“…Rei. Reeeei! Hey, we’re done now—Rei?”
“Nn…?” Rei’s eyes flared open as his name was called.
“Hey—you okay?” Shougo pressed, leaning down to peer into his face, and Rei struggled for a moment to recall just where he was and what he’d been doing, glancing around stupidly.
Between the set, situated on an elevated little stage, and the instruments and equipment surrounding them, Rei quickly recalled that they were currently on the set of a talk show inside a recording studio.
Right. Today he’d tagged along to watch over Shougo during his recording—or at least, that was what he’d been supposed to be doing, as somewhere along the way, he seemed to have taken a nap.
’How could I have done that…?!’
“S—sorry; is the recording over?”
“Then—shall we head back?”
Rei scrambled to make himself presentable again, standing from his seat, and while he could feel Shougo’s gaze falling heavy upon him, he forced itself to ignore it and set off for the dressing rooms. He must’ve fallen asleep in an awkward position, and he released a soft sigh as he reached for his neck, in pain, and gave himself a one-handed massage.
’I’ve just been really busy lately…’
This was due in large part to the fact that SenaPro lacked the man-power to deal with the sudden uptick in work concerning the band since taking on Shougo and the CRUSHERZ. Rei himself had not only Shougo’s workload to see to but his duties as manager to Seiya and Nagisa as well to see to, so if he didn’t step up his game, he’d never be able to handle it all.
He’d managed to hang on thus far, doing away with frivolities like lunch and sleep, but if such actions led to embarrassing situations like this, then…
Wracked with guilt, he shuttled Shougo back home and then headed for his desk to check his schedule for the next day—but the moment he hit the seat, a wave of exhaustion washed over him, and he let out an unconscious sigh.
’With the CRUSHERZ making their major debut on our roster, SenaPro has finally entered its golden age…’
The band had made a fantastic splash, and almost as if it had been a given, their debut single had taken top spot on the Oricon ranking, as had their second single and third as well. Then they’d finally released an album just recently, and it too had shot to number one on the charts.
Their television spots were increasing as well, and the music-focused talk shows seemed thrilled with Shougo’s amusing way of speaking, earning the group invitations to variety shows which then led to a windfall of personal invitations to Shougo for guest appearances.
And to top it all off, lately he’d even started getting offers to appear in television dramas. Coupled with requests for a mother-son appearance with Nagisa, his mother’s workload was increasing as well.
Efforts to cope with this workload resulted in the expected physical exhaustion of being run ragged daily, but this was not the only source of stress for Rei…
Shougo had been blessed with good looks that clearly spoke of his blood relation to Seiya, and given that the CRUSHERZ had contracted with SenaPro, it was little surprise that, as soon as the group made their debut, Shougo’s identity as the eldest son of the Sena family had come out.
While some who weren’t well educated on the particulars of who’d made it big first muttered gossip about riding coattails and the like, most seemed well aware that Shougo was a self-made man, so there’d been no ill effects on his work. This was helped by the fact that Shougo himself didn’t seem all that miffed by the situation—a blessing, and far better than him worrying about it and sinking into a slump.
However, whenever Shougo found himself in interviews fielding questions about his father, he would always respond with: “He’s my greatest rival!”
Naturally, everyone assumed he meant this as a singer—that he one day hoped to surpass his father in fame—but the truth was quite a different matter.
Seiya and Shougo…were rivals in love.
For Rei’s love, to be specific.
And of course, Seiya had no idea of this.
Rei was stuck pining unrequitedly for Seiya, just as Shougo longed for Rei’s love, and while it was a rather convoluted love triangle they’d found themselves involved in, there was nothing to be done for it.
Granted, Rei understood well enough that the fact that Shougo had feelings for his same-sex manager wasn’t going to just slip out so lightly, but whenever Shougo took to mass media and started going on about how he and Seiya were rivals, considering Rei’s understanding of Shougo’s feelings for him…it struck Rei with headaches and stomachaches and everything-aches.
Things probably would have been easier all around if he’d never found out about any of this—but he couldn’t just wipe his memories whenever he liked, unfortunately, so it was with these mental sources of stress as well that Rei was running up against the very limits of his stamina.
However, he never would have expected for everything to culminate in the embarrassment if falling asleep on location in the middle of a recording… “This isn’t good… I’ve got to find a manager to take on the CRUSHERZ full time…” he groaned to himself, reaching for the stack of resumes he’d been in the middle of leafing through earlier.
He’d singled out those with the best experience, regardless of age or gender, but he remained dubious as to whether or not he’d find in this stack someone up to the task of managing SenaPro’s cash cow, the CRUSHERZ. After all, it’d been more than a month now since they’d started accepting applications for the position, and still no one was leaping out. Still, even if anyone had presented themselves, the time they’d have to set aside to field interviews would only increase how busy they all were these days.
But it was clear that Rei didn’t have the stamina to remain the Sena family’s sole manager now. He’d have liked to have someone skilled enough to handle sales issues and schedule management, but barring that, a warm body to handle on-location management alone would do…but then they’d still need to hire someone else to handle marketing operations, which would just be a waste of personnel.
Rei knew, deep down, something was going to break soon, if they didn’t resolve this issue…
And that was when it happened.
“I want to record our next single overseas!” Shougo announced out of the blue, shortly followed by the sound of something snapping inside Rei’s head, as he’d just been peacefully reading over the upcoming schedule while lounging on the office sofa.
’We’re crazy busy already—and he wants to go OVERSEAS?!’
“What tripe are you spouting?!” he snapped, slapping a hand over the schedule book currently spread out on the table between them. Luckily, the late hour meant only the two of them were left in the office. Had Satou from accounting seen Rei react like this, she might have very well been so overcome with fright she would have quit on the spot—that’s how menacing he was being right about now. “Overseas? Where on earth do you expect to find the kind of time for that in this schedule?!”
Indeed, the schedule was jam-packed, without a moment to spare. Shougo had but to glance at the thing to understand this fact.
But strangely enough, Shougo wasn’t backing down this time. “We’ve got a whole week here set aside for recording, though! We can just go then!” Saying so, he pointed to a section in the middle of the page marked RECORDING, along with the name of a recording studio inside the city.
