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“Hey Issei?”

Issei takes a deep breath, eyelids fluttering in irritation, and glances over at his roommate sprawled on the floor.

“Yes Lev?”

“If I found you a new job would you stop being mad at me for accidentally getting you fired from your last job?”

He considers his roommate for a moment. Lev’s face looks sincere enough and, honestly, Issei is getting tired of Lev’s sad wet kitten found in a cardboard box stare.

“Possibly.”

Lev looks down at his phone. “Hey isn’t NTOE that band that always played at the club you and she-who-must-not-be-named-around-polite-company used to go to? The only band you actually liked at that place?”

“It is. Why?”

Lev rolls up onto his knees and shuffles over to Issei. “Get ready to not be mad at me anymore,” he says as he shoves his phone into Issei’s face.

He glances at the screen and sighs. He really isn’t sure he’s going to be finding any kind of decent jobs from a classified ads app that looks like a twelve year old made it. But he skims through the post anyway.

‘Fuck up bassist seeks drummer. Fuck up drummer preferred. If not fucked up, fucking up will be provided for you. -NTOE’

NTOE. No Trial Only Error.

There is no way it can actually be them. They aren’t a huge band, nothing super known and mainstream. But they are popular among the clubs and bars and rumor has it that there were talks of record deals on the horizon for them. So no way they are looking for a drummer. Not for real.

But — he mentally counts what’s left in his bank account and overlays that with the fact that none of his dozen applications for a more respectable job have called him back yet — it isn’t like there’s any harm in trying.

Issei glances up and down the street. It’s hard to believe that this is NTOE’s home base. Or studio or whatever. It’s only a few minutes away from his apartment. Hell he and Lev used to walk by this building every time they went to the club until she-who-must-not-be-named-around-polite-company ruined it for him. He looks down at the address on his phone and then back up at the door. This is the place and the door is unlocked when he tries it so he goes inside.

He doesn’t exactly have butterflies dancing in his guts or anything but there is anticipation buzzing in his chest. This is kind of a chance of a lifetime for him. The chance not just to be in a band but to be in one of his current favorite bands? If this really is No Trial Only Error then he’ll have to remember to get something awesome for Lev for finding this chance for him. And if it isn’t actually them then it isn’t like he’s really out anything other than a couple hours of time.

“Hello?” His voice echoes awkwardly through the empty room. Like it’s trying to fill up more space than it’s supposed to. “Anyone here?”

“Well hello there.”

He turns to the side and spots a man leaning against the far wall, brown hair stylishly falling over his forehead and a mischievous sparkle in his brown eyes that comforts Issei and makes him nervous in equal measures.

“Um.” Issei glances down at his phone again to double check the name. This is not the lead singer for NTOE. He looks nothing like the guy Issei had seen working the crowd at the club last year. “Iwaizumi?” he asks hesitantly anyway.

The man snorts in amusement. “Oh please. He wishes he looked like me.” He looks Issei up and down. “So you’re the guy.”

“Am I?”

Issei knows mischief. He knows it when it’s hiding behind corners and tucked into drawers and tiptoeing through dimly lit corridors. So of course he recognizes it when it’s staring him straight in the eye. Or, more accurately, when it’s eyeballing him like a starving man at a buffet.

“You look like you’d be the guy.”

“I do?”

“You do.”

“Well I’m glad we got that all sorted out.” He slips his phone in his back pocket. “I’m Matsukawa Issei. But I’m sure you know that already. Since I’m the guy.”

“Of course you are. And I do. And you are.” The man pushes away from the wall with the kind of grace that comes effortlessly. Issei knows the difference between effortless grace and practiced grace. Grace had been trained into him at a young age after all. “I’m Oikawa Tooru. NTOE’s producer and the role model they all aspire to be like.”

“Oh fuck if I ever aspire to be like you just take me into the alley and shoot me in the head.” Issei looks over his shoulder and into the deep, dark blue eyes of NTOE’s lead guitarist, Nanase Haruka, as he steps into the building.

“Haruka I’m so glad you pulled yourself away from your bathtub to join us.”

“Oikawa if you call me by my given name one more time I will drown you in your own toilet.”

“Love you too boo.”

Nanase sighs like the entire world is on his shoulders and looks at Issei. “Please tell me you’re the fuck up drummer we’ve been waiting for. If I have to go another practice listening to Oikawa talking instead of actually letting us play I will start stabbing myself in the ear with my own guitar picks.”

Issei is pretty sure he’s the fuck up drummer they’re waiting for. So he nods like he’s 100% sure and introduces himself once again. “I’m Matsukawa Issei.”

“So Mattsun,” Oikawa says cheerfully. “We’ve got the stuff set up in back. Why don’t you show us what you can do and we’ll go from there.”

Oikawa throws his arm around Issei’s shoulder and tugs him towards a door across the room. This is either the chance of a lifetime or he’s being led to a room where they’re going to murder and dismember him. He’s really, really, really hoping for the former. It’s this thought and the fact that Oikawa called him ‘Mattsun’ like they had been friends their whole lives or something that distracts him enough to just let Oikawa drag him along. Nanase tsks but follows only a few steps behind them.

“You know that Iwaizumi won’t be happy you’re starting without him,” Nanase mutters.

“Of course I do.”

“But you’re going to do it anyway.”

“Of course I am.”

Oikawa shepherds Issei towards the drum kit and Haru shuffles off across the room from them. “I’ll say something moderately polite at your funeral,” Nanase says as he drops onto the couch.

