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Sailormoon Expanded: Tales of Crystal Tokyo

presents

Shadowsong: a tale of shonen ai

by Becky Malsin

The spectre floated up the stairway. Except for the levitating briefcase, one almost wouldn't have noticed he was there. Reaching the top, he floated through the rows of shrines. He finally stopped behind a man who was kneeling in front of two shrines that were side by side. They were of a good size though neither one was large. The spectre noticed that his friend had been crying. "Marty, why are you here?" the man said tiredly, after about a minute.

Dr. Martin Spectre was clearly surprised. "I was bringing in a report for Rei, Dai. May I ask how you knew I was here? You must admit, it's a little hard to detect ghosts. Even living ones like myself."

Daisuke Aino stood up. "Don't forget, I used to be a martial artist. Even if I no longer practice that discipline, I still keep my instincts finely-honed, though they might not be as sharp as they would if I fought. Before I gave up all that, I'd have detected you before you got behind me."

"While I agree with your decision, isn't 150 years a little long for mourning like this?" Marty said, peering down at the shrine. "You're still acting like you were the day after the funeral. You didn't kill him, being a Hunter did."

"No, Marty, I killed him. We were going to spend that weekend together. But then business at the dojo was overloaded with some little upstart with a bandanna trying to challenge me and I had to cancel. Jon took the job as something to do. If we hadn't been doing such violent work . . ." Daisuke shook his head. "Well, you remember as well as I why I became a pacifist."

"Yes, I do." Marty answered. His mind skipped to another aspect of that day. "I still can't believe how Grandfather acted with you that day.

In my opinion, he practically snubbed you. It's not like you're a mass murderer or something. You're just-"

"-gay." Daisuke finished. "Marty, he didn't snub me. All he did was flinch when he shook my hand. My own mother used to do that during the first year or two. It's because they were brought up in in the twentieth. People had all sort of odd hangups. I don't have a grudge with Tom-you shouldn't either."

Marty nodded slowly but he still couldn't forget the image of Daisuke with his head laid on the coffin, crying. Or Daisuke's choked up voice: "Marty, I killed him. I know it's my fault that Jon died. Because of me and the violence that surrounded our lives. You were right; violence is self-destructive." The death of Jonathen Shee had shattered Daisuke. Marty inwardly cursed fate on behalf of his friend. Why would it let Daisuke find someone to love and then smash him to pieces? First Tacchi and then, after Daisuke had finally gotten over the suicide of his lover, Jon.

Daisuke, Marty remembered, had come to Rei and signed up to work at the temple she had just finished. He had always been interested in the esoteric and it seemed the perfect place for a souped-up martial artist to work. So, for a little over a century, Daisuke had minded the temple, taking care of the shrines, making paper blessings, and generally running it. He seemed content enough; but still, Rei worried and so did Marty.

"By the way, Motoki said he wanted you come over to visit. It seems he's auditioning a musician to join Gryphon and he wants your opinion and sense of pitch. I met up with him when I was looking for Rei at the palace." Marty smiled. "I narrowly missed meeting up with your mother. You go over there and I'll tell Rei that you left when I talk to her. Okay?"

Daisuke nodded. "I was wondering how my younger sibs were doing. I guess this will be an occasion to check up on them. Maybe helping Motoki, Akemi, and Akari out will do me good." He stood up, bowed to the shrines, and made his way down the stairs. Leaving the building he fleetingly wondered about this singer Motoki was auditioning.

Stephen Shadowsinger wasn't exactly a street kid, but he was close enough to one. Crystal Tokyo was as wholesome a city as they come, but a half-hour bullet train ride away there was a place that the inhabitants had dubbed "Little Tokyo": a (sort of) rough and tumble burg that didn't fit the image of suburb nor a slum, but no one knew what else to call it.

Legend said that it had been established by a small group of frustrated former CTers who had seen Akira once too many. They held it as their duty to form a cyberpunk community. Their mission had varied results. The streets wouldn't stay garbage-filled. A good deal of its homeless populatation found their way to shelters. The murder rate stayed in double digits.

Little Tokyo became an anomaly: a town that _tried_ to be bad but wasn't. It suceeded somewhat in having a thriving porn industry, as well as very _minor_ drug traffic, but it had trouble escaping Serenity's influence. Still, it did have more attitude than that other official Tokyo, which caused the kids from utopia who wanted "to live on the edge" to flock there.

It was in that area, which was known for its gaijin immigrants, that Stephen was born one day in March sixteen years before. He never was quite sure what day it had been but Roberta, the former druggie that had found him on an abandoned park bench wrapped in a Greatful Dead tee, said that he had been about as old as her the younger of her kids was when they had been taken away by the social workers, six months. Maybe that was why the middle-aged woman took pity on him.

Roberta Shadowsinger, last name changed, had been half Hopi Indian, a quarter Irish, and the rest a mix of various American roots, a second generationer to Little Tokyo. She had been a groupie, a new-age hippie follower of the folk-rock bands the area was famous for. Like the Deadheads that were her predecessors, she had no permanent home, instead parking her tie-dyed tent wherever there was room. And, like those that had gone before, she had listened to the music in the best way, which got her in a _little_ trouble. After losing her two daughters, as well as being fired from her newest job, the decade-long depression started to settle in . . .

She was moping around Mort Spivey Memorial Park one day in September of 2860 when she discovered the child, abandoned hours before for who knew what reason. Roberta was curious, and she took a closer look at the child. And fell in love instantly. Maybe, she reasoned, this was her second chance. After asking around, she took the child home and named him Stephen, after the classic horror novelist, with the "ph" to make it look nice. (She had thought about Dean as well, but decided she liked the other name better, even if his books weren't quite as good.)

Luckily she had kept little Rita's baby-stuff even after she had been taken away. Couldn't bear to part with it, she supposed. Taking into account the clothes of Michelle she had also saved, she'd have enough to keep him dressed until he was three. Hopfully he wouldn't mind girl's clothes. She _had_ tried to avoid dressing her daughters in pink or skirts.

She'd have to buy new diapers, you couldn't reuse those. And milk. And baby-food. Great martyred Jerry, where would she get the money? Playing guitar in the streets and subways kept _her_ fed but it might not work for two. She pawed through the personals page from the Little Tokyo Times, which she had collected off a subway bench. (People there actually left newspapers on the bench after reading them!)

It was a near desert for jobs. Most of them required two years of technical training and Roberta didn't have time for that. Others required her to bring little Stephen (for, of course, she couldn't leave him alone) into places where kids weren't supposed to go, e.g. topless bars.

After all that elimination only a handful were left. Rummaging through her stuff for that papose-style baby sling, which had cost her a pretty penny back when Michelle was a baby, she strapped her new son onto her back. "C'mon, little Stephen! Mummy Berta's going to find us a job!"

A couple days later Roberta wasn't so chipper. It seemed most businesses weren't looking to hire a middle-aged single mother who brought her baby to work, especially not one wearing a tee shirt that read HEMP WANTED.

There were only two ads left for her to answer. After playing eeny-meany-miney-moe, she clipped out the ad, picked up little Stephen, and started the twelve block trudged to the music store.

The first thing she noticed about O'Dowd's Musicalia were the children. Three of them: a boy who looked around nine, another who was seemed to be about five, and an infant who Roberta presumed was female. The eldest was looking over something resembling homework, the middle paying close attention to the Culture Club disk that was playing in the corner, and the infant was in the middle of nursing with a pretty, if harried-looking woman.

"Ummm . . . hi? I'm here for the job. My name's Roberta Shadowsinger."

The owner was taller than her. He had one of those builds that worry smaller people. "I'm Frank O'Dowd. That's Maude with the kids. She used to help me, but with Cindy she's swamped."

Roberta nodded and prayed he wouldn't ask for her resume.

"So, Roberta, what do you know about music?"

Relieved, Roberta began her rant. After about a half-hour of rambling on about various bands, Frank cut her off. "That's good. Did you finish junior high? High school?"

"Well, I dropped out to follow Endomorph around Nippon when I was in third-year high school, but I did complete my G.E.D. a year or two ago."

Frank nodded, in thought. "And do you have a good reason for me hiring you, Roberta?"

"Errr, if I don't get a job soon I won't have any money and without money Stephen and I are screwed."

"Good reason. You start immediately. I can only afford minimum wage now, but it's better than nothing."

"I'm hired?"

"Yeah. You seem like a nice woman."

Roberta was confused, but relieved.

It had been in a club called Culture. Maybe if he had visited B. G. Al's caravan that night none of it would of happened, but that night he had visited a joint that served the straight as well. It was a decent place, one of the better in Little Tokyo. Nothing so illegal that the fuzz would bust them but they didn't card anyone either. It had a cozy bar, a bunch of tables, and a stage with halfway decent acoustics.

