Title: The Prince and the Akira
Universe: JE/ NEWS/Nobuta wo Produce
Character/Pairing/s: NEWS, Shuuji+Akira
Word Count: 6,245
Summary: When Yamapi and Akira meet, something amazing happens.
Dedication: crystallekil! Happy birthday, bb! This is so lame compared to what you wrote me for my b-day but I hope you get a kick out of it all the same. I was wracking my mind trying to come up with a concept with enough Yamapi in it for you.
A/N: Okay, so I originally gave this as a prompt to Cia for her drabble request meme and then she messaged me back asking who the prince was, and I thought about it (because ofc I was thinking of Tego at the time), and realized the prince could probably be anybody. Then I came up with this, because I am lame. LOL
Disclaimer: No harm or infringement intended.
It is on a sleepy Monday morning when Shuuji and Akira are making their way to the discount marketplace near their apartment to buy their groceries for the week when they hear something that sounds a lot like a chorus of ghostly screams starting up in the distance, a high-pitched roar that steadily grows in pitch and intensity as it gets closer and closer to where they are.
It's a lot like, Shuuji thinks, a baying of hounds. Perhaps they've found a fox.
"Zombies!" Akira immediately concludes in opposition, and ducks around the nearest shop corner anxiously. "It has to be zombies."
Shuuji thinks that maybe he shouldn't have let Akira borrow Koji's Biohazard game this summer. He sighs and keeps walking. "Remember," he tells Akira patiently, while Akira reluctantly leaves the shelter of the alleyway to follow after him, "we need to use this week's grocery budget on actual food for the apartment, not potato chips and gashapon."
"But I almost have all the Poohs," Akira protests, all puppy eyes and disappointment at how strict Shuuji is being. "I just need the one that comes out of the choco-pan."
He looks so determined to get it that Shuuji supposes he can save two hundred yen or so to try for that elusive choco-pan Pooh-san, but only after they buy their necessities. Their midterms are coming up in the next few days and Shuuji knows that Akira studies better when he's happy with the world and not starving or dying or comparing himself to those kids from Grave of the Fireflies.
In the meantime, the distant wails continue to grow steadily louder; Shuuji thinks that maybe an advertiser or a radio station or an idol group is holding some sort of event in the shopping plaza nearby. This is Tokyo after all. He'd forgotten how noisy the city can be.
Or how bustling and full of people it is apparently, because as they round the corner towards the supermarket, Akira promptly crashes into someone who is running down the sidewalk very fast and not looking where he's going at all. The person is wearing a ratty hooded sweater (that looks like it's been ripped apart with someone's bare hands) and dark sunglasses, and when the two of them hit each other like they do, both of them go flying backwards and land on their butts on the sidewalk, uttering a pair of strangled, identical, "Acks!" as they do.
The stranger's sunglasses clatter to the floor and his hood is knocked off of his head.
Up the street, a mob of women (the source of all the screaming) come stampeding towards them, looking much like—to Shuuji's chagrin and Akira's horror—a horde of the lumbering undead.
"They are zombies!" Akira concludes, with an "I told you so" look at Shuuji. "And they are chasing a guy who's dressed like a molester!"
Shuuji makes a face when he hears that and hastily moves to help the supposed molester to his feet, picking up his fallen sunglasses for him and already ready to apologize for Akira's rudeness. "Social Turrets," is how Shuuji usually explains it, except that before he can, he realizes that he is actually looking into Akira's face and not the stranger's.
Shuuji blinks and wonders how he got so turned around; he quickly looks back over his shoulder in preparation to speak to the stranger.
Only to come face to face with Akira again, who is also blinking.
Shuuji looks back at the stranger.
Then back to Akira.
Then back to the stranger.
"Akira shock!" Akira screams when he realizes what is happening here, in time with the screams of the women who are getting closer and closer to them from up the street.
"Yabai!" the stranger exclaims suddenly, when he remembers the reason why he'd been running in the first place. "C'mon, we have to run!" he prompts, scrambling to his feet.
He takes off down the street.
