them we said bye, okay?”

“Will do!” Inoran waved.

Trailing behind Toshi, the last thing Heath heard was J saying, “I think they were fighting again.”



“God damn, I am exhausted.” Toshi stretched his arms up to the sky with a wide yawn. “Thanks again for sharing a cab with me. I know it’s a little out of your way.”

“No, don’t mention it. I’m happy to.”

They both stopped and exchanged a glance when they heard voices and quick peek around the corner into a small alley saw two figures clad in white, murmuring sweet nothings to each other, giggling, low purrs of pleasure: Sugizo had Ryuichi pressed up against the brick wall, kissing him roughly, the vocalist’s hands tangled in Sugizo’s long red hair, not a shred of space between their bodies. Ryuichi broke off the kiss and threw his head back with a breathless moan, Sugizo’s dark lipstick smeared all over his lips and the guitarist moved in to kiss his neck, and the way Ryuichi moved his hips made it apparent that they were doing more than just kissing. Sugizo had his hand down his lover’s trousers, making Ryuichi buck his hips into his touch, moaning and gasping lewdly, Sugizo whispering things that only Ryuichi could hear, the two of them completely unaware that they were being watched, having only eyes for each other. Embarrassed, Heath tugged on the sleeve of an open-mouthed Toshi, who nodded, and they crept away.

They were silent as they got into the taxi but as soon as the car doors slammed shut, Toshi cleared his throat. “Well. That was extremely fucking awkward. Welcome to rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Are they always like that? I mean, I heard them fighting earlier. It looked pretty bad, and then…” Heath trailed off and gestured with his hand at the steamy scene that they had just witnessed back there.

“Yeah.” Toshi sank down in his seat a little lower and he rubbed his face tiredly. “Those two… to be honest they’re all right most of the time but the extremes can be… well, extreme. As you saw.”

Heath nodded and the pair fell quiet again. Heath yawned and then Toshi yawned and they laughed, and at length Toshi asked, “So how do you feel after the whole Extasy Summit?”

“I feel good.” Heath paused. “Tired. Exhausted.”

Toshi laughed.

“It was great to meet everyone properly. I’m still trying to remember everyone’s names, though.”

“That problem never goes away,” Toshi said. “You’ll go from being the new kid trying to learn the names of all the old hands, to the old fart trying to remember the names of all these new bands springing up all over the place. Everybody wants a slice of what we’ve got. This life is the best.”

 

***

 

Sugizo’s kisses are sweet and dirty at the same time and he can barely keep up with him, he just can’t get enough of those kisses and he can’t get enough of him, and he fists his hands in his long red hair to try and pull him closer. Sugizo just smiles that wicked smile of his and presses him harder against the wall and grinds his hips against him and he fucking keens, and it produces the desired result for Sugizo’s hands begin to make their way down his body, stopping momentarily to tease his nipples while that mouth keeps working at his neck, kissing along his jawline and teeth grazing over his ear, light fingertips trailing over his skin and down his stomach, dipping just past the invisible line where a person’s touch goes from intimate to sexual and he can feel himself shivering from that featherlight touch, a combination of nervousness and anticipation and it feels incredible for Sugizo to want him like this, cool fingers closing around him, warm lips moving against his in filthy kisses, a warm coil of pleasure in his groin growing hotter and tighter while that hand slowly worked him closer and closer to a strong shockwave of pleasure that made Heath’s eyes snap open and for half a second he lay there in a state of blurry confusion until he realised what was happening: he was having a wet dream. He squeezed his eyes shut again, clenched his teeth and moaned softly into his pillow, his body tensed up, rutting himself into his hand to enjoy that sweet friction while his cock strained and relaxed, strained and relaxed, producing pulse after pulse until he was spent and he lay in bed face-down, breathing hard, his legs weak and his whole body humming and quivering from the intensity of his orgasm. Once that post-orgasm high wore off, though, he was left with a sort of hollow feeling to have woken up alone with his hand covered in thick, musky white fluid.

Cursing softly to himself, he got up on wobbly legs and stripped the sheets off the bed before the mess could soak through, shivering in the December chill that always managed to crawl inside after he'd turned the heating off before bed. He shoved them in the wash with his boxers. Something cold and moist touched his ankle; Qoo was looking up at him with those big brown eyes of hers, wondering what all the commotion was all about.

He sighed. “Don’t ask.”

Qoo sniffed at his feet and wandered off with a slow wave of her tail, the brass tags on her collar jingling as she went. He could hear her lapping at her water bowl in the kitchen.

 

When was the last time he’d had a wet dream like that? Not since he was a teenager with raging hormones, growing up tall and skinny as a weed, as his mother used to say. Like any teenage boy, he’d hang out with his school mates, buying softcore porn magazines off the older students at school for a couple of hundred yen and huddling together at the back of the gym to look at pictures of topless women, wolf-whistling at girls in their short summer skirts, or even experimenting with each other as hormone-addled boys who were a little too eager to get any action they could, locked in their bedrooms, tentatively kissing and fondling one another and getting each other off while their parents weren’t home.

Where had it even come from? Yes, Sugizo was attractive, but so were a lot of other guys that he had never even thought about, let alone dreamed about sexually. He barely even knew the guy. They’d talked a few times over coffee but that was it. Besides, it wasn’t right. Sugizo had a boyfriend already and it wasn’t right for him to be having these lewd thoughts about him, even as he washed the cum off his stomach and thighs. The more he tried not to think about it, the more he pictured Sugizo kissing and touching Ryuichi that night back in October, and the more he began to think about Sugizo doing the same to him.

Since the sun was already starting to rise, he brushed his teeth and started getting ready for the day. Out of habit, he tore off a small corner of his toast and dropped it into the little dachshund’s food bowl with some tinned dog food. Qoo wagged her tail and ate noisily, nudging her bowl across the floor as she went. Bread was her favourite treat. He scratched her ears absently and she looked up at him with those warm eyes full of adoration before turning her attention back to her breakfast.

 

Chapter Text

December 1992

 

“What should I wear tonight?”

Pata shrugged and leaned over the end of the sofa to peer through the doorway of hide’s bedroom. “I dunno. It’s <i>your</i> birthday.”

hide had about twenty-three different items of clothing strewn all over the end of his bed and the floor. Most of it was in garish colours and bold patterns that would never have gone together, and a lot of the colours clashed badly, but hide was the only person who could manage to make it work.

“What do you think about this?”

Heath and Pata looked up. hide was holding a floor-length, long-sleeved dress in orange and pink paisley.

“No,” Pata said instantly.

Yes.” hide began stripping down to his underwear to get dressed. “This is going to be the biggest and best party ever! I gotta make the most of it before I hit the big 3-0 next year!”

“Who have you invited?” Heath asked.

hide poked his head out of the doorway with his brightly-coloured dress bunched up around his neck. “I dunno, you know plenty of people, right? I mean, all of us guys will be there…” He rattled off a bunch of names, some of which Heath knew and some that he didn’t. “…Saver Tiger, Luna Sea, oh and there’s this new band that Yoshiki’s interested in called GLAY. They’re from Hokkaido. I’ll introduce you to them at the party.”

“Why? Looking for someone in particular?” Pata asked.

“No. Just wondering.” With the way that Pata was looking at him, Heath was worried that he’d seen straight through this little white lie but before the guitarist could address the matter any further, they heard a shout from hide.

“Pata! Are you going to get dressed or what?”

Pata looked down at himself. “I am dressed.”

“You aren’t seriously going in that.”

“What’s wrong with jeans and a leather jacket?”

hide put his hands on his hips. “You wear that every day, you can’t go to my party like that!”

 

Pata absolutely did go to hide’s party in jeans and a leather jacket and when hide ribbed him for it, he just laughed it off. Heath grinned. Pata was nothing if not unabashedly Pata and nobody could convince him to be anything otherwise. The man was content to keep to himself, with Jack Daniels on one side and Heath on the other.

Only four-fifths of Luna Sea had actually turned up and it would be lying to say that Heath wasn’t disappointed. He did his best not to show it and greeted Ryuichi, Inoran, Shinya and J warmly, too shy to ask about whether Sugizo would show up tonight. It was enough of a struggle trying to figure out whether he was actually attracted to him or if it was just his shitty-ass brain playing a dumb prank on him; in the meantime he didn’t need other people trying to connect the dots for him, least of all Sugizo’s own boyfriend. He still tried his best to enjoy the party and he had a pretty interesting conversation with a guy named Issay. And then his heart jumped when he heard that name.

“Sugizo! You finally made it! You’re just in time for cake.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, hide.”

Nobody likes having people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ at them; most people just sort of stand there, frozen in horror with a fake smile pasted on, thinking that they’d rather flush their own head in the toilet than have to suffer this kind of public humiliation. Conversely, hide loved it, cheerfully clapping along to the drunken rendition of the tired, kitschy old tune. For a pack of musicians, it was delivered surprisingly out of tune and poorly-timed. All eyes were on the man of the hour except for Heath’s. He kept his gaze on Sugizo, standing there clear across the room next to Ryuichi, watching those dark red lips moving while he spoke to some tall guy named Takuro that Yoshiki had introduced him to earlier in the evening, just talking and laughing, the dark eyes with long lashes lined with even darker makeup, dark eyes that roamed about the room. He smiled when someone started handing out slices of birthday cake, black forest on little white paper plates, and the second that he picked up a cherry, that wandering gaze met Heath’s, and Sugizo smiled at him with the ripe, round fruit pressed to those equally ripe, cherry red lips.

They hadn’t spoken or seen each other since the Extasy Summit; Heath had been far too caught up in band rehearsals and now that Sugizo was here, Heath wasn’t sure that he knew what to say. Pata wasn’t even here to act as a buffer, having disappeared somewhere to actually be social for once, and the feeling was something akin to a mild panic as he watched Sugizo politely excuse himself and pick his way across the floor.

“Heath! I’ve been looking for you.”

Heath gulped a little. “Really?”

Sugizo smiled. “Sure! Have you been well?”

Yep. Funny story: I had a really dirty dream about you.

“Uh, yeah. You?” Heath said, taking a sip of his beer to hide his embarrassment. Why was this so awkward? It wasn’t like they hadn’t spoken before. Just suck it up and have a normal conversation like a normal person and stop thinking about him using those lips to—

“Can’t complain,” came the reply. “I love all of this. You know, seeing all of our friends, crazy parties, bottomless drinks. Oh shit—” Sugizo suddenly laughed and took Heath by the shoulders, oblivious to his discomfort. “Look at hide! He is having the best time.”

Indeed, hide was in the middle of the room with a crowd gathered around him in a loose circle while he danced, barely keeping time with the pounding music, and then he grabbed Kiyoshi’s wrist and dragged him onto the ‘dance floor’ to the cheers of the mirthful crowd.

Heath smiled thinly. “He did say that he wanted to have the biggest party before he turns 30 next year.”

“Man, 30 seems so old but that’ll be us in a few years, huh?” Sugizo glanced at him. “Oh, have you had any cake yet?”

Heath nodded and showed him the empty paper plate sitting on the bar counter behind him, decorated with stray smears of chocolate icing and dark brown crumbs and a lone cherry pit.

“Is everything okay?” Sugizo stopped with the plastic fork in his mouth, looking at Heath with genuine concern.

“Um. Yeah,” Heath lied. “Tired. I think I’ve had enough.” Keeping his gaze firmly glued to an invisible spot on the floor, he picked up his beer glass with lines of pale, dried foam clinging to the inner surface and an inch or so of golden liquid sloshing around the bottom. He couldn't very well tell the man that the real reason he couldn’t fucking look him in the eye was because he kept picturing his lips on someone’s neck, wanting his hands to roam where they shouldn’t.

“That’s no good,” Sugizo said sympathetically. He turned and motioned at a bartender, and a minute later handed him a glass of water. “Here. This’ll help.”

“Thank you.” Heath tried not to flinch when their hands touched, glanced up shyly, saw those dark eyes seeing straight through his feigned nonchalance and those delicious lips pressed into a small half-smile. He quickly looked away again. “So. Have you and Ryuichi been okay lately?”

Sugizo looked mildly surprised. “Yeah! I took your advice about the chocolates and gave him a nice, long massage and he sweetened right up.”

“That’s good to hear.”

Sugizo’s expression changed to one of amusement and he smiled ruefully. “I still don’t understand how you’re single. Somebody out there is really missing out!”

Heath almost choked on his water but thankfully Pata chose this moment to return with a fresh drink and diverted Sugizio’s attention from a blushing Heath. Watching him go, Heath didn’t know what he expected from their brief interaction, really. He’d been waiting to see him all night, and for what? Was he supposed to figure out his feelings after one short, stilted conversation? And there was still the whole issue of Sugizo having a boyfriend. That meant that he was out of bounds, off limits, not available, and this sudden infatuation was nothing more than a dead end.

 

When Heath finally made it home that night, he lay awake in bed with Qoo nestled in the crook of his arm, sound asleep. He stroked the silky, baby-soft fur on her ears with the side of his thumb very gently and the little dog sighed in her sleep. He smiled. He didn’t usually allow her onto the bed but sometimes he couldn’t resist that adorable little face when she looked at him like he was her whole world, and it was nice to have some extra company and warmth after the evening’s events. The awkward conversation kept repeating in Heath’s mind while he lay in bed, staring up at the blank ceiling. It was simple, he decided. He hadn’t dated anyone in the two years that he’d lived in Tokyo; with his mind occupied with settling into a new city, raising a puppy, and band activities, the last thing on his mind was dating.

 

Fuck. I need to get laid.

 

***

 

Across town, they’re fucking like animals, clawing at each other desperately, their breath hitching and coming in ragged sobs while Sugizo’s pounding into the man beneath him. His lover’s long, silky black hair is plastered to his skin and he’s making the most delightful noises for him as they’re fucking, heavy breathing, moaning his name, fingers digging into his back, grinding against his every thrust, the heady smells of sweat and sex thick in the air, kissing hungrily, pushing his tongue into the other’s mouth and tasting them until they both break away from a sudden jolt of intense pleasure and he gazes into warm brown eyes half-lidded with lust and he’s so beautiful and sexy with his makeup all smudged that Sugizo feels compelled to claim that mouth again as their bodies move together, his cock sliding in and out of that slim body, long legs clamped around his hips and Sugizo woke up with the covers kicked down to his knees and his hand loosely wrapped around his raging hard-on.

 

Well, shit.

 

Sugizo carefully climbed out of bed so as not to wake Ryuichi, still sound asleep, and stumbled into the kitchen for a drink of water to clear his head, blundering into a corner of the sofa as he went. The cool night air played over his naked body; it felt good but did nothing to soothe his hot, aching erection. He leaned heavily against the kitchen counter and stared across the room, not really seeing anything except the slowly fading picture in his mind of a slender, beautiful, long-haired man beneath him in bed. What the fuck had just happened? He couldn't remember the last time he'd had such a vivid sex dream. He could still feel the way those hands had felt on his back in the dream, remembered looking into a pair of pretty brown eyes and he stroked himself absentmindedly. God, he was so fucking hard.

No, he thought. Ryuichi had brown eyes - hell, brown eyes were incredibly common, making up something like 70% or 80% of the world’s population. The brown eyes in his dream didn’t mean anything. Everybody he knew had brown eyes. And lots of their friends had long black hair. He was just mixed up, that was all. Dreams are weird like that, throwing in random shit to confuse you.

When he returned to the bedroom, Ryuichi had turned on the bedside light and he was rubbing his eyes with one hand drowsily. His shoulder-length hair stuck out at weird angles at the back of his head. “Couldn’t sleep?” he yawned.

“I— yeah. Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake…” The words caught in Sugizo’s throat and the rest of the words in his mind dissolved when Ryuichi sat up. The blankets pooled around his waist, showing smooth, lightly-tanned skin and a body well-toned from a keen love of surfing, but it was not the body that Sugizo had held in his dream.

The two of them just looked at each other for a second before Ryuichi let his gaze drop to Sugizo’s erection, thick and heavy between his legs. “What’s got you all hot and bothered?”

With an almost predatory look in his eyes, Sugizo crossed the room in a couple of long strides, flung the sheets aside and kissed the dark-haired vocalist roughly before flipping him over.

“Sugizo, what—”

Sugizo ran a hand down his back, fingering the elastic waistband on Ryuichi’s boxer briefs and tugging them down to his knees with one hand, and Ryuichi let out a cry of surprise mixed with pleasure when Sugizo dipped a hand between his legs to caress his cock and balls, playing with him until he was rock hard and whimpering and the guitarist leaned over his lover, mouthing at his neck and pressing his own hard cock against Ryuichi’s ass with a deep groan, rutting against him while Ryuichi pushed back into him and moaned softly, begging to be touched and filled and fucked. Sugizo didn’t have the patience to go digging in the drawers for lube; he spat into his hand a couple of times and gave himself a few quick strokes, pressing the blunt head of his cock between Ryuichi’s legs and easing himself into his body while the vocalist arched up to meet him, trembling when his lover slowly pulled out almost all the way, stilled for a heartbeat and drove back inside him, drawing a cry of shocked pleasure from the vocalist, over and over again, Ryuichi’s hands clenching in the sheets. Sugizo was relentless in his pace and intensity and he wasn’t even sure he could stop if he wanted to; he was so fucking hard it almost hurt and he just needed to fuck until he found that release.

Months later it would occur to him that they hadn’t fucked like this since the early days of their relationship, perhaps even before the rest of the band had figured out that they were sleeping together. Back then, their budding romance was a titillating secret, stealing a quick blowjob in the bathroom of a livehouse after playing a show. Now, Ryuichi was almost sobbing with how good he felt with Sugizo’s dick in his ass and his own hand around his cock as his orgasm rose up inside him and twisted and burst, coating his hand in thick cum while Sugizo shifted a little, his breathing ragged and laboured, and finally there it was: he shoved himself in one last time and a heavy groan of pleasure, his cock twitched and strained and he finished inside his lover and all but collapsed beside him like a dead weight, sated and exhausted.

Ryuichi chuckled breathlessly. “Oh, god. Where did that come from?”

Sugizo could only utter a tired grunt in reply.

“I don’t remember the last time you fucked me that hard.” Ryuichi reached for the box of tissues on the nightstand to wipe off his hand. He tossed the tissues on the floor, switched off the bedside light and curled up against Sugizo’s shoulder, purring as he felt cum slowly trickling down his thigh, but he was not the person Sugizo was thinking about.



The next morning dawned grey and overcast, and Sugizo had slept poorly. He stood in the shower, letting the warm water pelt down on his face and his tired muscles, hoping it would help him wake up. With a towel tucked around his waist, he lathered his face up with shaving cream and stared at his reflection for a moment. Even though his face felt neutral, the face that he saw in the mirror looked bleak. His mouth appeared to be set in a slight frown, his eyes were dull and gritty from lack of sleep, and the cold white fluorescent bathroom light cast harsh shadows and an unhealthy pallor on his tired complexion. He reminded himself for the hundredth time that he should moisturise more often. He picked up the razor from the side of the sink and, using his other hand to pull his skin taut, drew it down one side of his face, dragging a bare track through the white foam and stubble.

The bathroom door creaked open and out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed Ryuichi poking his head inside.

“Good morning.” The dark-haired vocalist was all smiles after their frisky midnight romp.

Sugizo kept his eyes on his reflection while he shaved. “Morning.”

“Mmm, I am so sore. I’m going to be sore for days. You should do that to me more often—”

“Don’t—ah!” The razor clattered into the sink when Ryuichi slipped his arms around his waist and tried to slide a hand inside his towel. Sugizo touched his face and his fingertips came away with white shaving foam stained red. He eyed Ryuichi sideways, annoyed. “Thanks for that.”

“Oh.” Ryuichi’s face fell. “Sorry.”

“You just had to do that when I had a blade right next to my face.”

“I said I was sorry.” Ryuichi took a step back, his good mood replaced with irritation. “What’s wrong with you lately? You’ve been so goddamn moody.” He turned to leave and stopped mid-step. “Oh and by the way, you left a bunch of hair in the shower drain yesterday. Again.”

The mirror shuddered when the door slammed shut, and it took a moment for Sugizo to realise that he’d been holding his breath during that short but tense exchange. He let it out in a tired sigh and stared at his pallid reflection, one half smooth and clean-shaven, the other half still covered in slippery shaving cream melting on his face like vanilla ice cream on a hot day. The cut was beginning to sting. He washed it all off, patted his face dry and started again, giving the can of shaving cream a good shake and depressing the nozzle. White foam puffed into his hand and he carefully spread it over the unshaven side of his face, rinsed off the razor and resumed the ritual.

 

What’s wrong with you lately?

 

Sugizo’s tired, grumpy reflection fixed him with a weary glare.

 

I wish I knew.

 

Chapter Text

February 1993

 

“Again from measure 130.”

 

They were well into 1993 and Yoshiki’s baby, Art of Life, now took up a large portion of their lives. Pata heaved a barely-stifled sigh and cracked his neck left and right. hide clenched and unclenched his hands, stiff and tired from working the frets and clutching his guitar pick. Next to him, Heath rolled his wrists and flexed his fingers. Toshi cleared his throat and took a long drink of water. Nobody dared to complain out loud; there was no arguing that Art of Life was a massive and ambitious undertaking. Just shy of thirty minutes long, not only was it Yoshiki’s magnum opus that he’d slaved over for years, it was an important milestone in all of their careers. Still, they’d been playing at a punishing pace for over three hours and they hadn’t once managed to make it through the entire song, for Yoshiki kept ordering them to stop and go over something again and again. He pushed the band hard and was uncompromising in his perfectionism. Every mistake was called out: if hide messed up his solo, or Pata was out of sync with their lead guitarist, or Heath’s timing was off, or Toshi stumbled over the English lyrics, they’d have to stop and do it over until the drummer was satisfied. The song was physically demanding to sing and Toshi’s voice was flagging. Yoshiki himself was hell-bent on perfecting his piano solo to try and adequately express his pain and turmoil and played it three times over while the rest of them just sat there.

“Yoshiki, I think we need to take a break.”

“Just a little longer, hide. We’re getting there, I can feel it. Just give me another thirty minutes, please.”

hide rubbed his face with both hands and sighed. “I don’t mean that. I mean we need to take a proper break. A week at least, maybe two.”

“We can’t afford to take time off!”

“We can’t afford not to take time off,” hide countered. “Yoshiki, we’re tired and we’re burnt out. Even you are. You’re working on this and you’re producing GLAY’s album and god knows what else you’ve got going on behind the scenes. I know you haven’t been sleeping properly.”

Yoshiki said nothing but he looked guilty. He was a known workaholic and that went together with his insomnia a little too well, often to the detriment of his own health.

“If we don’t stop for a break we’re just going to get a whole lot worse. Especially Toshi. If he doesn’t get some rest, his voice is going to give up on him,” hide said gently. “Come on. Let’s wrap up for the day, have something to eat and take a two week break. We’ll come back refreshed and rejuvenated and we’ll be better than ever. Okay?”

Yoshiki looked at each of them in turn. hide was right, of course. They all looked worn out, and he was starting to feel it, too. His back was aching from being bent over the piano and his fingers were feeling sluggish from over-exertion. He sighed. “Yes. You’re right. You guys should go get some lunch. Two weeks’ break starts now.”

The rest of the band heaved a quiet collective sigh of relief and began untangling themselves from guitar straps, coiling up long lengths of tangled cables and packing their instruments away.

“Um, thank you for all of your hard work, by the way,” Yoshiki added. “I know I’m being hard on you but I just want this to be perfect so badly, and I know that we can really nail this.”

Trailing at the end of the group, hide turned. “Aren’t you coming?”

“No, I think I’ll stay and practise.” Sitting at the piano with his back turned to them, Yoshiki looked very small and alone, but hide gave him a maternal smile, walked up behind him and placed both hands on his shoulders.

“You need to rest and eat as well.”

“hide—”

“No buts. You’re coming with us, end of story.”

 

Yoshiki and Toshi had been best friends since they were four or five years old and had even shared their first kiss together as children, but the drummer’s friendship with hide was something else altogether. They were, for want of a better word, soulmates. Heath thought about this while he watched hide picking the bones out of Yoshiki’s fish very carefully and patiently during lunch. hide always took great care to look after all of his friends and bandmates—making sure they got home safely after a night of hard drinking, for one—but he took extra care with Yoshiki. Their bandleader was a complicated creature: fickle with a tendency for drama, at times both strong and fragile, but somehow hide usually knew just how to handle his moods. Heath had even been told that Yoshiki and hide always roomed together while on tour because only they could tolerate each other first thing in the morning.

“Thank you,” Yoshiki said gratefully when hide slid the plate back to him, the grilled fish picked clean of any bones. hide just smiled and refilled everyone’s tea.

“What are you going to do with your holiday?” Toshi asked Pata.

“Sleep,” Pata said instantly, and Toshi laughed. “What about you?”

Toshi shrugged. “Might go see my folks, or catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while.”

Next to hide, Heath asked. “Are you still recording with J and Inoran?”

In between Art of Life, they were also working on some solo projects on the side, and hide shook his head. “Nah, that was just one song. But I’m also trying some acting.” hide looked a little bashful as he said this.

“Really? That’s amazing!”

hide laughed. “It’s not like this is Akira Kurosawa or anything. It’s just a short film that Tusk and I have been messing with, just for fun. Besides, I hear that Toshi’s acting as well.”

All eyes turned to their vocalist with raised eyebrows, and now it was Toshi’s turn to smile shyly. “It’s nothing major. My manager said I should audition for a new Hamlet stage play, so…”

“Which role?” Yoshiki asked.

“Um… as Hamlet.”

“For the lead role!” hide marvelled. “That’s pretty goddamn major! What about you, Heath? Don’t tell me you’re acting as well.”

Heath laughed. “No, but I’ve been working on this concept that I’m calling Daydream…

 

The idea of having two weeks to himself was a breath of fresh air. Working in the studio could be hard, like it was today, but despite the momentary frustrations, Heath enjoyed life in Tokyo with X Japan. Even as an ‘outsider’ from Kansai, he really felt like he was in his element playing with a band that kept going from strength to strength. That didn’t mean that Heath didn’t appreciate it when Toshi would sometimes talk to him in Kansai-ben, and he loved that his bandmates all made such an effort with each other.

He thought about what Toshi had said about catching up with people he hadn’t seen in a while, and the memory of a certain guitarist crept into his mind. He’d had another embarrassing wet dream in the last few months but other than that, it had been a while since he’d really thought of Sugizo at all. The band had been so busy with Yoshiki’s pet project that they hadn’t really seen anybody except each other and as much as he enjoyed the company of his ‘big brothers’, he was keen for some human contact that didn’t involve his bandmates.

Heath had never been good at sitting around doing nothing and he was already bored by the third day of their two-week break. As much as he loved music, he needed to do something else to clear his head. He’d already spent most of yesterday consolidating his wardrobe and doing some tidying and cleaning around his apartment. This morning had started off bright and early, and after having taken Qoo for a long walk in the crisp morning air, he picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

Hearing a voice that didn’t belong to Sugizo made Heath pause for a second, wondering if he’d misdialled. “Oh. Uh. Hi. Is this Ryuichi? It’s Heath, I was wondering if Sugizo was there.”

“Oh. Hello.” Ryuichi sounded oddly curt. “No, Sugizo’s not available.”

“Um.” Heath hesitated. “Could you please let him know that I called?”

Ryuichi only responded with a scoff. “Figures he didn’t tell anyone. He has a new number that you can reach him at.”

Ryuichi rattled off a string of numbers and Heath scrambled to write it down, apologised for having disturbed him and hung up.

 

***

 

“Ryuichi and I broke up. I’ve been staying at a friend’s place.”

When Heath called the new number, he’d been surprised to hear that Sugizo sounded as unhappy as Ryuichi had been terse and now he just felt bad.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have called R—”

“No no.” Sugizo shook his head. “You weren’t to know. I probably should have called you earlier to say I had a new number and save everyone the awkwardness but…” He trailed off and dragged a hand through his hair with a harried sigh.

“When did this happen?” For some reason, learning that Sugizo and Ryuichi’s breakup made Heath feel guilty.

“Three, four weeks ago, maybe.” Sugizo stared blankly into his coffee cup, stirring it very slowly. He hadn’t touched his drink and it had long since gone cold. “It was a long time coming, I guess. We were always sort of on again, off again… and then it became more ‘off’ than ‘on’. Things that I did annoyed him, things he did annoyed me. By the end of it we weren’t even, you know, doing it.”

Heath nodded sympathetically. “I’m sorry to hear about that.” He thought about the way he’d heard the two of them having a screaming match and then getting all hot and heavy in the span of about an hour. That had to be exhausting and Sugizo looked genuinely upset about the whole thing. “How are you and the band holding up?”

Sugizo laughed shortly. “We try to keep it civil for the band’s sake. Other than that, we haven’t seen or spoken to each other. I’m surviving.”

“Surviving?”

“Yeah. I had to move out of Ryuichi’s place so threw all of my shit into storage and I’m sleeping on Tezya’s sofa until I find a place of my own.”

“Why not stay with Shinya or Inoran or J?”

Sugizo shook his head. “It’s messy enough for them as it is, I do not want to get them involved.”

“No luck looking for an apartment?”

“Believe me, I’m trying.” Sugizo stopped playing with his coffee and put down his teaspoon. “It’s a nightmare. They’re all really expensive, or too far out from the city, or just plain horrible…”

Heath nodded along while Sugizo went on about one apartment he’d seen that had rising damp and patches of mould on the walls, and another apartment that was already occupied by an entire dynasty of cockroaches. Heath certainly hadn’t enjoyed apartment hunting when he first moved to Tokyo from Amagasaki, either, and he knew he’d gotten very lucky with his current place in Shimokitazawa.

“—looked okay but then I opened the bathroom door and it smelled like something had died in there.” Sugizo put his face in his hands. “I can’t believe they’re even allowed to advertise these places for rent. Aren’t they embarrassed? I would be, but I’m getting so fucking desperate that I might have to move into one of these dumps, put on a hazmat suit and hose everything down with bleach.”

The man looked so downtrodden that Heath’s heart went out to him. He reached across the table and moved the cold cup of coffee away before Sugizo could try to drink it. “Here’s a thought. I have a spare room at my place. Why don’t you stay with me until you find a new place?”

Sugizo looked up and stared at him blankly for a good few seconds before shaking his head again. “No. No way. I can’t impose on you like that.”

“You’re not imposing. I’m offering.”

“No, Heath, I couldn’t—”

“Look, we’ve all been there. When I first moved to Tokyo, I spent two weeks on hide’s floor. I’ve got a two-bedroom place in Shimokita and it’s pretty big for just me and my current housemate.”

Sugizo raised one eyebrow. “Wait, if you’ve already got a housemate, then…?”

“It’s all right, she sleeps in my room.”

“Wow, no, I don’t want to intrude on you and your girl—”

“But I think you’ll really like her!” Heath protested. “Everybody likes her, even Pata. She’s got long brown hair and brown eyes and the cutest button nose. She’ll eat anything off the floor if you let her and sometimes she pees when she gets too excited and that’s a pain in the ass. She’s a really sloppy kisser but she gives the best cuddles and I’ve always found her to be a great listener.”

“…right.” Sugizo dropped his chin and chuckled for the first time that day. “Okay. You actually had me going for a second there.”

Heath grinned. “Seriously though, hear me out. I’ve got a few things in the spare room—guitars, amps, mixers—but I can move them into my room. I’ll set out a futon for you and that room can be yours. How does that sound?”

Sugizo regarded him carefully. “You’re actually serious, aren’t you? Like seriously serious.”

“Well of course I am, I wouldn’t offer if I weren’t serious—”

Sugizo leapt up from his seat with a loud clatter, bashing his knee on the underside of the table. “I knew you were an awesome person but—” and he laid a big kiss on a stunned Heath’s cheek. Everyone else in the little coffee shop pretended not to stare but Sugizo was too happy to care about that or even his bruised knee.



Later that evening, Heath was curled up on the couch later with Qoo at his feet, running their conversation through his head again.

Ryuichi and I broke up.

The second those words had left Sugizo’s lips, Heath had felt a twist of guilt. And for what? He had played no part in their breakup; they simply hadn’t been a good match and the relationship had fallen apart. Sugizo had said as much. So why did he feel so guilty?

 

***

 

By the end of that week, Sugizo knocked on the front door of Heath’s apartment with a large duffle bag full of his clothes slung over one shoulder. Soon the door swung open and there stood Heath, looking very relaxed in a black t-shirt and a pair of faded black jeans with his hair loose about his shoulders.

“Hey. Welcome home, roomie. Come on in.” Heath grinned. “How’s the knee?”

“Purple.” Sugizo looked down to see a pair of big brown eyes peering up at him curiously from between Heath’s ankles. “Is this your ‘other’ roommate, then?”

“Yep, that’s my girl, Qoo.” Heath helped Sugizo bring his bags inside and then handed him a piece of kibble. “Here. You can get acquainted.”

Qoo had scampered off and was now standing at a distance, watching their visitor warily, so Sugizo dropped to his knees and held out the treat in his hand. She huffed at him and advanced slowly, taking only a few steps at a time, often looking up at Heath to gauge his reaction. Sugizo kept himself very still, even as she cautiously extended her nose and sniffed his hand and took the treat from him. Only then did he reach out to touch her. Having decided that this stranger was friendly, Qoo sniffed his hand again very carefully, nose twitching, and then offered a paw for him to shake. Sugizo laughed. Even Heath’s dog was polite.

Standing over the lone duffle bag that Sugizo had brought in, Heath asked, “Is this all you’ve got?”

“No,” grunted a strange voice at the door. “Sugihara, for god’s sake, come and move your crap!”

“Oh shit, sorry! Here, let me get that.” Laughing, Sugizo got up from the floor to help his friend with a heavy-looking suitcase.

“Thanks, and just after I hauled it up the stairs,” Tezya said dryly. “Hi, you must be Heath. Thank you for taking this guy off my hands.”

Heath shook his hand. “It’s no trouble at all, really. Glad to be able to help.”

“You realise you’re going to have to give up your bathroom. If you’re not careful, this one will spend all his time grooming and preening—”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Sugizo said hastily.

“—and he’ll use up all the hot water—”

“That’s because the water pressure at your place is awful!”

“—and fill the bathroom with about seventy different hair and beauty products.”

Okay, Tezya.”

By the time Tezya was done, Sugizo’s cheeks were a little pinker than they normally were, and he thanked his friend profusely and shoved him out the door.

“Well. Shall I show you to your room?” Heath felt oddly nervous as he said this, and it didn’t help when he looked at his new roommate. Like Heath, Sugizo was dressed in casual clothes with his long hair tied back, and Casual Sugizo looked younger and cuter without his usual dark makeup on.

That face broke into a smile of genuine gratitude. “Yeah. That’d be nice.”

 

Sugizo spent the afternoon unpacking his belongings. He had politely turned down Heath’s offer to help, claiming that the offer to accommodate him was more than enough, so Heath left him to it until the early evening when he heard soft giggles coming from what was now Sugizo’s room. He hadn’t seen Qoo in a little while, either. He turned to have a look when out of the corner of his eye he saw a yellow projectile flying across the room and then Qoo shot out after it, her little paws scrabbling wildly for purchase over the smooth kitchen tiles. The tennis ball bounced off the cupboard doors and she made a mad grab for it, sprinting back into Sugizo’s room with her prize held tightly in her mouth. Heath quietly peeped around the corner to find his new housemate sitting cross-legged on the floor, holding a slightly slobbery tennis ball in one hand and tickling Qoo’s belly with the other, and she was loving the attention.

“Having fun?” Heath asked, amused, and Sugizo grinned up at him.

“Just making friends. She’s so funny.”

“She’s not bothering you, is she?”

“Maybe a little bit,” Sugizo admitted. “Everything I unpacked had to pass the sniff test first. But I don’t mind. I’m done anyway, and she made it fun.”

“C’mon, Qoo. Stop being a nuisance.” Heath knelt down and patted his lap, and she scampered across the floor to him, her pink tongue lolling out of her mouth and tail wagging, telling him all about her new friend. He scooped her up into his arms and laughed when she licked his chin, squirming with excitement. Sugizo smiled. They were clearly very fond of each other.

Setting the little dog back onto the floor, Heath dusted some of the dog hair off his clothes. “Hungry?”

“Very.”



The rest of the evening was spent relaxing on the sofa in front of the TV watching back to back movies. At first it was only going to be one movie but by the time the credits were rolling, they’d already put away three beers each and were having too much fun just relaxing with a crappy movie and playing with Qoo. Empty take-out containers and beer cans sat on the coffee table, well out of her reach.

“More?” Heath shook his empty beer can in the air.

“Sure, if you’re having.” Sugizo grinned. “But I should warn you: I’m a horny drunk.”

This made Heath pause. He’d heard from hide and the others numerous times in passing that Sugizo was a well-known flirt, but before he could think on this further, Sugizo chuckled.

“I’m joking! Holy shit, you should have seen your face.”

“I was just wondering if that was an invitation,” Heath said, making a light joke of his own.

“It can be if you want. I’m single now.”

There it was again. Heath got up to clear away the mess to fill the awkward silence. “Um. I’ll take a raincheck.”

 

After fetching another six pack of Asahi from the fridge, Heath knelt down in front of the television and held up two VHS cases. “Your turn to choose. Terminator 2 or The Shining?”

“Oh man.” Sugizo cracked open his fourth beer. “Maybe Terminator? I’m not big on horror. I’m more of a sci-fi kinda guy.”

“Have you seen this before?”

“I’ve seen the first one.”

Heath reclaimed his seat on the sofa, curled up with his legs folded underneath him and reached for another beer of his own. “Then you are in for a treat. This one’s even better.”

 

They were both feeling pleasantly buzzed as the night wore on, stretched out on opposite ends of the sofa, as comfortable as a couple of old roommates. They weren’t even paying attention to the movie any more.

“One day. One day! I will get you to watch The Shining.”

Heath was adamant, but Sugizo countered with a threat of his own. “Before that happens, I’m going to sit you down and make you watch Blade Runner.” This was punctuated with a little burp that sent them collapsing into helpless giggles.

“Shh!” Heath hissed, covering his mouth with one hand to suppress his laughter whilst pointing at his bedroom. “She’s sleeping!”

Sugizo nodded solemnly and pursed his lips together, fixing his eyes firmly on the television screen, but when he chanced a look from the corner of his eye, he caught Heath looking at him as well, and a fresh bout of giggles erupted from them both.

“What’s so good about The Shining, anyway?”

Heath stared at him, wide-eyed. “Are you kidding? It’s a classic, like The Exorcist. Plus it’s Stephen King, the master of horror. When The Shining finally came out in theatres here, I couldn’t wait to see it.”

“When was that?”

“Umm… I think it was 1980.”

“What? So you would have been… wait a second…” The red-haired guitarist paused and narrowed his eyes while his brain, fuzzy from being mostly drunk, struggled with the numbers. “You would have been, what, thirteen or fourteen at the time?”

Heath took a big swig of his beer. “Twelve.”

“Twelve!”

“I was tall for my age so I snuck in with my brother and a few of his friends.” The corners of Heath’s lips twitched up. “Tetsuya and I got our butts thrashed when our parents found out.” Eyes downcast, he murmured this into the rim of his beer can with a little smile as though he were divulging a great secret, and Sugizo laughed.

“Who knew… quiet little Heath has a bad boy streak after all!”

Heath just giggled again, raised his drink to his lips, then shook the can and peered into the hole in the top with a quizzical look on his face.

“Another?” Sugizo held out another can out to him, but Heath shook a hand at him.

“Nah. Oh man. What’s the time?” He rubbed his eyes and yawned.

At his end of the sofa, Sugizo pushed his sleeve back and studied the hands on his watch for a couple of seconds. “Nearly 2am.”

“Seriously? Wow. No wonder. I need to sleep.” Heath sat up too quickly; the room tilted weirdly around him and he sank back amongst the cushions until his head stopped whirling.

Sugizo just laughed again. “Are you okay, dude? Good thing you stopped when you did. Here, let me help you.” He clumsily clambered to his feet and held both hands out for Heath and hauled him up, almost sending them both toppling over the coffee table littered with empty, half-crumpled beer cans, and they staggered across the apartment on wobbly legs, each with an arm around his friend to ‘help’ and sniggering at the pathetic state that they were in.

 

Lying in bed, Heath felt very comfortable and relaxed after having consumed a number of beers and enjoying a laid-back night in with his new housemate. The moon was huge and very bright that night, not quite full, and it shone right in through Heath’s bedroom window, casting a bright white glow across the blankets, as bright as any streetlight. He gazed up at it idly, reflecting on the evening’s entertainment, and in a small moment of clarity just before he fell asleep, a funny thought came to mind, completely unbidden. Perhaps the reason he’d felt guilty to hear about Sugizo and Ryuichi’s breakup was because, deep down, he was glad that they were no longer together.

 

Chapter Text

Even before Heath opened his eyes, he could hear the steady patter of rain and he pulled the blankets higher up around his chin, sighing. His head felt thick and foggy, heavy with sleep, and right now his bed had never felt so comfortable, like they belonged together. He would have happily rolled over and gone straight back to sleep if he hadn’t heard the jingling of Qoo’s collar tags as she gave herself a good scratch, and then she started whining. He pressed his face into his pillow and groaned inwardly. That whining meant that Qoo was hungry and he knew that she wouldn’t stop whining until she’d been fed. Then after breakfast she’d want to go for a walk to have a good sniff around and do her business. That was her routine. Sighing heavily, he crawled out from his nice warm bed and shuffled down the short carpeted hallway, barely picking up his feet as he went. With another yawn and another rub of his eyes, he opened the bathroom door and a warm cloud of steam billowed out.

 

“Oh! Good morning!”

 

He slammed the door shut again.

 

Not rain. The sound of water he had heard was the shower running. Sugizo was in the bathroom stark naked and dripping wet and Heath had seen everything: long legs, a nicely-rounded, firm ass, lightly-muscled arms, a trickle of water running down that lean chest that tapered slightly to the firm stomach, drawing the eye back down to…

With his heart thundering in his chest, a mortified Heath took a couple of unsteady steps back and an ear-shattering yelp almost gave him a second heart attack and he looked down to see Qoo cringing in a corner with her ears pulled back.

“Oh shit, I’m so sorry, girl! Did I step on you?” He crouched down and picked her up, and she looked at him with those sad puppy dog eyes, forlornly asking if she had been bad. He felt terrible and carried her into the kitchen where he set her down beside her food bowl very gently and opened up a tin of dog food for her breakfast along with a few chunks of apple just for fun. She dug into her meal with relish, apparently having already forgotten about being stepped on, and Heath stayed beside her, staring at that bathroom door with dread. Stupid! Why had he just opened the door like that? Now very awake and lucid, a dozen things immediately sprang to mind: he hadn’t expected Sugizo to be there, he was used to living alone, he was tired and simply forgot, why hadn’t he ever thought to install a lock, what was the point of installing a lock if he lived alone, why hadn’t he knocked first…

 

Qoo finished her tinned dog food and started on the apple wedges, holding them between her paws and crunching on them with enthusiasm, and then the bathroom door swung open and out stepped Sugizo with a towel knotted around his waist.

Heath just stood there and stared. God, he’s not shy. And why should he be, with a body like that?

“Well, did you enjoy the show?” Sugizo teased. “That one was a freebie. Next time I’ll have to start charging.”

“No!” Heath blurted out. “I mean… no! I didn’t mean to walk in on you in the… I just completely forgot! I should have knocked, I wasn’t trying to… I’m so sorry—” He stopped when Sugizo held up a hand.

“One: it’s okay. I won’t hold it against you. Secondly, I’m sorry. It’s your home, after all. I would have locked the door if I could.”

“I’m just so sorry, I’m so embarrassed—” The words fell out of Heath’s mouth without thinking and his face burned. “I feel horrible, it was so horrible… I mean, I’m not saying you’re horrible, you’re very… I mean, not that I was looking… oh god I just feel so bad—”

“If you really feel that bad about it, you can let me see you naked in the shower.”

Heath stared at him, open-mouthed, and Sugizo started laughing. “I’m just teasing. Really. Look, what say you go have a nice long shower and I’ll get dressed and fix up some coffee, okay?”

“Okay,” Heath squeaked.

 

There are certainly better ways to break the ice with a new roommate than seeing them naked. Heath hadn’t been able to look Sugizo in the eye for a couple of days without turning red and stammering, and it didn’t really help that the man now had a new euphemism for showering.

“Just going to put on a show,” Sugizo would say with a towel slung over one shoulder and a saucy smile.

It took a few more awkward jokes, the installation of a lock, and falling into the new habit of each telling the other when they’d be using the bathroom, and the two quickly settled in to become very good roommates and friends. Being a guest, Sugizo was keenly aware of how tidy Heath kept his apartment and did his best to avoid making any mess. He had never met anyone who actually vacuumed every week but Heath said it was to keep the dog hair from taking over the place. Sugizo laughed and called him a clean freak. On top of this, he discovered that Heath was pretty handy in the kitchen as well.

“This is delicious! Where did you learn how to cook like this?” Sugizo asked one day while they tucked into some home-made yakisoba. “I can’t cook toast.”

“My mother.” Heath washed it down with a gulp of beer - just one tonight. He’d learned his lesson. “I mean, she tried to teach Tetsuya and me to cook when we were kids, but you can imagine how effective that was with two boys. Then I moved out of home and got sick of spending money eating out all the time.” He threw Sugizo a cheeky, lopsided grin. “I’ll never forget her face when Hi-chan came crawling back to her, begging her to teach me how to cook.”

“You have a pretty good relationship with your family, don’t you?” Sugizo asked.

“I suppose so.” Heath hummed contemplatively. “My brother and I have always been close. Dad… he’s kind of old-fashioned, tough love and all that. My mother keeps nagging me about getting married and having kids, but I guess everyone’s mother’s like that. Anyway, she's the one who took Tetsuya and me to see Van Halen. It changed my life, don’t know what I’d be doing now if that hadn’t happened.”

“I wish my parents did something cool like that for me,” Sugizo said wistfully. “You’re lucky to have such a good relationship with them.”

Heath gave him a questioning look.

“I started playing the violin when I was three.” Sugizo took a swig of his own beer. “My parents both played in the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. They had me practising for three hours every day. It’s one thing to love music but being forced into it was a whole different can of worms. Nobody thought to ask me which instrument I wanted to play, or even if I wanted to play one at all. They just decided it all for me: Yasuhiro is going to play the violin, end of story.”

“And that’s why you picked up the guitar?”

Sugizo grinned then, and pointed his beer can at Heath. “Bass guitar, actually. If I had to play music, I wanted to do it my way.”

“Really? You started off on bass?”

“Sure did.”

“Huh.” Heath smiled back. “Guess we have more in common than I thought.”



All too soon, X Japan’s two week break was up and Heath and the others were back in the studio, rested and refreshed, and by this time Luna Sea was gearing up for the release of Eden and the album’s subsequent tour. When they weren’t rehearsing, Sugizo and Ryuichi did their best to avoid each other. Neither doubted that their separation had been the right thing to do, but nerves were still raw and they didn’t want to risk butting heads in front of the rest of the band. They’d had one stilted encounter recently; not by choice, only because they were waiting to use the coffee machine in the studio break room. Sugizo didn’t know where to look, so he reached for a clean mug to give himself something to do. After exchanging clipped greetings and a protracted, awkward silence, Ryuichi felt compelled to talk.

“How’ve you been?”

“Fine.” Sugizo studied the cross-hatched circle of light grey scratches on the bottom of the mug with great interest. It was a record of every person who had ever stirred a cup of coffee or tea since the mug had started living here, permanent marks etched into the otherwise polished porcelain surface by stainless steel spoons. How many drinks would this mug have served over the years? Hundreds? Thousands? “How are you?”

“Good.” The coffee machine rattled and rumbled, and fragrant, dark brown coffee streamed into Ryuichi’s waiting mug. “You go.” He moved off to one side and pretended to concentrate very hard on adding sugar to his coffee.

 

Neither of them had anything else to say. Sugizo finished making his own coffee and left.

 

***

 

A month after Sugizo had moved in with him, Heath was getting ready to take Qoo on her morning walk when he noticed that the apartment was oddly quiet. It took him a few minutes to realise what was different: normally Sugizo would be up and about making breakfast by now, but this morning his bedroom door was still closed.

“Sugizo.” Heath tapped at the door to his room lightly, not wanting to be too loud in case he was still sleeping. He looked at his watch: it was a quarter past nine. It was unusual for him to sleep in this late. Maybe he’d stayed up late writing music or something. He knocked again. “Sugizo, are you in there? Didn’t you say you have rehearsals today? It’s getting late.” Heath was about to knock again when he heard a muffled thump and the unmistakable honk of someone blowing their nose.

“Stay away from me.” The voice from behind the closed door was low and croaky with a congested, nasal quality to it.

Heath turned the doorknob, opened the door a crack and peered inside. Sugizo was sitting up in his futon; his eyes were dull and glassy, the skin on his nose looked red and sore, and his face was pale and waxy.

“Wow,” Heath remarked. “You look terrible.”

“Thanks. I feel terrible.” Sugizo sniffled. He tugged another tissue from the box and blew his nose with a little moan of discomfort, discarding the used tissue in the bin. “I must have caught it from Shinya. That dumbass was sneezing all over everything and everyone last week. We begged him to go home instead of spreading it around. He was all, ‘I’m fine, it’s just allergies!’ and now look at what’s happened. I’d kick his ass if I had the energy.”

Heath chuckled and gave Sugizo a pitying look. “Well, I was about to take Qoo for her walk. Can I get you anything while I’m out?”

“No. Actually, yes. Some more tissues? If you don’t mind.”

“Sure thing.”

“Let me get my wallet, hang on…”

“No, don’t worry about it.”

Sugizo looked pensive. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Thank you.”

Heath regarded him carefully. “You should go back to sleep. Make sure you drink lots of water.”

“Yeah, yeah. I will, mother. Gonna try to take a shower first. I feel gross.”

Heath quietly closed the door. He must be really sick, he thought. He’d said ‘take a shower’ instead of ‘put on a show’.

 

By the time the front door closed behind Heath and Qoo, Sugizo managed to crawl out of bed and he took a long, scalding hot shower, hoping that the heat and humidity would help with his stuffy head. It didn’t, but he felt a little bit more alive once he’d changed into some fresh clothes. His stomach grumbled but the idea of actually eating anything somehow seemed unappealing, so he settled for some coffee instead and went back to bed, sulking and feeling very sorry for himself.

He woke up a while later to something licking his hand.

“What the f—” he mumbled, opening one eye a crack.

“Qoo!” Heath scolded, picking the little dog up. She just wagged her tail. “Sorry, she just took off when I wasn’t looking and I couldn’t grab her in time.”

“It’s okay.” Sugizo propped himself up on one elbow.

“If you have the energy to get up, I’ve made dinner.”

That woke him up. “Wha—dinner? How late is it?”

“Yeah. You slept all day. It’s about five-thirty.” Heath patted a plastic shopping bag that sat beside Sugizo’s futon. “I got you some more tissues and some decongestant.”

“Oh geez. Thank you.” The guitarist struggled to sit up in his futon.

“Here…” Heath put Qoo back on the floor to help him up.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Sugizo grunted from the effort. “You should really keep away from me. No point in both of us getting sick.”

“It’s fine, I hardly get sick. My brother Tetsuya always hated that. How's your appetite? I can bring some dinner to you if you’re tired.”

“No, it’s fine. You’re not my servant,” Sugizo joked weakly. “I’ll be out in a sec.”

“Okay. I’ll leave your medicine here for you.” Heath patted his shoulder and left to finish cooking.



“What’s this?”

“What’s what?” Standing at the stove, Heath turned to see Sugizo leaning against the kitchen counter, holding a box of Belgian chocolate seashells in his hand. Heath grinned. “Oh. That’s a treat.”

“For me?”

“Of course! I thought you might need a little something to cheer you up.” Heath nodded at the box. “That’s your favourite, isn’t it?”

Sugizo gave him a funny little smile. “How’d you know?”

“I’ve seen you buying it a few times. They’re my favourite, too.” The dark-haired bassist just shrugged and turned back to the stove. “Sit. Dinner’s ready.”

Sugizo did as he was told, sinking into the sofa with a heavy sigh as Heath set two bowls on the table. He leaned over the table, peering into the bowl in front of him. “Soup?”

“Slow-cooked chicken soup.” Heath started pointing out the vegetables in it. “With potato, carrot, daikon, leek, pumpkin and celery. Just what you need when you’re run-down. My dad isn’t much of a cook but his chicken soup is the best. He used to make it all the time when any of us were sick.”

“Sounds great.” Sugizo inhaled deeply; his nose was stuffed up but he was able to catch a faint, savoury aroma of chicken with a gentle hum of black pepper and herbs. He picked up his spoon and started eating. His sense of taste had dulled alongside his stuffy nose, but what he could taste was mellow and comforting and it warmed him from the inside out. 

“How is it?” Heath asked, suddenly a little anxious. He hadn’t touched his own meal yet.

Sugizo was quiet for a moment, gazing into his bowl, smiling. “Really good,” he murmured.

“Are you sure?”

“Totally sure. It’s delicious.” Sugizo toyed with his spoon and looked up again. “Except the celery. I’ve always hated celery.”

The corner of Heath’s lips twitched up. “You know, I don’t really like celery either. I won’t touch the stuff on its own but Dad always used it in this recipe and I never thought of leaving it out.”

They both laughed.

 

Heath was pleased to see that Sugizo had enough of an appetite for seconds, and while he cleared the dirty dishes, Sugizo opened the box of chocolates and popped one into his mouth, letting the rich sweetness soothe him.

“Heath?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you for everything.” Sugizo was looking at him with an expression of bare-faced gratitude. “You don’t have to be looking after me, you know.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Heath said, waving a hand.

“No, really,” Sugizo insisted. “I’m telling you, whoever you end up with is going to be very lucky.”

Something about the wistful way that Sugizo said this made Heath pause. At the kitchen sink, up to his wrists in warm soapy water, he chanced a furtive glance over his shoulder, but Sugizo was curled up on the sofa, blowing his nose into a fistful of tissues and moaning about it.

Heath cleared his throat and turned back to washing the dishes. “D-don’t be stupid.”

 

Chapter Text

May 1993

 

Heath yawned. He was only a couple of blocks away, but the last home stretch of any journey always feels the longest. He shifted the plastic bags from one hand to the other. Inside were some large tupperware containers crammed full of homemade food that his mother had made and forced him to take home.

 

“You’re so thin, Hi-chan!” his mother had admonished him during dinner. “You need to eat more!”

Baffled, Heath could only blink at her incredulously and laugh. Their entire family tended towards the thinner side but Mrs Morie just shook her head and tutted at him.

“And when are you going to settle down and bring a nice girl home and give me grandchildren?”

“You already have grandchildren,” Heath said, looking across the table at his brother and his sister-in-law Kumiko with their two young children, and he pointed at his nephew. “Anyway, he’s the one who isn’t eating.”

Heath’s brother Tetsuya hid his face behind a napkin, coughing loudly to stifle a chuckle. Four-year old Junichi had mounted a hunger strike, preferring to play with the toys that Uncle Hiroshi had brought instead of being trapped at the table with all the big people, and he’d been sitting there the whole time with a scowl and his bottom lip stuck out, refusing to eat.

“Hi-chan—”

Heath and Tetsuya’s father grunted, “Oh leave the boy alone, Yumi!”

Tetsuya lifted the baby out of her seat and dangled her in front of his mother’s face. “If Hiroshi doesn’t want to get married and have kids, that’s his choice. He’s in a major league rock band, he doesn’t have time to settle down! Besides, aren’t Michiko and Junichi enough for you?”

Baby Michiko chortled and seized her grandmother’s fingers in her chubby little fist, gurgling ‘ba-ba-ba’ and the older woman cooed and pulled her into her lap, momentarily forgetting the well-rehearsed lecture that she delivered without fail every time Heath visited his family in Amagasaki.

Heath flashed his brother a grateful smile. Thank you, he mouthed.

Tetsuya just grinned back at him.



“Thanks for the lift, Tetsuya.” Heath unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned over the centre console to give his brother a hug. “I’ll see you all next time.”

“Good to see you again. You should come home more often. You know how Junichi idolises you. They love the presents but they miss their Uncle Hiroshi.”

“I would if I could,” Heath said wryly. “The six-hour round trip is a killer, plus we spend so much time in the studio…”

“That drummer of yours sounds like a slave-driver,” Tetsuya remarked.

“Yoshiki’s just passionate. He’s going to work himself into an early grave if he’s not careful. Not that he’ll listen to any of us.”

“Workaholics are always like that. Hell, Dad’s still like that. They never change.” Tetsuya shook his head ruefully. “You’d better watch yourself, I know you can get like that, too.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“You should loosen up more, get back into dating and stuff.”

Tetsuya…”

“I’m just saying that it’s been a while since you and Satomi broke up.”

“I’ve just been busy, and meeting new people is hard. I honestly have no idea how people do it.”

“You know,” Tetsuya said with a crafty look. “I’ve got a friend who’s single. You’d make a great couple.”

“No, Tetsuya—”

“Just hear me out! She’s a friend from high school. Remember Kanae? She and a few others used to come over and study. She’s an ER nurse now and she lives in Tokyo. She’s in the same boat: she’s so busy and works odd shifts that she has trouble meeting people too.”

“Yoshiki’s the one with the nurse fetish, not me.”

“C’mon! She’s smart and pretty, I promise. And lonely.”

Heath just grunted and Tetsuya chuckled. “Seriously, haven’t you met anyone since you moved to Tokyo? Surely you’re going to tonnes of wild parties and meeting loads of hot groupies who’d be falling over each other to have your babies.”

“Gross. Did Kumiko teach you to say that?”

“She may have mentioned it once or twice…”

Heath snorted lightly.

“What about that guy who lives with you?”

“What about him?”

Tetsuya gave him a long look and then chuckled, resting both hands on the steering wheel and looking straight ahead at the row of parked cars in front of them, gleaming under the streetlights. “Do you remember that one autumn when it rained almost nonstop for two weeks? Mum and Dad went to a wedding and left us at home all day. You went out to the movies and I was going to play baseball with the guys.”

“Right. I remember.” Heath and his brother would have been about fifteen and nineteen at the time.

“So baseball obviously got rained out and I went home and just sat in my room reading comic books. I heard you coming home with one of your friends a while later and you turned the TV on. You didn’t know I was there at the time. I got up to get a snack and…” Tetsuya trailed off here and shot his brother a sideways glance.

“Oh,” Heath said very quietly. He knew exactly what Tetsuya was getting at. He had gone to the movies with a few friends to see Scarface and afterwards invited Kenji home with him to hang out and play Mario Bros. on their new Famicom.

Kenji looked around the room. “Where are your folks?”

“Out. My brother’s playing baseball and my parents are at a wedding.”

“Oh. That’s good.”

Kenji lowered his eyes when their fingers touched, and he shyly leaned in and kissed Heath lightly. They parted for a brief moment, scarcely an inch apart, then their lips met again and again until they heard a loud yawn from the other room and quickly went back to playing Mario when Tetsuya emerged.

“Hey, dweebs.” The older boy breezed past with a casual wave.

“Hi,” Kenji said without taking his eyes off the game.

“Didn’t you have baseball?” Heath asked.

“Nah. Too wet.” Tetsuya opened the fridge and peered inside, humming, before picking out a juice box and disappearing back to his room again and closing the door. Tetsuya didn’t mention the kiss to anyone and nothing ever eventuated between Heath and Kenji, although they had remained friends until they graduated from high school and went their separate ways.

 

“I mean, I don’t care,” Tetsuya said quickly. “You know. If you were with a guy or a girl. Whatever. You don’t have to hide it from me.”

“Oh.” Heath’s face burned. “Um, thanks.”

“So… is he…?”

“Sugizo?” Heath laughed shortly and shook his head. “No. Really not. He came out of a breakup and I offered him a place to stay until he finds a place of his own, that’s all.”

“Oh.” Tetsuya looked a little sheepish. “I just kinda thought… I saw a picture of his band in a magazine. Luna Sea, right? He’s pretty good looking. Not that two guys living together has to be, you know…”

“Yeah. I know what you mean.” Heath cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Well, if I do find that special someone, I will let you know. Right now, I’ve got a 3-hour train trip back to Tokyo and Mum’s given me enough food for a week.”

“Hey next time you come home, bring your dog.”

“I’ll try but she hates the pet carrier.”

“Oh, and d’you want me to set you up with Kanae or not?”

