(one | two | three | four | five)
Someone was shaking him. "Jin," a voice was saying insistently. "Jin."
"Go away," Jin muttered, burying his head under a pillow.
He felt a tug on the pillow; he clung tightly, but it was wrenched out of his gasp and he whimpered and screwed his eyes shut against the sudden bright light.
"Jin," the voice said threateningly, "if you make us late the day of our first performance, I swear I will kill you."
Jin shot upright, looking around wildly. Yamapi was standing by the bed, smirking. "What?" Jin gasped. "Performance?" Music Station, his brain supplied, and that was right, they had to be there for rehearsal in – his eyes fell on the alarm clock's blinking red LCD display – less than two hours.
Jin scrambled out of bed, still not entirely awake, and promptly stumbled over the covers half pooled on the floor, just barely keeping himself from faceplanting on Yamapi's floor. Yamapi snickered.
Jin ignored him in favor of opening Yamapi's closet and rummaging through his clothes. Behind him Yamapi's laughter abruptly stopped. "Hey! Hey, what are you doing?"
"Don't have time to go back to my apartment," Jin mumbled, pulling a shirt out to examine it critically before shaking his head and tossing it aside.
"What, so you think you can just take my clothes? Without asking?"
"Yeah," Jin said absently, discarding another two potential shirts. The jeans, though, they looked good. He draped them over one arm and continued to riffle through the row of hangers.
Yamapi gave an exaggerated sigh. "All right, all right. But just this once. And if you tear anything, spill anything, or otherwise damage – that's my favorite shirt!"
"I know," Jin agreed. "I like it." With the belt draped over the back of the chair, that made everything. He pulled his own shirt off, balled it up and tossed it in the corner, then started in on the track pants he had slept in.
There was a sound from behind him like Yamapi might be swallowing. "Whatever. I'm going to get something to eat," he said quickly, and left.
Jin glanced after him in puzzlement, then shrugged to himself and pulled Yamapi's shirt over his head. It was black and long-sleeved and just as soft as it had always looked; Jin gave a happy sigh that quickly turned into an enormous, jaw-cracking yawn.
God, he was tired. Practice was going to be brutal -
Performance, he reminded himself, and felt a little thrill run through him.
Jin dressed quickly and padded out to the kitchen. Yamapi was sitting at the table, chin propped in one hand, staring off into space until Jin waved a hand in front of his face and said, sing song, "Anybody there?"
Yamapi looked up at him blankly, then gave himself a little shake and asked, "Want to stop somewhere on the way to the jimusho? We have time, if we hurry."
"Sure," Jin said, so they stopped at McDonald's and got breakfast before meeting Terada to drive over to the studio.
They showed up at eleven and finally got to rehearse three hours later. In between, they played finger games and wandered the back halls of the studio, stopping to say hello to anyone who looked vaguely familiar. Jin could still remember exactly where everything was located, and they were poking their heads inside the dressing room everyone said was haunted when one of the innumerable staff members hunted them down.
"You're on next," she said, with a smile that was just the slightest bit strained, and they reluctantly returned to the stage.
Their number went without a hitch, just as if they were practicing it back in the dance studio. They repeated it twice, while the technical crew made minor adjustments to lighting and wiring and then the staff clapped politely, and they were done until the evening.
"You have – " Terada checked his watch " – four hours until you have to be back here for prep. Do you want to head back to the office and go home?"
Jin and Yamapi exchanged a glance. The time it took to drive back, plus the time to get to their respective apartments, then repeat to get back to the studio...
Jin snapped his fingers. "Ryo," he said. "Ryo lives around here, doesn't he?"
Yamapi brightened. "Yeah, and his landlady knows me. I bet she'd let us in even if Ryo's not home."
"I'm sure Ryo wouldn't mine," Jin agreed. "Much." They shared identical grins.
Terada closed his eyes and massaged his temples. "No breaking and entering, all right? Please?"
Ryo was home when Yamapi called, anyway, so it didn't matter. (Jin was almost disappointed. He’d been looking forward to seeing Ryo's face when he came home to find Jin and Pi crashing on his couch, watching his TV, snacking on his snacks. Oh well - he would just have to remember it for next time.)
The three of them got out Ryo's old Playstation 2 and held an impromptu Tekken 4 tournament – Ryo won, probably because he spent Jin and Pi's faceoffs lounging in the background giving unhelpful and distracting advice and then sabotaged his own matches with them by relentlessly mocking TAY*J right before delivering the most lethal combination attack his player could manage.
He did feed them, though, so it all balanced out.
"I'll be sure to catch your incredibly tacky performance tonight," Ryo said when it was time to go, "so give me a call sometime and I'll tell you what you did wrong."
Yamapi shook his head sadly. "Your desperate cries for attention are so obvious,” he said. "Don't worry. I'm here for you."
"Fuck you," said Ryo, and they both laughed. Jin didn't even have time to register the funny feeling in his stomach before Ryo punched him in the arm. "You, too," he said.
"Give me a call sometime. I'll tell how to fix your performance." He cupped a hand around his mouth and stage-whispered, "The first step is to lose that guy."
Jin snorted as Yamapi said indignantly, "Hey! Who's the solo artist here, you or me?"
"Ever think there was a reason they put you back in a group after all?" Ryo countered smoothly. He patted Jin on the shoulder while Yamapi opened and closed his mouth soundlessly, like a fish. "Good luck, Akanishi. You deserve each other."
Jin eyed Ryo narrowly. Was that supposed to be an insult –
"Goodbye,, Ryo," said Yamapi, and pulled Jin out the door.
The afternoon had been the perfect distraction to keep his mind off the performance, but now, with a little more than an hour to go everything came rushing back and Jin found himself fidgeting restlessly during the short subway ride back to the studio.
Honestly, it was ridiculous. He was acting like a junior who had never appeared on TV before. It wasn't even like this was his first performance since the hiatus – that had been Shounen Club, and he hadn't been nearly as wound up then, so what was the big deal?
It's the first one that counts, the little voice in his head reminded him relentlessly. And it was the first one with Pi.
Just the thought sent a spike of adrenaline through Jin and he could barely keep himself from bouncing in place.
It was pathetic.
If Yamapi noticed, he didn't mention it. They met Terada just inside the entrance and were hurried away to their dressing room to undergo the usual preparation rituals. Jin thought it would feel like forever, but instead it seemed like just a moment before an assistant knocked on the door and called "Half an hour until standby," making Jin jump.
