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But I've Never Made it to Graceland

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“We should quit,” Kaoru says one day, his voice like a bell in a quiet room. 

Chiaki pauses, setting his phone down on the bed. Despite the absurdity of Kaoru’s statement, it was a welcome distraction from his doomscrolling. 

“What?” is all Chiaki says, brows furrowing at the man sprawled lazily across his pillows. It’d be a welcome sight, his boyfriend of three years snuggled up in his bed, if the conversation he knew was about to happen wasn’t so daunting. 

“I said,” Kaoru starts, shifting to face Chiaki, “We should quit. This whole idol thing. We should just quit.” 

Maybe it’s how nonchalant Kaoru sounds about it, or the simple fact that his stomach is already in knots, but Chiaki laughs. “Now what’s got you saying things like that? You love being an idol! So why would we quit?” 

Kaoru stares at him for a moment, expression unreadable. There’s a strange shift in the air as he moves to rest his moppy blond head on Chiaki’s legs. 

“Sometimes, you have a real strange definition of love,” Kaoru says, and closes his eyes. 

Chiaki’s hand instinctively moves to card his fingers through his boyfriend’s hair, his words sticking to him like wet glue. 


Chiaki Morisawa loves a lot of things. He loves superhero shows, movies, and memorabilia. The flashing lights and bright colors, the resilient strength and brilliant grins of warriors triumphant. He loves music, the way it thrums and moves and matches the too-quick beat of his too-tired heart. He loves dogs, the way they leap and bound and cover his face with kisses, all while asking for nothing but kindness in return. 

He loves his friends—the joy they bring him, even when he feels like his lungs might well and truly give up on him. His closest friends, people like Kanata and Kuro, are eternally in his corner, fighting for him when they can and scolding him when necessary. He wouldn’t trade them or a single moment spent with them for the world. 

He loves Kaoru, his ‘ hey, Moricchi, I might not be straight which is really fucked up if you think about it. Do you see me differently?’ boyfriend who had the audacity to say all of that to a gay man, who worked through the ugly, uncomfortable process of figuring out his identity with a newly open mind and eventually, open arms. Now, it’s hard to imagine not loving him. His caring soul, his storm-gray eyes, and the way his mouth curls into the sweetest smile when he says I love you. 

It’s funny. When he thinks about the things he’s grateful for, the things he truly loves, being an “idol” is never on the list. 

“Yo, Ultraman.” 

The voice successfully distracts him. He looks up briefly to see all five feet of Anzu marching toward him with the swagger of a woman who owns the place. (In a sense, she sort of does).  He barely registers the fact that she’s sat down across from him until she’s leaning close and pressing a firm hand against his forehead. 

“You feeling alright? No offense, but you look like shit.” 

A past Chiaki, maybe a ‘ I’m probably not gay, haha! ,' one would have bristled at the contact. But since figuring out that he’s into guys and Anzu’s a—in her words— massive raging lesbian , it has no effect on him. What does affect him is the fact that she’s right. He does look like shit. 

“You’ve got dark circles for days, man. And you’re, like, getting pale? It doesn’t look good on you.” Sighing, she pulls her hand away, then leans back in her chair and folds her arms over her chest. In this moment, her piercing gaze alone would be enough to bring a weaker man to his knees. “If you tell me you’re not sleeping or eating right again I’m going to hog-tie your goofy ass and cancel your Lives for the next month and a half.” 

Had this been anybody else, the barrage of criticisms would have wounded him—but it’s Anzu and he’s used to it. Appreciates it, even. Most people skirt around the issue and politely suggest he take a vitamin pill or drink more water. Anzu, in all her iron-fisted glory, does the same, but also calls him an idiot for not doing so in the first place. 

So, Chiaki just laughs. “There’s really no use in hiding the truth from you, is there? You always sniff it out…” He trails off for a moment, fiddling with the pop-socket on the back of his phone. “You’re a good kid like that, always worrying so much about others. Seriously, what would we do without you?” 

Perhaps the smile he gives her isn’t too convincing, because Anzu just scowls at him. “Good kid this, good kid that. Would you stop? I’m nineteen. You’re twenty-one. We’re basically the same age, so start acting like it. And stop trying to change the subject.” Her mouth is pressed into a thin line as she drums her fingers on the cafe table. “You should know by now that I’m wise to your tricks.” 

Chiaki smiles sheepishly and rubs at the back of his neck. Honestly, she knows him too well. “Nice catch, Anzu! Heroes shouldn’t use tricks, right? So I’ll be sure to stop doing that!” 

If anybody in the cafe hears the slightly strained pitch of his voice, none bother saying anything. Anzu, on the other hand, raises an eyebrow. “Sure, sure. Have you eaten?” 

Ah, now that question stops him in his tracks. It’s normally a Kaoru question, or a Kanata question. Oftentimes, it’s a mom question. But for it to come from Anzu, well, to put it lightly—he knows he’s fucked up. 

“Um! Not in the last couple hours or so? M’fine though! Had a big breakfast.” 

It’s a lie, of course. And really, he shouldn’t be doing that—no hero should—but he’d rather not suffocate under the weight of his producer’s withering gaze. Besides, it’s not like he’s avoiding it—he just hasn’t had time. 

So, he flashes what he hopes is a winning smile and goes back to looking at his phone. He’d been looking up news circling about his unit when she arrived, and was keen on getting back into it. 

Anzu quite literally smacks his phone out of his hands. 

Chiaki stares at her, palms open, phone flung across the table. 

“Hog-tying commencing in five minutes. You have about that long to eat the sandwich I’m gonna get you. Sit here and don’t even think about complaining.” 

Chiaki, with newfound panic lodged in his throat, does the exact opposite. “Oh no. No no no— Anzu! You can’t! I’m fine! It’s—” 

It’s too late. Anzu has already gotten up and—what’s worse—is making a mad dash for the deli station. In any other situation, he’d have praised her for her dedication and speed. But right now? Right now he’s taking a mental note out of Midori’s playbook and trying to figure out the fastest way to die. 

“—It’s fine,” Anzu says, sitting back down beside him with a tray in her hands. For somebody to look so calm after parting the metaphorical red sea of idols to buy him a club sandwich is impressive, but the situation is downright mortifying

“Anzu,” Chiaki sputters, pushing the tray back toward her. “I really can’t accept this. And. And besides! I said I wasn’t hungry, so—” 

She cuts him off again with a harsh click of her tongue. “It was cheap. So just eat it. It’s an order from your producer.” 

“But! But it’s, it’s like you’re showing favoritism? And we can’t have that! It’ll get you in trouble, and—” 

“I am literally dating Arashi.” 