“And we’d waste much of that time on traveling alone! We’ve put together this schedule at the last minute, you realize?” Plus, while the place they’d reserved wasn’t the best in the country, it definitely had high marks, and it wasn’t Shougo’s first time using the studio. He’d never complained before about the facilities or the staff, so why…? “What exactly aren’t you happy about?”
“Well, I just feel like nothing’s gonna happen like this! We’ve been doing nothing but working from inside Japan this whole time! I’ll never be able to come up with new songs if I don’t get out into the world and stretch my wings a bit!” His tone sounded like something one might expect from a whiny child.
Rei’s lips pursed with a twitch. ’Here we go… Now he’s pulling the “artist” card…’ He began to rub his head, sensing the oncoming ache. People like this occasionally tended to put off work, professing a reason that no hard-working mature adult would ever use: “I’m just not in the mood.”
Seiya had the same temperament, and as such, Rei had come to understand a bit about how things worked with artists in this respect. For example, Seiya liked to wander off on trips at the drop of a hat while in the middle of composing a new song, or go out drinking the day before his lyrics were due, or even go see a movie—and he’d explain his actions thus: “I can’t just churn things out without a break. I’ve gotta give my brain some nourishment, some stimulation! If not, nothing I generate will be any good.”
Rei had been rather frazzled initially, worried about the time frame, but Seiya had yet to fall through with his work. And Rei couldn’t deny that, after any such escapes, Seiya would always complete the remainder of his work with frightening speed. Rei didn’t know much about creating art or anything like that, so it probably wasn’t his place to pass judgment, but having seen what Seiya could put out, he had to hand it to the guy.
However, this wasn’t Seiya he was dealing with now—a man Rei respected above all others—but Shougo, who’d never made these sorts of demands of Rei before, so he couldn’t treat the situation as quite the same. It was hard to tell if this was merely a childish demand or if it was truly necessary. But then…
”We’ve been doing nothing but working from inside Japan this whole time!”
Shougo was right; ever since his debut, the band had been running flat out, and on now being faced with the comment that they were reaching a point where they really needed a breather or something to change up the pace, Rei found he couldn’t give in to stubborn refusal.
With a deep sigh, he asked, “…So where do you want to go, then?”
The response to his reluctant question was a perky, “New York!”
“New York?” The flight alone would be over twelve hours from Japan! “Just getting there and back will waste a whole day!” They only had a week to finish up the recording, which left them with just six days to get the job done. They’d also likely be exhausted from the flight, and then there was the jet-lag to worry about… When it came down to it, their actual usable time would be even shorter—but then, Shougo was surely aware of that already. “You’re sure…you understand this?”
“I do! But I’m confident that if we go, I’ll be able to pump out something great in no time flat!” Indeed, he must have been brimming with confidence, the way he boasted.
With such a proclamation, it was starting to look like Rei didn’t have much choice but to trust he’d get the job done… “…All right. I’ll see if I can rearrange the schedule…”
“Wait, Rei!” Rei had already slipped into “give-up mode”, standing with exhaustion to head back to his desk in the office—when Shougo stopped him brightly. “It’s all right! I’ve already taken care of all the arrangements for the flight and hotel—even the studio rental!”
“You…what?” For a moment, he didn’t quite understand what Shougo was saying.
“And I’ve already talked things over with the other members! Plus—my dad’ll be composing that whole week and mom’ll have some time off, so since Satou-san’ll be able to take care of everything on her own, that means you can come too!” Shougo continued to press his case with the utterly dumbfounded Rei, pulling out a bundle of documents detailing everything and handing them to Rei.
Rei blinked in silence, skimming the pages he’d just been handed. “This…is…” Just as Shougo had professed, he had indeed taken care of all of the arrangements. Just to be safe, he whipped out his own planner to check—and Seiya and Nagisa’s schedules were in exactly the state Shougo had explained. “You mean to tell me…you can handle managing yourself…?”
He supposed he should have expected as such, given that until just recently, they’d been performing as an indies band, but he still couldn’t help but be surprised at just how perfectly and completely Shougo had pulled everything off. He came off as something of an airhead most of the time, but it was in times such as this that Rei was reminded that, deep down, Shougo was a genius, capable of pulling off stunts like this flawlessly.
“Ugh, no way! That’s way too annoying!” Shougo shook his head at Rei’s suggestion. “It was just that this time, I really wanted to go! With you, of course!” And when he flashed a wink, Rei fought the bone-deep urge to slug him but good.
The only reason he didn’t was because Shougo’s very body was part of his selling point as an entertainer. If that hadn’t been the case, though, rest assured that Rei would’ve well and truly laid into him.
He clenched his shaking fist tight, noting that he’d gotten exceptionally good at coping, and released a sigh. “…Then, for now, I’ll speak with Seiya-san on the matter.” Seiya was the company president, after all; even though his own son Shougo had taken care of all of the arrangements, they still needed to get his permission. Truthfully, Rei still clung to a shred of hope that Seiya might put a stop to the whole thing.
“Eh? Aww, c’mon; you don’t have to do that.”
“Of course I do.” He fixed a sharp glare on Shougo after his flippant comment, then stomped out of the office and headed off to find Seiya. At this time of day, he ought to be home—and he therefore made the living room his first stop, where he found Izumi, clad in his pajamas, having apparently come down just then for a drink.
“Ah, good evening, Izumi-san. I came by to see if I could speak with Seiya-san…”
“Dad? I think he’s downstairs.”
“Thank you.” After bidding Izumi his thanks, he headed to the studio in the basement. The subterranean level of the Sena home had been converted to a recording studio, and Seiya could often be found working here. He shouldn’t have been so busy right now that he absolutely had to be working at this hour of the evening, but a great song might have just come to him.
“Oh, Rei? What brings you down here?” Seiya called out, cocking his head when Rei poked his face inside.
“I had something I wanted to discuss with you—are you busy?”
“Not at all.” Seiya motioned to a chair nearby, inviting him to take a seat, but Rei declined with the excuse that it would only take a moment, before diving into discussion of the conversation he’d just had with Shougo.
“You see, about Shougo-san’s upcoming recording session…”
“Oh—the New York thing?”
