Rating/Warnings: G, gen
Summary: In some universe somewhere, Shintarou and Hashimoto are the same age and form a cute duo unit thanks to their shared birthday. (AU)
AN: There is indeed a birthday shoot with these two when Hasshi is turning 15 and Shintarou is turning 11 (it's up on my wall), and I hope someday we get a grown-up retake of it. I think this is either Eri or Midori's fault, although I can't remember with who I started bullshitting about it. Happy early magic birthday, you two. I definitely hope the two of you get whatever birthday wishes you make this year.
Born Under the Same Star
The birthday shoot is when it all really starts. Shintarou has been in the agency a couple years longer than Hashimoto, who is cute enough but a little weird in the way where the staff hesitate before they hand him a mic. But the spring they are thirteen, one perceptive magazine interviewer realizes that they have exactly the same birthday, digs up a a little cake, and tells them to put their arms around each other's shoulders.
Born Under the Same Star is the name of the article, and the rest, as they say, is history.
They don't know each other well at first, enough to say hello, but they've never even done a medley together. They don't run in the same circles, despite their similar ages; Hashimoto is forever chasing after some of the older guys, while Shintarou's popularity and young entry age have always made him something of an outsider.
"It's probably because neither one of you can make friends for yourself that they stuck the two of you together," Taiga comments, one of the only guys who Shintarou would consider a real friend, and even that's because they've known each other since childhood.
"Shut up, Snow Prince," Shintarou fires back, used to Taiga's sharp tongue. "I heard they lost you during filming like three times because they couldn't see you against the snow."
"Ouch, my feelings," Taiga says dryly. "Get back to me when they give you a movie."
By contrast, Hashimoto's warm grin is a welcome change. Sure, his dancing is more of a flail and his singing isn't exactly up to snuff, so far as Shintarou is concerned, but he's unfailingly friendly underneath all the weirdness. Shintarou finds it easy to warm up to Hashimoto after only a few months of being pushed together. Plus it's nice to have somebody beside him when choreographers or managers or older guys yell at them.
"Would you brats watch it!" Fujigaya snaps at them in the hallway when he has to make a grab at the back of Senga's shirt to keep him from sending all three of them crashing to the ground. "Someone's gonna skate right over your faces!"
"Wah, sorry, senpai!" Hashimoto quails immediately, ducking behind Shintarou's shoulder, cutting off whatever thing Shintarou was going to snap. Fujigaya mellows out right away in the face of Hashimoto's cute apologies, so it's for the best.
"What's all the fuss?" Totsuka asks, sticking his head out of A.B.C's dressing room. Hashimoto brightens up immediately at the sight of one of his most beloved senpai. "Ah, that explains it. Salutations, Hasshi-kun."
"Hi!" Hashimoto says. He nudges Shintarou's back hard with his elbow. "Say hi."
"Hi, Totsuka-kun," Shintarou says, rolling his eyes.
"This your bodyguard?" Totsuka asks, eyeing with amusement the way Hashimoto is already a head taller than Shintarou. "He's a bit lacking in the height department, but perhaps he makes up for it in sass."
"Nah, he's my…" Hashimoto flounders for a second. "My partner thing. I guess?"
"Ah, a rival appears!" Totsuka says, making Fujigaya snort and Shintarou wrinkle his nose at Totsuka's weirdness. No wonder Hashimoto likes him so much. "Has your heart moved past me already, Hasshi-kun?"
"Noooooo," Hashimoto whines, flinging himself at Totsuka for hugging and head-patting. It's such a melodramatic display, but as Totsuka pushes them gently on their way Shintarou finds himself smiling a little. He's never been somebody's partner thing after all. It's kind of a nice feeling.
"Hey," Shintarou says when they are packing up for the day. Hashimoto looks up from tying his sneakers, the directness of his gaze making Shintarou feel awkward. "Do you want to…hang out? A little?"
"Me?" Hashimoto asks, tilting his head.
"Yeah, I thought…you know, hang out." Shintarou has to look away, but he doesn't give up quite yet. "Like friends or something."
