Part 1 I couldn’t show my true self; I was about to break down if I didn’t constantly have a definite separation between ‘on’ and ‘off’. ○
KAT-TUN's long-awaited debut falls upon them like lightning.
Ueda doesn't have a moment to breathe. He's shoved and clothed, nudged this way and that by people in suits who know what they're doing, and suddenly his hair is black and he's watching Akanishi and Kamenashi's hips take up half the screen time of their first PV. After all they've been through, it feels rather anticlimactic.
He's assigned a driver now when he's no longer allowed to take the train. The cameras are everywhere, he's bubble-wrapped by lenses that zoom into his every move and he's thankful that Kame takes the brunt of it all, luring the attention away by standing just a little too close to Akanishi and saying the perfect words. All Ueda can do is nod and try to suck in his lips, try to not appear as lost as he feels.
He makes a pact with Akanishi and when given the signal—a furtive glance, a poke at his lower back—Akanishi shuffles to hide him behind his broad shoulders whenever he feels too exposed. He makes the perfect shield because he's bright enough to cast Ueda in comfortable shadows.
Kame has no idea what's going on behind him though and while things are still tense between them, even Koki looks relieved when Kame jumps to answer the questions smoothly, cutting a path forward through the mongering reporters with his sharp shoulders and idol smile.
The gratitude only lasts so long.
When Ueda has to deflect a third question intentionally redirected at him by Kame, Ueda corners him when the cameras are off and tells him to fuck off.
"You can't keep hiding," Kame says with a tight jaw. "They need to see all of us if we're going to make it. We can't afford a missing letter."
"What's the point if all they want is you? I'm not going to be your leftovers."
It's sharp and fast and Ueda didn't know he'd been carrying that inside himself for so long. Kame doesn't seem fazed and that makes it worse. They've been seeing the worst in each for years. They had promised to.
Kame swallows. "It's not me they want. You have to be something for them."
The problem is, Ueda's not as good an actor as Kame.
But it turns out Kame isn't that great either, at least not when confronted by clusters of yarakashi in the crowd. They hold posters that scream FAKE and DIE and HATE and it's amazing how that triggers the five of them to fence around Kame. They grab his arm and tug him through Tokyo Dome whenever they catch him standing motionless, staring out into the audience with his mic hanging by his side.
Ueda glares at the stands, dares them to fucking try
When someone among the sea of faces yells at Kame to shut up, Kame's lips clamp locked for the rest of the MC. They can't fill his void no matter how hard they try. Be something for them.
Ueda locks the door of their dressing room and guides Kame to the couch. Kame follows like a robot on autopilot, teetering on the edge when he sits. Ueda kneels by his feet and strokes his forearm harder than intended, his nails leaving red scratches along Kame's skin. He interlocks their fingers and holds on so tight he can feel their bones crushing. The pain at least makes Kame blink.
"I'm trying... I tried, but..." he says distantly and there's so much apology in his voice that Ueda would rather he not speak at all. He grabs Kame's waist—so, so thin—and keeps them both grounded.
"Don't. Don't be yourself. Never give yourself to them," Ueda orders and he can still see them out there, waiting for their target to return, and if only Kame wouldn't care
so much. "They don't deserve you."
"But I'm nothing without—"
Ueda shuts him up with his lips. They're good for this at least.///
Ueda wonders why they never take each other's advice, because they should, but they never do.///
When Akanishi announces his hiatus, all Ueda can hear is Kame's voice. We can't afford a missing letter.
But there goes their A and Ueda will be damned if they don't make this work.
Kame is picked up in another drama along with Koki and Ueda is relieved that people are still interested in them, that KAT-TUN still holds value. When the rumours begin to crop up—rumours of a rift between Kamenashi and Akanishi, of Kamenashi unwilling to share the spotlight and chasing Akanishi away during the peak of their success; why else would Akanishi leave?—there's a greater relief in knowing there's someone by Kame's side.
Koki says as much himself because the tabloids will never stop swarming around Kame like angry clouds and at least he'll be nearby to hold out an umbrella. Honey attracts flies and fame attracts talk and Kame is a famous idol with a smile as sweet as honey.
"They come to the filming and fling all that garbage at him. He never says anything back though. Just goes quiet and... you know how he gets." Kamenashi on autopilot. Ueda knows. Koki's scowl softens and Ueda follows his gaze to where Kame is posing with his arms flung around Taguchi and Nakamaru's necks. "He's a pro. He never forgets a line when the camera is rolling but I sorta' wish he would. It doesn't feel right when he keeps it all to himself. It's kinda' abnormal."
