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Making Beautiful Music

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Kotetsu is loud.

Kotetsu is loud and messy and stubborn and his jokes are terrible and he excels at getting on Barnaby's last nerve. They're supposed to be sharing a hotel room for the entirety of this tour and at this rate, Barnaby is pretty sure he's going to strangle Kotetsu and hide his body in the nearest closet before the night is out.

"It'll be good for you," Schneider said, back when Barnaby barged into his office demanding what the hell right after Virgil told him the plan for the tour. "He might not be as popular now, but he has a dedicated following from his early days. It'll get you some new fans."

Barnaby grit his teeth. "He hasn't had a hit in years. None of his 'fans' are going to bother with a tour."

Schneider waved the objection away. "It'll be fine. You'll see. Just be as charming and handsome as you always are, and there won't be any problems."

That was when Barnaby knew it didn't matter what he said. He would be sharing a room with this ridiculous, washed-up old man for the next four months.

So now here he is, sitting in a hotel room with headphones very firmly in his ears, trying to listen to the music playing over them and not Kotetsu's running commentary on the action movie he's put on the television.

"Oh! This is my favorite part!" Kotetsu scrambles to sit up straighter, almost spilling the beer and popcorn he got from room service earlier. "This guy's a double agent, and he's leading the rest of the team into a trap!"

Barnaby should just ignore it. "Why are you spoiling it?" he asks instead.

Kotetsu turns to him. "Eh? Are you watching?"

"No," Barnaby says stiffly. "And you shouldn't be, either. We need to get some sleep. It'll be an early day tomorrow."

"But the movie's almost over!" Kotetsu protests, like he's a teenager and Barnaby is his longsuffering parent, never mind that Barnaby's ten years younger. "See? They're moving into the final fight right now!"

He bounces on the bed and leans forward excitedly, and the popcorn bowl upends with the motion and spills all over Barnaby's computer bag.

"Uh." Kotetsu blinks at him guiltily. "Oops?"

Barnaby gets off the bed and yanks his bag away from the side of Kotetsu's bed, glaring at him with as much venom as he can muster.

Kotetsu winces. "Sorry, Bunny-chan."

Barnaby retrieves his computer and dumps the popcorn out of his bag. "Don't call me that. My name is Barnaby."

"Ah, but your bunny shirt was so cute!" Kotetsu says.

Barnaby rolls his eyes so hard he strains something. "I wore it one time."

One time, the first day they met face-to-face, and Kotetsu started calling him "Bunny" instead of "Barnaby" and hasn't stopped, no matter how many times Barnaby has told him to.

He flops back on the bed and stares at the ceiling, willing himself to spontaneously develop teleportation abilities so that he can be anywhere but here, because if Barnaby stays here then he is going to be arrested for murder and the tour will be over before it even begins.

***

Unsurprisingly, Kotetsu is late to the first show. He comes barreling into the venue thirty minutes after he was supposed to be there, apologies spilling out as the harried backstage crew shoves him into the makeup chair.

He claims traffic was an issue, which has to be a lie; he left the hotel room early that afternoon and dodged every question Barnaby asked about where he was going. He probably went out drinking and lost track of time, and Barnaby would not care except that it means his show is going to be affected if Kotetsu can't keep his shit together.

"Is this going to be a regular problem?" Barnaby asks.

Kotetsu shakes his head. "No, I swear. It won't happen again."

"It better not," Barnaby mutters, and he heads back to get ready for the show.

***

Barnaby loves being on stage. He loves the energy of the crowd, the heat of the lights, the beat of the music inside his body, just as vital to his life as his own pulse. It's too bright for him to see much past the edge of the stage, but he can hear the crowd screaming, even louder than the music. It's an adrenaline rush unlike anything else.

He finishes the encore and jogs off the stage, grabbing for a towel as soon as he's out of sight so he can wipe the sweat off his face.

"Hey, not bad."

Barnaby looks up and sees Kotetsu leaning against the wall near him, a bottle of water held loosely in his hand. His dark hair is plastered to the sides of his face and his neck, and not for the first time, Barnaby wonders why the hell he's always wearing that flat cap on stage; he's got to be boiling in it.

Then the words register with him and Barnaby's mouth twists. "Not bad?"

Kotetsu takes a drink of his water and grins. "Your set list could use some tweaking. Too many fast songs in a row there in the middle. It wears you and the audience out."

Barnaby tosses the towel aside and passes his guitar off to the nearest roadie. "I wasn't aware I was performing for your approval."

Kotetsu holds up his hands. "Hey, it's just some friendly advice!"

"I didn't ask for any friendly advice." Barnaby jerks his head back toward the stage. "Worry about your own show. You're supposed to be getting people excited, not putting them to sleep."

Kotetsu scowls and looks away. "It's not like I've got a lot of bouncy songs to choose from."

"Then find some," Barnaby snaps. "And you had better not be late for the next show."

"I wasn't—"

Barnaby doesn't care what his excuse is; he heads for the dressing room, leaving Kotetsu sputtering behind him.

***

Kotetsu is not late for the next show, but only just, and the same thing happens with the next two shows. Before their fifth one, Barnaby grabs his stuff and follows Kotetsu out the door when he heads out.

Kotetsu frowns at him as they walk to the elevators. "Where are you going?"

"Wherever you are."

"Eh?!" Kotetsu's eyes go wide in panic. "You don't have to—"

"You have been late, or nearly so, for every single show on this tour," Barnaby cuts him off. "I am going with you, and if I have to drag you out of the bar myself so that you're on time, I will."

Kotetsu blinks at him. "The bar? What bar?"

"The bar where you're wasting all your time before your set."

"I don't drink before shows," Kotetsu says. "Only after."

Barnaby's instinct is to call him on it, but Kotetsu's mouth is set in a thin line and his golden eyes are more serious than Barnaby's ever seen, so he hesitates. Perhaps he's wrong, then, about where Kotetsu has been spending his time.

"Fine, you can come with me," Kotetsu says, even though Barnaby didn't ask permission and had no intention of doing so. "But you're going to have to perform."

Barnaby raises an eyebrow. "Perform?"

Kotetsu grins. "You'll see."

The cryptic exchange is the only clue Barnaby gets as to where they're going; Kotetsu gives the cab driver an address, rather than a place name, so Barnaby is still in the dark. He supposes he could dig his phone out and look up the address himself, but something holds him back from doing so.

Half an hour later, the driver turns into a massive hospital complex.

Barnaby stares. If he'd been given a hundred guesses for where Kotetsu had been going, he would never have guessed this.

