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last rites to sleepless nights

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1. The First Ransom

The first thing Shige thinks upon waking is that he probably shouldn’t have eaten Koyama’s fruitcake before bed.

Because he certainly doesn’t remember going to sleep anywhere near Arashi’s Ninomiya.

“Oh good, you’re awake,” Nino tells him, his eyes sparkling mischievously.

Shige blinks. He looks around and sees nothing but an enclosed room, a futon, and Nino.

Nothing about this could possibly be real. Shige pinches himself, winces, and still sees Nino giving him that crazy look.

“You know,” Shige says slowly. “You could have just called and asked me to come over.”

“But then I wouldn’t get any money, would I?” Nino replies with a maniacal laugh. “And now that you’re awake, I can call for my ransom.”

Shige’s eyes get large as he realizes what’s going on. Stay calm, he tells himself, sizing up Nino as the other reaches for his cell. Shige could take him, easily. It’s just the two of them, not all of Arashi. Although he doesn’t know what or who is on the other side of the door…

“Tomo-chan!” Nino chirps brightly into his phone. “I have something you want~.”

There isn’t a response right away, and Shige imagines his leader swallowing whatever tasty food he’d been eating. It’s a good ten seconds before he says anything – Yamapi likes to keep people like Nino waiting.

“What’s that?” Shige hears clearly from the other end of the line, immediately feeling at ease hearing Yamapi’s voice.

“Young Kato-kun,” Nino says plainly. “I kidnapped him.”

Yamapi gives a high-pitched laugh and hangs up on him.

Nino stares at his phone angrily, then dials another number. “Ryo-chan!”

“Aniki,” Ryo replies brightly. “To what do I owe this honor?”

“I kidnapped Kato-kun and am holding him for ransom,” Nino tells him.

Ryo snorts. “Keep him!”

Shaking his head, Nino offers Shige a sympathetic look as he slowly closes his phone. “How do you live while being so unloved?”

“I’m loved!” Shige declares, narrowing his eyes. “Call Koyama! He loves me more than anyone.”

Nino shrugs and dials another number. “Koyama-kun!” he says jovially. “I have your precious Kato and you won’t get him back until I get free ramen!”

Shige scoffs. “Is that all I’m worth to you?”

He can’t hear what Koyama is saying, but Nino keeps nodding. “Right, right. Okay, hold on.” He holds out the phone. “He wants to talk to you.”

“Koyama,” Shige says into the phone. “This guy is deranged. I don’t know if he’s serious-”

“Of course he’s not serious,” Koyama tells him with a laugh. “It’s Nino. He’s playing some weird game, probably with Jun. Just be sure to be at the studio by four for the Christmas Shokura! I’ll see you there~”

“Wait!” Shige yells. “Can’t you just tell him you’ll give him free ramen?”

“I can’t do that,” Koyama replies slowly, like he’s talking to a child. “Business is slow and I can’t afford to be giving out freebies. You’ll just have to play with them until they’re done with you! Bye-bye now.”

Shige stares at the phone incredulously while Nino falls over laughing. “If that’s not love, I don’t know what is!” Nino exclaims.

“I hate those guys,” Shige mumbles. “Tegoshi? Masuda?”

Nino gestures to the phone. Quickly, Shige dials Tegoshi. “Tegoshi-kun, you have to help me-”

He’s met with a loud yawn. “Mm Shige, I was napping peacefully. It can wait until later, right? I’m so tired.”

Shige glares at Nino’s silent laughter as he frowns. “Yeah, sure.” Immediately dials Massu’s number. “Masuda, you have to help me!” He pauses. “I’m starving,” he adds for effect.

“Eh?” Massu replies, sounding a little distracted. “If you’re hungry, you should eat something!”

“Ninomiya kidnapped me and he won’t feed me!” Shige declares, starting to feel as terrified as he sounds.

Nino offers him a thumbs-up for performance.

Massu, however, laughs. “Ninomiya? Are you kidding? He’ll just make you pay. If you’re with him, you’ll be adequately fed, don’t worry. Ninomiya is a good senpai!”

“But-” Shige starts.

“I have to go,” Massu says quietly. “Nakamaru-kun and I are out shopping for Christmas presents. I’ll see you tonight, okay? Tell Ninomiya I said hi~!”

Before Shige can protest, Massu has severed the connection. He raises his eyes to meet Nino’s knowing look. “Masuda says hi,” he says dryly.

Nino’s grin gets bigger. “Nobody in your group loves you! That is so horrible.”

“They love me just fine,” Shige argues. “They just don’t believe that you would actually kidnap me.”

“We’ll see if they believe it when you don’t show up tonight,” Nino says as he stands up. “Arashi doesn’t have to be there. Come on, I have work for you.”

Shige spends three hours cleaning the entire house, which he learns is not Nino’s but Matsumoto’s. Jun sees no problem with his free help and offers Shige a once-over when he comes home from wherever he was out rocking a fur coat, but that’s probably because Nino has Shige dressed up in a maid’s outfit.

“He makes a pretty ugly girl,” Jun tells Nino. “But my floors are sparkling.”

“I give it another five minutes before someone calls me,” Nino says, staring at Shige as he finishes dusting the pictures with Jun’s giant pink feather duster. “It’s almost time for Shokura to start.”

Shige cringes. They had been looking so forward to performing tonight, live. It was the perfect prelude to hosting Countdown this year. The others must have been worrying themselves crazy by now, or maybe they were mad at him because they all knew that he was with Nino and Nino couldn’t possibly let Shige miss something as important as this.

Nino catches him worrying and pats the couch between him and Jun. “You should come watch with us.”

Seeing no other choice, Shige abandons the pictures and plops down on the couch, sitting very unladylike as he stares in disbelief at the set he should be on. The beginning notes to their Christmas song starts, and just like they’d rehearsed, the members of NewS stood in a star formation as the cameras zoomed in on them from above.

Except now there’s no one in the middle. Just five points of a star, five voices singing a capella. Originally Yamapi was supposed to be in the middle, guiding the points of his star, but now he’s at the top, shining brighter than the rest, and it looks better.

“It’s amazing what you can do with five-people formations, isn’t it?” Nino asks.

Jun grunts his agreement. “When did NewS start sounding good? They’re harmonizing really well tonight.”

Shige wants to cry. Not only do his groupmates not seem to notice that he’s gone – Koyama even looks happier than usual – they are performing perfectly well without him. Each beat of their voices without his is a sting to his heart, and the song’s not even over before he can’t take anymore. He climbs over Jun’s outstretched legs and trudges to his makeshift holding cell, hugs his knees to his chest, and stares hard at his feet. He doesn’t know why he woke up like this or what he did to deserve it.

