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Faint of Heart

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Kissing doesn't mean anything. There are things like that—like kissing or dancing or telling someone, I love you—it doesn't mean anything if you don't mean it. That's half the point of this whole industry: putting a price tag on the things that make you feel good, because it's hard enough finding them in the real world, and paying for a hit of happiness is as fair as going about it honestly. More honest, maybe. This way, everybody knows exactly what they're giving and getting in return.

Kousuke understands that. It's what makes him a professional.

"And where are you practicing that profession, Kou-chan? On a street corner?" Kenta grins when Kousuke flips him off. "C'mon, it was a joke."

"Was it? Damn. I keep telling you to cue me in for the laugh track."

That gets him a snort. "I know it's difficult going through life without a script—"

"Can't help it. See this face? Born to be an idol actor."

"Uh, and I'm not?"

"I think the technical term for your current situation is 'trophy wife'. Yuria-san did well for herself."

"Fuck you."

Kousuke waggles his eyebrows. "My, my, Kamakari-san. How forward."

"Forgive me." Despite the laugh threatening to upend this entire bout of playacting, Kenta manages a credible leer. "You know I just can't control myself around you."

This time, it's Kousuke who bursts out laughing first.

 


 

Before, Kenta was the one who always got his wires crossed. Kousuke suspected it the minute they met—his first impressions are rarely wrong, and if that makes him judgemental to some people, so be it—because Kenta is definitely the type to get steamrolled by inconvenient feelings he talked himself into having in the first place for the sake of a stage persona. Amateur.

Still, he's not all that bad. He isn't an airhead, for one, and for all that he's got his own share of issues, he's far from being the walking, talking, wisecracking, ticking time bomb of disillusionment that is Ide Takuya.

Not that Kousuke has anything against Suzuki or Hosogai, either. But talk about people who are damned lucky to be lucky. Neither of those two would last three seconds if things really got tough.

Which it might. You never know how this kind of thing could end.

"Mm. I mean, we are a pretty shit band, aren't we?" Kenta doesn't even sound bothered by the fact. He doesn't seem bothered by much. Maybe that's why Kousuke keeps being tempted to try. "Good thing some of us have the face to make up for it."

"Yeah, hate to break it to you, buddy," Kousuke jerks a thumb at himself. "But chicks are actually into this."

Kenta laughs at that. "I'm sure."

And the thing is—he'll remember much, much later—Kenta hadn't been entirely sarcastic when he said it.

 


 

Three drinks in, Kenta declares, "We really are getting old."

"Look who's talking."

"I'm just saying. It's a Saturday night, and we're sitting around talking about things instead of actually doing things and getting laid—"

"You're married," Kousuke reminds him.

"Getting you laid. Which you clearly need, if what's on your mind right now is the personal ethics of fanservice. I mean, come on." Kenta downs the rest of his beer. "Let's go find some girls."

"Plural?"

"Hell yeah." Kenta slings an arm around Kousuke's shoulders. Kousuke rolls his eyes, lets the momentum propel him out of his seat. Kenta grins close to his ear. "With me as your wingman? You'll be beating them off with a stick."

 


 

Before, Takuya tended to be the one who suggested the bad ideas. If you asked him, Takuya would cheerfully declare that it's in line with his image as the bad boy of the group. If you asked Kousuke, Takuya just needs an outlet for all his pent up frustration with himself.

But then, who doesn't.

"And what could be behind door number two?" Takuya waves his arms in a poor mimicry of sleight of hand; Shougo stares at his clenched fists in rapt fascination. Takuya opens his left hand to reveal a ¥100 coin. "Come one, come all! It's cheap, cheap beer night at—hey!"

"Tax," Kenta says, pocketing the change he just nicked from his bandmate. "For me being such a good leader and all."

Kousuke somehow manages to keep a straight face. "Our benevolent dictator."

"Yeah, yeah, we all secretly love Kenken, I got the memo." Takuya tosses the ¥50 in his other hand at Shougo. "So? You gonna dictate a good time tonight or what, Leader-san?"

