Watanuki was having a relatively normal day all things considered. He was in the kitchen whipping up an arrangement of gourmet snacks from what was really a paltry selection of ingredients, and Yuuko was lucky he was a culinary genius or else she would be reduced to eating condiments. He was just about to begin putting together the tray when he heard a loud series of crashes and some incoherent yelling coming from what was, for all intents and purposes, his walk-in pantry. He sighed, "So much for my quiet afternoon. I just hope whoever... whatever that is isn't making too big a mess." He walked over and with a small anticipatory wince opened to door. Initial inspection revealed several very glittery young men in a heap on the floor, they appeared to be arguing about their surroundings and it seemed they hadn't noticed him yet.
Maru and Moro popped up under his elbows and gaped.
One of the boys had untangled himself and finally acknowledged his presence with an accusatory finger, "You! Who are you and where the hell are we doing here!?"
Another one of them made shushing motions, "Ryo, do you really think it's wise to be so confrontational right off the bat?" He blinked up at Watanuki and tried for an only slightly nervous smile. "Um, pardon our intrusion... where is here?"
Watanuki looked down at the girls, "Did you know they were coming?"
The girls solemnly shook their heads. Hmmmm, a complication. If Maru and Moro didn't know why these boys were here, they probably weren't customers. It was possible that this was a problem. He gave the boys one of his most put-upon expressions. "Just... wait here. I'll be right back." They all opened their mouths to reply and he knew, he just knew they weren't going to be cooperative. "I'm confused too, ok! Just don't touch anything." And he high-tailed it off to Yuuko's study.
"Yuuko! We have a pro-"
That stopped Watanuki in his tracks. "Not customers?"
Yuuko chuckled in amusement, "Now Watanuki, you know full well that customers come in through the front door."
Watanuki raised an eyebrow to indicate to his boss that if there was one thing he had learned here, it was that there were no rules he really couldn't consider anything in terms of 'normal' and 'unusual' anymore.
Yuuko seemed nonplussed. "I'm sure they're confused, yes?"
"To say the very least."
"Well, show them in!" She stepped aside to reveal the table already set with extra chairs. "And bring tea, of course."
"This isn't happening, this can't possibly be happening. This is some kind of acid trip induced by questionable catering... did Jin slip something into our water bottles? No, he wouldn't have gotten Pi's too. Well... maybe. But not Ryo's. Maybe this is a weird nightmare, a bad reaction to seafood? What did everyone eat for lunch?"
"Shige," Koyama said gently, "There's a chance you might be over-thinking this."
"Clearly I need to be doing the thinking for the rest of you as well! People do not just step through a door and come out somewhere completely different!"
Massu looked at him with raised eyebrows and quizzical eyes, "Isn't that kind of the point of doors?"
Shige stared back at him for a second, the rest of the group looked expectantly at Shige. A small muscle twitched under his left eye. "No! Ok, yes. That is technically correct. But you have to admit, this is extreme! We walked through a door at the jimusho right? And we came out in a building that is god knows where... Are we even still in Japan? And where is Tegoshi?!? I mean, he was right there with us, he's just vanished, what are we going to do if we can't find him, who knows what kind of people he might just run off with, he's too trust-"
His sentence ended abruptly as Ryo hauled back and slapped him hard across the cheek.
"Ow! What the hell was that for!"
"Well, it was supposed to make you stop yelling. I can see it didn't work." Ryo cracked his knuckles menacingly. "Maybe I should try it again."
Koyama flung himself between them before things could get nasty. They were still in what appeared to be someone's fairly well-appointed pantry after all. Koyama flashed Yamapi a desperate look that was clearly a plea for him to step up and take charge. Yamapi tried to give Koyama his best innocent, 'I have no idea what's going on' look but Koyama narrowed his eyes, clearly not buying it.
Yamapi sighed and put on his best confident, leader face. "Ok, clearly what we need to do is determine where we are and I think the best way to do that is to talk to whoever is in charge here. Where we are." Before he could get any further the boy with the dark hair and glasses appeared in the doorway and Pi flashed them all a brilliant smile. Things were starting to work out already!
They all turned towards the door as the boy bowed slightly, "She will see you now."
Shige narrowed his eyes in suspicion, "Who will see us exactly?"
Ryo punched him in the shoulder but the boy just sighed again, he didn't seem offended at all. In fact, he seemed like he was used to this sort of treatment. "The mistress of this shop. The Dimension Witch. Yuuko-san.... any of these ring a bell?"
Five blank faces stared back at him. "Ok, you'd best just follow me."
The boy ushered them out of the kitchen and down a long, beautifully paneled hallway to an elaborate doorway. Large sliding doors patterned with butterflies slid open to reveal two slight girls with candy colored hair who addressed them one right after another.
"The Mistress is prepared!"
"The Mistress will see you now!"
Then simultaneously, "Shiiiiiiny."
The boy gestured to the girls, "This is Maru and Moro. My name is Watanuki."
Koyama smiled and bowed politely, "It's nice to meet you." He did the same for the girls, then looked back up at Watanuki. "Are you...erm, human?"
Watanuki smiled faintly back, "I am, yes. Right through here please."
Koyama's eyebrows shot up and Massu whispered in a voice that managed to echo through the hallway, "He said that he was human! I think that implies that some other things around here aren't!"
Shige shot a pointed look at the two improbable girls and muttered back "Yes, Massu, that did not escape our notice. Hush."
