Watching at the Crossroads
There’s a legend, and this is how it goes.
You take your guitar and you go to the crossroads. You get there at midnight, and sit down and start playing, and if you’re lucky, the devil will appear and take your guitar and he’ll tune it and play it and it’ll be the best you’ve heard, because devil’s music is music that touches the soul.
He’ll hand the guitar back and ask if you’d like to learn from him.
And this is the place where you get to choose. If you say yes, then he’ll take your soul and your music will shine over the world. If you say no, then you walk away with your guitar and the memory of music you can never quite reach.
“Have you ever thought about going solo?”
Ueda blinks, gyoza halfway to his mouth. He carefully sets it down before him and then sets down his chopsticks. “What brought this on?”
Nakamaru shrugs. “Akanishi’s gone solo.”
Ueda says, curtly, “Akanishi is Akanishi. What he does is none of our concern.”
Nakamaru stares at his hands. “So what is? Taguchi and Kame’s latest fight?” He says, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a nursemaid for two grown men.”
“So don’t.” Ueda stands up, pushes away from the table. “I’m not hungry.”
“I didn’t mean it that way, Ueda.” Nakamaru stands too, wringing his hands. “I know you’re on Taguchi’s side—”
“Since when were there sides?”
Nakamaru ignores him. “It’s not all Kame’s fault. If Taguchi didn’t try so hard to be so effortless in front of everybody else—”
“Just because Kame can’t control his temper—”
“I’m just saying that maybe if Taguchi just gave Kame a little bit, just stopped always being so cheerful and polite and acting like he was a saint whenever Kame’s stressed—”
“There is no reason for Taguchi to have to change himself just to suit Kame—”
“He does it on purpose, and you know he does!”
Ueda stares. Nakamaru’s chest is heaving, his eyes wide, his palms slapped against the table. If they were in public, then all the bystanders would be staring at sweet mild Nakamaru Yuichi worked up over purported injustices wrought by Taguchi Junnosuke.
“Of course he does,” Ueda drawls. “Taguchi goes around pretending that it doesn’t take him any effort to be perfect just to piss off Kame.” He laughs. “Kame isn’t the center of the world.”
Nakamaru gulps in a deep breath. He slowly steps back, looking like he wants to apologize.
Ueda steps forward and says, softly, “He isn’t even the center of KAT-TUN.”
The truth is, Ueda’s dreamed of going solo since Akanishi Jin tried to punch him over fucking spilled whipped cream.
Now there’s a story that nobody can decide on.
They’ve changed the words to the melody so many times Ueda’s never sure which lyrics he’s supposed to sing this time. It’s the same song—whipped cream spilled on tatami, who will clean it up, who threw the first punch, who—
Back when there were six of them and they didn’t have any say in decisions made about KAT-TUN, Kame would say one thing and then Akanishi another and the rest of them would attempt to arrange themselves into some semblance of order that inevitably resulted in Nakamaru joining whichever side was unbalanced.
Ueda remembers this, because that was when they called him Leader. Kame looked at him like he had the answers to the world and Akanishi pretended to listen to him and they had fistfights over whipped cream.
But he isn’t Leader now, and the lyrics are unfamiliar even though it’s a melody they’ve been singing for years. Taguchi smiles, benevolently, and laughs a little—sheepishly—before he says, “I don’t remember how it started.”
Ueda thinks that Taguchi’s the worst liar he’s ever seen. Maybe that’s why he comes across as so convincing.
Koki says, “Fighting with Yucchi now?”
Ueda sneers. He hasn’t had a chance to use that expression since KAT-TUN was first formed. “The rumor mill runs fast, doesn’t it.”
Koki steps into the room—there’s nobody else there, because only Ueda has a meeting today: something about his solo. Koki, on the other hand, is supposed to be at home with his menagerie.
“What are you doing here?”
Perhaps because he’s not here for work, Koki looks different. It isn’t the clothes, but something in the way he’s slumped to the side, as if somebody cut half the strings that held him up. It looks uncannily familiar, and Ueda can’t place it.
Koki says, “I heard you fought with Yucchi.”
Ueda says, “Did Nakamaru tell you that?”
Ueda reels back, as if hit. “Kame?” he echoes, and he can hear his voice, hollow, breathy. He wants to cover his ears so he can’t listen to how it actually sounds before the sound technicians get their hands on it. “How did Kame get into this?”
