Shaolin’s world revolved around being able to reading people’s tells. It was how he’d survived on the streets. It was the only thing that kept a bullet out of his head and money in his pocket.
He’d learned pretty quickly to figure out what people wanted from him and how much he could give without losing himself.
It had taken him a while to realize that the boundaries he’d set for his personal safety were lax by anyone’s standards.
Then Fat Annie crossed the wrong person and Shaolin watched Les Inferno go up in flames.
After that he had to relearn what it meant to be Shaolin Fantastic, what it meant to be free to decide just how much of himself he kept hidden from the world.
He gave the social workers just enough to keep them interested without being pitied.
He kept his head down in the group home they stuck him in and once he got out he got himself a job far away from the Bronx and everything it represented to him. .
He still missed home but it didn’t take him long to realize that sometimes home followed you wherever you went and Shaolin’s home had followed in the form of the Kipling siblings.
Shaolin squinted at the records he was trying to sort because he was the only person who actually worked in their shop but he’d be damned if the Notorious Three made more money than the Get Down just because Dizzee’s bitch ass couldn’t organize a damn thing if his life depended on it.
“Shaolin Fantastic, I know you hear me calling you,” Dizzee shouted, voice much closer than it had been and Shaolin sighed.
“What’d you want?” he groused, ignoring Dizzee’s grin because yeah he sort of thought of the man as the brother he’d never had but it wouldn’t do to let Dizzee get ideas.
“Got a big sale on the tills and Ra-Ra needs your code.”
Shaolin shot him a dirty look because Dizzee knew his damn code but he couldn’t just say that now with customers lurking nearby.
He was proud of the fact that he was the manager of the Get Down and there was no way he was going to make Grandmaster Flash regret given him that promotion.
“Sort these out,” he ordered, glowering at the bright smile Dizzee shot his way.
Tugging on his signature red jacket he headed for the front, absentmindedly noting the suit leaning against the counter, talking to Ra-Ra.
“Can I…?” Shaolin trailed off, voice hitching in his throat before he swallowed to ease the dryness there.
“Hey,” the man grinned, like he was someone simple, like he wasn’t fucking Zeke Figuero, word smith, tale-spinner, music bringer…too many fucking titles that were leaking out of Shaolin’s head like water from eyes.
“Yo,” Shaolin forced out, ignoring Ra-Ra’s knowing smirk. “Heard you got a big purchase?”
“A real big one,” Zeke smirked and Shaolin was grateful for the lighting and his skin because his entire face felt hot.
It was fucking stupid and he told himself that, he wasn’t one to get star struck but Zeke was the real deal. The man spat rhymes and lyrics like it was as simple as breathing. He could freestyle as easily as a bird could fly and when Shaolin had been back in the Bronx with skin scrubbed raw but not deep enough to feel clean he’d listened to Zeke’s words. He’d listened to the other man’s pain bled through his lyrics and it had boosted him if only for a few minutes, made him feel like Superman with the S on his chest.
So star struck was probably an understatement but Shaolin hadn’t renamed and rebranded himself to back down from his idol especially when he caught the unsure twitch of Zeke’s lips because whatever else he was, Shaolin was still a good reader of people’s tells.
“Pretty sure it won’t be the biggest I’ve seen,” he shot back and Zeke’s face flushed red as he choked on air.
Grinning at himself he started scanning the records while listening to Zeke try to remember how to breathe and not die laughing.
“You got jokes…” Zeke tried, trailing off with an expectant brow raise.
“Name’s Fantastic, Shaolin Fantastic,”
“You sure it ain’t Bond, James Bond?” Zeke snorted, leaning on the counter with both elbows and Shaolin could feel the man’s gaze burning into his skin.
“Nah, why would I try to copy that dude when he ain’t half as cool as me?”
“You’ve got the ego bit, down,” Zeke pointed out and Shaolin gave him his best ‘fuck you’ grin.
“That’ll be six hundred dollars, Mr Figuero,” he responded, skin buzzing like there were fireworks going off in his cells.
“Cold, Mr Fantastic and here I thought this was the start of a beautiful friendship,” Zeke replied, handing over his card.
“It’s be even more beautiful if you two would stop flirting in front of me,” Ra-Ra piped up and Shaolin flipped him off beneath the counter out of view because he didn’t hear Ra-Ra talking shit when his brother was trying to slither down Thor’s throat tongue first.
