Chapter 13: Rebels and Doppelgangers
Two weeks before the opening of "The Sky Princess", the capital city was buzzing with excitement. Advertisements had begun popping up on bus stops, television commercials, and news tickers citywide. Tickets were not yet on sale, but Kasumi was ready to tear her hair out after fielding over a hundred phone calls asking about purchasing them.
A representative from Shining Agency had leaked to the press a tip about special live broadcast, advertising for the show. It had hit the fansites with major impact, and come the night of the broadcast, downtown Tokyo was filled with anxious fans. They checked their watches religiously, waiting for the fateful 'click' of the minute hand declaring the 9:00 hour.
Elsewhere, the advertisers took a collective deep breath. This was their chance, but they all knew just how big of a risk it was. Silently, they joined hands. If this ship was going down, then they were all going together.
The lights in the downtown square flickered, and dimmed. A hush fell over the crowd, as they stared around in anticipation. The skyscraper screens came to life in a sudden flash of color. Sound echoed across the square, a line that every person in the crowd knew as well as their own name.
"Are you ready?"
A cheer rose from the crowd of people as the live broadcast took off like a shot.
Filmed live from the Imperial Theater Stage, six of the seven members of STARISH began their all-too-familiar routine.
"Feel our heartbeat as it bursts with 1000% love, HEY!"
Otoya flashed his peace sign.
"Are you ready?"
Masa flipped his hair out of his eyes.
"Are you ready?"
Natsuki winked his eye.
"Are you ready?
In Tokiya's place, Cecil blew a kiss.
"Are you ready?"
Ren beckoned to the camera.
"Are you ready?"
Syo grinned his signature, wolfish grin and tipped his hat.
"Are you ready?"
They launched into their number-one hit single, "Maji Love 1000%", with all of the intensity of their first ever performance. In their usual color-coordinated costumes, it was as if they had just hit the stage for the first time all over again.
Hear our song!
Let's sing out our dreams (let's shout!)
I want you to see (No doubt!)
Surely there's a way this story
Can reach a happy end
Shouting to the sky (Yes, yes!)
You and I can fly
In this revolution (We are!)
Standing as one (STARISH!)
Our love can reach the stars!
Check it out!
The fangirls who sang along suddenly stumbled over themselves, as the music made an unexpected loop. The stage lights went dark, sending the screen into complete blackness. When the lights came up a splitsecond later, no one was prepared for what they saw.
Where the members of STARISH had been standing, suddenly stood the lovely ladies of the Flower Division!
"Feel our heartbeat as it bursts with 1000% love, HEY!"
In a clear mimic of Otoya's classic costume, Sakura wore a bright flaming red miniskirt, with black ruffles around its edges, over white tights. She had also layered black and white tank tops, with a red necktie, and tall black combat boots. Her jet-black hair, tied back with her usual red ribbon, fit in perfectly. She was sharp, sexy, and entirely dazzling. The audience stared in amazement.
Sakura raised both hands, crossed her wrists, and flashed mirrored peace signs, a bright smile on her face.
"Are you ready?" she asked cheerfully.
Maria was tall and classy as usual. Her costume was an almost complete replica of Masato's: white slacks, blue button-down shirt, white tie, a white tailcoat with black trim, and black gloves. Her blonde hair fell dramatically across her eyes, giving her the same aloofness that Masa held.
"Are you ready?" she asked, low and mysterious.
Little Iris was all decked out in her usual yellow and white, just like a miniature Natsuki. Long-sleeved black shirt, white tights, and boots like Sakura's, with a yellow skirt and white vest. She had exchanged her usual pastel hair ribbons for a pair of mismatched ribbons- one yellow, one black.
When her turn came up, Iris twirled round on one toe, winking at the camera just as she came to rest.
"Are you ready?" she asked, her tone every bit as adorable and sweet as Natsuki's was.
The first three girls moved out of the way to reveal the single most striking of their number: Sumire.
