Kitayama might be taking a picture of this (mousapelli) wrote,
Kitayama might be taking a picture of this
mousapelli

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Fic, Baka6, Stand On Your Own Stage

Title: Stand On Your Own Stage [Shintarou, Juri, Baka6]
Rating/Warnings: PG-13. Het warning I guess? There's no actual sex.
Summary: Shintarou accidentally ends up as a 17-year-old father, but it's only after that that all the really good stuff happens.
AN: This is 10k and it's all Rory's fault for bullshitting with me about how hard Shintarou's life would be if he had a kid right now and that kid entered JE when Shintarou was 27. Title is from "1 For You," and if you really want to give yourself all the feels, feel free to watch the JuriShin letter exchange like I unfortunately just did.


Stand On Your Own Stage

"Don't panic," Shintarou says into the phone, struggling to keep his voice even, "but I need you to come over right now."

There's a second of silence before Juri asks, "If I shouldn't panic, why are you calling me instead of just sending a mail?"

"Um," Shintarou hedges, and then Juri hangs up on him.

Fifteen minutes later Juri is clattering through the Morimoto's front door like he's on fire, which is at least twenty minutes faster than anybody can manage that without breaking every single traffic law in Japan. Juri takes one look at Shintarou's pale face and bloodshot eyes, and then at Shintarou's mother, who is sitting on the couch beside him and rubbing slow circles on his back.

"What's wrong?" Juri demands. "Are you dying? Are you FIRED?!"

Irritation cuts through Shintarou's emotional upheaval for a second. "Don't put them in that order, idiot! I told you not to panic!"

"You only say not to panic when I definitely should panic!!"

Hyouga interrupts their argument by stumbling in the door, looking white-faced, and briefly Shintarou wonders exactly which Tanaka drove here. Hyouga asks meekly if maybe he could have some tea, and Morimoto-san stands up to lead him into the kitchen.

"Just tell him already," she orders Shintarou on the way out, and Shintarou whines a little.

"It's Maika," he manages, staring at the floor, once he and Juri are alone.

"Did you break up?" Juri asks, sitting down beside Shintarou on the couch.

"No." Shintarou gives a little laugh. "She's pregnant." It's the first time Shintarou's said it out loud, his mother having guessed on her own, and the words seem to hang heavily in the air.

"Oh my god," Juri says, voice hushed. His eyes are the widest Shintarou's ever seen them. "Are you serious?"

"Uh-huh. We were careful, I swear!" Shintarou's throat starts to close up as he keeps talking. "But it just didn't…I mean, I guess it doesn't always…" He trails to a stop, unable to squeeze anymore words out.

Juri grabs Shintarou to hug him tightly. Shintarou can feel Juri's heart hammering against his chest, the sharp jut of Juri's shoulder against his cheek, and for some reason that makes the whole situation feel real more than anything else has. He hugs Juri back almost desperately, barely able to think straight.

"When's she due?" Juri asks. "Are you gonna move in together? Ask her to marry you?"

Shintarou pulls back, frowning. "How do you know we'll…"

"Keep it?" Juri finishes. "Aw, Shin, that's not even a question, right? With you and Maika. Your face is all excited already. I mean, it's pukey fuck my life excited, but still. It looks like that time we made you ride the Thunder Dolphin and you went from almost puking on my shoes to asking if we could go again in like 45 seconds."

"Do I?" Shintarou asks faintly. It's hard to feel anything underneath the terror and guilt, but Juri's right. He hadn't even asked Maika about the other thing when she told him. Even thinking about it makes his stomach roll.

"It'll be okay," Juri says, still patting Shintarou's back a little. "If it's you two, it'll be fine." For some reason, Juri's reassurance makes it okay for Shintarou to break down in a way he hadn't in front of Maika or his mother, the tight knot of bad feelings in his chest finally pouring out. Juri just ruffles Shintarou's hair and lets him ugly cry it out for as long as he needs.

"How could I do this to her?" Shintarou asks, voice muffled against Juri's shirt. "I feel so stupid."

"Sometimes shit just happens," Juri tells him, matter-of-fact. "And everything might still turn out okay. Look at my parents, or Tamamori's. So quit whining, you get to be cool young papa. Half the guys at work are going to be jealous as hell."

At the mention of work, Shintarou's stomach twists back into a knot again. "What if Johnny fires me? I'm totally going to get fired. Then I'll just be some deadbeat guy who knocked up his high school girlfriend."

"That's all you are now," Juri says. Shintarou punches him in the side, but Juri just laughs. "You live with your parents and everything!"

"Shut up, you asshole!" Shintarou yells in his face, before he starts laughing too. It's watery, but real, and his mother comes back in during their girly slapfight with some tea for them as well and says she's glad somebody finds this situation humorous. Juri and Shintarou both point at each other.

He wishes he could take Juri with him when he goes to talk to Maika, but even Shintarou realizes that would be just a bit weird. The moral support would sure be nice, though. It's not that he's particularly scared of Maika's parents, who have always been perfectly nice to him before this. Her father only slams the door in his face a little. He's still standing on the front step wondering what to do when Maika herself throws the door back open and drags him inside with a roll of her eyes. Her mother hollers up the stairs after them that she has to keep her door open.

"What's he going to do, get me more pregnant?!" Maika hollers right back before slamming the door hard enough to make Shintarou's teeth rattle. She deflates when she sees the way Shintarou is looking at her with wide eyes. "Sorry. Things are a little…"

"Sorry," Shintarou apologizes, guilt flaring back up.

"Shut up and sit down," Maika says. They sit on the edge of her bed, and Shintarou feels suddenly weird about being in a place he's been a hundred times. "Want to talk?"

Shintarou nods. "How do you feel?"

"Okay." Maika shrugs. "Tired, mostly. But not that sick."

"Good." Shintarou pauses. "Juri said—" Maika rolls her eyes a little at Juri's name, but Shintarou keeps going. "He said if it was the two of us, things would work out okay. That's how I feel, too. If it's with you, then I think we can do this. I mean, if that's what you want. Do you think so?"

Maika grabs Shintarou's hand to squeeze it tightly. Her face is scared but determined, and Shintarou bets his face looks just like that too.

