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second wind

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It’s so fucking cold outside.

It’s fucking cold inside too, but at least the harsh winds and subarctic temperatures are somewhat kept out by these four walls. Koyama has a heater, but all he has to do is hear someone cough and he loses his voice.

While it may sound sexy when he tries to talk that way, it doesn’t feel that great and he already has a hard enough time singing their new song. He doesn’t need to make it any worse.

So he sits, bundled up in about three sweaters with a wool hat and mittens on in his own apartment. Milk is warm, but she doesn’t much care for being a hand warmer and claws him when she’s had enough. A few blankets help, but he’s frozen to his core and shivers through the entire length of an anime episode.

Winter is Koyama’s least favorite season. Even when the weather starts to get chilly, he can still go outside and do something other than stay at home because it’s too cold to go anywhere. Fortunately, he’s blessed with a lot of work during the holiday season. Otherwise, he might never leave his couch.

Tegoshi thinks it might be seasonal depression, and maybe it is. Koyama knows all too well what depression feels like though and this is definitely not it—he doesn’t hate himself or feel sad anymore, thank god, he’s just listless and despondent. It seems pointless to go out to eat when he can cook at home, and all of his friends have their own families and are less inclined to meet for drinks during the holidays.

Except Shige, who is basically married to his job(s). They all are to an extent, but even Tegoshi and Massu have people they regularly spend time with outside of the entertainment industry and their families. Shige’s social interactions fluctuate depending on whom he’s working with at any given time, though there are a few with whom he’s stayed in semi-regular contact over the years.

Koyama is similar in that he will go out with the cast of whatever show he’s appearing on and regularly hang out with the other NEWS members when they’re already working together, but that’s about it. It’s a far cry from ten years ago, when the only time he was alone was when he was sleeping, and sometimes not even then. He used to boast about how he could befriend anyone, never at a loss for a lunch companion or someone to accompany him anywhere he wanted to go. His phone was stocked full of numbers that he actually used, not just dialed when he wanted something, and people respected him for that.

He wasn’t alone long enough to be lonely. Now, he doesn’t remember the last time he called anyone just to chat, or met up with someone to enjoy each other’s company without any other reason. He talks to his mom and sister once a week and drives out to see them when he can, but it’s not enough. He even reached out to his father a few years ago after Tegoshi’s dad passed, but try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to forgive the man who abused his family enough to form any kind of relationship.

Milk helps, but she is only a cat. She serves as someone for Koyama to talk to, to share his deepest secrets without judgment, and she’s happy to listen as long as he pets her. Koyama has figured out so many things just by thinking out loud, working through his feelings while being comforted by warm purrs in the best form of therapy ever.

It was through that method that he uncovered his unrequited feelings for Shige, though he’s always known in the very bottom of his heart that it was still there. They were barely adults when they had lived their love story, rushing into feelings they didn’t understand and trying so hard to make it work. Loving each other was easy, but staying together was not. Ultimately, Shige called it off and promised that they would always be best friends, and to this day he has kept his word.

They’ve both dated other people, but nothing longlasting. A few years ago, Shige realized that he doesn’t really want another person in his space, content with his work and hobbies that usually intertwine together as one. While Koyama doesn’t understand at that all, he hasn’t yet managed to build anything concrete with anyone he’s dated, probably because he’s still hung up on Shige.

“Your heart is so big, there should be fifty people living comfortably inside it,” Nadja had said once after his biweekly appearance on Barairo Dandy. She was usually full of wisdom and insight—when she wasn’t trying to turn him into a woman, anyway.

Koyama feels like he could easily love an infinite number of souls, but he’s learned the hard way that making that love last is the real challenge. Even when he entertains the thought of getting back together with Shige, now that they’re older and smarter, there’s always some obstacle in the form of their schedules, their interests, their future.

As much as Koyama wants to believe that love conquers all, it’s not even part of the battle. Koyama wants a partner he can spoil and children he can guide; Shige wants solitude and to live life at his own pace. Koyama wants someone who will miss him when they can’t be together because of work; Shige has broken up with people (including Koyama) for wanting more of his time than he was willing to give. They are so different this way that one or both of them would have to give up something substantial in order to compromise, and that’s not fair to either one of them.

Understanding it doesn’t make him any less lonely. The colder it gets, the more time he spends at home lost in his own head, and the easier it is for those buried feelings to resurface. He keeps telling himself that he just needs time, that one day he will wake up and look at Shige as a regular best friend again, but it’s been twelve years and he still fantasizes about Shige warming him up with a tight embrace, even if it would only last until morning.

Milk jumps onto Koyama’s blanket burrito and head-butts him right in the face, and he believes even more that she can tell when he works himself into an upset. He’s thawed out enough to remove one mitten to pet her, his spirits lifted from her soft fur and happy purring, and he fools himself into thinking that everything’s okay now.

At least until the next time his mind wanders.

*

This story is not at all going where Shige wants it to go.

One would think that after writing professionally for eight years, he’d be better at navigating the plot and character development by now, but he’s restarted this chapter at least six times in the past two days. The words just aren’t coming out right, and he refuses to acknowledge the reason why.

He’s anxious about something. This is usually his default setting, as he’s been struggling to treat his diagnosed anxiety disorder for a while now. He has tried medication, but it diluted the excited part of his brain that powered him to write. Not writing is not an option, so he’s working out and journalling and doing breathing exercises just to function as a popular idol with a side hustle as a novelist.

This particular time, however, he’s anxious about something specific. When he tries to write it out to get it off his mind, he feels stupid for reading so much into something that’s not even there, but that doesn’t change his distraction. The main course of his disorder is his mind harping on the same thing for hours without letting go, despite his best attempts at fighting it with logic and all of the mind tricks he’s learned from cognitive behavioral therapy.

It’s been over a year since he’s spent any quality time with Koyama, and he knows it’s because they’ve both been busy with their growing smorgasbord of activities. They don’t go out to eat anymore because pretty much everywhere they go for work feeds them on location. Even when they were on tour and had literally nothing else to do other than relaxing together, Koyama stayed in his room and watched anime. At the time, Shige was grateful for the extra time to catch up on his writing, but that was before the demons came.

While Shige doesn’t remember a time in his life when he hasn’t felt stressed and insecure, it hit really him hard this past summer. At least, that’s when he sought out help and started trying out a multitude of things to manage his anxiety. Only his parents and his manager knows about it, as he didn’t want to worry the other members. He doesn’t want them acting differently around him either. That would upset him even more.

On the surface, he knows he should confide in Koyama as his best friend, but Koyama’s the one who’s been keeping his distance lately. He’s not as openly affectionate off camera, and when Tegoshi had confronted him about it he had just shrugged and said he’d grown out of that behavior. While it’s true that they have all slowed down a bit as they’ve gotten older, not having Koyama bombard him with attention anymore was disconcerting.

Shige didn’t know about Koyama’s last girlfriend until they had broken up. They’d only been together for six months, as Koyama’s relationships have historically bloomed when the weather gets cold and withered when it’s warm again. He gets lonely during the winter, which he confuses with romantic desire and jumps into the arms of the first person who attracts him.

At one time, Shige had been that person, and he still kicks himself for being so stupid. Barely twenty years old, he didn’t know the difference between being horny and being in love, and to this day he’s amazed that it didn’t ruin them for good. He had simply told Koyama that it wasn’t working for him and they should just be friends. He promised himself it would be the last time he made Koyama cry.

