His chest burned with every cough that racked through him, gasping for air that got caught in his throat more than it reached his lungs. He fumbled for his water bottle and tore off the lid as he searched for some form of relief. The cool water ran down his throat, and he found he could breathe easier. A relieved sigh slipped through his lips after he emptied his bottle of its contents.
"Nanase-san, are you okay?" Iori dropped down in front of him, balancing himself on the balls of his feet as he squatted with an arm outstretched awkwardly, as if he wanted to put a hand on his shoulder.
Straightening from his previously crouched position, he cleared his throat as though that alone would push away his problems. "Yeah, I'm fine. The water hel—" His sentence got caught off by his breath getting caught in his throat again. He tried to push down the urge to cough, but a little slipped through. Despite the water providing temporary relief, the throbbing pain in his chest came back to the point where it was impossible to ignore.
"Nanase-san! Please use your inhaler!" Iori's expression hardened and he stood up and turned in the direction of their stuff as though to retrieve the medicine himself.
He shook his head. "No. I'm fine." His tone was hardened with decisiveness. He didn't want the side-effects of shakiness and his throat full of gunk that affected his singing. Especially with Riku watching.
At some point, TRIGGER had started watching IDOLiSH7's rehearsal, but Tenn already had to step away to prevent himself from getting a full-blown asthma attack. He had to prove Riku's earlier comments wrong. He wasn't a failure as a professional.
TRIGGER—Riku—was watching. Tenn had to go on.
"If you say so..." Iori didn't look like he bought it—his eyebrows were betraying the frown he must've been hiding—but he joined the other members again.
Tenn sighed, then winced when he felt the burn again from the near-attack. He probably did need his inhaler, but he had the rest of the rehearsal to get through. And the performance after.
Standing up, Tenn walked to the nearest sink to refill his water bottle. He needed more water. It helped before, so it would help again. It had to. He had to sing. He had to—
He broke into more coughs, his body spasming in time with each one. The cold water from the faucet hit his hand, and he nearly dropped his bottle into the sink before he was able to regain control. Swallowing back his coughs, Tenn filled the bottle the rest of the way. After he turned off the water and dried his hand off, he rejoined the other members on the stage, but his thoughts were still swarming.
The stage director approached Tenn with a worried frown. "Tenn-kun, you don't seem too well. Are you okay? It's just a camera rehearsal, so it's fine if you rest for a bit. I'll have the AD staff cover for you."
"No!" Tenn answered too quickly. He cursed himself before he added, less urgently, "I'm fine."
"Tenn, sit out. The real show's right after," Yamato cut in.
"Yamato-san, I'm fine..." He coughed.
"Tenn-kun, it'd be best if you let someone fill in for you. You're—"
"I can do it!" Tenn interrupted Sougo. He jumped at the flash of red out the corner of his eye.
"I'll sub for him."
Instead of getting an answer, Riku pushed past him with a sigh. "You have to take your limits more seriously. You're holding up rehearsal," he muttered. "I will fill in for Tenn. He's clearly about to pass out."
"Kujou? You're filling in for Tenn?" Yamato had widened eyes and raised eyebrows.
"The other members shouldn't suffer because Tenn isn't taking care of himself."
Tenn reluctantly complied, but his thoughts were swirling. Familiarity coursed through him, and Tenn sighed as he realized he missed part of the conversation.
"Of course. I'm Kujou Riku. Who do you take me for? Please start."
The music played, and Riku danced in the position Tenn was supposed to be in. He didn't cut any corners; he was the most serious one in the studio. It felt like Riku belonged to IDOLiSH7. It was almost as though he was never part of TRIGGER in the first place.
Tenn shook his head as if that alone would erase the image of Riku as a member of IDOLiSH7 from his mind. He reminded himself that his brother was just good at his job. That was all.
He sighed, even with his internal reassurance.
He allowed himself a moment to picture himself as a member of TRIGGER. However, despite himself expecting the image to be so bizarre that he would immediately stop questioning himself, he got further confused by how easily it came to mind.
How easily it seemed to fit.
"Tenn-san, please use your inhaler so you can be ready for the show."
