"No! No, no, no, no, no, no—yesssss. Suck on that, twerp,” Gino crows, and Rolo throws the controller at him. On the screen, Mario dances over a downcast Princess Peach. Around them, the room is a disaster, snacks scattered across the floor between them as they bicker. They’ve been playing for an hour now, getting louder and more riled as they go.
“My baby!” Rivalz cries, scooping the controller into his arms like a child. Gino’s pumping his fist in victory, and there’s a dark storm cloud forming on Rolo’s face.
“Stop gloating,” Rolo snaps, and Gino’s grin at that is wide. Lelouch is just deciding whether or not he should move from his comfy spot on Rivalz’s bed to step in when the sound registers: in the living area, the front door opens. Lelouch marks the book he’s been reading with a thumbnail crease and wanders out, curious. He hears the others follow.
There’s a strange boy in the room, nosily staring at the grey sectional sofa that dominates the room and the detritus of their lives that covers it while Jeremiah busies himself in the kitchen. A sinking feeling starts to settle in Lelouch’s stomach, and it’s only worse when Jeremiah returns, six glasses in tow. The boy is holding a bottle, Lelouch realizes, wrapped with a purple bow.
If he were someone else, he’d say no. The last kohai brought to join them had flunked out miserably and they’ve been working so hard as a quartet. They’ve been promised a debut this autumn, and there’s barely enough time to get the dances down, themselves, much less teach a new failure from scratch. They’ll be doing promo shoots soon, as soon as Jeremiah can convince his boss to make time for it; the boy is pretty enough, but he isn’t permanent, and Lelouch doesn’t want him on the posters.
Instead, he smiles, just a little, taking the glasses from Jeremiah’s hands to place them on the low coffee table. At least the sake is always good, he reasons to himself, taking the bottle to dose out the servings: one for Gino, one for Rivalz, a double for Jeremiah. Rolo’s glass already has two fingers of water in it, since he gets upset being left out of these things, and he pours himself a reluctant half; his reputation wouldn’t allow for more, even if he breathes in the floral nose greedily. Peering through his lashes, he assesses the new boy—a double, then, because it looks generous and welcoming and because he wants this boy too drunk to bother them tonight. He wonders if he can sneak the bottle back later.
“This is Suzaku,” Jeremiah tells them.
“It’s late,” Gino says, and it’s as close to censure as any of them will come with their manager, even if he’s brought a stranger to their home at nearly ten. They have an early call in the morning, dance rehearsal from three until they have to give the studio up at four; if Rolo hasn’t fallen asleep in the van on the way home, Lelouch will eat his hat, and he knows that Gino’s thinking the same thing. Now isn’t the time for strange boys. Suzaku shuffles where he’s sat in the plush cushions, reaches for his glass. He doesn’t drink, though, just swirls the milky liquid around and watches it.
“Sorry, sorry,” Jeremiah agrees genially. “I know you have practice tomorrow—that’s why I was hoping to do introductions in private, instead of at the studio.”
“He’s joining us at the studio tomorrow?” Rivalz asks.
“He’s joining you in general. He’s going to be a new Wonderboy.”
Bullshit. He’s going to be a new Kan-Tan, or a new HOST, or a new whichever group is lined up behind them, if he gets a debut at all. The thought pulls at the corners of Lelouch’s mouth. He doesn’t know this Suzaku, first of all, and perhaps that’s the most galling thing; he and the others have been together since the training dormitories. They’re his brothers. He knows about Rivalz’s first kiss and Gino’s secret girlfriend and the look on Rolo’s face when they’d told him that yes, he was coming, too; he remembers the way the four of them had rattled around the Wonderboys apartment that first week like pachinko balls, overwhelmed with the sudden quiet, the sudden privacy. This Suzaku will never have been a part of that.
“That’s great!” Gino exclaims. “Welcome. The more the merrier.”
“You’ll change your mind after he kills you with dance rehearsals tomorrow,” Rivalz warns, and Rolo giggles. “Gino’s actually a slave driver, but he’s so cute, no one ever believes me when I say so.”
Suzaku’s bow is deep enough that it would be mocking from any of the others, but when he rises, his eyes are bright and cheerful. “I won’t let you down.”
The sake is fantastic as always, though Lelouch has poured himself barely enough to wet his lips.
They put the new kid on the chaise part of the sofa since his bed won’t be delivered until tomorrow; he’ll be squished into the room Lelouch shares with Gino since it’s bigger than the other room, though Lelouch frowns at how cramped it will be with another bed. At least they’re not in bunk beds like the dorms again; at least there’s some sense of privacy, but he’s used to Gino, knows his patterns, and doesn’t look forward to having to rework his schedule to steal quiet time alone.
An hour later, Jeremiah’s long gone, but the stranger remains. He should be asleep—three will come sooner if he isn’t rested—but he’s still lying in bed thinking about the new boy to the sound of Gino’s quiet snores when the memory of the sake hits him. Perhaps he could—?
The living area is dark except for a glowing square of light where Suzaku is playing with his phone. The bottle’s beside him on the table; there’s no way to sneak in and grab it, so he heads to the kitchen for water instead.
“Lulu?” It’s a fan nickname, something seeded to the early access test groups to make him more approachable, a targeted chip in his icy image, a childhood name that only his family and the group and Jeremiah use at this point. His lip curls.
“Don’t call me that,” Lelouch snaps at him, and it isn’t until he winces that he realizes it was sharper than he meant. He doesn’t want to haze him or be a bully, he just wants him to go. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?” It isn’t any gentler, but Suzaku seems to understand him, settling back on the sofa.
“I’m nervous,” Suzaku admits, voice small in the dark. His phone blinks out.
“You should be.” It’s the truth; they’ve been working tirelessly for months to get where they are. Suzaku hasn’t earned it yet.
Suzaku is quiet. “Please take care of me, senpai.” He sounds a little like he might cry when Lelouch leaves the room.
Lelouch sighs. “Go to sleep.”
Three in the morning hurts a little more than he thinks it will every time. Rolo’s still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as Lelouch scoops breakfast onto his plate; he takes his seat at the end of the long table tucked into an alcove by the kitchen and they eat in silence, visibly drooping into their eggs. Lelouch doesn’t let himself sleep in the van but the others do, Gino and Rolo snoring quietly while Suzaku plays with his phone and Lelouch stares out the window into the sleeping city. By the time they arrive, he’s almost fully awake, and by the time he makes it through his stretching routine, he’s ready to face the day. The studio is cold this early in the morning, clean and smelling of wood oil and the faint ghost of stale sweat. He checks his stretches in the floor length mirror as he bends, readying himself for the day. Then the music starts and he’s lost to the rhythm of it, stepping, twisting, thrusting. He’s not officially part of the dance team, not really. He has the stamina of a six year old girl, he knows, and his focus is vocal, anyway, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t put his all into his part of the choreography. It does, however, mean that about an hour into rehearsal he starts to feel like he might die soon; he slides down the wall to the side and chugs half his water bottle before his heart stops shaking in his chest.
They’re doing well. Rolo and Rivalz are blazing through their choreography, synchronized in the way that comes from months of living and working together. They hit the hip pops and Lelouch is tempted to whistle for them—last time he did, Rolo had overextended and fallen down and Rivalz had laughed himself sick at it—but. His mouth goes dry. Gino is working Suzaku through the steps for the first time, and Lelouch sees a bit why Jeremiah tapped him.
There’s a raw grace, a physical sexuality to Suzaku’s moves that the rest of them lack. Lelouch tries to be annoyed—he doesn’t match the rest of the group, after all—but it’s hard to do when Suzaku’s hips roll and he’s back to where he was when he sat down, heart pounding and parched. He looks so good, at least until he spots Lelouch staring and stumbles, laughing gently, the spell broken and yet somehow not; Suzaku’s hair is curly, and he hadn’t noticed before, but sweat and exercise has lifted the tiny curls, left them visible where they tangle in his hair, where they dry in the sweat on his neck. Gino’s hand breaks into his vision and Lelouch blinks up at him.
“C’mon, lazy. Haven’t you had enough of a break?” And Gino is leader, so he tucks the water bottle back into the side of his bag and takes the hand up, letting Gino drag him back to his feet, only slightly wobbly. The music starts and Lelouch takes his place with Rivalz and Rolo. By this point the choreography is second nature, seamless; they rock into formation with ease, and in the mirror, they flow together, practiced and smooth. Gino coaxes Suzaku into place and takes a new position to mirror, and suddenly, they’re. Lelouch’s heart catches on a beat because yes, this is it. Suzaku looks natural, skilled and fluid and vital. They’re the Wonderboys, clearly, and as much as he hates the thought that they were missing something before, they’re obviously whole now.
Singing is after lunch; the practice room closer and more intimate, just enough room for the five of them to sit comfortably among the grey egg crate soundproofing. Their songs are still cut for four, so Lelouch prints an extra copy of Rivalz’s part and guides Suzaku through the notes. He’s solid, not the strongest voice, but Lelouch is self aware enough to know it would break their tentative truce if he were. No, he’s fine, not terrible, and he can hold a harmony. Boyish in a way that will sell well. He already has ideas for how to fit him in.
By the time they make it back to the apartment, even Rivalz’s indefatigable energy is flagging. Gino manages to guide a sleepwalking Rolo back to his bed and the sound of the bedsprings protesting as Rivalz collapses onto his own bed is audible even in the living room. Gino appears in the doorway a moment later, limbs loose and slow as he staggers over to the sofa and falls into the cushions with a groan. Lelouch sighs, letting himself follow, too tired to shuffle away, and after a moment, Suzaku does too, easing to the soft pillows skittishly.
It’s too late for television, and his eyes are still burning from fluorescent lights all day. It’s easy to let his lashes flutter closed and sink his head onto the familiar comfort of Gino’s shoulder. Elegant fingers reach over to ruffle his hair and he grins. “Put the kids to bed?”
“Mm. Tucked them in like a good Papa. Rolo didn’t even fuss,” Gino agrees.
“Good Papa,” Lelouch echoes, sleepy, but. He peers through his lashes to confirm—it’s still there. He makes grabby hands at the bottle of sake abandoned on the coffee table and Gino laughs.
“Thirsty, Mama?” Gino teases, and Lelouch rolls his eyes over the side of the bottle. It’s still good, a little stale, the burn washing the day’s bruises and exhaustion into a warm blanket that covers him. He wiggles his toes in his socks just to see they’re still working and offers the bottle. Gino laughs again and slugs it back, too. When he’s done, he offers it to Suzaku, a complete waste when Suzaku’s half-finished glass still sits on the table. Suzaku glances at the glass, at the bottle in Gino’s hand, at the gleam Lelouch can still feel on his lips from the lip of the bottle. Whatever he sees makes up his mind; he downs the glass, wincing, and takes the rest from Gino’s hand to pour more—a double that nearly polishes off the bottle—and offers it to Lelouch. Lelouch’s smile at that is wry—it’s the same gesture he’d made the night before, and there’s enough intelligence in Suzaku’s eyes to tell him it’s intentional. He nods, presses the glass to his lips for a sip and watches Suzaku kill the bottle.
In another person, it would be a challenge; Lelouch lets his smile go wider, softer, tucks his face along Gino’s shoulder again and laughs quietly. The liquor is summer-hot between them, the temperature of the room climbing as he slips out of his jacket. “I’m disgustingly sweaty,” he tells Gino’s sleeve, and Gino laughs.
“That’s what you get for being too prissy to shower at the studio.” It’s familiar banter, Gino’s amusement at Lelouch’s refusal of skinship and Lelouch’s cool distance. “Go. You smell.”
“Do not.” Does he? He nearly turns to sniff himself, but Suzaku’s watching. “Do I?” he demands instead. Suzaku’s laughter spreads on his face like a sun rising, contagious until even Gino is shaking with it and Lelouch sits back with an offended huff. “Fine. First dibs on the shower, then.”
And Gino recognizes his mistake but not until Lelouch is almost to the bathroom; his whines are musical under the sound of Lelouch using all of the hot water to flush the soreness out of his muscles. He washes his hair twice, lets his hair conditioner sink in while he exfoliates and scrubs between his toes, and by the time he’s done he’s been hot footing through the icy spray for five minutes but he’s glossy, smooth. When he gets back to their room, Gino is visibly pouting, but Suzaku looks undisturbed, the lyrics sheet from the afternoon spread on the new bed between his and Gino’s.
“It’ll take at least an hour for the water heater to recover from your abuse,” Gino complains, turning to Suzaku for backup. Suzaku, the traitor, just shrugs.