The boy, Watanuki bowed them through the doors into a smoky room. He sniffed experimentally, it certainly wasn't tobacco smoke but it wasn't anything else he recognized either. But the scent was pleasant enough and didn't make him cough. A dark haired woman in the most elaborate kimono Shige had ever seen on a living, breathing person unfolded herself gracefully from a divan. She was beautiful and tall... very tall. Her eyes were hooded and her smile was gentle but inscrutable. She seemed to exude an aura of calm and controlled power as easily as she exhaled the smoke from the pipe held in one slim hand.
Watanuki spoke up from his position by the door, "Yuuko-san, your...guests."
The smoke in the air cleared and Shige could swear it all moved to her voice as she smiled and inclined her head to them. "Welcome to my shop, boys. My name is Yuuko."
When in doubt stick with your manners, Shige supposed as they all bowed reflexively. Koyama, ever the group spokesman asked, "Should we introduce ourselves?"
"No need. I know who you are." The woman answered breezily, and continued before Shige could get his thoughts in enough order to panic about crazy stalkers, "I brought you here for a reason."
Yamapi stepped forward, clearly assuming the role of their leader in the face of some potentially weird shit. "What exactly do you want with us?"
The woman smiled again, except this time it seemed comforting and her voice was softer. It had a quality that made Shige believe her words whether he wanted to or not. "Not for anything sinister, I assure you. You can relax here, you will not come to any harm under my roof." She gestured to the five empty chairs placed before five steaming cups of what turned out to be perfect tea.
They got settled in the proffered seats, Watanuki set down a tray that contained the most amazing selection of small cakes that Shige had ever seen outside of one of those snooty pastry shops that didn't even deign to put prices out because if you had to ask, you shouldn't be shopping there. Massu and Pi wasted no time in exclaiming how delicious they were around their mouthfuls and Watanuki thanked them with a very slight blush. Shige was slightly mollified by the snacks but there was a very important question they hadn't addressed yet. He shot Yamapi a pointed look.
"Why has no one asked what the hell happened to Tegoshi!"
Watanuki narrowed his eyes at Yuuko, "Yuuko-san, did you lose one of them?"
Yuuko just continued to smile serenely, "Of course not, he's being taken care of."
Shige was watched the as the boy's left eye twitched ever so slightly, he felt he could empathize. "Yuuko-san, how exactly are we taking care of him?"
"He's with Doumeki-kun."
The boy glared at her but his shoulders relaxed as he turned back to them to explain. "It's ok, it means the only thing he's in danger of is being annoyed to death." He must have realized that his answer didn't explain much because he sighed and continued, "He's not a bad guy. He's useful enough in his own way, and I'm sure he will take care of your friend.
Shige certainly hoped so. Tegoshi might be a brat, but he was their brat.
Tegoshi surveyed the empty lot, hands on his hips, a slight frown gracing his features. The others had been right in front of him as they walked through the doorway. He had just seen Massu's back vanish into darkness and when he tried to reach out he felt a kind of tug all over his body and he was standing in an abandoned space next to a broken gate. Whatever building it had been attached to was long since gone leaving just two splintery posts and some rusted hinges. The really strange thing, he thought, was that he could have sworn he heard a voice murmur in his ear right before that tug deposited him here. It said something that sounded suspiciously like, 'Oh no, not you dear'.
So here he was. All by himself. No group in sight. It was weird though, he had kind of a nagging feeling that they were still around, maybe somewhere close by. If he concentrated as hard as he could on finding them and squinted his eyes nearly shut and didn't look right at it, he swore he could almost make out the form of a building where the lot was, a sprawling house with turrets and massive gates. But he stopped trying after what promised to be a massive headache took up residence right behind his eyes.
He was just contemplating going to find someone who could help him get back to the jimusho when a boy strolled up to him. Well, boy might not be the most accurate description. He was wearing a high school uniform but he was very tall, Tegoshi amended his thoughts as he tilted his chin up and up to meet calm amber eyes.
"Are you Tegoshi-san?" The boy's voice was deep and soothing. Tegoshi felt muscles in his back that he hadn't even realized were tensed, relax. To the other guy's credit, he gave Tegoshi a once over but didn't so much as blink at his stage costume which must have looked ridiculous in the setting of this quiet, urban street. The boy had an air of quiet competence and Tegoshi felt no qualms in answering him honestly.
"That's me! You know who I am, you must also know where I am."
The boy smiled so slightly that Tegoshi would have been sure he had imagined it but for the wry humor in the boy's voice. "Of course, you're right here. You just don't know where here is."
"Or where the rest of my group is."
The boy nodded like he expected that question to come up. "They're with Yuuko-san, she asked me to look after you until they're done." The boy gestured at the empty lot, "They're all in there. Don't worry, I can't see it either."
Tegoshi just raised a cynical eyebrow and the boy clarified.
"Yuuko-san's shop. You can only enter it if there is something you need. Not being able to see it doesn't mean you're deficient, just happy."
Tegoshi blinked and pondered, "Oh. Well makes sense. So, now what, we just wait around in an empty lot?"
"No. I have some errands to run for Yuuko-san. You can come with me." he replied and started off down the sidewalk without waiting to see if Tegoshi was going to follow him.
Tegoshi did follow him of course, "Is Yuuko-san your boss?" Tegoshi considered the intricacies of working for someone who's place of business you couldn't even see let alone enter when the boy gave him another one of those near smiles.
"Not exactly. My friend works for her, I just help her out every now and then. My family runs a temple, that's probably the closest thing I have to a job."
Well that explained the air of trustworthiness. "So what are we going to do priest-kun, grant wishes?"
The boy's voice was amused even if his expression barely changed, "No. We're going shopping. My name is Doumeki."
