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Stroke the Right Nerve

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"And this," their guide says, "is a St. Andrew's cross."

This week's D no Arashi has brought Jun and Ohno to a BDSM club, its bright signs promising domination and debauchery in an otherwise innocuous building on the outskirts of Roppongi. Their guide, Egawa-san, started by showing them around the main room, where all manner of guests — many of whom will have to be blurred out in editing, and not just to protect their identities — were mingling and dancing to the loud, thumping music. They moved on to see some of the private rooms, all empty of course, each one stocked with shelves and chests overflowing with menacing-looking toys and shiny costumes of black leather or colorful latex. Now they've arrived to one of the larger, public rooms, where, Egawa-san explained, guests will often gather to perform and watch "scenes."

He didn't explain what kind of scenes, but Jun can imagine.

There isn't a performance going on right now, but there are still guests wandering around and chatting, most of them too preoccupied to notice the two idols and their camera crew standing up on the stage. The room's black walls and ceiling give it the illusion of being dark and shadowy, but it's actually pretty well-lit; now, as they stand there on the stage, Jun can see every detail of the huge X-shaped apparatus: the thorny pattern carved into the black, lacquered wood; the sturdy frame it's attached to, keeping it upright; the cherry-red leather cuffs at all four corners, each one accented with a shiny metal buckle.

"How's it work?" Ohno asks. He's been surprisingly wide-eyed and alert from the moment they walked through the door.

Egawa-san steps closer to the cross, reaching up to point out the restraints on the top two corners. "The submissive's wrists are secured here," he says, then points down to the bottom corners. "And their ankles are secured here. They can be positioned either facing the cross or with their back to it." He stands in front of the cross, facing it with his limbs spread-eagle to demonstrate. "This position is good for things like whipping and flogging."

Ohno repeats to himself in an awed whisper: "Whipping and flogging..." It's so quiet that Jun barely catches it, but when he glances over, Ohno is looking at the cross with an expression of pure wonder, completely unaware of the camera zooming in on his stunned expression. His mouth is even open a little bit.

Egawa-san turns back to them and continues, "It's stationary, but there are similar models, called Catherine wheels, that can be spun around so the submissive can hang upside down."

"That sounds awesome," Ohno says, louder this time, and Jun can't help but agree: it does sound awesome.

Egawa-san smiles and says, "Would one of you like to try it?"

Jun's eyebrows shoot way up, but before he can say anything, Ohno answers with an enthusiastic "Yeah!"

Jun reaches out to grab Ohno's sleeve as he leaps forward, tugging him back a step. He isn't sure what he's feeling all of a sudden, but he doesn't like the idea of Ohno getting strung up on that thing with all these people around to see it. Ohno looks back at him with big, pleading eyes, but Jun ignores him and asks Egawa-san, "Is it safe?"

"Completely," Egawa-san assures him. "The frame keeps it stable, so it won't fall over while anyone's on it, and the restraints are made to be comfortable. They won't hurt or leave any marks."

None of that does anything to assuage Jun's concern, but Ohno looks so excited and Jun can't think of a rational reason to deny him — plus, the staff behind the camera are all giving him a thumbs-up — so he lets go of Ohno's sleeve and snaps, "Just be careful." It's directed at Ohno just as much as Egawa-san.

As he stands there and watches Ohno slink out of his jacket, Jun starts to feel uneasy and itchy all over, like his own clothes are suddenly too tight. Egawa-san guides Ohno until he's standing right up against the cross, his back to it, and Ohno helpfully spreads his arms and legs so that Egawa-san can buckle in his wrists, then his ankles, the cameraman inching closer to catch every detail. "How does that feel?" Egawa-san asks. Ohno wiggles around a bit, and sure enough, he's completely secure.

Completely helpless, Jun thinks, and then stops there before he can follow that thought any further.

"S'good," Ohno answers, distracted. He's craning his neck, looking left and right to see the leather cuffs wrapped snugly around his wrists. He pauses, then whines, "Man, now my nose itches."

The camera crew and Egawa-san all laugh, and Jun flashes a token smile only because he knows he's still being filmed. But he drops it when he realizes there are other voices laughing too, down on the main floor where a small crowd has gathered. Jun wants to yells at all of them to leave, but it's just a handful of people and they're not getting in the way of anything, so he bites his tongue.

Then someone — a woman dressed head-to-toe in fishnet — calls out, "He likes it! Hit him with something!"

It's loud enough for everyone to hear, even over the conversation still going on throughout the rest of the room. Ohno's face lights up at the suggestion, and, seeing his reaction, Egawa-san asks, "Would you like to try that?"

Ohno says "Yes!" at the same time that Jun says "No."

"C'mon, Matsujun," Ohno says, not particularly authoritative considering the position he's in. "It'll be fine!"

Jun leans closer and hisses quietly enough to keep the crowd from hearing, "I'm not letting some stranger come up here and... whip you, or whatever."

From behind the camera, one of the staff says, "You should do it, Matsumoto-san!"

Jun is peripherally aware of Ohno giving some enthusiastic response, but he can't process the words. He can't think. He feels like his blood has run cold, and at the same time, his skin feels hot all over — at his neck under his collar, high on his cheeks where he must be turning bright red, on his palms that have begun to sweat. His mind is totally blank, his legs and arms completely paralyzed.

