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100 Hugs

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Every story has a beginning.

Iori doesn’t realize it then, but his story begins in the small recording studio that belongs to Takanashi Productions, on a winter-filled day full of the harsh realities of life.

“This sandwich… is really delicious…!” Nanase spills crumbs at the winners’ table where he sits.

“Nanase-san, please shut up for a moment.” Iori bites out through gritted teeth.

The camera is still rolling. The producers and his group members are looking on in a mix of glee and despair. Yotsuba is still staring intensely at the crumbs that spill from Osaka’s lips, gnawing on his lips with frustrated mumbles at the general unfairness of life. And all that races through Iori’s mind is the list of punishments the others had so much fun designing before they leapt right into the game – and gloriously, pathetically, lost by a landslide to the Natural Airheads team.

His fingers tighten their clutch on the punishment wheel he’s standing behind.

Iori braves himself and he spins it.

“Oh…oooh…!”

“It’s rolling, it’s rolling-!” Yamato laughs.

“It’d be so nice if Iorin just join us for mountain climbing.” Yotsuba bites out snidely, still bitter over his punishment.

“I won’t.” Iori assures him.

And the pins of the wheels hit the scale with increasing slowness. It comes to a stop, right upon a punishment he can’t see.

Delighted whoops go through the recording studio at what Iori’s sure is his ascertained misery.

“Uwah-! This is really…!” Nii-san’s laughing breathlessly.

“What is it?” Nanase looks up from his ham and cheese sandwich, crumbs still around his face. (How cute.)

“This shouldn’t be happening-!” Yamato snorts, rubbing his nose in amusement.

Iori turns to peer at the wheel.

“Hey, Iori! No peeking until we get you to choose between mountain climbing and your punishment-!”

‘A hug per day for the next 100 days with a unit member’

Iori stills. He collapses onto a knee, feeling weak-kneed for no real reason. He turns to look at Nanase, who – with cheeks full of sandwich – blinks back at him and lifts a brow.

“What?”

Iori collapses full out from devastation.

“What is it?” Nanase demands a second time, rising from the winners’ table to take a look at the wheel. Carnelian eyes widen at the words scribbled on the punishment wheel. Iori has a flashback of how enthusiastic Nanase’s agreement had been when Rokuya suggested it minutes before. The centre’s entire frame puffs up in realization.

“This shouldn’t be it! But I – I won the game and –”

Nii-san bursts out into a whooping cheer and claps hands with Nikaido and Rokuya, skipping around the studio with loud gleeful laugher.

“Listen to me!” Nanase cries, horrified. “I – What was I working so hard for-?!”

An introspective question at this moment of time? At least he got a sandwich out of it, right…?

“Nanase-san.” Iori calls out. Nanase turns to him, equally bewildered and curious. Iori clears his throat. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t give up so easily!” Nanase tries to motivate him. “We can get out of this if we try!”

The three demons’ delightful laughter say the opposite.

“Aaah…! At least you’re not climbing mountains with me and Nagi! Hugging is so much easier… It’s so unfair!” Yotsuba clutches his head from frustration.

And thus, with this game full of joy and despair, their story begins.

-

one.

-

“Let’s end this off with a hug from Iori to Riku!”

Iori chokes. Nanase splutters. He thought everything would end with the establishment of their punishment, but he wasn’t expecting an elbow to the side just when he’s down for the count.

“N-Nii-san-!”

“Come on!” Nii-san’s not listening. Iori takes a step back as Riku’s pushed towards him, closer and closer. “You’ve got to do it today anyways! You might as well do it right now for the viewers, right?” That wink is absolutely devious. Nii-san has always been cunning under that cute look of his, but he didn’t know he was this—

“Ah. Erm.” Nanase scratches his cheek with a finger. The redhead is averting his eyes. “This is… really awkward, you know?”

What is this. He seems plenty ready to submit himself to this even though he was bartering moments before.

Iori takes a deep breath and steels himself, maintaining a safe distance away from Nanase.

