Top Star Revolution

Chapter 11: Warriors and Puppets

After the incident with Satsuki, everyone seemed to come to a silent agreement that Natsuki should never be left alone, especially not with any of the Flower Division. Natsuki, poor guy, was completely oblivious to the fact that he suddenly had an escort nearly everywhere he went.

Ren and Masato had made up. Haruka and Syo had told everyone about Masa's song, which earned the biggest collective sigh of relief in history. Now, the famous pair were sitting and chatting together as they had always done. Every now and then, Masa would catch Ren's eye, and it almost seemed like they had worked out some kind of system to warn Ren when Masato thought he was taking things too far.

The musicians fit right in with everyone else, though they still lived and took their meals separately. Even HEAVENS seemed to be falling into place, much to STARISH's surprise. They hadn't heard a single complaint out of the Wind Division.

The only person who didn't seem to be on their game was Tokiya. He had spent more and more time shut away in his room, or talking with the Vice Commander and Captain Ohgami. He was keeping his distance from the show, and it had become painfully obvious to his bandmates that either his leg was hurting much more than he let on, or he was brooding again. As usual, Haruka and Otoya worried, Syo and Ren grumbled, Masato pondered, and Natsuki tried to be as cheerful as possible whenever Tokiya was around.

A week of music rehearsals flew by. Opening night was getting closer and closer. The actors all felt it, and despite their preparedness, they all harbored a tiny bit of nerves. In that regard, everyone was sincerely thankful for Haruka and Ohgami, who encouraged them to keep their spirits up. They were like little rays of sunshine.

Still, the time crunch meant that rehearsals were getting more and more intense. They could never be too ready, Mistuki-san said. By the time they got to dinner on Friday night, they were more than ready for the weekend to come.

"These rehearsals are ridiculous," Syo sighed, dropping into his chair. "Tell me Kanna cooked today. I think I'm gonna need it."

"You're in luck," Masato replied. "I believe Kirishima-san and Shinguji-san made this evening's meal."

Across the table, Otoya's eyes went wide.

"Sakura-chan made dinner?" he marveled. "I bet it's delicious."

Syo kicked him under the table.

"Of course it is," he snapped, but it was obvious he was so tired his heart wasn't in it.

Ren slid into a seat next to Otoya, his long hair pulled back into a horsetail to get it out of his face. The heat from dance rehearsal hadn't gone away just yet.

"At least we are performing well," he said, sounding just as tired as Syo.

"Indeed, we have all improved greatly," Masato agreed. "Mistuki-san no longer pulls her hair out when we rehearse. Even Miss Kanzaki has begun rolling her eyes every twenty minutes, rather than every five."

All of the boys couldn't help but chuckle at that.

"What's so funny?" came Sakura's voice from behind Ren. She carefully balanced three bowls of noodles in her hands, which Ren hastily assisted her in passing out.

"Nothing, nothing," Syo assured her. "Thanks for making dinner, Saukra-chan."

Sakura beamed at him.

"Kanna did most of the real cooking," she admitted, "But Iris had to stay late for dance rehearsal, so I thought I'd help out."

She took her seat next to Syo, ready to eat, but no sooner had her skirt brushed the seat then a loud, blaring noise interrupted them.

On the wall of the hall was a large red and gold alarm bell. It looked like a fire alarm to the boys, but from the way the Flower Division leapt to their feet at the sound, it must have been something more dire.

"The combat alarm!" Sakura gasped. She looked frantically between the boys and the kitchen door, unsure of what to do.

"Don't wait for us to eat," came Kanna's voice as she rushed out of the kitchen. Maria and Sumire were already out the door.

Apologizing profusely, Sakura scooped Iris out of her chair, and the Flower Division raced out the doors.

The boys of STARISH just stared after them, completely shocked. A chill fell across the room.

"I thought they didn't have to go to combat while the show was happening," Otoya said, his voice faint with concern.

"They did not have to train as they usually do," Tokiya corrected him quietly. "But they cannot ignore a direct threat to the capital, show or no show."

