“…He really just has no presence…” Rei muttered softly to himself, ensuring that none around him at the recording he’d sat in on could hear the comment. Just beyond his eyeline stood a fresh-faced newbie who’d only recently signed on with the entertainment agency Rei worked for, SenaPro.
He’d earned passing marks in the looks and singing talent departments—Rei had made sure of that when he’d chosen the boy—but now that they were here in the studio, it was all too clear that he lacked that quintessential presence.
Maybe it was best phrased that he lacked that certain something that made people think Wow, it’s GOTTA be this guy!
Rei had used a number of personal connections to land this guy a TV spot—but no further offers had come after that. Entertainers who really popped tended to be invited back before the recording was even over, or had the phones ringing off the hook immediately after airing.
Still, Rei had clung to hope that somehow, if he just hung in there, things would turn out right this time—and yet…
He supposed that ‘presence’—that aura that emanated from celebrities and entertainers—was something innate. Or at least, he’d started feeling that way of late.
’…That guy definitely had innate presence…’
Sena Shougo. He’d been a regular thoroughbred, the offspring of the president of Rei’s workplace SenaPro, Sena Seiya, and the notable actress Nagisa.
Shougo himself had, unfortunately, had no interest whatsoever in joining he entertainment industry—but his mere presence had a way of changing the atmosphere of any room he walked into.
But then he’d gone and confessed that he was in love with Rei, boasting that he would surpass Rei’s beloved Seiya in an effort to win Rei’s affections…and then disappeared. It had been three years now since he’d left the Sena household. Back then, SenaPro had been struggling in the wake of a polyp found on Seiya’s vocal cords—and both Rei and Seiya had been worrying over finding someone who might one day be able to take over the company.
Spurred on by Seiya’s fond hope that Shougo might fill his shoes eventually, Rei encouraged Shougo to devote himself to becoming a singer—all for the sake of his beloved Seiya.
But…while he’d never outright asked them, from the way Seiya and Nagisa behaved, it was clear that Shougo hadn’t contacted either of them once in these past three years. In the meantime, times had been tough as ever for SenaPro, and Rei was struggling daily with worry over the company’s future—for two reasons, primarily.
One was the fact that, because of the surgery to remove the polyp, Seiya’s workload had been cut. The operation had been successful, but considering the possibility of a recurrence, it was difficult to expect him to continue working at the pace he’d been going before the operation.
The other issue, however, was something Rei had been struggling with for quite some time: the fact that there were just no promising new entertainers joining their ranks. It was no exaggeration to say that Nagisa’s work alone was all that was keeping SenaPro afloat at the moment.
But Nagisa was a flighty creature, and there was no telling when one would find her in a mood, refusing to get her work done. It was enough to give Rei a round-the-clock headache.
Given the state of Seiya’s throat, though, Rei didn’t want him pushing himself more than he already was…which meant he had to find someone, someone new and fresh, to pull them out of this worrisome slump.
…I guess this one’s a loss then, huh… The singer definitely had the drive, and Rei wanted to give him all the support he could muster, but SenaPro was at its core something like Seiya and Nagisa’s personal agency, and despite the personal connections Rei had with them, he couldn’t offer the flashy production a bigger agency might be able to pull off.
Which meant an artist’s success or failure rode largely on their own personal talent in this case, and while Rei had done his level best these past three years, nothing seemed to be going quite right.
It was as he was entertaining these dark thoughts, though, that a voice called out to him. “You guys over at SenaPro sure are digging your heels in and fighting it out! Though I dare say we’re in the same boat as you.” The comment came from a man called Kiuchi, a manager for a large-scale production agency. He was probably here in the same capacity as Rei, accompanying an entertainer.
“Indeed…we just can’t seem to stumble upon any really flashy talents…” Kiuchi seemed rather fond of Rei and would strike up a conversation most any time they crossed paths.
“You know, it occurs to me that SenaPro-san’s best option…would be you Sagara-san. How about it? We’ve got openings at my agency, after all…”
“Noooo no no, thank you, but I’m not suited for an entertainer’s life,” Rei responded easily with a wry grin. It was hardly the first time Kiuchi had suggested it, after all, and while Rei admittedly found it annoying how he kept at it, this was a business where connections were important, so he took care to avoid coming off irritated, instead showing nothing but smiles.
“That reminds me, Sagara-san—have you heard?”
“About that super popular indies band—they’re all amateurs, and yet they sold out the entire Budoukan arena the first day tickets went on sale!”
“Wait—the Budoukan?” Rei’s eyes flared wide; he hadn’t heard anything about this, but he couldn’t hide his curiosity. While it wasn’t as if there was no precedent for an amateur group to hold a live at the Budoukan arena, for such a band to have so large and faithful a following to completely sell out the very day tickets went on sale…well that was a bit hard to believe. “What’s their band name?”
“Hmm, let’s see, I think it was…the CRUSHERZ, I believe?” At this, he dropped his voice a bit. “They’ve got quite a bit of mystery surrounding them, you know. No one even knows the names of the members, and agencies all over are champing at the bit to get a piece of them.”
“I see…” He definitely had never heard of this band. After all, a rock band wasn’t exactly a genre SenaPro had much involvement with, and he’d neglected to check them out. But if they were truly as popular as Kiuchi made them out to be, then all of the music agencies had to be in a frenzy hoping to land a contract with the CRUSHERZ. Not that SenaPro wasn’t in the game as well, but no matter how things unfurled, there was no way that SenaPro was going to nab new artists like them. “In that case, I highly doubt that a small-time agency such as our own will have much of a chance in this fight.”
He wouldn’t deny momentarily entertaining fantasies of what might happen if so huge a band took up with SenaPro, but it was beyond the realm of possibility. He could give it a shot, despite knowing he’d be turned down, but before that he’d have to see the band in action.
Except they’d sold out of tickets already, so he probably couldn’t even get into the arena…
“Oh, hey!” Kiuchi gave an excited little shout as Rei let a sigh slip over his lips.
“What’s the matter?”
“I actually might have an extra VIP ticket for that CRUSHERZ concert. Would you like to come along?”
“Eh—?” This was more than unexpected—like a liferaft at sea. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely! It’s a premiere ticket…but I’ll let you have it, special!”
“Thank you so much!” ’Thank god for riding coattails! Good thing I got this guy to like me!’ Rei reflected mentally, adopting a victory pose inside his mind and taking care that it didn’t slip onto his features, offering only a bright smile in return.
“Thank you again for inviting me.”
“Not at all, you’re quite welcome!”
The day of the concert had arrived, and Rei met up with Kiuchi near the VIP entrance to the Budoukan arena before heading to their seats. The VIP seats were located on the first floor, along the middle of the southern wall, and Rei was seated in the second row.
“Quite a crowd here today…” He’d expected as such, given that tickets had sold out the day they’d gone on sale, but it was hard to believe this was a concert for an indies band. It wasn’t just the crowd, either; a glance around showed other special guests from any number of record labels sitting nearby, including popular musicians and entertainers. This was testament to just how famous this band already was among industry insiders.