Sumire was the only one who could pull off Jinguji Ren's signature sex appeal. She had it herself in droves. For the concert, Sumire wore a pair of very short white shorts, which showed off her assets quite nicely. She accented them with black ankle-high boots, an orange tank top and white vest combination, long orange sleeves, and black fingerless gloves. Her makeup was flawless, and her reddish-brown hair had been pulled back into a sexy micro-ponytail. Her gaze was smoldering, as she beckoned at the camera, the same way Ren had done.
"Are you ready?" she breathed, hunger in her eyes.
Next was Kohran, who had the difficult job. She represented both Tokiya and Cecil in this little charade, so she was an explosion of color. Her white slacks, black boots, and black gloves matched everyone else, but her other costume pieces were a mix of violet and green. Violet scarf and sash, green jacket, green ribbon accessories- she was Technicolor.
Kohran put her hands saucily on her hips.
"Are you ready?" she asked, determined and strong.
Last but not least was Kanna. She had originally thought to oppose her selection as Syo's counterpart purely because she despised the color pink, but in the end, the entire company overruled her. So there she stood, with a black-and-pink jacket and fedora to accent her white slacks, black boots, and black scarf. Still, she didn't let it get to her.
Kanna put her own little spin on things, by flexing her muscles experimentally at the audience.
"Are you ready?" she asked, a wicked glint in her eyes.
The watchers in the Tokyo square were dumbfounded. Never before had they seen an official copycat group like this. Many of the audience members murmured about mixed feelings, waiting for the song to continue to pass judgment.
The first chorus of the song was repeated, this time by six female voices rather than the usual seven male.
When it came time for the verses, the boys of STARISH returned to the stage, which was beginning to look like a kaleidoscope. Seamlessly, they melted into the girls' choreography, the entire group working as one large troupe.
The audience again waited with bated breath to see who would be singing as the first verse drew near.
As usual, it was Otoya who got the first line. While the others fell back, he and Sakura dove for the front of the stage, cheery smiles ready to go.
"My heart is racing when I think of your name," he sang, reaching out a hand to Sakura. She spun under his arm, her skirt twirling around her as she sang the counterpart.
"So much in me that I want to proclaim," she replied, feeling the rhythm of the song.
"Don't forget the choice is yours, my princess," Otoya sang to her, making her smile even wider if possible. They joined voices for the last line, locking their hands together.
"You'll be dizzy as I show you my 1000% love!"
Sakura and Otoya parted to reveal Ren and Sumire behind them, taking over for the second part of the verse. Ren had Sumire's hand trapped in his, and he spun her in front of him, her back to his chest.
"I just know," he crooned.
"What I crave," she responded, reaching behind her with her free hand to twist her fingers through his long hair.
He smiled, spinning her away once again.
"I'm falling for you," he sang sweetly.
Sumire broke free of his hold, taking a step forward, out of his reach.
"It's too soon," she sang huskily. Ren stepped forward with her, wrapping an arm around her waist.
"You'll be mine," he declared.
The pair of them spun apart, running to different sides of the stage on the final line.
"We can't explain!"
For the third part of the verse, the dance got a little more extreme. Syo, Iris, Natsuki, and Kanna had arranged a small acrobatics demonstration to dazzle the crowd, with skills from Kanna and Syo's karate and Iris' ballet.
Coming up center-stage, Natsuki and Kanna stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
"As we soar above the stars," Natsuki sang brightly, boosting Iris up onto his shoulders. She stood , balanced, and smiling as happily as ever.
"You and I will never part," Kanna answered, singing in place of Syo, as she lifted him up onto her shoulders the same way Natsuki had done for Iris.
Syo and Iris traced the shape of a star with their hands, the way the boys usually did in 'Maji Love 2000%', both grinning wildly.
"With a kiss, on the lips," the smaller pair sang, smiles on their faces, "We'll expand the world with this bursting song!"
Syo and Iris leaped forward. Syo tucked and rolled, tumbling to a halt on his knees. He raised his hands. Iris dove forward and landed with her palms on Syo's, using him as a spring board. She cartwheeled to the very front of the stage, landing on her feet with a broad smile. The audience cheered immediately, thoroughly impressed by the upgrade in the choreography.
