Chapter 7: Lovers and Idols
The roof of the Imperial Theater had a very gradual slope to it, which made it easier for Ren to climb up without falling, even in the orange glare of sundown. For such a large building, the frustrated young man couldn't believe how stifling it was. He couldn't think, he couldn't focus, he couldn't even breathe. At this point, it seemed that the roof might be the only place he could get some space. He felt as though he were being assaulted from both sides.
It had taken a bit, but Ren was finally able to admit that Sumire's words stung him almost as badly as Masato's attitude. What had he done to either of them that was out of the ordinary? He thought angrily, sweeping his strawberry-blonde locks out of his face.
Jinguji Ren had always been a people person. His charming personality gained him friends wherever he went, usually whether he liked it or not. This new, cold reaction he was getting was unfamiliar and unpleasant. Never would he say it aloud, but Ren needed that attention, that love. It was what gave him the strength to face each day, and not run away. Confident as he appeared, Ren was startlingly close to the breaking point.
"I told you. It's all just for kicks."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I took you for somebody with more spirit."
Ren clenched his fists around the saxophone in his hands, not worrying that he might damage it. Masa had always been there to challenge Ren when he needed it, had been the support system he needed when everyone else failed him. Ren knew that most people saw him as a serious, staunch person who had no feelings, but that was only part of who he was. He chose to be that way. It was how he expressed himself. Out of friendship, he would say what needed to be said, or often in Ren's case, what needed to be heard.
Why, then, was he acting so differently this time? Ordinarily, Masa would have shown absolutely no sign of distress or annoyance until he was ready to punch Ren in the face. Literally. He wore the finest mask Ren had seen in anyone. This time, however, it was the exact opposite. Masa appeared to have given up on hiding his true feelings, and was showing all of the anger and coldness of the wronged, without being so kind as to explain himself at all. He just wasn't saying anything.
Didn't he realize how difficult that made things?
Ren took a deep breath, trying to banish thoughts of Masa from his mind. There was no helping the situation, Masa wouldn't talk until he was ready. Waiting on him to make his move was foolish at best.
Raising his sax to his lips, Ren let the only tune he could think of ring out across the sky.
It was a slow, somewhat mournful tune, one that Ren had always found gripped the soul in an uncomfortable yet enticing way. It was called "Nature Boy", and was a rather famous song that had made its way through many jazz artists over time.
As the youngest Jinguji poured his soul into the music, for lack of anywhere better to put it, he tried to let every feeling he'd ever had become lost on the wind that blew through his hair. If he could simply stop feeling, all of this would disappear.
The words of the song rang in his mind even as he played, and sad as they were, those lyrics soothed him.
There was a boy...A very strange enchanted boyThey say he wandered very far, very farOver land and seaA little shy and sad of eyeBut very wise was he
Slowly- very slowly –Ren came to realize that the lyrics he heard in his mind were not in his mind at all. They drifted on the wind with the notes he played, a soft, lilting voice that pierced Ren's heart differently than any voice he'd ever heard before.
Glancing down, Ren saw a lone figure standing at a window on the floor below, the sheer white curtains blowing in the breeze. Silhouetted by the sunset, it was impossible not to recognize that figure.
"And then one day," Sumire sang softly, "One magic day, he passed my way. And as we spoke of many things, fools and kings, this he said to me..."
Ren couldn't believe his ears. He had heard Sumire sing before, once or twice, practicing for the show, but this was so dramatically different. Tonight she sang for herself, not for an audience. Her voice was smooth and sultry, she sounded almost haunted. It was the way that song was meant to be sung, as if it had been written just for Sumire.
Struck by her appearance, Ren had to remind himself to keep playing. As Sumire slowly looked up and met his eyes, he kept her eye contact. He delivered every note of the final line with the feelings he'd been holding in all this time. Through one simple line of music, Ren confessed his heart to her. He told her everything, nothing held back. All of his worries, his stresses, his fears. She wanted to know who he was...and he told her.
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn..."
She kept pace with him, unafraid and unashamed.
"...is just to love, and be loved in return..."