Heath heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Fine, okay! Whatever. Seeya, Tetsuya.” He gave his brother one more hug goodbye and hauled his heavy bags to the train station.



When he finally reached his apartment, he set the bags down on the doorstep, opening and closing his sore hands before unlocking the door. It was dark inside; Sugizo was meant to be home tonight following the conclusion of Luna Sea’s Search For My Eden tour. Heath switched on the hallway light. The apartment was just as he’d left it earlier this morning; Sugizo must still be on his way back. Heath removed his own shoes and closed the door very quietly so as not to wake Qoo. Looking down at the bags, he sighed. It really was too much food. He hoped Sugizo would be hungry enough to help him eat everything before it went bad.

Having shuffled everything in the fridge to make room for his mother’s tupperware containers, he flopped onto the sofa and switched the TV on. He just needed to unwind for a bit before going to bed. Just for ten minutes, maybe fifteen, tops. He loved seeing his family but it had been a long day. His legs were tired so he stretched out over the length of the sofa. His eyes were tired, too. His eyelids got heavier and it was increasingly difficult to keep them open, so he let them slide shut just for a second. He wasn’t going to sleep, he told himself. He was just resting his eyes for a bit, that was all.

He felt like he’d only just closed his eyes when he snapped awake, dreaming that he was falling, and the first thing he noticed was an odd weight resting over him. He moved to sit up and whatever it was slid off and fell onto the floor. That was when he realised that it was dark. Sugizo must have come home and turned off the TV and the lights when he found him like that. Heath was surprised that he hadn’t noticed and woken up. He must just have been that tired.

He reached down, groping about in the dark for the fallen object. His fingertips touched soft woven cloth and he grasped it more firmly and picked it up: an item of clothing, a cardigan or a sweater. The fragrance of Sugizo’s perfume lingered in the garment. It felt strangely warm and intimate, sitting there in the dark all alone, holding an item of Sugizo’s clothing that smelled like him. It was like holding some sort of secret, protective amulet.

 

Got your eye on someone special?

 

The conversation he’d had with his brother in the car earlier that evening had been a little awkward, and he’d been thinking over this for the entire train trip. Of course it was a sensitive topic and not easy to talk about, but it wasn’t so much that he’d been discussing his sexuality with his brother. They had always had a good relationship and there were few things that they couldn’t talk about. Rather, it was Tetsuya asking about whether or not he and Sugizo were seeing each other that hit a little too close to home, and it stung.

In the blue-tinted darkness he could see that the door to Sugizo’s room was closed, so Heath carefully draped the cardigan over the arm of the sofa and tiptoed his bedroom, stripped down to his boxers and slipped between the cool bed sheets.

 

***

 

Sugizo quietly padded into the living room the next morning, tiptoeing in case Heath was still asleep on the sofa. He relaxed when he found it empty, glad to see that Heath had eventually gone to bed in the end, and set his sights on breakfast. There was a piece of paper stuck to the fridge with a magnet, and the note written in Heath’s neat hand read FREE FOOD. Cocking an eyebrow curiously, he opened the fridge and almost laughed out loud. Inside, taking up two entire shelves, were four huge plastic containers of food: some fried rice, a noodle dish, a tub of pre-cooked gyoza, and some fried chicken wings. Where had it all come from? It looked like somebody had raided one of those all-you-can-eat buffets. The fridge’s bountiful contents filled him with a little glee, for it meant that they might not have to cook for a couple of days. Sugizo did his best to help Heath with the cooking and cleaning but try as he might, he could never get as comfortable in the kitchen as Heath was. He had little patience for anything that took more than about twenty or thirty minutes to become edible; that, and all the cleaning involved, too. There was so much time spent in the before and after, disproportionate to the time spent actually enjoying the meal. Now, if all the preparation that went into a meal were fun as the foreplay that came before sex, then he might be interested.

“Morning.” Heath lurched out from his bedroom door, yawning and raking his fingers through his hair.

“Hey,” Sugizo greeted him. He had to raise his voice slightly over the monotonous whir of the microwave while it warmed up his meal. ”When did you get to bed in the end?”

“Oh. I don’t know. Late. I think you were already asleep by then.” Heath’s gaze fell upon the black cardigan that had kept him warm while he slept. It was still where he left it, lying across the arm of the sofa. “I, um… thanks for this, by the way.”

This was met with a nonchalant shrug. “Didn’t want you getting cold out here. It’s just a stinky old cardigan, but it’s pretty warm and comfy.”

“No, I… um, I thought your perfume was nice, actually. Is it your perfume?”

Sugizo looked mildly surprised, but he smiled. “It is, yes.”

“It’s really nice,” Heath said again. “I don’t know why I never noticed it before.”

“I’ve only started wearing it recently,” Sugizo said with a quick smile. “Bought it on a whim. I wasn’t sure if it worked on me…”

It works very well, Heath thought. Was he wearing it right now? Heath wanted get up close and breathe in and find out how that perfume smelled on his skin, probably still warm from his morning shower, and out of nowhere that old sex dream came flooding back where Sugizo had him pressed up against a wall, kissing him, touching him, teasing him, his perfume carried by the heat from his body—

The microwave beeped and Sugizo abandoned the car magazine he’d been reading to retrieve his meal, using a tea towel as a makeshift oven mitt. Heath turned away, restlessly tucking a lock of his long hair behind his ear, suddenly feeling very self-conscious wearing an old pair of lounge pants and a plain t-shirt that he’d just thrown on after getting out of bed. He hadn’t even showered or brushed his teeth yet. At least he hadn’t been caught staring or worse, gotten hard.

“So uh, I see you found the food,” he quickly said to cover up the awkwardness. “How was the tour?”

Sugizo picked up some of the noodles in his chopsticks and blew on it to cool it down. “Better than I hoped, actually.”

“Oh?”

“I was afraid that things between Ryuichi and me would… you know, put a strain on things. I think we were all thinking that. But we sort of got talking again. Just a little bit every day. Trying to put all of it behind us and just be friends. Maybe we’ve both grown up.” Sugizo gave him a tentative sort of smile. “I think it helped a lot. Being on stage again, we were all on fire. The chemistry was just incredible.”

“I’m glad,” Heath said a little cautiously, wondering if Sugizo would drop a bombshell and say that he and Ryuichi had kissed and made up in the end.

“So, where’d all this food come from?” Sugizo asked.

“My mother. I visited my family back in Amagasaki.”

“Oh!” Sugizo chuckled. “Is that why you were passed out on the sofa last night?”

“Yep. Long day. Long train trip.”

“How are they?”

Heath shrugged. “Same same. My mother asked me when I’m getting married and having kids, like she does every time.”

Sugizo laughed. “Sounds painful.”

“Yeah, and now my brother’s getting on my case as well. He wants to set me up with some friend of his.”

“…oh.” Sugizo regarded him carefully. “You don’t seem too excited about it.”

“Not really. Blind dates and all, you know? But then I was thinking, how does anyone meet anyone at all?”

“By accident, I suppose,” Sugizo said contemplatively. “It’s all just one big blind date.”

They lapsed into a thoughtful silence that was broken when Sugizo suddenly seemed to remember his meal. “Man, after eating out at restaurants for the last few weeks, I cannot tell you how good it is to eat a home-cooked meal again.”

Heath smiled. “Save some for me, okay? I’m going to shower.”

“Okay. Need some help?”

 

God damnit.

 

Chapter Text

June 1993

 

“This is a really nice place.” Sitting across from Heath at a classy little Italian restaurant on Omotesando, Kanae was dressed in a pretty ivory blouse with a dark grey skirt that fell just below the knee, a cardigan and low heels. In short, she was the very image of a woman that his mother would just love for him to marry: pretty, feminine and very well-kept. With her kindly smile and gentle hands, she looked, for all intents and purposes, exactly like a nurse.

“Yes,” Heath said while the waiter poured their wine. “A friend of mine recommended it to me.”

“I’m not sure if Tetsuya mentioned this, but work and everything, I don’t get out a lot.” She smiled. “You know, I recognised you the second I saw you. You haven’t changed much.”

“Oh?”

“Still the same tall, good-looking guy I remember from when you boys used to jam together in our friend’s garage. Or should I call you Heath?”

“Hiroshi is fine,” he said politely. “Well, I can legally drink now.”

She chuckled. “What made you boys start the band, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Our mother took Tetsuya and me to see Van Halen when we were younger,” he said. “I guess you could say it changed our lives. Or mine, at least. He and a couple of friends wanted to start a rock band and they needed somebody on bass, so…”

“And that was you, huh?”

“That was me,” Heath agreed.

“I think it’s wonderful that you turned a passion into a career. That’s so rare, especially with childhood dreams.” She took a gentle, ladylike sip of her wine.

“I suppose not every kid grows up to be an astronaut or a Formula One driver,” he said mildly.

“I have a friend who always dreamed of being a teacher, ever since she was a little girl. She ended up quitting her teaching job after three years and now she’s training to be a pastry chef.”

“Have you always wanted to be a nurse?”

Kanae smiled. “I wanted to be a florist when I was little. I’d go out and bring all sorts of flowers home. Then my grandfather came down with pneumonia when I was about twelve and I set my sights on nursing instead…”



“I’m home!” Heath closed the door and removed his shoes with a tired grunt, pausing to give Qoo a quick pat when she trotted up to greet him.

“Hey!” came Sugizo’s voice from the living room. It sounded like he had his mouth full. “You’re home early. Bad date?”

“Well. It was okay.” Heath undid the top two buttons on his neatly-pressed shirt and sank onto the floor, leaning against the sofa with a tired groan.

Sugizo turned down the volume of his movie and put down the box of chocolates. “Why? What happened?”

“Nothing. We had dinner and talked.” This was punctuated with a nonchalant shrug and Heath patted his lap. Qoo looked up from lapping at her water bowl and scampered into his lap for cuddles and scratches.

“Oh. Do you think you’ll see her again?”

“Nah. She wanted to go out for drinks after dinner but I made up an excuse about having an early start tomorrow. She was nice but there just wasn’t anything there. It felt like a job interview.”

“No spark?”

“No spark.”

“That’s a shame.” Sugizo offered him the box of chocolates but Heath shook his head.

“No thanks. I’m just so tired.” Still sitting on the floor holding Qoo, Heath let his head fall back to rest on the couch seats and closed his eyes.

Even though it was a shallow sleep—he imagined that he could still vaguely hear the sound of blasters and explosions going off while he drifted in and out—it felt good to relax at home after a night of strenuous socialising and to let the tension melt away. A pleasant chill rippled up his spine and he found himself relaxing even more when something brushed through his hair.

 

Sugizo was playing with his hair.

 

He opened his eyes and stayed very still. The movie was still playing, and Sugizo was running his fingertips through his hair while he slept. In a detached part of his mind, he wondered if this was why dogs enjoyed being stroked so much; it actually felt really nice. He closed his eyes again and kept his breathing even, pretending to be asleep until Qoo climbed out of his lap and padded across the room for her ball and Sugizo immediately snatched his hand away.

“Mmph. Think I drifted off there,” Heath muttered, rubbing his eyes with one hand.

“Yep,” said Sugizo, sounding very far away. “Maybe you should turn in.”

“You too. It’s getting late,” Heath said, stumbling to his feet. “‘Night, Sugizo.”

“Good night, Heath.”

 

***

 

“What do you mean, ‘What happened’? We went out for dinner like I said. Yes of course I paid, I’m not a caveman…”

 

With a towel around his neck and his hair still dripping, Sugizo poked his head out of the bathroom door. Heath caught his eye; he had the phone in one hand and his other hand was balled into a fist, shaking it in an exaggerated, comical display of frustration.

“Yes, she is nice and she is pretty, we just didn’t hit it off. No, I don’t not like her, she’s fine, I just… huh? I never said there was anything wrong with her. Tetsuya… well I don’t have to date her just because she’s pretty and single. Well, why’d you marry Kumiko? You can’t tell me it’s because all the other girls you dated were ugly and had horrible personalities. You married her because you had a special connection, right?”

There was a long pause and on his way to his room to get dressed, Sugizo caught a glimpse of Heath slowly pacing back and forth in the kitchen with one hand on his hip.

“Oh no no no. No thank you. One was more than enough. What? No, that’s like saying the first time you get kicked in the ‘nads sucks, but it gets better the second time.” Heath started laughing. “Yes it is. Yes it is! Look, I gotta go. Thanks for trying but… no. Okay. Bye. BYE Tetsuya!”

Heath hung up the phone with a frazzled groan and from his room, Sugizo laughed. “That sounded like fun.”

“Stupid brothers,” Heath grumbled. “I don’t get what’s so difficult to understand. You can’t make yourself like somebody just for the sake of liking them.”

“Maybe your mother’s paying him a commission for setting you up with eligible young ladies. And he gets a bonus if you end up marrying the girl.”

“Do not let her hear you say that! She’ll think it’s a great idea and start telling all of her gossipy friends to set me up with their daughters and nieces.”

“That honestly sounds awful.” Sugizo emerged from his room, combing out his damp hair with his fingers. “Well, I’ve got a big day ahead of me. I’ve got an apartment inspection at eleven and then another one at twelve, then the guys want to do a post-tour debrief and dinner after that. What are you up to today?”

“I dunno,” Heath said. “Think I’m gonna stay inside and be alone for a while. I’m kind of over people right now.”

“I hear you,” Sugizo said, pocketing his keys and wallet. “I might be home late. I’ll bring something back for you.”

“You don’t have to do that. But thanks.”

After Sugizo had left, Heath spent the day in blissful quiet. He took Qoo for a long walk and let her have some extra play time with her friends at the park while he sat on a park bench and watched. Mercifully, the only person who approached him was an elderly gentleman. They exchanged polite smiles and the old man sat on the other end of the bench and read his newspaper. A short distance away, Qoo was running flat-out with a tennis ball in her mouth, with a pomeranian and two very yappy chihuahuas scampering after her. The rest of the day was spent on bass practise, some laundry and tidying the apartment, and watching TV with Qoo. After having a quick bite for dinner he retreated to his room to play with a vague concept of a song that had been floating about in his head for a while, and he worked on into the night.



The lights in the apartment were out when Sugizo arrived at the door much later that night, so he slipped inside very quietly, being careful not to make any loud noises in case he woke Heath and Qoo. Knowing that Heath had a sweet tooth, he’d brought back some dessert from dinner—some little chocolate cakes with molten chocolate in the middle—and put it in the fridge, and then he paused. The door to Heath’s room was ajar and a long ribbon of light fell across the living room floor like a cat stretching lazily. Sugizo gently pushed the door open. The folding floor lamp cast odd shadows upon Heath’s face as he slept, slumped in his chair with his head tilted to one side and a pair of headphones around his neck. Sugizo sighed. In the corner of the room, Qoo made a snuffling noise and lifted her head, watching his every move. She liked Sugizo a lot, but the apartment was her territory and Heath was her family, and she was fiercely protective of him.

At the foot of the bed was a thin woollen blanket, neatly folded into a square. Moving quietly on tiptoe, Sugizo shook it out and very carefully draped it across Heath’s sleeping form, tucking it over his shoulders with a gentle pat, wondering if perhaps he should wake him up. After a second’s thought, he slowly leaned down and pressed a light kiss to his forehead. The floor creaked beneath his feet and Heath began to stir, and Sugizo quickly retreated. Qoo put her head back down.

“Hm?” Heath breathed in sharply and blinked his dry, blurry eyes. “Oh, you’re home.”

“Yeah. Your light was on so I uh, just came in to check on you. Didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“No, I just…” Heath yawned and the blanket fell away when he shifted and stretched in his seat. “Oh… thank you. What time is it?”

“A bit past eleven.”

“Man. Should have gone to bed a while ago, I guess.” He pushed his chair back and got up, grunting uncomfortably when he rubbed his stiff neck. “How was dinner with the guys?”

“Good. I brought some dessert back for you. It’s in the fridge.”

Heath smiled. “Thank you.”

They bade each other good night and even after Sugizo had left, closing the door behind him, Heath still stood there, holding the blanket in his hands, gazing at the spot where he had been just a moment before. Only when he heard Sugizo’s door closing did he move like a wooden doll coming to life. He folded the blanket back up and sat on the edge of his bed, touching his face where Sugizo had kissed him.

 

***

 

hide took a big swig of his Coke and made grabbing motions with his hands. “Here, gimme that.”

Heath sighed and scooted over to one side, relinquishing the Super Famicom controller to let hide play the game.

“What’s wrong with you today?” hide asked.

“Me? Nothing’s wrong with me.”

“Bull,” hide said without taking his eyes off the TV. “You’ve got a face that’s about as cheerful a rain cloud. What’s on your mind?”

Heath grumbled. Sometimes it could be incredibly annoying to be around somebody as astute and sensitive as hide.

“Trouble with romance?”

“I think I’d have to be seeing someone for that,” Heath said dryly.

This admission made hide’s face light up like a Christmas tree. “Say no more.”

“Oh no. I’d recognise that look anywhere. It’s the same look my brother had when he tried to set me up with one of his friends.”

“Really? Who was it?”

“Some friend of his from high school. She’s a nurse.”

“That sounds hot.”

“What? No, I mean a nurse-nurse. A real nurse.”

“Oh, I thought you meant like a naughty nurse.”

Heath sighed. “What the hell is wrong with you people?”

“Well, anyway, Noriko’s an actor. She’s super cute and outgoing, she loves drinking and partying, and she’s got a very full… er, ‘personality’,” hide said, winking.

“I dunno, that doesn’t really sound like my type.”

“You’re only saying that because you haven’t met her. Trust me on this.”

Heath just rolled his eyes. “If she’s so great, why don’t you go out with her?”

hide shrugged. “We went out a couple of times and we figured we were better off as friends.”

“Thanks but no. Blind dates aren’t for me. Mind if I grab another drink?”

“Go ahead.”

Heath got up to fetch another Coke from hide’s fridge. “I took my brother’s friend out for dinner last week and it just felt so… perfunctory. I said to Sugizo that it almost felt like a job interview. What do you do, what are your hobbies, things like that. We didn’t really have anything in common. My mother would love her but she’s not for me.”

“That’s too bad,” hide said sympathetically.

“Thank you!” Heath exclaimed, loud enough to make his friend jump. “My brother just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t falling madly in love with her.”

“You can’t like everybody. That’s what makes your friends special.”

“Exactly. Tetsuya kept asking me what I thought was wrong with her and why didn’t I like her. He was being such a nag.” Heath took a swig of his Coke. “Sugizo thinks my mother’s paying him a commission to set me up.”

hide swore under his breath when his game character died and the screen faded to black with the words GAME OVER glowing in big red letters, accompanied by ominous music. He set the controller down. “That’s the second time you mentioned Sugizo in the space of about a minute.”

“So? We live together, remember?”

“So… let’s just say hypothetically, could that be why you’re not interested in these girls?”

Heath choked on his drink.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, you know,” hide said. “He’s hot and single, you’re hot and single. Plus, they say the best relationships start off as friends.”

“Didn’t you say you wanted to work on that song?” Heath said a little too quickly.

hide gave him a look. “Okay. Sure,” he said, switching the TV and the Super Famicom off and reaching for an acoustic guitar that stood in the corner.

“Have you thought of a title yet?”

“Yoshiki and I have kinda been calling it Scars on Melody so far.” hide nestled the guitar into his lap. “I thought that this chord progression would work better…”

 

***

“I have some news!”

 

Heath and Sugizo had just sat down to dinner that same evening. In the background, Qoo was noisily lapping at her water bowl, having already inhaled her own dinner as though she weren’t being fed twice a day on top of being spoiled with treats and toys. Heath had tucked a few steamed vegetables in with her tinned dog food; she didn’t mind the sweet potato, but she turned her nose up at the broccoli. Well, it was worth a shot.

“Oh yeah?” Heath poured some piping hot green tea into two cups. “Finally found somewhere to buy those shoes you’ve been lusting after?”

Sugizo wrinkled his nose. “I fucking wish. They’re sold out everywhere. But you know how I inspected a bunch of apartments recently?”

Heath paused. A pit of dread slowly spread in his stomach like a sinkhole.

“Well, I put an offer in for a few that looked pretty good and today I heard back from one of them!” Sugizo looked pleased, but Heath had a strange, weightless feeling as if the floor had opened up beneath him and he was in freefall.

“Oh. Wow. Um, so when do you move into your new apartment?”

“The end of July. Three weeks and I’ll be out of your hair. Just in time too, we’ve got the encore tour for Eden starting in August.”

“Oh.”

Sugizo’s smile waned. “Hey. I thought you’d be happy. You’ll get to have the place all to yourself again. I know you must be sick of having me hanging around all the time and getting in the way…”

“Oh, I’m… no, it’s not that!” Heath said hastily. “I’m just surprised, that’s all. It’s come around so fast. Congratulations! But… I mean, it’s been great having you here. You help me with the cooking and the cleaning, and Qoo has someone else to play with, and… and we have fun watching movies and jamming together and hanging out, right?”

“Of course! And I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. It’s been really amazing but I just can’t keep taking advantage of your hospitality forever.”

Heath found himself enveloped in a warm hug, their meal momentarily forgotten, but he was so stunned by the news that it took him a couple of seconds to remember to hug back. Sugizo was leaving. Rationally, he understood that this didn’t really change anything. It wasn’t as if Sugizo would disappear the second he moved out of his apartment. They would still see each other and talk and hang out, yet somehow Heath felt like a great gaping hole was opening up in his life.

Sugizo brought out a wonderful bottle of red wine as a small thank you gift to Heath and some treats for Qoo, and three short weeks later his belongings were being removed from Heath’s spare room and into his new apartment just north of Nakano. Qoo knew that something was going on as well, and she trotted anxiously at Sugizo’s heels as he bustled about packing up his things. What are you doing? she asked. Where are you going?

 

With Sugizo gone, Heath’s apartment felt empty and cold and oddly lonely. The futon had been bundled away and he’d moved his desk, recording equipment and musical instruments back into the spare room: an amp, an electric keyboard, three bass guitars, and an acoustic guitar. Satisfied with his work, he went to make himself a cup of tea before bed. Normally Sugizo would be there, helping him clean up after dinner, sitting on the sofa with a guitar in his lap or watching TV, singing or humming in the shower while he shampooed his hair. Now the living room had a hollow, unfamiliar sort of atmosphere, as though he had walked into somebody else’s home by mistake, or a copy of his apartment where everything was only very slightly different, just enough to be off-putting. He hadn’t been living here for very long before he’d invited Sugizo to move in. In much the same way people that grow and shape each other, they had shaped this space together and suddenly without half of that influence, the space was a little bit—just a little bit—alien. The memories of the home that they’d shared for only a few months echoed loudly between the walls.

He watched Qoo trot into the spare room, carrying a ratty old ball in her mouth. She and Sugizo had spent so much time playing with this ball that you could barely tell that it used to be a tennis ball anymore; it was patchy and fraying in some places and almost worn down to bare rubber in other spots. Try as they might, they couldn’t convince her to give it up in favour of a newer, less disgusting-looking ball.

“How can she stand putting that thing in her mouth?” Sugizo had wondered one day.

“Oh please,” Heath snorted. “I’ve seen her eat way worse than that.”

 

Now, she stopped just inside the doorway of what used to be Sugizo’s room, looking around with an uncertain wave of her feathery tail.

Heath sighed. “He’s not there, girl.”

Qoo looked over her shoulder and twitched her ears at him as though to say, Why not?

He finished off his tea and was about to turn out the lights when a bright glint caught his eye. It was the spare key that Sugizo had returned to him, sitting on the kitchen counter. Heath looked down at it for a moment and then picked up the phone and dialled.

 

“Hey, it's me. Sorry to call you so late. Um, about your friend Noriko. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

 

Chapter Text

August 1993

 

Cheers!

In a private room, five champagne glasses came together and around the table, five broad smiles. Art of Life had topped the charts, having already moved over 300,000 units in the first couple of weeks. Somehow, after all this time and after so much work, the album’s release didn’t seem real to Heath. They each had their own advance copies but it was both strange and exciting for Heath to think that there might be hundreds of thousands of copies scattered around the country in people’s homes, all 29 minutes of it spinning in their CD players, the band’s first offering since Jealousy more than two years ago.

“Thank you all,” Yoshiki said, getting to his feet and raising his glass. “hide, for looking after me, the way you always do. Toshi, for your patience with me and your amazing voice. Pata, for being you.” A chuckle rippled around the table, and finally Yoshiki looked at their bassist, still smiling. “Heath, for joining our family and rising to the challenge.”

Heath said nothing but smiled modestly, and another round of cheers went up as they enjoyed their celebratory champagne and the feast that was laid out before them, chatting easily amongst themselves. He was immensely grateful and proud to be a part of this amazing quintet, each a highly skilled and creative musician in his own right. Most of all, though, was the chance to prove his worth as X Japan’s bassist and reaffirm the band’s position as one of the most influential rock acts of their generation.

Their Visual Shock Film Gigs tour was also well underway. From July until early September, a pre-recorded concert was being shown to screaming audiences as though they were attending a live concert, 47 shows in almost as many cities, from Sapporo to Nagasaki and everything in between. At the end of the year, they would close out with two live performances at Tokyo Dome dubbed X Japan Returns. It was exciting and sort of scary at the same time. Not including last year’s Extasy Summit, X Japan Returns would be the band’s first live performances since Taiji’s departure in January 1992 as well as being Heath’s first live performances with the band; in a little over a year, he had gone from being unknown to playing in front of fifty thousand people at one of the most famous concert venues in the country. He’d be onstage for Art of Life’s live debut at the Tokyo Dome.

 

While all of this was going on, Heath arranged to meet with hide’s friend. Noriko was cute, just as hide had said, but more in an offbeat, punkish way rather than the usual overly-saccharin, cutesy kind of cute. She was what one would call ‘petite’; had it not been for the two-inch platforms she wore, she would barely have come up to Heath’s shoulder. The only part of her that wasn’t petite was her ‘personality’, as hide had so coyly put it. Her flannel shirt gaped a little across the fullest part of her chest and anyone who looked twice would see a teasing hint of red and black lace. Her shoulder-length hair was bleached pale blonde like a Barbie doll, save for a shock of bubblegum pink on either side of her face framing large, expressive eyes and lips that she’d painted in the same shade of pink as her hair. Her smile was part-smirk and she had a wicked streak that reminded him a little of hide. It was no wonder they were friends.

“So how do you know hide?” Heath asked. He gulped down his drink more quickly than he usually would. He needed that little bit of extra liquid courage.

A collection of rings decorating Noriko’s hands twinkled when she picked the paper umbrella out of her cocktail and twirled it between two fingers. “We met at a party. It was his friend’s buck’s night and I was one of the strippers.”

“Oh? hide told me that you’re an actor. Maybe I heard wrong…”

“I am,” she said. “Do you watch any pink films?”

“Oh,” Heath stammered. “I’m… sorry, I didn’t mean to… I didn’t realise… I mean uh…”

“Oh don’t be,” she laughed. “I do it because I enjoy it and it pays the bills. My parents like to tell all of their snobby friends and relatives that I’m in New York studying art or some shit, but I’m having fun and making a decent living. It’s just a job. Trust me, I got over being embarrassed a long time ago.”

Her openness surprised Heath but he found it a refreshing change from the usual girls who were all prim and proper, and he particularly disliked the girls who pretended to be all cutesy, deliberately affecting high-pitched, nasally voices and annoying, exaggerated speech patterns. At least Noriko had her own personality.

“I don’t know if he told you, but hide and I went out a few times.” She took a drink of her cocktail. “Just so that you don’t accidentally find out later and it gets all weird. That was years ago, though. Three years… or was it four?” She gazed up at the ceiling with eyes narrowed, trying to think, still twirling the little paper umbrella.

“Yeah, he did tell me that, and that you both decided to be just friends.”

“Yep. I think it’s because our personalities are too similar. We only really see each other at parties. If we spend too much time together we’ll probably go nuts and rip each other’s hair out.” She laughed again, sat back in her seat and crossed one leg over the other. “You seem nice, though. Normal, I mean.”

“Oh, uh… thank you?” he said, feeling self-conscious. “You are, too. Nice, I mean. Sorry, I’m not great at this whole dating thing.”

“Don’t worry about it, sweetie,” Noriko said with a wave of her hand. “Just relax: there’s no pressure, okay? We’re just here enjoying a few drinks and whatever happens, happens. Or doesn’t. You know. Whatever.”

Heath relaxed a little. “Thank you.”

“So hide mentioned that you’ve been on a bunch of blind dates lately, huh?”

“Just one. Well, two including this one,” Heath amended. “My mother keeps nagging me about getting married.”

“Man, it makes me glad that my parents gave up on me a looong time ago.”

“Yeah. Then my brother decided to ‘help’ and set me up with some friend of his from high school.” Heath paused to take a drink. “She’s a nurse. She was nice and all, but there wasn’t any connection so that was that.”

“I’ve always wondered about people like that,” Noriko said. “I mean, I understand wanting to be a nurse or a doctor to help people and save lives. That’s great. Or people like you and hide who pick up a guitar want to play music. But have you ever thought about dentists? Imagine deciding one day that your life’s work is to spend all day looking at people’s disgusting teeth. Yuck.”

“Or a proctologist,” Heath suggested.

“What do they do? Feet?”

“Butts.”

Noriko burst out laughing, and Heath chuckled too. “Barkeep, can I get another scotch? Noriko, anything for you?”

“Oh!” Noriko gave her empty glass a little shake and the ice cubes rattled. “Um, I’ll have mojito, please.”

While she chatted on, Heath swallowed the nervous lump in his throat. Although she was nice and pretty in her own offbeat way, Noriko far from his type, but right now, perhaps against his better judgment, he was determined to dive into this dating thing head-first. “This might seem like a weird question, but do you want to take this somewhere else later?”

A little flicker of surprise crossed Noriko’s face, but she nodded and smiled. “Sure. My place or yours?”

 

***

 

Heath woke up with his legs tangled in the sheets and a thick, fuzzy headache, like his head was full of TV static. He often slept poorly in an unfamiliar bed, and a night of drinking hadn’t been kind on his rest either. The curtains were drawn but the summer heat baked right through the thin walls, making the room warm and stuffy. Noriko’s clothes were strewn all about the place: bras and t-shirts hanging on hooks behind the door, skirts and cardigans draped over furniture, jeans and socks carelessly discarded in little piles on the floor here and there. There were a few shoes as well but as his gaze roamed about the room, not one of them appeared to have a partner that he could see. Both Heath and his brother had grown up very neat and tidy, something for which their mother was eternally grateful, and somehow seeing a girl’s room in such disarray was a little bit of a surprise.

A flash of movement caught his eye and a small tortoiseshell cat crawled out from under the bed. He reached down and the cat butted her head against his hand and purred when he scratched her ears.

“Oh, I see you’ve met Marron.” Noriko appeared at the door wearing an oversized t-shirt that was almost slipping off one shoulder and the hem just about reached her knees. She held a steaming mug in each hand. “She loves people. Here you go, hun. Have some tea.”

The nightstand was cluttered as well, an array of rings and bangles and mismatched earrings, Chapsticks with missing lids, novelty lighters, an empty glass with lipstick stains on the rim, last night’s condom wrappers, and what looked like a box of birth control pills. Noriko set one of the mugs down on top of a stack of dog-eared books: Nabakov, Rice, Réage, Murakami. She perched on the end of the bed with her legs crossed, the huge t-shirt she wore riding up her bare thighs.

“Thanks,” Heath said in a hoarse, dry voice, propping himself up on one elbow.

“Sorry about the mess, by the way. I just hate being the only person here who cooks and cleans and pays all the bills.” She paused to take a sip of her tea. “I live alone, but still.”

Heath laughed and she looked glad to have helped him relax in a potentially awkward situation. “This reminds me of the time I woke up hungover in hide’s bed. He forced me to go drinking all night, the day before I auditioned for X. We were properly fucked up the next day.”

“Didn’t fuck him as well, did you?” Noriko asked, giggling.

Heath laughed a little uncomfortably. “Oh god no. Even if we wanted to—and that’s a big if—I’d be surprised if either of us could get it up when we were that drunk.”

“Well, I’m glad you weren’t too drunk for it last night.” Noriko smirked into her tea.

Heath sat up and cupped his drink in both hands, relishing the comforting heat of steam on his face and the gentle floral fragrance of jasmine tea. He cleared his throat. “Hey, um, Noriko. Where do you see… erm, this… going?”

Noriko stopped in the middle of sipping at her tea. “Well… this was all just a bit of fun, right? Wasn’t that what we talked about? No pressure?”

“Oh, good,” he said, relieved. “I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with you but…” Heath shrugged feebly and she held up a hand in his face.

“Look, Heath. You don’t need to give me the old ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ talk. You’re nice and a great lay, but I don’t think either of us were looking for anything serious here, were we? I’m not looking to commit to a steady relationship, and you… you’re not looking for a relationship either.” She took another sip of tea and cast a shrewd, sidelong glance at him. “Leastways, not with me.”

A tangle of incoherent, half-finished thoughts ran through Heath’s mind like peak hour commuters rushing to and fro, all talking over one another and occasionally colliding, and it was a few seconds before any words would register in his brain. “What…?”

“Oh hun, it doesn’t take an actor to tell when people are acting… or rather, when they’re trying to act.” She gave him another one of those small, knowing smiles. “I wasn’t even going to suggest going back to anyone’s place until you brought it up. You were pretty eager. Maybe too eager. Like you were trying to forget someone?”

Noriko dangled the question in front of him and when he didn’t do or say anything to deny this, she nodded.

“Thought so. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset or offended or anything. In fact, if you wanna hook up again, I’d be interested to see what else you can do with that mouth of yours.” She smirked again. “Your mother would be so ashamed.”

Heath was so astonished by this that he choked on his tea and his ears turned deep red.

Noriko laughed. “Oh my god, hide was so right about you.”

“hide? Right? About what?” Heath blurted out, coughing and spluttering.

“He told me that you are a lot of fun to tease, and just look at you,” she chuckled. “How can you be such a hottie in the sheets but then turn into such a cute, shy little boy the morning after? I just wanna pinch you to make sure you’re real.”

Heath just cleared his throat and tried to hide his face in his cup of tea. “You… you were great, too,” he mumbled.

Noriko grinned at the compliment and tucked a lock of her pink and blonde hair behind her ear. “I am a professional.”



She let him take his time getting himself tidied up and apologised again for the mess. He edged around her as she moved about picking up armfuls of clothes from the floor and the furniture, dumping it all into a now overflowing laundry hamper. Despite having slept together last night, he felt oddly self-conscious about being nude in front of her. After he’d showered, she took one look at him standing there, blushing and clutching a towel around his body; she smiled and scooped up her cat, and left the room to give him some privacy.

Once he was dressed, Noriko offered him some breakfast but he politely declined.

“I really should be getting home,” he said, fetching his shoes from opposite corners of the living room. “My dog’s going to be hungry and she’ll need her walk as well, or she’ll go nuts.”

“Fair enough,” she said, walking him to the door. “Well, take care. And I meant what I said before. If you’re feeling lonely and can’t get your mystery sweetheart off your mind, call me. No strings attached.”

 

***

 

The morning of an otherwise unremarkable December day dawned bright and pleasantly mild for the middle of winter. They’d enjoyed a long summer that had stretched well into September: long days with the sun melting over the horizon, huge and orange and hazy; cold drinks over ice in tall glasses frosted with condensation; cicadas hidden in the grass and trees, chirping and droning all afternoon until well after the sun had set. Now the trees were all bare, having shed the last of their brown and yellow leaves and all around the city, little camellia buds were beginning to appear in white and red and shades of pink against a background of deep, glossy green.

Heath had been up since a little before sunrise, enjoying the peacefulness of the morning before anybody else was awake. Qoo was out of bed, too, and together they enjoyed an early breakfast—eggs, toast and some fruit for Heath, and some kibble and a corner of toast for Qoo—and he changed into a t-shirt and shorts and grabbed the leash to go for a run. It was chilly but they would warm up once they got going. He enjoyed activities like cooking and cleaning and going out for a run with his dog. These seemingly insignificant and sometimes mundane activities helped to keep him grounded and his mind fresh, a welcome break from rehearsals and photoshoots and interviews in magazines and on TV. Qoo was full of energy and raring to go; had she been a much bigger dog, she could probably have dragged him down the street. They covered three or four blocks at a brisk jog, her stumpy little legs racing alongside Heath’s much longer stride until he slowed down to a more sedate pace, the leash hanging slack between them, the little dog panting loudly with her long pink tongue hanging out from the side of her mouth like she was smiling, her eyes bright and alert. Occasionally she would stop to pee, or to sniff a tree or a shrub. Heath let her take her time. There was hardly anybody out at this hour. They had passed an old man with his shaggy old mutt about a block back, both ambling along very slowly, as comfortable together as an old pair of slippers.

Heath and Qoo stopped to rest at a park bench and he leaned back and looked up at the sky. The line of gingko trees behind them were dressed in brilliant yellow foliage but soon their branches would be bare, too. At the end of the leash, Qoo was in the grass, sniffing around, snacking on the slender green blades. It was noticeably cooler sitting in the shade, and Heath took a moment to enjoy the peace and quiet.

Over the past few months, he and Noriko had hooked up every so often in much the same way as they had the first time: going for a couple of drinks, having a casual conversation, then going back to either her apartment or his to enjoy a good fuck and leaving with the knowledge that there would be no further obligations afterwards. There was no romance involved; it was purely physical. He knew that she sometimes slept with other men as well but she was honest about it, and she was very conscientious about birth control and condoms. It was embarrassing at first until Noriko patiently explained to him that they were just friends and consenting adults having some adult fun. In any case, having a semi-regular physical relationship seemed to take care of those wet dreams.

A nearby cough caught his attention and Heath looked up; it was the old man and his shaggy mutt, having caught up while he sat in the dappled shade. He looked back down again where Qoo was sniffing at something very intently.

“Qoo, NO!” He leapt up and yanked at the leash but it was too late. She had already rolled in what looked like the remains of a pigeon carcass.



“Stop being such a baby!” Heath was bent over the laundry sink, covered in flecks and streaks of soap from his arms to his chin while Qoo cried and whined and struggled, unable to grasp why she was being punished so cruelly. With her fur completely soaked, she looked like a very long, skinny drowned rat. She tried to scrabble out of the laundry sink with her short legs but the stainless steel sides were too high and too smooth. That didn’t stop her from wriggling around and howling though, and once he’d given her a good shampooing, she became as slippery as an eel.

“It’s your own fault!” he scolded her. “Quit your whining, it’s almost—argh!” he yelled when she gave herself a hard shake, spraying water and foam everywhere.

After he had rubbed her dry with a towel and set her down on the floor, she gave him a sullen look with her head hung low and her tail down as though he’d seriously hurt her feelings. With one last shake all over, she slunk away to hide under the bed and pout. He sighed and headed to the bathroom to strip off and wash away the sweat from this morning’s run and that musky ‘wet dog’ smell.

He had just emerged from the bathroom in a fresh t-shirt and jeans when the phone rang.

“Hello, this is Morie.”

“Hey, Legs! It’s Noriko. Sorry I couldn’t hang out yesterday, I was with someone.”

Heath grinned at the nickname. “That’s okay. I thought you might be busy.”

“So, did you want to hook up tonight?” Noriko asked. Her bluntness had taken some getting used to at first, but at least this way there was no room for misunderstandings. With Noriko, it was just sex and casual companionship, nothing more.

“Yeah, if you’re free. If you’re not, that’s fine.”

“I get off work at six, so how about eight? And then we’ll go back to mine after?”

“Sounds good. Meet you at the same bar?”

“Yep. See you then, sweetie!”

He’d only just hung up and was about to fetch a snack from the fridge when the phone rang again. Was Noriko calling back?

“Hi. How’re you doing, stranger?”

It took a second for the voice to register and a slow smile spread across Heath’s face. “Oh. Sugizo. Hi.” Self-consciously, he started to comb out his hair with his fingers, still damp and messy from his shower. “Um, I’m fine. How have you been settling into the new place?”

“Mm, it’s okay. Kind of weird to be living here by myself. It’s so quiet. I think I miss having you and Qoo around. Is that weird?”

“No, that’s not weird. It’s just one of those things that takes getting used to.”

“I guess so,” Sugizo conceded. “I must have forgotten how to live on my own. It’s been years. It’s just nice to be able to come home and have someone to talk with and everything.”

Heath chuckled a little. “If it’s any consolation, I think Qoo misses you, too. She still goes into the spare room to look for you sometimes.”

“Aww. That’s so cute. Give her some ear scratches from Uncle Sugi, would you?”

“I will later. She’s mad at me.”

“She’s mad at you?” Sugizo laughed. “But she worships you. What on earth did you do to piss her off?”

“I gave her a bath.”

“Oh no!”

“Yeah.” Heath stretched out on the couch and let out a long sigh. “She found a dead bird at the park and rolled in it. You’d think she was being boiled alive with the way she was crying and carrying on. I thought for sure that someone would call the police.” He peered into the bedroom where the little dachshund was still sulking under the bed. “She isn’t speaking to me right now.”

“Ah. Children!” Sugizo laughed. “I can see it now: the cops kicking down your door and finding some dude holding a soapy dog.”

“Great,” Heath said dryly. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I saw you guys at the final Budokan show. It was amazing.”

“You did?” Sugizo sounded delighted. “You should have told me! I’d have gotten you a VIP ticket.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m happy to support the band.”

“In that case, what if I were to buy you a meal? It’s been a while since we hung out, so…”

Hearing this, Heath sat up straighter. “Uh, what did you have in mind?”

“Anything works for me. Dinner, drinks, coffee. How's that sweet tooth?”

Heath chuckled. “You know me too well.”

“Well, how about dinner and dessert? Are you busy tonight?”

“Actually I…” Heath hesitated. “Uh, yes, I’m free tonight.”

“Really? You’re not just saying that?”

Heath insisted that he wasn’t just saying that, and they arranged to meet at an izakaya in Shibuya. Sugizo said that he knew a great little café that they could go to for dessert and how could Heath say no to that?

He immediately called Noriko back to cancel, saying that something else had come up with a friend. That same cheerful voice had simply said, “Oh, that’s cool. Next time, then. Have fun!”

That was what he liked about their arrangement. There was never any illusion about the casual nature of their ‘relationship’; she was always open with him about anyone else she might be seeing and there was never any obligation to meet up if one of them didn’t feel like it. There was no asking what his plans were or who he was seeing, and nobody’s feelings were being hurt. When she said no strings attached, she meant it. And when she told him to have fun, she meant that too.

“I will,” he promised, and they hung up.

 

He and Sugizo ended up having so much fun chatting over dinner and dessert that they quite lost track of time and Heath found himself thinking about how much he missed having Sugizo around. It was always so easy with him. With most other people, even somebody as casual as Noriko, it helped to have a drink or two to loosen up. Whereas when he was with Sugizo, alcohol consumption was more like a side effect of having too much fun. It was getting late, though.

“We should do this more often,” Sugizo said.

Heath smiled. “Absolutely. Thanks for tonight. I guess I needed a night out more than I realised.”

“You’re welcome.” Sugizo smiled back warmly. “Good luck at Tokyo Dome. The guys and I will be in the audience. You’ll be great, I’m sure of it.”

 

Chapter Text

January 1994

 

Heath woke up on January 1st at 11am with Qoo licking his hand and whining.

Following the second night of X Japan Returns on New Year’s Eve, they had all gone drinking afterwards and all he could remember was crawling out of his taxi at 5am on New Year’s Day, dead tired and very drunk. He couldn’t even remember climbing the stairs and unlocking the front door, much less getting undressed without getting all tangled up in his own clothes. He’d even managed to sleep through Qoo’s usual morning whining for her breakfast. He desperately wanted to sleep some more but now that he was awake, he needed to pee and it wasn’t going to wait. Showering and brushing his teeth seemed like a good idea as well; he felt pretty gross all over. His head felt like a sack of wet sand perched on his shoulders and his gritty eyes were so blurry that he made his way through the apartment mostly by memory and by touch. His foggy brain seemed to be experiencing some kind of input lag as well, so it took a second for him to figure out what he’d stepped in on his way to the bathroom.

“Wha— oh Jesus!” he moaned. “Qoo!”

Sitting beside her food bowl in case he didn’t remember where her food was supposed to go, Qoo wagged her tail and waited patiently while he hobbled across the kitchen to fetch her breakfast and she dug in immediately while Heath cleaned up the sticky, smelly mess on the floor, grumbling under his breath. “You are not getting a treat today, young lady.”

 

What a way to start the year: being hungover and stepping in warm dog shit. Heath couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of the year might bring. He actually felt like crawling back into bed and trying again tomorrow.

 

After joining Sugizo for dinner and drinks last November, Heath had spent a lot of time thinking of him. It had been so comfortable to sit there enjoying a casual meal and good conversation and he would find any excuse to call Sugizo for a chat, and if Sugizo called, they would talk for ages. Heath did not have any sisters but as a teenager, their cousin Koji had spent the summer with their family in Amagasaki and he’d spend hours on the phone with his girlfriend. At the time, 11-year old Heath always wondered how someone could spend so much time talking about absolutely nothing instead of going out and riding their bikes down to the beach. Now he was beginning to understand: it wasn’t so much what was being said, it was the person with whom the conversation was being held.

His more outgoing brother Tetsuya had had a revolving door of girlfriends all throughout highschool before meeting Kumiko and settling down for domestic family life, but in his whole life, Heath had asked maybe three people out, ever. On top of that, he had never actually asked a guy out before, either. So when Yoshiki called one day to offload a pair of Mötley Crüe tickets, Heath jumped at the opportunity.

“Great! I’ll get my assistant to courier them over to you today.” Yoshiki’s voice sounded very far away, like he was on speakerphone.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.” Heath suddenly felt very nervous and jittery.

“No, I told you, Metallica can go fuck themselves!”

Heath blinked. “Um, pardon?”

“Sorry, not you. I was talking to my assistant.”

“Oh. So, what do I owe you for the tickets?”

Yoshiki just scoffed. “Nothing! I helped a friend get their kid into a good school and they sent me these tickets as a thank you. I’m heading back to LA so I can’t use them. I’m just glad the tickets aren’t going to waste.”

“Oh. What are you doing over there?”

“Gonna buy a recording studio.”

“A what?”

“I’m going to buy a recording studio in LA!” Yoshiki repeated. “Look, I gotta go. I’m late for a meeting. Enjoy the show.” He hung up.

 

Heath stood there for a moment to let the news sink in, and then he picked up the phone again and dialled. “Hey, it’s Heath. Yeah, not bad. Listen, you like Mötley Crüe, right?”

 

***

 

“I am so fucking happy, I could kiss you!” Sugizo seized him in a bear hug and couldn’t stop grinning.

Heath laughed. “I’m just glad that someone could use that second ticket. Pata’s out of town and I asked hide but he had tickets already.” This last part was only half-true; hide did have tickets for tonight’s show, but Heath had known about that for some time.

“You’ve answered my prayers. How did you manage to get tickets this late? The show’s been sold out for months!”

“Someone gave them to Yoshiki but he couldn’t make it, so he offered them to me.” Heath bit his lip to try and suppress a smile. This was going even better than he had hoped.

“See, that is the mark of a good friend,” Sugizo said loudly. “Unlike some people.”

“Whoa, my ears are burning. I think someone’s talking about me.”

Heath followed his gaze to see a slightly chagrined Tezya approaching through the loose throng of concert goers with a plastic cup of in-house beer.

“Oh, did you think that that was directed at you?” Sugizo sniffed. “I wonder why that could be?”

“I told you,” Tezya said with an exasperated sigh. “My friend was lining up for tickets and he only got me one instead of the two I asked for. By the time I got down to the box office, they were sold out. I said I was sorry!”

“A likely story!”

“Aw c’mon, man!”

Sugizo took Heath by the shoulder, turning his back to Tezya. “Let’s go, Heath.”

 

Thankfully Tezya’s own ticket had him seated in a different section of Budokan but as the crowd slowly filtered back outside after the show, they caught up to him again and started shouting something about going out for drinks. Heath’s heart sank. This wasn’t how it was meant to go. He had only wanted to spend some time with Sugizo and now he was stuck feeling like a goddamn third wheel, and this wasn’t even a date.

“You’re coming too, right, Heath?” Tezya asked.

Heath was about to say no when a familiar figure in huge dark glasses and a slightly oversized red newsboy cap sprinted right at them, and hide fairly leapt upon Heath’s shoulders. “How good was that!”

“Hey!” Sugizo greeted him with open arms. “The three of us were about to go for drinks. Wanna come?”

“I’d be crazy to say no to that, right?”

Heath sighed.

 

***

 

Noriko tucked her change into her purse and stopped. “Hey. Heath.”

“Hm? What?”

She waved a hand in his face. “Are you okay?”

“Sorry. Just distracted.”

“If you’re not feeling up for it, that’s okay, you know,” she reminded him.

“I know. Sorry. I was hoping tonight would help get my mind off something.” He shrugged and kept his gaze trained on the ground. “Maybe I shouldn’t have called you out. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, look,” she said with a light laugh. “We don’t have to do stuff every time. We can be just a couple of pals and talk about things.”

Not quite knowing what to do with himself, Heath followed Noriko to a park bench where he lit up a cigarette and offered her one. She accepted with a small nod.

“Something the matter?” she asked gently.

Heath took a very long, slow drag of his cigarette, letting the smoke drift away in the chilly February air. “I think… that this isn’t working for me anymore.”

Noriko blinked at him. “Oh. It’s not me, is it?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“Oh, well that’s a relief. If I’m getting boring in bed, I’d be out of a job!”

He chuckled lightly. “It’s been fun and y-you're great but... it doesn’t feel right anymore.”

She glanced at him sideways. “Did you meet someone, then?”

“Not exactly.”

“That mystery sweetheart of yours?”

He hesitated and then shrugged again.

“Well.” Noriko tapped the ash off the end of her cigarette. “Someone always meets someone else eventually. Chasing something more meaningful.”

Heath let his cigarette burn and watched a steady stream of people crossing the street when the lights turned green. “Did you?”

“Want something more meaningful, you mean?”

“Mm.”

“I did, once. With an older man, actually. It was almost enough to make me give up acting and dancing and get a job-job.” She fell silent for a moment, just watching people as they walked to and fro. “Six months in, I saw him at a restaurant with his wife and eight-year old kid.”

“Shit. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I threw his drink in his face right in front of everyone. I hope his wife divorced him,” she said smugly. “I stopped looking for meaningful after that. Makes things a whole lot easier.”

Heath sighed. “I’m so sorry.”

“Would you stop apologising already? Him being a lying twat had nothing to do with you. You are perfectly lovely but I think we both knew this wouldn’t last. Not a lot of people get to experience a ‘relationship’ that’s purely physical but eventually…” Noriko shrugged. “I get it. Besides, now I can stop trying to clean my place before you come over. I know you hate the mess.”

This brought on another round of laughter and Heath snuffed out his cigarette. “Well. I suppose I’ll let you get on with your evening.” He got to his feet. “I’m really sorry.”

Noriko gave him a friendly little punch in the arm. “It’s fine! Or do you want me to pretend that you’ve broken my heart, too?”

“God no, that would make me feel awful.”

“Then take this—” here Noriko extended a hand and he shook it, “—and good luck. If you want to hang out just to hang out, you know where to find me.”

Heath smiled and stooped down to hug her. “Thank you. Take care.”

“You too, Heath.”

 

***

 

1994 would be a quiet year for X Japan. Each member would be concentrating on their solo work and as a band they would only release one single this year but Yoshiki scheduled two back to back shows at Tokyo Dome to close out the year, Aoi Yoru and Shiroi Yoru, and just like last year they’d each get their own solos during the three-hour set.

“What did you have in mind?” Heath asked Yoshiki over the phone one afternoon.

“Absolutely anything you want.”

“Is there a theme you’re going for, or—”

“I told you, anything. I’ve allocated fifteen minutes for you, so be creative.” There was a pause, and Heath could hear Yoshiki’s muffled voice speaking to someone else in the background. He was spending a lot more time in LA these days after having bought One On One Recording and turning it into Extasy Recording Studios. “Tell you what, you know that Phantom of the Opera thing you did for last year’s solo? The crowd fucking wet themselves over that.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“What do you mean? Of course that’s a good thing!”

Heath chewed on his lip contemplatively. “I don’t want to do exactly the same thing but maybe I can get some props, or maybe if I were the Phantom…”

“That is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s visual kei: be visual!” Yoshiki sighed and shifted in his seat, making his chair squeak. “Heath, you’re good. If you can handle Art of Life, you can handle anything and you’ve got a lot going for you. You’re the mysterious quiet one: don’t be afraid to show yourself off.”

Heath had laughed at that; it was true that he was still shy about being onstage without the rest of the band to share the limelight. He didn’t possess the kind of attention-grabbing stage personality that the likes of Yoshiki, hide, Toshi or even his predecessor Taiji did. Like Pata, he preferred to let the music speak for him and it was something he’d brought up with hide once.

“Ah, it’s all an act,” hide had laughed, brushing off the compliment. “You want to know the truth? Everyone gets nervous about standing out there in front of thousands of people. The butterflies, the sweaty palms, the ‘fight or flight’ response. Everyone.”

“You and Yoshiki never get nervous,” Heath had argued.

“I used to get nervous,” hide said. “But if you’re talking about Yoshiki, he’s just learned to hide it really well. When he’s not at the drums or the piano, you can tell he’s nervous as fuck. Watch out for it next time. When he’s nervous, he laughs and touches his hair a lot. Fake it till you make it, kiddo.”

 

He was still mulling over this at home a couple of days later when the phone rang.

“Hello, this is Morie.”

“Good afternoon, Mr Morie,” said a deep voice. “This is your neighbour. I have a noise complaint.”

Heath stalled. “I’m sorry?” he blurted out.

“Lately some of us have noticed some strange er, screams late at night and it seems to be coming from your apartment. Do you know anything about this?”

Screams? “Um, no? I mean, I like to watch horror movies now and then, but I try to keep the volume down. I’m sorry if I—”

The other person sniggered. “Damn it!”

“Is this hide?” Heath asked suspiciously.

“No, but it’s the kind of thing he might do, isn’t it?”

“Oh geez Sugizo, you freaked me out!”

“Admit it, you thought it was funny.”

“Ha ha,” Heath said dryly, but he was grinning. “What’s up?”

“Well, I called and left a message the other day but you never called back, so…”

“Oh god. No, I’m not ignoring you. I’m so sorry. I’ve just been kinda busy lately. Got a lot on my mind.”

“Anything serious?”

“Well…” Heath hesitated.

I’ve recently broken up with my friend-with-benefits, I have a 15-minute bass solo to fill at the end of the year, and I might just have a big crush on you?

“Uh, no. Not really,” he finished.

“Is it something that a night of karaoke would cure?”

Heath laughed. “Karaoke? Are you serious?”

“Aw, don’t laugh!” Sugizo sounded like he was pouting. “Nobody wants to go with me and I don’t want to be that loser who goes to karaoke alone. Everyone else laughed at me, too.”

“I’m sorry,” Heath chuckled. “I just didn’t expect that from you. Actually there’s a new karaoke bar that’s opened up near my place that looks interesting. Do you want to check it out?”

“Really? Are you sure you’re not just saying that?”

“Of course not! I walked past them last week and they look like they have a pretty good food and drinks menu, so I’m game if you are.”

“You are on!” Sugizo declared. “If you’re free tomorrow night, want to meet at Shimokita Station at, say… 7pm?”

“Sure! See you then.”

 

***

 

Shimokitazawa Station, eleven minutes before 7pm. The May evening was mild and bustling with activity and indistinct chatter, mostly from young people and couples out enjoying the end of spring. Boisterous middle-aged tourists in polo shirts and cargo shorts shouted at each other cheerfully in accented English—British, Australian, American—many of them wearing bulky cameras around their necks and stopping every so often to pose for pictures and making a nuisance of themselves. Bars and izakayas buzzed, full of rowdy patrons enjoying cold drinks and grilled meat, chattering and laughing at each others’ stories.

Some fifteen or twenty minutes later, he spotted Sugizo amongst the crowd and waved, almost shouting his name out loud. Through the undulating mass of people rushing to and fro, they locked eyes and Sugizo waved back and hurried through the evening crowd.

“Have you been waiting long?”

Heath shook his head, smiling. “No, I just got here myself.”

“Oh, good. I missed my train and had to wait for the next one, and I was afraid I’d keep you waiting.” Sugizo slung an arm about Heath’s shoulders. “Are you ready for karaoke?”



Close to three hours later Sugizo was sprawled across the sofa trying not to laugh whilst Heath sang Don’t Stop Believin’ into an empty Coke bottle. The potato salad here was pretty average but the gyoza and karaage were very tasty, and they enjoyed bottomless drinks in between each song. They had started off sedately enough with a few songs on the moderate side of things—November Rain, Beth, Imagine, Hotel California—but after they were both a few drinks deep they had moved into Highway to Hell, Summer of ‘69, You Should Be Dancing and singing themselves hoarse.

The last few bars of the song faded out and Heath sat back down again and offered Sugizo the ‘mic’, but he shook his head. “I gotta take a leak.”

“Oh.” Heath waved him away. “Have fun!”

“I sure will,” Sugizo said with a cheeky smile.

Heath took a gulp of his Coke and rum and pushed the glass aside. Without their own music playing, he could hear their neighbours very faintly through the walls as he leafed through the song book, looking for something fun when the phone mounted on the wall rang and lit up in the dark room.

“Good evening, sir,” said a polite female voice. It was one of the staff down at the front desk. “You have fifteen minutes left in your room. Would you like to purchase another hour?”

Heath squinted at his watch. “No, thank you. We’ll be down shortly.” He hung up.

The door creaked open and Sugizo poked his head inside. “What was that?”

“Front desk just called to say our time’s just about up, but before we go I have the perfect song cued up for you.” Heath held a microphone out to him, grinning mischievously. “If you’re man enough for it.”

 

I was beat, incomplete. I was sad and blue but you made me feel, yeah you made me feel… shiny and new!

With one hand on his hip, Sugizo flounced back and forth in front of the TV set as he sang, tossing his hair while Heath tried to choke down his drink in between splutters of laughter.

Like a virgin… touched for the very first time! Like a virgin, when your heart beats next to mine!



At the end of the night, they paid for their extended karaoke session and the cold night air blasted in as soon as the glass automatic doors slid open with a smooth electric hum. They stopped and stared. The temperature had plummeted while they were inside their karaoke room and it was raining steadily, and the cheerfully relaxed population they’d seen meandering about earlier in the evening had been replaced by a sterner cast armed with pointy-looking umbrellas. There was no wandering and there were no detours to stop and look at this or that; they were all marching from A to B about with an air of stony determination. Every now and then the uniform pace was broken by a few individuals running through the downpour, uselessly holding a bag or a briefcase over their heads as though it might actually help to keep the rain off. Heath and Sugizo were both without umbrellas so they scurried down the street like panicked mice, shallow puddles of rain splashing beneath their shoes, and they found cover beneath the awning of a Family Mart.

“Wellp,” Heath remarked, peering up at the sky. “You took the train here, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. You?”

“Same.”

“I hate getting rained on. It ruins my hair.” Sugizo peered through the glass where he saw a lone umbrella still hanging on the rack inside. “We could share an umbrella,” he said dubiously.

Heath looked at the sky again. The rain was coming down in a steady patter, twinkling like glitter in the glow of the streetlights. “Um. You know, if we catch a taxi, my place is only maybe five minutes’ drive away. If you want to wait out the storm.”



The chill had crawled deep inside their bones by the time the taxi pulled up outside Heath’s apartment building and still it rained. Sugizo grumbled about his hair while Heath fumbled to unlock the door with cold, slippery hands. Qoo was still awake and ready to greet them at the door, jumping at Sugizo as soon as she saw him, wagging her tail furiously and scampering about his feet, as quick and agile as a ferret.

“Hey, sweetie,” he crooned, crouching down to scratch her ears as she jumped up and made excited sneezing noises. “Have you rolled in any more corpses lately?”

Heath snorted.

“I think my feet are the driest part of me right now.” Sugizo had to work to remove his Dr Martens with Qoo climbing all over him and he placed his shoes neatly by the door. “Fuck, I’m fr-r-eezing.”

Heath was shivering too, but when he switched the lights on and saw the way Sugizo’s t-shirt was clinging to him, suddenly his face became uncomfortably warm. He looked away and cleared his throat. “Uh, have a seat if you want. I’ll get you something dry to change into.”

“Thanks! Even if it’s just a t-shirt that’d be awesome.” Sugizo gave a self-deprecating chuckle. “I don’t think I could fit into your pants.”

