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【杰北】Miso Soup

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Imitation Rain…Rain!

 

The splashing of water could be heard as the six boys jumped to the beat drop of their long-awaited debut track. It’s been a long six months since the news of debut and only two days since it actually happened. Perhaps the reality hasn’t sunk in yet previously, but as the band twirled around in the water with grace and power, the reality was slowly seeping through.

 

After four rehearsals of dancing to this track in what feels like a typhoon storm, the entire band was become dangerously good at kicking water. It became a contest of who could stay the driest and showering order was on the line here – loser showers last.

 

Juri quickly lost this contest when he was sandwiched by attacks on both sides.

 

Wave one, incoming at three o’ clock. Fuck you, Shintaro.

 

What’s the meaning of life”  

 

He kept his demeanor and continued to rap, his lines surprisingly fitting as he is washed over once again by Jesse on his left.

 

Perhaps it was necessary to deliver the dramatic effects of Yoshiki’s brilliant track, but what was promised was a light drizzle of rain. It was described to Taiga by the staff members as to be akin to how vegetables at the supermarket were kept fresh with sprinklers that drizzled them.

 

“God this is so dramatic…”, The blonde boy swore up a storm inside, as he tried to do his lines justice even though he could barely see past his wet bangs and the storm that ensued around him. Unbeknownst to him, this exact effect was the kind that gives their audience goosebumps because it was so perfect.

 

“Oh great now it’s hella windy. This is fun.”

 

“Stick it out, stick it out. Look cool.”

 

“Run your hand through your hair and give the camera one smoldering look.”

 

They were performers, engrossed in their art, but also many thoughts ran through their minds. Some dropped to their knees, others threw their heads back, and collectively they were pounding on water. The dramatic enhancements were real, but they were just as real as the thick gusts of wind and the freezing water in the dead of winter.

 

The piano interlude took over the melody and the six boys, clad in red and black with every inch of their body drenched, stood in a line. The bright white backlight replaced the mellow red one and they gracefully played air piano to the melody as the song ended. 

 

Despite their attempts to wring water out of their hair and clothes, the boys left a trail of water as they walked back into the studio to join the rest of the guests for the ending. They were all freezing but tried their best to maintain a smile while joking around with the music show hosts.

 

“And cut! Thank you for your hard work!” As soon as the camera stopped rolling, staff members scurried around like bees, managers collecting their artists, camera staff checking rolls, and agency staff running to hand towels to the wet band. SixTONES bowed to whomever they saw as they walked out, thanking everyone for their hard work.

 

“So correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s pretty apparent who the loser is here” Shintaro stated as he looked right at Juri.

 

“Yeah, what happened, man? You were doing so well” Kochi chimed in.

 

“It all happened too fast during my rap part.” Juri combed his wet hair back by running his hand through his hair.

 

Once they were in their dressing room, they immediately changed into dry clothes. It wasn’t until then that Hokuto noticed that they lost Jesse in transit to the dressing room. 

 

“Guys.” Hokuto said, “Where the hell is Jesse?”

 

“Dunno.” Shintaro replied, “Wasn’t my turn to watch him.”

 

“Showering?” Juri usually knew where everyone was.

 

“Nope, Taiga’s showering.” Kochi corrected him.

 

No one knew where Jesse went, but since they had time before they had to leave for their next schedule, the boys shrugged it off and continued about their own business.

 

Just as Juri, who lost the contest, gathered his belongings to go take a shower, Jesse noisily burst through the door, “Guys! Check out this new gag I learned!”

 

He proceeds to showing the members his new gag after changing into dry clothes. By this point, his hair had already completely dried.

 

“So…this is the part where you explain where you were for the last half hour.” Confused, Kochi questioned where Jesse had been this whole time.

 

“I ran into a comedian I really like in the hallway,” he began, “and then we really clicked – and we got caught up in the conversation. He gave me a great suggestion on how to improve my gag and now we’re going to dinner next week.”

 

In a way, the remaining SixTONES members were baffled, but unrightfully so because that was such a Jesse-like thing to do.

