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(I Would) Die 4 U

Chapter Text

Kyo slid lower in his seat, letting out another frustrated sigh into the eerie silence of the subway car. He ignored the irritated glances he received from other passengers and rubbed at a spot between his eyebrows, trying to think of some solution.

There had to be some kind of solution.

Unless the band really was just… dead.

Certainly it had seemed like it was heading that way for a while now, since Kisaki hadn’t been able to get along with anyone, honestly didn’t even seem like he was trying to. But without him did they even have a band?

His mind ran through it again. They were supposed to have a gig in two weeks. Two weeks, and now they didn’t have a bassist. There was no way that would work.

Mostly, Kyo was just angry with himself. He hadn’t (almost surprisingly) been the one to actually drive Kisaki away, but maybe he should have been, ages ago. Then they wouldn’t be in this situation now, bass-less and expected on stage in only a fortnight. There was just zero chance of them finding a new bassist to replace him in that little time.

For the briefest of moments, he wondered if they might convince Kisaki to come back, but even if they could, he was sure no one would want to. It was a wonder he had hung around this long when everyone found him as intolerable as they did. The fact was that he just didn’t mesh well with the rest of the band. Even as Kyo considered that they’d have to switch up their setlist without Kisaki’s songs, he found it was no great loss. Kyo wrote all their lyrics and Kaoru was the primary source for the band’s compositions. Toshiya and Shinya brought in a few too, and there were things they worked on together, but all in all, it wasn’t like losing the handful of tunes Kisaki had penned would be that powerful a blow to their repertoire.

It would still be a problem for them to not have a bassist though.

Kyo’s phone was vibrating just as the train got to his stop and he waited to answer until the last second, just as he was coming up out of the underground.

“Hello?”

“Kyo, hey, it’s me.”

It was, to Kyo’s mild surprise, Toshiya. It wasn’t that he hadn’t expected for his bandmates to want to talk about what had happened and what their options were from here, but he had definitely thought Kaoru would be the first one to call him.

“Hey,” Kyo said. There wasn’t any point in asking what was up; he’d just come from the same disaster of a rehearsal as Toshiya, and was pretty sure he knew how the guitarist was feeling.

“I can’t stop thinking about what we’re going to do,” Toshiya said.

“I know.” Kyo made his way out of the train station and up to the actual street level, somewhat relieved to find he wouldn’t have to be making his walk home in the rain.

“It’s just we’re supposed to have that gig in two weeks…”

“I know, and it was such a pain to get that gig,” Kyo said.

“We can’t just back out of it.”

“Well, what the fuck else are we supposed to do?” Kyo said. “We can’t find some random new bassist in that short a time and expect them to get caught up on everything we’re playing! I’ve been running through everyone I know in my head—”

“Even me?”

Kyo paused. “Even you?”

“I mean…” Toshiya sighed. “I play bass. You know that. You know I wanted to play bass for the band in the first place.”

Kyo had actually forgotten about that. Back when they were first forming the group, Toshiya and Kisaki had both been contenders for the role of bassist. Kisaki had only won out due to his seniority, along with the fact that Toshiya could still be useful to the band as a secondary guitarist. He’d gone along with it grudgingly, and Kyo hadn’t really thought of Toshiya as anything other than rhythm guitarist since then.

“So… you want to take over as bassist now?” Kyo said carefully.

“In a way, I’m excited that he’s out,” Toshiya said, sounding slightly embarrassed. “I’m much better with a bass than with a guitar, you know.”

“Right, right,” Kyo said. This changed how he was thinking about things. “You think you could get those bass lines down in time for the live?”

“I can’t guarantee that they’ll be exactly what he was playing,” Toshiya said. “But they’ll probably be better.”

Kyo snorted. “This is the best news I’ve heard all day, then.”

“It’s not exactly great news, though,” Toshiya said.

“How is it not? You’ve solved the problem I’ve been struggling with all evening of how we could possibly find a bassist to replace Kisaki on such short notice.”

“So we’ve found one,” Toshiya said. “But now we need to find a new rhythm guitarist.”

“Oh,” Kyo said, frowning. “Maybe we don’t… need one?”

“Gee, thanks,” Toshiya said.

“I’m not trying to be offensive,” Kyo said quickly. “I just mean, we’ve got Kaoru, he’s got most of the guitar parts handled, hasn’t he?”

“About half?” Toshiya said. “We were expecting to have two guitarists, Kyo. There are whole solos that Kaoru would have to pick up, not to mention all the harmony parts that would be lost, and the countless moments where we’re just playing different things, both crucial to the song. We’d have to basically rearrange everything.”

“So that’s even worse than finding a new bassist is what you’re saying,” Kyo said.

“I’m just saying, one solution doesn’t make the entire problem go away.”

“Still, a guitarist is probably easier to find than a bassist, right?” Kyo said as he rounded a corner and turned onto the street with his apartment building. “Guitar’s a popular instrument.”

“And two weeks is a short timeframe,” Toshiya said.

“What’s going on here?” Kyo said. “How am I ending up the more optimistic one in this conversation?”

“Are you optimistic?”

“No,” Kyo said. “I don’t think we stand a chance of finding anyone, and if we still have to perform in two weeks we’re gonna sound like shit and probably never get another gig in this city.”

“There, that sounds more like you,” Toshiya said. There was a brief pause before he said, “Have you talked to Kaoru?”

“Not yet,” Kyo said. He nodded to one of his neighbors as he started up the steps to his building, then headed for the single rickety elevator. “I would have thought he’d have called me by now, but I guess you got to me first.”

“Do you think he’s going to try to get Kisaki back?”

“That would be… a shocking turn of events,” Kyo said, and punched the button for his floor. “After the things he said to him at the rehearsal today, I’d be surprised if he ever talked to him again—outside of maybe a courtroom.”

Toshiya laughed. “It was pretty ugly, wasn’t it? I didn’t think it would be Kaoru in the end. Like on some level, I knew someone was gonna blow up eventually, but my money was on it being you.”

“I guess my money would have been on me too, if I weren’t me, knowing I wasn’t going to blow up,” Kyo said. “Kaoru taking Kisaki’s head off didn’t seem too far out of left field.”

“No, I guess not,” Toshiya said. “What do you think he’s doing now?”

“Kaoru?” The elevator jolted to a stop at Kyo’s floor and he headed down the hall, past the flickering fluorescent light to his front door. “Writing, probably. Some furious composition he’ll bring in tomorrow and expect us to have nailed by the end of the week.”

“Are we even still meeting tomorrow?”

Kyo frowned, freezing with his key in the lock. “I… I don’t know. I thought we would.”

“We don’t even have a band anymore.”

“How can you say that? The rest of us are still here!”

“Is Shinya still onboard?”

Kyo’s frown deepened at the mention of the drummer. He was quiet and hard to read; it was difficult to say whether he would want to remain with the band after Kisaki’s departure or not. He wanted to assume that he would. He had always felt deeply bonded to Shinya and hated the very idea of losing him as a bandmate. “I haven’t talked to him either.”

“How did you think he seemed?” Toshiya said. “I couldn’t really get a good read on him, but you guys are closer.”

Kyo came into his apartment, flicking the light on and locking the deadbolt behind him. “I wasn’t really focused on him though, with everything going on.” He tossed his keys on the table by the door and toed off his shoes, leaving them in the genkan. “He didn’t seem… emotional, one way or the other.”

“Do you think he’ll leave?”

“If he does, I’m blaming it 100% on you,” Kyo said. “If you didn’t fuck with him so much…”

“Oh, please, don’t act like you’re so innocent,” Toshiya said. “I can’t help that he’s an easy target for poking fun at! I don’t think he really minds. I mean, if he ever said it really bothered him, I’d stop. He gets that, right?”

“I dunno,” Kyo said. As he stepped more fully into his apartment he thought he heard… something. Had he left the TV on while he was out?

“Shit, I’m gonna feel awful if he leaves the band now,” Toshiya said. “Should I call him? Maybe I should call.”

“Yeah, maybe you should just go ahead and call,” Kyo said distractedly. His TV was off, but there was definitely music playing. Where was it coming from?

“…You okay?” Toshiya asked.

“Yeah, no, I’m fine,” Kyo said. “I’ll see you tomorrow—or if rehearsal’s canceled… Well, I’ll talk to you either way.”

“Okay.”

“Work on those bass lines,” Kyo added. “Just in case.”

“I will,” Toshiya said with a laugh. “G’night.”

Kyo said goodbye and ended the call, dropping his phone on the arm of the couch. He looked around for the source of the music. It wasn’t his laptop. It wasn’t anything familiar at all, and honestly, his apartment was small enough that there wasn’t anywhere it could be coming from.

He closed his eyes, listening more intently. It was beautiful, gentle strains of acoustic guitar, and Kyo wondered if one of his neighbors was a musician and he’d just never noticed, but he pushed the idea aside. It was too close. There was no chance that it was coming from next door, even with the relatively thin walls of the building.

His last guess was that it could be coming from somewhere outside, if maybe he’d left a window cracked open, and he started towards the sliding door leading to his pathetic excuse for a balcony, and wrenched back the curtains.

For a split second he was sure he saw someone—there was definitely a shadowy long-haired figure, guitar and all, perched on the little wall around his balcony—but as soon as he got the door open there was no one there at all.

Kyo took a few steps out, even leaning over the railing and looking down at the street below. The music had ceased as well, and he felt as though he’d lost his mind.

Shaking his head, Kyo turned and headed back inside. Maybe he just had thoughts of guitars weighing too heavily upon him.

Chapter Text

Kyo jerked awake at the sound of his phone vibrating, but as he felt blindly around, he couldn’t find it anywhere. He ended up picking himself up off the couch where he’d fallen asleep the night before and shaking out blankets, unable to find where the sound was coming from, much in the way he had looked for the source of the mysterious music just twelve hours earlier.

He finally found it wedged between the couch cushions and answered it just before it would have gone to voicemail (that seemed to keep happening to him).

“H’lo?”

“Did I wake you?” It actually was Kaoru this time, his voice reassuring in its patience, even though Kyo knew there must be a great deal of stress and frustration buried under that front.

“Uhh, yeah, kind of, but it’s fine.” Kyo let himself fall back onto the couch and scratched at the back of his head, mussing his sleep-disheveled hair even more. “Expected you to call yesterday.”

“Hmm. I wanted to work a few things out before calling,” Kaoru said. “We have a problem with the band.”

“You mean it being dead?”

There was a pause before Kaoru said, “Please don’t say that.”

“What would you like me to say instead?”

“We’re… reconfiguring our lineup.”

“Is that phrase one of the things you wanted to work out before calling?” Kyo asked.

“The main concern is our upcoming live,” Kaoru said.

“I know. And we don’t have a bassist.” Kyo leaned his head back against the couch. “Or maybe we don’t have a rhythm guitarist.”

“Wait, what?” A sliver of panic could be heard through a crack in Kaoru’s calm. “You’ve talked to Toshiya. Are you saying he…? What are you saying?”

“No, Toshiya’s not going anywhere,” Kyo said quickly.

“Because if it came down to that, I mean, we could try… apologizing… to Kisaki…”

“That is not going to fucking happen, and you know it.”

“No, god, you’d have to pay me more than my life is worth to apologize to that dickbag,” Kaoru said.

“I figured,” Kyo said. “But Toshiya said he can take over bass.”

There was another pause. For how much Kaoru generally liked to have the conversation planned out from his end, it was clear that this one was throwing him again and again. “Then we don’t need… to find a new bassist?”

“That’s what Toshiya is saying,” Kyo said. “But that still leaves us with the problem of finding a new rhythm guitarist.”

“I can handle most of that,” Kaoru said dismissively.

“When I tried to say that, Toshiya took great offense,” Kyo said.

“Hmm…”

Kyo waited for him to say more, but he didn’t. “So. Are we still having rehearsal today?”

“Hm? Why wouldn’t we?”

“I just wasn’t sure if we were even still—”

“We need the rehearsal now more than ever,” Kaoru said. “In fact, would you be able to meet half an hour early? We won’t have access to the rehearsal space, but we could go over some of the changes that will need to be made, talk through them…”

Kyo glanced at the clock on the wall before answering, “Yeah, that’s no problem. One more thing, Kaoru, have you talked to Shinya?”

“You haven’t?”

Kyo winced. After talking to Toshiya the night before, Kyo had really done little else besides writing out a few of his feelings and then passing out on the couch. He hadn’t even changed out of his clothes. “I was going to talk to you first,” he said.

“Well, I spoke to him last night. He’ll be at rehearsal today. I’ll see you there.”

“Right, okay,” Kyo said, somewhat reassured. “See you.” He hung up and breathed out a sigh of relief. He hadn’t really been worried that Shinya would leave the band, and yet hearing that he would definitely be at rehearsal was still comforting.

Thankful that he didn’t have to be back at his day job until the following day, Kyo dragged himself up from the couch and went through the motions of gathering up something to wear before slumping into the shower. Normally he would have preferred to take a bath, but he had utterly failed in the time management department the previous night and he was just going to have to pay for it now by getting ready in a bit of a hurry.

Half an hour later he was about to head out the door when he ran back and grabbed his lyrics notebook from where he’d left it on the floor in front of the couch. He was still confident that Kaoru would be bringing in music he’d want them to master, and he figured there might be something he could transfer over out of what he’d scribbled down before falling asleep.

He was distracted enough wondering how their songwriting process as a band would change without Kisaki there that he hardly noticed the soft sounds of a guitar playing, beginning just as he closed and locked his front door.

 

Kyo arrived at the rehearsal space early, but more significantly, he arrived before Kaoru. He wasn’t sure such a thing had ever happened before, and was just in the process of taking an artsy selfie to commemorate the occasion when Shinya showed up, giving him a very judgmental look.

Even being judged, Kyo couldn’t pretend he wasn’t happy to see him. “Shinya! We both beat Kaoru here, what do you think of that?”

“Is that what your photoshoot there is about?” Shinya said, nodding towards the phone in Kyo’s hand.

“Naturally.”

“Shall we take one together?” Shinya held out his hand.

Kyo hesitated. Shinya was good at the whole social human thing. His Instagram was an ocean of photos of him with various friends and acquaintances, and he always looked like he’d walked off a runway, or possibly the set of some high-budget fantasy film. Kyo preferred to stay out of pictures with other people, or to exist safely hidden behind a face mask. He was awkward around people he didn’t know well. Honestly he was awkward around people he did know well, too, but they were more tolerant.

Shinya rolled his eyes and pulled out his own phone, snapping an attractive photo of himself and posting it right then and there, with a cute caption about how Kyo had been there too but was wearing too much camouflage to be seen in the picture. Kyo watched as it got sixteen new “likes” just in the few minutes they were sitting there.

Truly, Shinya was probably responsible for the majority of the gigs that their band managed to score, just due to his knack for social networking. If he really did leave because of this whole thing with Kisaki, that would be the end for them, Kyo was sure.

The two of them found a little table outside the coffee shop that was on the ground floor of the studio building and sat down to wait for the rest of the band, or what was left of it. Shinya spent another minute or two looking at his phone before Kyo tried to talk to him.

“How are you doing?” he asked, knowing it didn’t come out sounding half as casual as he meant for it to.

“I think I’m doing better than the rest of you,” Shinya said. “If you’re worried that Kisaki leaving is going to make me leave, you have it backwards. I’ve just been waiting for us to get rid of him.”

“Did you have someone in mind to replace him?” Kyo wondered. He never stopped being amused by the ways in which Shinya, despite his quiet and angelic demeanor, was more pragmatic and callous than the rest of them at times.

“Toshiya’s a better bassist,” Shinya said simply. “I’ve been keeping my ears open for another guitarist, but I haven’t heard of anyone we might recruit.”

The wording struck a chord in Kyo, calling up the memory of the mysterious guitar-playing he’d heard the night before and he sought to explain it to Shinya. “I actually thought I heard someone last night.”

“You thought you heard them?”

“Well, I can’t be sure where it was coming from,” Kyo said, frowning. “It seemed like it was just outside my apartment, but when I looked, there was no one there. It was beautiful though…”

“You’re sure you didn’t dream it?” Shinya looked skeptical. “You’ve probably had a lot on your mind.”

“No, I… I’m sure I was awake,” Kyo said, although he doubted it more even as he said it. He had fallen asleep early, and his dreams had been strange, restless things. He’d had the unsettling sense that he was being watched, though there was nothing fully formed enough to have a proper memory of once he woke up.

“Maybe it was someone in your building then, and you can find them later,” Shinya suggested.

Toshiya and Kaoru arrived just then, together, and Kyo forgot the matter quickly.

“Sorry I’m late,” Kaoru said, barely glancing at them before he set his things down and pulled out a chair at the table.

“You’re technically not,” Kyo said. “It’s still five minutes till we were supposed to meet.”

Kaoru ignored him. “Toshiya and I have been going over everything, and I think it will work fine for him to take over on bass. Kisaki certainly wasn’t doing anything Toshiya can’t pick up easily enough.”

“That means a lot coming from you,” Toshiya said, and thought he said it in a joking tone, there was actually something to his words. While none of them exactly doubted that Kaoru respected their musicianship, it was rare for him to put his appreciation to words, even in such a small way, and Kyo was sure Toshiya really did think it meant a lot.

Kaoru spread his sheet music out on the table and spent the next twenty-odd minutes going through it, putting off to the side the handful of more Kisaki-centric tunes from his folder and marking up the others, noting where he would be taking over solos and circling whole sections that he wasn’t sure how to re-work yet. Toshiya had clearly already discussed many of the changes with him before they arrived, and the rest of the band contributed where they could, but there was only so much they could suggest when it came to matters of guitar, and Kyo found himself feeling a bit useless as Kaoru went through page after page, barely looking up from his work.

At length, Kaoru started stacking everything up again, putting his pencil aside with a sigh. “That should cover just about everything.”

Toshiya made some small sound of disagreement in the back of his throat, but it wasn’t small enough that anyone could ignore it, and they turned to look at him. “It’s a temporary fix at best,” he said.

“From here on out we can make sure new works don’t have parts in them for extra band members,” Kaoru said, some of the strain of the events since yesterday showing around his eyes, and creeping into his voice, “But if you want to play most of what we have already, this will have to do.”

Toshiya looked for a moment like he wanted to argue more, but he kept his lips pressed firmly together. It was surprising that he’d spoken out as much as he had; he wasn’t usually one to pick fights.

As they gathered their things to go into the rehearsal space, Kyo walked alongside Toshiya, eyeing him nervously. Was yesterday only the beginning? Would they all start being at one another’s throats now, tearing the group apart?

“What’s the problem?” he asked, his voice pitched low enough for Kaoru not to hear.

Toshiya gave a small, irritated shake of his head. “He’s being stubborn.”

“And this is surprising?”

“No, it’s just unhelpful,” Toshiya said. “There’s no way he can cover as much of the guitar parts as he’s claiming to be able to. He’s going to exhaust himself and it’s still going to end up sounding like we’ve got gaping holes in stuff. If he wants us to retain any of the sound we’ve had in the past, we need another guitarist.”

“Why don’t you tell him that?” Kyo asked.

“You think I didn’t?” Toshiya half-laughed. “That’s why we were running so late. I tried to tell him I thought it would be best for us to scope out other local groups and see if we could find anyone who was looking to move on from where they are, and he got so defensive, saying he could handle it, and it wasn’t necessary. I’m still going to be on the lookout for someone we could bring in, even if Kaoru’s not able to be part of that search.”

Kyo nodded solemnly. “Shinya said something similar. I’ll look, too,” he assured Toshiya.

The rehearsal itself was not as smooth as they were used to. There was less bickering, since Kaoru didn’t have anyone trying to battle him for leadership, but it was all stops and starts, running back and taking things again, even on songs that they used to be able to to play with their eyes closed. It was clear that Kaoru could not possibly take on everything he was trying to, and yet he was unwilling to back down from his stance on the matter, leaving everyone else patiently waiting as he worked himself into a fit of frustration.

“Let’s take ten,” Kaoru growled, putting his guitar on its stand and already fishing out his carton of cigarettes on his way out of the room. No one really felt like approaching him in his sensitive emotional state, so they stayed behind.

“We don’t have time,” Shinya said, still settled behind his drum set. “Maybe if we had another month, I would think Kaoru could get it to where it sounded all right, but it doesn’t matter how talented he is; he can’t play two guitar parts at once.”

“You try telling him that, then,” Toshiya said. “You know what he’s like.”

“All I can do is threaten him with my own lack of cooperation,” Shinya said. “I’m fairly sure we don’t have time for that, either.”

Kyo cracked open a water bottle and took a sip. “We already know what we need to do. We need to find a new member for the band. Are you sure you guys don’t know anyone? Toshiya, what about from your old group?”

Toshiya shook his head. “The guitarist from my old group was an asshole; I don’t think we want to try and wedge him in here.”

“I know a couple people,” Shinya said. “But they’re used to doubling as vocalists, and I’m not sure they would take kindly to being relegated to rhythm guitar only.”

Kyo sighed. “Let’s make a deadline for ourselves. We need to find someone new no later than Saturday, or else we need to totally reevaluate our setlist before it’s too late. We’re probably going to have to do some more active searching than just keeping our eyes and ears open at this point.”

Toshiya’s fingers played around the edge of a sticker on his bass. “I don’t want Kaoru to feel like we’re going behind his back.”

“He’ll thank us when we still have a band at the end of this,” Shinya said.

Just then the door opened and Kaoru came in, looking around at all of them. “No one else came out for a smoke.”

“I quit,” Kyo reminded him.

“I’m trying to quit, too,” Toshiya said.

“Guess it’s just me, now.” Kaoru looked sort of awkward about it, scratching at a spot behind his ear before he shrugged and went to retrieve his guitar. He didn’t ask anyone else if they were ready before he announced where they were starting and told Shinya to bring them back in.

The rest of the rehearsal wasn’t much better than the first half. Sure, there was progress, and one or two songs seemed like maybe they could be starting to come together, but given their time limitations, Kyo was not at all optimistic, and actually went home at the end of the evening feeling even more discouraged than he had the day before.

It wasn’t until he was walking along the corridor of his building that he remembered Shinya’s suggestion that there might be a guitarist in Kyo’s building that he could try to get his hands on. He paused in the hall, listening, but even the usual voices from the apartments on either side of his own seemed quiet, and he gave up, finishing the walk to his door in frustrated silence.

There was nothing to be done, he thought, as he came inside and took off his shoes before heading to the kitchen. Even with all of them looking, there was no guarantee that they could find someone by Saturday; they might have to just do their best with Kaoru and try to help him in any way they could, and if they blew the upcoming gig… Well, that would just have to be something they moved forward from. He rummaged through the fridge and pulled out some leftovers that looked safe to eat. He put them in the microwave to heat up and crossed his small apartment to the bathroom, stripping off his jacket and shirt as he walked. He started filling the bathtub, making sure the temperature was right before he came back out and left the rest of his clothes in the hamper in the corner of his bedroom.

Before Kisaki had taken off, it had really seemed like they were on the cusp of something. Like the greatness for which they were destined might be just around the corner, like this upcoming live could be a real turning point for them. Kyo wondered if all that was magnified by the way in which it all now seemed hopeless. Some part of him still couldn’t help but wonder if they might be able to get Kisaki to come back just for this one last performance. It wouldn’t ever happen, but he couldn’t seem to keep his mind from coming back to that.

The microwave beeped and Kyo snatched up some chopsticks on his way back through the kitchen as he went to take it out.

It was his own fault, to a degree. Like Shinya had said, many of the other guitarists doubled as vocalist, and if he was truly pulling his own weight, Kyo could pick up whatever guitar parts were missing. Instead he was just there taking up space, keeping the other band members from getting a new guitarist because they would have to replace him. He set down his dinner on the edge of his dresser, and stepped into the bathroom once more.

Switching the faucet over to shower instead of filling the tub, he settled under the stream and washed quickly, scrubbing over tattooed skin and rinsing shampoo from his hair. Once all the suds had gone down the drain, he wasted no time in shutting off the water, and took his leftovers with him as he climbed into the still-full bathtub with a hiss and a sigh.

He leaned back, closing his eyes and trying to let the hot water relax him. He hated the thought of being a burden to his bandmates. They had, over time, become like his family, and he never wanted to be the variable that kept them from success. If Shinya really thought they might be able to get one of those singing guitarists for the group, they should try, and Kyo would be willing to step down. He could sacrifice himself for the good of everyone.

Kyo lingered in the bath for a long while after he’d finished his dinner and set the empty container aside, thinking and not thinking, eyes closed. When he heard the smooth and elegant sounds of a guitar playing, it took him a few minutes to realize it wasn’t just that he’d left music on in the other room. It was the same as he’d heard the night before, and his eyes snapped open as he thought he might have another chance to find whoever was playing.

He leapt out of the tub, taking a good amount of the bath water with him, and barely bothered drying off before he wrapped his towel around his hips and went, dripping, out into his apartment. The music was louder than it had been before, as Kyo crossed his bedroom and went to the genkan, opening his front door and poking his head out into the hall. It wasn’t coming from out there.

He closed the door and just as he turned back to his apartment he saw him—sitting perched on the back of the couch, plain as day, an acoustic guitar in his lap, playing with absolutely zero concern for what was going on around him. For a second Kyo stood frozen just staring at the stranger—long-limbed and beautiful, his brow furrowed as he concentrated on the music he was making—lost as to how he could possibly confront someone who had broken into his apartment, what, just to rehearse?

Shaking his head to clear it, Kyo squared his shoulders and marched into the living room. “Hey!”

The stranger didn’t react at all.

Kyo scowled and pushed his wet hair back from his face before trying again, even more angrily. “I said, HEY.”

At that, the man’s eyes flicked up, and then went wide as he saw Kyo glaring at him.

“Yeah, who the fuck did you think I was talking to?” Kyo said.

The stranger’s hands stilled on his guitar and he got gracefully up from the couch, though he didn’t speak.

“You wanna tell me just what the hell you’re doing in my apartment?” Kyo crossed his arms over his chest, trying not to feel intimidated despite the fact that this guy had easily a good fifteen centimeters on him in height, and Kyo was naked save for the towel around his hips.

Dark eyes moved over Kyo, seeming almost curious, and then, “You… can see me?”

Kyo blinked at him. “You’re standing right there.”

“You heard me playing,” the stranger said quietly.

“Of course I did!” Kyo said, gesturing to the guitar incredulously. “You’re in my fucking apartment! It’s not a big place, in case you hadn’t noticed. What, did you think I’m deaf and blind or something?”

The man shook his head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… I… didn’t think you could see me.”

“Looks like you left your invisibility cloak at home, buddy,” Kyo said. He was starting to think this guy might be mentally unstable and it might not have been wise to confront him without calling anyone for backup, but still he asked, “Why would you think I wouldn't see you?”

The stranger narrowed his eyes, looking distrustfully at Kyo for a long moment. Finally he shrugged. “Because I’m dead.”

Chapter Text

Kyo only stared at him for a moment before saying, “Um. Obviously you’re not.”

“I am, I swear!”

“Prove it.”

The stranger looked down at himself for a moment and then sighed. “How do you want me to prove it?”

Kyo shrugged. “Do something only someone who’s dead can do.”

The man pushed some hair back behind his ear and then looked at his hand, very focused. He brought it slowly down to the back of the couch. And stopped. Frowning, he pushed his fingertips against the upholstery, but if there was something he meant to have happen, it wasn’t happening. “I… it’s not always something I have… a great amount of control over.”

“What isn’t?”

“My corporeal… form?” He closed his eyes, concentrating again, and then suddenly his hand was moving through the back of the couch. “Aha! See??”

“What the fuck.”

“I told you, I’m dead!”

Kyo looked from the hand with a couch through it back up to the apparently-dead guy’s face. “So… you’re a ghost.”

“I guess you’d call it that.”

Kyo shook his head. He wasn’t sure he was willing to believe this just yet, but he wanted more information either way. “Who are you? And dead or alive, what are you doing in here?”

“My name is Die.”

“Like Daisuke…?”

“Spelled D-I-E.”

Kyo snorted. “Is that supposed to be a joke? Something to go with your ghost persona?”

“It’s supposed to be a stage name,” Die replied icily. “I wasn’t planning on actually dying back when I first started going by it.”

Kyo eyed the guitar that he still seemed to be holding. He supposed if this guy was really a ghost—not that he was buying that necessarily—the guitar must have come with him from his ghost dimension because he didn’t seem to have any trouble holding it, even when he’d made his other hand all non-corporeal. “So you had a stage name for your guitar-playing?”

Die nodded.

Kyo sucked on his tongue for a moment and then said, “You’re good.”

Die raised an eyebrow.

“The guitar. You sound good.” Kyo relaxed his posture a little bit, starting to feel more confident that this intruder wasn’t going to do him any bodily harm. “That’s why I was looking for you; I heard you playing last night, too.”

Die looked surprised. “You did?”

“Wasn’t that you? On my balcony.” Kyo nodded towards the sliding door.

“It was.” Die’s gaze wandered, and Kyo could see him getting lost in thought.

“What’s wrong?”

“Have you ever heard me playing before then?”

“Before last night?” Kyo shook his head. “That was the first time I’ve heard anything like that. I thought I was imagining it.” He gave Die a look. “Considering you just told me you’re dead, I might still be imagining it.”

“No one has ever heard me playing, or seen me, since… for as long as I’ve been dead,” Die said. He moved his left hand, now slightly translucent, up to rub nervously at his collarbone.

“And how long has that been?” Kyo asked. He looked Die up and down, but his clothing didn’t seem to indicate any particular time period outside of the present day. He was well-dressed, in form-fitting jeans and a long t-shirt, a leather jacket over it all. For the second time, Kyo was struck by how attractive he was.

“I’m not actually sure how long it’s been,” Die admitted, looking uncomfortable. “What’s the date now?”

Kyo told him, and watched a curious, sad smile cross his face.

“That must be it then,” Die said, more to himself than to Kyo.

Somehow it didn’t feel right to pry into what exactly he meant by that, so Kyo let it go for the moment and tried to redirect them to the other question he hadn’t gotten answered yet. “You’re in my apartment. As a ghost, does that mean you’re, what, tethered here? Did you die in this apartment?” Kyo looked around, wondering whether that was all something he’d overlooked when he’d filled out paperwork for the place years ago.

“No,” Die said. “I didn’t die here. I lived here. I guess I just came back here because... it feels like home.”

Kyo opened his mouth to ask just how exactly Die had gotten himself killed anyway, but thought better of it at the last second, and just pursed his lips thoughtfully instead. “Hmm.” He looked around the living room again, let himself try to imagine what it might have looked like when this stranger was living there before him. “Guess it feels like home to me, too.”

“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” Die said.

Kyo waved a hand. “You didn’t really. I mean, you did—I found it highly disturbing to have some guy sitting uninvited in my living room jammin’ on the guitar, and only more so once he started talking about being dead—but I guess I’m over it now.”

Die quirked an eyebrow again. “That’s… surprisingly chill of you.”

“How long have you been playing?” Kyo asked as he crossed to the tiny kitchen to pull a water bottle out of his fridge.

“Time is a little bit tricky for me, conceptually,” Die said. “I’ve played guitar most of my life. And after.”

Kyo jerked a thumb towards the fridge. “Did you want anything?”

“No, thank you,” Die said. “I don’t eat. Or drink. Well, not anymore.”

“Used to be a big drinker, eh?”

“Alcohol was one of my biggest enemies in life,” Die said, almost fondly.

“You had a number of enemies?”

“No, no,” Die said. “All things considered, I… was pretty well-liked. I mean, as far as I know. It’s a strange thing to look back on.”

“Did you get to go to your own funeral?” Kyo asked, cracking his water bottle open. “I always kind of wished I’d get to do that.”

“To see what people really thought of you?”

Kyo shrugged. “More just to freak people out. I don’t think I’d want to know what people say about me after I’m dead. I don’t even really want to know what they think of me when I’m alive.”

Die laughed at that, and the sound startled Kyo. It was a foreign sound in his lonely apartment and seemed too light to have come from a dead—undead?—being.

“To answer your question,” Die said, "No. I didn’t attend my funeral. I’m not usually able to travel around this… realm so much.” He made a face. “Trust me, I know how weird that sounds.”

“It’s good that you’re self-aware,” Kyo said. He walked past Die, was about to sit on the couch, when he realized he still wasn’t dressed. “Oh, um. I’m gonna put on some clothes.”

“Oh, sure,” Die said, visibly embarrassed. He looked away.

“If you don’t have free rein of the realm or whatever,” Kyo said, raising his voice as he continued speaking on his way to the bathroom, “Does that mean you’ve been, what, here? All the time, without me ever noticing?” He pulled on a pair of sweatpants, and a t-shirt. Normally he didn’t bother wearing one to bed, but since he had company…

It took a moment for Die to respond. “Not all the time. Like I said, the passage of time is hard for me, but I haven’t been… aware of you. Certainly not for years.”

Kyo came back into the living room. Die looked soft and vulnerable, his fingers playing absently over his lower lip as he stared into space. Or maybe, Kyo supposed, he really could see something there, in another realm. Like a cat.

“So where have you been, if not here, and not at your funeral?” Kyo asked. He was aware that it might be kind of a personal question, and prepared himself for the possibility that Die wouldn’t want to answer.

“It’s… hard to describe,” Die said vaguely.

Kyo nodded, deciding not to press the issue. He took another drink from his water bottle. “But you’ll be… staying, now?”

Die looked over at him. “Oh. Um. No, I guess… I wouldn’t impose on you like that.”

Kyo shrugged. “Honestly? I don’t really care. Long as you more or less stay out of my way.”

Die blinked. “You wouldn’t mind a dead guy hanging around your apartment?”

Not one that looks like you. “Nah,” Kyo said, rubbing at his hair. “I mean, it’s not like you’re a really creepy one.” He frowned. “Sorry, I hope that’s not somehow offensive for me to say.”

“It’s not,” Die said. “I’m just… surprised.”

“Yeah, well,” Kyo said. “I don’t see the point in trying to get rid of you. I don’t mind your guitar-playing, either.”

“Of course I can try to make myself scarce, anytime you need me to,” Die said. “I mean, I don’t know exactly how to do that, but I’ll work on it. You deserve your privacy, too.”

“I appreciate that,” Kyo said. He was about ready to turn in by now, and was going to say so, but Die was making a peculiar face, so he waited to see what he was thinking.

“I’m… You’re sure I’m not imposing?” Die said. “I don’t want to make things awkward for you, if you, you know, have your girlfriend over, and want to be alone.”

Kyo scoffed loudly, not bothering to hide his amusement that that would be what Die was worried about. “I definitely don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Any girl you’d want to bring home then—”

“Not gonna happen,” Kyo said. He didn’t feel the need to go more in-depth than that. “I’m really hardly ever home anyway, between work and everything else. I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”

“Still,” Die said. “I’ll try to keep my visits… brief.”

“Yeah, you just do your best. If there’s an issue, I’m not shy about bringing it up,” Kyo assured him.

Die finally smiled, the softness of it fitting his face better than Kyo expected. “Thanks.”

“And with that settled, I’m going to head for bed,” Kyo said, stretching his arms over his head. “If you… need anything…?”

“I won’t wake you,” Die said. “But, um, would it bother you if I played a while longer? I don’t have to…” He pulled his guitar back into his lap, eyebrows tilted hopefully.

“No, I don’t mind at all,” Kyo said. “I like your playing.”

Die smiled again, wider this time, his teeth showing, all perfect and even, straight across. Kyo rather liked it. He hoped it was a smile he would see more often.

“Goodnight—Wait,” Die said, stopping Kyo from leaving the room. “I… never got your name.”

“Oh. It’s Kyo.”

“Kyo.” Die nodded. “Then, goodnight, Kyo. Sleep well.”

“Do you sleep?” Kyo cocked his head, peering at Die.

“Not as such.”

“I’m sorry,” Kyo said. “Enjoy your night then. I hope my snoring isn’t too bothersome.”

“I doubt that I’ll be troubled by it.”

“And by the way,” Kyo said, “if I’m asking too much nosy shit, just tell me. I’ve never… You’re my first ghost. I know I’m not always the most sensitive to people’s comfort, so just tell me to fuck off if I get too personal, all right?”

“I’ll do that,” Die said.

“Good. Okay.” Kyo looked around the living room. “I’ll leave the light on for you?”

“Thanks. I’ll turn it off in a bit.”

Kyo nodded. It was kind of like having any other guest. In a surreal and impossible kind of way.

He bade Die goodnight once more and went into his bedroom. He could hear the first notes of the guitar playing again before he even lay down.

He let the gentle sound of it lull him to sleep. Maybe it was a skewed way to look at it, but he found he felt safer with Die there, knowing there was someone else in the apartment—even a spirit. Distantly he wondered whether he would wake in the morning to find the whole encounter had been a dream.

If so, it was one worth writing about, and he carried that inspiration into restfulness.

Chapter Text

The apartment was empty when Kyo awoke. Nothing was out of place, nothing left behind; there was no sign that someone else had been there at all.

No sign, except for Kyo’s vivid memories of the evening.

He spent the entirety of his travel time to work trying to pick through the details recorded in his thoughts for evidence of reality. He was sure he’d heard the guitar more than one night in a row. Die was an explanation for that, if nothing else.

Still, the whole thing sounded a bit far-fetched, even to his own mind, and he’d been there for it. He couldn’t bring it up to anyone else.

The work day passed in a distracted blur. People came to the museum’s front desk, spoke to him, left again, but Kyo hardly noticed them. He couldn’t get the ghost in his apartment out of his head, kept seeing his hands on his guitar, his smile so warm and open—Would he be there when Kyo came home that night? He almost wanted to sneak out early, to rush back to his place just to see if the spirit—if Die— was there.

But another part of him was afraid. Another part of him was all knotted up with the possibility that he really had seen Die only in his dreams, that if he hurried home, he’d have to face that fact that much sooner, accept that there was no such thing as ghosts, and that no one like Die had ever existed outside Kyo’s imagination.

Fortunately, he was able to put off that reality check a while longer, since he had band practice after work.

He walked into the rehearsal studio with his cup of coffee, mumbling his greetings to his bandmates, who were too busy having a conversation of their own to really notice anyway.

“It’s not feasible,” Shinya was saying. “We don’t have money to hire a guitarist.”

“I’m not saying long-term,” Toshiya replied. “But for this gig? We’re running out of time, and if we could offer some compensation, it might raise our chances of finding someone.”

“A support member,” Kaoru said thoughtfully. “Did you have someone in mind?”

“Well, no, not someone specific,” Toshiya admitted. “But it still might be our best bet. I mean, did anyone else have any leads?”

Proverbial crickets echoed in the answering silence.

Then Kyo had a terrible idea.

“I… might,” he said.

Everyone turned to look at him, but he couldn’t meet their eyes.

“You found us a potential new guitarist?” Shinya said.

“That’s a hard maybe,” Kyo said. “I haven’t, um, asked, or anything.” And I’m not 100% sure I didn’t hallucinate him.

“Well, you’d better get on with it!” Toshiya said.

“I will,” Kyo said. “I’ll… figure it out. And come back with—something, Thursday. An answer.”

“Worst case scenario,” Kaoru said, “We can muddle through with a single guitarist. It’s not unheard of, by any means. I think I could handle it, with enough preparation.”

“Which is exactly what we don’t have,” Toshiya said, exasperated. He turned to Kyo. “Ask.”

They rehearsed, and in ways they sounded better and more unified than ever. At the same time, it was painfully obvious that a whole instrument was missing, and all their arrangements still had gaping holes in them, no matter what Kaoru might have been trying to do to mask that fact.

By the end of the night’s practice, everyone was uneasy, both discouraged and more confident than usual.

“You really found someone you think could handle the guitar parts?” Toshiya asked a bit eagerly, as they were packing up. “Since yesterday?”

“Like I said, maybe,” Kyo hedged. He didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. “It’s not anything like for sure.”

“Where did you find them? I’ve been running through all my contacts.”

“My apartment,” Kyo said, feeling the urge to swallow around the nervousness gathering in his throat.

“Your building? If that works out, I guess it’d be a pretty big coincidence,” Toshiya said.

“I guess so.”

Was it a coincidence? Die had only just appeared to him. Maybe there was a reason he’d never been visible before, and maybe this was it. Maybe he was fated to be their new band member.

Or else that was why Kyo had dreamed him up.

“Toshiya, do you believe in ghosts?” Kyo asked, hoping it sounded casual.

Toshiya gave him a look, but was otherwise unfazed by the apparent non-sequitur. “You’ve been watching too many horror movies again?”

“Just.. thinking about it,” Kyo said. “An existence after death. Could that be possible?”

Toshiya was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “If you’re really asking my opinion, then yeah, sure. I think we know little enough about it, who’s to say any theory is impossible? I mean, spirits? Sounds wild at first, but not out of the question. They could be gods in some form, or… it’s not uncommon, right? Across countless cultures, people have reported experiences, said they were guided by spirits.”

Kyo nodded. That was true enough. Could this be such a case? Or was the spirit the one who had been guided to him?

“Should I be worried?” Toshiya asked, but some of that usual teasing was gone from his tone.

Kyo looked at him and found a wary gentleness in his eyes. It sparked some kind of guilt in Kyo, and he quickly looked away.

“No, no,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“You’ll talk to me if you need to.”

“I will,” Kyo said. “If there was anything, you’d be the first person I’d come to.”

Toshiya didn’t question him any further, and Kyo went home alone, his guts twisting around themselves as he wondered what, if anything, he would find when he walked in the door. Maybe Die could only appear during certain hours of the night. Maybe he’d be falling asleep and he’d catch the strains of Die’s guitar again.

He hoped he would.

As it happened, he didn’t need to hope for that. His television was on in the living room, and he could hear it as soon as he came into his apartment.

“Hello?” Kyo called as he took off his shoes. “Die? Tadaima…?”

“Okaeri! I’m in here!” Die’s voice called from further into the flat.

Kyo allowed himself a private smile before following the voice into the living room. There was something kind of nice about having someone there waiting when he got home. It had been a while since he’d had that.

“Long day?” Die asked. He was lounging on Kyo’s couch, looking exactly as he had the night before, perhaps a bit more cheerful. His hands were behind his head, and he looked kind of happy to see Kyo, though that could have been Kyo’s projection.

“Not immeasurably so,” Kyo said with a shrug. “I wasn’t sure you’d be here.”

“Did you want me not to be?” Die said worriedly.

