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Hold Me Tight

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The music industry is set abuzz on a seemingly normal Tuesday.

 

Riku spends most of it blissfully unaware. His day proceeds like any other, with Riku tiptoeing out of Iori’s room early in the morning. Then there’s vocal lesson at noon, dance practice after, and snack breaks in between where Riku attentively listens to Nagi and Tamaki's debate on the merits of Cocona's strawberry pudding line. Banri appears with lunch boxes at some point, and Riku inhales his food in record speed so he can reply to rabbit chats from Tenn. There's something calming about these moments of monotony in Riku's busy idol schedule, and this helps him push through the difficult choreography for their new song.

 

Riding the adrenaline of a productive day, Riku is chatting with Iori when he stumbles into someone. Takanashi Production's staff and trainee count has tripled since the early days of IDOLiSH7's debut, and it's not strange for Riku to run into unfamiliar faces in the hallways. Still, Riku reaches down immediately for the fallen bag on the ground. He shoots up and smiles at the familiar sight of blonde hair. "Sorry, Manag—"

 

The woman who blinks back at him is not Tsumugi. There are obvious similarities, from the cascade of blonde hair to the kind smile. Yet, she's clearly older, with darker colored eyes. For a moment Riku thinks this must be President Takanshi's wife, but then remembers with some sadness that she passed away years ago. "Um," Riku says. He's vaguely aware that everyone has fallen silent. "S-sorry!"

 

Behind him, Nagi lets out a cry of OH! BEAUTIFUL! that everyone ignores.

 

"Thank you," the stranger says, her voice warmer and lower than Riku expects. She looks between Riku and Mitsuki, who has abruptly dropped the water bottle in his hands.

 

Riku turns to find his band mates showing various degrees of confusion. Something akin to recognition flickers across Sougo's face as well, and Sougo's mouth opens into a small ‘o.’

 

“Excuse me,” the woman adds. Her voice compels Yamato and Tamaki to part a path in the crowded hallway. She smiles at them before heading towards the staircase and out of sight.

 

"Was that—"

 

"There's no way—"

 

"You’ve seen her posters," Sougo whispers.

 

"Huh," Yamato says.

 

Mitsuki pinches his own arm, then brings both hands to slap at his cheeks. When Iori shoots him a concerned look, Mitsuki stares at the rest of them like he's just experienced something profound.

 

"Um," Riku feels the need to ask. "What just happened?"

 

"Riku-kun," Sougo says kindly. Still, there's a hint of disbelief in his voice. "That was Fullmoon, the Princess of Japanese Pop."

 

 

 

 

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Maneko-chan! Makeko-chan! Did you hear?!!!

 

Tsumugi: Good evening, Momo-san. This is the group chat.

 

❀Momo-chan❀: I know!!! But did you hear the news? AVEX just announced that FULLMOON WILL BE MAKING A COMEBACK FOR HER 20TH ANNIVERSARY! (ノ。≧◇≦)ノ Momo-chan has to share the news with everyone!

 

Yuki: Momo has been babbling since Okarin told us. He’s so cute.

 

Tsumugi: I did hear about it. Apparently Fullmoon-san was at the agency earlier today, but I missed her.

 

❀Momo-chan❀: WHAT? ( ꒪Д꒪)

 

Gaku: What?

 

Tsumugi: Yes, I was informed that Music Station will be exclusively hosting her comeback performance at the end of this month. The Musical Director of the program has invited all currently active artists to participate in the special program. It's very exciting! I'm sure Anesagi-san and Okazaki-san has received similar information.

 

❀Momo-chan❀: BUT WHY WAS SHE AT THE TAKANASHIPRO OFFICE?

 

Tsumugi: Apparently she is an old acquaintance of my fath—the president. I'm not completely sure about their connection, but they used to work together. I'm sorry I can not share more.

 

Tamaki: it's been Fullmoon this and Fullmoon that all day. who is she anyway?

 

Gaku: You can't be serious

 

Yamato: She's been singing longer than Tama has been alive lol

 

Nagi: Is she perhaps FAMOUS? 「(°ヘ°)

 

Mitsuki: I can't believe this. Nagi, you're getting a complete education tonight!

 

Tsumugi: Ah! The members of IDOLiSH7 have not received my official memo. My apologies! I was planning to cover over this in our meeting tomorrow, but I can pull up the information right now.

 

Tsumugi: Fullmoon-san is a solo artist current signed with AVEX. She debuted at age 16 and has since released many successful albums. She was the first female solo artist to sell out Tokyo Stadium and has been coined "The Princess of Japanese Pop" since her early career. Fullmoon-san has won 13 Sapphire Disk Awards, which is a predecessor to JIMA. She has not been very active in recent years since the decline of the Idol Era, but this years marks her 20th anniversary and she will be releasing a full album.

 

Mitsuki: She also did the song for Kingdom Tarts!

 

Ryuu: I remember that. My brothers love that game.

 

Tsumugi: Yes! Fullmoon-san also sang the theme song for many successful anime series. She's not normally considered an "idol" due to the nature of the industry at the time.

 

Tamaki: is she more famous than Zero?

 

Tsumugi: That’s hard to say. The peak of Fullmoon-san’s career was during the rise of the Idol Era, and you can say her generation of performers ushered in the original idol boom. In maybe ways, she was a predecessor to many household names like Zero.

 

Gaku: Good work, Tsumugi

 

Riku: I remember now! Okaa-san used to play her songs all the time. Do you remember, Tenn-nii?

 

Tenn: How can I not when you begged me to sing her songs all the time?

 

Yuki: How cute.

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Maneko-chan! Good job! But you missed some very important parts of Fullmoon's ~appeal~! She's also popular for being mysterious!

 

Tsumugi: Right, Momo-san! Fullmoon-san is extremely private about her personal life. The fact that she has maintained her stage name for two decades shows that.

 

Sougo: There are many astonishing rumors about Fullmoon-san.

 

Nagi: WHAT? Like what?

 

Sougo: I don't think it would be appropriate to share, especially since I can't confirm them.

 

Yuki: Oh, just this and that. Stuff about Fullmoon getting plastic surgery.

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Fullmoon not being a natural blonde.