As Rei cast his gaze around the arena, he could see enthusiastic fans on pins and needles waiting for the concert to start. What sort of band were these people…? Rei had thought to do a little bit of research after his conversation with Kiuchi before but hadn’t been able to spare the time, truthfully, and subtle questions to those around him had revealed that, as Kiuchi had said, no one knew the members’ names, nor could anyone get their hands on pictures of the members. Their label as “a band of many mysteries” hadn’t been exaggeration, it seemed.
A bit longer, and the house lights dimmed as the sound of a siren filled the arena, the screams and cheers of the audience crescendoing to shake the very foundation of the building itself as a huge monitor at center stage lit up with colorful images.
A light flickered on, illuminating first the left-hand side of the stage—and the moment a man appeared with a guitar in his hand, the screams ratcheted up another level.
It seemed this guitarist was known as “R”—though it was hard to tell if this was just an initial or if it held some deeper significance.
Next, a light shone down on the right-hand side of the stage, and another guitarist made his entrance.
“A—double guitar?” Rei blinked in shock.
”H…!” the voices screamed this time.
Then, at last, the spotlight illuminated center stage.
”S—!!” came the shrieks, even louder than before.
This was probably the vocalist—he didn’t seem to be holding an instrument, after all. But, wait a minute…
All sound fell away in that instant, so great was the shock to Rei’s system. He was surrounded by a chorus of screams substantial enough to shake him to the bone—but his entire field of vision was occupied solely by the sight of Shougo standing there before him.
He recognized him immediately, despite the sunglasses he wore to cover his features. That was, without a doubt, Shougo.
This was Shougo, there was no mistaking it—the very same Shougo who’d disappeared without a trace three years prior, desperate to surpass his father and make Rei look at him, the same Shougo who had fallen off the face of the planet until this moment.
A song had started up without Rei realizing it, and after the intro, as soon as Shougo opened his mouth and started to sing—sound returned to Rei’s world.
He was utterly blown away.
This was worlds away from the soothing sound of Seiya’s singing—Shougo’s voice thrilled to the core, firing up listeners from the inside with a sensational, impactful sound.
“Amazing…” His skin prickled with goosebumps as a shudder rippled through him—and he couldn’t stop shaking. That was how astounding Shougo’s singing was. And more than anything else, the man had an almost terrifying presence, standing there on that stage. He shone with glinting brilliance. “That…is definitely Seiya-san’s son…”
Yet despite knowing that, he still couldn’t help the shock and awe that filled him—for someone, even someone with the genetics Shougo had, to come this far in a mere three years…
He hadn’t a clue what Shougo had been doing these past three years, but…
’…You really have come back with a bang, huh…’
Three hours passed in the blink of an eye, and in short order, the house lights came up and a voice over the auditorium speakers began directing attendees toward the nearest exits.
“Sagara-san…?” Rei snapped back to his senses, still having been caught up in the tension of the concert, when Kiuchi called out to him. Flustered, he began making motions to stand up. “What’s the matter?”
“No—just, I have to…I have to go backstage…” he murmured softly, head still swimming with excitement and confusion.
“That’s impossible, Sagara-san. We’ve all been told that the band members won’t be seeing any industry professionals. They’re not letting anyone back there.”
“But…!” He wanted to assure Kiuchi, with that wry grin of his, that that wasn’t the reason he needed to go backstage, but with some effort, he bit back his argument. He probably ought to keep quiet about the fact that he knew S’s true identity to be that of Seiya’s son. “…I’m sorry, please excuse me.”
He knew he was being exceedingly rude to Kiuchi, who’d gone through the effort to procure him a ticket, but he couldn’t hold himself back, and without so much as an explanation, he took off, headed for the dressing rooms—running smack into a staff member guarding the long hallway leading backstage.
It was just as Kiuchi had warned: no one was being allowed to meet with the band members, and even big-name agencies were being stopped at the door.
But Rei was not one to be so easily put off; not when the CRUSHERZ had Shougo as their lead vocal. He pressed through the wave of people and called out to a nearby staff member, “Excuse me, could I possibly see the CRUSHERZ members—”
“I’m terribly sorry, but absolutely no one, no matter who they may be, is to be allowed through,” came the curt reply, and Rei was suddenly filled with the strange sense of having experienced something like this before.
’That winter night…’ That was when he’d bowed his head trying to be allowed through to see Seiya… He’d begged a staff member over and over to let him through to see Seiya. He hadn’t the faintest idea why he was remembering something like that now of all times, but he couldn’t bring himself to give up just yet and opened his mouth again: “If you can just let them know that I’m Sagara Rei of SenaPro, I’m sure they’ll understand. Please, let me see Shougo—I mean, S!”
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t do that. The band members are about to leave anyway.” He’d probably said such things a dozen times before, and with a final tongue click at the staff member who offered him a pained smile, Rei found an unguarded opening and pushed past the man. “Ah, please wait!”
He ignored the calls to stop and dashed straight for the dressing rooms. He could hear the staff members chasing after him, but he couldn’t stop. And then—
He caught sight of a group ahead of him, heading for the parking garage. His eyes flared wide, and he screeched to a halt as his eyes fell on the back of a figure he definitely recognized.
He shouted the name at the man—and it must have reached him, for the figure jerked around seeming in shock…and it was most definitely Shougo.
But the moment Shougo recognized Rei, an expression of shock and panic washed over his face, as if he’d just seen the very last person in the world he’d hoped to meet—and quickly turning on his heel, he darted off, fleeing.
The rest of the group must have been just as shocked by Shougo’s behavior, for they chased after him in a frantic tizzy. It was an altogether quite unexpected reaction.
“What…the hell…?!” ’ What was with that reaction…? Why would he run after seeing me…?’ It was utterly unthinkable of the Shougo from three years before.
As he stood there, frozen in shock, he thought to chase after Shougo again—but his own trail of staff members finally caught up with him. “I really am sorry, but you’ll have to leave!” The man blocked his path, sharply ordering Rei to make his way back. He knew he’d be making the situation worse if he didn’t withdraw here, but he just couldn’t bring himself to give up and flicked his glance once more along the path Shougo had fled.
But Shougo was long gone now.
As Rei settled down with a sigh on his rug, he brought the can of beer he’d taken from the fridge to his lips. This bachelor pad apartment of his was primarily used for sleeping after a long day’s work, and despite the passage of time, it was still quite sparsely decorated.
“Why…did Shougo run away after seeing me…?”
On the way home, and even after reaching the apartment, he’d agonized over trying to figure out what had just transpired. After the incident, he’d apologized to the staff members and complied with their requests, apologizing once more to Kiuchi after regrouping with him. Thankfully, Kiuchi forgave him with a wry grin, apparently convinced that Rei had just wanted to sign the CRUSHERZ on with SenaPro after seeing the concert so badly that he was unable to contain himself and rushed backstage. And he hadn’t been entirely mistaken in that belief.
The CRUSHERZ concert had been amazing—even if it hadn’t been Shougo up there on vocals, he may well have tried to slip down that hallway still. But the reason he’d gone so far as to shove past the staff members and chase after the band…had been because Shougo had been the one up on mic.