 

“So you’re telling me that while we came back to the dressing room to shower, you sauntered off to socialize with other people?” Hokuto clarified.

 

“Yep.”

 

“Great.”


SixTONES had often heard from their peers who had debut before them as well as other senior groups that debut week was not to be taken lightly. Usually, it involves being corralled from one schedule to another, riding the marketing momentum that the agency poured money into. For years, they had been thirsty to feel this pain.

 

And this was it. Debut week was slowly coming to a wrap; they had performed Imitation Rain no less than 20 times during this week alone. Today was no different as the boys patiently waited in their dressing room for their next performance in an hour.

 

“Hey guys, what do you think if I did this during the part where the camera pans to my face?” Lately Kochi had been mildly stressing over not looking as cool as the other members.

 

“You want to know the truth?” Taiga replied.

 

“I guess.” Kochi knew deep inside that he was about to get bullied, once again.

 

“Looks kind of stupid.” He knew it.

 

“I agree.” Hokuto joined in from the other end of the dressing room as he applied wax to his hair, all while also checking out his perfectly chiseled nose.

 

Shintaro, who was eating dinner at the table, laughed, “If KyomoHoku agrees – then who am I to disagree, right Jesse?” Shintaro turned around as he put another piece of sausage in his mouth.

 

It was like deja-vu from yesterday all over again. Jesse, who left the room to go pick up his stage costume from the staff, was not heard from again.

 

“Fuck, where the hell is he again? ” Juri sighed, “You guys are the reason why I have gray hair.”

 

“Juri – your hair is pink.” Shintaro reminded him.

 

“I know.” Juri absentmindedly replied to Shintaro as he fished out his phone to call Jesse. A low vibration could be heard somewhere in the room. Juri perked up to figure out the origins of the vibration. He walked towards a rack full of costumes across the room. He listened closer and moved the rack of costumes aside, uncovering the tall red-haired boy curled up on a couch that was obviously not long enough for his tall stature.

 

“Jes?” By this point Kochi had walked over to where Juri was. He nudged Jesse to get up to start getting ready.

 

Jesse tossed and turned to the other side. Debut week had been rough on everyone and sneaking in a wink here and there was the best they could do to stay energetic.

 

“Jeeeessssseeeee~” Shintaro joined in from the table, louder than everyone else.

 

This time, he woke up and responded with one eye still half-closed and visibly sleepy, “I’m up, I’m up!”

 

He made a grunting noise and slowly peeled himself off the couch, “God, my whole body – hurts.” Jesse was sitting on the couch, hunched over, his head buried between his knees.

 

“You okay?” Hokuto rarely sees Jesse this quiet. He usually acts like he has a few loose screws.

 

“Yeah,” Jesse replied, “Maybe a little sick.”

 

Hearing the word “sick” worried Hokuto since Jesse was their lead vocalist and they resume touring the following week. He walked over to Jesse and put his hand on Jesse’s forehead.

 

“Oh yeah…you are SICK alright. Stay the hell away from me.” Hokuto quietly shifted away.

 

“Well – “ the eldest boy began to say, “Maybe this is obvious, but you were sauntering around in a wet costume for a good 30 minutes yesterday…and we’re obviously all sleep deprived to begin with.” Kochi says “sauntering” with air quotes since that was Hokuto’s exact word choice from the day prior.

 

“Now I’m nervous – we’re on in like, an hour!” Kyomo adds.

 

“Fuck. Okay. Let me see if I can at least find some medicine in my bag.” Juri begins to fumble through his bag. No one can deny Juri of the role he has taken upon himself to be the mother of the group.

 

Jesse gets up from the couch and begins to change into his stage costume, “You guys are obviously over-reacting. Look.” He does a funny face, followed by his usual gag except it ends in a fit of coughing. Everyone looked at him incredulously.

 

Shintaro walks over to him with a glass of hot water, “Hot water fixes everything, they say.”

 

“He caught a cold, not on his period, Shintaro.”