“Sweet dreams,” Nino’s voice sounds from the distance, and Shige instantly falls asleep.

2. It Came Upon Arashi Island

“Are we there yet?”

“No, Aiba-chan, we’re not there yet.”

“How much longer?”

Shh! You’re going to wake Kato.”

Shige stirs as he recognizes voices, then notices his bed vibrating underneath him. He thinks about freaking out, but after the nightmare he just had about being Nino’s maid, he’s surprisingly comfortable. He looks up into the warm eyes of Aiba and realizes that he’s in a helicopter, his head on Aiba’s lap, the rest of him draped across Ohno, who is also sleeping and therefore harmless.

Naturally, Sho is in the pilot’s seat donning headphones while Nino has a giant map of the eastern hemisphere spread out on the windshield, pointing silently while Sho argues with his body language and threatens to turn this helicopter right around. The most frightening part, Shige thinks, is Jun on the other side of Nino, sitting patiently with a blindfold around his eyes and his hands folded neatly in his lap.

“I’m telling you,” Nino hisses, yanking one of Sho’s headphones off to speak into his ear. “It’s the one that looks like a penis.”

“It does not…” Sho trails off, peering at the map. “What do you know, it does look like a penis.”

Aiba is shaking with the force of holding back his amusement. Shige doesn’t really see the point since Aiba knows that he’s awake, but then Aiba looks down at him and puts his finger to his own lips. That’s when Ohno falls over to the side, landing right on Shige’s chest, undisturbed.

Shige pokes him in the cheek, and Ohno wraps an arm around him.

Like he has Ohno radar, Nino’s head whips around. “Oh, look who’s awake!”

“I didn’t wake him up,” Aiba says quickly. “He woke up on his own.”

“Good morning, Kato!” Sho says brightly, his voice sounding distorted from the intercom. “I bet you’re wondering how you got here.”

“Um,” Shige says groggily, clearing his throat. “You broke into my house and managed to carry me from my bed to here without waking me up?”

Aiba leans forward to twirl a finger in Sho’s hair. “See, I told you he was smart!”

“We didn’t exactly break in,” Sho tells him haughtily, like he would never do something so criminal. “Your mom thought Aiba-chan was cute and let him in without question.”

“Not surprising,” Shige mumbles. His mother can hardly watch his own performances without getting starry-eyed over Yamapi. “Where are we going?”

“Secret,” Nino whispers, pointing conspicuously at Jun, who clearly cannot see him. “Surprise for him!”

“Christmas present,” Aiba whispers, except that this whisper is practically speaking and Nino makes like he’s going to lean over and smack him.

“In a helicopter?” Shige asks sleepily. “How do you even know how to fly this?”

“Sho-chan can learn anything,” Aiba says proudly.

“There it is!” Sho hisses loudly, immediately covering his mouth and resuming the Silent Language of Rushed Gestures with Nino.

Shige watches in interest as Sho makes a nose-dive towards what looks like a tropical island at full-speed. He doesn’t quite like the look on Sho’s face when he tries to pull up on the gears and nothing happens, nor Nino’s rush to locate the parachutes, but then at the last minute Ohno raises his head and puts his hand on Sho’s shoulder, pointing to a latch on the panel. Sho practically smacks it, instantly evening out the helicopter and making them land smoothly on the sand.

“Amazing, Leader!” Aiba squeals, reaching over to pet Ohno’s head.

Ohno grins at the touch and flops right back to sleep. On top of Shige.

“Can I take this off now?” Jun inquires, completely calm.

“Not yet,” Nino says. “We have to get out first.”

“If you flew me to Okinawa, I’m going to beat you up,” Jun says seriously.

“It’s not Okinawa, trust me,” Sho tells him, the smile evident in his voice as the helicopter blades slow down and he unlocks the doors for exit. “Wait until I come around to get you, Jun-kun.”

Jun grunts carelessly. Shige thinks that the youngest Arashi member is being a little ungrateful, but he doesn’t like to pass judgment. Being as he’s serving as Arashi’s leader’s own personal pillow, he really can’t do anything but watch anyway as Sho crosses to the other side of the helicopter and guides Jun to the ground. Nino holds his hand out pointedly, but Sho rolls his eyes and walks Jun away from the helicopter while Nino tumbles out and tries to knock him over.

“Um, Ohno-san,” Shige says quietly, poking Ohno in the cheek again. “We’re here.”

“Mm?” Ohno opens his eyes and stares at him in confusion. “What are you doing here?”

“I have no idea,” Shige tells him honestly. “Shall we join the others?”

Ohno nods and sits up, sliding out the door and walking away without another word. Shige exits next, then Aiba, until all six of them are congregated on the white sand and staring out at a vast, tropical forest.

Quietly, Nino meets the eyes of the other Arashi members, then whips off Jun’s blindfold as they all yell, “Surprise! Merry Christmas!”

Jun blinks, taking a step forward and surveying the land around him. He looks like he wants to smile and frown at the same time, then kneels down to take some of the sand between his fingers. “What is this place?”

“Arashi Island!” Aiba squeals, hardly able to contain himself. “Just like you wanted!”

Shige has to admit, the way Jun’s jaw drops and his eyes widen seems to warm his heart, and he’s not even involved in this. “You bought me an island?!” Jun screams.

“We haven’t bought it yet,” Nino tells him. “But we checked and it isn’t owned by anybody. It was rejected by the Philippines due to its size.”

“Too small for a civilization, but perfect for a concert!” Aiba exclaims. “Do you like it? Do you, do you?”

Ohno stares down at Jun. “We wanted to make sure you like it before we bought it. It’s a big hassle to buy an island these days.”

“That’s why we have Kato,” Sho jumps in. “He can handle all of the legal jumbo.”

Shige pales. “I’m not even in law school yet!”

“It’s okay,” Sho tells him. “I don’t have a pilot’s license either. We’ll make do.”

Jun rolls onto his back, making sand angels as he looks up at the perfect blue sky. “Arashi Island it is!”

“Yay!” Nino and Aiba shout, joining hands and dancing around Ohno who continues to stand there obliviously.

“Too bad it’s so small,” Sho thinks out loud. “The agricultural diversity of this environment would be perfect for habitation and economic growth.”

“Maybe we can live here too!” Aiba suggests.

Jun’s eyes light up, but Sho pats Aiba on the shoulder. “One thing at a time, Aiba-chan.”

“All right,” Nino says decidedly, clapping his hands together. “Let’s get the tents set up and a fire started, then we can go exploring!”