And yet… “Does the fact that he ran away after seeing me…mean that he doesn’t want to see me anymore…?”
He would never forget the look on Shougo’s face at that moment: an expression of shocked panic. An expression that seemed to say Oh shit—and even if that wasn’t the case, at the very least it was not an expression that said Shougo was happy to see Rei again.
But Rei was just as shocked at how hard he was taking this incident. Every time he thought about it, a cold shudder seemed to ripple down his spine. “Well, it has been three years… Maybe he’s fallen in love with someone else…?” he muttered to himself, then shook his head furiously.
’Even if that were the case, it wouldn’t matter. In fact, it’d be a weight off my shoulders if he would give up on me…’ he told himself, but for some reason, he couldn’t shake the feeling of some sharp pain lingering in his chest.
It seemed that Rei had just assumed…that Shougo would still lust after him even now, just as he had three years before—which, when he stopped to think about it, was a rather shameless and arrogant assumption.
Three years was a long time. For himself, of course, but it would probably feel even longer to Shougo, being younger than Rei. It was hardly strange for someone to lose any romantic feelings they might have held for a person they hadn’t seen in three years. In fact, when he stopped to think about it rationally, it would’ve been stranger for Shougo to have waited for him all this time, despite not seeing him once in their time apart.
He sighed and knocked back the can of beer. He was probably the one mistaken here, having convinced himself that Shougo still loved him even now.
“…But that’s not what I ought to be focusing on right now.” The more important matter at the moment was not Shougo himself but the CRUSHERZ as a whole. He had to get the CRUSHERZ to sign with SenaPro somehow. When he’d first heard about the situation, he’d written it off as utterly impossible, but…Shougo being lead vocals changed everything now.
And more than anything else—one had to take into account that overwhelming singing voice. Since hearing Shougo belt out those songs on stage, he could think of no one else more suited to succeed Seiya than Shougo. Given that Shougo fled on seeing Rei, he might have to adopt some unorthodox methods, but he had to convince Shougo to sign with them, somehow.
First—an appointment…but as he began to formulate a plan, his eyes widened in shock. “How…am I going to contact with him?” It was only now that he realized he didn’t know any way of getting in touch with Shougo. And Shougo probably didn’t know Rei’s contact information either.
Three years ago, before he’d left on his journey, Shougo had always dropped by at the most random of times, showing up in his room out of the blue. He’d never once called Rei to let him know he’d be coming in advance. Granted, at the time, Rei had been living with the Sena family, so for Shougo it was just part of coming home, but the fact remained unchanged.
“Oh yeah…Seiya-san should at least know his cell phone number…” He hadn’t heard Seiya mention anything about being in contact with Shougo, but he was Shougo’s family—so surely he knew. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to let Seiya know the current situation, as well…
At the very least, he’d hit up Seiya first thing in the morning. Though even if he managed to secure an appointment, there was no guarantee that Shougo would explain his behavior today…
“No no, I can’t chicken out now.” He needed to focus on getting the CRUSHERZ to debut with SenaPro—and with that decision made, he finished off his beer.
“You want Shougo’s contact information?”
The next morning, after arriving at the SenaPro offices in the Sena family home as usual, Rei took it upon himself to immediately ask Seiya, who was enjoying a relaxing breakfast, for some way of contacting Shougo. Nagisa and Izumi were nowhere to be seen—likely still fast asleep.
“Well, I know his cell phone number and e-mail address…but that’s assuming he hasn’t changed them.” With this, he slipped his cell phone from his pocket and began flipping through the address book. “But why are you bringing up Shougo all of a sudden?”
It was hardly surprising he’d be a bit suspicious of Rei’s intentions. “…Actually, yesterday, I went to a concert for an indies band called the CRUSHERZ…” Rei began, relating the entire tale to Seiya who listened with curious interest. He told Seiya all about how they’d sold out the entire Budokan arena despite not having even debuted properly yet, about what an amazing concert it had been, and how Shougo had been singing lead vocals—but he couldn’t bring himself to admit how Shougo had run away from him, instead bluffing that he’d been stopped at the door by staff members and unable to see him.
“Wow, so Shougo, huh…” Seiya seemed shocked, but an air of happiness brought out a smile on his features. “I see…well that’s great news indeed!” No one had been happier than Seiya both when Shougo had left home and when he’d vowed to become a singer, so Rei had known that he’d be thrilled to hear about Shougo’s current activities. “This really is great—if he signs on with SenaPro, then we’re all set!”
“Indeed. I’ll get him here if I have to drag him!” Seeing how excited Seiya was at the prospect, Rei resolved to do whatever it took to get Shougo to sign a contract with SenaPro.
After clearing some time in the afternoon, Rei sat at his desk alone, simply staring at the line of digits that represented Shougo’s contact information.
“Should I…call him? Or maybe text him first to feel him out?” Images of Shougo’s expression from the day before when he’d caught sight of Rei flashed in the back on his mind. Given his behavior, Rei couldn’t expect any sort of immediate response, he reasoned, and an attempt to get close too quickly would only result in Shougo fleeing again. “Which means…a text message it is.” With his decision made, he quickly tapped out a message, and after a bit of hesitation, he opted for the same level of formality he would have used with any other artist.
He’d send this message and wait a bit to see how things panned out. If he didn’t receive a response in the next few days, then he’d try again via phone—
—but only moments after sending the message, his phone vibrated, and Rei quickly scrambled to check the sender: Shougo, the person he’d only just texted. His heart gave a thudding leap in his chest as he opened the message—but the contents were rather succinct.
/I’m sorry about yesterday. I’ll be in Studio NEO all day today./
“What…does this mean?” His thoughts began swirling in confusion once again. He’d written I’m sorry about yesterday, but…what exactly was he sorry for? The simplest conclusion was that he was apologizing for running away, but then that meant… “…He had some reason for running away from me…?”
No no no, he could just as easily be apologizing for being so rude to someone he knew relatively well. There was no way of telling what kind of meaning might truly be implied by such a short message—but if there had been some reason Shougo had run away from him before…
And then there was the fact that he’d mentioned being in Studio NEO the whole day—which most would assume to mean it was all right for Rei to come by. So yesterday he’d run away with that strange expression on his face—and today he was telling Rei to come see him?
He couldn’t begin to fathom what sort of shift had occurred in Shougo’s mental state, but at the very least, if he’d truly found Rei annoying now or hadn’t wanted to see him anymore…he wouldn’t write something like this, right?
’So maybe…Shougo does still care about me…?’ For some reason, the moment that thought sprouted in his mind, he felt a warmth rush through his body as his temperature rose. Naturally, though, while that possibility existed, there was no way to know for sure…
“There’s no point in worrying aimlessly over this!” he reminded himself, then snapped to his feet. No matter how long he sat and stared at his phone, the message was never going to change. It was better to act than to sit around fretting. “First things first: I’ll go start up negotiations as a member of SenaPro!” And with that, he hurried from the offices and headed straight for Shougo’s studio.
On arriving at the Studio NEO rehearsal space, he asked for the CRUSHERZ room number and then headed into the studio proper.