“No, I told you, I don’t have a problem with—”

“And you’re allowed to change your mind,” Die cut him off and sat up fully. “At any time. It’s your apartment.”

“It was yours, once.”

“Yeah, I had my chance with it. Now the place is yours and it’s your right to throw me out on my ass.”

“Well, I still won’t,” Kyo said. He had to drag his gaze from the unsettling earnestness in Die’s face. What kind of spirit offered to give up his haunting grounds without a fight, without even an exorcism? Kyo wanted to say he’d never met a ghost like Die, but he knew it was moot, considering he’d never known anyone dead at all.

For the first time since coming in, Kyo’s attention turned to the television. “What are we watching?”

“Oh,” said Die. “It’s that variety show, where the guy is teaching celebrity guests his seduction tactics and stuff.”

Kyo looked at the screen, his mouth scrunched up to one side. The host of the show was demonstrating how to back up a car in the most suave way possible, and the girls in the studio audience were squealing.

“And why exactly is that what we’re watching?” he said.

Die shrugged. “I guess it’s what I flipped to after the music station performance.” He, too, was staring at the TV screen, a wrinkle in his brow like he was trying to understand something particularly difficult. “You know, I remember this show. Not a thing about it has changed since it was on back when I was still alive.”

Kyo still wasn’t sure precisely when that had been. “What do you expect to change about it?”

“Anything,” Die said, flailing one arm slightly. “Even the guy looks exactly the same. Seriously, has he aged at all?”

“Maybe he hasn’t,” Kyo said. “Maybe he’s ageless, like you.” That was a bit of an assumption, that Die didn’t age, but it pretty much seemed like a given that one didn’t grow older after death.

Die raised an eyebrow, interested. “You think so? Think he’s a ghost and that’s how he’s stayed so pretty?”

“Sure!” Kyo said. “Or maybe a vampire, are those real?” He finally came around to join Die in sitting on the couch, and Die scooted to make room for him without being asked. “It’s funny, but finding out ghosts are real, I’m curious what other monsters are more than myth—” He winced. “Fuck, that was insensitive. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you’re a monster.”

Die didn’t appear overly bothered. “I know what I am. They make horror movies about people like me, I get it.”

“I’m really sorry, though,” Kyo said. “And besides, they’ll make horror movies about anything—trust me, I would know.”

“Something of a buff?”

“I just think they’re fun. Horror, sci-fi… I like zombie flicks. Hey, are there zombies?”

“I’ve never personally encountered any,” Die said. “And I’d prefer to keep it that way.”

“Fair,” Kyo said.

“What else do you like?” Die asked. When Kyo just gave him a curious look, he went on, “If you really don’t mind me hanging around, we might end up spending some time together. It seems right I should get to know you.”

“I suppose so,” Kyo said. He leaned back against the arm of the couch, getting comfortable, and pointed at the TV. “For one thing, not this.”

Die looked. The show’s guests were now taking turns attempting the sexy car-backing-up move, but none of them could really pull it off like the host, and the audience was laughing. Die grinned and shut the TV off. “Not a fan, huh?”

Kyo shook his head. “That guy gives me the creeps. He’s just weird.”

“You wouldn’t want to be a guest on his show?” Die teased.

“Hell no!” Kyo said. “I don’t even know how much you’d have to pay me just to get near him.”

Die laughed. “All right, noted.”

Kyo found himself smiling too. Die’s laugh was… It felt good. He closed his eyes, let his head fall back. “What else do I like… I like to draw? I like to sleep, when I can. Mostly I like music.”

For a second it felt like the air around Kyo tingled, and when he opened his eyes Die was looking at him. “What kind of music?”

“Lots of kinds,” Kyo said. He paused before adding, “I liked what you were playing last night.”

If he’d thought it was possible, Kyo would have said that Die blushed, but he was reasonably sure that wasn’t something ghosts could do.

“Yeah?” Die said. “I was just messing around.”

“So you’re a composer?”

“I’m—I was… Sometimes,” Die said. “I enjoyed writing music.”

“Not anymore?”

“I still do,” Die said. “But… no one hears it now.”

“Except me,” Kyo said.

Die looked at him for a long moment, nodded.

“You want to share it with more people,” Kyo said. “You said Die is your stage name; you’re a performer. It must be hard not being able to get out and perform.”

Die tipped his head forward and his long red hair fell in front of his face, almost hiding him from view. “Like a piece of me is missing.”

Kyo pushed his tongue against his teeth, thinking. This was a good lead-in to what he needed to ask. But was it smart? Die was dead. He’d only even known him for one day, and he literally wasn’t alive. What part of that made him a suitable bandmate?

Then again, Kyo had never been one to back out of doing something just because it wasn’t smart.

Can you perform?” Kyo asked.

Die’s eyes narrowed as he lifted his head. “What do you mean?”

“Well, we’ve talked about you not being able to get around this realm easily, but you also said you came here because it felt like home, right?” Kyo said. “Not because you died here. Does that mean you could go somewhere else?”

“I… haven’t spent much time trying,” Die said. His eyebrows were knit together in confusion and discomfort.

“Do you want to try?”

“Where are you going with all this?”

Kyo exhaled. “I’m in a band. We’ve been doing pretty well, getting gigs, going in a good direction—but we lost a band member.”

“That sucks,” Die said.

“He was a dick anyway, we’re not real heartbroken, but,” Kyo said, pausing to make sure he was remembering to breathe again, “we are in pretty desperate need of a guitarist.”

Die blinked at him, once, twice. “Are you—You want me to join… your band?”

“If that’s something you think you’d be interested in.”

“You remember the part where I’m—I’m dead, right? Deceased and all that?”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Kyo said. “But if you’re physically able, and you want to get out and play music again, I don’t see why you shouldn’t do it.” He sat up, leaned his elbows on his knees. “And I’ll be honest, and say it’s mostly me being selfish. We have a live coming up and we’re a guitarist short. My bandmates are on the verge of panicking. When I heard you playing the other night… I thought I was imagining things, that I wanted a guitarist so bad I was hearing one.” He let his eyes focus on Die’s hands. “But you’re… here. You’re real. And maybe you came to me for a reason.”

Die’s hands folded together, one thumb rubbing over the back of the other hand’s knuckles. “Do you really believe in that kind of thing?

Kyo made a face. “Not really. But I’d like to. And until recently I couldn’t say for sure that I believed in ghosts either.”

“And the others?” Die raised an eyebrow. “They’ll be okay with playing alongside someone dearly departed?”

“I mean, I haven’t told them that detail about you,” Kyo admitted, “But they’re pretty chill guys.”

“All right, ignoring for the time being what a ridiculous thing that is to say in this situation, what makes you think I’d actually be a good person to have in your band? I don’t even know what genre of music you play, and you’ve never seen how I am in a group.”

“Are you an asshole?”

“Well, no—”

“A bad musician?”

Die hesitated, like he wanted to be humble. “No, I can’t say that I am.”

“Then it’s fine,” Kyo said. “Anyway, it’s worth trying, right?”

“You…” Die shook his head, laughing.

“Me what?”

“You’re just… really different, from anyone I’ve ever met,” Die said.

“Hm.” Kyo nodded grimly. “I kind of get that a lot.”

“I wonder if they all mean it in the positive way that I do.”

“Doubtful.” Kyo tried to put aside the feeling that accompanied Die praising him, like the air around him was buzzing again. It was hard though, to let go of it completely, when he was all too aware that many people who met him meant he was different in the exact opposite way—thought that he was a freak or an outcast, couldn’t understand why he didn’t act the way they expected him to, and were unwilling to accept that that was just how he was.

How fitting, he thought, that the first person he’d met in years who seemed fine not trying to change him, who wanted to get to know him, was some (presumably) straight guy who’d been dead for years—about as unattainable as it gets.

“It’s late,” Kyo said as he grew more uneasy in the silence that had fallen between them.

“Is it?” Die craned his neck, looking around the living room for a clock.

“For me,” Kyo said. “I’m gonna take a bath and turn in.”

“Oh,” Die said. His eyebrows did a brief something, but Kyo didn’t really know him well enough to interpret it. “Have a good night, then.”

“You, too,” Kyo said, and he stood to head for the bathroom.

That hadn't gone as badly as it could have, he thought as he gathered what he needed to take into the bathroom. He got his shirt off and tried to imagine the rest of the band's happy reactions when he told them he'd found someone. Only—had Die actually agreed to it? Kyo was halfway through unbuttoning his jeans when he came hurrying back out to the living room. “Hey!”

Die was still on the couch, holding a book Kyo recognized from his own shelf. He looked up in surprise, his eyes traveling down Kyo’s body to his unbuttoned pants, then snapping back up to his face. “Hey?”

“You never actually said for sure if you’re down with joining my band,” Kyo said. He half-absent-mindedly hooked his thumb in the waistband of his pants, his breath catching when he saw how the action pulled Die’s attention. He cleared his throat and Die looked at his face again. “So, what should I tell my bandmates?”

“Oh, I, um. I’d thought I made it clear. Yes,” Die said, looking oddly guilty. “It’s insane, because I’m a ghost and I know literally nothing about your band, but you—make me want to say yes.” His eyes widened, like his own words had shocked him, and he averted his eyes. “Yes, let’s tell your band you found a guitarist.”

Kyo grinned. “Great. We’re meeting the day after tomorrow, so I’ll tell them. But if you want, I can wait till the next rehearsal to bring you, so you have more time to prepare.”

“I’ll just be slowing your practice down if I really go in knowing nothing,” Die said.

“Right.” Kyo crossed to where he’d set down his bag near the genkan, uncaring how his jeans slid down his hips another few centimeters as he walked. He took out a binder from the largest zipped pouch and brought it back to Die. “This has stuff for most of the things we’ve been working on lately.” He opened the binder to show Die the couple of discs tucked into the inside pocket, along with chord charts and lyrics. “We’ve got some demos recorded there. I don’t know as much about the guitar parts as some of the other members, but they can advise you better when you meet with them.”

Die took the binder, looked at it very seriously, and gave a small bow. “Thank you.”

“Saturday’s okay for your first rehearsal?”

“I’ll try to free up my schedule,” Die said drily.

“If you can.” Kyo smiled. “All right. Cool.”

“Cool. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”

“Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” Kyo repeated, bowing himself. Then he walked back out of the living room, leaving Die to peruse his music binder.

Kyo finished undressing in the bathroom, thinking about Die the whole time. He hadn’t missed the way that Die had been eyeing his body. That was interesting, and definitely something he wanted to spend some time investigating further. Between that and how embarrassed he’d looked after saying he wanted to join the band, Kyo was starting to suspect his ghostly guest might not be so straight after all.

It was a pointless discovery though, not worth dwelling on. Die being into dudes hardly changed the fact that he was not among the living and was thus unsuitable for Kyo to develop some kind of crush on.

It was hard not to, though.

At least there was still the chance that he’d hate working with him in the band, and it would effectively quell those feelings.

Chapter Text

Kyo made the trek to rehearsal with a thrill of nervous energy thrumming through him. He’d been totally preoccupied all through his work shifts the past two days, his mind bouncing restlessly between thoughts of Die and the band. He was going to break the news to the gang, and though he’d assured Die they were chill, he was a little nervous about how they’d react to the revelation that the guitarist Kyo had recruited was a ghost.

He’d considered not mentioning it at all, but he didn’t foresee that working out in his favor. More likely, there would be some point where Die, having so endearingly little control over his corporeal form, would accidentally go right through something—or someone—and freak everyone the fuck out. It was better, Kyo thought, to give them some warning, let them know that it was a thing.

He just didn’t know how they’d take it.

Toshiya, he figured, would be fine with it. He’d expressed when they talked that he believed in ghosts, and not much seemed to unsettle him. Kaoru would be skeptical. And Shinya…

Kyo could see that going more than one way. On the one hand, Shinya was the most laid back of any of them, but he was also the one Kyo could imagine being uncomfortable. He would have to be careful about how he broached the subject.

Even outside the context of the band, Kyo hadn’t been able to keep Die off his mind. He knew he shouldn’t be thinking about him so much, and certainly not in the manner in which he was, but he felt a strange connection to him, one that he hadn’t felt with anyone in so long, and it only made sense that it was something supernatural.

And maybe it was just him getting too excited because he’d always wanted to meet a ghost, and now it was like his very own personal spirit had fallen into his lap.

Or, he’d like him to fall into his lap.

Right, and that was exactly the kind of thinking he knew he should be doing less of. Die wasn’t interested in him—unless he was, since that was a definite possibility, given some of his reactions that Kyo had been cataloguing. But even if he was! They couldn’t have any kind of real relationship.

For one thing there was the mystery of where Die went when he wasn’t at the apartment. He’d been hanging around Kyo’s home just minding his own business (except when he borrowed books from Kyo’s shelf, but Kyo didn't mind that so much). But what about when he wasn’t there? Did he spend his time in some afterworld—Heaven? Hell? Was Die actually some angel or demon, whiling away his evenings on earth for lack of something better to do?

Kyo didn’t really want to open that can of mental worms, as it included all kinds of questions about religion and god(s) that he didn’t have the energy to consider casually. Maybe Die didn’t have answers for those questions either; he could barely even keep track of time.

That was another reason that he couldn’t be seen as serious dating material. How could Kyo ever count on him to show up to dates and not disappear to some other realm? He couldn’t sleep beside him. And if he was corporeally challenged…

Kyo wondered how it would feel to have Die pass right through his body. He shivered at the thought.

He was about to cross the street when something small lying in the middle of the sidewalk stopped him. He bent to inspect it more closely.

It was a bird; a baby bird, by the looks of it, tiny enough that Kyo could have closed it up in one hand. It was also dead.

Kyo spent longer staring at it than he should have. It was so small, and so perfect. There was no visible damage or injury. Its wings were neatly folded, its minuscule legs tucked under it, its beady black eyes unblinking forevermore. It almost looked fake. He wanted to pick it up, see if it was just a prop, something stuffed and decorative. It was beautiful, and it was dead. Like Die.

Kyo left it where it was and crossed the street when the light changed.

He hadn’t even taken its picture, and part of him regretted that. At the same time he could imagine the conversations that such a photo would spark if he showed it to anyone, all the condescending looks and angled eyebrows, accompanying questions about Kyo’s “fascination with death,” comments that it was “a bit morbid, don’t you think?” He got enough of that shit in response to his lyrics, and wasn’t looking for more.

Kaoru was already there as Kyo entered the rehearsal space, and nodded in greeting before looking back down at the papers in his lap.

Kyo went to set down his things in the corner, then came to where he usually put his music stand, and stood looking at himself in the wall of the room that was all mirrors. He didn’t have anything to put on a music stand, having left his binder at home, in case Die was around and wanted to work on things. It was likely that Kaoru would have something to say about that, but Kyo wasn’t really interested in his thoughts on the matter.

“Kyo, you okay?” Kaoru’s voice got Kyo’s attention sometime later, and he realized he’d been staring into the mirror without moving the entire time.

He was lost in thought, wondering if Die’s reflection showed in a mirror, or if ghosts were like vampires. Could he photograph him? At the very least, he could sketch a drawing of him, if he couldn’t record him another way. But he’d have to do some research.

“I’m fine,” Kyo said. “Just thinking.”

“Toshiya’s running late,” Kaoru said. “He said to start without him.”

Kyo hadn’t even noticed Shinya coming in, but he realized now that he was already there, and already set-up. “Oh,” he said. He’d wanted to talk to the whole band, let them know the update about Die, but he couldn’t say the whole thing, only to have to go through it again once Toshiya showed up. “What should we work on then?”

“I thought we could tighten up ‘Prisoner’ somewhat,” Kaoru said. “The intro especially could use some work.”

Kyo agreed, and they jumped into rehearsal with his nerves still wrenching inside him. When Toshiya arrived, he was frantic to just join in, not wanting to lose any time, and Kyo found himself close to panic, when an hour in he still hadn’t gotten to spill the secret threatening to rip its way out of him.

Finally Kaoru called for a break, but before he could duck outside with his cigarettes, Kyo gave a deliberate cough, loud enough to get everyone’s attention on him.

“What’s up?” Kaoru asked, and his voice was so close to that One, the one that came with soft eyes, with “Maybe you should just calm down,” that Kyo’s jaw tightened in response, and he fought down the urge to snap something back at him.

“I told you I’d find out about that potential guitarist by today,” Kyo said.

“…And?” Toshiya said eagerly.

“I talked to him the other night,” Kyo said. He looked around at them all, their wide-eyed but patient expressions. “He said he’d be willing to try it out.”

“Really!” Toshiya looked ready to jump on Kyo and hug him, but luckily he knew better.

Kaoru pursed his lips. “I told you, we don’t really need another—”

“Oh, shut up, Kao, this is great news!” Toshiya said.

“Am I not enough for you people?” Kaoru muttered.

Toshiya ignored him. “This is the guy from your building, right?”

“You didn’t bring him today?” Shinya asked.

“Yes, but no, we thought he could be more productive if he had some time to prepare,” Kyo said. “He’ll come Saturday.”

Toshiya nodded emphatically. “I can help him out with any of the guitar parts—do you have his phone number?”

Kyo grimaced. He hadn’t expected his lead-in to come so soon. “I don’t… think he has a phone.”

The room went quiet.

“He doesn’t have a cell phone?” Shinya said slowly.

“He… doesn’t have a phone at all,” Kyo said.

Another silence.

“What kind of person doesn’t have a phone?” Kaoru said.

“It’s okay though,” Kyo hurried to say. “I can get in touch with him really easily. He’s kind of always around.”

“Are you sure he didn’t just tell you he doesn’t have a phone?” Toshiya said, but it was a half-step off from the voice he usually joked around in.

“We didn’t really talk about it,” Kyo admitted. “But I don’t think it’s a problem. The important part is that he’s a great guitarist.”

“How long has he been playing?” Shinya asked, clearly trying to be supportive.

“He said his whole—a long while,” Kyo said, and swallowed.

“Give us more info, what’s his name, where’s he from? He’s around our age?” Toshiya was being supportive too, in his more impatient way.

“His name is Die, he’s… local, I guess,” Kyo said. Was he the same age as them? That was a little bit trickier. He looked like he was around their age, but Kyo still wasn’t sure how long he’d been dead. Did that factor into his age? Should he count it by the year Die was born or by how long he’d been alive? “I think he’s close to the same age as us.” His clothing didn’t look old-fashioned or anything, after all.

“There’s something you’re not telling us,” Kaoru said calmly.

Kyo nodded. “There’s something about him that. Is unusual. I felt like I should mention it before you meet him, but I don’t want it to bias you against him somehow.”

“Why would it do that?” Toshiya asked. “He’s not a good guy?”

“He is, as far as I know,” Kyo said. “Or, he was.”

“Was,” Shinya repeated warily.

Kyo took a deep breath. “Right, so the thing about Die is that he’s dead, which sounds like a big problem at first, but I really don’t want you guys to worry about it too much.”

“Kyo…”

“I mean, there is the issue where he seems to struggle with time and space a little bit, so he could be kind of unreliable,” Kyo said, determined to keep talking in spite of the looks he was receiving from his bandmates. “But that’s not the biggest deal in the grand scheme of things, right? The upcoming gig is the main thing to worry about, and I'm pretty sure we could get him to show up for that. I think you'll like him—As soon as I heard him play, I thought he could be the guitarist we’re missing.”

Toshiya held up a hand. “Back up.”

Kyo barreled on, “He’s nice, and funny, and really available, because he’s living in my apartment—well, no, not living, but um, chilling. Haunting? Anyway—”

Kaoru’s hand was suddenly firm on Kyo’s shoulder, and he clamped his mouth shut.

“You’re telling us that the new guitarist you recruited for the band,” Kaoru said, “is dead?”

Kyo swallowed, and nodded.

“Are we talking, like, a zombie?” Toshiya said.

“Not a zombie,” Kyo said. “More like a ghost.”

“Walking through walls and shit?”

“He could, I think,” Kyo said. “Mostly he just hangs around playing his guitar and watching variety shows on my TV.”

“Kyo,” Kaoru said soberly, “You must realize how this sounds.”

“I do,” Kyo said. “But when have I ever lied to you guys? I mean, about something important?”

Kaoru paused, then said, “I don’t suppose you have any proof?”

Kyo frowned. He should have anticipated that that would be something they’d want. But he didn’t know what he could have brought. He related the story of Die putting his hand through the couch.

“He just stuck his hand right through it?” Toshiya said, impressed. “That’s badass.” Kyo knew he’d be the easiest to get onboard.

“How did he die?” Kaoru said. He was still suspicious. “Is he a malevolent spirit? How come he’s in your apartment, but only appearing to you now, years after you moved in?”

Kyo had expected Kaoru’s skepticism as well. He answered honestly, “I don’t know the details of his death. It seems like too personal a question. I’m not sure why he’s appearing now, but he doesn’t seem malevolent at all. Really, I kind of like him.”

Kaoru raised an eyebrow. “You like the ghost haunting your apartment?”

Kyo was starting to get annoyed by everyone repeating the things he said like they were crazy. “Yes, I like him,” he said. “We get along well, or I never would have invited him to join the band.”

“Well, I think it’s great,” Shinya said.

Kyo waited for him to say more. He’d been perhaps most nervous about Shinya’s reaction. He respected and trusted Shinya more than just about anyone, and he knew that he didn’t always go for creepy stuff; maybe asking him to welcome a spirit into his group was taking it too far.

“I know how rare a thing it is for you to like people,” Shinya elaborated. “If you think this guy is going to fit in with us and you want to work with him, I am more than willing to give him a shot, too.”

“Yeah, same here,” Toshiya said. “Plus, I’ve never met a ghost before, so I’m kind of stoked to see what he’s like.”

“You might be disappointed,” Kyo said. “He’s really not all that different from anyone else.”

“He must be something special if he’s got your seal of approval,” Shinya pointed out. “You’re about as picky as they come.”

Kyo turned to Kaoru then. He needed everyone to verbally accept Die before he could actually bring him there, but Kaoru was still just standing there with his arms crossed over his chest, his lips pursed. Kyo knew from experience it could take him a long while to come around to someone else’s idea, even when it didn’t involve supernatural elements.

After an excruciating pause, Kaoru exhaled. “There’s no harm in trying him out.”

Kyo felt that a whole piano’s worth of weight had been lifted off his chest. “I don’t think you’ll regret it.”

“He really doesn’t have a phone though?” Toshiya said. “That sucks.”

“I’m sure I can easily pass along any messages,” Kyo said.

“I guess so…”

Toshiya was clearly already imagining Die as part of their lives, and Kyo was relieved. Kaoru went out to smoke while Toshiya went on a bit about the guitar parts, giving advice for Die that Kyo knew he’d never remember enough to pass along. Maybe he really did need a phone.

Shinya was still being especially quiet, and while that wasn’t out of character for him, Kyo couldn’t help but worry that he wasn’t quite as fine with the situation as he’d claimed to be.

Still, Kyo reasoned that it was harder for any of them to fully understand and accept Die before they’d even had the chance to meet him. Saturday’s rehearsal would change things; they’d all see how right Die was for the band, then.

Chapter Text

Kyo leaned his chin on his hand, his eyes half-lidded as he stared across the empty front hall of the art museum.

No one had come in in the past half hour. It was a dreadfully slow day, and usually that would have made Kyo restless, but as it was, he wasn’t in the mood to deal with people anyway, and found himself somewhat grateful for the quiet.

He’d been brooding the entire shift thus far.

He couldn’t shake the thought that he was really out of his mind for thinking he could rope Die into joining the band. He wasn’t some student of dark magic at a seance; how could he claim to have influence over the dead?

Die didn’t answer to him.

No, Die was his own being with his own rituals, and Kyo couldn’t count on him to be there when he wanted him. Or when he hoped he’d be there.

Die had been conspicuously absent when Kyo had arrived home from rehearsal the night before, and while he knew it shouldn’t bother him, it still did. In such a short time, he’d grown accustomed to Die’s presence, taken comfort in it, and having him vanish without notice felt oddly personal, like he’d left because of something Kyo had done.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been as bad if he’d been there in the morning, but no, Kyo had woken to find his apartment once more still and silent. No soft guitar music lingering in the air.

Kyo doubted. He doubted his own mind. He’d spent all that energy reassuring his bandmates that Die was real, that he’d be a good addition to the group, and now he was ready to claw his own brain open to check for loose wires, something that could explain his invention of a beautiful ghost haunting his home with enchanting music.

The issue was (at least partly) that Kyo wasn’t so much a person of strong faith. He believed in what he could see and touch and feel. He believed in himself, the only thing he was sure he could trust. This entire experience had called that trust into question, made him wonder if it was wisely placed.

He’d just started to trust Die, too, and surely that was an indication of a short somewhere in his mental connectivity, given that he’d only met Die a couple days ago and knew nothing about him. And now he was gone. Had he just up and left? Had Kyo driven him away? Had he ever really been there?

A small family came into the museum then, boots scraping on the mat as they left umbrellas on the rack by the door. Kyo hadn’t even realized it was raining.

The family—mother and two boys who couldn’t yet be out of elementary school—approached the counter, brushing damp hair out of their faces.

Kyo greeted them and asked politely whether they’d been there before. He wasn’t good at using his customer service voice, but he could be polite.

The mother shook her head. “First time,” she said. “My husband—he used to come here often, talked about how much he enjoyed the atmosphere, so we wanted to come see it, too.”

Kyo pushed a small map of the museum across the counter towards her. “This floor is our general exhibit." He pointed to the map. “The third floor is currently displaying the work of architect Masakawa Teruyoshi, including a number of models that might be interesting to you. The second floor houses our amateur gallery as well as our seasonal exhibit; right now it’s a series exploring the theme of ‘Beyond.’” All are open until the museum closes at four pm today, and there’s a workshop on ‘Sculpture in Modern Society’ starting at two o’clock, if you’d like to attend. Admission is free, but we ask that you RSVP so we have an idea of what size group to expect.” The spiel was automatic, came pouring out of Kyo like he was a faucet, and if he wasn’t so used to it, he’d have covered his own mouth with his hands just to stop the flow of words.

The woman smiled. “Thank you for being so helpful,” she said. “We won’t have time for the workshop today, but maybe we’ll come back another time. You have workshops regularly?”

“Wednesdays and Fridays,” Kyo said. He fished a flyer with the season’s scheduled workshops printed at the bottom out of a drawer of his desk. “On a variety of topics. Come back for one that appeals to you. Bring your husband.” He attempted a grin, but she didn’t respond in kind, merely smiling back sadly.

“Dad’s not gonna come back here,” the younger of the two boys said, and his mother put a hand on his shoulder to quiet him.

“Thank you again. You’ve really been lovely.” She took the papers Kyo had offered her, folded them, and tucked them into her purse—black to match the rest of her outfit.

“If you need help or have any questions, feel free to ask me, or another staff member,” Kyo said, and he watched them walk away, the mother clutching one of each of the children’s hands, a bit tightly, Kyo thought, for their age.

They didn’t return to ask anything of Kyo, but he found himself thinking about them nonetheless. They were a welcome distraction from whatever else his brain was feeding him. He wondered about the father; if he’d come in often, had Kyo seen him? Would he dimly recognize him if he saw him again? He hoped the boys were enjoying the models on the architecture floor.

It was just before two when they came back through on their way out. The mother nodded to Kyo at his desk, and Kyo caught a snippet of their conversation—something about flowers—as they reclaimed their umbrellas and went out into the grey afternoon.

It wasn’t until they were gone that Kyo fully put the facts together, and then he felt very stupid indeed for what he’d said to them about bringing the husband when they came to a workshop. He wondered whether the children’s father was a ghost, too, if Kyo would be able to see him, should he feel like visiting the museum that he’d enjoyed during his life. Maybe he could come back and meet up with his family sometime, too.

Or were there rules against that? Die had never spoken much about friends or family that he’d held dear, never mentioned dropping in on any of them for a visit. Perhaps such things were frowned upon.

The remainder of the day passed gloomily, somewhere between quickly and dragging. Kyo didn’t let himself speculate about any of the other museum guests’ lives, as it led him down a dangerous rabbit hole, and he ought to have learned by now to avoid thoughts like that.

Kyo’s mood hadn’t exactly picked up by the time he got home. He was feeling surly and abandoned, and was ready to throw himself a proper pity party, most likely involving large quantities of chocolate and a long soak in the bath, but all of that was interrupted when he came into his apartment and found Die standing there like he was waiting for him.

“You’re here,” Kyo said. He felt kind of silly having been so dramatic about him being gone for a single day, but when he hadn’t expected him to be gone at all, it had felt so much longer.

“How did it go?” Die asked, looking earnest.

“How did what go?”

“Rehearsal!”

Kyo frowned. “I didn’t have rehearsal today. I’m just getting home from work.”

“You didn’t—” Now Die was frowning, too. “I thought you were going to tell the rest of the band about me.”

“That was yesterday!” Kyo said irritably.

“It was?” Die wilted. He looked terribly, honestly confused, and somehow that only frustrated Kyo more.

“Of course it was! I swear, if you can’t keep track of time—”

“I’m—I’m sorry,” Die said, backing up a few steps, right through the sofa. “I told you, it’s difficult for me—”

“Maybe asking you to join the band was a bad idea,” Kyo said. “You’re obviously unreliable, and we can’t have someone flaking out on gigs, coming and going just when he feels like it—”

“I won’t—I don’t mean to—”

“If you’ve got more important things to do, I don’t see why you bother hanging around here at all!” Kyo had backed Die up all the way across the small apartment, so he was now almost cowering against the living room wall, looking paler than Kyo had ever seen him.

“You invited me!” Die said, in a small, miserable voice, and guilt shot through Kyo like lightning. “It wasn’t my idea to join your band, and I offered to leave your apartment. I told you, the concept of time—after—it’s not as linear as it was, and I don’t always know… I’m sorry. What did I miss?”

Kyo looked away from him. He hadn’t meant to yell, to take his feelings out on Die. He knew it wasn’t really his fault, and being dead he’d probably suffered enough, and didn’t need someone chewing him out for simply existing in the way that he did.

“No, I’m sorry,” Kyo said. “You didn’t miss anything important, I just… Sometimes it feels like you’re not… I don’t have proof that you’re real. And it feels like I’m losing my mind.” He looked nervously at Die’s face. The words felt cruel. “It’s hard to know when you’re coming back—if you’re coming back. You might just be a dream. You’re never here when you wake up.”

“I’m not?” The strain was visible in Die’s face, like he was trying to reach something that wasn’t there.

“No, you never are,” Kyo said. Much as he wanted to still be angry and frustrated, he couldn’t go on trying to blame Die. He sighed, leaned his hip against the arm of the couch. “Where do you go?”

“I didn’t know,” Die said. “I really had no idea that I was… Or that you were expecting me to be somewhere. When I’m not here…” He hesitated. “I think I said before, it’s hard to explain. It’s not like a place. The other realm, it’s outside physical space, outside time, it’s more like a… consciousness. That I’m part of.”

Kyo had watched enough sci-fi movies to understand the vibe that Die was describing. “Like some kind of collective hive mind thing?”

“I’m not… aware that there’s anyone else there,” Die said. “Or anyone’s thoughts but my own. But sometimes knowledge is, I guess, imparted to me.”

Kyo tilted his head as an indication for Die to elaborate.

“It’s not like some Shinigami took me by the hand and laid out the rules of the afterlife to me,” Die said. “But there are things that I know, that I inherently understand, from my time spent in the other realm.” His face was slowly starting to regain color and opacity. He put his hands in his pockets and shook his head. “But it’s not like time spent here. I don’t even realize I’m not here anymore. It might be like I close my eyes here, and then I’m formless, between existing and not—and when I think I’ve just blinked—”

“It’s the next day,” Kyo finished for him.

Die nodded grimly. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be,” Kyo said. “But that could be a real problem, if you end up blinking yourself out of existence the day we have a live or something.” He let himself slump onto the couch, and looked up at the ceiling. “Is there some way to call you back?”

There was a pause before Die said, “I don’t know. I’ve never had anyone try.”

Another wave of guilt crested over Kyo. How was it that he was the one asking these questions, trying to find a way to call Die back, call him home. He, who was no one to Die, who knew him purely by chance, who was in a way just interested in using Die to fill a role in his band. Wasn’t that wrong? Shouldn’t it have been Die’s family, friends, lover(s) who had that chance?

If that was even allowed. Kyo thought again of the family at the museum and wondered whether the sci-fi landscape had mentioned anything in the proverbial handbook about visiting loved ones who were still living. He opened his mouth to ask, but stopped himself. For all he knew, Die’s family and friends were long gone, depending on when exactly he’d died. Or he didn’t want to see them. Families could be a touchy enough subject without the extra layers of complication.

But if they had passed on, were they able to reunite in the other realm? Did they join one another’s formless consciousness; were they able to feel one another’s presence?

Even if it wasn’t the kind of reunion people got in the movies, Kyo found the notion comforting.

“You’re not crazy,” Die said, and Kyo looked up at him. “I realize that might not mean a whole lot coming from me. But I want to…” He chewed at his lip, and then crossed to the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” Kyo asked. He turned on the couch to watch the look of concentration on Die’s face as he ripped a small page off the magnetic memo pad on the refrigerator, and snatched up a pen from the counter.

Coming back around the couch, Die knelt at the end table and scribbled something on the note before passing it to Kyo.

“Here,” he said. His hand brushed Kyo’s—solid and tangible, cold but burning, sparking like electricity—and was gone just as fast. “If you ever need evidence, just for yourself, that you’re not losing your mind.”

Kyo read the note, which stated simply, “I’m real. —Die” It made him want to laugh, but at the same time, he did truly appreciate it.

“What, I’m supposed to keep this on me at all times?” he said with a wry smile.

“Hey, what you do with it is up to you,” Die said. “I don’t have much to offer, but I… don’t want you to feel worse, because of me.” He fidgeted with the pen for a few seconds, then it slipped quite literally through his fingers, and clattered to the floor. He looked down at it with a furrowed brow, but rather than try to pick it up he just moved to sit on the other end of the couch. The cushions didn’t shift as he sat down. “I will try to do better. To keep my concentration.”

“I can’t ask for more than that.” Kyo slipped the sticky note into his pocket, and looked over at Die. “If it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out.”

“I… Yes. I would like it to work out, though,” Die said quietly. Then, even more quietly, “So… what did they say?”

“What they?”

“Your rehearsal yesterday,” Die said. “Did you get to mention me to your bandmates?”

“I did,” Kyo said.

“And?”

“They responded… positively,” Kyo said. “Maybe even moreso than I had expected. They trust my judgment, or at least they claim to. We’ll see what they really think tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow.” Die looked around the room. “That’s Saturday?”

Kyo nodded. “I work in the morning, but the museum closes at one o’clock on Saturdays, so I’ll be home early.”

A smile crossed Die’s face for the first time all day. “The museum? You work at a museum?”

“Oh, um, yeah,” Kyo said, feeling embarrassed. He didn’t generally like to call attention to his day job, since he just saw it as something to pay the bills, not something his heart was in.

“What kind of museum is it?” Die asked. “One I’ve been to?”

“I doubt it,” Kyo said. “It just a little modern art museum—almost more of a gallery.”

“That sounds really cool,” Die said, his smile growing wider. “Do you think I could come check it out sometime? If it wouldn’t bother you for me to show up at your work.”

“I don’t care what you do.”

Die snorted. “Not sure how to take that.”

Well, it’s obviously not true, anyway, Kyo thought. Instead of saying it, he changed the subject. “Have you had a chance to listen to the demos from my folder?”

“Oh, yeah!” Die sat up straighter, and his face changed. “But none of them had any vocals…”

“That’s ‘cause it’s mine,” Kyo said. “To work with, add vocals to.”

“Oh,” Die said, and shifted his weightlessness on the couch. “I didn’t realize you were the vocalist.”

Kyo blinked a few times. “I never mentioned it?”

“You’ve really told me very little about yourself.” Die studied him for a moment. “I think I should have guessed it anyway. Nothing else seems to fit.”

“I did try to learn the bass once,” Kyo said, “for about five minutes.”

Die laughed. “How’d that work out for you?”

“Well,” Kyo said, squinting one eye, “I’m the band’s vocalist now.”

“But the douche who left was a guitarist?”

“He was the bassist,” Kyo said. “But Toshiya took over bass—and he’s much better, honestly.”

“And you have another guitarist?”

“Kaoru,” Kyo confirmed. “He’s leader. He can be tough to get a good reading on, can seem cold at first, but he’s more like family to me than my own folks.”

“I can’t wait to meet them all,” Die said. “It’s been a while since I really met many people.”

That reminded Kyo of another thing he wanted to ask, but if he was going to do that he wanted to be multitasking.

He stood up abruptly from the couch. “Come on.”

“Come on?” Die’s forehead creased with worry. “I didn’t mean we had to meet them now. I can wait until tomorrow.”

“I know, but I think it’s time we did a trial run of at least getting you out of the apartment.”

“Oh, that.” Die got reluctantly to his feet.

“We’ll just go for a little outing,” Kyo said. “Since you were saying before that you weren’t able to move around this realm freely, right?”

“Right, well…” Die glanced off to the side. “It’s different with someone—a living person. I can… more or less hitchhike, tag along with you, even to places I wouldn’t be able to reach alone. That sounds creepy, I’m sorry.”

“Nah, I’m flattered,” Kyo said. “Of all the people you could tag along with, I probably won’t take you to the most exciting places, but at least I can get you out for some fresh air.”

Die gave him a dubious look but followed him to the front door, patiently waiting while he put on his shoes.

They’d barely taken a few steps out of the building’s elevator when Die froze, and Kyo had to stop, looking back at him over his shoulder.

“What’s the matter?” Kyo looked down at his feet and back up. “Is it—What, already outside your boundaries for free movement, some kind of barrier? Are you stuck?”

Die’s voice came out small and miserable. “It’s raining.”

“Uh.” Kyo looked up at the drizzling sky. “Yeah, you’re not wrong.”

Still, Die didn’t move, his face all screwed up as he held his ground.

Kyo started to worry. Could ghosts not go in the rain? Maybe it would destabilize his structural integrity, make him melt like a witch. Or maybe he’d died in the rain and was traumatized by what, to Kyo, was a simple act of nature.

“Do… we need to wait to go out until it stops raining?” he asked, trying to keep his tone gentle.

“It’s just… my hair really hates the rain,” Die said solemnly.

Kyo stared at him.

Now to be fair, Die did have one of the most majestic manes Kyo had ever seen, red tresses cascading down to his shoulder blades in elegant waves—but he couldn’t actually let his good looks keep him trapped inside on a rainy day.

“Die, okay,” Kyo said, turning to face him. “I don’t know how to put this delicately, but… you’re dead. And a few raindrops dampening your ‘do hardly seems worth bitching about at this point, you know? If that’s the kind of anxiety we have to deal with once we kick the bucket, maybe it’s not quite the eternal rest it’s cracked up to be.”

Die stayed still, a vague translucency seeping out from his core.

“Look at that,” Kyo said, gesturing to Die, but mindful not to touch him, despite how he wanted to, how he was beyond intrigued by the unique sensation that had left his fingertips itching before; he didn’t think Die needed to be physically crowded in this moment. “You’re not even fully solid right now,” he pointed out. “The raindrops will go right through you, never touch your hair. Let’s go, okay?” He resisted the urge to reach for Die’s hand so he could tug him along, and instead just nodded towards the sidewalk and hoped that Die would follow him.

It took a few second but soon Kyo felt the vibrations of the air beside him that he’d come to associate with Die’s presence. He couldn’t hear him, his footsteps in the puddles, but he could feel him.

They walked to the end of the block in silence, Kyo wanting to let Die get accustomed to it if he really hadn’t gotten out in a while. The rain was mild, and Kyo didn’t have much concern for how it fell on him, but he was trying to have some consideration for Die’s discomfort.

“How are we doing?” he asked finally, as they crossed the street.

“Fine,” Die mumbled. “I can’t feel the rain.”

Kyo cocked his head to look at Die. “Is that a good thing?”

“I don’t know,” Die said. “It’s strange. Not something I’d taken into account.”

“Is that—Can you not feel anything?” Kyo wondered aloud, before he could think better of it. He thought again of Die’s hand brushing his, the electricity he’d thought was shared. “No sensation?”

“I can feel,” Die said. “Physical sensation, it requires some. Concentration.” His pale cheeks colored a bit.

Kyo was sure he was blushing himself. He needed to get his mind out of the gutter, away from the physical sensations he’d like to get Die to concentrate on. A million questions and purely scientific experimental scenarios were flooding his thoughts, and he gave his head a little shake. “There was something I wanted to ask you.”

“Hm?”

“Do you see other dead people?” Kyo looked down at the ground ahead of them, wet pavement reflecting the lights of the city. “Ghosts, or spirits, here, in the other realm?”

There was a pause long enough that Kyo thought Die wasn’t going to answer, then he said, “There’s no one in the other realm. Not even me. Here… I don’t see much of anyone and they don’t see me. I see you.”

Kyo chanced a glance up at Die, found him looking back fixedly.

“Like there’s an outline around you,” Die said. “You’re clear when no one else really is.”

Kyo swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable with the intimacy of Die’s words. He was starting to wonder if he was taking advantage of Die, since he was the default easiest person for Die to access as the current resident of his old apartment.

“Sounds very lonely,” Kyo said.

“Not that I ever noticed,” Die said. “I suppose it must be, but by now it just feels like the way things are.” He turned his face up to the sky, and Kyo watched as the rain fell past him, never landing on his flawless skin. Die kept his eyes open, staring down the drops as they fell. “Where are we going?” Die’s voice was soft, almost lost under the pitter-patter of the rain.

Kyo reoriented himself, found they were still walking in a pretty much random direction. He did a quick mental rundown of all the places they could reach if they continued on this way. “To the park,” he said, after some consideration. “You must have been there before.”

“The one with the fountain?”

“Unn. Not likely to be very crowded in this weather. So you don’t have to feel the pressure of people around you while you’re… experiencing the world.”

Die made a small noise, indignation and amusement both at once. “I’ve experienced the world, you know.”

“It never hurts to get a little more experience.”

Kyo was relieved to see a smile back on Die’s face, even as tentative as it was. He jammed his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket to keep himself from reaching for Die again, and told himself he was content to be there with him as he reacquainted himself with this realm.

Chapter Text

The rain had cleared up by Saturday, and much as Kyo didn’t mind a little drizzle, he was relieved, as he made his trek home from the museum, that the weather had settled down. He was thankful for anything that might make the day run smoother.