Shuuji is still holding his sunglasses, which are a little bit gummy, like they'd recently had tape or glue put all over them. "But we…"
"You heard him! Run, Shuuji!" Akira repeats, as the mob of women pound towards them, ever closer. Akira jumps to his and takes off running in the same exact direction as the stranger had, full speed and without thinking.
Leaving Shuuji standing on the corner by himself, holding his empty green eco-bag in one hand and a slightly ruined pair of sunglasses that belong to a stranger with the same face as Akira in the other hand. "But…" he begins again, helplessly, "I need kimchi."
The women are nearly upon him by the time he sighs and moves to run after his best friend and the stranger, thinking that he'd better find them both before something stupid happens.
He doesn't realize that he's already far too late.
When they finally can stop running it isn't until a very, very long time after they'd started, once they've sprinted up (and down) a few ominous looking alleyways, have ducked into a go salon filled with grumpy old men, and finally disappeared into the relative safety of a disreputable looking men's room at the back of a pachinko parlor run by equally disreputable looking yakuza-type oniisans with curly hair and fearsome scowls.
By then, Shuuji's lungs are burning in his chest and he can't talk properly; Akira looks to be in about the same condition as he doubles over, resting his arms on his legs while leaning back against the men's room wall for support. "Ah, I thought I was going to die!" Akira breathes, drenched in sweat.
Shuuji wants to hit him. "Why were we even running?!" he manages eventually, when he's taken a few seconds to catch his breath again. "They weren't chasing us!"
Akira points accusatorily to the stranger whose sunglasses Shuuji is still holding. "Because he told us to!"
Shuuji groans. "We've missed all the good bargains by now."
The stranger leaning against the sink looks apologetic. "Sorry!" he says, putting one of his hands up in front of his face. "I'm really, really sorry! They weren't supposed to recognize me, but they did."
It is at that moment, with the stranger's hand in front of his face as he pants in-between words, that Shuuji is once again, stricken by the resemblance. He stares.
The stranger squirms. "Is something wrong?"
"It's almost the same," Shuuji murmurs, voice awe-filled as he reaches forward without thinking and pokes the stranger's cheek with his index finger.
"Um?" the stranger says, but doesn't fight or swat Shuuji's hand away.
Akira sidles up behind Shuuji and looks on critically, nodding his head in time with Shuuji's poking. "Mmm, he does, he does. It's weird," he agrees.
"Is this what they mean when they say everyone in the world has someone who looks just like them?" Shuuji asks, before finally remembering himself and taking his fingers off the stranger's face. "Like a twin?"
Akira steps a bit closer to the stranger. "Maybe he's a clone."
"I'm not a clone," the stranger insists. "Maybe you're a clone."
Akira considers this. "Shuuji!" he complains a moment later, clearly distressed at the thought, "Am I a clone?"
"No," Shuuji says automatically, while the stranger takes a step back when Akira takes another step closer. "You're just Akira."
"Right," Akira agrees, comforted by Shuuji's reassurances. "Just Akira."
"Well I'm just Tomohisa," the stranger feels the need to add, in his own defense. "So I'm not a clone either."
Shuuji eyes him. "Why were those women chasing you like that?" he asks after a moment, and makes Tomohisa cringe at the memory.
"I was just going to get some food," he explains, "and I guess they're here with a tour group from Korea? They must have recognized me, ne."
That, Shuuji thinks, doesn't make any sense at all in terms of why the women were chasing him.
"Do the Koreans hate you?" Akira asks in the meantime, wide-eyed. "Are you a spy or something?"
Tomohisa looks sheepish. "I don't think they hate me…"
Shuuji's brow furrows. "They recognized you…" he repeats, thinking it through. He blinks. "Are you famous?"
A small smile. "A little."
"I'm a superstar!" Akira realizes.
"Not you," Shuuji and Tomohisa both say, at the same time.
Akira grins. "Maybe you two are the clones," he tells them after they do.
"I'm an idol! An idol," Tomohisa explains patiently. "I think they were fans. The foreign ones are always a little scarier than the ones here, ne. They like to try and get some of your hair and stuff, to keep."