They walked in companionable silence for a few minutes. The boy didn't seem like the talkative type so Tegoshi just let his thoughts wander. They were walking down what seemed to be a perfectly normal city street, but Tegoshi couldn't shake the feeling that it was just one step removed from the Tokyo that he knew. A few more blocks and he was starting to get hungry, he wondered if they had the same snacks in this Tokyo.
He had just stretched out a hand to tug on Doumeki's sleeve to ask when the other boy turned and fixed him with a look that didn't really have enough force to be a glare, but Tegoshi could tell that he didn't approve of something. He gave Doumeki his most convincing innocent eyes and Doumeki narrowed his in return.
"Now I know what you are."
Tegoshi blinked and looked down at his shiny jumpsuit. "I'm an idol! I kind of thought the clothes gave it away. People don't dress like this on purpose here do they?"
"Not that. That's what you do. What you are is an Influencer."
He wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that so Tegoshi settled on just looking cute and confused. That look usually got people to lay off.
Doumeki did not seem to be affected in any way by Tegoshi's quizzical head tilt. This might be harder than he thought.
The other boy sighed and explained, "You may not even be aware that you're doing it, but it's obvious to some people. Just now you were thinking about snacks, right?"
Tegoshi's eyes widened in genuine shock and he could only nod.
"It means that you can subtly affect people's thoughts and moods with your desires. Like when you want something, circumstances just arrange themselves so you get it. Does that happen a lot?"
Well that certainly merited some thought, Tegoshi tapped a finger against his chin, "I thought it was just because I'm cute. You mean I could learn to control something like that?"
Doumeki's raised eyebrow implied that he really ought to consider this very carefully, "In fact you really ought to. It's not nearly as much of a problem where you come from, but using something like that here will get you all kinds of unwanted attention."
His eyes were very serious as he laid a hand on Tegoshi's shoulder. "Trust me, we don't want to have to deal with that."
"What do I do?"
"Try not to want things."
Now it was Tegoshi's turn to look skeptical. Doumeki rolled his eyes up like he knew exactly how ridiculous that sounded.
"Ok, how about this? Try to think about why you want something and whether it's a good idea for you to have it. That should help. And stick close to me while you're here, just in case."
"I can do that."
Doumeki patted him on the shoulder reassuringly, "Good. Let's go. Oh, and just so you know, I'm not buying you dango."
Tegoshi tried to keep his voice light despite his mild shock that the other boy had seemed to pull his exact line of thought directly from his mind. "You should! You're my sempai after all."
"What do you mean sempai, I think you'll find that you are older than me."
Of course, Tegoshi had never met an argument he didn't think he could use to his advantage. "That may be so, but in this place you clearly have more experience than me, right? So that makes you my sempai at life." He smiled his most charming smile, "Plus, I don't even know if you have the same kind of money in this Japan."
Doumeki actually chuckled softly, "Nice try, kid. We do use the same money and I'm still not buying you dango."
Tegoshi grinned to himself as they continued on to wherever they were going, he always did enjoy a challenge.
They had only just busied themselves with tea and cakes when what looked for all the world like a small, black plush toy hopped up on the table. Shige's eyes widened and he could see similar expressions of shock on the faces of the rest of his group. 'Oh good. It's not just me this time.' Except for Massu, who seemed to be taking all of this strangely in stride. Massu just beamed at the thing, "How cute! Do they come in colors?"
And he didn't seem at all fazed when the thing answered him "Thanks, but no! Mokona is mokona!" The creature turned to address Yuuko-san, "Incoming message, Yuuko! From Infinity."
Yuuko nodded and Shige assumed she knew who? what? where? Infinity was. She narrowed her eyes a bit and Shige thought he caught a flash of concern in them.
"Is it... that group?"
"Nope! It's the other team."
Yuuko's eyes lit up and she eyes the idols around the table with what registered to Shige as the same gleam that only showed up in Ryo's eyes when he was preparing to enjoy someone's imminent confusion. "Excellent! Send it through, right here is fine."
Shige was already freaked out quite a bit, thank you, when the toy closed its eyes and what looked like a projected image beamed from its forehead and hovered right in front of them. He felt Kei grab his hand under the table and he squeezed back, not at all adverse to the comforting touch. It looked for all the world just like a video screen except that there was nothing for the image to be projected onto. It was fascinating but Shige gave up trying to analyze the effect when the image resolved into clarity.
Off to his left he heard Pi cough violently, and a second later he knew why. "Jin! Holy shit is that Jin?!"
It was Jin, and the rest of KAT-TUN as well. They were standing in a room overlooking what appeared to be a giant chessboard in some kind of stadium. Koyama's eyes were wide and impressed, "Wow, are they filming for a new PV we haven't heard about?"
Ryo scowled, "Another high budget PV, and look at the props! They would never in a million years let us use weapons like that."
But Shige didn't think they were filming a PV. He eyed their outfits, black leather accented with numerous buckles and spiky metal bits and although KAT-TUN had worn similar outfits in years past, Shige noticed a few key differences. For one thing, they weren't shiny enough. He knew that the costumes idols were forced to wear were created specifically to catch the eye, the sparkle was essential. The gear these people were sporting, while it did end up looking fairly aesthetic, also looked like it was all business.
And let's not forget the weapons. The group was arranged in a rough formation flanking Ueda in the center. He had a heavy spiked collar around his neck and some impressive smokey eye makeup. The leader's hands were empty, arms crossed over his chest, but the rest of them seemed to be armed well enough to make up for him. Junno had a quarterstaff nearly as tall as he was strapped to his back, Akanishi was compulsively twirling what seemed to be a set of wickedly sharp, curved knives in his hands, Koki had a solid metal pipe slung over one shoulder. Kame was sporting a viscous scowl and swinging a length of chain, Nakamaru didn't seem to have any obvious weapons but he did have several bandoleers and belts arrayed with pouches adorning his torso and Shige was truly glad to be ignorant of their contents. As much as he knew KAT-TUN maintained a harder image than the other groups in the company, he had never seen them manage to look downright menacing before.
