Rating/Warnings: R for scariness. See warning below.
Summary: After they get the new studio, strange things start to happen. And then Senga finds the song.
AN: Loosely based on the Korean horror movie "White" which I watched for the first time last week and loved, and said that I could see Kisumai cast in so easily. Tlist demanded scary Halloween fic and as a consequence, here we are. I spent my whole weekend and two hurricane days doing nothing but writing this. It's 14k D: and I've never tried to write something scary before, so I hope you guys like it. The few of you that can bear to read scary things.
REAL WARNING: Think Asian horror ghost movie like Ring or Shutter or White. Scary stuff happens to people you enjoy! Character death possible! I don't want to spoil all the spoils, given the nature of it, but ghosts are involved and they are pissed.
It's not gory or anything, though, not like crazy serial murder fic or anything, if that's what you're worried about. It's plotty. So...good luck?
The new dance studio is a hell of a lot nicer than the old one, spacious and in a decent location this time, beautiful floors that look new and state-of-the-art tracklighting. It’s nice enough that Fujigaya and Kitayama both give their manager skeptical looks as the group is ushered in for the first time, the younger four brushing past them to claim the best corners for their junk and check out the changing room.
“Are you fucking with us?” Fujigaya wants to know, then grunts when Yokoo socks him in the arm for language. “Watta! We’ve sat through three meetings this week alone about budget cuts, and suddenly we end up here?” He waves his hands dramatically, encompassing the floor and lights and everything.
“It’s a bit suspicious,” Kitayama puts in casually, like he’s not trying to back up Fujigaya or anything, just thinking it.
Their manager shrugs. “President got it at a good price. It seems there was a fire some years ago, but it’s all refurbished now, very modern.” She gives them a steely glance. “So let’s not worry about any of that and work hard to use his gift wisely, hm?”
“Yes, Manager-san,” Fujigaya and Kitayama chorus dutifully.
Senga doesn’t hear any of that, his attention entirely captured by the mirrors as soon as he spots them. They’re huge, floor-to-ceiling practically, polished to such a shine that his reflection is crystal clear when he dashes over to them. He lifts a hand but doesn’t quite touch his own reflection, such a perfect likeness that it looks like his hand might pass right through and press up against the other Senga’s hand.
“What are you doing?” Nikaido demands right in Senga’s ear, making him jump and his heart skip. Senga glares and Nikaido grins at him before turning back to the mirror. “It’s just a mirror, Kenpi, see?” He puts his own palm square against the glass, squishing it flat.
“Don’t, you’ll mark it all up,” Senga says, batting Nikaido’s hand back down. He tugs his sleeve down over his hand to wipe away the mark, but he’s barely got it off before Nikaido squishes two more on either side of it, snickering as Senga whines his name at him.
It starts a struggle that’s more than half girly slap fight, Senga trying to get between Nikaido’s hands and the glass, shoving at his arms, Nikaido sneaking under and around Senga’s guard to put as many marks on the glass as he can. It only takes a minute for them to get too worked up, and Nikaido shoves Senga’s shoulders with enough force to knock his back hard into the mirror.
Senga yelps when he feels the mirror give behind him, and then Nikaido is yanking him forward by the wrists, eyes wide. It takes a second for Senga to calm enough to realize that the mirror wasn’t falling, just pivoting.
“Nika!” Senga accuses, snappish from adrenaline, then tugs his hands free because Nikaido’s grip is tight enough to leave red marks on his wrists. “Ow!”
“I thought it was going to fall on your stupid head!” Nikaido blusters back, expression still panicky.
“What the hell are you two doing over here?” Yokoo demands, popping up behind them and making both of them squeak. “Be careful about the mirrors, idiots! We’ve been here five minutes and you’re already breaking--”
“It’s not broken,” Senga interrupts, looking more closely at the dislodged mirror. He grips the edge of it and moves it back and forth a little. “It’s on a hinge. There’s kind of a cabinet back here. Empty though.” He pulls his head out of the gap and pushes the mirror back to it’s original position, hearing the soft snikt of the latch. “Wonder if there’s anything in the others?”
“Try looking for Nika-chan’s dignity,” Kitayama says as he strolls by to fetch Tamamori and Miyata from exploring the changing room; Nikaido tosses a glare over his shoulder. “Look carefully, there never was much of it.”
“I’ll let you know if I find a box you can stand on,” is Nikaido’s retort, making Senga giggle as he pushes on the next mirror down the line.