“Nanase-san,” Carnelian eyes startle and flicker to his. They swim as they dance from his nose to his eyes to his ears and everything else. Iori has never been so self-conscious of his desire to protect the small, the cute, and the fluffy.

“Nanase-san,” He calls again, lifting his hands to lay them on the other’s shoulders.

“Ahhh, yes-?!” Nanase looks down at his palms, wide-eyed. He looks to his face and Iori has to tighten his grip so Nanase doesn’t unbalance himself with the way he’s leaning back from him.

“What is this?” Nii-san’s bemused question drifts over to his ears.

“Is this a romance drama?” Nikaido snorts.

Iori pushes them out of his mind and focuses on the terrified Nanase squirming in his grip.

“This is ultimately for the punishment.” Iori tells him.

“Hurry up and do it!” Nanase nearly yells at him, his frame contrasting his words with how much it tries to wrench itself from his grip.

Iori pulls him closer. He wraps his arms around Nanase, who’s shaking, trembling, shivering with the embarrassment of it all – and the next moment, Nanase has pushed himself away, panting with red-stained features that makes Iori feels exceedingly embarrassed.

“And there!” Nikaido claps to break their trance. Iori covers his face with the back of his palm, utterly humiliated. “Cuuuut! We can go home now!” The production team bursts into bright smiles at his words, not that they hadn’t already been donning evil snickers.

For some reason, Iori can’t peel his eyes off Nanase though. Nanase, who’s flushed red, arms wrapped taut around himself, shoulders hunched, which makes him look small. Nanase, who’s possibly cuter than Iori has ever seen him in that moment.

“Ahhh~ So I’ve got to go skinny-dipping in the winter soon, huh…” Nii-san sighs, stretching his arms high above him.

Oh… The sea is going to be cold at this time of the year. Mitsuki should have come mountain climbing with us instead!” Rokuya tells him, face full of pity.

Nanase flinches at their voices, as if brought back from his trance. He desperately tries to blend in with the rest of Idolish7 as the team make their way to pack up and move back to the dorms.

For some reason, Iori can’t help but get the feeling that Nanase is avoiding him, taking the seat by Osaka’s side instead of his during that ride.

Given that uncomfortable hug though… Well, it can’t be helped.

-

two.

-

Nanase is honest in his actions, even if his words may often times be deceiving. (Not even Nanase knows himself the way Iori does.) Nanase tries to avoid him for the rest of the next day, stuttering whenever he speaks to him as part of Fly Away.

Iori reduces his time spent interacting with Nanase on set to keep it from being divulged.

But nevertheless, he wonders if Nanase is doing all this with the knowledge that they’ll have to rinse and repeat the events of the day before sometime before 12 midnight. Oh, geez. He can already imagine how awkward it is going to be.

“Can’t we just make away with the punishment I got yesterday?” Iori confides in his Nii-san whilst on the car. “Nanase-san’s performance is deteriorating as a result.”

“Hm? That’s rare, for Iori to be backing out on one of our promises.” Nii-san points out with a smile.

“That’s because Nanase-san is—”

“It’ll be fine!” Nii-san smacks him lightly. However, he doesn’t make light of the situation. “Just give him time to get used to it.”

“Time.” Iori echoes him dubiously.

Time to get used to…what?

Iori isn’t blind. He lives in a dorm with six other males. More often than he would like, he sees the tiny ingrained habits everyone carries as part of their upbringing. Osaka maintains a neat lifestyle of a scion. Yotsuba is greedy in hoarding his belongings, courtesy of an upbringing that is sparse and unspeakably sad. And Nanase-san – Nanase always clings to others as if his life depends on it.

“Iori, is this seat taken?” Nanase asks him that night after another recording of ‘Idolish Night with you’. His face is flushed. His voice is tiny.

Iori reaches out to grab the cushion from the free seat beside him.

“Oh, I don’t know. Is it taken?” He asks sarcastically, a single familiar retort that finds Nanase puffing up in petty anger but sliding into the seat.