"Sorry," he apologized to the startled girl putting the finishing touches on his makeup, giving her his most winning smile.
He could tell Yamapi, in the next chair, was looking at him, but he steadfastly avoided his gaze, pretending to stare off into space until they were released.
Another knock. "Fifteen minutes," the voice called, making Jin start again.
"Calm down," a voice said in his ear and Jin practically jumped out of his skin, gasping and whirling around to see Yamapi shaking his head sadly.
"What's with you?" Yamapi asked, poking Jin in the shoulder. "I've never seen you this edgy."
"Nothing," Jin muttered, and sank down heavily on one of the room's uncomfortable chairs. After about a minute, he realized he was tapping out the rhythm of "Electric Shock" with one foot.
He managed to sit still until the assistant came by with the ten-minute warning, at which point he jumped up and paced restessly around the room, from the mirror to the corner where Terada sat immersed in work and apparently oblivious to Jin's presence to the door to circle Yamapi's chair and back again. Yamapi merely watched him bemusedly, apparently free from even the normal pre-show tension. The asshole.
Finally Yamapi opened his mouth. "Would you just sit down – " he started to say, when they were interrupted by another knock.
"Five minutes!" the voice called.
Terada looked up. "Time to go," he said.
"Thank god," Yamapi muttered. They left the dressing room and went to join the other artists gathering around the entrance to the stage. Two young women, the laminated IDs hanging from their necks identifying them as staff members, were hurrying back and forth arranging the different groups in the correct order. Jin was ready to step forward and try to get their attention when Terada caught his sleeve, pulling him and Yamapi over to the side.
"I'll be in the back room with the other managers," he said, "but there should be a broadcast of the show in there. Make sure the staff let me know if something comes up."
Jin was tempted to ask what could possibly happen, and then decided that would be a very bad idea.
Terada paused. "Everyone says you'll do fine," he said quickly. "I'm sure it's true. Good luck." He gave them each a brisk pat on the shoulder and then hurried away.
Jin stared after him. "Did he just – "
"I think so," Yamapi said, equally astonished.
Someone cleared their throat, and Jin turned to see one of the two girls in charge of handling the guests waiting. "TAY*J, right?" she said, and herded them over to stand between a quiet, pretty girl whose single was currently at number 2 and a scruffy rock band whose lead singer gave Jin and Yamapi a look that didn't quite hide his disdain. Jin stared right back, daring him to say something.
"Jin," Yamapi muttered, elbowing him in the side.
Jin looked away, scowling. He couldn't wait to hear what the guy actually sounded like.
His attention was suddenly redirected as the same assistant called "Standby!" from somewhere backstage. Jin forced himself to let out a deep, even breath in an effort to keep still. Beside him, Yamapi was stretching his arms out and rotating his neck slowly, almost like he was getting ready for a fight. "And we're on in five... four... three... two... one!"
On cue, the audience beyond the curtain burst into cheers as the Music Station theme music blared over the speakers. Jin was overcome with a sudden dizzying sense of déjà vu.
He gave his head a quick shake to clear it. They were near the end of the lineup – not the very last to perform, but a good position nonetheless – and as the groups ahead of them were called out onto the stage for the opening lineup, each to loud cheers, Jin thought he was probably vibrating in place with the adrenaline rush.
"Kurumi Shell!" That was the scruffy band. They sauntered past the curtain and down the stairs – Jin noted with disgust that they seemed pretty popular, judging from the amount of noise from the audience - and same woman who had guided Jin and Yamapi to their place in line ushered them forward to wait right behind the entrance.
"Jin," Yamapi whispered urgently. Jin turned around. Yamapi was holding a hand out to the side expectantly. "Come on."
Jin stared at him. "Huh?"
"Come on," Yamapi repeated, gesturing with the outstretched hand. "You still remember, right?"
Oh. Oh. Jin grinned. "Yeah, sure." He held his own hand out and they slapped them together, briefly clasping, twisting their fingers around, forming a heart and breaking it apart to thump a cupped hand against their chests, above their own hearts. The girl behind them giggled. They shared a quick grin. Then -
With a mutual nod, they pushed past the curtain out to the top of the wide staircase leading down to the stage.
Jin could barely hear himself think over the screams. Once again, he found himself grinning before he realized what he was doing as they made their way down the stairs and onto the stage. He squinted against the bright lights, trying to make out the audience to no avail, and finally settled for a little wave, setting off a fresh burst of squeals
The quiet girl was announced, prompting plenty of cheers as she took her place next to them, but Jin still caught shouts of his name and Yamapi's and fought the smirk off his face. The final artist took his place on stage and the cameras panned past the entire lineup smiling and waving before they all filed off to take their places on the stands.
The other performances barely registered. Jin did his best to pay attention during the talks, but as soon as the other musicians actually took the stage, he was lost in his own thoughts again. He did pay close attention to the scruffy band's number – as he expected, the lead singer had nothing more than an average, almost nasal voice, and a tendency to try and break out of his range with shaky results. Jin smirked to himself.
"Don't look so smug," Yamapi whispered in his ear.
"He doesn't like us!" Jin whispered back fiercely.
"He's just jealous that we'll sell better and we're better looking. All right?”
Jin wasn't sure whether or not to believe Yamapi, but he subsided anyway.
"Next up, in their first public appearance together, we have the newest unit to come from Johnny's - TAY*J!" the female host, Mariko-san, said after the band had finished their talk, prompting a burst of cheering from the audience.
"Yamashita-kun, good to see you again," Tamori said, nodding at Yamapi; Yamapi nodded back and said a quick thank you into his mike. "And Akanishi-kun! It's been quite a long time, hasn't it?'
"Yes, it has. I've been hearing that a lot lately," Jin said with a smile. Everyone laughed. "But I'm glad to be able to come back here again."
"Are you enjoying your new group?" Tamori asked.
"It's the best," Jin answered immediately with an even brighter smile, patting Yamapi on the shoulder. Yamapi laughed. The fans, of course, squealed
"How about you, Yamashita-kun?" the host asked with a chuckle.
"It's fun to be working with someone else again," Yamapi said, nodding. "And it's even more fun to be working with a friend, like Akanishi-kun." More screams.