Tenn whipped his head to look over at Tsumugi, disoriented from how out of focus he was. "Manager, I—" His protests got cut off by another coughing fit, so he sighed. He took his inhaler from her offering hand and held the mouthpiece between his lips and sucked in the medicine. He held his breath for a few seconds to let the medicine settle in his lungs.
Satisfied, Tsumugi walked away to watch the other members, leaving Tenn to his thoughts.
He bit his lip hard enough to distract himself. He knew he was going to cause issues if he kept lingering, so he tore his eyes away from the dancing—where he should've been. He looked down at himself, at his shaky hands from a mixture of stress and the inhaler, and tried to distract himself by observing the way his fingers trembled. He realized that the song was over, so he looked up again.
"How was it?" Riku asked the studio director.
"Perfect! You really saved us there. Thank you, Riku-kun!"
"Thank you, Kujou-san. I apologize for the trouble," Tsumugi added in.
"Rehearsals aren't just practice—they're for getting the studio pumped up for the actual performance as well. This is part of our job. Both the staff members and our fans respond to our sincerity." Riku was staring right at Tenn as he continued, "Using your poor condition as an excuse is just irresponsible."
Tenn winced. While he was hurt by the implication that he wasn't trying his hardest in spite of his asthma, he felt like everything about that was familiar. It was familiar, yet different.
"That's a logical argument. However, let me ask you something. Do you do this for other groups as well, Kujou-san?"
Riku narrowed his eyes at Iori. "What do you mean?"
Iori scoffed, crossing his arms as he stared down his nose at Riku. "You don't, correct? It's only because we're IDOLiSH7, and Nanase-san, your poor younger brother, is here. All this excessive meddling is why he's spoiled and can't do anything by himself!"
Tenn whipped his gaze between the two. He was aware of Riku tensing up as if he were about to spring at Iori.
"What did you just say, Izumi Iori."
Seconds later, Yamato and Ryuunosuke were grabbing Iori and Riku respectively and pulling them away from each other.
"Oi, oi, oi, Ichi, calm down! Kujou just helped us out!" Yamato looked at the two TRIGGER members and added, "I'm so sorry for all the trouble!"
"Riku, Iori-kun is right! You're butting into other agencies' affairs too often!" Ryuunosuke looked at Yamato and a frowning Iori. "Please forgive us!"
Yamato laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. "No, no, no! You've always taken care of us! Let's have a drink some time!"
"Ah, that sounds great! We can go out for drinks when we have time! Come on, Riku."
Baffled by what was going on, Tenn tore his eyes away, pressing his back against the wall and sliding to the ground. He pulled his knees to his chest as he focused more on his whirling thoughts than what was happening. He tuned out everything else that was going on.
Tenn sat on the couch in the dressing room, knees pressed to his chest. The image of Riku dancing with the rest of IDOLiSH7 kept running through his head, and he couldn't shake the feeling about how right it looked. He kept telling himself it was just his brother's perfection, but he didn't quite believe himself.
He sighed loudly.
"Tenn, cheer up! You did great in the actual performance! Look, Kokona-chan is cheering you on!"
He looked up at Mitsuki, who was holding a Magical☆Kokona figure. Nagi, who was trying to reclaim his figure, was batted away.
"You're so cool, Tenn! Have some pudding!" Sougo held out the container of pudding.
"Sou-chan, that's mine!" Tamaki complained.
Tenn blinked at the other members. He was wordless and baffled. "Guys, I..."
He was cut off by the two items being urged towards him, and he ended up holding up his hands as an attempt to ward them off.
"You two sound like you're trying to soothe a kid," Yamato commented.
Tenn bit his lip. He was overwhelmed by everyone trying to calm him down. "Thank you for the offers, but I don't want to bother you guys!" He looked down at his feet, which were still on the couch cushions. "Besides, I do that enough already."
"Tenn-kun..." Sougo sounded worried.
Tenn looked up again when he heard Iori mutter something before he and the manager walked out of the dressing room.
He had to continue to ward off the concerned Sougo and Mitsuki, so Tenn stood up and put a fake smile on his face. "See? I'm better already," he lied. He might've still been worried about why he kept thinking Riku looked like he belonged in IDOLiSH7, but he didn't want to bother the other members especially while they were trying to help cheer him up. "I just need to get better and prove to Riku-nii that I'm a good idol!"
