…and the slaves shrieked in delight as the silver streamers trailed down from the ceiling into their eagerly awaiting hands.
He looked out over the crowd. Though he could not see each and every face clearly, he knew – recognised the happiness illuminating their features. The same joy was reflected in his own.
“I’m glad all of you are enjoying yourselves,” he thought. “It just makes everything even better. God, I’m so happy.”
“J, stop… we shouldn’t be doing this here…” Ino half-heartedly tried to push J away, furtively looking around to see if anyone was coming by.
“Relax, Ino. No one ever comes here,” J replied, moving in for an even deeper kiss.
“But still…” Ino remained tense, every fibre of his being attuned for the tell-tale sounds of someone passing.
“Don’t be such a spoilsport,” J whispered in between soft nips down Ino’s neck, “besides, it’s not as if everyone doesn’t already know about us.”
Ino completely stiffened in his arms. “What? What did you just say?” His voice was deceptively soft and calm. He began disengaging himself from J’s embrace.
Confused, J repeated, “I said it’s not as if everyone doesn’t know everything. We’ve always been so close and–”
“How long?” Ino suddenly cut in.
“How long have they known?”
“Well, I’m not sure. I can’t really remember. They probably guessed, and I never bothered denying anything when they asked me…”
“Couldn’t you have told me about this before telling the whole world?” Ino demanded, suddenly furious.
“Hey, I didn’t announce this to anyone, okay? It’s been ages since our relationship has become common knowledge among the band and the crew, who would never do anything about it.” J’s quick temper was beginning to flare too. “I can’t believe you don’t trust me, or them, to keep our mouths shut about something like this.” He turned away abruptly and stalked off, anger evident in every step.
“Hey, Ino, what’s the matter?” Shinya asked as he sat down next to Ino at his dresser, concerned over the latter’s pale and listless appearance.
“It’s nothing, Shinya. I’m just a little tired, that’s all.” Ino tried unsuccessfully to force out a reassuring smile.
“Yeah, and I’ll wake up as skinny as Ryu tomorrow morning,” Shinya retorted. “Come on, what happened?”
Ino looked up at Shinya’s worried face, and decided to test the waters. “Shinya, do you know about J and me?” he asked cautiously.
“Huh?” For a moment Shinya was puzzled. Then the mists cleared and he realised what Ino was talking about. “Oh. That. Most of us guessed a long time ago.”
“Did… did J tell you?” Ino’s voice was so low Shinya had to strain to hear him.
“Hell, no! Anyone who’s spent a little time around the two of you would have known straightaway. Do you mean to tell me you weren’t aware your relationship is an open secret?” He meant it as a joke, but he lost his levity when he saw Ino’s face. “You mean you really didn’t know? Wow, Ino, you truly do the word ‘blur’ proud, man.”
Ino wasn’t listening. Shit, he had accused J of revealing their love when he himself had been unconsciously declaring it all along. No wonder J was angry.
“Oh, Shinya, I made a terrible mistake.” With a little more urging from Shinya, he poured out the whole story. Although Shinya was the youngest among them, he always seemed to know what to do when situations like these arose. He was the one who talked to Sugi after he had a fight with Ryu, calming him down and giving clear-headed advice. It was a relief to unload on somebody, and he knew Shinya would never tell anyone else.
“It’s not as bad as you think,” Shinya assured him after he finished. “Just give him time to cool down, then apologise to him.”
“If you say so…” Ino said doubtfully. But then, Ino was prone to worrying over every tiny detail.
“Yes, I say so. And knowing J, he’s probably already feeling guilty for yelling at you.” Shinya patted Ino’s shoulder as he stood up. “Come on, the lights are going off soon. We’ve got to take our places.”
“Oi, J! Why is your face so black? Didn’t get enough with Ino last night?” Sugi teased insinuatingly, then waited expectantly for J’s customary rejoinder. But J didn’t tell him to fuck off, to go screw Ryu or any of the other things that could emerge from his salacious mind. Instead, he remained silent, continuing to pound his fist against the wall with a determined single-mindedness.
“Um, J, er, you shouldn’t be doing that,” Sugi said more tentatively, reaching out to stop J’s destructive action. “How are you gonna perform later if you hurt your hand?”