It wasn’t exactly that he was worried about how the rehearsal was going to go. After his trial run getting Die out and about, he was confident enough that they could make it to the rehearsal space without incident, and he didn’t doubt anyone’s musical ability; honestly he did think Die would be a comfortable addition to their band and dynamic.

But that still left plenty to worry about. What if Toshiya got a little overzealous in his enthusiasm for working with a ghost and said something that offended Die? What if Kaoru was stuck so deep in his stubbornness and pride that he rejected Die just because he didn’t want to need him? And then there was the mystery that was Shinya; strong though his social skills were, it was still hard to say how he would feel about working with someone like Die. The inherent creepiness of it could be too much for him.

Kyo tried to leave his own feelings out of it. There was nothing serious to consider on his end, although he was curious how it would be getting onstage with someone who made him feel so… He’d never tried to establish a working relationship with someone to whom he was so attracted.

Because that fact was becoming harder to ignore. Kyo was no fool. He knew that part of the reason he’d overreacted and yelled at Die the day before was that he’d developed some kind of crush on the ghost. That had to have been a new low for him.

He also wasn’t so much in denial that he didn’t know that was part of why he’d wanted Die in the band. Yes, they were desperate for a guitarist, but the logistics surrounding him being dead and everything hadn’t deterred Kyo in the way that they probably would have, had he not wanted the excuse to keep Die around.

And he couldn’t forget how he’d sometimes caught Die looking at him. Not just with interest, but like Kyo was worth something, like he was the only man in the world. He supposed for Die, in a way, he was. That would change with the rest of the band, and he definitely did not have the right to feel jealous because of that, but he could at least admit to feeling conflicted.

None of these more social concerns would make much difference at all, though, if Die didn’t stay grounded in this realm enough for the rehearsal.

That was probably what Kyo was most nervous about, that Die wouldn’t be there when he got home, wouldn’t reappear in time for practice, and Kyo would have to show up empty-handed. He could imagine the looks he’d receive from the rest of the band as he tried to explain, no, really, I did recruit a ghost guitarist, he just got stuck in his sci-fi collective consciousness realm and lost track of time!

With a sigh, Kyo reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out the note from Die. He ran his thumb over the “ie” in Die’s name, where the ink had run from going out in Kyo’s pocket in the rain. It was real, though, solid in his hand, and the script was nothing like his own, couldn’t be his own invention. Die was real, and Kyo wasn’t imagining him.

Even just saying it in his head was surprisingly comforting.

With his attention on the note in his hand, Kyo hardly noticed where he was going, and very nearly tripped over a little wooden plaque that was lying facedown on the sidewalk. He stopped in front of it, looking down and then around. He quickly found where it had come from: a little display on the corner with flowers and written prayers, a memorial for a child who had been killed in a traffic accident there.

Kyo slid the note back into his pocket before crouching to pick up the fallen plaque. He returned it to its rightful place, and knelt respectfully at the shrine for a moment before getting up and continuing on his way.

It seemed that death was following him everywhere lately. Ever since he’d first met Die, there had been omens of death around every corner. Was someone trying to send him a message? Or was he just noticing these things more because meeting Die had brought the topic to the forefront of his mind?

It wasn’t like he’d never done way too much thinking about death in the past, but it was different this time. A lot of things were different.

He reached his building and rode up to his floor, trying to regulate his breathing and prepare for either possibility: Die would be there or he wouldn’t. Kyo could figure out how to deal with either situation, so there was no need for panic.

He’d barely gotten the door open when Die was suddenly in his face, eyes wide and hopeful. “It’s still Saturday, right?!”

Kyo stared at him for a second, then chuckled. “Yeah, it’s Saturday.”

Die punched the air. “Yes. I didn’t fuck it up!”

“Well done,” Kyo said, bending to untie his shoes.

“Oh, um, okaeri,” Die said then, with a sheepish smile.

“Sure, right, tadaima,” Kyo said.

“I’ve been working on guitar parts all morning.” Die wandered from the genkan over to where his guitar was lying on the couch. “I’m getting more comfortable with it, but I’m looking forward to hearing what the actual songs sound like. Even the ones with demos recorded aren’t full versions…”

“No, I know. We’ll go over it all today.”

Kyo watched as Die picked up the guitar and sat with it on his lap. It was an electric, not the one he’d seen him playing before. He wondered if anyone else could play that guitar or if it would turn to mere atmosphere in their hands. Was it just an extension of Die himself? How could he set it down?

Die frowned at Kyo’s facial expression. “What?” He followed his gaze to his guitar and tilted his head to the side. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Kyo said. “That’s just not the guitar I saw you with last time.”

“No, that was my acoustic.”

Kyo pursed his lips. “I’m just trying to wrap my head around how you have different guitars.”

“Well, I guess… they’re not real,” Die said. “I mean, in the same way that I’m not.” He wiggled his fingers, showing off their transparency. “Just energy.”

“But you left it across the room,” Kyo pointed out.

“I’m energy, I just said.” Die raised an eyebrow. “I’m not human. I can exist everywhere at once.”

“Right, ‘cause that’s not creepy at all.”

“Omnipresence!”

“That gonna be your new stage name?”

Die wrinkled his nose. “No way. By now I’m too attached to be anyone other than ‘Die’.”

Kyo nodded, feeling strangely pleased with that answer. He supposed he’d also grown attached. And in a shamefully short time. “Does that mean you can’t play a guitar that’s not energy?” he asked, bringing the subject back from a potentially intimate direction.

“I could,” Die said. “But this one’s more reliable. Sometimes I’m good at making physical contact with stuff and sometimes it’s hard. It takes a lot of effort to maintain one way or the other.”

Kyo wanted to ask how that would work when it came time to plug him into a sound system, but he figured that might be a bridge to cross when it was reached.

“So, how long until we leave?” Die said, and Kyo realized he was excited, practically bouncing.

That was fair. It had been a while for him, but Kyo hadn’t known he was looking forward to it so much. It helped relieve some of his guilt over taking advantage of Die.

“Maybe in an hour.” Kyo pointed at a clock on the kitchen wall, easily visible from Die’s position. “And if you need reminding, that’s when the minute hand has gone all the way around the clock one time.”

“Shut the fuck up, I know what an hour is,” Die said, laughing.

“Just making sure,” Kyo said. “I’m gonna eat something—you’re sure you can’t have anything?”

“I don’t need food,” Die said. “And digestion is… more trouble than it’s worth, honestly. Don’t worry about me.”

“I just feel awkward eating and not offering you anything.”

Die shrugged. “You’ll have to live with the awkwardness, I guess.”

Nevertheless, Die hung out with Kyo while he fixed himself a humble lunch of tamago kake gohan and sat down to eat it.

He grinned when he saw Kyo’s food. “So Japanese.”

“What?” Kyo looked down at his bowl. “So I am, what’s your point?”

Die shook his head, still grinning. “It’s nice. Familiar. I used to love eating that, too.”

Kyo paused guiltily. His impulse reaction was to make some snarky joke about Die trying to get his lunch, or else to say something reassuring, like Maybe someday you can have it again! But he couldn’t. There was no “maybe someday” for Die. His life was over and this time spent with Kyo had to be just a constant, painful reminder of that fact. Was it better though than the isolation of being dead, alone?

Somehow it didn’t seem to bother Die that Kyo was sitting there eating in front of him. He kept up a peaceful and friendly conversation as Kyo ate, talking about how he’d gotten involved in music back during his life.

“For a while, you know, I was really into Kendo,” Die was saying as Kyo moved to put his empty bowl in the sink. “That was my thing, what I put all my energy into.”

“Yeah?” Kyo raised an eyebrow. He’d never been overly involved in extracurriculars when he’d been in school. And he’d only been in school for a short time. He’d dropped out to be a roadie for a local rock band, and had only managed to get the job he had at the museum through a friend of an old art teacher of his.

“I guess I didn’t have delusions that I’d make a career out of it,” Die said. “But still it was only after that that I started taking the guitar really seriously.”

“Ah, naturally, because guitar’s much more feasible as a career path.”

“It worked out for me. For the most part.”

Kyo stepped around Die so he could go to the bathroom and stand at the sink. “I’m still listening,” he informed him as he shoved his toothbrush in his mouth.

“I don’t know if there was a lot left in the story.”

Kyo could see Die reflected behind him, in the mirror. Not like a vampire then. He spit in the sink, and when he flicked his eyes back up to the mirror, Die had changed—his eyes and cheeks dark and sunken, blood matting his hair—Kyo whipped around to stare at Die as he stood there, pale but charming as ever.

Die frowned. “You okay?”

Kyo struggled to get his breathing right. It had been a trick of the light, or his imagination running wild. He’d had death on the brain for too long and it was starting to take its toll on him.

“I’m fine, yeah,” he said, feeling a bit shaken still. “We should get going.”

Die nodded, but he still looked concerned.

Minutes later they were down at the street once more, walking in the direction of the underground station.

“Hope you don’t mind taking the train,” Kyo said. “How long has it been since you used good ol’ public transportation?”

“A while,” Die said, “but I don’t mind at all. I prefer it.”

“That’s lucky, I guess, ‘cause I don’t have a car,” Kyo said. “Living in the city I’ve just never needed one.”

“Mm.”

“Plus there are so many accidents these days,” Kyo said, thinking of the memorial he’d righted earlier that afternoon. “I’m not sure how safe it is.”

“True.”

Kyo slanted his eyes towards Die. He was being oddly quiet, and Kyo figured he must be nervous about the rehearsal, and about getting there, being squished up with so many people. As they reached the subway platform, Kyo looked around at them all, wondered if all of them could see Die, or if he was special somehow.

He hadn’t exactly thought of that before. He knew Die wasn’t used to being seen, but… that could be a problem, if they were gonna have performances.

As if in response to his thoughts, a pair of high school girls approached them and, to Kyo’s surprise, asked Die shyly about his guitar.

“Yes, it’s my electric,” Die said. “I’m on my way to band rehearsal right now.”

The girls were highly impressed, but didn’t say much else before dissolving into giggles and scurrying off.

Kyo had been pretending not to watch the interaction, in an effort to give Die some privacy, and so had set himself up in front of the map of the line they were taking.

“So what’s our stop?” Die said as he came back up beside him.

Kyo pointed to a station four stops away. “It comes up pretty quick after this main hub.” He slid his finger back one stop. “That’s where we’d transfer if we were going to my museum.”

“Ah! Next time,” Die said.

“Sure,” Kyo replied noncommittally.

“I’m kinda surprised they let you work in a museum.”

Kyo raised his eyebrows. “What, I’m not respectable enough?”

“Not really.”

Kyo ran a hand through his hair. “Harsh. I’m not that bad. I have black hair every once in a while.”

“Yeah, but all those tattoos.” Die’s eyes were roaming over Kyo’s body, as if he could see all the designs currently hidden by his clothing.

“Most of them end up covered when I’m dressed for work,” Kyo said. He rubbed a hand self-consciously over his neck, where he knew the tattoos were harder to hide.

“I guess,” Die said. “I don’t know. Times have changed since I was alive.”

“That might be true.” Kyo nudged Die as their train pulled up and they walked briskly to board it. Luckily it was Saturday, and not the time of day when the most salarymen were making their commutes home. As it was, they got on the train with little difficulty, and without Die having to interact physically with anyone else.

It was a short ride and they were almost to their stop when Kyo felt a little spark of static, and then Die was right there whispering in his ear.

“D’you see that guy’s shirt?”

Kyo’s eyes darted around the train car.

“Right by the door.”

Immediately Kyo knew the guy Die was talking about—one in a shirt that said “I don’t HAVE a big dick—I AM a big dick!” in garish neon letters.

Die snickered. “Can you imagine choosing to leave the house in that shirt? It’s not nice to laugh, I know, but how fucking embarrassing.”

Kyo weighed the possibility that maybe the guy was wearing it to be funny, but he didn’t honestly look like he had that type of sense of humor. And even if it was meant to be funny, it was a seriously ugly shirt. “You think he bought it himself? Maybe someone gave it to him and he didn’t realize they meant it as an insult.”

“Either way,” Die said. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in a shirt like that.”

Kyo choked on the loud snort of laughter that came out of him, and slapped his hand over his mouth. The man they were talking about glanced in their direction, and Kyo held his breath, focusing on a point on the floor. He could feel Die shaking with silent laughter beside him.

Finally their stop came and they rushed past the guy in the bad shirt and everyone else, both still trying to contain themselves.

“He might have heard you!” Kyo hissed as they made their way up from the underground.

“Pshh, people don’t hear me.”

“They do sometimes!” Kyo said. “It’s not like you’re invisible—what about those girls at the station?”

“Oh,” Die said, his face changing. “Well, shit.”

That kind of just made it funnier to Kyo, and he burst out laughing again.

“Cut it out! I swear, I’m not really an asshole!” Die said, having no success fighting his own smile. “It’s not that funny!”

And maybe it wasn’t, but Kyo wasn’t used to it, to spending time with anyone else, and certainly not to laughing with them. Sure, he laughed with his bandmates or his coworkers sometimes, but there was something freeing about laughing with Die like this, and it had caught him off-guard.

“So which way is it?” They’d come up to the street level, and Die was looking from the left to the right. He shifted the strap of his guitar's carrying case on his shoulder.

Kyo wondered if it was heavy. Did energy have weight? How would it feel to have Die sitting on top of him?

“We go left,” he said, and started off in that direction. Looking back at Die, he asked, “Why did you bring that anyway?”

“Bring… what, my guitar?” Die looked puzzled as he walked alongside Kyo. “Rehearsal. Why wouldn’t I bring it?”

“You can’t just, I dunno, manifest it when we get there?”

“Oh. Hmm.”

“I mean, I don’t really get how it works, obviously,” Kyo said. “I just thought, what you’d said before.”

“No, yeah, I probably could.” Die’s eyes were downcast, and his voice dropped slightly. “I guess… I just wanted to carry it. It makes it feel more real. It’s been a while, you know? Since I had anything like this, anything to fill that, well, emptiness inside me. At the risk of sounding cliché”

Kyo found it discouraging that even in death one could feel consumed by emptiness. What hope was there of ever escaping it? Was the human experience nothing more than surging forward, constantly searching for some unattainable impossibility to bring meaning to it all? That kinda sucked.

Besides that, Die’s words had reminded Kyo of how horribly guilty he felt for dragging him into his band. It was clear that making music was important to Die, that he took it seriously, and Kyo couldn’t help but feel like he’d preyed upon that dedication and used it for his own devices.

Then again, Die wanted this. It made him happy and brought him purpose, and it wasn’t like Kyo had been duplicitous in his recruitment. Die knew what he was getting himself into, and he was excited. Didn’t that mean Kyo was practically doing him a favor?

He was still deliberating the morality of it when his phone vibrated in his pocket and he took it out to read a new text from Toshiya.

[T]: You're bringing him, right?

He typed his response one-handed.

[k]: Yes, we’re almost there

“Who’s that?” Die asked.

“Toshiya.”

“The bassist,” Die said, and Kyo nodded. “Walk me through it again.”

Kyo raised an eyebrow. “Through what?”

“The band!” Die said nervously. “So I know what to expect.”

Kyo sighed and put his phone in his pocket. “There’s not that much to tell… Toshiya is the bassist, used to be rhythm guitar, he’s… a good friend. We actually used to be roommates, back before I got the place I have now.”

“And he won’t have a problem with me?”

“No, I’m more worried about him saying or doing something insensitive just because he’s excited to meet a ghost. He can be kind of a puppy about things.”

Die laughed. “I’ll be prepared for that, then.”

“Then Shinya is our drummer, he’s the real peacekeeper of the group. I think,” Kyo said and paused, feeling less sure, “he’s an extremely understanding person, but he has basically no tolerance for bullshit. I don’t think I can know for sure what he’ll think of you until he meets you.” In a way, Kyo felt certain that Shinya and Die would get on really well—but the ghost factor could still put a hiccup in things.

“I guess I’ll tread lightly with him?” Die said. “And luckily, I’m not one to bullshit much anyway.”

“That is lucky,” Kyo agreed. “Though we probably would never have even gotten this far, if I thought you were.”

They were getting close to the studio and Kyo’s stomach was starting to churn just with the anticipation of everything. He wondered whether ghosts could feel nerves in the same way.

“And the other one is the leader,” Die said. “Lead guitarist, right? Cold but brotherly.”

Kyo half-smiled at the description of Kaoru. “He is kind of like an older brother to me, yeah. And he’s not actually cold, he just might come off that way at first. The real thing with Kaoru is he’s pretty stubborn. Almost as bad as I am.”

“Is it a problem?”

“No, but…” Kyo considered his words. “He didn’t want to need another guitarist. He’s a proud kind of guy, so he might just resent you for no better reason than that. He can be distrustful, skeptical… He might be the toughest for you to please.” He stopped walking outside the doors of the studio. “Here we are.”

Die looked up at the stone of the building. “Well. Thanks for all the advance warning on that front.”

“Sorry,” Kyo said sheepishly. “Ready to go in?”

“As much as I’m gonna be,” Die sighed.

They headed inside and found Shinya sitting at their usual table outside the coffee shop, engrossed in his phone.

“Hey, Shinya,” Kyo said.

Die was hovering a few steps behind him, and Kyo jerked his head, encouraging him to come closer.

“H’lo, Kyo,” Shinya said without looking up.

Die looked between Shinya and Kyo, abject fear in his wide eyes.

Kyo tried to look reassuringly back. “Kaoru here yet?”

“Smoking.”

“And Toshiya?”

Shinya finally looked up from his phone. “He was here.” He looked over his shoulder towards the café and shrugged. Then he suddenly seemed to notice Die. “Hello.”

“Hey,” Die said. “I’m Die. Looking forward to working with you.” He bowed.

Shinya was just looking at him strangely. “Kyo, this is… the guitarist you found?”

Kyo nodded. “I told you about him. He’s been working on the songs for the live already and everything.

“He’s a real person,” Shinya said.

“Um.” Kyo paused, set his music binder on the table. “Well, yeah. I… thought I’d said as much.”

“What you’d said was that he was a ghost, not an actual guy.”

“I don’t understand what you mean by that.” Kyo could feel something angry and defensive already prickling along the back of his neck, and he wondered distantly if it was just Die’s proximity. “I told you about him, and you said you wanted to give him a shot. You said it was great.”

“And I do think it’s great,” Shinya said. “Especially now that I can see he’s a real, living—”

“He’s not living,” Kyo said sharply. “When I explained that to you, you were ready to welcome him with open arms. But what, you thought I was full of shit?”

Kyo didn’t really know why he was even arguing. He’d been uneasy ever since he broke the news originally, worried about Shinya’s response. He’d been so sure there was more to Shinya’s feeling than what he was showing, and lo and behold, he’d been right! Shinya had been humoring him, when really he’d never believed Kyo’s story about Die from the beginning.

“Well, come on, Kyo,” Shinya said. “What am I supposed to think? You come in saying you’ve solved our crisis, and you know what you’re like—”

“You’re supposed to fucking believe me,” Kyo said. “Or at least not lie and say you do when you don’t!”

Shinya’s voice was level. “You’re not being realistic. You know just as well as I do that there have been times—”

“What the hell is this?” Toshiya came out of the coffee shop, looking between them, bewildered. “Kyo, what—you’re fighting with Shinya? What’s going on?”

“He thinks I’m a delusional nut job, that’s what.”

“I never used those words,” Shinya said firmly.

Kyo scoffed. That wasn’t a denial of the meaning behind the words.

“About what?” Toshiya demanded.

“About me,” Die said in a small voice, and everyone’s attention turned to him. “Shinya was… surprised to see that I’m real.”

Toshiya’s eyes narrowed. “And you are…?”

“Die,” Kyo said. “The guitarist I told you about.”

“The ghost?”

“Except clearly,” Shinya said, rolling his eyes, “he isn’t—”

“Actually, I am,” Die cut in. “Excuse me for interrupting, and I know I don’t owe you any evidence, but really, it saddens me to see your lack of faith in Kyo.” He let out a soundless sigh and then all at once he was fading, going paler and paler as if bleached out in the sun, and a moment later the building’s lobby could be seen right through his body.

Shinya gaped at the demonstration, and his phone hit the table as it fell from his lax hand.

“Holy shit,” Toshiya said.

More guilt bubbled up, so Kyo could almost feel it burning his throat. This wasn’t at all how he’d meant for this meeting to go.

“You really weren’t kidding,” Toshiya muttered, nudging Kyo with his elbow.

“No, I wasn’t.”

“But you can still play guitar?” Toshiya said to Die, and it was a good thing, since he looked about ready to fade out of sight altogether. Was that what it looked like when he vanished to the other realm?

“Guitar’s no problem,” Die said, and he and Toshiya began an eager discussion of the parts that Die was taking over.

Kyo wasn’t really listening. He couldn’t help the betrayal he still felt over Shinya’s reaction to Die. Even if Shinya wasn’t the type to freely embrace the supernatural, Kyo couldn’t understand why he’d made such a show of believing Kyo, if that was insincere. Kyo was never dishonest with his friends in that way, and he didn’t want their behavior towards him to be like that either.

Shinya was still watching Die, though his facial expression had returned to its usual calm neutrality. Kyo didn’t want to fight with him, and so he mumbled something about looking for Kaoru, and stalked off to find where their band leader was smoking outside.

He was easy to find, looking much the same as he ever did: obviously sleep-deprived, smoke billowing elegantly around him. He glanced over towards the door as soon as Kyo stepped out of the building, and offered a simple nod of greeting before returning to staring off into the distance.

“What brings you out here?” Kaoru asked after a moment.

Kyo shook his head, not wanting to relate the whole fight he had had with Shinya. “I brought Die. The guitarist, like I said I would.”

Kaoru pursed his lips. “Is he… here now?” He eyed the space next to Kyo warily.

“Inside,” Kyo said.

Kaoru raised his eyebrows, but seemed to accept the answer, and looked off again.

Kyo hesitated. The last thing he wanted was to pick fights with the whole band, but he felt like he had to know, if they had all felt the way Shinya clearly had. Finally he said, “You did believe me, right? That I’d found someone for the band. You do believe me.”

The pause was longer than Kyo would have liked. Then, “Because it’s you, yes. I’ve known you long enough to know that you wouldn’t make some false claim about something like that—or about anything.”

Kyo could tell there was more that he wasn’t saying. “But?”

Kaoru blew out a stream of smoke. “Who was it?”

“Who was…?” Kyo swallowed around a lump in his throat. “Shinya.”

“Figured.” Kaoru took another long drag of his cigarette before saying, “You know how much Shinya cares about you. We all do.”

“I don’t see what that—”

“Yeah, but you do,” Kaoru cut him off, shaking his head. “Nobody thinks you’re fragile, but we never want you to feel like you’re unsupported, either. I know you’ve felt like that before.”

“What, so you’ll just lie and act like you’re supporting me instead of risking hurting my feelings?”

“What harm does it do to support you more than you need?” Kaoru said. “We know you’re not lying. Whatever you were going to bring in, it was going to come from you, and from a place of sincerity. But you can’t have expected us to take you at your word, when what you were saying—”

“But I did,” Kyo said helplessly. “I thought you’d take me at my word, because you said you did. Because it was all I had, and it was true.” He sagged against the wall of the building. “You don’t know how crazy I felt. Like I was losing my mind. I know how it sounds, Kao, I’m not so far gone that I can’t hear myself. But that just made it that much more of a relief when you all accepted what I was telling you.”

He put his hands in his pocket, let himself feel Die’s note against the pads of his fingers. He could have shown it to Kaoru right then, the closest thing to evidence that he’d ever been given, but he figured it was pointless with Die just inside waiting for them.

“That’s why we accepted it,” Kaoru said. “None of us wants to hurt you.”

“I don’t want to be lied to,” Kyo said. “That hurts. I don’t lie to you guys.”

Kaoru gave him a look. “Don’t you?”

Kyo clenched his jaw. “I haven’t, in a long time.”

“Can’t blame us for being careful,” Kaoru said. He finished his cigarette, crushed the butt under his heel. “At any rate, you said he’s here now. Let’s meet Die.” He moved towards the door.

Kyo nodded and took a steadying breath before pushing away from the wall and following Kaoru inside.

Everyone was right where Kyo had left them. Toshiya had both his and Kyo’s binders open on the table, and was bent over them, marking things in pencil as Die listened attentively. Shinya’s phone was still lying forgotten in front of him as he sat and watched the others talk.

“Die,” Kyo said, interrupting as gently as possible, “this is Kaoru.”

Die looked up from the music and stood straighter before bowing, expressing his gratitude for Kaoru’s welcoming him into the group.

“Kyo has spoken highly of you,” Kaoru said. “I look forward to seeing what you can do.”

“He’s been very generous,” Die said. “I’ve never known anyone like him.”

“I doubt anyone has,” Toshiya said. “Kyo’s a fuckin’ weirdo.”

Die’s eyes widened, but Kyo just laughed.

“Now, Die, you were in a band before?” Kaoru asked.

“I was, but it’s… been a while,” Die said. “I’ve been all the more excited to get back onstage for it.”

“And you’ll be able to do that?” Shinya said, his voice soft. “We don’t need to worry about you… fading away in the middle of a performance?”

“I can maintain myself for as long as is needed,” Die said.

Kyo scratched at his nose to hide his frown. He’d heard Die talk about it enough to know he wasn’t really as confident in his ability to keep control as all that. He didn’t even know what it was that made him slip into the other realm.

“I’m sorry,” Kaoru said. “Maintain…?”

“Oh, man, you missed it,” Toshiya said. “Kyo wasn’t messing around, Die is a legit ghost, he can disappear, phase through shit…” He looked curiously at Die. “Can you fly, too? Levitate or something?”

“All right, all right,” Kyo said. “I think all your questions of that nature can probably wait. It’s time for us to rehearse, isn’t it?”

Kaoru agreed, and the band gathered their things and moved up to the rehearsal space.

It took some finagling to get Die plugged into the sound system, an extra crackle of electricity making the power surge and feedback screech before they were sure he was hooked up right, but then somehow his guitar was coming through the speakers just as if it was a real instrument and not constructed out of energy.

The practice started haltingly. Toshiya stood close by Die, correcting and guiding him frequently but patiently. It was a lot to hash out, but they had all come prepared to get the work done, and as the night went on, it seemed like no one was really taking any issue with Die’s unusual condition; they were treating him as well as they might have treated any new band member, working alongside him without complaint.

If anything, the least productive band member was Kyo. With all the stopping and starting, the hammering out of guitar parts and whatnot, Kyo was spending more time sitting and listening than doing vocals.

And watching. He was doing a fair amount of watching, too.

It was strange, seeing how Die interacted with other people, witnessing that smile on his face but not having been the one to put it there. He’d almost expected it to hurt, but in actuality, he liked it, liked seeing Die happy, liked the light that came into his eyes as he let the music carry him.

Plus there was just something unbelievably sexy about how he worked his guitar. It was a different context from the peaceful acoustic sessions Kyo had seen back at the apartment. Here he threw his body and soul into his playing, tossed his head back in ecstasy, moved with the rhythm like it was pulling him from within. Kyo couldn’t stop staring at how Die’s hands flexed and tightened, fingers playing so deftly over the frets, strong but nimble.

Even when he meant to be paying attention to his cue to start singing, Kyo was thinking how those fingers would feel dancing over his skin, bringing him to life with their electric touch. And then he was thinking about other parts of Die, aside from his hands. Would he still shimmer and buzz if Kyo ran his fingertips over Die’s body? Would he spark when Kyo traced the lines of him with his tongue?

“Kyo, did you want us to keep vamping or were you gonna come in at some point tonight?” Toshiya asked, loud enough to make Kyo realize how deeply he’d been spacing out.

“I’ll um. I’ll come in at the chorus,” Kyo said, and he hurriedly took a drink of water, as if that was his reason for not singing when he should have.

When at last their reserved time in the rehearsal space was coming to an end, the whole band was smiling, feeling better and more hopeful about the direction of things than they had since long before they’d lost Kisaki.

“I actually think this might work,” Kaoru said. “Hard as that is to believe, when our performance is only a week out.”

“But it’s not hard to believe at all,” Toshiya said. “Die’s awesome, he’s picking up everything like he’s the one who set it down.” He grinned at Die. “You have serious skills.”

Die smiled back, somewhat bashfully. “I’m just happy to be part of a group again.”

“This calls for celebration!” Toshiya said.

“I agree,” Kaoru said. “Shinya, you’re in?”

Shinya had already finished packing up his things, but he nodded.

“Good. I’m just gonna go for a quick smoke, and then we can all go in my car.” He started for the door, then turned and pointed at Die. “You smoke?”

“Er, not anymore,” Die said with a shrug.

“It can’t hurt you now,” Kaoru pointed out. “Maybe you ought to start.”

“I’ll consider it.”

Kaoru went out, and Kyo came up beside Die.

“Don’t worry about him.”

“Yeah,” Toshiya added, “he’s lonely out there ‘cause Kyo and I both quit, but just don’t pay him any mind.”

“Nah, he’s fine,” Die said.

“You’re cool with going in his car, right?” Kyo said as he moved his music stand back in place against the wall. “It might be cozy with all five of us, but I think everyone else took the train here—maybe another time we can take two cars so it’s not so crowded…”

“Actually, you know, I don’t think I, um, I can go out to night,” Die said.

Kyo looked up in surprise. “You can’t?”

“Just for a couple drinks!” Toshiya said.

Die laughed, but the sound wasn’t what Kyo had gotten used to. “Sorry, I guess dying kind of put an end to a number of my vices.”

“Well, you don’t have to drink, of course,” Shinya said quickly.

“Yeah, it’s just to celebrate,” Toshiya said. “No pressure!”

“Honestly,” Kyo said, “they usually keep it pretty mellow, it doesn’t get too crazy or anything.” The truth was that Kyo didn’t usually go out with the others himself. He wasn’t much of a drinker, and it wasn’t enjoyable for him to feel trapped in that kind of social situation. But when there was something legitimately worth celebrating, he didn’t always skip out on it.

“No, it’s not that,” Die said. “I think I’m just tired.”

Kyo didn’t keep the abject concern off his face then. “Really? Are you okay?” Maybe he only had a limited amount of energy to spend in this realm and he’d exhausted it. It could be a lot more tiring for him to travel places outside his regular haunting grounds. Would this be a recurring problem?

“I’m fine,” Die said. “Just kind of want to get home. Or… back to the apartment, at least.”

“Are you sure?” Shinya asked.

Toshiya looked devastated. “But you’re the reason we’re celebrating!”

“Do you want me to go back with you then?” Kyo offered. “I don’t need to go out with them.”

“No, it’s fine,” Die said. Kyo could tell he was growing more uncomfortable, but he couldn’t really understand why.

Then Kaoru strode back in, blowing into his hands to warm them. “Are we all ready to go?”

“Die won’t join us!” Toshiya complained.

Kaoru looked at him, obviously disappointed. “Why not?”

“Because!” Die said, his voice louder than Kyo had ever heard it. “It doesn’t make any sense for a dead guy to go out partying, okay? I can’t eat or drink, I don’t really wanna be around people, and I’d rather just go home!”

Everyone went quiet, staring at him.

“I’m sorry,” Die sighed, and his eyes closed. “I’m not mad—I… appreciate the offer. But I don’t want to go out. Kyo, please, go without me, have a good time. I can get back on my own.”

Before anyone could try to argue the matter any further, he was out the door, not even bothering to open it before slipping through.

Chapter Text

The bar was noisy, and Kyo tried to take comfort in the dim chaos, but he wasn’t having any luck getting Die off his mind.

He wondered whether it had been right to let him take off like that. Maybe he should have gone after him. It wasn’t like it would have been any great loss to him, missing a night out with his bandmates drinking. He hadn’t expected the idea to upset Die like that though, and he had to think there was something he was missing.

“You look like you could use a drink,” Kaoru said, leaning on the table across from Kyo.

“I’m fine,” Kyo said distractedly.

“Then you know, maybe sometime you could volunteer to be designated driver.”

“It’s your car,” Kyo said. “What would I do at the end of the night, drop you off and walk home from your place?”

“You’re always welcome to spend the night.”

Kyo rolled his eyes. “More than likely, I won’t even come next time.”

“I guess that’s true,” Kaoru said. “You’re here this time to celebrate our new guitarist, and he didn’t even join us himself.”

“Hmm.” Kyo frowned down at his glass. His ice cubes were melting, watering down his untouched coke, but he just couldn’t care.

“Do you know him well enough to know if that’s typical behavior?”

Kyo wasn’t sure how to answer. Nothing like that had ever come up before. He’d certainly never heard of Die getting tired, and while he was aware that Die neither ate nor drank, he’d never before expressed any discomfort being around Kyo while he did those things. Maybe it was different though, being outside the apartment, being in public. “I really don’t,” Kyo said, eventually.

Toshiya and Shinya came over to the table, drinks in hand. “What are we talking about?”

“Our new guitarist missing his own welcome celebration,” Kaoru said.

“Yeah, what’s the deal with that?” Toshiya said. “I was so bummed.”

“I kind of was, too,” Kyo admitted quietly. He couldn’t shake the thought that he should have gone home with Die, not let him go alone when he was clearly in distress.

“Was it something we did, or said?” Toshiya asked. “I feel like I must have been an ass and not even realized…”

Kyo’s mouth slanted sideways as he thought. It was possible that Die had been offended sometime during the night and just not said anything. He didn’t seem to be much one for confrontation, so he might have just opted for the alone time rather than admit that he was hurt.

After all, there had been the whole thing with Shinya, and while Kyo was pretty sure he was the one bothered by that more than Die, it could have created some uncomfortable tension that Kyo hadn’t been so perceptive of. He chanced a glance over towards Shinya, but he wasn’t looking back at him.

Really, Shinya had been even quieter than usual all evening. Ever since their argument, he’d seemed to be avoiding talking or making eye contact with Kyo. It was understandable. It was rare for Shinya to fight with anyone, and Kyo was more likely to internalize his negative responses than hurl them at another person, so probably the whole thing had thrown Shinya for a loop.

“I really hope we didn’t do anything to cause him offense,” Kaoru said. “He was seriously great to work with.”

“I’m pretty sure once he’s confident, we’ll sound worlds better than we ever did with Kisaki,” Toshiya said.

“Oh, easily.” Kaoru sipped his tea. “How did you find him, Kyo?”

“He was just there.”

“But how did you know to bring him into the band, that it was even possible? It’s an awfully big coincidence.”

“It is,” Kyo said. “Unless it’s not.” He traced a finger through the condensation pooling around his glass, dragged a few water droplets around the table. “I found him because he was playing guitar. Just sitting in my living room with his acoustic. How was I supposed to know in that moment, what he was, what he would… that he had the potential to join us? I couldn't have imagined it then, but getting from there to here was so natural.”

Kaoru made a thoughtful noise. “We should incorporate some of his acoustic playing into our songs.”

“Does he compose, too?” Toshiya asked.

Kyo nodded. “He told me that he does, though no one’s heard his recent compositions besides me.”

“So our capacity to create is not diminished in death,” Kaoru mused. “Incredible. Die is fascinating.”

“Right?” Toshiya said excitedly. “Like when he whooshed right through that door? That was so spooky and badass!”

“It makes you wonder, to what degree do—”

“He’s not a fucking science experiment,” Kyo said, not loudly, not angrily, but feeling somewhat exasperated by how they were talking. “Yes, Die is fascinating and his being a ghost is cool, but there’s a lot more to him than just being dead.”

Toshiya shifted guiltily. “Yeah, well, of course there is.”

Maybe it was hypocritical of Kyo. He had asked Die so much about the afterlife, about his experiences. He liked being around him, but he couldn’t pretend he didn’t think the ghost aspect was a pretty prominent part of his identity at this point.

“I wish we could know him more,” Toshiya said. “The person he is—or was. Is? He seems cool, but I guess he doesn’t want to be around us that much.”

“It must be overwhelming for him,” Kaoru posited. “He’s said that he hasn’t been in a band in a long while; coming into all of this so suddenly has to be jarring. How long has it been since he was alive?” He looked to Kyo.

“He hasn’t said.”

“It can’t have been too long,” Toshiya said. “He doesn’t seem clueless.”

“He said when he was alive, that one variety show was on, where the guy gives the guests all his trademark romance techniques,” Kyo said. That was possibly the best time-related hint he’d gotten, and it still didn’t narrow it down fully.

Kaoru frowned, and Toshiya said, “The Gackt one? Okay, so I guess he’s been alive at some point in the past, what, twelve years…”

Shinya spoke up quietly, “Do you know how he died?”

The question irritated Kyo. “It’s really not my place to ask.”

“No, of course not,” Shinya said. “I just thought the information would tell us something about him, if he died in some recorded natural disaster, or there was some incident that killed him, something we should be sensitive about…”

Kyo hadn’t really thought much about that. If one could be traumatized by a horrific incident that they survived, how much more traumatic would it be to have actually died? Presumably anything that killed Die would still exist in the world, whether it was illness, natural disaster, or even murder. How did Die get through the day handling the memory of his own death?

He remembered the vision he’d seen in the mirror, wondered if that had been how Die looked when he died. The blood he’d seen might suggest it had been a violent death, but it was still also possible that it had all been in Kyo’s mind, and he couldn’t jump to conclusions.

There was so much that he didn’t know about Die. It was only natural since he’d met him less than a week ago, but at the same time he felt like he’d known him so much longer.

“Is it also a coincidence,” Toshiya said, “that the guy you recruited happens to be totally your type?”

Kyo looked at him in surprise, found him smirking back at him. “Wha—my type how?”

“You know,” Toshiya said. “The hair, the bone structure, he’s taller than you…”

“If all I’m looking for is someone with hair, bones, and a few centimeters on me, you’d think I’d have found them by now.”

“So you’re saying you’re not attracted to him,” Toshiya said skeptically.

“No, I’m—Not saying that,” Kyo said. “We all have eyes, okay. But a coincidence… Like I said, it depends on if any of it is, really. Sometimes it feels more like… I don’t know, like we were led to each other.” He shrugged, embarrassed that he’d confessed even that much.

“I didn’t think you believed in things like that,” Shinya said.

“I don’t really,” Kyo said, “but Die makes me doubt. Makes me believe. Kind of flips my brain inside out and wrings everything that makes sense out of it.”

“Sounds fun,” Toshiya said.

“Sure, if you love suffering like I do.”

Kaoru cleared his throat. “And with that I think I’ll go out for a cigarette.”

“Oh, Kyo, no one loves suffering quite like you do,” Toshiya said. He got up and went outside with Kaoru, leaving Kyo alone at the table with Shinya.

It was uncomfortable.

Kyo had never felt so uncomfortable with Shinya, and he couldn’t say that he cared for it. He was a little surprised that Shinya hadn’t found some excuse to leave as well. Sipping at his watery cola, Kyo found himself lost for anything to say to Shinya at the moment.

It took a long time, but then Shinya said, “I know that you’re angry with me.”

Kyo snorted. “No shit, how'd you work that one out?”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Shinya said. “Or to betray your trust. But I realize I made you feel that way, and that I was subsequently less polite to Die than I should have been.”

Kyo waited for him to go on, having heard nothing he disagreed with thus far.

“Die deserves better, and it was wrong for me to speak to and about him the way I did initially.” Shinya sighed. “I’ll be honest. It freaked me out that he’s a ghost. When I thought you were just saying things and I didn’t have to believe it, it was easier to accept him. Evidence that there are ghosts in our world forces me to confront things about my own mortality with which I’m not prepared to cope.”

Kyo could understand that.

“It doesn’t excuse my actions, however,” Shinya said. “And Die… he seems really decent.” He met and held Kyo’s gaze. “I can see how much he means to you already.”

Kyo tried to wave a dismissive hand, but it was more of a hapless flail.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you look at anyone like that, and I’m glad that you’re opening yourself up, but…” Shinya frowned very slightly. “Be careful. You know his story’s already ended, and yours has a ways to go.”

“I know,” Kyo said. It wasn’t like he saw some kind of future for him and Die, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t admire him from a distance. Or up close.

With the air cleared between him and Shinya, the rest of the night passed much more pleasantly. Kyo still wasn’t drinking, but as the night wore on he started to feel that giddy, disorienting exhaustion that was something like being intoxicated.

He didn’t stop talking about Die, couldn’t stop thinking about him, and Toshiya kept egging him on, eager to learn more about their newest band member, and apparently amused by Kyo’s readiness to provide whatever information he had.

It was late by the time Kaoru made the rounds to drop everyone off, and tired as Kyo was, he also had some lingering energy to burn off, felt kind of nervous and worked up. For once he was relieved to find the apartment dark and empty when he got in, and put aside his concern for Die having left in a somewhat emotional manner.

He didn’t bother turning on any lights after he left his shoes at the door, with his socks tucked inside, and was already unfastening his belt before he even got to his bedroom.

For all that he liked Die and enjoyed his presence, Kyo had to admit he kind of missed the privacy he’d become accustomed to after years of living alone. And he’d missed the freedom to take care of his own body, most of all.

On this now rare occasion where he found himself without company, he intended to take advantage; his bedtime routine was shortened to taking a piss, washing his face, and brushing his teeth, and then he could finally give his full attention to his body’s other needs.

Kyo was comforted by the familiar dark of his own room. He knew where everything was, knew where the nightstand would be so he could take Die’s note from his pocket and leave it there, wasn’t surprised when his knee bumped into the edge of the bed and he climbed up onto the mattress even as he worked his jeans down off his hips and let his hand slip into his boxers to wrap around himself.

Instantly he was sighing in relief at his own touch, stroking himself easily to full hardness with images of Die still playing prominently in his mind. He didn’t bother trying to fight them, just turned to kick his jeans off and throw them across the dark room to land in the hamper in the corner.

His cock was aching just from having been abandoned to deal with his jeans, and he rushed to get back to it, canting his hips towards his hand.

He hadn’t taken this kind of time for himself in too long, not since everything that had happened in the past week, and he was almost surprised by how good it felt. But not actually surprised.

Generally speaking, Kyo found he enjoyed masturbating perhaps more than was strictly normal. He’d had the thought before that it was his only source of joy in life. Sure, there was music, and performing always brought him some satisfaction, but alone in the dark with his cock leaking over his fist—that was a special time out of his day, when he wasn’t focused on anything other than feeling good.

And he always knew just how to make himself feel good.

He pumped slowly, reached down with his other hand to roll his balls in his palm, to stroke just behind them. He let out a soft grunt and his head fell forward. He was tempted to reach back farther, get a finger inside himself. He hadn’t done that in a while, and he craved the tight, full feel of something opening him up.