 

“Shut up.”


 

The only silver lining to this whole situation was that there were no more rainstorms in any of the foreseeable future performances. The six finish up their last performance of the day, with the remaining members covering here and there for their sick lead vocalist, who was surprisingly energetic for someone who took cold medicine with overnight strength. To be fair, the packaging said due to drowsiness, to not operate heavy machinery after ingesting – it said nothing about performing.

 

After rounds of thanking the camera and on-site staff, SixTONES scurried to their dressing room to get changed and to their van to get dropped off for the day. The boys clad in thin parkas and leather jackets were walking across the parking lot on a particularly frigid night. They all wanted to look cool, so no one wanted to bundle up like a sack of potatoes in case a camera gets shoved in their face without prior notice. This logic particularly applied to Jesse, who was still a legend for walking out of a concert venue in a tank top in December during Johnny’s World.

 

“Hey Hokuto.” Jesse asked, as the boys were walking across the studio parking lot to their van.

 

Hokuto, a few steps ahead, slowed down to walk next to Jesse, “Yeah?”

 

“Can I borrow your scarf?” His nose was red from the chilliness, “I am fucking freezing.”

 

“So even Jesse gets cold.” And that’s how Hokuto knew something was definitely wrong, as he wraps his scarf thrice around Jesse.

 

In the van, usually Juri would begin to review the upcoming schedule with their manager as the rest of them chattered away. Because of this special situation, everyone was more worried about if the show could go on. The worst thing that can happen is for their lead vocalist to lose his voice amidst debut chaos.

 

“I think – “ Kochi broke the silence, “I mean, as the leader…”

 

Everyone rolled their eyes a little.

 

“That someone should stay with Jesse tonight.” He finished his thought, “We can’t just let him fucking sleep this off or something by himself. That’s terrible!”

 

“Why don’t we just call his mom?” Taiga suggested.

 

“Guys, I’m right here.” Jesse pointed out, “Don’t you all dare call my mom. I’m a grown man, okay? I can handle this. You are all over-reacting.” Even though Jesse was always the path paver and their North Star, he was also always the first one to be spoiled and loved by the members.

 

“Well, I don’t think we all need to go.” Hokuto was always the voice of reason, “We just can’t let Kyomoto go.”

 

Offended, Taiga rebutted, “Wait, why not?”

 

Jesse gently put his hand on Taiga’s shoulder in consolation, “No offense, Kyomo, but ideally if someone came, I would like someone who can at least make me a cup of ramen.”

 

“Well – then it’s decided!” Juri announced. “Hokuto it is.”

 

“I’m not very sure how this was decided, but I’m on board!” Shintaro and Kochi both agreed.

 

“When did I volunteer?!” Hokuto secretly wanted to volunteer, but when he was voluntold instead, it seemed unfair.

 

“I just thought that if Jesse died, you’d only have one friend left in this world.” Juri explained.

 

“You love him the most anyways, right?” Kochi added.

 

“I mean that’s true but –”

 

“Yay! Party with Hokuto!” Jesse cheered, in the usual chaotic SixTONES fashion, “Let’s go~” He mimicked Juri’s signature gesture.

 

Still energetic as ever, never change Jesse, never change, Hokuto thought as he stopped arguing back.


 

The band’s driver dropped off Jesse and Hokuto first, in efforts to let Jesse get as much rest as possible. Before leaving, Juri and the rest of the boys made sure Jesse knew he had exactly 24 hours to be back in full operation again since they were soon to resume their tour. However, they also made sure Hokuto knew that he was fully at Jesse’s beckoning as he nurses the man back to health.

 

Hokuto begrudgingly agreed. He knew he was being teased, but he also adored Jesse enough to not mind the mission at hand.

 

Jesse’s apartment has a certain smell. Every time Hokuto visited his place, he immediately felt comforted by this scent. It was the smell of sandalwood, accents of warm coffee, maybe hints of vanilla, lavender and a tinge of citrus.