“This ain’t flirting,” Zeke grinned, teeth a sharp exclamation, “Trust me this is a ‘hello’.”
“I’m guessing someone gets naked when you flirt?” Shaolin couldn’t help but cut in and the look Zeke shot his way was secretive. He was actually grateful when Zeke focused on putting his PIN number into the card machine.
“Stick around and you might find out,” Zeke replied, accepting his records and receipt. “See you around, Mr Fantastic,” he called back as he left the store.
Shaolin’s gaze followed him out the door.
“Not for nothing but the last time a guy looked at me like that, I was piping the hell out of him ten minutes later,” Dizzee offered up, reappearing behind the counter like a damn ghost.
“You wanna keep your sex life to yourself. Nobody wants to hear what you and Thor get up to,” Shaolin groused. “Plus the guy’s straight that was just banter.”
“Straight as a circle,” Ra-Ra muttered but Shaolin just rolled his eyes at both of them and headed back to his records to fix the shit job Dizzee had probably done.
“You said he was straight,” Dizzee muttered and Shaolin exhaled his lungful of smoke before glancing at where Dizzee was leaning against the back wall of the Get Down.
Technically Grandmaster Flash didn’t have a problem with them smoking inside but he’d be damned if Boo-Boo picked up one of his bad habits.
“You said he was, you didn’t say you were,” Dizzee pointed out and if he’d said that before when Shaolin had been young and angry, he’d probably have decked him. He’d had the implication thrown at him by Cadillac enough times to be sick of it but he’d come a long way since that fire.
It helped that Dizzee almost knew his whole story, it hadn’t been intentional, he’d slipped up one night and told Dizzee his real name.
He hadn’t needed Dizzee’s words to know what he’d found out, not when he’d come to Shaolin with that look on his face that he only got when someone messed with his siblings or Thor.
Shrugging, Shaolin handed him the blunt.
“Can’t say if I am or not,” he responded, closing his eyes because Dizzee had never pitied him, he’d been angry for him but not enough to dreg up shit that Shaolin wanted to keep buried. “Sometimes I’m into people, sometimes I’m not, you know? That gender shit’s not really big on my radar.”
“You’re figuring it out,” Dizzee pointed out and Shaolin nodded, eyes still closed.
“Just learning how to be me, and want something for the sake of wanting it,” he offered up.
“You want Zeke though.”
That made Shaolin open his eyes, “Yeah ‘cause some big shot like Zeke is gonna decide he wants me after marrying Mylene Cruz,” he snorted.
“Stanger things have happened,” Dizzee grinned and Shaolin found himself grinning too.
It wasn’t the situation, it was the fact that he’d never thought he’d have this, have someone who listened to him, who wasn’t looking to just stab him in the back.
It felt good.
Shaolin’s eyes snapped open, his breath stuttering in his chest as he stared at the familiar ceiling and tried to convince himself that he wasn’t back there anymore.
It took a few seconds for his heart to stop thundering and he reached over, switching on his lamp but his room was empty and quiet.
Then someone knocked and Shaolin scowled at the clock that said it was four in the morning.
Rubbing at his face he sat up because if it wasn’t the cops at his door then he knew who else it could be.
Hauling on a pair of pants he headed for the door, pausing only to squint through the peephole before he opened it.
The woman standing there gave him a sheepish grin even as she tugged her coat closer but Shaolin barely noticed that, already reaching for the baby carrier in her hand.
“I’m so sorry,” Tasha offered up and this time Shaolin did look at her, taking in the dark bruise marring her skin.
Tasha caught him looking and tugged at her coat even as she handed over Michael’s carrier. “I know it’s early…” she started but Shaolin waved her off.
“It’s cool, I said I’d babysit anytime,” he muttered, trying not to stare. “You need something for that? Some ice or something?”
Tasha shrugged, “It’s nothing plus I’ve gotta get back to work.”
“Okay,” Shaolin whispered because it was all he could do. He’d tried to help her more times than he could count but she thought she was in love with the guy who made her walk the streets and leave her kid with anyone just so she could keep making him money.
He expected her to walk away but Tasha stared at him for a long moment, “You’re a good kid, Shaolin,” she told him.
“Ain’t been a kid for years.”
The words had her lips quirking up into a small sad smile, “I know the feeling,” she whispered and then she was gone.
