Top Star Revolution

Chapter 14: Partners and Cohorts

"This has gone beyond ridiculous."

The Vice Commander's voice was as sharp and cool as always, but the sparkle in her eyes revealed how much effort she was having to put into trying not to laugh. The members of both HEAVENS and the Wind Division stood in front of her, at the best form of 'attention' they could muster, given their current state of chaos. Yuri's skirt was splattered with what looked like green paint, and her hair shed silver glitter every time she moved an inch. Next to her, Tsubaki was awkwardly trying to balance on one foot to keep from making a mess, as her left shoe had somehow become soaked in something Ayame very much hoped was apple juice. Kasumi held out a hand to help Tsubaki balance, but otherwise looked unharmed.

On the HEAVENS side, Eiichi's smooth brown locks had been twisted and tangled up in a pair of paintbrushes like they were supposed to be hair sticks, and his fingernails had been painted an embarrassing shade of yellow. His feet were bare, revealing toes that matched. Nagi had a chain collar locked around his neck with a large tag that read "BEWARE OF DOG". He was also sneezing every five seconds for an inexplicable reason. Only Kira looked entirely unaffected.

"We're sorry, Vice Commander," Tsubaki whimpered. "It just- we were trying to-"

Ayame held up a hand to silence her. "Spare me the details, I really don't want to know," she said, shaking her head. "Just get yourselves cleaned up as soon as possible." She turned to face Kasumi, who straightened up immediately. "Kasumi, I expect you to maintain order this time around," she said firmly.

"Yes, ma'am," Kasumi replied, giving her commander a salute. Ayame returned it, then turned on her toe and left them. They heard her heels click all the way down the hallway, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when they heard the stairwell door close behind them.

Their relief, however, was short-lived. Kasumi whirled around, glaring daggers.

"What has gotten into everybody?" she asked, twice as sharp as the Vice Commander. "I leave things alone for ten minutes and suddenly this place is like a circus! Yuri, Tsubaki- at the very least I expect more from you two!"

The two younger girls hung their heads in shame. This was what they had expected to hear from the Vice Commander, but somehow it stung more coming from Kasumi.

"Our job is to make sure that this show happens without a hitch," she continued. "We don't have time to play games anymore. If we don't act like professionals, we'll never sell all of the tickets we need." Kasumi paused to clear her throat, and then said, "Speaking of which, that's what we should be doing: selling tickets. Not horsing around in the scene shop."

"We'll go man the box office," Eiichi tried to offer, but Kasumi shook her head.

"No," she said coolly. "Sumeragi-san and I will go. You have some cleaning up to do." An evil smile danced across her lips for a moment. "If you need nail polish remover, it's on the white shelf in the props loft...though, personally, I think yellow suits you."

Then she turned and strode out the scene shop door, headed upstairs to the box office. The remaining five cast glances at one another, in varying degrees of bitterness and shame. Then, quiet as always, Kira stole out the door after Kasumi, leaving the four pranksters to whine their way through the cleanup process together.

Tokiya sat alone in Ayame's office, poring over the results of his recent research. The statistics seemed to indicate that their usual demographic of teenaged girls was becoming more likely to attend the theater, but it was hard to trust studies like these. There was no way to double-blind with such a frivolous matter of opinion. There was nothing to do but try as hard as they could, and trust that it would work.

Ichinose Tokiya could not stand that. He hated that, once again, everything came down to 'heart' and 'belief'. It wasn't that he didn't really believe in the power of hope- who wouldn't, after everything that had happened? It was just very, very hard to trust in his own personal instinct, after having been proven so many times that it was wrong. The movies all made it seem like having hope was equal to the absence of fear and anxiety, but that's wasn't reality. Hope was a lot harder than it looked. Hope meant work, it meant having to constantly remind oneself to stop looking at the statistics, stop trying to prove it wrong, stop overthinking. The thing was, Tokiya was just so good at overthinking.

Sighing, Tokiya tossed the papers aside. It wouldn't do to keep staring at them and worrying himself into a frenzy.

He sent up thanks to every god he knew of when he heard a knock at the door.

"Come in," he called, trying to shake off the bad vibes. When the door clicked and swung open, it was mildly surprising to see Jinguji Ren. What's more, he had a tray with tea balanced in one hand.

"Jinguji?" Tokiya asked, blinking. "Did you need something? The Vice Commander's out at the moment."