“You’re so sweet.” Nanase nods at Oikawa’s words and fishes something out of his pocket. Issei can’t quite see what it is from where he’s settling behind the drums but it glints in the light as Nanase’s fingers twitch. “Now,” Oikawa says as he turns his attention on Issei. “Let’s see what you can do.”

Playing drums isn’t Issei’s life. It isn’t his end all be all. Music isn’t the air he breathes or anything like that. But he does love it. It does move him and he wants it to move others. He loves the beat, the feel of the sticks in his hand, the numbness vibrating up his arms from each hit at the end of a good session. He loves seeing people move to the beat he lays down.

So it’s not his life.

But opening his eyes and seeing Oikawa and Nanase nodding along, seeing Nanase’s fingers tapping against his knee like he can’t help himself, gives him a rush that nothing else in life has managed to give him yet. The deep hum of bass startles him out of his thoughts. He glances over and spots Hanamaki Takahiro, NTOE’s bassist, flashing him a peace sign before focusing back on his guitar, fingers gliding over the strings lovingly and skillfully.

“Glad to see you didn’t listen when I asked you to wait for us.” Iwaizumi Hajime, NTOE’s frontman, is leaning against the door frame scowling at Oikawa.

“Oh Iwa-chan if I listened to everything you said to me Makki would still be slogging his way through a business education he hates and Haru-chan-”

“There are two people who are allowed to call me that and you are neither of them,” Haru butts in.

“-well Haru-chan would be some famous sports star who is bored in life,” Oikawa continues like he doesn’t even hear Nanase. Issei is starting to feel like anything Oikawa doesn’t want to deal with is just white noise to him. “So you’re all welcome.”

“You’re also half the reason our last drummer quit,” Iwaizumi states.

Oikawa snorts rudely. “Well if he hadn’t been che-”

“I’m Hanamaki by the way.” The bassist sidles over to the drum kit, blocking out Oikawa and Iwaizumi from Issei’s view and distracting him from whatever conversation they’re having. “Hanamaki Takahiro. I’m the one who posted the ad.”

“Ah. The fuck up bassist that was seeking me.”

Hanamaki blushes a little. “That’s me. Fuck up extraordinaire.” Hanamaki drops his gaze to his guitar and taps his thumb against the neck nervously. Issei narrows his eyes; he’s just met him but he doesn’t really like seeing that look on Hanamaki’s face. Like he’s embarrassed. So Issei pokes Hanamaki in the chest with a drumstick and flicks the tip of his nose when he looks up.

“Oh I like that. We should get that printed on cards. Hanamaki and Matsukawa: Fuck Up Extraordinaires.”

Hanamaki grins and that’s it. Issei is a goner. He might as well have just signed his soul away to the devil. He grins back at Hanamaki.

“I don’t know,” Hanamaki muses. “Matsukawa and Hanamaki: Fuck Up Extraordinaires sounds pretty good too.”

“We’ll get both.”

“They’re bonding already,” Nanase says from the couch. “This is either going to turn out brilliantly or we’ll all need therapy.”

“You say that like we don’t all already need therapy,” Oikawa replies. “Well then.” He gestures towards a guitar leaning against the wall and gives Nanase a pointed look. “Let’s see what the four of you can do.”

“Issei?”

He looks up from the book in his lap at the sound of his name. His roommate is standing in the doorway shifting his weight from one foot to the other like a worried child. He’s even biting at his lower lip as he does it. It’s endearing. And a little irritating.

“Lev.”

“Um. Are you done being mad at me about the whole job thing?”

“I mean. You did get me fired from one of the best paying and most stable jobs I’ve ever had.” He glances down at his book and turns the page slowly. Just because he isn’t really all that mad at Lev anymore doesn’t mean he can’t be dramatic about it. He sighs deeply and watches Lev out of the corner of his eye. Then he groans. Had he known when he agreed to live with the guy that Lev could be the human embodiment of the sad face emoji he might have looked a little harder for a roommate. “Not like that’s saying much. None of my jobs have been the greatest, Lev. We’re good.”

Lev immediately brightens and rushes over to flop onto the couch next to Issei.

“So you got the spot? You’re the new drummer?”

“So far.”

The tryout, or whatever it had been, had gone smoothly. They didn’t practice anything super complex as a band or anything like that but he got the chance to show off his skills solo and then Nanase and Hanamaki had each taken a turn doing a little freestyle session with him while Iwaizumi and Oikawa listened and nodded approvingly. Then there had been that little stretch of heaven where he and Hanamaki had synced up perfectly without even trying and Nanase had slipped right into place a moment later and it had felt like they had been playing together since the beginning of time. It had been pretty fucking perfect actually.

“So like do you get to play with them somewhere? A gig at a club or something I can come watch you at?”

“There will be a lot of practices before any gigs I’m sure. I’m good, Lev, but I’m not a musical genius,” he adds when he spots Lev’s pout coming back. “When we get to the point where there will be a gig you’ll be the first person I tell. I promise.”

Lev makes some sort of happy noise and wiggles excitedly; he really is some weird kitten/puppy hybrid and Issei makes a mental note to tell Seijuurou he was right. Sei will be ecstatic. He loves being right. “I can’t wait to someday tell people that I know people in a band.”

It’s three hours later as Issei is getting ready for bed that he registers the fact that Lev had said ‘people’ in a band and not ‘a person’ in a band. Foreboding curls in his stomach.