"So tell us a little about the song you'll be performing for us today," Tamori said, Mariko-san nodding along enthusiastically.
"It's called 'Electric Shock', and it's going to be our debut single," Yamapi said. "We just finished filming the PV this week."
"It's going on sale November 14, so everyone please look forward to it," Jin added.
"Thank you very much," Mariko-san said, bowing to them as the Music Station theme came over the speakers. "I'm sure everyone will definitely be waiting for it. Then could you please go on standby?"
They nodded, got up, and made their way from the stands to the darkened stage where they'd be performing, while the hosts chatted with each other to buy them time. Someone rapidly brushed down their outfits, someone else handed them different mikes. They quickly got into position for their opening pose, facing away from each other, and waited.
A warm, dry hand caught his and squeezed once. Jin didn't even get a chance to turn his head before -
"And here it is – TAY*J's 'Electric Shock'!"
It started out with a deep, pulsing bass line, as Jin and Yamapi stood motionless except for the slow movement of an outstretched arm moving up until they were pointing directly forward. Then the biting electric guitar line cut in and the lights flashed bright white as a ring of sparklers exploded around the edge of the stage and the audience screamed. They burst into movement, dashing to opposite sides of the stage and winking at the audience, coming back together again to twist in synch before Jin took a deep breath and began to sing.
Slide up to take the harmony. Spin, swivel his hips, toss his head back. Smile coyly and point at the audience. Lean over and sing into Pi's microphone, with a quick grin upwards. Jin didn't even have to think about what he was doing; the long hours of practice paid off for most of it and years of performing took care of the rest – the flirty smiles and inviting moves that came as naturally as breathing. He felt like it had barely started before he was dropping to one knee for the ending pose, the music ending and the cheers erupting again as he gave the camera a thumbs-up.
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Yamapi grinning down at him; he let himself be pulled to his feet and Yamapi didn't let go, holding their clasped hands up in the air and wringing them like they'd just won a prize.
Jin kind of thought they had.
Just as Terada had warned them, their schedule started to pick up after Music Station. Saturday, they had a meeting with upper management over their progress and plans for the future; Jin and Yamapi mostly kept quiet and let Terada do the talking. Saturday night, Jin and Yamapi and Shirota went to the club they had talked about earlier, until a group of girls recognized them and they had to leave as quickly and inconspicuously as they could.
Sunday they got a chance to see a rough cut of the PV. Jin secretly thought it looked pretty good. After work, he remembered Ryo's words and called him up, only to find out that Yamapi had done the same thing. They met at Yamapi's for a rematch, this time TAY*J vs. Ryo; they still lost, and had to listen to Ryo mercilessly take apart their Friday performance at the same time.
Monday was shooting for the Lotte commercial. A clip of their song played in the background while Yamapi broke off a piece of the chocolate bar, tossed in the air, and caught it in his mouth (it took four takes), and Jin merely bit down on his and winked at the camera. Monday night, Jin called Ueda again and went over to hang around his apartment until he was kicked out with an exasperated "If you're just killing time then let me work in peace!" Jin didn't think it would be the best time to ask what exactly Ueda was working on. He called Yamapi from home instead and they talked about what movies to rent next and the best way to harrass Ryo next time they saw him.
Tuesday was they were up early for an interview on Mezamashi before heading back to the Lotte headquarters for an ad photoshoot to accompany the commercial. Jin thought enough time had probably elapsed that he could invite himself over to Yamapi's for the evening again; sure enough, when he suggested they pick up something nice for dinner Yamapi agreed without blinking an eye, and they even stopped to rent one of the movies that had come up the day before.
It finally hit Jin, when he was back at his apartment mulling over who else was left on his list to hit up over the next days, that maybe this was not entirely normal.
Jin had always preferred being with someone to being by himself. They didn't necessarily have to be talking or even paying particular attention to him; he just felt more comfortable having someone else around. But this wasn't quite the same – while he was perfectly happy to spend time with Shirota or Ryo or Ueda or whoever rather than by himself, what he really wanted to do was just be around Yamapi.
It had been different before the hiatus; he'd had no problem calling up Yamapi as often as he wanted and hanging out as often as their schedules allowed. That wasn't very often, after all. But now, they spent all day working together; wasn't that enough? Jin thought that he should feel weird wanting to talk to Pi every day after work, too, only he didn't, and that was almost weirder.
The thought hadn't even crossed his mind when he was still sleeping on Yamapi's couch - it had been perfectly natural to head home together after work and go about his normal routine, doing whatever he would normally do, with Pi in the background. It was different having to call Yamapi specially. Jin didn't really want to do anything special or talk about anything in particular. He just wanted Pi to be... around.
Jin ran a hand through his hair in frustration. He should have thought of this before he'd gone off and gotten himself his own apartment. That was the problem, though, wasn't it - that he hadn't really been thinking. He spent a lot of time not really thinking.
Jin sighed. Okay, Akanishi, he told himself, you wanted to get your own place. You did. Now deal with it.
He was sure he'd get used to it eventually.
Wednesday was Utawara filming for the next two weeks – to Jin's surprise, the show was still running. Wada Akiko welcomed him back enthusiastically and Matsumoto Jun said it would take him a while to get used to disrespectful kouhai again; Yamapi had the nerve to laugh, earning himself a sharp elbow in the side as soon as the cameras turned away from them.
Wednesday night, Jin didn't call Yamapi once and only checked his phone for mail twice. He thought that was good progress.
Thursday was a stray magazine interview – a fashion magazine, not of the usual Johnny's vehicles – and a quick meeting with their choreographer for the first time all week. Thursday night, Jin diligently applied himself to answering an email from his teacher at the English school in Hawaii. It took forever to write in English, even with an electronic dictionary to speed things up; he fell back with a loud moan after he was done, pressing his hands over his eyes. Without sitting up, he fumbled for the remote control and switched the TV on, figuring he deserved mindless entertainment in his own language now. He did not pick up his cell phone.
After about an hour, it rang anyways.
"Hello?" Jin said, checking his watch. To his surprise, it was almost midnight.
"Jin?" Yamapi's voice said. "Everything all right?"
"Huh?" Jin said. "What do you mean?"
"You're okay, right?"
Jin's brow furrowed. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said, still puzzled. "Why?"