“I can wait until the morning.”
“It takes effort to look this good,” Lelouch explains loftily. His duvet is soft, fluffy; between the day, the booze, and the shower, he’s ready to melt into the bed. Gino’s snort is distant, but it doesn’t matter. Lelouch’s head hits the pillow and he’s out.
Their photoshoot comes, finally, a week later. They’re going to get to sleep in, but Mama and Papa still shuttle the kids to bed, for all that Rivalz really is months older than Lelouch and only days younger than Suzaku. Gino’s even younger than any of the senpai, but he’s Papa and what Papa says goes; Rolo goes obediently and Rivalz mourns his lost spot as oldest but goes, too.
“Shh,” Suzaku tells him. “Mama and Papa want to spend time together, you cockblock.”
“What about you?” Rivalz teases back from his doorway.
“When a pretty man and a pretty man and a—hm. Pretty okay?—man love each other very, very much—”
“Just who are you to rate yourself as high as ‘pretty okay’?” Lelouch drawls, and Suzaku turns back, cheeks pink and eyes lit with mirth.
“Oh, I’m pretty. Papa’s the one who’s ‘pretty okay’. Ask the test groups.”
“Gross,” Rivalz calls from behind the bedroom door. Rolo is giggling.
“Shh,” Gino growls. “Everyone knows Papa is handsome, not pretty. And the test groups said you made them horny, not that you were pretty.”
“Ah, you’re right,” Suzaku agrees, grinning. “I’m just sexy.”
“You’re going to get the weirdest fans, and it’s going to be your own fault,” Lelouch warns, and if anything Suzaku’s grin goes wider.
“Don’t worry, there’ll still be room for you as president of my fanclub. I won’t let anyone else have it; I’ll hold the role open for you so you don’t miss it.”
“Suzaku doesn’t want a fanclub, got it,” Lelouch says, checking off an imaginary checklist.
“Go to sleep, you degenerates,” Gino tells them fondly.
Just to be safe, Lelouch smoothes on a clay mask; he isn’t risking breakouts the night before the most important day of his life. When he gets back from the bathroom, Gino has passed out under eye gels like the good senpai he is, but Suzaku looks baffled, and Lelouch huffs as he sits on the edge of his bed to help.
“How is your skin as good as it is? You don’t do anything,” he complains. Suzaku grins. “Shut up.” The plastic parts in his hands and he takes the first slippery gel, lifting it to Suzaku’s face. Suzaku’s eyes are a kind of brilliant green that makes his breath catch in his stomach, and as he settles the first gel beneath them, his long lashes flutter closed obediently. The test groups were right, of course: Suzaku moves like he’s in the bedroom, always, steps and gestures seductive, alluring; but this close to his face Lelouch can see the freckles, the nervous boy who submissively tips his head back to accept the care, little ripples chasing across his skin with the cold touch. The second patch warms body-hot between Lelouch’s fingertips as he traces it into place. Gino’s kissy sounds catch him suddenly, startling him back like a splashed cat; sitting in his bed, Suzaku looks just as stunned, blinking between them as Gino makes pursed fish-kissing lips at both of them.
“Asshole,” Suzaku tells him fondly.
“Go to bed, degenerates,” Gino repeats.
Morning breaks early. He isn’t used to getting much sleep, but it’s hours yet until Jeremiah will be in to get them for the photoshoot. Gino is still snoring in his bed, but when he looks, Lelouch is startled by the bright green of Suzaku’s eye peering from beneath the covers of his own bed. The sheets rustle a bit and Suzaku’s whole head pops out, face soft with sleep. He braces his cheek on his arm and watches Lelouch reach for the book on the nightstand; it’s quiet, gentle, Suzaku watching him read while everyone else sleeps. Something floats in his stomach like wings as he reads, fingers twitching on the page until finally he throws himself back against the bed to stare back.
“You look nice like that,” Suzaku says, shaking his head, and it’s almost worse; Lelouch pulls the sheets over his head to hide. He can hear Suzaku’s laughter through the fabric.
“We’re supposed to sleep in today and you two woke me up flirting,” Gino grouses when he finally pulls the sheets down. The morning sun has shifted, no longer quite so early. “Make me breakfast, Lulu. You owe me, cutting into my beauty sleep like that.”
“Boy, there’s not enough sleep in the world—” Lelouch starts, but he’s already sliding out of the bed, tugging the sheets back to neatness. The city is still quiet this time of morning; he pads to the kitchen to start a pot of tea. Coffee will come later, when he’s sure Gino is awake and not just chasing him from the room to sneak another half hour of sleep, but for now he pours himself his first cup and sets about digging up what’s left of their weekly buy; Suzaku eats a surprising amount of groceries, and if this whole idol thing doesn’t work out for him, there’s probably a career in competitive eating for him. Lelouch sets out the berries and ponders the benefits of a Western breakfast, reaching absently for his cup only to find it gone. Suzaku peers over the rim at him, eyes wide and innocent, but he smacks his lips in distaste when he hands it back, drained.
“Gross. So bitter.”
“It’s why you don’t drink from someone else’s cup without asking,” Lelouch tuts. He’s already pouring another cup, though, pausing at the sugar—Suzaku holds up two fingers. “You’ll rot your teeth,” he warns. Two cubes go in anyway.
“Darling,” Suzaku coos at the cup when he takes it, already wandering away to sit at the table.
“Hey! You!” Lelouch calls him back. “What do you want to eat?”
And Suzaku this early is nothing if not soft, open; he smiles around the rim of the teacup in his hands and shakes his head. “Anything you make, Lulu. It’ll be perfect.”
Rolo staggers out about ten minutes later, his smooth hair ruffled and his eyes hollow with sleep. He gets the first cup of coffee, and the smell seems to wake the rest of the house up. Within minutes Rivalz and Gino are making their way out, the room filling with cheerful conversation. Gino helps him with the plates, and they all tuck in.
Even ready early, they end up waiting, nearly long enough that they’re worrying idly. When Jeremiah finally arrives, they’re playing Mario Kart again, but the look on his face is enough to drown out the cheerful music. “You’re not canceled,” he says first, and the fist around Lelouch’s lungs eases. Jeremiah’s laugh is sour, though—something’s wrong. Rivalz turns off the TV and they wait as Jeremiah sinks down to sit on Rolo’s bed. “I. You’ve been moved up, actually. Your appointment is tomorrow—they needed time to prepare the big soundstage.”
And Gino gasps, Suzaku’s mouth hangs open, Rivalz’s brow knits in confusion. He understands; he feels all of them right now. “What—?” he starts, but. Something terrible must have happened, he realizes—someone’s been pulled from the roster. “Who?” he asks instead, and Jeremiah’s brow lifts, relieved.
“PrinCo. Mia. They fired her this morning.”
The air rushes out of the room. Fired—Mia, who Lelouch has only ever met in passing when the senpai had visited the training dorms, whose bubbly personality had caused her trio, Princess Company, to explode onto the scene six years ago. A true success story, and one of Jeremiah’s first teams. Fired.
“Why?” Gino asks, like they don’t know already, like it’s a mystery what could have gotten an idol fired so quickly and utterly. Lelouch’s heart pounds in his throat.
Jeremiah wets his lips, frowning, and. “Not in front of Rolo,” Lelouch warns, despite Rolo’s look at that. Rolo’s still young, still only sixteen; he doesn’t need to hear—
“She got pregnant.” From Rolo’s lips it carries the weight of a death knell. “It’s all over twitter. I saw it this morning.”
“God,” Rivalz hisses. “She couldn’t go halves, could she?”
“Poor Aico and Yuria,” Suzaku murmurs, and it’s a startling reminder: one member’s behavior can damn them all. Lelouch pulls his knees to his chest, the light mood of the morning broken.
“Is Mia okay?” Gino asks. Of course he does. Gino has a softness for girls like Mia has become in a single morning, something protective; he’s chafed in the past against the way the girls are talked about, says they’ve got it easy as boys. He cares, of course, how Mia is doing, while the rest of them gossip and fret about their futures. Lelouch’s ears burn.
“She’s fine, Gino,” Jeremiah says, softening. “I took her to the train station myself. She’s going home.”
“And the,” Gino presses, breathless, “the father?”
Jeremiah’s lips thin. “They didn’t—they’ll sue her if she says, so they didn’t have to fire him. His group’s been dissolved, though. They can’t tie his group mates to him in case it gets out.”
“It was him, though, wasn’t it?” And here Lelouch realizes, Gino might know—might care—they’re from the same district, he and Mia, he remembers now. He reaches, cupping Gino’s hand in his own.
“O-Prince isn’t going to be debuting this year,” Jeremiah says, and it confirms whatever has Gino’s shoulders trembling.
“Gino,” Lelouch warns again.
“And if he does it again?” Gino demands.
“Then he goes down by himself,” Jeremiah says simply.
“Only if he gets caught,” Gino snaps.
“Gino!” He’s dangerously close to making an accusation of something, to admitting he’d been talking to a girl who’s now in disgrace, and Lelouch feels selfish for trying to protect the rest of them from it. Gino’s shoulders are wire-taut, but his hand slips from Lelouch’s slowly, betrayal written on his face.
“PRINCO IS DONE” proclaims twitter, full of jeers and tittering laughter; Lelouch spends the afternoon drafting a new grocery list and ignoring the headache that forms behind his eyes. They mope around like their opinions matter.
The next day is solemn, the anticipation broken. They’re out two days of rehearsal, and all five of them know they’re going to get it the next time they’re in the studio; Lelouch spends his time between photos stretching, until Rivalz tries to dig his fingers into his ribs and they end up tussling on the ground. The candids from the set are going to be embarrassing, he knows, but it’s worth it when Suzaku catches Rivalz in a headlock so he can pinch at his sides until he pleads for mercy. Even Gino is laughing at that one, and slowly the gloom begins to crack. The photographer poses them like dolls, singles, groups, pairs. It takes hours, but by the end they’re slumped together in a pile of exhaustion, whatever enmity the previous day’s news had brought faded. It’s Lelouch’s favorite take.
They take O-Prince’s debut spot, and suddenly instead of months they have weeks, suddenly days, the moment sneaking up until their days are a blur of rehearsals, dancing until they’re unable to move, singing until their throats hurt, sleeping every moment they can. Rivalz falls asleep in the makeup chair when they’re getting ready for a dress rehearsal, Rolo nods off standing up, his knees crumpling beneath him as he rag dolls into Gino’s arms. It isn’t until they find Suzaku leaned against the tiles in the shower, shivering with cold and still sound asleep that Lelouch starts to worry. He takes to scooping any one of them in grabbing distance for power naps on whatever soft surface is nearby, and more than once he wakes with Rolo’s face pressed in the center of his back, his own on Rivalz’s stomach or Gino’s shoulder or across Suzaku’s chest. They’re used to piling together by the time the day comes, a casual affection the crew seems to eat up if the constant cameras were any indication.
They prerelease a single, radio only for the first two weeks and when the disc drops they land with a splash. “I can’t wait to see your smiling faces,” Gino says on the prerecorded guest spot—they’re introducing the song and themselves, the same twenty second clip on every station—Lelouch murmurs, “Come see me.” “I already know it’s going to be a blast,” Rivalz says; “I want to see you” from Suzaku; “Please treat us well,” Rolo asks. They don’t sell out, but it’s a near thing.
And then it’s time. His thigh judders against Gino’s with nerves and then they’re holding hands, all of them, palms pressed, sweaty, together. The car door opens and Gino steps out and the screaming starts. It doesn’t stop.
The performance is a blur. He knows he can barely hear himself over the crowd, knows his muscles burn with fatigue less than halfway through, knows as soon as the adrenaline wears off he’ll be one single cramp from head to toe, but he catches Gino’s eye as they dance and suddenly it’s all there, months of training branding the routine into his bones. They’re ready, and all that’s left is to enjoy it. He throws himself into his second wind and then they’re already bowing and the screaming hasn’t abated, not even when Jeremiah comes to escort them from the stage and Gino is still blowing kisses into the crowd, Rivalz still waving and jumping, the crowd still screaming, screaming.
His muscles lock the minute he sits in the car, breath punching out of him at the ache that chooses now to make itself known. It must show on his face, because Suzaku’s hands are on his shoulders almost before the car door closes behind him; his thumbs press hard enough into the knots along his spine to make him cry. Gino shushes him and then they’re all around him, shaking with exhaustion, with joy, with adrenaline. Rivalz weeps noisily on his shirt while Gino pats his shoulder, Rolo curled beneath his arm, but it’s Suzaku whose hands are still pushing the lactic acid from his muscles, Suzaku whose warm body is pressed against his side, Suzaku who cups the curve of his hip instead of letting go once he’s relaxed—Suzaku who catches his eye, whose tongue along the corner of a lip makes Lelouch’s mouth feel so dry. Suzaku, who leans in just enough that Lelouch can rest his body against him.