Everyone is tired. Pythagoras Trio was already asleep when the Mezzo half of Idolish7 – with Nanase – had stepped into the van. Iori could hear shuffling as Osaka plugs in his earphones. Yotsuba is as usual, knocked out within a second of the ride. (Iori should take up Osaka’s method to make Yotsuba sleep.) As the cityscapes fly past in a flurry of lights that has grown to become associated to a second feeling of home, even if it’s a drained, unusually quiet version of Idolish7, Iori resigns himself to a peaceful night filled with comforting silence. He’ll think about the hug later, when Nanase is too worn to overthink things.

But Nanase speaks up.

“I’m sorry, Iori.”

A soft, muted, tiny whisper.

Carnelian eyes are not making active effort to avoid him when he spins around to look at him.

“Yesterday, during the recording… I shouldn’t have pushed you away.” The last words are spoken so softly, Iori could hardly hear them.

It takes a moment to understand why Nanase is so frightfully timid at the moment.

When things click, a rush of sympathy surges through him. It’s not unfamiliar, bringing back a flash of that moment when Nanase requested that he never leave him, even if it’s for his own good.

“Nanase-san,” He utters, equally soft. And he deadpans. “You are truly a whole dichotomy mixed into one, aren’t you?”

“What was that-?!” Nanase puffs up on instinct.

“You enjoy doing acts of affection for others. Yet, you never think about how others feel when you’re spoiling them.” Iori folds his arms. “And now, when you’re the one being spoiled, you’re feeling uncomfortable about it. How insensitive are you, really?”

“That’s – That’s why I’m saying I’m sorry, aren’t I?” Nanase flushes, spluttering. “I’m just not used to it!”

“Yeah, I know.”

He knows. Or… he does now.

Nanase settles, pouting as he grumbles under his breath.

He’s not used to being spoiled. Not this way, at least.

Iori refuses to think of a time where he’s certain Kujo Tenn must have revelled in showering him with affection every day. How did Nanase react when these little physical acts of affection suddenly disappeared from his life? Is that why he gives hugs and touches out to Idolish7 on a daily basis as if seeking for their love? Has Nanase ever been hurt due to one of their refusals-?

“Nanase-san,” Iori calls out without thinking. Nanase looks at him, waiting. He pursues his lips. “Shall we hug?”

“Eh… What? Eh? Eh?” Nanase blinks rapidly, stunned face growing redder.

“I mean what I say.” Iori elaborates flatly.

“…Uh… I mean… sure?” His voice breaks with its high-pitched tone. (It’s cute. But it’s more heart wrenching, how flustered he is at receiving a thing such as a hug.)

Iori bends forward and he stretches his arms around the other’s shoulders.

Nanase’s face is hot red against his side. He smells faintly of caramel when Iori tightens his hold around his shoulders, fingers curling into the other’s cardigan. Red strands of hair tickle his cheek. Nanase is warm under his touch… and stiff, sitting in a rock-like posture.

Iori leans back, snorting at the other’s look.

“What’s with that face?”

“I just – I mean – You –”

Iori cracks a smile. Nanase gives up, grumbling.

“Iori, you really play unfair, you know?”

Nanase punches him lightly on the arm. It hurts only slightly, but Iori forgives him even as he shoots back a blunt comment. Things are still far from normal between them (how much time would be necessary to change a person’s past?), but for now, he’s content to let things be.

-

three.

-

“How have you been carrying out your punishment game, Icchi?”

Nikaido’s questions gives him a pause that afternoon.

“You may ask me that,” Iori turns the question around on their leader. “But I could ask the same of you. How has your outfit selection for Japan’s New Actor Awards been coming along, Nikaido-san? Do you need another article of clothing?”

Nikaido winces, dropping his head into the crook of his arm.

“I’m begging you. Don’t remind me of that.” Nikaido’s punishment game would be humiliating, to say the least. “I’m still trying to work out how to fit Nagi’s skirt and Mitsu’s kappa mascot head into the equation. And the ceremony’s three days from now.” Idolish7’s leader drops his head in both palms out of desolation.

“If it’s of any comfort, it will be good publicity for Idolish7.” Iori hands him his bottle.

“If you mean we’ll be complete laughing stocks, then I guess I must agree.”