The noise Chiaki makes is something akin to an elephant getting its trunk stepped on. He buries his head in his hands and groans. If anything, the press of his fingers against his eyelids should stop his budding headache from turning into a migraine. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll make the rest of the world fade away too. 

“You’re shaking,” Anzu says softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not good for you to have such low blood sugar. But I’m sure you already know that.” 

He wants to look at her—he really does, but something about the gentleness of her tone mixed with the humiliation of this conversation is making his eyes sting. It’s been a while, he realizes, since he’s been this openly vulnerable. 

“Please just eat it, okay? If you’re that worried about the cost, then venmo me.” 

Steadying himself, Chiaki sighs and reaches for his phone to do just that. 

After all, heroes have their pride. 


When Chiaki had graduated high school and become an idol for real, he didn’t expect it to be so…corporate. He’s not stupid—he knew he’d be signing contracts, working insane hours, and married to public image, but it’s the insidious nature of it all that gets him. High school, all its highs and lows, its overhyped coming-of-age whirlwind had left him thinking that this was it. This is life in a nutshell. He thought he’d be ready for it. He thought that once he’d finished crying at graduation and pushed forward, everything he learned in Yumenosaki’s hallowed halls would be of use to him. 

So that was a lie!

If anything, high school was only a vague precursor to how cold, analytic, and cut-throat the entertainment industry could really be. He’d always hated that phrase— cut-throat . It makes him think of some masked assailant coming up from behind and sliding a knife across his neck. His attacker would laugh as he fell to his knees, gasping for breath. He’d be all alone, bleeding to death on the sidewalk while some guy with a manager badge squints down at him and clicks his tongue at the mess. Next thing he knew he’d be a ghost peering over his bereaved unit mates’ shoulders as they read the shiny new headline: Beloved idol and actor , Chiaki Morisawa, 21, found dead in the middle of the street. Tour canceled. (No refunds.)

At the end of the day, there’s a part of him that understands it. It’s no easy thing, being a performer. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and (many) tears that go into it. Not just anyone could step into a famous musician’s shoes and fill the role. But there’s a bigger part of him—an uglier, more childish part of him that hates it. 

Morisawa…Chiaki. Yes, good. You’re a bit thinner than I would’ve expected. Gawky. Lose the glasses, they make you look like a poindexter. Female fans don’t want poindexters. You should consider using Twitter more, but you’ll need to revise the way you tweet. More selfies. Less talk about Kamen Rider or whatever. Did you know that stuffs for kids? Maybe you should ditch the Ryuseitai thing once and for all. Take on more sex appeal. You’re not perfect, but we could make it work. By the way, have you signed so-and-so’s NDA? You won’t be able to work with or even be seen with her if you don’t. Manager’s orders. I heard she’s got mental problems. Ah and, oh—don’t eat that. It’ll make you break out. Acne is for teenagers. Ugly teenagers. Like those kids from—

There’s a specific interaction that keeps replaying itself in his head. One of ES producers had him and a couple of Star-Pro idols interact with a girl group for an interview. It was meant to be this wholesome thing—kid friendly trivia and games to put smiles on viewers’ faces. And it worked. Chiaki was smiling. He was smiling and laughing and joking until the host put his big, sweaty hand on one of the girl’s knees and kept it there for too long to be innocent. She smiled, big and bright, playfully swatting at him with practiced grace. But Chiaki wasn’t stupid. The look in her eyes was one he knew all too well: fear. 

After the show, he’d found her backstage. She was nursing a cigarette and he asked, albeit awkwardly, if she was okay. At first, she looked affronted by him, as if him asking such a thing was an insult to her pride. Panicked, he quickly explained what he noticed and apologized for not saying anything during the show. She stared at him then, and all at once there was that look of fear again. He wanted to reach out to her and tell her that he understood—that he knew why she reacted the way she did, and that she deserved better. But before he could say anything else, she put the cigarette out on the wall and laughed in his face. 

“You wouldn’t get it.” 

He’d been left standing there, mouth agape as one of his co-workers waltzed over to him and asked—once she was thankfully out of earshot—if he thought she’d be good in bed. It was one of the few times he let himself swear at somebody. 

Go fuck yourself. 

He hates it. He hates this feeling. He hates the fact that just being involved with this sort of thing can make him so angry that he says things he’s never said before in his life. But more than anything, more than the foul language or furious posts he drafts on his private twitter account, he hates the fact that he didn’t do anything. He hates the fact that he played along, that he let something happen which should have never happened. He hates the fact that in some ways, Rinne Amagi was right. These days, the truth of the matter is that he’s an idol—a willing participant in the entertainment industry—and more often than not, a hero in name only. 

And he hates it. 


“Deadbeat.” 

“Aw, c’mon Midori—that ain’t fair. He’s like, an adult with a job, y’know?”

“I don’t care.” 

“Um! It would probably be strange if he hung out around a high school all the time? So I agree with Nagumo on this one!”

“Still a deadbeat.” 

However Kanata manages to smile at all of this, Chiaki will never know. Here they are—visiting their juniors a couple months away from graduating high school and the first thing Midori says to him is deadbeat. 

“Have I…” Chiaki swallows, lip trembling. (Kanata snorts.) “Have I not been present enough in your lives? Have I really been so negligent?” 

Two resounding no’s and one adamant yes is still enough to make Chiaki hang his head in shame. Kanata, to his credit, gently pats his back. 

“Chiaki and I are ‘busy’ with adult life. Soon you ‘children’ will understand it too. Isn’t that right, Chiaki?” 

Chiaki nods, raising his head to meet Midori’s cold gaze with a meek smile. “Any independence we’ve given you has only ever been so you can grow. And no matter what, we’re still a team!”

Midori raises an eyebrow, then shrugs and turns away. “Whatever.”

Tetora, bless him, laughs as he claps Midori on the back. “He’s right, y’know. We’ve had to come into our own as professionals, and since we’re graduatin’ soon, I’m pretty glad you, me, and Shinobu have gotten to spend so much time figurin’ things out together.” 

Shinobu joins in on the back-clapping and grins. “Yeah! And we’ve had a lot of fun together too, right?” 

Something in Midori shifts as he takes on a more forlorn expression. For a moment, it looks like he might cry. “Just so you know, I would die for both of you even if it wasn’t necessary.” 

“— And on that note!” Chiaki cuts in, not willing to let the conversation continue. Any and all talk about Midori dying, even if it’s meant as a joke, is still upsetting. “The reason Kanata and I are here was to ask you guys about your plans for after graduation. I know you’ve discussed it in the past, but we figured with it being so close and all, it’d be nice to sit down and have a good chat about it. A heart-to-heart! Like old times.” 

It’s not exactly a lie—Chiaki and Kanata did come here to talk about graduation, but the underlying truth of the matter is that they’re kind of hoping the kids mention options. 