Telling Johnny about the baby is way scarier than telling his own mother. He tries to wait until the three month mark, which is when all the women Shintarou knows tell him you do that kind of thing, but Shintarou is the worst secret-keeper in the entire world so he only makes it until about ten weeks. The Bakaleya crew figured it out in a week just from the faces Shintarou was making at his phone.

Juri offers to walk Shintarou to Johnny's door, but won't go inside with him no matter how much Shintarou whines.

"I'll wait right here until you come out," Juri says.

"You just want to be the first to know if I'm fired," Shintarou grumbles. "You vulture."

"I'm going to pretend that's the hormones talking," Juri tells him. "Hurry up and get it over with."

The whole ordeal takes fifteen minutes, during which Shintarou feels like he ages ten years. At the end of it, somehow he is not fired, yet, pending whatever ends up happening. If he really can keep the whole thing reasonably secret, Johnny says there's no reason they can't get started on his next generation of stars earlier than planned.

"That part was a little creepy, actually," Shintarou says with a frown when they're in the elevator. The more floors are between him and the president, the less he feels like he might hyperventilate. "And then he said something about giving safe sex talks to new juniors, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't serious. Anyway, he took it surprisingly well."

"Say thank you to Myuto," Juri snorts.

"Too soon, dude," Shintarou scolds. He nearly has a heart attack when he walks into the locker room and Jesse and Hokuto yank the string on some party poppers, sending streamers into Shintarou and Juri's faces. Kouchi is standing between them with a little cake reading "CONGRATS" in English.

"What were you idiots going to do if he was fired?" Juri demands.

"Smoosh the icing so it would just read 'RATS,'" Jesse says. Taiga and Kouchi both give him the side-eye. "Oh shut up, like Shintarou was really gonna get fired, seriously."

"It's supposed to be a secret," Shintarou says with some exasperation.

"I'm sure it's somebody's birthday." Hokuto waves off his concerns. "We'll just have to eat the whole thing to hide the evidence."

Taiga shoves a piece of cake into Shintarou's hands, but Shintarou only eats half of it before he looks around and realizes how relieved everyone looks. After that, he can't swallow past the lump in his throat. He hopes Maika has friends even half as good as his, because Shintarou doesn't think he could manage any of this without them.

Life is busy as ever, the weeks slipping by, and before Shintarou knows it he's holding an ultrasound of his kid. It even sort of looks like a baby, in an abstract way.

"Ugh, it looks just like you, poor kid," Ryutarou says. Shintarou calls him an asshole, voice fond as he traces the outline of the white shape with his fingertip for the hundredth time.

"Boy," Shintarou's mother pronounces after leaning over their shoulders for a glance. Both of her sons scoff at her prediction, but at eighteen weeks, Maika mails to say that Morimoto-san was right after all.

"Can you really tell from this?" Taiga asks. He and Yasui are peering over Jesse's shoulder while Jesse holds up the new ultrasound, tilting it this way and that.

"Look, right there!" Shintarou points to the telltale part sticking out. "Maika said the technician called him an exhibitionist."

"Don't look so proud about showing us your kid's junk," Yasui says, and Jesse scrunches his face.

"Is this considered child pornography?" he wants to know. "Ugh, now my fingerprints are on it!"

They argue about names for the next couple weeks, Maika determined to have a name that ends in -tarou, while Shintarou is adamant that he doesn't want to continue that tradition. He feels surprisingly serious about it, the only time he hasn't let Maika have her way during the entire thing. As loathe as he is to argue with her, after a while it turns into an actual fight.

"Well, it's not like he can have your family name," Maika finally says frostily, bringing Shintarou up short. "So it's this or nothing, isn't it?"

When she puts it like that, it's hard to argue with. They settle on Shotarou, on the grounds that Shintarou can call him Sho and ignore the -tarou all he wants. Shintarou picks the kanji for to fly, since Maika lets him choose, and he almost gets away with it until Ryutarou blows his cover.

"Like Hidari Shotarou from Kamen Rider W!" Ryutarou exclaims right away when they're sitting on the couch, making Shintarou cringe and avoid Maika's eyes from his other side. "Are you gonna name your second kid Philip?"

"You said it was because you liked the feather kanji!" Maika shouts at him.

"I do!" Shintarou insists, while Ryutarou cackles at his pain. "Ow! Stop hitting me!"

But mostly things are surprisingly calm. They're fortunate that both Maika's pregnancy is a relatively easy one, everything turning out healthy at all her check-ups, and that the timing of it is good enough that she can probably finish the school year with a bit of luck. Maika being allowed to finish the year at all is also a concern, but it's ages before she starts to show, and the school seems to take the same stance as Johnny, that so long as there isn't any fuss about it, Horikoshi isn't interested in causing any fuss of their own.

"You definitely have to finish," Shintarou hisses at Maika after their homeroom teacher pulls them aside for a lecture again. "I'm not getting yelled at all by myself!"

"Tell your kid about it, not me!" Maika snaps back. "It's not like I can control anything he does in there!"

"Maybe if somebody had yelled at the two of you more last fall, you wouldn't be standing here!" their homeroom teacher interjects, not quite as out of earshot as Shintarou had thought. He makes a long-suffering face at Maika, but she just sticks her tongue out at him. "And quit making faces like a middle school student, Morimoto-kun. You're making me weep for the future."

"How was date night?" Juri asks conversationally as they stretch a couple days later. It's a thing that has to be scheduled, thanks to Shintarou's busyness and Maika's increasing exhaustion, but Shintarou is serious about it so it goes down at least once a week.

"Awesome," Shintarou answers, not in the least sarcastic. "I built half the crib and then Maika let me put my head on her belly so the baby could kick me in the face."

Juri pauses a second, then looks around like he's wondering if anybody else just heard this crap. "You are such an CM for safe sex right now, seriously, dude."

"Don't be jealous." Shintarou grins up at Juri goofily from the floor. "Sho-kun is gonna be a famous football star."

"Then he can go to Horikoshi and knock up his high school girlfriend, just like his dad," Juri coos in return, and Shintarou calls him an asshole. "PS your baby shower is today during lunch so act surprised and you didn't hear it from me."

"My what?" Shintarou demands. He glares at Juri, but Juri does not look like he's kidding.