Twelve years later, he understands that the reason it wasn’t working for him is because relationships don’t work for him. He’s been with a good number of people since then and it always ends the same way—Shige gets frustrated with constantly compromising and struggling to make things work that he doesn’t want to bother anymore. He likes having his own space, his own time, and his own hobbies.

His parents keep telling him that if two people love each other enough, everything will naturally fall together. The more Shige hears that, the more he thinks he’s just not equipped with those kinds of feelings for other people, that he won’t be happy unless he meets someone who matches with him completely. So far, that person ceases to exist.

Shige spends more time with Massu than he does Koyama these days. Nothing against Massu, he’s a great person to pass time with, but Shige doesn’t really feel anything when they’re together. Massu’s face doesn’t light up when Shige walks into the room, but neither does Koyama’s anymore, so Shige may just have to settle for only the fans being happy to see him from now on.

He tries some breathing exercises to clear his mind and manages to get out a chapter beginning that he doesn’t immediately want to set on fire. He focuses on the elements he wants to include in the plot and for a while his mind is blissfully ignorant, cherishing these moments that are few and far between. Reality will come back eventually, and when it does, Shige will dig into his arsenal of mantras and positive affirmations to work through it again.

It’s a neverending battle with his own mind, but he’s slowly getting used to it. He hopes to one day be in a place where he can notice the anxiety before it chokes him, isolating the bad thought and plucking it away like a piece of lint on his sweater. It’s a pipe dream, but it’s enough to keep him hopeful. He doesn’t want to know what happens when that hope fades away.

“This is ridiculous,” he says out loud to no one, reaching for his phone to scroll through his private chat with Koyama. The last message is from October, and it’s about work.

Are you busy tomorrow? he types, his fingertips cold from the evening chill. He can’t type with regular gloves on, so he was only wearing fingerless ones. I miss you.

He doesn’t send it right away, second-guessing his decision to be impulsive and show his vulnerability even to his best friend. His words don’t make sense because he sees Koyama all the time lately, rehearsing and performing for the holiday music shows while recording the News na Futari SP. How can he miss someone who is always around?

Inevitably, he doesn’t send any messages, resigning himself to getting beaten up by his thoughts for another couple hours until he goes to bed. Sleeping pills don’t affect his writing.

It’s amusing how hard his brain tries to fight it, though. Even as the medication is pulling him under, his mind is still adamantly focused on how he and Koyama have drifted apart, and he’s starting to feel seriously sad until sleep finally overcomes him.

It’s not really a win, but he’ll take what he can get.

*

Koyama has only lied to Shige once in the eighteen years that they’ve known each other, and that’s only because Shige hasn’t come out and asked him point-blank if he still has feelings for him. Koyama doesn’t think he’d be able to lie if that happened anyway.

This particular lie Koyama had told everyone, though he’s not that bothered by lying to Tegoshi and Massu about something like this. And the fans, well, part of his job is to lie to them. Working as an idol means putting on a face people like, one they will love and support so NEWS can keep making music and Koyama can keep spoiling his cat.

It’s a silly lie, really. Nothing anyone would even get mad about, except maybe Shige. When Koyama had told the entire concert arena that he was playing Tegoshi’s story for NEWS ni Koishite, that was only half true. He was playing the game, but it wasn’t Tegoshi’s story. It was Shige’s.

He feels so lame, but it makes him so happy. When Shige says sweet things to him in the game, it reminds him of when Shige would try to say sweet things to him for real. He wasn’t that great at it, but that was part of what endeared him to Koyama. Most of all, game-Shige actually wants to see “Keiko” and spend time with her, tells her he misses her when he gets busy with work and makes her a priority along with everything else he has going on.

The bitter part of him thinks that the real Shige could do that too, but it’s called a fantasy game for a reason. The most unrealistic part is actually how Keiko seems to have no other friends aside from a coworker she periodically has lunch with, where all they talk about is her estranged boyfriend. Koyama may not be the best feminist, but even he knows that women care about more than whoever they’re dating at the time. At least give the girl a hobby, damn.

Tegoshi had asked him once if he thought it was weird that he had to play as a girl, and that was honestly the first time Koyama had really thought about it. Gender doesn’t mean much to him, although he recognizes that it does to many other people. He’s always known that he’s a man and hasn’t had any desire to be a woman, as much as Nadja would love to dress him up as one. The only reason he hasn’t given in yet is because he does not look good in drag, and also because someone had told Tegoshi awhile back that it was disrespectful to crossdress only for entertainment. Koyama doesn’t genuinely want to wear a dress and makeup, so he doesn’t.

Wearing a dress and makeup wouldn’t make Shige like him better anyway. Koyama doesn’t ever remember Shige looking at a woman beyond friendship and the natural protection that any decent man would feel toward a woman in today’s sociopolitical climate. While Koyama considers himself pansexual, Shige is very, very gay, though the blur of gender these days seems to render these kinds of labels invalid. At any rate, Shige is not attracted to women who dress feminine and act cute regardless of what’s under their clothes, even if he would probably berate Koyama for wording it that way.

The producers of Barairo Dandy keep pushing the NadjaKoya combi, and Koyama enjoys their banter despite being on the receiving end of everyone’s teasing. Nadja’s a good ten years older than him, but his last girlfriend was ten years younger so it’s all relative. He looks to her much like he looks at his older sister, only Miki isn’t nearly as blunt and sarcastic as Nadja is—though she did go through a phase where she played dress-up with Koyama because she wanted a little sister instead.

“You’re adorable,” Nadja tells him after their next show. “Please let me take you out.”

“On a date?” Koyama squawks, sounding a lot less refined than he’d have liked to.

“I know you’ve dated people like me before,” Nadja goes on, using that purring voice she likes to use when she teases him. “I watched a whole special about it.”

“That was just for TV,” Koyama tells her, then quickly backtracks. “Not that I wouldn’t date someone like you! It’s just that...I already have feelings for someone else.”

It’s not a lie, and that’s the only reason she believes him, her made-up face falling at what is undoubtedly lovesickness on his. “Does this person know how you feel?”

“It’s complicated,” Koyama answers, his eyes casting downward.

Nadja grabs him by the chin and forces him to look at her. “Now I’m going to take you out so we can talk about this. Not a date.”

Koyama manages to nod without moving his jaw. “I’ll agree to that.”

It’s actually nice to hang out with Nadja outside of work, that evening bringing the pair of them tucked in the back of a dive bar that Nadja frequents enough to have their first round on the house. This is the first time he’s been out with another person since the leaves first changed color, and that feels nice too.

“Okay, Keiko,” Nadja snaps, leaning back in her seat and fixing her perfectly shadowed eyes on him. “Spill it.”

He does. He doesn’t use Shige’s name, of course, but he says it’s someone he grew up with whom he still sees a lot and Nadja doesn’t make any guesses. She’s in the industry too, so it’s not like she would go running her mouth if she knew who it was, but she’s the type of person to steal Koyama’s phone and tell Shige herself while incapacitating Koyama in a chokehold.

“What do you want the endgame to be here?” Nadja finally asks when Koyama’s long string of word vomit comes to an end. “Do you want to be with them?”

