virdant (virdant) wrote,
virdant
virdant

fic - Johnny's & Associates - Road Not Taken AU - Bypass (1/2)

Title: Bypass
Author: virdant
Length: 15,000 words approximately; one-shot
Rating: PG-13
Genre: AU, gen
Pairing: None
Summary: Part 3 of Road Not Taken AU
When Koki was young—as young as Juri is now, maybe even younger, it’s hard to remember—he does his best to stand out.

Stand out the right way, with a nice smile and a can-do attitude. He’s a thug, but he’s a thug who respects his elders and knows how to play Johnny’s game. He networked with the other boys, making his way up the ranks until he was there beside Yamashita Tomohisa, the golden boy of all Juniors.

Warning: References and depictions of violence and depression.
Notes: It is not critical to read To Walk the Higher Road or Waiting at the Crossroads before reading Bypass. Bypass was written with the intent that the reader has already read both; however, it should be fine as a stand-along. This was meant to rest as a secondary P.O.V. in Road Not Taken AU, and is best approached with the understanding of the underlying concept: Taguchi is one of the frontman of KAT-TUN.

Post-writing commentary and notes are on an annotated pdf here:
LJ Post
PDF only

For Rei, as usual. Sorry it took two years. Happy Birthday. Let's keep walking forward.


Bypass



One.



When Koki was young—as young as Juri is now, maybe even younger, it’s hard to remember—he does his best to stand out.

Stand out the right way, with a nice smile and a can-do attitude. He’s a thug, but he’s a thug who respects his elders and knows how to play Johnny’s game. He networked with the other boys, making his way up the ranks until he was there beside Yamashita Tomohisa, the golden boy of all Juniors.

He thought he was set, then. He had made it. All it took was hard work and elbow grease and a few too many American Hip Hop CDs.

So he got complacent. Just a little. Just: showing up a few minutes late to group practice—earlier than Yamapi, because he wasn’t that high up—or being snippy with his juniors instead of unfailingly courteous to his peers. It was only a bit complacent, but it was enough.

“I had such high hopes for you,” his manager at the time said, a little sadly. He shared this manager with the others in his group—BAD IMAGE GENERATION had their own manager, and Koki knew this meant that he had made it. His manager shook his head, disappointed. A month ago, two months ago, the action would have made Koki shrivel up and promise to do better.

“What high hopes?” Koki sneered. “Aren’t I flying past them already?”

A week later, Koki was assigned to Domoto Koichi’s new shiny back-dancing troupe. Even though it wasn’t phrased as a demotion, he knows what it is.

“I had such high hopes for you,” his manager had said.

He had never been good at keeping his mouth shut.


*


"You six," their general manager said, "are hand-picked by Domoto Koichi-san to be his personal back-dancing group."

Koki clenched his fists and seethed. They're called KAT-TUN, because they're a joke. A cartoon. Childish, foolish.

"Like victory," one of the other juniors said. "Gatsuun!"

Another junior--Akanishi, who had been hand-picked by Johnny during auditions, Koki remembered him—groaned. "Why am I stuck with him," he muttered.

The general manager smiled at Victory Junior. "Good," he says. "KAT-TUN is named after all of you. Kamenashi-kun—"

"Yes!" A thin mousy boy sprung to his feet, bowed, and said, "Kamenashi Kazuya, I hope we work well together."

"Yes, yes," the manager said indulgently. "Akanishi-kun."

Akanishi bowed and waved.

"Taguchi-kun."

Victory Junior bounded to his feet. "Taguchi Junnosuke." He beamed, twirling once to bow to all of them. Even though they had yet to hit their growth spurts, Taguchi was already long, lanky, and knew how to dance.

He probably had been hand-picked by Domoto Koichi. He probably had been languishing in the back of the pack and Domoto Koichi had noticed his long limbs and the way he was lighter on his feet than all the other juniors and picked him out. Koki hated him.

"Tanaka-kun."

He jerked to his feet, grudgingly, and grunted, "Tanaka Koki. And don't forget my name."

The manager frowned at him, but said, "Ueda-kun."

Ueda Tatsuya bowed, introduced himself, and sat down with a completely neutral expression.

"And Nakamaru-kun."

Nakamaru Yuichi stood up, bowed, and said, unfailingly polite, "Nakamaru Yuichi. I'm pleased to be working with all of you."

"Get to know each other," the manager said. "You'll be spending a lot of time with each other."

Koki clenched his fists, seethed, and hoped his eyes could bore holes into their manager's retreating back.

Not if I can help it.

*


Domoto Koichi had several performances lined up—a whole show worth of them—and they had three weeks to learn four episodes worth of performances. They were in practice the minute school ended, and they didn’t leave until late.

They had only been practicing for twenty minutes when Ueda tripped and bumped into Taguchi, who stumbled and fell into a gangly mess of limbs.

"Watch what you're doing," Koki snarled. "You can't do anything right, Taguchi."

"Don't be angry," Nakamaru said, hastily. "It wasn't his fault."

"So you're throwing the blame around, is that it?" Koki demanded. "Won't be satisfied until we're all ground down."

"You're the one who isn't satisfied," Ueda muttered.

Koki whirled around. "You can't even dance without tripping on your feet! What are you doing in Johnny's?"

"I want to be a star," Taguchi says quietly.

