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An Alternative Method

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“Famous for fried chicken on a stick,” Yamada said, finishing his description.

Keito shook his head in disbelief. “That’s not a thing,” he said skeptically narrowed eyes and laughed. “That can’t be a real item on the menu there. Who would eat that?”

Yamada’s eyes got bigger as he tried to convince Keito of the truth. He waved his hand in the air for extra emphasis. “No, it’s totally real and it’s delicious! It’s not actually on a stick though.”

“Then why do they even call it fried chicken on a stick?!”

Yuto tried not to look too obvious as he watched them from the other side of the studio. They looked so happy, he could positively feel the emotion radiating off of them from where he was standing. The two of them were picture perfect best friends. Attached at the hip. Inseparable.

It wasn’t that Yuto disliked their friendship. Actually he thought the strong bond they had was nice. Someone to lean on during rough times and laugh with during good ones. The real problem was that Yuto had realized something recently: he had a crush on Keito. A massive one. The kind of clichéd one where his knees felt weak whenever he and Keito were in the same room.

But he couldn’t get Keito alone long enough to even tell him. Yamada was always around like some pesky mosquito you couldn’t swat away. Not that he wanted to swat his friend, but seriously, he was beginning to think Keito and Yamada were a packaged deal.

So he’d resigned himself to watching from a distance, still observing all those cute little things that had made him fall for Keito in the first place. The quiet look of concentration whenever someone was telling him a story. The way his hair had started growing out long enough that he needed to brush strands away from his face during dance practice. The way he’d mutter English words under his breath whenever he was frustrated.

Now that filming for Itadaki was done for the day, he watched as the two of them—still engrossed in that dumb conversation about fried chicken on a stick—walked towards the exit. His opportunity was slipping away yet again.

“Take a picture. It’ll last longer,” Chinen said as he elbowed Yuto sharply in the ribs to get his attention.

“Oh, hi,” Yuto said with a wince. How did Chinen manage to even get his elbow up that high?

“Are you working on modeling poses?” Chinen asked innocently as if he hadn’t just given Yuto internal bleeding with his ridiculously sharp elbow.

Yuto narrowed his eyes at the strange question. “Uh… no?”

“Then why are you just standing there doing nothing when you should be sprinting down the hallway on your way to confess to Keito? Very dramatically and very romantically.”

“How do you even know about that?”

“Just goooo,” Chinen said, pushing Yuto towards the door and ignoring the other question. For having such a small body, Chinen was surprisingly strong, and Yuto had to adjust quickly to keep from tripping over his feet. “Literally kidnap Keito if you have to. Just anything so I don’t have to watch you keep pining like a lost puppy.”

Yuto thought “lost puppy” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but he had to admit that Chinen had a point. He had been quietly watching Keito from a distance, worrying about affecting a good friendship, using Yamada as an excuse to not jump in and face his feelings.

Chinen was giving him a stern look—an eyes narrowed, arms crossed, I’m probably going to attempt to break your ribs with my elbow again look—which sent Yuto into action. He dashed through the doorway to exit the studio, but a few steps into the hallway, he stopped. Keito and Yamada were already gone.

He’d missed his chance and his confidence was already beginning to slip away again.

***

The next time Yuto saw the whole group was at a planning meeting for their upcoming tour. Their manager was going on and on about practice schedules and costume fittings and other technical details, but Yuto was more focused on sneaking glances at Keito and avoiding the disappointed look Chinen was giving him.

Yuto hated his bad luck. Keito looked good today. Really good. This meeting had been called on short notice and Keito looked like he’d just hopped out of the shower before he rushed over. His hair was damp and a little messy. He wore a tank top that showed off all the well-defined muscles in his arms. It’s not like Yuto had never seen Keito’s arms before, but he definitely appreciated how nice they looked now.

Across from where Yuto was sitting, Chinen was giving him the same look that his middle school teacher used to give him whenever he forgot his homework. A little bit of pity and a lot of disappointment. Chinen knew without even asking that Yuto still hadn’t torn Keito away from Yamada long enough to ask him out.

Their manager finally wrapped up the long meeting and the group wasted no time in scattering to wherever they needed to be next. Inoo rushed off to film something and Hikaru disappeared somewhere with the intentions of practicing new music while Yabu tagged along with him. Yuto looked over to see Yamada showing Keito some game he’d been playing on his phone. Yuto didn’t dare interrupt that. When Yamada was on a roll about in-game strategies, it was safer to just stay away. Plus Keito looked so happy listening to Yamada ramble on.

