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Freckles and a Bowl of Soba

Chapter Text

The first time that the confusion had started, it was shortly after the announcement that Mr. Shimooka had wanted the group to be on his show as regular guests. Riku had caught sight of him after Tsumugi had gone to the door of the studio to retrieve the bowls of soba that Otoharu had kindly gotten for them as a reward for their hard work. The group’s center had heard Tsumugi’s startled cries, peeking his head out to see what had shocked their manager as much as it had before realising it for himself. Standing in the middle of the studio’s entryway was none other than Trigger’s leader, Yaotome Gaku.

Or so he thought, anyway.

There was one startling difference that had Riku raising an eyebrow to the declaration, not quite surprised when the mirror image laughed and waved off Tsumugi’s alarmed outcry, firmly denying it without hesitation. This particular difference had presented itself against the young man’s face, from his temples to his nose, for there lay a number of small brown dots littering his otherwise flawless skin. The appearance of the man’s freckles, too many for Riku to count, stood out proudly to a point where the idol could actually admit that it made the soba shop worker appear rather attractive, possibly even more so than the highly regarded Trigger member. Raising an eyebrow at the thought, Riku had noticed how the man had glanced in his direction, forcing the redhead to blink when the soba shop worker smiled kindly at him and unable to reply to the gesture apart from a polite nod of his head.

After hearing Tsumugi vehemently apologise for the mistaken identity, Riku watched with self assured mindless curiosity as the Gaku look alike merely bowed his head before thanking her for her patronage and departing. Humming softly, the idol stepped into the entryway to assist his respected manager with the rest of the bowls before casting a glance towards the door where the man had been standing. Nodding alongside Tsumugi in her verbalized thoughts that Japan’s number one most coveted embrace very well couldn’t be working for a menial soba shop when he wasn’t a performing and well loved idol, Riku cast the thought out of his mind over the pleasant conversation throughout the group as they all shared their meal together.

At least, he certainly tried to.

Chapter Text

The rain that fell that afternoon was about as dreary as it could be, even with the warm temperatures for the season. The humidity was heavy, and the sky being a darkened shade of gray certainly was no comfort. What only made the day feel even more depressing was the doctor’s visit that Riku solemnly was trekking home from. While the visit itself had gone well enough given that it was nothing more than a check up and a means to get a refill of his inhaler prescription, the thought of it always dampened the idol’s mood. It had never been his favourite activity; telling others that going to the doctor was on his daily list of things to do often caused them to worry needlessly and Riku had been adamant that the concern wasn’t necessary.

Walking along the sidewalk, hearing the sound of his shoes hitting small puddles that littered the pathway among the chatter of the people walking about around him, all heading towards their own destinations, Riku kept his head down so it was partially hidden by the umbrella he carried. Holding the bag that his prescription was in, the usually cheerful center couldn’t find it in himself to smile as brightly as he normally could. His thoughts were all over the place, particularly stuck on the events that had transpired the past few days yet unable to fully focus on the topic even as he mused over it alone. The song that was meant to be their debut song had been ripped from their hands before they were even able to hold onto it. The pain of realising the loss felt like a blow to his chest, the pain of watching it slip away severe enough that Riku woke with nightmares.

Biting his lip, he felt anger begin to bubble, churning low in his abdomen yet having nowhere to go. He couldn’t very well blame Trigger for it; he had no physical proof that they had done it intentionally ( or so he was reminded constantly of this fact when he tried arguing it with Iori ), and even then he knew his twin brother was far too prideful to allow such a thing to happen to begin with. Thus the sinking feeling within his stomach remained where it was, simply sitting there twisting and coiling ever tighter. Exhaling heavily, Riku peered up at the sky that continued to mercilessly rain down upon the city, feeling as though it was mocking him for his misery.

His concentration drifted from him, wandering amongst the drops of rain that pattered softly against the umbrella, his eyelids drooping slightly as repetition of the sound offered a moment’s reprieve even with the gloominess that it gave off. They had opted to debut with an older song, one that was still important to them as it withheld a great many memories in the history of the lyrics and performance and while he was surely excited about it, there was still the mutual emotion of sadness that came with the loss of something they had been excited for. The center had no doubts that the rest of the group was feeling the same disappointment he was, the residual sharp inhales of air lingering through all seven of them when they had seen the MV for Trigger’s version of the song playing live before their eyes being a stab to the center’s chest that had tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.

Even now, as he stood in the middle of the sidewalk watching as the sky cried in his stead, did he feel the sting that followed the warmth beginning to gather at the edges of his vision. Choking it down, he lowered his gaze to the sidewalk beneath him, wondering if there was a moment’s respite he could find to distract himself from the pain of knowing that this was something out his control.

Swallowing thickly, a lingering scent drifting through the humid air reached his nose, lifting his head to look around in order to find the source of the rather delicious smell. Glancing about, his eyes locked sight with a small shop that housed a familiar name reading Yamamura Soba painted in black on a wooden sign. Recalling that it had been the name of the delivery the director had been kind enough to buy everyone when they had been told that they were to sing the theme song for the drama series Yamato was starring in, Riku could easily remember how delicious the meal had been. Hearing his stomach comply with the memory as it growled in complaint of being empty, the idol found it alluring enough that he had meandered over to the front door of the shop, folding his umbrella to hook the handle on his arm before opening the door to go inside.

Softly excusing himself, Riku allowed his eyes to peer curiously around the shop, noticing that it was rather empty save for a couple people scattered about the small dining area, all enjoying their meals in the peaceful solitude of the restaurant. The scents of the various types of soups wafted over to the entryway, the idol inhaling them eagerly before smiling gently, finding that his tense shoulders relaxed to the sounds of noodles being carefully slurped and the noises from the kitchen as orders were being fulfilled. Seeing as no one had come to instruct him on where to sit yet, Riku took the initiative upon himself to meander over to the bar that hooked around the center of the restaurant, finding a chair in the corner out of the way before setting his things down in the chair beside him in order to have space on the bar to eat. Resting his chin on his palm, he allowed his mind to drift a bit more to the sounds of the kitchen where dishes were clinking about as the sound of pans frying up various foods and water boiling noodles mixed pleasantly with the noise of the rain outside. The center found himself smiling, feeling that heavy weight at the bottom of his stomach lighten just a bit with the distraction.

He was distracted enough not to hear the sound of the curtain hanging from the doorway to the kitchen rustling as an employee finally emerged from the back. Riku only peered over when the employee addressed him kindly, noticing that it was the very same employee who had delivered the soba before. The Gaku doppelganger smiled at him as he had before, those eye catching speckles on his cheeks standing out just as much as the first time. The center blinked as the soba worker regarded him politely, offering a nod of his head in return.

“Ah, you’re Nanase Riku, aren’t you? From Idolish7. Welcome to our shop.”

“E-Er… Yes, that’s right. You’re the Yaotome Gaku clone…”

The title that had been delivered without even so much as a moment’s hesitation forced the young man to blink as it made him pause before he choked on a snort that gave way to full on laughter. The center flushed at the response, having only then realised that he had spoken his thoughts aloud before bowing his head in apology. As the soba shop worker settled from his outburst, he wiped at his eyes before sighing and rolling his shoulders with an amused grin.

“As many nicknames as I’ve been given from looking like that idol, I can certainly say that one was a first. The name’s Yamamura. My grandfather owns this shop, I help him out from time to time when he’s not able to make it in.”