"Children's entrance," Kotetsu says to the driver, and they drive around to the north side and are dropped off, with Kotetsu passing the driver an extra fifty bucks to wait an hour for them.

He pulls his guitar out of the trunk and heads up to the massive sliding doors, whistling as he walks, and Barnaby follows him. He has a sneaking suspicion as to what they're doing here.

One of the nurses brightens as soon as she spots Kotetsu, and runs around the front desk to greet them. "Mr. Kaburagi, so nice to meet you. I swear I thought it was a prank when you called."

Kotetsu laughs and shakes her hand. "No, no pranks." He claps his free hand on Barnaby's shoulder. "I know I didn't ask, but I brought a friend. I hope that's okay."

The nurse glances at Barnaby and her eyes widen briefly in recognition. "Oh! No, that's fine, that's completely fine. The kids will be so excited. Follow me, I'll take you on up."

***

Kotetsu plays a concert.

Well, it can hardly be called a concert when it's just him and an acoustic guitar, but most of the kids come out and gather in one of the waiting rooms and he sits down and plays a lot of songs that Barnaby recognizes from Disney movies and Broadway musicals, things the kids can sing along to. And sing they do, belting the lyrics along with Kotetsu, who's grinning so broadly that it makes Barnaby's chest ache.

When he's done there, they go down the hall to a handful of other rooms, kids who couldn't be in the main group for a variety of reasons. Kotetsu doesn't play as many songs in those rooms, but he still plays a few, and the kids are smiling when they leave. So are their parents, but their smiles are marred by eyes shining with tears.

Barnaby didn't bring his guitar, so he doesn't play, but he sings when Kotetsu goads him into it and signs a few autographs and takes pictures with the kids. He doesn't know what to think about it.

"So this is what you do?" Barnaby asks when they're heading back to the elevator. "Play a set for the kids at the hospital?"

Kotetsu hits the button for the elevator. "I did the adults the other day. I try to split it up. Doing it all at once is how I was late to the first show."

Barnaby wonders how in the world he set this all up. "Does the hospital hire you to come out? Or—"

Kotetsu balks at him. "What? No! It's free. I do this on my own time." He jerks his head back down the hallway. "Who the hell would charge a bunch of sick kids to listen to music?"

The elevator dings and the door opens, and when it's closed again, Barnaby asks, "Why?"

"Why what?" Kotetsu says, apparently having completely lost the thread of the conversation.

"Why do you do this in every single city?" Barnaby asks. "For free?"

Kotetsu's quiet for the rest of the ride to the first floor, and by the time they step off the elevator, Barnaby wonders if he's just decided to ignore the question.

It's not until they're standing outside under the awning, waiting for the cab to pull back around, that Kotetsu finally answers.

"I do it because of my wife," Kotetsu says quietly. "It always made her happier to hear music when she was sick in the hospital."

Barnaby does not miss the way he speaks in past tense. He hesitates before he asks the next question. "How long has it been?"

A muscle works in Kotetsu's jaw. "Five years." His eyes slide over to Barnaby. "Who did you lose?"

Barnaby focuses on a nearby planter. The flowers are just starting to bloom. "What makes you think I've lost anybody?"

"You didn't ask what happened," Kotetsu says quietly. "You asked how long it had been."

Barnaby rubs his chest. "My parents," he admits. "And it's been twenty years."

Kotetsu's eyes go wide and Barnaby can see a dozen questions there, but the cab pulls up and the conversation is over.

***

Kotetsu doesn't ask him about his parents again, and Barnaby is absurdly grateful for it. It's still a raw thing, some days, even after so many years. Even though he was only four when he lost them.

Knowing where Kotetsu is during the days makes it easier for Barnaby to forgive him when he comes in late, and it's really not hard to switch up sound checks and rehearsals so that Kotetsu has a little more time before he has to be at the venue. The look on his face is absolutely priceless the first time he comes in what would have been five minutes late, only to be told that he's early.

He turns to Barnaby, a question in his eyes, and Barnaby continues tuning his guitar and pretends he doesn't see. "It seemed things would go more smoothly if you didn't have to be here so early."

Kotetsu smiles, and it's so heartbreakingly genuine and grateful that Barnaby can't breathe for a second. "Heh. You're probably right."

Barnaby focuses on his guitar and tells himself that he doesn't feel warm all over.

***

Kotetsu is still loud.

He is still loud and messy and stubborn and his jokes are still terrible, but for some reason it's easier for Barnaby to ignore now. Kotetsu video calls his family every day they're on the road, talking to his daughter and his mother and sometimes his brother before breakfast every morning. Barnaby assumes he's been doing it this entire time, but they're into their fourth city before he realizes it's a regular thing, and also realizes that Kotetsu is doing it in front of him now.

He's not sure what that means, that Kotetsu doesn't mind Barnaby overhearing his conversations with his family, but he has a feeling it means something. That knowledge makes his heart skip a beat if he thinks about it too hard.

In the next city, Barnaby buys and downloads Kotetsu's old albums—all three of them—and listens to them. The first two are better than he expects, in all honesty; even knowing Kotetsu had a decent career before, it's something else to actually hear it.

Barnaby is wondering what happened when he puts on the third album and hears something that sounds nothing like the first two; it's much more like the one that just came out this year, the one Kotetsu's touring with. It's obvious either someone else was writing the songs or Kotetsu was phoning it in or possibly even both, and Barnaby's about to throw his headphones to the ground and demand what the hell when he looks at the date the album came out.

Four years ago.

Oh.

Suddenly he understands, and he can't decide if he's glad that he does or if he wishes he didn't.

"You should put some of your old songs on the set list," he tells Kotetsu after their twelfth concert together. Or maybe it's their thirteenth; it's hard to remember.

Kotetsu laughs and grabs the remote, flicking through the channels as he looks for something to watch. "I've got my old songs on the set list."

"Only two," Barnaby says, "and they're both your biggest songs from the first album. You have others that are just as good but not as popular. You've got a decent repertoire. You should show it off."

Kotetsu grins at him, but it doesn't reach his eyes in the same way that it normally does. "Aw, have you been listening to my old stuff, Bunny-chan?"

It's all he's been listening to since he downloaded the albums, but Barnaby isn't going to admit that. "I thought you might want some friendly advice. That's all."

Kotetsu lounges on the pillows and goes back to channel-surfing. "I can't."

Barnaby frowns. "Can't what?"