They argue about the shower when they get home, but it’s halfhearted; the only agreement is that it shouldn’t be Lelouch first, but oddly Gino gives in when Lelouch insists that Suzaku is the quickest at showering of them all. He’s resigned himself to showering in the morning, anyway, or maybe even running a bath to soak in, already daydreaming the warmth soaking into his bones when he settles into the sheets of his bed. He’s sweatier than he prefers, but tomorrow is laundry day, and it isn’t a hardship to snuggle in. When he settles, he’s surprised by Gino’s steady gaze. The water is still running in the other room, Suzaku humming tunelessly.
“I’ll take a bath tomorrow,” Lelouch promises, yawning. Gino’s lip twitches.
“I want you to be very, very careful,” he says, and.
“I always am.” It’s true—of the five of them, he is the least foolhardy, the least likely to be risky. It’s unusual for him to overwork himself like he did today, and there are still lines of concern around Gino’s eyes when he stretches his arms above his head with a groan of satisfaction. “Well. I won’t do it again,” he corrects ruefully; the bath tomorrow really will go a long way toward fixing today’s overexertion. “I can barely move.”
Gino’s smile is fond, as if he’s the older one of the two. “You’re like a kid tonight.”
“Mm,” Lelouch agrees, stretching just that little bit further until his muscles pop a little, spine crackling. “I feel like an old man.”
“Definitely a kid,” Gino confirms. There’s soft laughter from the door, Suzaku damp and sleepy. “You too. Go to bed. Papa’s orders.”
“Are you going to shower?” Suzaku asks, but Lelouch doesn’t really care about the answer. The lights are still on but he’s out.
The ringing of his phone wakes him, only hours later. His blood chills. No one who has this number should be calling.
“I need to see you, Lulu. I need you,” she whispers into the phone. There really isn’t any alternative; he slips from the bed, dresses as quietly as he can. The others are still snoring as he steps out to the curb, as he slides into the cab, as he reads off the address. The city’s still dark around him as they drive off.
By the time he makes it back, it’s early enough to grab breakfast while he’s out. Pastries and coffee, and already the whispers are puddling in the corners of the bakery. He knows he’s attractive; he knows that’s not quite enough to justify the murmurs. He pays for his pastries quickly, scooping the bag from the cashier’s hands gratefully. “Thanks. These are my favorite,” he tells her, and by the time he’s walking in the front door of the apartment, the bakery is already spiking on social media. The others descend on the pastries ravenously, but Rolo raises a pointed brow at him over his croissant.
They’ve got a free day, a rarity; the agency is feeling them out, deciding how well the debut went. Lelouch’s stunt this morning looks good—he’s trending, the bakery publicly offering him any pastries he wants on the house next time he makes it their way again. It looks good. He didn’t plan it, and that looks even better, even if it means he can’t go back there again. The kids are playing Mario Kart again when Jeremiah calls with their next six performance dates all lined up, and it’s unmistakable: they’re taking off.
It doesn’t happen after the next show but he leaves early for breakfast anyway. If it’s a quirk, known that he can’t sleep in after a show, it’s better than people wondering why he’s out in the middle of the night; the next place is muffins and this time they know exactly who he is when he walks in. He has to leave his money on the counter because they won’t take it; someone is already instagramming him there, and he doesn’t even make it home before Jeremiah’s calling him, laughing. This bakery makes a big deal of posting their “Sold Out!” sign and it goes viral, even though this time he hadn’t claimed a preference. There are no offers of free food this time, either, which turns into a vicious slapfight between the fans who think he’s owed and the ones at the bakery who saw him refuse the offer. He monitors the situation until it’s too embarrassing; Gino holds the phone for him as he records and posts his first vlog about how he doesn’t need free muffins or bullies. It’s embarrassing until later that day when Rivalz releases one of himself singing in the dry shower because he likes the acoustics there the best. Lelouch just slumps onto him gratefully.
It becomes a pattern. Suzaku makes the mistake of sneaking a snack in the background of one of Gino’s vlogs and a box of them shows up on their doorstep with a thank you note; he gets bags of them offered after shows until Gino takes one and eats it instead. Another box shows up. Another thank you note, an offer of sponsorship. Lelouch clears their cabinets of branded foods, decants them into unmarked containers. Rolo expresses a preference for a drink and four different companies reach out to cast him in their commercials. They’re not allowed personal opinions anymore—anything they like is an advertisement now, and it’s almost as exhausting as the rehearsals and the performances and the public appearances.
And the recording. There’s an album coming; the day the news breaks, he spends two hours in the bathroom with his phone, hiding, whispering. Their faces are on a billboard that’s visible from the living room window.
“You okay?” The question is soft, the fingertips at his waist softer. Suzaku looks concerned.
“Stomach hurts,” he offers, and Suzaku’s smile is soft, too. He almost feels bad for lying.
“Come lay down then.”
They end up curled together on the sofa, Lelouch dozing as their heartbeats synch. Suzaku is playing something on his phone over his head, the volume low but enthusiastic, and he hears the others drift in and out of the room.
“Asleep?” It’s Rivalz, voice quiet. Suzaku shakes his head, and Lelouch buries his face deeper into the warm curve of a bicep.
“Not really,” Suzaku says. “Almost.”
“Who’s going to cook, then?” Rolo calls from the kitchen. Suzaku’s laughter puffs on the back of his neck and he smiles, eyes still closed.
“Let Papa do it,” Gino suggests, and the laughter around them is warm, cozy.
“Papa has the best voice for ordering take out,” Suzaku agrees, and the palm on Lelouch’s stomach shifts a little. “Can you eat anything?” It’s a small question, private, and Lelouch’s eyes flicker open.
He misses the warmth as soon as he sits up. Suzaku is like a personal heater, and Lelouch can feel the sweat he hadn’t noticed cooling under his arms, on his back. “Yeah,” he admits, but Suzaku just smiles, rolling onto his back.
“I vote Chinese,” Suzaku offers, falling back into his game.
“French,” Lelouch says.
They end up with soba, something gentle and familiar, and they end up flicking noodles at one another until the rowdiest of them wander off in the direction of Rivalz and Rolo’s room to settle their differences on the racetrack. Gino stays, helps him collect the bowls and stray noodles. At last they settle on the sofa, Lelouch still worn down by the schedule and his long almost-nap. He startles when Gino leans heavily against him.
“Careful, careful,” Lelouch warns, but Gino’s grin says it’s deliberate as he weighs Lelouch down until he slides into the floor.
“I could say the same to you,” Gino tells him, the laughter slipping. Lelouch’s stomach catches. “He’s going to notice something’s wrong, you know.”
He could ask who, but these days Gino only ever means one who; Lelouch’s cheeks flare. “There’s nothing to notice. There’s nothing wrong.”
Gino hums. “I don’t need to know your secrets. It’s why people like me—I’m not curious. But he’ll need to know them. If.”
If. Gino’s if wanders perilously close to his skin recently, only half known and even less understood: Gino’s got it in his head that. That, what? That he and Suzaku are friends? That Lelouch has developed a soft spot for him like an abcess, infected with Suzaku’s infinite cheerfulness? That he’s—that there’s something even Lelouch can’t bring himself to look at head on, that his fingers clench at even the glimpses he sees from the corner of his eye? If.
“It won’t come to that. Really.” And Gino sighs again.
“I’d rather you only kept the secrets I know about, you know. I don’t know what to do with the other ones.”
“You don’t know any of my secrets,” Lelouch snaps, and then, reluctant: “I don’t have any secrets to know.”
Gino pats him on the shoulder instead of saying anything, and it’s almost worse.
Before he quite knows what’s happening, they’re swept up into a short tour run, never far enough that they can’t be home in their own beds at night, but Jeremiah lets them know: the album’s preorders are strong; they’re going to premiere in a formidable position, and the shows are only contributing to the phenomenon. The agency has already pushed back the next two debuts to focus on them, and while he feels the pain of those other groups still waiting in the wings, it’s thrilling to see their schedule fill, to see performances and appearances replacing rehearsals, to have Jeremiah prep them for interviews and TV spots and finally for an appearance on Count Down TV. It’s thrilling to try not to stumble over his words when a sly interviewer says, “Ah, you’re the cool type,” and Gino nearly ruptures something laughing. It’s thrilling.
But there’s a phone call after most of them, the ones he knows she’s awake for. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” he whispers down the line, but he won’t hang up when she calls, and when she cries he finds himself sneaking out anyway, hood pulled low and medical mask over his face in a desperate bid for anonymity. Her tears break his heart; he’ll never not come running.
The first time he comes home to Suzaku waiting on the sofa, he feels his heart stop in his chest. It’s early-late, midnight street lights filtering across Suzaku’s face in cathode orange. He doesn’t look angry, not the way Rivalz or Gino would, not the way Lelouch knows he deserves for sneaking out, for risking everything they’ve done with his secrets. No, Suzaku just looks at him, mouth soft with worry, and Lelouch lets himself be drawn into a hug that soothes the ache it causes to see her. He doesn’t ask, doesn’t demand an explanation, and perhaps that’s why he gives one.
“She’s cute.” There’s no judgement—or there is, but it’s the normal kind he’d expect, showing his friend a picture of a sixteen year old girl on his phone. Suzaku’s tone is carefully neutral.
“She’s my little sister.”
It isn’t what Suzaku expected, he knows. His fingers tighten around Lelouch’s wrist, eyes wide.
“It’s true, I promise.”
They’re quiet a moment, Suzaku studying the photo. Finally, “She looks like you, I think. Same bone structure.”
“Are you saying I look like a teenage girl?”
“Well, you said it for me.” It’s easier to tease, to joke, but. “Why do you have to sneak out to see her? Why in the middle of the night?”
And. It’s hard to explain, really. None of them have much family left, outside of Rivalz, who makes special dates to visit his family when he can. None of the rest of them ever have; he has only the faintest of understanding why—suspects the reason, more than anything—but he doesn’t know. It’s a rough conversation to bring up with your friends: ‘Do you hate your family too? No? Ah, you’re an orphan. Makes sense.’ He bites his lip.
“I don’t—there’s nothing wrong, really. Not, like, dangerous wrong. I. She’s sick. She’s not allowed to leave the hospital, and I don’t want—I don’t want.” Don’t want another bakery he can’t go to, another snack he can’t enjoy peacefully. A hospital too dangerous to visit. Suzaku’s eyes widen, dark with understanding.
“What’s her name?”
“Nunnally.” And there it is: his biggest secret in the room between them. The relief makes him almost dizzy. They stay up together, as terrible an idea as it is, and he finds himself whispering about her, about her smile like actual sunshine, about the way she says his name like the question and answer to her whole life, about complete and total unconditional love, and by the time he falls asleep across Suzaku’s shoulder still dressed like a thief in the night, he feels unburdened, light. He wakes at Gino taking off his mask, one brow cocked.
“I guess you told him.” Gino sounds. A little bit bitter, if he’s honest, and Lelouch puts his arms up for Gino to lift him from the cushions. “You’re lucky you weigh, like, thirty kilos. Augh, my back.” He lets Gino carry him into the short hall to the bedrooms.
“You’re still Papa,” Lelouch whispers in his ear, but Gino’s grin is rueful.
“But he’s Otto.”
It’s ice water down his back, and he squirms against Gino’s grasp. By the time they’re standing face to face, though, he doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know how to say what he knows needs to be said. “Gino.” There’s something under the cheerful smile, the upturned eyes, that makes Lelouch want to cry.
Gino traces his lower lip with a thumb. They’ve been friends for years, best friends, had come up through the training dorms together, had been Papa and Mama to the team for longer than he can remember, and. Husband, Gino said. Suzaku is Husband. His breath escapes him in a rush like being punched in the chest. “I—” But what is there to say? His heart thuds painfully.
Gino’s lips are careful on his temple. It could have happened, and that’s the worst part; he kisses back, the corner of Gino’s jaw where he can reach it, and when Gino lets him go he goes, curling up in his bed still in his clothes and waiting for the world to stop spinning.
It doesn’t change as much as he’d expected, either of his secrets being out. If anything, they’re tighter as a group, closer. Between the interviews and performances and marathon practices, Papa still rules with a velvet glove and Mama still scolds them all into submission. The first time he flops against Gino after a long day, there is a moment of tension before Gino rolls him into his arms and snuggles in as always. If anyone notices that they don’t flirt, no one says anything. They’re too busy for flirting, anyway.