Most of them contain nothing but a few cobwebs, but the second one in from the right on the far end is more stubborn than the rest.
“Maybe it doesn’t open?” Nikaido suggests, already on edge after an encounter with a spider who was not happy to be disturbed.
“No, I can feel it swing just a little, but feels like something is stuck.” Senga tries to get a better grip on the edge, but the glass is slick and the angle awkward. “Here, help, can’t you?”
With both of them tugging, the mirror pops open suddenly with a screech of rusty hinges, and a stack of dusty cassette tapes spills out on the ground with a clatter.
“That’s all?” Nikaido raises an eyebrow, but Senga kneels down and examines them with interest.
“They’re probably dance music, right? For the stereo.” Senga picks up a couple and blows the dust off. Their labels are faded and some of them water-splotched, most well-worn and half illegible. “It’d be interesting to see what was popular back then, though. Manager-san, when did you say people danced here last?”
“Hm?” Their manager barely looks up from the schedule she’s rifling through. “About fifteen years ago.”
“Maybe Yara-senpai will know some of it,” Senga says hopefully. Nikaido nudges one of the tapes that’s too close away with the toe of his sneaker, and Yokoo wrinkles his nose at the dust all over Senga’s fingers and pants, the palm prints on the mirror.
“Quit fooling around over there and let’s get on with it,” Fujigaya calls over, in a rush as usual to just get all the physical labor over with. His hair is already in its usual palm tree, though, so he’s hardly that threatening.
Senga scoops the cassette tapes into his bag, intending to give them a listen later and see if there’s anything interesting. If any of it’s worth dancing to, maybe he can rip them to his laptop or even sample some of the tracks.
He pauses with the last cassette in his hand, the yellowed label entirely blank except for the word “Closer” in block print. Kitayama calls for him to move it, and Senga drops the last tape into his bag before standing and trotting over to the others to stretch.
That night he uses the line-in on his mother’s old stereo to rip the cassettes to his computer. Most of them are decent dance mixes, nothing special. He saves the tape with the strange label for last, flipping the tape over to look at both sides before sliding it into the cassette player, but there’s nothing else written on it, only the label on the case.
There’s some crackling and popping at first, but the sound is remarkably clear for the age of the tape. The chorus is catchy, enough to make Senga tap his feet a little, even if the verses need a little bit of work. And whoever this group was, they could have hired a better lyricist from the sounds of it. Still, once he’s named and saved the file on his computer, Senga plays it back, humming along this time. Then he plays it again, and again.
By the time his mother comes in to ask what on earth he’s doing at this hour, Senga snaps out of it and realizes it’s gotten late without him noticing.
“And what on earth is your window open for?” she chides, crossing the room and shoving it shut with a screech. “It’s freezing in here, do you want another cold?”
“Really?” Senga drags his eyes away from the computer, having a hard time concentrating on what his mother is saying. Exhaustion, he supposes. “But I feel so warm...”
He brings his laptop to work the next day, and during a break plays it for Nikaido to get his opinion.
“It’s a little dated,” Senga admits when Nikaido frowns. “But I can tweak that, make it a bit more modern, maybe speed it up a little...it’d be a good duet, don’t you think?”
“A duet?” Nika’s eyebrows raise. “You mean for us? That’s somebody else’s song though, right? We can’t use that.”
“No, I checked it out online.” Senga shakes his head, dragging the slider on his player to replay a chunk he likes. “It’s never been a single or on an album anywhere in Japan. It must have been unreleased. Manager-san said there was a fire, right? Maybe their schedule got interrupted, or the band broke up, or...”
He realizes as Nikaido’s expression tenses that there’s another pretty obvious reason why a band wouldn't release a single after a fire in their studio.
“But it’s a good song, why not use it?” Senga blunders on. Nikaido doesn’t share his enthusiasm, body language starting to lean in the opposite direction from Senga’s laptop. “What?”
Nikaido squirms a little, then just admits, “It gives me the creeps.”
“Nika,” Senga rolls his eyes, “it’s just a song.”
“An unreleased song from a band that probably died tragically that you found in some creepy mirror closet!” Nikaido protests. “But that’s not what I mean, I mean the song itself. It makes me feel...I don’t know.” He shivers a little. “I don’t like it.”
Senga is opening his mouth to say that he’s being ridiculous when their manager pops up behind the two of them, nearly giving Nikaido a heart attack, and demands to know what they’re listening to.