Heath escaped to the safety of his room with his face on fire, glad that he hadn’t managed to blurt out anything stupid about Sugizo getting into his pants. Somehow this was worse than the time he’d walked in on him in the bathroom and now he was standing at the dresser staring blankly at the wall, trying—unsuccessfully—not to picture the man naked.

“Heath!”

He almost jumped at the sound of his own name. “Y-yes?”

“Do you have a hairdryer I can borrow?”

“Oh, uh, yeah! Just a sec.” Desperately trying to will away his semi, Heath stripped off his own wet clothes and changed into something dry, retrieved the hairdryer and returned to the living room. “Here,” he said, handing a spare t-shirt to Sugizo and fixing his gaze on the floor. “Um. I hope it fits.”

“Ooh, David Bowie. Thank you. I’ll give this back to you the next time I see you.”

“It’s fine, no rush.” Heath turned away while Sugizo pulled his wet t-shirt over his head. He cleared his throat again. “Since you’re here, how do you feel about a quick one?”

Sugizo tugged at the bottom of the David Bowie shirt and his head popped out at the top. “Ye… I’m sorry?”

“A quick drink! Like a nightcap! A coffee or tea or… I mean it’s okay if you don’t want to, it was just a suggestion. Oh god, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean… I must sound like such an idiot…” he trailed off when Sugizo started laughing.

“No, it’s okay, I get what you’re saying,” he said with a wink. “A hot cup of tea sounds great. Thank you.”

Swearing under his breath, Heath fled to the kitchen and put the kettle on, brewing up two cups of tea. He placed one on the coaster in front of Sugizo and switched the TV on, not bothering to turn the volume up against the whine of the hairdryer. By the time his tea was cool enough to drink, Sugizo switched off the hairdryer and tapped his shoulder.

“Turn around.”

Heath blinked. “What?”

Sugizo held up the hairdryer and traced a circle in the air with his other hand. “Turn around.”

Slightly baffled, Heath turned in his seat with his back to Sugizo. There was a burst of warm air behind him and Sugizo began to carefully dry his hair. Hair stylists aside, he hadn’t had anyone dry his hair for him since he was a kid, and he remembered feeling so comfortable that he’d sometimes fall asleep while his mother ran her hands through his hair. Having Sugizo running his fingers through his hair was an entirely different feeling: a very nice, very pleasurable chill every time Sugizo’s fingers brushed against his scalp or his neck.

“You’ve got beautiful hair,” Sugizo said over the annoying whine of the hairdryer. “It’s so smooth and soft, not like mine. All that bleach and dye kind of fried it.”

And just like that, Sugizo gave his hair a gentle, playful tug. Heath froze all over and he had to bite his lip to stifle a whimper. Now he was hard. He had a fucking hard-on from having his hot friend play with his hair.

“Hey, um, I think that’ll do,” Heath said quickly, touching his hair and edging away.

“Are you sure? It’s still pretty damp—”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Heath mumbled.

And so Sugizo switched the hairdryer off and traded it for his tea. “Thanks again, by the way.”

“For what?” Heath asked, pulling a cushion over his lap as casually as he could.

“For humouring me and coming out to karaoke. For inviting me back here to wait out the rain. For letting me borrow this sweet Bowie top.” A small smile twitched at the corner of his lips. “For propositioning me.”

“I promise that wasn’t what—”

“I know, I know!”

Not knowing what to say, Heath picked up his cigarettes and lighter, and hastened out onto the balcony.

“Rain’s slowing down,” he murmured around his cigarette, flicking the lighter. The end of the cigarette flared in the dark and he blew out a puff of smoke into the air.

Behind him, Sugizo clasped his tea in both hands. “Um. Sorry if I went too far just now. I don’t know what it is, I just can’t resist teasing you sometimes.”

Heath could only manage a wan smile. He thought about Sugizo in that wet t-shirt. He thought about Sugizo’s fingers delicately threading through his hair and making him shiver. He thought about the way Sugizo had played with his hair and kissed his forehead while he slept and the countless little offhand comments that had been exchanged. Sugizo definitely enjoyed teasing him and Heath had hoped, perhaps foolishly, that he might have gotten over it after Sugizo moved out last year. Instead, his heart was doing cartwheels and backflips.

“Man, my throat feels all sore.” Sugizo took a sip of his tea. “I have no idea how Ryuichi and Toshi do it. Singing almost nonstop for two or three hours. I don’t think I’ll be able to speak tomorrow!”

“Mm,” Heath agreed.

Noticing how quiet Heath had become, Sugizo tried again. “Hey, listen um… seriously, thanks for hanging out with me tonight. It was a tonne of fun, wasn’t it?”

“Definitely.” Heath tapped the ash off his cigarette and attempted another smile.

“It’s getting late.” Sugizo shuffled about awkwardly. “Maybe I should get going.”

“Oh.” Heath held out a hand, palm up. He could still feel the tiny droplets of rain. “It’s still raining.”

“Yeah, it’s fine.” Sugizo smiled. “Don’t want to be keeping you and Qoo up all night.”

“It’s no bother at all,” Heath mumbled.

This prompted a soft smile from the guitarist. With his still-wet t-shirt draped over one shoulder, Sugizo bade Heath and Qoo a good night.

“Here, take this!” Heath seized an umbrella and pushed it into Sugizo’s arms. “Don’t want you getting soaked all over again on the way home.”

“Ah, thanks. I’d hate to ruin your t-shirt.” Sugizo turned to leave and hesitated for a second. “You know… I wouldn’t have said no.”

Heath looked at him blankly. “To what?”

Sugizo shook his head and smiled again. “Never mind. Good night, Heath.”

 

Chapter Text

August 1994

 

“Fuck!” Heath kicked the covers back and groaned through gritted teeth. These sex dreams were getting tiring. This time he had been with some random woman and then she’d flipped their positions and when he looked up, the person was now a man, his firm, leanly-muscled body moving over him, full, pouting lips in dark cherry red, long, deft fingers playing with his hair and pulling on it just hard enough to tease, and Heath moaned his name in his sleep and he felt so fucking good, almost ready to burst, up until the moment he woke up and opened his eyes and god he had been so fucking close and he shoved a hand down his boxers and jacked himself off until he finally reached his orgasm, breathless and almost crying with relief.

This was beyond frustrating, and hide definitely noticed when he took him out for lunch.

“Late night?” he asked.

“No. Didn’t sleep well.” What remained of Heath’s coffee had gone cold but he gulped it down all the same. Not that it was helping. This was his second coffee so far and instead of waking him up, it was starting to make him sort of jittery and irritable.

“Oh, ‘didn’t sleep well,’” hide said slyly. “Not staying up all night having lots of wild sex like a rock star, are you?”

Heath stared at his friend with raised eyebrows. “I beg your pardon?”

“You tell me. Noriko said you stopped seeing each other a while ago. Got yourself a new fuck buddy?”

“Oh my god.” Heath got up to leave but hide yanked him back down again.

“Hey, don’t be embarrassed! Nothing wrong with having casual sex.”

“I am not having casual… hookups!” Heath hissed, looking around furtively in case anyone else had overheard.

“Oh sure…”

“You don’t have to believe me. Besides, I don’t see you going out with anybody.”

“We’re not talking about me.” hide pointed a finger in his face. “Don’t try hiding it. I called you three times last Friday night and nobody picked up.”

“hide,” Heath sighed. “I was not ‘with’ anybody. I was just having a few drinks with Sugizo.”

hide stared at him with an expression of utter delight, mouth open, eyes twinkling with glee. “You went on a date with Sugizo and didn’t tell me?”

An uncomfortable warmth crept up Heath’s neck. “It wasn’t a date.” 

“Was anybody else there with you?”

“No, but—”

“Then it was a date.”

“hide—”

“How many times have you gone out together?”

“Tell me why two friends can’t just hang out together. Like, I dunno, right now?”

“Was Mötley Crüe supposed to be a date, too?”

By now, Heath’s face was burning and he was sure that hide could see it. “N-no!”

“Oh Heath.” hide looked up at him, shaking his head with the most patronising smile on his face. “You are the cutest thing ever. How did you survive in the wild before you met me?”

“Not going to pinch me, are you?” Heath said warily.

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”

“So tell me about this date!”

It wasn’t a date!

“Okay, your words then, whatever you want to call it! How long have you been not-dating Sugizo? He never mentioned anything to me.”

It was clear that nothing Heath could say would convince hide otherwise, so Heath did the best thing he could think of: changing the subject. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

hide looked down at the plastic bag resting on the seat beside him. “Oh, this? Just a little somethin’ somethin’ for Sugizo’s birthday.”

Heath wished he hadn’t asked.

“Cake and a bottle of wine. You’ve got to have cake for your birthday.” hide set the bag on the table and carefully lifted the cake box’s lid to reveal a marbled cheesecake with swirls of chocolate syrup decorating the top. The flimsy white box didn’t offer much protection from the heavy wine bottle and there were bits of icing and chocolate syrup stuck to the sides.

“I’ll be out of town tomorrow so I thought I’d wish him a happy birthday today.” hide cast a shrewd look at the bassist. “Say… you’re going out of town too, aren’t you? Wanna come with me and wish your old roomie a happy birthday?”

“Uh, no,” Heath said quickly. Had hide planned this whole thing? “It’s okay. I’ll give him a call later.”

“Have you seen his new place yet?” hide asked as though Heath hadn’t spoken.

“N—”

“Great, then you can come and help me carry this.”

 

hide was legendary amongst their social circle for being able to persuade people to do things with him. These adventures often involved the consumption of stupefying amounts of alcohol and people would always come out of these benders feeling just terrible and cursing his name, yet they somehow rarely managed to avoid joining in the next time hide needed a drinking partner. On this particular occasion, however, Heath found himself on a train sitting next to hide, holding a slightly dented cake box on his lap, wondering how the hell this had happened. He distinctly remembered saying ‘no’ several times and even started walking away at one point, and now Heath was following him onto the goddamn train platform holding a cake.

“How do you not know it’s his birthday when you’re dating him?”

Heath groaned. “I’ve told you like fifty times: WE AREN’T DATING.”

“You know, the more you deny it, the less I’m inclined to believe you. You’re always going on about Sugizo this and Sugizo that.”

“I do not!”

“Didn’t you say he’s kissed you as well?”

“Not on the lips.”

“But he’s kissed you.”

“He kisses everybody! He’s a big flirt!”

“No he doesn’t.”

“He does too. I saw him lay a big wet smacker on Pata once!”

hide just shrugged and gave him an annoyingly smug smile.

Heath sighed. “I am never going to tell you anything ever again.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll shut up. I can take a hint. Geez, you’re so touchy.” hide eyed his friend reproachfully. “I don’t even understand what the big deal is. I think you two are a really cute couple.”

Heath just stared up at the ceiling of the train and sank lower in his seat. Mercifully, the rest of the journey to Sugizo’s place was made in silence. hide produced a Walkman from his bag and offered one of the earphones to Heath, and the train clattered and lurched along its route to a soundtrack of the Sex Pistols.

 

***

 

Sugizo had just sat down for a fresh cup of tea when he heard a knock at the door. He frowned, eyeing the door suspiciously; he wasn’t expecting any visitors or parcel deliveries. Setting his tea aside, he got back up again to open the door.

“Happy birthday!”

He found himself accosted by the ever-effervescent hide, almost knocking him to the ground. “What the… hide?” Sugizo stumbled backwards and braced himself against the wall.

“Heath and I thought we’d surprise you!”

Sugizo blinked. “Heath?”

“Hey,” Heath said, waving shyly. “Happy birthday.”

“This is from us,” hide added, pressing the bottle of wine into Sugizo’s hand, followed by the crumpled cake box.

“Ooh, thank you.” Sugizo carefully set these gifts on the counter. “Come in, we’ll have a glass…”

“Oh, no, I’d love to but I can’t stay,” hide interrupted.

“What?” Heath blurted out. “But you—”

“Yeah, Yocchan said he needed my help with something.” hide affected a casual shrug. “You know how he can be. Sometimes I don’t know how he survives without me.”

“But hide—”

“You guys enjoy the wine and cake for me, okay?” hide said, and leaning in close to Heath he whispered, “Don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya,” and pushed him inside.

“What? Wait—!”

With that, hide pulled the door closed and disappeared, leaving Heath and Sugizo standing there staring at each other in utter bewilderment.

“What the fuck just happened?”

“I have no idea!”

The two of them laughed and Sugizo motioned for Heath to follow him. “Since you’re here, welcome to my humble abode. You haven’t been here before, have you?”

“No, first time. It’s nice.” Heath looked around. “It seems like a pretty good area to live in, too.”

“It’s okay.” Sugizo shrugged as he retrieved two wine glasses and poured. “Not as nice as your place in Shimokita but hey, I needed a place of my own. Maybe someday I’ll move there, too.”

“Why didn’t you tell me your birthday was coming up?” Heath asked while he watched Sugizo trying to peel open the cake box without damaging the cake any further.

Sugizo shrugged again. “I dunno. I didn’t want you to think you had to get me something.”

“Are you going to do something to celebrate?”

“Yeah, the lads and I have dinner plans this weekend. Just something really small and low-key; mid-week was too hard to organise. Ah, here we go.” Sugizo carefully folded the box’s lid back. Chunks of cake were stuck to the sides of the box from being battered in a bag with a bottle of wine but it would still be edible. “Looks tasty. Maybe we’ll have this later.”

Heath nodded and followed Sugizo to the living room. “How are the other guys, by the way?”

“Good. Really good.” Sugizo set down his wine glass and folded his hands in his lap. “We’ve already started bouncing ideas for our next album. Oh, did you know? Ryuichi started seeing someone a few months ago. Maki somebody. We haven’t met her yet but she sounds nice. She’s a singer, too.”

 

They chatted comfortably long into the afternoon and it was just like old times, when they would sit in the living room together with a couple of drinks and the TV on and Qoo curled up by their feet. The shadows in the room grew longer and longer, and it wasn’t until Sugizo got up to fetch a glass of water that he took his first proper look out the window.

“Wow, when did it get so late? It’s getting dark outside.”

“Really? Time flies—”

“I was just about to say that!” Sugizo looked over his shoulder back at Heath, who was emptying the last few drops of wine into their glasses. “Say… if you don’t have any plans tonight, do you feel like staying for dinner?”

Heath bit his lip shyly. “That sounds nice.”

Dinner was delivered by a local ramen shop just a couple of blocks down the road that had quickly become a favourite since Sugizo had moved into his new apartment a year ago. They became quiet then, as though they were shrouded in an awkward sort of silence and the only sounds between them were the slurping of noodles and the noise from the television. Then the cake was brought out and Heath helped Sugizo put the kettle on for some tea.

“This is really good,” Heath murmured, washing down some cheesecake with some hot tea.

“Yeah. hide chose well.” Sugizo set his empty plate down on the coffee table beside his own cup of tea. He leaned back in his seat, resting his arm along the top of the sofa, and Heath froze when something started tickling his neck. Sugizo was playing with his hair again and he didn’t dare look in case Sugizo might stop.

“You know,” Sugizo began. “I’m really glad Ryuichi’s seeing someone new.”

Not knowing what to say, Heath made a noncommittal noise.

Sugizo cleared his throat. “I’ve um… also kind of been interested in someone lately. They’ve been on my mind a lot for… a while.”

Heath’s heart sank. When he gulped nervously, it sounded incredibly loud in his ears. He hoped Sugizo hadn’t heard.

“Really sweet person. Beautiful, too. Tall, cute smile, pretty eyes. Possibly the best set of legs I’ve ever seen. I just can’t imagine how this one hasn’t been snapped up yet.”

“Oh,” Heath mumbled. He felt sick, like he was being suffocated. Now he was really starting to hate the way that Sugizo was playing with his hair while talking about this person who was meant to be so fucking amazing and gorgeous and perfect, and he scrambled to think of an excuse to leave.

“We met by accident a while back and became friends,” Sugizo went on. “Whenever I had relationship trouble, this friend was always there to lend an ear and then when that relationship ended, they even gave me a place to stay. When I was sick, this friend nursed me back to health. Since I moved here, I find myself thinking about him all the time and I keep looking for excuses to see him.”

Heath stared at him with his mouth open, stunned, but Sugizo kept his gaze on the TV.

“It’s been kind of tricky figuring out how this friend feels about me but when we got rained on and I helped my friend dry his hair…” Sugizo bit his lip to hide a smile. “I’m pretty sure he got an erection.”

“You knew about that?!”

Sugizo cleared his throat again and pursed his lips in a barely-concealed grin. “It was kind of obvious when you tried to hide it with the cushion. If it makes you feel better, I thought it was really hot.”

“Fucking hell.” Heath’s face burned. He wanted to sink through the floor.

“So um…” Sugizo laughed awkwardly, taking his hand away. “I guess now you’re supposed to tell me that I’ve completely humiliated myself and that you think I’m a delusional moron and—”

“You know,” Heath said very quietly.

“Yes?”

Still avoiding his gaze, Heath took a deep breath. “You know when you kissed me on the forehead when I was asleep?”

The guitarist exhaled softly. “You were awake.”

“Yeah. I… I really liked that.”

“Oh.” Sugizo moved closer to him on the sofa. “Would it be okay if I did it again?”

Shyly biting his lip, Heath finally raised his gaze to meet Sugizo’s and he nodded. His skin tingled pleasantly when Sugizo pressed his lips to his forehead in the softest little kiss just like the one more than a year ago, but he didn’t stop there; Sugizo kissed his forehead, his temple, his cheek, the line of his jaw and Heath couldn’t contain a breathless whimper when he kissed him on the lips, one hand cradling the back of his head, Sugizo’s other hand cupping the side of his face. Heath’s own hands clung to the front of Sugizo’s t-shirt as though he might keel over if he didn’t hold onto something, and when the guitarist’s tongue began to explore his mouth tentatively, he dared to do the same, earning him a sweet moan from Sugizo and the hand in his hair tightened. Suddenly overwhelmed, Heath broke away to catch his breath.

“What’s wrong?” Sugizo murmured.

Heath turned away again. “Just… weird.”

“Weird?”

“I… never thought this would ever happen.”

“Maybe you’re thinking too much.”

Despite his uncertainty, he let Sugizo lean in and kiss him again and this time he felt a little bit bolder, tangling his own hands in Sugizo’s hair, kissing passionately, drawing deeper and deeper moans from each other until he was practically in Sugizo’s lap.

This time it was Sugizo’s turn to end the kiss.

“Fuck,” he laughed breathlessly. “This is usually the part where I wake up.”

They snuggled up on the sofa, the movie playing on the television forgotten and their tea going cold while they shared the sweetest little kisses, both of them nervously elated with this new development.

“I could stay like this forever,” Heath murmured between kisses. 

“Mm, I certainly hope not,” Sugizo said with a wicked smile. “You look amazing in a wet t-shirt but I haven’t seen you naked yet.”

Heath laughed and snuggled back into the guitarist’s arms, shivering when those fingers started threading through his hair again.

“I’m going away tomorrow,” he said wistfully.

“Where are you going?”

“Back home. I’ll be spending two weeks in Amagasaki with my family. Six hour drive first thing in the morning.”

“I’ll still be here when you get back.” Sugizo tilted Heath’s face up and pressed another soft kiss to his lips. “But if you want, I can give you something to remember me by.”

“Like a present?”

“Something like that.”

Sugizo circled an arm around Heath’s slim body and gradually deepened their kiss and Heath let himself get lost in the guitarist’s affections and Sugizo tangled his fingers in that long, silky black hair again and tugged just enough to have Heath tilting his head back and Sugizo kissed him along his jawline and down his neck until he was sighing. It simply felt unreal to be in this gorgeous man’s arms after the wet dreams and lingering looks, all the teasing and flirting, and a shiver ran down his spine like a trickle of ice when Sugizo moved down just past his collarbone and started kissing and biting and sucking in earnest, and Heath chuckled.

“What are you, a vampire?”

“They are supposed to be very sexy,” Sugizo teased back.

I never called you sexy.”

“Really? Not even when you broke into the bathroom while I was in the nude? Or how about when you stared at me after we got rained on?”

“That first one was an accident,” Heath grumbled.

Sugizo just smiled. “I wish you could stay.”

“I wish I could stay, too. But I have to get home and feed Qoo.”

They made a concerted effort to stand up and straighten themselves out, and Sugizo reluctantly walked Heath to the door.

“Oh! I just remembered. Wait here.”

“Oh… okay.” Heath watched him disappear into one of the adjoining rooms and heard him opening and closing drawers.

“Here,” Sugizo said. “Your t-shirt.”

“Oh, thanks! I’d almost forgotten about it.” Heath smiled and looked down at the well-loved garment in his hands. “Is it weird if I say that I’m going to miss you?”

“No. I’ll miss you, too.”

“I’ll call you when I can.”

“I’d love that. We’ll see each other when you get back.” Sugizo pressed his forehead to Heath’s and sighed. “Do I really get to kiss you whenever I want?”

Heath blushed. “Yeah.”

The two sweethearts shared one more lingering kiss and Heath pressed the David Bowie t-shirt back into Sugizo’s hands. “Here. Keep it. Something for you to remember me by.”

 

***

 

Heath woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside, occasionally interrupted by the deeper, croaking calls of much larger crows out scavenging for scraps and digging about in people’s rubbish. The apartment was quiet and still, and he just lay in bed for a while in a dreamy haze. Qoo was still in her bed as well; soon she’d probably get up for a drink and play with her toys for a while before asking him for breakfast and a walk. For now, he was content to stay in bed and daydream for a while. He had had the most amazing dream of spending an evening in Sugizo’s arms. His mind was still blurry from sleep and he could only remember little snippets from the dream: kissing him, that pleasant shiver when Sugizo played with his hair, that light, sexy voice whispering in his ear.

‘Do I really get to kiss you whenever I want?’

He needed to stop daydreaming and get out of bed, though. His own bags were packed and sitting by the door ready to go, but Qoo would need a really good run this morning to stop her from getting too fussy sitting in the pet carrier on the long drive to Amagasaki - a good six hours on the road, including a few stops to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. He threw the covers back and shuffled into the bathroom to shower. As he washed himself, his body seemed to remember more details about last night’s dream, tactile memories of Sugizo’s arms around him, Sugizo’s lips at his neck, Sugizo’s body pressed against his— fuck, now he was hard and it wasn’t just morning wood. It didn’t seem to take much whenever Sugizo was involved. He took himself in hand and rested his forehead against the glass, taking some extra time to pleasure himself while imagining Sugizo touching him and kissing his neck, pumping and stroking himself and biting back a moan that echoed off the tiles when he found his release.

Stepping out onto the bathmat, he used the corner of his towel to wipe away the condensation on the mirror and paused. He reached up and gingerly touched a dark, reddish mark on his skin, just below the collarbone.

It wasn’t a dream, after all.

 

***

 

“I’m home!” The front door opened and five-year old Junichi leapt to his feet.

“Daddy!” he shrieked. “Uncle Hiroshi let me feed the doggy and walk him!”

“Her,” Tetsuya corrected. “Qoo’s a girl dog, remember?”

Junichi gave his father a look of mild confusion. He was still at that age where he thought that dogs were boys and cats were girls, even though their own cat Tora was a 'he'.

“You haven’t been bothering your uncle, have you?”

“Only a little bit,” Heath said with a grin.

“How was your day, hun?” Kumiko asked.

Tetsuya loosened his tie and the top button on his shirt. “Damn clients keep making changes to their specs. At this rate we’ll never get past the design phase.”

“Oh well. As long as they’re paying for the time, right?”

“That they are!” Tetsuya picked up Michiko from her playpen. “And how’s my little girl?”

“She stinks!” Junichi announced, pinching his nose with an exaggerated expression of disgust.

“She is stinky, isn’t she!” Tetsuya agreed.

“Oh, really?” Kumiko poked her head out from the kitchen. “Can you—”

“Don’t worry, hun. I’ll change her.”

“Thanks. Boys, go wash up! Dinner will be on the table in ten minutes.”

“C’mon, Junichi.” Heath got up from the floor and took the boy’s little hand in his own.



“What did you guys get up to, today?” Tetsuya asked as they tucked into their meal.

“Junichi, why don’t you tell Dad what we did today?” Kumiko prompted their son.

“Uncle Hiroshi took us to see fishies!” Junichi said, his eyes shining.

“Did he!” Tetsuya smiled. “That sounds exciting.”

“We went to that new Kaiyukan aquarium that we keep meaning to go to,” Kumiko said, pouring tea for the adults.

Tetsuya grinned. “Wow! What kind of animals did you see?”

“We saw fish and crabs and penguins! And sharks!”

“And did you say thank you to Uncle Hiroshi?” Tetsuya asked.

Junichi beamed at Heath from across the table. “Thank you, Uncle Hiroshi!”

“You should take the kids there again someday, Tetsuya,” Heath said. “You’d really like it. They’ve got gorgeous, massive exhibits and even a whale shark.”

“And somebody thought Hiroshi was Junichi’s dad,” Kumiko grinned.

“Eh? What?”

“It was nothing,” Heath said, chuckling. “I gave Junichi some money for a sundae and the ice cream guy said, ‘Your son looks just like you!’”

Tetsuya turned to his wife. “I’ve shown you those pictures of us as kids, right?”

Kumiko frowned and chewed her lip as she tried to remember. “If you did, it was ages ago.”

“Man, when we were in our early teens, we could almost have passed as twins. Then I stopped growing when I was 16 and Hiroshi kept going,” Tetsuya added, casting a rueful look at his taller younger brother.

“That grey around your temples doesn’t help either,” Heath added, and Kumiko laughed.



It was always a bit crazy staying with his brother’s family. Junichi adored his cool uncle Hiroshi and would often follow him everywhere like an overenthusiastic puppy. Family visits were fun in small doses, but this time Heath found himself feeling rather more homesick than usual. He had a pretty good idea why, too.

“Hey, Tetsuya.”

Kumiko was putting the kids to bed, and his brother was sitting on the couch, nursing a beer and watching the news on TV with the volume turned down to unwind from a trying day at work. “Yeah?”

“Mind if I use the phone?”

“Nah. Go ahead.”

“Thanks. I won’t be long.”

Qoo followed Heath as he took the cordless phone out onto the back porch. It was mid-August and still warm and humid outside. He stroked the little dog’s ears with one hand and dialled with the other.

“Hello, Sugizo speaking.”

“Hey. It’s me.”

“Oh.” Sugizio’s voice changed, becoming softer and a little lower. “Hey, you.”

“I haven’t caught you at a bad time, have I?”

“Never,” the guitarist assured him. “What’s up? How’s the family?”

“They’re fine. The kids have gone to sleep so we’re all winding down. I just wanted to talk to you for a while.”

“I miss you, too. When are you back?”

“Next Thursday.”

“Can I see you then?”

“Of course. I’ve still got my ‘souvenir’ as well.” Heath could feel his ears burning as he said this. “I love it.”

“I’m glad you like it.” He could hear the smile in Sugizo’s voice.

They chatted for a few more minutes until the phone clicked; Sugizo had another incoming call.

“I’ll let you get that. I’ll call you another time, okay?”

“Definitely.” Sugizo ended the call with a kiss.



“Who was that?” Tetsuya asked casually.

“Huh?”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing some of it. Thin walls.”

“Oh, nothing. Just a friend.”

“You’re blushing.”

“N-no I’m not,” Heath said quickly.

Tetsuya laughed. “Well you are now! Just joshing you, man. I’m just happy for you, that’s all.”

If he hadn’t been buoyed by the happiness of speaking with Sugizo, Heath might have been annoyed at his stupid brother for overhearing his phone conversation.

“So? Who is it?” Tetsuya asked, grinning.

Heath slowly walked across the room and replaced the phone in its charging dock. “Sugizo.”

“That guy from that band? Who used to live with you?”

“Yeah.”

When Tetsuya didn’t say anything else, Heath looked over his shoulder. His brother was smiling at him with a kind of smug I knew it look on his face. Presently Tetsuya got up from the sofa and stretched with a loud yawn. “God I don’t wanna go to work tomorrow.”

 

For the rest of Heath’s stay in his hometown, he kept himself busy driving his mother to and from her tai chi group that was held at the local community hall every Tuesday and Thursday, and helping Kumiko around the house with some of the cooking and cleaning. Both Tetsuya and Kumiko kept insisting that he ought to be using his time off to relax but he could tell that they were grateful to have another adult about the house to help out. Normally Junichi would be spending his weekdays at school but with all of the schools still on summer holidays for another two weeks, Heath and Qoo kept the youngster entertained and out of Kumiko’s way, taking him down to the beach or to the local dog park. Qoo particularly enjoyed going out for walks, not least because she was afraid of being bullied by Tora the tabby, who made a point of sitting on tables and hissing at her. When it was finally time to go home, Qoo was particularly eager to climb into the pet carrier that she usually shunned, and Heath loaded Qoo and his bags into the car.

“Thanks for everything,” he said, first hugging Kumiko and then his brother.

“Thank you,” Tetsuya said. “I can’t tell you how great it’s been having you help out. You really shouldn’t have, but we appreciate it.”

Heath shrugged. “What else was I supposed to do? Just sit around and do nothing?”

“Don’t you know? Holidays happen to be a very good time for doing nothing. C’mon Junichi, give your uncle a kiss and cuddle goodbye.”

“Bye Uncle Hiroshi!”

One-year old Michiko was feeling too shy to give Uncle Hiroshi a kiss but he waved at her as his car rolled down the driveway and down the street.

 

Somehow the drive home felt longer than the drive to Amagasaki along the same long, nondescript highways, mile after mile of black asphalt and white stripes, street lights on tall poles staring down on all the cars from a great height, cutting through open fields and mountainous areas and a vast stretch of glittering water as he crossed Ise Bay. He stopped three times: twice to let Qoo out for a drink and a walk, and once to take a bathroom break and grab a quick lunch from a convenience store, dining from the driver’s seat with the car doors open. He scrunched up his empty sandwich wrappers and threw them away, lighting up a cigarette for a few quick puffs before getting back behind the wheel.

The second he opened the pet carrier, Qoo was out like a flash and she busied herself trotting around the apartment, sniffing all the corners to make sure that everything was still where she left it. Heath smiled and watched the funny little creature for a few minutes. He made a mental note to find someone to look after her for a few days at the end of the year. He’d learned his lesson after waking up hungover after Tokyo Dome and finding that Qoo had left a present for him on the floor. From the other side of the wall, he heard the excited yipping of his neighbour Mr Komada’s dog. Mr Komada was a middle-aged divorcee whose chihuahua was good friends with Qoo. Maybe he could babysit. He’d probably like the extra company.

Despite Heath’s protests, Kumiko had very kindly washed most of his clothes, socks and underwear for him—“I’m doing the washing anyway,” she would say—so there was little in the way of dirty laundry that needed taking care of. He could certainly use a wash after such a long drive, though, so he stripped off for a quick shower and a shave, and reemerged in clean, fresh-smelling clothes feeling very glad to be back in his own apartment. He curled up on the sofa and stayed like that for a moment, enjoying the quiet and being back at home. He stretched out an arm and picked up the phone.

 

“Hi. It’s me. Yeah, we just got back. I’ve missed you, too. Are you busy?”

 

Chapter Text

The front door to Heath’s apartment had barely closed before they were all over each other and it was so primitive the way they kissed with such fervour that they could hardly breathe, roaming hands running through his hair or creeping up his shirt, cool fingertips trailing over his skin and Heath swore under his breath when Sugizo reached behind him to squeeze his ass and pressed their hips together, and he felt hardening flesh against his own, a shocking jolt of pleasure that seemed to snap them out of a moment of hot, mindless lust as they tried to catch their breath. They kissed once more, playfully this time, and gazed at each other with laughter in their eyes.

“Hi,” Heath whispered shyly. His fingers threaded through Sugizo’s hair. It was damp; clearly he had showered, shaved and spritzed himself with perfume before jumping in the car. Even though tonight’s unspoken objective was obvious, it was cute that they were still eager to impress one another. “You smell nice.”

“So do you,” Sugizo whispered back. Heath smelled of fresh laundry and soap, of musk and lavender and sandalwood. Sugizo had gotten so used to this fragrance when he lived with Heath that smelling it now felt like coming home, and then they both burst into helpless laughter when their intimate reunion was interrupted by the loud, comical squeaking from Qoo chewing on one of her toys and playfully growling to herself.

“That is the most unsexy thing I’ve ever heard,” Sugizo chuckled.

“Come on.” Heath took his hand, lacing their fingers together and leading him to the bedroom, closing the door behind them.

 

Sitting on the end of the bed, they were suddenly nervous. They spent a long time getting reacquainted with tentative kisses and shy touches, as though it were some sort of ritual that they had to pass before moving onto The Next Stage: a gradual deepening of their kisses, hands pressing into his partner’s back, occasionally daring to sneak below the waist, and Heath chanced a gentle squeeze of Sugizo’s thigh that had him sighing and moving closer until he was in Heath’s lap, slowly rocking their hips together while they spoiled each other with messy, feverish, open-mouthed kisses, biting, sucking, licking. Sugizo had one hand up Heath’s t-shirt, playing over the slender bassist’s chest and nipples while they kissed, his other hand undoing the fastenings on Heath’s jeans with deft, well-practised hands until he was able to slip that hand inside. Heath arched and moaned when Sugizo touched him through his underwear, allowing the guitarist to push him down onto the bed.

“Do you have lube and condoms?” Sugizo murmured, drawing his tongue lightly along the curve of his ear.

Heath paused for a second and swallowed the lump in his throat. “Yeah. Bottom drawer on the left.”

“Sorry. I would have brought some but it sort of slipped my mind, if you get my drift.” Sugizo got up to retrieve them and returned to the bed to an apprehensive-looking Heath biting his lip. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Have you been with a guy before?”

“Yeah.” Heath hesitated. “But it was years ago.”

Sugizo kissed him softly and sweetly. “I’ll take care of you.”

They lay on the bed kissing for a while longer and undressed each other very slowly, piece by piece. Their tops came off first and in the soft orange glow of the lamp, Sugizo gazed down at Heath’s slender body for a moment, just admiring him. Somehow he was even more beautiful like this than Sugizo had dreamt, and when he finally reached down and touched him very gently, running featherlight fingertips down his body, Heath jumped.

“Shh. Just relax.”

“No, no,” Heath laughed self-consciously. “Ticklish.”

Sugizo laughed as well. “Sorry. But it’s kind of adorable.”

There was a time and place for ‘adorable’ but Heath did not want to be ‘adorable’ right now, and Sugizo groaned when Heath reached up and drew a hand over that body that he had, until now, only dreamed of. While Heath’s hand roamed across his skin, Sugizo unzipped his own jeans and guided Heath’s other hand down to his boxers. Feeling a little more daring, Heath palmed that firm cock through the thin navy blue satin; he felt very hot in there and the harder Heath touched him, the harder he got until a small patch of dampness began to soak through, and Sugizo let out a tremulous moan, his head falling forward, his hand tightening around Heath’s wrist. This had Heath whimpering as well and he reached down to free his own cock. Sugizo didn’t need any more incentive than that; he swore under his breath and let go of Heath’s wrist, lightly dragging his fingertips up along Heath’s half-hard length from root to tip, enjoying the way he twitched and stiffened with his touch and Heath arched his back with hiss of pleasure when Sugizo pushed his jeans and boxers down and took them both in hand, stroking them together, squeezing just hard enough to make Heath’s head spin.

“God,” he gasped, grabbing the guitarist’s wrist and staring down in feverish awe at what he was doing to him, what he was doing to them both. Even though he had fooled around with a few guys in his youth, Sugizo was clearly more experienced and knew exactly what to do.

Sugizo hummed low in his throat and watched Heath’s expression with dark eyes. “Yeah?”

With his brow furrowed and his eyes squeezed shut, Heath bit his lip. “Yeah,” he breathed.

Sugizo gave them a few more strokes and let go. He kissed Heath slowly and hooked his fingers into his jeans, sliding them off with his underwear and tossing them aside. The next thing that Heath heard was the snap of a plastic lid opening and Sugizo’s hand was back around his cock, so cool and slick with lube that it made Heath tremble all over, working him up and down and slowly driving him out of his mind so that he almost didn’t notice something cold and slippery teasing at him until it began pushing inside him and he tensed up all over, both hands clenched and twisted in the sheets at this sudden and uncomfortable intrusion.

“Sugizo—”

“Shh. Just relax,” Sugizo pressed a kiss to his knee, still stroking him and watching his face for any sign of pain or discomfort as he eased a second finger inside him.

It took a few more minutes for Heath to grow accustomed to this unusual sensation and without thinking, he began to move his hips, pushing against those fingers and fucking himself into Sugizo’s other hand at the same time, his breathing growing shallow and Sugizo, seeing how much he was enjoying it, added a third and began fucking him with his fingers in earnest, looking for that sweet spot that would make him lose it. When Heath thrashed and jerked his hips and tried to pull away with a sharp intake of breath, he knew he had found it.

“Fuck…” Heath rasped. “Fuck I’m gonna cum stop Sugizo fuck I’m gonna cum I’m gonna cum I’m—!" This ended in a strangled moan, his body tensing and arching as hot pleasure flared and exploded from inside him, spilling out all over Sugizo’s hand.

“Fuck,” Heath panted again, staring up Sugizo in a pleasure-ridden bewilderment at what the man had just done to him.

Sugizo just smiled down at him, clearly enjoying the effect he’d had on him. “And that was just the appetiser.”

 

With the door closed, the small bedroom was thick with the smells of sweat and sex and musky semen from the wadded-up tissues on the floor. Sugizo had intended to let him recover before proceeding any further but Heath pushed him off, flipping him onto his back and kissing him hard before turning his attention to Sugizo’s still-hard erection, gently, playfully mouthing at him. Sugizo breathed in deeply and watched, letting him go at his own pace and waiting to see what he would do. Heath tugged at his boxers and Sugizo helped him pull them off the rest of the way, groaning through clenched teeth when calloused fingers touched his thighs and his hot, bare cock and then there were lips, Heath’s lips kissing and mouthing, licking and teasing him, drawing his tongue up his length without shyness or shame, pressing soft little kisses all over. Heath took him in slowly, kissing the ruddy, leaking head and slowly sliding the rest of him into his mouth, his long hair falling over his face and across the guitarist's trembling thighs.

“Oh god,” he gasped, and it took a huge effort to push himself up on his elbows so that he could watch the beautiful bassist between his legs. “God, Heath, your mouth. So—ah!—so good…” 

Sugizo ran his fingers through Heath’s hair, pulling gently and the resulting groan of delight sent intense ripples of pleasure down Sugizo’s length that shot all the way through his body like a bolt of lightning. He would have reached his end like that had he let Heath go on sucking and stroking his cock like that and there was something so exquisitely beautiful about the way his dark hair fell over his face when he looked up with those gorgeous, half-lidded eyes, but Sugizo had something far more enjoyable on his mind, so he slipped one hand underneath Heath’s chin and pulled him into his arms so that they lay on their sides, spooning that slender body against his own, closing a hand around Heath’s still-soft cock and grinding his own hot erection against Heath’s ass, making the cock in his hand twitch and the bassist in his arms moan softly. He turned Heath’s head just enough for them to kiss.

“More?” he whispered, and Heath trembled and nodded once.

That was all the encouragement Sugizo needed. He got to his knees and tore one of the condoms open, groaning as he rolled it on over his length and poured a generous amount of lube into the palm of his hand, lazily stroking it over his cock.

Heath was suddenly acutely aware of how naked and exposed he felt, even with Sugizo whispering soothing words as those fingers teased him with more lube and then his cock was rubbing up against him, bigger and thicker, a strange combination of soft and rigid, pressing against him, pushing in and stretching him and Heath winced, squeezed his eyes shut, bit his lip.

Sugizo stopped. “Am I hurting you?”

With his eyes still tightly closed, Heath took a deep breath. “A bit,” he admitted.

“Try to relax. If you keep tensing up, it’ll be even more uncomfortable. It’ll go in easier if you’re relaxed.”

Heath knew that, of course, but it was easier said than done. He nodded and made a concerted effort to breathe deeply and the burning ache was back as Sugizo went on pushing inside him by tiny fractions, his brow furrowed in concentration, pausing every time Heath’s body tensed up reflexively, stroking his hip with one hand in an effort to help him relax, whispering soothing words as Heath fought the urge to clench and push him out again and god that cock felt huge inside him but the guitarist was a considerate lover, taking it very slow and giving him time to become accustomed to having him inside him, and Heath cried out when Sugizo gave him one more firm, decisive push and he groaned, “Fuck… Heath you’re so fucking tight…”

The burning, stretching sensation dulled into a warm, intimate pleasure that pooled and fizzed and churned in Heath’s body with every drag of that hard cock sliding in and out of him, accompanied by their laboured breathing and Sugizo leaned down to kiss him hard and chanced a deeper thrust as he did, pushing his entire length in and that hurt too, just a little bit, but in that one second that he was pulling out, Heath’s body desperately wanted him back inside his body where it felt so, so good and he wanted him closer, deeper, pushing his hips up to meet him mid-thrust, crying out when Sugizo slammed back inside him with a ragged moan and their pace quickened and Heath was so close that he could almost cry, locking his legs around his lover’s body and Sugizo ground his hips hard against Heath’s ass at the peak of every thrust and Heath reached down between their sweaty bodies to stroke himself off and a shockwave of pleasure flared when that cock inside him reached the sweet spot that had made him made him orgasm so hard before, again and again until all he knew was white hot pleasure with every nerve setting off fireworks and a burst of warm fluid leaked down his hand as Sugizo moaned and panted over him, fucking him harder and faster with Heath crying out beneath him with every thrust until he finished with one hard thrust and a deep groan as his dick twitched and pulsed.

They collapsed onto the bed side by side, naked and panting with exhilaration, a sheen of sweat on their skin. Heath’s fingers groped for the tissue box and he wiped himself off, dropping the tissues on the floor with the rest of the mess to be cleaned up tomorrow. It was a few more moments before Sugizo was able to get up on weak, shaking legs and he pulled off the condom, tying a knot in it and tossing it in the trash. He crawled back into bed and slipped his arms around his lover, resting his head on Heath’s shoulder like a pillow and closing his eyes and they just lay there like that for a long time to catch their breath and wait for the rapid thumping of their hearts to even out. Heath kept telling himself that they should get up and shower, but everything below the waist refused to move, and the rest of him preferred to bask in the fuzzy post-orgasm afterglow, and he had just enough strength to tug the covers over them before falling asleep with Sugizo spooned up against him.



The next morning Heath woke to the harsh ache of his empty stomach and something warm and sort of wet tickling his neck, and he opened his eyes a crack. In his sleepy haze he only saw chestnut brown hair and thought it must be Qoo licking him but instead of dog fur, he smelled perfume, a familiar perfume but not his own, and then the bed dipped in the middle and a hand caressed his body and it was Sugizo in bed with him—no, still in bed with him, kissing his neck so languidly that Heath thought he might melt. 

“Mm,” Sugizo murmured. “Good morning.”

“Um. Morning.” Heath blushed at the feeling of the other man’s erection pressing into his hip and Sugizo was not shy about it.

“I always sleep so well after a good roll in the hay.” He stretched with a yawn, draping one leg over Heath’s. “Do you feel okay?”

“Yeah. I think so.” Heath couldn’t find the words to explain how he still half-expected to wake up at any moment, alone and with his hand around his dick.

They both jumped when something scrabbled at the door, breaking the mood.

“What the fuck was that?”

Heath chuckled. “It’s just Qoo. She wants to be fed and we shut her out last night, the poor thing.”

Sure enough, Qoo whined and scratched at the door again.

“And here I was hoping for a little morning fun,” Sugizo pouted. “C’mon then, let’s get you cleaned up properly.” He slowly climbed out of bed and helped Heath to his feet.

“Ah—!” Heath grunted and winced.

“Are you okay?”

Heath gritted his teeth. “I’m sore. Sore and stiff.”

“I’ll try to be more gentle next time,” Sugizo said in a low voice in his ear, caressing that smooth, pert rear and giving it a firm squeeze.

Naked and giggling, they made their way to the bathroom huddled together with Qoo following them, still complaining about her empty stomach and her even emptier food bowl. The cool morning air made them shiver and the bathroom tiles were chilly on their bare feet, so it was a relief when they finally stepped underneath the hot spray of the shower.

“You have such a beautiful body,” Sugizo murmured, cradling Heath against himself, slowly rubbing a bar of soap up and down his skin and drawing languid kisses along his neck.

“Mmm. So do you. Not the first time I’ve seen you, either.”

Sugizo chuckled low in his throat and slipped a hand beneath Heath’s chin, turning his head just enough to look into his eyes. “Are you sure you feel all right?”

“Yeah,” Heath said quietly, holding his gaze. “Why?”

“Well.” Still delicately caressing Heath’s body with his other hand, Sugizo thought about this for a moment. “I just want to make sure that you felt good. If it’s been a while since you’ve slept with a guy, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable with anything.”

Heath laughed lightly. “You made me cum twice. I didn’t even know that could happen.”

“Mmm, well if you want to go again…”

“I wish I could but I’m too sore.”

Sugizo heaved a mock sigh of relief. “Thank fuck. My legs are still kind of wobbly after the way you practically sucked my soul out through my dick. How are you so good with that pretty mouth of yours?”

Heath smiled and there was a sly little twinkle in his eye. “It’s just like riding a bike, I guess. You never really forget how to suck cock.”

Hearing this, Sugizo’s hands slowly made their way down, past his hips and between his thighs, and Heath quivered at the memory of the terrible, wonderful things that the man had done to him last night.

“You keep talking like that,” Sugizo said in a very low, almost predatory voice, caressing his ass with one hand and his dick in the other, “and you are going to be ruined once I’ve had my way with you.”

A pleasant shiver ran up Heath’s spine and his cock twitched in Sugizo’s hand. “I kind of want to know what it feels like to fuck you .”

“Mmm. Anything for the gorgeous man who can suck me off like that.”

Heath laughed again.

“Besides,” Sugizo grinned. “We’re even now.”

“Even?”

The guitarist smirked to himself. “Yep. I’ve finally seen you naked in the shower.”

 

***

 

Their relationship burned fast, quickly developing into a whirlwind of learning about each other’s little idiosyncrasies in between bouts of passionate sex. Of course they shared a mutual love of rock music, chocolate seashells and coffee. They went to concerts together, just the two of them this time around. True to his promise last year, Sugizo eventually sat Heath down to watch Blade Runner and then, having caught a bit of the sci-fi bug, Heath picked up the Ghost in the Shell manga with great enthusiasm. Meanwhile Sugizo grudgingly admitted that The Shining was ‘pretty good’ and just a few nights later, they watched Alien and Aliens back to back in rapt attention. They swapped CDs, compared notes on guitar styles and techniques, discovered new restaurants, and took Qoo to the park together. Heath was very much a morning person; Sugizo somewhat less so. Sugizo loved to socialise, whereas Heath’s idea of a good party was a meal and a few drinks with a handful of close friends. Heath taught Sugizo a few things about home cooking, starting with simple recipes like stir fries and curries and steamed fish.

“I hate this!” Sugizo sobbed over the onions. “How long does it take to get used to it?”

Heath swiped at his eyes with the back of one arm and sniffled. “You don’t.”

With another few sniffs, Sugizo set the knife down and took a few steps away. “I think I preferred chopping the chilli peppers.”

“No don’t touch your—!”

“What?” Sugizo rubbed his sore, stinging eyes with his hands. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Heath grimaced. “Uh, you don’t feel anything?”

“Feel what?” Sugizo tried to say but it came out as, “Feel whoa Jesus oh fuck holy fuck oh shit oh shit—

Still yelling an incoherent stream of profanities, he reached for the tap but Heath screamed, “No no no don’t use water!” and Sugizo screamed back, “My fucking face is on fucking fire!”

“Milk! Use milk! Use milk!

“Milk! What!”

“Milk!”

And that was how Sugizo ended up bent over the sink, moaning and crying while Heath carefully poured milk over his burning eyes.

 

Sugizo was somewhat less enthusiastic about cooking after that, preferring to take them out for the night. They’d go to the movies and emerge a couple of hours later sharing furtive, playful glances through hooded eyes and smiling with kiss-swollen lips, having little idea of what actually happened during the movie and not really caring, and then they would go home and stumble inside, kissing and pulling at each other’s clothes and tripping over shoes and furniture and sometimes even Qoo in their haste to get to the bedroom or the sofa and one time, even up against the back of the door. That time, Heath had been worried that the neighbours would hear and complain, but not worried enough to want to stop.

Heath preferred quieter evenings spent curled up in the living room with at least one of them plucking at a guitar, or snuggled up in the crook of Sugizo’s arm while the guitarist twirled a lock of his hair through his fingers, enjoying a home-cooked meal with a few light drinks and a movie together, sharing smiles or a quick peck on the lips or cheek. Later on they would retire to bed together and descend into hot kisses drenched in pleasure, two lean, sweaty bodies moving together, arching, trembling, ever climbing and reaching for that peak and finally melting into that sweet petite mort in each other’s arms, their bodies still quivering. They’d wake up to each other and snuggle for a while, kissing languidly, long looks through dark lashes, perhaps even enjoying a quickie before getting out of bed. The shower at Sugizo’s apartment was too small to comfortably accommodate two, especially with the colony of shower and hair products he kept in there. Heath quickly fell into a habit of letting Sugizo shower first, so that when he was done with his own shower, he’d slip behind him while Sugizo made coffee for them both, breathe in the mix of coffee and soap and shampoo and the scent that was uniquely him and press tiny kisses to that special place on his neck, just below his ear. This spot often seemed to make Sugizo melt a little; his shoulders would soften and he’d blink slowly and lazily like a cat. Heath wasn’t sure if Sugizo was aware of it or not, but it didn’t really matter and he certainly enjoyed the soothing effect that these tiny affections had on the guitarist.

The first few times Heath had spent the night at Sugizo’s apartment, he had tossed and turned and repeatedly apologised for said tossing and turning.

Sugizo had only laughed. “I wouldn’t have even known if you hadn’t told me. I just fall asleep like that.”

“I hate people like you,” Heath grumbled. “What I wouldn’t give to be able to fall asleep in five minutes flat.”

“If you really can’t sleep,” Sugizo said in a low voice, “I know all sorts of ways to wear you out.”

Sugizo occasionally grumbled about having to stick with the lease on his apartment and that this all would have been much easier if he’d never moved out of Heath’s place in the first place, but Heath sensibly reminded him that it was probably for the best. Even though they had already lived together before, their relationship had changed significantly since then and it was important to spend some time apart and get to know each other properly.

 

It wasn’t long before Tokyo Dome would soon be upon them and toward the end of autumn, X Japan began spending more time back in the studio to prepare.

“Good session, guys!” Yoshiki clapped his hands for attention.

hide rotated his shoulders a couple of times, first the left one and then the right. “Who’s up for drinks?”

Pata was an instant yes and Toshi volunteered a maybe. Yoshiki was a no, saying he had plenty to work on.

“Sure, I’ll come along,” Heath said with a shrug, crouching down to rummage his bag. It was starting to get chilly in the evening and he’d need an extra layer.

“What’s that?” Toshi asked.

“Uh, just an old hoodie I bought in Amerika-mura.”

“No, not that. On your neck.” Toshi pointed. “It looked like a bruise.”

“It’s nothing,” Heath said very quickly, standing up and sweeping his hair over his shoulder.

But his less than subtle attempts to dissuade Toshi’s concern only attracted more attention and now the others were crowding around an embarrassed Heath like a pack of inquisitive cats wanting to see what was so interesting until hide pushed Heath’s hair aside, took one good look at the ‘bruise’ and snorted loudly.

“That’s not a bruise, Toshi,” he said dryly. “Don’t you know a fucking hickey when you see one?”

“Oh.” Now it was Toshi’s turn to look embarrassed.

“Who gave it to you?” hide demanded. “Got a new girlfriend?”

“N-no,” Heath mumbled, blushing furiously.

“Yeah right. Don’t tell us you did that to yourself.”

“Yeah, c’mon, tell us! Who is it?”

“Why didn’t you say something before?”

“Not Noriko, is it?”

“Who’s Noriko?”

“Yeah, who’s Noriko?”

“No, it’s not Noriko!”

Who’s Noriko?

Finally Heath buckled under the pressure and constant yelling and raised his hands in submission. “Okay! Okay, just… please shut up.”

“We will if you tell us,” hide said smartly.

Heath swallowed hard. “It’s… a… guy.”

“But who?” hide pressed.

“Um.” Now Heath was bright red in the face and it came out in a mumble. “Sugizo.”

Yoshiki, Pata, Toshi and hide stared at him, all open-mouthed, until hide erupted into gleeful laughter.

“I knew it. I fucking knew it!” he shouted, seizing the younger bassist by the shoulders and shaking him.

Even Toshi was laughing. “Well, I would never have guessed that Heath and Sugizo of all people would become an item. Seems our little Heath fell for Sugizo’s sex appeal, eh?”

“Oh, you don’t think our sweet Heath could have tamed Sugizo’s lustful heart?” hide argued. “Even Ryuichi couldn’t tame that playboy.”

“hide,” Pata said with a look of reproach.

“What? They broke up forever ago and Ryu’s seeing some chick now. It’s all good!”

Pata shook his head and patted Heath’s shoulder. “Well. Just so long as he’s treating you right.”

“Look, are we going drinking or what?” a pink-cheeked Heath said loudly, and this produced the desired effect of moving the subject to neutral ground as the others started tossing around ideas for a suitable drinking establishment. As they bustled out the door, he heard Toshi asking hide, “So who’s Noriko?”

“Just Heath’s ex-fuck buddy.”

“Oh. Wait, his what?”



Teasing aside, life had never been so good for Heath: he was part of a well-loved rock band, he had an exciting new relationship with someone who was gorgeous and passionate and sexy, and they ended the year 1994 with Aoi Yoru and Shiroi Yoru, and a few years later he would look back upon these golden, blessed times and wonder how everything could have fallen apart so badly.

 

Chapter Text

January 1995

 

“Happy birthday!”

“Happy birthday, Heath!”

 

It seemed like only a couple of short years ago that Heath had left his home in Amagasaki and moved to the big smoke in Tokyo at age 22 with dreams of joining a major league rock band. Now he was surrounded by his bandmates celebrating his 27th birthday with good food and good booze. There was only one thing missing.

“Hey,” hide said, giving Heath a good-natured slap on the back. “Where’s that boy-toy of yours? Why isn’t he here celebrating with you?”

“He’s—”

Before Heath could finish, hide gave a mock gasp and covered his mouth. “Oh my god. I bet he’s waiting for you at home in the nude with a rose in his mouth.”

Toshi caught Pata’s eye and shot him a mildly disgusted look, mouthing, ‘Gross.’

‘I know,’ Pata mouthed back. Sometimes hide said the weirdest shit and they did not need to be picturing their friends naked.

“He’s in Europe,” Heath corrected him. “They’re shooting the Mother video in Ireland. Plus they’ve got the tour coming up and there’s a lot to do.”

Being in a relationship with a fellow musician did have its downfalls, not least of which was having to spend weeks or even months apart. Luna Sea would be busy promoting the release of the Mother single next month and then commence their Mother of Love, Mother of Hate tour in March. That would have them on the road until the end of May and Sugizo had promised to call at every opportunity he could get.

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot they were overseas.” hide chewed on some fried chicken, looking thoughtful. He glanced up when Yoshiki returned to the table. “Your tea’s gone cold.”

“Thanks,” Yoshiki said, smiling softly when hide refilled his cup.

“You spend way too much time glued to that thing,” Pata remarked, nodding at the chunky mobile phone that sat on the table by Yoshiki’s right hand.

Yoshiki shrugged. “I need to be able to get things done when I’m out and about. It makes everything so much more convenient. I think everyone should have one.”

“Are you kidding? No thank you,” Pata said as though Yoshiki had suggested that they pick up dog turds with their bare hands. “Then people might be able to find me.”

 

The others moved onto Shinjuku for drinks afterwards but Heath thanked them for the night out and declined, as Sugizo had promised to call after tonight’s rehearsal. When he got home, Qoo greeted him with her usual ardor, tongue out and tail wagging, no doubt partly because she was eager for her dinner. While she tucked into her meal, he curled up on the sofa beside the phone and flicked the TV on. Tonight's late night movie was the 1960s classic Kwaidan and it looked like it had just started. He grinned to himself, remembering the time that he and his brother, aged eight and twelve, had snuck out of bed to watch the film on TV after their parents had gone to sleep. It was deliciously eerie and although both boys had been too creeped out to sleep properly that night, this was what had piqued a young and impressionable Heath’s interest in horror films. Heath poured himself a drink, tossed a bag of popcorn into the microwave and settled down to enjoy the movie.

Three-quarters into the film, Heath had gotten very comfortable, stretched out on the sofa with Qoo lying on top of him, the once-full bowl of popcorn sitting on the floor with brown kernels of unpopped corn rattling at the bottom. He yawned and laughed fondly when the little dog yawned back at him and licked his chin. Funny how some animals could catch yawns from humans. Heath craned his neck to look at the clock. Damn, it was nearly midnight. He picked Qoo up, switched everything off and went to bed. He woke up again sometime during the night feeling parched. Less salt in the popcorn next time. He downed a tall glass of water, refilled it and padded back to his bedroom, and his gaze fell upon the phone that had sat there silently all night.

It was hard not to feel just that little bit disappointed. His parents had called, his brother had called, a couple of his old bandmates from Media Youth and Paranoia and Majestic Isabelle had called. Hell, even a few of his old friends he’d left back in Amagasaki and Osaka, ones that he rarely had a chance to see or speak to anymore had called to say happy birthday.

But why did it even matter so much? He’d never been the kind of person to get hung up on birthdays and anniversaries. So Sugizo had forgotten to call and say happy birthday. Big deal, it didn’t mean that he didn’t care. In all likelihood he had been tired and collapsed into bed and passed out.

Still, he couldn’t help glancing at the phone as he moved about the apartment throughout the day doing this and that with Qoo trotting at his heels and when it finally rang, he jumped to pick it up.

“Hello?”

“Happy birthday.”

Heath sank into the sofa with a sigh. “Hey. How are you?”

“I’m so sorry I didn’t call you last night.” Sugizo’s voice was quiet, like he was ashamed.

“No, don’t worry about it. I’m sure you were tired.” Heath looked at his watch. “Uh, what time is it over there?”

“Two.”

“In the morning? God, hang up and go to sleep!”

“Can’t sleep anyway,” the guitarist admitted. “My body has no idea what time it is. I hope you weren’t waiting up all night.”

“Only most of the night,” Heath joked.

“Heath, I’m really sorry—”

“No no no,” Heath said quickly. “I was up late watching a movie.”

“Oh. Anything good?”

“Just Kwaidan. It’s not as good as I remember it being.”

“Still better than waiting for your boyfriend to call, huh?”

“Come on, Sugizo. It wasn’t like I sat there the entire night. The guys and I went out for a nice dinner and Yoshiki was paying.”

“Well I’m very glad to hear that.”

Heath grinned. “Glad that we went out for dinner, or glad that Yoshiki paid?”

“Yes.” Sugizo chuckled, feeling relieved. “I was kind of afraid you might be mad at me for not calling.”

“It’s seriously not an issue,” Heath insisted, and even as he said this, he felt dumb about letting himself get as annoyed as he did. It wasn’t as if Sugizo had chosen to ignore him on purpose. “What’s Ireland like?”

“Oh god, I’m freezing my goddamn balls off here!”

They both laughed at this.

“No, it’s seriously a beautiful country,” Sugizio went on. “We really want to do some sightseeing before we leave. Did you know there are a bunch of haunted castles in Ireland? I wish you were here to see them, you would absolutely love them…”

After they had said their goodbyes and hung up, Heath picked up his bass, humming contentedly to himself.

 

***

 

After spending the greater part of ‘94 working on their own projects, both hide and Toshi had produced solo albums, some singles from Pata, and earlier this year, Heath released his self-titled mini album. This year, Yoshiki set his sights on America and the album that he would call Dahlia. A number of singles had already been released: Tears, Rusty Nail and, in classic Yoshiki fashion, two different versions of the ballad Longing. It was good to be back in the studio writing, composing, arranging, recording, rehearsing. This album was crucial. It was their first real album and their first real tour in years, and it was Heath’s first real album with the band as well.