“That’s funny,” Chinen said quietly as he slipped into the now-empty chair beside Yuto. “You still look decidedly single.”

Yuto began tapping out a drum beat on the table just so he would look more nonchalant than he felt. “Last time, he was already gone before I could talk to him. Plus, how can I pull him away from Yamada? They’re so happy together. They’re practically a couple themselves. Minus the kissing, of course.”

Chinen rolled his eyes. “Excuses, excuses.” He looked over at Yamada and Keito who were now discussing cheat codes for getting to the next level of the game. “It’s not like Yamada doesn’t have other friends.”

Yuto just stared at Chinen for a moment.

“Okay,” Chinen sighed, “I’m his only other friend. But that’s not my point.”

Yuto started getting fancier with the rhythms as the conversation continued. “Then you can distract him for me.”

“Nope, sorry.” Chinen hopped up from his chair, brushing off imaginary dust from his arms like his dirty work was done and he needed to rush away to solve someone else’s crisis. “I can’t do everything for you.”

“Some friend you are!” Yuto jokingly called out after him as he left. He knew Chinen was trying to help. He wasn’t sure why because Chinen usually did things that benefitted him, but at least his advice was pretty solid. (This time anyway. Yuto had learned the hard way not to take cooking advice from Chinen ever again.)

The room was almost empty now and from the corner of his eye, he could see Yamada and Keito stand up like they were getting ready to leave. His chance was literally walking right out the door again. Yuto jumped into action, perhaps a bit too quickly, bumping into a chair as he rushed to catch up. He could worry about a bruised knee later.

“Hey!” He tried to casually match their pace and fall into place beside the two of them. He didn’t want to feel like he was intruding. “What’s up guys?” Did that sound casual? He hoped that didn’t sound as nervous as he felt. Was his voice cracking?

Both of them smiled at him, making him feel slightly less stressed out.

“We were just going to check out some café nearby that Yama-chan heard about,” Keito explained. “Want to join us?” He looked like he hoped Yuto would say yes, and Yuto was sure that his heart skipped a beat for a split second.

Damn, why did having a crush make him feel like the heroine in a shoujo manga?

“Yeah,” Yamada nodded. “They’ve got some limited edition macha-flavored coffee we wanted to try. I bet you’d love it.”

“Sure,” Yuto said without even thinking. He didn’t want to say no because they’d invited him, but now he still had no opportunity to talk to Keito without Yamada around. He knew he should just ask for a moment alone, briefly before they left, but the timing didn’t seem right. He felt like someone was holding his mouth shut.

So instead he went with them to the café, tasted the fancy new coffee, tried not to laugh too loudly at everything Keito said, and had a fun afternoon. But they parted ways afterwards and he still said nothing.

Chinen was going to be so disappointed in him. He was disappointed with himself.

***

“I can’t do it, Chinen. I just can’t.” Yuto whispered this during a break in dance practice. They were sitting with their backs against the mirror, giving them a good view of the rest of the group as they all rested. Near the doorway, Keito and Yamada were in full storytelling mode, telling Takaki and Daiki a story about the cactus in Yamada’s apartment.

“I’m in love with Keito and I can’t even tell him,” Yuto continued. He placed his towel over his head and hoped it’d make him disappear.

“Yutti,” Chinen answered with an exasperated sigh, immediately snatching the towel away so he could see Yuto’s face. “Either tell him or move on. You’re driving me absolutely crazy.”

“I don’t know,” Yuto began. “It just feels like… weird to go up to Keito and tell him. And I can never get him alone. What if Yamada gets mad at me because I steal his best friend? I’ll ruin our friendship and I can’t deal with that again. And what if Keito gets mad at me because Yamada is mad at me? We have a concert coming up and—”

“Yutti,” Chinen repeated, grabbing Yuto by the shoulders and shaking him to cut off his ridiculous train of thought. “Be creative. Try an alternative method or something. Stop worrying. Tell him or I’ll steal all your camera lenses.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“Try me,” Chinen said, eyes narrowed. “Ask Takaki what happened to his favorite pair of sunglasses last week.”

Yuto sighed and then chugged his bottle of water all in one gulp. “After practice,” he said once it was empty. He felt slightly nauseous but he wasn’t sure if that was from all the water or just his nerves. “I’ll tell him after practice.”

“That’s the Yutti I know,” Chinen said with a grin. He gave Yuto a light punch in the shoulder which made him wince.

So when dance practice began again, instead of focusing completely on learning his moves and positions, Yuto’s mind wandered to different ideas, ways to “creatively” confess his feelings to Keito. Preferably without making himself look like an idiot in the process.