Juri is not kidding. There are streamers stuck to the back of the Jr ni Q board, decorated with all the blue index cards Kouchi could find, a bunch of desserts that Juri and Jesse made, and a stack of presents that makes Shintarou feel incredibly grateful and incredibly irritated simultaneously.

"How am I supposed to get this home?!" he demands, but everyone ignores him because Shoki is handing out the cake and swearing there is no batsu piece. Shintarou glance over at Taiga sitting in a folding chair next to him, holding a little notebook. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Writing down who gave you which present, duh," Taiga informs him, clicking his pen officiously. Shintarou just stares at him until Taiga rolls his eyes. "So you can write thank you notes, moron."

Shintarou opens his mouth but Juri shoves a shortbread cookie into it and then a brightly-wrapped box into his hands. By the time Shintarou can speak again, his hands are already full of onesies that put most of the trainee costumes to shame in terms of garish color schemes.

"Please tell me you guys didn't get paparazzi'ed shopping for these," Shintarou begs. Hokuto and Jesse shrug sheepishly, which means they definitely did. Yasui points and laughs until Kouchi shoves a binky in his mouth.

Aside from the terrifying clothing, there's a lot of diapers, even more stuffed animals, a mobile of dangly stars that Hokuto swears plays "Garasu no Shounen," and even an infant swing that all of Jinguji's little group went in together for.

"My mom said that's the only thing that would ever shut me up," Jinguji explains.

"Maybe that's why Takizawa-senpai keeps putting you on wires," Genki says thoughtfully, making Jinguji glare at him and Reia burst into giggles.

"Thank you," Shintarou says, completely overwhelmed. "All of you, this whole time…" Whatever else he's trying to say sticks in Shintarou's throat. Juri pats his back soothingly until Shintarou pulls himself together a little. "I couldn't do this without you. Maika and I are so lucky to have you, and Sho-kun will be too, when he gets here."

"Oh god, stop it," Juri groans, looking glassy-eyed while Hokuto and Taiga are already sniffling. "You know what a bunch of crybabies we all are, why would you do that?"

"Sorry," Shintarou says, not sorry at all as he stands up to hug Juri tightly. Nor is he sorry that they're so late back to afternoon practice that the choreographer threatens to make them all breakdance.

It's the dead of summer when the big event finally happens. Maika is a week and a half past her due date, and Shintarou's phone is practically glued to his hand, Summary concerts or no Summary concerts. He's in the middle of a costume change when the phone finally buzzes in his hand to alert him that Maika's water broke and she's on her way to the hospital.

"Oh my god," Shintarou says breathlessly, chest filling up with so much panic he can't move, he can only stand there repeating, "oh my god oh my god oh my god."

"What the—" Juri leans over Shintarou's shoulder, reads the message, then shoves him hard enough to nearly tip him over. "What are you doing just standing there? Get out of here!"

"But…concert…" Shintarou says, his own voice sounding very far away.

"We'll tell them you broke your arm!" Juri grabs Shintarou's shoulders and shakes him hard. "Your kid is being born, idiot! Move it!"

That's how Shintarou ends up at the hospital still in his black tank top and red sparkly snap-on pants. Maika laughs at him for about a second before the next contraction hits and she's too busy gasping for air to laugh at anything.

It's past visiting hours by the time some of them can escape the concert venue and get themselves to the hospital. Juri uses all his Tanaka charm on the head nurse and earns them ten minutes in the room so long as all of them sign autographs for her daughters. When they poke their heads into Maika's room, Maika is having her vitals checked and Shintarou is sitting in the chair holding the baby. His arm is wrapped in a lime green brace from thumb to elbow.

"I told you to say your arm was broken, not to actually break it!" Juri says in horror, making Shintarou look up.

"They think Maika might have broken my wrist," he says, grinning brighter than the sun. "Look at my kid, you guys! I think he just learned to yawn! He's a genius!"

"Wow, can I have some of whatever drugs you gave him?" Kouchi asks the nurse. "My back is killing me."

"He's not on anything," the nurse tells him, rolling her eyes and making Maika snort.

Hokuto and Taiga shove past Juri to lean over Shintarou's shoulders, both of them looking a lot more impressed with Shotarou than Shotarou looks with them.

"He's awesome, right?" Shintarou asks, voice hushed and eyes only for Shotarou's red, wrinkly face. He can hardly believe his son is finally here, that the warm weight in his hands is a person that he helped make. "He's amazing."

"Yeah," Taiga agrees, reaching down to stroke Shotarou's cheek with his finger. Shotarou scrunches his face up, and all three of them go "awwwwwww."

"Okay, hand him over," Juri says, planting himself in front of Shintarou and holding out his hands. Shintarou tightens his grip, a surge of possession running through his chest. "Take turns like a big boy, come on."

Shintarou gives Juri a withering look, but lets him take Shotarou, feeling smug when Shotarou immediately starts to squirm. As much as he can while swaddled to within an inch of his life, anyway. "Careful with his head."

"Forty-five minutes and he's some kind of expert," Maika says, making everyone laugh at Shintarou's expense.

"You're pretty cool, aren't you?" Juri is asking Shotarou. Shintarou thought he couldn't fit any more emotion into his body, but watching his best friend talk to his son for the first time makes his heart swell so much it almost hurts. "I'm going to teach you to backflip and drive and swear and pick up ladies, got it? Once you can talk, that is."

"Don't listen to this guy," Kouchi says, leaning over Juri's shoulder to say hi himself. "He's never picked up a lady in his whole life, unless you count his mom from the train station. Man, look at those eyes. You guys did a good job."

"Yeah, we did," Shintarou agrees, meeting Maika's eyes across the room to beam at her proudly. "Now give him back before Juri makes sure 'asshole' is his first word."

Date nights become baby-sitting nights, only there are a lot more of them because Shintarou is completely smitten. Fortunately for Shintarou's job, Ryutarou is almost as in love with being an uncle as Shintarou is with being a father, so there's plenty of material for the debate that it's actually Ryutarou going around sowing his wild oats instead of Shintarou. All Morimotos look the same as babies anyway.

They'd have all the proof they wanted if they just got a hold of Shintarou's phone, his memory perpetually full of pictures and videos of Shotarou learning to smile, roll over, and crawl.