"You're doing so well at that right now." Ueda rolled his eyes.

Koki agreed, secretly. But instead he snarled, “You should just quit! You’re no good at all!”

Kamenashi lectured, “You shouldn’t make mistakes.” He brushed off his pants, as if he had been the one to fall, and they were practicing on dirt instead of heavily varnished and polished wooden floors.

Akanishi drawled, “It’s not that hard.”

Taguchi looked around at them. “Then we should keep practicing,” he said, smiling tentatively.

“Forget it!” Koki whirled on the balls of his feet—neatly, sharply, this is how proper Juniors, ones that are so close to debuting before they have it snatched out of their grasp—and stalked towards the door. “You’re all useless,” he shouted, spinning around with one hand on the handle. “Fuck you!”

He made sure to slam the door on the way out.

Fuck you. He tasted the English in his mouth, thick and heady, like the alcohol they sometimes tried sips of after performances that nobody was supposed to share but everybody did. Fuck. He liked the sound of that word, the sharpness of it.

He lingered at the doorway, wondering if anybody would come out, and plead for him to come back. But he only heard the sound of music starting again, Kamenashi going: “One, and two, and three, and four, and—”

*


The next day, Taguchi cornered him by the vending machines.

“Tanaka-kun, I wanted to apologize,” Taguchi said politely. “I don’t understand why you’re so upset, but I’m sorry.”

The pity tasted acrid in his throat. “I don’t need your pity,” he snapped, reaching forward to push Taguchi away.

Taguchi’s legs were shoulder-width apart, a solid foundation, and he didn’t move out of the way. “It’s not pity, Tanaka-kun. I want KAT-TUN to work.”

“How can it work when you’re a piece of shit?” he snapped. “All of you: bringing me down.” He pushed Taguchi again.

Taguchi stepped away. Koki stormed away, or tried to. He froze when Taguchi said, quietly, “If you’re so special, why is your name second?”

“Are you dumb?” Koki whirled around. “Akanishi’s name is second.”

“The two of us,” Taguchi said. His mouth was pursed closed, unlike practice when it was always stretched wide in a grin, even if they were all exhausted. “Why is your name second?”

“Who knows; I’m not management,” Koki snapped. He turned around, and stalked away.

His nails dug into the soft flesh of his palm. Why was Taguchi’s name before his?

*


They had a performance; KAT-TUN was taped up on the door to their green room and Koki stared at it for a long time.

People—staff—scurried about, preparing for the recording. There were more than enough people to see him, to pause and tell him to stop.

He reached up and tore the second T away.

If they wanted somebody so badly, then they could have Taguchi.



Two.



He painted his nails now—black, usually. He worked meticulously, painting one coat, two coats, three coats, and then top coat in smooth strokes the same way he pulled on costume outfits only to strip them off to the cheers of the crowd.

He was painting his nails when he got the news—no warning for KAT-TUN, not when it was Akanishi delivering the news.

“LA?” he demanded, storming into the meeting room.

Taguchi looked up at him from where he was playing on his phone, lounging on the couch without a care on the world. The room was otherwise empty.

“Where are the others?”

“Still coming.” Taguchi shrugged. “Except for Jin-kun. He’s on a plane to LA.” Koki snarled and made to swipe at him. Taguchi ducked and said, “It’s not me you want to hit, Koki.”

Koki glared, but didn’t lift his leg to kick at Taguchi knee.

Instead, he lifted Taguchi’s legs to sit down. Taguchi let his legs hover for a moment before resting his legs in Koki’s lap in tacit forgiveness. They sat in uncharacteristic silence while they waited.

Kamenashi filed in last, clutching authority around him desperately. “We’ll continue as five,” he said to their manager in the corner. “This doesn’t change anything.”

“This changes everything,” Ueda corrected. He had been their leader for a brief period, and Koki still remembered desperate-to-please Kamenashi going “Right, Leader?” as if that would change the fact it was Kamenashi giving orders and suggestions and not Ueda.

Koki could see, now, why management had chosen Ueda for their leader. Right now, Ueda looked over them, his eyes sharp and thoughtful.

Kamenashi didn’t say anything, just sat down in a chair. They turned, as one, to their manager.

He looked back at them, smiled, and said: “We must all make changes. I’m glad you boys are handling this maturely, but we will have to come up with a press statement, and that means that you have to decide.”

“Decide what?” Nakamaru asked.

Their manager said, “Decide what to do with Akanishi-kun.”

When Koki arrived home, his nails were ragged, indents scored into the black lacquer from where they had run against sharp edges while still damp. A bottle lay on its side, empty. It had dried all over his floor in a thick strip, gleaming wetly in the light.

He clenched his fist, running a thumb along the ragged polish on his finger. Damn that Akanishi.

*


Koki repainted his nails, stripping off the ragged remains of yesterday to add three fresh coats. He showed up early to the press conference, and the makeup artists clucked over the dark shadows under his eyes.

“You too?” Taguchi asked from where he was sitting in a chair, already.

“What about me?” Koki grumbled.

“Didn’t sleep well?” He jerked his chin towards the shadows that the make-up artists were clucking over.

“Don’t see how that matters to you.”

Taguchi turned away, back to the mirror, but his eyes were still on Koki, finding it in the reflection of the mirror. “We’re in this together, aren’t we?

