By now, Inoo was used to settling in to hotel rooms while on tour. It had been seven years since they were all thrown together, a mismatched hodge-podge group, but they’d grown up together. Hey Say JUMP was a group that worked well with each other. Countless tours later, things had become routine. Things had become predictable.
But this time, it was different. A few members had shuffled around their usual rooming arrangements and Inoo had somehow been paired up with Takaki. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever shared a room with Takaki before. Not in a long while at least.
As Inoo checked over everything in his suitcase, he watched Takaki from the corner of his eye. He had just grabbed a beer and was sprawled out on his bed, slowly sinking into the mountain of pillows. The hotel room had a fully stocked mini-bar, which wasn’t perhaps the best decision management had ever made for the group, but it had been a long day of concert rehearsals and Inoo didn’t think a bit of alcohol would be a bad idea right now.
In fact, Inoo thought alcohol would be an excellent idea right now. He’d been in a depressed mood for months, pushing his sad feelings down as deep as they could go, trying to put on a happy face for everyone. But he was tired. And the depressing thoughts kept swirling around in his head. It felt like a wall was pressing down on him, trapping him. He reached inside the mini-bar and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and grabbed a shot glass, hoping it would be enough of a distraction.
“Woah now,” Takaki said, “don’t forget we have a concert tomorrow afternoon.”
Inoo shrugged. “Which means the morning is free to sleep off the hangover.” He pulled out another shot glass and held it out towards Takaki. “Wanna join me?”
Takaki looked like he’d only contemplated the offer for about half a second before he swapped his unopened beer for the tiny shot glass in Inoo’s outstretched hand. “Can’t let you make dumb decisions alone,” he said.
Instead of sitting at the table or on the bed, Inoo settled down right between the two hotel beds and began to pour. He stretched out so that his bare feet brushed along the edge of the bed cover Takaki was leaning against. He knocked back the first shot and winced at the burning sensation, but it didn’t take long for the alcohol to begin to kick in. Inoo could feel the warmth spread out through his body. Takaki made a strange sort of growling noise after the whiskey slid down his throat. Inoo laughed at the sound.
“I don’t even really like whiskey,” Takaki admitted.
“Well then, let’s make this fun.” Inoo swished the contents of his glass around before he drank again. “Wanna play a game?” The more distractions, the better.
Takaki smirked and refilled his glass. “What did you have in mind?”
“Never have I ever,” Inoo answered. Perhaps the whiskey was tapping into his nostalgic veins since that was a game he used to play with his friends in high school. It was simple. One person would say something that they’d never done and if the other person had done it, he’d have to take a drink. “You played before?”
Once the alcohol really started to kick in and they got progressively drunker, the game became more fun. The confessions got more and more ridiculous and they were getting to be so drunk that they couldn’t remember the rules of the game or when to drink. But the distraction was working well until Takaki mentioned something about kissing and Inoo drunkenly blurted out “never have I ever kissed a girl” before he could even stop the words from leaving his mouth. He frowned, too annoyed at himself to even play it off as a drunken lie.
Takaki tilted his head curiously before speaking. “Not even once?”
Suddenly this conversation was entirely too embarrassing. Inoo shook his head ever so slightly, wishing that he’d never brought the subject up. It was what he’d been drinking to avoid. Taking the whiskey bottle in his hand, he tipped it back and drank straight from the bottle, rules of the game be damned.
Takaki took the bottle from his hands when he tried to set it back down. He was squinting at Inoo like he was trying very hard to process something. “You… want me to find you a girl then?” he offered, but he sounded unsure of himself. He ignored his own shot glass and drank from the bottle too.
“No,” Inoo exclaimed, a little too forcefully. “I’m not interested in a girl.” Again, the words he’d been holding back for entirely too long slipped past his lips before he even realized what he was saying. He hadn’t meant to confess all this to Takaki. He hadn’t meant to confess this to anyone.
“Oh,” Takaki said. And then it hit him. “Oh. So are you…?” The word gay went unspoken.
Inoo suddenly found himself very intrigued by the patterns of the hotel carpet. He ran his fingers over the rough fabric, focusing on the coarseness of it, before answering. “You can’t tell anyone, okay?”
Takaki took a long gulp from the bottle and then winced again. He handed it back to Inoo. “I won’t tell,” he promised and then glanced at the almost empty whiskey bottle. “Hell, I might not even remember tomorrow.”
Inoo poured another shot. “I didn’t tell anyone because I don’t want them to judge me and hate me, you know. You probably think I’m weird and gross now, don’t you? It’s so damn frustrating. I’m just going to miserable forever because I can’t even tell anyone.” These were the things he was trying to avoid by drinking the alcohol in the first place. So much for that idea. He hadn’t felt like his usual self in months since he’d been trying to hold everything in.
Takaki was squinting at him again, and Inoo could swear that he could almost see the gears turning in his head as he processed this new information. “It doesn’t bother me,” Takaki finally announced. He poured one final shot each for them to finish off the bottle.
“In fact,” Takaki continued, “I have a confession to make too.”
“I’m bisexual, you know, I like guys and girls.” Takaki looked Inoo in the eye and then quickly looked away again, like he just didn’t know how to react. He obviously wasn’t intending on spilling his secrets tonight either.
“Huh.” Inoo hadn’t been expecting that Takaki was hiding a secret of his own. It wasn’t exactly the same, but he still felt a little more connected to his bandmate now. “How did you figure that out?” Now he was entirely too curious for his own good. Damn whiskey.
Now it was Takaki’s turn to stare down at the carpet as he thought of the right words to say. Inoo watched him as a frown marred his face. “There was a guy… about three years ago…” He trailed off but didn’t seem like he was going to continue.
Inoo leaned forward because he was surprised. “Who was it?”
“You don’t know him,” Takaki shook his head. “And I promised him I’d keep it a secret to protect his reputation.”
Inoo nodded. He was still curious about it but he couldn’t focus enough while drunk to keep asking. Not while he was also distracted by the weird feeling of almost-relief he felt by finally admitting to someone that he was gay.
“So back to your original declaration,” Takaki began. “If you haven’t kissed a girl, does that mean you have kissed a guy before?”
“…I haven’t kissed either,” Inoo admitted quietly. Back when he was younger, he wasn’t even all that interested in dating people, and now that he was interested, he didn’t think he would actually be able to date anyone. Normally, he would play this confession off as a joke and act all nonchalant about it, but he didn’t want to pretend anymore. He’d been pretending for too long.
Takaki leaned forward, startling Inoo with the abruptly uncoordinated motion. “Do you want to just get it over with then?” he offered, his voice dropping to an almost whisper.
Perhaps it was the large amount of whiskey in his system or perhaps it was just because he liked the sound of Takaki’s rough voice, but Inoo couldn’t think of a good reason to say no. “Okay,” he whispered back.
Takaki picked up his shot glass and indicated that Inoo do the same. “Cheers,” he said, holding up the amber-colored liquid so that it caught the light of the nearby lamp. They both downed the whiskey in one go, and when they set their glasses back down, Takaki met Inoo’s eyes and moved closer. Takaki’s hand found the back of Inoo’s head and gently pushed him closer. Not sure if he was feeling drunkenly nauseous or just nervous, Inoo closed his eyes. He felt Takaki’s lips press against his own in a way that sent sudden shivers down his spine. The kiss was softer than he expected and it felt wonderful. When Takaki finally pulled away, he lingered for a moment, meeting Inoo’s now-open eyes again, and all Inoo could smell was the whiskey on their breath.
“What did you think?” Takaki asked, still using that rough sort of seductive voice.
“I have to throw up,” Inoo announced, ruining the moment. He clambered up from the floor, trying not to lose his balance and then stumbled towards the bathroom. “But it’s not you, it’s the whiskey,” he clarified before he shut the door behind him. He could hear Takaki’s amused laugh until the door clicked shut.
Later he would have to think again about everything that had happened this night. But for now, he had more pressing matters to take care of. Leaning over the toilet, he retched.
There was silence in the car as Takaki concentrated on navigating through the heavy traffic on the highway. From the passenger seat, Inoo didn’t say anything to interrupt. Instead, he focused on watching the scenery they sped by and thought about everything that had happened since his confession to Takaki in the hotel room a few days ago. The next morning they had both woken up with horrible hangovers and fuzzy memories of their drinking session the night before. But the kiss they’d shared… that was still firmly etched in Inoo’s memory. They didn’t talk about it much at first as they’d quietly sipped coffee together in the hotel room.