Shaolin glance down at the carrier only to find Michael watching her go. The fact that he didn’t even cry said how familiar a sight it probably was.
“Okay, little guy, it’s just you and me,” Shaolin grinned as he shut the door. “How’s about some cartoons and some of my special hot chocolate, huh?”
Michael didn’t respond but the way his little fingers went for the latches on his carrier was answer enough.
Shaolin bounced Michael on his hip as he headed for the Get Down.
He wasn’t on shift for another two hours but he figured Tasha wasn’t gonna turn up anytime soon so he might as well do the lunch run for Dizzee and Ra-Ra. Plus he couldn’t keep feeding the kid cocoa puffs seeing as Tasha had forgotten to pack him any actual food.
He frowned at the crowd at the doors, changing track without thought and slipping through the backdoor.
The noise hit him like a wave and when he emerged from the back Ra-Ra was shrinking in on himself behind the counter while Dizzee glowered at the people crowding the counter.
“The fuck’s going on here?” Shaolin demanded but before either brother could respond one of the teens at the counter turned her attention to him.
“Hey are you the guy Zeke came in here to talk to?” she demanded and Shaolin’s brow hiked because if there was one thing he wasn’t cool with it was people being all up in his business.
Her words caught the attention of the others and before he knew it people were shouting questions at him.
The noise level grew and Michael buried his face in Shaolin’s shirt like he was trying to hide from it and honestly fuck that shit.
Shaolin grabbed the mic for the store’s announcement system.
“I’m gonna count to ten and if anyone who isn’t buying something is still in here then we’re calling the cops,” he announced and silence fell over the crowd but Shaolin wasn’t done. “Ten, nine…”
People started scattering like roaches and Shaolin kept counting until the door shut behind the last person.
“If I didn’t think you’d punch me in the face, I’d kiss you,” Ra-Ra groused, slumping against the counter like someone had cut his strings. He turned his head and squinted, “Who gave you a kid?”
“Your girl,” Shaolin responded absentmindedly, focused as he was on coaxing Michael out of his hiding place.
“You wish,” Ra-Ra scoffed, “Plus it’s totally you’re fault anyway or at least it’s sort of your fault. Apparently Zeke’s being waxing poetic about this place and the staff on his account and his fans sort of lost their minds, I guess?”
“Ain’t my fault that my customer service is better than yours,” Shaolin shot back, grinning at Michael when the little boy offered him a toothy smile.
“Yeah customer service,” Dizzee snickered and Shaolin gave him a dirty look over Michael’s head.
“Imagine that we leave two hours early to get lunch for your ungrateful asses and all I get is abuse.”
“Have I ever told you that you’re my favourite person in the world?” Ra-Ra piped up and Shaolin smirked because that was more like it.
Perching Michael on the counter, he pulled out his pen and paper.
He didn’t really care about whatever Zeke had said about him as long as the man used those records he’d bought to put out some good music then he’d be cool.
By the time Shaolin got home Michael was passed out, slumped against his chest and it took a bit of juggling to keep a hold of the kid and the bag and ring Tasha’s doorbell.
He heard someone moving around and a moment later Tasha opened the door, her bathing gown gaping open despite the underwear she was wearing.
She slumped against the doorframe, her smile almost as bright as her eyes.
“What can I do for you, sugar?” she greeted, like Shaolin wasn’t holding her fucking kid, like she hadn’t promised to stop this shit.
Shaolin didn’t respond, he just stepped around her.
Thankfully Kevin was nowhere to be seen and Shaolin headed for Michael’s room, putting the kid down just long enough to stuff his bag with some clothes.
“Don’t be like that, Shao,” Tasha purred from behind him and Shaolin was snatching up Michael just as she reached for him, skin crawling like he was covered in bugs.
“Don’t fucking be like what? Don’t be mad that you’re high when you said you’d given that shit up. You’ve got a kid, Tasha, what the fuck is wrong with you?” he snarled, yanking away when she reached for him instead.
“It’s just a little hit, I couldn’t turn it down, you know I couldn’t,” Tasha pleaded and for a moment Shaolin could see the woman he’d lived next to before she’d met Kevin but just a glimpse of that woman wasn’t enough to let Shaolin leave Michael with her.
“Get your shit together, Tasha. Michael needs his mom,” he sighed, “I’ll keep him for as long as I can but I’m not giving him back to you when you’re like this.”
