Story Title: In the Changing Room
Chapter Title: Restart
The change between 3 out of 5 members in the group was apparent. The tension that stood between them had, in a way, disappeared, replaced by a sense of earnestness that cemented the gaps between them. Ohno could sense it very well.
He had never seen them being so serious about the work they do as much as this before now. He didn't know what could have caused the change, but he was glad with the wave of peace that had washed over them for the moment.
Apparently, this time however, Nino had started clinging to him more. Jun had somehow composed himself, and started hanging around more with outside friends like that... actor... what was his name? Oguri? Ohno wondered whether this will happen to him everytime there is a change of atmosphere around Arashi. Nino had just pretty much suddenly started being more touchy-feely then usual, as Jun saw less of Ohno, claiming that it's good to rub off some of Ohno's calm essence onto himself.
Nino observed Jun and Sho for a while after, but decided to stop. The two had been polite to each other before, but this time, they were polite in a more relaxed way. Perhaps it was for the better.
They weren't as close as when they were short kids through to their awkward teenage years anymore, but still, this relaxed courtesy was far more preferrable than during the tense moments before that.
And besides, he had already accepted their decision. There was nothing more he would do.
Aiba thought it was nice of Sho to frequently hang out with him, but air-headed as he may seem, even he realised the gap that had taken place within their group. Even he could sense the tension before, and the tension that had disappeared recently. He wondered whether the others had known it too, whether he was the last one who had noticed it?
"Yes?" Sho looked up from his bowl. They were eating in a ramen shop, one of their usual hang-out places after work.
"I feel as if there was a moment of time when there seems to be something wrong within the atmosphere of Arashi. Did you notice it too?"
Sho stopped chewing his ramen, and looked up at Aiba.
"W..Why do you say so?"
Aiba shrugged and continued eating as he said,
"I dunno. I feel like... something went on for a while, as if we were all shut tight in a box, where the air was constantly growing lesser and lesser, and we didn't realise it. At least, until somehow, that box opened, falling flat on all sides, and all the air came whooshing back at us. That's when we finally realise that we had actually been contained in that box. Do you get what I mean?"
"Was there something going on Sho-chan?"
Sho couldn't figure out what to say. What could he say to his friend? That he'd been an idiot and a jerk? That he had been selfish? Tell him about the contract? Aiba turned to look at him and saw the look on his face.
"Ah! It's okay if you can't say now! I won't force you. But perhaps, one day?"
Sho couldn't look at Aiba in the eye. But it was all over, a matter of the past.
He took a deep breath, and began telling Aiba. All of it.
Arashi's progress was great. Greater than Jun would have imagined just a few years back. D no Arashi has been an amazing hit with the fans and the non-fans, that their names have spreaded wider than before. He was truly glad for the group. Nino's bluntness had been more well-received than ever on their shows, Ohno's talent for drawing being discovered, Aiba's air-headedness was also popular, and Sho was as well-liked as ever before, even though the gradual change in his attitude was apparent. He had become someone nicer, truly, than what he was in 2001.
Jun wondered sometimes why, why was it that he had admired the rough Sho back then when he was that uncaring for other people.
Was it just because he was smart? Was it his unfounded confidence? Was it his ability to attract people to him like flies? His charisma? Whatever it was, he found that with the gradual time that flows, along with it went his spite for Sho. He found that he could gradually bear to talk normally with Sho, to laugh at Sho's jokes, to join the others in bullying him.
Everything is in the past now. Now that they have moved on, it felt like they are now rediscovering the new each other. They are now trying to understand the way each other had changed. Putting it in a term, it was as if they were onions, in which their outer layer had been peeled off, only to find a newer, cleaner, layer beneath it, a layer that is closer to their true selves, than what was there before.
The new layer that Sho was showing now, Jun wondered if he would be able to admire it like the layer he had before?
Sho had borrowed tapes of Hana Yori Dango recorded by a friend whenever he couldn't make it to watch it in time and watch it together with Aiba.
"Mannn, that really had my heart beating fast! Domyouji appearing at the top of the stairs with those hard eyes, that really scared the shit out of me! Matsujun's acting is great huh?" Aiba commented to Sho after they had finished watching an episode.
"Eh? Ohh yeah, I guess so." Sho agreed demurely.
He thought it was amazing. He has been working really hard on it, Sho thought, recalling back to the few times he saw Jun lately, he was always reading his script and talking to himself a lot. Sho felt impressed by his diligence and attitude. He found himself looking forward to watching Jun's works.
He wondered if Aiba actually remembered what Sho had told him a couple of years back. He certainly didn't talk about it. At that time when he told Aiba, Aiba's only reaction had been,
"Oh, I see. I didn't realise that at all!" And didn't ask Sho about it anymore. Sho realised then how great a heart Aiba has, and how understanding he could be.
It was weird, he thought. Weird the way watching Jun now attracts Sho more than it did before. Weird the way he wanted to be proud of Jun. Just...weird.
