It’s not like Uruha is completely oblivious.
Reita would assuredly argue that point, ticking off the numerous instances where Uruha had displayed an awareness akin to pea-soup.
But for the most part, Uruha prided himself with having a penchant for picking up on details: a warbling chord, a certain tone of note, a particular way to push his fingers into the frets and slide the melody out of warped fiberglass and copper. Paying attention is practically his job description – save those handful of times tripping onstage and diving into the audience. And maybe he views the world in a slightly lopsided way, maybe he waxes poetry on his blog posts and then twists his tongue around otherwise simple prattle in interviews, and maybe he needs to drink to see all the notes come together.
It’s not like Uruha hasn’t noticed.
Sure, it was subtle in the beginning. But, no one really knew what the fuck was going on in the beginning in between dying their hair blood-red and sun-nova-blond in the bathroom sinks of dive bars and scrawling a melody on the backs of their hands with a leaking pen. Not much else was on Uruha’s mind besides racing Akira for the good futon (the one with the really nice quilt that Akira’s ex-girlfriend stitched together before Menthol cigarettes, train tracks and ambition tore them apart) and making sure he still had all of his clothes after Ruki came over (one part singer, one part fabric-klepto).
And making music.
So, when Aoi walked into the family restaurant donning a mahogany-furred coat and platforms, took off his bug-eyed sunglasses and grinned right at him with a tilted quirk of his lips – Uruha snorted.
And that was really that.
Because fuck, Aoi could play – when he wasn’t miming the notes and slacking and blackening his lungs with cigarettes that cost more than Uruha’s dinner last night – and Uruha couldn’t really get his fingers to bend into the strings like that, couldn’t melt into his guitar like that, couldn’t look the audience in the eye like that.
And Uruha couldn’t be left behind, couldn’t settle for merely grazing Glory.
So maybe that’s why he curled his hand tight around the neck of that old Fender that night, found Aoi’s hopeful eyes through the curling smoke of their cigarettes and the flickering light Akira forgot to replace (again), and drawled coldly, “You won’t catch me.”
Uruha had watched as Aoi blinked, taken aback by the abrupt words and bitter tone. A lock of hair fell from his messily done bun, long enough to graze the collar of his Cowichan sweater, as he averted his eyes – still swept in kohl from Ruki’s steady hand the night before – and furrowed his brow. And Uruha was sure he got his point across (and was sure Akira would be rolling his eyes at him for metaphorically pissing around his territory).
Until Aoi looked up with a sudden smirk, piercing hugging his lip at a mocking angle.
“What makes you think you’re worth catching?”
And Uruha should have known then. He should have noticed.
The way that smirk faltered slightly, how his eyes were whispering but-nonono – how his fingers were mouthing the chords that would eventually become Cassis.
But he was young and still had pride spitting in his veins, so he roughly jerked out of his seat instead – fickle words failing him as per usual – and walked away, determined to make sure that from then on, Aoi would never see anything but his back.
And, for a while, it worked.
It was too easy – the sly grins towards Akira’s drunken pirate jokes, the arm slung around Takanori’s shoulders as he would prattle on about neon lights and Tokyo Dome, all the while dog-earring page after page in fashion magazines he’d fished out of wastebaskets –
“Here’s your pages, Shima. Study them.”
Uruha frowned, fingers muting the strings of the warped Fender and gingerly taking the stack of glossed pages from Takanori’s insistent hand. He pointedly ignored Akira’s enthusiastic guffaw from over his shoulder as he drawled low, “These are from Victoria’s Secret.”
– and even clinked his glass with Yune’s on the nights they pooled their change together and usurped the local dive’s booth for the night, bathing his laughs in amber while tapping his foot against Akira’s shin –
-- all the while nursing a straight spine and stiff hands as he pointed to the correct frets as Aoi furrowed his brow and tried to follow – laughing a little too late, a little too hard, at an inside joke Uruha snorts over with Akira – sliding his fingers in a half-step behind the metronome while Uruha crossed out and rewrote the time signature to 2/2 – 3/8 – 6/8 –
And Akira shoves his shoulder with a knowing purse of his lips whenever he passes by him at the kitchen sink, rinsing the dried blood from his sliced callouses.