"Sorry, sorry," Shintarou gasps as he stumbles into work twenty minutes late, a diaper bag banging against his hip and Shotarou bundled up so tight in his puffy winter jacket that he looks like a mameshiba. "Maika's mother had an emergency and my mom and Ryu were out. I didn't know what else to do."

"Sho-chan!" Juri exclaims in delight, abandoning his half-tied sneakers to snatch Shotarou out of Shintarou's hands. He tosses Shotarou a little to make him laugh, ignoring Shintarou's squawks of protest. "It's been a while, kiddo! You remember Jesse, right? And that other idiot is Shoki." Shotarou burbles something or other as Juri strips off his jacket. "Right, that's close enough."

"Do you think we can hide him in here?" Shintarou asks anxiously. "It's just photoshoots today, so I thought maybe if we traded off."

"He's a baby, not a puppy you snuck in here," Jesse laughs. "You can't hide him in your locker!"

"Hey!" Hokuto sticks his head in the room. "Staff-san says you idiots—waaah, baby!" Hokuto interrupts himself, message forgotten as he rushes over like Juri really is holding a puppy. "He's huge! Can we take him drinking yet?"

"Yeah, to the milk bar," Juri snorts. He starts strolling out of the room, Shotarou settled firmly on his hip. "Come on, pal, let's go see where your old man works and meet some other idiots."

"Hey!" Shintarou protests, still struggling with his own jacket, completely entangled in the strap of the diaper bag. "Hey, don't take him out there! Dammit, Juri!"

Duet's staff takes one look at Shotarou and begs Shintarou to let him be in a shoot this month. What they really want is to have him in Bakaleya's shoot, but there's no way they can have him on the same page as Shintarou without everybody knowing exactly whose kid that is. They settle for putting him in with some of the other juniors.

When the next month's magazines come out, Jinguji's panicked babysitting faces get more mail than all the other shoots combined. Shintarou's mother sticks Shotarou's first magazine appearance up on the fridge right next to Ryutarou's university schedule, and Maika doesn't speak to Shintarou for two days.

"It just happened!" Shintarou pleads with her on the phone. "You can't stop Duet staff doing what they want! Flip back like three pages and look at what they did to my hair!"

"Aw, give him a break," Juri calls helpfully, ignoring Shintarou hissing at him that this is all Juri's fault in the first place. "That's what you get for popping out such a photogenic kid."

"Tell Juri I'm not speaking to him either," Maika says frostily. "Don't think I don't know he's the one who put Sho in the onesie that says 'Daddy's Drinking Buddy.'"

"Yeah, that was definitely Juri's fault," Shintarou mumbles, glad Maika can't see his face at the moment.

Time passes, marked by the regular cycle of magazine shoots, Shounen Club filmings, and seasonal dramas. Both Maika and Shintarou manage to graduate on time, although for Shintarou it's a near thing. He's so busy, much more willing to spend any free time he has on his son rather than on trigonometry. It's Hokuto who finally pulls him aside and tells him to pull it together or it'll be a much bigger regret than it seems like right now. He's right; when Shintarou scrapes through the last of his exams, it's like a huge weight is lifted off his shoulders. Maika goes for university, but Shintarou is happy just to support her by taking over as much of the parenting as he can manage.

Things are stable but not perfect. Sometimes they fight, about their schedules or discipline or whose mother fed the kid too much sugar again. The one thing that Maika never complains about, not even during their worst fight, is how she and Shotarou still live with Maika's parents and have a different name, still are basically Shintarou's little secret. Little by little it eats at Shintarou, though, especially in the year after he graduates. It isn't fair, he knows, and he wants to do better. And it isn't just where they live either; every time Shintarou eats breakfast in the kitchen with Ryutarou, or overhears Juri chatting with his brothers on the phone or Jesse making fun of his little sister, he feels more fiercely that he wants Shotarou to have that kind of bond.

"Let's get married," he says to Maika out of the blue, sitting on her back porch and watching Shotarou stumble after fireflies in the grass. It's a half-hour past his bedtime, but it's summer and Shintarou just got here. The heat is still heavy on their skin even with the sun having set, humidity dripping down the sides of their glasses of iced tea.

"Were you out drinking before this?" Maika asks with a snort. Her hair is tied back in a high ponytail, brushing the back of her neck, and Shintarou thinks she's the most beautiful thing in the entire world.

"I'm serious," Shintarou insists. "I want to marry you. I want to live in the same place as you and Sho. I want him to have siblings, and I want us all to have the same name."

"Well." Maika is silent a long moment, but Shintarou can see she's pleased even in the dim light. "It isn't me you have to ask about all that, is it?"

"Asking you is so much less scary, though," Shintarou grumbles. Maika leans over to kiss his cheek and tells him to work hard and please take care of them.

This time Shintarou doesn't ask Juri to come with him to Johnny's office. He's trying to prove he's an adult and can handle important things himself, after all.

"I think I've been letting you boys have your way too often," Johnny says, eyeing Shintarou evenly.

"I know it's a lot to ask." Shintarou struggles to keep his eyes up instead of on the carpet, where they desperately want to fall. "I know I'm causing a lot of trouble. I love my job and I don't want to choose between it and my family, but I'm responsible for them. I don't want my son to be an only child, or to only be called Morimoto because you give it to him as a stage name."

Johnny raises an eyebrow.

"You know, if that's a thing that happens," Shintarou fumbles on. "Think of the future, you know? Wouldn't a whole bunch of Morimoto siblings be great?"

"I'll think about that one," is the president's response to that.

"I can't believe I said that," Shintarou moans a half an hour later, banging his head a little on the makeup counter. "Why did I say that?!"

"Yeah, given our experience with the current Morimoto siblings, I'm not sure that was your best possible pitch," Taiga comments from the next chair over.

"Quit helping, you," Kouchi scolds him. He slides his hand between Shintarou's forehead and the table. "And you, don't give yourself a concussion. He didn't say no, right? Wait and see before you get all bent out of shape."