"When has Kamenashi ever been normal?" Ueda returns and they share a wry grin. Kame has always been a weirdo like the rest of them; he just learned to hide it better.///
It's close to midnight when there's a knock at the door and Ueda swings it open to see Kame standing on the doorstep of his apartment. It's raining outside but he seems to have escaped the worst of it, with his hair damp and curling and the shoulders of his jacket speckled with drying raindrops. He's shivering though and the cold white light of the corridor darkens his face.
Ueda's heart slips a bit at how dramatic everything feels, like a scene from a drama—murder mystery or romance, he can't tell yet; but who knows, maybe Kame will suddenly sprout horns or something—unfolding on his doorstep. It's so Kamenashi
that he nearly laughs before he actually sees
Kame's face and quickly ushers him inside.
He tells himself it can't be anything too serious because Kame—someone
—would have surely called right him away, but a late night visit isn't something that happens every day, either. Or ever. Kame has never been to his place before and Ueda is about to ask but then thinks that it doesn't matter whether Kame got his address from their manager or Nakamaru or Johnny himself. He's here now, tracking wet marks all over his wooden floor. He’s searching for something.
Ueda gives him his space and waits for Kame to come to him, to release whatever he's been holding back.
Kame gives his apartment a thorough look over and Ueda nervously scratches the back of his ankle with his foot. It's a decent-sized space and messy with knick-knacks strewn all about, but Kame's eyes land on the boxing gloves he'd thrown on the couch so he wouldn't forget to pack them in his bag when he went out. Ueda wonders if Kame does the same with his baseball mitts. Probably not. And it's not like Kame has the time to play when he's juggling the K and the A.
Ueda is dreading small talk when Kame tilts his head and asks, "How do I look?"
He has to blink to unsee the squeaky voiced junior standing in his living room.
"Like you need a warm bath."
Kame looks like someone fed him tomato juice and Ueda just waits. Kame is heaving, working himself up for it and at last his face contorts into a visible ache he doesn't let anyone see.
"I can't anymore." The words are ragged, torn from him by an invisible fish line that gets caught and tears his heart along. "It's not fair. I do everything. I let them take
everything and none of it works out."
Kame's hair is a thin light brown that falls into his frantic eyes. Ueda commands his feet to stay.
"We worked out," he points out.
He watches Kame fist the fabric of his jacket that lies just over his heart as if it's missing. And maybe it is, maybe it's tucked away somewhere in LA. Maybe Kame is here to replace it with another.
"I didn't say anything. I promise, I didn’t. He was good. We were good. It's not my fault he—being Hiroto hurts."
He looks at Ueda pleadingly, as if he holds all the answers and will dig him another escape.
"Then be Kamenashi."
A furious shake of his head, fists clenching at his sides. "I don't want to."
Ueda lifts his hand, beckoning. "Then come here."
Ueda wonders who he takes to bed that night—whose nails scrape along his back, whose flesh burns against his, whose voice cries his name, whose head leaves a dent on his empty pillow the next morning—but whoever it is, it's someone Akanishi will never, ever get to touch.///
I need another skin to crawl under.///
Crawl under mine.
Ueda didn't hate Akanishi for leaving, but he thinks he might hate him for returning.
There's an undercurrent of relief of course, one that is never voiced but Ueda knows that even Koki, who refuses to speak more than two words to Akanishi and can't stay in the same room as him without getting fidgety, feels it. Even Kame who has been shrinking and growing like the tide, leaving pieces of himself at his doorstep for Ueda to put together, relaxes when there are six of them standing on the stage.
They all feel it.Like a thorn plucked out from his side.
Ueda sings Butterfly
with Akanishi's familiar voice looping around his and he twirls until he's dizzy, the surrounding faces smudging into a giant smear and it's just him and the music and he can let go of his anger, let the lights melt it away.
It's not that Akanishi left. It's not that he yanked away Ueda's shield and left him exposed. It's not that he left Kame to fend for himself, left them all to babysit his A without a word of return. It's not even that he put KAT-TUN's life at risk because if Ueda is honest with himself, if Ueda was given an out, he doubts he would have shunned it completely.
There's a strange understanding between them and there always has been. Ueda can't fathom why because Ueda is the moon while Akanishi is the sun and they never share the sky. But years ago when Akanishi had approached him with the lyrics to Butterfly
, Ueda had agreed without a thought. He had been chosen over Kame.
At first, Ueda thinks it's the futility of it all that drives the urge to add a ring of purple around Akanishi's eyeliner, because he aborted them for nothing. An American accent and cheeseburgers for the price of KAT-TUN. The big dreams he used to stuff their dance room with on rainy afternoons all as fleeting as the fairies Ueda never saw.
Or maybe it's that Ueda spent nights without sleep wishing for the same escape that was never afforded to him, because he was silver and not golden.
