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what i can save you from

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"Didn't they invite you?"

Kouji gives him a blank look. "Why on earth would they invite me?"

"Why not? You're popular, charming, an icon among icons, a legend among agency legends—"

"Are you drunk?"

"Not yet," Tomo replies cheerfully. "But that could change."

Kouji rolls his eyes. He pays for the drinks—plus a little extra for the bartender, who nods his thanks to "Kouji-kun," as he'd been greeted earlier when they sat down. Strange, to think of Kouji as a regular here. Or anywhere. Tomo didn't think he left the house enough to make an impression on any establishment.

Then again, what does he know. He lifts his beer in a mock toast. "Thanks for the drink."

"You're buying the next round," Kouji informs him.

"So much for a senpai's responsibility. Hey, you think they made Maa-kun pay for everything at the reunion?"

"Technically, Shirota outranks him."

Tomo snorts. "Yeah, good luck getting Shirota to pay for anything."

"Speaking from experience?"

"What can I say," Tomo deadpans, "he just wasn't that into me."

Kouji rolls his eyes again, but he's struggling not to smile. Tomo gives himself a congratulatory pat on the back. Sometimes it takes a couple drinks to get Kouji to loosen up. Not today. And that's good. Because it gets real tiring, after all this time, working that hard for someone who's supposedly your friend.

Best friend might be pushing it. Kouji has the potential to be the best at a lot of things, but friendship isn't one of them.

It's not exactly a secret. "Did you get disinvited because you're fighting with Arayan again?"

"It's not like he was even there."

"Did he get disinvited?"

"Possibly."

Tomo waits for him to elaborate. Kouji doesn't.

"Dude, are you two actually fighting?"

He expects a brusque, Of course not. He expects to keep nagging, poking and prying at whatever opening Kouji gives him before ultimately giving in and spilling the beans, because he always does in the end.

Instead, Kouji says, "Araki talks a lot of shit."

Arayan's a jackass, echoes a memory from years ago. Don't believe any of the shit he says.

Tomo replies, "Yeah, what else is new?"

"Nothing. It's such old news, honestly." Kouji's tone is somewhere between disdainful and so-done-with-all-this-bullshit. "Him and his condescending attitude about everybody else's life choices. As if he's got a leg to stand on. You'd think somebody would've told him to get the hell over himself already, but half of them actually buy into his fake-ass princely persona, and the other half have been missing their balls since approximately 2005."

Tomo laughs into his drink. He doesn't need to look to know Kouji is more than a little pleased with himself for that one. As he should be.

"If somebody could hear you right now," Tomo says between snickers, "your upstanding reputation would have died on the spot."

"My reputation's overrated."

"As they so often are." Tomo props his chin on one hand. "So. Between the two, which are you?"

"Neither. That's the point. Half of them—"

"But then it's not half, is it? You make up a one percent in there somewhere." Tomo waggles his eyebrows. "Math."

"You flunked out of algebra."

"So did you."

"And so we're here," Kouji concludes, "selling our bodies and our souls to the entertainment industry. Stay in school, kids. Don't do drugs. And don't enter Junon talent competitions."

"You regret it?" Tomo asks.

Kouji gives him a sharp look. Tomo just smiles back.

"What's with that, all of a sudden," Kouji asks.

"You brought it up." Tomo drinks his beer. "So. Is this your bi-annual quarter life crisis, or is it something else this time?"

"I do not have a bi-annual quarter— That really doesn't add up."

"Yeah, but I flunked out of math, so what do I know?" He grins at the sour look that Kouji gives him.

"Shut up." Kouji picks up his own drink. "You know plenty. More than other people, anyway."

"More than Arayan?"

"Obviously."

That weird, hanging silence again.

Tomo says, "So why do you think he skipped the Tenimyu reunion? He must've been invited. Kazuki's been going on and on about it, and if they got even Adachi to go—"

"That was Zukki's doing, I bet."

"I thought it was Yuuya."

"Does it matter?" Kouji sounds impatient. "I ran into him at the office, so he obviously didn't have a schedule conflict. But I guess it doesn't fit his cool kid image. Because being an anthropomorphic sword is obviously so much cooler than being a high school tennis player."