Tetora removes his hand from Midori’s back (at which Midori pouts) and scratches the side of his head. “Oh yeah. Guess we should be talkin’ more about that.” 

Kanata smiles, his easy expression saying too much and too little at the same time. “Yes, yes. We came here to learn more of your ‘plans’ so that we may help ‘guide’ you on the right ‘path.” 

So they do. They talk. They talk about Midori, Tetora, and Shinobu’s post-secondary plans while Chiaki and Kanata hand-wring at them for an hour and a half. The most obvious plan is to stay together—the three of them want to get an apartment near Ensemble Square and work toward similar projects. Tetora’s keen on continuing his work as an idol, but also expresses interest in car-racing and teaching self-defense classes. Shinobu wants to go where Tetora goes, and has been working on drafting a sci-fi ninja story he hopes can be published as a manga. And Midori…. well . Midori’s the one they’re worried about. 

To put it lightly, Midori has no idea what he wants to do. All he knows is that he wants to stay with Shinobu and Tetora, but beyond that? Nothing. Chiaki’s asked him several times, but each time he tries, Midori gets frustrated and makes it quite clear that he’s leaving him on read. It shouldn’t bother him. It shouldn’t— but it does. After all, he had a pretty heavy hand in deciding that Midori should be an idol, and it’s something he’s still kicking himself for to this day. 

Midori Takamine had always been the nervous sort. He was a perpetual hand-wringer—worse than Chiaki. He would nibble and bite at his fidgety fingers until he couldn’t find any more flesh to peel, then do it some more. He hated loud places, large crowds, and prolonged conversation. He vented his frustrations with insults and avoidance, but ultimately struggled to do things on his own. He was a good-looking kid, no doubt about it, which explained why he was the most popular out of the trio, but that only worsened his worries. He would get phone calls left and right from modeling agencies, but he hated when cameras were pointed at him and him alone. Likewise, it didn’t help that people tend to view his disposition as…difficult to work with. 

It happened when Chiaki was coming out of practice with Rei and Kaoru. Rei had been mopey because ‘ My dear Kaoru spends toooooo much time with his boyfriend and leaves this old man to rot away alone,’ so Kaoru decided they run exercises together to keep the apparent elder from wilting. Chiaki was cool with it; he liked Rei, even if he didn’t understand his affinity for the macabre. They stopped at around ten and were talking about going for some late night coffee when Chiaki’s phone rang. It was late, sure, but it wasn’t unusual to receive a call at that hour. More than a few of his friends were night owls, after all. What was unusual was the name that showed up on his screen. 

Takamine Midori. 

“Hey, Takamine! What’s up?” 

At first, there was silence. Chiaki swapped a confused glance with Kaoru and tried again. 

“Takamine…?” 

There was shuffling, a sharp intake of breath, and then—a broken sob. 

“I…I need help. I need help.” 

He barely knew what he was doing before he’d all but thrown himself into his car, Kaoru in tow, punched a destination into his GPS and stepped on the gas. 

He’d kept Midori on the phone the whole time, demanding to know what happened, why it happened, who caused it. Kaoru jumped in a few times to offer words of comfort, but stayed mostly quiet. The situation was clearly uncomfortable for him, but he was the type of person to keep that to himself and try to do damage control. Chiaki loved him for it, but at the same time he knew the simple fact that somebody else was present was sending Midori further into hysterics. 

They found Midori sitting on the ground outside the backdoor of a modeling agency. He had a hoodie pulled tightly over his head, and was gently rocking himself back and forth. Chiaki immediately knelt down in front of him and tried to pull his hands away from his face, but Midori wouldn’t let him. Kaoru took a few steps back, then muttered something about getting a water bottle from the car. It was only after he left that Midori looked at Chiaki and choked out the words that broke his heart. 

“They said I was fucking useless.” 

He never got much more information than that. He doesn’t know how it started, what else was said, or why somebody had the nerve to call Midori that in the first place. Chiaki had half a mind to march in there and tell the entire staff off, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. The entertainment industry and plausible deniability go hand in incorrigible hand. 

What he did was bring Midori to an ice cream shop. He stayed in the car while Kaoru got out and ordered. Over the course of the evening, Midori got more used to Kaoru’s presence, (largely helped by the fact that the man remained mostly quiet) and was able to make small talk about easy, unrelated things. In a perfect world, Chiaki would have brought Midori home right away, but his session wasn’t supposed to end until eleven, and he didn’t want his parents fussing over him. His clipped explanation was a rough translation for ‘ I’m too upset and too humiliated to go home right now, so I need to calm down and be with people who understand.’ 

When it was about time for him to get home, Chiaki drove him. When Midori stepped out of the car, he offered Chiaki and Kaoru a sad smile and said he appreciated what they did for him. Chiaki, in the gentlest voice he could muster, told Midori that he could talk to him about anything—and more importantly—that he never had to put himself in a situation that made him feel this way ever again. 

Midori, in a rare moment of perfect honesty, thanked Chiaki for being in his life. 

“—I think,” Midori says after a while, the suddenness of his voice drawing Chiaki back to the present, “I want to go to college.” 

Chiaki tries not to breathe an obvious sigh of relief: “I think that’s a great idea.” 

That night, he gets a text from Midori that reads: sorry for calling u a deadbeat. ur not. i was stressed out. sorry. 

Chiaki tells him not to worry about it. 


Despite overwhelmingly popular opinion, Chiaki is, again , not stupid. He likes to consider himself a reader, and he did well enough in school to put him in high honors (save for math, but math is ridiculous and unnecessary and when has any superhero ever needed math .) He enjoys history—other than tokusatsu content, his YouTube recommendations are mostly fun-fact videos and deep dives on major events. Sure, he’s a bit loud, disorganized, spends too much time reading comic books and doesn’t always read the room, but none of that makes him stupid. He knows things. A lot of things, actually. 

For example, he knows how to work with kids. He knows how their little brains work, and uses that information to better impart knowledge. He knows how to use Japanese Sign Language. He’s not fluent, but he took it up so that he could sign during performances if there were any Deaf children in the audience. He knows how to help people when they’re having a breakdown. He knows how to calm and soothe, and how a little acknowledgement goes a long way. 

He knows, for lack of a better phrase, what sets him off. He knows what causes his heart to beat too fast and what’s going to happen when his mind starts racing. He knows he’ll need to grab his inhaler and work on breathing techniques to calm himself down. He knows he needs to avoid topics like suicide and mass shootings . He knows, regrettably, that he’s a lot more sensitive than most. 