 

Yuki: Fullmoon being secretly married to the guitarist from Route-L

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Fullmoon having nine children

 

Yuki: Fullmoon actually being an alien

 

Tsumugi: I'm sure these rumors are baseless *sweats*

 

Tsumugi: (concerned Kinako sticker)

 

Tsumugi: Momo-san and Yuki-san, have you thought about the assignment?

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Assignment? ?(ノ)・´ω・(ヾ)

 

Tsumugi: All invited artists have been asked to perform a cover of one of Fullmoon-san’s songs. The President told IDOLiSH7 to pick one for themselves, but I believe the Musical Director of Music Station will assign each group one if they can not decide.

 

Gaku: TRIGGER has already decided

 

Ryuu: Gaku is very passionate about Fullmoon ^^

 

Tsumugi: That's wonderful. Do you mind sharing, Gaku-san? If not, I'm sure we'll hear about it eventually in the official lineup, so please do not feel pressured!

 

Gaku: It's not a secret. We'll be doing ‘Eternal Snow.’. I’ve always liked that song.

 

Tsumugi: Gaku-san must be a big fan of Fullmoon-san! That's good to hear!

 

Tenn: It appears he has a type

 

Gaku: OI!

 

Tsumugi: Type? A type of what?

 

Tsumugi: (confused Kinako sticker)

 

Yamato: Wow lol

 

Iori: Sorry for cutting in, but have the members of Re:Vale decided on which song they will cover?

 

❀Momo-chan❀: We have not ( ≧Д≦)

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Momo-chan is worried! What if everyone picks the song we want? I heard DuO already submitted their request to Director-chan! So fast! (๑◕︵◕๑)

 

Riku: They must be Fullmoon fans!

 

Tsumugi: I believe everyone in the industry is a fan of hers in some way. Banri-san and I will be discussing this in more detail in the meeting tomorrow with IDOLiSH7, so please rest assured!

 

Tsumugi: (Determined Kinako sticker)

 

 

 

 

 

That night, Riku dreams about lights and starry nights. He's standing on stage with Tenn, but the crowds in Zero Stadium transform into the small seating area of their parents' club. Under the harsh stadium lights, Tenn turns to Riku and says, You don't deserve to be here.

 

I already know that, Riku wants to say because this is a reoccurring dream of his. He knows the familiar sight of disappointment in Tenn’s eyes well. Riku opens his mouth, but the speakers in the club come on then and begin blasting a pop song.

 

Well? Tenn asks, his smile unreadable.

 

Nanase-san, Iori says then, appearing behind Tenn.

 

"You're wrong," Riku hisses.

 

"Nanase-san," Iori says again, a warm hand settled on Riku's shoulder as Riku slowly blinks into awareness.

 

Riku notices things in the following order:

 

One, Iori's face is extremely close.

 

Two, Riku's blanket has been kicked to the floor again, and Iori will probably chide him for sleeping with his stomach exposed again.

 

Three, Fullmoon's song is playing in the background, carried in from the hallway along with the shrilling laughter of Riku's band mates.

 

"Morning," Riku manages with a squeak, just as Iori deposits the fallen blankets on Riku's leg. "What are you doing here?"

 

"Nii-san asked me to wake you up. He made omurice for breakfast. Your favorite."

 

This encourages Riku to shoot out of bed. He flashes Iori a smile when Iori reaches a hand out to balance him. Together, they enter the kitchen to find Mitsuki at the stove. A few meters away, Yamato sits with his face down on the dining table.

 

"We stayed up watching Fullmoon's concert DVD!" Nagi explains as he dances around the room, moving plates from the counter to the table. "Then we marathoned Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, which Fullmoon sang the opening songs for! I was astonished by the quality and complexity of 90s magic girl series! What BEAUTY AND ARTISTRY! It pains me to admit that I must expand my repertoire of series outside of my beloved Cocona!"

 

"Nagi-kun's screams woke me up last night," Sougo adds softly.

 

Nagi looks aghast at the reminder. "How could I not? MY GOD! The plot twist was so unexpected!"

 

Yamato makes a vague noise in agreement. He doesn't move even after Mitsuki sets a plate in front of him.

 

"Get up, old man," Mitsuki says with a laugh. He's almost done setting the table when he remembers, "Wait, where's Tamaki?"

 

It takes Sougo fifteen minutes to coax Tamaki out of bed, by which point Mitsuki has already changed the CD in the stereo. Thankfully, everyone is already fed and awake when Tsumugi appears.

 

"Good morning!" Tsumugi beams when Iori helps her distribute the files in her arms. "I see Mitsuki-san has been enlightening everyone! As I mentioned previously in the group chat, we have been invited to perform a cover of Fullmoon-san’s song for her comeback special on MusiStation.”

 

“Have there been any updates?” Iori asks while making his way around the table. He picks up Riku’s empty mug after handing him a file, then returns a few seconds later with more tea for Riku.

 

Tsumugi flips through her memo. “I received information from the MusiStation producer that multiple groups have sent in their requests. Strawberry will be covering ‘Myself’, DuO has chosen ‘Love Chronicles’, and TRIGGER will be performing ‘Eternal Snow.’

 

“Just like Momorin said,” Tamaki mumbles into his oversized King Pudding plush.

 

Mitsuki is busy flipping through his own file. “DuO is famous for technopop. Are they remixing the song?”

 

“I’m not quite sure. Director-san encourages different artistic directions in everyone’s covers, but he has expressed that it’s not mandatory. Don’t be discouraged!” Tsumugi says, nodding as if to reassure herself. “There are still many options for us to explore!”

 

“Are we going to be okay?” Riku asks, feeling a vague sense of anxiety bubbling in his chest. “What if we accidentally choose the same song as another group? There will be new choreography and lines to learn and—” He stops when Iori sets a hand on his arm.

 

“Manager is communicating with Director-san to prevent a song repeat. Don’t stress, Nanase-san. It’s bad for your health.”

 

“I know that,” Riku pouts. He knows Iori is doing his best to look after him, but any mention of Riku’s illness feels like an implication that Riku is not good enough for IDOLiSH7. Still, he finds himself leaning into Iori’s touch.

 

“We MUST cover the opening of Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne!” Nagi shouts and manages to procure the DVD box set out of nowhere.