"What do you suppose the danger is?" Natsuki asked, his face pale.

"I don't know," said Tokiya. "That's what worries me."

They glanced at one another, debating what to do next. There really wasn't any way they could be helpful. They were performers, not warriors. But it felt wrong just to sit here and chow down while the girls were out risking their lives for the safety of the capital city.

After a moment of prolonged silence, Tokiya sighed.

"Hurry up and eat," he said firmly. "If we don't dawdle, we can be done and have the kitchen cleaned up by the time the ladies get back."

"We can make some tea when they arrive," Natsuki added helpfully.

Syo nodded decisively. "Let's do it," he said. He and Otoya attacked their food with gusto, with the world's best motivation to be quick. The others were a bit more reserved, but no one even considered seconds. That wasn't important. Plus, no one was really all that hungry anymore.

Haruka could tell that the boys were just as worried for the Flower Division as she was. They refused to let her help clean the kitchen, imploring her to let them take care of it. To their credit, they had mastered the art of working together. Natsuki cleared the tables, bringing the dishes to the sink. Masato washed, Otoya dried, and Cecil carefully put all of the dishes away where they belonged. Ren took a damp rag and wiped down all of the tables, with Syo following behind with a broom and dustpan, sweeping up the crumbs. Tokiya transferred the leftover food into plastic containers and arranged them in the refrigerator.

They worked in near-silence. No one seemed very talkative. Otoya, in particular, was so extremely quiet that one might have mistaken him for Masato. He focused all of his energy on drying dishes, polishing them each until they shined.

As he stacked the clean dishes in the cabinets, Cecil prayed to the muses that the girls would be okay. From what Kohran had told him, they were very highly trained, and he had confidence in the Koubu, but it was still unnerving.

Syo's temper boiled so close to the surface, no one dared speak to him for fear they'd set him off. He hated being stuck at home, uselessly waiting for the warrior women to come home. He hated being useless. He hated it even more when his anger drove him to use too much force when dumping the dustpan into the trash can, sending up a cloud of dust that made him cough incessantly.

Tokiya, Masato, and Ren were impressively cool and collected compared to their counterparts, but it wasn't hard to tell that they, too, were burdened with worry. Ren fidgeted, taking his hair down, putting it back, shoving his hands in his pockets, adjusting his bracelets. His hands were never still. Masa's grip on the soapy dishes was so tight that more than once he dropped a bowl or glass. Tokiya tapped his nails against the kitchen counter.

When the kitchen was so clean it sparkled, they had no choice but to trudge off in their separate directions, heads hanging low.

"Are you worried about Miss Kanzaki?" Masato asked Ren quietly as he closed the door to their room behind them. Ren said nothing, but that was an answer in and of itself. While Masa settled in to meditate, Ren slipped on his headphones, and pressed 'play' on the disc that held Masa's song. When it reached the end, he turned on the 'repeat' button and just let it loop.

Next door, Syo had commenced chucking Natsuki's stuffed animals across the room in pure rage. He growled in frustration, but couldn't seem to form a single coherent sentence. Natsuki, understanding that his friend needed to vent, just watched and kept him from throwing anything sharp.

Tokiya and Otoya's room was silent as a graveyard. Even Otoya's stereo made no noise, for once. Tokiya lay on his bed, scribbling furiously in a spiral notebook. Otoya suspected he was writing lyrics to pass the time. The clock on the wall moved as slowly as it possibly could, cruelly taunting them with every tick of the second hand.

Cecil opted to go to Haruka and Kohran's room, rather than the one he shared with Captain Ohgami. He didn't want to be alone to worry, and he knew that Haruka would be understanding of his plight. As predicted, she invited him in without question. They talked in hushed tones, hoping conversation would help. Cecil told Haruka everything he knew about the Flower Division and their Koubu. By the time he reached the end of the information Kohran had given him, he had managed to make the ladies sound like heroes from old fables, charging forth to conquer evil and save the world. His description of the Koubu's hearts even brought a smile to Haruka's face.