This… this might be interesting.

“So. Matsukawa.”

“So. Iwaizumi.”

Iwaizumi snorts quietly and rolls his eyes. “So you think you wanna do this thing? Officially be one of us and all that?”

“You mean I’m not already? Oikawa talks to me like he’s known me since I was a child or something.”

“Well Oikawa kind of treats everyone like he’s known them since they were a child. Or like he’s a child.”

“Yeah and Hanamaki wants to stick his tongue down your throat,” Nanase butts in, like he always seems to do. “Doesn’t technically mean you’re one of us yet.”

“Damn Nanase. And here I thought you and I were BFFLs and all that. We bonded over… you know… stuff.”

“Okay focus.” Issei grins wolfishly at Iwaizumi and looks at him with dramatically wide eyes. All the better to hear him with and all that. “I need to know if you want in for sure. Because if you do then we need to introduce you to our managers.”

“Well I’m in if you’ll take me.”

The door to the building slams open on cue and gleeful laughter fills the room. “Good,” Iwaizumi says. “Because Hazuki and Matsuoka are here to meet you.”

“Have fun with that,” Nanase mutters. He pulls his headphones on and wanders over to the couch, skillfully evading the blond ball of energy that launches itself at him.

“Aw Haru-chan,” the blond whines as he tries to climb onto Nanase’s lap while Nanase pushes him away. “Why are you so mean?”

“Matsukawa,” Iwaizumi says, “meet Hazuki Nagisa. One of our managers.” The blond glances over his shoulder and grins at Issei. Then he immediately turns back to Nanase and starts talking to him excitedly, arms gesturing wildly, even though Nanase is ignoring him. Someone clears their throat beside him. “And this is Matsuoka Kou.”

“I’m the manager who actually gets stuff done.”

Issei turns to face Matsuoka and gives her a polite bow, along with his full attention. Good manners had been trained into him from a young age after all. “Nice to meet you,” he says as politely as possible. “It will be a pleasure to work with you.”

Matsuoka makes a pleasantly surprised noise and nods approvingly. “Punctual. Polite. I like this one.”

“A fuck up I may be but I’m a fuck up with good manners.” His mother had always told him that. Or something like that. Something about how even if you fuck up tremendously, as long as you’re a polite person they can’t completely ruin your character. And a person’s character was one of their most important possessions. Or something. His mother hadn’t always been the most coherent person at times. But she had made sure he had manners and knew used proper grammar and could catch a marshmallow in his mouth no matter how far up it had been thrown.

“So,” Hazuki pops up into his vision. “You’re serious about this? You wanna join the gloriousness that is NTOE?”

“Well. It’s not like I have anything else to be doing with my life right now. And I always did kind of want to be in a band.”

"Band Bonding," Hanamaki says with a smirk that totally does not make Issei weak in the knees. Except that it does.

"Not to be confused with Band Bondage. That's an entirely different level of friendship," Nanase delivers in the deadpan way Issei has come to thoroughly appreciate in the last couple months.

"You kidnapped me on my way to the grocery store for bonding time?"

"Were you low on toilet paper? Cause the last time Oikawa got kidnapped on the way to the grocery store he forgot to buy toilet paper when he was finally free and I wound up on the toilet very unhappy with him the next day." And there’s Iwaizumi's odd brand of humor. Which isn't really all that odd except Iwaizumi is like 26 and has that serious face that could belong to a 50 year old business man and he’s more likely to use potty humor than anyone else in the band.

“I feel like this has so much potential for disaster,” Issei mutters. To himself apparently because the other three ignore him and continue leading him down the block. Past the grocery store. Past the music store. Past everything until they reached a bus stop. “Okay but seriously if this thing is gonna make me more than an hour late I need to let my roommate know cause I’m supposed to meet him and his sister for food this afternoon.”

“Invite them with.” Everyone stops and stares at Nanase who looked confused. And a little bit betrayed like he hadn’t meant to say the words but his brain and mouth had done it anyway. “Why did I say that?”

“Aw Nanase. We truly are BFFLs.” Nanase looks ill at the statement and Issei laughs.

“I have enough BFFLs thanks.”

“I mean. I’d like to meet the roommate.” Hanamaki shrugs when they all glance at him. “Matsukawa talks about him a lot. So if he’s staying in the band we’re probably gonna see a lot of him anyway.”

They all look at Iwaizumi. Who groans. He doesn’t really seem to like being the leader but had told Issei on more than one occasion that letting anyone else be the group leader had wound up in horrible disasters that he usually got the worst of. So it’s kind of self-preservation for him to just take the lead.

“Invite him if you want. Cause yeah. We’re kidnapping you for the rest of the day.” Iwaizumi slaps him on the shoulder as the bus pulled up to the curb.

“I feel like this is your fault.” Issei looks up at Haru’s voice. Lev is in the corner gesturing excitedly at something he’s telling Oikawa.

“What is?”

“Him,” Haru grumbles. “Your roommate.”

“Hey you told me to invite him.”

“It wasn’t intentional and even if it was I didn’t realize at the time that he would be so…” His voice drops off as Lev laughs loudly.

“So much?” Issei supplies when Haru doesn’t seem interested in continuing his thought. “Yeah. Lev is something else. But he’s loyal - almost to a fault sometimes - and in my experience his kind of loyal is hard to come by.” He shrugs when he notices Haru’s unimpressed expression. “He’s good people. He’ll grow on you.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Haru mutters.