The words had Tasha folding in on herself but she nodded and that was enough for Shaolin.
“It’s just for a few days,” Shaolin explained to Grandmaster Flash, rocking Michael when the kid whined, reaching for Shaolin’s chain.
“It might be for longer than you expect,” Grandmaster Flash offered up and Shaolin didn’t ask because sometimes he didn’t want to know. “Musicality starts at birth, the sooner you introduce this generation to it, the easier it becomes,” he added and that was agreement enough for Shaolin.
“You won’t regret this,” he sighed, “The kid’s pretty quiet anyway.”
Grandmaster Flash waved him off, “Give me those mixes you owe me and you can do anything you want, Grasshopper.”
Shaolin narrowed his eyes, “You already knew, didn’t you?” he guessed.
Grandmaster Flash just grinned as he left the office.
Shaolin followed just in time to watch him wave at Ra-Ra and Dizzee before he was gone.
“Hey, Grandmaster said you were getting some studio time in. You want me to get Yolanda to look after the kid for you?” Dizzee called across to him.
“Nah, we’re good,” Shaolin replied, heading to the other side of the building that housed the studio.
He set up Michael in one corner, spreading a blanket done before scattering the toys he’d grabbed across it.
Michael instantly headed for his hammers, banging them together while Shaolin set up.
Putting on his headphones he focused on the music, his eyes flickering to where Michael was sitting every few seconds.
There was no clock in the room because Grandmaster Flash claimed that music couldn’t be hampered by time.
And when Shaolin glanced up again, Michael was lying on his back watching him.
Saving his progress, Shaolin took off the headphones.
“Hey, little man, you hungry?” he asked.
Michael nodded and Shaolin picked up his bag, digging out one of the juice boxes he’d bought.
He’d barely opened it when Michael latched onto it, leaving Shaolin to get the rest of his snacks out of the backpack.
He’d tried to keep it healthy, picking fruity snacks over the usually sugary stuff and he watched as Michael reached for one, sniffing it for a minute before shoving it into his mouth.
Tasha had told him once that the doctors said that there was nothing wrong with Michael’s vocal cords that he just didn’t talk but as Shaolin watched Michael shove all his food into his mouth, puffing out his cheeks, he couldn’t help but compare it to the way he used to hide food as a kid.
Maybe Michael didn’t talk because he was too scared to.
The light above the door flashed a second before Boo-Boo poked his head around the corner.
“Hey, your guy’s here,” he snickered, vanishing before Shaolin could throw something at his head.
Scooping Michael up, he handed the toddler another juice bottle when he realized that the other was empty.
“You wanna stop calling Fifty Shades of Vanilla my guy ‘cause Dizzee can’t fight for shit and I wouldn’t want to have to beat his overprotective ass,” Shaolin groused as he rounded the corner, eyes narrowing when the first thing that he saw was Dizzee grinning at him from the counter make some stupid gestures at something Shaolin couldn’t see. “What?”
Dizzee gestures became more violent at that and Shaolin rolled his eyes heavenwards and asked for strength a second before Zeke appeared from one of the aisles.
“Hey,” he greeted like he’d stumbled across Shaolin on the street instead of found his way back to the Get Down which couldn’t be anywhere near to the swanky places that the guy was usually photographed in.
At his silence Zeke glanced at Dizzee who was watching them both like they were some sort of show.
“I wanted to stop by and say sorry for the hassle I caused the other day,” Zeke offered up and that got Shaolin moving.
He headed to the counter scanning the shop, only finding a few regulars lurking about.
“But you defended him,” Boo-Boo piped up and Shaolin squinted down to where the voice came from only to catch a sight of Boo-Boo’s grin before the kid scrambled by him.
“What was it again?” Dizzee took up the conversation with a Cheshire grin, “He ain’t cold, he’s just probably private?”
Zeke’s skin tinged red at that and Shaolin snorted because apparently star struck only lasted so long.
“Cold is good with me but thanks,” he responded, untangling Michael’s fingers from his chain.
Zeke shot him an awkward looking smile, “Didn’t want it to interfere with your life especially your kid’s life.”
The loud sound of cackling made Zeke jump but Shaolin just sighed because he’d recognize Ra-Ra’s hyena wheezing anywhere.
“He’s not my kid,” Shaolin explained and Zeke’s grin morphed into something much more natural looking for some odd reason.
“Oh,” he muttered.