Koki says, “Everything is about Kame.”
There are always concert tours to plan and singles to record. Ueda sits next to Taguchi in a hoodie and sunglasses. Kame sits in between Koki and Nakamaru. Their managers sit nearby, comparing notes. Ueda wonders if it’s notes about them: Ueda-kun is still as intractable as ever; Taguchi-kun is always working so hard, it’s delightful; Kamenashi-kun—
“Uepi,” Taguchi murmurs. “Uepi, what do you think?”
The producers are looking at him. Kame’s looking at him. Taguchi’s hand is on his knee, just the smallest amount of pressure to distract him. He doesn’t know the question, and the faces have no clues for him.
Ueda says, “Why do you need my input?”
Kame’s eyes are bright like he’s sixteen again. “We always need Leader’s input.”
Kame’s eyes are sharp. “But you aren’t Leader anymore, are you Ueda.” He doesn’t say it, but Ueda hears it all the same.
Taguchi has a solo stage-play, and the meeting is cut short for his manager to shuffle him away from KAT-TUN and into a meeting with the producers for that project.
Kame smiles and doesn’t say anything. Nakamaru and Koki are conspicuously silent, flanking Kame.
Ueda says, “Thank you for your hard work,” and “Work hard.”
Taguchi’s smile is bright. “Thank you for your hard work,” he echoes. “I’m sorry I can’t stay.”
Kame snorts, stifling the sound and expression with a palm and the illusion of a cough.
Taguchi takes a second to rummage in his pocket and slides over a lozenge. “You have to keep your health up, Kazuya!”
Ueda doesn’t say anything. Taguchi has never been vindictive—oblivious, unable to read the mood of a room, too kind and generous when the others are feeling surly—but never vindictive.
Half an hour later, he checks his phone to find a text from Taguchi. “Have time to work on some lyrics?”
Ueda thumbs back a reply before he’s even realized it.
“My manager wants me to start writing lyrics,” Taguchi explains as he walks into Ueda’s apartment just before midnight. “And there’s nobody I trust more than Uepi.”
Ueda snorts and hands Taguchi a can of beer. “Do you even know the melody?”
Taguchi takes the time to open the beer, not saying anything until he’s poured it into a glass and then taken a long thoughtful swallow.
“I was hoping you would write it,” he says.
Ueda thinks of the stacks of melodies in a box in his closet.
He says, “I’d like to make music together with you, Uepi.” His eyes a bright and hopeful and when he smiles Ueda thinks he can promise him the world. “Would you… like to write a song with me?”
Back when Ueda was trying to write his first song—when he was a junior and KAT-TUN had just stopped fighting so often, when KAT-TUN still had a leader and didn’t just have a boy working himself to the bone trying to succeed—back then, Ueda was sitting in a small room with a guitar on his lap.
He started this song on the piano, but the bridge is on his fingertips and all that’s around is the guitar on his lap. Ueda picks it up by the neck, cradles it in his arms, and plays a careful chord.
The strings are sharp against his fingers—he’s a pianist, he’ll always be a pianist—and the chords that are so familiar on piano are strangers on guitar. The notes are raw, strained, and he can hear traces of other notes from poor finger placement—
The door to the practice room opens, and Ueda turns to snap at the junior, didn’t they see the sign…
“Ueda-kun,” his manager says, smiling.
Ueda swallows and dips his head. His throat is suddenly dry, but he manages a greeting back.
“You’re a boy with a head on his shoulders,” his manager says. “Your success is my success. Give me 200% effort and I can turn you into a star.”
Ueda touches the guitar.
His manager says, gently, “You don’t get this offer more than once.”
Ueda says, “Did Kame’s manager offer it to Kame?”
His manager laughs. “Ueda-kun, Kamenashi-kun didn’t need to be offered this.” He gestures vaguely. “Kamenashi-kun is a rare breed; he came to us and asked.”
“But you’re offering it to me.”
The manager extends a hand. “Give me 200% effort and I can make you into a star.”
Taguchi says, “I’ve always liked your music.”
The melodies lie scattered around them, and Ueda wants nothing more than to rake them into piles and throw them out. Instead he picks one that he wrote before Akanishi left, shoves it into Taguchi’s hands.
