"Joe!" Amari called loudly to the man sitting behind the long mixing console. "I brought some friends to play. You're not busy?"
Joe laughed as Taitai came racing eagerly into the room, awed by the mixer and computers, then the large glass room filled with instruments.
"I'm free for the next hour or so." He had a tall, broad figure, larger than Yangyang, but his tone was light and friendly, and his voice was higher-pitched, almost feminine. "I'm guessing this is Taitai, and you must be Yangyang."
After the two men exchanged greetings, Yangyang pulled Amari close. "Very sneaky, bringing me here," he whispered into his ear, but Amari just shrugged.
"A coincidence." He grabbed Yangyang's tensed up hand. "A coincidence, but a good opportunity. Two birds, one stone. Just give it a try, okay?" He squeezed his hand and waited for the tension to fade before letting go and walking over to join Joe at the mixer. "I wanted to show Taitai a real studio."
Joe rubbed his arm, never failing to give him some form of physical greeting. After flipping some switches at the console, he rolled his chair to the wall of computers.
"Do you want to take him into the live room?" he asked, spinning away from the monitors. "It won't sound as good, but it'll be easier for him to fool around."
Not waiting for a response, Joe jumped up and walked over, opening the glass room door and letting the child run in. He pointed out a few instruments, telling him he could try playing, then laughed lightly as Taitai began banging on the drums.
"Kid's a natural," he joked, standing in the doorway, then took a small breath and cleared his throat. "Amari told me a lot of wonderful things about you, Yangyang. This kid has a good ear, so I'm inclined to believe him." Shifting to the side, Joe cleared a path into the glass-windowed box. "How about we use this time as an audition?"
Taking Yangyang's hand, Amari felt him tense again, knowing he was scared to play for someone professional. It had been so long since he played for anything other than his own enjoyment, he had lost confidence in himself.
"I'll sing with you," Amari suggested with a sweet smile. "You've recorded albums before. Wouldn't it be fun to record a song together?"
Yangyang huffed out a small laugh, always a pushover when it came to his suggestions. "You know I'm not going to say no."
Amari flashed him a wide, toothy grin, and turned to ask Joe if there was anything he wanted to hear. The only request was a song where he could layer multiple tracks, to hear Yangyang play different instruments.
"I'm not sure I can think of a song with good guitar that also has good piano and violin." He scratched at his head. "How about two? A rock song, and then something lighter?"
"That's fine." Sliding back into his chair, Joe rolled over to the mixer. "There are tablets in there, so you can pull up any sheet music you might need."
Amari put his hand on Yangyang's back and smiled, facing the live room and listening to Taitai, still banging enthusiastically on the drums. "You pick, since you're playing. You know me. I'll sing anything."
"How about Look Good On The Dancefloor? Arctic Monkeys?" Amari nodded. "There's another that has piano and multiple violins that we can do after."
Amari agreed again and called out to Taitai. Seconds later, the drums stopped and he heard the little bells jingling, footsteps running toward him.
"We're gonna record a couple songs. Come and hang out with Joe, and you can watch your ba be amazing." He smiled at Taitai's excited "Ēn!" "Joe can show you this big mixer and his computers."
Placing his hand on Taitai's head, he felt him nod, then gave him a pat in the man's direction.
"Alright, kid. You can watch from here, but don't touch, okay?" Amari heard Joe chuckle and pull up a chair for Taitai. "I'm ready when you are. One take of each. Nothing fancy. Do you want to record together or in the booth?"
"I'll lay the rhythm tracks with drums, bass, and guitar first. In the live room is the easiest. Then we can do vocals and lead together."
Hearing Yangyang sound professional for the first time, Amari felt a small shiver, thinking that deep, serious voice sounded awfully sexy. The door shut, Yangyang disappearing into the room, and Amari lifted Taitai, sitting in his chair and setting him onto his lap.
The speaker buzzed. "Can you bring the song up low on the headphones, so I have some context?"
Joe rolled around and gave Yangyang a signal that he was ready. There was a short test, Yangyang fooling with the drumset, then he signaled back, indicating he was also ready. A few moments later, he started playing, quickly running through each instrument, putting down the rhythm with drums, followed by bass, then guitar.
"Damn... You weren't kidding about him." Joe's normally calm voice was almost giddy as he listened. "He's very professional. You said he majored in music?"
"Yeah, though I don't know what for."
