As expected of a Japanese talk show, the place and stage was bright and colorful, filled with a large array of colors from the spectrum. The lights were of different hues, all angled differently, as hip music sounded in the background. The seats were filled to the brim, mostly full of excited teenage girls, and they were actually people waiting outside, trying to get a glimpse, even if it was tiniest, of the interviewees inside of the studio.
Sitting on top of the diamond-studded stage, were various people. To the right, two interviewers sat in oval spinny chairs, a preppy woman who brought a cheerful mood to the place and seemed to have a permanent smile glued on her face, and a dynamic man who would do anything to dig deep and get something interesting from conversations to give the show good ratings. To the left, was a long light purple couch where five handsome, stylishly-dressed boys sat and were answering questions from the interviewers.
"To be honest, Oikawa-san," one was saying, "you smell like a pair of rotten boots when you wake up in the morning..."
"Rude!" exclaimed the stunning brown-haired idol in the center, with a face that looked carved from marble. He was filled with a sort of radiance, a bright confidence that only magnified with his every laugh. "How could you, Keiji-chan? And here I thought you were my ally!"
A beautiful teenager, with the most exquisite features and elegant physique, deadpanned, his emerald green eyes looking at him in exasperation.
"I was your ally, Oikawa-san, until I became your roommate for our East Asia tour and I had to put up with your morning smell and ungodly bathroom hogging for two months."
The audience roared with laughter and the interviewers gave their amused chuckles in return, while the boys nodded to each other in assurance, giggling as well. It wasn't a lie.
"Then, according to you boys," smiled the male interviewer, "who is the best person in the group to room with during, say, a concert or an overseas trip?"
"Oh, Sugawara would be the one to aim for," said a quiet voice from the further left side. He was a petite-looking, delicately-built boy with mysterious feline-like gold eyes, whose true beauty was something you could only discover after digging deep. His hair was also badly dyed, looking now like a pudding, but nobody questioned it anymore, as it was his trademark hair style. "He is very clean and organized. He is a gentle sleeper and is radiant every waking hour. He might even bring some air freshners to spray around and keep the atmosphere clean."
"True! You've got to love Mama Suga," exclaimed Oikawa enthusiastically. He pointed to the gray-haired angelic idol to his right. "The only bad thing is that sometimes he wants you to wake up early and do exercise with him. Which is fine, of course, if it weren't at 4 a.m. on weekend mornings."
"What can I say? Exercise is important, Tooru-kun," sing-sang the gray-haired angel, who truly looked from the heavens above. He gave a wide smile, although his seemingly innocent complexion turned sly and teasing. "Unless you want to be an arthritis-stricken, pain-stricken, crickety-crackety old man in the future!"
"So meeaan!" squeaked Oikawa. He turned to the hostess. "Misa-san! Do you see what kind of treatment I get in this group?"
"Oh, Tooru-kun, I bet it's just a way for them to show their love to you," smiled the lady adoringly. "Who wouldn't love somebody like you?"
This triggered a massive onslaught of screaming, many "I love you, Oikawa-kun!"s and "Marry me forever, Tooru!"s, and cheering from the fangirls as they raised posters and tried to get Oikawa's attention. The idol calmly turned around and began waving, hiding his clear annoyance, flashing them cute gestures. After the situation calmed down a little, the female asked another question.
"Well, on a happy note, your album LEGENDS has become the most sold album not just in Asia, but worldwide, for the past two weeks! How do you feel about such an accomplishment?" she smiled. She turned around. "Why don't we hear Kageyama-kun answer such a question? You've been awfully quiet, Prince."
"Only because I was overcome speechless by the presence of our fans," said an overwhelmingly good-looking dark-haired, blue-eyed idol to the further right side of the couch, with a deep voice that triggered wild shrieks from the audience and applause. "I feel extremely grateful for the support of our JAX5 fans. I speak for the group when I say we've worked tirelessly day and night putting together and polishing this album, but it's all for them. It is worth it to see that they enjoy our work. That is our highest level of satisfaction."
"Well, with such an incredible accomplishment, what do you boys see next for your future? You are all hailed as the saviours of Japanese music, after all, bringing so much popularity to our country's entertainment industry and hooking the attention of thousands of investors and producers," said the lady interestedly, amidst the vociferous clapping. "What will your fans expect? What will expect?"