"Depends." Kenta glances at Kousuke, who leers back at the poorly veiled uncertainty he sees there. The guy really needs a better poker face. Kenta rolls his eyes—point taken, and about time—and shrugs at the others. "Do we have a quorum?"

"A what?" Shougo asks.

Kei looks up from his phone. "I'd be down for going somewhere fun."

"Done!" Takuya jumps to his feet, shooing Shougo out of his seat en route. "We're going clubbing. Wear something slinky, Kei-chan!"

 


 

"Come on!"

"Seriously?"

"You love this song! Come on."

Kenta grabs his arm when pleading gets him nowhere, and Kousuke finds himself being physically dragged to the dance floor. The two girls they'd been talking to watch them go; he definitely hears a kyaa before the music drowns out everything.

Not that Kousuke had been doing much of the talking anyway. Apparently, when Kenta said wingman, what he meant was full-on charm everyone's pants off mode. It's not like Kousuke couldn't hold his own if he really had to. But it's far more entertaining to watch Kenta try to be smooth and fail and make up for it with a laugh that would melt even the coldest bitch.

Dance with me, Kenta mouths at him. Flickering lights turn his smile lopsided and blue.

The thought has crossed his mind, once or twice, that maybe he should try saying no when Kenta wants him to say yes. Half the time Kenta probably doesn't even want him to say yes—or isn't expecting it, not absolutely. Nothing and nobody is that certain. It's fifty-fifty odds. Kousuke has become a statistical improbability despite those odds and despite there being many good reasons to say no to getting drinks and staying out late and going to clubs that they should have stopped going to years ago.

Yet here they are again.

You know the point of being a wingman is to get me girls, right? Kousuke had said thirty minutes ago, after Kenta sidled up and interrupted yet another conversation he'd been having with a moderately attractive woman who didn't seem totally disinterested in getting to know him better.

All he'd gotten was a laugh. Don't sweat it. There's gotta be at least one girl here who'd pick you over me. When Kousuke rolled his eyes, Kenta just laughed again and bought him another drink. Hey, I'm doing you a favor! Do you really want someone who'd settle for second best? You deserve the real deal, my friend.

Fuck you, Kousuke hadn't said because that'd be recycling a line from earlier. Also, he doesn't want to think about that. Not when Kenta is doing the most to pull his pigtails, keep him laughing by any means possible, and damn him but if it isn't actually working.

Half the girls they'd talked to had walked away from him in disgust, thanks to Kenta overselling or showing him up—or once, both; that had been kind of impressive, actually—and the other half had walked away with some incorrect conclusions about Kousuke and his charming friend.

Kousuke can't remember the last time he had this much fun.

 


 

Before, it was a given that nobody would actually go home with anybody. Instead, they all pile into an empty booth in the back as the night winds down and Kenta declares,

"All right, report! Shougo-tan!"

"Uh." Shougo scoots over to avoid getting elbowed by Kei, who's busy texting somebody. "One? I guess? I ended up talking to this really cute girl. She was telling me about her dog—"

"Fail," Kenta and Takuya announce simultaneously.

"The dog's called Anpan," Shougo finishes, looking put out. Kei absently pats his shoulder, still typing with one hand. Kousuke snorts, which draws Kenta's attention to him next.

"You gonna match that?"

"Please." Kousuke puts his phone on the table. "I got like four without even trying."

Takuya snatches his phone and scrolls through the recent messages. Four unknown numbers, four text messages with four variations on, Hey there, let me know when you're free! Kousuke hadn't even bothered adding their names to his contacts.

"Not bad." Kenta's got a shit-eating grin on his face, and Kousuke rolls his eyes—because he knows what that means—even before Kenta says, "I got five."

"So did I," Takuya says immediately.

Kousuke raises an eyebrow, and Kei asks, "What's the point of this competition exactly?"

"Ask Takuya," Kenta says before Kousuke can suggest, Frustration, probably. "He's the one who started it."