When Ren put aside his saxophone, he found that his chest had become uncomfortably tight, and he struggled to breathe. What had that witch done to him? First she captured his heart by using the tricks of the trade that he excelled at, then struck him down with no reservation. And now this?
He took a deep breath, trying to regain some feeling in his lungs. Sumire vanished from her window, closing the shutters. Moments later, he light went out.
Ren ran his fingers through his hair.
He could not make this woman out to save his life.
Perhaps that was why he found her so addictive.
The following day dragged on at the pace of a snail, in most of the cast's opinions. Rehearsals were awful, considering that Ren and Masa were still at silent odds with one another, Sakura and Otoya were too excited about the impending concert to focus, and Syo and Cecil were having trouble concentrating while they wondered what Haruka was up to. She had vanished again, leaving much up to the imagination.
Eventually, Mistuki-san threw up her hands in exasperation.
"What is wrong with all of you today?" she demanded, her hands on her hips. "You'd think we'd just started rehearsing, the way you're all so distracted."
"I'm so sorry, Mistuki-san!" Sakura said hurriedly. "We just have- an exciting evening planned."
Mistuki sighed, and glanced at her watch. They still had an hour to go before the cast was officially released, but at this rate, she couldn't imagine they would get anything done.
"Tell you what," she said resignedly. "I'll let you all out now if you pay me back with an extra hour on Thursday."
Otoya's and Sakura's eyes lit up like fireworks.
"ARIGATOU, MISTUKI-SAN!" they chorused, grinning from ear to ear. Realizing that they had said the same thing, Otoya turned to look at Sakura, and they both blushed crimson.
The cast slowly dispersed to get ready to go to the concert.
An hour or so later, when they all arrived downstairs to wait for their ride, the ever-stylish Syo found himself surprised at his companions' attire. The girls he had been sure wouldn't have a clue what to wear, but they seemed to have made out alright. Sakura wore a shirt white pleated skirt with a pink shirt and white vest, which Syo felt complimented her figure much better than her usual loose traditional clothes. She looked a bit self-conscious, but Syo gestured to her clothes and shot her a thumbs-up, which earned him a grateful smile.
The others had managed to clean up nicely too. Kanna wore black jeans, a red top, fingerless gloves, and a studded belt, which worked very well with her flaming hair. Maria had put on a small navy blue dress with white trim that hugged her curves perfectly. Iris had foregone her usual frills in light of the anticipated crowd of people, and wore a blue and red overalls outfit, plus an adorable little red cap to cover her hair. She still held Jean-Paul tightly, and Syo fervently prayed that she wouldn't lose him. Kohran had a pair of green cargo pants and a simple orange t-shirt.
It was so odd seeing them all in plain street clothes. Up till now, the members of STARISH had only ever seen the Flower Division here in their home, which was admittedly very different from theirs. They all dressed very...uniquely, most of the time. Seeing them like this was a rare treat.
Syo glanced around and noticed that they were still missing two. Everyone was here but Ohgami and Sumire. Had they changed their minds about coming?
"Cecil," Syo asked. "Was the captain going to come?"
The brown-haired youth nodded.
"He just had to speak to the lieutenant before we left," he explained, just as both of their missing people appeared at the top of the steps.
Sakura and Haruka let out audible gasps.
Sumire looked nothing short of drop dead gorgeous. She wore a black minidress with heeled boots, a black sash around her neck, and a small silver clutch tucked under one arm, as if she had stepped straight out of a fashion magazine. Behind her, Ohgami looked downright plain in his simple sleeveless t-shirt and jeans.
Sumire sniffed when she saw everyone staring.
"You didn't expect anything less, did you?" she asked disdainfully.
"The cars are here," Otoya called from the doorway, catching everyone's attention. They shuffled outside, where both STARISH and HEAVENS' limousines stood waiting for them.
The first thought to cross Sakura's mind as they entered the arena was just how enormous the place was. She clung to Otoya's arm with one hand, terrified of becoming separated in the large crowd. The other hand held Iris. There were hundreds, no, thousands of people here for this concert.
The place was built like a hockey arena, with the stage set up at one end of the room. There was tiered seating around the sides, but also a large block of floor seating. It was to the front of this block that Otoya led them, carefully winding his way through all the people pushing and shoving.