"So they were chasing you because they like you," Shuuji realizes.
"I don't ever want to be liked in the way you're liked," Akira declares after a beat, fingering a nasty looking rip in Tomohisa's sweater sleeve.
"Were you lost or something? I don't think this the kind of neighborhood idols party in," Shuuji feels the need to point out. It's mostly a neighborhood full of cheap apartments, public bathhouses, and mom-and-pop type marketplaces that college students can afford on their meager allowances. It also happens to be within easy busing distance to Hosei University, where both Shuuji and Akira go, which explains the college students in the first place.
Tomohisa coughs. "I was on my way to visit a friend who goes to school nearby. I may have gotten kind of lost." Pause. "Very lost. I had to take lots of detours to avoid groups of girls who started to stare at me, and then once I dodged them, the directions I had didn't make sense anymore, ne."
Shuuji sighs and starts to feel less annoyed at this person for disrupting his shopping plans; he thinks it must be a pain to go anywhere and always know that you could be mobbed at any minute. "If you have the address," he offers kindly, "we can help you find your friend's place."
"I do! That would definitely help me out, ne." Tomohisa looks relieved as he digs into his sweater pocket, in search of his directions.
He does not have them. "Hmm," he says, after a minute. He checks his other pocket.
Shuuji has seen Akira do the same exact thing many, many times. "You lost it," he concludes, after a minute more or so of Tomohisa's "Hmms" and "Mmms."
Tomohisa is sheepish. "It must have fallen out while I was running."
Akira nods like he knows exactly how that feels, having had it happen to him many, many times, though often because of unnecessary bouncing rather than because he'd been running for his life.
Shuuji tries to be logical. "Well, if you call your friend and get the address again, we'll show you the way."
Tomohisa nods and starts scrolling through the contact list on his phone. Hesitates. "Mmm," he says again after a beat, cryptically.
"Mmm?" Shuuji and Akira echo, confused. Shuuji hopes he hasn't lost his friend's phone number too. Sometimes Akira does that as well, when he sits on his touch screen phone and somehow, his butt deletes his entire contact list.
"I think he said he'd call me once his midterms got out, so maybe I shouldn't…"
Shuuji supposes it says a lot about how considerate Tomohisa is if he doesn't want to call and disrupt his friend's midterm exams. He can't help but feel a little bit frustrated, though. He wonders what to do.
A minute later, the cell phone in Tomohisa's hand rings for them.
Shuuji hopes that it is the friend, fresh out of his midterm test.
Tomohisa looks at the caller ID on his LED display.
The look on his face tells Shuuji that it is not his friend.
Tomohisa reluctantly answers. "Hello?" Pause. "No I… well, yes. Today? Definitely today? I understand, ne. Mmm, I'm at a place called Twin Dragons Pachinko Parlor? No I'm not gambling. I'm hiding. Er… yes. There were Koreans involved, ne." He winces. "Okay, I'll see you soon."
He hangs up looking like his dog just died.
"What?" Shuuji asks.
"That was my Manager-san," Tomohisa explains. "The photoshoot I had scheduled for tomorrow got moved up to today. He's coming to pick me up now."
"That's good," Shuuji replies. "Then your life won't be in danger anymore."
Tomohisa nods. "I guess meeting my friend is impossible now." He sounds incredibly disappointed at the recent developments, but resigned to it, like these are the sorts of things he has to give up all the time, in order to be famous.
Shuuji feels a little bit bad for him.
"But spending time with friends is important," Akira chimes in, after a moment of uncharacteristic silence. Then he puts an arm around Shuuji's shoulders. "That's why I live with mine, ne."
Tomohisa looks slightly envious at the admission. "That's nice," he answers, and manages an idol quality smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes.
Akira senses it and reaches out, patting the idol's head like he's a small child. "It's too bad you really don't have a clone ne," he says gently. "If you did, then you could make him do your work and run from fans instead, while you spend important time with your friends."