“This one?” Taguchi looks down and hands it back to him. “Play it for me?”
Ueda’s hands don’t shake when he slides onto the piano bench and plays the first chord. There are no lyrics yet, so he fills the melody with “la la la”, and Taguchi’s foot taps to the beat.
“You can dance to it,” Ueda says. He doesn’t say that he wrote it for Taguchi back when all Taguchi did was dance in the background. It had only started off as a hook, but it had grown into a full song.
“I like it,” Taguchi says distantly. “Play it again?”
Ueda does, and this time Taguchi dances—carefully, avoiding the other papers on the ground.
“Rearrange it into a dance track,” Ueda said, taking the paper and shoving it back into Taguchi’s hands. He doesn’t think about how he wanted to capture the sharpness of movements and the lightness of footwork, how he wanted to capture heart and passion and soul in the lines of melody. “We can make it about love.”
KAT-TUN meets again tomorrow to discuss their impending single. Taguchi’s choreographed their dances for the past few singles, and they wonder if they should change things up. They discuss the image they want the new single to portray—it’s going to be used as a promotional song for Kame’s new drama, and so it’s a bit darker and involves less clothing than if Taguchi was the focal point. It’s a very long discussion and Ueda contributes absolutely nothing to the conversation, just nods in agreement every now and then.
“About the upcoming tour,” the producers begin.
Ueda sits a little straighter.
“We’ll meet with you all individually to discuss solo performances. Please bring in a proposal to your meeting. Ueda-kun, we’ll be meeting with you first.”
Ueda nods, of course he nods, what else can he do? He goes home and brings out the box of old compositions for the second time in a week, when normally he keeps the box in his closet and doesn’t bring it out except to throw in another song he’ll never perform.
Taguchi messages him: Are you going to sing one of your songs for your solo?
Ueda has a hundred songs lying before him in a neat stack. He picks the first one off the pile and puts it into his bag for tomorrow. He doesn’t even know what it sounds like—it’s old, and he wonders if maybe it sounds like hope.
The producers approve it. It’ll give the fans something to talk about, Ueda composing music. He doesn’t mention the song Taguchi’s going to be presenting to the producers tomorrow—they’ve agreed, the two of them, that perhaps it’s best if they don’t publicize Ueda writing music for Taguchi.
“Don’t you want people to know that it’s yours?”
Ueda bites back the urge to say he doesn’t want Kamenashi fangirls to boycott his music because he’s writing for Taguchi.
But Taguchi just glances at him and says (with the smile that Nakamaru always calls saintly and makes Koki grimace), “I’ll trust in Leader’s judgement.”
Ueda sniffs and says, “Who would want to lead you bunch?”
Ueda’s eating lunch in the cafeteria and ignoring the clamor of juniors whispering about Ueda Tatsuya, he’s in KAT-TUN, you know, what’s he doing in the cafeteria? The food tastes about as good as it usually tastes, which means it varies between halfway decent and utterly terrible. He’s entirely unsurprised to see Nakamaru come over with a bag from the gyoza place three streets away and sit down across from him.
Actually, he’s very surprised, because the last time he checked Nakamaru was upset at him for taking Taguchi’s side in the latest KAT-TUN disagreement.
Ueda tenses for a moment before he relaxes. They’re in public, and if there’s anything that KAT-TUN’s learned to be good at, it’s at keeping their fights within the group.
Nakamaru opens the container and slides it over to the center of the table in offering. “I heard you’re performing an original composition for your solo.”
Ueda rolls his eyes and doesn’t take the gyoza. They aren’t NEWS or Arashi; they don’t buy food for each other unless there’s something they want from each other. “Isn’t there anything known as privacy in this building?”
Nakamaru ignores him and says, “I also heard you’re writing Taguchi’s solo.”
Ueda very carefully puts down his chopsticks. “Thank you for the meal,” he says, even though he’s left the rice unfinished and his insides are reeling with guilt over it.
Nakamaru grabs his wrist before he can stand up. “Ueda,” he says very seriously, “What are you doing?”
