The third time in a week that Jun was recognized on the streets, he got introduced to a new term. The fan had watched Gokusen, and even though Jun’s character wasn’t the main protagonist of the drama, she had continued to follow the show just to see him. And from him, she started listening to Arashi songs, and now she was an Arashi fan.
“Jun-baited,” she’d called herself. Baited into Arashi. By Jun.
“Really?!” said Aiba, when Jun told everyone later that day.
“That’s fantastic,” Sho agreed, nodding at Ohno.
“Huh,” Nino said, and didn’t even crack a smile.
“A ‘thanks for your hard work’ would be great,” Jun said sarcastically.
“Thanks for your hard work,” replied Nino promptly, which of course ruined any sense of sincerity in the statement.
It hurt, a little. If Jun was being honest. Not that he and Nino were best friends like Sho and Aiba were fast becoming, and far be it for Jun try to make another Ohmiya pair in the group, but recently, he and Nino were getting along much better, in each other’s company. At first it only made sense, since Nino was filming his drama at the same time Jun was filming Gokusen, and they saw each other only a few times a week – as opposed to the daily “oh my God why do I see your face more than I see my parents'?” pattern of previous years. Absence perhaps made the heart grow fonder, but it for sure made Jun and Nino’s hearts a lot more tolerant of the other. Jun had wondered if it was an issue of exposure. Like, he and Nino had a maximum number of consecutive hours they could spend civilly in each other’s company; if they passed the bar, then on came the snark – overflow, of a sort.
The past few weeks spend without getting angry at Nino were actually very refreshing. Jun had forgotten just how funny Nino could be, when he wasn’t teasing anyone in particular, just cracking jokes. And he was much more eager to talk about video game cheats when he was in a good mood. And, in a move that shocked Jun to the core, had treated Jun to breakfast once when they’d shared a cab to work. It had been a cheap bento, but food was food. Before his nine am coffee Jun could never really register taste anyway.
All in all, with their relationship being the best it had ever been, and with signs pointed towards Arashi getting more popular, Jun finally given up the Let’s-Kill-Ninomiya game permanently. Things were looking up.
At least, Jun had thought so.
Jun-baited, that fan had said, as if it was a popularized term or something. It certainly had pleased Jun, causing a little flutter of warm pride in his chest, like a tickling feather. But for some reason, Nino couldn’t even bother to fake enthusiasm – something Jun knew he could do as easily as breathing.
“Nino?” Aiba asked Jun, when just the two of them were left alone together later that afternoon. “I think he’s feeling fine, why?”
“He’s been very grouchy all day,” Jun said drily. Grouchy, in this case, encompassing an assortment of juvenile behaviours, such as snarking at Jun during interviews, glaring at Jun when he thought Jun wasn’t looking, and being short-tempered when they interacted at lunch. “I think he’s jealous of me.”
“Nino?” Aiba said again, voice high with shock. “Jealous? Nino-chan doesn’t get jealous, Matsujun.”
“He didn’t seem very pleased with me, when I told him about what that girl said to me on the street.”
“But there could be a million reasons for that!” Aiba said. “What if – what if Nino thought the girl was an alien or something? Then of course he’d be worried, right?”
Jun wasn’t doing this again. The last time Aiba lured Jun into a conversation about aliens, thirty minutes passed before Jun was able to feign tiredness and dart away – only to come into work the next morning to have Aiba shove a pile of his UFO-spotting magazines into his arms “for research, if you want to, Jun-kun!”
“Nino doesn’t believe in aliens,” Jun said. “Does he?”
“He does, he does,” Aiba insisted. “He doesn’t talk about it because he thinks it’s stupid, but he does believe in them. Plus he’s always calling you an alien, too. Sometimes.”
Jun went red. “What? Why – I’m not an alien! Where does he get ideas like that?”
Aiba shrugged. “I don’t know how Nino’s mind works, Matsujun. You’ll have to ask him.”
And Jun was just peeved enough that he did. He might have gone a little overboard.
“—and while we’re at it, you might as well tell me why you’re acting like a jerk all of the sudden, because if this is some new thing you’re doing to get a rise out of me, you should just grow the hell up.” Finished with his message, Jun took a deep, calming breath.
Nino blew air through his lips. “Why does the dumb shit I do bother you so much? So I’m having a bad day. Why do you care?” He was lounging on the sofa and as he spoke, he kicked the back of his heels on the side panel like a drum.
“Because you’re making my day bad as well,” Jun said.
Nino rolled his eyes. Tmp-tmp-tmp went his feet.
“Stop that,” Jun snapped. Nino didn’t stop.
Jun sighed. “Just. It’s not me, is it?”
Nino turned his head to look at him, gaze considering. “What would you do if I said it was?”
“Probably tell you to get over yourself.”
Nino smiled: a brief flash of gums. “Okay.”
Jun stayed silent for about ten seconds. “So is it me?” he finally burst out.
“It’s because you’re so pretty,” Nino said churlishly, like he'd somehow been insulted. “I call you an alien because you’re so pretty. It’s got to be strange, isn’t it? Your eyelashes are like a mile long. Girls love you."
"I am not!"
"You just said--"
"No I didn't. I just don't like how girls fall all over you. It's cheap. It's just for your face. It's not real love."
Jun felt like throwing something, preferably at Nino's fat, contradictory head. "What the hell? You're the one always saying love is stupid!"
If Nino heard that, he didn't register it, preferring to plow on, "Also, the baiting thing! That’s because you’re pretty. Like a girl.”
“I’m not a fucking girl!”
Nino’s eyes were piercing. “I know you’re not,” he said slowly. He sounded ticked off.
Jun coughed. If he didn't know better, he'd think Nino had just paid him an underhanded compliment. And under-underhanded compliment.
Nino turned away quickly and hopped off the sofa. His tantrum stalled, he seemed much smaller than usual when he pulled himself to full height. “Sorry about me, Jun-kun; don’t worry from now on, okay?” He walked away before Jun could respond.
The melancholy disappeared as quickly as it had come; Nino went back to his normal, teasing self by the next day and Jun was relieved, mostly. The only thing worse than a mean Nino was a quiet, introspective Nino. It just seemed – wrong.