Then their first overseas tour. Jeremiah looks so excited for them, proud. Lelouch’s chest aches. “I. Korea.” It’s something he’s known was coming—successful groups tour, it’s what they do—but. “It’s so far away.” Suzaku’s hand is calming, palm flat against his spine, but.
“You never struck me as a homebody,” Rivalz teases, and he knows his smile at that is thin.
“Korea. It’s only for a few days, a couple of small shows to test the waters, but if it works out,” Jeremiah shrugs. “You’re testing well in Australia.”
It takes his breath away. Saying no isn’t an option; he blinks a few times, and if his smile is still a little bit forced, no one says anything. He’s going to break his sister’s heart.
He doesn’t tell her before he goes. It’s cruel, the cruelest thing he’s ever done, but the short tour keeps him busy enough that he sleeps through his phone ringing. There’s no time for sightseeing, just an endless stream of performances and interviews and car rides from one place to the next, and he listens to her voice messages in the bathroom with his arms over his head so no one will hear him crying.
It goes better than even Jeremiah expects. They’re sold out for the whole run, but they won’t add extra days—this tour is meant to tempt, to check whether people would come to a bigger one, and when tweets start popping up, begging “Denmark?” “Germany?” “London!” “NEW YORK”, there’s no denying the interest. It’s. Australia, at least, and Jeremiah hints that it might be time to start polishing new songs, working out new dances, and when are they going to find the time? Even Lelouch can’t bring himself to be doom and gloom; Gino orders a round of champagne on the flight home, their joy infectious, and they celebrate until Rolo pushes at them to shut up so he can sleep.
But the moment they land, his phone starts to ring, right in the middle of the day. Jeremiah understands, and that’s all that matters; he’s rushed away from the crowds gathered at the gate, the bodyguards brusque and short with the people who plead for his attention. It isn’t until he’s already on the way to the hospital that he reads a tweeted statement about his own airsickness, the bumpy flight making him dizzy; he reads his own short statement thanking his fans for their concern and support, crediting it with a surely speedy recovery. He tucks himself into the hoodie he’s pulled from his carry on and hopes it’s not familiar enough to recognize him. To part of him, it doesn’t matter if it is. The rest of him leans against the car door and watches the city.
She’s miserable when he gets to her, shaky-limbed and vaguely smelling of bile. The nurses are already bowing, ducking away; for as much as the agency is paying them—as much as he’s paying them—it’s no time at all until they’re alone, until it’s just him soothing his baby sister as she weeps into his shoulder. There’s no question of it: he wraps himself around her even though he’s wearing the clothes specifically chosen for an airport photo op, even though he’s shaking, himself, even though she smells of sick and her fingers are tangling in his hair. She’s Nunnally.
By the time he makes it home, there’s no denying there’s something wrong. They trust him, though, and that almost makes it worse: the small smile on Rivalz’s face when he walks in the door, the warmth of Gino’s hand on his shoulder, the way Rolo presses himself close for a moment before wandering off. He wants to thank them for it. He wants to cry. More than anything, he wants to scrub the smell of hospital from his skin, to hide his clothes in the bottom of the closet where he doesn’t have to wear them again. He wants to curl up on the sofa again, Suzaku at his back so wonderfully warm, and his heart just isn’t in it for any more today; he showers perfunctorily and climbs into bed even though it’s still afternoon. Pulls the duvet over his head and hides. They make gentle shushing sounds when they visit, almost taking turns, but he just wants to be alone; he wants to be alone together. He can hear the sounds of a mobile game through the blankets and smiles, finally lulled to peace.
All in all, it takes less than a week for the world to end. One moment he’s running the others through the opening bars of a new song and the next he’s caught, Jeremiah stern and sad in the doorway.
A photo. They’ve been offered a photo in exchange for hush money, a photo of Lelouch kissing a girl too young for him, and the moment Darlton mentions it, he knows what they’ve got: he’s kissing Nunnally’s forehead, comforting her as she cries over being left alone for a week. She’s his little sister, but he knows they all know that. He knows it doesn’t matter. Any excuse now will read false—anyone with empathy would understand why he’s kept her hidden, but no one with common sense will believe him. The rumors are already flying, and no matter what they pay for the negatives, the damage is done. Lulu, princely Lulu of Suteki na WONDERBOYS, has a girlfriend, secret and dangerously young. What’s left of his heart shatters into a thousand pieces, ground to dust: they’re going to give him the chance to say goodbye in person. It’s more than Mai got.
He doesn’t pack right away. He doesn’t have to; Jeremiah pulls an emergency meeting with his bosses, argues that any immediate response will look like guilt, but Lelouch is still quietly pulled from the rehearsal schedule, and when they finally make it home, the others swarm him, curious and worried. It’s. It takes everything he has not to cry, wavering between them until Gino makes a soft sound and draws him in and he can weep, quiet. Broken.
“I have a sister,” he tells them, “not a girlfriend.” They know, too—it doesn’t matter.
He wakes with a throbbing headache to the sound of voices hissing in the hall. Someone’s tucked him into the bed that won’t be his anymore soon; there’s light filtering in under the door, and there are voices hissing in the hall. They’re furious, discussing him, he knows. He curls his arm over his head until he’s cocooned in warm white emptiness and sleeps again.
He goes with them to rehearsal the next morning, groggy with emotion, but his access has been revoked; he sits in the lobby listening to trainees giggle about him behind their hands until he calls Jeremiah. He’s taking up too much of his manager’s—ex-manager’s—time, he knows, but Jeremiah is kind, if quiet. He drives him home. Lelouch waits until he’s sitting on the sofa to text Gino, because he’s a coward. He knows he’s a coward.
He’s still watching terrible TV when they get in, and he can’t meet their eyes, can’t—it’s easier to lay on his stomach on the sofa and watch the colors flash by; it isn’t registering, but he must fool them. They drift away, Rolo and Rivalz throwing jan-ken-pon in the hall for dibs at the shower. Numb—he’s numb, sharply so. He doesn’t look when someone presses himself against the corner and watches him, just a shape from the corner of his eye. Gino or Suzaku, he doesn’t say anything, and finally the figure just sighs, shoulders slumping—Suzaku doesn’t even glance back as Lelouch rests his cheek on the back of his hand and catches him heading back. It’s fine. He’s fine.
He sleeps on the sofa, chest still hollow and ringing. They don’t invite him to rehearsals again—he wakes up alone in an empty apartment.
They’ve canceled performances, and he knows the longer he lingers, the more damage he does. No one wants to say he’s out—officially, he’s seeking treatment for exhaustion. Unofficially, Lelouch haunts the apartment like a ghost, throws himself at the sofa, at his bed, soaks hours away in the tub until he feels soggy and weak. Packs careful lunches for his boys for work tomorrow and forces himself to nibble at his own lunch. He isn’t hungry. He just feels vacant inside, a house whose tenants have all moved out.
He’s still feeling sorry for himself when his phone rings, and something cruel and selfish in him doesn’t want to answer. He’s destroyed himself, ruined himself, but it isn’t her fault, not really—it isn’t her fault, and even if it were he would forgive her. He’ll always forgive her. He flips his phone, catches the end of the number scrolling by: not Nunnally, but Jeremiah. His heart thumps.
“Hi, yes. Hi,” he gasps into the phone. Jeremiah’s laugh is pleasant, familiar.
“I’m sending a car. Take a shower; Gino says you smell.”
And it doesn’t make any sense, but he does it anyway, showering, dressing up like the man he was last week. He spends the car ride over toying with the hem of his sweater, and he isn’t any calmer when he arrives.
Their agency office building isn’t known for being cozy. It’s glass and black steel and portraits of the idols who’ve been churned out over the years, all the way back to CC, the agency’s first success story. He wants that—to retire into obscurity, perhaps open a consulting agency of his own. It’s as distant as the stars right now. Jeremiah’s secretary Viletta meets him in the lobby, but it isn’t Jeremiah’s office they head to. No, they take the elevator straight past the third floor to Bismark’s office, to the same room where he’d been told his career was going to begin. He supposes it’s appropriate that it ends here, too.
Lelouch’s bow is deep, enough to express his disgrace, but Jeremiah shakes his head, grasping his arms. “Did you even go to rehearsal at all?” he teases, and Lelouch remembers the cold plastic waiting room chairs beneath him as the three kohai from Hero of World had snickered and called him a ladykiller, voices sotto and smarmy. He shakes his head.
“You owe someone out there a favor,” Bismark says, and. The paper Darlton hands him is a rag not fit to wash his windows, but. He remembers the dress Nunnally is wearing in the photo; the day before the accident, before his mother was killed and his sister maimed, they’d been. His father isn’t in the photo. It wouldn’t look right, wouldn’t be easy to explain why the owner of the agency was in the photo of Suteki’s Lulu and his child girlfriend. It had been a company event, though, an outing that had delighted Nunnally, and she’d spent the rest of the day twirling like the princesses she’d seen on stage. He swallows hard.
“What is this?”
As though it isn’t obvious. This gossip sheet, worth barely more than the paper it’s printed on, shows incontrovertible proof: the girl in the hospital is his sister. Baby sister, the article opines. He’s never wanted to punch someone so bad.
“It’s someone in the media saving your career,” Darlton says, but. But no.
It’s a very specific photo. It’s from his photo album at home.
At least there isn’t a quote from his sister. Real or fake, that would have destroyed him. As it stands, this is close—this is someone going through his things. This is a purposeful leak to the media of something he’s held private and close for years. This is someone sacrificing his sister for his sake.
It’s a lesson in spin, then—his official response asks for privacy for his family but speaks of a deeply loving relationship with an invalid sister; it talks about Nunnally using language he would never use, and he’s so embarrassed by it that he wants to hide again. He wants to call her, tell her it isn’t real, that he’d never use the C word to describe her injuries, that he doesn’t think he’s selfless or find her inspiring, that she’s his little sister and that nothing about them has changed, that he still loves her for being the brat who chased him in the yard when they were kids and not for being his tragedy porn example of noble suffering. It isn’t—there isn’t time to call her, to visit, but the story breaks major news outlets within hours and just as suddenly as it was cast, the shadow over his career is gone. It was all a big misunderstanding!, the gossip magazines cry, as though they hadn’t published fake stories about his predatory behavior; Lulu is everyone’s oniichama, twitter agrees, elegant and poised but deeply passionate and loving. The reversal is stunning. He’s reinstated with a full roster of rehearsals, his new song top of the to do list, as though it’s never happened, but.
But. He gets home thinking but . But. Someone in his house has. He doesn’t know if he can forgive them, forgive himself. It’s sweet, and any of them could have, would have; the thought bores down into his heart. What can he even say? Thank you for saving my career, but I would have rather failed? You sold my privacy for me and as grateful as I am it makes me feel physically nauseated? He greets them at the door when they get in, supper already waiting, and lets Gino sweep him into a hug that turns into a pile on the sofa. He’d have missed them all, terribly so, and that’s what makes him even guiltier.
He doesn’t have long to wait. He knows it as soon as Suzaku sits next to him, can feel his guilt buzzing through his skin. It leaves him breathless, how angry he is, how the sound of Suzaku’s breath is shaky as he works up his courage to tell him something he knew the moment their arms brushed.
“I can’t forgive you right now,” Lelouch says, and Suzaku nods. He looks so sad, lips and eyes tender; he moves to stand, to retreat, and Lelouch loops his arm around Suzaku’s, pleading. He can’t forgive right now, but that doesn’t mean never, and he leans into him the way he had every time he’d come home from the hospital, heart tipping messy pools inside his chest.
“I don’t deserve it.” Suzaku’s lips move in his hair. “I’m not even sorry.”
“I know.” He does. Suzaku tangles himself around him, and. Later, private under his own duvet, Lelouch presses the backs of his fingertips to his lips. He almost isn’t either.
It doesn’t take long. He stumbles across the first meme unaware—he’s been tagged by some troll, but the sight of his sister’s face in a meme about how only a blind girl would think he was the best Wonderboy sits in his chest like a stone pressing him to the chair. It’s silly, the kind of joke he’d have made to her himself, but on twitter it carries some sort of malicious weight to it, inappropriate and cruel. The next meme—a blind girl misses the dance mistakes in the MV for “Chances”. A blind girl thinks Rivalz’s freshly dyed hair looks good. A blind girl; a blind girl. He goes to the first Wonderboys concert since the story broke and speaks earnestly, gently about how their fans’ support has helped him through his recent illness—a blind girl misses the elephant in the room. He feels a clenching below his ribs when he thinks about it. He thinks about it all the time.