"Many surprises, Misa-san," said Oikawa, smiling slyly, his usually 'honest' brown orbs shining with a mysterious glint. "Our fans will expect many surprises..."
After wrapping up the interview, talking to the audience in the stage, greeting the fans waiting for them outside, and just overall avoiding being stampeded by a crowd of passionate fangirls, the JAX5 filed quietly into their bus through a private hallway.
Outside the heavy spotlight they faced as Japan's most beloved icons, the JAX5 immediately peeled off their well-built shells and revealed the personalities that really hid underneath. As they got into the heavily-covered bus, nobody got in the same row as the other, opting for different places, and revealing the true tensions that lay beneath the seemingly cheerful dynamics between them.
Kozume Kenma, the keyboardist, immediately took out the PSP he had been hiding from his backpocket and was busy clicking away at its buttons, disregarding everything else in the world for the boss he was trying to beat. A row behind him, Akaashi Keiji, one of the vocals, immediately plugged in his earbuds (gold-rimmed, authentically imported from Belgium, with diamond details) and drowned in music, grabbing a sketchpad and working on the doodles he had never shown a soul. Kageyama Tobio, the lead guitarist, had taken out a book and was quietly reading it.
His leisure, however, was interrupted when their leader and main vocalist, Oikawa Tooru, passed by to find a seat of his own and felt the need to slam the book out of his hands, making it crash into the floor.
"What the fuck was that for?" demanded Kageyama angrily, standing up.
"Ah - oops, my bad Tobio-chan," snickered Oikawa insincerely, passing by and carelessly going to his seat, 'accidentally' stepping on Kageyama's book in the process.
"Don't be an asshole," snapped Sugawara Koushi, guitarist and vocalist, picking up the book gently and handing it to Kageyama, although it was more like shoving. The dark-haired youth blinked confusedly at the tension radiating between both parties. Suga stood in front of Oikawa, arms crossed against his chest. "Now you're just picking fights for no reason."
"As long as he's alive, there'll always be a reason," snorted Oikawa.
Sugawara narrowed his eyes. "You're such a jealous whore, Oikawa. He's only fifteen, for God's sake. He doesn't need to put up with your drama, just because you're under the unrealistic suspicion he's going to steal your place as leader.
"If I'm a whore then you're the neighborhood prostitute," snapped Oikawa, gritting his teeth angrily. "Willing to fuck anybody for any reason. I'm tired of everybody in this fucking group going on with your pretend act of being so cute and innocent, Sugawara, when you're really the worst of us. You sell yourself to everybody! Politicians, doctors, teachers, policemen...they're all in your fuck list."
"Why don't you all just shut up?" sighed Akaashi, finally ripping off his earbuds and glaring fiercely at them. "I can even hear you with ACDC in the background! Does it matter if he got two minutes more of questions than you? Does it matter if somebody fucks the whole Japanese Army? No! It's none of your businesses."
"Why don't you follow your own advice, Keiji-chan?" hissed Oikawa back.
"Nobody is more of a hypocrite then you in that case, Akaashi," said Suga angrily. "You're the one who barges into everybody's business! Why don't you stick your nose where it should be? The gutter."
"At least he has a point!" snapped Kageyama accusingly. "Can't you all just shut up for one bus ride? Our next stop for the magazine shoot is seriously only twelve minutes away. Are you saying you are grown people, but you can't just shut up or stock bickering for twelve fucking minutes?"
"Well, twelve minutes with you is hell enough for me!" snapped Oikawa."Every breath of yours makes me feel like I'm in a gas chamber," retorted Kageyama. "But what can I do about it, huh? Nothing! Can't you just fucking swallow your illogical hatred for me for just one fucking bus ride?"
"Ooh, 'illogical.' When did you get so smart and started using vocabulary words past the first grade level, huh, Tobio-chan?"
"You're all so petty."
The four of them turned around to face Kenma, who'd stood up, PSP still in hand, and looked at them with eerily cold golden orbs.
"And you aren't?" challenged Akaashi, with a snort. "Come on, Kenma-san. It's a miracle you even spoke today. You're just as petty, if not more, than all of us. You're lucky you're still even in the group..."