Johnny says yes. He actually has to say it a couple times in a row before Shintarou believes him, and even then he still thinks it must be a dokkiri. Shintarou doesn't find out until later that Juri had gone to Johnny on his own and asked him for the same thing on Shintarou's behalf. He never does tell Shintarou exactly what he said, aside from saying casually that "a dude needs brothers."

It actually takes two tries to get Shotarou a brother, but both he and Shintarou are satisfied with the sister he gets in the middle.

In between the second and third kid, Shintarou also gets a debut. Unfortunately, it isn't his.

It's hard to say whether the fans or Shintarou's still-nameless group are more stunned by the announcement, since they've been doing concerts basically on their own for most of the year, while the other guys haven't done anything more impressive than back Nakajima Kento on Shounen Club. Maybe it's the stress of the new apartment or the sleeplessness of the new baby, but Shintarou becomes convinced that it's a punishment from Johnny, especially when the new group picks up a project Shintarou knows for a fact was slated for his group. Even the support of their fans doesn't make Shintarou feel better, especially not when it turns a little ugly and staff has to ban uchiwa from Shounen Club filmings for a while again.

"It is not your fault," Hokuto insists. Shintarou shrugs him off, picking listlessly at his lunch. "The president wouldn't debut a whole unit just to punish you."

"That many Kaitos sure feels like a punishment for something," Jesse says. Of all of them, he's taking the situation the worst, aside from Shintarou himself. "Like a plague of Kaitos."

Hokuto eyes Jesse beadily until he shuts up, then turns back to Shintarou. "You're being irrational."

"Sure," Shintarou says, voice flat.

"They're a totally different kind of group anyway," Kouchi points out. "We get rap and rock stuff, and the new single is all chirpy pop about working hard together. It's not like we'll be competing for the same image."

"We'll look super sexy backing for it, yeah," Shintarou snorts. Hokuto and Kouchi keep at it when Shintarou refuses to be reassured, even Taiga trying to be say something encouraging rather than sharp-tongued for once.

"Quit trying to reason with him," Juri finally breaks into the conversation after watching silently for the whole thing. "It sucks, and we all feel bad, okay? Not just you." Juri wraps an arm around Shintarou and pushes Shintarou's head down until it's leaning on his shoulder. "Tomorrow we'll do something about it, but today it's okay to be hurt."

Shintarou knows that's not what Juri means by doing something about it, but he speaks his mind anyway. "I'm going to tell Johnny to take me out."

"Out of what?" Jesse asks, tilting his head. His eyes widen as he catches on. "You don't mean the group, do you?"

"I mean, since we don't even have a name, I guess being out is a little meaningless," Shintarou says blackly, and that sure shuts everybody up a second because out of all of them, Shintarou has always been the one who cared the most about whether they would get to stay together or not. "It'll be better for all of you if you aren't involved with me. Maybe you'd have a chance that way. All I do is cause trouble, and even if we were a real group it would just reflect badly on y—"

"STOP THAT," Juri roars, making all of them jump and freezing Shintarou mid-word. Juri is the angriest Shintarou has ever seen him, and he's too startled to fight back at all when Juri grabs two fistfuls of his hoodie and shakes him hard. Juri's eyes are glittering with fury, and his cheeks have pink splotches. "You shut the fuck up about that right now! This is your group, Morimoto Shintarou, and I'm not gonna stand here and let you tell me anything about it is meaningless! I'd rather be here with you and never get a name than be in that mess of a unit with Iwahashi Genki as my leader, even if it takes me a hundred years to debut!"

"Speak for yourself, man," Jesse grumbles.

"SHUT IT, LEWIS!" Juri snaps without sparing him a glance. He's staring into Shintarou's eyes still, and Shintarou feels like Juri might be able to see the whole way into his soul, even the dark ugly stuff in the corners that Shintarou keeps quietly to himself. "I know you feel that way too, even if you're too exhausted and hurt right now to remember that. So just chill out and don't do anything stupid." He pauses. "Anything else stupid."

Shintarou presses his face against Juri's T-shirt and takes deep breaths, wishing he remembered what sanity felt like. Juri pats his back and tells him it'll be fine, it'll be okay. Shintarou doesn't believe that, he doubts any of them do right now, but Juri's tight grip makes some of Shintarou's panic ebb away, like it always does.

"Would one of you morons hug Jesse, he's about to cry again and my hands are full," Juri says, making Shintarou give a watery laugh.

He needs these idiots so much, Shintarou thinks. He doesn't know why they put up with him, but he's grateful they do because he'd be absolutely useless on his own.

Juri's hugging can't fix all of Shintarou's guilt, paranoid or not, and for two weeks Shintarou can only manage to sleep a couple hours a night, if at all. For the first week Maika thinks Shintarou is wonderful for getting up with the baby every single time, and then when she catches on she threatens to drug his tea.

"Kouchi already tried that," Shintarou says, voice slurred with exhaustion. "It worked for like two hours and then I had a nightmare that I got sent to America to cut a solo album."

"That was your nightmare?" Maika snorts. "Shin…"

"Don't worry about it, go back to sleep. It's no big deal, it's like I'm practicing for 27-hour TV."

"Honestly, you big baby. Come here." Maika sits up against the pillows and shoves at Shintarou until his head is more or less in her lap. She strokes fingers through Shintarou's hair gently, repetitively. After a while, she says, "If that stupid man could see what he does to you poor boys."

"Don't," Shintarou murmurs, still not sleepy but at least very comfortable. "You sound like my mom and it freaks me out when we're in bed."

Shotarou pads into the room sometime later, rousing Shintarou from the half-doze he's fallen into, claiming that he had a nightmare. He's been doing it off and on since his sister was born, clearly just wanting attention. Tonight he pauses mid-whine and peers at Shintarou's strange position.

"Whatcha doing?" he asks, clambering up onto the bed in his Kamen Rider W footy pajamas, which Ryutarou bought and Maika hates, so of course they are Shotarou's favorites.

"Papa had a nightmare too," Maika explains.

"Were there monsters?" Shotarou asks seriously.

"Foreign ones, maybe," Maika chuckles, making Shintarou sneer at her.

"No monsters," Shintarou answers. "Papa went very far away and lost all his friends and he was all alone."

Shotarou pats clumsily at Shintarou's face. "Take your friends with you next time. Then you won't be scared."