"Can't add more of my old stuff." Kotetsu settles on another action movie and doesn't look at Barnaby. "It's in the contract. Most of the set list has to be from the two most recent albums. Since the new one is the one the label wants people to buy."

But the newer ones are terrible, Barnaby wants to say. "That's ridiculous," he says instead. "You should be able to play whatever songs you want. I'll call Schneider in the morning and—"

"No!" Kotetsu jerks up and fumbles the remote. "No, don't."

Barnaby's eyebrows shoot up. "Just why the hell not?"

Kotetsu drags a hand through his dark hair and his eyes dart away. His mouth pulls down. "They're too hard to play."

There's a wealth of explanation in those five words, and Barnaby wants to kick himself. He wonders who put the clause in the contract, then, the label or Kotetsu. He turns back to his computer and wonders how many of those songs Kotetsu wrote for his wife. From the reaction, probably all of them.

That adds another layer for why Kotetsu's newer albums sound so...soulless.

"Who do you write for?" Kotetsu asks out of the blue.

Barnaby blinks; he didn't expect the question. "What do you mean?"

Kotetsu nods at him. "Your music. Who do you write it for?"

The question still doesn't make sense to him. "My...fans?"

Kotetsu shakes his head. "No, no, I mean...who inspires you to write it? Whose reaction do you imagine first when you finish a song? Who do you write it about?"

The question's more personal than it seemed at face value, and Barnaby turns his attention back to his computer. "Nobody," he says. "It's just something I've always been good at. One of my parents' friends was a producer and he encouraged me to pursue it, so I did."

"That's it?" Kotetsu sounds scandalized. "Don't you love it?"

"I love performing," Barnaby says, which amounts to the same thing.

"Yeah, but what about creating the music?" Kotetsu mimes playing a guitar. "Putting yourself into the music and the lyrics and connecting with someone through it. Even if it's just one person."

"I can't make a living off one person," Barnaby says.

Kotetsu rolls his eyes. "That's not what I'm saying. If you're playing what you love, if you're honest with it, you'll make that connection. And that won't just get you regular fans. You'll get diehard fans. Those people will travel across the country to see you play."

Barnaby sits up. He's irritated, and he can't pinpoint why. "Are you saying I won't get diehard fans with the music I'm playing now?"

Kotetsu shrugs. "If you love it, sure. But if you don't, they'll be able to tell." He meets Barnaby's eyes then and his golden gaze is piercing. "You could tell, couldn't you?"

Barnaby thinks back to the stark difference between Kotetsu's older albums and his newer ones, and knows the answer. "Sounds like you should take your own advice, then."

Kotetsu flinches, and settles back against the pillows to watch the movie. "It's not the same thing."

Barnaby pulls his headphones on and opens his email. "Keep telling yourself that."

***

The next show, four of Kotetsu's songs are from his first albums instead of just two. Barnaby can't hide his surprise, especially considering Kotetsu said it was in his contract.

Regardless, he approves the change. So does the crowd, if the noise level is any indication.

"You're playing your older songs," Barnaby says as soon as Kotetsu walks off the stage.

"Eh." Kotetsu sets aside his guitar and grabs a bottle of water. "You were right. The set list needed a kick."

"Your contract?" Barnaby asks.

Kotetsu takes off his hat and dumps half the water bottle over his head. "Ben got them to amend it."

Barnaby is still thrown that Kotestu listened to him. "The crowd seemed to like it," he says, at a loss for anything else.

Kotetsu grins. "They did, didn't they?"

Barnaby's heart stutters, and he tells himself it's just pre-show nerves.

***

He spends more time than he should thinking about why he loves music. He still has the instinct to brush the question off, because clearly whatever he's doing is working and Barnaby sees no reason to mess with something that isn't broken, but Kotetsu added those songs to his set list because Barnaby brought it up. It feels like coming up with a real answer to the question is the least he can do in return.

He thinks about it through the next three cities, thinks about it as he starts considering songs for his next album, which Schneider has been pestering him about for weeks now, thinks about it while Kotetsu is snoring softly on the other bed in yet another hotel room they're sharing. He still doesn't have a real answer.

It's late after a show, but Barnaby is still riding high on adrenaline and so he's using the time to get some more writing in before sleep, and Kotetsu's in the bathroom brushing his teeth and humming.

Barnaby strums thoughtfully on his guitar, picking out chords and writing and rewriting the same three lines. It feels like he's bashing his head against a brick wall and he's so close to having something good with it, but it's not there yet.

"Listen to this and tell me what you think," he demands as soon as Kotetsu emerges from the bathroom.

Kotetsu stops and looks around, like there's anybody else in the room Barnaby could possibly be talking to. "Me?"

Barnaby gives him an exasperated look. "No, the poster on the wall. Yes, you, old man."

Kotetsu grumbles, but sits down on the edge of his bed and gestures in a "well get on with it" kind of way, and Barnaby starts playing.

He's never done this before—never shared a song while he's still writing it—so he's vaguely self-conscious, but Kotetsu listens thoughtfully, nodding his head along to the beat.

"It's good," he says when Barnaby finishes playing.

Barnaby scowls. "It's missing something. But I can't—"

"Oh!" Kotetsu springs up from the bed. "Hang on."

He grabs his case and pulls out his guitar, settles back on the bed and quickly tunes it. Then he glances up at Barnaby. "Okay, play it again."

Barnaby plays the first few chords, and then starts to sing, and then Kotetsu starts strumming his own guitar, humming along with a harmony that makes the whole thing richer.

A tingle goes down Barnaby's spine, and this, this is what the song was missing. It's not a solo; it's a duet. It needs more than just a melody.

It needs Kotetsu.

Barnaby reaches the end of what he's written so far and keeps going, making it up as he goes along. Kotetsu doesn't miss a beat; he keeps playing right in sync, like he's reading Barnaby's mind with every note. Barnaby's entire body is vibrating with energy, and he thinks he may never need to sleep again. He's played music most of his life, but it's been ages since it felt like this—if it ever did.

They wind the song to a close and Kotetsu looks up at him, face flushed and beaming. "Hey, that was pretty good!"

Barnaby grabs his pencil to write down what he can remember of the chords and the chorus. It's already slipping from his mind like a half-remembered dream.

The bed dips beside him, and Kotetsu leans over his shoulder. "No, no, it was a G there."

Barnaby makes a note and then pauses. "Can you play it again?"

"Yeah, sure." Kotetsu grabs his guitar and plays a three-chord progression. "That one?" He plays another three chords. "Or hey, what about that one?"