Koki stared back: Taguchi’s eyes, wide, honest, trusting. He could stamp out all hope with one word. Instead he closed his eyes so the makeup artist could brush foundation over his eyelids.

“Sure, Taguchi.”

Taguchi glanced at him, and Koki pretended not to notice.

The others trudged in, preparing for the press conference. Koki closed his eyes and ran his index finger over the smooth veneer on his thumbnail.

When they filed out to tell the reporters that Akanishi’s gone to LA to study English, they’ll continue as five, please keep supporting us, he kept his finger on his thumbnail, running it smoothly back and forth.

Kamenashi bowed. “Please keep supporting us,”

The rest of them bowed with him, in unison. Clean, neat, polished—like the varnish on his fingers.

*


The next few weeks were busy with schedules being reshuffled. They had been due for an album soon, but with Akanishi leaving, all the channels were talking about KAT-TUN, and they needed to strike while the iron was hot.

“We don’t have time for you to learn new songs,” their manager said, eying them critically. “Instead, we’ll record your old songs from when you were juniors and work with those.”

Kamenashi straightened his back. “Who will sing Akanishi-kun’s parts?”

Koki couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping. When had Kamenashi called Akanishi “Akanishi-kun”? Kamenashi was ruthless, but he couldn’t be crazy enough to cut Akanishi so thoroughly from his life that he not only stopped referring to him as Jin, but also went back to honorifics.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ueda’s eyes narrow, briefly, and then resume their customary blankness. Nakamaru was staring, miserably, at his hands. Taguchi’s wide grin had faltered, briefly, but it was spreading again, slowly.

Their manager looked at them, and said, firmly, “We’ll decide that as we progress.” He said, “I trust all of you will brush up on your singing, now that Akanishi-kun is no longer here to cover for your mistakes.”

Kamenashi’s smile faltered for a second. “Yes,” he said, his chin jutting out. “We’ll work hard.”

“We’ll do our best,” Ueda muttered, sullenly. Nakamaru bobbed his head in agreement. Koki forced his chin to drop in a semblance of a bow.

Taguchi, he saw, was no longer smiling as he bowed.

*


Taguchi was at practice thirty minutes early, the next week, stretching carefully before each dance practice, favoring his leg.

Koki eyed the long gangly leg—not so gangly now, now that they were in their twenties. Taguchi had grown up, just like all of them.

“Still hurts?” he demanded.

Taguchi looked up, startled. “Koki,” he said. That was another thing that had changed. Taguchi had gotten familiar. Their manager had pulled them aside, but Koki wasn’t blind, and he knew that the stern glare was directed to him, more. Akanishi up and leaving meant they had to sell 5-man KAT-TUN even more vigorously, and he had pulled Koki aside and told him that they couldn’t be distant with each other off camera if they wanted to sell it on camera. So, Taguchi had become Junno, and Tanaka had become Koki.

“Your leg,” Koki said. He couldn’t make himself say Junno, not right now. “It still hurts? I thought you got that fixed.”

He looked down, at his leg. “Ah, well,” he murmured, “you know how these things work. Injuries never completely heal.”

Taguchi was careful about it too. He showed up ten minutes early to each practice and stretched, carefully. He warmed up before doing any dancing. He ensured it would never be injured again.

This was borderline paranoia.

Koki snorted, and yanked his jacket over his head. “Better take good care of that leg, not that Akanishi’s gone.”

“Jin,” Taguchi said, softly. “He’s still our friend.”

“Friends don’t move to America without letting us know.”

Taguchi’s eyes were wide and empty. Koki hadn’t realized how empty they were, until now. He looked away, and Koki found himself staring down at his jacket, wrinkles forming from his tightly clenched fists.

“I’m sorry,” Taguchi finally said. “I forgot that you were close.”

Koki snorted and turned away. There was a chip in his nail polish. He picked at it until it peeled away in a clean strip.

*


When they started doling out the lines, Koki didn’t get many extra new parts, and neither did Kamenashi, even though Kamenashi pouted and did his best Kimura Takuya smile.

He wasn’t that good at Kimura Takuya. Kimura-senpai was actually handsome, and Kamenashi’s face still looked unfortunately like a horse. It might have changed in the future; Kamenashi was just edging out of puberty, unlike the rest of them, and the hollows of his cheeks are growing more and more pronounced with each day that passed by without news from Akanishi.

No. Kamenashi pouted and smiled and flirted with the female managers and played up his obedient front man image for the male producers, but in the end, the producers called Nakamaru and Ueda and Taguchi over and had them split most of Akanishi’s parts.

“What about Koki?” Taguchi asked, glancing over at where Koki and Kamenashi were still sitting at the plastic table. Koki stared at the rap written on the paper before him. “He can also sing some of Jin’s parts.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Koki saw Ueda mouth: Jin. Ueda’s mouth was twisted with scorn.

“Tanaka-kun will be busy with his rapping.”

“I think he can do it,” Taguchi said firmly.

The producer looked at him. “Tanaka-kun, not going to say anything?”

What was Taguchi’s game? Koki wondered. What did he get out of this? Was he showing that he was a team player? Trying to emphasize that he was willing to make peace and be friends? Who was he trying to impress?

“Tanaka-kun?”