 

His interior had a distinct sleek modernism to it. Black and white furniture, with red and neon accents. Retro band posters and karate awards scattered his walls, and he had a display case filled with trophies from his karate days. Hokuto’s personal favorite touch was the line of polaroid selfies with all sorts of weird faces in front of Jesse’s TV. It never fails to make him smile every time.

 

“Hey – I’m going to borrow some clothes from you.” Hokuto said as he already began to walk towards Jesse’s room. He cannot stand being at home in anything but clean clothes.

 

“Yeah, get something from the second drawer in that dresser across from my bed. Those are clean.” Jesse instructed as he turned the TV on and sprawled onto his couch, making a low grunting noise as he did so. He claimed everyone was making a fuss over him, but his body could not lie, as his head pulsates and body aches all while being warm and cold at the same time.

 

Hokuto had stayed over at Jesse’s place too many times and knew exactly where and what he was getting. Although he seemed to just show up at Jesse’s door more than anyone else, it wasn’t a secret that Jesse always welcomes company.

 

He changed into a black t-shirt and a pair of loose pajama pants a smidge too long for him, grabbed his glasses and headed back out to the living room to get the bag of medicine they picked up from the pharmacy on the way back.

 

“Jes—” He stopped mid-word when he found the tall boy curled up under a thin throw, eyes tightly closed on the couch, “You should take your medicine…” he quietly finished his words. The drowsy effect must have kicked in.

 

Hokuto walked over to Jesse to feel his forehead again, and it was still as warm as before. He sat on the floor next to Jesse and pondered for a moment, not having the heart to wake up the sick boy. Hokuto sighed.

 

He looked at Jesse’s peaceful sleeping face and wondered how he stayed so energetic all the time, even when he is facing pain alone. Hokuto couldn’t count all the times he showed his vulnerable side to Jesse and the countless hours Jesse spent cheering Hokuto up and giving him solace. In particular, he will never forget the night he showed up at Jesse’s door barefoot at three in the morning because he had a meltdown over lacking work and questioned his own talent to the point where he hadn’t slept or talked to others in days.

 

In all of those times, Jesse took Hokuto under his wing and gave him refuge.

 

Hokuto brushed a strand of hair out of Jesse’s face. He hated himself too, for his emotional dependency on Jesse. More than that, he hated Jesse for refusing to lean on him. Hokuto admits that he once swore that these people would only be work colleagues, yet before he knew it he was constantly acting silly with them and fighting an urge to be with them all the time.

 

“Hokuuuuto~ let’s go get dinner after rehearsal.”

 

“Hokuto! Do you want to come over this weekend?”

 

“Let’s go shopping! I know you want to shop! Hokuto!”

 

“Hokuto! Hokuto! Hokkkkkun! ”

 

Jesse’s was always chirping by his ear, and with every exception he made for Jesse, only more exceptions came. For the longest time, he couldn’t identify the stirring he felt inside when he learned that Juri would let Jesse cry on his shoulder. He didn’t understand why he didn’t want to talk to Jesse for two whole days.

 

Hokuto let out a small laugh at himself – as he looked at the sleeping angel – was it jealousy all along?

 

“Why Jesse? Why did you have to cry to Juri and not me?” He whispered very quietly to himself as he fought back the urge to touch Jesse’s face. He was so handsome when he wasn’t making dad jokes.

 

He sighed again and got up to get a glass of water for Jesse and some evening reading material since he was supposed to be watching over the sick boy.

 

As Hokuto walked to settle down on the armchair next to Jesse to read, his pant leg caught onto the corner of the coffee table and shifted the table with a loud screeching noise.

 

Jesse wasn’t always a light sleeper, but the noise awoke him.

 

“I’m sorry – “Hokuto apologized, “I didn’t mean to wake you up.” He put his book down to hand the water to Jesse, “How do you feel?”

 

“I’ve definitely had better days…” He uttered as he sat up and took a large gulp of the water with the medicine Hokuto set besides it on the table, “I’m a little dizzy, but I think I can sleep it off.”