Barnaby shakes his head. "The first one's better." He sets the paper aside so he can get his own guitar and plays a different series of chords. "Or what if we do this?"

And that's how it goes, back and forth, into the wee hours of the morning, arguing about music and lyrics and tempo, writing and rewriting one song before breaking off into another and then a third. The next thing Barnaby knows, it's three in the morning and he's written nearly a fourth of an album with Kotetsu's help.

Kotetsu, who set down his guitar about fifteen minutes ago to just "rest his eyes a bit" and is now passed out on Barnaby's bed.

Barnaby still has too much energy from the writing session, so he puts his guitar away and goes to get ready for bed. Halfway through washing his face, exhaustion hits him like a truck, and he stumbles back out to the room, sets his glasses on the bedside table, and falls into the bed next to Kotetsu.

We should do a whole album together, he thinks sleepily as he watches Kotetsu's back rise and fall with his breathing. He wonders if Kotetsu would like the idea. He should ask him in the morning.

Right before Barnaby drifts off to sleep, he realizes he finally has the answer he's been looking for.

***

They keep writing music together in their free time.

There is not much free time on tour, between preparation, travel, the concerts themselves, and Kotetsu sneaking out to the hospitals in every city to play for at least three hours each day, but for a few hours here and there, they sit together in their shared hotel room, picking out melodies and harmonies on their guitars and arguing about lyrics, but there isn't any heat to the arguments anymore.

Kotetsu is good at this—which shouldn't be shocking since Barnaby listened to his early stuff; he knows Kotetsu can write music, but after such a negative first impression, it's still a surprise.

"We should write an album together," Barnaby says late one night, once they've got the bones of about a dozen songs. It's almost one in the morning, but he doesn't care; he just wants a little bit longer of writing songs with Kotetsu.

Kotetsu jerks up from his guitar and gapes at him. "What? Really?"

"Yes, really." Barnaby flips over his notebook so Kotetsu can see how many songs they've written. "We clearly work well together. I think it would be good."

"Heh." Kotetsu rubs the back of his neck and even though his skin is tan enough that it's hard to see, Barnaby swears he's blushing. "You think the label will go for it?"

"They should," Barnaby says. "Is that something you would be interested in?"

Kotetsu smiles at him—a quiet smile that softens the corners of his eyes and makes Barnaby's heart flip like an Olympic gymnast. "Why not? Sounds like fun."

Barnaby ducks his head—his face is so pale that the heat from his cheeks will be visible at twenty paces. "Good."

Kotetsu goes back to picking out a song on his guitar, which is very generous of him, because Barnaby needs at least ten minutes to deal with the sudden realization that he's in love with him.

***

It's well into the third month of the tour when they end up in a city near Kotetsu's hometown, and Kotetsu badgers Barnaby into going out for drinks after the show. Barnaby resists at first—being drunk and alone with Kotetsu seems like a recipe for disaster—and then Kotetsu mentions that he's meeting up with friends, and the option seems much less fraught.

"You'll like them!" Kotetsu says. "Antonio and Nathan are great. I've known Antonio since high school."

"Then I can't wait to hear the stories," Barnaby says.

Kotetsu laughs, and then panic flashes across his face, presumably as he realizes how embarrassing those old stories will be. "Oh, you don't want to hear all of them."

"I assure you, I do."

They meet Kotetsu's friends at a bar about a block from their hotel, and Barnaby is ready to relax for the evening when he sees just who's waiting for them.

He grabs Kotetsu's wrist as soon as they're in the bar.

Kotetsu looks down and then back up at Barnaby, a question in his eyes. "Uh?"

"Nathan Seymour," Barnaby hisses, unable to form the full sentence.

Kotetsu glances across the bar and frowns. "Yes? I told you we were meeting Nathan and Antonio?"

"You didn't tell me that your friend is Nathan Seymour." Barnaby is fighting to keep his voice down, although that might be overkill considering how loud the ambient noise is. "He owns the fastest-growing label in the industry. Schneider's been trying to get a meeting with him for over a year!"

"Really?" Kotetsu scratches his head; he looks genuinely confused. "Huh. Well, Nathan's really busy. That's probably why." He leans closer. "Are you going to be okay? You don't have to go if you don't want to. I can tell them you had to go back to the hotel."

Barnaby stares at him, trying to fathom how Kotetsu got that from his reaction. "I will be fine. I wouldn't miss this drink for anything."

Kotetsu laughs. "Let me introduce you, then."

They make their way to the table and take a seat, and Kotetsu performs the introductions. Nathan is wearing the most violently pink spandex dress Barnaby has ever seen in his life, which matches his closely shaved hair, and he watches Barnaby with a faint smirk that has Barnaby wondering if he can read minds. Antonio is built like a brick house, and now that he's close enough Barnaby sees he's Antonio Lopez, a bassist who's worked with some of the biggest groups in the industry. These are Kotetsu's friends.

Two months ago, Barnaby would have been shocked. He still is, to some degree. But Antonio wraps Kotetsu in a big bear hug and Nathan pushes two beers in their direction and halfway through that first drink, Barnaby feels like he's known them for ages.

It helps that they've known Kotetsu for ages and they are both gleeful to share as many embarrassing stories as Barnaby will sit still for. By the time they've finished the first round and Kotetsu has fled to pick up their second, Barnaby has learned that Kotetsu once bought his daughter the world's most horrifying teddy bear for a birthday gift, that he and Antonio once stole ("Borrowed! Borrowed!") his older brother's liquor delivery van to go to the movies, and that he was so oblivious to his wife's overtures that they had dated for three weeks before Kotetsu realized they were a couple.

The stories are hilarious, and Barnaby can't breathe with how hard he's laughing. Kotetsu is clearly embarrassed, but it's obvious that the stories all come from places of deep affection, and Barnaby is...envious. He had very few friends growing up and even fewer once he got into the music industry. There's nobody from his past he could invite out for drinks, nobody who could tease him with old stories or inside jokes.

Kotetsu has a family and friends he's had for years. Barnaby has...nobody, really. Maverick went to jail five years ago for embezzling Barnaby's inheritance and he's only seen Aunt Samantha once since she moved to Florida to be closer to her nieces.

It's something that's never bothered him before, since he's been so focused on his career. Now, though...

Now Kotetsu is turning that on its head. Like everything else in Barnaby's life.

After two hours of drinking and talking, Barnaby nudges Kotetsu into going back to the hotel, since they've got to get up early in the morning to head out to the next city. There's some grumbling about it and Nathan tries to wheedle them into one more drink, but Barnaby is adamant. One more drink will absolutely turn into three, and then it'll be nearly dawn before they get back to the hotel and he is not traveling on zero sleep.