Looking back now, after wincing at his hair color choice and Akira’s aloha-shirts, he knows it was stupid. It was a catty game of keep-away that hid itself in fleeting glares inside make-up mirrors and mouthfuls of stolen cigarettes. And Uruha knew his shoulder blades must have looked like daggers, cutting deep as Aoi would slink next to him on stage, guitar wailing and smirk trembling as the elder rolled his hips beneath the chords – beneath Uruha’s frown and clenched fist. And with the blade slicing him clean, Aoi would curl a finger towards the girl gripping the guardrail with smeared eyeshadow dusting her cheeks, lips too red and hands too eager.
So, his skin still blushing neons from the floodlights and mouth cradling a Menthol, Uruha wasn’t sure what snapped in the deepest part of his bones when he caught the wink of silver from Aoi’s lip ring. The flash of pale flesh, the curtain of midnight swallowing the girl’s eager gasps as Aoi leaned her over the dive’s loading dock. Her tights were ripped – argyle diamonds neatly shredded and spliced as she wrapped her legs tight around Aoi’s narrow waist, his fingernails chasing the fresh rips as he slid his hands beneath her.
Uruha watched, entranced and numb to the cigarette burning the corner of his lip.
And it wasn’t anything new. Uruha could still feel last week's hotel door crash into his palm – caught in mid-knock – as Takanori was slammed into the wood by that one nameless 23-year-old artist, nails chipping and throat cracking with sweet death-rattles. Uruha could remember his own tangled sheets, his own glassy-eyed wonders on the nights his skin wouldn’t stay still.
Because all of them were still faceless Peter Pans with fool’s gold glory who could afford to fuck-for-nothing, but couldn’t afford a stereo. They still had splintered drumsticks and thrift shop jeans; Takanori still had to press his lips into the mic so hard, tear the skin open and drip red into the feedback, just to make a sound.
A couple yellow-blue bruises on their necks was nothing, nothing. Just skin-on-skin.
– just Akira’s ex-girlfriend on the elder’s lips as he grips Uruha’s shoulder tight, the bar lights sparking his glazed eyes as he slurs into Uruha’s clenched jaw, “I think we’re going to make it, Kou.”
It was nothing-nothing, but after looking away for months – keeping his eyes on the elder’s shoulder as the chords warbled and tripped, only ever catching his fleeting silhouette – Aoi was suddenly there.
And so he looked – he watched Aoi as he bent and swayed and rolled, muscles shifting and stretching, his mouth latching onto the curve between the girl’s shoulder and neck. Suckling, nipping, tearing her flesh apart-away. Uruha watched her shudder and jerk, breath quick and stilettos knocking together behind Aoi’s back with sharp skipbeat-clacks; the way her body lifted, guided by Aoi’s frantic whispers and touch. Uruha bit down on the nicotine and watched Aoi rut his hips against hers, thrusting bone to bone – crushing her, obliterating her –
--cradling the back of her head in his callused hand and softly pressing his lips to the swell of her throat.
“Shima, what the fuck are you – ”
Uruha whipped back, nearly swallowing his cigarette, and fisted his hand in Akira’s collar, tugging him back with a fevered whisper, “Don’t go over there. Roadies are rutting. It’s not pretty.”
His chest nearly ached with the speed of his heart, the afterimage of Aoi’s black tresses sliding along his neck, and the way his lips curled around each silent moan, flickering to life every time he blinked. And Uruha didn’t know why his breath stuttered, why he had to hide this – this part of Aoi, the one that Takanori had sworn was nonexistent with each glance towards Aoi’s lone shadow framed in the bar’s red lights.
Why he suddenly had to keep this; the color of Aoi’s lips as he choked out broken syllables, as he slid open-mouthed breaths along skinny collarbones – blush-red and dark.
Akira’s eyes widened as he took in Uruha’s thin lips and restless fidgeting, mouth parting in muted shock before slowly shifting into a devious smirk, “No fucking way. Is it Akihito and Ken? It totally is; I need to see this – ”
Uruha roughly grabbed the back of Akira’s sweat-drenched shirt, fingers sliding and heart tripping (so close, so close-close-fuck), and hauling him back to the wall, “Don’t be a pervert.”