From there, the entire audience was entranced. The Flower Division wasn't copying STARISH- they were helping them! With the girls on board, the happy pulse tripled, it quadrupled in strength. The performers looked happier than ever, their faces shining with delight and excitement.
Phase 1 was complete.
The moment the advertisement was over, the internet exploded with activity.
STARGRL09:OMG the new STARISH ad kicks butt!
JingujiLOVE1000%: Srsly LadySTARISH is gonna rock the world!
dramaQueen65: Was that Kanzaki Sumire?! NO WAY!
Generally, responses were favorable. The broadcast video was online in a heartbeat, sent to all corners of the globe. Not too long after, some different, more interesting rumors hit the fansites.
Madamittoki: Totally shipping ShingujixIttoki! Most adorable pair EVER.
VioletRhapsody: am i the only one who thinks kanzaki and jinguji are perfect? serious power couple alert!
"Wow, these are taking off faster than I thought."
"Well, keep sending them out! It has to be so big it catches everyone's attention."
"Oh, don't worry, sweetheart. It'll get their attention."
Eiichi smirked as he pressed the 'enter' key, finalizing his last forum message of the evening. He yawned, stretching out his arms and placing them behind his head.
"I have to say, that was quite the devious plan Nanami invented," he remarked calmly. "I didn't know she had it in her."
Yuri and Tsubaki rolled their eyes. They, too, sat at computer screens, typing furiously. Internet rumors had a life of their own, but someone had to start them. Nagi sat in a vacant chair, using his cell phone to send 'exclusive' pictures of the stars to the print publications. By the next morning, news of the rumored celebrity relationships would hit the newsstands in full force.
"I just hope it works," Tsubaki said nervously, wringing her hands. "The Flower Division's okay, but if anything goes wrong, the boys could lose their jobs."
Yuri nodded her agreement.
"It's a huge risk," she admitted. "But they did say they wanted to do it. We just have to do our absolute best on our end, and get the information out there. It's of the utmost importance."
"You sound like Kasumi when you use fancy words like that," she said.
"Speaking of Kasumi," Yuri asked, glancing around. "Where is she?"
"Fuji-san went with Kira to the Shining Agency headquarters," Eiichi replied tonelessly, his eyes closed. "They will distract Saotome and his lackeys, and keep them from hearing the rumors until it is too late to respond appropriately."
Yuri stood up, brushing off her skirt.
"I guess that's our cue, then," she said with a sigh. She grabbed Eiichi's arm, dragging him out of his chair. "Time to go stage some public conversation. Tsubaki, Mikado- keep an eye on those fansites. Call me if anything goes wrong."
"You got it," Tsuabki answered. Nagi raised a hand in acknowledgment.
As Yuri and Eiichi disappeared out the door. The younger pair exchanged a quick glance. They sat in silence for a few minutes, before Tsubaki's curiosity finally got the better of her.
"Hey, Nagi-san?" she asked timidly.
"What?" the younger boy snapped.
Tsubaki crossed her arms and steeled herself for his terrible attitude.
"I was just wondering- how come you're so into this plan?" she asked suspiciously. "You and STARISH are rivals. Why would you be so gung-ho to help them?"
Sighing dramatically, Nagi put down his phone.
"You don't get it, do you?" he sneered. "This isn't just about them. The relationship rule applies to everyone in our end of the business. Raging Otori has the same rules as Saotome. If they win this one, they win it for all of us."
Tsubaki was speechless.
"It's a miracle more people haven't already lost their jobs," Nagi continued dryly. "In our field, we don't have time to date ordinary people. More idols are choosing to stay single now, rather than bother trying with someone who won't ever understand the stresses they go through. Either that, or they try the 'friends with benefits' approach, which never works well. Just look at those two from Quartet Night- everyone knows Kotobuki would be all over Kurosaki if it weren't for that rule. That secret's a ticking time bomb as it is, I'm amazed they had the guts to try it."
"Which is why," came an imposing voice from the doorway, "It will remain a secret. This mission is about STARISH and the Flower Division, and no one else."
Tokiya brushed his dark hair out of his eyes, staring pointedly at Nagi. The little brat growled and picked up his phone once more.