 

Jesse looked at Hokuto getting ready to read, “Are you hungry? Do you want anything? Sorry – that’s the only book I own, by the way.” He felt bad he was being bad company.

 

Hokuto couldn’t believe his ears, “Worry about yourself first, idiot.”

 

Jesse chuckled, “You’re right, Hokuto…always right, Matsumura Hokuto” He stretched and realized he hadn’t even changed out of his clothes from earlier.

 

“Hey Jesse…” Hokuto wanted to confirm his earlier theory.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Do you think I’m not dependable enough?” A tinge of hurt in his voice.

 

“What?”

 

Hokuto reconsidered his words and swallowed it back in, “Nevermind. Get some rest.”

 

Jesse nodded and headed towards his bedroom. Halfway, he turned back around, “Wake me up if you need anything. You should know where everything is.”

 

Hokuto smiled and nodded so Jesse could hurry up and go back to sleep.

 

“Also –”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I had a dream of someone touching my face…Did you--”

 

Hokuto pushed up his glasses and looked down to hide his sheepish look, “No. I didn’t. Now go to sleep.”

 

“Hokuto you know, you’re a really bad liar.”

 

“I’m not lying.”

 

“Liar.”


Jesse woke up in a daze after a few hours of deep sleep. He took a deep breath and turned to the other side, glad that the temperature and body aching had subsided in the few hours of sleep. Despite this, he felt like he was on the verge of death from starvation.

 

He fished around for his phone in his sheet, but to no avail when he realized he left it in the living room. Unsure of the time, he quietly crept into the living room to retrieve his phone. With every step, he is reminded of the splitting headache that won’t leave him alone.

 

A dim yellow light spilled into the hallway as Jesse walked into his living room. He found Hokuto curled up in an armchair under his reading lamp with his glasses besides him on the coffee table. The book he was reading was carefully folded on his lap, his right hand in between one of the pages as a bookmark. The way the light fell on Hokuto’s face made him look more perfect and irresistible than ever.

 

Jesse quietly tiptoed closer to grab the throw he was using earlier. He carefully drapes it over Hokuto and then grabbed his jacket from the chair and puts it over the throw, There, that should be enough.” He was proud of his work.

 

Although Hokuto isn’t always the most likeable guy in the room and at times can be distant and hurtfully honest, Hokuto has an air of sophisticated sexiness that makes him so unique. It doesn’t help that God was particularly careful when He made Hokuto – Jesse always wondered if Hokuto knows he’s the most beautiful in the group.

 

After being nearly blinded by the harsh light of his phone screen, he uses it as a flashlight to navigate to the kitchen. At his kitchen table, Jesse smiles at his phone like an idiot, reading the messages in the group chat checking if he was still breathing.

 

Juri: @Jesse – are you alive?

Shintaro: If you’re alive, please blink twice.

Kochi: We can’t see him…

Taiga: @Jesse ???

Juri: @Hokuto

Shintaro: @Hokuto

Kochi: @Hokuto

Taiga: @Hokuto-kun

Hokuto, 2 hours later: @All Yes, he is alive. No, he will not blink twice. It’s one in the morning, go to sleep!

 

Once again, his growling stomach protests thus Jesse decides to finally venture into the kitchen, but not without nearly passing out from standing up too fast and pure hunger. If the boys didn’t normally burn nearly twice the amount of calories a normal adult does, just through their normal work, there would be no way they could get away with the amount of food they eat. On the contrast, when they don’t eat, it feels like a living hell.

 

The dilemma intensifies when his fridge consists solely of old take out boxes. He sighs and opens his cupboard to get a cup of instant noodles and reluctantly fills his water boiler to the line and sets it to boil. It was normally frowned upon to eat cup noodles, but survival was key right now.

 

Jesse watches the water slowly beginning to boil. He bends over and rests his head on his arms on the kitchen counter while listening to the sound of boiling water. Sure, debut week was hard, but no one warned him how shitty being sick after debut week would feel. As the member who boasts the strongest immune system, he was sure embarrassed to feel as crappy as he does. He cannot be the one who lets the team down.  