“More than anything in this world,” Koyama says truthfully, speaking from his heart now that he’s exhausted his mind. “But they don’t want to be with anyone.”

“It’s not all or nothing, you know,” Nadja points out, and Koyama sighs because yes it is. “There are so many different ways to have a relationship. Your perception is narrow because you’ve only known one way to be with another person. Marriage and children isn’t the only happy ending.”

“I know that, but that’s the one I want,” Koyama tells her, gesturing a little more vehemently after downing a good number of beers while telling his story. “Even when we were together, I thought of that future where we could have a family.”

“You are contradicting yourself,” Nadja says. “You said you want to be with them more than anything in this world, and then that you want the traditional happy ending of a marriage and children. From what you’ve told me, those are contradictory statements, which is why you are so miserable.”

“I want him to want it too,” Koyama blurts out. Nadja doesn’t even blink at the pronoun. “I want him to want me. I’m miserable because he doesn’t.”

“You precious, silly boy.” Nadja frowns in a way that has Koyama overlooking the condescending tone. “Even you have to know that you cannot change people. There has to be some reason you love this man other than what he can provide for you, because he’s not providing it and you’re still loving him. Think about that.”

Koyama starts to sigh, but a hiccup escapes as his breath gets away from him. He tries to stop it, but they keep coming, and he gives up when Nadja starts laughing.

“Let’s get your drunk ass home,” she says, getting to her feet much more gracefully than Koyama does. “Don’t worry, I’m not the kind of girl who will take advantage of you.”

“Thanks for that,” Koyama gets out between hiccups, and he allows himself to be manhandled into an Uber.

Nadja accompanies him all the way to his apartment, where she dumps him on his couch and coos over Milk while Koyama adjusts to being horizontal.

“Sorry I’m such a mess,” he mutters as he squeezes his eyes shut to keep his stomach calm.

“Love makes us all stupid,” Nadja’s voice sounds from across the room. “It’s biology. Now get up and drink some water. You’re too old to binge drink like that. You literally just did a Border 30 segment on this.”

Koyama whines as he’s urged up by his hair, the touch turning gentle once he brings the glass to his lips. “Thanks, Nadja-san.”

His vision clears enough to see her face, a soft smile but hard eyes, and Koyama feels like he’s being lectured without any words being said.

“I’ll tell him tomorrow,” he promises, and right now he means it.

“Good,” Nadja says firmly. “And forget what I said about wanting to date you before. You’re not my type at all. My men need to be able to hold their liquor.”

Koyama bursts out laughing, and she joins him. “Horrible,” he gets out.

“Good night, Keiko,” she whispers, pressing a kiss to his forehead before letting herself out, and he rubs at the uncomfortable feeling of lipstick on his skin as he passes out.

*

Shige loves to watch movies by himself. In the theater or in his own living room, he can relax and enjoy the story without worrying about the person next to him. Even if they stay silent and pay attention as much as he is, there’s still a nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him that he needs to make sure they’re having a good time or he’s a failure.

That’s a demon too. They embed themselves in seemingly normal thoughts until Shige realizes they’re out to get him and sees them for what they are. Except the last time he took someone to a movie on a date, he purposely didn’t check on them and they didn’t call him again. While there could have been a number of other reasons, and for the record Shige could have been the one to call, it’s just easier now to watch movies alone.

He’s not stupid. He knows he’s purposely altering his life to exist by himself because his anxiety rises whenever he gets close to another person. The next step is isolation, and he’s doing everything in his power not to get to that point. But it’s just so comfortable to be alone without driving himself crazy thinking about other people. He socializes so much at work that when he gets home he’s exhausted for caring so much, but saying that out loud makes him feel mean and cold.

There’s only been one person in his life that his brain doesn’t go haywire around, and that person doesn’t talk to him anymore. Up until recently, Koyama has been his anchor when polite conversation got too overwhelming and Shige couldn’t pretend anymore. Shige never had to worry that Koyama was humoring him or being any less than genuine, because Koyama has always been outspoken about how much he cared about Shige—until now.

Shige would be much more disappointed in himself for relying on another person’s affection to get through life if he hasn’t been doing it since he was sixteen years old. He doesn’t even remember what life was like before he met Koyama. He was a regular kid with regular friends and regular hobbies until Tropical Storm Keiichiro swept him away and never looked back.

The early years weren’t that great, but no one had a perfect adolescence. Looking back on it now, Shige’s amazed that anyone had wanted to be friends with him with as much of an ass as he was, lugging around the superiority complex that would last until well after he graduated university. Maybe it was because Koyama was older, or sensitive enough to see through Shige’s hard-coated exterior at the fragile marshmallow that was underneath, protecting him from the big, bad world the only way he knew—with love.

He still tears up when he remembers how they had first gotten together. It wasn’t anything special, but it was the most important thing in the world back then. He had just turned twenty and spent two straight months drinking with Ryo and Yamashita (and Akanishi by proxy) because he was legal to, and Koyama had shown up at his apartment out of the blue one day with the saddest expression Shige had seen on his face to date.

“I don’t like how you get when you drink with them,” he had said bluntly, folding his arms like he did when he scolded Tegoshi for playing pranks. “And I don’t like how they act with you.”

“How is that?” Shige had asked, confused and a little upset although he didn’t really understand why. “We just laugh and have fun together.”

“No, they laugh at you and have fun at your expense.” Koyama’s frown could darken the world, and this time was no exception. “You’re too drunk to know they’re making fun of you, and I don’t like it. Respect yourself better.”

Shige had blinked at him, feeling more uncomfortable than when his father had lectured him after his first and only sex scandal. “I respect myself just fine! I know they’re making fun of me, and I don’t care! When I drink is the only time I don’t get pissed off about stupid shit like normal.”

Knowing what Shige knows now about mental health, that should have been a sign to look into treatment back then, but twenty-year-old Shige was stubborn and indignant and wouldn’t listen to anyone. Including Koyama.

“You can drink with me,” Koyama had told him, which had Shige rolling his eyes. “What? I’m fun!”

“It’s not the same, Kei,” Shige had said slowly, because he called Koyama by his given name back then. “Those two never wanted anything to do with me before, and now they do. I don’t care if they make fun of me, because we’re friends. I feel like we’re finally becoming equals instead of the two of them being on pedestals above the rest of us.”

“Keep telling yourself that,” Koyama had grumbled, turning to leave, but Shige wouldn’t let him go. “What the hell, Shige? You would rather be with them, so go on. Be their entertainment until they get tired of you.”

“What is this really about?” Shige had demanded, holding onto Koyama’s arm to keep him right where he is. Neither one was particularly strong back then, but Koyama could have shrugged him off if he’d wanted to. He didn’t.

“You don’t hang out with me anymore!” Koyama had exclaimed, going red in the face from the force of his words. “You’d rather get drunk with them than do anything with me. You may as well slap me in the face.”

“I-I’m sorry,” Shige had said, genuinely blown away from Koyama’s outburst. “I like spending time with you too, I swear. I’m just happy to be one of the cool kids for once.”

“We’re not in high school anymore, Shige,” Koyama had replied sternly. “We’re all the cool kids now. They’re just the cool kids whom you idolize enough to ignore your best friend for.”

“I’m sorry,” Shige had said again, and Koyama hid a sniffle. “I’ll blow them off tonight and we’ll hang out. You’re already here. Okay?”