It’s an unusual vlog. He’s got a bottle of wine because it doesn’t matter, does it? Really? Rewatching it later, he’s embarrassed to see himself getting drunker as he speaks about how the rest of the team had taken such good care of him while he was ill; the praise devolves into a rebuke against cyber bullies, and when it hits the gossip sites the next day, one of the articles is titled “A Blind Girl Couldn’t Miss The Point”. Don’t mix your drinks, the article warns teasingly, as if he’d sat down to get plastered on camera. Perhaps he did; he still records an apology for his passionate words. A blind girl thinks he’s sorry.
It’s when he gets a call—there’s nothing wrong; nothing happened—from the hospital security staff notifying him of a breach in security that something breaks, something precious and irreplaceable. He storms out of the practice room snarling at anyone who crosses his path; by the time he makes it back from the hospital, the others have finished singing. He catches them in the lobby and for a long moment he’s too furious to do more than shake.
“Someone broke into her patient files.” He shouldn’t be doing this here. Suzaku looks like he’s been smacked, and he still might do it.
“Lulu,” Gino warns, but when his hand snaps up, it’s Rivalz who catches him across the chest with his own shoulders, a human straightjacket as he pushes him away.
“No, Lulu,” Rivalz murmurs, voice pitched low. The trainees in the room watch gleefully. “You’ll regret it later.”
“Do you hear me?” Lelouch demands instead. “Someone targeted my sister, hacked into the hospital system, and stole her personal information. They particularly liked the schedule ,” he hisses, because. Because he’s scared, because this is exactly the kind of thing he’s always feared most, because this is all, entirely, completely his fault for being an idol when being big brother wasn’t enough. “—because they wanted to know where she might be most accessible.”
The air bursts from Rivalz’s chest at that, but he isn’t—they’re propping each other up, and the urge to lash out physically has been replaced with dread, with guilt. He can hear Rolo’s murmurs, feel the moment the embrace becomes less about holding him back and more about stilling the bone-deep shudders that are stealing over him. Gino catches up to where they’re holding him and pulls the three of them into a tight hug, and some kind of light goes out on Suzaku’s face.
He’s made a spectacle of himself, of them. He can’t seem to stop doing that, these days. The lobby is silent as they leave, and no one says anything in the car ride, either. It isn’t—this isn’t what he wanted from his career, these messy emotions spilling everywhere. He’s torpedoed his own reputation one too many times; the gossip blogs pick up on the fight but not the cause, and the image of Lulu, ice prince of the Wonderboys, thaws further. ‘So fiery!’ reads a comment. ‘First of all, how dare,’ reads another, ‘as if Suza wouldn’t have kicked his entire ass’. ‘So much for SuzaLulu!’ mourns another, and there are so many crying emoji. ‘I hrd someth bad hapened to his sis. hes upset.’ ‘GOOD. SHE DESERVED IT’ ‘poor lulu’ ‘she really is just a weight around his neck’ ‘Poor Lulu!’ ‘do you think she got hurt?’, followed by ‘shut UP, lolicon’. It’s exhausting.
He’s startled from his obsessive scrolling by a hand on his shoulder. Suzaku looks completely wrecked, eyes rimmed red, and Lelouch’s stomach clenches. His fists do, too. He knows Suzaku notices; he nods slightly. “Hit me, Lulu, please.”
In the kitchen, Gino and Rivalz still. Rolo looks up from his phone.
“Please,” Suzaku repeats. He sinks to his knees beside the sofa, presses his forehead to Lelouch’s thigh. He looks—he slides back onto his heels when Lelouch pushes him back with his foot.
“Why should I hit you?” he asks instead. There are tears in Suzaku’s lashes like diamonds; even crying, he’s pretty.
“I deserve it.”
And. Lelouch wavers, frowning. He can feel their eyes on him, his group. And Suzaku’s. “No.” It would be easy to kick him, to punch him, to lash out. The tension falls away from Gino’s shoulders. Rivalz’s hand rests on Gino’s arm. And. “And how pathetic are you to ask?”
His lip curls, and he knows he looks cruel. “Do you think you deserve catharsis? A stop to your pain? When I can’t have it?”
“—no.” Suzaku’s voice sounds small. He looks small, kneeling on the floor.
He’s soaking in the tub when the bathroom door opens. Gino, rolling his sleeves up. “I’ll do your back.”
“I don’t want your skinship,” Lelouch tells him, but the hot water has made him soft, bendable. He leans forward and lets Gino soap up the washcloth before rubbing it over his shoulders and upper back. The room is quiet except for the splashing water, the gentle shushing of the cloth over his skin, the sound of their breaths.
“You didn’t have to do that in front of everyone,” Gino tells him mildly. He swallows.
“I’ve put him with Rolo for now.” The air in the room moves, cool against his skin as Gino shuffles. He hadn’t considered sleeping arrangements.
“Thank you,” he says softly, resting his ear on his upraised knees. Gino hums in acknowledgement as he washes his back.
Then: “If I were a different man, I’d think this was my chance. Is it?”
It isn’t a come on. He’s asking, in a Gino way, if the tension that’s sizzled between him and Suzaku is still a thing, but the problem is that he doesn’t know—he genuinely doesn’t know, but he remembers the zing that had ripped through him at the press of Suzaku’s face to his leg. He shrugs, and Gino sighs.
“I guess I’ll wait a little bit longer,” Gino says, and it isn’t as despondent as his face makes it out to be; he’s teasing, and it works. Lelouch’s smile is small but deep.
“You’re in here, you know, and not him. You’re still Papa.”
Gino’s lips are soft on his hair as he stands to go. “Don’t try to lead me on, Lulu.”
It’s—fair. He nods, and Gino laughs, pained. “You’re gorgeous, but you’re a cruel man.” When Gino hitches his hands in his pockets, the blush that steals over Lelouch’s face burns.
“I didn’t think about…,” he trails off, awkward. There aren’t bubbles; he’s perfectly visible. His skin still tingles from Gino’s scrubbing.
“I know. I think that’s why I like it so much. I can’t even take care of it, though, because there’s someone in the bathroom. No cold showers for me,” Gino says grinning, and a flickering heat steals across Lelouch’s skin. There’s—he squirms, and Gino’s eyes clear. “It isn’t a hardship, you know. Thinking about you. But.”
Lelouch’s lips part on the humid air between them. “But?”
“But I like it best when I think of you two together. So hot.”
By the time he comes up from trying to drown himself in the tub, Gino has gone. He doesn’t even want to touch himself to clean; by the time he staggers out into the rest of the apartment, the cool air is shocking on his hot skin. Rolo is curled against the arm of the sofa, twitter open. He isn’t looking at their tags—he’s following some other boy group Lelouch doesn’t recognize, and he jolts hard. It’s certainly healthier than the way he uses it himself.
“You really need to just fuck one of them. Or both,” Rolo says idly, and Lelouch flushes.
“You are an actual child. I’m not taking dating advice from you.”
“Gross. I’m not talking about dating, I’m talking about your little S&M scene over here and the fact that he sat in my room staring at the wall while you showed your naked body to Papa.”
“This is not a conversation I’m prepared to have,” Lelouch tells him, and Rolo laughs.
“A couple of months ago. Korea.” Rolo turns his phone to him. The boy on the screen is delicate, pretty in a way that reminds him of long-stemmed flowers. Rolo turns the screen back and smiles, private. And. And he hadn’t even noticed, relegating Rolo to the nursery; he really isn’t much younger than Gino was when Wonderboys was formed. It’s easy to forget what it was like to be a teenager.
“Did you use a condom?” It’s about as supportive of Rolo’s sex life as he’s willing to be, but Rolo just smiles.
“Gross.” He grins. “Do you like him?”
“He’s got a nice ass,” Rolo tells him indifferently. The facade cracks a little to let out a bigger smile. “Yeah. It isn’t—we aren’t. He’s in Korea, after all, and we’re not interested in taking anything slow or fast, just as it comes. And it comes a lot. And pulls my hair.”
“Oh my god.”
“I can’t believe I lost my virginity before you,” Rolo continues, and. The sound Lelouch makes into his hands definitely isn’t a squeak.
“Oh my god.”
“I mean, I kind of can. You’ve had a stick up your ass so long that there wouldn’t have been room—”
“Oh my god.”
“—but I mean. You’re going to have to put out sometime.”
“Oh my god.”
“You’re different now, though. It could be because everyone knows about your sister now—” Rolo cuts himself off, humming. “I don’t think so, though. I think it started when you saw something you finally wanted just for yourself.”
There’s nothing to say for that, really. He presses a kiss to the top of Rolo’s head and watches as he scrolls through images of his—he won’t use the words “fuck buddy” anywhere in Rolo’s vicinity, but Rolo looks sweet, happy. He gets a text notification, then, and swipes down over the photos.
“Augh, my eyes.” The words are filthy, graphic, and Lelouch’s skin goosepimples.
“It’s what you deserve. You shouldn’t be looking at other people’s phones.”
“I thought you were showing me more pictures of your friend!”
“Why would I do that, nosy?”
“Tell him that the next time I see him we’re having words.”
“I do not need you defending my virtue.”
“From the sound of things, there isn’t much left to protect!” The facetime icon comes up, and Rolo shoos him. “Don’t get come on the sofa,” Lelouch warns. The boy on Rolo’s phone laughs. “I mean it. No come on the sofa.”
“Go to bed!” Rolo says. He’s still laughing to himself as he leaves, Rolo’s voice going soft and private behind him.
The room is quiet when he comes in. Rivalz is asleep in the middle bed, Gino nearly so in his own, and Lelouch slips between the sheets of his own bed carefully. He’ll dress in the morning, but for now. For now.
It isn’t like he didn’t have the opportunity earlier, or that the lewdness of it gets him off, because he did and it doesn’t. It’s just the images Rolo’s put in his head, the charged conversation he’d had with Gino. It’s that his mouth goes dry when Suzaku towels off the back of his neck with the shirt he's been wearing. He shouldn’t have the wet towel in the bed with him, but the heavy terry cloth feels good weighing him down, soft prickles on his skin. It’s. He presses, tentatively, and has to bite his lip against the whine that comes up.
They’ve all done it before, particularly in the trainee dorms where there’s precious little space and even less privacy. The younger ones had been more afraid of it; by the end of their time in the dorms, Rivalz had offered him a dog-eared and stiff magazine if he needed it. Lelouch had been more interested in the crackling pages than the breasts they showed, and instead Rivalz had chucked the magazine at the kohai, cackling when they scattered in disgust. It’s stress relief, or that’s what he tells himself when his fingers skim under the edge of the towel and his mind’s eye traces the soft edge of a worn shirt riding over firm abs as Suzaku stretched this morning.
He’d. Rolo said that he’d stared at the wall, knowing Lelouch was naked with Gino. Alone, with Rolo sexting on the sofa? Alone, with the room to himself, with his hands on himself? The thought catches between his teeth. It isn’t hard to imagine; Suzaku is a very physical person, and he’s stored more memories of him than he’d thought: Suzaku biting his lip when he forgot a lyric, Suzaku pausing, lips pursed thoughtfully in an interview, Suzaku rolling his hips as he danced, Suzaku. Holding him close. Kissing his hair. Stroking gentle fingers down his spine when he’s worried. Suzaku—
And god, isn’t that the most virginal thing he’s ever done, coming into his own palm over his friend’s smile? He huffs, annoyed with himself.
“Okay, now you’re just rubbing it in.” Gino’s laughter is quiet. “Or just rubbing it. ‘Suzaku! Ah, Suzaku!’. You’d test a saint’s patience.”
He covers his face with the duvet and tries to smother himself.
Two in the morning is calm, peaceful. Lelouch wanders into the kitchen to start breakfast and drifts easily on the sweet routine of it. He whisks eggs, and after pouring them into the pan he reaches for his teacup. It’s not there.
Suzaku’s throat bobs when he swallows. There’s still no sugar, but when he’s done, Suzaku only frowns, rolling the cup between his palms. It’s. There’s so much to say between them, and it’s too early to say any of it; Lelouch is gentle, careful when he takes the teacup back. He pours another cup, one sugar, and takes a long pull of it. And then he offers the half empty cup.
The eggs are scorching. He turns back to breakfast, but the storm cloud has cracked, ribbons of light sneaking through. By the time he’s finished dishing everything up, Suzaku is looser, lighter. He helps bring the dishes to the table. The smell of coffee seems to summon the others from their rooms, and they’re quiet because it’s early, not because they’re fighting. In the van, he leans against Suzaku’s shoulder and lets his heart go quiet.