Shige stands by while the others work diligently to do exactly that. He tags along while they explore because, well, he doesn’t want to be alone on a strange island. It’s bad enough that he’s stuck with a group he hardly knows.

“It’s okay,” Aiba tells him, grabbing his hand to keep him from wandering away. “I’m scared too.”

“What are you scared of?” Nino mocks him. “There’s nothing here. No animals, no bugs -”

“Wait,” Shige says quickly. “If there’s no animals, what are we going to eat?”

Aiba drops his hand and glares at him in a very un-Aiba-like manner. “We are not going to kill animals for food!”

“Calm down,” Sho tells him. “We have bentos in the ‘copter.”

They hear Jun squeal from a few meters away, and it’s such an unnatural sound that the others automatically flock towards him. Shige sees him spinning around a large clearing, perfectly bordered with trees and pretty flowers. “This is where we’ll hold the concerts!” he yells. “It’s perfect!”

“It certainly is,” Ohno says proudly, leaning against Nino as he watches Jun dance around happily.

To Shige’s surprise, it’s actually a pleasant day, particularly the picnic on the beach as the sun sets. Shige thinks it’s beautiful and immediately plans to bring Koyama here. They have to let him come back to visit if he’s going to be their lawyer.

“Well, we should probably head back,” Ohno says reluctantly, making no effort to move from where he’s curled up in Nino’s lap.

Shige’s tired too, a long day of hiking catching up to him. He barely gets situated before Sho’s raising them up off the ground, and this time Jun’s in the back with him, very much awake with no chance of snuggling with him. Thankfully. Aiba seems to have forgiven him for the animal comment, though, and lets Shige’s head fall to his shoulder as he starts to drift off again.

“Dream alive,” Aiba whispers, and everything fades to black.

3. O Come, All Ye Sparkling

Questionable noises greet Shige’s ears when he wakes again, and more than anything he wishes he could just knock himself out. Whatever this world is, he’s pretty certain he doesn’t want to be in it.

Music sounds from the TV, a sultry beat that is normally only associated with one thing. When covering his head with the pillow doesn’t drown it out, he resigns himself to hoping upon hope that it’s just a Koda Kumi video.

Then the moans start. He’s awake now, staring at the headboard as the late morning sun brightens the entire room. He lets out a frustrated groan and reaches blindly to the side, groping for some sort of remote control device that will make the bad movie go away.

He pauses at the sound of someone beatboxing – someone who is definitely not on the TV.

Slowly, he pulls the pillow off his face and realizes that he’s in a hotel room. On the other bed, reading the paper and drinking a cup of steaming coffee, is Sakurai Sho.

Shige will never in a million years admit that he’s actually relieved. Out of everybody in Arashi to wake up in a hotel room with, Sho is the best option.

“Good morning!” Sho greets him, making him jump in surprise. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I wanted to let you sleep, but the others made me wake you up.”

On a whim, Shige peeks under the covers to make sure he’s still dressed. He is, but he doesn’t remember owning these kind of pajamas. “Sakurai-kun, um, what happened last night?”

“You don’t remember?” Sho says incredulously. “Your hotel burned down!”

Shige’s heart jumps into his throat. “Is everyone… is everyone…”

“Oh, you weren’t in it yet,” Sho replies, waving his hand dismissively. “You didn’t know until you got off the plane. Then Nishikido-kun remembered that we were staying in a different hotel and called Nino. Nishikido-kun owes Nino a favor now, but you all had a warm place to sleep last night.”

Clutching his chest, Shige rolls over and stares at the floor like it will help him get up. “This is too much to process.”

The moans on the TV get louder, and Sho watches the climax intently.

At the exact same time, Yamapi appears in the middle of the room, and that’s when Shige realizes that the door has been open for all of this. “Oh good, Shige is awake. You took my suitcase by accident.”

Shige blinks. “Oh, so these are your pajamas.”

Yamapi pats him on the head, leaning down in a courtesy robe that really doesn’t hide much of anything. “I can’t fit into your clothes, nor can I wear your contacts. I’ll be taking my things back now.”

He replaces his own suitcase with Shige’s and walks right past the TV like nothing is out of the ordinary about it.

“NINOMIYA IS KING OF THE WORLD!” someone yells, passing by in a blur.

That someone is not Nino. He is also not wearing any clothes.

“Ryo-chan’s streaking!” Yamapi announces happily, leaning against the doorway and waving to Ryo as he zooms by again.

Shige can hear Nino’s peals of laughter from down the hall.

Sho shakes his head. “Wasted a favor on that,” he mumbles to himself. “Must not have really needed anything.”

Five seconds later, Nino falls past Yamapi and nearly lands face-first on the floor as he stumbles onto Sho’s bed. “You saw that, right?”

“Nope,” Sho tells him, flipping to the next page of the newspaper.

“Liar,” Nino replies as he casually turns towards the TV. He makes a face. “I don’t like this one. What else is on?”

Dazedly, Ohno walks into the room and goes straight for Nino’s lap. He curls up like a puppy and goes right back to sleep while Nino absently strokes his hair and grabs the adult movie menu to argue with Sho.

Then Ryo strides in, thankfully wearing a towel, and points his finger right in Nino’s face. “I owe you nothing now.”

Predictably, Nino bites his finger.

While Ryo is shrieking, the phone rings. Sho takes his time finishing his coffee before idly picking it up. “‘Lo.”

He listens for a few seconds, then nods like the caller can hear it and hangs up. He folds the paper neatly, puts it down far away from Nino, and walks across the room to the adjoining door. Jun practically falls out of it and scrambles onto Shige’s bed, halfway on his legs. “I knew you were watching this. Why pay for two?”

Koyama follows right behind him with amazing bed hair and looking just as tired as Shige. “‘Morning, everyone.”

Somehow, he’s the most normal out of them all right now. Particularly when something happens in the movie that has even Shige’s eyes widening amidst the shocked gasps and cringes.

“That has to hurt,” comments Tegoshi with a yawn. He must have slipped in when Shige wasn’t looking.

Next to him, Massu comfortingly pats his arm.

Behind them, Aiba is amusing himself by pulling on one of Yamapi’s curls and watching it spring back into place. Yamapi is unfazed by this.

Shige scoots over as Koyama crawls under the covers next to him and steals his pillow. “Koyama, why are we all here?”

“You don’t know?” Jun overhears, rolling his eyes like Shige is the stupidest creature to ever be on a bed with him. “We’re all doing a concert together.”

Now Shige’s stomach is in his throat. “What.”

“Won’t it be fun?” Koyama says sleepily, snuggling up to Shige’s back. “Arashi and NewS on stage together, singing together…”

“Sparkling together,” Ryo adds.