Hours passed. Dusk fell, midnight came and went as silently as the hours before. Syo ran out of things to throw, and took up some of the karate practice exercises Kanna had taught him. Natsuki tried to read, but couldn't stay focused. Tokiya played mind-numbing games on his cell phone. Ren drifted into a state of half-consciousness, still listening to Masato's song. Masa kept a vigil out the window, searching for Koubu in the darkness, knowing that he probably wouldn't see them. They would most likely come home via the Koubu hangar on the other side of the building. Still, watching gave him something to do. Cecil sang songs of Agnopolis for Haruka, who drifted to sleep against the prince's shoulder. He kept up his humming, hoping to keep her asleep and free from worry.

Otoya was the first to hear the grinding sound of the Koubu hangar doors. Instantly he was on his feet, Tokiya hot on his heels as they raced for the hangar. Tokiya paused to knock on the others' doors, and the eight of them got to the hangar as quickly as they possibly could.

The Vice Commander and the Wind Division were already in place at the computer bank, assessing each Koubu and pilots' damages as they entered.

"Stay back," Ayame warned the boys as they entered. "We have to get the analysis completed before anything else happens."

STARISH nodded their agreement, but their eyes were all wide with interest. The Koubu trudged inside, one by one, each taking up their place in the hangar. Not a single one was unscathed, but none seemed wholly destroyed.

Sumire's was the worst off. Her Koubu's naginata had been snapped in two, and one leg's steam-filled joint had been punctured, which led the Koubu to limp a bit.

The large, steam-powered machines hissed and thumped as their pilots extracted themselves. When they saw the boys waiting for them, almost every warrior raised a brow. They, like their Koubu, looked a little worse for wear. Their uniforms were all streaked with sweat, dirt, and in a few cases, blood. Kanna bore a long scratch across her left cheek. Kohran was massaging her wrist, as if she had pulled something. Iris was dead on her feet, so drained she looked ready to faint. Maria picked her up and held her close, and within moments the littlest of the Flower Division was sound asleep against the Russian's cool shoulder.

Exhausted, the Flower Division limped and hobbled into their customary formation. They saluted Captain Ohgami, who did his best to look professional, but all could see that he wished he could pass out like Iris.

"Good work today," he said, forcing some cheer into his voice. "Now everyone get some rest."

"No rehearsal tomorrow," Ayame spoke up.

Everyone goggled at her, but she waved it off.

"You all deserve to rest and recuperate," she said, her tone resolute. "I expect each of you to be at your best by Monday, but consider this a three-day weekend."

Sakura looked ready to shed tears of joy, but she held herself together. She and the other members of the Flower Division saluted the Vice Commander.

"Yes, ma'am!" they chorused.

"Dismissed," Ayame answered.

Wearily, the Flower Division and STARISH trudged from the hangar.

The moment they reached the hallway, Otoya's composure dissolved like sugar in water. Not caring who saw or cared, he pulled Sakura into the tightest hug he could muster. He couldn't meet her eyes, so he just buried his face in her shoulder, inhaling the sweet smell of cherry blossoms. She always smelled of cherry blossoms.

"I was so worried," he mumbled. "I don't know how you do this."

Surprised, Sakura slowly put her arms around him. He was a fair bit larger than Iris, but the way his shoulders were shaking...he needed her just as much.

"I'm fine," she said softly, stroking his back. "We're all just fine. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to worry everyone."

The other members of STARISH and the Flower Division politely averted their eyes. Syo began loudly berating Kanna for her inability to stay in one piece, as Maria disappeared to put Iris to bed. Kohran was talking to herself, listing all of the damages to the Koubu that she needed to repair.

Sakura just stood there and comforted Otoya the way she would anyone else, albeit a bit closer together. She was moved by how concerned he was. No one had ever been that worried for her before, not that she could remember.

"You're so sweet, Otoya-kun," she whispered quietly, a smile crossing her wearied face. "I wish everyone were as sweet as you."

Otoya lifted his head, refusing to let go of her.