Stephen had been close friends with the owner, a boy named George O'Dowd, ever since he ended junior high last year and formal schooling, and had known him ever since he was a kid. The two had been a bit more than friends, once, but George currently had a thing for some macho drummer he'd met a week ago. Stephen still stopped by, though. Even smitten, George was one hell of a host. Which was a good thing, because lovesick was George's natural state.

"You know, he's not that bad looking." The voice came from behind him. Stephen turned, looked at George, and stared.

"I thought you liked whats-his-face. The English guy. Jon Something." Not that he's such a good catch, Stephen thought. He has _way_ too many hangups. In fact, I wouldn't have pinned him for sharing the lifestyle at all.

"Moss, Steve, the one with the nice buns. Ah, he still think he wants a girl. Crazy." George shook his beribboned mane. "What do they say? Inside every straight person is a gay person waiting to be set free?"

Stephen laughed. "So you follow that logic with every guy you're even the least attracted to. Smooth, George, real smooth. No wonder I always have to pick your heart off the floor."

"Maybe it will work, this time. Take a good look at the boy. Now, what does he make you think of?"

The kid was around Stephen's age of sixteen, which was about five years younger than George. Tall, lanky, brown haired and brown eyed, nervous expression-the earmarks of a Crystal Tokyo kid were obvious. He was nice-looking, but nothing special. Certainly not Stephen's own dream boy. "Not exactly sex and candy . . . I don't know, George. He's not really my type."

"I think he might be mine."

"Anything with gonads is your type, Georgie-boy."

"Nonsense. If Pat Robertson was alive I wouldn't want him." George squinted. "Hey, he's coming our way. And the fates smile down on the 'best-looking' duo in the east."

"Great. Just because you actually payed off the damn mortgage on the club, you let your ego swell. What will I do with you?"

"Hush. We don't want to make the poor little lost lamb nervous." The two watched the boy carefully as he made his way to the bar. Stephen noted, a bit detached, that the boy did have nice eyes. Didn't the poet say that eyes were the window to the soul?

"I'd like a Venus's Kiss, please." The kid grinned wanly. "Mum won't mind if I drink that, at least. Familial loyalty and all that."

"You related to the Ainos?" George's eyes lit up. Looks _and_ conections! This might be his lucky day. Now to actually _convince_ the boy.

"You might say that. I'm Motoki, by the way."

"George and Stephen. Which reminds me, didn't you say you'd perform for us around now, Steve?"

"I said no such thi-" Realization dawned. "Oh yeah. Thanks for reminding me, George."

"Anytime." Stephen ambled off towards the stage and George refocused his attention. "So, Motoki, what are you doing tonight?"

The boy ignored him and instead asked, "What did you mean by perform?" Motoki had a pensive look on his face.

"Oh. That. Steve's a musician, guitar and vocals mainly. We have a deal: he performs and he gets his drinks and admission free. Not the best sort of deal, but we don't really live high off the hog around here. Since you're a Crystal Tokyo kid, and related to the bigwigs to boot, you might not realize how even good clubs like this aren't going to make you a millionaire." George thought of something. "Why? You a musician too? I love a good singer or drummer or keyboardist or saxophonist or bassist or . . . hey Motoki, Steve's starting."

On stage Stephen was fiddling with the microphone. Finally adjusting it to his liking, he cued Casey, the DJ, to shut off the forgettable new-wave song that was playing. "Hi, I'm Stephen Shadowsinger. Raise your hands if you actually were paying attention to that last song."

None were raised. It really was a very forgetable song. "I thought so.

Anyone in the mood for some _real_ music?" A cheer went up from the crowd. "How about Ziggy Stardust himself? From the 'Labyrinth' soundtrack, here's David Bowie with 'Underground.'

"No one can blame you
For walking away
Too much rejection
No love injection
Life can be easy
It's not always swell
Don't tell me truth hurts, little girl
'Cause it hurts like hell
But down in the underground
You'll find someone true
Down in the underground
A land serene
A crystal moon, ah, ah

"It's only forever
Not long at all
Lost and lonely
That's underground
Underground"

"He's good," Motoki remarked, "In fact, I wonder . . ."

"Wonder what?" George asked.

"If he's willing to quit singing solo. My sisters and I are trying to put together a band, you see, and we need a guitarist. I can play somewhat but I'm much better on bass. This isn't the best piece for guitar but he _sings_ well, anyway."

"Daddy, daddy, get me out of here
I, I'm underground
Heard about a place today
Where nothing never hurts again
Daddy, daddy, get me out of here
I, I'm underground
Sister, sister, please take me down
I, I'm underground
Daddy, daddy, get me out of here

"No one can blame you
For walking away
Too much rejection
No love injection
But down in the underground
You'll find someone true
Down in the underground
A land serene
A crystal moon, ah, ah

"It's only, it's only
It's only forever
It's not long at all
Lost and lonely
That's underground
Underground"

Stephen bowed, hopped off the stage, and retreated back to the bar, as always looking first at the giant poster of Boy George that hung over it, then at his best friend. The resemblance was unsettling. At times like these, Stephen was tempted to believe George's claims of descent from the musician's brother. It would explain a few things.

He sighed, sat down, and ordered his customary Neptune's Spray. He raised his eyebrow at George, to the slight shake of the other's head. As usual, George hadn't had any luck. Well, you couldn't blame a guy for trying. "You were good," Motoki said after a second.

"Thanks," Stephen replied.

"I mean it. Did you ever think of playing with anyone else?"

"Maybe, if I could find the right band."

"How about mine?"

"You have a band?"

"Me and my sisters. I was just telling George about it. Do you want to come over tomorrow?"

"Why not? Give me the address." Motoki wrote it down on a cocktail napkin, and handed it to Stephen. The light was bad so he'd read it in the morning. He shrugged and stuffed it in his pocket, then settled down to watch George try to persuade Motoki to go "shopping" with him. An interesting prospect to say the least.

It was the next morning and Stephen had a sinking feeling on what Motoki had really meant when he mentioned his relations. Which was why he was standing on the palace steps, nervous as hell, half afraid to go inside. Motoki had said he was an Aino, but this . . . although Stephen was hardly Jewish, he felt the sudden urge to oy.

Stephen looked down on the napkin. It read: MOTOKI AINO, NUMBER ONE CRYSTAL PLAZA, SUITE 11298. He _had_ to go in there, it could be his big break! On the other hand this was _nobility_. Senshi and children of senshi! He'd stick out like a sore thumb.

While he was between decisions, Stephen didn't notice that another young man, similarly wrapped in thought, was heading in his direction. So the fact that both ran into each other was excusable. Perhaps it was also fate.

The first thought that came to Stephen's head was that he had just fallen on a strange man. The second thought was that his victim was _beautiful_. Long black hair, piercing silver eyes, pale and ethereal looking-almost the _definition_ of bishoen. Stephen felt two tugs: one in his chest, the other in a region slightly lower.

Daisuke himself was shocked out of his deep blue funk. The boy on top of him was small and wiry, with wavy auburn hair and soft green eyes. He was blushing, and Daisuke felt his cheek burn as well. Not now, damnit! Why now, out of all the boys, in all the cities, in the worlds, should he be attracted to this one?

"Oh shit," the boy muttered, "Look, I'm really sorry about this.

Are you all right . . ."

Even his _voice_ was perfect. Stop this, Dai. You're really losing it. He's just some kid, a little younger than Motoki, that fell on you. Besides being too young to fall in love with, he probably wouldn't be interested. He realised that he was supposed to answer with his name. "Daisuke. Yeah, I'm fine. What about you?"

"Stephen," he grinned, "and, yes, I'm not hurt at all. I'm sorry I wasn't looking. This kid I met in a club last night invited me over and I wasn't sure if I had the right address. Could you help me find him?"

Daisuke nodded, "I know my way around here like I know the back of my hand, to use an ancient cliche. What apartment do you need?" Hopefully it wouldn't be to far out of his way.

Stephen referred to his napkin. "Um . . . 11298. Could you show me the way, Daisuke?" That same man had to refrain from letting his eyesballs bug out. He nodded, suprised. Was this who Motoki meant?

"With pleasure. Did this kid happen to be named Motoki Aino?"

"Yeah, that's him. He mentioned that he was an Aino, but I didn't know he lived in the palace. You know him too?"

"Sort of. I'm not suprised he didn't mention being a first-generationer. With the long lifespan and all, most normal people feel weird about it. Inferior, even. It doesn't make sense, but we're 'called human beings, not _rational_ beings,' to quote Latus."