Koyama had just nodded and flashed a smile that had Shige rushing to grab his phone and cancel with RyoPin. All he had gotten in response was a “K” and wondered if Koyama had a point after all, not that he was going to admit that.

They had gone on to christen Shige’s new blender with strawberry daiquiris and were sufficiently toasted when Shige misjudged the couch cushion and sat down halfway on Koyama’s lap.

“Oops,” he’d said, making no effort to move.

“Do you sit with Ryo and Yamapi like this?” Koyama had asked, his voice much closer to Shige’s ear than he had expected.

“Yeah,” Shige had answered easily, the honesty flowing out of him with the lack of inhibition. “Ryo kissed me once, but then he said I wasn’t any good at it and I should stick to kissing you.”

That had Koyama falling still. “I’ve never kissed you, Shige.”

“I know,” Shige had replied. “I told him that. He didn’t believe me.”

“Turn around.”

Shige had heaved a big sigh of annoyance, wondering why he had to make the effort to move when he was sort of comfortable, but what had greeted him upon his compliance had all coherent thought flying out of his head. Koyama was kissing him, both hands firmly on his face as their lips pressed together, and it was a million times better than what he remembered with Ryo.

“I think you should take Ryo-chan’s advice,” Koyama had said quietly when they finally broke apart.

“I will,” Shige had replied, and he did. For eight whole months.

The Shige of today hugs himself as he remembers all of that, partly because he’s cold but also because he yearns for some kind of intimacy after recalling such an emotional memory. They had been so excited to embark on this journey together, openly expressing their feelings and their plans for the future that would send anyone else running away.

Until the reality of it had crashed down upon them. Shige was still in uni, filming dramas while NEWS was having their comeback as six, and he simply didn’t have the time to devote to a relationship. It would be one thing if Koyama was busy too, but all he had was NEWS and co-hosting Shokura back then. Thus, Shige’s inbox was filled with messages of “I miss you” and “Can I come over soon?” until Shige couldn’t stand rejecting him anymore.

It had been very hard to move on, but they made it. For NEWS, and for their friendship. No matter what, Koyama was someone important to Shige, and Shige was confident that he was that person for Koyama too. The year that Ryo and Yamapi left NEWS was crucial for both of them. Koyama was not in a good place at that time, and Shige did what he could without sacrificing his own work—

Shige has to shake himself out of that train of thought before he gets really upset. He doesn’t like to think about how low Koyama had felt back then, what he had admitted on NEWS na Futari a few years ago when they talked with suicide attempt survivors, but he’s not fast enough. Before he can stop it, tears cascade down his face and he sobs into his hands, crying for something that didn’t actually happen but could have.

A few moments later, when he blinks his eyes open and blows his nose, his phone is flashing at him. It’s a message from Koyama. He stares at it for a good number of seconds, wondering if Koyama could somehow sense that he was being cried over or if fate is real after all.

Can I come over? I want to talk to you about something.

Shige has to blink a few more times before he believes that the display actually says what it says, and he fumbles to reply OK before he loses his nerve. As he rushes to shower so that he doesn’t look like he’s been crying, he recalls how the phrase “I want to talk to you” would normally ignite his anxiety since it usually prefaces bad news.

He wonders why he doesn’t feel nervous in the minutes leading up to Koyama’s arrival. Koyama had replied saying that he was on his way, but Shige’s not sure from where. He doesn’t know Koyama’s schedule anymore, having no reason to know whether Koyama’s working or not. He only knows when Barairo Dandy films because he watches it live.

There are a million things Koyama could tell him that would give him reason to worry. Something happened to one of his family members. He’s in trouble again. There really is a reason that Koyama hasn’t been hanging out with him. NEWS is disbanding. While all of those possibilities are awful, they don’t fill his gut with extreme anguish like his anxiety usually does.

The demons may be on his side this time.

When Koyama finally shows up after twenty minutes, he looks worse for wear. He has bags under his eyes and he cringes at the low lights of Shige’s living room, stumbling as he crosses the threshold.

“Are you drunk?” Shige greets him as he waits for Koyama to shed his outerwear to hang it up.

“Not yet,” Koyama answers, and his voice is a little hoarse. “I want to be sober when I say this to you.”

Shige just stares at him as the other man seems to work out some kind of mental aggression by flinging his arms in a circle. “I’m listening.”

Abruptly, Koyama halts his movements, spinning to face Shige more gracefully than any dance move he’s ever performed. For as awful as he looks, his expression is soft, and now Shige’s anxiety appears because he hasn’t seen this face for twelve years.

“I’m sorry, but I still love you.”

*

Koyama’s heart pounds in his ears while Shige stares at him unblinkingly.

Nothing has changed since the last time Koyama was here. Furniture in the same place, entertainment center stocked with DVDs and Blu-rays, shelves overflowing with books and random knick-knacks Shige has acquired on his travels. He may have gotten a bigger TV, but the size difference isn’t substantial enough to be obvious.

Koyama waits a handful of seconds before he peers at Shige, who still hasn’t moved, the silence pushing him to speak more.

“I know you said you don’t want to be with anyone, but I’ve been so cold and lonely and all I want is to be held by you. No relationship, no pressure, just warmth and love.”

More silence. At least Shige’s blinking now, looking less like a human statue and more like a human who has just had the world pulled out from under them.

“Please say something,” Koyama presses. “I didn’t want to open this Pandora’s box, but Nadja-san lectured me and I promised her I would tell you today.”

“I have missed you so fucking much,” Shige blurts out, and now Koyama’s the one blinking. “You haven’t invited me to hang out in over a year.”

Koyama’s heart skips a beat. “You’ve been busy! We’ve worked together so much lately that I figured that was enough. And you can invite me too, you know!”

“No, I can’t,” Shige says firmly, and Koyama notices that he’s visibly shaking where he stands.

“Why not?” Koyama asks curiously. “I’ll always say yes.”

“It doesn’t work that way.” Shige huffs, then glances longingly at his couch. “Let’s sit down.”

Koyama nods and flops down at one end of Shige’s couch. He expects Shige to take the other end, so surprised when Shige sits on the edge of the cushion closest to him that he straightens his spine and pays rapt attention.

“I can’t invite you, because I have anxiety,” Shige says slowly, and Koyama can only watch his hands tremble for a few seconds before covering them with his own. “It’s a diagnosed mental condition, and I’m fighting it the best I can, but I’m not yet at the point where I can invite out someone who doesn’t message me anymore. My brain tells me you stopped messaging me because you don’t want to see me.”

“Your brain is wrong,” Koyama says, swinging Shige’s hands for emphasis. “I want to be with you any way I can. Even if we just sit here on your couch watching terrible movies, I will gladly carve a few hours out of my schedule every week or so.”

Shige stares down at their joined hands, and not for the first time Koyama wishes he could see what’s going on in that beautiful head of his. Especially now that he knows the thoughts inside it aren’t very kind to him.

“Talk to me, Shige,” Koyama says, just like he did back when Shige was figuring out his own feelings twelve years ago. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I’m not thinking well right now,” Shige tells him, cringing like his crossed brainwaves are causing him physical pain. “I heard what you said and I want to respond to it properly, but I don’t know how to feel about it right now.”

