After the greatest match of Kota's career so far, he sat in the locker room in his training pants and a damp tee and tried not to have a panic attack.
Scrolling through his phone with his headphones in was the perfect activity - everybody thought he was busy and ignored him. Except for Nakamura, who was nosy and didn't care to be considerate. He ordered Kota to his favourite drag bar for post-match celebrations.
"Why there?" Kota said.
"I'd go to my usual hostess bar but it's closed on a Monday."
"Aren't you married?"
"It's an open relationship," Nakamura said imperiously.
Kota felt very young and naive all of a sudden. He took off his headphones. He was satisfied with the match they'd had - which was a rare feeling for him. Now his thoughts were meandering and distracted as memories of the match tugged at him, almost overwhelming. A drink sounded like exactly what he needed. Nakamura cast an eye at the rest of the locker room and marched out before anyone else was able to invite themselves along.
Nakamura in the cab, jovial: "The queens will love you!"
"How do you mean?" Kota said.
Nakamura let loose a cackle and didn't reply.
The door to the drag bar was completely nondescript, a black door into an apartment complex in Nichome, blocks away from the neon hustle and bustle of Shinjuku. Inside was a smokey, cramped bar, with a stage on the far corner. Not many clientele were present this early in the evening, but several drag queens were scattered around the place. Each of them was, Kota realised, a man dressed in head to toe glittery gowns and furs, with bright makeup and elaborate wigs held in place with glue and determination.
"This is the mamasan, Oedo-san," Nakamura introduced Kota politely to an incredibly wide and fierce-looking drag queen with pointed eyebrows, huge fake breasts and wide lipstick, who welcomed him in a surprisingly deep voice. She bantered and cajoled with Nakamura like an old friend.
"Who is this beautiful young man you've brought me?" Oedo exclaimed. "Drinks for both of you!" She snapped her hands and three shot glasses of tequila were brought out almost immediately. They clinked glasses.
Kota nodded. He could get used to this. The rest of the drag queens, recognising Nakamura, all swarmed around and greeted him. Soon Kota was rolled up into the swarm, as each drag queen fawned and fussed over him. Kota was simultaneously entranced and bamboozled by their thick layers of makeup and their unnaturally buxom figures. He greeted each of them politely, setting off cackles and giggles amongst the queens. He and Nakamura settled in by the bar, where the mamasan was pouring out drink after drink for Nakamura.
Kota and Nakamura soon entered a one-upping contest, since Kota had a rule never to be out-drunk at a bar, even if it was a drag bar. Soon, music came on. Oedo pointed to the stage. "The first act's coming on. One of my new hires. Kenny Omega."
"A foreigner?" Nakamura said in surprise as a 6ft-5 drag queen tottered on stage in stilettos, curly blond wig waving precariously in the air.
While it was difficult to see any features under the many inches of thick makeup adorning her face, the drag queen was definitely a Westerner.
Kota wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it wasn't this.
The performance was unlike anything he'd ever seen. The drag queen proceeded to tumble, twirl and shimmy through a song with English lyrics that appeared to require impressive vocal capacity.
At one point, she backflipped in six-inch heels, and the performance ended with her throwing herself off stage and landing perfectly in front of it. Nakamura elbowed Kota, who clapped as well. "What do you think?"
"Very strange," Kota said, who'd watched the whole thing without looking away, transfixed. "That - that was a man?"
Nakamura giggled drunkenly into his tequila. "Yes! This is a drag bar, after all."
"But how did he get his voice to sound like a woman?" Kota asked, scratching his head.
"He wasn't really singing!" Nakamura exclaimed. "He was moving his lips in time to the words. Didn't you know that?" He cackled to himself, leaning forward to repeat to Oedo what Kota had said.
"Oh," Kota said to himself. He frowned. The movements had been so perfectly timed that he hadn't figured it out. The voice seemed to emerge from the very belly and throat of Kenny Omega the drag queen, whose dramatic motions seemed to vibrate with every beat of the song. And the athleticism involved in the entire thing had been spell-binding. He felt fired up all of a sudden.