Jun was nineteen, had known Nino for almost six years, and the things the guy did still sometimes made absolutely no sense to Jun. Nino was jealous, but he didn’t get jealous, and yet he was mad at Jun for his appearance, for attracting girls? Many years ago, it was Nino who had taught Jun that looks didn’t mean everything. It was hypocritical and confusing. How was it fair that Nino called Jun the alien? Nino was an anomaly, a swirl of contained chaos of his own design.
And Nino could be sort of pretty too. Maybe he just didn’t see it as obviously as Jun did.
“That streak of blond in your hair still makes you look like a delinquent,” Nino quipped, as he slid into the car.
“Hello to you too,” Jun muttered, fiddling with his cufflinks. They were large and bulky and didn’t match his suit, but his mother had said they belonged to his grandfather, so Jun had taken them.
“I can’t believe your mother let you out of the house looking like that.”
“Better to look like me than the alternative,” Jun said back easily. Insulting Nino now came as naturally to him as being insulted by Nino – although this was happening less, as of late. Perhaps Nino was finally maturing? That would be the best coming-of-age present ever. To Jun. Clearly Nino cared next to nothing about today’s figurative milestone, as evidenced by his frantic Gameboy mashing in the car seat beside Jun. At least he’d bothered to put on his seatbelt this time.
“New console,” Nino grinned at his screen, flipped it around suddenly so Jun could read the Gameboy Advance SP printed at the edge. “Neat, huh.”
“Whatever,” said Jun.
“My sis and cousin pitched in to get it for me. Said that they were surprised that I’d stuck around in Johnny’s for so long.”
“They were the ones who sent in your application?”
“Yeah. I told them that I’d forced myself to stay until I heard them say that, and now that they have, I’m free to quit.”
Nino looked up for half a second. “Joking,” he said. “My sister said she thought I’d become some lowly convenience store peon or something by now. Like I’m going to give her the satisfaction.”
“I always pictured you in a career that involves games, if you weren’t an idol,” said Jun musingly. “Isn’t that the obvious thing?”
“I’m not an obvious person though,” Nino quipped, which made absolutely no sense at all. “Although you’re right, I do like games.”
Jun snorted. “Only like?”
Nino smirked, opening his eyes widely and leaning into Jun’s personal space. “Games are forever, Matsumoto-sama,” he gushed, then broke out laughing at the expression on Jun’s face, which was probably some lesser degree of horrified.
Not for the first time, Jun debated whether it was lucky or not that Nino and him were sharing the same age of majority ceremony. The whole event was rather a large deal in Johnny’s, and the fact that their senpais were going to be attending to give them their blessings wasn’t a matter to be taken lightly. Not to say that Nino wasn’t taking the ceremony lightly, but – it would have been nice, Jun thought, not to have to share the spotlight for this one occasion.
He was Matsumoto Jun. Twenty years old. And he was existing more than he ever did before.
The ceremony was a photo-op, everyone knew that. But Jun’s entire life was a photo-op, and now that Arashi was finally starting to get the recognition they deserved, Jun had thought it would be quite dashing, to stand at the staircase of the temple, back straight, shoulders square, hair impeccable, and face the world in his own capacity. His sole presence would be strong enough to leap off of magazine covers.
But. It wasn’t a Matsumoto Jun event, today. It was an Arashi event. Nino’s presence made sure of that.
Well. It could be worse. Jun could be sharing with Maruyama from Kanjani8.
“Why didn’t we have separate ceremonies even though our birthdays are over a month apart?” Jun asked Nino, who was still immersed in his game and gave no indication that he’d heard Jun speak up. “I mean, they could have gotten twice the publicity.”
Thirty seconds later, Nino said, “What’s wrong with doing it together?”
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Jun said. “I was just asking.” Trust Nino to get defensive about an innocent question. It wasn’t as if Jun really cared. Regardless of Nino getting more mature or not, Jun liked to think that he himself was, and if he had to share a coming-of-age ceremony, then Jun was going to take it like his man status dictated.
“Maybe it’s because we’re such a handsome couple,” Nino suggested.
“Maybe it’s because it was actually my ceremony and they just stuck you in because they forgot to give you one of your own.”
“Maybe it’s because having my presence at your ceremony was the only way to ensure photographers and interviewers would actually show up.”
“Maybe it’s because they’re afraid that you’d spend your entire ceremony playing games if there wasn’t someone else around to scold you.”
“Maybe it’s because they need someone to carry around the weight of your massive ego.”
“I don’t know why they picked you, then; look at the size of your arms.”
Nino pushed out his lips. “Maybe it’s because some people thought it’d be a good thing, us side by side.”
“Now I know you’re joking,” Jun said, smiling.
Nino’s eyebrows furrowed, a split second of – of what? Some kind of tension. His thumb paused his game.
“What?” Jun asked. “Something on my face?” He wiped quickly at his lips for any coffee stains.
“It’s fine, you’re fine,” Nino said. Then, jarringly, “Why did you never manage to do a backflip?”
“In Juniors. You tried a lot, every practise. I always saw you glaring at the standing block, and watching other guys do it. But you never managed it, in the end. And then you gave up. Why is that?”
That threw Jun for a loop; he hadn’t thought about backflips for years. He thought he’d left behind Juniors, that was the point of Arashi. Once Jun debuted, it didn’t matter a whit that he couldn’t do a backflip. He’d already made it into the big leagues.
“Why are you bringing that up all to the sudden?” Jun asked, not entirely happily. “It’s completely random.”
“I brought it up because I remembered it all of the sudden too,” Nino said. “You never asked for my help to learn them. You knew my name, knew we were the same age, knew that I could do them, and knew that I was free during practise because I spent all of my time playing games. Why didn’t you ask me to teach you how to backflip?”
Why did a person do anything? Jun had never examined his motivations, himself. Until hearing Nino talk about it now, he’d never even considered such a thing. The thought that he might ask Nino for help had never once entered his head, so how was he supposed to decide to act (or not act) on it?
“That was a very long time ago,” Jun said. “I have no idea. Probably kind of because I thought they were a waste of time.” He did not sound very certain of himself.