Panic attacks encroach upon his life like a scorned lover—always a possibility, always a threat. They come to him so frequently that sometimes, he wonders if he’s cursed, or if the gods themselves are playing tricks on him. He thought he’d get better at this with age, but as with all things, life had other plans. 

“I. I c-can’t. I can’t. I can’t br–reathe.” 

“Shhh, shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay.” 

Kaoru punctuates his cooing by pressing Chiaki’s inhaler into his hands. They’re lying in Kaoru’s bed, his roommates (thankfully) left for the night, so there’s no need for Chiaki to hold it in. Kaoru folds himself against Chiaki’s back and wraps his arms around his middle, keeping one hand tangled in Chiaki’s mussed up hair. 

As always, Chiaki knows what set him off. It had been a text from a director telling him that his performance today was terrible, and that he ought to “ step it up ” if he’s intent on keeping his role in the company’s upcoming tokusatsu. Before Chiaki had the chance to respond, the director sent him a follow-up text with a link to some high-in skincare and wrote: you don’t look like you’ve ever washed your face a day in your life. Kaoru saw the text, saw the way Chiaki’s hands were shaking as he typed out an apology, and swore. He tried to grab Chiaki’s phone, tried to tell him that it doesn’t matter and this guy’s an asshole but it was too late. Chiaki’s breathing had picked up and his vision was already blurry. 

“He has no idea what he’s talking about. Your performance was fine. You’ve just been tired and need to rest. And also, your skin’s fine. I picked out your regimen. The pimples are from stress and lack of sleep. The guy’s a fucking moron and if I’m gonna tell Sakuma to curse his ugly, bald-headed bloodline.” 

He knows Kaoru’s trying to help. He knows that. But the truth of the matter is that he can’t sleep, his performance wasn’t good, he looks like he’s fifteen again, and no amount of pep-talk can change that. He let people down today, just like he has everyday for the bulk of his life. Twenty-one years old and for some reason he still can’t figure out how to get things right. 

Kaoru sighs into the back of Chiaki’s neck and cards his fingers through his hair. “You didn’t do anything wrong. He just doesn’t get it. None of them do.” 

Chiaki manages a nod, but he’s still crying, still shaking, and still ready to throw up. Today, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a series of rude texts from a director. Tomorrow? Who knows. He’s half convinced he’ll drop an egg on the floor and burst into tears. 

After a while, Kaoru speaks again: “You don’t have to keep doing this.” 

Chiaki breathes, swallows, and tries to speak. It comes out jumbled—almost unintelligible, and he curses himself because dear god he hates this. It’s like he’s sinking, slowly but steadily into the earth, the ground beneath him taunting his every move. When he gets like this, he falls into some bizarre, tertiary plane of existence. All he can do is hope and pray that he’ll find the resolve to crawl back to the present. 

“You don’t have to put yourself through this over and over again. It isn’t worth it.” 

But ,” Chiaki gasps, squeezing the arm Kaoru has around his chest. “Everything. Ev–erything I’ve worked, I’ve worked for it’s—. I can’t. I can’t give up. I— can’t .” 

Kaoru untangles himself and shifts his body until they’re face to face, then uses his thumbs to wipe Chiaki’s tears. Chiaki grabs his wrists and holds onto him for dear life. 

“It wouldn’t be giving up,” Kaoru whispers, pressing their foreheads together, “It’d be making a change.” 

Chiaki screws his eyes shut and nods. Then, he breathes— in and out, in and out, in and out— in tandem with Kaoru until his body surrenders itself to sleep. 


Following his most recent attack, Kaoru recommended Chiaki see a therapist. At first, the suggestion shocked him—not because he was offended, but because it meant that his boyfriend had changed in a rather tangible way. When Chiaki met Kaoru in their second year of high school, he was the type to say cruel, flippant things just to say them. Even in their third year, Kaoru would make rude comments, seemingly for the sake of being rude. Chiaki figured out quickly that it was an insecurity thing, but it didn’t make his classmate’s behavior any less hurtful. 

There was one time in particular where Kaoru brought up the concept of therapy. He’d been sitting with Izumi and Chiaki when Itsuki Shu walked in with his little puppet wrapped around his fingers. Maybe Kaoru was in a bad mood, or maybe this was his misguided way of being funny, but he muttered something foul under his breath. 

“You think he’d have gone and seen a shrink by now, but I guess it’s true what they say: crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.” 

Despite his embarrassing and, in retrospect, obvious crush, Chiaki had glared at him. 

“You shouldn’t say those things. He’s a nice person, and besides, there’s nothing wrong with needing to talk to someone.” 

But it was the beginning of the school year, and the Kaoru he knows now versus the Kaoru he knew back then are virtually two different people. Seemingly unaffected by the sincerity in Chiaki’s voice, Kaoru had simply rolled his eyes. 

“Needing a shrink isn’t normal. Guys should be able to handle their problems on their own.” 

Chiaki had wanted to continue the conversation. He’d wanted to protest, to defend Itsuki further, but Izumi cut in with a harsh click of his tongue and gestured toward the front of the room. Class had started, and their teacher was staring. 

Some time later, Chiaki figured out that Kaoru was the type of person to project his problems and negative feelings onto others. Of course, no amount of inner turmoil makes this sort of thing okay, but it gave Chiaki something to work with. Over time, and as Chiaki figured him out more and more, Kaoru started being more honest with him. Kanata once said that Chiaki was a good influence on Kaoru, and while Chiaki isn’t sure how much of that is true, one thing is for certain: Kaoru had become kind

It was that kindness that helped Chiaki to book an appointment with a therapist. It was also that kindness that helped him get the nerve to drive to the medical offices, check himself in, and sit down in a stuffy waiting room that was too sterile for comfort. It wasn't a particularly scary looking place—a couple stern looking receptionists, plastic flowers, stiff couches, and old magazines strewn across a central coffee table. He’d seen more than his fair share of doctor’s offices, and this one was hardly any different —but it had a certain heaviness to it. Everybody in the waiting room was battling some constant, ineffable grief that he had no right witnessing. Some old, some young, some exactly like him. Twenty-something, fidgety, perpetual leg-bouncer types that look like they’d rather be anywhere else but here. 

It’s almost as comforting as it is harrowing. 

“Hey.” 

He told himself before coming that he wouldn’t interact with anybody in the waiting room. It was a rude decision, sure, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep his composure if somebody started asking questions. 

“Hey, um. I don’t mean to be weird, but, uh.” 

As if the other person’s voice is made of glue, Chiaki turns to look at them. He’s met with a tall, gaunt man in his forties whose eyes widen with stunned recognition. Chiaki’s fingers curl into his jacket pocket as the man places an unwelcome hand on his shoulder. 

