Rating/Warnings: G for member-ai
Summary: All six of them have things they think about for the sake of themselves and the group.
AN: Happy anniversary, SixTONES ♥ it's been a busy year for your group, and I hope this year is just as busy and you all grow just as much. Good luck at Crea. Congratulations!
Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other
Taiga used to be fine with being by himself. Half the time he preferred it, honestly, especially when compared with the loud, boisterous idiots Johnny's always seems full of, half of them trying to get as popular as Taiga, the other half trying to prove that they already are. When they were filming Bakaleya, sometimes Taiga had to find an empty classroom and just be by himself for two whole minutes without Hokuto needing a hug or Jesse making a boob joke or Juri trying to get him to hang out.
Now Taiga has to fight down a wave of jealousy every time his phone buzzes with a new picture on the group chat of the others at an amusement park. He's supposed to be eating his lunch quickly, but Taiga loads the picture anyway; it's of Shintarou hugging Hokuto on one side, Kouchi on the other, Hokuto probably crying and the haunted house attraction visible over their shoulders. The picture is a little blurry, like Juri's hand is still shaking.
[Your faces are stupid] Taiga types in reply.
[COME WITH US NEXT TIME] Jesse sends a minute later, ever the shout-typist. [THEY KEEP MAKING ME SIT ALONE ON THE JET COASTERS]
[come with us next time because we miss you] Juri amends just after. He sends a group selfie of them face-squished together, Kouchi and Shintarou on either side of Juri, Hokuto and Jesse leaning over the back of the bench to make it work. Taiga wants to be on that bench. Taiga wants to be on the jet coaster and in the haunted house and eating crepes and posing with mascots.
But Taiga is doing a butai, not dicking around at an amusement park, and lunch is almost over. Right now his job is to learn everything he can and to come back to his group stronger, to do his best on this stage so that he can stand taller on theirs with them. Taiga can do it. He's a whole year stronger and better than he was last year, and he can do anything.
The next time they see each other is Shounen Club filming, and the way that all five of them shout when they see him is embarrassing and pleasing at the same time. Taiga lets them jostle him and rough up his hair and tell him the stories they've been building up for the last two weeks, so they can be his stories too.
"Okay, okay, geez!" Taiga finally protests. "You'd think I'd been gone six months! Take a picture, it'll last longer, huh?"
"Don't mind if I do," Juri says, sliding one arm around Taiga's waist as he holds up his phone, his chin resting on Taiga's shoulder. Before he snaps it, the others squish in too, Hokuto on Taiga's other side and Jesse only half in the frame and Kouchi's eyes squeezed shut from grinning and Shintarou's face stupid because he's still talking.
"Your faces are still stupid," Taiga says with affection as he and Juri admire the result. Juri pinches his waist, Taiga elbows him back.
"And yet you come back to us anyway," Juri replies easily.
Yeah, Taiga does. Because he used to be fine with being by himself, but now he's fine being with these guys too.
Jesse is a weirdo. He's always been a weirdo, he'll always be a weirdo, and he's completely at peace with that. He likes it.
Their managers do not like it so much.
"Jesse-kun, we talked about this," is the lecture he's currently getting from the staff driving a few of them back from Gamushara filming to Kabuki practice. One nipple joke too many, Jesse guesses. "The backstage filming is important too. You should be thinking about your image at those times, maybe even more than on the stage. If you aren't taking things seriously, it affects the kind of work you get offered. Don't you want to try more adult-type roles?"
Jesse isn't particularly fussed about it, as someone who played a romantic lead when he was entirely illegal, and a graduate student not much after that. And not that he enjoys being lectured, but he isn't that fussed by the lecture either. He figured out a long time ago that he was never going to fit in no matter how hard he tried, and that trying harder only made it worse, so it was better just to be himself.
"Doesn't it annoy you when they do that?" Hokuto asks when Jesse mentions it. Jesse shrugs; he knows that staff is trying to be helpful, and he isn't trying to cause any trouble for either himself or them. "They should just let you be yourself."
"We're idols, none of us are exactly ourselves," Jesse chuckles. It's cute that Hokuto is worried about him. Hokuto, who worries about his own image as something in between crybaby and leader, never sure whether he should try to be cute or sexy. Jesse wishes Hokuto would take his own advice and let more people see the side of him that they see. Jesse can't believe there's anyone who wouldn't fall more in love with the shyer, milder Hokuto that he knows.
"You should be," Hokuto insists, more vehemently than Jesse expects. Hokuto is frowning down at the coffee cup between his hands. "You should stand out as much as you want. You should laugh as loud as you want."