“We’re in a cafeteria,” Ueda says, trying to go for tactful. He’s about five seconds from wrenching his wrist away from Nakamaru and causing a scandal for the group. He wonders if they’ll get the tabloids to spin it as Nakamaru accosting him or if he’ll get in trouble. Nakamaru has a reputation for being mild and well-mannered, and Ueda regularly goes to the gym to beat other people up—it doesn’t look good for him.
So instead, he stays seated and comments, “I don’t know where you heard that.”
“Kame told me. Ueda, I thought you weren’t taking sides.”
“I never said that.” Ueda resists the urge to point out that Nakamaru was the one who insisted that Ueda was on Taguchi’s side; he can’t get upset now that Ueda’s following in his predictions, can he? Apparently he can. “We’re a group, and there are no sides. I’d do the same for Kame if he asked.”
“What about me?”
Ueda looks up. Nakamaru’s face is serious, as always, but there’s a grim set to his mouth instead of his usual placidity.
“Would you write a song for me?”
He did, that’s the problem. He has at least five songs for Nakamaru tucked into his closet, just like he has a handful of songs for Koki and for Kame and half of the stack is for KAT-TUN. Only half of the songs he’s written are for himself, and one day he’ll take them down to the beach and burn them in a bonfire.
Instead, Ueda pulls his wrist away—Nakamaru lets go; thankfully the tabloids won’t be reporting about KAT-TUN’s Nakamaru-kun and Ueda-kun fighting in the cafeteria—and stands up. “Thank you for the meal,” he says ritualistically, and stalks away before Nakamaru can ask any more questions.
There’s a song in his closet—he was almost going to give it to Taguchi, but it’s lighter, more hopeful. He thinks that it’s the song that captures the expression on Taguchi’s face when he got his first lead role in a drama, the joy that effuses his face the first time he sings the first verse of a song, the way he moves when the camera is focused on him and only him.
He takes it out and plays it—if they were going to fit lyrics to it, they’d turn it away from Taguchi and into a girl (unnamed, with no defining characteristics beyond her sparkling eyes and faithfulness).
His phone beeps. Nakamaru says, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that in the cafeteria.”
A moment later, while he’s still trying to think of a way to respond to Nakamaru that doesn’t involve calling him an asshole for doing that in public, he gets another message, this time from Taguchi. “Want to work on lyrics tonight?”
“Sure,” he types back. “Come over.”
“I’ll bring beer.” Taguchi’s response is quick. “Are you really going to write a song for Kame?”
“Do you all have nothing better to do than to gossip?”
“Koki told me,” Taguchi replies, which doesn’t answer Ueda’s question at all. “He said that Nakamaru said that you’re writing songs for all of us.”
“Nakamaru’s a filthy liar,” he types furiously back. “I’m not writing songs for all of you.” Because he’s already done it, and he’s been doing it for years.
Taguchi’s next message is a line of emoticons, several of which are rainbows. Ueda sends a question mark back.
“I want to keep Uepi’s music all to myself,” he says. A second message follows a second later, “If you want to write for the others, I don’t mind.”
Ueda clenches his phone and throws it onto his sofa where it slides between the cushions. He brings his hands down flat over the keyboard, letting the discordant noise wash over him and wonders when Taguchi’s opinion mattered so much.
The next day he buys an extra water bottle before going into dance practice and throws it at Nakamaru’s face.
It clips him in the ear as he ducks and Nakamaru lets out a strangled yelp. “What was that for?”
Ueda shrugs and says, “Don’t do it in public next time.”
Nakamaru searches his face and, clearly satisfied, turns around to fetch the water bottle from where it’s rolled against the floor-to-ceiling length mirrors that span one of the walls. “I didn’t mean to grab you.”
Ueda kicks his gym bag into a corner and starts his stretches. “It’s fine. Forget about it.”
Nakamaru says, “I talked to Kame, and you don’t have to write for KAT-TUN if you don’t want to. It’s fine.”
“I said, forget about it.”
Nakamaru sits next to him to stretch as well. Ueda resists the urge to shift away. “I shouldn’t have accused you of taking sides.”
“Do you have a hearing disability?” Ueda snaps. “Forget it, it’s fine.” He does scoot away now, because Nakamaru’s suddenly leaned in close and is staring intently at his face. “What is wrong with you?”
He asks, tentatively, “Have you… ever regretted anything?”
“I regret starting this conversation with you.”