"I'm trying, kiddo," Shintarou sighs, tugging Shotarou to lie down between him and Maiko, hugging him tightly enough that Shotarou squirms. Just this once they don't fight to send Shotarou back to his own bed; when the three of them are in river position, Shintarou finally manages to sleep a few hours in a row.

Juri is the one who holds it together best out of all of them, letting the others cry or yell or shove at him, whatever they need. It's not until they have to back the new single on Music Station that Juri finally melts down himself. Hokuto knocks over Juri's bottle of tea, spilling it across the makeup counter, an honest accident that doesn't even ruin anything.

"WOULD YOU FUCKING WATCH IT?!" Juri yells, and then he calls Hokuto a bunch of names, half of which only Jesse understands. It's such an overreaction that they all just stare at him while he keeps shouting until he runs totally out of breath. Taiga and Jesse exchange worried glances while Kouchi ushers away the handful of younger juniors nearby. Hokuto is still frozen where he was when the shouting started, arm outstretched to drop a bunch of tissues on the puddle of tea.

Shintarou gets it, what it's really about, just frustration finally spilling out in what's already a tense situation. He comes over to take Juri by the shoulder and steers him towards the door. "Time out, okay? We'll be back in a minute," he calls over his shoulder to the others. When they get outside to the alleyway, a couple guys are smoking there, but they take one look at Juri's face and decide they've had enough of a break.

"I don't want to do this!" Juri hollers, like his caps lock is stuck down. "It's humiliating! What's the point of it?! What's the point of ANYTHING?"

Shintarou doesn't have any answers, so he grabs Juri in a tight hug and holds on while Juri clutches at his shirt and yells his frustration wordlessly into Shintarou's shoulder. Juri's whole body, still too skinny, is shaking under Shintarou's hands, so Shintarou squeezes him tighter until the shaking subsides, not caring at all if Juri's angry tears and eyeliner are ruining his shirt right before he has to go on stage.

"We've been doing this for so long," Juri finally says, voice choked. "I just don't know what to do anymore."

"Don't give up," Shintarou says, pressing his cheek against Juri's hair and swallowing his own sympathetic tears. "Just stay with me, okay? We'll make it, I promise."

"Don't bullshit me," Juri snaps at him. Shintarou knows Juri isn't angry with him, that he's just angry, and doesn't take offense. "I invented bullshitting like that."

"I'm not," Shintarou promises, closing his eyes and wishing with all his might that he isn't.

They do make it, eventually. They get a CD debut and a name and a handshake event, and if it takes them so long to make it there that even Ebikisu are making fun of them, at least they have plenty of material for their thousand-character interviews.

It doesn't matter how long it took to get there when Shintarou can stand on stage as one out of six and see his family in the audience waving at him with their penlights.

******

"You didn't tell them I was your kid, right?" ten-year-old Morimoto Shotarou demands from the passenger seat of the car.

"You know you look exactly like me, right?" Shintarou retorts, imitating his son's bossy tone. He forces himself to loosen his clenched hands on the steering wheel when his fingertips start to tingle from lack of circulation. "For the tenth time, I didn't tell them anything. I put your application in the pile with everybody else's."

He doesn't bother fueling the argument by reminding Shotarou that he was in a JE photoshoot when he was barely six months old, so everybody quite clearly knows exactly whose kid he is. Sometimes Shintarou longs for those days. Being a cool young papa was a lot more fun when Shotarou wasn't talking yet.

"You aren't gonna hang around and watch, right?" Shotarou continues. He reaches to change the radio station, and Shintarou slaps his hand away from the dashboard. "And the Idiot Squad better not show up either."

"That's not our name," Shintarou says, rolling his eyes. "And you're a hundred years too young to tell my group what to do before you even pass your audition, brat."

"In fact, maybe you should drop me off at the end of the block so nobody sees us together." Shotarou leans up, like he can see the whole way to their destination instead of barely over the dashboard. "Pull over when we get close, but not too close."

"Give me one more order and I'm dropping you off at the AKB48 audition instead," Shintarou informs his son sharply. "And you'll get in with that haircut! Your mother took you to her stylist again, didn't she?"

"Shut up," Shotarou grumbles, crossing his arms and pouting when Shintarou laughs for the rest of the drive.

The lobby is full older sisters and mothers and other well-meaning female relatives. Shotarou doesn't pay them any mind, focused on getting checked in at the right spot, but Shintarou can't help but notice how conversations pause when they go by.

"If my little brother gets in at the same time as the Morimoto kid, I will just die," he hears one girl hiss to her friend, and Shintarou tries not to wince obviously.

"Stay out here and wait like the other parents," Shotarou says as he waits for the staff member to finish talking with the kid in front of him.

"Are you out of your mind?" Shinarou demands. "There is no way I'm staying out here with all these…lovely ladies," Shintarou finishes lamely when the sister of the kid in front of them turns to eye him over her shoulder.

It's a relief to drop Shotarou off into the mass of other potential trainees so he can boss somebody else around for a while. Not that he thinks there's any chance of Shotarou not passing the audition, but Shintarou is anxious regardless, and Shotarou's been working his last nerve all morning. He tries to remind himself that Shotarou's bluster wouldn't be half so over the top if he weren't covering for nerves himself. The kid comes by that honestly, at least.

"Yo, Shin-chan!" Kawai Fumito calls, apparently helping out with auditions just to make Shintarou's life that much harder. "Finally selling your firstborn to the dark side, huh? Where's the other one?"

"He's five, so you can't get your grabby hands on him just yet," Shintarou informs Kawai. They stand on the edge of the room and just watch the chaos unfolding in front of them as a choreographer tries to sort kids into practice groups. Sanche has a couple Snowmen helping him out, and Shintarou wonders if there's any chance he won't make somebody cry today.

Since a bunch of kids are already crying, the answer is almost certainly no.

"They grow up so fast," Kawai says fondly, wrapping an arm around Shintarou's shoulders and mussing up his hair. Shintarou just takes it, as if he still comes up to Kawai's waist instead of being nearly a head taller. "Next thing you know he'll be playing the little brother character in Dream Boys."

Across the room, Shotarou's voice has no trouble being heard, telling the kid next to him it's step and then turn, idiot.

