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The Live is going well so far, Kanata can tell. The audience has been smiling and singing along for every song. They playfully wave their lights and strike poses alongside Ryuseitai, getting into the spirit of the show. This is what Kanata enjoys most about being an idol: making people happy again.

 

"Thank you for your enthusiasm, everyone!" Chiaki grins. "Let's keep up the energy! I think you'll all know this next one, yeah? Please sing along!"

 

They take their places, and the instrumental starts.

 

Kanata watches proudly as his teammates perform their respective parts. This song gives them each a decently long solo part to show off their voice. They've been rehearsing it a lot lately, and the work is paying off.

 

He smiles as he steps forward to sing his part. The crowd cheers encouragingly. He spins and poses, the choreography coming easily to him after so much practice. Feeling confident, he moves closer to the audience to wave.

 

Something grabs him.

 

He jumps, his singing coming to a halt as he looks down to see a hand tightly gripping his ankle. The girl responsible has tears streaming down her face, and she's so close he can hear her screeching even over the music.

 

"Kanata-sama! I love you, Kanata! Please, please!"

 

A cold stone falls into his stomach.

 

"Kanata-kami!" The elderly woman sobs, clutching at his robes. His servants are trying to pry her off of him, but despite her frail appearance she holds on tightly. "Please, please! You're the only one who can save me, Kanata-kami!"

 

He's frozen, staring into her watery eyes.

 

The crowd lulls for a moment, confused. Then they begin to yell, chanting out the lyrics he's stopped singing. They're trying to help him.

 

Throngs of people, all chanting his name.

 

He hears Chiaki's voice in his headset, picking up Kanata's part with a slightly nervous waver.

 

Holy hymns echoing through the hall as they sing his praises.

 

Kanata claps his hands over his ears. Though his arms work just fine, he can't seem to move his legs.

 

She's still holding him. Why is she still holding him?

 

A security guard finally reaches them-- maybe it hasn't been that long at all-- and takes hold of the girl's shoulders to try and drag her away. She sobs and screams, pulling so hard Kanata nearly loses his balance.

 

The guard reaches to peel her hand off his ankle directly. It's more pressure on his skin, too much, too much.

 

"Too much!" Kanata gasps. It echoes around the stage for everyone to hear.

 

The second the security guard succeeds in removing her hand, Kanata turns and breaks into a sprint. He needs to escape. Too many people, too many sounds, too many wishes--

 

Someone throws their arms around his middle, pulling him back against their chest. It hurts. So warm it sears his skin, so tight it crushes his stomach.

 

He screams, clawing at their arms and kicking his legs in the air.

 

"Don't 'touch' me!"

 

His throat burns from the effort. He doesn't use his voice like this often.

 

"Will someone please cut the music!" Chiaki pleads behind him.

 

The cacophony stops, and Kanata goes limp in Chiaki's arms. He's buzzing all over.

 

Kanata's vision swims and wavers between two different stages. Bamboo cages him in.

 

Vaguely he hears the murmurs of the crowd, confused and worried.

 

Kanata feels Chiaki's arms release him, somewhere far away. He lets himself be led backstage, but he flinches every time Chiaki's hand brushes his back. He has to remind himself not to scream.

 

The other members of Ryuseitai are on him as soon as they're out of sight and their mics are off. Their eyes are wide with concern.

 

"What happened?"

 

"Are you okay?"

 

"Did that woman hurt you?"

 

Kanata shudders, shuffling backwards. "I'm sorry… I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"

 

"Please don't apologize!" Tetora insists, much too loud. "You haven't done anything wrong, Kanata-senpai!"

 

The next thing he knows he's on his knees.

 

Someone places a hand on his shoulder. He whimpers, curling away from them.

 

Everything is quiet for a moment.

 

Slowly, a water bottle is pushed into his line of sight, dripping with condensation. Kanata tears it from Chiaki's hand, pressing the cool bottle to his face. It helps clear his head a little.

 

"Hey…" Chiaki whispers, squatting in front of him. "Are you okay? I mean, do you still want to continue the Live once you're feeling better?" He pauses. "It's alright if you say no. No one's pressuring you, I promise."

 

Kanata shakes his head, squeezing his eyes shut so he doesn't have to see Chiaki's reaction. He already knows he's a disappointment.

 

"Okay," Chiaki murmurs. "I'll tell the crew to call it off then. Maybe we can do a partial refund or something."

 

Because Kanata can't do anything right anymore. Because he's not only letting down his unit, but the many crew members who so graciously helped them with this event, and especially the audience who just wanted him to make them happy. That used to be so easy to do.

 

The bottle starts to lose its refreshing coldness. Kanata pulls it away from his cheek and unscrews the cap. He drinks. His fingers sting from how the cap's grooves dug into him.

 

Chiaki returns a few minutes later, his boots shuffling nervously. "Can you stand?"

 

Kanata nods.

 

"Do you want any help?"

 

"Please don't 'touch' me."

 

"Okay."

 

Slowly, Kanata pushes himself to his feet. The way his juniors are staring at him makes him feel like he's behind glass.

 

Chiaki gently takes the empty bottle, careful not to brush their fingers together.

 

"...Kanata-senpai?" Tetora tries.

 

Hot tears track down Kanata's face. The sensation is overwhelming.

 

"Why am I 'crying'?" he whispers. He looks to Chiaki for help, only to be reminded of something. "Didn't you say once that… heroes only shed happy 'tears'? This means… I'm not a real hero, Chiaki. Not like you."

 

Chiaki's face crumples. "Don't say that, Kanata. Of course you're a hero."

 

Kanata shakes his head. "How can someone… who 'falls apart' so easily… call themself a hero?"

 

Shinobu bristles at this, standing up straight. "We would never discredit you just because there are things you're afraid of, Kanata-senpai. No one is without fear, you know, even ninjas! Whatever happened to upset you so bad, it must be very serious, and we'll treat it as such."

 

Kanata frowns, avoiding his eyes.

 

"Speaking of which," Midori starts quietly, "what exactly happened out there to freak you out like that?" A moment later he adds, "If you don't mind telling us."

 

Kanata slumps back against the wall, unsure where to begin.

 

Screaming. So much screaming. Much of it passionate, loving, praising. Some of it fearful.

 

"I…" Kanata tries, but his voice sounds wrong to his own ears.

 

He clasps his hands, wringing them nervously. He can hear his skin rubbing against itself, and the sound makes him sick, but he can't stop.

 

"I wanted to become an idol because… I thought it was a place for… gods."

 

He tips his head back to try and keep more tears from spilling, but that only means he's looking up at the heavens. His skin prickles. He wants to tear it off.

 

"I never reconsidered that… after becoming a 'human'."