Amari only now realized Yangyang had never told him what he was planning to do when he finished college, and of course, he had never asked. Yangyang acted like it was far in the past and he had moved on, but hearing him play in this studio, it was clear there was still a piece of him that wanted something more.
"I just know he plays a bunch of instruments, and the college is pretty prestigious."
Joe clicked buttons and slid controls, messing with settings Amari knew nothing about, then sighed. "He obviously has experience. He takes direction well." The words were definitely a compliment, but they sounded almost sad.
Amari ruffled Taitai's hair as he listened attentively to his dad play, distracting himself from getting hung up on it.
"To be honest, I want him already." Joe chuckled. "Don't tell him that though. I want to hear everything."
Feeling proud for some reason, Amari giggled and pulled Taitai closer. "Taitai, isn't your ba amazing?"
He felt him nod and nodded with him. As Yangyang finished with the rhythm guitar, Joe let him know it was good and they could move on.
"Okay, Taitai. My turn. Sit here with Joe and be good." He set him down in the chair. "When we're done, he can show you how he puts everything together on the computer."
"'Kay!" Joe pulled the chair over closer to show Taitai his console.
Amari entered the room and shut the door. The recording light wasn't on, so the mics were off, and he strolled over to Yangyang as he tuned his guitar.
Standing on his toes, he moved close to Yangyang's ear and whispered, "Yang ge. You're so sexy when you're all professional like this." He blushed saying it and heard the tuning falter for just a second. He wondered what expression Yangyang was making and smiled.
"Okay, let's do this," he said, done teasing and ready to make some music. Walking over to the large mic stand and pulling on the headphones, he heard Joe's voice, asking if they were ready, then letting them know the count into the start of the song.
First were the beats to the start, followed by Yangyang's rhythm tracks. His lead guitar joined in perfect time, blending in with ease, and after the short intro, Amari came in on vocals.
As always, it felt natural singing with Yangyang, feeling as much like home as anything. The guitar buzzed loudly next to him, flawless, like playing it was as common and simple as speaking. When the song ended, there was a confirmation from Joe that the track was good, and Yangyang quickly snuck a kiss to Amari's neck as he left the room, leaving him to finish the recording.
With Joe's direction, Amari sang the back up vocals, then joined the others in the control room. Fully engrossed in production, Joe was busy sitting at the computer, showing Taitai how he put together all of the tracks, letting him click and tap when he could. It made Amari giggle, since he knew the child couldn't understand what was being said, but was intrigued by the words all the same.
It was just for fun, so Joe didn't do much clean up, just meshing the recorded tracks together and making sure their speeds all matched. He was skilled, and in a short time, they had a full song. Taitai was the most thrilled, especially after understanding that all the instruments he heard were played by his ba.
"Let's take a ten minute break before the next song," said Joe, fooling around some more on the computer.
Amari welcomed the rest and collapsed down next to Yangyang on the couch, Taitai falling asleep in his father's arms.
"It's been a long day," he yawned out, slouching and stretching his legs. "Especially for that one. Hopefully he doesn't do all his sleeping now and sleeps tonight." Yangyang grunted low in agreement and Amari smiled. "So, my amazing musician. How'd it feel?"
Yangyang sighed, exhaling a light breath of relief. "It felt pretty good. Really good. It's been a long time since I've played in a studio." Amari hummed, letting his head drop onto Yangyang's shoulder. "You took direction pretty well."
"Joe showed me a few things when I started," he replied, grateful that out of everyone in the city, this was the producer he had run into. "Since I can't read sheet music, he helps me find the entrances and beat, and he makes rough demo tracks, so I know lyrics."
Yangyang shifted an arm back to wrap around his shoulders. "A lot of producers are impatient. He seems like a nice guy."
Hearing Joe's footsteps returning, Yangyang started pulling his arm away, but Amari grabbed his hand, keeping it in place.
"Ah. You already told him."
He flashed him an apologetic smile. "When he asked if I knew any good session musicians, since he's getting more requests lately, and I just blurted out, 'Oh, my boyfriend's an amazing musician and plays a bunch of different instruments.' Joe's cool though. He doesn't care." Amari giggled. "Actually, he reminds me a little of Ziggy."
"I remind you of who now?" asked Joe, leaning down to look him in the face.
Amari jumped, taking in a quick breath. "Shit. You scared me."
With a light chuckle, Joe backed up to give him space. "Looks like the little one is out. Did you still want to record the other song?"
"Is there still time?" He was still learning to manage relationships and didn't want to be too much of a bother. "You said you only had about an hour."