The show continued and several other performances abounded, to increasingly enthusiastic applause. Certain drag queens were clearly crowd famous, earning rapturous name chants and shrieks from the increasingly crowded bar. Nakamura, impressively drunk, sang along to a few classic songs. Kota clapped along. He was getting a nice buzz going that was smoothing away some of the adrenaline of the match, as well as settling the post-match aches and pains of enduring the onslaught of Nakamura's brutal in-ring style.
Someone tapped Kota on the shoulder. It was a man, about Kota's height, a big foreigner with a baseball cap clamped over short, curling blond hair. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"Sure," Kota said, before he had time to be surprised by the man's good, though accented, Japanese. He'd never met a foreigner who spoke Japanese before. "Although I haven't paid for a drink yet."
The foreigner's blue eyes crinkled. "Oedo-san is like that with cute new boys."
Kota found himself blushing. "Your Japanese is really good."
The foreigner smiled. "Thanks! I've been working here for a few years, but I'd like to keep improving."
Kota cocked his head. "Working... here?"
The foreigner's eyes turned askance on him. He held out a broad, veiny hand. "I'm Kenny Omega."
Kota's jaw dropped. The man in front of him was broadly built but unassuming. His skin was fresh and pink and he wore a completely nondescript outfit of a pink tank top and jean shorts, looking like any tourist in the heat of the Tokyo summer. He bore no resemblance to the larger-than-life, glittering dancer in the huge blond wig who'd performed onstage. Kota searched the man's even, boyish features for some kind of resemblance to the heavy-lashed and red-lipped woman on stage and found none. Even his voice, which had been miming a heavy operatic woman's voice, was the scratchy, husky voice of a man.
Kenny chuckled to himself and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He readjusted his cap, hiding his smirk as he did so. He appeared to be proud of himself. "I guess I look different off-stage, huh?"
"Your performance was very good," Kota said politely. He felt on the back foot. He knew nothing about drag queens, and was worried he was going to embarrass himself. He cast his eyes around for Nakamura, who was ignoring him in favour of retelling an old story about Goto and Shibata to a listening crowd.
"Thank you! My friend, uh," Kenny's eyes were caught by the sight of another drag queen who was waving and pointing furiously at Kota. "Noticed that a, uh, really hot guy was watching my performance. Since I'm only the first act, people don't really pay much attention. She made me come talk to you." Kenny rolled his eyes and met Kota's glance before looking away shyly.
Kota was charmed. "Well, I'm glad she did."
Kenny smiled, exposing straight, white teeth. He relaxed against the bar. "So, how do you know Nakamura?"
Kota mirrored his easy stance. "I'm a wrestler. We had a match together tonight, and it went well. So we're celebrating." His fingers tapped a nervous rhythm against the bar.
It was Kenny's turn to stare at him. "A wrestler! But - that's so cool!" His expression was elated. "Wait - you work for the same company as Nakamura? What's your name? Have I seen you before?"
Kota was taken aback; Kenny looked like he wanted to pounce on Kota. Kenny laughed self-consciously. "Sorry. I'm kind of a fan."
"I see." Kota smiled. He held out a hand. "I'm Kota Ibushi."
Kenny glowed. For such an interesting man, he spoke very little about himself or his performance that night. Instead, he wanted to know about Kota's career and how he'd become a wrestler. Kenny asked interesting questions, things Kota had never even considered when it came to wrestling. He wanted to know whether Kota had an in-ring character. "I'm just me," Kota said, taken aback.
"Sorry," Kenny said, with self-effacement that Kota could already tell was habitual. It was such a far cry from the aggressive and powerful-looking woman on stage that Kota was fascinated by it. "I'm so used to playing a character, performing, you know? That's what draws me to wrestling, too, so I end up assuming everyone else is doing the same thing." Kenny leaned in, his voice dropping to a confidential whisper. Kota leaned in as well, drawn closer by Kenny's low voice and his heady smell of soap and, oddly, perfume. "My real name's not even Kenny, but it's what everyone calls me. My real name is so... butch. It doesn't suit me at all." He grinned.
Kota smiled. "I'll have to keep calling you Kenny, then."