It could be all that, but when KAT-TUN begin their first variety as five, when they reach number one on the chart with Bokura No Machi De
, when Ueda sees them all tighten together, Kame's shoulders more solid and his own skin hardening as it expands, he knows that the simmer of irritation isn't due to Akanishi's departure.
It's due to the fact that he returns when they've already learned to make do without him.///
Akanishi is a magnet and Ueda doesn't fight it. He can feel himself shrink next to him, next to the blinding force that is Akanishi and Kamenashi standing next to each other on stage. AkaKame. It can almost be hurled as a cuss word with how much he's grown to loathe it. He smiles prettily at the fans who wield it at him with their innocent banners.
He folds back into the shadows and they're less comfortable than he remembers. He may have outgrown them, or it may just be that Kame's grip on his wrist as he anchors to keep him in the light is tight enough to bruise.
"I won't let you disappear," Kame says firmly.
Ueda wonders if that's for him or Kamenashi's own sake, if he needs Ueda on standby in case Akanishi breaks him again.
Thinking of the devil... He catches Akanishi watching them with the same stalker stare he kept on Kame throughout their junior years, the one that said stop playing with my favourite toy
and there's a jolt of something, like glass breaking along his veins.
Kame still has his wrist and Ueda lets him keep it, tells him "Don't let go," as he slides his other hand under Kame's t-shirt and palms his waist, kneads the flesh that was once all bone, and Akanishi watches and they both know. They both know that this isn't the brittle boy who would once crumble in hero-worship at their feet. This one is soft, cotton wool around unforgiving steel.
This is the Kame Akanishi won't know, because he's his.
The sun, the moon, the tide at his command. Leader
Kame's face is flushed pink now, his breath beginning to skip, and he's moving in for a kiss when Ueda tugs his wrist from his grip and nudges Kame's jaw to the side with his knuckles, towards Akanishi. There's a soundless gasp, Kame's startled eyes widening. Ueda grazes his hand across his soft belly, an au revoir
rather than a farewell, before he leaves the room.
He'll leave Akanishi to witness the want on Kame's face in peace. ///
Part of escaping the shadows is shedding the cloak of a secret.
Ueda will never be one and Kame had learned that long ago.///
Some things their debut hasn't changed are the dance rehearsals that come in a fresh wave with every single. Don't you ever stop, indeed.
Ueda trips again and his mood plummets along. He slumps into a chair, taking a break until Kame gives him one too many pointed looks and fine
. If they want him to dance, he'll dance. He flubs a move here, a spin there, and nearly knocks into Nakamaru when they change formation.
"What are you doing?" Kame snaps at last and everyone straightens with unease, except Akanishi who could give as much fucks about the dance as him, which is next to zero.
Ueda doesn't mention the fact that he watches the tape of the routine every day—that he knows the steps just as well as anyone in the room but his limbs have trouble keeping up and he triestriestries. Instead, he shrugs and says, "I'm not back-dancing for you."
"What makes you think I'd let you?"
Kame would make a decent boxer, Ueda thinks, because he gives back harder than he gets.///
“That promise we made when we were juniors… why did you ask me?”
“They say love is blind… and you hated me.”
Hated. At least Kame knew that much.
They're not friends and it shows enough that the producers make a show out of it.
When they lose, they're KameDa and it makes sense that they come together in their losses, fitting together with their mutual flaws.
"I can't believe you don't know how to cook," Kame says and Ueda wishes he had a hidden camera so he could show the world the true colours of the ever gracious Kamenashi.
"Sorry, I don't know how to follow a recipe you made up on the spot," Ueda grits out. "You can't order me around, Kamenashi. And I'm not your mind reader."
Sometimes he is, though.
Sometimes Kame will walk up to him after weeks and weeks
—because only friends keep in touch and Kame doesn't have the time and Ueda, the patience—and open his mouth and Ueda will know what he's about to say just by his bashful eyes alone—
—and he’ll know it's an apology.///
A concert. His very own concert.
A joy that is near ecstasy.
And then the crash. Sweat beads along his forehead just imaging all the eyes on him—only
him, alone on the stage, to sing alone, dance alone, with no one to cover for him or guide him through the MC. He'll have to think of something funny to say, something charming even though he's just Ueda
—god, what is he doing even thinking about this?
He washes his face in his bathroom sink, stares hard at his dripping reflection and sees the same unextraordinary face he sees every day. He chews on his lower lip. He sinks into his couch and reaches for his cell phone, scrolling through the list of contacts.
If phone numbers could collect dust, Kame's would barely be visible, hidden under years of non-use. He updates it whenever Kame changes his number but more for just-in-case than an intent to actually use it. Ueda stares at his knees for a moment before dialing. Kame had stepped into his apartment once, for the first time. There was a first for everything.