“I can do it.” Koki said, pushing back his chair as quietly as possible. He couldn’t stop himself from jabbing a sharp elbow into Taguchi’s side as he walked up, but Taguchi didn’t even flinch, just grinned at him as if he hadn’t felt it. “What do you want me to do?”

Their manager hummed, thoughtfully. The producer frowned at him. Koki tilted his chin up and tried to look pleasant.

Kamenashi jerked to his feet, and the chair skittered backwards loudly, echoing in the small room. “Please let me help share this burden.”

Kamenashi’s manager, in the gaggle at the back of the room, smirked.

Kamenashi bowed. “It’s my fault that Akanishi-kun left. If I had been a stronger singer, he wouldn’t have felt so pressured to improve. I’ll do my best, from now on.”

Ueda snorted. Nakamaru’s mouth twitched, a bit, as if he wasn’t sure whether or not to grimace or laugh. Taguchi just stared, his mouth lax and placid, his eyes narrowed into a smile. Koki turned away, unable to look at the Kimura Takuya smile.

The producer said, “Kamenashi-kun, it’s not your fault at all. You aren’t responsible for Akanishi-kun’s irresponsibility. If only all of KAT-TUN could be more like you.”

“Oi,” Koki muttered. Taguchi nudged him with an elbow.

“We’ll do our best!” Kamenashi exclaimed. He turned to them, and even though Kamenashi had learned how to contort his muscles into a facsimile of joy, his eyes were even more empty than Taguchi’s, that day in the practice room.

“Yeah,” Ueda muttered, a corner of his mouth lifting in amusement. “Sure. What Kamenashi said.”

Taguchi bowed. “Please treat us well.”

*


The album topped the Oricon charts.

Their manager called a meeting.

“KAT-TUN-san,” he said. “You will be going to America.”


Three.



“Should we really be deciding this without Jin?” Taguchi demanded, fingers tapping angrily on the table. “It’s not—”

“He wants to come back,” Kamenashi said, standing at the head of the narrow table. He threw his shoulders back, as if to make himself look bigger, but despite going to the gym, Kamenashi still looked scrawny and young. “We get to decide if we want him back.”

Koki snorted. The past few months, Kamenashi had done a good job of pretending that KAT-TUN was a group, but his ego had only grown larger with each empty platitude.

“What’s there to decide?” Taguchi said matter-of-factly. “Why wouldn’t we?”

Nakamaru grimaced. Ueda rolled his eyes, but quickly affected boredom when Taguchi glanced at him. Koki stared at his nails—black, again, and he had painted an extra coat when he heard that Kamenashi had called a meeting.

“You want him back?” Kamenashi demanded.

“He’s part of us, isn’t he?”

Koki kicked at the table, and the legs rattled. “Like hell,” he snapped. “Did you not forget how he left us?” Did Taguchi forget, in these months of playing happy-go-lucky friends? “He didn’t even tell us, just disappeared, and his manager had to let us know that he’s now in LA studying English!” He shoved his chair back, and it crashed against the floor.

“Koki,” Nakamaru began.

He wasn’t going to hurt Taguchi. He might be angry, but he wasn’t—he wasn’t Akanishi, who had smashed his foot into Taguchi’s knee when they were children. He wouldn’t do that to Taguchi, he wouldn’t aim at the knee.

Taguchi said, softly, “I didn’t realize we were still mad at him. It’s been six months.”

Koki felt his fingers curl tightly enough for the neatly manicured nails to bite into his palms. His forearms ached with the effort. Thinking of Akanishi Jin ditching them for LA rankled, still, six months after he had left.

Finally, Ueda said, “You’re not?” He sounded surprised. They had gotten used to being upset at Akanishi. They had taken his departure and turned it into momentum to wake up and practice. Finding out that Taguchi wasn’t upset—

“Well, he wants to come back now, right?” Taguchi shrugged a bit, his bangs lank and unstyled, covering his eyes. “And we…” His mouth cringed, a little, as if in guilt.

“Say it,” Koki snapped. He wanted to hear what they needed. They didn’t need Akanishi anymore; hadn’t this year proved it? He slammed a palm on the table, finding perverse pleasure in seeing Kame flinch away, in Nakamaru’s sharp inhale, in Ueda’s rapid blinking. “Say it, Taguchi!”

Taguchi hadn’t flinched. He stared back, his eyes wide and his mouth just slightly slack. “Say what?”

Ueda’s mouth curved into a wicked smirk. “Yes, Koki,” he said. “Say what?”

Koki glared back, before turning to Taguchi.

“Where will we be then?” Taguchi murmured.

Koki rolled his eyes, slapping the table again. Always following some other train of thought. Nakamaru muttered, “Taguchi really can’t read the atmosphere, can he?”

Taguchi’s laugh was loud, unnervingly so. Kamenashi’s mouth was disquietingly neutral compared to Taguchi’s sharp grin. Taguchi said, “We need Jin’s voice.”

*


Ueda’s arms were all wiry muscle, and Koki could feel it as Ueda hauled him back, each digit of Ueda’s fingers digging into his forearm, snapping at him to stop shouting.

Koki could hear his voice, as if distantly, shouting “We don’t want him back, you bastard, we don’t need him, we don’t need that fucker; he ran off and ditched us and—”

“Stop it!” Nakamaru shouted, his voice loud and deep. “Don’t fight, Koki.”