“So…this is it?” He drew to a stop before the door leading into the room and peered inside through the small window. They didn’t seem to be in the middle of rehearsal, and while Shougo was nowhere to be seen, this was indeed the room he’d been directed to at the reception desk.
With a deep breath, he steeled himself and stepped through the door. “Umm…”
At his entrance, every eye in the room, swiveled to face him, and Rei quailed a bit under so much attention, running his gaze around the room searching desperately for Shougo’s form. But he wasn’t here—however…
“I…I heard that Shougo was here…?”
“AH!” As soon as Rei spoke, the two young men who’d been lounging on the sofa sprang to their feet. “You’re Rei-san aren’t you??”
Rei’s eyes flared wide in shock at having his name spoken, and caught up in the flow of conversation, he nodded. “Y—yes, I am…?”
“I knew it!!”
“Ooh, yeah he’s a total hottie, for a guy!”
The pair drew close, peering into his face in deep consideration, as if he were some rare animal they’d stumbled upon.
“Uh…” Rei stared at them blankly, thrown off by their enthusiasm initially, until he began to get the feeling that he’d seen them somewhere before. “Ah—you two were playing the guitars yesterday…”
It wasn’t quite the same, seeing them here, as on stage, so he hadn’t realized immediately, but there was no mistaking it: these were the other two CRUSHERZ members. But…how did they know him? Naturally, Shougo was their only point in common, but so he had to have said something…
And now he was starting to get a very bad feeling.
“I’m the guitarist, Haru! Though I’m going by ‘H’ for now.” Haru flashed him a friendly grin, his features slender and beautiful. His long hair had been pulled up into a tight tail, likely because he was in off-mode right now.
“And I’m the other guitarist, Rinpei—the one they call ‘R’!” Rinpei’s short-cropped, spiky hair was bleached blond, giving him a decidedly ‘rock’-ish air, and despite being inside the studio, he wore sunglasses even now.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you; I’m Sagara Rei, of SenaPro.” These men were a far cry from what he’d expected of members of a band rooted in such mystery, but despite any internal misgivings he might have had about the friendly pair, he still passed them his business card.
They took the proffered cards but didn’t stop their babbling. “Y’know, Shougo-kun goes on about you aaaaaall the time!”
“Yup yup! Talking about how he’s gonna sell a million albums just for you, how he’s gonna make it big just for you!”
“Uuh…” At a loss at to how he ought to receive the rapid-fire comments from Haru and Rinpei, he pasted on a forced, pained smile. ’For me…? Did he just decide it’d be no big deal to COME OUT to these two?!’ He’d never expected to be spoken of in such an embarrassing manner. Thankfully, Haru and Rinpei seemed to have taken Shougo’s comments as positive, but wouldn’t most band members who heard that their lead singer was working hard to fulfill his dream of being in a homosexual relationship feel at least a little uncomfortable?
The pair continued to speak while Rei worried internally. “Then yesterday, he just panicked and rabbited—and afterward he kept whining about what he was gonna do if you got the wrong idea.”
“And we told him he oughta just snap out of it and call you to fix it.” They smiled long-sufferingly, and Rei kept his lips pursed into a firm line—worried that they might otherwise relax into a relieved smile.
’So then…he wasn’t fed up with me…?’ But he quickly shook his head to rid himself of these thoughts. This was nothing to feel relieved over—after all, it didn’t matter.
But immediately on the heels of this realization came the conclusion that, if Shougo was still in love with him…then getting the CRUSHERZ to sign on with SenaPro ought to prove an easy feat. Now that was something worth being relieved about!
And that was when the studio door opened again—and Shougo stepped through. “Rei!” The moment his eyes fell on Rei, his expression brightened, and Rei felt warmth blossom in his chest at his attitude, which made it blatantly obvious to any onlookers that Shougo felt affection for him, no matter what sort of ‘affection’ that might be. On realizing this, though, Rei immediately felt embarrassed by his reaction.
This just made Shougo’s behavior the previous day all the stranger.
“So you came! Sorry~ Had to take a toilet break.”
At the very least, it didn’t seem as if his reaction the previous day had been his true feelings and his attitude now a lie. Shougo grinned brightly, though clearly a bit wired and unable to keep calm for some reason—and this air was catching, as Rei found himself unable to relax as well.
He’d come here with the sole intention of forging a bond with the CRUSHERZ, but when he stopped to think about it, they’d only seen each other in passing the previous evening—this was their first time speaking to one another properly in three years. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms either, in Rei’s opinion, and he still felt some lingering awkwardness.
But the more he thought about it, the harder it became to figure out just how he ought to react in this situation.
“Why don’t you two head out for a cup of tea, since he’s come all the way here?” Haru suggested, tossing a lifeboat to the pair as they stood before each other in silence, and the awkward atmosphere dissipated a fraction.
“Eh? But—are you sure it’s all right for me to sneak off?” Shougo asked worriedly.
“Sure it’s….definitely not fine! But it’s been forever, and you two probably have a lot of catching up to do, right?” Haru allowed with a wry grin. “And if you let Rei-san just leave like this, you’ll be so worried you won’t be able to focus on the recording anyway, right?”
“He’s right, Shougo-san!” Rinpei rejoined, offering his support for Haru’s suggestion.
“I see…then—sorry! I’ll try and get back ASAP!” he thanked them happily, before whirling around to face Rei. “Well, shall we?” Shougo suggested, smiling a bit bashfully, and at a loss for words, Rei simply nodded.
’He’s always been a rather dazzling sort of guy, but…’
The waitress gently settled their cups of coffee before them on the table with a grace that made Rei wonder if she was always this polite to her customers. “Will that complete your order?” She flashed them a full-faced grin that no one would argue was simply there because it was her job to look happy around customers, and Shougo nodded.
Rei watched her reluctantly slip back into the shop, releasing a sigh of astonishment at length. After their reunion, they’d moved from the studio to a nearby cafe and were now seated at a table on the open terrace, but despite the fact that they were just sitting here, doing nothing, passers-by and other customers kept darting glances Shougo’s way.
Even on the way here, people coming their way had stopped in their tracks and whipped around, wondering in loud whispers, ”Who was that? A celebrity??” It was becoming all the clearer by the moment that Shougo absolutely oozed an entertainer’s aura, and his drive to get Shougo to sign on with SenaPro at all costs continued to mount. Given Haru and Rinpei’s comments, Shougo still seemed smitten with Rei, so the proceedings ought to go smoothly, he figured.
“………” Rei stared down at his coffee cup, feelings a twisted mess inside of him. Sitting here across from Shougo now, he felt just as strongly as he had three years prior…the abject guilt of using Shougo’s feelings for him to his own ends. But thinking of how SenaPro itself had been faring over these past three years, he knew he couldn’t confess as such.
This was all for the good of Seiya—and for SenaPro. At least, that’s what Rei told himself.
“…It’s been a while. You doing good?”
“….Ah, yeah…” Rei nodded awkwardly, glancing up after Shougo suddenly spoke to him. Shougo was watching him, a wide smile on his face—his attitude as if they hadn’t been apart for three years, or that the incident of yesterday hadn’t happened at all. “What about you? What’ve you been doing since last we spoke?”