"Pretty sure you did," Takuya shoots back, and Kousuke makes a sound of agreement. Kenta elbows him for that. Takuya says, "Listen, I'm willing to be the bigger man here and admit that we might have comparable levels of game, so if you wanna call a truce—"

"Uh, I don't believe for one second that five girls were into you—"

"Show me your phone and I'll show you mine."

"This is going someplace hilarious," Kousuke notes.

Before Shougo can get confused enough to ask what any of that means, Kei giggles. "Not to be that person, but I got asked out a dozen times tonight." He smiles down at his phone. "I didn't say yes to anybody, though. So I don't know if that counts."

Shougo's eyes are wide with admiration. Kousuke exchanges a glance with Kenta, and before either of them can find a more tactful way to phrase it, Takuya says,

"It only counts if any of them were women."

 


 

No amount of alcohol is going to make Kenta seem like anything but exactly what he is. Even with the dim blue lights. Even with the way his hair's grown out again, bangs falling into his eyes when he laughs, and honestly, since when was Kousuke susceptible to a pair of pretty eyes?

Since Kenta started looking at him that way, probably. It doesn't even mean anything, but he is a professional, and there's no denying it's effective. Probably half the reason he got Yuria to marry him.

The other half must have something to do with the way Kenta always sounds like he means it when he tells someone, I love you. Even when it's for show. Even when it's Kousuke on the receiving end, batting his eyelashes and giving as good as he gets. Better, usually.

If I was actually bisexual, I'd definitely be into you, Kenta would joke.

And Kousuke would take his cue to simper, Don't toy with my heart like this, Kamakari-san. I bet you say that to all the girls.

Only the pretty ones, Kenta would reply, breaking character with the way he's grinning but never breaking eye contact.

And Kousuke wouldn't back down either, daring him to take the bait. Which Kenta almost always did. Because he knew, had learned quickly enough that, otherwise, Kousuke would give him shit for being an amateur who can't even handle the basics of fanservice. Get with the program or get out of the way. That's just how it works.

This business isn't for the faint of heart, and if he's going to let a little thing like kissing a guy get to him, then what's he even doing here?

It's some kind of irony, probably.

Because for all the times he's asked that—dished out harsh advice that people could have stood to hear years earlier—Kousuke never thought he'd be asking himself the same question.

 


 

Before, Kousuke would say things like, "It might be kinda hot," just to watch Kei blush to the tips of his ears. "I mean, it would basically be like watching two chicks making out."

Takuya scrunches his nose. Shougo still looks confused. Kenta snickers and rests his arms on the back of the booth, nearly clocking Kousuke in the head with his elbow.

Kenta says, "Kei-chan making out with a guy would probably also be hot."

Takuya makes an actual gagging noise. "Gross."

"You're the one who brought it up," Kenta points out.

"Yeah," Takuya shoots back, "as a joke, because Kei is prettier than half the girls in this place. No offense." Kei looks flattered, then confused, and Takuya adds, "But leave the homo-homo nonsense at work where it belongs, okay?"

"I think it's okay if Kei-chan is into, um." Shougo flaps his hands. "You know?"

"Thanks?" Kei says, confusion still sorting itself out at this dubious show of support. Kousuke has to bite his lip to keep from laughing in all their faces, especially when Shougo adds, in what's probably supposed to be a gentlemanly sort of tone,

"It's quality that matters. Not quantity. Or sex. Right?"

Kenta starts laughing even before Takuya says, "Agree to disagree, but quality and quantity of sex definitely matters."

Kenta is now snickering into Kousuke's shoulder.

"I don't think any of us should be talking," Kei notes, confusion having finally settled into an indulgent kind of exasperation with all of them. "Not when we're all sitting here having completely struck out."

"Oh, I know. It's a tragedy." Kenta wipes away an actual tear. He makes eyes at Kousuke, who just rolls his. "Sleeping alone is so lonely, Kou-chan. I don't know why anybody would choose this kind of life."

"I didn't choose this life," Kousuke replies serenely. "This life chose me."

 


 

"What a night," Kenta laughs. "What a life, honestly."

He steals Kousuke's cigarette even though he insists he doesn't smoke anymore, Yuria would kill him and anyway, he wants to live long enough to see his grandkids.