He could admit that back then, he had been a very intense kid. People said he was still intense now, had some kind of aura that screamed do-not-touch!-I’m-Matsumoto!, but anyone who knew Jun in Juniors could easily go on about how much he’d mellowed out over the years. He’d become a small flame, compared to his previous inferno – still burning, but not letting out so much excess energy everywhere, not out to scorch the earth with his presence.
As a child, Jun hadn’t like being shown up, had wanted to be the best at everything, and the multi-skilled and mostly-blasé Ninomiya Kazunari prevented that from happening. It made Jun angry and resentful. Made him feel ugly.
Back then, Jun despised Nino.
Just thinking about it now, Jun’s throat was tightening with shame. Nino wasn’t a bad guy, not even close. He was mean and made too many jokes and was perpetually lazy and was obsessed with nothing but games, but he was inherently kind and hard-working and Arashi wouldn’t be the same without him. Jun wouldn’t be the same without him, because Jun’s life revolved around Arashi now.
At their last concert, Nino had written Jun a birthday song. Jun had hummed it the entire way back to the hotel and had dreamt about it at night. He’d dreamt Nino singing it softly into Jun’s ear, telling him how glad he was that the two of them were friends. Whenever Jun was in a bad mood, thinking about the melody of that song dispelled it instantly.
The difference a few years can make.
“I would have helped you, you know,” Nino said quietly. “You caught my eye from the start. I looked at you and thought, ‘There’s a kid that’s going to go far in life, not like me.’ I imagined you asking for my help and me telling you to go away, except I knew that I wouldn’t. But you never asked, anyway.”
“I—” Jun licked his lips. “I was really stupid, back then. Kind of like I had tunnel-vision. I saw myself on this one path, and no one else. I wanted it like that.”
“Hm,” Nino agreed, and unpaused his game. “You didn’t do anything wrong by me.”
The conversation was over, slipped away like a strong breeze. Jun felt winded and fiddled with his cufflinks until their driver announced their arrival at the temple.
The ceremony was nice. Blinding flashbulbs, too many microphones, wind blowing, raging heat, bored senpais, cheesy speeches – plus an instance where Jun caught Nino’s fingers curling on Nino's lap as if he was miming a Gameboy and Jun slapped him to get him to stop – the whole thing was much more boring than Jun predicted, but still went by rather quickly. Pretty soon, he was standing at the front steps of the temple, being met with a flock of eager reporters, and Jun was feeling pretty good about himself. He caught Nino’s eye for half a second, and saw Nino’s pasted-on smile grow a smidgen more genuine – something bloomed, warm and strong, right in the centre of Jun’s chest, and his own smile grew impossibly wider. He thought it might have been happiness. Not just happiness due to accomplishment. Happiness that he was able to share his accomplishment with someone else. A friend. A good friend, who understood the struggles and hard work and perseverance they’d experienced just to get to where they were now.
As they were passing bouquets of flowers, Nino’s right hand surreptitiously squeezed Jun’s fingers.
“Good work today,” Nino whispered.
“You too,” Jun whispered back.
“Let’s go for a drink tonight,” Jun said, slamming his hands on the table Nino was half-sprawled on. All of today’s filming had gone amazingly smoothly that they finished work early, a rare occasion. Jun was in a great mood.
“Can’t,” Nino said blithely, mashing game buttons fervently. “No! I didn’t want you to go in there! Back, back!”
“I said can’t,” Nino repeated, brow dipping low. “Busy.”
“Whatever, just come.” Nino’s definition of busy involved extension cords, caffeinated beverages, and a really comfortable pair of headphones. “We’ll go to that boring place near your house.”
“Ask someone else. Shun-kun?”
“Aiba’s going back to his parents’ today. Sho’s got interviews to prep for. I could call Toma, but you’re right here, and I’m offering.”
“He can’t go, though,” Ohno piped up from beside Nino. His eyes were mostly closed and his body was drooping at half-mast. “Nino’s got a date.”
“Shut it!” Nino hissed, swatting a hand at Ohno. “It’s not a date!”
“Yeah it is,” Ohno laughed.
“A date?” Jun asked, incredulous. “You?”
“Gee, that’s nice.”
“The queen of England,” said Nino.
“Is it Masami-chan?” Jun demanded, remembering Nino drop her name a few times in the past month. It was barely anything, but it was out of character for Nino, who talked about girls like he talked about guys, which is to say, never.
Nino glared up at him. Ohno nodded.
“Oh,” Jun said, straightening his back. “You could have just said.”
“I did,” Nino insisted. “I said I couldn’t come. That’s what it comes down to.”
“You’re taking her out to dinner?”
Nino shrugged, eyes shifting. “We’re just hanging out at her place.”
So Jun was forced to stay at home for a quiet night in too, suffering from a considerably less buoyant mood than he had before. His mind wouldn’t let him believe it: Nino had a girlfriend? A serious girlfriend? Maybe not marriage-serious, but serious enough that he felt comfortable spending an evening at her house?
Here was the thing. Nino didn’t do dates. Everyone in Arashi knew that. Nino hung around girls sometimes, boys never, but his usual entourage on nights out consisted of 50-year-old show business veterans who laughed at Nino’s youth and then paid for his tab. Also, dating implied the possibility of something long-lasting, and everyone in Japan knew that Nino’s first love (aside from Arashi, of course) was video games. What kind of girl would want to date a guy who was more interested in keeping electronic hearts than warming her own? It was doomed to fail. Also, did Nino even like Nagasawa? Everything he said about her in recent weeks could have been easily construed as an insult. When had they even gotten together for real? Also, did Nino even know how to date? He was like Jun – he’d entered Juniors at such a young age that many normal life experiences fell by the wayside, instead replaced by the glitz and glamour of idol life: dating for drama acting, studying for singing, after-school clubs for concert stadiums.
Nino was the kid who told Jun, once upon a time, that love was stupid. When did he change his mind?
Also, why was Jun thinking about this so much? It wasn’t any of his business.
The occasional Nino-voice in Jun’s head took this opportunity to rise up again from the last time Jun had squashed it down with a vengeance.
“You’re bitter,” it said, words curved and smirking.
Jun wasn’t, though. Jun didn’t even like girls. That had been established for a fact. There had been those moments of confusion during school, him feeling some pangs of longing while staring at girls, but it was the features of them he was more attracted to, not their sexual organs. But then puberty hit, and dragged Jun down a twisted, dirty road from which he emerged on the other side, scathed but alive, and more at peace with himself than he had been for years previous. Only a few people knew, and Jun liked it that way, but it was a moot point anyway since Arashi didn’t have time to date.