“Oh my god, I knew it. Morisawa Chiaki. I thought I was going crazy, but you’re here. In front of me. Hold on—” The man is talking quickly, and loudly, as he pulls a cell phone out of his bag and holds it up in Chiaki’s face. Chiaki’s breath catches in his throat. 

“My daughter, she’s crazy about you. She’s fourteen, and I don’t get to see her a lot, but she’s crazy about you. If you can just, uh, let me get a picture or something I’m sure she’d—” 

“Morisawa?” 

Chiaki fights the urge to swear as his head whips in the direction of the session room door. There’s a nurse there, holding a clipboard and scanning the room. She’s an older woman with wispy hair and thick-rimmed glasses—and she doesn’t seem to recognize him. He raises his hand to grab her attention, then all but rockets himself out of his seat and follows her into another hallway. There were a few whispers and camera shutter sounds upon his exit, but he doesn’t want to think about it. Instead, he focuses on answering the nurse’s medical questions as she leads him into a tiny room with a couple of chairs, a large, polka-dotted carpet and a white-noise machine. 

“Dr. Watanabe will be with you shortly.” 

“Thank you.” His response is short and clipped. The nurse steps out and leaves him alone with the polka-dot rug, the white-noise machine, and his terrible, traitorous thoughts. 

From a quick glance around the room, he can tell Dr. Watanabe is a lively woman in her thirties. All along the walls are bookshelves filled with everything from self-care guides to diagnostic criteria. There are pictures too, most likely of her family—a recurring figure being another woman looking to be around the same age as the doctor. A little optimistic voice inside of him hopes they’re in a relationship. If they are, maybe he and the doctor can find a way to relate. 

“—Coming in!” 

Chiaki grips the sides of his chair and swallows. Here goes nothing. 

“Sorry for the wait. I was with another patient, but that’s all taken care of.” Dr. Watanabe flashes Chiaki a warm smile as she sits down in the chair across from him. She’s a tall woman, neatly dressed and bespectacled. She has a little notebook in her hand and a ballpoint pen with a penguin topper. Chiaki wants to comment on it, but finds it difficult to speak. 

The doctor puts her pen down and extends a hand toward him. “Doctor Watanabe Mizuki.” 

“Morisawa Chiaki.” The doctor’s hand is cool and clean, while his is hot and clammy. He hopes she doesn’t notice, but there’s an increasingly loud, unheroic voice in his head telling him to bolt. 

“Well, Morisawa Chiaki—beautiful name, by the way.” She’s smiling as she writes his name down in neat kanji in her notebook. “Tell me about yourself.” 

Chiaki blinks a few times, stupefied, then nods. Part of him wants to ask if she recognizes him, but it’d probably just make him seem arrogant. After all, she’s a doctor; whether or not he’s some kind of celebrity shouldn’t matter. That, or maybe she heard about the ordeal in the waiting room and didn’t want to press his buttons further. Either way, he’s thankful for it. It’s a hell of a lot easier to talk to people when they aren’t asking for an autograph. 

And so, he talks. He starts with his job, as it’s the main reason he’s here in the first place. He tells her about the pressure, the frustration, the tiredness and anxiety that comes with it, all while she nods and scribbles in her notebook. She asks him a few questions here and there, mostly about his past experiences with stress, depression, and oddly enough, attention span and ability to focus. His mouth goes dry after a while, and he can feel himself sweating as he fidgets in his chair. Is he saying too much? Is he saying too little? Is it odd that the doctor keeps asking him for more information on his social skills and whether or not he’s ever felt like he wanted to die? When all is said and done, is she going to throw him into a van and ship him off to a mental hospital? Was life as he knew it over the moment he stepped into this room? 

“Okay, I think I have a good handle on what’s going on,” Doctor Watanabe says, adjusting her glasses. 

Chiaki lets out a shaky breath. “Yeah?” 

The doctor steeples her fingers. “Yes.”  

“Okay,” Chiaki murmurs, eyes trained on the floor. His heart is thundering in his chest, humiliation catching up with him like a racehorse. “What’s um. What’s wrong with me?” 

“Well,” the doctor starts, her voice taking on a stern tone, “I’d like you to try rephrasing that. There isn’t anything wrong with you. You’re struggling with something, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a person.” 

Chiaki sucks in a breath. 

“From what you’ve told me, it’s clear that you’re struggling with anxiety and depression. Judging by your brief recount of your high school experience, it’s something that’s been going on for a while. No?” 

Chiaki still can’t look at her, so he just nods and counts the carpet polka-dots. If he focuses on them hard enough, he might be able to drown her out entirely. 

The doctor continues: “You’ve also told me you suffer from frequent panic attacks, and that you find it difficult to manage your day-to-day stress.”

“Yes,” Chiaki whispers, wincing at the fragility of his own voice. 

“I am a therapist as well as a licensed psychiatrist. Because I’m a psychiatrist, I can recommend and prescribe medication.”

Chiaki nods again, tears welling up in his eyes. 

“It isn’t shameful, you know. More people take medication for this sort of thing than you think.” Leaning over, she grabs a box of tissues and puts it down on the table in between them. She then pauses, likely waiting for him to collect himself. Chiaki reaches for one of the tissues and presses it against his face. 

He shouldn’t be crying like this—there’s no need to. All Doctor Watanabe’s trying to do is help, and he can’t keep it together for longer than five minutes!

Some hero, he thinks, and suppresses a sob. 

When she speaks again, her tone is gentle: “I have a few recommendations for you to try. If you’re keen on continuing our visits, I’d also like you to get fully screened for ADHD, if you haven’t already. Left untreated, the combination of ADHD, anxiety and depression can make an already difficult set of circumstances seem impossible.” 

He hadn’t put much thought into it in the past, but attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, well—it checks out. Doesn’t help that several people in his life have derisively asked if he’s got it, (or if he’s just fucking insane, but whatever). He’d looked up symptoms, sure, but it was the type of thing where he pretended he wasn’t getting his ass handed to him by a WebMD page. 

“Okay,” is all Chiaki says as Doctor Watanabe writes him a note for a follow-up appointment and hands it to him. He moves to get up, wiping his eyes as he does, and shoves the paper into his pocket. Medication and future visits be damned, the only thing he plans to do right now is go to bed. 

“Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Morisawa?” 

Chiaki sniffs and turns his head to look at her. 

“I’m proud of you for having the courage to come in today.” 

Courage. It’s a word that always felt foreign to him. 

“Thank you.” 

As he leaves the medical office and steps out into the parking lot, the afternoon sun forces him to blink his tears away. 


When Chiaki tells Kaoru about the medication, Kaoru just smiles at him. 

“Is that what you’re so worried about?” 

Chiaki is scrambling, excuses bubbling past his lips in rapid succession. “I should be able to deal with things without it.” 

