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It's half a joke. Or maybe even more than that, closer to 75% of it is a joke. Not intended to be taken seriously just like most things that come out of Moca's mouth. But at the same time when she says it there's some small nugget of sincerity inside. "Wanna join my emo band?" 


Chisato stares at her with some amusement. "And what emo band is this?"


Moca's bedroom is cozy and a little overly warm, but that hasn't stopped the two of them from inching closer and closer as they silently go about their work on the floor. It's become something of a routine. Once a week or so, Moca will hang out a reasonable distance from the agency's building--usually at a park nearby--and Chisato will come find her, and then without a word they'll come back to her house together. Moca's still holding out hope that someday Chisato will switch it up and take Moca to her own room instead. But it'd be weird to ask.


Moca lets herself lean back until gravity takes hold and plops her down onto her bed, silver hair splaying over the covers as she stares down her nose at where Chisato sits cross-legged and prim on the floor. "Afterglow. We're on the prowl for a pretty little bassist and I seem to recall you being all of those things."


"You have Himari-chan, don't you?" Chisato replies, "Or are you planning a coup against your leader? From our interactions thus far I didn't take you for the assertive type."


"Hii-chan has sadly fallen in the line of battle," Moca says despondently with her hands on her chest. "A long fight it was against her dreaded opponent--the common cold did her in. Boo hoo hoo..." She reaches up to wipe away play-acted tears as she sniffles. "She's in Babanbo-sama's hands now. And Afterglow is out a bassist for our next gig."


"Ah, I see." Chisato's gaze narrows a bit, then turns away to stare at the wall to her left. "Well, tell her I'm hoping for a speedy recovery."


"Will do~. Gonna write it down right now." Moca takes out an imaginary pen and sheet of paper, holding them like a beat reporter. "Dear Hii-chan, I've heard of your dread illness and wept for three days and nights at the thought of it. You must recover immediately--or poor Moca will be heartbroken! Signed, Moca's--" She taps the air pencil against her lips as Chisato watches her, looking both amused and tired. "Moca's Chisato."


"What a title to bear."


"And you wear it so well!" Moca croons. Chisato rolls her eyes, but Moca's pretty sure she can hear the faintest hint of a laugh slip out. It's funny how such a small thing can send a bolt of electricity right through her chest.


Chisato leans forward and puts her chin in her hands as she stares at Moca. "When's the show? Or gig, I suppose."


"Next week. The 12th, at Galaxy. It's a late one," Moca replies lazily, "so we're gonna try and go all out. Wake em' up, you know? We are a rock band. Even if most of our songs these days are just about manga or loving our friends." She sits up straight to leer at Chisato while making air guitar motions. "Hey baby, wanna be a rock star with me?"


"I see." Chisato pulls out her phone and scrolls through it, checking something. She looks up with a smile. "You said the 12th? I've got an appointment, but it's early in the morning so that should be fine."


"Yeah, the 12th." Moca blinks. "Wait, what--"


Chisato's already packing up her books and her laptop, neatly fitting them into a carrying bag. She tosses the strap over her shoulder and stands before giving Moca a smile along with a polite wave. "I'll see you then. And I'll bring my own bass."


Before Moca can respond she's out the door.


...


She opens the Afterglow group chat and sends out a quick message before her brain malfunctions and sends her flopping back onto the bed. It's left on the screen as the arm holding her phone lies limp on the mattress. heyo your industrious mocachan got us a temp bassist =3=


Moca stares up at the roof for a good three minutes of silence. Then--buzz. Buzz. Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz. Buzz. Her phone sounds like it's full of bees. And then the ringtone starts up as it vibrates in her hand. Her guitar sounds tinny and distorted through the speakers, half-muffled by the bed. Red, red, red... Now it's all re--


She picks up. "Yo, what's up?"


"What do you mean you got us a temp bassist?" Ran demands. In the background Moca can hear a steady stream of noise, it sounds like she's outside somewhere. "I'm literally--I am standing outside Galaxy right now, Moca, should I be cancelling the show or not?"