Tomohisa nods. "Yeah that…" he trails off, looking straight at Akira. "…would be nice," he finishes after a beat, and looks like he's just realized something.
Watching the two of them looking at each other like they're gazing into a mirror, Shuuji is pretty sure he knows exactly what that realization is too.
"No. You can't pretend to be some TV idol. People will catch on sooner or later."
"But even Shuuji was confused for a while!" Akira protests, obviously wanting very much to help this lonely guy who obviously doesn't get to spend as much time with his friends as Shuuji and Akira get to spend with each other. To Akira, that is the ultimate pitiable state; of course he has to help in any way he can.
Shuuji isn't sure why, but he feels slightly defensive when he hears that. "I was only confused for a second! If you're close enough, you can very easily tell the difference. I know Akira is Akira and not Tomohisa-kun and his fans will know it too."
"You don't have to," Tomohisa points out obligingly, from back by the sinks, where he has just finished calling his manager to send a car while Shuuji and Akira are busy arguing amongst themselves by the bathroom door. "It was just me daydreaming, ne."
"Dreams should come true," Akira says. "Don't you think?"
Tomohisa nods. "Everyone should dream big."
Akira pumps his fist. "Then it's settled! We trade places."
Tomohisa still looks uncertain. "But…"
"Dreams!" Akira repeats, and pumps his fist again in case Tomohisa missed it the first time.
Tomohisa's lips quirk upwards, and he pumps his fist a little bit too. "Dreams."
Shuuji has a headache and his eco-bag still doesn't have any groceries in it. "Before we make any big decisions about this, shouldn't we find a way out of here?"
Akira and Tomohisa look identically impressed with Shuuji's ability to prioritize.
It is, admittedly, a little bit creepy.
As it turns out, Akira is the one who makes the decision for everybody.
Because once the car arrives to pick Tomohisa up, Shuuji is ready to get back to shopping as well. He leads Akira out of the men's room, through the pachinko parlor, and back up to the street level.
Except Tomohisa's fans seem to be very persistent and there are some of them still there, desperately snooping around the area in search of their number one favorite idol.
As such they see Shuuji and Akira immediately, as they emerge onto the street together.
They also immediately scream and give chase, while a harried looking man in a black suit scrambles out of a black sedan parked at the curb in front of the pachinko parlor; the man in the black suit quickly yanks open the back door of the car, looking right at Akira when he says, "Yamashita-kun, get in!" with a touch of frightened desperation in his voice.
He never notices the real Yamashita-kun, standing few feet behind Akira with his ratty hooded sweater and slightly ruined sunglasses.
Akira grins at Shuuji as this is all occurring, because clearly this all means that their meeting like this today had been fate; Akira winks, gives the sign for Nobuta Power, and dives into the car without a moment's hesitation.
The man in the black suit hastily shuts the door after him, climbs back into the driver's seat, and peals off down the street with a screeching of tires and the dismayed shouts of the unsuccessful fangirls.
It leaves Shuuji standing on the sidewalk in disbelief—for the second time today— with an empty green eco-bag in one hand while he pinches the bridge of his nose with the other.
"So," Tomohisa begins a few minutes later, as he and Shuuji stand forgotten in front of the pachinko parlor's doors, the distraught girls having long since evacuated the area after the only object of their interest had been so cruelly whisked away, far out of reach.
"So," Shuuji sighs, and checks his watch.
He wants to worry and be irritated and feel tired, but he supposes that none of those things will change the fact that Akira has decided to switch places with a popular idol for the day, and that there's nothing Shuuji can do except believe that Akira will be okay. That, and make it possible for the hopeless idol next to him to achieve his dream.
"When does your friend finish his midterms?" he asks Tomohisa.
"Four," Tomohisa admits, sticking his hands into his pockets.
Shuuji nods. "Alright, then you're coming with me."
Tomohisa blinks but doesn't protest; Shuuji supposes that if Akira is determined to give this guy his day to do as he pleases, the least Shuuji can do in support of Akira's decision is make sure Tomohisa makes it through the hours without getting mauled by crazy women again.
