The ticking on the clock makes time go slower - makes every second known, filling each minute to the brim with overflowing sound. It makes Yoko's task at hand feel more like he's running in water, and every click reminds him that his life is made of millions of ticks that are quickly slipping away. He feels a slight bead of sweat forming on his brow, the starched white shirt starting to stick to his skin, especially on the arms. He's attempting to answer interview questions for a magazine, questions he's answered a hundred times before. His mind is blank, save for the echoes of the ticking clock, and the page remains as white as his shirt, unmarred by the ink of his pen.
A page of questions, simple questions - What kind of girl is your type? - sitting there before Yoko at the desk, pen in hand. How will you propose? Alone, he waits for his turn, while the clock dictates the time. Not just the minutes of the day, but the year too, as Yoko suddenly feels like he's back in grade school, staring nervously at a blank math test while time counts down, noticeably and loud, to his inevitable failure. If you could go out with any of the other members...
"We're ready for you," an assistant says, poking her head in. "You're paired with Murakami."
Of course. With each step through the studio, out of the waiting room and down the hall, the monotonous ticks of the clock fade - only to be replaced by the sharp clicks of the assistant's heels on the floor. His time now measured in footsteps - physical length. Yoko's life is one less hallway long. Only a thousand left to go, maybe.
Hina is thirty-two heel-clicks late. He is apologetic, as usual, though in his own way - nodding his head but retaining his bright, fanged smile. "Let's go," he says. In Hina's mind, lack of progression is merely a waste of time. He shakes the photographer's hand and Yoko knows there's only so many handshakes left in their lives.
"We're going to have you sit on the floor, first," the photographer explains.
Both Yoko and Hina are professionals, and immediately start bending their knees, palms reaching for the cool floor - facing each other as they slide down. Yoko's shoulders start to relax. They have a smile for each other as they finally sit, side by side, arms touching.
Hina has worked too much lately and hasn't slept enough, his minutes filled with filming and the added rehearsals for his upcoming play. Yoko knows it. He can count how many hours Hina's missed by the size of the dark circles under his eyes.
"If you could," the photographer starts. He glances away to the side - one of the lights isn't to his liking after all. "Hang on," he says, walking away from the camera to fix it.
Hina exhales deeply and turns his body, resting all of his weight against Yoko's back - unloading the burden of weary days and work-filled nights. Yoko can feel the warmth through their clothes, the heat of Hina's skin through starched white shirts. It's a heat that doesn't appear often, denied to Yoko as he keeps a ready shy distance from other people. After all, coworkers only diminish the number of handshakes left - friends have at most a pat on the arm to give. It isn't worth the contact, he knows.
But Hina's heat is different.
"Don't fall asleep," Yoko mock-grumbles, leaning more and more forward - his shirt sticking under his arms, the collar uncomfortable against his neck.
Time passes by the rise and fall of Hina's breath, seconds replaced by the expansion of his chest with every lungful. "You're heavy," Yoko complains. The magazine staff's actions seem slow - as far as he can tell they are still talking about the bulb three exhales later. The assistant walks out and her heel-clicking slightly butts in, but only for an exhale.
"Stop complaining," Hina replies, his voice low and scratchy. But Yoko can hear the smile in it, as time lays out before him like a slow, lazy river.
"I think we've got it fixed," the photographer says. "Ah, Murakami, please stay like that, with your eyes closed! That's perfect!"
Hina has no objections and settles further into his lean. Yoko can feel the weight of every frame of film Hina's given to variety tv, every greeting said in back-to-back Janibens. The weight of every bright, fanged smile handed out to staff and coworkers and audience alike, now laid on the strength of his own shoulders.
The fixed light's brightness washes out Hina's warmth. "That's good," the photographer says and starts clicking his camera.
Clicking. Each exhale had taken time and gently pulled at its ends, guided it away from the center and extended it like the limbs of a graceful dancer - infinite and soothing and welcoming to Yoko. But the clicking is like a cut - minutes no longer enjoyably endless - instead full of the sound of scissors taking every moment and stopping it, dictating time by the number of clicks that could be stuffed into a second. And each second a second forever gone.
Yoko pulls his left hand away from its resting place on his leg. His fingers walk along the sheet they're posed in front of, a number of wrinkles that have to be passed to his goal. There are seven-hundred clicks, he's sure, before he brushes up against Hina's right hand - the roughness of sport-worn palms contrasting to Yoko's soft own. He slides his fingertips over Hina's, curling gently around the thumb.
"What are you doing?" Hina quietly laughs, unmoving.
"Why do you get to sleep?" Yoko replies, quickly taking his hand away as if he had put it there by accident - an error of shifting weight - back to his leg in less than two clicks. "I wish I could come to work and sleep."
He falls through the rabbit hole. In reality he's still sitting on the floor, his back to someone he has known since he was young - someone he navigated the waters of childhood with. But he feels like he's floating somewhere below instead, in a hole looking up at the scene and counting time by how many falls he takes. Sweat keeps sprinkling his forehead, tempered under the bright light, threatening to break free and ruin the shoot; but it feels cold to Yoko, now that time has slowed down again in the wrong way.
"Great, let's try it with a higher elevation," the photographer says. Assistants bring in a box and Hina, on the edge of some actual dream, takes time before he sits up. He smiles again at Yoko.
Yoko sits on the corner and they are shoulder to shoulder once more. There's a crawling warmth in Yoko's thighs, moving into his crotch - the tingling of blood flow, arteries opening and muscles stretching. Sitting has become uncomfortable, but his favorite kind of discomfort. Hina's hand is on the box in between them, close to his, and Yoko can only glance down for a second before the clicking starts anew. Hina's so close that he could stretch his smallest finger out to touch Yoko - simply slide it with each click until, thirty clicks later, their fingers are together - purposeful skin against skin.
But Hina doesn't move.
Yoko quickly crosses his legs, replacing what was once comforting dis-ease with harsh pinching, the constriction of clothes and posture. His once again defeated shy smile is exactly what the photographer wants. Yoko doesn't give it on purpose.
Hina glances over in between shots, and then crosses his legs too.
Four thousand clicks, six hundred exhales, a decade of magazine questions and God knows how many actual minutes later, they are done. "Excuse me," a manager says, quietly and politely. "Yokoyama has other work to attend to."
Yoko smooths down the front of his pants and stands. A lifetime will pass before he'll see Hina again. He wants to turn, bend forward and let the warmth run over his lips, under his nose - savor the feel of Hina's shirt and back during that rare contact he longs for that is always kept at a finger's distance.
The manager takes a step forward.
Yoko nods at the magazine staff and catches Hina's eye. "You better not fall asleep during Recomen!" He walks away, through the doors of the studio and toward the front. One more less hallway in his life. Yoko looks at the floor as he walks, the ticking of a clock somewhere flooding in his ears and Hina further and further behind him. His throat is dry and his lips bare. "Not today," Yoko sighs.
In the studio, Hina watches Yoko's back as he leaves, unblinking until the last glimpse of Yoko's shoe disappears around a corner. He smiles - not bright and fanged but soft - as he rubs his fingertips across his thumb, the touch nothing like the smooth, tentative embrace of Yoko's hand. "Maybe tomorrow."