" have no idea how funny that is," he said, cracking a very small smile. "You are easily a hundred times sweeter than me." He let out a stuttering laugh, which made Sakura giggle in return. He pressed his forehead to hers, wishing he could just stand there with her forever, and never let her run off to such danger again. Never mind that she was a practiced warrior with more skills than nearly anyone in Japan. He still didn't want her out there.

"I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't come back in one piece," he confessed.

Sakura blushed.

"You don't have to worry about me," she told him. "I can take care of myself. It's part of my job, it's what the Flower Division is for."

She smiled at him, not really sure what else to say. At this point, it seemed like the only thing that would really calm him down was her presence. So she pulled him back into an embrace, this time wrapping her arms around his neck. He smelled like citrus, like the tangy smell of fresh oranges and lemons. It was a refreshing scent that matched his refreshing, upbeat personality to a tee. Sakura smiled into his shirt, getting comfortable with his arms around her. It was warm, and his clothes were soft. She could almost feel the smiles in his heart, the ones he kept just for her.

"Thank you for caring, Otoya-kun," Sakura murmured.

Otoya squeezed her tightly, reassuringly.

"Of course. I'll always care for you, Sakura-chan."

When Sakura finally gave in to her extreme fatigue, Otoya returned to his room. No sooner had he arrived with lovely thoughts of his soft, warm bed then it became clear that he wasn't going to get it any time soon. Barring the path to his bed were the entire company of STARISH, minus Haruka, of course.


Tokiya's voice was not as cold as it normally was, but something in it still stopped Otoya in his tracks.

"What is it?" he asked plaintively, looking around from person to person. Cecil, Syo, and Natsuki all awkwardly avoided Otoya's gaze. Ren and Masato stood both with arms crossed, faces unreadable. Only Tokiya really looked Otoya in the eye. A sinking feeling began to build in his stomach. Everyone looked so haunted, this couldn't possibly be good.

Tokiya sighed.

"Otoya, do you remember the first rule of being an idol?" he asked carefully.

Otoya's face went red.

"Idols aren't allowed to love," he answered sadly. Now he knew where this was going. "At least, not within the industry. But Tokiya, you don't understand, it's-"

"There's no point in arguing with us," Tokiya sighed. "It's not any of our decision in the end. There's nothing we can do about it. You know that as well as I do."

Speechless, Otoya looked around at his fellows.

"You can't be serious," he said, half-whispering. "Guys...come on..."

Syo sighed, raking his hands through his hair.

"Otoya, we know, alright?" he said, his face as flushed as Otoya's. "We understand how hard it is. But we're all in this together. If you get thrown out for being in love with a girl we're working with..."

"It will be the end of STARISH," Ren finished coldly.

Otoya felt like his skin was drenched in cold sweat, but his insides were burning up. It was like he was looking at himself from the outside, willing himself to say something or do something, like a puppet. But there was nothing he could say that would make them listen.

"Otoya-kun," said Natsuki hopefully. "Sakura-chan is so nice, I'm sure she will be your friend..."

"She simply cannot be more than that," added Masato.

Otoya had to clench his fists to keep from flying off the handle like Syo. It was moments like this that he found it hardest to smile. Still, he was more hurt than angry. He really had thought that his bandmates would understand. Worse, he knew that they really were right, it was unfair of him to risk all of STARISH on some girl. But she wasn't just some girl, she was his Sakura-chan. She was different.

"I don't want her to be my friend," he said softly, staring at the ground. "This isn't fair."

He felt a strong arm wrap around his shoulders in a one-armed half hug.

"I know," Syo muttered bitterly. "Believe me."

Otoya looked at Syo, wide-eyed.

"Syo-kun, you...?"

Syo pushed him away before he could say anything else.

"At least once this show's over, you won't have to see her and work with her every day, knowing that if you said anything at all, you'd ruin both of your lives," he said. His hands were curled into fists, and he screwed his eyes shut, as if by not seeing the situation it would go away.

Then Otoya understood.

"You love Haruka," he said softly. Syo didn't answer, but the look on his face said everything. In that moment, Otoya felt worse for his friend than for himself. How long had Syo been living like this? Since the beginning? Or had it developed over time?