Kaoru frowns, brows knitting together in a tight line. 

“Is that what you’d tell me?” 

“…What?” 

“I said ,” and Kaoru gets closer to him, pressing his hands on either side of Chiaki’s face. “If I came home and told you I needed to start taking medication, would you tell me I just have to deal with it?” 

Chiaki just stares, eyes wide and lips parted. Kaoru takes the opportunity to steal a quick kiss. 

He’s changed. He’s really changed. 

“No,” Chiaki breathes. “Never.” 

“Well alright then.” 

Before Chiaki can say anything else, Kaoru is kissing him again. There’s a small part of him that wants to continue to self-deprecate—to tell Kaoru that he doesn’t deserve this, that he doesn’t deserve him. Maybe he’s being selfish today, but he decides to throw caution to the wind and let himself melt into the kiss.

He decides, just this once, to let himself go. 


Since becoming good friends with Anzu the person instead of Anzu the producer, Chiaki has become closer with one Arashi Narukami. The two are dating, after all, and he’s fairly certain Anzu vents her concerns about him to Arashi because Arashi has been extra doting toward him as of late. Just the other day, she showed up in front of his dorm with an extra protein shake (exactly the flavor and consistency he likes, no doubt) and rattled off about how there’d been some kind of mix-up. Chiaki had asked sheepishly why she wasn’t being honest with him, to which she huffed about how trying to get him to accept a gift is like trying to herd cats , so he took it without further complaint. 

Yesterday, Chiaki ran into Arashi at the ES cafe and decided to eat lunch with her. Arashi was a real talker, and so was he, so there was never a dull moment when the two of them got together. 

“Mmmm Chiacchan, can I ask you something weird?” 

Chiaki had laughed at that, shoveling a handful of fries into his mouth as she studied his face. 

Sure.” 

“Don’t take this the wrong way. You’re super handsome, and your boy toy is very lucky. But can I tweeze your eyebrows?” 

That simple request is how Chiaki ends up sitting cross-legged in a bean-bag chair in Arashi’s room, his hair in little kitten clips as the woman herself frets over him.

“I’m really glad you’re letting me do this, hon. Your brows aren’t bad, per se, I just can’t help thinking that the particular shape I have in mind will look really cute on you.” She pats his face, then dabs a little more benzoyl peroxide on the pimple on his cheek. “So I have to try!” 

 Chiaki smiles at her. “Well, you’ve always known what’s best!” 

Arashi puffs up with pride. “You’re damn right I do!” 

Chiaki finds himself laughing again, stopping only to wince as Arashi plucks out another eyebrow hair. Getting his brows done had also turned into a face mask, pimple treatment, under-eye bag serums, and something called a microdermabrasion which honestly hurt like hell. He can’t bring himself to mind, though. Arashi is a kind person, and it’s a bit nice to have somebody fussing over him every once in a while. Even if said fussing is likely some new-age torture. 

Arashi plucks a few more of Chiaki’s eyebrow hairs out and hums. “Even boys need a spa day sometimes, don’t you think?”  

Chiaki touches the sides of his face. “It’s true! I can already feel myself becoming ten times more beautiful, all thanks to you, Naruchan!”

Arashi gasps, swatting his hands away. “Don’t touch! You’ll mess with the chemical peel!” 

Chiaki nods diligently, folding his hands in his lap. He has no clue what a chemical peel even is, but his skin is tingling more after touching it, so it’s probably some pretty serious stuff. To avoid fidgeting, he focuses his attention on the posters Arashi has strewn across her side of the dorm room. There’s dozens of them—mostly of colorful, cutesy things like Sanrio characters and girl groups. There’s a few trans pride posters, too, likely from the same Etsy shop she got Chiaki’s rainbow one and Kaoru’s bisexual one. The biggest poster is one that Chiaki recognizes as Beyoncé. Upon entering the dorm, Arashi made him bow to the Queen (the Queen being Ms. Beyoncé) then made him do it again when he got up to use the bathroom. 

There is one poster, however, that he can’t stop going back to. It’s the smaller one above Arashi’s nightstand of a female knight with long blonde hair and ornate, but battle appropriate armor. She’s wearing a stoic impression, staring confidently into the camera as she wields a two-handed broadsword with ease. 

Behind him, Arashi hums. “Noticed my little motivation piece, have you?” 

Chiaki’s cheeks color as Arashi comes around with a spray bottle and spritzes something cool on his face. “Um! I was just wondering who she is!” 

Arashi gives a noncommittal shrug. “I have no idea. I found the poster on Etsy, and it was so gorgeous that I just had to buy it.” She sets the spray bottle down on the nightstand and taps a well-manicured finger on the woman’s cheek. “I guess in a way, she’s what I’m trying to be. The cool and dashing lady knight. Every day when I get up, I look at her and think okay girl , this is who you’re gonna be today.” 

Chiaki nods, mesmerized. He’s hanging onto her every word. “That’s amazing, Naruchan! It’s always good to have someone to look up to!” 

Arashi grins at him, and it’s a truly beautiful, inspiring thing. “So what about you? Do you have anyone or anything like this? Maybe one of your tokusatsu heroes?” 

It’s a simple question, one he should easily have an answer to. “Of course! There’s this new one I’ve been watching recently—a spinoff of an old favorite. I can give you a summary if you like!”

“Oh yeah?” Arashi walks back over holding a little jar of something and unscrews the cap. She takes a little bit of cream out on her fingers and starts patting it into Chiaki’s face. “Tell me about it.” 

They spend the rest of the afternoon like this, chatting nonchalantly about little things. When Chiaki heads back to his dorm for the night and climbs into bed, he finds himself stuck on their conversation. He’s staring at the ceiling, counting the tiles illuminated by Yuuki’s computer screen. His roommate is trying to be quiet for his late night gaming session, but Chiaki doesn’t mind the noise. He sleeps better with it. Button mashing and muffled swears don’t exactly match up to the ocean waves Kaoru’s Alexa plays, but he’ll take it. 

‘So what about you? Do you have anyone or anything like this?’

Chiaki turns the question over in his head, again and again until his breath slows. He’d told Arashi about a hero from a tokusatsu show, but looking back on it now, he’s come up with a better answer. 

Who do I want to be? 

He thinks about Arashi, her hard-won confidence and fighting spirit. He thinks about Takamine, Kanata, and Anzu, the way each of them stood against fate and carved greater paths for themselves—circumstances be damned. He thinks about Kaoru, his flight risk turned partner, and drifts off to sleep with a promise stuck to his lips.

Somebody strong enough to change. 