 

“Jesse? Are you okay? What are you doing?” Hokuto stood at the doorway. He was sleepy when he woke up, but upon seeing Jesse looking like he was in pain, he was freaking out slightly.

 

“I feel like I’m going to die.”

 

“What?! Wh--“ Hokuto was not sleepy anymore.

 

“I’m SO hungry.” Jesse held his growling stomach.

 

“Just hungry?” He let out a sigh of relief, “Go sit down. I’ll make it.” Maybe he was being over-protective, and he knew that very well.

 

It was 3:30 a.m. and the two disheveled boys who rolled out of bed sat at the kitchen table together, with one watching the other one scarf down a cup of ramen.

 

“I should really take a video of you right now,” Hokuto sarcastically admired Jesse’s current look, “For our Instagram. Your hair and face are really something else right now.”

 

“You can’t scare them away.” He took a large gulp of the soup, “My fans are used to this.”

 

Hokuto laughs, “Is this your way of saying if you don’t love me at my worst you don’t deserve me at my best?”

 

Maybe that’s what he was doing, or perhaps he genuinely didn’t feel the need to upkeep a flawless image. Jesse was always just Jesse, whether he looked like a Greek God or had hair sticking up in every direction.

 

“Hokuto,” Jesse wipes his mouth and looks at Hokuto with a serious look on his face, “Do you think if I scream really loud this headache will go away?”

 

Used to Jesse’s dumb jokes by now, Hokuto plays along, “Yes, and I can film it for IslandTV.”

 

For a long time, Hokuto could hardly remember a time where Jesse Lewis was bothered by any situation. He thought only positivity circulated in his blood and in that aspect, he could hardly hold a candle to Jesse. As of late, he realized that it was just a side of Jesse that he kept tucked away from Hokuto. He remembers his earlier thought, and it upsets him a little thinking about failing to earn Jesse’s trust. Despite wanting to let it go, Hokuto couldn’t resist the urge to ask.

 

“Jes?” Hokuto just wants to know, “Why do you always pretend like nothing ever bothers you, in front of me?”

 

He doesn’t want to pick a fight, he doesn’t want to be confrontational, but he has always had trouble keeping words to himself.

 

Caught off-guard, Jesse thought about it for a second and replied, “Because, it’s really not a big deal.”

 

“But it is! You tell Juri and even Shintaro – but you don’t ever – “ Hokuto knew he was getting too worked up, “I just want to know if you trust me.”

 

“Where did this come from?” Jesse has trouble understanding Hokuto’s intentions.

 

Having perhaps opened Pandora’s box, Hokuto decides he should just spill everything, “When something bothers you – I want you to come to me. I hate it that you don’t tell me anything.”

 

Jesse knew exactly what Hokuto was onto now. And it was something he had made a conscious decision to do. He couldn’t fathom a way to tell Hokuto about the time he drunk called Jesse without hurting his pride. It was about a year after the group separated since Bakaleya, and Hokuto called him, crying – confiding his deepest traumas about being left behind time and time again and all his words broke Jesse’s heart.

 

“Don’t worry about me.” He smiles innocently, trying to dance around the topic, unwilling to tell Hokuto that the true reason why he would rather digest his troubles with others.

 

Jesse didn’t know how to tell Hokuto that after that phone call, all he wanted to do was to dissolve every shard of Hokuto’s sadness even if it cuts himself in the process. How could he possibly add more weight to Hokuto’s baggage?  

 

Hearing Jesse’s response deepened Hokuto’s offense to this situation, “Jesse, you’re not responsible for protecting me. So stop acting like it’s your job.”

 

Perhaps he came off a little harsh and cut a little deep.

 

Why am I so bad at this?  Hokuto has a smidge of regret about what he said.

 

On the contrary, Jesse is actually comforted by Hokuto’s honesty. It would just slowly kill him inside if he doesn’t say what he’s feeling. Maybe that was his favorite trait about Hokuto, a brutal relentless honesty and a fierce possessiveness.