“What’ve I been doing? Mm…well, I did some country-hopping, dropped in on a few live houses—and I learned a lot, putting together a band. We started off playing in these tiny boxed-in spaces until we got to the point where we were doing nation-wide tours, and then it all culminated with our Budoukan performance last night.”
Shougo rattled off his history as if it were nothing, but to get this far in just three years after entering the music industry…it was as if he wasn’t even human. Hell, to take any amount of time to build an indies band up to the level of fame it took to sell out the Budoukan arena…was not an easy feat at all. In truth, Shougo’s talent was one to be wary of. He’d never imagined, three years ago, that Shougo would make it this far…
“But—man, I had no idea you would come yesterday! You really gave me a shock!”
“One of the VIPs gave me a ticket; then when I went to check out this ‘popular indies band’… I’ll wager I was more shocked than you were.” He never would have thought he’d see Shougo there up on that stage—nor had he thought that Shougo would run away from him the moment he spoke up. “…Why did you run away yesterday?”
“Oh, uh…well, that was…” Shougo’s face erupted in a red flush at Rei’s question, and he fumbled for words. Despite the strangeness of the reaction, though, Rei kept his mouth firmly shut, remaining silent as he waited for a proper answer. Shougo must have eventually given up, for he finally opened his mouth and confessed with frustration, “Argh, geez—it’s just—! I wanted to go and see you after I’d gotten even more famous! I was gonna make my major debut, make it to #1 on the Oricon charts, sell a million copies, and then go see you! That’s the whole reason I’ve been keeping my name and face a secret all this time!”
Rei stared blankly, utterly thrown by the frustration evident in Shougo’s voice. “You…what?” He was planning on coming for Rei after becoming more famous? So in other words—he’d panicked after running into Rei when he hadn’t been expecting it? He’d never have imagined Shougo would have put that much thought into this whole affair… “I’m…pretty sure selling out the Budoukan on the day tickets go on sale despite being an indies band is, in and of itself, more than amazing.”
“What’re you talking about? The Budoukan was just the first step! I’ve gotta make it to the point where we sell out immediately for every show on our dome tour!” Shougo returned, tone matter-of-fact, and he let out a sigh. He really seemed quite put out that his long-awaited reunion with Rei had been so thoroughly ruined.
Professing that the Budoukan was merely the first step…was testament to just how great a scale Shougo thought on, and frustrating as it was, Rei couldn’t protest that he was being too overconfident. Considering how far they’d come already, Shougo could actually probably pull it off in the not-too-distant future.
But—wait a minute…
Shougo had just said he was going to, “make my major debut, make it to #1 on the Oricon charts, sell a million copies”… Which meant…
“Wait, where are you planning on making your debut?!”
“Huh?” Shougo blinked, thrown by the sudden force in Rei’s tone. “Umm, well we’ve gotten a lot of offers, like from Esbex and Seeing and Sunny… But we aren’t sure which one we’re gonna go with yet.”
“What are you talking about?!” Those were all major production houses, famous throughout the country. But… “You have to sign on with SenaPro!”
Shougo’s expression melted into one of confusion when Rei raised his voice. “Huh? How can you suggest that? There’s no way.”
“What?! But—why not?!” Rei pressed, panicking at the matter-of-fact tone Shougo responded with. SenaPro was run by Shougo’s own father, Seiya. Whether or not he eventually decided to go with it was one thing, but it would be strange not to at least consider signing there. So how could he say “there’s no way”…?
“What would make you think I’d join up as a talent working under my father—my own rival?”
Words failed Rei in the face of Shougo’s question, delivered with grim seriousness. Most would have taken Shougo’s profession of Seiya being his rival to refer to matters of music—it was a common saying that children truly grew into their own once they surpassed their fathers.
But Rei knew, more than anyone else…that that was likely not how Shougo had meant the comment. When Shougo called Seiya his rival…he meant it in matters of love.
’…I’m feeling dizzy…’
“I’ve decided I’m going to make my mark someplace completely unrelated to my dad—and then I’m coming for you. If I don’t do that, then I’ll never be able to surpass him, right?”
He had to admit that he couldn’t find fault in Shougo’s logic—that in order to accomplish that, he couldn’t rely on Seiya. But that completely went against what Rei needed from him. “And…you’re firm on this?”
“I am. I can’t do it.” With his sharp nod, Shougo seemed to have said everything he’d come to say, and his expression looked refreshed. “All right—I’m pretty short on time, so I’m gonna head out. The next time we meet’ll be when I’ve become a million-sales artist!” With that, he snatched up the check and stood, departing the cafe.
But Rei just sat there for several long moments, utterly dumbfounded, until well after his coffee had gone cold. He’d never imagined that that promise Shougo had made three years ago to surpass Seiya…would come back and bite him like this. Rei had simply hoped that he’d join the entertainment industry and sign on with SenaPro—that had been his entire reasoning for accepting Shougo’s suggestion of, “If I come back here an even more amazing man than my father, will you think about me, and not him?”
He’d known how cruel it had been, even then—but he’d agreed to it for Seiya’s…for his own sake. And now, that desire had been turned on its head, as Shougo’s sense of rivalry against Seiya spurred him to reject any offers to sign on with SenaPro.
He’d completely screwed everything up.
Even if Shougo did manage to sell a million albums, as long as he was doing that for another company, it did nothing to help Rei. The thought that his own foolish promises were going to push Shougo to enter into a contract with another agency was just rubbing salt in the wound.
There was no way his feelings were going to shift toward Shougo, after all, and at the rate things were progressing, he wouldn’t be able to grant Seiya’s wish, nor Shougo’s. This whole affair was just going to wind up with Rei having strung Shougo around all this time for nothing.
What was he supposed to do now? What could he…
After wracking his mind for answers, Rei finally stood.
He didn’t know if what he was about to do was the right thing…but, still…
On weak, wobbly legs, he exited the cafe, tapping out an email to Shougo as he headed for the station.
/I have something important I need to discuss with you. I don’t care how late it is—I just need you to come by my apartment tonight./
And that was that.
It was nearly 1 AM when Shougo finally showed up at his apartment. “I see your place hasn’t changed much…” Shougo remarked, tone betraying a thread of happiness as he glanced around the room.
As Rei watched him make his rounds, he felt the heaviness in his chest grow all the more, his surroundings growing dark—for he knew fully well just how cruel he was about to be to this man, how much he was about to hurt Shougo.
“So—what’s this important matter that needed discussing?”
Rei settled down across from Shougo after pouring him a cup of tea—then grit his teeth, steeling himself for what was to come before finally having it out: “…I’m sorry. I lied to you.” He dropped his head into a deep bow.
“Huh?” Shougo’s tone rose with confusion, and Rei continued his explanation.
“…I’m still in love with Seiya-san even now, just as I always have been. And even if you manage to sell a million albums…even if you think you’ve surpassed Seiya-san…those feelings won’t change.” The conclusion he’d finally come to, after much deliberation, was that he needed to just confess everything—what he’d been thinking at the time, what he’d wanted Shougo to do. “I mean, it’s hardly easy for someone to change who they like or don’t like at the drop of a hat.” He’d known that, and yet he’d gotten Shougo’s hopes up with propositions that made it sound as if he’d been seriously considering the notion.