They order in for dinner, each of them too sore to do more than curl together on the sofa. Suzaku’s hand is in his hair and Rivalz and Gino are feeding each other bites of chicken in increasingly elaborate and flirty ways; there’s no heat behind it, and Lelouch laughs from Suzaku’s lap at their antics. Rolo takes a picture, makes a big deal of it in a way that has them mugging for the camera. It’s for their instagram, but Rolo fusses over it, takes shot after shot before finally sitting back down with a grunt of irritation.
“Hm?” Lelouch hums, but Suzaku’s hand is soothing, and he can’t really bring himself to care.
“Can’t use them,” Rolo says. Rivalz comes to look at the pictures and whistles low.
“Papa’s been replaced,” he teases, and when Rolo tilts his phone to show the pictures to Lelouch, too—
The boys in the picture are being sweetly affectionate, twined together, but there’s something in their frames, in their eyes, in the way they keep their hands on one another in every shot despite silly faces and goofy poses. Lelouch swallows back a lump. If even Rivalz noticed, there isn’t much hiding the desire between them. Suzaku’s nails continue their gentle scratching through his hair and his scalp contracts, tingling. It’s. Rolo laughs, takes a selfie with Rivalz and the food instead, and.
It isn’t a secret anymore. They aren’t judging—no one seems angry—but it isn’t a secret, maybe hasn’t been for a long time now. Lelouch forces himself to breathe along Suzaku’s thigh and the hand on his shoulder twitches, contracting. It isn’t planned, but it’s obvious when they’re gone, drifted off to showers and sleep. “Use a condom,” Rolo whispers loudly, and then the door to one of the bedrooms closes. Mario Kart starts up, loud enough to drown out the bright, teasing laughter.
“Lulu.” It’s. They know, and he knows they know; they’re not listening, but it isn’t private, and he reaches up anyway, pulls Suzaku down anyway, sighs shuddering into his mouth anyway. Kisses him anyway.
Suzaku groans. He tastes greasy, like dinner, and Lelouch licks into his mouth for more. His palms are like brands on Lelouch’s already hot skin, burning him through his clothes; he slips his fingers behind the cup of Lelouch’s skull and brings him up to kiss him harder, deeper.
Every touch presses more air from Lelouch’s lungs until he’s left gasping, hard. He pulls himself up to tangle around him, overwhelmed. It’s never been like this, never—Suzaku pulls him flat against his chest and it’s only too easy to swing a leg over, to straddle his lap, but. The sounds Suzaku is making are. He’s drunk, dizzy and shaking against Suzaku’s hungry, kiss-bruised mouth. The collar of his shirt stretches, stitches popping, in Suzaku’s fist; their hips roll together once, again, and then they’re teenagers rocking eager bodies together. His leg shakes when Suzaku manages to get his shirt off of him and buries his face in his chest, sobbing for breath. When a hot palm covers him, he thinks ‘finally, finally’ and drags at Suzaku’s hair until all he can see is the dark of the forest, hunger, desperation.
They don’t fuck. Suzaku is careful, guiding him to lay back against the couch, working him through his pants until he’s whining. He pops the button on Lelouch’s pants like gunfire, draws the zipper down, and. His breath is ragged as he presses his face in, rubs his chin along the line of his cock through body-hot cotton, and Lelouch chokes on a strangled sound. Come bubbles up through the fabric of his briefs, framed by the zip, and he’d be humiliated except for the way Suzaku goes still, shaking, eyes pained. By the time Lelouch gets his knuckles past the drawstring of his sweats, Suzaku is—his cock nudges into Lelouch’s palm like it’s meant to be there, smooth and hard and wet. Suzaku humps into his grip with rabbit thrusts, bowed and crying with each breath.
“C’mon,” Lelouch whispers encouragingly. “Good boy. Please, oh, my good boy. C’mon.”
The praise does it; Suzaku freezes, muscles locked, and come splashes up the line of Lelouch’s wrist. He laughs, breathless, and curls around Suzaku as he shivers through the aftershocks, wipes the sticky mess off on his ass as he hunches against his stomach. His hair is fragrant in Lelouch’s face; he strokes it as their heartbeats slow together.
“That wasn’t particularly impressive,” Lelouch murmurs into the curls. “You’re gonna have to give me another chance and be less mind-meltingly hot to get a better performance out of me.”
Suzaku’s laugh puffs across his skin. They’re both feeling languid, soft; there’s something sweetly aching in his skin and so he presses that skin against Suzaku’s, holds him until his breath grows heavy and deep with rest. They’ll regret sleeping on the sofa tomorrow, regret not showering or at least toweling off, but. His heart flutters in his chest. He pulls Suzaku closer, nuzzles into the arm he curls by his face in a loose embrace. Tomorrow is tomorrow.
He wakes by himself, the shower running in the distance. His pants are still open, his underwear sticking and matted to him with dried come, but he’s been covered with the duvet from his bed, and he revels in the feeling of being soiled for a moment. He’s. Heat flushes across his face and he covers his head with the duvet; he’s never known a kind of disgusting so pleasant before.
The others are up and about—no one’s bothered to wake him, and he can hear them shuffling through the apartment. Someone makes coffee, the sharp smell of it breaking into his cocoon. They bring the coffee to the sofa, and when he peers through over the edge of the blanket, Rivalz looks calm.
“Are you a man, now?” Rivalz asks, voice fond and teasing.
Lelouch shakes his head. “No, we just. Petted.”
“Taking it slow, then,” Rivalz hums. Then: “It really doesn’t bother us, you know. We talked about it, once the moaning stopped.”
And Lelouch could scream, considers trying to press the duvet over his mouth until it was full of feathers, but. “Thanks.” There isn’t a whole lot to say.
“Are you naked under there?”
“I won’t hesitate.”
“I cannot believe you did it on the sofa. We pretty much all live on this thing. So inconsiderate.”
“Rolo was having phone sex on the sofa the other night.”
“I live with a bunch of degenerates.” It’s affectionate, and for the first time it really does start to sink in: no one minds. He shivers.
He takes the last shower, the cold water dampening the fires just the memory of the night before flares on his skin. It’s quick, perfunctory—they’d let him sleep much too late; they’re late; they’re going to be late—but he works the mess from his body hair with quick, careful fingers and still somehow ends up hard for it. He’s flushed despite the chill when he comes out, and the others laugh. He laughs at himself.
Suzaku’s gone ahead; Gino mentions he’d stepped out early for a meeting with Jeremiah. In the van, Lelouch plays a mobile game, checks twitter. It’s sleepy and calm, but there’s still something missing—it hasn’t been just the four of them since before the debut, and it doesn’t feel right without him. He dozes, just a bit, but wakes himself up when the dreams turn sweet.
They’re recording today, prepping for a second album when the first is still racing up the charts. Then there’s a tour in the summer, once things start to slow down—a proper tour, a week at home and then a week in Korea, a week in Australia, a special show in HK. He’s already teasing Rolo about seeing his boy soon when the doors to the studio open. Jeremiah motions the cameras off, sends the crew out, and Lelouch’s heart breaks again.
He’s a coward. It’s. Jeremiah’s voice never raises as he makes an example of Suzaku, not here to defend himself; Lelouch wonders if he would if he were. It takes twenty minutes and they’re a quartet again. A lover, Suzaku had confessed. For some time, and it’s this that crawls on Lelouch’s skin like ants: he’d been afraid to say anything. To disappoint them. He’d remembered the fan response to Nunnally—and here Jeremiah pretends he hadn’t helped Suzaku betray him there; butter wouldn’t melt as Jeremiah talks about what happened like it’s a minor piece of history—and he’d thought that he’d rather leave than expose them. He’d rather abandon them than his lover.
He doesn’t cry. He knows why Jeremiah’s waited. If he rushes home, the bed will still be gone. Suzaku’s things will still be gone. Suzaku will still—he doesn’t cry. Gino holds him anyway.
They’re not recording today. The songs are still cut for five, the choreography drawn for five. He shuts himself into the soundproof room and screams until he’s hoarse, and when he comes out again they’re done. Suteki na WONDERBOYS are done, and it’s over, and. He’s too numb to care right now.
“I’m sorry. It’s my fault,” she says when he tells her, as if the internet hasn’t already exploded with the news.
Nunnally doesn’t press, just holds him as he shakes. He doesn’t cry, but she helps him dry his face anyway. “I thought—I really thought—”
“You probably weren’t wrong,” she tells him softly. “You rarely are.”
“I’m wrong all the time,” he corrects, and her smile is sad.
“No, you aren’t.”
They break apart, different groups—Rolo’s the senpai for Kan-Tan now, the more experienced big brother who guides his new group through their own debut, shows them how to make the most of their cute schoolboy reputation and how to cultivate a social media presence. Rivalz raps with la-Z, and when Gino joins them for a featured song, Lelouch’s twitter feed fills up with nostalgia. He’s gone solo, though he hasn’t earned it; they’re none of them successful or old enough to graduate, but he doesn’t dare risk a new group when he’s such an unsafe bet. His album does well—not WONDERBOYS well, but few things could match that meteoric rise and fall. He tries not to be disappointed.
Jeremiah tells him over drinks, celebrating: Suzaku’s not in any new groups, not a solo artist either. His confession was toxic, poisoning his chances—there’s no way the agency could have put him anywhere else where he could have destroyed another group. No, there’s a dance studio, Jeremiah a silent partner. His face is solemn, sad, as he hands over a slip of paper with an address. It's real—Jeremiah wouldn't be so reluctant if it weren't. Even so, he hadn't trusted himself to go right away. He's waited, hadn’t believed he could just stop in, but the recording for his second album went well, he’d teased a short vlog with a couple of bars and it went well, and.
The receptionist flutters when he smiles at her—no, no, he’s happy to wait. He won’t need floor space; he’s not here for a class. No, he doesn’t need anything to drink, just—the classroom? Up the stairs and to the left. He can’t miss it. No, it isn’t necessary to call and disturb the class. Thank you.
The door is cracked when he gets there. Hip hop music works its way out into the hall, and when he peers through the door the studio is bright, cheerful, lit by sunny, open windows. The students are laughing, dancing. He doesn’t see Suzaku until he slips into the room; no one notices, but.
He’s still beautiful. His tank top is loose, his hair tousled. He’s guiding a student carefully, helping her with the pointed thrust and spin that had always made him so dynamic to watch on stage. Lelouch could watch him for hours, but eventually Suzaku stands back, laughing and clapping.
“Next week, I’m expecting you slackers to show some progress,” he taunts, rubbing at his sweaty hair with a small towel. The class laughs, gathering their things and filing out. “Ah.”
It’s the first word between them since. Lelouch flushes, and for a moment he isn’t the cool singer or even the successful idol. He’s the awkward boy who’d come too quickly when the boy he liked touched him, the boy who’d pined, maybe even longer than he’d known. His smile is thin, he knows.
“Congratulations. The class was really full, and it seemed they liked you.”
“I should say congratulations. I have your album in my car.”
It takes his breath, even though it shouldn’t, but. Suzaku’s eyes are trained on the mirror, and he realizes with a start that he’s watching their reflection.
“Jeremiah told me where you were.”
“Did he.” Anger, quick and unexpected; Lelouch’s heart beats in his throat and he steps away, closer to the door. It’s. He’d expected—more than he’d let himself acknowledge expecting, but anger—Suzaku’s face melts; he’s caught by the hand on his sleeve, and. “I still hate him so much.” It’s quiet. Lelouch’s chest hurts.
“He told me where to find you months ago,” he admits, and the bitter smile on Suzaku’s face grows.
“You’re doing well. I’m glad.” He is, even if selfishly he thinks he shouldn’t be.
“I told him I loved you.” Lelouch’s heart stops.
“Did he tell you that? I know he didn’t. Gino beat the shit out of me the first time we saw each other. He told me what Jeremiah told you. When he did, I let him.” It’s. “I told him I loved you, and he told you I’d fucked someone else for months. And you believed him.”
It’s. “What was I supposed to—you were—I.” He feels dizzy, sick.
“Do you still believe him?” Suzaku’s face is so still, his body trembling but his face so stark and white.
“No.” Because it’s still there, that simmering feeling like his stomach is about to boil. He touches then, slides his fingers along the side of Suzaku’s jaw and watches him falter, leaning into the caress. “Why would you tell him?”