"Yeah, no problem. There's time if you still want to play." As Joe went back to his console, he added, "And I'm still happy to listen."
Yangyang shifted, laying Taitai gently on the couch next to him. "I still want to." Standing, he took Amari's hand, lifting him to his feet, then led him into the room and pulled him to the piano. "This was the next song I was going to sing for you at open mic, but now you can sing it for me."
"Oh?" Amari sat down on the piano bench with Yangyang, wondering why he wasn't standing at the mic. "What song is it? Why'm I over here?"
Yangyang played a few keys and then pulled him closer. "I'm going to play the piano, then violin. We can record the rest together." Leaning over, he kissed him gently on the cheek. "You'll know what the song is by then."
He had no reason to question, so Amari smiled and nodded. "Okay."
Joe gave him a signal that he was ready and the opening beats started, with Yangyang coming in on queue. By the time he had finished playing the piano part, Amari had a guess about the song, but he was sure after Yangyang started adding violin.
"So, if I'm singing Home Again to you, does that mean you're going somewhere?" Grabbing the headphones, he habitually tapped at the mic, though he didn't need to do it in the studio.
"Never. But the end of the song makes sense now. Just think you're singing it in my place."
Amari smiled as he put the headphones on. "Why? The words're true coming from me, too." He motioned to Joe that they were ready, and the piano track started playing in his ears.
He tried to hear Yangyang singing UNSECRET's song with the same emotion he showed in the one he sent. Amari's version was confident and loving, but he could imagine the sorrow. The anxiety and anticipation, looking for any sign that he was coming home. The message in this song was different from the other, but the feeling would have been the same.
Yangyang's soft plucking of his violin made him smile sweetly, always pulled in by his sound. Unlike Amari, Yangyang didn't need music to express himself, but he still played with everything he had inside.
He wondered how long he would feel guilty for leaving. Forever? He had been easily forgiven, and though it had only been a week, they weren't awkward together anymore. For Amari, now that he was more comfortable with himself, he was that much more comfortable with Yangyang. Did Yangyang feel the same?
A smile back on his face, Amari remembered the time he had sung with a similar feeling, saying he would always wait - always be there when he was needed. More than love, it was the unfailing trust between them that made his heart light, one strong when the other wasn't, and something he never thought he could find in another person.
It really was good to be home again. However sorry he felt toward the people he left, he didn't regret leaving. He was his own person now, more self-reliant, with his own path to follow. Because of it, he was certain everything would work out in the end. He had his own life to live, with someone who truly loved him and a family who would always be there for him. There was no better feeling.
The last note of the violin faded out and Amari absentmindedly removed his headphones. Two sturdy, comforting arms circled tight around his waist.
"It's good to have you home again, A Li," Yangyang whispered, and Amari turned, pulling himself up to softly kiss him.
"Ahem." They heard Joe cough over the speaker and Amari blushed, dropping to his heels, but Yangyang didn't release his hold. "You two fit really well together, you know? Like that too, I'm sure, but I mean musically." Amari pulled Yangyang out of the room and Joe met them at the door. "If you ever want to record, call me. I would love to produce something for you."
"Really?" asked Amari, rubbing the hand resting on his stomach. "That might be fun."
"And you, Yangyang, have a job, if you want one." Amari felt the body behind him twitch and he grinned happily.
"Honestly," Joe continued, trying to stay professional but unable to hide his excitement. "You had a job early into recording the first song. I just wanted to hear you play more."
Amari gave Yangyang a nudge, gesturing for him to say something. "Ah, thank you," Yangyang answered, more timid than usual. "I'll think about it."
"Of course." Joe's voice was light and sweet, and Amari was again reminded of Ziggy. Serious about business but playful and friendly when it came to everything else. "Session musicians typically record tracks on their own, so hours can be flexible as long as you meet the deadline. Since you have a kid, you might need a certain schedule. If it's a support request from a band, though, they may want to play together."
Joe went over and sat down at the mixer. "Amari, I emailed the quick-finished version of the song from earlier. I'll work on this one and send that too. A bribe for trying to convince your man to work with me."
Amari huffed out a laugh and nodded. "Yeah, okay." Yangyang released him and went over to Taitai, lifting him up carefully so he wouldn't wake, and Amari gave Joe a little wave. "Thanks. We're heading out."
"Yup," said the man, his attention already back to his computers. Amari took Yangyang's arm and they headed out to the street, parting ways after a long day.
Sorry it's late! Long one today. ^^