It was a cruel, harsh truth. They were all trapped in their loneliness, unable to escape it even if they tried. It wasn't fair, and they all knew it, but there was nothing they could do without ruining everything they had built together.

Desperate, Otoya turned to the last two.

"Cecil," he pleaded. "Ren. Please tell me you don't agree with this."

Cecil opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't find the words. He simply looked at Ren helplessly, hoping that the smooth older young man would have something more positive to say. Alas, he was wrong.

"Of course we don't agree with it," Ren hissed, his voice matching Syo's for bitterness. "But if you think we're going to throw STARISH under the bus just so you can kiss a girl for once in your life-"

"Jinguji," Masa reprimanded sharply.

The fire that burned behind Ren's usually calm blue eyes was frightening. He let out a harsh, choking laugh.

"Why stop me?" he asked coldly. "We all know how this ends. Even if we did everything in our power, we would still go down in flames."

The room was struck entirely speechless. When he was angry, Ren had a painfully blunt way of putting things.

"The point is," Tokiya interrupted, silencing Ren before he had the opportunity to do any more damage, "We've been lucky so far that none of our superiors are here. If we were having this conversation with Shining, or with Ringo or Hyuga, things would be much worse."

He looked away, sending his uncomfortable stare out the window, for which Otoya was grateful.

"Be thankful you got even this much," Tokiya said quietly.

The room fell silent. Otoya shoved his way past Syo and Natsuki, curling up on his bed. He purposely turned his back to them all, unsure if he did so because he was angry with them or because he couldn't stand to look at his friends when he knew they were right.

They were right to live according to the rules. He could hardly blame them for that. If it came down to choosing between a single girl or the entirety of STARISH, the choice was easy. No, it was the rule that was wrong, and they all knew it. But they worked for the Shining Agency. Saotome's word was law. Ren was right, if they opposed it, they'd be shut down immediately.

Otoya's eyes filled with involuntary tears as he thought about how he would ever be able to explain things to Sakura. Telling her the truth would almost certainly cause some kind of uproar, which they couldn't afford. But to end things so suddenly, how would she react? No doubt she would be upset, and horribly confused. Such a sweet girl didn't deserve to have happiness torn away from her like that, especially not when it was Otoya's fault. It was his mistake, she didn't deserve to pay for it.

A few mumbled words, and the others vanished, leaving only Otoya and Tokiya. The heavy feeling in the air unfortunately remained. Otoya rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, completely lost as to what he should do. It was taking all of his effort not to begrudge his roommate for saying something. As the current Shining representative, it was Tokiya's job to watch out for STARISH and make sure they stayed out of trouble. If any of them misbehaved, so to speak, it was Tokiya's head first on the chopping block.

As if he could hear Otoya's thoughts, Tokiya chose that moment to speak up.

"I'm sorry, for what it's worth," he said, moving to lay down on his own bed. He flicked off the lights, but neither of them were anywhere close to sleeping anymore.

Otoya sighed.

"You're just doing your job," he said quietly. "It's not your fault I'm an idiot."

"What will you do?" Tokiya asked.

"I don't know yet," Otoya replied frankly. "I don't want to let STARISH fall apart, I couldn't do that to everyone. I couldn't do that to myself. But I can't hurt Sakura-chan for something that's not her fault."

Tokiya nodded, then realized that Otoya couldn't actually see him.

"That makes sense," he said aloud. "We'll have to figure something out."

Otoya sat up, surprised.

"What?" he asked.

Tokiya sat up as well.

"You didn't think we were just going to leave you alone to deal with it, did you?" he asked, unable to keep the slight hint of amusement from his voice.

"You heard what Kurusu said," he added. "We're all in this together. We all care about Shinguji-san, we don't want to hurt her any more than you do. We'll come up with something."

Without another word, both young men fell back to their pillows, contemplating the problem that lay before them. Otoya was slightly less depressed, now that he knew he wasn't completely alone. Still, it hurt to think about it.

It was somewhat heartening to rise at dawn to find that Tokiya hadn't slept at all either.

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