“So how’s Mrs Figuero?” Dizzee inquired, a smirk painting his face.
“It’s Miss Cruz actually,” Zeke responded with a shrug. “And she’s good, her career’s taking off, you know?”
“Yeah?” Dizzee murmured, staring straight at Shaolin. “You don’t say.”
Shaolin didn’t roll his eyes at the idiots he called family but it was a close thing. “You got any new material coming out?” he asked instead, setting Michael on the counter and stepping close so the kid wouldn’t tumble off it.
“I’m working on it,” Zeke grinned, “I sort of lost my muse for a while but I think I’m good.”
“Spit something for us, then,” Dizzee asked and Zeke glanced at him before his gaze returned to Shaolin.
“It’s not my usual,” he offered up apologetically.
“Changing your style up ain’t something to be ashamed of,” Shaolin responded, “Spit something if you want or don’t, it’s cool either way.”
Zeke frowned at him for a long moment, clutching the bag full of books that Shaolin had missed before.
“Look…” Shaolin started but Zeke interrupted him.
“You embody my heart lines/Weightless as the clouds above my head /You breathe my skies/Like the moonshine, you’re my starlight/For the weight of your smile/There’s no boulder I couldn’t shoulder…”
“Whoa, whoa, definitely different, Books,” Shaolin cut in, the music humming in his head already.
“Different bad?” Zeke asked like he actually wanted Shaolin’s opinion, completely ignoring the nickname.
“Nah, ain’t nothing bad about talking about love,” Shaolin replied, “It’s not my usual playground but it’s good.”
“You don’t like love songs?” Zeke frowned and Shaolin snorted, playing with Michael’s fingers just so he had a reason to look away from the expression on Zeke’s face.
“Ain’t never heard a love song that really captured how much that shit hurts,” Shaolin laughed, “And I’ve never seen a love that didn’t hurt.”
The silence that settled then was tense and when Shaolin glanced up Zeke was staring at the ground like it held the answers to the universe.
“If you’re gonna be hanging around we’ve got a studio, you know?” Dizzee offered up and Shaolin didn’t like the gleam in his eye any more than he liked the stubborn look on Zeke’s face when the man inquired at the cost.
He was going to install an alarm in the shop to scare off any of the guy’s fans who rolled up again and he hoped it scared the shit out of Dizzee too.
Shaolin gave Tasha two more days.
He enjoyed his time with Michael, the kid was no trouble and had taken to toddling around behind Shaolin like a tiny shadow but he knew that Michael needed his mom.
The thought rested heavy on him as he set up his bed and put Michael down for the night before spreading some sheets on the floor for himself.
Tasha had only gotten high once in Michael’s life and she’d sworn up and down that she’d never do it again.
But dope fiends would always be dope fiends…that’s what Fat Annie used to say and it’d proved right more times than Shaolin could count.
Closing his eyes Shaolin forced his mind away from that and to the music he was working on. He had a perfect beat; he just needed the words to go along with it.
He probably would’ve gotten that too but the rappers who’d started hanging around now were just following Zeke around and none of them had what Shaolin was looking for.
The fact that Shaolin had been avoiding Books and any rapper in the man’s vicinity didn’t help either.
The little voice had Shaolin’s eyes snapping open, freezing when he caught sight of Michael peering over the edge of the bed, the weak light from the street illuminating the boy’s chubby cheeks.
“Shao,” Michael tried again and Shaolin couldn’t stop the grin splitting his face.
“Yeah, it’s Shao, little man,” he laughed, holding out a hand that Michael grasped as soon as it was in his reach. “Guess you finally felt like talking, huh?”
“Shao,” Michael, laying his head down so that he could still see Shaolin and hold his hand.
Shaolin didn’t make a sound as the boy’s eyes closed.
“He talked for you?” Tasha whispered, tears glinting in her eyes but she wasn’t shaking and her clothes were clean.
“Just my name, didn’t you, big guy?” Shaolin teased, rocking Michael who hid his face in his shirt.
“I…I’m sorry you had to keep him for so long,” Tasha muttered.
“You didn’t make me keep him,” Shaolin pointed out, eyeing her. “You doing better?”
“Yeah, I could take him too,” she offered up stepping forward but Shaolin stepped back.
“How about you give it another day,” he gestured at her outfit, “You’re working tonight, right? So you’d need me to watch him anyway.”