Silence falls between them for a moment, just the two most reasonable members of Idolish7 bonding over a shared moment of pain.

“We’re back with food!” Nanase flings the heavy training door open. Iori moves to grab it before he stubs his toe on it like the way he did last time.

“Food!” Nii-san leaps to attention where he had been sprawled out on the ground.

“The convenience store was out of king’s pudding, but we somehow managed to convince the last customer to let us have it.” Osaka adds with a smile.

“King’s pudding!” This time, Yotsuba leaps to attention.

“Really… You guys. You’re fine with any amount of training so long as you have food, aren’t you.” Iori accuses quietly.

“Iori, you can keep your mouth shut.” Nii-san beams as he takes his bento.

“Nii-san-?!”

“Anti-King Pudding people can just piss off.”

“Language, Tamaki-kun!” Osaka cries, aghast.

“Iori, Iori!” Nanase is grabbing him by the wrist before he could come up with a good retort. Carnelian eyes are practically sparkling as they peer up at him. (Once again, Iori wonders how there exists something this cute.) “Come with me now! I’ve got a new idea for that thing!”

“What thing are you talking about – uwah-!”

He’s dragged along, door closing behind them without a slam.

(“What’s up with them?” Mitsuki cocks his head.)

“What exactly are you doing, Nanase-san-?” Iori sighs and is hushed.

“The truth is,” Nanase holds his chin in thought and hums. “I’ve been thinking about your punishment game.”

Uh huh. Iori is listening.

“You know how the motive of this entire game is to make us come closer together as a unit?” Nanase beams. “I’ve been thinking for a while, but honestly speaking, does it matter who gives the hug so long as there is a hug? Why does it matter if you’re the one who gives me a hug on a daily basis? We’re going to do it anyways, so we might as well reverse the roles-!”

“Nanase-san.” Iori interrupts before he can continue building castles in the air. “This isn’t how it works.”

Nanase falters, bright smile dimming in confusion.

“You initiating our hugs is hardly anything out of the norm.”

“Hey! When have I ever—”

“But you receiving these hugs? That’s a different story.” Iori tells him, eyes sharp.

The smile on Nanase’s lips has completely fallen off. It’s unpleasant, to see that disheartened expression on Nanase’s face. And yet, Iori privately thinks it’s necessary.

“Why don’t you let us spoil you a little?” Iori asks, knowing why. “It’ll only be for a hundred days.”

“But I…” Nanase trails off. He pursues his lips. “…You’re right… Iori. It’s only just for a punishment game. It means nothing at the end of it.” Nanase looks like it’s physically killing him to say those words, carnelian eyes growing harrowed with splinters of ache.

Iori sighs and slides his arms around the other, pulling him in.

Nanase tenses at once.

“There’s no need to be so afraid.” Iori catches himself running a hand through crimson tuffs of fluffy locks. He stops. Bites his lips. “It’s not as if I’m the most adapt at giving physical shows of affection either.” He says. But what runs through his mind, is truly, I won’t let myself in and break you to shards by leaving. I promised, hadn’t I?

Nanase is stiff in his hold, relaxing only by time Iori counted up to twenty in his head.

“You’re not wrong about that.” Nanase smiles weakly. “This is the stinkiest hug I’ve ever received.”

“Nanase-san.”

“What is it?”

“Please get over yourself.” Iori scoffs. He gently releases the other, never tilting back to give a sign of wanting to leave. “Your body odour’s not the best either, if you haven’t noticed.”

Nanase laughs. They get back to practice, just a bit more resolved for their future hugs.

-

four.

-

Nanase is beet red as Iori encloses his arms around him awkwardly, the weight of his arms not knowing whether or not to rest upon Nanase’s shoulders.

Still, Nanase leans in with chin tucked close to his neck. His shoulders are still too stiff, his fingers playing on the stray treads of the edges of his long sweater, and no signs point towards Nanase relaxing into the hug anytime soon. However, when Nanase pulls back and Iori drops his arms back by his side, Nanase is able to manage the tiniest, meek smile that peeks out from beneath crimson fringes.