"Front row," he called to his group, and most of them nodded in reply.
When they had found their seats, the girls began staring around with wide eyes. Kanna surveyed the crowd, while Maria's eyes were set on the lighting truss hung above them, where all of the stage lights were affixed. It was much more elaborate than the simple rack of lights at the Imperial Theater.
Iris and Sakura gushed with each other about the concert itself, wondering what kind of show it was going to be. While he knew the artists, Otoya admitted to having never actually been to one of Quartet Night's shows before. They were usually busy. He couldn't tell them what it was going to be like.
The lights went down and back up, signaling for everyone to reach their seats, because the concert was starting. Instantly Sakura's hand went back to Otoya's arm, gripping it tight in anticipation. Her eyes shone with excitement.
The lights went out.
The crowd waited with bated breath...
Fog from fog machines rolled across the stage, as the excited crowd took up a cheer.
They heard a single sound from the synthesizer system, one single phrase, before the whole room exploded with noise.
Get another boyfriend.
Instantly, four spotlights appeared on the stage, each silhouetting a member of Quartet Night. They were all dressed in some combination of black and silver. To the far right was Camus, his long blonde hair fallen forward to mask half of his face. Next to him was Ranmaru, who stared straight at the audience with his unnerving heterochromatic eyes- the stare of a demon. Then there was Reiji, who used the brim of his hat to dramatically shield his eyes. Last was delicate little Ai, whose gaze traveled to his compatriots on the stage.
The song started with a synthesized techno melody, which quickly became a full rhythm line.
The girls screamed for them as the song took off. Their dancing was, as always, impeccably sharp.
It all started with Ranmaru.
"Let's talk about one, baby, you've got to hear me out," he sang, his rough voice making girls across the audience swoon. "Do you really wanna be the last to know what it's all about?"
"Let's talk about who," Camus added, "You say is the essence of your life. But he'll eat you up from inside, slow, and then he doesn't wanna know."
"I'm telling you he'll eat you up from inside," chorused Reiji and Ai, "And then he doesn't wanna know!"
It was darker, edgier than Poison Kiss had been, but not by much. Already the STARISH members could tell that this was the real potential their collective senpai had. While Poison Kiss had been a demonstration, a moment to show off, this right here was the reason why Quartet Night were idols. This was their stage, and they ruled it without question.
"Listen, I mean it, there's nothing that he's worthy of
He's just another playa', playing in the name of love
I've seen enough, now this must come to an end
Get another boyfriend!"
Otoya found himself captivated. He could hear them all in this song. Camus was the gentleman, the one who saw through masks and exposed the corrupt. Ranmaru was the muscle man, the one who couldn't wait to find the offender and break his knees. Reiji sweetly begged, the kind friend who only wants what's best for everyone. Ai was the clear-sighted, the one who knew how it would all end. He was the prophet foretelling the storm, his cold turquoise eyes fathoms deep.
As Reiji and Ai took the second verse into a lighter harmony, a crowd of excited girls pooled into the free space between the first row and the stage edge. Reiji, ever the flirt, played along, reaching out his hand that the girls might touch him.
Otoya felt something crash into his side, making him stumble. When he looked, he saw that someone had pushed little Iris out of the way to get past her, sending her into Otoya. She met his eyes, and the redhead realized that not only had she been shoved, but now all of these fangirls had crowded in front of her and were preventing the small girl from being able to see the stage.
Glancing around, Otoya searched for Kanna, whom he knew would have no problem picking Iris up, but she was at the other end of the group, too far away to reach easily.
Before he could think of anything else, a blonde head dipped into sight. Natsuki, seeing Iris' distress, leaned down to speak to her. Otoya couldn't hear him over the sound of the amplifiers, but he seemed to be asking for Iris' permission to pick her up. She nodded, and the next thing they knew, she and Jean-Paul had a perch atop the tall bespectacled man's shoulders. Her face lit up, not knowing that Natsuki had a matching smile on his face.
Otoya grinned. He turned back to the show, and saw Sakura's smiling face. She had seen the proceedings too.