“Should I leave?” Koyama asks, and Shige’s already shaking his head before Koyama’s even done asking the question. “Should we do something else so your brain has time to catch up?”

“Reboot, more like,” Shige mutters, and Koyama laughs at the mental image. “Is it okay if I think about it for a while? I don’t want to say anything rash.”

“Absolutely,” Koyama replies, grinning hard enough to offset the frown on Shige’s face. “Thank you for caring so much about my feelings.”

Shige just nods and abruptly lets go of Koyama’s hands, unsteadily getting to his feet. “Have you eaten yet?”

“I did, but I can always eat again,” Koyama answers easily. “Especially if you’re cooking.”

“Cooking helps me clear my mind,” Shige says, already halfway to the kitchen before he turns on his heel. “Oh, wait.”

Koyama’s eyes widen as Shige flops back down on the center cushion, turning to face Koyama before flinging his arms around him.

“Shige?”

“You said you wanted me to hold you,” Shige mutters into Koyama’s shoulder. “I’m cold too, so you gotta hug me back.”

“Deal,” Koyama agrees, tightening his own arms around Shige while trying not to cry from happiness. Shige’s so warm, his muscles much firmer than the last time they had done this. Koyama hadn’t thought it had been that long, but apparently it has.

He rests his head on Shige’s shoulder and turns the rest of his body toward him, curling up as closely as he can in this position. Shige must have taken a shower right before Koyama came over, because Koyama’s inundated with the scent of Shige’s shampoo and body wash. It gives him an excuse to breathe deeply, effectively calming any nerves that may have arisen.

“I have to...my mind is running,” Shige says suddenly, pulling away slowly like an unknown force is trying to stop him. “I’ll cook for you now.”

“Do you want any help?” Koyama asks. “I’ve been learning.”

“Not now,” Shige says, smiling as he pushes himself back up to his feet. “We can cook together another time. That sounds like fun.”

Koyama just nods and pulls out his phone to entertain himself while Shige puts some space between them. Koyama doesn’t know much about anxiety disorders, so he Googles them and does some research. From what he reads, Shige’s brain is imagining worst-case scenarios most the time, jumping to conclusions and making him believe things that aren’t really happening.

Koyama’s first instinct is to demand why Shige didn’t tell him about this sooner, but that would have probably been harder to do than invite him out. The more he reads, the more his heart aches at what Shige’s been going through all by himself, and while he didn’t think that this was possible until now, it makes him love Shige even more.

It’s a good half hour later when Shige presents Koyama with a bowl of steaming food, something hot and full of carbohydrates to battle the cold weather. Koyama just thanks him and eats, vocally appreciating how good it tastes, and by the time he drains his bowl, Shige looks considerably happier.

“I’m scared,” he finally says. “I love you too, but I don’t want to hurt you again.”

Koyama struggles to focus on the words other than the ones he’s been yearning to hear again for over a decade. “You didn’t hurt me the last time, Shige. We were both too young and ignorant to the ways of the world to know what we were getting into. We have lived entire lives since then.”

Shige stares at him for a few seconds, then smiles brightly. “You’re right. I don’t want to jump into anything serious, but I do want to hold you some more.”

“Me too,” Koyama agrees, and this time they take the time to maneuver each other into a more sustainable cuddling position. Koyama ends up with his legs across Shige’s lap, his face buried in Shige’s long hair, and he can feel Shige relax as his breaths move Koyama with them.

“Shall we watch a terrible movie?” Shige suggests, and Koyama nods.

Koyama couldn’t even tell you what movie it was, only that it had enough comedy for Shige to continuously vibrate Koyama with the depth of his laughs.

“Are you even watching this?” Shige asks about midway through it.

“No,” Koyama admits. “It’s in English and I don’t want to focus on the subtitles.”

“I can put on something else—” Shige starts.

“No,” Koyama says again. “You watch it. I’ll enjoy you.”

Shige responds by tightening his arms around Koyama, nuzzling his nose into the part of Koyama’s face he can reach. It would be so easy for Koyama to lift his head and close the distance between them, seeing if Shige kisses the same as he remembers or if it’s completely different now, but he doesn’t want to move that fast.

He’s waited twelve years for this. He can wait a little bit longer.

And by the time the movie ends, he’s not cold anymore.

*

We have lived entire lives since then.

Shige’s not really paying much attention to the movie, just the one-liners that serve as an occasional pull back to reality. Not to mention the weight of an entire person in his arms, living and breathing with a steady heartbeat that seems to calm Shige’s own down to a healthy rhythm.

Never in a million years did Shige expect Koyama to confess to him (again). They’ve been telling the world they love each other since day one, but the only time Shige has heard it without a camera around was during the eight months they dated and tonight. It’s the same words but a different meaning, especially if it had Koyama distraught enough to confide in one of his cohosts.

They would sit like this twelve years ago too, and Shige’s just as amazed as he was back then at how someone so tall can compact so small. Koyama’s clinging to him like a koala, getting as close as he can with all of their clothes on, and Shige’s face heats up at the only way they could physically be closer.

Sex is something that Shige doesn’t usually think about until it’s happening, when the other person makes it clear that they want it by telling him outright or blatantly seducing him. It’s easy enough for him to switch gears in the moment, but it’s not something that takes over his mind any other time like most guys (or so he hears). He supposes the demons are too busy making him question everything he’s ever said to allow any lewd thoughts.

He’s definitely thinking about it now, well aware of the body pressing against his and everything he could do with it. While Shige remembers the logistics of having sex with Koyama, he doesn’t remember how it had felt. He could probably recount with a small margin of error how often they would do it, and in what positions, but he couldn’t recall what Koyama’s moans sound like or how he likes to be touched.

All that has probably changed anyway. Shige doesn’t fuck the same way he did when he was twenty, for sure. He’s much less eager, for one thing. Back then, he was happy to be getting laid at all, but as he’s gotten older he’s become more appreciative of the person who’s allowing him such intimate access to their body. He doesn’t even need intercourse—some of his hottest memories involve dry-humping or jerking off together.

Both of those were with Koyama. What he does remember about sex with Koyama is that Koyama was very open to trying new things and doing whatever felt good. One time, they were so worked up after a long day of teasing that they didn’t make it past the car, grinding against each other in the backseat until they both came in their pants like teenagers. Another time, Koyama was being particularly ornery and wouldn’t stop touching himself, and it became a challenge where the first person to touch the other lost. They both won.

Recalling these instances with Koyama’s entire weight on top of him may not have been the best idea, but Koyama doesn’t seem to mind that Shige holds him more tightly and breathes deeply into his purple hair. There is no doubt in Shige’s demon-riddled mind that Koyama would take him to bed right now, but Shige’s not sure he wants to go that fast this time around. “Jumping into something serious” includes sex.

Or does it?

The movie ends, but Koyama doesn’t move. Shige needs to make a decision soon, as it’s getting late and they both have work tomorrow. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have sex the night before a long day of rehearsals and performances anyway, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time one of them was limping and popping anti-inflammatories like candy. Shige’s much more gentle now anyway.

“You’re making interesting noises,” Koyama says in this sinfully low voice, nuzzling his head further into Shige’s neck while Shige chokes on his next breath. “What are you thinking about?”

“Sex,” Shige answers bluntly, and he feels Koyama shudder in his arms. “As in, whether it’s a good idea to do it or not.”