Kousuke lights another cigarette. "Glad you had fun."

The darkened shopfront reflects grey light from the street. The clubs won't be closing for another couple hours yet, but Kousuke's had enough, and Kenta took the hint. He usually does.

Kenta grins and leans against the door. "Don't lie. You had fun, too."

Kousuke raises an eyebrow. "Would have been more fun if it'd actually been as advertised. What happened to I'll be beating them off with a stick?"

"Aww, Kou-chan." Even if Kousuke sees it coming, there's not enough room in the shop entryway to dodge when Kenta grabs him in a headlock. "Think of it this way. You couldn't get rid of me even with a stick. And I'm way better than all those girls."

"Flattering yourself, aren't you?"

"You could flatter me more so I wouldn't have to."

"You're the prettiest chick in the whole joint, Ken-chan," Kousuke says, deadpan. "You know I just can't control myself around you."

Kenta starts laughing, coughs up a mouthful of smoke and laughs even harder. "Shut up," he manages to choke out, and, "That's my line!"

"You stole all your lines from me."

"My lines are all original and from the heart, I'll have you know."

"Oh, was it your heart speaking when you were slipping that girl your—"

"Wow, this character assassination—"

"—because I'm pretty sure it wasn't your heart that had her all hot and bothered."

"You kiss your mother with that mouth?" Kenta asks, smiling and leaning too close.

Kousuke doesn't even say, Not my mother, no, because there's no point. His half-smoked cigarette drops to the pavement. Kenta must have dropped his as well, because there's no cinders burning him where Kenta's hands are fisted in his shirt.

 


 

Here's the thing: Kenta is a really bad kisser. Like, legitimately terrible. Poor form and everything.

The first time, on camera, he came in way too aggressive—trying to prove some point that Kousuke neither buys nor cares about—and most of the times after that, he can't fully commit even for the half-second it takes to get the audience going. He always has to have an excuse, and you can always tell beforehand that that's all it is. And what it is is bad acting, not to mention some kind of unprofessional.

It's no different in private. Kenta will start it, because he always does. After a night out with the band, after hours of unrealistic flirting and half-hearted innuendo. Walking to the train station and complaining about the cold or the heat, depending on the season. Stealing a drag from Kousuke's cigarette, no matter what the weather or when.

That's always the point Kousuke calls him a mooch. And that's the point Kenta blows an unrepentant kiss. And that's when Kousuke raises an eyebrow at him, and watches Kenta's expression go from irreverent to interested to intent—and at least he's gotten better at this part: he picks up on a signal when one is given.

In retrospect, Kousuke isn't sure why he kept signaling.

It's not like it's particularly enjoyable, except in a this'll make a hilarious story for later kind of way. After this many years of knowing Kamakari Kenta, he's got enough funny and unfunny stories to last him until he's dead and retired.

You're so bad at this, Kousuke said once, after Kenta had knocked their teeth together on the first attempt and left a faint bite mark on Kousuke's lip with the second.

Kenta didn't even ask what he meant, just laughed and went in for a third attempt, incapable of ever backing down.

 


 

He doesn't notice the difference until it happens.

Sure, he knows that things have changed, but Kousuke can't feel guilty when Kenta's the one who started it, the way he always does. Apparently marital status has nothing to do with old habits, and bad habit makes Kousuke go right along with it. Kenta tastes like cheap beer and stolen cigarettes, and there's nothing different about that, either.

Kenta tangles his fingers in Kousuke's hair and pulls him closer.

He doesn't notice until his back hits the door. Metal and glass dig into his shoulder blades, but it's hard to pay attention to that when Kenta is kissing him like his life depends on it—and it's not the try-hard aggression that Kousuke has long since trained him to let go of—this is something else.

It occurs to him, about five seconds or several years too late, that maybe the reason he's always thought Kenta to be a bad kisser is because he's never once kissed Kousuke like he actually meant it.

Until now.

