Meeting Pantheon was the best thing that ever happened to them, Tsukioka Ryu felt. He leaned against the wall languidly as he watched his bandmates work with Pantheon as they prepared for the concert, a concert that would never have happened had they, and quite a few others, hadn't intervened. Thanks to everyone, he had a home. A group. 5*STAR.
And how that group nearly hadn't happened, how it wasn't supposed to happen.
He remembered when Matsumoto had called the two of them, himself and Yuuichi, in. That they were going to form a fake band with three others, and that they'd meet their bandmates in due time. Ryu had nodded at that; it was how things worked at ME, after all. He wasn't thrilled, but at least the promise of going back to his own unit had mollified him somewhat. Only somewhat, though, because he knew that for six weeks, this would be his unit, and he'd make friends as he always did, and then he'd lose them. Knowing that he only had six weeks there didn't make it hurt any less. He'd resolved not to get attached, that it was temporary. But it hadn't worked. It never did.
When Goto-kun, Hikaru, had reminded them that they had to be a unit, he'd done it reluctantly - but even he could see that they, as temporary as they were, needed to be a unit and pull things off. It would make Matsumoto think better of him and Yuuichi, and then they could make a debut, as a unit, and not be Juniors anymore. Of course, that meant getting hurt - losing bandmates always did - but he'd never succeed if he didn't think of his member-ai.
It always came down to that, member-ai. Member-ai and being friends and being happy. Yes, he really wanted to debut someday, come out of the Juniors; but he had to admit, he liked staying with one group more. It hurt a lot less.
He leaned more into the wall as a dongsaeng, the equivalent to a Junior, ran right by him. He'd been that tiny once, twelve and energetic and learning how to do everything right. He was fortunate to keep that energy, and thankful even more for a group that appreciated it. Sure, there were people hitting each other - they were guys, after all. But it wasn't like when he was being pushed around. These were fun and the others cared for him. Sure, Yuuichi was still the one he was closest to, being together in their own unit for several years, but he liked everyone in 5*STAR.
And as he watched the others, he knew that they felt that way too.
Hikaru had rescued him from Akasaka and Kurosawa, when they'd gotten Ryu behind the costume rack. He'd charged in, unafraid, and Ryu couldn't help but be awed by the way he moved. And the others, who were willing to beat the two from Tsunami up... that was the sign of true member-ai. Of course, it had been better to beat Tsunami in the ratings, stay 5*STAR, but he had to admit, he wouldn't have been too upset had Akasaka and Kurosawa had been beaten the other way. They didn't understand member-ai, not the way that Hikaru and the others did. That's why he never wanted to leave, and was so glad when he didn't.
Of all the others, he was glad Rin understood that too. Rin, who had no band experience, had gotten upset when it seemed like their group was doing their own thing; Ryu could understand his feelings because they were his feelings too. They both knew a good thing and a good group when they were part of one.
Even if Rin had been an ass about Ryu still wanting to be part of 4leaf. Even if he'd understood and not understood at the time, he'd changed. He'd become part of their group. He'd stopped making everyone cry, though that was mostly due to Hikaru.
It was fun, how everyone had come together; 5*STAR, their sempais, their friends in other units and Pantheon, all understanding better than management did on how to be together and what it meant to be a unit. It was hard to say in words what it was like to have member-ai, to truly understand what it was to be together, but everyone here, and everyone back at ME did.
Sometimes, it seemed like they and Pantheon were one unit as well. He watched Daewoong talk to Jeongsook and to Hikaru, the lilt of his Kansai-ben floating across the room. He loved playing with Daewoong, sexy, sultry Daewoong who had been last to speak Japanese because he wanted to be the mysterious type. Daewoong, who was definitely not the mysterious type when you got to know him, but liked playing as much as anyone else.
It was sometimes difficult not to think of Daewoong and the others as members of the same unit, and it was clear the Koreans thought the same way. It would be tough to leave after the specials, he thought, because it would be like leaving your own group, your own unit. Of course, the only reason they'd ended up in Korea was that Jeongsook and the others had understood that you didn't split up a group. Even if they had tried to split up the group at first, of course, but Ryu wasn't going to fault them for that, because who wouldn't want Leader-san's writing talent? And everybody made stupid decisions sometimes, even Jeongsook. Even Hikaru, too.
Heck, he made some stupid decisions, like to try his hand at dramas. Splitting himself from the group, or at least partly. And failing miserably, because he couldn't ever remember how to say the lines. Songs were easier, songs didn't require changes every week, songs were shorter, and he could dance during songs. He'd learned his lesson, the one that he couldn't make Rin understand at first, that they belonged together. Splitting felt like betrayal, with all he and the others had gone through.
Dodging another dongsaeng - they were everywhere, it seemed - he stopped leaning against the wall and sauntered to where his group was gathering. It was time to get back to practice.