Nathan pouts, but he stands up to let them go, giving Kotetsu a hug and passing Barnaby a business card with a wink.

Barnaby raises an eyebrow at the wink.

Nathan laughs. "Relax, handsome. I absolutely would, you know, but," his gaze slides to Kotetsu, "I don't think you're interested."

Barnaby freezes. Is he that obvious?

Nathan taps the card. "This is just in case you ever decide you want a different label."

Barnaby can't hide his surprise. "I have a label," he says, mostly because he's at a loss.

Nathan shrugs. "Just in case things change. Keep it. You never know."

Barnaby pockets the card and then he and Kotetsu walk out into the warm night air. He's grateful it's a short walk back to the hotel.

"Hey, that was fun!" Kotetsu knocks their shoulders together. "Did you have a good time?"

"I wish you'd told me who your friends were before we got there," Barnaby says.

"I did!"

"You told me their first names, not that they were some of the biggest names in the industry."

"They're my friends," Kotetsu says stubbornly. "That's all that matters."

Barnaby sighs and lets the matter drop.

"Does that mean you didn't have a good time?"

Kotetsu sounds disappointed, and Barnaby can't let him think that. "I had a good time. Especially with the embarrassing stories. Does your brother know you used to steal his van?"

"Borrow," Kotetsu corrects him. "Borrow, and yes, he does. I thought I was sneakier than I really was." He groans. "I can't believe they told you about that."

"I can't believe you dated someone for three weeks before you realized you were actually dating," Barnaby says.

Kotetsu groans and scrubs his hands over his face. "Two weeks! It was only two weeks, and I was seventeen. And she never said, you know, hey, we're actually dating. I didn't want to assume!"

Barnaby just shakes his head and drops the topic to ask another question that's been bouncing around his head since they got to the bar. "How come you've never worked with either of them?"

"Eh?"

Barnaby nods back toward the bar. "Nathan and Antonio."

"Well, it's not like Nathan was a big-shot producer when we were first starting out." Kotetsu tips his head back to look up at the sky. "Antonio and I played together in high school, but he didn't decide to do it professionally until after I had my first album. We toured together once, after his first album and my second, but that's been it." He looks back to Barnaby and grins. "You know, if you asked nicely, I'm sure Antonio would play bass on your next tour."

Barnaby rolls his eyes, even though he knows Kotetsu's probably right. It's strange, to think that this man who was washed up and struggling when Barnaby first met him has friends like these.

But then, that had been his own misconception, hadn't it? One echoed by Schneider and supported by the poor showing of Kotetsu's more recent albums, but every single day they're together, Kotetsu proves him wrong. He surprises Barnaby, and makes him reconsider every assumption he's ever made.

Well, that's a good thing, he supposes.

"Hey, did you ever figure out who you write your music for?" Kotetsu asks.

Barnaby stiffens; he wasn't expecting the question. But he's going to be honest. "Yes, I have."

Kotetsu smiles. "Good. That's good."

Barnaby waits a beat, but it seems like Kotetsu isn't going to follow it up. "You aren't going to ask who?"

"Nah, that's your business. You'd tell me if you wanted me to know. It's just important that you know."

"How about you?" Barnaby asks. "Who do you write it for?"

Kotetsu smiles again, but this one is tinged with sadness. "Used to be I just wrote it for myself. Then, as you probably guessed, I wrote it for my wife. That's, uh. Part of why the past few years have been rough."

"Because you don't have anyone to write it for now?"

Kotetsu shakes his head. "It's hard to explain. The stuff I write for her...it hurts. It makes me feel more connected to her, but it also feels like it holds me in the past. Which I've been told isn't entirely healthy. But the stuff I don't, well..." He waves a hand. "You've heard my new stuff."

Yes, and soulless is the kindest word Barnaby can think of to describe it. "Perhaps you should find someone else to write music for."

Kotetsu's quiet for a minute, long enough that Barnaby wonders if he's decided to ignore the comment.

But when they get into the elevator to go up to their room, he says, "I think I already have."

***

Kotetsu is still loud.

He is still loud and messy and stubborn and his jokes are still terrible, but for some reason Barnaby actually finds them amusing now, possibly because he's absolutely, foolishly in love with the man. Kotetsu harps on him to eat more vegetables and Barnaby harps on him to take better care of his voice, and they both stay up too late writing new songs together. They have more than what they need for an album now, but Barnaby doesn't want to stop and besides, it can't hurt to have a few more up their sleeves in case the label doesn't like some of them.

More often than not, Kotetsu falls asleep in Barnaby's bed, usually after swearing that he's just taking a little break. Barnaby doesn't bother trying to get him to move; instead, he lays down next to him and lets Kotetsu's deep, even breathing carry him off to sleep. He figures it's harmless, and Kotetsu can't blame him for sleeping in his damn bed, until he wakes up one morning to find Kotetsu put a blanket over him and set his glasses on the bedside table.

Barnaby isn't sure what to do with that, although his heart thinks it's a good idea to do somersaults for the rest of the day.

The next thing he knows, it's their final show together, and then Barnaby will no longer be sharing a hotel room with Kotetsu. Four months ago, he would've been thrilled about this. Now, he can't stop thinking about how quiet his apartment is and how much he'll miss this.

"You should come out during the encore," Barnaby says to Kotetsu while they're getting ready backstage.

Kotetsu jerks in surprise. "What? Uh—"

"We're doing an album together after this," Barnaby reminds him. "It'll be good to get people excited about it."

"But the songs aren't ready!" Kotetsu protests.

"So? You can play one of my songs." He frowns. "Do you not want to?"

"No, no, it's not that!" Kotetsu straightens fast enough that he nearly drops his guitar, and scrambles to catch it. "I do, I just—are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. That's why I asked you to do it."

"Okay," Kotetsu says softly.

There's a flash of something across his face, and Barnaby wants to ask what it is, but then the stage manager comes back to grab them and there's no more time before the show.

It's a great show, probably the best one they've had. The crowd is confused—understandably—when Barnaby first brings Kotetsu out for the encore, but that confusion only lasts about ten seconds into their first song. After that, the crowd is almost louder than their music. It's electrifying in a way Barnaby has never experienced, and this, this is all he wants to do: play music with Kotetsu by his side.

He's still vibrating with it by the time they get back to their room, well after the show's over. "That was fantastic. Can you imagine what it's going to be like when we have an actual album? It's—"

"Bunny."