A quiet hum was Riku’s response, accepting the explanation without much further suspicion. He found it to be rather amazing, that there were so many people in the world that could look like each other with only minor differences. The idol could easily muster up the assumption that this smiling employee was far softer than Trigger’s leader, whom he had only known to be stern and stone set in his ways of how idols should be. That combined with the freckles which were a rather glaring difference, Riku was easily able to set the two men apart from one another.

“I see… It’s nice to meet you, Yamamura-san. Thank you for the soba delivery from last time. The food was really delicious.” Another bow of Riku’s head finished the introduction, Yamamura bowing his head in silent reply before reaching into the pocket of his apron to pull out a pad of paper and a pen.

“Think nothing of it. We’re always grateful for the patronage. Now that introductions are out of the way, what can I get for you today, Nanase-san?”

Pausing a moment to glance past the worker in order to see the menu hanging up on the wall behind him, Riku quickly perused over the options available before his tired eyes landed on a particularly odd selection that had him tilting his head as he read it aloud.

“Goya soba…?” While having mostly been speaking to himself, Riku took fast notice of how Yamamura nodded his head in reply, jotting the order down on the pad of paper he held.

“Good choice, especially on a day like this. You’d be surprised how well they go together; give me just a bit alright? I’ll get that right out for you.”

Spinning on his heel in a fashion that was far more graceful than the idol expected, Riku followed the employee with his eyes as the man made his way into the back with a slightly dazed expression before leaning back against his chair. Closing his eyes to allow them to rest for a bit, the sounds around him seemed to increase in volume as they melded together into a pleasant white noise that helped his frazzled mind find something to focus on. Forgetting for a minute all the things that had occurred up until now, the idol pushed aside this title hanging above him, letting it slip out the door until he was nothing more than a young adult who was enjoying a nice lunch by himself on a gloomy day after having run some errands.

Forgetting how long he had kept his eyes closed, Riku came to when the gentle sound of a bowl being placed in front of him was followed by the sensation of a hand on his shoulder. Looking up, he found the young man gazing down at him with a worried expression. Blinking away the momentary weariness that had overcome him, Riku could only stare in minute confusion as Yamamura frowned in concern.

“Are you alright? Do you need me to call for someone? You sort of nodded off there.”

Another soft hum brought Riku back to the present, shaking his head before offering the worker an apologetic smile.

“Sorry, I’m fine. It’s just been a long day… Well, long few days if you really want to get into it… The rain certainly doesn’t help any either.”

Sighing softly, the idol turned his attention to the bowl in front of him as he heard Yamamura murmur a wordless sound before sitting beside him in an empty stool. Glancing back over to the employee, Riku found that looking at the young man up close gave far more detail to the freckles dotting his face, his stone gray eyes warm and slightly sympathetic. Flushing lightly, the idol quickly averted his gaze back to the bowl of soup in front of him. It was startling just how similar this young man looked to Trigger’s leader, even with the blatant difference of the freckles, but even more so that he was sitting this close.

“Did something happen? You don’t really need to get into details, but I’ve heard that talking to strangers sometimes help.”

Laughing weakly in reply, Riku could only shake his head, offering a feeble smile back towards the employee with a frail shrug of his shoulders. He had certainly heard the saying before and even more so was he grateful that this kind employee was willing to listen to his problems, but he couldn’t find it within himself to just delve into everything that had been bothering him let alone shove it on someone he didn’t know.

“Let’s just say… my friends and me… We lost something important. Rather… We had it taken from us, but we can’t do anything to get it back. It’s something that’s bothering all of us, but we’re handling it in our own way.”

Watching as the soft smile on Yamamura’s features faded to a somewhat surprised expression, Riku heard him exhale a hum as his eyes lolled about the restaurant before settling back upon the center. He watched as the soba worker extended a hand, feeling a gentle palm press to the top of his head, fingers sinking into his tresses of fire before petting him softly. Flushing in response, Riku watched the young man smile kindly, feeling a warmth rise up from the bottom of his stomach into his chest before blooming outward that darkened the tinge of pink on his cheeks.

“If it was taken from you and you don’t think you can do something to get it back, maybe search for something new? Something much better that you can hold onto a lot tighter. I’m sure it’s painful, and you might think you can’t do it right now, but I’m sure you can. Especially if you’re all together.”

The advice certainly made sense, and Riku was grateful for it even without the deeper details having been given. Offering Yamamura a soft smile, the idol nodded his head in gratitude, watching the freckled young man grin wider in reply before removing his hand and motioning to the untouched bowl of soup before him.

“For now, you should eat that. It’ll help distract you for the time being, and nothing’s better on a gloomy day than a hot bowl of soba. If you need anything else, let me know, alright?”

Offering his thanks and watching as Yamamura stood up before disappearing into the back with a wave, Riku turned his attention to the nicely decorated bowl as he pulled it closer to himself. The bowl itself was nice and warm, the idol smiling as he felt the heat against his hands, letting them linger against the sides of the ceramic dish before reaching to grab a pair of chopsticks. He had never been one to favor bitter foods, but goya seemed like a good type of food to give him a distraction from everything. Breaking apart the wooden sticks, the center dipped them into the rich colored broth, picking up a portion of the soba along with a piece of the green bitter melon. Watching for a brief moment as the steam rose from the bite he’d sectioned, Riku mused over his thoughts in silence.

Sighing quietly, he shrugged his shoulders, pushing the intruding thoughts away as he took to blowing on the still steaming portion before taking the bite and slurping the noodles until the flavor filled his mouth. Chewing down the portion, he focused on the delicious taste of the soup, the wonderfully soft yet chewy texture of the noodles and the rather impressive way that the bitterness of the goya melded perfectly with the flavor of the broth. Swallowing the bite he’d taken, he stared at the bowl of soup with somewhat wide eyes, amazed that something so simple could be so delicious. Glancing up before completely diving into the meal, red eyes of fire met those of gentle stone, finding that Yamamura was watching him. Blinking as they stared for a moment, Riku smiled.

Perhaps things would be ok after all.

Chapter Text

Squaring off with the leader of Trigger was certainly not one of the things that Riku had ever expected of himself to do, let alone be it right before an event as big as Sound Ship. Yet he had stood tall, staring at the older idol with lips pressed to a thin line as he heard him ask the reason for which he stood as the group’s center. The redhead had found it to be a natural pull, wanting to bring his friends along with him as he ran ahead towards his goal, surely agreeing with Trigger’s leader in the fact that he wanted to bring them to greater heights. Yet Gaku’s words had triggered something within Riku that he couldn’t yet place his finger on. There was something underlying his desire to run full speed to the top and it wasn’t just to be on an equal level with his brother. What it was, however, was still a nameless whisper at the back of his mind, nagging and clawing yet not loud enough for Riku to be able to listen.

Gaku’s words had been their own echo, repeating in the center’s mind that had crescendoed to a fever pitch when the directors for Sound Ship had come to their dressing room to beg Tsumugi to have Idolish7 close out the show given that Trigger was refusing to perform. The very thought of Tenn turning his back to the fans that he dedicated every part himself to was inconceivable to Riku, the center immediately concluding that a higher power above Trigger was bearing their weight down to force Trigger to sit quietly. It had been that knowledge along with the mental image of his brother’s pained expression knowing that there wasn’t anything he could do to rectify the situation that had Riku cutting Tsumugi off before she could firmly deny the plea for the group to close the performance in order to declare that they would accept the task that had been requested of them.