Mitsuki and Sougo exchanged worried glances—both of their eyebrows were knitted together and they frowned—but they handed the stolen items back to Nagi and Tamaki respectively.
Tenn held back his sigh of relief. He just didn't want the others to worry about him.
"Tenn, you already are a good idol. If Kujou doesn't see that, you don't have to prove yourself," Yamato added in. "Don't let him get to you. You're a great center."
Tenn bit his lip again. "Thank you, Yamato-san, but I still want to get better. I was doing so well, so why am I getting worse again?" He sighed, then winced when his breath burned in his throat as if to emphasize his point.
Nobody else had a chance to say anything else, since Iori and Tsumugi walked back into the room. Their manager looked serious as she cleared her throat.
"Tenn-san, will you come with me please?"
He nodded as he walked to join her, then he felt nervous with Iori following him and Tsumugi out to the hallway.
"What's going on?" Tenn asked, trying to keep up his façade that he was fine.
Tsumugi looked guilty and her gaze was flitting around as though she wanted to look anywhere except Tenn or Iori. She only spoke up when Iori cleared his throat. "R-right! Tenn-san, would you be willing to let Iori-san fill in as center for you while you recover?"
Tenn gaped in surprise. "I-Iori?! As center?" The image almost scared Tenn. Iori was perfect, after all.
Still, the thought of being able to take a break from how hard he worked as center did sound like it would help him recover...
He was afraid of what Riku would say, though. Would he see it as proof that Tenn wasn't suited to be on stage?
Tenn sighed. He didn't like what Riku might've replied with, but he did know what would help him recover faster. He looked over at Iori, whose neutral face didn't give Tenn any help towards how he thought on the matter.
"Alright. Iori's center now," he answered.
Iori as center. That would mean Tenn got a break from how hard he'd been working. He could get better, which would mean he could prove Riku wrong. Backing out as center for a little while didn't mean he was giving up. He was just putting his health first so he could be healthy for the fans. It wouldn't do him any good to work himself to an early grave.
Yet... Iori was perfect. What if he was a better center than Tenn ever had been? He didn't want to hurt the others just to prove to Riku—no, to himself—that he could be on stage. That he could be center.
He sighed and dropped to lay on his bed rather than to simply sit on it.
Tenn was the one in IDOLiSH7, yet Riku alongside the other members was eerily familiar. He couldn't ignore it. Riku was perfect too, yet that wasn't the reason that he seemed to fit in Tenn's spot. When he imagined his brother singing lines Tenn did, he could picture it perfectly.
He winced. Was he really meant to be a member if he could be replaced so easily?
He sucked in a breath with the intention of sighing, but it caught in his throat and caused him to break into a fit of painful coughs. He gasped for air between each one. He sat up and reached for a cup on his table that thankfully had a small amount of water in it. He gulped it down, and it helped, but he wished he had more. He stood up, cup still in hand, to go to the kitchen to get himself more water.
He jumped at a knock on his door as he was reaching for the knob.
Tenn opened the door to find Sougo on the other side. The older boy was carrying a mug.
"Hello, Tenn-kun. I heard you coughing and I figured you would like some tea."
Tenn smiled, almost laughing despite his mood. "I was going to just get some water," he said, holding up the cup in his hand, "but I guess you beat me to it. Thanks."
Sougo dipped his head as he swapped cups with Tenn. "Of course. I'd like to do anything to help, especially since you seem stressed."
"My apologies for causing any concern," he replied. "I'm just worried about how I'm affecting the other members because I'm not performing to my best standards. I'm letting down our fans."
"You're not thinking too much about what Kujou-san said, are you?" Sougo tipped his head to the side and frowned as he looked him over.
Instead of answering Sougo, Tenn took a sip of the tea. It was spiced, surprisingly not to levels that would normally come from Sougo, but the warmth from both the temperature and the spice soothed his throat, which was raw from his coughing. He was grateful for Sougo's thoughtfulness, but... "Please don't worry yourself, Sougo-san! I'll be okay."
"Thank you for the tea. I'll see you in the morning."