At first, he tried to think of something involving their shared love of music. Something involving guitar or drums or both. A dozen cheesy music-related pickup lines ran through his head, but he knew that would be a mistake. Keito might think they’d be funny but he certainly wouldn’t say yes to any of them.

His next option involved putting his photography skills to good use. He considered asking Keito to model for him alone as he did a photoshoot. Without Yamada around, he’d finally have some quiet time with Keito. But the idea felt so clichéd that Yuto eventually decided that it would never work. Anything that seemed romantic in theory never worked out that way in real life.

By the time the choreographer ended their practice session, Yuto still had no plans and he was beginning to feel desperate. Chinen kept shooting him threatening glances and mimed breaking a camera lens in half. Yuto’s last resort was about to be marching right up to Keito in front of the whole group and confessing quickly, like he was ripping a band-aid off a still-open wound.

But he stopped halfway across the dance floor when he heard Hikaru talking to Keito and Yamada. He was telling the two of them a ghost story. Keito looked enthralled by the story, nodding at every word, but Yamada just looked horrified.

And that’s when an idea suddenly hit Yuto.

A wonderfully terrible alternative idea.

He turned and gave Chinen a confident grin and a thumbs up before he left the room to put his plan into action. He’d need a good hiding place to wait. Out in the hallway, he squeezed himself behind a conveniently placed costume rack against the wall and peeked out from between the sparkly costumes. He waited patiently as several people passed by, all unaware that Yuto was hiding just out of sight. His heart began to thud, but this time it was from excitement.

Finally, he heard the voices that he was waiting for. Keito and Yamada were walking down the hallway by themselves, footsteps echoing along with their voices. This time they were talking about the upcoming concert tour, so they weren’t paying much attention to anything else.

Right as they passed by the costume rack, Yuto parted the wave of sparkly fabric and jumped out with a loud prolonged yell to startle them. Both of them screamed back in startled response, but with the ghost story still fresh in their minds, Yamada automatically took off sprinting down the hallway and out of sight.

Keito, however, regained his composure pretty quickly, only glancing around briefly to check for television cameras before saying a happy “hello Yuto.” He smiled and Yuto was sure he was going to melt into a puddle right there.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Yuto blurted out. “Alone for a moment, if you don’t mind?”

“Sure,” Keito said.

“Uh…” Now that Yuto had his chance, he didn’t know what to say. “Well… I just wanted to tell you…” he paused to take a deep breath. Better just to blurt it all out while Keito was hopefully still a bit too shellshocked to react. “I really like you a lot and do you want to go on a date with me? Maybe? Possibly? If you don’t hate me?”

Keito blinked for a moment as he processed the hasty confession. “Oh!” he exclaimed as he came to a realization. “Is that why you’ve been staring at me for weeks?”

Yuto felt his cheeks grow warm. “…Yeah,” he admitted.

Keito let out a relieved sigh. “That’s good to know. I thought maybe there was something wrong with my new hairstyle.” He patted his recently dyed strands of black hair.

“No,” Yuto said quickly, “I love your hair!” Was that too much enthusiasm? Maybe he should dial it back a bit.

But Keito just smiled, giving Yuto all the reassurance he needed. “Thank you,” he said. “Anyway, my answer is yes, I’d like to go on a date with you sometime.”

“Without Yamada?” Yuto added just to be sure.

Keito laughed. Yuto thought the sound was all warm and bubbly like it could be carried off on a breeze. It was one of Yuto’s favorite sounds and he hoped he could keep making Keito laugh.

“I don’t think Yamada would want to be a third wheel,” Keito answered.

“I don’t want him to think I’m stealing his best friend away.” Yuto hesitantly reached out to hold Keito’s hand, and surprisingly Keito didn’t pull away. His hand was warm and soft, and Yuto almost felt like if he wasn’t holding it, he’d float away from sheer happiness.

“It’s not like Yamada doesn’t have other friends.”

Yuto just stared at him for a moment.

“Okay,” Keito admitted, “he has Chinen at least.”

Yuto laughed as they walked down the hallway, still hand in hand. The weight of holding in all his feelings had been lifted at last. He didn’t know if things would work out—maybe their first date would be disastrous, with him accidentally knocking over drinks and tripping over his own shoelaces, forgetting the time and place—but at least now he had a chance.

“We should go find Yamada and tell him the good news,” Yuto suggested.

A hint of a mischievous grin spread across Keito’s face. “Only if we can do it by jumping out of another costume rack to scare him.”

“This is exactly why I like you,” Yuto said, already bouncing off down the hallway in search of a good hiding spot with Keito right by his side.