outstretched: A chibified cute furret on a brown backround (Default)
For every mile of ocean crossed ☆ ([personal profile] outstretched) wrote in [community profile] likealark2016-09-02 06:34 pm

light it up

Title: Light it Up
Author: Skylark
Rating:
Summary: Asian boyband AU.
Author's Notes: God, I really hope you know at least a little about the Asian pop industry. In case you don't, parent entertainment companies often construct their stars from the bottom up before allowing them to debut. They assign them names, personality archetypes, hairstyles, etc. In k-pop especially, they also assign the boys to each other in "pairings" to up fan appeal, and this practice is called "skinship." If you want to know more I wrote a primer on the k-pop industry, specifically centered around a band called Super Junior, which you can read here.

I'm sorry it's such a specialized AU, but you said any AU was fine, and once the idea struck me it would not leave me alone. Please enjoy.

Thank you to my twitter friends for not telling me this was a horrible idea.

---

It isn't long before they get word of their debut date. After that, everything's a whirlwind. They have six new songs to produce, dances to learn, and teaser videos to record.

Mihashi isn't a terrible dancer—no one could be after two years in training. But he's by no means a natural, and his body memory is slow. There's a shy charm to his dancing, the way he flicks his wrists out after finishing a spin or smiles to himself when he lands a pose, but his moves lack sharpness and to Abe's trained eye, he almost floats above the floor instead of grounding his movements.

Sometimes Mihashi stops in the middle of a routine to watch Abe move, slack-jawed. Abe has to admit that it's flattering, but it's also a bad habit.

"Wake up," he snaps, making Mihashi jump. "You can't do that on stage!"

Instantly Mihashi hunches down. "I-I know," he says. "Sorry."

Abe huffs, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Hanai walks over to the stereo and turns the song off, and in the silence the tension in the room is palpable.

"It's okay, Mihashi, I'll teach you," Tajima says, but Abe stretches out a hand, stopping him from moving forward.

"I'll teach him," he says. "You guys have to practice for your MV, don't you?"

Tajima and Hanai look at the two of them, then each other. Finally Hanai shrugs. "Give us a holler if you need any help," he says, and loops an arm around Tajima to drag him to the other side of the studio.

Mihashi's eyes are over-bright and red around the edges. It's nine at night and they've been practicing all day; Abe's legs are wobbly from exhaustion, but he won't admit to it. Instead he locks his knees and says, "Start from the second verse." He waits until Mihashi shuffles himself into position, and then barks, "5, 6, 7, 8—"

After a moment Abe can tell that Mihashi isn't off-beat on purpose. He's a musician first and foremost, and keeps time easily. But as Abe keeps time, he can see Mihashi start to move into the wrong move, then hesitate—then rush to finish the right move, and from then on everything is a game of panicking, sloppy catch-up.

"Stop," Abe says, massaging his temples.

Mihashi freezes, arms splayed behind him and halfway through a step. He wobbles for a moment, arms windmilling, before he crashes to the floor.

"Oi!" In a moment Abe is kneeling beside him, hands skimming over Mihashi to check for injury. "Are you all right? Idiot, you didn't have to stop in a ridiculous pose like that!"

"You told me to stop," Mihashi protests. His voice is thin with exhaustion, and Abe can see tears in the corners of his eyes. He feels guilty for a moment before his temper snaps.

"Use your head! Of course I wouldn't want you to fall over like that. More importantly, why haven't you gotten the steps down already! Were you even paying attention to the coreographer before?"

At this point Hanai and Tajima have crossed the room. Tajima bends down next to Mihashi, gently patting his shoulder while Hanai says, "I think we should call it a day."

Abe knows how this looks. He glares for another moment at Mihashi, now curled into a miserable ball, and then leaps to his feet. "Fine," he grits out, "make sure Mihashi cools down properly," and then he's out the door.



By the time he's gotten up to their dorm room on the top floor, Abe already regrets everything he said. He wouldn't take it back, but he knows that Mihashi is a singer, not a dancer, he knows that his ego is as fragile as his voice is strong. More than that, they're partners; how is he supposed to sell this if he scares him off?

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," he's muttering to himself as he unlocks the door to their room. He gives himself ten minutes to spend on self-flagellation before he gets up and goes to get ready for bed.

An hour later, Abe was still tossing and turning in bed and Mihashi still hadn't come back to the room. His imagination was running wild, imagination jumping from one horrible scenario to the next, until at last he flailed a hand across his nightstand and grabbed his phone.

"Tajima," he said when the other end of the line picked up, "have you seen Mihashi? He hasn't come back to the room yet."

"He's hanging out in our room," Tajima replied.

Abe scrubbed a hand across his face. "Let me talk to him."

There was a thoughtful pause on the end of the line. "Are you going to yell at him again?"

"No."

"You promise?"

"Tajima," he growled before he realized that was counterproductive. He took in a deep breath, then let it out. His voice was quieter when he spoke again. "I promise I won't yell at him."

"Okay. Hold on." There was the distant sound of scuffling and shouting, Mihashi's distinctive warble of distress and Tajima's cheery voice saying "Come on, he can't hurt you over the phone!" before he heard the rustle of someone picking the phone up.

He listened to Mihashi's soft breathing for a moment before he said, "I can hear you."

There was a soft gasp, and then dead silence. Abe sighed. "Don't hold your breath, either." The silence continued, and Abe said, "Look, just—come back to the room. It's weird with Tajima listening in on our conversation."