Crinkling his brow, Akira huffed and pried Uruha’s fingers off his collar but stayed put, “Fine, fine. Why such a sudden killjoy, Shima? You’re usually the first one that jumps at free porn.”
Uruha rolled his eyes, swallowing hard all the same as Akira slid his fingers beneath the younger’s palm to release his iron-grip – newly formed calluses ghosting past each other and it was almost like middle school again, almost close enough for Uruha to twist Akira around and seal his lips against his jaw and do something, something-anything-please – and grumbled, “I don’t jump at it…”
Akira smirked, flicking Uruha’s cheek and ignoring how the younger glowered, “Yeah, because you weren’t the one who re-spooled Jurassic Park to include a heartwarming rendition of Ass Busters.”
“So, are you just going to mention that whenever possible or was now and yesterday at the band meeting enough for you?”
Akira grinned wide, eyes aglow with the playful mischief that used to end with Uruha toeing his mother’s doorstep with grass-stained knees and a guilty pout. The same look that Uruha would imagine over and over, face smothered into his pillow and Akira’s soft snores echoing in the next room, but maybe if he tried really hard, he’d wake up and just wake up and realize and come in and start what should have been, should-have-been-always, because Uruha, Kouyou, had always – wanted – something –
“Something like that.”
A keening moan broke out from behind the wall of the alley and Akira gave Uruha a jaunty salute, already walking away (back to where Ruki was most assuredly pacing around, wondering where the fuck the rest of his band ran off to and leaving him alone to deal with their manager’s garlic breath), “I’ll leave you to it, then. Happy slapping.”
Uruha watched Akira walk away, eyes lingering on the elder’s back – the way his shoulders shifted, his bleached-raw hair ruffling with every step away-away – the breaking gasps and hollow thumps against the loading dock drowning out Akira’s chuckles –
– every slip of his fingertips, every star dying in his throat.
Splaying his fingers against the wall, Uruha slowly sank down to the gravel, turning his face until his cheek rubbed against the damp brick. Until his eyes blurred and the low thrusts of Aoi’s hips and the light touch of Akira’s hand against his wrist bleared together-together-together and maybe he could pretend – collapsed amongst crumpled cigarettes and ten-year-old lies – that he could reach out and just try, just this once –
– like he could stretch out his hand (again and again since he was twelve-years-old with mud splattered against his knees on the soccer field and Akira was twelve-and-13-days with Miko’s love letter crinkled up in his pocket –
his chapped lips touching Kouyou’s in a chaste “like-this, I’ll kiss her just like this” – )
Her ankles over his shoulders, his teeth a meteorite against her throat; Uruha’s lips tasting brick and Akira’s back like a silent mountain.
Aoi’s mouth hot on shifting shoulder blades, cracks in bones, and Uruha’s teeth on Akira’s wrist – collarbones clashing; to have something just like that – like back alley heroine and shattered sonatas that his mother would scream at, that management would murder them for, that he would love-and-love- and fuck-Akira-please, I just want –
“I saw you.”
Uruha stopped, eraserless pencil hovering over the eighth measure and his guitar slumped into his chest. Dust motes kept drifting into his eyes, the dim lighting of the parking garage draining the color of their ruddy cheeks and Uruha’s fingers were black ice. He could barely feel the chords as he played the tinny melody over and over – desperately trying to drown out Aoi’s fitful humming, the way the elder’s fingers slicked over the strings, the way Akira’s smile broke in two as Michiko’s number pulsed red in his hand.
And now, draped across the rickety folding chairs Takanori found on a ransacked corner of Tokyo and Aoi’s lunchbox amps spitting garbled static, Uruha tried to keep the notes straight in the only place that offered a mocking semblance of acoustics. An empty what-could-be, even with Takanori’s growling eyes in the crowded bathroom at the dive as he painted on a second-face, Uruha digging his bony elbow into the other’s ribs as he leaned away from Aoi’s shorter frame. The nails in his arm as Takanori pulled him close afterwards, nearly crashing their lips together, his voice like knives:
‘Make this fucking work, Takashima.’
– and Uruha’s absolutely positive, even after Dome and Decade and a hundred thousand miles of running and reaching, that Ruki had always known.