"There's a reason I'm still in the group, and that's because I know things. I survive, because I adapt. I am silent, but I watch. I know everything. And when the time comes, I will strike and use all that information against those who are even considering to oppose me," said Kenma eerily, sending chills down their spines. "I know all your dirty secrets, but you all can't even begin to decipher mine. Your claws are sharp, but mine are sharper. What would happen if I 'accidentally' spilled something about the 'dilemma' to somebody?"
The other four stood in silence.
"Thank you. That wasn't so hard, was it? Now, please be quiet for the remainder of the trip and let me beat the boss I couldn't concentrate on beating because of your ruckus," Kenma grumbled, shaking his head as he sat back down. "Un-fucking-lievable."
The rest of the bus ride was spent in silence, all of the members engulfed in their own worlds, all calmly re-building their composures for their magazine shoot and for the Academy Award-deserving act they needed to pull. They were rewarded with knowing that it would all be soon over, and they would be able to sink into the peace of their respective solitudes, without having to be under the insufferable pressence of the other four.
If only they knew what would lie ahead of them, just three hours, thirty four minutes and fifty-five seconds later, in an incident that would change the whole course of their lives forever.
"Holy shit, holy shit."
"W-What do we do?"
"This is worse than the 'dilemma'!"
"Why did I get into this mess...?"
"Okay, okay, calm down everybody, we'll think of a solution."
"What fucking solution? There's no solution!"
"Suga's right, we need to calm the fuck down."
"Y...Yes. You're right."
"But our careers-?"
"Our fucking careers will be basically nonexistent if this gets out! Shut up about it."
"Be quiet! Gosh, will you continue babbling stupidly or what? We need to actually be intelligent and think of something, not panic like kindergarteners."
"Follow me! Come on, quickly."
"Okay, let's do it."
"Move! Keep moving..."
"Don't look back. We're on a race against time and remorse."
"You've fucked up deep, Oikawa. Deep."
"I wasn't the only one who fucked up," said Oikawa, glaring at the rest of them. "We all did."
The JAX5 were in the middle of the woods, shielded by the quiet foliage of the leaves and the darkness of the night. The moon was barely up in the sky, and slivers of light sneaked in through the trees to reveal only fractions of their faces. But that was enough. They didn't need to see anything more. The soil was damp against their touch, but at this point, none of the five members cared enough about it, even after being used to years of luxury after their group's forming.
There were much more important matters at hand, after all.
They were alone and were free to speak as loud as they wanted, without any fear of anybody hearing them, but paranoia had crept into their veins and the fear that had paralyzed them just a few minutes ago was still there, chilling their spines and leaving them gasping for air occasionally. They all tried to keep their composures, but the truth was that they were all in the borderline of insanity.
"I...It's true," said Kageyama, a mere whisper.
Normally, Oikawa would jab at him for saying something like that, declaring it was a miracle that the Prince finally got common sense, or whatnot, but now wasn't time for jokes. And nobody could deny the truth behind the blue-eyed idol's statement.
"What should we do now?" asked Sugawara. "We've gotten away, sure, but for how long?"
"We've gotten physically away," said Kenma quietly, rocking back and forth pensively, pulling his knees close to his chest. "But psychologically, this might never leave us."
"Thanks for lightening up the mood, Kitten," hissed Sugawara. Then he shook his head, sighing, running a stressed hand through his hair, usually perfect, now dishreveled. "I am sorry, Kenma. It's not time for us to be bickering amongst each other. We need to unite, even for a while, to make a plan."
"I agree," said Kenma.
"So do I," nodded Kageyama.
"That's easier said than done. But, as I stated before, there is no need to panic about this. So we killed somebody," said Akaashi, drawling with a bored expression on his face, devoid of the life he used to have. He looked at them mysteriously. "So what?"
"So what?" exclaimed Suga incredulously. "Just a one-way trip to the Tokyo Detention House, or to a nice hanging as legal punishment for murder, that's what!"
"Everyone, calm down," said Oikawa, although his words trembled a little.