“I found some tapes in the new studio,” Senga explains about the cabinets behind the mirror, the tape with the song on it, and how it seemed to belong to no one, at the moment.
“I see.” Their manager tapped her chin, looking thoughtful. “The chorus is catchy, isn’t it? We haven’t heard anything I like yet for your next single, and we’re already behind with the schedule...that’s an mp3? Put it on my thumb drive,” she orders, pulling it out of her pocket and uncapping it before sticking it into the side of Senga’s computer. “I’ll have some people look at it, maybe update it a little.”
“But...” Senga feels strangely resistant, unwilling to hand the song over. “I was thinking--”
“Take it,” Nikaido interrupts, reaching over to copy the file himself, not meeting Senga’s eyes. “You can have it.”
Senga swallows his protests (not like he’d get anywhere arguing with their manager anyway), and after she leaves his sudden panic dies back down again, as suddenly as it had come over him in the first place.
It’s just a song, he reminds himself. He can write the two of them a million more, just that one is no big deal.
“What have I told you about putting your hands all over the mirrors?” Yokoo scolds, making Nikaido whine that Yokoo blames him for everything as he uses his shirtsleeve to try and buff the smudged handprint off the glass. Senga frowns because Nikaido has been on the floor stretching with him since they came into the room, but before he says anything, their manager breezes in and calls for their attention.
“Good news,” she announces, looking pleased. “Your next release has finally been decided. Thanks to Senga-kun.” She beams at Senga and the others look at him curiously, but Senga squirms under the attention, the uncomfortable possessive feeling twisting his stomach again.
Quit being stupid, he scolds himself, forcing a smile. It wasn’t even your song in the first place!
That song was for him, another voice hisses, different than his usual internal voice, uglier, and he’s not sure at all where that came from. Shut up, he thinks, hard enough to drown those feelings out, the group is most important.
“The song is a bit of an unusual choice since there’s a single vocal lead,” their manager is explaining when Senga drags his attention back to her voice. “We could split the lines, but I was thinking this time maybe a change wouldn’t be so bad.”
“So who’s main then?” Fujigaya wants to know immediately. Kitayama’s expression is over-casual like he couldn’t care less if he was main or not, which Senga can see right through. Tamamori shuffles his feet a little, clearly hoping nobody looks at him.
“The range may be a problem, so we’ll probably try out all three of you out during practices, and then make a decision.” Their manager claps her hands. “Well, I’ll leave you to it then. The choreographer will be in to start working with you tomorrow. Senga-kun, since this is thanks to you, if you have any idea for him?”
“I’ll do some work for tomorrow and talk with him about it,” Senga assures, and their manager nods. Her phone rings, drawing her attention away, and she waves at them as she leaves to take the call, half “goodbye” and half “get back to work.”
Fujigaya and Kitayama barely notice, argument already restarted about vocal main.
“I think we both know who has a range problem,” Fujigaya says, about as subtle as the big blue T-chan, as always.
“Your mom?” is Kitayama’s response. “Ease up, we haven’t even heard the song yet and you’re already trying to vibrato all over it.”
“I’d vibrato all over your ass if I could reach down that low,” Fujigaya growls. He turns to Tamamori, an easier target. “At least I don’t have to worry about you being vocal main.”
“Gaya,” Miyata says, voice reproachful, and Fujigaya jams his hands in his pocket and scowls.
“I don’t need you to stand up for me,” Tamamori informs Miyata, squaring his shoulders and glaring at Fujigaya, direct challenge making him forget that ten seconds ago he wanted nothing better than to be last on the list. “If you can sing it, I can sing it!”
Something about the argument makes Senga feel uneasy, and he turns away, towards the mirror. He tries to ignore their voices and think about what sort of dance he’d like for the song instead. His eyes fall on the handprint from before, frowning at it as he tries to think of what moves would express the lyrics and finds no inspiration.
“Hey,” Nikaido says, sidling between Senga and the mirror, his transparent ploy to get Senga’s attention and distract himself from the group conflict cute enough that it makes Senga smile a little.
At least until he realizes that Nikaido’s hand against the mirror is entirely the wrong height to have made that handprint.
Senga’s in a poor mood by the time he gives up and goes home, still at a loss for inspiration no matter how many times he listens the song through, no matter how long he stood in front of the mirror, long after the others had left. His eyes kept being drawn back to that handprint, until he’d gotten mad enough to go find a spray bottle and a squeegee from the closet of cleaning supplies and took care of it himself.