Ren nodded. "I know, I passed her in the hall on her way out. She said that if you hadn't emerged from here in the next forty minutes, we should check to make sure you weren't dead. That was an hour ago." He set the tea tray on the desk, dropped into a chair, and poured a cup for each of them.

"Glad to hear you're so concerned for my well-being that you're only twenty minutes late," Tokiya joked. Gratefully he accepted a cup of tea, very thankful for the warmth and slight caffeine level. All joking aside, Ren had good timing.

"How did dress rehearsal go?" Tokiya asked.

Ren shrugged, his eyes concentrated on the wooden desk, as though he wasn't really looking at it. "It went," he said with a shrug. "Everything's in place- we all know our lines, the choreography's impeccable, the sets and costumes are all ready to go. It's going to be a great show."

"But?" Tokiya inferred.

"The stress is killing us," Ren said bluntly. "Everyone's so worried about whether or not we'll fill seats that it's driving people crazy."

"That's unavoidable," Tokiya said, dejected.

Ren nodded in agreement.

"On a brighter note, the response from your press conference has been very positive," the dark-haired man added. The previous day, Ren and Sumire had invited the press to a conference to discuss the upcoming production, and get some more advertising in. At Tokiya's suggestion, when faced with questions about their personal relationship, they went with the honesty approach, though playing it up a bit. Ren had fawned all over her, telling the press how lovely it was to work with such a beautiful and talented actress, and subtly implying that he was vying for her heart, but clearly had not won it yet.

"What do you think, darlings?" he had asked the public, winking his eye. "Do I stand a chance against the perfection of Miss Kanzaki?"

Sumire had rebuffed him with an airy sniff, and focused on discussing the show, refusing to answer any questions of a personal nature. It had worked well, leaving the audience with a tidbit to keep them holding on, without giving anyone the impression they were together. No one could argue that they were breaking rules. Saotome's agency was, of course, aware of it all, and remained silent. To anyone in the industry who cared, they were playing it off as a marketing ploy, nothing else.

The other members of the troupe had been pulling their weight as well. Sakura and the nymph trio had staged an impromptu ballet performance downtown, to generate interest. Syo was reaching out to his action film connections, bragging about the show's exquisite combat scenes and special effects. He even asked the producers of Prince of Fighting to come to the show 'to scout out some new talent' he'd found.

"Don't sell yourself short here, Ichi," Ren said. "Your ideas were what spearheaded all of that. If we sell out, I feel like it will be mostly thanks to you. You've really gotten the hang of this 'agency rep' thing."

Tokiya shrugged. His hand was inching its way across the desk toward the papers he'd tossed aside earlier. "It's a different approach, for sure," he mused. "I suppose you were right about me."

Ren raise a quizzical brow. "When?"

A wry smile crossed Tokiya's face as he met Ren's princely blue eyes. "When we first started the Master Course, you told our senpais that we didn't need them, remember?" he said. His smile brightened as he saw Ren's eyes light up in acknowledgement. He, too, remembered that moment.

Ren had thrown his arm around Tokiya's shoulders, stared Kurosaki Ranmaru in the eye, and claimed that if they ever really got stuck as idols, they would have Tokiya, a "senior in the entertainment business", there to help them out. It was a small thing, but it had spoken worlds to Tokiya. He had never thought of his past as HAYATO being as asset, rather than the embarrassing scar of a failed career as he often remembered it. Also, it had surprised him to hear Jinguji Ren, of all people, defend his ability as an idol (even if it was in a roundabout way). It still surprised him sometimes that Ren could say something nice about someone besides himself or Haruka.

"And we don't," Ren agreed, reaffirming his original statement. "You do twice the amount of work they do, and seem to be getting results to match. You're wasted as an idol."

"You know," Tokiya said mildly, "The Vice Commander said something similar. I'm starting to wonder if you two aren't right."

Ren sat up straighter, and propped his elbows on the desk so that he faced Tokiya man-to-man. "Thinking of moving to the big playground?" he asked.

"'Thinking' is a bit strong," Tokiya admitted, "Certainly not right now, STARISH is more important. But I've considered it as a future option. Realistically, idols don't stay in the spotlight forever. Eventually STARISH is going to run out of effect."

"Like HAYATO did," Ren mused. Tokiya nodded. "If I keep gaining skills like this, a job in the managerial side of the industry isn't out of the realm of possibility," the dark-haired man added. "Who knows. Maybe even a new record label."