Stephen recognised the name. "'The Shampoo Variation and Other Tales of Alternate Ryouga.' I read that last year. Cool stuff. He also wrote science fiction in the early twenty-first, I think."

"That's where I first found him. I came across 'To Be Judged Red' while looking for a book by Llewelyn. My aunt's a big fan of ancient anime and when she saw me reading it, she mentioned he began with fanfiction. What about you?"

"M'literature teacher refered me to one of his original alternate history novels, 'When Thy Kingdome Came,' in ninth grade, when I had finished all she had assigned on our reading list. I liked it and came across 'Shampoo Variation' when I went looking for his other books. Man, that guy could write!"

"Agreed. I never quite understood why a few other writers from that time period had it in for him. Everyone's a critic. Well, shall we be off?"

"Sure." As they entered the building Stephen felt the urge to make small talk, "I know you've read early twenty-first sci-fi and fantasy, but how about late twentieth?"

"A couple of them at least. When I was your age I was into a guy named Ray Bradbury. There's this one book of his, 'Something Wicked This Way Comes,' that sends shivers down my spine. Another, 'Fahrenheit 451,' was a little dry, but also good. You might have heard of his 'Martian Chronicles.'"

"I remember once reading something called 'The Halloween Tree' by him. That was actually pretty good. I dunno, though. I like Ursula Le Guin a bit better. My favorite was 'The Left Hand of Darkness.'"

"I've heard of it. Wasn't it about intrigue in an androgynous world?" Daisuke mused that the choice fit the boy's appearance.

"That's the one. She also wrote this wonderful book of essays called 'Language of the Night.' It was neat stuff, addressing gender barriers and sci-fi archtypes. But she was most famous for her Earthsea trilogy."

"I remember that! Hey, what about . . ."

The two argued their way up through Asimov to Ellison, from L'Engle to Cooper, Kendall through Card, Anthony then Service, Wells versus Verne, and Smith up to Spencer. Stephen felt just a _bit_ elated when he found out that he'd read some authors that Daisuke hadn't, like Lackey and Duane. Of course, Daisuke had read both Dick and Gaarder, while Stephen hadn't.

The two continued talking feverently all the way to the Aino apartment. Stephen was amazed at his fluidity with Daisuke. In the hallways the latter noticed some Yumemi Yumeno artwork and found himself wondering out loud if it had influenced a twenty-sixth century painter, one Lisa Sell, who had her own painting nearby, due to similarities in color choices. Stephen argued against, saying that Yumeno's style looked more fluid than Sell's. Neither had an arts degree, so the point was rendered moot.

The fevered conversation had it's effects on both. Daisuke felt himself stop feeling so bashful around the boy-a little like he felt around Motoki. He still thought _that way_ about Stephen, but reprimanded himself. Stephen was too damn _young_ and Daisuke felt old. Even if this was one of the most intersesting conversations he'd had in a week. Heck, the first conversation apart from Rei, Marty, or family.

Stephen himself felt odd. What had began as attraction had began to slip from his grasp. Could it be that he, Stephen, who had lovers before, though none ever closer than friends, was actually Falling In Love? Nonsense. He had only known Daisuke for a few minutes. Still, he was _beautiful_, sadly beautiful.

Stephen felt a tad disappointed when they finally reached the room. He _wanted_ to talk more with Daisuke. "Want to come in with me?" he asked, "I'm sure Motoki wouldn't mind one more." Daisuke nodded and Stephen was elated. And then wondered why he was so puppy-eager. That wondering was replaced by another when he saw Daisuke place his hand on the lock.

The door opened to reveal a bright sitting room, well kept without being opulent, decorated in yellows and greens. Some people would have called it a youma, due to the overall Western decor, and meant the pun. Art dotted the walls, much of it by Tetsuro Aino, with a few landscapes by Azurite mingled in with the surrealism, though they weren't that much of a change from the other's paintings. Gurikazu Aino had also donated a few paintings, but those lovingly drawn nudes were hung in Minako and Calcite's bedroom. Many of the children had thanked the gods that Himeko Aino was an interior decorator. Heaven only knew what the room would have looked like under their mother's supervision.

The only one of those children in the room knocked on a nearby door. "Motoki? It's me." He then stepped back, very far back, just in time to avoid being flattened by the door. Like in an ancient Marx Brothers movie, Motoki almost fell out of that door.

"Daisuke! Glad you could make it!" Stephen felt a twinge of jealousy as he watched his new friend get pummeled in a bear hug. And noticed something else. Ethereal as Daisuke was, he didn't seem to crack a rib or _anything_. Odd.

"Baka! You're forgetting the other guest," Daisuke hissed.

Motoki grinned, and clapsed the other boy's hand, "So I am. My apologies, Steve. I see you've already met my older brother."

"Old-Old-Older brother?" Stephen stammered.

"Going on three-hundred, actually." Motoki looked at Daisuke. "You didn't tell him?"

"People weird out when you tell them you're an Aino. You know that, Motoki. It's happened to you, hasn't it?"

"Couple of times, but he already knew about me and didn't mind. Or was it the brother thing?" He raised an eyebrow at Daisuke.

"Never mind that. You're supposed to be auditioning Stephen, not arguing with me."

"True. C'mon in, Steve. I was just talking about you with my sisters." He made a sweeping motion towards that portal, in mock-solemnity. "Dai too. We'll need his ear for pitch." The former shrugged and proceeded inward.

The decor of the day in here compromised three motifs: dancing, drums, and pigs. The walls were covered with posters of famous drummers (Ringo Starr and Bugs Potter included) and posing pork, as well as photographs of ballet scenes.

Two girls, both a few years older than Motoki, sat on the bed. On the left was a perky-looking red-head listening to headphones. On the right, a raven-haired young woman stroking a spotted piglet. Motoki cleared his throat, and the girl on the right poked her sister.

"Steve, that's Akemi and Akari." He pointed left and then right.

"And Franklin!" Akari put in, holding the oinker aloft, "He's our dancer. I trained him myself." Dancing pigs? Next they would be sumo wrestling!

"Yes, yes, Franklin too. Akemi's keyboard and Akari's drums. This is her room. So, how well can you play?"

"That is," Akemi added, "we'd like a demonstration."

"I'm no Eddie Van Halen," Stephen warned them.

"Obviously, since he's dead. Just play something."

Stephen nodded, then un-slung Yoko, his acoustic guitar, from his shoulder. He did some minor tuning, then started to strum a familiar tune.

Akari grinned, "Led Zeppelin?"

"'Stairway to Heaven.' And now for something completely different." He started to play something more suitable for camping, "'Ghost Riders in the Sky.' Or maybe she's a bit sad now . . . 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.'" He switched songs yet again.

"Good enough for us. By the way, can you hand electric as well?"

"Sure, though acoustic is my first love. I'm saving up for an electric of my own, actually. Do you want me to play 'Star Spangled Banner' too?"

Motoki laughed, "Leave that to Jimi Hendrix, but, yes, it would be better if you could handle both. Could you sing for the girls?"

Stephen nodded, then thought of something. "Does what I sing have any bearing to my joining?"

"Just as long as you don't play 'Achy-Breaky Heart,' we're happy."

"Cool. How about something by the singer of 'Achy-Breaky Song,' then?" Stephen grinned, then started the song. At first they thought it was the Kink's "Lola," but then the lyrics kicked in.

"I met him in a swamp down in Dagobah,

Where it bubbled all the time,

Like a giant carbonated soda.

S-O-D-A, soda.

I saw a little runt sitting there on a log.

I asked him his name

And in a rasy voice he said 'Yoda'

Y-O-D-A, Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

"Now I've been around but I ain't never seen

A guy who looks like a muppet

But he's wrinkled and green,

Like my Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

And I'm not dumb but I can't understand

How he can lift me in the air

Just by waving his hand.

Oh, my Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

"Well, I left home just a week before

And I've never ever been a Jedi before,

But Obi-wan, he set me straight of course.

He said, 'Go to Yoda and he'll show you the force!' I'm not the kind of guy who would argue with Ben So it looks like I'm gonna start all over again With my Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

"So I used the force!

I lived in the rocks!

I lifted a box

While I stood on my head!

But I won't forget what Yoda said.

"He said 'Luke, stay away from the darker side

And if you start to go astray let the Force be your guide.'

Oh, my Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

He said, 'I know Darth Vader's really got you annoyed, But remember: If you kill him then you'll be unemployed.' Oh, my Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

"Well, I heard my friends really got in a mess.

So I'll have to leave Yoda, I guess.

But I know that I'll be coming back somday.

I'll be playing this part 'til I'm old and grey!

A long term contract I had to sign.

Said I'll be making these movies to the end of time With my Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

"Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda.