It's an indicator of how novel his call is that busy Kamenashi answers his phone on the first ring, words slipping fast, "What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"Depends," Ueda laughs shakily. "I might throw up."
A careful, "Are you drunk?"
"Feels like it."
"Ueda," Kame says sternly and that's good. Grounding. Kame can tell him off for even considering this. He can hear Kame's breathing on the other end, a waiting silence asking to be filled with an explanation Ueda is still trying to wrap his head around. Kame is a better mind-reader than him. "Tat-chan... is this about the solo concert?"
Of course Kame would know. He basically lives within the walls of the agency.
"I can come over in a couple—" rustling, checking his schedule, "—three hours?"
He can hear the wince and he doesn't bother muffling his snort as he pictures Kame glaring at the clock. "You can't control time, you know. And it's okay. I'm good." Except I've called you and that
"You accepted the offer, right?" Kame says like he's ready to bite off Ueda's head if he didn't.
Ueda nods, realises he can't be seen and is thankful for it. He hasn't fallen apart in front of Kame for years. It's usually him who does the fixing now. "I didn't think about us when I said yes. Didn't think at all."
"Why would you? This is separate from KAT-TUN. It's your turn now." Kame says it matter-of-factly even though they both know Kame's first thought at the same offer would be about how it would play out in the greater scheme of the group. Kame reads his silence accordingly. "If you're worried, this will bring us more publicity so it's win-win. You were smart to accept. I would have."
Except this is different from Shuji to Akira
"Kame." Ueda licks his dry lips. "I can't stand there alone."
"Why not? You stand in a ring alone, don't you?"
So, so different. It's easier to take a punch to the face than to face a disappointed audience.
"I don't know how you do it."
A pause and Ueda wishes he could see the expression that accompanies the soft words. "Yes, you do. You're standing next to me all the time."Anything I can do, you can do.
Ueda had hated that squeaky phrase so much back then, heard it as nothing but a taunt. Now he feels it like invisible hands, small and roughened from swinging a bat, setting his shoulders straight, wrapping around his own and squeezing.
Ueda plays with the strings of his shorts. "What if no one comes?"
"Management never extends an offer where they don't see profit," Kame says before his tone turns brisk. "Besides, that's not possible. I'll be there."
Ueda wants to say something cool, something flirty maybe, an I'll be waiting
or of course you will
but his chest feels swollen and all he can manage is a heartfelt, "Thanks."
"I'm not doing it for you," Kame laughs. "I'm only in it for the good music. I like your solos."
"You like everything."
He hears Kame hum and suddenly has an urge to take Kame up on his three-hours-later offer, if only to feel his throat vibrate under his lips, but he doesn't because the urge won't last. It lasts only as long as they need each other, a fire that melts and mends before disappearing into smoke that leaves only traces in scent.
"I like some things more than others," Kame says at last. "And you can stop biting your lip now. I'll see you when it's showtime."
It's the scent that sticks.///
Kame looks almost apologetic when he asks Ueda to help him with his punches.
"You're the boxer," he says like he expects Ueda to hold the drama against him. Ueda rolls his eyes and takes the opportunity swing, his glove skimming Kame's lower jaw so that his head lifts from staring anxiously at the floor of the ring.
"The next one will hurt if you don't pay attention."
It would be safer if they practiced on a sand bag than on each other, but it's what they've been doing for years, letting off steam and making the other take it because a promise is still a promise no matter how many years old. There's also a thrill in roughening Kame up and leading him out of his territory that Ueda can't deny.
Kame has his head protection on because his face is still his selling point no matter how humble the drivel he supplies to the hosts when they comment. Their chests are bare, their boxing shorts tight along their waists, and Ueda finds it funny how after years of leading a play as a boxing star, Kame still can't get his left hook right.
But there's hilarity abound because even as his eyes track the movements of new muscles shifting under Kame's sweat-slicked skin, he's still small. From a skeletal 40kg to a boxer who has trouble losing weight. And Kame takes the role as seriously as he takes everything, regardless. Regardless of the poor viewership Ueda will never ever mention out loud. Kame has Kousaku's optimism and Ueda wants him to keep it.
Kame catches him on the side at last and there's a victorious glint in his eyes when he takes off his head gear. His dark hair is wet and mussed and Ueda has seen it like that before, in his apartment, on his bed. The sweat rolls down Kame's neck to pool in the notch between his collar bones.
Ueda steps forward and lands a punch in his stomach. It's not his full force but it's enough to hurt. Kame keels over, unprepared.