Jin's reaction to Pi's question confirmed his observations immediately. "Who the fuck are you people!" his image leaned in closer, his eyes narrowed in suspicion, "And how the hell do you know my name anyway!"
Pi was understandably shocked, eyes wide and blinking. Ryo threw an arm around his shoulders and answered for him, "It's a misunderstanding. He mistook you for someone else."
The Jin on the screen looked like he might want to press the issue but Ueda shot him a quelling look. "Shut it Akanishi. I have business to conduct."
Yuuko just calmly sipped her tea, "How can I help you Ueda-kun?"
Ueda looked concerned, and, Shige noted, he also looked kind of pissed off about it. "You know about the new team, the one being led by the girl."
Ueda lifted his chin defiantly, "You know we haven't lost once. Ever since we started, we've been the best."
Yuuko chuckled, "It's true, your team has been breaking all sorts of records."
"Well, I want to keep winning. But that girl... I don't want to fight her."
Yuuko's voice was light and amused and Shige wondered what kind of secrets she had that she thought nothing of teasing people who looked that dangerous. "Are you afraid you'll lose to her Ueda-kun?"
"No! We're the best, we don't lose. But I don't..." he sighed, "I've heard some stories, about her reasons for fighting... I don't want to defeat her. I just want you to arrange it so we don't have to face her at all." Ueda arched an arrogant brow, "That way neither of us have to lose."
Yuuko smiled at him like he was her favorite nephew instead of a vicious gang leader. "Consider it done Ueda-kun. I will contact you later regarding payment."
Ueda nodded with small, satisfied smile. "Thank you, Yuuko-san." He peered at the rest of them like they were some kind of alien species, "Sorry to interrupt your other... business."
Yuuko just waggled her fingers at them in farewell, "Bye boys, have fun!"
The image winked out of existence and the toy bounced around the table demanding beer. Which was weird, although not as weird as watching the thing drink the beer. From a can that was taller than it was. Shige rubbed his forehead and thought he may as well stop being surprised now or he might permanently injure himself by the time they got out of here.
Yamapi turned to Yuuko with an uncharacteristic scowl. "That wasn't KAT-TUN. Was it?"
Yuuko's smile was enigmatic, "Well, it was, in a way. You are correct in as far as it was not the group of individuals whom you know as KAT-TUN."
Yamapi sighed a bit in relief, "Not my Jin."
Her voice was kind as she patted his shoulder. "Not that one, no." She sat back and looked at all of them in turn, "Are you boys familiar with the concept of alternate universes?"
Ryo was the first to answer, "You mean like in science fiction when someone makes a decision, pulls the red wire instead of the blue one, but in another universe he pulls the blue one and the events branch off into different possibilities?"
Yuuko looked impressed but shook her head. "No, that's just fiction. In all of creation, events are destined. What you described is the idea of parallel universes. They don't really exist."
"So by alternate, you mean universes in which everything is different to begin with." Koyama supplied, leaning forward in interest.
"Yes, exactly! And most of these worlds have a very similar cast of characters, as you can see."
Shige's eyes widened as the implications of her statement sunk in. "So there are other versions of us running around somewhere."
She just grinned back at him, "Of course. In one universe you might be government agents, in another universe maybe you all work at a fast food restaurant. The basic personalities are maintained. But as you saw, you don't always have the same relationships with people in other worlds."
This time is was Shige's turn to clutch nervously at Kei's hand. Out of the corner of his eye Shige could see Kei giving him a reassuring smile.
"Think of these universes like pages in a book, they press up next to each other but they rarely intersect. This shop is like the spine of the book, it's a place where the pages can all come together."
"Are we in Japan right now?"
"We are in a place called Japan, there are several actually. This one is very similar to yours except for a few key points. The most relevant to you being that in this world you aren't engaged in your current profession."
Shige could feel his eyes go wide with shock and a quick glance around the table confirmed similar reactions from his band mates. Yamapi spoke up first, his tone a study in nervous curiosity. "Um, what do we do in this Japan?"
Yuuko's smile turned slightly sly and Shige knew with absolute certainty they weren't going to get any kind of a straight answer out of her. "Oh, I could tell you. But I don't think you would find the price of such knowledge worth the having of it."
Off behind his left shoulder Shige heard Watanuki scoff slightly under his breath, "Oh, sure, they get a warning!"
"Besides, it is not usually wise to inquire into one's other selves. You can never meet them, or change their situation. Nor can they change yours. It's something that is best left alone."
Shige thought back to her conversation with the other Ueda and the fact that Yuuko-san referred to this place as a shop. And what had Watanuki called her... the Dimension Witch? "So you sell information here?"
"Sometimes, but not always."
To Shige's surprise, Massu piped up, he was perched on the edge of his chair, eyes shining, "You grant wishes right?"
Yuuko threw her head back and laughed a silvery laugh that seemed to be lacking any of her secretive air. "Yes! That is exactly what I do. I grant the wishes of the customers who visit here."
"Whether they want you to or not." Shige was sure that only he heard Watanuki's muttered comment, but then Yuuko arched a brow at the boy and he ducked his head to hide his embarrassed flush.
Koyama tilted his head, considering his next words carefully. "If we had something we wanted you to do for us, or something we wanted to happen, you could just wave your hand and make it so?"