"Any chance you want him as a real little brother right now?" Shintarou asks. "His siblings definitely won't mind."

"Maybe you can sell him to Kitayama," Kawai suggests. His laugh echoes off the mirrors even louder than Shotarou's complaints, and it makes Shintarou smile like it always has and always will.

Juri and Hokuto show up eventually, turning up to work early to poke their heads in and check things out. The audition is nearly finished by then, a staff member telling the boys who are left what to expect if they get called to work, Kawai mingling to find out which kids might make the cutest and most teasable Fresh Jrs.

"They're so little," Hokuto marvels. "I swear they get littler every year!" Shintarou calls him an old man, and Hokuto says that's rich coming from him. Shotarou interrupts their familiar bickering when he comes over, number still pinned to his shirt.

"I told you they couldn't come, it's embarrassing," Shotarou informs Shintarou, but he gives Juri a high-five and low-live like usual because Juri is still the cool, favorite uncle.

"How'd it go, brat?" Juri asks. "They didn't really let you in, did they?"

"Easy, easy," Shotarou pronounces. "I wasn't nervous at all."

"He spent twenty-five minutes picking out a T-shirt this morning," Shintarou informs them, taking great satisfaction in Shotarou's whine of "Daaaaaaaaaad."

It's only a week later when Shotarou gets his first call from work, and if Maika had been a mess on his first day of kindergarten, it's nothing compared to how Shintarou feels the first time he has to leave Shotarou to fend for himself in lessons with kids who are actually good and choreographers who don't give half a damn whose kid he is.

"Be good," Shintarou frets, smoothing down Shotarou's hair and making him whine. "Put your phone in your bag and leave it there. Make friends. Don't bully anybody. Get somebody to teach you to backflip. Don't worry if they put you in the back and don't be a jerk if they put you in the front. If you tell people Juri is your admired senpai your mother will kill me."

"Anything else?" Shotarou asks, face long-suffering.

"I hope you have fun," Shintarou tells him. He wants to hug Shotarou but settles for putting his hands on Shotarou's shoulders and squeezing them. "But if you hate it, that's okay too. I'll still be proud of you."

He expects a flip response, but Shotarou only nods, looking back at Shintarou seriously as if making sure that's really true. It is; as much as everybody wants a Morimoto dynasty in Johnny's, his son's happiness is a lot more important than that.

Shintarou manages to hold onto his adult face until he gets to his own practice, where he can put his head in Kouchi's lap and be as melodramatic as he wants. Still group mama after all this time, Kouchi rubs Shintarou's back soothingly and murmurs that he's sure Shotarou will be fine and make lots of friends and get hazed by older kids just like all trainees should.

"You are twenty-seven years old," Taiga accuses Shintarou. Shintarou sniffles at him. "Being group baby doesn't mean you have to be an actual baby, you know."

"Oh, leave them alone, reinforcing their group positions is how they bond," Jesse says. There's the click of a camera, and Shintarou looks up to find Jesse grinning sharply down at him. "Did I mention it's shop photo day? Ne, Tai-chan, take a selfie with me."

"Don't call me that," Taiga says, but he dully makes a peace sign and lets Jesse squish their cheeks together, puffing his own cheeks cutely. Juri snatches the camera out of Jesse's hand and takes a shot that actually has both of their faces in it.

"Hey, get up and show off your muscles with me," Hokuto orders, kicking at Shintarou's leg a little. He spares Kouchi half a glance. "You can stay down there, no need to get up."

Somehow their muscle pose turns into a group shot, all of them squished together with Shintarou in the center. It's a pretty paper-thin excuse on their part to hug Shintarou until he feels better, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work.

Nobody is surprised when Shotarou is in the batch of juniors picked to back for their summer tour. Maika protests that he's too young to go on tour with a bunch of older boys, getting into goodness knows what kind of trouble in hotels at all hours of the night. Shintarou thinks of himself as a husband who cares about his wife's concerns, but in this instance he outright laughs in her face at the idea that anybody, least of all him, can stop Shotarou from being introduced as his kid on every major morning news show via their tour coverage.

"Can't you at least share a room on tour?" Maika asks in exasperation.

"No way," Shintarou and Shotarou tell her in unison. Maika throws up her hands.

"You're going to call me every night, mister," Maika informs Shotarou. "All your summer homework has to be in my hands before you put one foot out that door! And no girls in your hotel room!"

"What happens on tour stays on tour," Shintarou tells her primly, folding his arms.

Shotarou scrunches up his face. "Why would I want girls in my room?"

It's awkward as hell to have his own son be one of the juniors Shintarou is supposed to be senpai-ing all tour, which Taiga in particular never stops laughing about. But after a few weeks of rehearsals, it starts to normalize a little. Shotarou is the youngest junior they're performing with, but that just means he's twice as determined to prove that he can do anything the older kids do, plus he's watched about a zillion JE concerts at this point, so he doesn't need much yelling at. Even when he does, it's usually Jesse or Taiga who corrects him, while Hokuto or Kouchi tend to be the ones to hand out praise to their backers. Juri takes care of being the cool favorite senpai, so it's surprisingly easy for Shintarou and Shotarou to ignore each other and go on about their business.

Shintarou just assumes that's the way Shotarou wants it, and he doesn't blame him when he thinks about how much he hated being forced to tag along after Ryutarou at that age. He's surprised when Shotarou sidles up to him after the younger juniors have been dismissed instead of heading out with everyone else.

"Hi there," Shintarou greets, offering Shotarou a drink from his water bottle. "Something up?"

"Help me with a thing," Shotarou says, mostly to the floor. When Shintarou is so surprised that he doesn't answer for a second, Shotarou adds, "Please."

"Of course I will," Shintarou assures. The other adults are going to review practice footage that they just recorded, but they can do that without Shintarou for a bit. It's the shadow dance that's the issue, as it turns out; Shotarou's stuck on a part of it, and when he tries to watch in the mirrors to see where it's wrong, the reflection of both him and his symmetry partner going in opposite directions only confuses him more.

It's pretty complicated for a ten-year-old, Shintarou thinks, but he runs the trouble spot patiently with Shotarou until it smooths out a little.