Somewhere, lingering in the air of silence between the seven of them, was the unspoken outcry that this was their time to truly show Trigger who they were as a group. Riku felt the weight of his declaration bear down on his shoulders as he looked at the six other men he stood alongside, watching their reassuring smiles grant him the shared determination that they all felt. The idol had come to be aware of many things that he couldn’t do being where he was.

But this was something that he could.

For some unknown reason, that performance had driven something deep within Riku’s heart. Unable to explain it other than a state of pure, unaltered euphoria, the center cheered on a booing crowd until the entirety of the venue was singing along with what he had no shame in calling Trigger’s song. The agony of losing that melody was dispersed into the air among the cheers of the audience as they sang with every bit of strength they had in them. Deep within Riku’s heart, he prayed that his feelings would reach Trigger, that this would show them the very reason he stood as the center for Idolish7.

Somehow, he felt that it did.

Hearing the screaming applause of an audience full of Trigger fans cheering on a group that wasn’t who they had come to see had filled Riku with a sense of accomplishment and yet a pain entirely new. There was a new hole ripped in his chest, gaping wide as if the members of their rival group had punched it in his heart themselves. He wondered just what Trigger had been feeling, watching them from offstage as Idolish7 drew in the audience that had been meant for them. Despite how they all had been cheering for Trigger together, there was still a lingering fear that somehow, he had inadvertently stolen something that didn’t belong to him. It was the same pain he’d felt when he realised that the song that had been meant for Idolish7 had been torn from their hands. Riku offered a silent apology, swearing to his bedroom ceiling that Trigger’s fans were not meant for him, that the love they felt for Trigger was still as strong as it needed to be.

He didn’t want to feel as though Tenn had let down the fans he adored so much, even though he had a deep inclination that such emotions were coursing through his twin at that very moment. That song had been theirs, but it was Trigger that kept breathing life into it in a way that Riku knew he couldn’t. In the back of his mind, he felt a small prayer begin to chant, that one day that they would be able to sing the song that meant so much to both sides together.

His love for Trigger was burning as strong that night as it burned for Idolish7 and that made the ache in his chest all the more prevalent. When he awoke the next morning, he found that his vision had blurred upon first opening his eyes, a familiar sting at the edges that all too quickly made him realise just how much it had affected him. He’d cried that morning, unable to keep the emotions that had surged relentlessly at bay any longer. The confliction he’d felt had reached its breaking point, colliding with the dream he had tried to hold onto with such a tight grip his hands had begun to tremble.

He’d been unable to keep a firm grip on his emotions that day, the daily activities that followed their morning exercise routines blurring together until Riku had forgotten everything that he had done before the sun began to set. Standing in the hallway of the studio dorm alongside Mitsuki as he stared out at the city bathed in hues of golds and reds, the center had once again let his mind begin to wander until the sound of the idol standing beside him dragged him out of his musings. Uplifting words were ones that Riku didn’t know he wanted to hear, yet when Mitsuki spoke of them, the redhead found himself smiling along.

“We got to sing it after all, huh?”

“Yeah… Yeah, we did.”

As the two of them stood in the hallway watching the sun make its final descent behind the buildings, bathing the city in a comfortable blanket of navy rich night, Riku remembered a minute detail that had lingered in the back of his thoughts. Turning to the elder idol beside him, the center couldn’t help but find it amusing that it would have popped up at that particular moment, though he was rather glad that he remembered it. Mitsuki offered him a confused expression in return, rather concerned for the sudden shift in Riku’s demeanor when the redhead suddenly started giggling seemingly out of nowhere.

“Riku…?”

“Sorry. Sorry. I just remembered something that someone said to me and… Well… Want to go get some soba?”

“Soba…? What made you think of soba all of a sudden?” The bewildered tone of Mitsuki’s voice only served to further the bout of laughter that Riku felt wash over him.

It was a relief, in some form, that something so simple could ease the tension that was looming so dangerously close. Riku felt the weight slip slightly, dispersing airily before shaking his head.

“It was something that I heard before. That on gloomy days, it’s best to eat a hot bowl of soba. I just now remembered it and it made me think that getting some tonight would really do the trick.”

Hearing Mitsuki hum lightly, he watched as the older idol mused over the offer before smiling and shaking his head.

“Nah, not today. But if you wanna go, go ahead. I’ll tell the others you went out, alright?”

Offering that heart strikingly cheerful grin, Mitsuki patted Riku on the back before leaving him in the hallway to his own devices. The center exhaled quietly, grateful that he was able to confide in Mitsuki as he did. After grabbing his coat from his room, Riku departed from the studio dorms, making his way down the sidewalk with a slight speed to his step. He hadn’t known what the hours were for the soba shop, but he was grateful that it wasn’t too far from the studio and that he could make it there by foot in a relatively decent amount of time. Seeing that familiar entrance come into sight with the lights still bright inside, Riku felt himself smile that he hadn’t arrived too late.

Opening the door, the familiar scent of the various soups pleasantly reached his nose, the warmth of the kitchen permeating through the restaurant as the center excused himself upon entering while taking his coat off. Glancing around, he was immediately met with the sight of a familiar freckled face coming out to greet him.

“Welcome to Yama... ah- Nanase… san?”

There was a slight hint of surprise in Yamamura’s tone, a hesitation upon the mentioning of his name that had Riku suddenly second guessing whether coming here was a good idea or not. Nodding his head with a sheepish smile, the center felt his cheeks warm slightly as his heartbeat sped up just a tad. He couldn’t help but notice, however, a rather somber expression in the soba worker’s eyes, an almost dissatisfied air surrounding him that had Riku garnering a concerned look on his features as his smile faded.

“Is… Something wrong? Yamamura-san?”

The sound of his name seemed to snap the young man out of his stupor, a soft smile lifting the corners of his mouth as he shook his head to dismiss Riku’s obvious worry. Motioning for the center to sit down, Riku followed the instruction and took his place in the same booth he had sat in before. Setting his coat down on the back of his chair, he watched as Yamamura made his way over to him, smiling gently albeit a bit distantly as he took his pad of paper out from his apron.

“No worries, I was just lost in thought. What brings you here tonight, Nanase-san?”

Riku hummed before he looked up at Yamamura, wondering if something heavy weighed on the young man’s mind. Glancing around a bit, the center also took quick notice of the fact that he was the only one in the restaurant, biting his lip before worriedly looking back up at the employee.

“Er… Well, coming was kind of a last minute decision… I remembered what you had said before, when you said that a hot bowl of soba helped on a gloomy day. But… Did I come too late? If you’re closing, I can come back another time...”

Watching as Yamamura hesitated, Riku saw the way that his stormy eyes widened slightly before he exhaled a soft laugh. Putting the pad of paper away in his pockets, the soba worker rolled his shoulders before giving the center a rather cheeky smile. The redhead flushed, unsure of how to respond to the reaction before Yamamura crossed his arms and hummed.

“I’m rather impressed you remembered something like that. We were getting ready to close down, but I’ve got just the thing. Hold on a second, alright?”