Taguchi was lying on the ground; he had tripped on his chair when Koki had lunged for him. His hands clenched tightly into fists, and the past six months had taught Koki to recognize the grimace of pain that tightened the corners of his mouth.

Koki scowled, furiously, leaning back slightly.

“I’ll tell Koichi,” Taguchi said softly, distantly.

Koki stared at him. Had Taguchi hit his head?

“What?” Kamenashi said.

“I’ll tell Koichi,” Taguchi repeated, distantly. “Why did you say that?” he asked Kamenashi.

“I didn’t say anything!” Kamenashi protested. “What are you on about?”

Nakamaru leaned forward, his hand stopping before he could touch Taguchi. “Are you alright—” he said, slowly, “Junno?”

Taguchi said, in that same lost, distant voice: “Will we be alright, without Jin?”

*


The next day, Koki bought an extra bottle of Gatorade from the vending machine on his way to the meeting room. The meeting room that they had claimed for their own was empty, as usual, except for Taguchi sitting against the wall, carefully stretching out his leg.

He rolled the bottle in his palm. The plastic was damp with condensation; Koki wiped it off with the edge of his loose jersey before tossing it into Taguchi’s lap.

Taguchi looked up.

“What did you mean, with that ‘I’ll tell Koichi’ nonsense?” He sat down on the scratchy meeting room carpet next to Taguchi, twisting open his bottle and taking a sip.

Taguchi stared down at the bottle. “Huh?” he said.

“Yesterday,” Koki clarified. “You asked Kame why he said he’d tell Koichi. Tell Koichi what? We haven’t worked with him since we were juniors.” And they weren’t, not anymore. They had an album that had topped the charts with Akanishi, and another one that had topped the charts without him.

Taguchi rolled the bottle back and forth. He hadn’t opened it yet, just rolled it between his palms and contemplated it, as if a bottle of sports drink held all of the answers to Koki’s questions. “I was just thinking of our fight. The one with Jin.”

KAT-TUN fought, all of the time, but there was only one fight. They all remembered what happened in it, or at least Koki did, because it still rankled how Akanishi had come out clean and smelling of roses, while the rest of them had been tossed to the dogs.

Taguchi didn’t elaborate, so Koki twisted open his bottle of Gatorade and took another long drag. It tasted like salt.

“What about the fight?” he finally asked.

“Do you remember what Kame did?”

Akanishi had been joking around, chatting excitedly, waving a fork around, and then whipped cream had landed on the tatami. “Clean that up,” he had demanded, because Akanishi had realized that he was the front man, but hadn’t quite realized that the rest of KAT-TUN didn’t care about that. He had picked Ueda, even though Ueda was the leader, had still been the leader, then, and demanded that Ueda clean his mess.

Ueda had stared back, eyes flat. “Make Kamenashi-kun do it, if you don’t want to clean up your own messes.”

Nakamaru had been quiet. Nakamaru was always quiet, always hesitant to get into fights.

Kame had bristled, upset that Ueda would make him clean up Jin’s mess? Upset about Jin?

Where had Taguchi been?

“I was in the toilet when it started,” Taguchi said, softly. “I don’t remember who started it.”

Akanishi had gotten angry that Ueda wasn’t going to listen to him, but he hadn’t wanted to get involved with Koki or Nakamaru. Instead he stormed out of the room—Koki had, at that time, thought that that would be the end of the mess. Akanishi would get some towels, wipe up the mess, and they would make their apologies and it would be over.

“Clean up the mess, Stupid Taguchi!” Akanishi had shouted, dragging Taguchi in by the arm. “Don’t just run out and hide after you’ve made a mistake. Shouldn’t you know better than that?”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about!” Taguchi had been protesting, just as loudly.

“Don’t fight!” Nakamaru had finally exclaimed.

“Really, Akanishi?” Koki had drawled. “You’re going to drag stupid Taguchi into this?”

“Shut up!” Akanishi had shouted. “You want to clean up the mess instead?”

Koki had held his hands up. “Just don’t get caught.”

Nakamaru had stared at him, aghast. “Tanaka-kun!” He stormed forward, into Koki’s personal bubble. “You—help me!”

They had all started brawling then. Koki shoved Nakamaru back. Akanishi shoved Taguchi into the ground. Ueda had gone to try to interfere, and Kamenashi had pulled Ueda back, so Ueda had punched Kamenashi in the cheek.

And then what had happened?

“Jin was so mad,” Taguchi was saying, in that lost distant voice. He continued to roll the bottle of yellow Gatorade in his hands, back and forth and back and forth. “And he kicked me in the knee.”

Akanishi’s foot lashed out, connecting with Taguchi’s knee. Taguchi crumpled further, and Nakamaru turned away from Koki to try to pull Akanishi away, shouting, “Don’t fight, don’t fight!”

Kamenashi clenched his hand against his cheek. “I’ll tell Koichi!” He shrieked at Ueda. “I’ll tell, I’ll tell!”

“Go on then,” Ueda spat back. “Tell Koichi-san. I’m sure he’d love to hear about how you and Akanishi can’t clean up your own messes.”

Kamenashi glared. “He’ll never stand for you punching me in the face.”

Ueda sneered back. “I think you’ll find that Koichi-san doesn’t care about you as much as you think he does.”

Taguchi said softly, “Koki-kun?”