It had been even longer since he’d actually had someone else inside him. Some thick cock driving deep into him…

Fuck.

He didn’t often think about things quite so graphically when he jerked off. It wasn’t generally about being really turned on, or a desire to have sex with someone. For Kyo and his greatest enjoyment of himself, it was about sensation, all the tightening of muscles, the coiling need, and the blissful release of everything at once.

He was startled to find a more structured fantasy working its way into his session.

But the thought of how good it would feel to have someone’s dick in him had occurred to  him, and it wasn’t likely to vanish from his thoughts now, especially when it was so easy to attach that dick to someone already attractive in every other way.

Kyo squeezed his eyes shut against the lightless room, and let himself imagine it was Die’s hand wrapped around him instead of his own, that same long-fingered, tattooed hand that played over his guitar strings with such strength and dexterity.

He bit down on his lip as he thumbed the head, thinking of Die doing it, of Die watching him with warm, curious eyes as he took him apart with his electric touch. He could almost feel the sparks that always accompanied Die’s hand on him, and all at once the room was too hot, and he had to take his hands off himself so he could yank off his shirt. He threw it towards the hamper, uncaring of how in the darkness he missed and heard it fall to the floor. That wasn’t even on his list of priorities at the moment.

Kyo’s back hit the bed and he pushed his boxers down to better go after himself. He imagined Die crouching over him, long hair falling around his face as he looked down at him. He touched himself to the thought of Die, hard because of him, the blunt head of his beautiful, imaginary cock nudging at Kyo’s hole. He moaned loudly, dug his heels into the bed as he imagined Die entering him, slowly, with agonizing patience, letting him feel every centimeter until Kyo was so full he felt like he was choking on it. His hand sped up and he remembered Die’s hands again, how tightly he could grip the neck of his guitar, how fluidly he could slide over the frets.

He thought of the intense focus and concentration that took over Die’s face when he played. He wanted that kind of attention focused on him instead. He could imagine Die’s brow furrowed as he buried himself deep inside Kyo’s body, laid out beneath him—and before he could get any further with that train of thought, Kyo was cumming, a harsh but painfully satisfied cry ripping out of him as warm cum spattered up over his abs.

Fuck,” Kyo whispered as he just lay still for a long moment. His breathing was loud in the room, and if he’d been exhausted before, now he was on the brink of death. “Fuck,” he said again, and groaned as he shifted enough to get his boxers fully off. He used them to clean himself up, wiped his hands on them, and then tossed them too in the general direction of the laundry hamper, to be dealt with in the morning.

It never took long after a self-session like that for Kyo to drift off to sleep. In fact, he slept better post-orgasm than just about any other way. It was another reason why he enjoyed looking after himself so much. He’d tried all manner of strategies and home remedies to help him sleep, but nothing worked better than rubbing one out. This occasion was no different, and Kyo drew the covers up close around him so he could relax into the heavy kind of sleep that was strong arms tugging him downward, with no resistance.

Chapter Text

Sunlight pulled a reluctant Kyo from his pleasant night’s rest far sooner than he would have liked. He grumbled, squinted around for a clock and hoped desperately that he would discover he was allowed to go back to sleep for another few hours. Unfortunately, it was actually nearing noon, and even with the museum closed on Sundays, Kyo had places he needed to be.

The first rehearsal with Die had gone well, but with the band’s performance looming so near, they needed the practice more than ever, and Kaoru had insisted that they meet every evening this week—not that anyone disagreed.

Still, Kyo lollygagged a little bit. It was hard to leave his cocoon of warm blankets, especially when he’d left his clothing strewn all over the place and fallen asleep without even his boxers to warm his backside out in the cold world.

Then again, a hot shower sounded like a damn good idea.

With that promise as encouragement, Kyo threw his covers off and made a hasty dash for the bathroom, washing away sleep and cold under a soothingly scalding spray.

Twenty minutes later he was dressed in clean clothes, and went around his room tidying up a few things. He remembered the clothing he’d aimed at the hamper in the dark the night before, and walked around his bed to pick up the items—

But there was nothing on the floor there.

He frowned. Hadn’t that been yesterday? He was sure he’d tossed things this way, and they hadn’t gone into the hamper.

He looked in at his other dirty laundry and paused. It was all there. Jeans, shirt, even the soiled boxers from the previous night. Was his aim really that much better than he’d thought? He was sure he hadn’t gotten up and put things away properly, so he supposed he must’ve just landed them right when he threw them, unless—

Kyo swallowed, and a shudder ran through his whole body.

Die. He must have cleaned up, put the clothes into the hamper where Kyo had obviously intended for them to go.

The question was, had Die seen how the clothes had gotten on the floor in the first place?

Kyo had come home, found the apartment dark, and carried on under the assumption that he was alone. But what if he’d been totally wrong? Ghosts didn’t need light to see. Kyo hadn’t been quiet or discreet in the slightest, and it was possible that Die had witnessed everything and just been too polite (or horrified) to interrupt and say something.

Then again it was possible that Die hadn’t seen or heard any of it. Maybe he’d just come in in the morning, found a mess, and, being sort of anal about tidiness, had gone ahead and picked up what was on the floor.

Of course, Kyo didn’t have any evidence that Die was the type to be really persnickety about that kind of thing, and even if he did just pick it up, that wasn’t so comforting, seeing as the boxers at least had been pretty unmistakably covered in…

Kyo tried to tamp down on his rising panic. There was nothing much he could do about it now. Die was nowhere to be seen. Maybe later he could see him, before rehearsal, and he could talk to him.

And just what the fuck did he think he was going to say? “Hey, Die, did you happen to catch me jacking off last night and clean up after me? Yikes, man, sorry about that!” Maybe talking about it would just put them both in an awkward position, and he’d do better to act like it had never happened.

That was easier said than done when it quickly became all that Kyo could think about. He was reasonably sure he hadn’t said anything too incriminating out loud, in the throes of passion, but he still knew perfectly well what he’d been thinking of as he’d moved his hand over his own length, and the idea that Die might have seen him during that incredibly vulnerable moment set something on fire inside Kyo that he didn’t have the first idea how to calm.

It was ridiculous, he was sure, to be that excited over some ghost dick. More than likely he wouldn’t even be able to feel it inside him. But that didn’t mean he didn’t want to try to feel it.

As it happened, it hardly made much difference whether Kyo wanted to talk to Die about it or not, because Die hadn’t made an appearance all day. That was also troubling; he had been in Kyo’s room at some point and moved the clothes, but he hadn’t stuck around. Had he really just been disgusted?

Kyo went on doing chores around his apartment. He started a load of laundry and sorted out his recycling, and started to grow worried when he still didn’t see Die.

It would be such an embarrassing way to have scared him off. He could imagine himself going on some talk show, telling everyone his surefire method for removing a spirit from your home—masturbate loud enough and the ghost will be too uncomfortable to show his face again! No exorcism necessary!

He carried a trash bag around, quietly tidying up stray scraps of this and that. He came to his nightstand and picked up the note Die had written, turned it over between his fingers. He didn’t really need it anymore; the rest of the band had seen Die and could confirm that he was more than a mere figment of Kyo’s imagination.

All the same, he tucked the little water-stained paper into the pocket of his jeans and moved on to sweep a couple food wrappers into his trash bag.

Kyo was hanging his laundry to dry, and just starting to really worry that Die wouldn’t make it back in time for their evening rehearsal, when the TV switched on, and Kyo looked to see Die just sitting nonchalantly on the couch.

“Oh,” Kyo said, an undershirt still dangling damply from one hand. “You’re here. I wasn’t sure you’d make it.”

“Am I late?”

“Well, no,” Kyo said. Not technically. “I was just going to leave when I’m done with this laundry though.”

“Hmm.” Die was looking at the TV with a kind of glazed expression, and it bothered Kyo, though he couldn’t put into words exactly why.

“So, where were you?” Kyo knew it was a stupid thing to say. As far as Die had told him, there was really only one other place he went when he wasn’t with Kyo in the world of the living.

Die was able to pick up on the real underlying question, which was more Why weren’t you here? and he said, “I know I’ve been around a lot. I haven’t left you much time or space for yourself, even though I said that I would. So, I wanted to apologize for that.”

Kyo frowned. “It’s not like you’ve been smothering me or anything. I’m the one who asked you to join the band.”

“I know, but still.” Die shrugged one shoulder, his eyes still on the TV screen. “You’ve been kind to me, and I don’t want to take that for granted.”

Kyo wasn’t sure how to respond. Die was being so considerate, and it just made Kyo feel guiltier for the inappropriate things he’d been thinking about him.

And just like that, he was thinking some more, his eyes wandering down Die’s body, over his long, lean thighs. Kyo wanted to straddle him. He could easily envision himself on Die’s lap, rutting and grinding against him until he came in his own pants.

Jesus, maybe he really had been out of the game too long if it was that easy for his mind to go there.

“I appreciate that,” Kyo said awkwardly, aware of how delayed he was in saying anything. He hurried to get back to his laundry, refusing to look at Die any longer.

A short time later they were on their way once more to the rehearsal space. Clouds were lurking menacingly though the rain hadn’t started up again, and Kyo had his coat buttoned clear up to where it covered the bottom of his face. Die was unbothered as ever by the weather, and walked beside Kyo without looking at him.

“So did you have fun last night?”

Kyo glanced up, flustered. “I—what? When? No.”

Die arched an eyebrow. “No? Going out with everyone wasn’t good…?”

“Oh!” Duh. “Right, yeah, it was good. You know, Toshiya’s always entertaining, it’s always pretty funny when he gets drunk enough to suggest we go to karaoke.”

“And do you?”

“Fuck no.”

Die laughed, “I think it’d be fun.”

Kyo tried to picture it, Die in a karaoke room, maybe awkwardly holding some maracas. “Yeah, you’d wanna go duet with Totchi?”

“Sure! He seems really cool.”

Kyo smiled. He hadn’t realized how much he’d been worried about Die’s reactions to the rest of the band until he felt that relief rush through him. “I’m glad you like him.”

“I liked all of them,” Die said before a little crease appeared between his brows. “I don’t think Shinya cared for me, though.”

“That whole thing wasn’t your fault,” Kyo told him quickly. “We talked more last night, Shinya is just… he worries about stuff, and he’s not always great at expressing things openly—not that I’m one to talk.” He chuckled into the collar of his jacket. “He said he was sorry for how he acted towards you, that he should have treated you with more respect.” Kyo studied Die’s profile as they walked down the stairs to the subway station. “Was he—Is that why you didn’t want to join us last night?”

Finally Die looked over in surprise. “What? No! Oh, man, is that what he thought?”

“Toshiya was worried it was something he’d done.”

“Oh, no.” Die looked pained. “God, I feel so shitty now, I didn’t mean for anyone to think that.”

Kyo nodded, trying to to be understanding. “So, then… um, what… why did you decide to just go home?”

Die’s mouth opened, pain still the main aspect of his expression. “I—it’s not, just—I didn’t. Want to go out.” He gave Kyo a kind of apologetic look and didn’t say anymore.

 

“So he didn’t mention anything about being upset last night?” Kaoru said quietly to Kyo as they watched Toshiya and Die running through one of the guitar solos.

Most of the practice had been like this, Toshiya working closely with Die on riffs and details while everyone else focused on their own sections. It wasn’t smooth, but it was necessary work.

“No,” Kyo answered. “He said it wasn’t anything to do with the band, he just didn’t want to go out.”

“But he made it back to your place okay?”

“I guess so,” Kyo said with a shrug. “I mean, he showed up in time for rehearsal.” And he might have been there last night too and Kyo just hadn’t noticed.

“And his poor mood doesn’t seem to have carried over,” Kaoru mused. “I guess that’s a good thing.”

“I think so,” Kyo said, and yawned.

“I’ve been in touch with the venue,” Kaoru said. “I wanted to make sure they have all the correct information about our band and its members.”

Kyo felt a little smirk tugging at his mouth as he heard in the simple statement Kaoru’s lingering distaste for Kisaki.

“I was thinking—how would you feel about changing the band’s name?” Kaoru said.

The question surprised Kyo. It wasn’t like they were a huge name or anything, but they’d experienced moderate success locally, and rebranding at this point could push them backwards. If it was something Kaoru was seriously considering, Kyo wanted to know his reasoning.

“I thought you were hoping for us to make contact with potential management companies soon,” Kyo said. “You don’t think separating ourselves from any success we’ve had as an established group could be, well, harmful?”

“I think,” Kaoru said, and closed his eyes in concentration, “that Die could be the key. And I want our new band to be clearly something of which he is a part.”

Again, Kyo was surprised. Of course he was pleased that everyone had taken to Die so well so quickly, but it almost made him suspicious. “If this is just about distancing ourselves from what we’d made with—”

“It’s not,” Kaoru said quickly. “That is, I can’t deny that I’d like very much for us to be seen independently from him, but there’s another point to my thinking, which I’m afraid you might like even less.”

That didn’t bode well. Kyo looked over at Toshiya and Die. They’d stopped playing and were talking quietly amongst themselves.

“I think there could be something to Die’s presence,” Kaoru said, “as… a kind of gimmick.” His face was stone-cold serious. “The ghost thing might give us an edge, distinguish us from other up-and-coming bands.”

Kyo stared at him. “You want to make the fact that Die is dead… into some kind of publicity stunt?”

“I knew you wouldn’t like it,” Kaoru muttered, shaking his head.

“I just—I’m trying to wrap my head around it,” Kyo said. “You really see this guy is deceased and think, ‘oh, how can I take advantage of this?’?”

“Now, come on,” Kaoru said. “Don’t act like you didn’t meet him and see an opportunity.”

“Not like this!” Kyo hissed, trying to keep his voice from rising. “What do you even expect him to do, come onstage only after we hold a séance, do some kind of ghost tricks for your entertainment? I’ve gotta say, I think it’s really shitty of—”

Kyo was interrupted by Toshiya’s loud cackle of laughter, and both he and Kaoru looked to find Die levitating several centimeters off the floor, looking rather proud of himself.

“Holy shit!” Toshiya said. “Hoooly shit, that’s so cool—are you guys seeing this?!”

Die chuckled. “It’s really not that much more complicated than stickin’ my hand through something.”

“You should totally do that onstage!”

“You think so?” Die launched into the guitar solo they’d just been practicing, still floating in the air.

“Hell yes! It’s badass!” Toshiya said enthusiastically.

Kaoru gave Kyo a pointed look.

Kyo scowled. “Fine.” After all, who was he to protest if Die wanted to sell himself out like that?

Shinya had been watching the whole scene in silence, but at that point he got up from his seat at his drums and came over to Kyo, sitting lightly on the chair beside him instead.

“You have to admit it’s a pretty neat trick,” he said.

Trick,” Kyo said scornfully. The whole thing still rubbed him the wrong way, and he wondered whether Die knew what he was getting himself into.

“Die is a performer,” Shinya said. “His death has prevented him from getting out there and being who he is, doing what he loves. Now he has the chance to take his… unfortunate state into his own hands, to change it into something more… beneficial.” He looked at Kyo. “You don’t think it makes sense for him to embrace that part of himself, to show off what it allows him to do?”

Kyo hated that it did make sense, that it was probably actually a much more emotionally healthy way to handle things than trying to hide the fact that he was dead, or act like there was nothing unusual about him.

“So you and Kaoru are in cahoots about this?” Kyo said.

“I always run things by Shinya first,” Kaoru said. “He’s better than I am at telling if I’m being either impractical or insensitive.”

“Or both,” Shinya added.

“Then did you have another band name in mind?” Kyo asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

Kaoru nodded. “I figure our sort of theme, musically, lyrically is… centered around pain. So, thinking of the band as a unit, a single body… What do you think about Genshitsuu?”

Kyo considered it. Phantom pain. It was perhaps just subtle enough to not be silly, and was in fact pretty appropriate. It was a psychological pain, and Kyo couldn’t deny that he kind of liked Die being so accepted that he was real part of their new band name. “We’ll have to put it to a vote, I guess.”

Kaoru smiled. “But you’re not rejecting it outright.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Then I am cautiously optimistic.”

“That can be the name of our first album,” Shinya teased.

“Jesus, how would that happen?” Kaoru said, the horror at such a suggestion evident on his face.

“Don’t be like that,” Shinya said. “I think we probably should start working on putting together an album.”

That’s not the part of what you said that I have a problem with, and you know it.” Kaoru thought for a moment. “I don’t know what we’ll really title our first album. But I agree we should be thinking about a tracklist. After the gig.”

Kyo and Shinya both nodded and they all returned their attention to Die, struggling to return to the ground from his hovering position. As neat a trick as it was, it definitely required some practice before it was really stage-ready.

Chapter Text

“Back to the top?” Toshiya asked tiredly.

Kaoru shook his head. “The transition is what was sloppy. Let’s take it from the last chorus of the previous song.”

They waited for Shinya to count them back in, and ran the whole section over. It went much smoother that time, but Kaoru still stopped them and made them take it again. He’d been increasingly strict in his expectations as the live itself drew nearer. With this being their last rehearsal before soundcheck, the night before the performance, he wasn’t letting them get away with even minor imperfections.

“You understand why I’m being so demanding, right?” Kaoru said.

He ignored Toshiya’s mumbled response of, “because you’re a huge bag of dicks,” and looked around at the rest of them until they nodded.

“Good, then let’s take ten.” He was out the door before anyone else had even set down their instruments.

Kyo felt for Toshiya. He’d been receiving the worst of Kaoru’s wrath, after all.

Since Toshiya had taken the time to help Die get situated and caught up on the rhythm guitar parts, his own bass-playing hadn’t been his main focus. The lines were still pretty new to him, and while his ability to adapt was impressive, he was still making more mistakes than Kaoru was comfortable with.

“You know not to take him too seriously, don’t you?” Shinya said to Toshiya. “He gets stressed out and he doesn’t even think about anything other than what he’s working towards.”

“It’s not like it’s my fault he made Kisaki leave the band,” Toshiya said.

“What, you want him back?” Kyo said. “No, thank you.”

“We’re honestly far more cohesive without him,” Shinya said.

“I just mean he doesn’t have to take his stress out on me,” Toshiya sighed. “He creates his own stressful situations.”

Shinya gave him a sympathetic look. “More often than not. Which is why it’s important for you to remember that it’s not about you at all.”

Die nodded vehemently. “It’s not about you. I can’t claim to know Kaoru well, but you sound amazing, and the fact that you had to take over all these bass parts only in the past couple weeks is mind-blowing. I don’t know how you do it!”

Toshiya smiled bashfully, and didn’t grumble anymore, even when Kaoru came back in and they resumed practicing.

It was sweet, Kyo thought. Die was such a kind and gentle soul he knew just what to say to improve Toshiya’s mood. Kyo never knew what to say. He’d been friends with Toshiya for years, but he still felt like any attempts he made to comfort him tended to backfire and make him more irritated instead.

He supposed Die just had that kind of natural flair for understanding people and knowing what they needed, and it was nice to see Toshiya accepting his compliments, and not continuing to grouse out of sheer spite.

That is, it was nice, until they finished running one of the few songs that featured Die more prominently, and Toshiya repeated Die’s compliment back to him.

“You’re one to talk—that solo? You only played it for the first time three days ago. That is mind-blowing.”

Die grinned. “Glad you think so.”

Kyo’s eyes narrowed. What was going on here? Whatever it was, he hated it. He was no longer approving of the sweetness, or happy to see Toshiya cheered up. It looked too much like flirting, and he wasn’t interested in that for even a second.

Was that really all it took? Die looked at Kyo like he meant something, but the minute he introduced him to new people, he turned and batted his eyelashes at the closest tall, muscular, good-humored hunk of a man in the vicinity?

Kyo had no claim to Die. And certainly it was Die’s right to flirt with whomever he felt like, but Kyo found he was still moping over it when they were packing up for the night.

Toshiya kept giving Kyo these strange little looks, clearly confused as to why he was upset. Which was fair.

“So, where are we going tonight?” Kaoru said, as if going out had already been decided.

Then again, it might have been; Kyo hadn’t been paying attention all that well for the whole end of rehearsal, though at least he’d managed not to miss any of his cues. That was just a disturbing testament to how much he could run on autopilot once he got into performance mode. It was also probably related to how he could never really remember a performance once it was over.

“Die, you’ll come this time, won’t you?” Shinya said. “It’s the night before our debut as Genshitsuu. It’s worth celebrating. And—we are sorry about last time…”

“No, you did nothing wrong,” Die said, shaking his head. “I just, um. It’s not my scene anymore.”

Toshiya looked like he wanted to argue, so Kyo cut him off, “Yeah, I think I’ll actually skip tonight, too. Rest up for tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Die said. “I mean, not because of me, right?”

“I’m just not feeling it.” Kyo shrugged. “Just wanna get home.”

Toshiya only looked more distressed. He sighed. “If you guys are sure… Die, you rocked tonight. You’re gonna be great tomorrow.” He clapped him on the shoulder.

Only then did Kyo remember the important detail that Toshiya was, in fact, straight, and had not been flirting with Die at all. Man, this infatuation with Die was really fucking him up.

“You guys have fun, though,” Kyo said, making sure to smile at Toshiya so he’d know he wasn’t still upset with him over literally nothing. “And Shinya, keep an eye on them.”

“I always do,” Shinya said with a polite nod of his head.

“Are you sure you don’t want to join them?” Die said, a nervous edge to his voice. “I don’t want you to miss out.”

“Trust me, I’m not missing anything,” Kyo said. “We can head back to the apartment together.”

“I might text you some notes later,” Kaoru said, “so please be sure to check your phone. Die, if I have anything for you, I’ll send it via Kyo.”

“Sounds good,” Die said, and Kyo bit back a laugh at his perplexed facial expression. Sooner or later he would have to learn that that was just how Kaoru was.

They finished their goodnights, and then Kyo and Die were on their way back towards the subway station, the chill night air ruffling Kyo’s hair, while Die’s remained perfect and motionless down his back. Clouds and light pollution kept them from seeing any stars, but a bright cheshire moon grinned down at them and Kyo watched it as they walked.

They went over details for the live the next day as they rode the train, things they’d gone over a dozen times already, like when they needed to be at soundcheck, what additional equipment they wanted to have on-hand.

Then Kyo asked, “What are you going to wear?”

Die seemed to glitch for a second. “Wear?”

“Yeah, wear,” Kyo said. “You know, clothes.” He looked Die up and down. Had he been wearing the same outfit every time he’d seen him? It was such a casual and unassuming look that Kyo truly hadn’t noticed whether it had changed or not.

“I… guess I hadn’t really thought about it…”

“But you can change your clothes, yeah?” Kyo pressed. “I’m assuming, what with the whole existing-as-energy thing, you can more or less wear whatever you want.”

Following that line of thought, Kyo supposed that indicated that this was how Die had chosen to present himself. He had good taste.

Once again he remembered that other version of Die whose reflection he’d seen. Could he look that way, too? Was that how he truly looked, and this ensemble was some kind of glamour? Or had Kyo imagined it in an anxiety-fueled and sleep-deprived moment?

“Well, what are you going to be wearing?” Die asked.

“No, no, no.” Kyo shook his head. “You can’t base your look on me. I never really manage to match the rest of the band.”

“No? Sounds like we need a stylist.”

“We don’t even have a manager,” Kyo pointed out. “One staffing issue at a time.”

“Maybe I could get Kaoru the contact info for my old group’s manager,” Die mused.

“You don’t think that could create some conflict of interest? Or at the very least be really fucking awkward.”

“Oh, hm, you might be right about that.”

They were almost back to Kyo’s apartment building, walking a bit slower as they approached it.

“Then what are the others going to wear?” Die said, following Kyo into the building’s elevator.

Kyo puffed up his cheeks and blew out the air. “I really couldn’t say. It tends to be a kind of free-for-all. Shinya’s usually in white, looking like he’s never seen a rock venue in his life… Toshiya alternates between skirts and some muscle-baring get-up, and Kaoru…” He trailed off with a grimace, and Die laughed.

“So I have a fair amount of wiggle room.”

“Definitely,” Kyo said. They stepped out onto their floor and moved down the hall towards their unit. “If you want, we could pick out something for you—do a kind of fashion show, try a bunch of stuff. I have a full-length mirror in my room, we can see what—”

“No, that’s all right,” Die said, his eyebrows drawn down. “I’m. I’m sure I can figure something out on my own. But I appreciate the offer.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Kyo said. He was a little thrown by Die’s response, but he tried to shrug it off as he got the door to the apartment open. “To tell the truth, I probably just want to go straight to bed.”

Die chuckled. “I just might join you.” His eyes went wide. “I mean! I mean, I know, what you mean. I am also tired.” He swept into the apartment, crackling the air around Kyo as he passed.

“I thought you said you don’t sleep,” Kyo said as he bent to untie his sneakers.

“I don’t need to sleep.” Die’s voice was drifting from the dark living room, which seemed to be where he was most comfortable, based on how often he appeared there. “But I can go into a… maybe it’s more a kind of meditative state. If I focus my energy right. It helps me feel more rested, I guess you’d say.”

“Mm, rested,” Kyo yawned. “Gotta get me some of that.” He shuffled into the bathroom to start brushing his teeth, only to be called back out by Die’s voice.

“You should have gone out with them.”

“Ha?” Kyo managed around a mouthful of toothbrush.

“They’re your friends,” Die said. “You shouldn’t be here with me instead of with them.”

“You’re my friend, too,” Kyo mumbled before spitting in the sink. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Besides, it’s not like I opted out just because I felt bad for you or something.”

Die was staring when Kyo came back out of the bathroom. “I’m your friend?”

“Well, yeah.” Kyo went about emptying his pockets, stripping out of his jeans shamelessly and pulling on his sleep pants. He put his phone on the nightstand to charge overnight and moved to sit on his bed. “And, you know, they want to be friends with you, too. That’s why they keep pushing, trying to convince you to go drinking with them. They’re not just being annoying—I mean, they are, but they want to know you.” He shrugged. “I want to know you, too.”

Die looked strange, standing in his bedroom, too tall and awkward. He seemed to sense that, because he sat down on the floor, leaned his back against the wall. “There’s not… What do you want to know?”

Kyo shifted around, getting under the covers. He didn’t know what to say, how to tell Die that he wanted to know everything about him, but that it felt wrong to pry into anything about when he’d been alive. “Whatever you feel comfortable telling me. Is it okay to turn off the light?” He waited for Die to nod before clicking off the ceiling light over his bed and lying down.

Die didn’t say anything, made no sound at all, and not knowing for sure that he was there almost made it easier to talk to him.

Kyo looked up towards the ceiling that he couldn’t make out in the dark. “I have a lot of questions. Of course I do. About who you were and about what happened to you, about why you’re here now. But you don’t have to share more than you want to.”

There was a pause, then Die’s voice, “You can ask me anything. I’ll answer you.”

The implication was clear, that Die might not have answered someone else, but was willing to hear out Kyo, specifically. Still, Kyo said, “None of it really matters.”

Kyo closed his eyes, listened. He wanted to know if Die breathed, if he could hear it in the otherwise silent room, but there was nothing. He might as well have been alone.

Then Die said, “I still think you should have gone out with them.”

Kyo’s eyes snapped open. “Are you serious? What, I’m boring you, you wanna get rid of me or something?”

“No,” Die said. “Just… I’m not… Going out is a good time for you to unwind, and I’d hate to be the reason you don’t get to have that.”

“I told you, you’re not,” Kyo said. “I actually hardly ever go out with them anyway. I don’t really drink, so it’s not that interesting to me.”

“The other night was a special occasion, then?”

“Yeah,” Kyo said. “You joining the band seemed really worth celebrating, so I went with them. It’s still not like I was out getting drunk, though.”

“Really?” There was a peculiar skepticism to Die’s voice. “So when you came home you were totally sober?”

“Sure, sober. Just also really fucking tired.”

“Hmm. Sometimes that can be worse.”

“I don’t disagree,” Kyo said, huffing out a laugh. He rolled onto his side. He still couldn’t see Die, even though his eyes had adjusted somewhat to the dark. But in spite of that, he felt secure in the knowledge that he was there. He could feel his presence, the cold burn of him filling the room, making Kyo feel protected. He let his eyes close again, his hands curled loosely, free of the tension he was so used to carrying.

And he had almost drifted off when Die spoke again, his voice hardly even a whisper.

“It was my fault.”

Kyo waited, not 100% sure he’d really heard the words and not dreamed them.

“That night. I was the one driving, and I shouldn’t have been,” Die continued distantly. “It was an accident, but there’s no one to blame but myself.”

Kyo opened his eyes, trying again to focus in the blackness of the room. Die’s death. Without Kyo even asking, Die was confessing something so painfully intimate, and Kyo was afraid to even breathe in case it came across as an interruption.

“I wasn’t drunk,” Die said, and it was hard, bordering on defensive, despite the fact that Kyo wouldn’t have ever accused him of such a thing. “I know what people thought, and I know that I usually had too much, but never when I was driving. And that night I didn’t have a single drink. I was—Designated Driver.”

Kyo could tell that was the worst part of it for Die, that was the detail that made the whole thing worse than merely dying. If he’d been the designated driver, he’d been responsible for more than just himself. There had been other people in the car.

“It was after a gig. The whole band was out celebrating, and it was my turn to stay sober. I was knocking back grapefruit juices all night, and everyone was happy, we thought… We thought we were going places. That it was just the start of everything. And then we left the izakaya, and I hadn’t even touched alcohol, but… It was still my fault.”

Kyo realized he was clenching the bedsheet in his fist, tight enough to strain the fabric. He wanted to be able to see Die, but he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to even with the lights on. There was something so far away about his voice.

Wetting his lips, Kyo asked, “What happened?”

“I was tired,” Die said, followed by a dry chuckle. “I was exhausted, and I fell asleep at the wheel, lost control of the car. Next thing I knew, I was looking at myself from the outside, my head split open, the angle of my neck all… wrong.” He swallowed audibly. “I didn’t survive the crash.”

Kyo kept his voice soft, careful. “And the others?”

“I had my whole band in the van,” Die said. “But I was the only one who died. I deserved it.”

“Die…” Kyo clutched at the sheets even harder. It hurt to hear Die talk like that. It was familiar and it was wrong.

“I did,” Die insisted. “I had a responsibility to all of them, and I fucked everything up in the most irreparable way there is. I should have been chugging coffee all night, to keep myself awake. I should have told them, no, I’m too tired to drive, I should have pulled over and rested until I was alert enough to go on.”

“Maybe you should have,” Kyo said gently. “But you didn’t. And torturing yourself for that fact now won’t change it.” He pushed himself to sit up, wrapped his arms loosely around his knees. “You made a mistake, and I’d say you’ve paid for it.”

“So did everyone else,” Die said. “Two of my old bandmates ended up badly injured enough that they might never play again. The other two fared better, but there was no one in that van who didn’t suffer.”

“You were able to find out what happened to them?”

“At the beginning… It was hard to step back. I felt—I was responsible. I didn’t know what had happened at first, what I—was. I saw myself there, and I couldn’t process it. I could only react, put every drop of energy I had into dragging everyone else out of the van before it caught fire. I couldn't even call for help. They were too badly injured for me to help more than that, and that was because of me. I still couldn’t let go—I saw all of them, in the hospital. But they couldn’t see me.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t move around this realm freely,” Kyo said.

“Not on my own,” Die said. “But I was never alone. I was always with them—and I guess I was always alone, too.” A quiet sniff sounded in the dark room. “The real reason I didn’t go to my funeral was that I didn’t want to see it. Didn’t want to see who came, didn’t want to know how angry they were. I destroyed people’s careers, ruined their lives—my friends. I couldn’t face them, so I kept my distance, let my connections to everyone I knew fade. Let them go on without me.”

“That’s why you came back here. That’s the only reason I was even able to know you.”

“I still can’t face them.”

Kyo chewed his lip thoughtfully. “You… saved their lives.”

“Lives that I endangered,” Die said, or snarled, if Kyo was honest. He’d never heard him sound like that before.

“Fine,” Kyo said. “Then don’t face them. They probably don’t need any closure anyway, right? They’ve all moved on without you.” He hadn’t meant to react with anger of his own. It was misplaced, and he knew that, but he’d never taken it well when someone raised their voice to him. Sighing, Kyo lay back down. “Die, I’m grateful to know you. I’m glad you came into my life, no matter how tragic the circumstances. This is where we are now, and we couldn’t have gotten here any other way.” He closed his eyes. “Tomorrow we have a performance to give, so let’s get some rest, yeah?”

He waited for Die’s response, but it never came, and as Kyo finally fell asleep, he found he could no longer sense that protective presence that meant Die was nearby.

Chapter Text

The loud vibrations of an incoming call on his phone startled Kyo awake earlier than he would have liked, and it took him a few tries to actually pick up the device and hit the “answer” icon.

He couldn’t do better than a grumbled, wordless noise to announce he was listening.

“…Is that supposed to be like ‘hello’?” It was Toshiya, because of course it was.

“It’s more like, ‘I don’t want to be awake.’”

“Yeah, geez, you went home early, but you sound worse than me.”

“Was there a reason for your call?” Kyo growled.

“I’d say it seems like you got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, but you obviously haven’t even gotten out of bed,” Toshiya said. “I called to see if you can bring that extra mic cable. I was gonna bring mine, but I must’ve left it somewhere, ‘cause it’s not in my closet.”

Kyo squeezed his eyes shut. “Um, yeah, I think you left it here.”

“Oh, perfect. Can you bring that one, then?”

“Isn’t the venue gonna have all that shit?”

“Yes, but you know Kaoru,” Toshiya said with a sigh. “He’s paranoid and I don’t blame him. It doesn’t hurt to come prepared for the worst.”

“Right,” Kyo said. “Yeah, no problem, I’ll bring it.”

“Thanks.” Toshiya paused. “So, are you gonna go back to sleep, or…? It’s only a couple hours till we’re supposed to be there for soundcheck.”

“No, yeah, I’m getting up. Here I go right now, being awake.” Kyo willed himself to sit up. It didn’t work.

“Okay… Well, good luck with that,” Toshiya said. “I’ll see you there?”

“Mmhmm. See you.” Kyo disconnected the call and rubbed both hands over his face, hoping to clear away some of the sleepiness. It worked a little.

As he sat up, his gaze immediately fell on the spot against the wall where Die had been sitting the night before. There was no sign of him there now, and even when Kyo got up and moved around the apartment, he was nowhere to be found.

It was unsettling, but Kyo wasn’t willing to let it worry him yet. It was the day of the gig. Maybe Die just needed a little extra time meditating in his non-corporeal realm before he felt ready to get onstage. Everyone had their own rituals.

Kyo focused on himself, showering and doing a few vocal warmups. It didn’t take long for his jumble of thoughts to return to his conversation with Die from the previous night.

He supposed it could have been something much worse than a car accident, and he was really sort of touched that Die felt he could trust Kyo enough to share the details with him at all. But it had been painful to hear Die’s guilt over the matter, something so deeply felt that even dying hadn’t assuaged it. Maybe it was easier for Die to be angry with himself than to grieve for everything he had lost, easier to think everyone he’d known hated him than to consider how much they might miss him.

He could picture Die as he’d described himself—as Kyo had seen him reflected in the mirror—broken and bloody, the only one left to burn up in a mangled vehicle. What could the others have thought, unable to see or know what force had pulled them from the wreckage? Did they feel that same presence that Kyo felt when Die was around; could they have suspected that their friend had helped them, even from beyond the grave?

It hurt to think that Die wasn’t willing to allow himself that peace of mind, of making contact with people he’d actually known, of resolving whatever he’d left unsaid, just out of fear and self-loathing.

And yet, even having been through all of that—dying, losing everyone and everything—Die was… warm. He smiled and he created, he was guarded but not walled-off. He was willing to hear Kyo’s questions and respond to them, and he’d already gotten closer to Kyo than Kyo generally allowed anyone. He was dead but he was far more socially competent than Kyo himself.

Except for how even as Kyo came out of the fogged-up bathroom, Die still hadn’t reappeared.

Kyo knew it was at least partly his own fault. Die had opened up to him, and while he’d been vulnerable, Kyo had gone about communicating all wrong, been sharp and thoughtless instead of tactful and understanding. He’d pushed Die away instead of welcoming him into his arms, berated him when he’d needed support, and now Die was lost in some void instead of there getting ready for the live.

Everything else was prepared. Kyo made sure his hair and makeup supplies were in his bag with his change of clothes, and put the mic cable Toshiya had requested there ready to take out the door. Time was running out, though, and there was no sign of Die.

They’d been over it. Die knew what time he needed to be back, but that didn’t mean much when he’d also said that he had no concept of time or anything else when he existed in the other realm. And they’d never worked out a way to call him back.

And if Kyo had been too hard on him, maybe he didn’t even want to show up for the live.

Still, much as Kyo loved to blame himself, he also knew that Die had made a commitment, to him and to the rest of the band, and if nothing else, Die sure seemed like someone who valued loyalty.

Kyo paced around the apartment for a few more minutes, and then texted Kaoru.

[k]: Might be a little late but no worries, start soundcheck w/o us if necessary

He sent it with some amount of trepidation. He didn’t want to worry Kaoru, after all. The last thing he needed was for Kaoru to start panicking before they even got there. But soundcheck, important as it was, would suffer less from Kyo and Die’s absence than from anyone else’s; Kyo hated participating in the little tech rehearsals anyway, and Die’s guitars, merely an extension of his own energy, might not have even been connected to the sound system in reality, so checking his levels was probably more for show than anything else.

As expected, Kaoru wrote back quickly.

[K]: What’s wrong? Is everything okay? Do you need me to come pick you up?

Kyo worried his lip as he mulled over the offer. It might buy him some time if he didn’t have to rely on public transportation, but would likely create a much larger problem if Kaoru ended up being late to soundcheck.

He replied with a half-truth.

[k]: Nothing’s wrong, just having trouble finding something I need for the show. Don’t worry though, I’ll come asap.

With that, he went back to pacing from room to room. He switched the television on, in case it might lure Die home. He was running out of time to make even the train that would get him there a little bit later. He knew he couldn’t leave without Die because he might never find his way to the venue without Kyo, but he wasn’t sure how much longer he could afford to wait for him.

Checking the time on his phone for the nth time, Kyo sighed and went back into his room to gather his keys and wallet from the dresser, where he’d emptied his pockets the night before. He crammed both into a zippered pouch of his bag, and then spotted Die’s note lying there, too.

He picked up the paper, battered and torn along one edge, stained and faded from riding around in Kyo’s pocket the past week. His thumb rubbed fondly over Die’s name as it had so many times, and he allowed himself to realize how truly sad he would feel if Die didn’t come back, if he’d actually lost him, and over something that was so much nothing.

“Please come back, Die,” he whispered, his eyes closing. “Come back to me.”

There was a chill in the air, and Kyo wrapped his arms around himself before he opened his eyes and found he was fact to, well, chest, with someone—with, obviously, Die.

It took a good deal of blinking, willing away tears that Kyo wasn’t interested in admitting had started forming, but eventually he looked up at Die’s face, saw him looking back with a kind of sullen curiosity.

“How did you do that?” Die asked, and Kyo counted it as a blessing that he didn’t seem angry, that he didn’t just vanish again as soon as he appeared.

“Do what?” Kyo said.

“You… summoned me.” Die’s eyes flitted to Kyo’s hand. “What’s that you have?”

Kyo’s hand tightened around the slip of paper protectively. “Nothing. It’s my note you wrote me.”

Die arched an eyebrow. “You still have that?”

“I always have it,” Kyo mumbled.

Die’s expression softened. “Well, it worked.”

“I was worried you wouldn’t come back,” Kyo said. He knew they didn’t exactly have time or some touching reunion or a heartfelt conversation, but he needed Die to know how much it meant just to see him. “I thought…”

“You called me back,” Die said.

“We’re late,” Kyo said. “For soundcheck.”

Die’s eyes widened. “Oh shit. Why didn’t you say that to begin with?” He was headed for the door before Kyo could think of any reason he shouldn’t be, and in some feat that Kyo was tempted to attribute to Die’s supernatural abilities, they made it to the train in time.

The atmosphere between them wasn’t quite as it had been. There was no joking away on the subway, or laughing at the other passengers. They both kept quiet and to themselves, and Kyo cursed himself for making things awkward when they had been so comfortable.

It wasn’t until they transferred to their last train that Die even addressed Kyo, “I’m not mad.”

Kyo looked at him in surprise. “No?”

“I’m sorry if it seems like I am.”

“It kinda does,” Kyo admitted.

Die shook his head. “I know I come off that way sometimes, when I don’t know how to handle my emotions well. It’s not you I’m angry with, though; if it’s anyone, it’s me.”

“And I get that,” Kyo said. “After what you told me, I can definitely understand the… regret, the anger that you have towards yourself.” He adjusted his grip on the overhead strap he was holding. “Look, Die, I could tell you… a bunch of bullshit about self-compassion and forgiveness. I’ve been to enough therapy to have heard it all before. And maybe it wouldn’t help, maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe once you’ve died you’ve missed your window of opportunity for healing.”

Die looked down at his shoes, said nothing.

“But you know… Accidents are part of being a person. And if it had been one of your bandmates driving, if he had crashed, and you had been injured, would you carry on punishing him the way you’re punishing yourself?”

Die looked up. “I wouldn’t punish him.”

“‘Cause it was an accident,” Kyo said. “You’d forgive him.”

Die nodded.

Kyo shrugged. “That’s all I’m saying.”

Eveyone was already onstage for soundcheck by the time Kyo and Die arrived.

“What kept you?” Kaoru demanded, but Kyo waved him off and took his place in front of the mic.

Once he’d lowered the stand significantly so it was at an appropriate height for him, Kyo got the go-ahead from the sound technician to check his levels, making sure to use the breadth of his range that he’d be using during the set. It took some adjustments, but in time everyone had things set as they needed them, and the band was dismissed back to the venue’s backstage area to get ready.

“We were just startin’ to get worried,” Toshiya said to Kyo as they all crowded into the single dressing room.

“I was, too,” Kyo said. He lowered his voice to add, “Die wasn’t in the apartment when I woke up. We kind of argued last night, and I think it… I don’t know, man, fucked up his energies.”

“You… argued with your ghost roommate?” Toshiya said, bemused. “What, over who was taking the trash out, or…?”

Kyo rolled his eyes, but changed his mind just before he told Toshiya any details of the argument. “It was kind of personal.”