 

The air is silent for a few moments following the outburst, until Jesse finally says something.

 

“I know you carry a lot of baggage.” Jesse alludes to Hokuto’s career history, “Whether you remember it or not, something you told me one time really stuck with me.”

 

“Hm?”

 

“You said that you were not like the rest of us.” Jesse described Hokuto’s exact words, “You said that this path didn’t just fall into your lap. You sought it out, and you chose it. So every time you wonder if it was the right choice – you only have yourself to blame.”

 

Hokuto doesn’t remember saying those words out loud to anyone, but they were truly his innermost struggles. Why does Jesse know?

 

“I guess what I’m saying – is that you don’t need to carry my baggage too.” Jesse assured Hokuto.

 

Except he knows that it doesn’t matter if Jesse says everything like a joke, under his strong armor, he too wore sadness.

 

Hokuto admitted, “I would be lying if I said I never thought, why them. Who decided Kochi and I should get left behind? ” He looked down at his hands, it stung to talk about it no matter how much time has passed.

 

There were far too many times he let himself wallow in resentment in the past. He meandered so far searching for answers, but he was too scared to ask questions, afraid to hear answers. And in that darkness, Hokuto found Jesse, who with patience and example, taught him that if you don’t say it out loud no one will hear you. He was the guiding light, the North Star Hokuto will follow to the ends of Earth.

 

“But now I have you guys. And we’ve debuted, all six of us. I know and trust with my life that I will never be just Matsumura Hokuto anymore.” He softened his tone, “So please just let me be there for you too.”

 

Hokuto laid his hand gently on Jesse’s lap with a rare delicate kindness in his eyes. All this time, Jesse did not sense that Hokuto didn’t understand his importance. He looked Hokuto back in the eye with the greatest appreciation for Hokuto’s plea.

 

“You’ve done so much for me, Hokuto. You just write it off.” Jesse reminds Hokuto. He remembers the many duets he performed with Hokuto when they were young juniors. Many of those duets were meant to be solos, and despite his appearance Jesse used to get so nervous to perform his favorite Kinki Kids songs by himself. He always begged to have Hokuto on stage with him for every one of them.

 

“You know back then, when they kept pushing me to do things solo?” Jesse’s voice cracked a bit, “I was terrified. It took me so long to finally stop feeling like an outsider and comfortable in my own skin.” He alluded to his unique racial identity, his different upbringing and unique take on the world – where he wanted to be a well-liked and cheerful person over everything.

 

“And I started wondering, what if that meant I have to be alone again? And all my efforts to be with everyone were in vain.” Junior days were filled with voids of frustration, confusion, and only sheer will power and determination helped him push onwards.

 

Hokuto remembers those days he described, where murmurs of Jesse Lewis’ solo debut roamed the hallways. Everyone openly declaring their jealousy for the treatment he received. He remembers seeing the glares of envy in the rooms, the chatters of a misunderstood Jesse, depicted as a spoiled kid who asks for everything without consideration.

 

“And when it seemed like no one would stand by my side – you were always there. From the day I met you, you were always there.” Jesse confessed, genuinely and sincerely, “It meant the world to me every time you went on stage with me so I wouldn’t be alone.”

 

All along, Hokuto never knew his presence made such a large impact to Jesse and this struck him like a bolt of electricity. He didn’t know he had the capacity to protect Jesse Lewis too and had been all along.

 

Jesse closed his eyes and took a slow deep breath. Slowly his walls to Hokuto were crumbling, “I hate being alone. It frightens me more than I ever care to admit. So I have to make sure to protect SixTONES with my life.”

 

He hates recalling this part of his life where he was constantly lost, constantly wondering whether everyone hated him. And if it weren’t 4 in the morning and he was delirious from a bad cold, he would never talk about this in front of Hokuto.

 

Hokuto finally broke Jesse, yet he couldn’t feel any relief of opening this door. Instead, he finally understood the pain and heart break you see when you cut open someone’s most vulnerable parts. And that someone, was the Jesse he adored so dearly. He saw the fearless man he admired turn into a child afraid of the monster under his bed. Maybe in his endearment for Jesse he chose to not see his vulnerabilities.