"Not fair," he whines from the floor and Ueda could get used to seeing him like this, on his back, at his mercy. Kame catches his gaze and Ueda can calculate the exact moment Kame clues in on his thoughts from the way his muscles unlock, his body melting into fluid. His eyes are glimmering and he catches his ankle with his foot, tipping Ueda's world upside down.
"What the hell," Ueda says breathlessly when Kame gives him no time and rolls on top of him, skin to hot skin. He's heavy and Ueda can smell him, can feel him all over like a second skin.
Kame's hooded smile sends a frisson zipping up and down his back as their hearts drum together.
"The next one will hurt if you don't pay attention," Kame mimics and he leans forward and down, closing what little space remains between them to sink his teeth in Ueda's lower lip. The sting makes his toes curl. "Leave the biting to me from now on."
Kame licks at the wound, nips and numbs it again. Ueda lets him play with his lips and enjoys Kame’s weight in the meantime until Kame whispers, breath cool against wet skin, "I love your mouth."
Ueda jerks, trying to roll them over and get back in control because he's supposed the ring leader and he can't let Kame do this to him. Kame keeps him locked to the floor though and there's a struggle that quickly evolves into shameless rutting, from growls to groans that rumble between their sliding chests. Ueda's hands are sweating in his gloves.
"You're crazy," Ueda pants and Kame presses down hard, eyes dark and smile bright.
"We're two of a kind."///
" Kame says from the screen, his name bundled in several layers of incredulous that the audience eats up and Ueda can't help but grin from his couch. Kame looks healthier, more relaxed than ever before, glowing like Kousaku. Their practice is doing him some good.
"If I was lying like this and Ueda were here, it would be awful! It would feel strange! Ueda is like someone I'd see on TV."
Ueda panics for a moment, thinks that Kame is laying it on too thick, too emphatic with his rejection, but it's for naught because no one calls him out on it and the topic changes smoothly. Ueda sinks back into the cushions, fingering the curve of his lips.
Kame is always a pro.///
When I’m suffering, it’s people who lift my spirits, and it’s always people who do the opposite. ○
In 2009, Ueda becomes Romeo and Kame sips from a wineglass, lips stained dark enough to be poison.
Not having led a stageplay before, everything feels new. He handles it better than he thought he would and when he manages to go through the play without forgetting a line or the usual anxiety that constricts his insides whenever he's being watched so intently, Ueda knows he's grown. What's more, he fits
. He slides into the dramatics of his role with ease and acting becomes a glove that no longer hangs loose around his form.
"You've changed," Nakamaru tells him when he comes to an evening show. Ueda grins sheepishly, pleased and with a shifting sensation in his belly, like a fidgety cocoon.
He expects Kame to come and there's hurt and anger when he doesn't, even more anger when he learns why, through print and whispers and numbers that continue to sink. It's the same old whirlwind that chases after Kame and if Ueda is powerless, at least he can anchor him. He shuts off the television, One Drop
fading into silence, and dials a number he's used only once before.
"Kame," Ueda says when the call connects and doesn't give Kame time to think, "come over."
"Why? Did something happen?" His voice is calm and collected, just the way he wants everyone to believe.
"You owe me a congratulatory drink. Your place or mine?" When there's a pause and Ueda can sense an excuse being formulated because if Kame really was that busy he would never have answered his phone in the first place, Ueda says, "It was my last show today..." and you didn't come.
Kame's guilt is almost palpable through the phone.
"I'll be there in an hour."
When he arrives, he's in a grey suit with his tie knotted tight. He holds out a vintage wine bottle and Ueda isn't a connoisseur like his dad but he can distinguish expensive taste.
"Thanks." He takes the bottle to the kitchen and Kame follows in his guest slippers. He hasn't taken off his suit jacket and somehow it looks like he's playing dress up, watching Ueda take out the food with wide, childish eyes.
"You made this?"
"I told you I can cook," Ueda says and gestures for Kame to grab a stool. Kame looks formal enough as it is without them moving to the table and this isn't a business meeting. It's a check-up under the guise of a friendly dinner. When Kame is still poking at his plate in awe, Ueda laughs. "Okay, fine. I ordered it but I can
cook. There weren't any ingredients around."
Kame smiles a polite smile where there should be cheekiness. "It looks great either way."
Ueda tries not to frown. "Dig in."
Kame pours the wine first. It's deep burgundy and Kame plays with the glass more than he touches his plate.
"How was the show?" he asks, his gaze on the counter top.
"Fun. Better than I thought it would be. You should have come."
Another deep sip, reaching for the bottle once more. "I would have liked to. The drama is keeping me busy."
"But you're here now."
"You asked me to come." Ueda searches his face but everything's shut off and he can only see a stranger. Shizuku smiles at him and raises his glass in a toast. "Congratulations."