Except Nino did now, apparently.
God, Jun could kill him.
He pictured it: driving to Nagasawa’s apartment complex, knocking on the door, stepping inside to greet a bewildered Masami-chan and an indignant Nino. Nino's “What do you think you're doing?” being interrupted by Jun grabbing him by the wrist and punching him to the ground. Jun would climb on top of him, Nino being in too much pain or shock or both to struggle, and Jun would lean down to hiss a warning at him before he let his fists fly, "You're not allowed to put girls first or I'll--" and Nino would just smile cockily back at him, what a fucking brat, and he’d say, “Well, go ahead then. I’m waiting,” and Jun would—
Jun’s eyes flashed open. “Stop it,” he breathed. He thought he’d overcome that stupid habit.
Twenty-one years old and stuck with some sort of unhealthy fixation on one of his band members. It was beyond pathetic. He had to get his temper under control.
It wasn’t like Jun had an anger problem. Did he ever? He’d been so impatient, as a kid. Always expecting from the world the same demands he placed on himself. Over time, his perfectionism in his work gave him a touchier persona than he was in general, and his reputation preceded him, but Jun wasn’t a diva. Far from it. He’d long outgrown his penchant for superiority. Working in Arashi for as many years as he had beat it out of him. Jun couldn’t interact with people like Aiba and Ohno and Sho everyday and stay the way he was before: a shrimpy little kid trying to force the world onto his shoulders. He liked to think that the years had matured him into someone halfway respectable. But, sometimes, something about Nino just set him off. They could go months without anything close to animosity, and then, a comment would be absently dropped, and it would all come rushing back. The frustration, the resentment, the annoyance – the intense tornado of emotions that no one but Nino could dredge up from Jun, that could sent his heart pumping in overdrive and face heating like a sunlamp.
What on earth could a girl see in Nino anyway? He was too sharp around the edges, too thin in the middle. A piece of cardboard was probably just as good company – and just as cheap too.
Jun sighed, running harried fingers through his hair. He needed to stop thinking about something he had no control over. He should go out. Get someone, anyone for company. Toss back a few drinks.
His cell phone rang. Something leapt in Jun like a startled rabbit and he snatched the phone out of reflexive fear. Not Nino. Ohno.
“Hello, Ohno-kun,” Jun answered politely. “What’s happening?”
“Ah. Nothing,” Ohno said calmly, voice slow and pleasant. “Just wanted to see what Jun-kun was doing.”
“Really,” Jun said, immediately suspicious.
“And if I told you I was at a bar, and you were interrupting time with my friends?”
“Quiet kind of bar,” Ohno hummed.
Jun smiled loosely. “You're actually much quicker than you look,” he teased. “What can I do for you, then.”
“Just wanted to apologize for making it weird today.”
“Nino – that.”
No other person on earth could use so few syllables to say something so expansive.
One time not too long ago, the five of them had gone out for a midnight dinner in Osaka. Their concert had just finished and Jun’s body was still slightly humming from the exhilaration of his name being chanted by thousands of fans. At the restaurant, the drinks kept pouring and every joke Aiba made got impossibly funnier. Sho’s shoulder had been warm and strong against Jun’s, and the way Nino’s eyes were glittering in the ochre lamplight was making Jun’s stomach feel off-balance, more so than the alcohol did. Nino was laughing uproariously from something Ohno said, and the high-toned melody of it might as well have been wind chimes in Jun’s ears. Gums. Teeth. A bottom lip that looked so much softer than the tongue they encapsulated. Would it be possible to suck Nino’s voice right out of him?
He was picturing Nino as the Little Mermaid when Jun happened to look askance and catch Ohno’s gaze.
Ohno watching Jun as if he was shape-shifting before his very eyes. His face was lax, content, but his eyes were amused. Ohno watching Jun watch Nino.
Inexplicably, Jun had tensed up, the warmth that had previously been burbling through him frozen in his bloodstream.
But Ohno had merely nudged Jun’s foot from under the table, smiled, and refilled Jun’s sake cup.
“It really wasn't weird -- and how long have you known about Masami-chan, besides?” Jun said. He was stalling. He knew he was. He didn’t want to confront this subject to Ohno, ever: this mercurial chemistry Jun had with Nino. He didn’t understand it himself. He had never understood why Nino, of all people, had such mastery over Jun’s visceral emotions, like he had a button straight to Jun’s nervous system, as easily pushed as any handheld game controller.
It wasn’t like Jun was bitter.
“No need,” Ohno said. “Because it wasn’t anything. Nothing happened. And nothing happened today either.”
“So why call?”
“…maybe you were upset. I just thought, I don’t want Jun-kun to be upset. So I called.”
“Why would I be upset? Nino can date. Whoever he wants.” This wasn’t the conversation Jun wanted to be having today. Or any day.
“I know he can. And Jun-kun can too.”
Jun didn’t know where this was leading. “I’m fine, Ohno-san. Thanks for your concern. But there’s… how do I put it? I’m totally fine. There’s nothing to be – not fine about.”
“Well, good. Nino was worried that you’d be mad. He got angry with me, a little, for telling you that stuff. But see. Jun-kun’s much more mature than Nino gives credit for.”
“I would hope so. Is there anything else?”
“Umm. No. See you tomorrow, Jun-kun.”
“See you,” Jun echoed, and hung up the phone with his thumb. When he put down his phone, he could see the cold sweat glistening on the palm of his hand, like a layer of silver dust.
The way that Nino flopped on the couch today – not surly, not petulant, neither overtired nor all-suffering; but firmly and neatly – spoke millions before Nino even opened his mouth.
“It’ll be stupid to put it off, so here it is now,” he rattled off quickly. “Yes, I accepted the part. Yes, I’ll have to fly to the States. No, I don’t know exactly when right now, but the producer is predicting a little longer than a month. Yes, the staff knows.”
There was a long, dead pause.
Then, “Oh,” Aiba squeaked, then coughed. “I mean. Congratulations, Nino-chan! That’s a great role to snag! Good luck!”