Sougo's furrowed eyebrows and frown pricked at the guilt Tenn was trying to ignore, but he didn't want to talk about Riku, which is where the conversation seemed to be going.
"I'm sorry for any concerns. I don't want to think about my brother right now, but I appreciate you looking out for me. Thank you."
Sougo's expression lightened so that Tenn felt a little better. "Sleep well. If there's anything you need, please let me know." He walked away, and Tenn's shoulders slumped as soon as Sougo was out of view.
Sougo was just wanting to help. Even then, thinking about Riku just made things worse. He sighed.
Laying on his bed after he finished the tea, Tenn closed his eyes. Sleep would help. He'd forget about everything tomorrow. He'd just have to go through a new day while not being the center of IDOLiSH7. He could do it. He'd be fine.
Tenn handed his supply of King Pudding to Tamaki. "Where's Riku's room?"
Tamaki, who was almost drooling at the sight of how much pudding he received, pointed in the direction of Riku's room. Tenn hardened his gaze as he walked there.
Tenn knocked on the door, and a Riku with messy hair, wide eyes, and a gaping mouth was on the other side.
"Tenn-nii? You're here?"
Tenn smiled so he wouldn't reveal his intentions. "Yes. Would you provide me company, Riku?"
Riku nodded, scrambling to let Tenn inside.
Tenn looked around, taking in the setting of the room. It was red-themed, as Tenn expected with it being Riku's signature color. There was a large beanbag that had an indent as if from recent use. The television was on, paused on Tenn's face from after a live. He finally commented.
"Have you been taking care of yourself? Seeing doctors and taking medicines?"
"You can turn off the TV. I'm right here." He gestured in the direction of where his own face was paused.
Riku quickly reached for the remote and shut it off. "There. How are you, Tenn-nii? What are you up to?"
Tenn sat down next to Riku when his brother patted on the bed. "Okay, I'll talk with you." He took a moment before he replied. "I've been working hard. I hope you have as well."
"Are you going to tell me why you left us all those years ago like you promised?" Red eyes sparkled with hope; eyebrows betrayed nervousness.
Instead of answering, Tenn focused on what he came for. "Riku, do you have anyone you like?"
Riku, with owlish and blinking eyes, looked confused. "Not really, but I have someone I'm interested in. Why?" His eyebrows raised as he came to a realization. "Is Tenn-nii coming to me for romantic advice?"
"Would you do anything for this person you're interested in? Would you go out of your way to try to make them happy?" Tenn ignored Riku's question. He had to get to where he was going or Riku's expression—wide eyes drifting towards his lap—would break him down. "My lovers are my fans, Riku. I'd do anything to make them happy. They're who matter most to me. If I don't give my all in a performance, there's no point in being on stage at all."
Riku's eyebrows knitted up in confusion as he looked up again. "What are you saying, Tenn-nii?"
He hardened his gaze. He didn't want to see Riku hurting, but what he was about to say was important. "If you can't fulfill the wishes of your fans and provide them an enriched concert, you're failing as a professional."
Riku's mouth gaped in shock. "Tenn-nii..."
"Nanase Riku, I refuse to see you as an idol."
The hurt flashing over Riku's features sent a shock of guilt through Tenn. He had to stay strong. He couldn't take anything back. Riku couldn't be on stage. He was going to hurt himself. If Tenn could do something at the risk of his brother hating him before, he could do it again. It was for Riku's sake.
"What are you saying?"
Tenn pursed his lips to keep his composure. "Until you prove that your condition is nothing to stop your fans from receiving the dreamlike concert they paid for and took the time to come to, you will never be an idol in my eyes."
Riku looked at the verge of tears. He was chewing on his lip. He didn't reply, which left Tenn open to continue. He had to keep talking so he didn't back out of what he'd already decided on.
"You couldn't keep the promise to your fans, and you never will from here on out. Resign from being an idol." Tenn balled his hand into fist and dug his nails into his palm. He was doing it for Riku. If Riku got a bad enough attack, he could die. Tenn had to do all he could to prevent that from happening, no matter the cost.
"I couldn't keep that promise...?"