He keeps replaying the song on his iPod the whole way home, staring idly out the window. Halfway through the trip he gets the feeling that someone is watching him, the back of his neck prickling, but the train just has the normal mix of salarymen and shoppers on it. Senga shrugs it off; maybe he’d been dancing without realizing again, drawing attention to himself.
His mother has to practically force-feed him dinner before she gets fed up enough with his crankiness to send him off to bed.
“I’m not fifteen anymore, geez,” Senga grouses, but when Senga-san narrows her eyes dangerously, Senga gets moving without any more sass. He doesn’t even bother with the bath, just strips off his clothes and crawls into bed, only wishing uselessly that Nikaido was sleeping over tonight so his room wouldn’t seem so quiet and empty. But once he’s snuggled in bed, he drops off quickly enough, tired from the long day.
His dreams are confused, muddled, but he’s sure they involved the dance studio, a practice full of people he doesn’t know, Senga nervous and messing up the steps over and over, everyone glaring at him. It takes him ages to realize what’s really weird is that everyone around him is a girl, and when Senga whirls to look properly in the mirror, he cries out at his reflection, long hair tied back in a ponytail, hot pink t-shirt knotted just above his curved hips.
Senga wakes up covered in sweat, sitting bolt upright in his bed, and he knows exactly how the dance to “Closer” is supposed to go.
It’s early, but Senga knows he’ll never get back to sleep. He goes to take a shower, to wash the sweat and uneasy dreams off, the hot water easing some of the tension out of his muscles. He finds himself humming the song under his breath, and chuckles because he listened to that stupid thing so many times yesterday that he’ll probably never get it out of his head.
The laughter dies on his lips when he pushes the shower curtain open and sees the writing on his bathroom mirror, as if someone had just written with their finger a moment ago.
Mine, it says.
He shakes it off after a second, rolling his eyes at his own nerves. Nikaido probably wrote it on his mirror to be cute the other night when he was over, or else his brother was being a dick last time he stayed over in Tokyo. Idiot he writes underneath it with his own finger, and then swipes his hand through both words, obliterating them.
“You’re spending too much time with Nika,” he informs his reflection, glad to see his reflection is properly masculine like it’s supposed to be, and then he pushes the bathroom door open so that the mirror will dry off faster.
When the choreographer arrives at the studio, Senga waves him over right away and shows him the dance from start to finish. It’s not his usual style, more abrupt, all hips and sharp arm movements, full stops that make the slow head roll at the chorus more eye-catching by contrast. Senga closes his eyes and gets into it, not even watching himself in the mirror, as if it’s something he’s practiced a hundred times instead of something he’s only done in his dreams overnight. It’s the power of visualization, he supposes.
At the end, when he opens his eyes, he catches a flash of someone watching in the mirror that makes his breath catch, but when he turns, there’s only his groupmates watching him, plus the choreographer. He could have sworn he’d seen a ponytail and a hot pink T-shirt, just like in his dream last night.
Well, Fujigaya does look like a girl after all, Senga tells himself, wiping the sweat out of his eyes until he can see clearly again. He reaches for a towel, dripping all over just from that, and wonders if faulty aircon is part of the reason for the building’s cheapness.
“That’s good!” The choreographer looks impressed, drawing Senga’s attention back to him. “I’d had some things to show you, but yours is so polished already. And it matches the song quite well, don’t you think?” He looks at the other members, but none of them are really showing the same excitement.
“When did you come up with that?” Fujigaya asks, brow scrunched. “Last night?”
“How late did you stay?” Miyata asks, exchanging a glance with Yokoo.
“No,” Senga says, scrunching the ends of his hair with the towel. “Well, yes, I did stay late, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then I had this dream...”
“A dream?” Tamamori asks skeptically. “Our great new dance is some shit you just dreamed up overnight?”
Senga frowns. When Tamamori says it like that, it sounds so... “I don’t know, when I woke up this morning, I knew it already. You explain it.”
“The dance is a little...” Miyata hesitates on the edge of whatever his real opinion is. “It’s not our usual style, that’s for sure.”
“It’s weird!” Nikaido blurts, and when Senga turns to look, Nikaido is holding his elbow nervously, expression tense. “I don’t like it at all. What’s with those movements? And that neck roll, it’s creepy!”