Issei watches him shuffle off to the corner where his guitar is propped up. He’s not sure if he’s ever going to understand Haru. The guy is all sorts of contradictions. He claims he’s not all that into the whole music thing yet when he plays Issei swears he can see Haru’s eyes light up like the world is being handed to him on a platter. He says he’s not a people person yet he’s always drawing Issei into conversations. Haru glances over and frowns at him; he’s got the whole aloof artist thing down that’s for sure. But whatever. It’s not like Lev is being that big of a distraction to anyone but Oikawa at the moment and, honestly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Oikawa can bring a practice to a violent stop that refuses to start again until his final tiniest whim is met. But he has an ear for the details and as irritating as he can be Issei’s pretty sure NTOE is lucky to have him.

He settles behind his drums and twirls his sticks a few times, staring back at Haru until Haru huffs at him and turns away. Issei looks down at his hands. It still hasn’t really hit him that he’s part of this all. That he’s part of NTOE. That NTOE isn’t some foreign entity that he only knows from a few club performances and whatever online presence he notices. It’s actually pretty awesome.

Haru lets out a disgusted noise and Issei feels something small bounce off his shoulder. It doesn’t deter him in the slightest. Makki huffs out a laugh against his lips and, honestly, Issei feels like he never wants to leave. Issei nips gently at Makki’s bottom lip.

“Just, ugh,” Haru groans. “Seriously we’re supposed to be rehearsing.”

Issei ignores him. Makki is a great kisser and nothing Haru does is going to stop them. Another small object hits his shoulder again followed immediately by one landing in his hair. Makki plucks it out and glances at it, laughing against Issei’s lips.

“A guitar pick? How fitting,” he says over Issei’s shoulder. Then he goes right back to kissing Issei again. Issei’s so lucky. First he got to join NTOE. Now he gets to make out with Makki pretty much whenever he wants.

The door from the main room to the rehearsal room opens and Issei vaguely hears Kou’s voice.

“Oh I’m glad to see you’re putting my bargain purchase to good use,” she says as Issei feels yet another guitar pick bounce off of him. “5000 picks for the price of 500!”

“The manufacturer was going out of business,” Iwaizumi says from his spot next to Haru. Issei’s pretty sure Iwaizumi is holding the bucket of picks for Haru. Honestly he’s waiting for Haru to just start flinging handfuls of picks at them all at once. Or just upending the bucket over their head.

“Exactly! Bargain!” Kou sweeps into the room fully, door slamming shut behind her. “I knew you’d find a use for them!”

“I found them in the back of your closet,” Iwaizumi replies.

“Oh so you found your way out of the closet then? Congratulations.”

“Kou.” Issei is sure that if he pulled himself away from Makki he would see Iwaizumi’s shit-eating grin in place. “I was never in the closet. You know this. I know this. People I’ve never even met know this.”

“Either way you found them!”

Issei still isn’t sure if Iwaizumi and Kou are flirting. He may never be sure if they are. He could walk in on them making out and still probably not be sure if they’re actually flirting. He mentally shrugs and goes back to kissing Makki. It’s a better use of his time than trying to figure out his new friends’ relationship statuses.

Oikawa finally comes back out of the bathroom. “Iwa-chan,” he whines, “I just found a guitar pick in my underwear.”

“Ugh,” Iwaizumi groans, “I never, under any circumstances, need to know what goes on in your underwear.”

“I second that,” Haru adds. A moment later Issei feels the collar of his shirt yanked away from his neck as dozens of guitar picks are dumped down his shirt.

It still doesn’t stop him from making out with Makki.

Issei watches Haru standing next to him. The guy is practically radiating tension. Stiff as a board somehow despite his slouch. Haru’s fingers run along his guitar idly as he glares across the room. “Somehow this is your fault,” he says to Hazuki.

Hazuki’s face is an adorable scrunch of confusion. That’s what gets you, Issei had found out the hard way. He looks so sweet and innocent and bubbly. It hides the devious whirling machinations of his devious little mind. Kou at least looks devious enough to start with when she eyes you like a top tier prize at a carnival. There’s no surprise, no sense of world warping betrayal when she reveals her master plan and how you so easily walked right into it.

“What are you talking about?” Hazuki asks. “And how is it my fault?”

Haru points across the room and Issei looks over to see Lev flopped on the couch. He’s actually being perfectly polite and quiet today. Which might have something to so with Issei promising to get him into their show for free next week so long as he behaves. With the way he acts normally Issei never would have expected that seeing Lev fairly calm and collected would set Haru on edge so badly. But if this is all it takes to freak Haru out then maybe Issei needs to get Lev to behave more often.

“I don’t know how it’s your fault. But it is. It’s a disaster and you need to fix it. For the sake of peace in the band.”

Hazuki glances at Issei in confusion but Issei just shrugs. Hazuki has known Haru longer than Issei has so he should know how Haru is by now.

“Okay. I don’t exactly know what you want me to do but I’ll do something I suppose.”

“Good. Fix it.”

There’s no way that’s gonna come back and bite Haru in the ass. But Issei kindly refrains from saying as much; Haru has already kicked him in the shin once today after all.

There never has and never will be anything quite like the rush of being on stage. The hum of the crowd, the sharp bite of the lights, the buzz of energy snapping between them all. Honestly Issei’s sometimes a little surprised not to see actual sparks arcing from Hajime’s lips to the microphone or from Haru and Takahiro’s fingers and their guitars. To not see the jolts of electricity with each snap of his sticks against his drums.