Before Yuuko could respond Watanuki piped up, "Sure, it will only cost you something you really don't want to give up. Like your dignity!"
Yamapi made a sweeping gesture indicating their overly bright, sequined, fringed-within-an-inch-of-their-lives jumpsuits (complete with rhinestone cowboy boots!), "I don't really think we have any of that left."
"So are we supposed to be customers then?" Ryo asked sounding incredibly doubtful.
"No, you boys are a special case. I brought you here because I want you to do something for me." Shige didn't miss the way Watanuki's eyebrows shot up to hover around his hairline. He assumed this must be a rare occurrence.
Yamapi shifted uneasily and was already verbally backpedaling, "Ah, I don't think we can commit ourselves to anything. Besides, I'm sure we don't have the correct skills for anything you might need..."
Yuuko cut him off smoothly, "Relax, it is nothing you can't handle. It won't take up any of your time at all and I promise that you will be adequately compensated. After all, nothing comes without a price."
Massu just beamed, being the only one of them who seemed completely at ease, "It must be important if you brought us all this way! What can we do for you?"
Her answering grin acquired a gleaming edge as she leaned forward conspiratorially, "Let's talk about your boss."
Doumeki stopped abruptly before a store-front. "We're here."
Tegoshi looked up at the sign in disbelief, "A drug store? That's so... normal. I was hoping for something more exciting."
The Green Drugstore looked like a perfectly ordinary pharmacy. Through the window Tegoshi could see a long counter and shelves full of small bottles, just like every other drugstore he had ever seen.
Before he could get a good pout going, Doumeki smirked at him as he strode to the door and pulled it open, "Normal is not at all how I would describe this place. C'mon."
Tegoshi followed him in and surveyed his surroundings as Doumeki rang a small bell on the counter. He had just turned to register a complaint about the purported non-normalcy of the place when a tiny, blond someone bounced out of the back of the store and up to the counter. "Doumeki-kun! It's so nice to see you again! Usually Watanuki-kun comes to pick up Yuuko-san's hangover medicine."
He choked on his breath because the sunny person in the green apron greeting Doumeki was Yasuda Shota. Well, someone who looked exactly like him at any rate. And sounded like him, and apparently shared his taste in brightly colored leggings. Tegoshi figured he must look as confused as he felt because while the Yassu look-a-like was still talking to Doumeki, he was also sliding questioning glances in Tegoshi's direction. When the blond boy turned to bounce back behind the curtain that must lead to the back of the store, Doumeki turned and leaned against the counter, evidently amused.
Tegoshi supposed he shouldn't be surprised that the young priest had anticipated his reaction. He took a second to calm down and reason things through. "Familiar yes. But that's not really the Yassu I know, right? This isn't my Tokyo, but there is nothing that says that each version of Tokyo has to have completely different people. So for all I know, everyone I know exists here in some form, another you might even exist in my city.
Doumeki just nodded but Tegoshi got the impression that he was a little impressed.
Tegoshi had to school his face into a neutrally pleasant expression as not!Yassu returned with someone who certainly wasn't Maruyama Ryuhei in tow. Although this time it was slightly more obvious that this wasn't the Maruyama he knew, this one was grumbling and glaring earnestly in a way that Tegoshi had only ever seen his Maruyama do in jest, and not particularly convincingly either.
Not!Maruyama fixed Tegoshi with a particularly suspicious scowl but Doumeki ignored it in favor of leaning on the counter and inquiring as to whether they had manged to acquire 'the artifact', whatever that might be.
The taller boy growled something about it being 'an unmitigated pain in the ass' and how 'the boss might want to talk to you'. Before Doumeki could reply two more figures swept out of the back, one about Tegoshi's own height who was gesticulating wildly to his taller, smirking companion. He wasn't even surprised that they looked identical to Yokoyama-san and Ohkura-kun, well nearly. This Ohkura's hair was much shorter than he was used to, but the sly smirk that tipped the corner of his mouth up was dead on.
'The boss' must mean not!Yoko, who seemed to be every bit as crazy as the Yoko Tegoshi was familiar with. He flailed over the counter at Doumeki managing to simultaneously tease his two employees and ask rapid fire questions about Yuuko that it was clear Doumeki wasn't going to answer. Not!Ohkura was quiet, choosing to lean back against the wall and smirk. It was completely unclear from Tegoshi's vantage point whether or not he might be sleeping behind his dark sunglasses. Tegoshi's attention wandered and he started looking around at the seemingly prosaic stock on the pharmacy shelves. He wondered if they sold anything edible here, he still wanted a snack. Suddenly not!Yoko's head snapped in Tegoshi's direction and he met the man's penetrating stare with wide eyes.
Not!Yoko's smile was more than a little manic and Tegoshi instinctively took a step back. "Oh, who is this delightful boy? He seems to be quite talented, we could certainly use him around here!"
Tegoshi knew the man wasn't referring to his singing abilities. He wondered if this was an example of that unwanted attention Doumeki had mentioned earlier. He resisted the urge to hide behind Doumeki and attempted to look tough, which was admittedly a little difficult to do in neon sequins.
Doumeki, however, seemed to be used to dealing with them. His voice was soft but firm, "He's from out of town, just visiting. He's leaving later today."
Not!Ohkura shrugged and not!Yoko pouted at them but didn't press the issue. Instead he pulled out a large vaguely vase-shaped package and handed it over the counter to Doumeki. As Doumeki nodded his thanks, not!Yoko pulled a smaller package out from beneath the counter and held it out in Tegoshi's direction.
"It's ok, I haven't laced it with anything!" he managed to leer only a little and shook the small box, as if shaking it made it clear it was safe.