As the night drew on and the conversation meandered onwards, it dawned on Kota that he hadn't talked this much to anyone in a long time - not even about wrestling, which was pretty much the only subject Kota ever thought about. Kenny seemed to understand what Kota was getting at, even when Kota only half-finished a sentence or talked in circles.
In between talking, they watched the final acts of the evening. Kenny clapped along, mouthing the words with perfect timing, occasionally accenting a line with a flick of the wrist. Kota studied him while he was absorbed by the show. Kenny had a cute, button nose and a strong jaw. His shoulders were broad and his biceps swelled under his loose tank top. How did a man like him come to dress up as a woman and perform in bars for a living? Kota found himself desperately intrigued. Kenny caught his gaze and a blush crept towards his ears, his body language uncertain. Kota touched his shoulder, which was warm. They exchanged grins.
I'm drunk, Kota thought. Kenny hadn't been drinking, only sipping water. But his eyes were still sliding along and meeting Kota's glance with an electrifying crackle every few moments. The climax of the show rang out, all the drag queens belting out a number in unison and the stage lights bouncing around the bar, but they couldn't stop looking at each other. The show ended to rapturous applause. Kenny turned away shyly, then nudged Kota with his shoulder.
"Do you..." Kenny didn't meet his eyes, but his cheeks were red. "Do you want to come back to mine?"
Kenny's room was up several cramped staircases and through a dark corridor. Kota climbed after Kenny, unable to stop staring at his ass encased in those loose, clingy gym shorts. "Sorry," Kenny kept saying. "I'm renting it from a friend, it's not much but..." He trailed off when Kota closed the bedroom door behind them and kissed him.
Kota had been staring at Kenny's mouth the entire night, and it felt good to finally kiss him. It was even better to finally touch his body. His chest was firm and muscled. It felt good under his hands. Kenny was giving back just as much, his large hands squeezing Kota's waist and thumbing his abs. "Oh fuck," he was saying, low and in English, which Kota didn't understand, but he got the message anyway. They stumbled back against the bed.
Kota tugged Kenny's thin tank top over his head and attacked his neck with his mouth, tasting sweat and musk and the bump of muscle. He could feel Kenny's pulse racing under his tongue. Kenny moaned, louder than Kota had been anticipating, surprising him a bit. Kota climbed into the bed and onto Kenny, who was sliding Kota's shirt over his head. Kenny stared at him and swallowed. "Fuck." His eyes met Kota's. "You're really hot."
Kota smiled. "Thanks."
Kenny chuckled in embarrassment. He let Kota manhandle him into the mattress, Kota's hands clamping around his arms. Their hips flexed against each other in a slow, deliberate grind.
Excitement had been throbbing under Kota's skin since the moment he'd seen Kenny up on that stage in all his glory. Kenny's body was strong and firm and meaty under his own. He dug his fingers into the tight swell of Kenny's ass.
He tugged the rest of Kenny's clothes off, Kenny helping, his breath quickening in excitement.
"I want you," Kenny said sweetly. Kota kissed him and turned him over, giving in to the urge to put Kenny's bare ass on display. Kota pressed his mouth into the back of Kenny's neck and traced a path down Kenny's spine, his lips bumping against the swell of muscle and the strong lines of his bones. Kenny smelled somehow exotic and masculine all at the same time. Kota squeezed his ass. Kenny twitched, his face buried in a pillow.
Kota pulled himself down the bed and licked his way against Kenny's ass. A shudder went through Kenny's beautifully laid out muscles. Kota spread Kenny's cheeks with a firm grip, exposing his hole. Kenny quivered against his mouth, Kenny's round ass cheeks pressed against Kota's face.
Kota's eyes fell closed as he licked and sucked and nibbled. He felt like he was entering a trance, as though he was worshipping Kenny's body with his mouth. He could have kept going forever. Kenny was trembling.
Eventually, unable to hold back any longer, Kota drew himself up the bed. Kenny turned over, his face wet, breathless as he bent his knees. Kota pressed his forehead momentarily into Kenny’s shoulder, overwhelmed.