Aoi tightened his fingers around the neck of his old Fender – a purple monstrosity that never caught the right light, its deep scars criss-crossing the fiberglass (but it still screamed and yowled whenever Aoi’s hands became claws that dug into the copper strings and rip) – and tilted his head towards him.
He let the words hang in the air like dirtied clouds, blackened and sagging. And Uruha had a sneer on the tips of his teeth because he didn’t see the shaking fingertips mouthing little pleas to just look-up, look-up. The twist of Aoi’s clenched jaw, teeth cracking and spine like glass.
He could only see his ripped cuticles (gripping his guitar neck like a last prayer) and Michiko’s name on Akira’s breath. And Uruha could still feel the ofuro water rising over his knees, his chest, his lips – Akira’s whispers so loud against the wall – “I’m yours, all yours”
He could only see Aoi taking – taking and shredding it apart and bending back into the flickering lights like he was a fucking nova; like he was dying, obliterating, coming undone-and-alive – like it was so fucking easy –
“I saw you watching me,” Aoi drawled again, something with feathers fluttering in his voice and Uruha raised his eyes from beneath his blonde-black bangs, the strands dry and cracked from Akira’s shoddy dye-job.
Aoi’s hair was a tangled, hurried bun – the strands too short in the front to pull back and left to stick to the man’s gaunt cheeks. And Uruha couldn’t really remember the last time he saw Aoi eat something other than a cigarette. Those expensive Black Devils with the blue smoke that stuck to Aoi’s lip ring as he smiled, offering them shotguns of nicotine, styrofoam cups of greasy udon – strolling into the makeshift studio with bags of one-day-expired bento strung up his arms like garland.
“So, are you planning to eat the audience then, Shiroyama,” Takanori rose a brow, pointedly poking at Aoi’s jutting hipbone as the elder stubbornly shoved a can of tea into the younger’s graphite-smudged hands.
And Uruha could remember the wan smile, the way the collar of his wool sweater slid a bit too low over his collarbones, “Rent, food, new amp. You can only pick two.”
And even when Aoi’s ribs are sharp, the noir glint in his eyes is sharper as he caught Uruha’s steady gaze. His jaw was clenched, hands gripping his guitar so tight – veins so stark, blue, the only color Aoi has to his name.
“Kouyou – ”
“You saw me what?” He bit out, tearing into his name on Aoi’s lips.
Aoi slid a thumb against the A-string, tight coils digging into his flesh, eyes steady and knowing.
Uruha scoffed, teeth black, “You saw me catching you rutting into a groupie behind the dumpsters like a dog? Maybe you did.”
But Aoi only snorted, fingers reaching over and under the strings, the first harmonies of Cassis just under his palm.
“I think you liked it.”
“And I think you were looking at me while you were fucking her,” Uruha countered, ribs cracking open as Aoi regarded him with a slow smirk, “If I didn’t know you any better, I’d say that’s a little suspicious.”
The sardonic twist of the elder’s mouth withered into a wan smile, the muted notes in his hands silenced. “You don’t know me at all.”
And he didn’t, not really. A month and some change gone and Uruha still couldn’t dial the man’s number without looking at the wrinkled receipt – a hurried scrawl from New Year’s Eve.
He knew Aoi by frets and chords and rations.
The way his fingers could tangle up in a melody, but how he would merely mime the notes in the heat of the stage lights, too busy arching his back into the fire and losing himself completely into the hands of the audience to echo Uruha’s notes.
The way he sometimes looked over at Uruha in the studio, the bar, the subway as they all crammed together on a single seat, Takanori’s bony knees in Uruha’s ribs and Akira’s nose poking his cheek, and stole puffs with blue knuckles – eyes tracing his jaw, his bones.
The way his lips would purse with almosts – gaping wide with what-could-be, a tall tale of their legs intertwined – like right now.
And it’s not like Uruha hasn’t noticed.
But he’s always been slow on the uptake –
– and Aoi’s already gone, already sliding into the next note with his head tilted low, dark bangs tangling in his eyelashes. The parking garage thrums with a sharp, stolen melody that’s ripped from Aoi’s fingernails, bloodied and desperate, and Uruha watches him run and run, so fucking close and far and here –
– because he always knew Aoi best, in the way last breaths catch a collision too late.