Determined to crack the western market, Yoshiki worked Toshi very hard on his singing and English pronunciation. At times it escalated to Yoshiki yelling at him and throwing something and even hide couldn’t calm Yoshiki down when he got this worked up. Twice Toshi had gotten so fed up that he simply walked out of the studio, but worse was when he just stood there and took it with his head bowed and his shoulders slumped in a posture of abject defeat while the others looked on in stunned silence. They could all see how hard he was trying and Toshi’s English was already far above average but their drummer and bandleader was nothing if not an uncompromising perfectionist with extreme expectations of everyone including himself. He unloaded on his childhood best friend readily and for the most part, Toshi just let him.

Nobody wanted to pry but they’d all heard that Toshi was having some family issues, something to do with his brother who ran Toshi’s management office. A couple of times Heath took him out for lunch in case he felt more comfortable talking about things without Yoshiki around, but he remained tight-lipped. The most recent time, Toshi had turned up looking so different that Heath almost didn’t recognise him. Gone were the long blond locks; he’d had it cut short and dyed black.

Toshi reached up and tentatively touched his hair. “You hate it, don’t you?”

“What? No! It’s just… different.” Heath sat down at the table and looked at Toshi contemplatively. “Seems like everyone’s changing their hair lately: hide, Yoshiki, you. Even Sugizo’s had his hair cut short and now he’s a brunette.”

“I like the pink on hide though. It suits him.”

“It really does!”

“So, what are you and Pata going to do?” Toshi joked.

“God, can you imagine Pata with short hair?” Heath scoffed.

“It seems like one of those things that's really traumatising, like hearing your parents having sex or something horrible like that.”

“My parents have never had sex,” Heath declared firmly. “Anyway, I’m pretty sure that Pata was born with the long mane.”

Toshi laughed. “Well when was the last time you had short hair?”

“Oh geez. I think I started growing my hair out when I was eighteen. Maybe nineteen.” Heath tilted his head this way and that, giving Toshi’s new haircut another good look. “What made you do it?”

“To be honest, Kaori suggested it,” Toshi said. “I feel like it’s more ‘me’, you know?”

“Oh, how is she?”

None of them had actually met Toshi’s girlfriend Moritani Kaori yet, but from the sounds of things their relationship seemed to be going well since they met on the set of Hamlet last year.

Toshi smiled. “Good. She writes to me when I’m in LA. It’s… nice to know that she’s not into me just because I’m in a rock band. She wants to know me for who I am, not just Toshi from X.”

Heath agreed. All too often people forgot that behind all the makeup and perfect smiles, behind the fame, behind the pretty face and the sex appeal and the glossy magazine pictures was a real human being, one who worked damn hard to hone their craft, who had good days and bad days, who craved real friendship and love and could feel happy or sad or insecure just like everyone else. To be able to find someone who could see past all of that and appreciate you as a person was a rare thing indeed. “Has she met your family yet? When do we get to meet her?”

Toshi scowled. “I’m not sure I want to introduce Kaori to my family, the way they’re being.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Toshi muttered. “Don’t worry about it.”

Heath tried to gently coax it out of him but Toshi still refused. Not wanting to upset his friend any further, Heath left it at that.

 

***

 

Summer crept up on Tokyo that year. The weather was moderate throughout June; it still held that characteristic Japanese humidity but the milder temperatures made it more bearable. Summer also meant that their first anniversary was coming up alongside Sugizo’s birthday. Heath strongly believed that the time spent together was its own reward but Sugizo had grand ideas about going out for a nice dinner to celebrate.

“Say no more - I know the perfect place,” Yoshiki said when Heath mentioned the occasion. He retrieved a leather-bound address book from his bag and leafed through the pages. “It’s a gorgeous little bar in Ginza, you wouldn’t even know it’s there if you didn’t know where to look. They serve the best sashimi and tempura in town and they’ll only seat twelve customers at a time. Usually you have to book months in advance.”

“Oh.” Heath chewed his lip. “Sugizo’s birthday is in two weeks. Does that mean we’re out of luck?”

Yoshiki smiled. “Don’t worry. I’ll call them.”

 

On the evening of 8 July, Heath arrived at Ginza Station early. Yoshiki had said to look for a record store and then go down a flight of stairs, so Heath took his time strolling along the streets of Ginza, enjoying the bustling nightlife on this warm summer evening. He passed all manner of buildings: banks, ice cream stands, department stores blaring obnoxious pre-recorded sale announcements on loop, designer clothes, designer shoes, designer stationery, little old ramen shops with their red paper lanterns and sun-bleached noren hanging across the doorways. It was a little while before he found the place: KILLEЯ Records with a stylised hornet lit up in black and yellow on the neon sign, just as Yoshiki had described it. Since he still had some time, he wandered inside to browse through the new releases and wait for Sugizo to arrive.

 

He was still waiting almost an hour later, standing outside the record store when Sugizo finally turned up.

“I’m so sorry, I got here as fast as I could!” He was flushed in the face and out of breath.

“Did something happen? Wait…” Heath frowned. “Have you been drinking?”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Sugizo panted. “The guys wanted to take me out for birthday drinks and I couldn’t really say no, and I honestly wasn’t going to stay long but then we lost track of time and—”

“Sugizo—”

“I’m really sorry. We don’t have to let the evening go to waste, though, right? Where’s this bar again?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Heath sighed.

“What do you mean? Of course it matters!”

“No, I mean we lost the reservation.”

Sugizo stalled. “Oh. Well… can I take you somewhere to make up for it?”

“I kind of just feel like going home right now.”

Lost for words, Sugizo just nodded mutely, and the two went their separate ways.

 

***

 

Sugizo pushed the pile of mail aside—some opened, some not—set his keys and wallet on the counter and started unloading his shopping: milk in the fridge, prepackaged gyoza in the freezer, coffee and tea in the cupboard, a new string for the acoustic that sat next to the TV. After a second’s thought, he turned and opened the fridge again to retrieve the apple juice, drinking straight from the carton while the refrigerator door slowly swung closed with a soft thud. He’d gone for a long walk to clear his head which hadn’t worked at all, but he did pick up a package of pre-made choc chip cookie mix. Sugizo hoped that appealing to Heath’s sweet tooth would help to clear the air between them. The instructions on the back were pretty simple and while the cookies were happily ticking away in the oven, he set to work replacing the string on the guitar. The well-loved Gibson 6-string with its warm sunburst finish had been sitting on its rack in the living room for two weeks with its broken D-string and he had kept procrastinating on it. It was one of those annoying little chores like putting the clean dishes away, or replacing a burnt-out lightbulb, or resetting the clock on the VCR after a blackout; a small task that takes only a few minutes but is somehow so unbearable that you moan and groan and put it off for as long as you can. Now that he turned the tuning peg to tighten the string, he found it was sort of soothing. He hadn’t needed to do this in ages. These days they had guitar techs on staff with electronic tuning devices to do a lot of the repair work and tuning for them quickly and efficiently. He wondered for a brief moment if they were too spoilt now that they could throw money around to solve certain problems.

He nestled the instrument in his lap and gave the new D-string a few light plucks while twisting the peg with his left hand in the tiniest increments until he was finally satisfied with the sound, and he slipped the strap over his head and strummed a few times. His well-practiced fingers etched out a riff that had begun to sprout in his head during his walk. Huh, gotta write that down, he thought and was about to get up for a pen and manuscript paper when someone knocked.

“Coming,” he called, almost getting himself tangled up in his guitar strap. He set the instrument back on its stand and opened the door. “Oh. Hey.”

“Hi.” Heath seemed to be having trouble looking at him, but he smiled tentatively. “Can I come in?”

“Of course.” Sugizo squeezed himself against the wall to let Heath in.

“What were you playing? New song?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. It’s too early to tell.”

“I like it.”

“Thanks.” Sugizo hesitated. “Um… what’s up?”

Heath sat down on the sofa and pressed his hands between his knees. “I wanted to make sure that you were okay. And I wanted to apologise.” He paused. “What’s that smell?”

“What smell?”

Heath wrinkled his nose. “It smells like something’s burning.”

“Oh sh—” Sugizo bolted into the little kitchen and threw the oven door open, coughing and spluttering when heat and smoke billowed out, and then the smoke alarm started shrieking as if he didn’t already know. Swearing in between coughs, he clambered up onto the counter and squinted through the haze to press the little button that made the smoke alarm stop.

“Jesus, be careful!” Heath shouted anxiously through the din. “You’ll crack your head open! Let me get a chair—”

“It’s fine, it’s okay.” Sugizo slowly climbed back down again and opened the kitchen window as far as it would go. “They’re all burnt.”

Heath bent down and peered at the tray of dark brown discs, some with blackened edges. “I didn’t know you liked baking.”

“I don’t.” Sugizo practically threw the baking tray onto the stovetop with a look of disgust. “They were supposed to be a present.”

“Oh. For who?”

“You.”

Heath blinked. “Me?”

“Yeah. You know. To say sorry for last night.”

“Sugizo.” Heath pulled him into a tight hug. “You don’t need to do things like that for me. I’m sorry too.”

“What do you have to be sorry for?” Sugizo mumbled into his shoulder.

Heath pursed his lips and hesitated. “I got a phone call from J earlier today. He told me about how they dragged you out for drinks even though you said you had plans and they lost track of time. He said that by the time you realised how late it was, you left straight away.”

Sugizo looked down at the floor and shrugged. “I really wanted to do something nice for our first anniversary.”

“I know you did. I’m honestly happy enough just to be with you but we didn’t even get to celebrate your birthday properly.”

“Well.” Sugizo glanced over his shoulder at the stovetop. “We’ve got some really bad cookies.”

“They’re fine! Look, this one’s only a little bit burnt at the edges.” The treat was so hard that Sugizo winced when Heath took a bite. “A bit overcooked but it tastes fine.”

Sugizo picked up another one and took a tentative bite with the same result. Chewing was surprisingly hard work and kind of hurt. “Yeah, these are going in the bin.”

“Okay,” Heath chuckled.

They retreated to the sofa again, sitting side by side.

“You know,” Heath offered. “If you want, I can ask Yoshiki if he can get us another reservation at that place.”

Sugizo shook his head. “No. No way. I appreciate the thought but I do not want to have to bother him about it again.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind—”

“No, Heath, please. I’ve caused enough trouble as it is.”

Seeing how chastened Sugizo looked, Heath relented and offered him a small smile. “Look. Why don’t we go somewhere casual and just have dinner? There’s no rule that says birthdays and anniversaries have to be a big deal.”

In the end they dined at the little ramen shop just down the street from Sugizo’s apartment and in a way it was better than getting dressed up for a fancy night out. They were happy just to enjoy some good, wholesome, comforting food and a couple of frosty beers, and half-way through their meal they were all smiles and laughter over everything from the song that Sugizo had maybe been composing, to Qoo catching and eating a beetle she found at the park. They went back to Sugizo’s apartment with last night’s incident behind them, feeling very amorous.

 

“That was amazing,” Heath purred as they snuggled together in bed.

“Mmm. It’s been a while since I last had make-up sex,” Sugizo said dreamily.

Heath chuckled. “Did we have a fight? I don’t even remember.”

Sugizo snuggled him harder and rested his head against Heath’s chest, listening to his breathing, and felt the steady rise and fall of his chest. “I love you.”

“What?” Heath murmured, threading his fingers through his lover’s hair.

Sugizo took that hand and pressed it gently to his lips. “I said I love you.”

For a long time, Heath said nothing. Finally he eased Sugizo onto his back and cupped his face with one hand, cradling the guitarist’s slim form with the other and kissed him deeply. “I love you.”

 

***

 

It was like waking up in a Disney cartoon. The morning sun had made the room warm, just enough to feel very cosy, the birds were singing outside, and Sugizo had slept incredibly well. He smiled to himself, thinking back on how they had exchanged I love yous and the hottest kisses last night before descending into another round of achingly sweet lovemaking and falling asleep in each other’s arms. He hadn’t even said I love you when he was with Ryuichi; the topic had never come up. The very thought gave him a little shiver, a little thrill. They were in love.

He turned over lazily with an easy sigh; Heath was already awake and sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes, his long black hair spilling over his shoulders. Sugizo loved the shape of Heath’s body: that lovely neck, usually adorned with necklaces and chokers, was bare and curved gently down to the broad, straight line of his shoulders and drew the eye to the smooth taper down to that slender waist, the dip of his spine as he stretched, lithe and elegant as a cat, the lean muscles flexing in his shoulders and arms. He reached out and very softly ran his fingertips down Heath’s back. Heath turned and smiled, and Sugizo pressed a kiss to the small of his back, trying not to think about the moment when Heath would have to leave.

That was probably the one thing that made their relationship somewhat less than perfect: Qoo. It wasn’t that Sugizo resented her or anything. He liked her very much, but he couldn’t deny that it put a damper on things whenever Heath had to leave early in the morning to feed and walk the dog.

“Why don’t you just bring her with you when you stay over?” Sugizo had suggested one morning.

“I don’t know,” Heath had said dubiously. “It seems like a whole lot of fuss.”

Sugizo thought to himself that it seemed about as much fuss as his boyfriend always having to leave first thing in the morning instead of getting to enjoy some extra time together, but he wouldn’t dream of actually bringing it up. In the months that he’d lived with Heath in ‘93, he had seen the way he looked after Qoo and Sugizo understood that pets weren’t just animals; they were family, and family needed looking after, especially four-legged ones who couldn’t feed themselves. It wasn’t as though he wanted Heath to choose between his dog and his boyfriend. It would just be nice if Heath didn’t have to rush off all the time.

 

Sugizo…”

“Mm?”

“I need to go.”

“Mmm.” Sugizo cradled the back of his head and kept on kissing his neck. “Just a bit longer.”

Heath giggled. It was sometimes difficult to say no to Sugizo but this time he gave him a gentle push and reached to open the front door. “If I don’t get home in time to walk her, she’s going to pee all over the place.”

“I’ll clean it up.”

“You know that’s not the point. Besides, the poor little thing will be starving by now.” Heath smiled apologetically and they shared another deep, sensual kiss, so much so that even Heath could feel his own resolve dwindling with the way that Sugizo pressed his thigh between his legs until they were all but rutting against each other like animals in heat.

“Fuck, I could take you like this right now,” Sugizo growled in a voice that just about made Heath’s blood boil with desire and the bassist whimpered in response. But Sugizo knew better than to push his luck. He gave Heath another kiss, a playful one this time, and patted his rear. “Come on. You should get home to Qoo. She’s probably crying and scratching a hole in the door.”

“Yeah. I really should.” Heath’s eyes were still glazed with lust but he nodded. “We’ll continue this next time.”

“I am going to wear you out next time.”

“Not if I wear you out first.” Heath smiled. “I love you.”

For perhaps the hundredth time, Sugizo was struck by how beautiful he was when he smiled. It was all in the eyes and Heath did have such pretty eyes. “Love you.”

 

Chapter Text

September 1995

 

“This is really good.” Pata took a quick swig from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in one hand, using his other hand to leaf through the album booklet while he nodded along to the music.

“Yeah. The singer used to tour with Nine Inch Nails. He played guitar.”

“Cool.”

“I read a rumour that they wrote the first song about Kurt Cobain.”

“Really?”

Heath shrugged. “I dunno. It was just something I read in a magazine. Maybe they made it up.”

 

They sat cross-legged on the mottled ivory and beige carpet of Pata’s apartment, listening to Short Bus by a new American band called Filter. They had a collection of CDs scattered around them like schoolboys swapping trading cards, the glossy jewel cases gleaming under the ceiling lights: Nine Inch Nails, Dream Theater, Buck-Tick, Pink Floyd, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Massive Attack.

“Didn’t really like that one, though,” Pata went on, touching the case of the previous CD they’d sampled.

Heath hummed contemplatively and thumbed a few strings on his bass in tune with the music. “Not into Juno Reactor?”

“Nah, I don’t really like that stuff that’s all electronic.”

“I think Sugizo got me into that one.”

“Yeah, he likes his electro-techno stuff, doesn’t he?”

“He loves it. I think hide might like it as well.”

“Probably. hide likes everything,” Pata agreed. “Give me good old rock ‘n’ roll any day.”

 

They often enjoyed spending time just hanging out and listening to music for hours. It was like brain food, feeding their creativity to see and hear what other musicians were working with, analysing chord progressions, lyrical themes, musical styles, and just to relax.

 

“It’s not as heavy as I thought it’d be.”

“This song?”

“No. This.” Pata held up Heath’s new mobile phone, weighing the device in his hand and opening and closing the hinged flap at the front. “Is Yoshiki calling you at all hours now that you’ve got one?”

“He would if he knew I had it,” Heath grinned. “Mostly it’s useful for when Sugizo and I need to call each other if we’re not at home.”

“Oh, he’s got one too? How is he, anyway?” Pata asked, poking the smooth rubber buttons to make them light up and beep. “They feel like gummies. Any thoughts on getting a place together?”

“We’ve talked about it, but it might be a bit soon.”

“Not like you haven’t lived together before,” Pata reminded him.

“Yeah.” Heath palmed the strings on his bass to mute them. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

Heath hesitated. “Do you think it’s weird for Sugizo to kiss Ryuichi onstage?”

Pata blinked, the new toy in his hands momentarily forgotten. “Okay. I was not expecting that kind of question.”

“Sorry.” Heath looked back down at his bass. “You know what, forget I asked.”

“No no,” Pata said. “Does it bother you when he does that?”

Heath shrugged.

“Well it must if you’re bringing it up. Have you spoken to him about it?”

Heath shook his head. “I don’t want him to think I’m jealous or clingy or anything. But how would he feel if I did the same thing to you or hide or something?”

“Hey hey hey, hang on, stop right there. I do not want you kissing me onstage. Any of you.”

Heath chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. Everyone knows that only Kotetsu’s kisses are good enough for you.”

“Damn straight.” Now Pata was playing with the bendy plastic retractable antenna. “Look, I think there’s two things going on here. Number one: yes it might be a bit weird for Sugizo to kiss someone else while he’s with you, except for one thing.”

“Which is?”

“It’s fanservice. If he thought that it was something he had to hide from you, would he do it in front of thousands of fans and for the cameras to see?”

Heath frowned. Pata did have a point.

“Number two: if that’s bothering you, you should talk about it with him. He probably doesn’t even think about it after the show and has no idea that it bothers you.”

Heath let his gaze wander and thought about this for a moment. “Yeah. You’re right. I’ll talk to him when I see him tonight.”

“Good boy.”

Heath cast a quizzical look at him, only to see that Pata had scooped up his cat from the floor. “Me or him?”

Pata just grinned and nuzzled the fluffy ginger cat before setting him back down again. Kotetsu trilled and picked his way across the floor with his tail up, climbing into Heath’s lap to demand attention and Pata laughed. “What do you suppose your sausage dog thinks when she smells cat all over you?”

“Probably wondering who the hell I’ve been playing with,” Heath chuckled. “Last time I was here, she sniffed me all over and looked really offended. You’d think she found lipstick on the collar of my shirt or something. Now what are you doing?”

“Calling myself.” Pata was back to fiddling with Heath’s phone and he looked up at his own home telephone mounted to the wall. His face lit up when it rang. “Hey, it worked!”

“Of course it works, what do you think it’s for?”

Pata hung up. “I guess it’s pretty cool. Still don’t want one, though. I like it when people can’t find me.”

Heath just snorted and snatched his mobile phone back when it rang. “Hello?”

“Hey.” It was Sugizo. “What are you up to?”

“Oh hey. Not much. I’m at Pata’s, listening to music and jamming and playing with his cat. What time did you want to meet tonight? The movie starts at—”

There was a tired sigh from Sugizo’s end of the phone. “Yeah. About that. I’m going to have to cancel. This management meeting is running seriously overtime and I don’t think I’ll be out in time.”

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry. I know this is the second time. We’ll reschedule and I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“Oh. That’s okay. You’d better get back to your meeting. I know it’s important.”

“Yeah. Heath?”

“Yes?”

“I’m really sorry.”

“It’s all right. These things happen. Call me when you’re done, okay?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Heath closed his phone and absently scratched Kotetsu’s ears while the cat purred and pushed his head into Heath’s hand.

“Cancelled?” Pata asked gently.

“Yeah. Again.”

“You okay?”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Hey, you know what?” Pata said quickly. “I was really in the mood for pizza today. Why don’t you hang around and we can share a couple of pizzas? And didn’t you say you were working on the rhythm for a few songs? I bet we can make a lot of progress on that tonight.”

Heath smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Pata.”

Pata reached down and squeezed his shoulder. “Any time, kiddo.”

Heath was glad to have been able to spend the evening with Pata. After his plans with Sugizo fell through, he was thankful not to have to spend the evening at home twiddling his thumbs. He shared a very easy friendship with the older guitarist and since last year they’d made sort of a habit out of hanging out together just as they were now, listening to music, playing music, writing music. Pata offered the kind of stable friendship that many of his peers found comforting. Yoshiki was too obsessive with a flair for the dramatic and he could turn anything into work. hide was a wonderful friend but he could be too bipolar at times, and it got exhausting the way he might shift from one extreme to the other. Toshi’s time and energy was divided between his girlfriend, his ongoing issues with his brother’s management and Yoshiki’s impossible standards, and this left him feeling as though he were being pulled in three directions at once. Through all of this, Pata was the rock that kept standing while being buffeted by the sometimes chaotic elements around him. He didn’t care who or what you were; as long as you could hold a few drinks and you weren’t a jerk, you were okay in his book. Bonus points if you were a baseball fan. Contrary to Yoshiki, Pata made a point of staying away from drama and lived life at his own carefree pace, spurning the usual trappings of the rich and famous rockstar lifestyle. He preferred to keep his dwellings modest; he didn’t need the obnoxious mansions or the showy sports cars that Yoshiki flaunted, or the extravagant hair and wardrobe that hide gravitated to. Pata was, and would always be, Pata.

By 11pm they were full of pizza, had spent a solid couple of hours messing around with their guitars, even watched a movie, and Sugizo had not called.

“I’d better be getting home,” Heath said, making a cursory effort to dust the orange and white cat hair off his clothes.

“Yeah, I guess it’s pretty late.” Pata walked Heath to the door with Kotetsu weaving in and out between their feet like a furry orange snake, and Pata picked the cat up and draped him over his shoulder as though he were an old towel. “Hey, Heath?”

Heath opened the door and turned. “What?”

“Get some sleep.” Pata’s expression was sympathetic. “You can talk to him tomorrow.”

Heath gave his friend a reassuring pat on the shoulder and smiled. “I’m fine! Thanks for tonight.”

 

As soon as the door to Pata’s apartment closed, Heath’s smile faded. He drove home with the radio turned up.

 

***

 

It had taken Heath ages to fall asleep that night and when he finally did, he woke up at 2am and tossed and turned for ages. Fed up, he got up for a glass of water, flicked through the channels on TV and finally climbed back into bed at 6am. He’d gone to sleep almost instantly but it was not a restful sleep and when he woke up some time after 10am, he still felt tired and irritable, even after some breakfast, a strong coffee and taking Qoo out for a brisk jog.

 

Figuring that this day was already a write-off, he ran a bath and enjoyed a nice, long soak with a Van Halen CD playing on the stereo in his bedroom. Now this was relaxing: nothing he needed to do, nowhere to be, just having a nice, hot bath with his fingers tapping along the rim of the bathtub in time to the—

“There you are.”

“Holy sh—” Sudsy water sloshed all over the floor and Heath was all flailing arms and legs, desperately scrambling for something to hold onto. He pushed the sopping wet hair out of his face. “What are you doing here?”

“Uh, I came to see you?” Sugizo said quizzically, handing him a towel.

Heath wiped his face and stood, soapy water streaming off his body, and he carefully climbed out of the slippery bathtub and tucked the towel around his waist. He wrinkled his nose and cringed in disgust; the wet bath mat squished unpleasantly beneath his feet, like walking around in wet socks. Everybody hates that.

“I knocked and knocked, and then I called you but nobody picked up,” Sugizo shouted from the laundry, returning with a mop to clean up the puddles on the floor. “You mustn’t have heard it over the music.”

In the bedroom, Heath turned the music off and picked up his phone. Two missed calls from Sugizo, three minutes apart. He sighed and finished drying off, pulling on a t-shirt, boxers and jeans, and felt Sugizo hugging him from behind.

“I hope you don’t mind me letting myself in with the emergency key. I got here and I saw the lights on, so…”

“No, I don’t mind.”

“I thought you weren’t picking up the phone because you were mad at me,” Sugizo murmured into his shoulder and squeezed him tighter. “I’m really, really sorry.”

Heath sighed again. “Why didn’t you call last night?”

“I know, I’m sorry. Things ran late and it sort of slipped my mind, and by the time I remembered it was late. The last thing I wanted to do was annoy you even more by waking you up.” Sugizo pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek.

Heath laughed dryly. “It wouldn’t have mattered, honestly. I didn’t get much sleep last night anyway.”

“Oh.” Sugizo frowned. “I hope it wasn’t because of me. Can I make it up to you?”

“I’m fine, really.”

Sugizo moved on to kiss his neck. “I can make you more than fine.”

“Mm.” It felt nice but Heath really wasn’t in the mood after such an awful night’s sleep. “Maybe later.”

“Oh. Okay.” Sugizo pursed his lips and did his best to hide his disappointment. “Well, that doesn’t matter. I have something else for you.”

He took Heath’s hand and pulled him into the living room where he lifted the lid on a white box on the coffee table.

Heath laughed. “You brought me chocolate cake?”

“Made by an actual baker this time!”

Heath laughed again and he couldn’t help smiling while Sugizo served up a slice.

“Shoo. Off with you.” Sugizo flapped his free hand at Qoo who was circling his feet excitedly, begging for a piece. “Go away!”

Heath’s fork hovered over the cake. “Where’s yours?”

Sugizo shook his head and slipped an arm about Heath’s shoulders. “I’ll have some later. First I have to look after you.”

“Please? I feel weird if you’re just watching me eat. It’s not a spectator sport.”

“It is in some countries!”

Heath laughed.

“Maybe I’ll have one bite.” Sugizo opened his mouth and Heath giggled and fed him a piece of cake. “By the way, I really don’t approve of you trying to drown yourself.”

“That was only because you broke into my apartment unannounced and scared the life out of me!”

“You’re lucky I was there to rescue you!” Sugizo chuckled and nuzzled his neck. “Still mad at me?”

“Mm, I was a bit annoyed,” Heath admitted, licking the last smears of icing off the fork. “But I’m just glad to see you.”

“I’m glad to see you smile again.” Sugizo kissed his cheek.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Well… you, hopefully.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Would it help if I took you out for a nice dinner to make up for last night?”

Heath leaned in and kissed him. “That sounds nice, but you don’t have to.”

Sugizo smiled and chased those lush lips, pushing Heath down and deepening their kiss.

“Or what if we just stay in tonight?” he whispered, his lips brushing against Heath’s ear.

Heath shivered with pleasure. “That sounds… even better.”

 

A soft moan escaped from his lips when Sugizo began mouthing at his throat, one hand sliding up beneath Heath’s t-shirt, the other making its way down to squeeze his thigh, and Heath’s body seemed to move of its own accord, his fingers hooked into the belt loops of Sugizo’s jeans, his long legs clamped about the other’s hips and grinding against him, drawing a deep rumble of delight from the man on top of him and Sugizo kissed him roughly, wet, messy kisses, frantic and heady until Heath broke it off to gasp for air, biting his lip and arching his back as Sugizo began to undo his pants, fumbling with the button and the zip one-handed even as their hips still moved against one another. Heath raised his hips off the sofa to let Sugizo tug his jeans down and he fucking trembled when the guitarist’s fingers ghosted along the length of his straining cock before withdrawing to attend to himself and Heath was almost crying with the need to be touched, he needed it so badly that it almost hurt even as he watched Sugizo shoving his own jeans down to his knees, his dick just as eager, thick and heavy and so goddamn hard and they were all over each other, kissing and licking and biting, hardened flesh beneath soft, delicate skin rubbing and dragging against one another, both of them too lost in the moment to get up and take it to the bedroom to fuck each other properly. Sugizo paused just long enough to tug his t-shirt off over his head and helped Heath do the same. They laughed breathlessly when it got caught beneath his chin and they resumed their desperate, heated rutting, Sugizo with his face buried in his lover’s neck, biting and sucking and marking him as his own and whimpering with pleasure, Heath’s breathing coming out in short, shallow moans between heavy gasps, his hands clawing at Sugizo’s back, the sofa creaking in protest beneath them. The hot friction between them soon became too much and Heath could feel Sugizo thrusting against him harder and faster, knew he was very close and he looked down—

“Oh… god…” Sugizo stilled with a groan of pleasure and relief and Heath, unable to contain a moan himself, watched him pouring himself out in thick spurts and it fucking turned him on even more and he continued rutting right through Sugizo’s orgasm, breathing heavily and smearing his cum between them and he slender bassist arched and groaned and Sugizo watched his lover coming undone beneath him with a raw cry, pulsing out and adding to the mess that Sugizo had started, both of their cocks covered in thick pools of white and Sugizo groaned in appreciation, carefully lowering himself down on quivering limbs and trying to avoid the sticky, slimy mess they’d made.

“Smells like sex in here,” he murmured.

Heath laughed lightly. “Yeah. I’ll crack open a window.” His heart was still hammering away inside his chest and he heaved a tired, contented sigh.

 

It took more than a few handfuls of tissues to clean up, and by the time they’d squeezed into the shower together to wash the sweat and semen off their skin, they were all smiles and laughter and flirtatious kisses, all memory of any past or recent grudges flushed down the drain. Sugizo ordered take-out for dinner with the rest of the chocolate cake for dessert, and while they cuddled up on the sofa together and chatted about music and how Pata hadn’t been all that interested in Juno Reactor, it then occurred to Heath that he was supposed to talk to Sugizo about kissing Ryuichi. How would he even broach the topic? ‘Hey, by the way, all that kissing and fondling you do with Ryuichi onstage? That’s not serious, right?’

“You okay?”

“Hmm?” In a split-second of panic, Heath wondered if he’d said something out loud.

“You just seem a bit distracted.” Sugizo reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind Heath’s ear. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Sugizo frowned a little. “Not still mad at me for last night, are you? What else do I need to get to cheer you up? More chocolate cake? A blowjob? A chocolate blowjob?”

Heath laughed. “No, don’t be stupid!”

Now would be a good time to bring it up.

But they were having such a nice time after having kissed and made up, just snuggling on the sofa and basking in what was left of that post-orgasm afterglow. It would be a terrible shame to spoil the mood, so he shelved the thought for later and got up to rummage in the drawer.

“Here,” he said, tossing Sugizo a small silvery object. “I don’t know why we didn’t do this sooner.”

It fell short and landed on the sofa, getting caught in the crack between two cushions, and Sugizo picked it up and held it in the palm of his hand. “Aw, thanks. I’ll get you a spare key for my place, too.”

Heath smiled. “That’d be nice.”

“I’ll say. I can’t wait for you to break into my apartment and take advantage of me while I’m naked and wet and vulnerable.”

“Deal.” Heath reached out a hand and they shook on it, laughing. “Are you going to stay tonight?”

“Mm, yeah.” Sugizo pulled Heath back into his lap. “If you don’t mind.”

“Good.” Heath rested his head on Sugizo’s shoulder.

Sugizo nuzzled his hair affectionately. “Maybe I’ll just stop wearing clothes at home.”

 

Chapter Text

Exchanging keys was a step up in their relationship and it wasn’t long before the subject of moving in together came up again. Sugizo seemed excited with the prospect of having their own place and doing it in every room. They had a look at a few apartments—not too seriously, more just to see what was available—but they never got much further than that. The Desire single was released in November and Luna Sea also had to rehearse and prepare for their Lunatic Tokyo lives in December, including the band’s first time playing at Tokyo Dome.

X Japan also had their own tour coming up, starting at the end of November. They’d be playing another two back to back shows at Tokyo Dome to end the year, finally concluding the tour at the end of March. In the weeks leading up to the Dahlia tour, Heath and Sugizo barely saw each other. They spoke on the phone a few times but there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about, mostly work and more work. Even when Heath did take the time for a break, they couldn’t get their schedules to line up. Inevitably Sugizo would be busy when Heath had a day or an afternoon off, and by the time Sugizo had some free time, Heath would be back in the studio with the rest of the band or locked in his apartment, practising.

Sugizo had shown up at Heath’s apartment with movie tickets once. He was sure that Heath would be eager for a break, especially knowing which film they’d be seeing. Ever since it was announced that an animated Ghost in the Shell film was going into production, they’d both been beside themselves with excitement and now it was finally here. He was feeling pretty good about the idea until Heath turned him down with many, many apologies about being ‘too tired’ and ‘too busy’. Sugizo ended up giving the tickets to Tezya and going home alone.

This was starting to get on Sugizo’s nerves but he did his best to look at the bigger picture.

Suck it up, he told himself. So you haven’t been together in a few weeks. This is his first proper tour with X. Of course it’s a big deal for him. He’s probably stressed and tired and

 

Yes, that was it!

 

Sugizo smiled to himself and grabbed his wallet and keys.

 

***

 

Heath rolled his shoulders and flexed his hands and wrists, stiff and tired from hours of practise. Curled up in the corner, Qoo looked up at him and blinked. He got up to fetch a glass of water, letting his eyes wander around the kitchen as he drank and he stopped when his gaze fell upon the clock on the wall. Shit, was that the time? He’d been so preoccupied with everything that he’d completely skipped lunch. In case he wasn’t sure, his stomach complained loudly to remind him that it needed attention. He looked in the fridge: there was food in there but he didn’t feel like cooking tonight.

 

Outside in the foyer, the motion-sensing light flicked on and then there was a knock at the door. Heath was puzzled. He was pretty sure he wasn’t expecting any visitors.

“Oh good, you are alive.” Sugizo smiled when the door opened.

Heath returned this a tired smile of his own. “Hi! What are you doing here? Wait, we didn’t have plans, did we?”

No, Sugizo thought sourly. Because we’ve hardly spoken in the last few weeks.

Out loud, he said, “No, I was just getting worried about you working too hard and not taking care of yourself, so I thought I’d come over and give you a break.”

Heath ushered him inside and shut the door against the cool November air.

“Have you eaten yet?”

Heath gave a self-deprecating laugh. “No. I kind of accidentally skipped lunch.”

“You what?” Sugizo sighed. “Good thing I got extra food, then.”

“What did you get?”

“Mos Burger!” The guitarist started unloading packages of food from a big brown paper bag: perfectly assembled burgers in their little waxed paper sleeves, onion rings, fries, a couple of drinks and even cheesecake for dessert.

“Thank you so much. You’re the best.” Heath sank onto the sofa beside Sugizo and leaned against him.

“You’re welcome,” Sugizo smiled, pressing a kiss to his hair. “C’mon, eat up before it gets any colder.”

Heath was famished and quickly polished off two burgers and fries. Sugizo dutifully fed Qoo her dinner while she climbed all over him, wagging her tail and trying to lick his face. The cosy warmth of the apartment coupled with a full stomach soon had Heath falling asleep on Sugizo’s shoulder.

“Heath,” he whispered, giving his shoulders a gentle shake.

“Mm?”

“Let me take you to bed. Come on.”

Heath just mumbled something unintelligible and snuggled up to him harder, refusing to open his eyes. Sighing, Sugizo dragged the grumbling bassist to his feet and helped him to the bedroom where Heath crawled onto the bed, clutched his pillow and buried his face in it. He barely moved when Sugizo undid his jeans and tugged them off.

He was debating whether to stay or go when Heath rolled over and patted the other side of the bed. Smiling, Sugizo stripped down to his boxers and climbed into bed where Heath immediately snuggled into his arms.

“Miss you,” he murmured.

Sugizo kissed his forehead. “I miss you too.”

Heath was asleep in no time and Sugizo sighed to himself again. Well, so much for sex, then.

 

***

 

When Sugizo woke the next morning, Heath was already out of bed and had been for some time, judging by how cold his side of the bed was. Sugizo found him sitting in his study with his back to the door, bent over the bass guitar in his lap.

“Heath.”

But he had his headphones on and didn’t hear, and Sugizo watched as he picked up his mug and took a big gulp with a noise of disgust. He set the mug down and pushed it away. Sugizo left the room quietly and put the kettle on. He helped himself to a banana and made two cups of fresh coffee. They liked their coffee the same way: strong with a touch of sugar and a dash of milk, but this morning he made one of them extra-strong. He tossed the banana skin in the trash and returned to the study, carefully setting both coffees down on the end of the desk.

 

Heath jumped a little when something touched his shoulder and he slid the headphones off his head. “Hey,” he smiled. “Good morning.”

“Morning.” Sugizo kissed the top of his head. “You’ve been up for a while, haven’t you?”

“Did I wake you? Sorry.”

“No but I saw you trying to drink cold coffee.” Sugizo pressed the extra-strong cup of coffee into his hand.

“Thank you.” Heath wrapped his hands around the mug and took a sip. “Mm. Damn, that’s good.”

“Maybe you should take a break.”

Heath shook his head. “I can’t. We’re leaving the day after tomorrow and we’ve got rehearsals and sound checks and props.”

He trailed off when Sugizo wrapped his arms around his slender frame and kissed his neck; long, languid kisses along the curve down to his shoulders and Heath tilted his head up when those lips made their way up towards his jawline, reaching up to tangle his fingers in Sugizo’s hair, tilted his head to meet his lips… and pulled away.

“Not now. Sorry,” Heath murmured with an apologetic smile.

Sugizo knew that he meant it. Heath really was sorry. But that didn’t stop Sugizo from feeling frustrated and annoyed. He sighed and did his best to mask it. “Yeah. Okay. I understand. I’ll… I’ll get out of your hair.”

 

Sugizo drove home a little faster than he should have, grabbed his gym bag and spent the next hour or so releasing a lot of pent-up frustration on a punching bag.



Hours later, Heath decided to stop for a short lunch break. He got up and stretched, and started clearing away the coffee mugs when he stopped. There was a third mug, stone cold and barely touched. With a sinking heart, he realised that it was Sugizo’s. Heath grabbed his phone and walked around in a small circle while it rang and rang.

 

Pick up, pick up, pick up. Please pick up.

 

When it rang out, he put the phone back onto his desk and poured the cold coffee down the sink.

 

***

 

“Stupid fucking… god damn it…”

 

Sugizo slammed the car door shut, cursing under his breath when he dropped his keys. He hadn’t spoken to Heath since spending the night a few weeks back. He wasn’t actually avoiding him—well, maybe a little bit—but between Luna Sea’s rehearsal schedule and X Japan’s tour schedule, it was hard to find the time. That was what he told himself, anyway. His own rehearsals had helped take his mind off it and he was starting to mellow, but now he’d come home in a worse mood than when he’d left his apartment earlier today and it was all J’s fault.

 

During their break, Sugizo’s phone had rung and J caught a glimpse at it just before he put it back in his pocket. “Not going to answer?”

Sugizo just shrugged as nonchalantly as he could and said nothing.

“Did you and Heath have another tiff?”

Another shrug. “Not really.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“I’ve barely seen him in the last few weeks and we’ve hardly spoken, and when I went over to his place, he practically ignored me and wouldn’t let me touch him.”

“Whoa, too much information.”

Sugizo just gave him a dirty look.

“Okay.” J studied his expression. “And not answering his calls is supposed to make that better?”

 

Sometimes it surprised Sugizo how sensitive J could be. The man had ‘badass motherfucker’ written all over him: tall and masculine, deep voice, never afraid to speak his mind, and looked like he would punch you in the throat if you so much as looked at him funny, but Onose Jun was nothing if not the consummate gentleman. He was humble and affable, outgoing without being obnoxious and he was a good listener. He had treated every single girlfriend like a queen and he composed some damn good ballads. But Sugizo was in no mood to be agreeable today.

“Maybe I’m kind of pissed off and want some space?” Sugizo had said a little more rudely than he meant to. “Anyway, I don’t want to bother him. I think they’re on their way back from Sendai.”

“Ryu and I are going to the Tokyo Dome show on the 30th. Are you?”

Sugizo just shrugged and changed the subject.



Now, he stomped down the beige-tiled corridor of his apartment building and snatched the bundle of white envelopes sticking out of his mail box slot as he passed, jogging up the stairs two at a time, barely acknowledging one of his neighbours when she made eye contact and nodded politely. He was not in the mood for mundane small talk.

Inside his apartment, Sugizo rifled through the mail before tossing it on the counter with some other unopened mail. There were a few promo flyers and most of it looked like a combination of bills and some fan mail that had been forwarded from their managing office. Normally he liked reading fan mail but he was in no mood for it tonight.

 

At least they had both mellowed by the time Christmas had rolled around. The Lunatic Tokyo show had been an incredible experience and although X Japan was still on the road, Heath had called to wish him a merry Christmas. They’d had a short but pleasant conversation and the subject of all those missed calls did not come up.

“So,” Heath had said hesitantly. “Will I see you at Tokyo Dome at the end of the year?”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Oh. Okay.”

 

On the night of the 30th, J once again called to ask if he’d be attending the show with them. Sugizo did want to go and support the band but now it was too late. Normally he and Heath would just give each other tickets but it must have slipped Heath’s mind and by now, both shows were completely sold out and had been for a while. Even all of the most expensive tickets were gone and pride prevented him from going straight to Yoshiki for help. It wasn’t until the next morning that he realised his oversight. He’d finally decided to sit down and go through the bills and fan mail that had been piling up over the past month and came across a plain white envelope with his name and address written in Heath’s neat hand. Slow panic wrapped its fingers around Sugizo’s throat and squeezed. He opened it and pulled a slip of paper out. Two smaller pieces of paper fluttered onto the floor but he gripped the letter with both hands.

Sugizo,
I’m really sorry about ignoring you lately.
This tour is important but so are you.
I understand if you want some space but it would be
amazing if you came to the Tokyo Dome shows if you’re
feeling up to it. I’d love to see you backstage afterwards.
I miss you.

Love,
H

In the quiet of his apartment, the sound of his pounding heart was deafening and it took a second to realise that he’d been holding his breath. His hands gripped the letter so tightly that the paper crinkled. He looked down. The two slips of paper that had fallen out were unmistakably concert tickets. VIP concert tickets.

 

Fuck.

 

***

 

Spending over three hours on stage at Tokyo Dome was exhausting but they were too high on adrenaline to feel it. hide, Yoshiki and Pata were chugging beer and yelling about going bar hopping to celebrate the new year. Toshi was shaking his head but hide was egging him on in the way that only hide could.

Heath hung back and quietly got dressed off after having a quick shower in the backstage facilities. He kept thinking about the phone conversation they’d had on Christmas night and the way Sugizo had said he’d ‘try his best’ to attend the Tokyo Dome shows. Surely he had to have received the tickets in the mail by now.

“C’mon Toshi, even Heath’s coming with us! Right?” hide seized Heath by the shoulders and gave him a playful shake.

Heath hesitated and a slight crease appeared between his brows. “I dunno…”

“You WHAT!” hide looked personally offended, as though Heath had just announced that he would rather set himself on fire than go drinking with his friends. “Don’t be stupid, of course you are! Drinking is a national pastime!”

“I kind of just want to get some sleep—”

“You will get to sleep, afterwards!

“hide, Toshi and I know your kind of drinking and—”

They were interrupted by a knock at the door. It was someone from their security crew in a plain black suit and tie with his security pass clipped to the breast pocket, and his black sunglasses and slicked-back hair completed the look. “I beg your pardon. There’s someone here to see you.”

The security guy disappeared and seconds later Sugizo poked his head around the door just as Heath pulled a fresh t-shirt on over his head.

“Sugizo!” hide immediately threw up his arms in greeting. “Get in here and help us!”

“Wha— help? Why?” A confused Sugizo glanced between hide and Heath.

“These two—” hide pointed an accusing finger at Toshi and Heath, “—are a couple of spineless losers who are too fucking lame to go for new year’s drinks. You should come with us!”

Heath offered Sugizo a tentative smile and Sugizo returned this with a small smile of his own.

“Did you see the show?” Yoshiki asked, swatting hide aside.

“I did, actually.” Sugizo glanced at Heath again. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it last night but I dropped everything to be here tonight. It was amazing, I expected nothing less. Especially the bass solo.”

The rest of the band fell silent and exchanged knowing glances with each other.

“Oh I think we’re interrupting something,” Toshi said with a smirk and he gave Sugizo a nudge with his shoulder.

Sugizo made his way across the room awkwardly with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jacket, not quite knowing where to look.

Heath offered him a shy smile. “I’m so glad you could make it,” he said quietly.

“Yeah.” Sugizo looked over his shoulder. Across the room, Toshi, hide, Pata and Yoshiki were talking amongst themselves in low voices but still peeping in their direction. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a tool.”

“No, I’m sorry. When I didn’t see you after last night’s show, I thought—”

“I didn’t actually see your letter until today,” Sugizo admitted. “I kinda thought it was junk mail at first.”

“Really? That was smart,” Heath teased, but he was visibly relieved.

“So um, do you feel like going for drinks?”

Heath looked up and caught hide’s eye; the man kept trying to wave them over and was getting more determined by the second. “I’d like to but honestly, I think I’d prefer a quiet night in.”

“Oh.” Sugizo looked glum.

“No.” Heath took his hand. “I mean a quiet night in with you.”

“Oh!”

“Are you two done fucking each other with your eyes or what?” Yoshiki shouted.

“Wh-what?” Heath reddened. “W-we’re not—”

“Oh please, you’re practically reaching for that post-sex cigarette already,” hide drawled, ignoring the weird looks from Pata and Toshi.

“Hurry the fuck up, we’re leaving!” Yoshiki shouted. He held Toshi’s arm in a firm grip and the vocalist was making faces. “Sugizo, do you need a ride?”

“No that’s fine, I drove here.” He gently squeezed Heath’s hand. “Um, look, I think I’m going to take this one home. He needs a good night’s rest.”

hide gave a disbelieving snort. “Not if you’ve got anything to do with it.”

“Yeah, why don’t you just say it?” Yoshiki jeered. “Heath just wants to spend New Year’s Eve with his boyfriend and not us old fogeys, is that right?”

They erupted into cheers and laughter when Heath’s cheeks turned even redder and Sugizo felt compelled to laugh as well, if only because Heath looked damn cute when he was embarrassed. Instead, he put a protective arm around Heath and waved them off as best he could. “Come on guys, leave him alone!”

“I thought the point was that he didn’t want to be alone!”

“Think you can wait till you get home?”

 

The pair finally managed to escape to Sugizo’s car and they slammed the doors shut, laughing and feeling somewhat hysterical, their breath coming out in puffs of vapour in the frigid winter air.

“Sometimes I really fucking hate them. They’re worse than my brother!” Heath wiped a tear from his eye and his face was starting to ache from smiling and laughing so much.

“Yeah,” Sugizo agreed. “Pack of idiots.”

Then fell silent for a moment and then Heath reached over and squeezed his hand. “Are we okay?”

Sugizo turned and gazed at him for a moment, and squeezed back. “Yeah. We’re okay.”

“How about we go back to your place?”

“Oh. Are you sure? What about Qoo?”

“She’s been staying with my neighbour Mr Komada and his chihuahua. She’ll be fine.”

 

The drive back to Sugizo’s apartment was made in comfortable silence and Heath followed him up the stairs, hand in hand. Like a gentleman, Sugizo stood aside to let Heath through the door first but Heath smiled politely and declined. “No, after you.”

Inside Sugizo slipped his shoes off and headed into the kitchen.

“Tea?” he offered, and the word had scarcely left his lips when the warmth of Heath’s body pressed against his back, and his skin tingled and burned from the sudden overload of heightened awareness and sensitivity all over his body: Heath’s lips at his neck, kissing him slowly; Heath’s arms holding him in a delicate embrace, one hand slipping beneath the hem of his shirt to caress the soft skin, still sweaty from spending three hours in a crowded concert hall with the rest of the audience, the other hand dipping into his jeans and, finding them a little too tight, began to undo his belt; Heath’s hips grinding against his ass through two layers of denim between them. Sugizo stood still and let Heath do as he wished, hyper-aware of every movement and every touch as he tried not to tremble, tried to keep his breathing even. Heath easily undid his belt and the fastenings on his jeans and kept on kissing his neck as he slipped a hand inside his underwear and found hot, hard flesh and a tremulous mewl rose from Sugizo’s throat when Heath ground his hips against his ass with his lips still at his neck, kissing and sucking and biting until Heath’s free hand crept up and wrapped loosely around Sugizo’s throat, keeping their bodies pressed together while they kissed, hot, feverish, open-mouthed kisses, pausing briefly only for the occasional moan at their mutual pleasure. Heath tugged Sugizo’s trousers down just past his hips and took his length in hand while Sugizo reached behind him, fumbling to undo his lover’s jeans and Heath bit back a moan when the guitarist’s calloused fingers touched his own cock, thrusting against his hand, sliding along the cleft of his ass as he grew harder and, with his arms bracing him against the countertop Sugizo pushed back against him, earning him a low growl of approval. He loved these occasional displays of dominance from the otherwise gentle and placid bassist, given the right mood and the right moment, and Heath continued thrusting up against his ass while he worked his lover’s length with his hands until they were both rock-hard and leaking, Sugizo groaning with the need to be fucked and used.

Heath kissed the back of his neck and grazed his teeth along his ear. “Got any lube?”

Sugizo chuckled and ground himself back against Heath’s hips once more. “What, you think people actually walk around with lube in their pockets?”

Heath buried his face in Sugizo’s shoulder, stifling a burst of laughter.

“Next you’ll be telling me that people actually scream their partner’s name during an orgasm, too.”

Still sniggering to themselves, they made their way to the bedroom feeling slightly absurd shuffling around with their trousers and underwear scrunched down and their dicks just out in the open like that, until they crawled onto the bed and resumed their heated kissing while well-practised hands began to gently remove Sugizo’s clothes, light fingertips brushing over his oversensitive skin. If anyone happened to met Heath on any given day, Sugizo thought, they’d think that he was a softly-spoken, polite, intelligent young man who rarely spoke unless spoken to and they’d be right about that, but god he could be fucking sexy when he wanted to be, especially the way he was now with his quiet confidence as he looked Sugizo straight in the eye, slowly undressing himself, discarding his clothes carelessly on the floor. If only he used even a fraction of that sexy confidence on stage, he’d shine so much brighter. Sugizo had brought it up once, just very casually suggesting that Heath only had to show a little skin and he’d have the fans crying and fainting in the aisles. Heath had just laughed and shaken his head.

He’s all mine anyway, Sugizo thought now as Heath pressed a kiss here, a kiss there, using his lips and tongue to tease, and enjoyed the way that Sugizo’s breathing shortened and his body tensed and squirmed. Heath had always liked it slow, something that Sugizo was never able to mirror. It wasn’t so much that he was in a rush to get it done; rather, it was that once he got started, he had great difficulty holding back. Heath, befitting of his more reserved nature, did not have this problem and when Sugizo was on the receiving end it was as maddening as it was satisfying, torturous as it was sensual, and finally when he began teasing Sugizo with lube-coated fingers, the guitarist purred and arched like a cat, clenching and moaning with his hands twisted in the sheets when those fingers reached that sweet spot inside him until it began to feel almost too good.

“Heath,” Sugizo panted. “Heath I can’t, I’m gonna lose it if you keep that up.”

“Don’t you want to?”

“Not unless you do it properly,” the guitarist ground out between clenched teeth and in case Heath needed a more obvious invitation, he turned over and spread his legs, the lean muscles in his shoulders and thighs pulled taut in anticipation. Heath poured some more lube into his hand, giving himself a few good strokes to slick up. His heart was thrumming away in his chest like one of those toys that vibrates when you pull a string. They’d stopped using condoms recently and this would be his first time fucking Sugizo without one. He held his breath as he slowly pushed inside; Sugizo moaned and his cock twitched and strained and leaked, and Heath followed with a moan of his own to really feel him, so hot and tight around him that he stilled for a moment, still scarcely breathing, fully sheathed inside him with his hips firmly pressed against Sugizo’s ass.

“You okay?” Sugizo breathed.

“Yeah.” Heath’s voice was strained and a touch higher than it normally was. “You feel… oh god, you feel so good.”

Just for fun, Sugizo clenched around him and Heath groaned again. The hand resting at Sugizo’s hip tightened and Heath slowly let out his breath and began to move, pulling out most of the way and sliding back inside, over and over again, drawing out their pleasure as long as he could bear it and at the same time not quite believing how amazing they felt together, and he fucked him slowly for a while, listening to their laboured breathing, watching his length sliding in and out of his lover’s body, but Sugizo had reached the end of his tether and his moans were punctuated with soft, needy cries for more until Heath was fucking him so hard that at the back of his mind he was sure that his hips and Sugizo’s ass might be bruised from the rhythmic slap slap slap of flesh on bone against flesh on bone and Heath pulled out, flipped his lover onto his back and drove back inside him harder than ever and it was only a few more thrusts before Sugizo thrashed and arched with a breathless “Fuck I’m gonna—” and he finished with a strangled cry and Heath soon followed, his cock pulsing and straining, emptying himself inside his lover with one last thrust and one last groan through clenched teeth, their cries of pleasure muted by an intense rush of blood through his ears and the pounding of his heart. They took a moment to catch their breath until Heath could finally pull out and ease his weary body onto the bed beside Sugizo, and they gazed into one another’s eyes, faces flushed with pleasure and exertion.

“Happy new year,” Heath murmured, moving closer to press their sweaty foreheads together.

“Happy new year.” Sugizo sighed happily and closed his eyes. “Hey. Are you free tomorrow?”

“Sure am.”

“Do you want to see Ghost in the Shell?”

“Definitely. But only on one condition.”

Sugizo’s heart began to sink. “What?”

“Don’t even try arguing with me on this.” Heath pulled him into a tight snuggle. “I’m buying the snacks and tickets.”

 

Chapter Text

March 1996

 

“I really think you should see a doctor if it’s bothering you that much.”

“I don’t want to see a doctor and it actually looks like it’s bothering you a whole lot more than it's bothering me.”

“Would you please just listen to me—”

“All they’re going to do is make me get undressed while they poke and prod and do their stupid scans and run their stupid tests, and then tell me to exercise more and smoke less. I’ve seen tonnes of doctors and they’re all the same.”

“And you don’t think that means anything?”

 

Over the past couple of years, the threads had already begun to loosen but 1996 was the year that everything really started to fall apart. At their hotel in Nagoya, Heath strolled up the corridor, past the open door to Yoshiki’s room and he stopped short. Just inside the doorway hide was hovering over Yoshiki with worry written all over his face.

“Uh.” Heath looked from one to the other, wondering if he should interrupt or not. “Something wrong, guys?”

“Absolutely not!” Yoshiki said in an impatient tone. “Can we get going already?”

“He said his neck hurts again.” hide had his serious face on today, and hide’s serious face usually meant that there was something worth worrying about.

“I slept funny, that’s all,” Yoshiki said irritably, rubbing the back of his neck. “If I move it this way it twinges a bit. As if that’s never happened to you. I get it all the time and it fixes itself in a few days, it’s nothing to get worked up over.”

“That is exactly what I mean!” their pink-haired guitarist said. “If you’ve had neck pain on and off for years, you should get that looked at! Heath, back me up here.”

They both looked at him expectantly. Nobody enjoys being put on the spot and being asked to pick a side, but this time the choice was easy. “Sorry Yoshiki but I’m going to have to agree with hide on this.”

“Thank you!” hide shouted, exasperated. “Finally someone who talks sense!”

“It’s nothing that can’t be cured with a massage and a good night’s sleep!”

“And when was the last time you actually had a good night’s sleep?”

By now, Pata had joined them and stood next to Heath with his arms crossed and eyebrows raised, watching the two biggest personalities in the band going back and forth. It wasn’t often that they disagreed on anything this strongly. He exchanged a glance with Heath, who pointed at his neck and shrugged.

“Aren’t they always saying that prevention is better than a cure?”

“Ugh, you’re starting to talk like an old lady.”

“Okay, let me put it this way then: if your car’s got shitty brakes, are you going to get them fixed before or after the accident?”

“Yoshiki, where’s the harm in a quick checkup?” Pata interrupted. “That’ll give us all some peace of mind and then you can go back to telling everyone that they were wrong and you were right like you always do.”

“We’re just worried that you might hurt yourself,” hide added anxiously.

“The harm,” Yoshiki said very tersely, “is that these things are never ‘quick’. Or are you forgetting that we have a show on tonight?”

Deciding that he was thoroughly fed up with this pointless argument, Yoshiki squeezed between Pata and Heath standing in the doorway and disappeared down the corridor. hide looked tired and defeated. When Yoshiki had made up his mind about something, sometimes it was difficult even for hide to sway him.

 

They were coming up towards the end of their Dahlia tour with two shows here in Nagoya, followed by one in Fukuoka and another three shows at Yokohama Arena. Then they’d close out the tour and the year at Tokyo Dome. They’d already played every show prior to this without major incident and Yoshiki was confident that this would be no different. He’d played with a sore neck before and it usually went away after a few days. If it didn’t, he’d pop a few painkillers and power through the discomfort to get the job done. A good, long soak in a hot bath always helped, too. He kept bashing those drums as hard as he ever had, ignoring the persistent sting of pain in his neck.

The moment that Yoshiki collapsed was something that Heath would never forget. All eyes had been trained on Yoshiki when he suddenly stopped drumming; he appeared confused for a moment and reached up to rub his neck before crumpling onto the floor. ‘Moderation’ was not in Yoshiki’s vocabulary so it wasn’t unusual for him to work himself beyond exhaustion and topple off his stool but this time he looked shattered and it had taken several very long seconds for everyone—the band, the stagehands and roadies, the audience—to realise that it was real and that he wasn’t putting it on this time. He was actually hurt.

The rest of the show was immediately cancelled while the remaining four members of the band bundled into a taxi with Pata squeezed in the back between Heath and Toshi, and hide in the front frantically directing the driver to follow the ambulance ahead with its flashing lights. None of them said a word during the whole ride. A stunned, frozen sort of silence had fallen over them and the only sound that could be heard in the cabin of the taxi was the low music over the car’s stereo and the hollow rumble of tyres on asphalt.

When they pulled up outside the hospital, hide threw some money at the driver and they scrambled out in time to see Yoshiki being wheeled inside the emergency ward. He was firmly strapped down to a collapsible stretcher with a stiff brace fitted to his neck, immobilised and surrounded by ambulance paramedics and emergency hospital staff. The four of them followed, still clad in their stage outfits and looking extremely out of place amongst the paramedics in their utilitarian uniforms and high-visibility vests and the A&E staff in their dark blue scrubs.

The rest of the night and the small hours of the morning passed slowly while they waited for any news on Yoshiki’s condition. The hours dragged on and on, melting into one another, yet they were so preoccupied with worry that they barely noticed. Finally after an interminable wait, a middle-aged doctor emerged and broke the news to them: the diagnosis was herniated cervical vertebrae, or for all intents and purposes, a broken neck. The cervical vertebrae had been badly damaged from years of reckless headbanging and aggressive drumming, gradually wearing down until something eventually—perhaps inevitably—gave way. The doctors were astonished that the damage wasn’t much worse. This kind of injury was enough to put an end to a rugby player’s career. Meanwhile hide, Pata and Heath could only think about how they had tried to convince Yoshiki to see a doctor about his ongoing neck pain, and that had been mere hours before it actually happened right in front of them—hell, in front of thousands. They didn’t speak about it but they were all thinking the same thing: why hadn’t he listened? Why hadn’t they tried harder? They all knew that he frequently complained of neck and wrist pain. Sometimes they even ribbed him about hamming it up and being a baby, but the only thing they could think of now was why hadn’t they tried harder?

Almost 24 hours after the incident, they were finally told that they could visit him in Intensive Care, but only two at a time and only for five minutes only to allow the patient to rest. hide and Pata went first, and Heath sat by Toshi’s side and glanced at him, studying his face, wondering if he should offer some small words of comfort. Unlike hide, who was visibly upset, or even Pata, whose normally stoic mien gave way to worry, Toshi’s face bore an oddly shuttered look. Everybody reacts to bad news differently, Heath supposed. Yoshiki was Toshi’s best friend; he was probably in shock and it might take some time for the news to really sink in. Even Heath wasn’t sure what he was supposed to think right now. It had all happened so fast. He gave Toshi’s shoulder a gentle, reassuring pat.

“How is he?” Heath asked, standing up as soon as he saw their two guitarists coming back out from the Intensive Care ward.

The smoky makeup around hide’s eyes was smudged and running, but he attempted a small smile. “I fucking told him, didn’t I? What did we fucking tell him?”

“C’mon, man,” Pata rumbled, helping hide into a chair. “Want a drink? I’ll go find some water. Heath, you guys can go in but be quick. He’s on some pretty strong painkillers so he’ll be drifting in and out.”