They play through two encores and seriously consider staying for a third. But Kou’s standing at the edge of their vision, hands on hips and expression promising pain if they don’t get their asses off the stage right now, so they make their final bows and slip off the stage. The quiet that rushes over them after the door to the stage shuts tries to damper their spirits, to yank away that thrill they just felt. But they cling to it, and each other, refusing to let go. Hajime’s got his arm thrown around Haru’s shoulder and his fingers twitch against Haru’s bared skin. Haru doesn’t look like he wants to yank Hajime’s arm off for touching him so Issei figures he must be riding his own high. Issei and Takahiro are following them down the hall with their arms wrapped around each other’s waist. It’s damn near perfect.

It’s everything he never realized he wanted in life right at that moment. His grin dims just a smidge, he can feel it, as the thought tumbles into his mind that he’s only missing one thing right now. Laughter fills the hallway and he stumbles a little. It’s got to just be his mind playing tricks on him and he shakes his head with a dumb smile when Takahiro glances at him in confusion. No way it’s anything else.

They round the corner at the end of the hallway towards their tiny, sad excuse for a dressing room and Issei freezes for a moment. Just a moment but it’s long enough for two of the people lounging against the wall near the dressing room door to turn and spot him.

“Issei!” Momo and Sei cry out in unison. Mere seconds later he’s being crushed in a Mikoshiba hug that he honestly never thought he’d feel again.

“You’re alive,” Momo is practically sobbing, rubbing his snotty nose on Issei’s shoulder.

“You vanish into thin air. You don’t write. You don’t call. And now you’re in a band? You deviant you.” Sei tangles his fingers in Issei’s sweaty hair and playfully tugs at it. “I’ve missed you kid.”

His face is red. From embarrassment, shock, exertion from the show or all of them at once, he’s not sure. But he falls into the dressing room with a grin splitting his face and Takahiro slipping back against his side as soon as Sei and Momo release him. The tiny room is far too warm as introductions are being made but there’s no place he’d rather be in this moment. Not even home alone with Takahiro pressing him against his bedroom door doing wonderfully wicked things with his mouth. That’s how perfect this moment is now.

“So,” Sei asks the next morning when Issei wanders into the living room still half asleep. Sei sits up and nods to the spot next to him on the couch. Issei could probably make it to the bathroom and lock it before Sei could catch him and make him talk. But that sounds like far too much effort this early in the day. Especially after the night he had.

“So,” Issei replies as he sits down. He eyes his best friend warily. Are they even still best friends? It’s been nearly three years since they’ve talked and at least another two since they’ve seen each other face to face. It’s been amazing to see Sei and Momo but are they going to turn around and tell his family where he is? Is he going to have to uproot himself right as he’s finally settling into a good thing? Is he going to have to give up Takahiro and Lev and everything he has here?

“For crying out loud stop thinking so much,” Sei finally gripes. He reaches out and flicks Issei in the forehead. “I’m not going to tattle on you. If I was I would have done it three months ago when Nagisa told me the name of the newest member of NTOE.” Issei exhales slowly. Of course Sei wasn’t going to rat him out. Sei growls at him. “I can’t believe you even thought that.”

“Well the last person who found out didn’t exactly take it well.”

“Yeah, well, Emi was conniving bitch,” Sei says so matter of factly that Issei snorts. “What about Lev?”

“What about Lev?”

“You’ve at least told him, right? He’s gotta be the closest thing you have to a best friend these days. I mean he can’t compare to me but, really, who can?”

Issei snorts again. Then he falls onto his side so his head is in Sei’s lap. “You are hard to beat,” he admits. “And no I haven’t told Lev,” he adds softly. “But I’m sure he’s figured some of it out. He was here for the end of Emi’s reign over my heart.”

“I’m, uh, not sure your heart is what she was controlling,” Lev says from the doorway. “She had a grip a little lower I think.” Issei can feel his face flushing in embarrassment. He’s not sure what exactly he’s embarrassed by though. “But I have to say as nasty as she was in the end I still liked her better than Fuyuko.” His voice drops to a shuddery whisper on the name and an answering shudder rolls through Issei’s body.

She-who-must-not-be-named-around-polite-company. Now that was a mistake Issei would happily spend the rest of his life forgetting. But he has Takahiro now. So whatever.

“Wait,” Issei says suddenly. “Nagisa told you about me months ago? How do you know him?”

“He’s a cousin,” Momo pipes in. A moment later he’s scrambling over the arm of the couch to flop onto Issei. Who allows it because it’s Momo and he’s always had a soft spot for Momo. He’s less happy when, a moment after that, Momo reaches up and drags Lev into the mix as well. This couch was not built to fit four muscly, long limbed adults in this way. But they make it work somehow.

“A cousin,” Issei eventually manages to grit out.

“Yep,” Sei answers. “On mother’s side. So I would have heard your name eventually, I’m sure. Even if I wasn’t the one with about eighty percent of the ownership of the band.”

Takahiro curls closer to him and kisses his cheek a few times just to make Issei laugh. Which he does. Because Takahiro is adorable and it tickles when he does that. They’re supposed to be rehearsing. And really Issei had every intention of rehearsing when he got here. But Takahiro is just so fucking attractive and Issei is still a little caught up in the fact he can kiss Takahiro any time he wants to that he just got a little carried away. And it’s not like any of the others have tried to stop them today.