“I couldn’t ask…”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re not asking, I’m offering,” Shaolin cut her off, pretending to not see the relief on her face.
“Why’re you always helping me out?” she inquired softly.
“Because there wasn’t anyone around to help my mama,” Shaolin replied. “Stay clean and you’ll get him tomorrow, alright?”
“Alright,” she agreed, stepping through the door.
“And I know you’re not gonna listen but stay away from Kevin,” he called after her.
She didn’t respond and Shaolin could guess why.
“Am I annoying you?”
The question had Shaolin’s head snapping up only to find Zeke frowning at him.
“You’re never around when I’m around and you’re cool with everyone except my people.”
“Is that what you call them, your people?” Shaolin snorted.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Books demanded and Shaolin wrinkled his nose.
“Look if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…”
“It’s a duck?” Zeke guessed.
“It’s a freeloader,” Shaolin corrected. “And honestly I don’t care but if you’re gonna use my booth, you might as well use it to work instead of have people kiss your ass all day. Those lyrics you rolled out the second time you turned up are the only piece of music I’ve heard from you so far.”
Zeke bristled, “I’m working on it.”
“You’re working on your ego,” Shaolin laughed, “When you want to actually make music, you’ll get rid of the distractions and do it.”
Zeke’s jaw hardened like he was gritting his teeth and Shaolin spread his hands wide in supplication but he kept his smirk right where it was.
Books deflated like a popped balloon. “I’m paying for the time,”
“Alright, keep paying for it and wasting it, like I care,” Shaolin shrugged, turning his attention back to the till.
“You’re a DJ, right?” Books demanded and Shaolin glanced at him, raising one brow. “You make me the music and I’ll give you a song.”
“A good one cause I’m not down for this shit that your crew’s been trying.”
“A good one,” Books gritted out and Shaolin beamed as he held out his hand.
Shaolin waited until Yolanda turned up before heading for the studio.
He paused just inside the door, glancing at the men sitting all over the room before glowering at Books, who froze as soon as he caught sight of him, embarrassment spread across his face.
“Give us a few guys,” Zeke called out and Shaolin shifted to the side to allow for the stream of bodies, firmly ignoring the questioning glances thrown his way.
Snorting as the door closed behind the last one, Shaolin headed for where his stuff was locked away. Setting it up and paying no attention to the man he could feel hovering behind him.
He took longer than he usually would, setting out his samples before he glanced at Books only to find him scowling.
“What’s got your panties in a twist?” he sighed.
“I don’t just waste time, you know?” Zeke blurted out, fingers curled around his ever present notebook. “I’m trying to make music, it’s just not flowing, not like it used to.”
Shaolin hummed, “Alright, what do you want to make music about?”
“I don’t know…anything.”
“Yeah, that’s not gonna work,” Shaolin scoffed, “Anything is a broad topic and I only have so many samples so pick something.”
Zeke frowned, lips pressed together, “Love,” he responded finally and Shaolin didn’t sigh but it was a damn close thing.
“Alright,” he muttered, digging through his collection before playing a piece he’d had for a while, the thrum of the guitar and the smooth beat of the drums was something he’d never used but they made him feel light and if he had to guess maybe this was what love felt like to some people.
Books bobbed his head along to the beat, fingers tapping his book as his eyes closed.
Shaolin watched him, boosting the bass just a little and Zeke smiled, the expression melting away as lyrics started pouring from him, his book still gripped tightly in his hands and Shaolin barely remembered to hit record.
He lowered the sound of the guitars until the drums were almost all he could hear and Zeke’s lyrics shifted to match, gone from the airy promises of first kisses and gentle touches to dark bruises and blood.
This wasn’t a love song but it was a song about love, it was a song about the type of love that hurt just enough to keep you hanging on and Shaolin wondered if Zeke was speaking from experience.
Blending the two samples, he rocked as Zeke’s lyrics became promises and promises became hidden chains.
Words flowed like a river from Zeke’s mouth and Shaolin could see the life he was painting, the hope that was shattered underfoot leaving just a piece, just enough to urge someone to keep fighting for something that was killing them.
The music died away and in the silence Books stared at him like he couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Shaolin didn’t wait for him to say anything; he just started to playing the recording back to him and Zeke finally opened his book scribbling down the lyrics.
Shaolin yawned as he trudged up the stairs to his apartment.