"I'm not listening in!" Tajima shouted in the background. Abe rolled his eyes.

There was still silence on the other end of the line, but at least now he could hear the soft rush of Mihashi's breathing. Abe plucked at the edge of his bedsheet, feeling ill-footed and irritable and anxious. "You'll sleep better in your own bed," he said. "We have a long day tomorrow, you have to take good care of yourself."

No response.

"Just come over here," he said gruffly.

"Why?" Mihashi murmured.

"So we can talk."

Silence.

"So we can talk properly," Abe clarified with forced patience. "Face-to-face."

"I'm sorry," Mihashi said in a rush, like he'd been holding the words back, and Abe felt something twinge in his chest at the fear that lurked beneath the phrase. I have to fix this, he thought.

"I'm not—Mihashi," he said, swallowing. "I'm not angry at you. I was just really tired. We're all really tired. Come back."

After a moment Mihashi whispered, "Okay," and then the line went dead.

Abe flopped back onto his bed, his body feeling weirdly light with relief.

--

The door was already cracked open when Mihashi arrived at their room, which made him pause.

He reached for the door handle, fingers twitching with nerves, before it swung open without being touched. "Mihashi?" Abe said.

Abe was already in his sleepwear, boxer briefs and an oversized t-shirt. His eyes were red-rimmed and his voice was dull with exhaustion, but before Mihashi could say anything—an apology, a thank you for letting me in—Abe had a hand around his wrist and was tugging him inside.

Abe flinched when he turned the light on, and then rubbed at his eyes. Mihashi allowed himself to be led to his bed and pushed to sit down, looking up at Abe standing over him.

Abe scratched behind his ear, frowning. "Okay," he said. "Let me talk first and then you can say whatever you want." Mihashi nodded cautiously, and Abe's gaze dropped to the side.

"I'm, um. I'm shouldn't have done that," Abe says, folding his arms and leaning back. "Yelled at you. Like that. I know dancing isn't your strong point, and anyone could see that you're trying hard, you're always staying afterwards to practice extra. So when I yelled at you, you—didn't deserve it. I wasn't thinking. It was stupid of me."

Mihashi stares blankly. Abe's eyes flick to see his reaction, and then skitter away.

"I'm trying to apologize, okay." Mihashi continued to stare, and a blush dusted across Abe's cheeks. "What?" he demanded.

"No one's ever apologized to me before," Mihashi says, wide-eyed.

Abe groans and presses the heels of his hands against his eyes. When he looks up again his expression is weary. "So are we okay?"

Mihashi cocks his head, really looking at Abe. He's a bit stocky, and the lines of his body focus on strength, not elegance. But his grace is clear the moment he moves, in the fluid way he moves from one dance step to the next, in the way his high leaps seem suspended, endless. Abe talks with his body more than his hands, and what Mihashi reads in that silent language is I'm sorry; so that's what Mihashi believes.

"Yeah," he says, reaching out to gently brush the back of his hand across Abe's fingers. "We're okay."

It's the first time Mihashi has ever instigated touching Abe, and a part of him wonders at his own bravery. But all Abe does is breathe out, slow and heavy, and turn his hand so that their fingertips are lightly touching.

"Go to sleep," Abe says, and Mihashi nods.

--

CHAPTER THREE


After two and a half years of training, Mihashi is finally in the recording studio.

The live room is so silent that he can hear himself breathing. Mihashi looks at the soundproofed walls, the one window that looks into the control room, and pauses when he sees Abe through the glass.

Abe nods and gives him a thumbs up. Mihashi tries to smile back, but he doesn't think it works right because Abe's eyes narrow with concern.

"Ready?" comes the sound engineer's voice through the speaker on the wall. Mihashi likes him—Shiga is an older man with square, no-nonsense glasses and a soft smile. He patted Mihashi lightly on the shoulder after leading him inside the live room, and Mihashi felt some of his nervousness subside.

Mihashi nods in response before returning his gaze to the microphone before him. His hands reach up to shift the headphones he's wearing and he hums a quick run of notes, his voice lilting up and down the scale with ease. His throat has felt good since this morning. His body feels light and tingling with excitement, just like before a singing competition.

"I'm r-ready," he calls, trying to sound confident. The engineer nods back and the green light goes on, indicating that they're recording.

His fingers tap the beat against his thigh as the instrumental pours through the headphones. Once it's his cue he leans forward, drops a breath into his lungs, and sings.

Mihashi couldn't stop his body from moving if he wanted to. He sways in time to the ebb and flow of the song, his voice rising in intensity for his sections and and softening for the harmonies. The bridge is his alone, though: a tricky ripple of notes in a minor scale.

("Are you sure?" he'd asked, wide-eyed.

Hanai had clapped him on the back. "You're our ace in the hole," he said. "If anyone in Nishiura can sing that, it'll be you.")

The majority of the song isn't overly difficult, but it's fast. Mihashi tries to imagine singing it while dancing, and it makes his brain hurt. His voice warbles a little and he breaks off mid-note, clapping mortified hands over his mouth.

The instrumental stops. "Do you need to take a break?" Shiga asks, his voice tinny through the speaker. "Some water?"

Mihashi shakes his head. Focus, he thinks. You're the ace. "No," he says, bowing towards the window. "I'm very sorry, please let me try again!"

This time he nails it, his voice rising to a high, sharp shout on the last word. Eyes still closed, he takes in a deep, shaky breath, his head feeling clear and light for the first time in days.