Lying there amongst the stiff white hospital sheets with a brace at his neck and all sorts of leads and tubes snaking all over the place, Yoshiki looked like he’d been hauled out from a car accident, minus the blood. The very sight was unsettling and Toshi hung back, but Heath gave Yoshiki’s fingertips a gentle squeeze and the drummer just barely managed to squeeze back. His eyelids fluttered and it seemed to take a lot of effort for him to focus his gaze on his two friends standing by his bedside.

“I’ll be out of here in no time,” he whispered. “Got a tour to finish, right?”

Despite himself, Heath had to chuckle at that. “Did hide say I told you so?

Yoshiki gave a wry smile. “No, but I could tell that he wanted to.”

“Yoshiki…”

“I’m fine! They’ll do their tests and scans and tell me there’s nothing wrong with me. Right?”

Heath bit his lip. “Uh. Right.”

He glanced back at Toshi to gauge his reaction. Toshi’s face had gone from stony to sad, like he was close to tears, but he took a tentative step forward and reached for his friend’s hand.

“Yoshiki. I’m sorry.”

Yoshiki tried another smile. “What for? This isn’t your fault.”

But Toshi could only keep apologising until Heath gently guided him away to let Yoshiki rest. “I’m so sorry…”



Once he was moved out of Intensive Care, Yoshiki’s friends and family visited as often as they could and visiting hours soon became a revolving door of musicians wanting to visit him and wish him a speedy recovery. His mother admonished him for not taking better care of himself, knowing his constitution. Hundreds of fans started sending ‘get well’ cards and letters and gifts of flowers and plush teddy bears until Yoshiki’s assistant was ordered to take them to his house so that the hospital room could be cleared of any unnecessary clutter. Throughout this flurry of activity, during this time when he should have been by his best friend’s side, Toshi began to withdraw.

The next month in April, Luna Sea released their fifth and best-selling album to date, Style, and soon the band would begin planning and rehearsing for the UnEnding Style tour scheduled for July. Meanwhile X Japan’s future was on hold until the doctors could give their final word on Yoshiki's condition and this put everybody in the band on tenterhooks. During these next few months, Heath and Sugizo didn’t see each other as much as they might have liked and when they did, they were too busy, too stressed or simply too tired to enjoy their time together.

This was not for lack of trying. They attended a late-night screening of some horror film but it was so crudely violent and gory that even Heath hated it and they ended up leaving half-way through. It put a damper on their mood, having felt like they’d wasted the evening and they retired to Heath’s apartment, exchanging only a quick kiss before going to sleep.

Then Sugizo invited Heath to a party being thrown by MCA Victor, although perhaps coaxed was a more apt term. They all despised these record label parties but sometimes such events were a necessary evil, like making an appearance at those excruciating annual family gatherings where so-called relatives ask obscenely personal questions just so they can boast about themselves or their own children’s achievements.

‘Your last album went platinum? What does that actually mean? Oh, did you know that Ryota is a Senior Executive at his firm and he met Bill Gates? Oh, no, Takumi couldn’t be here, he’s taking his wife on a 5-star cruise around the Mediterranean.’

On the surface, these record label parties were supposed to bring artists together to rub shoulders and make industry connections. A lot of younger, up and coming artists attended these parties in hopes of getting that extra leg up in exposure and publicity, but mostly it was full of self-congratulatory label execs and agents and managers in their expensive suits and phoney smiles that didn’t reach their eyes, pretending that the music industry was different and not full of bloodsucking leeches just like anything else in the entertainment sphere. They nodded over their tall champagne flutes and talked as though they knew anything about what went into writing music that meant something, when everyone knew that the only thing they cared about was pushing burnt-out artists to keep on producing record after record to get the cash rolling in, and packaging up the latest batch of jpop idols fresh off the conveyor belt to replace the ones who had gotten too ‘old’, groups of perfectly made up pretty boys or girls wearing coordinated outfits and singing and dancing to carefully-curated hits that were designed to appeal to the great masses until they, too, were forced into an early ‘retirement’ before they turned 30. A small percentage of them had enough talent and industry knowledge to pursue a decent solo career for at least a few years, but most simply disappeared into obscurity.

“I just can’t stand the idea of being there alone, talking to a bunch of nobodies about nothing,” Sugizo was saying.

“But you won’t be alone,” Heath pointed out. “You’ll have the guys to keep you company.”

“It’s not the same as having you there.” Sugizo tried his best smile. “We don’t have to stay the whole night. Just an hour or so, make an appearance, say hi to everyone and we can leave and do anything you want. C’mon, please?”

In the end Heath had agreed, largely out of pity. Yoshiki was all about making industry connections and had dragged them to enough of these soirées for Heath to know that, as miserable as they were, being there with someone who hated these receptions as much as you did made them slightly less unbearable. A burden shared is a burden halved, after all. They showed up to the party half an hour late and the members of Luna Sea immediately gravitated toward one another, sharing the same resigned grimace at having to be there at all.

“Fuck, I can’t wait to leave.” J was clutching a bottle of Asahi Super Dry like a lifeline. Out of the five of them, he looked the most out of place, even after having dressed a little more smartly for the occasion.

“How’d Sugizo convince you to come, Heath?” Shinya asked, grinning. “Feel sorry for him?”

Heath smiled back. “Basically.”

“You’re too soft. You’d have more fun if you stayed at home licking the lead out of the paint on the walls.”

Inoran coughed. “What the fuck, Shinya.”

“What?”

They milled about with fake smiles, holding drinks in one hand and snacking from the buffet of finger food—fried spring rolls, sushi, tiny quiches, samosas, wafer-thin strips of smoked salmon twirled into coral-pink rosettes—and Sugizo kept quietly repeating to Heath that they would leave ‘in an hour or so’. Of course, that was before an old friend of Sugizo and Shinya’s breezed past and the trio eventually drifted off to talk to some other friends. Ryuichi was long gone by this point, and Inoran and J looked ready to leave as well, if not for the fact that they didn’t want to leave Heath there by himself.

J cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Look uh, Heath. You really don’t have to hang around if you don’t want to. It’s bad enough that you have to go to all of Yoshiki’s functions. I think the three of us should just scram.”

“No, that’s all right,” Heath said with that same polite smile, even as he watched Sugizo laughing and talking animatedly to a woman that he didn’t recognise. “I should wait for him but you guys can leave if you’ve got somewhere to be.”

“Yeah, anywhere but here.” Inoran shifted restlessly on his feet, itching for a cigarette. “Seriously Heath, just go. I told Nami she’d be better off watching TV at home and she wanted to come. I don’t get why he dragged you here in the first place.”

Heath didn’t know why, either; Sugizo was clearly very capable of keeping himself entertained at any party, even one that he’d claimed to spurn, but leaving without him would be poor manners. Worse still was knowing that if he went and told Sugizo that he wanted to leave, Sugizo would almost certainly put on those puppy dog eyes and ask him to stay, and, put on the spot in front of a bunch of strangers, Heath would be forced to comply out of sheer politeness. Anyone would. Being stuck here with the guys in their little bubble was one thing, but the thought of being trapped making small talk with strangers made his skin crawl. So he stayed put.

Soon after this exchange, Inoran slipped out the door but J stayed to keep Heath company. They had been at the party for almost four mind-numbing hours by the time Sugizo and Shinya found them again, their faces falling at how bored and displeased both bassists looked.

“Shit,” Shinya said, looking chagrined. “Sorry, guys. I guess we got sidetracked.”

Heath said nothing and J only answered with a grunt.

Sugizo looked around. “Where’s Inoran and Ryu?”

“They got bored and left oh, about two hours ago,” J said pointedly with one raised eyebrow, making a big show of looking at his watch. “I would have left, too, but I didn’t want to abandon Heath here all by himself.”

“I’m really sorry, guys. Heath. I’m sorry.” Sugizo’s voice softened at his name, but Heath only smiled his polite smile once again.

“It’s all right.”



When Sugizo dropped Heath off at home, he had plied him with soft apologies and softer kisses, and when asked why he had insisted on Heath’s presence, all he could say was that he didn’t know that such and such friends would be there.

“Shinya and I haven’t seen them in years and there was so much to catch up on! And then they went around introducing us to all these other people and we couldn’t just say no, could we?” Sugizo rubbed his shoulders gently. “If you were bored, you should have just come and told me. I would have come with you.”

Heath already knew that wouldn’t have happened. “You don’t need to treat me like a little kid,” he said dryly. It was meant to be a joke but it came out sounding colder and harsher than he meant to, and seeing Sugizo flinch at this barb made Heath wince inwardly as well.

“I said I was sorry,” Sugizo muttered.

“I know, I… I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”

Sugizo sighed. “I just hate having you be mad at me.”

Heath blinked. “When have I been mad at you?”

You know. Sugizo didn’t say this out loud, though.

Heath tried again. “I’m not mad, I just… think it was all a bit silly, that’s all. Don’t worry about it. I still got to hang out with J. It was fine.”

Sugizo nodded sullenly. “Yeah. He’s a really good guy, isn’t he?”

Something about the bitterness in Sugizo’s voice had Heath lost for words. What was that supposed to mean? Heath didn’t know how to ask and Sugizo certainly wasn’t about to elaborate, and when Heath got out of the car to go inside, Sugizo didn’t follow.

 

Chapter Text

They apologised to each other over the phone the next day. The whole thing had been stupid, really. Sugizo said that he shouldn’t have forced Heath to go to that idiotic party in the first place, and Heath suggested that they needed do something for themselves for a change, like chill out at home over dinner and a movie. Everything was always work, work and more work, especially after all of the commotion around Yoshiki’s condition and it was wearing them down, chipping little pieces off them each day and exposing fresh, raw nerves.

Heath brought food with him: gyoza, karaage and yakisoba from a small family-owned shop that had opened up a couple of blocks from Sugizo’s home. A fresh round of apologies from both of them started as soon as he’d sent the food on the coffee table and they had hugged and everything seemed fine. Then Sugizo said something about how Heath’s own yakisoba recipe was better than this and Heath smiled that same mild, polite smile that he had used at that damn Victor party. There you go again, he thought. Trying to butter me up. It wasn’t that Heath didn’t appreciate compliments. He just wished Sugizo wouldn’t make it so obvious that he was trying to smooth some ruffled feathers. It was so disingenuous.

You’re only saying that because you think I’m still mad about last night.

But outwardly, Heath smiled and said thank you.



Heath could smile all he wanted, but Sugizo could tell that nothing he was doing would make him happy. He wasn’t stupid. He could see it in Heath’s posture, in those flat, wooden smiles, the subtle clench in his jaw and the clipped, too-polite replies. What else was left for him to do? Even after all of that apologising and hugging and claiming to want to spend a quiet night together, it was like Heath didn’t even want to be here in the first place.

“Is there anything on TV?” After throwing out their empty take-out containers, Heath flopped onto the sofa with a long sigh.

“Dunno.” Sugizo flicked through a few channels. Variety show, variety show, news, period drama, baseball, Kamen Rider, cooking show, reruns of M*A*S*H and Fawlty Towers with Japanese subtitles. “Nothin’, looks like. Here, you can have the remote. I think I’m gonna hit the hay.”

“Mmkay. I’m gonna sit and unwind for a bit. Good night.”

 

Sugizo was already asleep by the time Heath switched the TV off and stripped down to his underwear. It was a warm night in June and the air conditioning in Sugizo’s apartment wasn’t very reliable. They used to listen to it rattle and whir and struggle on particularly hot days until it gave up, and they’d laugh at the irony. It was whirring now but at least it seemed to be working. Heath carefully climbed into bed, trying not to wake him, and he spent the next hour or two tossing and turning. The blanket felt unusually heavy on his chest so he kicked it off, but even clad in just a light tank top and satin boxers, he felt warm and stuffy and restless. No sleeping position was comfortable: lying on his back seemed to flatten the air out of his lungs, and lying on his side produced an uncomfortable cramp in the way his shoulders curled. He often had trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar bed at first but this was not an unfamiliar bed, yet tonight he was wide awake and tense all over as though an unseen hand had him by the scruff of the neck, pulling every muscle and joint and tendon taut. His skin was warm and hypersensitive, aware of every wrinkle in the bedsheets, of the way his tank top moved with the rise and fall of his chest, of every stray hair tickling his neck. He shucked the tank top off and settled back down with his arms tucked behind his head, staring at the ceiling. On the other side of the bed, Sugizo drew in a sharp breath.

“Can’t sleep?” he mumbled.

“Mm.” Heath reached over and ran a light hand through his hair. “Did I wake you? Sorry.”

Sugizo rolled over with a heavy sigh and went back to sleep.

Heath’s ears tuned into every little sound: the air conditioner humming, slow creaks of the building settling, the steady in and out of Sugizo’s breathing punctuated by the rasp of a snore here and there, the mechanical grind and hum of the fridge all the way on the other end of the apartment, the faraway clatter of a train in the distance. He kept thinking about the weird tension between them tonight and the odd way Sugizo had called J a good guy with the heavy implication that Sugizo wasn’t. Somewhere along the line, the familiar had become unfamiliar. An invisible wall had slowly grown between them, a brick here, a brick there, so gradually that they didn’t notice it until it had grown so tall that they couldn’t see over the top of it anymore. Minor disagreements that would otherwise be inconsequential between the pair turned into fights and for a while there it felt like the only thing that they could enjoy together was sex, but when that ended up being the only thing they did when they saw each other, it just wasn’t enough. And when things really began to unravel, nobody could blame it on any one person.

 

***

 

June 1996

 

“God I’m tired!”

Heath looked up when he heard the door of his apartment opening, accompanied by Sugizo’s voice. “Hey,” he said, and then his smile faded when he saw how exhausted Sugizo looked. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, fine. Had a long day.” Sugizo draped himself across the sofa. “Why didn’t little Sugizo grow up to get a nine to five job like a normal person?”

“Because big Sugizo would rather walk across broken glass barefoot and stick his head in the oven than sit at a desk pushing papers,” Heath replied, grinning to himself. 

Sugizo chuckled. “Yeah. Or eat a wasp’s nest.”

“With the wasps still in it.” Heath poked his head out of the kitchen. “Want some real food to eat?”

“I just want a beer.”

“You need to have more than just beer,” Heath chided. “Just relax, I’ll make you something.”

Before Sugizo could protest, Heath was in the kitchen tinkering about and he soon came back with a bowl of fresh rice, furikake and a fried egg on top.

“Thank you,” Sugizo said gratefully.

While he tucked into his meal, Heath busied himself washing the rest of the dishes, tidying up the kitchen and refilling the water in Qoo’s bowl.

This was the first quiet night in that they’d had to themselves in ages and it was a welcome change from noisy bars or spending evenings alone, or on the phone with nothing to say. Heath had missed this calm domesticity. There was just far too much going on lately.

“Are you done with your bowl?” Heath called from the kitchen.

“Yep.”

“Do you mind bringing it over so I can wash it?”

“In a minute,” came the tired reply.

Shrugging, Heath wiped his wet, soapy hands on a towel and went to retrieve the bowl himself.

Sugizo frowned slightly. “I said I’d bring it.”

“It’s okay, I’m washing up anyway.”

“I could have washed it. Just give me five minutes.”

“It doesn’t matter, I’ll do it. It’s not a big deal.”

“You don’t have to be so anal about everything.”

Heath could feel himself getting irritated at Sugizo’s tone. “I’m not being anal, I’m just being practical.”

“So you’re saying I’m not practical.”

“What? I didn’t…”

 

Before either of them could stop themselves, it was spiralling out of control.

 

“I barely see you as it is—”

“We’ve got a fucking tour starting in three weeks!”

“—and you cancel all the time!”

“That is rich coming from you!”

 

Between Luna Sea’s upcoming tour and the stress of not knowing what would happen with X Japan, tensions were far too high.

 

“It was always about sex for you, wasn’t it?”

“Not like you ever said no!”

“What about you, flirting with Ryuichi onstage all the time?”

Sugizo stopped and stared. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“Are you accusing me of cheating on you with my ex?”

“I didn’t say—”

“You literally just said—”

“How do you think that makes me feel, seeing you kiss someone else?”

“It’s just fanservice! Everyone does it! It’s not serious! It’s not even real!”

 

They were spending too much time apart and not enough quality time together.

 

“What do you expect me to do? The UnEnding Style tour is our biggest tour ever, do you expect me to drop everything and come running?”

“I never said that so don’t fucking put those words in my mouth!”

“Then what do you want?”

“I would like to actually have a relationship with my boyfriend!”

“Wow, you actually remember that you have a boyfriend, huh?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know, it seems like you care more about your fucking dog!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh I think you know.”

“No, actually, I don’t know!”

Sugizo scrunched his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. “Okay. Can we not do this now? I am just so tired of every fucking thing—”

You’re tired! You should see what it’s like on this side! Toshi’s fucking miserable and nobody really knows why, and Yoshiki’s in fucking hospital, half-dead with a broken neck—”

“Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t realise it was a fucking competition!

 

They’d never fought like this before. Everything was coming out, every complaint, every missed date, every call that went unanswered, every perceived slight. The silence that settled over them was thick and suffocating and seething with spite. They glared at each other, breathing hard from the adrenaline, their last words echoing in their ears.

 

Finally Sugizo threw up his hands. “You know what, why did I even come here? I should have just gone home and saved myself a whole lot of trouble because clearly this whole thing was a huge mistake.”

“That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why this never worked out when you’ve been thinking that this whole time.”

 

Sugizo clenched his fists. He wanted to punch something or break something. Instead, he said something far more hurtful.

“Fine,” he spat. “You know what, I’m glad we did this! I’m glad we could get it all out in the open and stop wasting our time with this bullshit.”

 

Sugizo snatched up his bag and left Heath’s apartment, slamming the door behind him.

 

***

 

The shock of this explosive fight kept them both awake all night. They were angry and hurt. Each kept glancing at the phone, wondering when the other would call to apologise. Each was riddled with doubt, playing snippets of their argument over and over in their minds. Some of the things they regretted saying, other things they tried to justify to themselves. Each wondered if perhaps he should set his own pride aside and be the one to call and apologise first. More than once they picked up the phone, only to put it back down again when they couldn’t think of what to say.

In the end, neither of them called to apologise. Heath instead spent more of his time visiting Yoshiki, sitting by his hospital bed quietly reading, or talking with him about their plans for the future if he was awake. Yoshiki appreciated the company; he hated being there alone with just the doctors and their patronising smiles while they placated him with promises about how they would give him the very best of care and how well he was recovering. hide and Pata would visit him two or three times a week, but not Toshi. He visited Yoshiki perhaps once a week. He always came alone and he never stayed long, sitting beside Yoshiki’s bed and making trivial small talk and occasionally reminiscing about growing up together: Remember how we used to swap cassettes and listen to KISS and David Bowie for hours? Remember how all the other kids thought we were weird? Remember that school concert we played at?

Finally one day he smiled and quietly told Yoshiki and the others that he’d be flying back to the States now that Yoshiki’s condition was stable. Not knowing what to say, they simply nodded and promised to update him if anything should change. 

 

More than a week after the fight, Heath came home from another hospital visit and his heart sank when he saw Sugizo sitting on the ground by the door.

“Oh, uh… hi,” he said awkwardly.

“Hi.” Sugizo looked up at him and quickly looked away again.

“Um… how long have you been here?”

“Not long.”

Heath’s hand closed around the keys in his pocket and he sighed. “Do you want to come in?”

 

They sat side by side on the sofa with just a few inches between them, but it felt like miles. Sugizo tried not to stare but the apartment looked markedly different to how it did the last time he was here. When they’d been fighting, he thought unhappily. Picture frames had been taken down, a number of items that had sat on tables and shelves were gone, and there were a dozen or so cardboard boxes stacked against the walls.

“I’m sorry.” It was the only thing that Sugizo could think to say and it came out in a whisper.

“I’m sorry, too.” Heath looked down at his hands.

Sugizo gestured at the boxes. “So. Spring cleaning?”

“Moving.”

“Oh. Where?”

“Los Angeles.”

 

For one long second, all Sugizo could hear was a dull roar in his ears, like cupping a seashell to your ear and listening to the ocean. His heart felt like it had stopped beating.

 

“For how long?”

“I don’t know. A while.”

“When are you leaving?”

“End of August.”

A month and a half away. He wouldn’t even be able to see him off at the airport. He and Heath had always made a point of supporting each other’s bands but this time they would not cross paths. The Tokyo leg of the UnEnding Style tour had been booked at Budokan on August 31st. Heath would be in America by then.

Sugizo licked his lips nervously. “I don’t want to… you know… but isn’t that kind of drastic? Just because we had a big fight?”

Heath glanced at him but Sugizo had his head down, staring at the floor. “It’s not like that. Yoshiki has that recording studio in LA and wants to do all of our recording there. He was practically living there as it is. hide and Toshi have spent most of this year living in LA as well. I’ve been talking with Yoshiki about it a lot. It’s just… easier.”

Sugizo picked at a spot on his jeans where the denim had been worn down to bare threads. Was that all their relationship was? Making life difficult for Heath?

“Were you going to tell me or were you just going to leave?”

“I was going to call you.” Heath fidgeted with his hands uncomfortably. “You know. When things calmed down.”

“Oh. I understand.”

 

There was another long silence and Qoo emerged from Heath’s bedroom and immediately picked up on the sombre mood. She made her way over to Heath with her head and tail down, almost tiptoeing the way she did when she knew she was in trouble for having an accident on the floor or for chewing something she shouldn’t have. She nosed at his legs and whined softly, seeking comfort. Heath was glad to have something else to focus their attention on. He couldn’t bear to let Sugizo see how heartbroken he was. Neither of them had mentioned the future of their relationship but they both knew that there was none. This was the end. Heath kept his gaze on the floor while he scratched the little dog around the ears. He could feel tears welling up and he tried desperately not to blink.

 

“What will you do with Qoo?”

“I’m taking her with me.”

“Oh. Okay. Good.” Sugizo cleared his throat. “Good. Luck. With everything.”

“Yeah. You too.” Heath swallowed hard. “Um, you know, you can still call me and talk, right?”

“Oh, yeah. I know that.” Sugizo tried his best to smile but it came out as more of a frown as he struggled not to cry. “Um. Take care, okay? Don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”

Heath forced a laugh at this.

“Um, let me… let me know when you get there. If you can, I mean. You know,” Sugizo shrugged. “Just so that I know you’ve landed safely.”

“Of course.”

“And… don’t be a stranger. You’ve got a lot of friends here, remember. Come home sometime and we’ll um, catch up.”

“Okay. I will.”

 

They fell quiet again and Heath flinched when Sugizo stood abruptly. “Shit, I just remembered, um… I have to go and… um… I’ve got this, uh, thing and… you know… I really should get going.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you.”

“No no, it’s okay, I was just… I mean, I was in the neighbourhood and… you know. Thought I’d stop by to… to see if you were okay and everything… and…” Sugizo took a deep breath. His throat felt tight and strained like he was being strangled, and he could hear his voice getting higher and higher. “Uh, yeah, but I gotta go to this… this thing. You know. Don’t want to be late or anything. So uh, travel safe, okay?”

“Yeah.” Heath couldn’t even bring himself to look him in the eye. “Take care, Sugizo.”

They hugged awkwardly, all stiff-shouldered, too embarrassed to get too close because it just didn’t feel right anymore, and once the door closed behind Sugizo, Heath breathed a sigh of relief. He gathered Qoo up into his arms and sank down onto the sofa to cry.

 

***

 

As soon as the door to Heath’s apartment closed behind him, Sugizo fled to his car, slammed the door shut and took a few very deep breaths to try to calm himself down. His heart twisted and strained as though it were threatening to collapse in on itself. His phone bulged uncomfortably in his pocket like a brick, heavy and bulky with awkward corners digging into his thigh so he pulled it out and threw it onto the passenger seat, and he started driving.

When he got home, he immediately made himself busy doing all sorts of odd jobs around the apartment to keep himself occupied, telling himself it was good to get this done before going on tour next week. He cleaned the oven, the same oven he’d used to bake—and burn—apology cookies. He moved onto the stove next, remembering the comfortable afternoons spent with Heath trying to teach him how to cook. He replaced the burnt out bulb above the bathroom mirror, cleared out the fridge, changed the bedsheets on the bed that he had shared with him and later that afternoon, just as he had upended the laundry hamper on the floor, his phone rang. He stared at it for a moment, dreading whoever it was that was calling. He did not have the energy to deal with any more shit. He slowly walked across the apartment as though his mobile phone might leap up and bite him, and gingerly he picked it up.

“H-hello?”

“Hey, where are you?” It was Shinya.

“Oh. Hi. What’s up?”

“What do you mean what’s up? Management meeting, remember? Don’t tell me you forgot.”

Fuck. Sugizo closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and took a deep breath. “Oh yeah. Sorry. I um… I don’t think I’ll be able to come in. Sorry, I should have called earlier.”

“How come? Are you okay?”

“I’m feeling a bit under the weather. Do you mind letting the others know?”

“Oh, sorry dude. Sure, I’ll let them know.”

“Thanks! Um, I’ll try and call you later and maybe you can fill me in on everything. If that’s okay, I mean.”

“Of course.” There was a pause from Shinya. Something was distinctly off about Sugizo’s tone of voice. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah!” Sugizo faked a cough and a sniff. “I think I’m coming down with something and—”

“No, Sugizo.” Shinya’s voice was serious. “Are you okay? Has something happened?”

That did it. He couldn’t stop a sob from escaping and then it was all coming out. In between sobs, Shinya could only just make out the words: “We… broke… up.”

Shinya let him cry it out for a while until he could finally pull himself together.

“We had a massive fight. He said… he said he’s moving to America.” Sugizo couldn’t even bear to say Heath’s name. It felt wrong somehow, as though he had no right to say this name now that they weren’t together anymore.

“Yoshiki’s getting out of hospital soon, right? Maybe he’s going to crash with him for a while and clear his head,” Shinya suggested helpfully.

“He’s got a shit tonne of boxes for just ‘a while’.”

“So maybe he’s doing a shit tonne of travelling. It’s a big country, there’s loads to see and do: Hollywood, Broadway, museums, national parks, skiing—”

“He’s taking his fucking dog with him!”

Shinya sighed. “Shit. I’m sorry, man.”

“Do you want to know what I said?”

Shinya did not want to know, but he asked anyway. “What did you say?”

“I said… I told him… that it was all a waste of time.” The last word time came out in a long, shuddering sob.

“I know you didn’t mean it, man.”

“I know I didn’t mean it! I don’t know why I said it! I don’t even feel like it was me saying it! It was like having a fucking out of body experience—”

“Sugizo! Just… try to calm down. Please.” This was met with another sob and Shinya sighed. “Look, are you at home? Do you want me to come over?”

“No,” Sugizo whimpered, and there was a long, trembling sniffle. “I’m… no. It’s okay.”

“You don’t have to pretend that you’re okay, you know. There’s nothing wrong with being upset over something like this.”

“I think I just want to be alone.”

There it was again, the final word being dragged out in a trembling sob so full of raw pain and heartache that it almost made Shinya want to cry. He sighed again. “Okay, okay. It’s fine, don’t worry about today’s meeting. Take care of yourself and I’ll tell the guys that you’re sick or something. But I’m serious, if you need to talk to someone or even if you just wanna hang out and have a few beers or whatever, call me, okay?”

“Mm.”

“Okay, Sugizo?”

More sniffles. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks. I’ll… I’ll be fine.”

“I’m not exaggerating, I will drop everything and come over if you need me.”

“Thanks.” Sugizo laughed; a fake laugh but it was the best he could muster. “Hey, look, I feel better already.”

 

After Shinya hung up, Sugizo set the phone down and went back to his chores. Laundry was probably his least favourite chore but right now he was feeling really good about having accomplished so much in one extremely shitty day and he was on a roll. He started with the darks first—boy he had a lot of black clothes—and then he stopped. In his hands was Heath’s David Bowie t-shirt. He stood there staring at it for a while before throwing it in as well. The washing machine rumbled to life and Sugizo slammed the laundry door shut.

 

***

 

“’Night, guys!”

“Five more sleeps until the big day!”

“Yeah, get some sleep while you can!”

“Sure you guys don’t wanna come drinking with us?” Inoran asked.

Ryuichi shook his head. “I need to rest my voice. Plus I haven’t even started packing yet.”

“Just do your packing the night before like I do,” J said, grinning.

“We’re not staying out late, it’s just for a quick beer,” Inoran added.

“Sorry.” Shinya shook his head. “I’d love to but I think I’m going to check on Sugizo.”

“Damn. Poor guy,” J said sympathetically. “I had food poisoning once. I thought I was going to die.”

“Maybe we should all pay him a visit,” Inoran suggested.

“No!” Shinya said quickly. “I mean, if he’s feeling crappy he probably doesn’t want to have a lot of visitors crowding him. I was just going to duck in real quick and make sure he hasn’t fallen into the toilet. You know.” Shinya pulled a face and made vivid hand motions, pretending to projectile vomit.

“I guess so,” Inoran conceded. “Well, I hope he’s okay. Tell him we hope he feels better soon.”

“Will do. See ya.”

 

Shinya breathed an inward sigh of relief and started walking to his car. He’d been intensely aware of his phone all afternoon, expecting it to go off at any moment with Sugizo in tears and babbling incoherently, but it had stayed silent. Maybe Sugizo had managed to hold it together, or maybe he had gone to pieces but didn’t want to call and make a nuisance of himself. Would he object if Shinya showed up at his door without calling first?

Just as he’d unlocked his car, his phone started ringing and he flipped it open without even looking at the display. There was a trembling breath and then a small voice said, “Shinya?”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

 

Chapter Text

“Stop, just stop.”

 

The band stopped in the middle of rehearsing Forever & Ever and three pairs of eyes were trained on Ryuichi, all except for their lead guitarist. Sugizo’s arms hung limp at his sides and he stared listlessly at the floor.

“What’s wrong with you?” Ryuichi demanded.

Sugizo said nothing. Instead, he turned and slowly made his way across the studio, reaching into his bag for a pack of cigarettes, and Ryuichi followed him and seized his wrist.

“How many times do I have to tell you: don’t fucking smoke in the studio!”

Sugizo lifted his chin slightly and glowered down his nose at Ryuichi before yanking his hand out of his grasp with a look of stubborn defiance. Well? that look said. And what are you going to do about it?

Ryuichi gritted his teeth. “Sugizo, I think you need to take a break.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine!” Ryuichi snapped. “You think I can’t tell that you’re doing everything on autopilot? In case you’ve forgotten, our tour starts in two days!”

“Ryu, if you want to tell me I suck, just say it.”

“I’m just telling you, whatever’s going on with you, you need to sort your shit out.”

“Mind your own business,” Sugizo growled.

“This band is my business!” Ryuichi stood face to face with Sugizo, glaring. “It’s all of our business and that means you as well, so you need to pull your fucking weight—”

“Ryuichi—” Shinya interrupted, and J and Inoran exchanged an uneasy glance.

“This isn’t all about you, you know. If you blow this tour, you’re screwing us all over. We’re all going to suffer because of your shitty attitude!”

Sugizo shrugged his guitar off and lit a cigarette.

“Hey!” Ryuichi grabbed him roughly by the shoulder. “Are you even listening to me?”

Sugizo returned his glare with a bored stare and turned his head slightly, exhaling cigarette smoke. “I can see you standing in front of me with noise coming out of your mouth, yeah.”

Ryuichi slapped the cigarette out of Sugizo’s hand and Shinya jumped between the two of them before a real fight broke out.

“Whoa, hey hey hey. Calm down, both of you.”

“Fuck off Shinya, I’m not the one with the problem, he is!”

Sugizo gave Ryuichi one last look and turned on his heel, heading straight for the door.

“Hey!” Shinya said firmly, grasping Ryuichi’s shoulders. “Just relax, okay?”

“Me?” the vocalist fumed. “Why are you telling me to relax? I’m not the one who’s been fucking phoning it in for the past two weeks! It’s like he doesn’t even care about this band anymore!”

“Ryuichi… guys…” Shinya sighed and rubbed his temples, motioning for them to gather in close. “Sugizo’s going through a really rough patch right now, okay? He and Heath broke up a few days ago and Heath’s moving to the States. That’s why he was ‘sick’ the other day. It’s been tough for him so can we just give him a bit of space?”

The other three stared at him. After a moment of stunned silence, Inoran voiced all of their thoughts with one word: “Shit.”

“Well… why didn’t you say that earlier?” Ryuichi snapped.

Shinya raised an eyebrow. “Because it wasn’t my place to talk about his personal life?”

“So he should have said something, then!”

“Ryu, he’s hurt and upset. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Just go easy on him for a while, okay? Please?”

“Well I’m so fucking glad he and I broke up so that he could start this drama with someone else.” Ryuichi snatched up his bag and left as well, muttering under his breath.

 

Inoran, Shinya and J exchanged an awkward glance.

“Wow,” J said quietly. “How bad did it have to be for Heath to go to America?”

“That’s a pretty cold way to dump someone,” Inoran added. “I didn’t think Heath was like that. No discussion, no negotiation. At least give the person a chance to understand where things went wrong.”

“Look, I dunno,” Shinya said with a look of defeat. “All he said was that they’d been butting heads a lot lately and I guess Heath’s been under a lot of stress with Yoshiki in hospital and everything, and…” the drummer ended this with a helpless shrug.

J bent down and picked up the smouldering cigarette off the floor. He snuffed it out, unplugged Sugizo’s guitar, carefully tucked it back into its case and snapped it shut. “I’ll take this back to him.”

 

***

 

“I don’t want to be a nag but you’ll feel better if you talk about it instead of bottling it up.”

Sugizo just grunted and took a swig of his beer. This was his third one already, while Takuro was still finishing his first. GLAY’s leader and rhythm guitarist had become a very good friend in the last couple of years and even though they were busy promoting the release of their third album Beat Out!, Takuro had taken the time to join Sugizo for a few drinks to keep him company. Right now Sugizo needed a friend more than ever, someone who was completely separate from all of that relationship drama. As he nursed his beer and stared glumly at a spot on the table, Sugizo sullenly thought to himself that Heath had once been that friend that he could rely on to lend an ear or a shoulder for support. Now he was banished to that outer circle reserved for jilted ex-lovers and friends that had cooled into acquaintances.

“At least he never said ‘I hope we can still be friends,’” Sugizo muttered darkly. Breaking up was bad enough without meaningless promises to keep in touch, knowing that they never would.

“You’re still friends with Ryuichi, aren’t you?”

“I have to be. We’re in the same goddamn band. So it’s that or we disband, and I don’t want to be responsible for breaking up Luna Sea.” Sugizo gave Takuro a withering glare. “He’s probably glad we broke up.”

“Who? Heath?”

“Ryuichi.”

Takuro carefully set his beer down on its coaster and mulled over his words. “Look, man. I understand that you’re upset and I’m not trying to downplay your feelings, but just from my perspective as an outsider, don’t think of Ryuichi that way. He’s not like that.”

Sugizo grunted again.

“I know I don’t know you guys as well as you know each other, but you and Ryuichi were good friends before you started dating, right? And you still managed to patch things up, so don’t let other things ruin that friendship now.”

Sugizo tossed back his head and drained the rest of his beer, pushing the empty bottle away. “Yeah. I know. You’re right. But he was a real asshole today. You don’t know how close I came to punching him in the throat.”

Takuro wisely said nothing and gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze. He flagged down a bartender and asked for a glass of water, sliding it in front of Sugizo, and they nursed their drinks quietly for a long time.

Eventually Sugizo drew in a shaky breath and he bowed his head with his shoulders slumped. “I h-hate ,” he said, his voice thick and strained, “how much this hurts.”

“Because love hurts, I suppose,” Takuro said quietly. “When we love people, we’re at our most vulnerable. It’s not a bad thing. It hurts because you care.”

“It didn’t hurt this much when Ryuichi and I broke up.” Sugizo lowered his head and gave his eyes a quick swipe with the back of one hand. “And we were together for longer than… than this.”

Takuro sighed and squeezed his shoulder again. “Love is different for everyone. You never love two people the same way.”

 

In the end, Sugizo let Takuro deliver him home by taxi with very clear instructions to call him if he needed somebody to talk to.

“Huh. You sound like Shinya,” Sugizo scoffed.

“I mean it,” the younger guitarist said firmly. “This is what friends are for. You are allowed to be sad when you’re hurt, so don’t try to suck it up and deal with it by yourself. Call me or Shinya or J, or hide, or any of the guys. Your friends will always be your friends, Sugizo.”

With one last sniffle, Sugizo kept his eyes downcast and nodded. “I’ll be okay. I can do this. The tour will keep me busy. It’ll be good.”

 

When he reached his apartment, he saw what was unmistakably his own guitar case and messenger bag resting up against the door. He gazed at them for a moment, perplexed. That wasn’t where he’d left them; his was a safe and quiet neighbourhood but even so, he wouldn’t have just left something as valuable as a custom model guitar lying out in the open like that. Come to think of it, he didn’t remember leaving it anywhere. He racked his alcohol-addled memory and it slowly dawned on him: he didn’t have his guitar and bag with him when he went drinking with Takuro, either. Fed up with Ryuichi yelling in his face, he had left the studio with only his phone and wallet in the back pockets of his jeans. One of the guys must have dropped his stuff off for him, and the torn scrap of paper taped to the guitar case confirmed it.

 

Call me when you get home.
–Onose

 

Sugizo felt another lump rising in his throat. He studied the handwritten note until the words blurred, and he swiped at the tears with the back of one hand as he stooped to pick up his bag and guitar case. Takuro was right: he did have good friends. He rubbed his eyes again, unlocked the door and brought his stuff inside, and after taking a moment to compose himself, he picked up the phone and dialled.

 

“Hi, Onose speaking.”

“Hey,” Sugizo said softly. “It’s me.”

A relieved sigh came from the other end of the phone. “You got your guitar and bag?”

“Yeah. Thanks for dropping it off. I really appreciate it.”

“Hey, any time. It’s no problem.” J paused. “Um. Don’t be mad, but Shinya told us about what happened. Are you okay? I mean, I know you’re not okay okay, but...”

“Not really. I feel like shit.” Sugizo laughed shortly. “But I will be okay. We’ve got a tour starting in two days, after all.”

“Do… you want to talk about it?”

“Um.” Sugizo’s breath caught in his throat. The truth was that he did want to talk about it, but he wasn’t sure he could do it without crying. He bit back a sob and his voice wavered when he said, “Sorry.”

“Hey, don’t be,” J said gently. “I only meant that if you needed to get anything off your chest or something, I’m here to lend a shoulder.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Sugizo took a deep breath. “Um, I gotta go. I think I need a day to myself, but I’ll see you guys for the tour.”

“Okay. Take care of yourself. Call me if you need anything.”

“I will.”



Chapter Text

August 1996

 

He sat curled up in the cramped bathtub of the hotel room that he was sharing with Ryuichi, up to his neck in tepid water, staring blankly at the opposite wall through the space between his knees. The extraction fan in the ceiling whirred, having long since drifted beyond his conscious hearing. The lavender-scented bubbles had disappeared a while ago and all that remained of them was some thin foam floating on the water’s surface like minuscule islands drifting on a huge ocean in the midst of a titan. He lifted one hand out of the water. The skin on the pads of his fingers had turned pale and wrinkly and in the soft bathroom lights, the soapy water made the skin on his arm gleam. Briefly, he wondered what that arm would look like decorated with tattoos. Pretty sweet if you knew what you wanted. He put his arm down again and closed his eyes, resting his head back against the edge of the tub. In his head was a cacophony of voices as he rewound loop after loop of this argument with Heath or that argument with Ryuichi, and voices from exes whose names and faces were long forgotten. He couldn’t remember having ever felt so alone and empty.

 

Throughout the UnEnding Style Tour, Sugizo was all confident smiles, each and every one of them faker than the last. At first he thought he could bluff his way out of his misery but then when it was just the five of them it quickly wore off and he became subdued and withdrawn. Even during J’s birthday dinner the day after the Sapporo show, he simply sat at the table between Shinya and and their band manager and quietly retreated within himself while the rest of them enjoyed the local beer and cuisine with boisterous energy, relishing the milder summer that Hokkaido had to offer. Now they were in Sendai on the last stretch of the tour and while the others discussed the final Budokan show in Tokyo that was coming up, Sugizo excused himself from the team dinner to make his way back to their hotel alone, to the room that he and Ryuichi would be sharing. He didn’t have the energy to deal with people right now.

The band always maintained a steady rotation of who would be sharing with whom during tours so that they each had a fair shot at getting a room to themselves. Last night Sugizo had roomed with Inoran and the night before that, J. Two nights ago, Inoran had offered to swap with either him or Ryuichi in case things got awkward, but Sugizo cut him off abruptly, claiming he didn't have a problem with it. Ryuichi gave him a funny look but at least he kept his mouth shut. If Sugizo was honest, he didn’t really feel like rooming with Ryuichi but he despised the way they were all tiptoeing around him and giving him weird looks like he was a ticking time bomb on a hair trigger. Anyway, in all likelihood they’d spend most of their time dead asleep with no room for awkwardness. Sugizo sank lower in the tub until the bathwater lapped at his chin.

 

The bathroom door burst open and out of the corner of his eye, Sugizo caught a glimpse of Ryuichi’s face before the door slammed shut again.

“Shit. Sorry!” Ryuichi called. “I thought nobody was here. The lights were all off.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Sugizo made the effort to laugh it off. “It’s not anything you haven’t seen before.”

On the other side of the bathroom door, Ryuichi smiled wanly. “No, I suppose not. Have you been sitting in there the whole time?”

“Guess so.” How long had he been sitting here? He didn’t think he’d fallen asleep in the tub but he hadn’t even heard Ryuichi come in.

“Why didn’t you turn the room lights on?”

Why do you have so many annoying questions? “I dunno. Wasn’t using them. Saving electricity.”

“Fair enough.” Ryuichi chuckled lightly. “Since when did you become such an environmentalist?”

Again with the dumb questions. Sugizo ignored this. The bathwater sloshed as he stood and pulled out the plug. He tugged one of the neatly-folded towels from the rack above the mirror and dried himself off, squeezing the water out of his hair and wrapping the towel around his waist. He watched the last of the bathwater slurp and gurgle down the drain with a sort of vacant interest as the swirling current took some stray strands of his hair with it. He reached down and fished the hair out again. The wet, scraggly tangle of auburn hair looked like something out of those damn horror movies that Heath liked so much. Why was it that something as unremarkable as hair would elicit such disgust once it was no longer attached to its owner? No wonder Ryuichi always hated cleaning his hair out of the plughole. Heath had always done it without complaint or perhaps, Sugizo thought wryly, he was just too polite to bring it up. The only reason Sugizo knew was that he’d occasionally see matted clumps of his own hair in the bin that Heath kept in the bathroom. The truth was, Sugizo just never remembered to look whenever he was done with his shower. It wasn’t something that had ever warranted a blip on his radar. It reminded him of something that had happened in his childhood, before his parents divorced. They were in the car, Sugizo sitting in the back with his sister dozing next to him. There was a crack in the windscreen in the lower corner from when a rock had flown up from a passing truck and bounced off their car the previous summer. The crack was small and most people didn’t see it until you pointed it out to them. Sugizo’s father didn’t bother to get it fixed despite his wife’s nagging, and then on this otherwise unremarkable drive it happened: he swerved to avoid a dog and hit the gutter so hard that one small chip in the glass spidered out into a huge silvery web of cracks. The repair guy said they were lucky that the whole pane hadn’t exploded and showered them all in glass. Everything wrong with his relationships was just like that pane of glass, Sugizo thought unhappily. Just a series of tiny cracks, insignificant and barely perceptible on their own, but in the end it only takes one bump, one otherwise insignificant event to destroy the whole thing.

 

Ryuichi was sitting on the end of his own bed holding a bundle of clothes in his lap and he got to his feet when Sugizo emerged from the bathroom. As they squeezed past each other in the little hotel room, he paused.

“Hey. Are you all right?” he asked quietly.

“Yep.” Sugizo towelled off his wet hair and busied himself rummaging about in his bags for something to wear to bed, keeping his back to him.

“Are you sure?”

What a stupid fucking question. Sugizo pursed his lips, swallowing his temper. “Why do you care?”

Ryuichi looked taken aback. “What do you mean? Of course we care. We’re your friends and we’re worried about you.”

Sugizo said nothing and hoped Ryuichi would just go away and take his shower. Instead, the vocalist sat on the chair at the desk and sighed.

“Look. For what it’s worth, I’m really sorry I yelled at you in the studio. I was frustrated and… to be honest, lately things between Maki and me haven’t been great either. I know that’s a crappy excuse and I know it’s not all about me but I… I wouldn’t have said those things if I’d known.”

The only response Sugizo gave was a stony silence, pretending to concentrate on pulling on a t-shirt and a pair of boxers.

Ryuichi looked down at the bundle of clothes in his arms. “You weren’t this unhappy when we broke up.”

“What do you want, Ryu?” Sugizo shouted, flinging his towel onto the bed and turning to face him. “Do you want me to be miserable about that, too? Because I can’t hold a single relationship together? Is that it? Will that make you feel better?”

“God, Sugizo, why do you always have to be so defens—”

Sugizo grabbed his room key off the bed and shoved past him.

“Where are you going?” Ryuichi demanded.

“Out,” came the brusque response.

“In your underwear? I know it’s warm out there but still.” The absurdity of the whole situation took the edge off Ryuichi’s temper and he heaved a sigh, blowing the hair out of his face as he did. “Sugizo, just sit down, okay? I know you’re upset but I didn’t mean it like that.”

Muttering under his breath, Sugizo dragged his hands through his hair and stomped back to his bed, tossing the key with its scuffed acrylic keychain onto the nightstand with a loud clatter without looking at Ryuichi.

“Okay, I think we both know that you and I were never great together and you know, that’s fine. No hard feelings. That’s all in the past and we’ve both obviously moved on from that.” Ryuichi hesitated, mulling over his words carefully. “But if you’re this unhappy about Heath, I think that says something about how much you care about him.”

Still keeping his back to his roommate, Sugizo zipped his bag back up as loudly as he could and dumped it on the floor.

Ryuichi tried again. “Have you two talked about it?”

This was met with a harsh laugh. “How? He’s going half-way across the world, in case you didn’t know.”

“I know, Sugizo,” Ryuichi said gently, ignoring the savagery in his tone. “But you can still call him or write to him, can’t you? Besides, they’ll be back for Tokyo Dome in December, right? So maybe you can talk to him then. That’s four months away. It’ll give you two some time to cool off and sort yourselves out.”

Sugizo lapsed back into a simmering silence and still he avoided looking at Ryuichi, and the vocalist decided to change the subject.

“So uh… after everyone left and it was just us, we had kind of an important discussion.” He glanced at Sugizo. “Maybe now’s a good time for us all to take a break from each other.”

“What?” Sugizo’s head snapped up.

“Not like that,” Ryuichi said quickly. “Not breaking up. Just a break. We’ve been together for… what? Seven or eight years? We’ve done amazing things but maybe we need a breather.”

“How long?”

“A year. A year to do what we want, work on our solo projects and we’ll come back fresh after that. It’s just an idea,” Ryuichi added quickly, “but we all feel like we need it, and it’s probably not a bad idea for you either.”

Not quite knowing how to process this news yet, Sugizo just nodded mutely.

“It really has been that long, hasn’t it?” Ryuichi sighed. “Seven years and how many albums… let’s see…” He began counting on his fingers, frowning every so often. “Style, Mother… Eden… oh, our first one, Luna Sea. Hm. Is that really it?”

“You forgot Image.”

“Ah I knew I was missing something.” Ryuichi grinned. “It’s like trying to remember the names of the seven dwarves. There’s always one I can’t remember. Seven years and five albums. We’ve sure come a long way, haven’t we?”

“Mm.”

“I’m so embarrassed to think about how crappy we were at the beginning. Remember when I used to call myself Rayla? At least your name still sounds good.”

Sugizo smiled thinly.

“Boy, it’ll be nice to be home in our own beds soon and not having to live out of our bags.” Ryuichi tucked his clothes under one arm and got up from his chair.

“Hey.”

Ryuichi stopped.

“Um.” Avoiding eye contact, Sugizo picked at the crumpled towel on his bed. “Is everything okay with Maki now?”

A look of mild surprise flitted across Ryuichi’s face for half a second before being replaced with a faint smile. “Yeah. We’re okay. Thanks for asking.” He patted Sugizo lightly on the shoulder. “It’ll be fine, man. Just talk with him.”



Chapter Text

September 1996

 

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Sugizo growled and kicked the covers off, glaring at the ceiling in frustration at the phone’s abrasive ringing. He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. Why did phones all have to sound so fucking annoying? He squinted at the bedside clock. Just after 10am. Who on earth could be calling him first thing in the goddamn morning? Surely the rest of the guys in the band knew better than to disturb each other the day after a tour had just ended.

“’Lo?” he said gruffly.

A very soft voice said, “Uh, hello. Sugizo?”

“Yeah?”

“Hi. It’s Heath.”

Sugizo sat bolt upright, sending a half-empty bag of potato chips on the nightstand flying across the carpet. “Fuck!”

“What happened? Are you all right?”

He sighed. “Yeah. Just… I have some cleaning to do.” At least he was awake now.

“Is this a bad time? I’m sorry, I haven’t got the hang of the time difference yet—”

“No no, it’s fine. I’m awake. It’s morning. I just slept in a bit. Tired. You know. After the tour and all.” Sugizo reached down and picked up the bag. A few crumbs still rattled around in the bottom. He sighed again. “Um… how are you?”

“Fine. Tired as well, I guess. Um… I’m in LA.”

“Oh.” The chip packet crinkled in his hand. “How was the flight?”

“It was… long. And really boring. I landed yesterday.”

“And Qoo?”

“She’s sleeping. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m… fine. Yeah. Great.”

They both fell quiet for a moment. Each knew that the other was lying when they said they were ‘fine’ but the polite thing to do was to say nothing and let it slide. Everybody lies when someone asks how they are. In any case, they each knew that there was no point in telling the other how they really felt. They already knew.

Heath tried another tack. “How about Luna Sea? I heard you had an amazing turnout for the tour.”

“Oh yeah, and we’ve got an encore tour from October to December so that’ll keep us out of trouble. We’ll close out with a Christmas show at Yokohama Stadium.” Somehow Sugizo didn’t think it would be appropriate to mention that there was growing friction within the band as well. He didn’t know why but it felt like admitting to being a bigger loser than Heath already thought he was, and he hoped that Heath wouldn’t notice that he hadn’t actually answered the question.

He didn’t.

“That sounds great,” Heath said sincerely. “I’m really pleased that the tour’s gone so well. You’ve all worked hard for it. I wish I could have been there to support you all.”

Sugizo’s heart clenched. He hated how nice Heath was being right now. It just made everything worse, it made everything hurt more and it would have been so much easier if he had decided to be a jerk so that Sugizo could blame someone other than himself. Keen to change the subject, Sugizo asked, “Have you seen hide yet?”

“Not yet.” There was a little self-deprecating laugh. “I haven’t even started unpacking properly. I don’t know where to start. Mostly just trying to catch up with jet lag. I’ll be surprised if all of my stuff got here. I’ll definitely catch up with hide soon, though, so he can show me around and everything.”

“He’s probably keen to play tour guide. Well, when you see him, tell him I said hi.”

“I will,” Heath promised.

Sugizo’s mind churned, trying to think of something to say that wasn’t meaningless small-talk. At the back of his mind he could still hear Ryuichi saying, ‘Just talk with him’, but talk about what? He couldn’t even remember what they would talk about back before they had started getting on each other’s nerves. It had been so easy to talk before; why was it so difficult now?

“So… have you heard from Yoshiki?” he asked lamely. “I heard that he’s out of hospital and headed back to LA as well. Any upcoming plans?”

Heath chuckled lightly. “Yes, he’ll be flying to LA in a few days as well. He’s still hell-bent on going all out at Tokyo Dome at the end of the year.”

“I thought he was meant to be taking it easy.”

“He is, but you know what he’s like.”

“Yeah. I know. Can he play without breaking his neck this time?”

“The doctors said he has to wear a neck brace whenever he drums now. You can bet that hide’s going to be on Yoshiki’s case if he doesn’t.”

“Good.”

They lapsed into silence again. Awkward silences are bad enough in person but on the phone it was almost sickening and at length Heath said, “Well, I won’t keep you. I just thought I’d call to say hi—”

“Wait. Um.” Sugizo’s throat felt dry. “I was doing some cleaning and I uh, I found your David Bowie shirt. D-do you want it back?”

There was a moment’s hesitation from Heath. “No,” he said finally. “That’s okay. You can keep it.”

“Are you sure? I can post it to you or something, I don’t mind. It’s no trouble. Or I could give it to Yoshiki to pass on if you—”

“No, I… no. It’s fine. I don’t need it.”

“Oh.”

“Listen, uh, I’d better get back to unpacking. I think my phone card is about to run out anyway. And y-you should get some rest. You know, now that the tour’s done,” Heath said hastily. “Um. Take care.”

“Okay. You too. Bye.”

 

Sugizo replaced the phone back in its cradle and stared at it for a moment. The entire exchange had been fucking painful. How could Heath be so calm? Come to think of it, he’d been calm after their big fight and subsequent breakup as well. Sugizo had been heartbroken. He hadn’t been too proud to cry on Shinya’s shoulder but what did Heath do? He’d gone and made travel arrangements without so much as shedding a tear. It was all so clear now, Sugizo realised. Heath had always been like that: emotionally distant, always keeping him at arm’s length and not letting him in. Even from their chance encounter on day one, Heath had been aloof and unwilling to open up. And Sugizo? What you see is what you get. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He wasn’t the type to hide his feelings because what was the point? You might as well be a robot. Suddenly incensed, he got up, crushing bits of potato chips beneath his feet. He yanked Heath’s Bowie t-shirt out of the cupboard, stormed out to the kitchen and threw it in the trash, then plugged in the vacuum to clean up the scraps of potato chips on the bedroom carpet and flung himself on the sofa, turning up the volume on the TV. Fuck everything.

That night he went to bed angry and it took an hour of tossing and turning before he was able to fall asleep. When he finally did, he woke up bathed in a cold sweat at 2am and leapt out of bed to retrieve the t-shirt from the trash. The next day he carefully washed it by hand and when it was dry, he shoved it in the deepest cupboard he could find, casting it out of sight and mind.

 

***

 

“Take care.”

“You too. Bye.”

 

Days after he had called Sugizo, their stilted phone conversation lingered on Heath’s mind and left him with a heavy sadness. They couldn’t even talk to each other properly anymore. Hell, who was he kidding. They hadn’t talked properly in ages and now it was too late for that. The damage was done and saying ‘bye’ had sounded like the final nail in the coffin. That was it. That was truly the end. It wasn’t just the breakup. He had lost a friend.

It didn’t help that Qoo was in a bad mood as well. The long flight and unfamiliar surroundings had upset her and she’d been hiding under the bed since they arrived at their new American home. He had checked the box marked 'QOO’S STUFF' three times and couldn’t find her blanket so he’d given her the t-shirt that he’d worn during the flight for her to have something comforting and familiar to smell. Even so, she just sulked and refused to eat or play.

“Come on, girl. You have to eat something.” He crawled under the bed, being careful not to smack his head on the underside of the bed frame and waved a chunk of bread in front of her nose. Qoo sighed, twitched her ears and ignored him. Scattered on the floor were some of her toys: a tennis ball, a squeaky hamburger, a rubber bone and her favourite, a lime green dinosaur plush toy that she’d had since Heath had brought her home as a tiny puppy. These were also untouched.

Heath stroked the top of her head very softly with his fingertips. “Are you mad at me, too?”

Eventually the little dog’s appetite got the better of her that evening and she came galloping like an Olympic thoroughbred and sliding over the hardwood floor when she heard him opening a packet of chips. He laughed, the first real laugh he had had in a while and knelt down to scratch her around the ears. “Are you hungry, sweetie?”

Qoo responded by tilting her head and doing a little prance, so Heath scooped some tinned dog food into her bowl with a scrap of bread and sat on the floor beside her, stroking her soft fur. Sugizo used to call her ‘sweetie’ all the time.



In the days and weeks that followed, Qoo spent a lot of time trotting around her new home, sniffing absolutely everything and making friends with their new neighbour’s dog. Heath enjoyed exploring his new home, too. He felt more relaxed in this city. Nobody but a handful of people knew who he was and the novelty of being able to walk down the street and shop for groceries like a regular person did a lot to lighten his mood. He particularly enjoyed going for long drives. No chance of being recognised and mobbed by shrieking fans and no uncomfortable ex-boyfriend.

 

If only hide would stop bringing it up.

 

“Have you spoken to Sugizo lately?”

Heath and hide sat side by side on the Santa Monica Pier, dangling their legs off the edge. Late-October in Tokyo would be getting cooler and wetter, but here in Los Angeles it was a beautiful day: warm but not too warm, sunny with huge fluffy clouds like puffs of candy floss drifting in the sky, a gentle breeze running its fingers through their hair. Seagulls strutted along the walkway, glaring with their beady eyes and squawking at each other, ready to pounce on anything that looked like food. Passing children stared or pointed at the weird guy with the hot pink hair; hide just smiled and waved at them. One little girl of about five asked her mother if she could touch his hair; the mother tugged at the girl’s hand and gave hide an apologetic smile as they hurried away.

Heath noticed none of this and he took a long drag of his cigarette. “Yeah. I called him the day after I landed here.”

hide cast his friend a sidelong glance. “You told me that already. That was more than a month ago.”

Heath shrugged and flicked the ash off the end of his cigarette. “Well, he’s not even at home. They’re on tour right now. October to December, he said so himself.”

“I just think that you two should sit down and have a proper talk. Sort out your issues, clear the air. Whatever you want to call it.”

“What’s the point?”

“Heath,” hide said gently. “Do you remember how happy you were when you finally found out that Sugizo liked you? I thought—we all thought you two had a pretty good thing going on. You complement each other. Are you sure you can just let all of that go just like that?”

“It’s over. What’s that line? They call it a breakup because it’s broken?” Heath gave hide a pained look. “Can we not talk about this, please?”

hide sighed inwardly and lit a cigarette of his own. Together they sat and listened to the people around them, children laughing and shrieking as they played and splashed in the shallows, the cries of seagulls hovering overhead, the wind and the waves, the water gently lapping at the shore.

hide started swinging his feet. “It’s Pata’s birthday soon. I wonder why Yoshiki decided to choose that date to release Dahlia.”

“Yeah. We should call him and wish him a happy birthday.”

“I like the sound of that,” hide smiled. “We’ve got Yoshiki’s birthday and mine coming up as well…”

Heath was only half-listening at this point. Four months on, he was still smarting from the breakup and talking about it was about as helpful as having somebody grab hold of one end of the Band-Aid and rip. Worse still was that even though Sugizo was clear across the other side of the world, he simply would not leave Heath alone. Every so often, when he hadn’t thought about Sugizo in some time, Heath would catch a fleeting whiff of his perfume, hear a short snatch of laughter that sounded like his, glimpse a familiar head of auburn hair out of the corner of his eye, making him look twice. It was like being haunted by a ghost, hell-bent on reminding him what he had lost. And then, once or twice, Sugizo had even gone back to his old tricks of lurking in Heath’s dreams, the very thing that had started him down this rocky yet all too enticing path of love and a passionate, exciting relationship and, eventually, this.

 

Brokenhearted and thousands of miles from his home and family.

 

He blinked himself back to attention and made some vague noises so that hide would think he was listening.

“...soon as we get back to Tokyo in a few weeks, he wants to throw a joint birthday party before Tokyo Dome at the end of the year.”

“That sounds great,” Heath said, snuffing out his cigarette.

hide watched as he pulled himself to his feet and dusted off the seat of his jeans. “Where are you going?”

“Shopping. I have a few things to pick up for dinner and Qoo’s almost out of dog food.”

“I’ll come with you,” hide offered.

“No, it’s okay,” Heath said with what he hoped was a nonchalant smile. “I’ll manage on my own. See you ‘round.”

 

***

 

Much to Heath’s relief, the joint birthday party for Yoshiki and hide was made bearable for two reasons.

The first reason was that it was reasonably sedate soireée: just a gathering of some of their closest friends at Yoshiki’s Tokyo penthouse with copious amounts of alcohol and an eye-wateringly expensive catered buffet, for amongst the man’s vices was a fondness for flaunting his wealth and taste. hide had made some very convincing threats about a fancy dress party but, when asked, Yoshiki assured Heath that he had shot down the idea very quickly and it was definitely and categorically not up for negotiation, no matter how many times hide said ‘please’.