Then he burst into action. He grabbed the forgotten condom and lube from where they’d disappeared under the covers. Kenny drew himself up for Kota to roll him up and sink his almost painfully hard cock into him. The resistance in Kenny's body made him jerk in surprise. Kenny was tight and hot, and Kenny's muscled thighs were shuddering. Kota hissed as he pushed past the resistance into the welcoming slide of Kenny’s body.
Kenny’s strong arms locked around Kota's hips, pulling him in tight. Kota thrust sharply, Kenny tugging him in in unison, both of them huffing groans. Kota let his head fall into he musky nook of Kenny’s arm and shoulder as his body thrust into the perfect angle between Kenny's thighs. The tendons in Kenny's neck were bulging, his head thrown back, whispering and moaning, his groans catching. Kota gritted his teeth, his thrusts snapping faster and faster.
Kota could feel himself coming close, Kenny's body sweeter and sweeter around his cock now. He wanted suddenly to watch Kenny come on his cock. “You like that?” He hissed, lifting his head. He watched Kenny’s translucent eyelashes flutter. He quickened the pace. “Show me how much you like it.” Kenny moaned, nodding madly, holding himself up by the ankles to be fucked harder and deeper. Kota bent Kenny double into the mattress and thrust furiously. He came, his hips stuttering to a halt. He collapsed, releasing his arms from the weight of Kenny's thick thighs.
Kenny groaned and shifted. He cupped Kota's bowed head with a broad hand. Kota shuddered. A sense of deep exhaustion came over him. He pulled out and slid a hand down Kenny’s belly. Kenny's cock was pink and stiff. Kota jerked him off slowly. Kenny hissed and arched into his hand, his whole broad chest flushed. Kota squeezed his eyes shut. He could feel Kenny’s need to come as sharply as if it was his own. Kenny bucked into his hand, grunting, and came hard with a wheeze of breath. Kota melted down against Kenny’s shoulder. Kenny dropped his heavy chin on Kota’s sweat-soaked hair.
They lay like that for a long time.
Kota lifted his head and gazed at Kenny's dazed expression. "I love you, Kenny Omega."
Kenny froze, and, to Kota's surprise, his eyes flooded with tears. Kota sighed and hugged him. "So embarrassing," Kenny mumbled, grinning into Kota's shoulder. Kota smiled.
They both felt it. It was as though something miraculous had taken place, and they had no words for any of it.
Kota was coming to learn that Kenny Omega was extremely physically affectionate, as a rule. Kenny was tracing and retracing a line down Kota's back. Kota flexed against his rough palm. “You’re beautiful,” Kenny said in hushed awe, not for the first time.
They’d been fucking for eight days. These had been the most confusing and thrilling days of Kota's life. They met after each night's show, or, when Kota had a match, Kenny'd attended in his boy clothes, then come around backstage after. They couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other, even in public. Kota would slide a hand around the muscle of Kenny's shoulder. Kenny would run the backs of his fingers along Kota's arm.
Kota couldn’t sleep with Kenny's hot hands all over him like this, but he found these quiet moments of contact pleasurable nonetheless, and he was too tired to tell Kenny to stop.
"I have a confession," Kenny said.
Kota craned his neck to look at him.
"I actually - wanted to be a wrestler when I was a kid." Kenny continued. He looked sheepish.
"Oh. Why is that bad?" Kota nudged him. "You would have been great."
"I just." Kenny sighed. "When I was a kid, I always wanted to dress up and I was a clown. I was always dancing around and singing and being weird. And I was - I always knew that I, you know, I liked boys as well as girls, but I kept it a secret. Then I was ten years old and I was at this wrestling show with my family and I was so excited for it... And my favourite wrestler started this chant in the audience. Everyone was just chanting this... this word over and over. And it was a word for people like me. I guess I knew even then that wrestling was never gonna be the place for me, not if I wanted to be who I really am. And hey, I still achieved my childhood dream of dressing up in crazy costumes and being athletic and performing, just not how I imagined."
"I'm sorry that happened," Kota said. He touched Kenny's arm. "Do you... Are you worried I might be like that?"