“Eh?” Rei’s eyes goggled at the response that came when all he’d said was recording—as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“The studio he picked out has great facilities as well as top-quality staff running it, so I’m sure we can look forward to a wonderful finished product.”
“………” He even knew about the studio already…? From the looks of things, it seemed Shougo and already been down this road—which reminded Rei that Shougo had brought up Seiya and Nagisa’s schedules earlier, so there was a very high chance he’d consulted them personally on the matter.
“You’re going along with him, right?”
“No, just, that is…”
“You’ve been so busy lately; you really ought to get out for some fresh air!”
Faced with Seiya’s broad grin, Rei had little choice but to acquiesce. “…All right. I’ll go see about getting my passport tomorrow…” With Seiya’s blessing given, he’d run out of reasons to refuse. His shoulders slumped, he exited the studio and headed back up to the living room—where he found Shougo sitting on the couch alongside Izumi, twisting around now to see Rei walk in.
“So? How’d it go?”
Rei fixed a glare on Shougo as he leered from his spot on the couch, before releasing a defeated sigh. “I can’t believe you’d already gone and discussed the matter with Seiya-san…”
“Well, much as I hate to admit it, there’s no way you’d ever say no if my dad gave his okay, right??” He was absolutely right, so Rei swallowed any protests.
“Hey, are you going to New York, Rei?” It was Izumi’s turn to question him now. He must have heard from Shougo while Rei was downstairs.
“I am. This is part of my job, after all.” He had little choice but to go, he tried to make clear—but Izumi didn’t seem to get the message.
“I wanna go too!!”
“Eh?” Rei gaped at Izumi, thrown by the protest.
“It’s no fair that Oniichan and Rei get to go all by themselves! I wanna go to New York too!”
“Much as I understand, still…”
“I wanna go I wanna go I WANNA GOOOO!!” Rei never would have expected Izumi to be so adamant on this point. After all, Izumi was quite an introvert, preferring to play indoors in his room rather than go outside. This was a rare sight, seeing him so bent on going somewhere. To top it all off—this was New York, quite a ways away, so Rei felt quite justified in being shocked. In all likelihood, he was less worried about not going someplace than feeling lonely that Shougo and Rei would be going there together.
“Didn’t you hear me, though? We’re going for work. We can’t take you along with us.” He then directed his gaze at Shougo, silently imploring You say something, too! Even Shougo, a guy with a self-professed dyed-in-the-wool brother complex, had to see that there was no way they could possibly take Izumi with them.
“Bringing Izumi along, huh… That definitely sounds like it’d be fun!”
“Hey! You—!” Rei started, a snarling shout on his lips, when he was stopped at the pass as Shougo continued.
“But this time we’re going for work.” Apparently he’d accepted that they had no choice as well. “Even if you came along, we couldn’t bring you around anywhere to enjoy the sights, so why don’t we go some other time when we’re not gonna be busy with work?”
“Nnngh…” Given that Shougo, usually putty in his little brother’s hands, was standing his ground, perhaps Izumi finally understood that it really was no use protesting, and despite glancing up at Shougo with eyes glistening with tears, he eventually gave up his demands. Rei was at once both relieved—and a bit saddened for Izumi.
“…What?” Izumi turned away from Shougo when Rei called his name, staring at Rei now. He must have really been holding back those tears, given how red his nose was now.
“We’ll bring you back lots of souvenirs.”
“Of course, you can count on it. What would you like?”
“Okay…then, some chocolate! I want chocolates!”
Seeing this response, Rei released another relieved sigh.
“Wait—what? You’ve never left the country before, Rei?” Shougo’s screech of shock echoed throughout the plane’s cabin as they found themselves on a flight to New York. They’d taken off some time ago, and the plane had since leveled out.
In contrast to Shougo’s relaxed posture, though, Rei’s mien was fixed into a hard, steel expression. “Correct.” He hadn’t thought it all that surprising a revaluation, but perhaps it did seem strange for someone like Shougo, who’d studied abroad for years and routinely found himself coming and going from Japan. “My mother and I were never very well off when I lived with her, so we hardly had the luxury, and I’ve been working 24-7 even since starting with SenaPro, so…”
But even as he spoke, his vision blurred and wavered, and he couldn’t seem to calm himself—and he strongly suspected his pallor didn’t look so good, as Shougo looked him over worriedly, head cocked in concern.
“Hey, are you…by any chance nervous? Rei.”
“Th—of course I am!” he grit out. “We’re traveling to a place where our Japanese won’t get us far, you realize? Plus, over there, you let your guard down for an instant and you’ll find your bag stolen or get yourself kidnapped or even blown to bits!”
But in response to his earnest deliverance of what must have been a rather biased understanding of American culture, Shougo only smiled wryly. “You don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff!”
“Easy for you to say!” He wanted to remind Shougo that this was all his fault to begin with. Rei had been in a sour mood ever since the moment it’d been decided that they’d travel to New York. It was his first time overseas, for one thing, and his English was absolutely dreadful, for another.
He understood that, from a management perspective, he really ought to improve his skills in the language—after all, this wouldn’t be the only time he’d likely find himself having to converse with foreign partners. But both Seiya and Shougo’s English was on par with their Japanese, so he’d never really had cause or opportunity to practice. On top of it, he was constantly swamped with work, and while he’d gone out and bought textbooks with the intention to practice, he’d had next to no time at all to actually open them.
If he got lost in New York, or if someone tried to speak to him in English—or worse, if he brought about some misunderstanding by not being able to adequately communicate with the local staff… All manner of horrible potentialities rushed through his mind, and he reasoned it was no surprise he was worried about this whole endeavor.
Shougo reached forward, giving Rei’s hand a squeeze as he saw his pallor worsen visibly, and Rei glanced up.
“It’s fine—it’s fine, really. I’m here, after all!” Unfortunately, these words of reassurance were little help, and Rei sighed to himself. Despite Shougo’s best of intentions, Rei still couldn’t bring himself to entirely trust the man. “Anyway, it’s gonna be a long flight, so just try not to think too much about it and get some rest.”