“Psst, Nishikido-kun,” Shige whispers. “Come here please.”

Ryo acts like it’s the world’s biggest inconvenience to make the five steps over to Shige’s bed, but he does it anyway. “What do you want? We’re trying to watch a movie here.”

Shige takes a breath. “If I asked you to punch me in the face, would you do it?”

“In a heartbeat,” Ryo replies, smiling at the thought.

“Do it,” Shige tells him. “I promise I’ll never ask you for anything again if you just-”

Ryo punches him in the face, hard enough to knock him out. Just before he goes under, he hears Koyama screaming at Ryo and Sho’s faint voice in the back of his head. “Dreams come true.”

4. I’m Dreaming of a Rainbow Christmas

The next time Shige wakes, it’s with a smile because he’s in his own bed wearing his own pajamas and there don’t appear to be any Arashi members loitering about.

Of course, he spoke too soon. No sooner does he exhale contently and snuggle back under his covers, than there’s an eerie gold and blue glow shining from the general vicinity of his doorway.

If Ryo and Yasuda came to visit him in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, Shige is seriously considering jumping out of his second-story window. Before he can act, though, he hears a maniacal voice say his name and sits straight up in recognition; he would gladly trade Ryo and Yasuda for the ones currently leaning on each other, their combined brightness making his eyes burn.

“Good evening, Kato-kun,” Ohno says in a calm voice. “How are you tonight?”

Just like it was any other day. In fact, Shige thinks that he was greeted the exact same way this morning, except of course with a ‘good morning’ instead. Maybe it’s normal for Ohno to randomly appear into other people’s bedrooms while they are sleeping, but it certain isn’t for Shige.

“You don’t know why we’re here, do you?” Nino asks, almost mockingly as he offers Shige a smirk.

Sleepily, Shige tries to focus on their persons and ends up blinking against the harsh light; not only are Ohno and Nino blue and gold, they’re completely colorized. Like a Photoshop filter. “What… are you guys?”

“The rainbow ghosts of Christmas past, of course,” Ohno says seriously.

Shige blinks. “Like in that movie?”

“What movie?” Nino asks, confused. “We thought this up ourselves!”

“Right,” Shige says dryly. “So are you here to show me my past? I’m pretty sure I haven’t been a scrooge this year.”

“Well, if you knew about it, we wouldn’t need to be here,” Nino tells him pointedly. “Our job is to show you a bunch of memories and make you realize for yourself what you’re missing.”

“The only thing I’m missing is my sanity,” Shige mutters under his breath.

Nino puts his hands on his hips and gives him an expectant look. “Come on, slacker, we don’t have all night.”

Heaving the sigh of a thousand men, Shige reaches for his glasses and very reluctantly crawls out of bed, fully intending to go on whatever kind of excursion this is in his pajamas. “Okay, show me my past.”

“That’s the spirit!” Ohno says brightly, grabbing his arm and transporting him into an alternate universe. At least he hopes it’s an alternate universe, because if he’s suddenly gone back in time, colorized Ohmiya is the least of his concerns.

He almost doesn’t recognize himself at first, mostly because eleven-year-old Shige was bouncy and energetic and much like his partner in crime, Kusano. They didn’t know each other yet because these were just the auditions; Shige could tell by the way his younger self clutched happily onto his number like he’d already been accepted.

He’d meet Koyama and Kusano two years later and instantly bond for reasons that Shige still doesn’t understand to this day. It makes him sad because the three of them have only been able to get together once in the past two years – even when Kusano was reinstated last summer, Shige was too busy with school and NewS obligations to make the time.

As he watches the three of them run around and get into trouble with thousand-watt smiles, Shige can’t help but feel very, very guilty. Then there are all nine of them in the most atrocious costumes Shige has ever seen come out of Johnny’s – ever – and all it does is make his heart hurt. He hasn’t even thought about Moriuchi in the past five years except when someone mentions One OK Rock, and even then it’s just a passing thought.

“I don’t understand what this is supposed to accomplish,” Shige says, more to himself than to the uncharacteristically quiet duo behind him. He only remembers that they’re there because he can see their glows. “It’s not like it was my decision for them to leave.”

“He’s a little slow, isn’t he?” Ohno whispers to Nino, and Nino gently shushes him like they’re not in complete silence and Shige can’t hear every word they say.

He feigns ignorance anyway, mostly because a montage of performances and memories leads him to the inevitable hiatus. He remembers applying for schools while in the mindset of a normal student, not an idol, because at the time he didn’t think NewS would be permanent; the hiatus further confirmed his fears. He was still technically a Johnny, just not given nearly as much work as the others. He had one drama SP to film, which was nothing compared to a solo unit, a duo unit, and a permanent hosting gig on Shokura.

At the time, he honestly thought that he would need to be able to do something else to support himself. Koyama had questioned why he chose something as concrete as law, and Shige had casually replied that it was just something that interested him, which everyone else accepted as well.

He gets a little choked up when they get to the reunion that took place almost two years ago; even if he wasn’t watching it happen all over again with his own eyes, he will never forget Koyama blinking back tears as Yamapi gave the best leader speech in the history of leader speeches and told them to do their best for the sake of their fallen members. They were now a six-person unit and had to work even harder to make up for the two who were missing in action.

“Kato-kun has been through a lot,” Nino comments, nearly making Shige jump because he really had forgotten they were there. “Do you get it yet?”

“Get what?” Shige replies, clearing his throat to regain his composure. “I remember all of these things.”

He feels a hand on his shoulder – glowing blue, it must be Ohno’s – and the scenery changes, now a series of occasions when Shige was not there and the others were. He didn’t think they got together that often due to the distance between their homes, but he’s seeing for himself a number of times they’d gone out to eat or had a drink after some work function when Shige had gone straight home to study or do homework.

He frowns. “If you’re trying to make me feel guilty about my major, it won’t work. They support me and I don’t need you of all people talking to me about education.”

“Kato-kun, that hurt,” Nino feigns offense, appearing on the other side of Shige and clasping his hand over his heart. “Maybe we should -”

“He’s seen enough,” Ohno says firmly, and Nino falls silent.

Nodding, they both snap their fingers and return the three of them to Shige’s bedroom, where they stand back while Shige stares at them blankly.

“Who’s coming next?” Shige asks casually, perching on the end of his bed. He isn’t going to get all comfortable just to be rudely awakened by another glowing Arashi member.

“What makes you think someone is coming next?” Nino asks with a quirked eyebrow.

Shige rolls his eyes. “I’ve seen the movie. There will be more ‘rainbow’ ghosts, of Christmas present and future.”

Ohno gasps. “He really is smart.”