Nino’s hands were on his knees, fingers tight and curled. His handheld was nowhere in sight. “Thanks,” he said. Not quite enthusiastically, but sincerely enough.
“Clint Eastwood,” Sho said, sighing and letting his head flop onto the back of his sofa. “That’s amazing, honestly. For you and for us as well.”
“I like his westerns,” Ohno agreed. “It’ll be fun.”
“And you’re only gone for about a month?” Aiba pushed.
“They’d get sick of me if it were much longer,” Nino tossed back without missing a beat.
“It’ll be good,” Jun added, just to have something to say. His voice sounded as flat as a piece of paper, so he tried again. “I’m sure you’ll have a great experience.”
Nino’s appreciation was all in his smile. “You would say that,” he said, laughing. “Hope you won’t die without me around to keep your ego in check.”
“I won’t and it remains a very respectable size, thank you,” Jun replied.
And this is how Jun found himself making a phone call to America one day, at three am in the morning.
“Oh my God, do you know what time it is here?” said Nino’s voice, as soon as the line picked up. Not even a cursory hello. Well, it’s not like Jun expected the distance to mellow out Nino’s personality – that would just be weird.
“I know exactly what time it is over there, which is why I’m giving up sleep to call you right now,” Jun said irritably. The overseas connection made Nino’s voice sound tinny and more reedy than normal, as if he were whining at his utmost through a very long cardboard tube. It was almost nice, the dampening effect. Usually the sound of Nino’s sulkiness set Jun’s teeth on edge, but after almost a week without its constant grating, Jun really was beginning to miss it. Just a little.
“But your beauty sleep!!” Nino moaned. “You need that! Please don’t reveal your true face to the world, Matsumoto-san! How can we be expected to—” The rest of his words were drowned out in a burst of static, then Nino’s voice returned to the line in stutters, half his sentences cut off at random intervals. “If you --- Oh-chan isn’t going to --- don’t think th--- middle of the night over here? But I --- a lizard --- your face!! Jun-kun!”
“What on earth are you talking about?” said Jun. “I didn’t get any of that. Where are you? The connection is terrible.”
“In the middle of --- kkkhh --- so hot and dry, I’m dying!”
“THE DESERT!” Nino yelled.
“Don’t shout,” Jun admonished. “What must your crew think of you?”
“They love me, unsurprisingly. Boss said I was cute,” Nino chirped in English.
“Liar,” Jun laughed.
“Nope. I’m gonna be in all of Clint Eastwood’s movies from now on. He’s making one with Angelina Jolie next and I’m going to play her love interest. Jealous?”
“She’s playing a blind person?”
“Har har. What sparkling wit, Jun-san.”
“Listen to you whine. I just wanted to check to make sure you were alive. Good job keeping in contact with me, you ass.”
Nino quieted. “It’s not like I disappeared,” he said after a moment. “My manager’s been keeping tabs, hasn’t he? I’m not on vacation here, I’ve been busy.”
“Except you’ve been texting Ohno, and I know you called Aiba twice. And you send Sho emails.” But to Jun, not a single word.
“I’ve only been here for a week! Give me a chance to get into an adventure truly worthy of Matsumoto-sama’s time.”
“Nino,” Jun snapped. “I didn’t phone long distance just to hear you mock me.”
“Then why phone?”
“To ask why – you don’t,” Jun said awkwardly. Damn it. He’d practised that phrase five times in the mirror before placing this stupid call, and still he screwed it up. Pathetic.
Nino paused, then said, “But it’s like… I did think of you, you know. But I can’t call, because it’s harder when I can hear your voice.”
“Oh,” Jun said dumbly. “So – you – that’s the most idiotic thing ever.”
Nino barked out a short laugh. “Feels like I should apologize.”
“I miss you guys,” Nino said, sighing heavily. “I miss home and Japan and not having to look up for miles when I talk to people. I miss vending machines. Good ones, not ones that hold shitty chip bags and too-sweet chocolate bars. I went through three video games in a week because I’m so bored and don’t want to go out by myself. And I almost died in the local laundromat. All I had to wash were some pants and socks, but it cost me like 1.25 US. The tubs are so deep I could take a bath in them. You would probably find all of this really interesting, though, because you’re weird like that and you try new things like you’re conquering land or something. I don’t know how you can do that. I don’t like it here at all. I don’t know how to just – push myself like you can.”
“You can do it,” Jun told him. “You’re insane enough to be able to do anything.”
“Well I don’t need to push myself when I have you,” said Nino.
Jun's hand that was holding his phone gave a spastic clench. That – was something that Jun hadn’t known he’d needed to hear. “Ah,” he said, struck.
Nino succumbed to silence, as if that slew of complaints had used up the last of his desert-dry voice. When no sound other than their mutual breathing came through the line for several minutes, Nino spoke up.
“Do you remember in Juniors, when you used to play that game? How Many Ways Can I Kill Ninomiya?”
“I never did that,” Jun said, perhaps too quickly.
Nino snorted. “Come off it. Everyone knew you did it. You got this crazed look on your face while you were thinking about it. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you got that look only after I’d done something to piss you off. Even Aiba eventually noticed something was up.”
Jun stuttered, caught in his guilt. “It’s not what you think. It was just – stress relief. You were – hard to deal with, for me. At first. But I don’t want you dead. I don't even hate you very much.”
“No, I know,” Nino said. “But it made me wonder, since that level of obsession is kind of creepy, right? And if you don’t hate me, are you in love with me?”
Jun was twenty-two years old. He had been working with Nino in nearly every possible capacity for almost a decade, and still, still, with just a few slapdash words, Nino could render him as mute as a baby, one whose eyes have been forced open and body thrust into the harsh reality of life.
When Jun got to age seventy, eighty, ninety, what memories would he keep? Some people looked back fondly on their quiet moments, a lull of calm days between what will then seem like whirlwind years, finding joy in the days when they felt safe, anchored, permanent.