He pulls off the headphones, not noticing how it causes his hair to rumple in all directions. He catches a glimpse of Abe's pleased expression and smiles back—really smiles, straight from the heart. He thinks it makes Abe's eyes widen, but in the darkness of the control room he can't really be sure.

--

Hanai groans, "Tajima, no—"

Tajima, heedless, jumps onto his back with a gleeful cry. Hanai leans forward to balance the added weight, grumbling.

Mihashi is slumped against the wall and breathing hard. Abe walks over and taps a bottle against his shoulder, making him glance up. "Stay hydrated," he says as he passes the bottle over, watching until Mihashi opens it and takes a few swallows of water.

Abe slides down the wall to sit beside Mihashi, watching Tajima laugh with his arms wrapped around Hanai's neck. He turns and sees Mihashi watching them too, transfixed.

Mihashi notices Abe's gaze a second later and hastily drinks another gulp of water. "They're a-amazing," he says.

"I guess that's one word for it," Abe replies, watching as Hanai staggers towards them. His muscles are bunched from the strain of carrying Tajima, and Abe calls, "We're supposed to be taking a break, you know."

Hanai kneels down once he's reached them and Tajima obligingly rolls off his back to lie spread-eagled on the floor. "How're you holding up?" Hanai asks Mihashi, not winded at all.

Mihashi nods furiously, halfway through taking another swallow of water. He sets the bottle down and swipes at his mouth and then adds, "Good. I think—I think I'm starting to get it."

"Awesome," Hanai says, clapping him on the shoulder. Mihashi flinches a little but responds with a shaky smile.

"Can I..." His eyes dart from Hanai to Tajima, and then back again. "Can I ask you a question?"

Hanai blinks at him as Tajima rolls to sit up. Abe turns too, his interest piqued.

"Shoot," Hanai says.

"You and..." he gestures between Tajima and Hanai. "Both of you," he says. "How are you so comfortable with..."

Abe watches the back of Mihashi's neck light up with a blush, distantly fascinated. Hanai seems bewildered but Tajima beams.

"You mean the skinship!" Tajima says. "It's no sweat since we're already fucking anyway."

Now Hanai is the one to turn bright red. "Tajima!" he hisses.

"What?"

Hanai groans and buries his face in his hands.

"I definitely didn't need to hear that right now, but I appreciate the honesty, I guess," Abe mutters, raising one hand to rub at his temple. Silently he adds, It gets so cramped on tour, it's not like we wouldn't have figured it out anyway. "Just tell me you won't do that when we're around, all right? I need to sleep. So does Mihashi."

"Yeah, of course," Tajima says, totally unbothered. Hanai looks like he'd do just about anything to end this conversation.

Mihashi, for his part, is flicking nervous glances at Abe out of the corner of his eye. Once Abe catches on as to why he, too, starts blushing. He's quick to shake his head and wave his hands in front of him.

"N-no, we don't have to do that," he says. "What we've got now is fine."

Mihashi looks visibly relieved.

Tajima perks up at that. "What do you have now?"

Abe swallows hard. "Well, um—" he doesn't know how to summarize the weeks of tentative touches and brief one-armed hugs. But to his surprise, Mihashi reaches out and grabs his hand.

"We can do this," he stammers. His hand is sweaty from the last two hours of dance practice, but his grip is strong. Abe squeezes back without thinking.

Tajima's eyes widen as he grins. Then he extends his own hand, and after a moment of hesitation Mihashi gently gives it a tentative high five.

"Awesome!" Tajima says.

Hanai's looking at Abe, who's smiling faintly. After a moment the smile fades, though, and Abe gets to his feet. Mihashi's hand slides from his, leaving a tingling warmth in its wake. "Let's get back in gear," he says. "We don't have much practice time left."

--

Abe should have known things weren't going to last.

"This is the coreography," Abe says, trying not to snap. This isn't my fault, he means. Mihashi flinches anyway.

Abe takes a deep breath, counts to ten, lets it out slowly.

This is not the first time they've done this dance, and even Abe was satisfied by their progress when they wrapped up last night. But this is the first time they've performed it with a real audience: the MV's director is here with his entourage of assistants, along with the regular coreographer and a few others who will go with them when they're on tour. The room feels overheated from the presence of so many extra bodies.

Mihashi is a mess, pale and trembling, eyes huge as he stares up at Abe. It's not that Abe is that much taller out of the two of them; Mihashi is just slumped back against the wall, fingers splayed against it as if he's trying to anchor himself.

This is the coreography, he reminds himself. Mihashi is his assignment.

"Excuse me, can we have five minutes to set up?" Abe asks over his shoulder. The director makes an impatient dismissive gesture and turns away, already speaking to one of his assistants.

Abe's gaze slides over to Tajima and Hanai, and he briefly shakes his head: I've got this. Hanai folds his arms, accepting but watchful. Tajima meets his eye, taking in the two of them, before he nods and gives a small thumbs up.

Knock 'em dead, he mouths.

Mihashi's already halfway there, Abe thinks to himself. He takes a step back. "Breathe," he tells Mihashi. "You can't pass out. Listen to me, okay? Breathe in—"

Abe counts. Mihashi breathes in, slow, holds it for a few moments, and then lets it out even slower at Abe's direction. Abe repeats the exercise a few times, watching the trembling fade from Mihashi's frame until he's left with his normal timid expression.

"Better?" he asks.

Mihashi doesn't nod, just continues to stare at his shoes.