Reason number two was the fact that Sugizo was not there. Of course Yoshiki and hide had extended the invitation to Luna Sea, and of course Heath would never dream of asking his friends not to invite them on his account. Thankfully the UnEnding Style encore tour would keep them on the road until Christmas. Instead, they sent a beautiful flower arrangement with a birthday card signed by each band member wishing them both a happy birthday and apologising for their absence.

Heath didn’t drink much and spent most of the evening keeping Toshi company. Their vocalist seemed very lonely and more subdued than usual, sitting off to the side by himself and not mingling with the other guests like he normally would have.

“Do you ever look at everyone and wonder how much of this is real?”

Heath blinked at him, frowning a little. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“Everything, all this. The outfits, the music, the attitude. The crazy parties.” Toshi’s gaze wandered from one party guest to another. Even though the invitation had been very specific about the casual nature of the party, a large portion of the guests had shown up in fairly eye-catching outfits all the same—hell, Yoshiki was wearing a long silver coat that made him shimmer like a fucking disco ball, and Sakurai Atsushi was known for his love of feather boas—and all at various stages of inebriation. “Doesn’t it seem fake to you? Like everybody’s putting on an image to impress everyone else, but they’re not really like that?”

Heath regarded his friend carefully. “Toshi, are you all right?”

Toshi kept his eyes on the party guests and then turned to the bartender. “Red wine, please.”

 

***

 

Christmas in Tokyo was quiet for Heath this year. Normally he’d be celebrating with his family or with his bandmates, but his family was spending Christmas in sunny Okinawa, Yoshiki and Toshi were busy with some radio show, hide was visiting his family back in Yokosuka and, well, Pata wasn’t a Christmas person. Neither was Heath, to be honest, but the habit of doing something for Christmas was firmly ingrained and having no plans at all left him feeling quite lost. He didn’t even have Qoo with him this time. She was in LA, staying with his neighbour Giselle and her golden retriever while he was in Tokyo. The flight to America had been stressful enough on her as it was and he had no wish to put her through that twice more. At least this way she’d be comfortable and well-looked after, and Giselle made a point of emailing him every couple of days with a short message about how Qoo and Zack were getting along and anything funny that had happened - no incidents involving pigeon corpses and emergency baths, thankfully. Heath made a mental note to bring her a gift from Japan to say thank you.

Spending Christmas alone gave him plenty of time to think. Two days ago, Luna Sea had delivered some big news at the end of their Yokohama Christmas show: they were taking a year-long hiatus to focus on their solo work. This news had a lot of their fans worried, fearing that it was a sign that the band was on the rocks. It surprised Heath as well. Sugizo hadn’t mentioned it over the phone that time. Had they not made the decision at the time, or had Sugizo simply glossed over the matter on purpose? Probably the latter. They couldn’t talk to each other anymore. Heath thought about calling him to wish him a merry Christmas and ask how everything was. They might not be together anymore but he still cared about him. His hand hovered over the phone as he mulled over what to say.

Hey, Sugizo. Merry Christmas. Listen, I heard about the hiatus. I just wanted to see if everything was okay with you.

Heath could only imagine another uncomfortable conversation where a lot of words would be exchanged but very little would actually be said. Better yet, what if Sugizo didn’t want to speak with him? The very thought of that filled him with dread. His fingers brushed over the keypad for a moment and then he began dialling. It rang several times before he was able to work out the time conversion in his head and he nearly hung up in a panic but by then the other end had already picked up.

 

“Hello?” said a sleepy voice.

“Hi. It’s Heath. Sorry to wake you at this hour. Merry Christmas, Giselle.”

 

Chapter Text

January 1997

 

“Oh, you’re back!” Giselle’s face lit up when she opened the front door to see Heath standing just outside. “Here to pick up your girl?”

“Yes, thank you.” He bowed politely. “I hope she wasn’t too much trouble.”

“No, not at all. Come on in, she’ll be so excited to see you.”

 

A week after Tokyo Dome, Heath flew back to LA with Yoshiki who had made it through both performances without further injury. Somewhat surprisingly, he had actually followed his doctors’ orders and worn a neck brace, not that it stopped him from giving the performance his all. On the contrary, the knowledge that he was still walking around and drumming after a neck injury like that appeared to revitalise him and he felt more alive than ever. Meanwhile Toshi was already back in LA, having flown back a couple of days earlier, and hide would be staying in Japan for another few weeks to spend some more time with his six-month old nephew. Only Pata remained in Japan, doing things his way.

 

Heath followed Giselle inside and removed his shoes despite her telling him not to worry about it. Qoo came sprinting for him with her entire rear end wagging furiously. He crouched down and she scampered around him like a ferret and smothered him in doggy kisses until both he and Giselle were laughing. “Was she good?”

“She was a very good girl. She and Zack had a lot of fun, didn’t you?” Giselle bent down to scratch the bigger dog around the ears. Zack waved his tail and beamed up at her. “They got a bit scared when people started setting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve but I gave them plenty of cuddles and treats to make up for it.”

“Thank you, I really appreciate it. Um, here,” Heath said a little awkwardly. “This is for you.”

In his hand was a sleek black box decorated with gold Japanese calligraphy. The English lettering read The Kurayoshi Japanese Malt Whisky – Aged 18 Years.

Giselle looked down at the box and then looked back up at him. “Pardon?”

“Just something to say thank you for looking after Qoo.”

“Oh no, that’s not necessary!”

“Please, it’s the least I can do.”

“No,” Giselle said. “The least you can do is nothing. This is too much, I can’t—”

Please,” he said more firmly.

She hesitated and accepted the gift with a resigned sigh. “Okay, fine. Thank you. But it was really no trouble.”

Heath gathered Qoo up in his arms “Well. I won’t keep you. Thank you, again.”

“You’re very welcome.” Giselle smiled. “Any time.”



The two neighbours had become friends not long after Heath moved into this apartment, largely because of their dogs. When Heath had just settled into his new home last year, he and Giselle would sometimes cross paths and exchange hellos and good mornings on their way out to walk their dogs. It became such a common occurrence that Giselle felt compelled to introduce herself and Zack to her cute new foreign neighbour with his soft, accented English and his adorable dachshund, and it wasn’t long before they started walking their dogs together on weekends. They'd sit on a bench at the local dog park, chatting easily and sometimes enjoying a coffee or a cold drink while Qoo and Zack chased each other over the thick lawn or walked around sniffing things and making friends with other dogs.

Giselle worked in IT, something that Heath knew little about, but she liked to joke that she spent most of her time changing people’s passwords, teaching them how to send emails and removing paper jams in the photocopier. She’d been fascinated to learn that he was a big-time rock star in Japan and wanted to hear all about it, but Heath insisted that it wasn’t nearly as glamorous as everyone thinks.

“Mostly there’s a lot of time spent in the studio practising the same songs over and over again. Lots of cameras and lights. Lots of very late nights and going from hotel to hotel. Uncomfortable tour buses. Lots of lost sleep.”

“Still better than trying to get Edith in Accounts to check if her computer is plugged in!” she chuckled. “You know, if you hadn’t told me you were a rock star, I would never have guessed.”

“Oh?”

“I don’t know. You’re so normal. You’re still just a regular guy who walks his dog every day, and he cooks and cleans just like everyone else.”

“Musicians are still people who do people things,” he said with a modest smile.

“Are all of the guys in your band really normal like you, too?”

Heath almost laughed out loud at this.

 

He celebrated a very quiet birthday with Qoo this year. Other than speaking with his family on the phone, it was sort of nice to do nothing. With hide still in Japan until the end of the month and Yoshiki perpetually busy—though he did have a large and very expensive cake delivered—Heath was able to enjoy some quality personal time after all of last year’s drama.

Two days later he was poring over his movie collection when there came a knock at the door.

“Hey, neighbour.” Giselle greeted him with a smile. “Some of your mail got mixed in with mine.”

“Oh. Thank you.” He looked down at the letter that she handed to him. It was an envelope with brightly-coloured crayon drawings of balloons and presents. He smiled. That had to be from Tetsuya and Kumiko and the kids.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday?” Giselle asked.

“It was a couple of days ago,” he said, smiling modestly. “But—”

“Are you serious?” Leaving a baffled Heath still standing at the open door, Giselle disappeared next door and returned minutes later with a black box bearing gold Japanese calligraphy. “I asked my friend at work about this. She’s Japanese too. She said Kurayoshi whisky is really expensive. Like, she and her husband got a bottle as a wedding gift and they’re afraid to open it.”

Heath shook his head. “It doesn’t matter how much it cost. It was a gift. It’s yours.”

Giselle smiled. “Well, then am I allowed to share it with a friend on his birthday?”

“I…” Heath floundered helplessly, unable to think of a decent counter-argument, and finally relented. “Okay. I’ll have one glass.”

 

“Happy birthday!”

They sat down to enjoy the 18-year old Kurayoshi and what was left of the birthday cake, and Giselle wanted to hear all about the Dahlia tour. Heath got up and slipped the CD into the stereo and her face lit up as soon as the eponymous track began with its explosive guitar intro.

“Wow! This is really good!” She sat with her whisky glass in one hand, listening in rapt attention. “No wonder your band is so popular. Do you have a lot of fans overseas, too?”

“Some. Our bandleader Yoshiki has always had the goal of breaking into the American market, though.”

“Is he the one who got hurt last year?”

“Yes but he’s recovered well.”

They listened to the rest of Dahlia and Scars in silence, both feeling pleasantly relaxed after having downed a good dose of whisky each, and then the first few bars of the third song began with velvety string instruments.

“What’s this song called?”

Longing.”

Giselle slowly sank lower in her seat. “Mm. It does sound that way, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.” Heath chanced a tentative glance at her from the corner of his eye. She was very pretty, he decided, with her dark blond ponytail, blue eyes and skin lightly bronzed by the California sun. Smart, nice and obviously caring with the way she looked after her dog. The combination of whisky, music and loneliness nagged at him to lean over and kiss her and he very nearly did, but something held him back. She doesn’t need that, said the remaining part of his mind that was still sober. It was true. She didn’t need a guy who was still on the rebound; she deserved someone who really appreciated her properly. And the last thing Heath needed was to confuse either of them with his lingering feelings for his ex. He needed a friend, not a girlfriend. He looked down into the bottom of his near-empty glass.

“Giselle?”

“Mm?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Celebrating my birthday with me like this.” Heath hesitated to gather his thoughts. “The last year has been pretty difficult. When Yoshiki hurt his neck, we weren’t sure what it meant for the band. On top of that, I’ve… sort of come out of a messy breakup.” He laughed but it sounded sad. “I keep thinking it happened recently but… god. It was over six months ago.” He frowned when she started laughing.

“I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you,” Giselle said quickly. “It’s just that I came out of a long-term relationship last year as well.”

“Oh. How long were you together?”

“We were together for four years, living together for two. Then he decided that he wanted children and I didn’t. Turns out there isn’t a way to compromise on that: you either have children or you don’t. So…” She swirled the whisky around in her glass, listening to the ice cubes clinking. “Four years down the drain. It’s still a bit raw and painful when I think about it. So I try not to.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said softly.

“It’s all right. It was for the best. No sense in two people being miserable together. I’m sure he’ll easily find someone else who’ll want to have kids. Anyway, my boy Zack is enough for me.” She downed the rest of her drink and gave him a quick smile. “So that’s my crappy-ass love life! How about you?”

All of the awful things he’d said to Sugizo came rushing back like a slap in the face: the raised voices, thinly-veiled accusations of cheating, every petty, insignificant complaint, ripping each other to shreds as if it could make themselves feel better about the way their relationship crumbled and caved in on itself.

 

It was always about sex for you, wasn’t it?

How do you think that makes me feel, seeing you flirt with Ryuichi onstage all the time?

I would like to actually have a relationship with my boyfriend!

That’s why this never worked out!

 

Humiliation and guilt made his heart clench. It was hard to believe that he had actually said these things and more. He’d gotten carried away in the heat of the moment, but still—

“Sorry.” Giselle’s voice broke through his trance-like train of thought. “I shouldn’t have asked. It’s none of my business.”

Heath shook his head, keeping his gaze on the floor. “No. It’s all right.” He took a deep breath. “He is in another band, back home in Japan. We were together for about two years but when our bands were touring, we didn’t have a lot of time for each other. We fought. A lot. It did not end well. So I moved away.”

Just thinking about it hurt. He squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip, and his hands tightened around his glass. It was only when something touched his shoulder very lightly that he looked back up, and a tear rolled down his cheek when he blinked. Giselle gave his shoulder a squeeze. She was looking up at the ceiling, trying not to blink. She had tears in her eyes, too.

They sat in near-silence, the only sounds being the occasional sniff and an embarrassed chuckle at the pathetic state they were in. They found comfort in being a couple of losers in love and they soon fell into the habit of hanging out at each other’s apartments every Friday night, having a beer or two, sometimes cooking up a storm and watching a movie with their dogs. Heath found that having a friend was helping him get over Sugizo and now that Yoshiki had made a satisfactory recovery, things were starting to look slightly less bleak.

 

Then three months later in April, he received a phone call from Yoshiki.

“Hi, Heath. Can you come into the studio? It’s urgent.”

 

***

 

When Heath pulled into the studio’s driveway, hide was just getting out of his car. The pink-haired guitarist’s usual good humour was gone. Today his expression was as sombre and troubled as the day that Yoshiki had his accident, greeting Heath with a brief hug and a pat on the back.

Heath looked around the parking lot. Toshi’s car was parked next to Yoshiki’s. “So. Any idea what this is about?”

hide was usually pretty good at reading Yoshiki’s moods but he shook his head. “All he told me was that it was urgent.”

“Me, too.”

 

The pair made their way inside the studio and the receptionist pointed them to the lounge. Through the heavy glass doors they saw Yoshiki and Toshi seated at opposite ends of the round glass coffee table, looking more like a pair of strangers than childhood best friends who had grown up together. Yoshiki had his head bent over his signature guitar in his lap, not looking at Toshi’s stony expression, and the two of them barely looked up when the door opened. If hide and Heath hadn’t already suspected that something was wrong, this all but confirmed it. Had they had another argument? Their wine glasses glinted softly in the lights and so too did something on Toshi’s left hand: a gold ring, but Heath had to look twice to be sure. Had that always been there?

“So,” hide said brightly, sliding into the seat next to Yoshiki. “What’s this urgent business?”

Yoshiki said nothing, not looking at any of them. hide glanced at Heath uneasily.

Presently, Toshi cleared his throat. “I um… Kaori and I have gotten married.”

There was a brief, stunned silence before Heath patted him on the shoulder. “That’s great! Congratulations!”

“You should have told us!” hide added. “We would have thrown a massive party for you!”

But Toshi did not look as pleased as a newly married man ought to have looked. He actually looked sad and still Yoshiki said nothing.

hide opened his mouth to say something but he stopped when Toshi shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “There’s another thing. I want to leave X.”

 

During the long minutes that passed, the only sound that could be heard was the ticking of the clock on the wall and the distant sound of the receptionist chatting to another staff member at the front desk. Around the coffee table, the four members of X Japan neither moved nor spoke. Heath sat frozen in his seat, barely breathing. He stared at a faint coffee stain on the table, almost too afraid to look at Toshi or Yoshiki or hide. Even Yoshiki had stopped playing his guitar.

 

“God damnit, Toshi!” hide’s outburst made everyone jump. “Are you crazy? What are we supposed to do without a singer? What’s going to happen to X and the rest of us?”

Keeping his head down, Heath chanced a glance around the table. Yoshiki seemed unaffected by hide’s words but Toshi looked like he was crumbling.

“We’re a band, we’re a team! Whenever something’s come up we’ve always solved it together! What the hell are we going to do if you just fuck off and live your happy little married life?”

Toshi’s shoulders shrank down even more. Yoshiki went on plucking at the strings on his guitar.

“hide,” the vocalist finally choked out in a hoarse whisper. “This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. For more than a year. I can’t put my whole soul into X anymore. It’s not me and I can’t just go on pretending and lying to myself and all of you. Kaori’s opened my eyes to what’s out there in the world and I want to be able to help people.”

“We are helping people! We’re helping people through our music!”

“I mean it! I want to save people and I can’t do that if I’m in X.”

“That is such bullshit. Look at all the people who have discovered their true selves after listening to bands like X and Buck-Tick and D’erlanger—”

 

As the argument between hide and Toshi escalated, Heath and Yoshiki stayed quiet. Heath simply couldn’t think of a single thing to say and when he looked at the closed-off expression on Yoshiki’s face, it was clear that he’d already had this conversation with Toshi and come up to the same dead end.

 

“It used to be your dream to be rock stars! You and Yoshiki, ever since you were in school! What happened to that dream?”

“Used to be, but it’s not me anymore! People change, hide! I’ve met someone and she’s shown me that there’s more to life than dressing up and going to crazy parties and playing rock music and destroying hotel rooms. There are people out there who are poor and suffering and I can’t reach them if I stay where I am!”

hide stood and looked down at Toshi. “Are you saying that a rock band can’t do anything to help people?”

Toshi took a deep breath and looked right back up at him. “Yes. That is what I’m saying.”

Even hide was lost for words now and he slowly sank back into his chair. Another long silence transpired that was broken only when Yoshiki put down his guitar.

“If Toshi has decided to leave the band, that’s his decision. We can’t change his mind for him.”

It was at this point that Toshi stood abruptly and left the room with his final words: “I’m so sorry, everyone. Thank you for everything.”



Long after Toshi had left, Heath and hide remained sitting there with Yoshiki, barely looking at each other. The silence was only broken when Yoshiki’s assistant knocked on the door, saying something about a phone call from New York. He waved her away.

hide shifted in his seat. “Well. What now?”



Chapter Text

For Sugizo, the initial idea of taking a year-long break from Luna Sea had been somewhat unsettling when Ryuichi first mentioned it to him last year. Yes, things had started to get a little strained between some of them in the past year or so, but that wasn’t altogether surprising when they had to work as closely as they did, and look at how far that had brought them: Style had spent 21 weeks on the charts and the UnEnding Style tour had brought in over a hundred thousand attendees, and that was before they embarked on the encore tour that followed, from October to December last year. Anyway, what band hadn’t experienced some sort of conflict and lineup changes at one stage or another? Look at The Beatles, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Pink Floyd - hell, X Japan was a prime example closer to home when Yoshiki ejected Taiji and brought in Heath. Band drama was incredibly common and it’s sometimes difficult to remember that being in a band is a job much like any other, and sometimes things just don’t work out between certain individuals. Taking a step back to refocus was probably a wise move on their part, all things considered.

Luna Sea announced their hiatus at the December 23 performance at Yokohama Stadium in 1996, promising to return as a band in 1998. They had each been working on their solo material in between Luna Sea gigs and this was their chance to really focus on doing something different for themselves and grow as musicians outside of the band. Ryuichi’s solo work tended towards a much lighter pop sound and June saw the release of his first full album, Cranberry Soda. This was soon followed by J’s first solo offering in July, a grungy rock album dubbed Pyromania with the likes of Slash and Billy Duffy showing up as guest musicians. The album name was so stereotypically J that Sugizo had almost laughed when he first heard about it, and indeed the album was full of the big bassist’s personality, even down to the ballads. His gravelly baritone lended itself perfectly to his American-influenced style of rock. Sugizo’s own work explored his love of electronica, techno and trance, styles that he wouldn’t get to play with very much in Luna Sea. It was a huge departure from what fans of the band were used to but that was the whole point of an experimental solo album. This was Sugizo after all, not Luna Sea, and by September 1997 he had it all recorded, mixed and mastered and ready for release in November.

He arrived home after a meeting with some of the other label execs at Cross and slowly climbed the three flights of stairs to his apartment, his fingers idly toying with a pack of cigarettes in the pocket of his hoodie. He pulled the pack out and gazed down at the crumpled box thoughtfully. Maybe it was time to give up the smokes. J and especially Inoran still smoked heavily but for Sugizo, after eleven or twelve years the habit was starting to lose its shine. He didn’t enjoy it the way he used to; he smoked mostly to curb the cravings and because the habit was so deeply ingrained. If you’d just finished a meal, you’d have a smoke to round it off. If you had nothing to do with your hands or your mouth, you’d have a cig. If your friends went for a smoke break, so did you. He unlocked the door and lit one up, tossing the cigarette packet and lighter on the kitchen counter along with his keys. He’d think about quitting some other day.

Sugizo toed his shoes off at the door and settled onto the sofa. What to do about dinner? Probably ramen from his favourite place down the street. They knew him so well by now that all he needed to do was walk in the door and they’d smile and wave and start preparing his usual order. They even reserved a quiet table for him, tucked away at the back of the shop so that he could at least enjoy a warm meal in peace. He heaved himself out of his seat a grunt and snatched his keys back up with his mind set on dinner.

 

He had scarcely set foot outside when his phone rang. “Hey, J. What’s up?”

“Are you at home?”

“Yeah but I was just on my way out to get some—”

“Put the news on.”

Sugizo’s cigarette paused near his lips. “Why?”

“Just turn the TV on.”

“Uh… okay. Hold on a sec.” Sugizo closed the door again without bothering to remove his shoes and reached for the TV remote, flicking through the channels until he found the evening news. His mild mood evaporated into thin air and was replaced with a chilly apprehension. On the screen were Heath, hide, Yoshiki and Pata sitting at a long table with journalists’ camera flashes going off all over the place. At first Sugizo couldn’t put his finger on it but something about this scenario seemed vaguely wrong somehow. He studied them one by one until it finally hit him: only four of them were there.

 

—tried to talk him out of it but he had made up his mind, so we respected his decision and accepted his resignation. It was difficult for me… for us to come to terms with this. Toshi and I have been friends since we were children and he has been with the band from the beginning—

Sugizo stared hard at the TV. “What’s going on?”

“Just watch.”

On TV, Yoshiki went on: “—rest of the band has discussed the possibility of continuing with another vocalist but given that many of X Japan’s songs are written with his vocals in mind, unfortunately the decision to dissolve the band became unavoidable. Therefore we must regretfully announce… that X Japan is officially disbanded as of today.

 

With the phone in one hand, cigarette in the other and his mouth hanging open in disbelief, Sugizo slowly sat back down on the sofa without taking his eyes off what was happening on-screen. He slowly raised the cigarette to his lips and took a long, long drag.

 

In the interest of tying up loose ends, Toshi has kindly agreed to work with us on one last single and we hope to regroup for our last live performance together. To all of our staff, record companies, people of the media and above all, our fans who have supported us throughout the years, I would like to say ‘thank you’ with… with all of my heart. Thank you for everything up to this day.

 

“What the… is this a joke?” Sugizo couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing.

J’s voice was grave. “I don’t think so.”

 

The television screen lit up with camera flashes and several journalists in the room began speaking on top of one another, all clamouring for answers. When did he make the decision to disband? Why did he choose today to make the announcement? Where was Toshi and what were the ‘differences’ that he spoke of? What would each of the band members do now?

When asked what X Japan had meant to Yoshiki, his statement was simple: “I’ve been doing this for seventeen years. It’s been my whole life.”

The press conference ended with each band member delivering a short message, after which they rose from their seats and left, stony-faced.

 

Sugizo swallowed hard. “What the fuck.”

“There was a bit at the start that you missed,” said J. “There was something about Toshi wanting to leave because of ‘creative and directional differences’. He hasn’t been a member of X since April.”

April?

“That’s what I heard.” J heaved a harried sigh. “Anyway, it’ll be all over the papers tomorrow, I guess.”

Sugizo scrambled for a clue, a hint that might shed some light on this bombshell, but he came up blank. “Did you have any idea?”

“No. hide-nii never mentioned anything, he and I were on the phone a lot around that time but he never said… fuck. I think I’ll give him a call and see if he has any more info.”

“Have you spoken to the others yet?”

“Ino called me and he was going to call Ryu. I called Shinya and then you.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah. Well, if I hear anything from hide-nii, I’ll let you guys know.”

“Thanks.”

 

J hung up and Sugizo stared at the phone in disbelief. His smouldering cigarette sat against the rim of the glass ashtray, forgotten. The news was a punch in the gut. Nobody could have seen it coming, especially not after Yoshiki’s triumphant return to the stage following the neck injury that could have disabled or even killed him. Years later when they looked back on 1997, the dissolution of one of the founding groups in the visual kei movement seemed to trigger the beginning of the end of a golden era. The band that had been one of the pioneering founders of the movement, the band that had helped to usher Luna Sea’s big break into the scene, was breaking up. Where did this come from? What happened between Toshi and the rest of the band?

Sugizo recalled his last phone call with Heath last year and how he had been reluctant to mention Luna Sea’s hiatus. What would Heath say if he called him now? Probably not much more than Yoshiki had already issued to the press. He gingerly picked up the phone again and started dialling Heath’s old mobile number by heart, only to receive an automated message that the number no longer existed. Shit. Of course it would be disconnected. He tried Yoshiki and Pata next, but both calls went straight to voicemail. Foregoing dinner altogether, Sugizo went to bed wondering if J had had any more luck trying to reach hide.

In the days that followed, he found it difficult to concentrate on anything much. His mind tended to wander back to what he had seen on TV: four of the five members of X seated at a long table in front of a white curtain, each one dressed very simply in black with sombre expressions as though they were attending a funeral, while Yoshiki haltingly delivered his speech. Sugizo spoke to the rest of his band mates and they all said the same things he’d been thinking, had the same questions that nobody could answer. It was another few days before J called back.

“Well? Anything from hide?”

J sighed. “Not really. He’s pretty fucking pissed off at Toshi and the whole thing. He said that Yoshiki called him and Heath into the studio in LA for some important meeting and that’s when they found out. That was back in April. Did you know that Toshi’s married?”

“Married? Since when?”

“Fuck knows, man. But apparently Toshi said he’d been thinking about leaving X for ages. Something about how he wants a more ‘meaningful’ career because of his wife.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I know. Who knows how long he’s wanted out.” Another long sigh came from J’s end of the phone. “Hey uh… have you spoken to Heath?”

Sugizo bit his lip. “N-no. Not yet. His old number doesn’t work and I uh, don’t have his new phone number in the States.”

“I wonder how he's taking it. I‘m sure hide-nii can give you his new number if you ask.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“I’ll let you go, I’m gonna call the others and tell them what hide-nii told me.”

 

***

 

Not long after the press conference, Yoshiki made arrangements for a farewell show in December aptly titled The Last Live at Tokyo Dome. Queues for tickets stretched for blocks with people neglecting their jobs or school for their last chance to see their favourite band’s farewell concert. Rehearsals became clinical and impersonal; there was none of the usual banter, no chit-chat and joking around. If anyone spoke, it was only about the music. Outside of the studio, the members of the band scarcely saw or spoke to each other.

In early December, Heath approached hide for some advice of a somewhat personal nature. Two days later they walked into a hair salon in Harajuku belonging to a friend of hide’s, and when they were done, Heath could barely recognise himself.

“Well? How does it feel?” hide asked with the affectionate air of an indulgent parent.

“It’s so light!” Heath turned this way and that, trying to see his new haircut from different angles. “It feels sort of weird. Does it look okay?”

“I think it looks great.” hide grinned and reached up to ruffle the bassist’s much shorter hair. “Good luck buying alcohol or cigs, though. You look like you’re twelve years old.”



On the morning of The Last Live, they could almost believe that it was just another New Year’s Eve performance just as they had done every year since 1993. They talked and joked amongst themselves and even pretended not to recognise Heath when he walked in with his new haircut, laughing and elbowing each other, asking who the new kid was and where his parents were. Somehow they were all smiling and excited to put on what would surely be an amazing performance, because they were damn well going to make this the biggest and best show ever. It was a celebration of the band’s legacy as well as a final farewell to their fans and the band that had been their life. Toshi sang his heart out. With all of his talk about how this wasn’t the ‘real’ him, he was just as determined to make them all proud with their final performance. He wept during Forever Love and when they played Endless Rain, he sat with each of them in turn as he sang; first with Yoshiki, sitting beside him at the piano, then with hide who kept a calm face despite the tears in his eyes as he sang along to the chorus. Heath looked up as the vocalist crossed the stage and sat down on the step beside him, and he felt a lump rising in his throat. Toshi sang and looked at him with eyes full of sadness and gratitude and love. Heath kept his head down, afraid to meet his gaze. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to look at his dear friend without crying. The band that he had come to love like a second family had fallen apart. First Sugizo and now Toshi. And what would happen with the rest of them? Would they all drift apart two, three, five years down the track, just like all those high school best friends who vowed to stay friends forever and never spoke to one another after graduation? If they happened to cross paths, would they smile and make empty conversation full of platitudes like ‘we should catch up more often’? Heath put his head down and quickly swiped at his eyes with his sleeve. He hoped it wouldn't be caught on camera. He hoped that nobody would see.

 

Chapter Text

May 1998

 

The moon was so bright that Heath didn’t need to turn the lights on when he got out of bed and padded across the apartment to the bathroom to pee. After the warmth of his bed, the smooth tiled floor was cool on his feet. After he was done and had washed his hands, he reached for a towel and paused when the phone started ringing. He rubbed his hands dry and peered out into the gloomy darkness. A ringing phone was so alien and unsettling in the middle of the night. Who the hell was calling at… what time was it now, anyway? He returned to the bedroom and picked up the clock. The glowing green hands read 1:12am. Who the hell was calling at 1am? In her bed in a corner of the room, Qoo pulled her ears back and gave a half-hearted little ‘ruff’.

Heath picked up the phone. “Hello?”

Nobody answered, but he did hear someone breathing on the other end of the line.

“Hello?” he said again, annoyed.

More heavy breathing. Heath sighed inwardly. Great. Some creepy pervert dialling random numbers at all hours of the night. He was about to hang up but then a shaky voice said his name: “Heath?”

“Yes?”

“Heath, how soon can you come home?”

Grumbling a little, he turned on the bedside lamp. “I’m sorry, who is this?”

Another unsteady breath. “It’s Pata.”

“What… Pata, what’s wrong?” Something in the tone of Pata’s voice made Heath’s heart clench with dread and he slowly sat down on the edge of the bed. “Are you… Pata, are you crying?

This was answered with something that sounded alarmingly like a sob and when Pata spoke, his voice was thick and shaking. “Heath, you need to come home right now.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“I can’t… Heath, just come home. Please.”

“Talk to me! What happened?”

“h-hide, he—!” The older guitarist’s voice cracked when he said hide’s name and an uneasy chill crawled up Heath’s spine with needle-like claws.

“What about hide? I saw him last week, what—”

But Pata was struggling to speak and kept repeating that Heath needed to come home, and amongst the incoherent babbling, Heath could only make out a few words here and there. This was getting them nowhere.

“Okay, okay!” Heath interrupted. “I’ll grab my stuff and get on the next flight to Tokyo. I’ll see you when I get there.”

After hanging up the phone, Heath just sat there on the bed, stunned. The last time he’d received a call like that had been when Toshi broke the news about leaving the band last year. He’d seen hide right here in LA only a week ago; what could have possibly happened in such a short amount of time?

What could have happened that would have Pata going to pieces?

He hastened to throw on some clothes and began stuffing anything he might need for a few days away into a duffel bag: a few t-shirts, an extra pair of jeans, some underwear and socks, a handful of essential toiletries, his wallet. There was no point in weighing himself down with luggage. If he needed anything else, he could buy it over there. Qoo watched his every move as he bustled to and fro. What else did he need? Heath rubbed his face absently. Two days’ growth of short stubble rasped against his hand. By now, Qoo had climbed out of her bed and started following him around anxiously, circling about his feet and whining, asking what was wrong. His gaze fell upon a jacket that hung on a peg on the back of the bedroom door. He snatched it up and put it on. It would be cold on the plane. Passport! Shit, where did he keep his passport? He dug around in his drawers in a mild panic until he finally found it buried at the very bottom of his bedside drawer, almost tripping over the little dog when he turned to stuff his passport into his bag with the rest of his things, and he had to squeeze out of the front door to stop her from following him. He could still hear her crying when he started banging on his neighbour’s door.

“God, Heath…” Giselle yawned. Her hair was a mess and she was rubbing her eyes when she opened the door. “What’s going on?”

“I’m really sorry to wake you like this.” Heath’s mien was grim. “Something’s come up and I need to get back to Japan urgently.”

She blinked at him. “Is everything okay?”

“I don’t know,” he said shortly. “Can you please look after Qoo for me while I’m gone?”

“I… of course I can, but… how long will you be away?”

Heath pressed his house keys into her hand. “I wish I knew.”



His hands shook as he got out of the taxi at LAX with his duffel bag slung over one shoulder and he crossed the International Departures terminal at a brisk jog, looking for an open ticket counter.

“Excuse me,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “Could you please tell me when the first direct flight to Tokyo will be?”

“One moment, sir.” The smiling clerk typed a few words into her console. “Let’s see… we have one leaving in about ninety minutes if you don’t mind Business Class—”

“Thank you, I’ll take it.”

With no luggage to check in, he breezed through the security screening and sat at the boarding gate with his duffel bag on the floor between his feet. At this hour, almost none of the shops were open. He wasn’t looking to buy anything but window shopping would help to pass the time and maybe he could have picked up a book to keep his mind occupied during the long flight. He glanced at the other people sitting around him, waiting for the same flight. They were all either reading, or listening to music, or slouched in their seats with their arms folded and their heads bowed, napping until it was time to board. A baby started fussing and crying; its mother gathered it up and started walking up and down the carpeted aisles, making soothing noises. He wished he’d thought to bring his Walkman. Listening to music might have helped to stop his mind from imagining what could have Pata so shaken as he sat strapped in his seat in Business Class, each scenario worse than the last. After a couple of hours of this torture, Heath got up and started pacing up and down the aisle while the rest of the passengers tried to sleep in their cramped airplane seats with the thin blanket tucked over their shoulders. Some of them had their reading lights on and looked up at him curiously on his restless prowl, but he noticed none of them. In his head, his phone conversation with Pata kept repeating like a broken record. He kept hearing words like ‘hide’, ‘scared’, ‘Yoshiki’ and ‘don’t know what to do’. Heath had never heard of Pata being scared before. The man was the most level-headed person he’d ever met. He even spurned the horror movies that Heath enjoyed because he found them boring and predictable. Pata did not do ‘scared’ and that was what scared Heath the most.

 

A taxi delivered him to Yoshiki’s Tokyo apartment at 6pm on Sunday 3 May.

 

Pata was already there and as soon as the door opened, Heath found himself pulled into a tight hug. The older guitarist was red-eyed and trembling and Heath gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze even as the dark pool of dread in his stomach spread like an oil spill inside him.

“Pata, what’s happened? Where’s Yoshiki?”

 

They found him on the kitchen floor, curled up against the dishwasher with his knees drawn up, barefoot, hair and clothes dishevelled with his head buried in his arms, crying uncontrollably; not just having a little weep the way he sometimes did when he got emotional on stage but properly distraught, fists clenched and his whole body wracked with sobs, crying deep from inside him.

 

In recent months, hide’s record label had been hounding him about finishing his next album so he had flown back to Tokyo from LA some five days ago to do some recording with Spread Beaver. All Pata had been able to find out was that they all had gone drinking on Friday night; nothing out of the ordinary and certainly the guys from Spread Beaver would have said something if they noticed anything odd with hide at the time. The next morning, hide’s housemate had come home and found him slumped on the bathroom floor with his neck caught in a towel looped over the doorknob, unresponsive and not breathing. They had immediately called an ambulance but by the time the white van arrived with its flashing lights, the emergency paramedics weren’t able to resuscitate him.

 

hide died on Saturday 2 May, 1998.

 

Heath found himself too confused to cry or even think. He just stood there woodenly, staring at the floor. He heard the words coming out of Pata’s mouth but he could have been speaking Hebrew for all Heath understood. Nothing made even a shred of sense. hide wasn’t gone, this was all wrong. You might as well try to tell someone that fire is wet, or that rocks can stand up and walk around, or that rain falls up instead of down; they’d look at you like you were crazy because it was crazy. hide had a hugely successful career with a new album on the way, everybody loved him, young aspiring guitarists would do anything to be him, he couldn’t be—

A sharp crash ripped Heath out of his manic internal monologue and he looked up to see Yoshiki holding a bottle of wine in one shaky hand and gaping at the shattered wine glass on the floor. Pata hastened to his side, asking if he was all right over and over again, but Yoshiki could only stare dumbly at the glittering glass on the floor as if he couldn’t hear them. The thin, curved surface of the glass caught the light as it rocked back and forth on the floor like a metronome, and a thick sob rose in Heath’s throat like he was going to be sick and he pressed one hand to his mouth to try to… what? Stop it? He squeezed his eyes shut and hot tears spilled out and streamed down his face, down his neck, trickling into the collar of his t-shirt. It wasn’t so much that the news of hide’s death had finally hit him. It was seeing the way that it was fucking everything up and it scared him to see his friends being so unlike themselves as Yoshiki tried to drink straight from the bottle while Pata attempted to wrestle it off him and Yoshiki, weak and drunk and sick with grief, feebly fighting him off and stepping on broken glass, leaving smears of blood on the glossy white tiles like a crude horror movie. A choked sob finally escaped from Heath’s lips and his knees seemed to lose their strength and now Pata was at his side and they clutched at each other while Heath cried bitterly into his shoulder with the older guitarist rubbing his back murmuring, “It’s all right, just cry, just cry it out, it’s okay to cry.”

Behind them, Yoshiki drank until he had emptied the bottle and choked, coughing and gagging, leaking wine over the front of his once-crisp designer shirt and staining it pink, and he bent over the kitchen sink, clutching at the edge of the counter with white-knuckled hands, heaving violently and bringing up sour bile and all the wine that he had just consumed. Too tired and weak from exhaustion and grief and throwing up, he let his friends coax him into the bathroom where they helped him shower and patched up the cuts on his feet. While Pata put him to bed, Heath kept himself busy sweeping up the broken glass and cleaning the blood off the kitchen floor with a soapy sponge. The apartment was quiet now. Heath looked up when Pata emerged from Yoshiki’s bedroom, his footfalls almost silent on the carpet and the tiles.

“Is he okay?”

Pata nodded sullenly, keeping his gaze downcast. “I got him into bed and he kind of passed out. I think he’s worn himself out.”

Heath said nothing. There was nothing to say and he was afraid that if he did try to say anything, he might start crying again.

Finally Pata heaved a sigh and rested a heavy hand on Heath’s shoulder. “C’mon. We should get some sleep, too. There’s nothing we can do right now.”

 

Pata turned out the lights and they curled up on a sofa each, staring at the ceiling, still trying to understand it all.

 

***

 

The sun was blinding when Heath woke up. He didn’t even remember feeling tired enough to fall asleep but now that he was awake, he felt more worn out than ever. A combination of jetlag and the nightmare of the last 30-something hours crushed him like a steamroller. He opened his eyes in stages, first one and then the other until they adjusted to the light, and he lay there for a while in a confused daze before he eventually remembered where he was and why. It was all blurry, the way dreams so quickly dissolve once you’ve woken up. He passed a hand through the sunbeams slanting through the gaps in the blinds, making dust motes swirl and dance and sparkle. His stomach grumbled weakly. When was the last time he’d eaten? Probably whatever meagre meal they’d served on the plane a couple of hours before landing, something that nominally passed for a chicken and vegetable stir fry with rice, and a side of some sad-looking lettuce and a single cherry tomato that they called a ‘garden salad’. He really didn’t feel like eating and food seemed so inconsequential right now. He just lay there staring off into space with one arm draped across his forehead, looking but not really seeing anything. His mind was numb and blank. Everything was numb and blank. He closed his eyes and listened to his own breathing in the otherwise silent apartment, wondering if he could try to go back to sleep. Maybe if he stayed like this, time would stand still and he could pretend that last night’s horror movie wasn’t real.

 

A door clicked shut nearby and he glanced up.

“He’s still sleeping,” Pata said in a very low voice, by way of greeting.

 

It was real.

 

“Oh,” Heath said listlessly. “Good.”

“Yeah.” Pata coughed awkwardly. “Um… want something to eat?”

Heath turned away and closed his eyes again. “I’m not hungry.”

“No. Me neither.”

 

They found themselves looking for any excuse to keep themselves occupied while Yoshiki slept. After a while of just lying there pretending to sleep, Heath forced himself up to shower, shave and brush his teeth. It wasn’t much but it felt good to have something under control, even something that was part of one’s daily routine. When he returned, Pata was mopping the kitchen floor.

“You made a clean spot here,” Pata said with a wan smile, pointing. “Thought I might as well do the rest.”

While Pata did the floors, Heath tidied up the kitchen, wiping down the countertops and giving the sink a good scrub with hot, soapy water. He made a perfunctory attempt to eat something if only to fill the hole in his stomach. For all his wealth and refined taste, Yoshiki was infamous for his culinary ineptitude and generally being domestically challenged, so there was precious little in his fridge and pantry that could be turned into a quick meal with little or no effort. He didn’t even have instant ramen. Heath settled on a pear from the fruit bowl and managed to get through half of it, but chewing was tiresome and his appetite was so poor that eating made him feel ill. He tossed the rest of it in the trash.

“I need some air,” he said to Pata. “Will you be okay on your own for an hour or so?”

Standing at the balcony having a cigarette for breakfast, Pata waved him away.

 

Heath didn’t have any particular destination in mind but as he walked and walked, it occurred to him that he would have to stay here for longer than the few days that he’d originally planned for. He had only brought a couple of days’ worth of clothes with him and now that he thought about it, they were all casual clothes. He’d need something more formal than a t-shirt and jeans for the funeral. His heart clenched painfully at the very thought of the word: funeral. It was so final and it cemented the very thing that they had been trying not to think about for the past few days. hide was really gone. He wasn’t coming back. One last tearful, horrible farewell and that was it. He did his best to smile at the sales assistants as he tried on some clothes and shoes, and he returned to Yoshiki’s apartment with a few new clothes for his extended stay.

 

They did their best to take care of Yoshiki and cleaned up after him. He wouldn’t eat or shower unless they forced him to. All he did was cry and drink and cry and drink, and he would only sleep once he had thoroughly exhausted himself, waking up hours later to repeat the cycle. Heath and Pata ended up confiscating or hiding the rest of the alcohol to stop Yoshiki from drinking himself to death. Without that to occupy his hands, Yoshiki began to throw anything small enough or light enough to get his hands on, the more brittle and fragile the better. In these few days, Heath and Pata swept up a lot of broken glass and ceramic.



Over 10,000 people attended the funeral on 7 May to pay their respects and the crowd of grieving fans stretched over several blocks. Even Toshi was there, but they hardly had a chance to speak to him. When he sang Forever Love during the ceremony, he cried harder than he ever had during The Last Live. Despite Yoshiki’s public plea for everyone to take care of themselves and not to follow hide, dozens of fans tried to hurt themselves. The weather had also been unusually warm for this time of year and the recent heatwave had people collapsing in the streets.

 

“Here.” After the service, Heath fetched a cup of water and offered it to Yoshiki, who shook his head. “You haven’t had anything to eat or drink all day except half a coffee this morning.”

Not wanting to argue, Yoshiki sniffed and sighed, taking the paper cup with a trembling hand and wiping his eyes with the other. Heath said nothing and gave his arm a comforting rub.

“Excuse me. Heath?”

Heath turned. Standing behind him was a short woman in a plain black dress. Before he could answer, she hugged him and wept into his chest.

“I wasn’t sure if it was you,” she said with a short laugh. “Your hair's all different now.”

He hugged her back. “So is yours.”

Noriko’s hair was longer and dyed black, and it made her look paler and thinner than he remembered.

“I guess it’s been a while, hasn’t it?” he said. “How have you been?”

“Fine.” Her voice was muffled by his suit. “Where have you been? I’ve tried calling…”

“I moved to California a couple of years ago. Sorry. Maybe I should have said something.”

“It’s all right. As long as you’re okay.” Noriko attempted a smile but Heath felt her tremble all over. “So um. Do you… do you know why he…?”

“No,” he murmured into her hair, shaking his head. “I saw him in LA a week ago and he was just… him.”

“I just can’t… I miss him.” Noriko’s voice crumbled into a strangled whisper.

“I know.” As he rubbed her back, Heath looked up and took a deep breath, and then held it. Panic stabbed his chest. Yoshiki was gone. He swore under his breath and glanced about. “Shit.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Where’s Yoshiki? He was here, he was right here a second ago, he… sorry, Noriko, I have to go, I—”

“You do what you have to do, hun.” She smiled again and swiped at her eyes, and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

Heath gave her one last, hurried hug. “You too. I mean it.”

 

Heath looked this way and that but everybody in the temple looked pretty much the same: black clothes, black or brown or blond hair, white handkerchiefs dabbing at puffy, bloodshot eyes that were hidden behind dark glasses. He slipped away to the men’s room and poked his head inside, but all of the cubicles were empty with their doors hanging slack, so he headed back to the main hall, blundering into another group of mourners as he went.

“I’m sorry, excuse me,” he muttered, trying to squeeze out of the way.

“Hey. Heath.”

He looked up. It was J that he had bumped into, and the rest of Luna Sea all dressed in smart black suits and ties. They all looked terribly tired and their eyes were red and swollen with dark circles that they hadn’t bothered to conceal with makeup. This was no time for vanity. J looked like he had aged several years. Shinya and Ryuichi merely offered a sullen nod in greeting. Inoran attempted a small smile and Heath’s gaze drifted past him, settling on the person next to him. Their eyes met for a brief second before Sugizo looked away.

J cleared his throat loudly and made vague hand motions, pointing off to the far end of the hall. “Uh, c’mon, guys. Let’s uh… let’s go get something to drink.”

Shinya, Ryuichi and Inoran shuffled about awkwardly, not knowing where to look, and the four of them moved away to join the queue at the refreshments tables, leaving Heath alone with Sugizo.

“Hello,” Heath said quietly, looking down at his shoes.

Sugizo shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers. “Hey.”

With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Heath realised that they hadn’t spoken since that phone call when he had just arrived in LA. God, that was nearly two years ago and they could barely speak to each other then; what was he supposed to say now? What the hell do you even say to someone at a funeral?

They stood there until Sugizo pointed his elbow at a set of chrome and pleather benches by the bathroom corridor. “Um. Let’s talk over there. Might be a bit quieter.”

Somewhat reluctantly, Heath followed him away from the monotonous hum of the rest of the mourners. They sat side by side, not looking at one another. Heath clasped his hands over his knees. The black leather dress shoes that he’d bought the other day were starting to hurt his feet. It would be a miracle if he managed to get through the day without blisters. His crisp new suit, which had fit comfortably when he tried it on at the store, now hung awkwardly on his frame as though it were trying to reject an unfamiliar wearer. Restlessly, he tugged at the cuffs of his shirt and pretended to straighten his tie. “How are you?”

“Ah, you know. Been better.”

“Yeah.”

Sugizo swallowed the rising lump in his throat. “Uh, how’s America been?”

I’m homesick, Heath wanted to cry out. I want to come back. I wish I never left. I miss home, I miss everyone. I miss you. “It’s great.”

“Are you back for good, or…?”

“Just for a while. I’m staying with Yoshiki. He’s not… doing so well. Pata needs help looking after him, so…”

Sugizo nodded. “If you need any help…” He trailed off. Everything that came to mind sounded trite and insincere. Everybody offers to help during times of crisis because it’s the right thing to say, but most of them only say it because people will think you’re an asshole if you don’t.

Heath drew in a shaky breath and bit his lip. “I can’t believe this is happening.” This ended in a small sob and Sugizo pulled him into a tight hug. That was all they needed; they held each other tightly and cried, quietly at first until they couldn’t hold it in any longer, openly crying from the sheer pain and grief and loss and everything in between and before they quite knew what was happening, Sugizo was kissing him even as they cried, the purest, saddest kiss either of them had ever experienced, tasting the salty tang of tears—Sugizo’s? his own?—and against his better judgment, Heath let himself get lost in it, seeking comfort in that old familiarity, leaning into Sugizo’s hand as he cradled his cheek all wet with tears, and his heart ached for how much he had missed the way they used to kiss and touch and love one another, how much he missed Sugizo even after all that had happened and it felt so good to be needed again and to find even the tiniest measure of warmth and comfort after the loss of a—

“God I’m so sorry,” Sugizo said hastily, pulling back and swiping at his tears. “This is wrong, I shouldn’t have… I mean it’s not right to—”

Sugizo might as well have punched him in the chest. Heath didn’t think it was possible for his heart to weigh any heavier, but it did when he heard these words and he hastily got to his feet and backed away. “No, y-you’re right,” he choked out, swiping at his tears. “We shouldn’t… this was a mistake.”

“No, Heath! Wait, please—”

But Heath had already turned and walked away, and Sugizo lost sight of him in the sea of mourners in black.

 

Chapter Text

As far as Heath was concerned, the only silver lining was that if you needed to have a really good cry, you could be sure that a funeral was the kind of occasion where nobody would ask you why. The last thing he needed was for someone to ask the one question that everyone dreads when they’re upset and barely holding it together. If somebody asked if he was okay right now he would almost certainly go to pieces because he was not okay, not even a little bit, not after his ex of two years had just kissed him— no, after he had let his ex of two years kiss him, and at a funeral of a mutual friend at that.

And certainly not after he had kissed him back like a fucking idiot, just when he thought he’d gotten over him.

After having his heart broken, it was fucking humiliating to let himself be duped and rejected like that, especially at such a sensitive time.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed Ryuichi, Shinya, Inoran and J huddled together in a little group, quietly talking amongst themselves. He could feel their eyes on him but he wiped his eyes with the back of one hand, set his jaw and kept his gaze trained straight ahead, walking away with all the confidence he could muster, and that was when he saw them: Yoshiki and Pata talking with some blond guy who looked even more uncomfortable in his suit than Heath felt. Pata caught his eye and waved him over. Glad to have something else to occupy his attention, Heath slipped straight past Luna Sea to join his friends.

“Thought I lost you there for a moment, Yoshiki,” he said lightly. “You scared me. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Yoshiki only managed a weak smile and dabbed at his eyes with a tissue before blowing his nose.

“Hi, Heath,” said the solemn blond stranger.

“Uh, hello.” Heath studied his face. Why did he look sort of familiar? “I’m sorry, have we met before?”

“No,” said the blond. “And I wish we could have met under much better circumstances.”

In his current state, it took longer than it otherwise would have for Heath to put the pieces together. Of course he looked familiar. He’d seen the man on TV, magazines and posters and even on stage with X a number of times. He was older than Heath remembered, of course, no longer the same skinny young delinquent he was in the 80s. Back in those days he’d have worn a black singlet underneath a frayed denim vest, tight blue jeans, a red bandana knotted around his neck and a black hat pushed down over a frizzy blond perm. Today there was no hat and no bandana; he was dressed in a black suit and tie just like everyone else, and now that Heath looked at him properly, it was almost embarrassingly obvious. “I’m… oh my god I’m so sorry, I didn’t recognise you at first—”

“Ah it’s all good.” Taiji gave him a quick smile and extended a hand. “Nice to finally meet you.”

“No, it’s an incredible honour to finally meet you,” Heath blurted out, clasping the proffered hand and bowing deeply. He suddenly felt very small and naïve, standing in front of his predecessor like a kid meeting his hero for the first time.

“Oh, I’m sure Yoshiki was determined to keep us from ever meeting in case I filled your head with all sorts of dreadful ideas. He’s not the only one. Lots of people tell me I’m a bad influence.”

“Taiji, please,” Yoshiki muttered. “Not now.”

“Hey, I’m joking,” Taiji said lightly, holding up both hands. “We can joke about it, right? It’s all ancient history.”

Yoshiki nodded sullenly and sniffled. “Excuse me, I have to—” He motioned toward the bathroom and Heath was at his side in an instant but Pata waved him away.

“I’ll go with him,” Pata said gently. “We’ll come and find you later, Heath.”

“Okay.”

“Well.” Taiji held up a pack of cigarettes. “Wanna go outside and get some air?”

Heath stole a quick glance around the room. The members of Luna Sea were still where he last saw them and Sugizo was there now, too. At least they weren’t looking this way. “Yeah. I could use some fresh air.”

 

The courtyard outside was crowded too, but the newly-acquainted bassists picked their way through the murmuring mass of people in black and Taiji helped Heath light a smoke.

“I don’t believe it for a second,” Taiji said, taking a deep drag of his cigarette.

“Don’t believe what?”

“You know. I know it looks like he did and it looks bad, but he loved life and he loved the people around him.” Taiji turned away. “He wouldn’t hurt himself like that. Not him, no way.”

Heath thought about this for a moment. “He did like to talk about his nephew a lot and how excited he was to send the kid presents from Uncle hide. All the things he was looking forward to.”

“Exactly.” Taiji pointed his cigarette in the air emphatically. “You know what he’s like. hide always lived life his way. He didn’t always make the best decisions—the drinking, the smoking, the crazy shit—but he made no excuses and he was always forging ahead onto the next project or the next adventure. He didn’t just give up because things were too hard.”

“What sort of crazy shit did he do?” Heath asked curiously.

Taiji snorted. “Shit that got us banned from hotels. You think I’m bad? hide and Yoshiki, they were the fucking worst. Hurling TVs out of windows, throwing furniture in the pool, yelling at the staff. You know hide’s terrified of bugs, right?”

In spite of the solemn affair, Heath managed to crack a small smile. “Yes.”

“I remember there was this one super crappy hotel we were staying in, back in ‘88 or maybe ‘87. It was real seedy; you know, where you’re afraid to touch anything and you’d get out of the shower feeling dirtier than when you went in. Anyway, hide and Princess Yoshiki found roaches in their room and they freaked like a couple of babies and locked themselves in the bathroom until some other guy came in to squash the roaches. I forget who.” Taiji paused to rub his temples. “God, the screaming was just un-fucking-believable. Two grown men.”

Heath chuckled. “I don’t think I can beat that, but a couple of years ago we were all in Los Angeles and somebody let hide drive, I don’t know why. Well, he damn near drove us off a cliff and Pata yelled at him. Scared the crap out of me and everyone went really meek and quiet after that.”

“No kidding,” Taiji snorted. “If Pata yelled at me, I’d probably cry and shit myself.”

Heath smiled. “You know, I thought talking about hide would make me sad but it’s actually sort of nice hearing stories about him.”

“Yeah, well.” Taiji shrugged. “Some people don’t like to talk about sad things because it hurts too much. It’s easier to just not think about it and not feel sad. And I get that. It blows. But me, I don’t want to shut all of that away. I like to remember them. Maybe it sounds corny, but I like to keep the memories alive. It hurts because they still live on in your heart.”

“I think that’s a nice sentiment.”

“Mm. It doesn’t work for everyone.” Taiji looked at the ground and used the toe of his shoe to prod at a stubborn weed growing between two slabs of concrete. “Yoshiki looks bad.”

“He’s not doing too great,” Heath admitted. “But he’s better than he was. The first few days were… rough. Really rough. I can’t imagine how hard this is for him. Well, I’m sure you know how close he was with hide.”

Taiji nodded and blew out a plume of smoke, still looking down. “Especially knowing what happened with his dad, too. Yoshiki’s dad, I mean.”

“Yes.”

“Has he got someone looking after him?”

“Pata and I are staying with him for a while and we’re keeping an eye on him.” Heath flicked the ash off his cigarette. “You know. Making sure he's eating and sleeping and not just drinking. Better than all three of us trying to cope alone, maybe.”

“I’m glad he’s got people like you guys. He needs sensible people around him.” Taiji smiled wryly. “We don’t get along but it doesn’t mean I don’t care about him. Or the rest of you.”

“Maybe you and Yoshiki should start talking again. It could be good for you.”

“Nah. I’m sure he’s a lot better off without me yanking his chain and disagreeing with him all the time. Listen, I’m really sorry to hear about what happened with X. I honestly couldn’t believe it.”

“Took us by surprise, too.”

“Where’s Toshi?”

Heath shook his head. “I think he left straight after the service. Maybe he doesn’t want to see or speak to us.”

“What happened with him? Sorry,” Taiji added quickly. “I bet everybody and their dog’s been asking you guys that question, huh?”

“It’s all right. Last we heard, he and his wife joined some sort of quasi-religious group and they’re making ‘healing’ music.”

“Wait, wife? What wife?”

Heath shrugged. “The day we found out he was married was the day we found out he was leaving.”

“What the fuck.” Taiji sucked on his cigarette thoughtfully. “Healing music sounds like cult BS to me. Like that cult that killed themselves in the 70s, or the Heaven’s Gate thing last year.”

Heath looked down and nodded. “That’s what we’re worried about, too.”

Their conversation lulled for a moment. Across the courtyard, a child wailed and it reminded Heath of hide’s nephew. hide’s family was here of course, and the boy would grow up with no memory of the uncle who had doted on him.

“Do you still keep in contact with Pata?”

The corner of Taiji’s mouth twitched up. “We never lost contact after I left. Us rhythm guys gotta stick together, eh?”

That made Heath smile a little. The same was true of his own friendship with the older guitarist. “Are you still with Loudness?”

“Ah, no. That ended in ‘93 or ‘94. After that I’ve been… bouncing around between a few different projects.” Taiji snuffed out his cigarette and made a cursory effort to straighten out his suit. “Y’know, we should play together sometime. Now that you guys aren’t under Yoshiki’s iron fist anymore.”

Heath smiled. “I’d like that.”

Taiji grinned back and ruffled Heath’s hair like he was a little kid.



On the way home at the end of the day, Yoshiki fell asleep in the car and Pata and Heath practically had to carry him up to his apartment and dump him into his bed. They still had difficulty convincing him to eat anything—hell, they barely wanted to eat anything themselves—but while Pata went out for a walk to clear his head, Heath managed to coax Yoshiki into drinking some milk and sat beside him until he eventually cried himself to sleep. Heath carefully pulled the covers over Yoshiki’s sleeping form and tiptoed away, leaving the door open just a crack.

Not knowing what else to do, Heath made himself a cup of tea but he dozed off almost as soon as he curled up on the sofa. He had reached his limit after running on fumes for the past few days. His tea sat on the table, slowly cooling. The next time he opened his eyes, the sun had almost set and Pata was sitting across from him, watching TV. He yawned and gave his gritty eyes a good rub.

“Hey,” Pata said. “Sleep okay?”

“Uh. Not really.” Heath slowly sat up. As deeply as he had slept, he still felt tired and flat. “When did you get back?”

“A while ago.”

“Oh.” Heath picked up his cup of tea and stared at it for a moment. It was stone cold but he was parched, and he drained it in a few long gulps. “What are you watching?”

There was a pause and Pata blinked at the TV as though he were seeing it for the first time. “I have no idea,” he finally said. He pointed his thumb at the kitchen behind him. “I got us some food while I was out. Hungry?”

 

Heath wasn’t hungry but he said yes anyway. Pata heated up a couple of meals for them in the microwave and they picked at their dinner and stared listlessly at the evening news, watching reporters rehashing the funeral on national TV and imploring the public to please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time. Heath and Pata didn’t even know why they were watching this; whether it was for closure, or to see it from a different perspective, or simply because they had nothing else to do, they couldn’t say.

 

Yoshiki refused to get out of bed or eat anything that evening, so they left him alone. Figuring that they would be staying here for a while longer, they made themselves comfortable in Yoshiki’s spare bedroom. Heath set up a makeshift futon for himself on the floor so that Pata could take the bed. While Pata snored away, Heath stared blankly at the wall hoping to simply pass out like had this afternoon, his mind replaying the events of the last few days. So much had happened in just four or five days. It wasn’t just hide and the funeral, either. Some of it was good: meeting Taiji and sharing stories about hide, for one. Heath had sometimes wondered what it would be like to meet Taiji. His imagination tended towards apprehension, believing that bass virtuoso Sawada Taiji would be displeased to meet his replacement. Instead, there was a blunt, open sort of honesty about the man that made him easy to talk to. It was likely that very same honesty that put him at odds with Yoshiki and resulted in being ejected from X, but Heath found that he had liked Taiji almost instantly. The invitation to jam together had sounded genuine as well. Like Pata, Sawada Taiji did not come off as the sort of person who would say something without meaning it, just for the sake of being polite. No wonder the two of them were good friends.

More than that, however, Heath thought endlessly upon that kiss that he had wanted so much until it didn’t want him, so much so that he thought he might make himself sick. He was no stranger to Sugizo’s teasing but to do that now, in the state that they had been in, was beyond cruel. He couldn’t imagine what had been going through Sugizo’s head when he pulled a stunt like that and broke his heart a second time. He wanted to cry, but all he had was that horrible hollow ache in his heart.