"Cancel the show? And make our Hii-chan cry? She said we should try to go on without her, didn't she?" Moca tuts. "We've got to honor our fallen comrade's wishes."


"Who did you dredge up to play with us? I swear, if it's Rimi-san I'm walking in and cancelling right now, that girl is way too sweet and gentle to be at this and you know she'd never say no--"


"Nope. Somebody else."


"Who did you prod into agreeing to it, then?"


Moca lies back onto the bed and licks her lips before slowly answering the question. "You know Pastel*Palettes, right?"


"..."


"..."


"You are lying to me."


"Moca-chan can never tell a lie." She slaps a hand over her heart and closes her eyes for dramatic effect even though Ran can't see her.


"...Shirasagi-san actually agreed to play with us? Us. She knows what kind of music we play, right? That's--no, there's no way. She's too... composed. She can't play our stuff."


"I dunno, she can be kinda wild sometimes," Moca says as a joke, but regrets it as soon as it leaves her lips. She's glad she's alone right now because her cheeks are starting to tingle at the implications. They haven't even kissed yet. ...Yet? She's making assumptions again. Stop that.


Ran's exhausted voice knocks her out of her thoughts. "Don't ever tell me that again."


"Loud and clear."


"...God. I mean, if she's actually coming then I guess we don't need to cancel, but we'll have to send her some of our stuff so she can get some practice in. I don't have her number." Ran pauses. It sounds like she stopped walking. "Shirasagi-san. Damn. We're definitely gonna have to tone it down a bit, right...?"


Moca's about to reply when her phone buzzes again, right up against her ear. She pulls it away to see a new message. Her eyes go a little wider as she reads who it's from. "Ran, gonna have to put you on hold reeeeal quick."


"What--?" Click.


It's a short message from Chisato, she's always concise. If it's not too much trouble, I'd like to play a cover of this song at the show. I believe it fits with your sound well since you plan on moving closer to a hard rock image for this show. And I'd like to contribute to the vocals as well as bass. I'll see you then.


Moca taps the link and turns the sound up before taking a listen to the song. Her eyes go wide as it plays on. And then after about ten minutes past the end of it, she calls Ran back.


"Hey, Ran? I think we're gonna be alright."

 


 

It's close to midnight backstage at Galaxy and Moca is entirely ready to rock. All geared up--black jacket, faded band tee, black jeans, all carefully adjusted to look like she didn't put any effort into her outfit at all, rips and tears in everything in all the right places. She adjusts her guitar strap and looks over her friends.


Tomoe's decked out as well, over in the corner on the phone with Himari. "Yeah, babe, we're all--what? Ah, no no no, babe you're good! Just get some rest. Babe. Babeeee--"


Ran looks the same as always, of course. And Tsugu--bless her heart, Tsugu is being so Tsugurific. She's trying her very best with her hair slicked back and dark shades on blocking any view of her sweet doe eyes. She could almost pass for a rocker if you squinted. And were very drunk. Moca takes a mental note to snap a picture of her to tease Sayo with later.


And their temporary bassist has not arrived. Moca checks the time. Chisato still has a window to show up, it's fine.


They've all been practicing the song Chisato requested. Took a while for Moca to convince them that she was the one to actually pick it out but once they did they put their all into it as usual. They can perform it without a hitch. All they need is a bassist. And just a moment later as if on cue, the door to their backstage room swings open. Through the doorway walks...


...the most beautiful thing Moca Aoba has ever seen in her life.


It's Chisato. She can tell that easily. But any random person on the street, in the audience? They wouldn't have a clue that this woman was the sweet pastel-draped idol they saw on TV one time. She's wearing a thick leather jacket with spikes all around the shoulders, covered in patches with band logos that seem like they were trying to emulate the look of a keyed car. A ragged white shirt with a skull and crossbones and some old gray jeans complete the look, along with a beanie that must be holding most of her tied-up hair. There's a stud in her nose... that's gotta be fake, right?