But first thing's first.
Shuuji turns and heads back in the direction of the supermarket. He makes Tomohisa carry the eco-bag.
At the studio, Akira feels a little overwhelmed.
The minute he'd stepped foot inside he'd been attacked by curling irons and blow dryers and hair wax and foundation, eyeliner, lip gloss.
"Today NEWS will be reading books for the pictures, so try to put together some clothes that help you look intelligent," an assistant had buzzed into him as he'd been chucked to the back to find an appropriate wardrobe to go with the theme. "Glasses are usually a good choice."
Akira dutifully picks out some glasses.
When he finally gets ushered into the main studio he is immediately blinded by bright lights, as a tall, very cute girl bounces up to Akira and singsongs, "Leader!!" while looking at him with the sweetest eyes Akira has ever seen. "Ne, since I ruined your sunglasses last time, I bo…"
But then she trails off suddenly, pulling up short and looking confused. She tilts her head sideways to the left for a minute, and then turns and tilts it to the right after that, clearly studying Akira very intently. It naturally makes Akira feel uncomfortable; he squirms a bit.
"What's wrong now, Tegoshi?" a tall guy with a superior-looking face asks, looking up from his textbook on common law after the cute girl trails off so abruptly. "Weren't you the one who was really excited to see Yamashita-kun the entire time we were waiting for him and bothering people who want to study for their midterms with your noise?" the superior-looking guy presses, obviously impatient.
The tall girl—who is apparently a short boy named Tegoshi on closer inspection—shakes his head. "Never mind, Shige! I'll give it to Leader later, ne," he chirps after a beat, mysteriously. He flashes another one of those incredibly cute smiles. "For now, we should hurry and get to work, right?"
"Don't lecture me about work!" the guy called Shige responds automatically, and Akira can't help it a little when he laughs at the look on his face as he says it.
Shige blushes and looks pleased when he sees Akira laugh, and seeing it, Akira thinks that Tomohisa must be a very important person to these people.
He wonders if this is part of the reason why, despite how busy and tiring and time consuming it all is, Tomohisa keeps doing the work anyway.
The dressing room snacks are pretty good too.
"These Pooh-sans are amazing," Tomohisa breathes, holding his latest Pooh gashapon in his outstretched palm. It is a tiny, tiny Pooh-san that is cosplaying as a strawberry.
Shuuji nods helplessly as Pooh-san claims another victim. "They're strangely addicting," he admits, his green ego-bag now full and 200 yen still sitting safe and sound in his pocket, unused.
In the meantime, Tomohisa looks strangely satisfied with the ten he's already bought for himself; for some reason he finds he likes the one of Pooh-san dressed in basketball clothes the best.
"Still looking for that last one, eh, Kusano-kun?" the old lady who owns the shop laughs, when she sees Tomohisa bent in front of the machine, digging around in his wallet for another 100yen coin. "Keep trying, you'll get him eventually!"
"I'll definitely keep trying my best no matter what," Tomohisa responds automatically, and pumps his fist when he does indeed find another 100yen in his jeans pocket.
On the next try he gets a Pooh-san who is cosplaying as a bee, and the way he laughs when he sees it makes Shuuji laugh too, because he'd never thought a cool idol would let himself scrunch his own face up so much in front of other people.
He wants this to be worth it in the end; he wants to make it as peaceful a day as possible for Tomohisa just because Akira wanted to first, and Akira took all the risks to make it happen.
Through the years, Shuuji has discovered that Akira has become the one who charges into things like that, the one who is determined and undefeatable once he gets a notion in his head that he thinks matters. Often, all Shuuji can do is stand nearby and try his best to help.
Eventually, he takes his remaining 200yen out of his pocket and drops them into Tomohisa's hands.
The minute they report to the head photographer, he sighs in relief and points to a series of books scattered around the floor. "Props," he explains, curtly. "The agency wants a serious, sophisticated theme but at the same time, with NEWS's refreshing cuteness at the center. It's for the spring back to school issue."