“It’s not our image,” Fujigaya joins in, shaking his head. “Maybe if we made it smoother, not so jerky--”
“That’s the way the dance goes,” Senga cuts him off brusquely, and Fujigaya shuts his mouth like he’s been slapped. Usually Senga takes criticism from the others well, but something about Fujigaya’s tone, Tamamori’s face, Nikaido’s open dislike especially, they all get under Senga’s skin and only make him dig his heels in harder, determined to keep the dance exactly the way he knows it should be.
“What are you doing?” Tamamori asks, and Senga twists to follow Tamamori’s gaze back over his shoulder. Kitayama is in front of the mirror, doing the slow neck roll, head lolling back, hands sliding up his chest to wrap around his neck.
“Thats the important part.” Kitayama lifts his head to look at Senga, using the reflection of the mirror to make their eyes meet. “Right?” Senga nods; trust Kitayama, another real dancer, to get it. Senga’s self-satisfaction sours when Kitayama turns to face the group and announces, “I don’t like it either. Can you imagine us doing this on Music Station? At a concert? Sorry, Ken-chan, but it’s like ‘Firebeat’ gone all wrong.”
Senga narrows his eyes is opening his mouth to fire back an extremely ill-advised retort when the noise of the door swinging open interrupts him, followed by the distinctive clicking of their manager’s heels.
“If you plan to keep doing ‘Firebeat’ over and over, maybe you should just retire now, Kitayama-kun,” she says with a touch of frost, coming to stand in front of them with her hands on her hips.
“He’s old enough to,” Nikaido says in an undertone. Their manager eyes him, and his gaze drops to the ground.
“I think there’s value in trying something new,” their manager says, eyes sharp as she runs them over each of them in turn. “Senga-kun, you’re dripping on the hardwood.”
“Oh,” Senga looks down and sees she’s right. He drops his already wet towel on the floor and mops up his sweat by pushing it around with his sneaker.
“What’s up with you?” Nikaido hisses, handing over his towel.
“It’s hot in here!” Senga insists, then looks down at Nikaido’s long-sleeved T-shirt, over at Tamamori’s hoodie. “Isn’t it?”
Manager-san shushes them with another pointed look. “The sound tech will have the song ready enough for us to try out vocals this afternoon, so we can decide on vocal main. Vocal main will also be center for the PV, and we’re scheduled for first studio runs the end of the week, so it has to be decided right away.”
“That fast?” Tamamori blurts, everyone else exchanging worried looks.
“I’ve told you we used up all the time we could spare finding a song,” their manager reminds. “Everyone learn the dance from Senga this morning, and then we’ll just accent it differently when main is decided.”
“But--” Nikaido tries one last protest, but their Manager cuts him off before he gets another word out, telling them the van will be here in two hours to get them and they’ll have to eat lunch while they meet with the sound staff. She marches off, ordering them to get to work, leaving an uncomfortable silence in her wake.
“Whatever, it’s just a dance,” Fujigaya says, breaking the silence and shouldering past Kitayama and Miyata to take his place in front of them mirrors. “Get on with it, Ken-chan, maybe if we hurry up we’ll actually get a chance to eat something decent for lunch.”
“Yeah, okay.” Senga hands Nikaido back his towel and digs a spare out of his bag, then grabs his iPod to plug into the stereo so they can use the music. The others find their spots behind him, spacing themselves out as if Senga’s center for now, ready to go by the time he straightens.
During the whole practice, Senga keeps catching strange things out of the corners of his eyes as he uses the mirrors to keep an eye on what the others are doing behind him, flicks of motion that don’t match, one member strangely off-beat, but when he turns to see himself, everyone is perfectly in sync (or as much as they ever are). When the take a break, he goes to Yokoo, who was standing farthest to back, and quietly asks him if everyone really was in rhythm.
“It looked all right to me,” Yokoo confirms, between gulps from his water bottle. “Why, did it look bad from the front?”
“No,” Senga says quickly. “Forget it. Maybe the mirrors are a bit warped, or something?”
“They have been through a fire,” Yokoo reminds, making Senga shiver. Yokoo peers at him more closely. “You don’t have a fever or something, do you? You’re sweating like it’s a thousand degrees in here.”
“It is kind of hot,” Senga comments, pre-occupied, pulling at the front of his T-shirt to fan himself. He realizes Yokoo is staring at him. “What?”
“Ken-chan,” he says, eyes concerned, “it’s freezing in here.”