Nino frowns, clearly unhappy that his master plan was foiled. “Go to bed, brat,” he says sharply, grabbing Ohno and disappearing into thin air.

Shige thinks that’s a little weird, but with the dreams he’s been having lately, he can’t really talk. He waits patiently, watching the strips of light on his ceiling sway with every breeze through the trees outside. He thinks about Moriuchi and Kusano and Uchi and Yamapi’s voice and Ryo’s blond hair until the white of the light becomes tinted with green and purple.

He’s oddly relieved that Aiba isn’t navigating through dream-space alone. As it is, the fiery silhouette of bright green trips as he materializes, nearly falling right on his face if not for the quick reflexes of his fuchsia partner.

Shige sits on his bed and watches them expectantly. Eventually they look at him, Jun a little exasperated while Aiba is all smiles. “Hi!” the latter declares brightly, waving for effect. “We’re here to show you the present!”

“Okay,” Shige says calmly. “Let’s see it.”

Jun does a little dance move and instantly they’re in Koyama’s apartment. Shige is confused for a few seconds until he sees Koyama curled up on the end on his couch, sniffling into his phone and hugging Nyanta.

“Koyama,” he gasps, plopping down right next to him and staring at the tears streaming his cheek. “What’s wrong?”

“He can’t hear you,” Jun says gently.

“Oh yeah,” Shige remembers, resigning himself to sitting there helplessly while his best friend sobs right before his eyes. “Why is he crying?”

Koyama unknowingly answers him. “I don’t know what to do,” he says in a choked voice. “Every day he slips further and further away from me.”

Shige spins his head around to look at Aiba and Jun, who shrug. Aiba is frowning, the sight of which is almost as sad as Koyama crying. But apparently when one is a ghost, one can hear both sides of a telephone conversation, and Shige’s heart jumps into his throat when he discovers who is on the other end.

“It’s not your fault, Kei,” Kusano says clearly. “He’s been really isolated for awhile. I noticed it when you guys were here.”

“I don’t want to lose him,” Koyama sobs, squeezing Nyanta until the cat meows in protest. “I just… I can’t handle it. I’ve already lost you.”

“I’m not lost,” Kusano says, and Shige hears a hint of a smile in his voice. “I’m still there in spirit, just not in body.”

“While Shige is here in body but not in spirit,” Koyama replies with a sigh. “What will I do when he’s gone completely?”

Kusano chuckles. “You’ll make it, Kei. It’s not like he’s dying. He will still be there, just doing his lawyer thing instead of prancing around on stage with you guys.” He takes a deep breath. “I mean, did you really think NewS would be forever?”

Koyama wipes his face. “Yes, yes I did.”

Shige finds himself sniffling and turns to glare at Aiba and Jun. “Some things I am just better off not knowing.”

“Shut up and pay attention,” Jun says coldly.

When Shige turns around, he’s now in Yamapi’s apartment, where Yamapi is on the couch with Ryo and Akanishi on either side of him. Yamapi and Akanishi are playing PS3 while Ryo watches with disinterest, folding his arms and frowning in a way that leads Shige to believe he’s actually upset about something.

“He just has a lot on his mind,” Yamapi is saying brightly – and a little drunkenly – as he jerks his controller and grins. Akanishi fumes. “We don’t always have to do things together as a group, you know.”

“But it’s Christmas!” Ryo practically yells, making Shige jump back from the force of Ryo’s anger. “Who is he to blow us off on such a day? We hardly ever do things as a group, and earlier when we were all feeling good and ready to relax, he just turns down our invitation and bolts.”

Shige seethes at those words. He’d had a paper due by midnight that he’d been putting off for a couple weeks due to Christmas rehearsals and album promotions. He absolutely had to finish it last night or it would have affected his grade. What would Ryo know about any of that?

“Ah, Ryo-chan,” starts Yamapi, calm as ever. “You never got like this when I was in school.”

“You’re different,” Ryo says simply. “Your dedication to NewS made up for it. It’s like he doesn’t even care anymore!”

“For what it’s worth, I don’t like that kid,” Akanishi offers.

“You shut up,” Ryo tells him. “You don’t even know him.”

Shige’s jaw drops at the automatic defense by the one person he’d least expect it from. “I don’t-” he starts, then remembers that no one can hear him.

“I don’t understand,” Yamapi says, echoing Shige’s thoughts. “Are you upset because Shige’s putting school above NewS, or because he’s probably going to leave when he graduates?”

Ryo’s face falls blank. “You already know that?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Yamapi glances over quickly before returning to his game. “He’s not studying that hard just for a degree. Not in that field.”

“And… and you’re okay with this?” Ryo roars. “Haven’t we had enough people leave?”

Yamapi takes a breath, beating Akanishi yet again before he speaks. “I am dedicated to NewS, like you said. As both its leader and the friend of everyone in it. Being that person, shouldn’t I focus more on each individual member’s happiness instead of our happiness together?”

Ryo doesn’t reply.

“If Shige is happier being a lawyer, well, we have to support him,” Yamapi says with a shrug. “Moriuchi-kun is happier in his band, and while it wasn’t Uchi and Kusano’s choices to leave, both of them are happy doing what they’re doing now. Even the six of us who remain, we’re happy as we are. And we’ll be happy as a five-member group too.”

Ryo opens his mouth to speak, but Yamapi cuts him off.

“It’s hard for you to understand,” he says slowly, “because Kanjani8 hasn’t really moved on without Uchi. And it makes him feel even worse that way.”

Shige half expects Ryo to slap Yamapi. Akanishi looks smug, like he was right about something, and Ryo latches onto that instead. “Wipe that smirk off your face, Akanishi. Just because nobody cared when you left doesn’t mean that the rest of us feel like that about our groupmates.”

And he walks out the door.

Shige gulps as he witnesses the fight between these two people because of him. He wishes he didn’t know this either, but this time it’s for purely selfish reasons because he feels so guilty. He never thought NewS would be forever either, at least since their return, but apparently Koyama and Ryo did. And Yamapi, bless him, always the leader even when he’s sitting on his own couch drinking beer with his best friends. Shige’s respect for him soars exponentially, at least until he sees Yamapi’s resolve crumble upon Ryo’s departure.

Akanishi slings an arm around him. “You can cut the act now, he’s gone.”

“It’s so hard, Jin,” Yamapi says quietly, squeezing his eyes shut. “I want to support him, but we’ve already gone through so much…”

Sighing, Akanishi pulls Yamapi into a man hug. “It’s times like these that I’m glad my group hates each other.”

Yamapi laughs through a sob. “Sometimes I wish we were like that.”