Akira does not understand how that works at all (especially because spring is months away), but the other guys all seem to get it, and dutifully position themselves in front of the camera as instructed. Akira looks at the books, sweats under the bright lights, wonders what cute and sophisticated at the same time entails, and feels very, very sorry for Tomohisa-kun if these are the kinds of conundrums he faces on a daily basis.
He really doesn't know what to do.
But then, like a sign from God, there is something latching onto his arm. "Let's pose together!" a voice chirps, and it is that creature called Tegoshi again, leaning against him and looking up at him with those wide, extremely interested eyes.
It makes Akira think that maybe, just maybe, he's busted.
But Tegoshi doesn't say anything about that at all; he just pulls and Akira follows, getting tugged gently over towards the center of the filming set, where Koyama and Shige have already stretched themselves out on the floor, propping each other up back-to-back while Koyama happily reads Cinderella and Shige thumbs through a volume entitled Dialectics, lookinglike he's already read it a thousand times or so on his own before today.
The droopy-eyed one Akira heard Tegoshi call Ryo-tan is on the ground a few feet to the right of Koyama and Shige, lying on his back and holding a book entitled Shakespeare's Collected Works up over his head,enacting a skillfully dreamy look on his face as he pretends to read the words that are all in English. He also happens to be resting his legs on back of the guy with the nice smile who a staffer had identified as Massu a few minutes ago; Massu is resting flat on his stomach, propped up by his elbows and studying an oversized picture book of Chicken Little with the utmost concentration.
Akira thinks they are all very good at this.
But Tegoshi is there again, looking incredibly bemused. "It's easy if you look at it as finding something interesting to play with," he murmurs helpfully into Akira's ear, before pulling Akira down into a sitting position on the floor and leaning against Akira's back. He rests his chin on top Akira's shoulder and grabs a book from one of the piles at random, flipping it open.
"The Prince and Pauper," he says out loud, sweetly. "Read it to me, ne?"
"Stop bothering Yamashita-kun," Shige chastises when he hears, without breaking his pose or the flattering camera angle on his face. Though he does manage to slide his eyes over and give Akira and Tegoshi a curious once over.
"He won't mind!" Tegoshi answers on Akira's and Yamapi's behalf, while he nudges Akira with his knees. "Go on," he urges.
Akira blinks and starts reading, awkwardly. "Once upon a time…" he trails off, giving the kid on his back a strange look.
Tegoshi just smiles. "Once upon a time," he repeats, and gives Akira a look that begs him to go on.
Akira goes on.
And miraculously, three pages in, he finds himself forgetting all about the camera.
Shuuji and Tomohisa are walking back to Shuuji and Akira's apartment when Tomohisa's cell phone buzzes with a text message.
"Is something the matter?" Shuuji asks, surreptitiously checking his phone in case Akira is planning to send him an S.O.S. of his own as well.
Tomohisa just laughs a little and shows Shuuji his screen, with a message from someone called Nishikido.
"He doesn't look that much like you."
Shuuji blinks. "Does this mean…"
For some reason, Tomohisa seems pleased. "If you're close enough, you can tell the difference right away, right?"
Shuuji sighs, a little confused, but not entirely. "Right," he says, and thinks that Johnny's Entertainment must be a very strange place, if people can so easily come to terms with look-alikes and body doubles and Akira's very strange strangeness.
They break off into rotating pairs for the close-up shots just when Akira's book is starting to get really good, but he doesn't mind because he thinks he's figured out that as long as he pretends the camera isn't there it's okay, it's just like doing normal, every day stuff except that it's with Tegoshi, or Koyama, or Shige, or Ryo, or Massu there this time, instead of Shuuji, like usual.
Akira thinks Tegoshi and Koyama and Shige and Ryo and Massu are all nice (but not as nice as Shuuji); he listens to them talk and watches how they laugh together and tease each other and don't mind snuggling with each other when the photographer tells them to, like they snuggle all the time when he's not looking anyway.
It makes Akira miss Shuuji a little bit; he wonders if Shuuji got his discount kimchi after all, and if he tried to get the choco-pan Pooh-san on his own today too.