Without being able to respond appropriately, Riku saw as the soba worker briskly left the barside and hurried into the back. Fidgeting slightly in his seat, the center couldn’t help but feel the nagging sensation in the back of his mind that he should have been more mindful of his timing. Waiting for what seemed like an eternity, Riku could only look around the small restaurant, taking in the details of the pleasantly homey feel that it gave off before watching as Yamamura reemerged from the kitchen with two piping hot bowls in his hands. Making his way over, the young man set one bowl in front of Riku before sitting beside him with the second bowl in hand.

Blinking in slight confusion, Riku glanced at the bowl before looking over at Yamamura. Both bowls contained the same dish: A beautiful arrangement of soba in a hearty yet light broth, vegetables that looked soft and perfectly simmered with a deep fried cutlet gingerly placed on top. Looking back at Yamamura, the center caught his eye, unable to stop the tinge of pink from spreading across his temples as a warm smile spread across the soba worker’s lips.

Despite the stark resemblance to one particular idol, Riku was forced to admit that his freckled look alike was, in all regards, extremely handsome in comparison.

Watching as the young man’s once dampened expression lightened, Riku was about to comment on the dish placed in front of him when Yamamura spoke before he could get a word out.

“It’s korokke soba. The cutlet is minced meat and the broth is made with beef bone. It was going to just be me eating, but I’ve learned that food always tastes better when you’re eating with someone else. Consider this one on me, alright?”

“Are you sure…?” The hesitation evident in Riku’s voice, the soba worker could only laugh lightly in response before reaching to pat the center once more on the head.

“Consider it a thank you. You really reminded me of something. It was something I’d managed to forget.”

Riku would have responded, yet the words fell flat on his tongue. Letting them stay there, the center opted instead to offer a gentle smile before reaching to grab a pair of chopsticks. Offering his thanks for the meal, the two began to eat in the pleasant silence. The soft texture of the simmered vegetables steeped in the warm broth warmed Riku from the inside out, the chewy soba noodles a contrast to the crunch of the deep fried croquette that surprisingly remained crispy despite having lingered in the wonderfully flavoured broth. The center couldn’t help but smile at the way that the coating had absorbed the flavour of the soup, mixing harmoniously to where Riku craved bite after bite.

It was only after a few moments that the center paused to peer over at his dining companion only to find that he was, once more, looking directly at him. Startled slightly, Riku blinked before exhaling a breathy laugh, finding the motion returned by Yamamura before they both turned back to their meals.

“Thank you, Nanase-san.” The words were spoken softly, almost missed if Riku hadn’t been listening intently.

The idol smiled, unsure of what he was being thanked for, yet appreciating that this was another day where he could enjoy this simplicity among the chaos.

Chapter Text

The summer heat had abated slightly thanks to a string of storms that had run their course along the regions, the cooler temperatures a welcomed change to the stuffy humidity that made it hard to breathe. However, what came along with the sudden change in the weather should have been expected, yet it still served to put a rather concerned frown on the members of Idolish7 as they all stared at the heavily flushed center standing in the middle of the dorm common room. Sougo had his hand placed gingerly against Riku’s forehead, ignoring how the redhead repeatedly attempted to assure them that he was fine and able to participate in the day’s activities. Sighing softly and pulling his palm back, the older member simply shook his head, furrowing his brow in worry.

“Riku-kun, you really shouldn’t be doing too much today. You’re running a pretty high fever.”

Hearing the center whine softly in protest, Iori took his turn to shake his head dismissively to refute any argument. They had all long known by now of Riku’s illness, and it was sternly put out in the open that overworking himself while in a condition as this could only serve to worsen the symptoms. The young idol was right, Riku knew it, yet that stubborn streak in him refused to simply give in. Frowning in his disapproval, he wanted to do something. Anything to make him feel like he wasn’t a burden.

Iori simply shook his head again.

“The best thing you can do right now is to rest. We want our center to be in top condition for the upcoming performances we have and if you push yourself too much, you won’t be able to do them. Don’t worry about today, we’ll be able to manage.”

A gentle smile had graced the edges of his mouth, Riku unable to meet his confidence head on as his eyes lowered. He knew that Iori wasn’t wrong in any regard, that resting surely would be the best thing in order to push him on the path of recovery. It was only after a long bout of hesitation and several other reassuring words from Yamato and Nagi that the center finally gave in with a heavy exhale.

“Fine… I got it… I’ll stay in bed today.”

The relief on his teammates faces were a comfort and a blow all at the same time. The last thing Riku had ever wanted was for his health to get in the way of his job as an idol, it had already done so plenty of times beforehand and he wanted to be confident in that he had been getting stronger with his health as he exercised and performed. He had taken a great deal of pride in the fewer times he had gotten asthma attacks since starting, but all in the same regard he had gotten overconfident. The complacency had caught up to him in the form of a fever and chills, his breathing already labored enough that walking from his bedroom to the dorm kitchen for some water left him wheezing.

He’d tried seeing everyone off with a smile, waving to them as they wished him to feel better quick before scurrying out the door to the company van where Tsumugi and Banri were waiting. Pouting against the hand that Banri had placed on his head to pet his hair and dismissing Tsumugi’s worries with as much of a cheerful grin as he could muster, Riku found himself standing in the doorway alone in his pajamas, wrapped in a thick comforter that Nagi had bundled him in while holding the king pudding plush Tamaki had offered to him with the idea of it making an ideal nap partner in mind.

The idol took to meandering around the empty studio dorm, finding the silence rather uncomfortable as he was far too used to the noise that the other six members pleasantly filled the now quiet hallways with. It was unsettling enough that the center took to turning the tv on in the common room in order to have some form of background noise to listen to as he made his way to the kitchen where Mitsuki had prepared a portion of soup for the ailing idol to indulge in. Heating it in the microwave along with a cup of tea from the teabags that Tsumugi had left on the counter, Riku took to curling up on the couch to eat while remaining bundled up in the warm comforter with the king pudding plush on his lap.

His attention wandered from channel to channel as he searched for something mindless to watch that he didn’t have to focus too hard on. Thankfully, he found a channel that had begun playing reruns of the drama Yamato had starred in and, despite having watched the season from start to finish more than once already, Riku found it appealing enough that he took to watching the whole thing once more. Thinking it as a way to always show the group’s leader he supported him, the center kept his attention on the show as much as he could manage even while having nodded in and out.

Riku hadn’t known when he had completely knocked out but when his eyes opened again, he found that the blanket he’d been wrapped in had been thrown from his body during the restless nap and now resided on the floor alongside the king pudding plush. Realising quickly the reason for the loss of the blanket, the center heaved a breath as sweat beaded against his forehead and he dizzily uprighted himself on the couch. Glancing around wearily, he noticed the empty bowl that had originally contained the soup Mitsuki had prepared for him. He remembered distantly that the meal had been delicious, peering over to the kitchen counter in hopes that there was another helping he could use to abate his fever.

A good meal was always helpful in these sorts of situations, he recalled, and eating something hot would feel pleasant to his sore throat. Stumbling to his feet, the center dizzily made his way to the kitchen area in disappointment that no such serving could be found, even when he looked in the fridge. However, there was something else that caught his attention. A flyer stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnet. Pulling the paper off, the name at the top allowed the center to breathe in minute relief.

Yamamura Soba. A flyer that one freckled employee had given Tsumugi the first time he’d made a delivery to them.