Yoshiki finally rose from his bed on his own the next day. The man was little more than a thin, pale imitation of himself, like someone had made a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy and all of the colours and the crisp, fine details had been diluted or lost in the process. His eyes held a dim, faraway look to them and he squinted as though he were having trouble focussing his vision, his hair was limp and greasy from not having been washed properly in a week, and his lips were pale and dry. One side of his face was marked with lines from the wrinkles on his pillow and his once neatly-pressed shirt and trousers were disheveled from having been slept in.

“How do you feel?” Heath asked gently as they helped him into a chair. “Do you want anything?”

Yoshiki’s glazed eyes stared at a vague spot in front of him and his lips opened and closed a few times. “Thirsty,” he whispered hoarsely.

All of the crying and lack of food and water had to have taken a lot out of him. Pata filled a tall glass with lukewarm water and held it to Yoshiki’s lips for him to sip at slowly while Heath set to work cutting a banana into bite-sized pieces. It felt good to have something to do other than sit there feeling useless and miserable. Heath fed Yoshiki pieces of banana in between sips of water. Before long, though, Yoshiki pressed his lips into a firm line, his brow furrowed, and his eyes filled with tears again. He cried quietly, still staring straight ahead, tears running down his face, his bottom lip trembling. The only noise he uttered was the occasional sniff or a soft sob. He squeezed his eyes shut and put his face into his hands. They let him cry until he got up on unsteady legs and retreated to his bedroom and closed the door.

Feeling helpless, Pata switched the television on and flicked through the channels, stony-faced. Heath offered him the rest of the banana but he shook his head, so he put the bowl in the fridge and let his gaze roam about Yoshiki’s immaculate apartment, finally resting on the minimalist glass clock on the wall. He stared at the second hand ticking its way around the clock face. What time would it be in LA right now?

“Hey Pata, I’ll be back in a sec. Just going to make a phone call.”

Pata nodded without looking away from the TV.

 

“Hello?”

“Hi, Giselle. It’s Heath. I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time, I know it’s getting late.”

“Oh no, that’s all right. I haven’t thought about going to bed yet,” she said lightly. “Are you… is everything okay?”

He paused. His first instinct was to lie and say that he was okay, that everything was fine, but somehow it didn’t sit well with him. There was no point, anyway.

“Heath?”

“No,” he finally said.

A pause. “Oh.”

“One of our band members… our friend hide.” Heath stopped to take a deep breath. “He passed away. It was very sudden.”

“Oh… god. Heath. I’m… god I’m so sorry. God that… that’s terrible, I… I don’t know what to say.”

“Yeah.” He was grateful that she didn’t ask how it happened. He wouldn’t have been able to hold himself together for that and suddenly he understood why it had been so difficult for Pata to speak to him over the phone that night. It was just too much.

“Are you all right?” Giselle asked. “I mean, are you taking care of each other?”

“We are, yes. Well, we’re trying.” Heath’s voice was little more than a whisper now. “Um. How’s Qoo?”

“She’s fine. I moved her and her stuff into my place. Poor little thing was crying for the first day so I figured it would be easier for her. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, not at all. If you need anything from my apartment just take it. Anything. Thank you. So much.”

“You’re very welcome. You don’t need to worry about anything here, you do what you need to do.”

“Giselle, I… I’ve decided to move back to Tokyo.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “Oh. Of course. That… that makes sense. You need to be there for each other. I’ll be sad to see you go, but it’s… it’s the right thing to do. Um.” She paused again. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No thank you, you’re already doing me a massive favour looking after Qoo for me.” He laughed shortly. “I’ll take care of everything when I get back. I don’t know when but… I’ll let you know.”

“Okay. But let me know if you change your mind.”

 

***

 

Taking care of Yoshiki around the clock became a strain on an already physically and mentally exhausted Pata and Heath. If he slept at all, it might be for ten hours or ten minutes. He barely ate and it was enough work just to convince him to drink some water or juice or a cup of weak tea. Every now and then he might calm down and sit at the piano for a while, only to break down in tears and start banging on the piano keys. Heath tried to call Toshi in case he might be concerned about his old friend’s condition, but his home and mobile numbers were disconnected and he had apparently left no forwarding contact details with his old management company headed by his older brother. It was like he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. In the end, he and Pata made a few calls and assembled a tag team of friends to help look after Yoshiki: Takuro, Teru, Hyde, Gackt, brothers Toll and Yutaka, and I.N.A and K.A.Z from Spread Beaver. Pata had spoken to the members of Luna Sea as well, but after resuming activities this year, they had their hands full with the upcoming release of their sixth album Shine.

Takuro was particularly good at taking care of Yoshiki. When it was Heath and Pata’s turn to switch in and relieve the two members of GLAY from their shift, Takuro held a finger to his lips. “Shh. I’ve just put him to bed.”

“How’s he been doing?”

“Pretty well, I think?” the younger guitarist said with a tentative little smile.

“Takuro got him to eat some rice porridge and a bowl of miso soup with tofu,” Teru said. “He got pretty sleepy after that.”

“How’d you manage that?” Pata asked, impressed. “We had a hell of a time getting him to keep anything down.”

“Dunno.” Takuro shrugged. “I just sat with him and talked to him about nothing, and fed him a spoonful each time. Kind of like talking to a kid, I guess.”

“‘Here comes the airplane’?”

“Not quite,” Takuro said, grinning.

“Well, whatever you did, it worked.” Pata clapped him on the back. “You’re going to make a great dad someday.”

Takuro’s cheeks coloured slightly. “Just doing what I can to help. There’s some leftover rice porridge and soup on the stove if you’re hungry. Call me if you need anything.”

 

***

 

When he wasn’t helping Pata with looking after Yoshiki, Heath spent most of his time poring through newspapers with a red pen in one hand, hunting for a new apartment. His first thought was to find out whether his old place was available, but when he took the train ride out to Shimokitazawa, that knee jerk reaction didn’t seem like such a good idea after all. He wandered up and down the quaint, narrow streets idly, just looking around. Some of the old shops, restaurants and cafés that he remembered were still here. There were also several new establishments that had sprung up in the short time that he’d lived overseas and he eyed them curiously, wondering what they would have been two years ago. Funny how something can stand there for years as part of the landscape, yet if it were to suddenly change one day, you couldn’t remember what it used to be. Taking things for granted, he supposed. You don’t notice something until it’s gone, even if it’s something as simple as a shop you never visited.

Before long he was walking up the gently sloping road leading to his old apartment but the more he thought about it, the more it seemed that it would just make him recall older, fonder times that no longer existed. This was a different phase of his life now, and as much as he had enjoyed living in Shimokitazawa, moving back into his old apartment or old neighbourhood felt very much like a step backward. Almost instinctively, he found himself walking straight past his old building without giving it more than a cursory glance and headed back into the shopping district on his way back to the train station. That little guitar shop he used to visit looked like it was gone, too. That, or he’d misremembered which street it was on, but he was pretty sure it used to be here. In a strange way, this was the one thing that saddened him the most about the way the area had changed and it cemented his decision not to settle back in Shimokitazawa. The neighbourhood had moved on in his absence. It only made sense that he should move on, too.

 

After the dissolution of X Japan, Heath and the rest of his ex-bandmates had gone back to working on their solo material. Under the name P.A.F, Pata had teamed up with Tusk and together the duo had already released a maxi-single and full-length album earlier this year. June saw the release of Heath’s second solo album, but by then he had flown back to LA to pack his belongings for the move back home.

“Don’t tell me you’ve brought another 18-year old whisky,” Giselle had joked when she opened her front door.

Heath smiled and offered her a bottle of Yamazaki. “No. Just a 12-year old one this time.”

Qoo was all over him the second she heard his voice and she scampered about, crying loudly and wagging her tail and generally telling him in dog body language how much she had missed him and how worried she was.

“Poor girl,” he murmured. “I’m sorry I’ve been away. I promise I didn’t forget about you.”

“I’m afraid she missed you quite a lot,” Giselle said, scratching Qoo around the ears. “Most days she’d be scratching at the door and whenever we went out for a walk, she’d stop outside your place and I’d have to pick her up or she wouldn’t move.”

“I am so sorry to have to put you through all of this,” Heath sighed.

“Hey look, it’s fine. It was nothing I couldn’t handle and you had an emergency to deal with.” Giselle paused and touched his arm lightly. “Are you doing okay?”

He attempted a brave smile. “Yes. I’ll be fine.”

It wasn’t entirely a lie this time.

 

***

 

Heath was not looking forward to packing up his belongings for the second time in two years. It was a pain in the ass the first time, even though it had provided a great distraction from all of the breakup unpleasantness at the time, and it was an even bigger pain in the ass now. In fact, it actually felt like he’d only just gotten settled and comfortable very recently and now he’d have to uproot everything and start over. On the positive side, it did mean that he hadn’t had much time to accumulate a lot of crap and clutter; he had minimal furniture and most of it was either being given away to neighbours or friends or to charity, so that took care of the tricky stuff. Same with the TV and fridge. Picture frames and electronics had to be carefully wrapped and boxed up for shipment. His guitars and equipment were what worried him the most but they had at least made it over here without a scratch. That just left clothes and other smaller personal effects to be dealt with.

He worked at this steadily and methodically, cleaning the apartment as he went, and after two weeks the apartment was almost empty and he was sleeping on the couch. That and the fridge were the only pieces that remained, and they’d be picked up by their new owners tomorrow morning. He stood in the middle of the living room floor and surveyed his work. The place looked and smelled much fresher than it did when he’d first moved in. He was so deep in thought that he almost jumped when he heard a knock at the door.

“Just me,” Giselle smiled. “Wanted to see how everything was coming along.”

“It’s pretty much done,” Heath said, taking a couple of steps back to let her and Zack inside. “Anything I’m not using right now is already on its way back to Japan. Just got a couple of suitcases and Qoo’s carrier now.”

Giselle nodded solemnly as she looked around the empty apartment. “When’s your flight?”

“Tomorrow at 10pm.”

“I see. Have you had dinner yet?”

“No, I haven’t thought about it yet.”

“Well. Since it’s your last night here… want to order some pizza and kick back?”

“Kick back?” Heath’s English was competent but sometimes the slang caught him by surprise.

Giselle laughed. “It means ‘relax’. You know, kick back, chill out, take a load off?”

 

So they spent the evening sitting on the floor of Heath’s mostly-empty apartment, kicking back with some gooey, cheesy pizzas and their dogs watched intently, hoping to have some too.

“Can I see you off at the airport tomorrow night?” Giselle asked as she got up to wipe her greasy hands on a napkin.

“You don’t have to. But it would be nice.”

“I get off work at 5 and that’ll get me home a bit before 6.” She paused, adding up the numbers in her head. “If traffic isn’t too bad, I think I could get you to the airport by 7 or 7:30.”

“What? Oh no, I wasn’t asking you to drive me to the airport, I can take a taxi—”

“Please, I’d be happy to.”

Heath sighed. “Why are you so nice to me?”

This was met with a burst of laughter. “Why’d you have to give me expensive 18-year old whisky? I’m never going to be able to go back to drinking the regular stuff now!”

Heath blushed. “Okay. Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.” She hesitated and stood on tiptoe to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “It’s been nice having someone like you for a neighbour.”

Heath smiled and his cheeks coloured even more. “It’s been nice having you as a friend.”

 

***

 

By mid-July, Heath had settled into a second-floor apartment of a fairly new building in Suginami. With only one bedroom, his new home was smaller than his old place in Shimokitazawa but it was very crisp and modern with a better kitchen and much nicer bathroom. Qoo was unhappy about having to fly again, but he made it up to her with lots of cuddles and belly rubs and treats, and she was excited about having a new neighbourhood to explore and making new friends. Getting into the heart of Tokyo from here by public transportation was also easier than it used to be. He missed the offbeat nature of Shimokita but Suginami was not without its own retro charm; the Koenji district had been home to Tokyo’s 1970s punk scene and when he took the time to explore his new neighbourhood, he quickly found a number of small livehouses hosting all kinds of acts: rock, jazz, metal, electronic, blues, you name it. One of his favourite things to see was a freeform jazz trio who performed every Friday night in a different spot in Koenji and he enjoyed looking for them while taking Qoo for her evening walk. 

 

Heath and Pata still made a point of visiting Yoshiki every week just to check on him, mostly to make sure that he was getting some sleep (or trying to) and eating properly. He had largely withdrawn from the public sphere since hide’s passing and much to his friends’ relief, he eventually sought the help of a therapist when it became apparent that the pain wasn’t as simple as grief on its own. It didn’t take long for him to restock his cupboards with wine and whisky but his intake had slowed to a more normal rate of consumption during the slow but steady improvement in his physical and mental health while he continued to grieve, both for his father and for hide. Toward the end of summer there was talk of him flying back to LA to resume his work at Extasy Studios there, but he had something else on his mind as well.

“I want to do something to celebrate hide and his contribution to music,” he said one evening over tea and dessert.

“Oh yeah? Like what?” Pata asked. He plucked the strawberry off Yoshiki’s cheesecake and ate it. It wasn’t like Yoshiki could eat it anyway.

The drummer hesitated and it took a lot more coaxing before he would tell them about his idea.

“I just don’t know how well it would go down, or if anyone would think it’s a stupid idea,” Yoshiki mumbled, rubbing his neck.

“Does it still hurt?” Heath asked gently.

“What? Oh, this?” Yoshiki shook his head and put his hand back down. “Not really. It’s fine, it’s just… sometimes when I’m stressed or tense it… twinges a bit.”

“Is that normal?”

Yoshiki pursed his lips wryly. “It is now.”

“So what’s this stupid idea of yours?” Pata asked.

“Pata,” Heath chided.

“What?”

“Well.” Yoshiki hesitated and reached up to touch his neck again, but he caught himself in time and started playing with his hair instead. “I was wondering… do you think anybody would be interested in collaborating on a tribute album?”



Chapter Text

1999

 

Heath celebrated his birthday with his family in Tokyo. They made the trip out to the big smoke from Amagasaki and made a little holiday out of it with Heath playing tour guide, showing them around his new neighbourhood, and then they took him out for a nice and well-overdue family meal. Now nine years old, his nephew Junichi was eager to hear his latest tales about living in glamorous America and whether he had met and hung out with any movie stars, and would Uncle Hiroshi take him there one day? His five-year old sister Michiko was much quieter and she spent most of the time possessively hugging a stuffed rabbit that Heath sent to her last year for her birthday.

His mother didn’t bring up the topic of girlfriends or marriage or grandchildren even once during their stay. That was nothing short of a relief and privately, Heath wondered whether his brother Tetsuya had had a quiet word with her about his breakup with Sugizo, or whether she had simply tired of the subject.

“Ow, stop it!”

His attention turned back to his family when Michiko cried out.

“Jun, leave her alone,” Tetsuya said sternly. “If you can’t sit down for a quiet meal, you’re going back to the hotel.”

“But I haven’t seen Uncle Hiroshi in ages,” Junichi muttered under his breath, pouting.

“Don’t try to get your uncle in trouble,” Kumiko said. “One more incident and that’s it.”

Heath grinned. “It’s fine, really.”

“See?” Junichi beamed up at Heath, glad to have somebody on his side. “Can I try some of your wine?”

“Only if your parents say yes.”

“Jun, you’re only nine,” Tetsuya said, looking very tired.

“It’s just a sip, geez!” the boy insisted with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “I’m not going to have the whole thing. Take a chill pill, Dad.”

“One sip won’t hurt,” Heath said, smiling.

Tetsuya looked at his wife and sighed. “All right. One sip—one small sip.”

“Thank you!” Junichi held Heath’s wine glass like it was the Holy Grail and, smiling up at the adults cheekily, took a careful sip and immediately pulled a face. “Hurgh!” He seized a glass of juice and started chugging to get the taste out of his mouth while everyone else laughed.

Heath held up the wine bottle. “Wine, Kumiko?”

“Ah… no, thank you,” she said, glancing at Tetsuya. “I’ll stick with water.”

This look between them didn’t go unnoticed by Heath. “Are you pregnant?”

Kumiko smiled. “Look, we weren’t going to say anything just yet. We didn’t want to hijack your birthday.”

“Oh don’t be silly. Congratulations!” Heath got up and gave her a very careful hug. “How far along are you?”

“Doctor said she’s twelve or thirteen weeks in,” Tetsuya said, patting his wife’s knee. “So the little one is due around July.”

“I hope it’s a boy,” Junichi said haughtily. “Girls are dumb.”

You’re dumb, dummy!”

“Ow!”

“Junichi, leave her alone!”

“She kicked me and called me dumb!”

“Michiko don’t kick your brother—”

“Yeah, don’t kick owww!

“Jun!”

“She hit me!”

“Then stop pinching her!”

Heath grinned at his own stupid big brother. “Still excited about having that third kid?”

Watching Kumiko and their parents trying to separate the children made Heath think that perhaps Mrs Morie had decided that two grandchildren was more than enough for her to handle, let alone three, and had since resolved not to bring it up with her younger son. After all, the breakup with Sugizo was coming up on three years ago, time enough for pretty much anyone to move on and find a new partner. At first he told himself it was too soon to get back into dating, and it was. Anybody could understand that. Then came a string of bad news: Toshi’s departure, X Japan’s disbandment and hide’s passing, all in the space of just over a year. Even so, after Heath and his old girlfriend Satomi broke up, Mrs Morie certainly hadn’t wasted any time badgering him about finding a new ladyfriend even as he was in the middle of packing up his life to relocate to Tokyo at the time. Damn, that was nine years ago. It didn’t seem possible that that much time had really passed since he left Amagasaki to chase his dream, but he was almost 22 when he moved to Tokyo and now he was celebrating his 31st birthday. In these past nine years he had moved across the country, joined one of the biggest rock outfits in Japan, played at Tokyo Dome, moved to America, watched his band fall apart, attended the funeral of a dear friend to whom he and many others owed his career, and relocated back to Tokyo. And in that time he had fallen in love and watched that fall apart, too.

 

Given the considerable overlap in their circle of friends, it was nigh on impossible for Heath to avoid Sugizo completely. In lieu of that, he did what he did best, which mostly involved the exchange of polite hellos and empty how are yous, then making a concerted effort to occupy the opposite end of the room. That was easy enough in theory, except it seemed like Sugizo had a new romantic interest every time Heath saw him at this party or that. At Tetsuya Komuro’s birthday party last November, it was a very curvy blue-eyed blonde in a low-cut dress—very much Yoshiki’s type—and she’d been all over Sugizo. That was just perfect: after all, how could Heath have ever compared with that much tits and ass?

Then at Hisashi’s birthday party in February, Heath watched with a kind of mild disdain as his ex spent a good portion of the evening flirting with a shy, svelte boy, slender and pretty enough to be a girl with long strawberry blond hair, dark lashes framing large, expressive eyes and a dainty, pouty little mouth painted red. Heath eyed them scornfully through the haze of cigarette smoke in the room, only half-listening to the conversation around him.

“Any idea what happened with Gackt?” asked L’arc~en~Ciel’s Ken.

Kohta tapped Sakura’s arm. “Hey, you’re buddies with Tetsu, right?”

With a cigarette in one hand and a pint of beer in the other, Sakura shrugged. “Yeah. Why?”

“Ask him to ask Mana why Gackt left Malice Mizer.”

“Nah, man, I already tried that. He said that Mana’s being kind of tight-lipped about it.” Sakura snorted loudly at his own joke. “Get it? Tight-lipped?”

Kiyoharu rolled his eyes. “Yes, thank you, we get it, you’re very funny.”

“What if Gackt got sick of playing Chinese Whispers with Mana?” Kohta said, grinning.

“I heard it’s because there was no more room for Gackt’s big head,” Jiro said.

“Really? I heard that Mana’s a right royal pain in the ass to work with,” Hiro remarked. “A clash of two big heads.”

Sakura grinned. “Kind of like Yoshiki, eh, Heath?”

“Huh—what about Yoshiki?” Heath said absently.

“You know. Isn’t he supposed to be high maintenance as fuck?”

“Oh yeah. He’s fine to hang out with but working with him is different. He drove poor Toshi absolutely nuts with his English. You didn’t hear that from me, by the way.”

“No wonder he left and joined a cult,” Sakura chortled.

“Hey.” Hiro elbowed him and frowned. “Don’t say that.”

Heath took a quick drag of his cigarette and heard none of this. “Hey, do you know those guys over there?”

Their little group turned to look at where Heath was pointing: a group of five somewhere around their early-twenties, including the pretty, girlish one Sugizo had been flirting with earlier.

“Nope,” Jiro said, eyeing them curiously. “Are they new? Hey, Hisashi—” The babyfaced bassist reached out and grabbed his bandmate and today’s birthday boy. “Who’re they?”

“Who?”

“Those five over there.”

“Oh! Some new band that Yoshiki’s been producing. He called me yesterday and asked if it was okay to bring them along and meet some people, so I said yeah. I forget what they’re called. Dir-something.”

“Have you met ‘em?” Sakura asked.

“Oh man, I’m fucking drunk. Don’t make me try to remember names.”

“Is that a chick?” Ken asked, pointing his cigarette at the pretty, girlish one.

“Nah they’re all guys. No, I remember: that’s their drummer. I think he’s called Shinya? Could be wrong.”

Jiro laughed. “Another drummer called Shinya?”

“I know, right?”

“We’re going to have to find a good way to differentiate between them. Big Shinya and Little Shinya.”

“Boy Sugizo’s not wasting any time, is he?” Ken laughed and pointed; sure enough, Sugizo had sauntered up to the new band and he handed ‘Little Shinya’ some sort of cocktail in a tall glass with a paper umbrella and a candied cherry that gleamed in the lights like a jewel, as plump and red as those lips.

“Excuse me.” Heath crushed his cigarette into the glass ashtray and took a gulp of water. “I have to go to the bathroom.” To fucking puke.

 

Figuring that nobody would miss him, he hid in the bathroom for a while, sitting in one of the cubicles with the toilet lid closed and playing Snake on his phone, silently fuming. Did Sugizo always have to make such an embarrassingly public spectacle about his availability? It was bad enough that he had taken to prancing about on stage in those tiny fucking leather shorts that left absolutely nothing to the imagination, and at his age. He probably had at least ten years on that Shinya kid! Heath liked to think that his self esteem was reasonably healthy but seeing Sugizo slavering after a younger, prettier guy and plying him with colourful cocktails out in the open like that was no less of a punch in the gut. That Shinya didn’t even look old enough to drink. Hell, he barely looked old enough to shave. By now, Heath was well aware that he hadn’t been adequate as a boyfriend and he didn’t need Sugizo rubbing his face in it.

 

“You seem to care more about your fucking dog than your boyfriend!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

That statement had haunted Heath for ages after their breakup. He really hadn’t known what that meant and he had to wonder how on earth Sugizo had come to that conclusion and, perhaps more worryingly, how long he had been sitting on that time bomb. It took weeks and maybe even months of going around in circles before Heath finally concluded that he must have done something for Sugizo to think that.

 

Or not done something.

 

Heath’s father was very pragmatic, no-nonsense person and Heath had grown up with the mentality that those who had to demonstrate their love with bold, public gestures and extravagant displays had something to prove, or something to compensate for. That was why he had never much cared for anniversaries or romantic gifts like flowers and jewellery, or candles arranged into love hearts on the beach, or copping a cheeky handjob or blowjob in a dark movie theatre. To him, it was enough to know that the other person cared but clearly he had been wrong and taken that for granted. Even his old girlfriend Satomi had ribbed him about it a number of times. It wasn’t like she expected him to whisk her off to a romantic getaway in a horse-drawn carriage, she said, or fill her apartment with rose petals and heart-shaped balloons containing hand-written messages. It would just be nice if he could surprise her now and then, do something fun and spontaneous. No wonder Sugizo thought that Heath cared more about his dog than his boyfriend. Why else would he be getting up close and personal with Ryuichi on stage the way he did, if not to seek out the attention that he wasn’t getting from his own partner? Now he was looking for somebody younger, prettier and more exciting, and it looked like he had found him.

Sitting on the closed toilet lid, Heath’s train of thought would be broken every now and then by the door to the men’s room being flung open and he’d have to listen to someone relieving themselves from one end or the other. Then two very drunk people fell into the neighbouring cubicle, kissing noisily with lots of heavy breathing and giggling to themselves in between, and Heath glared at them through the divider. They kept at it for ages and then he heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper being drawn and decided to get the hell out of there. He wondered who they were. The breathy voices were impossible to make out but even as he cringed inwardly, his brain threw up an image of a certain somebody with his pants about his knees while a svelte, pretty young thing with pouty red lips knelt before him, gazing up at him with large, expressive eyes beneath a fringe of soft strawberry blond hair. Heath decided it was best not to find out.

“Wow, hey, Heath!” Teru plucked his sleeve just as he re-joined the crowd. “We were just talking about you!”

“Me? Why?” Heath threw an uneasy glance around the room.

“I was saying the tribute album is a brilliant idea on Yoshiki’s part,” Hideki was saying. “You guys covered Celebration, right?”

Heath nodded absently. “Pata and I collaborated with I.N.A.” There he was; he finally spotted Sugizo a short distance away with Hisashi, both wearing silly party hats matched with even sillier giant novelty glasses and holding sparklers in both hands while Takuro took photos. Heath wasn’t sure which was the bigger relief: that Sugizo was no longer flirting with Shinya, or that he wasn’t involved in that sordid bathroom blowjob.

Not that it was any of his business. Sugizo could fuck anybody he liked.

“Which song did you cover?” Yutaka asked the Siam Shade frontman.

Pink Spider,” Hideki said proudly. “What about you guys?”

“We did Doubt,“ Yutaka said. “I can’t wait to hear the finished album. When’s it coming out?”

 

hide Tribute Spirits saw its release in May, just before the first anniversary of hide’s passing. Most of the contributing artists were veterans of the likes of Buck-Tick, Tomoyasu Hotei, GLAY, Luna Sea and D’erlanger. The newest amongst them was a young, fresh-faced quintet called Transtic Nerve who had seemingly come out of nowhere; nobody else knew who they were but they were enthusiastic about this opportunity and eager to learn from their elders.

When Yoshiki had first floated the idea to them, Heath and Pata had looked at each other and something just clicked. They had always gotten along well and had similar styles and taste in music; why not work together on this? Neither of them wanted to sing, though, so they made a list of singers and other musicians that they wanted to work with, but somehow none of the vocalists they could think of seemed right. After a number of phone calls back and forth, Pata had reached out to I.N.A from Spread Beaver. While he wasn’t keen to sing either, he had something even better: a clean recording of hide himself singing Celebration. With the vocal track taken care of, the three of them put their heads together to produce a fresh, modern version of the old X classic from their Blue Blood days. For Heath, this had been a breath of fresh air to be playing with ‘the guys’ again. Working on his solo material was one thing but he had missed this feeling, this connection terribly.

“Who’re they?” Pata asked as they slipped outside for a quick cigarette break during recording.

“Who?”

The older guitarist pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the group of five twenty-somethings that they had passed in the corridor just seconds before. “Those kids.”

“Oh.” Heath flicked his lighter and took that first deep drag that made the paper and tobacco sizzle and crackle ever so gently. “They’re called Transtic Nerve.”

“Mmm. Never heard of ‘em.”

“They’re from Hyogo, I think they said the Himeji area. They’re really nice, I spoke to them the other day.”

“Because they’re from Hyogo?” Pata joked. “Can you smell out people from your home prefecture? Is that a Kansai people thing?”

“Yes, Pata,” Heath said dryly. “Us Kansai people have powers that you Kanto people can only dream of.”

“I knew it.”

Heath grinned. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What?”

“Anyway, apparently one of their demo tapes made its way to hide early last year and he signed them to LEMONed pretty much straight away.” Heath exhaled a thin plume of smoke. “Their vocalist Taka told me that they probably would have given up on music if hide hadn’t given them the break they needed. They were super keen to contribute to this album since they never got to meet him and thank him in person.”

“Aw, that’s so nice. Which song did they do?”

ever free. I’ll introduce you guys.”

 

Of the other songs, Heath particularly enjoyed Luna Sea’s cover of Scanner and Buck-Tick’s cover of Doubt. Oblivion Dust was a relatively newer band on the scene but they, too, had a good friend of hide’s on board: guitarist K.A.Z had formed the band with half-British singer Ken Lloyd a couple of years before joining hide with Spread Beaver, and their cover of Genkai Haretsu was a much heavier, industrial-flavoured track in contrast to the lighter punk feel of hide’s original. The album was extremely well-received, reaching #1 on the Oricon charts and those who had contributed to this project couldn’t have been prouder. Happiest of all was Yoshiki for their combined efforts in celebrating hide’s legacy and, perhaps, a positive step in his own healing.

Soon after this, however, came another event in the ongoing trend of bad news stories amongst their peers, and for Malice Mizer especially: their drummer Kami passed away very suddenly in June. It almost seemed to echo what had happened with X Japan less than two years ago: vocalist of a successful visual kei band breaking ties due to unspecified ‘differences’ and deviating on a very different solo career, followed by the death of a band member. Rumours were quickly quashed with the news that Kami had suffered a severe brain haemorrhage but it was no less devastating. And so Malice Mizer’s friends and colleagues donned their black suits to attend yet another funeral of a dear friend. At the very least, Mana seemed determined to forge ahead with Malice Mizer.

 

The next few months passed quietly for Heath. He continued writing music here and there and idly thought back on the time he’d spent working on Celebration with Pata and I.N.A. Every so often he’d put the CD on and give it a spin, and each time he’d marvel at the way all of these different artists had come together to produce such an amazing tribute album. He had genuinely enjoyed recording with the guys and more than a few times it occurred to him perhaps they should collaborate on more projects.

Then later in the year, Heath received a phone call from Pata, inviting him out for drinks with I.N.A.

“We’ve been talking,” I.N.A said, motioning at himself and the older guitarist. “Celebration was fucking awesome, right?”

Heath nodded, smiling to himself. It was obvious where this was headed: they’d been thinking the same thing he was.

“So we were thinking about making this an official thing,” Pata said, raising his beer glass in a toast.

“You’ve both read my mind.” Heath paused. “But who will we have on vocals?”

“I might have a solution to that,” I.N.A said with a cursory wave of his hand, and he turned to rummage about in his backpack. “I met this guy called Jo:ya who’s definitely interested. Here’s a demo tape of him singing. The kid has a good set of pipes.”

“Geez,” Pata said. “Is everybody a kid these days? I feel so old.”

“I know! He’s practically a baby. D’you suppose he has to get his mum to drive him to and from the studio?”

Heath laughed. “God, were we ever that young?”

“You were,” Pata chuckled. “I still remember that day we met you in the studio. You were so fucked up, man.”

“Aw, shut up.”

I.N.A slid the cassette across the table. “Here. Listen to Jo:ya’s demo tape and let me know what you think. If we’re all on board and he’s got what it takes, we’ll call him in for an audition.”

 

The idea of forming a new band with Pata and I.N.A filled Heath with a special kind of thrill that he hadn’t felt since he joined X seven years ago. He’d already been working on a couple of songs in his own time including a certain ballad that he’d held close to his heart. This would be the best thing that had happened to them in the last three years and the more he thought about it, the more excited he was to do something new and grow as a musician.

 

“So?” I.N.A prompted. “You guys are in, right?”

Heath and Pata exchanged a glance and a smile. They didn’t need to be asked twice.

 

Chapter Text

2000

 

2000 was a new year and a new millennium with a new band, and everyone was looking forward to a change from the doom and gloom of recent years. January saw Malice Mizer sign on a new vocalist called Klaha. His voice was a touch richer and deeper than Gackt’s with a smooth, dark quality, like melting chocolate, and everyone quietly agreed that he was a lot saner as well. Then a few months after that in May, Heath and many others attended the wedding of Luna Sea’s Shinya and Ishiguro Aya of the idol group Morning Musume. For once it was nice to don a suit for a happy occasion, and a different suit to the one he wore for hide’s and Kami’s funerals. Seated at a table with Yoshiki, Pata and GLAY, Heath concentrated on enjoying the meal and catching up on the latest news with his friends whilst doing his best to avoid looking at Sugizo, who was looking irritatingly sharp in his dark grey suit and silver tie. Ryuichi, J and Inoran wore identical suits, for they made up Shinya’s side of the bridal party, but Sugizo carried himself with a certain confidence and charm that made the suit look like it was made just for him, and Heath hated it. Imagine getting caught staring at your hot ex at a wedding. Worst of all, Sugizo had brought a plus-one with him: some half-American model called Angie somebody. Heath scowled at the pair of them from the corner of his eye. It had to be serious. You don’t bring just anybody to a wedding with you. He forced himself to look away. The only saving grace was that the new band gave their own table plenty to talk about.

 

There was no question that Heath had loved being a part of X Japan, but forming Dope HEADz was something else entirely. It was fresh and exciting, it meant starting from the ground up with new music and new ideas and in a funny way, it was liberating. Yoshiki was good at what he did, but anyone who had ever worked with him knew that, aside from his perfectionism, he liked things done his way, almost to the exclusion of everything else. With the new band, the two quietest members of X Japan could finally step out of Yoshiki’s considerable shadow and show everyone what they were made of.

“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m I.N.A. We spoke on the phone.”

“Welcome. I’m Heath, bass.”

“Pata, guitar. It’s great to finally meet you.”

Jo:ya bowed deeply and shook each of their hands in turn. “It’s such an honour.”

At 26, Jo:ya was six years younger than Heath, the next youngest person in the band, and I.N.A himself had ten years on the new guy, but the platinum blond ‘youngster’ had an earnest nature, keen to impress these three veterans of the music industry. Heath, Pata and I.N.A had already written and composed a few songs, and a demo tape had been mailed to Jo:ya to prepare for his audition, during which they quickly discovered that they had some pretty good chemistry together. By the end of the audition, Heath, Pata and I.N.A were confident that this would be the final lineup for their new band.

“There’s just one teeny tiny detail to get out of the way,” I.N.A said, producing a thin booklet from his bag. “Everyone’s got to pass a musical theory test. Heath, Pata and I have all done and passed ours. If you pass your theory test and you’re in, kiddo!”

“Oh, uh…” Jo:ya gulped and took the proffered test booklet, thumbing through the pages nervously. “I’ve um… never heard of this before. Is it common?”

“Most major record labels are doing it these days,” I.N.A explained. “Helps them work out how much we each get from royalties. You’ve got two weeks to submit your test and management will assess your scores. You taken any music lessons?”

“Uh, I studied basic music in high school but—”

“Great, then I’m sure it’ll be a cinch for you!” I.N.A clapped Jo:ya on the back and sent him on his way.

Pata and Heath wandered up to the window and peered down at the new kid making his way down the street, flipping through the booklet with one hand and running his other hand through his hair worriedly, and Heath glanced over his shoulder at I.N.A.

“What was that you gave him?”

The older man shrugged casually. “I was at a music store yesterday and picked up this test booklet for shits and giggles. It’s full of words in Italian and shit. I bet even Yoshiki would be stumped.”

“I.N.A, the kid is going to shit himself!”

“Relax! I’ll let him sweat for a couple of days and then I’ll tell him he’s got the job.”

In the end I.N.A let him sweat for over a week. When the truth was finally revealed, Jo:ya took the prank in surprisingly good humour and when asked, all he did was laugh, saying that he had three older sisters and was used to it. Determined not to be outdone by I.N.A, Pata set to work cooking up more pranks. Throughout the course of the year, while they spent time together composing, writing, arranging, rehearsing and recording, the youngest member of the band found himself on the receiving end of a number of idiotic gags. Pata applied a thick layer of Vaseline on the mic stand, gaffer-taped a sparkly streamer to the back of Jo:ya’s jeans like a holographic tail, and wiped molten chocolate on the toilet paper. One day Pata showed up to the studio with a box of donuts but when Jo:ya opened the lid there were only three treats inside. Being the youngest, he couldn’t presume to take a treat from his elders so he politely lied about watching his weight, at which point Pata produced a fourth donut from his bag. Another time Pata brought a life-size cutout of Slash and set it up in the tearoom so that Jo:ya would find it when he went to fetch a drink. Pata’s favourite one was a set of fake lyric sheets of their songs with a few words changed here and there - not enough to be immediately noticeable but certainly enough to make Jo:ya stop and question his sanity for a few minutes.

 

“Not setting up any pranks today, Pata?” Heath was sitting at the little coffee table slowly leafing through this month’s issue of Rolling Stone. His longtime friend sat across from him with an acoustic guitar in his lap and you’d have thought he was asleep if his fingers weren’t lazily plucking at the strings.

“Nah.” Pata grinned. “I’ve got it all figured out. He’s used to being pranked now, right?”

“Yeah?”

“So if I don’t do anything, he’s going to be paranoid all the time, wondering what’s around the corner. It’s the ultimate prank and I don’t even have to lift a finger.” Pata tapped the side of his head, seeming very pleased with himself but Heath just rolled his eyes.

“Okay.”

Pata sniffed and turned his nose up at him. “I don’t see you doing anything better.”

“If there was a prank I wanted to play, I would do it,” Heath said calmly.

“Here he comes!” Pata hissed. “Quick, act natural.”

Heath shook his head and turned his attention back to his magazine.

 

As soon as Jo:ya spied the two of them through the glass, he breathed a visible sigh of relief before pushing the heavy glass door open. “Thank god I’m not last!”

It was an unofficial rule amongst the four of them that the last one to arrive for studio sessions would be responsible for buying coffee for the others next time. I.N.A and Jo:ya were by far the worst offenders, with Pata a distant third. Heath, on the other hand, enjoyed a great many free beverages at his bandmates’ expense.

“So, no water buckets today, old man?” Jo:ya draped his coat over the back of a chair. “No flour bombs or toilet paper stuck to my shoe?”

“Honestly, Jo:ya, you think of the strangest things,” Pata said innocently.

Jo:ya gave him a sidelong glance and opened his mouth to say something when his mobile phone rang. He cursed under his breath. “Hello? God, for the last time, no! Wrong number! WRONG NUMBER! What? No, I am not a babysitter! Yes of course I’m sure! Go away!”

“What was that all about?” Pata asked when he hung up.

“I don’t know!” Jo:ya shouted, gesticulating wildly and stomping around the room. “For the past three or four weeks I’ve been getting these random-ass calls from random-ass people looking for a goddamn babysitter. I don’t get it! Do I look like a babysitter? Have I got ‘babysitter’ tattooed on my forehead?”

Pata chortled. “You look like someone who’d drive up to a school in a beat-up old van and try to sell cigarettes and beer to seven-year olds.”

“Where the hell are they even getting my number?” Jo:ya demanded.

At that moment, I.N.A pushed the big glass doors open with a paper tray bearing four paper coffee cups. When he saw the other three were already there, he paused and sighed. “Crap.”

“Bet these coffees are running you a pretty penny, huh?” Heath said, grinning. “Why don’t you just set your alarm half an hour earlier?”

“I did, but the goddamn batteries went flat!” I.N.A handed him his latte. “Hey Jo:ya, guess what I found?”

Jo:ya just scowled.

I.N.A retrieved a crumpled sheet of paper from his back pocket, grinning. “Is this band gig not paying enough and you had to start a babysitting service to put food on the table?”

What?” Jo:ya snatched the paper out of his hand. “Where did you get this fucking thing?”

“The café downstairs. On that bulletin board they have. What’s going on?”

“Apparently he’s been getting crank calls for babysitting jobs for weeks,” Pata smirked.

Jo:ya shoved the ad in his face. “Did you do this?”

Pata snorted and took a sip of his own coffee. “I’m the guy who’d put salt in your coffee or inject wasabi into your donut, Jo:ya. Does this sound like something I’d do?”

“I.N.A?”

“Hey, don’t look at me,” I.N.A said with his hands raised and an expression of frank honesty. “I only ever pranked you once. Promise.”

All eyes turned to Heath next.

 

Heath just kept on reading his magazine, smiling.

 

***

 

“Should we get some more food?”

“Yeah and some more beers as well.”

“Hey Ryo, order some more of those gyoza!”

“Oh shit yeah, they were great.”

Heath grinned and drained the last few drops of beer from his glass. After they had met whilst working on hide Tribute Spirits, he had struck up a good friendship with some of the other bands he hadn’t already known, including Oblivion Dust and the five from Transtic Nerve, and they’d get together to enjoy a meal and a few drinks every so often to settle back and unwind.

“What’s your new band called, again?” asked drummer Masaki.

“Dope HEADz and it was I.N.A’s idea.” Heath paused to offer the last piece of chicken around the table. When they all shook their heads, he took it himself. “Sometimes I just sit and think about how freeing it is.”

“How’s that?” asked guitarist Tal.

Heath thought about this for a second. “X Japan has a very specific look and sound, right? Yoshiki’s really… let’s say tenacious about doing things a certain way. Well, we don’t have that anymore.”

Bassist Ryo nodded. “So you have free rein to do what you want.”

“Exactly. We’ve got a blank slate: we don’t have to sound like anything. We can do hard rock, fast rock, industrial, punk, electronic.”

“Electronic, huh?” their other guitarist Masato mused. “That sounds like something that’s really up your alley. And I.N.A as well.”

Sitting next to Heath, Taka gave him a nudge with his elbow. “So, when do we get to hear something?”

“You’re just going to have to wait and see.”

“Aw c’mon, we let you hear some of our demos.”

“I can’t,” Heath laughed. “I’ve been sworn to secrecy! Anyway, what about you guys? How’s work on the next album going?”

“Pretty good!” said Taka. “We’ve got about three songs that are pretty much finished and something like seven—”

“Eight,” Ryo corrected.

“—eight demos that we’re playing with.”

“I wish we could have gotten to know hide and that he could have come to some of our shows,” Masato said wistfully. “I can’t believe we never got to meet and thank him for… well, everything.”

Heath gave a sombre nod. “You always keep a front-row seat for him, don’t you?”

Ryo shrugged. “Yeah, well. We owe all of this to him.”

“Me too.” Heath looked down at his hands loosely wrapped around his drink.

Their conversation stalled when one of the izakaya staff appeared at the doorway with a tray laden with drinks and more food and as they ate, Heath noticed Taka and Masato sharing some of their food, whispering to each other and laughing quietly between themselves, and they looked almost guilty when he cleared his throat.

“So,” Heath said, pointing his beer glass at the pair of them. “What’s going on here?”

It couldn’t have been made any clearer when both Taka and Masato blushed in unison and looked down at their food while the other three burst out laughing.

“We’ve got a little romance blooming,” Masaki said, looking for all the world like a proud parent.

“They were in a different band together before the five of us officially formed Transtic Nerve,” Tal explained. “We got so sick of them making those pathetic puppy dog eyes at each other’s backs that we gave them a push.”

“Really? I had no idea!” Heath smiled warmly and raised his glass to Taka and Masato. “Well, I’m very happy for you both. How long?”

“Only a couple of months,” Masato said modestly.

Masaki grinned. “Imagine being so dumb and blind that you spend years playing in the same bands together and not knowing you’ve both got a thing for each other.”

“Right?” Ryo agreed. “It sounds fucking exhausting. If you ever see me mooning over someone like that, for the love of god, please shoot me.”

Heath kept his smile pasted on. He knew that they weren’t talking about him but it stung all the same. He pushed the thought away but on his way home at the end of the night, it crept up on him again like a bad dream. He drew his jacket closer around him and hunched his shoulders up against the November chill while his thoughts wandered. Everything had looked so positive for Luna Sea since they returned from their hiatus. The Shining Brightly tour of ‘98 was a four-month marathon of 33 concerts that drew massive crowds to sold-out shows and their increased popularity brought them to Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai in ‘99, coinciding with the band’s 10th anniversary. Everybody was all smiles at Shinya’s wedding earlier this year, and then in July they released their 7th album Lunacy. Quite suddenly, only a few months later, Luna Sea issued a press release announcing that they would be disbanding. That was only days ago and Heath still couldn’t believe it. I.N.A and Pata had talked about it briefly in the studio, mostly nodding their heads like wise old men and saying how much of a shame it was, and how quickly the scene they’d effectively grown up in was falling apart. Heath didn’t offer his opinion one way or another, although the looks that the others gave him did not go unnoticed.

Regardless of Heath’s less than peachy history with Sugizo, it was never nice to hear that such a well-loved group of musicians would no longer be working together when they’d no doubt influenced a lot of budding musicians, just the way that bands like X Japan and Dead End had had an influence on Luna Sea. Whether he was sitting at home with Qoo, out dining and drinking with friends, or working in the studio with Pata, I.N.A and Jo:ya, Heath often found himself wondering if he should call and ask if Sugizo and the others were all right. The band had been doing so well; what had happened between them that could have driven them to this decision? Had their year-long hiatus been a sign that things were beginning to collapse?

In the end he didn’t call. He attended the December 27 concert alone. After the tearful crowd had dispersed, Heath considered hanging around to wait for the band but he decided against this, too. He was sick of feeling sad around Sugizo all the time so he threw his empty water bottle in the trash and went home where Qoo greeted him with sleepy tail wags and quickly curled back up into her bed. Feeling lonely, Heath picked up the phone and hesitated for a moment before dialling Noriko’s number. It rang three times.

“Hello?” It was a man’s voice.

Heath hesitated.

“Hello?” said the man again. He sounded annoyed, and somewhere in the background he heard Noriko’s voice asking, “Who is it, babe?”

“Sorry. Wrong number.” Heath hung up.

 

Chapter Text

2001

 

After Luna Sea disbanded, each of the band members threw themselves into their personal projects. Shinya and his wife Aya had their hands full with family life, having celebrated the birth of their daughter Rimu in November. Inoran and Ryuichi each released their solo albums, titled Fragment and Shinai.

Sugizo had also found himself in the acting sphere quite unexpectedly. At first he had been approached to compose the score for an arthouse fantasy film titled Soundtrack, but after a few meetings with the director, he ended up being cast in one of the lead roles alongside Shibasaki Ko.

“I hear J’s keeping himself really busy,” Sugizo said over lunch one day.

“Sure is.” Inoran’s fingers toyed with a box of cigarettes that sat beside his glass of water, making the thin cellophane wrapping crackle like static. “You know Franz Stahl?”

“Yeah. Isn’t he playing with the Foo Fighters?”

“Was,” Inoran corrected. “He played on J’s first solo album and then he joined the Foo Fighters for a couple of years. Now he’s back with J as a proper member of his backing band.”

“Oh yeah, he mentioned that. That’s a pretty big deal. And wasn’t there something about some girl from South Korea?”

“Youjeen. She’s in a rock band called Cherry Filter over there, and she decided to make her solo debut here. She’s got a great voice.”

They paused for a moment to survey the little plastic dishes slowly making the rounds on the conveyor belt before them and picked out a few choice items: tamago-yaki, eel lightly seared with a blowtorch, takoyaki, and some fatty tuna belly.

“So,” Inoran said around a mouthful of sushi. “On top of J and Franz producing and composing for Youjeen’s solo album, he’s also playing on the new zilch album and got his second solo album in the works as well.”

“He is busy.” Sugizo finished his plate and added it to the stack of empties to be tallied up for their bill at the end of their meal. “And did I hear that Oblivion Dust is breaking up?”

“Yeah. Their last show is in September. They had a few lineup changes one after another with Rikiji leaving and Masaru on support guitar coming on board as a full member, and Ju-ken on support bass. Things weren’t working out.”

Sugizo sighed. “Another one bites the dust.”

“Dude. Really?” Inoran wrinkled his nose at the unintended pun.

“Whoops.”

Inoran leaned in closer. “Look, keep this between us, okay? Ken Lloyd and I are already working on something together.”

“Seriously? That’s awesome!”

“Shh! Yes, but don’t tell.”

Sugizo grinned and mimed drawing a zipper across his lips.

“Actually, speaking of Ken,” Inoran cleared his throat, “the other day he and I were in Ginza having a few drinks and, uh…”

“What?”

Inoran hesitated. “I’m pretty sure I saw Angie.”

“Oh yeah? How is she?”

“Well I was hoping you could tell me. I’m not trying to stick my nose in your business but she was with the bass player from Dir en grey and I thought you deserved to kn—”

“Oh, that.” Sugizo offered him some edamame. “Yeah. I know.”

“Wait, you knew?” Inoran wasn’t sure what kind of reaction he expected from Sugizo to hear that his girlfriend was with another guy, but ‘casual disinterest’ definitely wasn’t it.

“Yeah. I heard that from Teru like a month ago.”

Inoran blinked at him incredulously. “Well I… it’s just that… I thought… I mean, are you okay?”

“Sure. She and I broke up a while ago. It was a mutual thing.”

“But… you never mentioned it before. Did you?”

Sugizo mulled over this for all of one second and shrugged. “I dunno. Probably not. Didn’t think there was much to mention. It’s fine, really.”

“What happened? You looked so happy at Shinya’s wedding last year.”

“She wanted to settle down. I didn’t. Simple as that. I mean can you actually imagine me of all people settling down? Me?” Sugizo laughed and went back to studying the plates of sushi rolling past on the conveyor belt.

Inoran eyed his friend over the rim of his drink. He had a very strong hunch that there was more to this show that Sugizo was putting on. Some time after the breakup with Heath, it was like he took a few pages out of Yoshiki’s book, going out with a lot of drop-dead gorgeous models and singers like he was trying to prove that he had the fame and sex appeal to bed anyone he wanted and was over dating quiet bassists. None of these dalliances had lasted more than about a month at best, and when he landed a hot half-American model, they all thought that it was going to be the same story. But then he started bringing Angie absolutely everywhere with him: backstage after concerts, album launch parties, birthday parties, drinks with the boys, and there were a fair few raised eyebrows when he brought her to Shinya’s wedding. By that point they were all getting tired of seeing her everywhere but she’d lasted longer than the ones before her and if Sugizo was happy with her, it wasn’t their place to comment on it. Now he had mentioned their breakup as casually as though he were commenting on nothing more interesting than the weather. Inoran could still vividly remember how touchy Sugizo had been when he and Heath broke up. They had quickly learned that Heath’s name was completely off-limits if Sugizo was within earshot, and if anyone so much as mentioned the words ‘X Japan’ in passing, the temperature in the room would rise a few degrees just from his fuming. Right now, he didn’t look the least bit sad or happy or anything about the breakup with Angie. He simply did not care.

Watching his friend refilling their tea very calmly, Inoran smiled and changed the subject.

 

***

 

After they had finished their meal and gone their separate ways, Sugizo took his time wandering the streets and stopped at Tower Records. He wasn’t really looking for anything in particular but record shopping was a fun diversion when he didn’t have anything to do in particular - kind of like the way some women like to shop for clothes and shoes and makeup, he supposed. Not that he wasn’t guilty of the same brand of retail therapy. Dressed casually in a t-shirt, frayed jeans, dark sunglasses and a faded baseball cap, Sugizo was about as incognito as he could get but you could never be too careful when trying to avoid being recognised. He cast a furtive glance around; there was only one person behind the register and nearby, three teenage girls in school uniforms were giggling and gushing over a life-sized cardboard cutout of one Kawamura Ryuichi promoting his new single. Sugizo looked at his watch. Shouldn’t they be in school at this time of day? Keen to avoid the squealing fangirl types even with his ‘disguise’, he headed to the rack of glossy magazines and picked one up, flipping through the first dozen or so pages. He tucked the magazine under his arm and something else caught his eye: a display stand for Dope HEADz’s first album, Primitive Impulse. Despite everything that had happened between them, he was glad to see Heath and Pata doing so well in their own band these days after being almost invisible in X Japan. Sugizo picked up a copy of the CD and glanced back over his shoulder. The giddy schoolgirls were gone so he slowly made his way to the counter. Ryuichi’s cardboard twin smiled at him as he passed. These days he looked like a squeaky-clean idol cut from the same cloth as Johnny’s fleet of near-identical boy bands instead of the ex-frontman of a then-wild and rebellious rock band that rose out of the late 80s.

It was well into the evening by the time he got home, having run a few errands and picked up something for dinner along the way. He felt unusually tired today and there was a funny tickle in his throat. Maybe he was coming down with something. That would really make his day, he thought wryly. He made a cup of hot honey lemon tea, flicked on the TV for some background noise and tucked into his still-warm bowl of fried rice and gyoza. Curled up on the sofa, he picked up his new Dope HEADz CD, flicking through the booklet and skimming over the lyrics when a song called evening rose caught his eye. Sometimes he could be a real sucker for a good ballad.

It's all right, don't cry, we'll link hands
I'll always be singing by your side

Though there is never a dream where I don't long for you
You're disappearing and all I grasp is your shadow
You just forever love

In the place where we laughed the blowing wind is silent
But the melody which it taught me

I can't forget it no matter where we go
If I'm with you then we walk the same path

 

Curious, he flipped to the front of the booklet, wondering who had written such a bittersweet piece.

evening rose
Composition: I.N.A
Arrangement: I.N.A
Words: HEATH

 

Sipping at his tea, he set the CD aside and turned his attention to the magazine. There was a long interview with Duff McKagan discussing life before and after he left Guns N’ Roses a few years ago, with lots of glossy photos. Now those were some nice tatts.

He turned the TV volume up a little when Music Station started. It was mostly full of upbeat pop acts but they still did feature the odd rock band now and then, and Sugizo liked to keep himself informed of what was out there in the music scene. While some new-ish Johnny’s boy band performed their latest single in the studio, he continued leafing through the magazine, reading some articles and skipping others that he either wasn’t interested in or might read later.

“Next up, we have Dope HEADz,” the male presenter announced.

Sugizo slowly looked up from his magazine. Okay. That was weird.

The female co-host said, “Dope HEADz consists of Heath and Pata of X Japan, I.N.A of hide with Spread Beaver and zilch, and newcomer Jo:ya.”

“Jo:ya, how does it feel to be amongst these veterans?”

“They’re always playing tricks on me,” Jo:ya complained while the other three politely snickered to themselves.

Now feeling emotionally as well as physically weary, Sugizo switched the TV off after the segment and retreated to his bedroom, reaching into the cupboard for something to wear to bed. It was getting bare in there and guilt nudged him in the stomach. Tomorrow, he promised himself. I’ll definitely do laundry tomorrow. That was when he noticed something that looked like it had been jammed into the back corner instead of being folded like everything else. He pulled out a wadded up t-shirt and immediately wished he hadn’t; a print of David Bowie stared back at him.

His pulse turned into a thick, lurching beat pounding the inside of his skull, heavy as any kick drum, accompanied by a tinny, high-frequency ringing in his ears. He let go of the breath that he didn’t even know he was holding. First evening rose, then Music Station and now this? Rationally, he knew that he was reading into it too much. A lot of people have a natural tendency to see patterns where a pattern doesn’t exist, making arbitrary connections between things that are merely coincidence. This tendency to perceive patterns from random stimuli is what makes people see animal shapes in the clouds and faces in burnt toast, or find meaning in things like astrology and superstitions and conspiracy theories. Even so, he began to dread what the universe might have in store for him next. Sugizo threw the t-shirt back into the cupboard but when he lay in bed, he was haunted by vivid dreams of the first night they’d spent together, how hot their skin felt when they made love, so hot that he fancied it was burning right through him.

 

He woke up in the morning with a fever. His t-shirt and boxers were soaked through with sweat. Groaning, he rolled over in bed, thinking that he could hardly have expected anything better. He immediately called his manager to cancel today’s meeting and no sooner had he hung up than the phone rang again.

“God, are you okay?" It was his sister Mayu. "You sound terrible.”

“I’m—yeah.” Grunting with much effort, he propped himself up on one elbow. “Must have caught a bug.”

“Oh geez, that sucks so… hey! Ami! Get down from there! No, get— Yujiro? Hon? Can you get her off the table? Because I’m on the phone! What… my brother! Yes! How many brothers do I have? Just—” There was a brief silence and then the muffled thud of a door closing. Mayu sighed. “Sorry. Where was I?”

“I dunno. What’s up?” Sugizo already knew what was up, though. She often liked to call him under the pretense of having a chat, but with the real objective of guilting her big brother into visiting their mother more often.

“Oh nothing much. I was picking Ami up from Mum’s this afternoon and I got thinking—”

Here we go.

“—it’s been a while since you visited and I thought it might be nice for us to have a family dinner or something.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve um, just had a lot on.” A white lie.

“She misses you, you know.”

“I know.”

“And it’s just her in that big old house.”

I know.”

It wasn’t exactly that he didn’t like visiting her. He hadn’t spoken with their dad in years but Sugizo still had a good relationship with their mother. It was just that they never seemed to have much to talk about outside of music and the symphony and the last thing he wanted to do was talk shop with his mother when it already occupied his daily life. Over the years, he’d come to learn that the best approach was to leave it a little longer between visits and then they’d have more news to catch up on, making everything less awkward.

“—and she loves watching Ami but she’d love to see you more often and she doesn’t have much of a social life—”

“Yeah, look,” he interrupted. “I gotta go, I’m really feeling like shit right now but how about we have that dinner the weekend after next? I’ll bring something from that bakery in Tokyo that you like.”

“Really? Oh that would wonderful, Mum will be so happy and Ami would love to see you and—”

“Hold on a sec.” Sugizo turned away from the phone and faked a few coughs.

“That sounds awful, are you taking anything?”

A few more coughs. “Yeah, you’re right. I should go take my medicine.”

“All right, I’ll let you go, then.”

“Okay. Talk to you later.”

“Take care, bye!”

He hung up and let himself fall back onto the bed. His vision swam and darkened and he squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the moment to pass. Everything was wrong, his body felt wrong and strange and not like his own, and his head was thick and woozy as he staggered to the bathroom to gulp down some painkillers with a glass of too-cold water. Sleep was fitful at best. He might wake up soaked in sweat, or he might be reduced to a shivering mess, curled up in a ball and clutching the blankets tightly around himself. He managed one meagre meal that day, some leftover fried rice from last night that he nuked in the microwave and doused in soy sauce just so he could taste something. The rest of the time he subsisted mostly on sleep and paracetamol washed down with water or tea to help bring down his fever and ease the gnawing ache in his bones. He had to shower and change his t-shirt and boxers three times after sweating right through them. He wished he had the energy to change the bedsheets.

His fever broke the next evening. In place of that, he developed wet, chunky-sounding coughing fits that ripped spasms through him. It hurt his chest and throat to cough but he couldn’t stop and his sleep was no better for it; the coughing only got worse when he lay down to rest so it was either that or try to sleep sitting up. He was sick and his body felt like his worst enemy. He was tired and morose, everything hurt and there was nobody here to help make him feel better or even to commiserate with. He didn’t really have anybody. His mother had called to check up on him every day after his sister relayed the news to her, but he assured her that he would be fine with some rest and hot tea. There was no sense in her making the two-hour journey from Kanagawa just to fuss over him. No Angie either, thank fuck. She would have been useless even if he had wanted her here. Unlike his previous girlfriends, she was a freak in the sack and that had been great fun. Then he’d made the colossal mistake of parading her around at Shinya’s wedding and it was all bad news from there. She’d gotten it into her head that they were a match made in heaven and she was all but planning their own wedding and naming their imaginary children. Who does that after only going out with someone for three months? He’d gotten so sick of that shit that he started going out of his way to avoid her at all costs and after blowing up his phone, making a scene at his door, and practically stalking him for weeks, she finally, finally got fed up with being ignored and dumped him. Over the phone, too. Couldn’t even do it in person, he thought snidely. At least she was Toshiya’s problem now. Good luck with that.

Sugizo stepped out of the shower very carefully and managed to dry himself off without falling over. He studied his reflection in the mirror. He looked like he’d been stranded on a deserted island and had to swim back to the mainland, all pale and bedraggled and defeated with his wet hair hanging limp about his face like dead seaweed. He tilted his head this way and that before descending into another coughing fit. An inch or two of black regrowth starkly contrasted the rest of his chestnut brown hair. Time to get his colour re-touched. He hadn’t let his hair grow back to its natural black in… ever. Not since he started band activities back in the 80s. Over the years he’d flirted with shades of red, brown, blond and even hot pink for a year in memory of hide, but never back to black.