At that moment, the sound from the stage suddenly stopped after the second chorus. Ranmaru's voice rang out in a wordless note that made half the room's hearts stop, including Sakura's. He led into a bridge, carried by a harmony between himself and Reiji.
"Hear me out, if you must know
What it's all about
He's just a playa' in love
This must come to an end."
The bridge transitioned into a battle of the verses, between the chorus and the bridge. Ranmaru and Camus took the lower, more strident chorus, while Reiji and Ai sang the higher, more melodious bridge. The two parts fit together perfectly, rising and falling in a delightful alternating pattern.
Ai's soprano rose high above them all, his melody almost desperate in its sadness. The whole thing was beautiful, edgy, a musical contrast between light and dark. It was like nothing STARISH had ever done, but it suited Quartet Night perfectly.
A loud cheer rose up from the fans as the song came to an end. Reiji raised his mic and smiled at the audience.
"Buonasera, Tokyo!" he said, surveying the crowd as if looking at each fan individually. "We are Quartet Night, and we have something very special for you this evening!"
The girls cheered louder and louder.
"Tonight we have a few special guests we'd like to recognize," said Ranmaru, his voice reverberating through the room.
Everyone in the front row froze. Most of the blood drained from their faces.
"In the audience tonight, we have two guest groups whom we are honored to entertain," said Ai, flipping his turquoise bangs out of his face.
Reiji grinned devilishly.
"I don't suppose any of you darlings happen to be STARISH fans, hm?" he taunted.
As predicted, spotlights immediately lit up the front row, and the members of STARISH were obligated to wave politely as their faces appeared on the big screens on either side of the stage. The girls screamed wildly, all of them amazed at the presence of not one but two of their favorite pop groups in one room.
"I thought so!"
Ranmaru stepped forward.
"But there's room for more than just popstars in this arena, ne?" he said airily. "Camus, tell then who else is here."
The elegant blonde smiled. It might have been the first smile Otoya had ever seen on the man.
"I have the great pleasure of introducing to you all," he said smoothly, "The capital's greatest acting troupe, The Imperial Flower Division!"
Again, lights and cameras, as the fans cheered. Sakura looked somewhat embarrassed, but she waved and put a smile on her face anyway. It was the least she could do.
Ai spoke once more.
"For our next song, we'll be slowing down just a bit," he said, and the audience hushed themselves, buzzing with light chatter. What were they going to do? everyone was asking.
"We dedicate this song to the beautiful ladies of the Flower Division," said Camus quietly. "For they are truly the treasure of Japan."
It began with a slow guitar part, as the members of Quartet Night spread out across the stage. Camus and Ai took the center, with Reiji and Ranmaru on the edges, as the melodious ballad began.
"I know sometimes you feel like you don't fit in
And this world doesn't know what you have within
When I look at you, I see something rare
A rose that can grow anywhere
And there's no one I know that can compare..."
The entire audience was dumbstruck. They had never heard Quartet Night perform a ballad before. It was new territory, but it was so beautiful that no one disapproved. For once it was Camus who sang the central solo, with Ai, Reiji, and Ranmaru providing backing vocals. Every girl in the room felt like they were singing a love song just for her...and in the front row, for one girl, it was true.
Sakura felt tears well up in her eyes. She had never been serenaded by- well, anyone, before. Kanna, Maria, and Kohran all looked speechless. Iris and Natsuki swayed back and forth in place, and Iris had her eyes closed, listening carefully. She smiled, and everyone could see that she loved what she heard. Sumire showed no visible sign of emotion, but she had extracted her fan from her clutch and was using it to veil her face.
"So come as you are, you've got nothing to prove
You've won me with all that you do
And I want to take this chance to say to you..."
From the stage, mid-song, Reiji winked very subtly at someone in the front row.
"What makes you different makes you beautiful
What's there inside you shines through to me
In your eyes I see all the love I'll ever need.
Sakura felt a hand brush against hers. She looked up, her face stained with happy tears, and found only Otoya's smiling face. He reached forward hesitantly, and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"Sakura-chan," he whispered, taking her hand. "Please...smile for me?"