There was an almost imperceptible pause. "Oh – no reason, really," Yamapi said. "It's just been a couple days and – well, you're fine, great. See you tomorrow." He hung up.
Jin took the phone away from his ear and stared at it uncomprehendingly.
Yamapi was his best friend, but he was definitely a little weird.
Friday was filming for the next month's Shounen Club episodes. Jin and Yamapi performed in the first one, on the theme of "Longing", singing a medley of old Johnny's classics and judging skits by the juniors. Jin ducked into a convenience store on the way back home and was asked to shake hands by two girls who immediately squealed and burst into giggles, clutching their hands to their chests. At home he tossed his phone from one hand to the other until he missed and it flew across the room to smack against the floor with a sound that made Jin wince. He did not, however, actually dial.
Saturday he caved. "You're not doing anything, right?" he said as soon as Yamapi picked up. "Please say you're not doing anything."
"...no?" Yamapi said, sounding confused.
"Great, I'll be right over," Jin said in relief and hung up, cutting off Yamapi's "Jin, what – "
“Why don't I just get you a spare key?" Yamapi suggested pointedly as Jin took off his jacket. "Then you wouldn't even have to call me first.”
"Just pretend I'm not here," Jin said, waving a dismissive hand at Yamapi. "I've got a magazine, I'll be set for a while."
Yamapi stared at him. “You’re serious, aren't you?”
Jin looked back blankly. "Of course."
"Then, Jin," Yamapi said slowly and carefully, "what exactly what was the point of coming over?"
Jin shrugged. "I wanted to."
There didn't seem to be anything Yamapi could think of to say to that. Jin stretched out on the floor and flipped open his magazine; after a minute Yamapi gave up and walked away. He was back in a few minutes with his cell phone and began punching out a message.
Jin glanced up. "Who are you writing to?"
"What if I don't want to tell you?" Yamapi countered.
Jin bolted upright and stared at him. "Do you have a girlfriend? That you didn't tell me about?"
"What if I did?" Yamapi continued to press the buttons rapidly, staring fixedly down at the screen.
Jin gaped. "Are you – you really - what – "
Yamapi looked up and burst into laughter. "Jin, you should see your face – "
"You – some friend you are!" Jin said, outraged. "I always tell you, this is so unfair – "
"I'm messing with you, idiot!" Yamapi cut in, still laughing. "Here." He handed the phone over to Jin.
Even though it's Saturday, we had work today! It was pretty relaxing, though. It's probably the closest to a break we'll get for a while now. But lately work has been pretty fun, so I don't mind.
Oh, speaking of TAY*J, Jin is calling right now. Let's see what he wants.
Looks like he's on his way over! That was sudden. I'll wait until he gets there and then get him to say hello to everyone. That'll be nice, right?
Jin is here now. "Pretend I'm not here," he said. He says a lot of weird things, doesn't he. Hm, what should I do...
Yeah, that did it. Now he's yelling at me. Bakanishi is really easy to fool, hahaha.
Jin looked up at Yamapi, very slowly.
Yamapi burst into laughter again. "So – sorry,” he said, gasping, "it's just – your face - " This set him off again and he curled up on his side on the couch, wheezing with laughter.
Fine. Pi wanted to play it that way? Jin could handle that.
He rested the phone in his lap and began punching buttons as unobtrusively as possible.
Hi everyone! This is Akanishi Jin. How are you? I've been doing well. Since this is Pi’s diary, though, I should talk about him, right? Well, I’ve known him for a really long time, so –
"Hey. What are you doing?" Yamapi said suspiciously, sitting up.
"Nothing," Jin said carelessly. – I know a lot about him. Did you know –
"Is that – it is! What are you doing?"
"I said nothing," Jin tried, but Yamapi had already hopped off the couch and was diving for the phone.
Jin snatched it away just in time. Yamapi hit Jin's chest instead, tumbling them both backward in a tangle of limbs. Knocked onto his back with Yamapi looming over him, Jin held the phone at arm's length, still frantically punching away. - he talks in his sleep sometimes? The other day –
Yamapi grabbed for it, Jin twisted away, Yamapi tried again, Jin evaded, Yamapi pinned both of Jin's arms to the floor. "Give it to me."
"You told me to say hello," Jin said stubbornly. "That's what I'm doing." – when I was sleeping over, he suddenly started talking about -
"I don't believe you," Yamapi said, inching his grasp down Jin's arm to the hand clutching the cell phone without giving him even the slightest chance to escape. He reached Jin's wrist and then hand and, despite a redoubling of effort on Jin's part, wrested the phone from Jin's grasp with a triumphant sound. He released Jin's other arm and sat back, peering at the screen.
"Hey!" Yamapi said, indignation making his voice go high. "I do not talk in my sleep!"
"How would you know?" Jin said, propping himself up on his elbows. "You're asleep."
"Someone would have told me before," Yamapi responded immediately. "You would have told me before. You definitely would have made fun of me."
"Are you sure?" Jin tried. "Positive?"
Yamapi narrowed his eyes at him. "Yes. Unlike you, I'm not that gullible."
Jin shrugged. "It was worth a try. Hey, can I get up now?"
Yamapi got that look again as he glanced down at Jin, kind of like he was going to say something but also like he wasn't, before he blinked once, hard, and said, "Sure. If you leave my phone alone."
"If you take out the part about me being easy to fool," Jin shot back.
Yamapi rolled his eyes. "Come on, they probably all know anyway – what?" he said as Jin smacked his arm. "Fine, I was going to rewrite it anyway." He got up, freeing Jin, and returned to the couch. "Go back to your magazine and I'll let you see it before I post it, okay?"
The cover of Jin's magazine had become irreparably crumpled in the tussle. Jin smoothed at it inneffectually with one hand before returning to the photo spread he had been leafing through. That was a pretty nice necklace, actually, maybe next time he was downtown -
"Here," Yamapi said, interrupting his thoughts, "how's this?"
Even though it's Saturday, we had work today! It was pretty relaxing, though. It's probably the closest to a break we'll get for a while now. But lately work has been pretty fun, so I don't mind.
Speaking of TAY*J, Jin's over right now. Apparently he suddenly wanted to come over, so now he's reading a magazine and asking what I’m writing about. Here, I'll let him say hello:
Jin thought for a minute before tapping out his own message.