Yoda.

Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoda . . ."

Stephen blushed, "Well, you can guess the rest. So, how did I do?"

"Let us delegate first." The sisters and brother exchanged feverent whispers, asked Daisuke about something sotto voce, then whispered more.

Finally they faced him. "Okay, you're in."

Stephen couldn't stop grinning. "When do I start?"

"We're practicing tomorrow morning. Be there at nine. That gets me thinking . . ." Motoki's voice trailed off.

"Thinking what?"

"Since you'll be playing with us, maybe you should live a little closer than Little Tokyo. We can get you a room at the palace if you want, Steve."

Stephen sweatdropped. "The palace? Thanks, but no. It makes me nervous." And I suppose I can't park the tent in any of the parks. I'd get chased out. Shit.

Daisuke spoke ouloud for the first time since he came into the room. "Stephen can stay with me."

"What?" His sibs looked askance at Daisuke.

"There's a couple of spare bedrooms at the temple. He can take one.

It's not that far from here and I wouldn't mind. Probably Rei wouldn't either. I'll ride home with him, so he can get his stuff, then get him situated at Hikawa. How about that?" Heads nodded in agreement.

As Stephen leaned back on his futon in the temple, a thought came to mind. He never did ask the Aino siblings if the band had a name. He shrugged, and decided to ask Daisuke. Stephen saw that Daisuke's room was empty, but thought he could hear his voice a few doors down. He started heading in that direction . . .

"Are you sure about this kid, Daisuke?" Rei asked, "I mean, letting him live with us. There's the slight chance he might try something funny."

"Positive, Rei. He may have been brought up in a rougher city, but as far as I know he's no street punk. I like him, Rei, and-speak of the devil!"

Seeing who Daisuke was talking with, Stephen made a quick deep bow.

"Um . . . hajimemashite, Mars-sama."

"Hello to you too, Stephen. So you're Daisuke's friend from Little Tokyo. I must say, you're both suprising and expected."

"Thanks . . . I guess." Stephen felt his tongue freezing again. Chapman's gun, why did he always get so nervous around nobility? He hated it but he had a hard time keeping from doing it.

Perhaps sensing his quandry, Rei asked, "Cat got your toungue, boy?

Anything you'd like to ask me?"

Recovering slightly and forgetting his previous question, Stephen managed to squeak out, "What was it like being married to him? Yuuichirou Kumada, I mean. The composer."

Rei's face darkened for a second but she shook her head. "Are you a fan of his, Stephen?"

"I've heard some of his songs. They're quite good, especially the ones where you sang. No offense to Daisuke, but his mother doesn't come close to your voice. Why don't you sing anymore?"

Rei sighed. "It reminds me too much of him, and I already think of him more than I should. By the way, don't tell Minako you said that to me. She'd be livid. Do you still want to hear about Yuuichirou?" Stephen nodded.

"Well, to begin with, he couldn't sing worth beans. He tried sometimes, but I would hit him with a broom when he did. It's a little ironic that he could write such beautiful music when his own singing voice was as irritable as a squeaky hinged door. In fact, I didn't find out he composed untill early 1998 . . ."

Rei related a tale of vampiristic fairies, otherworldly visitors, and incognito cats to Stephen. Once again, she wondered had happened with that woman she had fought against the fairy with. She had found more about her from Ti but still . . . well, maybe she'd figure it out someday. Someday Rei did, but that's an entirely different story.

During the story Stephen warmed up considerably and forgot to be nervous. He just let himself fade into the tale. After finishing her story, Rei looked at the clock. It was late. "I think it's time for you to sleep, Stephen."

"But Lady Rei . . ."

"No buts, boy. You're what? Fourteen? Fifteen?"

"Sixteen." Damn. Women were always babying him. He couldn't help the fact he was small, skinny, and still didn't need to shave!

"Well, it's still late for you to be up. To bed."

Stephen tried his Bambi eyes. "Can I at least ask Daisuke something?"

"Make it quick."

Stephen turned to Daisuke, "What _is_ the name of your sibs' band?

They never did tell me."

"Gryphon. After this PBS Afternoon Special they found in the palace archives. And, I'm sorry to say this, but Rei is right. In fact, I'll be going to bed soon as well."

Stephen sighed, but left. Daisuke watched him go, then turned back to Rei. "So, what do you think of him?"

"I like him."

"So do I."

Rei raised an eyebrow at that. "Like-like or love-like?"

"He's Motoki's age, Rei."

"You didn't answer my question, Daisuke."

"I'm not sure yet."

"So, are they any good?" George asked, a week later.

"Well, I think they're pretty good for non-professionals. Motoki has a couple of songs he's working on, and I've been helping out on some of them." Stephen kept the phone in place with his shoulder, while searching the cupboard for the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

"Do you mind if I go straight to the point?"

"Not at all."

"Does Motoki have a boyfriend or girlfriend?"

"I haven't seen one. He does have a brother, though."

"Do I detect a hint of angst in your voice?

"Well . . ."

"Does this happen to be a _cute_ brother?"

"No, a _beautiful_ brother. Well, I least I think he's beautiful.

And he's smart and easy to talk to. And he's read 'Stranger in a Strange Land.' You know, he's one of the few people I'm met who even _knows_ who Heinlen is."

"Who's Heinlen?"

"My point exactly. It's just that I can't get to Daisuke. Hell, I don't even know if he's gay. And if he isn't . . ." Stephen sighed.

"Steve, do you know what this means?"

"What?"

"You, for probably the first time in your life, are lovesick. Think about it. For as long as I've known you, you've heckled me for acting maudlin because of some guy I had just met. And now you're acting the same way . . . it's just too funny."

"Thank you very much for your support. May I remind you that _you're_ hung up on his brother."

"My point exactly. But admit it, you're just as bad as me now."

"I guess so. I mean, I'm constantly thinking of him. I'm happiest when he's around and when he's not there I fall into depression. Sometimes I look at him and my mind just starts creating love songs. I've started scribbling SS+DA on the back of my notebook, for Christsakes! What's hapening to me?" That last sentence came out as a whine.

"I told you. Love. Don't worry, Steve, I'll help you with this. Bring Daisuke, Motoki, and their sisters to the club Friday and together we'll solve the mystery of the Brothers Aino. We'll be LOVE SENSHI!"

"Just as long as I don't have to wear fuku. I don't think I have the legs for it."

The Aino siblings (including their non-musical brother) _had_ made it to Culture. It took the offer of a gig to bring Motoki, Akari, and Akemi to the club. This also sealed Daisuke's fate as he had begun to take an interest in Gryphon's music. Rei and the Aino parents had also gotten invited, but had to attend a meeting at the palace.

Right now, however, the club was yet to fill to capacity and so Gryphon had yet to take the stage. The band members had spread themselves about Culture: Akemi talking to DJ Casey; Akari on the dance floor, studying new moves for the possibility of teaching them to Franklin; Motoki talking with his brother at a table; and Stephen plotting with George at his usual seat by the bar.

"He's cute, Steve, really cute. No wonder you're so hung up on him.

At least we know that Aino beauty's hereditary."

Steven nodded. "Aesthetically speaking, his sisters aren't that bad either. And yeah, his dad's is also handsome in a more masculine way. So, what do you have for plans?"

"Steve, remember the Gay Film Festival we saw at Pete's a month ago?" Peter Jackson was a neighbor of George's. The club next door, named B.G. Al's Caravan for some old cartoon, was owned by him. Besides that, Pete ran the local museum for the Gay Rights Movement, which was really just half of his apartment above B.G. Al's. George had introduced him to Stephen during the costume party the beribboned one dragged him to. How George had convinced him to wear butt-half of the horse, Stephen still didn't know.

"How can I forget? I finally gotta see the Magic's Pride trilogy on the big screen. I had been wanting to see that for _years_."

"Well, I talked to him about some of the movies we saw and I've come up with a few tests to find out Motoki and Daisuke's sexuality."

"You're kidding."

"Nyet, comrade. Of course, they aren't fool proof."

"What is?" Stephen paused then added, a little ashamed of what he was saying, "I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I don't really want to start acting like Pete when we're older. I mean, he's nice and all, and I like him, but he eats, sleeps, and breathes the Cause. I'd like to have a little more on my mind than that when I reach middle age."

"I guess so too. Although, Pete's done a lot of good, organizing the parades, protest, and all. It wouldn't hurt for us to be that altruistic."

"I suppose not. So, what's the first test?"

George told him and Stephen stared at his companion like he was crazy. George decided to elaborate, "See, in one of the movies this guy got the other to reveal he was gay by asking him about something that only gay guys know."

"But MechaBarbara . . ."