"Stop that," Abe mutters, and Mihashi's eyes jerk back to his face. At least he's not crying, he thinks before he continues. "I'm not going to surprise you, all right? It's just like we practiced before." He tries to keep his voice steady, but Mihashi still looks frightened. "What is it? Are you scared you're going to mess up?"

Mihashi ducks his head and Abe knows he's got it. "You've practiced hard. You won't mess up. Here, I'll go through all the moves with you. We start like this—" but the second he starts to box Mihashi in with his arms, Mihashi's breathing accelerates.

Abe leans back again, his brow crumpling with frustration. Stay calm, he orders himself. Yelling isn't going to fix anything. "Give me your hand," he growls anyway.

Mihashi peeks up at him, his gaze catching on Abe's open palm. It's held vertically in the space between them, about as non-threatening Abe can make it—a familiar gesture. Mihashi blinks, and some calmness returns to his expression.

He reaches his hand out, and Abe watches it tremble in the air. When their palms touch, he almost flinches at how icy cold Mihashi's hand is. No good, he thinks.

"My hand feels warm, right?" Abe says. Mihashi nods, cautiously. "Close your eyes. Focus on my hand. Think about the warmth reaching you."

There's something rewarding in how quickly Mihashi follows his commands despite all of his trembling and flinching. Abe watches his face relax, his eyes staying closed, his lips softening until they part. Color returns to his face, and Abe feels his own shoulders loosen with—relief, he thinks. It's a weird sensation to associate with Mihashi, but he welcomes it all the same.

"I'm going to lean over you and put my other hand on the wall," Abe murmurs. Mihashi's eyes squeeze more tightly shut but he nods.

He braces his free hand on the wall just over Mihashi's shoulder and leans forward until their noses are almost touching. This close Abe feels like he could count Mihashi's eyelashes if he wanted to, dark shadows against his pale cheeks. Mihashi's hand is still warmer than when they started.

"I'm right here," Abe murmurs. "It's just me."

Mihashi jumps at the nearness of his voice but then eases. "A-Abe," he whispers.

They're close enough that he can feel Mihashi's sigh brush against his lips. Abe swallows, feeling his cheeks heat.

Focus, he thinks. "How are you feeling? Just like all the times we practiced, right?"

Mihashi nods.

"Open your eyes."

He does. Their hands are still pressed together; Mihashi's palm is nearly the same temperature as Abe's. Whether that's because Abe's hand has gone colder or Mihashi has warmed up, he can't tell anymore. He thinks it might be a mixture of both.

"I'm going to start. All you have to do is follow me," Abe says. "You can do that, can't you?"

Another nod, more confident this time. Abe nods back.

"Sorry," Abe calls to the waiting crowd. "We're ready to start."

There's another pause where the director's assistant prepares the camcorder and everyone else is settling into place. Abe uses it to pull his hand away from Mihashi's, returning it to its proper position just above Mihashi's other shoulder. Before it reaches the wall, though, his hand detours, brushing a lock of hair away from Mihashi's face.

He didn't mean to do it. It just happened. Mihashi blinks and then turns terrifically red. Abe thinks his own face must match.

"Focus," he hisses. "Just like practice."

"Just, just like practice," Mihashi echoes. "Abe."

Abe opens his mouth to respond—with what, he doesn't know—but before he can say anything the coreographer is already calling the beat.

The music starts and Mihashi's head turns, a shy glance towards the camera and down. Abe leans in closer still, lips almost brushing Mihashi's neck, before doing a slow body roll that brings him milimeters from Mihashi's body.

Despite the fact that this is even more explicit than simple hand-holding, all the intimacy of moments before has evaporated. This is all business. This is years of training and body control that keeps Abe's hips milimeters from Mihashi's as he rolls one more time, a sinuous wave from his head to his feet. Then Abe falls back onto the floor, pushing himself into a slide away from Mihashi. Mihashi takes a step forward; their eyes lock; Mihashi flings his arms wide; his mouth opens, and a song pours out.

Mihashi's voice is quiet, considering the drama of his movements. Since this is a rehearsal and MV is dubbed over anyway, there's no reason to strain his voice here. But the passion of the song is still reflected in the glint of his wide eyes and the way he stalks forward again, again, chasing Abe across the hardwood floor. Abe slithers on the ground before him, staying barely out of reach, before the bassline drops and he leaps to his feet. They circle each other once before breaking apart, dancing separately and then in again, movements mirroring one another, arms and legs almost but never quite touching.

The coreography isn't long, only two minutes or so. Despite that, Mihashi is wheezing a little by the time the music stops, sagging out of his kneeling position to sit on his heels.

The moment they're done, Abe extends a hand to help Mihashi back onto his feet. Tajima is waving from the sidelines and even Hanai gives them a grin. Abe nods back, not restraining his self-satisfied smile. That was the best performance they've ever given, he thinks. The audience probably added to that.

Mihashi is way too winded, though, considering the short length of the routine. "Calm down," he says, "we're done for now, it's Tajima and Hanai's turn." Mihashi nods but his face is still flushed a brilliant crimson. A smile wobbles onto his face.

"It was okay?" he asks.

Abe blinks at him, and then grins. He pulls Mihashi into a sweaty one-armed hug, feeling the press of heat all along his side. "It was great," he says. "You did great."

Mihashi's shaking doesn't cease, but when Abe looks down he can see a smile pulling at his mouth.

--

The throbbing music is almost grating after how many times Mihashi has heard it. They're finally in recordings for their teaser MVs, and Mihashi blinks slowly where he's curled up against the wall, feeling numb with exhaustion. He doesn't know how many hours he's been awake now, the four of them recording take after take until the director is satisfied.