“Goodnight, Nanase-san.” Iori pretends that the thickness of his voice is from the haziness at finishing work at this time. (1am in the morning, by the time their late night program ended.) But really, it’s not.

Nanase’s smile falls off the edge of meekness. It teethers between amusement and teasing.

“Don’t fall off the side of your bed, Iori!” Nanase tosses his head back with a light laugh.

“You should be the last one to say that.” A blunt deadpan comes instinctively.

In return, Nanase aims a sulkish look at him and closes the door on him. Iori rolls his eyes as he gets back to his own room. He refuses to admit he is smiling.

-

five. six. seven. ten. thirteen.

-

They share hugs. Occasionally, it’s on the van, in the privacy of when all Idolish7’s members are down for the count. Occasionally, it’s at the outskirts of the training room, where no Nii-san or Yotsuba could point and laugh or snicker. And in rare moments where they’re allowed breathing room from tough schedules, Iori would rap on Nanase’s doors late at night and remind the other to receive a bashful hug.

It’s a strange routine they get used to.

Iori isn’t entirely sure what to make of it.

“I think it’s a good relationship to be having with Riku-kun.” Osaka shares, a serene smile on his lips as he sips on his morning coffee.

They had both woken up early to prepare breakfast for the mountain-scaling duo. (Rokuya had sincerely and desperately begged him to intercept any tabasco-related activity.) (“PLEASE! Our lives are on the line!”)

“I would be happy if I had received any one of those unit-related punishments. They all seem fun somehow.” Osaka chuckles softly.

“Is that so.” Iori decides to politely ignore the other’s idea of fun.

“Riku-kun… He’s always been there to help the members out.” Osaka murmurs, a melancholic frown on his face. “I always thought it was weird the first time he pulled away from my touch. Even though Riku-kun is young, he’s full of scars.” Osaka says, like a sigh.

“Did you notice?” Osaka smiles. It’s not reflected in his eyes. “Even though everyone around him is always happy to extend their help, Riku-kun only ever demands things from a single person.”

Iori is more painfully aware of that than he wishes he is.

“Kujo-san…”

“Eh?”

“Eh?” Iori blinks, confused at Osaka’s shock.

“Well – There’s Kujo-san too, but I wasn’t talking about him.” Osaka glides his fingers over the edges of his mug. He’s flustered, a sheepish smile on his lips as he peers up at Iori with docile eyes. “Kujo-san is Riku-kun’s big brother, so there’s no surprise there but… In Idolish7, the one who Riku-kun is closest to is undeniably you, Iori-kun.”

Osaka chuckles at his fading surprise.

“Maybe it’s Riku-kun’s mental age… For some reason, he seems to be closer to you than he is the rest of us.” Osaka divulges.

“He’s a completely helpless child, you mean.” Iori corrects him.

“I won’t deny that.” Osaka chuckles into a hand. “But even so, I’m glad that you got that mission objective. It’s high time someone slips into Riku-kun’s shell and makes him realize that we’re not going to leave him behind.”

Osaka is speaking from experience. He may say it’s good for Nanase to be partnered with Iori, but Iori personally can’t help but be boundlessly thankful that it’s Yotsuba who stepped up to dance and switch parts with Osaka that time.

Iori sighs. He leans back in his seat.

“Osaka-san, you sure have a way with words. When you phrase it like that, I can’t even be mad that you’re the one who forced me into this punishment anymore.”

“That’s great.” Osaka chuckles. The steam wells off his coffee, slow but gentle.

-

fourteen.

-

A weight leans towards and topples into his side at some point of the journey.

Iori startles awake.

Crimson tuffs of soft locks are brushing up against his collarbone, their owner lost in what Iori hopes is genuinely sleep. It takes a moment to recall all the jobs they had today. He decides Nanase is not playing a trick on him afterall.

“Na-Nanase-san. Nanase-san.” Hushed whispers, hoping to rouse the other.

To his dismay, Nanase doesn’t move an inch.