“The rest of JUMP can’t know, okay?” Inoo had finally broken the silence. They were sitting opposite each other at the small table in the room. “You might understand, but I’m sure they won’t.”
Takaki nodded and looked down at the black coffee swirling around in his mug. “I told you before that I wouldn’t tell. I’ve got my own secrets too, so I understand.”
Inoo had expected this conversation to be more awkward but it really wasn’t so bad. Perhaps the bonding over a shared hangover helped. Inoo refilled his mug.
“So can I ask you a question?” Takaki said, looking a little hesitant. He pushed the cream and sugar over to Inoo who nodded in response. “Are you looking for a boyfriend right now? I mean, do you think you want to date someone? It’s difficult, I know, having to keep it secret and all.”
Inoo spent a little bit longer than necessary stirring the sugar in the coffee while he thought about it. He listened to the quiet clink of the spoon against the edges of the mug. “Sure, I’d like a boyfriend, but I’m not sure it would ever work out. We’d have to keep it a secret. You’re the only person who knows. I guess I’m just gonna have to ignore any feelings that I have.” He sighed as he realized he was complaining a lot. “Sorry. What about you?”
“Yeah, you said you’re bisexual. What are you looking for?”
Takaki shrugged. He’d already drained his coffee mug down to the dregs. “I don’t know. But I’m not really looking for anyone right now.”
Inoo tapped his finger on the table. He frowned as his thoughts turned to his worries about everything, about not being able to have a relationship if he wanted one, about having to hide this part of himself from everyone.
“We should go to gay bar,” Takaki suddenly suggested right out of the blue.
If Inoo had just taken a sip of his coffee, he would have choked on it. “Excuse me?”
“I think you need some fun,” Takaki explained. He put on a happy face but he actually looked a little concerned for Inoo. “You are stressing yourself out about all this when you shouldn’t be.”
“Sometimes I don’t understand anything that goes through your head.”
Takaki smiled, choosing to take that as a compliment. “I know of a place we can go. It would be no strings attached and nothing to worry about.”
“I don’t know… I don’t really hang out in bars very often,” Inoo said. It was strange for him to actually not feel confident about a situation, to not be able to make jokes and such. This was an area where he felt rather inexperienced. It felt like he was just barely keeping his head above water. But it did feel nice to be able to discuss this stuff with Takaki instead of keeping things locked up inside again.
“I can be your teacher,” Takaki said with an obliviously innocent grin. And that was just enough to shake away Inoo’s doubting thoughts.
“What, are you like my friend-with-benefits now?” Inoo joked.
Takaki rolled his eyes and laughed. “No sex. Just kissing,” he insisted.
Inoo grabbed both of their coffee mugs and set them beside the dirty coffeemaker. “I can live with that.” It was weird but Inoo kind of liked it.
Inoo was torn away from his thoughts by the sound of Takaki’s voice echoing through the silent car. “Are you asleep over there?” he asked.
“Sorry, I was just thinking.” The scene outside had changed from the tall buildings of Tokyo to a more rural setting with houses spaced out more distantly from one another. Inoo turned from the window to face Takaki. “Are we almost there?”
Takaki nodded but didn’t take his eyes off the road. They had a day off from rehearsals and concerts, so the two of them had decided to make the trip to the bar. But since they had the whole day, they’d decided to have some fun and do some sightseeing along the way. Takaki had told him about a park he knew with good hiking trails.
“I’m excited,” Inoo said. “I haven’t been hiking in a while. I didn’t know you liked the mountains too, Mr. Always-at-the-Beach.”
“Contrary to popular belief, I go other places sometimes too. But seriously, the view at the top is amazing,” Takaki explained, sounding like a proud kid showing off a new toy. Inoo thought the enthusiasm was cute. He and Takaki had been working together for a long time, even before they were in JUMP, but they’d never really hung out very often. Inoo wondered why that was.
“Amazing,” Inoo breathed, repeating Takaki’s earlier description as they reached the end of the trail at the top of the hill. The view overlooked a good distance out into the countryside. It was a lot of rice fields and little houses, which wasn’t unordinary, but still looked pretty from where he was standing, nonetheless. He pulled out his phone to snap a few good photos of the scenery. And he even snuck one picture of Takaki gazing pensively out across the open space. “How did you find this place?”
“I just drive around sometimes and check out whatever I see. There’s really no one at this park ever, so I come here once in a while to get away from everything. Like when work is too overwhelming, you know.” Takaki balanced himself on a large rock sticking out of the ground, throwing his arms out like he was balancing himself on a tightrope.
“Thanks for sharing this with me,” Inoo said quietly.
When they got back into Takaki’s car, Inoo sank down into the passenger seat. He wasn’t out of shape with all the dancing they did all the time, but he had to admit that the hiking was a bit exhausting.
“Yeah, I’m just thinking about tonight. Not gonna lie, I’m kinda nervous.” He knew that he shouldn’t be. It was just a bar, after all. But there was a prickling feeling of tenseness anyway.
“Well the alcohol will help with that,” Takaki joked but then turned serious. He had his car keys in his hand about to put them in the ignition, but just dropped them into a cup holder instead. “What are you worried about?”
“I don’t know.”
“We’re just going there to talk and have fun with new people. People like us. People who can relate to what you’re going through,” Takaki said with a smile. He did his best to look reassuring and raise Inoo’s spirits. “And maybe you can kiss someone if things go well,” he added as a joke.
“What, is that what you’re really worried about? Because I was just joking about that.”
Inoo gave Takaki an annoyed look.
“Are you asking me for more practice?” Takaki teased, not even bothering to hide his smirk.
The casual tone and light mood of Takaki’s suggestion made Inoo feel a bit better. “You are entirely too eager to kiss me,” he answered.
“Weren’t you the one who called me your friend with benefits the other day?”
“My offer still stands.”
Inoo wasn’t going to lie to himself. The idea of kissing Takaki again seemed very appealing. What the hell, he decided. It might make the nervous energy go away. Best not to think about it too much, he told himself. “Okay.”
Takaki grinned. “The backseat has more room,” he said, pointing to the empty space behind them.
Inoo slid into the cushioned back seat opposite of Takaki and tried to look less awkward and more natural. In the short few moments it took to switch seats, Inoo was already second-guessing his decision. Takaki was his coworker. Never in a million years would he have imagined that they would be making out in the backseat of his car and calling it “practice.”
Takaki reached his hand out in a gesture to close the gap between them. “It might work better if you moved a little closer.”
“This is so weird,” Inoo muttered with a sort of strangled-sounding laugh.
“Relax,” Takaki said, leaning closer just like he had the night with the whiskey. But things were different this time. They were both completely sober. “No one’s here to judge you. No one will ever know. This is our secret.”
Inoo was surprised at how that last sentence sent pleasant chills down his spine. It was a little bit thrilling he had to admit to be sneaking around like this. So, pushing down his apprehension, Inoo leaned forward as well, not sure whether he should watch Takaki’s eyes or his lips. But he didn’t have to think too long since Takaki moved those last few centimeters and his lips met Inoo’s. Not ever thinking anymore, Inoo gave in and closed his eyes to enjoy the feeling. Takaki’s lips were still just as soft as last time, even as Takaki put a little more force into his kiss. Inoo felt Takaki’s hands move to rest on his shoulders, so Inoo wrapped one of his arms around Takaki’s waist.
When Takaki pulled away, they both were breathing as though they couldn’t quite catch their breath. And then Inoo gathered his courage and took the opportunity to initiate the kiss. Takaki eagerly kissed him back. It all felt strange but good.
Without warning, Takaki broke the kiss again. Inoo was disappointed until Takaki quickly began to press soft kisses along Inoo’s jaw line and then down to his throat. Inoo tilted his head back against the seat, relishing in the touch on a sensitive part of his skin. He couldn’t stop himself from letting out a quiet moan.
The sound made Takaki pause and when Inoo opened his eyes, he saw Takaki’s smirk. “Enjoying this, aren’t you?” he asked, looking rather happy.
“Don’t stop now, teacher,” Inoo said, “I don’t think I’ve gotten the proper technique down yet.”
“Then let’s review what we’ve learned so far,” Takaki murmured and captured Inoo’s lips once more.
Inoo wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting (although perhaps he thought there would be more drag queens), but it turned out that the gay bar was pretty much the same as a normal bar. The only difference was that he was free to flirt with any guy who seemed interested.
“How did you find this place anyway?” Inoo asked Takaki after they’d both gotten a drink from the bar.