"Junior high."

Kouji downs the rest of his beer. "Whatever. Why are we even talking about this?"

Tomo signals the bartender for a refill. "You brought it up."

"You keep saying that, and it's never true."

"You said, and I quote, 'Araki talks a lot of shit.' And then refused to elaborate." Tomo pays for the drinks this time, as promised. He replaces Kouji's empty glass. "You want to talk about it or not?"

"I didn't come here to talk about Araki."

"Why did you come here then?"

"Because you asked me to?" Kouji gives him a look like Tomo's the one who can't read a fucking signal to save his life. "So I should be the one asking you. You wanted to talk about something?"

Tomo pretends to think about it for a second. "Nope," he decides, before leaning an arm on Kouji's shoulder and grinning at the put-upon look that elicits. "I just missed you, is all."

"I saw you literally two days ago."

"Yeah, for work. That hardly counts as quality couple time."

"Oh my god," says Kouji, and makes no move to squirm away or otherwise shake him off. "Why are you like this?"

"Why is it a crime to love you, Kouji-kun?"

"Because you're lying your ass off? I've seen you make that face at me about a billion times before, in case you forgot—I was also there for all the fanservice segments."

Is he giving you a hard time? whispers another useless fragment of memory.

Tomo straightens up. "You're no fun anymore."

"I'm all fun," Kouji says with no discernible change in expression. "I happen to be very popular, don't you know? An icon among icons, a legend among legends."

"A very busy man," Tomo agrees. "So I guess you won't be showing up for any reunions either."

"What's the point, honestly? It's not like we were best friends with any of them to begin with."

"You'll break Aibacchi's heart."

"I wouldn't be the first," Kouji says snidely, and Tomo laughs despite himself. "What are you getting all nostalgic for anyway? Jealous that Hirata hasn't invited you to any of their yearly get-togethers?"

"He's still too scared to even talk to me," Tomo says, and Kouji snickers into his beer, because yeah, that is—objectively speaking—still hilarious. "Did I tell you about that time he had Makki invite me to drinks, because he wanted to see me?"

"I assume Makki was supposed to keep that part secret."

"He tried, bless his heart."

Kouji sips his beer. "So what's up with them these days?"

"Your casual disinterest is completely believable, I want you to know."

"Shut up. I know you have gossip. You always have gossip."

Tomo hums a sound of agreement. "Trade you."

"For what?"

"Why Arayan didn't go to the reunion."

"For god's sake, why are you still hung up on that—"

"Because you have such a fascinating reaction every time I mention Arayan." Tomo grins at the disgruntled look on Kouji's face. "Spill. What was that all about?"

"I mean, what is it ever about, when it comes to Araki?"

"His impeccable idol image, usually."

Kouji snorts. "Yeah, professionally speaking. This is personal."

Tomo raises an eyebrow. "It's about Zukki?"

"Adachi." Kouji gives him a funny look. "Weren't you there for all this?"

"Yeah, but I wasn't really paying attention. What about Adachi?"

"Some fight about how he left the agency. Apparently they're still pissed at each other."

Tomo raises an eyebrow. "Wasn't that literally like, ten years ago?"

"Something like that. I don't know what Araki's problem is. It'd be one thing if Adachi dropped out because of a scandal or whatever, but he just quit because he didn't want to deal with the bullshit anymore—which, honestly, I don't blame him. If you're not cut out for it, then you're not cut out for it."

True enough. "Still. That's a long time to hold a grudge."

"Yeah, well, Araki thinks it's his business what other people do with their lives. He was going on about it, when I ran into him." Kouji says it like the words leave a bad taste in his mouth. "Mr. High-and-Mighty judging the rest of us for not living up to our potential or whatever it is he thinks we ought to be doing. High profile work, according to him. Because everything else is just a waste and a sign of some fatal personal flaw."

"The fuck." Actually. Tomo puts down his drink. "Where does he get off saying you're not doing enough?"