 

Tsumugi forces out a polite smile while Yamato snorts. “Unfortunately, Director-san has provided a list of acceptable song choices. I don’t believe the anime opening is included…. But we can find something similarly upbeat!”

 

“How about ‘SMILE’?” Riku asks when he spots the name. As if on cue, Mitsuki changes the track number on the CD to play the song. Everyone is silent for a moment until Mitsuki starts mouthing along to the lyrics.

 

“It sure is upbeat,” Yamato says after a while. “Is there a reason you suggested this?”

 

Riku feels his cheeks heat up. “My mother really likes this song. She played it at the club all the time, and I’d ask Tenn-nii to sing it for me. Um…. Sorry, this is embarrassing! It’s okay if we pick another song!”

 

“I don’t have a preference either way. Mitsu?”

 

“I like this song too, so I vote yes.”

 

“It does have a very IDOLiSH7 feel to it,” Sougo adds. He smiles when Tamaki hums in lazy agreement. Even Nagi seems placated now as he dances along.

 

Tsumugi turns to Iori, and Riku can feel Iori pause.

 

“It seems like everyone has already decided, regardless. I’m fine with this choice, but the tempo is very fast and we’ll need to work on the transitions. We should at least modify the original choreography to reflect IDOLiSH7.”

 

“Understood! I will notify Director-san immediately!”

 

 

 

 

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Guess what Momo-chan heard through the grapevines?

 

Yuki: Do peaches grow on grape vines?

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Yuki! It’s been so long since you called me a peach! Now I’m feeling embarrassed! ໒( ♥ ◡ ♥ )७

 

Tamaki: what did Momorin hear?

 

❀Momo-chan❀: IDOLiSH7 will be covering ‘SMILE’ on the Fullmoon MusiStation special! How exciting!

 

Tsumugi: Good afternoon Momo-san! You are correct. I only submitted the request a few hours ago. Momo-san’s network is truly amazing!

 

Yamato: More like frightening

 

Sougo: Has Re:Vale chosen a song yet?

 

Yuki: Momo has been blasting all of Fullmoon’s discography since yesterday.

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Choosing is so difficult! Yuki! We should just release a full cover album of Fullmoon’s works!

 

Tsumugi: I believe that may interfere with the album she is releasing *sweats*

 

❀Momo-chan❀: You’re right

 

❀Momo-chan❀: (。-人-。)

 

Gaku: ‘SMILE’ huh? It really has an early pop feel

 

Mitsuki: Right? Her songs are all so distinct for that era of pop music! I can’t wait to see how everyone will be putting their own spins on it!

 

Tsumugi: I look forward to it! I’m sure it will be great.

 

Gaku: You’ll like it, Tsumugi. We’re doing a reorchestration that is —

 

Tenn: A secret

 

Tenn: IDOLiSH7 will see it at the same time as our fans. This is only fair.

 

Riku: Tenn-nii! That’s so cool!

 

Tenn: Thanks. I’m surprised you chose this song.

 

Riku: We used to sing it together!

 

Riku: Well… You sang and I tried to catch up…

 

❀Momo-chan❀: AWWWW

 

Yuki: Aw

 

Ryuu: Aw ^^

 

Mitsuki: Aw

 

Iori: Manager, it’s almost time to meet with Nishina-sensei

 

Tsumugi: Iori-san is right! Excuse me. I look forward to everyone’s product in three weeks!

 

 

 

 

 

Riku has difficulty sleeping again that night. He shifts in his bed for an hour before reaching for his phone. Upon seeing the green light of activity next to Iori’s name on the rabbit chat app, Riku leaves bed and tiptoes across the hallway.

 

“Iori? Are you awake?” Riku peaks inside to find Iori reading at his desk. “Can I come in?”

 

Iori looks away from his laptop. “You’re already halfway in. Come inside so we don’t disturb Yotsuba-san.”

 

“What are you looking at?” Riku closes the door as softly as he can and moves to stand behind Iori.

 

Iori responds by grabbing the neatly folded blanket from the edge of his loft bed and draping it across Riku’s shoulder. “It’s cold at night, Nanase-san. You shouldn’t be walking around in those thin pajamas.”

 

Riku waits until Iori has wrapped the blanket around his shoulder before grinning. When Iori’s fingers brush wild strands of hair from Riku’s eyes, Riku moves his own hands to cover Iori’s. “I told you to call me by my name when we’re alone.”

 

“This again,” Iori says but does not withdraw his hands from caressing Riku’s face. The midnight visits are new to them both. “You can’t sleep?”

 

“I keep thinking about the MusiStation special.”

 

Iori laughs a little. “So excited you can’t sleep? That’s quite childish.”

 

“I thought you liked that part of me,” Riku jokes.

 

“I like every part of you, Nanase-san.”

 

“Call me Riku.”

 

Iori pauses. “Well, then what’s bothering you, Riku-san?” The name sounds foreign coming from Iori, and the blush on Iori’s face suggests he shares this sentiment.

 

Riku tilts his head until he’s leaning into Iori’s hand. “I just keep thinking about the project. Fullmoon has been in the industry for 20 years, but she kept her relationships and family private. Even Zero was so secretive that no one knew his identity.” He frowns. “What’s going to happen to IDOLiSH7 in 20 years? How long do we have to keep our relationship a secret?”

 

“We can tell our bandmates if you want,” Iori reminds him.

 

This is a conversation they’ve had before. Riku can’t imagine any of his friends responding negatively to the news, but the concept of change is frightening. The idea of everyone understanding and accepting the depth of Riku’s feelings for Iori makes Riku feel small and exposed. These days, the smile on Iori’s face is soft enough that Riku does not want to share it with anyone else.

 

“Anyone in the public eye can understand the desire for anonymity. It seems like a personal decision. If Nanase-san wants to reveal our relationship to the public, we would have to think deeply about the consequences.”

 

“Of course I don’t want everyone to know!” Riku says with a huff. “I don’t even know when to tell Tenn-nii. Do you think Mitsuki knows?”

 

Iori considers this. “Nii-san has never confronted me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an inkling.”

 

“You two are very close, huh?” Riku moves forward to rest his face on Iori’s shoulder. “Even though you don’t seem super attached to each other. I’m jealous.”