He wants to refuse — he wants to run screaming from this whole thing — because of course he wants to be the one to do it, but not in front of all these people — not on camera

But the staff are all motioning for him to go on, and then someone produces some kind of torture device from an unseen stash, and Jun is reaching out to accept it before he even realizes what he's doing. Part of him is still shrieking in protest, especially when the cameraman rushes forward to get a close-up, but his fear is quickly overshadowed by a dawning sense of giddy, shocked anticipation as he examines the thing in his hands: countless strips of soft suede leather, every other piece dyed a deep, royal blue. Oh, he thinks, I get it. Black and blue. Each strip is over a foot long, and they're all connected to a sturdy handle wrapped in yet more blue leather.

"This is a flogger," Egawa-san is explaining, somewhere beyond the frantic buzzing in Jun's head. "If used the right way, it can provide a very intense, pleasurable experience for the submissive."

Jun looks away from the endless leather, up to Ohno's face, all wide eyes and nodding encouragement. He repeats Egawa-san's words in his mind, the way Ohno did earlier: An intense, pleasurable experience... He swallows down his uncertainty and asks, "Are you sure this is okay, Captain?"

Ohno nods, grinning wide enough to show his teeth.

Egawa-san says, "For your first try, consider aiming for his calves. Floggers are usually used on the submissive's back, but if you don't know what you're doing, it can be much more painful than you intended. It's best to start slow."

The thought of causing Ohno any real, accidental pain is terrifying. But the thought of being the kind of person who does know what he's doing...

He gives the flogger a few practice swings first, wanting to get a sense for how it moves, how it feels in his hand, how the leather strips swish through the air. He tests it on his own arm and is satisfied to find that, although it definitely stings, it isn't monumentally painful. When he feels like he can aim with any amount of accuracy, he steps into position and bows, long and low, in front of Ohno.

"Sorry, Captain," he says, glancing up. Ohno's only response is an excited smile, focused entirely on Jun.

The first strike does land a little higher than Jun intended, more towards Ohno's knee than his calf, but Jun's spike of worry vanishes pretty quickly. It's chased away by Ohno's breathless "Ah—!" and the way he jumps in surprise, his arms and legs jerking briefly against the restraints. The look on his face, more amused than pained, is what finally pushes Jun into a burst of laughter. It just bubbles up out of him, surprised and maybe a little hysterical — he can't help it. He's utterly amazed by what just happened.

"Again?" Ohno prompts, staring right at him, his eyes not quite as wide-open as they were before.

So Jun tries again, aiming higher than the first one. His form is already improving: the leather strips hit Ohno right up on the soft part of his thigh.

This time, instead of an innocent cry of surprise, Ohno outright moans as he writhes against the cross, his hands clenching and unclenching above the restraints.

Jun doesn't laugh this time.

The room is suddenly, unbearably loud. The crowd around them has nearly doubled in size, but Jun realizes it all in a rush, like one minute there were only a few bystanders, and then it was just him and Captain, and now all these people have appeared out of nowhere — Egawa-san, the camera crew, the chatty guests who have no business watching let alone commentating. When Jun twists around to see, there are at least a dozen people down there on the main floor, looking up at what he's doing and egging him on, some in a distinctly more vulgar fashion than others, each lewd suggestion now caught on film as the cameraman turns around to get a shot of the audience. Jun looks down at the bundle of leather in his hands, and then back up, to Ohno's rosy, expectant face.

Jun drops the flogger as if it scorched him. For a few seconds he can't move or think, his mind a staticky mess of blind panic. The guys are going to see this. Everyone is going to see this.

It feels like forever that he stands there, frozen and horrified, aware only of the thunderous beating of his heart and the way the staff are starting to send each other curious glances. It isn't until Egawa-san reaches for the abandoned flogger that Jun finally comes back to his senses. He rushes to pick it up, apologizing as he hands it back to Egawa-san. He feels so shaky inside that he's genuinely surprised not to be trembling for real.

"Let's move on," he suggests, perhaps a bit more loudly than he'd meant to.

From his spot on the cross, Ohno mumbles a quiet "Oh," unabashedly disappointed. He doesn't say anything else as Egawa-san undoes the restraints around his ankles and wrists, but as soon as he's free, he looks back at the cross and announces, "That was fun!"

The camera crew all start laughing, and Egawa-san is smiling like he's just been told a delightful secret. Ohno is laughing too as he puts his jacket back on, tiny chuffs under his breath, the way he does when he's still stuck on a joke someone told several minutes earlier. Jun tugs him closer, feeling simultaneously embarrassed and aggressively protective.

Finally, Egawa-san turns away, towards the steps that lead down to the main floor. "This way," he says, already moving ahead of them. "I'll show you the medical equipment next." Ohno follows immediately, but he stops near the edge of the stairs, looking back over his shoulder to wait for Jun.

Somehow, Jun gets his feet to move. He catches up to Ohno and reaches out to pull Ohno's hand into his, irritated by the camera crew following close behind but unable to resist. Ohno isn't laughing anymore, but when he glances over and meets Jun's gaze, there's still a faint sparkle in his eyes.

Jun feels a little ping in his chest when Ohno slots his fingers through Jun's and gives a gentle squeeze in return. They step down from the stage, the camera crew rushes ahead of them to grab some more footage of the guests, and Ohno says, too quiet for anyone else to hear, "Don't worry, Matsujun."

Jun waits, but nothing else comes. Ohno doesn't explain what Jun shouldn't worry about, or why he shouldn't be worrying. Jun takes comfort in it all the same.

And, as it turns out, Captain was right. Their segment on the club doesn't survive editing after a producer decides, for reasons unknown, that Sho and Aiba investigating what happens to discarded egg shells would make for better television.

Jun agrees that it's probably for the best.