At that, the pair of them fell silent. Tokiya realized the impact of his words just as it was too late to take them back. A new record label...he hadn't really thought about it in a serious way, but now that the idea was out in the open, it became clear what kind of an option it was.

"Ichinose," Ren said slowly, "You get what you just said?"

"Yeah," Tokiya breathed.

"A new record label- with something like that, you could change the industry completely," Ren added. His tone was deadly serious. It was a side of him that rarely showed itself, but Tokiya in particular had long since learned to respect it. Ren wasn't a brainless playboy like the media made him out to be. His ideas- and his instincts –were good. If he thought they truly had a chance, he would take it seriously.

"It wouldn't be easy," Tokiya muttered, "But it's something to consider."

"Consider carefully," Ren quipped sharply. "It's not something you can do halfway. If you're going to try it, you'll have to be all in. Once you get started, that's it."

Tokiya closed his eyes, and a slight smile appeared on his face. "You're always doing that to me," he murmured. "Always pushing me. From the beginning."

Ren's blue eyes softened. "That's what partners do," he replied with a coy grin. Yawning, he got to his feet, and began to gather up the empty teacups and such. It was getting to be close to dinner time soon. Balancing everything on his tea tray with the ease of a practiced waiter (where had he learned to do that?), Ren headed for the door.

"Don't stare at papers until your eyes rot," Ren called over his shoulder as he pushed open the door. "For now, you're still an idol, after all. And..."

The strawberry blonde paused, as Tokiya glanced up to meet his eyes.

"You might not want to mention it to anyone," Ren advised quietly. "The Lady might not like it. Or the others."

"You're right," Tokiya replied solemnly. It was ironic, really, that Ren was the one to voice such a sentiment. Jinguji had always been the one who grumbled the loudest when Tokiya had trouble putting STARISH first. Originally, it had been a major point of dissention for them. But they were both older and more experienced now.

Ren raised a hand in farewell. "See you at dinner," he said, and let the door swing closed behind him.

As Tokiya returned to his work, he thought maybe Ren had a point. They could think about the future all they wanted, but they weren't there just yet. It was time to pay more attention to the present.

A light knock at the open door to Captain Ohgami's room caused the captain and his temporary roommate, Cecil, to jump in surprise. Cecil had been very focused on writing something at Ohgami's desk, while Ohgami cleaned his twin swords on the bed. However, when the captain saw Kohran's violet braids in the doorway, a bright smile lit up his face.

"Kohran-chan!" he said warmly. "Come in!"

"Thanks, captain," Kohran said cheerfully. "Can I borrow your roommate for a minute?"

"Me?" said Cecil, sitting up.

"Yep," Kohran replied. "I need a favor. Well, I need a phone number."

Cecil raised his brows, his jade eyes confused. "A phone number?" he repeated. "Whose?"

Kohran glanced down at the ground, scuffing her shoe against the wooden floor. "That's the thing..." she said, blushing slightly. "I need your senpai's number."

Both Cecil's and Ohgami's nearly bugged out of their heads. "WHAAAA?" they chorused in unison.

"Camus-senpai's?" said Cecil.

"Phone number?" Ohgami said, alarmed.

Kohran raised her hands and waved them off. "No, no, it's not what you think!" she cried, her face flushed red. "I just- it's been driving me crazy, every time we see them, and I just have to ask is all! I have to know for sure!"

Cecil and Ohgami traded furtive looks. "Know what?" they asked together.

Again, Kohran waved off their questions. "It's nothing important," she said vaguely, eyes darting back and forth. "I just need to talk to him. So are you gonna give me his number or not?"

Cecil blinked. "Uh...sure?"

The wacky little mechanic just threw her head back and beamed. "Great!" she said brightly. Her glasses glinted dangerously as Cecil hastily scribbled Camus' number on a scrap of paper. Once she had it in her fist, Kohran disappeared out the door. Her maniacal laughter echoed behind her, all the way down the hallway and down to the Koubu hangar.

Stunned, Ohgami's onyx eyes met Cecil's green ones. "What just happened?" Cecil asked plaintively. Ohgami sighed and shook his head.

"Cecil-kun," he said, "Sometimes, with Kohran, it's just better not to ask."

Nagi's feet dragged against the floor as he trudged across the lobby toward the box office. He'd managed to get his chain collar off, but his neck was red and raw in places as a result. His hair was mussed and his clothes were rumpled, not to mention he was tired. He'd been listening to that hypercritical Yuri nag for hours, and now he had a headache too. This was usually the part of the day where he bothered Kira until the older boy gave him some aspirin, but Kira had gone off to sell tickets.