"Congratulations on your drama," Ueda says and when their glasses clink together, he sees Kame's smile wobble in a dry laugh. "What's funny?"
Kame gestures to himself and the table with his swivelling glass and it's a wonder that he manages not to spill any wine with how much he's imbibed. Ueda will have to drive him home, or this time maybe Kame will stay.
Ueda slides their plates to the side, his appetite gone and Kame's non-existent to begin with.
Carefully, he reaches across the counter and grabs Kame wrist, slowly prying the glass from his hand. Kame lets him and folds his other hand neatly in his lap, like he's controlling the urge to reach for it again. One of his wrists remains captive and Ueda can feel his steady pulse under his fingers.
"Why are you really here?" Ueda asks, holding the connection of their eyes.
A ripple passes over Kame's face and he shrugs, licks his lips, breathes as his blood quickens.
"I didn't feel like being a ratings killer tonight."
His fingers cut so hard into Kame's skin that Ueda thinks there will blood under his nails but he can't bring him to care about Kame's flinch or his hiss of pain because he won't hear this from anyone. "Stop it. All of this means nothing if you let them get to you and you know it. You know what they're doing and you know it's a lie
"Our world is built on lies, Tat-chan. I can't afford to be me. Lies are the only things that work."
Ueda looks at his broken resoluteness and brings Kame's wrist forward, skimming his lips against the underside where the crescent marks run deep and he can taste Kame's life flowing underneath, no skin, no barrier. Just Kame hiding inside a suit.
"Not between us."
He gets up and walks around the counter, turns Kame in his stool and gently unwinds his tie.
"I can do it," Kame objects, his cheeks blotched pink and Ueda swats his hands away. "You don't have to treat me like a child."
"I do when you act like one."
He lays the tie on the counter before moving to undo the buttons of his suit. He smiles to himself when Kame keeps his hands at his sides this time, letting Ueda run the show. This is how they work. Ueda guides him when he's lost, forged into a Leader from Kame's own naive belief, and Kame returns it by tying a floating balloon of hope around his wrist when Ueda doesn't dare to reach for it himself.
"That's it?" Kame asks, confused when Ueda stops after removing his jacket and vest. He looks young and handsome in his white collared shirt and suit pants, a trace of intoxication in his voice and his slippers falling off his feet. Ueda tugs him up by the elbows and guides him to his bedroom where he bypasses the bed altogether and stands them in front of a long vertical mirror.
"You know..." he begins, watching his reflection undo the buttons of Kame's shirt from behind, "I can look at myself now because of you."
"You never had a reason not to."
He lays a hand flat on Kame's chest, urging him to fall back and let Ueda carry his weight. Kame's hair smells innocently sweet. Holding on tight, he tells Kame a fairytale that's as real as can be.
"There was a boy once, a boy who couldn't stand being himself. And then he saw another, smaller boy who looked like a hedgehog but acted big and the other boy hated him because he wanted to be
him. I hated you at first sight," Ueda says with a small smile into Kame's neck and Kame stiffens in his arms.
"I've learned a couple things from Romeo," Ueda says and keeps Kame still with a whispered stay, I'm not done
. When he has Kame's attention through the mirror, he continues, "He met that boy again and there was always something off with him. He thought the boy was a glory hog but that wasn't really true because he was just like him, and it didn't make any sense. The boy squeaked and he shone. He was annoying and clingy, and too stupid to see that he was loved as he was."
Kame's heartbeat is so strong under his hand that he may as well be palming his heart.
"The other boy never told him though because he didn't want to be stuck in the dark alone. It was selfish and just as stupid because he knew the boy would eventually leave. He was never part of the shadows to begin with. But when he left, he didn't leave the other boy behind and that boy is never going to let him disappear, either."
Kame's swallow is thick and audible. "You are
stupid. Never is a long time."
"It's doable since you're not going anywhere."
Kame lifts an arm to thumb a thank you along the back of his hand. He looks down at his feet, like he's ashamed. "Back then... they said I'd be swept away."
"You probably don't remember," Ueda says suddenly, planting his chin on Kame's slouched shoulder, "but when I first saw you, I thought I wouldn't recognize you again. But I did. You've been proving everyone wrong from the start. You're kinda' insufferable, you know?"
"Yeah, I'm talking to you, Kamenashi. No one else."///
Friendship is far from what they have and their chemistry is poor. It doesn't crackle or compliment as it does between rivals because their differences aren't even opposites; they're just differences. Whichever similarities they do share are tinged with sorrow and they're kept secret, just between them.
If it's not love, it's dependency, and if not dependency, then truth.