Koki jerked from the reverie. Taguchi had stopped rolling the bottle around in his hands, and had set it with his bag. “Taguchi,” he said, finally. “Why did you remember this fight?”

Taguchi stared at Koki, mouth slightly parted in surprise. “Why?”

“The whipped cream fight,” Koki said. He stood up, wiping a hand on his sweatpants. “Why would you remember it yesterday?” He took a deep breath. “Do you really think I would kick you in the knee the way Akanishi did?” His hands clenched on the bottle. “Do you really think—”

Taguchi stared back.

“Taguchi—”

He said, “I don’t believe you would ever hurt me the way Jin did.”

Koki sighed. “Just so we’re clear,” he muttered. He grabbed his bag and walked to the other side of the room. “And you should stop calling him that. We’re meeting to kick him out today.”

“Why don’t you call me Junno?”

Koki turned around.

Taguchi had stood up, his bag slung on one shoulder, holding the bottle with his other hand. “I thought we had agreed to use first names in KAT-TUN.”

Koki didn’t say anything for a long time. Finally, he turned away. “When I call you Junno without anybody to see us, it won’t be because of some manager telling us what to do.”

Taguchi said, “I see. Thank you, Tanaka-kun.”

He said, “You can keep calling me Koki, if you want.”

Taguchi said, “I think you prefer Tanaka-kun.”

He didn’t, but he nodded, tightly, all the same.

*


The room was unnaturally silent.

KAT-TUN, as a band, had never been particularly quiet. They were loud and violent and their image had never been updated since that first fight; a wide-eyed tabloid reporter had caught them shouting and now they were stuck with it. Oh, they had their moments, but the silence was sparse—brief pockets interspersed between shouting matches and debates. KAT-TUN was silent in the brief moments before discussions and after rehearsals, before performances and after interviews.

They were quiet now. Koki meticulously studied his nails; the varnish was chipping at the tips, but otherwise it was neat and smooth. It kept him from having to look into Akanishi’s face.

Their manager cleared his throat, realizing that nobody was going to talk. “As a group,” he began.

Akanishi snorted.

Their manager coughed, loudly. “As a group, KAT-TUN has decided to continue as five members.”

Akanishi sneered, “I wasn’t part of this decision.”

Koki looked up; Akanishi was sneering at Kamenashi and Kamenashi was staring back with Kimura Takuya’s wide, doleful expression sloppily cut-and-paste onto his face.

Ueda stared out a window into the American summer. Nakamaru’s mouth twisted towards into an uncomfortable grimace. Taguchi’s eyes were wide, his mouth firmly pressed shut.

Their manager said, “KAT-TUN has made their decision.”

Koki closed his eyes so he didn’t have to see Akanishi’s face. It let him avoid seeing the triumph in Kamenashi’s upturned chin, Kimura Takuya’s smile incongruent on Kamenashi’s long, thin face.

*


Koki said, “Surprised you didn’t say anything yesterday.”

Taguchi looked up.

Taguchi had been sitting at the table, a to-go cup of coffee in his hands. Koki had meant to arrive early, before anybody else, so he could catch his manager and ask him what his role would be in five-man KAT-TUN. With Akanishi gone, he had a chance to properly shine.

He had arrived early, but Taguchi was earlier.

Taguchi said, “I didn’t know what to say.”

Koki sat down across from Taguchi. “You had a lot to say at the meeting without Akanishi.”

“I didn’t know what to say to Akanishi.” The light was stark against Taguchi’s clean face. They hadn’t been wearing makeup recently as they hadn’t been performing. Since their arrival in the US, it had been one long meeting after another. The harsh light made him look tired, pallid.

“Maybe that you didn’t want him to leave.”

“But I did,” Taguchi leaned forward, conspiratorially. Koki couldn’t help leaning forward to meet him halfway. “I wanted him to leave. We all did.”

He leaned back and snorted. “I didn’t think you bought into that nonsense that our managers say.”

Taguchi laughed, loud and raucous.

Koki took a deep breath. “Be serious, Taguchi.”

“I can’t read the atmosphere, remember?” Taguchi grinned back. When Koki’s deadpan expression didn’t change, Taguchi’s grin slowly faded. “What do you want me to say, Tanaka-kun?”

The paint was peeling in the corner of the window sill.

Koki said, “You were so convinced we need that idiot.”

“His voice.”

He laughed, sharply. “What does Akanishi have that we can’t do?” The windowsill was painted white, and it gleamed in the light. If it weren’t for the fact it was peeling, Koki would have thought it was still wet.

“You don’t actually believe that.” Taguchi said. “You know that Akanishi’s voice—”

“What does it matter if he’s got a better voice!” Koki jerked his eyes away from the wetly peeling paint. “It’s not like that even matters. All that matters is if you’ve got a pretty face.” And a can-do attitude. He had scrubbed that thoroughly out of his image years ago.

Taguchi’s eyes flickered behind him.

“Tanaka-kun,” his manager said from the doorway. “I see that you’re upset over Akanishi-kun’s departure.”

“Like hell,” he sneered on instinct.

His manager’s eyebrows furrowed and his mouth pulled tight. “Tanaka-kun,” he said, mildly. He glanced at Taguchi. “Why can’t you be more like Taguchi-kun?”

Taguchi laughed sheepishly.