The set is cold, or maybe Mihashi's metabolism has turned off. Either way he huddles tighter into himself, hoping they finish soon, hoping they'll be deemed good enough to be allowed to sleep at last.

He jumps when a warm body cuddles up against him. "Here, share," Tajima says, tossing half of a blanket over Mihashi's bare knees. "It's warmer this way."

"T-thanks," Mihashi mumbles, tugging the blanket so that it covers him from his toes to his chin. It takes more effort than he thinks it should. "How is..."

"Abe and Hanai are dancing," Tajima confirms. "Their ninth take now. Abe slipped last time, and before that Hanai missed the..."

Mihashi tunes him out, squinting in an attempt to make his tired eyes focus. There; there is Abe, moving in seamless syncopated rhythm with Hanai. Their movements are slick and polished and their skin shines with sweat, even though it's so cold. Amazing, Mihashi thinks blurrily. Abe is amazing.

"Yeah, he is," Tajima says, and Mihashi stirs a little, not realizing he had said that aloud. "They look really good."

Tajima's voice is plain and admiring, but Mihashi rouses a bit more at the words. He squints harder, watching the way Hanai and Abe's bodies twist and move, Abe slipping neatly into the spaces Hanai inhabited seconds before.

"—Hey, you okay?" Tajima says when Mihashi buries his head under the blanket. "What's wrong? Are you that cold?"

Mihashi doesn't respond, staring at his hands in the blanket's semi-darkness. They look good, he repeats to himself. Abe is amazing, he can look good with anyone. He doesn't need...

Then he shakes his head, opening his hand to stare at his palm. No. No, Abe is my assignment. We're partners. That's what he said. But the sticky, anxious feeling won't dislodge itself from his throat no matter how hard he thinks about it.

The light suddenly brightens again. Tajima has plucked the blanket from his head and is blinking at him. "You look bad," he announces. "Hey, Momokan! Mihashi looks really bad."

The coreographer comes over in response, her eyebrows furrowed with concern. Mihashi blinks at her as she places a cool hand against his head and sucks in a breath through her teeth. "He doesn't look good," she agrees, her eyes flicking across Mihashi's face, "but the director doesn't want anyone to leave until we're finished. We're almost done. Mihashi, can you hold on a little—"

"What's wrong with Mihashi?" a familiar voice cuts in. Abe's before him in an instant, still breathing hard from the exertion of dancing moments before.

"Hey!" Mihashi hears someone shout from behind him. "What are you doing, we'll have to start from the top again—"

"You need to rest," he tells Mihashi, who can only nod as Abe seizes his shoulders. Abe turns to the director, irritated. "Can't you see how exhausted he is? It's going to ruin his voice if you don't let him rest now!"

The director storms towards them, arms waving, but Abe is already pulling Mihashi upright. The room spins and Mihashi gives a distressed warble, flopping into Abe's arms. Abe catches him so easily, he thinks, as if he weighs nothing. A warm feeling suffuses through him, pushing the earlier darkness away.

Abe passes him to Tajima. "Take care of him," he hears Abe say over his head. "Hanai and I are going to finish this, and then we'll be with you soon. Did you hear me, Mihashi? You're going to rest now."

"Abe," Mihashi murmurs. "Abe, I..."

But he trails off before he can finish the sentence. The last thing he remembers is Abe's hand against the back of his neck, a warm and steady reassurance.

--

CHAPTER FOUR

Mihashi knows the kind of magic that the company can work on a person, but seeing Nishiura's first promotion material photos is still surreal. He knows that he's looking at himself, or at least his silhouette, sandwiched between Hanai's familiar broad frame and Tajima's ridiculous (and ridiculously flexible) pose. Mihashi’s head is tipped back so that the indirect lights illuminate his jawline. It's not usually that sharp, he thinks, running a curious hand over his chin. At least, it doesn’t look like it when he stares at himself in the mirror in the mornings. Is it the lighting, or photoshop, or is it something he's just never noticed?

Tajima comes up behind him, his movements rustling loudly enough that Mihashi doesn't startle, and whistles when he sees what Mihashi’s looking at. "Hey, we look good! Like stars, huh?"

"Like stars," Mihashi echoes, still distracted. His fingers leave his face to trace over Abe's silhouette. He rounds out the group, his body dropped into a low and aggressive crouch, his knees nearly touching the floor. Mihashi's fingertips smudge across the spiky outline of his hair, then trace over his broad shoulders.

"A girl on the street asked for my autograph the other day," Tajima is saying. "It was super cool! I couldn’t believe she recognized me. She told me to say hi to the rest of you guys. What about you, Mihashi, have you run into any fans yet?"

Mihashi shakes his head. He hasn't left the building since their teaser MVs dropped. The ever-present crowd in front of the company dorms has started to attract girls holding Nishiura signs, and he's afraid they'll be disappointed if they see what he's like in real life. He heard some of them calling Abe's name as he left the dorm to visit the convenience store, and it made his stomach hurt for hours.

He startles out of his thoughts again when Tajima leans his weight on his back, his fingers folding over the crown of Mihashi's head. "Hey, Mihashi," Tajima says. "You’re part of Nishiura. We wouldn’t be us without you, okay? See, there you are.” He reaches over Mihashi’s head to tap a finger against photo-Mihashi’s chest. "One of us."