"Stupid show," Nagi grumbled as he approached the box office. He reached out and put his hand on the cold metal doorknob.

"Kira," the little brat whined as he pushed open the door. "Do you have any-"

Suddenly, his eyes went wide. Nagi's face flushed bright tomato red, and there was fair argument for steam pouring out his ears.

"K-K-Kira!" he screeched at the top of his lungs.

The dark-haired older teen was being pressed up against the wall of the office, his black hair nearly as mussed as Nagi's. However, from the look of the shapely brunette whose lips were currently locked on his, it was clear that their states of dishevelment came from very different sources. But that wasn't all. Her slender hands had a firm hold on his shirt collar, and Kira's arms were wrapped around that woman's waist. He was kissing her back! And that purple kimono looked awfully familiar...

Nagi's head nearly exploded.

The brunette released her captive, and turned to glare daggers at the little intruder.

"Mikado," Kasumi hissed, her chocolate-brown eyes burning like embers. "I thought I told you to clean up the shop." Behind her, Kira's golden eyes flashed dangerously, and his mouth set into a grim line. His hands tightened on Kasumi's waist. He said nothing, as usual.

By now, Nagi was trembling in shock. His mouth opened and closed like a fish as he struggled to find something to say, but it was like the nerves that connected his brain and his mouth had been completely severed. His headache was now so much worse.

Nagi turned and fled, racing as quickly as he could down the hallway, screaming loudly enough for the entire theater to hear.


Maria was the first to arrive at dinner. The delicious smells coming from the kitchen reminded her that Kanna was at the stove today. Smiling softly, the tall Russian poked her head into the kitchen to say hello.

"Kanna," she called. "You're out of time."

"I know!" shouted the redhead who stood next to the oven. She wore a food-stained apron and a handkerchief over her head, but her arms were crossed angrily over her chest. She glared at the oven as if it had personally offended her, and was grinding her teeth violently. The classic signs of an impatient Kanna.

"You'll give yourself lockjaw if you keep doing that," Maria said lightly. She placed a hand on Kanna's shoulder. "How much longer on the timer?"

"Ten minutes," Kanna growled. "Honestly, it's just bread, there's no reason why it should take this long. It would've been in sooner, but the chicken took forever." Peering in the oven window, Maria could see the tray of what looked like garlic bread. On the stovetop was a pot of pasta, and a pot of some red sauce that seemed to the be source of the delicious kitchen smell as it simmered.

"Italian today?" she asked. Kanna nodded, and jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "His idea," the redhead muttered. When Maria turned to look, she found that they weren't alone in the kitchen. On the countertop on the other side of the kitchen was a platter of the breaded chicken Kanna had mentioned, being carefully topped with white cheese by Hijirikawa Masato.

"Chicken parmesan is a good meal for a night like this," Masa said quietly, as he spread cheese across the tender pieces of chicken. "It features protein and carbohydrates, which we all need to keep our strength up. Particularly if some of us continue to stint on food right before the show."

"So you noticed Sumire's habit," Maria said with a smile. "You would think such a seasoned actress would know better than to let stress take a toll on her appetite."

"That Cecil kid too," Kanna added. "He needs some more meat on his bones."

"I'm sure it will be delicious," Maria said. "I will let the others know." She leaned in close to Kanna's ear and whispered something unintelligible, which made the Okinawan's face turn bright red, and then disappeared back into the dining hall.

By now, nearly everyone else had arrived. Though they usually chose to eat apart from the rest, the musical ensemble had been invited to join the cast and crew for dinner for the eve of opening night. They were gathered at their own table, and looked pleasantly content (if not as loud and rambunctious as some of the others). The rest were sitting more or less in their usual groups, with only one real exception. Normally the members of the Wind Division and HEAVENS sat together, but today they had somewhat broken up. Kasumi, Yuri, Tsubaki, and Sumeragi had taken up places at Sumire and Maria's usual table. There was something odd about how Mikado and Otori still sat in the corner, the younger of the two shivering and wide-eyed.

I suppose the pranks went too far at last, Maria assumed. "Dinner will be a few minutes late," she announced, and was met with groans all around. Ignoring it, Maria remained standing, to keep everyone's attention. She had one more job tonight.