Toshiya tilted his head and raised his eyebrows slowly. “You know, this might not be the time to ask,” he said, his eyes darting around the room to the other band members, “but is there possibly more to your, ah, relationship with Die than you’ve let me in on?”

There really wasn’t. Nothing was going on between them, and for all the actual evidence Kyo had, Die might not even be into men. Then again, Kyo hadn’t shared much with Toshiya about his own feelings for Die, which he could hardly deny were growing with every passing day. He patted Toshiya on the shoulder. “You’re right. It’s not the time to ask.”

Toshiya was left gaping after him as he went to start styling his hair.

Kyo couldn’t help noticing throughout the whole process of getting the band stage-ready, Die was sitting off all the way to one side of the room, doing absolutely nothing. His hair already looked perfect, he didn’t have a phone to play on. He didn’t really need to stretch his hands or arms like Shinya, and he didn’t require food, so he wasn’t having a snack like Toshiya rushed to do the moment Kyo released him from the styling chair in front of the mirror. Kaoru was in and out of the room, checking things, talking to people, smoking. When Kyo had finished Toshiya’s hair, and tidied up the counterspace, he came to stand before Die, who hadn’t moved from where he sat with his eyes closed.

“Can I get you a book or something?” Kyo offered, and Die opened his eyes to look up at him.

“I’m fine for the moment, but thank you.”

“Meditating again?”

One side of Die’s mouth curved up. “Trying to.”

Kyo leaned one hip against the makeup counter. “Still so difficult to find peace, even in death, eh?”

“Harder, I think,” Die said.

“Then again, I’m not sure your experience is exactly typical,” Kyo said. “It’s tough to say, when I haven’t met any other ghosts.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Or maybe I have, and haven’t even noticed that’s what they were.”

“I doubt it,” Die said. “My being here—your seeing me in the first place—was a… set of circumstances.”

“Yeah, I guess it was,” Kyo said, somewhat amused by the vagueness of Die’s word choice.

Die closed his eyes again, rolled his shoulders back. “Do you get nervous before shows?”

“Yes, and no,” Kyo said. “Once I’m onstage it’s fine, but if I think about it too much before I go out there, I can wind up really… discouraged.”

Die’s brows knit together as he looked up at him. “Discouraged how?”

Kyo gestured sort of uselessly and then crossed his arms over his chest. “The usual ways. About all of it, that it’s pointless, and I can’t reach anyone with what I’m singing, that I’m kidding myself pretending it’s worth carrying on instead of admitting I have no talent.” His voice had gotten very soft by the end of it. Even though the nearest other person was Shinya and his headphones were on, Kyo didn’t want to risk the others overhearing him.

Die, meanwhile, was making a face Kyo had never seen on him before, halfway between quietly puzzled and completely enraged. “What the fuck are you talking about? Kyo, Christ, I haven’t said much about it because I didn’t really think I needed to, but I have never heard anyone who can sing like you.”

Kyo scoffed dismissively, but Die only got more serious.

No, Kyo, look at me.”

He did. Die’s eyes were alight, the dark brown dancing with those same sparks Kyo felt whenever his hand brushed Die’s.

“It’s impolite, and maybe I’ll go to hell for saying it, since my driving ended up breaking the guy’s collarbone, but my old vocalist?” Die shook his head. “He was great, and I never thought he was lacking in anything, but I can’t even compare him to you.”

“C’mon, stop,” Kyo said, unable to maintain that kind of eye contact.

“I’m just telling you the truth,” Die said. “The first time I got to really hear you, I was so blown away that I forgot how to play an E minor and we had to stop the whole song, remember?”

Kyo squirmed. He was uncomfortable, felt trapped. Part of him was basking happily in the way Die was talking about him, but mostly he just wanted to get away from it. Die was sweet, but he was wrong; he didn’t know Kyo that well, didn’t know how often he fucked up, or how his lyrics had lost the band gigs more than once in the past.

“The raw emotion that comes out of you, crooning or screaming or anything in-between,” Die was saying, “It’s, like, piercing, it fucking hurts, and I mean that in the best possible—”

“I said stop,” Kyo snapped. There was a loud rushing in his ears that was making it hard to focus. Die was wrong, why didn’t he know how wrong he was?

“But—”

“But nothing,” Kyo said. “I’m not Toshiya, you can’t just suck up to me with a bunch of people-pleasing compliments.”

Die stared at him, mouth hanging open. “That’s not what I was—what does Toshiya have to do with anything?!”

“I just wanted to let you know that he’s straight, since you seem to have missed that memo,” Kyo said, and he hated himself as soon as it was out of his mouth.

Die’s cheeks colored noticeably. “I wasn’t—I didn’t ever—”

“Yeah, right, like you weren’t flirting with him just the other day?” Kyo said skeptically. He wished he could stop talking but he’d already lost control of that function. He hadn’t meant to bring up Toshiya, certainly not in a way that seemed to challenge or demean Die’s sexuality, but it was already too late to start taking things back, and Die’s eyes still had those sparks of light flickering in them.

“I assure you, I was not,” Die said through bared teeth. “I don’t even know what incident you’re referring to—but what bothers me more is, why? Why do you care? Is there such a huge problem if I was flirting with him?”

Kyo’s jaw tightened. “Just that I told you, he’s not—”

“And that could be an issue then between me and him,” Die said. “So what’s your deal with it? You have something against guys who like other guys?”

Kyo was unable to do more than make a loud, possibly embarrassing sound, kind of like the snort of a large piece of machinery, and then he was turning and stalking out of the dressing room and moving to sit in a chair in the hall instead.

He knew he couldn’t actually be mad at Die. He’d been the one to pick the fight in the first place, and for no good reason whatsoever, since Die had only been being nice to him.

And he knew he had no right to get jealous over how Die talked to Toshiya, but once he started going downhill, it was harder and harder to find the brakes.

There Die had been, misguidedly praising how talented Kyo was, not realizing he was in fact a genuine certified Mess, while not five meters away, Toshiya, who was legitimately talented—could play multiple instruments, composed music worth hearing, had some goddamn fucking social skills—sat chomping away at his banana, blatantly phallic in spite of his well-established heterosexuality, and it had just been too much for Kyo to stand by and allow.

Kyo was deeply ashamed of how he’d acted, but he couldn’t very well go charging back into the dressing room and say that at this point. All there really was to do was get through the evening’s performance and hope that Die wouldn’t be too angry to hear him out when it was over.

Tipping his head back against the wall, Kyo closed his eyes. He remembered Shinya’s warning to him, not to get so emotionally invested in Die when he knew perfectly well there was nothing there for him but heartache. He’d never been that good at listening to advice, even from someone as wise as Shinya, and somewhere, thinking he still had control of the situation, he’d lost scope of things entirely, and let Die come creeping right into his heart.

The sound of voices talking and laughing had Kyo’s eyes opening, and he found Kaoru coming inside from where he’d been out smoking, walking along the hall with one of the venue’s sound technicians. They parted ways as the tech left to go back to work, and Kaoru spotted Kyo and came over.

“You’re ready early,” he commented.

“Finished Toshiya’s hair, too,” Kyo said. He was getting antsy for the actual live to start, but showtime wasn’t for another thirty minutes, and he knew they weren’t even the first band on.

“Strange for us to be on top of things for once, isn’t it?” Kaoru chuckled and sat in the chair beside Kyo. “I know that’s thanks to Die, and thanks to you.”

Kyo shook his head. He didn’t deserve any thanks at the moment.

“There’s something I wanted to talk to you about. I understand that you consider his death and any surrounding details to be personal and not open to discussion,” Kaoru said. “I respect that, and I think it’s admirable on your part, that you’re so protective of him.” He paused, looking at the wall across from them. “I just want you to be prepared… If our aim is recognition, a wider audience, there could be a lot of questions brought up.”

Kyo nodded slowly. Somewhere in his mind he’d already foreseen that inevitability. He had to assume that it was something Die had thought about, too.

“Outside of that,” Kaoru said, “I do feel that our sound, with the incorporation of Die and his ideas, is the strongest it’s ever been, and if possible I’d like us to start thinking about recording for our EP.”

Kyo raised an eyebrow. An EP was something Kaoru had made a lot of noise about before, but he’d never heard him sounding so serious about it. He supposed it made sense, if Die really was setting them more firmly in this new direction. He wondered if Kaoru would still be feeling so gung-ho after the gig was over.

Kaoru went on for a bit about recording studios and schedules, and Kyo started to space out. If it was important, he’d hear it all again later anyway.

It wasn’t exactly spacing out, though—it was concentrating, just not on Kaoru’s words. The truth was he had started to feel that all-too-familiar, dark kind of panic, wrapping cold tendrils around him, his wrists, his spine. There was an itch in his palms, a sharp pain behind his eyes, and he knew it all intimately, but he didn’t have the time to deal with it now. There was nothing readily available for him to sufficiently satisfy the overwhelming need to do something—to hurt himself. To bleed.

He’d been clean for months, hadn’t reverted to his usual self-harm habits, and he didn’t want to break his streak now, but there was still something like a high-pitched static inside his brain that he knew there was no other way to cut through.

Difficult as it was to focus on anything else, Kyo did his utmost to think about the show ahead of him, and to get himself into the proper headspace for making that music.

After a while, Kaoru had to stop talking because the first band was going on and it was all quiet backstage. Kyo found it a little easier to exist in the moment instead of inside his own head when he could hear the other band playing their set. They were okay, but Kyo didn’t care for the vocalist’s style.

During the set, the rest of the band gradually came out of the dressing room and took their seats in the hall. There wan’t any available chair next to Kyo, since Kaoru was already sitting by him, and he felt sort of relieved, because there was already some awkward shift in atmosphere just in the others coming out.

Die sat in the chair directly across the hall from Kyo, and he was frowning, though he didn’t actually meet Kyo’s eye. Kyo realized he had changed into what must have been his concert attire. He sort of regretted that he’d missed the transformation, but for the most part he figured it was for the best, given that just seeing him in his new outfit had Kyo’s heart tripping over itself.

It wasn’t anything over the top; it was actually very understated, just black jeans tucked into some heavy boots, with a dark red shirt, halfway unbuttoned, and with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

It was hard for Kyo to tear his eyes away from the expanse of Die’s pale chest as it was revealed by his open shirt. There was no particularly impressive musculature showing, and yet Kyo had to think Die had no right to look so damn good.

But at the same time, Kyo didn’t have any right to sit there admiring him when he’d just gone and picked a fight with him earlier. He got a grip on himself and spent most of their time sitting there staring at the floor in front of his shoes, memorizing the cracks in the hardwood.

Before long, the other band was finishing, and they were up, preparing to go out onstage. Kaoru gathered them all into a huddle and spoke some words of encouragement that Kyo didn’t find especially memorable. He brought his hand to the middle of their little circle and waited for everyone else’s to stack on top. Kyo swallowed as Die laid his hand over his own, and he was stuck by how large it was in comparison. The crackle of electricity was brief before they all threw their hands up again with a cheer, and then they were walking out onto the still-dark stage.

Chapter Text

Kaoru had been adamant that they start off their set with something high-energy. Stuck as they were between two other bands, he wanted to make sure they grabbed the audience’s attention from the get-go, and then packed more emotional punch a couple songs in.

Kyo kept that in mind as he quite literally threw his body into their opening number, roaring and shrieking with a fury he never managed to reach in rehearsals. The actual live was different, it was real, and Kyo wasn’t Kyo anymore, and all that existed was this connection with the audience, this communication with them.

The set progressed, and in the third song, Kyo let himself hit new emotional lows with his performance, finding the comforting opportunity to scratch and claw at his own bare chest until he drew blood. By the end of that number, he felt calmer than he had since back in the dressing room, and he was grateful for the moment of quiet as the band switched some of their gear, and he knelt by the drum platform, drinking from his water bottle.

The quiet didn’t last, as the lights came back up and the audience screamed.

Not screamed as in cheered, but screamed as in, how the hell was that guitar just floating on the stage with no one holding it!?

Kyo looked at where Die was supposed to be in some alarm. This hadn’t been part of the plan, even as they’d discussed a few show-offy ghost tricks he might whip out onstage. This had never been on the table, and honestly Kyo hadn’t even known it was something Die could do.

The crowd only screamed more as that floating guitar seemingly began to play itself, starting the intro for the next song.

So, Die was still there; his energy was just manifesting in some fucked-up way, and Kyo couldn’t struggle to understand it or he would miss his cue to start singing.

Gradually, Die reappeared, and in response, the audience got wilder. Kyo couldn’t help noticing Die looked rather embarrassed as he came back into focus, that he hung his head forward as if his long hair might hide his face from scrutiny.

The rest of the show went more or less as planned. Kaoru and Toshiya played up some cute moments on their side of the stage, Kyo spoke to the audience just enough to keep them riled up, and in the final song, Die did his levitating bit, getting so into it that the stage lights flickered.

All in all, it was a total success. The crowd was still screaming for an encore as they returned to the dressing room, but they weren’t permitted to give once, since there was one more band performing after them, and they were pressed for time.

The lack of encore didn’t dampen the band’s spirits at all, and they were all pretty much giddy as they stood around cleaning off makeup and brushing out their hair.

“That was fantastic,” Kaoru said. “I have no doubt that we’ll be receiving calls for more opportunities. This show was everything we needed it to be.”

“Yes, because of Die and his amazing feats,” Shinya said. “That was… impressive.”

“Yeah, never saw you do that one before!” Toshiya chimed in. “Where you went invisible except for the guitar? That was rad.”

Kyo didn’t say anything. He still didn’t feel like he was allowed to talk to Die, and even if he was, it felt strange to heap praise upon him for something like that. In his experience, fluctuations in Die’s energy of that sort were more often a sign of some emotional distress or loss of concentration, and he saw it more as a potential call for concern than some neat parlor trick.

Besides, he was a little preoccupied with confronting his own reflection in the mirror. In the heat of the moment, he hadn’t realized just how badly he’d ripped into himself, but in the dressing room lights there was no ignoring the blood he’d left running down his chest.

He only stood dabbing at it for a minute or two before he excused himself to use the venue’s showers and let the harsh spray of scalding water wash makeup, sweat, and blood alike down the drain. He hissed appreciatively at the sting as the water hit the fresh cuts crisscrossing his ribs and pectorals. It was worse than he’d noticed when he’d been doing it, but somehow it was just what he’d needed. It had appeased something inside him, so that he wasn’t searching desperately for the nearest sharp utensil any longer, and with the added bonus of having been an Onstage Thing it was possible that he wouldn’t get any shit about it from his bandmates—or at the very least less than he would have if it hadn’t been part of the performance.

He dressed in clean clothes and returned to the dressing room wondering whether Die would still be there. Perhaps he’d have saved him the trouble of an uncomfortable conversation and just gone back to the apartment himself, or even to his other realm.

It wasn’t that Kyo wanted to be rid of him, he just didn’t know how to begin to explain his earlier behavior, especially not without sharing more about his feelings for Die than he was keen on doing. Die hadn’t seemed like he was still angry, but Kyo had noticed during their huddle backstage the way Die’s eyes had continually flitted back and forth between him and Toshiya, so obviously he’d kept in mind what Kyo had so foolishly said.

The whole band was still in the dressing room when Kyo walked in, and he didn’t know how to feel about that.

“Kaoru says we have to celebrate,” Toshiya announced.

Kaoru looked affronted. “I was not the only one saying that. It just seems like it was such a great live…”

“Die must think it’s all we ever do, go out drinking,” Shinya said, though Kyo noticed his eyes were actually following him as he crossed to his bag.

Die laughed, and the sound startled Kyo enough that he looked over at him. “It’s fine, it’s how I spent a lot of my time when I was alive, believe me.” There was something off about his smile, something sad behind the mask of good humor he wore for the band, and it made Kyo’s insides twist.

“Does that mean you’ll come out with us this time?” Kaoru asked, clearly hopeful, though he tried to make it sound like a throw-away question.

“You guys, you just invited him last night, and he wasn’t into it,” Kyo said. “Maybe you should back off.” It was possible that he should have just kept quiet, but he didn’t feel able. Knowing what he did now about the night that Die’s life had ended, it only made sense that Die wouldn’t want to go out drinking with his bandmates. It probably felt too much like that terrible memory, was too triggering. Could ghosts be diagnosed with PTSD?

“We know,” Toshiya said hurriedly. “It’s just that our very first performance as a band… It’s kind of a one-time special event…”

“I’m grateful for the offer,” Die said. “I doubt that I’ll ever want to join you guys out for a night of drinking, but. It’s kind of nice to be invited anyway. Makes me feel wanted.” He grinned, and the others laughed.

“I’m sure you are after tonight,” Kaoru said. “Did you hear the way those girls were screaming?”

“Of course he did, Kao, he’s dead, not deaf,” Toshiya said, rolling his eyes.

“You mean the shrieks of terror?” Die said dubiously. “Oh, yeah, they sounded really… interested.”

“No, no, not when they saw Kyo,” Toshiya said. “We mean when they saw you!”

“And when they couldn’t see you,” Kaoru added.

“I think the screams were more positive than you imagined them to be,” Shinya said.

“Oh, definitely,” Toshiya said. He nudged Kyo with his elbow. “You’re being awfully quiet, c’mon, tell Die the screaming meant they loved it.”

Kyo turned to face Die. He’d been avoiding eye contact, and now that he made it it was hard to get any words out. He gave a stiff nod. “You were phenomenal.”

That seemed to create a highly uncomfortable silence in the room, and Toshiya had to clear his throat to get them all to move on.

“So then! Kaoru’s driving, yeah?”

“Again?” Kaoru complained. “No, I want to drink tonight, let’s just get a cab.”

They were all starting to file out of the dressing room, but Shinya made sure to stop by Kyo, and pressed a small tube of ointment into his hand.

“At least take proper care of them?” He raised his eyebrows, glanced pointedly at Kyo’s now-clothed chest, and walked out with the others, his bag slung over his shoulder.

That left Kyo alone with Die, and he wasn’t ready for it, so he scrambled to get any remaining items stuffed into his own bag, and hurried after Shinya before Die could speak a word.

He didn’t have to go far to catch up with the others; the whole band had stopped just outside the door on the side of the building that led to the parking lot, having run into an obstacle: Kisaki.

He was looking down on them in his rather serpentine manner that could only be achieved by his wearing almost comically high platforms.

“I was surprised you went ahead and had the gig, what with losing a band member and everything,” Kisaki was saying. “Doesn’t seem to have set you back too much, does it?”

“No, I’d say we’re stronger than ever,” Kaoru said.

Kisaki gave him a condescending sort of smile. “I’m not sure what your image is supposed to be now… This new guy is meant to be, what, some sort of spirit? Isn’t that a bit much? Of course it’s amusing to think that you really couldn’t find a single living person willing to join your group.”

“It’s not that we were desperate,” Toshiya said, his shoulders squared. “Die is a terrific guitarist.”

“Oh, certainly,” Kisaki said. “Much better than you could have done, hm?”

“He didn’t struggle any to take over your bass lines, Kisaki,” Kaoru said sharply.

“No, I suppose I should be proud of him,” Kisaki said. “I hope you boys enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame brought to you by that freak of nature you’ve got playing with you now.” He looked past Toshiya and Kaoru, lips curling dangerously when he spotted Die.

“Fuck off,” Kyo said, mostly in an effort to distract Toshiya, who seemed a half-beat off from straight-up decking Kisaki. “No one asked you.”

“Eloquent as always,” Kisaki said, smiling placidly at him. “Best of luck to you all.” He sauntered off towards the front of the venue then, and no one was sorry to see him go.

Toshiya was still cursing angrily under his breath when Die leaned closer to Kyo to ask in a hushed voice, “That was your old bassist?”

Kyo quite forgot that he hadn’t wanted to speak to Die, and nodded. “Kisaki. I didn’t really think he was gonna show up here, but I guess we should have expected it. He lives for the drama.”

“Seems like a Grade-A asshole,” Die said.

Kaoru turned then, as if suddenly noticing they were there. “Die, you mustn’t take anything he said to heart. Kisaki is not someone to let dictate your feelings.”

“You mean the ‘freak of nature’ bit?” Die waved a hand. “I’m sure I’ve called myself worse. He’s just jealous and sad.”

Although it was true, Kyo wasn’t sure he believed Die’s dismissal of the insult so easily. He knew Die was prone to punishing himself, and might have taken Kisaki’s words more personally than he claimed.

“I’ll be in touch about recording schedules,” Kaoru said, and he headed off with Shinya, trying to comfort a still-fuming Toshiya.

Kyo was once more left alone with Die, and started walking towards the nearest underground station without pause, hoping to fill the silence as much and as quickly as possible.

Die trailed along behind him, more ghost-like even than Kyo was used to.

After a few minutes on the train, Die said, “Seemed like they tried harder to get me to go out with them than you.”

Kyo looked at him questioningly.

“I mean, they don’t really try to convince you, do they?” Die said. “Even for such a special occasion.”

“It’s like I told you,” Kyo said. “I almost never go out with them, I don’t like drinking. It’s not fun for anyone to just have me tagging along wishing I was at home with a warm bath and dinner from the conbini.”

Die laughed, but it was brief, and he seemed to catch himself. “Kyo—about earlier.”

“Don’t,” Kyo said. “I had no right to talk to you like that, I was being a dick.”

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Die said, ignoring him. “I was being totally serious when I said how talented I think you are, but I should have listened when you asked me to stop.”

“You were fine, don’t worry about it.”

“And as for the rest of it—” Die hesitated. “Well, Toshiya came over and… said a few things to me after you went out.”

Ah, shit. Kyo closed his eyes. Of course Toshiya would have overheard their little argument; he hadn’t been sitting all that far off, and they’d hardly bothered to keep their voices down. But could Toshiya have really been so clueless as to divulge Kyo’s feelings about Die, which he wasn’t yet ready to share?

“I’m sorry,” Die said. “I didn’t know that you were gay, and maybe he shouldn’t have told me, but I feel like a real moron now, for what I said to you.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“And I meant it, I never noticed that I was… flirting with Toshiya, but,” Die chuckled, a small embarrassed sound, “it has, er, been pointed out to me in the past that I sometimes have a tendency to flirt without even meaning to. And I didn’t know about your feelings for Toshiya, so—”

Kyo’s eyes popped open. “My feelings for Toshiya?!” He looked at Die incredulously. “Wh—Did he tell you that was a thing?”

“Well, no,” Die said, frowning. “But it makes sense, and I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to step in on something.”

“I keep trying to tell you, Toshiya is straight!” Kyo said. “There’s nothing there for you to step in on.”

“Still, it upset you,” Die said impatiently. “So, do you accept my apology or what?”

“I don’t think you should be apologizing,” Kyo said with a shake of his head. “But sure. Thanks.”

“And I’m sorry about the live, too,” Die said rather abruptly as they got off the train and started for the stairs.

“What? What could you have to apologize for with regard to that?”

“My… fading out,” Die said. His expression was terribly remorseful. “I know you all said the audience went for it, and the others seemed to think it was just another cool thing I have up my sleeve, but I could tell you didn’t think that. You knew…”

“You lost control,” Kyo said. And yes, he had suspected that something had been wrong, but he hadn’t been about to call him out for it.

Die nodded guiltily. “I did manage to pull myself together by the end of the song.”

“Yeah, it was okay,” Kyo said. “Not sure why you’re still so upset over it. We all have slip-ups during a live performance.”

“I just… hadn’t been expecting…” Die chewed his lip as they came out from the underground, into the night air. “I wasn’t prepared. Is that a—regular part of the show?”

Kyo looked at him, puzzled, until he saw Die’s eyes travel nervously to his chest and then away.

Oh, that.

“Um,” Kyo began, lamely, “What, like usually? No, I guess not, but, sometimes? it depends on the moment, the feeling. Sorry, I guess I should’ve warned you.”

“None of the rest of the band had any reaction to it at all,” Die said. “I didn’t really know what was happening.”

“They’re just… used to it,” Kyo said. He rubbed a hand unconsciously over his own chest; the cuts there were starting to itch. “You don’t have to worry about anything I’m doing. It’s all, yeah, just part of the show.” It wasn’t the whole truth, but it came out of Kyo's mouth so easily that it almost scared him.

Even so, Die stared at him like he was speaking an alien language. “I can’t just not worry. You were doing actual damage to yourself up there. That wasn’t stage blood. How am I—”

“But it’s not like it’s my blood, either,” Kyo said. “It is, but it’s… a persona’s. And it’s theirs.” He motioned to some invisible audience before them. “It’s a way of connecting to them, bleeding for them.”

Die was still looking at him strangely as they reached the apartment building.

“I’m not asking you to say you understand it,” Kyo said, his bag falling off his shoulder as he moved to unlock his front door. “Just think of it as part of the character I’m playing, same as the lines I’m singing, or the stage makeup.”

“That was a bit of a surprise, too.” Die was watching Kyo’s hand as he fumbled with the key, and Kyo thought it was kind of nice of him to not just charge ahead and phase though the door.

“My makeup?” Kyo said as he finally got the door open and held it so Die could go in first. “Your old band wasn’t big on that stuff?”

“We may have been a slightly different genre,” Die said. “There wasn’t so much…” He gestured vaguely to his face.

“Well, you notice the other members don’t really go in for that as much either,” Kyo said. He locked the door and left his shoes in the genkan. “I just like playing with it. It’s fun to do different stuff. I could try to do yours sometime, if you want.”

Die held up his hands quickly. “No, thank you.” He cleared his throat. “Which is not to say that it was bad at all. I thought you looked great, honestly, but it’s just not my style.”

“It’s not for everyone,” Kyo agreed. “And what you have going on works for you.” He looked Die up and down. He was still dressed as he had been for the concert, though he’d removed his boots, Kyo supposed as some symbol of respect, since it hardly made a difference to Kyo whether he appeared to be wearing shoes in the house or not. “Really, you look… very good.”

“Yeah?” Die looked overly pleased by the compliment, and Kyo felt himself blushing. “I was just trying to choose something that didn’t clash too badly with what everyone else was wearing.”

Kyo nodded and looked away. “Yeah, it’s perfect.”

From there he didn’t linger before going to fix himself some dinner, though he regretted not simply stopping and buying something on their way home. He’d forgotten how tired he got after a concert.

It seemed like Die was tired, too, since he didn’t hang around to talk, but tucked himself into a corner with a book from Kyo’s shelf and remained quiet for the rest of the evening.

They only spoke again to say goodnight, and Kyo might have been imagining it, but he thought Die had undone a couple more buttons on his shirt, and there was no chance of Kyo having anything else on his mind as he struggled to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

“So I guess he’s really serious this time about recording,” Toshiya said, chasing a bamboo shoot around his bowl with his chopsticks. “He’s got Shinya set to start laying down tracks before the end of the week, and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time then for the rest of us.”

Kyo nodded. “It must be nice for him to have something to get so excited about.”

Toshiya laughed. “It does seem like he needs to get out a bit more, huh?”

“This is good for him,” Kyo said. He really was glad that Kaoru was so motivated to move things forward with the band.

“You could stand to get out more, too.”

“What does it look like I’m doin’ right now?”

Toshiya had invited Kyo out to grab dinner at one of their favorite ramen spots, and Kyo had hardly even hesitated in accepting. He was achy and his mind was still cluttered the day after their gig, but he missed the days when he could just go get a meal with Toshiya, and they could talk about everything that was going on.

“Maybe the problem is really just that you go out too much,” Kyo suggested, and sipped his tea. “Seriously, weren’t you just out after the show last night, and then you’re inviting me out today… Don’t you ever want to get some sleep?”

“I sleep all the time,” Toshiya said dismissively.

“And how does your bank account feel about all your outings?”

“I’m fairly certain my day job pays better than yours, but if you’re so concerned about it, feel free to pick up the bill for dinner,” Toshiya said. “And besides, last night's kind of going out and this kind are totally different.” He picked at his food. “I wish you would have come last night. I know it’s not your thing, and now—well, you have even more of an excuse to skip out on it, but we like you to hang out with us. In case you ever don’t remember that.”

“No, I know,” Kyo said. While it was true that he usually had a hard time believing that his bandmates wanted him around socially, that didn’t have much to do with his recent failure to attend social events. “So what, did I miss some excitement last night?”

“Ehh, excitement?” Toshiya made a sheepish sort of face and rubbed at his neck. “You missed some ranting, maybe. Poor Shinya and Kaoru, I think I hardly shut up about Kisaki the whole damn night.”

Kyo pursed his lips. “Hmm, yeah. He really pissed you off, didn’t he?”

Toshiya looked at him with wide eyes. “Like he didn’t piss all of us off? Were you not mad?”

“Of course I was, he’s an asshole, but—”

“I thought you’d be just as angry as I was, if not more, with what he said about Die—which, he had no fucking right to say anything about him in the first place…”

Kyo was quickly getting the feeling that he was going to get to experience some of the ranting he’d missed out on after all.

“But he was being petty even just showing up,” Toshiya went on, glaring down into his bowl. “After all that time working together, you know I had stupidly imagined we might have some kind of friendly relationship when it all ended—”

“That was never gonna happen.”

“I know, but I didn’t realize he was gonna be so…” he broke off with a growl, dropping his spoon into his mostly-empty bowl with a clatter. “He’s such a dick.”

Kyo sighed. “He is. But who gives a fuck what he thinks, what he says? He’s sad and pathetic and he wanted to make us feel bad because he feels bad. He wants what we have and all he can think to do about it is try to hurt us.”

Toshiya gave him a funny look. “That’s some big talk coming from you. When did you get all wise about this stuff?”

Kyo shook his head. “It’s way easier to dispense for other people than to believe for myself. Not the same thing at all.”

“Hmm.” Toshiya frowned, clearly disappointed.

“It’s still true, though. Whatever shit Kisaki wants to talk doesn’t matter if you just remember that’s all it is.” Kyo tilted his head. “Aren’t you happier playing the bass?”

“Of course I am,” Toshiya said. “Feels like home.”

Kyo smiled. “Then that’s worth a hell of a lot more. You sound great, too.”

Toshiya snorted. “Yeah, right, like you ever listen to what anyone else is doing.”

“Everyone else does, though, right? I can take the others’ word for it!”

Toshiya’s smile slowly faded and he sniffed. “Listen, Kyo, there’s something else that we were talking about last night.”

“Oh? Something besides your seething hatred for Kisaki? Just how late were you guys out?” Kyo was trying to keep the tone light, though he could tell by the serious look on Toshiya’s face that the mood had shifted towards something he didn’t like so well.

“Something more about you,” Toshiya said. “Not like in a ‘we were all talking about you behind your back’ kind of way—”

“Just you were all talking about me,” Kyo said. “When I wasn’t there.”

“Well, yes.” Toshiya kept his gaze on the table. “Not just you. It was—well, you know, you didn’t come out with us last night.”

“No,” Kyo said. “I usually don’t.”

“I know, but it seems like—well, we wondered whether that had something to do with—with Die not coming,” Toshiya said. He looked up at Kyo through his lashes.

“Not really,” Kyo said. “I didn’t go out drinking with you before Die joined the band, and I still don’t now. Not really a change there.”

“Are you sure?” Toshiya asked, and something about how he said it rubbed Kyo very much the wrong way. “In the past, when we’ve had a real reason to celebrate, you’ve sometimes—”

“Did you guys even ask me?” Kyo interrupted, remembering how Die had commented on it.

Toshiya was caught off-guard. “Did—wh—”

“You guys don’t even bother asking if I want to go, you just decide you’re all going and expect me to be eager to tag along, even though that’s never the person I’ve been and you all know it,” Kyo said. He was surprised by his own irritation over the matter. “You put more energy into asking Die than asking me, and he’s dead.”

“And you just answer for him anyway!” Toshiya said. “Telling us to back off and not invite him—do you want to be invited or not?”

“I really don’t care one way or the other,” Kyo said, which was more or less true. What bothered him far more was that they would take offense at his not going to something to which he was never invited. He himself wasn’t going to lose sleep over being asked or not.

“Besides, Kyo, of course we put more effort into asking Die to come out than you—you’re as stubborn as a rock, and if Die came,” Toshiya barreled on, “then shit, you’d probably suddenly change your tune and want to come, too!”

Kyo was taken aback. Was that what this was really about? They hadn’t “just” been talking about Kyo because they’d also been talking about Die?

“Kyo, I’m not—” Toshiya sighed, leveled him with a look too close to pitying to be comfortable. “I overheard what you guys were saying to each other before the live.”

“I know,” Kyo said. “Die told me you talked to him.”

“And I didn’t tell him how you feel about him.”

“I know.”

“But it’s—you’re not the most subtle person,” Toshiya said. “Shinya and I were talking, and we know how much you care about him, but…”

Kyo stared at him, unmoving. He saw now where this was going. This was some kind of intervention. They’d been discussing his closeness to Die, and Toshiya had invited him here specifically to discourage it.

“Just, do you think it’s a good idea?” Toshiya said.

“Do I think… caring about Die is a good idea?” Kyo repeated, a hysterical laugh catching in his throat.

“I mean, it’s clear enough that he cares for you, too,” Toshiya said. “When I explained that you were gay, he said, you know, he’s bi, and I thought, okay, but that doesn’t mean you can go thinking—there’s not really anywhere it can go, Kyo.”

The rushing was back in Kyo’s ears, making Toshiya’s words harder to focus on, except for those ones stating that Die was bisexual—that was a detail that he hadn’t had before, not officially, and he was carefully rotating it in his mind, looking for other information he could link it with in the puzzle that was his understanding of Die.

Toshiya reached for Kyo’s hand where it was resting on the table, and he jerked away instinctively.

With a slightly hurt look, Toshiya kept talking, “I’m not saying all this just to be a dick. But you’re opting out of a night celebrating with your friends to, what, go home and chill with a dead guy?”

Kyo shook his head in disbelief. “You’re all fucking hypocrites. I can’t—he’s good enough to play in your band, but not enough of a person to hang out with, socially?”

“We want to know him socially, we invited—”

“But when it’s me hanging out with him, he’s just ‘a dead guy’?”

“That was—I shouldn’t have said that, I apologize,” Toshiya said, wincing. “But, Kyo.” He looked at him and seemed all at once very tired. “It is different when it’s you.”

Kyo’s mouth was dry. “Fuck you.”

Toshiya shrugged helplessly. “What are we supposed to think? After how you were acting onstage last night—are we supposed to just ignore that?”

“That was onstage, it’s different,” Kyo protested.

“So you’ve said, but it’s not completely,” Toshiya said. “We want you to be okay, and it just seems like spending so much time with a ghost as your main company could… give you dangerous ideas.”

Kyo bit his lip. “You guys can’t claim to know what I’m thinking,” he said finally, and stood up from the table, patting his pocket to make sure he had his phone. “So maybe you’d do better to keep future attempts to ‘save me’ to yourselves.”

“C’mon, Kyo, don’t go,” Toshiya said. “It’s not like that.”

“It is,” Kyo said. “Thanks for dinner, and I’ll see you around the studio.”

As Kyo walked out of the ramen joint, he found it had started raining, and he pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt as he made his way sullenly through the evening. He wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, but he didn’t want to waste any time in getting away.

He supposed he should have known to some degree that his bandmates would react this way, but he hadn’t expected them to try to pin the blame on Die. Hadn’t they learned that Kyo could be perfectly fucked up all on his own, and it wasn’t anyone else’s doing?

He kept on walking right past the train station, opting to just get home on foot tonight. It wasn’t that much farther, and he was already wet, so there was no point in avoiding the rain.

He wiped a few raindrops from around his eyes, and as he thought again about what Toshiya had said—about Die giving him ideas—he let out a derisive snort, even though there was no one to hear him. What a thing to say. Kyo couldn’t claim he hadn’t thought about it, sure; there was something reassuring in discovering conclusively that some form of existence could be possible after death, but it wasn’t like Die made it seem like some Super Fun time.

And if Kyo’s bandmates were really as worried about him as all that, like they claimed to be, then they knew that his feelings, the temptation of seeking solace in death, were certainly nothing new brought on by Die.

The whole thing had him angrier than was maybe reasonable. He felt once more betrayed, like he’d been tricked and trapped when he’d thought Toshiya was just having dinner with him without an ulterior motive.

It hurt that their primary response to the time Kyo was spending with Die was to question it, to disapprove of it, rather than to be supportive.

It wasn’t like he’d really expected them to root for him to get together with his ghost roommate, but it would have been nice if they could at least have seen that Die was something good in Kyo’s life. He was something sparking and bright, something that Kyo wanted to wake up for, rush home for. He was comfortable when Kyo found it so hard to be around people.

As usual, Kyo was frustrated by how he found all the things he should have said after the conversation had already ended. He briefly considered sending Toshiya a text, but decided against it. He didn’t want to drag things out at all; he’d rather just be done with the whole conflict.

He hadn’t forgotten the other part of what Toshiya had said either: that everyone knew about his feelings for Die, and that it was “clear enough” that Die cared for him, too. Cared for him how? What made that so clear?

Kyo overthought it. Toshiya seemed to have more facts on that front than he did. He had it direct from Die that he was interested in men, while Kyo had never had any proper proof of that.

He wracked his brain for more relevant memories. He could recall the sincerity of Die’s compliments, the embarrassment in his expression when he’d said that it was Kyo that made him want to join the band. There was his willingness to share intimate information with Kyo, even about his death, and there was the way that his gaze had wandered that night when Kyo had been in the middle of undressing. Kyo wouldn’t have minded him looking at him like that a good deal more.

But he’d never said anything. He’d never even mentioned an interest in men—but then, neither had Kyo. It just wasn’t something he talked about unless it came up, especially with someone in whom he was interested. And it wasn’t like Die was always the most forthcoming. He’d never even said anything about—

Oh. Another memory struck Kyo: his clothing, including his cum-covered boxers, picked up and put in the hamper, the possibility that Die had seen the whole thing and not said a word about it.

Kyo felt himself growing excited. What if he had seen it? What if he’d remained silent, not because he was disgusted, but because he’d liked what he’d seen, because he hadn’t just seen it, he’d actually watched?

Okay, Kyo was getting ahead of himself. Jumping from Die being bisexual to Die being a voyeur who was harboring secrets about watching Kyo in his most private moments was… extreme, at best.

Still, he couldn’t help the fire the idea lit low in his belly. He was almost home, and the rain had soaked him nearly to the bone, but he was impossibly warm. He wondered if Die would be there when he got to the apartment. He couldn’t decide if he wanted him there or not, because honestly, he was a little worried that if Die was there, he might try to do something he shouldn’t, say something, reveal too much.

He climbed the stairs, the heat inside him growing with every step, anger and adrenaline and curiosity and an embarrassing sort of need that was starting to block out some more rational regions of his brain.

Kyo held his breath as he unlocked the door, and let himself into the genkan.

“Tadaima,” he called into the dark.

There was no response.

He came further inside, checking all the rooms of the small apartment until he felt satisfied that he was alone.

Or, did it count as satisfied, if he was kind of disappointed?

He breathed out heavily, trying to get his head settled back on right. He’d gotten carried away for a minute there, but he could calm down now.

He slowly started stripping out of his wet clothes, peeling off layers and then hanging them in the bathroom to dry off before he tried to put them with his other laundry. He shivered as his damp skin was exposed to the cool air, especially as he pushed down his jeans and boxers and freed his half-hard cock.

He hung his jeans up with everything else, and cringed when a loud clatter told him he’d forgotten to take his phone out of his pocket before turning the jeans upside down. He picked up his (thankfully undamaged) phone, and made sure to retrieve all other items from his pockets, taking out his wallet, earbuds, and the half-destroyed little note from Die that he couldn’t seem to stop carrying with him every day.

He flipped the paper between his fingers, and chewed his lip as he looked down at Die’s name. He was still standing there naked, and a terrible idea occurred to him.

Die wasn’t there. But last time, Kyo had managed to call him home—call him back, with the help of that note.

Now of course, he didn’t need Die to be there. It was better that Die wasn’t there. After all, if Die were to appear, and see him like this—

Kyo’s cock twitched, and he swallowed thickly. This was a very bad idea.

In spite of that knowledge, Kyo kept the little note folded in his fist as he went back into his bedroom and switched on the lamp next to his bed. If he was going to put on a show, he wanted it to be visible.

He started off slow, with relaxed strokes of his cock, just standing in his room, letting himself focus on the feeling more than anything, his length growing harder in his hand. It didn’t take long before pre was beading at the tip, and his breathing had picked up as he was eager to take things further.

Taking his hand off himself, Kyo took another calming breath. There was a moment of rifling through a box stashed under his bed, and then he was laying himself out, methodically, in the middle of the sheets, trying to relax his body even as he grew more aroused at the prospect of what he was doing.

He eased himself back into it, let his hand trail up his abdomen to his chest, gasping softly as he brushed over the scratches he’d left there the previous night, still red and angry. His hand knew its path though, and in time reached a nipple, playing with it lightly at first, then more roughly, pinching and pulling until he was pressing his lips together to keep in any quiet moans.

The same hand traveled back down his body, since the other was occupied still clutching that piece of paper. He stroked his thighs, dragged his nails lightly over sensitive skin, and then spread his legs wider, giving himself plenty of room for what he had planned next.

He grabbed a pillow from behind him so he could put it under his hips; it took some fumbling to find the right position, and when he then reached for his much-neglected erection, he mistakenly did so with the hand holding Die’s note, and let out a sound of dismay as he found the already-crumpled paper now also boasted a large drop of pre-cum dirtying it.

Then, without even thinking about it, he brought it to his mouth and licked up the drop.

Immediately he realized what he’d done, and gasped, even more shamefully aroused by the taste of his own pre. He shoved two fingers into his mouth, intent to lick his taste from them as well. He sucked greedily, thoroughly wetting his fingers with his saliva, and moaned as he let himself imagine Die seeing him in such a state. It was fucked up, but he didn’t think he’d ever been so turned on as when he moved those wet fingers to play around his asshole.

It had been far too long since he’d gotten to play with himself this way, and even the lightest of touches sent electricity jolting through him, much in the same way that any touch from Die did. The thought drove him on, his vision blurring for a few seconds.

Spit dried too quickly for him to do more than tease around his hole, and soon he was snatching up the lube he’d brought into the bed with him, coating his fingers liberally. One hand still held the note, soiled and illegible as it was.

He slipped the first finger inside, and his mouth fell open, his eyes squeezing shut. He pressed in deeper, unable to catch his breath, pulled back only to spread his legs wider and plunge in deep again, and just when he was starting to get lightheaded from his failure to breathe properly, he managed to choke out a moan of Die’s name.