Jun wasn’t one of those people. Jun thrived on life, always eager to be noticed, to be recognized, to thrust himself in everything and do his absolute best. Jun lived intensely, and wanted even his quiet, normal moments to be significant. When Jun became older, he didn't just want memories of concerts and 24 Hour TV and movie premieres, because while that was a large portion of his life, it wasn't his entire life. He wanted to know that from day to day, away from the camera, he had times when the dullest things were made exciting and memorable. And Jun imagined that sometimes he might recall being still, standing around, but mostly, he would recall these staccato moments of pure emotion, when the world seemed sharp and thrilling, supersaturated with energy and passion, leeching in and out of Jun so thickly it made his pulse boom like thunder in his ears.
Jun would remember highs and lows: being angry, and being sad, his moments of most.
Laughing so hard at Aiba's stupidity that tears would form in his eyes. Being proud when Sho made his first solo report as News Zero anchor. Being tired, so tired, from the endless work, then seeing Ohno push himself wearily to his feet and hold out a hand to Jun. Walking offstage after a flawless concert while holding hands with the other members and having all of their staff burst out into applause.
And Jun would remember Nino.
It was the irreverent instances that stuck out to him now: a disheartened glance from Nino there, a roll of eyes there; a quip about Jun's hair that would ruin Jun's entire morning, a genuine hug that would buoy Jun's spirits for the day; Nino scorning his ego on most days, and yet doing more to cement it with a well-timed remark than a hundred compliments from his fans.
These things that had shaped the better parts of Jun's life, in bits and pieces, since the very beginning. It meant something, to have lived so long with a person that you thrived not only off his happiness, but his anger as well. It meant something that a flippant word from Nino could fuel Jun's ire just as easily as a quirked smile from Nino could extinguish it. That Jun had grown so used to reacting to Nino that when Nino was gone, Jun felt less. And it was Nino who made him feel the most.
All these things, they meant that Nino was important. Special.
Jun had known that at thirteen.
“Why do you ask,” Jun said, hesitantly, despite his newly raw throat. He’d jumped to conclusions with Nino before. He’d been proven wrong every single time.
“Because,” Nino answered. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if Jun-kun was in love with me? Wouldn’t that be just fantastic?”
“It would most certainly not be; if you only want to hold something over my head for all the times that I—”
“Because it turns out that I’m kind of in love with Jun-kun too,” Nino finished.
Every fucking time.
“I wish I could see your face right now.” Nino added jokingly, when the silence had stretched passed acceptable, then longer still. His laugh sounded only slightly bitter.
“I—” Jun paused to clear his throat. “This is coming out – rather suddenly.”
“Really?’ Nino asked, surprise colouring his voice. “Wow, where have you been?”
By the time Nino filming finished and he returned to Japan, both their birthdays had passed, and it was with the mature grace and level dignity of a twenty-three year old that Jun greeted his long gone bandmate, when he saw him in the flesh for the first time in over a month.
“You fucking ass,” Jun shouted, aiming his bag at Nino’s head and throwing with all his strength. “You didn’t tell us you’d be back today!”
“Ow! Hey!” Nino yelped, hands flying to his still-shaved scalp. “Watch the upholstery!”
“I cannot believe you, Ninomiya,” Jun hissed, stalking over to where Nino was lounging on the couch, like it was any other normal day at work, like he hadn’t been halfway across the planet for weeks on end, like he hadn’t confessed to Jun, like they hadn’t had those few, precious, harrowing conversations over long-distance connection in which Jun’s worldview of himself and Nino changed so drastically that his body felt different and uncertain on his feet. “I distinctly remember telling you to give me warning twenty-four hours before you were due home, and you—”
“And I didn’t listen to you, because when do I ever listen to you, and now you have a nice morning surprise before the make-up team has to wage war with the moles on your face. I’m sure they’d appreciate some smiles from you, rather than just your usual intense, emo glaring.”
Jun was so apoplectic for a moment that he considered punching Nino in the nose. He found himself standing right beside Nino on the couch, his knees level with Nino’s sprawled body, then suddenly he was leaning in, intent on putting himself right smack in Nino’s smug little face to yell out his rage—
Nino leaned up and kissed him.
Jun’s eyes fluttered in shock, his mouth opened to suck in a gasp, but Nino just pushed in further -- his tongue flicked inside Jun's mouth and a bolt of heat spiked directly through to Jun's core.
Jun pulled away.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Nino stared at him incredulously. "Are you kidding or are you testing me?"
Jun licked his lips, felt the wetness left over from Nino. As first kisses went, that one hadn't been horrible -- too bad that Jun's knee-jerk panic had discoloured any enjoyment he would have gotten from it. Nino kissing him. It seemed unreal.
"It's not even noon yet," he heard himself say, which seemed to be as much of a protest as his brain was currently willing to provide.
"I'm still operating on American time," Nino smirked. "For me, the night is young."
"Anyone could walk in."
"Yeah, like hiding the fact that two-fifths of a group have gotten together from the other three-fifths of the group -- whom we spend all our time with -- is a splendid use of energy."
Jun pursed his lips and briefly looked up to the ceiling. "God, I think I was even half-expecting you to, I don't know. Can't you be a little more--" he waved his hand in a helpless gesture.
"Not really. Or I wouldn't be standing here right now, right?" Nino smiled with all of the innocence he didn't possess but knew how to fake.
Jun's returning smile was not something he'd intended to let out. "Yeah."
The thing was, though, those years of ignorance aside, this had happened rather quickly. It felt like no time at all had passed between Nino announcing his crush on Jun, prompted on, as it were, on how obscenely much he'd missed "Jun-kun's nasally singing" while he was overseas. Calling the situation surreal would be putting it lightly. It was one thing to be blind to another band member's true feelings for years ("You're gay?!" Jun had blurted out during their first conversation, and Nino had hummed, "I'm not not gay," like that was supposed to explain everything) but Jun's own feelings towards Nino were a whole other language he hadn't yet fully grasped. After Nino had come out with his attraction to Jun, it hadn't been that great a leap for Jun to admit he could be attracted to Nino too. In that way. Jun wasn't that naive, green child anymore. Attraction could be caused by a lot of things, the least of which constituted of working together for a decade and knowing each other inside out (or close to it). Jun had always fixated on Nino like a moth to a flame, but if he'd never previously recognized those feelings to be love, then -- were they? How could he know for sure? People changed so much as time passed. It was hard to reconcile Jun's affection for Nino (as a friend) and his anger for Nino (also as a friend) together, not as two parts of a set of Nino-specific emotions, but as two sides of the same multifaceted emotion. It was like trying to see both sides of the coin at one time. It was like, actually, trying to pin down Nino's real personality. Nigh impossible. But it didn't mean that both sides weren't there, just as how Nino wasn't totally inscrutable.