"Okay, sure," Hashimoto agrees, sounding shyer than his usual outgoing self. "It sounds nice. I'm not good at those. Friends."
"Me either," Shintarou admits, relief making him feel light. "But if we're going to be partners or whatever, it'd be good if we were friends too. I think."
Things are still awkward between them, or maybe it's just the two of them who are perpetually awkward, but for a while they do feel like friends, to Shintarou at least. Maybe Shintarou doesn't tell Hashimoto the deepest secrets of his heart or something, but at least he's someone who understands the happiness of a good performance crossed with the frustration of voice cracks and shin splints.
At least until Hashimoto's puberty starts in earnest and it becomes apparent that he's going to grow right out of all his awkward, at least visually, as if he's somehow managed to glue it all to Shintarou instead.
"Would you be serious for five minutes!" Shintarou snaps, fifteen years old and sore all over from butai practice and growth spurts. All he wants is to go ice his shins, and to maybe have a partner who hadn't been making faces in the mirror instead of listening to the choreographer's corrections.
Hashimoto puffs his cheeks in irritation. "Meeeeean. You don't have to yell at me, I got it."
What's so infuriating about Hashimoto is that he does, in fact, have it. When he stops screwing around and actually watches the instructor, he does all the corrections perfectly on the second try. Meanwhile Shintarou's increasing irritation causes him to fuck it up twice as much.
"Ah, I see we've reached the cycle of diminishing returns," the choreographer sighs. He holds up his hands in defeat. "Take a break and then try again. I'll be helping with the backers over there, so come and get me when you've got it. Morimoto-kun, try not to get so frustrated, hm?"
Shintarou closes his eyes and counts to ten very, very slowly like his mother told him to.
"Watcha doin'?" Hashimoto asks, and when Shintarou opens his eyes, Hashimoto's face is so close to his that he has to stifle a shriek.
"You're too close!" Shintarou snaps. "And I'm trying to calm down!"
"Doesn't seem like it's working," is Hashimoto's sage remark. Shintarou gives him a withering glare before he closes his eyes and has to start all over.
He's barely gotten to five when strong arms are around his middle, squeezing him so hard that if it weren't for that last growth spurt, he'd probably be lifted clean off the ground.
"What are you doing?!" Shintarou demands, struggling.
"Hugging you, stupid," Hashimoto tells him. "Quit squirming so it'll work."
"I'm not stupid, you're stupid," Shintarou grumbles, but he goes limp and just tolerates it. Only because Hashimoto won't stop until he does.
"Works every time," Hashimoto says, so smug that Shintarou wants to fake tension just for the sake of proving him wrong. "C'mon, let's do whatever that guy said so we can go get lunch already. Even if it's dumb."
"You don't think dancing is dumb." Shintarou frowns, puzzled, because Hashimoto likes dancing a lot usually.
"Not dancing, just that's guy's dance," Hashimoto explains. "It'd look a lot better if we did it this way."
Hashimoto does the bit they've been working on, except the way he does it is clearly better, not even hesitating over the changes. It's all Shintarou can do to shake his head, trying to squash down the jealousy at how Hashimoto makes everything look easy while Shintarou struggles and hurts all over and voice cracks and still gets yelled at.
"Teach me your way," Shintarou says wearily. After two years full of Hashimoto, he knows when to just give in to the insanity. "Hurry up, I'm hungry."
Sometimes it grates on Shintarou's nerves intensely how the balance of power has shifted between them. When they first started doing things as a pair, Shintarou had much more stage presence and practice, confident from singing solos and self-assured from being praised by staff. Hashimoto, oppositely, had a cute face but not much more. Still, he liked the attention of being with Shintarou and worked hard to catch up, never getting discouraged no matter how bluntly Shintarou corrected him. So Shintarou supposes that it's only karma that Hashimoto has somehow come to surpass him, having the most graceful puberty possible while Shintarou flounders.
"Cheer up, huh?" Hashimoto pokes Shintarou's cheek with his chopsticks during lunch. "Your face is all scary lately. Just because they made you senpai character in that yankee drama doesn't mean you're allowed to get your face stuck like that."