He gave a few gulps of air, and the other four were rendered speechless seeing their leader so unstable. It was shocking. Oikawa had everything under control. He always had everything under control. Kenma might have been the brains of the group, the genius behind their lyrics...but Oikawa was their mastermind, the conductor to their orchestra, the controlling force to their wayward ways. He was the soothing energy to their chaos. He was the one who could keep his composure best. He couldn't be the one panicking at a time like this. They needed him. Because in the inside, all of them had always looked up to him, respected and admired him the most.
"The first step would be to dispose the body," he said. Apparently, calmed down. His eyes shone with newfound determination. "And to destroy any evidence that could lead this murder to us. We must not let anybody know this at all costs."
"What do you suggest, then?" said Kenma dryly. Time had turned his usually shy and quiet demeanor into a sly, lethal weapon of verbal destruction, protected behind an apathetic barrier. "That we just throw them into a river?"
"Yeah," said Oikawa. "I might very well be doing so."
The other four of them gaped at him, silent laying a shroud in the air.
"You...can't be serious," said Kageyama after a while.
"Unfortunately, I am as serious as I can be, Tobio-chan, unless there are any other brilliant ideas," said Oikawa, standing up. "But I won't be able to do it alone, even with this six-pack and incredible arms of mine. I need you all to help me."
"It doesn't seem like we have another choice," pointed out Akaashi.
"True. I just didn't want to make it sound so harsh," said the leader. He looked at them. "Does anybody know what we should do to dispose of the body?"
"We should bleach it first," said Sugawara, pulling out a large bottle from behind him. "I grabbed this oxygen bleach out of panic...just in case. But I'm glad I did now. We need to take out all the DNA evidence."
"Then, we pulverize their teeth, burn their fingerprints and disfigure their face...at least until we can think of solid alibis and get away with this," said Kenma. "We should also burn all other equipment we have. We must not leave any evidence here."
"...I will try not to ask where you two got that information," muttered Oikawa. "Now, c'mon boys, let's get to work."
The JAX5 worked hard, but after a while, all necessary procedures were done. After dumping the final product, the body of the victim, into a large sack, they sealed it tight. They huddled in a circle, conversing with each other.
"Okay...so we're done with the procedures," said Sugawara, taking out his gloves and putting them in the small bonfire that they had made, which was burning only slightly, making a thin trail of smoke. "Now, about the body itself."
"Why don't we just put it somewhere nobody will ever find it?" asked Kageyama. "Less problems for us!"
"It's too risky," said Akaashi. "It'll be found eventually. Plus, their disappearance will be suspicious and it'll be all over to the news. We don't need that kind of scandal, anyways."
"Okay, so what do we do?" asked the fifteen-year old.
"Y...You're too young to get too involved in this shit, Kageyama," said Akaashi gently. "I'll make sure of it. I know just the place for the body."
"Can we trust you with this, Keiji-chan?" said Oikawa, raising his eyebrows.
"Yes, Akaashi-san, you are just one year older than me..."
"When have I ever failed?" demanded Akaashi. He took the silence as a 'never'. "That's right. Don't worry - I will succeed, for our sake."
"We should frame somebody," said Sugawara. "I mean, it's not the right thing to do, but it'll take the blame off us and keep the radar. Preferably someone close to them-"
"I know just who," said Kenma. "Leave it to me. But Kageyama will have to help me..."
"M-Me? Oh, um, sure," said Kageyama.
"Suga and I will develop good alibis, while we're on it," said Oikawa. "Just in case we're considered, because we will be. They'll take us for questioning, and we need to have matching stories and excuses for then. We have to be as convincing as possible. It'll take a while, it won't be easy, and it'll take some contacts, but we'll make it."
He clapped his hands and flashed them a shockingly cheerful genuine smile. "And then, we can just dump this away to some dark corner of our minds and never think about it again!"
"And then what? Just pretend like this was any other day? Just proceed with our careers and pretend we don't want to strangle the living hell out of each other? You think you can just continue with your glamorous, annoying lifestyle you like so much, your accessories whose worth could feed half of the starving population of Japan, your daily latte macchiatos - that's bullshit!" snapped Kageyama angrily, his tone cold and hissing, tears hot in his eyes as he faced the other four, particularly their leader. It was then they realized how truly, awfully young their fellow member was, just beginning high school. "How can you be so noncholant? Wake up, Oikawa-san! The games have changed. Our lives have changed! Nothing will ever be the same. We've just killed somebody, Oikawa-san. All of us."