"It's not like Adachi isn't doing real work either," Kouji says instead. "He's dropped off the radar, yeah, but he's still working. And if he has his own reasons for why he'd rather stay out of the limelight, then that's also none of Araki's business."

And that doesn't track with the rest. If Araki has a bad habit of making other people's business his own, then Kouji has the opposite problem. Some people might accuse him of not caring about anyone. Those people don't know him very well, obviously, but they do exist.

Tomo says, "Is that why you're mad at him?"

"What?"

"I didn't know you cared that much about Adachi. Were you even friends?"

"Not really. He's kind of a pretentious asshole."

"People who deserve each other, huh?"

"You sound like Zukki," Kouji says, and doesn't bother to explain that one either.

"So why are you actually mad at Arayan?"

"I'm not," Kouji says, which might have worked if the last twenty minutes hadn't happened.

Tomo elbows him. "You know you're doing better than Arayan is these days, right? Agency would probably let him quit on the spot if he asked. You, on the other hand, they'd lock you in a cellar until you agreed to sign a lifetime contract."

"You know that's not actually reassuring, right?"

"I'm just saying."

"Wish you wouldn't. Popularity doesn't necessarily mean quality."

"Oh my god, what the hell did Arayan even say to you? You know perfectly well you're better than ninety percent of the wannabes that have come and gone. Whatever this current crisis of confidence is—"

"He didn't say anything about me. He was talking about you."

And of course, this is when Kouji decides he can't look Tomo in the eye.

Is he giving you a hard time, Kouji once asked him.

He should have seen it coming. In retrospect, it's obvious. Kouji will cheerfully trash-talk everyone and everything with him. The only time he really gets evasive is when he feels like he has to keep a secret for Tomo's sake.

As if Tomo ever wanted or needed anything of the sort.

"You'd think," Tomo says, "that Arayan would have learned to stop talking shit by now. He does realize I have more dirt on him than he'll ever have on me, right?"

"Doesn't really matter what you have on someone, does it," Kouji says. "It's always just what they think of you."

Spoken like someone who's spent his life carefully doing everything right—everything that people expected, not necessarily because they expected it, but because deep down it's always been what he wanted, too.

Tomo lightly punches him in the arm. "Not everybody cares, dumbass."

Kouji gives him a look. "You're really going to bet on that?"

Tomo kind of regrets not punching him harder. "Arayan talks a lot of shit, but it's not like he's gonna go around blabbing to randos. Who's gonna believe him anyway?"

"You never know."

"I do know." This is getting old. "And you know it, too. Push come to shove, I could get a girlfriend as easy as anybody here. Easier, probably. Girls actually like me."

"What, you implying girls don't like me?"

"You're the one who hasn't dated anybody in approximately twenty-nine years."

"I've only been alive twenty-nine years."

"I rest my case."

"I've been busy," Kouji says, defensive. Then he realizes he's been baited into it. "Anyway, that's not the point. The point is—"

"You don't need to worry about me."

"I'm not worried."

"You're just mad at Arayan for treating Adachi like shit?"

"No. That's his own problem."

"It is," Tomo agrees. "And he's never treated me like that. Well, okay, he's been a shit to me—same as he's been to everybody. Same as you and I have been to other people, probably. It's nothing personal."

"Kind of feels like it," Kouji says, sounding petulant now.

And that's fine, when Kouji's being a brat on his own. It's not fine when he's getting offended on behalf of somebody who never asked him to play the part of knight in shining armor.

He could just say that. He could have said it years ago, way back when they were rehearsing for the newly reconstructed band's first—and as it turned out, only—national tour. He should have said it, when Kouji cornered him and asked,

Is he giving you a hard time? Because Arayan's a jackass. Don't believe any of the shit he says. You don't have to go along with anything he does if you don't want to.

"Sometimes," Tomo says out loud, "I wonder about you two."

"Wonder what?"

"What all the weirdly charged tension is really about." Tomo lets Kouji have a second to be well and truly horrified by the very idea, before adding, "I know you're straight and all, but haven't you ever wondered?"

"No," Kouji manages. "No, absolutely not. Never—god! Araki. Of all people!"