Granted Lev and Momo are curled up on the couch making out enthusiastically so it’s not like they’re even paying attention to what Issei and Takahiro are doing. But Haru and Hajime are not making out with anyone so they should be yelling or throwing things or spraying Issei and Takahiro with water guns or something. It’s almost a little alarming and Issei tilts away from Takahiro so he can see what’s happening.

They’re just talking. Though Haru does seem to be a bit aggravated and he’s gesturing towards Momo and Lev a lot as he leans close to Hajime and hisses something at him. At least Issei assumes he’s hissing it. His eyes are doing the glaring squinty thing they do when he hisses at people. The irritated gestures and hissing continue but Issei turns his full attention back to Takahiro and Takahiro’s amazing lips. At least until the door swings open and Nagisa comes bounding into the room with Sei and Kou in tow. He only pulls away then because he can hear Kou’s voice and Kou showing up here means Serious Business is about to happen.

She still scares him a little. And he’s pretty sure she knows it and approves.

Haru, however, appears to have no fear of death because he stalks across the room, ignoring whatever Kou is trying to say, and herds Nagisa into the corner near Issei and Takahiro.

“What’s up, Haru-chan?” Nagisa asks sweetly.

“You’re not gonna ‘Haru-chan’ your way out of this one. You were supposed to make it better, Nagisa.”

Issei has no idea what Haru is talking about and a glance and Takahiro shows he doesn’t know either. Nagisa, however, seems to know exactly what is happening. Because he just tilts his head and grins.

“Oh Haru-chan.” His voice is frighteningly and deceptively sweet as he blinks innocently up at Haru. Issei feels a chill go down his spine; surely Nagisa was some sort of soul collector in a different life or universe. “Haru-chan, Momo comes with a brother.”

Issei’s eyes dart over to Sei, who is watching Nagisa and Haru with amusement dancing in his eyes, and then back. Oh shit. He never thought of that. Takahiro snorts against Issei’s cheek, clearly reaching the same conclusion.

“Yeah Haru-chan,” Oikawa’s voice startles Issei a little bit. He had actually forgotten that Oikawa was here. He’d been tucked away with his laptop open and headphones on listening to their latest recordings so intently that he had basically become part of the background. But now he leans against Haru’s back and eyes Sei like a piece of his precious melon bread. “Momo comes with a brother.”

Haru groans. “Fuck why is Oikawa here? Who brought him? Why does he have to breathe?”

Haru is on a rampage. Issei has no idea what is going on. Yesterday Haru was sprawled across the very same couch Issei is on today tossing music puns and innuendos back and forth with Issei like a baseball, relaxed as could be, and today he’s stomping around the room practically hissing at everything and everyone in sight. Seriously Issei is pretty sure he just saw Haru growl at the plant in the corner. Then again maybe the plant had it coming. Maybe it insulted Haru’s sister.

Huh. Does Haru even have a sister? Issei tilts his head as he watches Haru pace around the room. Nine months into being a full fledged member of NTOE and he honestly doesn’t know a lot of personal details about his bandmates. Even Takahiro. Which is kind of sad when he thinks about it because he spends a lot of time with Takahiro and not all of it making out. They really do spend a decent amount of time just laying around and talking about stuff. But nothing too personal and Issei has to wonder if that’s his fault. Takahiro had just rolled with the fact that Sei and Issei knew each other, that they had been best friends in childhood. But he’s never pressed for anything. Even though there is no way he doesn’t know that Sei is from a wealthy family. Since Sei practically owns the band and all that. So about the only way for them to have been childhood BFFs was for Issei to be from a wealthy family too. Unless he thinks Issei was a servant’s son or something.

Shit. He doesn’t even know if Takahiro has any siblings. He doesn’t think he does. But he can’t remember ever talking about it.

Shit fuck damn. Why does Haru have to be in a shit mood and make Issei think about things?

Haru kicks something and sullenly watches it roll across the floor in Issei’s direction.

“Did my drumstick do something to offend you?”

Haru’s glare is something fierce and for a moment Issei actually starts to go through what he knows he’s done and said around Haru the last week because holy shit maybe he did do something. Then Haru deflates with a sigh and collapses onto the floor next to the couch.

“You’ve, uh, known Mikoshiba awhile right?”

And now the questions about his past start. Issei mentally shakes out his thoughts and nods. He’s ready for whatever Haru asks. He’s already decided that he’s not going to keep anything from his bands, from his friends.

“Yeah since we were kids.”

“He seems really, uh, cheerful.” Haru sounds like he’s feeling out his words, picking them carefully. For a moment Issei is trying to figure out his angle, figure out what part of his past Haru is trying to dig into. The last time someone pried into his past using the Mikoshiba’s as a crowbar had ended… messily for all parties involved.

He glances down at Haru and his eyes widen. Haru is kind of scrunched into his hoodie with his face set in a scowl and his fingers drumming a nervous looking beat against his knees. The suspicion in his mind clears in an instant and he grins.

“You like him,” he whispers gleefully. Oh this is so much better than digging up his past. Haru flushes and Issei can’t help but stare. He doesn’t think he’s ever actually seen Haru flustered by anything. “You like him a lot.”

Haru opens his mouth to respond but the door opens and he snaps his mouth shut when he spots Hajime and Oikawa coming in. He hops to his feet and stomps across the room to snag Hajime’s elbow and nearly drag him right back out of the room. Oikawa and Issei stare at the door for a moment after they leave and then Oikawa shrugs and comes to sit on the arm of the couch near Issei’s head.