"So what, Tobio-chan?" said Oikawa, sighing, standing and turning his back on them, looking up at the dark green foliage of the trees, trying to get a glimpse of hope, of light, of the moon. "It's not time to be a sulky teenager. You have as much responsibility as us in this, so you just have to suck it and grow up. We'll never forget this. Our lives will never be the same. That much is true. But the least we can do is pretend otherwise."
Suddenly, he whirled around, eyes blazing with emotion.
"So swear it to me," hissed Oikawa. "Swear it to me. All of you. That you won't mention a single word of this to anybody. That none of us here will ever talk about it again. And then, we will walk away from this like it never happened, ever."
"...Okay," said Kageyama slowly, after a hesitant pause. Nobody knew what he was thinking. "Okay. Let's do that. Because I swear I will never mention this in my life, and that I will drag this secret to my very grave. No matter what it takes."
"So do we," echoed three other voices.
"Good," said Oikawa, although that was so unlike their situation. He sat down again, leaning against the solid bark of a tree. "I-It'll be all right. We will be all right. Good, good, good, good..."
He continued repeating it, perhaps in hopes it would end his misery, would take his mind elsewhere, would lift such a heavy burden for a seventeen year old. Perhaps because he was afraid, and needed solace, comfort. Perhaps because he needed somebody, but had nobody, just like the other four.
Needless to say, after "the incident" they were never the same.
So frankly, it wasn't a surprise that after one very suffocating after-party gala for an awards event the JAX5 had hosted, the five of them found themselves in their shared building, reuniting for a last get-together, and the silver-haired angel of their group finally mentioned the elephant in the room.
"I think..." Sugawara said slowly, standing up and gazing at all of them with a solemn expression, his eyes too cold for his usually twinkling, cheerful angelic expression, "I think it's time that we disbanded."
"Suga is right," said Oikawa, looking awfully calm for a situation so tense. He hummed thoughtfully. "It's time that we ended things. Besides, nothing was ever truly the same after we made that album together. We've changed, but not for the better."
Kenma raised an eyebrow. "Well, are we splitting up, then?"
"Yeah," said Oikawa. Then he looked down, almost as if in shame. "I'm sorry we had to end it like this, guys. I know that when we first started the band, we had great aspirations. I didn't expect our path to be easy, but I didn't know all of our hopes, our innocence, our dreams would come crashing down like this-"
"It's not your fault, Tooru," whispered Suga. "We all changed. And LEGENDS...well, it was a success, but the fans will never know how much psychological trauma it brought to us. That album was the breaking point of all of our tension."
"Anyhow, I have to thank you all," said Akaashi out of a sudden, with dark reminiscence. The taste was bitter in his lips. "We had our misunderstandings, but I've enjoyed this. All of this. We had...they were good times."
"They were," nodded Suga quietly.
"We should do something," said Kageyama suddenly. "For the fans, I mean. Sure, they're a little invading sometimes, but I love them all the same. Without them, we wouldn't have gotten so far. I am very grateful."
"So are we," affirmed Akaashi.
"We'll make one last song to them before we formally announce our disbanding, and our retiring from our entertainment company. Our farewell gig, let's say. A small gift of gratitude, perhaps. We'll appear at the end of the music video and thank them for their support. And we'll title it...'Goodbye'. Kenma, can you get to doing it? We'll need the lyrics so we can do everything as soon as possible and be done with this," said Oikawa.
"I'll get to working on it," nodded Kenma.
"Great. We'll wrap up production for it by next week. Until then, we won't appear in any public events. We won't participate in social media. It'll build up a sense of anticipation. And then, after the video is published...then we can just split our group's assets and continue with our lives."
"What about our futures?" said Sugawara curiously.
"I should tell the first and second years to continue with their studies, and all that 'being responsible' shit," sighed Oikawa, who had taken advanced classes and graduated early. "But it'll be hell at school. Just saying. Celebrities don't get it easy, and you guys will probably be bombarded. You should take an education, but maybe abroad where you aren't as known, or just via internet. But as long as I'm concerned, I don't really care. After this, it's best we don't contact each other anyways. You are all free to do what you want. Nobody is the boss of you, and I sure as hell don't want to. My advice is simply not to get discouraged by the media, and just pursue your passions."