Takaki took a sip of his drink before answering cryptically “recommendation from an old friend.” His eyes were focused on the crowd as if he was looking for someone.
“Was that the guy you used to be with?” Inoo asked.
Takaki narrowed his eyes but then tried to play it off as no big deal. “That’s not really important right now.” Inoo could tell that this was apparently a sensitive subject. “What’s important,” Takaki continued, “is that we find you someone to talk to. What’s your type?”
“Broad shoulders,” Inoo answered instantly. Takaki looked almost surprised at his quick response. “And um… nice hands, I guess. A friendly smile?”
“Why do you sound so unsure?” Takaki laughed.
“I don’t usually think much past the shoulders…” Inoo admitted. It was still strange, Inoo thought, to be able to talk about the kind of guy he liked with someone. He got tired sometimes of having to talk about girls with his bandmates and for magazine interviews.
Takaki grinned and picked up his beer again. “What a weird fetish.”
Inoo rolled his eyes. “Shoulders aren’t weird,” he said and then added sarcastically, “I’m sure you don’t have anything kinky to hide at all.”
“Of course I don’t,” Takaki insisted, “I like eyes.”
Inoo gave up the argument for now, but he filed away that information for later. Eventually he’d figure Takaki out and then he would tease him mercilessly in return.
“Hmm…” Takaki looked around the room for someone to talk to. “How about that guy by the bar?” He pointed in the direction of the person he was talking about.
Inoo looked across the room at the guy in question. It did look like he had nice, broad shoulders from this angle. “Not bad,” Inoo agreed.
“Alrighty then, off you go,” Takaki said and tried to shoo Inoo away with his hands. But the action ended up looking silly since he was trying not to spill his drink.
“Yes! I think you can handle it.” Takaki didn’t stop waving his hands, and Inoo thought he looked super silly like that but he couldn’t stop a smile from coming across his nervous face. “When all else fails, talk about the weather,” he added.
“Hell no, we will not be discussing the weather. I’m not desperate.”
“Well then, just go say something weird like you usually do,” Takaki challenged. He finally set his drink down and gave Inoo a gentle push towards the bar.
Inoo spun around real quick to take one last gulp of his own drink and then he crossed the room to say hello.
Takaki watched Inoo from a distance. He wasn’t too worried about him. Inoo was always the one who could easily talk to people even if he was nervous. It looked like things were going well since the two of them were laughing every now and then, and it didn’t look like there were too many awkward pauses.
“Long time, no see,” a familiar voice came from his right, distracting him from his observations.
Takaki turned to see the face of one of the bar regulars smiling at him. It had been a while since Takaki had seen this friend, but he hadn’t changed much. “It’s been a long time, Riku. How’s everything?”
“Same old, same old,” Riku said with a laugh, and then gestured for Takaki to sit down at a nearby table with him. “Work, eat, beer, sleep. Repeat, repeat, repeat.”
“Yeah, I understand,” Takaki laughed too. He hadn’t been sure if his old friends were still coming to the bar, but he was glad to see Riku. “Is Shinji here with you too?”
Riku shook his head. “Not tonight. He had work, but if you come back again soon, I’m sure you’ll get to see him too. We’ve missed you.” Riku’s smile faded a bit and he looked a bit more serious. “We didn’t think you were going to come here anymore, but I’m glad you did. Who’s your friend?”
Takaki glanced back over to Inoo. He and the guy were still chatting away, looking like they were having fun. “A coworker,” he explained. “He’s not really out, you know, and that’s been bothering him for a while I think. I thought coming here might cheer him up some. He’s happier than I’ve seen him in months.”
Riku nodded in understanding. “I remember that time in my life when I had to hide that part of myself. It’s tough. But it good that he’s got you though, right?”
“Yeah, he’s got me,” he said as he tore his eyes away from Inoo and the guy again. He looked down at his drink and frowned as he realized it was empty. That was his limit, he remembered. He had to be sober enough to drive home later.
“Then why is he over there flirting with someone else instead of with you?”
The question hit Takaki harder than it should have. He shrugged in an attempt to look nonchalant about it. “We’re not dating.”
“But you like him, right? You want him to be happy,” Riku observed. In the three years since he’d been to the bar, Takaki had forgotten just how perceptive Riku was when it came to understanding people.
“We’re coworkers,” Takaki repeated again. There was still a bitter aftertaste lingering in his mouth from the beer and the memories this place was stirring up. “It’s complicated. And you know how I always fuck things up.”
Riku gave him an intensely disapproving look as he crossed his arms across his chest. “No, you don’t.”
“Why do you think it’s been three years since I’ve been here?”
“Do you ever see him anymore?” Riku asked. He looked concerned.
Takaki knew exactly who he was referring to, but he wasn’t in the mood to talk about that guy right now. Takaki just shook his head and turned back to check on Inoo. To his surprise, Inoo was saying goodbye to the guy and walking back towards Takaki. He sat down in one of the empty chairs at the table.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Inoo said with a friendly smile to Riku.
“Just talking with an old friend.” Takaki resisted the urge to breathe a sigh of relief at Inoo’s interruption. That conversation was wandering into dangerous territory.
“Oh,” Inoo said and looked at Riku again more closely, “is this the guy who…”
“No,” Takaki answered sharply, and gave Inoo’s ankle a subtle kick from under the table. Drunk Inoo really had no sense of propriety and he also didn’t want to give Riku a chance to start talking about the past. “This is Riku,” he introduced. “He’s a regular here.”
Inoo and Riku exchanged polite and friendly greetings.
“So what happened to you and your guy?” Takaki asked. He didn’t tell Inoo that he’d been watching him to make sure everything was going okay.
Inoo just shrugged before he began tapping his fingers on the table. “He was nice but we didn’t have much in common. I got his phone number though.”
“I have taught you well, young one,” Takaki joked. He hoped silly comments would distract from the unpleasant mood he’d settled into during his conversation with Riku.
“You didn’t teach me that, idiot,” Inoo teased. He grinned and Takaki could clearly see his rosy cheeks. “But you were right about one thing. I am having fun.”
“Come visit up here anytime,” Riku said. “Everybody is friendly and we always have a good time. And things are very discreet here if you’re worried about that,” he added.
“I would like that,” Inoo nodded. Takaki watched as his eyes shone with a mix of slightly drunken happiness.
“Oh, and Thursdays are trivia night,” Riku continued. “I bet you’d be much better at trivia night than Takaki is.”
“Hey,” Takaki whined.
After that, the three of them talked for a long while until the crowd slowly started clearing out of the bar because it was getting so late. Takaki stretched and stood up, suggesting that they should probably head back home too. There were concert rehearsals again tomorrow before the group headed off to the next city on the tour. And the drive back home wasn’t exactly a short one.
“I really enjoyed that,” Inoo said as Takaki pulled out of the parking lot and onto the main road. Inoo was still a bit drunk and had twisted in his seat so that he could rest the side of his face against the cushion and also could face towards Takaki. Takaki could still see a glimpse of rosy cheeks whenever the streetlights shone through the windows at just the right angle.
“I thought you would,” Takaki said. “We can go again whenever you want.”
“Yes definitely.” Inoo nodded which made half of his hair stick up against the seat. But he didn’t seem to care much what his hair looked like. There was a silence in the car for a while where Takaki thought Inoo might have fallen asleep until he spoke again. “I didn’t get to kiss anyone.”
“There’s always next time,” Takaki said. He scanned the road for the upcoming turn he was supposed to make. He knew the way back home and there wasn’t much traffic on the road, but it was still an oppressive sort of darkness outside. The streetlights were spaced far apart in this area.
“All that practice went to waste,” Inoo joked and when Takaki glanced over, he saw that Inoo was making a silly-looking pouty face with his lips pursed out like a duck.
“I taught you the fundamentals,” Takaki insisted with a laugh he tried to cover up. “Those are not a waste!”
“But seriously,” Inoo said with a sudden change of tone, “thank you. For… I dunno, everything I guess. You didn’t have to do anything for me, but you did. Things haven’t been this nice in a long time.”
“Everyone deserves to be happy, Inoo. Even you,” Takaki said. He wanted to face Inoo directly to show him how seriously he meant that, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the road while driving.
“I’ll try to remember that.” Inoo’s voice sounded rather sleepy. That was probably partially the alcohol’s fault, but also probably because they’d spent half the day hiking too. Their bodies would probably regret all of it tomorrow when they were busy rearranging dance steps, but Takaki didn’t regret any bit of taking Inoo out for the day. They both needed it.