“I had to leave. I couldn’t see you and not touch you, not after you let me. I couldn’t—I was going to get you in trouble,” and oh, it’s insidious, what’s happened, the story turned on its head to make sacrifice selfish. Lelouch’s fingers curl around the nape of Suzaku’s neck and it’s like an avalanche, Suzaku crumbling into his arms. It’s stupid, what happened, but it isn’t his fault. They’d been so wrapped up in each other. He presses his lips to Suzaku’s hair, to his forehead, to his cheeks—their lips meet hungry and sore, and he’s putting so much of himself at risk but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t, because Suzaku surges against him, takes his mouth, bites his lip until he sighs.
“I miss you,” he says when he has the breath to say it. “Come home with me.”
Jeremiah’s going to gut him, but it doesn’t matter; he takes Suzaku’s hand in his own, tugs him behind him, Orpheus and Eurydice, his heart beating so loud he can’t hear Suzaku’s footsteps behind him. They pause on the sidewalk, and he could call a car from the agency, could take a cab, but. He wants Suzaku to have an out, wants him all to himself; he lets Suzaku guide him to his car behind the building and as they round the corner, he lets Suzaku lean him against the wall, lets him steal a kiss and twines his arms behind his head to hold him there. “Take me home,” he says, voice soft and sure, and Suzaku nods.
He does have the album in the car, Lelouch notes, already playing when the engine starts up, and Suzaku fumbles to turn it off, laughing. His thigh is firm beneath Lelouch’s fingers; he lets Lelouch laugh breathless into his mouth, swallows his kisses as he leans close and presses their faces together. For a hot moment, Lelouch considers sliding over, crawling onto his lap, but then Suzaku smiles against him and he wants. He wants a bed, wants the things he’d need to make this easy and fun and safe, wants to wreck this man and wants the time and space and privacy to do it. His fingertips ride the inseam of Suzaku’s pants as he drives. Suzaku’s grin is blinding.
He pays his doorman very well to look away. No one looks, no one makes a sound as he pulls Suzaku into the elevator behind him and leans him against the mirrored wall, sucking spots of color along his throat. Suzaku groans, pushing him out into the hall when the doors open, follows him with eyes and hands and lips as he unlocks the door to his apartment. And then. And then.
He finally has him all to himself, completely alone. Suzaku toes off his shoes in the entryway and Lelouch watches his feet as he steps into the room, easy and real in a way he’s daydreamed for so long. They come together again like magnets, circling until they click.
They’re grinding together on the edge of the table in his entryway the first time his phone rings. He glances at it, declines the call. Suzaku bites a mark along his collarbone that will be visible in tomorrow’s promo shots and he tangles his fingers in his curls, pulling him closer as Suzaku presses him harder into the wood. His phone rings again. Suzaku’s lashes flutter against his pulse, and. The little click of a shutter louder than the rush of breath against his skin as Suzaku arches into him; it’s almost as satisfying. He’s never been one for selfies, but it frames what he wants it to; he sends it. His phone doesn’t ring again.
“What did you—?” Suzaku murmurs, but Lelouch just laughs, and it’s all forgotten when Suzaku gets his arms under his thighs, hitching him up onto his hips.
“Left,” Lelouch directs, and Suzaku obeys step by step until he’s tipping Lelouch along his own bed. He’s barely out of breath, eyes bright, but the air between them is cold and he reaches for him, fingers flexing in the air.
Suzaku gives his mouth generously, tongue dipping into his mouth slow and deep and sweet. His hand is large, hot against his thigh, against the placket of his pants. “Mind-meltingly hot,” he says, and Lelouch flushes, but. He’s played that night over in his head, too, even when it had felt foolish, when it had embarrassed him, when it had hurt. This time they get his pants off. Suzaku presses his lips to the side of his knee as he pulls the last leg free, and suddenly all Lelouch can think about is the way he tastes; it’s pandering when Suzaku lets him roll them to settle in the cradle of his thighs, but he doesn’t mind the surrender when the victory is this sweet. He dips his lips into the hollow of Suzaku’s throat, tasting salt sweat, and desire runs its fingers down his back like raked claws.
The tank top slides where he directs it, reveals a brown, pebbled nipple that peaks when he washes the flat of his tongue across it. Suzaku’s fingers curl in his hair and he misses his chance to be the cool seducer when he shudders at the feeling when they tangle and pull. He has to take a moment to press his forehead into the tense wall of Suzaku’s chest. He’s hard beneath him, and Suzaku is making little whining sounds as his cock pushes up into his stomach; he grinds into the bed and groans too.
He's. Suzaku writhes beneath him, hair tangling on his pillow, and. "Beautiful. So fucking beautiful." And he's never forgotten Suzaku's praise kink, not really, but he isn't prepared for the way his neck stretches, golden and vulnerable and smooth. He's strong enough that he could turn them, stop him if he wanted, but Suzaku unfolds like a flower at the words, lips pink and wet as he worries them with his teeth.
Lelouch remembers the feel of his cock in his palm, warm and hard; he clutches it now through the thin fabric of Suzaku's shorts and he wants to see it. Suzaku lifts his hips at a tap, and if the tented fabric was tempting, the thick slap of his cock against his abs when it's pulled away is seductive. Lelouch rides against the bed a moment, so keyed that he has to close his eyes, has to pant for breath.
It's. It's. His brain catches in a loop because it's. Breath stings high in his chest, his lungs a hornets nest that buzzes angrily. Suzaku's cock is.
"Okay?" Suzaku asks, like he isn't bared on the bed between them. Lelouch nods, overwhelmed. It's good, even if he feels like he's unraveling at the seams. He presses his lips to the column of it, ready.
He hasn’t prepared himself for the hot salt blood taste; fantasy doesn’t have a flavor. Fantasy doesn’t catch his ears in its haste to pull his hair, doesn’t double itself over, groaning like it’s been shot. He has to catch Suzaku’s hip in his hand to stop him from breaking his kiss, and when he lets his lips part, lets his tongue skim thin skin, Suzaku sobs. Lelouch tastes again, and then again, and oh, he doesn’t have experience but he has a lifetime of daydreams. He kisses until Suzaku won’t let him anymore, the flat of his palm on Lelouch’s forehead and even that not enough to keep his lips at bay.
They’re both laughing by the time Suzaku manages to persuade him away, bribing him with the offer of his lips curving in pleasure. When they meet again, it’s slower, no less hungry but more willing to savor. Suzaku tips them over and Lelouch lets him, until he’s kneeling, knees bracketing Lelouch’s hips, eyes dark and peaceful. His touch on his clothed cock still sends desire fizzing through his veins, but he manages to hold himself back; he still grunts between his teeth, his briefs uncomfortably wet and sticking, but he bobs, twitching instead of coming.
“Mind melting,” Lelouch offers helpfully, and a hot line of pink zips across Suzaku’s cheeks as he flusters.
The backs of Suzaku’s nails are smooth against him, just the tips scratching a little as he eases his knuckles over Lelouch’s hips before snugging his fingertips between the elastic of his briefs and his skin. Fire burns where those fingers trail, and Lelouch reaches for him, fills his lungs with Suzaku’s breath until his chest feels full. They’re still brushing their lips together, not quite a kiss if only because a kiss would mean suffocation as his chest heaves, when Suzaku brushes tentative over him. The sound he makes is pained, painful; every fingerprint embeds itself into his hot skin. He’s going to come, he realizes, panicked, and his stomach swoops.
“I’m—” he gasps, and Suzaku’s face cracks around a proud smile. He backs off, pressing a kiss to Lelouch’s hip, and. He hasn’t even gotten his clothes off; their bodies ache to join but spark before they can, leaving them shivering overstimulated at just kisses.
“Can I suck you?” Suzaku asks, and.
“No,” Lelouch tells him, but before that zing of hurt disappointment can do more than brush the tops of Suzaku’s cheeks, he’s catching them in his hands, pressing his lips to the dip above Suzaku’s full upper lip. “I don’t want blowjobs today. Later, when—not, not today. I don’t want that distance.” And. He shuffles under Suzaku, turns to pull himself onto his knees and ease his black briefs down. The groan Suzaku lets out shimmers on his skin, tingling between them. There’s lube in his side drawer, but Suzaku presses him into the mattress until he can barely do anything but bask in his heavy heat along his back, his cock even hotter, even heavier along the bottom of his bared ass. He makes a general waving motion at the drawer and Suzaku chuckles, dark and heady, riding up against him to look.
He acts like there are things in there worth looking at, grinding up against him as he peruses; it’s just lube, some condoms—ah. The things he’d used to soothe the want inside him, and he can’t see Suzaku’s face, but he can see his wrist flex as he gauges the size and laughs at the way he’s gone still, painfully aroused. Suzaku’s bigger. He can hear slick noises behind himself, Suzaku’s knuckles bumping against his inner thigh, and then. Suzaku’s fingers are thick, steady, rubbing the leftover lube against his hole ponderously, as though he’s considering fingering him, but honestly—Lelouch rocks back, arches, pleads with his body. He wants—has wanted for so long; the sound that escapes when the head of Suzaku’s cock breaches him has been rolling around in his chest for months.
“Damn.” It’s hushed, reverent; Suzaku freezes even before he’s fully seated, and Lelouch agrees wholeheartedly.
“Could come just from this,” he confesses. Suzaku chuckles, pained.
“Good; you might have to.” And, oh. Something in his stomach goes incandescent at that, the electricity between them melting him.
“Give it to me,” he demands, pushing back, and Suzaku laughs again.
It's breathless, this feeling; Suzaku rolls into him, crushes him to the sheets in a slow grind that pulls tears to his eyes and drops his jaw as he pants. His breath is thin in his chest, sighs shaking. "Yes," he agrees, voice low, and Suzaku's amused sound is just as pressed as he is. "Oh, yes."
He isn't laughing long. He draws back, the pull of him long and eloquent; when he drives back in, Lelouch grabs for the hands on his shoulders, locks his fingers around the wrists as his toes curl and he rides the beatific wave of pleasure flushing through his veins. Suzaku bumps back in and he arches, mouth falling open. "God." It's more like prayer than anything Lelouch has ever heard before, Suzaku crying against his shoulder as he fucks him down.
He's still making soft sounds with his mouth when he comes, teeth digging into the blade of Lelouch's shoulder; Lelouch whines, fucks himself back onto his cock even as he shudders, making desperate sounds of overstimulation and choking his way back out of his body in little gasps. Then his fingers are on him, tracing his hip, in him, rubbing at his rim.
"Gonna eat you out," Suzaku tells him, breathy and steady; Lelouch nods into the pillow where he's cried himself damp. "Yeah," Suzaku agrees with himself. When his lips touch between Lelouch's spread cheeks, lingering where he's a little bit sore in the best way, Lelouch moans voiceless, eaten up with the feeling.
"Yeah," Lelouch agrees, and he can feel Suzaku's smile against his ass. He adds a finger and Lelouch comes quietly, teeth bared. Suzaku pets him through it, and he hums, contented. He's in the wet spot, landed directly on his own mess when his legs wouldn't hold him up anymore, but he feels so blissful that it doesn't matter.
He wakes with Suzaku pressing him into the scratchy, come-stiff sheets. His face is tucked into his armpit from behind; they've landed face down where they collapsed. Suzaku's cock is soft against the back of his thigh, and he's never felt more contented. He rubs his face on the pillow and falls under again.
He wakes again to the sound of Suzaku in the shower. He's singing an old Wonderboys song, and for just a moment something sad sits in the frame of Lelouch's chest. The things he's broken, just by mistake, with his selfishness—but Suzaku sounds happy, or cheerful at least, and Lelouch follows the sound to where he's standing, naked and gorgeous in Lelouch's shower.
He slips into the shower behind him, presses his lips to the knob at the top of Suzaku's spine just below the curls plastered to his skin. They end up fucking slow under the spray as it cools, bodies pressed hot and wanting.
He calls a car at Suzaku's insistence, and their hands slide against each other as he leans into his car to kiss him, driver be damned. "Call me, please?" he asks, voice soft. Suzaku nods. He leaves before Lelouch does, a careful distance between them, just neighbors driving different ways in the early morning. Suzaku arrives first, sends him a mirror selfie with his dance practice clothes on, and Lelouch is quiet, lets himself imagine that he's on his way to join him, that Gino and Rivalz and Rolo are dragging themselves through varying levels of sleepiness just out of frame. It's a nice thought, as far as daydreams go.