Chiaki goes through the motions for a while. The medication Dr. Watanabe gave him seems to be helping with the depression and anxiety, but the thought of doing idol work still weighs heavy on him. Of course, he’s still active— he’s as busy as ever, but whether it’s the meds clearing his head or something far less tangible, he doesn't know. What he does know is that he doesn’t like doing this anymore. Try as he might, the motivation just isn’t there. 

Maybe that’s why Kaoru suggested they take a day off and go to the beach. A past Chiaki would have strongly rejected the notion, citing how hard they worked to get where they were and how it wouldn’t be fair to their managers and colleagues to outright bail on them. The current Chiaki, however, doesn’t put up much of a fight. The current Chiaki climbs into Kaoru’s car, turns off his phone, and watches the way the wind blows through his boyfriend’s hair as he talks about the possibility of catching big waves. 

It’s nice seeing Kaoru like this; he hasn’t been smiling as often as he used to. 

When they get to the beach, it’s quiet. Almost deserted, even. It’s early in the morning, but Kaoru had picked a spot that he knew didn't attract much attention, so the odds of them running into trouble are delightfully slim. Kaoru points to a spot near the water, and Chiaki grabs a couple of blankets from the backseat and follows him over. They set the blankets down beside one another, then sit, knees touching and fingers intertwined as they look out at the churning sea. 

“I’m glad you agreed to come out here with me today,” Kaoru says quietly, his voice almost drowned out by the waves. “No offense, but I didn’t think you would.” 

Chiaki shrugs, rubbing a thumb over Kaoru’s knuckles. “S’okay. I’ve said no in the past, what with how busy we’ve been and all.” 

Kaoru shakes his head and sighs. He’s tense , Chiaki can feel it. “Nah, don’t worry about it. It’s always kind of been a selfish thing to ask.” He’s still looking off at the sea as he pokes at the sand with his free hand. “But thank you. It means a lot.” 

Chiaki nods, then leans closer, resting his cheek on his boyfriend’s shoulder. He knows this feeling, this air Kaoru has to him right now. Kanata once described Kaoru’s emotions as being in “high tide” or “low tide.” Usually, Kaoru’s in “high tide,” meaning he’s excited, talkative, or at the very least, able to compartmentalize things. When he’s in “low tide,” he’s quiet, reserved, and ultimately closed off. That, Kanata had said, is when Kaoru would need Chiaki the most. Right now, very much like the sea before them, Kaoru Hakaze is in low tide. 

“Hey,” Chiaki says, nudging Kaoru with his cheek. He knows “low tide” Kaoru is a bit of a hard nut to crack, he’s not about to leave him hanging. “You okay?” 

For a moment, Kaoru doesn’t respond. He lets out a sigh, leaning closer until his head is resting on top of Chiaki’s, and closes his eyes. 

“I’m gonna ask you kind of a weird question, but just stick with me here, okay?” 

Chiaki doesn’t miss a beat. Not when it’s Kaoru. Not when he needs him. “Okay.” 

“Okay,” Kaoru repeats, his breath picking up a little. “I was just. Wondering. Uh. Fuck—”

“It’s okay, Kaoru. I’m listening.”

Kaoru laughs. It sounds hollow. Chiaki grips his hand tighter.

 “Thanks, but, uh. Okay. When, uh. When you were a kid—and your teacher was like, alright class, what do you want to be when you grow up, what did you say?” 

Chiaki thinks on that for a moment, using his free hand to sketch little designs in the sand between their blankets. “I always said I wanted to be a hero. The teacher would ask what exactly that meant, so I said I wanted to be somebody who helps and protects people.” 

A bit of a way out from the shore, a group of seagulls throw themselves into the sea. They resurface just seconds later, mouths full of fish, and cry victory over the rising sun. 

“That’s so like you, Moricchi. I bet you drew little tokusatsu characters all over your homework, too.” 

It’s Chiaki’s turn to laugh. “Sure did! Once I got an F on an assignment for it, and I cried so hard that the teacher had to tell me the Kamen Riders would forgive me as long as I kept my work clean from then on.” 

Kaoru laughs again, and it’s a real, genuine, one hundred percent Kaoru laugh. “Oh, come on. An F? For being creative? That teacher of yours sounds like he was a total tyrant.” 

“Oh, he was. I used to pretend he was my enemy when I practiced my hero kicks out in the backyard.” 

“Oooh,” Kaoru whistles, “The same hero kicks that broke a sliding door in your house?” 

Ugh. I wish you’d stop bringing that up.” 

“Can’t. Won’t. It’s too cute.” 

Chiaki groans, and Kaoru laughs. Humiliation aside, the sight and sound of Kaoru laughing for real is enough to melt away Chiaki’s worries completely. He feels light—airy—as if he could swim a mile or run a marathon. When was the last time he felt this good? When was the last time he felt this free?

But there’s still an important conversation to be had. “What about you, Kaoru? What did you want to be?” 

Kaoru’s laughter dies down at that, his expression almost wistful as he stares out at the sea. 

“A marine biologist.” 

Chiaki hums, running a hand up and down Kaoru’s arm. “Do you still want that?” 

He doesn’t get an answer right away. What he does get is Kaoru shifting and grabbing both of Chiaki’s arms to pull him down so that they’re facing each other on the blankets. Chiaki can’t see the ocean anymore—only Kaoru, and the turmoil in his dove-gray eyes.

“I’ve been talking to Nito recently. You know him, right? From Ra*bits? He’s gone off to college, and he’s not totally done with idol stuff, but he’s at university and taking classes to become a teacher.” He’s babbling now, tripping over his words. “And. And I thought, wow, that’s cool—he’s got normal friends and this normal life and he’s taking classes in something that fascinates him and honestly? Honestly I was jealous. Is that weird? He said his university has a marine bio program and I looked into it and is it weird? Is it weird that I wanted to—to apply?” 

For a moment, Kaoru looks so stressed he might cry. Chiaki reaches out and wraps his arms around Kaoru’s neck, pulling him close. But Kaoru isn’t done. 

“And I also asked him about his program—the teaching program. There’s a lot of classes there that deal with working with kids and social issues and helping people, all stuff that’s super up your alley, and I thought about telling you about it, but I was so. I was so worried that it’d make you feel like I was telling you to give up. A-And I’m not! I could never. I just. I just thought that maybe—maybe it’d be better for you?” 

Chiaki’s head is spinning. He tries to say something, but the words die in his throat. 

“You’re. You’re not happy, Chiaki. You haven’t been in a long time. So I thought that. I thought that maybe we could. We could try something else.” 

Ah. 

Who knew three words could be so powerful? 