“No you don’t,” Akanishi says darkly. “Even if your group breaks up, you’ll still be closer than us. Be grateful for what you have, no matter who is physically singing with you.”

Surprisingly, Shige agrees with Akanishi. Apparently Yamapi does too, because he nods and rubs his eyes. “Thanks, Jin.”

“He’s right,” Aiba whispers from behind him.

Jun pokes him in the arm. “We’re not supposed to give commentary,” he hisses.

“But look at him!” Aiba cries, pointing. Shige thinks he’s pointing at Yamapi but it turns out he’s pointing at Shige. “He’s over there feeling sorry for himself because his other group members are worried that he’s going to leave!”

“Wait,” Jun says slowly. “I thought the point of this was to show what a jackass he’s been lately.”

“He’s considering changing his major!” Aiba goes on, and Shige’s eyes widen because he hadn’t even known he’d been thinking that until now. “Shige-chan, I want you to know, if Sho-chan left us to go do something awesome with his university degree, we would support him without hesitation.”

“We would?” Jun asks, tilting his head in thought. “Well, I guess an acting career would be nice.”

“You’re confusing me,” Shige tells them honestly. “The other two showed me all of this member love through the years and now you’re telling me that it doesn’t matter?”

“See, you should have let Sho-kun explain it,” Jun tells Aiba with the air of someone who is punishing a child. “Let’s just wrap up here. We still have the cute ones to visit-”

“No!” Shige yells. “I don’t want to see anymore. I’m done with this part.”

Jun shrugs. “It’s your dream.” And vanishes, taking a very reluctant Aiba with him.

Unmoving, Shige stands in the center of his dark room and tries to forget what he just saw. If his groupmates can’t talk to him about this, it must not be as important as they make it out to be. He doesn’t even want to think about what Tegoshi and Masuda are doing. Isn’t Tegoshi studying hard to be a psychologist? How come nobody is crying over his possibly leaving in a few years?

“Dedication,” a deep voice says, and Shige almost falls over.

The red glow illuminates the room, a little more appropriately than the others, and Sho’s friendly face instantly puts Shige at ease. “You scared me,” he says apologetically, leaning on the edge of his bed for support. “I assume you’re going to show me my horribly lonely future now?”

“Let’s clear up something first,” Sho says gently. “The difference between you and Tegoshi, as you were just thinking, is your dedication to your group. Just like Yamapi, Tegoshi still does his best and holds NewS just as high as his studies, while you seem to have it considerably lower on your list of priorities.”

Shige frowns. “That’s not true. I am dedicated to NewS too! I just had a paper due last night-”

“I think I would know a little bit about that,” Sho interrupts with a warm smile. “True dedication means no excuses. Even if you had spent just a half hour with them, it would have only meant a half hour less of sleep to you and the world to them.”

Shifting uncomfortably, Shige feels like he’s getting scolded by his parents for something he knows better than to do. “I think I understand.”

Sho’s smile fades. “No, I don’t think you do. Come with me, Kato.”

The scenery changes yet again, and it’s just what Shige expects – himself in ten years, hair grown out and tie loosened, surrounded by an almost-empty pot of coffee and mountains of books that put his texts to shame.

“It’s part of the job, isn’t it?” he asks. “I already know it’s going to be like this. In fact, it’s practically already like this now, except that I don’t have that many creases on my face.”

“But now your friends support you, don’t they?” Sho prods him. “Don’t they congratulate you when you get good marks and wish you luck before exams?”

Shige looks at his older self, ignoring the lump forming in his throat. “I guess they gave up on me?”

“Koyama-kun made it the longest,” Sho says sadly. “He called you everyday. Left messages on your voicemail, introducing you to his girlfriend, inviting you to his wedding, poking his newborn child so that you could hear her cry into the phone. It took him not getting a return call for four years to stop making them.”

“Now that’s dedication,” is all Shige can think of to say, too amazed at the thought of not being at Koyama’s wedding to focus on much else. “Are you honestly trying to tell me that I wouldn’t return his calls for four years? I even call Tegoshi back and he sings to me until my voicemail cuts him off.”

“You left NewS on bad terms,” Sho tells him. “While the others didn’t really care that you left, Koyama kept trying for the sake of your friendship. Unfortunately, by that time you didn’t really care either.”

“I don’t believe you,” Shige says firmly, the future vision fading out as his anger rises. “You’re lying to me. They would never do that. I would never do that.”

“Then you’re lying to yourself,” Sho replies with a shrug. “This is your dream.”

“Why do I keep dreaming about you?” Shige wonders out loud. “Your group, I mean. Am I secretly harboring some subconscious desire to be more like Arashi?”

“I think…” Sho sighs, taking his time forming his words. “I think you’ll figure it out by morning.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Shige demands. “In the movie, Scrooge sees the err of his ways halfway through the first ghost. You’re the last one and I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

Sho shrugs again. “Sorry, I haven’t seen the movie.”

Shige stares blankly at him. “I’m done with this dream. Please leave.”

A sad look crosses Sho’s face as he waves and obediently fades away. Frustrated, Shige crawls back into bed and tosses and turns, trying to force himself out of this dream-turned-nightmare and tell himself that there’s no way everyone is upset with him for last night, none at all. It’s just a bad dream and when he wakes again, everything will be okay.

“Dream in technicolor,” Ohno’s voice pierces the silence, and just like the colorful light that preceded them all, Shige’s out again.

5. Walking in a NewStorm Wonderland

“You wake him up.”

“No, you wake him up.”

“Move over, bitches. I’ll wake him up.”

It’s not the first time he’s awakened on one of the couches backstage at a concert venue, but it might be the first time he’s done so by Ryo sitting on his head. Laughter sounds as he starts flailing, eventually shoving Ryo to the floor and glaring sleepily at the other two blurs in the room.

His glasses are plopped onto his face as a pair of arms wraps around his neck. “Good morning, Shige!” Koyama coos.

Shige grunts. He is not a morning person. “What time is it?”

“Two o’clock in the afternoon,” Tegoshi says as he becomes clearer in Shige’s vision next to… Ohno.

“Please tell me you’re standing in for Yamapi,” Shige begs out loud, hoping more than anything else that this is the real deal and not another stupid dream where Arashi lecture him on member love.

Ohno just smiles. “Let’s do our best today, okay?”

Before Shige can respond, he sees Yamapi jogging up to him and thrusting a messily written piece of paper in his face. “Revised set list,” Yamapi says as he catches his breath. “You go on right after the ‘versus’ medley now. They decided it would make for a better flow since you’ll already be rapping.”

“Okay,” Shige replies, calming down as he sees that the set list looks like any other set list they’ve had before. Maybe Ohno is just here for moral support, or more likely because Nino wanted to terrorize Ryo.