More sparks flew through Kyo’s veins as he added a second finger along with the first, and he wrapped his other hand around his dick even as it pulsed more pre-cum onto his belly.

He was afraid to open his eyes by now, afraid that when he did, Die would be standing there, still and silent, unable to look away.

Kyo squirmed and bucked, starting to actually work towards his orgasm as he imagined Die’s pupils blown with arousal, watching Kyo fucking himself silly right in front of him, as if he couldn’t help it. The whole thing was obscene, but Kyo seemed to have lost all sense of reason, was helpless to his own want.

Die,” Kyo whimpered as he let himself get lost in the fantasy of Die watching him.

Maybe if Die liked what he saw he would take his own cock out, stroke as he watched. Maybe he would tell Kyo just how much he liked it, tell him how good he looked touching himself. Or else he’d tell him what a slut he was for opening himself up for just anyone to look at.

Kyo wasn’t that picky; he found all potential scenarios unbearably arousing in their own rights.

He was getting close, and he groped for the lube so he could work three fingers inside himself. He groaned freely at the stretch and his mind once again provided the image of it being Die’s cock filling him up.

The thought had his own cock jumping and he whined, a prolonged, “Fuuuck…”

The sad little note wasn’t in his hand anymore, rather it was stuck to his thigh with a combination of sweat and pre-cum, and his mind was nowhere near it as his hand moved more rapidly over his length, his breathing barely more than a few pleasured gasps at random intervals.

Then he could feel it, the nearness of his orgasm, starting with a burning down in the soles of his feet and climbing up his legs. He bucked his hips in erratic, desperate little movements, and keened as it finally washed over him and he painted his belly white.

Only then did he slowly pry his eyes open, blinking back tears that had formed and not yet fallen.

But there was no one there.

He leveraged himself up, with some difficulty, to lean on his elbows and better look around the room, but there was nothing, no crackle of energy, no whisper of movement. There was no one in his room but him.

That made the whole thing kind of embarrassing, hot though it may have been. He sat all the way up, and swung his legs over the side of the bed so he could stand on the floor. He washed up quickly enough in the bathroom, and, with a sharp pang of regret, let Die’s little note fall at last into the trash can next to the sink.

He couldn’t help but notice as he returned to his room and rearranged himself in bed just how cold it had gotten in there. He might need to start turning the heat on at night…

Chapter Text

There never could have been enough hours in a night to satisfy Kyo and his deep-seated hunger for sleep, and that fact was only more pronounced with the inescapable gloom of work awaiting him.

Kyo dragged himself wearily from his bed and all the way to the shower without fully opening his eyes. The world seemed too bright and too quiet, and he wanted to just hide under his covers in the soft dark with his cacophony of dreams and thoughts.

It was by some miracle that he made it to work on time, though he doubted that anyone actually noticed when he was or wasn’t late. It wasn’t like he worked alongside a bunch of people after all. He was responsible for himself, and for answering basic questions relating to bathroom locations and validated parking. Every once in a while someone asked him something halfway interesting, but that wasn’t common enough for Kyo to expect or look forward to it.

That made it a slightly more noteworthy event when a strange young man with shiny curtains of black hair came shiftily up to Kyo’s counter and cleared his throat.

“What can I do for you?” Kyo asked, though he didn’t quite muster the energy for the accompanying smile. Oh well, maybe next time.

“You know that piece you’ve got in the amateurs’ gallery?”

“Well,” Kyo said patiently, “you’ll have to be a bit more specific.”

“The one called, ‘Other Side’.”

Okay, not that specific. Kyo tried, but he couldn’t call up any memory of the piece just going by the title. “I apologize; the new works were just hung recently,” Kyo said. “I’m not yet intimately familiar with all of them. What was your question about the piece?”

“I want to speak to the artist.”

Kyo frowned. “I’m afraid it’s not within my capabilities to arrange meetings like that.”

“Then just give me the name.” The stranger wasn’t demanding, or even rude, but there was a peculiar urgency to his words that made Kyo glad there was a counter between them.

“The artist wasn’t listed along with the piece’s title?”

“It said, ‘anonymous.’ Who submits things anonymously to an art gallery?” The man looked around, and lowered his voice. “You guys must have records, though, right? Can’t you look it up?” He cast a glance at the computer behind the counter, and Kyo followed his gaze dubiously.

The machine was probably older than any works in the museum, and was nowhere near reliable enough to be used for important record-keeping.

“Even if I could, I’m not permitted to give out an artist’s name if they wish to remain anonymous,” Kyo said. “Why, is there a problem with the artwork?”

“No, no!” The customer’s eyes widened. “It’s just… I’ve seen it, too. That, that they painted—I wanted to know… how they know.”

Kyo was lost. “I… beg your pardon?”

“The other side,” the man said with emphasis. “It’s the same as I saw when I drowned last year. Was gone for two whole minutes, and that painting… That’s what I remember.”

Kyo stared. A month ago he might have just written this guy off as mentally unstable, but as it was, he leaned closer. “You’re talking about, what, the afterlife?”

“If that’s how you want to think of it,” the man said, still looking sort of nervous. “I didn’t expect to see it again in this lifetime.” He sighed. “You can’t help me reach the artist?”

Kyo shook his head. “I’m sorry, but no. Honestly, I don’t even have that information.”

The stranger thanked him for his time and left without complaint, and Kyo waited until his next break before hurrying to the amateur gallery on the second floor, pacing between displays until he found it.

He didn’t need to check the title plaque to know it was the painting in question. It could have been, at first glance, a depiction of outer space—but there was something off about it. The colors swirled together in a way that was less cosmic and more sickly, and just looking at it chilled Kyo to the core.

It was a void, it was endless, and the way it was painted made it feel like it had more than three dimensions. It was improper museum etiquette to reach out and touch it, but there were no wandering guests around at the moment, and Kyo didn’t stop himself from brushing one ripple of color with his fingertips.

The sparks he felt as the came into contact with it were no surprise.

He stood staring at the painting until his break ended, scared of the implications of such an artwork, but horribly drawn to it at the same time. That was it. The other side, the other realm. It was where Die went when he was away, and someone had left it hanging, tucked almost into a strange corner of the second floor gallery at Kyo’s work.

Kyo didn’t do anything to slow down his journey home; he even went right past the conbini where he sometimes stopped to pick up dinner. He had to talk to Die about the painting, ask him about it. Part of him even wondered if Die could have been the one who painted it, and somehow snuck it into the gallery’s submissions without Kyo noticing.

That train to thought was much forgotten, however, as Kyo opened the door to his apartment and was met with the tantalizing smells of something cooking.

Kyo paused, reopened his door to check the number on it. Sure, it wasn’t actually possible that he could have used his key to unlock the wrong door, but it was such a foreign experience to smell food cooking when he got home that Kyo was momentarily, utterly confused.

He wasn’t sure whether it was more or less confusing when Die came out around the corner with a pair of cooking tongs in one hand, his long hair pulled back into a messy bun.

“You’re home! Welcome back!” Die smiled widely, as if there was nothing bizarre about him apparently taking it upon himself to cook.

Kyo set down his coat and followed Die back into the cramped little kitchen. “What… are you doing?” he asked.

“Cooking!” Die exclaimed. “Obviously! But, ah, it’s kind of been a while, so I’m sorry if my skills are on the rusty side…”

Everything was spread out across the kitchen; meat sizzling on the stove, cutting board and knives stacked by the sink, some kind of sauce, that seemed to have been made from scratch since it was nothing Kyo recognized, in a bowl on the counter, next to the rice cooker which was ticking away.

“But—why?” Kyo looked around. “Why—you don’t even eat, why would you do all this?”

“Would you believe that I was bored?”

“Not really,” Kyo said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Damn. Okay, well.” Die took the lid off of another pan on the stove and pushed some vegetables around as he considered his words. “I noticed you had a bunch of stuff in your freezer that I sure as hell have never seen you do anything with, and then you had some produce that was on its last legs, so I thought I’d kind of throw something together.”

“Because…?”

Die made an impatient little noise. “Because you were at work! And you work so much all the time, in addition to everything you do with the band.” He gestured with both hands, looking around the kitchen half-frantically. “And I don’t do anything! You’ve been so—kind, and welcomed me into your space—living space, creative space—and I don’t feel like I give much back, so I just thought—But I don’t know if you were saving that beef for anything, I hope I didn’t do something wrong…”

“Do something wrong—Jesus, no, Die, this is…” Kyo didn’t know what to say. It was so unexpectedly sweet, and Kyo was struck once again by his guilt over the lecherous thoughts he often had about Die, while here he carried on in blithe ignorance of Kyo’s shameful secrets. “This is amazing. And one of the most thoughtful things someone has done for me.”

Die seemed pleased with that, and went back to whatever he had on the stove.

Kyo moved around behind him to get in the fridge and take out a bottle of tea to pour himself some. “It’s also totally unnecessary, though, and I hope you know that.”

Die turned to look at him, crestfallen. “You already ate?”

“I—no, I didn’t.”

Die slumped in relief and smiled again.

“But you don’t have to cook for me,” Kyo said. “I appreciate it and everything, but I don’t feel like you’re not doing your share of household duties or anything like that.”

Die laughed. “I can imagine you just passive-aggressively posting, like, a chore wheel…”

Kyo wrinkled his nose. “Is that what you think of me?”

“‘Die, it’s your turn to do laundry because I washed the dishes! If you don’t get it done we’ll have to have a household meeting!’”

“Nooo,” Kyo said, covering his face with his hand while Die went on laughing. “God, please don’t think about doing my laundry as your next way to help out, I would be so embarrassed.”

“Okay, okay,” Die said. Then he grimaced. “Er, I am gonna do dishes later though, ‘cause I made a huge fuckin’ mess, and you didn’t ask me to.”

Kyo snorted. “Fine, I’ll let you have that one. And thanks.” He leaned against the counter, trying to stay out of Die’s way without actually leaving the room. “Have you ever really had a roommate who was like that? With the chore wheels and the meetings?”

Die cocked his head, making his bun flop to the side cutely. “No, I guess not. Had an ex kind of like that, though. Or… ex—” He frowned. “I guess ex. We were still together when I died.”

“Oh,” Kyo said, whiplashed by the sudden turn of the conversation. He didn’t want to talk about anyone Die had dated, especially not someone he’d never gotten to break up with, but he couldn’t think of anything to say besides, “You must miss them.”

Die’s shoulders shifted, the movement so small it could hardly be called a shrug. “She was always trying to make a schedule about feeding the cat, cleaning the litterbox… I tried to tell her, ‘I don’t care, he’s my cat, I’m fine with being the one to take care of him!’ But she wanted to be part of things like that.”

“I didn’t know you had a cat,” Kyo said, welcoming an alternate subject to focus on.

“Yeah, he was my baby,” Die said, his voice gone soft. He switched off the stove. “Wish I could show you a picture. He had the cutest fangs.” He pushed a few strings of hair behind his ear and turned to Kyo. “You don’t have any pets.”

“No,” Kyo said, kind of sadly. He’d had some kangaroo rats for a while, but they’d long since passed on. “I’d like to, but it’s kind of a space issue. And a time commitment issue. I wouldn’t want to have to leave an animal cooped up alone here all the time, and as you pointed out, I’m fairly busy.”

Die nodded. “Maybe someday.”

“Yeah, sure,” Kyo said. “I’d like a dog, I think.”

Die seemed surprised. “Wouldn’t have pegged you as a dog person.”

Kyo shrugged. “I like animals.”

The rice cooker then sang its little song, and Kyo gestured to the cabinet behind Die so he could take out a couple bowls.

Or, as it happened, just one bowl, since Kyo was the only one eating. Somehow he really struggled to get used to that.

Kyo watched as Die got the food arranged, looking at his hands as he cradled the rice bowl. He really was improving in his abilities to stay corporeal as needed. His movements were strong and sure as he served the food, and it made it that much harder to resist reaching out and touching him.

“Go sit down,” Die instructed, nodding towards the living room, since the table there was pretty much the only place one could set down a meal.

Kyo didn’t like feeling so unhelpful, but he did as he was told, and sat on the floor at the living room table, taking his cup of tea with him.

Die didn’t take a seat at the other side of the table until Kyo started eating.

Kyo tried not to feel uncomfortable. He enjoyed Die’s company, and wouldn’t have wanted him to go away, but it still seemed so awkward. He was grateful that at least Die was being careful not to watch him while he ate.

“It’s delicious,” he said, because it was definitely about fifty times better than anything he could have cooked for himself.

Die beamed, but didn’t press him for further praise. He was quiet a moment longer, and then said, “So, you think of us as roommates?”

Kyo nearly choked, caught off-guard, and looked at Die with his mouth perhaps fuller than was good manners. He chewed quickly and swallowed before saying, “Um. I mean, kind of. Just in that you kinda… well, we share the space.”

Die nodded thoughtfully, and Kyo wondered whether that had been the wrong thing to say. What did Die think of their situation if he didn’t think of them as roommates, after a fashion?

There was a long pause, during which Kyo was too nervous to take another bite, and Die said, “It’s been a while since I had a roomie. I’m afraid I don’t know what trends have changed.”

“I don’t have any complaints so far,” Kyo offered.

Die gave him a half-smile, and then Kyo’s phone vibrated and he mumbled an apology as he dug it out of his pocket.

It was a message from Kaoru, detailing both Kyo’s and Die’s recording schedules, and Kyo studied it attentively, his mind working out how it would fit in with his hours at the museum.

“Something important?” Die said.

Kyo glanced up at him. “Oh, Kao’s got everything in order for us to start recording our EP.”

Die’s eyebrows rose. “He’s so on top of things.”

“That’s Kaoru for you,” Kyo muttered, his eyes back on his phone’s screen.

“You look worried.”

“I’m just trying to figure it out. If I need to be there with you for your guitar-recording sessions…”

“I can—Hmm.” A pause, then, “Could one of the other guys pick me up from here? I could probably hitchhike with one of them, if you have to work or whatever.”

Kyo’s mouth twisted up, and he hesitated to answer. He didn’t really want someone else to come pick Die up. It was jealous and possessive and irrational, but Kyo didn’t like the idea of anyone else having a strong enough connection to Die that he would feel comfortable traveling with them. Of course, he was willing to put that aside, but the situation still wasn’t ideal.

“Kaoru might be able to,” Kyo said, “since he’s doing some of his guitar recordings the same days, but…” Kyo set his phone down on the coffee table. “Well, he drives, usually. I don’t know if… If you’re okay with going by car.”

“Oh.” Die’s whole form wavered, a strange fading out and back in, faster than Kyo could comment on it. “Do you think… One of the others? Maybe Toshiya would be willing to take the train with me?”

Kyo took a few bites. He hadn’t yet talked to Die about Toshiya’s attempted intervention, and while it wasn’t that he thought Toshiya necessarily disliked Die, Kyo wasn’t sure he trusted him with him. He didn’t know how to voice that without upsetting Die and alerting him to a whole other set of issues.

The silence dragged on long enough that Die spoke up, “You don’t think Toshiya would be okay with it?”

Reluctantly, Kyo said, “I’m not really happy with Toshiya right now. I don’t think he’d be a good person to ask.”

Although Kyo had to admit, at least to himself, that his other bandmates might not be any better. He hadn’t spoken to anyone else about it, but Toshiya had certainly indicated that it was something they’d all been discussing.

“Can I ask why?” Die said.

Kyo looked at him, sitting there nervously toying with the hairs that had fallen out of his bun, and he just felt sorry for worrying him.

“It’s nothing you have to stress out over,” he said. “Toshiya and I just had kind of an argument yesterday.”

“What about?”

“Me,” Kyo said. “Certain things, and how I deal with them, and… It’s kind of. Yeah, I guess I think Kaoru would be your best bet. I can ask if he’d be willing to use public transit?”

“That would be really great,” Die said with a grateful smile, and Kyo went ahead and texted Kaoru then and there.

Kyo’s bowl was more or less empty when Die leaned back on his hands and hummed.

“Recording, man, never thought I’d be getting back in the studio.” A wry little smile crossed his face. “Guess that was never the part of it all that I was into nearly as much as getting up onstage. It’s harder to feel that momentum and everything without the crowd.”

Kyo stood to take his dishes to the kitchen. “But you are still okay with recording? We’re not trying to make you do something you’re not into.”

“No, it’s fine,” Die said. “I want to record—and just leave those in the sink, I told you I’m doing dishes later.”

A potential concern occurred to Kyo, and he came back to the living room with a furrowed brow. “And… you can record, right? It won’t be one of those things where your audio can’t be played back and heard by living people?”

“Uh.” Die made a face. “I mean, I don’t really know. I haven’t ever tried.”

Kyo sat once more on the floor. “We’d better test it out, then.” He unlocked his phone and opened up the voice memo application before setting it back on the table. “Here, try just saying anything,” he said, and tapped the record button on the screen.

Die looked at it and then up at Kyo in surprise. He started off, in a low, clear voice, “Hello, this is Die, guitarist for Genshitsuu…” Then he deteriorated into nervous giggling. “I don’t know what to say!”

Kyo ended the recording and played it back twice, smiling at the sound of Die’s laughter, while Die hid his face in his hands. Kyo saved the file to his phone.

“Seems like it shouldn’t be a problem, then,” Kyo said. “If your voice records, your guitars should, too, right?”

“And if they don’t for some reason, Kaoru will be there, and I can probably borrow his instrument.”

“Yeah, I was just worried,” Kyo said. “You know, there’s so much mythology about what ghosts can or can’t do…”

“You watch too many movies,” Die chided. “You’re just getting ghosts mixed up with vampires again.”

“No,” Kyo said, “I already know you show up in mirrors.” His eyes widened and his mouth snapped shut as he realized what he’d said, and then hoped Die wouldn’t read into the strangeness of his reaction.

No such luck, as Die tensed and then ran his tongue over his lips before simply saying, “You saw.”

“Just… Just once,” Kyo said, thrown by the smallness of his own voice. “Whenever I see you in the mirror at rehearsal you’re just you, but there was once, I looked, and you were…”

“Dead?” Die was smiling in that rueful way again. “That’s what I see every time I look in the mirror.”

“That—But you don’t look like that,” Kyo said.

“Not to you.”

“No, or to anyone else who can see you,” Kyo said. “I’m sure of it. To us, you look—” He searched for any word that wouldn’t make him sound like a loser, but in the end he gave up and finished, “beautiful.”

The soft look on Die’s face almost made Kyo not want to crawl into a hole of shame and decay there.

“It’s weird,” Die said. “I never thought of myself as a really shallow person or anything, but now I don’t want to see myself at all. I do everything I can to avoid catching a glimpse of my reflection. I can’t face that every day, all the memories of that night.”

“We really need to get you a phone,” Kyo suggested. “Maybe taking some selfies could really improve your self-image.”

“Maybe. Assuming they don’t just come out looking like that,” Die said skeptically.

Kyo watched him, arms resting on his knees, looking so small and sad, not even realizing how gorgeous he was, and was tempted as he so often was, to take Die’s hand, or to push some stray hairs back from his lovely face. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have your sense of self so distorted by having to confront the grisly image of your own death each time you passed a reflective surface. He supposed Die must never have a chance to even temporarily forget that he wasn’t alive, although Kyo forgot all the time.

It hadn’t been a quiet death, either, something that might not be so jarring to look at; Kyo remembered from just the split-second he’d seen it, the dark blood plastering Die’s hair to his head, the way his neck was bent so strangely...

Maybe it was the wrong thing to say in the middle of this, and he should have been more sensitive, but Kyo suddenly heard himself asking, “Did it hurt?”

It sounded like a line, like it should be followed by When you fell from heaven? In a way, that would have been appropriate.

When Die turned towards him, he wasn’t angry, or even surprised. “Dying?” His gaze wandered, unfocused. “I don’t honestly remember. It should have, I think. But it all happened so fast, and then I wasn’t… I think it hurt more, after.” Die met Kyo’s eyes. “The loss, the guilt. That was the worse pain.”

Kyo nodded his understanding. “People never really mention physical pain, in their descriptions of near-death experiences or what have you.”

“No, it’s all life-flashing-before-your-eyes, and that kind of thing, isn’t it?” Die said.

“Did you have that?”

“Not that I recall,” Die said. “It was so sudden, my eyes barely slipped closed, and then there was… darkness.”

“Yeah, I guess I don’t remember anything like that either,” Kyo mused without fully realizing Die would hear him.

“You don’t remember… your life flashing before your eyes?” Die clarified.

“Or any bright light I was meant to go towards, or anything really at all,” Kyo said, since he’d already said too much anyway.

“This was your near-death experience?” Die said.

“I guess,” Kyo replied. “Maybe it just wasn’t near enough.”

Die didn’t say anything, and Kyo couldn’t handle much of how uncomfortable he’d made things. Die was so politely not asking any questions, and the silence was far worse, in Kyo’s opinion.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said impatiently. “I try not to bring it up, but you can ask if you want. You shared your personal stories with me.”

“I don’t need to know if you don’t want to talk about it,” Die said.

“I don’t really care, it’s just awkward more than anything,” Kyo said, and got to his feet, feeling restless. He went into the kitchen and put some water on to boil for tea.

“So, then,” Die said. He’d gotten up, too, but he stayed hovering at the edge of the kitchen, not crowding Kyo at all, though the truth was Die never made him feel crowded anyway. “When was your near-death experience?”

“Maybe three years ago?” Kyo took a cup from the cupboard and turned it in his hands a few times before setting it on the counter. “Pretty soon before I moved in here, actually.”

“And it was… an accident?”

Kyo kept his eyes on the tea he was adding to his cup and shook his head. “Sleeping pills. Everything I had left in the bottle.” He huffed out a laugh. “They wouldn’t write me another prescription after that.”

The tea kettle whistled, and Kyo poured the hot water into his cup, watched the steam rising steadily from it. He took his time returning the kettle to the stove, the tin of tea to the cupboard, finding he was sort of afraid to look at Die again.

When he finally did, he was met with a serious but nonjudgmental expression.

“You tried to kill yourself,” Die said.

“Didn’t work,” Kyo said, needlessly. “Because, um. Toshiya.” He held his tea in both hands, leaned his back against the kitchen counter. “We were roommates at the time, and he found me.” Kyo frowned looking down at his tea. “I didn’t—He got me to the hospital, and next thing I knew I was waking up, wondering why I wasn’t wearing any pants.”

Die’s voice was soft as he said, “Lucky he found you in time.”

Kyo nodded, his jaw shifted to one side. “I’ve often thought the opposite. I didn’t mean to be found, obviously. I should have locked the door, or waited until he was out of town, or…” He shrugged. “I always think I messed it up.”

“Still?” Die questioned. “Even now, you think you wish you’d been… successful?”

“Sometimes,” Kyo mumbled. When he looked up again Die looked much sadder, and a touch translucent. “I mean, not usually,” Kyo said quickly. “I’m way better now, more functional, more… I’m not actively suicidal anymore. I haven’t been, for a while.”

“That’s good,” Die said, the words strained. He opened his mouth, then closed it, frowning. After another moment he said, “What was it? That was so bad?”

“Like what horrible, tragic thing happened in my life to push me to that point?” Kyo sipped at his tea. “Nothing. That’s probably the stupidest part. I had no real excuse to feel so shitty, I just couldn’t stand the thought of living anymore. Every fucking day was such a struggle to get through, and for what? Another day, right after. It just felt like… It wasn’t worth it.”

“But you don’t feel like that anymore.”

“It comes and goes,” Kyo said. “The days are still a struggle, but I keep living. I don’t know if it’s worth it or not, but I try not to think about things in those terms, or I start down a bad path.”

“Hmm.” Die was still frowning, staring down at the hardwood of Kyo’s kitchen floor. “I guess… I’d heard all those kinds of themes in your lyrics, but I didn’t know if they were from personal experience or… You told me it was a character, but that’s not exactly true, is it?”

Kyo winced. He’d been hoping it wouldn’t come back to that. “It’s… partly true.”

“And it’s partly a way for you to get away with hurting yourself and passing it off as an act.”

There was no way to argue with it when it was put into words so clearly. Kyo nodded.

“And the rest of the band…”

“They accept it as part of the show, to an extent,” Kyo said, and sighed. “But they also think I’m gonna fucking relapse all the time, and there’s nothing more frustrating than having them look at me like they think I’m gonna break.” He pushed off the counter and walked past Die back into the living room to sit on the couch. “That’s what Toshiya and I were fighting about.”

Die followed after him. “What is?”

“All of it! What happened at the live, my general depression, you—He acts like I’m on the edge all the time, and doesn’t trust me to live my own damn life!”

Die looked deeply concerned. "Me?"

“Because you’re dead,” Kyo said tiredly. “And because I—have been spending so much time with you.”

“It’s not contagious,” Die said, tilting his head to one side.

Kyo snorted. “It’s more me that he doesn’t trust, remember. Thinks I’ll be influenced.”

Die pursed his lips. “You did say Toshiya was… he found you, helped you, that time.”

“Yeah,” Kyo grumbled.

“I can’t imagine,” Die said. “I understand why you’re frustrated, but he’s probably honestly terrified. I’d bet that you scared him way fucking more than he’s ever even let you know, and lives in constant fear of not making it in time the next time around.”

“It’s not that big of a thing,” Kyo said.

“I’d be scared,” Die said. “Knowing what I do now, I am, kind of. That you could be here, drinking tea, talking to me, and then just be gone? The thought of losing you like that, to that kind of all-consuming pain and darkness, scares the hell out of me, and Toshiya lived through the Almost. So, I don’t know. Maybe you shouldn’t hold it against him too much.”

Kyo nodded, but the conversation pretty much dropped off from there.

He had trouble the rest of the evening, thinking past Die’s intimation that the thought of losing Kyo scared him. The thought that Kyo was Die’s to lose. Perhaps Kyo had underestimated just how much Die valued him.

Chapter Text

"I don’t care how mentally unstable you are,” Kyo was complaining as they walked into the rehearsal space, “you don’t go around hugging random strangers on the street!”

Die didn’t bother to hide his laughter, and Shinya raised an eyebrow.

“Kyo made a new friend?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” Kyo said. “This guy just came up out of nowhere while we were waiting to cross the street and hugged me—”

“It was hardly even a hug,” Die said. “He just kinda put his arm around your shoulders.”

Kyo looked at him in disbelief. “He touched me.”

“He doesn’t like being touched,” Toshiya said knowingly.

Kyo cast a guilty glance in his direction. He still hadn’t had a chance to talk to him since he’d stormed out of the ramen place.

Or maybe he’d had chances—he always could have texted or called—but this was the first time he’d seen him face to face. He knew Die was right, that he should be more forgiving, but he couldn’t help that he was still just the slightest bit irritated with Toshiya, and seeing him in person made those feelings surge up all over again.

“Oh, come on,” Die said, distracting Kyo from his line of thought. “I think he liked you.”

Kaoru looked around with interest, having just walked in. “Wait, I missed something. Someone liked Kyo?”

“Ha ha,” Kyo said, glaring. “Die won’t leave me alone about this rando who accosted me—”

“I thought it was an embrace,” Shinya said.

“It was unwelcome,” Kyo growled.

“And it really wasn’t an embrace,” Die said. “Really, if you think that was a hug, you must be living some kind of touch-starved life.”

Everyone went quiet, until Toshiya stage-whispered again, “He doesn’t like being touched.”

Die was clearly skeptical. “What, not even by friends?”

Kyo shifted his weight, uncomfortable with how everyone’s attention had focused on him. “I’m pretty picky.”

“I’ve managed to weasel a handful of hugs out of him,” Toshiya said. “In the seven odd years we’ve known each other.”

“But you guys even used to live together!” Die said.

Toshiya shrugged. “Kyo’s bubble is forged of some impenetrable material.”

“Wow,” Die said, a wrinkle between his brows. “I’m the total opposite. I used to hug my friends almost every time I saw them. It’s something I’ve missed, that kind of physical closeness with other people.”

“Aww, well, you’re welcome to hug me if you ever want,” Toshiya offered.

Kyo’s irritation with him only grew, especially when Die chuckled and said he’d have to take him up on that.

“You can hug me, too,” Kyo snapped, instead of of thinking for a few seconds and deciding not to say that.

It had everyone’s eyes back on him, though only Die’s stayed there, as the rest of the band made some pretty interesting faces and turned away.

“You really wouldn’t mind?” Die asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe not. Whatever.” Kyo rushed to drag his music stand into position and to keep Die from looking at the blush rising on his face.

He was quietly relieved when he could give his attention to Kaoru instead, and they could get to work.

It was their first rehearsal all together since the live, and Kaoru was in an unusually good mood. Kyo figured it was because recording had been going so well.

In the past week he’d personally had two sessions in the studio, and though he’d been nervous at first, he’d felt better about his results than he’d expected. The recording engineer was laid-back and reasonable, and the studio itself was comfortable, in a slightly run-down, dingy kind of way.

It was different from the work they did preparing for live performances. In the studio, Kyo could experiment, try different things. He could fill the empty spaces with harmonies, all the voices that no one outside his own mind got to hear most of the time. He found himself increasingly excited to hear the full versions of all these songs.

With how much they’d all been working on laying down tracks, Kyo was surprised when Kaoru suggested they spend a good chunk of rehearsal time working on new material.

“I already have more gigs in the works for us,” Kaoru said. “And I think it’s important that we continue the process of fully integrating Die into the group, so I want to work up some of his compositions—as long as that’s all right with you.” He looked at Die expectantly.

“Oh! Um, yeah, of course. I’d like that,” Die said, looking a bit flustered.

The evening was unlike any rehearsal they’d had so far. Instead of learning parts that already existed and getting used to playing them together, they were working as a team to create wholly new arrangements of songs no one had ever heard, and it was—natural. During such a process in the past, Kisaki had always been a point of resistance, interrupting what might have otherwise been smooth.

Die was the other end of the spectrum, encouraging deviations from his original vision with enthusiasm, and letting control of the piece flow around the room, shared between them.

Kyo sat off to the side for much of the time, scribbling lyrics in his notebook and recording snippets of melody on his phone. When they got all the way through the first song with Kyo’s vocals added in, Die was grinning from ear to ear.

“You wrote lyrics for my song,” he said.

“I might still tweak them a bit,” Kyo replied with a shrug.

Die chewed his lip, and then blurted out, “I know you don’t like me saying it, so I won’t go on, but I need you to know I think you’re amazing and I’m so fucking psyched to have you putting words to my music.”

Kyo gave a surprised little start. “I—yeah, I’m… I’m psyched, too. And it’s not—I do like you saying it, I just…” He waved a hand. “Forget it. Yeah. Thanks.”

They were nearing the end of their scheduled rehearsal time, and it was hard to not be optimistic about the progress they’d made. It was one of the best things about being in a band, the adrenaline of creation, of coming together to breathe life into something new, and it wasn’t easy to put it away even just for the evening.

Still, they had to start wrapping things up eventually, and that’s when Kaoru said, “Oh, I almost forgot to double-check: Kyo, you’re still off Mondays?”

Kyo looked at him curiously. “Yeah, museum’s closed.”

“So, is everyone okay with next Monday at eleven am?”

“For what?”

Kaoru drew himself up smugly. “We have an interview.”

Kyo grimaced. “An interview? What, with questions?”

“That’s usually how these things go, Kyo,” Shinya said.

“What’s it for?” Toshiya asked.

“An online music publication,” Kaoru said. “And they’re not the only ones who have contacted me. We were very well-received at the concert.”

“So we’re gonna have to do more interviews?”

“Quit your crybabying,” Toshiya said. “You know it’s all part of it. Just talk about the music if you’re so uncomfortable sharing things.”

“They’ll honestly probably be most interested in Die, anyway,” Kaoru said. “But that works for everyone? I’ll send details on where we’re meeting, etc, later tonight or tomorrow.”

Everyone mumbled their acquiescence, and they started to pack away their equipment.

It was during that quiet time that Toshiya came and stood awkwardly next to Kyo until he looked at him.

“I don’t really think you’re a crybaby, and I’m sorry I said that,” Toshiya said.

Kyo blinked. “I know. I… don’t really care.”

“And I’m—” Toshiya cleared his throat. “I’m sorry for the other day, too. I shouldn’t have come at you like that, and I definitely didn’t mean to make you feel like I’m not supportive of… whatever it is that you have going on.”

“With…?”

Toshiya shrugged somehow frantically. “Whatever! I know how hard it is for you to connect with anyone, and it’s clear that you’ve been out of your shell more lately, and more engaged, and I guess I just. Worry. That you won’t see how deeply you’re getting into something until you’re so invested that—I don’t know. But it’s not like I don’t want you to—”

“I get it,” Kyo cut him off. His rambling was starting to get kind of painful. “I got defensive, ‘cause I don’t want you guys to assume shit about me, and I don’t want you to decide shit for me, but I… get it. I can’t know what it’s like, but I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the other day, and for—Then.”

Toshiya’s face softened, and he tentatively held his arms open, looking at Kyo with ill-disguised hope.

Kyo rolled his eyes and let himself be hugged for a few seconds before (gently) shoving Toshiya away.

Die was waiting for him by the door, pretending like he hadn’t been watching.

There was a bounce in Die’s proverbial step as they made their way home, and it made Kyo feel lighter too.

“You’re in high spirits,” he commented.

“Spirits! Is that a ghost joke?” Die pointed an accusing finger at him.

Kyo groaned. “I swear I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Too bad, it was a pretty good one,” Die laughed. “It was just a good rehearsal though! It’s been so long since I’ve had my original songs performed, I kind of can’t believe any of it is happening.”

“And then there’s the interviews,” Kyo said worriedly. He hadn’t ben too keen on Kaoru’s assumption that the interviewer would be most interested in Die. It wasn’t any of his business, but that didn’t stop him from wondering how Die would deal with inevitable questions about his life and death.

“Yeah, that’s exciting, too,” Die said, smiling.

Kyo’s heart sank even more. “Are you sure it’s a good idea though? Maybe you could skip it. I don’t think anyone would hold it against you if you wanted to opt out.”

Die gave him a quizzical look. “Why would I do that?”

“Because you know how it’ll be,” Kyo said. “They just care about getting a juicy story, and they’ll twist anything you say to sensationalize it as much as possible.”

“You sure have a grim outlook on this stuff for someone trying to get into show business.”

“Not grim, just realistic,” Kyo argued. “Maybe you can do like Toshiya said—If they ask personal questions, just bring it back to the music.”

“They’re gonna ask personal questions,” Die said. “I’m prepared for that, and I’ll answer as much as I feel like answering.” He tilted his head. “You’re sweet, to be so concerned, and to want to look out for me, but I promise, I can handle myself.”

Not for the first time that day, Kyo felt himself blushing furiously, and he let Die walk a couple paces ahead of him, so he could allow himself a private smile at the feeling of Die calling him “sweet.”


“Now, what everyone is most interested in is, of course, your rhythm guitarist Die’s unusual abilities,” the interviewer said, eyes bright and excitable.

Kyo scowled. They’d barely made it through some brief introductions before she’d cut straight to it.

“Oh, they’re not so unusual. I’ve been playing guitar for a long time is all,” Die said cheekily.

The interviewer laughed, evidently charmed. “In all seriousness, though. There are all kinds of rumors floating around about what happened at your concert. Will you give us the inside scoop? How much of what we saw that night was special effects?”

Kyo watched Die out of the corner of his eye, curious how he would answer. In all his attempts to work with Die in prepping for the interview, he’d never really gotten far in determining the angle Die would take; he’d just gone on insisting that he had the situation under control.

Looking at him now, it seemed that he had been telling the truth. Die didn’t appear nervous at all. He was smiling, practically rosy-cheeked as he danced around the interviewer’s questions without ever outright lying.

Even without the answers that the interviewer surely wanted, she didn’t seem unsatisfied, and moved on to question the rest of the band with a still-positive attitude.

Most of it was pretty routine, basic questions to which the answers were interesting only because of the band’s lack of interviews prior. Overall, it wasn’t really as bad as Kyo had built it up to be in his mind.

Then she got around to asking Kaoru about the band’s name. He pointed out the tie-in to the theme of pain, so present in so much of their music, but she wanted an explanation of the “phantom” part of it, too.

Kaoru hesitated. Kyo had often seen him take his time in answering a question—he was the kind of person who put a lot of thought into his words before speaking aloud—but this time he seemed unsure. He looked to Die for guidance. How much should they give away?

Die took charge with a flash of his perfect smile. “That’s the part of the name they came up with when they brought me into the band.”

The interviewer turned back to him with interest. “You’re the Phantom, then?”

“It’s been said,” Die replied coyly, and they were out of time before they could delve into it much more.

Die’s answers only revealing part of the truth served to stoke the fires of their popularity. The local music scene was talking about Genshitsuu more and more, and they were gaining a following in a more long-distance capacity as well, thanks to online word-of-mouth.

Naturally, Kaoru was more focused than ever on them releasing new music, and they had their first track out on digital release by the end of that month.

“This is the perfect time,” Kaoru said with them all in the rehearsal studio again, preparing for a gig he’d booked them only another week out. “Everyone is curious, and they’re eager to take anything they can get their hands on.”

“At least they’ll be able to get excited about our music for once, instead of just rumors,” Kyo said with some bitterness.

“That’s how I feel,” Kaoru assured him. “I’m still hoping to find us some suitable management, and that can’t be done without something for them to listen to.”

Shinya nodded. “Any management company we find to represent us should be more interested in our music than our image or anything else.”

It was good to know that was something on which they were all still in agreement, even with the way they’d been riding the wave of people’s fascination with Die and his paranormal existence.

“After we’re done with this next live, I was approached by a local music magazine hoping for a photo shoot as well,” Kaoru informed them. “I hope no one minds me making some of the decisions about these things…”

“Don’t be silly, Kaoru,” Toshiya said. “If we had an issue with your leadership, it would have come up way before now.”

That was more or less true. Kyo had sometimes butted heads with Kaoru, sure, disagreeing about a direction in which he was leading them, or the manner in which he was doing so, but at the end of the day, he trusted Kaoru, and he knew they wouldn’t be the band they were without him as the driving force.

So it was that Kyo mentally prepared himself for the upcoming photo shoot. The concert didn’t seem daunting at all when there was the knowledge of the far more intimidating photo shoot on the other side of it. Kyo looked forward to getting onstage, to baring his soul to an audience, though he managed not to inflict any physical damage on himself this time around.

Die still did a few tricks—levitating during one of his guitar solos, making the lights flash—and the screams were just as loud as they’d been last time, if not louder. People loved it, and this time when the crowd demanded an encore, the band came back and delivered.

Kyo found himself smiling as he sang, looking out at the open expressions on the audience’s faces. He blew them kisses before he left the stage.

Chapter Text

“I’ve been reading some stuff online,” Die said. “About the band.” He was sitting on Kyo’s bed, scrolling on Kyo’s phone, and he barely glanced up at Kyo as he came in, having finished his bath.

“Don’t you know it’s dangerous to read the comments?”

“I’m just checking out people’s speculations,” Die said. “Some of them are pretty funny.”

“Funny how?” Kyo wondered. He came over to the bed and flopped down on it next to Die, sort of enjoying the fact of it, even though he kept a respectful distance.

“Oh, you know,” Die said. “Some people are arguing that I’m some kind of circus performer, and that my floating around is a feat done with wires. Some even claim to have been close enough to have seen the wires.”

Kyo scoffed. “People will say anything.”

“Maybe they’re just desperately trying to make it make sense,” Die said, his brows knit together as he looked down at the screen. “Huh. This girl has an entire backstory written for me.”

“Is it any good?”

“Kind of reminiscent of Batman?”

Kyo let out a tired laugh. “Did the rest of us get some superhero origin stories, too? Dibs on Spiderman.”

“Hmm, here’s someone who seems pretty sure I’m a real ghost…” Die got quiet as he read, then hummed again. “They’ve got all their facts lined up. Oh, and this one has a lot of responses, too.”

Kyo propped himself up on one elbow. “Maybe you ought put it away for the night. Don’t wanna get eyestrain from too many screens.”

Die gave him a look, but exited out of everything and set the phone down. “It is interesting to be kind of connected to the outside world, though.” He leaned back on his hands.

The bed shifted under his weight, and Kyo looked him up and down in surprise. He hadn’t expected that Die’s energy would be focused and present enough for him to lean his weight so solidly on the bed. It just made it that much more real that he was there, sitting on Kyo’s bed, less than a meter away, in the very spot where Kyo had been lying when he’d had his fingers inside himself and had cum crying out for Die.

Heat pooled low in Kyo’s gut at the thought that he very much hadn’t meant to have. It was just difficult when Die was so close, and he knew how he was interacting with his surroundings, that if he touched him he’d really be there, and Kyo would be able to feel him.

He realized too late that he was staring, and that Die was watching him with one eyebrow raised.

“What are you thinking about?” Die asked softly.

Kyo only had to think for a few seconds before he came up with, “The photo shoot.”

“Not excited for it, huh?”

“What, and you are?”

“Might be kind of fun,” Die said, lifting and dropping one shoulder. “I’d think you’d at least like it more than an interview. It’s just another form of expression, aren’t you all about that?”

“Yeah, but I’m not great at fitting myself into someone else’s vision,” Kyo said.

“You do all right when we’re making songs in the studio.”

“That’s not the same thing,” Kyo said.

It was true that he could see the appeal of a photo shoot; dressing up, going all out on hair and makeup, using photography to tell a story or evoke a feeling. But he doubted it would be anything he had much say in, and that made it less appealing.

“Just don’t overthink it,” Die said, as if it were something Kyo had any control over. “I’m just gonna look at it as a type of performance, and a chance to get out there.”

Kyo lay back down, flat on his back, and his thoughts carried him away. A chance to get out there. It had always been a dream for Kyo and the rest of the band, to be successful, to be known, and now that things were finally moving in that direction, all he could do was worry about Die.

Wouldn’t there be some backlash if they ended up famous and everyone knew that Die was dead? He could end up in danger from religious extremists, or even on a more immediate level, surely with all the publicity, people from Die’s old life would start seeing him. Kyo still wasn’t sure how long ago he’d died, how old his previous bandmates and the like would be now, but Die had never even left the very city where he’d always lived. Chances were low that he wouldn’t catch the attention of anyone he’d known back then.

Kyo was loath to bring it up; Die always seemed so confident that he could deal with everything on his own, but still Kyo wondered whether he was prepared to deal with his own ghosts.

“You fallin’ asleep on me?” Die’s voice interrupted his thoughts once again, and Kyo looked up at him, partly silhouetted by the light behind him.