Shintarou tries, he really does. He tries not to yell at Hashimoto and not to sulk during practice and not to let it show that every day he feels more unsure about whether he belongs on the stage at all. Then there's an embarrassing news interview with one of the stations that is all about how Hashimoto and Shintarou the two aces of the next generation, and for some reason that's what sends Shintarou past the point of no return. Hashimoto is glowing and chattering ceaselessly from the attention, soaking it up like a sponge, and all Shintarou can do is sit beside him with his jaw locked in his idol smile and wish desperately that he could find a cave to hide in far enough away that nobody could ever, ever find him.
After it's over, Shintarou flees to a bathroom and sits there for so long Hashimoto has to come and find him. Shintarou can't explain what's wrong with him, even when faced with Hashimoto's wide, concerned eyes. Shintarou feels sick, heart racing and hands clammy, and he hates that Hashimoto has to sit there with him, rubbing his back until Shintarou calms down enough to slink out of the bathroom and get yelled at by the manager.
"You had a panic attack, dude," is Fukazawa's assessment of the situation when he pries the story out of Shintarou in reluctant monosyllables. Hashimoto had blabbed the story to Iwamoto and Watanabe, who in turn sent Fukazawa to talk to him, since he's something in between a friend and an older brother for Shintarou. Shintarou knows that Hashimoto only told them because he's worried and wants to help, but he's angry about it anyway.
"I guess." Shintarou wraps his arms tighter around his knees and glares harder at the pile of mats he's sitting on. He doesn't want to fight with Fukazawa either but the part of him that's always irritated lately just wants Fukazawa to go away, go away, go away.
"It happens sometimes, guys do it all the time," Fukazawa tries to tell him. "We find that Iwahashi kid hiding in the bathroom like twice a week. Okay, it's weird for you to start doing it now, but…it's probably a brain chemistry thing or something. Ask Abe-chan about it."
"No thanks," Shintarou says. "M'fine."
"Aw, Shin-chan, you're such a bad liar." Fukazawa sighs. "We all want to help, so it wouldn't kill you to ask for it sometimes."
"But you can't help, can you?" Shintarou snaps, exasperated. It's not like he wants to be right, but he is, and Fukazawa's mouth bunches up sourly. "You can't do anything about my voice or how dumb I feel or anything! I can't do anything, so how can you?!"
Fukazawa shakes his head. "Try not to push us all away so hard. If you get your way, you're not the kind of guy who will be okay like that, I don't think."
Fukazawa's not wrong. The more Shintarou turns down offers of going out for food or staying after to practice or shopping or karaoke, the lonelier he feels. But he keeps doing it. It's less stressful to actually be alone when he already feels like he is alone and out of place. He knows things have gotten bad when even Taiga calls him a party pooper, but then again Taiga seems to have found a new batch of idiots to hang around with anyway. Shintarou can barely have half a conversation with him before Juri or Hokuto or Yasui are dragging him away. Taiga seems brighter these days, just a little, and every time it happens Shintarou wonders if Taiga is going to leave him behind too. Taiga probably has more fun with guys his own age anyway.
"Hey," Kouchi says, pausing during one of their Taiga abductions to look back at Shintarou. "You can come too, if you want." Jesse is hovering at Kouchi's shoulder, blinking at Shintarou as if just noticing him there, and Shintarou wonders what he's doing tagging along with older kids anyway. Kouchi smiles encouragingly when Shintarou hesitates.
"He's gonna say no," Taiga interrupts just as Shintarou is opening his mouth. "Six is too big a group for Shin-chan." Shintarou closes his mouth and shrugs, and Jesse goes back to tugging on Kouchi to hurry him along. Spoiled group baby, Shintarou sees, a feeling in his chest something like nostalgia and something like jealousy. He wishes he could stop growing, could somehow revert to Jesse's age, tagging along after senpai to spoil him.
"Next time, okay?" Kouchi says over his shoulder. Shintarou waves half-heartedly as they disappear around the corner, swallowing a sigh.