“Go to sleep,” Takaki commanded. “We’ve got practice tomorrow.”
Inoo muttered some protest about not being tired but it wasn’t long before Takaki could hear soft snores coming from the passenger seat. Takaki drove on silently through the darkened roads leading back home, just enjoying the momentary peacefulness.
Inoo and Takaki ended up rooming together again during their stop in Nagoya. They had an afternoon concert scheduled instead of an evening one, so they had more free time to do things after the concert than usual. The whole group had dinner together at the hotel restaurant while discussing what they should do next. A lot of the suggestions involved going bar-hopping and checking out the local nightclubs, but Inoo wasn’t too interested in hanging out at a bar and pretending to be interested in pretty girls when they walked by. It was almost bad the way he felt. Now that he had Takaki to confide in, he had almost no patience for pretending anymore. Inoo kept trying to think of excuses not to go, but he was rapidly running out of ways to avoid Daiki’s insistent invitations.
“I’m too tired to go,” Takaki said with an exaggerated yawn. He stretched too and Keito had to duck to avoid the elbow suddenly swinging towards his face. “I think I’m just going to watch a movie in the hotel room. Sorry guys, you can have fun without me.” He turned to Inoo. “Did you want to watch it with me? It’s that one we talked about the other day.”
Inoo wracked his brain for a moment but couldn’t remember discussing any sort of movie with Takaki recently. He looked at Takaki again who was staring back at him with a rather intense look. And then it hit him. Takaki was just trying to rescue him from having to go out.
“Oh, that movie!” Inoo nodded with probably a little too much enthusiasm. “Yeah. Sorry guys.”
Daiki frowned at him but everyone else didn’t seem to mind that their plans would be short a few members this time.
“You’re like my knight in shining armor,” Inoo said with a laugh as soon as they got back to the hotel room.
“You are hardly a damsel in distress,” Takaki scoffed in return. Inoo watched as he threw himself onto the bed and sank into the comforter with a contented sigh. After a moment, he rolled onto his side to face Inoo again. “So is there anything you actually want to do? Full disclosure: I don’t actually have a movie to watch.”
“I knew that,” Inoo laughed. He plopped down beside Takaki on the bed and stretched out. “Honestly, I’m just really wiped out from the concert today. I don’t want to move.”
“I know how you feel,” Takaki agreed. He rubbed his hands over his face in a gesture to wake himself up more before sitting up. “Do you want a drink? No whiskey this time,” he said in a mock-stern voice before breaking into a pleasant-sounding laugh.
“You enjoyed the whiskey and you know it,” Inoo giggled in response but then shook his head. “No thanks. Not tonight.” He didn’t feel like he needed anything tonight. There wasn’t much bothering him and he was already feeling relaxed.
“Okay then,” Takaki shrugged and laid back down on the bed. Inoo guessed that he had been asking more for Inoo’s sake than for himself. He closed his eyes for a moment and Inoo briefly wondered if he was going to sleep when he suddenly spoke. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
It caught Inoo off guard because Takaki was usually the sort of person to speak without thinking. Normally, he wouldn’t hesitate to ask something without regards for the consequences. It was that innocent sort of cluelessness that had always made him fit in well with the younger members of the group.
“Sure.” Inoo supposed that if he and Takaki were going to keep up this weird sort of relationship based on make-out sessions, Takaki had the right to ask him personal questions.
“How did you know you were gay?”
“Hm…” Inoo hummed in thought and looked up at the ceiling while he thought of a way to answer the question. He’d never put it into words before. “I never had any sort of a-ha! moment or anything like that. When I was younger, I was always more interested in boys. I just didn’t realize what that meant. And when I got older, everyone else went girl crazy and I just didn’t care. I kept waiting, you know, thinking that it would hit me eventually, but it never did. I just find men much more attractive. There’s nothing I can change about that.” He paused as memories swam to the surface. “There was one guy in college that I really liked, and I guess he’s what made me realize that these feelings weren’t going to go away.”
“Did you say anything to him?”
Inoo laughed and it was tinged with a hint of bitterness. “No, of course not. He had a girlfriend that he was very in love with the whole time I knew him. That’s what’s so frustrating, you know. Not being able to be open about who I like. That’s when I realized I’d have to keep it all a secret.” He sighed and covered up his eyes with his hand for a moment so that he could regain his composure. He’d talked too much and made himself upset again. And he didn’t like being upset in front of people. When he uncovered his face again, Takaki was watching him with a frown.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Because I wish I could do more to help you,” Takaki explained. “It’s miserable, I know.”
Inoo shook his head. He didn’t want Takaki to be upset for him too. “Honestly though, you don’t know how much it’s helped me to be able to tell you at least. It’s like some weight off of my shoulders.” Inoo was feeling fidgety now, so he sat back up and peeled off his socks.
“It’s kinda like I’m helping you hold an umbrella to give you a break from the rain,” Takaki said.
Inoo couldn’t help but laugh at Takaki’s unexpected but completely appropriate metaphor. “Are you a poet now?”
Takaki grinned. “I’m smarter than everyone thinks I am, you know.”
“I know.” Inoo knew that Takaki might not be anywhere near a textbook genius, but he was always thoughtful and considerate of people, which was probably a more important trait if he was being honest.
“So can I ask you the same question?” Inoo brought them back to the original topic because he was curious now. “How did you know that you liked girls and boys? I mean, couldn’t you have just stuck to dating women and never even realized it?”
Now it was Takaki’s turn to stare up at the ceiling in thought. His eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips as he gathered his thoughts. “I don’t really know. I just figured out that I could fall in love with anyone. It doesn’t really matter what gender they are.”
“But you had a boyfriend before, right? That guy you mentioned…”
Takaki scowled and looked like one of the yankee characters he’d played on TV before. “You’re not gonna stop asking me about that, are you? I wouldn’t say we were exactly dating. Almost maybe. If things had worked out differently.” He shrugged and tried to look like he didn’t care. But Inoo could see his eyes clearly.
“Sorry I brought it up.”
Takaki made a dismissive gesture with his hand, waving off the sympathy. “Don’t worry about it.”
The atmosphere in the room had taken a darker turn, ruining the fun they’d started off with. Inoo should have expected it with such a heavy topic of discussion, but he missed the happier tone from before. He felt like he needed to fix it.
“Hey Takaki,” he began. He was still sitting up on the bed even though Takaki was lying on his back.
“Hm?” Takaki looked away from the ceiling. He had apparently been getting lost in his memories.
“Can I kiss you again?”
Takaki let out a hearty laugh at the unexpected question. Even if Takaki said no, Inoo thought, at least he had succeeded in cheering him up a bit. He waited to see what Takaki would say.
“Now who’s the one too eager to kiss someone?” he smirked as he sat up too.
Inoo grinned, feeling much better than before as well. “So that’s a yes?”
“Why are you still talking and not kissing me?” Takaki teased.
Inoo thought, perhaps, that this should still be awkward. That, as bandmates, they should not be making out in their hotel room while on tour. They were barely friends, let alone lovers. But Inoo remembered how much he had enjoyed kissing him before, and he thought about the fact that he wasn’t able to do things like this freely if he was going to stay “trapped in the closet” forever. So without hesitation, Inoo lunged forward and pressed a forceful kiss to Takaki’s lips. Takaki was a little startled by the roughness at first, but it didn’t take him long to kiss back just as fiercely.
Inoo ran his fingers through Takaki’s hair as they broke apart to catch their breath for a moment. Takaki rested his head against the side of Inoo’s neck and he could feel his warm breath brushing along his skin. When he moved again, Takaki wrapped his arms around Inoo and pulled him closer. With his hand on the back of Takaki’s head, Inoo gently pushed Takaki forward to kiss him again. But before Inoo could make it all the way there, Takaki tensed up and froze as his eyes darted towards the door.
“What—” Inoo began, but Takaki put his hand over Inoo’s mouth before he could finish his question. Suddenly there was a loud knock on their door.
“Pretend you’re asleep,” Takaki in a whisper Inoo could barely hear. He used Inoo’s shoulder to swing himself off the bed. As he walked to the door, Inoo frantically pulled the covers back on the bed and jumped underneath them. He’d just gotten settled with his back to the door when Takaki opened it. Inoo listened despite the very loud sound of his heart pounding in his ears.
“Hey Takaki!” It was Yabu’s voice and it echoed loudly through the room. Inoo could tell that he was very drunk.