“So Matsukawa.”

“Oikawa.”

“You’ve known Mikoshiba for awhile.” His voice drifts off like it’s a question and it takes Issei a moment to recover at the deja vu washing over him. His recovery turns into him suddenly laughing so hard he rolls off the couch with tears in his eyes while Oikawa looks on in confusion.

“Oh this is so much better than I could ever have imagined,” he says by way of explanation when he finally stops giggling enough to catch his breath. “This is gonna be so hilarious to watch.”

He had been right. It had been hilarious. It was still kind of hilarious. But it had also been over two months since Sei and Momo had been introduced to the group. Over two months of watching Haru glare at Lev and Momo. Over two months of Tooru’s constant presence around the band. Over two months of listening to Haru and Tooru’s scathing banter. It’s kind of getting to the point where Issei just wants them to kiss each other or kill each other. Whichever gets them to chill out faster.

Hiro takes his hand as they leave his apartment for the short walk to the studio. Issei is blessed. He really really is.

“Question,” Hiro says, swinging their hands a little.

“Shoot.”

“What would you have done if I had been as in denial of liking you that Haru seems to be about Miksohiba?”

“Cried. A lot. It would have been gross.” Hiro laughs at him and fuck the things he’d do to be surrounded by that laugh forever. “No seriously. Ask Lev. He’s seen me. It’s disgusting. All snotty and blotchy. In one of my less proud moments I once used one of his socks to blow my nose. Thank heavens it was clean.” Hiro is shaking, nearly doubled over in his laughter, and he pulls away from Issei only to prop himself up against the wall of the studio.

Issei grins. He grins a lot around Hiro. It’s a good thing.

When Hiro calms enough to straighten Issei grabs his hand and drags him inside.

Where Haru is staring Lev down. Which is impressive given how much taller than Haru Lev is.

“You did this,” Haru insists. “You sent this to us. This is all your doing!”

“But,” Lev protests. “But I thought I was doing a good thing? I found the ad and now Issei has a job and you have a drummer?”

“You ruined a perfectly good lead singer is what you did. Look at him. He’s got anxiety!” Haru jabs his finger towards the back of the room where Hajime is leaning against the wall nearly hyperventilating.

“What’s going on?” Lev looks so relieved to see them that Issei almost feels guilty for being late because he was too wrapped up in making out with Hiro to notice the time. Almost. Haru’s glare turns to him and Lev scurries over to hide behind him.

“You,” Haru hisses. The venom in his voice actually makes Issei take half a step back and bump into Lev. “It’s as much your fault as his.” Hiro squeezes Issei’s hand and then hurries over to Hajime’s side. Issei can make out his soothing voice but he doesn’t dare look away from Haru.

“What’s going on?” he asks again.

“This entire thing is a disaster and it’s all your fault.”

“What is a disaster? What are you talking about?”

“This.” Haru grabs a piece of paper off the nearby counter and shoves it against Issei’s chest.

It’s a letter of apology retracting their invitation to perform at their gig next week and at first Issei doesn’t get it. There have been other occasions where the club or venue have pulled their spot. Too many sets booked or not enough interest for that night. It happens. Then he reads a little further. His fingers go cold as the words nearly halfway down the page finally sink in.


…and it has come to our attention that one Matsukawa Issei is a part of your band and as such in the terms laid out with the Matsukawa family Matsukawa Issei is prohibited from performing in our club. You will also find a list enclosed of facilities that have similar agreements with the Matsukawa family.

Issei doesn’t have to look to know that it’s most of, if not all of, the clubs in a reasonable distance from their home base. He has to remind himself that clenching his jaw and grinding his teeth won’t do anything and he forces himself to relax. He wants to lash out, wants to tear the paper into shreds, wants to beat something up. Before he can do any of that he folds the paper up and sets it back on the counter and marches himself out of the building. Before the door even closes behind him he’s got his phone out and is calling Kou. Maybe if he throws himself at her feet and begs for mercy she’ll forgive him.

Kou’s entire stance radiates just how unimpressed she is with him right now.

“Please. Just. Even if I have to leave NTOE just tell me you can fix it somehow.”

“Even if you have to leave?”

“I would rather see them be able to perform with a different drummer than to be banned just because my family has suddenly decided to care about what I do. Please,” he repeats because, honestly, he can’t say it enough right now. “You’re basically my only hope.”

“Have you considered talking to your family?”

“I would rather you just kill me and bury me in a remote unmarked forest grave.”

Kou snorts. “I mean I’m sure that could be arranged if you really wanted me to.” She sighs, humor gone as she reads over the paper in her hands once again. “But I was thinking something more along the line of letting a friend of mine read through this. He’s got a great mind for stuff like this. If you don’t mind more people knowing about your connection to these particular Matsukawa’s.”

“If it can get this stupid ban lifted then I will tell them anything they think they need to know.”

Kou smiles at him. “Good. I’ll set up a meeting with Akashi. Don’t worry Issei. We’ll get this sorted out one way or another.”


It feels like it takes forever. This is why Issei hates his family. They don’t even care in the end. They just don’t like the idea that he’s out here living his life and they can’t control him. But in their eyes if he’s using the Matsukawa name in this part of the world he needs to be living like a Matsukawa and acting like a Matsukawa and all that entails.