Yokoo digs up some cold pills from his bag and forces them into Senga’s hands, then shoves him towards the bathroom with the order to splash his face with cold water. When Senga looks up, blinking water out of his eyes, this time there’s a second where he’s sure the person looking back at him isn’t him. It’s his face, but it’s not him at all.
“Who are you?” he whispers, heart in his throat. “What do you want?”
Yokoo examines him when he emerges and says with approval that he doesn’t look so flushed. Senga doesn’t bother trying to explain it’s not the cold pills that made all the blood drain from his face.
Their manager is late to the meeting with the sound staff, but she bustles in just as the main tech is about to play them the updated version of their song. She’s got a dusty, moisture-stained box in her hands that looks like it’s been taped up about seventeen times.
“Oh good, you haven’t started yet,” she says, dropping the box on the counter in a poof of dust that makes the sound tech whine about his equipment.
“What is that?” Fujigaya asks, nose wrinkled, and behind him Yokoo is wearing the same horrified expression as the sound tech.
“I was checking up on the copyrights to your song,” she explains, “just being thorough.”
“Shouldn’t you have done that first?” Senga asks, but she shuts him up with a look.
“The agency went bankrupt years ago, small wonder after the scandal of the fire and losing several of their headlining acts--”
“People totally did die in there!” Nikaido exclaims, looking half vindicated and half sick, edging closer to Senga’s side.
“But the company president still owns the office building the agency used, and when I called to ask to buy the rights formally, he not only said we could have it, he told me they still had some of the promotional materials in storage and that I was welcome to it.” She pauses, hand resting on top of the box. “They seemed glad to be rid of it, honestly.”
The back of Senga’s neck prickles, and he feels himself start to sweat again. He wants to tell her not to look in the box, just throw the whole thing away, but she’s already pulling open the flaps before he gets any of the words unstuck from his throat.
“Most of it’s junk, old posters and some prototype goods, but...” She reaches into the box and pulls out a VHS tape, grinning triumphantly. The label is plain white except for the word “Closer” and Senga recognizes the handwriting. “There is this. You’ve got something to play this, right?” she asks the tech.
“If you haven’t ruined it with mold spores,” the tech grumbles, lifting up the box by two corners with as few fingers as he can manage. He sets it on the floor, as far away from himself as he can. Miyata leans down to poke through the rest of the contents, Tamamori watching him with a faint air of disgust as he holds up mildewed posters.
“It’s the test footage from their PV filming,” she explains, looking excited as the tech locates the rarely used VHS equipment and checks the connections. “There was a serious NG and they had to postpone filming, and then the fire happened so they never finished the video.”
The others are starting to look interested now, curious to see what it would have been like to do idol work back then, if nothing else. They are all professionals, after all, interested in the changes in their industry after such a length of time.
“90’s right?” Kitayama murmurs, leaning in, over the tech’s shoulder as he fiddles with dials. “Big hair? Ah, too bad you missed it, Fujigaya.”
“Surprised you don’t remember it personally,” Fujigaya snaps back.
“Shoulder pads,” their manager says. “I could have put someone’s eye out with my shoulder pads.”
“Hey, look!” Miyata calls, and when they turn he’s holding up an uchiwa that looks somewhat the worse for wear from its time in the box. They can still see the faces of the girls, though, five bright smiles underneath long, natural black hair. At the bottom, the group name is printed in swirly, hot pink script. “Cherry Sweet? That’s a little on the nose for a girl group name,” he chuckles.
“You’d know,” Tamamori tsukkomis him, while Fujigaya comments they should ask leader about that. “Put that gross thing away and get up here.”
“The fantasy they were marketing was innocence, back then,” their manager explains, giving Fujigaya a pointed glance that says he wouldn’t have made the cut, so much. The sound tech finally gets the feed from the VHS player onto the screen at the top of his soundboard. “Ah, here we go.”
“Wait, I want to rip this to my hard drive while we’re watching,” the sound tech says, muttering to himself and hitting a few more switches. “Okay, start.”
There’s snow for a second, and some hissing, and all of them press closer with a sense of anticipation. A few frames later the girls appear, all of them in white shift dresses that fall straight to mid-thigh, their dark hair hanging in their faces. All except the center girl, that is, whose hair is bleached a shocking blonde. The colors on the tape are a bit warped from age, making the contrast even more stark.