"Hey, I can." Jesse reaches over to touch Hokuto's wrist, making him look up. "That's what you guys are for. I can be myself with you and that's fine. You too, you know."
"Me?" Hokuto asks. He looks genuinely puzzled by this idea, and Jesse affectionately exasperated that Hokuto never applies the advice he gives them to himself when he probably needs it the most.
"I see you, and you see me." Jesse shrugs. "That's fine with me. Besides, maybe I want to keep Hokuto's cute side all to myself, hm?"
"Weirdo," Hokuto accuses, cheeks turning just a little bit pink. Cute.
"Don't you forget it," Jesse tells him. Jesse never does, and he likes it that way just fine.
Hokuto thinks it's so funny how the six of them have orbited each other in little pairs for years and years. Shintarou and Taiga having grade school playdates. Juri and Shintarou backing the same JUMP concert. Jesse and Juri learning to rap together for Hip Hop JUMP. Hokuto and Kouchi being in Shadow. Kouchi and Jesse exploring their drama set together. Juri and Jesse in Sprout and then Taiga and Jesse in Kamen Teacher. Taiga and Juri practicing their Gamushara duet. Jesse and Hokuto singing every Kinki Kids duet in the book. They work with other juniors all the time, sure, but the web of connections between the six of them seems inordinately dense every time Hokuto cares to think about it.
Of all of them, Hokuto feels the least confident. He worries about everything; he can't help it. He worries about whether they could be a group, at the beginning, and then later he worries if it's all right to let the others go. He worries about whether there's another group he could learn to feel comfortable in and whether their friendships can last being in different groups. He worries about how much trouble they'll get in for naming themselves, whether they waited too longer after all, and what his place in this group is. When they fight, he worries about whether he should step in or let them solve it themselves. He worries that they're doing too many individual things apart, and then turns around and worries that they aren't doing enough so they can grow stronger.
Sometimes Hokuto is nothing but a ball of worry with really good hair. He knows he's a mess, but he can't exactly stop himself from doing it, from winding up tighter and tighter until he's one coffee away from vibrating all his leg hair off. Should he be shaving that anyway?
"Hey," Shintarou says gently, approaching with his hands palm out, like Hokuto is a skittish horse. Before Hokuto snaps the whole way out of his thoughts, Shintarou's arms are around his shoulders, and he's being pulled into a tight hug. "Ease up, huh? I could hear you worrying from the hallway. Just breathe."
Shintarou's grip is tight, unbreakable if he wants it to be. It should be claustrophobic, but Hokuto always finds Shintarou's strength comforting, secure. With his cheek pressed against Shintarou's shoulder and his fingers twisted in the hips of Shintarou's sweatpants, Hokuto lets his eyes fall shut and breathes in deeply. After a minute, his heart rate starts to slow down to something approaching normal. After five minutes, Hokuto's mind is calm enough to notice the thoughts trying to creep back in without being overwhelmed by them. It's like hugging Shintarou is some sort of meditational practice, except instead of lavender or jasmine he smells like dudebro body spray.
"Better," Shintarou says, not a question. He's rubbing Hokuto's back, Hokuto realizes, one hand warming Hokuto's spine in a slow, smooth line up and down.
"Mmm," Hokuto agrees. He doesn't let go just yet, and Shintarou doesn't seem in a hurry to go anywhere. "Thank you. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize for worrying about us," Shintarou scolds. "Anyway it's cute when you're neurotic."
"You're one to talk," Hokuto teases. What would he do without Shintarou, who understands Hokuto without asking? Without all of them, these guys who don't care at all if Hokuto is the cute one or the sexy one, or even if Hokuto would cry every single time they're on camera. They just want Hokuto to be Hokuto. "I'm sorry anyway. I know you guys are waiting me to figure myself out."
"You will," Shintarou promises. He slaps Hokuto's back and releases him, and when Hokuto looks up at his face, his eyes are crinkled sheepishly. "Me too, huh? I'll work on it too."
They can figure it out together, Hokuto thinks. And even if he never quite does, his group will think that's fine too. Hokuto can be confident in them, and let them be confident in him.
Juri gets a little jealous sometimes about how his brothers don't have to be careful about anything. They can tweet and instagram themselves and mention each other to their heart's content. When Juri is around, nobody can be careless, and there's a lot of "sorry" and "I can crop that out" and "shit, you didn't post that did you?" Juri knows they don't mind, especially Koki, but Juri minds, a little.