“But, I can’t…” He’d thought to at least get in as much studying as possible on the flight and had a textbook on conversational English tucked into his pack. He really ought to start leafing through that, but…
“Nothing’s gonna stick in your skull with you all tense like this. Just get some rest so you don’t wind up jet lagged when we get there.” Shougo had a point. It was summer at the moment, which meant the time difference between Tokyo and New York, with Daylight Saving’s Time factored in, was minus-thirteen hours. It was probably best to take care and ensure that he was ready to go to work as soon as they touched down. “Here, a sleep mask.” Shougo gallantly offered him the blanket and eye mask stuffed into his seat pocket, and with that, Rei tamped down his worries and nodded off.
A half-day later…
“So…this is New York, huh…?” Rei muttered to himself the moment they arrived in John F. Kennedy International Airport, before they’d even left the terminal, and Shougo snorted softly at the sentiment.
“It’s too soon for comments like that, Rei!”
“Shut up! What’s the harm?”
They made their way out of the terminal, following the instructions of an employee as far as the taxi rotary, and managed to make it into one of the cabs with minimal trouble—until Rei found he was unable to properly pronounce the name of the street their hotel was located on for the driver. Before he could make another attempt, though, Shougo jumped in, addressing the driver, and the cab pulled smoothly into traffic.
“What for? I told you to leave everything to me, didn’t I?”
It was pathetic, relying on Shougo to do something that he should have been the one to do, but Shougo didn’t seem to mind at all. Later, as well, when Rei dithered with his wallet after forgetting to tip the driver, Shougo smoothed things over again. Even on arriving at the hotel, Shougo charged to the rescue when Rei grew flustered after being spoken to by a bellhop, smartly offering the young man a tip. Shougo had apparently been entirely serious in his vow to take responsibility here, constantly offering aid to Rei, who could hardly tell right from left.
By the time they reached their hotel room, Rei was utterly exhausted, but he realized that it was only thanks to Shougo that they’d gotten this far with hardly any problems at all. “I’m…soooo tired…”
“You really don’t have to be so uptight, y’know. New York’s just another city, after all. Just like Tokyo—just the same!”
From Rei’s perspective, the mere fact that all of the words filling his ears and the lettering on the signs around him were in English was enough to send him into a panic, but Shougo seemed no different at all from how he behaved in Japan. On questioning, apparently he’d been to New York a number of times before and even had most of the map memorized. “Just having you tag along with me here really pumps me up, so feel free to rely on me as much as you like!”
“………” Rei wasn’t sure that was such a good idea, considering he was supposed to be here on business, but anyone could see from their situation thus far that it was more efficient to just leave everything to Shougo rather than to try doing too much himself. Given how tight their schedule was, too, he felt it best to rely on Shougo where he could, and offered a reluctant nod.
Truthfully, this was the first time since their meeting that he’d ever really realized just how reliable Shougo could be—so much so that, if possible, he didn’t want to be parted from Shougo’s side for even an instant. He knew full well, though, that if he said such things aloud, it would only go to Shougo’s head, and so he elected to keep mum on his feelings.
Given that they were here on business, even if he’d wanted some time away from Shougo, they still found themselves holed up in the studio day in and day out. He didn’t want to trouble Shougo for help aside from when they went out together, after all, and he wound up moving about with Shougo most of the time anyway, so he experienced little trouble. He’d fire up his laptop, checking in with the office back in Japan while keeping an eye on the recording progress here in New York.
He mused that, like this, things weren’t so different from a day at the office back in Japan—but it seemed he was the only one who felt this way.
“Aren’t you pushing yourself a bit too hard…?” Rei chided softly, sighing to himself as he lay a blanket over Shougo as he slept back at their hotel that evening.
He and Shougo were rooming together, and while he’d initially been wary of the arrangements, Shougo had spent every day staying late at the studio before returning to the hotel, only to collapse onto the bed the moment he crossed the threshold, out like a light. There was a clear difference in his work ethic here and the slightly slovenly attitude he portrayed back in Japan. “I never would have thought he’d behave so differently…”
Seeing Shougo in this state prompted Rei to reconsider the merits of coming all the way to New York—and about how those known as artists could be surprisingly sensitive at times… Granted, they could hardly come to New York every time they needed to make a new recording, but…it did deserve some consideration.
In the end, thanks to Shougo’s amazing dedication to getting his work done, they managed to finish the recording a day early—which Rei thought impressive, given the time-loss factored in for travel. ’At this rate, we’ll be able to return a day early!’ Rei had mentally cheered, until…
“All right, everyone’s free to enjoy tomorrow as they see fit!”
As Rei was offering his thanks in garbled English to the studio staff, he heard Shougo’s announcement from behind him, shortly followed by Haru and Rinpei’s cheers of delight.
“Wait—hey! Shougo—” he started, a protest ready on his lips.
“Sweet! I think I’m gonna do some sight-seeing!” He whirled around to find that Rinpei was already leafing through a guidebook he’d shrewdly brought along for this very purpose.
“And I can buy some souvenirs for my family,” Haru rejoined, grinning broadly as he packed away his guitar.
Taking in this sight, though, Rei reasoned that it was because the CRUSHERZ members had worked so hard that the recording had finished a day early, and supposed that a break was indeed in order—so he swallowed his protests and released a sigh, recognizing any complaints were pointless by now.
His own work had proceeded on schedule without any particular hiccups, and he wasn’t under any real stress from pressing engagements. The three band members could have their free day, and he’d return to the hotel and finish up his work. He planned on putting in a final call to Japan early the next morning—knowing it would be evening in Japan—so he could always put his nose to the grindstone tonight and just sleep the next morning.
The next morning…
Rei was just thinking about turning in, having completed his planned phone calls to Japan around dawn, and shut down his laptop.
“Are you finished with work now?” Shougo asked from behind, and Rei twisted in place to respond.
“Yeah, for the time being.” But when his gaze fell on Shougo, he found that despite the early hour of barely 7 AM, Shougo was already dressed and ready to head out, a large bag dangling from one hand. “…What are you doing this early in the mo—”
But before he could finish, Shougo snatched up his hand. “Great! Let’s not waste our hard-earned free time, then! Let’s go!”