 

Iori absently smoothes down hair on the back of Riku’s head. “Don’t compare your relationship with Kujou-san to mine with Nii-san. Also, please don’t compare our relationship with anyone else’s. What we have is our own to cherish.”

 

“That’s so cheesy, Iori! Maybe you should try writing lyrics!”

 

Iori lets out a small noise of complaint. Still, he gently ushers them both away from the desk. “It’s late. Do you want to stay over again tonight?”

 

“Yes,” Riku mumbles into Iori’s shirt and wishes he didn’t have to ask every time.

 

 

 

 

 

Three weeks seemed like sufficient time to practice their cover and finalize the choreography. In reality, IDOLiSH7 is bombarded with side projects. MEZZO” spends weeks recording new songs while Yamato disappears at dawn and returns late in the night to film his drama. Nagi, too, gets shuffled from studio to studio with his endless queue of modeling gigs.

 

Riku almost misses the idleness of his life predebut, but he’s thankful for the pockets of time he shares with Iori at the dorm. Things don’t change much. Riku still trips on occasions when climbing down from Iori’s loft bed, and they still pull apart from pseudo-kisses in record time when Tamaki stumbles sleepily downstairs.

 

In retrospect, Riku probably took his downtime for granted, because rehearsals for the MusiStation special pick up the week before the broadcast. They spend afternoons distributing lines and practicing vocal transitions. The song sounds strange when recomposed for their vocal range, and Riku is not sure if he likes the change.

 

“What’s wrong, kiddo?” Yamato asks when he finds Riku scribing notes on the margin of his sheet music.

 

“It feels weird,” Riku says. His arm is sore from knocking into Tamaki during dance rehearsals. “It sounds different from what I remember.”

 

“Well, yeah!” Mitsuki chimes in when he passes by. “Of course we don’t sound exactly like the original!”

 

Still, the feeling of displacement continues to haunt Riku as rehearsals pick up. Their choreographer, Nishina-sensei, is relentless this time around, picking at Nagi’s form and Yamato’s spins. “This isn’t a music video! You don’t get retakes or the chance to redeem yourself at a future performance.”

 

“Do you think Sensei is a Fullmoon fan?” Sougo whispers, but straightens up immediately when Nishina-sensei barks at him to stop slouching.

 

They break for the day with unpolished choreography. Riku wants to talk to Iori, but he frowns upon finding Iori and Mitsuki heading back to their parent’s home for the day.

 

“You can always talk to me on rabbit chat,” Iori reminds him gently, but Riku feels like he can’t put his feelings into words.

 

That evening, Riku lies in bed and opens up the chat client.

 

 

 

 

 

Riku: Tenn-nii, are you awake?

 

Tenn: Riku, what’s wrong?

 

Riku: Nothing! Are you free to talk now?

 

Tenn: I wouldn’t have replied if I wasn’t.

 

Tenn: What do you need?

 

Riku: I just want to chat!

 

Riku: How is TRIGGER’s preparation going? Are you excited for MusiStation?

 

Tenn: I’m always ready. Being prepared is an idol’s job

 

Tenn: Practice is going fine. Ryuu and Gaku both have schedules lined up for the next few days so we’re essentially done with rehearsals. I believe we will receive positive responses.

 

Riku: That’s good!

 

Riku: Um

 

Tenn: What is it?

 

Riku: Do you remember the first time you sang ‘SMILE’? Okaa-san worked the lights in the club so the spotlight fell on you. It felt like a real concert!

 

Tenn: I remember

 

Riku: Even back then, you seemed like a star I could never reach.

 

Tenn: I see

 

Tenn: I’m glad you still remember it fondly. I will look forward to your cover. How is it going?

 

Riku: To be honest… It’s difficult. The song is so fast and it’s hard to readapt choreography meant for one.

 

Tenn: Riku, you are a professional. This should be no problem for you.

 

Riku: I know that!

 

Riku: It’s just that… No matter how hard I try, I can’t recapture the feeling I first felt while listening to you sing it.

 

Tenn: You are not me, Riku.

 

Riku: I know that too! I know I’m not as talented as Tenn-nii!

 

Tenn: That

 

Riku: I know I’m not Fullmoon and I can’t sound like her! But I want to do the song justice! I don’t want to ruin it!

 

Tenn: That’s not what I meant

 

Tenn: Calm down, Riku

 

Riku: I am calm!

 

Tenn: Then you should stop acting like a child. Bringing our own sounds to older songs is the whole appeal of this special. You’re missing the point if you try to recreate the music for what it was.

 

Riku: Fine

 

Tenn: Riku?

 

Riku: Tenn-nii knows more than I do, as always!

 

Tenn: Are you okay?

 

Tenn: Riku?

 

 

 

 

 

“Riku-kun, you look tired,” Sougo says the next morning. He looks like he’s about to give Riku his own water bottle.

 

“I’m fine,” Riku lies despite having not slept at all last night. His bed had felt large and empty without Iori’s even breathing to fill the space. Even the sight of Iori at the dance studio does not sooth Riku’s frayed nerves.

 

“The building is so lively today,” Yamato comments while stretching on the floor.

 

“There’s a rumor that President Takanashi is entertaining special guests,” Mitsuku adds while pushing on Yamato’s back. He ignores Yamato’s yelps of pain. “Who do you think it is?”

 

Tsumugi appears then with a clipboard. “Ah! The President is just hosting a meeting. Please don’t think much about it!” She’s not very convincing, but not one is willing to call her out on the obvious lie.

 

“I don’t care if President Takanashi is meeting with the Prime Minister!” Nishina-sensei calls from the front of the room. “No one is getting out of here unless you all perfect the dance for Friday’s show!”

 

Everyone takes their positions with various degrees of enthusiasm.

 

Rehearsal, unfortunately, does not go well. Despite achieving an acceptable degree of synchrony in their dance, the singing portion is a disaster. Tamaki forgets his lines, Nagi is the only one who can pronounce the English lyrics, and Riku trips when he forgets his cue and runs into Iori during the chorus. They go down in an uncoordinated tumble, and Riku is huffing when Mitsuki and Sougo helps them up.

 

“Riku-kun? Are you okay? Maybe we should take a break.”