J jerked his arm out of Sugi’s hold and sank down to the ground with an explosive sigh. Settling down beside J on the floor, Sugi slung an arm around his shoulders. “So, what’s wrong, pal?” When J didn’t answer, he continued, “Lover’s spat with Ino?” He was rewarded with a tensing of J’s body, and he knew he had guessed correctly. “So what did you do?”
“Hey, he started it this time, okay? Don’t blame me for everything!” J snapped.
“He did?!” Sugi was surprised. J tended to be the impulsive one, not thinking before he did things, which sometimes ended him up in situations that exasperated even peace-loving Ino. “What did he do?” Sugi blurted out unthinkingly before he realised it could be private, “unless you don’t want to tell me,” he amended.
J sighed again. “Nah, it’s not that serious. Ino just discovered that everyone here knows about us and accused me of spreading it around. So I got mad and yelled at him…”
Sugi had trouble getting past the first sentence. “What?! Ino really didn’t know? How can he be so dense?” he said incredulously. “In a good way, of course,” he swiftly added, seeing J’s glare directed at him. “That’s why you’re angry? Because he doesn’t trust your discretion?”
“Yeah… I guess so… but I still shouldn’t have shouted at him. We could have talked it out…” J sank back into depression.
“Snap out of it, man! How are you gonna perform later if you’re so down?” Sugi gave him a small shake, attempting to rouse him from the dumps he had been wallowing in. “Don’t worry too much. I think by now Ino would have seen his mistake. It probably just hit him hard where he didn’t expect it. Give him a little time and he’ll apologise to you,” Sugi reassured him with the conviction of one who had been there, done that.
J gazed at him thoughtfully. “I hope so… Has this happened to you and Ryu before?”
“That’s none of your business,” Sugi replied quickly. “Come on, we’ve got to get ready for the show.”
Deciding to let him off this time, J stood up, preparing to head for the dressing room.
“J, if Ino’s so dense, did he ever find out what those 2 guys back in high school wanted when they dragged him to the toilet?” Sugi’s taunting voice floated down the corridor.
“That’s none of your %#%$^& business!” J’s answer was drowned out by Sugi’s wicked laughter.
The show wasn’t going well. On the surface, everyone seemed to be performing fine, but all 5 of them could feel the underlying tension emanating from the Jino side. Ino concentrated on playing his guitar, studiously avoiding J’s eyes. And his uncommunicativeness was making J more frustrated with every passing minute.
“Sugi, do you know what’s going on with J and Ino?” Ryu asked when they finally got to their short break. “I almost didn’t dare to move to my right in case I set off an explosion.”
“Oh, so that’s why you kept sticking around me,” Sugi replied, pretending to be disappointed. “And here I thought it was because my superior charm and beauty.”
Ryu was not amused. “Be serious, Sugi.” Like the rest of them, Ryu hated short-changing their slaves by putting up a poor show. “It’s affecting our performance.”
“Well, they had a small fight before the show started, but I think it should blow over soon,” Sugi explained.
“They better recover soon. Then at least we can salvage the last few songs left.”
“Relax, they’ll be fine,” Sugi said resolutely, trying to convince himself as well.
The silence between them was deafening. Usually during the break, they touched up their make-up and made other minor adjustments, the whole session interspersed with small caresses and words of excitement. But tonight the gulf yawned widely between them.
Finally, something inside J broke loose. He couldn’t stand it anymore. They had to talk now. “Ino?”
“Wha…?” Ino jerked in shock. He hadn’t expected J to talk to him. Remorse had been eating away at him inside, and he was fast on his way to the conclusion that J would never speak to him again.
J looked down at Ino’s face, and he could see the strain beneath the heavy make-up. Regret and sadness were evident within his beautiful eyes, and J berated himself for putting them there. “Ino, I… I’m–”
“I’m sorry.” Ino’s soft voice beat him to it. “J, I’m so sorry for the things I said. It just… it just came as a great shock to me. I never realised we were so obvious. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you. I should have known you would never do such a thing…”
J drew Ino into his arms, holding him tightly. “It’s alright, Ino. I’m not angry anymore.” It was too difficult to stay mad at Ino, and it was impossible when he went on a guilt trip. “I’m sorry for shouting at you. I should have stayed and talked instead of running off like that,” J murmured, ignoring the stares coming their way. After a few more moments, J tried to step away, but Ino’s arms were still firmly around him, and were showing no sign of letting go.