Yamapi nods at him and disappears as fast as he’d arrived, dragging Koyama with him.

Helplessly Shige looks at Tegoshi and clears his throat. “Um, I don’t think I’m entirely awake,” he lies. “Where are we?”

“Yokohama Arena,” Tegoshi answers promptly.

“What happened to Shokura?” Shige asks.

“Shokura?” Tegoshi repeats, tilting his head. “We’re not scheduled to be on until the next single.”

Shige catches a glance of a nearby window and looks outside. “Are those… cherry blossoms?”

“Mm,” Tegoshi agrees. “They’re early this year, aren’t they? It’s only February. I think it’s a good sign!”

“February.” Shige feels himself turning pale.

“Are you feeling okay?” Tegoshi asks, looking concerned.

“I…” Shige falls against the back of the couch, rubbing his eyes. “When I went to sleep, it was Christmas Eve.”

Tegoshi gasps. “So cool! Shige skipped time. Are you feeling okay? Two months is quite a jump!”

“Why are you acting like this is normal?” Shige demands. “People don’t just skip time. I don’t remember anything between then and now.”

“Then I will tell you!” Tegoshi says happily. “On Christmas Day you approached us all and said that you wanted to spend more time together like Arashi. Kei-chan cried happy tears and Ryo-tan made fun of you through the New Year. Then we went to Arashi-senpai and spent a few weeks learning from them how to have the ultimate group bond. Finally, about a month ago Leader and Oh-chan came to us saying that they’d talked management into letting us have a concert together!”

Next to him, Ohno nods in full agreement.

“And this was… my idea?” Shige guesses incredulously.

“Yup!” Tegoshi chirps. “It was the best thing to ever happen to us, Shige. I’m so excited for this show!” He looks at the time on his phone and gasps. “Oh, I have to go find Massu and Aiba-chan to go over our song. With the revised schedule, we’re on after you and Sho-chan! Good luck, Shige!”

Tegoshi leaves in a whirlwind of sparkles and leaves Shige staring in complete disbelief at Ohno.

Ohno offers a comforting pat on the shoulder and wanders off, chuckling to himself.

With nobody around to freak out to, Shige settles for actually reading the set list. The versus medley is Change the World vs. A Day in Our Life, followed by a song Shige’s never heard of for him and Sho, but it seems more like a rap battle. He should probably find Sho and try to learn it, but instead his eyes are continuing down the list. Aiba, Tegoshi, and Massu are singing together, then Koyama and Jun, Nino and Ryo, and finally Ohno and Yamapi. He recognizes Ao no Jidai, the old KinKi Kids song for the trio, but the rest of them are all new. Although he’s willing to bet that Ohno and Yamapi’s is a fast-beat dance number with complicated choreography and strobe lighting.

Group-wise, they’re doing a lot of their regular concert songs, as he assumes Arashi are too, each with one song sung by all eleven of them – Kibou~Yell for NewS and Kitto Daijoubu for Arashi. He makes it a point to find out the parts for those, too; everything else should be the same.

Feeling a little better about the situation – learning two songs and two rearrangements is a lot better than knowing nothing – Shige heads towards the stage area where everything is getting set up and Aiba is flying.

Sho’s on the stage, watching Aiba like a hawk, but Koyama is the one screaming across the arena. “Be careful, Aiba-chan! If you spin around too much, the link could break!”

Sho looks a little baffled. “Yeah, what he said.”

On one of the platforms, Ryo and Nino are rehearsing their dance without incident, at least until Nino catches sight of Tegoshi sitting happily in Ohno’s lap out of the corner of his eye. Ohno appears unnerved, discussing leader things with Yamapi while Jun lingers in the background and looks disapproving of everything. At least Shige’s not the only one.

Nino pokes Ryo, who stops mid-spin and narrows his eyes in the direction Nino is pointing. They share a glance, nod, then storm determinedly towards the unsuspecting pair in complete sync.

Shige’s a little impressed. He takes the opportunity to head over to Sho, passing right by just in time to see Ryo drag Tegoshi out of Ohno’s lap while Nino plops himself there instead.

Ohno doesn’t seem to notice the switch at all, particularly since Jun chooses that minute to approach them and interrupt Yamapi’s brainstorming. “No, we’re not doing that.”

“Doing what?” Nino and Ryo ask, in tandem.

“Saying whatever stupid thing he was saying during Kibou~Yell,” Jun says, standing with his hip jutted out and his arms folded. “I’m putting my foot down.”

“What is it?” Tegoshi asks curiously.

Yamapi grins brightly and performs the motion. “Fly to high with NewStorm!”

“Ooh,” Tegoshi says. “I like it!”

“You would,” Jun huffs.

Ryo walks up to Jun and gets in his face. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Rolling his eyes, Nino separates them. “Let’s let Leader decide.”

Ohno seems not to notice everyone looking at him, then jumps a little when he does. “Um. I think it’s appropriate. Our concert is called NewStorm, right?”

Shige nods his head with the rest of them, even though it’s the first he’s heard about it. Despite it all, he does think it’s a rather clever name.

“Yeah,” Jun argues, “but Kato came up with that.”

Of course, Shige thinks, a smug smile forming on his face.

“What are you smiling for?” Ryo says to him. “He’s trying to insult you.”

Tegoshi laughs. “He’s not doing a very good job if Shige is that happy.”

Jun looks like he’s going to get really angry, but then Nino’s arm is around his waist. “Just remember what they have to do during Kitto Daijoubu,” Nino says helpfully. “I think we got the better end of the deal here.”

Yamapi scoffs. “That’s nothing. I did worse when I was eleven.”

Shige’s smile falls. That is not at all comforting.

Predictably, Aiba flails up to them and tackles Jun. “Your turn to fly, Jun-chan!”

“This isn’t over,” Jun says to Yamapi before detaching himself from Aiba and heading towards the staff-san who is waiting with the harness.

Nino glances towards Yamapi. “We’ll do it.”

“Do what?” Aiba asks excitedly.

Yamapi demonstrates again.

Aiba copies it perfectly.

They grin at each other.

“Snacks!” the one missing voice calls, and Shige doesn’t even have to turn his head to know that Massu has just walked in loaded with bags of takeout.

Instantly Aiba rushes to his side. “Let me help you with that, Masuda-kun.”

“Okay!” Massu says brightly, looking a little flushed. “Thanks!”

“He’s such a fanboy,” Ryo mutters.

Nino grunts. “He reminds me of how you were with Toda Erika.”

Ryo blushes to the tips of his ears, and Shige almost laughs.