“It’s always a good idea to have sex,” Koyama says easily, and somehow his embrace becomes more sensual without really changing. “As long as both people want to do it. Do you want to do it?”

“I do, but...” Shige trails off into a sigh, resigning himself to another battle with his own mind. “I don’t want that to be all we do together. Again.”

Koyama makes a thoughtful noise as he presumably remembers how they couldn’t stay out of each other’s pants long enough to do anything else. “I’m not twenty-three anymore, you know,” he points out. “I’m happy to be with you however you will let me, even if we just sit here like this.”

That familiar assuring tone relaxes Shige enough to breathe more evenly, though his brain is still nagging him to make a decision. “Do you want to sleep over?” he finally asks, which seems to appease the demons for the time being.

“Yes!” Koyama answers enthusiastically, wiggling around as he retrieves something from his pocket. “Let me just ask my manager if she will feed Milk in the morning.”

“I’m sorry to keep you from your pet—”

“Stop that.” Koyama straddles his lap and stares right into his eyes, like he can make the bad thoughts go away if he looks menacing enough. “She can live one night without me. I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t want to. I don’t do anything I don’t want to, okay? The last thing you need to worry about is my consent.”

“You say that, but I still will,” Shige tells him, and Koyama pouts. It’s more adorable than anything else, and Shige reaches out with a single finger to push Koyama’s bottom lip back into his mouth. “Stop being cute.”

“Never,” Koyama replies, placing both hands on Shige’s shoulders as he settles on top of him. Shige feels Koyama’s thighs pressing against his and sits up straighter, his own hands easily resting on Koyama’s hips. “Mm, Shige, you wanna do it like this? I bet I can still ride.”

A wave of heat courses throughout Shige’s body at the words, but he halts Koyama when the other man starts to move. “Maybe you should kiss me first.”

*

He didn’t have to tell Koyama twice.

Koyama’s fingers sink into Shige’s long hair as he leans in, gently pressing their lips together. Shige kisses right back and it has Koyama’s mind spinning, scooting closer as they both lick their way into each other’s mouths, the pair of them moving perfectly in sync in a way that has never graced a stage.

This part was always easy. Koyama’s grateful that they’re still attracted to each other after all of this time, after all these years of being with other people and trying so hard to stop seeing each other this way. Koyama’s skin buzzes with each flick of Shige’s tongue against his, his body rocking from Shige’s tightened hold on his hips.

“Ah,” Shige gasps, falling out of their kiss as Koyama realizes how close he has pressed his body to Shige’s. The fly of Shige’s pants has filled out and Koyama can’t stop rubbing against it, faint noises spilling from his lips as he buries his face into Shige’s neck now that Shige has pulled his mouth away.

“Do you want me to stop?” Koyama asks, his voice all breath, and Shige shakes his head so fast that Koyama gets a mass of hair in his face. “Do you want me to do more?”

“What do you want to do to me?” Shige asks, his tone innocent while his words very much are not, and Koyama shivers at all of the possibilities.

Everything,” he replies, and now Shige’s the one who shivers from Koyama’s breath on his neck. “I want to touch you and make you feel good. I want to hear you say my name in that fucking hot sex voice of yours. I want to see if you still turn pink when you come.”

If there’s one thing that Koyama is really good at, it’s talking dirty, and now is no different. Saying out loud what he’s only fantasized about for over a decade has him hot all over, twisting his fingers in Shige’s hair hard enough to pull a faint mewl from the back of his throat. If he remembers correctly, Shige likes that too.

Fuck,” Shige groans, snapping his own hips to grind harder against Koyama. “Kei.”

“Yeah, like that.” Koyama drags his lips along Shige’s neck until Shige does it again. “Shall we go to your room?”

“Yeah,” Shige replies immediately, though it takes a while for Koyama to pry himself away from Shige’s body enough to stand up.

Shige doesn’t stray too far, and Koyama really does feel twenty-three again when they trip over each other on their way down the hallway. Now Shige is the one with his mouth latched to Koyama’s neck, pressing against him from behind and Koyama moans out loud at Shige’s erection digging into his tailbone.

Despite being the older one, Koyama was usually on the bottom when they were together like this, wholly because he was the one whose body yearned for it at the first feel of Shige hard against him. This time is no different, Koyama entirely ready to bend over right here and let Shige take him, but Shige’s firm grip on his hips effectively spins him around before they reach the bed.

“Listen to me, Keiichiro,” Shige says, and Koyama forces his eyes open to see a stern look on Shige’s flushed face. “I want to do this with you, but I need you to understand that we are not getting back together. I do not want a relationship, even with you. I love you so much, but I won’t do this with you under false pretenses. I couldn’t live with myself if I did.”

“I know that, Shigeaki,” Koyama replies, pointedly using Shige’s full given name to soften those hard eyes. It works, and Koyama takes a deep breath to calm himself down enough to speak from his heart, not any other part. “I know that. I know you. I know you’re not gonna change, and that’s okay. I love you as you are.”

Nadja’s words push to the forefront of his mind, and he smiles at the memory of her lecturing him while he was falling down drunk last night. He had thought about it all day, leading up to the moment he walked into Shige’s apartment and confessed his feelings, because as much as he wants a family, he wants Shige more.

Shige looks like he wants to smile, but something’s stopping him. “I want to believe you, but I have a bad feeling that this is going to fuck everything up between us again.”

“That bad feeling is your anxiety, right?” Koyama asks carefully. “You can’t predict how this is going to end. Neither of us can. Maybe it will fuck everything up, but maybe it won’t. And that maybe is enough for me to take that chance. I’m not nearly as clingy as I was twelve years ago, anyway. I have learned how to enjoy being alone now, so I don’t need you that way anymore.”

That has Shige sporting a small smile, and Koyama almost snorts at the only person alive who is happy to hear that the one he loves doesn’t need him. “Don’t you want kids though? It’s really not fair to you to settle for me when you could be with someone who will do that for you. You deserve to have everything.”

Koyama sucks his lips into his mouth, sheepishly reaching for Shige’s hands as he guides them both down to sit on the bed. He takes another deep breath, turns to face Shige completely, and forces himself to look into Shige’s eyes.

“I almost got engaged this year.”

What?” Shige exclaims, just like Koyama had expected he would, though he lowers his voice at Koyama’s cringe. “The one you broke up with in April? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I was ashamed!” Koyama practically yells back, tightening his grip on Shige’s hands when Shige won’t let him pull away. “I didn’t love her, as much as I tried. She would have been the perfect wife and mother. An actor, an entrepreneur,  at the right time in her life to start a family. I admired her and respected her, but I didn’t love her, so I couldn’t go through with marrying her.”

Shige stares at him for a few seconds, then inhales slowly. “Am I the reason you couldn’t be happy with her?”

“Probably?” Koyama shrugs. “It’s not your fault, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ve had all the time in the world to get over you, and I haven’t. That’s why I came here tonight. Don’t you understand? I’d rather have nothing with you than everything with someone else. This isn’t nothing to me anyway.”

“It’s not nothing to me either,” Shige mumbles, then forces his eyes back up to Koyama’s face despite the tears welling up in them. “I want to believe you, Kei.”

“So believe me,” Koyama says gently, finally escaping from Shige’s iron grip to reach up to his face, wiping away the first tear to break free. “Fuck me or don’t fuck me, as long as you love me.”