Hashimoto and Shintarou's friendship is already hanging by a thread when they get named for Kis-My-Ft2's summer tour. Hashimoto is high on life because he gets to play with snowmen all summer long, and meanwhile Shintarou wants to celebrate his seventeenth birthday on stage about as much as he wants to do a sexy strip tease on TakiCHANnel with the big scary T. Things head south immediately when the two of them get their present months early from the staff.
"A new song?" Hashimoto asks, elbowing Shintarou hard enough to make him grunt. "For us? We get a song?!"
"It's called 'Vanilla,'" the staff lady says, and Hashimoto's cheers drown out Shintarou's response. Giving Hashimoto a narrow look, she asks Shintarou, "What?"
"I don't want to," Shintarou says. Beside him, Hashimoto's jaw drops, and Shintarou stares at his hands on the table. "I'm serious."
The staff lady isn't having any of his sass, too busy checking things off her list to deal with some junior's self-esteem crisis. "Maybe Nozawa-kun or Yasui-kun will janken you for it," she says briskly, shooing them off.
Apparently the staff has decided that it's time to give Hashimoto and Shintarou's duo an image upgrade. Everything about "Vanilla" makes Shintarou hate his life, from the sexy lyrics to the range to the fact that Hashimoto couldn't backflip if his beloved Totsuka-senpai was offering him a hot date as a reward. Good thing A.B.C. are busy with PLAYZONE rehearsals at the moment or the staff might try that at this point.
"Why does this song need a backflip anyway?" Hashimoto whines, Iwamoto and Sakuma hanging around to help out when the choreographer has already washed his hands of them for the afternoon. "I don't have to flip really, do I?"
"I don't have to sing really, do I?" Shintarou snaps back acidly, patience frayed. Hashimoto gives him a look like that's the stupidest thing he's ever heard, and only Sakuma tripping over his sneaker laces to fall right on his face saves Hashimoto from the temper tantrum that Shintarou feels like is always simmering under his skin these days.
It all comes spilling out a couple days later anyway. It's bad enough working on it normally, but eventually there's preliminary blocking practice which means that everybody is standing around watching them. Shintarou looks up to most of Kis-My-Ft2, but they're kind of scary as senpai go, making his embarrassment ratchet up to critical levels when it's his and Hashimoto's turn.
"Ugh, quit that!" Hashimoto says in exasperation when Shintarou's voice cracks twice in a row.
"You know I can't help it!" Shintarou snaps. His ears are burning and everybody's staring at them, but it's nothing compared to how much worse it gets when Hashimoto starts yelling back.
"Yes, you CAN!" Hashimoto yells, bringing the entire room to a standstill, staring at the two of them. "You could try! You could practice or do vocal exercises or ask for help! But you never do! You could do it if you just TRIED harder instead of saying that your voice sucks and giving UP!"
Fury washes over Shintarou, that gorgeous, sweet-voiced Hashimoto is standing there yelling at him to just try harder right in front of everybody, and Shintarou's brain whites out for a couple seconds as he launches himself at Hashimoto. By the time he realizes what he's doing, they're rolling around on the floor, kicking and punching. Hashimoto's lip is bleeding by the time hands drag him off of Hashimoto, and the side of Shintarou's face feels hot, ear ringing.
"I don't want to sing with you anymore!" Shintarou yells across the space between them.
"Fine!" Hashimoto yells back.
"FINE!" Shintarou bellows, and then his view of Hashimoto is blocked by Kitayama's face, asking him very quietly if Shintarou is going to shut up, or if Kitayama is going to make him shut up.
This time when Shintarou hides in the bathroom, no one comes to rub his back.
The two of them apologize to each other after a couple days, but it's forced and awkward, and nothing is really repaired by it. They're still symmetry for some of the songs, but otherwise they're free to ignore each other, Shintarou napping in corners during breaks and between shows while Hashimoto always manages to find a group to surround himself with, somehow. Shintarou doesn't even feel jealous about it; it's like his outburst burned something out of the middle of his chest, leaving Shintarou less weighted down but a little bit numb.