The idea of a hot bowl of soba sounded extremely appealing to the ailing Riku, flipping the flyer over to read the menu on the back before hazily retrieving his cell phone in order to place the call. Upon hearing a familiar voice answer on the other end of the line, the center’s memory of what he actually ordered became as hazy as the edges of his vision, only barely recalling that the worker made a comment about the order costing around three dollars and it would take him twenty minutes to arrive. His voice sounded foreign to his own ears as he thanked the young man and hung up, setting his phone on the counter and stumbling to get his wallet before falling back onto the couch in order to wait for the delivery’s arrival.

Exactly how much time passed was lost to Riku, the noise drawing him from his dazed stupor being the sound of the doorbell ringing was the reminder that he had ordered something to eat. The center slowly got to his feet, pulling the blanket up with him to wrap it around his shoulders again to prevent the chill from outside getting to him as he made his way to the entryway. Opening the door, he was greeted with a smile far too bright for his blurred vision as Yamamura’s voice only distantly reached his ears.

“Yamamura soba delivery here, ah- Nanase-san? Is it just you? … O-Oi! Hey!”

The corners of his vision had darkened, a dizzying sensation rushing to his head that had the feeling in his legs completely leave him. Only the muffled sound of a voice reached him as his consciousness slipped out of his grasp, the feeling of his body lurching forward and Riku barely could recognise that he was falling yet he had no strength in him to break the descent. Expecting the brunt pain of hitting the floor, the sensation never reached him as a blanket of sheer black blanketed his vision and cut off his senses.

There was only the sound of a voice.

“Nanase--!”

Chapter Text

If there was one thing that Yaotome Gaku hadn’t anticipated, it was the constant run ins with one particular idol center with eye catching red hair and eyes burning with a quiet ferocity that made his smile shine as bright as the sun. The first time it had happened, he hadn’t thought much of it yet it kept repeating after that. Nanase Riku kept appearing before him in what would usually be seen as normal coincidences, but for an idol who only helped out as his grandfather’s soba shop during rare occasions due to his busy schedule and having the center of what was known to be Trigger’s rival group continually stumble across him during the times he was at the shop, Gaku couldn’t help but think it was a little strange. There was an odd little thought in the back of his mind; it was one that somehow made him think that the cheerful center knew of his “hidden identity” ( not that he really considered it hidden more than a convenience from prying eyes ). Yet each time they ran into one another, the red head only smiled with that blindingly bright smile Gaku couldn’t help but return while calling him by the name he’d been given the first time they had “met.”

It had taken the Trigger leader a bit of time to accept that Riku had earnestly believed that Gaku and Yamamura were two separate people, and for the better to avoid the confusion of why a well known idol would be working at a place considered so menial. Gaku, however, didn’t mind the job in the slightest as it gave him reprieve from the stress of stardom as well as gave his beloved grandfather a helping hand. He found it rather refreshing that he could also converse with the Idolish7 center as a normal person given Riku’s reactions to him whenever they were in a room together. Gaku could take comfort in the easiness when it came to light-hearted banter between the redhead and himself over a bowl of soba that had become almost a routine. If he dared to admit it, he could say he even had begun to look forward to the days when the younger idol walked through the entrance to the soba shop.

What he hadn’t anticipated, however, was being called to the Idolish7 dorm for a delivery that he didn’t think very much of until he was met with a very ill looking center who hardly even seemed able to stand on his own two feet. Blinking in confusion, he could only address Riku with as much politeness as he was used to when having adopted the persona of the soba shop worker before setting down the hot box containing the center’s meal order. Yet before he could do anything else, he caught a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye as he moved to stand up. Catching the motion of Riku falling forward, he immediately shifted his stance with a startled outcry as he slung himself forward.

“Nanase!”

Thankfully, the Trigger leader had moved quick enough to catch the ill center in his arms, feeling how brittle the younger male felt in his grasp as he felt the heat from Riku’s fever radiating off his person. Stumbling over his momentary loss of balance that came from the increased weight of the redhead as his consciousness slipped, Gaku shifted in order to get a better grip before easing the center into a more solid hold. Lifting Riku in his arms, Gaku shuffled his shoes off before carrying the unconscious idol into the main room of the dorm. Lying the center on the couch with the blanket still wrapped around him, the elder idol placed his hand against Riku’s forehead gently before his eyes widened at the sheer sensation of warmth that came off the center’s skin. It was evident that the redhead was running a rather severe fever; Gaku muttered a curse beneath his breath before his eyes scanned the room for any sign of what might have been a medicine cabinet.

Offering a bow of his head, Gaku spoke a quiet apology before he set his sights on the kitchen. Walking over to the cabinets, the elder idol took to opening any door he could find in an attempt to locate any sort of fever reducing medicine possible. A soft exhale of relief escaped him when he finally found the cabinet he was looking for, an assortment of different medicines lining the cupboard on display varying from vitamins to headache relief. Carefully shifting through the various bottles, Gaku smiled calmly when he finally found the medicine he was looking for. Reading the directions for the appropriate dosage, the elder idol rummaged through the cabinets he had overlooked to find a glass before filling it with water and returning to the ailing redhead’s side. For the moment, Gaku had all but forgotten about his persona as the soba shop worker, the thought being the last thing on his mind as he gently took to shaking Riku’s shoulder to try and rouse him just enough to take the medicine.

“Oi… Nanase… Nanase? Can you hear me?”

A soft groan came as his response, the younger idol’s eyes blearily opening as they landed on Gaku despite how unfocused his stare was. It was clear that the redhead wasn’t even registering that the elder idol was there, those eyes of his that usually burned so brightly with fire seemed painfully dim in comparison. Kneeling down closer to the center’s side, Gaku attempted to garner a more coherent response than just feverish murmurs that made no sense whatsoever. Keeping a careful hand on the younger male’s back in support, he pushed Riku up slightly, feeling how weak the response was when the center’s body fell limp against his weight.

“Nanase, I have medicine. Can you take it? I have water too.”

Holding up the glass with his free hand, Gaku watched as the younger idol blinked hazily, his eyes slowly lolling about as if attempting to find something to focus on yet failing. The only sound uttered in response was a soft groan, his mouth moving yet no coherent words could be formed as his face was still heavily flushed to his temples. Frowning in worry, the elder idol attempted to hold the glass up closer to Riku’s face to try and get his attention on it. Leaning up slightly, Gaku pressed the rim of the glass to the center’s lips in an attempt to urge him to drink. With the hope that if Riku could get a sip of water in, he could have more success with taking the medicine, that hope was quickly dashed when the only response to the glas being pressed against his lips was a slow, dizzy blink and his head lolling to the side as his consciousness began to wane once again.

“Woah! Woah, hold on-- don’t fall over. I got you.”

Hooking his arm around Riku’s back, Gaku took to leaning on the couch with his knee for support as he accepted more of the center’s weight without the threat of being pulled down as he held the glass up higher to prevent it from spilling. Watching as Riku’s eyes fluttered dizzily, he bit his lip as he felt the soft wheeze of the younger idol’s chest as he struggled for an even breath of air. Feeling his own chest squeeze with worry, Gaku muttered another curse beneath his breath before setting the glass of water down on the table.