Kotetsu's quiet voice stops him, and Barnaby turns to him. Kotetsu looks serious, his eyes downcast, and the sight is enough to send a chill down Barnaby's spine.

"What?" Barnaby wants to take a step closer to him, but holds himself back.

Kotetsu exhales softly. "I'm retiring. This was my last tour."

"What?!" Barnaby steps back, reeling like he's been slapped. "You can't be serious."

But no, Kotetsu is clearly very serious. "It's time, you know? It's not something I can do forever. Besides, you've heard my music lately. Two albums like that? It's a miracle the label didn't drop me after one."

"But we're going to do one together," Barnaby says. He feels numb. This can't be happening. Kotetsu can't be leaving. "You said you found someone else to write for. You said—"

"I know what I said," Kotetsu cuts in. "But this is for the best. I'll have more time to spend with Kaede. She's almost twelve now."

Barnaby just stands there and stares at him. He can't believe it. He doesn't want to believe it.

"Besides," Kotetsu gives him a wry smile, "you'll do a lot better without an old man holding you back."

How, how can he think that? "Kotetsu, you're who—"

Kotetsu's phone rings, and he glances at the screen and then back to Barnaby, and the wry smile turns sad. "That's the cab."

"The cab?" Barnaby repeats, because apparently he's incapable of actually phrasing a sentence himself right now.

Kotetsu grabs his bag and his guitar, and Barnaby belatedly realizes that he's completely packed. "Yeah. I uh. Got a red-eye out, so I've got to get to the airport." He clears his throat and grins. "It'll be nice to have the room to yourself the last night, yeah?"

No, it will not, because after four months Barnaby cannot begin to picture his life without Kotetsu in it.

Stay, he wants to say.

I'm in love with you.

I need you.

What he somehow manages to say is, "Good luck."

Kotetsu salutes him with his guitar. "You, too." He pauses at the door and looks back over his shoulder. "We had fun, didn't we?"

Barnaby can't bring himself to speak through the tightness in his throat. He can only nod.

Kotetsu nods in return. "See you around, Bunny-chan."

With that, he's gone, leaving Barnaby alone in the hotel room, the sudden quiet broken only by the sound of the door clicking shut behind him.

***

Barnaby wakes up the next morning after a fitful sleep, hoping that last night was a dream and he'll see Kotetsu on the bed beside him.

But he's alone in the room. The only indication Kotetsu was ever there is the slightly rumpled comforter on the other bed.

Barnaby goes through the motions of packing and getting ready for the day. He feels like he's been shattered, which is patently ridiculous, because it's not like he and Kotetsu were dating. It's not like Kotetsu even had any idea that Barnaby is in love with him.

He still feels broken, anyway.

His flight isn't until noon, but Barnaby is ready by eight-thirty, so he makes a cup of shitty hotel coffee and sits on the edge of the bed, sipping and staring vacantly at the generic art on the wall.

Someone knocks on the door.

Barnaby practically flings himself across the room to answer it. "Ko—"

It's not Kotetsu. It's Ben, his manager.

Barnaby hopes his disappointment isn't obvious. "Ben. Good to see you."

Ben gives him an understanding smile that tells Barnaby his disappointment was most definitely obvious. "Barnaby. I was hoping to catch you before you left."

Barnaby steps to the side and opens the door farther so Ben can come in. "I don't have to leave for another hour."

"That's good." Ben shoves his hands in his pockets and then takes a seat on the edge of Kotetsu's bed. "So I'm guessing Kotetsu told you he's retiring."

The reminder is like a knife in his chest. "Yes, he told me last night. To spend more time with his daughter."

Ben snorts and rubs the back of his neck. "I thought he might say something like that." He sighs. "The label dropped him yesterday."

Barnaby stares at him, disbelieving. "They did?"

Ben nods. "The tour was the last thing in his contract. As soon as it was done, they were letting him go. They didn't tell him until yesterday morning."

Barnaby feels again like he can't breathe properly. He leans against the wall. "But...we were supposed to do an album together. Why didn't he say anything?"

"To them? He did." Ben looks down at his hands. "They told him you'd be better off if the two of you didn't work together. An album with him would only hurt your career."

"And he didn't say anything to me because..."

Ben looks back up at him. "Because he didn't want you to worry about him. He does that."

Barnaby is glad Kotetsu isn't here, because he would yell at him. He's also glad that Schneider isn't here, because he would throttle him. "And why are you telling me this?"

Ben meets his gaze steadily. "Because the past four months is the happiest Kotetsu has been in five years. I can't remember the last time I saw him as excited as he was to be writing an album with you. And I think, at the very least, you deserve the whole truth, not whatever half-assed version he decided to tell you 'for your own good.'"

Barnaby decides Ben is his new favorite person. "Thank you. I appreciate your honesty."

Ben stands up and shakes his hand. "You seem like a good man, Barnaby. I'm sorry we didn't get to work together more."

"Maybe in the future," Barnaby says.

Ben smiles. "Maybe."

***

As soon as he's back at his apartment, Barnaby holes himself up and writes. He doesn't leave, doesn't clean, doesn't answer his phone or his emails, and eats only delivery food and microwavable dinners. He plays his guitar and writes, pouring everything he has into the music.

After three weeks, he sits back and surveys his sixteen new songs, all of them about Kotetsu. It's the most personal, most honest album Barnaby has ever written, a journey through falling in love and then losing it, having something so precious and then watching the other person walk away because you were too cowardly to admit your true feelings.

He has no idea if it's any good or not. He's not sure who he would trust to tell him.

Barnaby is utterly exhausted and empty, like he's twisted himself up and wrung out everything into his music, and he collapses on his bed to sleep for three hours before he drags himself into the shower long enough to wash his hair, and then falls right back into bed.

The next day, he calls Nathan.

"I want a new label," he says as soon as the secretary puts him through.

He swears he can hear Nathan's grin through the phone. "I thought you might."

It's not as difficult as Barnaby worried it would be to get away from Schneider, mostly because Nathan has very good lawyers and is willing to use them. Within a month, Barnaby is letting Nathan listen to the full album, rough as it is.

He loves it.

Barnaby did not realize how worried he'd been that this wouldn't be up to his standards until he gets Nathan's five texts about it, which are entirely sobbing emojis and hearts. Which is good to know, because now it's time to actually produce the album and Barnaby's heart is going to be on sale for the entire world to hear.