 

“I’m fine! I—” Riku does his best to catch his breath. He doesn’t want to mess this up for everyone. Riku can feel that familiar feeling of panic rising in his throat. “I just—I—We’ll take it again from the last line.”

 

Mitsuki frowns. “Are you sure?”

 

“I’m fine!” Riku insists hurriedly.

 

“I don’t think you’re fine, Nanase-san,” Iori cuts in. “You’ve been struggling to catch your breath for a while. I think you should sit out and—”

 

“I said I’m fine!” Riku snaps, but he already knows it’s too late. His uneven breathing changes rapidly into a wheeze. Riku can feel multiple hands on him, trying to steady him. Yamato appears at his side with Riku’s inhaler and Riku accepts it, feeling ashamed. By the time Tsumugi leads him to the nearest chair, Riku is on the verge of tears. He hates this. He hates being a burden to everyone.

 

Nishina-sensei, at least, is sympathetic enough to let Riku rest. “The rest of you, take it from the top!”

 

Riku watches as his bandmates go through the motions of the choreography. They seem smoother and more successful without him there, Riku thinks miserably as he finishes his dose. The inhaler feels cold and damning in his hands. So, when Tsumugi steps away to answer a call, Riku sneaks out of the rehearsal room.

 

The hallways of Takanashi Production are strangely empty when Riku folds himself into a corner of the vacant staff room. He hates crying in front of people, but the tears refuse to stop. Riku is wiping at his nose when he hears voices, and he’s not fast enough to duck under the desk when the doors open.

 

“We’re definitely lost,” a man’s voice says.

 

“Takuto! We’re not lost! We just, eh, took a detour! Oogami-san said the bathroom would be around the corner. He just—oh.” Both newcomers freeze at the sight of Riku shrinking miserably against the wall.

 

Riku tries to smile but fails. “The bathroom is in the next hallway,” Riku says, his voice scratchy.

 

“Go hold off Oogami-san for me,” Fullmoon tells her companion, who shrugs with a lazy hai, hai before leaving. She comes over to Riku with the movements of someone trying to placate a scared animal. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine!” Riku insists, but lets himself be maneuvered to the chair at Tsumugi’s desk. “I’m sorry for bothering you!”

 

Fullmoon takes a seat next to him and begins fumbling through her bag. “You’re not bothering me. Here.” She hands him a delicate looking handkerchief with an embroidered rabbit.

 

“I can’t use this!” Riku insists.

 

“Okay,” Fullmoon says after a beat. She grabs the tissue packet from Tsumugi’s desk, plucks out a few, and moves them to Riku’s nose.

 

“S-sorry….” Riku says after cleaning up his face. He’s so embarrassed. How could he let an industry legend and the subject of their tribute see him like this? Iori will definitely scold him. He opens his mouth to apologize, but stops when Fullmoon hands him a bottle of warm lemon juice that he recognizes from the vending machine outside.

 

Fullmoon’s voice is half concerned, half amused. “Will you accept this, at least? It’ll help your throat.”

 

“Thank you,” Riku whispers and opens the bottle.

 

“Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

 

Riku looks up, eyes wide. “N-no! Sorry for bothering you! It’s nothing, really!”

 

“It may not look like it, but I did my fair share of crying in the studio back in the days.”

 

Riku nearly chokes on the drink. “R-really?”

 

Fullmoon just laughs, her voice soft and comforting. “Yes, I was quite a willful child. I hated to be told I was wrong.”

 

“Me too….”

 

“So we have something in common! Can you tell me why you were upset?”

 

Riku stares down at his lap. He’s already been caught crying. What else does he have to lose? “I just…. Feel like I’m not good enough.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I… I want to do my part in the group. I don’t want to burden anyone, yet I’m always falling behind because of my condition.... I feel like I’m always playing catch up and wasting everyone’s time. I want to stand on my own two feet, but it’s never enough. I—sorry for blurting all this out.”

 

Fullmoon is quiet for a moment. “I understand how that feels.”

 

“You do?” Riku stares.

 

“There were periods of time when I couldn’t sing,” Fullmoon begins wistfully. “Singing was my love and I felt that I was nothing without it. I wanted to prove myself, but all I had was my voice. Does this sum up how you feel?”

 

Riku has no clue why she’s telling him all this. Still, he nods.

 

“Well, I was wrong, and you’re wrong too!” she continues with a bright smile. “It took me a while to realize this, but I sing for the people I love. I want to convey a feeling that can’t be put into just words. What’s really important is the relationship I have with people, not how I express it. Even if I stopped singing, I’m still me. My value isn’t limited to my career or my performance on stage. It’s the same for you, right? Oh, don’t cry—”

 

“I’m sorry,” Riku says for the nth time into his tissue.

 

“It’s okay,” Fullmoon tells him kindly. “You’re going to be okay.”

 

The door opens before Riku can respond, and Iori comes hurrying in. “Nanase-san, where have you been? We’re all worried about—” His gaze travels between Riku and Fullmoon, then lands on the tissues and Riku’s ruffled appearance. Iori pauses for a moment before bowing, his back bent at a 90 degree angle. “I’m sorry for the trouble my bandmate and I have brought you, Fullmoon-san!”

 

Riku’s eyes burn again. He should’ve known this was a mistake. Now he’s embarrassed both himself and IDOLiSH7 and Takanashi Productions and—

 

“Please stand up!” Fullmoon insists. “Oh, I’m no good at this. Nanase-kun hasn’t troubled me at all! I was the one who snuck out of that meeting. If anything, Nanase-kun helped me!”

 

Iori stares at her in disbelief. His expression eventually softens when he moves over to Riku. “Nanase-san, your eyes will get puffy again. Don’t rub at them with your hands.”

 

“I’m fine!” Riku insists, but lets Iori fuss with his face until Fullmoon starts giggling.

 

“I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a tsundere’s affection,” Fullmoon tells them, then beams when both Riku and Iori flush. “You don’t need to be so serious around me, I promise! Just do your best.”

 

“Thank you!” Iori and Riku chorus, just in time for clapping to be heard. They turn towards the hallway, where President Takanashi is standing with Kinako in his arms. He moves the half-open door with his foot until all of IDOLiSH7 come tumbling forward, obviously having eavesdropped outside. Tsumugi stands behind them, looking torn between horror and amazement.