Hi everyone! This is Akanishi Jin. Are you doing well? I am. Work has been a lot of fun. Thank you to everyone who has come to see us at the different recording studios. If you're reading this, you're a fan of Pi's, right? Thank you for supporting him! Please keep it up until our CD release. (And I'll work hard as well, so support me, too. ...Kidding!) Good night!
Yamapi added a few more lines of his own and sent it off, then wandered over to the DVD rack; Jin was waiting expectantly on the couch by the time he'd picked something out, magazine abandoned on the floor.
When Jin caught himself wishing he didn't have to leave, he mercilessly cut his train of thought short.
It would just take time. That was all.
A few days later, TAY*J had recorded performances for Music Fighter and CDTV, written welcome messages for the fan club Terada told them would open soon after their debut, and made a guest appearance on Koyama's radio show, and Jin still hadn't adjusted. Despite his best efforts, his plan to distance himself wasn't working, especially since Yamapi was apparently just as happy as Jin was to spend all their time together both in and out of work.
The one thing he thought about more often was the debut. On Wednesday, two weeks before the CD release, their billboard went up in Shibuya.
Jin and Yamapi went down after work and tried to admire it as inconspicuously as possible. Even in Shibuya, however, a pair of extremely good-looking, twenty-something year old boys staring at a giant billboard of popular male idols and nudging each other with wide, gleeful grins wasn't exactly commonplace, and before long a group of college-age girls had recognized them and they were hurrying back to the train station before word could spread.
Then the next day they appeared on a midday variety show alongside another singer, and Jin had something else to think about.
When the weekly single rankings had come out the previous week, the quiet girl from Music Station with the number two single suddenly had the number one single and appeared everywhere TAY*J did. Her name was Ichihara Aya, she wrote her own songs, and she always laughed at Jin and Yamapi's stupid jokes. Jin always made sure to stop and smile and say hello to her when they ran into each other backstage, just because she looked so shy, and didn't think anything of it until after the program that day, when she asked him timidly if he wanted to exchange email addresses.
"Um," Jin said, at a loss, and then when her face started to fall hastily added, "Sure."
"Really?" She immediately brightened and Jin wondered how he was going to get around this. "Oh – just a minute," she said, and ducked her head to look through her tiny purse for her cell phone. Jin's eyes instinctively swept the room for an escape, until he turned his head just slightly to the side and locked gazes with Yamapi, who was looking straight across the room at them.
Yamapi started guiltily and immediately looked down, apparently absorbed in fixing one of the many zippers on his leather jacket. Jin suddenly felt – uneasy.
"Akanishi-san?" Ichihara ventured, and he immediately looked back.
"Sorry," he said, smiling sheepishly, "here – " He pulled out his own phone and they traded, Jin feeling worse and worse as he entered and saved his name and address. Ichihara was pretty and she seemed nice enough – she wasn't really his type, but then again, there had been plenty of "his type" of girls in Hawaii and maybe it was time for a change. Yet even so, Jin knew he wasn't going to start anything with her.
She handed his phone back, said, "I'll see you next time," with a small smile that was still the brightest Jin had ever seen from her, and gave him a little wave.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jin could see Yamapi watching him.
"Ichihara-san," he said in a rush, "Um. I don't think - no, I mean, I don't want you to think - " He trailed off and looked at her helplessly, hoping she understood what he was trying to say.
Her smile faltered for just a moment, before returning determinedly. "That's fine," she said, waving a hand. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you think I was expecting something in particular." She wouldn't quite meet his eyes. "Anyways, I'll see you later, Akanishi-san," she said, and slipped away.
Smooth, Akanishi. Really smooth.
Jin sighed in frustration. He hadn't ever been so – so clumsy before.
He could have just given her a chance, he supposed, and gone on one innocuous little date. But without really understanding why, he knew it wouldn't have been any use.
He made his way over to where Yamapi was sitting, now playing with his cell phone, and slumped in the chair next to him.
Yamapi glanced over at him. "Not bad. She's cute. And you only met her, what, two weeks ago?"
"I turned her down," Jin said offhandedly.
"Uh-huh," said Yamapi, nodding along, then did a double take. "What? Really?"
Jin shrugged like it was no big deal. "She's not my type. I didn't want to hurt her feelings."
"Jin," Yamapi said, a smile spreading across his face, "that's so chivalrous. I didn’t know you had it in you."
"Shut up," Jin muttered.
"No, no, I'm proud of you," Yamapi said, throwing an arm around Jin's shoulders. "Want to come over this afternoon? Yuu let me his copy of Tekken 4 yesterday, so we can practice and make sure we school Ryo next time."
"Yeah, okay," Jin said, brightening. "Are you ready to leave now? I just have to change and then we can go."
"Sure," Yamapi agreed. "Meet you out front?"
"Give me five minutes," Jin said, and headed to the dressing room. He spared a last, guilty thought for Ichihara, then quashed it firmly. For once, he was pretty sure he'd made the right decision.
The days after that flew by as the day of the CD release approached. TAY*J got another advertisement offer, this time for lip gloss, and squeezed the entire shoot in before an afternoon of recording radio soundbites. Yamapi had a couple of solo photoshoots; Terada told Jin that if he wanted to start thinking about lyrics for a song or two, it probably wouldn't be too premature.
They didn't spend nearly as much time in the jimusho building anymore, but they still met individually with the vocal coach and occasionally with their choreographer. (Jin didn't want to admit it, but he secretly liked those meetings. The guy was actually pretty funny - even if Jin didn't usually get the humor the first time around.)
The next Monday (nine days to the CD release, Jin's brain automatically calculated), Jin stopped at a newsstand on the way home and saw TAY*J looking back at him from the glossy cover of a women's magazine. He bought a copy, just in case Yamapi didn’t see it. The Wednesday after that (one week to release), teaser clips from their PV began airing on the big music channels. Thursday (six days to release), they finally got another day off.
Yamapi took the opportunity to go see the stage play Ikuta Toma was currently appearing in. "Want to come along?" he had offered.
"No thanks, I've already got plans," Jin said easily, and then did his very best not to look as dumbfounded at his own words as he felt.
He didn't have anything even close to plans. In fact, he'd been kind of hoping to get Yamapi to drive out to the coast with him, since he still hadn't got around to getting his license renewed. There was absolutely no reason to turn down a perfectly good invitation to have fun. He should say hurry up and say no, what he meant was he’d been planning to make plans, Jin thought, that would work -
"Oh yeah? Have fun," Yamapi said. "Anyone I know?"