Mihashi is quiet for another beat. Then he reaches out, folding his hand gently over Tajima’s, over the four of them. They all look so cool and confident. “Our songs are good,” Mihashi forces out. "I like singing them."

"Yeah!" Tajima says.

"Abe’s dancing is amazing. Tajima’s, too. And Hanai's so good at everything." Tajima laughs. "I want to stand on a—stage, with you. All of you. And—sing."

Tajima’s weight lifts off of his head and before he knows what’s happening, Mihashi is being yanked out of the chair. Tajima is grinning, wide and happy, and he grabs Mihashi’s hand and pulls them along.

"Come on!" he’s saying. "We’ve got pracice now, everyone’s waiting. We’re gonna show everyone how amazing we are. We’re gonna debut at number one. We’re gonna take over the whole country!"

When Tajima says it, the goal seems tangible. The whole country, Mihashi thinks, stumbling in Tajima’s wake. He imagines a sea of lights filling a whole stadium and starts to smile himself.

--

They're banned from leaving the dorms the day after that. "Your first EP is dropping next month," their manager Momoe tells them. "This is a critical time. We have to manage your image very carefully right now. It's only another week or two. Be patient."

But patience has never been Abe's forte. He stares glumly at the plastic bags from the convenience store, wishing he'd spent his last outing on something a little more worthwhile. His eyes are tired from staring at his computer, so he's trying to catch up on the backlog of books he said he'd always get to if he had a chance, but it's more an exercise in frustration than anything. He swears he's read the same sentence six times already.

Mihashi picks up on his stormy mood, of course. He shuffles awkwardly in Abe's peripheral vision until Abe snaps at him to stop fidgeting. Then he retreats to his bed and sits stock-still except for his eyes, which blink and blink, his gaze darting to the corners of the room but always returning to Abe.

Abe can feel the weight of Mihashi's stare on the back of his neck. It prickles like a sunburn, irritating. Calm down, he hisses to himself. Don't startle him—

"Can't you do something productive?" he snaps.

Mihashi squeaks and Abe wants to kick himself. So much for that. He tries again: "It's not you—"

"I—I know!" Mihashi bursts out, which is such a surprising response that Abe actually turns to look at him. Mihashi's face is red. He licks his lips. "I know," he repeats. "But I...I'm sorry."

"You didn't do anything."

Mihashi just shakes his head.

Abe waits, but Mihashi doesn't say anything more. His gaze is flicking everywhere again. "Okay," Abe says slowly. "I'm probably just going to read for a while. Why don't you go for a walk around the building, or something?"

Mihashi seems to consider this. Then his eyes light up, but Abe is already shaking his head. "Don't sing!" When Mihashi's face falls, Abe gives him a wry smile desipte his terrible mood. Mihashi is so obvious. "You have to save your voice," he reminds him. "You already had vocal training this morning."

"O-okay," Mihashi says. "I won't. Sing." He gets off of the bed, slipping from the sheets with a whispery sound, and moves to pull on a shirt and paw halfheartedly at his hair, trying to get it to stop sticking up in every direction. It doesn't really work, but at least Mihashi's nervous energy is dissipating from the room, giving Abe enough room to breathe. He turns back to the book he was reading, half of his attention focused on Mihashi's soft getting-ready noises.

He actually manages to make it through a paragraph before he hears a little cough by his shoulder. He glances up and Mihashi is hovering there, clutching a CD in his hands.

"Um," he says. "Kanou used to let me listen to this when I was—feeling down. I thought, um. Maybe you'd..."

Apparently having used up his words-for-Abe quota for the day, Mihashi shoves the jewel case onto Abe's desk and flees before Abe can say anything.

He looks down at the CD. It's got handwriting he doesn't recognize, listing a band he doesn't know.

"That idiot," Abe muttters, his hand closing over the gift. "I don't even have a CD player."

--

He's on a walk, Mihashi's brain keeps saying on loop. Abe told him to go for a walk, so he is walking.

The dorm's hallways are narrow and a little claustrophobic. It always reminds Mihashi of an ant colony, everyone so busy and running everywhere. He's the slowest person, it seems; everyone keeps passing him.

He ends up wandering into areas he doesn't often go to. In the two years, he's been to every place in the building—looking for hiding spots or places to practice without interruption—but since he joined Nishiura he's been so busy in their assigned dance studios and recording rooms that he's barely gone outside of that little bubble.

Mihashi finds an old vending machine that eats his coins and spits out a candy bar. He hears a little voice in his head that sounds like suspiciously like Abe's, telling him not to eat it—chocolate is bad for the voice—but they're not performing for another few weeks so it should be fine. He bites into it, savoring the burst of sugar on his tongue, and then nearly jumps out of his skin when he hears someone say his name.

His head turns to the side slowly, unable to shake the feeling of being caught. Kanou is standing there, his head cocked, looking at him with that mixture of concern and confusion that Mihashi is so familiar with.

"Shu—!" Mihashi garbles through a mouthful of chocolate. Kanou makes a face. Mihashi realizes why, after a moment, and turns away to chew and swallow.

"Sorry," he says, turning back and wiping a hand over his mouth.

Kanou stares at him for another second and then he snorts, his shoulders relaxing. "I guess you're the same as always," he says.

"Shu—Kanou," Mihashi says again, blinking, his stomach filling with familiar sensations: dread, pre-emptive apology, excitement. "I'm sorry I haven't..."

Kanou nods. "Yeah, it's been a while. But we've been busy too. Everyone's buzzing about your debut," he says.