It's easier if he just takes the pictures himself. Behind the camera is the safest spot, the one place he can't accidentally be caught on film. If he's the one sending them to the others, nothing that weird can happen and nobody has to apologize.
After a while, he comes to like it, being the recorder, the photographer. It becomes part of who he is. At work, when it's time for new shop photos, the staff automatically hands the camera to Juri, and Juri makes sure to come back with plenty of things they can use. And what's really funny is, it's sort of like being so careful with his brothers has trained him for this.
"You, put down the energy drink, you know I can't shoot the label," Juri orders Jesse easily, fiddling with some of the settings, barely looking up. Last time they'd come out a little overexposed from the dressing room mirror lights, so Juri turns the brightness down and takes a test shot of Kouchi napping in a weirdly tight curl, cuddling Jesse's sweatshirt. "What do you even need an energy drink for? Shin, your shirt's no good either."
"Ehhhh," Shintarou looks down at the punk band logo on his T-shirt. "Nobody even knows who these guys are!"
"You can't advertise for the competition in your official photos, dingbat," Juri reminds.
"It's the only shirt I have!" Shintarou protests. He points accusingly. "And you have on an INKT shirt! You have to be in at least some of these!"
"Shit, oops," Juri laughs. He gets so used to being in none of the pictures, he forgets to worry about himself sometimes. "We'll both take them off. Sexy, right?" Shintarou makes a scrunched face, and Juri rolls his eyes. "Put your hoodie back on and zip it if you're so worried about your virtue, princess. Like there's anybody who hasn't seen what you've got to offer over there."
"You're a pervert, just like that photographer we had last week," Shintarou says, but he does what Juri tells him to. He nudges Kouchi with his foot. "Hey, wake up, these guys are bullying me and you have to be in Juri's creepy stalker pictures too."
Now shirtless, Juri leans in against Hokuto and snaps a quick selfie to check his settings. The picture makes him smile, his own cheeks puffed a little in concentration, Hokuto trying to look wide-eyed cute but only managing to look vaguely bewildered. On impulse, Juri decides not to delete it. Sometimes his weird shots make it through. His light settings look good, anyway.
"Come on, hurry up," Juri orders, and the others gather in, close to him. He tells them what to do, cute shot, silly shot, sexy shot, and all of them listen, because this is one of Juri's jobs, to record them, to record this moment. Juri likes having them so close, and he likes the idea that later they can look back and remember bits of it, Taiga's dark eye circles from his butai and Kouchi's perm and that track suit Hokuto has been wearing to work for a two weeks straight.
Most of all Juri likes that, with them, he can be on the same side of the camera as they are.
"It's my forehead, right?" Kouchi asks when the magazine asks them for their charm points. Juri and Jesse crack up laughing, and Kouchi struggles to keep a straight face. "What? It is, right?"
Kouchi's charm point isn't like most of theirs, he thinks with affection as he watches them bicker about what to write down. It's easy to see Shintarou's strong arms or Hokuto's sweet smile or Taiga's pale skin. Kouchi's charm is more like Juri's; it has to do with people. Juri and him, they're the glue of their group, the ones who help smooth over the rough patches and make it easier to be together. At the beginning that was the most important thing, with the six of them, none of them that great at either making or keeping friends.
Kouchi's proud of them and proud of the way they take care of each other now after everything they've been through together. Sometimes he isn't sure they need him in the same way they used to, but that's growing up, he supposes.
"Okay, okay, enough," Kouchi laughs when the others picking on Shintarou starts to turn a little less magazine-appropriate. "Staff-san still has to write down all your recent happenings and so far all you've told her is that Juri and Shin-chan made themselves sick eating too much yakiniku."
"Yeah, quit bullying me!" Shintarou says. "Kouchi, tell them!"
"Take care of yourself, you big baby." Kouchi waves Shintarou off, amused as always that the biggest one of them is the most tormentable.
The interviewer shoots Koichi a grateful look as she jots down Hokuto's story about shopping for hats with Juri and an edited down version of what Jesse and Taiga have been up to with the Snowmen backstage. Once they're done and changing for their pair shots, Jesse looks over at Kouchi.
"That's your charm point," Jesse says, unusually serious. "Taking care of us, and trying to get us to take care of ourselves."
"Really? Still?" Kouchi tries to laugh it off, nudging at Jesse's shoulder with his own. "Maybe when you were fourteen."
"Still," Jesse says firmly. "You're our reliable older brother, and don't you forget it. Although it's probably a lot easier these days than it used to be."