"Just Nakamaru," Jin heard himself saying, and could have kicked himself. What on earth was he doing?
"Tell him I said hi," Yamapi said. Jin could only nod dumbly.
Nakamaru hadn't answered his phone, and Jin didn't want to risk hanging out with Shirota or Ryo and having it get back to Yamapi. Now he was stuck at home on his day off and it was his own fault. He crossed his arms over his chest and slumped moodily on the couch. Stupid Pi. Stupid Toma.
But even though he couldn't do anything with his friends, he couldn't let an entire free day go to waste. No, Jin decided, as tempting as it seemed at the moment, he wasn't going to sulk all day. That would be like letting them win. He could – he could – that was it! Jin jumped to his feet. He could work on his lyrics.
Jin had started two different songs immediately after Terada had broached the subject. The first one was coming along well – he already had two rough verses and a chorus – the second one much more slowly. This was the perfect opportunity to get a little work done without having to stop just as he was getting a good idea because it was time for taping to start or whatever.
The only problem was that he couldn't find the notebook he'd been using anywhere. Jin stood in the middle of the apartment and frowned, thinking back over the past few days. He'd been working a little during breaks at the commercial filming, and then backstage at before Utawara, and then he'd had it out yesterday at the jimusho while he waited for Yamapi to finish talking to the vocal coach –
- where he'd carelessly tossed it on the table when Yamapi had returned to the room, and then gone to investigate Yamapi’s claim that there was a junior out in the lobby bragging that he could sing better than Jin, and then, after the scuffle that had ensued when he discovered Yamapi was lying through his teeth, gone straight home. Jin groaned. Perfect.
He might be able to work from memory, but that wasn't even the most important concern – there was no way he was going to leave his notebook lying around all day where anyone could pick it up. No, there was only one thing to do.
Jin couldn't believe it. He was going in to work on his one day off in weeks.
There was no other way to look at it, break or no break. Today sucked.
The first person he saw upon entering the building, of course, was his manager, holding a styrofoam cup in one hand and dialing a number on his cell phone with the other.
Terada turned at the sound of the door opening and nearly choked on his coffee, coughing and staring at Jin with a hunted look in his eyes. "A – Akanishi-kun?"
"Afternoon," Jin said glumly.
"What are you do – I mean, it's your day off, isn't it? I was sure of it," he added almost plaintively.
"It is," Jin said.
"Then," Terada said, like he wasn't sure if he really wanted to hear the answer, "why exactly are you here?"
"Where's Yamashita-kun?" Terada asked warily, looking past Jin.
Jin shrugged. "At a play. With one of his friends."
Terada raised an eyebrow, then quickly smoothed out his expression. "So it's just you," he said, guarded. "And you're only going to be here for a few minutes."
"All right," Terada said, edging toward the door. "Well, I hope you find what you're looking for, Akanishi-kun. I'll see you tomorrow.” He departed with undue haste.
Jin frowned. If he didn’t know better, he would have said that it seemed like Terada was trying to escape.
The notebook was right where he left it, in the consulting room the three of them always used. Jin was on his way back down the hall when one of the elevators in front of him dinged. The doors opened.
Kamenashi walked out.
Jin had a split second to stand perfectly still and pray frantically that Kamenashi wouldn't notice him before Kamenashi turned in his direction. Kamenashi gave him a cursory glance, already smiling a polite greeting. Then he did a double take and froze, eyes huge.
They stood like that, staring silently at each other, for what felt like forever.
"Akanishi," Kamenashi croaked at last.
Jin managed a smile. "Yo," he said. "It's, uh, it's been awhile."
Kamenashi cleared his throat. "Yeah," he said. "It has." There was a short silence before he said quickly, "I talked to Pi. He said work's been going well for you guys lately."
"Yeah?" Jin rubbed at the back of his head. "I guess so. The CD doesn't actually come out until next week, so we'll see then." He paused. "Pi didn't mention he'd been talking to you."
"Yeah, well." Kamenashi smiled wryly. "He says he doesn't report on his friends to his other friends."
Jin remembered Kamenashi's phone call and laughed, a little awkwardly. "I guess you're right," he said.
There was another silence. Kamenashi appeared to be absorbed in a point on the wall just past Jin's head; Jin himself was examining the carpet at Kamenashi's feet.
"So... you had an appointment upstairs?" Jin ventured after a minute, referring to the upper management offices on the top floors of the building.
Kamenashi nodded. "Just about plans for next year. That kind of thing." He looked around. "What about you? Are you and Pi working?"
Jin shook his head. "No, we've got the day off. I just forgot something," he said, holding up the notebook and laughing a little.
Kamenashi cracked a tiny smile. "I see."
"Hey," Jin said. His voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Hey, if you're free right now - do you want to, you know, get lunch?"
Kamenashi glanced up quickly. "Lunch?"
"Yeah." Jin nervously rubbed at he back of his head with one hand. "We could talk a little. Or something."
"...Okay," Kamenashi agreed.
"What? Really? I mean – I mean, great," Jin amended hastily. "Where do you want to go?"
It was after two, to Jin's surprise, so they ended up going to a café instead; Jin had never heard of it, but he trusted Kamenashi to pick a spot where their identities wouldn't cause comment.
They both studied their menus industriously, managing to avoid exchanging a word, until a waitress took them away, along with their orders. Then it was back to avoiding each others' gaze. Jin supposed it was up to him to break the silence; he was the one who'd suggested they talk, after all. He was just wondering how to start when Kamenashi cleared his throat.
"Have you talked to the other guys yet?" Kamenashi asked.
Jin knew exactly who he meant. "Yeah," he said, "I've actually seen everyone except Taguchi." He hesitated. "So you've all kept in contact, too?"
"Some," Kamenashi said. "Mostly with Koki and Nakamaru. A little with Taguchi and Ueda.”
Jin nodded. There was another awkward silence.
"So... you probably don't know what Ueda's up to all the time," Jin said after a minute. "He's always busy, but he hasn't told me what he's actually doing."
Kamenashi's brow crinkled. "Isn't he writing songs?" he said. "I think they've been using them in Shounen Club pretty often."