“I wish. My brain is still on,” Kyo said.

“I know the feeling,” Die said, and lowered himself so he was lying beside Kyo, both of them staring up at the ceiling. “I could never sleep, either—back when I slept. I must have tried everything over the years, read books and did mind-clearing exercises, and usually just ended up drinking.” He turned his head to look at Kyo. “What do you do? Since you… can’t take prescription meds for it anymore.”

Kyo considered. What was honestly most helpful to him when trying to fall asleep was probably jacking off, but he wasn’t about to say that to Die. “I just suffer,” he said, and smirked to make it feel more like a joke. “Sometimes music helps.”

“Well,” Die said, pushing himself to sit up. “Let’s find some music to put on for you, then. I don’t want to keep you up when we’ve got that shoot tomorrow and you’re already stressed about it.”

Kyo very nearly caught Die’s arm and yanked him back down onto the bed. He had the distinct feeling that he’d sleep better pressed up against him.

Instead, he sat up as well, and watched as Die fiddled around on his phone, and then set it on the nightstand and plugged it in to charge, with music issuing from it softly.

“There,” Die said, and got to his feet. “I put on a restful playlist for you, and set your alarm for tomorrow morning. Now you can get some shuteye.”

Kyo crawled grudgingly under the covers. “I don’t know how you even got the password to my phone.”

“I pay attention,” Die said, smiling.

“Creep.”

Die laughed. “Yeah, get over it. It’s not like I’m going to hack your bank account or anything.”

“Hmph,” Kyo said, snuggling deeper into the bed. He looked up at Die through one eye. “And you’ll be back in the morning, too?”

“Of course,” Die said. “If I’m running late, you can always call me again.”

“How?” Kyo said skeptically.

“Like you did that other time.” Die looked away. “With, you know, the note I wrote you.”

Kyo’s stomach flipped over and he was immensely glad Die wasn’t looking at him. “I don’t think that works.”

“It does,” Die said. “It did before.”

Not the last time I tried it, Kyo thought. He swallowed. Even if it had worked that once, the note was long gone now. He thought of it, stained and ruined, in the garbage. “I don’t have it anymore,” he said.

“Oh.”

“I had to throw it away—you know, I was carrying it around so much, it just got all—messed up.”

“Mm.” Die frowned. “I guess… I should give you something else. Something studier, just in case you need to reach me…” He suddenly went off into the living room, returning a minute later. He held out his fist, and Kyo opened his palm so he could drop something into it.

It was a shiny red guitar pick, and he’d just fit in Sharpie, “Call me,” on one side, his name on the other.

Kyo turned it over and over again. “It won’t dissolve into energy along with you?”

“Not that one,” Die said confidently. “I got that pick from the venue, it’s real. And it shouldn’t get destroyed as easily as a slip of paper.”

Kyo nodded. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Die said cheerfully. “Goodnight, Kyo.”

“Goodnight.”

Die clicked the lamp off, and it was surprisingly easy for Kyo to fall asleep, the guitar pick still clutched in his hand.

 

The photo shoot was exactly as Kyo had imagined it in every way but one: to his surprise, they allowed him to design his own hair and makeup.

The stylist working the shoot said it was because they wanted to capture the genuine feeling of the band as they were, not just as she dressed them up to be. She was there to help with application and to offer them a selection of clothing and accessories, but she was far more hands-off than Kyo had expected and he was grateful for it.

They of course ran into a slight hiccup, when she tried repeatedly to get Die to choose something off the clothing rack.

“I need you to try it on so I can see how it fits,” she said with a touch of impatience.

“I’m sure it will fit fine,” Die said. “I can change into it once you leave.”

Kyo was sure she wasn’t used to this kind of insistent modesty from the musicians with whom she usually worked, but he could tell Die wasn’t going to back down.

“We’ll call you back in to see it once he tries it on,” Kyo suggested, and the stylist reluctantly agreed.

“Why’d she listen to you and not me?” Die complained once she was out of earshot.

Kyo shrugged. “Maybe she’s scared of me.”

“More than she’s scared of a ghost?” Die said, looking a bit indignant.

“To be fair,” Kyo said reasonably, “you seem to be going to some lengths to keep that on the down-low.” He chewed at his lip, heedless of how it might mess up his makeup. “Is that a law or anything? Something all spirits have to abide by, keeping their existence from the general living population?”

Die narrowed his eyes. “You’re thinking about the movie Beetlejuice right now, aren’t you?”

Kyo opened his mouth, shocked at how he’d been caught. “That’s—not the only movie like that,” he mumbled defensively.

“I’m not Santa Claus or something,” Die said. “I just don’t want my being dead to be, like, my main characteristic. If people want to speculate, or it comes out later on, that’s whatever. But now, when we’re just starting out? I’d rather it was left more of a mystery.”

That made sense, and Kyo nodded.

“And if I tried to wear the physical clothing she gave me and then lost my concentration?” Die grimaced. “I could end up with a pretty unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. It’s better if I, well, dress myself, to look like I’m wearing that outfit.”

“Not gonna lie,” Kyo said. “That’s still really fuckin’ cool.”

“It’s a good superpower, right?”

“Seriously underrated.”

The stylist didn’t question it when she returned as she’d been supposed to, to find Die apparently dressed, although she was impressed by just how well the ensemble fit him.

“Like it was made for you,” she was muttering as she inspected him, followed by something about the sizes being difficult to read on the rack.

The shoot itself was over pretty quickly, and the band was dismissed to clean up. Kyo was halfway through removing his makeup when Kaoru came into the dressing area, looking the slightest bit guilty.

“What’s wrong?” Kyo asked at once. He was too accustomed to Kaoru’s mannerisms to not pick up on the fact that he had clearly done something.

“So,” Kaoru began, in his businesslike way, “I had tried to set up a meeting with some possible management for today, but I’d been under the impression that it wasn’t going to work out.”

“But?” Shinya prompted.

“But I… was mistaken,” Kaoru said. “And there is a man from a record label here, waiting to meet us.”

Here?!” Toshiya said. “What the hell, Kao, why would you tell him to meet us here?”

“It seemed efficient.”

“But,” Toshiya looked down at himself. “I’m not dressed to meet a potential manager.”

It was true; since it was a photo shoot, and they’d known they’d be changing, he was in a t-shirt and sweatpants, and the rest of the band wasn’t much better off.

“I’m sure he’ll understand the situation,” Kaoru said.

“This was poor planning,” Shinya informed him. “You should have let someone else in on it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for the future,” Kaoru said.

Kyo knew that wasn’t altogether true. Despite his claims that he liked to run things by Shinya before making a decision, this wasn’t the first time Kaoru had done something without thinking to get a second opinion, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“At any rate, I guess we’d better get out there and meet him,” Die said.

Toshiya glared at him. “Easy for you to say, Mr. Quick Change.”

Die just grinned, and a few minutes later saw the whole band coming out to find the manager waiting to meet them.

He introduced himself as Takabayashi, bowed, and shook hands with each member eagerly, stopping when he got to Shinya.

“Ah,” he said, eyes sparkling. “You must be Die. The one everyone is buzzing about, calling a ghost.” He looked Shinya up and down and smiled widely. “I don’t buy into such things, of course. I assure you, while I can certainly see the benefits of such a gimmick, it’s had basically no bearing on my interest in taking over management of your band.”

Shinya’s lips pressed firmly together, and then he said, “I’m Shinya. Die is that one.” He nodded towards the man in question, and he waved.

Takabayashi’s eyes widened. “Oh—Excuse me.”

“It’s fine,” Shinya said.

“It’s ‘cause you’re so pale, probably,” Toshiya teased, but Shinya ignored him.

"And if you are thinking about managing us,” Die said, “I feel I should tell you that the rumors are true.”

Kyo raised his eyebrows, surprised that Die would be so forthcoming with someone they’d just met. Then again, he supposed Die was right; if this man was to be their new manager, they would need to have him in the loop in order to better protect them from any backlash.

“The rumors…?” Takabayashi tilted his head.

“About me,” Die said. “I’m dead. What people have seen and reported at shows, paranormal this and that, it’s all real. I’m dead, I have been for years.”

Takabayashi gaped at him for a few seconds before managing to collect himself. “Oh, well—I—That’s good information to, um, to have, but as I said, it’s nothing to do with our interest in you as a band.”

“Why are you interested in us then?” Kyo asked suspiciously. “Die’s unusual circumstances are the main thing that’s been getting us any notice lately.” He hoped that hadn’t sounded as bitter to Die as it did to his own ears. He didn’t mean it that way, but he just didn’t see the point in denying the facts as they were.

Kaoru made some small throat-clearing noise and Kyo knew he’d be hearing later about how he shouldn’t have been so antagonistic when they were trying to make a good first impression.

But Takabayashi smiled. “Kyo, isn’t it?” he said. “The vocalist. A real powerhouse.” He nodded. “I understand your skepticism. It’s true that the press about Die here is what put you on our company’s radar, but I wanted a meeting because I listened to the digital track you released. To put it bluntly, I thought you guys have a unique and badass sound. It’s not something I’ve heard before, and I’d like to hear a lot more of it.”

That was about as good an answer as Kyo could have hoped for, and he didn’t say anything else snarky after that.

The meeting didn’t last an especially long time, and the rest of the band fell quiet to let Kaoru do most of the negotiating. In the end, everyone was in agreement and feeling pretty excited about where they were headed next.

Takabayashi left them all with copies of his business card, and promised to be in touch with information about the formation of their whole management team, hopefully setting up a meeting with everyone at the label’s offices by the end of the week.

“So I’m forgiven, yes?” Kaoru said as they all went back to the dressing area to gather their belongings.

“It worked out this time,” Toshiya said, “but you still should have told the rest of us what you were planning. I’m gonna stay moderately irritated at least a while longer.”

“I thought you knew by now to just get Shinya’s approval first,” Kyo said. “He’s got more sense than the rest of us, probably combined.”

No one argued, and Kaoru nodded resignedly.

“I do think he seems like a good fit,” Shinya said. “Even if he did mistake me for Die.”

“Yeah, I guess he really hasn’t been following the press that closely if he got you two mixed up,” Kyo said.

“I think Die almost gave him a heart attack concerning that ‘rumor’ though,” Toshiya said, snickering. “Did you see his face?”

“I’m sure he just thought I wasn’t all there, psychologically-speaking,” Die said. “He’ll find out the truth soon enough.”

They were just about to head out of the building when an especially loud clap of thunder called their attention to just how hard it was raining.

Kyo pulled his collar up. His jacket didn’t have a hood, as it hadn’t been raining when he’d left home.

“Kyo, let me give you a ride back,” Kaoru said, as if it were more a direction than an offer.

Kyo looked to Die, aware of how uncomfortable he was riding in cars. “It’s fine,” he said. “I don’t mind walking.”

Shinya and Toshiya stood, watching, like they were afraid to leave them there.

“I mind you walking,” Kaoru said. “In this downpour? We have performances lined up. You need to start taking better care of yourself.”

Kyo frowned. “Yeah, but—”

“You don’t want to get sick,” Shinya said gently.

“They’re right,” Die said, and Kyo turned to look at him again. “If you’re worried about me, don’t be. I’ll see you back at the apartment whenever.”

Kyo almost argued, but Kaoru’s hand was firm on his shoulder, and he could only call out, “Otsukare!” to the others as he was steered out the door and towards Kaoru’s car.

Kaoru was quiet as he got the car unlocked and they buckled themselves in. Kyo could tell he was about to get scolded for his attitude at the meeting and waited with dread for the lecture to begin.

They’d already been driving a few minutes when Kaoru said, “Did you hear? Takabayashi wants to get us a TV spot.”

“Mmhmm.” Kyo hadn’t asserted himself much into the latter part of the conversation, but he’d heard the idea tossed around. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

“That kind of publicity could be a huge deal for us.”

“I know,” Kyo said. So that was the direction it was going to take: Kyo was going to be passive-aggressively shamed for the damage his sass might do to the band’s success. “Look,” he said, “I get that a meeting with a manager is a big deal, and I’m sorry for acting out—maybe if I had had more warning, and could have prepared myself for—”

Kaoru cut him off with a shake of his head. “That’s not where I’m going with this.”

“Oh,” Kyo said, nonplussed. “Then what is?”

“I wanted to ask you some things,” Kaoru said, “about Die.”

Kyo should have seen that coming. “Like what?”

“Well, he said—He told Takabayashi-san that he’s been dead for years,” Kaoru said. “His death—wasn’t recent?”

Kyo shifted in the passenger seat. “No, I guess not.”

“How long ago did he die?”

“I don’t actually know,” Kyo said. “I knew it had been a while, but I told you before, I don’t know the precise amount of time.”

“It worries me, that we know so little,” Kaoru said.

“How do you mean?”

“His very existence on this plane is… unsteady,” Kaoru said. “We don’t know what he’s doing here, how long he’s been here, how he died—”

“I do know some things,” Kyo said, more loudly than he meant to. “He’s told me stuff.”

Kaoru glanced over at him. “But not everything. Kyo, I’m not claiming to be some expert on the afterlife, but I know enough to know that spirits hang around on earth because they have some unfinished business. What happens when Die’s business is finished?”

Kyo couldn’t answer. He hadn’t thought that far ahead, hadn’t been willing to. It was obvious that Die had some unresolved guilt about the accident that had been the cause of his death. If Die was still holding onto those feelings, how could he ever move on?

And yet, Kyo found himself selfishly hoping that Die wouldn’t forgive himself, that he’d cling to that guilt and remorse longer, because without it, what was there to keep him around?

Kaoru was right, after all. There were still things Kyo didn’t know. Much as he liked to make-believe that Die had been brought to him by some musical fate, some other explanation of ties to this world was far more likely; his old bandmates, his family, the girlfriend he’d had when he died.

They hadn’t gotten a chance at closure. Maybe she was the reason Die had been stuck here for some unknown years, and instead of going to resolve things there, Die was trapped with Kyo and his despicable need to keep him to himself.

Die wasn’t at the apartment when Kyo got home, and he thought that was probably for the best. He needed to start preparing himself for the eventuality of Die’s leaving, and he couldn’t do that with him around all the time.

Kyo needed the space to ready himself for letting go.

Chapter Text

He knew it was a dream right away.

Even if there had been the possibility of Die lying in Kyo’s bed with him, pressed tightly against his back, it wouldn’t feel like that, so soft, so warm. No electricity.

He was still registering these details when Die ground his hips against him, and Kyo gasped. Maybe it wasn’t Die at all, maybe it was some stranger—fear started coiling through him abruptly, and he twisted, trying to remove himself from the warm embrace—

Die’s voice stopped him, “Stay, like this.”

“Die,” Kyo whispered, grasping at the hand firm on his hip.

In response, Die’s hips rolled again, and Kyo felt his unmistakeable hardness pressing firmly against his ass.

Kyo’s mind was frantic as Die continued to move against him. It was a dream. He knew it, he could recognize it, but it didn’t stop him from moaning as Die held him tighter, strong fingers digging into the muscles of Kyo’s shoulder and hip.

“I’m close,” Die said hoarsely.

From using me, Kyo thought, outrageously turned on by the idea. All he said aloud was, “Oh god.”

Die pushed him more soundly into the pillows, his movements growing rougher. He took his hand from Kyo’s shoulder, thrust two fingers into Kyo’s open mouth.

Kyo licked and bit at them, clutching uselessly at Die’s wrist. He couldn’t pull himself together enough to suck on Die’s fingers properly, but he whimpered as they pressed down on his tongue, and Die’s breath was harsh in his ear as he could tell he was nearing his peak.

“F—uuck!” Die groaned, and his hips jerked a few more times before he came, and his weight settled, still half over Kyo, though he pulled his hand away from his mouth.

Kyo was still desperate to turn around, to see Die and be sure it really was him, even if only a dream version, and he took advantage of Die’s relaxed grip on him to push lightly until they were both lying on their backs.

And there was Die, clad only in his underwear, a lazy sort of smile on his face, his long hair fanned out across Kyo’s pillow. There was color on his cheeks, and Kyo felt a sharp pang of grief that he could never actually see Die in this afterglow, all boneless and breathtaking.

Kyo’s hand trailed up Die’s thigh and he gasped.

“Sensitive,” he said, but Kyo didn’t stop touching him. He just let his hand drift up higher, until he was palming at Die’s cock where it was still trapped in his boxers.

Kyo could feel where the fabric was damp with Die’s cum, could feel the heat of him, still half-hard, and he kept his eyes on his hand’s task, until Die swatted him with a disapproving click of his tongue.

“Kinky,” he scolded. “Trying to spread my cum around.”

Kyo couldn’t find it in himself to apologize. He kept staring as Die pushed himself to sit up.

“You want to see it?” Die’s voice had never been husky like that when Kyo had heard it, but he couldn’t claim not to like it.

He sat up, too, and nodded. He watched as Die slid his boxers down and revealed himself, partly hard and all messy.

One of Die’s hands came up and pushed into Kyo’s hair, fingers tangling comfortably in the strands. “Why don’t you get the head in your mouth?” he suggested.

Kyo didn’t hesitate to comply. He practically dove down to get a taste of what Die was offering.

He took more and more of him in, his tongue pressing along a vein on the underside. He felt him get harder, and when Die lay back against the pillows once more with a groan, Kyo pulled off, and focused on placing open-mouthed kisses up and down Die’s length, moaning as he sucked near the base.

It occurred to him that now was his chance to take his time to admire Die; now, when it was a dream, when it wasn’t real and there was no shame in staring.

So he stared, at Die’s cock, the lovely curve of it, its imposing size, the way it twitched, needy and wet. He leaned back in, nuzzled against it with his cheek, and savored Die’s soft sigh of pleasure above him, the taste of him still in his mouth, until the impossibility of it all overwhelmed him, and he awoke, alone in his bed.

He wasn’t surprised in the least to find himself hard when he awoke, but he was lacking any desire to show himself off this time. He couldn’t shake the feeling of Die in the dream, the normalcy of it all, the warmth of him in bed alongside him. It seemed utterly unfair that his unconscious mind would torment him with such images, such feelings, when it was so far from something he could actually have.

Especially when he’d just been telling himself it was time to ready himself for letting Die go. How could he let go of someone who appeared in his dreams like that?

He thought of that sleepy, sated smile that had been on dream-Die’s face. It was so similar to the smile Kyo had seen on the real Die, more times than he could count, but just different enough that he was caught up in how badly he wanted to see it, the real thing, wanted to be the cause of it.

He could imagine it so easily; Die smiling that way at him, leaning down to capture his lips in a kiss—Kyo hadn’t even gotten to kiss him in the dream. That was pretty fucked-up. He’d known it was a dream, why hadn’t he taken the opportunity to kiss Die, to feel exactly how soft those lips were? What bullshit!

Then again, since he’d known it was a dream, he probably should never have let it go as far as it did. He should have forced himself to wake up from the first moment, since he knew perfectly well that it was no good for him to go on entertaining fantasies about Die like that.

It was too early to get up yet, so Kyo rolled over and tried to fall back asleep, thoughts of Die still filling his head. Maybe a little fantasizing never really hurt anyone, right?


Kyo woke again in the morning to the sounds of things moving around in the kitchen, delicious smells wafting all the way to his bedroom.

Die was cooking again.

Grabbing a sweatshirt from the pile of clean laundry on top of his dresser, Kyo shuffled out to where Die was busily working in the kitchen.

“Didn’t I tell you last time that it wasn’t necessary for you to cook for me?” Kyo said, rubbing at one eye. “I can’t exactly return the favor.”

“I’m not doing it so you’ll return the favor,” Die replied. “I felt bad I kinda ditched when we were gonna have movie night last night—that was last night, wasn’t it?”

Kyo had to think about it for a second, but then nodded.

Die smiled, pleased. “I’m getting better at that.” He turned back to whatever he had going on the stove. “Anyway, we’ve got another interview today, and I know those kind of take their toll on you, so it’s important that you’re getting enough to eat before a trying day.”

Kyo frowned at Die’s back. It didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t Die’s responsibility to make sure Kyo was eating properly, like he was some kind of housepet. Once again, he was struck with guilt over Die being here taking care of him, instead of finding peace with the girlfriend he’d had before he died.

Surely, Kyo thought, Die must have also been thinking of the incongruity of it all, must have been aware of how Kyo was monopolizing all his time and offering basically nothing in return.

“You really miss cooking or what?” Kyo said. He was about to head for the cupboard to take out what he needed to make coffee, only to realize Die was several steps ahead of him, and there was a steaming mug already sitting on the counter waiting for him.

Die made a little considering noise. “Maybe. Or it’s just nice to do something I kind of have some control over. It’s not like I was some master chef in life or anything.”

“But you’d still cook from time to time,” Kyo pressed, holding the mug of coffee with both hands. “For your family, or your girlfriend, or whatever.” He sipped at the too-hot drink as he watched Die’s face. It wasn’t quite as sweet as he usually took it, but he’d be damned if he was going to comment on such a thing to Die.

“I guess, sometimes,” Die said.

“I bet she really appreciated it,” Kyo said, and for some reason he added, “I mean, I’ve never had a boyfriend really cook for me.”

Die looked at him a bit curiously, but didn’t respond.

“You were probably a better boyfriend than anyone I’ve dated in a lot of ways,” Kyo said. He still didn’t know why he was saying it. He didn’t generally talk much about his past relationships to anyone, since he didn’t see the point in dwelling on what was over and done. “You really loved her, huh?”

Die switched off the stove, nodded. “Food’s ready.”

Maybe it was wrong of Kyo to bring up Die’s girlfriend, to essentially wave it in his face that he’d lost her. Die was uncharacteristically quiet while Kyo ate breakfast, and clear through their journey to meet with the rest of the band for the interview.

Kyo didn’t want to call attention to Die’s mood and risk it turning into an argument right before they had to be interviewed, and so he said nothing, and kicked himself inwardly for never minding his own business or keeping his thoughts to himself when he should.

This interview was much the same as the last one, except Kyo felt even less like being there and talking about himself. Wherever possible, he tried to deflect, and let other members answer any questions not addressed to him specifically.

Compared to the last one though, the interviewer this time was a little bit more hip, and had clearly done her research. She knew all the variations of Die’s possible origin story, and seemed determined to get the facts to work out which was closest to the truth.

“My personal favorite is that you are some supernatural being, stranded here on earth," she said with an impressive lack of shame. “But that of course begs the question: What are you doing here? What brought you to our world?”

Kyo watched as Die’s eyebrows did a funny little furrow, like he was confused for a moment. He knew that Die tried not to straight-up lie in these situations, and he couldn’t really fathom it. Much as Kyo valued honesty and tried to tell the truth in everything he did, he felt like interviews were one of life’s exceptions. It was a kind of role they were playing, and sometimes it was fun to tell a bald-faced lie, just to see someone’s reaction.

There had been a conspicuously long pause by the time Die answered, “I’m here because I was… given an opportunity.” He wet his lips, and then smirked. “And I took advantage of it.”

Kyo was sure that was hardly a satisfactory answer for the interviewer, but she looked too uncomfortable to push it any further, and switched tracks, back to asking them about upcoming performances and hyping the digital release the band had out, with two more on the way.

It wasn’t all that satisfactory for Kyo, either, if he was honest. After all, that was one of the main points about Die’s whole story that he’d still been wondering about. He’d pretty much assumed that Die didn’t know himself why he was there, but the coy look on his face as he’d evaded the question made Kyo think that might not actually be the case.

He was still reluctant to bring it up afterwards. Die’s mood had been strange since the morning, and Kyo didn’t want to make matters worse. They returned home without him mentioning it. Everyone else had seemed so cheerful, excited about the chance to be seen and heard, in the public eye. Maybe Die could think Kyo felt the same way.

Except of course Die wasn’t completely ignorant, and he only waited for Kyo to lock the front door behind them before he started in on him.

“All right, what’s your deal? You’ve been biting your tongue since before the interview, I’m starting to worry it’ll affect your singing.” He raised an eyebrow expectantly.

“I’m sorry,” Kyo said. “I didn’t want to pick a fight with you, right before we had to—”

“You were planning on picking a fight with me?”

“Well, no, of course, I was hoping it wouldn’t turn into a fight,” Kyo said. He felt cornered and panicky already, and he hadn’t even said anything yet.

“So you thought I’d turn it into a fight.”

“Well, look what you’re doing right now! I didn’t know how it would go,” Kyo said. “You were in such a mood, and I thought it was my fault.”

Die looked genuinely confused. “Why?”

“‘Cause I was bringing up your girlfriend!” Kyo threw up his hands. “It’s none of my business, and I shouldn’t have made you feel worse about losing her, I was just being a thoughtless asshole like usual, and I’m sorry.”

“You’re not—” Die sighed. “It’s just complicated.”

“And then what you said in the interview—and I don’t know if you were just kind of saying tricky things to amuse yourself—”

“Which?” Die shook his head. “What—which what I said in the interview?”

They’d made their way to the living room, a comfortable space for Die, if it became an argument. How unfair, Kyo thought, that he’d managed to totally lose any sense of power in one of the main rooms of his own apartment.

Kyo raked a hand through his hair, mussing up how he’d had it styled for the interview, and sat himself on the arm of the couch. “She asked why you were here. And I… I’ve always wondered that, too. But I didn’t realize you’ve had the answer this entire time.”

“Oh,” Die said with a look of understanding.

“I liked to think sometimes,” Kyo went on, picking at a rip in his jeans, “that maybe you were here for me. That you appeared to me—to the band, specifically, so we could make music together. It’s too unlikely to be a coincidence, right? But I guess you’ve never believed that."

“I don’t know what I believe,” Die said. “I kind of like your idea, but why I’m here, why I showed up to you when I did…  A lot of spirits move on, you know. People die, they find peace, and they pass out of this world, and I... couldn’t." He came around to sit lightly on the other end of the couch, facing Kyo, though he wasn’t looking at him. “It was like how I couldn’t fall asleep when I was alive, only this time I couldn’t just drink myself out of consciousness.”

Kyo watched as Die started to fidget absently, his hands toying with anything in reach. For the moment it was the edge of his wristband.

“I would try to just let go and drift away, but there was too much in my head, anxieties clawing at me and keeping me awake, keeping me heavy. Guilt and regret and a load of other generally shitty feelings.” Die closed his eyes. “Eventually I stopped even trying.”

“That’s how you got stuck here?” Kyo asked.

“That’s why I’ve been here as long as I have,” Die said. “And then came that opportunity I spoke of. The fourth anniversary of my death.”

Kyo dimly recalled Die’s asking the date that first night they met. “Four… Shi.”

Die nodded. “Death is all squares. I was granted the chance to come and tie up all my loose ends, to appear to the living, so that I could make amends and find closure.”

“But you haven’t done that,” Kyo said.

“I didn’t realize it until I met you and you could see me,” Die explained. “And then I could have, could have manifested my energy, probably in any of my old haunts, could even have hung around my own tombstone, and waited for the people I knew in life to visit and pay their respects.”

“And if you’d done that,” Kyo said slowly, “you could be free.”

“I could finish everything up and leave Earth behind once and for all,” Die said.

“You still could.” The words felt like a betrayal as they left Kyo’s lips. Why would he encourage Die to move on, to leave, to leave him behind?

Only because he loved him. Kyo wanted Die to find peace more than he wanted to keep him to himself, and that realization was surprisingly painful, like a javelin through his ribcage.

“I could,” Die agreed. “I told you before that I’m too scared and ashamed to face any of them.”

“Is that really why you haven’t done it?”

It had been months by now, and it was a little hard for Kyo to imagine that Die was existing in such a state of terror of his past that he would avoid confrontation at the expense of his blissful escape from his unhappy ghosthood.

Die paused, worrying his lip. He got up from the couch, pacing soundlessly around the room. “That was what I told myself, at first. That I couldn't bear the thought of seeing any of them again, that I deserved to stay here, to punish myself. But things… changed.” He stopped pacing, and stood behind the couch, meeting Kyo’s eyes. “I met you—and the band,” he looked away again, “and everything was different. What I wanted and what I could have… All of it changed.”

He’d somehow moved even closer to where Kyo was perched, without him noticing.

“So…” Kyo swallowed. “Now you’re here by choice?”

Die nodded. He was looking at Kyo again, his eyes seeming impossibly large and earnest, like he was baring something extremely personal. “At this point,” he said—whispered, really, “I’m not supposed to be here anymore. But someone would have to really want to get rid of me, ‘cause I’ve made up my mind already that this… is where I want to be.”

There was such little distance between them now that Kyo could feel the crackle of his energy, almost sparking against his skin. Without consciously thinking about it, he leaned in towards Die, and Die leaned in, too, only to catch himself mere centimeters from Kyo’s face.

Die cleared his throat quietly. “I, um.” His gaze turned away. “I should leave you, to do. Whatever you need to get done. But I’ll, um, see you around. Tomorrow, maybe.” And with that he faded away faster than Kyo had ever seen him do before.

Chapter Text

They didn’t talk about it.

Both Kyo and Die were apparently content to not discuss what had been something of a close call. They had almost kissed. Kyo was confident he hadn’t dreamed it that time; there had been some weird chemistry or tension in the moment, and he and Die had come incredibly close to kissing—and then they’d stopped, and Die had left and they didn’t talk about it again.

Kyo wasn’t sure what it meant. He’d seen Die of course nearly every day since then, and had no repeat incidents. It could have just been a fluke. They’d been having a sort of sensitive discussion, maybe feeling more vulnerable than usual, and things had gotten too intense. It would have been easy to accept it as such and forget it.

Except Kyo wasn’t forgetting it. He was thinking about it every day, multiple times a day, how close Die had been, the depth of his eyes, the way his lips were just parted—Was it even possible to forget all that?

It didn’t help any that Die kept looking at him. There had been several moments since that day, where Kyo had caught Die staring at him, in a lingering sort of way that he found difficult to ignore. Maybe it hadn’t been a fluke as much as they’d have liked to pretend it had.

The entire thought path was becoming familiar, and Kyo was thinking through it all again as he went through his morning workout, earbuds in his ears.

Even with how he was being active, keeping his body moving, he found it was cold enough in his apartment that he had goosebumps springing up along his bare arms. Maybe he was just getting more sensitive to temperature as he aged?

He repositioned his legs for his next set of crunches, working his obliques, and had made it through two when he gave a start as all at once he noticed Die sitting calmly on the floor, close enough to almost bump into him.

Die wore a neutral expression on his face, seemed to just be watching him. “Did I scare you?” he asked, though he didn’t seem too remorseful either way.

“Well, yeah,” Kyo said, leaning back on his hands. “You could have said something instead of just sitting there watching me like some kinda weirdo.”

“You have earbuds in,” Die pointed out, and he reached forward, tugged on the cord until one earbud popped out and fell against Kyo’s chest.

Just like that, Kyo was very aware of how shirtless he was under Die’s gaze, of how his nipples were hard in the cold of the room. He shivered.

“What’re you listening to?” Die asked.

Kyo didn’t know how he could do it, how he could sit that close and act like they were just having a normal conversation. He didn’t feel like he was the one making it weird. Unless he was? But the way Die kept looking at him…

He’d paused longer than he meant to, and had to scramble to answer Die’s question. “Some band one of my coworkers recommended. They’re not bad, maybe a little poppier than I’m generally into.”

“I never think about you having coworkers,” Die said.

“Eh. I use the term generously,” Kyo said. “I don’t see them so often, ‘cause I’m stuck downstairs working the counter.”

“You never get to trade off?”

Kyo scoffed. “You need a degree to actually talk about the art. I didn’t even finish high school.”

“But you work there. I bet you know enough about the pieces to work away from the counter.”

“Yeah, it’s all bullshit, but y’know, that’s above my pay-grade. I’m lucky to work there at all, instead of it just being some intern.”

“I still haven’t had the chance to tag along with you.”

Kyo made a face, shifting to scratch an itch in the middle of his back. “I don’t know why you’d want—” Hs sentence cut off as he suddenly remembered the painting in the amateur gallery. He hadn’t even thought about it in weeks, but it came rushing back, how he’d wanted to tell Die about it, to show it to him. “Actually, yeah. Why don’t you come with me today?”

Die’s face lit up. “Yeah? It won’t cause you trouble?”

“Nah,” Kyo said. “But I might pretty much leave you on your own once we get there.”

“You’re not gonna give me the tour?” Die said.

“I told you, I don’t have the degree! The others will tell you anything about the art you wanna know.”

Die looked down at his hands in his lap. “I guess. I’d rather hear what you had to say about it all.”

Kyo wasn’t altogether comfortable with the way Die’s tone made his stomach flip over. That was inconvenient. “There is one piece at least that I want to show you—want to get your opinion on.”

“Really?” Die said doubtfully. “I’m no art expert.”

“Neither is the artist.”

Die snorted. “That’s kinda harsh.”

“I don’t mean it like that,” Kyo said. “It’s in our amateur gallery. But the subject in interesting.” He didn’t want to say more about it, in case it made Die wary somehow, so he dropped back down onto the floor. “I have to finish my workout.”

He’d hoped that would end their conversation, but Die just leaned his chin on one hand, settled in like he was going to keep watching. “You do this every day?”

“I try to,” Kyo said, trying to pick up his crunches where he left off.

“Guess that explains a few things,” Die murmured, his eyes roaming over Kyo’s body. “I’ve never seen you working out before.”

“You’re not usually here in the morning.” Kyo closed his eyes, hoping it would make it easier to concentrate on what he was doing when he was less aware of how he was being watched.

“Hmm. I have always been a night owl.” Die’s voice remained neutral, patient, as he waited for Kyo to finish.

Kyo gritted his teeth. It wasn’t exactly that he didn’t want Die looking at him—it was almost the opposite. The more he thought about Die fixing him with that penetrating stare, watching every little movement of his half-naked body, the more he could feel heat coursing through him, in spite of the cold, and he was starting to worry about just how much Die might see.

“You do weights, too, huh?” Die said casually.

“Mmhmm.”

“Right, yeah. Obviously.” A pause, then, “Are you gonna do that when you’re done?”

Kyo sighed, opened his eyes, and pushed himself into a sitting position to better look at Die. “Maybe just a couple sets with my free weights. I usually go to the gym when I want to do heavy stuff.”

Die nodded. “Sure, I figured, you’d have to.” He bit his lip, then asked, “So how much can you lift?”

Kyo raised an eyebrow. I could bench-press you, he skillfully managed not to say. “Why do you care?”

“Curious,” Die said with a shrug. “I used to work on my body a lot, too.”

Kyo didn’t know what to say to that. He didn’t want to be insulting—and certainly Die looked great in the shape he was in—but he didn’t seem to have a lot of muscle mass that Kyo could see. He was basically scrawny.

His silence must have been easy to interpret, because Die chuckled. “Yeah, I was never able to keep the weight on. I was constantly being told to eat more, and just found that so difficult. It felt like I was already eating a ton, but then my weight was never where it was supposed to be. I suppose it’s kinda nice to not have to worry about it anymore.”

Kyo nodded. “I have to work pretty hard to maintain it, too.”

“Looks good, though,” Die said. “Especially with the tattoos.” His eyes lingered a moment longer and then he got to his feet. “Think I’m making you kind of uncomfortable, so um. Yeah, sorry. I’ll be.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the other room. “Let me know when we’re leaving, yeah?” Then he exited, right through the wall, and although Kyo had seen him do similar things before, it was still sudden enough to catch him off-guard, and he had to take a few seconds to process it.

The rest of his workout passed more or less in peace, and after a quick shower, Kyo roused Die from where he was lazily watching some children’s morning program on TV, and they headed out for the museum.

It was a strange new experience. Kyo had never brought someone with him to the museum; no one had ever wanted to see it. That was the thing about Die: he was always so interested, in whatever Kyo was doing, even his boring day job, and Kyo hated how worthwhile it made him feel, knowing that someone really cared about what was going on in his life.

Die chattered excitedly the whole trip, trying to get Kyo to tell him about his coworkers the same way he had with the band members.

“It’s not the same,” Kyo told him. “I mean they’re good guys, but they don’t care about me, and no offense, but they’re not gonna care about you, either.”

“That’s fine!” Die said. “I don’t need them to care about me!”

As if they were waiting for this opportune moment, two college-age girls suddenly approached them with a shy, “Excuse me…”

Kyo gave them a half-annoyed once-over. “Yes?”

The braver of the two girls stepped a little closer. “We hate to bother you, but aren’t you from the band, Genshitsuu?”

Kyo’s eyebrows shot up, and he was grateful Die was there to take over.

“Yes, we are,” he said, smiling. “Nice to meet you, I’m Die.”

The more talkative girl suppressed a high noise. “I know! I mean, nice to meet you! I’m Kiyoko, and this is Yoshie, and we-we have tickets to your show on Friday!”

“That’s wonderful, thank you so much for supporting us,” Die said, and bowed.

“I listen to your songs all the time,” the second girl blurted out. “I can’t wait for the full album.”

“Neither can I!” Kiyoko said, sounding defensive.

Die laughed good-naturedly, and Kyo realized he was staring at him just as much as the girls were. He still hadn’t said anything useful.

“Do you want, ah, an autograph? Or something?” Kyo mumbled. He patted his pockets for a pen, but instead found Die’s pick, and reached into the pocket to clutch it in his hand.

The girls eagerly provided pen and paper, and both Die and Kyo signed it and handed it back.

One would think they’d handed back wads of cash from how the girls held their new treasures.

“Thank you!” they cried, bowing.

“You’re welcome!” Die said sweetly. “Enjoy the show Friday night, okay?” He waved as they went on their way, and Kyo just stood and watched them go.

They were only a block or two from the museum, and strangers were coming up, recognizing him…

“You okay?” Die nudged him gently, the accompanying spark waking him up a little.

“What are the chances?” Kyo said, looking up at him. “I walk this same road five days a week.”

“You’re probably easier to recognize when I’m with you,” Die said. “Just be glad they didn’t hug you,” he added with a grin.

They finished the trek to the museum, and Kyo could have sworn he saw more people looking at them, whispering amongst themselves.

“I know what it is,” Die said, when at last they reached their destination and were going inside. “Our article went up on that local music blog yesterday. This is the part of the city where there starts being more nightlife, performance venues, that kind of thing, so there are probably more music lovers around here. They’re starting to take notice.”

The idea made Kyo deeply uncomfortable.

“You’re not kind of excited?” Die asked. “You want to make it big in the music scene, right?”

“I guess,” Kyo said. “But I don’t want people to have a reason to talk to me.”

Die laughed. “You might just have to get used to it.” He paused, looking around the first room of the little art museum with wide, appreciative eyes. “So, this is where you work.”

“Ah, yeah,” Kyo said. He shrugged. “Ta-da.”

Die’s eyes kept moving as he nodded slowly. “’s a little dead.”

“Look who’s talking.”

That got him a snort, and Die came over to the counter where Kyo was starting to boot up the computer.

“Really though,” Kyo said, “it’s not open yet.” He held his arm out so Die could read his watch. “I clock in at 9:45, and then we’re open to the public at 10:00.”

“Oh.” Die looked around yet again. “So I’m not supposed to be in here.”

Kyo made a dismissive noise. “Who cares, you’re fine.”

“I thought I saw someone else in here,” Die said, frowning. He looked off towards the first floor exhibit.

“Maybe one of the guys got here early,” Kyo said. He fiddled with the computer mouse in a vain attempt to get it to boot up faster. “Long black hair?”

“Mm-mm. Short.”

Kyo looked up at him. “Short hair?”

Die nodded.

“No. They all have long hair.”

“Maybe someone got a haircut,” Die suggested. “Or I could have just been imagining something person-shaped that was actually one of these art pieces.”

“Hmm.” Kyo didn’t like the idea that there could be some unknown person wandering around the museum outside of business hours, and he didn’t know if he bought Die’s claim that he might have imagined it. Could ghosts’ eyes play tricks on them?

In any event, he wasn’t keen on going around himself to investigate. He might be able to muster up an imposing stage presence, but he didn’t like his chances of taking on someone in real life, especially in the unlikely case that they could be armed.

Kyo clocked in, and his anxiety only grew as each of his coworkers arrived, hair in the same style as ever. He didn’t even bother with introducing Die to any of them, despite the fact that he was lurking around the front desk rather conspicuously, unwilling to go off and keep himself entertained.

Kyo almost warned his coworkers about the possible intruder before they went upstairs, but he kept his mouth shut. He hadn’t seen anyone, after all, and the cleaning staff had been there that morning, so there was little chance of someone remaining hidden in the locked building since closing time the night before. He was just being paranoid.

He was walking back from officially unlocking the front door when Die stood before him.

“Why are you making that face?”

“What face?” Kyo said.

“That one you’ve been making for the past twenty minutes,” Die said, “like you’re trying to get a popcorn kernel out from between your teeth and it’s causing you great distress.”

“I’m not—” Kyo sighed, getting back behind his desk. “I guess I got kind of freaked out by what you said.”

“About seeing someone,” Die said.

“But I’m just being… Don’t worry about it,” Kyo said. “In fact, you should go explore. You didn’t come to the museum just to hang around the counter with me, did you?”

Die went on frowning at him. “You’re afraid?”

“Maybe a little,” Kyo admitted. “I’m not… the biggest guy.”

“You work out, though,” Die said. “You’re hardly defenseless.”

“I’m a pacifist.”

“To everyone but yourself, hm?” Die put his hands in his pockets. “Don’t you guys have security or someone who can take a look around?”

Kyo raised an eyebrow at him. “Have you seen this place? We have alarms to protect the more valuable art, but not guards or anything, we don’t have the budget for it.”

“I’ll investigate, then,” Die said. “I may not have security experience, but I’m pretty much invulnerable, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

“There’s probably nothing to investigate,” Kyo protested weakly.

“Even better,” Die said, smiling. “I can see all the exhibits on the way.”

He set off, and Kyo missed his presence immediately. All at once it was a regular, lonely work day, just like any other, and he wished he hadn’t told him to go.

The morning passed slowly, normally, uneventfully. Kyo supposed that was a good thing. He made smalltalk with the guests who came by the counter, and messed around on twitter during quiet periods. Even when it was Kyo's lunch break, Die didn't return, and Kyo didn't go looking for him, since perhaps it just meant he was getting really into the art.

It wasn’t until after three o’clock that one of Kyo’s coworkers came down from upstairs, a strange, uneasy look on his face.

“Hey, Yuchi, what’s wrong?” Kyo asked as the other man approached the front desk purposefully.