Kenny was silent for a moment. "No, I'm not. I know things have changed, these days. Sorta."
Kota thought he should say something reassuring, but he didn't know what. "Would you ever consider trying wrestling?" A little thrill went through him at the thought.
Kenny sighed. "I don't think so. I'm creatively fulfilled doing what I am doing, and I can express myself and change the world around me, you know? But - when I was watching you in that match the other night - I was incredibly jealous. I hated you for a moment there, for living out my dream. That's - that's my confession."
Kota's excitement at Kenny talking about wrestling quickly faded. His expression clouded over. "But my match was terrible."
Kenny tutted. "You keep saying that, and I still think it was amazing. Your standards are too high."
Kota ran a hand over his eyes. He'd had high hopes in the match and he'd invested all his creativity and energy into it. But it felt as though the entire thing had fallen like a lead balloon, from the dead crowd, to the lack of pacing, and the flat ending.
Kenny, waiting afterwards, waxed lyrical about how he'd loved the moves and the athleticism and the high-flying, but Kota wasn't satisfied. It was enough to throw him into a depressed funk for weeks on end. It was a good thing Kenny kept making him come to his nightly drag shows and distracting him from his own thoughts.
Anything was better than Kota sitting at home reflecting on the last ten years of his career and wondering if he'd wasted the best years of his life as a wrestler. What had he really accomplished? A few title matches in DDT? A few more in New Japan? He felt as though his whole career had been meandering, directionless. Everyone agreed that he was talented: but nobody felt that he'd realised his potential. And he was already past thirty.
What if the Nakamura match had been the best wrestling he'd ever accomplish, and it was all downhill from here? It was enough to induce an anxiety attack when he thought about it. He pushed it out of his mind.
"You're so talented," Kenny said as if on cue, his voice hushed with the memory of all the moves he'd professed to be so impressed by.
Kota rolled over and pressed his face into Kenny's shoulder. "I'm really not. And anyway..." He shook his head. He had no idea how to put his lack of ease into words without sounding like a fool.
Kenny cupped the back of his head and stroked his hair anyway. It was comforting.
Kota knew he was rapidly falling deeply in love with Kenny and he was letting it happen, day by day. He couldn't see any other way forward, for either of them. There was nothing else he wanted more.
"Who is that guy?"
Kota glanced away from the window. It was Nakamura who'd asked. Kenny was waiting in the car park that night, waiting for their coach to come in so he could pick Kota up and help him take his stuff home. Nakamura spotted Kota waving madly at Kenny from the window as the coach pulled in.
It was late in the night, and condensation was running the glass panes after the 5 hour drive south from Niigata prefecture.
Kota cocked his head. "It's Kenny. Don't you remember him?"
Nakamura whirled on him in astonishment. "From the drag bar? Are you... friends?"
Kota grinned. The coach was coming to a halt and everyone climbed off sleepily. Kota walked right up to Kenny and hugged him tight.
They'd been seeing other for a few weeks now, but it felt like a lifetime. This was the first time they'd been separated, even if it had only been for three days. Kota pulled away and really looked at Kenny. Kenny had the freshly-scrubbed pink look of having just come from a show, his hair still damp and the ends curling in the night's humidity.
There was a speck of pink glitter in his eyebrow. Kota flicked it off with his thumb, Kenny's arms encircling his waist. They pulled apart, Kenny hoisting some of Kota's bags over his own shoulder.
"You didn't have to come... it's so late," Kota said, though he was elated. He hated tours, but it had been even worse sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, without Kenny there with all of his questions. It was scary, but thrilling, how dependent he'd become in such a short amount of time.
Kenny ruffled his hair. Kota chuckled. He was amazed at himself: he hadn't been in this good of a mood for what felt like months.
"Be careful," Nakamura said in passing, when Kenny was out of earshot hoisting Kota's suitcase away.
Kota raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
But he didn't have time to find out what Nakamura had meant before their taxis came and they were being hurried over in separate directions by the New Japan staff.
Kota fetched the last of his paperwork from the producer and clapped Kenny on the shoulder. "Let's go home." Kenny smiled sweetly in return.