“I do love you,” Shige forces out, sounding like he’s trying to convince himself as well as Koyama. “I love you more than anyone, but it’s not the kind of love that lends well to forever.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” Koyama tells him, then leans in to kiss him. It’s a light one, soft and slow, though it has Koyama’s heart flopping more than when they’d been hardcore making out a few minutes ago.

He pulls back in time to see Shige finally relax, lifting his arm to wipe his eyes before letting out a short laugh. “Now you’re the one making me cry with your sweet words.”

“I have learned a thing or two in twelve years,” Koyama says, his face breaking out into a grin when Shige laughs again.

“I look forward to getting to know you all over again,” Shige says, and Koyama nods his agreement.

*

Snores permeate Shige’s senses before he’s entirely awake, and it takes him a few seconds to remember who he went to bed with. Last night felt like such a dream, complete with upsetting demon intervention, that he doesn’t believe Koyama’s really lying next to him until he pinches himself and jerks from the pain.

His gasp earns Koyama’s attention, though Shige’s confident that the other man is not at all awake as he flops over and snuggles up to Shige’s chest. They’re both fully clothed, and a few more seconds of consciousness remind Shige that they hadn’t drank anything for him to worry about clouding his memory.

Crying is exhausting, and as much as Shige would have liked to pick up where they had left off before his stupid anxiety outburst, all he wanted to do was sleep. Koyama had dragged him into the bathroom to clean up, insisting that Shige would regret it if he went to bed without even brushing his teeth, and Shige had made it until Koyama was searching his drawers for something to sleep in before passing out on top of his covers.

Koyama must have moved him around, because he’s comfortably warm under his covers and now Koyama’s weight. Koyama’s a lot like a big dog when it comes to sharing sleeping space, unconsciously pressing as close as he can with no regard to comfort, and Shige didn’t realize how much he missed this until he had it again.

“Are you awake?” he whispers, his voice coming out groggy and thick from nonuse, and Koyama makes a faint noise that doesn’t do much to answer his question. “Hey, Leader, we don’t want to be late for work.”

He gets a snort at that, the body next to him stretching as much as it can without leaving Shige’s embrace. “I set an alarm,” Koyama mumbles, his voice just as low. “We don’t have to get up yet.”

Shige calms down as fast as he’d gotten worried, wrapping his arms around Koyama to embrace him tightly. Koyama had put on a short-sleeved shirt and Shige finds goosebumps on his arm, running his fingers over them for textile stimulation until Koyama makes a much different noise.

“Keep that up and I’ll have to jerk off in your shower before we go anywhere,” Koyama says, pressing the words into Shige’s shoulder as he squirms. “I’m still turned on from last night.”

“Why do you have to go to the shower?” Shige asks, lifting his other hand to drift along the back of Koyama’s neck. “I’m right here.”

Koyama moans out loud at that, rolling over enough to straddle one of Shige’s thighs. Shige groans at how hard Koyama is, his own body waking up faster than he’d like as Koyama’s hand drops to the hem of his shirt.

“I’m gonna touch you now,” Koyama says firmly, and Shige makes an affirmative noise. Fingers slip under Shige’s shirt to touch his chest directly, splaying along the sensitive skin of his abdomen as they work their way up to one of his nipples. “Do you still like this?”

“Yeah,” Shige breathes out, doing some squirming of his own when Koyama slowly rubs the hardening bud. “Get on top of me.”

Koyama makes an approving sound at that, following directions as he closes the distance between them and gives Shige a firm thrust, panting into his neck. “Is this what you want?”

Shige can only nod, his breath stolen by Koyama’s continued grinding with only their sleep pants between them for friction. His own hands slide up the back of Koyama’s shirt, feeling the defined muscles that weren’t yet there the last time they did this, even if the rest of his body has stayed the same.

Then Koyama pushes up Shige’s shirt and licks his nipple, which has Shige dropping his grip to Koyama’s ass to grind them even harder together. He’s so hot that he could finish like this, just like he did when he was twenty and they couldn’t stop long enough to get out of their clothes.

Fuck, you’re so hard,” Koyama gasps against his nipple, making Shige shudder as he snaps his hips again. “I can’t decide whether I want you to come in my mouth or inside me.”

“We have to dance today,” Shige reminds him, moaning out loud at the frustrated noise Koyama makes. “And I don’t know how much time we have.”

“The sun’s not even up yet,” Koyama points out, which doesn’t mean anything in the middle of winter, but Shige can’t bring himself to argue. “Let me make you feel good.”

“Okay,” Shige agrees easily, only a little nervous as Koyama kisses his way down Shige’s chest. Koyama’s hand gets there first, squeezing him firmly through the thin material of his sweat pants until he’s arching clear off the bed. “Kei.”

Koyama lets out a pleased hum and vibrates Shige’s abdomen, then he’s pushing down the waistband and Shige chokes on his next breath at the first lick of Koyama’s tongue to his sensitive length. Koyama’s lips are next, then his hand to hold him still as he kisses the tip, and Shige moans out loud before Koyama’s lips are fully around the head.

“Ah, Kei,” Shige gasps, lowering a hand to sink into Koyama’s hair as he does everything in his power not to thrust up and fuck his mouth. “Feels good.”

For a terrifying second, Shige thinks Koyama’s going to pull off and say something, but what he actually does is pull his hand away and swallows Shige’s length whole. Shige can’t stop his thighs from trembling, nor the moans spilling from his lips as Koyama maintains a steady pace, not too fast and not too slow.

It feels even better first thing in the morning, when he’s relaxed from a good night’s sleep and not distracted by his thoughts. The demons must not have woken up yet. Or maybe they’re enjoying the spectacular head he’s getting too. Either way, he’s fully in the moment, all of his attention on Koyama’s mouth and the magical things it’s doing to him.

Kei,” he moans again, louder now because Koyama’s suctioning his cheeks and sucking harder. “Fuck, if you keep that up, I’m gonna come.”

It’s not much of a threat, particularly when Koyama speeds up his bobbing and Shige’s the one who hisses as he tightens his fingers in Koyama’s hair. He feels the faintest vibration around his cock and arches, approaching his peak quicker than he anticipated.

“Don’t stop,” he gasps, needlessly because Koyama’s got both arms looped around his thighs to keep him locked in place. The head of his cock hits the back of Koyama’s throat, but only long enough for Shige to cry out from the pressure before pulling back enough to suck on the tip.

That’s Shige’s weak spot, which Koyama remembers, and Shige squirms and shudders as his orgasm is forced out of him in the most pleasant way. His bones feel like jelly after he’s finished, his whole focus on catching the breaths that are determined to run away from him.

“Oh my god,” he finally gets out, still heaving when Koyama crawls up his body and grins at him. “I forgot how good you are at that.”

“You spend eight months sucking someone off, you’re gonna learn what they like, even if it was a long time ago,” Koyama says, his vowels a bit elongated from the strain on his jaw. “I’m just glad your weak spots haven’t changed.”

“Have yours?” Shige asks, flashing his own grin at Koyama’s raised eyebrows as he rolls them over and settles between Koyama’s legs. “I don’t remember much about when were together before, but I’m hoping it comes back to me as I do it.”