Tegoshi was still a little dubious about the man's motivations but he took the proffered box and couldn't hide his pleased smile when he found out it contained several sticks of brightly colored dango. Tegoshi had never had a policy against taking candy from strangers, strangers gave him things all the time, and he didn't see any really compelling reason to start questioning it now. He snapped the lid off the box and popped one of the sweets in his mouth.
The bright smile that accompanied Tegoshi's 'Thanks!' made the store owner blink rapidly and shake his head like he was shaking off a daze. "Whoo. Maybe it's a good thing you're not sticking around. I get the feeling you might be more trouble than you're worth!"
Tegoshi just shrugged and ate another dumpling. Doumeki nodded his thanks to the assembled staff and they headed out.
Doumeki summed up the entire exchange succinctly, "He's a nice enough guy, just really odd." Tegoshi nodded, that seemed to match up with his general experience of Yoko-san quite accurately. He chewed another dango, he felt like he was finally starting to get the hang of this alternate universe thing.
"By boss you mean Johnny-san?"
"Of course. He's one of my clients." She sat back and enjoyed what Shige assumed must be an array of really amusing looks of abject horror as they all tried to imagine what wish Johny-san might have had granted.
She must have taken pity on them because she went on to explain. "You see, not very many years ago, almost exactly fifteen now, Johnny-san was a little concerned over the future of his agency. He wanted to make sure he was making the right decisions regarding the direction of the company, who to debut, when to release singles, those kinds of things."
"So, you gave him the power to always make good decisions?" Koyama posited.
She snorted in a very unladylike fashion, "No, the price of something like that would be astronomical, it's very unlikely anyone would be willing to pay it." She shrugged a casual shoulder, "I simply gave him a magic mirror."
Ryo's jaw dropped and Shige attempted to inhale his tea, Koyama managed to look shocked and concerned simultaneously as he pounded on Shige's back. Yamapi looked skeptical but Massu just nodded like this was a perfectly reasonable explanation.
She smiled that Cheshire cat smile again, "I gave him a mirror that enabled him to see into the future. The power is very limited though, he can only see the future of a few individuals at a time, only to a certain point in time, and only in regard to one aspect of their lives. In this case, their future employment." She waited for this to sink in, and smiled when their eyes widened in understanding.
"There are so many examples but I'll give you just a few to clarify. Your sempai, Ohno Satoshi? He is an extremely talented individual, yes? And he had been with the company for over a year at the point when V6 debuted. Yet, Okada Junichi who had only three months of experience was debuted with the group instead. Because Johnny-san had other plans for Ohno.
"You may have heard that Ninomiya and Sakurai had intended to leave the company entirely when they were about 14 and 17?" Dazed nods were their only answer. Shige for one was interested to see exactly how much she knew about the inner workings of their company. "They actually arranged to meet with Johnny-san to resign but he was mysteriously out of town, they scheduled an appointment with him when he returned but they never made it to that meeting. He debuted them as part of Arashi a week later."
She turned to direct her next comment to Yamapi, "Your friend Akanishi, he failed his audition. It was only when he was on his way out, he tried to return his plaquard to Johnny-san himself." Yamapi leaned forward in interest, he had heard Jin's account of the story but he had never heard an adequate explanation of why Johnny had taken only a brief look at Jin and decided to hire him even after he failed to pass muster. Jin chalked it up to his being, in his own words 'an extremly bad-ass twelve year old', but Pi had always been a little dubious of that. He knew twelve year old Jin, he had been more awkward than anything else. "Johnny recognized his face, and he knew in advance who he would become. He was in fact, waiting for him." she concluded.
Shige was the first to break the stunned silence, "So when he tells us to 'believe him, he knows what he's doing'..."
"He absolutely means it. You would do well to trust him." She finished for him.
A few more minutes ticked by as they processed this information.
"Is there a problem then? I mean, we don't exactly have a lot of authority..." Koyama worried aloud.
"Oh no, no problem. He's been utilizing the mirror very well, it's just that his contract is nearly up." Shige recognized her expression from watching one of his more bloodthirsty contract law professors conduct mock meetings. "It's time to renegotiate. I just want you to inform him of that fact."
Ryo arched an eyebrow, "And how exactly were you planning on compensating us? You said we weren't customers, so we must not have any wishes that need to be granted."
"Not exactly, no. But you can't deny that all of you have some concerns. Things that weigh on your minds, something you try not to think about?", she responded gently.
Shige was relieved to see that he wasn't the only one shifting guiltily in his seat. He cast a sidelong glace at this band mates and wondered what sorts of problems kept them up at night.
"I can give you some guidance, only you can decide what to do with the knowledge." She turned to Koyama, "Let's start with you."
Koyama squeaked, looking mildly panicked, "What, here! In front of everyone?"
"I assure you that none of these things are deep, dark secrets. Besides, you are all very important to each other, I think it will do you some good to know what your group members are feeling." she smiled in a way that included them all in the gentle joke. "Member-ai and all that."
Koyama still looked nervous but the arm Shige wrapped around his shoulders seemed to help calm him a bit.
She leaned forward a bit and looked Koyama calmly and directly in the eyes. "Koyama Keiichiro, I know you're worried about the implications of your relationship, but he's not angry with either of you.
It was Shige's turn to be alarmed as he realized who she must be referring to.
"He's honestly happy for you, but he wishes you would have trusted him enough to tell him. He knows you are just trying to keep his feelings from being hurt, but that is usually the end result when we try to protect people from the truth, isn't it?"
Koyama's slightly pained earnestness made Shige's heart contract painfully. "But there's still a chance to fix it?"