Shougo didn’t say anything.
“The reason I said I’d consider my feelings for you if you managed to surpass Seiya-san…was because I wanted you to aim for the entertainment industry. Or rather—because I wanted you to join SenaPro.”
“”So—just, if you join up with some other agency, thinking it’s for my sake, then…it’s pointless. Because more than anything, I want you in SenaPro.”
“…Why do you want me to contract with SenaPro so badly?”
At Shougo’s question, Rei explained the state of affairs at the agency—about how things had progressed after Seiya’s surgery, about the lack of any promising new blood, about how they were only keeping their heads above water now because of Nagisa’s work, everything. “And…that’s how things are now. SenaPro is…in a really tough position. But—I want to protect it! I’d do anything to protect Seiya-san’s SenaPro!”
“So then…you’re telling me…to help you do something to make my father happy…?”
“………” Rei couldn’t respond, head hanging in shame as Shougo spoke.
“…Do you realize how cruel that is?”
“Of course I do!” Rei snapped, standing abruptly. “I know that what I’m asking is utterly reprehensible!” And he did—he truly did understand what an outrageous request it was. But after wracking his mind over this whole affair, he’d concluded that there were only two options: to do as he was doing and lay everything out on the table, or to just pile more lies upon lies, to tell Shougo that he no longer loved Seiya, that he loved him.
And he knew he couldn’t bear to lie about this anymore. He could speak the lies easily enough, but he hadn’t the confidence to trust that he could fool Shougo completely.
Shougo had told him, once before, “You get this…really beautiful smile on your face when you’re around my dad. I guess that shows how much you love him, huh?” He’d never realized he made any such expression himself—but apparently it hadn’t escaped Shougo’s notice.
So even if he managed to lie, to say that he was in love with Shougo, the man would eventually realize that Rei wasn’t being serious.
Which meant…there was only one other option.
“I can’t give you my love,” he confessed, staring straight at Shougo, “But…anything beyond that—my body, whatever you want…I’ll give it to you freely. Just—sign on with SenaPro!”
Shougo shifted his gaze from Rei, glancing off to the side, and sat for a few moments in silent contemplation before finally, at length, asking, “Hey…if my dad’s still the one you love the most…then am I at least second?”
He hadn’t seen that one coming—and in all honesty, he’d never thought about it. Who he loved most after Seiya…? He’d only ever had Seiya before, so…
But, with the question posed and cogs turning in his mind, he found the answer came surprisingly easily. “…Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.”
When they’d first met, rather than thinking in concepts of ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, he’d only been able to see Shougo as someone who was taking advantage of him, and even now, he couldn’t in good conscience call the feelings he had for Shougo the same ‘love’ as he felt so strongly for Seiya.
But…if he’d hated Shougo, then surely he wouldn’t have felt this much pain over him, would certainly have been more angry not simply shocked when Shougo fled from him after the concert.
“So then…that means you like me quite a lot, huh?”
“Huh?” Rei blinked in confusion, not entirely grasping why Shougo would ask that.
“Well? Do you, Rei?”
With Shougo pressing the question, and considering that Rei was the one asking for a favor here, he couldn’t not answer. “I…yeah.” He wasn’t sure what ‘quite a lot’ meant, but there was no mistaking that he did indeed love Shougo best after Seiya, for what it was worth. “I mean, I at least care for you so much that I actually felt shocked when you ran away from me at the Budoukan…” For some reason, he found this admission terribly embarrassing, and quickly buttoned up—but Shougo simply flashed a bright grin.
“Just like you want to protect things that are important to my dad, I want to protect things that are important to you.”
“Shougo…” He felt his heart skip a thudding beat at the unexpected words—and that smile. The Shougo of three years prior…had never made him feel that way.
“I mean…I think I knew, all along. That people can’t just change how they feel about someone that easily. I knew…there was no way you’d fall for me even if I managed to surpass my dad.” A bitter smile slid over his lips, and his words were tinged with faint frustration. “But…I still want to try my best to have you love me the most! I know how hard it is to change how you feel about someone—but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”
Three years ago, he’d thought Shougo didn’t really understand what it meant to love someone—that that was why he’d asked something as reckless as for Rei to fall in love with him if he managed to surpass his father. But—reuniting like this, Rei felt his chest clench with understanding of just how frighteningly deep Shougo’s feelings for him ran, and tears pricked at his eyes in the face of Shougo’s feelings and gentleness.
“I’ll be signing on with SenaPro,” Shougo announced clearly, rearranging his posture. “I can’t exactly call myself a man if I don’t do whatever I can to make the person I love’s dreams come true, can I?” With this, he flashed another bright grin.
’How…after I was so cruel to him…when he must be hurting so badly…?’ How could he smile like that? How could he still profess to love Rei…?
A tear crested its banks and slipped down his cheek, and with a cry of ”Shougo…!” he launched himself forward, clinging tightly as Shougo brought his arms up to embrace him gently. “I’m sorry…Shougo…”
“…It’s fine. Even if all we can have is a physical relationship right now…well, we’ll just start there, and then one of these days, I’m gonna have your everything.”
“Shougo…” He stared at Shougo through tear-murky eyes—and as he realized this, their lips were drawn together.
Shougo’s touch was gentle over his body, as if he were trying to ascertain something. “So what’d you do while I wasn’t around, Rei…?”
If he’d asked that like he usually did—like he’d done three years ago…but now, he was taking his time in divesting Rei of his clothes, which had long since dropped to the floor beside the bed, and was now peppering him with soft kisses.
“Did you touch yourself—like before?”
“D—don’t ask stupid questions…” Rei growled, cheeks flushing in shame as he directed a sharp glare at Shougo.
“But it’s not a stupid question? That’s how this whole thing between us started, after all…” he reminded, pressing a kiss to the knob of Rei’s shoulder. “Plus…I want to know everything about you I’ve missed while we’ve been apart…” His fingers came up to deftly tweak a nipple, and Rei grunted. “Mm…yup, looks like you’re still as sensitive as ever…” he snickered lightly, watching Rei scrunch his shoulders in response to the pinch.
He wasn’t incorrect, though; just as he’d remarked, Rei had indeed felt the pinch send a shudder of pleasure straight to his hips, and as Shougo rolled the nub between his fingers, Rei felt it immediately go sharp and pointed.
It had been three years since he’d been touched like this, and whenever Shougo brushed against his weak spots—not just his nipples—his body reacted of its own volition with a sudden shudder. “Ah—ngh…”
Why was it…? Why was it that every time he slept with Shougo, his body was so sensitive? He couldn’t figure it out—and it didn’t seem he’d changed at all in that respect in their three years apart. Far from it, in fact he seemed even more sensitive than usual, precisely because it had been so very long.
“You definitely seem like you still enjoy it, too…”
“……!” His toes curled when Shougo darted a tongue out to lick the hollow behind his knees.