To say it does well is an understatement. It blows past his other two in sales within the first couple of months of release. There's talk of awards, which makes Nathan deliriously happy. And eighteen months after Barnaby finished his previous tour, he's gearing up to go again.

This time, he has the hotel room all to himself.

He hates it.

The tour flies by in a haze of performances, travel, and interviews. He accidentally comes out in an interview less than a month after the tour begins, when the interviewer spent the better part of their fifteen minutes prodding him for who the album was about.

"Well, hopefully we'll find out which lucky lady you wrote it for one day," the interviewer says as they're packing up.

"Bold of you to assume I wrote it about a woman," Barnaby snaps in response, and inwardly sighs at the knowledge that that is going to be the headline.

Unsurprisingly, it is. Equally unsurprisingly, Nathan is elated.

"Handsome, you could not have given us better press if you'd tried," he says a week after the interview is published and it's clear it's only helping sales. "I'd propose if I thought you'd say yes."

Barnaby scoffs and hangs up; it's on the tip of his tongue to ask Nathan if he's heard from Kotetsu and he's afraid of the answer.

Because even though it's been well over a year since he last saw Kotetsu, Barnaby can't get him out of his mind. Not with the album, not with the tour, and not with the new routines he's added in because of Kotetsu's influence. Barnaby tries to get to at least one hospital in each city to play for the kids, and sometimes manages two. The kids love it, but it leaves him with an ache in his heart that doesn't fade.

At the end of every show, Barnaby looks off to the side of the stage, where Kotetsu used to watch him. But now, Kotetsu is never there, and Barnaby has to figure out how the hell to move on.

***

He's in Stern Bild to kick off the last leg of the tour, which means he's got a couple of days where he gets to sleep in his own bed. It's good to be in his own space and not a hotel room, not somewhere he's constantly reminded that Kotetsu is supposed to be there with him.

He's gotten better about putting it out of his mind. He doesn't look to the side at the concerts anymore. He doesn't look up to ask Kotetsu what he thinks of a new song. He can tell himself he's getting over it.

He's lying, but still.

Barnaby walks off the stage after the show, the roar of the crowd still ringing in his ears. He sets his guitar down and grabs a bottle of water, downing half of it in one go.

"Not bad, Bunny-chan."

He whips around at the voice, hardly daring to believe his ears. But no, Kotetsu is leaning up against the wall backstage with his hands in his pockets and a small smile on his face. Gone is the flat cap Barnaby saw so much of in their first tour and the green shirt Barnaby remembers the most has been swapped for a gray one, but he's still got the same ridiculous beard and the same smile and Barnaby cannot believe, nearly two years after Kotetsu walked away from him, they're standing face to face once again.

He can't think of anything to say. Words have deserted him. The only thing that comes out is, "Kotetsu?"

The smile fades, and now Kotetsu looks unsure of himself. He rubs the back of his neck. "You, uh, you look good."

He's lying; Barnaby has been sweating under stage lights for two hours. "So do you."

"How've you been?"

Someone bumps into him with a murmured apology, and Barnaby remembers that they're backstage immediately after a show. People are trying to break things down, and for that matter, Barnaby has a line of people waiting for post-show autographs.

"This is really not the time or the place to catch up," Barnaby says.

Kotetsu looks around and seems to realize just how busy it is. "Heh. You're right. Want to grab a drink?"

More than anything in the world. "Yes."

***

Barnaby lets Kotetsu drive him to a little hole-in-the-wall bar not far from the venue once he's finished with all his post-show things. It's crowded, but not too loud, and Kotetsu finds them a small table near the back and orders them a beer and a glass of wine.

"They don't have that fancy rosé you like," he says apologetically as he sits down, "but they have a white that's pretty good."

Barnaby is just thrown that Kotetsu remembers that at all. "I'm surprised you remembered."

Kotetsu blinks. "Well yeah, of course I did."

Barnaby doesn't know what to say to that.

The server brings their drinks, and they sit in silence. Barnaby doesn't know what to say or how to start. He's been trying to get over Kotetsu; he never imagined that he'd have this chance again.

Kotetsu taps the side of his beer glass. "You changed labels."

Barnaby takes a sip of his wine. Kotetsu's right; it's pretty good. "I did. After Ben told me what Schneider did to you, I didn't much want to stay."

Kotetsu winces. "I'm sorry. I should've told you."

"I would have appreciated that," Barnaby says evenly. "I don't like being lied to."

"It wasn't a lie!"

Barnaby just glares at him.

"It wasn't," Kotetsu insists. "But it wasn't the whole truth, either."

"Oh really?" Barnaby sits back and crosses his arms. This explanation's going to be good. "Are you telling me you were really thinking of retiring then?"

"I—" Kotetsu exhales sharply and takes a long drink of his beer. "I was. Before the tour. I knew it was the last thing in my contract and I thought maybe it was time. But..."

"But what?" Barnaby prompts him.

Kotetsu's golden eyes flick up to meet his. "I met you."

It's like he's been punched in the gut, and Barnaby can't quite catch his breath. Everything seems a little fuzzy, except for Kotetsu, who's in the sharpest relief.

Behind him, he hears the screech of a microphone and then someone says Kotetsu's name, cutting through the low-level noise around them.

Kotetsu gets up, and Barnaby frowns. "What's—"

"I didn't mention?" Kotetsu grins. "I'm playing a set tonight."

With that, he's off and weaving through the bar to the stage, waving at the scattered applause, and he climbs up onto the stage and grabs his guitar and a stool and gets settled in front of the mic. Barnaby is still confused—Kotetsu retired, didn't he?—but he sits back to watch the set. From the audience, for once, and not from the side of the stage.

The intimate venue suits him. Just like with the kids at the hospital, Kotetsu has the group in the bar practically eating out of his hand before the end of the first song. It's from his first album, not one of his singles, but it's Barnaby's personal favorite. The next two songs are from that album as well, and the fourth is a cover of one of Barnaby's first songs, because of course it is, and Kotetsu plays with a cheeky grin while Barnaby scowls at him.

Barnaby does not know why he is in love with this man, but heaven help him, he is. He still is.

"So I know we're supposed to save our most popular songs for last." Kotetsu shifts his weight on the stool and adjusts the capo on the neck of the guitar. "But, uh. This is a new one, so I hope you all will indulge me. And let me know what you think. My daughter says it's good, but I think she's just humoring me."

That gets a scattered laugh from the crowd, and then Kotetsu starts playing.

The chord progression is familiar, which is strange for a new song, and Barnaby is trying to place it when Kotetsu starts singing.

Barnaby's heart stops, because this...

This...