"I never saw it as a chore," Kouchi tells him. Truthfully he'd been just as terrible at making close friends as they were, and sometimes he's still puzzled by the luck that split up Shadow only to drop SixTONES in his lap. "Also it's never easier than it used to be, because it used to be just keeping you from making nipple jokes on camera and now it's keeping you from falling on your face because you do too many things at once. Both of those are impossible."
"Your forehead is impossible," Jesse teases, just before he grabs Kouchi in a sudden and fierce hug. "Take care of us, okay? Because you're impossible too, so you're probably the only one who can do it."
Kouchi doubts that's true, but it's nice to hear. He tells Jesse sure, he doesn't even have to ask. If he doesn't take care of them, then who will take care of him?
It seems crazy that it's already been a year, and that they're talking about Crea again already. It seems crazy to only call it a year when really they've been together so much longer than that. Crazy but good, especially this year when the pressure is all about what kind of face they want to show their fans, instead of last year's worry about what will happen to them next. This way is way more fun, Shintarou enjoying himself shamelessly as they argue over what to do with their shows.
"It has to be Taiga and Jesse, doesn't it?" Hokuto says. "That's the right pair."
"There's no right pair," Jesse counters, rolling his eyes. "We should do stuff during Crea we can't do other times or it's a waste. C'mon, Hoku, don't you wanna sing with me?"
"That's hardly any different," Hokuto says, but he's smiling a little. "You should sing with Juri if you want to do something different. Or Shin-chan."
"Yeah, that'll happen," Jesse snorts without even looking Shintarou's way.
Shintarou just grins a little, not at all offended. They'll make him sing with somebody, he guesses, since he did agree to do duets like the others wanted, but it's silly for him to sing with Jesse, who should be showing off his voice. He'll suffer through with whoever for just the one song, no big deal, so that he can throw himself into dance for the rest of it. Maybe someday he'll feel differently, but for the moment he knows that's the best way he can support his group.
"You and me," Taiga says, snapping Shintarou out of his thoughts. "Let's go."
"Eh?" Shintarou asks. Taiga crosses his arms, which makes Juri and Jesse snicker, nudging each other.
"We haven't sung together in a hundred years," Taiga points out. "We used to do it lots. I want to sing with you."
"No no no," Shintarou protests, because if Jesse is wasted on him, Taiga giving this chance to Shintarou is like an actual crime. "It's pointless if you can't show off how you improved this year."
"Juri and Kouchi already claimed each other," Taiga says, and it's the way he sounds reasonable and firm that lets Shintarou knows he's in real trouble here. "Jesse wants Hoku. I want you. Man up already, Morimoto."
"Kyomo-chaaaaaaan," Shintarou whines. "Come on, it's ridiculous."
"And none of that shit where I sing all the lines and you do some Chinen Yuri interpretive dance shit behind me either," Taiga adds. Shintarou whines harder, but Taiga's face says this is how it's going to be.
"It's like watching those tiny birds bullying a hippo," Juri stage-whispers. Kouchi shushes him while Hokuto hides a laugh with his hand.
"Say yes," Taiga orders.
"Ugh, you already decided," Shintarou grumbles, crossing his arms too, ready to be just as stubborn.
"But I want you to say yes," Taiga persists. "If you don't actually want to, then there's no point in it. Crea is to do stuff we want to do. So do you want to sing with me or not?"
Shintarou opens his mouth to joke it off, but the way Taiga is looking at him, waiting for Shintarou's real answer, makes Shintarou pause. The two of them have been together the longest, for some value of together that means standing on the same stage or playing at each other's houses. Shintarou's seen all of Taiga's ugly awkward stages, and Taiga has seen all of Shintarou's. Taiga is always quick to tell Shintarou that he's dragging his feet, to remind that when they're waiting for him they're using up some of the group's chances. When they were very young, it was part of the reason they were stuck together so much, because they were so much more serious about work than other kids their age. It's one of the reasons they were both terrible at making friends.
Sometimes Shintarou wants to apologize to Taiga for his belated rebellious period, for leaving Taiga behind like that. Or was Taiga leaving him behind? Shintarou isn't sure. He's glad they're in the same place now, after all of that, and suddenly he realizes maybe Taiga is too. Maybe Taiga just wants reassurance that they are in the same place after all.
"I guess I wouldn't mind it," Shintarou finally says. Taiga's eyes relax a little, and Shintarou's reasonably sure he has it right. "It's been a while, but the two of us together usually do all right."
"See, now you're stuck with me!" Jesse crows to Hokuto. Hokuto rolls his eyes but he looks pleased, cautiously excited. Yeah, Shintarou thinks, it's okay if they're stuck together like this.