“You know, sometimes I think we really need to invest in some proper security for this place,” Yuchi said in a low voice.

Kyo’s stomach turned. “What makes you say that?”

“There’s some guy upstairs—and he’s not acting violent or anything so I don’t want to call the cops, but he’s probably got some mental problems. He’s just standing there talking to himself, laughing and everything,” Yuchi said. “And he’s not on a bluetooth, that’s what I thought at first, but no, he’s just being… Not that I mean anything against people who are mentally ill, but some of the other guests have been mentioning it to me.”

Kyo hadn’t seen anyone come in who had been acting strangely, and could only deduce that it was the intruder Die had spotted earlier. “A man with short, black hair?” he asked.

Yuchi frowned. “He—what? No,” he said. “Why? The guy has longer hair, dyed, red.”

Kyo felt his eyes widen. “Die?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Red-haired guy, leather jacket, tattoo on his right hand?” Kyo said.

“Wait, you know this person?”

“Yeah, he’s my—um, he’s in my band, we’re friends,” Kyo said. “He came here with me today, to see where I work.”

“Oh. Well, does he normally do… that?” Yuchi asked. “Talk creepily to himself in public places?”

“Not that I’ve seen,” Kyo said. “Let me—Here, watch the desk.” He didn’t give Yuchi a chance to refuse before taking off for the stairs.

It didn’t take him long to find Die. He was there on the second floor, and sure enough, all the other guests were leaving him plenty of space, as he was apparently engaged in a full-blown conversation, though Kyo couldn’t see with whom.

As he got close, Die glanced up and saw him, his face splitting into a grin.

“Kyo! Come look at this!” Die reached for him, strong fingers closing around his wrist, and then Kyo was being dragged through the exhibit until he was brought to a stop, unsurprisingly in front of a certain anonymously-submitted painting.

He stared up at it for the second time, felt the same electric chill dance through him as before, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to say. Die was watching him with this gleeful expectancy.

“That’s it!” Die hissed in excitement. “The other realm, the place I’m always telling you about!”

“I know,” Kyo replied lamely.

Die’s face dropped. “You do?”

“This is the painting I wanted to show you,” Kyo said. “I’m just easily distracted, and I guess when you said you saw someone—”

“Oh, yeah, I found him, too,” Die said, gesturing past Kyo’s shoulder.

“You found…” Kyo didn’t need to turn and look over his shoulder; he knew he wouldn’t see anyone. “You found the artist.”

Die nodded. “I guess he crossed over pretty recently, but he says he used to come to this museum a lot in life, so it’s where he’s been making camp. He knows a shit-ton about art, actually.”

Kyo didn’t doubt it, of course. He believed everything Die was saying, but he got the impression that Die wasn’t looking at the bigger picture. “Die, I can’t see him.”

“You can’t—” Die’s brow was wrinkled, then it dawned on him. “Oh. Right.” He kept looking past Kyo, something plainly apologetic in his expression.

“Can you ask him, though,” Kyo said, “how he managed to get his work submitted if he can’t be seen? Or can he be seen by some people?”

Die shook his head. “People can only see me because of what I told you; I was given the chance to come finish things up. If his death was more recent, he can’t appear to anyone.” He made a face then, and Kyo realized he was listening to whatever the other ghost was saying. “Right,” Die said, after a pause, but he wasn’t speaking to Kyo. “I know, I’m sorry.”

Kyo was torn between respecting the stranger’s privacy and his overwhelming curiosity about what they were discussing right over his shoulder. He kept quiet.

Die’s gaze followed nothing as the ghost must have walked around towards him, then his eyes flicked to Kyo for a second. “No,” he said. “No, it’s—” He paused. “I’m aware. He’s a friend.”

That caught Kyo’s attention. It would seem that what was being discussed was, in fact, him. He tilted his head curiously and hoped Die would explain.

Die acknowledged the look. “He was hoping to speak with his family, maybe the same way I speak to you.”

“Ah,” Kyo said. He felt for the guy. It had to be hard to be stolen away from a loving family, maybe a wife and kids— “Wait a minute. Does he have a wife and two boys?”

Die looked at the empty space to his left, and turned back to Kyo. “How did you know?”

“I think I… met them,” Kyo said.

Die’s eyebrows lifted. “You met his family?”

“I just happened to,” Kyo said. “Assuming they’re the same ones, they came in to the museum a while back. His wife mentioned how much he’d liked coming here, but I didn’t realize when she said it that he had such a solid excuse for not returning.”

“But he did return,” Die pointed out.

“I didn’t know that, either,” Kyo said. “Though I did wonder.”

“Is there anything else you can share about his family?”

There really wasn’t, but Kyo still wracked his brain trying to think of something. “I haven’t seen them back here, but… I did give them a handout with information about the workshops we offer. His wife said they might check them out sometime.” He hesitated, then asked, “Couldn’t he go check on them, try to communicate with them at home, instead of staying here at the museum?”

“It’s a tricky business,” Die said. “Maybe he could, but…” He paused, listening again, then related, “He doesn’t want to turn their home into a haunted house. He wants to give them the freedom to move on, he just… wishes he could say goodbye.”

“It seems like he’s very capable,” Kyo said. “I bet he could figure out a way to get in touch with them. He figured out how to submit his work to the museum.”

Another pause, then, “That was easier, he says. He was able to just leave his painting with the other amateur submissions once everyone was gone for the day, since he was here anyway. No one questioned it.”

“How did he even make it?”

Die looked to the side again, and then laughed. “That, uh, he says he got supplies from the museum gift shop. He apologizes for that.”

Kyo’s mouth hung open. “From the gift shop??” He shook his head. “At least I guess they were used to make some good art. Man.” He supposed after death, shoplifting a canvas and some paint wouldn’t seem to matter so much.

A hush fell over them for a time; Kyo was pretty sure even the ghost he couldn’t see wasn’t talking. He didn’t really know, though, what to do with any of this new information. There were other ghosts wandering around the world, going about their business, and Kyo was unaware of them. They had more suffering than he even knew, unable to appear to their loved ones, and there wasn’t anything Kyo could do about any of it.

“I have to go back to work,” he said.

“Kyo,” Die reached out to stop him from turning, and dropped his voice. “You’ve met his family. Don’t you think there’s some way we could help him get in contact with them?”

Kyo didn’t answer right away. He had a moment of panic.

This entire ghost business was getting away from him. It was one thing when it was just Die, a spirit dropped into his lap in his own apartment, but this was some man he’d never heard of, and he was supposed to, what, act as some liaison to the dead? How had he gotten himself into such a position? He wasn’t qualified for that kind of task.

Yet there was something pulling him from within, calling him to do anything he could to help this unknown artist find peace. And with Die looking at him, hope stirring in those deep brown eyes, like Kyo was the answer, like Die believed in him, trusted him, needed him, how could Kyo possibly deny him?

He took a deep breath and told him, “Count on it.”

Chapter Text

Kyo tossed another chocolate wrapper into the growing pile on the table before him. The meeting had officially ended, but the band was still gathered around the table in the record label conference room, and as long as he was sitting there, Kyo wasn’t going to stop eating what had been provided for him.

“Well, Kyo?” Kaoru said. “You were pretty quiet throughout the meeting, but I know you have opinions, so what do you think?”

Kyo shrugged. “I think it’s not really our style, but that what I think doesn’t matter that much.”

“Which part isn’t our style?” Kaoru asked.

Toshiya laughed. “Which part is? A TV commercial, all smiling on some beach, doing some company’s selling?”

“A beer company,” Kaoru said. “You like beer.”

“But Kyo doesn’t. He basically doesn’t drink,” Shinya said. “And neither does Die, for that matter.”

“True,” Die said. “But in life, I loved beer.”

“And this would be a huge publicity opportunity for us,” Kaoru said. “Kyo, surely you must see that, right? Being on TV like that would get us seen on a national scale.”

“I know,” Kyo said.

“So, you realize how important it is for us.”

“I already said it doesn’t matter what I think, didn’t I?” Kyo unwrapped another chocolate. “Why is it necessary for you to hear my opinion when you’re just going to disregard it anyway?”

“I’m not disregarding it,” Kaoru said. “I’m acknowledging it—”

“And then you’re making the ultimate decision that you know what’s best for the band,” Kyo said. “Like you always do.” He didn’t raise his voice. He wasn’t even really upset, it was just how these things tended to go, and he didn’t see why Kaoru would try to deny that.

“You think you know better?” Kaoru asked.

“I didn’t say that.”

Kaoru let out a growl of frustration. “I don’t see why you’re being so difficult.”

“How am I being difficult?” Kyo said, confused. “I’m just sitting here—you asked my opinion, I told you, but I never said I was unwilling to do the commercial. It’s the same thing I always say: If you’d ask me to do something different from how I’m doing it, then I’d change it, no problem. You get all bent out of shape though, over whatever I’m doing in the first place. How can I know it’s not what you’re looking for, if you don’t tell me what you are looking for?”

“Why are we arguing about it?” Die said. “Kyo already agreed, but you can’t make him want to do it. Let it go, Kaoru.”

Die wasn’t usually one to involve himself in band conflict, and it seemed that Kaoru was surprised enough by his contribution that he let his next retort go unsaid.

“Everyone’s just tense because it was such an official meeting,” Toshiya said. “More pressure than we’re used to.”

It was true, that there had been a certain air of Professional Industry Nightmare to what they’d just sat through. Their whole new management team had been there, talking about publicity and image and contracts, and all the details that were more a byproduct of success than the music-making in which they were primarily interested.

“I think there are other matters with which we should be more concerned,” Shinya said, and they all looked over. “You heard what Takabayashi was saying, about intellectual property, and ownership of our music, right?”

They all nodded, though Kyo didn’t feel like admitting he’d only been half-listening to whatever had been said.

“So what about Die?” Shinya said.

Toshiya leaned forward on the table. “What do you mean?”

“How is Die supposed to have legal rights to anything we make together,” Shinya said, “when he’s dead?”

Everyone went quiet, looked at Die instead.

“I don’t say that to be hurtful,” Shinya said apologetically. “I just want you to… well, get your cut.”

“No, I know,” Die said. He looked thoughtful, then shrugged. “Honestly, it’s not such a big deal to me.”

A crease appeared between Kaoru’s brows. “How can you say that?” Maybe he was just in the mood to argue.

“Money doesn’t mean anything to me,” Die said. “I have nothing to save for, I don’t eat, I stay with Kyo—if anything, he should get my share, since he pays the rent to support both of us.”

Kyo looked up from the chocolate he’d just picked up in surprise. “What? I don’t want your money!”

“Then divide it evenly amongst yourselves,” Die said. “It’s not like I need it for anything.”

“That doesn’t feel right,” Toshiya said.

Die sighed. “The contracts, the profit, none of that is why I’m doing this.” He looked down at his hands, idly tugging at each other. “It’s… the music. You guys, performing, it makes me feel—alive.” He paused. “If it makes you feel better, we could set it up so we make sure some money gets sent to my parents, so I have the secure knowledge that they’re at least taken care of.”

“No,” Kaoru said firmly.

Kyo had thought that sounded pretty reasonable, and couldn’t imagine what fault Kaoru saw in it.

“That’s not the point,” Kaoru continued. “It’s not about the money, or what we do with your ‘share.’ It’s the principle of it. This is music we’re making together, writing and playing as a band, and Die, you’re part of that. You should have rights to it as much as any of us, should get the proper credit for what you create.”

Die stared at him for a second before letting out a skeptical kind of laugh. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes all the difference,” Kaoru said. “There has to be some loophole we can exploit, some way to see to it that you have rights to your intellectual property the same as the rest of us.”

“How?” Toshiya said. “Even his signature on the contract can’t be legally binding if he’s not alive.”

“Maybe we could bring in his next of kin,” Shinya suggested, “and they could sign over rights to whatever he creates with the band, so we can manage it from our end, knowing that we’ve gone through the proper channels.”

“Next of—no way!” Die said. “I told you, it’s not important to me. I’d be down for sending money to my folks, but I’m not involving them in some complicated legal process.”

“Besides, how could they sign over rights to things he hasn’t made yet?” Kyo said. “Maybe things he’d written when he was alive, but things we make together from here on out? How would that even work?”

“It’s a complicated situation,” Kaoru said. “We might need to contact an attorney for some of these questions.”

“An attorney who specializes in paranormal circumstances?” Shinya said. “We’re not likely to find one of those.”

It was true that the conditions were pretty far removed from the norm. It was all kinds of unchartered ghost territory, and there wasn’t necessarily an established procedure for dealing with someone like Die.

“What other choice do we have?” Toshiya said. “I mean, what else are we gonna do, bring him back to life?”

The silence that followed was louder than any of their voices had been.

An eternity later, Toshiya said quietly, “Is… is that actually something we could do?”

Of course it wasn’t. People didn’t come back from being dead. That was just common sense.

But it was Shinya who answered, “There are rumors…”

It was impossible. It had to be impossible, and Kyo knew that. There was no coming back, because Death was the end.

Except ghosts were real. Die was more real than anything or anyone Kyo had known in years, and if he could exist as a ghost, was it so far a stretch to think a return to life might be possible, too?

“What kind of rumors?” Kyo asked, his throat dry. He wished he’d eaten less chocolate.

“About someone, a man who dabbles in the dark arts, has access to certain magics,” Shinya elaborated.

“What are you talking about?” Die said, bewildered. “Have you all lost your minds? This shouldn’t even be a discussion that we’re having.”

“Who is this man?” Toshiya said, as if Die hadn’t spoken.

“He’s called Gackt,” Shinya said.

Gackt?!” Kyo repeated incredulously. “From TV?” It made sense in a way. He did seem to possess some unnatural powers, and hadn’t they speculated about some explanation for his unchanging appearance? Dark magic could probably explain it pretty well.

Still, the thought made Kyo shiver. Even when he’d thought Gackt was merely a celebrity television personality he’d gotten bad vibes from him. The revelation that he was, in fact, some powerful sorcerer made him that much more intimidating.

“I’ve heard of him,” Kaoru said gravely. “Shinya, I don’t know. From what I’ve heard, he’s dangerous. The cost of doing business with him…”

“Would be worth it,” Kyo cut him off. He meant it. He couldn’t imagine anything he wouldn’t pay to bring Die back. He’d never known him in life, had never imagined he would have the opportunity, but if it was really something he could have?

Kyo, do you hear yourself?” Die said, looking at him in astonishment. “You once told me no one could pay you enough to even meet Gackt because he gave you the creeps! Trust your instincts!”

“My instincts,” Kyo repeated, and paused. He thought about it, about Die alive, where Kyo could reach out and touch him, and he’d be there every time, solid, and warm. “I agree with Kaoru,” he said at last. “Your—rights are too important for us to not try this.”

“You agree with Kaoru?” Toshiya said, sounding awed.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Kyo said, well aware of how ridiculous the words were.

“Well, then,” Kaoru said. “I’m glad we’re in agreement on the subject. Shinya, do you think you have the right contacts to get in touch with this Gackt?”

The question was a mere formality; they all knew Shinya had more connections than the rest of the band combined. Still, Shinya confirmed that he could reach out to the correct people and see about getting a meeting set up.

“Have I gone invisible again, or what?” Die said loudly, and when Kyo looked at him, he’d clearly gone somewhere past irritated. “This is a bad idea. I don’t want you to do it.”

“Die, this is our only option,” Toshiya said. “Do you have an alternate plan?”

“I do, it’s called ‘do nothing,’” Die replied sassily. “I get you guys want to help, and the intent is appreciated, but at the risk of sounding ungrateful, I never asked for you to do any of that. It’s a made-up problem that doesn’t really require solving, and I’d rather you left it alone.”

No one knew what to say to that. It was hard to argue when it was Die’s life they were meddling with. If he didn’t want to be brought back, how could they say he was wrong?

Slowly, Kaoru nodded. “Very well. If that’s what you want. We will… see that your family is provided for.”

“Thank you,” Die said.

“And you know you can always change your mind,” Shinya said. “It’s not an easy situation, and if you want to take the time to think about it some more and let me know, I can make the calls or not. We just want you to be… We want to help you, however we can.”

“I know,” Die said. “I appreciate it.” He stood up from the conference table. “I think it’s time for us to start heading out of here, isn’t it?”

The others agreed and started collecting any stray belongings, disposing of coffee cups and water bottles.

Kyo was the last to stand. He felt numb and overstimulated at the same time, his mind screaming like the space between radio stations; too many sounds playing at once, and none of them coming in clear enough to hear properly. He wordlessly gathered up his candy wrappers and threw them away, then waved goodbye to the rest of the band, and went with Die out to face the grey of the afternoon.

Chapter Text

Kyo still couldn’t find his voice as he and Die began their walk home.

Some part of him had a lot to say, wanted to grab Die, and scream, and spill everything, but he couldn’t even get his mouth to open if he tried.

He was probably just being stupid; he wasn’t too far gone to realize that. Throwing a tantrum because he’d been told he couldn’t bring someone back from the dead would have been beyond childish.

It was just that he hadn’t considered it. He’d known from the beginning that Die’s being dead meant he was 100% unobtainable, and always would be, and then with one casual suggestion, that had all changed. All at once he’d seen a future where Die was a possibility, a future where Die could be in his life and he could be in Die’s.

Die’s life.

Seeing only a glimpse of that future and then having it ripped away again was just too much, and it felt like something had been ripped right out of Kyo at the same time.

Die walked alongside him in uninterrupted silence, and Kyo watched him, searching his unreadable expression. He seemed unaffected, like he truly thought nothing of the conversation they’d just come from.

Kyo had never felt so close to losing him. Die didn’t want his presence to be permanent, Kyo realized. He was still waiting for his opportunity to move on from Earth, to move away from Kyo, from everything. There was nothing truly keeping him here.

The time for letting go was approaching far more quickly than Kyo was prepared for.

Despite his trying not to grow too attached, Kyo had allowed Die to set up a full residence in his heart, and evicting him was no easy task. Every infinitesimal thing Die did only made Kyo appreciate him more.

His feeling of security and comfort hadn’t gone away with more time spent together, and he looked forward to coming home from work and finding Die there just as much as, if not more than, before. And having seen Die onstage, where he was clearly happiest and most himself, Kyo couldn’t imagine any fate for himself that didn’t involve being rather hopelessly in love with Die.

And for a split second, it hadn’t seemed as hopeless. For that snatch of time when Kyo had seen a Future for them, there had been hope, just visible peaking through the clouds of doubt surrounding him, only to be snuffed out with a few words from Die’s own lips.

Those same clouds chose that moment to open, a gentle rain starting to fall as Kyo and Die continued walking.

Around them, other pedestrians pulled folding umbrellas out of purses and briefcases, always prepared for an untimely change in the weather. Kyo didn’t have an umbrella. No matter how often he walked or how frequently he was caught in the rain, he never seemed to be prepared. He just let the rain take him by surprise.

Kyo looked over at Die again, but he still wasn’t showing any emotion, even in response to the downpour. His face was tilted up as it had been last time they were caught in the rain, but after a few seconds, Kyo realized the difference: the rain wasn’t going through him this time. Instead, there were wet trails like tears streaking down Die’s perfect face, and, outside of a slight shiver, there was still no visible reaction.

Unable to stop himself for once, Kyo reached out and grasped Die’s hand. Sparks shot up his arm, but it was cold, and Kyo was half-tempted to start trying to shove both his and Die’s hands together into his jacket pocket to warm him up. He did manage to remember why that might not work.

Die looked down at him in a kind of quiet surprise, but he didn’t take his hand back. He let Kyo lace their fingers together, and they walked the rest of the way to the apartment like that.

Only when he had to unlock the door did Kyo reluctantly free his hand from Die’s. They still hadn’t said anything to each other since they’d left the meeting. Kyo didn’t know how to break the silence, couldn’t think of what he could say that wouldn’t be Too Much.

He was saved from having to think of anything as Die spoke up while Kyo was still taking off his shoes.

“Are you mad?”

The words were enough of a surprise that Kyo was distracted from everything he actually was feeling, for the time being. “What, at you?”

Die nodded. His usually glorious hair was dripping and scraggly. Kyo supposed he was right about it hating the damp weather.

“I’m not mad,” Kyo said slowly. He walked past Die and took a couple spare towels out of the closet in his bedroom. He came back and found Die hadn’t moved from where he’d left him. He offered him a towel. “I’m not sure what would make you think that,” he said.

Die hid his face in the towel, his voice coming out muffled. “You’re being quiet.”

Kyo cocked his head to one side. “Yeah, so I’m quiet sometimes. It’s not a punishment for you.” He found it slightly troubling that Die would read into his mood something that seemed like deliberate cruelty. There were plenty of times when he and Die had shared companionable silence, and just now he’d gone so far as to take Die’s hand when they were walking. How did Die interpret that as an act of anger?

Die sighed, running the towel through his damp hair. “I guess… I would probably be mad. If I were you.”

Another surprise. “How do you mean?”

“You…” Die frowned, deep in thought. “You’ve done so much for me, supported me, welcomed me into your band… I must seem ungrateful.”

“I don’t think so at all,” Kyo said. “I know you said that before, but our offer to help, it’s not—”

“I don’t just mean refusing the offer,” Die cut him off.

“What…?” Kyo didn’t bother to finish the question.

“Everything you’ve done,” Die said again. “Trying to find a way to make sure I get my share, that I get to be a person independent from my identity as a ghost, like I’ve told you I want. Instead I say I’m content to keep leeching off you, ensuring you never have a private moment to yourself… I’m an asshole.”

“Oh my god, Die, no, you’re not.”

“I didn’t even ask if it would be more convenient for you to have me—not haunting you like this.”

“Who the fuck cares what’s convenient for me?” Kyo said. “It’s your life. What’s convenient for me should have absolutely no bearing on that kind of decision.”

“I must seem… inconsiderate. I am inconsiderate.”

Stop,” Kyo said. He was perplexed by how Die was so set on taking the blame, but for all the wrong reasons. “I don’t think you’re inconsiderate or a leech or any of that shit. It’s not—Really, I just don’t see why you’re so against it in the first place. Meeting Gackt and everything, I mean.”

Die paused, thinking. “I know you guys think you’re just trying to help me out, but I don’t feel like I need things to change. I’m dead. I accepted that a long time ago.”

“But what if you didn’t have to be?” Kyo said, the strain coming out in his voice. “Isn’t it worth exploring?”

“To what end?” Die shook his head sadly. “I get that you think it sounds pathetic, but I’ve adapted, you know? Even if I don’t want it to be my whole identity, being a ghost is part of who I am now, and I’d just be more lost if I didn’t have that part of myself.”

Kyo just looked at him. Die didn’t get it at all. He couldn’t see that it was something bigger than him now; he had no idea what he meant to other people, to Kyo.

Die folded the towel loosely. “I’ve learned so much. I really don’t feel like I’m missing out on much by not being alive, so just don’t worry about me, okay?”

“What about—?”

“Okay?” Die said, louder. “You’ll drop it, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Kyo said, his voice small in comparison to Die’s.

Sure, he would drop the one little flicker of hope that he’d come across in recent years, and pretend it had never existed.

“I’m going to work on guitar stuff for a while,” Die said, and headed for the living room, clearly finished with the conversation.

“I think I need to shower,” Kyo said, though Die wasn’t listening to him anymore. He went into the bathroom, and closed the door, leaning heavily against it.

Die had adapted to being dead. He was making the choice. He would rather be dead than be alive, rather be dead than be with Kyo.

Kyo shut his eyes tight, tried to force that kind of thinking down. It wasn’t helpful. It was a narrow way of looking at it.

But he didn’t want Die to be dead, and despite what he’d promised…

Kyo pulled his phone out of his pocket and opened up his LINE chat with Shinya.

[k]: Just got done talking to Die more about this Gackt stuff

Kyo bit his lip and kept typing.

[k]: He’s changed his mind. Make the call.

 

——————

 

“So here’s the letter he’s written,” Die said, setting an envelope on the counter in front of Kyo.

Kyo looked down at it, plain and elegant, a round red seal holding it shut. “I could just mail it, couldn’t I? He knows their address.”

“He’s trying to avoid freaking them out.”

“They’re going to be freaked out either way,” Kyo said. “Someone is speaking to them from beyond the grave,”

“But it’s easier to believe something when someone is there, in person, telling you,” Die said. “We could send the letter, sure, but we’d never know how it was received, if it was received. She might not take it seriously, and then she’d never come at all.” He shrugged. “This way at least we have some control over the circumstances of her receiving the letter.”

“And then?”

“Whether or not she agrees to take the meeting is up to her,” Die said. “But you can use the pick to call me if she does, and I’ll be here to help them talk.” He looked Kyo over. “You still have the pick, right?”

“I have it.” Of course he had it. He always had it. He was more likely to leave the house without his wallet than without that little piece of plastic.

“And you’re sure you’ll recognize the wife if she comes in?”

That, Kyo was less confident about. “Maybe he could give me some sign if he sees her?”

Die looked at the empty air beside him for a few seconds, then turned back to Kyo, nodding.

“And he really believes she’ll come to this worksop,” Kyo said. “Calligraphy in Modern Art.”

“It’s a particular interest of hers.”

“So?” Kyo didn’t mean to be harsh, but he was skeptical. “Who says she’s even been keeping track of upcoming workshops? Or she could be busy, or out of town?”

“Then we’ll figure something else out.”

“This whole plan is so convoluted,” Kyo said. “I’m sorry, I know I said I’d help, and I will, but there’s gotta be an easier way to contact her.”

“This is what we’ve got right now,” Die said. His eyes were dark and hopeful. “You just need to have faith that it will work.”

Kyo scoffed.

“I can come with you that day,” Die said. “If it’s easier than calling me. I can help be on the lookout for the wife, put less pressure on your part of the plan.”

“No, it’s fine,” Kyo said quickly. “Calling you shouldn’t be a problem.” He’d practiced it a couple times since this whole thing was concocted, and while it had made him nervous at the beginning, he felt reasonably sure that he could summon Die when the time came, and that Die would appear as he was meant to.

Besides, there was no way he could take Die with him to work Friday morning; he had—prior obligations.

With everything set in motion as far as helping this other ghost in his efforts to contact his family, Die left Kyo to finish his work day in relative peace.

It bothered Kyo that he felt a sense of relief knowing that Die was gone. That wasn’t how he wanted to feel about Die.

And generally speaking, it wasn’t how he felt about him, but their relationship had been a little bit on-edge lately.

For one thing, Die had been more zealous than Kyo really expected, with all the museum ghost business. Kyo felt like some manga character, fated to be a human mediator, helping spirits find their way safely to the afterlife, but Die seemed even more invested in it than that. Perhaps it had to do with how he hadn’t gotten to make that type of contact with his own family; he wanted to ensure that this other poor soul didn’t miss out on his opportunity as he had done.

Kyo’s heart hadn’t been as fully in it, partly because he’d been distracted with other matters.

The call he’d been expecting came just as Kyo was leaving the museum for the night, and he pulled out his phone to answer it.

“What’s the word, Shinya?”

“We’re not even bothering with greetings now?”

“What do you care whether I say hello first or not?” Kyo said impatiently.

“It’s just common courtesy,” Shinya replied. “But since you’re in such a hurry to know, we have confirmation. The meeting is arranged. He’ll meet us at the coffee shop as planned, 7:30 Friday morning.”

Normally, the early meeting would have made Kyo groan and try to find a way out of it, but for once it was exactly what he wanted. “Does he need us to bring anything?”

“No, but he said to come open-minded,” Shinya said. “He’ll discuss price with us in person, once we describe the full situation.”

“Right,” Kyo said, hovering at the top of the stairs to the underground so he wouldn’t lose signal in the middle of the call. “That sounds reasonable.”

“I’m not sure, Kyo,” Shinya said. “I know I’m the one who suggested Gackt, but… he’s a little strange. I think we’d better be very careful going into this.”

“We will be,” Kyo said. “But, you know. It’s Die.”

“I know,” Shinya said. “Gackt is looking forward to meeting him Friday. I guess even in his line of work he doesn’t encounter actual ghosts face-to-face terribly often.”

“Yeah, hmm.” Kyo scuffed his boot on the ground. “Die’s looking forward to it, too, I think.”

Of course Kyo hadn’t told Shinya that Die wasn’t in on the plan. As far as Shinya was aware, Die had come to his senses and agreed to meet Gackt, and Kyo would be damned if he was going to reveal the minor detail of his deception before everything was taken care of.

It was also a huge risk he was taking. Already Toshiya had offered to come over for a movie night, and Kyo had had to refuse. He couldn’t risk one of the band saying something to Die, giving away what they’d been working on without his knowledge, and so he couldn’t let them see each other until it was properly arranged.

He was sure Die was starting to notice the enforced isolation, and he felt guilty, sure, but he also felt like he didn’t really have a choice.

If, when all was said and done, Die wanted nothing to do with him, hated him for going behind his back, Kyo would accept it, because at least he’d been able to try and give Die a second chance at life. He’d never be able to forgive himself if he didn’t do everything he could to try.

Kyo hastily wrapped up the phone call and just managed to catch his train home. Not for the first time, he tried to tell himself it was all worth it. It would all be worth it, as long as he could keep it from Die just a little while longer.

Chapter Text

Kyo paced back and forth in front of the doors to the coffee shop, eyes watching for anyone approaching, then darting to his watch, again and again.

7:18 am.

Die hadn’t been there when he’d left his apartment, not that he’d expected him to be. He didn’t know what he would have done if Die had been there, and had asked why he was heading out so early. He wasn’t a particularly adept liar when he was really put on the spot. As it was, he hadn’t even had to sneak out, and now all that was left to do was wait for everyone else to arrive.

He checked his watch. 7:19.

He didn’t see how that could be right, but his phone corroborated the claim, and he huffed out a frustrated little noise as he resumed his pacing.

“The others aren’t here yet?”

Kyo nearly jumped at the sound of Kaoru’s voice, and turned to find him looking sort of sleep-rumpled and bored. He wasn’t used to seeing him so early in the morning, he realized.

“No, not yet,” Kyo said. “Morning.”

Kaoru grunted. “I just want it on record before everything starts, that I think this is a bad idea. Gackt is dangerous and we’re probably all going to regret getting into something with him.” He rubbed his chin. “I’m only here for Die.”

“Yeah, of course, me too,” Kyo said, swallowing around the fear that Kaoru would bring up Die’s conspicuous absence. “You wanna go in and grab coffee?”

“What, I look like I could use some?”

“Hey, I didn’t say it,” Kyo said.

“Why are we standing around out in the cold?” Toshiya said as he walked up. “It’s too early for this shit.” He breathed into his cupped hands. “Gackt’s not here, I guess?”

“He’s not late,” Kyo said, “yet.”

“I think he’ll be here on time,” Toshiya said. “It’s not very charming to be late to an appointment.”

“But it’s charming to show up exactly on time, isn’t it?” an unfamiliar voice interrupted their clustered muttering, and all three of them started as they found Gackt standing in their midst with a somewhat unsettling smile.

“Gackt,” Kyo said, and cleared his throat. “You came.”

It was unclear from just which direction he had appeared, but he was there. In person, he wasn't that creepy. Outside of his unnaturally clear skin and a troubling glint in his eyes, he honestly looked like a normal human man. Which, okay, was to be expected, but Kyo had half-expected him to travel in a cloud of spooky mist, or leave a trail of something dead behind him wherever he walked.

Gackt frowned around at them. “Which one of you is Shinya?”

“He’s not here yet,” Toshiya said. “Can we go in?”

“We shouldn't wait for him?” Kaoru said uncertainly. “It’s not like him to be late…”

“No one told me this meeting was going to take place outdoors,” Toshiya complained.

“Calm down,” Kyo said as he spotted Shinya approaching from the direction of the underground station. “Look, he’s coming right now.”

Shinya looked mildly surprised when he reached the group. “I didn’t expect everyone to get here before me, I apologize.”

“I’m going in now,” Toshiya said loudly, and charged through the door without waiting any longer.

The rest of them shrugged and followed him inside.

It was much warmer in the coffee shop, and Kyo sighed, feeling some of the tension easing out of his shoulders. Shinya had arrived, and finally they could get the plan actually in motion.

Toshiya was already at the counter ordering coffee, so Kyo offered to find them a table where they could all sit, if Toshiya would order for him, too.

That was of course his downfall, because as soon as he commented that he needed a table for five people, Shinya turned abruptly towards him and then looked around.

“Where’s Die?”

Shit.

Kaoru and Toshiya looked around, too, until their eyes settled on Kyo.

“He’s not here?” Gackt’s eyes wandered over their heads.

Kaoru snorted derisively. “You can’t sense him, can you?”

“Kyo?” Shinya said. “Where is he?”

Of course Kyo had known this would happen; they were bound to notice sooner or later that Die was supposed to be there and wasn’t. He’d just hoped it would be later. Like, maybe after the meeting was over.

Still, he had prepared for the inevitable, and had a super convincing cover story ready.

“Something came up, he said to go ahead and have the meeting without him,” Kyo said, careful to maintain eye contact with Shinya as he spoke.

“‘Something came up’?” Shinya repeated, his eyes narrowing.

“This ghost friend of yours is quite the busy guy, eh?” Gackt said. “I suppose we can get started, and then he can come the next time we meet.”

“His thoughts exactly,” Kyo said. He smiled tightly and went off to find a table where the others could join him once they got their drinks.

He was on-edge as he sat alone at a table in the back corner of the shop. This was his only shot at bringing Die back to life, and it would be pretty much a bust if anyone found out that it wasn’t Die’s idea.

He wondered who would be the most pissed to learn the truth. Shinya was the one putting himself out there and using his contacts, and Kyo definitely didn’t want to incur his wrath. Then again, Toshiya already had some trust issues when it came to Kyo, and this probably wouldn’t do anything to improve that situation…

He did his best not to look guilty as the rest of the group came to join him at the table. To his moderate discomfort, Gackt opted to sit right beside him, and Shinya placed himself across the table, where Kyo could feel his eyes on his every move.

Toshiya scooted the drink he’d gotten for Kyo towards him, and sat next to Shinya, warm cup cradled in his hands like something precious.

Gackt cleared his throat and leaned one elbow on the table. “So.”

Kyo would have been more annoyed by his arrogant attitude if he hadn't been kind of grateful that at least he was taking the initiative to start negotiations.

“I want to make sure I’m clear on the situation before we begin,” Gackt said. “Your friend, one rock guitarist by the name of ‘Die,’ is dead. You’d like him not to be.”

“Nailin’ it so far,” Toshiya said.

“Can that really be done?” Kaoru asked, sitting on Kyo’s other side. “Scientifically, it’s impossible.”

“I wouldn’t expect such limited and uncreative thinking from you,” Gackt said condescendingly. “It can be done.”

“You’ve done it before?” Kaoru pressed.

There, Gackt paused. “Not this exact situation, but I have every confidence that it can be accomplished, and so should you. I’ve performed countless other supernatural tasks.”

“Such as?”

“If you want a resumé, check out my website,” Gackt said with a lazy wave of his hand. “Time is money, and while we’re all here, there are more important matters for us to discuss.”

“You can really bring him back to where he’s living?” Toshiya said. “Not just 'communicate with his spirit,' or reanimate him, like necromancy, but revive him?”

“As long as I have the right materials.”

“What will you need?” Shinya asked.

Gackt reached into an inside pocket of his blazer and took out a folded sheet of paper, which Kyo could see listed easily a dozen items, maybe more.

“These are the ingredients that I’ll expect you to provide,” he said, and let Kyo take the paper from him. “And then, there is of course the issue of payment.”

Kyo had expected that to come up, and nodded impatiently for Gackt to name his price. He was more than willing to drain his savings to get Die alive and well, and he knew the rest of the band wouldn’t refuse to pitch in either.

“Will you want a certain amount upfront, and then once it’s done—”

Gackt gave only the smallest shake of his head, but it silenced the table. “Please. Do I seem like someone who needs money?”

Kyo stared at him in confusion. To be fair, no, Gackt gave off the impression of being vastly, unnecessarily wealthy, and the notion that he might have further financial need was laughable. But if he wasn’t interested in cash, what kind of payment was he expecting from them?

There was a disconcerting smirk on Gackt’s face as he settled back in his chair. “Your band is on the rise, gaining attention, gaining followers. I see here an opportunity that would be mutually beneficial.” He folded his hands on the table in front of him. “Kyo. I want to have you as a guest on my show.”

What?” That wasn’t something Kyo had ever seen as being on the table. He was a private person; he didn’t want to parade around, humiliating himself for the entertainment of viewers across the nation. “No, I never said I would do that.”

“That’s my price,” Gackt said with a shrug. “Come be a guest on my program, let me teach you a few tips—”

“I’m not so desperate that I need your weird-ass tricks for picking up girls,” Kyo snapped. He knew he should probably be more careful, speak more respectfully to someone who held Die’s life in his well-manicured hands, but he wasn’t willing to let go of his dignity so easily.

His smile seemed too sharp and too white as Gackt said, “They work on guys, too.”

“No,” Kyo said again.

“Kyo,” Shinya said warningly.

No,” Kyo growled. “I’ll pay whatever money you request, but that—It’s not who I am, and it honestly feels creepy as hell for you to insist.”

Gackt gave another unrepentant shrug of his shoulders. “I’ve told you my terms. If you’re unwilling to accept them, perhaps you can find someone else to help with your situation.”

There was a grinding sound that Kyo realized was coming from his own teeth, and it was taking all his strength to keep from leaping at Gackt and knocking him forcefully to the ground. The smug bastard held all the cards and he knew it. To refuse him was to resign Die to unending death, and Kyo could feel tears prickling at the corners of his eyes as he weighed his options. This was no time to be tough and stubborn and defiant. The was Die on the line.

Kaoru’s hand was on Kyo’s arm, and a glance in his direction was enough for Kyo to read what he wasn’t saying: The price was too high. They could find another way.

But what other way was there? Kyo couldn’t see it. All he could see was the chance of having Die slipping away from him, the knowledge that that loss was his own fault, his choice, his pride keeping him from making the necessary sacrifice.

He looked back at Gackt. There was no choice. From the beginning, Gackt had known there was only one answer Kyo could give.

Kyo opened his mouth and was very surprised to find a voice that wasn’t his come out to say, “I’ll do it.”

All eyes at the table turned to Toshiya.

“I’ll go on your show in Kyo’s place,” he said again. “I know you think you want Kyo, but believe me, he’s a disaster in front of a camera, and if you’re forcing him to be there against his will, holding Die’s life hostage, he won’t make for a very good piece of television.”

“Toshiya is something of a fan favorite,” Shinya said. “The right ‘type’ to learn your charm tips and tricks.”

Gackt was scowling. He didn’t say anything for a long moment, but finally he relented, “Fine. I accept Toshiya as an alternative to Kyo.” He smirked again. “I like the way you think, Toshiya. You might do quite well on my show.”

“And you’re not wrong about it being mutually beneficial,” Shinya said. “Toshiya’s appearance could be very good publicity for the band.”

“I suppose we’d better bring it up with our managers?” Toshiya said.

Shit. There was no way they could have a conversation like that with management and keep Die from finding out. Kyo’s mind was working as quickly as possible but there was no readily available excuse for leaving their management team out of their plans. It would only make him seem suspicious to suggest it.

The meeting wrapped up quickly from there, with Kyo letting the others do the talking, busying himself with how he could delay Die’s discovery of the whole scheme. Why hadn’t he accounted for this?

He was still distracted with his thoughts when everyone was pushing their chairs back from the table and getting up to leave. Kyo hadn’t even touched the drink Toshiya had gotten him. He hastily stood up too, for the sake of looking like he knew what was going on.

Gackt handed him his card. “If you need to reach me with any questions—or if Die does. I am still so looking forward to meeting him.”

“Right. Thank you,” Kyo said, not even bothering with some lie about how Die was eager to meet Gackt as well. He couldn’t really see the point in it.

He put the card, along with the list of ingredients into his pocket, his fingers brushing the guitar pick there like a security blanket.

They all said goodbye, thanked Gackt, who promised to be in touch with details regarding Toshiya’s appearance on his program, and started off in their own directions.

Kyo was relieved when Shinya left without saying anything, but he couldn’t very well ignore the look he shot him that promised he would be hearing more from him later.

Toshiya was the last to leave, messing around on his phone like he was waiting for Kyo. It made Kyo wonder whether the other members were still trying to discreetly supervise him.

In an attempt to choose something else over anger and bitterness, Kyo said, “Thank you.”

Toshiya looked up at him in surprise.

“For, you know, throwing yourself down on the chopping block like that,” Kyo explained. “You didn’t have to do that for me.”

“Not to shit on your gratitude, but I didn’t really do it for you,” Toshiya said. “I did it for Die. I know you think we don’t care about him, or that we’re only using him for the band, but it’s not true. If I can help…” he trailed off, but Kyo didn’t need the rest of the sentence.

“I know,” Kyo said. “It means a lot.”

“Besides,” Toshiya said, “after how you reacted to us doing a simple beer commercial? I can only imagine how much you’d suck at something like Gackt’s show.”

“Sure, while you will be finally realizing your potential to shine as a star of the screen.”

Toshiya shrugged. “What can I say? I’ve got a face for television.”

Kyo laughed. He wasn’t sure how much he believed Toshiya’s claim that his sacrifice had been only for Die’s sake and not for Kyo, but whatever the motivation, he appreciated it.

“Where is Die, by the way?” Toshiya asked, cutting off Kyo’s laughter. “You said something came up but… I mean, isn’t he usually just around?”

“Usually, he’s around,” Kyo said, thinking fast for an explanation for his absence. He settled on a half-truth: “He’s been kind of preoccupied lately with this situation—he met another ghost.”

Toshiya’s eyebrows jumped. “Met—how do you mean? Romantically?”

“What?! Why would I mean romantically?”

“I don’t know! It was just how you said it, like he met someone,” Toshiya said hurriedly. “But you just meant that he happened to encounter another dead person?”

“Yeah,” Kyo said. “There’s nothing romantic there at all. He’s trying to help the guy contact his wife.”

“His wife—who’s living?”

“Yes, the wife is living,” Kyo said.

“Wow, that sounds exciting,” Toshiya said. “So that’s why he couldn’t come to meet Gackt.”

“Unn,” Kyo said, avoiding direct eye contact with Toshiya. “And actually I’m supposed to help make contact with the wife today, so I’d better be going.”

“Oh, okay,” Toshiya said. “If there’s anything I can do to help, you guys can call me, too!”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind,” Kyo assured him, and then he was walking past him, out of the coffee shop and into the chilly morning once more.