“Er, Ino. You can let go of me now.”
“Yeah, people are staring,” Sugi called from the doorway, his arm blatantly around Ryu’s waist. “You’re giving them a free show!”
Blushing, Ino quickly let go, pretending to touch up his appearance while J let loose a string of curses at Sugi. But although embarrassed, he felt a great relief within his being. J wasn’t mad at him anymore; and there was no further need to fret over those around them finding out, whether they approved. From what he had seen so far, most of them already knew a long time ago and were glad for the two of them. If he had been more astute, he would have realised long before this, and spared J and himself this meaningless argument.
“Ino, hurry up. We’ve got to go onstage again in a couple of minutes,” J urged.
Ino glanced at the mirror one last time before following J out of the room. The glowing image gazing back at him bore no resemblance at all to the downcast one hours earlier.
J almost couldn’t believe it. He had never seen Ino so ‘high’ before. The guy who was normally content to stay in the background while Sugi stole the limelight with his outrageous acts was zipping around the stage like a kid in the playground. So far he had nearly collided with Sugi twice. But as long as nobody got hurt, J wasn’t complaining. Ino’s sudden burst of energy galvanised the rest of the band, and the provocative smiles he was throwing out at everyone just made the audience’s emotions run that much higher. He resolved to make the most of it, and his eyes followed Ino’s figure constantly as Ino dashed up the sides of the stage to play for the slaves there, occasionally bursting into laughter at his antics. This song was definitely going to be in the concert video, he decided. He was planning to watch the tape often in the future. (y: that’s probably where they got the inspiration for ‘rewind’, ne? ^_~ at least that’s the way i see it)
The screams surrounded him and washed over him in waves. At times he thought he could hear individual voices calling his name, but instants later, they blended back into the roar filling the entire building. He wondered if he had ever felt more thrilled, but couldn’t recall another time – other than the day he and J discovered their feelings for each other.
Removing his guitar and putting it down carefully – he wasn’t an advocate of instrument-thrashing – Ino walked to centre-stage and gave a jaunty little bow that elicited more cries of delight from his slaves. Suddenly, the euphoria faded slightly and the exhaustion caused by the physical and emotional upheavals of the day enveloped him. Overwhelmed, he sank into a heap right then and there. Burying his head in his arms, he tried to regain his equilibrium.
After a while, he felt an arm around his shoulders and looked up into Shinya’s smiling face. “I’m guessing everything’s fine now,” Shinya commented, seeing the bright light in Ino’s eyes.
Ino hugged him enthusiastically in return. “Thanks, Shinya. J’s not angry anymore, and I just feel very, very happy,” Ino answered. “In fact, I’m so glad I could kiss you!” And he matched his words with the action.
“I told you everything would work out,” Shinya replied, rather amused.
“Yeah, the world’s a damn great place to be in right now,” Ino concluded, waving at the nearest camera as they gathered to take their last bow.
“Thanks,” Sugi said to the passing backstage crew member who had passed him something.
Curiously, J asked, “What do you want that for?”
Sugi held up the piece of folded black cloth. “This is a present for our cameraman over there,” he explained, indicating with a tilt of his head in the direction of one of the many cameramen filming the concert.
J shook his head, but otherwise remained silent. He was used to Sugi’s many pranks.
“You sure made Ino very happy,” Sugi remarked as they stood there near the backstage entrance, catching their breath for a moment.
“Yeah, well, um… ah… I… well, I want to say…” J never realised it was so difficult to express his gratitude to Sugi for listening to him. They always had this silent acknowledgement thing for times like these, but for once, he wanted to voice out the words.
“Oh, it’s time to go out, man,” Sugi interrupted, as if he had never heard J at all. He headed out, but J tried to pull him back by catching him around the waist. Nobody was walking out on him when he was trying to say ‘thank you’ properly.
“Oi, keep your hands to yourself,” Sugi warned jokingly, brushing his arm away and slipping out of his grasp. “Or Ino will have something else to get upset about.” Before J could think of a suitable retort, he winked and added, “You’re welcome.”