Lifelong challenges aside, Jun was finding it much, much easier to physically pin down Nino.
Because love or not, there was something in Nino that sparked something else in Jun. Jun was the sort who burned on the inside; he couldn't help that Nino was such volatile ignition.
"Should've known you'd like to top," Nino laughed, his words ending in a hiss as Jun dragged his newly manicured fingernails up Nino's stomach.
"Shut the fuck up and let me enjoy this," Jun laughed back, matching Nino's shit-eating grin.
The day was dark: work was finished, Nino had been given his welcome back cake, souvenirs had been handed out, stories had been shared, and everyone had parted ways in the late evening, content that Arashi once again had all of its members in one place. Thirty minutes after Jun had gotten back to his apartment, someone had knocked on his door, and before he could even scold Nino for conning his way past the building's doorman, Jun was getting his words sucked out of him from a very enthusiastic, short, bald man.
He would have protested. He had planned to protest. He'd wanted to know where he stood with Nino before doing anything... dramatic. He'd wanted to be sure of himself, of the direction in which they might be going.
But then Nino shoved his hands up Jun's shirt and scored his fingers all the way down Jun's back. And when Jun hissed, Nino had laughed. Like he was winning.
So of course Jun pushed back. If this was a contest of wills, then Jun had never once backed off from Nino -- he wasn't planning on starting now. Nino's hips had shoved clumsily at his own, not encouragingly, but antagonizing, so Jun curled his palm around Nino's neck and pulled him in closer -- close enough to bite. Jun let his teeth catch onto Nino's earlobe; he tugged, not very gently.
"Ah," Nino's voice hitched, and his fingers fumbled on Jun's backbone, sliding away. He pushed himself to his tiptoes, seeking Jun's mouth.
For a few instants, they just stood there kissing, tongues sliding and thrusting harshly, until Jun put each of his hands on Nino's waist and tugged, making him take steps forwards for every step Jun took back, until they were at the doorway to the bedroom -- then inside -- then tipping over onto the bed -- chest bumping chest, hip to hip, legs a mess --
"You," Jun gasped, as Nino sucked a viscous bruise on his neck, exactly at the most improper position, "are really horny."
"Matsumoto-sama is brilliant," Nino remarked, sitting up and practically ripping off his own t-shirt. "I didn't jerk off very much in the States, okay? All the porn channels are under this thing called pay-per-view over there. I'm not made of money."
"Couldn't even use your imagination to fantasize about little old me?" Jun teased, running his palms up Nino's torso and delighting in Nino's full body shiver.
"I didn't say I turned completely monk," Nino sniped. "Take your pants off now. I'm not touching your belt; it looks like it's going to slice up my fingers."
"I really don't care."
Nino's teeth flashed in a smirk and Jun rushed forward to bite it off his mouth. Finally, a simple way to get Nino to do what Jun wanted: shut him up by kissing him hard, make him whimper by licking a stripe down his neck, make him groan by laving a tongue over his nipple, make him curse at Jun in rage by ducking down low until Jun's chin was grazing Nino's crotch -- and promptly moving past it.
"Come on, come on," Nino whined. "Are you trying to kill me here?"
"Think you're funny," Jun muttered in amusement, lips skimming across the quivering skin of Nino's abdomen. "Just want to make you suffer a bit." But his hands belied his intention: in no time at all, Nino's pants were off to join Jun's as a heap on the floor, and Jun was slowly, carefully mouthing his way around Nino's brief-covered erection.
"Sadist," Nino moaned, back arching.
Jun stroked Nino's legs. "Sssh," he whispered, letting the tip of his tongue briefly touch the top of Nino's soaked underpants. "You're eager and willing. You're practically panting. I like you like this. I really like you like this."
"Then I guess I'll blow your mind when I do this," Nino quipped, and shamelessly spread open his legs.
Jun's throat went dry.
There had been the occasional wet dream in the past few years, despite the fact that Jun had grown out of that embarrassing wanking-over-bandmates habit he'd picked up as a teenager. And as an adult, Jun had never lacked for willing participants, whenever he felt the need for some mindless release. But occasionally, there had still been dreams, egged on by who-knows-what and firmly ignored by Jun come morning.
In his dreams, Nino was always on his back, with Jun hovering over him. His subconscious seemed to love that. No matter how they got into that situation: a confrontation in the showers after a concert, an acting session gone too far, Jun breaking Nino's Gameboy and Nino all but screaming with rage, it always ended up with Jun above Nino. There was always that same rush of adrenaline in Jun's body as he pushed Nino down, making Jun hypersensitive to each laboured breath they took, each fevered brush of their skin. He'd imagined Nino's eyes dark with lust even as his mouth twisted in discomfort as Jun buried himself inside him. He'd imagined Nino so needy for Jun's touch that he'd cry out when Jun stroked him, that goosebumps would rise like a scorched path down Nino's skin as Jun trailed hands up and down Nino's torso. He'd dreamt of Nino so eager, so willing, Nino repeating his name endlessly like a mantra, like it was the only word he put value in.
Nino, overcome by passion.
But it wasn't like this. Never like this Nino, now: calling Jun's name in impatience, telling him that he was prepared enough, he was fine, just get on with it already. Exhaling out a pained breath as Jun first pushed in, hands tight on Jun's shoulders, tight like Nino's grip on Jun cock, tight even as Jun let Nino adjust to the intrusion, until Nino nodded and his spine uncurled and he pulled Jun in, in, in. Nino moaning mutely at first, then louder, then hissing spurts of harder, faster in a surprisingly brittle voice, as Jun blinked frantically and did as he was told. Their lips rubbing as they panted together, too desperate for oxygen to kiss, but too desperate for contact to pull away. The dark look in Nino's eyes as they stared at each other, Nino not even blinking as he raised a hand to card through Jun's hair, giving it a harsh tug, as if to prove to himself that Jun was really here and not going to melt away in his arms.