"Pete said that he had never met a straight man who knew the names of any of her disks. It's a cult thing."

"George, I don't know any of her albums."

"Well, that's the catch."

"Okay, give me another." Five more rejected plans down the line,

Stephen was getting ready to give up. "Y'know, these tests of yours are kinda half-baked."

"Hmph. Anyway, there's still two left. The Kissing Test. If he responds to your kiss, he's gay."

Stephen blushed. "I kinda don't feel up to that," he replied half-heartedly.

"If you aren't, I sure as hell won't. Last test: ask a parent or friend of the the family about their sexuality. Steve, why are you staring at me?"

"Because you finally thought up a plan that is not only possible and practical, but even made sense! The Kiss Test was okay too, but it was a little awkward. This is perfect! I can ask Rei about that sometime this weekend." The obviouss-ness was lost on the two.

George puffed up his chest, "Well, I've always believed in saving the best for last." He surveyed the scene as the latest song, Heavy Balloon's "Crystal Trippin'," wound down. "Why don't you get the others together for the music. We seem to have enough people, now."

Within the next half-hour Gryphon was situated on the stage and George had joined Daisuke to watch. After two minutes of frenzied delegation, Stephen found himself pushed up to the microphone. The eyes of a couple dozen stared at him. Besides that, he hadn't had that much time to practice with the electric guitar. Damn. He realized that he should say something.

"Hi, we're Gryphon and and here's a classic: 'Separate Ways.'" The thumping begining chords started up and Stephen found himself carried away by the music.

"Here we stand

Worlds apart, hearts broken in two

Sleepless nights

Losing ground

I'm reaching for you

"Feeling that it's gone

Can change your mind

If we can't go one

To survive the tide love divides

"Someday love will find you

Break those chains that bind you

One night will remind you

How we touched

And went our separate ways

If he ever hurts you

True love won't desert you

You know I still love you

Though we touched

And went our separate ways

"Troubled times

Caught between confusion and pain

Distant eyes

Promises we made were in vain

"If you must go, I wish you love

You'll never walk alone

Take care my love

Miss you love

"Someday love will find you

Break those chains that bind you

One night will remind you

How we touched

And went our separate ways

If he ever hurts you

True love won't desert you

You know I still love you

Though we touched

And went our separate ways

"I still love you girl

I really love you girl

And if he ever hurts you

True love won't desert you

No- no-"

There was a bit of applause. Not wild clapping and certainly not much of it, but good enough for the first gig. Stephen felt a lot better and it looked like the others did too. Next they had wanted to do an original, one that Stephen and Motoki had written together. It had been inspired by the first time he had met Margrave, some things Motoki had told him, and their own, rather romantic, guesses . . .

Wondering if he'd have to do the announcing on other gigs, Stephen gave a bit of intro for that next number. "The next song is an original of ours. We call it 'The Cat.' It's based on speculation on a woman we know." After the brief begining chords, he launched into the lyrics.

"She walks the city streets at night

She goes about at will

And for oh, so many men

She holds a certain thrill

She might go with one of them

If they pay a certain fee

They don't know the pain inside

Where no one can see

"And they call her the Cat

With a heart as black as night

The mysterious Cat

So wrong and yet so right

The temptuous Cat

With a heart so full of pain

Oh yes, she's the Cat

What peace can she attain?

Daisuke was leaning almost off the edge of his seat. He really didn't know that much about music beyond his own perfect sense of pitched, but, to him at least, it sounded good. Stephen looks good up there too, chimed in a little voice in the back of his mind. All the more reason to pay attention, he reasoned, guiltily.

"Some say she once loved a man

Some say his love's now gone

She watches him both day and night

Afraid of what went wrong

So the Cat lives out her life

So stubborn and so proud

An iron-willed temptress is she

Beaten but not bowed

"And they call her the Cat

With a heart as black as night

The mysterious Cat

So wrong and yet so right

The temptuous Cat

With a heart so full of pain

Oh yes, she's the Cat

What peace can she attain?

George's heart was leaping. Oh, what a thing for Toki-kun-sama and Steve to write! They were _good_. He couldn't let this gaggle of golden guys and girls slip away. He'd have to offer some sort of deal to keep them with him. Perhaps they'd need some one to manage them?

"So stick to it, Cat

Though love is hard to find

Just stay with it, Cat

Keep some hope within your mind

Dream your dreams, Cat

Through whatever you do

Forever the Cat

And you . . .

Are forever the Cat!"

Again, a smattering of applause, this time with a little whistling. Confidence boosted by this show of appreciation, Gryphon whipped though the next few numbers, mostly covers. "The Cat" was really just a test to see if audiences liked their music. They seemed to have passed, somewhat.

As they put their equipment away, a girl from the audience, who had came to help and introduced herself as Kestrel, whispered, "Is 'temptuous' even a word?"

"Poetic license." Motoki whispered back. Kestrel nodded.

When they all regrouped (minus fangirl) afterward with George and

Daisuke, the former was estatic. "I don't care what anyone else thinks! You guys are brilliant. Did you ever think of getting a manager?"

The musicians looked at each other. "Not really," Akari admitted, "Do you want the job? Or will running the club take up too much of your time?"

"Definately for your first. Probably not for your second. As of now, George E. O'Dowd III is the manager of Gryphon. The E is for 'Epstein,' if you wanted to know."

Stephen and Motoki exchanged Looks. "Who's Epstein?" asked Akemi.

Akari and Daisuke echoed that query.

Their brother took pity on them to answer. "Brian Epstein was the Beatle's manager. He discovered them playing in a Liverpool club called the Cavern back in 1963 or so. George, you're kidding, right? Your parents couldn't have given you that for a middle name . . ."

"Could and did. Mum and Da had odd ideas for names. I was going to be George Harrison, but m'older brother Dave snapped up that middle name. I think it was supposed to be a joke on Harley Davidson (those are a kind of antique cycle), but that's only family myth.

"Anyway, all of us were named to honor multiple people: my brother for David Bowie, the cycle guy, the Beatle, and multi-great-granpa David. Me for Epstein, Harrison, and my multi-great-uncle George." George paused to glance up at the portrait above the bar. "My little sister Cindy for the Brady Bunch character, Cyndi Lauper, John Lennon's first wife, and my Mum's cousin Cynthia. We O'Dowds are a proud family and take pride in naming our young."

Daisuke nodded. "Interesting. It too is difficult for our parents to find a name to agree upon. Sometimes it takes weeks for them to decide and often the name is unexpected and unusual. That may be why I have siblings named Aloysious Vladimir and Gertrude Natasha." The others shivered at A.V. and Gina Aino's real names. "Often my Aunt Titanite helps find names when this happens, but in both of these cases she was out of town and my parents had to fend for themselves. I believe they opened a baby names book and randomly chose the nominatives."

"I'm impressed, Dai. Your parents seem almost as creative as mine."

"Thank you, George."

Motoki grinned. "You can tell that to their faces when you meet them Monday. Since you're gonna be our manager, you should meet our folks."

Yes! Motoki was already bringing him home to meet the 'rents.

Things looked good. "I would be happy to, my friends. But now, let's party.

Casey, play something by The Terrible Dynne!"

"How do I look?" George asked worriedly. He'd never met other people's parents before. "Should I ditch the wig? Change the pants? Wear a skirt? More make-up or less? Add a hat?"

"George, you look fine. Your zebra-stripe wig would match the pants better, but the beaded one you have on is perfectly nice. You don't need a hat and a skirt might not be the best choice to impress Minako with. As for make-up, just don't go over the top. And stop being nervous. Minako's perfectly nice when you get to know her."

"But she's _Sailor Venus_. She might wrap me in a Love-Me Chain for stepping out of line!"

"All those stories of her beating up unsuitable dates are just rumors." I think, Stephen added mentally. "Anyway, you aren't going in there as a prospective boyfriend for Motoki. You're going in there as the man who will rocket her kids' rock band to success."

"I will, won't I?"

"Your ego's inflating again. Now, let's just visit Rei for a minute, and we're off."

"Rei? I thought you were going to talk to Mars during the weekend."

"Her scheduling wouldn't permit it. Now, c'mon!"

Rei was a little suprised to see young Stephen bring along a friend of his to her office. The young man was somewhat effeminate and dressed in colorfully printed clothes, beaded hair (or perhaps a wig?), and a smidgin of make-up. "This is m'friend George O'Dowd," Stephen explained.

"Hello, George. What can I do for you?"

"We were wondering, Mars-san, if you could tell us a little about

Motoki and Daisuke Aino. For instance, do they have girlfriends?"

"Motoki hasn't yet, though that might change when he grows older.