Nakamaru snorts a little. “Be serious,” he says. “I know we aren’t the best of friends, but—”
Ueda closes his eyes, thinks of Taguchi leaning over his shoulder yesterday to squint at Ueda’s music, the two of them working on lyrics for hours. Years ago, it had been Akanishi sitting on his couch, the two of them strumming their guitars, writing about butterflies.
“I want to live with no regrets,” Ueda says, and it sounds like something Kame would say to the cameras.
Nakamaru tactfully doesn’t press the issue. He scoots away and they stretch in silence until Koki bursts in, until Kame slouches in and Taguchi bounces in and the choreographer calls them to attention.
Ueda stands behind Taguchi and wonders:
When had Taguchi taken Akanishi’s place?
He finds his manager at the vending machines buying coffee.
“Ueda-kun,” his manager says. “You’re supposed to be in rehearsal.”
Ueda just jerks his chin at the vending machine. His manager steps aside and watches while Ueda purchases two bottles of Pocari Sweat. He gathers the bottles in silence, tucking one under his arm to twist the other open and guzzle it.
His manager doesn’t frown at him disapprovingly, just eyes him thoughtfully.
Ueda says, “Is there anything I should know?”
While they’re in rehearsal, their managers are meeting with producers and trying to get drama roles and push their respective charges towards the top of the dogpile that’s Johnnys boys fighting to the top of the entertainment industry. Ueda’s actually surprised to find his manager here by the stairwell, buying a cup of coffee.
His manager lifts the cup in a toast. “Nothing for you,” he says. “Taguchi-kun has an audition for a drama tomorrow though.”
Ueda frowns. Taguchi has auditions for dramas every other day. He wants to ask what this has to do with him—does everything Taguchi does have to do with him now?—but his manager just smiles and says, “It was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Ueda-kun.”
Ueda takes another gulp. “Are you trying to make me jealous?” He feels a little incredulous, but he can’t think of any other reason his manager is telling him Taguchi’s schedule.
“I didn’t expect you to refuse. Perhaps it’s something about you KAT-TUN boys.”
Ueda’s throat feels oppressively dry, and he takes another drink. “Who else refused?”
His manager smirks. “Wouldn’t you like to know, Ueda-kun.”
He thinks of 2006, before Akanishi got so fed up with having no work that he fled to LA. “Akanishi refused, didn’t he.”
His manager says, “He never got the offer.” And, gently, “For some of you, it’s a choice. For others, there is no choice.”
Ueda opens his mouth, closes it. If not Akanishi, then who?
“Regretting your decision, Ueda-kun? We could have been great.”
He screws the cap back onto his bottle of Pocari Sweat and bows. “Thank you for your concern.”
The latest interview comes out, and Ueda can’t help but clutch the magazine and laugh.
He wonders how Taguchi’s offer came about. Was it in a dance studio, late at night when Taguchi was practicing alone? Was it in broad daylight? Was it a phone call or—
Taguchi’s smile beams out from the glossy pages. “I promised KAT-TUN 200%.”
Of course it’s Taguchi.
That’s the only explanation, isn’t it. From nothing to everything. Your success is my success. Give me 200% effort and I can turn you into a star.
The next time they cross in the hallways, Taguchi says, “Uepi!” and Ueda wonders when Taguchi got the offer. He got his offer in 2005. Why did they wait until 2007, 2008 to offer it to Taguchi?
Ueda says, “Taguchi.”
He says, “Have time to work on lyrics tonight? I get off at 9.”
That’s early, for Taguchi. He’s busy all the time, with his dramas and stage-plays and solo projects. He’s as busy as Kame, and only a few years ago it was Kamenashi and Akanishi, not Kamenashi and Taguchi that were standing front and center.
“Sure,” he says. “Come over.”
Koki says, “So, you and Taguchi.”
Ueda says, “You and Kame.”
Koki, to his credit, doesn’t flinch. Just keeps standing in the middle of the conference room where all of KAT-TUN will be gathering in a few hours and stares at Ueda.
Ueda pulls out his headphones and tucks them into his ears, thumbing up the volume. Koki doesn’t say anything, just keeps staring. If Ueda closes his eyes, he can pretend that Koki isn’t there.
Four songs in, Koki taps him on the shoulder and pries out one of the ear buds. “Don’t you have anywhere to be?”