Hashimoto and Yasui end up singing "Vanilla" together for tour, and the way that they do it, Shintarou is blackly glad he isn't involved. A few of the shows they have Shintarou sing with Sanada for some of the junior corner and some of them they skip over him entirely, and Shintarou is just fine with that. He's happy to hang out in the back and have Snowmen teach him more acrobatics and Senga-kun teach him more dance. If his voice is going to suck forever, he'll just work on his body instead.
Seventeen feels like the longest year of Shintarou's life. The tour stretches out like taffy, and Shintarou is relieved when he can escape from it back into the usual rounds of Shounen Club filmings and magazine shoots. The staff shuffles him around through various groups, but mostly they seem just fine with leaving him to his own devices after the first couple times he tells them politely that he'd rather not sing whatever it is, thank you.
"They won't keep asking you, you know," Koyama says when he finds Shintarou dithering by the Jr. ni Q board, everyone else having pinned up their cards and run off ages ago. His eyes are sympathetic when Shintarou looks up, which is hard for Shintarou to look at. He looks back down at his hands, capping and uncapping his marker.
"That's okay," Shintarou says. They shouldn't be asking him anyway, he wants to say, but Koyama will probably try to give him a pep talk if he does, because he has a heart bigger than NHK Hall. Shintarou doesn't want Koyama to waste it on him.
Koyama sits down beside Shintarou and nudges his shoulder. "What's your answer?"
"Hm?" Shintarou asks.
"The question." Koyama taps the corner of Shintarou's index cards, which is blank except for Shintarou's name. The question is about time machines this week, which is what Shintarou has been sitting here wool-gathering about. "What do you think? Forward or back? I'm going forward, to NEWS's 20th anniversary. Ryo-chan and Massu keep saying we're going to get a cake bigger than Yamapi's…hey, are you okay?"
"Oh. Um, yeah." Shintarou realizes he was drifting off again, and hopes the smile he offers Koyama isn't too wistful. "That sounds fun. I think…backwards. I think it would be nice to go back and start all over."
There's a minute of silence while Shintarou writes that down on his card. When he looks up, Koyama is smiling at him encouragingly.
"It's okay to start over, you know," he says gently. "Sometimes a do-over is what everybody needs." He ruffles Shintarou's hair like he used back when Shintarou barely came up to Koyama's waist. It's not a time machine, but it's nice.
"Koyama-kun?" Shintarou asks. Maybe if he starts small, it won't be so bad. "The NEWS medley this filming…do you think they'd let me in that if I asked?"
"I'll put in a good word," Koyama assures him. "I know the band, after all."
It's about all Shintarou can handle at the moment, but he hangs in there as best he can. His brother asks why he doesn't just quit; Shintarou doesn't have an answer he can put into words. There are things about it he's just not ready to give up, Shintarou guesses. He likes the praise he gets for his dance and acrobatics these days. Plus Taiga is still his only close friend, and even if he comes with a bunch of moron attachments Shintarou really won't ever see him if they don't have work in common.
Over the winter, the craziest thing happens. Hashimoto does the whole January Shounen Club filming with A.B.C., and it's not like they've never had a random fifth guy before, but the way Hashimoto sits in the center of them on the bench during the interview segment, beaming like he's just been made emperor, it seems a lot different than with those other guys. When February magazines come out, A.B.C. has not only a fifth member but an extra letter.
"A.B.C-Z?" Taiga says, tilting his head when they pass by the paper taped to the wall. "Do you think that's a real thing? For good?"
"Maybe they just got sick of Hasshi writing his name on their sign," Shintarou jokes. Taiga doesn't laugh, though, looking thoughtful.
"…He kind of fits in with them, though." Taiga furrows his brow. "I can't figure out why, but he does. Don't you think?"
"I hadn't thought about it much," Shintarou confesses. Taiga looks apologetic about bringing it up, but Shintarou shrugs him off. "But a good vocalist can't hurt? Maybe they can finally teach that guy to backflip."