“Huh? Go where?” As he cocked his head in confusion, though, Shougo jerked on the hand he held and dragged him outside. He’d been working in his slacks and dress shirt, so there was no problem in exiting the room in that respect, but he’d been about to go to bed and had no intention of going along quietly.
“Someplace nice!” Shougo reassured, continuing his march forward while dragging Rei behind him.
“Someplace nice—which is where? You’re not a child—if you want something to eat, then go find something yourself; I’m going to bed.”
“Not that—you’ll find out when we get there!” He then hailed a cab and practically threw Rei inside. Rei was pretty much helpless by this point, given that his Japanese wouldn’t get him far outside the room. Plus, he had no money to pay the cab fare.
The taxi dropped them off at the airport of all places. Rei held out a moment’s hope that they were going straight back to Japan, right now, but then quickly realized that couldn’t be the case. He didn’t have any of his luggage on him, and while the bag Shougo held in his hand was rather large, it was no suitcase.
“Hey, seriously—where are we going?”
“It’s a secret! We’ll be in the air for a good two and a half hours, so you can just nap on the flight! Leave everything to me.”
Rei was hardly mollified by the reassurance, but he still allowed himself to be directed to the gate and shuttled on board, having completely given up resistance.
And just as Shougo had promised, after a two and a half hour trip, they landed…in Miami, Florida, where they then boarded another plane for another hour-long flight, eventually finding themselves in Lynden Pindling International Airport on the island of New Providence, in the Bahamas.
“…It’s sweltering…” The moment they exited the airport, Rei had to squint his eyes at the onslaught of the sun’s burning rays.
“Hey, Rei—this way, c’mon!”
“Wha—we’re traveling even more?!” He gaped openly as Shougo hailed a taxi, but that didn’t prove to be the end of their journey. After a half-hour trip in the taxi, they boarded a small ship, eventually arriving on a small island with no sign of any human population. The ship allowed them to disembark, before slipping away from the shore. “O—oi, Shougo?!”
“Y’know, this place has a ton of desert islands, but it’s still a resort area!” It seemed they’d arrived on one of those very desert islands.
“Th—that’s not what I meant to ask!” As Shougo babbled on inanely, the ship grew smaller and smaller, leaving them behind as it departed the shore.
“Which means that right now, we’re the only two people on this whole island! Kind of like we’re the last living people on earth, see?”
“Only two people…but—how on earth do you propose we get back, then?!” The boat had disappeared from sight by now, but Shougo just turned a broad, easy smile on the flustered and panicked Rei.
“I’ve told them to come back for us just before sunset—so don’t worry, we’re fine!” At these words, Rei felt a wave of relief wash over him. He’d freaked out at the word ‘desert island’, his imagination bringing to mind thoughts of survivalists and being set adrift, but when he stopped to think about it rationally, they’d arrived here by ship, so this made perfect sense.
Perhaps the sun was starting to fry his brain, depriving him of his usual logical reasoning.
“Now, since we’ve got this whole island all to ourselves, why don’t we take it easy and enjoy it while we can?” Shougo unzipped his bag and tugged out a blanket and some sunscreen, along with a couple of water bottles, spreading them out on the beach before flopping down on top of the blanket. Rei gaped openly, astonished at how thoroughly prepared Shougo was, before reluctantly settling down beside him, with nothing else to do.
“Whoa…!” As he relaxed, he finally took in the bright blue sky above him and the far-distant horizon separating sea from sky. This was the first time he’d ever seen the sky so huge, or that long line that really made him aware of how round the world was, and he felt his breath sapped for a moment as he took in the sight. It was a beautiful view that nearly brought tears to his eyes—the overwhelming grandness of nature which made humans utterly aware of their insignificance.
The scenery was enough to make Rei feel like a complete fool, whiling away his life on a tiny island and fussing over the minutiae of the day to day. He released a small sigh and sat there for a long moment, just watching and staring.
“…Wanna take a dip?”
“Tada! I got you a swimsuit!” With this announcement, Shougo tugged out a pair of men’s swim trunks from his bag. “Though I mean, it is a desert island, so we could go without, too…”
“The hell we could, idiot!”
“…Is what I thought you’d say, so here ya go!”
Rei stared at the suit Shougo offered him. He’d used their travel time to get some sleep in, so he was fairly well-rested, and they couldn’t exactly go anywhere until the boat returned, so it was futile protesting that he wanted to get back to work.
Plus…with such a beautiful ocean right before his very eyes, it would be a waste not to swim in it. “…All right, but just for today.”
Rei fixed Shougo with a glare at his flippant response—but it didn’t last long.
Shockingly, Shougo had even brought along a snorkeling mask. While he didn’t have any fins with him, unfortunately, they still enjoyed floating on the water’s surface instead of diving down, taking in the sights of the seabed below them.
They saw fish in a veritable rainbow of color darting through the clear blue water, starfish hugging the sea floor, even tiny rays—and Rei couldn’t help but brim with excitement, swimming through the waters of the southern isles for the first time in his life.
Though truthfully, it wasn’t merely his first time swimming in this ocean—but his first time swimming in any ocean, as while he’d seen the ocean many times before, he’d never done anything that might constitute ‘playing’ in it. His mother had never been the type to save up to send him on vacation to a seaside school, and his childhood had been far from a healthy one where he might have hoped to swim in the sea.
The pull of the waves, the sensation of sand between his toes—these were all brand new experiences for Rei. After swimming for a bit and floating on the surface, they tried building a sandcastle on the beach and even trotted off to explore their small island—and before they realized it, they were playing their hearts out as they relived their childhood.
Rei did have moments where he reflected on how strange the situation was, but then he’d just remind himself that it was only he and Shougo on the island, and a single glance at Shougo—who was having an even wilder time than Rei—washed those worries away.
Just as the sky was beginning to be washed over in the lovely tones of the setting sun, the pair flopped down to nap on the blanket they’d spread out on the sandy beach, and Rei let himself get lost in the beautiful oranges of the evening sky.
The sky and sea and island—and even Rei himself…they were all bathed in that color, leaving the strange sense that he was one with nature thudding in Rei’s chest with the rhythm of the waves.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Shougo remarked idly from where he sat beside Rei, glancing down at him.