Questions flicker and disappear—What changed? Why now? What the fuck is wrong with you, Yonehara Kousuke, you fucking amateur—because he's leaning into it, more than just letting it happen now: he wants it to happen, and the way he wants has nothing to do with frustration or convenience or the set pattern dance steps that let you cross a line before hopping back, again and again—no harm, no foul—because that's just the way this business works.

 


 

Because there are some things that you want to keep for yourself, even after you've laid bare the rest of your life in blog posts and interviews and poorly staged photoshoots.

Things like: Kenta calling him up out of nowhere at nine-thirty on a Saturday and declaring, "Let's go out," when Kousuke had already resigned himself to another sleepless night that he'll regret in the morning.

Things like: You deserve the real deal, because apparently Kenta is one of those people who actually believes in that, even after a lifetime in an industry that does its best to break you of the habit from day one.

Things like: the way Kenta laughed after Kousuke accused him of being the worst kisser in the world. That's all right, though, isn't it? I'm good at lots of other things that actually matter.

The way he grinned at Kousuke had nothing to do with ego.

And these are the things that you can only keep to yourself, because who the hell wants to pay for that? You can't do anything with inconvenience and impossibilities, except maybe let off some pressure once in a while, when it all gets to be a bit much, when not even thirty years in the business is enough to make you completely immune to crossed wires and the way your name sounds in someone else's mouth.

I do love you, you know, Kenta once said and doesn't remember, and Kousuke only wishes he'd been drunk enough to forget in kind. I gotta say all this shit for camera, but I mean it. Not on camera. That shit's fake. But I mean it. They can sell all the kissing they want, but I'm never, ever selling us out. You're my friend, Kousuke, and that's what's real.

 


 

This time, Kenta lets go of him first.

Even the rush of his own pulse isn't loud enough to drown out Kenta's laugh. It's a careless sound. The tittering note in his laughter is nothing but adrenaline, and whatever warmth there was from the alcohol and the cigarette and Kenta's hands on his skin is already fading into two a.m. cold.

Kenta says, "Well, guess I finally got that out of my system. I've been wanting to do that for ages."

It speaks to something in his character—or experience, or whatever it is that's made him the way he is—that it only takes Kousuke two tries to say,

"I knew you were secretly bisexual."

"Maybe." Kenta shrugs like it doesn't matter, and maybe it doesn't. "It's not like I could ever marry a guy, so what's the point? Being chained to a beautiful woman suits me just fine."

"What an endorsement." Kousuke shakes out another cigarette. His hand isn't steady enough to light it just yet. "You really make a guy want to run out and find a wife of his own."

"Don't knock it 'til you try it," Kenta says cheerfully, and Kousuke feels—not for the first time—that he could learn to hate this man.

He could. Except for the part where, apparently, he never learns.

It's not like he hasn't had years to figure this much out. Kenta might be a decent person, and Kenta might even be his best friend, but Kenta is also nothing if not selfish. Nobody in this business is a martyr, and nobody with a competitive streak to rival Kousuke's can keep it up if they aren't out for themselves first and foremost, start to finish.

There's only so much Kenta's willing to give to anyone—only so much he's willing to understand—and that might be a lot to begin with, considering who he is, but good luck getting him to become anything more or what you need.

He's never going to be the one to save Kousuke from himself, because Kenta is just as selfish as he is.

And that's the thing, isn't it. If Kousuke were a better person, he would have told Kenta enough is enough, years ago, instead of keeping him around for every bit of happiness that he had to offer, however meaningless or dishonest.

Kenta plucks cigarette and lighter from his hand—and before Kousuke can call him a no-good moocher who owes him thousands in back pay not to mention time—Kenta lights the cigarette, and gives it back.

His hand is warm, compared to Kousuke's own.

Kenta says, "You feeling cold?"

"A little." The cigarette doesn't help. "It is getting late."

"Yeah," Kenta agrees, easy as anything. He jerks his head toward the street. "I'll walk you?"

That's all right, Kousuke could say. Or, What do I look like, your date? Or even, I didn't like you much when we met, did you know that? I thought you were a hack. I never expected you to last.

"Yeah," Kousuke says, because since when did anything go the way he expects. "Let's get out of here."