"Much better," he praises, but then warns, "Tomorrow with Yuu-kun it might be off again, since you practiced on your own. If you two can't straighten it out first thing, come get me, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Shotarou agrees. The second both of them stop moving, the awkwardness settles back over them. "Dad? Does it feel really weird for you too?"

"Super weird," Shintarou says with feeling. He ruffles Shotarou's sweaty hair. "But that's okay. I'm happy I get to see your first concert. Want to come watch footage with me?"

"Is it okay?" Shotarou asks. It's a thing just the group does usually, passing on corrections to the backers the next day. Shintarou doesn't see any harm in it, though.

"Sure. Just sit and listen. It's a good chance to learn."

Nobody questions Shintarou when he brings Shotarou in with him and pulls over an extra folding chair. They're busy arguing about the staging leading into Jesse's solo, whether they need a filler dance break to give him enough time to get to his next entrance.

"I'm telling you, I can do it!" Jesse insists. "I'm the fastest guy in Johnny's!"

"Yeah, just ask Yasui," Juri snorts, setting them all off until the stage director asks for them to try and pull themselves together, please.

Shotarou sits quietly through the whole discussion. It runs long, and Shintarou feels bad for asking Shotarou to sit through it all, but every time he glances over, Shotarou seems to be following their discussion closely, eyes fixed on the spots that they point at on the monitor.

"What did you think?" Shintarou asks on the way home, interested to know what Shotarou took away from it.

"I didn't get some of it," Shotarou admits. He looks frustrated by that, and Shintarou wants to tell him not to take it so seriously, not yet. "I didn't see the same stuff that you all saw."

"We all see different things," Shintarou explains. "That's why we watch together. We've been working together for so long, so we know where to find each other's weaknesses and how to help fix them. Then we have to try and see how the audience will see it, and fix those problems too. Get it?"

"Hmm." Shotarou shakes his head a little, like he's clearing his thoughts. "I guess they aren't just the idiots you hang around with, sometimes."

That makes Shintarou laugh. "Sometimes."

Before Shintarou knows it, it's their first concert of the tour, with all the nerves and excitement that entails. Shintarou asks if Shotarou is scared, and Shotarou lies like a pro and says no, not even a little. Everything goes smoothly until the MC, which is when it turns out that Juri has a little surprise.

"We're going to play a game!" Juri says, making the other five groan. Juri's terrible game ideas are a legend in their group, but no amount of staff scolding ever dissuades him. "This time is a little different, though. We actually only need two players. Shin-chan, come here a second."

"Whaaaaaat," Shintarou groans. When two of the juniors push Shotarou back out on stage and shove him towards his father, Shintarou goes into full panic mode. "What the hell are you doing?!" he hisses, off-mic.

Juri ignores him. "This game is called 'Oyako DON!!'" Juri pauses for the crowd to giggle at him before he continues to explain. "We're gonna put up some pictures on the big screens, okay? And then you guys have to decide whether it's a picture of Shin-chan or Sho-kun. Fun, right?"

Shintarou and Shotarou both give Juri a look of utter disdain. Across the stage, Taiga is laughing so hard that he's lying on the ground already.

"Ah, they look so much alike, don't they? So guess carefully! Here we go!" Juri continues merrily. "Oyako……DON!!"

The first picture that goes up is Shintarou getting his first bath, and the second is of Shotarou covered in smashed cake for his first birthday. Juri makes the audience vote by having their penlight either on or off, and the vote is split just about even every time. Sometimes even Shintarou isn't 100% sure which of them it is if he doesn't recognize the picture.

"You aren't my favorite senpai anymore," Shotarou informs Juri when the picture of him playing tea party with his sister goes up.

"I am kicking you out of our room." Shintarou winces when a shot of his homemade Kamen Rider costume appears. "Where did you even get these?"

"Your mother and Maika, obviously," Juri answers, so smug that Shintarou is thinking seriously of making Juri eat his mic. "Maika even came up with the name. You married a fine woman, my friend."

"Tell me when it's over," Shotarou says, covering his eyes with his hands.

By the time they make it to the DVD filming, Juri softens the blow by putting in baby pictures of all of them. The joke is on him when it turns out that the staff put together a slideshow for their new ballad, made up of shop photos of the six of them starting all the way back at their Bakaleya days, and Juri bawls hardest out of all of them by the end. Wiping away his own tears, Shintarou can't help but think about how long the road to here has been, and how glad he is that he gets to keep walking it with these same idiots.

Across the arena he can see Shotarou dancing on the back walkway, easy to pick out since he's the shortest, using all his strength to keep up with the older juniors. Shintarou hopes he finds some guys he can run with too, ones that will stay beside him the whole way.

"Uuuuuugh," Shotarou whines when it's all over and they're stripping off their costumes in the warren of scaffolding backstage. "I made like a hundred mistakes! I didn't make any of those yesterday when they weren't filming!"

Still over-emotional from it being tour last, Shintarou leans down to hug Shotarou tightly, making him squeak in surprise.

"Mistakes are fine," he reassures. "Sometimes mistakes turn out really, really well."

"You're seriously weird, Dad," Shotarou tells him. Shintarou lets him go with a chuckle, and Shotarou dashes off to where the other juniors are carrying on.

"I'm telling Maika you called your firstborn a big mistake," Juri comments from the costume rack beside them.

"I should have poked holes in all your condoms in high school," Shintarou retorts, stripping off his tour T-shirt and hoping all the rhinestones stay on in the laundry. "If you would have slept with any girls, that is."

Juri throws back his head to laugh, shirtless and still too skinny, his fake tour tattoo still covering his whole left shoulder. It's the kanji for devotion, and it's no coincidence that the first character of it is shin. Juri squeaks just like Shotarou when Shintarou ninja attacks him for a hug too.

"Idiot," Juri says with affection. "I haven't even gotten you drunk yet. My favorite part of tour is when you and Jesse sob all over each other and then tell everyone how much you love them."

"Don't panic," Shintarou tells him, "but I'm pretty sure us all bawling on stage is definitely going right on the DVD."

"You only tell me not to panic when I definitely should panic," Juri reminds, which sets both of them off laughing, and they don't pull apart until Taiga shows up with the backstage documentary camera and Hokuto asks if there's something Shintarou wants to confess to his wife or what.

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