"The worst thing you could do is disappoint your fans. If anything happened to me and I hurt my fans because of it—especially if I could've prevented it—I would never be able to forgive myself." He took a breath. He had to keep it together. He was being harsh for Riku's sake. "Even if they stop being my fan, I want them to look back at a performance I gave with a smile. I want them to know I gave them my all. You should think the same thing. You're a good kid who works hard, which is why I forgot you're my frail younger brother who can't run. I almost saw you as a rival, but then you reminded me that you're Nanase Riku, the weak boy with a severe condition. You aren't my rival. You're just a weak younger brother in a world he doesn't belong in."
Riku's eyes hardened, and he frowned as he slapped his hands on the bed to brace himself as he sharply stood up. "Stop it. You don't know what I deal with. Stop it, Kujou Tenn. I hate you!"
Tenn jolted awake. Confusion flooded over him. Nothing about that dream made sense. First of all, why would Riku's room have been where Tenn was laying at that very moment? It was even different than how Tenn's room looked; he didn't have a beanbag chair, for one thing. How would a room that he'd never seen before have been so detailed in a dream?
Tenn's thoughts shifted to other details of his dream. It was obvious that he'd been... Kujou Tenn, and his brother was Nanase Riku—rather than the opposite. Why did that not feel wrong? Why did something that should've been an immediately dismissed 'what if' feel so right?
'Kujou Tenn' didn't sound wrong. It sunk in his gut as though it were who he was. The personality he had... was familiar. The thoughts flowing through him as he went about trying to get Riku to stop being an idol so he wouldn't risk his own health weren't foreign to him.
What was new was the detail of Riku telling him he had no idea what he dealt with. He did know. Rather, he did now.
Wait... Why was he thinking as if that dream were a memory? That was impossible. Wasn't it?
Tenn stared at his ceiling while his thoughts buzzed.
It was just a stress reaction. He only thought that way because the image of Riku dancing alongside the rest of IDOLiSH7 kept vividly flashing through his mind. That was it. He was overthinking what was obviously just a dream. He was Nanase Tenn.
Even while he told himself that, he didn't quite believe it. A part of himself kept insisting that it was a real memory.
Tenn didn't want to believe it, though. He sighed.
"I'm Nanase Tenn," he said aloud. "I have an older twin who used to be Nanase Riku, but now he's Kujou Riku."
It felt foreign on his tongue even though it was all he knew. He hoped that getting back to sleep would shake off whatever that stress-fueled dream was. He groaned in frustration and pressed his thumb and index finger against his eyes to try to urge himself to sleep.
"I hate you!”
Tenn winced as Riku's words shot through his mind again.
He rolled onto his side with a sigh, closing his eyes and hoping sleep would come to him and shake off the dream that kept driving him up the wall.
Tenn woke up with a clear mind. While he was drowsy from the rough night, he wasn't worked up from his dream.
He stretched in his seat, taking a deep breath. His throat was still raw from how often he had to use his inhaler during rehearsal, but he wasn't as worn out as he would've been if he was still center.
Music from the TV made Tenn glance up. When he saw Riku's face, his dream came rushing back to him. He had been fine during rehearsal other than getting used to Iori being center, but with his dream rushing back, he bit his lip. Hearing Riku say 'I hate you!' ran through his mind again. He balled his hands into fists as he zoned out, glaring at the television as if it was the cause of all his problems.
"Tenn? You alright? You're staring at the TV pretty hard."
Tenn was ripped out of his thoughts when Yamato spoke up. He looked up to see his eyebrow raised in question, his mouth quirked into a concerned curve.
"I'm okay." He wasn't completely honest there, but what could he do when he was dealing with what was obviously just the same stress from the same dream that didn't mean anything?
He sighed and hid his frown by drinking much-needed water. He'd gotten plenty with how many breaks he had to take during rehearsal, but he still needed more.
"If you're sure. Just remember that we're members, though, okay?"
Tenn nodded. "Thank you, Yamato-san. I just needed some water. I'll be fine in a few minutes." He really didn't want to talk about that dream. It seemed too real; he had to distract himself.
Except he couldn't get the image out of his head—how well the image of him alongside Yaotome Gaku and Tsunashi Ryunosuke fit.
How well Riku seemed to fit with IDOLiSH7 the day before.
Almost like... that was how it was meant to be.