Clad in a fresh t-shirt and boxers, he shoved a load of laundry into the machine and slowly made his way to the kitchen for a drink of water. His skin was too sensitive and the cold tiles stung his feet at each step. Standing there at the kitchen sink, the skin at the back of his neck prickled a little; just the tickle of water evaporating, but it brought back memories of the way Heath used to tiptoe up behind him first thing in the morning when he was making coffee and press soft kisses to his neck just like this. It wasn’t ever something that he’d consciously thought of at the time, these tender little affections. Heath’s love, just like everything else about him, was never grandiose. It was never about extravagant gestures and bold declarations and sweeping you off your feet, and it didn’t have to be. It was all about warmth and caring. Whether it was the act of offering Sugizo a place to stay, cooking for him, nursing him back to health when he was feeling poorly, going to parties that he didn’t even want to go to, even his pathological punctuality and tidiness, it all stemmed from a place of caring and support. Heath would have made him tea and brought him chocolates and cooked soup on the stove for hours to nurse him back to health, just because he wanted to. Even his approach to showing physical affection was less about mind-blowing sex and more about taking the time to make his partner feel good, and those small, intimate gestures that he shared with no-one else.

Whoever you end up with is going to be a very lucky person. It was such a throwaway statement he’d made years ago without even thinking, before he had any inkling that Heath had been interested in him. Now it was as bitter as the powdery paracetamol tablets he choked down with a good gulp of water in his otherwise empty stomach. He retreated back to his bedroom, stopping along the way to hack up some more of those wet, gut-wrenching coughs that made his head spin and his eyes water, and he climbed into bed feeling very lonely.

 

Chapter Text

August 2002

 

The brushed stainless steel doors of the hospital elevator slid apart and he stepped out into the vinyl corridor holding a bouquet of carnations in pink and white and yellow.

“Excuse me,” Sugizo said, approaching a passing nurse. “Could you please tell me where the maternity ward is?”

“Oh of course!” The nurse pointed to the left-branching corridor. “Turn left here and take the first right, and keep going straight and you’ll see the nurse’s station there. You’ll probably hear it before you see it.”

“Thank you.”

 

Mentally repeating the directions in his head and certain that he would get lost, Sugizo made his way left and then right down the stark white corridors with neat signs posted on the walls pointing to Physiotherapy, Cardiology, the Children’s wing, and then he saw the first sign that said Maternity. He knew that shopping centres were designed to be confusing so that consumers would end up spending more money as they blundered through the retail labyrinth, but a lot of hospitals were damn difficult to navigate as well. He cast this thought aside when he heard the first harsh wail of someone’s newborn. Just as the nurse had said. He glanced down at the back of his hand where he had written ‘33’. Each room was a little story of its own. In one room was a doting first-time father meeting his tiny son for the first time. In the neighbouring room, a proud set of grandparents cooed over their grandchild. Another room had a nurse drawing the curtain around the bed so that the mother could feed her child in private. 

 

Sugizo stopped outside room 33 and knocked lightly on the door. He heard footsteps approaching from inside and Shinya opened the door with Rimu in his arms. “Hey look! It’s Uncle Sugizo! Come on in. Aya, look who’s here.”

Shinya’s wife Aya looked up from their sleeping newborn’s face and smiled. “How are you, Sugizo?”

“Really well. Congratulations,” he said with a warm smile. “How do you feel?”

“Fine. Tired. Glad it’s over,” she joked. “Are those flowers for us? They’re beautiful.”

“Here, let me.” Shinya took the bouquet from Sugizo and set it by the window. He’d ask a nurse for a vase later.

“And who do we have here?” Sugizo said, easing himself into the plastic chair beside the bed.

“Little Sona. Isn’t she adorable? We think she looks just like her dad,” Aya beamed. Her and Shinya’s second child was sleeping soundly with a blanket tightly wrapped around her tiny body like a cocoon.

“She does,” Sugizo agreed.

“What do you think, Rimu?” Shinya asked, lightly bouncing their eldest in his arms. “Do you like your baby sister?”

Rimu peered at the newborn with wide, curious eyes for a moment and then giggled shyly and hid her face in her father’s shoulder, wrapping her chubby arms around his neck. Shinya and Aya laughed.



“Boy, you’ve really got it all, don’t you?”

Shinya cocked an eyebrow. “Eh?”

Sugizo produced a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He offered one to Shinya but the drummer shook his head.

“I quit, remember? Going on two years now.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, force of habit. Do you mind if I…?”

“No, I don’t mind.” Shinya shook his head again. “I thought you were quitting, too.”

“Fell off the wagon.” Sugizo gave his friend a quick, self-deprecating smile and got up from the garden bench to stand downwind so that the smoke would blow away from Shinya. “This time I made it four weeks without a single one and then it was like something snapped. I swear, if I had to wait ten more minutes for that cig, I’d have murdered someone.”

Shinya laughed. “Oh yeah, I hear ya. It’s a total bitch. But trust me on this: it’ll get easier and you’ll be better off for it. I used to feel like an old man and now it’s like I’m breathing with the lungs of someone half my age, it’s crazy. I don’t know how I lived like that.”

“I know and I don’t need any more lectures about it,” Sugizo said dryly. He took a long, slow drag of his cigarette and they lapsed into a comfortable silence for a while, just enjoying the warm summer breeze, a mild respite from the humidity, and watching people wander in and out of the hospital doors.

“What did you ask me before?”

Sugizo blinked lazily in the afternoon sun. “Did I ask you something?”

“Yeah. Before that stuff about smoking.”

“Um…” Sugizo hummed and chewed at his lower lip, mentally backtracking through the last five minutes. A family of three caught his eye, a mother and father and their little boy in a stroller. “Oh, that’s right. It wasn’t anything important. I was just thinking that you’ve got yourself the perfect little family, that’s all. Lovely wife, a couple of cute bundles of joy.”

Shinya chuckled. “It’s not all peaches and cream, you know.”

Sugizo raised an eyebrow.

“Happy families don’t just happen. We do fight sometimes. Aya and me. We might snap at each other if we’re tired or frustrated or if the in-laws pissed us off, we fight with Rimu when she doesn’t want to eat or sleep or have a bath, and I’m sure we’ll fight with Sona when she turns sixteen and wants to shack up with the first boy that she thinks she’s in love with, or get a big tattoo of the Nazi swastika on her forehead. It’s because people are… well, people.”

“I guess. But you and Aya always look so happy together.”

Shinya shrugged. “We are, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take work. You can’t expect to be madly in love all the time. That’s what might get you together but it’s not what keeps you together. Being married and living together doesn’t mean you know and understand everything about someone. Hell, I doubt anyone can say that they even understand themselves fully. You’re learning new things about yourself and your partner all the time, and you’re always adapting. And it sucks sometimes. Shit happens: work, family, health, money, you name it. But you try to work things out. We always try to talk about anything that’s bothering us. It’s always tough talking about something that upsets you because you think maybe the other person thinks you’re being stupid or irrational, but they can’t know how you feel unless you tell them. And we do nice things for each other, little things like making a cup of tea or folding the laundry or putting the kids to bed so she can go to bed early. We try to get our parents to babysit now and then so we can have a date night all to ourselves. A relationship is like any living thing: if you don’t feed it and nurture it, it stagnates and wilts and dies. I know that sounds cliché and morbid but it’s the truth.

“At the end of the day, we care about each other and that makes all that effort worth it. After all,” Shinya chuckled, “these damn children wouldn’t exist if we didn’t love each other in the first place, right?”

Sugizo said nothing. He went on drawing long, slow puffs of his cigarette and watched a man walking slowly with his white-haired mother, smiling and chatting quietly amongst themselves about what she’d like to have for dinner tonight.

Shinya glanced at him and jingled a few coins in his pocket. “Want something from the machine?”

Sugizo shook his head so Shinya stepped aside and studied the nearby drinks vending machine for a moment before pushing the coins into the slot and pressing a button. There was a brief electronic hum and a plastic bottle of lemon tea thudded into the receptacle at the bottom. “Are you going to Toll’s party tonight?”

“Yeah.” Sugizo snuffed out his cigarette. “You?”

“Nah.” Shinya gave him a quick apologetic smile and twisted the bottle cap off. “I’d like to, but I’m needed here. Can you please tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t make it?”

 

***

 

“Happy birthday!” Sugizo clasped Toll’s hands warmly and pulled him into a hearty hug. “Shinya couldn’t make it tonight. He sends his apologies.”

“Oh! That’s all right. Not feeling well?” Toll asked.

“Not quite,” Sugizo smiled. ”His wife had their second baby, a little girl. Born at 3pm yesterday after eleven hours of labour.”

“Holy shit. I’ll have to call him to say congrats! Are they happy and healthy?”

“They’re doing really well,” Sugizo assured him. “I visited them at the hospital just this afternoon. They’ve named her Sona. She looks just like Shinya.”

Atsushi raised his eyebrows. “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult.”

“Yeah,” Imai drawled. “I mean I like Shinya the way he is, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure I’d date a woman who looks like him.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him you aren’t going to hit on his daughter,” Sugizo grinned, and the others laughed. “I don’t think Rimu really understands what’s going on or what the hell a ‘sister’ is even supposed to be, but it’s pretty cute.”

“How old is she now? A year?”

“A year and a half.”

“Already? Man…”

They all nodded their heads sagely and made noises about how fast everybody was growing up. Toll was one of the first in their circle to celebrate his 40th, and many of them had brothers and sisters with young children growing as quickly as weeds.



“Hey.”

J smiled and moved across to make room for Sugizo. “Hey.”

“Long time no see.” They hadn’t really seen each other all year, mostly because J’s schedule was always full.

“When’d you get here?” J asked.

“A little while ago. I said hi to Ino and Ken out on the balcony just before.” Sugizo tilted his head towards the balcony where Inoran and Ken Lloyd were blanketed in a haze of cigarette smoke, talking and laughing and then they were joined by another man: Ju-ken, the session bassist for Ken and Inoran’s band FAKE? “Say, where’s Ryu? I haven’t seen him around.”

J shrugged. “Dunno, Ino and I were just talking about that earlier. Neither of us have heard from him in months.”

“Oh.”

“He’s probably up to his eyeballs in fangirls and offers for TV drama roles.”

Sugizo chuckled lightly and was about to respond, but something made him stop. He didn’t know if it was a glimpse of familiarity or a vague suggestion of his perfume in the air but it made him stop and look around.

“Something the matter?” J asked, breaking his reverie.

“What?” Sugizo blinked several times to recollect himself. “No. Sorry, I thought I saw…”

 

But he knew that Heath wasn’t there, either. Following the release of their second album this July, Dope HEADz was in South Korea playing at the country’s biggest rock festival. Sugizo didn’t know whether or not he was glad not to have to run into Heath tonight. Things had always been strained between them whenever they happened to meet, especially after that ill-considered kiss that he’d surprised Heath with at hide’s funeral. While he’d spent the few years absolutely convinced that he was over Heath, listening to a song like evening rose kept bringing back those old ghosts and they lingered at the back of his mind like cobwebs. Even before they started dating, they had been good friends, drawn to one another like magnets. Now it was like someone had flipped the poles on one of those magnets and instead of being pulled together, they were constantly opposing, resisting one another, never occupying the same space together. Even when they did cross paths, Heath always managed to keep him at a distance with his cool detachment and weaponised politeness.

 

“...never mind,” Sugizo finished. “I just thought I saw someone but it wasn’t them.”

“You miss him, don’t you?”

“What?”

J glanced at him. “You know.”

Sugizo swallowed nervously. He kept his gaze trained on his drink, wiping the beads of condensation off in long vertical lines.

“Sugizo.” J’s voice dropped to a more serious tone. “You think that your best friends can’t see the way you keep looking for him, but we do. I don’t know if it’s because you want to see him or because you don’t want to see him, but either way that says to me that you still can’t let go of him. You might as well be screaming it from the balcony that you want him back.”

“What are you talking about?” A rough edge rose in Sugizo’s voice. He hated that J had managed to elicit such a strong defensive reaction in him so easily, but why did the guy have to choose to get all deep and sensitive now ?

“You never told us what happened when you spoke to him at hide-nii’s funeral.”

“Nothing,” Sugizo said brusquely.

 

I kissed him.

 

“Nothing happened.”

 

I shouldn’t have kissed him but I did and—

 

“We just talked about hide.”

 

‘No, you’re right. This was a mistake.’

 

“Then he walked away. That was it.”

“Sugizo, he was crying. We all saw it. And so were you, when you got back.”

“Show me somebody who wasn’t crying that day,” Sugizo said, practically sneering.

J eyed him reproachfully. “C’mon. Don’t be like that.”

Sugizo muttered a semi-sincere apology into his drink and looked away. J followed his gaze to where Teru and his new wife Ami were, talking and laughing with Takuro and a couple of guys from D’erlanger. Teru had his arm around Ami’s waist and every so often he'd give her a little squeeze, and they would look at each other and smile. J sighed.

“I know it sucks,” he said, rubbing Sugizo’s shoulder. “I just hate to see you like this, that’s all.”

“Just leave me alone.” Sugizo drained the last of his beer, set the empty glass on the counter and stalked away.



Chapter Text

2003

 

The last two years were a very welcome whirlwind of activity for Heath. Dope HEADz released two singles and their first album in 2001 and toured through some small, intimate livehouses with capacity for maybe five or six hundred—something he hadn’t been able to experience with X Japan playing at massive venues like Tokyo Dome—being interviewed for magazines and making TV appearances. It was not long after their tour was over, however, that Jo:ya left the band to pursue a solo project and so Pata invited his friend Shame to be their new vocalist. Having also contributed to hide Tribute Spirits with a cover of LEMONed I Scream, he readily agreed. What followed were a lot of rehearsals with their new vocalist, recording and releasing their second album and, in a very exciting development, Dope HEADz were invited to perform at ETP Fest in South Korea that summer. This had been a particularly poignant moment for all four of them, for hide’s parents had also been in attendance and presented one of his guitars to the festival’s founder, Seo Taiji. During this time, Heath quite accidentally found himself DJing at clubs in Suginami. It had started off as a bit of fun after he struck up a friendship with the owner of one of the clubs he frequented but then they started calling him back and it quickly became a regular gig. Toward the end of 2002, Pata, Shame and I.N.A had all begun working on other things as well and, in March 2003, the band somewhat sadly made the decision to go on indefinite hiatus.

 

With Yoshiki spending more and more time working at Extasy Studios in LA, they hadn’t seen him very much in the past couple of years but he tried to make a point of coming home to Japan for important occasions where he could, and that included their close friends’ birthdays.

“Sorry I’m a bit late.” Yoshiki was smiling and completely unabashed when he pulled up outside Heath’s apartment building.

“You’ve been ‘five minutes away’ for the past hour,” Heath said dryly, buckling himself into the Ferrari. “That’s not a bit late, that’s just late. What’s Morrie going to say?”

“Morrie’s going to say ‘glad you could make it, grab a drink.’ Just relax! You’re always so uptight about everything.”

“I’m not being uptight, it’s common courtesy. Besides, I told you I could have driven there myself. You didn’t need to go to the trouble.”

Yoshiki looked over his shoulder and in his mirrors before pulling out onto the street. “And I said it’s fine, I don’t mind giving you a ride. It’ll give us a chance to catch up.”

Heath grumbled inwardly. Yoshiki’s grasp of punctuality was tenuous at best so they were nearly two hours late. On top of that, Heath had wanted to keep his own presence at the party very low key, another concept that was foreign to Yoshiki. Driving a black Ferrari instead of a screaming hot red one was about as ‘low key’ as he could manage and Heath’s sullen silence all but broadcast his feelings to Yoshiki as they made their way across town.

“You can’t avoid him forever, you know.”

“This,” Heath snorted, “from the guy who hasn’t spoken to his childhood best friend in years.”

“You think I don’t want to talk to him?” Yoshiki retorted. “It’s fucking impossible! Who knows what that fucked up cult is doing to him.”

Heath said nothing and looked out the window, sulking.

“You haven’t had a meaningful relationship since you and Sugizo broke up, have you.” It wasn’t a question.

“Do I have to?” Heath said sourly. “Sometimes relationships just don’t work out, Yoshiki. You probably don’t know but that’s a real thing that happens to normal people. Anyway, what about your revolving door of hot blonde models? How many of those were meaningful?”

Yoshiki side-eyed him at his tone. “You know what I mean. Do you still have a thing for him or what?”

“No.”

“You have always been the worst fucking liar I’ve ever met.”

“I’m not lying.”

“Okay. Fine.”

“You know what, I don't even know why you’re even asking me when you think you know all the answers, which you don’t.”

“I said ‘fine.’”

“Fine!”

The two of them lapsed into an indignant, petty silence. For a while, the only noise inside the car was the purr of the Ferrari and the muted rumble of passing traffic until Yoshiki started humming Endless Rain very softly to himself. Heath gradually let himself relax again. The car rolled to a gentle stop at a set of traffic lights and the guy in the car next to them was trying not to stare at Yoshiki’s flashy sports car, wondering if the driver was a celebrity or just another shallow rich guy with more dollars than sense.

“So when are you going to tell Sugizo that you definitely and categorically don’t have any leftover feelings for him?”

“Yoshiki!”

“What?”

 

More silence.

 

“You never used to give me lip like this before,” Yoshiki remarked lightly, keeping his eyes on the road. He sounded sort of impressed. “What have I.N.A and Pata been teaching you?”

The lights turned green and the drummer threw another quick glance at him as he drove on. Heath’s head was turned towards the window, obviously trying to avoid looking at him and his shoulders were hunched forward and tense as though he had withdrawn into himself. His hands lay in his lap, tightly clasped together.

“I can’t,” Heath finally said in a small voice.

“Why not?”

Heath sank lower in his seat. “I just can’t.”

He didn’t know how to tell Yoshiki that he couldn’t bear letting Sugizo know that he sometimes lay awake at night thinking about him and the way he smiled, or the way he’d play with his hair or hold his hand the way nobody else did, the way they used to kiss. He missed the way Sugizo would look at him, the way his perfume smelled on him, the way they made each other laugh, the way Sugizo would curl his fingers in his auburn locks when he was deep in thought, reading or writing. He missed the way the shape of his body fit his own so comfortably and the way Sugizo sometimes gave him little kisses when he thought he was sleeping. He missed that spontaneity, that boiling hot passion that made him want to melt in his arms, that wicked streak and unapologetic sexuality. To think that Sugizo had long since moved on, to think of him with his arm around some gorgeous, curvy model or flirting with that pretty young Shinya and god knows who else besides, to think of him kissing someone else and holding their hand and taking them to bed with him made Heath feel sick and panicky, like he wanted to throw up.

Yoshiki was right, of course. He and Sugizo broke up seven years ago. Seven years. That was a long time to carry a torch for someone. Yes, a lot had happened with X Japan and hide in the few years immediately following their breakup and he needed time to process all of that. They all did. Then he told himself that he was too busy with getting Dope HEADz off the ground, and he was. Then when he finally ran out of excuses, he swallowed his pride and went crawling back to Tetsuya and Kumiko, asking them to set him up with any single friends around his age. Each one of those had failed and he stopped mentioning dating to Tetsuya altogether when his idiot brother started jokingly calling him a playboy and a heartbreaker. By now he was absolutely convinced of his inability to hold down a serious relationship and Yoshiki’s heavy-handed attempts at trying to patch things up with Sugizo did not improve Heath’s already dour mood.

“If you don’t tell him, I will.”

“Yoshiki. Please don’t.”

“I fucking will, even if I have to lock you two in a room until you fuck each other’s brains out.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m not trying to be funny, I’m trying to help.”

“Well you aren't helping, either!”

“Then help me help you!”

“God!” Heath groaned. “Please just stop!”

“What’s the fucking problem?”

“He doesn’t feel that way about me anymore!”

Yoshiki took both of his hands off the steering wheel in a big shrug of exaggerated incredulity. “How can you possibly know that if you haven’t spoken to him?”

“Where have you been? Everyone knows he’s been tomcatting around for years! He’s as bad as you are.”

Yoshiki ignored this jab and pulled into the parking lot, descending two levels before finally finding a vacant spot to park, and he turned the ignition off. “So you’re going to spend the rest of your life pining over him, then?”

“Can we please just drop this? We’re late enough as it is. I don’t get why you even care so much.”

Yoshiki stared straight ahead at the wall in front of them with his hands in his lap. He pressed his lips together into a thin line. They watched another car roll past, its tyres squealing unpleasantly over the polished concrete floor. When he finally spoke, his voice was scarcely above a whisper. “I didn’t get to tell hide.”

“Tell hide what?” Heath asked irritably.

Yoshiki didn’t answer but the soft intake of breath that sounded like a sob said it all, and Heath stared at him, open-mouthed. “Oh… oh my god.” His throat tightened and guilt pooled in his stomach, eating away at him like acid. “Oh Yoshiki, I’m so sorry, I… I had no idea.”

The older man said nothing but he bowed his head and his lower lip began to tremble, and he wept silently behind his dark glasses. Awkwardly, hesitantly, Heath gently placed one hand over his and squeezed. He dug around in the car’s glove box and pressed a packet of tissues into the drummer’s hands, and Yoshiki accepted with the tiniest of nods.

“Yoshiki…” He took a deep breath. He wasn’t even sure he should be telling Yoshiki this. He’d never told anybody. “At hide’s funeral. Sugizo kissed me.”

Yoshiki paused in the middle of swiping at his tears. “What?”

“He kissed me at hide’s funeral. And then he told me he shouldn’t have done that. That’s why I know. I know he doesn’t feel that way about me anymore.”

“Heath.” The drummer sniffled a few more times and lifted his dark glasses up just enough to rub his eyes with a tissue. “If he doesn’t have feelings for you, then why would he have kissed you at all?”



Even before they found Morrie to greet him and wish him a happy birthday, Yoshiki sat Heath down at the bar with stern instructions not to move and then set to hunting Sugizo down. Far too weary to argue, Heath asked the bartender for a glass of whisky and sipped at it slowly, dreading whatever Yoshiki was going to do. Only sheer politeness kept him from getting up and sneaking away from Morrie’s party without even speaking to him.

“Hey guys,” the drummer greeted Hisashi and Takuro and rested a firm arm across Sugizo’s shoulders. “Mind if I borrow this one for a minute?”

“Oh, uh, sure—”

“Whoa hey, what’s going on Yosh—” Sugizo spluttered as Yoshiki practically dragged him away.

“Come have a drink with me,” Yoshiki said blandly. “It’s been a while.”

“O-okay?”

As Yoshiki leaned over the bar counter and ordered some drinks for them, Sugizo glimpsed a familiar figure sitting on the other side of him and he sighed and turned away but Yoshiki pressed a glass of red wine into his hand.

“House red,” he said, raising his own glass to his lips. “Mm, could be better.”

“What’s this about, Yoshiki?” Sugizo said tiredly.

Yoshiki shrugged. “Thought it would be a good time to have a chat.”

“Uh-huh,” he said dubiously and raised one hand with a cursory wave. “Hey, Heath.”

“Hi.” Heath forced a quick, wooden smile.

Suddenly Yoshiki’s face lit up and he raised an arm in greeting. “Acchan! Where have you been lately, you old bastard?” he said loudly, and Heath watched with a scowl as Yoshiki quickly guided the Buck-Tick frontman away from the bar. God damnit. He could at least try to be subtle.

“Well. That was subtle,” Sugizo remarked.

“Yep. That’s Yoshiki for you.”

Sugizo cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Um… look, maybe I’ll just…” He started moving away but Heath sighed.

“No. It’s okay. Stay if you want. It’s fine.” Heath inclined his head at the empty barstool beside him. “Kind of stupid, isn’t it? Avoiding each other like a couple of dumb kids.”

“Yeah. Pretty immature, actually.” Sugizo drew a long sigh as well and sat down.

“You been good?”

“Yeah. You?”

“Not bad. Busy, but it keeps me out of trouble.”

“That’s good to hear.” Sugizo twirled the stem of his wine glass atop the bar counter. “Um. What are you up to these days?”

“This and that. These days I’m working with Suzuki Shinichiro on RATS and DJing at clubs in Suginami and Koenji. Been in talks with Issay about a live-only project as well. Actually I was hoping to talk to him about something tonight.”

“I saw him talking to Morrie earlier. He said something about having to leave early.”

“Oh.” Heath paused and a slight crease appeared between his brows for a second. “Well, that’s what I get for relying on Yoshiki to get me here.”

Sugizo burst out laughing. “Are you serious? You got a ride here with him?

Heath sighed. “Yeah. I know. Don’t rub it in.”

“I won’t, I won’t,” Sugizo promised. “It’s a miracle you got here while the party’s still on. Maybe someone finally told Yoshiki that that snobby Cartier watch of his isn’t there just to look pretty.”

Heath chuckled. “I doubt it.”

“So I heard that Dope HEADz is on hold now,” Sugizo said a little more quietly.

“Yeah.” Heath looked down and nodded. “We all just got too busy with other stuff.”

“That’s a shame. I uh… really liked the song evening rose.”

“Oh.” Heath sounded surprised for some reason. “Th-thank you.”

“Did you write it?”

“Uh. Yes.”

Sugizo nodded and watched his expression carefully. “It’s beautiful.”

Heath said nothing for a long time and they sat there side by side, slowly sipping at their wine. “You know, I’ve really been enjoying what Inoran and Ken Lloyd have been doing with FAKE?” he said at length.

Sugizo agreed. “It’s different. Not a lot out there that’s quite like what they’re doing.”

“Especially since Ken actually speaks English,” Heath said with a small smile.

“That, too.”

They turned around on their barstools and quietly watched the crowd. Pata, Inoran, Ken Lloyd and J were here, as well as GLAY, a couple of guys from Loudness, Ladiesroom, D’erlanger and Buck-Tick, to name a few. Artists in the same scene all tended to show up at the same parties and, in a funny way, any absences tended to stand out.

“Where’s Ryuichi?”

Sugizo shrugged. “Don’t know. I haven’t really spoken to him much since we disbanded. He wasn’t at Toll’s 40th last year either.”

“Oh. Is everything okay?”

“Well…” Sugizo hesitated. “After our hiatus in ‘97, things weren’t quite the same between us all. Mostly between him and the rest of us, like he’d moved on from Luna Sea really quickly. But I hear he’s been doing pretty well with his solo work.”

“I see. I uh, haven’t actually heard any of it,” Heath admitted.

“It’s okay, I won’t tell him.” Sugizo grinned. “I’ve only heard a handful of songs myself. It’s not really my thing.”

After barely seeing each other for the past few years, they were finally having a real conversation like real friends. They talked about the evolution and decline of the visual kei movement and what it had turned into these days. A few of the bands who had risen from the late 90s stood out from the pack: Dir en grey, Plastic Tree and Pierrot were still going strong, a band called D’espairsRay were fairly new but already beginning to make a name for themselves, and a motley young quartet called MUCC, who had started around the same time as Dir en grey, also had a rapidly growing following.

Homura Uta is great, isn’t it?”

“I listened to the whole album on loop for at least a month straight!”

“These guys are way too cool to be from Ibaraki.”

For the most part, though, it seemed that the new bands were just following the same formula apparently prescribed by their trailblazing predecessors: groups of four or five moderately attractive guys dressing up in impractical outfits with lots of leather and vinyl, colourful hair and heavy makeup, with at least one being the token ‘effeminate one’, playing heavy music just for the sake of it. It was hard to find that same heart and soul and passion in their craft. In the irony of all ironies, most appeared to be doing it to look cool and cash in on the visual kei trend.

“Look at us,” Heath laughed. “We must sound like a couple of miserable old farts complaining about kids these days. Pretty soon we’ll be sitting on the porch yelling at people to get off our lawns.”

“Well, back in my day, we wore makeup and feminine clothing because boys didn’t do that,” Sugizo grumbled in a deep voice, and they sniggered.

Heath lifted his now-empty wine glass in the air, up against the lights. A smear of wine at the bottom remained, painting the glass dark red. “Could you pass me the drinks menu over there?”

“This?” Sugizo slid the little laminated card across the bar counter and when their fingers touched for the briefest second, Heath watched as Sugizo immediately snatched his hand away as though he’d been burned. Sugizo, who was unashamed about doling out hugs and kisses to those he was familiar with, who had no qualms about giving his boyfriend a lewd handjob in an alleyway or steamy make-out sessions in a movie theatre, could not abide an accidental touch of the hands and it stung. Was his company really so intolerable? Heath stole a quick glance at Sugizo’s face but his expression was difficult to read and his hands seemed nervous and fidgety, playing with the stem of his wine glass one moment, crinkling the edges of his paper coaster the next, touching his hair, his face, always moving his hands in a distinctly impatient, uneasy manner. Looking for an exit route, Heath guessed. And who could blame him, being trapped into spending time with his ex?

“You look like you’ve had too much coffee,” Heath remarked as casually as he could.

Sugizo looked up as if startled and then he laughed at himself. “Wha—oh. No. Trying to quit smoking, actually. I have no idea what to do with my hands.” He wiggled his fingers to prove his point.

“Oh.” How convenient. “How’s it coming along?”

“Honestly? It fucking sucks.”

Heath glanced across the room; he caught Yoshiki’s eye and the drummer started making faces and jabbing his finger at Sugizo. Heath shook his head and mouthed ‘no’ but Yoshiki’s pointing only became more insistent, and it was only when he threatened to march right over there that Heath gave a resigned sigh and bit his lip.

“Hey, Sugizo, can we talk?”

But these words had scarcely left Heath’s lips when a boisterous Sexx George descended upon them and pulled Sugizo out of his barstool. “Heeey bro, what are you doing just sitting here all night? C’mon, get out there and have some fun with us!”

Left sitting at the bar alone, Heath watched as Sugizo and George joined Morrie and a bigger group having a fantastic time doing shots while a tight cluster of spectators cheered. After a while, a very giddy Sugizo excused himself and staggered off to the bathroom. Heath’s hands twisted in his lap. Should he go after him and try to talk to him? Liquid courage was one thing but it was not really the kind of thing to discuss if Sugizo was as drunk as he looked. On the other hand, if he didn’t do it now he might lose his nerve. He swallowed hard. His throat had gone dry. His eyes lingered by the glowing green exit sign pointing to the bathroom where people filtered in and out in ones and twos. Sugizo seemed to be taking a very long time in there. Was he okay? Was he in there with his head in the toilet? Did he need someone to take him home? Heath glanced at the group that Sugizo had been drinking with. They seemed oblivious to his absence. Heath slowly slid out of his barstool. Perhaps he should go in there and check on him, just in case he wasn’t feeling well and needed help.

No sooner had he taken a couple of steps than Sugizo stumbled out from the dark, narrow corridor beneath that green exit sign and collided with a girl headed the other way, spilling her glass of champagne. Heath stopped dead in his tracks. Sugizo had stopped to apologise and appeared to strike up a conversation with her. Who was she? Some friend of one of the party guests? Heath had never seen her before but she was tall, slender and pretty with long black hair, and when she turned away with a shy giggle, Heath realised with horror that Sugizo was flirting with her. He was fucking picking her up right then and there. Sure enough, she let Sugizo rest his hand at the small of her back and they made their way to the far end of the bar. Heath slowly sank back into his barstool and watched them enjoying another drink and a few more laughs, and before the night was over they were leaving together.

Heath turned his back to the room. There was that sick, panicky feeling again, like he was in freefall down an elevator shaft. He waved down a bartender and asked for a glass of water, gulping it down quickly and wiping his lip with the back of his hand. That was that, then. He had the answers to all of his questions.

He jumped when something touched his shoulder.

“Well?” Yoshiki asked.

“Well what?” Heath said hollowly.

“Did you do it?”

“No.”

“Why the hell not?”

“There’s no point.”

“No point? But how do you know that if you didn’t…?”

Heath’s hand tightened around his empty glass. “He just took some random bitch home with him, Yoshiki,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “That’s how I know.”

Yoshiki looked down and started to play with his hair the way he always did when he felt awkward or uncomfortable. “I’m… I’m sorry, Heath. I just… I thought…”

“Just forget about it.” Heath stood abruptly and patted his pockets, feeling for his wallet and phone. “Can you tell Morrie I had to leave?”

“Wait, at least let me drive you home—”

“No thanks. I’ll take a taxi. I really need to be alone right now.”

 

***

 

“Heeey bro! What are you doing just sitting here all night? C’mon, get out there and have some fun with us!”

Sugizo couldn’t have been more glad to let a drunken George pounce on him and drag him away. Sitting there with Heath, just talking and having a few laughs had been a painful reminder of what he had lost, and the longer he sat there, the heavier his heart grew. He missed that smile, he missed Heath’s light laughter but most of all he missed Heath’s touch. Even just seeing him face to face was an all too painful reminder that those days were long gone, and the split-second that their hands had touched felt forbidden in every sense of the word. He did not need to dredge up memories of those sweet little kisses in secret places, gentle fingers brushing across the back of his neck that made him shiver, soft lips pressed to the palm of his hand, pretty eyes gazing at him first thing in the morning or last thing at night with a sleepy smile. It was far easier to push all of that away and join George and the other guys, drinking to forget and to numb his aching heart.

While the others drank and cheered and shouted at each other jovially, Sugizo caught a glimpse of Heath sitting at the bar by himself. He looked so lonely somehow and a small part of Sugizo wanted to go to him and try to resume that nice conversation they were having, but something at the back of his mind held him back. It wasn’t until after he slipped away to the men’s room for a moment to clear his head that it began to dawn on him: he was afraid. He was afraid that he might end up pouring his heart out and making a fool of himself. He was afraid of getting his hopes up. Most of all, he was fucking terrified that Heath would shut him down, cold as ice, and he couldn’t stand that. He couldn't bear the idea of Heath getting so close and slipping through his fingers again. As painful as the whole ordeal was, it was just easier to let Heath remain at a distance where he wanted to be. It was clear that distance was his coping mechanism and it was working just fine for him. That way, not only could Sugizo avoid hurting him any more than he already had, but Sugizo might also avoid being hurt himself.

 

It was the classic hedgehog’s dilemma.

 

These sobering thoughts fled his mind when he returned to the party and blundered into someone else in the dark, and the alcohol he had consumed began to play tricks on him. His mind was so occupied with thoughts of Heath that for a split second he thought it was Heath in front of him; this woman was tall, slender and pretty with long black hair just like he used to have. They both apologised and laughed at their own clumsiness and Sugizo offered to buy her a drink to replace the one in her hand that he had spilled, and against his better judgment he was leaving the party with her.

Laughing, Sugizo and the girl fell out onto the street and flagged down a taxi, climbing into the back seat together. They kissed and giggled and she pulled away just long enough to give the taxi driver her address before falling back into his arms. He hadn’t really gotten a good look at her until now; the bar had been too dark and all he knew was that she reminded him terribly of Heath. Now that they were illuminated in the intermittent flash of streetlights overhead and neon shop signs, she wasn’t anything like him at all. Yes she was pretty but somehow everything was all wrong: she was too soft and curvy, too feminine, too doe-eyed, her voice too high and nasally and as he looked up on the woman in his arms, he felt another sobering dig in the guts.

“I… I’m sorry,” he stammered hoarsely. “I need to go.”

“What? Where?” she asked, disappointed.

Sugizo leaned forward in his seat. “Driver, could you please pull over at the next corner?”

The elderly driver nodded and when the car stopped, Sugizo removed a few bills from his wallet. “This should cover the fare.”

In return, the woman pressed a slip of paper into his hand with an imploring smile. “Call me?”

He replied only with a wilting smile of his own and got out of the car and as the taxi pulled away, he turned around and began walking.

 

Chapter Text

“Come on, man. Just eat something. Please?”

Heath glared at Taka sullenly and Taka returned this with an imploring look. To shut him up, Heath made a big, passive-aggressive show of picking up his chopsticks with a loud sigh as though Taka’s request were completely unreasonable, snatched a mushroom off the steel hotplate, looked his friend straight in the eye and shoved the red-hot morsel in his mouth. It scalded his tongue but he didn’t care, and he slapped his chopsticks down again. “THERE. Happy now?”

“I’ll be happier if you eat some more,” Taka said cheerfully.



After seeing Sugizo going home with that pretty, dark-haired girl he’d met at Morrie’s party, Heath left without saying goodbye to anyone and boarded a taxi. During the ride home, he told himself that he’d come to terms with it after seeing cold, hard evidence that there was nothing between them anymore, but the truth was that before he really knew, he could go on telling himself that maybe there was a chance. Now? There was no chance, and it hurt. Who the hell was she, anyway? Nobody, as far as Heath knew. Sugizo had latched right onto a complete stranger after literally bumping into her and it spoke volumes about how little Heath meant to him. It fucking hurt, almost as badly as the moment Sugizo had kissed him and rejected him, almost as badly as when they had first broken up. He hadn’t even cried this time, even if he wanted to. He couldn’t. For the first few days he didn’t even know what to feel. Everything was all frozen and scrambled and confused. Then as the truth slowly began to sink in, the humiliation and heartache solidified into a tight, heavy ball of lead inside his chest, slowly poisoning him from the inside out. He all but gave up on cooking, but it didn’t matter because he didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. He subsisted on little more than coffee, instant ramen and the occasional fast food meal just to stop feeling hungry, but he tasted nothing and food in general looked unappealing. Now and then he would pick up a guitar, only to sit there with the instrument resting silently on his lap. He no longer wanted to do anything. He was sick of doing and trying so hard all the time and it was almost a relief to simply do nothing for a change and let himself sink deeper and deeper into this malaise until he’d lie on the sofa looking at the television, hearing and seeing nothing. On a good day, he’d take Qoo to the dog park and sit beneath a tree, waiting for her to bring her ball back so that he could throw it again, or just watching her run around with her other four-legged friends. He switched off the ringer on his phone and let all of his calls go straight to voicemail. After a few days, Yoshiki had even come by to check on him before flying back to LA.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re here.” Yoshiki wrung his hands when the door opened. “Are you okay? I’ve been trying to call you. Why aren’t you answering your phone?”

 

Heath closed the door in his face.

 

Pata tried next. He showed up with a six pack of beer and a stack of CDs as long as his arm, and they sat on the floor playing with Qoo, trying to feed her things like broccoli and cucumber and sprigs of parsley, and laughing when she made disgusted faces. They listened to music for hours the way they used to back in the day: David Bowie, Opeth, Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Silverchair. There was no mention of Sugizo or even of Morrie’s party, but Pata did hug him at the end of the day. The last time he did that was five years ago, back when hide died. Pata only hugged when it really mattered and that made Heath feel even worse. He did his best to smile and pretend that he was okay, but Pata was one of his oldest and closest friends and his false cheer did not fool the man for a second. Pata always saw right through all the bullshit.

In the end, Taka turned up to Heath’s apartment at Pata’s behest and barged inside, manners be damned. Taka cleaned up the collection of fast food wrappers and containers, instant ramen cups and several days’ worth of coffee-stained mugs, nagged at him until he got dressed and hauled him out by the scruff of his neck for a proper meal. Now they were sitting at some new Korean BBQ place in Nakano filled with smoke and the sizzle of meat on steel grill plates where Taka watched him picking at his food and arguing with himself.

“I know it’s hard,” Taka said soothingly, turning the meat and vegetables on the grill to cook the other side.

“And why shouldn’t he move on? We broke up for a reason, didn’t we?”

Taka placed a few more morsels on his plate. “Eat this.”

“It’s all Yoshiki’s fault. It was his idea in the first place. Why couldn’t he just leave well enough alone? ‘How can you know if you don’t talk to him?’ ” Heath ate a piece of chicken, chewing angrily. “I already knew. I fucking told him.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Why did I listen to him? Why did I let him talk me into this stupid-ass idea in the first place? I know better, I fucking knew better!”

Taka sighed. “What did you say to Sugizo?”

“Nothing! We just talked about work and music and then I was going to bring it up but then he went and picked up this girl and went home with her, so what was the point? It’s done. It’s 200% over.” Heath took a big gulp of beer and slammed the can down. Taka winced and stole a furtive glance at the people at the neighbouring tables, wondering what they must be thinking. “I mean, before you and Masato got together, would you have picked up someone right in front of him? No! Because you wouldn’t want him to think that you don’t give a shit about him!”

While Heath ranted, Taka said nothing and dutifully went on cooking bits of chicken and beef on the grill and piling them onto his plate. Heath didn’t seem to notice; now he was just doing it on autopilot, picking up and eating anything that appeared on his plate without seeing or tasting it. When they had finally finished all of the food and the restaurant staff cleared the dirty dishes away, Taka sighed, set the stainless steel tongs aside and folded his hands.

“I’m trying to understand one thing,” he said gently. “If he’s moved on, why haven’t you?”

Heath froze with his chopsticks in midair. Yoshiki had said much the same thing, but it sounded different coming from Taka.

“We’re all worried about you. You don’t go out anymore, you don’t answer the phone, you’re not eating properly. So you saw him with a new girl. It’s not the first time. I get that you’re unhappy and I’m not saying that it doesn’t suck, but it’s been long enough, hasn’t it?”

Suddenly the big solid ball of lead in his chest began to crack and melt and he bit his lip in an effort to keep it from trembling.

“I miss him,” Heath finally whispered. “I miss the ‘him’ that he was in between all the fighting.” Heath squeezed his eyes shut and covered his face with one hand. A tear rolled down his cheek and he drew in a shaky breath. “I hate it but I can’t… I can’t stop thinking about him.”

Taka gave a resigned sigh and patted his shoulder. “Rose-coloured glasses are a bitch, my friend.”

 

***

 

Sugizo thanked the store clerk and stepped out onto the street, sifting through his change in one hand, the other holding a plastic bag laden with a few supermarket items: milk, apples and bananas, a few microwave meals, shampoo. Over the past few years he’d been making a more concerted effort to cook for himself but he really didn’t have the energy for it lately. Not since Morrie’s birthday. He felt so tired and flat, and going out to do some shopping and to just plain get out of the apartment had been difficult enough as it was. He was beginning to wish he’d stayed home. Right now, all he wanted to do was eat a quick meal and bury his head in the pillows. He might even take his phone off the hook and switch off his mobile phone; he didn’t want to see, hear or talk to anybody. He shoved the receipt and his change into the pocket of his jeans, shifted his shopping to his other hand and looked up just in time to narrowly avoid colliding with someone exiting a restaurant that smelled strongly of fragrant grilled meat and fat and fiery spices.

“Oh shit, sorry!” one of them sketched a cursory wave and they staggered aside, laughing at their unsteady companion.

A couple of drunk guys clinging to each other and being stupid. Sugizo frowned. Had he and his peers really been like that back in the day? It was sort of confronting to see it like this from the outside; it really wasn’t a good look. He shook his head and kept walking.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he heard the first guy saying to his friend. “Think you can get in a taxi without falling over?”

A brief, slightly hysterical peal of laughter erupted from the second guy and there was something about his voice that, despite the drunken slurring in between intermittent giggles, made Sugizo stop and turn around.

“Taka… hey Taka where are we going next, Taka?” he slurred and then burst into laughter again.

Sugizo swallowed hard and his heart plummeted into the pit of his stomach. “Heath?”

Taka spun around and locked eyes with the person he’d almost crashed into. “Oh, h-hi,” he stammered and swore under his breath with a grunt; he had one of Heath’s arms slung across his shoulders but he wouldn’t stay still, and drunk people were damn heavy.

“Um… is he all right?” Sugizo asked, his brow furrowed.

Taka scrambled to think of an excuse. Sugizo was likely the very last person on Earth that Heath wanted to see right now. He had to get Heath out of here before he saw Sugizo and said something that Sober Heath would regret.

“Oh yeah!” Taka said, smiling and furiously waving his arm to flag down a taxi. “We uh, just had a little too much fun, if you know what I mean. Gotta get this one home and into bed, though.”

“Don’t wanna,” Heath chortled and clung to Taka tighter.

“Oh,” Sugizo said softly.

The taxi rolled up and Taka wrestled a very noncompliant Heath into the back before he could get a good look at Sugizo, and he climbed in as well. The taxi door closed with a dull thud and slowly pulled out onto the road and drove away.

 

Sugizo watched the glossy black taxi rolling down the road until it disappeared around a corner a few blocks from where he stood. It was as though his mind had shut off and his body stood there woodenly, unable to move or think. It wasn’t until a passing child blundered into him that he seemed to snap awake, and he continued on his way, feeling fucking sad and empty. For years now, Heath had always sort of lingered at the very edges of his life, just beyond arms’ reach, but watching that taxi drive away just now was like watching Heath disappearing beyond that faint outer circle where he might be lost forever.

 

Perhaps that was for the best.

 

On his way home, he stopped at a 7-Eleven for a pack of cigarettes. He was on his fourth attempt at quitting the habit and if that wasn’t bad enough, he stopped carrying a lighter ages ago and now he had to buy one of those cheap plastic ones. But right now he couldn’t give a shit about his health or the consequences of disposable plastics. He needed this. There was something incredibly soothing about the deeply-seated ritual of peeling off the thin cellophane wrapper, tapping out a cig, slipping it between his lips and lighting up. He didn’t even need to think about it. Everything happened on autopilot. The cigarette didn’t taste nearly as good as it used to, but those first couple of drags produced a much-needed rush and took the edge off his unease like it always did. Another drag, another mild burst of euphoria tinged with guilt. He exhaled and looked down at the cigarette burning between his fingers. That was a good three months of progress straight down the toilet. So much for self-improvement. He thought back on his failed relationships and all of his one-night stands and the ones that he’d just gotten bored with. Maybe Heath and Shinya were right after all. Maybe he placed too much importance on sex and not everything else that made up a relationship. He’d never been able to give his lovers the time or attention that they deserved; that or he’d simply been too selfish. Why bother taking the time and effort to work through problems when he could just ignore them and move onto the next person in the queue? As much as it hurt, Sugizo had to admit that Heath was far better off with someone like Taka who would appreciate him for who he was and actually look after him when he needed it. There, he thought grimly. It took a certain measure of maturity and growth and self-awareness to make an admission like that. If you love something, let it go and all that. He took one last drag of his cigarette and snuffed it out, and threw the entire pack in the trash.

 

Chapter Text

The summer of 2003 came and went and Sugizo celebrated his 34th birthday in July with very little fanfare. He usually loved a good party and everybody knew it, so in the weeks leading up to the big day all of his friends were asking, “What are you doing for your birthday?” or “What’s the plan for your birthday?” or “How are you celebrating this year?”

At first he answered these questions honestly, saying that he either didn’t know or hadn’t decided yet. Then when he started hinting that he might not want to have a big birthday party at all, people would either laugh and think that he was joking, which was a little bit annoying, or they would stare at him in disbelief and ask why, which was very annoying. Eventually as the date drew nearer, he started smiling and saying that he would let everyone know, and never did. Instead, he went out and bought a nice bottle of red wine, and drove himself to Kanagawa, ignoring (temporarily) all of the birthday calls and texts flooding his phone.

His mother answered the door with a pair of gardening gloves in one hand and secateurs in the other. She immediately hugged him while scolding him for not calling first so that she could have prepared a special meal for him. He assured her that any home-cooked meal would be the perfect birthday dinner and subjected himself to being tutted at and fussed over, as mothers are wont to do. He obligingly drove her to the local market to buy a few extra ingredients for dinner and laughed when Mrs Sugihara swatted his hands away every time he tried to pay for their groceries. In the car on the way home, they listened to the classical music station on the radio. Then his sister Mayu turned up with her family and a cake, and they enjoyed a comforting meal of grilled snapper, pork and vegetable soup, fried chicken, and rice with homemade pickles. Mayu’s five-year old daughter Ami had started playing the violin some six months ago so while she entertained the adults with a mini recital, Sugizo sat back and smiled indulgently, glad not to have to talk or think or be the centre of attention for a change.

While the others watched television in the other room after dinner, Sugizo helped his mother clean up.

“It’s all right, son. I’ve got it all under control. You go sit down with the others.”

“I’m here, I might as well help,” he said, wiping down the table.

“All right,” his mother said. “How are you, by the way?”

Sugizo chuckled. “I’m fine, I told you. That was one of the first things you asked when you opened the door, remember?”

“That’s not what I’m asking. You’ve been very quiet tonight. Is something the matter?”

“Nothing’s the matter,” he assured her. “Really. I’m just happy to take some time off and spend a nice peaceful birthday with my family.”

Up to her elbows in warm soapy water, Mrs Sugihara glanced over her shoulder at him for a second. “Well, whatever it is, you know I’m here for you, right?”

“Of course.”

“So if you’re not feeling well or you want some advice or just to chat…”

“I know.”

“You just need to speak up, all right?”

“I will.” Sugizo rolled up his sleeves and reached for the clean, sudsy dishes, rinsing them under a thin stream of water and stacking them on the rack to drip dry. They cleaned the dishes in silence for a while, one washing, one rinsing. A drop of water ran down his arm. It tickled and he reached for a tea towel to wipe it off.

“Last one. It’s heavy,” his mother said, handing him the big plate that she had used to serve the fish.

“Actually, there is something you can help me with,” Sugizo said as he rinsed it off.

“What’s that, dear?”

“That tonjiru soup you made tonight. Do you think you could you teach me how to make it?”

Mrs Sugihara stopped in the middle of drying her hands on the tea towel and looked up at him. “Of course I can, son,” she said as though she were surprised he even had to ask. “I’d be more than happy to. Would you like to do it now? I’m sure I have enough bits and pieces left over. It doesn’t take long, we could have it ready in less than an hour and you can take it home with you tonight.”

“No, you’ve worked hard enough making dinner tonight and we’ve just washed everything. But…” he hesitated, “we could do it next weekend. If you’re not busy, I mean.”

Mrs Sugihara regarded him carefully for a moment before reaching for his hand and patting it gently. “I’d like that very much.”

“Thanks.” When she smiled at him, it was so full of warmth and love that it almost made him want to cry. Sugizo swallowed the lump in his throat and smiled back. “Oh and I’m paying for the groceries next time.”

The smile on his mother’s face disappeared and she turned to hang up the tea towel with raised eyebrows. “We’ll see.”



Now September was coming to a close and with it went the oppressive heat and humidity of summer. It could still get quite warm during the day but the nights became pleasant and mild, perfect for enjoying a meal and a night out with some friends. Sugizo glanced at his watch. After today’s meeting was cancelled, he was stuck in limbo with nothing to do until dinner with Takuro, but that was more than two hours away. Two hours was a long time to do nothing, but there was no point in going home, sitting down for half an hour and making the trip back out again, especially at peak hour. Perhaps he could go shopping for clothes or CDs. He hadn’t done that in a while and come to think of it, both MUCC and Dir en grey had released new albums this month. His gaze flitted across to a pair of tourists with tall drinks in their hands, the plastic cups frosted with condensation. Sitting down for a drink would help to kill some time. He instinctively avoided the big coffee chains, hoping for some peace and quiet, and he stepped into the dark foyer of a coffee shop nestled in one of the back streets a short distance away from Shibuya’s perpetually busy railway station. One of the smiling staff ushered him to a single table near the counter by the far wall and placed a laminated menu in front of him before retreating with a polite bow. He glanced over the menu lazily, not really seeing the words. His gaze wandered around the dimly-lit room, hazy with cigarette smoke from other patrons, and he sat up straighter when his eye fell upon two people who sat a few tables away from him. The taller, dark-haired one at that table was Taka. The very same Taka he’d seen with Heath in Nakano a little while back.

Sugizo sat very still and watched them closely, hoping they hadn’t noticed him yet. The café’s interior was so dim that it was hard to be totally sure, but that was definitely Taka over there. The guy he was with looked vaguely familiar too. Was he in Taka’s band? The two of them sat side by side nursing their drinks, smiling and laughing quietly between themselves. They were clearly very close and the longer Sugizo watched, the more he became convinced that this was more than just a simple social meeting over coffee to discuss work. This was a date.

A waitress arrived to take his order but Sugizo ignored her. He pushed his chair back with a harsh scrape of worn chair legs on aged wooden floorboards and wove his way between the other seated customers with his heart in his mouth and Taka and his ‘friend’ both looked up, mildly surprised but smiling as he approached.

“Hey, Sugizo,” Taka greeted him.

“Hi,” came the clipped reply, and Sugizo glanced from one to the other. “Taka, may I have a word with you about something?”

Taka’s smile faltered a little, but he remained friendly and reached for another chair. “Sure, have a—”

“Outside?”

“Uh, okay.” The uneasy smile on Taka’s face faded altogether. He slowly rose from his seat and touched the other guy’s arm. “Back soon.”

 

Taka followed Sugizo outside through the heavy double doors and had just enough time to say, “What did you want to—” before a blunt explosion of pain in his head sent him reeling sideways, head spinning, eyes watering, steadying himself against the wall with one hand and holding his face with the other. “God, fuck… what the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Why don’t you ask yourself that?” Sugizo snapped, rubbing his knuckles.

“Ask myself what? You know, just because you’re—” Taka stopped when a group of three teenage girls approached and he glowered at them as they hurried past with furtive glances, trying not to giggle at the prospect of two grown men having a fistfight in public. Taka lowered his voice to a hiss. “Just because you’re The Amazing Sugizo, doesn’t mean you can go around treating people like shit for the fun of it.”

Sugizo sneered at him. “How about you take a good look at yourself first?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Heath.”

Taka stared at him blankly. “Huh?”

Sugizo pointed at the door of the café. “How long has that been going on?”

“How long has what been going on?” Taka swore again and rubbed his jaw, wincing. “Jesus, how hard did you hit me?”

“You can drop your bullshit innocent act, okay?”

“What—”

“Answer the question!”

What question? I don’t know what you’re—”

“I am asking how long you have been cheating on Heath,” Sugizo snarled.

“I’m… excuse me? I’m doing what now?”

“You heard me.”

Taka stared at him, open-mouthed. “Oh my god. You think I…?” Blinking in disbelief, he started shaking his head slowly. “You. Are a fucking. Idiot.” He grabbed the front of Sugizo’s t-shirt in his fist and his voice, normally so richly melodic, was now low and full of venom. “Firstly, you do not get to disrespect Masato or Heath like that. Second, do not fucking speak to me like that ever again!” Taka punctuated these last two words with a rough shove to the chest and now it was Sugizo’s turn to look confused. “Heath is our friend, asshole. Obviously you’re not familiar with that concept. I’ve been with Masato for nearly three years. Heath and I are not together, you fucking moron!

“I know what I saw. You and Heath came out of that restaurant and you were all over each other—”

“You don’t know shit! Christ, are you actually this stupid or do you take lessons? Heath was drunk and upset and I was taking him home! That’s something that friends do for each other, in case you didn’t know!”

Sugizo stared at him, bewildered. “Why was he upset?”

“He was feeling shitty and needed someone to talk to,” Taka said with forced patience, “and I took him out for a meal and carried his sad, sorry ass home because unlike you, some of us actually care about him!”

“But I… I care about him too—”

“You sure about that? Because as far as I know, you’ve barely spoken to him in years. Am I wrong?”

Sugizo took a step back and his hands hung limply at his sides. It was like he didn’t know which way was up anymore and now he felt very, very small. “I… I’m sorry.”

“Fucking right you are!” Taka rubbed his sore jaw again. “Are you done? Can I go now, or are you going to hit me again?”

Sugizo nodded numbly.

“Asshole.” Taka turned back to the door.

“Wait!”

Taka stopped, glaring.

“Can you at least tell me why Heath was upset? Is he okay?”

“That,” Taka said tersely, “is entirely his business and none of yours.”

“But is he okay?”

Taka gave Sugizo a long, long glare. It would have been so un-fucking-believably satisfying to give the guy a real earful about how much he had hurt Heath and screwed him up, but Sugizo looked so genuinely ashamed and even a little bit pathetic right then that Taka didn’t have the heart to yell at him some more.

“I don’t know what he sees in you,” Taka muttered darkly. He pushed the door open and disappeared back inside the coffee shop.



Masato could only stare when Taka returned to their table looking pissed off. “Is everything okay?”

Taka just grunted in reply.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know why everyone thinks he’s so great. That Sugizo is a complete prick.” Taka rubbed his jaw again, grimacing.

Masato frowned. “Wait, did he hit you? What the f—”

He started to get up but Taka grabbed his arm and shook his head. The other patrons at the neighbouring tables were starting to stare. “Don’t. Leave it. He’s already gone.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Masato hissed. He looked ready to throw a few punches himself. “What’s wrong with him?”

Taka gave a weary sigh. “Remember a while back when Heath was really upset about this whole Sugizo thing and I took him out for food?”

“Yeah. And you said you bumped into Sugizo afterwards. I thought you left real quick.”

“Yeah, well, we did but apparently that was enough for him to think that Heath and I were, you know, together.” Taka took a sip of his now-lukewarm coffee and made a face. “So now he sees me here with you and this genius puts two and two together and gets five, and thinks that I’m cheating on Heath with you.”

“Wha…” Masato stared at Taka, baffled, trying to suppress a smile.

“It’s really not funny,” Taka said sourly.

“I’m sorry,” Masato said, smothering his mirth. “I’m not laughing at you, I promise. It’s just that the whole thing is… well it’s insane. You and Heath?”

“You’re telling me. Getting socked in the jaw all because I took a friend out for dinner and a few drinks. I swear that dumbass must have two brain cells just careening around in that big empty space and occasionally they might bump into each other and a light turns on for five seconds.”

Masato giggled at this. “Are you okay though? Should we take you to a doctor?”

“I think I’m okay,” Taka grumbled. “I’ll go home and put some ice on it or something.”

“Sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.” Masato paused. “You didn’t tell him why Heath was upset, did you?”

“Please, I’m not as stupid as he is.”

Masato rested his chin in one hand and looked at Taka thoughtfully. “Do you suppose Sugizo still has feelings for Heath after all?”

This was met with a scornful snort. “Why would you say that?”

“Taka, the guy practically charged in on a white stallion because he thought Heath needed rescuing.”

I’m the one who needed rescuing! He punched me in the face!”

“Yes but I’m not justifying that for him,” Masato said patiently. “All I’m saying is that he wouldn’t have done anything at all if he honestly didn’t care about Heath.”

Taka shook his head dubiously. “That Sugizo has shown his true colours and if you ask me, Heath is way better off without that jerk.”

 

***

 

“What’s up with your hand?”

“Huh?”

Takuro nodded at Sugizo’s right hand. His fingers trembled and his grip was loose and unsteady as he reached out to pick up a piece of takoyaki with his chopsticks. “What’s up with your hand?”

“Nothing,” Sugizo said shortly with his mouth full. He picked up his beer next, taking several long, deep gulps and Takuro eyed him carefully as he drank. Once again, his fellow guitarist’s hand was loosely clasped around the beer mug’s handle as though he were having trouble with his grip.

“Do me a favour,” Takuro said.

“What?”

“Make a fist for me.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

Sugizo eyed him suspiciously and set his beer down on its coaster. “No.”

Takuro reached across the table and touched his wrist lightly. “How’d you hurt your hand?”

“I didn’t. It’s nothing,” muttered Sugizo.

“Is it bad?”

“It’s fine, all right? Just leave it.”

“Sugizo—”

“It’s nothing, I… I just had a small accident, okay?”

“I’m just saying that maybe you should get it looked at,” Takuro said. “What if you’ve fractured something? Your hands are your livelihood, remember? What happened?”

“Nothing happened! Just forget about it, I just—”

“Sugizo—”

“—GOTINTOAFIGHTWITHTAKAOKAY?”

“What?”

“Taka!”

“Taka?” Takuro blinked at him. “Taka who?”

“Nothing! Nobody! Never mind! It was just a stupid misunderstanding so just stop it, all right?” Sugizo sank lower in his seat and sulked.

“Dude.” Takuro sighed. “If I know you—and right now I’m sorry to say that I do—you don’t just go around punching people over a misunderstanding. So what actually happened?”

But Sugizo stubbornly refused to elaborate, so Takuro tried to piece the story together himself. “Taka who? TM Revolution?”

“No!”

“The vocalist from La’cryma Christi?”

Grunt.

“That guy from B’z? But he calls himself Tak. Is it him?”

Sugizo squirmed in his seat. He wished that Takuro would just fucking stop but he was on a roll, and no matter how many times Sugizo tried changing the subject, Takuro kept throwing out other Takas he could think of, relentlessly picking at the issue and making it worse, the way one becomes fixated on picking a scab even when they know that it’s going to hurt and bleed.

“Or what about that guy from Oblivion Dust? Their first drummer? I didn't even think you knew him. No hold on, wait.” Takuro sat up straighter and looked at Sugizo. “Not the singer from Transtic Nerve?”

Sugizo said nothing and went on sulking, unable to meet Takuro’s gaze.

“Has this got something to do with Heath? I thought you guys were okay now. Weren’t you talking to him at Morrie’s party a while back?”

“Can you please just drop it? I’m begging you here.”

But Takuro would not let it go so easily, and the look on his face said that he knew he was right on the money. “That’s it, isn’t it? Don’t tell me you’re still not over him.”

“Shut up.”

“Is he seeing anyone?”

“No. I don’t know.” Not Taka, apparently.

Takuro regarded him carefully. “If he’s not, I think you need to talk to him.”

Sugizo cast him a withering glare. “Don’t be an idiot.”