 

Sougo is the first to pull himself up. “Fullmoon-san! I apologize for all—”

 

“Oh, this again,” Fullmoon says. She stands up as President Takanashi moves forward. “Takuto was supposed to hold you off!”

 

“Kira-kun did his best,” President Takanashi replies cryptically. “It’s difficult not to notice my entire band camped outside in the hallway, though. You’re quite popular with the young men here. They’re in such a rush to impress you.”

 

Fullmoon covers her mouth. “That’s too kind of you to say! I’m already a married woman in my late thirties!”

 

“You’re in your thirties?” Tamaki asks, then shrugs when Sougo hisses at him for being rude.

 

“She debuted at sixteen! This year is her 20th anniversary! Didn’t you pay attention to the memo at all?!”

 

“Calm down, Mitsu.”

 

“You are still BEAUTY AND GRACE!” Nagi insists, then yelps when Mitsuki drags him back. Nagi tries to seek relief in the comforting arms of Tsumugi, only to find her bowing non-stop at Fullmoon. Yamato seems to want nothing to do with them and has retreated back into the hallway.

 

“Are you enjoying rubbing elbows with the new faces of the music industry?” President Takanashi asks.

 

Fullmoon claps her hands together. “I can’t wait to see them on stage!”

 

 

 

 

 

The live broadcast of the MusiStation Fullmoon Special is the most anticipated event in entertainment media, so Riku should have expected the fans and paparazzi parked outside of the studio. Still, he nearly stumbles upon exiting the company van and has to be helped upright by Iori.

 

The dress rehearsal takes place hours before the broadcast, and performers are asked to wait in their dressing rooms for their turn. As always, Tsumugi and Yamato disappear to greet other guests on behalf of IDOLiSH7, and Riku is left impatiently waiting on the couch until their slot. Thankfully, their routine goes well, and everyone is sent back to the waiting rooms while the studio opens the doors to the lucky 300 audience members.

 

Riku doesn’t understand the scope of the broadcast until IDOLiSH7 arrives on stage during the guest introductions. His mouth opens at the sight of TRIGGER, Re:Vale, DuO, Strawberry, ATN36, and even the famous South Korean band EVXQ already waiting in the guest area. Seated in the center is Fullmoon herself, glowing under the studio lights in her signature white attire.

 

“Welcome back, IDOLiSH7,” MC Tamori says, clad in his famous sunglasses.

 

Riku feels like he’s floating on air, even after IDOLiSH7 is seated in the back row. He does his best to pay attention, but the feeling of surrealness lingers until Iori sets a hand on Riku’s knee. “Huh?” Riku meeps.

 

MC Hirunaka just smiles. Four different cameras are positioned strategically around her to capture the MC segment. “Who are you most excited about seeing?”

 

Riku defaults to his standard Professional Answer. “Ah! Re:Vale! I’m excited to see how they will add their own twist to the song!”

 

“Thank you!” Momo cheers, blowing a kiss at him that elicits screams from the audience. “I’m looking forward to your performance too! But I must say, I can’t wait to see DuO’s act!”

 

“You’re a flatterer as always, Momo-kun!” DuO’s A-chan replies, less to Momo and more to the camera. She winks at him. “DuO will not lose to Re:Vale~!”

 

“What about you, TRIGGER?” MC Hirunaka asks. “I was surprised to see your choice of songs. It’s a deviation from TRIGGER’s original sound.”

 

Tenn snatches the mic out of Gaku’s hand with practiced ease. “We’ve worked hard to create a cover that reflects both the original integrity of Fullmoon-san’s works and our musical style. Please look forward to it!”

 

“And who is Kujou-kun looking forward to seeing?” MC Tamori asks.

 

Tenn surprises possibly everyone in the studio when he replies smoothly with, “Perhaps Nanase-san from IDOLiSH7?” As if on cue, all the guest turn to look at Riku, who covers his mouth with his hands. “The song they chose is one of my favorites.”

 

Riku is not expecting this obvious acknowledgment, especially not on national television. He finds himself blushing with a quick, “Thank you, t-Kujou-san!”

 

Thankfully, MC Tamori decides to change the topic. “Speaking of favorites, I heard that someone in TRIGGER is a big Fullmoon fan. Could that be you?” His tease invites polite laughter in the studio space.

 

The smile Tenn returns is nothing short of angelic. “Everyone in TRIGGER has the utmost respect for Fullmoon-san. Even our president is quite fond of her.”

 

“Ohhhh!” MC Tamori says. “That old fox! President Yaotome, huh?”

 

“President Yaotome has been very kind to me,” Fullmoon chimes in then, her smile open and endearing. “We worked together on my third album, along with the president of Takanashi Productions. It’s an honor to perform today alongside talents from both agencies!”

 

The cut to commercial break sees them all shuffling to allow DuO to to leave for the stage. As Mitsuki predicted, DuO performs a synthpop remix of ‘Love Chronicle’ that has everyone in the audience breathless and cheering by the end.

 

“What do you think, Momo-san?” MC Hirunaka asks afterwards.

 

Momo’s grin is completely genuine. “Since Re:Vale is a fellow two person group, I really respect DuO! They have such a unique sound. I hope Re:Vale will live up to that! Please cheer for us too!” He tangles his left hand in Yuki’s and lift both their arms up in a victory pose that sends the female audience members into deafening shrieks.

 

Re:Vale choice of ‘Focus’ is spot on as they deliver a rock cover of one of Fullmoon’s lesser known songs. During the climax of the choreography, Yuki feigns pushing Momo away, which causes Momo to do a flack flip that segues into a dance break. Riku gasps with the audience when Re:Vale’s dance ends with Yuki peeling Momo’s jacket collar back to reveal smeared lipstick stains, just like in the lyrics. Even Fullmoon herself seems completely surprised at this turn of events.

 

“As expected of Re:Vale,” MC Hirunaka says when the frenzied clapping ends. Thankfully, her mic does not catch Nagi’s repetitive WOW! AMAZING!. “They always keep us on our toes.”

 

“More like we don’t know what to expect with Re:Vale!” MC Tamori hollers, and Riku can’t help but laugh along.