For one single moment there is absolutely nothing on the planet Moca wants more than the woman before her to hit her with a baseball bat. And then Chisato smiles at her sweetly, and the illusion is broken.


"Well, you all seem quite ready." Chisato swings the bag with her bass in it around and sets it down, flicking open the latches and pulling it out. "I'll be ready to go in just a moment, just give me some time to get set up. Will we be performing the song I sent you?"


"...Mmhmm, yeah," Moca manages to stammer out. Chisato gives her an amused look and continues with her bass.


"Wonderful. Tsugumi-chan, I apologize for the fact that it doesn't have any parts for your keys, I'm sure we'll have to make up for that through the rest of the performance." Tsugumi nods, embarrassed to be singled out. "And Ran-chan, as I said, I'd like to contribute to the vocals if you don't mind. Just the section at the end." Chisato says calmly. "I'm far from an experienced vocalist, of course, but surely you've heard some of my contributions on tracks like Yura-Yura Ring-Dong-Dance?"


"Shirasagi-san...?" Ran says slowly, as if she's not sure who she's looking at.


"Yes?"


"Sorry. What the fuck?" 


Chisato stares at her for a moment before chuckling lightly. "I believed it would be best to get into the style before our performance. And it was necessary to put together a... we'll say temporary appearance change. This event isn't quite sanctioned by the agency. It'd cause a stir if I'm seen here tonight. So I can trust you all to stay silent about your mysterious one-time bassist, correct?"


Ran slowly nods. Tsugumi follows suit, and after a moment Tomoe throws a thumbs up from the corner. All Moca can do is stare. Chisato notices her gaze and doesn't comment on it, but Moca can see the corner of her lip move up just a bit.


There's a knock at the door. Masuki's voice comes through to them. "Yo, y'all good? You're on in five. Head out when you're ready." Judging by the footsteps after she's not waiting for a response, she's probably heading to join the crowd like she usually does.


Standing up with her bass in her arms, Chisato nods to Afterglow. "Well, I'm ready whenever you are. Let's go."

 


 

The audience is wild tonight, already making noise before the stage is even occupied. And when the band shows up they only grow louder. They're expecting a hell of a show tonight and Afterglow aims to give it to them by any means necessary. "Hey, Galaxy!" Ran yells into the mic, a bit of interference giving her words an edge. The crowd cries back at her. "Hope you're all ready, 'cause Afterglow is gonna melt your fucking skulls tonight!"


Cheers rise up in response. Moca catches a glimpse of Masuki near the back, sporting a terrifying grin. They aren't what Moca's concerned with though. She grips her guitar pick a bit tighter. Chisato is right beside her and she's doing her very best to not focus on that because if she looks at the new punk Chisato again she's not gonna be able to take her eyes away for the rest of the night.


They launch into their set list. Despite lofty ambitions most of it is the same as always--they've cherry-picked the songs in their library that go the hardest, but it's still Afterglow. Scarlet Sky, On Your Mark, Red Red Red, the list goes on and the crowd seems to be enjoying it.


They're not aware of what's coming.


And then as the last chords of True Color echo through Moca's bones she knows from the ache in her arm that they're finally coming up on the last song of the night. She sneaks a glance at Chisato and sees no signs of the exhaustion she expected on some level. Only a steady gaze to the audience and a firm grasp on her bass. Moca should really stop underestimating the other woman, it may be fatal for her in the end.


More feedback from the mic. "We're giving you something new to close out the night, a cover. Welcome to Hell." Ran leaves it at that and steps back.


That's Moca's cue to give them the opening chords and she does. A blinding riff that repeats and blasts out through Galaxy's speakers to shake the walls and bring out a wave of cheers. And then Tomoe comes in with a quick drumbeat backing her up, and Ran grabs the mic to howl out the first lyrics in a hoarse scream.