Nino, now, saying, "Yes, yes, come on, more," until his words slurred and Jun couldn't make sense out of the whimpers. And still Nino's hands were firm on Jun's body; when Jun clumsily pushed his own right hand down to Nino's dripping cock, his weight balanced precariously on his left, Nino's mouth gasped open and his fingers dug into Jun's skin like needles.
"You--" Nino said, and groaned as he released over Jun's pumping hand.
"Yeah," Nino sighed, arms curling around Jun's shoulders, "Finish now, you jerk."
"Jun," Nino's gentle smile, as Jun's world exploded in white heat.
The first thing he felt, coming back to consciousness, were the prickling pin points Nino's fingernails left on his back. The second was Nino's grin, stretched at the base of Jun's neck, next to the colossal bite he'd left there.
"That went pretty well, if I do say so myself," Nino said.
"Oh my God," murmured Jun, still heaving in rapid breaths of air. "That really happened."
"And you weren't drunk or anything," Nino agreed. "Even though you did black out a bit. How are you feeling? Coherent?"
He sounded ten degrees too smug for Jun's liking. But Jun couldn't put up much of an argument when it felt like every bone in his body had been melted out and replaced with warm rubber.
"If you need a smoke," Nino went on with relish, "you can go for it. I'll take it as a compliment."
"Just -- quiet for a moment, please," Jun said, raising a palm to cover his eyes. Now that the high from his climax was abating slightly, he was a bit dumbstruck. He and Nino had just slept together. Did this mean they were together? Did this mean that Nino wanted to stay together? Were they boyfriends now or something?
"Hey, hey," Nino said, sounding alarmed. "Don't freak out. Are you going to cry?"
"No," said Jun, but part of him kind of wanted to hit something. There was something going on with his face -- he wasn't sure if it was showing a happy or panicked expression.
"Okay, good. Because if you started crying, then that would seriously mess up my willingness to do this thing again, and often."
Jun cut off a bubble of hysterical laughter and didn't protest as Nino tossed several of Jun's throw pillows off the side of the bed.
"Look, if you need some kind of sappy confession from me," Nino started hesitantly.
"What? No. You already did that on the phone."
When Nino shrugged, his shoulder brushed up against Jun's. "You just -- looked kind of uneasy. About this. You can look however you want, but you should get it through your head that I wanted that to happen, and you're not going to make me regret it."
"I know that." Jun tried to scowl, but it didn't really work.
"And you liked it too! Don't lie."
"I did," said Jun.
Nino looked pleased at that; he settled back and stared at the ceiling. Jun watched him from the corner of his eye. Their sweat was cooling rapidly on their skin -- they'd need showers soon. Jun liked to go first, but he was afraid for the state of his bed if he left Nino alone with it for more than five minutes. However, a shower with Nino -- that was easily doable. Jun's done it before, at concerts. Nino was a good shower buddy because he was small and efficient with soap and water. No, it wouldn't be too bad at all.
Jun said, "I just want to remind you that this isn't going to be -- I mean, it's complicated. I'm not sure that I feel exactly that way that." He cut himself off, embarrassed at his own babbling. "I'm not in love with you. Not really. I don't think."
Nino said nothing.
"Not yet, anyway," Jun finished, resigned.
"Well, it's not like I'm going anywhere," Nino supplied, optimistic as anything. "Give it some time. I promise I'm adorable once you get to know me."
Nino's optimism always made Jun suspicious; in this case, it was making him downright nauseous with fear.
"You really do want this," Jun said weakly. Him, Matsumoto Jun: something -- someone -- wanted by Ninomiya Kazunari. Ninomiya Kazunari really wanting someone at all.
"Why is that so hard to believe?"
Jun's hand twisted, gesturing to -- something. Everything. The entirety of Nino.
"I'd reply with something scathing," Nino sniffed, "but since I just had a great orgasm not ten minutes ago, I'm feeling magnanimous."
"I'm not joking around."
"Well, that certainly takes the sting out of the sentiment."
"I'm serious," Jun said urgently, suddenly desperate for Nino to understand why this was all so terribly confusing for him, how the potential of them having a future coloured by the layered history of their intertwined pasts was sending his mind spinning at the immensity of it all. "You're a good actor. I need to know you're not acting with me."
Nino's face shifted and his whole body tensed. "Why," he gritted out, "would you even suggest that."
"Because," Jun snapped back. "It's you, and it's me, and if we fuck up, it'll be the biggest fuck up in history and everyone will suffer from it."
"It's because you're you and I'm me that the chances of this fucking up are not actually as bad as you seem to hope!"
"I'm not hoping for anything!"
"Good, then; you can only be pleased at how things will turn out."
"Nino," Jun said. "Are you mocking me?"
"I'm not!" Nino shouted, sitting up in bed and hurling off the covers. The curve of his backbone cast and angry shadow over his paper-pale skin; it curled inwards, hostile and defensive, as Jun stared.
"Is it so difficult to think," Nino continued, his voice a whisper in the darkness, "that I like you? Ever since we were young, I've liked you. Even when I hated you. You were like a splinter caught under my skin, that I'd grown used to and found that I didn't mind so much. When I was in the States, I kept thinking about you -- not always in good ways, but not always in bad ways either. I kept thinking that it's been too long that we've been together. I'd gotten used to you, you as that stupid splinter: if I were to pull you out now, I would bleed. I would bleed long and hard and it would be very, very bad. So I thought, I should do something to make sure that doesn't happen."
"You never plan for the future," Jun said.
One of Nino's shoulders raised itself in a light shrug, before falling back limp. "Maybe some of your bad habits are finally rubbing off on me," he murmured tonelessly.
When Jun reached out to touch his back, Nino didn't flinch away.
"I'm sorry," Jun said. "I didn't mean to say that I didn't believe your intent. I just -- wanted to make sure."
Nino turned around. "Make sure what?"
Jun's fingers circled Nino's wrist of their own accord. He swallowed. "I needed to know. If this was something you wanted to last."
Nino's arms slid around him and Jun felt lips on his brow. He tightened his grip on Nino's wrists, clinging.
"I need to know," he continued, "Is this is real to you, or is it some kind of game?"
Nino's eyes were luminous as he smiled in relief. "Yes," he answered, and leant in for a kiss.
Thanks for reading!!
AW JUN IT'S OKAY YOU'RE STILL COOL TO ME