“Hey,” Fujigaya says after ten or fifteen seconds of watching, “that’s...”
“My dance,” Senga agrees, and a ripple of unease runs through the group. Some other voice, the low mean one again, is insisting I told you that’s how it went, but he presses his lips together, refusing to let it out.
It’s all one long shot, obviously meant to be cut up with solo shots and close-ups that were never taken, the dance uninterrupted. Aside from the center girl, the swing of the other girls’ hair obscures their faces, their features only visible in fleeting glances. It makes them seem personality-less, faceless copies, pretty dolls controlled by the throb of the beat. Senga feels like if the music stopped suddenly, they would fall still like their strings had been cut, lacking the will to move on their own.
“You were dead on.” their manager whistles. “Senga-kun is amazing.”
“I don’t think that’s the word for it, so much,” Tamamori says under his breath, and the longer it goes on, exactly the dance that Senga taught them that morning, the more Senga agrees with him. Whatever this is, Senga’s not the one at the root of it.
The room feels oppressively warm to Senga, the nearness of his groupmates huddled around the small screen making it worse. When Nikaido clutches at his hand, Senga’s fingers slip right through his on the first try, before Nikaido tightens his grip.
The tape ends, cutting back into snow, and the tech clicks it off and checks the recording. There’s a long silence that no one seems willing to break.
“Didn’t you say there was a NG?” Kitayama asks, the suddenness of his voice making most of them jump. “It wasn’t finished certainly, but I didn’t see anything that would make them cancel the whole shoot.”
“It must have happened off-camera,” their manager shrugs. She claps her hands, and heedless of their tense faces, she looks pleased. “We’re definitely on the right track if we came up with the same concept as them on our own. Let’s hear what you’ve done with the song.” She taps the sound tech on the shoulder.
“I sped it up a bit and added some syncopation,” he explains, changing the settings of some of his knobs and slides before clicking play. “And I lowered the pitch a little to compensate for a male vocalist, but I couldn’t change it much or you lose the hook of the chorus.”
“Ugh, high,” Tamamori says; beside him Kitayama frowns and Fujigaya smirks.
“Not so bad,” Miyata encourages. “I could hit those.”
“We’ve heard enough, you get the idea, right?” their manager asks, and they nod. “Good, then lets try a run-through with one of you as main. Tamamori-kun?”
“M-me?” Tamamori demands, and Fujigaya’s smirk sours.
“Why not? I think you’d make a striking blond,” she says, eyeing him in a way that gives Senga more of a chill than the freaky PV. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves before we hear you manage it.”
“He never could,” Fujigaya scoffs, and Senga feels Nikaido’s fingers tighten around his. It’s been years and years since Fujigaya grew out of his need to bully them openly like that, and even back then he knew better than to do it in front of staff.
“Shut up,” Tamamori growls at him, because he’s grown up too, and wouldn’t take half the shit from Fujigaya now that he used to. “I bet I can do it better than you.”
They try a couple run-throughs, and then their manager shoos Senga, Nikaido, Yokoo, and Miyata out to the room next door to practice the backing vocals while she tries various combinations of the other three. It’s plain to Senga, though, that she’s seriously considering Tamamori for main this time.
Eventually Kitayama comes over to join their practice, and Fujigaya slinks in not long after, his thundercloud expression telling the whole story.
“Really, Taisuke,” Yokoo says reproachfully. “What’s gotten into you? Is it so hard for you let someone else get the attention just this one time?”
The look Fujigaya gives Yokoo would strip the feathers off a junior at a hundred paces. The atmosphere for the whole rest of the practice is tense and uncomfortable, and Senga doesn’t resist when Nikaido drags him out as soon as they’re allowed to go home.
“Let’s not talk about it,” Nikaido pleads when Senga tries to bring up Fujigaya’s bad mood and childish behavior. He’s sitting close enough to Senga on the train that the trio of three girls on the seats across from them are giggling at them. That’s all they need right now, some fan taking pictures of Nikaido practically in his lap and posting or selling them god knows where.
“Nika, back off a little,” Senga tries to shoulder him back. “Those three girls are watching us.”
“What girls?” Nikaido asks, not budging a centimeter.
“The ones right across from us, obviously,” Senga clarifies. “Seriously--”
“There’s only two though,” Nikaido interrupts. “Across from us. You said three.”
Senga looks back up and realizes Nikaido is right. Suddenly it doesn’t seem like Nikaido is too close to him at all.