"The Vice Commander is away on business this evening, and she requested that I pass on some pertinent information," Maria intoned, her firm military voice causing a hush in the room. "As we are delayed, this seems like an appropriate moment." She projected her voice as she would on stage, so that the pair in the kitchen would hear her as well. Syo, Kohran, and Iris turned in their seats so they could face her. Sakura looked pale, but her expression remained neutral.

Maria locked her hands behind her back, and proceeded to pass on Ayame's message.

"The Vice Commander wishes you- wishes us to know that we have surpassed her expectations as of yet," Maria said calmly. "She expressed a desire that we continue to do so in tomorrow's opening performance."

Triumphant smiles lit up faces around the room.

"Tomorrow we will have no formal practice," Maria continued, "Each cast member will be responsible for making sure that they are in optimal condition by the time the curtain goes up. How you use this time is up to you. Showtime is eight-o'clock. Crew call will be at four, cast call at five."

She turned her emerald gaze on the members of the crew, the Wind Division and HEAVENS. "You six already have your assignments," Maria said. They nodded sharply.

Kasumi was going to be in charge of customer relations. She and Tsubaki would take tickets and help usher people to their seats. Eiichi would be in the tech booth, in charge of the lights and sound for the show. He would have Ohgami as an extra set of hands. Yuri would be the stage manager, controlling everything back stage, while on headset communication with Eiichi. Kira was technical support, in charge of sets and scene changes, trapdoors, props, and anything mechanical from the stage side. Last but not least, Nagi was to be king of the dressing room, in charge of all makeup and costumes, including quick-changes.

"We are down to the wire here," Maria said finally. "But this is a challenge to which we can- and will –rise." She gestured to Kasumi, who got to her feet. As the Deputy Captain took her seat, Kasumi cleared her throat and addressed the cast and crew.

"With regards to our predicament with Shining Agency," she began, and the room went dead silent. They all held their breath, waiting. Had they sold enough tickets? Only Kasumi really knew. All it took was one night of failed sales and they would lose the bet entirely. One ticket could ruin everything. Sakura and Haruka gripped each others' hands under the table until their knuckles went white. Sumire pursed her lips. Tokiya and Ren exchanged concerned glances.

"We have..." Kasumi said slowly. Hearts pounded so hard you could hear them echo around the room.

"...sold out for opening night."

Instantly, the room erupted into a deafening cheering. Almost everyone was on their feet, hugging and hollering.

"We did it!" Sakura cheered. She leaned up and gave Otoya a kiss on the cheek, which of course made them both blush. "Hell yes!" Kanna shouted from the kitchen doorway. Iris launched herself at Natsuki for a hug, and wound up crushed in his arms like a teddy bear, as Kohran and Cecil high-fived. However, the most shocking of all of the reactions was that of one Kurusu Syo.

Black-nailed fingers wrapped themselves around Haruka's wrist. Without even thinking, Syo pulled her close, threw his free arm around her waist, and kissed her for all he was worth.

When they saw it, the whole group inhaled sharply as one. They stared at the pair, waiting for some kind of resolution. Haruka blinked, completely shocked, as her cheeks flushed red. Still, she made no move to push Syo away.

After a moment, Syo broke away. He gripped Haruka's arms and bowed his head, pressing his forehead into her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he rasped. "I shouldn't have done that." Haruka just stood there, trying desperately to form words.

"S-Syo-kun," she stuttered. He shook his head, silencing her. "It's okay, Nanami," he said. He looked up, and she saw the sparkle in his aquamarine eyes. It was the bright, spunky look that only Syo could pull off. "It's okay," he repeated warmly. "You don't have to say anything. We can talk another time."

Slowly, Haruka nodded.

Kanna coughed pointedly. "Dinner is served," she announced, as Masato emerged from the kitchen door bearing a large tray of plates. From that point on, no one said a word about what had happened between Syo and Haruka, even if they couldn't help but steal nosy glances once in a while.

They had succeeded, for now. The theater was sold out for the first performance night. While tickets had been sold for the following two shows, they were not yet full, particularly since the addition of SRO seats. However, the initial win had sent everyone into a euphoric high that (they hoped) would lead to an absolutely stunning opening performance. As the Flower Division, STARISH, HEAVENS, and the Seiso Academy ensemble dug into their thoughtfully-made dinner, they gave one another the brightest, most encouraging smiles they had in them.

They had managed to convince the world that their show was a wonderful and amazing display of talent. Now all they had to do was live up to it.

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