"Really?" Jin said, surprised. "He didn't tell me a thing. Hey – " a thought suddenly struck him " – I bet they're mostly ballads, right? What if he wrote the one I sang?"
Kamenashi actually laughed.
It got a little easier after that.
They talked a little more about the others, about TAY*J, about Kamenashi's last drama – Jin's mother had loved it.
They didn't talk about Jin's hiatus or Kamenashi's solo career.
As time passed, however, it became clear there was something Kamenashi wanted to say, and Jin was starting to think that whatever it was, he wouldn't want to hear it. When the waitress had cleared away their table and left them to fiddle with their drinks, they fell silent again, but it wasn't the same oppressive, uncomfortable silence as before. Jin watched Kamenashi absently stir a tiny spoon in his coffee cup, despite the fact it was empty, and waited.
He had a split second's warning when Kamenashi swallowed, just before he said "Hey, Akanishi?"
Kamenashi hesitated. "I just – there was just one thing I wanted to know."
Jin did his best to keep his expression carefully neutral. "Go ahead."
Kamenashi didn't say anything for a minute, looking down at his cup as he slowly rotated it in his hands. Jin kept his mouth shut and resisted the urge to tell him to get it over with. Finally Kamenashi spoke.
"How did you get Johnny to let you come back?"
Jin almost laughed, without any humor. "I didn't. He called me in Hawaii."
Kamenashi's hands were arrested mid-rotation. "What?"
"He called me. He wouldn't tell me what he wanted me for – he just asked if I wanted to come back or not." Jin traced an invisible design on the tabletop with one finger. "He told me if I said no that was it."
"That was all," Kamenashi said slowly. "And then you came back and started TAY*J."
"I see," said Kamenashi. He suddenly looked very tired.
Jin didn't know what to say.
Kamenashi straightened up. "I should get going," he said, avoiding Jin's eyes. “I've got another appointment later this afternoon."
"Okay," Jin said. He watched as Kamenashi counted out his share of the bill and laid it on the table and then got up to leave.
"Thanks," Jin said. "For coming." He was almost sure he meant it. "I'll probably see you around before too long, won't I?"
Kamenashi nodded silently, hesitating by the side of the table.
Jin looked up at him inquiringly. Kamenashi met his gaze.
"One more thing," he said. "About KAT-TUN."
Jin felt his jaw tighten, but he didn't look away.
"I'm sorry," Kamenashi said in a low voice. Then he fled.
It was almost an hour before Yamapi picked up.
"Is the play over?" Jin asked without preamble.
"Yeah, it just let out," Yamapi said. "Some of us are about to go out together. Are you still with Nakamaru? You guys could probably come join us."
Jin closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the cool metal of the emergency door. "No," he said lightly, "he had to cancel. It's okay. Have lots of fun. Just, just call me when you get home, all right?"
"Jin?" Yamapi's voice sharpened. "Is everything all right?"
"Huh?" Jin forced a laugh. "Yeah, it's no big deal. I'll tell you about it tonight."
"I told you, it's nothing," Jin said. "I just – " He swallowed. "I just ran into Kamenashi, that's all."
Yamapi was quiet for a minute. Then he said “I'm pretty far across town, so it'll take me about an hour to get home. I'll pick up a couple six packs on the way, how's that?"
"I just said it's not – "
"Shut up, Jin," Yamapi said. "I'll see you in an hour."
Yamapi met him at the door with a can of beer in one hand and silently handed it to Jin. Jin stopped right in the entryway, popped the tab, and took a long, long drink.
"Thanks," he said automatically, making his way into the apartment and setting the can down on the table.
"Sit down," was all Yamapi said, giving Jin a little push towards the couch. Jin obediently did so.
Yamapi sat down next to him and shifted a little so he could see Jin more easily. "What happened?" he asked quietly.
Jin looked down, toying with the edge of his jacket. "I went back to the offices to get something I forgot," he said. "Kamenashi was there. We went to a café and talked a little." He fell silent.
Yamapi didn't say anything.
"It was even my idea," Jin said after a minute. "I don't know why. I wasn't expecting anything. But he, he – " Jin swallowed " – he apologized."
Kamenashi was the obedient one. He did everything management told him to do. He wouldn't put a toe out of line for someone else.
"He asked me how I got Johnny to let me come back," Jin said, staring at the floor. "Then when I said I hadn't done anything – " He let out a choked little laugh. "Like I wouldn't have been on my knees after the first month if I thought it would have made a difference."
He felt Yamapi shift slightly in tacit invitation. Willingly, he rested his head against Yamapi's shoulder. A hand came up to stroke his hair absently.
"I felt sorry for him," Jin said. “For Kamenashi. I. I've never even - " His voice cracked.
Kamenashi had gone solo. He hadn't said one word against Jin's so-called hiatus.
"I don't get it," he said into Yamapi's shoulder. "He apologized."
Kamenashi took. He didn't apologize.
At least, that was what Jin had always thought.
Jin closed his eyes and concentrated on taking deep, even breaths, timing them to the slide of Yamapi's hand across his hair.
They stayed like that for a long time.
"Better?" Yamapi asked after a while.
"Yeah," Jin said huskily, and realized it was true. He let out a shaky laugh. "I've been wasting a lot of time, haven't I."
"Probably," Yamapi agreed. "I was too nice to say so."
Jin laughed again, more strongly this time. "Jerk."
"Come on," Yamapi said, giving Jin's head a final pat and standing up. "You need to think about something else for a little while."
Jin looked up hopefully.
"Alcohol was invented for times like these," Yamapi said seriously, and handed Jin his drink.
Jin thought that was the best suggestion he'd heard all day.
Needless to say, Jin didn't go home that night. Instead, they both passed out on the floor, where they had been playing Tekken 4 and taking turns pretending to be Ryo.
Jin woke up sometime in the middle of the night, shivering. This time, instead of regaining full consciousness, he rolled over towards the warmth on the other side of him and curled up against it, quickly falling back asleep.
He awoke slowly the next morning, in no hurry to open his eyes or move away from the cocoon of warmth. Gradually he became aware that his head was moving, rising and falling rhythmically. Jin's eyes fluttered open
It took him a moment to figure out that he was curled up around Yamapi, cheek resting on Yamapi's chest, arm slung across Yamapi's torso in a loose embrace. It took him another moment to figure out that he was on the floor and not in a bed.