Ueda snatches the ear bud out of Koki’s grasp. “Don’t you?”
“I’m not Taguchi,” Koki says. “I don’t have a thousand drama positions lined up for me.”
In a burst of clarity, Ueda says, “Are you jealous?”
Koki scoffs. If Ueda is any more petty he’d point and shout, “You are, you are jealous, what are you, three?” But since he has dignity and self-respect, as well as respect for his coworkers, he holds his tongue and instead lets Koki say, “I’m not jealous of that idiot.”
“So what are you doing here?” Ueda says, instead.
Koki sits down across from him. “Well, I’ve got nothing better to do.”
Ueda snorts and slides the ear bud back in. “Me too.”
Taguchi says, that evening, “You have enough songs for a solo concert tour.”
Ueda very carefully does not rip the sheet music out of Taguchi’s hands. “Maybe another year.”
When the choreographer calls for a ten minute break—Kame’s gasping for breath, and Koki’s looking a little nauseous, but the rest of them are fine—Ueda slides out to buy a drink and Kame follows him.
Ueda ignores him for the entire walk down the hallway to the vending machine.
“Why are you helping Taguchi?” Kame says.
“Don’t you mean, ‘Why am I not helping you?’” Ueda digs through his pocket for spare change and then scowls when he realizes he’s left it in his bag.
Kame hands him a fistful of cash.
Ueda says, “An original song costs more than a bottle of Pocari Sweat.” He fishes the bottle out of the vending machine and presses it to his cheek while he tries to give the change back to Kame.
He doesn’t take it. “What has Taguchi got that I don’t?”
Ueda snorts. “Self-respect?” he suggests. “The decency to not corner me by the vending machine?”
Kame’s been glaring at him since they were teenagers, so Ueda doesn’t even blink when Kame tries his most fierce. “Why are you helping him?” Kame reiterates.
He shrugs. “He’s got a nice smile,” he offers. “It’s very beguiling.”
Kame doesn’t look convinced.
Ueda shrugs again, and turns around to go back to dance practice. Just because he isn’t winded doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to actually figure out the dance steps. Boxing doesn’t help with this particular brand of dance very well. Taguchi probably already has the entire choreography memorized. Taguchi probably helped choreograph the whole performance.
Kame says, softly and strangely vulnerable, “Uepomu.”
Ueda turns. This is a mistake.
It’s fascinating, watching the lines of Kame’s face rearrange. Kame’s face is a stranger every time Ueda sees it plastered over billboards, but this time he’s seeing the process, not the product. The fury just under his skin creeps deeper, until all that’s left is a desperately vulnerable expression. He looks ten years younger, if Ueda doesn’t stare into Kame’s eyes.
“Uepomu,” Kame says again, beguilingly. He steps forward. He looks like he’s just joined Johnny’s, like he’s lost and looking towards the only authority that KAT-TUN’s been given.
And then Ueda meets Kame’s eyes—Kame can’t hide the years of hard work and cold-hearted ambition. His face and expression are tentative, vulnerable, but his eyes are cold and angry.
Ueda says, “There are no sides. KAT-TUN is one group, together.”
Nakamaru and Koki are sitting together when Ueda walks back in. Taguchi’s on the other side of the room, with Ueda’s ear buds in his ears.
“Don’t take my stuff without asking,” Ueda says, sitting down next to him. He sets down the Pocari Sweat to pry his headphones out.
Taguchi grins back and twists open the bottle. “Uepi. You didn’t buy one for me.” He drinks at least a quarter of it in one go.
“Buy your own.” He doesn’t try to take it back though.
“I’ll bring snacks tonight.”
“Tonight?” Ueda raises an eyebrow. “When did we have plans for tonight?”
“Are you busy?”
He isn’t. He’s actually surprised that Taguchi has two easy nights in a row, but he supposes they’re still in negotiations for the upcoming stage-play and they haven’t started discussions for the fall season’s dramas. “I could be.”
Taguchi grins. Despite what he told Kame, it’s not very beguiling this close—his nose twitches unattractively as his eyes crinkle and his mouth gapes a little too wide. “I’ll come over at 9. I think we’ve almost got it anyways.”
They finish the first draft of the lyrics that night. Taguchi signs his name. Ueda signs a pseudonym.
