"Kuroda-san, Kuroda-san, whatever shall I do with you?"
Michihiro kept still, trying hard not to fidget as the two make-up assistants went over a set of finger-sized bruises along one hip. He heard the master stylist click her teeth together and he ventured cracking an eye open just enough to see her disapproving frown. He closed his eye and sucked in his breath as someone swept a brush over his ribs.
Waking up had been pleasant enough, although the awkwardness of sharing his small bathroom with the overly tall Ito had been a strange change from his normal routine. Sharing the morning miso also had been odd, Ito's commentary on the news show adding a hint of the surreal to what was usually a quiet morning playing with Rhapsody. He hadn't had the time to think it over, to let it soak into his skin and make it's way home when the phone rang with Julia on the other end asking if he remembered their photography session for that day. He had to hurry through a quick breakfast and a quick walk with Rhapsody before flying to the studio to meet up with the photographer.
And then he remembered exactly why he had been willing to cancel the shoot when she told him to strip.
But the label had went through a lot of trouble to get the English-born photographer and her crew to work with him, so he couldn't let them down. He had at least to be thankful that all they needed was to cover the bruising and scrapes and did not need to draw on muscle definition or hide other skin conditions like acme or heavy scarring. He also was glad that his gymnastic background made him ignore his stiff muscles, otherwise he would have a hard time even moving, let alone work some of the poses he knew was going to be part of this shoot.
"I never expected you to show up in such a state," Julia was saying. Michirhiro opened his eyes a crack, seeing her bend over her camera and fiddle with something. A hissing comment had him closing his eyes and holding his breath as a stylist applied make-up to his face.
"I forgot," he said once it was safe to speak. A stylist popped up and he had to look up while they applied eyeliner. "First day celebrations."
"At least you didn't come in with a broken arm."
"Uh. Not that reckless."
"Kuroda-san! Hold still."
He froze and waited until the artists moved on from his face to the bite marks along his collar bone. One more pat of a cotton ball and he was as ready as he would ever be. Julia said something in English – too quick and with her accent he did not get it all – and then started directing the poses. With a sigh, he blanked his mind, moving the way she asked, directing glances at the camera that were half-shy, half-wanting, and tried not to think about anything, especially about being naked in a room of women.
Thankfully the session wasn't too long. After about two hours, he was shooed off to clean the make-up off and get dressed. Another twenty minutes to look at the shots and discuss with her how they were going to be processed, and he headed back for the studio. He hoped that nothing had occurred between Baba and Ito without him there. He almost expected to see flames shooting out of the windows, but everything was quiet. Too quiet.
Michihiro walked into the studio slowly, peeking around corners, and nearly scaring a staff member. Deciding that he was being ridiculous, he stopped it and headed straight for the conference room. Most of the band was gone, Okuda and Konnno were the only two sitting in the room, scratching away at realms of paper. Michihiro put his bag down and picked up a pile of paper and stared at the familiar scrawl and a quick sketch of Iggy.
"Baba kidnapped all the guitarists and they went into the recording studio, Kuroda-san," Okuda said, jumping to his feet.
"You know guitarists." He shrugged and sat down, drawing a few notes on the bars in front of him. "Ito-san's guitar sparked some kind of competition."
Michihiro dropped the papers and rushed out of the room. It took him a minute to get to the recording booths where he found Nagai and Katsuragi sitting alone sharing a smoke. Michihiro peered around but he saw no sign of Baba or Ito. They hadn't gone far though since both guitarists left their instruments behind. Ignoring Katsuragi's hello, he left the room and started checking all the rooms.
He vaguely realized that he had interrupted a couple other bands in practice when he finally found the two missing guitarists. They were behind the studio, Ito wiping blood off his chin and Baba poking his fingers through a hole in his shirt. At Michihiro's appearance, Ito jumped to his feet and ran inside but Baba stayed where he was laying and looked up at him.
"Baba," Michihiro started to say but the guitarist cut him off.
"I was only reminding him to treat you right."
Michihiro blinked and squatted down. "Why?"
Baba frowned and stretched out. "You were a wreck when we first met. Yeah, you got better but everyone knew that you had a hard time after leaving them. And you talk when your drunk – no, not enough for people to know exactly who you're talking about but enough. Everyone heard about your photo shoot, and I put the pieces together."
"And then you hit Ito?" Michihiro's head was starting to throb, but he managed to keep his voice calm.
Baba laughed. "Nah. We started pushing each other but his ring got caught in my shirt and then my head ran into his chin and he bit his tongue. We weren't fighting, not really."
He closed his eyes. "Baba. . ."