"I know," he grumbled. "But she asked. Lay off."
"How are things going?" Tokiya asked, crossing to glance at Tsubaki's monitor over her shoulder.
"They're taking off like a shot," Tsubaki said, clicking through the windows so that Tokiya could see the full effect.
"Perfect," the taller man said. "But it won't be long before Saotome has time to respond.
"You idiots better not screw it up," Nagi threatened. Tokiya simply ignored him.
"Let's see what you've got, Shining Saotome," he murmured under his breath.
An hour later, the various members of the Flower Division and STARISH sat in the reception area of Shining Agency's Tokyo branch, most of the sweating bullets, as they waited for Saotome's verdict. They still wore their costumes from the advertisement concert. Sakura and Haruka clung to each others' hands for dear life. Syo and Kanna both fidgeted endlessly. Had they been at the Imperial Theater, they would have begun sparring to pass the time, but this wasn't the place for that sort of thing. The entire group was silent as a graveyard, as they silently prayed for deliverance from this tension. Only Maria and Sumire seemed entirely graceful under pressure.
"He's been in there a long time," Otoya worried. Tokiya had disappeared into Shining's office only ten minutes before, but it felt like an eternity. "Maybe we should have demanded to go with him."
"No," Masato said, shaking his head. "This is something Ichinose is best equipped to handle alone. We've done our part. We have to trust that he can do the rest."
"Iris hopes we did not cause too much trouble," Iris mumbled, clutching Jean-Paul the bear close to her chest. She rested her head on Natsuki's arm, as he absentmindedly untied and retied the black ribbon in her hair.
Suddenly, the door to Saotome's office opened. Ringo poked his (her?) head out and beckoned to Haruka. "Miss Nanami," she called.
All of the blood drained from Haruka's face, but she got to her feet nonetheless. Concentrating carefully on slowing down her racing heart, she followed Ringo. The door swung closed behind them. After a moment, the group of idols and actresses fell back into their uncomfortable silence.
Five minutes of tension later, the lobby door opened to reveal a most surprising addition to the group.
Kotobuki Reiji seemed in no mood to play as he stalked over to where Otoya sat. Behind him stood the other four members of Quartet Night. Ranmaru and Camus looked thoroughly amused (which was new for both of them). The redhead scrambled to his feet, confused as to why his senpai seemed so annoyed. Reiji poked Otoya in the chest, scowling at him.
"I have to find out from the fansites that my precious little kouhai has laid claim to one of the most beautiful and talented actresses in the country?" Reiji demanded. "I'm starting to feel like you don't care about me at all!"
"He's been like this for hours, since he saw the ad," Ranmaru mumbled, trying to sound like his usual gruff self. "You should've said something."
Otoya went beet red. Behind him, Sakura did the same.
"Uh- Kotobuki-san," he tried, but Reiji nearly bowled him over asking for details. He wanted to know where and when they had decided to make it official, why it had taken them so god-awful long, and weren't they ever planning on telling him? You'd think he might be allowed to keep up with his darling kouhai but he hadn't heard a word, and not from Toki either, it was ridiculous! Otoya tried as hard as he could to keep up, but his voice seemed to have taken on a permanent stutter. Reiji looked like he was about to tackle him to the ground and force some real answers out of him when Saotome's office door opened once more.
Everyone froze where they stood, as Tokiya appeared. His face was ashen with shock.
"What happened?" Syo demanded.
"What did he say?" added Cecil.
Tokiya paused for a moment, and cleared his throat. It didn't help him sound any less taken aback.
"Nanami- threatened to walk," he whispered.
"She what?!" the group chorused as a whole.
Tokiya nodded, his eyes still wide as saucers.
"She said that the Flower Division may be the best thing to have ever happened to STARISH, both personally and professionally, and that she hadn't come this far just to watch us disband over such a technicality," he said. "If Saotome doesn't relax the rule, at least in this case, she says she'll quit."
The members of STARISH glanced back and forth at one another, utterly surprised. They had seen Haruka forced to stand her ground only a few times in the past, but she had never put herself in this grave of a situation before. It only proved that she truly meant it when she said that STARISH was her life.