 

TRIGGER’s performance follows, and Riku’s jaw drops when Tenn takes his place behind a keyboard. Even Gaku’s guitar and Ryuu’s electric bass look detailed to match TRIGGER’s outfits. Riku had heard Tenn and Gaku play instruments at Momo’s birthday party a few months back, but he’s still blown away by TRIGGER’s soft rock rendition of ‘Eternal Snow.’ There’s something captivating about how Tenn, Gaku, and Ryuu’s voices harmonize during the chorus that sends chills up Riku’s spine. The audience seems to share his sentiment.

 

“Is there anything TRIGGER can’t do?” Yamato asks wrly, but even he’s grinning now.

 

“Wow,” Fullmoon explains after she’s caught singing along. “This was Route: L’s original orchestration of the song. I haven’t heard it in years! It brings back so many memories. I kind of feel like crying?” Still, her eyes are bright and happy when TRIGGER bows at her from the stage.

 

Riku isn’t sure how IDOLiSH7 is expected to follow up TRIGGER’s spot, especially after that raving review. Iori must understand this, for in the moments before the lights turn on and the camera begins rolling, he squeezes Riku’s hand.

 

“You can do it, Nanase-san.”

 

We can do it,” Mitsuki corrects in a whisper from his spot in front of Riku.

 

Riku has etched the lyrics into the depths of his mind that they now feel like an extension of himself. He tries to summon the feeling of comfort they brought him years ago, when Tenn was his sole reason for smiling. Now Riku is here, under the technicolor spotlight, surrounded by people who share his laughter and dream. Here, Iori is smiling at Riku across the stage, like Riku is the brightest star in his sky. He takes a deep breath as the music starts.

 

if the sky was crying for you

I'll turn into a sea and embrace it

even if we're swallowed by the storm and lose our map

your back is the signpost for me now

 

Riku does his best to channel all of his hopes into the lyrics, until Mitsuki and Yamato’s voices picks up the next line.

 

like the moon and sun, even when near or far

please be close enough

to capture my light

 

Like clockwork, all seven of them move into position right before the chorus. The lights change just as the song picks up, and Riku feels lighter somehow.

 

smile smile

watch me always, watch me forever whenever

smile smile

want to believe, want to feel it forever

I cannot live without you forever

 

The performance is a blur after right. Riku remembers a few distinct points: the flip of Nagi’s jacket as he turns, the seamless way Tamaki covers up Mitsuki’s misstep, and the way Iori’s voice reverberates when he sings N and S, like magnets. Even the audience feels more alive as the beat of the song carries Riku through the rest of the choreography. He feels like floating even after the song ends, and the sound of frantic applause can be heard.

 

“And... Cut!” the director calls as the cameras move away from them. Immediately, everyone stops holding their position. Tsumugi and Banri shoot them thumbs ups from the off-camera area, Tsumugi holding a stack of towels under her arms.

 

“How do you feel, Nanase-san?” Iori asks, busy fussing with Riku’s hair.

 

“I can’t stop smiling,” Riku says and means it.

 

EVXQ has the pleasure, or perhaps misfortune, of having the last slot before Fullmoon’s comeback. IDOLiSH7 misses most of it as they’re shuffled from backstage to the guest area. When they retake their seat, Riku is surprised that Yamato has given him the spot next to TRIGGER.

 

“Good job,” Tenn says quietly. “I was watching you.”

 

“Te-Kujou-san!” Riku does his best to lower his voice. “Thank you!”

 

“Pay attention, you two,” Gaku whispers with no heat in his voice.

 

Together, they watch Fullmoon’s much anticipated performance. It feels unreal for Riku to share this moment with Tenn, year afters they’ve been separated. Fullmoon’s voice is deep and warm, like an anchor that pulls Riku out of his personal haze. She looks almost like an angel in her white dress, and for a moment Riku wonders what Fullmoon has been through to stand so effortlessly on that stage.

 

“You’re wrong, by the way,” Tenn says when Fullmoon’s performance has ended and both MCs are interviewing her. His voice is soft amidst the chattering around them. “I am not more talented than you. We’re different in so many ways, but I’ve never considered you lesser than me. It’s true that I’ve opposed some of your decisions, but I’ve never been ashamed of you, Riku.”

 

“Ah! Riku is crying again!”

 

“Oi, Tenn, cut that cut. Stop picking on Nanase.”

 

“I’m fine!” Riku insists as Iori hands him tissues. Despite his tears, he can’t stop the grin splitting across his face. The smile Tenn shoots him in return is confirmation enough.

 

“Nanase-kun? Are you okay?!” A-chan asks, just as the cameras turn back onto the guest section.

 

“You must be so moved by Fullmoon’s performance!” Momo chimes in.

 

Riku doesn’t even care that his teary face is being broadcasted on television. “I am! I love everyone and I love MusiStation! I want to come back and sing with everyone again!”

 

 

 

 

 

The footage of Riku’ declaration becomes the third most watched video from the special, after Fullmoon’s performance and Re:Vale backstage interview. Tenn’s smile and IDOLiSH7’s collective indulgence of Riku is captured forever on screen, but for once Riku is not afraid of Iori teasing him for being childish.

 

“That was still brash of you, Nanase-san,” Iori says while toweling Riku’s hair dry. He sighs when Riku leans back, and Riku’s head is resting on Iori’s shoulder. “Don’t fuss. I don’t want you to catch a cold after your bath.”

 

“That hasn’t happened in months! You should trust me more!”

 

“I do trust you,” Iori tells him. “But I still can’t help but worry about you. I can’t stand the thought of you hurt or sad, Nanase-san. I wish you would talk to me more.”

 

Riku turns around until he can see Iori’s face. Iori smells like clean linen and Riku’s favorite shampoo. “Sometimes it feels like, even if I don’t say it, you still understand all of my wishes. It’s like you complete me, Iori!” Then Riku’s mind catches up with his mouth, and he feels his face heat up.

 

Iori’s face is soft when he whispers into Riku’s ear. “I’m glad to hear that, Riku-san.”

 

Riku does the only thing he can think of, and tilts his face to kiss Iori. It’s not the first time they’ve done this, but every occasion seems a bit sweeter. He can feel Iori’s hands travel from Riku’s arm to the small of his back, and Riku sighs into the kiss in response.