“Shh,” Takaki said keeping up the ruse. Inoo could just imagine him pressing a finger to his lips as he shushed him. “Inoo’s sleeping.”
“We can’t remember which room is ours,” Hikaru’s voice added, just as loudly. His words came out jumbled as though he couldn’t remember how much space he was supposed to leave between each syllable.
“It’s on your room key,” Takaki said.
“Room key?” Yabu said and then remembered he was supposed to be quiet. “Room key? I’ve got that,” he repeated in an exaggerated whisper that he probably thought was quieter than it actually was. Inoo could hear a rustling noise that was probably Yabu patting down his pockets to look for it.
“How about I take you to your room and make sure you both aren’t dying?” Takaki suggested. Inoo thought he was doing a pretty good job of hiding his annoyance at being interrupted. But then again, Yabu and Hikaru were so drunk they probably wouldn’t even notice.
“’m not dyin’,” Hikaru slurred out and then laughed at the idea.
“Let’s go,” Takaki said. “Inoo is sleeping.”
“Night Kei,” Yabu whispered loudly as the door shut. Inoo would have almost laughed if he hadn’t been pretending to sleep.
As soon as he was alone in the room, Inoo sat back up. He could hear the voices fading away down the hall. While he waited for Takaki to return, he decided to go about his nightly routine of putting on pajamas and washing his face. After he dried his face off with the towel, he looked into the mirror. He wondered how his face looked to others. He wondered if it was attractive. He knew there were fans who liked him, but he didn’t know them personally. And they didn’t know him. Inoo ran his fingers across the now-clean skin of his cheek and jaw, and wondered if Takaki thought his face was attractive.
The hotel door opened and shut, distracting him from his musings. Maybe he’d think about that more later.
Takaki sighed. “Well that was annoying.” Inoo stepped out of the bathroom and Takaki saw that he’d changed clothes. “Oh, are you actually going to sleep now?”
Inoo shrugged. “I was just waiting for you to get back. How did you even know they were coming?” he asked, thinking about how Takaki had paused even before they’d knocked on the door.
“You mean you didn’t hear them practically shouting down the whole hallway?”
Inoo shook his head. He’d been a bit too focused on Takaki to notice something like that.
Takaki tossed his shirt off and changed into his own pajama pants as well. “Inoo, if you don’t want anyone to find out about your secret, you’ve got to learn how to listen. Otherwise, someone will walk in on you.”
Inoo had to admit that made sense. He wanted to ask Takaki if he’d learned that from experience but he figured now was not the time to bring things like that up again.
“It’s getting late,” Takaki said, glancing at the clock on the nightstand. Inoo didn’t really want to go to sleep but a yawn interrupted his thoughts and signaled to himself that he probably should go to bed anyway. Concert days were always long days. Takaki pulled back the covers on the other bed and Inoo crawled into the one he’d been pretend-sleeping in earlier.
“Goodnight Takaki,” Inoo said after he’d turned out the light.
“Night Inoo,” Takaki said. And then added, “I think your kissing has improved.”
Inoo tossed a pillow at Takaki and was satisfied with the oof that came from the other bed as his throw hit its mark. “Shup up, idiot.”
“Come on, Keito, what’s the cheat code?” Inoo whined. He tapped his hands on the table as though he could convince Keito if he was just annoying enough to wear him down. Takaki watched the two of them from across the room as they played a cellphone game that they’d been obsessed with for a month. The whole group was waiting for the okay from the staff so they could go home. It had been a long day of magazine photoshoots and interviews.
“I’m not going to ruin the game for you,” Keito complained while leaning away from Inoo who’d resorted to trying to see what was on his screen. Takaki tried not to laugh at their antics since he didn’t want anyone to think he looked creepy by watching Inoo.
“I’ll never beat this level,” Inoo continued to whine. “Just give me a hint at least.”
“Help me out here, Chinen,” Inoo switched tactics and turned to the closest person for backup.
Chinen shrugged. “Sorry, I beat that level three weeks ago.”
“I hate you,” Inoo said in his most melodramatic voice. “I hate you all.” He threw a hand melodramatically over his eyes and Takaki couldn’t help but snicker quietly into his hand. Thankfully, no one was paying attention to him though.
Yamada wandered over to the group and stuck his head over Inoo’s shoulder. “Did you try using the hidden jewel from level three?”
“What hidden jewel?!”
“Don’t tell him,” Keito insisted, waving his arms at Yamada in distress. “Let him figure out the game for himself.”
“What hidden jewel??” Inoo repeated.
But before all the video game secrets could be revealed, a staff member finally came in and told the group they could leave. All the photos had turned out okay and they wouldn’t need any reshoots.
“I’m starving,” Yuto announced, stretching his long limbs as he stood up. “It is time for dinner.”
“That reminds me,” Daiki began and turned to Inoo, “you promised we’d check out that new restaurant soon.”
“Oh yeahhhh,” Inoo said and scratched the back of his head. Takaki wondered if he’d forgotten on purpose. He knew Inoo had had plenty of free evenings lately to go somewhere with his best friend.
“We can’t go today though, sorry,” Inoo explained. “I’ve already got plans.”
Daiki frowned and crossed his arms with a skeptical eyebrow raised. “Really?”
“Yes really,” Inoo answered, looking slightly offended that Daiki thought he would be lying. Takaki was pretending not to listen by fiddling with his phone but Inoo ruined that by turning to him and asking “you ready to go?” making it plainly obvious that they had plans together.
“Yep,” Takaki answered simply. It was obvious that Daiki wasn’t happy and Takaki did not want to get caught in an argument. He’d promised to take Inoo to the bar again so it wasn’t like he could explain what they were going to do. He decided to just let Inoo handle his own problem.
“Okay whatever,” Daiki said in a huffy tone of resignation. Just about everyone else had left the room already. Takaki shuffled awkwardly towards the door, hoping that Inoo would get the hint that they needed to leave.
Inoo clapped his hands together in a gesture asking for forgiveness and closed his eyes. “This weekend, I promise. We’ll go together.”
“See you later,” Daiki said, not bothering to respond to Inoo as he brushed past Takaki on the way out. That wasn’t like him at all since Daiki was usually sunshine and smiles.
Inoo frowned and continued to frown all the way to Takaki’s car. Even as he sat down in the passenger seat and buckled up, he frowned. “Let’s get really drunk tonight,” he announced as Takaki started the engine.
“I can’t. I’m driving, remember?” Takaki wasn’t quite sure how to handle Inoo when he was like this.
“We ought to take a train next time,” Inoo frowned so much that there were deep wrinkles across his forehead.
“Is there a reason you’re avoiding Daiki?”
“There has to be some train that goes out that far, right?”
“Is there a reason you’re avoiding my question?”
“I’m not avoiding him,” Inoo said. He crossed his arms to emphasize the statement and wouldn’t look over at Takaki.
Takaki shrugged best he could without taking his hands off the steering wheel. “You sort of give off that impression.”
Inoo sighed and uncrossed his arms. He tapped his fingers on the door handle instead. “I just think I need some time and space to sort everything out. Daiki’s just perceptive enough to know when something’s bothering me, but not perceptive enough to actually figure it out.”
“Nobody is a mind reader.”
“I just don’t want him to know, okay?”
Takaki wasn’t going to argue so he switched on the radio for a distraction. There was silence between them for a long time until a song they both liked started playing and before they knew it, they were singing along, louder and louder until their voices filled the entire car. By the time they reached the bar, they were both in a much better mood.
The place was a little more crowded than usual because it was Trivia Thursday but it wasn’t unbearably so. Takaki easily spotted Riku who’d already noticed when they walked in and was waving cheerfully to them. They went over to his table and he invited them to sit down. There was another person already there sitting with him.
“Shinji!” Takaki exclaimed, happy to see his other old friend. “Long time no see.”
“Good to see you back at the bar again,” Shinji said with a friendly smile.
Riku looked very happy that they were all together. “Inoo, let me introduce you to my partner, Shinji.”
Takaki glanced over at Inoo every now and then as the conversation began and they all started chatting and catching up. He wanted to make sure Inoo was having fun, and it looked like he was. He and Shinji were bonding over a shared love of rice and useless facts about former Prime Ministers of Japan. When they finally ran out of drinks, Takaki and Riku volunteered to go get more, leaving Inoo and Shinji behind to continue playing the trivia game and talk.
“I think we’ve found someone who likes trivia night almost as much as Shinji does,” Riku laughed as they leaned against the bar while they waited.