It isn't much later that Shintarou gets tapped to do a spring drama, something about a delinquent high school. He feels as self-conscious about it as everything else, since he's looked like a college student for nearly two years, but Taiga's in it along with a bunch of other guys he knows, and it's kind of fun, the way they let all of them come up with some of their own style and backstory. Besides, he isn't the only one with age problems.
"I'm going to be playing high schoolers until I die!" Yasui whines melodramatically, waving his script during their first reading like it's personally offending him. "Shut up!" he snaps when Shintarou laughs at him. "Ugh, you're like a terrible age rival! They're probably going to make you my homeroom teacher next season! Stop laughing!"
They're deep into filming, almost done in fact, when they do a batch of magazine interviews and photoshoots that won't come out until summer. Shintarou is surprised when the staff asks him to stay behind after the others, but things become clearer when Hashimoto turns up too.
"We're gonna be 18 the month this comes out," Hashimoto explains, looking sheepish. "So…"
"Oh. Right." Shintarou offers Hashimoto a hesitant smile. "Yeah, sure."
It's awkward since Hashimoto really belongs to A.B.C-Z these days, and Shintarou's been doing everything with his drama co-stars for the past two months, but it's not the worst. Clearly the woman isn't allowed to ask them anything too detailed about their falling out, so it's mostly harmless stories about each other as kids, and what their birthday wishes are this year. She has a copy of their old interview for them to read and comment on, and Shintarou can hardly believe how young they look. He vaguely remembers not being very close to Hashimoto at the time, but it doesn't show on the page, their smiles matching and their arms around each others' shoulders.
"Hey," Shintarou says once they've been freed to go change. Hashimoto looks over at him, head tilted. "I'm sorry. About…you know. I really am."
"Don't worry about it." Hashimoto's grin is the same as it was when they were fourteen, friendly and warm and easy. "I forgave you ages ago."
"It worked out for the best, huh?" Shintarou smiles at Hashimoto in return. "You got your wish to have Totsuka-kun for yourself always."
"Well, I have to share him with those other guys," Hashimoto says, rolling his eyes like it's a chore, and Shintarou chuckles.
"See? You're better off without me anyway," Shintarou says.
"Aw, Shin-chan." Hashimoto shakes his head ruefully. "This is good and all, but it would have been okay in the end if it was between us, too. I know it."
"Thanks," Shintarou tells him, touched. Hashimoto hugs him happily, still his way of coping with pretty much any emotion, and Shintarou lets him. He can't even remember anymore why that used to bother him so much.
The next day is another long day of filming. They're all wearing out from it, Taiga picking fights for no reason, Hokuto stuck in 'lone wolf' mode because he doesn't know how to turn on and off yet, and Jesse hiding hurt feelings by wrestling with Juri until they get yelled at ("You're supposed to play delinquents, not actually be them!"). Still, Shintarou isn't ready for it to be over yet. Here he feels like part of something, whatever it is, and it's been a long time since that happened.
"Hey, um…" Shintarou almost trails off when they all look up at him from where they're changing back into their street clothes. "Do you guys…I mean, I know it's late, but. Does anyone want to get some food?"
For a moment nobody says anything, all of them blinking either at him or each other in confusion.
"I do," Kouchi is the first to say. The smile he gives Shintarou is tired but warm, and it reminds Shintarou of Hashimoto just a little bit. Kouchi nudges Jesse with his elbow. "Come on. Your curfew's suspended for filming anyway."
"Okay, whatever," Jesse agrees, shoving Juri in turn. "But this guy'll have to call his mama."
"Shut the fuck up, Lewis!" Juri says, then calls Jesse a bunch of names he probably learned from his brother and makes Jesse cackle in delight.
"Are you sure this group isn't too big for you, Shin-chan?" Taiga asks. He looks amused, bad mood apparently set aside for the moment. When Juri and Jesse's scuffle catches a sulking Hokuto in the crossfire, Taiga's smirk looks almost affectionate.
"No," Shintarou answers, looking around at them. They're a little rough around the edges, but Shintarou thinks he doesn't mind that, since they don't seem to mind him. "No, I think this group is okay after all."