Taguchi reverently folds a printout of the lyrics they’ve typed up and tucks it into his bag. “Are you sure you don’t want your name on this?”
Ueda’s always been the composer in the group. Koki had his raps, but Ueda has always been closest to the music. It’s been a long time since he’s tried to write anything for the group though; he’s taken all his musical ambitions and tucked them away in his closet.
This feels too much like 200% effort for his comfort.
“Are you going to choreograph the dance as well?”
Taguchi says, “Eh?”
Ueda says, “For your solo performance. Are you going to choreograph it as well?”
“I think so,” Taguchi says, pliant and agreeable. Ueda can understand why they approached Taguchi after Akanishi left. Akanishi had been stubborn and independent and surly, unlike Taguchi, who was good-natured and easy-going. Easily malleable. Of course they approached Taguchi; of course Taguchi accepted.
Ueda doesn’t say any of that, but just murmurs, “I’ve always liked your dancing.”
Taguchi says, “I’ve always liked your music.” And then, tentatively, “Maybe one day—”
Ueda shakes his head. There’s no space for Ueda Tatsuya in a world where Taguchi Junnosuke shines brighter than the other stars in the sky. “Don’t worry about it.”
Koki corners Ueda when he walks into the practice room. Nakamaru’s standing in the corner, pretending not to notice, but when Koki has Ueda in the center of the room, Nakamaru goes to lean against the door.
“Are we pretending to be juniors again?” Ueda asks. “Do you want me to spill whipped cream on the floor?” He glances down, deliberately, so Koki and Nakamaru can follow his gaze. “It’d be easier to clean on these floors.” They’re hardwood, once highly varnished but now scuffed with years of dance practice. It’s not tatami. It’d probably hurt more if he fell. He won’t fall though.
He’s been boxing since that fight; he’s been making sure that Akanishi would never hit him the way he hit Taguchi—hard, in the back of the knees, with intent to cripple.
He’s been singing these revised lyrics for so long that it doesn’t take any thought anymore.
Koki says, “We need you to tell Taguchi he can’t use your song.”
“It’s not my song,” Ueda says, automatically. It isn’t his name, it’s a throwaway name that he’ll use for any other songs he writes for Taguchi, and the fans will start suspecting that Ueda’s pseudonym is actually Taguchi’s. Taguchi’s manager suggested it, when Taguchi mentioned that Ueda was writing for him. Ueda didn’t point out then, and he doesn’t point out now, that if that’s what they wanted them to think, then Taguchi shouldn’t have signed his name to the lyrics.
Nakamaru stifles a snort.
Koki, on the other hand, snorts inelegantly. “You’re a shit liar,” he says. “And you say you aren’t on Taguchi’s side?”
“Did Kame set you guys to this?” Ueda retorts. He glares at Nakamaru.
Surprisingly, Nakamaru meets his gaze calmly. It’s Koki who flushes. Nakamaru says, lowly, “It’s not right.”
Koki nods, vigorously. “Taguchi’s got stage-plays and dramas and does choreography. Kame does stage-plays and dramas and writes lyrics. That’s how it works. It’s balanced that way. You can’t let Taguchi take more than Kame.”
“If he deserves it, then he gets it,” Ueda snaps, suddenly furious. “Don’t be so fucking selfish. You’ve had your beat-boxing and Koki’s had his rapping and Kame’s been in the front for years now. Now that Taguchi takes a little bit more, does more than just stand in the back and dance—”
“A little bit?” Nakamaru echoes. “Have you not heard our latest single? Watched our performances? Listened to our interviews?”
“This never bothered you when it was Akanishi!”
Koki mutters, “It’s different with Akanishi.”
“It’s not different,” Ueda snaps. “It’s no different if the person standing in front is named Taguchi or Akanishi or Kamenashi. It wouldn’t matter if it were me or Koki or you.” The only difference, Ueda thinks, is that Taguchi took the bargain where Akanishi didn’t get a choice.
Nakamaru says, “But Taguchi?” He shakes his head. “Why Taguchi?”
Because he’s kind, Ueda wants to say. Because when he smiles, you think you can also be a star, because it looks like he’s smiling straight at you. Because he’s not artifice; the producers haven’t managed to wring every drop of sincerity out of him so all that’s left is a husk of pleasantry.