Iori is breathless at the distance between them, far too close to be comfortable. It takes one stuttering breath to attempt to dismiss this as irrelevant in face of their too many hugs. He reaches his right hand to move towards Nanase’s other shoulder – a half-hearted, nerve-wrecking attempt to push Nanase back in his seat – and the van rocks again in all its entirety, dropping Nanase down the plastic arm rest so abruptly, Iori catches him with wide eyes.

“Uh… another five minutes…” Nanase mumbles, head still hanging precociously from Iori’s grip.

…Honestly. What a completely helpless child.

“Nanase-san, it’s time to wake up.” He tries once.

No response comes.

Iori truthfully isn’t too enthused about waking the other after all his hard work that day anyways.

Still holding on to Nanase’s shoulder, he slides another arm around the redhead.

It occurs to Iori, in a short flickering thought, that this could technically be counted as a hug.

He’s more busy replacing the other back in his side of the van’s seat, heart pounding in his throat.

Nanase mumbles something inaudible and pursues his lips, the edges of his lips twitching up in a sweet, almost darling smile as he snuggles into his own muffler.

“Really…” Iori exhales, smiling. How can there be someone so cute in this world?

-

seventeen.

-

“Recently, I’ve been hearing tonnes of good things about Idolish7! Apparently, you guys are doing something interesting?” Momo leans in during his show, a grin on his face.

“Ahh… that, huh. Hmm, that is certainly interesting. Uh huh. Alright, topic’s over.” Nikaido nods at their sempai to move on.

“Don’t be like that.” Yuki gets closer to Nikaido. Iori sees the faintest smudges of the usual discomfort entering Nikaido’s features. Their senior maintains a healthy control over their leader as always. “It was a huge shock to the entertainment world when you stepped up stage with that kappa get-up, you know? It was very…” Yuki trails off, a telling pause before he flashes a serene smile. “…entertaining.”

“Yuki, come on! Get off him! You’re not going to cheat on me with Yamato, are ya?!” Momo tugs at his sleeve.

“Sorry. Did I come off as a player?”

“D-Don’t joke around.” Nikaido drags a hand down his face, exasperated.

Nii-san laughs.

“It’s just a new thing that’s been on our late night programme – ‘Idolish Night with You’ – we played a game and Yamato-san lost, you see?” Nii-san smiles cheekily at Nikaido.

“I still haven’t forgiven you for that mascot head, I’ll have you know.” Nikaido mutters crossly.

“Everyone lost on that episode besides Sou-chan. Because of that, Nagi and I recently went mountain climbing. It was cold.” Yotsuba chirps in in bits and pieces.

“Yotsuba-san, you’re not making any sense.” Iori sighs into a hand. For the fans, he clarifies. “Nikaido-san’s punishment game was to prepare a get-up using an article of clothing from each of us. Rokuya-san and Yotsuba-san’s was to scale the nearest mountain and spend a morning there.”

“It sounds like a wild programme for certain!” Momo bursts out laughing. “By the way, what was your punishment, Iori?!” The emcee nudges him teasingly.

“I……” Iori exchanges an uncomfortable look with Nanase.

The redhead shifts uncomfortably in his seat but offers a tentative smile. It’s not discouraging, so Iori reluctantly shares it.

“I… have to give a hundred hugs to Nanase-san. One for each day, to enhance the bonds between our unit group.” Iori rubs his face with the back of his hand. Ahh… It’s only now when he voices it aloud to the crowd that he sees how embarrassing that is. He doesn’t get to look up to see Nanase before Momo’s calling his attention back.

“Eh~ Is that so? Then, then! As a commemoration for I7’s third appearance on Re:Vale’s show, won’t you hug in front of the audience?!”

“Wha……”

“Eh?!” Nanase makes a louder proclamation.

“Kyaaaa!” The female fans go wild.

“Riku-kun and Iori-kun, he says…! They’ll be hugging in front of us?!”

“I’m so glad I accepted this ticket from my friend!”