“…That it is.” Much as he hated to admit it, he had to agree.
“Glad we came?”
“Did you manage to get some rest in these last few days?”
This question caused Rei to start, his gaze jerking from the sunset to finally take in Shougo properly. Could the reason he’d been so adamant about this trip to New York have been because…? “So then…you planned to take me here from the very beginning?” His tone, while questioning, carried an air of conviction, and Shougo chuckled.
“Hehe, well—you’ve looked absolutely exhausted lately, soooo…”
“…Was it that obvious?”
“To me? Of course!” And on reflection, Rei realized that he often slipped into naps in Shougo’s presence, so he supposed Shougo naturally would have noticed—until Shougo added, “I’m always watching you, after all.”
At these words, Rei felt a slight clenching in his chest—only slight, mind you.
“Though well, and I’m only saying this to be fair: my dad noticed you were pretty beat, too, so when I brought up the suggestion for this trip, he agreed immediately.”
’So then, Seiya-san…’ And here, his chest clenched even tighter than before. The realization that Seiya had taken note of his state like this made Rei happy beyond belief. His urging to “get out for some fresh air” had been wholly out of consideration for Rei’s well-being, then—and this brought a smile blooming to his face.
“Tsk, look at you! Looking so happy, when I’m the one who brought you out here in the first place!” Shougo pouted, promptly rolling onto his side to place his back to Rei.
“Now now…” Rei was the one to sit up this time, gazing down at Shougo—his expression was petulant, like a child’s, and the sight was just a tiny bit cute, Rei had to admit. Plus… “I am grateful,” he murmured by way of admission. “It feels like, coming here, my mind’s been completely refreshed, no longer a muddled mess.”
He’d been so busy, day in and day out, that it had been all he could do just to take care of immediate problems… He hadn’t even realized how frazzled and stressed he’d been. To only recognize how far gone he’d been after coming to a place like this, so far removed from the ‘every day’…he must really have been myopic.
“Now once we get back, I can get a fresh start on my work. I think I finally understand what Seiya-san meant when he said that sometimes your mind really needs nourishment and stimulation.”
Shougo, likely unimpressed to hear Rei speaking once more about Seiya, kept his back turned and his lips sealed—and Rei couldn’t help giving a soft snort of amusement at this sight, reaching over to gently stroke his hair.
Shougo’s shoulders gave a sudden flinch—Rei hardly ever touched him, and it was clear now how attuned his nerves were to Rei’s movements. He probably shouldn’t say it—but he truly was grateful. He genuinely felt that Shougo was a good person.
Despite being as busy as he was himself, he’d taken time away from his creative work to consider how Rei was feeling, bringing him all the way to this out-of-the-way locale.
And yet…Rei’s feelings still swayed toward Seiya. Still, despite knowing the truth of his own emotions, Rei couldn’t help but want to do something for this man. Was that such a terrible thing…?
But despite such logic, he still wanted to give Shougo something in return, and while it might have been arrogant to assume this would placate Shougo… “…So? Are we just going to lie around and wait for the boat to come pick us up?” Shougo’s eyes snapped open at Rei’s words. “When we’ve got this whole beach all to ourselves…?”
He must have twigged to what Rei was suggesting, for he shot upright. “You don’t mind??” With the broad grin splitting his face practically in half, Rei realized Shougo was really easy to read at times.
“I’ve been so busy lately, we haven’t exactly had the time… Plus, there’s something about being surrounded by all this nature that just…brings out the animal instincts.”
At Rei’s words, Shougo leered, “Yup yup, you got that right!” He nodded enthusiastically and tugged Rei up by the arm, embracing him tightly and laying playful smacking kisses on his cheeks and lips. “Mmm, salty!”
“Of course I’m salty after swimming as much as we did,” Rei returned blandly, and Shougo smiled as if to say Oh yeah!. Seeing Shougo grinning so merrily at such close quarters sent the desire to do something nice for him welling up within Rei.
“Just shut up,” he ordered sharply, extending a hand toward the hem of Shougo’s trunks. He tugged loose the tie at the waist, then smoothly slipped his fingers inside.
“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?” His fingers brushed softly over Shougo’s length, and he could feel it hardening as he ran his touch along the shaft. While he didn’t often go on the offensive to touch Shougo like this himself, it was hardly anything new or imposing to Rei—and yet, for some reason, it set his pulse to racing just now. He couldn’t help but notice the never-ending sound of the waves lapping against the shore, reminding him that they’d only just finished exhausting themselves playing in the warm, clear waters along the beach.
“Rei…” He glanced up at his name—and found his lips gently covered with Shougo’s own.
“Nn…” Shougo nipped at his lips, pressing his tongue boldly between them and making a circuit of Rei’s mouth, drawing out a gentle moan. His arms slipped down to caress Rei’s hips, tugging him sharply close before drawing the both of them back down onto the mat together—leaving Rei straddling Shougo as he rode atop. To Rei, it almost felt as if he were the one initiating things with Shougo, like this, and he continued to gently stroke Shougo’s shaft.
“Ah…” Shougo’s fingers skittered over Rei’s body teasingly, one hand sliding along Rei’s side while the other brushed over his chest. “Your body’s really beautiful, Rei…”
“…Don’t say weird things like that.” Shougo was a celebrity, an entertainer—he ran into all manner of models and idols in his daily workings. Getting such a compliment from someone like that only sounded like lip service.
“It’s not weird! It’s true—I really do think your body is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“……” Rei felt his cheeks heat at the sincerity in Shougo’s expression. If Shougo…if Rei’s body truly did look like that to him, then perhaps that was what they meant by ‘love is blind’. Which only served to embarrass Rei further, actually.
“So…take everything off…and show it to me?”
“Show it to you…?” Shougo had seen his body countless times, yet he still hesitated. He should have had no qualms about stripping off his swimsuit now, but he was still uneasy at the thought of being nude, here in the outdoors. And yet…
“I want to see all of you… No?”
“Ah—s-sorry!” He’d unconsciously tightened his grip, apparently, and he quickly jerked his hand away from Shougo’s length.
“So mean, Rei!”
“W-well! It’s your own fault, for saying such shameless things!” he returned in a futile attempt to cover his discomfort, and he moved to stand and shimmy out of his swim trunks. However… “Oi, let go of me.”