“Yeah, Inoo loves stuff like that too. You wouldn’t guess it because we’re Johnnys but he’s got an architecture degree from Meiji.”
“Wow,” Riku nodded. “You’re right. I wouldn’t have guessed, but that’s cool.”
Takaki nodded with a smile of agreement. Inoo had worked hard for that degree. He remembered how much time and effort Inoo had put into his final thesis project even while they were swamped with daily stage performances. It was amazing really.
“So have you told him that you like him yet?” Riku asked.
Takaki coughed at the sudden question and scowled at Riku. “I don’t like him,” he denied.
“But you’re very attracted to him. I have a sixth sense about these things,” Riku said, tapping his temple with one finger for emphasis. “Just then, you had a fond look on your face while you were thinking of him.”
“I can’t,” Takaki began. “We’re not…” He had no idea how to put what he wanted to say into words that would make sense to Riku.
The bartender had finally given them their drinks and there were about to head back but Riku turned to face him squarely head on. He looked about as serious as Takaki had ever seen him. “You can live in denial all you want,” he said, “but you’re just making yourself the miserable one. And I don’t want to watch you do that to yourself again.”
“I understand,” Takaki said with a nod, “and I appreciate your concern.” He knew Riku had a valid point but he had no intentions of letting Inoo know about any of his feelings. For now, he could live with their “friends with benefits” thing they had going on. No need to complicate or ruin things for anything less than certainty.
As the night wore on and Takaki’s alcohol buzz wore off, the crowd in the bar got thinner. Inoo had managed to win their group a few drinks in the trivia game, and Riku and Shinji had introduced them to some of their other friends (one of them was a drag queen who, Takaki noted, Inoo was strangely giddy about meeting). All in all, Inoo looked like he was having a good time. And if Inoo was happy, Takaki was happy.
Takaki was completely sober by the time they decided to leave but Inoo was still drunk enough to press a sloppy kiss to Takaki’s cheek when they got back into the car.
“What was that for?” Takaki asked. He resisted the urge to place his hand on the warm spot where Inoo’s lips had just been.
“Because I’m happy,” Inoo grinned.
Takaki hadn’t even taken the car out of park yet so he leaned over the middle console and kissed Inoo full on the lips. Inoo responded back with drunken eagerness. But as he felt Inoo’s hand roughly grab the collar of his shirt, he figured that maybe Inoo was a little too eager. He broke the kiss so he could focus on driving home.
“What was that for?”
“Because you’re happy,” Takaki teased.
From the corner of his eye, Takaki could see Inoo buckle his seatbelt and then focus looking out of the window at the cars they passed by on the highway. Finally, Inoo spoke.
“Riku and Shinji were so nice to me. Going there makes me feel like there’s a place that I belong. It’s like a weight off my shoulders. I don’t have to think carefully about everything I’m going to say and I don’t have to worry about people judging me for who I like. It’s just so damn wonderful.”
“Yeah, it is,” Takaki agreed, even as he thought carefully over his own words.
“So how long have you known Riku?” Inoo asked.
“Hm…” Takaki wondered, thinking back to a different time in his life and part that he’d never talked about with anyone in JUMP. “A few years, I suppose. But before I brought you to the bar, it had been a long time since I last saw him.”
“He and Shinji have been together for ten years at least, I think. They’ve always been really nice to me too.” Takaki thought back to nights where Riku and Shinji had offered him the couch in their apartment and mornings after when they had cooked him breakfast and made sure he was okay. He didn’t mention any of that to Inoo though.
“Are they…” Inoo began, but then hesitated. He looked towards Takaki and then back out at the highway. “Are they out together? I mean, do people know about their relationship? Do their families know?”
Unconsciously, Takaki gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. He couldn’t see in the dark but he was sure his knuckles had turned white. “Yeah, they are. But you should ask Riku about it, not me.” Takaki paused and then added, “and perhaps it’s best to ask about that to Riku when Shinji isn’t around.”
“Oh.” Inoo apparently understood that it was a sensitive subject.
Things got quiet in the car as they both got lost in their own thoughts. The radio was off too. Eventually Inoo, who had sobered up a bit, spoke again. But this time his voice was barely a whisper that Takaki had to strain to hear.
“Takaki, do you ever wish that you were normal?”
“There’s no such thing as normal,” Takaki answered. “There’s nothing wrong with us. And don’t you ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Inoo watched Takaki as he chatted with Keito and Yuto on the other side of the dance practice room. It was break time between sessions so the group was scattered around the room while they rested. The three of them were having some deep discussion about a band Yuto really liked, and they’d been trading Yuto’s ipod back and forth for the past fifteen minutes. Takaki looked happy and Inoo couldn’t help but note that that emotion suited him the best. His whole face lit up when he smiled. Inoo liked the way he laughed, wide-mouthed and carefree, as Keito said something silly.
“Hey Inoo-chan,” Yamada called out, breaking Inoo’s concentration. He hoped he wasn’t staring too obviously at Takaki from where he was sitting on the floor against the mirror.
Yamada slid down beside him on the dance floor and held out a magazine. “Hikaru and I are having an argument. Can you settle it?” He pointed to the photo on the page. It was a fashion magazine so the picture was of a lady in a nice flowery sundress standing on a hill. Her hair was loose and flowing in the apparent breeze. “I think the messy hair look is really nice but Hikaru thinks it would be hotter if she had a ponytail. What do you think?”
“Why are you asking me?” Inoo said, adding a laugh to make the question seem more like a joke. He didn’t really care how the girl had her hair and he didn’t understand why Yamada and Hikaru cared either. He would just have to make something up, like he sometimes did for all those magazine interview questions about love. He briefly thought about Takaki’s hair that was windswept from the time they’d gone hiking together. Just like his bright smile, that look had somehow suited him as well.
“Messy hair is better,” Inoo said. It was the answer Yamada wanted to hear anyway.
“Ha!” Yamada triumphantly waved his fist in the air and picked up his magazine. “See? Inoo agrees with me!” he called out to Hikaru. He gave a brief acknowledgement of thanks to Inoo and then ran off to gloat in person.
Since he was alone again, Inoo turned his attention back to Takaki. His conversation with Yuto and Keito had ended and he was alone now too, just looking at something on his phone. His eyebrows were drawn together, deep in thought at whatever was on the screen. For a moment, he glanced up and their eyes met across the room. Takaki shot a friendly smile his way and then looked back down at his phone.
With even that one brief look, Inoo was surprised to feel that his heart began to beat just a little bit faster. And he knew what that meant. He’d felt that feeling many times in college when he saw the guy he had a crush on. He just wasn’t expecting it with Takaki. This “friends with benefits” thing might be getting a little more complicated than they’d intended.
The fifth stop on the concert tour, Tokyo Dome, was not going as well for Inoo as it usually did. They were halfway through the show and BEST was waiting backstage for 7 to finish their solo section. Inoo had had some trouble with his outfit changes between songs and there was one point where his microphone completely failed. He’d switched it out quickly but he was still frustrated about it. He was feeling rather anxious about how the rest of the show was going to go. While he still had some time left, he quietly exited the dressing room and slipped into the bathroom. He just needed a quiet moment, he guessed, even though the echoes of the speakers still reverberated through the walls down here.
Not even a minute later, Takaki cautiously poked his head through the doorway.
Inoo was happy Takaki was concerned enough to come check on him, but he figured that was just something Takaki would do for anyone.
“I just needed a minute,” Inoo explained while he fiddled with the sequins on the sleeve of his jacket. He casually leaned against the counter and tried to look relaxed by the row of sinks so that Takaki wouldn’t worry.
It didn’t fool him. “Don’t worry about the problems. You know that happens to all of us. I mean, Yamada lost his shoe on stage earlier.” He laughed.
The unexpected reminder made Inoo laugh too since it was actually a little funny to watch Yamada frantically rush across the stage to retrieve the lost item in between songs earlier.
“Just relax,” Takaki said. He reached out and fixed the rumpled collar on Inoo’s suit that he hadn’t even noticed. “There. All better.”
Inoo was suddenly aware of how close Takaki was standing. He reached out and put his hands on Takaki’s shoulders, wondering if he should make a move or whether Takaki would. But just a moment later, Takaki couldn’t seem to resist pressing a kiss to Inoo’s lips. Inoo leaned against the bathroom sink as they continued to kiss, ignoring how the countertop dug into his back. A small part of his mind worried about someone walking in, but a larger part was enjoying the thrill of it.
“The song is almost over,” Takaki said in a soft voice when he pulled away. There was still a hint of worry for him in Takaki’s eyes.