“No… erm… eh…” Iori stammers, turning to meet a beet red Nanase’s face. “I – you –”

Nanase… He averts his face, carnelian eyes both strained and resigned as he lowers them to the ground bashfully. Iori can see Osaka taking the other’s hand away from the camera’s view. A concerned look is shot in his direction. Iori’s almost positive Nanase is trembling out of view. (And it’s no surprise. It took him so much just to learn to accept a hug.) Iori inhales and tries to speak up.

“Such things are embarrassing, so—”

“I got it! We’ll do it!”

“Huh?!” Iori has a whipsplash turning to Nanase.

The other has his eyes squeezed tight, almost panting (worryingly) as he cracks open his eyes to peer at the live audience. Iori sees middle school girls murmuring to each other in hushed whispers, pulling their Idolish7 fans closer to their chests in excitement. Iori sees Nanase, who smiles weakly at his fans, even though this is a private moment he doesn’t have to share with them.

Navy eyes soften. He sighs and rubs the side of his head.

“…Nanase-san, how much do you like hugs?” It’s an intentional way of phrasing. Nobody should know about Nanase’s weakness towards physical affection.

Rising up from his seat, he steps towards Nanase. Their helpless centre is still doing all he can to keep up a smile, trying to seem relaxed even though his acting ability has always been nil. Honestly. If Iori isn’t so worried for him, he might even praise the other for his courage.

It’s a quick hug. A short press of palms over the other’s shoulders. The crowd fawns over them with loud shrieks that echoes in the recording studio. This may sound rude, but it’s an uncomfortable feeling to have those voices punctuating the usually still air. Iori dries his palms quickly against his pants, still holding onto Nanase’s shoulders when he pulls back.

Nanase has his eyes squeezed shut, lips pinched into a tight line, face completely devoid of colour.

Iori cracks a smile. He pats the clothed shoulders once and pulls back entirely.

“There.” He sighs, settling back into his seat. “It’s done.”

“Kyaaaaaa…!”

“…Iori, how cool!” Momo says with a falter in the beginning as he picks up his jaw. “That’s how you’ve been hugging Riku for the last hundred days?!”

“Seventeen days, to be exact.” Iori corrects. He sees Osaka murmuring something to the beet red Nanase on the other side. He… They… should be alright, shouldn’t they?

“Seriously, that is such a cool challenge! Hey, Yuki, we should do it too! A hundred days kissing challenge!” Momo wags a finger cheerfully, beaming.

“Sur… Like we will! Why are we taking it up a step?!”

“But our bonds are closer than Riku and Iori’s, right?!” Momo demands. “We’ve even seen each other in nothing but our undergarments!”

“Well, it's true that we have, but..."

"You have?!" Nii-san retorts.

As the emcees’ usual married couple routine fills the studio with its familiarity, Iori glances over at Nanase.

Nanase has a coloured face all throughout recording, his usual bright smiles muted to a sweet quality.

-

nineteen.

-

“Everyone, they’re all saying something weird about us.” Nanase says aloud as he leans back against his beanbag. He lifts his phone high to the air. “‘Riku and Iori’s moment on the Re:Vale Show’, ‘Idolish7’s Fly Away Makes A Way’, ‘Are they dating?’… Our fans sure have some strange imagination.”

“Nanase-san, how many times do I have to remind you that it’s not good to look at these fan sites? You’re going to blur the line between reality and fiction.” Iori warns.

“But it’s just so interesting!” Nanase beams, sitting straight up. “I never know how our fans see us!”

They’re seated in the living room of the dorm, the television turned on to an animal documentary Iori randomly chose. Mezzo is out for their work. Pythagoras Theorem, too, are filming some variety program involving wildlife. It’s Fly Away’s day of the week to rest, and honestly, Iori can’t say he’s glad to be home right now.

“Iori… Do I really go all weird when you hug me? People are commenting a lot on how strange I become…”

“How should I know? I’m not usually thinking about your oddness when I embrace you.”

“Really?”

“If you are going to doubt my answer, is that any meaning to asking to begin with?”

“Eheheh. Well, I can’t say you’re wrong about that.” Nanase turns around to lie on his front, burying his face in his pillow.

“The acapus is an animal that—” The documentary goes on, uncaring of their feelings.