Mihashi fidgets by way of response, but Kanou's used to his quirks; he waits, dark eyes fixed on Mihashi's even though Mihashi keeps his gaze cast down. "I'm...sorry," he says, finally. "I— I know I messed everything up."

Kanou sighs, and the sound makes Mihashi flinch back. When he looks up again Kanou is studying him, his arms folded. "I'm glad I saw you here," he says. "I wanted to talk to you. I'm the lead singer now that you're gone."

"Oh," Mihashi says. The idea of Kanou taking his place fills him with relief, more than anything else. "Are you...is Mihoshi...?"

"We're fine," Kanou says. His expression has always been unreadable to Mihashi, the same flat, perceptive stare that's as understanding as it is challenging. "They added some new members. Our manager says we might debut in the next six months to a year."

Mihashi feels something cold settle in his gut. Mihoshi is better off without him there, just like he always knew it would be. A soft noise bubbles from his mouth, and he starts to turn away, when he feels fingers clutching at the short sleeve of his t-shirt.

He looks back and Kanou is still looking straight at him, his focus intense and almost oppressive.

"But you're debuting first," Kanou says. His voice is low, shot through with frustration. "You joined Nishiura six months ago and you're already good enough to debut, faster than the rest of us. Don't you know what that means?"

Mihashi's eyes widen, but all he can do is shake his head. Kanou's hand fists tighter, pulls him closer so that Mihashi sways forward onto the balls of his feet. It's not quite like when Abe manhandles him—Abe is stronger, for one; for another, Kanou only wants his attention. Look at me, the gesture says.

"You were always coming in second at all those competitions," Kanou says. "Do you know why? It's because your stage presence sucks. You believed all the awful stuff everyone kept telling you. But you—" he jabs a finger into Mihashi's chest. "You can sing, Ren."

It's what Kanou has always told him. Kanou used to sit with him against the mirrors after dance practice, when Mihashi was so tired that he couldn't stop the tears from rolling down his face, and say that to him over and over. But Mihashi, you can sing. Kanou's a singer, too, his range lower than Mihashi's, less polished, but Mihashi could always see his talent from leagues off. Kanou is his junior but Kanou is always gaining on him.

"Doesn't this prove it, more than anything? That you've got what it takes to be here?"

It takes a few moments before he realizes that Kanou is waiting for an answer.

"Um," he starts. "You...you sound like Abe."

Kanou's grip slackens. "Abe?"

"My—" assignment, he almost says, but the word doesn't fit right on his tongue—too many syllables, too formal. He swallows it down and tries again. "My partner," he says. "In Nishiura. He's always saying—stuff like that, stuff like...he pushes me really hard, because he says he believes in me," he says. "The rest of the group is always with me too, pushing me, or...encouraging me..." Mihashi drifts off, thinking about Hanai's confident smile, the way sometimes Mihashi will start singing under his breath and Tajima will start rapping along without missing a beat. "They're my friends," he says. "I can debut because of them. With them."

He doesn't notice that Kanou's released him fully and stepped back, eyes studying his face. He's caught up on the sudden wave of his own eagerness, to tell Kanou what he's found here, to express the thoughts he's been turning over for the past month but too afraid to speak aloud.

" I want to...to do more than sing, now," he tells him, his voice wobbling. "I want to stand on the stage, with them. I don't want to give the stage up to anyone. I want us t-to be number—one!"

It is probably the longest speech Mihashi has ever given in Kanou's presence. He falls silent, suddenly realizing what he's said, and starts to turn red. Kanou's face is a study in expression, though—flickering through too many emotions for Mihashi to name. It settles on something close to a frown, eyebrows pinched with the corners of his mouth turned down.

"You're different," is all he says. He looks down for a second, at his fingers that are twitching as if they still long to be curled in the cloth of Mihashi's shirt. "You said his name was Abe? Your new partner?"

Mihashi nods, a rapid bob of his head. "He's a dancer," he says.

Kanou nods, still looking at his fingers. Then he takes a deep breath. When he looks up at Mihashi again, it's with a stubborn lift of his chin, the determination that Mihashi's so familiar with etched into his posture. "I have a new partner, too," Kanou says. "Mihoshi's changed. We're stronger than before, and I am too. I won't let you take the top spot so easily, Ren."

Mihashi looks at Kanou's open, challenging expression and is surprised by his own lack of fear. He imagines Abe and Hanai and Tajima behind him, supporting him, and smiles. After a moment, Kanou starts to smile back.

When he extends his hand, Mihashi takes it, only to yelp in surprise when Kanou pulls him into a hug. "I was worried about you," he says when he lets go. "You didn't answer my messages."

"Sorry," Mihashi mumbles. "Can—is it okay if I still call you Shu?"

Kanou makes a face, like he can't decide between being embarrassed or pleased. "Of course it's fine," he says. "I'm going to be late to practice. But I'll see you around."

He turns away before Mihashi calls out, "Wait!"

Kanou casts a glance over his shoulder. His eyes are suspiciously wet, and the sight makes Mihashi feel choked up, even as he tries to smile.

"Good—luck," Mihashi says.

Kanou says nothing for a long moment. Then he jerks his head once, nodding, before he breaks into a jog down the long hallway. Mihashi smiles at his back until he's out of sight.

--

Abe jerks awake, flailing enough to dislodge the book that's on his face. I must have fallen asleep, he thinks in a sleep-addled panic, What time is it? Where's Mihashi? before he realizes that's his ringtone that's cutting through the air. He flips it open and groans, "Hello?"