As for Daisuke, well, he hasn't exactly had girlfriends."

"Boyfriends, Rei?" Stephen asked, hopefully. She nodded.

"So, Daisuke likes guys and Motoki hasn't decided on what he likes?" George qualified. "That's great. Thank you, Mars-san, for your help. Bye."

"Wait!" It was too late, the boys had left her office. Great, when Minako found out about this, one or both of the two would be flayed alive, depending on which of the lucky duo liked Motoki. She made a mental note to check the sacred flames when she got home so she could figure out which boy was to be recipient of a bodyguard courtesy of the Society for Protection Against Minako (SPAM for short). Great, she'd have to deal with that annoying furball again.

While Rei was pondering matters of survival, George and Stephen were ringing a doorbell, unaware that their own lifespan was in danger. Motoki greeted them. "Hi guys. The girls got invited to this fancy brunch with a couple of old school friends, so it's just me and the 'rents. Want breakfast?"

George and Stephen found themselves gulping down some sort of giant omlette Calcite had made called the "Shaizaar Surprise." According to Motoki, it was named that because it included mimic fungus and K'tar meat, as well as the normal cheese, in its recipe. It also happened to be one of the few foods with Dark Kingdom ingedients that Minako could stomach.

They were talking amiably about this and that when George decided to try flattery. "Well, seeing both of you, I certainly know where Motoki gets his looks."

Minako was at first pleased with the compliment, then puzzled.

Where _Motoki_ gets his looks? The hair . . . and that eye make-up . . . She pushed herself away from the table. "Calcite, Stephen, could you please excuse yourselves? I'd like to have a earnest discussion with Motoki and George."

"Earnest?" Calcite raised an eyebrow.

"Just go!" She started pushing the two out the door. Before they knew it, they were outside the apartment.

"But, Mina!" Calcite hollered through the door. Please, _please_ don't let those rumors be true, Stephen begged whatever deity that might be listening. The older man finally sat himself down next to Stephen, and started talking, almost to himself. "It's locked _and_ teleport barriers are up. She said an 'earnest' discussion. Please don't let that mean what I think it means."

"VENUS STAR POWER, MAKE-UP!"

"Sweet Metallia, it means what I think it means."

Meanwhile, George was currently crouching in fear of a menacing looking Sailor Venus who had a really big mallet cleched in her fists. "Foul perverter of family values, your attempt to subvert my son will not go undealt with! For the crime of wearing too much eyeshadow than benefits your gender, SAILOR VENUS WILL PUNISH YOU!"

"Mom, what are you doing?"

"Nevermind, Moto. I'll deal with you next. Ahem . . . This, drag queen in pants, is for trying to seduce my son. GEORGE NO BAKA!" The megamallet hurt. It hurt so much that George's world started to go black. And blacker. And finally, he lost track of consciousness.

When George found his conciousness once again, he also found himself being ministered to by two worried looking Stephen and Motoki. "Steve . . . Toki . . . What happened to me? Why'd your mom try to kill me?

Where'd your dad go? Why's Rei here?"

Stephen started. "When Calcite and I got thrown out into the hallway and heard Minako transform, I hightailed it to the nearest terminal to get Rei. For some reason, she seemed to be prepared and, a pair of her police guys in tow, came back with us to rescue you. Calcite had been trying to force the door open and, with Rei and the fuzz, was able to finally break it down. That's when we found you malleted and Motoki getting a tongue-lashing. Calcite's with Minako in the bedroom now, trying to calm her down." There was an omnious thump heard by all.

"Another earnest discussion?" George joked.

"Well, that's what Minako calls them. Calcite probably isn't much better off than you right now. As for what she was ranting about, Motoki can tell you that."

Motoki shrugged. "For some strange reason, Mom got the idea that you were gonna ask me out. I have no idea why, though maybe it was the hair. Anyway, I tried to tell her we were just friends but she wouldn't listen.Said that one gay son was more than enough and she wanted to nip this in the bud. You'd think that Dai would have made her more mellow, but _no_ . . . What's so totally stupid is that there's nothing at all between us. Maybe Dad accidently got some J'mara in her omlette or something."

"Um, yeah. Totally ridiculous for her to think that." Maybe I'll try this again in a different town. I guess this means that Steve won't ask Dai out anytime soon. At least I was right about those rumors being true. Hmm,Minako packs quite a punch. Maybe I could also manage her for boxing or something. Just as long as she doesn't bite anyone's ears.

Oof. Sunday morning. George opened a single eye to glance at the clock radio. Noonish. He supposed he might as well get up now. Out of bed, going down the hallway, bathroom. Time to shower.

Emerging from the tub, he felt a lot more chipper. Dry off, brush teeth, dab on minimal make-up (lip-gloss and blemish cream), grin in mirror. Pounding on the door. "I'll be out in a second!"

"Good God, George, you're worse than Cindy. I'd expect a girl to take that long. C'mon, I need to use the john."

"And a good morning to you too, Dave. I'll be out in a minute." One last check in the mirror and he was off.

"Finally! That reminds me, Da wants you over at the shop by two.

Seems he needs some help with the new shipment."

"I thought you were his designated sucessor. I'm just the guy who puts in a couple of hours a day for extra cash."

"I already helped him catalogue things this morning. Anyway, this is extra cash. Capishe?"

"Capishe." When Dave wasn't looking, George stuck out his tongue. Who needs older brothers? Thinks he's so great just cause Da chose him to inherit O'Dowd's Musicalia. Well, George would show him, would show all of them. Within near five years of business, Culture was doing relatively well. With his second job at the shop, he was able to put down a large down payment _and_ wipe out the mortgage in a small time period. When Gryphon made it big, as George knew it would, they'd all be sorry.

Most people underestimated George. They thought he was some silly junior high educated poser. All the test had said George was _college_ material. He'd been taking accelerated math and all his regular courses were at least C average. But, by ninth grade, George had been sick of all the kids at his school, sick of being beat up for asking another boy out, sick of butting heads with the faculty on what constituted a proper uniform. When he saw a way out of the grind, he took it.

Hmm, room already? Lessee, I want something simple, since all I'll be doing is working. Neon green pants, hot pink blouse, Seussian hat instead of wig. Perfect. George felt a growl in his stomach. Might as well grab a bite to munch. Hope Cindy didn't eat all the Marshmallow 'n' Oat Rings.

Speak of the devil! Little sister at twelve o'clock. (Or was it one already?) Anyway, there she was, finishing off the Marshmallow 'n' Oat Rings. Perhaps a frozen bagel would prove to be as edible?

Cindy grinned at her older brother as he slathered on the peanut butter. "Someone called you while you were snoozing, bro."

George looked up from his very important task. "Steve?"

"Nope."

"Pete?"

"Uh-uh."

"That lady who wants me to join the Society for Protection Against

Minako?"

"Do the initials M.A. mean anything to you?"

"Toki-kun-sama!"

"Wow, you even gave him an honorific. You must be serious this time."

George stuck a peanut butter-coated tongue out at his little sister. "Very funny. So, what did you tell him?"

"That you wouldn't be up until sometime around two and you'd call him back. He told me that you'd have to go through me, since his mom was monitoring conversation. By the way, he's cute."

"I was already aware of that. Tell him to meet me at dad's shop ASAP."

"Sooner said than done. Should I tell him about how you've been doodling his name on the edges of the grocery list?" Cindy managed to dodge the flying breakfast grains.

After a quick check in the mirror to see if he was presentable, George hurried out the door. As soon as he was out the door he let the grin he was trying to stifle erupt on his face. Motoki was coming to see him! Perhaps he could finish a bit early, they could grab a bite to eat, maybe talk, almost like a date . . .

Well, not a real date but close enough. As George ran down the streets to the Musicalia, he couldn't help but burst into song. "Wise men say only fools rush in/ but I can't help falling in love with you!" he yodeled at top volume, as the neighbors shook their heads and grimaced. For the next little while they'd have to remember to bring earplugs now that George was at it again.

George spied the door to the O'Dowd's shop straight ahead and made ready to kick the door in. Unfortunatly he wasn't that much of an athlete and he misjudged where to leap. That is, he landed on the concrete stoop in front. After swearing and dusting himself off, George proceeded to swagger through the door with what dignity he had left.

The store was slightly dim, with vintage posters covering the walls: ancient masters like Joplin, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, and Hendrix; and contemporary groups like Tornado Run, Vision, Three-Twelve Thompson, Sinister Marzipan, and Helpful Corn. In the background someone had put on the newest hot debut album, George believed it was called "Lo/Rez Skyline."