If there was nothing between them, then, now, and in the future, there will always at least be honesty. Because they can trade skins and hide from anyone, but not from each other.
When Kame's eyelashes begin to flutter together in sleep, Ueda throws the blanket over his head and tells him to shut up and stay—"can't have you pissing off another cab driver"—and earns a sharp kick to the shin. He catches Kame's leg between his own, feeling the rough hairs along his bare skin, and they stay like that until the rise and fall of the lump of fleece that hides Kame inside begins to slow.
Ueda tugs down the blanket enough to see Kame's sleeping face half-buried in the pillow, his neck crooked at an uncomfortable angle and his quiet breaths framed by parted lips. He looks the same. The same boy whose head would flop onto Ueda's shoulder in the backseat of their manager's car as they returned from a location shoot, no question, just exhaustion, and Ueda would still, frozen for the rest of the trip.
Kame looks peaceful.
Ueda carefully disentangles their legs and pulls on his pyjama bottoms. The kitchen tiles send shivers up his naked feet but the warmth doesn't leave him. He empties the wine bottle over the sink and watches the blood red burgundy slide down the drain, leaving a residue that resembles broken arteries.
Tomorrow, Kame can send him shy, awkward smiles over a cup of coffee he won't have time to stay and finish.///
Exactly because they're KAT-TUN, they can't go on as they usually do. They have to break records.
Ueda plays the piano, encapsulating the dome in his own winter world, and Kame plays with silk and fire, waging war. Their solos are red on white, a smear of blood vivid against the snow.
Kame flies high in mock combat with Akanishi, a dramatic skit of a rivalry that no longer exists, and each time he lands, Ueda is there. Kame tugs him forward, engulfing him in his arms like Ueda is all he sees and each time, Ueda hides his grin in his neck and hugs back, lets the thundering screams of their fans fill the air.
A public confession in return for a public apology.///
When they receive the lyrics to their next single, Ueda can't help but laugh. It will be sung as the theme song to Kame's drama which makes the irony that much more complete.
"What?" Koki asks, giving him an odd look that Ueda ignores in favour of sharing a secret smile with Kame who sits across the table. He's rubbing at his shoulder the way he always does when he's nervous.
"Nothing," Ueda says with a snicker. "This is like our theme song."
Kame flushes, hiding behind the lyrics of Love Yourself
as the rest of KAT-TUN look between them in wonder.
Their jobs being what they are, it's not often wise to buy into the stories they sell, but just this once, Ueda wants them both to believe it.///
Akanishi's final departure is something they've all seen coming. They have a meeting, just the five of them, and it's agreed that KAT-TUN will live on. Ueda can't see himself anywhere else; he'd signed himself to their pirate ship back when he hadn't known any better and now he's stuck right where he belongs, lost at sea with comrades he'd never call friends but at the same time, wouldn't hesitate to call family. Sink or sail, they'll do it together.
Kame's shoulders are firm this time, easily carrying both the K and the A, and they all handle it better.
"It's not like we haven't been through this before. We wish him good luck."
This time, there are no thorns.///
The reality doesn't hit until they have preparatory meetings for their tour and there's a discussion on how to divvy up the lines now that there's an opening for a co-lead vocalist. Somehow, it's agreed upon that Ueda harmonises well and he ends up being assigned with the bulk of it. It's thrilling at first because he's always had a passion for singing that he'd never been able to fully realise in a group shadowed by two, but then he's handed a mic backstage and his stomach flips in a way it hasn't for ages.
"I'll forget the lines," he says after Kame is done rallying the others. "My voice will crack or I'll drop the mic."
And they all know he's not good at covering for a slip.
"I'll trade with Nakamaru," Ueda says resolutely even though the idea is absurd considering they're about to hit the stage in five. His palms are beginning to sweat and now the mic will definitely slip and he's about to bite down on his lip again when Kame stops him with a quick peck of his own.
Ueda startles, whipping his head around to see if anyone saw. Everyone is on standby, a nervous excitement lingering throughout the arena and fogging what little light they have. It's dark enough for it to have been mistaken for a trick of the shadows but it doesn't change the fact that Kame has lost it. When Ueda looks back, he can see the familiar shine in Kame's eyes, the concert high already casting its magic on him. Like this, Kame is indestructible and it makes Ueda's skin thrum just standing next to him.
Kame's smile cuts through the dark. "Make me sound good."I trust you.
When they stand back to back on stage, collapsing against each other as their voices spill and twine into one, they ensconce the dome with a magic of their own making, one broken half locking seamlessly with the jagged edges of another to make a stunning whole.///
It doesn't all go smoothly and maybe Kame's crazy is infectious because before the jump, the height looks easily manageable. Ueda realises otherwise when he lands with a sharp pain shooting up his ankle that makes it impossible to stand up. A staff member helps him backstage where he's eventually taken to the hospital despite his protests and Ueda presses the heels of his palms hard against his eyes until he can see blotches of colour and it's like he hasn't left the dome after all.