Except he remembers Taguchi sliding over a cough drop to Kame, the sharpness in his voice, even as he beamed and chirped cheer.
Ueda says, “Who cares. Kame isn’t the boss of us. Stop listening to him.”
Nakamaru says, quietly, “You don’t get to tell any of us what to do anymore.”
Ueda laughs. “I never told you guys what to do to begin with.”
Ueda sometimes thinks that if he had been a better leader, he would have taken the bargain when his manager offered it to him.
Other times, he wishes that he had never been assigned the leadership position, because then maybe he would have taken the bargain. Put himself first above all others, think about what he wanted before what the group needed. Be the face of KAT-TUN.
He’s always wanted to stand out.
(Is that why he started writing music?)
They start promotions; as a group, they sit down with one of the many interviewers for the magazines. Taguchi says, “Uepi writes the best music! He showed me some songs he’s been writing.”
Ueda doesn’t kick Taguchi in the knee, but he wants to. The point is that the pseudonym that Ueda’s using gets associated with Taguchi. It’s supposed to make Taguchi humble and kind and unassuming. He isn’t supposed to start talking about Ueda.
Kame smiles pleasantly and, when prompted, agrees.
Ueda, in the back, seethes silently.
Taguchi says, “One day, I’d like to perform one of Uepi’s songs. All five of us.” He turns around to beam at Ueda.
Ueda bites the inside of his cheek and smiles. He doesn’t talk about how he’s dreamed of a stage of light and sound, of him standing in the center, with nobody to block him from the audience’s view.
The reporter doesn’t ask him for his opinion.
Taguchi says, “One day,” and smiles at him like the world’s within his grasp.
The producers ask Ueda to write a song for KAT-TUN. He’ll use the same pseudonym he used on Taguchi’s song.
Ueda goes into the closet and grabs the first song his fingers touch. It’s a fast-paced rock song that the producers would love. He’s always thought of how he would perform the bridge, how his voice would sound, how it was meant for one voice, not five.
He rips it in half, and then into quarters, until all that’s left is confetti.
Then he reaches for the next song.
When the interview comes out, they’ve cut any mention of Ueda composing.
Ueda doesn’t remember anything from that interview except Taguchi’s smile, the weight of expectation in his gaze.
He finds the pieces in the trash, lines them up and tapes them all together again.
Taguchi says, “I didn’t realize they’d ask you to write a song for KAT-TUN.”
“It’s fine,” Ueda says.
“Are you mad at me?”
Ueda laughs. “I’m on your side,” he says, and Nakamaru’s words feel heavy in his mouth. “How could I be mad at you?”
He says, “I’m glad you aren’t mad at me.” His eyes are bright, his face open and warm. “I’m glad you’re on my side.”
Ueda looks away first.
Kame tries, “You don’t have to write a song for KAT-TUN.”
Ueda has three songs folded in the front pocket of his bag. “Yes I do,” he corrects, and pushes past Kame to walk into the executive producer’s office.
“I feel like I’ve sold my soul.” Three pieces of it—paper on an executive producer’s desk for him to do what he wants with it.
“I’ve already sold my soul.” Taguchi grins at him from where he’s sprawled out on Ueda’s couch, squinting at a piece of sheet music.
Ueda hands him another beer.
“What’s wrong with that?” Taguchi adds. “Sell your soul, get what you paid for.” His voice is lazy; his eyes are sharp like Kame’s. “All of us did it; sold our lives away the minute we signed the contract. What’s wrong with getting payment back?”
Ueda closes his eyes. He can feel it. Bright lights warm against his skin. The cheers of a crowd. The empty space between him and the front of the stage. It’s an old familiar dream, and it feels simultaneously closer and further than it’s ever been in his whole life.
Taguchi’s voice interrupts. “What’s wrong with being selfish for a change?”
Ueda opens his eyes. The dream slips away. “I’m on your side,” he promises.
Taguchi meets his gaze, stares at him like he’s searching for a lie. His voice is quiet and earnest. “I’m doing this for KAT-TUN.”
Ueda stands at the crossroads and laughs. Taguchi’s always been a horrible liar. That’s what makes him so believable. “You don’t need to lie to me, Taguchi,” he says, “I’m on your side.”