 

Hokuto felt immense guilt and this time he didn’t resist the urge to embrace the younger boy in front of him. Maybe if he could hug Jesse hard enough, maybe he could round out every harsh edge of the pricks that stung him.

 

Time froze. Hokuto simply stood there with Jesse’s whole upper body buried in his embrace. Hokuto felt Jesse’s unusual warmth, and his usual large frame felt smaller than ever. For the first in a very long time, he remembered that Jesse was younger than him. And it made his heart twinge – how precious Jesse was to him.

 

Jesse could smell Hokuto’s t-shirt and feel his hard abdomen through the thin shirt. It smells of a mix of Hokuto’s expensive cologne and Jesse’s detergent. For a few moments only, he concentrated on leaning on Hokuto’s chest.

 

When did it become so strong? Jesse shut his eyes. He was worn and tired. He could only hear Hokuto’s heartbeat.

 

And tonight, Hokuto was Jesse’s guardian angel.

 

Hokuto gently pat the back of Jesse’s head, smoothing down his hair that had been sticking up, “Jes, I’ll protect you. The same way you protected me, the same way you protect all of us. SixTONES is six, but you are just one person.” He whispered, delicately as if any harsher the air around them would shatter.  

 

He felt Jesse’s silent nod and finally no longer felt like his heart was tied up by a thin string. It wasn’t until then that Hokuto realized how late it was and how the boy in his embrace was still sick and could not afford to become sicker.  

 

“We should go to sleep,” Hokuto takes a look at the clock and realizes it was already 4 in the morning, “It’s probably time for your medicine again.” He hurries into the kitchen. Somehow Hokuto was still keeping track of the intervals.

 

Jesse follows him to the kitchen, leaning on the kitchen doorway, “Hokutoooooo.” He whines.

 

“Hm?” Hokuto hands him a set of pills and a glass of water.

 

“Come sleep with me.” Jesse requests after taking his medicine.

 

“But you’re sick.” Hokuto hesitated. How were they going to get proper sleep if they slept together?

 

“You were just hugging me a second ago!” Jesse protested. Somehow Jesse was already back to his usual self. Perhaps Hokuto’s embrace had healing properties, “Don’t leave me hanging.”

 

Hokuto has a hard time standing his ground, “Fine. Under one circumstance.”

 

“I agree!” It didn’t even matter what Hokuto was about to ask for.  

 

“No snoring.”

 

Jesse was quick to agree and proceeded to drag the other boy to the room. They each picked a side of the bed and used their own comforters. Hokuto took off his glasses and curled up on his side, back facing Jesse. Both tired after a long midnight talk, they instantly fell asleep, until Hokuto is woken up again by Jesse’s coughing.

 

“Sorry – I know you’re a light sleeper.” Jesse apologized.

 

“You’re still coughing?” Hokuto turns around, worried, “Stop talking. It’ll only make the coughing worse.”

 

“Hokuto?”

 

“What now?”

 

Hokuto didn’t turn back around. He continued to face Jesse’s back, unbeknownst to Jesse who closed his eyes again.

 

“Hokuto, your presence makes me feel secure. I mean it. Thank you.”

 

Hokuto feels his heart skip half a beat but doesn’t say anything. He reaches out and touched Jesse’s back. Slightly and barely at first, then he draws little circles with his finger and began to gently move his fingers up and down Jesse’s back. He remembers asking his mom to lightly scratch his back like this when he was a kid.

 

“Ho….ku….to…” Jesse, half asleep now, began talking again.

 

Hokuto didn’t answer this time. He laid there with his head propped up by one hand and his other hand still putting Jesse to sleep. Gently, slowly, delicately.

 

“I like….” Jesse was mumbling gibberish as he was falling asleep.

 

“…the way you drink….miso soup….”

 

Hokuto smiles. And I like you. Just you. Jesse Lewis.