There is one song on his new album that he hasn't played since he recorded it, one song that he flat-out told Nathan he couldn't play on tour. It's the last one on the album, the one that closes out the whole journey of love and heartbreak, and it's unfinished. He pulled the music from one of the songs he and Kotetsu had written, one they'd argued over for hours and never had come to a resolution. It's a melody that sounds fine on its own, but it's missing something, and the lyrics are nothing but questions with no answers. It was the only way Barnaby could think of to end something that didn't have an ending. He honestly thought Nathan would veto it.

But now, Kotetsu is playing his version of that melody, and his lyrics are the answers to every question Barnaby asked.

This song is the other half of Barnaby's.

He's frozen to his seat, pinned there by Kotetsu's song, and Kotetsu is looking right at him like they're the only two people in the entire bar. Like he's watching to see if Barnaby understands.

If Barnaby's song is I love you, why did you walk away?, this one is I'm sorry, I should never have left.

I love you, too.

The song ends, the room erupts in applause, and the spell is shattered. Barnaby jumps to his feet and shoves his way out of the bar. He needs some air, and he needs it now.

He stumbles out into the open and sucks in air like the next breath will be his last. It's humid and the air sticks to him like a physical thing, and he kind of regrets wearing a leather jacket. His hands are trembling.

Kotetsu comes bursting out of the door behind him, clearly panicked. "Bunny, wai—Bunny!"

Barnaby straightens and turns to him. His mind has stopped working.

Kotetsu takes a step forward. "Look, I—"

"My name," Barnaby cuts in, "is Barnaby."

He grabs Kotetsu by the front of his shirt and kisses him with all the pent-up longing that's been living in his chest since their tour. It takes a second, but then Kotetsu's hands are in his hair and he's kissing Barnaby back just as fiercely, like he's also spent every waking moment of the past two years thinking of this and only this.

Barnaby has no idea how long it is before they have to stop to breathe, but even then, he doesn't let go of Kotetsu's shirt and Kotetsu doesn't let go of his hair.

"How did you..." Barnaby starts to ask, and then realizes he's not sure how to finish the question.

Kotetsu seems to read it in his voice, anyway. "Kaede told me your album was about me. I didn't believe her until I listened to it."

Barnaby wants to yell at him. He wants to kiss him again. He has no idea what to do with this, this knowledge that Kotetsu feels the same way, has felt the same way for a long time.

"Why now?" he asks, his voice raw. "Why did you wait—"

"I didn't think you'd—I mean, it had been over a year since we'd seen each other," Kotetsu says. "You could've changed your mind."

Barnaby shakes him. "I wrote a whole fucking album about you. I hadn't changed my mind."

"Yeah, I see that now." Kotetsu smiles and rubs his thumb over Barnaby's cheek. "I'm sorry, Bunny."

Barnaby closes his eyes and breathes. Does it really matter? It's all in the past, now. What matters, what really matters, is that Kotetsu is here, right now, and he wants the same thing that Barnaby does.

"How long are you in town?" Barnaby asks.

"Until tomorrow night," Kotetsu says. "How about you?"

"Same. I've got three more weeks of the tour." A day isn't much time, but it's more than they've had in two years. "Where are you staying?"

Kotetsu nods back over his shoulder. "I got a hotel not too far from here."

"My apartment's downtown," Barnaby says.

"Oh, yeah!" Kotetsu grins. "I forgot that. Must be nice to sleep in your own bed for a few nights, huh?"

"It is." Barnaby takes a deep breath. "Would you like to come back to my place?"

Kotetsu frowns. "To...sleep?"

Barnaby rests his forehead against Kotetsu's. "That, too."

Kotetsu stills and he lets out a shuddery breath. "Oh."

"Is that a yes?" Barnaby asks.

"Ah, Bunny." Kotetsu draws back, just enough to look him right in the eye. "You sure about this?"

"I've never been more sure of anything in my life."

"Heh. Me, too."

***

Six months later

Barnaby has been standing at the door to the studio for nearly fifteen minutes when Kotetsu finally gets there, juggling his guitar, two cups of coffee, and a bag from the café down the street. "You're late."

Kotetsu looks appropriately abashed. "Sorry. I had a call go long. It won't happen again, Bunny-chan."

"My name is Barnaby."

"Aw, but you're so cute, just like a little bunny." Kotetsu hands him one of the cups and the bag. "Here. I figured you probably haven't eaten anything yet. You need to take care of yourself."

"And you need to be on time." Barnaby opens the door and drags him inside the studio. "We only have a limited number of hours in the studio."

"Hey, we'll get it done!" Kotetsu bumps his shoulder against Barnaby's. "Don't worry so much. We don't need that many takes."

It's true; they haven't so far, but Barnaby still doesn't want to sacrifice any of their precious studio time on the chance that they'll continue to hit the songs right on the first try. Nathan is beyond excited to get this album out the door, which means he's been texting both Barnaby and Kotetsu nonstop during most waking hours, which means Barnaby is very anxious to get their recording finished so that his phone will stop making noise.

He peers inside the bag Kotetsu gave him. It's egg sandwich with bacon and cheese, and the cup holds very strong coffee. Both smell divine. He takes a sip of the coffee and swears he doesn't make a sound, but Kotetsu looks smug about it anyway.

The studio is ready and waiting for them, and Barnaby wolfs down the sandwich while Kotetsu is getting set up. Kotetsu was right; he hadn't eaten breakfast—he doesn't usually—and the food helps soothe some of his irritation. Even if they do all their songs in one go, they'll still be here for a while.

Kotetsu pulls a stool in front of one of the mics and gets settled. "You ready?"

Barnaby picks up his guitar and moves to the second mic in the room. "Of course I am."

Kotetsu grins and winks at him, and Barnaby's heart does the ridiculous flip-flop it always does. Even now, after six months together romantically and four months of collaborating on an album. He suspects Kotetsu will keep making his heart flip for some time to come.

Kotetsu is still loud, of course.

Kotetsu is still loud and messy and stubborn and his jokes are terrible and he knows just how to push all of Barnaby's buttons and loves to do it.

But his terrible jokes are always told to make someone else laugh and he's stubborn because he believes so fiercely in what he's doing and he's messy because for too long, he didn't have anyone else there to shake him and tell him to do better, that he was better, that he deserved better. And he loves, loves, loves with his whole heart, so much and so completely that it takes Barnaby's breath away.

His life would be so much smaller and duller if he didn't have Kotetsu in it.

The producer on the other side of the window cues them, and they start to play.