He’d offered to close up, not comfortable with Ra-Ra being the only one left in the shop even if he had Boo-Boo with him or perhaps especially because he had Boo-Boo with him because that kid could and would start a fight with his own shadow.
He was basically asleep on his feet but all of that drained from him when he caught sight of a familiar figure by his door.
Tasha must have heard him coming because she turned to face him and Shaolin’s fingers clenched into fists at the sight of her busted lip and black eye.
His gaze swept from her to where Michael was sleeping in the carrier at her feet before stopping at the backpack she was clutching.
“Can I…” she started but Shaolin didn’t let her finish.
He took the bag from her and opened his door, glaring down the corridor as she shuffled inside.
“I took your advice, told him I didn’t want any of his product, told him I didn’t want him either,” Tasha sighed and she sounded so tired like the person in the lyrics Zeke had made.
“You want me to fuck him up for you?” Shaolin asked, dead serious because the only thing that had ever kept him back from doing just that was the fear that Tasha would leave with Kevin and then he’d have no way of protecting her or Michael.
“He’s not worth it,” Tasha sighed, curling up on the sofa.
Shaolin didn’t bother to offer her the bed because they’d had this argument before. Plus if anyone was going to sleep on that bed tonight it was going to be Michael.
Lowering himself to the floor, he sighed, “What are you going to do?”
Tasha shrugged, “Don’t know yet but I know I don’t want him anywhere near me,” she whispered, wiggling to make herself comfortable and Shaolin didn’t mention the bruises peeking over her collar.
“Whatever you want to do, I’m here for you, okay?”
“Okay,” she smiled, it looked fake but Shaolin was willing to accept it.
“Brought you coffee,” Zeke called as he swanned into the shop, placing said coffee on the counter just in front of Shaolin.
“Did you bring me music?” Shaolin demanded, accepting the coffee as his due.
“Anybody ever tell you that you bitch like a housewife?” Zeke retorted, though the grin on his face didn’t shift.
“Anybody ever tell you that you buy shit coffee?” Shaolin lobbied back, sipping at his drink while Zeke laughed.
“Can you two stop flirting for two seconds?” Dizzee groused as he came stomping up the aisle.
“You know I still love you,” Shaolin called at him, throwing several kisses in his direction.
“Fuck you!” Dizzee hissed, like a wet cat.
“Mr Kipling,” Mrs Smith scolded and Shaolin watched with a grin as their eighty year old regular scolded Dizzee within an inch of his natural life.
Turning away from that scene he refocused on Zeke.
“So what did your manager say about the tracks?”
“They’re good, he said I just need one more and that’s my next album…” he trailed off, “I’ve already got one for it,” he added quickly and Shaolin grinned.
“Can’t wait to hear it,” he beamed.
Books frowned at him, “You’re not just going to hear it. That was your music, you’re getting a big cut out of any sales.”
Shaolin froze like a deer in headlights, “Nah, you know that was just a bit of fun for me.”
“Still,” Zeke cut across him, “You deserve it. If you don’t want it put it into the shop or something but you’re getting the money.”
“If you don’t want it, I accept donations,” Ra-Ra offered and when Shaolin glanced at him the teen had all but abandoned the cash he was supposed to be counting out.
Scowling at him until he started counting again, Shaolin turned to Zeke ready to argue.
“Look, just listen to the album, alright? I’m just sorting out the last song and then it’s up. Just listen to it and then do whatever you want to.”
“Deal,” Shaolin muttered, eyeing Zeke’s nervous smile suspiciously.
Shaolin stood at the door, holding it open for Tasha while he kept an eye on Michael who was dancing along with the kids on the screen.
Tasha came huffing down the corridor, “Next time you want a movie night, you’re getting the snacks.”
“I offered, you’re the one who ran out of here like your ass was on fire,” Shaolin snorted, taking the bags from her, leaving her to shut and lock the door.
“Have you listened to that song?” Tasha hissed, waving to where Michael was doing a pretty good imitation of the other kids. “If I have to listen to it one more time I’d cry.”
Shaolin rolled his eyes at her; he’d missed her melodramatic personality.
“Alright, when’s this album dropping then?” Tasha demanded, spinning his laptop around where a little icon was counting down.
“You think I should just ignore it?” he asked her, eyes glued to the one minute flashing on the screen.
“I think you should sit your ass down and put your headphones on,” she responded as the seconds started to blur.