"The hardest part about this job," Tegoshi murmurs while they pose together, "is to keep your face from showing exactly what you're thinking." He reaches out and pokes Akira's forehead, where there are lines now, from what he'd been thinking just now. "Just pretend I'm whoever you're thinking of, ne? And then keep it like that, no matter what happens afterwards."
Akira nods. "Right."
He does as he's told by the professional, and ten minutes later, when Massu smiles at him during their pair shot and innocently asks him what his name is, Akira almost manages not to look too surprised.
When they get to Shuuji's apartment complex it is just after two and Shuuji stops to get their mail from the box; as he shuffles through it he sighs when he comes across mail that isn't theirs. There's a guy with the same name as Akira who lives down the hall from them and they get his bills all the time.
Today about half of the mail ends up belonging to one Kusano and the other half to the second; Shuuji makes a note to deliver it to Kusano-san later today himself, because Akira says whenever he visits their neighbor with the mixed up mail the other Kusano looks at him with a really weird expression for a really long time and it kind of makes Akira feel like he is an alien in a zoo. Shuuji also gets a postcard in today's mail from Nobuta; it is from the University of New South Wales in Australia this time, and has a picture of a diver swimming with lots of brightly colored tropical fish all around him. He smiles a little when he sees it before turning back to Tomohisa, who is still in the lobby, studying the tenant directory with huge eyes.
"Is something the matter?" Shuuji asks, politely.
Tomohisa turns and points to the name under apartment 409. "Amazing," he breathes, when he sees that Shuuji and Akira's apartment is 410. "So this is destiny."
Shuuji has no idea what is going on.
But he thinks he's starting to get used to it after today.
Koyama is the one who nearly hyper-ventilates when he notices.
It happens when Akira decides that he doesn't want rice with his lunch, just soup is fine, with some potato chips crunched into it and maybe a little soda too.
For some reason that statement makes the eldest member think Akira is sick, and he is instantly there, with one hand on Akira's forehead and the other on his own, taking their temperatures to see if Akira is running a fever. "You don't have the flu again, do you, Leader?" he asks, and starts examining Akira for any signs of plague.
Akira blinks and eats a second mouthful of potato-chip miso soup.
"Crap," Ryo says randomly when he comes back into the dressing room with his own lunch tray and sees the two of them like that, very close. "Koyama don't fre…"
But then—just like that— Koyama finally notices.
And Koyama freaks out.
Koyama freaking out means Shige finally starts to notice things, momentarily coming out of his midterm-cramming on the couch to frown at Koyama, who is curled in the corner taking big, heaving breathes and looking like it's the end of the world. "What's wrong with you?" Shige asks, eyebrow arching.
"Leader is missing!" Koyama mibbles, before Ryo can shut him up.
"Um… Yamashita-kun is right there," Shige points out, indicating Akira, who is sitting in front of his soup looking sheepish and not eating any rice at all.
Shige blinks. Does a double take. "Yamashita-kun is…"
Koyama nods, when he sees that Shige is starting to calculate all the reasons why the image in front of him is wrong, like it's a puzzle in a children's book and you're systematically supposed to find all of the things that don't belong there.
"No rice…" Shige murmurs, after a beat.
"No rice!" Koyama wails.
Shige actually puts down his book.
"I told you there was a guy at my school who looks just like you!" Kusano tells Tomohisa smartly sometime later, when he and Shuuji are sitting in Kusano's cluttered single bedroom apartment.
Tomohisa has the dignity to say, "I'm sorry I didn't believe you," while Kusano grins and ruffles his hair and tells him he's glad he wasn't mauled too badly by the fans this time and that he found his way here safe and sound. "I meant to finish my test earlier, but my professor threw in this essay question at the end no one expected. It killed me," Kusano explains breezily, and grabs a beer from his fridge. "But now I am free, and I promised you a hot date, and we are going to this absolutely filthy looking restaurant that has the best food in the universe."
Tomohisa smiles. "I want double rice!"