“Just what were you doing to get yourself this sick? Nanase…”

Shifting his weight to where he had a more stable grip around Riku’s back, Gaku pulled the smaller male closer to him until he was propped up enough against the Trigger leader’s shoulder. Reaching for the medicine that he had placed on the table, the older idol took a lasting look at the ill center flushed and heaving for air with a somewhat stern expression before his features softened to a more sympathetic countenance as he sighed softly. Furrowing his brows as he paused, his stormy eyes flitted from Riku’s face to the medicine in his palm.

“Sorry, Nanase… You need this medicine, you can yell at me for it later.”

Swallowing down the last bit of reservations that he had lingering, Gaku exhaled heavily before taking the medicine into his own mouth. Grabbing the glass of water he’d placed on the table, the Trigger leader took a rather large gulp before quickly setting the glass back down and pulling Riku closer to him. Acting swiftly yet carefully so as not to accidentally swallow the medicine himself, Gaku shifted his arm to have Riku’s head fall back just slightly against his shoulder as he leaned down to meet the distance. Feeling the feverish heat against his lips as he pressed his mouth to the younger idol’s, the elder leader applied enough pressure to gently push Riku’s lips apart as the cool water flowed from Gaku’s mouth into his, dribbling down the younger male’s chin. Pressing his tongue forward just slightly, the Trigger leader pushed the medicine into Riku’s mouth, urging the younger idol to drink. To his great relief, Gaku gratefully felt the gulp that Riku weakly took, pulling away immediately once he was certain that the medicine had been swallowed.

Keeping a careful watch on the center’s face, it became clear that Riku had fallen asleep directly after having taken the medicine. Exhaling to calm his nerves, Gaku became increasingly aware of the pounding of his own heartbeat in his ears, realising that there was a heat against his own cheeks. Reaching up, he could feel it against his cheek, laughing weakly at the way he blushed for an act such as that. Hoping that it didn’t count for anything other than a desperate act to get the younger idol to take the medicine needed to break his fever, Gaku gently moved Riku down until he was lying on the couch before taking the blanket that had fallen in disarray and draping it over the sleeping idol.

For the time being until the center would awaken, Gaku walked over to the entrance where the hot box had been left before Riku had collapsed and took it to the kitchen before placing it on the counter. Sighing once more, he opted to sit in an empty recliner and wait until the younger idol woke up so he could properly see to his recovery and give him the bowl of soba that waited to be eaten.

He couldn’t, however, easily ignore the residual heat that lingered beneath his cheeks.

Or the way his heartbeat kept painfully reminding him of just how loud it was.

Chapter Text

For a time, Riku could only think that he was dreaming the events he saw hazily playing before his eyes. In the back of his mind, a scene that he was certain would never have actually happened was taking place. It felt like an out of body experience, one that kept ripping him between the realms of reality and imagination and he wondered if his fever was forcing him to have some kind of vision that he kept deeply locked within his consciousness. It didn’t answer for the reason behind the things he saw, an image of one particular idol leader repeatedly appearing before him. It continually kept making him question unspoken intentions, only proving to confuse the already puzzled center even further.

There was the sound of his voice, always so stern and deep, holding concern in the fuzzy way his name kept being called. It was a muted noise that reached his ears, as if Gaku kept talking through a paper bag and Riku wanted to ask why he was doing so as it just didn’t make sense. The only response the center could muster, however, was a groan as his tongue felt too heavy to form words. His thoughts were all over the place, never able to focus on one thing for too long before his head began to ache in protest, thus attempting to talk to the Trigger leader kept failing whenever he tried to.

There was another thought that kept surfacing before dissipating like smoke, only mere threads remaining when Riku attempted to grasp at them. Why was Gaku there? He could easily recall having remained at the dorms under the strict pressure of his friends in worry for his health, having given in to Sougo’s instruction to rest in order to prevent his illness from becoming worse than it already was. But he couldn’t remember ever having called Gaku over, or why he would have done so in the first place. When he tried to remember, he could only recall answering the door for someone, feeling the rush of his legs giving out beneath him, and anticipating the pain of colliding with the floor as he hadn’t the strength to break the fall. Yet the pain that he expected to be there wasn’t, the collision hadn’t happened and he couldn’t think of how or why that was. Attempting to fill in the missing puzzle pieces only resulted in his headache pounding harder against his skull.

Any recollection of the time that had passed also kept slipping through his fingers; there was only one particular moment that he could truly recall with somewhat vividity. There was a rush of coolness that had wet his tongue, Riku easily being able to remember it as he had been parched from his fever. The sensation that came with the chill of the liquid in his mouth had sent a shiver up his spine, and while he couldn’t recall when he had taken a drink of water, he was glad that he did. It allowed him a moment of clarity as he swallowed it down with a weakened gulp, his eyes blearily opening to find a darkened figure lingering dangerously close to his face. He felt a foreign pressure against his mouth, his lips stopped from moving by something pressed against them and in a daze, he could only barely make out who it was ( or who he thought it was, rather ) that was this close to him.

Yaotome Gaku.

Before he could make any sort of reaction, however, the pressure against his lips left and a heavy blanket of sleep overwhelmed the already exhausted center. His vision blurred in and out until the black that had begun to cover the edges completely overcame his senses. He slipped into a dreamless slumber, floating in darkness as the uncomfortable feeling of his fever began to dissipate. His body that had felt too heavy began to lighten, a cooling sensation of a more normal temperature allowing him a moment of reprieve from being overly heated.

When his eyes slowly opened again as sleep waned, he found himself on the couch in the dorm’s lounge. Riku took a moment to collect his scattered thoughts, remembering that he had been watching TV while waiting for everyone to return, assuming that he had fallen asleep at some point. Unsure of how much time had passed, Riku slowly pulled himself up into a sitting position. Blinking blearily as he felt the heavy weight in his chest shift, it took a moment for the center to realise that he wasn’t alone in the room. Hearing a sound behind him, yet feeling too groggy to quickly react, the center sluggishly turned to the figure that was sitting in the recliner beside the couch. When his vision cleared, the redhead found himself making eye contact with a very familiar face.

One silver haired, freckle faced soba shop worker who looked oddly concerned and yet relieved at the same time.

“You’re awake- Are you feeling better?”

Riku remained quiet for a moment, blinking in confusion as he tried putting the pieces together within his hazy memory of why Yamamura would be in the dorm. Glancing around the common room, his eyes rested upon the hot box that had been put on the kitchen counter, housing the same label that was stitched into the soba worker’s uniform. Looking back at the concerned looking man, Riku could only muster a soft hum as his fever addled brain weaved together some form of a coherent thought.

“I… Think so… But why… Why are you here?”

Watching as the young man blinked before straightening up, Riku kept his dizzied stare on him as best he could until Yamamura scratched at the nape of his neck and sighed.

“You ordered soba from the shop, I came to deliver it to you… But you were pretty bad off with that fever of yours. I helped you take some medicine and you pretty much fell asleep right after. I’ve just been waiting for you to wake up since I felt bad about just leaving you here alone with how sick you were.”

The soft hum that the center gave him was the only response that was needed to affirm that he certainly didn’t remember having done the act that he had been claimed to have done, but it didn’t deter Gaku from standing up from his chair to walk over to the hot box on the counter. Opening the door and removing the piping hot bowl of soba, he carefully removed the plastic wrap before bringing it over to the dazed center on the couch. Setting it down on the coffee table in front of the couch, Gaku offered a smile as he motioned for him to eat.