And then he opens his eyes, sees the blank ceiling and his useless leg and wishes that the others will forgive him. It should be easier now since his screw-ups have been going on forever; this is just another drop in the bucket Ueda wants to kick over.
Koki is the first to call and then Nakamaru, followed by Koki again. They visit along with Taguchi after the show and they pile his apologies under an avalanche of questions about his health, jokes about his mummified leg, and stories about the concert, and Ueda is grinning before he knows it. When they're shoo-ed out of his room, Ueda looks at the colourful scribbles decorating his cast and has never felt more thankful to belong to KAT-TUN.
Kame visits the next morning, bright and early before the concert, just like Ueda knew he would.
"How does it feel?" Kame asks, folding his rockstar sunglasses in the collar of his shirt. He's brought flowers that he uses to replace the plastic ones displayed in the small vase by his bed. The room already smells sweeter.
Ueda lifts his foot and lets it fall onto the bed with a bounce. "Like a rock. Thanks for those, by the way. I thought you'd bring porn."
Kame sends him a bemused smile. "You're here to recover, not to sprain yourself. Again."
"Sorry. I didn't think I'd land so hard. I know it'll be tough on you guys and I shouldn't have—"
"It happens," Kame says with a shrug and suddenly there's the memory of a much younger Kame falling off the stage that fills the silence. "But let's leave this as a one-time thing? We're lucky this was the worst of it."
"They won't let me ride my wheelchair on stage," Ueda says glumly and he means to make Kame persuade them otherwise but it's fruitless because Kame is laughing, his eyes growing squinty.
"I think Koki's motorcycle and the horses are enough for now." Kame sits on the edge of his bed, leaning over to see the doodles on his cast with a warm smile tugging at his lips. "Give me a pen?"
Ueda reaches from his bedside and hands over a black felt-tip.
"Sorry," he says again as he watches Kame write something just underneath the row of his toes.
"Don't be," Kame says and when he's done, he moves to arrange the flowers once more. Ueda wishes them all good luck when it’s time to go and Kame pauses with his hand on the doorknob.
"You flew, Tat-chan."///
What Kame did could make a girl fall in love. ○
Ueda has to bring his foot closer to read the scrawl along his cast. It's a single word.
He stares calmly at his reflection as the hum of the razor runs over his head. It's the second greatest transformation of his life and he's doing it alone. As chunks of silky auburn fall to the floor, Ueda feels his fear being shed along with them, his inhibitions being torn from the root. When it's done, he blinks at Kuya.
When he blinks once more, he's back at the audition that changed his life, Johnny-san running a hand over his head and saying, "Bald is good."
Fifteen-year-old Tatsuya smiles at him from behind the mirror, his smile toothy and wide, entirely unpolished and real
, and Ueda loves him, wants to fix that brightness inside him and never let it fade out. Outside, he's exchanged an orange flame for plain black but for the first time in years, he's glowing from the inside out.
This time, when he adopts another character, he does so with the knowledge that Ueda Tatsuya lives underneath, waiting to shine.///
"I figured it would be cold on the film set."
Ueda wraps himself in the belated birthday gift. He'd had an inkling that, amongst the presents lined up for his picking, this one belonged to Kame. The blanket is soft and warm like its giver and for the second time in his life, he finds himself wishing that the fabric would sink into his skin, not to hide but to boast, to walk around in Kame's care.
"It was, but now it won't be."
They're not wearing their wigs today—Kame's silver and Ueda's auburn—and he wonders at how they went from trying to shed their own skins to crawling under each others. It had happened so subtly, so quietly like a small ripple in the center of a vast ocean, and now Ueda stands there with the resulting waves lapping at his feet.
Kame runs a hand over his head and Ueda lets him take his time, lets him roam through his sparse hair and feel the shape of his skull, and at last Kame's fingers rest at the nape of his neck. Kame gives him the same look he did when he was a junior, awed to the point Ueda doubted what Kame was seeing.
He doesn't doubt anymore.
"How does it feel?"
"Like I'm me again," Ueda answers.
It's easy now, even without Kame's fingers stroking the hair at his back.
"I like it."
Kame's laugh is breathless and beautiful. Earnest.
"I've missed you."
They stand there smiling with a brilliance that is mirrored in each other.///"It was only recently that I really became free. There maybe were people who thought "Huh?" but that is the real me."
"Wherever I am, I am me, and I have become able to think that I don’t care about what people think of me."○