She laughed in spite of herself, trying to choke back her tears as she let a trembling smile cross her face. It was so funny, that he should ask her to smile, she thought, when it was all she could do not to smile every time she saw him.
Otoya leaned closer, ever so carefully, and caressed Sakura's beautiful long black hair. She used her free hand to grab his, so they held onto each other with all that they had.
Iris politely covered Natsuki's eyes so he wouldn't make a fuss when their lips met.
The moment the extended STARISH group arrived backstage, Reiji threw himself at his kouhai, enveloping them in a forceful hug. Unnerved, Tokiya shoved the smaller man off, but Otoya laughed and hugged him back.
"What did you think of the show?" Reiji asked, releasing his little buddy and stepping back to look at them all. "I hope we didn't embarrass you too much."
Behind him, Ranmaru snorted. He lay stretched out on the couch, a bottle of water in one hand. Camus and Ai were perched at a counter-height table next to him.
"Of course we embarrassed them," Ranmaru said smugly. "That was the point."
"Oh no, of course not!" Sakura cried, the brightest smile on her face. "It was so lovely of you, I don't know how to thank you."
Instantly, Camus was on his feet. "On the contrary, Miss Shinguji," he said, bowing politely. "It was our pleasure."
Tokiya cleared his throat, and with a solemn tone, made the formal introductions.
"Ladies, I present the members of Quartet Night," he said. "Kotobuki Reiji, Mikaze Ai, Kurosaki Ranmaru, and Camus of Permafrost."
They all bowed when they heard their names, minus Ranmaru, who simply grunted.
"Your show was so wonderful," Sakura said breathlessly. "I've never seen anything like it before."
She smiled at Otoya, and added, "I'm so glad Ittoki-san invited us to come along."
Reiji and Ranmaru exchanged furtive glances.
"But of course, we put on the best show possible, considering our favorite actresses were in the audience," Reiji said lightly. "We have always been highly impressed with Flower Division performances."
He casually swiped his wavy brown hair out of his eyes.
"You deserved no less than our full attention."
Most of the girls- meaning everyone but Maria and Sumire –gasped.
"We're- what?" Sakura squeaked, looking like she might well faint. In response, Reiji just threw his head back and laughed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fluster you," he said, chuckling. "But it is the truth."
He shrugged lightly.
"I didn't know pop stars went to the theater," Kohran commented. "Don't you all have more important things to do?"
This time it was Reiji and Camus who exchanged looks.
"The mark of a true idol is diversity in all things," Camus said calmly.
"Oh yes, I'm sure there are a number of things about us that would surprise you," added Reiji in a airy tone. "You should really stay and chat for a bit, come on in and get comfortable."
There was no polite way to refuse, not that anyone really wanted to. The girls scooted in to make room for one another and settled in to socialize. Reiji kicked Ranmaru off the couch so that Sakura, Sumire, and Haruka could sit down, while Maria and Kanna took up customary positions standing near the wall. The boys scattered around the floor, and Iris climbed happily into Natsuki's lap, earning raised eyebrows all around. He didn't seem bothered at all, but just smiled to himself and wrapped his arms around her. It was like an infinity effect, with Natsuki hugging Iris and Iris hugging Jean-Paul.
As Syo perched himself on the armrest on Haruka's end of the couch, his eyes swept the room. When he realized something was off, he had to double-take.
"Where'd Ren disappear to?" he asked curiously. Instantly, the entire group began staring around.
"Masa-chan is gone too," Natsuki said thoughtfully. "You don't think they got lost, do you?"
Syo laughed hollowly. "The way they've been acting lately," he said, "I doubt being lost is what held them up."
His words seemed almost prophetic, two minutes later, when the conversation was interrupted by a loud crashing sound from the hallway outside. Sakura and Haruka jumped, and Syo was on his feet in a splitsecond. He, Kanna, Reiji, and Tokiya hit the hallway as fast as they could, sprinting at top speed while the others followed in a somewhat more orderly fashion.
Tokiya had a sinking feeling in his stomach that told him he was most likely not going to like what they found.
As it turned out, he was right.