 

That’s when the door to door Iori’s room is thrown open by Nagi. “Iori! Riku! It’s time for MagiCocona!” He blinks at the sight of Riku and Iori together. “OH! SORRY! Come watch with us when you’re done!” Then he’s gone, skipping down the hallway.

 

Riku covers his face with his hands. “Oh no….”

 

“We should probably talk to him,” Iori says. Still, he doesn’t move from his spot, and chooses to run his finger along Riku’s lips instead. “Let’s get you all cleaned up first.”

 

Nagi is lying stomach down on the couch when Riku and Iori finally arrive in the living room. “YES! You’re here! Time to watch!”

 

“Can we talk to you?” Riku asks.

 

SURE! About what?”

 

“In private,” Iori tsks.

 

“If this is about the two of you being together, we already know,” Yamato says from the kitchen table as he flips through a script. “Now stop blocking the tv. You know how Nagi gets.”

 

“That is RUDE!” Nagi cries. “I certainly have time for my beloved friends if they want me to entertain the notion of their SECRET relationship!” Still, he cranes his neck to see the MagiCocona opening.

 

Riku looks frantically at everyone. “W-what? You knew?”

 

“You never sleep in your own room anymore,” Yamato points out.

 

“I’ve walked into Rikkun and Iorin kissing so many times. It was getting annoying timing myself so I don’t interrupt you two,” Tamaki says with a yawn. Next to him, Mitsuki gives them a big thumbs up while Sougo smiles apologetically behind his tea.

 

“Why didn’t you say something?” Iori asks. He sounds half frustrated and half fond. “Nii-san?”

 

“Well, I didn’t want to burst your bubble.” Mitsuki gives them a shug. “You always know what you’re doing. Who am I to interrogate you? Besides, Riku is a good kid. No complaints from me!”

 

“It doesn’t seem like any of our business,” Sougo adds. “But I am happy for you two.”

 

“Thank you,” Riku replies for lack of anything to say. He feels happy and floaty now, but Iori’s hand is warm in his. Riku, too, has nothing to complain about.

 

 

 

 

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Maneko-chan Maneko-chan guess what?!

 

Yamato: This deja vu lol

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Signed copies of Fullmoon’s new album were delivered to our agency today! She even hand wrote us a note!

 

Tsumugi: That’s wonderful, Momo-san. I believe she also sent a shipment of CDs to our office. A letter to Riku-san was included a well.

 

Riku: ah… That’s embarrassing! Fullmoon-san is too kind.

 

Tamaki: what did her letter say, Rikkun?

 

Riku: … Secret ^^

 

Iori: Please stop teasing Nanase-san

 

Nagi: Aha! Spoken like Riku’s true PRINCE!

 

Iori: *angry* *angry*

 

❀Momo-chan❀: I’ll tell you what her note to us said! She asked us who left the lipstick print on me for the performance! °(❛ᴗ❛)°

 

Mitsuki: Who did it?

 

❀Momo-chan❀: It was Yuki!

 

Yuki: Was it me?

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Joking! It wasn’t!

 

Yuki: Or maybe it was me

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Or maybe it was!

 

Yuki: It’s a Secret

 

Yamato: It’s a headache, is what it is

 

Tsumugi: As expected of Re:Vale! This is how you became the top most search performance after Fullmoon-san’s own comeback!

 

Riku: Did Fullmoon-san also send something over to your company, Tenn-nii?

 

Tenn: She delivered it personally

 

Sougo: It’s very nice of her to go through the extra effort. I regret not showing her the best side of IDOLiSH7 on the occasions that she visited Takanashi Productions. She seems to have positive things to say about everyone’s covers.

 

Ryuu: I’m sure she doesn’t mind, Sougo-kun! It’s always so lively over there!

 

Sougo: Thank you, Tsunashi-san

 

Tenn: We have a member here that’s been strangely quiet

 

Ryuu: Gaku got quite a shock when we went into President Yaotome’s office and found Fullmoon-san speaking with him!

 

Tenn: He started sputtering

 

Gaku: I did NOT

 

Ryuu: But it was very nice of Fullmoon-san to chat with us! She even remembered Gaku from when he was a child!

 

Gaku: Ryuu

 

Ryuu: Apparently President Yaotome used to take Gaku on trips with him, and Fullmoon-san met him when he was a toddler!

 

Tenn: Too bad he didn’t remember the meeting at all

 

Tsumugi: That’s impressive! I wonder what Gaku-san looked like as a child!

 

Gaku: Don’t do this

 

Tenn: President Yaotome sent something to Anesagi-san. I have a copy somewhere

 

Gaku: DON’T

 

Tenn: (picture)

 

Tsumugi: Oh, my!

 

Yamato: Incredible

 

Riku: Tenn-nii!! That’s a photo of us as kids!

 

❀Momo-chan❀: So cute. Momo-chan just wants to put you both in my pockets!

 

Tenn:... Sorry.

 

Tenn: Let me find the right one

 

Iori: Kujou-san’s facade is slipping

 

Tenn: That is very hypocritical coming from you, Izumi Iori

 

Tenn: I don’t want to hear that from someone who is 150% devoted to Riku

 

Yamato: Is this seriously happening right now?

 

Mitsuki: Fight-o, Iori!

 

Riku: No! Don’t fight!

 

Iori: We are not fighting

 

Tenn: As an adult, I do not have fights. I have disagreements.

 

Tsumugi: What a mature statement, Kujou-san! That photo of you and Riku-san is very cute! The matching sailor fukus are so nice!

 

Nagi: It’s as if I’m looking at ANGELS!

 

Gaku: Whatever, as long as you’ve given up on my photos

 

Tsumugi: I’d still like to see them, Gaku-san! I’m sure you were a wonderful child

 

Gaku: I’ll trade you, Tsumugi

 

Mitsuki: Manager, do you have baby photos of you with your mother? I’ve been wondering…

 

Tsumugi: Why do you ask?

 

Yamato: About that…

 

❀Momo-chan❀: Could it be that Maneko-chan’s mother is Fullmoon?!!!

 

Tsumugi: Ah, you are correct

 

Mitsuki: ???

 

Yamato: Really?

 

Gaku: What

 

Nagi: REALLY?

 

Tsumugi: No ^^

 

Iori: This is awful. You’ve completely learned how to talk back