Jeremiah meets him at the studio with a cup of coffee. He takes it wordlessly, having traded breakfast for more time in bed. It's quiet as they move into one of the smaller practice rooms, past the trainees still waiting for their debuts and groups piled in exhausted huddles. He's older than the trainees, younger than the more seasoned of the groups, but as a solo artist, he doesn't have to wait for the big rehearsal rooms to become free. He leaves his bag on an amp that's been abandoned in the corner. These rooms aren't as well used; he shares them with storage, frequently. He doesn't mind.
Jeremiah is waiting, he knows, mouth tilted and unhappy with him, but. It's satisfying, knowing he's thrown him off. Knowing he doesn't know how to broach the subject. Lelouch hums to himself, stretches in the mirror until he's fluid enough that the choreography won't hurt. His back and thighs hum pleasantly; his reflection is covered in lovebites and tooth marks, and a shiver wraps itself around him when he realizes the marks on his back are dark enough to see through his tee shirt. He leans over to start the track. Jeremiah leans over to stop it.
He laughs, and Jeremiah's face knots more, dark and unhappy. "I won't represent you anymore," Jeremiah warns. Lelouch presses his fingers into the darkest mark at the base of his throat, watches in the mirror as own eyes go dark and indigo at the pressure.
"Mm." It's small, noncommittal, and Jeremiah's face falls. "Are you jealous?" Lelouch asks, curious.
Jeremiah watches him. "No," he says finally, then, "Nunnally—"
"Don't you dare."
The bruises feel good. He rolls his arms above his head, tips up on his toes and arches until his back pops, sighing in satisfaction. He meets Jeremiah's eye and the man flushes. They've known each other so long. He knows Jeremiah doesn't want to fuck him, not really. His shirt rides up with the stretching and Jeremiah rolls his eyes.
"What if you'd accidentally sent that picture to the wrong person? What if your phone gets stolen?" Jeremiah asks, and that makes sense, really, but he can't shake the idea that he's more upset at the content than the danger.
Lelouch shrugs, turns on the music. If Jeremiah isn't going to apologize, there's no reason to keep talking. "—I'm sorry." And. The corner of Jeremiah's mouth twitches at his start, and he's always somehow known what Lelouch is thinking. "For what it's worth," he clarifies, like he doesn't expect it to be worth much, but.
"You broke my heart." Jeremiah swallows, nods like he understands, and Lelouch knows he doesn't. "You. I never thought you'd do that kind of thing. Not to me." He's known Jeremiah since he was a child, one of two constants in his life from before the accident, and. He hadn't. He'd never thought Jeremiah would hurt him to protect him, even after he'd put Suzaku up to leaking his picture. It pricks the inside of his chest, sore.
"I." There isn't anything to say, but he wants Jeremiah to try anyway, and suddenly he's furious, fiercely angry.
"Don't be such a coward! Tell me!" he demands. "Don't just stand there like you didn't have a choice. He told me. Now you should."
And. Jeremiah is dear to him, as close to a father as he's ever had, and he doesn't want to chase him off, but. When he opens his mouth, the relief that pulses through Lelouch is dizzying. He wants—Suzaku, he thinks, wants him to wrap him up in his arms. Jeremiah's shame is palpable. "Lulu.
"He," Jeremiah says, "told me. That he'd—or wanted to, I thought at the time." Until the selfie, Suzaku's lips on his skin, their bodies pressed close. Lelouch has the grace to blush. Jeremiah chuckles.
“I forget, sometimes, how very much like your mother you are.” It’s fond, tender, and when Lelouch looks at him, there’s something in his gaze that breaks his heart. “I loved her. So much, but we were never destined to work out.” In the realm of confessions, it isn’t so surprising, but he can feel the knowledge taking up residence on the inside of his ribs. He remembers, only distantly, his mother’s affectionate face. He thinks of the expression on Suzaku’s face when he woke up with him, and it isn’t in him to be angry over it. “I almost did that to you. I’m so sorry.”
He isn’t ready to say he’s forgiven out loud, so he takes Jeremiah’s hand in his own, pulls until he can hold it against his chest. “You have to apologize to him, too.” He does. It’s his one requirement for forgiveness, and Jeremiah nods, squeezing his hand.
Suzaku calls him at four, just as he’s sitting down to lunch, and Lelouch smiles into his phone as they chat. “I miss you right now,” he says, and Suzaku laughs.
“You just want a massage,” he accuses, and Lelouch laughs, agreeing. It’s a conversation friends could have, but he doesn’t miss the looks the trainees are throwing his way. He’ll have to decide, and soon.
“I want to hire you as my choreographer,” he suggests, and Suzaku’s refusal is light, instant.
“You’d hate me forever.”
“Your students like you.”
“I don’t care if my students want to sleep with me later. I want you to still like me after,” Suzaku teases back, and. He knows he’s grinning like a fool.
“I miss you.” Then: “We should do a farewell concert. We never did, you know.”
Suzaku hums into the phone, interested, and later, Lelouch mentions it to Jeremiah, as casually as his beating pulse will allow. It would be a distraction from his upcoming release; it would be a lot of work, work he isn’t quite used to anymore. The others might say no. It might be a terrible mistake, cashing in on the nostalgia for the old group. It would be wonderful.
Jeremiah asks Rolo, which means Gino says yes before he can ask him, as soon as he answers the phone. Rivalz clears his schedule—he has a mixtape dropping soon, and it’ll give him a chance to hide from the attention, he says, as though hints about the concert haven’t already been seeded through the fan communities, driving buzz. Suzaku spends a serious hour in conversation with Jeremiah, and when he comes out, he curls Lelouch into his arms and kisses at his face even though they’re in the middle of the office where everyone can see, even though Jeremiah is making grumpy faces behind him, even though.
He isn’t going to lie, which means he has only a few weeks of privacy left. He doesn’t want to lie, doesn’t want to hide, doesn’t want to say things that hurt about a relationship he can’t share with their fans. It’s a secret for now, but it won’t be soon. Suzaku’s behavior only speeds the day it’s out there, but he can’t bring himself to care in the face of Suzaku’s enthusiasm. Yes, he says, and just like that, they’re back—limited engagement, one night only.
It’s new material, all of the songs they’d prepped for the second album that didn’t come, and Lelouch tweaks the sides for changes to voices—Rolo’s gone deeper, though Rivalz is embracing his natural register and no longer hits the same baritone as Suzaku’s, sitting comfortably at tenor. Suzaku updates the dances and Rolo runs circles around them, the only one still used to the energy needs of hours of rehearsals. Lelouch finds himself leaning against the wall as Suzaku guides Gino and Rivalz through the steps, and when he hits the hip pops, Lelouch can feel his mouth go dry. Gino catches his eye and grins; he makes a rude gesture that makes Suzaku blush and Rivalz laugh so hard he has to sit down. Lelouch just nods, unrepentant, and this time Gino blushes.
By the time the concert comes, they’ve done everything they can to prepare. They take the stage to deafening cheers. Everything goes right: the dances are fluid, synchronized. The new songs are popular; the audience is almost unnervingly quiet when Lelouch introduces a ballad he wrote, and he’s openly weeping by the time they finish it. Rivalz is the next one to catch it, right in the middle of “Changes” when the audience raps back at him—he ends up crumpled on the stage, sobbing. Rolo’s joke about it is appropriately pithy, distracting so Suzaku can pick him back up, rubbing his shoulders until he’s only teary and wet and no longer hobbled by his emotions. It’s Gino next, laughing through his tears as he and Suzaku cling to each other through “Will U?”. The audience is screaming and Lelouch watches his boys get lost in the moment. He ends up misty again, himself.
“They’ve all been up here crying,” Rolo tells the crowd, “like you won’t see them next week. Like la-Z and Kan-Tan don’t exist, like you’re not going to go buy their solo albums when they come out next month. Right?” The crowd cheers back at him. “I don’t know. Maybe you missed Suzaku. Let’s tell him to get back to work and do something new, right?” And he’s working past a lump in his throat because Suzaku’s gone pink and teary at the same time, but Rolo laughs. “Ah, now I’ve made Lulu cry. You guys are ridiculous.” Suzaku laughs, hiccoughing through his tears, and Lelouch can no more imagine not going to him than he can imagine never working with any of them again. He folds Suzaku into a hug, wrapping his arms around his head and shoulders, a box of quiet in the chaos.
“I love you,” he mouths into the peace, and Suzaku laughs, nodding. He knows he’s lingered too long, but the fans are still deafening and it’s so still here; they’re kissing before he knows what he’s doing, and. The audience explodes .
It’s not fanservice. That’s never been the Wonderboys style, and when he looks up, the shock on the others’ faces is real. It isn’t the way he’d meant to come out—it was going to be a quiet affair, tailored rumors for a few weeks until he was scheduled for a timely interview, a progressive host to throw in well-placed comments about how brave he was and how terribly modern it was to be gay. Suzaku’s eyes are so round and so green, though, and he can’t find it in himself to regret it. It is how it is; it’s very nearly perfect.
He’s pink and awkward when he steps back, and Suzaku loops his fingers through his belt to steady him. There’s no mass exodus, and when he looks into the audience, their faces are bright. His heart flutters.
They’re called for an encore, and they sing “Rain”. They’re begged for another, and they haven’t sung “Miss Miss”, so they do. And because they don’t want to leave the stage, they do “Silver Spoon”, and now they’ve been going for more than half an hour after the show is supposed to have ended, and he knows the crew wants to go home, pacing, but despite the bone deep weariness settling over him, he wants to do one more, so when Suzaku turns to him, eyes private and dark, and asks him through the mic, “One more, just for me. Sing one just for me”, he nods.
It isn’t a Wonderboys song, though it’s from that time. It’s a little quiet, a little private, and a little personal, and no one’s ever heard it before as he sings: your eyes, your face; and the whole world hears him fall in love for the first time. The last notes hang over the audience, and then it really is over. They don’t hug because he knows they’d never separate, the five of them locked in an embrace forever. They wave, instead, and he blows kisses to the crowd until Suzaku reaches out to tangle their fingers together; when he looks, he looks tired but so, so happy.
Jeremiah just laughs at them when he sees them; they’re already trending, Suzaku and Lelouch kissing from nearly every angle possible in the venue. The chatter is rabid, some of the guesses ridiculously far from what happened, a few unnervingly close. He isn’t surprised to see the mentions of their fight the day before the band’s dissolution; he is surprised to see people pin it as the tipping point between them, though most believe it was when they broke up. It’s the intimacy of that last song that catches him, embarrassed by the look on his own face in the video that’s already made its way to the gossip sites. Suzaku just laughs, curling around him. The rumors are already starting to swirl, the juiciest that they’d done it in Suzaku’s car the day he’d gone to visit him, and Jeremiah gives them a long, suspicious look at that one.
Rolo reads back the thirstiest descriptions of the kiss as they celebrate over beers and food. They’re going to be paying the izakaya owner’s kids’ way through college at this rate, skewers piling up around them, and Lelouch is at the bottom of his third beer when the thought occurs to him.
The video opens to him hissing at Rivalz to shut the fuck up, Rolo laughing in the background. Lelouch’s face is brilliantly red, a little bit sweaty, still made up from the show. He turns to the camera, and his smile is stunning. It’s been a very good night; Suzaku leans into the frame for a moment, pressing a kiss to his cheek before disappearing with one of the skewers of pork from his plate. He loves his fans, almost as much as he loves his group, and that’s why he tells them about Suzaku, about how much he’s wanted him for so long, about how incredibly happy he is that they’re together.
“—Lulu’s drunk vlogging again,” Rivalz says in the background.
Gino laughs. “Oh man, you’re gonna regret this one when you’re sober.”
He isn’t. He’s so happy right now he feels like his chest might burst, and he tells his fans how proud he is that the agency and his manager are allowing him to be public about this—“As if you gave them a choice,” Rolo snorts, and Rivalz cackles—because if there’d been someone like him when he was younger, he might have felt better about himself. He might not have waited so long to go for the cute boy he’d had his eye on for so long, might not have been afraid of what happened when he did. Might have been less scared of sex, he says, and the camera falls over, tipped up to the ceiling as people laugh—“Manage your boy,” Gino says, but Suzaku’s too busy laughing, too. The camera moves again, catches Suzaku glowing with mirth. With love.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” Lelouch whispers, and then the camera settles in front of him again. “I have to say something, and I think it’s important.”
“Here we go—” “—oh my god—” “—you’ve had, like, three beers; how are you—” They’re talking over each other, but Lelouch just laughs as he tells them they’re too fucking noisy. Once they’re appropriately cowed, or at least keeping their laughter to themselves, Lelouch turns back to the camera.
“I think you’re the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me. Goodnight. I love you.”