Inoo could hear coming from above the faint echoes of Yamada’s voice holding out a long note. “I’m okay,” Inoo reassured him. “I’m okay.”
“After the show…?” Takaki questioned, not even needing to voice his invitation out loud.
“Yeah,” Inoo nodded. He fiddled with his sleeve again even though it looked fine and didn’t need fixing.
They left the bathroom to get ready to go back on stage, and Inoo went forward feeling more confident and assured than before. But as much as he loved performing, he couldn’t wait for the end of the concert.
After the concert was over and everyone went their separate ways for the night, Inoo climbed into Takaki’s car once again. Takaki thought that the passenger seat was beginning to feel like it was made just for Inoo. He smiled to himself at the idea. They had no destination in mind, so Takaki drove around aimlessly until he got to the beach. It was after midnight when they pulled into the sandy parking lot for the beach’s public access point and they were the only ones there. Instead of walking towards the waves like Takaki usually did at the beach, the two of them just sat together on the hood of his car. The ceaseless sounds of waves crashing against the shore were the only things they could hear.
“It was a rough start, but I think everything turned out okay,” Takaki said. He wanted to reach out and hold Inoo’s hand, but he thought it might seem inappropriate. He didn’t know what the boundaries were within their strange not-relationship. Riku had been absolutely right though; he was attracted to Inoo. Had been since before he even knew Inoo’s secret. And he didn’t know how much longer he could stand being so close and yet so far away.
“Yeah, things happen, but the next concert will be better,” Inoo said with a determined nod. The streetlight in the corner of the empty parking lot lit up the pale skin of Inoo’s face. “I’m glad we’re getting a short break in between shows though,” he added.
Takaki shifted slightly so that he would be a little farther away from Inoo’s hand. “Definitely,” he agreed. “You have any plans for the break?”
“Nah, just gonna catch up on sleep. You?”
Takaki thought briefly about the things he would like to do during their brief break: go visit some new places, see his nephews, watch some new TV shows. But he knew he probably wouldn’t get to do any of that stuff since having a break from the concerts didn’t necessarily equal having a break from other work. But he wished he had the time. There was a part of himself, one that was getting harder to ignore, that wanted to bring Inoo along on all of his adventures. They were starting to know each other really well as they spent more time together. It was small, unexpected things that he liked about Inoo. Like how, if there was one particular song on the radio, Inoo would always try to sing it enka-style but he’d always end up laughing hysterically at himself halfway through. Or whenever he’d see someone walking their pet poodle, he’d stop and take a picture of it to send to his sister because of some inside joke they had together. Or even like how Inoo would simply tap the side of his beer bottle twice before taking his first drink of it at the bar.
But Takaki didn’t know how to say any of this to Inoo. So he finally just answered the question with a nonchalant shrug. “Not really got any plans either.”
Inoo sighed and looked up at the dark sky. It was a cloudy night so the stars weren’t visible. “What time is it anyway?” he asked with a barely contained yawn.
“No wonder I’m so tired,” Inoo giggled.
“You want me to take you home?”
Inoo shook his head. “Not really. Getting home this late means a lecture from my parents, for sure. I ought to move out,” he laughed.
Takaki slid off of the hood and stood up. “You can stay at my place tonight if you want.” His parents wouldn’t mind. He used to bring home friends late at night during high school all the time. His mother, strangely enough, was usually excited about getting to cook breakfast for another person in the morning.
Inoo agreed and soon they were on their way. When they made it to the Takaki house, they tried to be as quiet as possible so they wouldn’t wake anyone up. It wasn’t the first time Takaki had snuck into his own house with a friend in tow, so he knew what to do. But with Inoo along this time, it seemed much more exciting. In his excited haste, however, Takaki ran into a chair in the kitchen, and all he could hear was Inoo’s muffled laughter through the dark. He grabbed Inoo by the wrist and led him the rest of the way to his bedroom. And maybe it was because he was too tired to think straight, but when they finally made it to his room he impulsively cupped his hands around Inoo’s face and kissed him.
“Wow,” Inoo teasingly whispered after the kiss, “and here I was, thinking we were just going to sleep.”
“Sorry, I just got carried away.”
Inoo gently kissed him back. “Don’t apologize.”
“Can I tell you a secret?” Takaki murmured but didn’t wait for an answer. “I find you intriguing.”
“Do you?” Inoo looked amused in his dimly-lit bedroom.
“Very fascinating,” Takaki continued. He leaned forward as if he was going to kiss Inoo again but only hovered a few centimeters away. There was a rational part of his mind telling him that his current attraction at the moment was probably based on adrenaline and sleep deprivation, but the rest of his mind just didn’t care. He just wanted what made him happy.
“You’re quite interesting yourself,” Inoo flirted right back. Neither one made a move to complete the kiss.
And, at that moment, Takaki wished desperately that he could just tell Inoo everything about how he felt.
“Daiki wants me to room with him when we’re in Kyoto,” Inoo explained to Takaki as they sat together on the couch in the break room before going back to dance practice. They had about ten more minutes before they were due back again. But Inoo was grateful for the more peaceful atmosphere here instead of the one in the dance room. When he’d left, Yabu and Hikaru had engaged in a weird opera-singing contest and it was not going so well.
“Well if that’s what you want to do…” Takaki answered.
“It’s not,” Inoo shook his head. “I wanted to room with you again.”
Takaki frowned while he screwed the cap back onto his water bottle. “As much as I enjoy sharing a room with you too, I think you should probably stop avoiding Daiki. He’s your best friend, right? How do you think he feels being ignored like this?”
Inoo sighed and picked at the frayed edge of the couch cushion. He was pretty sure the break room couch was older than he was. “I know. But he doesn’t know about us—”
“Just be yourself,” Takaki interrupted with a stern face that Inoo rarely saw him show anyone. “Just forget about it and have fun together like you guys usually do.”
Inoo opened his mouth to argue but Chinen happened to walk into the room at that moment. “Yuyan~ I was looking for you,” he said cheerfully. “Oh, hi Inoo-chan!” He waved to them both.
“Yeah? What’s up?” Takaki asked.
“I wanted to ask if you’d room with me for the next concert,” Chinen explained. He had settled down on the arm rest of the couch and it sagged a little from the extra weight. “I need a break from Yuto’s snoring. Please?” He put his hands together and closed his eyes to emphasize his request.
Takaki glanced at Inoo before answering yes. Inoo tried not to frown while Chinen was still in the room. It was almost impossible to be mad when Chinen was around.
“Thanks!” Chinen hopped down from the couch and headed towards the door. “Gotta run. Break’s gonna be over soon. See you both later.” And with that, he disappeared through the doorway, leaving them alone again.
“I guess that solves that problem,” Takaki laughed, but then faltered when Inoo showed his best not-amused face. “What? Have you ever had to share a room with Yuto? His snoring is pretty terrible.”
Inoo stood up. “I guess I’ll go find Daiki and tell him the good news.”
“That’s the spirit,” Takaki said, still completely oblivious.
“You’re an idiot,” Inoo added as he left the room.
Chinen carefully peeled his shoes off and placed them by the doorway as soon as he stepped into the hotel room, reminding Takaki of the fact that they hadn’t shared a room together since their trip to France. He remembered that Chinen was a good roommate, not messy with his belongings or loud when he wanted to sleep. If he couldn’t share a room with Inoo on the tour, then Chinen was a great substitute.
They talked for a long time about the concert and their families and upcoming plans, leaving a pleasant atmosphere settled over the room. But right as Takaki was about to go to sleep early for the night, Chinen said something that made him pause.
“I heard you and Inoo talking the other day.”
Takaki, who was already halfway under the covers of his bed, turned to look at Chinen. His younger bandmate had his nose buried in a magazine, making his comment seem like a casual offhand remark. But Takaki knew Chinen better than that. “Oh yeah?” Takaki pretended to be nonchalant.
“I’m curious,” Chinen continued. He flipped a page in the magazine but Takaki was almost certain that he wasn’t reading it. “I’m curious why you and Inoo have been spending a lot of time together lately. Did you finally find something in common?”
Takaki just nodded. It wasn’t like he was obligated to give out the details of his every day conversations with Inoo. And he was a little worried that Chinen might have overheard something that he shouldn’t have. Takaki had promised to keep Inoo’s secret and also protect his own, so there wasn’t much he could discuss with Chinen, no matter how trustworthy his bandmate was.