Shougo still held Rei in a tight embrace about the hips, keeping him from standing up. “Take them off like this; I wanna see you strip while straddling me.”
“…Don’t you think your kinks are a little reminiscent of some old pervert?” he muttered sourly, but then sighed as he gave up the fight. “…Fine—but let go of me.” He reluctantly shifted up onto his knees, still straddling Shougo, and carefully began to pull down his trunks under Shougo’s gleeful gaze. But the action proved even more discomfiting than he’d anticipated, so he clenched his eyes shut.
“…It’s really that embarrassing, then?” Shougo mused softly with a chuckle, perhaps twigging to Rei’s discomfort. “It’s fine. It’s just like we always do it—I’m the only one watching.”
“I—never said it was embarrassing…” he protested, but Shougo’s reassurance still offered some measure of relief. He carefully lifted one knee at a time, pulling his legs through.
“…Did touching me get you off?” Shougo teased, and Rei felt his cheeks heat—as he’d clearly started to respond to the activity.
“Nn…” His hips gave a trembling jolt as Shougo reached for him, brushing fingers along the hardening shaft.
“C’mon…be a little more vocal today. There’s no one else here but us,” Shougo urged as Rei tried to silence himself out of habit.
“Be that…as it, ngh—may…”
“Ahn…!” Shougo formed a ring with his fingers and encircled Rei’s tip, drawing out a mewl.
It was still embarrassing, doing something like this outside—but at the same time, Rei reminded himself, they truly were alone, so he had no cause to feel shame. He could sense both body and soul being uplifted by the novelty of the setting.
“Nn—ah…!” With each stroke of Shougo’s fingers, his hips jerked forward, and it was swiftly becoming difficult to stay kneeling—but just as he felt himself about to collapse, Shougo jerked him forward by the arm until he was straddling Shougo bodily on hands and knees. His lips moved to Rei’s chest, dark from a day’s exposure to the sun. As he suckled teasingly at Rei’s hardening nipples, the shaft cradled in his fingers began to plump further.
“Hey Rei, are you maybe…a little more turned on than usual…?”
“I feel like you’re more responsive today,” he remarked giddily, and Rei groped for a response.
“…I’ve just been really busy lately, that’s all.”
“Mm…? Well we’ll leave it at that, then!” Shougo made it sound like he was letting Rei have his little lie, but Rei couldn’t muster up the strength to refute the assumption.
“Aahn…ngh…” Shougo’s broad palm wrapped around his shaft, working him, and his nimble fingers played across the tip, setting Rei’s hips to jerking. Between the hiss of the waves crashing against the shore came the slick, wet sounds of their lovemaking, and Rei’s cheeks heated with shame at the display. “Ah—”
Shougo’s free hand slid around to trail down Rei’s back, slipping between his crevice and probing gently. Trembling shudders rippled down Rei’s spine as Shougo dragged all the pleasure he could from Rei through his fingers along Rei’s shaft.
“Can you feel how slick and wet you’ve gotten now?”
“Stop…saying stupid…stuff…Nnah—” But just as Shougo said, only the gentlest of tugs had him leaking messily. “Aah…haangh…”
“Feels good?” he asked, before pressing his lips to Rei’s nipple again, sucking softly with a light smack and sending a numb jolt rippling down his spine. He very nearly peaked right then and there from the stimulation—but he desperately reined in the urge to climax at the last moment. “Aww, you don’t have to hold back—go ahead and cum.”
“Ah—ahn…!” Shougo teased a nipple with his tongue, sending numbing pleasure jolting to his hips.
“Hmm…I wonder if I can get a finger in now…”
“Y—idiot, don’t do th…” Rei protested with a shake of his head; he couldn’t hold back under any further stimulation. That would be his undoing. “Nnn…—!”
“Ooh, it went in.”
“I…t-told you…not to…ngh…” It didn’t hurt—which meant it probably wasn’t in that deep. But he was still quite dry, and having something shoved inside made it feel even tighter than usual.
“Well, you’re really doing a number on me, so I couldn’t help myself!” He gave a twist to his finger, digging a bit deeper, and unconsciously brushed over that spot—and Rei’s thighs shuddered reflexively at the sharp stimulation.
“Hya—angh…!!” Before he could stop himself, he’d spilled his release over Shougo’s fingers and stomach, and with no more strength to hold himself up, he collapsed atop Shougo.
“…Mmm, I’d really like to wait for you, but…” Shougo began as Rei huffed laboriously on top of him, and Rei began to harbor a very bad feeling of impending doom.
“Ah—ahn…!” Shougo swiped his fingers through Rei’s spend, slicking them up and sliding them into Rei’s body. “Nngh…ah…!” Shougo probed mercilessly with two fingers, stretching Rei. He’d just climaxed and his body was already overly sensitized, so all he could do was bear the assault with trembling jolts.
“…Nngh—!” Shougo’s fingers slipped in and out, wet sounds filling the air between them. But before Rei could find any relief, he added another finger and rubbed them over Rei’s entrance. “Ahh…nnah…!” Shougo’s movements were slow and methodical, but the stretching sensation and being filled so full was still somewhat painful. The discomfort, however, quickly gave way to pleasure.
“…You’re twitching here…”
“…S…sto… Don’t…” But indeed, just as Shougo teased, his entrance was clenching tight around Shougo’s fingers, only to relax and release them a moment later. “That’s…not…” he tried to protest, shaking his head to refute the accusation.
Shougo only chuckled softly, stretching his fingers further. “I wanna hurry up and get inside you…” he whispered low and promising, voice tinged with lust, and Rei felt himself clench tight around Shougo’s fingers. More than anything, now, he wanted Shougo to pound into him mercilessly with that length of his—his mind could tolerate no other thoughts. “…You ready?” At the question, Rei buried his face in the crook of Shougo’s shoulder, nodding weakly. “…Put it in yourself, then?”
“Wha…” Rei fell speechless at the request.