"GOD IT'S PRETTY HOT DOWN HERE, UNDERSURFACE,
ANTI-CHRIST HAS TEMPTED ME WITH A PURPOSE!"


Moca's riffs grow harder and faster and shriller as she keeps going and she can feel herself starting to slip in small ways, they don't have anything like this in their normal set list--but Chisato beside her seems to have absolutely no trouble keeping up. Her bass line effortlessly props up Moca's sound as her small hands fly over the bass. Her body language is completely transformed now. Thrashing around and banging her head to the beat. No longer an idol, the woman beside her might as well be a demon.


"REMEMBER WHERE TO ENTER!
REMEMBER WHERE TO ENTER!
THE DOOR TO HELL IS AMBER!" Ran screams, and the audience cries out in return. They're shaking the floor as they throw their bodies around in response to Afterglow's music.


The guitar wails and screams under Moca's hands, a rapid-fire melody that should burn the faces off of the entire front row. She's a genius, sure, but didn't know she could play quite like this. And she certainly didn't know Chisato could. She builds up to the next segment, higher and faster. Ran launches into the next set of lyrics but Moca's not really paying attention anymore outside of the way they mold the soundscape.


The song continues on its track and slowly winds down, starts to trail off until it's low and quiet. The moshing slows as well. But again... the audience doesn't know what's about to hit them.


Moca breaks the silence with a steady thrumming beat. A simple rhythm growing faster and faster under her hands, it takes her heartbeat along with it as Tomoe and Chisato's sound moves with her. They're going someplace new. Launching from the atmosphere onto a hostile planet and whether they like it or not the crowd is coming along for the ride. It grows louder, wilder, unstoppable--


And then Chisato walks up and grabs the mic, and Moca nearly drops her pick at what happens next. "FIFTEEN INFANTRY PARATROOP INTO THE PROPYLENE NEW SCENE!" Chisato cries in a voice that couldn't possibly have come out of those small lungs, could it have!?


Moca yells in response along with the others. "HELL'S WHERE THEY WANNA BE!"


Chisato looks back at her and Moca could swear she sees the slightest hint of a wink, but she can't say for sure, the glasses afford too much deniability. Maybe they do suit her. Then Chisato turns back to the crowd and screams--


"INFEST THE RATS' NEST!"


And every sweaty exhausted fan in the building lets out a wailing cheer as Afterglow hits them with a few final walls of sound to finish off the song and the show. Moca steps back, giving the crowd a signature lazy Moca grin even as her heart races.


Chisato looks back at her and even that is enough to make her breath catch in her throat and for the grin to waver just a bit. After a moment, Chisato turns back to replace the microphone on its stand, and then she gracefully moves to walk past Moca towards the door to backstage as she ignores the audience's demands for more.


As she passes, she whispers something to Moca just under her breath, barely audible over the noise.


"...The rock star life isn't quite for me, I believe, but thank you for letting me blow off some steam tonight." Chisato lifts her sunglasses just a bit and meets her eyes with a sort of confidence behind them that Moca's rarely seen before. "Perhaps with practice I could get used to backing up your sound. I wouldn't want to steal away Himari-chan's place, though, of course."


All Moca can do is nod like an idiot. Chisato raises her hand to her mouth and looks like she has to stifle a laugh at the sight, and that makes the embarrassment sting a lot less. She forces out a reply. "Mmhmm. Yeah. Maybe we can... jam sometime, just the two of us."


Chisato cocks an eyebrow. "Oh, how bold. Perhaps I'll take you up on that, Moca Aoba." And with a pat on the shoulder and a smooth turn she's on her way out.


Even as the rest of the band gathers behind her--and Ran starts shaking her by the shoulders, demanding to know what the hell all THAT was--Moca watches as Chisato walks backstage and removes her beanie to let her hair fall back down over her shoulders, and she knows that though the door to hell may be amber, the road to heaven is paved in gold.