It’s the Matuskawa name that’s important and once Issei brings him all the documents that he can get his hands on Akashi quickly finds just the loophole he needs to be out from their shadows once and for all: he needs to give up all claims to the Matsukawa name and be adopted into a new family. Akashi’s frankly terrifying and intense gaze drill into him the seriousness of the situation. But it’s a pretty easy decision in the end. It’s not like he’s really been part of the family for years.

The hardest part, other than not really being able to see Hiro or the rest of the band and his friends, is figuring out who he can get to adopt him into their family. At least until Lev and Sei and Momo shove their way into one of his meetings with Akashi and Lev drops a handful of papers into Issei’s lap.

“Seiko already filled out all the paperwork since she’s the eldest and basically the head of the family. Haiba Issei sounds a little weird but it’s yours if you want it.”

Akashi plucks the papers from Issei’s lap and skims through them.

“We wanted to adopt you,” Momo butts in before Issei can say anything at all, “but we figured our families are too close and there’s no doubt already a three story pile of paperwork and rules and legal bullshit to wade through between the Matsukawa’s and the Mikoshiba’s.”

“It seems that everything is in order here. I would just have to draw you up the papers to renounce your claim on the Matsukawa name and the ones to change your family name to Haiba.”

Issei looks around at his friends. He can barely believe that this is happening. He can barely believe that this is where his life is now. He can barely believe that he’s even hesitating in the slightest considering he hasn’t seen Hiro in two weeks and feels a little like he’s dying without NTOE bickering around him.

“That’s it? It’s that easy?”

“It’s only this easy because I owe Matsuoka a favor and I like her to begin with. If it were anyone else this solution would be much more painful I’m sure.” Issei isn’t entirely sure if Akashi is joking or not. He can’t really read the lawyer and his sense of humor. “But if you wish it I will start getting the papers in order. It could be all taken care of within nine days if you wish.”

It actually only takes five days. Issei’s not sure if Akashi is just that good to begin with or if his intense glare just made things move faster or what. But he’s not complaining. Not one bit. He looks down at his new ID with an odd sense of wonder dancing through his gut. He wasn’t Matsukawa Issei anymore. He was Haiba Issei. And yeah Lev was right. It sounds so weird. But he’ll get used to it.

Now he just has to go and apologize to everyone for causing such a disastrous pothole in their road and hope they forgive him.

It’s the only time since he discovered where the home base was that he actually regrets that he lives so close. It takes him mere minutes to get there and before he’s ready he’s looking up at the nondescript door and taking deep breaths. He finally pushes open the door when someone walks past him and looks at him suspiciously for the third time in as many minutes.

The first thing he notices is that it smells like home and his shoulders immediately start to sink into their normal slouch.

The next thing he notices is Hajime, Tooru, and Haru standing near the door to the back room.

The thing that really makes it sink in that he’s back is Hajime’s voice filling the room while Tooru snickers at something.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you two were one comment away from fucking each other’s brains out.”

Haru lets out a disgusted noise. “Ew. Fuck you, Hajime. I have standards.”

Hajime snorts. “I didn’t realize your preference for muscled jocks was a standard, Haru.”


“I didn’t think you had standards Haru-chan. I figured you just rolled over for whoever waggled their fingers at you.”

“If I did you still wouldn’t get me to do jack shit.”

Hajime rubs his forehead, no doubt already regretting that he even started this conversation at all. Issei just stands near the door and takes it all in. Fuck he’s missed these idiots.

“Tooru,” Hajime says, almost whines actually and that makes Issei snort. Thankfully they don’t hear him under the sound of the door to the back room opening and Nagisa and Kou coming out of it. “Why can’t you two just have sex so I don’t have to suffer through your weird little mating ritual any longer?”

“Ew. Iwa-chan. That’s just wrong. It would be like me having sex with you. That’s just wrong.”

“Who’s having sex with Hajime?” Nagisa pipes up, eyed glancing over Hajime’s body and nearly devouring him. Well then. That’s something Issei never noticed before.

“No one. That’s the tragedy,” Tooru says breezily. “You want to turn this tragedy into a story of hope?”

“Oikawa,” Hajime bites out as he jabs a finger at Tooru’s chest. “Do not encourage him. Hazuki,” he snaps before Nagisa can even open his mouth, “do not encourage him. Just. Both of you stop talking to each other.”

“But then how do we do our jobs Iwa-chan?” Tooru coos at Hajime.

“And how do we get you laid?” Nagisa asks innocently.

Hajime looks like he’s ready to bust a blood vessel and Issei is about to step forward to at least draw their attention when Hiro is suddenly blocking his way.

“Hey there,” Hiro says softly.

“Hey yourself.”

“Can I help you with something?” For a moment Issei almost panics. Has he really fucked this all up? Is it too late?

He almost turns tail and bolts out before the others take notice of him. But then he sees the glimmer of mischief in Hiro’s eyes.

“I’m here to respond to an ad I saw a while back,” he says instead of any of the other stuff crowding around in his head.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Haiba Issei. Fuck up drummer. Hope the spot’s still available.”

“Are you a fuck up? Or a Fuck Up Extraordinaire? We only take the best here.” Hiro leans a little closer and Issei reaches out to snag the pocket of his hoodie and tug him close.

“Oh I am one of the best fuck ups you’ll ever meet.” Hiro leans in and kisses him and forget what he thought a moment ago: this is home.

“One of the best kissers too,” Hiro mutters against his lips. “Welcome to the band Haiba Issei.”