"Abe!" Tajima's voice is loud through the phone, audible over the roar of a background TV. "Come to my room with snacks in the next twenty seconds!"

"That's impossible, idiot," Abe says, scrubbing a hand across his face. He feels disjoined from the unwanted nap, confused by the darkness of the room. "What's going on?"

"We're debuting, of course!" Tajima says. "So we have to celebrate. I know you got snacks at the convenience store yesterday. Bring them over!"

"Get your own snacks," Abe snaps in reply.

"We can't, remember? We're trapped in the dorms."

"Thanks for reminding me. Hold on." He sets the phone down to change into a clean shirt before a thought occurs to him. "Why don't we just order takeout or something? Anyway, is Mihashi there already?"

"Oh, he's not with you? I'll call him next, then. Get over here!" The line goes dead.

Abe pauses on his way out the door, his eye lingering on the bag of snacks on his desk, before he heaves a huge sigh and grabs it.

Mihashi shows up twenty minutes after Abe does, his eyes shining and his cheeks still pink with exertion. "I went to exercise," Mihashi says, and Abe rolls his eyes because of course he found some way to exhaust himself. He tells Hanai what he wants to order from the fast food place down the street and then settles in beside Abe without asking, as if he just belongs there. Mihashi's hair is damp, towel-dried—he must have stopped to take a shower before answering Tajima's summons—




[DONE] ABE
frustrated because they can't leave the dorms
--
[DONE] mihashi
running into kanou
--
ABE
tajima invites them over for a party, drinking, falling into bed

--
CHAPTER FIVE

MIHASHI
waking up with abe in bed with him, selfies + weibo, fangirls explode, company says "gj if a bit early" and abe just. doesn't know what to do with himself. tajima nudges him the next morning, mihashi looks at hanai who just shrugs.
--
ABE
debut coming closer, mihashi is acting weird and avoidant, tracking him down? UST? Except this time it's there and undeniable, there's no veneer of calming-mihashi-down to hide behind, this is just abe and his own want. "there's nowhere to hide on the stage."
--
MIHASHI
the roar of the stage, the adrenaline, the lights. seeing abe's dance quicksilver, body rolls. the formation shifts so that abe whirls away, revealing mihashi in the center; abe's leaning in close with a hand brushing across his chest, fangirl screaming.

"light it up," Abe whispers into his ear.

Mihashi takes a breath and opens his mouth. The melody pours out of him, fierce and unique and pitch-perfect, his voice soaring over the crowd.

The rush is like nothing else he's ever known and at once he knows he'll never give it up. Abe's eyes lock with his as he finishes the bridge and the grin they share is identical and heartfelt.

The effort, the struggle, it's worth it. It's worth everything, to be able to stand on this stage with people he can call friends and give everything he has to singing. This is it, he thinks as he slips back into the formation, Hanai moving to the front. This is everything I've ever wanted, he thinks as his hand slips into Abe's, as Abe pulls him in close and dips him, their faces close enough that their lips accidentally brush, sending a jolt of energy down his spine. I can't imagine being anywhere else.





--

The screams of the fans are deafening, nothing like the audiences Abe has performed before at talent shows and competitions. His lips thin into a line, struggling to stifle a nervous grimace or an overjoyed grin—he doesn't know which expression would win, and doesn't think he wants to find out.

"You look constipated," Tajima informs him.

"Shut up," Hanai says tiredly, but Tajima is ignoring him, glancing around the backstage area.

"Hey, where's Mihashi?" Tajima asks, and everyone's attention turns to Abe.

Abe can't even pretend to be surprised. The grimace wins out, and he can feel it etch a frustrated line above his brow. "I'll go get him," he grumbles.

He finds Mihashi in their waiting room, just like he expected. Mihashi flinches when Abe swings the door open, but otherwise says nothing.

"They called us already," Abe says. Mihashi just curls into a tighter ball.


"There's nowhere to hide on the stage," Abe tells him, extending his hand. "You want to sing, don't you?"

Over the weeks and months,











mihashi was part of another group but got along so poorly that he elected to drop out
-that group still hasn't debuted; mihashi feels guilty that he's going on ahead

because of his talent, got put in the new group, nishiura
-leader hanai (rapper)
-skinship assignment abe, who's a dancer along with tajima
-holding mihashi's hand, pulling him into a hug, listening to mihashi's panicked heavy breaths until they even out
-mihashi and abe sharing a bed I don't care how just make it happen
-mihashi getting introduced to the group and being like "I'm sorry" but the's the best singer in the group, when he opens his mouth abe thinks he could ignore anything, just to listen to him sing again.
-"I want to sing."

-working on their debut teaser videos. abe leaving the dorms to suddenly have people asking for his autograph. mihashi stops leaving the dorm. abe goes out with sakaeguchi, talks about how frustrating it is with mihashi as his partner, sakaeguchi giving him tips on how to get through to him.

-baseball themed intro song? abe shifting awkwardly in the catcher's gear because he's not allowed to wear much underneath it. mihashi holding his leg up in the pitcher's stance, wobbling and then steadying for the photos. Throwing a pitch and the lines of his body pull clean and light, and abe thinks fuck.

-because it's the pop industry, the video is ridiculous: hanai's dressed like a matador and pulls his cape out of the way of mihashi's pitch in the final video. Oki's dressed like a cowboy; Nishihiro's leg chain keeps getting wrapped around things. But Abe and Mihashi as the pitcher and catcher is such an obvious skinship ploy that even Izumi rolls his eyes a little bit.

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