The fan spins high above. It blows the fading steam away from his noodles. The minutes tick by in wait for the return of the other two units to break apart this momentary stillness. Iori doesn’t know why he feels like Nanase’s on his nerves, being so bashful but delighted about their moment on national television. It’s as if like his skin is crawling. The ramen swims uncomfortably in his stomach. There are moments where all he wants is to leave his arms around Nanase forever, keep this cute fluffy thing safe from himself and everything that’s out there, but right now, it pains him to be near him.

“…Iori.” Nanase begins.

He sighs, irritated.

“What is it-?!”

Arms slide around him. The coolness of Nanase’s skin stuns him into silence. Nanase is hugging him from behind, having gotten off his lying posture on the sofa at some point of time. His knees trap Iori from the back. His arms are sprawl over his shoulders at an awkward angle because Iori is sitting on the ground. And all Iori can do in response is to take in a sharp inhale, body going still.

“…What is this, Nanase-san…?”

“What, you say… It’s a hug?” Nanase tilts his head.

“I can see that.” Iori sighs, exasperated. “Why are you hugging me?”

“How do I explain it? I suddenly felt bad, you see.” Nanase’s voice contains a hint of sheepishness.

“I’m not sure I understand—”

A heavy weight cuts him off. It’s Nanase’s chin lying on the top of his head, his arms still wrapped affectionately around Iori’s shoulders from behind. They’re both looking at Iori’s bowl of ramen soup, seeing the playing images on the television screen, but nobody is focusing.

“Hugs… are something I used to love. Something that I still love, even now.”

“Nanase-san—”

“Just listen, Iori.” Nanase hushes him. “I… Ever since I was small, Tenn-Nii was all I have ever known. Because of my health, I’m always in and out of the hospital, but anytime we’re together, my family would always cling on to me as if they’re afraid I would leave. Tenn-Nii used to frequently sneak into my hospital bed to hold me as he goes to sleep.”

Nanase’s voice holds a nostalgic chuckle. Iori holds his breath. He can only imagine how the other feels, with Trigger’s Kujo Tenn only ever becoming more distant.

“Hugs are like magic, you see? Whenever you’re scared or you’re shivering cold, someone’s arms around you are like they’re saying – ‘It’ll be okay. You’re not alone.’ When I think about it like that, I just can’t stop Tenn-Nii from giving me hugs.”

“Then one day, Tenn-Nii disappeared.” Nanase’s voice turns hollow against his ears. Iori shudders at the chilliness just his voice conveys. “And I grew scared of hugs.”

“…Nanase-san.” Iori speaks up hesitantly. “Why… are you telling me this?”

“I’m scared. That Iori will leave like Tenn-Nii one day.” Nanase confesses.

Iori turns around in his hold before he can stop him.

Nanase is peering at him with a smile that’s slightly melancholic around the edges.

“A hug—” Nanase laughs. It’s heartbroken. “A hug is a way for people to cling on to others and protect them, right? But… When a huge number of hugs are given, people get tired. Sometimes, other people want to be protected as well. It’s unfair if it’s a one-sided thing.”

He’s realizing. He’s regretting, that he allows others to spoil him one-sidedly. Nanase is different from how he used to be, when Kujo Tenn left him.

“Ahh—this is so awkward,” Nanase sighs deeply, scratching the side of his face. “I only hugged Iori because I can’t remember returning your hugs these past few weeks. I didn’t mean to make it such a deep thing.”

“…Really. Serious thoughts are unlike you, Nanase-san. Please don’t hurt yourself doing that.” Iori deadpans, the edges of his lips turning up at the cross frown he’s given.

“Just when people are being nice to you. How rude.” Nanase reproaches.

“I am grateful.” Iori rises to his feet. He wraps his arms around Nanase, smiling at the squeak he hears. “Not going to return the hug now?”

“Ah, alright!” Nanase yelps as he folds his arms around his back.

It’s the first mutual hug they’re having. What a moment this is.

“Thank you, Nanase-san.”

“What for?” Nanase hums.

“For being concerned about me.”