“But while I’d honestly love to tease you all over…having you here with me now is kind of stripping me of all reserve…”
“Hy—ah…!” Shougo’s fingers finally—finally—ghosted over his hardening erection, and just as Shougo had said, they neither one of them seemed capable of much restraint right now, and it was too much too soon for Rei. He’d been so busy with work lately, he’d thought for sure he could keep it together, but…
“…Wow, I only just touched you a little, and your hips are going wild! How cute~”
“Sh—ut up…” It was ridiculous how sensitive his body was just now—perhaps because, he supposed, it had been so long since he’d been touched by hands that weren’t his own? Or was it because…? But despite his entire body shuddering with pleasure, Rei made a desperate attempt to keep his thoughts from drifting in a decidedly not good direction.
Still, it certainly felt amazing. He’d been the one who’d set the conditions—only a physical relationship. That was it, that was all this was, he reminded himself, and while he performed mental acrobatics with his internal reasoning, Shougo kept his hands and lips busy, drawing Rei’s pleasure to even greater heights. “Ah…ah—!”
Shougo’s tongue slipped out, laving a light touch over the crown of Rei’s cock, heavy with arousal now, before drawing it into his mouth. Rei felt something warm build in his groin and bit back a soft moan as Shougo worked him with his lips, tonguing the slit mercilessly. The fingers of one hand slicked Rei’s shaft with the precum dribbling from the crown, while the others slipped down to finger Rei gently.
“Nnh—ah, don’t…not th…” Shougo crooked a finger, brushing teasingly over his prostate and sending a shudder of pleasure ratcheting up Rei’s spine. “Ah… G—et off, I’m go—ing to…” His hips jerked sharply as Shougo continued swiping at the crown of his cock with his tongue—he was agonizingly close to climax. But Shougo showed no signs of reining himself in, instead only redoubling his efforts and sucking sharply on the tip. “Ah—nnghah…!” He climaxed then, Shougo’s lips still tight around his cock. “Haa..ah—ah…” Breathing labored, his right foot was pushed up, and it was here that he realized that Shougo still had his fingers buried in his ass. “Nn—ngh…”
“Looks like back here’s pretty ready too…”
“Don’…stare…” He cut Shougo a sharp glare for peeking too closely, eyes watery with pleasure.
“And I keep telling you, when you look at me like that, I tend to lose control.”
“Aww, c’mon, ‘fess up—look how tight you’re squeezing me.” At this, he slid his fingers in and out for show, clearly demonstrating how Rei clenched around them. To make matters worse, Shougo was brushing the pads of his fingers across Rei’s prostate when he withdrew them, as if on purpose (which it likely was), which only served to cause Rei to tense up even further in a failed attempt to keep them inside.
But then… “Oh right—lube, lube!”
The fingers slipped free all of a sudden, and Rei bunched his brows together—’What did this guy just say…?’
He thought he’d heard him say lube, but surely he’d just imagined that—until Shougo waved a translucent bottle full of lubricant in his face, expression suggesting that he saw nothing strange in carrying such a thing around.
“It’s been a while for both of us—so I figure two fingers might be a little rough on you.”
“Wai—why…do you have…?” He stared at the bottle of lubricant Shougo held, expression straining. He’d called Shougo here because he had something important to discuss—so what the hell had Shougo been intending to do, showing up with that?
Shougo, however, seemed to find nothing wrong with his preparations. “Hm? I just figured a guy’s gotta always be prepared, y’know?”
“That…is the most ridiculous…!” Like hell that was any kind of general ‘preparation’!
“Thoooough, to be honest, when I got that message from you asking me to come here tonight…I did kinda get my hopes up.”
He punctuated the confession with a bright little laugh, and Rei slumped, exhausted. “Why must you always be so…” Thoughtless, he finished in his mind, before realizing that it was this carefree attitude of his that might very well have allowed him to forgive Rei for what he’d done. Shougo was so forward-thinking, light-hearted and optimistic…
But…he knew just as well that this was far from all there was to Shougo.
“…Whatever, just get on with it.”
“Aww, what’s with that tone? You’d rather it feel good than hurt, right??” As he soothed Rei’s ruffled feathers, he squirted a dollop of the warm lotion into his palm and proceeded to slide his hand back between Rei’s legs, slathering it on generously and causing Rei’s knees to tremble as he slipped in two fingers now.
“See? Feels better nice and slick like this, doesn’t it?”
Rei had to admit that the fact that there was no pain even with two fingers was probably because of the lubricant, but the slick schlorping sound given off as Shougo slid his fingers in and out was shamefully lewd, setting Rei’s cheeks aflame.
Shougo spread his fingers, squeezing out another dollop of lotion with his free hand and sending a shudder of discomfort up Rei’s spine. Shougo then added a third finger, slipping it inside only to just as quickly draw it out again. “Ah—sorry, sorry, but can I just—can I go ahead and stick it in?”
“…W—ai…!” Rei’s eyes flared wide as Shougo hurriedly spread his legs and propped them up, pressing something warm and blunt against Rei’s ass, where he’d just withdrawn his fingers.
“It’s been three years, you know? I can’t wait any more.”
The fact that it had been three years was precisely why they needed to take it slowly—but before he could snap as such, the head of Shougo’s cock began to slowly slide in. “A—ah…!”
Thankfully, though, he felt none of the pain he’d steeled himself against, instead left with nothing but the strong sensation of being filled full.
“Hmm…? You feel…a lot tighter than before?”
“You…idiot…” Of course he did, given how long it’d been—but he could hardly voice such protests. “Nn—haahh…” Shougo’s length continued to press forward, slowly opening Rei up, and his thighs twitched and jerked as breathy, desperate inhalations passed over his lips.
“I’ve been crazy with worry, y’know…wondering how I’d be able to take it if it turned out you weren’t able to satisfy yourself just jerking off over these past three years, but…”
“From the looks of things, I didn’t need to worry at all!”
Rei fixed a sharp glare on Shougo, not appreciating the bright relief in his tone; it wasn’t like he’d stayed single all these years for his sake, after all. It was simply that the man he loved was Seiya, and so long as Seiya had his beloved wife Nagisa with him, he was going to stay single.
“Plus…it looks like this part of you remembers me pretty well,” he murmured, executing a soft thrust with a roll of his hips, sliding in and out.
“No? But look~” Shougo reached forward and gripped his hips tight in both hands, slamming his full length inside, and Rei let out a yelp.
“You were so tight at first—but you’re already starting to get used to me…”
“Hnn—nnah—!” Rei clenched up out of reflex at the punch of Shougo’s cock driving into him, leaving his head swimming with a strange sensation. In response, Shougo slowly but ruthlessly drew out, scraping his cock along Rei’s insides and setting a shudder of pleasure buzzing up his spine. “Nn….ha..ah…”
“Mm…man, your body really feels amazing…”
“—Aann…anh…” Rei felt quite the same—but something painful took root in his chest at the words your body.
Just my body, he’d said, but—
Starting with your body, Shougo had reminded.