"Don't worry, he'll forgive you." she turned to cast a pointed to look at Shige "Both of you."
But before he could respond she was fixing that unnerving stare on him. "Kato Shigeaki, you ought to spend a bit less time thinking about labels. You aren't only an idol, or a law student. You love the person you love. It's not abnormal, or strange, or wrong. It's just...meant to be, you don't have to fit yourself neatly into a category." Her smile was sudden and reassuring, "Just think about doing what feels right and you'll be fine."
He hadn't realized he had been holding a breath until he let it out, he leaned into Koyama's shoulder and was pleased when Kei leaned right back.
"Nishkido Ryo," she murmured, and Ryo was trying to look untroubled but his knuckles were tight as he rested his clasped hands on the table, Shige could tell that he was more than a little nervous. "I know you care just as much as the others, you shouldn't try so hard to hide it. You're worried about your friend, but he's doing well on his own so far, isn't he? I know it's hard when you feel like you can't support him directly, but things can't just go back to the way they once were."
Yamapi laid a gentle hand on Ryo's bowed head and murmured, "As long as we're all moving forward, we'll be together."
"Exactly so. And as for you, Yamashita Tomohisa... just talk to that friend of yours." He completely ignored Ryo's whisper 'see' and elbow in the side. "If you tell him how you feel things will work out for the best. After all, it's not good for you to continually deny your feelings." She turned her head to glance back over her shoulder at her scowling employee, her sly smile at odds with the sweet tone of her voice, "Isn't that right Watanuki?" She seemed unperturbed by Watanuki's indignant squawk.
Yamapi looked thoughtful as she turned to Massu. While Shige didn't know all of the specifics, he couldn't say he was at all surprised at the implications of Koyama, Ryo, and Yamapi's concerns. But for the life of him, he couldn't imagine what sorts of things troubled Massu. He was both annoyed and intrigued by this, and he listened carefully as Yuuko addressed Massu.
Massu smiled at her and her answering smile, because who couldn't smile back at Massu, was very warm. "Masuda Takahisa, you don't have to write songs to be a musician."
Massu's habitual grin wavered, he seemed almost confused. "I... but I- really?"
She actually leaned forward to gently brush the hair off his forehead, her voice was unbelievably fond, "Just as I said. Others give the music to you, your words and your voice give the music life. It's a beautiful gift, your voice has healing in it, you know."
He ducked his head to hide what Shige was certain were tears welling up. Yuuko sat back and surveyed them all, giving them a moment to reflect. But only a moment. She clapped her hands and turned to Watanuki with a bright grin. "I'm ravenous, let's have some food!"
Watanuki just rolled his eyes, "Right. Lunch for seven coming right up, and I suppose it goes without saying that you'll want several drinks?"
"Beer!" Yuuko and the plush toy crowed in unison, Watanuki just sighed and took himself off in the direction of the kitchen.
Yuuko stood gracefully, "Now that things are all arranged, if you will excuse me, I will be just a moment." She swept out of the room leaving them to stare dumbfounded at each other yet again.
Koyama cleared his throat, "Well, this has been...interesting. To say the least."
Shige stood up abruptly, "I still have a few questions. I'll be right back." He stalked out into the hall in what he hoped was the right direction.
Yuuko smiled to herself, she knew he was coming of course. He reminded her so much of Watanuki: stubborn, wary, clinging tightly to his internal logic. But he was also curious and just because she rarely answered questions to peoples' satisfaction did not mean she didn't enjoy being asked. She addressed him before he could even open his mouth. "Yes Kato-kun, can I help you?"
His confusion was evident in his voice, "That's it. There is nothing we have to do, no epic quest, no complicated favor... we're here to have tea and get advice?"
She turned to give him another enigmatic smile, "And pass my message along of course. That's the most important part."
Shige really couldn't contain his disbelief, nor did he see any reason to do so. He outright gaped at her, "So you brought us all the way here, to a different universe, to deliver a message. Couldn't you have used e-mail?"
"I could have, of course! But I wanted to meet you, you're such an interesting group of individuals." Her eyes glittered darkly and Shige felt a fleeting pang of sympathy for Johnny-san. "Besides, if he knows you were here to see me, that you spoke with me personally, he is bound to take my message more seriously. Don't you think?"
Shige could only nod his head in confused agreement.
"I think so too. Now that we have that out of the way, shall we rejoin the others? Lunch is ready and you really don't want to miss out on Watanuki's cooking."
She was right of course, like she seemed to be eerily right about everything. The spread of food his band mates were already digging into not only looked familiar but mouth-wateringly delicious.
Watanuki was sitting at the table looking more at ease than Shige had seen him yet as he and Massu chatted about recipes and Massu bemoaned that fact that Watanuki (and his gyoza) were an entire universe away. The others seemed happier as well, Shige felt like a weight had been lifted off of their collective shoulders. He guessed this whole excursion hadn't turned out so badly after all. Now he just had to worry about-
"Don't worry Kato-kun, I have the arrangements all ready for your return." He jumped guiltily and met Yuuko's eyes over his shoulder.
"Right, of course you do." Finally, he figured there was nothing else for him to do but sit down and eat. Suddenly, he was famished.
Tegoshi could tell that Doumeki wasn't the type of person who was used to talking about himself. Tegoshi, however, talked about himself for a living and sometimes it got really old. Today he wanted to know more about this mysterious high school priest and his world. Doumeki tried to discourage idle conversation but Tegoshi was persistent. After the third time Doumeki opened his mouth to talk with virtually no outward prompting from Tegoshi, he stopped and gave Tegoshi a look. "What did I tell you about wanting things."