They must have been drinking again, Jin thought. Why? He was pretty sure their debut hadn't actually happened yet. Jin wrinkled his forehead and cast back through his fuzzy memories of the last night.
Oh. Kamenashi. Right.
It was kind of funny, only not. He'd spent so much time resenting Kamenashi for taking and taking and taking. He'd never been able to see anything else.
Maybe now he could try again.
The slow rise and fall of Yamapi's chest under Jin's cheek brought him back to the present. He knew he should probably get up, but it felt so nice to just lie still and warm. Pi was a good friend, Jin thought drowsily. He always knew what to do when Jin didn't. And as pillows went, he was pretty comfortable. Jin moved his hand to dreamily smooth a thumb across the warm skin of Yamapi's arm, over and over.
Pi felt nice, too, Jin mused. He hadn't really noticed before. He supposed that was what happened when you were gone for a year – you came back and realized all sorts of new things about people you'd known forever. Cultural awareness, or whatever they called it.
That didn't quite explain why he was noticing it just now, several weeks after his actual return, but it was early, after all. Maybe he was smarter in the morning.
Just then, Jin's watch alarm interrupted his reverie and he muffled a groan against the material of Yamapi's shirt. Not as early as he'd thought, then. Reluctantly, he peeled himself off of Yamapi and sat up, squinting at his watch with bleary eyes.
Seven AM. That wasn't too bad. They didn’t have to leave until eight; plenty of time if they both got up now. Jin glanced over. Yamapi hadn't stirred.
That was fine, too. Jin could wake him up instead. He allowed himself a grin.
He shifted onto his knees and leaned in slowly, until they were nose to nose. "Pi," he whispered. "Wake up."
"Mmnn," Yamapi murmured. His eyelashes fluttered. Jin was close enough to count them.
Yamapi let out a little sigh. Jin felt the breath of air against his lips.
If he leaned in just a little more -
Jin went very still. He carefully pulled back. He stood up. Then he fled to the bathroom, where he stared at his reflection in the mirror, suddenly very, very awake.
What had just happened?
His mind was racing in a thousand different directions at once and his heart was pounding so fast it felt like it was going to burst right out of his chest. At least if it did then he wouldn't have to worry about dealing with this, Jin thought, feeling a hysterical giggle rising in his chest. Then he caught up with his own thoughts and scowled at his own reflection.
"Get a grip, Akanishi," he muttered out loud, bracing his hands on either side of the sink. He just needed to calm down and think through this slowly. What had happened there?
Jin had woken up. He had leaned over to wake Pi as well. Then all of a sudden, he had thought kissing Pi would be a really good idea.
In fact, if he was being honest with himself, there was no need to stop there –
Jin could feel himself starting to panic again. He was calm, he reminded himself. Calm. He took another few deep breaths until he started to believe it again.
Okay. So he had wanted to - right. Now what he needed to do was figure out why.
Yamapi looked – really good. Anyone could tell that. But he'd looked that way for at least a couple years now, and Jin had never had any particular desire in that direction until a few moments ago.
Jin's throat was suddenly dry. He picked up a glass from next to the sink, but made no move to turn on the faucet, instead turning the glass over and over in his hands as he stared down at it unseeingly.
This was freaking Jin out more than he wanted to admit. If he couldn't count on his best friend staying his best friend, what could he count on? He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he didn't even hear footsteps approaching from the living room until Yamapi shuffled into the bathroom, yawning, and said "Morning."
Jin started so badly he fumbled the glass he was holding and only barely managed to keep it from falling to smash against the hard tile floor. "Uh, morning," he managed.
"Done?" Yamapi asked, gesturing at the sink; Jin nodded and then watched Yamapi turn on the faucet, lean over and stick his entire head under the stream of cold water. He let out a loud yell that almost made Jin jump again and pulled back quickly, shaking his head briskly back and forth and spattering Jin with droplets of water.
"Much better," Yamapi said with satisfaction, sounding much more awake. "What?" he added at Jin's disbelieving look.
A grin crept onto Jin's face and then suddenly he was snickering as Yamapi said huffily "Oh, like you're any better," and everything was normal again.
Inside, Jin sighed with relief. Whatever the unknown impulse had been, he would just be grateful it had disappeared so quickly.
The problem was that it kept coming back.
Jin and Yamapi would be goofing off as usual, laughing like a pair of junior high schoolers, and then all of a sudden Jin would be sharply aware of the way Yamapi's lower lip was caught between his teeth. Or they'd be at a photoshoot and Jin would happen to intercept one of Yamapi's smoldering looks at the camera and suddenly feel hot all over. Or they'd be slumped bonelessly on the floor of the dance studio after a particularly exhausting workout, and Jin would glance over at Yamapi and notice the way the sweaty material of his tank top molded itself to his upper body.
Jin wondered if he was going crazy.
The CD release was on Wednesday. Between the anticipation and his heightened awareness of Yamapi's every move, Jin was permanently on edge. He hadn't slept more than four hours a night ever since Friday (the day), and Terada was starting to frown at him when he thought Jin wasn't looking.
He went over to Yamapi's Monday night. They ate takeout and watched a variety show to make fun of the entertainers they knew and it was just like normal – except for the sudden and unpredictable urge to climb over, push Pi back against the cushions and see what happened. For the first time since he'd returned to Japan, Jin left earlier than he absolutely had to, claiming exhaustion. The dark circles under his eyes were good for something, at least.
But he couldn't sleep. Instead, he lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling, wondering what he was going to do.
It was pretty obvious this – thing wasn't going to go away any time soon. He needed to face up to it and figure it out just what it was and what he was going to do about it.
Fine. He would start with the basics and work his way up.
Pi was still his best friend. Jin still wanted to do everything with him. It was just that sometimes he also wanted to pull him down and kiss him until they were both breathless.
Jin groaned and flopped back against his pillows, frustrated. That wasn't helping. And he'd been over all this once before, hadn't he? It was simple. He just wanted to be with Pi all the time.
Jin's train of thought abruptly ground to a halt. He was suddenly having trouble breathing.
The conclusion was obvious.
That didn't mean he wanted to acknowledge it. But he couldn't stop his thoughts, and it was like watching a row of dominoes neatly toppling over. The apartment. Ryo. Toma. Ichihara.
Jin stared up at the ceiling, paralyzed.
Now what was he going to do?