While George gazed fondly at his childood habitat, his father emerged from the back of the store. Frank O'Dowd was a tall man, a full nine inches above George's five-feet-five. They shared the same brown eyes, but Frank's face was more squared. Dave took after him and Cindy after their mother, Maude, but George was what his sister termed a sport.

Actually, according to old family photos, George bore some resemblance to his grandfather but that relation was currently unable to breathe and had been so for quite a few years, due to a tuna fish mishap. But that had no place in what was happening now.

"Ready to work?" his father asked him.

George nodded. "Yeah. Umm, Da, my friend Toki from Crystal Tokyo comming over. Can he help me? We'd share the money!"

Frank laughed, "The infamous Motoki Aino? I was wondering when you'd bring him home to meet the family."

"We aren't exactly like that . . . yet."

"Ahh . . . I see what you mean. Still trying to ask him out?"

"Something like that." Today was one of those days when George wished his family was made up of people who snooped around in each other's business less. First Cindy had been teasing him about Toki, now even his own father was! It was enough to depress anyone.

George got to work on shelving some of the new disks, while he waited for Motoki to show up. The album playing ended after a bit, so George put on one of his old favorites, The Neo-Replicant's "Tonight: a Hurricane, a Tsunami, and an Earthquake." It was pleasant to let Pazuko "Priss" Ayukawa, the lead singer, drape her fiery voice over "Konya wa Hurricane," an ancient anime themesong and one of the band's standard numbers. They were playing the English translation now, a good song but the original Japanese was better.

"Big city, standing here we're heart to heart Children lost, seeking lovers in the dark Big city, still surviving day by day Can you ever ease the pain that tears can't take away?

"Tonight's a hurricane

Feel the hurricane

Spending this lonely night loving you

Tonight's a hurricane

Touch me, hurricane

Show me your love with your touch

Burning touch"

George sang softly along with the stereo. The song touched a melancholy cord in him. How could he be sure that Motoki really was the One? He'd thought that about Dan, about John, about India Jo(e), about Kazuya, about . . . well, the list went on and on. And in ever instance things hadn't worked out. Maybe he should just become celibate or something.

No. He couldn't give up. Wasn't it his lifelong quest to find the man of his dreams? Some people dreamed of fame, of money, of Woody Allen growing a second head and joining a monastery. Goerge dreamed of that too (except for the part about Woody Allen) but the thing he wanted most, he needed most, was somebody to love. Right now he believed Motoki was that someone.

Oh, it was his laddie, oh, it was his love! Oh, that he knew he were! Half-remembered passages from Romeo and Juliet sprang to mind as Motoki hurried in the door. "Hiya George! Listen, I gotta talk to you about something."

A foolish grin graced George's face, but all he ended up saying was,"Okay, Toki-kun. Mind if I work while we talk? I've got some stuff I need to do for Da."

Motoki nodded. "Perfectly understandable. Lemme help. You're doing shelf work, right?" George confirmed that and for a good half-hour they talked of inconsequentials. Then Motoki brought up his important thing.

"George, you know how sometimes two people can like each other a lot, but things don't go anywhere because they're to scared to try?"

"All too well. So, who is it you're talking about?" Please say me and you. Please, please, please.

"It's Daisuke and Stephen. They're perfect for each other and they know it, yet they won't do anything about it. With Dai I think it's partly due the fact that Steve's a minor."

"And Steve," George supplied, "doesn't want to scare Daisuke away.

I've noticed."

"I thought you would have. George, I need your help in getting them together. You with me?"

With Motoki suggesting it, there really was no choice. "I'm with you."

Like he had ever since Stephen had joined the band, Daisuke was watching Gryphon rehearse. Since George had nothing to do for a few more hours, he also had tagged along. Anyway, it was a chance for he and Motoki to work more on matchmaking. It put George in mind of a song off that old musical soundtrack he found at the back of his dad's store. "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match . . ."

Anyway, the band had wound their way through a couple of covers and were now just starting to work on a song Stephen had just wrote. They had been improvising some keyboard work on the piano setting to be played under Yoko, the accoustic guitar. (The electric one had finally been named Tofu by Titanite, who was always ready with names.) After a bit of setting up, they got to it, this being the first time they had played the song in it's entirety.

"He saw you one night

You were standing on the dance floor

His eyes got this look

We'd been down this way before

Within minutes he had fallen

And you didn't seem to care

But I happened and I saw it

I know 'cause I was there

"And it makes me wonder

Why it is that you can't see

All the passion he has for you

How's it gonna be?

How's it gonna be?

"Then I think of another

So beautiful and fair

With a voice that gives me shivers

And a body carved from air

And I wonder why he ignores

The advances I have made

And I don't want my love to die

Though everything must fade

"And it makes me wonder

Why it is that he can't see

All the passion I have for him

How's it gonna be?

How's it gonna be?

"How's it gonna be

For you and me?

For the both of them?

For Kar-chan and Kem?

I know I could die

And I wonder why

You won't come to me

When I can see

You want me too

What'll we do?

This coaster won't stop

And it's such a long drop

So while we may

Together we'd stay

If you could just see

How's it gonna be?"

Stephen had looked straight at Daisuke when he sang the second half and it was making the defunct martial artist a little uneasy. Daisuke had tried to hide his feelings and he had thought he was doing well. Maybe he should have been working on it a little more.

A few minor adjustments later, the four had decided to break for the day. Akari and Akemi had been making plans before to catch "Sailor Polaris vs. Godzilla" while George and Motoki had decided that this would be a good time to plan matchmaking ventures, as well as give the potential lovebirds some time alone. Indeed, within ten minutes Stephen and Daisuke were the only people in the room.

After a prolonged silence, Stephen asked, "Want to watch a movie or three?

They have one of my favorites in the palace library?"

"Would I know of it?"

"I don't think so. It's by Rankin-Treble, this American company that was animating fantasy novels during the 2300s. It's part high adventure, part psychodrama, part shonen ai romance. Best trilogy of it's century. They call them 'Magic's Pride.'"

Scarcely a half-hour later, the two were positioned in front of the television. They had made a tub of popcorn and all seemed fine, but Stephen had noticed one small falacy in their seating arrangment. "Daisuke, I can't get to the popcorn from all the way over here. Scoot over so I can sit next to you." Bowing to logic, Daisuke complied. After a few moments in which he waged a small internal battle, he put his arms around Stephen's shoulders.

Then the movie started and it was consuming. They watched the hero, Vanyel, get sent to live with his aunt, Vanyel meet his first soulmate, Tylendel, Tylendel die tragically, and only came out of their trance at the end of the first movie. After that, of course, it was time for the second movie, then the third. Just as Stephen knew he would, Daisuke loved every minute of it.

After the last haunting strains of the melody, "Magic's Price" wound to their end, the two discussed the movie. "Almost as good as the books," Stephen said. Daisuke laughed, no movie could ever be as good as the books, even this one.

"You know," said Stephen after a second, "you look sorta like Vanyel from the movies. Same sexy eyes and long black hair."

Daisuke hmphed, "What about you? I remember a certain red-haired bard from the third film named Stefen."

"I'm cuter than he is."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah!"

This earned Stephen a cushion in the kisser. Naturally, the obvious pillow fight occured. Neither one really minded. As Daisuke silently observed, they had entered that just-starting-to-hold-hands phase.

Things had begun to gain a kind of equilibrium for Gryphon. Sunday through Thursday they would practice in the afternoon, and devote the rest of the day to whatever. Friday and Saturday they'd do rehearsing in the morning, then take the bullet train to Little Tokyo for their weekend gig at Culture.

They had seemed to have developed somewhat of a fanbase. Part of that may have had root in Stephen being rather bishonen, which encouraged the junior high set, but that was by no means the only reason. That girl that approached them at their first performance, Kestrel Colubra, seemed to have set up some kind of fan club, devoted to analysing the grammar of the songs.

Stephen and George were equally exasperated. Neither one had been able to get any more out of the Brothers Aino than simple holding hands. In fact, they both seemed equally inarticulate in voicing their feelings about Motoki or Daisuke. Even getting everyone drunk, which they had tried last week, didn't work out. Evidentally they had forgotten that Ainos have a high alcohol tolerance. Fiendishly high, some said.

They were beginning to get gigs outside of Culture now. Minako had hired them to play back-up on her latest release of cover tunes (which seemed to be mostly White Zombie and Black Sabbath this go-around). Besides that, O'Dowd's Musicalia agreed to print disks for them at a very reasonable price. They had even gotten Motoki's older brothers Tetsuro and Gurikazu to work on the album cover.

On Sundays, when George kept Culture closed, the six had begun to meet at Hikawa Jinja sometime around one when all were sure to be up from George, Stephen, and Akari (aka the night people) to Daisuke, Motoki, and Akemi (aka the never-need-sleep people). Sometimes, in desparing moods, Stephen and George wondered whether or not it was a good idea to be attracted to people who viewed nine-thirty as late morning.