“It’s kake soba. It’ll help you feel better faster, so eat it while it’s still hot.”

Hesitating for a moment as his fever-dizzy mind wrapped around the gentle demand, Riku slid carefully from the couch to the floor with the blanket still wrapped snugly around him to keep his chills at bay. Looking over at the soba shop worker as he opted to sit down beside the idol, Riku nodded slowly before giving a weak smile of gratitude.

“Thank you… Yamamura-san. For the soba… And for staying with me…”

The softly spoken words caused Gaku to pause, watching the center’s flushed expression as he genuinely gave his thanks for the meal and began to slowly eat. Wincing at the temperature being hotter than he expected, Riku took to blowing away the steam that rose from the piping hot bowl before allowing the warmth to spread through him with a pleasant sensation. It felt comfortable in contrast to the fever that kept him shivering, the flavour of the broth rich and smooth on his sore throat while the scallions that had immersed in the broth for a while gave a pleasant sourness which couldn’t be missed. Each bite was wonderfully warm and flavourful, Riku mentally admitting that of the past bowls of soba he’d enjoyed at the shop, this one might have become his favourite. Even while he ate the bowl slowly, it retained its heat until the very end to where the center was able to pick the bowl up and drink down the remaining broth without burning his tongue.

All the while, Gaku kept his eyes on the center as he ate his meal with a soft but almost euphoric expression on his flushed features. While Trigger’s leader couldn’t help but think that Riku was a little odd for his gentle but fervent enthusiasm, he also couldn’t very well blame him for it either. He always did find his chest swelling with just a bit of pride when he watched people at the shop enjoy their dishes with the same expression that the ill center held on his face, a smile curving at the corner of his lips as he watched him eat with gentle stormy eyes.

However, the elder idol also couldn’t help but glance at the center’s lips every so often, now reddened and swollen just slightly from the heat of the meal he was eating. He could recall easily the pressure of having his mouth against Riku’s, he could feel the lingering heat of the center’s fever as he fed him the medicine that had helped him and it forced the leader to glance away for a moment to recollect his wandering thoughts. He could dare say the feeling was almost enjoyable, yet he wouldn’t grant himself that as he expelled it from his mind with the constant reminder that it was only to help Riku take the medicine he needed. Mentally reminding himself of his standing with Idolish7’s center, Gaku couldn’t help but wonder why he had to do so in the first place. Looking back at Riku, the elder idol had wondered what shift there had been amongst all the shared bowls of soba while he was still under the guise of someone else.

He wondered minutely what Riku would think if he told him that he was indeed the leader of Idolish7’s rival group.

While his thoughts had begun to wander, they were brought back to focus when he heard the redhead sigh softly. Looking back over at the idol, he saw that Riku had finished the bowl of soba and he smiled gently before rising to his feet. When the center followed his movements with his eyes, Gaku once more wrapped himself in the persona of the Yamamura that had become rather friendly with the younger idol.

“Eating it all in one go? That’s a good sign already that you’re on the fast track to getting better. Don’t worry about paying for it, this one was on me since you still look a bit of a mess. Drink some water and get to bed, alright? Come by the shop next time when you’re feeling well again.”

“Ah…”

Blinking hazily in response, Riku quickly attempted to stand up in order to offer protest yet became quickly dizzy by the sudden movement. Stumbling, the center let out a choked response before he felt his weight shift and become lifted by a different support. Looking up, the redhead found himself face to face with a freckled face twisted with concern, stormy eyes darkened while the soba shop worker’s brows furrowed with worry as he held the ill idol in his arms. While he could hear Yamamura scolding him, the soba shop worker’s voice sounded muffled and distant to his ears as he kept staring at the man’s face. He couldn’t help but think that the freckles that stood so proudly out against his pale skin suited him well, framing his cheeks to his ears. They really did look pleasant on him.

The man really did look like Yaotome Gaku.

“Don’t move so fast-! You still have a fever you know! Here, I’ll help you to your room... where is it?”

Another pause came before Riku could respond, his thoughts blurring together before he could turn to the hallway and point to where his room resided.

“I’m sorry… It’s there…”

With a nod of his head, Gaku took to helping Riku walk to his bedroom after hooking one of the center’s arms around his shoulders while he supported the younger idol with an arm around his waist. Opening the door with his free hand, the elder idol flicked on the light before assisting Riku to his bedside. Carefully helping the redhead lie down, Gaku had barely gotten Riku settled into bed before he heard a soft breathing sound that came from the center having fallen asleep. Watching as the younger idol slept on, Gaku couldn’t help but find it almost humorous how easy the redhead had adapted to trusting him as much as he seemed to.

“You’re really something else…”

Sighing as he rolled his shoulders, Gaku left Riku’s bedroom after turning the light off and closing the door. Looking around the common room to make sure nothing was left out of place, the elder idol gathered up the empty bowl and the hot box that was left on the counter before leaving the dorm. Walking back to the soba shop, Gaku stopped a moment to gaze upwards at the sky as the sun began to make its descent behind the towering buildings around him, bathing the streets in golden hues. Turning to look over his shoulder at the Idolish7 studio, Trigger’s leader couldn’t ignore the heavy beating in his chest that kept making itself known whenever he’d begun to think of it.

The warm sensation on his lips tingled at the corner of his mouth when he licked them. Exhaling, the leader turned away and continued his trek back to the soba shop while attempting to push away the lingering image of the soft smile Riku had held on his face as he smiled while eating the bowl of soba he’d been given.

Meanwhile, as the ill idol slept on, comfortable in his bed, he had a dream.

A dream of a freckled faced stranger with stormy eyes and silver hair.

And on his lips, there was a warm pressure that lingered there. It was a soft sensation that mingled with the taste of the kake soba that he had eaten.

And in his sleep, Riku smiled.

Chapter Text

With the changing of the weather, Riku could barely keep track of the months that had flown by faster than he could recall. One day shifted into another seamlessly, one month to the next, and before he was able to realise it, Christmas time was approaching fast. The idol’s time had been full to the brim with shows and meetings, events with his friends and competitions that they both won and lost. The center was no less grateful for every encounter he had, every trial he overcame with everyone else, and even the tribulations that he had faced with Trigger or Re:vale were precious memories that he kept locked away in his thoughts. He could recall with vividity how he and Tenn had come to a somewhat even ground, something that they both could smile on and shake hands with. While there was still a lot that he wanted to ask his twin brother, their silent understanding was enough for him to be pacified for the moment.

At least until after the holidays, he told himself.

There had been a constant pleasantness that ended his days, something that had edged its way into a routine of Riku’s when he found the time to partake in it. At least once a week did he find himself standing in front of the soba shop that he’d become accustomed to, once a week was he sitting in the very same stool that he had first sat in while enjoying a bowl of soup given to him by one smiling freckle faced young man with stormy yet kind eyes and messy silver hair. Riku had come to treasure the nights that he could sit with Yamamura while he was enjoying whatever bowl of soba he had made that night. If the center thought about it more, he would realise that more often than not Yamamura didn’t charge him for the meals he ate and instead opted to eat together with him, both finding an unspoken comfort in each other’s company.