"Are you friends again?"
Sho looked up at Ohno, puzzled by the sudden comment from the quiet guy. Ohno was looking across from him in their waiting room, with sleepy, unfocused eyes, but, there was nothing unfocused about the way he asked his question.
"What do you mean, Ohno-kun?"
"You and Matsujun." came the straightforward reply.
"We..What? H-how did you- We didn't- Uh," Sho stuttered, surprised that Ohno might be aware of such a thing. Yet there he was, looking expectantly at Sho. He thought for a moment that Aiba might have mentioned something like this to Ohno, but took it back straight away. Aiba wouldn't do it.
"Well, things seem better lately...so..."
Sho combed his hair back with his fingers, thinking.
"It wasn't a fight Leader. Not really. It's more complicated than that." Sho could feel the edges of the past crawling back to him, little by little, and felt his stomach churn uncomfortably. Ohno just looked at him quietly.
Sho could see the look in his eyes. Ohno was usually one that goes with the flow, one that keeps quiet if you didn't want to talk out. But perhaps, because of this, the rest of Arashi always took advantage of this gentle kindness, not realising that perhaps, their oldest member would like to know what happens around them too. It pulled at his heart guiltily.
Their Leader was too kind, and not even a single one of the members would have ever wanted Ohno to be drawn into this mess, but it couldn't be hidden forever. It wouldn't be fair. He sighed and wondered why was it always him who had to tell it. Then again, it was his fault.
Jun felt sick. There had been so much work and so little time to rest lately that there just wasn't enough time for him to rejuvenate himself. He'd been prissy during the Mago Mago filming a while back just for that reason.
As he walked along the corridor, he felt his stomach lurch, bringing himself to the very danger of throwing up. He covered his mouth with a hand, and walked on, supporting himself against the wall as he placed his other hand on it. His head began to spin and ache at the same time.
When was the last time he ate? He wondered. Somehow, he must have forgotten to. Another lurch. Jun gagged and stopped walking, breathing heavily for a while, waiting for his stomach to settle down before bracing himself as he walked around the corner, nearly hitting someone.
Jun looked up dazedly, one hand still covering his mouth, the other still on the wall. Someone was there, familiar, but his brain couldn't register who it was. He started forward to that person, and stumbled instead.
Strong hands caught his arms, and supported him. Jun felt all his strength being let go all at once, and would have fallen onto his knees, had it not been for the support. Blackness clouded over his vision as he lost his consciousness.
He woke up, and found himself on a sofa. Looking around, he realised he was in one of the rooms in NTV, and found Aiba sitting on a chair near him, flipping through a magazine. Upon hearing Jun stir, the older guy looked up at Jun.
"Ah you're awake. How are you feeling?"
"Could have been better. How long have I been unconscious?"
"Long enough. We had a doctor to come here and check you up to avoid any hullabaloos. Don't you remember the doctor checking you?"
Jun shook his head. He must have been partially-conscious, and partially not.
Jun struggled to stand, but was prevented by Aiba, who had quickly stood up to stop him. Jun calmly tried to explain to Aiba,
"It's fine. I've to go home now. I still have to read up my script."
"No! That's exactly the kind of thing the doctor says you shouldn't be doing. Have you been eating properly? Resting properly? Not at all, right? You've been so busy that you didn't take care of yourself. That's why you fainted, the doctor said."
Jun looked at Aiba, who was twisting the magazine he was reading up until just a moment ago nervously. He must have been really worried, Jun thought.
"Thank you Aiba. I'm feeling better now. Really. But I've got to go back now."
"I won't allow it." Aiba said earnestly. Jun took a deep breath and counted to ten.
"Really Aiba, it's alright. I'll rest at home, it'll be better. Honest." He slowly walked towards the door. Aiba rushed up beside him.
"T-then I'll send you back okay? We're worried about you."
Jun stopped and turned to look at Aiba.
"We? Who else knows about this?"
Aiba's ears turned noticeably red for a moment, and stuttered,
At that moment a voice interrupted,
"How is he? Is he awake?" It was a little breathless.
Jun snapped his head towards the door as Sho entered, panting slightly, a little hunched, one hand supporting himself against the door frame. Sho spotted him, and turned the tiniest tinge of red, like a child caught doing something embarrassing.
"Oh! Y-you are. T-that's good. Should you be standing up?"
"Sho-chan! You really came. But you reached home right?"
"That! I..." He looked like he didn't want talk about it, so Jun spoke up,
"I'm fine already. Thank you. How was it that you know?"
"Aa-ahhh." Aiba began stuttering again. "I panicked and didn't know what to do. I could only think of calling Sho-chan. He was the one who advised calling a doctor."
Jun gave Sho an appraising look. Sho seemed to turn even redder and stood stiffly with his hands snapped to his sides as he waited for Jun to say something. Weird, Jun thought, but cute. He held back a smile, slightly covering his mouth with his hand.
I'm sorry for the long wait D: I'm such a slacker XD