Sometimes they'd discuss music, as Stephen and Motoki argued about who should get more credit on "How," debating whether lyrics (Stephen mainly) or tune (mostly Motoki) counted more. Usually the views would change when they switched to a song where Stephen worked more with the music and Motoki with the words (such as the still unnamed tune about space-fare).

This Sunday they sat around discussing the upcoming Battle of the Bands at Whitecliff. "It's totally imperative that we attend," Akemi insisted. "Helpful Corn will be playing there for entertainment! Helpful Corn! Have you seen Jesse Moreno's body?"

George and Stephen laughed nervously, remembering copies of TIGER BEAT, LION BEAT, and OCELOT BEAT they had purchased merely for the photos of the long-haired bassist that graced the cover and pull-out section of those publication.

Akemi didn't exactly understand the reason for their laughter.

"Well, it is a great body. And they also hapen to be a beyond decent band.

And take a look at the stakes!" She motioned to her sister

Akari cleared her throat, "Grand Prize is a contract to open for Helpful Corn during their 'Dega Street Memories' tour. First prize is a hundred thousand yen and backstage tickets to any Helpful Corn concert. Second prize is fifty thousand yen and Helpful Corn tour jackets. Just for entering, you get a free copy of their newest disk, 'The Bulging Eye of Anthony DiMartino,' autographed by the Corn."

"In other words, it is an undeniably cool deal."

Motoki frowned. "What about me and Steve? How likely can it be that

Mom will let the both of us go all the way to Whitecliff without any escort besides you and Kari?"

Akemi shrugged. "We'll have George and Daisuke act as babysitters or something." Motoki looked at the George. George looked at Stephen. Stephen looked at Motoki. Suddenly, all three of them burst out laughing.

After a minute or two of rolling around on the floor, George finally squeaked out, "I'll go, but tell her just Dai will."

"Why?"

"You'd have had to be there to understand. Trust me."

Akari looked at Akemi and shrugged. Her sister sighed. "If you could desist all that rolling around on the floor, you might want to notice that the event is December tenth."

Stephen had finally begun to ease away his laughter. He sat up and blinked, seriously. "Hmmm, dangerously close to Lennonwake, but I can manage."

Daisuke, saying the first thing he had since the others had gotten their, frowned. "Lennonwake? What's that?"

"All day memorial service held to mourn John Lennon. I'll take you there this year. Yeah, we'll have to leave right away the morning after, but we can manage it. So, what will we be doing the rest of the afternoon?"

"There's the Frankenstein Film Fest at the Vibratto," Akari offered. "They're showing 'Frankenstein,' 'Bride of Frakenstein,' 'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein' 'Sailor Polaris Meets Frankenstein,' and 'Gods and Monsters.'"

Motoki grinned. "Coolness. Let's go!"

And thus they did. They laughed, guiltily through the two James

Whale movies, without restraint through the Abott and Costello and Sailor Polaris pictures, and during the first four movies it was quite easy for George or Stephen to "accidently" reach for the popcorn at the same time as one of the Aino Brothers.

The last movie, however, was a different story. In fact, the story told of the end of the life of the Father of Frankenstein, James Whale. That was a hard movie to laugh through. Not that it was boring, per se, but it was so sad and wonderful at the same time that it was almost impossible to talk about it. After the end of the film, the six quickly split up.

"You're up already?" Daisuke asked, suprised, the next morning.

"Yeah," Stephen replied, pulling his blanket closer around him. It was getting cold. November was half over. "It was the movie."

Daisuke joined Stephen at the couch near the window. "The one at the end of the festival?"

Stephen nodded. "That one. It made me think about things."

"Oh?"

Stephen winced as it all came out in a rush. "Mr Whale was in deep like and the gardener didn't know it and it just got me thinking that it's pretty dumb to not be up front about things, espescially love."

Daisuke looked at Stephen, studied him. "Yes, that's very true."

Stephen leaned forward towards the skyline. "I'm in love, you know,

Daisuke."

Daisuke bit his lip. "I think I've noticed, partly. You can get so quiet sometimes, like your mind is somewhere else entirely."

"You're like that too, you know?"

"Am I? Maybe I'm in love, too. It would be the first time in a long time." He smiled, sadly. The sun in Stephen's hair made the red shine like copper.

Stephen focused on a tree, lower on Sendai Hill. Two years, thought Daisuke, suddenly. When he's eighteen. Can't now. "Maybe the first time that it's serious, for me."

"It hurts," Daisuke said, quietly, "when you're in love with someone but know you can't be with them."

Stephen turned his head to Daisuke. "And it hurts when you can't get your nerve up to tell them about being in love."

Daisuke stared him in the eye, and almost told him everything.

"Yes, Stephen, it does."

There was a silence. Stephen sat back and closed his eyes. "We are friends, aren't we, Daisuke?"

He was so close, damnit! "Yes. You happen to be one of the friends that I care the most about. More than Marty. Maybe more than Rei."

Stephen opened his eyes. "And you're worth as much to me as George."

Daisuke laughed suddenly. After a puzzled second Stephen joined in.

Their lives may have been screwed up, but sitting together at dawn made it seem almost happy.

"I'm scared," George whispered. "I wish Toki or Steve or even Kari or Kemi was here." He shifted from one foot to the other in the elevator.

Daisuke smiled, reassuringly. "It's only Mother."

"Exactly. She hit me last time I saw her."

This required some pondering. "Slap, punch, or mallet?"

"Mallet. In serafuku."

"Ow."

"Yeah. Motoki says it's inspired him to write a song."

Daisuke raised an eyebrow. A certain cousin of his father would have compared it to a certain half-Vulcan, but Star Trek wasn't one of Daisuke's real favorites. Not that the one Trek novel he had read, something by Diane Duane that Stephen had recomended, was bad. The novel itself was actually quite good. The whole series just wasn't Daisuke's thing.

Daisuke realized he probably should respond to the figiting George.

"Really?" Okay, it wasn't exactly as stroke of conversational genius.

"Yeah. 'Momma Hit George 'Cause George Hit On Me.'"

Daisuke glanced at the floormeter above the elevator door, trying to keep a straight face. "Oh. Did you?"

"Not really. The title's just poetic license. I complimented Minako with a reference to Toki's cuteness. She took it badly. And Motoki thinks she's reading to much into us being friends."

"And is she?"

George grinned, embarrassedly. "Depends. Motoki is horribly clueless about what I think of him. As far as he's concerned, I'm one of his two best friends. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"Hmmm?"

"Steve's sweet on you, Dai. You must have noticed that he shares certain . . . quirks with the two of us."

Daisuke looked away, but his gaze had no choice besides landing on one of the mirrors that made up the wall of the palace elevator. "I know. I got suspicious when he fell on me, back when we first met, and everything since then has only confirmed my suspicions."

George's reflection frowned. "You've known from the start? Damnit, Dai! All the work we've done to get Steve to catch your attentions, and he already has them!"

Daisuke bit his lip. "I didn't say that."

George's reflection, coming closer and closer. Arms around his neck. An angry voice in his ear. "Then if you don't care for him, stop leading him on. Stop being such a coward. I love Stevie like a brother and if you hurt him I will hurt you."

Daisuke reached up and gripped George's hands, yanked them off his neck and spun to face the crossdresser. "Who in the hell are you to say how I feel about Stephen, eh?" He took a step towards George. "You're twenty-one, hardly a legal adult. If they find you with someone Motoki's age, you'll get a slap on the wrist." He took another step, shoving the younger man closer and closer to the opposite wall. "Look at me. I'm a goddamn two-hundred and ninety-one year-old relic. I may look young, but inside I'm nothing but an old man." Another step, one more to get to the wall. "And they will check the records and they will guess that it's another case of a perverted old man seducing a fine young boy. And Mother will wail and Father will sigh and both will be disapointed that I would have such bad judgement as to have a relationship with a minor." At the wall now. There was a burning fire in Daisuke's grey eyes that George didn't quite like. "And here you are, calling me a coward when I could break you in half without breaking a sweat."

George blinked. There was a silence that seemed to last an hour for every second it went on. "I'm sorry," he said, quietly.

Daisuke's grip slackened. "No, I should be sorry. I lost my temper. And I cannot help it if all of you would be right. I am a coward and Stephen deserves far better that me. And that is why I will not tell him, because I will cause him pain. I always do."

The elevator button dinged. "I guess we're at our stop."

"Yes. Are you ready to face Mother?"

"Heck, after facing you in a rage, Minako will be a piece of cake."

 

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