"And Saotome?" asked Masato quietly.
Tokiya shrugged. "I don't know," he said truthfully. "Ringo sent me out."
"Hmph," Ranmaru snorted. He and Reiji exchanged looks with one another, then with Ai and Camus. All four of them nodded simultaneously. Without a single word, Reiji and Ranmaru marched over to Saotome's door. Ranmaru yanked it open, and despite the sound of protesting from Ringo, he and Reiji joined the party. The others watched in awe as Reiji pulled the door closed behind them, torn between wondering what they were going to say and wondering if they would even get the chance before Ringo murdered them.
Otoya buried his head in his hands.
"We're doomed," he said. Tokiya cuffed him on the back of the head, and snarled, "Don't say that, you idiot."
After that, silence reigned once more. This time it was about twenty minutes before they heard anything. Cecil took up Haruka's post, keeping Sakura's dainty hands locked with his warm, brown ones, trying to calm her nerves. Maria and Camus started up a hushed conversation, barely above a whisper. No one knew what they were talking about, but they weren't about to interrupt to find out. At some point, Ren managed to sneak a comforting hand onto Sumire's shoulder. Despite the serene look on her face, it was a testament to the anxiety she must have been hiding that she hadn't brushed him away yet.
Eventually, finally, the door opened. Everyone shot to their feet immediately.
"Sit down," came the commanding voice of Shining Saotome as he appeared in the doorway. He wasn't a terribly imposing man based on stature alone, but he held an aura of power that could make anyone shiver. His was one of the most impressive record labels in the country, he had even bested Raging Otori not once, but twice. Anything he said was as final as if spoken by God...or so many people thought. Realistically, only STARISH had ever managed to make the man change his mind about anything. Now the question was, could they do it again?
The various idols and actresses fell back into their seats, almost all of them shaking with nerves.
Flanked by his usual posse, Ringo and Hyuga, Saotome stepped forward. Haruka inched out from behind him to join her band, but Reiji and Ranmaru stayed there. For once in his life, Reiji looked about as intimidating as his heterochromatic counterpart.
"It seems that you boys have a knack for ridiculous ideas," Shining boomed. He adjusted his polka-dot tie, and they could almost feel his glare through the sunglasses he wore (even inside).
"The rules are there for a reason," Ringo added. "What do you think would happen if STARISH were to fall apart because of something like this?"
"It won't," Natsuki said confidently. "It definitely will never happen."
"The girls make us better," Syo chimed in, his aquamarine eyes hard as jewels. "Or didn't you see the reaction we got?"
"President," Haruka said, leaping to her feet, "Isn't the happy pulse worth it?"
"Silence!" Saotome thundered. Haruka cringed, but when she felt Tokiya's hand on her shoulder, it bolstered her confidence. The indigo-haired man stood as well, eye to eye with Saotome.
"President," Tokiya intoned, "You're heard our logical argument. The Flower Division has already added to our strength as a group. The world not only approves of it, they expect it now. Professionally, they only affect us positively."
"And personally?" Saotome challenged, the light glinting off of his glasses. "I will not allow you to risk your careers as idols for something so foolish."
"Personally as well," Tokiya continued, sticking firmly to his guns. "Rumors have been spreading all over the world about the supposed 'celebrity relationships' within this combined grouping. The fans are dying for it. Regardless of where we stand personally, our personal lives are going to be a part of our professional image. If the fans want it, why not give it to them?"
His mouth set into a grim line.
"Or are we not in it to make people happy anymore?"
This remark was, for a moment, met only with stunned silence.
"Never underestimate the power of fangirls," Ranmaru muttered. "In supply and demand, demand makes the rules."
"You can't be serious," Hyuga said, his brow furrowed in concentration.
"Oh, I think they are," Reiji threw in lightly. "And for the record, so are we."
"You wouldn't!" Ringo gasped, clapping her hands over her mouth.
"We would," Ranmaru replied rigidly. "If you idiots can't see common sense when it's right in front of you...we'll walk."