Shaolin followed her command, fingers poised above the play button, pressing as soon as it flickered green.
He was silent as Zeke’s voice flowed into his ears, the lyrics gritty and heavy like he could feel the place where Zeke had been when he’d written the song.
Then it changed, it was still heavy but there was an underlying something there that Shaolin couldn’t put his finger on. He could almost recognize the beat but he couldn’t place it.
Tasha’s nails dug into his wrist at the next lyrics but Shaolin couldn’t look at her because Zeke was baring his soul here where everyone and anyone could see it and rip him to shreds for it.
He talked about not being enough, of feeling trapped in a suit that was as good as a jail cell.
Then it changed, it changed from not being enough to feeling like he was too much. He talked about feeling like the ground beneath his feet was constantly shifting because his world was starting to revolve around one person and then Shaolin got…he got it before the last lines of the song but they were words he’d never forget.
“You embody my heart lines/Weightless as the clouds above my head /You breathe my skies/Like the moonshine, you’re my starlight.”
“Holy shit, did he just come out on his album?” Tasha breathed.
Shaolin opened his mouth but he couldn’t say anything because Zeke had rapped those words only once before and Shaolin suddenly felt like he was seeing a whole new picture.
On the table his phone was buzzing like crazy and Shaolin barely glanced at the text notifications popping up on the screen.
Tasha glanced from the phone to his face, realization dawning on her expression.
“He didn’t just come out, did he?”
Shaolin shook his head, trying to fight the grin he could feel burning at his cheeks.
“Did he just write you a motherfucking love confession, oh my God!” she screamed, before catching her breath. “Are you okay with that? Like you don’t have to care if you don’t want to,” she hissed, so fierce, so much like the Tasha he’d first met. “Big shot or not, I’ll fuck him up if he’s trying to pressure you into something.”
“He’s not,” Shaolin finally managed and Tasha’s smile was like watching a sunrise.
“Then what the fuck are you doing here? Got text your man or call him or do something,” she snickered.
Shaolin was reaching for his phone before she finished talking.
Shaolin tapped his feet as he waited.
The Get Down was officially closed for the day because not even the security that Zeke had sent over could contain the crowds that descended on the shop desperate to catch a glimpse of the place that made Zeke feel comfortable enough to come out as bisexual.
Shaolin was just grateful that none of them had connected the dots. He’d only had to suffer through Dizzee’s knowing smirk all day but even that couldn’t put a dent in his mood.
His phone flashed a notification and Shaolin headed to the back, opening the door for Zeke.
“Hey,” he greeted, feeling dumb and awkward because he’d never had this, never had a choice that was really a choice.
Zeke paused, clutching at his backpack.
“I don’t know if you got what I was saying but I really like you and I know we haven’t known each other for long but I was wondering if you’d…”
Shaolin didn’t know what made him move but the way Books groaned into the kiss had him grinning against the other man’s lips.
“Yeah…that,” Zeke breathed, eyes opening slowly, fingers still clutching at Shaolin’s shirt.
“The song was good,” Shaolin offered up and Zeke grinned.
“If that’s the reward that I get for every good song…” he teased.
Shaolin just rolled his eyes, “Yeah, whatever. I hope you’ve got one of those stupid hats in your bag because I actually wanted to get something to eat.”
Books dug out the hat in question, tugging it down on his head and suddenly the cornrows made sense.
“Is this a date?” Zeke asked once they hit the street.
“This is lunch, if you want a date we’d better be doing something better than going to Mc…” he trailed off, catching sight of someone he really wanted to see, leaning against an alleyway. “Two secs,” he called back to Zeke, jogging ahead.
“Yo Kev,” he greeted, beaming when the man turned around, eyes wide when he caught sight of Shaolin. “Tasha says ‘hi,’.” He added, then decked the fucker, grinning viciously.
“You broke my fucking nose!” Kevin wailed, blood spurting down his shirt.
“Next time I’m gonna break your face,” Shaolin snarled and apparently Kevin wasn’t stupid enough to think he was joking.
Shaolin watched him skitter away like a bug as he rubbed at his knuckles.
“Do I want to know?” Books asked when he caught up to him.
Shaolin shrugged, “Just had something to pay him back for…now about that date.”
“Wait, is it a date?” Books demanded and Shaolin laughed.
It was going to be a good day, he could just tell.