"You're my friend, Rin. I don't want to see him hurt you any more."
Baba looked at him for a long moment before nodding and standing up. He brushed off the dirt from his rear and ran a hand through his hair. Michihiro stood up as well and walked with him to the door. Baba stopped and reached out to lightly smack him on the arm.
"But next time you show up with that many bruises, I get to smack him on the head."
"I think you will have to wait in line," Michihiro replied with a grin and stepped inside the building.
There was only one place where Ito could be hiding. After checking two other rest rooms, found him cleaning up in one closest to the recording studio. He stepped inside, closing the door behind him and making sure to lock the door. Michihiro wanted to check on Ito and also get his side of the story. While he trusted Baba would not lie to him about important things, he still just wanted to make absolutely sure that the two guitarists would not jump each other each time he left them alone. After all, there will be other opportunities where they would have to work alone, or do something while Michihiro was taking time for his fans or making other obligations for the label.
Ito did not notice him since he was too busy with cleaning out the blood spots from his shirt. He had stopped bleeding although he did have a large piece of tissue stuck up his left nostril that just made Michihiro think of smoking the wrong way. At his snicker, Ito looked up and met his gaze in the mirror.
"Uh," Ito said, blinking like a struck lemming.
"Did you walk into Baba's fist or his head?" Michihiro asked, the corner of his mouth quirking up.
Ito snorted and tugged the tissue free. "Both."
"Both," Michihiro replied, leaning back against the door, watching Ito splash water on his face.
"First time, he stopped in front of me and I ran into him and then he slugged me," he said, grabbing a towel and drying off. "I didn't even get a real hit in – man, he must wear baggy clothes for that reason or something."
"Were you fighting about me?"
Ito sighed and nodded, tossing the towel aside and turning around. "Are you going to yell about it?"
He took a deep breath and slowly walked over to Michihiro. Clicking his tongue, he reached up and lightly whacked him on top of the head. He then cupped Ito's face between his hands and kissed to tip of his over-sized and bruised nose.
"Idiot," he said softly.
Ito smiled in response, leaning down to kiss him lightly. "Your friend is really protective of you."
"I know," Michihiro said, letting go of his face and resting his head against his chest. After all the activity and the worry, he just wanted to feel Ito breathing against him and feel his arms around him.
He felt him laugh but didn't move, rubbing his face against his damp shirt, smelling smoke and sweat and soap. Sense came to him after a moment or two and he pulled away slowly, looking up at Ito through the fall of his hair and saw an honest smile on his face. Michihiro felt heat rush to his cheeks and he pulled away entirely, clearing his throat and patting down his pockets for his cigarettes.
"So I guess we're staying to finish this session?"
He inhaled and and shrugged. "I thought you were having a sound off with your guitar."
Ito smacked himself in the forehead. "Oh! That's what we were doing! Okay, wanna watch?"
"Only to make sure you won't get cocky."
Ito raised his eyebrows and snorted, shaking his head. He leaned over Michihiro, resting his hands on his shoulders. "How about a good luck kiss?"
"How about wait until we go home?"
"But then it won't be a good luck kiss."
Michihiro turned to leave, looking over his shoulder at Ito. "I know."
Ito blinked and then his cheeks turned red as a smile spread across his face. Laughing, he caught the door before Michihiro could close it behind him and followed him out. They headed back to the studio where the rest of the band was stretched out on various chairs, Baba and Katsuragi inside the booth, trying to out-do each other with wailing guitars. Nagai clapped his hands and nodded at the two guitar players.
"I think they're going for the world's worst chord progression," he said. "It enough to make me feel like stabbing my ears out."
Michihiro glanced over at Ito who just picked up his Glimmer Monkey and was petting the strings like he was soothing a rather grumpy cat. "Is that all they're doing?"
"Who knows? They are just hitting strings from what I can tell."
Ito ran his fingers over his guitar strings, making a quiet hum of sound. Michihiro grabbed an empty chair and took a seat. Ito knocked on the booth's door, peeked in and said something quickly. Next thing all three guitarists were in the room, the noise muted by dialing down the overhead speakers. Michihiro leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the table, watching Ito jam and joke around. Then giving a shake of his head, he picked up a handful of notes from the pile next to him.
"What kind of noise are you thinking on laying out for this song?" he asked Nagai. The keyboardist blinked and then took out his notes. Bending over the two sets of notes, he kept an ear on the contest, knowing that whether he lost or won, Ito would still claim he was the best and would love to hear Michihiro's review of his performance.
And maybe he would give it to him. With an idea in mind as to how he would do so, he went to work.