“C’mon, please…?” Under any other circumstances, he would have refused flat out, but…today… He formed his lips into a thin, tight line and steeled himself, bracing his arms on the mat beneath them and slowly lifting himself up. “Wha—whoa, seriously?? You’re gonna do it?” Shougo’s eyes flashed wide with shock as Rei lifted onto his knees as he’d done moments before to remove his swim trunks.
“…You’re the one who told me to…” Rei bit out, fixing Shougo with a glare, and reached around behind himself to palm Shougo’s shaft. It felt warm and thick in his grip, and he swallowed his nerves as he placed the blunt tip flush against his entrance, newly stretched and waiting.
He began to settle his hips, releasing a sharp cry as he felt himself filled with something utterly unlike Shougo’s fingers, hard and throbbing and feverishly hot inside himself. “Gghn…nnm…” Slowly, he felt himself being forced apart, and while he struggled to rationalize why on earth he was doing this, he still genuinely wanted to make Shougo feel good.
There were so many things he couldn’t offer Shougo—and yet despite understanding this, Shougo still tried to give Rei everything. He didn’t think doing something like this in any way made up for that, didn’t fool himself into thinking this was a sufficient response to those feelings of Shougo’s, but…still.
“Ha—ahn…” When he’d finally taken in the full length of Shougo’s shaft, as deep as it could possibly go, his thighs gave out, trembling pathetically, and he couldn’t move another muscle.
Still, this seemed more than sufficient to satisfy Shougo. “…Thank you, Rei,” he spoke, slowly pumping his hips upward.
“Aa—ah! Ahhn…!” Filled slowly and gently, he threw his head back in the face of the mounting pleasure. Perhaps it was the position—but it felt like Shougo was penetrating even deeper than usual, and bliss began building from his groin, bubbling upward. With each strengthening, punching thrust from below, Rei released a keening groan, and as he felt Shougo meet his climax, his release filling Rei from the inside out, he met his own peak for the second time before collapsing, spent, atop Shougo.
“Look, Rei—the boat’s coming.”
Beneath a sky quickly bleeding over from orange to a deep violet, Shougo smiled as he extended a hand toward Rei—and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Rei took it. He felt a momentary flash of shame, but quickly reminded himself that no one was watching, and the pair wandered down the shoreline to meet the small skiff that had come to fetch them.
“That was a ton of fun! I’d love to come back some day~”
“…Indeed.” At Rei’s nod, Shougo gave his hand a gentle squeeze to express his joy in the gesture. He’d wanted to return to Japan so fiercely before, but now…he was actually going to miss this place a bit.
Still, he did feel the rising impatience to get back to Japan and throw himself back into his work, and he understood that neither his time on this island nor his work in Japan would be possible without Shougo by his side—and he dared a furtive sidelong glance at Shougo next to him, thinking that he might have gotten a glimpse into Shougo’s rather dashing side on this trip.
The next day had their group back in JFK Airport for their planned return to Japan.
“Oh—crap! I forgot to get souvenirs for Izumi!” Shougo groaned just as they’d made it through security. “I’m gonna run to the duty-free shop real quick!” Rei watched with a fond smile as he dashed off. Rei himself had already finished his shopping—not only for the promised souvenirs for Izumi, but also for Seiya of course, and Nagisa and Satou, the accounting staff member who’d watched the offices while he was gone, along with the Sena family’s housekeeper.
“Mm, looks like Shougo-kun’s perked up again!” Rei gave a jolt at Haru’s offhanded comment. “Seems his Overseas Escape Plan was a big success!”
“Eh…? ‘Overseas Escape Plan’?” The word plan in particular sent an uneasy shudder down his spine, and he cocked his head in confusion.
Rinpei clarified, “Well, you’ve been so busy lately, Shougo’s been whining and moaning about how ’We don’t get to cuddle any!’ and ’I’m not getting enough Rei!’ And that’s stopped him from making any progress on penning lyrics, so we just told him to spirit you out of the country, get away from it all for a little bit. Getting the recording in was two birds with one stone, then.”
The pair grinned broadly at Rei as he groped for words. Shougo hadn’t been able to cuddle with him? And because of that he couldn’t get any lyrics penned? So he should spirit Rei out of the country and get away from it all?
“Shougo-kun sure is one of a kind, though! He really gets the job done when he needs to! He must really have wanted to spend time with you, Rei-kun!”
“He was really stoked about it too, going on about how ’I’m totally gonna get some alone time with Rei!’”
Haru and Rinpei seemed to be laboring under the assumption that Rei and Shougo were some fawning, lovey-dovey couple, as they chatted adoringly about the pair. For his part, though, Rei’s smile was only skin-deep, and he only barely kept the anger bubbling beneath the surface from blowing up in their faces.
So the whole reason they’d come to New York in the first place, the reason he’d dragged Rei away from his daily grind, the reason he’d marooned them on a desert island had been…
“I see, yes… So it was all for his own peace of mind…” he ground out in a softly threatening voice, unable to keep it bottled up inside any longer. He’d been an utter fool to rethink how he felt about Shougo—to thank him, even think him a bit dashing and cool.
He resolved, as soon as they returned, to pour himself wholly into finding a full-time manager for the CRUSHERZ.
’I won’t be dragged around by the likes of him again!’
“Whew, thank goodness! They were selling Izumi’s favorite chocolate!” Shougo announced as he returned, and Rei instantly fixed him with a cold, piercing glare.
“Listen up—the moment we return, I’m going to bury you in work, so you’d better be prepared.” With that, he turned on his heel and began to march stiffly for their gate.
“Eeh?! But—what’s with you all of a sudden?!”
“You’ve had plenty of time to refresh yourself, no?” he bit out, neither stalling his progress nor glancing behind him.
Still, he couldn’t help the tiny twitch his lips gave as Shougo panicked behind him. ’…Though I’ll admit, I did enjoy myself…’ Despite any ulterior motives Shougo might have been harboring, the trip here had helped Rei realize just how close to his limit he’d been.
Not that he had any intention of letting Shougo know that. He’d undoubtedly take the confession and run with it and try something ridiculous like this again.
“Reeeei! What’s wrong?! Did I do something??” Shougo cried pathetically, and Rei reminded himself that he’d have to be sure to refrain from spoiling him any further.
And thus, they departed for Japan once more, each carrying their own thoughts deep inside themselves.