In Rei’s mind—no matter how long Shougo waited for him, he could never see the day coming when he would be able to move past these feelings he held for Seiya. That was how confident he was that Seiya was the one. But this sensation, so overwhelmingly amazing it left him feeling like he was going to drown in the pleasure of it all…made him wish, just a little, that he were in love with Shougo.
If he loved Shougo, then he never would have had to hurt him—these were the thoughts that flitted through his mind despite the rumbling certainty beneath it all that he was being exceedingly egotistic.
The rhythm of Shougo’s thrusts was increasing in tempo now, and his fingers groped helplessly at the air as the bulb of Shougo’s cock, slipped teasingly over his prostate, tempting Rei to lift his hips to meet each thrust with even greater force.
Shougo’s hand slipped down to slip fingers around Rei’s hardening shaft, once again fit to burst despite his earlier climax. “Rei…”
“Nn…aah—ngh!” The thrusts came with pounding intensity now, and combined with Shougo’s frenetic working of Rei’s cock, it all became too much to bear. “I—can’t…gonna…cum…!” Shougo favored him with a final punching thrust, and Rei rode it to his second climax of the evening.
He felt himself clench tight around Shougo, gripping his cock tight within, and Shougo slammed in to the hilt, as deep as he could push himself, before spilling his own release inside Rei. The arms that Shougo had braced to support his weight now slid around Rei, hugging him tightly to Shougo’s chest—and when Rei’s arms came up, on reflex, to return the gesture, looping around Shougo’s back—
“…I love you, Rei…” It was spoken softly, gently—but sounded pained, and Rei froze. “…Even if you’re not mine, I’ll always…always sing for you, and you alone. I swear…”
The words, like a whispered confession in his ears, gave Rei pause, and he bit his lip fiercely. He was lucky they were hugging right now, for despite his very best efforts, the tears he’d tried to hold back crested their banks.
Shougo had truly grown into a fine man over these past three years. Unlike Rei, who’d stayed in the same stagnant state he’d been in before. And he’d grown not just as an artist, but as a man.
’If I’d met this Shougo, before I’d met Seiya, I wonder how things would be different…’
If the day he’d bowed his head, begging the staff members for passage down that hallway leading to the CRUSHERZ’ dressing rooms—if it had come before that cold winter’s evening when he’d first met Seiya, then…
He knew it could never have happened like that; the Rei that Shougo had fallen in love with was the Rei that had already been in love with Seiya, after all, and if Rei hadn’t loved Seiya as he did, he never would have urged Shougo to become a singer. Hell, they likely never would have even met.
But it didn’t stop him from wondering, all the same…
Several days later, on the day when it was formally announced that the CRUSHERZ would be contracting with SenaPro, Shougo dropped by the Sena family home for the first time in ages.
“I’m hoooome!” he called out a light greeting, as if merely returning from a morning outing, and the three members of the Sena family, enjoying post-prandial tea time in the living room, stared at him wide-eyed.
“…Shougo!!” his mother shrieked after a moment of shocked blinking—but before she could get another word in, Izumi let out an excited greeting of his own.
“Oniichaaaaan!!” The moment he realized it was his brother who’d just sauntered in, he leapt down from his chair and practically tripped over himself rushing to meet Shougo. He was likely the one most excited to see Shougo home once more; given that they’d been separated for three long years, though, it was hardly surprising.
“Hey there, Izumi! You’re getting big! But cute as ever~”
Rei released a soft sigh, taking in the now familiar sight of the brothers embracing each other tightly, so fierce in their hugs that it came off annoying even to onlookers. And then…
“…Welcome back, Shougo.” It was Seiya, of course, who delivered this greeting, a smile on his face. Here, Shougo glanced up, taking in his father.
Their eyes met—and Shougo and Seiya turned smiles on each other. To most, the sight likely seemed like an emotional reunion between the family head who’d longed for his son to continue the family business and a son who’d finally returned home after having become a great entertainer himself…
“Well, now that I’m back, Dad—feel free to take off and retire, living a life of relaxation.”
His expression was that same smile as always—and while it sounded like a suggestion delivered out of consideration for his father, still recovering from illness…there was still an air of unrest between the two.
“Oh no no, I’m afraid I can’t let you young whippersnappers take over just yet,” Seiya returned, his own smile the same as ever, but his attitude was also slightly off from usual.
’Wait, huh…? What’s…going on?’
The two were sharing a good laugh, but on closer inspection, one could almost see little sparks flickering between their gazes. While Rei could understand the sense of competition on Shougo’s part, this was a decidedly unexpected attitude for Seiya to take.
But when he spared a glance to Nagisa, her expression reflected a sense of disbelief and resignation—apparently those flying sparks hadn’t been a mere figment of Rei’s imagination.
With a mental sigh, Rei began to accept that the road ahead would be a long one indeed.
And with that, SenaPro entered its golden age.
Rei was the last one left in the office, finishing up the last of his work, when the scent of fresh-brewed coffee wafted his way, and he glanced up—to find Shougo standing at the doorway connecting the offices to the Sena family home, having apparently arrived without Rei noticing and poured a cup of coffee for him.
It was a bit of a shock—he’d honestly never expected Shougo to do something like that for him. Those three years must have changed Shougo in ways far beyond what Rei had expected.
“You still got some work left?” Shougo asked, settling the mug on Rei’s desk.
“Oh…yeah, I’m just finishing up now.” He took a sip of the coffee Shougo had prepared for him, then directed his gaze squarely at Shougo.
“…I really am sorry. For getting you involved in my selfish request…” He ducked a bow at Shougo here. Starting today, Shougo—and the CRUSHERZ—were fully-fledged artists on SenaPro’s roster, so he felt the urge to properly apologize and put the whole affair to rest.
However—“Ah—no, no, it’s fine, I keep telling you!” The response was far more light-hearted than Rei had been expecting. It was as if a weight had finally been lifted from his shoulders—and Rei wondered for a moment if Shougo was speaking like this…out of consideration for Rei’s feelings. That was, until he continued: “I mean, the way I look at it, my dad’s gonna kick the bucket long before I do!”
“…What?” Rei’s eyes goggled at the out-of-left-field comment. True, when one thought about it logically, that was likely how things would go, but…you didn’t just say things like that.
Shougo, however, didn’t seem to notice Rei’s reaction, continuing merrily, “Which means eventually, one way or another, I’m gonna move on up the ladder of ‘Rei’s Love’ and take the top spot!”
“So at worst, all I’ve gotta do is wait him out!” His grin was wide, and Rei gaped at him for only a moment longer.
’This guy…hasn’t changed a bit deep down where it counts…’ He’d thought that, despite Shougo’s light-hearted, optimistic air, underneath it all there was more to him—but perhaps he’d just been fooling himself. Now he couldn’t fathom what on earth had brought him to tears over this man, though there was no helping it now.
“Hm?” Shougo’s grin remained fixed, and he cocked his head curiously.
“…I’ve changed my mind—the one I love second-best…is Izumi.” With this, Rei pasted on a placid smile of his own.
“—Eh?” The smile froze on Shougo’s face, and then— “EEEH?? NO WAY!”
It was that protest, though, which gave Rei a tiny little thrill inside.