Shuuji is just relieved that things seemed to have worked out here; he can only hope that they do the same on Akira's side. "I should go," he starts after a while, seeing the two friends reunited and excited about their plans tonight.
"Shuuji should come," Tomohisa says, reaching out to stop Shuuji from going. "It'll be fun."
"Yeah," Kusano agrees, "I'll treat, as long as I can call you my other hot date."
"I shouldn't," Shuuji answers right away, out of habit. He's only hung out with Akira or Nobuta for so long that doing anything else feels uncomfortable somehow, like it's foreign. Koji always tells him he should go out and make more friends, but Shuuji's never really felt the need.
"You're coming," Kusano says in easy counterpoint, with an easy grin. "Having two hot ladies on my arm will just further enforce my image as a pimp."
"Yosh, he's coming," Tomohisa echoes before Shuuji can turn them down again (or tell Kusano-kun that he is not a woman).
From there, the two of them end up dragging Shuuji out for his first night out on the town without Akira in more than five years.
It seems like today is all about new experiences for Shuuji and Akira both.
"Akira-kun is kind," Koyama sobs sometime later, after Akira has explained what happened today and why he's here instead of Tomohisa. "Leader does work too much."
"This is weird," Shige mutters to himself, unable to take his eyes off of Akira at all. "This is really, really weird. The odds of someone looking so much like you without being related to you are already ridiculous, but actually running into that person is even less likely."
"It happened, get over it," Ryo grumps, as he finishes scrubbing off the makeup from the shoot.
Tegoshi sighs dreamily from his perch on Akira's lap. "Meeting Akira-kun was fun, but I didn't get to give Leader his present today, ne," he pouts. "We haven't seen each other in a really long time."
"It must be hard," Akira thinks, because it's only been half a day since he's seen Shuuji and he already feels like he misses him a lot. He absently pats Tegoshi's head.
"But it's nice to meet new friends too, isn't it?" Massu offers, around a sunny smile.
Tegoshi nods. "Un! But still…" he looks at Akira with those big, long-lashed eyes of his. "…I wish we could have seen Leader today."
Akira blinks and isn't sure how it happens, but the next thing he finds himself saying is, "Do you guys want to come home with me?"
"Your life is fun," Akira tells Tomohisa later that night, when they are finally back in his and Shuuji's apartment and everything in the world seems upright again. He yawns tiredly. "But I don't think I could do it every day, ne."
Tomohisa grins, with a drunken, snoring Kusano thrown casually over his shoulder and brand new pair of non-gummy sunglasses perched on his head. "I feel the same way," he agrees, with a sage nod. "I was lucky Shuuji is so kind, ne."
"NEWS is kind too!" Akira echoes.
"We're both lucky," they both decide at that moment, in perfect tandem and with identical smiles.
"So weird," NEWS murmurs from the living room floor, watching the scene unfold as they each hold their brand new gifts (phone straps of Pooh-san in cosplay) and drink the fruit punch their Leader had to help Shuuji carry back all the way from the discount market this afternoon.
Shuuji—obviously very used to it all by now— calmly offers everyone refills.
As the two of them are getting ready to go to sleep for the night, Akira and Shuuji compare notes about their days, about the strange new experiences they had and what happened when they weren't together.
"I read a really interesting book and had a cute boy in my lap!" Akira reports on his life as an idol, as he rigorously brushes his teeth.
Shuuji waits until he is finished flossing before he reluctantly admits, "I learned what a body shot is today." He hopes Kusano-kun keeps his promise to never let anyone see that cell phone photo. "Oh, and we're invited to Kusano-kun's party next weekend," he adds, in afterthought.
"How fun!" Akira froths, before peacefully spitting into the sink.
Shuuji allows himself a wry smile at the memory of Tomohisa and Kusano-kun riding a mechanical bull at the western style dive-restaurant they'd gone to tonight. "Yeah," he echoes eventually. "It was fun."
Then, "But I'm glad to be back with Shuuji," Akira says, just as Shuuji declares, "Please don't ever do something stupid like that ever again."