Tegoshi does laugh, loudly. “Ryo-tan looks like a tomato.”

Conveniently, Massu and Aiba show up with the boxes just then and shove one into everybody’s face.

“But I’m not really -” Nino starts to protest.

“My treat,” Massu assures him.

Nino’s already tearing into his. “Well, if you insist.”

Ohno’s eyes light up when he’s presented with his. “Ooh, thank you,” he says politely, then proceeds to switch boxes with Nino and open his mouth for Nino to feed him like it’s completely normal.

After watching them go back and forth a couple times, Shige realizes that they’re probably like this with every meal.

Koyama appears out of nowhere, making sure everyone has something to drink and fetching water bottles for those who don’t. Sho goes a step further and flings an objecting Jun over his shoulder, practically force-feeding him when he complains about having to perform on a full stomach.

Koyama and Sho link eyes over the heads of the others, and Shige thinks that the two of them understand each other more than anyone else here.

Looking at the ten of them, Shige actually hopes that this is real, that it really is February and they really are all performing together and getting along as well as they are. Inconspicuously, he leans over to Tegoshi and whispers, “I’m still a law student, right?”

His mouth full, Tegoshi nods and fixes him with a strange look as he swallows. “Of course, why wouldn’t you be?”

“I don’t know,” Shige replies, unable to keep the grin off of his face.

He feels oddly superior as they finish eating and rush to get ready, never mind that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’ll pick it up during the dress rehearsal for sure. His optimism gives him a strut on the way to their dressing room, following the other NewS members and listening to them chatter about how Arashi is so cool and they’re so excited to be performing with them.

When he sees his first costume, he stops short. Stitched with feathers and layered in conflicting colors and patterns, it is by far worse than anything he’s ever had to wear before, and that includes junior hand-me-downs.

Koyama seems to notice his face. “If you think this is bad, you should see what we have to wear for Kitto Daijoubu.”

On the other side of him, Massu grins and holds up something that glows.

Shige promptly faints.

“Live your dreams, stupid,” Jun’s voice mocks him as the world around him disappears.

6. What Ranger is This?

Shige wakes with a headache, not realizing that he’s wearing a helmet until he’s patted it a few times in sleepy attempts to reach his skull. “What the hell…”

“Good morning, Brown!” calls Ryo’s voice, sounding entirely too chipper for any words directed towards Shige.

Against his better judgment, Shige opens his eyes and sees a rainbow of people staring at him. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Yay, Brown is awake!” Yasu declares, hugging Maruyama just because he’s there.

“Did you sleep well?” Hina asks seriously. “Do you need anything?”

Shige blinks. The last time he saw Hina, he ended up with a couple bruises on his head. “What day is it?”

“Silly!” Subaru exclaims with the world’s biggest grin on his face. “It’s Christmas Day!”

“Merry Christmas!” eight voices chorus.

Eight..? Shige quickly scans the others until his eyes fall on the one in the hot pink costume. Uchi’s sitting in Ohkura’s lap, beaming at Shige just like the rest of them.

Shige can’t help but smile as he surveys his attire. He feels like a caramel-chocolate candy bar, but he’s certainly worn a lot worse in his time. They seem to be in a forest of some sorts, where the grass feels like a down comforter and the trees look like they’re sprouting cotton candy.

“I’ll take this one,” Shige says to himself, leaning on Ryo as he falls back to sleep because really, it’s too early to save the world.

“Sleep to dream,” Ryo whispers.


Christmas Day brings forth chaos and pandemonium, mostly because Shige sleeps well into the afternoon and doesn’t hear the many calls to his cell phone. Ryo is the one nominated to retrieve him, and he is very Not Amused. Still asleep, Shige is dragged into the studio in his pajamas and bed hair, greeting everyone with a giant yawn that probably shows his tonsils.

“Did Shige have a wild night?” Koyama asks, ruffling his hair as he retrieves Shige’s costume for him and helps him get dressed.

“Nope,” Shige replies. “I was dreaming about you guys.”

Koyama pauses. “Really?”

Nodding, Shige forces himself to open his eyes. “Let’s hang out after the show, okay?”

“Just you and me, or-” Koyama starts.

“All of us,” Shige clarifies. “Even Nishikido.”

Ryo grunts. “I have better things to do.”

“Ryo-chan!” Koyama hisses.

“Fine, fine,” Ryo says, turning to point the hair straightener at Shige. “But I’m going to make fun of you the whole time.”

Shige thinks about how Nino constantly picks on Jun and offers Ryo his best smile. “I look forward to it.”

Ryo peers at him. “Are you still drunk or something?”

Without altering his expression, Shige shakes his head. “Let’s invite Uchi, too.”

“He’s probably too busy-” Ryo starts.

“You won’t know until you ask him,” Shige says pointedly. “I’d like to think that if I ever left the group, you guys would make an effort not to forget about me.”

Everybody goes silent. “I’ll mail him right now,” Ryo says quietly.

Shige spins around to see Koyama’s eyes glistening. “Let’s go see Notti again after New Year’s.”

Koyama’s already nodding before Shige’s even done talking. “Okay.”

“Can I go?” asks Tegoshi shyly. “I’d like to see him too.”

“Me too,” Yamapi agrees. “If we fly out right after Countdown, we should make it just in time for his New Year.”

Shige feels warm as the others start making plans and getting excited about seeing the infamous ball drop. An hour later, he puts on the best performance of his life and is still grinning from ear to ear as Nakamaru approaches them and Koyama switches back into his host hat.

“You seem awfully enthusiastic tonight, Kato-kun,” Nakamaru says to him. “Do you have big hopes for the New Year?”

“Yes,” Shige replies confidently, a little out of breath from the dancing. “I think that in 2009, NewS will be stronger than we’ve ever been before.”

Next to him, Yamapi actually smiles. On camera.

“Is there anything you’d like to see happen for your group?” Nakamaru asks.

Shige looks out into the audience and sees all of Arashi lingering in the distance, watching him expectantly. In an instant they disappear, just like the figment of his imagination that they were in the first place, and Shige is not at all surprised.

“I’d like to see a collaboration with Arashi,” he answers, ignoring the shocked looks of his groupmates (and a cringe from Ryo). “I think that we could learn a lot from them.”

“Arashi?” Nakamaru repeats. “They’re having their tenth anniversary this coming year. Do you think NewS will make it that long?”

Shige does some quick math in his head. If all goes well, he’ll be graduated and eligible to take the bar exam in four years. “If I have anything to do with it, we will,” he says firmly.

Predictably, Koyama cries.

And in the back of Shige’s head, all five members of Arashi chorus, “Dare to dream.”