"It's for the best," said Akaashi. "Staying with each other...would be toxic. This is our chance to start new lives."
"T-That's good," declared Kageyama. He cleared his throat. "Because I-I've booked tickets."
"Tickets? To where?" asked Sugawara, surprise evident.
"To Korea," replied the dark-haired, blue-eyed idol, his voice more firm and emotionless. "South Korea. I want to start...anew. There are too many memories here in Japan for me. Unpleasant memories. My ambitions remain, however. I want to continue with my career, but here is not the place where I can do it."
"And what do you expect to do there, huh, Tobio-chan?" snorted Oikawa with surprising snark, running a hand through his hair. "How do you, a foreigner, expect to thrive and survive in a world so power-hungry and cruel for artists? Where boy bands are constantly ripping at each other's throats? It won't be easy."
"I was never expecting it to be easy, Oikawa-san. But I'll work hard and see where it takes me. I will succeed," said Kageyama, in an equally surprising cold tone. "Although I didn't mention it was any of your business."
There was silence.
"I leave in three days, actually," said Kageyama nervously, standing up. "The audition to become a trainee is in a week, so I need to be there early. I apologize for the inconvenience I am."
"Whatever, I was going to hand it in by tomorrow, anyways," said Kenma. Then he looked at his underclassman. "Don't worry. We can wrap up production quickly. We can also make the announcement for you, put you out there and help boost your career there in Korea. Then, we can all leave in good terms."
"T-Thank you. I am grateful."
"But will you be all right, Kageyama? Oikawa is right. You'll be going to a new country, and it can be a huge cultural shock. Especially with the language," said the pudding-haired keyboardist, blinking at him with those analytical golden orbs.
"It'll be difficult, but I think I'll manage," said Kageyama nervously. "I already know Korean anyways, but it's a little rusty. I need to take these past few days to refine it." He swallowed and looked at them. "I need to get going, but first, I wanted to thank you all. For taking me in. JAX5...will always be my family. My true and only family. I will never forget you all, and the experiences we have had together. You guys will always be a permanent part of my life, even if we don't stay in contact ever again after our disbanding. Thank you...for everything."
"Thanks, Kageyama," said Oikawa. "You too. You're still a little shit, and I still want to throw you into a ditch, but we'll miss you all the same." He sighed, letting out a quick expression of sadness. "I will miss you all the same. You and the rest of the group."
"We will all miss each other," said Akaashi. "We've had shit times, but we've had more good times bad. But separating is for the best. Honestly, we'll be able to accomplish more like this, individually. Our careers will benefit from this."
"JAX5 was incredible while it lasted," said Sugawara with a sad smile. "I am happy, even if it pains me for us to split this way."
"Look at it through 'the bright side.' We were bound to split anyways. All great groups split in the end: the Beatles, Rage Against the Machine, Guns N' Roses, Oasis, Black Sabbath, Destiny's Child...you name it," said Akaashi.
"Of course you mentioned Destiny's Child," whispered Suga, the sad smile still on his face. It was an inside joke of theirs, one that had started from their first months as an official band, although it was one they had almost forgotten.
"Shut up, Sugawara-san. Queen Bey is a flawless messenger from the heavens above."
"The Rolling Stones didn't though," said Oikawa in bitter humor, suddenly changing the subject and taking the chance of lightening up the mood, even just for a second. "Disband or split, I mean. And Mick Jagger is like what, 100,000 years old already?"
"Pretty great guess," pointed out Akaashi dryly, sarcasm dripping in heavy amounts, "but he's actually 72."
And suddenly, they all burst into chuckles and laughter, for no apparent reason. The joke had been hastily made and was simple, had no outstanding amount of wit or intelligence, but it was enough to send them into a fit of giggles, as if they were all hooked and addicted on laughing gas. They were catapulted to three years in the past, when JAX5 was still a foreign dream of theirs, and they were all best friends, unexperienced children who hadn't been forced to grow up too fast. Perhaps so much sadness and conflict had made them drunk with darkness too long, and suddenly something so small seemed like the most humorous thing in the world.
"Will we ever see each other again, though?" asked Sugawara sadly.
"For our sakes, let's hope that's not the case," mumbled Kenma.