“One time,” Chiaki starts, his voice shaking. It’s as if the strip of beach they’re on has morphed into a tunnel of water and sand, swallowing them up and drowning everything else. “When we were in my room, you looked at me and said that we should quit being idols.” Chiaki glides a finger across Kaoru’s cheek. It’s something he knows is comforting. “You laughed about it then, like it was a joke, but you also said something else. When I said you love being an idol, you told me I had a funny definition of love.” His heart is beating fast now; one of Kaoru’s hands comes up to wrap around Chiaki’s wrist. “And maybe I do. Or maybe it’s just hard to love this .” 

Kaoru’s grip on his wrist becomes tighter. “Chiaki?” 

If the sting in his eyes tells him anything, he only has one chance to get this out: “It’s hard to love being an idol. It’s hard to want to get up everyday to do something that makes you feel awful. It’s hard to know that you’ve been doing it too, that you want other things and that I’ve been the one holding you back from it.” 

Chiaki , that’s not—” 

It’s too late now. Kaoru lit the flame and Chiaki dove into it with reckless abandon. “I want you to apply. I want you to live your dreams and do what makes you happy. I want you to do what you love with all your heart and I—” He squeezes his eyes shut and sucks in a breath. “I want. I want to—” 

Kaoru’s hands are on his face now, brushing the tears away and apologizing. A quick look at him tells Chiaki that he’s crying, too. Here they are, two well-off adults with fat famous-people paychecks sobbing in the sand because they’re too scared to want something different. 

“You can say it, Chiaki. It’s okay. I’m here. You’re okay.” 

When he finally gets it out, his voice is little more than a whisper. “I want to change .” 

The tide is moving in now, licking at their heels with a solemn warning: Run. Run away and don’t you ever look back. 

“Okay,” Kaoru says, and presses his lips to Chiaki’s forehead. “Okay.” 

If they don’t get up soon, the ocean may very well tire of them. It’ll grab hold, refuse to let go, and within minutes, they’ll both be history. It’d be one hell of a tale—the story of their disappearance making waves bigger than anything anyone has ever seen. But no newspaper, no reporter, no influencer in their wildest dreams could come up with this : two lost souls, both alike in dignity, falling the way that whales do, becoming anchors of life at the bottom of the sea. 

They decide they’re willing to risk it. 


 

“Alright, now that everyone’s here, I’m going to talk about the syllabus.” 

There are whispers behind him, subtle things like ‘ is that?’ and ‘no way.’ 

The man at the front of the room raises an eyebrow. “The syllabus, my friends. The one on your desk. Start reading through page one.” 

Chiaki does as he’s told. It’s been a long time since he’s held one of these in his hands, but he doesn’t particularly mind. 

“Everyone ready? Okay? Good. My name is Professor Takeuchi, and you’ll be with me for intro to early childhood development.” 

He wasn’t entirely sure what his first day of college would be like, but the movies sure do make it seem far more grandiose than it actually is. He got here early with Kaoru, the two of them running around campus to try to figure out the fastest way to get to each class. Having two entirely different majors—Kaoru’s being marine biology and Chiaki’s being…. something to do with helping kids—it’s no surprise that they won’t run into each other too much. It’s not a problem, though. Mostly quitting being an idol means they had to get their own place in the city. 

When he’d first brought this up to his family, his mom started to cry. He panicked, saying he’d be able to pay off his tuition without their help and that if the family needed support, he could still take on gigs and work with Anzu to earn money. His mother had shaken her head and told him that she was just happy that he was happy, and that no child should ever have to earn their parents’ keep. 

Anzu herself had been overjoyed at the news. He figured she’d be upset, considering they’d grown close and Ryuseitai was one of her favorite units to work with, but she’d waved off his concerns and told him it was about damn time he started making some goddamn sense of his life. They agreed to keep in touch about stunt work opportunities—an added bonus about “mostly” quitting idolhood—he didn’t have anybody breathing down his neck telling him he wasn’t allowed to keep his side job. 

Kanata and their juniors had been happy about it, too. Chiaki was crying when he broke the news, apologizing profusely for giving up on something they’d all worked so hard on. It took both Midori and Kanata quite literally smacking him over the head to get him to understand their point of view. 

“Chiaki wants to work with ‘children’ who ‘need’ him. I can’t think of anything more ‘heroic’ than this.” 

“Ugh. He’s so annoying sometimes. I’m going to college too, so why did he think we’d be mad at him? How lame…” 

“Midori! Be nice! This is his manly moment! He’s carving a path for himself! Cheer him on!” 

“Yes! A truer ninja spirit has never been known!”

And it’s true. It’s not like either he or Kaoru are quitting entirely. They’re taking a detour—the road less traveled (or more traveled, all things considered) and it’s a damn good thing too, considering how excited Kaoru has been looking through his textbooks. 

“Oh, Chiaki, look—all of this information on deep sea animals. I’m going to be taking a lab where we go out to the shore and run tests. It’ll be a lot of work, sure, but it’s nothing coffee and a face mask can’t fix. I’ll have to tell Kanata about all of this. He loves this stuff. Maybe I can rope him into taking a class, too.” 

It’s been a long time since Chiaki’s seen Kaoru this happy. He wouldn’t trade it for the world

What he would trade, though, are a few of his new classmates. 

“The professor said his name, that’s him.” 

“Well why the hell is he here? Is he quitting? Oh my god he must be quitting.” 

“My little sister is gonna go insane when she hears about this. Do you think—”

Professor Takeuchi clears his throat, irritation plain on his wrinkled face. “Is everything alright? Do you have a problem with the student sitting in front of you?” 

The group behind Chiaki goes silent. Then, one of them speaks up: “It’s uh. Well it’s just that he’s uh. He’s a famous idol. And we um. We know him.” 

The professor’s eyes move to meet Chiaki’s. There’s no recognition there. 

“Well good for him. Now if you don’t mind, I’m trying to teach.” 

“—Er, yes sir. Sorry sir.” 

The professor shrugs, then goes back to writing the names of important theorists on the board. Chiaki lets a small sigh of relief blow past his lips as he bends over to continue his notes. 

Thank. God. 

When class lets out that afternoon, heads to the campus quad to find Kaoru. Nito and Midori are on this campus too, but he won’t be meeting up with them until later. For now, he gets to listen to his boyfriend discuss his first real marine biology class.

If the bright, beautiful, dazzling, happy smile Kaoru flashes when he sees Chiaki is anything to go by, he knows he made the right decision. 

There’s no way of knowing what the future holds. What he does know is that right here? Right now? Listening to Kaoru rattle off excitedly about his classes and seeing his phone light up with good luck! and you got this! texts from all his friends? Feeling the breeze on his face and realizing that at this moment, and moving forward—he doesn’t have to be anybody else but Chiaki? No posturing? No pretending? No flower in a vase? 

He places a hand on Kaoru’s cheek; Kaoru puts his hand over it and grins. 

God . He’s never felt better.