Yamamura had become a rather refreshing part of Riku’s life if he were to think on it. The soba shop worker was gentle, if not straightforward and honest, but that only added to his charm when the two of them spoke over their shared meals. The idol had come to cherish the simplicity of their friendship, a pleasant change to the numerous people who always seemed to only want to get on Riku’s good side for their own benefit. While he was polite and cordial to them, the center found himself exhausted after having been around them for too long, mentally seeking out the quiet calm that came with eating a bowl of soba with Yamamura. Riku could easily claim that the soba shop worker had become a dear friend, someone who kept him grounded to reality when his life as an idol began to take claim to more than what the center was able to give.

However, there was a strangeness that had begun to settle between Riku and Yamamura. It was hard for the idol to ignore, yet he tried not to think of it in favour of keeping the pleasant moments as they were. This strangeness had begun to come in the form of a dream that kept replaying whenever Riku slept. A dream of that friendly freckled face, leaning in closer until the distance between them was but a breath’s width apart. Riku had lost count of how many times he had seen this scene play in his head, waking up wide eyed and gasping with the sensation on his lips that he remembered from the day he was sick and Yamamura had kindly helped take care of him.

But it didn’t account for why he kept having these dreams. Why he kept seeing that freckled face so close to him, leaning in as if they were to kiss at any moment.

It didn’t explain why there was a lingering sensation of wanting it to happen.

Waking up from these dreams were no less confusing than actually having had them, for when Riku’s eyes opened, he could swear that he could feel the warmth of a breath from that freckled face having been so close to him. He could feel with an odd vividity the sensation of a soft weight being pressed to his lips and the center kept becoming anxious over how he could keep having the same dream over and over let alone believe that it was so real he continually woke up looking around to see if Yamamura was in the room with him.

He couldn’t quite put a finger on when the dreams had begun, but the only starting point he could truly recall was the day he was sick and Yamamura had been there to help him. That bowl of soba had tasted far different than the other dishes Riku had eaten since then and he couldn’t figure out why. Musing over it alone only served to agitate him yet when he had asked Mitsuki later on, in full confidence of confidentiality, of how such a thing could be the way it was, the elder idol was only able to say that it was because Riku’s taste buds had been messed up from being as sick as he was. Logically it made sense, but the center wasn’t satisfied with the answer he’d been given.

Thankfully, Riku hadn’t had enough time to muse over it for long, given his busy schedule as the center of Idolish7. With the holidays fast approaching, Riku kept himself distracted and occupied with the competitions and performances that came along with them. Each day seemed packed to the brim with activities and when the group had a rare day off, they usually spent it doing various activities of their own desires. In those precious moments, the center would remain in his room, wrapped in a blanket while he enjoyed a cup of sweet milk and read a book. To him, it seemed the perfect way to spend a cold day, even more so when he was able to make the chilly trek to that familiar shop to end the day with a piping hot bowl of soba alongside his newfound companion.

However, there was a thought that had begun to form in the back of Riku’s mind as the air temperature began its inevitable decline until winter coats replaced the fall sweaters and thicker scarves served to help keep the bitter chill at bay. It was something small, an idea that sparked to life upon the center’s usual escapade to the soba shop during one of his few rare off days. While the initial thought didn’t bother him so much, for some reason, Riku found it rather difficult to actually bring it up whenever he was with Yamamura. The group had been given off a few days for the holidays, and while Riku hadn’t the intention of returning home, he had concocted the idea of asking the soba shop worker to accompany him to see the Christmas tree that was usually set up in the middle of the city’s square.

The idea of visiting the tree was usually passed around as a romantic date spot, thus having become famous for couples to linger around while gazing upon the wonderfully lit tree as if its soft glow cast blessings on their relationships. Riku had only ever made the trek to see the tree once, having been alone at the time, and while he did enjoy the sight of the intricately decorated foliage, it had been rather apparent that he was out of place as he stood there alone among a crowd of couples around him. While the center hadn’t noticed it, he had become rather curious as to why he kept seeing people passing him by glance over at him.

It hadn’t been until he had spoken with Nagi about the experience that Riku had been informed of the reason why he kept receiving odd looks from those who walked by him. While the center was still rather puzzled given that he didn’t see the reason for needing to go visit the Christmas tree with a significant partner, he couldn’t help but wonder if asking Yamamura to accompany him this time around would serve to be beneficial. However, that had brought up an entirely different form of puzzlement to the idol’s mind. Did Yamamura already have someone he wanted to spend time with? Did the soba shop worker already have someone he planned on going to see the Christmas tree with? The initial thought only led to more questions until Riku was beginning to second guess the entire idea all together and doubt had begun to settle uncomfortably in the center’s mind.

The uncertainty within the center’s mind wasn’t abated by the fact that he felt as if he were to ask any of his friends, they would offer to go with him instead out of obligation. While Riku wouldn’t have denied that he would have fun with them, he found that for some reason, he simply wanted to go see the tree with the soba shop worker more. Thus, as the days drew nearer to the time limit of when his days would soon be filled with events and lives once again, the center began to muse over how to properly ask Yamamura to accompany him.

However, such a task had remained to prove itself any easier than when he had first found it to be a challenge, and Riku felt quite stuck as he watched the days go by. When a subtle panic had begun to settle in the center’s stomach at the realisation that his self proclaimed vacation would soon come to an end without having accomplished anything, Riku took to going to Sogo in hopes that the elder idol would have the best advice for what he was struggling with. While the momentary surprise in the soft spoken idol’s eyes only served to make Riku even more anxious, the kind smile that Sogo offered immediately afterwards left the redhead with a soft sense of relief in having been able to ask him.

“You want to go with a friend to see the Christmas tree in the square… I know what you’re talking about, it’s a rather popular spot for couples to go to isn’t it?”

Riku sighed with a bit of agitation edging on his tone, a frustrated frown settling at the corner of his lips as he nodded.

“Yeah. So I heard. I had gone there before by myself but I kept getting weird looks. I don’t really mind but… It sort of distracted me from being able to have fun since I kept wondering why they were staring. Nagi told me about it being a romantic thing but… I just want to go enjoy it.”

Looking over at Sogo when he heard the elder idol laugh softly, Riku blinked in confusion as to what the soft spoken young man had found funny in his confession. Dismissing his worried with a shake of his head, Sogo offered a soothing smile to appease the center.

“I see, I see. So you’re hoping that by asking your friend, you won’t have to worry about being distracted? Ah, but being worried about whether or not they’re planning on going with someone already is a valid concern… But you won’t really know unless you ask them directly, right?”

“But that’s my problem… I feel weird asking them about it. The way Nagi described it… If I ask them to go with me, aren’t I asking them on a date?”

Watching as a partially puzzled expression crossed over Sogo’s gentle features, Riku felt his chest constrict when Sogo’s face softened with a smile as he shook his head once again.

“I wouldn’t consider it asking them on a date. If you want to go with them, just ask them as you would normally. There’s really nothing wrong with doing so, and they might be happy that you took the time to think of them as someone to go with. The worst they can do is say no, right?”

Staying quiet for a moment, Riku’s eyes lowered to his hands in his lap, thumbs twiddling together nervously before he exhaled the breath that he had been holding in. Nodding slowly, the center had no reason to try and argue Sogo’s reasoning. Offering the elder idol a thankful smile, Riku stood to his feet with a newfound determination firmly rooted in his mind.

He would ask Yamamura to visit the Christmas tree with him, and he would do so with confidence.