“Listen,” Chinen peeked at him from over the top of the magazine. “I think we could all tell that Inoo has been upset about something for months, but I know I wasn’t able to figure it out. But whatever it was, you’ve done something to help him. I can tell that he’s much more… I don’t know, worry-free lately. I’m glad about that.”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to help him,” Takaki admitted. He scratched the side of his head and wondered how much he could say.
“But here’s something else I’ve noticed recently,” Chinen said as he tossed the magazine down, leaving the pretext behind completely. He shifted so that he was sitting in a more comfortable position. “Whatever you did to make Inoo happy has made you the depressed one now.”
Takaki looked away. Was he really so obvious that even Chinen could tell that he was suffering from hiding his feelings?
“Chii, have you ever wanted to say something but couldn’t figure out how?”
Chinen narrowed his eyes in a skeptical look. “Since when have you been one to stop and think about what to say?” He gave Takaki a lighthearted laugh. “Just blurt it all out like you usually do. Won’t you feel better afterwards if you do?”
Chinen had a point. Takaki wasn’t usually so careful about his words. Sure, he kept important personal issues to himself, but usually he didn’t hesitate to express his feelings about other things. Thinking about his dilemma, Takaki rolled onto his back and spread his arms out wide.
“If only life was so easy,” he said with a sigh.
Without warning, Chinen took the opportunity to throw a pillow at Takaki and it connected squarely in his face. “What did you tell me when we were in France?” Chinen reminded him. “What was it? ‘Go for it and screw the consequences?’”
“I was talking about eating that sketchy-looking food we bought.” Takaki lobbed the pillow back at Chinen but he expertly avoided the flying object.
“You know what I mean,” Chinen shrugged with an air of smugness, knowing that he’d made his point. “Pretty sure that advice applies to most any situation.”
Takaki went to sleep that night with lots of words rattling around the edges of his brain. Chinen’s words. Riku’s words. And even Inoo’s words too. He could still hear Inoo’s whispered voice from his bedroom, calling him interesting in a tone which made that sound like a good thing. It was finally time for him to make a decision. For better or worse.
Because he couldn’t keep drawing this out much longer.
Being in the passenger seat of Takaki’s car was becoming almost a habit for Inoo. Here he was again, riding along a familiar highway and wondering what Takaki had planned. He hadn’t said much more than “do you wanna go hang out?” earlier, but it was enough for Inoo to agree. Instead of asking questions, Inoo just appreciated the unknown adventure and waited patiently even though he was secretly just dying to ask. Finally, he recognized the park they had gone hiking together in before their first trip to the bar.
“So we’re climbing a mountain today, huh?” Inoo asked with a grin. The mountain was more like a tall hill, but he wasn’t going to stress over the details.
“We’re climbing a mountain,” Takaki confirmed with his usual happy laugh.
Since the concert in Kyoto when he had shared a hotel room with Daiki and Takaki had roomed with Chinen, Takaki had acted more distant with him than usual. He wasn’t sure whether he’d done anything to make Takaki upset or if maybe he was just having a rough time lately, but thankfully either way, he seemed to be in a good mood today. He’d been singing Christmas carols in the car earlier, not seeming to mind that it was the middle of summer.
“Did you and Daiki patch things up?” Takaki asked as they began to climb up the trail, winding their way up past tree branches and tree roots to get dirt all over their shoes. The path was wide enough to walk side by side and they each adjusted their pace so that they could walk together.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Inoo answered. “We had fun actually. It was nice to catch up on everything I’d missed out while I was avoiding him. You were right. I shouldn’t have done that to him.”
“That’s great,” Takaki smiled, and Inoo was glad that he’d listened to Takaki’s advice. “Were you able to tell him that you’re gay too?”
The smile slipped off of Inoo’s face right as he slipped over a rock in the path. He paused a moment to regain his balance. “I couldn’t,” he admitted. “Not yet.”
Takaki nodded but didn’t say anything.
It only took a few more minutes before they reached the overlook point at the top. No one else was around, which apparently wasn’t that unusual Takaki told him. Inoo wiped a few tiny beads of sweat off of his forehead and admired the spectacular view again while Takaki picked out a nice rock to sit on.
“Come sit with me,” Takaki asked and gestured for Inoo to fill the empty spot beside him. He made a show of dusting off the rock for Inoo even though he knew the dirt didn’t really bother Inoo that much.
Again, Inoo looked out at the amazingly wide view of the land as he settled down. “So, what, are we just admiring nature today?” he joked.
“I like to come here and think sometimes,” Takaki said. His voice had changed to a more distant tone, like he was thinking about something else, and his eyes were focused on the horizon.
“It is a nice place,” Inoo agreed. He noticed Takaki’s unsure look, like he was having an internal war with himself over whether he should speak up or not. The slight frown on his face was putting a wrinkle into his cheek.
“I have been thinking a lot lately,” Takaki spoke after a long silence. “I can’t keep doing this.”
Inoo looked at Takaki’s serious expression and felt a pit of anxiety well up in his stomach. He didn’t know what this was referring to but he had a pretty good guess. He tried to ignore the sudden nervous pounding of his heart and listen to Takaki’s words.
“I know we were sort of half joking about the friends-with-benefits thing but it has to stop. I can’t keep doing it anymore.”
Inoo had no idea what to say in response to that. He hadn’t been expecting Takaki to bring him all the way out here to the middle of nowhere to tell him that he didn’t want to spend time together anymore. It didn’t make any sense. But if that’s what Takaki wanted, he supposed he would have to respect his wish even thought that wasn’t what Inoo wanted at all.
“But let me explain,” Takaki said. His frown had deepened when Inoo hadn’t said anything. He reached out and placed his hand gently on Inoo’s wrist. “I have been trying to ignore my feelings for a while now, but the truth is that I really like you. I mean that I want more than just a makeout session whenever we’re alone. You make me very happy and I want to share that happiness with you all the time. I want a real relationship. But I don’t know if that’s what you want, and I know it’s complicated because we work together. And truthfully, I’m just scared because things ended really badly the last time I even attempted a relationship with someone. So I’m sorry because I can’t keep on going with the way things are now.”
Having blurted all that out with barely enough time to breathe, Takaki finally took a moment to even out his breathing. He couldn’t look at Inoo so he stared down at his fingers, still resting on Inoo’s arm.
The conversation had taken such an unexpected turn that Inoo almost felt like laughing. It had sounded like a breakup instead of a love confession with the way Takaki had started off. Inoo could tell how flustered he was, but it was just exactly like him to speak his feelings all at once without thinking about how it sounded.
Silently, Inoo moved his arm to grasp Takaki’s hand and then he leaned over so that his forehead was resting on Takaki’s shoulder. He laughed softly before confessing himself. “To be honest, I have been trying to think of a way to tell you the same thing for a few weeks now.”
With that, the tension was broken and Takaki laughed. He patted the back of Inoo’s head with his free hand. “So is that a yes I’ll date you answer?”
“Yes,” Inoo laughed. He straightened back up and pressed a soft kiss to Takaki’s cheek. “Even though your confession was the complete opposite of romantic.”
“I promise to make it up to you in the future.” Takaki grinned.
“Can we take this slow?” Inoo asked, returning to seriousness for a moment. “You’re the first boyfriend I’ve ever been able to have. This is going to take some getting used to for me. I had basically given up on the idea that I would ever be able to date anyone.”
“But I still want to room with you for the rest of the concert tour,” Inoo added with a flirty smile. “Because that’s the easiest way for me to get to kiss you.”
Takaki smirked. “You mean you don’t enjoy making out in the backseat of my car?” He had leaned forward so gradually that Inoo hadn’t even noticed until he realized Takaki was hovering just centimeters away from his face. Inoo closed the gap between them with a slow kiss. He didn’t realize it was possible but kissing Takaki seemed even more enjoyable now that they were officially dating.
“Kissing anywhere is fine, really,” Inoo teased when they pulled away again.
“Let’s take a photo to remember this,” Takaki suggested. He searched his pockets for his phone. Once he pulled it out, he was about to take the picture when Inoo stopped him.
“Wait, let’s get a better view.” He turned around on the rock so that his back was facing the open scenery instead of the woods they’d just hiked through. Takaki did the same and then held up the phone again. Inoo wrapped his arm around Takaki and drew himself close so that the sides of their faces were touching. He grinned as widely as possible but didn’t think his face could adequately express the amount of happiness he was feeling at the moment.
The wide open view behind them stretched out to the horizon, spreading out the new wondrous possibilities as far as they could see.