Tomo lifts one eyebrow. "So you're saying you would, if it were someone else."

"No! Why would I even—" Kouji catches himself. Visibly. "I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that if it's what you want. But it's definitely not what I want. And even if I did, Araki would be about the last person I'd consider."

"Hmm. Okay, I'll let him know."

"Don't do that."

"I'm joking."

"I'm just saying." Kouji lifts his glass—stops when he realizes it's empty. "Leave him alone for a while, okay? He's seriously being a jackass over the whole Adachi thing."

I haven't gotten this far by being as stupid as you seem to think I am, Tomo doesn't say.

But Kouji has never understood that part.

If he's giving you a hard time, he needs to knock it off.

And then Kouji had decided, all on his own, I'll talk to him.

Tomo never found out what, exactly, that talk entailed. The rest of the tour was a whirlwind. Endless lonely bus rides, one city to the next, concert to fan meet to concert to interview. Araki never tried to include him in any kind of fanservice—never got a chance, really, not when Kouji made sure he was always there and ready with a cheeky grin or a casual touch, something to which Araki could respond with a lazy, rehearsed smirk that the cameras couldn't fail to catch.

It might have been a nice gesture, if Tomo had ever wanted any such thing.

He should have given Kouji a piece of his mind, all those years ago, because now all he can do is smile and say,

"Don't worry about it, okay? But thanks for the heads up."

Kouji doesn't look entirely convinced. "Yeah?"

"Yes. Seriously, would you stop? It's fine."

Kouji finally relaxes. Not completely, but enough. Tomo doesn't think he's been actually relaxed in years.

"It's not really fine." Kouji's voice is quiet. "But as long as you are."

He is, and it isn't, and neither has anything to do with the way that Kouji understands how any of this works.

Tomo has never asked for anybody to look out for him. He's perfectly capable of doing that himself, and frankly, he's better at compartmentalizing the various parts of his life than Kouji ever has been or ever will be.

He's had to be, or he wouldn't be here; he wouldn't be able to smile at Kouji on camera and talk shit with him over drinks and then go home alone still thinking about him and wake up the next morning to do it all over again. It's enough to make a lesser man walk away and never look back.

Kouji has never noticed. And that's fine. He's not supposed to. The whole point is that Tomo is better at this than he is, which is also why Tomo lets him get away with the million and one condescending things he does in the name of friendship.

"How's 5Days rehearsal going?" Kouji asks, after he's ordered another round.

"Good. I mean, Ton-chan's a six-foot-tall wet rag of a talent, but it kind of works." Tomo grins when Kouji laughs. "So when are you gonna come see the show?"

"Whenever you want me to."

It takes Tomo a second to realizes Kouji actually means it.

"I thought you were busy," he hears himself say.

Kouji shrugs. "I can find time."

Figures you can, for this. But what's the point of splitting hairs now. "You always have time for my big gay theater dramatics, huh?"

"Obviously." The joking tone doesn't quite land.

"You flatter me, Seto-sama."

"Shut up," Kouji says. "Seriously, let me know."

Maybe he will, one of these days. Maybe he'll tell Kouji everything and watch it all come crashing down. And maybe it won't be the end of the world. Kouji might even find some new way of saving him, if he still thinks Tomo is worth saving.

Because what Araki had been giving him a hard time about, all those years ago, was this:

You need to speak up if things are bothering you. It's fine if you don't want to do gay shit on stage with Kouji, you know? But you have to say something. Now. Otherwise you've only got yourself to blame if it later comes back to bite you in the ass.

And why would it do that, Tomo hadn't asked. Speaking from personal experience, Arayan?

There's a lot of things he should have said back then. This was never one of them.

But sometimes he does wonder. And maybe that's why he still lets Kouji do things like buy him drinks and ask whether he's okay and bitch about coworkers he suspects of looking at Tomo the wrong way.

He could have stopped it years ago, but some part of him just enjoys courting disaster.

"Come to opening night," Tomo says. And, "You can buy me dinner after."

"Okay," says Kouji, without even pausing to consult his calendar. "Let's do that."