A collective gasp went up around the room.
"Kuroskai-senpai, no!" Haruka cried, but Ranmaru silenced her with a look.
"It's okay, Haruka-chan," Reiji said, smiling at her. His grey eyes were filled with the warmth he clearly felt for his friends. "We can all be in this together."
"So that's two bestselling clients you stand to lose, President," Tokiya finished calmly. "Is your 'just in case' rule still worth it to you?"
Beads of sweat appeared on the president's forehead. His hands were clenched into fists, but he said nothing. He merely turned and vanished back into his office, pulling the door behind him into a slam that made everyone but Tokiya, Maria, Ai, and Camus jump.
They stared awkwardly at the closed door, not a single one of them knowing what was going on.
"Uh," Syo began, "What just happened?"
"Did he believe us?" Otoya questioned.
"I don't know," Tokiya answered with a shrug.
Carefully, Ringo approached and knocked softly on the door. "President?" she called. They heard a grunt of assent, and a moment later, Ringo had disappeared into the den of the Saotome.
"I have to hand it to you guys," Reiji said, "You don't do anything halfway."
"I can't believe you did that, Rei-chan!" Otoya complained. "Now what if he says no? It'll be all our fault you're out of work!"
"Hey," Ranmaru growled. "Don't say stupid stuff. We didn't just do this for you, got it?"
Otoya gulped. "O-okay," he said miserably.
"We do appreciate the support," Masato said calmly.
A moment later, Ringo reappeared. As she pulled Saotome's door closed, the members of STARISH got to their feet, ready for whatever verdict Saotome had to give.
"Shining has a deal for you," Ringo stated, flipping her long bubblegum pink hair out of her eyes.
"A deal?" Otoya repeated.
"The Imperial Theater seats 5,000 people," Ringo said firmly. "The show runs for three nights. That puts the potential capacity at 15,000 guests."
"Our usual type of performance arena only seats 10,000," Ren mused.
"The deal is this," Ringo continued. "We'd like to petition the Imperial Theater to sell tickets for standing room only."
"Standing room only?" Haruka asked, confused.
Tokiya explained. "Standing room only is when a venue sells more tickets to an event than their seating capacity can hold, leaving some people to stand throughout the performance," he said. "Usually venues don't do it, but if they have something they think will sell extremely well, they open up SRO sales. SRO tickets usually cost less than a seated ticket, which means that more people can afford to come to the show."
"With SRO tickets, the Imperial Theater can hold up to 5,200 guests per night. That puts total capacity at 15,600," Ringo said. Her blue eyes flashed dangerously. "Sell every single ticket. If you fill the Imperial Theater, complete with SRO spots, for all three nights...then the agency will have nothing to say about the Flower Division."
Shocked, the group traded glances. Filling an arena wasn't hard, especially for a group like STARISH...but that was for concerts. Everyone went to concerts. A theatrical show was vastly different. 15,600 was a huge number of seats to fill.
"If you truly think you're so much more powerful together," Hyuga added decidedly, "Let's see you prove it."
"We will," came a sharp voice. Otoya turned to see Sakura, her hands fisted in her skirt, staring Hyuga down. She almost radiated the confidence that Otoya really wished he had himself.
"Only 16,000?" Kanna chuckled, shoving her hands in her pockets. Her eyes burned with fire. "That's not so hard."
"Personally," added Sumire, pulling her fan from her sash and snapping it open, "I'm insulted that they think so little of us."
"We'll fill your stupid seats, standing and everything!" Kohran said smugly. "Just you wait!"
Ringo and Hyuga looked at one another.
"Better get to work, then," Hyuga commented offhandedly. With that, he and Ringo disappeared into Saotome's office. As the door swung closed, everyone knew that it would not open again until all was said and done.
Everyone traded furtive looks. They had thought that this meeting might have given them some answers. Now it seemed that all it had done was add to the pile. They had three shows to sell out, and everything- Haruka, STARISH, Quartet Night, and maybe even HEAVENS –hung in the balance.
"It would seem," Maria spoke up from the back of the room. "That we've got a lot of work to do."