“If it doesn’t, I’ll gladly remind you,” Koyama tells him, his hands already in Shige’s hair before Shige’s even halfway down his chest. “Do you still like your hair pulled?”

“I do,” Shige answers, his aftershocks intensifying with the first twist of Koyama’s fingers. “I’m not even doing anything yet.”

“Anticipation,” Koyama says, his following laugh getting caught in his throat when Shige skips his waist and goes straight for the bulge in his pants. “Shige.”

Shige preens, relaxing his jaw as he shoves down Koyama’s waistband and gets to work. Few things sound better to his ears than Koyama screaming his name, and few things feel better in his mouth than Koyama’s cock. It fits perfectly now just like it had twelve years ago, and Shige nestles his nose in Koyama’s pubic hair as he swallows around the head.

If Koyama’s incoherent blubbering is any indication, he remembers how to please him just fine, the grip on his hair tight but unmoving. Shige had actually forgotten how much he enjoys doing this because of some uncomfortable experiences after Koyama, which just goes to show that he should have only been doing this for Koyama this entire time.

Koyama never degraded him. Even when Shige wanted to be submissive, Koyama wouldn’t do more than pin him down and talk dirty. His version of domination was gentle direction and lots of praise, and it took Shige a good number of years and some upsetting kink scenes to learn that he preferred it Koyama’s way.

Or maybe he just preferred Koyama.

He didn’t expect to find enlightenment with Koyama’s dick in his mouth, but it is what it is. It doesn’t help that Koyama’s writhing on Shige’s bed, a moaning mess from Shige’s continued suction, which Shige manages to maintain even with Koyama moving around so much.

“Shige,” Koyama calls out, sounding desperate and frantic and everything Shige doesn’t feel right now. The demons must enjoy this too. “Shige, I’m gonna come. Shige!”

Shige has a half a second to brace himself before Koyama comes down his throat, swallowing everything that Koyama gives him until the length in his mouth starts to shrink. He heaves himself up without opening his eyes, and he’s lifting his hand to rub at his jaw until Koyama gets there first.

When Shige pries open his eyes, Koyama’s giving him such a doting look that he leans down to capture his lips, morning breath be damned. They kiss for so long that Shige thinks he could go again, then the chorus of Tegoshi’s Neverland solo pierces right through his blissful peace and nearly has him falling off the bed.

“Oh my god,” Shige exclaims while Koyama’s laughing too hard to reach for his phone. “That is your alarm?”

“Nothing wakes me up faster than Tego screaming at me to come,” Koyama says seriously, and Shige just shakes his head as Koyama finally swipes at his display. “Come on, I gave us twenty minutes to make ourselves presentable.”

“You may want to wash that smirk off your face then,” Shige teases, and Koyama nudges him in return.

“I’m not the one who’s bright pink down to his belly,” Koyama replies, and Shige’s still rolling his eyes when Koyama drags him into the shower.

Twenty minutes later, they huddle in the backseat of Shige’s manager’s car after an overly friendly greeting that left no doubt in anyone’s mind that she knew exactly why she was carting around two disheveled idols instead of one. He hopes she’s paid well enough to keep his secrets.

Besides, the demons still haven’t woken up to give him a reason to worry about it. He hopes they stay asleep forever.

*

The New Year brings forth more work, more freezing weather, and more love.

Koyama still can’t believe he got back his man, as Nadja put it. All she had to do was look at him the next time they filmed together and she just knew, taking credit for it and demanding Koyama show her gratitude, which he happily did.

Tegoshi and Massu were mostly confused at what ‘not having a relationship’ means if they still love each other and sleep together, but they both seemed hopeful that it would work out this time. Tegoshi has always thought KoyaShige were endgame, while Massu thinks it’s better to try again now that they are both older and confidently know what they want.

It’s easy for Koyama to agree when Shige’s right there, grinning brightly because he’s just as happy as Koyama is. When Shige’s arms are around him, or when Shige’s inside him, or even when Shige’s overcome by the bad thoughts and Koyama’s the one comforting him and helping him battle his inner demons, Koyama feels like he’s right where he’s meant to be.

He’s careful not to make too many plans for the future, because that’s something that stresses Shige out a lot. He’s okay with small things like “let’s go away for a few days the next time we have a break,” but any more than that is too much. Shige spaces out their sleepovers to give himself adequate time alone and to write, and Koyama doesn’t push for more.

It’s still fucking cold, but Shige’s love is enough to keep him warm even from a distance. Shige makes it a point to hug Koyama tightly every time they work together, messaging at least once on the days they don’t see each other, and that’s enough for Koyama. He’s happy that Shige can message him first again, that he no longer gets anxious about whether Koyama really wants to talk to him or not.

Honestly, it’s nice to be with Shige without all of the pressures of a relationship. He can fall in love all over again without worrying whether their entire lives are compatible. There’s not some set quota he has to reach to be a good boyfriend. Shige had adamantly decided no presents for Valentine’s Day, and the two of them cooked dinner together instead. It was fun and stress-free.

Koyama’s mom and sister may not believe him, but he’s really okay with not having a family. As much as he had wanted to raise children together with the one he loves, it doesn’t mean anything if the one he loves doesn’t want it too. If he wants to be around kids, his sister has three of them, and there is no shortage of orphanages he can volunteer at. Not to mention a lot of their fans are young—he can be a role model to them just as easily.

He sighs as he closes the box, packing up the last of his hopes that Shige will change his mind. It’s not fair to either of them to continue this journey together under false pretenses, not to mention that Shige’s anxiety would choke him if he knew. Every time Koyama thinks about it, he hates himself a little, and the only way to stop is to get rid of the reminders once and for all.

Parenting books, children’s books that Koyama had really liked as a kid, an old baseball. Booties that Koyama had found in another country and deemed too cute to pass up, figuring that one day he’d have a little person to put them on. Stencils for when Haru and Ren got big enough to want art on their wall. A “My First...” photobook Koyama had ordered one night while he was drunk and sad. Everything he had accumulated over the years for his future children, of which there would not be any now.

The season for giving is over, but the church down the street is just as willing to take Koyama’s donations. One of the women working the office recognizes him and praises him for being such a thoughtful idol, that the young parents who come to them for help will be grateful for these things. It has Koyama wanting to do more, but he narrowly resists writing a check. His contract forbids him to affiliate with religious organizations—item donations are okay, but not money. He leaves with a list of most-needed items and plans to make an anonymous Amazon order instead.

When he gets home, Milk humors him by allowing him to sob into her fur for twenty seconds, then bats him away. She’s right—this is what he wanted. He knew that he would have to make this sacrifice to be with Shige again, and this is the path that he chose. Shige has made sacrifices too, lots of them. This is how it works in the real world. He may be sad now, but the next time he sees Shige again, the good feeling he gets will be worth it.

If he hugs Shige tighter than usual when NEWS meets to work on their concerts, Shige doesn’t call him on it. Maybe Shige needs it too, maybe he had a rough night with his thoughts and Koyama’s embrace is just as comforting to him as it is to Koyama. That’s one way they complement each other like this.

It’s not until he pulls back that Shige’s face falls. “Everything okay?”

“Everything’s perfect,” Koyama lies smoothly, but the smile that forms from Shige’s relief is real. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Shige replies, sneaking a kiss before the others whine at them to get a room, and once again Koyama closes his eyes to reality for as long as he can.