“If only all of KAT-TUN were as well behaved as you and Kamenashi-kun, Taguchi-kun.” His manager smiled at Taguchi before frowning at Koki. “We’ll be rehabilitating your image, Tanaka-kun.”

Koki snorted, but bit back the snide response. “Fine,” he muttered.

“Coming early is a start,” his manager continued. “But your attitude is the real issue.”

“Should I leave?” Taguchi asked. “I was waiting for my manager, but if you would want to use the meeting room…”

“See! Be more like Taguchi-kun. Polite. Hardworking. All of the other groups are polite and well-mannered. It’s only you, leading KAT-TUN astray, that led to Akanishi-kun leaving.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with that bastard leaving!” Koki lurched to his feet. “It’s so easy for you to blame me. It’s so easy for you to say, ‘Ah, it’s that Tanaka-kun’s fault,’ but Akanishi was a mess on his own and you know it!”

Taguchi flinched.

It was minute, just a slight twitch of his body. Underneath the table, Taguchi’s leg tucked closer into his body.

Koki sat back down again.

His manager looked at him. “Nobody will say that you caused Akanishi to leave if you sit put and smile.”

Koki bared his teeth.

“Don’t think,” he said, “that KAT-TUN can’t be a four-member group.”

Taguchi murmured, quietly, “Koki is more valuable than Jin was.”

His manager looked at him.

“I don’t think I could rap Real Face,” he said, laughing ruefully. “But I could sing Jin’s parts.”

Koki scowled. He didn’t need Taguchi to defend him. “Sure,” he said, crossing his arms and focusing back on the peeling paint in the corner of the windowsill.

“You’re a good kid, Taguchi-kun.” Koki’s manager eyed him speculatively. “You could learn from him, Tanaka-kun.”

“Fine.”

His manager nodded.

*


“You didn’t have to do that,” Koki said, eying the vending machine. It was full of carbonated sugar in brightly colored cans. “He’s always like that.”

“It’s true,” Taguchi said from behind him. “I wouldn’t be able to rap Real Face.”

“I thought you said that we needed Jin’s voice.” Koki mocked. He turned around, leaning against the vending machine. It creaked, but otherwise remained still.

Taguchi grinned. “I could sound like Jin, don’t you think?” He tossed his hair and smirked in a barely passible imitation of Akanishi.

Koki snorted. “Don’t stop practicing your puns.”

He laughed.

“Hey,” Koki said. “Thanks.”

Taguchi stopped laughing, looking at Koki for a long time. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.”

Koki brushed past, knocking gently against Taguchi’s shoulder. “See you at the next meeting. We’ve got albums and concerts to plan.”

“Yeah,” Taguchi said.

*


Ueda glanced at him, sharply. “Ready to make up for Akanishi?”

Koki snorted. “Everybody’s asking that.” He took a deep breath. He couldn’t get enough of the stale air of the meeting rooms in the Johnny’s building. America had been nice, but his blood called for Japanese soil.

“You can’t only rap anymore,” Kamenashi said, worrying his lower lip for a second, before he realized what he was doing and sat up straight, putting his hands primly in his lap.

“Sure,” Koki said. “I sang before I started rapping, I know how to do it.”

Taguchi was staring out the window. He looked over, and briefly smiled.

Nakamaru said, “Will I still be beat-boxing?”

“A lot of things will have to change,” Kame said, lifting his chin up. “Now that Akanishi is gone for good—”

“For good?” Ueda muttered under his breath.

Kamenashi scowled, before his Kimura Takuya face slid back on again. “I think we all need to divide up Akanishi’s lines of our old songs. I’m happy to sing more. Did you hear from Johnny yet? He says that I’m to be the K and the A of KAT-TUN. I only want KAT-TUN to be the very best it can be. It’ll be hard for all of us to add more lines, and we might have to change the choreography, but I am more than happy—”

“Sure.” Ueda nodded, rolling his eyes. Koki was tempted to join him, but he suspected the minute he rolled his eyes Taguchi would give him a disapproving look in lieu of his manager.

None of their managers were in the room—it was a KAT-TUN-only meeting, and one of them would have to join their managers and the producers with a coherent plan. They had been meeting for a week already, and every conversation had been derailed by Kamenashi’s incessant reminders that Akanishi Jin was gone.

Ueda heaved a sigh. “It’s going to be hard. We all have to put in more effort. Now can we get back to the real issue? We have an album to plan and a concert tour—”

Kamenashi stood up, “As I was saying, since I am the K and the A of KAT-TUN now—”

“We know that we have to put in more work, but that’s not the issue.”

“Uepomu, just let me—”

“We don’t need another lecture from you!”

“Oh let him finish,” Koki drawled. “We’ll be at this all month otherwise.” He ignored Kamenashi’s grateful expression and Ueda’s scowl.

After the meeting, Kamenashi caught up to Koki, his eyes bright and alive. “Koki.”

“Kame.”

“It’s a lot of pressure on us,” Kamenashi confided. “Akanishi leaving is hard on all of us, even me. Did you know that Johnny’s saying that I have to be K and A?”

Koki laughed. “Course I do,” he said.

Kamenashi laughed back, light and young. “It’s exciting, but I’ll do my best.”

“Give KAT-TUN 100%?”