"Well if you would be willing to talk just a little, then I wouldn't have to want you to. Right?"
Doumeki just sighed, "Fine. I give. What do you want to know?"
Tegoshi's eyes and smile were bright, "Everything!"
So Doumeki talked. He told Tegoshi about his family's temple, his grandfather, and his own powers. He talked about Yuuko-san's shop and Watanuki, who was the reason he was so grateful for his abilities. He talked about hauntings, and youkai, and the problems that people got themselves into without any supernatural assistance at all. He talked about a girl with a name like bright summer flowers and a tiny yellow bird, he talked about Watanuki some more. Tegoshi was starting to pick up a bit of a pattern in the focus of Doumeki's thoughts, he smiled to himself when the other boy wasn't looking.
Tegoshi kept asking questions and Doumeki continued to answer them right up until they found themselves right back where they started, standing before the old remains of a gate on an empty lot.
"Ah," Doumeki said a bit unnecessarily, but Tegoshi could hear in it the official end of one of the most fascinating conversations of his life. "We're here."
After all of the lunch dishes had been cleared and they were relaxing with yet another round of tea and dessert (it was pudding this time and it was so good Yamapi hadn't uttered a peep about going off of their proscribed menus), Yuuko gave them all a regretful smile. "Well boys, as nice as it has been to host you here today, all good things must come to an end.
Yamapi's eyes flew open wide and he sat bolt upright in his chair. "Shit! We must be beyond late for our TV appearance!" He immediately pulled his watch out of his pocket and his brow furrowed in confusion as he peered at its face. He looked back up at Yuuko who just grinned.
"I know your time is very valuable, I told you I wouldn't be wasting any of it. No time at all has passed in your world since you entered my shop. Consider the afternoon off the last part of your payment. Now shoo."
Watanuki looked up at her, an unspoken question in his eyes.
"Doumeki is waiting outside with Tegoshi-kun." She smiled at the chorus of relieved noises they couldn't contain. "I told you all he was being well taken care of. Watanuki will see you all out, don't forget to arrange a meeting with Johnny-san. He'll know exactly what you're talking about."
They has almost reached what Shige assumed to be the front door of the house when Yuuko stuck her head out of the parlor door and hollered after them. "And tell him he should consider adding an extended and modified contract for his chosen successor. I am not just going to transfer the whole thing over to Koichi-kun without meeting with him personally!"
Shige nodded and she gave him one last grin and a thumbs up before disappearing again. He had meant to thank her, but she probably already knew.
They followed Watanuki through a large courtyard to an impressive gate, he opened it to reveal a very tall boy wearing the same school uniform as Watanuki and a beaming Tegoshi. As soon as they stepped out onto the sidewalk Tegoshi launched himself in their direction trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to hug all of them at the same time.
Tegoshi and Koyama spent a few minutes chattering at high speed before Watanuki delicately cleared his throat. "Um, I think we really ought to be going. You all have a very specific train to catch."
Tegoshi beamed back at him, "You must be Watanuki-kun! I've heard so much about you from Doumeki-san!"
To his credit Watanuki looked barely bewildered at all. Although he did direct a look at the taller, seemingly silent boy that Shige chose to interpret as complete disbelief that he was capable of ever uttering enough words to tell someone 'so much' about anyone. "Ah, nice to meet you." Watanuki replied faintly and held up an enormous furoshiki-wrapped box, "I put together a bento for you all." Massu's grin could have powered Shibuya for a week, he took the box and made an approving noise at the weight.
Watanuki's eyes fell to the package in Doumeki's hands. "Is that-?" Doumeki just nodded and Watanuki huffed a small, relieved sigh. "Oh good. I was afraid if they hadn't managed to get it, we'd have to go instead. One less thing to worry about." Doumeki nodded again and they all set off for the train station.
Tegoshi couldn't help but notice the way the Doumeki's whole being seemed to immediately orient itself towards Watanuki. It didn't even seem entirely conscious, although the sidelong glaces the taller boy directed at Watanuki when he wasn't looking certainly were. Tegoshi thought it was really sweet.
They arrived at the train station and boarded a train that didn't seem to be different than any of the others but that Watanuki insisted was the only one that would get them home. Tegoshi pressed himself up against the glass so he could wave to Doumeki and Watanuki who were still standing on the platform. He scrunched his nose up and concentrated. As the train started to pull away he was rewarded with the sight of Doumeki shifting his package to his other hip so he could reach out and take Watanuki's hand in his, intertwining their fingers. Watanuki blushed but he didn't pull away, he waved his free hand as the train left the station. Doumeki just shook his head disapprovingly, but he was smiling so Tegoshi figured it was ok, just this once.
They swapped stories about their day with Tegoshi as the train sped them through an increasingly familiar looking Tokyo. Of course Shige didn't remember there being a stop located only one convenient block away from the jimusho, but he wasn't going to complain. He wondered if it would still be there tomorrow and decided that it probably wouldn't.
Yuuko was true to her word and they hadn't lost so much of a minute of time to their strange afternoon. Their manager gave him an odd look when Shige informed him that they needed to schedule a meeting with Johnny-san, yes everything was just fine but no, he couldn't really go into detail, but he seemed to successfully communicate the importance of the matter. They were all relaxed and joking backstage as they prepared for their TV appearance. Shige suspected that they had not only significantly broadened their horizons, they had also gained a lot of peace of mind.
The implications of everything they had learned boggled Shige's mind to think about. Just...the infinite possibilities, countless other potential lives. But as they lined up together to bow at the end of their performance, he could see the others' shining smiles, could practically feel their hearts beating as one, Shige supposed that this probably was the best of all possible worlds after all.