“More.” Kamenashi grinned, wide and happy and young. Koki was suddenly reminded that Kame was the youngest of them. “110%. 200%.”

“Good for you.”

“What about you, Koki?”

Koki blinked. “What about me?”

“How much are you going to give KAT-TUN?”

Koki laughed. “Oh, you know. As much as you give.”

Kamenashi pulled away, his smile fixed. “200%?”

“Sure.”

His eyes shuttered. He pulled away more, taking a step back, and then breathing in deeply. “Don’t tell, alright?”

*


Koki lounged on the ratty couch, eyeing the recording booth speculatively. Kamenashi was listening to the producer’s instructions over the speakers. He regretted taking his manager’s advice of showing up early. Who would have guessed that perfect Kamenashi Kazuya’s recording session would run late?

The door opened quietly. Koki looked over to see Nakamaru, holding a Styrofoam cup in a hand, a bag slung over the same shoulder. “Kame still recording?”

“I must have come really early if I’m here before you.”

Nakamaru shrugged, and Koki shoved over so Nakamaru could also sit on the sagging couch. They listened quietly as Kamenashi sang his lines again, his voice thin and reedy through the speakers in the room.

Nakamaru took a sip of his drink. It smelled heavily of lemon. “Is Kame’s voice going out?”

“He’s just tired,” Koki said.

“He doesn’t hit the high notes anymore.”

“We can’t all be Akanishi Jin,” Koki said. “I thought you weren’t talking to me.”

Nakamaru grimaced. “You noticed?”

“That you got too busy for me?”

“You seemed cozy with Junno. I didn’t see the need to interfere.”

Koki snorted. “I thought you of all people would be glad that I’m getting along with Taguchi.”

Nakamaru shrugged.

The speaker crackled a little. “Thank you, Kamenashi-kun. Taguchi-kun, we’re ready for you.”

“Thank you for your hard work,” Kamenashi said, bright and enthused. He stepped out of the recording booth.

“Thank you for your hard work,” Nakamaru said. Koki echoed him.

Kamenashi smiled tightly. “Where’s Taguchi?”

“Dunno,” Koki said. “You sound great though.”

The speaker crackled again. “Tanaka-kun, we’re doing your part before Taguchi-kun’s.”

Koki levered himself off the couch. “Guess it’s me.”

“Where’s Taguchi?” Nakamaru wondered. “Do you think he’s fine?”

Kamenashi sunk into the couch. “I hope his leg isn’t hurt again. We’re stepping up our activities.”

Koki closed the door to the recording booth. “Please take care of me,” he said dutifully.

*


Koki walked into the dance studio to Ueda’s casual kick to Taguchi’s sneakers and Ueda’s drawl of, “Good for you.”

“Thanks,” Taguchi said, brightly. “Hi, Koki.”

“Hey.” He dropped his bag next to Taguchi, who was stretching, long legs splayed. He was the last one in today, apparently. Ueda’s track-bottoms had an ink stain along the left leg, and it gleamed wetly in the fluorescent lights. Nakamaru was bent over next to Kamenashi on the other side of the room, both of them changed into workout clothes. Kame’s shirt had sloppy English emblazoned on it: the name of a drama he had auditioned for but hadn’t gotten the role. “What’s Ueda congratulating you for?”

Taguchi beamed. “I have a dance solo!” Across the room, Kamenashi glanced up from where he had been murmuring with Nakamaru.

“Oh. Congratulations.”

“Thanks.”

“Good for you,” Ueda repeated. Kamenashi continued to stare at them, his expression eerily focused. “What song is it for?”

“Our new single.”

Ueda looked up. “The song we’re learning today?”

Taguchi nodded, and then the instructor bustled in, shouting at them to hurry up, they didn’t have much time.

Koki was normally first out of the door after dance practice, but he lingered this time. There was something jarring in the back of his mind, and he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Kamenashi had scurried out first, his “Thanks for your hard work,” rushed as he hurried to a drama audition. Ueda and Nakamaru had sauntered out together later, and Taguchi had followed them.

The door opened. “Tanaka-kun?”

“Taguchi.” He glanced around. “You forgot something?”

“Just wanted to practice some more.” He dropped his bag by the door and bent down, touching his toes easily and then springing lightly up. “Were you going to use the room?”

“No. It’s all yours.” He slung his bag over the shoulder and went to open the door.

“Hey.” Taguchi’s hand was light against Koki’s wrist. “I want KAT-TUN to do well.”

“We all do,” Koki said. He shrugged, sharply.

Taguchi let go, his eyes wide, “I promised to give 200%.”

Kamenashi’s words from weeks earlier echoed in his head. His shuttered expression, and his request of: don’t tell, alright?

Koki turned around. “Who did you promise?”

Taguchi tilted his chin up, proudly. The fluorescent lights shone brightly on his dyed and curled hair. For a moment, Koki could see Taguchi front and center on a stage, all lights focused on him. For a moment, Koki felt small and insignificant, in his sweat-drenched tank top and ratty track-bottoms.

For a moment, Taguchi looked unfamiliar.

Then he laughed, grinned, and said, “Everybody.”


Four.

Continue to Part Four.


Tags: fandom: johnny's & associates, genre: angst, genre: au, genre: general, multi-part: the road not taken, organizational: fic

Posts from This Journal “multi-part: the road not taken” Tag

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